eBooks Cube
 
XXI

Mlle. Gilberte was soon far away; and Marius de Tregars remained
motionless at the corner of the street, following her with his eyes
through the darkness.

She was walking fast, staggering over the rough pavement. Leaving
Marius, she fell back upon the earth from the height of her dreams.
The deceiving illusion had vanished, and, returned to the world of
sad reality, she was seized with anxiety.

How long had she been out? She knew not, and found it impossible
to reckon. But it was evidently getting late; for some of the shops
were already closing.

Meantime, she had reached the house. Stepping back, and looking up,
she saw that there was light in the parlor.

"Mother has returned," she thought, trembling with apprehension.

She hurried up, nevertheless; and, just as she reached the landing,
Mme. Favoral opened the door, preparing to go down.

"At last you are restored to me!" exclaimed the poor mother, whose
sinister apprehensions were revealed by that single exclamation. "I
was going out to look for you at random, - in the streets, anywhere."

And, drawing her daughter within the parlor, she clasped her in her
arms with convulsive tenderness, exclaiming,

"Where were you? Where do you come from? Do you know that it is
after nine o'clock?"

Such had been Mlle. Gilberte's state of mind during the whole of
that evening, that she had not even thought of finding a pretext
to justify her absence. Now it was too late. Besides, what
explanation would have been plausible? Instead, therefore, of
answering,

"Why, dear mother," she said with a forced smile, "has it not
happened to me twenty times to go out in the neighborhood?"

But Mme. Favoral's confiding credulity existed no longer.

"I have been blind, Gilberte," she interrupted; "but this time my
eyes must open to evidence. There is in your life a mystery,
something extraordinary, which I dare not try to guess."

Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up, and, looking her mother straight in
the eyes, with her beautiful, clear glance,

"Would you suspect me of something wrong, then?" she exclaimed.

Mme. Favoral stopped her with a gesture.

"A young girl who conceals something from her mother always does
wrong," she uttered. "It is a long while since I have had for the
first time the presentiment that you were hiding something from me.
But, when I questioned you, you succeeded in quieting my suspicions.
You have abused my confidence and my weakness."

This reproach was the most cruel that could be addressed to Mlle.
Gilberte. The blood rushed to her face, and, in a firm voice,

"Well, yes," said she: "I have a secret."

"Dear me!"

"And, if I did not confide it to you, it is because it is also the
secret of another. Yes, I confess it, I have been imprudent in the
extreme; I have stepped beyond all the limits of propriety and social
custom; I have exposed myself to the worst calumnies. But never, - I
swear it, - never have I done any thing of which my conscience can
reproach me, nothing that I have to blush for, nothing that I regret,
nothing that I am not ready to do again to-tomorrow."

"I said nothing, 'tis true; but it was my duty. Alone I had to
suffer the responsibility of my acts. Having alone freely engaged
my future, I wished to bear alone the weight of my anxiety. I should
never have forgiven myself for having added this new care to all your
other sorrows."

Mme. Favoral stood dismayed. Big tears rolled down her withered
cheeks.

"Don't you see, then," she stammered, "that all my past suffering is
as nothing compared to what I endure to-day? Good heavens! what have
I ever done to deserve so many trials? Am I to be spared none of the
troubles of this world? And it is through my own daughter that I am
the most cruelly stricken!"

This was more than Mlle. Gilberte could bear. Her heart was breaking
at the sight of her mother's tears, that angel of meekness and
resignation. Throwing her arms around her neck, and kissing her on
the eyes,

"Mother," she murmured, "adored mother, I beg of you do not weep
thus! Speak to me! What do you wish me to do?"

Gently the poor woman drew back.

"Tell me the truth," she answered.

Was it not certain that this was the very, thing she would ask; in
fact, the only thing she could ask? Ah! how much would the young
girl have preferred one of her father's violent scenes, and
brutalities which would have exalted her energy, instead of
crushing it!

Attempting to gain time,

"Well, yes," she answered," I'll tell you every thing, mother, but
not now, to-morrow, later."

She was about to yield, however, when her father's arrival cut
short their conversation.

The cashier of the Mutual Credit was quite lively that night. He
was humming a tune, a thing which did not happen to him four times
a year, and which was indicative of the most extreme satisfaction.
But he stopped short at the sight of the disturbed countenance of his
wife and daughter.

"What is the matter?" he inquired.

"Nothing," hastily answered Mlle. Gilberte, - "nothing at all,
father."

"Then you are crying for your amusement," he said. "Come, be candid
for once, and confess that Maxence has been at his tricks again!

"You are mistaken, father: I swear it!

He asked no further questions, being in his nature not very curious,
whether because family matters were of so little consequence to him,
or because he had a vague idea that his general behavior deprived
him of all right to their confidence.

"Very well, then," he said in a gruff tone, "let us all go to bed.
I have worked so hard to-day, that I am quite exhausted. People
who pretend that business is dull make me laugh. Never has M. de
Thaller been in the way of making so much money as now."

When he spoke, they obeyed. So that Mlle. Gilberte was thus going
to have the whole night before her to resume possession of herself,
to pass over in her mind the events of the evening, and deliberate
coolly upon the decision she must come to; for, she could not doubt
it, Mme. Favoral would, the very next day, renew her questions.

What should she say? All? Mlle. Gilberte felt disposed to do so
by all the aspirations of her heart, by the certainty of indulgent
complicity, by the thought of finding in a sympathetic soul the echo
of her joys, of her troubles, and of her hopes.

Yes. But Mme. Favoral was still the same woman, whose firmest
resolutions vanished under the gaze of her husband. Let a pretender
come; let a struggle begin, as in the case of M. Costeclar, - would
she have strength enough to remain silent? No!

Then it would be a fearful scene with M. Favoral. He might,
perhaps, even go to M. de Tregars. What scandal! For he was a man
who spared no one; and then a new obstacle would rise between them,
more insurmountable still than the others.

Mlle. Gilberte was thinking, too, of Marius's projects; of that
terrible game he was about to play, the issue of which was to decide
their fate. He had said enough to make her understand all its
perils, and that a single indiscretion might suffice to set at
nought the result of many months' labor and patience. Besides, to
speak, was it not to abuse Marius's confidence. How could she
expect another to keep a secret she had been unable to keep herself?

At last, after protracted and painful hesitation, she decided that
she was bound to silence, and that she would only vouchsafe the
vaguest explanations.

It was in vain, then, that, on the next and the following days,
Mme. Favoral tried to obtain that confession which she had seen,
as it were, rise to her daughter's lips. To her passionate
adjurations, to her tears, to her ruses even, Mlle. Gilberte
invariably opposed equivocal answers, a story through which nothing
could be guessed, save one of those childish romances which stop
at the preface, - a schoolgirl love for a chimerical hero.

There was nothing in this very reassuring to a mother; but Mme.
Favoral knew her daughter too well to hope to conquer her invincible
obstinacy. She insisted no more, appeared convinced, but resolved
to exercise the utmost vigilance. In vain, however, did she display
all the penetration of which she was capable. The severest
attention did not reveal to her a single suspicious fact, not a
circumstance from which she could draw an induction, until, at last,
she thought that she must have been mistaken.

The fact is, that Mlle. Gilberte had not been long in feeling
herself watched; and she observed herself with a tenacious
circumspection that could hardly have been expected of her resolute
and impatient nature. She had trained herself to a sort of cheerful
carelessness, to which she strictly adhered, watching every
expression of her countenance, and avoiding carefully those hours
of vague revery in which she formerly indulged.

For two successive weeks, fearing to be betrayed by her looks, she
had the courage not to show herself at the window at the hour when
she knew Marius would pass. Moreover, she was very minutely
informed of the alternatives of the campaign undertaken by M. de
Tregars.

More enthusiastic than ever about his pupil, the Signor Gismondo
Pulei never tired of singing his praise, and with such pomp of
expression, and so curious an exuberance of gesticulation, that Mme.
Favoral was much amused; and, on the days when she was present at
her daughter's lesson, she was the first to inquire,

"Well, how is that famous pupil?"

And, according to what Marius had, told him,

"He is swimming in the purest satisfaction," answered the candid
maestro. "Every thing succeeds miraculously well, and much beyond
his hopes."

Or else, knitting his brows-

"He was sad yesterday," he said, "owing to an unexpected
disappointment; but he does not lose courage. We shall succeed."

The young girl could not help smiling to see her mother assisting
thus the unconscious complicity of the Signor Gismondo. Then she
reproached herself for having smiled, and for having thus come,
through a gradual and fatal descent, to laugh at a duplicity at
which she would have blushed in former times. In spite of herself,
however, she took a passionate interest in the game that was being
played between her mother and herself, and of which her secret was
the stake. It was an ever-palpitating interest in her hitherto
monotonous life, and a source of constantly-renewed emotions.

The days became weeks, and the weeks months; and Mme. Favoral
relaxed her useless surveillance, and, little by little, gave it
up almost entirely. She still thought, that, at a certain moment,
something unusual had occurred to her daughter; but she felt
persuaded, that, whatever that was, it had been forgotten.

So that, on the stated days, Mlle. Gilberte could go and lean upon
the window, without fear of being called to account for the emotion
which she felt when M. de Tregars appeared. At the expected hour,
invariably, and with a punctuality to shame M. Favoral himself, he
turned the corner of the Rue Turenne, exchanged a rapid glance with
the young girl, and passed on.

His health was completely restored; and with it he had recovered
that graceful virility which results from the perfect blending of
suppleness and strength. But he no longer wore the plain garments
of former days. He was dressed now with that elegant simplicity
which reveals at first sight that rarest of objects, - a "perfect
gentleman." And, whilst she accompanied him with her eyes as he
walked towards the Boulevard, she felt thoughts of joy and pride
rising from the bottom of her soul.

"Who would ever imagine," thought she, "that this young gentleman
walking away yonder is my affianced husband, and that the day is
perhaps not far, when, having become his wife, I shall lean upon
his arm? Who would think that all my thoughts belong to him, that
it is for my sake that he has given up the ambition of his life,
and is now prosecuting another object? Who would suspect that it
is for Gilberte Favoral's sake that the Marquis de Tregars is
walking in the Rue St. Gilles?"

And, indeed, Marius did deserve some credit for these walks; for
winter had come, spreading a thick coat of mud over the pavement
of all those little streets which are always forgotten by the
street-cleaners.

The cashier's home had resumed its habits of before the war, its
drowsy monotony scarcely disturbed by the Saturday dinner, by M.
Desclavette's naivetes or old Desormeaux's puns.

Maxence, in the mean time, had ceased to live with his parents. He
had returned to Paris immediately after the Commune; and, feeling no
longer in the humor to submit to the paternal despotism, he had
taken a small apartment on the Boulevard du Temple; but, at the
pressing instance, of his mother, he had consented to come every
night to dine at the Rue St. Gilles.

Faithful to his oath, he was working hard, though without getting
on very fast. The moment was far from propitious; and the occasion,
which he had so often allowed to escape, did not offer itself again.
For lack of any thing better, he had kept his clerkship at the
railway; and, as two hundred francs a month were not quite sufficient
for his wants, he spent a portion of his nights copying documents
for M. Chapelain's successor.

"What do you need so much money for?" his mother said to him when
she noticed his eyes a little red.

"Every thing is so dear!" he answered with a smile, which was
equivalent to a confidence, and yet which Mme. Favoral did not
understand.

He had, nevertheless, managed to pay all his debts, little by
little. The day when, at last, he held in his hand the last
receipted bill, he showed it proudly to his father, begging him to
find him a place at the Mutual Credit, where, with infinitely less
trouble, he could earn so much more.

M. Favoral commenced to giggle.

"Do you take me for a fool, like your mother?" he exclaimed. "And
do you think I don't know what life you lead?"

My life is that of a poor devil who works as hard as he can."

"Indeed! How is it, then, that women are constantly seen at your
house, whose dresses and manners are a scandal in the neighborhood?"

"You have been deceived, father."

"I have seen."

"It is impossible. Let me explain."

No, you would have your trouble for nothing. You are, and you will
ever remain, the same; and it would be folly on my part to introduce
into an office where I enjoy the esteem of all, a fellow, who, some
day or other, will be fatally dragged into the mud by some lost
creature."

Such discussions were not calculated to make the relations between
father and son more cordial. Several times M. Favoral had
insinuated, that, since Maxence lodged away from home, he might as
well dine away too. And he would evidently have notified him to
do so, had he not been prevented by a remnant of human respect,
and the fear of gossip.

On the other hand, the bitter regret of having, perhaps, spoiled
his life, the uncertainty of the future, the penury of the moment,
all the unsatisfied desires of youth, kept Maxence in a state of
perpetual irritation.

The excellent Mme. Favoral exhausted all her arguments to quiet him.

"Your father is harsh for us," she said; "but is he less harsh for
himself? He forgives nothing; but he has never needed to be
forgiven himself. He does not understand youth, but he has never
been young himself; and at twenty he was as grave and as cold as
you see him now. How could he know what pleasure is? - he to whom
the idea has never come to take an hour's enjoyment."

"Have I, then, been guilty of any crimes, to be thus treated by my
father?" exclaimed Maxence, flushed with anger. "Our existence here
is an unheard-of thing. You, poor, dear mother! - you have never
had the free disposition of a five-franc-piece. Gilberte spends
her days turning her dresses, after having had them dyed. I am
driven to a petty clerkship. And my father has fifty thousand
francs a year!"

Such, indeed, was the figure at which the most moderate estimated
M. Favoral's fortune. M. Chapelain, who was supposed to be well
informed, insinuated freely that his friend Vincent, besides being
the cashier of the Mutual Credit, must also be one of its principal
stock-holders. Now, judging from the dividend which had just been
paid, the Mutual Credit must, since the war, have realized enormous
profits. All its enterprises were successful; and it was on the
point of negotiating a foreign loan which would infallibly fill its
exchequer to overflowing.

M. FAVORAL, moreover, defended himself feebly from these accusations
of concealed opulence. When M. Desormeaux told him, "Come, now,
between us, candidly, how many millions have you?" he had such a
strange way of affirming that people were very much mistaken, that
his friends' convictions became only the more settled. And, as
soon as they had a few thousand francs of savings, they promptly
brought them to him, imitated in this by a goodly number of the
small capitalists of the neighborhood, who were wont to remark
among themselves,

"That man is safer than the bank!"

Millionaire or otherwise, the cashier of the Mutual Credit became
daily more difficult to live with. If strangers, those who had
with him but a superficial intercourse, if the Saturday guests
themselves, discovered in him no appreciable change, his wife and
his children followed with anxious surprise the modifications of
his humor.

If outwardly he still appeared the same impassible, precise, and
grave man, he showed himself at home more fretful than an old maid,
- nervous, agitated, and subject to the oddest whims. After
remaining three or four days without opening his lips, he would
begin to speak upon all sorts of subjects with amazing volubility.
Instead of watering his wine freely, as formerly, he had begun to
drink it pure; and he often took two bottles at his meal, excusing
himself upon the necessity that he felt the need of stimulating
himself a little after his excessive labors.

Then he would be taken with fits of coarse gayety; and he related
singular anecdotes, intermingled with slang expressions, which
Maxence alone could understand.

On the morning of the first day of January, 1872, as he sat down
to breakfast, he threw upon the table a roll of fifty napoleons,
saying to his children,

"Here is your New Year's gift! Divide, and buy anything you like."

And as they were looking at him, staring, stupid with astonishment,

"Well, what of it?" he added with an oath. "Isn't it well, once in
a while, to scatter the coins a little?"

Those unexpected thousand francs Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte applied
to the purchase of a shawl, which their mother had wished for
ten years.

She laughed and she cried with pleasure and emotion, the poor woman;
and, whilst draping it over her shoulders,

"Well, well, my dear children," she said: "your father, after all,
is not such a bad man."

Of which they did not seem very well convinced. "One thing is sure,"
remarked Mlle. Gilberte: "to permit himself such liberality, papa
must be awfully rich."

M. FAVORAL was not present at this scene. The yearly accounts kept
him so closely confined to his office, that he remained forty-eight
hours without coming home. A journey which he was compelled to
undertake for M. de Thaller consumed the balance of the week.

But on his return he seemed satisfied and quiet. Without giving up
his situation at the Mutual Credit, he was about, he stated, to
associate himself with the Messrs. Jottras, M. Saint Pavin of
"The Financial Pilot," and M. Costeclar, to undertake the
construction of a foreign railway.

M. Costeclar was at the head of this enterprise, the enormous
profits of which were so certain and so clear; that they could be
figured in advance.

And whilst on this same subject,

"You were very wrong," he said to Mlle. Gilberte, "not to make haste
and marry Costeclar when he was willing to have you. You will never
find another such match, - a man who, before ten years, will be a
financial power."

The very name of M. Costeclar had the effect of irritating the young
girl.

"I thought you had fallen out?" she said to her father.

"So we had," he replied with some embarrassment, "because he has
never been willing to tell me why he had withdrawn; but people
always make up again when they have interests in common."

Formerly, before the war, M. Favoral would certainly never have
condescended to enter into all these details. But he was becoming
almost communicative. Mile. Gilberte, who was observing him with
interested attention, fancied she could see that he was yielding
to that necessity of expansion, more powerful than the will itself,
which besets the man who carries within him a weighty secret.

Whilst for twenty years he had, so to speak, never breathed a word
on the subject of the Thaller family, now he was continually
speaking of them. He told his Saturday friends all about the
princely style of the baron, the number of his servants and horses,
the color of his liveries, the parties that he gave, what he spent
for pictures and objects of art, and even the very names of his
mistresses; for the baron had too much respect for himself not to
lay every year a few thousand napoleons at the feet of some young
lady sufficiently conspicuous to be mentioned in the society
newspapers.

M. Favoral confessed that he did not approve the baron; but it was
with a sort of bitter hatred that he spoke of the baroness. It was
impossible, he affirmed to his guests, to estimate even approximately
the fabulous sums squandered by her, scattered, thrown to the four
winds. For she was not prodigal, she was prodigality itself, - that
idiotic, absurd, unconscious prodigality which melts a fortune in a
turn of the hand; which cannot even obtain from money the
satisfaction of a want, a wish, or a fancy.

He said incredible things of her, - things which made Mme.
Desclavettes jump upon her seat, explaining that he learned all
these details from M. de Thaller, who had often commissioned him to
pay his wife's debts, and also from the baroness herself, who did
not hesitate to call sometimes at the office for twenty francs; for
such was her want of order, that, after borrowing all the savings
of her servants, she frequently had not two cents to throw to a
beggar.

Neither did the cashier of the Mutual Credit seem to have a very
good opinion of Mademoiselle de Thaller.

Brought up at hap-hazard, in the kitchen much more than in the
parlor, until she was twelve, and, later, dragged by her mother
anywhere, - to the races, to the first representations, to the
watering-places, always escorted by a squadron of the young men
of the bourse, Mlle. de Thaller had adopted a style which would
have been deemed detestable in a man. As soon as some questionable
fashion appeared, she appropriated it at once, never finding any
thing eccentric enough to make herself conspicuous. She rode on
horseback, fenced, frequented pigeon-shooting matches, spoke slang,
sang Theresa's songs, emptied neatly her glass of champagne, and
smoked her cigarette.

The guests were struck dumb with astonishment.

"But those people must spend millions!" interrupted M. Chapelain.

M. Favoral started as if he had been slapped on the back.

"Bash!" he answered. "They are so rich, so awfully rich!"

He changed the conversation that evening; but on the following
Saturday, from the very beginning of the dinner,

I believe," he said, "that M. de Thaller has just discovered a
husband for his daughter."

"My compliments!" exclaimed M. Desormeaux. "And who may this bold
fellow be?"

"A nobleman, of course," he replied. "Isn't that the tradition?
As soon as a financier has made his little million, he starts in
quest of a nobleman to give him his daughter."

One of those painful presentiments, such as arise in the inmost
recesses of the soul, made Mlle. Gilberte turn pale. This
presentiment suggested to her an absurd, ridiculous, unlikely thing;
and yet she was sure that it would not deceive her, - so sure,
indeed, that she rose under the pretext of looking for something in
the side-board, but in reality to conceal the terrible emotion which
she anticipated.

"And this gentleman?" inquired M. Chapelain.

"Is a marquis, if you please, - the Marquis de Tregars."

Well, yes, it was this very name that Mlle. Gilberte was expecting,
and well that she did; for she was thus able to command enough
control over herself to check the cry that rose to her throat.

"But this marriage is not made yet," pursued M. Favoral. "This
marquis is not yet so completely ruined, that he can be made to do
any thing they please. Sure, the baroness has set her heart upon
it, oh! but with all her might!"

A discussion which now arose prevented Gilberte from learning any
more; and as soon as the dinner, which seemed eternal to her, was
over, she complained of a violent headache, and withdrew to her room.

She shook with fever; her teeth chattered. And yet she could not
believe that Marius was betraying her, nor that he could have the
thought of marrying such a girl as M. Favoral had described, and
for money too! Poor, ah! No, that was not admissible. Although
she remembered well that Marius had made her swear to believe
nothing that might be said of him, she spent a horrible Sunday,
and she felt like throwing herself in the Signor Gismondo's arms,
when, in giving her his lesson the following Monday,

My poor pupil," he said, "feels miserable. A marriage has been
spoken of for him, for which he has a perfect horror; and he trembles
lest the rumor may reach his intended, whom he loves exclusively."

Mlle. Gilberte felt re-assured after that. And yet there remained
in her heart an invincible sadness. She could hardly doubt that
this matrimonial scheme was a part of the plan planned by Marius
to recover his fortune. But why, then, had he applied to M. de
Thaller? Who could be the man who had despoiled the Marquis de
Tregars?

Such were the thoughts which occupied her mind on that Saturday
evening when the commissary of police presented himself in the Rue
St. Gilles to arrest M. Favoral, charged with embezzling ten or
twelve millions.





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site