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Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau

Part 3 out of 10

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the forehead. His leaden complexion, his pale lips, and his dull
eye, did not certainly betray a very rich blood; he had a great long
nose, sharp and curved like a sickle; and his beard, of undecided
color, trimmed in the Victor Emmanuel style, did the greatest honor
to the barber who cultivated it. Even when seen for the first time,
one might fancy that he recognized him, so exactly was he like three
or four hundred others who are seen daily in the neighborhood of
the Cafe Riche, who are met everywhere where people run who pretend
to amuse themselves,--at the bourse or in the bois; at the first
representations, where they are just enough hidden to be perfectly
well seen at the back of boxes filled with young ladies with
astonishing chignons; at the races; in carriages, where they drink
champagne to the health of the winner.

He had on this occasion hoisted his best looks, and the full dress
_de rigueur_--dress-coat with wide sleeves, shirt cut low in the neck,
and open vest, fastened below the waist by a single button.

"Quite the man of the world," again remarked Mme. Desclavettes.

M. Favoral rushed toward him; and the latter, hastening, met him
half way, and, taking both his hands into his--"I cannot tell you,
dear friend," he commenced, "how deeply I feel the honor you do me
in receiving me in the midst of your charming family and your
respectable friends."

And he bowed all around during this speech, which he delivered in
the condescending tone of a lord visiting his inferiors.

"Let me introduce you to my wife," interrupted the cashier. And,
leading him towards Mme. Favoral--"Monsieur Costeclar, my dear,"
said he: "the friend of whom we have spoken so often."

M. Costeclar bowed, rounding his shoulders, bending his lean form
in a half-circle, and letting his arms hang forward.

"I am too much the friend of our dear Favoral, madame," he uttered,
"not to have heard of you long since, nor to know your merits, and
the fact that he owes to you that peaceful happiness which he enjoys,
and which we all envy him."

Standing by the mantel-piece, the usual Saturday evening guests
followed with the liveliest interest the evolutions of the pretender.
Two of them, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, were perfectly able
to appreciate him at his just value; but, in affirming that he made
half a million a year, M. Favoral had, as it were, thrown over his
shoulders that famous ducal cloak which concealed all deformities.

Without waiting for his wife's answer, M. Favoral brought his
protege in front of Mlle. Gilberte.

"Dear daughter," said he, "Monsieur Costeclar, the friend of whom
I have spoken."

M. Costeclar bowed still lower, and rounded off his shoulders again;
but the young lady looked at him from head to foot with such a
freezing glance, that his tongue remained as if paralyzed in his
mouth, and he could only stammer out:

"Mademoiselle! the honor, the humblest of your admirers."

Fortunately Maxence was standing three steps off--he fell back in
good order upon him, and seizing his hand, which he shook vigorously:

"I hope, my dear sir, that we shall soon be quite intimate friends.
Your excellent father, whose special concern you are, has often
spoken to me of you. Events, so he has confided to me, have not
hitherto responded to your expectations. At your age, this is not
a very grave matter. People, now-a-days, do not always find at the
first attempt the road that leads to fortune. You will find yours.
From this time forth I place at your command my influence and my
experience; and, if you will consent to take me for your guide--"

Maxence had withdrawn his hand.

"I am very much obliged to you, sir," he answered coldly; "but I am
content with my lot, and I believe myself old enough to walk alone."

Almost any one would have lost countenance. But M. Costeclar was
so little put out, that it seemed as though he had expected just
such a reception. He turned upon his heels, and advanced towards
M. Favoral's friends with a smile so engaging as to make it evident
that he was anxious to conquer their suffrages.

This was at the beginning of the month of June, 1870. No one as
yet could foresee the frightful disasters which were to mark the
end of that fatal year. And yet there was everywhere in France
that indefinable anxiety which precedes great social convulsions.
The plebiscitum had not succeeded in restoring confidence. Every
day the most alarming rumors were put in circulation and it was with
a sort of passion that people went in quest of news.

Now, M. Costeclar was a wonderfully well-posted man. He had,
doubtless, on his way, stopped on the Boulevard des Italiens, that
blessed ground where nightly the street-brokers labor for the
financial prosperity of the country. He had gone through the Passage
de l'Opera, which is, as is well known, the best market for the most
correct and the most reliable news. Therefore he might safely be
believed.

Placing his back to the chimney, he had taken the lead in the
conversation; and he was talking, talking, talking. Being a "bull,"
he took a favorable view of every thing. He believed in the
eternity of the second empire. He sang the praise of the new
cabinet: he was ready to pour out his blood for Emile Ollivier.
True, some people complained that business was dull and slow; but
those people, he thought, were merely "bears." Business had never
been so brilliant. At no time had prosperity been greater. Capital
was abundant. The institutions of credit were flourishing.
Securities were rising. Everybody's pockets were full to bursting.
And the others listened in astonishment to this inexhaustible
prattle, this "gab," more filled with gold spangles than Dantzig
cordial, with which the commercial travelers of the bourse catch
their customers.

Suddenly:

"But you must excuse me," he said, rushing towards the other end of
the parlor.

Mme. Favoral had just left the room to order tea to be brought in;
and, the seat by Mlle. Gilberte being vacant, M. Costeclar occupied
it promptly.

"He understands his business," growled M. Desormeaux.

"Surely," said M. Desclavettes, "if I had some funds to dispose of
just now."

"I would be most happy to have him for my son-in-law," declared M.
Favoral.

He was doing his best. Somewhat intimidated by Mlle. Gilberte's
first look, he had now fully recovered his wits.

He commenced by sketching his own portrait.

He had just turned thirty, and had experienced the strong and the
weak side of life. He had had "successes," but had tired of them.
Having gauged the emptiness of what is called pleasure, he only
wished now to find a partner for life, whose graces and virtues
would secure his domestic happiness.

He could not help noticing the absent look of the young girl; but
he had, thought he, other means of compelling her attention. And
he went on, saying that he felt himself cast of the metal of which
model husbands are made. His plans were all made in advance. His
wife would be free to do as she pleased. She would have her own
carriage and horses, her box at the Italiens and at the Opera, and
an open account at Worth's and Van Klopen's. As to diamonds, he
would take care of that. He meant that his wife's display of
wealth should be noticed; and even spoken of in the newspapers.

Was this the terms of a bargain that he was offering?

If so, it was so coarsely, that Mlle. Gilberte, ignorant of life as
she was, wondered in what world it might be that he had met with so
many "successes." And, somewhat indignantly:

"Unfortunately," she said, "the bourse is perfidious; and the man
who drives his own carriage to-day, to-morrow may have no shoes to
wear."

M. Costeclar nodded with a smile.

"Exactly so," said he. "A marriage protects one against such
reverses.

"Every man in active business, when he marries, settles upon his
wife reasonable fortune. I expect to settle six hundred thousand
francs upon mine."

"So that, if you were to meet with an--accident?"

"We should enjoy our thirty thousand a year under the very nose of
the creditors."

Blushing with shame, Mlle. Gilberte rose.

"But then," said she, "it isn't a wife that you are looking for: it
is an accomplice."

He was spared the embarrassment of an answer, by the servant, who
came in, bringing in tea. He accepted a cup; and after two or
three anecdotes, judging that he had done enough for a first visit,
he withdrew, and a moment later they heard his carriage driving off
at full gallop.

XVI

It was not without mature thought that M. Costeclar had determined
to withdraw, despite M. Favoral's pressing overtures. However
infatuated he might be with his own merits, he had been compelled
to surrender to evidence, and to acknowledge that he had not exactly
succeeded with Mlle. Gilberte. But he also knew that he had the
head of the house on his side; and he flattered himself that he
had produced an excellent impression upon the guests of the house.

"Therefore," had he said to himself, "if I leave first, they will
sing my praise, lecture the young person, and make her listen to
reason."

He was not far from being right. Mme. Desclavettes had been
completely subjugated by the grand manners of this pretender; and
M. Desclavettes did not hesitate to affirm that he had rarely met
any one who pleased him more.

The others, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, did not, doubtless,
share this optimism; but M. Costeclar's annual half-million
obscured singularly their clear-sightedness.

They thought perhaps, they had discovered in him some alarming
features; but they had full and entire confidence in their friend
Favoral's prudent sagacity.

The particular and methodic cashier of the Mutual Credit was not
apt to be enthusiastic; and, if he opened the doors of his house to
a young man, if he was so anxious to have him for his son-in-law,
he must evidently have taken ample information.

Finally there are certain family matters from which sensible people
keep away as they would from the plague; and, on the question of
marriage especially, he is a bold man who would take side for or
against.

Thus Mme. Desclavettes was the only one to raise her voice. Taking
Mlle. Gilberte's hands within hers:

"Let me scold you, my dear," said she, "for having received thus a
poor young man who was only trying to please you."

Excepting her mother, too weak to take her defence, and her brother,
who was debarred from interfering, the young girl understood readily,
that, in that parlor, every one, overtly or tacitly, was against her.
The idea came to her mind to repeat there boldly what she had already
told her father that she was resolved not to marry, and that she
would not marry, not being one of those weak girls, without energy,
whom they dress in white, and drag to church against their will.

Such a bold declaration would be in keeping with her character.
But she feared a terrible, and perhaps degrading scene. The most
intimate friends of the family were ignorant of its most painful
sores. In presence of his friends, M. Favoral dissembled, speaking
in a mild voice, and assuming a kindly smile. Should she suddenly
reveal the truth?

"It is childish of you to run the risk of discouraging a clever
fellow who makes half a million a year," continued the wife of the
old bronze-merchant, to whom such conduct seemed an abominable crime
of _lese-money_. Mlle. Gilberte had withdrawn her hands.

"You did not hear what he said, madame."

"I beg your pardon: I was quite near, and involuntarily--"

"You have heard his--propositions?"

"Perfectly. He was promising you a carriage, a box at the opera,
diamonds, freedom. Isn't that the dream of all young ladies?"

"It is not mine, madame!"

"Dear me! What better can you wish? You must not expect more from
a husband than he can possibly give."

"That is not what I shall expect of him."

In a tone of paternal indulgence, which his looks belied:

"She is mad," suggested M. Favoral.

Tears of indignation filled Mlle. Gilberte's eyes.

"Mme. Desclavettes," she exclaimed, "forgets something. She forgets
that this gentleman dared to tell me that he proposed to settle upon
the woman he marries a large fortune, of which his creditors would
thus be cheated in case of his failure in business."

She thought, in her simplicity, that a cry of indignation would rise
at these words. Instead of which:

"Well, isn't it perfectly natural?" said M. Desclavettes.

"It seems to me more than natural," insisted Mme. Desclavettes,
"that a man should be anxious to preserve from ruin his wife and
children."

"Of course," put in M. Favoral.

Stepping resolutely toward her father:

"Have you, then, taken such precautions yourself?" demanded Mlle.
Gilberte.

"No," answered the cashier of the Mutual Credit. And, after a
moment of hesitation:

"But I am running no risks," he added. "In business, and when a
man may be ruined by a mere rise or fall in stocks, he would be
insane indeed who did not secure bread for his family, and, above
all, means for himself, wherewith to commence again. The Baron de
Thaller did not act otherwise; and, should he meet with a disaster,
Mme. de Thaller would still have a handsome fortune."

M. Desormeaux was, perhaps, the only one not to admit freely that
theory, and not to accept that ever-decisive reason, "Others do it."

But he was a philosopher, and thought it silly not to be of his time.
He therefore contented himself with saying:

"Hum! M. de Thaller's creditors might not think that mode of
proceeding entirely regular."

"Then they might sue," said M. Chapelain, laughing. "People can
always sue; only when the papers are well drawn--"

Mlle. Gilberte stood dismayed. She thought of Marius de Tregars
giving up his mother's fortune to pay his father's debts.

"What would he say," thought she, "should he hear such opinions!"

The cashier of the Mutual Credit resumed:

"Surely I blame every species of fraud. But I pretend, and I
maintain, that a man who has worked twenty years to give a handsome
dowry to his daughter has the right to demand of his son-in-law
certain conservative measures to guarantee the money, which, after
all, is his own, and which is to benefit no one but his own family."

This declaration closed the evening. It was getting late. The
Saturday guests put on their overcoats; and, as they were walking
home,

"Can you understand that little Gilberte?" said Mme. Desclavettes.
"I'd like to see a daughter of mine have such fancies! But her
poor mother is so weak!"

"Yes; but friend Favoral is firm enough for both," interrupted M.
Desormeaux; "and it is more than probable that at this very moment
he is correcting his daughter of the sin of sloth."

Well, not at all. Extremely angry as M. Favoral must have been,
neither that evening, nor the next day, did he make the remotest
allusion to what had taken place.

The following Monday only, before leaving for his office, casting
upon his wife and daughter one of his ugliest looks:

"M. Costeclar owes us a visit," said he; "and it is possible that
he may call in my absence. I wish him to be admitted; and I forbid
you to go out, so that you can have no pretext to refuse him the
door. I presume there will not be found in my house any one bold
enough to ill receive a man whom I like, and whom I have selected
for my son-in-law."

But was it probable, was it even possible, that M. Costeclar could
venture upon such a step after Mlle. Gilberte's treatment of him on
the previous Saturday evening?

"No, a thousand times no!" affirmed Maxence to his mother and sister.
"So you may rest easy."

Indeed they tried to be, until that very afternoon the sound of
rapidly-rolling wheels attracted Mme. Favoral to the window. A
coupe, drawn by two gray horses, had just stopped at the door.

"It must be he," she said to her daughter.

Mlle. Gilberte had turned slightly pale.

"There is no help for it, mother," she said: "You must receive him."

"And you?"

"I shall remain in my room."

"Do you suppose he won't ask for you?"

"You will answer that I am unwell. He will understand."

"But your father, unhappy child, your father?"

"I do not acknowledge to my father the right of disposing of my
person against my wishes. I detest that man to whom he wishes to
marry me. Would you like to see me his wife, to know me given up
to the most intolerable torture? No, there is no violence in the
world that will ever wring my consent from me. So, mother dear,
do what I ask you. My father can say what he pleases: I take the
whole responsibility upon myself."

There was no time to argue: the bell rang. Mlle. Gilberte had
barely time to escape through one of the doors of the parlor,
whilst M. Costeclar was entering at the other.

If he did have enough perspicacity to guess what had just taken
place, he did not in any way show it. He sat down; and it was
only after conversing for a few moments upon indifferent subjects,
that he asked how Mlle. Gilberte was.

"She is somewhat--unwell," stammered Mme. Favoral.

He did not appear surprised; only,

"Our dear Favoral," he said, "will be still more pained than I am
when he hears of this mishap."

Better than any other mother, Mme. Favoral must have understood and
approved Mlle. Gilberte's invincible repugnance. To her also, when
she was young, her father had come one day, and said, "I have
discovered a husband for you." She had accepted him blindly. Bruised
and wounded by daily outrages, she had sought refuge in marriage as
in a haven of safety.

And since, hardly a day had elapsed that she had not thought it
would have been better for her to have died rather then to have
riveted to her neck those fetters that death alone can remove. She
thought, therefore, that her daughter was perfectly right. And yet
twenty years of slavery had so weakened the springs of her energy,
that under the glance of Costeclar, threatening her with her
husband's name, she felt embarrassed, and could scarcely stammer
some timid excuses. And she allowed him to prolong his visit, and
consequently her torment, for over an half an hour; then, when he
had gone,

"He and your father understand each other," said she to her daughter,
"that is but too evident. What is the use of struggling?"

A fugitive blush colored the pale cheeks of Mlle. Gilberte. For
the past forty-eight hours she had been exhausting herself, seeking
an issue to an impossible situation; and she had accustomed her mind
to the worst eventualities.

"Do you wish me, then, to desert the paternal roof?" she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral almost dropped on the floor.

"You would run away," she stammered, "you!"

"Rather than become that man's wife, yes!"

"And where would you go, unfortunate child? what would you do?"

"I can earn my living."

Mme. Favoral shook her head sadly. The same suspicions were reviving
within her that she had felt once before.

"Gilberte," she said in a beseeching tone, "am I, then, no longer
your best friend? and will you not tell me from what sources you
draw your courage and your resolution?"

And, as her daughter said nothing:

"God alone knows what may happen!" sighed the poor woman.

Nothing happened, but what could have been easily foreseen. When
M. Favoral came home to dinner, he was whistling a perfect storm
on the stairs. He abstained at first from all recrimination; but
towards the end of the meal, with the most sarcastic look he could
assume:

"It seems," he said to his daughter, "that you were unwell this
afternoon?"

Bravely, and without flinching, she sustained his look; and, in a
firm voice:

"I shall always be indisposed," she replied, "when M. Costeclar
calls. You hear me, don't you, father--always!"

But the cashier of the Credit Mutual was not one of those men whose
wrath finds vent in mere sarcasms. Rising suddenly to his feet:

"By the holy heavens!" he screamed forth, "you are wrong to trifle
thus with my will; for, all of you here, I shall crush you as I do
this glass."

And, with a frenzied gesture, he dashed the glass he held in his
hand against the wall, where it broke in a thousand pieces.
Trembling like a leaf, Mme. Favoral staggered upon her chair.

XVII

"Better kill her at once," said Mlle. Gilberte coldly. "She would
suffer less."

It was by a torrent of invective that M. Favoral replied. His rage,
dammed up for the past four days, finding at last an outlet, flowed
in gross insults and insane threats. He spoke of throwing out in
the street his wife and children, or starving them out, or shutting
up his daughter in a house of correction; until at last, language
failing his fury, beside himself, he left, swearing that he would
bring M. Costeclar home himself, and then they would see.

"Very well, we shall see," said Mlle. Gilberte.

Motionless in his place, and white as a plaster cast, Maxence had
witnessed this lamentable scene. A gleam of common-sense had
enabled him to control his indignation, and to remain silent. He
had understood, that, at the first word, his father's fury would
have turned against him; and then what might have happened? The
most frightful dramas of the criminal courts have often had no
other origin.

"No, this is no longer bearable!" he exclaimed.

Even at the time of his greatest follies, Maxence had always had
for his sister a fraternal affection. He admired her from the day
she had stood up before him to reproach him for his misconduct. He
envied her her quiet determination, her patient tenacity, and that
calm energy that never failed her.

"Have patience, my poor Gilberte," he added: "the day is not far,
I hope, when I may commence to repay you all you have done for me.
I have not lost my time since you restored me my reason. I have
arranged with my creditors. I have found a situation, which, if
not brilliant, is at least sufficiently lucrative to enable me
before long to offer you, as well as to our mother, a peaceful
retreat."

"But it is to-morrow," interrupted Mme. Favoral, "to-morrow that
your father is to bring M. Costeclar. He has said so, and he will
do it."

And so he did. About two o'clock in the afternoon M. Favoral and
his protege arrived in the Rue St. Gilles, in that famous coupe
with the two horses, which excited the wonder of the neighbors.

But Mlle. Gilberte had her plan ready. She was on the lookout;
and, as soon as she heard the carriage stop, she ran to her room,
undressed in a twinkling, and went to bed.

When her father came for her, and saw her in bed, he remained
surprised and puzzled on the threshold of the door.

"And yet I'll make you come into the parlor!" he said in a hoarse
voice.

"Then you must carry me there as I am," she said in a tone of
defiance; "for I shall certainly not get up."

For the first time since his marriage, M. Favoral met in his own
house a more inflexible will than his own, and a more unyielding
obstinacy. He was baffled. He threatened his daughter with his
clinched fists, but could discover no means of making her obey.
He was compelled to surrender, to yield.

"This will be settled with the rest," he growled, as he went out.

"I fear nothing in the world, father," said the girl.

It was almost true, so much did the thought of Marius de Tregars
inflame her courage. Twice already she had heard from him through
the Signor Gismondo Pulei, who never tired talking of this new pupil,
to whom he had already given two lessons.

"He is the most gallant man in the world," he said, his eye sparkling
with enthusiasm, "and the bravest, and the most generous, and the
best; and no quality that can adorn one of God's creatures shall be
wanting in him when I have taught him the divine art. It is not
with a little contemptible gold that he means to reward my zeal.
To him I am as a second father; and it is with the confidence of a
son that he explains to me his labors and his hopes."

Thus Mlle. Gilberte learned through the old maestro, that the
newspaper article she had read was almost exactly true, and that
M. de Tregars and M. Marcolet had become associated for the purpose
of working, in joint account, certain recent discoveries, which bid
fair to yield large profits in a near future.

"And yet it is for my sake alone that he has thus thrown himself
into the turmoil of business, and has become as eager for gain as
that M. Marcolet himself."

And, at the height of her father's persecutions, she felt glad of
what she had done, and of her boldness in placing her destiny in the
hands of a stranger. The memory of Marius had become her refuge,
the element of all her dreams and of all her hopes; in a word, her
life.

It was of Marius she was thinking, when her mother, surprising her
gazing into vacancy, would ask her, "What are you thinking of?" And,
at every new vexation she had to endure, her imagination decked him
with a new quality, and she clung to him with a more desperate grasp.

"How much he would grieve," thought she, "if he knew of what
persecution I am the object!"

And very careful was she not to allow the Signor Gismondo Pulei to
suspect any thing of it, affecting, on the contrary, in his presence,
the most cheerful serenity.

And yet she was a prey to the most cruel anxiety, since she observed
a new and most incredible transformation in her father.

That man so violent and so harsh, who flattered himself never to
have been bent, who boasted never to have forgotten or forgiven any
thing, that domestic tyrant, had become quite a debonair personage.
He had referred to the expedient imagined by Mlle. Gilberte only to
laugh at it, saying that it was a good trick, and he deserved it;
for he repented bitterly, he protested, his past brutalities.

He owned that he had at heart his daughter's marriage with M.
Costeclar; but he acknowledged that he had made use of the surest
means for making it fail. He should, he humbly confessed, have
expected every thing of time and circumstances, of M. Costeclar's
excellent qualities, and of his beautiful, darling daughter's
good sense.

More than of all his violence, Mme. Favoral was terrified at this
affected good nature.

"Dear me!" she sighed, "what does it all mean?"

But the cashier of the Mutual Credit was not preparing any new
surprise to his family. If the means were different, it was still
the same object that he was pursuing with the tenacity of an insect.
When severity had failed, he hoped to succeed by gentleness, that's
all. Only this assumption of hypocritical meekness was too new
to him to deceive any one. At every moment the mask fell off, the
claws showed, and his voice trembled with ill-suppressed rage in
the midst of his most honeyed phrases.

Moreover, he entertained the strangest illusions. Because for
forty-eight hours he had acted the part of a good-natured man,
because one Sunday he had taken his wife and daughter out riding in
the Bois de Vincennes, because he had given Maxence a hundred-franc
note, he imagined that it was all over, that the past was obliterated,
forgotten, and forgiven.

And, drawing Gilberte upon his knees,

"Well, daughter," he said, "you see that I don't importune you any
more, and I leave you quite free. I am more reasonable than you are."

But on the other hand, and according to an expression which escaped
him later, he tried to turn the enemy.

He did every thing in his power to spread in the neighborhood the
rumor of Mlle. Gilberte's marriage with a financier of colossal
wealth,--that elegant young man who came in a coupe with two horses.
Mme. Favoral could not enter a shop without being covertly
complimented upon having found such a magnificent establishment for
her daughter.

Loud, indeed, must have been the gossip; for its echo reached even
the inattentive ears of the Signor Gismondo Pulei.

One day, suddenly interrupting his lesson,--"You are going to be
married, signora?" he inquired.

Mlle. Gilberte started.

What the old Italian had heard, he would surely ere long repeat to
Marius. It was therefore urgent to undeceive him.

"It is true," she replied, "that something has been said about a
marriage, dear maestro."

"Ah, ah!"

"Only my father had not consulted me. That marriage will never
take place: I swear it."

She expressed herself in a tone of such ardent conviction, that the
old gentleman was quite astonished, little dreaming that it was not
to him that this energetic denial was addressed.

"My destiny is irrevocably fixed," added Mlle. Gilberte. "When I
marry, I will consult the inspirations of my heart only."

In the mean time, it was a veritable conspiracy against her. M.
Favoral had succeeded in interesting in the success of his designs
his habitual guests, not M. and Mme. Desclavettes, who had been
seduced from the first, but M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux himself.
So that they all vied with each other in their efforts to bring the
"dear child" to reason, and to enlighten her with their counsels.

"Father must have a still more considerable interest in this alliance
than he has allowed us to think," she remarked to her brother.
Maxence was also absolutely of the same opinion.

"And then," he added, "our father must be terribly rich; for, do not
deceive yourself, it isn't solely for your pretty blue eyes that
this Costeclar persists in coming here twice a week to pocket a new
mortification. What enormous dowry can he be hoping for? I am
going to speak to him myself, and try to find out what he is after."

But Mlle. Gilberte had but slight confidence in her brother's
diplomacy.

"I beg of you," she said, "don't meddle with that business!"

"Yes, yes, I will! Fear nothing, I'll be prudent."

Having taken his resolution, Maxence placed himself on the lookout;
and the very next day, as M. Costeclar was stepping out of his
carriage at the door, he walked straight up to him.

"I wish to speak to you, sir," he said. Self-possessed as he was,
the brilliant financier succeeded but poorly in concealing a surprise
that looked very much like fright.

"I am going in to call on your parents, sir," he replied; "and whilst
waiting for your father, with whom I have an appointment, I shall be
at your command."

"No, no!" interrupted Maxence. "What I have to say must be heard by
you alone. Come along this way, and we shall not be interrupted."

And he led M. Costeclar away as far as the Place Royal. Once there,

"You are very anxious to marry my sister, sir," he commenced.

During their short walk M. Costeclar had recovered himself. He had
resumed all his impertinent assurance. Looking at Maxence from head
to foot with any thing but a friendly look,

"It is my dearest and my most ardent wish, sir," he replied.

"Very well. But you must have noticed the very slight success, to
use no harsher word, of your assiduities."

"Alas!"

"And, perhaps, you will judge, like myself, that it would be the act
of a gentleman to withdraw in presence of such positive repugnance?"

An ugly smile was wandering upon M. Costeclar's pale lips.

"Is it at the request of your sister, sir, that you make me this
communication?"

"No, sir."

"Are you aware whether your sister has some inclination that may be
an obstacle to the realization of my hopes?"

"Sir!"

"Excuse me! What I say has nothing to offend. It might very well
be that your sister, before I had the honor of being introduced to
her, had already fixed her choice."

He spoke so loud, that Maxence looked sharply around to see whether
there was not some one within hearing. He saw no one but a young
man, who seemed quite absorbed reading a newspaper.

"But, sir," he resumed, "what would you answer, if I, the brother
of the young lady whom you wish to marry against her wishes,--I
called upon you to cease your assiduities?"

M. Costeclar bowed ceremoniously,

"I would answer you, sir," he uttered, "that your father's assent
is sufficient for me. My suit has nothing but is honorable. Your
sister may not like me: that is a misfortune; but it is not
irreparable. When she knows me better, I venture to hope that she
will overcome her unjust prejudices. Therefore I shall persist."

Maxence insisted no more. He was irritated at M. Costeclar's
coolness; but it was not his intention to push things further.

"There will always be time," he thought, "to resort to violent
measures."

But when he reported this conversation to his sister,

"It is clear," he said, "that, between our father and that man,
there is a community of interests which I am unable to discover.
What business have they together? In what respect can your marriage
either help or injure them? I must see, try and find out exactly
who is this Costeclar: the deuse take him!"

He started out the same day, and had not far to go.

M. Costeclar was one of those personalities which only bloom in
Paris, and are only met in Paris,--the same as cab-horses, and
young ladies with yellow chignons.

He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.

He was well known at the bourse, in all the principal restaurants,
where he called the waiters by their first names, at the box-office
of the theatres, at all the pool-rooms, and at the European Club,
otherwise called the Nomadic Club, of which he was a member.

He operated at the bourse: that was sure. He was said to own a
third interest in a stock-broker's office. He had a good deal of
business with M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and
M. Saint Pavin, the manager of a very popular journal, "The Financial
Pilot."

It was further known that he had on Rue Vivienne, a magnificent
apartment, and that he had successively honored with his liberal
protection Mlle. Sidney of the Varieties, and Mme. Jenny Fancy, a
lady of a certain age already, but so situated as to return to her
lovers in notoriety what they gave her in good money. So much did
Maxence learn without difficulty. As to any more precise details,
it was impossible to obtain them. To his pressing questions upon
M. Costeclar's antecedents,

"He is a perfectly honest man," answered some.

"He is simply a speculator," affirmed others.

But all agreed that he was a sharp one; who would surely make his
fortune, and without passing through the police-courts, either.

"How can our father and such a man be so intimately connected?"
wondered Maxence and his sister.

And they were lost in conjectures, when suddenly, at an hour when
he never set his foot in the house, M. Favoral appeared.

Throwing a letter upon his daughter's lap,

"See what I have just received from Costeclar," he said in a hoarse
voice. "Read."

She read, "Allow me, dear friend, to release you from your engagement.
Owing to circumstances absolutely beyond my control, I find myself
compelled to give up the honor of becoming a member of your family."

What could have happened?

Standing in the middle of the parlor, the cashier of the Mutual Credit
held, bowed down beneath his glance, his wife and children, Mme.
Favoral trembling, Maxence starting in mute surprise, and Mlle.
Gilberte, who needed all the strength of her will to control the
explosion of her immense joy.

Every thing in M. Favoral betrayed, nevertheless, much more the
excitement of a disaster than the rage of a deception.

Never had his family seen him thus,--livid, his cravat undone, his
hair wet with perspiration, and clinging to his temples.

"Will you please explain this letter?" he asked at last.

And, as no one answered him, he took up that letter again from the
table where Mlle. Gilberte had laid it, and commenced reading it
again, scanning each syllable, as if in hopes of discovering in each
word some hidden meaning.

"What did you say to Costeclar?" he resumed, "what did you do to
him to make him take such a determination?"

"Nothing," answered Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte.

The hope of being at last rid of that man inspired Mme. Favoral with
something like courage.

"He has doubtless understood," she meekly suggested, "that he could
not triumph over our daughter's repugnance."

But her husband interrupted her,

"No," he uttered, "Costeclar is not the man to trouble himself about
the ridiculous caprices of a little girl. There is something else.
But what is it? Come, if you know it, any of you, if you suspect it
even, speak, say it. You must see that I am in a state of fearful
anxiety."

It was the first time that he thus allowed something to appear of
what was passing within him, the first time that he ever complained.

"M. Costeclar alone, father, can give you the explanation you ask of
us," said Mlle. Gilberte.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit shook his head. "Do you suppose,
then, that I have not questioned him? I found his letter this
morning at the office. At once I ran to his apartments, Rue
Vivienne. He had just gone out; and it is in vain that I called
for him at Jottras', and at the office of 'The Financial Pilot.'
I found him at last at the bourse, after running three hours. But
I could only get from him evasive answers and vague explanations.
Of course he did not fail to say, that, if he does withdraw, it is
because he despairs of ever succeeding in pleasing Gilberte. But
it isn't so: I know it; I am sure of it; I read it in his eyes.
Twice his lips moved as if he were about to confess all; and then
he said nothing. And the more I insisted, the more he seemed ill
at ease, embarrassed, uneasy, troubled, the more he appeared to me
like a man who has been threatened, and dares not brave the threat."

He directed upon his children one of those obstinate looks which
search the inmost depths of the conscience.

"If you have done any thing to drive him off," he resumed, "confess
it frankly, and I swear I will not reproach you."

"We did not."

"You did not threaten him?"

"No!"

M. Favoral seemed appalled.

"Doubtless you deceive me," he said, "and I hope you do. Unhappy
children! you do not know what this rupture may cost you."

And, instead of returning to his office, he shut himself up in that
little room which he called his study, and only came out of it at
about five o'clock, holding under his arm an enormous bundle of
papers, and saying that it was useless to wait for him for dinner,
as he would not come home until late in the night, if he came home
at all, being compelled to make up for his lost day.

"What is the matter with your father, my poor children?" exclaimed
Mme. Favoral. "I have never seen him in such a state."

"Doubtless," replied Maxence, "the rupture with Costeclar is going
to break up some combination."

But that explanation did not satisfy him any more than it did his
mother. He, too, felt a vague apprehension of some impending
misfortune. But what? He had nothing upon which to base his
conjectures. He knew nothing, any more than his mother, of his
father's affairs, of his relations, of his interests, or even of
his life, outside the house.

And mother and son lost themselves in suppositions as vain as if
they had tried to find the solution of a problem, without possessing
its terms.

With a single word Mlle. Gilberte thought she might have enlightened
them.

In the unerring certainty of the blow, in the crushing promptness
of the result, she thought she could recognize the hand of Marius
de Tregars.

She recognized the hand of the man who acts, and does not talk.
And the girl's pride felt flattered by this victory, by this proof
of the powerful energy of the man whom, unknown to all, she had
selected. She liked to imagine Marius de Tregars and M. Costeclar
in presence of each other,--the one as imperious and haughty as
she had seen him meek and trembling; the other more humble still
than he was arrogant with her.

"One thing is certain," she repeated to herself; "and that is, I
am saved."

And she wished the morrow to come, that she might announce her
happiness to the very involuntary and very unconscious accomplice
of Marius, the worthy Maestro Gismondo Pulei.

The next day M. Favoral seemed to have resigned himself to the
failure of his projects; and, the following Saturday, he told as a
pleasant joke, how Mlle. Gilberte had carried the day, and had
managed to dismiss her lover.

But a close observer could discover in him symptoms of devouring
cares. Deep wrinkles showed along his temples; his eyes were sunken;
a continued tension of mind contracted his features. Often during
the dinner he would remain motionless for several minutes, his
fork aloft; and then he would murmur, "How is it all going to end?"

Sometimes in the morning, before his departure for his office, M.
Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and M. Saint Pavin,
the manager of "The Financial Pilot," came to see him. They
closeted themselves together, and remained for hours in conference,
speaking so low, that not even a vague murmur could be heard
outside the door.

"Your father has grave subjects of anxiety, my children," said Mme.
Favoral: "you may believe me,--me, who for twenty years have been
trying to guess our fate upon his countenance."

But the political events were sufficient to explain any amount of
anxiety. It was the second week of July, 1870; and the destinies
of France trembled, as upon a cast of the dice, in the hands of a
few presumptuous incapables. Was it war with Prussia, or was it
peace, that was to issue from the complications of a childishly
astute policy?

The most contradictory rumors caused daily at the bourse the most
violent oscillations, which endangered the safest fortunes. A few
words uttered in a corridor by Emile Ollivier had made a dozen heavy
operators rich, but had ruined five hundred small ones. On all
hands, credit was trembling.

Until one evening when he came home,

"War is declared," said M. Favoral.

It was but too true; and no one then had any fears of the result
for France. They had so much exalted the French army, they had
so often said that it was invincible, that every one among the
public expected a series of crushing victories.

Alas! the first telegram announced a defeat. People refused to
believe it at first. But there was the evidence. The soldiers had
died bravely; but the chiefs had been incapable of leading them.

From that time, and with a vertiginous rapidity, from day to day,
from hour to hour, the fatal news came crowding on. Like a river
that overflows its banks, Prussia was overrunning France. Bazaine
was surrounded at Metz; and the capitulation of Sedan capped the
climax of so many disasters.

At last, on the 4th of September, the republic was proclaimed.

On the 5th, when the Signor Gismondo Pulei presented himself at Rue
St. Gilles, his face bore such an expression of anguish, that Mlle.
Gilberte could not help asking what was the matter.

He rose on that question, and, threatening heaven with his clinched
fist,

"Implacable fate does not tire to persecute me," he replied. "I
had overcome all obstacles: I was happy: I was looking forward to
a future of fortune and glory. No, the dreadful war must break out."

For the worthy maestro, this terrible catastrophe was but a new
caprice of his own destiny.

"What has happened to you?" inquired the young girl, repressing a
smile.

"It happens to me, signora, that I am about to lose my beloved
pupil. He leaves me; he forsakes me. In vain have I thrown myself
at his feet. My tears have not been able to detain him. He is going
to fight; he leaves; he is a soldier!"

Then it was given to Mlle. Gilberte to see clearly within her soul.
Then she understood how absolutely she had given herself up, and to
what extent she had ceased to belong to herself.

Her sensation was terrible, such as if her whole blood had suddenly
escaped through her open arteries. She turned pale, her teeth
chattered; and she seemed so near fainting, that the Signor Gismondo
sprang to the door, crying, "Help, help! she is dying."

Mme. Favoral, frightened, came running in. But already, thanks to
an all-powerful projection of will, Mlle. Gilberte had recovered,
and, smiling a pale smile,

"It's nothing, mamma," she said. "A sudden pain in the head; but
it's gone already."

The worthy maestro was in perfect agony. Taking Mme. Favoral aside,

"It is my fault," he said. "It is the story of my unheard-of
misfortunes that has upset her thus. Monstrous egotist that I am!
I should have been careful of her exquisite sensibility."

She insisted, nevertheless, upon taking her lesson as usual, and
recovered enough presence of mind to extract from the Signor Gismondo
everything that his much-regretted pupil had confided to him.

That was not much. He knew that his pupil had gone, like anyone
else, to Rue de Cherche Midi; that he had signed an engagement;
and had been ordered to join a regiment in process of formation
near Tours. And, as he went out,

"That is nothing," said the kind maestro to Mme. Favoral. "The
signora has quite recovered, and is as gay as a lark."

The signora, shut up in her room, was shedding bitter tears. She
tried to reason with herself, and could not succeed. Never had
the strangeness of her situation so clearly appeared to her. She
repeated to herself that she must be mad to have thus become
attached to a stranger. She wondered how she could have allowed
that love, which was now her very life, to take possession of her
soul. But to what end? It no longer rested with her to undo what
had been done.

When she thought that Marius de Tregars was about to leave Paris
to become a soldier, to fight, to die perhaps, she felt her head
whirl; she saw nothing around her but despair and chaos.

And, the more she thought, the more certain she felt that Marius
could not have trusted solely to the chance gossip of the Signor
Pulei to communicate to her his determination.

"It is perfectly inadmissible," she thought. "It is impossible that
he will not make an effort to see me before going."

Thoroughly imbued with the idea, she wiped her eyes, took a seat
by an open window; and, whilst apparently busy with her work, she
concentrated her whole attention upon the street.

There were more people out than usual. The recent events had
stirred Paris to its lowest depths, and, as from the crater of a
volcano in labor, all the social scoriae rose to the surface. Men
of sinister appearance left their haunts, and wandered through the
city. The workshops were all deserted; and people strolled at
random, stupor or terror painted on their countenance. But in vain
did Mlle. Gilberte seek in all this crowd the one she hoped to see.
The hours went by, and she was getting discouraged, when suddenly,
towards dusk, at the corner of the Rue Turenne,

"'Tis he," cried a voice within her.

It was, in fact, M. de Tregars. He was walking towards the
Boulevard, slowly, and his eyes raised.

Palpitating, the girl rose to her feet. She was in one of those
moments of crisis when the blood, rushing to the brain, smothers
all judgment. Unconscious, as it were, of her acts, she leaned
over the window, and made a sign to Marius, which he understood very
well, and which meant, "Wait, I am coming down."

"Where are you going, dear?" asked Mme. Favoral, seeing Gilberte
putting on her bonnet.

"To the shop, mamma, to get a shade of worsted I need."

Mlle. Gilberte was not in the habit of going out alone; but it
happened quite often that she would go down in the neighborhood on
some little errand.

"Do you wish the girl to go out with you?" asked Mme. Favoral.

"Oh, it isn't worth while!"

She ran down the stairs; and once out, regardless of the looks that
might be watching her, she walked straight to M. de Tregars, who was
waiting on the corner of the Rue des Minimes.

"You are going away?" she said, too much agitated to notice his own
emotion, which was, however, quite evident.

"I must," he answered.

"Oh!"

"When France is invaded, the place for a man who bears my name is
where the fighting is."

"But there will be fighting in Paris too."

"Paris has four times as many defenders as it needs. It is outside
that soldiers will be wanted."

They walked slowly, as they spoke thus, along the Rue des Minimes,
one of the least frequented in Paris; and there were only to be
seen at this hour five or six soldiers talking in front of the
barracks gate.

"Suppose I were to beg you not to go," resumed Mlle. Gilberte.
"Suppose I beseeched you, Marius!"

"I should remain then," he answered in a troubled voice; "but I
would be betraying my duty, and failing to my honor; and remorse
would weigh upon our whole life. Command now, and I will obey."

They had stopped; and no one seeing them standing there side by
side affectionate and familiar could have believed that they were
speaking to each other for the first time. They themselves did not
notice it, so much had they come, with the help of all-powerful
imagination, and in spite of separation, to the understanding of
intimacy. After a moment of painful reflection,

"I do not ask you any longer to stay," uttered the young girl.
He took her hand, and raised it to his lips.

"I expected no less of your courage," he said, his voice vibrating
with love. But he controlled himself, and, in a more quiet tone,

"Thanks to the indiscretion of Pulei," he added, "I was in hopes of
seeing you, but not to have the happiness of speaking to you. I
had written--"

He drew from his pocket a large envelope, and, handing it to Mlle.
Gilberte,

"Here is the letter," he continued, "which I intended for you. It
contains another, which I beg you to preserve carefully, and not to
open unless I do not return. I leave you in Paris a devoted friend,
the Count de Villegre. Whatever may happen to you, apply to him
with all confidence, as you would to myself."

Mlle. Gilberte, staggering, leaned against the wall.

"When do you expect to leave?" she inquired.

"This very night. Communications may be cut off at any moment."

Admirable in her sorrow, but also full of energy, the poor girl
looked up, and held out her hand to him.

"Go then," she said, "O my only friend! go, since honor commands.
But do not forget that it is not your life alone that you are going
to risk."

And, fearing to burst into sobs, she fled, and reached the Rue St.
Gilles a few moments before her father, who had gone out in quest
of news.

Those he brought home were of the most sinister kind.

Like the rising tide, the Prussians spread and advanced, slowly,
but steadily. Their marches were numbered; and the day and hour
could be named when their flood would come and strike the walls
of Paris.

And so, at all the railroad stations, there was a prodigious rush
of people who wished to leave at any cost, in any way, in the
baggage-car if needs be, and who certainly were not, like Marius,
rushing to meet the enemy.

One after another, M. Favoral had seen nearly every one he knew
take flight.

The Baron and Baroness de Thaller and their daughter had gone to
Switzerland; M. Costeclar was traveling in Belgium; the elder
Jottras was in England, buying guns and cartridge; and if the
younger Jottras, with M. Saint Pavin of "The Financial Pilot,"
remained in Paris, it was because, through the gallant influence
of a lady whose name was not mentioned, they had obtained some
valuable contracts from the government.

The perplexities of the cashier of the Mutual Credit were great.
The day that the Baron and the Baroness de Thaller had left,

"Pack up our trunks," he ordered his wife. "The bourse is going
to close; and the Mutual Credit can very well get along without me."

But the next day he became undecided again. What Mlle. Gilberte
thought she could guess, was, that he was dying to start alone, and
leave his family, but dared not do it. He hesitated so long, that
at last, one evening,

"You may unpack the trunks," he said to his wife. "Paris is
invested; and no one can now leave."

XVIII

In fact, the news had just come, that the Western Railroad, the last
one that had remained open, was now cut off.

Paris was invested; and so rapid had been the investment, that it
could hardly be believed.

People went in crowds on all the culminating points, the hills of
Montmartre, and the heights of the Trocadero. Telescopes had been
erected there; and every one was anxious to scan the horizon, and
look for the Prussians.

But nothing could be discovered. The distant fields retained their
quiet and smiling aspect under the mild rays of the autumn sun.

So that it really required quite an effort of imagination to realize
the sinister fact, to understand that Paris, with its two millions
of inhabitants, was indeed cut off from the world and separated from
the rest of France, by an insurmountable circle of steel.

Doubt, and something like a vague hope, could be traced in the tone
of the people who met on the streets, saying,

"Well, it's all over: we can't leave any more. Letters, even,
cannot pass. No more news, eh?"

But the next day, which was the 19th of September, the most
incredulous were convinced.

For the first time Paris shuddered at the hoarse voice of the cannon,
thundering on the heights of Chatillon. The siege of Paris, that
siege without example in history, had commenced.

The life of the Favorals during these interminable days of anguish
and suffering, was that of a hundred thousand other families.

Incorporated in the battalion of his ward, the cashier of the Mutual
Credit went off two or three times a week, as well as all his
neighbors, to mount guard on the ramparts,--a useless service
perhaps, but which those that performed it did not look upon as such,
--a very arduous service, at any rate, for poor merchants, accustomed
to the comforts of their shops, or the quiet of their offices.

To be sure, there was nothing heroic in tramping through the mud,
in receiving the rain or the snow upon the back, in sleeping on the
ground or on dirty straw, in remaining on guard with the thermometer
twenty degrees below the freezing-point. But people die of pleurisy
quite as certainly as of a Prussian bullet; and many died of it.

Maxence showed himself but rarely at Rue St. Gilles: enlisted in a
battalion of sharpshooters, he did duty at the advanced posts. And,
as to Mme. Favoral and Mlle. Gilberte, they spent the day trying to
get something to live on. Rising before daylight, through rain or
snow, they took their stand before the butcher's stall, and, after
waiting for hours, received a small slice of horse-meat.

Alone in the evening, by the side of the hearth where a few pieces
of green wood smoked without burning, they started at each of the
distant reports of the cannon. At each detonation that shook the
window-panes, Mme. Favoral thought that it was, perhaps, the one
that had killed her son.

And Mlle. Gilberte was thinking of Marius de Tregars. The accursed
days of November and December had come. There were constant rumors
of bloody battles around Orleans. She imagined Marius, mortally
wounded, expiring on the snow, alone, without help, and without a
friend to receive his supreme will and his last breath.

One evening the vision was so clear, and the impression so strong,
that she started up with a loud cry.

"What is it?" asked Mme. Favoral, alarmed. "What is the matter?"

With a little perspicacity, the worthy woman could easily have
obtained her daughter's secret; for Mlle. Gilberte was not in
condition to deny anything. But she contented herself with an
explanation which meant nothing, and had not a suspicion, when
the girl answered with a forced smile,

"It's nothing, dear mother, nothing but an absurd idea that crossed
my mind."

Strange to say, never had the cashier of the Mutual Credit been for
his family what he was during these months of trials.

During the first weeks of the siege he had been anxious, agitated,
nervous; he wandered through the house like a soul in trouble; he
had moments of inconceivable prostration, during which tears could
be seen rolling down upon his cheeks, and then fits of anger
without motive.

But each day that elapsed had seemed to bring calm to his soul.
Little by little, he had become to his wife so indulgent and so
affectionate, that the poor helot felt her heart touched. He had
for his daughter attentions which caused her to wonder.

Often, when the weather was fine, he took them out walking, leading
them along the quays towards a part of the walls occupied by the
battalion of their ward. Twice he took them to St. Onen, where the
sharp-shooters were encamped to which Maxence belonged.

Another day he wished to take them to visit M. de Thaller's house,
of which he had charge. They refused, and instead of getting angry,
as he certainly would have done formerly, he commenced describing to
them the splendors of the apartments, the magnificent furniture, the
carpets and the hangings, the paintings by the great masters, the
objects of arts, the bronzes, in a word, all that dazzling luxury
of which financiers make use, somewhat as hunters do of the mirror
with which larks are caught.

Of business, nothing was ever said.

He went every morning as far as the office of the Mutual Credit;
but, as he said, it was solely as a matter of form. Once in a long
while, M. Saint Pavin and the younger Jottras paid a visit to the
Rue St. Gilles. They had suspended,--the one the payments of his
banking house; the other, the publication of "The Financial Pilot."

But they were not idle for all that; and, in the midst of the public
distress, they still managed to speculate upon something, no one
knew what, and to realize profits.

They rallied pleasantly the fools who had faith in the defence, and
imitated in the most laughable manner the appearance, under their
soldier's coat, of three or four of their friends who had joined
the marching battalions. They boasted that they had no privations
to endure, and always knew where to find the fresh butter wherewith
to dress the large slices of beef which they possessed the art of
finding. Mme. Favoral heard them laugh; and M. Saint Pavin, the
manager of "The Financial Pilot," exclaimed,

"Come, come! we would be fools to complain. It is a general
liquidation, without risks and without costs." Their mirth had
something revolting in it; for it was now the last and most acute
period of the siege.

At the beginning, the greatest optimists hardly thought that Paris
could hold out longer than six weeks. And now the investment had
lasted over four months. The population was reduced to nameless
articles of food. The supply of bread had failed; the wounded, for
lack of a little soup, died in the ambulances; old people and
children perished by the hundred; on the left bank the shells came
down thick and fast, the weather was intensely cold, and there was
no more fuel.

And yet no one complained. From the midst of that population of
two millions of inhabitants, not one voice rose to beg for their
comfort, their health, their life even, at the cost of a
capitulation.

Clear-sighted men had never hoped that Paris alone could compel
the raising of the siege; but they thought, that by holding out,
and keeping the Prussians under its walls, Paris would give to
France time to rise, to organize armies, and to rush upon the enemy.
There was the duty of Paris; and Paris was toiling to fulfil it to
the utmost limits of possibility, reckoning as a victory each day
that it gained.

Unfortunately, all this suffering was to be in vain. The fatal
hour struck, when, supplies being exhausted, it became necessary
to surrender. During three days the Prussians camped in the Champs
Elysees, gazing with longing eyes upon that city, object of their
most eager desires,--that Paris within which, victorious though
they were, they had not dared to venture. Then, soon after,
communications were reopened; and one morning, as he received a
letter from Switzerland,

"It is from the Baron de Thaller!" exclaimed M. Favoral.

Exactly so. The manager of the Mutual Credit was a prudent man.
Pleasantly situated in Switzerland, he was in nowise anxious to
return to Paris before being quite certain that he had no risks
to run.

Upon receiving M. Favoral's assurances to that effect, he started;
and, almost at the same time the elder Jottras and M. Costeclar
made their appearance.

XIX

It was a curious spectacle, the return of those braves for whom
Parisian slang had invented the new and significant expression of
_franc-fileur_.

They were not so proud then as they have been since. Feeling rather
embarrassed in the midst of a population still quivering with the
emotions of the siege, they had at least the good taste to try and
find pretexts for their absence.

"I was cut off," affirmed the Baron de Thaller. "I had gone to
Switzerland to place my wife and daughter in safety. When I came
back, good-by! the Prussians had closed the doors. For more than
a week, I wandered around Paris, trying to find an opening. I
became suspected of being a spy. I was arrested. A little more,
and I was shot dead!"

"As to myself," declared M. Costeclar, "I foresaw exactly what has
happened. I knew that it was outside, to organize armies of relief,
that men would be wanted. I went to offer my services to the
government of defence; and everybody in Bordeaux saw me booted and
spurred, and ready to leave."

He was consequently soliciting the Cross of the Legion of Honor,
and was not without hopes of obtaining it through the all-powerful
influence of his financial connections.

"Didn't So-and-so get it?" he replied to objections. And he named
this or that individual whose feats of arms consisted principally
in having exhibited themselves in uniforms covered with gold lace
to the very shoulders.

"But I am the man who deserves it most, that cross," insisted the
younger M. Jottras; "for I, at least, have rendered valuable
services."

And he went on telling how, after searching for arms all over
England, he had sailed for New York, where he had purchased any
number of guns and cartridges, and even some batteries of artillery.

This last journey had been very wearisome to him, he added and yet
he did not regret it; for it had furnished him an opportunity to
study on the spot the financial morals of America; and he had
returned with ideas enough to make the fortune of three or four
stock companies with twenty millions of capital.

"Ah, those Americans!" he exclaimed. "They are the men who
understand business! We are but children by the side of them."

It was through M. Chapelain, the Desclavettes, and old Desormeaux,
that these news reached the Rue St. Gilles.

It was also through Maxence, whose battalion had been dissolved,
and who, whilst waiting for something better, had accepted a
clerkship in the office of the Orleans Railway, where he earned
two hundred francs a month. For M. Favoral saw and heard nothing
that was going on around him. He was wholly absorbed in his
business: he left earlier, came home later, and hardly allowed
himself time to eat and drink.

He told all his friends that business was looking up again in the
most unexpected manner; that there were fortunes to be made by
those who could command ready cash; and that it was necessary to
make up for lost time.

He pretended that the enormous indemnity to be paid to the Prussians
would necessitate an enormous movement of capital, financial
combinations, a loan, and that so many millions could not be handled
without allowing a few little millions to fall into intelligent
pockets.

Dazzled by the mere enumeration of those fabulous sums, "I should
not be a bit surprised," said the others, "to see Favoral double
and treble his fortune. What a famous match his daughter will be!"

Alas! never had Mlle. Gilberte felt in her heart so much hatred
and disgust for that money, the only thought, the sole subject of
conversation, of those around her,--for that cursed money which
had risen like an insurmountable obstacle between Marius and
herself.

For two weeks past, the communications had been completely restored;
and there was as yet no sign of M. de Tregars. It was with the most
violent palpitations of her heart that she awaited each day the hour
of the Signor Gismondo Pulei's lesson: and more painful each time
became her anguish when she heard him exclaim,

"Nothing, not a line, not a word. The pupil has forgotten his old
master!"

But Mlle. Gilberte knew well that Marius did not forget. Her blood
froze in her veins when she read in the papers the interminable
list of those poor soldiers who had succumbed during the invasion,
--the more fortunate ones under Prussian bullets; the others along
the roads, in the mud or in the snow, of cold, of fatigue, of
suffering and of want.

She could not drive from her mind the memory of that lugubrious
vision which had so much frightened her; and she was asking herself
whether it was not one of those inexplicable presentiments, of
which there are examples, which announce the death of a beloved
person.

Alone at night in her little room, Mlle. Gilberte withdrew from the
hiding-place, where she kept it preciously, that package which
Marius had confided to her, recommending her not to open it until
she was sure that he would not return. It was very voluminous,
enclosed in an envelope of thick paper, sealed with red wax, bearing
the arms of Tregars; and she had often wondered what it could
possibly contain. And now she shuddered at the thought that she
had perhaps the right to open it.

And she had no one of whom she could ask for a word of hope. She
was compelled to hide her tears, and to put on a smile. She was
compelled to invent pretexts for those who expressed their wonder
at seeing her exquisite beauty withering in the bud,--for her
mother, whose anxiety was without limit, when she saw her thus pale,
her eyes inflamed, and undermined by a continuous fever.

True, Marius, on leaving, had left her a friend, the Count de
Villegre; and, if any one knew any thing, he certainly did. But
she could see no way of hearing from him without risking her secret.
Write to him? Nothing was easier, since she had his address,--Rue
Turenne. But where could she ask him to direct his answer? Rue St.
Gilles? Impossible! True, she might go to him, or make an
appointment in the neighborhood. But how could she escape, even
for an hour, without exciting Mme. Favoral's suspicions?

Sometimes it occurred to her to confide in Maxence, who was laboring
with admirable constancy to redeem his past.

But what! must she, then, confess the truth,--confess that she,
Gilberte, had lent her ears to the words of a stranger, met by
chance in the street, and that she looked forward to no happiness
in life save through him? She dared not. She could not take upon
herself to overcome the shame of such a situation.

She was on the verge of despair, the day when the Signor Pulei
arrived radiant, exclaiming from the very threshold, "I have news!"

And at once, without surprise at the awful emotion of the girl,
which he attributed solely to the interest she felt for him,--him
Gismondo Pulei, he went on,--"I did not get them direct, but through
a respectable signor with long mustaches, and a red ribbon at his
buttonhole, who, having received a letter from my dear pupil, has
deigned to come to my room, and read it to me."

The worthy maestro had not forgotten a single word of that letter;
and it was almost literally that he repeated it.

Six weeks after having enlisted, his pupil had been promoted
corporal, then sergeant, then lieutenant. He had fought in all
the battles of the army of the Loire without receiving a scratch.
But at the battle of the Maus, whilst leading back his men, who
were giving way, he had been shot twice, full in the breast.
Carried dying into an ambulance, he had lingered three weeks
between life and death, having lost all consciousness of self.
Twenty-four hours after, he had recovered his senses; and he took
the first opportunity to recall himself to the affection of his
friends. All danger was over, he suffered scarcely any more; and
they promised him, that, within a month, he would be up, and able
to return to Paris.

For the first time in many weeks Mlle. Gilberte breathed freely.
But she would have been greatly surprised, had she been told that
a day was drawing near when she would bless those wounds which
detained Marius upon a hospital cot. And yet it was so.

Mme. Favoral and her daughter were alone, one evening, at the house,
when loud clamors arose from the street, in the midst of which
could be heard drunken voices yelling the refrains of revolutionary
songs, accompanied by continuous rumbling sounds. They ran to the
window. The National Guards had just taken possession of the cannon
deposited in the Place Royale. The reign of the Commune was
commencing.

In less than forty-eight hours, people came to regret the worst days
of the siege. Without leaders, without direction, the honest men
had lost their heads. All the braves who had returned at the time
of the armistice had again taken flight. Soon people had to hide
or to fly to avoid being incorporated in the battalions of the
Commune. Night and day, around the walls, the fusillade rattled,
and the artillery thundered.

Again M. Favoral had given up going to his office. What's the use?
Sometimes, with a singular look, he would say to his wife and
children,

"This time it is indeed a liquidation. Paris is lost!"

And indeed they thought so, when at the hour of the supreme struggle,
among the detonations of the cannon and the explosion of the shells;
they felt their house shaking to its very foundations; when in the
midst of the night they saw their apartment as brilliantly lighted
as at mid-day by the flames which were consuming the Hotel de Ville
and the houses around the Place de la Bastille. And, in fact, the
rapid action of the troops alone saved Paris from destruction.

But towards the end of the following week, matters had commenced to
quiet down; and Gilberte learned the return of Marius.

XX

"At last it has been given to my eyes to contemplate him, and to my
arms to press him against my heart!"

It was in these terms that the old Italian master, all vibrating
with enthusiasm, and with his most terrible accent, announced to
Mlle. Gilberte that he had just seen that famous pupil from whom he
expected both glory and fortune.

"But how weak he is still!" he added, "and suffering from his wounds.
I hardly recognized him, he has grown so pale and so thin."

But the girl was listening to him no more. A flood of life filled
her heart. This moment made her forget all her troubles and all
her anguish.

"And I too," thought she, "shall see him again to-day."

And, with the unerring instinct of the woman who loves, she
calculated the moment when Marius would appear in Rue St. Gilles.
It would probably be about nightfall, like the first time, before
leaving; that is, about eight o'clock, for the days just then were
about the longest in the year. Now it so happened, that, on that
very day and hour, Mlle. Gilberte expected to be alone at home.
It was understood that her mother would, after dinner, call on
Mme. Desclavettes, who was in bed, half dead of the fright she had
had during the last convulsions of the Commune. She would therefore
be free and would not need to invent a pretext to go out for a few
moments. She could not help, however, but feel that this was a
bold and most venturesome step for her to take; and, when her mother
went out, she had not yet fully decided what to do. But her bonnet
was within reach, and Marius' letter was in her pocket. She went
to sit at the window. The street was solitary and silent as of
old. Night was coming; and heavy black clouds floated over Paris.
The heat was overpowering: there was not a breath of air.

One by one, as the hour was approaching when she expected to see
Marius, the hesitations of the young girl vanished like smoke. She
feared but one thing,--that he would not come, or that he may
already have come and left, without succeeding in seeing her.

Already did the objects become less distinct; and the gas was being
lit in the back-shops, when she recognized him on the other side of
the street. He looked up as he went by; and, without stopping, he
addressed her a rapid gesture, which she alone could understand, and
which meant, "Come, I beseech you!"

Her heart beating loud enough to be heard, Mlle. Gilberte ran down
the stairs. But it was only when she found herself in the street
that she could appreciate the magnitude of the risk she was running.
Concierges and shopkeepers were all sitting in front of their doors,
taking the fresh air. All knew her. Would they not be surprised
to see her out alone at such an hour? Twenty steps in front of her
she could see Marius. But he had understood the danger; for,
instead of turning the corner of the Rue des Minimes, he followed
the Rue St. Gilles straight, and only stopped on the other side of
the Boulevard.

Then only did Mlle. Gilberte join him; and she could not withhold
an exclamation, when she saw that he was as pale as death, and
scarcely able to stand and to walk.

"How imprudent of you to have returned so soon!" she said.

A little blood came to M. de Tregars' cheeks. His face brightened
up, and, in a voice quivering with suppressed passion,

"It would have been more imprudent still to stay away," he uttered.
"Far from you, I felt myself dying."

They were both leaning against the door of a closed shop; and they
were as alone in the midst of the throng that circulated on the
Boulevards, busy looking at the fearful wrecks of the Commune.

"And besides," added Marius, "have I, then, a minute to lose? I
asked you for three years. Fifteen months have gone, and I am no
better off than on the first day. When this accursed war broke out,
all my arrangements were made. I was certain to rapidly accumulate
a sufficient fortune to enable me to ask for your hand without being
refused. Whereas now--"

"Well?"

"Now every thing is changed. The future is so uncertain, that no
one wishes to venture their capital. Marcolet himself, who certainly
does not lack boldness, and who believes firmly in the success of our
enterprise, was telling me yesterday, 'There is nothing to be done
just now: we must wait.'"

There was in his voice such an intensity of grief, that the girl
felt the tears coming to her eyes.

"We will wait then," she said, attempting to smile.

But M. de Tregars shook his head.

"Is it possible?" he said. "Do you, then, think that I do not know
what a life you lead?"

Mlle. Gilberte looked up.

"Have I ever complained?" she asked proudly.

"No. Your mother and yourself, you have always religiously kept the
secret of your tortures; and it was only a providential accident
that revealed them to me. But I learned every thing at last. I know
that she whom I love exclusively and with all the power of my soul is
subjected to the most odious despotism, insulted, and condemned to
the most humiliating privations. And I, who would give my life for
her a thousand times over,--I can do nothing for her. Money raises
between us such an insuperable obstacle, that my love is actually an
offence. To hear from her, I am driven to accept accomplices. If I
obtain from her a few moments of conversation, I run the risk of
compromising her maidenly reputation."

Deeply affected by his emotion:

"At least," said Mlle. Gilberte, "you succeeded in delivering me
from M. Costeclar."

"Yes, I was fortunately able to find weapons against that scoundrel.
But can I find some against all others that may offer? Your father
is very rich; and the men are numerous for whom marriage is but a
speculation like any other."

"Would you doubt me?"

"Ah, rather would I doubt myself! But I know what cruel trials your
refusal to marry M. Costeclar imposed upon you: I know what a
merciless struggle you had to sustain. Another pretender may come,
and then--No, no, you see that we cannot wait."

"What would you do?"

"I know not. I have not yet decided upon my future course. And yet
Heaven knows what have been the labors of my mind during that long
month I have just spent upon an ambulance-bed, that month during
which you were my only thought. Ah! when I think of it, I cannot
find words to curse the recklessness with which I disposed of my
fortune."

As if she had heard a blasphemy, the young girl drew back a step.

"It is impossible," she exclaimed, "that you should regret having
paid what your father owed."

A bitter smile contracted M. de Tregars' lips.

"And suppose I were to tell you," he replied, "that my father in
reality owed nothing?"

"Oh!"

"Suppose I told you they took from him his entire fortune, over two
millions, as audaciously as a pick-pocket robs a man of his
handkerchief? Suppose I told you, that, in his loyal simplicity,
he was but a man of straw in the hands of skillful knaves? Have you
forgotten what you once heard the Count de Villegre say?"

Mlle. Gilberte had forgotten nothing.

"The Count de Villegre," she replied, "pretended that it was time
enough still to compel the men who had robbed your father to
disgorge."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Marius. "And now I am determined to make them
disgorge."

In the mean time night had quite come. Lights appeared in the
shop-windows; and along the line of the Boulevard the gas-lamps were
being lit. Alarmed by this sudden illumination, M. de Tregars drew
off Mlle. Gilberte to a more obscure spot, by the stairs that lead
to the Rue Amelot; and there, leaning against the iron railing, he
went on,

"Already, at the time of my father's death, I suspected the
abominable tricks of which he was the victim. I thought it unworthy
of me to verify my suspicions. I was alone in the world: my wants
were few. I was fully convinced that my researches would give me,
within a brief time, a much larger fortune than the one I gave up.
I found something noble and grand, and which flattered my vanity,
in thus abandoning every thing, without discussion, without
litigation, and consummating my ruin with a single dash of my pen.
Among my friends the Count de Villegre alone had the courage to tell
me that this was a guilty piece of folly; that the silence of the
dupes is the strength of the knaves; that my indifference, which
made the rascals rich, would make them laugh too. I replied that I
did not wish to see the name of Tregars dragged into court in a
scandalous law-suit, and that to preserve a dignified silence was
to honor my father's memory. Treble fool that I was! The only way
to honor my father's memory was to avenge him, to wrest his spoils
from the scoundrels who had caused his death. I see it clearly
to-day. But, before undertaking any thing, I wished to consult you."

Mlle. Gilberte was listening with the most intense attention. She
had come to mingle so completely in her thoughts her future life and
that of M. de Tregars, that she saw nothing unusual in the fact of
his consulting her upon matters affecting their prospects, and of
seeing herself standing there deliberating with him.

"You will require proofs," she suggested.

"I have none, unfortunately," replied M. de Tregars; "at least, none
sufficiently positive, and such as are required by courts of justice.
But I think I may find them. My former suspicions have become a
certainty. The same good luck that enabled me to deliver you of M.
Costeclar's persecutions, also placed in my hands the most valuable
information."

"Then you must act," uttered Mlle. Gilberte resolutely.

Marius hesitated for a moment, as if seeking expression to convey
what he had still to say. Then,

"It is my duty," he proceeded, "to conceal nothing from you. The
task is a heavy one. The obscure schemers of ten years ago have
become big financiers, intrenched behind their money-bags as behind
an impregnable fort. Formerly isolated, they have managed to gather
around them powerful interests, accomplices high in office, and
friends whose commanding situation protects them. Having succeeded,
they are absolved. They have in their favor what is called public
consideration,--that idiotic thing which is made up of the admiration
of the fools, the approbation of the knaves, and the concert of all
interested vanities. When they pass, their horses at full trot,
their carriage raising a cloud of dust, insolent, impudent, swelled
with the vulgar fatuity of wealth, people bow to the ground, and say,
'Those are smart fellows!' And in fact, yes, by skill or luck, they
have hitherto avoided the police-courts where so many others have
come to grief. Those who despise them fear them, and shake hands
with them. Moreover, they are rich enough not to steal any more
themselves. They have employes to do that. I take Heaven to witness
that never until lately had the idea come to me to disturb in their
possession the men who robbed my father. Alone, what need had I of
money? Later, O my friend! I thought I could succeed in conquering
the fortune I needed to obtain your hand. You had promised to wait;
and I was happy to think that I should owe you to my sole exertions.
Events have crushed my hopes. I am to-day compelled to acknowledge
that all my efforts would be in vain. To wait would be to run the
risk of losing you. Therefore I hesitate no longer. I want what's
mine: I wish to recover that of which I have been robbed. Whatever
I may do,--for, alas! I know not to what I may be driven, what
role I may have to play,--remember that of all my acts, of all my
thoughts, there will not be a single one that does not aim to bring
nearer the blessed day when you shall become my wife."

There was in his voice so much unspeakable affection, that the young
girl could hardly restrain her tears.

"Never, whatever may happen, shall I doubt you, Marius," she uttered.

He took her hands, and, pressing them passionately within his,

"And I," he exclaimed, "I swear, that, sustained by the thought of
you, there is no disgust that I will not overcome, no obstacle that
I will not overthrow."

He spoke so loud, that two or three persons stopped. He noticed it,
and was brought suddenly from sentiment to the reality,

"Wretches that we are," he said in a low voice, and very fast, "we
forget what this interview may cost us!"

And he led Mlle. Gilberte across the Boulevard; and, whilst making
their way to the Rue St. Gilles, through the deserted streets,

"It is a dreadful imprudence we have just committed," resumed M. de
Tregars. "But it was indispensable that we should see each other;
and we had not the choice of means. Now, and for a long time, we
shall be separated. Every thing you wish me to know,--say it to
that worthy Gismondo, who repeats faithfully to me every word you
utter. Through him, also, you shall hear from me. Twice a week,
on Tuesdays and Fridays, about nightfall, I shall pass by your house;
and, if I am lucky enough to have a glimpse of you, I shall return
home fired with fresh energy. Should any thing extraordinary
happen, beckon to me, and I'll wait for you in the Rue des Minimes.
But this is an expedient to which we must only resort in the last
extremity. I should never forgive myself, were I to compromise your
fair name."

They had reached the Rue St. Gilles. Marius stopped.

"We must part," he began.

But then only Mlle. Gilberte remembered M. de Tregars' letter, which
she had in her pocket. Taking it out, and handing it to him,

"Here," she said, "is the package you deposited with me."

"No," he answered, repelling her gently, "keep that letter: it must
never be opened now, except by the Marquise de Tregars."

And raising her hand to his lips, and in a deeply agitated voice,

"Farewell!" he murmured. "Have courage, and have hope."

XXI

Mlle. Gilberte was soon far away; and Marius de Tregars remained
motionless at the corner of the street, following her with his eyes
through the darkness.

She was walking fast, staggering over the rough pavement. Leaving
Marius, she fell back upon the earth from the height of her dreams.
The deceiving illusion had vanished, and, returned to the world of
sad reality, she was seized with anxiety.

How long had she been out? She knew not, and found it impossible
to reckon. But it was evidently getting late; for some of the shops
were already closing.

Meantime, she had reached the house. Stepping back, and looking up,
she saw that there was light in the parlor.

"Mother has returned," she thought, trembling with apprehension.

She hurried up, nevertheless; and, just as she reached the landing,
Mme. Favoral opened the door, preparing to go down.

"At last you are restored to me!" exclaimed the poor mother, whose
sinister apprehensions were revealed by that single exclamation. "I
was going out to look for you at random,--in the streets, anywhere."

And, drawing her daughter within the parlor, she clasped her in her
arms with convulsive tenderness, exclaiming,

"Where were you? Where do you come from? Do you know that it is
after nine o'clock?"

Such had been Mlle. Gilberte's state of mind during the whole of
that evening, that she had not even thought of finding a pretext
to justify her absence. Now it was too late. Besides, what
explanation would have been plausible? Instead, therefore, of
answering,

"Why, dear mother," she said with a forced smile, "has it not
happened to me twenty times to go out in the neighborhood?"

But Mme. Favoral's confiding credulity existed no longer.

"I have been blind, Gilberte," she interrupted; "but this time my
eyes must open to evidence. There is in your life a mystery,
something extraordinary, which I dare not try to guess."

Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up, and, looking her mother straight in
the eyes, with her beautiful, clear glance,

"Would you suspect me of something wrong, then?" she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral stopped her with a gesture.

"A young girl who conceals something from her mother always does
wrong," she uttered. "It is a long while since I have had for the
first time the presentiment that you were hiding something from me.
But, when I questioned you, you succeeded in quieting my suspicions.
You have abused my confidence and my weakness."

This reproach was the most cruel that could be addressed to Mlle.
Gilberte. The blood rushed to her face, and, in a firm voice,

"Well, yes," said she: "I have a secret."

"Dear me!"

"And, if I did not confide it to you, it is because it is also the
secret of another. Yes, I confess it, I have been imprudent in the
extreme; I have stepped beyond all the limits of propriety and social
custom; I have exposed myself to the worst calumnies. But never,--I
swear it,--never have I done any thing of which my conscience can
reproach me, nothing that I have to blush for, nothing that I regret,
nothing that I am not ready to do again to-morrow."

"I said nothing, 'tis true; but it was my duty. Alone I had to
suffer the responsibility of my acts. Having alone freely engaged
my future, I wished to bear alone the weight of my anxiety. I should
never have forgiven myself for having added this new care to all your
other sorrows."

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