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XXVIII

For about a minute Maxence remained stupefied at this sudden
denouement; and, when he had recovered his presence of mind and his
voice, Mlle. Lucienne had disappeared, and he could hear her bolting
her door, and striking a match against the wall.

He might also have thought that he was awaking from a dream, had he
not had, to attest the reality, the vague perfume which filled his
room, and the light shawl, which Mlle. Lucienne wore as she came in,
and which she had forgotten, on a chair.

The night was almost ended: six o'clock had just struck. Still he
did not feel in the least sleepy. His head was heavy, his temples
throbbing, his eyes smarting. Opening his window, he leaned out to
breathe the morning air. The day was dawning pale and cold. A
furtive and livid light glanced along the damp walls of the narrow
court of the Hotel des Folies, as at the bottom of a well. Already
arose those confused noises which announce the waking of Paris, and
above which can be heard the sonorous rolling of the milkmen's carts,
the loud slamming of doors, and the sharp sound of hurrying steps on
the hard pavement.

But soon Maxence felt a chill coming over him. He closed the window,
threw some wood in the chimney, and stretched himself on his chair,
his feet towards the fire. It was a most serious event which had
just occurred in his existence; and, as much as he could, he
endeavored to measure its bearings, and to calculate its consequences
in the future.

He kept thinking of the story of that strange girl, her haughty
frankness when unrolling certain phases of her life, of her
wonderful impassibility, and of the implacable contempt for humanity
which her every word betrayed.. Where had she learned that dignity,
so simple and so noble, that measured speech, that admirable respect
of herself, which had enabled her to pass through so much filth
without receiving a stain?.

"What a woman!" he thought.

Before knowing her, he loved her. Now he was convulsed by one of
those exclusive passions which master the whole being. Already he
felt himself so much under the charm, subjugated, dominated,
fascinated; he understood so well that he was going to cease being
his own master; that his free will was about escaping from him;
that he would be in Mlle. Lucienne's hands like wax under the
modeler's fingers; he saw himself so thoroughly at the discretion
of an energy superior to his own, that he was almost frightened.

"It's my whole future that I am going to risk," he thought.

And there was no middle path. Either he must fly at once, without
waiting for Mlle. Lucienne to awake, fly without looking behind, or
else stay, and then accept all the chances of an incurable passion
for a woman who, perhaps, might never care for him. And he remained
wavering, like the traveler who finds himself at the intersection
of two roads, and, knowing that one leads to the goal, and the other
to an abyss, hesitates which to take.

With this difference, however, that if the traveler errs, and
discovers his error, he is always free to retrace his steps; whereas
man, in life, can never return to his starting-point. Every step he
takes is final; and if he has erred, if he has taken the fatal road,
there is no remedy.

"Well, no matter!" exclaimed Maxence. "It shall not be said that
through cowardice I have allowed that happiness to escape which
passes within my reach. I shall stay." And at once he began to
examine what reasonably he might expect; for there was no mistaking
Mlle. Lucienne's intentions. When she had said, "Do you wish to be
friends?" she had meant exactly that, and nothing else, - friends,
and only friends.

"And yet," thought Maxence, "if I had not inspired her with a real
interest, would she have so wholly confided unto me? She is not
ignorant of the fact that I love her; and she knows life too well
to suppose that I will cease to love her when she has allowed me a
certain amount of intimacy."

His heart filled with hope at the idea.

My mistress," he thought, "never, evidently, but my wife. Why not?"

But the very next moment he became a prey to the bitterest
discouragement. He thought that perhaps Mlle. Lucienne might have
some capital interest in thus making a confidant of him. She had
not told him the explanation given her by the peace-officer. Had
she not, perhaps, succeeded in lifting a corner of the veil which
covered the secret of her birth? Was she on the track of her
enemies? and had she discovered the motive of their animosity?

"Is it possible," thought Maxence, "that I should be but one of the
powers in the game she is playing? How do I know, that, if she wins,
she will not cast me off?"

In the midst of these thoughts, he had gradually fallen asleep,
murmuring to the last the name of Lucienne.

The creaking of his opening door woke him up suddenly. He started
to his feet, and met Mlle. Lucienne coming in.

"How is this?" said she. "You did not go to bed?"

"You recommended me to reflect," he replied. "I've been reflecting."

He looked at his watch: it was twelve o'clock.

"Which, however," he added, "did not keep me from going to sleep."

All the doubts that besieged him at the moment when he had been
overcome by sleep now came back to his mind with painful vividness.

"And not only have I been sleeping," he went on, "but I have been
dreaming too."

Mlle. Lucienne fixed upon him her great black eyes.

"Can you tell me your dream?" she asked.

He hesitated. Had he had but one minute to reflect, perhaps he
would not have spoken; but he was taken unawares.

"I dreamed," he replied, "that we were friends in the noblest and
purest acceptance of that word. Intelligence, heart, will, all that
I am, and all that I can, - I laid every thing at your feet. You
accepted the most entire devotion the most respectful and the most
tender that man is capable of. Yes, we were friends indeed; and
upon a glimpse of love, never expressed, I planned a whole future
of love." He stopped.

"Well?" she asked.

"Well, when my hopes seemed on the point of being realized, it
happened that the mystery of your birth was suddenly revealed to
you. You found a noble, powerful, and wealthy family. You resumed
the illustrious name of which you had been robbed; your enemies were
crushed; and your rights were restored to you. It was no longer
Van Klopen's hired carriage that stopped in front of the Hotel des
Folies, but a carriage bearing a gorgeous coat of arms. That
carriage was yours; and it came to take you to your own residence
in the Faubourg St. Germain, or to your ancestral manor."

"And yourself?" inquired the girl.

Maxence repressed one of those nervous spasms which frequently break
out in tears, and, with a gloomy look,

"I," he answered, "standing on the edge of the pavement, I waited
for a word or a look from you. You had forgotten my very existence.
Your coachman whipped his horses; they started at a gallop; and soon
I lost sight of you. And then a voice, the inexorable voice of fate,
cried to me, 'Never more shalt thou see her!'"

With a superb gesture Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

"It is not with your heart, I trust, that you judge
me, M. Maxence Favoral," she uttered.

He trembled lest he had offended her.

"I beseech you," he began.

But she went on in a voice vibrating with emotion,

"I am not of those who basely deny their past. Your dream will
never be realized. Those things are only seen on the stage. If
it did realize itself, however, if the carriage with the
coat-of-arms did come to the door, the companion of the evil days,
the friend who offered me his month's salary to pay my debt, would
have a seat by my side."

That was more happiness than Maxence would have dared to hope for.
He tried, in order to express his gratitude, to find some of those
words which always seem to be lacking at the most critical moments.
But he was suffocating; and the tears, accumulated by so many
successive emotions, were rising to his eyes.

With a passionate impulse, he seized Mlle. Lucienne's hand, and,
taking it to his lips, he covered it with kisses. Gently but
resolutely she withdrew her hand, and, fixing upon him her beautiful
clear gaze,

"Friends," she uttered.

Her accent alone would have been sufficient to dissipate the
presumptuous illusions of Maxence, had he had any. But he had none.

"Friends only," he replied, "until the day when you shall be my wife.
You cannot forbid me to hope. You love no one?"

"No one."

"Well since we are going to tread the path of life, let me think
that we may find love at some turn of the road."

She made no answer. And thus was sealed between them a treaty of
friendship, to which they were to remain so strictly faithful, that
the word "love" never once rose to their lips.

In appearance there was no change in their mode of life.

Every morning, at seven o'clock, Mlle. Lucienne went to M. Van
Klopen's, and an hour later Maxence started for his office. They
returned home at night, and spent their evenings together by the
fireside.

But what was easy to foresee now took place.

Weak and undecided by nature, Maxence began very soon to feel the
influence of the obstinate and energetic character of the girl.
She infused, as it were, in his veins, a warmer and more generous
blood. Gradually she imbued him with her ideas, and from her own
will gave him one.

He had told her in all sincerity his history, the miseries of his
home, M. Favoral's parsimony and exaggerated severity, his mother's
resigned timidity, and Mlle. Gilberte's resolute nature.

He had concealed nothing of his past life, of his errors and his
follies, confessing even the worst of his actions; as, for instance,
having abused his mother's and sister's affection to extort from
them all the money they earned.

He had admitted to her that it was only with great reluctance and
under pressure of necessity, that he worked at all; that he was far
from being rich; that although he took his dinner with his parents,
his salary barely sufficed for his wants; and that he had debts.

He hoped, however, he added, that it would not be always thus, and
that, sooner or later, he would see the termination of all this
misery and privation; for his father had at least fifty thousand
francs a year and some day he must be rich.

Far from smiling, Mlle. Lucienne frowned at such a prospect.

"Ah! your father is a millionaire, is he?" she interrupted. "Well,
I understand now how, at twenty-five, after refusing all the
positions which have been offered to you, you have no position. You
relied on your father, instead of relying on yourself. Judging that
he worked hard enough for two, you bravely folded your arms, waiting
for the fortune which he is amassing, and which you seem to consider
yours."

Such morality seemed a little steep to Maxence. "I think," he began,
"that, if one is the son of a rich man -"

"One has the right to be useless, I suppose?" added the girl.

"I do not mean that; but -"

"There is no but about it. And the proof that your views are wrong,
is that they have brought you where you are, and deprived you of your
own free will. To place one's self at the mercy of another, be that
other your own father, is always silly; and one is always at the
mercy of the man from whom he expects money that he has not earned.
Your father would never have been so harsh, had he not believed that
you could not do without him."

He wanted to discuss: she stopped him.

"Do you wish the proof that you are at M. Favoral's mercy?" she said.
"Very well. You spoke of marrying me."

"Ah, if you were willing!"

"Very well. Go and speak of it to your father."

"I suppose -"

"You don't suppose any thing at all: you are absolutely certain that
he will refuse you his consent."

"I could do without it."

"I admit that you could. But do you know what he would do then?
He would arrange things in such a way that you would never get a
centime of his fortune."

Maxence had never thought of that.

"Therefore," the young girl went on gayly, "though there is as yet
no question of marriage, learn to secure your independence; that
is, the means of living. And to that effect let us work."

It was from that moment, that Mme. Favoral had noticed in her son
the change that had surprised her so much.

Under the inspiration, under the impulsion, of Mlle. Lucienne,
Maxence had been suddenly taken with a zeal for work, and a desire
to earn money, of which he could not have been suspected.

He was no longer late at his office, and had not, at the end of each
month, ten or fifteen francs' fines to pay.

Every morning, as soon as she was up, Mlle. Lucienne came to knock
at his door. "Come, get up!" she cried to him.

And quick he jumped out of bed and dressed, so that he might bid
her good-morning before she left.

In the evening, the last mouthful of his dinner was hardly swallowed,
before he began copying the documents which he procured from M.
Chapelain's successor.

And often he worked quite late in the night whilst by his side Mlle.
Lucienne applied herself to some work of embroidery.

The girl was the cashier of the association; and she administered
the common capital with such skillful and such scrupulous economy,
that Maxence soon succeeded in paying off his creditors.

"Do you know," she was saying at the end of December, "that, between
us, we have earned over six hundred francs this month?"

On Sundays only, after a week of which not a minute had been lost,
they indulged in some little recreation.

If the weather was not too bad, they went out together, dined in
some modest restaurant, and finished the day at the theatre.

Having thus a common existence, both young, free, and having their
rooms divided only by a narrow passage it was difficult that people
should believe in the innocence of their intercourse. The
proprietors of the Hotel des Folies believed nothing of the kind;
and they were not alone in that opinion.

Mlle. Lucienne having continued to show herself in the Bois on the
afternoons when the weather was fine, the number of fools who annoyed
her with their attentions had greatly increased. Among the most
obstinate could be numbered M. Costeclar, who was pleased to
declare, upon his word of honor, that he had lost his sleep, and
his taste for business, since the day when, together with M. Saint
Pavin, he had first seen Mlle. Lucienne.

The efforts of his valet, and the letters which he had written,
having proved useless, M. Costeclar had made up his mind to act in
person; and gallantly he had come to put himself on guard in front
of the Hotel des Folies.

Great was his surprise, when he saw Mlle. Lucienne coming out arm
in arm with Maxence; and greater still was his spite.

"That girl is a fool," he thought, "to prefer to me a fellow who
has not two hundred francs a month to spend. But never mind! He
laughs best who laughs last."

And, as he was a man fertile in expedients, he went the next day
to take a walk in the neighborhood of the Mutual Credit; and, having
met M. Favoral by chance, he told him how his son Maxence was ruining
himself for a young lady whose toilets were a scandal, insinuating
delicately that it was his duty, as the head of the family, to put a
stop to such a thing.

This was precisely the time when Maxence was endeavoring to obtain
a situation in the office of the Mutual Credit.

It is true that the idea was not original with him, and that he had
even vehemently rejected it, when, for the first time, Mlle.
Lucienne had suggested it.

"What!" had he exclaimed, "be employed in the same establishment as
my father? Suffer at the office the same intolerable despotism as
at home? I'd rather break stones on the roads."

But Mlle. Lucienne was not the girl to give up so easily a project
conceived and carefully matured by herself.

She returned to the charge with that infinite art of women, who
understand so marvelously well how to turn a position which they
cannot carry in front. She kept the matter so well before him, she
spoke of it so often and so much, on every occasion, and under all
pretexts, that he ended by persuading himself that it was the only
reasonable and practical thing he could do, the only way in which
he had any chance of making his fortune; and so, one evening
overcoming his last hesitations,

"I am going to speak about it to my father," he said to Mlle.
Lucienne.

But whether he had been influenced by M. Costeclar's insinuations,
or for some other reason, M. Favoral had rejected indignantly his
son's request, saying that it was impossible to trust a young man
who was ruining himself for the sake of a miserable creature.

Maxence had become crimson with rage on hearing the woman spoken of
thus, whom he loved to madness, and who, far from ruining him, was
making him.

He returned to the Hotel des Folies in an indescribable state of
exasperation.

"There's the result," he said to Mlle. Lucienne, "of the step which
you have urged me so strongly to take."

She seemed neither surprised nor irritated.

"Very well," she replied simply.

But Maxence could not resign himself so quietly to such a cruel
disappointment; and, not having the slightest suspicion of
Costeclar's doings,

"And such is," he added, "the result of all the gossip of these
stupid shop-keepers who run to see you every time you go out in
the carriage.

The girl shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. "I expected it,"
she said, "the day when I accepted M. Van Klopen's offers."

"Everybody believes that you are my mistress."

"What matters it, since it is not so?"

Maxence did not dare to confess that this was precisely what made
him doubly angry; and he shuddered at the thought of the ridicule
that would certainly be heaped upon him, if the true state of the
case was known.

"We ought to move," he suggested.

"What's the use? Wherever we should go, it would be the same thing.
Besides, I don't want to leave this neighborhood."

"And I am too much your friend not to tell you, that your reputation
in it is absolutely lost."

I have no accounts to render to any one."

"Except to your friend the commissary of police, however."

A pale smile flitted upon her lips. "Ah!" she uttered, "he knows
the truth."

"You have seen him again, then?"

"Several times."

"Since we have known each other?"

"Yes."

"And you never told me anything about it?"

"I did not think it necessary."

Maxence insisted no more; but, by the sharp pang that he felt, he
realized how dear Mlle. Lucienne had become to him.

"She has secrets from me," thought he, - "from me who would deem it
a crime to have any from her."

What secrets? Had she concealed from him that she was pursuing an
object which had become, as it were, that of her whole life. Had
she not told him, that with the assistance of her friend the
peace-officer, who had now become commissary of police of the
district, she hoped to penetrate the mystery of her birth, and to
revenge herself on the villains, who, three times, had attempted to
do away with her?

She had never mentioned her projects again; but it was evident that
she had not abandoned them, for she would at the same time have
given up her rides to the bois, which were to her an abominable
torment.

But passion can neither reason nor discuss.

"She mistrusts me, who would give my life for hers" repeated Maxence.

And the idea was so painful to him, that he resolved to clear his
doubts at any cost, preferring the worst misery to the anxiety which
was gnawing at his heart.

And as soon as he found himself alone with Mlle. Lucienne, arming
himself with all his courage, and looking her straight in the eyes,

"You never speak to me any more of your enemies?" he said.

She doubtless understood what was passing within him.

"It's because I don't hear any thing of them myself," she answered
gently.

"Then you have given up your purpose?"

Not at all."

"What are your hopes, then, and what are your prospects?"

"Extraordinary as it may seem to you, I must confess that I know
nothing about it. My friend the commissary has his plan, I am
certain; and he is following it with an indefatigable obstinacy.
I am but an instrument in his hands. I never do any thing without
consulting him; and what he advises me to do I do."

Maxence started upon his chair.

"Was it he, then," he said in a tone of bitter irony, "who suggested
to you the idea of our fraternal association?"

A frown appeared upon the girl's countenance. She evidently felt
hurt by the tone of this species of interrogatory.

"At least he did not disapprove of it," she replied.

But that answer was just evasive enough to excite Maxence's anxiety.

"Was it from him too," he went on "that came the lovely idea of
having me enter the Mutual Credit?"

"Yes, it was from him."

"For what purpose?"

"He did not explain."

"Why did you not tell me?"

"Because he requested me not to do so."

From being red at the start, Maxence had now become very pale.

"And so," he resumed, "it is that man, that police-agent, who is
the real arbiter of my fate; and if to-morrow he commanded you to
break off with me -"

Mlle. Lucienne drew herself up.

"Enough!" she interrupted in a brief tone, enough! There is not
in my whole existence a single act which would give to my bitterest
enemy the right to suspect my loyalty; and now you accuse me of
the basest treason. What have you to reproach me with? Have I
not been faithful to the pact sworn between us. Have I not always
been for you the best of comrades and the most devoted of friends?
I remained silent, because the man in whom I have the fullest
confidence requested me to do so; but he knew, that, if you
questioned me, I would speak. Did you question me? And now what
more do you want? That I should stoop to quiet the suspicions of
your morbid mind? That I do not mean to do."

She was not, perhaps, entirely right; but Maxence was certainly
wrong. He acknowledged it, wept, implored her pardon, which was
granted; and this explanation only served to rivet more closely
the fetters that bound him.

It is true, that, availing himself of the permission that had been
granted him, he kept himself constantly informed of Mlle. Lucienne's
doings. He learnt from her that her friend the commissary had held
a most minute investigation at Louveciennes, and that the footman
who went to the bois with her was now, in reality, a detective.
And at last, one day,

"My friend the commissary," she said, "thinks he is on the right
track now."





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