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XIX

It was a curious spectacle, the return of those braves for whom
Parisian slang had invented the new and significant expression of
franc-fileur.

They were not so proud then as they have been since. Feeling rather
embarrassed in the midst of a population still quivering with the
emotions of the siege, they had at least the good taste to try and
find pretexts for their absence.

"I was cut off," affirmed the Baron de Thaller. "I had gone to
Switzerland to place my wife and daughter in safety. When I came
back, good-by! the Prussians had closed the doors. For more than
a week, I wandered around Paris, trying to find an opening. I
became suspected of being a spy. I was arrested. A little more,
and I was shot dead!"

"As to myself," declared M. Costeclar, "I foresaw exactly what has
happened. I knew that it was outside, to organize armies of relief,
that men would be wanted. I went to offer my services to the
government of defence; and everybody in Bordeaux saw me booted and
spurred, and ready to leave."

He was consequently soliciting the Cross of the Legion of Honor,
and was not without hopes of obtaining it through the all-powerful
influence of his financial connections.

"Didn't So-and-so get it?" he replied to objections. And he named
this or that individual whose feats of arms consisted principally
in having exhibited themselves in uniforms covered with gold lace
to the very shoulders.

"But I am the man who deserves it most, that cross," insisted the
younger M. Jottras; "for I, at least, have rendered valuable
services."

And he went on telling how, after searching for arms all over
England, he had sailed for New York, where he had purchased any
number of guns and cartridges, and even some batteries of artillery.

This last journey had been very wearisome to him, he added and yet
he did not regret it; for it had furnished him an opportunity to
study on the spot the financial morals of America; and he had
returned with ideas enough to make the fortune of three or four
stock companies with twenty millions of capital.

"Ah, those Americans!" he exclaimed. "They are the men who
understand business! We are but children by the side of them."

It was through M. Chapelain, the Desciavettes, and old Desormeaux,
that these news reached the Rue St. Gilles.

It was also through Maxence, whose battalion had been dissolved,
and who, whilst waiting for something better, had accepted a
clerkship in the office of the Orleans Railway, where he earned
two hundred francs a month. For M. Favoral saw and heard nothing
that was going on around him. He was wholly absorbed in his
business: he left earlier, came home later, and hardly allowed
himself time to eat and drink.

He told all his friends that business was looking up again in the
most unexpected manner; that there were fortunes to be made by
those who could command ready cash; and that it was necessary to
make up for lost time.

He pretended that the enormous indemnity to be paid to the Prussians
would necessitate an enormous movement of capital, financial
combinations, a loan, and that so many millions could not be handled
without allowing a few little millions to fall into intelligent
pockets.

Dazzled by the mere enumeration of those fabulous sums, "I should
not be a bit surprised," said the others, "to see Favoral double
and treble his fortune. What a famous match his daughter will be!"

Alas! never had Mlle. Gilberte felt in her heart so much hatred
and disgust for that money, the only thought, the sole subject of
conversation, of those around her, - for that cursed money which
had risen like an insurmountable obstacle between Marius and
herself.

For two weeks past, the communications had been completely restored;
and there was as yet no sign of M. de Tregars. It was with the most
violent palpitations of her heart that she awaited each day the hour
of the Signor Gismondo Pulei's lesson: and more painful each time
became her anguish when she heard him exclaim,

"Nothing, not a line, not a word. The pupil has forgotten his old
master!"

But Mlle. Gilberte knew well that Marius did not forget. Her blood
froze in her veins when she read in the papers the interminable
list of those poor soldiers who had succumbed during the invasion,
- the more fortunate ones under Prussian bullets; the others along
the roads, in the mud or in the snow, of cold, of fatigue, of
suffering and of want.

She could not drive from her mind the memory of that lugubrious
vision which had so much frightened her; and she was asking herself
whether it was not one of those inexplicable presentiments, of
which there are examples, which announce the death of a beloved
person.

Alone at night in her little room, Mlle. Gilberte withdrew from the
hiding-place, where she kept it preciously, that package which
Marius had confided to her, recommending her not to open it until
she was sure that he would not return. It was very voluminous,
enclosed in an envelope of thick paper, sealed with red wax, bearing
the arms of Tregars; and she had often wondered what it could
possibly contain. And now she shuddered at the thought that she
had perhaps the right to open it.

And she had no one of whom she could ask for a word of hope. She
was compelled to hide her tears, and to put on a smile. She was
compelled to invent pretexts for those who expressed their wonder
at seeing her exquisite beauty withering in the bud,- for her
mother, whose anxiety was without limit, when she saw her thus pale,
her eyes inflamed, and undermined by a continuous fever.

True, Marius, on leaving, had left her a friend, the Count de
Villegre; and, if any one knew any thing, he certainly did. But
she could see no way of hearing from him without risking her secret.
Write to him? Nothing was easier, since she had his address, - Rue
Turenne. But where could she ask him to direct his answer? Rue St.
Gilles? Impossible! True, she might go to him, or make an
appointment in the neighborhood. But how could she escape, even
for an hour, without exciting Mme. Favoral's suspicions?

Sometimes it occurred to her to confide in Maxence, who was laboring
with admirable constancy to redeem his past.

But what! must she, then, confess the truth, - confess that she,
Gilberte, had lent her ears to the words of a stranger, met by
chance in the street, and that she looked forward to no happiness
in life save through him? She dared not. She could not take upon
herself to overcome the shame of such a situation.

She was on the verge of despair, the day when the Signor Pulei
arrived radiant, exclaiming from the very threshold, "I have news!"

And at once, without surprise at the awful emotion of the girl,
which he attributed solely to the interest she felt for him, - him
Gismondo Pulei, he went on,- "I did not get them direct, but through
a respectable signor with long mustaches, and a red ribbon at his
buttonhole, who, having received a letter from my dear pupil, has
deigned to come to my room, and read it to me."

The worthy maestro had not forgotten a single word of that letter;
and it was almost literally that he repeated it.

Six weeks after having enlisted, his pupil had been promoted
corporal, then sergeant, then lieutenant. He had fought in all
the battles of the army of the Loire without receiving a scratch.
But at the battle of the Maus, whilst leading back his men, who
were giving way, he had been shot twice, full in the breast.
Carried dying into an ambulance, he had lingered three weeks
between life and death, having lost all consciousness of self.
Twenty-four hours after, he had recovered his senses; and he took
the first opportunity to recall himself to the affection of his
friends. All danger was over, he suffered scarcely any more; and
they promised him, that, within a month, he would be up, and able
to return to Paris.

For the first time in many weeks Mlle. Gilberte breathed freely.
But she would have been greatly surprised, had she been told that
a day was drawing near when she would bless those wounds which
detained Marius upon a hospital cot. And yet it was so.

Mme. Favoral and her daughter were alone, one evening, at the house,
when loud clamors arose from the 'street, in the midst of which
could be heard drunken voices yelling the refrains of revolutionary
songs, accompanied by continuous rumbling sounds. They ran to the
window. The National Guards had just taken possession of the cannon
deposited in the Place Royale. The reign of the Commune was
commencing.

In less than forty-eight hours, people came to regret the worst days
of the siege. Without leaders, without direction, the honest men
had lost their heads. All the braves who had returned at the time
of the armistice had again taken flight. Soon people had to hide
or to fly to avoid being incorporated in the battalions of the
Commune. Night and day, around the walls, the fusillade rattled,
and the artillery thundered.

Again M. Favoral had given up going to his office. What's the use?
Sometimes, with a singular look, he would say to his wife and
children,

"This time it is indeed a liquidation. Paris is lost!"

And indeed they thought so, when at the hour of the supreme struggle,
among the detonations of the cannon and the explosion of the shells;
they felt their house shaking to its very foundations; when in the
midst of the night they saw their apartment as brilliantly lighted
as at mid-day by the flames which were consuming the Hotel de Ville
and the houses around the Place de la Bastille. And, in fact, the
rapid action of the troops alone saved Paris from destruction.

But towards the end of the following week, matters had commenced to
quiet down; and Gilberte learned the return of Marius.





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