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VII

"Cesarine!" Mme. de Thaller called, in a voice which sounded at
once like a prayer and a threat.

"I am going to dress myself, mamma," she answered.

"Come back!"

"So that you can scold me if I am not ready when you want to go?
Thank you, no."

"I command you to come back, Cesarine."

No answer. She was far already.

Mme. de Thaller closed the door of the little parlor, and returning
to take a seat by M. de Traggers,

"What a singular girl!" she said.

Meantime he was watching in the glass what was going on in the
other room. The suspicious-looking man was there still, and alone.
A servant had brought him pen, ink and paper; and he was writing
rapidly.

"How is it that they leave him there alone?" wondered Marius.

And he endeavored to find upon the features of the baroness an
answer to the confused presentiments which agitated his brain. But
there was no longer any trace of the emotion which she had manifested
when taken unawares. Having had time for reflection, she had
composed for herself an impenetrable countenance. Somewhat surprised
at M. de Traggers silence,

"I was saying," she repeated, "that Cesarine is a strange girl."

Still absorbed by the scene in the grand parlor,

"Strange, indeed!" he answered.

"And such is," said the baroness with a sigh, "the result of M. de
Thaller's weakness, and above all of my own."

"We have no child but Cesarine; and it was natural that we should
spoil her. Her fancy has been, and is still, our only law. She
has never had time to express a wish: she is obeyed before she has
spoken."

She sighed again, and deeper than the first time. "You have just
seen," she went on, "the results of that insane education. And yet
it would not do to trust appearances. Cesarine, believe me, is not
as extravagant as she seems. She possesses solid qualities, - of
those which a man expects of the woman who is to be his wife."

Without taking his eyes off the glass,

"I believe you madame," said M. de Traggers.

"With her father, with me especially, she is capricious, wilful,
and violent; but, in the hands of the husband of her choice, she
would be like wax in the hands of the modeler."

The man in the parlor had finished his letter, and, with an
equivocal smile, was reading it over.

"Believe me, madame," replied M. de Traggers, "I have perfectly
understood how much naive boasting there was in all that Mlle.
Cesarine told me."

"Then, really, you do not judge her too severely?"

"Your heart has not more indulgence for her than my own."

"And yet it is from you that her first real sorrow comes."

"From me?"

The baroness shook her head in a melancholy way, to convey an idea
of her maternal affection and anxiety.

"Yes, from you, my dear marquis," she replied, "from you alone.
On the very day you entered this house, Cesarine's whole nature
changed."

Having read his letter over, the man in the grand parlor had folded
it, and slipped it into his pocket, and, having left his seat,
seemed to be waiting for something. M. de Traggers was following,
in the glass, his every motion, with the most eager curiosity. And
nevertheless, as he felt the absolute necessity of saying something,
were it only to avoid attracting the attention of the baroness,

"What!" he said, "Mlle. Cesarine's nature did change, then?"

"In one night. Had she not met the hero of whom every girl dreams?
- a man of thirty, bearing one of the oldest names in France."

She stopped, expecting an answer, a word, an exclamation. But, as
M. de Traggers said nothing,

"Did you never notice any thing then?" she asked.

"Nothing."

"And suppose I were to tell you myself, that my poor Cesarine, alas!
- loves you?"

M. de Traggers started. Had he been less occupied with the personage
in the grand parlor, he would certainly not have allowed the
conversation to drift in this channel. He understood his mistake;
and, in an icy tone,

"Permit me, madame," he said, "to believe that you are jesting."

"And suppose it were the truth."

"It would make me unhappy in the extreme."

"Sir!"

"For the reason which I have already told you, that I love Mlle.
Gilberte Favoral with the deepest and the purest love, and that
for the past three years she has been, before God, my affianced
bride."

Something like a flash of anger passed over Mme. de Thaller's eyes.

"And I," she exclaimed, - "I tell you that this marriage is senseless."

"I wish it were still more so, that I might the better show to
Gilberte how dear she is to me."

Calm in appearance, the baroness was scratching with her nails the
satin of the chair on which she was sitting.

"Then," she went on, "your resolution is settled."

"Irrevocably."

"Still, now, come, between us who are no longer children, suppose
M. de Thaller were to double Cesarine's dowry, to treble it?"

An expression of intense disgust contracted the manly features of
Marius de Tregars.

"Ah! not another word, madame," he interrupted.

There was no hope left. Mme. de Thaller fully realized it by the
tone in which he spoke. She remained pensive for over a minute,
and suddenly, like a person who has finally made up her mind, she
rang.

A footman appeared.

"Do what I told you!" she ordered.

And as soon as the footman had gone, turning to M. de Tregars,

"Alas!" she said, "who would have thought that I would curse the day
when you first entered our house?"

But, whilst, she spoke, M. de Traggers noticed in the glass the
result of the order she had just given.

The footman walked into the grand parlor, spoke a few words; and at
once the man with the alarming countenance put on his hat and went
out.

"This is very strange!" thought M. de Traggers. Meantime, the
baroness was going on,

"If your intentions are to that point irrevocable, how is it that
you are here? You have too much experience of the world not to
have understood, this morning, the object of my visit and of my
allusions."

Fortunately, M. de Traggers' attention was no longer drawn by the
proceedings in the next room. The decisive moment had come: the
success of the game he was playing would, perhaps, depend upon
his coolness and self-command.

"It is because I did understand, madame, and even better than you
suppose, that I am here."

"Indeed!"

"I came, expecting to deal with M. de Thaller alone. I have been
compelled, by what has happened, to alter my intentions. It is
to you that I must speak first."

Mme. de Thaller continued to manifest the same tranquil assurance;
but she stood up. Feeling the approach of the storm, she wished
to be up, and ready to meet it.

"You honor me," she said with an ironical smile.

There was, henceforth, no human power capable of turning Marius de
Tregars from the object he had in view.

"It is to you I shall speak," he repeated, "because, after you have
heard me, you may perhaps judge that it is your interest to join me
in endeavoring to obtain from your husband what I ask, what I
demand, what I must have."

With an air of surprise marvelously well simulated, if it was not
real, the baroness was looking at him.

"My father," he proceeded to say, "the Marquis de Tregars, was once
rich: he had several millions. And yet when I had the misfortune
of losing him, three years ago, he was so thoroughly ruined, that
to relieve the scruples of his honor, and to make his death easier,
I gave up to his creditors all I had in the world. What had become
of my father's fortune? What filter had been administered to him
to induce him to launch into hazardous speculations, - he an old
Breton gentleman, full, even to absurdity, of the most obstinate
prejudices of the nobility? That's what I wished to ascertain."

"And now, madame, I - have ascertained."

She was a strong-minded woman, the Baroness de Thaller. She had
had so many adventures in her life, she had walked on the very edge
of so many precipices, concealed so many anxieties, that danger was,
as it were, her element, and that, at the decisive moment of an
almost desperate game, she could remain smiling like those old
gamblers whose face never betrays their terrible emotion at the
moment when they risk their last stake. Not a muscle of her face
moved; and it was with the most imperturbable calm that she said,

"Go on, I am listening: it must be quite interesting."

That was not the way to propitiate M. de Traggers.
He resumed, in a brief and harsh tone,

"When my father died, I was young. I did not know then what I have
learned since, - that to contribute to insure the impunity of knaves
is almost to make one's self their accomplice. And the victim who
says nothing and submits, does contribute to it. The honest man,
on the contrary, should speak, and point out to others the trap
into which he has fallen, that they may avoid it."

The baroness was listening with the air of a person who is compelled
by politeness to hear a tiresome story.

"That is a rather gloomy preamble," she said. M. de Tregars took
no notice of the interruption.

"At all times," he went on, "my father seemed careless of his
affairs: that affectation, he thought, was due to the name he bore.
But his negligence was only apparent. I might mention things of
him that would do honor to the most methodical tradesman. He had,
for instance, the habit of preserving all the letters of any
importance which he received. He left twelve or fifteen boxes full
of such. They were carefully classified; and many bore upon their
margin a few notes indicating what answer had been made to them."

Half suppressing a yawn,

"That is order," said the baroness, "if I know any thing about it."

"At the first moment, determined not to stir up the past, I
attached no importance to those letters; and they would certainly
have been burnt, but for an old friend of the family, the Count de
Villegre, who had them carried to his own house. But later, acting
under the influence of circumstances which it would be too long to
explain to you, I regretted my apathy; and I thought that I should,
perhaps, find in that correspondence something to either dissipate
or justify certain suspicions which had occurred to me."

"So that, like a respectful son, you read it?" M. de Tregars bowed
ceremoniously.

"I believe," he said, "that to avenge a father of the imposture of
which he was the victim during his life, is to render homage to his
memory. Yes, madame, I read the whole of that correspondence, and
with an interest which you will readily understand. I had already,
and without result, examined the contents of several boxes, when in
the package marked 1852, a year which my father spent in Paris,
certain letters attracted my attention. They were written upon
coarse paper, in a very primitive handwriting and wretchedly spelt.
They were signed sometimes Phrasie, sometimes Marquise de Javelle.
Some gave the address, 'Rue des Bergers, No. 3, Paris-Grenelle.'

"Those letters left me no doubt upon what had taken place. My
father had met a young working-girl of rare beauty: he had taken a
fancy to her; and, as he was tormented by the fear of being loved
for his money alone, he had passed himself off for a poor clerk in
one of the departments."

"Quite a touching little love-romance," remarked the baroness.

But there was no impertinence that could affect Marius de Tregars'
coolness.

"A romance, perhaps," he said, "but in that case a money-romance,
not a love-romance. This Phrasie or Marquise de Javelle, announces
in one of her letters, that in February, 1853, she has given birth
to a daughter, whom she has confided to some relatives of hers in
the south, near Toulouse. It was doubtless that event which
induced my father to acknowledge who he was. He confesses that
he is not a poor clerk, but the Marquis de Tregars, having an
income of over a hundred thousand francs. At once the tone of
the correspondence changes. The Marquise de Javelle has a stupid
time where she lives; the neighbors reproach her with her fault;
work spoils her pretty hands. Result: less than two weeks after
the birth of her daughter, my father hires for his pretty mistress
a lovely apartment, which she occupies under the name of Mme. Devil;
she is allowed fifteen hundred francs a month, servants, horses,
carriage."

Mme. de Thaller was giving signs of the utmost impatience. Without
paying any attention to them, M. de Tregars proceeded,

"Henceforth free to see each other daily, my father and his mistress
cease to write. But Mme. Devil does not waste her time. During a
space of less than eight months, from February to September, she
induces my father to dispose - not in her favor, she is too
disinterested for that, but in favor of her daughter - of a sum
exceeding five hundred thousand francs. In September, the
correspondence is resumed. Mme. Devil discovers that she is not
happy, and acknowledges it in a letter, which shows, by its improved
writing and more correct spelling, that she has been taking lessons.

"She complains of her precarious situation: the future frightens her:
she longs for respectability. Such is, for three months, the
constant burden of her correspondence. She regrets the time when
she was a working girl: why has she been so weak? Then, at last,
in a note which betrays long debates and stormy discussions, she
announces that she has an unexpected offer of marriage; a fine
fellow, who,, if she only had two hundred thousand francs, would
give his name to herself and to her darling little daughter. For
a long time my father hesitates; but she presses her point with
such rare skill, she demonstrates so conclusively that this marriage
will insure the happiness of their child, that my father yields at
last, and resigns himself to the sacrifice. And in a memorandum
on the margin of a last letter, he states that he has just given
two hundred thousand francs to Mme. Devil; that he will never see
her again; and that he returns to live in Brittany, where he wishes,
by the most rigid economy, to repair the breach he has just made
in his fortune."

"Thus end all these love-stories," said Mme. de Thaller in a
jesting tone.

"I beg your pardon: this one is not ended yet. For many years, my
father kept his word, and never left our homestead of Tregars. But
at last he grew tired of his solitude, and returned to Paris. Did
he seek to see his former mistress again? I think not. I suppose
that chance brought them together; or else, that, being aware of his
return, she managed to put herself in his way. He found her more
fascinating, than ever, and, according to what she wrote him, rich
and respected; for her husband had become a personage. She would
have been perfectly happy, she added, had it been possible for her
to forget the man whom she had once loved so much, and to whom she
owed her position.

"I have that letter. The elegant hand, the style, and the correct
orthography, express better than any thing else the transformations
of the Marquise de Javelle. Only it is not signed. The little
working-girl has become prudent: she has much to lose, and fears to
compromise herself.

"A week later, in a laconic note, apparently dictated by an
irresistible passion, she begs my father to come to see her at her
own house. He does so, and finds there a little girl, whom he
believes to be his own child, and whom he at once begins to idolize.

"And that's all. Again he falls under the charm. He ceases to
belong to himself: his former mistress can dispose, at her pleasure,
of his fortune and of his fate.

"But see now what bad luck! The husband takes a notion to become
jealous of my father's visits. In a letter which is a masterpiece
of diplomacy, the lady explains her anxiety.
'"He has suspicions,' she writes; 'and to what extremities might he
not resort, were he to discover the truth!' And with infinite art
she insinuates that the best way to justify his constant presence
is to associate himself with that jealous husband.

"It is with childish haste that my father jumps at the suggestion.
But money is needed. He sells his lands, and everywhere announces
that he has great financial ideas, and that he is going to increase
his fortune tenfold.

"There he is now, partner of his former mistress's husband, engaged
in speculations, director of a company. He thinks that he is doing
an excellent business: he is convinced that he is making lots of
money. Poor honest man! They prove to him, one morning, that he
is ruined, and, what is more, compromised. And this is made to
look so much like the truth, that I interfere myself, and pay the
creditors. We were ruined; but honor was safe. A few weeks later,
my father died broken-hearted."

Mme. de Thaller half rose from her seat with a gesture which
indicated the joy of escaping at last a merciless bore. A glance
from M. de Traggers riveted her to her seat, freezing upon her lips
the jest she was about to utter.

"I have not done yet," he said rudely.

And, without suffering .any interruption,

"From this correspondence," he resumed, "resulted the flagrant,
irrefutable proof of a shameful intrigue, long since suspected by
my old friend, General Count de Villegre, it became evident to me
that my poor father had been most shamefully imposed upon by that
mistress, so handsome and so dearly loved, and, later, despoiled
by the husband of that mistress. But all this availed me nothing.
Being ignorant of my father's life and connections, the letters
giving neither a name nor a precise detail, I knew not whom to
accuse. Besides, in order to accuse, it is necessary to have, at
least, some material proof."

The baroness had resumed her seat; and every thing about her - her
attitude, her gestures, the motion of her lips-seemed to say,

"You are my guest. Civility has its demands; but really you abuse
your privileges."

M. de Traggers went on,

"At this moment I was still a sort of savage, wholly absorbed in
my experiments, and scarcely ever setting foot outside my
laboratory. I was indignant; I ardently wished to find and to
punish the villains who had robbed us: but I knew not how to go
about it, nor in what direction to seek information. The wretches
would, perhaps, have gone unpunished, but for a good and worthy man,
now a commissary of police, to whom I once rendered a slight service,
one night, in a riot, when he was close pressed by some half-dozen
rascals. I explained the situation to him: he took much interest
in it, promised his assistance, and marked out my line of conduct."

Mme. de Thaller seemed restless upon her seat.

"I must confess," she began, "that I am not wholly mistress of my
time. I am dressed, as you see: I have to go out."

If she had preserved any hope of adjourning the explanation which
she felt coming, she must have lost it when she heard the tone in
which M. de Tregars interrupted her.

"You can go out to-morrow."

And, without hurrying,

"Advised, as I have just told you," he continued, "and assisted by
the experience of a professional man, I went first to No. 3, Rue
des Bergers, in Grenelle. I found there some old people, the
foreman of a neighboring factory and his wife, who had been living
in the house for nearly twenty-five years. At my first question,
they exchanged a glance, and commenced laughing. They remembered
perfectly the Marquise de Javelle, which was but a nickname for a
young and pretty laundress, whose real name was Euphrasie Taponnet.
She had lived for eighteen months on the same landing as themselves:
she had a lover, who passed himself off for a clerk, but who was,
in fact, she had told them, a very wealthy nobleman. They added
that she had given birth to a little girl, and that, two weeks later
she had disappeared, and they had never heard a word from her. When
I left them, they said to me, 'If you see Phrasie, ask her if she
ever knew old Chandour and his wife. I am sure she'll remember us.'"

For the first time Mme. de Thaller shuddered slightly; but it was
almost imperceptible.

"From Grenelle," continued M. de Traggers, "I went to the house
where my father's mistress had lived under the name of Mme. Devil.
I was in luck. I found there the same concierge as in 1853. As
soon as I mentioned Mme. Devil, she answered me that she had not in
the least forgotten her, but, on the contrary, would know her among
a thousand. She was, she said, one of the prettiest little women
she had ever seen, and the most generous tenant. I understood the
hint, handed her a couple of napoleons, and heard from her every
thing she knew on the subject. It seemed that this pretty Mme.
Devil had, not one lover, but two, - the acknowledged one, who was
the master, and footed the bills; and the other an anonymous one,
who went out through the back-stairs, and who did not pay, on the
contrary. The first was called the Marquis de Tregars: of the
second, she had never known but the first name, Frederic. I
tried to ascertain what had become of Mme. Devil; but the worthy
concierge swore to me that she did not know.

"One morning, like a person who is going abroad, or who wishes to
cover up her tracks, Mme. Devil had sent for a furniture-dealer,
and a dealer in second-hand clothes, and had sold them every thing
she had, going away with nothing but a little leather satchel, in
which were her jewels and her money."

The Baroness de Thaller still kept a good countenance. After
examining her for a moment, with a sort of eager curiosity, Marius
de Tregars went on,

"When I communicated this information to my friend, the commissary
of police, he shook his head. 'Two years ago,' he told me, 'I
would have said, that's more than we want to find those people; for
the public records would have given us at once the key of this
enigma. But we have had the war and the Commune; and the books of
record have been burnt up. Still we must not give up. A last
hope remains; and I know the man who is capable of realizing it.'

"Two days after, he brought me an excellent fellow, named Victor
Chupin, in whom I could have entire confidence; for he was
recommended to me by one of the men whom I like and esteem the most,
the Duke de Champdoce. Giving up all idea of applying at the
various mayors' offices, Victor Chupin, with the patience and the
tenacity of an Indian following a scent, began beating about the
districts of Grenelle, Vargirard, and the Invalids. And not in
vain; for, after a week of investigations he brought me a nurse,
residing Rue de l'Universite, who remembered perfectly having once
attended, on the occasion of her confinement, a remarkably pretty
young woman, living in the Rue des Bergers, and nicknamed the
Marquise de Javelle. And as she was a very orderly woman, who at
all times had kept a very exact account of her receipts, she brought
me a little book in which I read this entry: 'For attending Euphrasie
Taponnet, alias the Marquise de Javelle (a girl), one hundred francs.'
And this is not all. This woman informed me, moreover, that she had
been requested to present the child at the mayor's office, and that
she had been duly registered there under the names of Euphrasie
Cesarine Taponnet, born of Euphrasie Taponnet, laundress, and an
unknown father. Finally she placed at my disposal her account-book
and her testimony."

Taxed beyond measure; the energy of the baroness was beginning to
fail her; she was turning livid under her rice-powder. Still in
the same icy tone,

"You can understand, madame," said Marius de Tregars, "that this
woman's testimony, together with the letters which are in my
possession, enables me to establish before the courts the exact
date of the birth of a daughter whom my father had of his mistress.
But that's nothing yet. With renewed zeal, Victor Chupin had
resumed his investigations. He had undertaken the examination of
the marriage-registers in all the parishes of Paris, and, as early
as the following week, he discovered at Notre Dame des Lorettes the
entry of the marriage of Euphrasie Taponnet with Frederic de
Thaller."

Though she must have expected that name, the baroness started up
violently and livid, and with a haggard look.

"It's false!" she began in a choking voice.

A smile of ironical pity passed over Marius' lips.

"Five minutes' reflection will prove to you that it is useless to
deny," he interrupted. "But wait. In the books of that same church,
Victor Chupin has found registered the baptism of a daughter of M.
and Mme de Thaller, bearing the same names as the first one,
- Euphrasie Cesarine."

With a convulsive motion the baroness shrugged her shoulder.

"What does all that prove?" she said.

"That proves, madame, the well-settled intention of substituting
one child for another; that proves that my father was imprudently
deceived when he was made to believe that the second Cesarine was
his daughter, the daughter in whose favor he had formerly disposed
of over five hundred thousand francs; that proves that there is
somewhere in the world a poor girl who has been basely forsaken by
her mother, the Marquise de Javelle, now become the Baroness de
Thaller."

Beside herself with terror and anger,

"That is an infamous lie!" exclaimed the baroness. M. de Tregars
bowed.

"The evidence of the truth of my statements," he said, "I shall
find at Louveciennes, and at the Hotel des Folies, Boulevard du
Temple, Paris."

Night had come. A footman came in carrying lamps, which he placed
upon the mantelpiece. He was not all together one minute in the
little parlor; but that one minute was enough to enable the Marquise
de Thaller to recover her coolness, and to collect her ideas. When
the footman retired, she had made up her mind, with the resolute
promptness of a person accustomed to perilous situations. She gave
up the discussion, and, drawing near to M. de Traggers,

"Enough allusions," she said: "let us speak frankly, and face to
face now. What do you want?"

But the change was too sudden not to arouse Marius's suspicions.

"I want a great many things," he replied.

"Still you must specify."

"Well, I claim first the five hundred thousand francs which my
father had settled upon his daughter, - the daughter whom you cast
off."

"And what next?"

"I want besides, my own and my father's fortune, of which we have
been robbed by M. de Thaller, with your assistance, madame."

"Is that all, at least?"

M. de Tregars shook his head.

"That's nothing yet," he replied.

"Oh!"

"We have now to say something of Vincent Favoral's affairs."

An attorney who is defending the interests of a client is neither
calmer nor cooler than Mme. de Thaller at this moment.

"Do the affairs of my husband's cashier concern me, then?" she said
with' a shade of irony.

"Yes, madame, very much."

"I am glad to hear it."

"I know it from excellent sources, because, on my return from
Louveciennes, I called in the Rue du Cirque, where I saw one Zelie
Cadelle."

He thought that the baroness would at least start on hearing that
name. Not at all. With a look of profound astonishment,

"Rue du Cirque," she repeated, like a person who is making a
prodigious effort of memory, - "Rue du Cirque! Zelie Cadelle!
Really, I do not understand."

But, from the glance which M. de Traggers cast upon her, she must
have understood that she would not easily draw from him the
particulars which he had resolved not to tell.

"I believe, on the contrary," he uttered, "that you understand
perfectly."

"Be it so, if you insist upon it. What do you ask for Favoral?"

"I demand, not for Favoral, but for the stockholders who have been
impudently defrauded, the twelve millions which are missing from
the funds of the Mutual Credit."

Mme. de Thaller burst out laughing.

"Only that?" she said.

"Yes, only that!"

"Well, then, it seems to me that you should present your reclamations
to M. Favoral himself. You have the right to run after him."

"It is useless, for the reason that it is not he, the poor fool!
who has carried off the twelve millions."

"Who is it, then?"

"M. le Baron de Thaller, no doubt."

With that accent of pity which one takes to reply to an absurd
proposition, - " You are mad, my poor marquis," said Mme. de Thaller.

"You do not think so."

"But suppose I should refuse to do any thing more?"
He fixed upon her a glance in which she could read an irrevocable
determination; and slowly,

"I have a perfect horror of scandal," he replied, "and, as you
perceive, I am trying to arrange every thing quietly between us.
But, if I do not succeed thus, I must appeal to the courts."

"Where are your proofs?"

"Don't be afraid: I have proofs to sustain all my allegations."

The baroness had stretched herself comfortably in her arm-chair.

"May we know them?" she inquired.

Marius was getting somewhat uneasy in presence of Mme. de Thaller's
imperturbable assurance. What hope had she? Could she see some
means of escape from a situation apparently so desperate? Determined
to prove to her that all was lost, and that she had nothing to do
but to surrender,

"Oh! I know, madame," he replied, "that you have taken your
precautions. But, when Providence interferes, you see, human
foresight does not amount to much. See, rather, what happens in
regard to your first daughter, - the one you had when you were
still only Marquise de Javelle."

And briefly he called to her mind the principal incidents of Mlle.
Lucienne's life from the time that she had left her with the poor
gardeners at Louveciennes, without giving either her name or her
address, - the injury she had received by being run over by Mme. de
Thaller's carriage; the long letter she had written from the
hospital, begging for assistance; her visit to the house, and her
meeting with the Baron de Thaller; the effort to induce her to
emigrate to America; her arrest by means of false information, and
her escape, thanks to the kind peace-officer; the attempt upon her
as she was going home late one night; and, finally, her imprisonment
after the Commune, among the petroleuses, and her release through
the interference of the same honest friend."

And, charging her with the responsibility of all these
infamous acts, he paused for an answer or a protest.

And, as Mme. de Thaller said nothing,

"You are looking at me, madame, and wondering how I have discovered
all that. A single word will explain it all. The peace-officer
who saved your daughter is precisely the same to whom it was once
my good fortune to render a service. By comparing notes, we have
gradually reached the truth, - reached you, madame. Will you
acknowledge now that I have more proofs than are necessary to apply
to the courts?"

Whether she acknowledged it or not, she did not condescend to discuss.

"What then?" she said coldly.

But M. de Traggers was too much on his guard to expose himself, by
continuing to speak thus, to reveal the secret of his designs.

Besides, whilst he was thoroughly satisfied as to the manoeuvres
used to defraud his father he had, as yet, but presumptions on what
concerned Vincent Favoral.

"Permit me not to say another word, madame," he replied. "I have
told you enough to enable you to judge of the value of my weapons."

She must have felt that she could not make him change his mind, for
she rose to go.

"That is sufficient," she uttered. "I shall reflect; and to-morrow
I shall give you an answer."

She started to go; but M. de Traggers threw himself quickly between
her and the door.

"Excuse me," he said; "but it is not to-morrow that I want an answer:
it is to-night, this instant!"

Ah, if she could have annihilated him with a look.

"Why, this is violence," she said in a voice which betrayed the
incredible effort she was making to control herself.

"It is imposed upon me by circumstances, madame."

"You would be less exacting, if my husband were here."

He must have been within hearing; for suddenly the door opened, and
he appeared upon the threshold. There are people for whom the
unforeseen does not exist, and whom no event can disconcert. Having
ventured every thing, they expect every thing. Such was the Baron
de Thaller. With a sagacious glance he examined his wife and M. de
Traggers; and in a cordial tone,

"We are quarreling here?" he said.

"I am glad you have come!" exclaimed the baroness.

"What is the matter?"

"The matter is, that M. de Traggers is endeavoring to take an odious
advantage of some incidents of our past life."

"There's woman's exaggeration for you!" he said laughing.

And, holding out his hand to Marius,

"Let me make your peace - for you, my dear marquis," he said: "that's
within the province of the husband." But, instead of taking his
extended hand, M. de Tregars stepped back.

"There is no more peace possible, sir, I am an enemy.

"An enemy!" he repeated in a tone of surprise which was wonderfully
well assumed, if it was not real.

"Yes," interrupted the baroness; "and I must speak to you at once,
Frederic. Come: M. de Traggers will wait for you."

And she led her husband into the adjoining room, not without first
casting upon Marius a look of burning and triumphant hatred.

Left alone, M. de Traggers sat down. Far from annoying him, this
sudden intervention of the manager of the Mutual Credit seemed to
him a stroke of fortune. It spared him an explanation more painful
still than the first, and the unpleasant necessity of having to
confound a villain by proving his infamy to him.

"And besides," he thought, "when the husband and
the wife have consulted with each other, they will ac-
knowledge that they cannot resist, and that it is best to
surrender." The deliberation was brief. In less than ten
minutes, M. de Thaller returned alone. He was pale;
and his face expressed well the grief of an honest man
who discovers too late that he has misplaced his confidence.

"My wife has told me all, sir," he began.

M. de Tregars had risen. "Well?" he asked.

"You see me distressed. Ah, M. le Marquis! how could I ever expect
such a thing from you? - you, whom I thought I had the right to look
upon as a friend. And it is you, who, when a great misfortune
befalls me, attempts to give me the finishing stroke. It is you who
would crush me under the weight of slanders gathered in the gutter."

M. de Tregars stopped him with a gesture.

"Mme. de Thaller cannot have correctly repeated my words to you,
else you would not utter that word 'slander.'"

"She has repeated them to me without the least change."

"Then she cannot have told you the importance of the proofs I have
in my hands."

But the Baron persisted, as Mlle. Cesarine would have said, to "do
it up in the tender style."

"There is scarcely a family," he resumed, " in which there is not
some one of those painful secrets which they try to withhold from
the wickedness of the world. There is one in mine. Yes, it is
true, that before our marriage, my wife had had a child, whom
poverty had compelled her to abandon. We have since done everything
that it was humanly possible to find that child, but without success.
It is a great misfortune, which has weighed upon our life; but it is
not a crime. If, however, you deem it your interest to divulge our
secret, and to disgrace a woman, you are free to do so: I cannot
prevent you. But I declare it to you, that fact is the only thing
real in your accusations. You say that your father has been duped
and defrauded. From whom did you get such an idea?

"From Marcolet, doubtless, a man without character, who has become
my mortal enemy since the day when he tried a sharp game on me, and
came out second best. Or from Costeclar, perhaps, who does not
forgive me for having refused him my daughter's hand, and who hates
me because I know that he committed forgery once, and that he would
be in prison but for your father's extreme indulgence. Well,
Costeclar and Marcolet have deceived you. If the Marquis de Tregars
ruined himself, it is because he undertook a business that he knew
nothing about, and speculated right and left. It does not take
long to sink a fortune, even without the assistance of thieves.

"As to pretend that I have benefitted by the embezzlements of my
cashier that is simply stupid; and there can be no one to suggest
such a thing, except Jottras and Saint Pavin, two scoundrels whom
I have had ten times the opportunity to send to prison and who were
the accomplices of Favoral. Besides, the matter is in the hands of
justice; and I shall prove in the broad daylight of the court-room,
as I have already done in the office of the examining judge, that,
to save the Mutual Credit, I have sacrificed more than half my
private fortune."

Tired of this speech, the evident object of which was to lead him
to discuss, and to betray himself,

"Conclude, sir," M. de Traggers interrupted harshly. Still in the
same placid tone,

"To conclude is easy enough," replied the baron. "My wife has told
me that you were about to marry the daughter of my old cashier, - a
very handsome girl, but without a sou. She ought to have a dowry."

"Sir!"

"Let us show our hands. I am in a critical position: you know it,
and you are trying to take advantage of it. Very well: we can still
come to an understanding. What would you say, if I were to give to
Mlle. Gilberte the dowry I intended for my daughter?"

All M. de Traggers' blood rushed to his face.

"Ah, not another word!" he exclaimed with a gesture of unprecedented
violence. But, controlling himself almost at once,

"I demand," he added, "my father's fortune. I demand that you
should restore to the Mutual Credit Company the twelve millions
which have been abstracted."

"And if not?"

"Then I shall apply to the courts."

They remained for a moment face to face, looking into each other's
eyes. Then,

"What have you decided?" asked M. de Traggers.

Without perhaps, suspecting that his offer was a new insult,

"I will go as far as fifteen hundred thousand francs," replied M.
de Thaller, "and I pay cash."

"Is that your last word?"

"It is."

"If I enter a complaint, with the proofs in my hands,
you are lost."

"We'll see about that."

To insist further would have been puerile.

"Very well, we'll see, then," said M. de Traggers. But as he
walked out and got into his cab, which had been waiting for him at
the door, he could not help wondering what gave the Baron de
Thaller so much assurance, and whether he was not mistaken in his
conjectures.

It was nearly eight o'clock, and Maxence, Mme. Favoral and Mlle.
Gilberte must have been waiting for him with a feverish impatience;
but he had eaten nothing since morning, and he stopped in front of
one of the restaurants of the Boulevard.

He had just ordered his dinner, when a gentleman of a certain age,
but active and vigorous still, of military bearing, wearing a
mustache, and a van-colored ribbon at his buttonhole, came to take
a seat at the adjoining table.

In less than fifteen minutes M. de Traggers had despatched a bowl
of soup and a slice of beef, and was hastening out, when his foot
struck his neighbor's foot, without his being able to understand
how it had happened.

Though fully convinced that it was not his fault, he hastened to
excuse himself. But the other began to talk angrily, and so loud,
that everybody turned around.

Vexed as he was, Marius renewed his apologies.

But the other, like those cowards who think they have found a
greater coward than themselves, was pouring forth a torrent of
the grossest insults.

M. de Traggers was lifting his hand to administer a well-deserved
correction, when suddenly the scene in the grand parlor of the
Thaller mansion came back vividly to his mind. He saw again, as
in the glass, the ill-looking man listening, with an anxious look,
to Mme. de Thaller's propositions, and afterwards sitting down to
write.

"That's it!" he exclaimed, a multitude of circumstances occurring
to his mind, which had escaped him at the moment.

And, without further reflection, seizing his adversary by the
throat, he threw him over on the table, holding him down with his
knee.

"I am sure he must have the letter about him," he said to the
people who surrounded him.

And in fact he did take from the side-pocket of the villain a letter,
which he unfolded, and commenced reading aloud,

"I am waiting for you, my dear major, come quick, for the thing is
pressing, - a troublesome gentleman who is to be made to keep quiet.
It will be for you the matter of a sword-thrust, and for us the
occasion to divide a round amount."

"And, that's why he picked a quarrel with me," added M. de Traggers.

Two Waiters had taken hold of the villain, who was struggling
furiously, and wanted to surrender him to the police.

"What's the use?" said Marius. " I have his letter: that's enough.
The police will find him when they want him."

And, getting back into his cab,

"Rue St. Gilles," he ordered, "and lively, if possible."





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