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XX

"At last it has been given to my eyes to contemplate him, and to my
arms to press him against my heart!"

It was in these terms that the old Italian master, all vibrating
with enthusiasm, and with his most terrible accent, announced to
Mlle. Gilberte that he had just seen that famous pupil from whom he
expected both glory and fortune.

"But how weak he is still!" he added, "and suffering from his wounds.
I hardly recognized him, he has grown so pale and so thin."

But the girl was listening to him no more. A flood of life filled
her heart. This moment made her forget all her troubles and all
her anguish.

"And I too," thought she, "shall see him again to-day."

And, with the unerring instinct of the woman who loves, she
calculated the moment when Marius would appear in Rue St. Gilles.
It would probably be about nightfall, like the first time, before
leaving; that is, about eight o'clock, for the days just then were
about the longest in the year. Now it so happened, that, on that
very day and hour, Mlle. Gilberte expected to be alone at home.
It was understood that her mother would, after dinner, call on
Mme. Desclavettes, who was in bed, half dead of the fright she had
had during the last convulsions of the Commune. She would therefore
be free and would not need to invent a pretext to go out for a few
moments. She could not help, however, but feel that this was a
bold and most venturesome step for her to take; and, when her mother
went out, she had not yet fully decided what to do. But her bonnet
was within reach, and Marius' letter was in her pocket. She went
to sit at the window. The street was solitary and silent as of
old. Night was coming; and heavy black clouds floated over Paris.
The heat was overpowering: there was not a breath of air.

One by one, as the hour was approaching when she expected to see
Marius, the hesitations of the young girl vanished like smoke. She
feared but one thing, - that he would not come, or that he may
already have come and left, without succeeding in seeing her.

Already did the objects become less distinct; and the gas was being
lit in the back-shops, when she recognized him on the other side of
the street. He looked up as he went by; and, without stopping, he
addressed her a rapid gesture, which she alone could understand, and
which meant, "Come, I beseech you!"

Her heart beating loud enough to be heard, Mlle. Gilberte ran down
the stairs. But it was only When she found herself in the street
that she could appreciate the magnitude of the risk she was running.
Concierges and shopkeepers were all sitting in front of their doors,
taking the fresh air. All knew her. Would they not be surprised
to see her out alone at such an hour? Twenty steps in front of her
she could see Marius. But he had understood the danger; for,
instead of turning the corner of the Rue des Minimes, he followed
the Rue St. Gilles straight, and only stopped on the other side of
the Boulevard.

Then only did Mlle. Gilberte join him; and she could not withhold
an exclamation, when she saw that he was as pale as death, and
scarcely able to stand and to walk.

"How imprudent of you to have returned so soon!" she said.

A little blood came to M. de Tregars' cheeks. His face brightened
up, and, in a voice quivering with suppressed passion,

"It would have been more imprudent still to stay away," he uttered.
"Far from you, I felt myself dying."

They were both leaning against the door of a closed shop; and they
were as alone in the midst of the throng that circulated on the
Boulevards, busy looking at the fearful wrecks of the Commune.

"And besides," added Marius, "have I, then, a minute to lose? I
asked you for three years. Fifteen months have gone, and I am no
better off than on the first day. When this accursed war broke out,
all my arrangements were made. I was certain to rapidly accumulate
a sufficient fortune to enable me to ask for your hand without being
refused. Whereas now"

"Well?"

"Now every thing is changed. The future is so uncertain, that no
one wishes to venture their capital. Marcolet himself, who certainly
does not lack boldness, and who believes firmly in the success of our
enterprise, was telling me yesterday, 'There is nothing to be done
just now: we must wait.'"

There was in his voice such an intensity of grief, that the girl
felt the tears coming to her eyes.

"We will wait then," she said, attempting to smile.

But M. de Tregars shook his head.

"Is it possible?" he said. "Do you, then, think that I do not know
what a life you lead?"

Mlle. Gilberte looked up.

"Have I ever complained?" she asked proudly?

"No. Your mother and yourself, you have always religiously kept the
secret of your tortures; and it was only a providential accident
that revealed them to me. But I learned every thing at last. I know
that she whom I love exclusively and with all the power of my soul is
subjected to the most odious despotism, insulted, and condemned to
the most humiliating privations. And I, who would give my life for
her a thousand times over, - I can do nothing for her. Money raises
between us such an insuperable obstacle, that my love is actually an
offence. To hear from her, I am driven to accept accomplices. If I
obtain from her a few moments of conversation, I run the risk of
compromising her maidenly reputation."

Deeply affected by his emotion:

"At least," said Mlle. Gilberte, "you succeeded in delivering me
from M. Costeclar."

"Yes, I was fortunately able to find weapons against that scoundrel.
But can I find some against all others that may offer? Your father
is very rich; and the men are numerous for whom marriage is but a
speculation like any other."

"Would you doubt me?"

"Ah, rather would I doubt myself! But I know what cruel trials your
refusal to marry M. Costeclar imposed upon you: I know what a
merciless struggle you had to sustain. Another pretender may come,
and then - No, no, you see that we cannot wait."

"What would you do?"

"I know not. I have not yet decided upon my future course. And yet
Heaven knows what have been the labors of my mind during that long
month I have just spent upon an ambulance-bed, that month during
which you were my only thought. Ah! when I think of it, I cannot
find words to curse the recklessness with which I disposed of my
fortune."

As if she had heard a blasphemy, the young girl drew back a step.

"It is impossible," she exclaimed, "that you should regret having
paid what your father owed."

A bitter smile contracted M. de Tregars' lips.

"And suppose I were to tell you," he replied, "that my father in
reality owed nothing?"

"Oh!"

"Suppose I told you they took from him his entire fortune, over two
millions, as audaciously as a pick-pocket robs a man of his
handkerchief? Suppose I told you, that, in his loyal simplicity,
he was but a man of straw in the hands of skillful knaves? Have you
forgotten what you once heard the Count de Villegre say?"

Mlle. Gilberte had forgotten nothing.

"The Count de Villegre," she replied, "pretended that it was time
enough still to compel the men who had robbed your father to
disgorge."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Marius. "And now I am determined to make them
disgorge."

In the mean time night had quite come. Lights appeared in the
shop-windows; and along the line of the Boulevard the gas-lamps were
being lit. Alarmed by this sudden illumination, M. de Tregars drew
off Mlle. Gilberte to a more obscure spot, by the stairs that lead
to the Rue Amelot; and there, leaning against the iron railing, he
went on,

"Already, at the time of my father's death, I suspected the
abominable tricks of which he was the victim. I thought it unworthy
of me to verify my suspicions. I was alone in the world: my wants
were few. I was fully convinced that my researches would give me,
within a brief time, a much larger fortune than the one I gave up.
I found something noble and grand, and which flattered my vanity,
in thus abandoning every thing, without discussion, without
litigation, and consummating my ruin with a single dash of my pen.
Among my friends the Count de Villegre alone had the courage to tell
me that this was a guilty piece of folly; that the silence of the
dupes is the strength of the knaves; that my indifference, which
made the rascals rich, would make them laugh too. I replied that I
did not wish to see the name of Tregars dragged into court in a
scandalous law-suit, and that to preserve a dignified silence was
to honor my father's memory. Treble fool that I was! The only way
to honor my father's memory was to avenge him, to wrest his spoils
from the scoundrels who had caused his death. I see it clearly
to-day. But, before undertaking any thing, I wished to consult you."

Mlle. Gilberte was listening with the most intense attention. She
had come to mingle so completely in her thoughts her future life and
that of M. de Tregars, that she saw nothing unusual in the fact of
his consulting her upon matters affecting their prospects, and of
seeing herself standing there deliberating with him.

"You will require proofs," she suggested.

"I have none, unfortunately," replied M. de Tregars; "at least, none
sufficiently positive, and such as are required by courts of justice.
But I think I may find them. My former suspicions have become a
certainty. The same good luck that enabled me to deliver you of M.
Costeclar's persecutions, also placed in my hands the most valuable
information."

"Then you must act," uttered Mlle. Gilberte resolutely.

Marius hesitated for a moment, as if seeking expression to convey
what he had still to say. Then,

"It is my duty," he proceeded, "to conceal nothing from you. The
task is a heavy one. The obscure schemers of ten years ago have
become big financiers, intrenched behind their money-bags as behind
an impregnable fort. Formerly isolated, they have managed to gather
around them powerful interests, accomplices high in office, and
friends whose commanding situation protects them. Having succeeded,
they are absolved. They have in their favor what is called public
consideration,-that idiotic thing which is made up of the admiration
of the fools, the approbation of the knaves, and the concert of all
interested vanities. When they pass, their horses at full trot,
their carriage raising a cloud of dust, insolent, impudent, swelled
with the vulgar fatuity of wealth, people bow to the ground, and say,
'Those are smart fellows!' And in fact, yes, skill or luck, they
have hitherto avoided the police-courts where so many others have
come to grief. Those who despise them fear them) and shake hands
with them. Moreover, they are rich enough not to steal any more
themselves. They have employes to do that. I take Heaven to witness
that never until lately had the idea come to me to disturb in their
possession the men who robbed my father. Alone, what need had I of
money? Later, 0 my friend! I thought I could succeed in conquering
the fortune I needed to obtain your hand. You had promised to wait;
and I was happy to think that I should owe you to my sole exertions.
Events have crushed my hopes. I am to-day compelled to acknowledge
that all my efforts would be in vain. To wait would be to run the
risk of losing you. Therefore I hesitate no longer. I want what's
mine: I wish to recover that of which I have been robbed. Whatever
I may do, - for, alas! I know not to what I may be driven, what
role I may have to play, - remember that of all my acts, of all my
thoughts, there will not be a single one that does not aim to bring
nearer the blessed day when you shall become my wife."

There was in his voice so much unspeakable affection, that the young
girl could hardly restrain her tears.

"Never, whatever may happen, shall I doubt you, Marius," she uttered.

He took her hands, and, pressing them passionately within his,

"And I," he exclaimed, "I swear, that, sustained by the thought of
you, there is no disgust that I will not overcome, no obstacle that
I will not overthrow."

He spoke so loud, that two or three persons stopped. He noticed it,
and was brought suddenly from sentiment to the reality,

"Wretches that we are," he said in a low voice, and very fast, "we
forget what this interview may cost us!

And he led Mlle. Gilberte across the Boulevard; and, whilst making
their way to the Rue St. Gilles, through the deserted streets,

"It is a dreadful imprudence we have just committed," resumed M. de
Tregars. "But it was indispensable that we should see each other;
and we had not the choice of means. Now, and for a long time, we
shall be separated. Every thing you wish me to know, - say it to
that worthy Gismondo, who repeats faithfully to me every word you
utter. Through him, also, you shall hear from me. Twice a week,
on Tuesdays and Fridays, about nightfall, I shall pass by your house;
and, if I am lucky enough to have a glimpse of you, I shall return
home fired with fresh energy. Should any thing extraordinary
happen, beckon to me, and I'll wait for you in the Rue des Minimes.
But this is an expedient to which we must only resort in the last
extremity. I should never forgive myself, were I to compromise your
fair name."

They had reached the Rue St. Gilles. Marius stopped.

"We must part," he began.

But then only Mlle. Gilberte remembered M. de Tregars' letter, which
she had in her pocket. Taking it out, and handing it to him,

"Here," she said, "is the package you deposited with me."

"No," he answered, repelling her gently, "keep that letter: it must
never be opened now, except by the Marquise de Tregars."

And raising her hand to his lips, and in a deeply agitated voice,

"Farewell!" he murmured. "Have courage, and have hope."





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