eBooks Cube
 
XI

The apartment was exactly as described by Mme. Cadelle. In the
dark and narrow ante-chamber, three doors opened, - on the left,
that of the dining-room; in the centre, that of a parlor and
bedroom which communicated; on the right, that of the closet. M.
de Tregars slipped in noiselessly through the latter, and at once
recognized that Mme. Zelie had not deceived him, and that he would
see and hear every thing that went on in the parlor. He saw the
young woman walk into it. She laid her provisions down upon the
table, and called,

"Vincent!"

The former cashier of the Mutual Credit appeared at once, coming
out of the bedroom.

He was so changed, that his wife and children would have hesitated
in recognizing him. He had cut off his beard, pulled out almost
the whole of his thick eye-brows, and covered his rough and
straight hair under a brown curly wig, He wore patent-leather boots,
wide pantaloons, and one of those short jackets of rough material,
and with broad sleeves which French elegance has borrowed from
English stable-boys. He tried to appear calm, careless, and playful;
but the contraction of his lips betrayed a horrible anguish, and
his look had the strange mobility of the wild beasts' eye, when,
almost at bay, they stop for a moment, listening to the barking of
the hounds.

"I was beginning to fear that you would disappoint me," he said to
Mme. Zelie.

"It took me some time to buy your breakfast."

"And is that all that kept you?"

"The porter detained me too, to hand me a letter, in which I found
one for you. Here it is."

"A letter!" exclaimed Vincent Favoral.

And, snatching it from her, he tore off the envelope. But he had
scarcely looked over it, when he crushed it in his hand, exclaiming,

"It is monstrous! It is a mean, infamous treason!" He was
interrupted by a violent ringing of the door-bell.

"Who can it be?" stammered Mme. Cadelle.

"I know who it is," replied the former cashier. "Open, open quick."

She obeyed; and almost at once a woman walked into the parlor,
wearing a cheap, black woolen dress. With a sudden gesture, she
threw off her veil; and M. de Tregars recognized the Baroness de
Thaller.

"Leave us!" she said to Mme. Zelie, in a tone which one would hardly
dare to assume towards a bar-maid.

The other felt indignant.

"What, what!" she began. " I am in my own house here."

"Leave us!" repeated M. Favoral with a threatening gesture.
"Go, go!"

She went out but only to take refuge by the side of M. de Tregars.

"You hear how they treat me," she said in a hoarse voice.

He made no answer. All his attention was centred upon the parlor.
The Baroness de Thaller and the former cashier were standing
opposite each other, like two adversaries about to fight a duel.

"I have just read your letter," began Vincent Favoral.

Coldly the baroness said, "Ah!"

"It is a joke, I suppose."

"Not at all."

"You refuse to go with me?"

"Positively."

"And yet it was all agreed upon. I have acted wholly under your
urgent, pressing advice. How many times have you repeated to me
that to live with your husband had become an intolerable torment
to you! How many times have you sworn to me that you wished to be
mine alone, begging me to procure a large sum of money, and to fly
with you!"

"I was in earnest at the time. I have discovered, at the last
moment, that it would be impossible for me thus to abandon my
country, my daughter, my friends."

"We can take Cesarine with us."

"Do not insist."

He was looking at her with a stupid, gloomy gaze.

"Then," he stammered, "those tears, those prayers, those oaths!"

"I have reflected."

"It is not possible! If you spoke the truth, you would not be here."

"I am here to make you understand that we must give up projects
which cannot be realized. There are some social conventionalities
which cannot be torn up. As if he scarcely understood what she
said, he repeated,

"Social conventionalities!"

And suddenly falling at Mme. de Thaller's feet, his head thrown
back, and his hands clasped together,

"You lie!" he said. "Confess that you lie, and that it is a final
trial which you are imposing upon me. Or else have you, then,
never loved me? That's impossible! I would not believe you if you
were to say so. A woman who does not love a man cannot be to him
what you have been to me: she does not give herself up thus so
joyously and so completely. Have you, then, forgotten every thing?
Is it possible that you do not remember those divine evenings in the
Rue de Cirque? - those nights, the mere thought of which fires my
brain, and consumes my blood."

He was horrible to look at, horrible and ridiculous at the same
time. As he wished to take Mme. de Thaller's hands, she stepped
back, and he followed her, dragging himself on his knees.

"Where could you find," he continued, "a man to worship you like me,
with an ardent, absolute, blind, mad passion? With what can you
reproach me? Have I not sacrificed to you without a murmur every
thing that a man can sacrifice here below, - fortune, family, honor,
- to supply your extravagance, to anticipate your slightest fancies,
to give you gold to scatter by the handful. Did I not leave my own
family struggling with poverty. I would have snatched bread from
my children's mouths in order to purchase roses to scatter under
your footsteps. And for years did ever a word from me betray the
secret of our love? What have I not endured? You deceived me. I
knew it, and I said nothing. Upon a word from you I stepped aside
before him whom your caprice made happy for a day. You told me,
'Steal!' and I stole. You told me, 'Kill!' and I tried to kill."

"Fly. A man who has twelve hundred thousand francs in gold,
bank-notes, and good securities, can always get along."

"And my wife and children?"

"Maxence is old enough to help his mother. Gilberte will find a
husband: depend upon it. Besides, what's to prevent you from
sending them money?"

"They would refuse it."

"You will always be a fool, my dear!"

To Vincent Favoral's first stupor and miserable weakness now
succeeded a terrible passion. All the blood had left his face:
his eyes was flashing.

Then," he resumed, "all is really over?"

"Of course."

"Then I have been duped like the rest, - like that poor Marquis de
Tregars, whom you had made mad also. But he, at least saved his
honor; whereas I - And I have no excuse; for I should have known.
I knew that you were but the bait which the Baron de Thaller held
out to his victims."

He waited for an answer; but she maintained a contemptuous silence.

"Then you think," he said with a threatening laugh, "that it will
all end that way?"

"What can you do?"

"There is such a thing as justice, I imagine, and judges too. I can
give myself up, and reveal every thing."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"That would be throwing yourself into the wolf's mouth for nothing,"
she said. "You know better than any one else that my precautions
are well enough taken to defy any thing you can do or say. I have
nothing to fear."

"Are you quite sure of that?"

"Trust to me," she said with a smile of perfect security.

The former cashier of the Mutual Credit made a terrible gesture; but,
checking himself at once, he seized one of the baroness's hands.
She withdrew it quickly, however, and, in an accent of insurmountable
disgust,

"Enough, enough!" she said.

In the adjoining closet Marius de Tregars could feel Mme. Zelie
Cadelle shuddering by his side.

"What a wretch that woman is!" she murmured; "and he - what a base
coward!"

The former cashier remained prostrated striking the floor with his
head.

"And you would forsake me," he groaned, "when we are united by a
past such as ours! How could you replace me? Where would you find
a slave so devoted to your every wish?"

The baroness was getting impatient.

"Stop!" she interrupted, - "stop these demonstrations as useless
as ridiculous."

This time he did start up, as if lashed with a whip and, double
locking the door which communicated with the ante-chamber, he put
the key in his pocket; and, with a step as stiff and mechanical as
that of an automaton, he disappeared in the sleeping-room.

"He is going for a weapon," whispered Mme. Cadelle.

It was also what Marius thought.

"Run down quick," he said to Mme. Zelie. "In a cab standing
opposite No.25, you will find Mlle. Gilberte Favoral waiting. Let
her come at once."

And, rushing into the parlor,

"Fly!" he said to Mme. Thaller.

But she was as petrified by this apparition.

"M. de Tregars!"

"Yes, yes, me. But hurry and go!"

And he pushed her into the closet.

It was but time. Vincent Favoral reappeared upon the threshold of
the bedroom. But, if it was a weapon he had gone for, it was not
for the one which Marius and Mme. Cadelle supposed. It was a bundle
of papers which he held in his hand. Seeing M. de Tregars there,
instead of Mme. de Thaller, an exclamation of terror and surprise
rose to his lips. He understood vaguely what must have taken place;
that the man who stood there must have been concealed in the glass
closet, and that he had assisted the baroness to escape.

"Ah the miserable wretch!" he stammered with a tongue made thick
by passion, "the infamous wretch! She has betrayed me; she has
surrendered me. I am lost!"

Mastering the most terrible emotion he had ever felt,

"No, no! you shall not be surrendered," uttered M. de Tregars.

Collecting all the energy that the devouring passion which had
blasted his existence had left him, the former cashier of the
Mutual Credit took one or two steps forward.

"Who are you, then?" he asked.

"Do you not know me? I am the son of that unfortunate Marquis de
Tregars of whom you spoke a moment since. I am Lucienne's brother."

Like a man who has received a stunning blow, Vincent Favoral sank
heavily upon a chair.

"He knows all," he groaned.

"Yes, all!"

"You must hate me mortally."

"I pity you."

The old cashier had reached that point when all the faculties, after
being strained to their utmost limits, suddenly break down, when
the strongest man gives up, and weeps like a child.

"Ah, I am the most wretched of villains!" he exclaimed.

He had hid his face in his hands; and in one second, - as it happens,
they say, to the dying on the threshold of eternity, - he reviewed
his entire existence.

"And yet," he said, "I had not the soul of a villain. I wanted to
get rich; but honestly, by labor, and by rigid economy. And I
should have succeeded. I had a hundred and fifty thousand francs
of my own when I met the Baron de Thaller. Alas! why did I meet
him? 'Twas he who first gave me to understand that it was stupid
to work and save, when, at the bourse, with moderate luck, one might
become a millionaire in six months."

He stopped, shook his head, and suddenly,

"Do you know the Baron de Thaller?" he asked. And, without giving
Marius time to answer,

"He is a German," he went on, "a Prussian. His father was a
cab-driver in Berlin, and his mother waiting-maid in a brewery. At
the age of eighteen, he was compelled to leave his country, owing
to some petty swindle, and came to take up his residence in Paris.
He found employment in the office of a stock-broker, and was living
very poorly, when he made the acquaintance of a young laundress
named Affrays, who had for a lover a very wealthy gentleman, the
Marquis de Tregars, whose weakness was to pass himself off for a
poor clerk. Affrays and Thaller were well calculated to agree.
They did agree, and formed an association, - she contributing her
beauty; he, his genius for intrigue; both, their corruption and
their vices. Soon after they met, she gave birth to a child, a
daughter; whom she intrusted to some poor gardeners at Louveciennes,
with the firm and settled intention to leave her there forever.
And yet it was upon this daughter, whom they firmly hoped never to
see again, that the two accomplices were building their fortune.

"It was in the name of that daughter that Affrays wrung
considerable sums from the Marquis de Tregars. As soon as Thaller
and she found themselves in possession of six hundred thousand
francs, they dismissed the marquis, and got married. Already, at
that time, Thaller had taken the title of baron, and lived in some
style. But his first speculations were not successful. The
revolution of 1848 finished his ruin, and he was about being expelled
from the bourse, when he found me on his way, - I, poor fool, who
was going about everywhere, asking how I could advantageously invest
my hundred and fifty thousand francs."

He was speaking in a hoarse voice, shaking his clinched fist in the
air, doubtless at the Baron de Thaller.

"Unfortunately," he resumed, "it was only much later that I
discovered all this. At the moment, M. de Thaller dazzled me. His
friends, Saint Pavin and the bankers Jottras, proclaimed him the
smartest and the most honest man in France. Still I would not have
given my money, if it had not been for the baroness. The first time
that I was introduced to her, and that she fixed upon me her great
black eyes, I felt myself moved to the deepest recesses of my soul.
In order to see her again, I invited her, together with her husband
and her husband's friends, to dine with me, by the side of my wife
and children. She came. Her husband made me sign every thing he
pleased; but, as she went off, she pressed my hand."

He was still shuddering at the recollection of it, the poor fellow!

"The next day," he went on, "I handed to Thaller all I had in the
world; and, in exchange, he gave me the position of cashier in the
Mutual Credit, which he had just founded. He treated me like an
inferior, and did not admit me to visit his family. But I didn't
care: the baroness had permitted me to see her again, and almost
every afternoon I met her at the Tuileries; and I had made bold to
tell her that I loved her to desperation. At last, one evening,
she consented to make an appointment with me for the second
following day, in an apartment which I bad rented.

"The day before I was to meet her, and whilst I was beside myself
with joy, the Baron de Thaller requested me to assist him, by
means of certain irregular entries, to conceal a deficit arising
from unsuccessful speculations. How could I refuse a man, whom,
as I thought, I was about to deceive grossly! I did as he wished.
The next day Mme. de Thaller became my mistress; and I was a lost
man."

Was he trying to exculpate himself? Was he merely yielding to that
imperious sentiment, more powerful than the will or the reason,
which impels the criminal to reveal the secret which oppresses him?

"From that day," he went on, "began for me the torment of that
double existence which I underwent for years. I had given to my
mistress all I had in the world; and she was insatiable. She
wanted money always, any way, and in heaps. She made me buy the
house in the Rue du Cirque for our meetings; and, between the
demands of the husband and those of the wife, I was almost insane.
I drew from the funds of the Mutual Credit as from an inexhaustible
mine; and, as I foresaw that some day must come when all would be
discovered, I always carried about me a loaded revolver, with
which to blow out my brains when they came to arrest me."

And he showed to Marius the handle of a revolver
protruding from his pocket.

"And if only she had been faithful to me!" he continued, becoming
more and more animated. "But what have I not endured! When the
Marquis de Tregars returned to Paris, and they set about defrauding
him of his fortune, she did not hesitate a moment to become his
mistress again. She used to tell me, 'What a fool you are! all
I want is his money. I love no one but you.' But after his death
she took others. She made use of our house in the Rue du Cirque
for purposes of dissipation for herself and her daughter Cesarine.
And I - miserable coward that I was! - I suffered all, so much
did I tremble to lose her, so much did I fear to be weaned from
the semblance of love with which she paid my fearful sacrifices.
And now she would betray me, forsake me! For every thing that has
taken place was suggested by her in order to procure a sum wherewith
to fly to America. It was she who imagined the wretched comedy
which I played, so as to throw upon myself the whole responsibility.
M. de Thaller has had millions for his share: I have only had twelve
hundred thousand francs."

Violent nervous shudders shook his frame: his face became purple.
He drew himself up, and, brandishing the letters which he held in
his hand,

"But all is not over!" he exclaimed. "There are proofs which
neither the baron nor his wife know that I have. I have the proof
of the infamous swindle of which the Marquis de Tregars was the
victim. I have the proof of the farce got up by M. de Thaller and
myself to defraud the stockholders of the Mutual Credit!

"What do you hope for?"

He was laughing a stupid laugh.

"I? I shall go and hide myself in some suburb of Paris, and write
to Affrays to come. She knows that I have twelve hundred thousand
francs. She will come; and she will keep coming as long as I have
any money. And when I have no more:

He stopped short, starting back, his arms outstretched as if to
repel a terrifying apparition. Mlle. Gilberte had just appeared
at the door.

"My daughter!" stammered the wretch. "Gilberte!"

"The Marquise de Tregars," uttered Marius.

An inexpressible look of terror and anguish convulsed the features
of Vincent Favoral: he guessed that it was the end.

"What do you want with me?" he stammered.

"The money that you have stolen, father," replied the girl in an
inexorable tone of voice,-" the twelve hundred thousand francs which
you have here, then the proofs which are in your hands, and, finally
your weapons."

He was trembling from head to foot.

"Take away my money!" he said. "Why, that would be compelling me
to give myself up! Do you wish to see me in prison?"

"The disgrace would fall back upon your children, sir," said M. de
Tregars. "We shall, on the contrary, do every thing in the world
to enable you to evade the pursuit of the police."

"Well, yes, then. But to-morrow I must write to Affrays: I must
see her!"

"You have lost your mind, father," said Mlle. Gilberte. "Come, do
as I ask you."

He drew himself up to his full height.

"And suppose I refuse?"

But it was the last effort of his will. He yielded, though not
without an agonizing struggle and gave up to his daughter the
money, the proofs and the arms. And as she was walking away,
leaning on M. de Tregars' arm,

"But send me your mother, at least," he begged. "She will
understand me: she will not be without pity. She is my wife: let
her come quick. I will not, I can not remain alone."





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site