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XXIV

So much philosophy could hardly have been expected of him.

"All my father's friends are not as indulgent as you are," said
Maxence, - "M. Desclavettes, for instance."

"Have you seen him?"

"Yes, last night, about twelve o'clock. He came to ask us to get
father to pay him back, if we should ever see him again."

"That might be an idea!"

Mlle. Gilberte started.

"What!" said she, "you, too, sir, can imagine that my father has
run away with millions?"

The old lawyer shook his head.

"I believe nothing," he answered. "Favoral has taken me in so
completely, - me, who had the pretension of being a judge of men,
- that nothing from him, either for good or for evil, could surprise
me hereafter."

Mme. Favoral was about to offer some objection; but he stopped her
with a gesture.

"And yet," he went on, "I'd bet that he has gone off with empty
pockets. His recent operations reveal a frightful distress. Had
he had a few thousand francs at his command, would he have extorted
five hundred francs from a poor old woman, a newspaper-vender?
What did he want with the money? Try his luck once more, no doubt."

He was seated, his elbow upon the arm of the chair, his head resting
upon his hands, thinking; and the contraction of his features
indicated an extraordinary tension of mind.

Suddenly he drew himself up.

"But why," he exclaimed, "why wander in idle conjectures? What do
we know about Favoral? Nothing. One entire side of his existence
escapes us, - that fantastic side, of which the insane prodigalities
and inconceivable disorders have been revealed to us by the bills
found in his desk. He is certainly guilty; but is he as guilty as
we think? and, above all, is he alone guilty? Was it for himself
alone that he drew all this money? Are the missing millions really
lost? and wouldn't it be possible to find the biggest share of them
in the pockets of some accomplice? Skilful men do not expose
themselves. They have at their command poor wretches, sacrificed
in advance, and who, in exchange for a few crumbs that are thrown
to them, risk the criminal court, are condemned, and go to prison."

"That's just what I was telling my mother and sister, sir,"
interrupted Maxence.

"And that's what I am telling myself," continued the old lawyer.
"I have been thinking over and over again of last evening's scene;
and strange doubts have occurred to my mind. For a man who has
been robbed of a dozen millions, M. de Thaller was remarkably quiet
and self-possessed. Favoral appeared to me singularly calm for a
man charged with embezzlement and forgery. M. de Thaller, as
manager of the Mutual Credit, is really responsible for the stolen
funds, and, as such, should have been anxious to secure the guilty
party, and to produce him. Instead of that, he wished him to go,
and actually brought him the money to enable him to leave. Was he
in hopes of hushing up the affair? Evidently not, since the police
had been notified. On the other hand, Favoral seemed much more
angry than surprised by the occurrence. It was only on the
appearance of the commissary of police that he seems to have lost
his head; and then some very strange things escaped him, which I
cannot understand."

He was walking at random through the parlor, apparently rather
answering the objections of his own mind than addressing himself to
his interlocutors, who were listening, nevertheless, with all the
attention of which they were capable.

"I don't know," he went on. "An old traveler like me to be taken
in thus! Evidently there is under all this one of those diabolical
combinations which time even fails to unravel. We ought to see,
to inquire "

And then, suddenly stopping in front of Maxence,

"How much did M. de Thaller bring to your father last evening?" he
asked.

"Fifteen thousand francs."

"Where are they?"

"Put away in mother's room."

"When do you expect to take them back to M. de Thaller?"

"To-morrow."

"Why not to-day?"

"This is Sunday. The offices of the Mutual Credit must be closed."

"After the occurrences of yesterday, M. de Thaller must be at his
office. Besides, haven't you his private address?"

"I beg your pardon, I have."

The old lawyer's small eyes were shining with unusual brilliancy.
He certainly felt deeply the loss of his money; but the idea that
he had been swindled for the benefit of some clever rascal was
absolutely insupportable to him.

"If we were wise," he said again, "we'd do this. Mme. Favoral
would take these fifteen thousand francs, and we would go together,
she and I, to see M. de Thaller."

It was an unexpected good-fortune for Mme. Favoral, that M.
Chapelain should consent to assist her. So, without hesitating,

"The time to dress, sir," she said, "and I am ready." She left the
parlor; but as she reached her room, her son joined her.

"I am obliged to go out, dear mother," he said; "and I shall
probably not be home to breakfast."

She looked at him with an air of painful surprise. "What," she said,
"at such a moment!"

"I am expected home."

"By whom? A woman?" she murmured.

"Well, yes."

"And it is for that woman's sake that you want to leave your sister
alone at home?"

"I must, mother, I assure you; and, if you only knew -"

"I do not wish to know, any thing."

But his resolution had been taken. He went off; and a few moments
later Mme. Favoral and M. Chapelain entered a cab which had been
sent for, and drove to M. de Thaller's.

Left alone, Mlle. Gilberte had but one thought, - to notify M. de
Tregars, and obtain word from him. Any thing seemed preferable to
the horrible anxiety which oppressed her. She had just commenced
a letter, which she intended to have taken to the Count de Villegre,
when a violent ring of the bell made her start; and almost
immediately the servant came in, saying,

"It is a gentleman who wishes to see you, a friend of monsieur's,
- M. Costeclar, you know."

Mlle. Gilberte started to her feet, trembling with excitement.

"That's too much impudence!" she exclaimed. She was hesitating
whether to refuse him the door, or to see him, and dismiss him
shamefully herself, when she had a sudden inspiration. "What does
he want?" she thought. "Why not see him, and try and find out what
he knows? For he certainly must know the truth."

But it was no longer time to deliberate. Above the servant's
shoulder M. Costeclar,s pale and impudent face showed itself.

The girl having stepped to one side, he appeared, hat in hand.
Although it was not yet nine o'clock, his morning toilet was
irreproachably correct. He had already passed through the
hair-dresser's hands; and his scanty hair was brought forward over
his low fore-head with the usual elaborate care.

He wore a pair of those ridiculous trousers which grow wide from
the knee down, and which were invented by Prussian tailors to hide
their customers' ugly feet. Under his light-colored overcoat could
be seen a velvet-faced jacket, with a rose in its buttonhole.

Meantime, he remained motionless on the threshold of the door,
trying to smile, and muttering one of those sentences which are
never intended to be finished.

"I beg you to believe, mademoiselle your mother's absence - my most
respectful admiration -"

In fact, he was taken aback by the disorder of the girl's toilet,
- disorder which she had had no time to repair since the clamors
of the creditors had started her from her bed.

She wore a long brown cashmere wrapper, fitting quite close over
the hips setting off the vigorous elegance of her figure, the
maidenly perfections of her waist, and the exquisite contour of
her neck. Gathered up in haste, her thick blonde hair escaped
from beneath the pins, and spread over her shoulders in luminous
cascades. Never had she appeared to M. Costeclar as lovely as at
this moment, when her whole frame was vibrating with suppressed
indignation her cheeks flushed, her eyes flashing.

"Please come in, sir," she uttered.

He stepped forward, no longer bowing humbly as formerly, but with
legs outstretched, chest thrown out, with an ill-concealed look of
gratified vanity. "I did not expect the honor of your visit, sir,"
said the young girl.

Passing rapidly his hat and his cane from the right hand into the
left, and then the right hand upon his heart, his eyes raised to
the ceiling, and with all the depth of expression of which he was
capable,

"It is in times of adversity that we know our real friends,
mademoiselle," he uttered. "Those upon whom we thought we could
rely the most, often, at the first reverse, take flight forever!"

She felt a shiver pass over her. Was this an allusion to Marius?

The other, changing his tone, went on,

"It's only last night that I heard of poor Favoral's discomfiture,
at the bourse where I had gone for news. It was the general topic
of conversation. Twelve millions! That's pretty hard. The Mutual
Credit Society might not be able to stand it. From 580 at which
it was selling before the news, it dropped at once to 300. At nine
o'clock, there were no takers at 180 And yet, if there is nothing
beyond what they say, at 180, I am in."

Was he forgetting himself, or pretending to?

"But please excuse me, mademoiselle," he resumed: "that's not what
I came to tell you."

I came to ask if you had any news of our poor Favoral."

"We have none, sir."

"Then it is true: he succeeded in getting away through this window?"

"Yes."

"And he did not tell you where he meant to take refuge?"

Observing M. Costeclar with all her power of penetration, Mlle.
Gilberte fancied she discovered in him something like a certain
surprise mingled with joy.

"Then Favoral must have left without a sou!"

"They accuse him of having carried away millions, sir; but I would
swear that it is not so."

M. Costeclar approved with a nod.

"I am of the same opinion he declared, "unless - but no, he was not
the man to try such a game. And yet - but again no, he was too
closely watched. Besides, he was carrying a very heavy load, a load
that exhausted all his resources."

Mlle. Gilberte, hoping that she was going to learn something, made
an effort to preserve her indifference.

"What do you mean?" she inquired.

He looked at her, smiled, and, in a light tone,

"Nothing," he answered, "only some conjectures of my own."

And throwing himself upon a chair, his head leaning upon its back,

"That is not the object of my visit either," he uttered. "Favoral
is overboard: don't let us say any thing more about him. Whether
he has got 'the bag' or not, you'll never see him again: he is as
good as dead. Let us, therefore, talk of the living, of yourself.
What's going to become of you?"

"I do not understand your question, sir."

"It is perfectly limpid, nevertheless. I am asking myself how you
are going to live, your mother and yourself?

"Providence will not abandon us, sir?"

M. Costeclar had crossed his legs, and with the end of his cane he
was negligently tapping his immaculate boot.

"Providence!" he giggled; "that's very good on the stage, in a play,
with low music in the orchestra. I can just see it. In real life,
unfortunately, the life which we both live, you and I, it is not
with words, were they a yard long, that the baker, the grocer, and
those rascally landlords, can be paid, or that dresses and shoes
can be bought."

She made no answer.

"Now, then," he went on, "here you are without a penny. Is it
Maxence who will supply you with money? Poor fellow! Where would
he get it? He has hardly enough for himself. Therefore, what are
you going to do?"

I shall work, sir."

He got up, bowed low, and, resuming his seat,

"My sincere compliments," he said. "There is but one obstacle to
that fine resolution: it is impossible for a woman to live by her
labor alone. Servants are about the only ones who ever get their
full to eat."

"I'll be a servant, if necessary.".

For two or three seconds he remained taken aback, but, recovering
himself,

"How different things would be," he resumed in an insinuating tone,
"if you had not rejected me when I wanted to become your husband!
But you couldn't bear the sight of me. And yet, 'pon my word, I was
in love with you, oh, but for good and earnest! You see, I am a
judge of women; and I saw very well how you would look, handsomely
dressed and got up, leaning back in a fine carriage in the Bois -"

Stronger than her will, disgust rose to her lips.

"Ah, sir!" she said.

He mistook her meaning.

"You are regretting all that," he continued. "I see it. Formerly,
eh, you would never have consented to receive me thus, alone with
you, which proves that girls should not be headstrong, my dear child."

He, Costeclar, he dared to call her, "My dear child." Indignant and
insulted, "Oh!" she exclaimed. But he had started, and kept on,

"Well, such as I was, I am still. To be sure, there probably would
be nothing further said about marriage between us; but, frankly,
what would you care if the conditions were the same, - a fine house,
carriages, horses, servants -"

Up to this moment, she, had not fully understood him. Drawing
herself up to her fullest height, and pointing to the door,

"Leave this moment," she ordered.

But he seemed in no wise disposed to do so: on the contrary, paler
than usual, his eyes bloodshot, his lips trembling, and smiling a
strange smile, he advanced towards Mlle. Gilberte.

"What!" said he. "You are in trouble, I kindly come to offer my
services, and this is the way you receive me! You prefer to work,
do you? Go ahead then, my lovely one, prick your pretty fingers,
and redden your eyes. My time will come. Fatigue and want, cold
in the winter, hunger in all seasons, will speak to your little
heart of that kind Costeclar who adores you, like a big fool that
he is, who is a serious man and who has money, - much money."

Beside herself,

"Wretch!" cried the girl, "leave, leave at once."

"One moment," said a strong voice.

M. Costeclar looked around.

Marius de Tregars stood within the frame of the open door.

"Marius!" murmured Mlle. Gilberte, rooted to the spot by a surprise
hardly less immense than her joy.

To behold him thus suddenly, when she was wondering whether she
would ever see him again; to see him appear at the very moment
when she found herself alone, and exposed to the basest outrages,
- it was one of those fortunate occurrences which one can scarcely
realize; and from the depth of her soul rose something like a hymn
of thanks.

Nevertheless, she was confounded at M. Costeclar's attitude.
According to her, and from what she thought she knew, he should have
been petrified at the sight of M. de Tregars.

And he did not even seem to know him. He seemed shocked, annoyed
at being interrupted, slightly surprised, but in no wise moved or
frightened. Knitting his brows,

"What do you wish?" he inquired in his most impertinent tone.

M. de Tregars stepped forward. He was somewhat pale, but unnaturally
calm, cool, and collected. Bowing to Mlle. Gilberte,

"If I have thus ventured to enter your apartment, mademoiselle," he
uttered gently, " it is because, as I was going by the door, I
thought I recognized this gentleman's carriage."

And, with his finger over his shoulder, he was pointing to M.
Costeclar.

"Now," he went on, "I had reason to be somewhat astonished at this,
after the positive orders I had given him never to set his feet, not
only in this house, but in this part of the city. I wished to find
out exactly. I came up: I heard -"

All this was said in a tone of such crushing contempt, that a slap
on the face would have been less cruel. All the blood in M.
Costeclar's veins rushed to his face.

"You!" he interrupted insolently: "I do not know you."

Imperturbable, M. de Tregars was drawing off his gloves.

"Are you quite certain of that?" he replied. "Come, you certainly
know my old friend, M. de Villegre?"

An evident feeling of anxiety appeared on M. Costeclar's countenance.

"I do," he stammered.

"Did not M. Villegre call upon you before the war?"

"He did."

"Well, 'twas I who sent him to you; and the commands which he
delivered to you were mine."

Yours?"

Mine. I am Marius de Tregars."

A nervous shudder shook M. Costeclar's lean frame. Instinctively
his eye turned towards the door.

"You see," Marius went on with the same gentleness, "we are, you
and I, old acquaintances. For you quite remember me now, don't
you? I am the son of that poor Marquis de Tregars who came to
Paris, all the way from his old Brittany with his whole fortune,
- two millions."

"I remember," said the stock-broker: "I remember perfectly well."

"On the advice of certain clever people, the Marquis de Tregars
ventured into business. Poor old man! He was not very sharp. He
was firmly persuaded that he had already more than doubled his
capital, when his honorable partners demonstrated to him that he was
ruined, and, besides, compromised by certain signatures imprudently
given."

Mlle. Gilberte was listening, her mouth open, and wondering what
Marius was aiming at, and how he could remain so calm.

"That disaster," he went on, "was at the time the subject of an
enormous number of very witty jokes. The people of the bourse
could hardly admire enough these bold financiers who had, so deftly
relieved that candid marquis of his money. That was well done for
him; what was he meddling with? As to myself, to stop the
prosecutions with which my father was threatened, I gave up all I
had. I was quite young, and, as you see, quite what you call, I
believe, 'green.' I am no longer so now. Were such a thing to
happen to me to-day, I should want to know at once what had become
of the millions: I would feel all the pockets around me. I would
say, 'Stop thief!'"

At every word, as it were, M. Costeclar's uneasiness became more
manifest.

"It was not I," he said, "who received the benefit of M. de Tregars'
fortune."

Marius nodded approvingly.

"I know now," he replied, "among whom the spoils were divided. You,
M. Costeclar, you took what you could get, timidly, and according to
your means. Sharks are always accompanied by small fishes, to which
they abandon the crumbs they disdain. You were but a small fish
then: you accommodated yourself with what your patrons, the sharks,
did not care about. But, when you tried to operate alone, you were
not shrewd enough: you left proofs of your excessive appetite for
other people's money. Those proofs I have in my possession."

M. COSTECLAR was now undergoing perfect torture.

"I am caught," he said, "I know it: I told M. de Villegre so."

"Why are you here, then?"

"How did I know that the count had been sent by you?"

"That's a poor reason, sir."

"Besides, after what has occurred, after Favoral's flight, I thought
myself relieved of my engagement."

"Indeed!"

"Well, if you insist upon it, I am wrong, I suppose."

"Not only you are wrong," uttered Marius still perfectly cool, "but
you have committed a great imprudence. By failing to keep your
engagements, you have relieved me of mine. The pact is broken.
According to the agreement, I have the right, as I leave here, to go
straight to the police."

M. COSTECLAR's dull eye was vacillating.

"I did not think I was doing wrong," he muttered. "Favoral was my
friend."

"And that's the reason why you were coming to propose to Mlle.
Favoral to become your mistress? There she is, you thought, without
resources, literally without bread, without relatives, without
friends to protect her: this is the time to come forward. And
thinking you could be cowardly, vile, and infamous with impunity,
you came."

To be thus treated, he, the successful man, in presence of this
young girl, whom, a moment before, he was crushing with his impudent
opulence, no M. Costeclar could not stand it. Losing completely
his head,

"You should have let me know, then," he exclaimed, "that she was
your mistress."

Something like a flame passed over M. de Tregars' face. His eyes
flashed. Rising in all the height of his wrath, which broke out
terrible at last,

"Ah, you scoundrel!" he exclaimed.

M. Costeclar threw himself suddenly to one side.

"Sir!"

But at one bound M. de Tregars had caught him.

"On your knees!" he cried.

And, seizing him by the collar with an iron grip, he lifted him
clear off the floor, and then threw him down violently upon both
knees.

"Speak!" he commanded. "Repeat, - 'Mademoiselle'

M. Costeclar had expected worse from M. de Tregars' look. A horrible
fear had instantly crushed within him all idea of resistance.

"Mademoiselle," he stuttered in a choking voice. "I am the vilest
of wretches," continued Marius. M. Costeclar's livid face was
oscillating like an inert object.

"I am," he repeated, "the vilest of wretches."

"And I beg of you -"

But Mlle. Gilberte was sick of the sight.

"Enough," she interrupted, "enough!"

Feeling no longer upon his shoulders the heavy hand of M. de Tregars,
the stock-broker rose with difficulty to his feet. So livid was his
face, that one might have thought that his whole blood had turned
to gall.

Dusting with the end of his glove the knees of his trousers, and
restoring as best he could the harmony of his toilet, which had been
seriously disturbed,

"Is it showing any courage," he grumbled, "to abuse one's physical
strength?"

M. de Tregars had already recovered his self-possession; and Mlle.
Gilberte thought she could read upon his face regret for his violence.

"Would it be better to make use of what you know?" M. Costeclar
joined his hands.

"You would not do that,", he said. "What good would it do you to
ruin me?"

"None," answered M. de Tregars: "you are right. But yourself?"

And, looking straight into M. Costeclar's eyes, - "If you could be
of service to me," he inquired, "would you be willing?"

"Perhaps. That I might recover possession of the papers you have."

M. de Tregars was thinking.

"After what has just taken place," he said at last, "an explanation
is necessary between us. I will be at your house in an hour. Wait
for me."

M. Costeclar had become more pliable than his own lavender kid
gloves: in fact, alarmingly pliable.

"I am at your command, sir," he replied to M. de Tregars.

And, bowing to the ground before Mlle. Gilberte, he left the parlor;
and, a few moments after, the street-door was heard to close upon him.

"Ah, what a wretch!" exclaimed the, girl, dreadfully agitated.
"Marius, did you see what a look he gave us as he went out?"

"I saw it," replied M. de Tregars.

"That man hates us: he will not hesitate to commit a crime to avenge
the atrocious humiliation you have just inflicted upon him."

"I believe it too."

Mlle. Gilberte made a gesture of distress.

"Why did you treat him so harshly?" she murmured.

"I had intended to remain calm, and it would have been politic to
have done so. But there are some insults which a man of heart
cannot endure. I do not regret what I have done."

A long pause followed; and they remained standing, facing each other,
somewhat embarrassed. Mlle. Gilberte felt ashamed of the disorder
of her dress. M. de Tregars wondered how he could have been bold
enough to enter this house.

"You have heard of our misfortune," said the young girl at last.

I read about it this morning, in the papers."

"What! the papers know already?"

"Every thing."

"And our name is printed in them?"

Yes."

She covered her face with her two hands.

"What disgrace!" she said.

"At first," went on M. de Tregars, "I could hardly believe what I
read. I hastened to come; and the first shopkeeper I questioned
confirmed only too well what I had seen in the papers. From that
moment, I had but one wish, - to see and speak to you. When I
reached the door, I recognized M. Costeclar's equipage, and I had
a presentiment of the truth. I inquired from the concierge for
your mother or your brother, and heard that Maxence had gone out
a few moments before, and that Mme. Favoral had just left in a
carriage with M. Chapelain, the old lawyer. At the idea that you
were alone with Costeclar, I hesitated no longer. I ran up stairs,
and, finding the door open, had no occasion to ring."

Mlle. Gilberte could hardly repress the sobs that rose to her throat.

"I never hoped to see you again," she stammered; "and you'll find
there on the table the letter I had just commenced for you when M.
Costeclar interrupted me."

M. de Tregars took it up quickly. Two lines only were written. He
read: "I release you from your engagement, Marius. Henceforth you
are free."

He became whiter than his shirt.

"You wish to release me from my engagement!" he exclaimed. "You -"

"Is it not my duty? Ah! if it had only been our fortune, I should
perhaps have rejoiced to lose it. I know your heart. Poverty would
have brought us nearer together. But it's honor, Marius, honor that
is lost too! The name I bear is forever stained. Whether my father
is caught, or whether he escapes, he will be tried all the same,
condemned, and sentenced to a degrading penalty for embezzlement and
forgery."

If M. de Tregars was allowing her to proceed thus, it was because he
felt all his thoughts whirling in his brain; because she looked so
beautiful thus, all in tears, and her hair loose; because there
arose from her person so subtle a charm, that words failed him to
express the sensations that agitated him.

"Can you," she went on, "take for your wife the daughter of a
dishonored man? No, you cannot. Forgive me, then, for having for
a moment turned away your life from its object; forgive the sorrow
which I have caused you; leave me to the misery of my fate;
forget me!"

She was suffocating.

"Ah, you have never loved me!" exclaimed Marius.

Raising her hands to heaven,

"Thou hearest him, great God!" she uttered, as if shocked by a
blasphemy.

"Would it be easy for you to forget me then? Were I to be struck
by misfortune, would you break our engagement, cease to love me?"

She ventured to take his hands, and, pressing them between hers,

"To cease loving you no longer depends on my will," she murmured
with quivering lips. "Poor, abandoned of all, disgraced, criminal
even, I should love you still and always."

With a passionate gesture, Marius threw his arm around her waist,
and, drawing her to his breast, covered her blonde hair with
burning kisses.

"Well, 'tis thus that I love you too!" he exclaimed, "and with all
my soul, exclusively, and for life! What do I care for your
parents? Do I know them? Your father - does he exist? Your name
- it is mine, the spotless name of the Tregars. You are my wife!
mine, mine!"

She was struggling feebly: an almost invincible stupor was creeping
over her. She felt her reason disturbed, her energy giving way, a
film before her eyes, the air failing to her heaving chest.

A great effort o er will restored her to consciousness. She
withdrew gently, and sank upon a chair, less strong against joy
than s had been against sorrow.

"Pardon me," she stammered, "pardon me for having doubted you!"

M. de Tregars was not much less agitated than Mlle. Gilberte: but he
was a man; and the springs of his energy were of a superior temper.
In less than a minute he had fully recovered his self-possession
and imposed upon his features their accustomed expression. Drawing
a chair by the side of Mlle. Gilberte,

"Permit me, my friend," he said, "to remind you that our moments are
numbered, and that there are many details which it is urgent that I
should know."

"What details?" she asked, raising her head.

"About your father."

She looked at him with an air of profound surprise.

"Do you not know more about it than I do?" she replied, "more than
my mother, more than any of us? Did you not, whilst following up
the people who robbed your father, strike mine unwittingly? And
'tis I, wretch that I am, who inspired you to that fatal resolution;
and I have not the heart to regret it."

M. de Tregars had blushed imperceptibly. "How did you know?" he
began.

"Was it not said that you were about to marry Mlle. de Thaller?"

He drew up suddenly.

"Never," he exclaimed, "has this marriage existed, except in the
brain of M. de Thaller, and, more still, of the Baroness de Thaller.
That ridiculous idea occurred to her because she likes my name, and
would be delighted to see her daughter Marquise de Tregars. She
has never breathed a word of it to me; but she has spoken of it
everywhere, with just enough secrecy to give rise to a good piece
of parlor gossip. She went so far as to confide to several persons
of my acquaintance the amount of the dowry, thinking thus to
encourage me. As far as I could, I warned you against this false
news through the Signor Gismondo."

"The Signor Gismondo relieved me of cruel anxieties," she replied;
"but I had suspected the truth from the first. Was I not the
confidante of your hopes? Did I not know your projects? I had
taken for granted that all this talk about a marriage was but a
means to advance yourself in M. de Thaller's intimacy without
awaking his suspicions."

M. de Tregars was not the man to deny a true fact.

"Perhaps, indeed, I have not been wholly foreign to M. Favoral's
disaster. At least I may have hastened it a few months, a few
days only, perhaps; for it was inevitable, fatal. Nevertheless,
had I suspected the real facts, I would have given up my designs
- Gilberte, I swear it - rather than risk injuring your father.
There is no undoing what is done; but the evil may, perhaps, be
somewhat lessened."

Mlle. Gilberte started.

"Great heavens!" she exclaimed, "do you, then, believe my father
innocent?"

Better than any one else, Mlle. Gilberte must have been convinced
of her father's guilt. Had she not seen him humiliated and
trembling before M. de Thaller? Had she not heard him, as it were,
acknowledge the truth of the charge that was brought against him?
But at twenty hope never forsakes us, even in presence of facts.

And when she understood by M. de Tregars' silence that she was
mistaken,

"It's madness," she murmured, dropping her head:

"I feel it but too well. But the heart speaks louder than reason.
It is so cruel to be driven to despise one's father!"

She wiped the tears which filled her eyes, and, in a firmer voice,

"What happens is so incomprehensible!" she went on. How can I help
imagining some one of those mysteries which time alone unravels.
For twenty-four hours we have been losing ourselves in idle
conjectures, and, always and fatally, we come to this conclusion,
that my father must be the victim of some mysterious intrigue.

"M. Chapelain, whom a loss of a hundred and sixty thousand francs
has not made particularly indulgent, is of that opinion."

"And so am I," exclaimed Marius.

"You see, then -"

But without allowing her to proceed and taking gently her hand,

"Let me tell you all," he interrupted, "and try with you to find
an issue to this horrible situation. Strange rumors are afloat
about M. Favoral. It is said that his austerity was but a mask,
his sordid economy a means of gaining confidence. It is affirmed
that in fact he abandoned himself to all sorts of disorders; that
he had, somewhere in Paris, an establishment, where he lavished the
money of which he was so sparing here. Is it so? The same thing
is said of all those in whose hands large fortunes have melted."

The young girl had become quite red.

"I believe that is true," she replied. "The commissary of police
stated so to us. He found among my father's papers receipted bills
for a number of costly articles, which could only have been intended
for a woman.

M. de Tregars looked perplexed.

"And does any one know who this woman is?" he asked.

"Whoever she may be, I admit that she may have cost M. Favoral
considerable sums. But can she have cost him twelve millions?"

"Precisely the remark which M. Chapelain made."

"And which every sensible man must also make. I know very well
that to conceal for years a considerable deficit is a costly
operation, requiring purchases and sales, the handling and shifting
of funds, all of which is ruinous in the extreme. But, on the other
hand, M. Favoral was making money, a great deal of money. He was
rich: he was supposed to be worth millions. Otherwise, Costeclar
would never have asked your hand."

"M. Chapelain pretends that at a certain time my father had at least
fifty thousand francs a year."

"It's bewildering."

For two or three minutes M. de Tregars remained silent, reviewing
in his mind every imaginable eventuality, and then,

"But no matter," he resumed. "As soon as I heard this morning the
amount of the deficit, doubts came to my mind. And it is for that
reason, dear friend, that I was so anxious to see you and speak to
you. It would be necessary for me to know exactly what occurred
here last night."

Rapidly, but without omitting a single useful detail, Mlle. Gilberte
narrated the scenes of the previous night - the sudden appearance of
M. de Thaller, the arrival of the commissary of police, M. Favoral's
escape, thanks to Maxence's presence of mind. Every one of her
father's words had remained present to her mind; and it was almost
literally that she repeated his strange speeches to his indignant
friends, and his incoherent remarks at the moment of flight, when,
whilst acknowledging his fault, he said that he was not as guilty
as they thought; that, at any rate, he was not alone guilty; and
that he had been shamefully sacrificed. When she had finished,

"That's exactly what I thought," said M. de Tregars.

"What?"

"M. Favoral accepted a role in one of those terrible financial
dramas which ruin a thousand poor dupes to the benefit of two or
three clever rascals. Your father wanted to be rich: he needed
money to carry on his intrigues. He allowed himself to be tempted.
But whilst he believed himself one of the managers, called upon to
divide the receipts, he was but a scene-shifter with a stated
salary. The moment of this denouement having come, his so-called
partners disappeared through a trap-door with the cash, leaving
him alone, as they say, to face the music."

"If that's the case," replied the young girl, "why didn't my father
speak?"

"What was he to say?"

"Name his accomplices."

"And suppose he had no proofs of their complicity to offer? He was
the cashier of the Mutual Credit; and it is from his cash that the
millions are gone."

Mlle. Gilberte's conjectures had run far ahead of that sentence.
Looking straight at Marius,

"Then," she said, "you believe, as M. Capelan does, that M. de
Thaller -"

"Ah! M. Capelan thinks "-

"That the manager of the Mutual Credit must have known the fact of
the frauds."

"And that he had his share of them?"

"A larger share than his cashier, yes."

A singular smile curled M. de Tregars' lips. "Quite possible," he
replied: "that's quite possible."

For the past few moments Mlle. Gilberte's embarrassment was quite
evident in her look. At last, overcoming her hesitation,

"Pardon me," said she, "I had imagined that M. de Thaller was one
of those men whom you wished to strike; and I had indulged in the
hope, that, whilst having justice done to your father, you were
thinking, perhaps, of avenging mine."

M. de Tregars stood up, as if moved by a spring. "Well, yes!" he
exclaimed. "Yes, you have correctly guessed. But how can we
obtain this double result? A single misstep at this moment might
lose all. Ah, if I only knew your father's real situation; if I
could only see him and speak to him! In one word he might, perhaps,
place in my hands a sure weapon, - the weapon that I have as yet
been unable to find."

"Unfortunately," replied Mlle. Gilberte with a gesture of despair,
"we are without news of my father; and he even refused to tell us
where he expected to take refuge."

"But he will write, perhaps. Besides, we might look for him,
quietly, so as not to excite the suspicions of the police; and if
your brother Maxence was only willing to help me -"

"Alas! I fear that Maxence may have other cares. He insisted upon
going out this morning, in spite of mother's request to the contrary."

But Marius stopped her, and, in the tone of a man who knows much
more than he is willing to say, - "Do not calumniate Maxence," he
said: "it is through him, perhaps, that we will receive the help
that we need."

Eleven o'clock struck. Mlle. Gilberte started.

"Dear me!" she exclaimed, "mother will be home directly."

M. de Tregars might as well have waited for her. Henceforth he had
nothing to conceal. Yet, after duly deliberating with the young
girl, they decided that he should withdraw, and that he would send
M. de Villegre to declare his intentions. He then left, and, five
minutes later, Mine: Favoral and M. Capelan appeared.

The ex-attorney was furious; and he threw the package of bank-notes
upon the table with a movement of rage.

"In order to return them to M. de Thaller," he exclaimed, "it was at
least necessary to see him. But the gentleman is invisible; keeps
himself under lock and key, guarded by a perfect cloud of servants
in livery."

Meantime, Mme. Favoral had approached her daughter.

"Your brother?" she asked in a whisper.

"He has not yet come home."

"Dear me!" sighed the poor mother: "at such a time he forsakes us,
and for whose sake?"





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