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Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau

Part 6 out of 10

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morning, the doctor announced that I was well enough to leave the
hospital.

"I cannot say that I was very sorry. I had lately made the
acquaintance of a young workwoman, who had been sent to the hospital
in consequence of a fall, and who occupied the bed next to mine.
She was a girl of about twenty, very gentle, very obliging, and whose
amiable countenance had attracted me from the first.

"Like myself, she had no parents. But she was rich, very rich. She
owned the furniture of the room, a sewing-machine, which had cost
her three hundred francs, and, like a true child of Paris, she
understood five or six trades, the least lucrative of which yielded
her twenty-five or thirty cents a day. In less than a week, we had
become good friends; and, when she left the hospital,

"'Believe me,' she said: 'when you come out yourself, don't waste
your time looking for a place. Come to me: I can accommodate you.
I'll teach you what I know; and, if you are industrious, you'll make
your living, and you'll be free.'

"It was to her room that I went straight from the hospital, carrying,
tied in a handkerchief, my entire baggage,--one dress, and a few
undergarments that the good sisters had given me.

"She received me like a sister, and after showing me her lodging,
two little attic-rooms shining with cleanliness,

"'You'll see,' she said, kissing me, 'how happy we'll be here.'"

It was getting late. M. Fortin had long ago come up and put out
the gas on the stairs. One by one, every noise had died away in
the hotel. Nothing now disturbed the silence of the night save
the distant sound of some belated cab on the Boulevard. But neither
Maxence nor Mlle. Lucienne were noticing the flight of time, so
interested were they, one in telling, and the other in listening to,
this story of a wonderful existence. However, Mlle. Lucienne's
voice had become hoarse with fatigue. She poured herself a glass
of water, which she emptied at a draught, and then at once,

"Never yet," she resumed, "had I been agitated by such a sweet
sensation. My eyes were full of tears; but they were tears of
gratitude and joy. After so many years of isolation, to meet with
such a friend, so generous, and so devoted: it was like finding a
family. For a few weeks, I thought that fate had relented at last.
My friend was an excellent workwoman; but with some intelligence,
and the will to learn, I soon knew as much as she did.

"There was plenty of work. By working twelve hours, with the help
of the thrice-blessed sewing-machine, we succeeded in making six,
seven, and even eight francs a day. It was a fortune.

"Thus several months elapsed in comparative comfort.

"Once more I was afloat, and I had more clothes than I had lost in
my trunk. I liked the life I was leading; and I would be leading
it still, if my friend had not one day fallen desperately in love
with a young man she had met at a ball. I disliked him very much,
and took no trouble to conceal my feelings: nevertheless, my friend
imagined that I had designs upon him, and became fiercely jealous
of me. Jealousy does not reason; and I soon understood that we
would no longer be able to live in common, and that I must look
elsewhere for shelter. But my friend gave me no time to do so.

"Coming home one Monday night at about eleven, she notified me to
clear out at once. I attempted to expostulate: she replied with
abuse. Rather than enter upon a degrading struggle, I yielded,
and went out.

"That night I spent on a chair in a neighbor's room. But the next
day, when I went for my things, my former friend refused to give
them, and presumed to keep every thing. I was compelled, though
reluctantly, to resort to the intervention of the commissary of
police.

"I gained my point. But the good days had gone. Luck did not follow
me to the wretched furnished house where I hired a room. I had no
sewing-machine, and but few acquaintances. By working fifteen or
sixteen hours a day, I made thirty or forty cents. That was not
enough to live on. Then work failed me altogether, and, piece by
piece, every thing I had went to the pawnbroker's. On a gloomy
December morning, I was turned out of my room, and left on the
pavement with a ten-cent-piece for my fortune.

"Never had I been so low; and I know not to what extremities I might
have come at last, when I happened to think of that wealthy lady
whose horses had upset me on the Boulevard. I had kept her card.
Without hesitation, I went unto a grocery, and calling for some
paper and a pen, I wrote, overcoming the last struggle of my pride,

"'Do you remember, madame, a poor girl whom your carriage came near
crushing to death? Once before she applied to you, and received no
answer. She is to-day without shelter and without bread; and you
are her supreme hope.'

"I placed these few lines in an envelope, and ran to the address
indicated on the card. It was a magnificent residence, with a vast
court-yard in front. In the porter's lodge, five or six servants
were talking as I came in, and looked at me impudently, from head
to foot, when I requested them to take my letter to Mme. de Thaller.
One of them, however, took pity on me,

"'Come with me,' he said, 'come along!'

"He made me cross the yard, and enter the vestibule; and then,

"'Give me your letter,' he said, 'and wait here for me.'"

Maxence was about to express the thoughts which Mme. de Thaller's
name naturally suggested to his mind, but Mlle. Lucienne interrupted
him,

"In all my life," she went on, "I had never seen any thing so
magnificent as that vestibule with its tall columns, its tessellated
floor, its large bronze vases filled with the rarest flowers, and
its red velvet benches, upon which tall footmen in brilliant livery
were lounging.

"I was, I confess, somewhat intimidated by all of this splendor; and
I remained awkwardly standing, when suddenly the servants stood up
respectfully.

"A door had just opened, through which appeared a man already past
middle age, tall, thin, dressed in the extreme of fashion, and
wearing long red whiskers falling over his chest."

"The Baron de Thaller," murmured Maxence.

Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the interruption.

"The attitude of the servants," she went on, "had made me easily
guess that he was the master. I was bowing to him, blushing and
embarrassed, when, noticing me, he stopped short, shuddering from
head to foot.

"'Who are you?' he asked me roughly.

"I attributed his manner to the sad condition of my dress, which
appeared more miserable and more dilapidated still amid the
surrounding splendors; and, in a scarcely intelligible voice, I began,

"'I am a poor girl, sir--'

"But he interrupted me.

"'To the point! What do you want?'

"'I am awaiting an answer, sir, to a request which I have just
forwarded to the baroness.'

"'What about?'

"'Once sir, I was run over in the street by the baroness's carriage:
I was severely wounded, and had to be taken to the hospital.'

"I fancied there was something like terror in the man's look.

"'It is you, then, who once before sent a long letter to my wife, in
which you told the story of your life?'

"'Yes, sir, it was I.'

"'You stated in that letter that you had no parents, having been
left by your mother with some gardeners at Louveciennes?'

"'That is the truth.'

"'What has become of these gardeners?'

"'They are dead.'

"'What was your mother's name?'

"'I never knew.'

"To M. de Thaller's first surprise had succeeded a feeling of
evident irritation; but, the more haughty and brutal his manners,
the cooler and the more self-possessed I became.

"'And you are soliciting assistance?' he said.

"I drew myself up, and, looking at him straight in the eyes,

"'I beg your pardon,' I replied: 'it is a legitimate indemnity which
I claim.'

"Indeed, it seemed to me that my firmness alarmed him. With a
feverish haste, he began to feel in his pockets. He took out their
contents of gold and bank-notes all in a heap, and, thrusting it
into my hands without counting,

"'Here,' he said, 'take this. Are you satisfied?'

"I observed to him, that, having sent a letter to Mme. de Thaller,
it would perhaps be proper to await her answer. But he replied that
it was not necessary, and, pushing me towards the door,

"'You may depend upon it,' he said, 'I shall tell my wife that I
saw you.'

"I started to go out; but I had not gone ten steps across the yard,
when I heard him crying excitedly to his servants,

"'You see that beggar, don't you? Well, the first one who allows
her to cross the threshold of my door shall be turned out on the
instant.'

"A beggar, I! Ah the wretch! I turned round to cast his alms into
his face; but already he had disappeared, and I only found before me
the footman, chuckling stupidly.

"I went out; and, as my anger gradually passed off, I felt thankful
that I had been unable to follow the dictates of my wounded pride.

"'Poor girl,' I thought to myself, 'where would you be at this hour?
You would only have to select between suicide and the vilest
existence; whereas now you are above want.'

"I was passing before a small restaurant. I went in; for I was
very hungry, having, so to speak, eaten nothing for several days
past. Besides, I felt anxious to count my treasure. The Baron de
Thaller had given me nine hundred and thirty francs.

"This sum, which exceeded the utmost limits of my ambition, seemed
inexhaustible to me: I was dazzled by its possession.

"'And yet,' I thought, 'had M. de Thaller happened to have ten
thousand francs in his pockets he would have given them to me all
the same.'

"I was at a loss to explain this strange generosity. Why his
surprise when he first saw me, then his anger, and his haste to get
rid of me? How was it that a man whose mind must be filled with
the gravest cares had so distinctly remembered me, and the letter
I had written to his wife? Why, after showing himself so generous,
had he so strictly excluded me from his house?

"After vainly trying for some time to solve this riddle, I concluded
that I must be the victim of my own imagination; and I turned my
attention to making the best possible use of my sudden fortune. On
the same day, I took a little room in the Faubourg St. Denis; and
I bought myself a sewing-machine. Before the week was over, I had
work before me for several months. Ah! this time it seemed indeed
that I had nothing more to apprehend from destiny; and I looked
forward, without fear, to the future. At the end of a month, I was
earning four to five francs a day, when, one afternoon, a stout man,
very well dressed, looking honest and good-natured, and speaking
French with some difficulty, made his appearance at my room. He
was an American he stated, and had been sent to me by the woman for
whom I worked. Having need of a skilled Parisian work-woman, he
came to propose to me to follow him to New York, where he would
insure me a brilliant position.

"But I knew several poor girls, who, on the faith of dazzling
promises, had expatriated themselves. Once abroad, they had been
shamefully abandoned, and had been driven, to escape starvation,
to resort to the vilest expedients. I refused, therefore, and
frankly gave him my reasons for doing so.

"My visitor at once protested indignantly. Whom did I take him
for? It was a fortune that I was refusing. He guaranteed me in
New York board, lodging, and two hundred francs a month. He would
pay all traveling and moving expenses. And, to prove to me the
fairness of his intentions, he was ready, he said, to sign an
agreement, and pay me a thousand down.

"These offers were so brilliant, that I was staggered in my
resolution.

"'Well,' I said, 'give me twenty-four hours to decide. I wish to
see my employer.'

"He seemed very much annoyed; but, as I remained firm in my purpose,
he left, promising to return the next day to receive my final answer.

"I ran at once to my employer. She did not know what I was talking
about. She had sent no one, and was not acquainted with any American.

"Of course, I never saw him again; and I couldn't help thinking of
this singular adventure, when, one evening during the following
week, as I was coming home at about eleven o'clock, two policemen
arrested me, and, in spite of my earnest protestations, took me
to the station-house, where I was locked up with a dozen unfortunates
who had just been taken up on the Boulevards. I spent the night
crying with shame and anger; and I don't know what would have become
of me, if the justice of the peace, who examined me the next morning,
had not happened to be a just and kind man. As soon as I had
explained to him that I was the victim of a most humiliating error
he sent an agent in quest of information, and having satisfied
himself that I was an honest girl, working for my living, he
discharged me. But, before permitting me to go,

"'Beware, my child,' he said to me: 'it is upon a formal and
well-authenticated declaration that you were arrested. Therefore
you must have enemies. People have an interest in getting rid of
you.'"

Mademoiselle Lucienne was evidently almost exhausted with fatigue:
her voice was failing her. But it was in vain that Maxence begged
her to take a few moments of rest.

"No," she answered, "I'd rather get through as quick as possible."

And, making an effort, she resumed her narrative, hurrying more
and more.

"I returned home, my mind all disturbed by the judge's warnings.
I am no coward; but it is a terrible thing to feel one's self
incessantly threatened by an unknown and mysterious danger, against
which nothing can be done.

"In vain did I search my past life: I could think of no one who
could have any interest in effecting my ruin. Those alone have
enemies who have had friends. I had never had but one friend, the
kind-hearted girl who had turned me out of her home in a fit of
absurd jealousy. But I knew her well enough to knew that she was
incapable of malice, and that she must long since have forgotten
the unlucky cause of our rupture.

"Weeks after weeks passed without any new incident. I had plenty
of work and was earning enough money to begin saving. So I felt
comfortable, laughed at my former fears, and neglected the
precautions which I had taken at first; when, one evening, my
employer, having a very important and pressing order, sent for me.
We did not get through our work until long after midnight.

"She wished me to spend the rest of the night with her; but it would
have been necessary to make up a bed for me, and disturb the whole
household.

"'Bash!' I said, 'this will not be the first time I cross Paris in
the middle of the night.'

"I started; and I was going along, walking as fast as I could, when,
from the angle of a dark, narrow street, a man sprang upon me,
threw me down, struck me, and would doubtless have killed me, but
for two brave gentlemen who heard my screams and rushed to my
assistance. The man ran off; and I was able to walk the rest of
the way home, having received but a very slight wound.

"But the very next morning I ran to see my friend, the justice of
the peace. He listened to me gravely, and, when I had concluded,

"'How were you dressed?' he inquired.

"'All in black,' I replied, 'very modestly, like a workwoman.'

"'Had you nothing on your person that could tempt a thief?'

"'Nothing. No watch-chain, no jewelry, no ear-rings even.'

"'Then,' he uttered, knitting his brows, 'it is not a fortuitous
crime: it is another attempt on the part of your enemies.'

"Such was also my opinion. And yet:

"'But, sir,' I exclaimed, 'who can have any interest to destroy me,
--a poor obscure girl as I am? I have thought carefully and well,
and I have not a single enemy that I can think of.' And, as I had
full confidence in his kindness, I went on telling him the story
of my life.

"'You are a natural child,' he said as soon as I had done, 'and you
have been basely abandoned. That fact alone would be sufficient to
justify every supposition. You do not know your parents; but it is
quite possible that they may know you, and that they may never have
lost sight of you. Your mother was a working-girl, you think? That
may be. But your father? Do you know what interests your existence
may threaten? Do you know what elaborate edifice of falsehood and
infamy your sudden appearance might tumble to the ground?'

"I was listening dumfounded.

"Never had such conjectures crossed my mind; and, whilst I doubted
their probability, I had, at least, to admit their possibility.

"'What must I do, then?' I inquired.

"The peace-officer shook his head.

"'Indeed, my poor child, I hardly know what to advise. The police
is not omnipotent. It can do nothing to anticipate a crime conceived
in the brain of an unknown scoundrel.'

"I was terrified. He saw it, and took pity on me.

"'In your place,' he added, 'I would change my domicile. You might,
perhaps, thus make them lose your track. And, above all, do not
fail to give me your new address. Whatever I can do to protect you,
and insure your safety, I shall do.'

"That excellent man has kept his word; and once again I owed my
safety to him. 'Tis he who is now commissary of police in this
district, and who protected me against Mme. Fortin. I hastened to
follow his advice, and two days later I had hired the room in this
house in which I am still living. In order to avoid every chance
of discovery, I left my employer, and requested her to say, if any
one came to inquire after me, that I had gone to America.

"I soon found work again in a very fashionable dress-making
establishment, the name of which you must have heard,--Van Klopen's.
Unfortunately, war had just been declared. Every day announced a new
defeat. The Prussians were coming; then the siege began. Van Klopen
had closed his shop, and left Paris. I had a few savings, thank
heaven; and I husbanded them as carefully as shipwrecked mariners do
their last ration of food, when I unexpectedly found some work.

"It was one Sunday, and I had gone out to see some battalions of
National Guards passing along the Boulevard, when suddenly I saw
one of the vivandieres, who was marching behind the band, stop, and
run towards me with open arms. It was my old friend from the
Batignolles, who had recognized me. She threw her arms around my
neck, and, as we had at once become the centre of a group of at
least five hundred idlers,

"'I must speak to you,' she said. 'If you live in the neighborhood,
let's go to your room. The service can wait.'

"I brought her here, and at once she commenced to excuse herself
for her past conduct, begging me to restore her my friendship. As
I expected, she had long since forgotten the young man, cause of
our rupture. But she was now in love, and seriously this time, she
declared, with a furniture-maker, who was a captain in the National
Guards. It was through him that she had become a vivandiere; and
she offered me a similar position, if I wished it. But I did not
wish it; and, as I was complaining that I could find no work, she
swore that she would get me some through her captain, who was a very
influential man.

"Through him, I did in fact obtain a few dozen jackets to make.
This work was very poorly paid; but the little I earned was that
much less to take from my humble resources. In that way I managed
to get through the siege without suffering too much.

"After the armistice, unfortunately, M. Van Klopen had not yet
returned. I was unable to procure any work; my resources were
exhausted; and I would have starved during the Commune, but for
my old friend, who several times brought me a little money, and
some provisions. Her captain was now a colonel, and was about to
become a member of the government; at least, so she assured me.
The entrance of the troops into Paris put an end to her dream.
One night she came to me livid with fright. She supposed herself
gravely compromised, and begged me to hide her. For four days
she remained with me. On the fifth, just as we were sitting down
to dinner, my room was invaded by a number of police-agents, who
showed us an order of arrest, and commanded us to follow them.

"My friend sank down upon a chair, stupid with fright. But I
retained my presence of mind, and persuaded one of the agents to
go and notify my friend the justice. He happened luckily to be at
home, and at once hastened to my assistance. He could do nothing,
however, for the moment; the agents having positive orders to take
us straight to Versailles.

"'Well,' said he, 'I shall accompany you.'

"From the very first steps he took the next morning, he discovered
that my position was indeed grave. But he also and very clearly
recognized a new device of the enemy to bring about my destruction.
The information filed against me stated that I had remained in the
service of the Commune to the last moment; that I had been seen
behind the barricades with a gun in my hand; and that I had formed
one of a band of vile incendiaries. This infamous scheme had
evidently been suggested by my relations with my friend from the
Batignolles, who was still more terribly compromised than she
thought, the poor girl; her colonel having been captured, and
convicted of pillage and murder, and herself charged with complicity.

"Isolated as I was, without resources, and without relatives, I
would certainly have perished, but for the devoted efforts of my
friend the justice, whose official position gave him access
everywhere, and enabled him to reach my judges. He succeeded in
demonstrating my entire innocence; and after forty-eight hours'
detention, which seemed an age to me, I was set at liberty.

"At the door; I found the man who had just saved me. He was waiting
for me, but would not suffer me to express the gratitude with which
my heart overflowed.

"'You will thank me,' he said, 'when I have deserved it better. I
have done nothing as yet that any honest man wouldn't have done in
my place. What I wish is to discover what interests you are
threatening without knowing it, and which must be considerable, if
I may judge by the passion and the tenacity of those who are
pursuing you. What I desire to do is to lay hands upon the cowardly
rascals in whose way you seem to stand.'

"I shook my head.

"'You will not succeed,' I said to him.

"'Who knows? I've done harder things than that in my life.'

"And taking a large envelope from his pocket,

"'This,' he said, 'is the letter which caused your arrest. I have
examined it attentively; and I am certain that the handwriting is
not disguised. That's something to start with, and may enable me
to verify my suspicions, should any occur to my mind. In the mean
time, return quietly to Paris, resume your ordinary occupations,
answer vaguely any questions that may be asked about this matter,
and above all, never mention my name. Remain at the Hotel des
Folies: it is in my district, in my legitimate sphere of action;
besides, the proprietors are in a position where they dare not
disobey my orders. Never come to my office, unless something grave
and unforeseen should occur. Our chances of success would be
seriously compromised, if they could suspect the interest I take
in your welfare. Keep your eyes open on every thing that is going
on around you, and, if you notice any thing suspicious, write to me.
I will myself organize a secret surveillance around you. If I can
bag one of the rascals who are watching you, that's all I want.'

"'And now,' added this good man, 'good-by. Patience and courage.'

"Unfortunately he had not thought of offering me a little money: I
had not dared to ask him for any, and I had but eight sous left.
It was on foot, therefore, that I was compelled to return to Paris.

"Mme. Fortin received me with open arms. With me returned the hope
of recovering the hundred and odd francs which I owed her, and
which she had given up for lost. Moreover, she had excellent news
for me. M. Van Klopen had sent for me during my absence, requesting
me to call at his shop. Tired as I was, I went to see him at once.
I found him very much downcast by the poor prospects of business.
Still he was determined to go on, and offered to employ me, not as
work-woman, as heretofore, but to try on garments for customers, at
a salary of one hundred and twenty francs a month. I was not in a
position to be very particular. I accepted; and there I am still.

"Every morning, when I get to the shop, I take off this simple
costume, and I put on a sort of livery that belongs to M. Van Klopen,
--wide skirts, and a black silk dress.

"Then whenever a customer comes who wants a cloak, a mantle, or
some other 'wrapping,' I step up and put on the garment, that the
purchaser may see how it looks. I have to walk, to turn around,
sit down, etc. It is absurdly ridiculous, often humiliating; and
many a time, during the first days, I felt tempted to give back
to M. Van Klopen his black silk dress.

"But the conjectures of my friend the peace-officer were constantly
agitating my brain. Since I thought I had discovered a mystery in
my existence, I indulged in all sorts of fancies, and was momentarily
expecting some extraordinary occurrence, some compensation of destiny,
and I remained.

"But I was not yet at the end of my troubles."

Since she had been speaking of M. Van Klopen, Mlle. Lucienne seemed
to have lost her tone of haughty assurance and imperturbable
coolness; and it was with a look of mingled confusion and sadness
that she went on.

"What I was doing at Van Klopen's was exceedingly painful to me;
and yet he very soon asked me to do something more painful still.
Gradually Paris was filling up again. The hotels had re-opened;
foreigners were pouring in; and the Bois Boulogne was resuming
its wonted animation. Still but few orders came in, and those for
dresses of the utmost simplicity, of dark color and plain material,
on which it was hard to make twenty-five per cent profit. Van
Klopen was disconsolate. He kept speaking to me of the good old
days, when some of his customers spent as much as thirty thousand
francs a month for dresses and trifles, until one day,

"'You are the only one,' he told me, 'who can help me out just
now. You are really good looking; and I am sure that in full dress,
spread over the cushions of a handsome carriage, you would create
quite a sensation, and that all the rest of the women would be
jealous of you, and would wish to look like you. There needs but
one, you know, to give the good example.'"

Maxence started up suddenly, and, striking his head with hand,

"Ah, I understand now!" he exclaimed.

"I thought that Van Klopen was jesting," went on the young girl.
"But he had never been more in earnest; and, to prove it, he
commenced explaining to me what he wanted. He proposed to get up
for me some of those costumes which are sure to attract attention;
and two or three times a week he would send me a fine carriage, and
I would go and show myself in the Bois.

"I felt disgusted at the proposition.

"'Never!' I said.

"'Why not?'

"'Because I respect myself too much to make a living advertisement
of myself.'

"He shrugged his shoulders.

"'You are wrong,' he said. 'You are not rich, and I would give you
twenty francs for each ride. At the rate of eight rides a month, it
would be one hundred and sixty francs added to your wages. Besides,'
he added with a wink, 'it would be an excellent opportunity to make
your fortune. Pretty as you are, who knows but what some millionaire
might take a fancy to you!'

"I felt indignant.

"'For that reason alone, if for no other,' I exclaimed, 'I refuse.'

"'You are a little fool,' he replied. 'If you do not accept, you
cease being in my employment. Reflect!'

"My mind was already made up, and I was thinking of looking out for
some other occupation, when I received a note from my friend the
peace-officer, requesting me to call at his office.

"I did so, and, after kindly inviting me to a seat,

"'Well,' he said, 'what is there new?'

"'Nothing. I have noticed no one watching me.'

"He looked annoyed.

"'My agents have not detected any thing, either,' he grumbled.
'And yet it is evident that your enemies cannot have given it up
so. They are sharp ones: if they keep quiet, it is because they
are preparing some good trick. What it is I must and shall find
out. Already I have an idea which would be an excellent one, if I
could discover some way of throwing you among what is called good
society.'

"I explained to him, that, being employed at Van Klopen's, I had an
opportunity to see there many ladies of the best society.

"'That is not enough,' he said.

"Then M. Van Klopen's propositions came back to my mind, and I
stated them to him.

"'Just the thing!' he exclaimed, starting upon his chair: 'a manifest
proof that luck is with us. You must accept.'

"I felt bound to tell him my objections, which reflection had much
increased.

"'I know but too well,' I said, 'what must happen if I accept this
odious duty. Before I have been four times to the Bois, I shall be
noticed, and every one will imagine that they know for what purpose
I come there. I shall be assailed with vile offers. True, I have no
fears for myself. I shall always be better guarded by my pride than
by the most watchful of parents. But my reputation will be lost.'

"I failed to convince him.

"'I know very well that you are an honest girl,' he said to me; 'but,
for that very reason, what do you care what all these people will
think, whom you do not know? Your future is at stake. I repeat it,
you must accept.'

"'If you command me to do so,' I said.

"'Yes, I command you; and I'll explain to you why.'"

For the first time, Mlle. Lucienne manifested some reticence, and
omitted to repeat the explanations of the peace-officer. And,
after a few moments' pause,

"You know the rest, neighbor," she said, "since you have seen me
yourself in that inept and ridiculous role of living advertisement,
of fashionable lay-figure; and the result has been just as I
expected. Can you find any one who believes in my honesty of
purpose? You have heard Mme. Fortin to-night? Yourself, neighbor
--what did you take me for? And yet you should have noticed
something of my suffering and my humiliation the day that you were
watching me so closely in the Bois de Boulogne."

"What!" exclaimed Maxence with a start, "you know?"

"Have I not just told you that I always fear being watched and
followed, and that I am always on the lookout? Yes, I know that
you tried to discover the secret of my rides."

Maxence tried to excuse himself.

"That will do for the present," she uttered. "You wish to be my
friend, you say? Now that you know my whole life almost as well
as I do myself, reflect, and to-morrow you will tell me the result
of your thoughts."

Whereupon she went out.

XXVIII

For about a minute Maxence remained stupefied at this sudden
denouement; and, when he had recovered his presence of mind and his
voice, Mlle. Lucienne had disappeared, and he could hear her bolting
her door, and striking a match against the wall.

He might also have thought that he was awaking from a dream, had he
not had, to attest the reality, the vague perfume which filled his
room, and the light shawl, which Mlle. Lucienne wore as she came in,
and which she had forgotten, on a chair.

The night was almost ended: six o'clock had just struck. Still he
did not feel in the least sleepy. His head was heavy, his temples
throbbing, his eyes smarting. Opening his window, he leaned out to
breathe the morning air. The day was dawning pale and cold. A
furtive and livid light glanced along the damp walls of the narrow
court of the Hotel des Folies, as at the bottom of a well. Already
arose those confused noises which announce the waking of Paris, and
above which can be heard the sonorous rolling of the milkmen's carts,
the loud slamming of doors, and the sharp sound of hurrying steps on
the hard pavement.

But soon Maxence felt a chill coming over him. He closed the window,
threw some wood in the chimney, and stretched himself on his chair,
his feet towards the fire. It was a most serious event which had
just occurred in his existence; and, as much as he could, he
endeavored to measure its bearings, and to calculate its consequences
in the future.

He kept thinking of the story of that strange girl, her haughty
frankness when unrolling certain phases of her life, of her
wonderful impassibility, and of the implacable contempt for humanity
which her every word betrayed. Where had she learned that dignity,
so simple and so noble, that measured speech, that admirable respect
of herself, which had enabled her to pass through so much filth
without receiving a stain?

"What a woman!" he thought.

Before knowing her, he loved her. Now he was convulsed by one of
those exclusive passions which master the whole being. Already he
felt himself so much under the charm, subjugated, dominated,
fascinated; he understood so well that he was going to cease being
his own master; that his free will was about escaping from him;
that he would be in Mlle. Lucienne's hands like wax under the
modeler's fingers; he saw himself so thoroughly at the discretion
of an energy superior to his own, that he was almost frightened.

"It's my whole future that I am going to risk," he thought.

And there was no middle path. Either he must fly at once, without
waiting for Mlle. Lucienne to awake, fly without looking behind, or
else stay, and then accept all the chances of an incurable passion
for a woman who, perhaps, might never care for him. And he remained
wavering, like the traveler who finds himself at the intersection
of two roads, and, knowing that one leads to the goal, and the other
to an abyss, hesitates which to take.

With this difference, however, that if the traveler errs, and
discovers his error, he is always free to retrace his steps; whereas
man, in life, can never return to his starting-point. Every step he
takes is final; and if he has erred, if he has taken the fatal road,
there is no remedy.

"Well, no matter!" exclaimed Maxence. "It shall not be said that
through cowardice I have allowed that happiness to escape which
passes within my reach. I shall stay." And at once he began to
examine what reasonably he might expect; for there was no mistaking
Mlle. Lucienne's intentions. When she had said, "Do you wish to be
friends?" she had meant exactly that, and nothing else,--friends,
and only friends.

"And yet," thought Maxence, "if I had not inspired her with a real
interest, would she have so wholly confided unto me? She is not
ignorant of the fact that I love her; and she knows life too well
to suppose that I will cease to love her when she has allowed me a
certain amount of intimacy."

His heart filled with hope at the idea.

"My mistress," he thought, "never, evidently, but my wife. Why not?"

But the very next moment he became a prey to the bitterest
discouragement. He thought that perhaps Mlle. Lucienne might have
some capital interest in thus making a confidant of him. She had
not told him the explanation given her by the peace-officer. Had
she not, perhaps, succeeded in lifting a corner of the veil which
covered the secret of her birth? Was she on the track of her
enemies? and had she discovered the motive of their animosity?

"Is it possible," thought Maxence, "that I should be but one of the
powers in the game she is playing? How do I know, that, if she wins,
she will not cast me off?"

In the midst of these thoughts, he had gradually fallen asleep,
murmuring to the last the name of Lucienne.

The creaking of his opening door woke him up suddenly. He started
to his feet, and met Mlle. Lucienne coming in.

"How is this?" said she. "You did not go to bed?"

"You recommended me to reflect," he replied. "I've been reflecting."

He looked at his watch: it was twelve o'clock.

"Which, however," he added, "did not keep me from going to sleep."

All the doubts that besieged him at the moment when he had been
overcome by sleep now came back to his mind with painful vividness.

"And not only have I been sleeping," he went on, "but I have been
dreaming too."

Mlle. Lucienne fixed upon him her great black eyes.

"Can you tell me your dream?" she asked.

He hesitated. Had he had but one minute to reflect, perhaps he
would not have spoken; but he was taken unawares.

"I dreamed," he replied, "that we were friends in the noblest and
purest acceptance of that word. Intelligence, heart, will, all that
I am, and all that I can,--I laid every thing at your feet. You
accepted the most entire devotion, the most respectful and the most
tender that man is capable of. Yes, we were friends indeed; and
upon a glimpse of love, never expressed, I planned a whole future
of love." He stopped.

"Well?" she asked.

"Well, when my hopes seemed on the point of being realized, it
happened that the mystery of your birth was suddenly revealed to
you. You found a noble, powerful, and wealthy family. You resumed
the illustrious name of which you had been robbed; your enemies were
crushed; and your rights were restored to you. It was no longer
Van Klopen's hired carriage that stopped in front of the Hotel des
Folies, but a carriage bearing a gorgeous coat of arms. That
carriage was yours; and it came to take you to your own residence
in the Faubourg St. Germain, or to your ancestral manor."

"And yourself?" inquired the girl.

Maxence repressed one of those nervous spasms which frequently break
out in tears, and, with a gloomy look,

"I," he answered, "standing on the edge of the pavement, I waited
for a word or a look from you. You had forgotten my very existence.
Your coachman whipped his horses; they started at a gallop; and soon
I lost sight of you. And then a voice, the inexorable voice of fate,
cried to me, 'Never more shalt thou see her!'"

With a superb gesture Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

"It is not with your heart, I trust, that you judge
me, M. Maxence Favoral," she uttered.

He trembled lest he had offended her.

"I beseech you," he began.

But she went on in a voice vibrating with emotion,

"I am not of those who basely deny their past. Your dream will
never be realized. Those things are only seen on the stage. If
it did realize itself, however, if the carriage with the
coat-of-arms did come to the door, the companion of the evil days,
the friend who offered me his month's salary to pay my debt, would
have a seat by my side."

That was more happiness than Maxence would have dared to hope for.
He tried, in order to express his gratitude, to find some of those
words which always seem to be lacking at the most critical moments.
But he was suffocating; and the tears, accumulated by so many
successive emotions, were rising to his eyes.

With a passionate impulse, he seized Mlle. Lucienne's hand, and,
taking it to his lips, he covered it with kisses. Gently but
resolutely she withdrew her hand, and, fixing upon him her beautiful
clear gaze,

"Friends," she uttered.

Her accent alone would have been sufficient to dissipate the
presumptuous illusions of Maxence, had he had any. But he had none.

"Friends only," he replied, "until the day when you shall be my wife.
You cannot forbid me to hope. You love no one?"

"No one."

"Well since we are going to tread the path of life, let me think
that we may find love at some turn of the road."

She made no answer. And thus was sealed between them a treaty of
friendship, to which they were to remain so strictly faithful, that
the word "love" never once rose to their lips.

In appearance there was no change in their mode of life.

Every morning, at seven o'clock, Mlle. Lucienne went to M. Van
Klopen's, and an hour later Maxence started for his office. They
returned home at night, and spent their evenings together by the
fireside.

But what was easy to foresee now took place.

Weak and undecided by nature, Maxence began very soon to feel the
influence of the obstinate and energetic character of the girl.
She infused, as it were, in his veins, a warmer and more generous
blood. Gradually she imbued him with her ideas, and from her own
will gave him one.

He had told her in all sincerity his history, the miseries of his
home, M. Favoral's parsimony and exaggerated severity, his mother's
resigned timidity, and Mlle. Gilberte's resolute nature.

He had concealed nothing of his past life, of his errors and his
follies, confessing even the worst of his actions; as, for instance,
having abused his mother's and sister's affection to extort from
them all the money they earned.

He had admitted to her that it was only with great reluctance and
under pressure of necessity, that he worked at all; that he was far
from being rich; that although he took his dinner with his parents,
his salary barely sufficed for his wants; and that he had debts.

He hoped, however, he added, that it would not be always thus, and
that, sooner or later, he would see the termination of all this
misery and privation; for his father had at least fifty thousand
francs a year and some day he must be rich.

Far from smiling, Mlle. Lucienne frowned at such a prospect.

"Ah! your father is a millionaire, is he?" she interrupted. "Well,
I understand now how, at twenty-five, after refusing all the
positions which have been offered to you, you have no position. You
relied on your father, instead of relying on yourself. Judging that
he worked hard enough for two, you bravely folded your arms, waiting
for the fortune which he is amassing, and which you seem to consider
yours."

Such morality seemed a little steep to Maxence. "I think," he began,
"that, if one is the son of a rich man--"

"One has the right to be useless, I suppose?" added the girl.

"I do not mean that; but--"

"There is no but about it. And the proof that your views are wrong,
is that they have brought you where you are, and deprived you of your
own free will. To place one's self at the mercy of another, be that
other your own father, is always silly; and one is always at the
mercy of the man from whom he expects money that he has not earned.
Your father would never have been so harsh, had he not believed that
you could not do without him."

He wanted to discuss: she stopped him.

"Do you wish the proof that you are at M. Favoral's mercy?" she said.
"Very well. You spoke of marrying me."

"Ah, if you were willing!"

"Very well. Go and speak of it to your father."

"I suppose--"

"You don't suppose any thing at all: you are absolutely certain that
he will refuse you his consent."

"I could do without it."

"I admit that you could. But do you know what he would do then?
He would arrange things in such a way that you would never get a
centime of his fortune."

Maxence had never thought of that.

"Therefore," the young girl went on gayly, "though there is as yet
no question of marriage, learn to secure your independence; that
is, the means of living. And to that effect let us work."

It was from that moment, that Mme. Favoral had noticed in her son
the change that had surprised her so much.

Under the inspiration, under the impulsion, of Mlle. Lucienne,
Maxence had been suddenly taken with a zeal for work, and a desire
to earn money, of which he could not have been suspected.

He was no longer late at his office, and had not, at the end of each
month, ten or fifteen francs' fines to pay.

Every morning, as soon as she was up, Mlle. Lucienne came to knock
at his door. "Come, get up!" she cried to him.

And quick he jumped out of bed and dressed, so that he might bid
her good-morning before she left.

In the evening, the last mouthful of his dinner was hardly swallowed,
before he began copying the documents which he procured from M.
Chapelain's successor.

And often he worked quite late in the night whilst by his side Mlle.
Lucienne applied herself to some work of embroidery.

The girl was the cashier of the association; and she administered
the common capital with such skillful and such scrupulous economy,
that Maxence soon succeeded in paying off his creditors.

"Do you know," she was saying at the end of December, "that, between
us, we have earned over six hundred francs this month?"

On Sundays only, after a week of which not a minute had been lost,
they indulged in some little recreation.

If the weather was not too bad, they went out together, dined in
some modest restaurant, and finished the day at the theatre.

Having thus a common existence, both young, free, and having their
rooms divided only by a narrow passage it was difficult that people
should believe in the innocence of their intercourse. The
proprietors of the Hotel des Folies believed nothing of the kind;
and they were not alone in that opinion.

Mlle. Lucienne having continued to show herself in the Bois on the
afternoons when the weather was fine, the number of fools who annoyed
her with their attentions had greatly increased. Among the most
obstinate could be numbered M. Costeclar, who was pleased to
declare, upon his word of honor, that he had lost his sleep, and
his taste for business, since the day when, together with M. Saint
Pavin, he had first seen Mlle. Lucienne.

The efforts of his valet, and the letters which he had written,
having proved useless, M. Costeclar had made up his mind to act in
person; and gallantly he had come to put himself on guard in front
of the Hotel des Folies.

Great was his surprise, when he saw Mlle. Lucienne coming out arm
in arm with Maxence; and greater still was his spite.

"That girl is a fool," he thought, "to prefer to me a fellow who
has not two hundred francs a month to spend. But never mind! He
laughs best who laughs last."

And, as he was a man fertile in expedients, he went the next day
to take a walk in the neighborhood of the Mutual Credit; and, having
met M. Favoral by chance, he told him how his son Maxence was ruining
himself for a young lady whose toilets were a scandal, insinuating
delicately that it was his duty, as the head of the family, to put a
stop to such a thing.

This was precisely the time when Maxence was endeavoring to obtain
a situation in the office of the Mutual Credit.

It is true that the idea was not original with him, and that he had
even vehemently rejected it, when, for the first time, Mlle.
Lucienne had suggested it.

"What!" had he exclaimed, "be employed in the same establishment as
my father? Suffer at the office the same intolerable despotism as
at home? I'd rather break stones on the roads."

But Mlle. Lucienne was not the girl to give up so easily a project
conceived and carefully matured by herself.

She returned to the charge with that infinite art of women, who
understand so marvelously well how to turn a position which they
cannot carry in front. She kept the matter so well before him, she
spoke of it so often and so much, on every occasion, and under all
pretexts, that he ended by persuading himself that it was the only
reasonable and practical thing he could do, the only way in which
he had any chance of making his fortune; and so, one evening
overcoming his last hesitations,

"I am going to speak about it to my father," he said to Mlle.
Lucienne.

But whether he had been influenced by M. Costeclar's insinuations,
or for some other reason, M. Favoral had rejected indignantly his
son's request, saying that it was impossible to trust a young man
who was ruining himself for the sake of a miserable creature.

Maxence had become crimson with rage on hearing the woman spoken of
thus, whom he loved to madness, and who, far from ruining him, was
making him.

He returned to the Hotel des Folies in an indescribable state of
exasperation.

"There's the result," he said to Mlle. Lucienne, "of the step which
you have urged me so strongly to take."

She seemed neither surprised nor irritated.

"Very well," she replied simply.

But Maxence could not resign himself so quietly to such a cruel
disappointment; and, not having the slightest suspicion of
Costeclar's doings,

"And such is," he added, "the result of all the gossip of these
stupid shop-keepers who run to see you every time you go out in
the carriage."

The girl shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. "I expected it,"
she said, "the day when I accepted M. Van Klopen's offers."

"Everybody believes that you are my mistress."

"What matters it, since it is not so?"

Maxence did not dare to confess that this was precisely what made
him doubly angry; and he shuddered at the thought of the ridicule
that would certainly be heaped upon him, if the true state of the
case was known.

"We ought to move," he suggested.

"What's the use? Wherever we should go, it would be the same thing.
Besides, I don't want to leave this neighborhood."

"And I am too much your friend not to tell you, that your reputation
in it is absolutely lost."

"I have no accounts to render to any one."

"Except to your friend the commissary of police, however."

A pale smile flitted upon her lips. "Ah!" she uttered, "he knows
the truth."

"You have seen him again, then?"

"Several times."

"Since we have known each other?"

"Yes."

"And you never told me anything about it?"

"I did not think it necessary."

Maxence insisted no more; but, by the sharp pang that he felt, he
realized how dear Mlle. Lucienne had become to him.

"She has secrets from me," thought he,--"from me who would deem it
a crime to have any from her."

What secrets? Had she concealed from him that she was pursuing an
object which had become, as it were, that of her whole life. Had
she not told him, that with the assistance of her friend the
peace-officer, who had now become commissary of police of the
district, she hoped to penetrate the mystery of her birth, and to
revenge herself on the villains, who, three times, had attempted to
do away with her?

She had never mentioned her projects again; but it was evident that
she had not abandoned them, for she would at the same time have
given up her rides to the bois, which were to her an abominable
torment.

But passion can neither reason nor discuss.

"She mistrusts me, who would give my life for hers," repeated Maxence.

And the idea was so painful to him, that he resolved to clear his
doubts at any cost, preferring the worst misery to the anxiety which
was gnawing at his heart.

And as soon as he found himself alone with Mlle. Lucienne, arming
himself with all his courage, and looking her straight in the eyes,

"You never speak to me any more of your enemies?" he said.

She doubtless understood what was passing within him.

"It's because I don't hear any thing of them myself," she answered
gently.

"Then you have given up your purpose?"

"Not at all."

"What are your hopes, then, and what are your prospects?"

"Extraordinary as it may seem to you, I must confess that I know
nothing about it. My friend the commissary has his plan, I am
certain; and he is following it with an indefatigable obstinacy.
I am but an instrument in his hands. I never do any thing without
consulting him; and what he advises me to do I do."

Maxence started upon his chair.

"Was it he, then," he said in a tone of bitter irony, "who suggested
to you the idea of our fraternal association?"

A frown appeared upon the girl's countenance. She evidently felt
hurt by the tone of this species of interrogatory.

"At least he did not disapprove of it," she replied.

But that answer was just evasive enough to excite Maxence's anxiety.

"Was it from him too," he went on, "that came the lovely idea of
having me enter the Mutual Credit?"

"Yes, it was from him."

"For what purpose?"

"He did not explain."

"Why did you not tell me?"

"Because he requested me not to do so."

From being red at the start, Maxence had now become very pale.

"And so," he resumed, "it is that man, that police-agent, who is
the real arbiter of my fate; and if to-morrow he commanded you to
break off with me--"

Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

"Enough!" she interrupted in a brief tone, "enough! There is not
in my whole existence a single act which would give to my bitterest
enemy the right to suspect my loyalty; and now you accuse me of
the basest treason. What have you to reproach me with? Have I
not been faithful to the pact sworn between us. Have I not always
been for you the best of comrades and the most devoted of friends?
I remained silent, because the man in whom I have the fullest
confidence requested me to do so; but he knew, that, if you
questioned me, I would speak. Did you question me? And now what
more do you want? That I should stoop to quiet the suspicions of
your morbid mind? That I do not mean to do."

She was not, perhaps, entirely right; but Maxence was certainly
wrong. He acknowledged it, wept, implored her pardon, which was
granted; and this explanation only served to rivet more closely
the fetters that bound him.

It is true, that, availing himself of the permission that had been
granted him, he kept himself constantly informed of Mlle. Lucienne's
doings. He learnt from her that her friend the commissary had held
a most minute investigation at Louveciennes, and that the footman
who went to the bois with her was now, in reality, a detective.
And at last, one day,

"My friend the commissary," she said, "thinks he is on the right
track now."

XXIX

Such was the exact situation of Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne on that
eventful Saturday evening in the month of April, 1872, when the
police came to arrest M. Vincent Favoral, on the charge of
embezzlement and forgery.

It will be remembered, how, at his mother's request, Maxence had
spent that night in the Rue St. Gilles, and how, the next morning,
unable any longer to resist his eager desire to see Mlle. Lucienne,
he had started for the Hotel des Folies, leaving his sister alone
at home.

He retired to his room, as she had requested him, and, sinking
upon his old arm-chair in a fit of the deepest distress,

"She is singing," he murmured: "Mme. Fortin has not told her any
thing."

And at the same moment Mlle. Lucienne had resumed her song, the
words of which reached him like a bitter raillery,

"Hope! O sweet, deceiving word!
Mad indeed is he,
Who does think he can trust thee,
And take thy coin can afford.
Over his door every one
Will hang thee to his sorrow,
Then saying of days begone,
'Cash to-day, credit to-morrow!'
'Tis very nice to run;
But to have is better fun!"

"What will she say," thought Maxence, "when she learns the horrible
truth?"

And he felt a cold perspiration starting on his temples when he
remembered Mlle. Lucienne's pride, and that honor has her only faith,
the safety-plank to which she had desperately clung in the midst of
the storms of her life. What if she should leave him, now that the
name he bore was disgraced!

A rapid and light step on the landing drew him from his gloomy
thoughts. Almost immediately, the door opened, and Mlle. Lucienne
came in.

She must have dressed in haste; for she was just finishing hooking
her dress, the simplicity of which seemed studied, so marvelously
did it set off the elegance of her figure, the splendors of her
waist, and the rare perfections of her shoulders and of her neck.

A look of intense dissatisfaction could be read upon her lovely
features; but, as soon as she had seen Maxence, her countenance
changed.

And, in fact, his look of utter distress, the disorder of his
garments, his livid paleness, and the sinister look of his eyes,
showed plainly enough that a great misfortune had befallen him.
In a voice whose agitation betrayed something more than the anxiety
and the sympathy of a friend,

"What is the matter? What has happened?" inquired the girl.

"A terrible misfortune," he replied.

He was hesitating: he wished to tell every thing at once, and knew
not how to begin.

"I have told you," he said, "that my family was very rich."

"Yes."

"Well, we have nothing left, absolutely nothing!" She seemed to
breathe more freely, and, in a tone of friendly irony,

"And it is the loss of your fortune," she said, "that distresses
you thus?"

He raised himself painfully to his feet, and, in a low hoarse voice,

"Honor is lost too," he uttered.

"Honor?"

"Yes. My father has stolen: my father has forged!"

She had become whiter than her collar.

"Your father!" she stammered.

"Yes. For years he has been using the money that was intrusted to
him, until the deficit now amounts to twelve millions."

"Great heavens!"

"And, notwithstanding the enormity of that sum, he was reduced,
during the latter months, to the most miserable expedients,--going
from door to door in the neighborhood, soliciting deposits, until
he actually basely swindled a poor newspaper-vender out of five
hundred francs."

"Why, this is madness! And how did you find out?"

"Last night they came to arrest him. Fortunately we had been
notified; and I helped him to escape through a window of my sister's
room, which opens on the yard of an adjoining house."

"And where is he now?"

"Who knows?"

"Had he any money?"

"Everybody thinks that he carries off millions. I do not believe
it. He even refused to take the few thousand francs which M. de
Thaller had brought him to facilitate his flight."

Mlle. Lucienne shuddered.

"Did you see M. de Thaller?" she asked.

"He got to the house a few moments in advance of the commissary of
police; and a terrible scene took place between him and my father."

"What was he saying?"

"That my father had ruined him."

"And your father?"

"He stammered incoherent phrases. He was like a man who has
received a stunning blow. But we have discovered incredible things.
My father, so austere and so parsimonious at home, led a merry life
elsewhere, spending money without stint. It was for a woman that
he robbed."

"And--do you know who that woman is?"

"No. But I can find out from the writer of the article in this
paper, who says that he knows her. See!"

Mlle. Lucienne took the paper which Maxence was holding out to her:
but she hardly condescended to look at it.

"But what's your idea now?"

"I do not believe that my father is innocent; but I believe that
there are people more guilty than he,--skillful and prudent knaves,
who have made use of him as a man of straw,--villains who will
quietly digest their share of the millions (the biggest one, of
course), while he will be sent to prison."

A fugitive blush colored Mlle. Lucienne's cheeks.

"That being the case," she interrupted, "what do you expect to do?"

"Avenge my father, if possible, and discover his accomplices, if he
has any."

She held out her hand to him.

"That's right," she said. "But how will you go about it?"

"I don't know yet. At any rate, I must first of all run to the
newspaper office, and get that woman's address."

But Mlle. Lucienne stopped him.

"No," she uttered: "it isn't there that you must go. You must come
with me to see my friend the commissary."

Maxence received this suggestion with a gesture of surprise, almost
of terror.

"Why, how can you think of such a thing?" he exclaimed. "My father
is fleeing from justice; and you want me to take for my confidant a
commissary of police,--the very man whose duty it is to arrest him,
if he can find him!"

But he interrupted himself for a moment, staring and gaping, as if
the truth had suddenly flashed upon his mind in dazzling evidence.

"For my father has not gone abroad," he went on. "It is in Paris
that he is hiding: I am sure of it. You have seen him?"

Mlle. Lucienne really thought that Maxence was losing his mind.

"I have seen your father--I?" she said.

"Yes, last evening. How could I have forgotten it? While you were
waiting for me down stairs, between eleven and half-past eleven a
middle-aged man, thin, wearing a long overcoat, came and asked for
me."

"Yes, I remember."

"He spoke to you in the yard."

"That's a fact."

"What did he tell you?"

She hesitated for a moment, evidently trying to tax her memory; then,

"Nothing," she replied, "that he had not already said before the
Fortins; that he wanted to see you on important business, and was
sorry not to find you in. What surprised me, though, is, that he
was speaking as if he knew me, and knew that I was a friend of yours."
Then, striking her forehead,

"Perhaps you are right," she went on. "Perhaps that man was indeed
your father. Wait a minute. Yes, he seemed quite excited, and at
every moment he looked around towards the door. He said it would be
impossible for him to return, but that he would write to you, and
that probably he would require your assistance and your services."

"You see," exclaimed Maxence, almost crazy with subdued excitement,
"it was my father. He is going to write; to return, perhaps; and,
under the circumstances, to apply to a commissary of police would
be sheer folly, almost treason."

She shook her head.

"So much the more reason," she uttered, "why you should follow my
advice. Have you ever had occasion to repent doing so?"

"No, but you may be mistaken."

"I am not mistaken."

She expressed herself in a tone of such absolute certainty, that
Maxence, in the disorder of his mind, was at a loss to know what to
imagine, what to believe.

"You must have some reason to urge me thus," he said.

"I have."

"Why not tell it to me then?"

"Because I should have no proofs to furnish you of my assertions.
Because I should have to go into details which you would not
understand. Because, above all, I am following one of those
inexplicable presentiments which never deceive."

It was evident that she was not willing to unveil her whole mind;
and yet Maxence felt himself terribly staggered.

"Think of my agony," he said, "if I were to cause my father's arrest."

"Would my own be less? Can any misfortune strike you without
reaching me? Let us reason a little. What were you saying a moment
since? That certainly your father is not as guilty as people think;
at any rate, that he is not alone guilty; that he has been but the
instrument of rascals more skillful and more powerful than himself;
and that he has had but a small share of the twelve millions?"

"Such is my absolute conviction."

"And that you would like to deliver up to justice the villains who
have benefitted by your father's crime, and who think themselves sure
of impunity?"

Tears of anger fell from Maxence's eyes.

"Do you wish to take away all my courage?" he murmured.

"No; but I wish to demonstrate to you the necessity of the step
which I advise you to take. The end justifies the means; and we
have not the choice of means. Come, 'tis to an honest man and a
tried friend that I shall take you. Fear nothing. If he remembers
that he is commissary of police, it will be to serve us, not to
injure you. You hesitate? Perhaps at this moment he already
knows more than we do ourselves."

Maxence took a sudden resolution.

"Very well," he said: "let us go."

In less than five minutes they were off; and, as they went out, they
had to disturb Mme. Fortin, who stood at the door, gossiping with
two or three of the neighboring shop-keepers.

As soon as Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne were out of hearing,

"You see that young man," said the honorable proprietress of the
Hotel des Folies to her interlocutors. "Well, he is the son of that
famous cashier who has just run off with twelve millions, after
ruining a thousand families. It don't seem to trouble him, either;
for there he is, going out to spend a pleasant day with his mistress,
and to treat her to a fine dinner with the old man's money."

Meantime, Maxence and Lucienne reached the commissary's house. He
was at home; they walked in. And, as soon as they appeared,

"I expected you," he said.

He was a man already past middle age, but active and vigorous still.
With his white cravat and long frock-coat, he looked like a notary.
Benign was the expression of his countenance; but the lustre of his
little gray eyes, and the mobility of his nostrils, showed that it
should not be trusted too far.

"Yes, I expected you," he repeated, addressing himself as much to
Maxence as to Mlle. Lucienne. "It is the Mutual Credit matter which
brings you here?"

Maxence stepped forward,

"I am Vincent Favoral's son, sir," he replied. "I have still my
mother and a sister. Our situation is horrible. Mlle. Lucienne
suggested that you might be willing to give me some advice; and here
we are."

The commissary rang, and, on the bell being answered,

"I am at home for no one," he said.

And then turning to Maxence,

"Mlle. Lucienne did well to bring you," he said; "for it may be,
that, whilst rendering her an important service, I may also render
you one. But I have no time to lose. Sit down, and tell me all
about it." With the most scrupulous exactness Maxence told the
history of his family, and the events of the past twenty-four hours.

Not once did the commissary interrupt him; but, when he had done,

"Tell me your father's interview with M. de Thaller all over again,"
he requested, "and, especially, do not omit any thing that you have
heard or seen, not a word, not a gesture, not a look."

And, Maxence having complied,

"Now," said the commissary, "repeat every thing your father said at
the moment of going."

He did so. The commissary took a few notes, and then,

"What were," he inquired, "the relations of your family with the
Thaller family?"

"There were none."

"What! Neither Mme. nor Mlle. de Thaller ever visited you?"

"Never."

"Do you know the Marquis de Tregars?"

Maxence stared in surprise.

"Tregars!" he repeated. "It's the first time that I hear that
name."

The usual clients of the commissary would have hesitated to recognize
him, so completely had he set aside his professional stiffness, so
much had his freezing reserve given way to the most encouraging
kindness.

"Now, then," he resumed, "never mind M. de Tregars: let us talk of
the woman, who, you seem to think, has been the cause of M. Favoral's
ruin."

On the table before him lay the paper in which Maxence had read in
the morning the terrible article headed: "Another Financial Disaster."

"I know nothing of that woman," he replied; "but it must be easy to
find out, since the writer of this article pretends to know."

The commissary smiled, not having quite as much faith in newspapers
as Maxence seemed to have.

"Yes, I read that," he said.

"We might send to the office of that paper," suggested Mlle. Lucienne.

"I have already sent, my child."

And, without noticing the surprise of Maxence and of the young girl,
he rang the bell, and asked whether his secretary had returned. The
secretary answered by appearing in person.

"Well?" inquired the commissary.

"I have attended to the matter, sir," he replied. "I saw the
reporter who wrote the article in question; and, after beating about
the bush for some time, he finally confessed that he knew nothing
more than had been published, and that he had obtained his
information from two intimate friends of the cashier, M. Costeclar
and M. Saint Pavin."

"You should have gone to see those gentlemen."

"I did."

"Very well. What then?"

"Unfortunately, M. Costeclar had just gone out. As to M. Saint
Pavin, I found him at the office of his paper, 'The Financial Pilot.'
He is a coarse and vulgar personage, and received me like a
pickpocket. I had even a notion to--"

"Never mind that! Go on."

"He was closeted with another gentleman, a banker, named Jottras,
of the house of Jottras and Brother. They were both in a terrible
rage, swearing like troopers, and saying that the Favoral
defalcation would ruin them; that they had been taken in like fools,
but that they were not going to take things so easy, and they were
preparing a crushing article."

But he stopped, winking, and pointing to Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne,
who were listening as attentively as they could.

"Speak, speak!" said the commissary. "Fear nothing."

"Well," he went on, "M. Saint Pavin and M. Jottras were saying that
M. Favoral was only a poor dupe, but that they would know how to
find the others."

"What others?"

"Ah! they didn't say."

The commissary shrugged his shoulders.

"What!" he exclaimed, "you find yourself in presence of two men
furious to have been duped, who swear and threaten, and you can't
get from them a name that you want? You are not very smart,
my dear!"

And as the poor secretary, somewhat put out of countenance, looked
down, and said nothing,

"Did you at least ask them," he resumed, "who the woman is to whom
the article refers, and whose existence they have revealed to the
reporter?"

"Of course I did, sir."

"And what did they answer?"

"That they were not spies, and had nothing to say. M. Saint Pavin
added, however, that he had said it without much thought, and only
because he had once seen M. Favoral buying a three thousand francs
bracelet, and also because it seemed impossible to him that a man
should do away with millions without the aid of a woman."

The commissary could not conceal his ill humor.

"Of course!" he grumbled. "Since Solomon said, 'Look for the woman'
(for it was King Solomon who first said it), every fool thinks it
smart to repeat with a cunning look that most obvious of truths.
What next?"

"M. Saint Pavin politely invited me to go to--well, not here."

The commissary wrote rapidly a few lines, put them in an envelope,
which he sealed with his private seal, and handed it to his
secretary, saying,

"That will do. Take this to the prefecture yourself." And, after
the secretary had gone out,

"Well, M. Maxence," he said, "you have heard?" Of course he had.
Only Maxence was thinking much less of what he had just heard than
of the strange interest this commissary had taken in his affairs,
even before he had seen him.

"I think," he stammered, "that it is very unfortunate the woman
cannot be found."

With a gesture full of confidence,

"Be easy," said the commissary: "she shall be found. A woman cannot
swallow millions at that rate, without attracting attention.
Believe me, we shall find her, unless--"

He paused for a moment, and, speaking slowly and emphatically,

"Unless," he added, "she should have behind her a very skillful and
very prudent man. Or else that she should be in a situation where
her extravagance could not have created any scandal."

Mlle. Lucienne started. She fancied she understood the commissary's
idea, and could catch a glimpse of the truth.

"Good heavens!" she murmured.

But Maxence didn't notice any thing, his mind being wholly bent upon
following the commissary's deductions.

"Or unless," he said, "my father should have received almost nothing
for his share of the enormous sums subtracted from the Mutual Credit,
in which case he could have given relatively but little to that woman.
M. Saint Pavin himself acknowledges that my father has been
egregiously taken in."

"By whom?"

Maxence hesitated for a moment.

"I think," he said at last, "and several friends of my family (among
whom M. Chapelain, an old lawyer) think as I do, that it is very
strange that my father should have drawn millions from the Mutual
Credit without any knowledge of the fact on the part of the manager."

"Then, according to you, M. de Thaller must be an accomplice."

Maxence made no answer.

"Be it so," insisted the commissary. "I admit M. de Thaller's
complicity; but then we must suppose that he had over your father
some powerful means of action."

"An employer always has a great deal of influence over his
subordinates."

"An influence sufficiently powerful to make them run the risk of
the galleys for his benefit! That is not likely. We must try and
imagine something else."

"I am trying; but I don't find any thing."

"And yet it is not all. How do you explain your father's silence
when M. de Thaller was heaping upon him the most outrageous insults?"

"My father was stunned, as it were."

"And at the moment of escaping, if he did have any accomplices, how
is it that he did not mention their names to you, to your mother,
or to your sister?"

"Because, doubtless, he had no proofs of their complicity to offer."

"Would you have asked him for any?"

"O sir!"

"Therefore such is not evidently the motive of his silence; and it
might better be attributed to some secret hope that he still had
left."

The commissary now had all the information, which, voluntarily or
otherwise, Maxence was able to give him. He rose, and in the
kindest tone,

"You have come," he said to him, "to ask me for advice. Here it is:
say nothing, and wait. Allow justice and the police to pursue their
work. Whatever may be your suspicions, hide them. I shall do for
you as I would for Lucienne, whom I love as if she were my own
child; for it so happens, that, in helping you, I shall help her."

He could not help laughing at the astonishment, which at those words
depicted itself upon Maxence's face; and gayly,

"You don't understand," he added. "Well, never mind. It is not
necessary that you should."

XXX

Two o'clock struck as Mlle. Lucienne and Maxence left the office
of the commissary of police, she pensive and agitated, he gloomy and
irritated. They reached the Hotel des Folies without exchanging a
word. Mme. Fortin was again at the door, speechifying in the midst
of a group with indefatigable volubility. Indeed, it was a perfect
godsend for her, the fact of lodging the son of that cashier who
had stolen twelve millions, and had thus suddenly become a celebrity.
Seeing Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne coming, she stepped toward them,
and, with her most obsequious smile,

"Back already?" she said.

But they made no answer; and, entering the narrow corridor, they
hurried to their fourth story. As he entered his room, Maxence
threw his hat upon his bed with a gesture of impatience; and, after
walking up and down for a moment, he returned to plant himself in
front of Mlle. Lucienne.

"Well," he said, "are you satisfied now?"

She looked at him with an air of profound commiseration, knowing
his weakness too well to be angry at his injustice.

"Of what should I be satisfied?" she asked gently.

"I have done what you wished me to."

"You did what reason dictated, my friend."

"Very well: we won't quarrel about words. I have seen your friend
the commissary. Am I any better off?"

She shrugged her shoulders almost imperceptibly.

"What did you expect of him, then?" she asked. "Did you think that
he could undo what is done? Did you suppose, that, by the sole
power of his will, he would make up the deficit in the Mutual
Credit's cash, and rehabilitate your father?"

"No, I am not quite mad yet."

"Well, then, could he do more than promise you his most ardent and
devoted co-operation?"

But he did not allow her to proceed.

"And how do I know," he exclaimed, "that he is not trifling with me?
If he was sincere, why his reticence and his enigmas? He pretends
that I may rely on him, because to serve me is to serve you. What
does that mean? What connection is there between your situation and
mine, between your enemies and those of my father? And I--I replied
to all his questions like a simpleton. Poor fool! But the man who
drowns catches at straws; and I am drowning, I am sinking, I am
foundering."

He sank upon a chair, and, hiding his face in his hands,

"Ah, how I do suffer!" he groaned.

Mlle. Lucienne approached him, and in a severe tone, despite her
emotion,

"Are you, then, such a coward?" she uttered. "What! at the first
misfortune that strikes you,--and this is the first real misfortune
of your life, Maxence,--you despair. An obstacle rises, and,
instead of gathering all your energy to overcome it, you sit down
and weep like a woman. Who, then, is to inspire courage in your
mother and in your sister, if you give up so?"

At the sound of these words, uttered by that voice which was
all-powerful over his soul, Maxence looked up.

"I thank you, my friend," he said. "I thank you for reminding me
of what I owe to my mother and sister. Poor women! They are
wondering, doubtless, what has become of me."

"You must return to them," interrupted the girl.

He got up resolutely.

"I will," he replied. "I should be unworthy of you if I could not
raise my own energy to the level of yours."

And, having pressed her hand, he left. But it was not by the usual
route that he reached the Rue St. Gilles. He made a long detour, so
as not to meet any of his acquaintances.

"Here you are at last," said the servant as she opened the door.
"Madame was getting very uneasy, I can tell you. She is in the
parlor, with Mlle. Gilberte and M. Chapelain."

It was so. After his fruitless attempt to reach M. de Thaller, M.
Chapelain had breakfasted there, and had remained, wishing, he said,
to see Maxence. And so, as soon as the young man appeared, availing
himself of the privileges of his age and his old intimacy,

"How," said he, "dare you leave your mother and sister alone in a
house where some brutal creditor may come in at any moment?"

"I was wrong," said Maxence, who preferred to plead guilty rather
than attempt an explanation.

"Don't do it again then," resumed M. Chapelain. "I was waiting for
you to say that I was unable to see M. de Thaller, and that I do not
care to face once more the impudence of his valets. You will,
therefore, have to take back the fifteen thousand francs he had
brought to your father. Place them in his own hands; and don't
give them up without a receipt."

After some further recommendations, he went off, leaving Mme. Favoral
alone at last with her children. She was about to call Maxence to
account for his absence, when Mlle. Gilberte interrupted her.

"I have to speak to you, mother," she said with a singular
precipitation, "and to you also, brother."

And at once she began telling them of M. Costeclar's strange visit,
his inconceivable audacity, and his offensive declarations.

Maxence was fairly stamping with rage.

"And I was not here," he exclaimed, "to put him out of the house!"

But another was there; and this was just what Mlle. Gilberte wished
to come to. But the avowal was difficult, painful even; and it was
not without some degree of confusion that she resumed at last,

"You have suspected for a long time, mother, that I was hiding
something from you. When you questioned me, I lied; not that I had
any thing to blush for, but because I feared for you my father's
anger."

Her mother and her brother were gazing at her with a look of blank
amazement.

"Yes, I had a secret," she continued. "Boldly, without consulting
any one, trusting the sole inspirations of my heart, I had engaged
my life to a stranger: I had selected the man whose wife I wished
to be."

Mme. Favoral raised her hands to heaven.

"But this is sheer madness!" she said.

"Unfortunately," went on the girl, "between that man, my affianced
husband before God, and myself, rose a terrible obstacle. He was
poor: he thought my father very rich; and he had asked me a delay
of three years to conquer a fortune which might enable him to aspire
to my hand."

She stopped: all the blood in her veins was rushing to her face.

"This morning," she said, "at the news of our disaster, he came . . ."

"Here?" interrupted Maxence.

"Yes, brother, here. He arrived at the very moment, when, basely
insulted by M. Costeclar, I commanded him to withdraw, and, instead
of going, he was walking towards me with outstretched arms."

"He dared to penetrate here!" murmured Mme. Favoral.

"Yes, mother: he came in just in time to seize M. Costeclar by his
coat-collar, and to throw him at my feet, livid with fear, and
begging for mercy. He came, notwithstanding the terrible calamity
that has befallen us. Notwithstanding ruin, and notwithstanding
shame, he came to offer me his name, and to tell me, that, in the
course of the day, he would send a friend of his family to apprise
you of his intentions."

Here she was interrupted by the servant, who, throwing open the
parlor-door, announced,

"The Count de Villegre."

If it had occurred to the mind of Mme. Favoral or Maxence that Mlle.
Gilberte might have been the victim of some base intrigue, the mere
appearance of the man who now walked in must have been enough to
disabuse them.

He was of a rather formidable aspect, with his military bearing, his
bluff manners, his huge white mustache, and the deep scar across
his forehead.

But in order to be re-assured, and to feel confident, it was enough
to look at his broad face, at once energetic and debonair, his clear
eye, in which shone the loyalty of his soul, and his thick red lips,
which had never opened to utter an untruth.

At this moment, however, he was hardly in possession of all his
faculties.

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