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XXV

Mme. Favoral, usually so indulgent, was too severe this time; and
it was very unjustly that she accused her son. She forgot, and
what mother does not forget, that he was twenty-five years of age,
that he was a man, and that, outside of the family and of herself,
he must have his own interests and his passions, his affections and
his duties. Because he happened to leave the house for a few hours,
Maxence was surely not forsaking either his mother or his sister.
It was not without a severe internal struggle that he had made up
his mind to go out, and, as he was going down the steps,

"Poor mother," he thought. "I am sure I am making her very unhappy;
but how can I help it?"

This was the first time that he had been in the street since his
farther's disaster had been known; and the impression produced upon
him was painful in the extreme. Formerly, when he walked through
the Rue St. Gilles, that street where he was born, and where he used
to play as a boy, every one met him with a friendly nod or a familiar
smile. True he was then the son of a man rich and highly esteemed;
whereas this morning not a hand was extended, not a hat raised, on
his passage. People whispered among themselves, and pointed him
out with looks of hatred and irony. That was because he was now
the son of the dishonest cashier tracked by the police, of the man
whose crime brought disaster upon so many innocent parties.

Mortified and ashamed, Maxence was hurrying on, his head down, his
cheek burning, his throat parched, when, in front of a wine-shop,

"Halloo!" said a man; "that's the son. What cheek!"

And farther on, in front of the grocer's.

"I tell you what," said a woman in the midst of a group, "they still
have more than we have."

Then, for the first time, he understood with what crushing weight
his father's crime would weigh upon his whole life; and, whilst
going up the Rue Terrain,

"It's all over," he thought: "I can never get over it." And he
was thinking of changing his name, of emigrating to America, and
hiding himself in the deserts of the Far West, when, a little
farther on, he noticed a group of some thirty persons in front
of a newspaper-stand. The vender, a fat little man with a red
face and an impudent look, was crying in a hoarse voice,

"Here are the morning papers! The last editions! All about the
robbery of twelve millions by a poor cashier. Buy the morning
papers!"

And, to stimulate the sale of his wares, he added all sorts of
jokes of his own invention, saying that the thief belonged to the
neighborhood; that it was quite flattering, etc.

The crowd laughed; and he went on,

"The cashier Favoral's robbery! twelve millions! Buy the paper,
and see how it's done."

And so the scandal was public, irreparable. Maxence was listening
a few steps off. He felt like going; but an imperative feeling,
stronger than his will, made him anxious to see what the papers said.

Suddenly he made up his mind, and, stepping up briskly, he threw
down three sous, seized a paper, and ran as if they had all known
him.

"Not very polite, the gentleman," remarked two idlers whom he had
pushed a little roughly.

Quick as he had been, a shopkeeper of the Rue Terrain had had time
to recognize him.

"Why, that's the cashier's son!" he exclaimed. Is it possible?"

"Why don't they arrest him?"

Half a dozen curious fellows, more eager than the rest, ran after
him to try and see his face. But he was already far off.

Leaning against a gas-lamp on the Boulevard, he unfolded the paper
he had just bought. He had no trouble looking for the article. In
the middle of the first page, in the most prominent position, he
read in large letters,

"At the moment of going to press, the greatest agitation prevails
among the stock-brokers and operators at the bourse generally,
owing to the news that one of our great banking establishments
has just been the victim of a theft of unusual magnitude.

"At about five o'clock in the afternoon, the manager of the
Mutual Credit Society, having need of some documents, went to
look for them in the office of the head cashier, who was then
absent. A memorandum forgotten on the table excited his
suspicions. Sending at once for a locksmith, he had all the
drawers broken open, and soon acquired the irrefutable evidence
that the Mutual Credit had been defrauded of sums, which, as far
as now, known, amount to upwards of twelve millions.

"At once the police was notified; and M. Brosse, commissary of
police, duly provided with a warrant, called at the guilty
cashier's house.

"That cashier, named Favoral, - we do not hesitate to name him,
since his name has already been made public, - had just sat down
to dinner with some friends. Warned, no one knows how, he
succeeded in escaping through a window into the yard of the
adjoining house, and up to this hour has succeeded in eluding
all search.

"It seems that these embezzlements had been going on for years,
but had been skillfully concealed by false entries.

"M. Favoral had managed to secure the esteem of all who knew him.
He led at home a more than modest existence. But that was only,
as it were, his official life. Elsewhere, and under another name,
he indulged in the most reckless expenses for the benefit of a
woman with whom he was madly in love.

"Who this woman is, is not yet exactly known.

"Some mention a very fascinating young actress, who performs at
a theatre not a hundred miles from the Rue Vivienne; others, a
lady of the financial high life, whose equipages, diamonds, and
dresses are justly famed.

"We might easily, in this respect, give particulars which would
astonish many people; for we know all; but, at the risk of
seeming less well informed than some others of our morning
contemporaries, we will observe a silence which our readers will
surely appreciate. We do not wish to add, by a premature
indiscretion, any thing to the grief of a family already so
cruelly stricken; for M. Favoral leaves behind him in the deepest
sorrow a wife and two children, - a son of twenty-five, employed
in a railroad office, and a daughter of twenty, remarkably
handsome, who, a few months ago, came very near marrying M.
C. -.

Next -"

Tears of rage obscured Maxence's sight whilst reading the last few
lines of this terrible article. To find himself thus held up to
public curiosity, though innocent, was more than he could bear.

And yet he was, perhaps, still more surprised than indignant. He
had just learned in that paper more than his father's most intimate
friends knew, more than he knew himself. Where had it got its
information? And what could be these other details which the writer
pretended to know, but did not wish to publish as yet? Maxence felt
like running to the office of the paper, fancying that they could
tell him there exactly where and under what name M. Favoral led that
existence of pleasure and luxury, and who the woman was to whom the
article alluded.

But in the mean time he had reached his hotel, - the Hotel des
Folies. After a moment of hesitation,

"Bash!" he thought, "I have the whole day to call at the office of
the paper.

And he started in the corridor of the hotel, a corridor that was so
long, so dark, and so narrow, that it gave an idea of the shaft of
a mine, and that it was prudent, before entering it, to make sure
that no one was coming in the opposite direction. It was from the
neighboring theatre, des Folies-Nouvelles (now the Theatre Dejazet),
that the hotel had taken its name.

It consists of the rear building of a large old house, and has no
frontage on the Boulevard, where nothing betrays its existence,
except a lantern hung over a low and narrow door, between a caf
and a confectionery-shop. It is one of those hotels, as there are
a good many in Paris, somewhat mysterious and suspicious, ill-kept,
and whose profits remain a mystery for simple-minded folks. Who
occupy the apartments of the first and second story? No one knows.
Never have the most curious of the neighbors discovered the face
of a tenant. And yet they are occupied; for often, in the
afternoon, a curtain is drawn aside, and a shadow is seen to move.
In the evening, lights are noticed within; and sometimes the sound
of a cracked old piano is heard.

Above the second story, the mystery ceases. All the upper rooms,
the price of which is relatively modest, are occupied by tenants
who may be seen and heard, - clerks like Maxence, shop-girls from
the neighborhood, a few restaurant-waiters, and sometimes some poor
devil of an actor or chorus-singer from the Theatre Dejazet, the
Circus, or the Chateau d'Eau. One of the great advantages of the
Hotel des Folies - and Mme. Fortin, the landlady, never failed to
point it out to the new tenants, an inestimable advantage, she
declared - was a back entrance on the Rue Beranger.

"And everybody knows," she concluded, "that there is no chance of
being caught, when one has the good luck of living in a house that
has two outlets."

When Maxence entered the office, a small, dark, and dirty room,
the proprietors, M. and Mme. Fortin were just finishing their
breakfast with an immense bowl of coffee of doubtful color, of
which an enormous red cat was taking a share.

"Ah, here is M. Favoral!" they exclaimed.

There was no mistaking their tone. They knew the catastrophe;
and the newspaper lying on the table showed how they had heard it.

"Some one called to see you last night," said Mme. Fortin, a large
fat woman, whose nose was always besmeared with snuff, and whose
honeyed voice made a marked contrast with her bird-of-prey look.

"Who?"

"A gentleman of about fifty, tall and thin, with a long overcoat,
coming down to his heels."

Maxence imagined, from this description, that he recognized his own
father. And yet it seemed impossible, after what had happened, that
he should dare to show himself on the Boulevard du Temple, where
everybody knew him, within a step of the Caf Turc, of which he
was one of the oldest customers.

"At what o'clock was he here?" he inquired.

"I really can't tell," answered the landlady. "I was half asleep
at the time; but Fortin can tell us."

M. Fortin, who looked about twenty years younger than his wife, was
one of those small men, blonde, with scanty beard, a suspicious
glance, and uneasy smile, such as the Madame Fortins know how, to
find, Heaven knows where.

"The confectioner had just put up his shutters," he replied:
"consequently, it must have been between eleven and a quarter-past
eleven."

"And didn't he leave any word?" said Maxence.

"Nothing, except that he was very sorry not to find you in. And,
in fact, he did look quite annoyed. We asked him to leave his name;
but he said it wasn't worth while, and that he would call again."

At the glance which the landlady was throwing toward him from the
corner of her eyes, Maxence understood that she had on the subject
of that late visitor the same suspicion as himself.

And, as if she had intended to make it more apparent still,

"I ought, perhaps, to have given him your key," she said.

"And why so, pray?"

"Oh! I don't know, an idea of mine, that's all. Besides, Mlle.
Lucienne can probably tell you more about it; for she was there
when the gentleman came, and I even think that they exchanged a
few words in the yard."

Maxence, seeing that they were only seeking a pretext to question
him, took his key, and inquired,

"Is - Mlle. Lucienne at home?"

"Can't tell. She has been going and coming all the morning, and
I don't know whether she finally staid in or out. One thing is
sure, she waited for you last night until after twelve; and she
didn't like it much, I can tell you."

Maxence started up the steep stairs; and, as he reached the upper
stories, a woman's voice, fresh and beautifully toned, reached his
ears more and more distinctly.

She was singing a popular tune, - one of those songs which are
monthly put in circulation by the singing cafes

"To hope! 0 charming word,
Which, during all life,
Husband and children and wife
Repeat in common accord!
When the moment of success
From us ever further slips,
'Tis Hope from its rosy lips
Whispers, To-morrow you will bless.
'Tis very nice to run,
But to have is better fun."

"She is in," murmured Maxence, breathing more freely.

Reaching the fourth story, he stopped before the door which faced
the stairs, and knocked lightly.

At once, the voice, which had just commenced another verse stopped
short, and inquired, "Who's there?"

"I, Maxence!"

"At this hour!" replied the voice with an ironical laugh. "That's
lucky. You have probably forgotten that we were to go to the
theatre last night, and start for St. Germain at seven o'clock
this morning."

"Don't you know then?" Maxence began, as soon as he could put in a
word.

"I know that you did not come home last night."

"Quite true. But when I have told you -"

"What? the lie you have imagined? Save yourself the trouble."

"Lucienne, I beg of you, open the door."

"Impossible, I am dressing. Go to your own room: as soon as I am
dressed, I'll join you."

And, to cut short all these explanations, she took up her song again:

"Hope, I've waited but too long
For thy manna divine!
I've drunk enough of thy wine,
And I know thy siren song:
Waiting for a lucky turn,
I have wasted my best days:
Take up thy magic-lantern
And elsewhere display its rays.
Tis very nice to run,
But to have is better fun!"





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