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VI

The Baron de Thaller was too practical a man to live in the same
house, or even in the same district, where his offices were
located. To dwell in the midst of his business; to be constantly
subjected to the contact of his employes, to the unkindly comments
of a crowd of subordinates; to expose himself to hourly annoyances,
to sickening solicitations, to the reclamations and eternal
complaints of his stockholders and his clients! Pouah! He'd have
given up the business first. And so, on the very days when he had
established the offices of the Mutual Credit in the Rue de
Quatre-Septembre, he had purchased a house in the Rue de la
Pepiniere within a step of the Faubourg St. Honore.

It was a brand-new house, which had never yet been occupied, and
which had just been erected by a contractor who was almost
celebrated, towards 1866, at the moment of the great transformations
of Paris, when whole blocks were leveled to the ground, and rose
again so rapidly, that one might well wonder whether the masons,
instead of a trowel, did not make use of a magician's wand.

This contractor, named Parcimieux, had come from the Limousin in
1860 with his carpenter's tools for all fortune, and, in less than
six years, had accumulated, at the lowest estimate, six millions
of francs. Only he was a modest man, and took as much pains to
conceal his fortune, and offend no one, as most parvenus do to
display their wealth, and insult the public.

Though he could hardly sign his name, yet he knew and practised
the maxim of the Greek philosopher, which is, perhaps, the true
secret of happiness, - hide thy life. And there were no expedients
to which he did not resort to hide it. At the time of his greatest
prosperity, for instance, having need of a carriage, he had applied
to the manager of the Petites Voitures Company, and had had built
for himself two cabs, outwardly similar in every respect to those
used by the company, but within, most luxuriously upholstered, and
drawn by horses of common appearance, but who could go their
twenty-five miles in two hours any day. And these he had hired by
the year.

Having his carriage, the worthy builder determined to have, also,
his house, his own house, built by himself. But this required
infinitely greater precautions still.

"For, as you may imagine," he explained to his friends, "a man does
not make as much money as I have, without also making many cruel,
bitter, and irreconcilable enemies. I have against me all the
builders who have not succeeded, all the sub-contractors I employ,
and who say that I speculate on their poverty, and the thousands of
workmen who work for me, and swear that I grind them down to the
dust. Already they call me brigand, slaver, thief, leech. What
would it be, if they saw me living in a beautiful house of my own?
They'd swear that I could not possibly have got so rich honestly,
and that I must have committed some crimes. Besides, to build me
a handsome house on the street would be, in case of a mob, setting
up windows for the stones of all the rascals who have been in my
employment."

Such were M. Parcimieux's thoughts, when, as he expressed it, he
resolved to build.

A lot was for sale in the Rue de la Pepiniere. He bought it, and
at the same time purchased the adjoining house, which he
immediately caused to be torn down. This operation placed in his
possession a vast piece of ground, not very wide, but of great
depth, stretching, as it did, back to the Rue Labaume. At once
work was begun according to a plan which his architect and himself
had spent six months in maturing. On the line of the street arose
a house of the most modest appearance, two stories in height only,
with a very high and very wide carriage-door for the passage of
vehicles. This was to deceive the vulgar eye, - the outside of the
cab, as it were. Behind this house, between a specious court and a
vast garden was built the residence of which M. Parcimieux had
dreamed; and it really was an exceptional building both by the
excellence of the materials used, and by the infinite care which
presided over the minutest details. The marbles for the vestibule
and the stairs were brought from Africa, Italy, and Corsica. He
sent to Rome for workmen for the mosaics. The joiner and
locksmithing work was intrusted to real artists.

Repeating to every one that he was working for a great foreign lord,
whose orders he went to take every morning, he was free to indulge
his most extravagant fancies, without fearing jests or unpleasant
remarks.

Poor old man! The day when the last workman had driven in the
last nail, an attack of apoplexy carried him off, without giving
him time to say, "Oh!" Two days after, all his relatives from the
Limousin were swooping into Paris like a pack of wolves. Six
millions to divide: what a godsend! Litigation followed, as a
matter of course; and the house was offered for sale under a
judgment.

M. de Thaller bought it for two hundred and seventy-five thousand
francs, - about one-third what it had cost to build.

A month later he had moved into it; and the expenses which he
incurred to furnish it in a style worthy of the building itself
was the talk of the town. And yet he was not fully satisfied
with his purchase.

Unlike M. Parcimieux, he had no wish whatever to conceal his wealth.

What! he owned one of those exquisite houses which excite at once
the wonder and the envy of passers-by, and that house was hid
behind such a common-looking building!

"I must have that shanty pulled down," he said from time to time.

And then he thought of something else; and the "shanty" was still
standing on that evening, when, after leaving Maxence, M. de
Traggers presented himself at M. de Thaller's.

The servants had, doubtless, received their instructions; for, as
soon as Marius emerged from the porch of the front-house, the
porter advanced from his lodge, bent double, his mouth open to his
very ears by the most obsequious smile.

Without waiting for a question,

"The baron has not yet come home -," he said. "But he cannot be
much longer away; and certainly the baroness is at home for my
lord-marquis. Please, then, give yourself the trouble to pass."

And, standing aside, he struck upon the enormous gong that stood
near his lodge a single sharp blow, intended to wake up the
footman on duty in the vestibule, and to announce a visitor of
note. Slowly, but not without quietly observing every thing, M.
de Traggers crossed the courtyard, covered with fine sand, - they
would have powdered it with golden dust, if they had dared, - and
surrounded on all sides with bronze baskets, in which beautiful
rhododendrons were blossoming.

It was nearly six o'clock. The manager of the Mutual Credit dined
at seven; and the preparations for this important event were
everywhere apparent. Through the large windows of the dining-room
the steward could be seen presiding over the setting of the table.
The butler was coming up from the cellar, loaded with bottles.
Finally, through the apertures of the basement arose the appetizing
perfumes of the kitchen.

What enormous business it required to support such a style, to
display this luxury, which would shame one of those German
princelings, who exchanged the crown of their ancestors for a
Prussian livery gilded with French gold! - other people's money.

Meantime, the blow struck by the porter on the gong had produced
the desired effect; and the gates of the vestibule seemed to open
of their own accord before M. de Tregars as he ascended the stoop.

This vestibule with the splendor of which Mlle. Lucienne had been
so deeply impressed, would, indeed, have been worthy the attention
of an artist, had it been allowed to retain the simple grandeur
and the severe harmony which M. Parcimieux's architect had imparted
to it.

But M. de Thaller, as he was proud of boasting, had a perfect horror
of simplicity; and, wherever he discovered a vacant space as big as
his hand, he hung a picture, a bronze, or a piece of china, any
thing and anyhow.

The two footmen were standing when M. de Tregars came in. Without
asking any question, "Will M. le Marquis please follow me?" said
the youngest.

And, opening the broad glass doors1 he began walking in front of
M. de Traggers, along a staircase with marble railing, the elegant
proportions of which were absolutely ruined by a ridiculous
profusion of "objects of art" of all nature, and from all sources.
This staircase led to a vast semicircular landing, upon which,
between columns of precious marble, opened three wide doors. The
footman opened the middle one, which led to M. de Thaller's
picture-gallery, a celebrated one in the financial world, and
which had acquired for him the reputation of an enlightened amateur.

But M. de Traggers had no time to examine this gallery, which,
moreover, he already knew well enough. The footman showed him
into the small drawing-room of the baroness, a bijou of a room,
furnished in gilt and crimson satin.

"Will M. le Marquis be kind enough to take a seat?" he said. "I
run to notify Mme. le Baronne of M. le Marquis's visit."

The footman uttered these titles of nobility with a singular pomp,
and as if some of their lustre was reflected upon himself.
Nevertheless, it was evident that "Marquis" jingled to his ear much
more pleasantly than "Baronne."

Remaining alone, M. de Tregars threw himself upon a seat. Worn out
by the emotions of the day, and by an extraordinary contention of
mind, he felt thankful for this moment of respite, which permitted
him, at the moment of a decisive step, to collect all his energy
and all his presence of mind.

And after two minutes he was so deeply absorbed in his thoughts,
that he started, like a man suddenly aroused from his sleep, at
the sound of an opening door. At the same moment he heard a slight
exclamation of surprise, "Ah!

Instead of the Baroness de Thaller, it was her daughter, Mlle.
Cesarine, who had come in.

Stepping forward to the centre of the room, and acknowledging by a
familiar gesture M. de Traggers' most respectful bow,

"You should warn people," she said. "I came here to look for my
mother, and it is you I find. Why, you scared me to death. What
a crack! Princess dear!"

And taking the young man's hand, and pressing it to her breast,

"Feel," she added, "how my heart beats."

Younger than Mlle. Gilberte, Mlle. Cesarine de Thaller had a
reputation for beauty so thoroughly established, that to call it
in question would have seemed a crime to her numerous admirers.
And really she was a handsome person. Rather tall and well made,
she had broad hips, the waist round and supple as a steel rod,
and a magnificent throat. Her neck was, perhaps, a little too
thick and too short; but upon her robust shoulders was scattered
in wild ringlets the rebellious hair that escaped from her comb.
She was a blonde, but of that reddish blonde, almost as dark as
mahogany, which Titian admired, and which the handsome Venetians
obtained by means of rather repulsive practices, and by exposing
themselves to the noonday sun on the terraces of their palaces.
Her complexion had the gilded hues of amber. Her lips, red as
blood, displayed as they opened, teeth of dazzling whiteness. In
her large prominent eyes, of a milky blue, like the Northern skies,
laughed the eternal irony of a soul that no longer has faith in
any thing. More anxious of her fame than of good taste, she wore
a dress of doubtful shade, puffed up by means of an extravagant
pannier, and buttoned obliquely across the chest, according to
that ridiculous and ungraceful style invented by flat or humped
women.

Throwing herself upon a chair, and placing cavalierly one foot
upon another, so as to display her leg, which was admirable,

"Do you know that it's perfectly stunning to see you here?" she
said to M. de Traggers. "Just imagine, for a moment, what a face
the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight will make when he sees you!"

It was her father whom she called thus, since the day when she had
discovered that there was a German coin called thaler, which
represents three francs and sixty-eight centimes in French currency.

"You know, I suppose," she went on, "that papa has just been badly
stuck?"

M. de Traggers was excusing himself in vague terms; but it was one
of Mlle. Cesarine's habits never to listen to the answers which
were made to her questions.

"Favoral," she continued, "papa's cashier, has just started on an
international picnic. Did you know him?"

"Very little."

"An old fellow, always dressed like a country sexton, and with a
face like an undertaker. And the Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight,
an old bird, was fool enough to be taken in by him! For he was
taken in. He had a face like a man whose chimney is on fire, when
he came to tell us, mamma and myself, that Favoral had gone off
with twelve millions."

"And has he really carried off that enormous sum?"

"Not entire, of course, because it was not since day before
yesterday only that he began digging into the Mutual Credit's pile.
There were years that this venerable old swell was leading a
somewhat-variegated existence, in company with rather-funny ladies,
you know. And as he was not exactly calculated to be adored at par,
why, it cost papa's stockholders a pretty lively premium. But,
anyhow, he must have carried off a handsome nugget."

And, bouncing to the piano, she began an accompaniment loud enough
to crack the window-panes, singing at the same time the popular
refrain of the "Young Ladies of Pautin:

Cashier, you've got the bag;
Quick on your little nag,
And then, ho, ho, for Belgium!

Any one but Marius de Tregars would have been doubtless strangely
surprised at Mlle. de Thaller's manners. But he had known her for
some time already: he was familiar with her past life, her habits,
her tastes, and her pretensions. Until the age of fifteen, Mlle.
Cesarine had remained shut up in one of those pleasant Parisian
boarding-schools, where young ladies are initiated into the great
art of the toilet, and from which they emerge armed with the
gayest theories, knowing how to see without seeming to look, and
to lie boldly without blushing; in a word, ripe for society. The
directress of the boarding-school, a lady of the ton, who had met
with reverses, and who was a good deal more of a dressmaker than
a teacher, said of Mlle. Cesarine, who paid her three thousand
five hundred francs a year,

"She gives the greatest hopes for the future; and I shall certainly
make a superior woman of her."

But the opportunity was not allowed her. The Baroness de Thaller
discovered, one morning, that it was impossible for her to live
without her daughter, and that her maternal heart was lacerated by
a separation which was against the sacred laws of nature. She took
her home, therefore, declaring that nothing, henceforth, not even
her marriage, should separate them, and that she should finish
herself the education of the dear child. From that moment, in fact,
whoever saw the Baroness de Thaller would also see Mlle. Cesarine
following in her wake.

A girl of fifteen, discreet and well-trained, is a convenient
chaperon; a chaperon which enables a woman to show herself boldly
where she might not have dared to venture alone. In presence of
a mother followed by her daughter, disconcerted slander hesitates,
and dares not speak.

Under the pretext that Cesarine was still but a child and of no
consequence, Mme. de Thaller dragged her everywhere, - to the bois
and to the races, visiting and shopping, to balls and parties, to
the watering-places and the seashore, to the restaurant, and to
all the "first nights" at the Palais Royal, the Bouffes, the
Varietes, and the Delassements. It was, therefore, especially at
the theatre, that the education of Mlle. de Thaller, so happily
commenced, had received the finishing touch. At sixteen she was
thoroughly familiar with the repertoire of the genre theatres,
imitated Schneider far better than ever did Silly, and sang with
surprising intonations and astonishing gestures Blanche d'Autigny's
successful moods, and Theresa's most wanton verses.

Between times, she studied the fashion papers, and formed her
style in reading the "Vie Parisienne," whose most enigmatic articles
had no allusions sufficiently obscure to escape her penetration.

She learned to ride on horseback, to fence and to shoot, and
distinguished herself at pigeon-matches. She kept a betting-book,
played Trente et Quarante at Monaco; and Baccarat had no secrets
for her. At Trouville she astonished the natives with the startling
novelty of her bathing-costumes; and, when she found herself the
centre of a reasonable circle of lookers-on, she threw herself in
the water with a pluck that drew upon her the applause of the
bathing-masters. She could smoke a cigarette, empty nearly a glass
of champagne; and once her mother was obliged to bring her home,
and put her quick to bed, because she had insisted upon trying
absinthe, and her conversation had become somewhat too eccentric.

Leading such a life, it was difficult that public opinion should
always spare Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller. There were sceptics who
insinuated that this steadfast friendship between mother and daughter
had very much the appearance of the association of 'two women bound
together by the complicity of a common secret. A broker told how,
one evening, or one night rather, for it was nearly two o'clock,
happening to pass in front of the Moulin-Rouge, he had seen the
Baroness and Mlle. Cesarine coming out, accompanied by a gentleman,
to him unknown, but who, he was quite sure, was not the Baron de
Thaller.

A certain journey which mother and daughter had undertaken in the
heart of the winter, and which had lasted not less than two months,
had been generally attributed to an imprudence, the consequences
of which it had become impossible to conceal, They had been in
Italy, they said when they returned; hut no one had seen them
there. Yet, as Mme. and Mlle. de Thaller's mode of life was, after
all, the same as that of a great many women who passed for being
perfectly proper, as there was no positive or palpable fact brought
against them, as no name was mentioned, many people shrugged their
shoulders, and replied,

"Pure slanders,"

And why not, since the Baron de Thaller, the most interested party,
held himself satisfied?

To the ill-advised friends who ventured some allusions to the public
rumors, he replied, according to his humor,

"My daughter can play the mischief generally, if she sees fit. As
I shall give a dowry of a million, she will always find a husband,"

Or else, "And what of it? Do not American young ladies enjoyed
unlimited freedom? Are they not constantly seen going out with
young gentlemen, or walking or traveling alone? Are they, for all
that, less virtuous than our girls, who are kept under such close
watch? Do they make less faithful wives, or less excellent mothers?
Hypocrisy is not virtue."

To a certain extent, the Manager of the Mutual Credit was right.

Already Mlle. de Thaller had had to decide upon several quite
suitable offers of marriage she had squarely refused them all.

"A husband!" she had answered each time. "Thank you, none for me.
I have good enough teeth to eat up my dowry myself. Later, we'll
see,-when I've cut my wisdom teeth, and I am tired of my bachelor
life,"

She did not seem near getting tired of it, though she pretended
that she had no more illusions, was thoroughly blasee, had
exhausted every sensation, and that life henceforth had no surprise
in reserve for her. Her reception of M. de Traggers was, therefore,
one of Mlle. Cesarine's least eccentricities, as was also that
sudden fancy; to apply to the situation one of the most idiotic
rondos of her repertoires:

"Cashier, you've got the bag;
Quick on your little nag"

Neither did she spare him a single verse: and, when she stopped,

I see with pleasure," said M. de Traggers, "that the embezzlement
of which your father has just been the victim does not in any way
offend your good humor."

She shrugged her shoulders.

Would you have me cry," she said, "because the stockholders of the
Baron Three Francs Sixty-eight have been swindled? Console
yourself: they are accustomed to it."

And, as M. de Traggers made no answer,

"And in all that," she went on, " I see no one to pity except the
wife and daughter of that old stick Favoral."

"They are, indeed, much to he pitied."

"They say that the mother is a good old thing."

"She is an excellent person."

"And the daughter? Costeclar was crazy about her once. He made
eyes like a carp in love, as he told us, to mamma and myself,
'She is an angel, mesdames, an angel! And when I have given her a
little chic!' Now tell me, is she really as good looking as all
that?"

"She is quite good looking."

"Better looking than me?"

"It is not the same style, mademoiselle."

Mlle. de Thaller had stopped singing; but she had not left the
piano. Half turned towards M. de Traggers, she ran her fingers
listlessly over the keys, striking a note here and there, as if to
punctuate her sentences.

"Ah, how nice!" she exclaimed, "and, above all, how gallant!
Really, if you venture often on such declarations, mothers would be
very wrong to trust you alone with their daughters."

"You did not understand me right, mademoiselle."

"Perfectly right, on the contrary. I asked you if I was better
looking than Mlle. Favoral; and you replied to me, that it was not
the same style."

"It is because, mademoiselle, there is indeed no possible comparison
between you, who are a wealthy heiress, and whose life is a
perpetual enchantment, and a poor girl, very humble, and very modest,
who rides in the omnibus, and who makes her dresses herself."

A contemptuous smile contracted Mlle. Cesarine's lips.

"Why not?" she interrupted. "Men have such funny tastes!"

And, turning around suddenly, she began another rondo, no less
famous than the first, and borrowed, this time, from the third act
of the Petites-Blanchisseuses:

What matters the quality?
Beauty alone takes the prize
Women before man must rise,
And claim perfect equality."

Very attentively M. de Traggers was observing her. He had not been
the dupe of the great surprise she had manifested when she found
him in the little parlor.

"She knew I was here," he thought; "and it is her mother who has
sent her to me. But why? and for what purpose?"

"With all that," she resumed, "I see the sweet Mme. Favoral and her
modest daughter in a terribly tight place. What a 'bust,' marquis!"

"They have a great deal of courage, mademoiselle."

"Naturally. But, what is better, the daughter has a splendid voice:
at least, so her professor told Costeclar. Why should she not go on
the stage? Actresses make lots of money, you know. Papal help
her, if she wishes. He has a great deal of influence in the
theatres, papa has."

"Mme. and Mlle. Favoral have friends."

"Ah, yes! Costeclar."

"Others besides."

"I beg your pardon; but it seems to me that this one will do to
begin with. He is gallant, Costeclar, extremely gallant, and,
moreover, generous as a lord. Why should he not offer to that
youthful and timid damsel a nice little position in mahogany and
rosewood? That way, we should have the pleasure of meeting her
around the lake."

And she began singing again, with a slight variation 'Macon, who,
before the war,

Carried clothes for a living,
Now for her gains is trusting
To that insane Costeclar."

"Ah, that big red-headed girl is terribly provoking!" thought M.
de Traggers.

But, as he did not as yet understand very clearly what she wished
to come to, he kept on his guard, and remained cold as marble.

Already she had again turned towards him.

"What a face you are making!" she said. "Are you jealous of the
fiery Costeclar, by chance?"

"No, mademoiselle, no!"

"Then, why don't you want him to succeed in his love? But he will,
you'll see! Five hundred francs on Costeclar! Do you take it?
No? I am sorry. It's twenty-five napoleons lost for me. I know
very well that Mlle. - what's her name?"

"Gilberte."

"Hallo! a nice name for a cashier's daughter! I am aware that she
once sent that poor Costeclar and his offer to - Called. But she
had resources then; whilst now - It's stupid as it can be; but
people have to eat!"

"There are still women, mademoiselle, capable of starving to death."

M. de Traggers now felt satisfied. It seemed evident to him that
they had somehow got wind of his intentions; that Mlle. de Thaller
had been sent to feel the ground; and that she only attacked Mlle.
Gilberte in order to irritate him, and compel him, in a moment of
anger, to declare himself.

"Bash!" she said, "Mlle. Favoral is like all the others. If she
had to select between the amiable Costeclar and a charcoal furnace,
it is not the furnace she would take."

At all times, Marius de Tregars disliked Mlle. Cesarine to a supreme
degree; but at this moment, without the pressing desire he had to
see the Baron and Baroness de Thaller, he would have withdrawn.

"Believe me, mademoiselle," he uttered coldly. "Spare a poor girl
stricken by a most cruel misfortune. Worse might happen to you."

"To me! And what the mischief do you suppose can happen me?"

"Who knows?"

She started to her feet so violently, that she upset the piano-stool.

"Whatever It may be," she exclaimed, "I say in advance, I am glad!"

And as M. de Traggers turned his head in some surprise,

"Yes, I am glad!" she repeated, "because it would be a change; and
I am sick of the life I lead. Yes, sick to be eternally and
invariably happy of that same dreary happiness. And to think that
there are idiots who believe that I amuse myself, and who envy my
fate! To think, that, when I ride through the streets, I hear girls
exclaim, whilst looking at me, 'Isn't she lucky?' Little fools!
I'd like to see them in my place. They live, they do. Their
pleasures are not all alike. They have anxieties and hopes, ups
and downs, hours of rain and hours of sunshine; whilst I - always
dead calm! the barometer always at 'Set fair.' What a bore! Do
you know what I did to-day? Exactly the same thing as yesterday;
and to-morrow I'll do the same thing as to-day.

"A good dinner is a good thing; but always the same dinner, without
extras or additions - pouah! Too many truffles. I want some
corned beef and cabbage. I know the bill of fare by heart, you see.
In winter, theatres and balls; in summer, races and the seashore;
summer and winter, shopping, rides to the bois, calls, trying
dresses, perpetual adoration by mother's friends, all of them
brilliant and gallant fellows to whom the mere thought of my dowry
gives the jaundice. Excuse me, if I yawn: I am thinking of their
conversations.

"And to think," she went on, "that such will be my existence until
I make up my mind to take a husband! For I'll have to come to it
too. The Baron Three Sixty-eight will present to me some sort of
a swell, attracted by my money. I'll answer, 'I'd just as soon
have him as any other; and he will be admitted to the honor of
paying his attentions to me. Every morning he will send me a
splendid bouquet: every evening, after bank-hours, he'll come along
with fresh kid gloves and a white vest. During the afternoon, he
and papa will pull each other's hair out on the subject of the dowry.
At last the happy day will arrive. Can't you see it from here?
Mass with music, dinner, ball. The Baron Three Sixty-eight will
not spare me a single ceremony. The marriage of the manager of the
Mutual Credit must certainly be an advertisement. The papers will
publish the names of the bridesmaids and of the guests.

"To be sure, papa will have a face a yard long; because he will
have been compelled to pay the dowry the day before. Mamma will
be all upset at the idea of becoming a grandmother. The
bridegroom will be in a wretched humor, because his boots will be
too tight; and I'll look like a goose, because I'll be dressed
in white; and white is a stupid color, which is not at all becoming
to me. Charming family gathering, isn't it? Two weeks later, my
husband will be sick of me, and I'll be disgusted with him. After
a month, we'll be at daggers' points. He'll go back to his club
and his mistresses; and I - I shall have conquered the right to go
out alone; and I'll begin again going to the bois, to balls, to
races, wherever my mother goes. I'll spend an enormous amount of
money on my dress, and I'll make debts which papa will pay."

Though any thing might be expected of Mlle. Cesarine, still M.
de Traggers seemed visibly astonished. And she, laughing at his
surprise,

"That's the invariable programme," she went on; "and that's why I
say I'm glad at the idea of a change, whatever it may be. You find
fault with me for not pitying Mlle. Gilberte. How could I, since
I envy her? She is happy, because her future is not settled, laid
out, fixed in advance. She is poor; but she is free. She is twenty;
she is pretty; she has an admirable voice; she can go on the stage
to-morrow, and be, before six months, one of the pet actresses of
Paris. What a life then! Ah, that is the one I dream, the one I
would have selected, had I been mistress of my destiny."

But she was interrupted by the noise of the opening door.

The Baroness de Thaller appeared. As she was, immediately after
dinner, to go to the opera, and afterwards to a party given by the
Viscountess de Bois d'Ardon, she was in full dress. She wore a
dress, cut audaciously low in the neck, of very light gray satin,
trimmed with bands of cherry-colored silk edged with lace. In her
hair, worn high over her head, she had a bunch of fuchsias, the
flexible stems of which, fastened by a large diamond star, trailed
down to her very shoulders, white and smooth as marble.

But, though she forced herself to smile, her countenance was not
that of festive days; and the glance which she cast upon her
daughter and Marius de Tregars was laden with threats. In a voice
of which she tried in vain to control the emotion,

"How very kind of you, marquis," she began, "to respond so soon to
my invitation of this morning! I am really distressed to have kept
you waiting; but I was dressing. After what has happened to M. de
Thaller, it is absolutely indispensable that I should go out, show
myself: otherwise our enemies will be going around to-morrow, saying
everywhere that I am in Belgium, preparing lodgings for my husband."

And, suddenly changing her tone,

"But what was that madcap Cesarine telling you?" she asked.

It was with a profound, surprise that M. de Traggers discovered that
the entente cordiale which he suspected between the mother and
daughter did not exist, at least at this moment.

Veiling under a jesting tone the strange conjectures which the
unexpected discovery aroused within him,

"Mlle. Cesarine," he replied, "who is much to be pitied, was telling
me all her troubles."

She interrupted him.

"Do not take the trouble to tell a story, M. le Marquis," she said.
"Mamma knows it as well as yourself; for she was listening at the door."

"Cesarine!" exclaimed Mme. de Thaller.

"And, if she came in so suddenly, it is because she thought it was
fully time to cut short my confidences."

The face of the baroness became crimson.

"The child is mad!" she said.

The child burst out laughing.

That's my way," she went on. "You should not have sent me here by
chance, and against my wish. You made me do it: don't complain.
You were sure that I had but to appear, and M. de Traggers would
fall at my feet. I appeared, and - you saw the effect through the
keyhole, didn't you?"

Her features contracted, her eyes flashing, twisting her lace
handkerchief between her fingers loaded with rings,

"It is unheard of," said Mme. de Thaller. "She has certainly lost
her head."

Dropping her mother an ironical courtesy,

"Thanks for the compliment!" said the young lady. "Unfortunately,
I never was more completely in possession of all the good sense I
may boast of than I am now, dear mamma. What were you telling me
a moment since? 'Run, the Marquis de Tregars is coming to ask
your hand: it's all settled.' And what did I answer? 'No use to
trouble myself: if, instead of one million, papa were to give me
two, four millions, indeed all the millions paid by France to
Prussia, M. de Traggers would not have me for a wife.'"

And, looking Marius straight in the face,

"Am I not right, M. le Marquis?" she asked. "And isn't it a fact
that you wouldn't have me at any price? Come, now, your hand upon
your heart, answer."

M. de Tregars' situation was somewhat embarrassing between these
two women, whose anger was equal, though it manifested itself in
a different way. Evidently it was a discussion begun before, which
was now continued in his presence.

"I think, mademoiselle," he began, "that you have been slandering
yourself gratuitously."

"Oh, no! I swear it to you," she replied; "and, if mamma had not
happened in, you would have heard much more. But that was not an
answer."

And, as M. de Traggers said nothing, she turned towards the baroness,

"Ah, ah! you see," she said. "Who was crazy, - you, or I? Ah!
you imagine here that money is everything, that every thing is for
sale, and that every thing can be bought. Well, no! There are
still men, who, for all the gold in the world, would not give their
name to Cesarine de Thaller. It is strange; but it is so, dear
mamma, and we must make up our mind to it."

Then turning towards Marius, and bearing upon each syllable, as if
afraid that the allusion might escape him,

"The men of whom I speak," she added, "marry the girls who can
starve to death."

Knowing her daughter well enough to be aware that she could not
impose silence upon her, the Baroness de Thaller had dropped upon
a chair. She was trying hard to appear indifferent to what her
daughter was saying; but at every moment a threatening gesture, or
a hoarse exclamation, betrayed the storm that raged within her.

"Go, on, poor foolish child!" she said, - "go on!"

And she did go on.

"Finally, were M. de Traggers willing to have me, I would refuse
him myself, because, then"

A fugitive blush colored her cheeks, her bold eyes vacillated, and,
dropping her voice,

"Because, then," she added, "he would no longer be what he is;
because I feel that fatally I shall despise the husband whom papa
will buy for me. And, if I came here to expose myself to an affront
which I foresaw, it is because I wanted to make sure of a fact of
which a word of Costeclar, a few days ago, had given me an idea,
- of a fact which you do not, perhaps, suspect, dear mother, despite
your astonishing perspicacity. I wanted to find out M. de Traggers'
secret; and I have found it out."

M. de Tregars had come to the Thaller mansion with a plan well
settled in advance. He had pondered long before deciding what he
would do, and what he would say, and how he would begin the decisive
struggle. What had taken place showed him the idleness of his
conjectures, and, as a natural consequence, upset his plans. To
abandon himself to the chances of the hour, and to make the best
possible use of them, was now the wisest thing to do.

Give me credit, mademoiselle," he uttered, "for sufficient
penetration to have perfectly well discerned your intentions.
There was no need of artifice, because I have nothing to conceal.
You had but to question me, I would have answered you frankly,
'Yes, it is true I love Mlle. Gilberte; and before a month she
will be Marquise de Tregars.'"

Mme. de Thaller, at those words, had started to her feet, pushing
back her arm-chair so violently, that it rolled all the way to the
wall.

"What!" she exclaimed, "you marry Gilberte Favoral, - you!"

"I - yes."

"The daughter of a defaulting cashier, a dishonored man whom justice
pursues and the galleys await!"

"Yes!" And in an accent that caused a shiver to run over the white
shoulders of Mme. de Thaller,

"Whatever may have been," he uttered, "Vincent Favoral's crime;
whether he has or has not stolen, the twelve millions which are
wanting from the funds of the Mutual Credit; whether he is alone
guilty, or has accomplices; whether he be a knave, or a fool, an
impostor, or a dupe, - Mlle. Gilberte is not responsible."

"You know the Favoral family, then?"

"Enough to make their cause henceforth my own.

The agitation of the baroness was so great, that she did not even
attempt to conceal it.

"A nobody's daughter!" she said.

"I love her."

"Without a sou!

Mlle. Cesarine made a superb gesture.

Why, that's the very reason why a man may marry her!" she exclaimed,
and, holding out her hand to M. de Traggers,

What you do here is well," she added, "very well."

There was a wild look in the eyes of the baroness.

"Mad, unhappy child!" she exclaimed. "If your father should hear!"

And who, then, would report our conversation to him? M. de Traggers?
He would not do such a thing. You? You dare not."

Drawing herself up to her fullest height, her breast swelling with
anger, her head thrown back, her eyes flashing,

Cesarine," ordered Mme. de Thaller, her arm extended towards the
door - "Cesarine, leave the room; I command you."

But motionless in her place the girl cast upon her mother a look
of defiance.

"Come, calm yourself," she said in a tone of crushing irony, "or
you'll spoil your complexion for the rest of the evening. Do I
complain? do I get excited? And yet whose fault is it, if honor
makes it a duty for me to cry 'Beware!' to an honest man who wishes
to marry me? That Gilberte should get married : that she should
be very happy, have many children, darn her husband's stockings,
and skim her Pot-au-fue, - that is her part in life. Ours, dear
mother, - that which you have taught me - is to laugh and have fun,
all the time, night and day, till death."

A footman who came in interrupted her. Handing a card to Mme. de
Thaller,

"The gentleman who gave it to me," he said, "is in the large parlor."

The baroness had become very pale.

"Oh!" she said turning the card between her fingers, - "oh!"

Then suddenly she ran out exclaiming,

"I'll be back directly."

An embarrassing, painful silence followed, as it was inevitable that
it would, the Baroness de Thaller's precipitate departure.

Mlle. Cesarine had approached the mantel-piece. She was leaning
her elbow upon it, her forehead on her hand, all palpitating and
excited. Intimidated for, perhaps, the first time in her life,
she turned away her great blue eyes, as if afraid that they should
betray a reflex of her thoughts.

As to M. de Tregars, he remained at his place, not having one whit
too much of that power of self-control, which is acquired by a long
experience of the world, to conceal his impressions. If he had a
fault, it was certainly not self-conceit; but Mlle. de Thaller had
been too explicit and too clear to leave him a doubt. All she
bad said could be comprised in one sentence,

"My parents were in hopes that I would become your wife: I had
judged you well enough to understand their error. Precise because
I love you I acknowledge myself unworthy of you and I wish you to
know that if you had asked my hand, - the hand of a girl who has
a dowry of a million - I would have ceased to esteem you.

That such a feeling should have budded and blossomed in Mlle.
Cesarine's soul, withered as it was by vanity, and blunted by
pleasure was almost a miracle. It was, at any rate, an astonishing
proof of love which she gave; and Marius de Tregars would not have
been a man, if he had not been deeply moved by it. Suddenly,

"What a miserable wretch I am!" she uttered.

"You mean unhappy," said M. de Tr6gars gently.

"What can you think of my sincerity? You must, doubtless, find it
strange, impudent, grotesque."

He lifted his hand in protest; for she gave him no time to put in
a word.

And yet," she went on, this is not the first time that I am assailed
by sinister ideas, and that I feel ashamed of myself. I was
convinced once that this mad existence of mine is the only enviable
one, the only one that can give happiness. And now I discover that
it is not the right path which I have taken, or, rather, which
I have been made to take. And there is no possibility of retracing
my steps."

She turned pale, and, in an accent of gloomy despair,

Every thing fails me," she said. "It seems as though I were rolling
into a bottomless abyss, without a branch or a tuft of grass to
cling to. Around me, emptiness, night, chaos. I am not yet twenty
and it seems to me that I have lived thousands of years, and
exhausted every sensation. I have seen every thing, learned every
thing, experienced every thing; and I am tired of every thing, and
satiated and nauseated. You see me looking like a brainless hoyden,
I sing, I jest, I talk slang. My gayety surprises everybody. In
reality, I am literally tired to death. What I feel I could not
express there are no words to render absolute disgust. Sometimes I
say to myself, 'It is stupid to be so sad. What do you need? Are
you not young, handsome, rich? But I must need something, or else
I would not be thus agitated, nervous, anxious, unable to stay in
one place, tormented by confused aspirations, and by desires which
I cannot formulate. What can I do? Seek oblivion in pleasure and
dissipation? I try, and I succeed for an hour or so; but the
reaction comes, and the effect vanishes, like froth from champagne.
The lassitude returns; and, whilst outwardly I continue to laugh,
I shed within tears of blood which scald my heart. What is to
become of me, without a memory in the past, or a hope in the future,
upon which to rest my thought?"

And bursting into tears,

"Oh, I am wretchedly unhappy!" she exclaimed; "and I wish I was
dead."

M. de Tregars rose, feeling more deeply moved than he would, perhaps,
have liked to acknowledge.

"I was laughing at you only a moment since," he said in his grave
and vibrating voice, Pardon me, mademoiselle, It is with the utmost
sincerity, and from the innermost depths of my soul, that I pity
you."

She was looking at him with an air of timid doubt, big tears
trembling between her long eyelashes.

"Honest?" she asked.

"Upon my honor."

"And you will not go with too poor an opinion of me?"

"I shall retain the firm belief that when you were yet but a child,
you were spoiled by insane theories."

Gently and sadly she was passing her hand over her forehead.

"Yes, that's it," she murmured. "How could I resist examples coming
from certain persons? How could I help becoming intoxicated when
I saw myself, as it were, in a cloud of incense when I heard nothing
but praises and applause? And then there is the money, which
depraves when it comes in a certain way."

She ceased to speak; but the silence was soon again broken by a
slight noise, which came from the adjoining room.

Mechanically, M. de Traggers looked around him. The little parlor
in which he found himself was divided from the main drawing-room
of the house by a tall and broad door, closed only by heavy curtains,
which had remained partially drawn. Now, such was the disposition
of the mirrors in the two rooms, that M. de Traggers could see
almost the whole of the large one reflected in the mirror over the
mantelpiece of the little parlor. A man of suspicious appearance,
and wearing wretched clothes, was standing in it.

And, the more M. de Traggers examined him, the more it seemed to
him that he had already seen somewhere that uneasy countenance,
that anxious glance, that wicked smile flitting upon flat and thin
lips.

But suddenly the man bowed very low. It was probable that Mme. de
Thaller, who had gone around through the hall to reach the grand
parlor, must be coming in; and in fact she almost immediately
appeared within the range of the glass. She seemed much agitated;
and, with a finger upon her lips, she was recommending to the man
to be prudent, and to speak low. It was therefore in a whisper,
and such a low whisper that not even a vague murmur reached the
little par1or that the man uttered a few words. They were such
that the baroness started back as if she had seen a precipice yawning
at her feet; and by this action it was easy to understand that she
must have said,

"Is it possible?"

With the voice which still could not be heard, but with a gesture
which could be seen, the man evidently replied,

"It is so, I assure you!"

And leaning towards Mme. de Thaller, who seemed in no wise shocked
to feel this repulsive personage's lips almost touching her ear,
he began speaking to her.

The surprise which this species of vision caused to M. de Tregars
was great, but did not keep him from reflecting what could be the
meaning of this scene. How came this suspicious-looking man to
have obtained access, without difficulty, into the grand parlor?
Why had the baroness, on receiving his card, turned whiter than the
laces on her dress? What news had he brought, which had made such
a deep impression? What was he saying that seemed at once to
terrify and to delight Mme. de Thaller?

But soon she interrupted the man, beckoned to him to wait,
disappeared for a minute; and, when she came in again, she held in
her hand a package of bank-notes, which she began counting upon
the parlor-table.

She counted twenty-five, which, so far as M. de Tregars could judge,
must have been hundred-franc notes. The man took them counted them
over, slipped them into his pocket with a grin of satisfaction, and
then seemed disposed to retire.

The baroness detained him, however; and it was she now, who, leaning
towards him, commenced to explain to him, or rather, as far as her
attitude showed, to ask him something. It must have been a serious
matter; for he shook his head, and moved his arms, as if he meant
to say, "The deuse, the deuse!"

The strangest suspicions flashed across M. de Tregars' mind. What
was that bargain to which the mirror made him thus an accidental
witness? For it was a bargain: there could be no mistake about it.
The man, having received a mission, had fulfilled it, and had come
to receive the price of it. And now a new commission was offered
to him.

But M. de Traggers' attention was now called off by Mlle. Cesarine.
Shaking off the torpor which for a moment had overpowered her,

"But why fret and worry?" she said, answering, rather, the objections
of her own mind than addressing herself to M. de Traggers. "Things
are just as they are, and I cannot undo them.

"Ah! if the mistakes of life were like soiled clothes, which are
allowed to accumulate in a wardrobe, and which are all sent out at
once to the wash. But nothing washes the past, not even repentance,
whatever they may say. There are some ideas which should be set
aside. A prisoner should not allow himself to think of freedom.

"And yet," she added, shrugging her shoulders, "a prisoner has
always the hope of escaping; whereas I" - Then, making a visible
effort to resume her usual manner,

Bash!" she said, "that's enough sentiment for one day; and instead
of staying here, boring you to death, I ought to go and dress; for
I am going to the opera with my sweet mamma, and afterwards to the
ball. You ought to come. I am going to wear a stunning dress.
The ball is at Mme. de Bois d'Ardon's, - one of our friends, a
progressive woman. She has a smoking-room for ladies. What do
you think of that? Come, will you go? We'll drink champagne,
and we'll laugh. No? Zut then, and my compliments to your family."

But, at the moment of leaving the room, her heart failed her.

"This is doubtless the last time I shall ever see you, M. de
Traggers," she said. "Farewell! You know now why I, who have a
dowry of a million, I envy Gilberte Favoral. Once more farewell.
And, whatever happiness may fall to your lot in life, remember
that Cesarine has wished it all to you.".

And she went out at the very moment when the Baroness de Thaller
returned.





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