Part 8 out of 10
she had to deal. A single glance at this obstinate visitor
convinced her that he was not one who can be easily turned off.
Putting on, therefore, her pleasantest smile, thus displaying at
the same time her decayed teeth,
"The fact is that monsieur will very much disturb madame," she
"I shall excuse myself."
"But I'll be scolded."
Instead of answering, M. de Tregars took a couple of
twenty-franc-notes out of his pocket, and slipped them into her
"Please follow me to the parlor, then," she said with a heavy sigh.
M. de Tregars did so, whilst observing everything around him with
the attentive perspicacity of a deputy sheriff preparing to make
out an inventory.
Being double, the house was much more spacious than could have
been thought from the street, and arranged with that science of
comfort which is the genius of modern architects.
The most lavish luxury was displayed on all sides; not that solid,
quiet, and harmonious luxury which is the result of long years of
opulence, but the coarse, loud, and superficial luxury of the
_parvenu_, who is eager to enjoy quick, and to possess all that he
has craved from others.
The vestibule was a folly, with its exotic plants climbing along
crystal trellises, and its Sevres and China jardinieres filled with
gigantic azaleas. And along the gilt railing of the stairs marble
and bronze statuary was intermingled with masses of growing flowers.
"It must take twenty thousand francs a year to keep up this
conservatory alone," thought M. de Tregars.
Meantime the old chambermaid opened a satinwood door with silver
"That's the parlor," she said. "Take a seat whilst I go and tell
In this parlor everything had been combined to dazzle. Furniture,
carpets, hangings, every thing, was rich, too rich, furiously,
incontestably, obviously rich. The chandelier was a masterpiece,
the clock an original and unique piece of work. The pictures
hanging upon the wall were all signed with the most famous names.
"To judge of the rest by what I have seen," thought M. de Tregars,
"there must have been at least four or five hundred thousand francs
spent on this house."
And, although he was shocked by a quantity of details which betrayed
the most absolute lack of taste, he could hardly persuade himself
that the cashier of the Mutual Credit could be the master of this
sumptuous dwelling; and he was asking himself whether he had not
followed the wrong scent, when a circumstance came to put an end to
all his doubts.
Upon the mantlepiece, in a small velvet frame, was Vincent Favoral's
M. de Tregars had been seated for a few minutes, and was collecting
his somewhat scattered thoughts, when a slight grating sound, and
a rustling noise, made him turn around.
Mme. Zelie Cadelle was coming in.
She was a woman of some twenty-five or six, rather tall, lithe, and
well made. Her face was pale and worn; and her heavy dark hair was
scattered over her neck and shoulders. She looked at once sarcastic
and good-natured, impudent and naive, with her sparkling eyes, her
turned-up nose, and wide mouth furnished with teeth, sound and white,
like those of a young dog. She had wasted no time upon her dress;
for she wore a plain blue cashmere wrapper, fastened at the waist
with a sort of silk scarf of similar color.
From the very threshold,
"Dear me!" she exclaimed, "how very singular!"
M. de Tregars stepped forward.
"What?" he inquired.
"Oh, nothing!" she replied,--"nothing at all!"
And without ceasing to look at him with a wondering eye, but
suddenly changing her tone of voice,
"And so, sir," she said, "my servants have been unable to keep you
from forcing yourself into my house!"
"I hope, madame," said M. de Tregars with a polite bow, "that you
will excuse my persistence. I come for a matter which can suffer
She was still looking at him obstinately. "Who are you?" she asked.
"My name will not afford you any information. I am the Marquis de
"Tregars!" she repeated, looking up at the ceiling, as if in search
of an inspiration. "Tregars! Never heard of it!"
And throwing herself into an arm chair,
"Well, sir, what do you wish with me, then? Speak!"
He had taken a seat near her, and kept his eyes riveted upon hers.
"I have come, madame," he replied, "to ask you to put me in the way
to see and speak to the man whose photograph is there on the
He expected to take her by surprise, and that by a shudder, a cry,
a gesture, she might betray her secret. Not at all.
"Are you, then, one of M. Vincent's friends?" she asked quietly.
M. de Tregars understood, and this was subsequently confirmed, that
it was under his Christian name of Vincent alone, that the cashier
of the Mutual Credit was known in the Rue du Cirque.
"Yes, I am a friend of his," he replied; "and if I could see him,
I could probably render him an important service."
"Well, you are too late."
"Because M. Vincent put off more than twenty-four hours since?"
"Are you sure of that?"
"As sure as a person can be who went to the railway station
yesterday with him and all his baggage."
"You saw him leave?"
"As I see you."
"Where was he going?"
"To Havre, to take the steamer for Brazil, which was to sail on the
same day; so that, by this time, he must be awfully seasick."
"And you really think that it was his intention to go to Brazil?"
"He said so. It was written on his thirty-six trunks in letters
half a foot high. Besides, he showed me his ticket."
"Have you any idea what could have induced him to expatriate himself
thus, at his age?"
"He told me he had spent all his money, and also some of other
people's; that he was afraid of being arrested; and that he was
going yonder to be quiet, and try to make another fortune."
Was Mme. Zelie speaking in good faith? To ask the question would
have been rather naive; but an effort might be made to find out.
Carefully concealing his own impressions, and the importance he
attached to this conversation,
"I pity you sincerely, madame," resumed M. de Tregars; "for you must
be sorely grieved by this sudden departure."
"Me!" she said in a voice that came from the heart. "I don't care
Marquis de Tregars knew well enough the ladies of the class to which
he supposed that Mme. Zelie Cadelle must belong, not to be surprised
at this frank declaration.
"And yet," he said, "you are indebted to him for the princely
magnificence that surrounds you here."
"He being gone, as you say, will you be able to keep up your style
Half raising herself from her seat,
"I haven't the slightest idea of doing so," she exclaimed. "Never
in the whole world have I had such a stupid time as for the last
five months that I have spent in this gilded cage. What a bore,
my beloved brethren! I am yawning still at the mere thought of the
number of times I have yawned in it."
M. de Tregars' gesture of surprise was the more natural, that his
surprise was immense.
"You are tired being here?" he said.
"And you have only been here five months?"
"Dear me; yes! and by the merest chance, too, you'll see. One day
at the beginning of last December, I was coming from--but no matter
where I was coming from. At any rate, I hadn't a cent in my pocket,
and nothing but an old calico dress on my back; and I was going
along, not in the best of humor, as you may imagine, when I feel
that some one is following me. Without looking around, and from
the corner of my eye, I look over my shoulder, and I see a
respectable-looking old gentleman, wearing a long frock-coat."
"In his own natural person, and who was walking, walking. I quietly
begin to walk slower; and, as soon as we come to a place where there
was hardly any one, he comes up alongside of me."
Something comical must have happened at this moment, which Mme.
Zelie Cadelle said nothing about; for she was laughing most heartily,
--a frank and sonorous laughter.
"Then," she resumed, "he begins at once to explain that I remind
him of a person whom he loved tenderly, and whom he has just had
the misfortune to lose, adding, that he would deem himself the
happiest of men if I would allow him to take care of me, and insure
me a brilliant position."
"You see! That rascally Vincent!" said M. de Tregars, just to be
Mme. Zelie shook her head.
"You know him," she resumed. "He is not young; he is not handsome;
he is not funny. I did not fancy him one bit; and, if I had only
known where to find shelter for the night, I'd soon have sent him
to the old Nick,--him and his brilliant position. But, not having
enough money to buy myself a penny-loaf, it wasn't the time to put
on any airs. So I tell him that I accept. He goes for a cab; we
get into it; and he brings me right straight here."
Positively M. de Tregars required his entire self-control to conceal
the intensity of his curiosity.
"Was this house, then, already as it is now?" he interrogated.
"Precisely, except that there were no servants in it, except the
chambermaid Amanda, who is M. Favoral's confidante. All the others
had been dismissed; and it was a hostler from a stable near by who
came to take care of the horses."
"And what then?"
"Then you may imagine what I looked like in the midst of all this
magnificence, with my old shoes and my fourpenny skirt. Something
like a grease-spot on a satin dress. M. Vincent seemed delighted,
nevertheless. He had sent Amanda out to get me some under-clothing
and a ready-made wrapper; and, whilst waiting, he took me all
through the house, from the cellar to the garret, saying that
everything was at my command, and that the next day I would have a
battalion of servants to wait on me."
It was evidently with perfect frankness that she was speaking, and
with the pleasure one feels in telling an extraordinary adventure.
But suddenly she stopped short, as if discovering that she was
forgetting herself, and going farther than was proper.
And it was only after a moment of reflection that she went on,
"It was like fairyland to me. I had never tasted the opulence of
the great, you see, and I had never had any money except that which
I earned. So, during the first days, I did nothing but run up and
down stairs, admiring everything, feeling everything with my own
hands, and looking at myself in the glass to make sure that I was
not dreaming. I rang the bell just to make the servants come up;
I spent hours trying dresses; then I'd have the horses put to the
carriage, and either ride to the bois, or go out shopping. M.
Vincent gave me as much money as I wanted; and it seemed as though I
never spent enough. I shout, I was like a mad woman."
A cloud appeared upon Mme. Zelie's countenance, and, changing
suddenly her tone and her manner,
"Unfortunately," she went on, "one gets tired of every thing. At
the end of two weeks I knew the house from top to bottom, and after
a month I was sick of the whole thing; so that one night I began
"'Where do you want to go?' Amanda asked me.
'Why, to Mabille, to dance a quadrille, or two.'
'Because M. Vincent does not wish you to go out at night.'
'We'll see about that!'
"The next day, I tell all this to M. Vincent; and he says that Amanda
is right; that it is not proper for a woman in my position to
frequent balls; and that, if I want to go out at night, I can stay.
Get out! I tell you what, if it hadn't been for the fine carriage,
and all that, I would have cleared out that minute. Any way, I
became disgusted from that moment, and have been more and more ever
since; and, if M. Vincent had not himself left, I certainly would."
"To go where?"
"Anywhere. Look here, now! do you suppose I need a man to support
me! No, thank Heaven! Little Zelie, here present, has only to
apply to any dressmaker, and she'll be glad to give her four francs
a day to run the machine. And she'll be free, at least; and she can
laugh and dance as much as she likes."
M. de Tregars had made a mistake: he had just discovered it.
Mme. Zelie Cadelle was certainly not particularly virtuous; but she
was far from being the woman he expected to meet.
"At any rate," he said, "you did well to wait patiently."
"I do not regret it."
"If you can keep this house--"
She interrupted him with a great burst of laughter.
"This house!" she exclaimed. "Why, it was sold long ago, with every
thing in it,--furniture, horses, carriages, every thing except me.
A young gentleman, very well dressed, bought it for a tall girl, who
looks like a goose, and has far over a thousand francs of red hair on
"Are you sure of that?"
"Sure as I live, having seen with my own eyes the young swell and
his red-headed friend counting heaps of bank-notes to M. Vincent.
They are to move in day after to-morrow; and they have invited me
to the house-warming. But no more of it for me, I thank you! I
am sick and tired of all these people. And the proof of it is, I
am busy packing my things; and lots of them I have too,--dresses,
underclothes, jewelry. He was a good-natured fellow, old Vincent
was, anyhow. He gave me money enough to buy some furniture. I
have hired a small apartment; and I am going to set up dress-making
on my own hook. And won't we laugh then! and won't we have some
fun to make up for lost time! Come, my children, take your places
for a quadrille. Forward two!"
And, bouncing out of her chair, she began sketching out one of
those bold cancan steps which astound the policemen on duty in the
"Bravo!" said M. de Tregars, forcing himself to smile,--"bravo!"
He saw clearly now what sort of woman was Mme. Zelie Cadelle; how
he should speak to her, and what cords he might yet cause to vibrate
within her. He recognized the true daughter of Paris, wayward and
nervous, who in the midst of her disorders preserves an instinctive
pride; who places her independence far above all the money in the
world; who gives, rather than sells, herself; who knows no law but
her caprice, no morality but the policeman, no religion but pleasure.
As soon as she had returned to her seat,
"There you are dancing gayly," he said, "and poor Vincent is
doubtless groaning at this moment over his separation from you."
"Ah! I'd pity him if I had time," she said.
"He was fond of you?"
"Don't speak of it."
"If he had not been fond of you, he would not have put you here."
Mme. Zelie made a little face of equivocal meaning.
"What proof is that?" she murmured.
"He would not have spent so much money for you."
"For me!" she interrupted,--"for me! What have I cost him of any
consequence? Is it for me that he bought, furnished, and fitted
out this house? No, no! He had the cage; and he put in the bird,
--the first he happened to find. He brought me here as he might
have brought any other woman, young or old, pretty or ugly, blonde
or brunette. As to what I spent here, it was a mere bagatelle
compared with what the other did,--the one before me. Amanda kept
telling me all the time I was a fool. You may believe me, then,
when I tell you that M. Vincent will not wet many handkerchiefs
with the tears he'll shed over me."
"But do you know what became of the one before you, as you call her,
--whether she is alive or dead, and owing to what circumstances the
cage became empty?"
But, instead of answering, Mme. Zelie was fixing upon Marius de
Tregars a suspicious glance. And, after a moment only,
"Why do you ask me that?" she said.
"I would like to know."
She did not permit him to proceed. Rising from her seat, and
stepping briskly up to him,
"Do you belong to the police, by chance?" she asked in a tone of
If she was anxious, it was evidently because she had motives of
anxiety which she had concealed. If, two or three times she had
interrupted herself, it was because, manifestly, she had a secret
to keep. If the idea of police had come into her mind, it is
because, very probably, they had recommended her to be on her guard.
M. de Tregars understood all this, and, also, that he had tried to
go too fast.
"Do I look like a secret police-agent?" he asked.
She was examining him with all her power of penetration.
"Not at all, I confess," she replied. "But, if you are not one, how
is it that you come to my house, without knowing me from this side
of sole leather, to ask me a whole lot of questions, which I am
fool enough to answer?"
"I told you I was a friend of M. Favoral."
"Who's that Favoral?"
"That's M. Vincent's real name, madame."
She opened her eyes wide.
"You must be mistaken. I never heard him called any thing but
"It is because he had especial motives for concealing his
personality. The money he spent here did not belong to him: he
took it, he stole it, from the Mutual Credit Company where he was
cashier, and where he left a deficit of twelve millions."
Mme. Zelie stepped back as though she had trodden on a snake.
"It's impossible!" she cried.
"It is the exact truth. Haven't you seen in the papers the case
of Vincent Favoral, cashier of the Mutual Credit?"
And, taking a paper from his pocket, he handed it to the young woman,
But she pushed it back, not without a slight blush. "Oh, I believe
you!" she said.
The fact is, and Marius understood it, she did not read very
"The worst of M. Vincent Favoral's conduct," he resumed, "is, that,
while he was throwing away money here by the handful, he subjected
his family to the most cruel privations."
"He refused the necessaries of life to his wife, the best and the
worthiest of women; he never gave a cent to his son; and he
deprived his daughter of every thing."
"Ah, if I could have suspected such a thing!" murmured Mme. Zelie.
"Finally, and to cap the--climax, he has gone, leaving his wife
and children literally without bread."
Transported with indignation,
"Why, that man must have been a horrible old scoundrel!" exclaimed
the young woman.
This is just the point to which M. de Tregars wished to bring her.
"And now," he resumed, "you must understand the enormous interest
we have in knowing what has become of him."
"I have already told you."
M. de Tregars had risen, in his turn. Taking Mme. Zelie's hands,
and fixing upon her one of those acute looks, which search for the
truth down to the innermost recesses of the conscience,
"Come, my dear child," he began in a penetrating voice, "you are a
worthy and honest girl. Will you leave in the most frightful
despair a family who appeal to your heart? Be sure that no harm
will ever happen through us to Vincent Favoral."
She raised her hand, as they do to take an oath in a court of
justice, and, in a solemn tone,
"I swear," she uttered, "that I went to the station with M. Vincent;
that he assured me that he was going to Brazil; that he had his
passage-ticket; and that all his baggage was marked, 'Rio de
The disappointment was great: and M. de Tregars manifested it by
"At least," he insisted, "tell me who the woman was whose place you
But already had the young woman returned to her feeling of mistrust.
"How in the world do you expect me to know?" she replied. "Go and
ask Amanda. I have no accounts to give you. Besides, I have to
go and finish packing my trunks. So good-by, and enjoy yourself."
And she went out so quick, that she caught Amanda, the chambermaid,
kneeling behind the door.
"So that woman was listening," thought M. de Tregars, anxious and
But it was in vain that he begged Mme. Zelie to return, and to hear
a single word more. She disappeared; and he had to resign himself
to leave the house without learning any thing more for the present.
He had remained there very long; and he was wondering, as he walked
out, whether Maxence had not got tired waiting for him in the little
cafe where he had sent him.
But Maxence had remained faithfully at his post. And when Marius de
Tregars came to sit by him, whilst exclaiming, "Here you are at last!"
he called his attention at the same time with a gesture, and a wink
from the corner of his eye, to two men sitting at the adjoining table
before a bowl of punch.
Certain, now, that M. de Tregars would remain on the lookout, Maxence
was knocking on the table with his fist, to call the waiter, who was
busy playing billiards with a customer.
And when he came at last, justly annoyed at being disturbed,
"Give us two mugs of beer," Maxence ordered, "and bring us a pack
M. de Tregars understood very well that something extraordinary had
happened; but, unable to guess what, he leaned over towards his
"What is it?" he whispered.
"We must hear what these two men are saying; and we'll play a game
of piquet for a subterfuge."
The waiter returned, bringing two glasses of a muddy liquid, a piece
of cloth, the color of which was concealed under a layer of dirt, and
a pack of cards horribly soft and greasy.
"My deal," said Maxence.
And he began shuffling, and giving the cards, whilst M. de Tregars
was examining the punch-drinkers at the next table.
In one of the two, a man still young, wearing a striped vest with
alpaca sleeves, he thought he recognized one of the rascally-looking
fellows he had caught a glimpse of in Mme. Zelie Cadelle's
The other, an old man, whose inflamed complexion and blossoming
nose betrayed old habits of drunkenness, looked very much like a
coachman out of place. Baseness and duplicity bloomed upon his
countenance; and the brightness of his small eyes rendered still
more alarming the slyly obsequious smile that was stereotyped upon
his thin and pale lips.
They were so completely absorbed in their conversation, that they
paid no attention whatever to what was going on around them.
"Then," the old one was saying, "it's all over."
"Entirely. The house is sold."
"And the boss?"
"Gone to America."
"What! Suddenly, that way?"
"No. We supposed he was going on some journey, because, every day
since the beginning of the week, they were bringing in trunks and
boxes; but no one knew exactly when he would go. Now, in the night
of Saturday to Sunday, he drops in the house like a bombshell, wakes
up everybody, and says he must leave immediately. At once we
harness up, we load the baggage up, we drive him to the Western
Railway Station, and good-by, Vincent!"
"And the young lady?"
"She's got to get out in the next twenty-four hours; but she don't
seem to mind it one bit. The fact is we are the ones who grieve
the most, after all."
"Is it possible?"
"It is so. She was a good girl; and we won't soon find one like
The old man seemed distressed.
"Bad luck!" he growled. "I would have liked that house myself."
"Oh, I dare say you would!"
"And there is no way to get in?"
"Can't tell. It will be well to see the others, those who have
bought. But I mistrust them: they look too stupid not to be mean."
Listening intently to the conversation of these two men, it was
mechanically and at random that M. de Tregars and Maxence threw
their cards on the table, and uttered the common terms of the game
"Five cards! Tierce, major! Three aces."
Meantime the old man was going on,
"Who knows but what M. Vincent may come back?"
"No danger of that!"
The other looked carefully around, and, seeing only two players
absorbed in their game,
"Because," he replied, "M. Vincent is completely ruined, it seems.
He spent all his money, and a good deal of other people's money
besides. Amanda, the chambermaid, told me; and I guess she knows."
"You thought he was so rich!"
"He was. But no matter how big a bag is: if you keep taking out
of it, you must get to the bottom."
"Then he spent a great deal?"
"It's incredible! I have been in extravagant houses; but nowhere
have I ever seen money fly as it has during the five months that I
have been in that house. A regular pillage! Everybody helped
themselves; and what was not in the house, they could get from the
tradespeople, have it charged on the bill; and it was all paid
without a word."
"Then, yes, indeed, the money must have gone pretty lively," said
the old one in a convinced tone.
"Well," replied the other, "that was nothing yet. Amanda the
chambermaid who has been in the house fifteen years, told us some
stories that would make you jump. She was not much for spending,
Zelie; but some of the others, it seems . . ."
It required the greatest effort on the part of Maxence and M. de
Tregars not to play, but only to pretend to play, and to continue
to count imaginary points,--"One, two, three, four."
Fortunately the coachman with the red nose seemed much interested.
"What others?" he asked.
"That I don't know any thing about," replied the younger valet.
"But you may imagine that there must have been more than one in that
little house during the many years that M. Vincent owned it,--a man who
hadn't his equal for women, and who was worth millions."
"And what was his business?"
"Don't know that, either."
"What! there were ten of you in the house, and you didn't know the
profession of the man who paid you all?"
"We were all new."
"The chambermaid, Amanda, must have known."
"When she was asked, she said that he was a merchant. One thing is
sure, he was a queer old chap."
So interested was the old coachman, that, seeing the punch-bowl
empty, he called for another. His comrade could not fail to show
his appreciation of such politeness.
"Ah, yes!" he went on, "old Vincent was an eccentric fellow; and
never, to see him, could you have suspected that he cut up such
capers, and that he threw money away by the handful."
"Imagine a man about fifty years old, stiff as a post, with a face
about as pleasant as a prison-gate. That's the boss! Summer and
winter, he wore laced shoes, blue stockings, gray pantaloons that
were too short, a cotton necktie, and a frock-coat that came down
to his ankles. In the street, you would have taken him for a hosier
who had retired before his fortune was made."
"You don't say so!"
"No, never have I seen a man look so much like an old miser. You
think, perhaps, that he came in a carriage. Not a bit of it! He
came in the omnibus, my boy, and outside too, for three sous; and
when it rained he opened his umbrella. But the moment he had
crossed the threshold of the house, presto, pass! complete change
of scene. The miser became pacha. He took off his old duds, put
on a blue velvet robe; and then there was nothing handsome enough,
nothing good enough, nothing expensive enough for him. And, when
he had acted the my lord to his heart's content, he put on his old
traps again, resumed his prison-gate face, climbed up on top of the
omnibus, and went off as he came."
"And you were not surprised, all of you, at such a life?"
"Very much so."
"And you did not think that these singular whims must conceal
"Oh, but we did!"
"And you didn't try to find out what that something was?"
"How could we?"
"Was it very difficult to follow your boss, and ascertain where he
went, after leaving the house?"
"Certainly not; but what then?"
"Why," he replied, "you would have found out his secret in the end;
and then you would have gone to him and told him, 'Give me so much,
or I peach.'"
This story of M. Vincent, as told by these two honest companions,
was something like the vulgar legend of other people's money, so
eagerly craved, and so madly dissipated. Easily-gotten wealth is
easily gotten rid of. Stolen money has fatal tendencies, and turns
irresistibly to gambling, horse-jockeys, fast women, all the ruinous
fancies, all the unwholesome gratifications.
They are rare indeed, among the daring cut-throats of speculation,
those to whom their ill-gotten gain proves of real service,--so
rare, that they are pointed out, and are as easily numbered as the
girls who leap some night from the street to a ten-thousand-franc
apartment, and manage to remain there.
Seized with the intoxication of sudden wealth, they lose all measure
and all prudence. Whether they believe their luck inexhaustible, or
fear a sudden turn of fortune, they make haste to enjoy themselves,
and they fill the noted restaurants, the leading cafes, the theatres,
the clubs, the race-courses, with their impudent personality, the
clash of their voice, the extravagance of their mistresses, the
noise of their expenses, and the absurdity of their vanity. And
they go on and on, lavishing other people's money, until the fatal
hour of one of those disastrous liquidations which terrify the
courts and the exchange, and cause pallid faces and a gnashing of
teeth in the "street," until the moment when they have the choice
between a pistol-shot, which they never choose, the criminal court,
which they do their best to avoid, and a trip abroad.
What becomes of them afterwards? To what gutters do they tumble
from fall to fall? Does any one know what becomes of the women who
disappear suddenly after two or three years of follies and of
But it happens sometimes, as you step out of a carriage in front of
some theatre, that you wonder where you have already seen the face
of the wretched beggar who opens the door for you, and in a husky
voice claims his two sous. You saw him at the Cafe Riche, during
the six months that he was a big financier.
Some other time you may catch, in the crowd, snatches of a strange
conversation between two crapulous rascals.
"It was at the time," says one, "when I drove that bright chestnut
team that I had bought for twenty thousand francs of the eldest son
of the Duke de Sermeuse."
"I remember," replies the other; "for at that moment I gave six
thousand francs a month to little Cabriole of the Varieties."
And, improbable as this may seem, it is the exact truth; for one
was manager of a manufacturing enterprise that sank ten millions;
and the other was at the head of a financial operation that ruined
five hundred families. They had houses like the one in the Rue du
Cirque, mistresses more expensive than Mme. Zelie Cadelle, and
servants like those who were now talking within a step of Maxence
and Marius de Tregars. The latter had resumed their conversation;
and the oldest one, the coachman with the red nose, was saying to
his younger comrade,
"This Vincent affair must be a lesson to you. If ever you find
yourself again in a house where so much money is spent, remember
that it hasn't cost much trouble to make it, and manage somehow
to get as big a share of it as you can."
"That's what I've always done wherever I have been."
"And, above all, make haste to fill your bag, because, you see,
in houses like that, one is never sure, one day, whether, the
next, the gentleman will not be at Mazas, and the lady at St.
They had done their second bowl of punch, and finished their
conversation. They paid, and left.
And Maxence and M. de Tregars were able, at last, to throw down
Maxence was very pale; and big tears were rolling down his cheeks.
"What disgrace!" he murmured: "This, then, is the other side of
my father's existence! This is the way in which he spent the
millions which he stole; whilst, in the Rue St. Gilles, he
deprived his family of the necessaries of life!"
And, in a tone of utter discouragement,
"Now it is indeed all over, and it is useless to continue our
search. My father is certainly guilty."
But M. de Tregars was not the man thus to give up the game.
"Guilty? Yes," he said, "but dupe also."
"That's what we'll find out, you may depend upon it."
"What! after what we have just heard?"
"I have more hope than ever."
"Did you learn any thing from Mme. Zelie Cadelle, then?"
"Nothing more than you know by those two rascals' conversation."
A dozen questions were pressing upon Maxence's lips; but M. de
Tregars interrupted him.
"In this case, my friend, less than ever must we trust appearances.
Let me speak. Was your father a simpleton? No! His ability to
dissimulate, for years, his double existence, proves, on the
contrary, a wonderful amount of duplicity. How is it, then, that
latterly his conduct has been so extraordinary and so absurd? But
you will doubtless say it was always such. In that case, I answer
you, No; for then his secret could not have been kept for a year.
We hear that other women lived in that house before Mme. Zelie
Cadelle. But who were they? What has become of them? Is there
any certainty that they have ever existed? Nothing proves it.
"The servants having been all changed, Amanda, the chambermaid, is
the only one who knows the truth; and she will be very careful to
say nothing about it. Therefore, all our positive information
goes back no farther than five months. And what do we hear? That
your father seemed to try and make his extravagant expenditures as
conspicuous as possible. That he did not even take the trouble to
conceal the source of the money he spent so profusely; for he told
Mme. Zelie that he was at the end of his tether, and that, after
having spent his own fortune, he was spending other people's money.
He had announced his intended departure; he had sold the house, and
received its price. Finally, at the last moment, what does he do?
"Instead of going off quietly and secretly, like a man who is
running away, and who knows that he is pursued, he tells every one
where he intends to go; he writes it on all his trunks, in letters
half a foot high; and then rides in great display to the railway
station, with a woman, several carriages, servants, etc. What is
the object of all this? To get caught? No, but to start a false
scent. Therefore, in his mind, every thing must have been arranged
in advance, and the catastrophe was far from taking him by surprise;
therefore the scene with M. de Thaller must have been prepared;
therefore, it must have been on purpose that he left his pocketbook
behind, with the bill in it that was to lead us straight here;
therefore all we have seen is but a transparent comedy, got up for
our special benefit, and intended to cover up the truth, and
mislead the law."
But Maxence was not entirely convinced.
"Still," he remarked, "those enormous expenses."
M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders.
"Have you any idea," he said, "what display can be made with a
million? Let us admit that your father spent two, four millions
even. The loss of the Mutual Credit is twelve millions. What has
become of the other eight?"
And, as Maxence made no answer,
"It is those eight millions," he added, "that I want, and that I
shall have. It is in Paris that your father is hid, I feel certain.
We must find him; and we must make him tell the truth, which I
already more than suspect."
Whereupon, throwing on the table the pint of beer which he had not
drunk, he walked out of the cafe with Maxence.
"Here you are at last!" exclaimed the coachman, who had been
waiting at the corner for over three hours, a prey to the utmost
But M. de Tregars had no time for explanations; and, pushing
Maxence into the cab, he jumped in after him, crying to the
"24 Rue Joquelet. Five francs extra for yourself." A driver who
expects an extra five francs, always has, for five minutes at least,
a horse as fast as Gladiateur.
Whilst the cab was speeding on to its destination,
"What is most important for us now," said M. de Tregars to Maxence,
"is to ascertain how far the Mutual Credit crisis has progressed;
and M. Latterman of the Rue Joquelet is the man in all Paris who
can best inform us."
Whoever has made or lost five hundred francs at the bourse knows M.
Latterman, who, since the war, calls himself an Alsatian and curses
with a fearful accent those "parparous Broossians." This worthy
speculator modestly calls himself a money-changer; but he would
be a simpleton who should ask him for change: and it is certainly
not that sort of business which gives him the three hundred thousand
francs' profits which he pockets every year.
When a company has failed, when it has been wound up, and the
defrauded stockholders have received two or three per cent in all
on their original investment, there is a prevailing idea that the
certificates of its stocks are no longer good for any thing, except
to light the fire. That's a mistake. Long after the company has
foundered, its shares float, like the shattered debris which the
sea casts upon the beach months after the ship has been wrecked.
These shares M. Latterman collects, and carefully stores away; and
upon the shelves of his office you may see numberless shares and
bonds of those numerous companies which have absorbed, in the past
twenty years, according to some statistics, twelve hundred millions,
and, according to others, two thousand millions, of the public
Say but a word, and his clerks will offer you some "Franco-American
Company," some "Steam Navigation Company of Marseilles," some "Coal
and Metal Company of the Asturias," some "Transcontinental
Memphis and El Paso" (of the United States), some "Caumart Slate
Works," and hundreds of others, which, for the general public, have
no value, save that of old paper, that is from three to five cents
a pound. And yet speculators are found who buy and sell these
In an obscure corner of the bourse may be seen a miscellaneous
population of old men with pointed beards, and overdressed young
men, who deal in every thing salable, and other things besides.
There are found foreign merchants, who will offer you stocks of
merchandise, goods from auction, good claims to recover, and who
at last will take out of their pockets an opera-glass, a Geneva
watch (smuggled in), a revolver, or a bottle of patent hair-restorer.
Such is the market to which drift those shares which were once
issued to represent millions, and which now represent nothing but
a palpable proof of the audacity of swindlers, and the credulity
of their dupes. And there are actually buyers for these shares,
and they go up or down, according to the ordinary laws of supply
and demand; for there is a demand for them, and here comes in the
usefulness of M. Latterman's business.
Does a tradesman, on the eve of declaring himself bankrupt, wish
to defraud his creditors of a part of his assets, to conceal
excessive expenses, or cover up some embezzlement, at once he goes
to the Rue Joquelet, procures a select assortment of "Cantonal
Credit," "Rossdorif Mines," or "Maumusson Salt Works," and puts
them carefully away in his safe.
And, when the receiver arrives,
"There are my assets," he says. "I have there some twenty, fifty,
or a hundred thousand francs of stocks, the whole of which is not
worth five francs to-day; but it isn't my fault. I thought it a
good investment; and I didn't sell, because I always thought the
price would come up again."
And he gets his discharge, because it would really be too cruel to
punish a man because he has made unfortunate investments.
Better than any one, M. Latterman knows for what purpose are
purchased the valueless securities which he sells; and he actually
advises his customers which to take in preference, in order that
their purchase at the time of their issue may appear more natural,
and more likely. Nevertheless, he claims to be a perfectly honest
man, and declares that he is no more responsible for the swindles
that are committed by means of his stocks than a gunsmith for a
murder committed with a gun that he has sold.
"But he will surely be able to tell us all about the Mutual Credit,"
repeated Maxence to M. de Tregars.
Four o'clock struck when the carriage stopped in the Rue Joquelet.
The bourse had just closed; and a few groups were still standing in
the square, or along the railings.
"I hope we shall find this Latterman at home," said Maxence.
They started up the stairs (for it is up on the second floor that
this worthy operator has his offices); and, having inquired,
"M. Latterman is engaged with a customer," answered a clerk.
"Please sit down and wait."
M. Latterman's office was like all other caverns of the same kind.
A very narrow space was reserved to the public; and all around,
behind a heavy wire screen, the clerks could be seen busy with
figures, or handling coupons. On the right, over a small window,
appeared the word, "CASHIER." A small door on the left led to
the private office.
M. de Tregars and Maxence had patiently taken a seat on a hard
leather bench, once red; and they were listening and looking on.
There was considerable animation about the place. Every few
minutes, well-dressed young men came in with a hurried and
important look, and, taking out of their pocket a memorandum-book,
they would speak a few sentences of that peculiar dialect,
bristling with figures, which is the language of the bourse. At
the end of fifteen or twenty minutes,
"Will M. Latterman be engaged much longer?" inquired M. de Tregars.
"I do not know," replied a clerk.
At that very moment, the little door on the left opened, and the
customer came out who had detained M. Latterman so long. This
customer was no other than M. Costeclar. Noticing M. de Tregars
and Maxence, who had risen at the noise of the door, he appeared
most disagreeably surprised. He even turned slightly pale, and
took a step backwards, as if intending to return precipitately
into the room that he was leaving; for M. Latterman's office,
like that of all other large operators, had several doors, without
counting the one that leads to the police-court. But M. de
Tregars gave him no time to effect this retreat. Stepping suddenly
"Well?" he asked him in a tone that was almost threatening.
The brilliant financier had condescended to take off his hat,
usually riveted upon his head, and, with the smile of a knave caught
in the act,
"I did not expect to meet you here, my lord-marquis," he said.
At the title of "marquis," everybody looked up. "I believe you,
indeed," said M. de Tregars. "But what I want to know is, how
is the matter progressing?"
"The plot is thickening. Justice is acting."
"It is a fact. Jules Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother,
was arrested this morning, just as he arrived at the bourse."
"Because, it seems, he was an accomplice of Favoral; and it was
he who sold the bonds stolen from the Mutual Credit."
Maxence had started at the mention of his father's name but, with
a significant glance, M. de Tregars bid him remain silent, and,
in a sarcastic tone,
"Famous capture!" he murmured. "And which proves the
clear-sightedness of justice."
"But this is not all," resumed M. Costeclar. "Saint Pavin, the
editor of 'The Financial Pilot,' you know, is thought to be seriously
compromised. There was a rumor, at the close of the market, that a
warrant either had been, or was about to be, issued against him."
"And the Baron de Thaller?"
The employes of the office could not help admiring M. Costeclar's
extraordinary amount of patience.
"The baron," he replied, "made his appearance at the bourse this
afternoon, and was the object of a veritable ovation."
"That is admirable! And what did he say?"
"That the damage was already repaired."
"Then the shares of the Mutual Credit must have advanced."
"Unfortunately, not. They did not go above one hundred and ten
"Were you not astonished at that?"
"Not much, because, you see, I am a business-man, I am; and I know
pretty well how things work. When they left M. de Thaller this
morning, the stockholders of the Mutual Credit had a meeting; and
they pledged themselves, upon honor, not to sell, so as not to break
the market. As soon as they had separated, each one said to himself,
'Since the others are going to keep their stock, like fools, I am
going to sell mine.' Now, as there were three or four hundred of
them who argued the same way, the market was flooded with shares."
Looking the brilliant financier straight in the eyes,
"And yourself?" interrupted M. de Tregars.
"I!" stammered M. Costeclar, so visibly agitated, that the clerks
could not help laughing.
"Yes. I wish to know if you have been more faithful to your word
than the stockholders of whom you are speaking, and whether you
have done as we had agreed."
"Certainly; and, if you find me here--"
But M. de Tregars, placing his own hand over his shoulder, stopped
"I think I know what brought you here," he uttered; "and in a few
moments I shall have ascertained."
"I swear to you."
"Don't swear. If I am mistaken, so much the better for you. If I
am not mistaken, I'll prove to you that it is dangerous to try any
sharp game on me, though I am not a business-man."
Meantime M. Latterman, seeing no customer coming to take the place
of the one who had left, became impatient at last, and appeared
upon the threshold of his private office.
He was a man still young, small, thick-set, and vulgar. At the
first glance, nothing of him could be seen but his abdomen,--a big,
great, and ponderous abdomen, seat of his thoughts, and tabernacle
of his aspirations, over which dangled a double gold chain, loaded
with trinkets. Above an apoplectic neck, red as that of a
turkey-cock, stood his little head, covered with coarse red hair,
cut very short. He wore a heavy beard, trimmed in the form of a fan.
His large, full-moon face was divided in two by a nose as flat as a
Kalmuck's, and illuminated by two small eyes, in which could be read
the most thorough duplicity.
Seeing M. de Tregars and M. Costeclar engaged in conversation,
"Why! you know each other?" he said.
M. de Tregars advanced a step,
"We are even intimate friends," he replied. "And it is very lucky
that we should have met. I am brought here by the same matter as
our dear Costeclar; and I was just explaining to him that he has
been too hasty, and that it would be best to wait three or four days
"That's just what I told him," echoed the honorable financier.
Maxence understood only one thing,--that M. de Tregars had
penetrated M. Costeclar's designs; and he could not sufficiently
admire his presence of mind, and his skill in grasping an unexpected
"Fortunately there is nothing done yet," added M. Latterman.
"And it is yet time to alter what has been agreed on," said M. de
Tregars. And, addressing himself to Costeclar,
"Come," he added, "we'll fix things with M. Latterman."
But the other, who remembered the scene in the Rue St. Gilles, and
who had his own reasons to be alarmed, would sooner have jumped out
of the window.
"I am expected," he stammered. "Arrange matters without me."
"Then you give me carte blanche?"
Ah, if the brilliant financier had dared! But he felt upon him such
threatening eyes, that he dared not even make a gesture of denial.
"Whatever you do will be satisfactory," he said in the tone of a
man who sees himself lost.
And, as he was going out of the door, M. de Tregars stepped into
M. Latterman's private office. He remained only five minutes; and
when he joined Maxence, whom he had begged to wait for him,
"I think that we have got them," he said as they walked off.
Their next visit was to M. Saint Pavin, at the office of "The
Financial Pilot." Every one must have seen at least one copy of
that paper with its ingenious vignette, representing a bold mariner
steering a boat, filled with timid passengers, towards the harbor
of Million, over a stormy sea, bristling with the rocks of failure
and the shoals of ruin. The office of "The Pilot" is, in fact,
less a newspaper office than a sort of general business agency.
As at M. Latterman's, there are clerks scribbling behind wire
screens, small windows, a cashier, and an immense blackboard, on
which the latest quotations of the Rente, and other French and
foreign securities, are written in chalk.
As "The Pilot" spends some hundred thousand francs a year in
advertising, in order to obtain subscribers; as, on the other hand,
it only costs three francs a year,--it is clear that it is not on
its subscriptions that it realizes any profits. It has other
sources of income: its brokerages first; for it buys, sells, and
executes, as the prospectus says, all orders for stocks, bonds, or
other securities, for the best interests of the client. And it has
plenty of business.
To the opulent brokerages, must be added advertising and puffing,
--another mine. Six times out of ten, when a new enterprise is set
on foot, the organizers send for Saint Pavin. Honest men, or
knaves, they must all pass through his hands. They know it, and
are resigned in advance.
"We rely upon you," they say to him.
"What advantages have you to offer?" he replies.
Then they discuss the operation, the expected profits of the new
company, and M. Saint Pavin's demands. For a hundred thousand
francs he promises bursts of lyrism; for fifty thousand he will be
enthusiastic only. Twenty thousand francs will secure a moderate
praise of the affair; ten thousand, a friendly neutrality. And,
if the said company refuses any advantages to "The Pilot"--
"Ah, you must beware!" says Saint Pavin.
And from the very next number he commences his campaign. He is
moderate at first, and leaves a door open for his retreat. He
puts forth doubts only. He does not know much about it. "It may
be an excellent thing; it may be a wretched one: the safest is to
wait and see."
That's the first hint. If it remains without result, he takes up
his pen again, and makes his doubts more pointed.
He knows how to steer clear of libel suits, how to handle figures
so as to demonstrate, according to the requirements of the case,
that two and two make three, or make five. It is seldom, that,
before the third article, the company does not surrender at
All Paris knows him; and he has many friends. When M. de Tregars
and Maxence arrived, they found the office full of people
--speculators, brokers, go-betweens--come there to discuss
the fluctuations of the day and the probabilities of the evening
"M. Saint Pavin is engaged," one of the clerks told them.
Indeed, his coarse voice could be distinctly heard behind the screen.
Soon he appeared, showing out an old gentleman, who seemed utterly
confused at the scene, and to whom he was screaming,
"No, sir, no! 'The Financial Pilot' does not take that sort of
business; and I find you very bold to come and propose to me a
twopenny rascality." But, noticing Maxence,
"M. Favoral!" he said. "By Jove! it is your good star that has
brought you here. Come into the private office, my dear sir: come,
we'll have some fun now."
Many of the people who were in the office had a word to say to M.
Saint Pavin, some advice to ask him, an order to transmit, or some
news to communicate. They had all stepped forward, and were holding
out their hands with a friendly smile. He set them aside with his
"By and by. I am busy now: leave me alone."
And pushing Maxence towards the office-door, which he had just
"Come in, come in!" he said in a tone of extraordinary impatience.
But M. de Tregars was coming in too; and, as he did not know him,
"What do you want, you?" he asked roughly.
"The gentleman is my best friend," said Maxence, turning to him;
"and I have no secret from him."
"Let him walk in, then; but, by Heaven, let us hurry!"
Once very sumptuous, the private office of the editor of "The
Financial Pilot" had fallen into a state of sordid dilapidation.
If the janitor had received orders never to use a broom or a duster
there, he obeyed them strictly. Disorder and dirt reigned supreme.
Papers and manuscripts lay in all directions; and on the broad
sofas the mud from the boots of all those who had lounged upon
them had been drying for months. On the mantel-piece, in the
midst of some half-dozen dirty glasses, stood a bottle of Madeira,
half empty. Finally, before the fireplace, on the carpet, and
along the furniture, cigar and cigarette stumps were heaped in
As soon as he had bolted the door, coming straight to Maxence,
"What has become of your father?" inquired M. Saint Pavin rudely.
Maxence started. That was the last question he expected to hear.
"I do not know," he replied.
The manager of "The Pilot" shrugged his shoulders. "That you
should say so to the commissary of police, to the judges, and to
all Favoral's enemies, I understand: it is your duty. That they
should believe you, I understand too; for, after all, what do
they care? But to me, a friend, though you may not think so, and
who has reasons not to be credulous----"
"I swear to you that we have no idea where he has taken refuge."
Maxence said this with such an accent of sincerity, that doubt was
no longer possible. M. Saint Pavin's features expressed the utmost
"What!" he exclaimed, "your father has gone without securing the
means of hearing from his family?"
"Without saying a word of his intentions to your mother, or your
sister, or yourself?"
"Without one word."
"Without leaving any money, perhaps?"
"We found only an insignificant sum after he left." The editor of
"The Pilot" made a gesture of ironical admiration. "Well, the
thing is complete," he said; "and Vincent is a smarter fellow than
I gave him credit for; or else he must have cared more for those
infernal women of his than any one supposed."
M. de Tregars, who had remained hitherto silent, now stepped
"What women?" he asked.
"How do I know?" he replied roughly. "How could any one ever find
out any thing about a man who was more hermetically shut up in his
coat than a Jesuit in his gown?"
"That's another nice bird! Still he may possibly have discovered
something of Vincent's life; for he led him a pretty dance.
Wasn't he about to marry Mlle. Favoral once?"
"Yes, in spite of herself even."
"Then you are right: he had discovered something. But, if you rely
on him to tell you anything whatever, you are reckoning without
"Who knows?" murmured M. de Tregars.
But M. Saint Pavin heard him not. Prey to a violent agitation, he
was pacing up and down the room.
"Ah, those men of cold appearance," he growled, "those men with
discreet countenance, those close-shaving calculators, those
moralists! What fools they do make of themselves when once
started! Who can imagine to what insane extremities this one
may have been driven under the spur of some mad passion!"
And stamping violently his foot upon the carpet, from which arose
clouds of dust,
"And yet," he swore, "I must find him. And, by thunder! wherever
he may be hid, I shall find him."
M. de Tregars was watching M. Saint Pavin with a scrutinizing eye.
"You have a great interest in finding him, then?" he said.
The other stopped short.
"I have the interest," he replied, "of a man who thought himself
shrewd, and who has been taken in like a child,--of a man to whom
they had promised wonders, and who finds his situation imperilled,
--of a man who is tired of working for a band of brigands who heap
millions upon millions, and to whom, for all reward, they offer
the police-court and a retreat in the State Prison for his old age,
--in a word, the interests of a man who will and shall have revenge,
by all that is holy!"
"On the Baron de Thaller, sir! How, in the world, has he been
able to compel Favoral to assume the responsibility of all, and
to disappear? What enormous sum has he given to him?"
"Sir," interrupted Maxence, "my father went off without a sou."
M. Saint Pavin burst out in a loud laugh.
"And the twelve millions?" he asked. "What has become of them?
Do you suppose they have been distributed in deeds of charity?"
And without waiting for any further objections,
"And yet," he went on, "it is not with money alone that a man can
be induced to disgrace himself, to confess himself a thief and a
forger, to brave the galleys, to give up everything,--country,
family, friends. Evidently the Baron de Thaller must have had
other means of action, some hold on Favoral--"
M. de Tregars interrupted him.
"You speak," he said, "as if you were absolutely certain of M. de Thaller's
"Why don't you inform on him, then?"
The editor of "The Pilot" started back. "What!" he exclaimed, "draw
the fingers of the law into my own business! You don't think of it!
Besides, what good would that do me? I have no proofs of my
allegations. Do you suppose that Thaller has not taken his
precautions, and tied my hands? No, no! without Favoral there is
nothing to be done."
"Do you suppose, then, that you could induce him to surrender
"No, but to furnish me the proofs I need, to send Thaller where they
have already sent that poor Jottras."
And, becoming more and more excited,
"But it is not in a month that I should want those proofs," he went
on, "nor even in two weeks, but to-morrow, but at this very moment.
Before the end of the week, Thaller will have wound up the operation,
realized, Heaven knows how many millions, and put every thing in
such nice order, that justice, who in financial matters is not of
the first capacity, will discover nothing wrong. If he can do that,
he is safe, he is beyond reach, and will be dubbed a first-class
financier. Then to what may he not aspire! Already he talks of
having himself elected deputy; and he says everywhere that he has
found, to marry his daughter, a gentleman who bears one of the
oldest names in France,--the Marquis de Tregars."
"Why, this is the Marquis de Tregars!" exclaimed Maxence, pointing
For the first time, M. Saint Pavin took the trouble to examine his
visitor; and he, who knew life too well not to be a judge of men,
he seemed surprised.
"Please excuse me, sir," he uttered with a politeness very different
from his usual manner, "and permit me to ask you if you know the
reasons why M. de Thaller is so prodigiously anxious to have you
for a son-in-law."
"I think," replied M. de Tregars coldly, "that M. de Thaller would
not be sorry to deprive me of the right to seek the causes of my
But he was interrupted by a great noise of voices in the adjoining
room; and almost at once there was a loud knock at the door, and a
"In the name of the law!"
The editor of "The Pilot" had become whiter than his shirt.
"That's what I was afraid of," he said. "Thaller has got ahead of
me; and perhaps I may be lost."
Meantime he did not lose his wits. Quick as thought he took out of
a drawer a package of letters, threw them into the fireplace, and
set fire to them, saying, in a voice made hoarse by emotion and
"No one shall come in until they are burnt."
But it required an incredibly long time to make them catch fire;
and M. Saint Pavin, kneeling before the hearth, was stirring them
up, and scattering them, to make them burn faster.
"And now," said M. de Tregars, "will you hesitate to deliver up
the Baron de Thaller into the hands of justice?"
He turned around with flashing eyes.
"Now," he replied, "if I wish to save myself, I must save him too.
Don't you understand that he holds me?"
And, seeing that the last sheets of his correspondence were consumed,
"You may open now," he said to Maxence.
Maxence obeyed; and a commissary of police, wearing his scarf of
office, rushed into the room; whilst his men, not without difficulty,
kept back the crowd in the outer office.
The commissary, who was an old hand, and had perhaps been on a
hundred expeditions of this kind, had surveyed the scene at a
glance. Noticing in the fireplace the carbonized debris, upon
which still fluttered an expiring flame,
"That's the reason, then," he said, "why you were so long opening
A sarcastic smile appeared upon the lips of the editor of "The Pilot."
"Private matters," he replied; "women's letters."
"This will be moral evidence against you, sir."
"I prefer it to material evidence."
Without condescending to notice the impertinence, the commissary
was casting a suspicious glance on Maxence and M. de Tregars.
"Who are these gentlemen who were closeted with you?" he asked.
"Visitors, sir. This is M. Favoral."
"The son of the cashier of the Mutual Credit?"
"Exactly; and this gentleman is the Marquis de Tregars."
"You should have opened the door when you heard a knocking in the
name of the law," grumbled the commissary.
But he did not insist. Taking a paper from his pocket, he opened
it, and, handing it to M. Saint Pavin,
"I have orders to arrest you," he said. "Here is the warrant."
With a careless gesture, the other pushed it back. "What's the use
of reading?" he said. "When I heard of the arrest of that poor
Jottras, I guessed at once what was in store for me. It is about
the Mutual Credit swindle, I imagine."
"I have no more to do with it than yourself, sir; and I shall have
very little trouble in proving it. But that is not your business.
And you are going, I suppose, to put the seals on my papers?"
"Except on those that you have burnt."
M. Saint Pavin burst out laughing. He had recovered his coolness
and his impudence, and seemed as much at ease as if it were the
most natural thing in the world.
"Shall I be allowed to speak to my clerks," he asked, "and to give
them my instructions?"
"Yes," replied the commissary, "but in my presence."
The clerks, being called, appeared, consternation depicted upon
their countenances, but joy sparkling in their eyes. In reality
they were delighted at the misfortune which befell their employer.
"You see what happens to me, my boys," he said. "But don't be
uneasy. In less than forty-eight hours, the error of which I am
the victim will be recognized, and I shall be liberated on bail.
At any rate, I can rely upon you, can't I?"
They all swore that they would be more attentive and more zealous
And then addressing himself to his cashier, who was his
confidential and right-hand man,
"As to you, Bernard," he said, "you will run to M. de Thaller's,
and advise him of what's going on. Let him have funds ready; for
all our depositors will want to draw out their money at once. You
will then call at the printing-office: have my article on the
Mutual Credit kept out, and insert in its place some financial news
cut out from other papers. Above all, don't mention my arrest,
unless M. de Thaller should demand it. Go ahead, and let 'The
Pilot' appear as usual: that's important."
He had, whilst speaking, lighted a cigar. The honest man, victim
of human iniquity, has not a firmer and more tranquil countenance.
"Justice does not know," he said to the commissary, who was fumbling
in all the drawers of the desk, "what irreparable damage she may
cause by arresting so hastily a man who has charge of immense
interests like me. It is the fortune of ten or twelve small
capitalists that is put in jeopardy."
Already the witnesses of the arrest had retired, one by one, to go
and scatter the news along the Boulevard, and also to see what
could be made out of it; for, at the bourse, news is money.
M. de Tregars and Maxence left also. As they passed the door,
"Don't you say any thing about what I told you," M. Saint Pavin
recommended to them.
M. de Tregars made no answer. He had the contracted features and
tightly-drawn lips of a man who is maturing a grave determination,
which, once taken, will be irrevocable.
Once in the street, and when Maxence had opened the carriage-door,
"We are going to separate here," he told him in that brief tone of
voice which reveals a settled plan. "I know enough now to venture
to call at M. de Thaller's. There only shall I be able to see how
to strike the decisive blow. Return to the Rue St. Gilles, and
relieve your mother's and sister's anxiety. You shall see me during
the evening, I promise you."
And, without waiting for an answer, he jumped into the cab, which
But it was not to the Rue St. Gilles that Maxence went. He was
anxious, first, to see Mlle. Lucienne, to tell her the events of
that day, the busiest of his existence; to tell her his discoveries,
his surprises, his anxieties, and his hopes.
To his great surprise, he failed to find her at the Hotel des
Folies. She had gone riding at three o'clock, M. Fortin told him,
and had not yet returned; but she could not be much longer, as it
was already getting dark. Maxence went out again then, to see if
he could not meet her. He had walked a little way along the
Boulevard, when, at some distance off, on the Place du Chateau
d'Eau, he thought he noticed an unusual bustle. Almost
immediately he heard shouts of terror. Frightened people were
running in all directions; and right before him a carriage, going
at full gallop, passed like a flash.
But, quick as it had passed, he had time to recognize Mlle.
Lucienne, pale, and clinging desperately to the seat. Wild with
fear, he started after it as fast as he could run. It was clear
that the driver had no control over his horses. A policeman who
tried to stop them was knocked down. Ten steps farther, the
hind-wheel of the carriage, catching the wheel of a heavy wagon,
broke to splinters; and Mlle. Lucienne was thrown into the street,
whilst the driver fell over on the sidewalk.
The Baron de Thaller was too practical a man to live in the same
house, or even in the same district, where his offices were
located. To dwell in the midst of his business; to be constantly
subjected to the contact of his employes, to the unkindly comments
of a crowd of subordinates; to expose himself to hourly annoyances,
to sickening solicitations, to the reclamations and eternal
complaints of his stockholders and his clients! Pouah! He'd have
given up the business first. And so, on the very days when he had
established the offices of the Mutual Credit in the Rue de
Quatre-Septembre, he had purchased a house in the Rue de la
Pepiniere within a step of the Faubourg St. Honore.
It was a brand-new house, which had never yet been occupied, and
which had just been erected by a contractor who was almost
celebrated, towards 1866, at the moment of the great transformations
of Paris, when whole blocks were leveled to the ground, and rose
again so rapidly, that one might well wonder whether the masons,
instead of a trowel, did not make use of a magician's wand.
This contractor, named Parcimieux, had come from the Limousin in
1860 with his carpenter's tools for all fortune, and, in less than
six years, had accumulated, at the lowest estimate, six millions
of francs. Only he was a modest man, and took as much pains to
conceal his fortune, and offend no one, as most _parvenus_ do to
display their wealth, and insult the public.
Though he could hardly sign his name, yet he knew and practised
the maxim of the Greek philosopher, which is, perhaps, the true
secret of happiness,--hide thy life. And there were no expedients
to which he did not resort to hide it. At the time of his greatest
prosperity, for instance, having need of a carriage, he had applied
to the manager of the Petites Voitures Company, and had had built
for himself two cabs, outwardly similar in every respect to those
used by the company, but within, most luxuriously upholstered, and
drawn by horses of common appearance, but who could go their
twenty-five miles in two hours any day. And these he had hired by
Having his carriage, the worthy builder determined to have, also,
his house, his own house, built by himself. But this required
infinitely greater precautions still.
"For, as you may imagine," he explained to his friends, "a man does
not make as much money as I have, without also making many cruel,
bitter, and irreconcilable enemies. I have against me all the
builders who have not succeeded, all the sub-contractors I employ,
and who say that I speculate on their poverty, and the thousands of
workmen who work for me, and swear that I grind them down to the
dust. Already they call me brigand, slaver, thief, leech. What
would it be, if they saw me living in a beautiful house of my own?
They'd swear that I could not possibly have got so rich honestly,
and that I must have committed some crimes. Besides, to build me
a handsome house on the street would be, in case of a mob, setting
up windows for the stones of all the rascals who have been in my
Such were M. Parcimieux's thoughts, when, as he expressed it, he
resolved to build.
A lot was for sale in the Rue de la Pepiniere. He bought it, and
at the same time purchased the adjoining house, which he
immediately caused to be torn down. This operation placed in his
possession a vast piece of ground, not very wide, but of great
depth, stretching, as it did, back to the Rue Labaume. At once
work was begun according to a plan which his architect and himself
had spent six months in maturing. On the line of the street arose
a house of the most modest appearance, two stories in height only,
with a very high and very wide carriage-door for the passage of
vehicles. This was to deceive the vulgar eye,--the outside of the
cab, as it were. Behind this house, between a spacious court and a
vast garden was built the residence of which M. Parcimieux had
dreamed; and it really was an exceptional building both by the
excellence of the materials used, and by the infinite care which
presided over the minutest details. The marbles for the vestibule
and the stairs were brought from Africa, Italy, and Corsica. He
sent to Rome for workmen for the mosaics. The joiner and
locksmithing work was intrusted to real artists.
Repeating to every one that he was working for a great foreign lord,
whose orders he went to take every morning, he was free to indulge
his most extravagant fancies, without fearing jests or unpleasant
Poor old man! The day when the last workman had driven in the
last nail, an attack of apoplexy carried him off, without giving
him time to say, "Oh!" Two days after, all his relatives from the
Limousin were swooping into Paris like a pack of wolves. Six
millions to divide: what a godsend! Litigation followed, as a
matter of course; and the house was offered for sale under a
M. de Thaller bought it for two hundred and seventy-five thousand
francs,--about one-third what it had cost to build.
A month later he had moved into it; and the expenses which he
incurred to furnish it in a style worthy of the building itself
was the talk of the town. And yet he was not fully satisfied
with his purchase.
Unlike M. Parcimieux, he had no wish whatever to conceal his wealth.
What! he owned one of those exquisite houses which excite at once
the wonder and the envy of passers-by, and that house was hid
behind such a common-looking building!
"I must have that shanty pulled down," he said from time to time.
And then he thought of something else; and the "shanty" was still
standing on that evening, when, after leaving Maxence, M. de
Tregars presented himself at M. de Thaller's.
The servants had, doubtless, received their instructions; for, as
soon as Marius emerged from the porch of the front-house, the
porter advanced from his lodge, bent double, his mouth open to his
very ears by the most obsequious smile.
Without waiting for a question,
"The baron has not yet come home--," he said. "But he cannot be
much longer away; and certainly the baroness is at home for my
lord-marquis. Please, then, give yourself the trouble to pass."
And, standing aside, he struck upon the enormous gong that stood
near his lodge a single sharp blow, intended to wake up the
footman on duty in the vestibule, and to announce a visitor of
note. Slowly, but not without quietly observing every thing, M.
de Tregars crossed the courtyard, covered with fine sand,--they
would have powdered it with golden dust, if they had dared,--and
surrounded on all sides with bronze baskets, in which beautiful
rhododendrons were blossoming.
It was nearly six o'clock. The manager of the Mutual Credit dined
at seven; and the preparations for this important event were
everywhere apparent. Through the large windows of the dining-room
the steward could be seen presiding over the setting of the table.
The butler was coming up from the cellar, loaded with bottles.
Finally, through the apertures of the basement arose the appetizing
perfumes of the kitchen.
What enormous business it required to support such a style, to
display this luxury, which would shame one of those German
princelings, who exchanged the crown of their ancestors for a
Prussian livery gilded with French gold!--other people's money.
Meantime, the blow struck by the porter on the gong had produced
the desired effect; and the gates of the vestibule seemed to open
of their own accord before M. de Tregars as he ascended the stoop.
This vestibule with the splendor of which Mlle. Lucienne had been
so deeply impressed, would, indeed, have been worthy the attention
of an artist, had it been allowed to retain the simple grandeur
and the severe harmony which M. Parcimieux's architect had imparted
But M. de Thaller, as he was proud of boasting, had a perfect horror
of simplicity; and, wherever he discovered a vacant space as big as
his hand, he hung a picture, a bronze, or a piece of china, any
thing and anyhow.
The two footmen were standing when M. de Tregars came in. Without
asking any question, "Will M. le Marquis please follow me?" said
And, opening the broad glass doors, he began walking in front of
M. de Tregars, along a staircase with marble railing, the elegant
proportions of which were absolutely ruined by a ridiculous
profusion of "objects of art" of all nature, and from all sources.
This staircase led to a vast semicircular landing, upon which,
between columns of precious marble, opened three wide doors. The
footman opened the middle one, which led to M. de Thaller's
picture-gallery, a celebrated one in the financial world, and
which had acquired for him the reputation of an enlightened amateur.
But M. de Tregars had no time to examine this gallery, which,
moreover, he already knew well enough. The footman showed him
into the small drawing-room of the baroness, a bijou of a room,
furnished in gilt and crimson satin.
"Will M. le Marquis be kind enough to take a seat?" he said. "I
run to notify Mme. le Baronne of M. le Marquis's visit."
The footman uttered these titles of nobility with a singular pomp,
and as if some of their lustre was reflected upon himself.
Nevertheless, it was evident that "Marquis" jingled to his ear much
more pleasantly than "Baronne."
Remaining alone, M. de Tregars threw himself upon a seat. Worn out
by the emotions of the day, and by an extraordinary contention of
mind, he felt thankful for this moment of respite, which permitted
him, at the moment of a decisive step, to collect all his energy
and all his presence of mind.
And after two minutes he was so deeply absorbed in his thoughts,
that he started, like a man suddenly aroused from his sleep, at
the sound of an opening door. At the same moment he heard a slight
exclamation of surprise, "Ah!"
Instead of the Baroness de Thaller, it was her daughter, Mlle.
Cesarine, who had come in.
Stepping forward to the centre of the room, and acknowledging by a
familiar gesture M. de Tregars' most respectful bow,
"You should warn people," she said. "I came here to look for my
mother, and it is you I find. Why, you scared me to death. What
a crack! Princess dear!"
And taking the young man's hand, and pressing it to her breast,
"Feel," she added, "how my heart beats."
Younger than Mlle. Gilberte, Mlle. Cesarine de Thaller had a
reputation for beauty so thoroughly established, that to call it
in question would have seemed a crime to her numerous admirers.
And really she was a handsome person. Rather tall and well made,
she had broad hips, the waist round and supple as a steel rod,
and a magnificent throat. Her neck was, perhaps, a little too
thick and too short; but upon her robust shoulders was scattered
in wild ringlets the rebellious hair that escaped from her comb.
She was a blonde, but of that reddish blonde, almost as dark as
mahogany, which Titian admired, and which the handsome Venetians
obtained by means of rather repulsive practices, and by exposing
themselves to the noonday sun on the terraces of their palaces.
Her complexion had the gilded hues of amber. Her lips, red as
blood, displayed as they opened, teeth of dazzling whiteness. In
her large prominent eyes, of a milky blue, like the Northern skies,
laughed the eternal irony of a soul that no longer has faith in
any thing. More anxious of her fame than of good taste, she wore
a dress of doubtful shade, puffed up by means of an extravagant
pannier, and buttoned obliquely across the chest, according to
that ridiculous and ungraceful style invented by flat or humped
Throwing herself upon a chair, and placing cavalierly one foot
upon another, so as to display her leg, which was admirable,
"Do you know that it's perfectly stunning to see you here?" she
said to M. de Tregars. "Just imagine, for a moment, what a face
the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight will make when he sees you!"
It was her father whom she called thus, since the day when she had
discovered that there was a German coin called thaler, which
represents three francs and sixty-eight centimes in French currency.
"You know, I suppose," she went on, "that papa has just been badly
M. de Tregars was excusing himself in vague terms; but it was one
of Mlle. Cesarine's habits never to listen to the answers which
were made to her questions.
"Favoral," she continued, "papa's cashier, has just started on an
international picnic. Did you know him?"
"An old fellow, always dressed like a country sexton, and with a
face like an undertaker. And the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight,
an old bird, was fool enough to be taken in by him! For he was
taken in. He had a face like a man whose chimney is on fire, when
he came to tell us, mamma and myself, that Favoral had gone off
with twelve millions."
"And has he really carried off that enormous sum?"
"Not entire, of course, because it was not since day before
yesterday only that he began digging into the Mutual Credit's pile.
There were years that this venerable old swell was leading a
somewhat-variegated existence, in company with rather-funny ladies,
you know. And as he was not exactly calculated to be adored at par,
why, it cost papa's stockholders a pretty lively premium. But,
anyhow, he must have carried off a handsome nugget."
And, bouncing to the piano, she began an accompaniment loud enough
to crack the window-panes, singing at the same time the popular
refrain of the "Young Ladies of Pautin":
Cashier, you've got the bag;
Quick on your little nag,
And then, ho, ho, for Belgium!
Any one but Marius de Tregars would have been doubtless strangely
surprised at Mlle. de Thaller's manners. But he had known her for
some time already: he was familiar with her past life, her habits,
her tastes, and her pretensions. Until the age of fifteen, Mlle.
Cesarine had remained shut up in one of those pleasant Parisian
boarding-schools, where young ladies are initiated into the great
art of the toilet, and from which they emerge armed with the
gayest theories, knowing how to see without seeming to look, and
to lie boldly without blushing; in a word, ripe for society. The
directress of the boarding-school, a lady of the ton, who had met
with reverses, and who was a good deal more of a dressmaker than
a teacher, said of Mlle. Cesarine, who paid her three thousand
five hundred francs a year,
"She gives the greatest hopes for the future; and I shall certainly
make a superior woman of her."
But the opportunity was not allowed her. The Baroness de Thaller
discovered, one morning, that it was impossible for her to live
without her daughter, and that her maternal heart was lacerated by
a separation which was against the sacred laws of nature. She took
her home, therefore, declaring that nothing, henceforth, not even
her marriage, should separate them, and that she should finish
herself the education of the dear child. From that moment, in fact,
whoever saw the Baroness de Thaller would also see Mlle. Cesarine
following in her wake.
A girl of fifteen, discreet and well-trained, is a convenient
chaperon; a chaperon which enables a woman to show herself boldly
where she might not have dared to venture alone. In presence of
a mother followed by her daughter, disconcerted slander hesitates,
and dares not speak.
Under the pretext that Cesarine was still but a child and of no
consequence, Mme. de Thaller dragged her everywhere,--to the bois
and to the races, visiting and shopping, to balls and parties, to
the watering-places and the seashore, to the restaurant, and to
all the "first nights" at the Palais Royal, the Bouffes, the
Varietes, and the Delassements. It was, therefore, especially at
the theatre, that the education of Mlle. de Thaller, so happily
commenced, had received the finishing touch. At sixteen she was
thoroughly familiar with the repertoire of the genre theatres,
imitated Schneider far better than ever did Silly, and sang with
surprising intonations and astonishing gestures Blanche d'Autigny's
successful moods, and Theresa's most wanton verses.
Between times, she studied the fashion papers, and formed her
style in reading the "Vie Parisienne," whose most enigmatic articles
had no allusions sufficiently obscure to escape her penetration.
She learned to ride on horseback, to fence and to shoot, and
distinguished herself at pigeon-matches. She kept a betting-book,
played Trente et Quarante at Monaco; and Baccarat had no secrets
for her. At Trouville she astonished the natives with the startling
novelty of her bathing-costumes; and, when she found herself the
centre of a reasonable circle of lookers-on, she threw herself in
the water with a pluck that drew upon her the applause of the
bathing-masters. She could smoke a cigarette, empty nearly a glass
of champagne; and once her mother was obliged to bring her home,
and put her quick to bed, because she had insisted upon trying
absinthe, and her conversation had become somewhat too eccentric.