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Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau

Part 4 out of 10

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Mme. Favoral stood dismayed. Big tears rolled down her withered
cheeks.

"Don't you see, then," she stammered, "that all my past suffering is
as nothing compared to what I endure to-day? Good heavens! what have
I ever done to deserve so many trials? Am I to be spared none of the
troubles of this world? And it is through my own daughter that I am
the most cruelly stricken!"

This was more than Mlle. Gilberte could bear. Her heart was breaking
at the sight of her mother's tears, that angel of meekness and
resignation. Throwing her arms around her neck, and kissing her on
the eyes,

"Mother," she murmured, "adored mother, I beg of you do not weep
thus! Speak to me! What do you wish me to do?"

Gently the poor woman drew back.

"Tell me the truth," she answered.

Was it not certain that this was the very thing she would ask; in
fact, the only thing she could ask? Ah! how much would the young
girl have preferred one of her father's violent scenes, and
brutalities which would have exalted her energy, instead of
crushing it!

Attempting to gain time,

"Well, yes," she answered, "I'll tell you every thing, mother, but
not now, to-morrow, later."

She was about to yield, however, when her father's arrival cut
short their conversation.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit was quite lively that night. He
was humming a tune, a thing which did not happen to him four times
a year, and which was indicative of the most extreme satisfaction.
But he stopped short at the sight of the disturbed countenance of his
wife and daughter.

"What is the matter?" he inquired.

"Nothing," hastily answered Mlle. Gilberte,--"nothing at all,
father."

"Then you are crying for your amusement," he said. "Come, be candid
for once, and confess that Maxence has been at his tricks again!"

"You are mistaken, father: I swear it!"

He asked no further questions, being in his nature not very curious,
whether because family matters were of so little consequence to him,
or because he had a vague idea that his general behavior deprived
him of all right to their confidence.

"Very well, then," he said in a gruff tone, "let us all go to bed.
I have worked so hard to-day, that I am quite exhausted. People
who pretend that business is dull make me laugh. Never has M. de
Thaller been in the way of making so much money as now."

When he spoke, they obeyed. So that Mlle. Gilberte was thus going
to have the whole night before her to resume possession of herself,
to pass over in her mind the events of the evening, and deliberate
coolly upon the decision she must come to; for, she could not doubt
it, Mme. Favoral would, the very next day, renew her questions.

What should she say? All? Mlle. Gilberte felt disposed to do so
by all the aspirations of her heart, by the certainty of indulgent
complicity, by the thought of finding in a sympathetic soul the echo
of her joys, of her troubles, and of her hopes.

Yes. But Mme. Favoral was still the same woman, whose firmest
resolutions vanished under the gaze of her husband. Let a pretender
come; let a struggle begin, as in the case of M. Costeclar,--would
she have strength enough to remain silent? No!

Then it would be a fearful scene with M. Favoral. He might,
perhaps, even go to M. de Tregars. What scandal! For he was a man
who spared no one; and then a new obstacle would rise between them,
more insurmountable still than the others.

Mlle. Gilberte was thinking, too, of Marius's projects; of that
terrible game he was about to play, the issue of which was to decide
their fate. He had said enough to make her understand all its
perils, and that a single indiscretion might suffice to set at
nought the result of many months' labor and patience. Besides, to
speak, was it not to abuse Marius's confidence. How could she
expect another to keep a secret she had been unable to keep herself?

At last, after protracted and painful hesitation, she decided that
she was bound to silence, and that she would only vouchsafe the
vaguest explanations.

It was in vain, then, that, on the next and the following days,
Mme. Favoral tried to obtain that confession which she had seen,
as it were, rise to her daughter's lips. To her passionate
adjurations, to her tears, to her ruses even, Mlle. Gilberte
invariably opposed equivocal answers, a story through which nothing
could be guessed, save one of those childish romances which stop
at the preface,--a schoolgirl love for a chimerical hero.

There was nothing in this very reassuring to a mother; but Mme.
Favoral knew her daughter too well to hope to conquer her invincible
obstinacy. She insisted no more, appeared convinced, but resolved
to exercise the utmost vigilance. In vain, however, did she display
all the penetration of which she was capable. The severest
attention did not reveal to her a single suspicious fact, not a
circumstance from which she could draw an induction, until, at last,
she thought that she must have been mistaken.

The fact is, that Mlle. Gilberte had not been long in feeling
herself watched; and she observed herself with a tenacious
circumspection that could hardly have been expected of her resolute
and impatient nature. She had trained herself to a sort of cheerful
carelessness, to which she strictly adhered, watching every
expression of her countenance, and avoiding carefully those hours
of vague revery in which she formerly indulged.

For two successive weeks, fearing to be betrayed by her looks, she
had the courage not to show herself at the window at the hour when
she knew Marius would pass. Moreover, she was very minutely
informed of the alternatives of the campaign undertaken by M. de
Tregars.

More enthusiastic than ever about his pupil, the Signor Gismondo
Pulei never tired of singing his praise, and with such pomp of
expression, and so curious an exuberance of gesticulation, that Mme.
Favoral was much amused; and, on the days when she was present at
her daughter's lesson, she was the first to inquire,

"Well, how is that famous pupil?"

And, according to what Marius had told him,

"He is swimming in the purest satisfaction," answered the candid
maestro. "Every thing succeeds miraculously well, and much beyond
his hopes."

Or else, knitting his brows--

"He was sad yesterday," he said, "owing to an unexpected
disappointment; but he does not lose courage. We shall succeed."

The young girl could not help smiling to see her mother assisting
thus the unconscious complicity of the Signor Gismondo. Then she
reproached herself for having smiled, and for having thus come,
through a gradual and fatal descent, to laugh at a duplicity at
which she would have blushed in former times. In spite of herself,
however, she took a passionate interest in the game that was being
played between her mother and herself, and of which her secret was
the stake. It was an ever-palpitating interest in her hitherto
monotonous life, and a source of constantly-renewed emotions.

The days became weeks, and the weeks months; and Mme. Favoral
relaxed her useless surveillance, and, little by little, gave it
up almost entirely. She still thought, that, at a certain moment,
something unusual had occurred to her daughter; but she felt
persuaded, that, whatever that was, it had been forgotten.

So that, on the stated days, Mlle. Gilberte could go and lean upon
the window, without fear of being called to account for the emotion
which she felt when M. de Tregars appeared. At the expected hour,
invariably, and with a punctuality to shame M. Favoral himself, he
turned the corner of the Rue Turenne, exchanged a rapid glance with
the young girl, and passed on.

His health was completely restored; and with it he had recovered
that graceful virility which results from the perfect blending of
suppleness and strength. But he no longer wore the plain garments
of former days. He was dressed now with that elegant simplicity
which reveals at first sight that rarest of objects,--a "perfect
gentleman." And, whilst she accompanied him with her eyes as he
walked towards the Boulevard, she felt thoughts of joy and pride
rising from the bottom of her soul.

"Who would ever imagine," thought she, "that this young gentleman
walking away yonder is my affianced husband, and that the day is
perhaps not far, when, having become his wife, I shall lean upon
his arm? Who would think that all my thoughts belong to him, that
it is for my sake that he has given up the ambition of his life,
and is now prosecuting another object? Who would suspect that it
is for Gilberte Favoral's sake that the Marquis de Tregars is
walking in the Rue St. Gilles?"

And, indeed, Marius did deserve some credit for these walks; for
winter had come, spreading a thick coat of mud over the pavement
of all those little streets which are always forgotten by the
street-cleaners.

The cashier's home had resumed its habits of before the war, its
drowsy monotony scarcely disturbed by the Saturday dinner, by M.
Desclavettes' naivetes or old Desormeaux's puns.

Maxence, in the mean time, had ceased to live with his parents. He
had returned to Paris immediately after the Commune; and, feeling no
longer in the humor to submit to the paternal despotism, he had
taken a small apartment on the Boulevard du Temple; but, at the
pressing instance of his mother, he had consented to come every
night to dine at the Rue St. Gilles.

Faithful to his oath, he was working hard, though without getting
on very fast. The moment was far from propitious; and the occasion,
which he had so often allowed to escape, did not offer itself again.
For lack of any thing better, he had kept his clerkship at the
railway; and, as two hundred francs a month were not quite sufficient
for his wants, he spent a portion of his nights copying documents
for M. Chapelain's successor.

"What do you need so much money for?" his mother said to him when
she noticed his eyes a little red.

"Every thing is so dear!" he answered with a smile, which was
equivalent to a confidence, and yet which Mme. Favoral did not
understand.

He had, nevertheless, managed to pay all his debts, little by
little. The day when, at last, he held in his hand the last
receipted bill, he showed it proudly to his father, begging him to
find him a place at the Mutual Credit, where, with infinitely less
trouble, he could earn so much more.

M. Favoral commenced to giggle.

"Do you take me for a fool, like your mother?" he exclaimed. "And
do you think I don't know what life you lead?"

"My life is that of a poor devil who works as hard as he can."

"Indeed! How is it, then, that women are constantly seen at your
house, whose dresses and manners are a scandal in the neighborhood?"

"You have been deceived, father."

"I have seen."

"It is impossible. Let me explain."

"No, you would have your trouble for nothing. You are, and you will
ever remain, the same; and it would be folly on my part to introduce
into an office where I enjoy the esteem of all, a fellow, who, some
day or other, will be fatally dragged into the mud by some lost
creature."

Such discussions were not calculated to make the relations between
father and son more cordial. Several times M. Favoral had
insinuated, that, since Maxence lodged away from home, he might as
well dine away too. And he would evidently have notified him to
do so, had he not been prevented by a remnant of human respect,
and the fear of gossip.

On the other hand, the bitter regret of having, perhaps, spoiled
his life, the uncertainty of the future, the penury of the moment,
all the unsatisfied desires of youth, kept Maxence in a state of
perpetual irritation.

The excellent Mme. Favoral exhausted all her arguments to quiet him.

"Your father is harsh for us," she said; "but is he less harsh for
himself? He forgives nothing; but he has never needed to be
forgiven himself. He does not understand youth, but he has never
been young himself; and at twenty he was as grave and as cold as
you see him now. How could he know what pleasure is?--he to whom
the idea has never come to take an hour's enjoyment."

"Have I, then, been guilty of any crimes, to be thus treated by my
father?" exclaimed Maxence, flushed with anger. "Our existence here
is an unheard-of thing. You, poor, dear mother!--you have never
had the free disposition of a five-franc-piece. Gilberte spends
her days turning her dresses, after having had them dyed. I am
driven to a petty clerkship. And my father has fifty thousand
francs a year!"

Such, indeed, was the figure at which the most moderate estimated
M. Favoral's fortune. M. Chapelain, who was supposed to be well
informed, insinuated freely that his friend Vincent, besides being
the cashier of the Mutual Credit, must also be one of its principal
stock-holders. Now, judging from the dividend which had just been
paid, the Mutual Credit must, since the war, have realized enormous
profits. All its enterprises were successful; and it was on the
point of negotiating a foreign loan which would infallibly fill its
exchequer to overflowing.

M. Favoral, moreover, defended himself feebly from these accusations
of concealed opulence. When M. Desormeaux told him, "Come, now,
between us, candidly, how many millions have you?" he had such a
strange way of affirming that people were very much mistaken, that
his friends' convictions became only the more settled. And, as
soon as they had a few thousand francs of savings, they promptly
brought them to him, imitated in this by a goodly number of the
small capitalists of the neighborhood, who were wont to remark
among themselves,

"That man is safer than the bank!"

Millionaire or otherwise, the cashier of the Mutual Credit became
daily more difficult to live with. If strangers, those who had
with him but a superficial intercourse, if the Saturday guests
themselves, discovered in him no appreciable change, his wife and
his children followed with anxious surprise the modifications of
his humor.

If outwardly he still appeared the same impassible, precise, and
grave man, he showed himself at home more fretful than an old maid,
--nervous, agitated, and subject to the oddest whims. After
remaining three or four days without opening his lips, he would
begin to speak upon all sorts of subjects with amazing volubility.
Instead of watering his wine freely, as formerly, he had begun to
drink it pure; and he often took two bottles at his meal, excusing
himself upon the necessity that he felt the need of stimulating
himself a little after his excessive labors.

Then he would be taken with fits of coarse gayety; and he related
singular anecdotes, intermingled with slang expressions, which
Maxence alone could understand.

On the morning of the first day of January, 1872, as he sat down
to breakfast, he threw upon the table a roll of fifty napoleons,
saying to his children,

"Here is your New Year's gift! Divide, and buy anything you like."

And as they were looking at him, staring, stupid with astonishment,

"Well, what of it?" he added with an oath. "Isn't it well, once in
a while, to scatter the coins a little?"

Those unexpected thousand francs Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte applied
to the purchase of a shawl, which their mother had wished for
ten years.

She laughed and she cried with pleasure and emotion, the poor woman;
and, whilst draping it over her shoulders,

"Well, well, my dear children," she said: "your father, after all,
is not such a bad man."

Of which they did not seem very well convinced. "One thing is sure,"
remarked Mlle. Gilberte: "to permit himself such liberality, papa
must be awfully rich."

M. Favoral was not present at this scene. The yearly accounts kept
him so closely confined to his office, that he remained forty-eight
hours without coming home. A journey which he was compelled to
undertake for M. de Thaller consumed the balance of the week.

But on his return he seemed satisfied and quiet. Without giving up
his situation at the Mutual Credit, he was about, he stated, to
associate himself with the Messrs. Jottras, M. Saint Pavin of
"The Financial Pilot," and M. Costeclar, to undertake the
construction of a foreign railway.

M. Costeclar was at the head of this enterprise, the enormous
profits of which were so certain and so clear; that they could be
figured in advance.

And whilst on this same subject,

"You were very wrong," he said to Mlle. Gilberte, "not to make haste
and marry Costeclar when he was willing to have you. You will never
find another such match,--a man who, before ten years, will be a
financial power."

The very name of M. Costeclar had the effect of irritating the young
girl.

"I thought you had fallen out?" she said to her father.

"So we had," he replied with some embarrassment, "because he has
never been willing to tell me why he had withdrawn; but people
always make up again when they have interests in common."

Formerly, before the war, M. Favoral would certainly never have
condescended to enter into all these details. But he was becoming
almost communicative. Mlle. Gilberte, who was observing him with
interested attention, fancied she could see that he was yielding
to that necessity of expansion, more powerful than the will itself,
which besets the man who carries within him a weighty secret.

Whilst for twenty years he had, so to speak, never breathed a word
on the subject of the Thaller family, now he was continually
speaking of them. He told his Saturday friends all about the
princely style of the baron, the number of his servants and horses,
the color of his liveries, the parties that he gave, what he spent
for pictures and objects of art, and even the very names of his
mistresses; for the baron had too much respect for himself not to
lay every year a few thousand napoleons at the feet of some young
lady sufficiently conspicuous to be mentioned in the society
newspapers.

M. Favoral confessed that he did not approve the baron; but it was
with a sort of bitter hatred that he spoke of the baroness. It was
impossible, he affirmed to his guests, to estimate even approximately
the fabulous sums squandered by her, scattered, thrown to the four
winds. For she was not prodigal, she was prodigality itself,--that
idiotic, absurd, unconscious prodigality which melts a fortune in a
turn of the hand; which cannot even obtain from money the
satisfaction of a want, a wish, or a fancy.

He said incredible things of her,--things which made Mme.
Desclavettes jump upon her seat, explaining that he learned all
these details from M. de Thaller, who had often commissioned him to
pay his wife's debts, and also from the baroness herself, who did
not hesitate to call sometimes at the office for twenty francs; for
such was her want of order, that, after borrowing all the savings
of her servants, she frequently had not two cents to throw to a
beggar.

Neither did the cashier of the Mutual Credit seem to have a very
good opinion of Mademoiselle de Thaller.

Brought up at hap-hazard, in the kitchen much more than in the
parlor, until she was twelve, and, later, dragged by her mother
anywhere,--to the races, to the first representations, to the
watering-places, always escorted by a squadron of the young men
of the bourse, Mlle. de Thaller had adopted a style which would
have been deemed detestable in a man. As soon as some questionable
fashion appeared, she appropriated it at once, never finding any
thing eccentric enough to make herself conspicuous. She rode on
horseback, fenced, frequented pigeon-shooting matches, spoke slang,
sang Theresa's songs, emptied neatly her glass of champagne, and
smoked her cigarette.

The guests were struck dumb with astonishment.

"But those people must spend millions!" interrupted M. Chapelain.

M. Favoral started as if he had been slapped on the back.

"Bash!" he answered. "They are so rich, so awfully rich!"

He changed the conversation that evening; but on the following
Saturday, from the very beginning of the dinner,

"I believe," he said, "that M. de Thaller has just discovered a
husband for his daughter."

"My compliments!" exclaimed M. Desormeaux. "And who may this bold
fellow be?"

"A nobleman, of course," he replied. "Isn't that the tradition?
As soon as a financier has made his little million, he starts in
quest of a nobleman to give him his daughter."

One of those painful presentiments, such as arise in the inmost
recesses of the soul, made Mlle. Gilberte turn pale. This
presentiment suggested to her an absurd, ridiculous, unlikely thing;
and yet she was sure that it would not deceive her,--so sure,
indeed, that she rose under the pretext of looking for something in
the side-board, but in reality to conceal the terrible emotion which
she anticipated.

"And this gentleman?" inquired M. Chapelain.

"Is a marquis, if you please,--the Marquis de Tregars."

Well, yes, it was this very name that Mlle. Gilberte was expecting,
and well that she did; for she was thus able to command enough
control over herself to check the cry that rose to her throat.

"But this marriage is not made yet," pursued M. Favoral. "This
marquis is not yet so completely ruined, that he can be made to do
any thing they please. Sure, the baroness has set her heart upon
it, oh! but with all her might!"

A discussion which now arose prevented Gilberte from learning any
more; and as soon as the dinner, which seemed eternal to her, was
over, she complained of a violent headache, and withdrew to her room.

She shook with fever; her teeth chattered. And yet she could not
believe that Marius was betraying her, nor that he could have the
thought of marrying such a girl as M. Favoral had described, and
for money too! Poor, ah! No, that was not admissible. Although
she remembered well that Marius had made her swear to believe
nothing that might be said of him, she spent a horrible Sunday,
and she felt like throwing herself in the Signor Gismondo's arms,
when, in giving her his lesson the following Monday,

"My poor pupil," he said, "feels miserable. A marriage has been
spoken of for him, for which he has a perfect horror; and he trembles
lest the rumor may reach his intended, whom he loves exclusively."

Mlle. Gilberte felt re-assured after that. And yet there remained
in her heart an invincible sadness. She could hardly doubt that
this matrimonial scheme was a part of the plan planned by Marius
to recover his fortune. But why, then, had he applied to M. de
Thaller? Who could be the man who had despoiled the Marquis de
Tregars?

Such were the thoughts which occupied her mind on that Saturday
evening when the commissary of police presented himself in the Rue
St. Gilles to arrest M. Favoral, charged with embezzling ten or
twelve millions.

XXII

The hour had now come for the denouement of that home tragedy which
was being enacted in the Rue St. Gilles.

The reader will remember the incidents narrated at the beginning of
this story,--M. de Thaller's visit and angry words with M. Favoral,
his departure after leaving a package of bank-notes in Mlle.
Gilberte's hands, the advent of the commissary of police, M.
Favoral's escape, and finally the departure of the Saturday evening
guests.

The disaster which struck Mme. Favoral and her children had been so
sudden and so crushing, that they had been, on the moment, too
stupefied to realize it. What had happened went so far beyond the
limits of the probable, of the possible even, that they could not
believe it. The too cruel scenes which had just taken place were
to them like the absurd incidents of a horrible nightmare.

But when their guests had retired after a few commonplace
protestations, when they found themselves alone, all three, in that
house whose master had just fled, tracked by the police,--then
only, as the disturbed equilibrium of their minds became somewhat
restored, did they fully realize the extent of the disaster, and
the horror of the situation.

Whilst Mme. Favoral lay apparently lifeless on an arm-chair,
Gilberte kneeling at her feet, Maxence was walking up and down the
parlor with furious steps. He was whiter than the plaster on the
halls; and a cold perspiration glued his tangled hair to his temples.

His eyes glistening, and his fists clinched,

"Our father a thief!" he kept repeating in a hoarse voice, "a forger!"

And in fact never had the slightest suspicion arisen in his mind.
In these days of doubtful reputations, he had been proud indeed of
M. Favoral's reputation of austere integrity. And he had endured
many a cruel reproach, saying to himself that his father had, by his
own spotless conduct, acquired the right to be harsh and exacting.

"And he has stolen twelve millions!" he exclaimed.

And he went on, trying to calculate all the luxury and splendor
which such a sum represents, all the cravings gratified, all the
dreams realized, all it can procure of things that may be bought.
And what things are not for sale for twelve millions!

Then he examined the gloomy home in the Rue St. Gilles,--the
contracted dwelling, the faded furniture, the prodigies of a
parsimonious industry, his mother's privations, his sister's penury,
and his own distress. And he exclaimed again,

"It is a monstrous infamy!"

The words of the commissary of police had opened his eyes; and he
now fancied the most wonderful things. M. Favoral, in his mind,
assumed fabulous proportions. By what miracles of hypocrisy and
dissimulation had he succeeded in making himself ubiquitous as it
were, and, without awaking a suspicion, living two lives so distinct
and so different,--here, in the midst of his family, parsimonious,
methodic, and severe; elsewhere, in some illicit household,
doubtless facile, smiling, and generous, like a successful thief.

For Maxence considered the bills found in the secretary as a
flagrant, irrefutable and material proof.

Upon the brink of that abyss of shame into which his father had just
tumbled, he thought he could see, not the inevitable woman, that
incentive of all human actions, but the entire legion of those
bewitching courtesans who possess unknown crucibles wherein to swell
fortunes, and who have secret filtres to stupefy their dupes, and
strip them of their honor, after robbing them of their last cent.

"And I," said Maxence,--"I, because at twenty I was fond of
pleasure, I was called a bad son! Because I had made some three
hundred francs of debts, I was deemed a swindler! Because I love
a poor girl who has for me the most disinterested affection, I am
one of those rascals whom their family disown, and from whom nothing
can be expected but shame and disgrace!"

He filled the parlor with the sound of his voice, which rose like
his wrath.

And at the thought of all the bitter reproaches which had been
addressed to him by his father, and of all the humiliations that
had been heaped upon him,

"Ah, the wretch!" he fairly shrieked, "--the coward!"

As pale as her brother, her face bathed in tears, and her beautiful
hair hanging undone, Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up.

"He is our father, Maxence," she said gently.

But he interrupted her with a wild burst of laughter. "True," he
answered; "and, by virtue of the law which is written in the code,
we owe him affection and respect."

"Maxence!" murmured the girl in a beseeching tone. But he went on,
nevertheless,

"Yes, he is our father, unfortunately. But I should like to know
his titles to our respect and our affection. After making our
mother the most miserable of creatures, he has embittered our
existence, withered our youth, ruined my future, and done his best
to spoil yours by compelling you to marry Costeclar. And, to crown
all these deeds of kindness, he runs away now, after stealing twelve
millions, leaving us nothing but misery and a disgraced name.

"And yet," he added, "is it possible that a cashier should take
twelve millions, and his employer know nothing of it? And is our
father really the only man who benefitted by these millions?"

Then came back to the mind of Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte the last
words of their father at the moment of his flight,

"I have been betrayed; and I must suffer for all!"

And his sincerity could hardly be called in question; for he was
then in one of those moments of decisive crisis in which the truth
forces itself out in spite of all calculation.

"He must have accomplices then," murmured Maxence.

Although he had spoken very low, Mme. Favoral overheard him. To
defend her husband, she found a remnant of energy, and, straightening
herself on her seat,

"Ah! do not doubt it," she stammered out. "Of his own inspiration,
Vincent could never have committed an evil act. He has been
circumvented, led away, duped!"

"Very well; but by whom?"

"By Costeclar," affirmed Mlle. Gilberte.

"By the Messrs. Jottras, the bankers," said Mme. Favoral, "and also
by M. Saint Pavin, the editor of 'the Financial Pilot.'"

"By all of them, evidently," interrupted Maxence, "even by his
manager, M. de Thaller."

When a man is at the bottom of a precipice, what is the use of
finding out how he has got there,--whether by stumbling over a
stone, or slipping on a tuft of grass! And yet it is always our
foremost thought. It was with an eager obstinacy that Mme. Favoral
and her children ascended the course of their existence, seeking in
the past the incidents and the merest words which might throw some
light upon their disaster; for it was quite manifest that it was
not in one day and at the same time that twelve millions had been
subtracted from the Mutual Credit. This enormous deficit must have
been, as usual, made gradually, with infinite caution at first,
whilst there was a desire, and some hope, to make it good again,
then with mad recklessness towards the end when the catastrophe had
become inevitable.

"Alas!" murmured Mme. Favoral, "why did not Vincent listen to my
presentiments on that ever fatal day when he brought M. de Thaller,
M. Jottras, and M. Saint Pavin to dine here? They promised him a
fortune."

Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte were too young at the time of that dinner
to have preserved any remembrance of it; but they remembered many
other circumstances, which, at the time they had taken place, had
not struck them. They understood now the temper of their father,
his perpetual irritation, and the spasms of his humor. When his
friends were heaping insults upon him, he had exclaimed,

"Be it so! let them arrest me; and to-night, for the first time in
many years, I shall sleep in peace."

There were years, then, that he lived, as it were upon burning coals,
trembling at the fear of discovery, and wondering, as he went to
sleep each night, whether he would not be awakened by the rude hand
of the police tapping him on the shoulder. No one better than Mme.
Favoral could affirm it.

"Your father, my children," she said, "had long since lost his sleep.
There was hardly ever a night that he did not get up and walk the
room for hours."

They understood, now, his efforts to compel Mlle. Gilberte to marry
M. Costeclar.

"He thought that Costeclar would help him out of the scrape,"
suggested Maxence to his sister.

The poor girl shuddered at the thought, and she could not help
feeling thankful to her father for not having told her his situation;
for would she have had the sublime courage to refuse the sacrifice,
if her father had told her?

"I have stolen! I am lost! Costeclar alone can save me; and he
will save me if you become his wife."

M. Favoral's pleasant behavior during the siege was quite natural.
Then he had no fears; and one could understand how in the most
critical hours of the Commune, when Paris was in flames, he could
have exclaimed almost cheerfully,

"Ah! this time it is indeed the final liquidation."

Doubtless, in the bottom of his heart, he wished that Paris might
be destroyed, and, with it, the evidences of his crime. And
perhaps he was not the only one to form that impious wish.

"That's why, then," exclaimed Maxence,--"that's why my father
treated me so rudely: that's why he so obstinately persisted in
closing the offices of the Mutual Credit against me."

He was interrupted by a violent ringing of the door-bell. He looked
at the clock: ten o'clock was about to strike.

"Who can call so late?" said Mme. Favoral.

Something like a discussion was heard in the hall,--a voice hoarse
with anger, and the servant's voice.

"Go and see who's there," said Gilberte to her brother.

It was useless; the servant appeared.

"It's M. Bertan," she commenced, "the baker--" He had followed her,
and, pushing her aside with his robust arm, he appeared himself.
He was a man about forty years of age, tall, thin, already bald,
and wearing his beard trimmed close.

"M. Favoral?" he inquired.

"My father is not at home," replied Maxence.

"It's true, then, what I have just been told?"

"What?"

"That the police came to arrest him, and he escaped through a window."

"It's true," replied Maxence gently.

The baker seemed prostrated.

"And my money?" he asked.

"What money?"

"Why, my ten thousand francs! Ten thousand francs which I brought
to M. Favoral, in gold, you hear? in ten rolls, which I placed
there, on that very table, and for which he gave me a receipt. Here
it is,--his receipt."

He held out a paper; but Maxence did not take it.

"I do not doubt your word, sir," he replied; "but my father's
business is not ours."

"You refuse to give me back my money?"

"Neither my mother, my sister, nor myself, have any thing."

The blood rushed to the man's face, and, with a tongue made thick
by anger,

"And you think you are going to pay me off in that way?" he
exclaimed. "You have nothing! Poor little fellow! And will you
tell me, then, what has become of the twenty millions your father
has stolen? for he has stolen twenty millions. I know it: I have
been told so. Where are they?"

"The police, sir, has placed the seals over my fathers papers."

"The police?" interrupted the baker, "the seals? What do I care
for that? It's my money I want: do you hear? Justice is going to
take a hand in it, is it? Arrest your father, try him? What good
will that do me? He will be condemned to two or three years'
imprisonment. Will that give me a cent? He will serve out his time
quietly; and, when he gets out of prison, he'll get hold of the pile
that he's got hidden somewhere; and while I starve, he'll spend my
money under my very nose. No, no! Things won't suit me that way.
It's at once that I want to be paid."

And throwing himself upon a chair his head back, and his legs
stretched forward--

"And what's more," he declared, "I am not going out of here until
I am paid."

It was not without the greatest efforts that Maxence managed to
keep his temper.

"Your insults are useless, sir," he commenced.

The man jumped up from his seat.

"Insults!" he cried in a voice that could have been heard all
through the house. "Do you call it an insult when a man claims his
own? If you think you can make me hush, you are mistaken in your
man, M. Favoral, Jun. I am not rich myself: my father has not
stolen to leave me an income. It is not in gambling at the bourse
that I made these ten thousand francs. It is by the sweat of my
body, by working hard night and day for years, by depriving myself
of a glass of wine when I was thirsty. And I am to lose them? By
the holy name of heaven, we'll have to see about that! If everybody
was like me, there would not be so many scoundrels going about,
their pockets filled with other people's money, and from the top of
their carriage laughing at the poor fools they have ruined. Come,
my ten thousand francs, canaille, or I take my pay on your back."

Maxence, enraged, was about to throw himself upon the man, and a
disgusting struggle was about to begin, when Mlle. Gilberte stepped
between them.

"Your threats are as cowardly as your insults, Monsieur Bertan,"
she uttered in a quivering voice. "You have known us long enough
to be aware that we know nothing of our father's business, and that
we have nothing ourselves. All we can do is to give up to our
creditors our very last crumb. Thus it shall be done. And now,
sir, please retire."

There was so much dignity in her sorrow, and so imposing was her
attitude, that the baker stood abashed.

"Ah! if that's the way," he stammered awkwardly; "and since you
meddle with it, mademoiselle--" And he retreated precipitately,
growling at the same time threats and excuses, and slamming the
doors after him hard enough to break the partitions.

"What a disgrace!" murmured Mme. Favoral. Crushed by this last
scene, she was choking; and her children had to carry her to the
open window. She recovered almost at once; but thus, through the
darkness, bleak and cold, she had like a vision of her husband; and,
throwing herself back,

"O great heavens!" she uttered, "where did he go when he left us?
Where is he now? What is he doing? What has become of him?"

Her married life had been for Mme. Favoral but a slow torture. It
was in vain that she would have looked back through her past life
for some of those happy days which leave their luminous track in
life, and towards which the mind turns in the hours of grief.
Vincent Favoral had never been aught but a brutal despot, abusing
the resignation of his victim. And yet, had he died, she would have
wept bitterly over him in all the sincerity of her honest and simple
soul. Habit! Prisoners have been known to shed tears over the
grave of their jailer. Then he was her husband, after all, the
father of her children, the only man who existed for her. For
twenty-six years they had never been separated: they had sat at the
same table: they had slept side by side.

Yes, she would have wept over him. But how much less poignant would
her grief have been than at this moment, when it was complicated by
all the torments of uncertainty, and by the most frightful
apprehensions!

Fearing lest she might take cold, her children had removed her to
the sofa, and there, all shivering,

"Isn't it horrible," she said, "not to know any thing of your father?
--to think that at this very moment, perhaps, pursued by the police,
he is wandering in despair through the streets, without daring to
ask anywhere for shelter."

Her children had no time to answer and comfort her; for at this
moment the door-bell rang again.

"Who can it be now?" said Mme. Favoral with a start.

This time there was no discussion in the hall. Steps sounded on the
floor of the dining-room; the door opened; and M. Desclavettes, the
old bronze-merchant, walked, or rather slipped into the parlor.

Hope, fear, anger, all the sentiments which agitated his soul, could
be read on his pale and cat-like face.

"It is I," he commenced.

Maxence stepped forward.

"Have you heard any thing from my father, sir?"

"No," answered the old merchant, "I confess I have not; and I was
just coming to see if you had yourselves. Oh, I know very well that
this is not exactly the hour to call at a house; but I thought,
that, after what took place this evening, you would not be in bed
yet. I could not sleep myself. You understand a friendship of
twenty years' standing! So I took Mme. Desclavettes home, and here
I am."

"We feel very thankful for your kindness," murmured Mme. Favoral.

"I am glad you do. The fact is, you see, I take a good deal of
interest in the misfortune that strikes you,--a greater interest
than any one else. For, after all, I, too, am a victim. I had
intrusted one hundred and twenty thousand francs to our dear Vincent."

"Alas, sir!" said Mlle. Gilberte.

But the worthy man did not allow her to proceed. "I have no fault
to find with him," he went on--"absolutely none. Why, dear me!
haven't I been in business myself? and don't I know what it is?
First, we borrow a thousand francs or so from the cash account,
then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. Oh! without any bad
intention, to be sure, and with the firm resolution to return them.
But we don't always do what we wish to do. Circumstances sometimes
work against us, if we operate at the bourse to make up the deficit
we lose. Then we must borrow again, draw from Peter to pay Paul.
We are afraid of being caught: we are compelled, reluctantly of
course, to alter the books. At last a day comes when we find that
millions are gone, and the bomb-shell bursts. Does it follow from
this that a man is dishonest? Not the least in the world: he is
simply unlucky."

He stopped, as if awaiting an answer; but, as none came, he resumed,

"I repeat, I have no fault to find with Favoral. Only then, now,
between us, to lose these hundred and twenty thousand francs would
simply be a disaster for me. I know very well that both Chapelain
and Desormeaux had also deposited funds with Favoral. But they are
rich: one of them owns three houses in Paris, and the other has a
good situation; whereas I, these hundred and twenty thousand francs
gone, I'd have nothing left but my eyes to weep with. My wife is
dying about it. I assure you our position is a terrible one."

To M. Desclavettes,--as to the baker a few moments before,

"We have nothing," said Maxence.

"I know it," exclaimed the old merchant. "I know it as well as you
do yourself. And so I have come to beg a little favor of you, which
will cost you nothing. When you see Favoral, remember me to him,
explain my situation to him, and try to make him give me back my
money. He is a hard one to fetch, that's a fact. But if you go
right about it, above all, if our dear Gilberte will take the matter
in hand."

"Sir!"

"Oh! I swear I sha'n't say a word about it, either to Desormeaux
or Chapelain, nor to any one else. Although reimbursed, I'll make
as much noise as the rest,--more noise, even. Come, now, my dear
friends, what do you say?"

He was almost crying.

"And where the deuse," exclaimed Maxence, "do you expect my father
to take a hundred and twenty thousand francs? Didn't you see him go
without even taking the money that M. de Thaller had brought?"

A smile appeared upon M. Desclavettes' pale lips.

"That will do very well to say, my dear Maxence;" he said, "and
some people may believe it. But don't say it to your old friend,
who knows too much about business for that. When a man puts off,
after borrowing twelve millions from his employers, he would be a
great fool if he had not put away two or three in safety. Now,
Favoral is not a fool."

Tears of shame and anger started from Mlle. Gilberte's eyes.

"What you are saying is abominable, sir!" she exclaimed.

He seemed much surprised at this outburst of violence.

"Why so?" he answered. "In Vincent's place, I should not have
hesitated to do what he has certainly done. And I am an honest man
too. I was in business for twenty years; and I dare any one to
prove that a note signed Desclavettes ever went to protest. And
so, my dear friends, I beseech you, consent to serve your old
friend, and, when you see your father--"

The old man's tone of voice exasperated even Mme. Favoral herself.

"We never expect to see my husband again," she uttered.

He shrugged his shoulders, and, in a tone of paternal reproach,

"You just give up all such ugly ideas," he said. "You will see him
again, that dear Vincent; for he is much too sharp to allow himself
to be caught. Of course, he'll stay away as long as it may be
necessary; but, as soon as he can return without danger, he will
do so. The Statute of Limitations has not been invented for the
Grand Turk. Why, the Boulevard is crowded with people who have all
had their little difficulty, and who have spent five or ten years
abroad for their health. Does any one think any thing of it? Not
in the least; and no one hesitates to shake hands with them.
Besides, those things are so soon forgotten."

He kept on as if he never intended to stop; and it was not without
trouble that Maxence and Gilberte succeeded in sending him off, very
much dissatisfied to see his request so ill received. It was after
twelve o'clock. Maxence was anxious to return to his own home; but,
at the pressing instances of his mother, he consented to remain,
and threw himself, without undressing, on the bed in his old room.

"What will the morrow bring forth?" he thought.

XXIII

After a few hours of that leaden sleep which follows great
catastrophes, Mme. Favoral and her children were awakened on the
morning of the next day, which was Sunday, by the furious clamors
of an exasperated crowd. Each one, from his own room, understood
that the apartment had just been invaded. Loud blows upon the door
were mingled with the noise of feet, the oaths of men, and the
screams of women. And, above this confused and continuous tumult,
such vociferations as these could be heard:

"I tell you they must be at home!"

"Canailles, swindlers, thieves!"

"We want to go in: we will go in!"

"Let the woman come, then: we want to see her, to speak to her!"

Occasionally there were moments of silence, during which the
plaintive voice of the servant could be heard; but almost at once
the cries and the threats commenced again, louder than ever.
Maxence, being ready first, ran to the parlor, where his mother and
sister joined him directly, their eyes swollen by sleep and by tears.
Mme. Favoral was trembling so much that she could not succeed in
fastening her dress.

"Do you hear?" she said in a choking voice.

From the parlor, which was divided from the dining-room by
folding-doors, they did not miss a single insult.

"Well," said Mlle. Gilberte coldly, "what else could we expect? If
Bertan came alone last night, it is because he alone had been
notified. Here are the others now."

And, turning to her brother,

"You must see them," she added, "speak to them."

But Maxence did not stir. The idea of facing the insults and the
curses of these enraged creditors was too repugnant to him.

"Would you rather let them break in the door?" said Mlle. Gilberte.
"That won't take long."

He hesitated no more. Gathering all his courage, he stepped into
the dining-room. The disorder was beyond limits. The table had
been pushed towards one of the corners, the chairs were upset.
They were there some thirty men and women,--concierges,
shop-keepers, and retired bourgeois of the neighborhood, their
cheeks flushed, their eyes staring, gesticulating as if they had a
fit, shaking their clinched fists at the ceiling.

"Gentlemen," commenced Maxence.

But his voice was drowned by the most frightful shouts. He had
hardly got in, when he was so closely surrounded, that he had been
unable to close the parlor-door after him, and had been driven and
backed against the embrasure of a window.

"My father, gentlemen," he resumed.

Again he was interrupted. There were three or four before him, who
were endeavoring before all to establish their own claims clearly.

They were speaking all at once, each one raising his own voice so
as to drown that of the others. And yet, through their confused
explanations, it was easy to understand the way in which the cashier
of the Mutual Credit had managed things.

Formerly it was only with great reluctance that he consented to take
charge of the funds which were offered to him; and then he never
accepted sums less than ten thousand francs, being always careful to
say, that, not being a prophet, he could not answer for any thing,
and might be mistaken, like any one else. Since the Commune, on the
contrary, and with a duplicity, that could never have been suspected,
he had used all his ingenuity to attract deposits. Under some
pretext or other, he would call among the neighbors, the
shop-keepers; and, after lamenting with them about the hard times
and the difficulty of making money, he always ended by holding up to
them the dazzling profits which are yielded by certain investments
unknown to the public.

If these very proceedings had not betrayed him, it is because he
recommended to each the most inviolable secrecy, saying, that, at
the slightest indiscretion, he would be assailed with demands, and
that it would be impossible for him to do for all what he did for one.

At any rate, he took every thing that was offered, even the most
insignificant sums, affirming, with the most imperturbable assurance,
that he could double or treble them without the slightest risk.

The catastrophe having come, the smaller creditors showed themselves,
as usual, the most angry and the most intractable. The less money
one has, the more anxious one is to keep it. There was there an old
newspaper-vender, who had placed in M. Favoral's hands all she had
in the world, the savings of her entire life,--five hundred francs.
Clinging desperately to Maxence's garments, she begged him to give
them back to her, swearing, that, if he did not, there was nothing
left for her to do, except to throw herself in the river. Her groans
and her cries of distress exasperated the other creditors.

That the cashier of the Mutual Credit should have embezzled millions,
they could well understand, they said. But that he could have
robbed this poor woman of her five hundred francs,--nothing more
low, more cowardly, and more vile could be imagined; and the law
had no chastisement severe enough for such a crime.

"Give her back her five hundred francs;" they cried. For there was
not one of them but would have wagered his head that M. Favoral had
lots of money put away; and some went even so far as to say that he
must have hid it in the house, and, if they looked well, they would
find it.

Maxence, bewildered, was at a loss what to do, when, in the midst
of this hostile crowd, he perceived M. Chapelain's friendly face.

Driven from his bed at daylight by the bitter regrets at the heavy
loss he had just sustained, the old lawyer had arrived in the Rue
St. Gilles at the very moment when the creditors invaded M. Favoral's
apartment. Standing behind the crowd, he had seen and heard every
thing without breathing a word; and, if he interfered now, it was
because he thought things were about to take an ugly turn. He was
well known; and, as soon as he showed himself,

"He is a friend of the rascal!" they shouted on all sides.

But he was not the man to be so easily frightened. He had seen many
a worse case during twenty years that he had practised law, and had
witnessed all the sinister comedies and all the grotesque dramas of
money. He knew how to speak to infuriated creditors, how to handle
them, and what strings can be made to vibrate within them. In the
most quiet tone,

"Certainly," he answered, "I was Favoral's intimate friend; and the
proof of it is, that he has treated me more friendly than the rest.
I am in for a hundred and sixty thousand francs."

By this mere declaration he conquered the sympathies of the crowd.
He was a brother in misfortune; they respected him: he was a skilful
business-man; they stopped to listen to him.

At once, and in a short and trenchant tone, he asked these invaders
what they were doing there, and what they wanted. Did they not know
to what they exposed themselves in violating a domicile? What would
have happened, if, instead of stopping to parley, Maxence had sent
for the commissary of police? Was it to Mme. Favoral and her
children that they had intrusted their funds? No! What did they
want with them then? Was there by chance among them some of those
shrewd fellows who always try to get themselves paid in full, to the
detriment of the others?

This last insinuation proved sufficient to break up the perfect
accord that had hitherto existed among all the creditors. Distrust
arose; suspicious glances were exchanged; and, as the old newspaper
woman was keeping up her groans,

"I should like to know why you should be paid before us," two women
told her roughly. "Our rights are just as good as yours!"

Prompt to avail himself of the dispositions of the crowd,

"And, moreover," resumed the old lawyer, "in whom did we place our
confidence? Was it in Favoral the private individual? To a certain
extent, yes; but it was much more to the cashier of the Mutual
Credit. Therefore that establishment owes us, at least, some
explanations. And this is not all. Are we really so badly burned,
that we should scream so loud? What do we know about it? That
Favoral is charged with embezzlement, that they came to arrest him,
and that he has run away. Is that any reason why our money should
be lost? I hope not. And so what should we do? Act prudently,
and wait patiently for the work of justice."

Already, by this time, the creditors had slipped out one by one;
and soon the servant closed the door on the last of them.

Then Mme. Favoral, Maxence, and Mlle. Gilberte surrounded M.
Chapelain, and, pressing his hands,

"How thankful we feel, sir, for the service you have just
rendered us!"

But the old lawyer seemed in no wise proud of his victory.

"Do not thank me," he said. "I have only done my duty,--what any
honest man would have done in my place."

And yet, under the appearance of impassible coldness, which he owed
to the long practice of a profession which leaves no illusions, he
evidently felt a real emotion.

"It is you whom I pity," he added, "and with all my soul,--you,
madame, you, my dear Gilberte, and you, too, Maxence. Never had I
so well understood to what degree is guilty the head of a family
who leaves his wife and children exposed to the consequences of his
crimes."

He stopped. The servant was trying her best to put the dining-room
in some sort of order wheeling the table to the centre of the room,
and lifting up the chairs from the floor.

"What pillage!" she grumbled. "Neighbors too,--people from whom
we bought our things! But they were worse than savages; impossible
to do any thing with them."

"Don't trouble yourself, my good girl," said M. Chapelain: "they
won't come back any more!"

Mme. Favoral looked as if she wished to drop on her knees before
the old lawyer.

"How, very kind you are!" she murmured: "you are not too angry with
my poor Vincent!"

With the look of a man who has made up his mind to make the best of
a disaster that he cannot help, M. Chapelain shrugged his shoulders.

"I am angry with no one but myself," he uttered in a bluff tone.
"An old bird like me should not have allowed himself to be caught
in a pigeon-trap. I am inexcusable. But we want to get rich. It's
slow work getting rich by working, and it's so much easier to get
the money already made out of our neighbor's pockets! I have been
unable to resist the temptation myself. It's my own fault; and I
should say it was a good lesson, if it did not cost so dear."

XXIV

So much philosophy could hardly have been expected of him.

"All my father's friends are not as indulgent as you are," said
Maxence,--"M. Desclavettes, for instance."

"Have you seen him?"

"Yes, last night, about twelve o'clock. He came to ask us to get
father to pay him back, if we should ever see him again."

"That might be an idea!"

Mlle. Gilberte started.

"What!" said she, "you, too, sir, can imagine that my father has
run away with millions?"

The old lawyer shook his head.

"I believe nothing," he answered. "Favoral has taken me in so
completely,--me, who had the pretension of being a judge of men,
--that nothing from him, either for good or for evil, could surprise
me hereafter."

Mme. Favoral was about to offer some objection; but he stopped her
with a gesture.

"And yet," he went on, "I'd bet that he has gone off with empty
pockets. His recent operations reveal a frightful distress. Had
he had a few thousand francs at his command, would he have extorted
five hundred francs from a poor old woman, a newspaper-vender?
What did he want with the money? Try his luck once more, no doubt."

He was seated, his elbow upon the arm of the chair, his head resting
upon his hands, thinking; and the contraction of his features
indicated an extraordinary tension of mind.

Suddenly he drew himself up.

"But why," he exclaimed, "why wander in idle conjectures? What do
we know about Favoral? Nothing. One entire side of his existence
escapes us,--that fantastic side, of which the insane prodigalities
and inconceivable disorders have been revealed to us by the bills
found in his desk. He is certainly guilty; but is he as guilty as
we think? and, above all, is he alone guilty? Was it for himself
alone that he drew all this money? Are the missing millions really
lost? and wouldn't it be possible to find the biggest share of them
in the pockets of some accomplice? Skilful men do not expose
themselves. They have at their command poor wretches, sacrificed
in advance, and who, in exchange for a few crumbs that are thrown
to them, risk the criminal court, are condemned, and go to prison."

"That's just what I was telling my mother and sister, sir,"
interrupted Maxence.

"And that's what I am telling myself," continued the old lawyer.
"I have been thinking over and over again of last evening's scene;
and strange doubts have occurred to my mind. For a man who has
been robbed of a dozen millions, M. de Thaller was remarkably quiet
and self-possessed. Favoral appeared to me singularly calm for a
man charged with embezzlement and forgery. M. de Thaller, as
manager of the Mutual Credit, is really responsible for the stolen
funds, and, as such, should have been anxious to secure the guilty
party, and to produce him. Instead of that, he wished him to go,
and actually brought him the money to enable him to leave. Was he
in hopes of hushing up the affair? Evidently not, since the police
had been notified. On the other hand, Favoral seemed much more
angry than surprised by the occurrence. It was only on the
appearance of the commissary of police that he seems to have lost
his head; and then some very strange things escaped him, which I
cannot understand."

He was walking at random through the parlor, apparently rather
answering the objections of his own mind than addressing himself to
his interlocutors, who were listening, nevertheless, with all the
attention of which they were capable.

"I don't know," he went on. "An old traveler like me to be taken
in thus! Evidently there is under all this one of those diabolical
combinations which time even fails to unravel. We ought to see,
to inquire--"

And then, suddenly stopping in front of Maxence,

"How much did M. de Thaller bring to your father last evening?" he
asked.

"Fifteen thousand francs."

"Where are they?"

"Put away in mother's room."

"When do you expect to take them back to M. de Thaller?"

"To-morrow."

"Why not to-day?"

"This is Sunday. The offices of the Mutual Credit must be closed."

"After the occurrences of yesterday, M. de Thaller must be at his
office. Besides, haven't you his private address?"

"I beg your pardon, I have."

The old lawyer's small eyes were shining with unusual brilliancy.
He certainly felt deeply the loss of his money; but the idea that
he had been swindled for the benefit of some clever rascal was
absolutely insupportable to him.

"If we were wise," he said again, "we'd do this. Mme. Favoral
would take these fifteen thousand francs, and we would go together,
she and I, to see M. de Thaller."

It was an unexpected good-fortune for Mme. Favoral, that M.
Chapelain should consent to assist her. So, without hesitating,

"The time to dress, sir," she said, "and I am ready." She left the
parlor; but as she reached her room, her son joined her.

"I am obliged to go out, dear mother," he said; "and I shall
probably not be home to breakfast."

She looked at him with an air of painful surprise. "What," she said,
"at such a moment!"

"I am expected home."

"By whom? A woman?" she murmured.

"Well, yes."

"And it is for that woman's sake that you want to leave your sister
alone at home?"

"I must, mother, I assure you; and, if you only knew--"

"I do not wish to know, any thing."

But his resolution had been taken. He went off; and a few moments
later Mme. Favoral and M. Chapelain entered a cab which had been
sent for, and drove to M. de Thaller's.

Left alone, Mlle. Gilberte had but one thought,--to notify M. de
Tregars, and obtain word from him. Any thing seemed preferable to
the horrible anxiety which oppressed her. She had just commenced
a letter, which she intended to have taken to the Count de Villegre,
when a violent ring of the bell made her start; and almost
immediately the servant came in, saying,

"It is a gentleman who wishes to see you, a friend of monsieur's,
--M. Costeclar, you know."

Mlle. Gilberte started to her feet, trembling with excitement.

"That's too much impudence!" she exclaimed. She was hesitating
whether to refuse him the door, or to see him, and dismiss him
shamefully herself, when she had a sudden inspiration. "What does
he want?" she thought. "Why not see him, and try and find out what
he knows? For he certainly must know the truth."

But it was no longer time to deliberate. Above the servant's
shoulder M. Costeclar's pale and impudent face showed itself.

The girl having stepped to one side, he appeared, hat in hand.
Although it was not yet nine o'clock, his morning toilet was
irreproachably correct. He had already passed through the
hair-dresser's hands; and his scanty hair was brought forward over
his low fore-head with the usual elaborate care.

He wore a pair of those ridiculous trousers which grow wide from
the knee down, and which were invented by Prussian tailors to hide
their customers' ugly feet. Under his light-colored overcoat could
be seen a velvet-faced jacket, with a rose in its buttonhole.

Meantime, he remained motionless on the threshold of the door,
trying to smile, and muttering one of those sentences which are
never intended to be finished.

"I beg you to believe, mademoiselle--your mother's absence--my most
respectful admiration--"

In fact, he was taken aback by the disorder of the girl's toilet,
--disorder which she had had no time to repair since the clamors
of the creditors had started her from her bed.

She wore a long brown cashmere wrapper, fitting quite close over
the hips setting off the vigorous elegance of her figure, the
maidenly perfections of her waist, and the exquisite contour of
her neck. Gathered up in haste, her thick blonde hair escaped
from beneath the pins, and spread over her shoulders in luminous
cascades. Never had she appeared to M. Costeclar as lovely as at
this moment, when her whole frame was vibrating with suppressed
indignation, her cheeks flushed, her eyes flashing.

"Please come in, sir," she uttered.

He stepped forward, no longer bowing humbly as formerly, but with
legs outstretched, chest thrown out, with an ill-concealed look of
gratified vanity. "I did not expect the honor of your visit, sir,"
said the young girl.

Passing rapidly his hat and his cane from the right hand into the
left, and then the right hand upon his heart, his eyes raised to
the ceiling, and with all the depth of expression of which he was
capable,

"It is in times of adversity that we know our real friends,
mademoiselle," he uttered. "Those upon whom we thought we could
rely the most, often, at the first reverse, take flight forever!"

She felt a shiver pass over her. Was this an allusion to Marius?

The other, changing his tone, went on,

"It's only last night that I heard of poor Favoral's discomfiture,
at the bourse where I had gone for news. It was the general topic
of conversation. Twelve millions! That's pretty hard. The Mutual
Credit Society might not be able to stand it. From 580, at which
it was selling before the news, it dropped at once to 300. At nine
o'clock, there were no takers at 180. And yet, if there is nothing
beyond what they say, at 180, I am in."

Was he forgetting himself, or pretending to?

"But please excuse me, mademoiselle," he resumed: "that's not what
I came to tell you. I came to ask if you had any news of our poor
Favoral."

"We have none, sir."

"Then it is true: he succeeded in getting away through this window?"

"Yes."

"And he did not tell you where he meant to take refuge?"

Observing M. Costeclar with all her power of penetration, Mlle.
Gilberte fancied she discovered in him something like a certain
surprise mingled with joy.

"Then Favoral must have left without a sou!"

"They accuse him of having carried away millions, sir; but I would
swear that it is not so."

M. Costeclar approved with a nod.

"I am of the same opinion," he declared, "unless--but no, he was not
the man to try such a game. And yet--but again no, he was too
closely watched. Besides, he was carrying a very heavy load, a load
that exhausted all his resources."

Mlle. Gilberte, hoping that she was going to learn something, made
an effort to preserve her indifference.

"What do you mean?" she inquired.

He looked at her, smiled, and, in a light tone,

"Nothing," he answered, "only some conjectures of my own."

And throwing himself upon a chair, his head leaning upon its back,

"That is not the object of my visit either," he uttered. "Favoral
is overboard: don't let us say any thing more about him. Whether
he has got 'the bag' or not, you'll never see him again: he is as
good as dead. Let us, therefore, talk of the living, of yourself.
What's going to become of you?"

"I do not understand your question, sir."

"It is perfectly limpid, nevertheless. I am asking myself how you
are going to live, your mother and yourself?"

"Providence will not abandon us, sir."

M. Costeclar had crossed his legs, and with the end of his cane he
was negligently tapping his immaculate boot.

"Providence!" he giggled; "that's very good on the stage, in a play,
with low music in the orchestra. I can just see it. In real life,
unfortunately, the life which we both live, you and I, it is not
with words, were they a yard long, that the baker, the grocer, and
those rascally landlords, can be paid, or that dresses and shoes
can be bought."

She made no answer.

"Now, then," he went on, "here you are without a penny. Is it
Maxence who will supply you with money? Poor fellow! Where would
he get it? He has hardly enough for himself. Therefore, what are
you going to do?"

"I shall work, sir."

He got up, bowed low, and, resuming his seat,

"My sincere compliments," he said. "There is but one obstacle to
that fine resolution: it is impossible for a woman to live by her
labor alone. Servants are about the only ones who ever get their
full to eat."

"I'll be a servant, if necessary."

For two or three seconds he remained taken aback, but, recovering
himself,

"How different things would be," he resumed in an insinuating tone,
"if you had not rejected me when I wanted to become your husband!
But you couldn't bear the sight of me. And yet, 'pon my word, I was
in love with you, oh, but for good and earnest! You see, I am a
judge of women; and I saw very well how you would look, handsomely
dressed and got up, leaning back in a fine carriage in the Bois--"

Stronger than her will, disgust rose to her lips.

"Ah, sir!" she said.

He mistook her meaning.

"You are regretting all that," he continued. "I see it. Formerly,
eh, you would never have consented to receive me thus, alone with
you, which proves that girls should not be headstrong, my dear child."

He, Costeclar, he dared to call her, "My dear child." Indignant and
insulted, "Oh!" she exclaimed. But he had started, and kept on,

"Well, such as I was, I am still. To be sure, there probably would
be nothing further said about marriage between us; but, frankly,
what would you care if the conditions were the same,--a fine house,
carriages, horses, servants--"

Up to this moment, she had not fully understood him. Drawing
herself up to her fullest height, and pointing to the door,

"Leave this moment," she ordered.

But he seemed in no wise disposed to do so: on the contrary, paler
than usual, his eyes bloodshot, his lips trembling, and smiling a
strange smile, he advanced towards Mlle. Gilberte.

"What!" said he. "You are in trouble, I kindly come to offer my
services, and this is the way you receive me! You prefer to work,
do you? Go ahead then, my lovely one, prick your pretty fingers,
and redden your eyes. My time will come. Fatigue and want, cold
in the winter, hunger in all seasons, will speak to your little
heart of that kind Costeclar who adores you, like a big fool that
he is, who is a serious man and who has money,--much money."

Beside herself,

"Wretch!" cried the girl, "leave, leave at once."

"One moment," said a strong voice.

M. Costeclar looked around.

Marius de Tregars stood within the frame of the open door.

"Marius!" murmured Mlle. Gilberte, rooted to the spot by a surprise
hardly less immense than her joy.

To behold him thus suddenly, when she was wondering whether she
would ever see him again; to see him appear at the very moment
when she found herself alone, and exposed to the basest outrages,
--it was one of those fortunate occurrences which one can scarcely
realize; and from the depth of her soul rose something like a hymn
of thanks.

Nevertheless, she was confounded at M. Costeclar's attitude.
According to her, and from what she thought she knew, he should have
been petrified at the sight of M. de Tregars.

And he did not even seem to know him. He seemed shocked, annoyed
at being interrupted, slightly surprised, but in no wise moved or
frightened. Knitting his brows,

"What do you wish?" he inquired in his most impertinent tone.

M. de Tregars stepped forward. He was somewhat pale, but unnaturally
calm, cool, and collected. Bowing to Mlle. Gilberte,

"If I have thus ventured to enter your apartment, mademoiselle," he
uttered gently, "it is because, as I was going by the door, I
thought I recognized this gentleman's carriage."

And, with his finger over his shoulder, he was pointing to M.
Costeclar.

"Now," he went on, "I had reason to be somewhat astonished at this,
after the positive orders I had given him never to set his feet, not
only in this house, but in this part of the city. I wished to find
out exactly. I came up: I heard--"

All this was said in a tone of such crushing contempt, that a slap
on the face would have been less cruel. All the blood in M.
Costeclar's veins rushed to his face.

"You!" he interrupted insolently: "I do not know you."

Imperturbable, M. de Tregars was drawing off his gloves.

"Are you quite certain of that?" he replied. "Come, you certainly
know my old friend, M. de Villegre?"

An evident feeling of anxiety appeared on M. Costeclar's countenance.

"I do," he stammered.

"Did not M. Villegre call upon you before the war?"

"He did."

"Well, 'twas I who sent him to you; and the commands which he
delivered to you were mine."

"Yours?"

"Mine. I am Marius de Tregars."

A nervous shudder shook M. Costeclar's lean frame. Instinctively
his eye turned towards the door.

"You see," Marius went on with the same gentleness, "we are, you
and I, old acquaintances. For you quite remember me now, don't
you? I am the son of that poor Marquis de Tregars who came to
Paris, all the way from his old Brittany with his whole fortune,
--two millions."

"I remember," said the stock-broker: "I remember perfectly well."

"On the advice of certain clever people, the Marquis de Tregars
ventured into business. Poor old man! He was not very sharp. He
was firmly persuaded that he had already more than doubled his
capital, when his honorable partners demonstrated to him that he was
ruined, and, besides, compromised by certain signatures imprudently
given."

Mlle. Gilberte was listening, her mouth open, and wondering what
Marius was aiming at, and how he could remain so calm.

"That disaster," he went on, "was at the time the subject of an
enormous number of very witty jokes. The people of the bourse
could hardly admire enough these bold financiers who had so deftly
relieved that candid marquis of his money. That was well done for
him; what was he meddling with? As to myself, to stop the
prosecutions with which my father was threatened, I gave up all I
had. I was quite young, and, as you see, quite what you call, I
believe, 'green.' I am no longer so now. Were such a thing to
happen to me to-day, I should want to know at once what had become
of the millions: I would feel all the pockets around me. I would
say, 'Stop thief!'"

At every word, as it were, M. Costeclar's uneasiness became more
manifest.

"It was not I," he said, "who received the benefit of M. de Tregars'
fortune."

Marius nodded approvingly.

"I know now," he replied, "among whom the spoils were divided. You,
M. Costeclar, you took what you could get, timidly, and according to
your means. Sharks are always accompanied by small fishes, to which
they abandon the crumbs they disdain. You were but a small fish
then: you accommodated yourself with what your patrons, the sharks,
did not care about. But, when you tried to operate alone, you were
not shrewd enough: you left proofs of your excessive appetite for
other people's money. Those proofs I have in my possession."

M. Costeclar was now undergoing perfect torture.

"I am caught," he said, "I know it: I told M. de Villegre so."

"Why are you here, then?"

"How did I know that the count had been sent by you?"

"That's a poor reason, sir."

"Besides, after what has occurred, after Favoral's flight, I thought
myself relieved of my engagement."

"Indeed!"

"Well, if you insist upon it, I am wrong, I suppose."

"Not only you are wrong," uttered Marius still perfectly cool, "but
you have committed a great imprudence. By failing to keep your
engagements, you have relieved me of mine. The pact is broken.
According to the agreement, I have the right, as I leave here, to go
straight to the police."

M. Costeclar's dull eye was vacillating.

"I did not think I was doing wrong," he muttered. "Favoral was my
friend."

"And that's the reason why you were coming to propose to Mlle.
Favoral to become your mistress? There she is, you thought, without
resources, literally without bread, without relatives, without
friends to protect her: this is the time to come forward. And
thinking you could be cowardly, vile, and infamous with impunity,
you came."

To be thus treated, he, the successful man, in presence of this
young girl, whom, a moment before, he was crushing with his impudent
opulence, no, M. Costeclar could not stand it. Losing completely
his head,

"You should have let me know, then," he exclaimed, "that she was
your mistress."

Something like a flame passed over M. de Tregars' face. His eyes
flashed. Rising in all the height of his wrath, which broke out
terrible at last,

"Ah, you scoundrel!" he exclaimed.

M. Costeclar threw himself suddenly to one side.

"Sir!"

But at one bound M. de Tregars had caught him.

"On your knees!" he cried.

And, seizing him by the collar with an iron grip, he lifted him
clear off the floor, and then threw him down violently upon both
knees.

"Speak!" he commanded. "Repeat,--'Mademoiselle'"

M. Costeclar had expected worse from M. de Tregars' look. A horrible
fear had instantly crushed within him all idea of resistance.

"Mademoiselle," he stuttered in a choking voice. "I am the vilest
of wretches," continued Marius. M. Costeclar's livid face was
oscillating like an inert object.

"I am," he repeated, "the vilest of wretches."

"And I beg of you--"

But Mlle. Gilberte was sick of the sight.

"Enough," she interrupted, "enough!"

Feeling no longer upon his shoulders the heavy hand of M. de Tregars,
the stock-broker rose with difficulty to his feet. So livid was his
face, that one might have thought that his whole blood had turned
to gall.

Dusting with the end of his glove the knees of his trousers, and
restoring as best he could the harmony of his toilet, which had been
seriously disturbed,

"Is it showing any courage," he grumbled, "to abuse one's physical
strength?"

M. de Tregars had already recovered his self-possession; and Mlle.
Gilberte thought she could read upon his face regret for his violence.

"Would it be better to make use of what you know?" M. Costeclar
joined his hands.

"You would not do that," he said. "What good would it do you to
ruin me?"

"None," answered M. de Tregars: "you are right. But yourself?"

And, looking straight into M. Costeclar's eyes,--"If you could be
of service to me," he inquired, "would you be willing?"

"Perhaps. That I might recover possession of the papers you have."

M. de Tregars was thinking.

"After what has just taken place," he said at last, "an explanation
is necessary between us. I will be at your house in an hour. Wait
for me."

M. Costeclar had become more pliable than his own lavender kid
gloves: in fact, alarmingly pliable.

"I am at your command, sir," he replied to M. de Tregars.

And, bowing to the ground before Mlle. Gilberte, he left the parlor;
and, a few moments after, the street-door was heard to close upon him.

"Ah, what a wretch!" exclaimed the, girl, dreadfully agitated.
"Marius, did you see what a look he gave us as he went out?"

"I saw it," replied M. de Tregars.

"That man hates us: he will not hesitate to commit a crime to avenge
the atrocious humiliation you have just inflicted upon him."

"I believe it too."

Mlle. Gilberte made a gesture of distress.

"Why did you treat him so harshly?" she murmured.

"I had intended to remain calm, and it would have been politic to
have done so. But there are some insults which a man of heart
cannot endure. I do not regret what I have done."

A long pause followed; and they remained standing, facing each other,
somewhat embarrassed. Mlle. Gilberte felt ashamed of the disorder
of her dress. M. de Tregars wondered how he could have been bold
enough to enter this house.

"You have heard of our misfortune," said the young girl at last.

"I read about it this morning, in the papers."

"What! the papers know already?"

"Every thing."

"And our name is printed in them?"

"Yes."

She covered her face with her two hands.

"What disgrace!" she said.

"At first," went on M. de Tregars, "I could hardly believe what I
read. I hastened to come; and the first shopkeeper I questioned
confirmed only too well what I had seen in the papers. From that
moment, I had but one wish,--to see and speak to you. When I
reached the door, I recognized M. Costeclar's equipage, and I had
a presentiment of the truth. I inquired from the concierge for
your mother or your brother, and heard that Maxence had gone out
a few moments before, and that Mme. Favoral had just left in a
carriage with M. Chapelain, the old lawyer. At the idea that you
were alone with Costeclar, I hesitated no longer. I ran up stairs,
and, finding the door open, had no occasion to ring."

Mlle. Gilberte could hardly repress the sobs that rose to her throat.

"I never hoped to see you again," she stammered; "and you'll find
there on the table the letter I had just commenced for you when M.
Costeclar interrupted me."

M. de Tregars took it up quickly. Two lines only were written. He
read: "I release you from your engagement, Marius. Henceforth you
are free."

He became whiter than his shirt.

"You wish to release me from my engagement!" he exclaimed. "You--"

"Is it not my duty? Ah! if it had only been our fortune, I should
perhaps have rejoiced to lose it. I know your heart. Poverty would
have brought us nearer together. But it's honor, Marius, honor that
is lost too! The name I bear is forever stained. Whether my father
is caught, or whether he escapes, he will be tried all the same,
condemned, and sentenced to a degrading penalty for embezzlement and
forgery."

If M. de Tregars was allowing her to proceed thus, it was because he
felt all his thoughts whirling in his brain; because she looked so
beautiful thus, all in tears, and her hair loose; because there
arose from her person so subtle a charm, that words failed him to
express the sensations that agitated him.

"Can you," she went on, "take for your wife the daughter of a
dishonored man? No, you cannot. Forgive me, then, for having for
a moment turned away your life from its object; forgive the sorrow
which I have caused you; leave me to the misery of my fate;
forget me!"

She was suffocating.

"Ah, you have never loved me!" exclaimed Marius.

Raising her hands to heaven,

"Thou hearest him, great God!" she uttered, as if shocked by a
blasphemy.

"Would it be easy for you to forget me then? Were I to be struck
by misfortune, would you break our engagement, cease to love me?"

She ventured to take his hands, and, pressing them between hers,

"To cease loving you no longer depends on my will," she murmured
with quivering lips. "Poor, abandoned of all, disgraced, criminal
even, I should love you still and always."

With a passionate gesture, Marius threw his arm around her waist,
and, drawing her to his breast, covered her blonde hair with
burning kisses.

"Well, 'tis thus that I love you too!" he exclaimed, "and with all
my soul, exclusively, and for life! What do I care for your
parents? Do I know them? Your father--does he exist? Your name
--it is mine, the spotless name of the Tregars. You are my wife!
mine, mine!"

She was struggling feebly: an almost invincible stupor was creeping
over her. She felt her reason disturbed, her energy giving way, a
film before her eyes, the air failing to her heaving chest.

A great effort of her will restored her to consciousness. She
withdrew gently, and sank upon a chair, less strong against joy
than she had been against sorrow.

"Pardon me," she stammered, "pardon me for having doubted you!"

M. de Tregars was not much less agitated than Mlle. Gilberte: but he
was a man; and the springs of his energy were of a superior temper.
In less than a minute he had fully recovered his self-possession
and imposed upon his features their accustomed expression. Drawing
a chair by the side of Mlle. Gilberte,

"Permit me, my friend," he said, "to remind you that our moments are
numbered, and that there are many details which it is urgent that I
should know."

"What details?" she asked, raising her head.

"About your father."

She looked at him with an air of profound surprise.

"Do you not know more about it than I do?" she replied, "more than
my mother, more than any of us? Did you not, whilst following up
the people who robbed your father, strike mine unwittingly? And
'tis I, wretch that I am, who inspired you to that fatal resolution;
and I have not the heart to regret it."

M. de Tregars had blushed imperceptibly. "How did you know?" he
began.

"Was it not said that you were about to marry Mlle. de Thaller?"

He drew up suddenly.

"Never," he exclaimed, "has this marriage existed, except in the
brain of M. de Thaller, and, more still, of the Baroness de Thaller.
That ridiculous idea occurred to her because she likes my name, and
would be delighted to see her daughter Marquise de Tregars. She
has never breathed a word of it to me; but she has spoken of it
everywhere, with just enough secrecy to give rise to a good piece
of parlor gossip. She went so far as to confide to several persons
of my acquaintance the amount of the dowry, thinking thus to
encourage me. As far as I could, I warned you against this false
news through the Signor Gismondo."

"The Signor Gismondo relieved me of cruel anxieties," she replied;
"but I had suspected the truth from the first. Was I not the
confidante of your hopes? Did I not know your projects? I had
taken for granted that all this talk about a marriage was but a
means to advance yourself in M. de Thaller's intimacy without
awaking his suspicions."

M. de Tregars was not the man to deny a true fact.

"Perhaps, indeed, I have not been wholly foreign to M. Favoral's
disaster. At least I may have hastened it a few months, a few
days only, perhaps; for it was inevitable, fatal. Nevertheless,
had I suspected the real facts, I would have given up my designs
--Gilberte, I swear it--rather than risk injuring your father.
There is no undoing what is done; but the evil may, perhaps, be
somewhat lessened."

Mlle. Gilberte started.

"Great heavens!" she exclaimed, "do you, then, believe my father
innocent?"

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