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XV

It was done: Gilberte Favoral had just irrevocably disposed of
herself. Prosperous or wretched, her destiny henceforth was linked
with another. She had set the wheel in motion; and she could no
longer hope to control its direction, any more than the will can
pretend to alter the course of the ivory ball upon the surface of
the roulette-table. At the outset of this great storm of passion
which had suddenly surrounded her, she felt an immense surprise,
mingled with unexplained apprehensions and vague terrors.

Around her, apparently, nothing was changed. Father, mother,
brother, friends, gravitated mechanically in their accustomed orbits.
The same daily facts repeated themselves monotonous and regular as
the tick-tack of the clock.

And yet an event had occurred more prodigious for her than the moving
of a mountain.

Often during the weeks that followed, she would repeat to herself,
"Is it true, is it possible even?"

Or else she would run to a mirror to make sure once more that nothing
upon her face or in her eyes betrayed the secret that palpitated
within her.

The singularity of the situation was, moreover, well calculated to
trouble and confound her mind.

Mastered by circumstances, she had in utter disregard of all accepted
ideas, and of the commonest propriety, listened to the passionate
promises of a stranger, and pledged her life to him. And, the pact
concluded and solemnly sworn, they had parted without knowing when
propitious circumstances might bring them together again.

"Certainly," thought she, "before God, M. de Tregars is my betrothed
husband; and yet we have never exchanged a word. Were we to meet in
society, we should be compelled to meet as strangers: if he passes by
me in the street, he has no right to bow to me. I know not where he
is, what becomes of him, nor what he is doing.

And in fact she had not seen him again: he had given no sign of life,
so faithfully did he conform to her expressed wish. And perhaps
secretly, and without acknowledging it to herself, had she wished him
less scrupulous. Perhaps she would not have been very angry to see
him sometimes gliding along at her passage under the old Arcades of
the Rue des Vosges.

But, whilst suffering from this separation, she conceived for the
character of Marius the highest esteem; for she felt sure that he
must suffer as much and more than she from the restraint which he
imposed upon himself.

Thus he was ever present to her thoughts. She never tired of
turning over in her mind all he had said of his past life: she
tried to remember his words, and the very tone of his voice.

And by living constantly thus with the memory of Marius de Tregars,
she made herself familiar with him, deceived to that extent, by
the illusion of absence, that she actually persuaded herself that
she knew him better and better every day.

Already nearly a month had elapsed, when one afternoon, as she
arrived on the Place Royal; she recognized him, standing near that
same bench where they had so strangely exchanged their pledges.

He saw her coming too: she knew it by his looks. But, when she
had arrived within a few steps of him, he walked off rapidly,
leaving on the bench a folded newspaper.

Mme. Favoral wished to call him back and return it; but Mlle.
Gilberte persuaded her not to.

"Never mind, mother," said she, "it isn't worth while; and, besides,
the gentleman is too far now."

But while getting out her embroidery, with that dexterity which never
fails even the most naive girls, she slipped the newspaper in her
work-basket.

Was she not certain that it had been left there for her?

As soon as she had returned home, she locked herself up in her own
room, and, after searching for some time through the columns, she
read at last:

"One of the richest and most intelligent manufacturers in Paris,
M. Marcolet, has just purchased in Grenelle the vast grounds
belonging to the Lacoche estate. He proposes to build upon them
a manufacture of chemical products, the management of which is to
be placed in the hands of M. de T--.

"Although still quite young, M. de T-- is already well known in
connection with his remarkable studies on electricity. He was,
perhaps, on the eve of solving the much controverted problem of
electricity as a motive-power, when his father's ruin compelled him
to suspend his labors. He now seeks to earn by his personal industry
the means of prosecuting his costly experiments.

"He is not the first to tread this path. Is it not to the invention
of the machine bearing his name, that the engineer Giffard owes the
fortune which enables him to continue to seek the means of steering
balloons? Why should not M. de T--, who has as much skill and energy,
have as much luck?"

"Ah! he does not forget me," thought Mlle. Gilberte, moved to tears
by this article, which, after all, was but a mere puff, written by
Marcolet himself, without the knowledge of M. de Tregars.

She was still under that impression, thinking that Marius was already
at work, when her father announced to her that he had discovered a
husband, and enjoined her to find him to her liking, as he, the
master, thought it proper that she should.

Hence the energy of her refusal.

But hence also, the imprudent vivacity which had enlightened Mlle.
Favoral, and which made her say:

"You hide something from me, Gilberte?"

Never had the young girl been so cruelly embarrassed as she was at
this moment by this sudden and unforeseen perspicacity.

Would she confide to her mother?

She felt, indeed, no repugnance to do so, certain as she was, in
advance, of the inexhaustible indulgence of the poor woman; and,
besides, she would have been delighted to have some one at last
with whom she could speak of Marius.

But she knew that her father was not the man to give up a project
conceived by himself. She knew that he would return to the charge
obstinately, without peace, and without truce. Now, as she was
determined to resist with a no less implacable obstinacy, she
foresaw terrible struggles, all sorts of violence and persecutions.

Informed of the truth, would Mme. Favoral have strength enough to
resist these daily storms? Would not a time come, when, called upon
by her husband to explain the refusals of her daughter, threatened,
terrified, she would confess all?

At one glance Mlle. Gilberte estimated the danger; and, drawing from
necessity an audacity which was very foreign to her nature:

"You are mistaken, dear mother," said she, "I have concealed nothing
from you."

Not quite convinced; Mlle. Favoral shook her head.

"Then," said she, "you will yield."

"Never!"

"Then there must be some reason you do not tell me."

"None, except that I do not wish to leave you. Have you ever
thought what would be your existence if I were no longer here? Have
you ever asked yourself what would become of you, between my father,
whose despotism will grow heavier with age, and my brother?"

Always prompt to defend her son:

"Maxence is not bad," she interrupted: "he will know how to
compensate me for the sorrows he has inflicted upon me."

The young girl made a gesture of doubt:

"I wish it, dear mother," said she, "with all my heart; but I dare
not hope for it. His repentance to-night was great and sincere; but
will he remember it to-morrow? Besides, don't you know that father
has fully resolved to separate himself from Maxence? Think of
yourself alone here with father."

Mlle. Favoral shuddered at the mere idea.

"I would not suffer very long," she murmured. Mlle. Gilberte
kissed her.

"It is because I wish you to live to be happy that I refuse to
marry," she exclaimed. "Must you not have your share of happiness
in this world? Let me manage. Who knows what compensations the
future may have in store for you? Besides, this person whom father
has selected for me does not suit me. A stock-jobber, who would
think of nothing but money, - who would examine my house-accounts
as papa does yours, or else who would load me with cashmeres and
diamonds, like Mlle. de Thaller, to make of me a sign for his shop?
No, no! I want no such man. So, mother dear, be brave, take sides
boldly with your daughter, and we shall soon be rid of this would-be
husband."

"Your father will bring him to you: he said he would."

"Well, he is a man of courage, if he returns three times."

At this moment the parlor-door opened suddenly.

"What are you plotting here again?" cried the irritated voice of
the master. "And you, Mme. Favoral, why don't you go to bed?"

The poor slave obeyed, without saying a word. And, whilst making
her way to her room:

"There is trouble ahead," thought Mlle. Gilberte. "But bash! If I
do have to suffer some, it won't be great harm, after all. Surely
Marius does not complain, though he gives up for me his dearest
hopes, becomes the salaried employe of M. Marcolet, and thinks of
nothing but making money, - he so proud and so disinterested!

Mlle. Gilberte's anticipations were but too soon realized. When M.
Favoral made his appearance the next morning, he had the sombre brow
and contracted lips of a man who has spent the night ruminating a
plan from which he does not mean to swerve.

Instead of going to his office, as usual, without saying a word to
any one, he called his wife and children to the parlor; and, after
having carefully bolted all the doors, he turned to Maxence.

"I want you," he commenced, "to give me a list of your creditors.
See that you forget none; and let it be ready as soon as possible."

But Maxence was no longer the same man. After the terrible and
well-deserved reproaches of his sister, a salutary revolution had
taken place in him. During the preceding night, he had reflected
over his conduct for the past four years; and he had been dismayed
and terrified. His impression was like that of the drunkard, who,
having become sober, remembers the ridiculous or degrading acts
which he has committed 'under the influence of alcohol, and, confused
and humiliated, swears never more to drink.

Thus Maxence had sworn to himself to change his mode of life,
promising that it would be no drunkard's oath, either. And his
attitude and his looks showed the pride of great resolutions.

Instead of lowering his eyes before the irritated glance of M.
Favoral, and stammering excuses and vague promises:

"It is useless, father," he replied, "to give you the list you ask
for. I am old enough to bear the responsibility of my acts. I
shall repair my follies: what I owe, I shall pay. This very day I
shall see my creditors, and make arrangements with them.

"Very well, Maxence," exclaimed Mlle. Favoral, delighted.

But there was no pacifying the cashier of the Mutual Credit.

"Those are fine-sounding words," he said with a sneer; "but I doubt
if the tailors and the shirt-makers will take them in payment.
That's why I want that list."

"Still - "

"It's I who shall pay. I do not mean to have another such scene
as that of yesterday in my office. It must not be said that my
son is a sharper and a cheat at the very moment when I find for my
daughter a most unhoped-for match."

And, turning to Mlle. Gilberte:

"For I suppose you have got over your foolish ideas," he uttered.

The young girl shook her head.

"My ideas are the same as they were last night."

"Ah, ah!"

"And so, father, I beg of you, do not insist. Why wrangle and
quarrel? You must know me well enough to know, that, whatever may
happen, I shall never yield."

Indeed, M. Favoral was well aware of his daughter's firmness; for
he had already been compelled on several occasions, as he expressed
it himself, "to strike his flag" before her. But he could not
believe that she would resist when he took certain means of
enforcing his will.

"I have pledged my word," he said.

"But I have not pledged mine, father."

He was becoming excited: his cheeks were flushed; and his little
eyes sparkled.

"And suppose I were to tell you," he resumed, doing at least to his
daughter the honor of controlling his anger:" suppose I were to
tell you that I would derive from this marriage immense, positive,
and immediate advantages?"

"Oh!" she interrupted with a look of disgust, "oh, for mercy's sake!"

"Suppose I were to tell you that I have a powerful interest in it;
that it is indispensable to the success of vast combinations?"

Mlle. Gilberte looked straight at him.

"I would answer you," she exclaimed, "that it does not suit me to
be made use of as an earnest to your combinations. Ah! it's an
operation, is it? an enterprise, a big speculation? and you throw
in your daughter in the bargain as a bonus. Well, no! You can
tell your partner that the thing has fallen through."

M. Favoral's anger was growing with each word.

"I'll see if I can't make you yield," he said.

"You may crush me, perhaps. Make me yield, never!"

"Well, we shall see. You will see - Maxence and you - whether there
are no means by which a father can compel his rebellious children to
submit to his authority."

And, feeling that he was no longer master of himself, he left,
swearing loud enough to shake the plaster from the stair-walls.

Maxence shook with indignation.

"Never," he uttered, "never until now, had I understood the infamy
of my conduct. With a father such as ours, Gilberte, I should be
your protector. And now I am debarred even of the right to
interfere. But never mind, I have the will; and all will soon be
repaired."

Left alone, a few moments after, Mlle. Gilberte was congratulating
herself upon her firmness.

"I am sure," she thought, "Marius would approve, if he knew."

She had not long to wait for her reward. The bell rang: it was her
old professor, the Signor Gismondo Pulei, who came to give her his
daily lesson.

The liveliest joy beamed upon his face, more shriveled than an
apple at Easter; and the most magnificent anticipations sparkled in
his eyes.

"I knew it, signora!" he exclaimed from the thresh-old: "I knew that
angels bring good luck. As every thing succeeds to you, so must
every thing succeed to those who come near you."

She could not help smiling at the appropriateness of the compliment.

"Something fortunate has happened to you, dear master?" she asked.

"That is to say, I am on the high-road to fortune and glory," he
replied. "My fame is extending; pupils dispute the privilege of
my lesson."

Mlle. Gilberte knew too well the thoroughly Italian exaggeration of
the worthy maestro to be surprised.

"This morning," he went on, "visited by inspiration, I had risen
early, and I was working with marvelous facility, when there was a
knock at my door. I do not remember such an occurrence since the
blessed day when your worthy father called for me. Surprised, I
nevertheless said, 'Come in;' when there appeared a tall and robust
young man, proud and intelligent-looking."

The young girl started.

"Marius!" cried a voice within her."

"This young man," continued the old Italian, "had heard me spoken
of, and came to apply for lessons. I questioned him; and from the
first words I discovered that his education had been frightfully
neglected, that he was ignorant of the most vulgar notions of the
divine art, and that he scarcely knew the difference between a
sharp and a quaver. It was really the A, B, C, which he wished me
to teach him. Laborious task, ungrateful labor! But he manifested
so much shame at his ignorance, and so much desire to be instructed,
that I felt moved in his favor. Then his countenance was most
winning, his voice of a superior tone; and finally he offered me
sixty francs a month. In short, he is now my pupil."

As well as she could, Mlle. Gilberte was hiding her blushes behind
a music-book.

"We remained over two hours talking," said the good and simple
maestro, "and I believe that he has excellent dispositions.
Unfortunately, he can only take two lessons a week. Although a
nobleman, he works; and, when he took off his glove to hand me a
month in advance, I noticed that one of his hands was blackened,
as if burnt by some acid. But never mind, signora, sixty francs,
together with what your father gives me, it's a fortune. The end
of my career will be spared the privations of its beginning. This
young man will help making me known. The morning has been dark;
but the sunset will be glorious."

The young girl could no longer have any doubts: M. de Tregars had
found the means of hearing from her, and letting her hear from him.

The impression she felt contributed no little to give her the
patience to endure the obstinate persecution of her father, who,
twice a day, never failed to repeat to her:

"Get ready to properly receive my protege on Saturday. I have not
invited him to dinner: he will only spend the evening with us."

And he mistook for a disposition to yield the cold tone in which
she answered:

"I beg you to believe that this introduction is wholly unnecessary."

Thus, the famous day having come, he told his usual Saturday guests,
M. and Mme. Desciavettes, M. Chapelain, and old man Desormeaux:

"Eh, eh! I guess you are going to see a future son-in- law!"

At nine o'clock, just as they had passed into the parlor, the sound
of carriage-wheels startled the Rue St. Gilles.

"There he is!" exclaimed the cashier of the Mutual Credit.

And, throwing open a window:

"Come, Gilberte," he added, "come and see his carriage and horses."

She never stirred; but M. Desclavettes and M. Chapelain ran. It was
night, unfortunately; and of the whole equipage nothing was visible
but the two lanterns that shone like stars. Almost at the same time
the parlor-door flew open; and the servant, who had been properly
trained in advance, announced:

"Monsieur Costeclar."

Leaning toward Mme. Favoral, who was seated by her side on the sofa,

"A nice-looking man, isn't he? a really nice-looking man," whispered
Mme. Desciavettes.

And indeed he really thought so himself. Gesture, attitude, smile,
every thing in M. Costeclar, betrayed the satisfaction of self, and
the assurance of a man accustomed to success. His head, which was
very small, had but little hair left; but it was artistically drawn
towards the temples, parted in the middle, and cut short around
the forehead. His leaden complexion, his pale lips, and his dull
eye, did not certainly betray a very rich blood; he had a great long
nose, sharp and curved like a sickle; and his beard, of undecided
color, trimmed in the Victor Emmanuel style, did the greatest honor
to the barber who cultivated it. Even when seen for the first time,
one might fancy that he recognized him, so exactly was he like three
or four hundred others who are seen daily in the neighborhood of
the Caf Riche, who are met everywhere where people run who pretend
to amuse themselves, - at the bourse or in the bois; at the first
representations, where they are just enough hidden to be perfectly
well seen at the back of boxes filled with young ladies with
astonishing chignons; at the races; in carriages, where they drink
champagne to the health of the winner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxence had withdrawn his hand.

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

He commenced by sketching his own portrait.

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

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

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

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

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

M. Costeclar nodded with a smile.

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

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

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

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

Blushing with shame, Mlle. Gilberte rose.

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

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





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
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