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XXIX

Such was the exact situation of Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne on that
eventful Saturday evening in the month of April, 1872, when the
police came to arrest M. Vincent Favoral, on the charge of
embezzlement and forgery.

It will be remembered, how, at his mother's request, Maxence had
spent that night in the Rue St. Gilles, and how, the next morning,
unable any longer to resist his eager desire to see Mlle. Lucienne,
he had started for the Hotel des Folies, leaving his sister alone
at home.

He retired to his room, as she had requested him, and, sinking
upon his old arm-chair in a fit of the deepest distress,

"She is singing," he murmured: "Mme. Fortin has not told her any
thing."

And at the same moment Mlle. Lucienne had resumed her song, the
words of which reached him like a bitter raillery,

"Hope! 0 sweet, deceiving word!
Mad indeed is he,
Who does think he can trust thee,
And take thy coin can afford.
Over his door every one
Will hang thee to his sorrow,
Then saying of days begone,
'Cash to-day, credit to-morrow!'
'Tis very nice to run;
But to have is better fun!"

"What will she say," thought Maxence, "when she learns the horrible
truth?"

And he felt a cold perspiration starting on his temples when he
remembered Mlle. Lucienne's pride, and that honor has her only faith,
the safety-plank to which she had desperately clung in the midst of
the storms of her life. What if she should leave him, now that the
name he bore was disgraced!

A rapid and light step on the landing drew him from his gloomy
thoughts. Almost immediately, the door opened, and Mlle. Lucienne
came in.

She must have dressed in haste; for she was just finishing hooking
her dress, the simplicity of which seemed studied, so marvelously
did it set off the elegance of her figure, the splendors of her
waist, and the rare perfections of her shoulders and of her neck.

A look of intense dissatisfaction could be read upon her lovely
features; but, as soon as she had seen Maxence, her countenance
changed.

And, in fact, his look of utter distress, the disorder of his
garments, his livid paleness, and the sinister look of his eyes,
showed plainly enough that a great misfortune had befallen him.
In a voice whose agitation betrayed something more than the anxiety
and the sympathy. of a friend,

"What is the matter? What has happened?" inquired the girl.

"A terrible misfortune," he replied.

He was hesitating: he wished to tell every thing at once, and knew
not how to begin.

"I have told you," he said, "that my family was very rich."

"Yes."

"Well, we have nothing left, absolutely nothing!' She seemed to
breathe more freely, and, in a tone of friendly irony,

"And it is the loss of your fortune," she said, "that distresses
you thus?"

He raised himself painfully to his feet, and, in a low hoarse voice,

"Honor is lost too," he uttered.

"Honor?"

"Yes. My father has stolen: my father has forged!"

She had become whiter than her collar.

"Your father!" she stammered.

"Yes. For years he has been using the money that was intrusted to
him, until the deficit now amounts to twelve millions."

"Great heavens!"

"And, notwithstanding the enormity of that sum, he was reduced,
during the latter months, to the most miserable expedients, - going
from door to door in the neighborhood, soliciting deposits, until
he actually basely swindled a poor newspaper-vender out of five
hundred francs."

"Why, this is madness! And how did you find out?"

"Last night they came to arrest him. Fortunately we had been
notified; and I helped him to escape through a window of my sister's
room, which opens on the yard of an adjoining house."

"And where is he now?"

"Who knows?"

"Had he any money?"

"Everybody thinks that he carries off millions. I do not believe
it. He even refused to take the few thousand francs which M. de
Thaller had brought him to facilitate his flight."

Mlle. Lucienne shuddered.

"Did you see M. de Thaller?" she asked.

"He got to the house a few moment in advance of the commissary of
police; and a terrible scene took place between him and my father."

"What was he saying?"

"That my father had ruined him."

"And your father?"

"He stammered incoherent phrases. He was like a man who has
received a stunning blow. But we have discovered incredible things.
My father, so austere and so parsimonious at home, led a merry life
elsewhere, spending money without stint. It was for a woman that
he robbed."

"And - do you know who that woman is?"

"No. But I can find out from the writer of the article in this
paper, who says that he knows her. See!"

Mlle. Lucienne took the paper which Maxence was holding out to her:
but she hardly condescended to look at it.

"But what's your idea now?"

"I do not believe that my father is innocent; but I believe that
there are people more guilty than he, - skillful and prudent knaves,
who have made use of him as a man of straw, - villains who will
quietly digest their share of the millions (the biggest one, of
course), while he will be sent to prison."

A fugitive blush colored Mlle. Lucienne's cheeks.

"That being the case," she interrupted, "what do you expect to do?"

"Avenge my father, if possible, and discover his accomplices, if he
has any."

She held out her hand to him.

"That's right," she said. "But how will you go about it?"

"I don't know yet. At any rate, I must first of all run to the
newspaper office, and get that woman's address."

But Mlle. Lucienne stopped him.

"No," she uttered: "it isn't there that you must go. You must come
with me to see my friend the commissary."

Maxence received this suggestion with a gesture of surprise, almost
of terror.

"Why, how can you think of such a thing?" he exclaimed. "My father
is fleeing from justice; and you want me to take for my confidant a
commissary of police, - the very man whose duty it is to arrest him,
if he can find him!"

But he interrupted himself for a moment, staring and gaping, as if
the truth had suddenly flashed upon his mind in dazzling evidence.

"For my father has not gone abroad," he went on. "It is in Paris
that he is hiding: I am sure of it. You have seen him?"

Mlle. Lucienne really thought that Maxence was losing his mind.

"I have seen your father - I?" she said.

"Yes, last evening. How could I have forgotten it? While you were
waiting for me down stairs, between eleven and half-past eleven a
middle-aged man, thin, wearing a long overcoat, came and asked for
me."

"Yes, I remember."

"He spoke to you in the yard."

"That's a fact."

"What did he tell you?"

She hesitated for a moment, evidently trying to tax her memory; then,

"Nothing," she replied, "that he had not already said before the
Fortins; that he wanted to see you on important business, and was
sorry not to find you in. What surprised me, though, is, that he
was speaking as if he knew me, and knew that I was a friend of yours."
Then, striking her forehead,

" Perhaps you are right," she went on. "Perhaps that man was indeed
your father. Wait a minute. Yes, he seemed quite excited, and at
every moment he looked around towards the door. He said it would be
impossible for him to return, but that he would write to you, and
that probably he would require your assistance and your services."

"You see," exclaimed Maxence, almost crazy with subdued excitement,
"it was my father. He is going to write; to return, perhaps; and,
under the circumstances, to apply to a commissary of police would
be sheer folly, almost treason."

She shook her head.

"So much the more reason," she uttered, "why you should follow my
advice. Have you ever had occasion to repent doing so?"

"No, but you may be mistaken."

"I am not mistaken."

She expressed herself in a tone of such absolute-certainty, that
Maxence, in the disorder of his mind, was at a loss to know what to
imagine, what to believe.

"You must have some reason to urge me thus," he said.

"I have."

"Why not tell it to me then?"

"Because I should have no proofs to furnish you of my assertions.
Because I should have to go into details which you would not
understand. Because, above all, I am following one of those
inexplicable presentiments which never deceive."

It was evident that she was not willing to unveil her whole mind;
and yet Maxence felt himself terribly staggered.

Think of my agony," he said, " if I were to cause my father's arrest."

"Would my own be less? Can any misfortune strike you without
reaching me? Let us reason a little. What were you saying a moment
since? That certainly your father is not as guilty as people think;
at any rate, that he is not alone guilty; that he has been but the
instrument of rascals more skillful and more powerful than himself;
and that he has had but a small share of the twelve millions?"

"Such is my absolute conviction."

"And that you would like to deliver up to justice the villains who
have benefitted by your father's crime, and who think themselves sure
of impunity?"

Tears of anger fell from Maxence's eyes.

"Do you wish to take away all my courage?" he murmured.

"No; but I wish to demonstrate to you the necessity of the step
which I advise you to take. The end justifies the means; and we
have not the choice of means. Come, 'tis to an honest man and a
tried friend that I shall take you. Fear nothing. If he remembers
that he is commissary of police, it will be to serve us, not to
injure you. You hesitate? Perhaps at this moment he already
knows more than we do ourselves."

Maxence took a sudden resolution.

Very well," he said: "let us go."

In less than five minutes they were off; and, as they went out, they
had to disturb Mme. Fortin, who stood at the door, gossiping with
two or three of the neighboring shop-keepers.

As soon as Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne were out of hearing,

"You see that young man," said the honorable proprietress of the
Hotel des Folies to her interlocutors. "Well, he is the son of that
famous cashier who has just run off with twelve millions, after
ruining a thousand families. It don't seem to trouble him, either;
for there he is, going out to spend a pleasant day with his mistress,
and to treat her to a fine dinner with the old man's money."

Meantime, Maxence and Lucienne reached the commissary's house. He
was at home; they walked in. And, as soon as they appeared,

"I expected you," he said.

He was a man already past middle age, but active and vigorous still.
With his white cravat and long frock-coat, he looked like a notary.
Benign was the expression of his countenance; but the lustre of his
little gray eyes, and the mobility of his nostrils, showed that it
should not be trusted too far.

"Yes, I expected you," he repeated, addressing himself as much to
Maxence as to Mlle. Lucienne. "It is the Mutual Credit matter which
brings you here?"

Maxence stepped forward,

"I am Vincent Favoral's son, sir," he replied. "I have still my
mother and a sister. Our situation is horrible. Mlle. Lucienne
suggested that you might be willing to give me some advice; and here
we are."

The commissary rang, and, on the bell being answered,

"I am at home for no one," he said.

And then turning to Maxence,

"Mlle. Lucienne did well to bring you," he said; "for it may be,
that, whilst rendering her an important service, I may also render
you one. But I have no time to lose. Sit down, and tell me all
about it." With the most scrupulous exactness Maxence told the
history of his family, and the events of the past twenty-four hours.

Not once did the commissary interrupt him; but, when he had done,

"Tell me your father's interview with M. de Thaller all over again,"
he requested, "and, especially, do not omit any thing that you have
heard or seen, not a word, not a gesture, not a look."

And, Maxence having complied,

"Now," said the commissary, "repeat every thing your father said at
the moment of going."

He did so. The commissary took a few notes, and then,

"What were," he inquired, "the relations of your family with the
Thaller family?"

"There were none.

"What! Neither Mme. nor Mlle. de Thaller ever visited you?"

"Never."

"Do you know the Marquis de Tregars?"

Maxence stared in surprise.

"Tregars! " he repeated. "It's the first time that I hear that
name."

The usual clients of the commissary would have hesitated to recognize
him, so completely had he set aside his professional stiffness, so
much had his freezing reserve given way to the most encouraging
kindness.

"Now, then," he resumed, "never mind M. de Tregars: let us talk of
the woman, who, you seem to think, has been the cause of M. Favoral's
ruin."

On the table before him lay the paper in which Maxence had read in
the morning the terrible article headed: Another Financial Disaster."

"I know nothing of that woman," he replied; "but it must be easy to
find out, since the writer of this article pretends to know."

The commissary smiled, not having quite as much faith in newspapers
as Maxence seemed to have.

"Yes, I read that," he said.

"We might send to the office of that paper," suggested Mlle. Lucienne.

"I have already sent, my child."

And, without noticing the surprise of Maxence and of the young girl,
he rang the bell, and asked whether his secretary had returned. The
secretary answered by appearing in person.

"Well?" inquired the commissary.

"I have attended to the matter, sir," he replied. "I saw the
reporter who wrote the article in question; and, after beating about
the bush for some time, he finally confessed that he knew nothing
more than had been published, and that he had obtained his
information from two intimate friends of the cashier, M. Costeclar
and M. Saint Pavin."

"You should have gone to see those gentlemen."

"I did."

"Very well. What then?"

"Unfortunately, M. Costeclar had just gone out. As to M. Saint
Pavin, I found him at the office of his paper, 'The Financial Pilot.'
He is a coarse and vulgar personage, and received me like a
pickpocket. I had even a notion to -"

"Never mind that! Go on."

"He was closeted with another gentleman, a banker, named Jottras,
of the house of Jottras and Brother. They were both in a terrible
rage, swearing like troopers, and saying that the Favoral
defalcation would ruin them; that they had been taken in like fools,
but that they were not going to take things so easy, and they were
preparing a crushing article."

But he stopped, winking, and pointing to Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne,
who were listening as attentively as they could.

"Speak, speak!" said the commissary. "Fear nothing."

"Well," he went on, "M. Saint Pavin and M. Jottras were saying that
M. Favoral was only a poor dupe, but that they would know how to
find the others."

"What others?"

"Ah! they didn't say."

The commissary shrugged his shoulders.

"What!" he exclaimed, "you find yourself in presence of two men
furious to have been duped, who swear and threaten, and you can't
get from them a name that you want? You are not very smart,
my dear!"

And as the poor secretary, somewhat put out of countenance, looked
down, and said nothing,

"Did you at least ask them," he resumed, "who the woman is to whom
the article refers, and whose existence they have revealed to the
reporter?"

"Of course I did, sir."

"And what did they answer?"

"That they were not spies, and had nothing to say, M. Saint Pavin
added, however, that he had said it without much thought, and only
because he had once seen M. Favoral buying a three thousand francs
bracelet, and also because it seemed impossible to him that a man
should do away with millions without the aid of a woman."

The commissary could not conceal his ill humor.

"Of course!" he grumbled. "Since Solomon said, 'Look for the woman'
(for it was King Solomon who first said it), every fool thinks it
smart to repeat with a cunning look that most obvious of truths.
What next?"

"M. Saint Pavin politely invited me to go to - well, not here."

The commissary wrote rapidly a few lines, put them in an envelope,
which he sealed with his private seal, and handed it to his
secretary, saying,

"That will do. Take this to the prefecture yourself." And, after
the secretary had gone out,

"Well, M. Maxence," he said, "you have heard?" Of course he had.
Only Maxence was thinking much less of what he had just heard than
of the strange interest this commissary had taken in his affairs,
even before he had seen him.

"I think," he stammered, "that it is very unfortunate the woman
cannot be found."

With a gesture full of confidence,

"Be easy," said the commissary: "she shall be found. A woman cannot
swallow millions at that rate, without attracting attention.
Believe me, we shall find her, unless -"

He paused for a moment, and, speaking slowly and emphatically,

"Unless," he added, "she should have behind her a very skillful and
very prudent man. Or else that she should be in a situation where
her extravagance could not have created any scandal."

Mlle. Lucienne started. She fancied she understood the commissary's
idea, and could catch a glimpse of the truth.

"Good heavens!" she murmured.

But Maxence didn't notice any thing, his mind being wholly bent upon
following the commissary's deductions.

"Or unless," he said, "my father should have received almost nothing
for his share of the enormous sums subtracted from the Mutual Credit,
in which case he could have given relatively but little to that woman.
M.Saint Pavin himself acknowledges that my father has been
egregiously taken in."

"By whom?"

"Maxence hesitated for a moment.

"I think," he said at last, "and several friends of my family (among
whom M. Chapelain, an old lawyer) think as I do, that it is very
strange that my father should have drawn millions from the Mutual
Credit without any knowledge of the fact on the part of the manager."

"Then, according to you, M. de Thaller must be an accomplice."

Maxence made no answer.

"Be it so," insisted the commissary. " I admit M. de Thaller's
complicity; but then we must suppose that he had over your father
some powerful means of action."

An employer always has a great deal of influence over his
subordinates."

"An influence sufficiently powerful to make them run the risk of
the galleys for his benefit! That is not likely. We must try and
imagine something else."

"I am trying; but I don't find any thing."

"And yet it is not all. How do you explain your father's silence
when M. de Thaller was heaping upon him the most outrageous insults?"

"My father was stunned, as it were."

"And at the moment of escaping, if he did have any accomplices, how
is it that he did not mention their names to you, to your mother,
or to your sister?"

"Because, doubtless, he had no proofs of their complicity to offer."

"Would you have asked him for any?"

"0 sir!"

"Therefore such is not evidently the motive of his silence; and it
might better be attributed to some secret hope that he still had
left."

The commissary now had all the information, which, voluntarily or
otherwise, Maxence was able to give him. He rose, and in the
kindest tone,

"You have come," he said to him, "to ask me for advice. Here it is:
say nothing, and wait. Allow justice and the police to pursue their
work. Whatever may be your suspicions, hide them. I shall do for
you as I would for Lucienne, whom I love as if she were my own
child; for it so happens, that, in helping you, I shall help her."

He could not help laughing at the astonishment, which at those words
depicted itself upon Maxence's face; and gayly,

"You don't understand," he added. "Well, never mind. It is not
necessary that you should."





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