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Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau

Part 9 out of 10

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Leading such a life, it was difficult that public opinion should
always spare Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller. There were sceptics who
insinuated that this steadfast friendship between mother and daughter
had very much the appearance of the association of two women bound
together by the complicity of a common secret. A broker told how,
one evening, or one night rather, for it was nearly two o'clock,
happening to pass in front of the Moulin-Rouge, he had seen the
Baroness and Mlle. Cesarine coming out, accompanied by a gentleman,
to him unknown, but who, he was quite sure, was not the Baron de
Thaller.

A certain journey which mother and daughter had undertaken in the
heart of the winter, and which had lasted not less than two months,
had been generally attributed to an imprudence, the consequences
of which it had become impossible to conceal. They had been in
Italy, they said when they returned; but no one had seen them
there. Yet, as Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller's mode of life was, after
all, the same as that of a great many women who passed for being
perfectly proper, as there was no positive or palpable fact brought
against them, as no name was mentioned, many people shrugged their
shoulders, and replied,

"Pure slanders."

And why not, since the Baron de Thaller, the most interested party,
held himself satisfied?

To the ill-advised friends who ventured some allusions to the public
rumors, he replied, according to his humor,

"My daughter can play the mischief generally, if she sees fit. As
I shall give a dowry of a million, she will always find a husband."

Or else, "And what of it? Do not American young ladies enjoy
unlimited freedom? Are they not constantly seen going out with
young gentlemen, or walking or traveling alone? Are they, for all
that, less virtuous than our girls, who are kept under such close
watch? Do they make less faithful wives, or less excellent mothers?
Hypocrisy is not virtue."

To a certain extent, the Manager of the Mutual Credit was right.

Already Mlle. de Thaller had had to decide upon several quite
suitable offers of marriage and she had squarely refused them all.

"A husband!" she had answered each time. "Thank you, none for me.
I have good enough teeth to eat up my dowry myself. Later, we'll
see,--when I've cut my wisdom teeth, and I am tired of my bachelor
life."

She did not seem near getting tired of it, though she pretended
that she had no more illusions, was thoroughly blasee, had
exhausted every sensation, and that life henceforth had no surprise
in reserve for her. Her reception of M. de Tregars was, therefore,
one of Mlle. Cesarine's least eccentricities, as was also that
sudden fancy; to apply to the situation one of the most idiotic
rondos of her repertoires:

"Cashier, you've got the bag;
Quick on your little nag"

Neither did she spare him a single verse: and, when she stopped,

"I see with pleasure," said M. de Tregars, "that the embezzlement
of which your father has just been the victim does not in any way
offend your good humor."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Would you have me cry," she said, "because the stockholders of the
Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight have been swindled? Console
yourself: they are accustomed to it."

And, as M. de Tregars made no answer,

"And in all that," she went on, "I see no one to pity except the
wife and daughter of that old stick Favoral."

"They are, indeed, much to be pitied."

"They say that the mother is a good old thing."

"She is an excellent person."

"And the daughter? Costeclar was crazy about her once. He made
eyes like a carp in love, as he told us, to mamma and myself,
'She is an angel, mesdames, an angel! And when I have given her a
little chic!' Now tell me, is she really as good looking as all
that?"

"She is quite good looking."

"Better looking than me?"

"It is not the same style, mademoiselle."

Mlle. de Thaller had stopped singing; but she had not left the
piano. Half turned towards M. de Tregars, she ran her fingers
listlessly over the keys, striking a note here and there, as if to
punctuate her sentences.

"Ah, how nice!" she exclaimed, "and, above all, how gallant!
Really, if you venture often on such declarations, mothers would be
very wrong to trust you alone with their daughters."

"You did not understand me right, mademoiselle."

"Perfectly right, on the contrary. I asked you if I was better
looking than Mlle. Favoral; and you replied to me, that it was not
the same style."

"It is because, mademoiselle, there is indeed no possible comparison
between you, who are a wealthy heiress, and whose life is a
perpetual enchantment, and a poor girl, very humble, and very modest,
who rides in the omnibus, and who makes her dresses herself."

A contemptuous smile contracted Mlle. Cesarine's lips.

"Why not?" she interrupted. "Men have such funny tastes!"

And, turning around suddenly, she began another rondo, no less
famous than the first, and borrowed, this time, from the third act
of the Petites-Blanchisseuses:

"What matters the quality?
Beauty alone takes the prize
Women before man must rise,
And claim perfect equality."

Very attentively M. de Tregars was observing her. He had not been
the dupe of the great surprise she had manifested when she found
him in the little parlor.

"She knew I was here," he thought; "and it is her mother who has
sent her to me. But why? and for what purpose?"

"With all that," she resumed, "I see the sweet Mme. Favoral and her
modest daughter in a terribly tight place. What a 'bust,' marquis!"

"They have a great deal of courage, mademoiselle."

"Naturally. But, what is better, the daughter has a splendid voice:
at least, so her professor told Costeclar. Why should she not go on
the stage? Actresses make lots of money, you know. Papa'll help
her, if she wishes. He has a great deal of influence in the
theatres, papa has."

"Mme. and Mlle. Favoral have friends."

"Ah, yes! Costeclar."

"Others besides."

"I beg your pardon; but it seems to me that this one will do to
begin with. He is gallant, Costeclar, extremely gallant, and,
moreover, generous as a lord. Why should he not offer to that
youthful and timid damsel a nice little position in mahogany and
rosewood? That way, we should have the pleasure of meeting her
around the lake."

And she began singing again, with a slight variation,

"Manon, who, before the war,
Carried clothes for a living,
Now for her gains is trusting
To that insane Costeclar."

"Ah, that big red-headed girl is terribly provoking!" thought M.
de Tregars.

But, as he did not as yet understand very clearly what she wished
to come to, he kept on his guard, and remained cold as marble.

Already she had again turned towards him.

"What a face you are making!" she said. "Are you jealous of the
fiery Costeclar, by chance?"

"No, mademoiselle, no!"

"Then, why don't you want him to succeed in his love? But he will,
you'll see! Five hundred francs on Costeclar! Do you take it?
No? I am sorry. It's twenty-five napoleons lost for me. I know
very well that Mlle.--what's her name?"

"Gilberte."

"Hallo! a nice name for a cashier's daughter! I am aware that she
once sent that poor Costeclar and his offer to--Chaillot. But she
had resources then; whilst now--It's stupid as it can be; but
people have to eat!"

"There are still women, mademoiselle, capable of starving to death."

M. de Tregars now felt satisfied. It seemed evident to him that
they had somehow got wind of his intentions; that Mlle. de Thaller
had been sent to feel the ground; and that she only attacked Mlle.
Gilberte in order to irritate him, and compel him, in a moment of
anger, to declare himself.

"Bash!" she said, "Mlle. Favoral is like all the others. If she
had to select between the amiable Costeclar and a charcoal furnace,
it is not the furnace she would take."

At all times, Marius de Tregars disliked Mlle. Cesarine to a supreme
degree; but at this moment, without the pressing desire he had to
see the Baron and Baroness de Thaller, he would have withdrawn.

"Believe me, mademoiselle," he uttered coldly. "Spare a poor girl
stricken by a most cruel misfortune. Worse might happen to you."

"To me! And what the mischief do you suppose can happen me?"

"Who knows?"

She started to her feet so violently, that she upset the piano-stool.

"Whatever it may be," she exclaimed, "I say in advance, I am glad!"

And as M. de Tregars turned his head in some surprise,

"Yes, I am glad!" she repeated, "because it would be a change; and
I am sick of the life I lead. Yes, sick to be eternally and
invariably happy of that same dreary happiness. And to think that
there are idiots who believe that I amuse myself, and who envy my
fate! To think, that, when I ride through the streets, I hear girls
exclaim, whilst looking at me, 'Isn't she lucky?' Little fools!
I'd like to see them in my place. They live, they do. Their
pleasures are not all alike. They have anxieties and hopes, ups
and downs, hours of rain and hours of sunshine; whilst I--always
dead calm! the barometer always at 'Set fair.' What a bore! Do
you know what I did to-day? Exactly the same thing as yesterday;
and to-morrow I'll do the same thing as to-day.

"A good dinner is a good thing; but always the same dinner, without
extras or additions--pouah! Too many truffles. I want some
corned beef and cabbage. I know the bill of fare by heart, you see.
In winter, theatres and balls; in summer, races and the seashore;
summer and winter, shopping, rides to the bois, calls, trying
dresses, perpetual adoration by mother's friends, all of them
brilliant and gallant fellows to whom the mere thought of my dowry
gives the jaundice. Excuse me, if I yawn: I am thinking of their
conversations.

"And to think," she went on, "that such will be my existence until
I make up my mind to take a husband! For I'll have to come to it
too. The Baron Three Sixty-eight will present to me some sort of
a swell, attracted by my money. I'll answer, 'I'd just as soon
have him as any other,' and he will be admitted to the honor of
paying his attentions to me. Every morning he will send me a
splendid bouquet: every evening, after bank-hours, he'll come along
with fresh kid gloves and a white vest. During the afternoon, he
and papa will pull each other's hair out on the subject of the dowry.
At last the happy day will arrive. Can't you see it from here?
Mass with music, dinner, ball. The Baron Three Sixty-eight will
not spare me a single ceremony. The marriage of the manager of the
Mutual Credit must certainly be an advertisement. The papers will
publish the names of the bridesmaids and of the guests.

"To be sure, papa will have a face a yard long; because he will
have been compelled to pay the dowry the day before. Mamma will
be all upset at the idea of becoming a grandmother. The
bridegroom will be in a wretched humor, because his boots will be
too tight; and I'll look like a goose, because I'll be dressed
in white; and white is a stupid color, which is not at all becoming
to me. Charming family gathering, isn't it? Two weeks later, my
husband will be sick of me, and I'll be disgusted with him. After
a month, we'll be at daggers' points. He'll go back to his club
and his mistresses; and I--I shall have conquered the right to go
out alone; and I'll begin again going to the bois, to balls, to
races, wherever my mother goes. I'll spend an enormous amount of
money on my dress, and I'll make debts which papa will pay."

Though any thing might be expected of Mlle. Cesarine, still M.
de Tregars seemed visibly astonished. And she, laughing at his
surprise,

"That's the invariable programme," she went on; "and that's why I
say I'm glad at the idea of a change, whatever it may be. You find
fault with me for not pitying Mlle. Gilberte. How could I, since
I envy her? She is happy, because her future is not settled, laid
out, fixed in advance. She is poor; but she is free. She is twenty;
she is pretty; she has an admirable voice; she can go on the stage
to-morrow, and be, before six months, one of the pet actresses of
Paris. What a life then! Ah, that is the one I dream, the one I
would have selected, had I been mistress of my destiny."

But she was interrupted by the noise of the opening door.

The Baroness de Thaller appeared. As she was, immediately after
dinner, to go to the opera, and afterwards to a party given by the
Viscountess de Bois d'Ardon, she was in full dress. She wore a
dress, cut audaciously low in the neck, of very light gray satin,
trimmed with bands of cherry-colored silk edged with lace. In her
hair, worn high over her head, she had a bunch of fuchsias, the
flexible stems of which, fastened by a large diamond star, trailed
down to her very shoulders, white and smooth as marble.

But, though she forced herself to smile, her countenance was not
that of festive days; and the glance which she cast upon her
daughter and Marius de Tregars was laden with threats. In a voice
of which she tried in vain to control the emotion,

"How very kind of you, marquis," she began, "to respond so soon to
my invitation of this morning! I am really distressed to have kept
you waiting; but I was dressing. After what has happened to M. de
Thaller, it is absolutely indispensable that I should go out, show
myself: otherwise our enemies will be going around to-morrow, saying
everywhere that I am in Belgium, preparing lodgings for my husband."

And, suddenly changing her tone,

"But what was that madcap Cesarine telling you?" she asked.

It was with a profound surprise that M. de Tregars discovered that
the entente cordiale which he suspected between the mother and
daughter did not exist, at least at this moment.

Veiling under a jesting tone the strange conjectures which the
unexpected discovery aroused within him,

"Mlle. Cesarine," he replied, "who is much to be pitied, was telling
me all her troubles."

She interrupted him.

"Do not take the trouble to tell a story, M. le Marquis," she said.
"Mamma knows it as well as yourself; for she was listening at the door."

"Cesarine!" exclaimed Mme. de Thaller.

"And, if she came in so suddenly, it is because she thought it was
fully time to cut short my confidences."

The face of the baroness became crimson.

"The child is mad!" she said.

The child burst out laughing.

"That's my way," she went on. "You should not have sent me here by
chance, and against my wish. You made me do it: don't complain.
You were sure that I had but to appear, and M. de Tregars would
fall at my feet. I appeared, and--you saw the effect through the
keyhole, didn't you?"

Her features contracted, her eyes flashing, twisting her lace
handkerchief between her fingers loaded with rings,

"It is unheard of," said Mme. de Thaller. "She has certainly lost
her head."

Dropping her mother an ironical courtesy,

"Thanks for the compliment!" said the young lady. "Unfortunately,
I never was more completely in possession of all the good sense I
may boast of than I am now, dear mamma. What were you telling me
a moment since? 'Run, the Marquis de Tregars is coming to ask
your hand: it's all settled.' And what did I answer? 'No use to
trouble myself: if, instead of one million, papa were to give me
two, four millions, indeed all the millions paid by France to
Prussia, M. de Tregars would not have me for a wife.'"

And, looking Marius straight in the face,

"Am I not right, M. le Marquis?" she asked. "And isn't it a fact
that you wouldn't have me at any price? Come, now, your hand upon
your heart, answer."

M. de Tregars' situation was somewhat embarrassing between these
two women, whose anger was equal, though it manifested itself in
a different way. Evidently it was a discussion begun before, which
was now continued in his presence.

"I think, mademoiselle," he began, "that you have been slandering
yourself gratuitously."

"Oh, no! I swear it to you," she replied; "and, if mamma had not
happened in, you would have heard much more. But that was not an
answer."

And, as M. de Tregars said nothing, she turned towards the baroness,

"Ah, ah! you see," she said. "Who was crazy,--you, or I? Ah!
you imagine here that money is everything, that every thing is for
sale, and that every thing can be bought. Well, no! There are
still men, who, for all the gold in the world, would not give their
name to Cesarine de Thaller. It is strange; but it is so, dear
mamma, and we must make up our mind to it."

Then turning towards Marius, and bearing upon each syllable, as if
afraid that the allusion might escape him,

"The men of whom I speak," she added, "marry the girls who can
starve to death."

Knowing her daughter well enough to be aware that she could not
impose silence upon her, the Baroness de Thaller had dropped upon
a chair. She was trying hard to appear indifferent to what her
daughter was saying; but at every moment a threatening gesture, or
a hoarse exclamation, betrayed the storm that raged within her.

"Go on, poor foolish child!" she said,--"go on!"

And she did go on.

"Finally, were M. de Tregars willing to have me, I would refuse
him myself, because, then--"

A fugitive blush colored her cheeks, her bold eyes vacillated, and,
dropping her voice,

"Because, then," she added, "he would no longer be what he is;
because I feel that fatally I shall despise the husband whom papa
will buy for me. And, if I came here to expose myself to an affront
which I foresaw, it is because I wanted to make sure of a fact of
which a word of Costeclar, a few days ago, had given me an idea,
--of a fact which you do not, perhaps, suspect, dear mother, despite
your astonishing perspicacity. I wanted to find out M. de Tregars'
secret; and I have found it out."

M. de Tregars had come to the Thaller mansion with a plan well
settled in advance. He had pondered long before deciding what he
would do, and what he would say, and how he would begin the decisive
struggle. What had taken place showed him the idleness of his
conjectures, and, as a natural consequence, upset his plans. To
abandon himself to the chances of the hour, and to make the best
possible use of them, was now the wisest thing to do.

"Give me credit, mademoiselle," he uttered, "for sufficient
penetration to have perfectly well discerned your intentions.
There was no need of artifice, because I have nothing to conceal.
You had but to question me, I would have answered you frankly,
'Yes, it is true I love Mlle. Gilberte; and before a month she
will be Marquise de Tregars.'"

Mme. de Thaller, at those words, had started to her feet, pushing
back her arm-chair so violently, that it rolled all the way to the
wall.

"What!" she exclaimed, "you marry Gilberte Favoral,--you!"

"I--yes."

"The daughter of a defaulting cashier, a dishonored man whom justice
pursues and the galleys await!"

"Yes!" And in an accent that caused a shiver to run over the white
shoulders of Mme. de Thaller,

"Whatever may have been," he uttered, "Vincent Favoral's crime;
whether he has or has not stolen, the twelve millions which are
wanting from the funds of the Mutual Credit; whether he is alone
guilty, or has accomplices; whether he be a knave, or a fool, an
impostor, or a dupe,--Mlle. Gilberte is not responsible."

"You know the Favoral family, then?"

"Enough to make their cause henceforth my own."

The agitation of the baroness was so great, that she did not even
attempt to conceal it.

"A nobody's daughter!" she said.

"I love her."

"Without a sou!"

Mlle. Cesarine made a superb gesture.

"Why, that's the very reason why a man may marry her!" she exclaimed,
and, holding out her hand to M. de Tregars,

"What you do here is well," she added, "very well."

There was a wild look in the eyes of the baroness.

"Mad, unhappy child!" she exclaimed. "If your father should hear!"

"And who, then, would report our conversation to him? M. de Tregars?
He would not do such a thing. You? You dare not."

Drawing herself up to her fullest height, her breast swelling with
anger, her head thrown back, her eyes flashing,

"Cesarine," ordered Mme. de Thaller, her arm extended towards the
door--"Cesarine, leave the room; I command you."

But motionless in her place the girl cast upon her mother a look
of defiance.

"Come, calm yourself," she said in a tone of crushing irony, "or
you'll spoil your complexion for the rest of the evening. Do I
complain? do I get excited? And yet whose fault is it, if honor
makes it a duty for me to cry 'Beware!' to an honest man who wishes
to marry me? That Gilberte should get married: that she should
be very happy, have many children, darn her husband's stockings,
and skim her _pot-au-feu_,--that is her part in life. Ours, dear
mother,--that which you have taught me--is to laugh and have fun,
all the time, night and day, till death."

A footman who came in interrupted her. Handing a card to Mme. de
Thaller,

"The gentleman who gave it to me," he said, "is in the large parlor."

The baroness had become very pale.

"Oh!" she said turning the card between her fingers,--"oh!"

Then suddenly she ran out exclaiming,

"I'll be back directly."

An embarrassing, painful silence followed, as it was inevitable that
it would, the Baroness de Thaller's precipitate departure.

Mlle. Cesarine had approached the mantel-piece. She was leaning
her elbow upon it, her forehead on her hand, all palpitating and
excited. Intimidated for, perhaps, the first time in her life,
she turned away her great blue eyes, as if afraid that they should
betray a reflex of her thoughts.

As to M. de Tregars, he remained at his place, not having one whit
too much of that power of self-control, which is acquired by a long
experience of the world, to conceal his impressions. If he had a
fault, it was certainly not self-conceit; but Mlle. de Thaller had
been too explicit and too clear to leave him a doubt. All she
had said could be comprised in one sentence,

"My parents were in hopes that I would become your wife: I had
judged you well enough to understand their error. Precisely because
I love you I acknowledge myself unworthy of you and I wish you to
know that if you had asked my hand,--the hand of a girl who has
a dowry of a million--I would have ceased to esteem you."

That such a feeling should have budded and blossomed in Mlle.
Cesarine's soul, withered as it was by vanity, and blunted by
pleasure was almost a miracle. It was, at any rate, an astonishing
proof of love which she gave; and Marius de Tregars would not have
been a man, if he had not been deeply moved by it. Suddenly,

"What a miserable wretch I am!" she uttered.

"You mean unhappy," said M. de Tregars gently.

"What can you think of my sincerity? You must, doubtless, find it
strange, impudent, grotesque."

He lifted his hand in protest; for she gave him no time to put in
a word.

"And yet," she went on, "this is not the first time that I am assailed
by sinister ideas, and that I feel ashamed of myself. I was
convinced once that this mad existence of mine is the only enviable
one, the only one that can give happiness. And now I discover that
it is not the right path which I have taken, or, rather, which
I have been made to take. And there is no possibility of retracing
my steps."

She turned pale, and, in an accent of gloomy despair,

"Every thing fails me," she said. "It seems as though I were rolling
into a bottomless abyss, without a branch or a tuft of grass to
cling to. Around me, emptiness, night, chaos. I am not yet twenty
and it seems to me that I have lived thousands of years, and
exhausted every sensation. I have seen every thing, learned every
thing, experienced every thing; and I am tired of every thing, and
satiated and nauseated. You see me looking like a brainless hoyden,
I sing, I jest, I talk slang. My gayety surprises everybody. In
reality, I am literally tired to death. What I feel I could not
express, there are no words to render absolute disgust. Sometimes I
say to myself, 'It is stupid to be so sad. What do you need? Are
you not young, handsome, rich?' But I must need something, or else
I would not be thus agitated, nervous, anxious, unable to stay in
one place, tormented by confused aspirations, and by desires which
I cannot formulate. What can I do? Seek oblivion in pleasure and
dissipation? I try, and I succeed for an hour or so; but the
reaction comes, and the effect vanishes, like froth from champagne.
The lassitude returns; and, whilst outwardly I continue to laugh,
I shed within tears of blood which scald my heart. What is to
become of me, without a memory in the past, or a hope in the future,
upon which to rest my thought?"

And bursting into tears,

"Oh, I am wretchedly unhappy!" she exclaimed; "and I wish I was
dead."

M. de Tregars rose, feeling more deeply moved than he would, perhaps,
have liked to acknowledge.

"I was laughing at you only a moment since," he said in his grave
and vibrating voice. "Pardon me, mademoiselle. It is with the utmost
sincerity, and from the innermost depths of my soul, that I pity
you."

She was looking at him with an air of timid doubt, big tears
trembling between her long eyelashes.

"Honest?" she asked.

"Upon my honor."

"And you will not go with too poor an opinion of me?"

"I shall retain the firm belief that when you were yet but a child,
you were spoiled by insane theories."

Gently and sadly she was passing her hand over her forehead.

"Yes, that's it," she murmured. "How could I resist examples coming
from certain persons? How could I help becoming intoxicated when
I saw myself, as it were, in a cloud of incense when I heard nothing
but praises and applause? And then there is the money, which
depraves when it comes in a certain way."

She ceased to speak; but the silence was soon again broken by a
slight noise, which came from the adjoining room.

Mechanically, M. de Tregars looked around him. The little parlor
in which he found himself was divided from the main drawing-room
of the house by a tall and broad door, closed only by heavy curtains,
which had remained partially drawn. Now, such was the disposition
of the mirrors in the two rooms, that M. de Tregars could see
almost the whole of the large one reflected in the mirror over the
mantelpiece of the little parlor. A man of suspicious appearance,
and wearing wretched clothes, was standing in it.

And, the more M. de Tregars examined him, the more it seemed to
him that he had already seen somewhere that uneasy countenance,
that anxious glance, that wicked smile flitting upon flat and thin
lips.

But suddenly the man bowed very low. It was probable that Mme. de
Thaller, who had gone around through the hall to reach the grand
parlor, must be coming in; and in fact she almost immediately
appeared within the range of the glass. She seemed much agitated;
and, with a finger upon her lips, she was recommending to the man
to be prudent, and to speak low. It was therefore in a whisper,
and such a low whisper that not even a vague murmur reached the
little parlor, that the man uttered a few words. They were such
that the baroness started back as if she had seen a precipice yawning
at her feet; and by this action it was easy to understand that she
must have said,

"Is it possible?"

With the voice which still could not be heard, but with a gesture
which could be seen, the man evidently replied,

"It is so, I assure you!"

And leaning towards Mme. de Thaller, who seemed in no wise shocked
to feel this repulsive personage's lips almost touching her ear,
he began speaking to her.

The surprise which this species of vision caused to M. de Tregars
was great, but did not keep him from reflecting what could be the
meaning of this scene. How came this suspicious-looking man to
have obtained access, without difficulty, into the grand parlor?
Why had the baroness, on receiving his card, turned whiter than the
laces on her dress? What news had he brought, which had made such
a deep impression? What was he saying that seemed at once to
terrify and to delight Mme. de Thaller?

But soon she interrupted the man, beckoned to him to wait,
disappeared for a minute; and, when she came in again, she held in
her hand a package of bank-notes, which she began counting upon
the parlor-table.

She counted twenty-five, which, so far as M. de Tregars could judge,
must have been hundred-franc notes. The man took them, counted them
over, slipped them into his pocket with a grin of satisfaction, and
then seemed disposed to retire.

The baroness detained him, however; and it was she now, who, leaning
towards him, commenced to explain to him, or rather, as far as her
attitude showed, to ask him something. It must have been a serious
matter; for he shook his head, and moved his arms, as if he meant
to say, "The deuse, the deuse!"

The strangest suspicions flashed across M. de Tregars' mind. What
was that bargain to which the mirror made him thus an accidental
witness? For it was a bargain: there could be no mistake about it.
The man, having received a mission, had fulfilled it, and had come
to receive the price of it. And now a new commission was offered
to him.

But M. de Tregars' attention was now called off by Mlle. Cesarine.
Shaking off the torpor which for a moment had overpowered her,

"But why fret and worry?" she said, answering, rather, the objections
of her own mind than addressing herself to M. de Tregars. "Things
are just as they are, and I cannot undo them.

"Ah! if the mistakes of life were like soiled clothes, which are
allowed to accumulate in a wardrobe, and which are all sent out at
once to the wash. But nothing washes the past, not even repentance,
whatever they may say. There are some ideas which should be set
aside. A prisoner should not allow himself to think of freedom.

"And yet," she added, shrugging her shoulders, "a prisoner has
always the hope of escaping; whereas I--" Then, making a visible
effort to resume her usual manner,

"Bash!" she said, "that's enough sentiment for one day; and instead
of staying here, boring you to death, I ought to go and dress; for
I am going to the opera with my sweet mamma, and afterwards to the
ball. You ought to come. I am going to wear a stunning dress.
The ball is at Mme. de Bois d'Ardon's,--one of our friends, a
progressive woman. She has a smoking-room for ladies. What do
you think of that? Come, will you go? We'll drink champagne,
and we'll laugh. No? Zut then, and my compliments to your family."

But, at the moment of leaving the room, her heart failed her.

"This is doubtless the last time I shall ever see you, M. de
Tregars," she said. "Farewell! You know now why I, who have a
dowry of a million, I envy Gilberte Favoral. Once more farewell.
And, whatever happiness may fall to your lot in life, remember
that Cesarine has wished it all to you."

And she went out at the very moment when the Baroness de Thaller
returned.

VII

"Cesarine!" Mme. de Thaller called, in a voice which sounded at
once like a prayer and a threat.

"I am going to dress myself, mamma," she answered.

"Come back!"

"So that you can scold me if I am not ready when you want to go?
Thank you, no."

"I command you to come back, Cesarine."

No answer. She was far already.

Mme. de Thaller closed the door of the little parlor, and returning
to take a seat by M. de Tregars,

"What a singular girl!" she said.

Meantime he was watching in the glass what was going on in the
other room. The suspicious-looking man was there still, and alone.
A servant had brought him pen, ink and paper; and he was writing
rapidly.

"How is it that they leave him there alone?" wondered Marius.

And he endeavored to find upon the features of the baroness an
answer to the confused presentiments which agitated his brain. But
there was no longer any trace of the emotion which she had manifested
when taken unawares. Having had time for reflection, she had
composed for herself an impenetrable countenance. Somewhat surprised
at M. de Tregars' silence,

"I was saying," she repeated, "that Cesarine is a strange girl."

Still absorbed by the scene in the grand parlor,

"Strange, indeed!" he answered.

"And such is," said the baroness with a sigh, "the result of M. de
Thaller's weakness, and above all of my own.

"We have no child but Cesarine; and it was natural that we should
spoil her. Her fancy has been, and is still, our only law. She
has never had time to express a wish: she is obeyed before she has
spoken."

She sighed again, and deeper than the first time. "You have just
seen," she went on, "the results of that insane education. And yet
it would not do to trust appearances. Cesarine, believe me, is not
as extravagant as she seems. She possesses solid qualities,--of
those which a man expects of the woman who is to be his wife."

Without taking his eyes off the glass,

"I believe you madame," said M. de Tregars.

"With her father, with me especially, she is capricious, wilful,
and violent; but, in the hands of the husband of her choice, she
would be like wax in the hands of the modeler."

The man in the parlor had finished his letter, and, with an
equivocal smile, was reading it over.

"Believe me, madame," replied M. de Tregars, "I have perfectly
understood how much naive boasting there was in all that Mlle.
Cesarine told me."

"Then, really, you do not judge her too severely?"

"Your heart has not more indulgence for her than my own."

"And yet it is from you that her first real sorrow comes."

"From me?"

The baroness shook her head in a melancholy way, to convey an idea
of her maternal affection and anxiety.

"Yes, from you, my dear marquis," she replied, "from you alone.
On the very day you entered this house, Cesarine's whole nature
changed."

Having read his letter over, the man in the grand parlor had folded
it, and slipped it into his pocket, and, having left his seat,
seemed to be waiting for something. M. de Tregars was following,
in the glass, his every motion, with the most eager curiosity. And
nevertheless, as he felt the absolute necessity of saying something,
were it only to avoid attracting the attention of the baroness,

"What!" he said, "Mlle. Cesarine's nature did change, then?"

"In one night. Had she not met the hero of whom every girl dreams?
--a man of thirty, bearing one of the oldest names in France."

She stopped, expecting an answer, a word, an exclamation. But, as
M. de Tregars said nothing,

"Did you never notice any thing then?" she asked.

"Nothing."

"And suppose I were to tell you myself, that my poor Cesarine, alas!
--loves you?"

M. de Tregars started. Had he been less occupied with the personage
in the grand parlor, he would certainly not have allowed the
conversation to drift in this channel. He understood his mistake;
and, in an icy tone,

"Permit me, madame," he said, "to believe that you are jesting."

"And suppose it were the truth."

"It would make me unhappy in the extreme."

"Sir!"

"For the reason which I have already told you, that I love Mlle.
Gilberte Favoral with the deepest and the purest love, and that
for the past three years she has been, before God, my affianced
bride."

Something like a flash of anger passed over Mme. de Thaller's eyes.

"And I," she exclaimed,--"I tell you that this marriage is senseless."

"I wish it were still more so, that I might the better show to
Gilberte how dear she is to me."

Calm in appearance, the baroness was scratching with her nails the
satin of the chair on which she was sitting.

"Then," she went on, "your resolution is settled."

"Irrevocably."

"Still, now, come, between us who are no longer children, suppose
M. de Thaller were to double Cesarine's dowry, to treble it?"

An expression of intense disgust contracted the manly features of
Marius de Tregars.

"Ah! not another word, madame," he interrupted.

There was no hope left. Mme. de Thaller fully realized it by the
tone in which he spoke. She remained pensive for over a minute,
and suddenly, like a person who has finally made up her mind, she
rang.

A footman appeared.

"Do what I told you!" she ordered.

And as soon as the footman had gone, turning to M. de Tregars,

"Alas!" she said, "who would have thought that I would curse the day
when you first entered our house?"

But, whilst, she spoke, M. de Tregars noticed in the glass the
result of the order she had just given.

The footman walked into the grand parlor, spoke a few words; and at
once the man with the alarming countenance put on his hat and went
out.

"This is very strange!" thought M. de Tregars. Meantime, the
baroness was going on,

"If your intentions are to that point irrevocable, how is it that
you are here? You have too much experience of the world not to
have understood, this morning, the object of my visit and of my
allusions."

Fortunately, M. de Tregars' attention was no longer drawn by the
proceedings in the next room. The decisive moment had come: the
success of the game he was playing would, perhaps, depend upon
his coolness and self-command.

"It is because I did understand, madame, and even better than you
suppose, that I am here."

"Indeed!"

"I came, expecting to deal with M. de Thaller alone. I have been
compelled, by what has happened, to alter my intentions. It is
to you that I must speak first."

Mme. de Thaller continued to manifest the same tranquil assurance;
but she stood up. Feeling the approach of the storm, she wished
to be up, and ready to meet it.

"You honor me," she said with an ironical smile.

There was, henceforth, no human power capable of turning Marius de
Tregars from the object he had in view.

"It is to you I shall speak," he repeated, "because, after you have
heard me, you may perhaps judge that it is your interest to join me
in endeavoring to obtain from your husband what I ask, what I
demand, what I must have."

With an air of surprise marvelously well simulated, if it was not
real, the baroness was looking at him.

"My father," he proceeded to say, "the Marquis de Tregars, was once
rich: he had several millions. And yet when I had the misfortune
of losing him, three years ago, he was so thoroughly ruined, that
to relieve the scruples of his honor, and to make his death easier,
I gave up to his creditors all I had in the world. What had become
of my father's fortune? What filter had been administered to him
to induce him to launch into hazardous speculations,--he an old
Breton gentleman, full, even to absurdity, of the most obstinate
prejudices of the nobility? That's what I wished to ascertain.

"And now, madame, I--have ascertained."

She was a strong-minded woman, the Baroness de Thaller. She had
had so many adventures in her life, she had walked on the very edge
of so many precipices, concealed so many anxieties, that danger was,
as it were, her element, and that, at the decisive moment of an
almost desperate game, she could remain smiling like those old
gamblers whose face never betrays their terrible emotion at the
moment when they risk their last stake. Not a muscle of her face
moved; and it was with the most imperturbable calm that she said,

"Go on, I am listening: it must be quite interesting."

That was not the way to propitiate M. de Tregars.
He resumed, in a brief and harsh tone,

"When my father died, I was young. I did not know then what I have
learned since,--that to contribute to insure the impunity of knaves
is almost to make one's self their accomplice. And the victim who
says nothing and submits, does contribute to it. The honest man,
on the contrary, should speak, and point out to others the trap
into which he has fallen, that they may avoid it."

The baroness was listening with the air of a person who is compelled
by politeness to hear a tiresome story.

"That is a rather gloomy preamble," she said. M. de Tregars took
no notice of the interruption.

"At all times," he went on, "my father seemed careless of his
affairs: that affectation, he thought, was due to the name he bore.
But his negligence was only apparent. I might mention things of
him that would do honor to the most methodical tradesman. He had,
for instance, the habit of preserving all the letters of any
importance which he received. He left twelve or fifteen boxes full
of such. They were carefully classified; and many bore upon their
margin a few notes indicating what answer had been made to them."

Half suppressing a yawn,

"That is order," said the baroness, "if I know any thing about it."

"At the first moment, determined not to stir up the past, I
attached no importance to those letters; and they would certainly
have been burnt, but for an old friend of the family, the Count de
Villegre, who had them carried to his own house. But later, acting
under the influence of circumstances which it would be too long to
explain to you, I regretted my apathy; and I thought that I should,
perhaps, find in that correspondence something to either dissipate
or justify certain suspicions which had occurred to me."

"So that, like a respectful son, you read it?" M. de Tregars bowed
ceremoniously.

"I believe," he said, "that to avenge a father of the imposture of
which he was the victim during his life, is to render homage to his
memory. Yes, madame, I read the whole of that correspondence, and
with an interest which you will readily understand. I had already,
and without result, examined the contents of several boxes, when in
the package marked 1852, a year which my father spent in Paris,
certain letters attracted my attention. They were written upon
coarse paper, in a very primitive handwriting and wretchedly spelt.
They were signed sometimes Phrasie, sometimes Marquise de Javelle.
Some gave the address, 'Rue des Bergers, No. 3, Paris-Grenelle.'

"Those letters left me no doubt upon what had taken place. My
father had met a young working-girl of rare beauty: he had taken a
fancy to her; and, as he was tormented by the fear of being loved
for his money alone, he had passed himself off for a poor clerk in
one of the departments."

"Quite a touching little love-romance," remarked the baroness.

But there was no impertinence that could affect Marius de Tregars'
coolness.

"A romance, perhaps," he said, "but in that case a money-romance,
not a love-romance. This Phrasie or Marquise de Javelle, announces
in one of her letters, that in February, 1853, she has given birth
to a daughter, whom she has confided to some relatives of hers in
the south, near Toulouse. It was doubtless that event which
induced my father to acknowledge who he was. He confesses that
he is not a poor clerk, but the Marquis de Tregars, having an
income of over a hundred thousand francs. At once the tone of
the correspondence changes. The Marquise de Javelle has a stupid
time where she lives; the neighbors reproach her with her fault;
work spoils her pretty hands. Result: less than two weeks after
the birth of her daughter, my father hires for his pretty mistress
a lovely apartment, which she occupies under the name of Mme. Devil;
she is allowed fifteen hundred francs a month, servants, horses,
carriage."

Mme. de Thaller was giving signs of the utmost impatience. Without
paying any attention to them, M. de Tregars proceeded,

"Henceforth free to see each other daily, my father and his mistress
cease to write. But Mme. Devil does not waste her time. During a
space of less than eight months, from February to September, she
induces my father to dispose--not in her favor, she is too
disinterested for that, but in favor of her daughter--of a sum
exceeding five hundred thousand francs. In September, the
correspondence is resumed. Mme. Devil discovers that she is not
happy, and acknowledges it in a letter, which shows, by its improved
writing and more correct spelling, that she has been taking lessons.

"She complains of her precarious situation: the future frightens her:
she longs for respectability. Such is, for three months, the
constant burden of her correspondence. She regrets the time when
she was a working girl: why has she been so weak? Then, at last,
in a note which betrays long debates and stormy discussions, she
announces that she has an unexpected offer of marriage; a fine
fellow, who, if she only had two hundred thousand francs, would
give his name to herself and to her darling little daughter. For
a long time my father hesitates; but she presses her point with
such rare skill, she demonstrates so conclusively that this marriage
will insure the happiness of their child, that my father yields at
last, and resigns himself to the sacrifice. And in a memorandum
on the margin of a last letter, he states that he has just given
two hundred thousand francs to Mme. Devil; that he will never see
her again; and that he returns to live in Brittany, where he wishes,
by the most rigid economy, to repair the breach he has just made
in his fortune."

"Thus end all these love-stories," said Mme. de Thaller in a
jesting tone.

"I beg your pardon: this one is not ended yet. For many years, my
father kept his word, and never left our homestead of Tregars. But
at last he grew tired of his solitude, and returned to Paris. Did
he seek to see his former mistress again? I think not. I suppose
that chance brought them together; or else, that, being aware of his
return, she managed to put herself in his way. He found her more
fascinating than ever, and, according to what she wrote him, rich
and respected; for her husband had become a personage. She would
have been perfectly happy, she added, had it been possible for her
to forget the man whom she had once loved so much, and to whom she
owed her position.

"I have that letter. The elegant hand, the style, and the correct
orthography, express better than any thing else the transformations
of the Marquise de Javelle. Only it is not signed. The little
working-girl has become prudent: she has much to lose, and fears to
compromise herself.

"A week later, in a laconic note, apparently dictated by an
irresistible passion, she begs my father to come to see her at her
own house. He does so, and finds there a little girl, whom he
believes to be his own child, and whom he at once begins to idolize.

"And that's all. Again he falls under the charm. He ceases to
belong to himself: his former mistress can dispose, at her pleasure,
of his fortune and of his fate.

"But see now what bad luck! The husband takes a notion to become
jealous of my father's visits. In a letter which is a masterpiece
of diplomacy, the lady explains her anxiety.

"'He has suspicions,' she writes; 'and to what extremities might he
not resort, were he to discover the truth!' And with infinite art
she insinuates that the best way to justify his constant presence
is to associate himself with that jealous husband.

"It is with childish haste that my father jumps at the suggestion.
But money is needed. He sells his lands, and everywhere announces
that he has great financial ideas, and that he is going to increase
his fortune tenfold.

"There he is now, partner of his former mistress's husband, engaged
in speculations, director of a company. He thinks that he is doing
an excellent business: he is convinced that he is making lots of
money. Poor honest man! They prove to him, one morning, that he
is ruined, and, what is more, compromised. And this is made to
look so much like the truth, that I interfere myself, and pay the
creditors. We were ruined; but honor was safe. A few weeks later,
my father died broken-hearted."

Mme. de Thaller half rose from her seat with a gesture which
indicated the joy of escaping at last a merciless bore. A glance
from M. de Tregars riveted her to her seat, freezing upon her lips
the jest she was about to utter.

"I have not done yet," he said rudely.

And, without suffering any interruption,

"From this correspondence," he resumed, "resulted the flagrant,
irrefutable proof of a shameful intrigue, long since suspected by
my old friend, General Count de Villegre. It became evident to me
that my poor father had been most shamefully imposed upon by that
mistress, so handsome and so dearly loved, and, later, despoiled
by the husband of that mistress. But all this availed me nothing.
Being ignorant of my father's life and connections, the letters
giving neither a name nor a precise detail, I knew not whom to
accuse. Besides, in order to accuse, it is necessary to have, at
least, some material proof."

The baroness had resumed her seat; and every thing about her--her
attitude, her gestures, the motion of her lips--seemed to say,

"You are my guest. Civility has its demands; but really you abuse
your privileges."

M. de Tregars went on,

"At this moment I was still a sort of savage, wholly absorbed in
my experiments, and scarcely ever setting foot outside my
laboratory. I was indignant; I ardently wished to find and to
punish the villains who had robbed us: but I knew not how to go
about it, nor in what direction to seek information. The wretches
would, perhaps, have gone unpunished, but for a good and worthy man,
now a commissary of police, to whom I once rendered a slight service,
one night, in a riot, when he was close pressed by some half-dozen
rascals. I explained the situation to him: he took much interest
in it, promised his assistance, and marked out my line of conduct."

Mme. de Thaller seemed restless upon her seat.

"I must confess," she began, "that I am not wholly mistress of my
time. I am dressed, as you see: I have to go out."

If she had preserved any hope of adjourning the explanation which
she felt coming, she must have lost it when she heard the tone in
which M. de Tregars interrupted her.

"You can go out to-morrow."

And, without hurrying,

"Advised, as I have just told you," he continued, "and assisted by
the experience of a professional man, I went first to No. 3, Rue
des Bergers, in Grenelle. I found there some old people, the
foreman of a neighboring factory and his wife, who had been living
in the house for nearly twenty-five years. At my first question,
they exchanged a glance, and commenced laughing. They remembered
perfectly the Marquise de Javelle, which was but a nickname for a
young and pretty laundress, whose real name was Euphrasie Taponnet.
She had lived for eighteen months on the same landing as themselves:
she had a lover, who passed himself off for a clerk, but who was,
in fact, she had told them, a very wealthy nobleman. They added
that she had given birth to a little girl, and that, two weeks later
she had disappeared, and they had never heard a word from her. When
I left them, they said to me, 'If you see Phrasie, ask her if she
ever knew old Chandour and his wife. I am sure she'll remember us.'"

For the first time Mme. de Thaller shuddered slightly; but it was
almost imperceptible.

"From Grenelle," continued M. de Tregars, "I went to the house
where my father's mistress had lived under the name of Mme. Devil.
I was in luck. I found there the same concierge as in 1853. As
soon as I mentioned Mme. Devil, she answered me that she had not in
the least forgotten her, but, on the contrary, would know her among
a thousand. She was, she said, one of the prettiest little women
she had ever seen, and the most generous tenant. I understood the
hint, handed her a couple of napoleons, and heard from her every
thing she knew on the subject. It seemed that this pretty Mme.
Devil had, not one lover, but two,--the acknowledged one, who was
the master, and footed the bills; and the other an anonymous one,
who went out through the back-stairs, and who did not pay, on the
contrary. The first was called the Marquis de Tregars: of the
second, she had never known but the first name, Frederic. I
tried to ascertain what had become of Mme. Devil; but the worthy
concierge swore to me that she did not know.

"One morning, like a person who is going abroad, or who wishes to
cover up her tracks, Mme. Devil had sent for a furniture-dealer,
and a dealer in second-hand clothes, and had sold them every thing
she had, going away with nothing but a little leather satchel, in
which were her jewels and her money."

The Baroness de Thaller still kept a good countenance. After
examining her for a moment, with a sort of eager curiosity, Marius
de Tregars went on,

"When I communicated this information to my friend, the commissary
of police, he shook his head. 'Two years ago,' he told me, 'I
would have said, that's more than we want to find those people; for
the public records would have given us at once the key of this
enigma. But we have had the war and the Commune; and the books of
record have been burnt up. Still we must not give up. A last
hope remains; and I know the man who is capable of realizing it.'

"Two days after, he brought me an excellent fellow, named Victor
Chupin, in whom I could have entire confidence; for he was
recommended to me by one of the men whom I like and esteem the most,
the Duke de Champdoce. Giving up all idea of applying at the
various mayors' offices, Victor Chupin, with the patience and the
tenacity of an Indian following a scent, began beating about the
districts of Grenelle, Vargirard, and the Invalids. And not in
vain; for, after a week of investigations he brought me a nurse,
residing Rue de l'Universite, who remembered perfectly having once
attended, on the occasion of her confinement, a remarkably pretty
young woman, living in the Rue des Bergers, and nicknamed the
Marquise de Javelle. And as she was a very orderly woman, who at
all times had kept a very exact account of her receipts, she brought
me a little book in which I read this entry: 'For attending Euphrasie
Taponnet, alias the Marquise de Javelle (a girl), one hundred francs.'
And this is not all. This woman informed me, moreover, that she had
been requested to present the child at the mayor's office, and that
she had been duly registered there under the names of Euphrasie
Cesarine Taponnet, born of Euphrasie Taponnet, laundress, and an
unknown father. Finally she placed at my disposal her account-book
and her testimony."

Taxed beyond measure, the energy of the baroness was beginning to
fail her; she was turning livid under her rice-powder. Still in
the same icy tone,

"You can understand, madame," said Marius de Tregars, "that this
woman's testimony, together with the letters which are in my
possession, enables me to establish before the courts the exact
date of the birth of a daughter whom my father had of his mistress.
But that's nothing yet. With renewed zeal, Victor Chupin had
resumed his investigations. He had undertaken the examination of
the marriage-registers in all the parishes of Paris, and, as early
as the following week, he discovered at Notre Dame des Lorettes the
entry of the marriage of Euphrasie Taponnet with Frederic de
Thaller."

Though she must have expected that name, the baroness started up
violently and livid, and with a haggard look.

"It's false!" she began in a choking voice.

A smile of ironical pity passed over Marius' lips.

"Five minutes' reflection will prove to you that it is useless to
deny," he interrupted. "But wait. In the books of that same church,
Victor Chupin has found registered the baptism of a daughter of M.
and Mme de Thaller, bearing the same names as the first one,
--Euphrasie Cesarine."

With a convulsive motion the baroness shrugged her shoulder.

"What does all that prove?" she said.

"That proves, madame, the well-settled intention of substituting
one child for another; that proves that my father was imprudently
deceived when he was made to believe that the second Cesarine was
his daughter, the daughter in whose favor he had formerly disposed
of over five hundred thousand francs; that proves that there is
somewhere in the world a poor girl who has been basely forsaken by
her mother, the Marquise de Javelle, now become the Baroness de
Thaller."

Beside herself with terror and anger,

"That is an infamous lie!" exclaimed the baroness. M. de Tregars
bowed.

"The evidence of the truth of my statements," he said, "I shall
find at Louveciennes, and at the Hotel des Folies, Boulevard du
Temple, Paris."

Night had come. A footman came in carrying lamps, which he placed
upon the mantelpiece. He was not all together one minute in the
little parlor; but that one minute was enough to enable the Marquise
de Thaller to recover her coolness, and to collect her ideas. When
the footman retired, she had made up her mind, with the resolute
promptness of a person accustomed to perilous situations. She gave
up the discussion, and, drawing near to M. de Tregars,

"Enough allusions," she said: "let us speak frankly, and face to
face now. What do you want?"

But the change was too sudden not to arouse Marius's suspicions.

"I want a great many things," he replied.

"Still you must specify."

"Well, I claim first the five hundred thousand francs which my
father had settled upon his daughter,--the daughter whom you cast
off."

"And what next?"

"I want besides, my own and my father's fortune, of which we have
been robbed by M. de Thaller, with your assistance, madame."

"Is that all, at least?"

M. de Tregars shook his head.

"That's nothing yet," he replied.

"Oh!"

"We have now to say something of Vincent Favoral's affairs."

An attorney who is defending the interests of a client is neither
calmer nor cooler than Mme. de Thaller at this moment.

"Do the affairs of my husband's cashier concern me, then?" she said
with a shade of irony.

"Yes, madame, very much."

"I am glad to hear it."

"I know it from excellent sources, because, on my return from
Louveciennes, I called in the Rue du Cirque, where I saw one Zelie
Cadelle."

He thought that the baroness would at least start on hearing that
name. Not at all. With a look of profound astonishment,

"Rue du Cirque," she repeated, like a person who is making a
prodigious effort of memory,--"Rue du Cirque! Zelie Cadelle!
Really, I do not understand."

But, from the glance which M. de Tregars cast upon her, she must
have understood that she would not easily draw from him the
particulars which he had resolved not to tell.

"I believe, on the contrary," he uttered, "that you understand
perfectly."

"Be it so, if you insist upon it. What do you ask for Favoral?"

"I demand, not for Favoral, but for the stockholders who have been
impudently defrauded, the twelve millions which are missing from
the funds of the Mutual Credit."

Mme. de Thaller burst out laughing.

"Only that?" she said.

"Yes, only that!"

"Well, then, it seems to me that you should present your reclamations
to M. Favoral himself. You have the right to run after him."

"It is useless, for the reason that it is not he, the poor fool!
who has carried off the twelve millions."

"Who is it, then?"

"M. le Baron de Thaller, no doubt."

With that accent of pity which one takes to reply to an absurd
proposition,--"You are mad, my poor marquis," said Mme. de Thaller.

"You do not think so."

"But suppose I should refuse to do any thing more?"

He fixed upon her a glance in which she could read an irrevocable
determination; and slowly,

"I have a perfect horror of scandal," he replied, "and, as you
perceive, I am trying to arrange every thing quietly between us.
But, if I do not succeed thus, I must appeal to the courts."

"Where are your proofs?"

"Don't be afraid: I have proofs to sustain all my allegations."

The baroness had stretched herself comfortably in her arm-chair.

"May we know them?" she inquired.

Marius was getting somewhat uneasy in presence of Mme. de Thaller's
imperturbable assurance. What hope had she? Could she see some
means of escape from a situation apparently so desperate? Determined
to prove to her that all was lost, and that she had nothing to do
but to surrender,

"Oh! I know, madame," he replied, "that you have taken your
precautions. But, when Providence interferes, you see, human
foresight does not amount to much. See, rather, what happens in
regard to your first daughter,--the one you had when you were
still only Marquise de Javelle."

And briefly he called to her mind the principal incidents of Mlle.
Lucienne's life from the time that she had left her with the poor
gardeners at Louveciennes, without giving either her name or her
address,--the injury she had received by being run over by Mme. de
Thaller's carriage; the long letter she had written from the
hospital, begging for assistance; her visit to the house, and her
meeting with the Baron de Thaller; the effort to induce her to
emigrate to America; her arrest by means of false information, and
her escape, thanks to the kind peace-officer; the attempt upon her
as she was going home late one night; and, finally, her imprisonment
after the Commune, among the _petroleuses_, and her release through
the interference of the same honest friend.

And, charging her with the responsibility of all these
infamous acts, he paused for an answer or a protest.

And, as Mme. de Thaller said nothing,

"You are looking at me, madame, and wondering how I have discovered
all that. A single word will explain it all. The peace-officer
who saved your daughter is precisely the same to whom it was once
my good fortune to render a service. By comparing notes, we have
gradually reached the truth,--reached you, madame. Will you
acknowledge now that I have more proofs than are necessary to apply
to the courts?"

Whether she acknowledged it or not, she did not condescend to discuss.

"What then?" she said coldly.

But M. de Tregars was too much on his guard to expose himself, by
continuing to speak thus, to reveal the secret of his designs.

Besides, whilst he was thoroughly satisfied as to the manoeuvres
used to defraud his father he had, as yet, but presumptions on what
concerned Vincent Favoral.

"Permit me not to say another word, madame," he replied. "I have
told you enough to enable you to judge of the value of my weapons."

She must have felt that she could not make him change his mind, for
she rose to go.

"That is sufficient," she uttered. "I shall reflect; and to-morrow
I shall give you an answer."

She started to go; but M. de Tregars threw himself quickly between
her and the door.

"Excuse me," he said; "but it is not to-morrow that I want an answer:
it is to-night, this instant!"

Ah, if she could have annihilated him with a look.

"Why, this is violence," she said in a voice which betrayed the
incredible effort she was making to control herself.

"It is imposed upon me by circumstances, madame."

"You would be less exacting, if my husband were here."

He must have been within hearing; for suddenly the door opened, and
he appeared upon the threshold. There are people for whom the
unforeseen does not exist, and whom no event can disconcert. Having
ventured every thing, they expect every thing. Such was the Baron
de Thaller. With a sagacious glance he examined his wife and M. de
Tregars; and in a cordial tone,

"We are quarreling here?" he said.

"I am glad you have come!" exclaimed the baroness.

"What is the matter?"

"The matter is, that M. de Tregars is endeavoring to take an odious
advantage of some incidents of our past life."

"There's woman's exaggeration for you!" he said laughing.

And, holding out his hand to Marius,

"Let me make your peace--for you, my dear marquis," he said: "that's
within the province of the husband." But, instead of taking his
extended hand, M. de Tregars stepped back.

"There is no more peace possible, sir, I am an enemy."

"An enemy!" he repeated in a tone of surprise which was wonderfully
well assumed, if it was not real.

"Yes," interrupted the baroness; "and I must speak to you at once,
Frederic. Come: M. de Tregars will wait for you."

And she led her husband into the adjoining room, not without first
casting upon Marius a look of burning and triumphant hatred.

Left alone, M. de Tregars sat down. Far from annoying him, this
sudden intervention of the manager of the Mutual Credit seemed to
him a stroke of fortune. It spared him an explanation more painful
still than the first, and the unpleasant necessity of having to
confound a villain by proving his infamy to him.

"And besides," he thought, "when the husband and the wife have
consulted with each other, they will acknowledge that they cannot
resist, and that it is best to surrender." The deliberation was
brief. In less than ten minutes, M. de Thaller returned alone. He was
pale; and his face expressed well the grief of an honest man who
discovers too late that he has misplaced his confidence.

"My wife has told me all, sir," he began.

M. de Tregars had risen. "Well?" he asked.

"You see me distressed. Ah, M. le Marquis! how could I ever expect
such a thing from you?--you, whom I thought I had the right to look
upon as a friend. And it is you, who, when a great misfortune
befalls me, attempts to give me the finishing stroke. It is you who
would crush me under the weight of slanders gathered in the gutter."

M. de Tregars stopped him with a gesture.

"Mme. de Thaller cannot have correctly repeated my words to you,
else you would not utter that word 'slander.'"

"She has repeated them to me without the least change."

"Then she cannot have told you the importance of the proofs I have
in my hands."

But the Baron persisted, as Mlle. Cesarine would have said, to "do
it up in the tender style."

"There is scarcely a family," he resumed, "in which there is not
some one of those painful secrets which they try to withhold from
the wickedness of the world. There is one in mine. Yes, it is
true, that before our marriage, my wife had had a child, whom
poverty had compelled her to abandon. We have since done everything
that was humanly possible to find that child, but without success.
It is a great misfortune, which has weighed upon our life; but it is
not a crime. If, however, you deem it your interest to divulge our
secret, and to disgrace a woman, you are free to do so: I cannot
prevent you. But I declare it to you, that fact is the only thing
real in your accusations. You say that your father has been duped
and defrauded. From whom did you get such an idea?

"From Marcolet, doubtless, a man without character, who has become
my mortal enemy since the day when he tried a sharp game on me, and
came out second best. Or from Costeclar, perhaps, who does not
forgive me for having refused him my daughter's hand, and who hates
me because I know that he committed forgery once, and that he would
be in prison but for your father's extreme indulgence. Well,
Costeclar and Marcolet have deceived you. If the Marquis de Tregars
ruined himself, it is because he undertook a business that he knew
nothing about, and speculated right and left. It does not take
long to sink a fortune, even without the assistance of thieves.

"As to pretend that I have benefitted by the embezzlements of my
cashier that is simply stupid; and there can be no one to suggest
such a thing, except Jottras and Saint Pavin, two scoundrels whom
I have had ten times the opportunity to send to prison and who were
the accomplices of Favoral. Besides, the matter is in the hands of
justice; and I shall prove in the broad daylight of the court-room,
as I have already done in the office of the examining judge, that,
to save the Mutual Credit, I have sacrificed more than half my
private fortune."

Tired of this speech, the evident object of which was to lead him
to discuss, and to betray himself,

"Conclude, sir," M. de Tregars interrupted harshly. Still in the
same placid tone,

"To conclude is easy enough," replied the baron. "My wife has told
me that you were about to marry the daughter of my old cashier,--a
very handsome girl, but without a sou. She ought to have a dowry."

"Sir!"

"Let us show our hands. I am in a critical position: you know it,
and you are trying to take advantage of it. Very well: we can still
come to an understanding. What would you say, if I were to give to
Mlle. Gilberte the dowry I intended for my daughter?"

All M. de Tregars' blood rushed to his face.

"Ah, not another word!" he exclaimed with a gesture of unprecedented
violence. But, controlling himself almost at once,

"I demand," he added, "my father's fortune. I demand that you
should restore to the Mutual Credit Company the twelve millions
which have been abstracted."

"And if not?"

"Then I shall apply to the courts."

They remained for a moment face to face, looking into each other's
eyes. Then,

"What have you decided?" asked M. de Tregars.

Without perhaps, suspecting that his offer was a new insult,

"I will go as far as fifteen hundred thousand francs," replied M.
de Thaller, "and I pay cash."

"Is that your last word?"

"It is."

"If I enter a complaint, with the proofs in my hands,
you are lost."

"We'll see about that."

To insist further would have been puerile.

"Very well, we'll see, then," said M. de Tregars. But as he
walked out and got into his cab, which had been waiting for him at
the door, he could not help wondering what gave the Baron de
Thaller so much assurance, and whether he was not mistaken in his
conjectures.

It was nearly eight o'clock, and Maxence, Mme. Favoral and Mlle.
Gilberte must have been waiting for him with a feverish impatience;
but he had eaten nothing since morning, and he stopped in front of
one of the restaurants of the Boulevard.

He had just ordered his dinner, when a gentleman of a certain age,
but active and vigorous still, of military bearing, wearing a
mustache, and a tan-colored ribbon at his buttonhole, came to take
a seat at the adjoining table.

In less than fifteen minutes M. de Tregars had despatched a bowl
of soup and a slice of beef, and was hastening out, when his foot
struck his neighbor's foot, without his being able to understand
how it had happened.

Though fully convinced that it was not his fault, he hastened to
excuse himself. But the other began to talk angrily, and so loud,
that everybody turned around.

Vexed as he was, Marius renewed his apologies.

But the other, like those cowards who think they have found a
greater coward than themselves, was pouring forth a torrent of
the grossest insults.

M. de Tregars was lifting his hand to administer a well-deserved
correction, when suddenly the scene in the grand parlor of the
Thaller mansion came back vividly to his mind. He saw again, as
in the glass, the ill-looking man listening, with an anxious look,
to Mme. de Thaller's propositions, and afterwards sitting down to
write.

"That's it!" he exclaimed, a multitude of circumstances occurring
to his mind, which had escaped him at the moment.

And, without further reflection, seizing his adversary by the
throat, he threw him over on the table, holding him down with his
knee.

"I am sure he must have the letter about him," he said to the
people who surrounded him.

And in fact he did take from the side-pocket of the villain a letter,
which he unfolded, and commenced reading aloud,

"I am waiting for you, my dear major, come quick, for the thing is
pressing,--a troublesome gentleman who is to be made to keep quiet.
It will be for you the matter of a sword-thrust, and for us the
occasion to divide a round amount."

"And, that's why he picked a quarrel with me," added M. de Tregars.

Two waiters had taken hold of the villain, who was struggling
furiously, and wanted to surrender him to the police.

"What's the use?" said Marius. "I have his letter: that's enough.
The police will find him when they want him."

And, getting back into his cab,

"Rue St. Gilles," he ordered, "and lively, if possible."

VIII

In the Rue St. Gilles the hours were dragging, slow and gloomy.
After Maxence had left to go and meet M. de Tregars, Mme. Favoral
and her daughter had remained alone with M. Chapelain, and had been
compelled to bear the brunt of his wrath, and to hear his
interminable complaints.

He was certainly an excellent man, that old lawyer, and too just to
hold Mlle. Gilberte or her mother responsible for Vincent Favoral's
acts. He spoke the truth when he assured them that he had for them
a sincere affection, and that they might rely upon his devotion.
But he was losing a hundred and sixty thousand francs; and a man
who loses such a large sum is naturally in bad humor, and not much
disposed to optimism.

The cruellest enemies of the poor women would not have tortured
them so mercilessly as this devoted friend.

He spared them not one sad detail of that meeting at the Mutual
Credit office, from which he had just come. He exaggerated the
proud assurance of the manager, and the confiding simplicity of the
stockholders. "That Baron de Thaller," he said to them, "is
certainly the most impudent scoundrel and the cleverest rascal I
have ever seen. You'll see that he'll get out of it with clean
hands and full pockets. Whether or not he has accomplices, Vincent
will be the scapegoat. We must make up our mind to that."

His positive intention was to console Mme. Favoral and Gilberte.
Had he sworn to drive them to distraction, he could not have
succeeded better.

"Poor woman!" he said, "what is to become of you? Maxence is a
good and honest fellow, I am sure, but so weak, so thoughtless, so
fond of pleasure! He finds it difficult enough to get along by
himself. Of what assistance will he be to you?"

Then came advice.

Mme. Favoral, he declared, should not hesitate to ask for a
separation, which the tribunal would certainly grant. For want
of this precaution, she would remain all her life under the burden
of her husband's debts, and constantly exposed to the annoyances of
the creditors.

And always he wound up by saying,

"Who could ever have expected such a thing from Vincent,--a friend
of twenty years' standing! A hundred and sixty thousand francs!
Who in the world can be trusted hereafter?"

Big tears were rolling slowly down Mme. Favoral's withered cheeks.
But Mlle. Gilberte was of those for whom the pity of others is the
worst misfortune and the most acute suffering.

Twenty times she was on the point of exclaiming,

"Keep your compassion, sir: we are neither so much to be pitied nor
so much forsaken as you think. Our misfortune has revealed to us a
true friend,--one who does not speak, but acts."

At last, as twelve o'clock struck, M. Chapelain withdrew, announcing
that he would return the next day to get the news, and to bring
further consolation.

"Thank Heaven, we are alone at last!" said Mlle. Gilberte.

But they had not much peace, for all that.

Great as had been the noise of Vincent Favoral's disaster, it had
not reached at once all those who had intrusted their savings to him.
All day long, the belated creditors kept coming in; and the scenes
of the morning were renewed on a smaller scale. Then legal summonses
began to pour in, three or four at a time. Mme. Favoral was losing
all courage.

"What disgrace!" she groaned. "Will it always be so hereafter?"

And she exhausted herself in useless conjectures upon the causes of
the catastrophe; and such was the disorder of her mind, that she
knew not what to hope and what to fear, and that from one minute to
another she wished for the most contradictory things.

She would have been glad to hear that her husband was safe out of
the country, and yet she would have deemed herself less miserable,
had she known that he was hid somewhere in Paris.

And obstinately the same questions returned to her lips,

"Where is he now? What is he doing? What is he thinking about?
How can he leave us without news? Is it possible that it is a
woman who has driven him into the precipice? And, if so, who is
that woman?"

Very different were Mlle. Gilberte's thoughts.

The great calamity that befell her family had brought about the
sudden realization of her hopes. Her father's disaster had given
her an opportunity to test the man she loved; and she had found
him even superior to all that she could have dared to dream. The
name of Favoral was forever disgraced; but she was going to be
the wife of Marius, Marquise de Tregars.

And, in the candor of her loyal soul, she accused herself of not
taking enough interest in her mother's grief, and reproached
herself for the quivers of joy which she felt within her.

"Where is Maxence?" asked Mme. Favoral.

"Where is M. de Tregars? Why have they told us nothing of their
projects?"

"They will, no doubt, come home to dinner," replied Mlle. Gilberte.

So well was she convinced of this, that she had given orders to the
servant to have a somewhat better dinner than usual; and her heart
was beating at the thought of being seated near Marius, between her
mother and her brother.

At about six o'clock, the bell rang violently.

"There he is!" said the young girl, rising to her feet.

But no: it was only the porter, bringing up a summons ordering Mme.
Favoral, under penalty of the law, to appear the next day, at one
o'clock precisely, before the examining judge, Barban d'Avranchel,
at his office in the Palace of Justice.

The poor woman came near fainting.

"What can this judge want with me? It ought to be forbidden to
call a wife to testify against her husband," she said.

"M. de Tregars will tell you what to answer, mamma," said Mlle.
Gilberte.

Meantime, seven o'clock came, then eight, and still neither Maxence
nor M. de Tregars had come.

Both mother and daughter were becoming anxious, when at last, a
little before nine, they heard steps in the hall.

Marius de Tregars appeared almost immediately.

He was pale; and his face bore the trace of the crushing fatigues of
the day, of the cares which oppressed him, of the reflections which
had been suggested to his mind by the quarrel of which he had nearly
been the victim a few moments since.

"Maxence is not here?" he asked at once.

"We have not seen him," answered Mlle. Gilberte.

He seemed so much surprised, that Mme. Favoral was frightened.

"What is the matter again, good God!" she exclaimed.

"Nothing, madame," said M. de Tregars,--"nothing that should alarm
you. Compelled, about two hours ago, to part from Maxence, I was to
have met him here. Since he has not come, he must have been
detained. I know where; and I will ask your permission to run and
join him."

He went out; but Mlle. Gilberte followed him in the hall, and,
taking his hand,

"How kind of you!" she began, "and how can we ever sufficiently
thank you?"

He interrupted her.

"You owe me no thanks, my beloved; for, in what I am doing, there
is more selfishness than you think. It is my own cause, more than
yours, that I am defending. Any way, every thing is going on well."

And, without giving any more explanations, he started again. He
had no doubt that Maxence, after leaving him, had run to the Hotel
des Folies to give to Mlle. Lucienne an account of the day's work.
And, though somewhat annoyed that he had tarried so long, on second
thought, he was not surprised.

It was, therefore, to the Hotel des Folies that he was going. Now
that he had unmasked his batteries and begun the struggle, he was
not sorry to meet Mlle. Lucienne.

In less than five minutes he had reached the Boulevard du Temple.
In front of the Fortins' narrow corridor a dozen idlers were
standing, talking.

M. de Tregars was listening as he went along.

"It is a frightful accident," said one,--"such a pretty girl, and
so young too!"

"As to me," said another, "it is the driver that I pity the most;
for after all, if that pretty miss was in that carriage, it was for
her own pleasure; whereas, the poor coachman was only attending to
his business."

A confused presentiment oppressed M. de Tregars' heart. Addressing
himself to one of those worthy citizens,

"Have you heard any particulars?"

Flattered by the confidence,

"Certainly I have," he replied. "I didn't see the thing with my
own proper eyes; but my wife did. It was terrible. The carriage,
a magnificent private carriage too, came from the direction of the
Madeleine. The horses had run away; and already there had been an
accident in the Place du Chateau d'Eau, where an old woman had been
knocked down. Suddenly, here, over there, opposite the toy-shop,
which is mine, by the way, the wheel of the carriage catches into
the wheel of an enormous truck; and at once, palata! the coachman
is thrown down, and so is the lady, who was inside,--a very
pretty girl, who lives in this hotel."

Leaving there the obliging narrator, M. de Tregars rushed through
the narrow corridor of the Hotel des Folies. At the moment when
he reached the yard, he found himself in presence of Maxence.

Pale, his head bare, his eyes wild, shaking with a nervous chill,
the poor fellow looked like a madman. Noticing M. de Tregars,

"Ah, my friend!" he exclaimed, "what misfortune!"

"Lucienne?"

"Dead, perhaps. The doctor will not answer for her recovery. I
am going to the druggist's to get a prescription."

He was interrupted by the commissary of police, whose kind
protection had hitherto preserved Mlle. Lucienne. He was coming
out of the little room on the ground-floor, which the Fortins used
for an office, bedroom, and dining-room.

He had recognized Marius de Tregars, and, coming up to him, he
pressed his hand, saying, "Well, you know?"

"Yes."

"It is my fault, M. le Marquis; for we were fully notified. I knew
so well that Mlle. Lucienne's existence was threatened, I was so
fully expecting a new attempt upon her life, that, whenever she went
out riding, it was one of my men, wearing a footman's livery, who
took his seat by the side of the coachman. To-day my man was so
busy, that I said to myself, 'Bash, for once!' And behold the
consequences!"

It was with inexpressible astonishment that Maxence was listening.
It was with a profound stupor that he discovered between Marius and
the commissary that serious intimacy which is the result of long
intercourse, real esteem, and common hopes.

"It is not an accident, then," remarked M. de Tregars.

"The coachman has spoken, doubtless?"

"No: the wretch was killed on the spot."

And, without waiting for another question,

"But don't let us stay here," said the commissary.

"Whilst Maxence runs to the drug-store, let us go into the Fortins'
office."

The husband was alone there, the wife being at that moment with
Mlle. Lucienne.

"Do me the favor to go and take a walk for about fifteen minutes,"
said the commissary to him. "We have to talk, this gentleman and
myself."

Humbly, without a word, and like a man who does himself justice,
M. Fortin slipped off.

And at once,--"It is clear, M. le Marquis, it is manifest, that a
crime has been committed. Listen, and judge for yourself. I was
just rising from dinner, when I was notified of what was called
our poor Lucienne's accident. Without even changing my clothes, I
ran. The carriage was lying in the street, broken to pieces. Two
policemen were holding the horses, which had been stopped. I
inquire. I learn that Lucienne, picked up by Maxence, has been able
to drag herself as far as the Hotel des Folies, and that the driver
has been taken to the nearest drug-store. Furious at my own
negligence, and tormented by vague suspicions, it is to the druggist's
that I go first, and in all haste. The driver was in a backroom,
stretched on a mattress.

"His head having struck the angle of the curbstone, his skull was
broken; and he had just breathed his last. It was, apparently, the
annihilation of the hope which I had, of enlightening myself by

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