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III

It was a revelation, that visit of Mme. de Thaller's; and there was
no need of very much perspicacity to guess her anxiety beneath her
bursts of laughter, and to understand that it was a bargain she had
come to propose. It was evident, therefore, that Marius de Tregars
held within his hands the principal threads of that complicated
intrigue which had just culminated in that robbery of twelve
millions. But would he be able to make use of them? What were his
designs, and his means of action? That is what Maxence could not in
any way conjecture.

He had no time to ask questions.

"Come," said M. Tregars, whose agitation was manifest, - " come, let
us breakfast: we have not a moment to lose."

And, whilst his servant was bringing in his modest meal,

"I am expecting M. d'Escajoul," he said. "Show him in as soon as
he comes."

Retired as he had lived from the financial world, Maxence had yet
heard the name of Octave d'Escajoul.

Who has not seen him, happy and smiling, his eye bright, and his lip
ruddy, notwithstanding his fifty years, walking on the sunny side
of the Boulevard, with his royal blue jacket and his eternal white
vest? He is passionately fond of everything that tends to make life
pleasant and easy; dines at Bignon's, or the Caf e Anglais; plays
baccarat at the dub with extraordinary luck; has the most comfortable
apartment and the most elegant coupe in all Paris. With all this,
he is pleased to declare that he is the happiest of men, and is
certainly one of the most popular; for he cannot walk three blocks
on the Boulevard without lifting his hat at least fifty times, and
shaking hands twice as often.

And when any one asks, "What does he do?" the invariable answer is,
"Why he operates."

To explain what sort of operations, would not be, perhaps, very
easy. In the world of rogues, there are some rogues more formidable
and more skillful than the rest, who always manage to escape the hand
of the law. They are not such fools as to operate in person, - not
they! They content themselves with watching their friends and
comrades. If a good haul is made, at once they appear and claim
their share. And, as they always threaten to inform, there is no
help for it but to let them pocket the clearest of the profit.

Well, in a more elevated sphere, in the world of speculation, it is
precisely that lucrative and honorable industry which M. d'Escajoul
carries on. Thoroughly master of his ground, possessing a superior
scent and an imperturbable patience, always awake, and continually
on the watch, he never operates unless he is sure to win.

And the day when the manager of some company has violated his
charter or stretched the law a little too far, he may be sure to
see M. d'Escajoul appear, and ask for some little - advantages,
and proffer, in exchange, the most thorough discretion, and even
his kind offices.

Two or three of his friends have heard him say,

"Who would dare to blame me? It's very moral, what I am doing."

Such is the man who came in, smiling, just as Maxence and Marius de
Tregars had sat down at the table. M. de Tregars rose to receive him.

"You will breakfast with us?" he said.

"Thank you," answered M. d'Escajoul. "I breakfasted precisely at
eleven, as usual. Punctuality is a politeness which a man owes to
his stomach. But I will accept with pleasure a drop of that old
Cognac which you offered me the other evening."

He took a seat; and the valet brought him a glass, which he set on
the edge of the table. Then,

"I have just seen our man," he said.

Maxence understood that he was referring to M. de Thaller.

"Well?" inquired M. de Tregars.

"Impossible to get any thing out of him. I turned him over and
over, every way. Nothing!"

"Indeed!"

"It's so; and you know if I understand the business. But what can
you say to a man who answers you all the time, 'The matter is in
the hands of the law; experts have been named; I have nothing to
fear from the most minute investigations'?"

By the look which Marius de Tregars kept riveted upon M. d'Escajoul,
it was easy to see that his confidence in him was not without limits.
He felt it, and, with an air of injured innocence,

"Do you suspect me, by chance," he said, "to have allowed myself to
be hoodwinked by Thaller?"

And as M. de Tregars said nothing, which was the most eloquent of
answers,

"Upon my word," he insisted, "you are wrong to doubt me. Was it
you who came after me? No. It was I, who, hearing through Marcolet
the history of your fortune, came to tell you, 'Do you want to know
a way of swamping Thaller?' And the reasons I had to wish that
Thaller might be swamped: I have them still. He trifled with me,
he 'sold' me, and he must suffer for it; for, if it came to be known
that I could be taken in with impunity, it would be all over with my
credit."

After a moment of silence,

"Do you believe, then," asked M. de Tregars, "that M. de Thaller is
innocent?"

"Perhaps."

"That would be curious."

"Or else his measures are so well taken that he has absolutely
nothing to fear. If Favoral takes everything upon himself, what
can they say to the other? If they have acted in collusion, the
thing has been prepared for a long time; and, before commencing
to fish, they must have troubled the water so well, that justice
will be unable to see anything in it."

"And you see no one who could help us?"

"Favoral -"

To Maxence's great surprise, M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders.

"That one is gone," he said; "and, were he at hand, it is quite
evident that if he was in collusion with M. de Thaller, he would
not speak."

"Of course."

"That being the case, what can we do?"

"Wait."

M. de Tregars made a gesture of discouragement.

"I might as well give up the fight, then," he said, "and try to
compromise."

"Why so? We don't know what may happen. Keep quiet, be patient;
I am here, and I am looking out for squalls."

He got up and prepared to leave.

"You have more experience than I have," said M. de Tregars; "and,
since that's your opinion:

M. d'Escajoul had resumed all his good humor.

"Very well, then, it's understood," he said, pressing M. de Tregars'
hand. "I am watching for both of us; and if I see a chance, I come
at once, and you act."

But the outer door had hardly closed, when suddenly the countenance
of Marius de Tregars changed. Shaking the hand which M. d'Escajoul
had just touched, - "Pouah! " he said with a look of thorough
disgust, - "pouch!"

And noticing Maxence's look of utter surprise,

"Don't you understand," he said, "that this old rascal has been sent
to me by Thaller to feel my intentions, and mislead me by false
information? I had scented him, fortunately; and, if either one of
us is dupe of the other, I have every reason to believe that it will
not be me."

They had finished their breakfast. M. de Tregars called his servant.

"Have you been for a carriage? " he asked.

"It is at the door, sir.

"Well, then, come along."

Maxence had the good sense not to over-estimate himself. Perfectly
convinced that he could accomplish nothing alone, he was firmly
resolved to trust blindly to Marius de Tregars.

He followed him, therefore; and it was only after the carriage had
started, that he ventured to ask,

"Where are we going?"

"Didn't you hear me," replied M. de Tregars, "order the driver to
take us to the court-house?"

"I beg your pardon; but what I wish to know is, what we are going
to do there?"

"You are going, my dear friend, to ask an audience of the judge who
has your father's case in charge, and deposit into his hands the
fifteen thousand francs you have in your pocket."

"What! You wish me to -"

"I think it better to place that money into the hands of justice,
which will appreciate the step, than into those of M. de Thaller,
who would not breathe a word about it. We are in a position where
nothing should be neglected; and that money may prove an indication."

But they had arrived. M. de Tregars guided Maxence through the
labyrinth of corridors of the building, until he came to a long
gallery, at the entrance of which an usher was seated reading a
newspaper.

"M. Barban d'Avranchel?" inquired M. de Tregars.

"He is in his office." replied the usher.

"Please ask him if he would receive an important deposition in the
Favoral case."

The usher rose somewhat reluctantly, and, while he was gone,

"You will go in alone," said M. de Tregars to Maxence. "I shall
not appear; and it is important that my name should not even be
pronounced. But, above all, try and remember even the most
insignificant words of the judge; for, upon what he tells you, I
shall regulate my conduct."

The usher returned.

"M. d'Avranchel will receive you," he said. And, leading Maxence
to the extremity of the gallery, he opened a small door, and
pushed him in, saying at the same time,

That is it, sir: walk in."

It was a small room, with a low ceiling, and poorly furnished. The
faded curtains and threadbare carpet showed plainly that more than
one judge had occupied it, and that legions of accused criminals
had passed through it. In front of a table, two men - one old, the
judge; the other young, the clerk - were signing and classifying
papers. These papers related to the Favoral case, and were all
indorsed in large letters: Mutual Credit Company.

As soon as Maxence appeared, the judge rose, and, after measuring
him with a clear and cold look:

"Who are you?" he interrogated.

In a somewhat husky voice, Maxence stated his name and surname.

"Ah! you are Vincent Favoral's son," interrupted the judge. "And
it was you who helped him escape through the window? I was going
to send you a summons this very day; but, since you are here, so
much the better. You have something important to communicate, I
have been told."

Very few people, even among the most strictly honest, can overcome
a certain unpleasant feeling when, having crossed the threshold of
the palace of justice, they find themselves in presence of a judge.
More than almost any one else, Maxence was likely to be accessible
to that vague and inexplicable feeling; and it was with an effort
that he answered,

"On Saturday evening, the Baron de Thaller called at our house a
few minutes before the commissary. After loading my father with
reproaches, he invited him to leave the country; and, in order to
facilitate his flight, he handed him these fifteen thousand francs.
My father declined to accept them; and, at the moment of parting,
he recommended to me particularly to return them to M. de Thaller.
I thought it best to return them to you, sir."

"Why?"

"Because I wished the fact known to you of the money having been
offered and refused."

M. Barban d'Avranchel was quietly stroking his whiskers, once of a
bright red, but now almost entirely white.

"Is this an insinuation against the manager of the Mutual Credit?"
he asked.

Maxence looked straight at him; and, in a tone which affirmed
precisely the reverse,

"I accuse no one,'," he said.

"I must tell you,"' resumed the judge, "that M. de Thaller has
himself informed me of this circumstance. When he called at your
house, he was ignorant, as yet, of the extent of the embezzlements,
and was in hopes of being able to hush up the affair. That's why
he wished his cashier to start for Belgium. This system of
helping criminals to escape the just punishment of their crimes is
to be bitterly deplored; but it is quite the habit of your financial
magnates, who prefer sending some poor devil of am employe to hang
himself abroad than run the risk of compromising their credit by
confessing that they have been robbed."

Maxence might have had a great deal to say; but M. de Tregars had
recommenced him the most extreme reserve. He remained silent.

"On the other hand," resumed the judge, "the refusal to accept the
money so generously offered does not speak in favor of Vincent
Favoral. He was well aware, when he left, that it would require a
great deal of money to reach the frontier, escape pursuit, and hide
himself abroad; and, if he refused the fifteen thousand francs, it
must have been because he was well provided for already."

Tears of shame and rage started from Maxence's eyes "I am certain,
sir," he exclaimed, "that my father went off without a sou."

"What has become of the millions, then?" he asked coldly.

Maxence hesitated. Why not mention his suspicions? He dared not.

"My father speculated at the bourse," he stammered. "And he led a
scandalous conduct, keeping up, away from home, a style of living
which must have absorbed immense sums."

"We knew nothing of it, sir; and our first suspicions were aroused
by what the commissary of police told us."

The judge insisted no more; and in a tone which indicated that his
question was a mere matter of form, and he attached but little
importance to the answer,

"You have no news from your father?" he asked.

"None whatever."

"And you have no idea where he has gone?"

"None in the least."

M. d'Avranchel had already resumed his seat at the table, and was
again busy with his papers.

"You may retire," he said. You will be notified if I need you."

Maxence felt much discouraged when he joined M. de Tregars at the
entrance of the gallery.

"The judge is convinced of M. de Thaller's entire innocence," he
said.

But as soon as he had narrated, with a fidelity that did honor to
his memory, all that had just occurred,

"Nothing is lost yet," declared M. de Tregars. And, taking from
his pocket the bill for two trunks, which had been found in M.
Favoral's portfolio,

"There," he said, "we shall know our fate."





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