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XVI

It was not without mature thought that M. Costeclar had determined
to withdraw, despite M. Favoral's pressing overtures. However
infatuated he might be with his own merits, he had been compelled
to surrender to evidence, and to acknowledge that he had not exactly
succeeded with Mlle. Gilberte. But he also knew that he had the
head of the house on his side; and he flattered himself that he
had produced an excellent impression upon the guests of the house.

"Therefore," had he said to himself, "if I leave first, they will
sing my praise, lecture the young person, and make her listen to
reason."

He was not far from being right. Mme. Desciavettes had been
completely subjugated by the grand manners of this pretender; and
M. Desclavettes did not hesitate to affirm that he had rarely met
any one who pleased him more.

The others, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, did not, doubtless,
share this optimism; but M. Costeclar's annual half-million
obscured singularly their clear-sightedness.

They thought perhaps, they had discovered in him some alarming
features; but they had full and entire confidence in their friend
Favoral's prudent sagacity.

The particular and methodic cashier of the Mutual Credit was not
apt to he enthusiastic; and, if he opened the doors of his house to
a young man, if he was so anxious to have him for his son-in-law,
he must evidently have taken ample information.

Finally there are certain family matters from which sensible people
keep away as they would from the plague; and, on the question of
marriage especially, he is a bold man who would take side for or
against.

Thus Mme. Desciavettes was the only one to raise her voice. Taking
Mlle. Gilberte's hands within hers:

"Let me scold you, my dear," said she, "for having received thus a
poor young man who was only trying to please you."

Excepting her mother, too weak to take her defence, and her brother,
who was debarred from interfering, the young girl understood readily,
that, in that parlor, every one, overtly or tacitly, was against her.
The idea came to her mind to repeat there boldly what she had already
told her father that she was resolved not to marry, and that she
would not marry, not being one of those weak girls, without energy,
whom they dress in white, and drag to church against their will.

Such a bold declaration would be in keeping with her character.
But she feared a terrible, and perhaps degrading scene. The most
intimate friends of the family were ignorant of its most painful
sores. In presence of his friends, M. Favoral dissembled, speaking
in a mild voice, and assuming a kindly smile. Should she suddenly
reveal the truth?

"It is childish of you to run the risk of discouraging a clever
fellow who makes half a million a year," continued the wife of the
old bronze-merchant, to whom such conduct seemed an abominable crime
of lese-money. Mlle. Gilberte had withdrawn her bands.

"You did not hear what he said, madame."

"I beg your pardon: I was quite near, and involuntarily -"

"You have heard his - propositions?"

"Perfectly. He was promising you a carriage, a box at the opera,
diamonds, freedom. Isn't that the dream of all young ladies?"

"It is not mine, madame!"

"Dear me! What better can you wish? You must not expect more from
a husband than he can possibly give."

"That is not what I shall expect of him."

In a tone of paternal indulgence, which his looks belied:

"She is mad," suggested M. Favoral.

Tears of indignation filled Mlle. Gilberte's eyes.

"Mme. Desciavettes," she exclaimed, "forgets something. She forgets
that this gentleman dared to tell me that he proposed to settle upon
the woman he marries a large fortune, of which his creditors would
thus be cheated in case of his failure in business."

She thought, in her simplicity, that a cry of indignation would rise
at these words. Instead of which:

"Well, isn't it perfectly natural?" said M. Desclavettes.

"It seems to me more than natural," insisted Mme. Desclavettes,
"that a man should be anxious to preserve from ruin his wife and
children."

"Of course," put in M. Favoral.

Stepping resolutely toward her father:

"Have you, then, taken such precautions yourself?" demanded Mlle.
Gilberte.

"No," answered the cashier of the Mutual Credit. And, after a
moment of hesitation:

"But I am running no risks," he added. "In business, and when a
man may be ruined by a mere rise or fall in stocks, he would be
insane indeed who did not secure bread for his family, and, above
all, means for himself, wherewith to commence again. The Baron de
Thaller did not act otherwise; and, should he meet with a disaster,
Mme. de Thaller would still have a handsome fortune."

M. Desormeaux was, perhaps, the only one not to admit freely that
theory, and not to accept that ever-decisive reason, " Others do it."

But he was a philosopher, and thought it silly not to be of his time.
He therefore contented himself with saying:

"Hum! M. de Thaller's creditors might not think that mode of
proceeding entirely regular."

"Then they might sue," said M. Chapelain, laughing. "People can
always sue; only when the papers are well drawn -"

Mlle. Gilberte stood dismayed. She thought of Marius de Tregars
giving up his mother's fortune to pay his father's debts.

"What would he say," thought she, "should he hear such opinions!"

The cashier of the Mutual Credit resumed:

"Surely I blame every species of fraud. But I pretend, and I
maintain, that a man who has worked twenty years to give a handsome
dowry to his daughter has the right to demand of his son-in-law
certain conservative measures to guarantee the money, which, after
all, is his own, and which is to benefit no one but his own family."

This declaration closed the evening. It was getting late. The
Saturday guests put on their overcoats; and, as they were walking
home,

"Can you understand that little Gilberte?" said Mme. Desciavettes.
"I'd like to see a daughter of mine have such fancies! But her
poor mother is so weak!"

"Yes; but friend Favoral is firm enough for both," interrupted M.
Desormeaux; "and it is more than probable that at this very moment
he is correcting his daughter of the sin of sloth."

Well, not at all. Extremely angry as M. Favoral must have been,
neither that evening, nor the next day, did he make the remotest
allusion to what had taken place.

The following Monday only, before leaving for his office, casting
upon his wife and daughter one of his ugliest looks:

"M. Costeclar owes us a visit," said he; "and it is possible that
he may call in my absence. I wish him to be admitted; and I forbid
you to go out, so that you can have no pretext to refuse him the
door. I presume there will not be found in my house any one bold
enough to ill receive a man whom I like, and whom I have selected
for my son-in law."

But was it probable, was it even possible, that M. Costeclar could
venture upon such a step after Mlle. Gilberte's treatment of him on
the previous Saturday evening?

"No, a thousand times no!" affirmed Maxence to his mother and sister.
"So you may rest easy."

Indeed they tried to be, until that very afternoon the sound of
rapidly-rolling wheels attracted Mme. Favoral to the window. A
coupe, drawn by two gray horses, had just stopped at the door.

"It must be he," she said to her daughter.

Mlle. Gilberte had turned slightly pale.

"There is no help for it, mother," she said: "You must receive him."

"And you?"

I shall remain in my room."

"Do you suppose he won't ask for you?"

"You will answer that I am unwell. He will understand."

"But your father, unhappy child, your father?"

"I do not acknowledge to my father the right of disposing of my
person against my wishes. I detest that man to whom he wishes to
marry me. Would you like to see me his wife, to know me given up
to the most intolerable torture? No, there is no violence in the
world that will ever wring my consent from me. So, mother dear,
do what I ask you. My father can say what he pleases: I take the
whole responsibility upon myself."

There was no time to argue: the bell rang. Mlle. Gilberte had
barely time to escape through one of the doors of the parlor,
whilst M. Costeclar was entering at the other.

If he did have enough perspicacity to guess what had just taken
place, he did not in any way show it. He sat down; and it was
only after conversing for a few moments upon indifferent subjects,
that he asked how Mlle. Gilberte was.

"She is somewhat - unwell," stammered Mme. Favoral.

He did not appear surprised; only,

"Our dear Favoral," he said, "will be still more pained than I am
when he hears of this mishap."

Better than any other mother, Mme. Favoral must have understood and
approved Mlle. Gilberte's invincible repugnance. To her also, when
she was young, her father had come one day, and said, "I have
discovered a husband for you." She had accepted him blindly. Bruised
and wounded by daily outrages, she had sought refuge in marriage as
in a haven of safety.

And since, hardly a day had elapsed that she had not thought it
would have been better for her to have died rather then to have
riveted to her neck those fetters that death alone can remove. She
thought, therefore, that her daughter was perfectly right. And yet
twenty years of slavery had so weakened the springs of her energy,
that under the glance of Costeclar, threatening her with her
husband's name, she felt embarrassed, and could scarcely stammer
some timid excuses. And she allowed him to prolong his visit, and
consequently her torment, for over an half an hour; then, when he
had gone,

"He and your father understand each other," said she to her daughter,
"that is but too evident. What is the use of struggling?"

A fugitive blush colored the pale cheeks of Mlle. Gilberte. For
the past forty-eight hours she had been exhausting herself, seeking
an issue to an impossible situation; and she had accustomed her mind
to the worst eventualities.

"Do you wish me, then, to desert the paternal roof?" she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral almost dropped on the floor.

"You would run away," she stammered, "you!"

"Rather than become that man's wife, yes!"

"And where would you go, unfortunate child? what would you do?"

"I can earn my living."

Mme. Favoral shook her head sadly. The same suspicions were reviving
within her that she had felt once before.

"Gilberte," she said in a beseeching tone, "am I, then, no longer
your best friend? and will you not tell me from what sources you
draw your courage and your resolution?"

And, as her daughter said nothing:

"God alone knows what may happen!" sighed the poor woman.

Nothing happened, but what could have been easily foreseen. When
M. Favoral came home to dinner, he was whistling a perfect storm
on the stairs. He abstained at first from all recrimination; but
towards the end of the meal, with the most sarcastic look he could
assume:

"It seems," he said to his daughter, "that you were unwell this
afternoon?"

Bravely, and without flinching, she sustained his look; and, in a
firm voice:

"I shall always be indisposed," she replied, "when M. Costeclar
calls. You hear me, don't you, father - always!"

But the cashier of the Credit Mutual was not one of those men whose
wrath finds vent in mere sarcasms. Rising suddenly to his feet:

"By the holy heavens!" he screamed forth, "you are wrong to trifle
thus with my will; for, all of you here, I shall crush you as I do
this glass."

And, with a frenzied gesture, he dashed the glass he held in his
hand against the wall, where it broke in a thousand pieces.
Trembling like a leaf, Mme. Favoral staggered upon her chair.





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