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XXVI

It was on the opposite side of the landing that what Mme. Fortin
pompously called" Maxence's apartment" was situated.

It consisted of a sort of antechamber, almost as large as a
handkerchief (decorated by the Fortins with the name of dining-room),
a bedroom, and a closet called a dressing-room in the lease.
Nothing could be more gloomy than this lodging, in which the ragged
paper and soiled paint retained the traces of all the wanderers who
had occupied it since the opening of the Hotel des Folies. The
dislocated ceiling was scaling off in large pieces; the floor
seemed affected with the dry-rot; and the doors and windows were
so much warped and sprung, that it required an effort to close them.
The furniture was on a par with the rest.

"How everything does wear out!" sighed Mme. Fortin. "It isn't ten
years since I bought that furniture."

In point of fact it was over fifteen, and even then she had bought
it secondhanded, and almost unfit for use. The curtains retained
but a vague shade of their original color. The veneer was almost
entirely off the bedstead. Not a single lock was in order, whether
in the bureau or the secretary. The rug had become a nameless rag;
and the broken springs of the sofa, cutting through the threadbare
stuff, stood up threateningly like knife-blades.

The most sumptuous object was an enormous China stove, which
occupied almost one-half of the hall-dining-room. It could not be
used to make a fire; for it had no pipe. Nevertheless, Mme. Fortin
refused obstinately to take it out, under the pretext that it gave
such a comfortable appearance to the apartment. All this elegance
cost Maxence forty-five francs a month, and five francs for the
service; the whole payable in advance from the 1st to the 3d of
the month. If, on the 4th, a tenant came in without money, Mme.
Fortin squarely refused him his key, and invited him to seek
shelter elsewhere.

"I have been caught too often," she replied to those who tried to
obtain twenty-four hours' grace from her. "I wouldn't trust my
own father till the 5th, he who was a superior officer in Napoleon's
armies, and the very soul of honor."

It was chance alone which had brought Maxence, after the Commune,
to the Hotel des Folies; and he had not been there a week, before
he had fully made up his mind not to wear out Mme. Fortin's
furniture very long. He had even already found another and more
suitable lodging, when, about a year ago, a certain meeting on
the stairs had modified all his views, and lent a charm to his
apartment which he did not suspect.

As he was going out one morning to his office, he met on the very
landing a rather tall and very dark girl, who had just come
running up stairs. She passed before him like a flash, opened
the opposite door, and disappeared. But, rapid as the apparition
had been, it had left in Maxence's mind one of those impressions
which are never obliterated. He could not think of any thing
else the whole day; and after business-hours, instead of going to
dine in Rue St. Gilles, as usual, he sent a despatch to his mother
to tell her not to wait for him, and bravely went home.

But it was in vain, that, during the whole evening, he kept watch
behind his door, left slyly ajar: he did not get a glimpse of the
neighbor. Neither did she show herself on the next or the three
following days; and Maxence was beginning to despair, when at last,
on Sunday, as he was going down stairs, he met her again face to
face. He had thought her quite pretty at the first glance: this
time he was dazzled to that extent, that he remained for over a
minute, standing like a statue against the wall.

And certainly it was not her dress that helped setting off her
beauty. She wore a poor dress of black merino, a narrow collar,
and plain cuffs, and a bonnet of the utmost simplicity. She had
nevertheless an air of incomparable dignity, a grace that charmed,
and yet inspired respect, and the carriage of a queen. This was
on the 30th of July. As he was handing in his key, before leaving,

"My apartment suits me well enough," said Maxence to Mme. Fortin:
"I shall keep it. And here are fifty francs for the month of August."

And, while the landlady was making out a receipt,

"You never told me," he began with his most indifferent look, "that
I had a neighbor."

Mme. Fortin straightened herself up like an old warhorse that hears
the sound of the bugle.

"Yes, yes!" she said, -" Mademoiselle Lucienne."

"Lucienne," repeated Maxence: "that's a pretty name."

"Have you seen her?"

"I have just seen her. She's rather good looking."

The worthy landlady jumped on her chair. "Rather good looking!"
she interrupted. "You must be hard to please, my dear sir; for I,
who am a judge, I affirm that you might hunt Paris over for four
whole days without finding such a handsome girl. Rather good
looking! A girl who has hair that comes down to her knees, a
dazzling complexion, eyes as big as this, and teeth whiter than
that cat's. All right, my friend. You'll wear out more than one
pair of boots running after women before you catch one like her."

That was exactly Maxence's opinion; and yet with his coldest look,

"Has she been long your tenant, dear Mme. Fortin?" he asked.

"A little over a year. She was here during the siege; and just
then, as she could not pay her rent, I was, of course, going to
send her off; but she went straight to the commissary of police,
who came here, and forbade me to turn out either her or anybody
else. As if people were not masters in their own house!"

"That was perfectly absurd!" objected Maxence, who was determined
to gain the good graces of the landlady.

"Never heard of such a thing!" she went on. "Compel you to lodge
people free! Why not feed them too? In short, she remained so
long, that, after the Commune, she owed me a hundred and eighty
francs. Then she said, that, if I would let her stay, she would
pay me each month in advance, besides the rent, ten francs on the
old account. I agreed, and she has already paid up twenty francs."

"Poor girl!" said Maxence.

But Mme. Fortin shrugged her shoulders.

"Really," she replied, "I don't pity her much; for, if she only
wanted, in forty-eight hours I should be paid, and she would have
something else on her back besides that old black rag. I tell her
every day, 'In these days, my child, there is but one reliable
friend, which is better than all others, and which must be taken as
it comes, without making any faces if it is a little dirty: that's
money.' But all my preaching goes for nothing. I might as well
sing."

Maxence was listening with intense delight.

"In short, what does she do?" he asked.

"That's more than I know," replied Mme. Fortin. "The young lady
has not much to say. All I know is, that she leaves every morning
bright and early, and rarely gets home before eleven. On Sunday
she stays home, reading; and sometimes, in the evening, she goes
out, always alone, to some theatre or ball. Ah! she is an odd
one, I tell you!"

A lodger who came in interrupted the landlady; and Maxence walked
off dreaming how he could manage to make the acquaintance of his
pretty and eccentric neighbor.

Because he had once spent some hundreds of napoleons in the company
of young ladies with yellow chignons, Maxence fancied himself a man
of experience, and had but little faith in the virtue of a girl of
twenty, living alone in a hotel, and left sole mistress of her own
fancy. He began to watch for every occasion of meeting her; and,
towards the last of the month, he had got so far as to bow to her,
and to inquire after her health.

But, the first time he ventured to make love to her, she looked at
him head to foot, and turned her back upon him with so much contempt,
that he remained, his mouth wide open, perfectly stupefied.

"I am losing my time like a fool," he thought.

Great, then, was his surprise, when the following week, on a fine
afternoon, he saw Mlle. Lucienne leave her room, no longer clad in
her eternal black dress, but wearing a brilliant and extremely rich
toilet. With a beating heart he followed her.

In front of the Hotel des Folies stood a handsome carriage and
horses.

As soon as Mlle. Lucienne appeared, a footman opened respectfully
the carriage-door. She went in; and the horses started at a full
trot.

Maxence watched the carriage disappear in the distance, like a
child who sees the bird fly upon which he hoped to lay hands.

"Gone," he muttered, "gone!"

But, when he turned around, he found himself face to face with the
Fortins, man and wife; who were laughing a sinister laugh.

"What did I tell you?" exclaimed Mine Fortin. "There she is,
started at last. Get up, horse! She'll do well, the child."

The magnificent equipage and elegant dress had already produced
quite an effect among the neighbors. The customers sitting in front
of the caf were laughing among themselves. The confectioner and
his wife were casting indignant glances at the proprietors of the
Hotel des Folies.

"You see, M. Favoral," replied Mme. Fortin, "such a girl as that
was not made for our neighborhood. You must make up your mind to
it; you won't see much more of her on the Boulevard du Temple."

Without saying a word, Maxence ran to his room, the hot tears
streaming from his eyes. He felt ashamed of himself; for, after
all, what was this girl to him?.

She is gone!" he repeated to himself. "Well, good-by, let her go!"

But, despite all his efforts at philosophy, he felt an immense
sadness invading his heart: ill-defined regrets and spasms of anger
agitated him. He was thinking what a fool he had been to believe
in the grand airs of the young lady, and that, if he had had dresses
and horses to give her, she might not have received him so harshly.
At last he made up his mind to think no more of her, - one of those
fine resolutions which are always taken, and never kept; and in the
evening he left his room to go and dine in the Rue St. Gilles.

But, as was often his custom, he stopped at the caf next door, and
called for a drink. He was mixing his absinthe when he saw the
carriage that had carried off Mlle. Lucienne in the morning returning
at a rapid gait, and stopping short in front of the hotel. Mlle.
Lucienne got out slowly, crossed the sidewalk, and entered the
narrow corridor. Almost immediately, the carriage turned around,
and drove off.

"What does it mean?" thought Maxence, who was actually forgetting
to swallow his absinthe.

He was losing himself in absurd conjectures, when, some fifteen
minutes later, he saw the girl coming out again. Already she had
taken off her elegant clothes, and resumed her cheap black dress.
She had a basket on her arm, and was going towards the Rue Chariot.
Without further reflections, Maxence rose suddenly, and started to
follow her, being very careful that she should not see him. After
walking for five or six minutes, she entered a shop, half-eating
house, and half wine-shop, in the window of which a large sign
could be read: "Ordinary at all hours for forty centimes. Hard
boiled eggs, and salad of the season."

Maxence, having crept up as close as he could, saw Mlle. Lucienne
take a tin box out of her basket, and have what is called an
"ordinaire" poured into it; that is, half a pint of soup, a piece
of beef as large as the fist, and a few vegetables. She then had
a small bottle half-filled with wine, paid, and walked out with
that same look of grave dignity which she always wore.

"Funny dinner," murmured Maxence, "for a woman who was spreading
herself just now in a ten-thousand-franc carriage."

From that moment she became the sole and only object of his thoughts.
A passion, which he no longer attempted to resist, was penetrating
like a subtle poison to the innermost depths of his being. He
thought himself happy, when, after watching for hours, he caught a
glimpse of this singular creature, who, after that extraordinary
expedition, seemed to have resumed her usual mode of life. Mme.
Fortin was dumfounded.

"She has been too exacting," she said to Maxence, "and the thing
has fallen through."

He made no answer. He felt a perfect horror for the honorable
landlady's insinuations; and yet he never ceased to repeat to
himself that he must be a great simpleton to have faith for a
moment in that young lady's virtue. What would he not have given
to be able to question her? But he dared not. Often he would
gather up his courage, and wait for her on the stairs; but, as
soon as she fixed upon him her great black eye, all the phrases
he had prepared took flight from his brain, his tongue clove to
his mouth, and he could barely succeed in stammering out a timid,

"Good-morning, mademoiselle."

He felt so angry with himself, that he was almost on the point of
leaving the Hotel des Folies, when one evening:

"Well," said Mme. Fortin to him, "all is made up again, it seems.
The beautiful carriage called again to-day."

Maxence could have beaten her.

"What good would it do you," he replied, "if Lucienne were to turn
out badly?"

"It's always a pleasure," she grumbled, "to have one more woman to
torment the men. Those are the girls, you see, who avenge us poor
honest women!"

The sequel seemed at first to justify her worst previsions. Three
times during that week, Mlle. Lucienne rode out in grand style; but
as she always returned, and always resumed her eternal black woolen
dress,

"I can't make head or tail of it," thought Maxence. But never mind,
I'll clear the matter up yet."

He applied, and obtained leave of absence; and from the very next
day he took up a position behind the window of the adjoining caf .
On the first day he lost his time; but on the second day, at about
three o'clock, the famous equipage made its appearance; and, a few
moments later, Mlle. Lucienne took a seat in it. Her toilet was
richer, and more showy still, than the first time. Maxence jumped
into a cab.

"You see that carriage," he said to the coachman, "Wherever it
goes, you must follow it. I give ten francs extra pay."

"All right!" replied the driver, whipping up his horses.

And much need he had, too, of whipping them; for the carriage that
carried off Mlle. Lucienne started at full trot down the Boulevards,
to the Madeleine, then along the Rue Royale, and through the Place
de la Concorde, to the Avenue des Champs-E1ysees, where the horses
were brought down to a walk. It was the end of September, and one
of those lovely autumnal days which are a last smile of the blue
sky and the last caress of the sun.

There were races in the Bois de Boulogne; and the equipages were
five and six abreast on the avenue. The side-alleys were crowded
with idlers. Maxence, from the inside of his cab, never lost sight
of Mlle. Lucienne.

She was evidently creating a sensation. The men stopped to look
at her with gaping admiration: the women leaned out of their
carriages to see her better.

"Where can she be going?" Maxence wondered.

She was going to the Bois; and soon her carriage joined the
interminable line of equipages which were following the grand drive
at a walk. It became easier now to follow on foot. Maxence sent
off his cab to wait for him at a particular spot, and took the
pedestrians' road, that follows the edge of the lakes. He had
not gone fifty steps, however, before he heard some one call him.
He turned around, and, within two lengths of his cane, saw M. Saint
Pavin and M. Costeclar. Maxence hardly knew M. Saint Pavin, whom
he had only seen two or three times in the Rue St. Gilles, and
execrated M. Costeclar. Still he advanced towards them.

Mlle. Lucienne's carriage was now caught in the file; and he was
sure of joining it whenever he thought proper.

"It is a miracle to see you here, my dear Maxence!" exclaimed M.
Costeclar, loud enough to attract the attention of several persons.

To occupy the attention of others, anyhow and at any cost, was M.
Costeclar's leading object in life.. That was evident from the
style of his dress, the shape of his hat, the bright stripes of his
shirt, his ridiculous shirt-collar, his cuffs, his boots, his gloves,
his cane, every thing, in fact.

"If you see us on foot," he added, "it is because we wanted to walk
a little. The doctor's prescription, my dear. My carriage is
yonder, behind those trees. Do you recognize my dapple-grays?"
And he extended his cane in that direction, as if he were addressing
himself, not to Maxence alone, but to all those who were passing by.

"Very well, very well! everybody knows you have a carriage,"
interrupted M. Saint Pavin.

The editor of "The Financial Pilot" was the living contrast of his
companion. More slovenly still than M. Costeclar was careful of
his dress, he exhibited cynically a loose cravat rolled over a shirt
worn two or three days, a coat white with lint and plush, muddy
boots, though it had not rained for a week, and large red hands,
surprisingly filthy.

He was but the more proud ; and he wore, cocked up to one side, a
hat that had not known a brush since the day it had left the hatter's.

"That fellow Costeclar," he went on, "he won't believe that there
are in France a number of people who live and die without ever
having owned a horse or a coupe; which is a fact, nevertheless.
Those fellows who were born with fifty or sixty thousand francs'
income in their baby-clothes are all alike."

The unpleasant intention was evident; but M. Costeclar was not the
man to get angry for such a trifle.

"You are in bad humor to-day, old fellow," he said. The editor of
"The Financial Pilot" made a threatening gesture.

"Well, yes," he answered, "I am in bad humor, like a man who for
ten years past has been beating the drum in front of your d--d
financial shops, and who does not pay expenses. Yes, for ten years
I have shouted myself hoarse for your benefit: 'Walk in, ladies and
gentlemen, and, for every twenty-cent-piece you deposit with us,
we will return you a five-franc-piece. Walk in, follow the crowd,
step up to the office: this is the time.' They go in. You receive
mountains of twenty-cent-pieces: you never return anything, neither
a five-franc-piece, nor even a centime. The trick is done, the
public is sold. You drive your own carriage; you suspend diamonds
to your mistress' ears; and I, the organizer of success, whose puffs
open the tightest closed pockets, and start up the old louis from
the bottom of the old woolen stocking, - I am driven to have my boots
half-soled. You stint me my existence; you kick as soon as I ask
you to pay for the big drums bursted in your beha1f"

He spoke so loud, that three or four idlers had stopped. Without
being very shrewd, Maxence understood readily that he had happened
in the midst of an acrimonious discussion. Closely pressed, and
desirous of gaining time, M. Costeclar had called him in the hopes
of effecting a diversion.

Bowing, therefore, politely,

"Excuse me, gentlemen," he-said: "I fear I have interrupted you."

But M. Costeclar detained him.

"Don't go," he declared; "you must come down and take a glass of
Madeira with us, down at the Cascade."

And, turning to the editor of "The Pilot":

"Come, now, shut up," he said: "you shall have what you want."

"Really?"

"Upon my word."

"I'd rather have two or three lines in black and white."

"I'll give them to you to-night."

"All right, then! Forward the big guns! Look out for next Sunday's
number!"

Peace being made, the gentlemen continued their walk in the most
friendly manner, M. Costeclar pointing out to Maxence all the
celebrities who were passing by them in their carriages.

He had just designated to his attention Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller,
accompanied by two gigantic footmen, when, suddenly interrupting
himself, and rising on tiptoe,

"Sacre bleu!" he exclaimed: "what a handsome woman!"

Without too much affectation, Maxence fell back a step or two. He
felt himself blushing to his very ears, and trembled lest his sudden
emotion were noticed, and he were questioned; for it was Mlle.
Lucienne who thus excited M. Costeclar's noisy enthusiasm. Once
already she had been around the lake; and she was continuing
her circular drive.

"Positively," approved the editor of "The Financial Pilot," "she is
somewhat better than the rest of those ladies we have just seen
going by."

M. Costeclar was on the point of pulling out what little hair he
had left.

"And I don't know her!" he went on. "A lovely woman rides in the
Bois, and I don't know who she is! That is ridiculous and
prodigious! Who can post us?"

A little ways off stood a group of gentlemen, who had also just left
their carriages, and were looking on this interminable procession of
equipages and this amazing display of toilets.

"They are friends of mine," said M. Costeclar: "let us join them."

They did so; and, after the usual greetings,

"Who is that?" inquired M. Costeclar, - "that dark person, whose
carriage follows Mme. de Thaller's?"

An old young man, with scanty hair, dyed beard, and a most impudent
smile, answered him,

"That's just what we are trying to find out. None of us have ever
seen her."

"I must and shall find out," interrupted M. Costeclar. "I have a
very intelligent servant"

Already he was starting in the direction of the spot where his
carriage was waiting for him. The old beau stopped him.

Don't bother yourself, my dear friend," he said. " I have also a
servant who is no fool; and he has had orders for over fifteen
minutes."

The others burst out laughing.

"Distanced, Costeclar!" exclaimed M. Saint Pavin, who,
notwithstanding his slovenly dress and cynic manners, seemed
perfectly well received.

No one was now paying any attention to Maxence; and he slipped off
without the slightest care as to what M. Costeclar might think.
Reaching the spot where his cab awaited him,

"Which way, boss?" inquired the driver. Maxence hesitated. What
better had he to do than to go home? And yet...

"We'll wait for that same carriage," he answered; and we'll follow
it on the return."

But he learned nothing further. Mlle. Lucienne drove straight to
the Boulevard du Temple, and, as before, immediately resumed her
eternal black dress; and Maxence saw, her go to the little restaurant
for her modest dinner.

But he saw something else too.

Almost on the heels of the girl, a servant in livery entered the hotel
corridor, and only went off after remaining a full quarter of an hour
in busy conference with Mme. Fortin.

"It's all over," thought the poor fellow. "Lucienne will not be
much longer my neighbor."

He was mistaken. A month went by without bringing about any change.
As in the past, she went out early, came home late, and on Sundays
remained alone all day in her room. Once or twice a week, when the
weather was fine, the carriage came for her at about three o'clock,
and brought her home at nightfall. Maxence had exhausted all
conjectures, when one evening, it was the 31st of October, as he
was coming in to go to bed, he heard a loud sound of voices in the
office of the hotel. Led by an instinctive curiosity, he approached
on tiptoe, so as to see and hear every thing. The Fortins and Mlle.
Lucienne were having a great discussion.

"That's all nonsense," shrieked the worthy, landlady; "and I mean
to be paid."

Mlle. Lucienne was quite calm.

"Well," she replied: "don't I pay you? Here are forty francs,
- thirty in advance for my room, and ten on the old account."

"I don't want your ten francs!"

"What do you want, then?"

"Ah, - the hundred and fifty francs which you owe me still."

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

"You forget our agreement," she uttered.

"Our agreement?"

"Yes. After the Commune, it was understood that I would give you
ten francs a month on the old account; as long as I give them to
you, you have nothing to ask."

Crimson with rage, Mme. Fortin had risen from her seat.

"Formerly," she interrupted, "I presumed I had to deal with a poor
working-girl, an honest girl."

Mlle. Lucienne took no notice of the insult.

"I have not the amount you ask," she said coldly.

"Well, then," vociferated the other, "you must go and ask it of
those who pay for your carriages and your dresses."

Still impassible, the girl, instead of answering, stretched her
hand towards her key; but M. Fortin stopped her arm.

"No, no!" he said with a giggle. "People who don't pay their
hotel-bill sleep out, my darling."

Maxence, that very morning, had received his month's pay, and he
felt, as it were, his two hundred francs trembling in his pockets.

Yielding to a sudden inspiration, he threw open the office-door,
and, throwing down one hundred and fifty francs upon the table,

"Here is your money, wretch!" he exclaimed. And he withdrew at
once.





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