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V

Had the commissary received any information in advance? or was he
guided only by the scent peculiar to men of his profession, and the
habit of suspecting every thing, even that which seems most unlikely?

At any rate he expressed himself in a tone of absolute certainty.

The agents who had accompanied and assisted him in his researches
were winking at each other, and giggling stupidly. The situation
struck them as rather pleasant.

The others, M. Desclavettes, M. Chapelain, and the worthy M.
Desormeaux himself, could have racked their brains in vain to find
terms wherein to express the immensity of their astonishments.
Vincent Favoral, their old friend, paying for cashmeres, diamonds,
and parlor sets! Such an idea could not enter in their minds. For
whom could such princely gifts be intended? For a mistress, for
one of those redoubtable creatures whom fancy represents crouching
in the depths of love, like monsters at the bottom of their caves!

But how could any one imagine the methodic cashier of the Mutual
Credit Society carried away by one of those insane passions which
knew no reason? Ruined by gambling, perhaps, but by a woman!

Could any one picture him, so homely and so plain here, Rue St.
Gilles, at the head of another establishment, and leading elsewhere
in one of the brilliant quarters of Paris, a reckless life, such as
strike terror in the bosom of quiet families?

Could any one understand the same man at once miserly-economical and
madly-prodigal, storming when his wife spent a few cents, and robbing
to supply the expenses of an adventuress, and collecting in the same
drawer the jeweler's accounts and the butcher's bills?

"It is the climax of absurdity," murmured good M. Desormeaux.

Maxence fairly shook with wrath. Mlle. Gilberte was weeping.

Mme. Favoral alone, usually so timid, boldly defended, and with her
utmost energy, the man whose name she bore. That he might have
embezzled millions, she admitted: that he had deceived and betrayed
her so shamefully, that he had made a wretched dupe of her for so
many years, seemed to her insensate, monstrous, impossible.

And purple with shame:

"Your suspicions would vanish at once, sir," she said to the
commissary, "if I could but explain to you our mode of life."

Encouraged by his first discovery, he was proceeding more minutely
with his perquisitions, undoing the strings of every bundle.

"It is useless, madame," he answered in that brief tone which made so
much impression upon M. Desclavettes. "You can only tell me what you
know; and you know nothing."

"Never, sir, did a man lead a more regular life than M. Favoral."

"In appearance, you are right. Besides, to regulate one's disorder
is one of the peculiarities of our time. We open credits to our
passions, and we keep account of our infamies by double entry. We
operate with method. We embezzle millions that we may hang diamonds
to the ears of an adventuress; but we are careful, and we keep the
receipted bills."

"But, sir, I have already told you that I never lost sight of my
husband."

"Of course."

"Every morning, precisely at nine o'clock, he left home to go to M.
de Thaller's office."

"The whole neighborhood knows that, madame."

"At half-past five he came home."

"That, also, is a well-known fact."

"After dinner he went out to play a game, but it was his only
amusement; and at eleven o'clock he was always in bed."

"Perfectly correct."

"Well, then, sir, where could M. Favoral have found time to abandon
himself to the excesses of which you accuse him?"

Imperceptibly the commissary of police shrugged his shoulders.

"Far from me, madame,' he uttered, "to doubt your good faith. What
matters it, moreover, whether your husband spent in this way or in
that way the sums which he is charged with having appropriated? But
what do your objections prove? Simply that M. Favoral was very
skillful, and very much self-possessed. Had he breakfasted when he
left you at nine? No. Pray, then, where did he breakfast? In a
restaurant? Which? Why did he come home only at half-past five,
when his office actually closed at three o'clock? Are you quite
sure that it was to the Caf Turc that he went every evening?
Finally, why do not you say any thing of the extra work which he,
always had to attend to, as he pretended, once or twice a month?
Sometimes it was a loan, sometimes a liquidation, or a settlement
of dividends, which devolved upon him. Did he come home then? No.
He told you that he would dine out, and that it would be more
convenient for him to have a cot put up in his office; and thus
you were twenty-four or forty-eight hours without seeing him.
Surely this double, existence must have weighed heavily upon him;
but he was forbidden from breaking off with you, under penalty of
being caught the very next day with his hand in the till. It is
the respectability of his official life here which made the other
possible, - that which has absorbed such enormous sums. The harsher
and the closer he were here, the more magnificent he could show
himself elsewhere. His household in the Rue St. Gilles was for
him a certificate of impunity. Seeing him so economical, every one
thought him rich. People who seem to spend nothing are always
trusted. Every privation which he imposed upon you increased his
reputation of austere probity, and raised him farther above
suspicion."

Big tears were rolling down Mme. Favoral's cheeks.

"Why not tell me the whole truth?" she stammered.

"Because I do not know it," replied the commissary; "because these
are all mere presumptions. I have seen so many instances of similar
calculations!"

Then regretting, perhaps, to have said so much,

"But I may be mistaken," he added: "I do not pretend to be
infallible." He was just then completing a brief inventory of all
the papers found in the old desk. There was nothing left but to
examine the drawer which was used for a cash drawer. He found in
it in gold, notes, and small change, seven hundred and eighteen
francs.

Having counted this sum; the commissary offered it to Mme. Favoral,
saying,

"This belongs to you madame."

But instinctively she withdrew her hand.

"Never!" she said.

The commissary went on with a gesture of kindness, - "I understand
your scruples, madame, and yet I must insist. You may believe me
when I tell you that this little sum is fairly and legitimately
yours. You have no personal fortune."

The efforts of the poor woman to keep from bursting into loud sobs
were but too visible.

"I possess nothing in the world, sir," she said in a broken voice.
"My husband alone attended to our business-affairs. He never spoke
to me about them; and I would not have dared to question him. Alone
he disposed of our money. Every Sunday he handed me the amount which
he thought necessary for the expenses of the week, and I rendered him
an account of it. When my children or myself were in need of any
thing, I told him so, and he gave me what he thought proper. This
is Saturday: of what I received last Sunday I have five francs left:
that, is our whole fortune."

Positively the commissary was moved.

"You see, then, madame," he said, "that you cannot hesitate: you must
live."

Maxence stepped forward.

"Am I not here, sir?" he said.

The commissary looked at him keenly, and in a grave tone,

"I believe indeed, sir," he replied, "that you will not suffer your
mother and sister to want for any thing. But resources are not
created in a day. Yours, if I have not been deceived, are more than
limited just now."

And as the young man blushed, and did not answer, he handed the seven
hundred francs to Mlle. Gilberte, saying,

"Take this, mademoiselle: your mother permits it." His work was done.
To place his seals upon M. Favoral's study was the work of a moment.

Beckoning, then, to his agents to withdraw, and being ready to leave
himself,

"Let not the seals cause you any uneasiness, madame," said the
commissary of police to Mme. Favoral. "Before forty-eight hours,
some one will come to remove these papers, and restore to you the
free use of that room."

He went out; and, as soon as the door had closed behind him,

"Well?" exclaimed M. Desormeaux;

But no one had any thing to say. The guests of that house where
misfortune had just entered were making haste to leave. The
catastrophe was certainly terrible and unforeseen; but did it not
reach them too? Did they not lose among them more than three hundred
thousand francs?

Thus, after a few commonplace protestations, and some of those
promises which mean nothing, they withdrew; and, as they were going
down the stairs,

"The commissary took Vincent's escape too easy," remarked M.
Desormeaux. "He must know some way to catch him again."





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