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VI

At last Mme. Favoral found herself alone with her children and free
to give herself up to the most frightful despair.

She dropped heavily upon a seat; and, drawing to her bosom Maxence
and Gilberte,

"0 my children!" she sobbed, covering them with her kisses and her
tears, - " my children, we are most unfortunate."

Not less distressed than herself, they strove, nevertheless, to
mitigate her anguish, to inspire her with sufficient courage to bear
this crushing trial; and kneeling at her feet, and kissing her hands,

"Are we not with you still, mother?" they kept repeating.

But she seemed not to hear them.

"It is not for myself that I weep," she went on. "I! what had I
still to wait or hope for in life? Whilst you, Maxence, you, my
poor Gilberte! - If, at least, I could feel myself free from blame!
But no. It is my weakness and my want of courage that have brought
on this catastrophe. I shrank from the struggle. I purchased my
domestic peace at the cost of your future in the world. I forgot
that a mother has sacred duties towards her children."

Mme. Favoral was at this time a woman of some forty-three years,
with delicate and mild features, a countenance overflowing with
kindness, and whose whole being exhaled, as it were, an exquisite
perfume of noblesse and distinction.

Happy, she might have been beautiful still, - of that autumnal
beauty whose maturity has the splendors of the luscious fruits of
the later season.

But she had suffered so much! The livid paleness of her complexion,
the rigid fold of her lips, the nervous shudders that shook her
frame, revealed a whole existence of bitter deceptions, of exhausting
struggles, and of proudly concealed humiliations.

And yet every thing seemed to smile upon her at the outset of life.

She was an only daughter; and her parents, wealthy silk-merchants,
had brought her up like the daughter of an archduchess desired to
marry some sovereign prince.

But at fifteen she had lost her mother. Her father, soon tired of
his lonely fireside, commenced to seek away from home some diversion
from his sorrow.

He was a man of weak mind, - one of those marked in advance to play
the part of eternal dupes. Having money, he found many friends.
Having once tasted the cup of facile pleasures, he yielded readily
to its intoxication. Suppers, cards, amusements, absorbed his
time, to the utter detriment of his business. And, eighteen months
after his wife's death, he had already spent a large portion of his
fortune, when he fell into the hands of an adventuress, whom, without
regard for his daughter, he audaciously brought beneath his own roof.

In provincial cities, where everybody knows everybody else, such
infamies are almost impossible. They are not quite so rare in Paris,
where one is, so to speak, lost in the crowd, and where the
restraining power of the neighbor's opinion is lacking.

For two years the poor girl, condemned to bear this illegitimate
stepmother, endured nameless sufferings.

She had just completed her eighteenth year, when, one evening, her
father took her aside.

"I have made up my mind to marry again," he said; "but I wish first
to provide you with a husband. I have looked for one, and found him.
He is not very brilliant perhaps; but he is, it seems, a good,
hard-working, economical fellow, who'll make his way in the world.
I had dreamed of something better for you; but times are hard, trade
is dull: in short, having only a dowry of twenty thousand francs to
give you, I have no right to be very particular. To-morrow I'll
bring you my candidate."

And, sure enough, the next day that excellent father introduced M.
Vincent Favoral to his daughter.

She was not pleased with him; but she could hardly have said that
she was displeased.

He was, at the age of twenty-five, which he had just reached, a man
so utterly lacking in individuality, that he could scarcely have
excited any feeling either of sympathy or affection.

Suitably dressed, he seemed timid and awkward, reserved, quite
diffident, and of mediocre intelligence. He confessed to have
received a most imperfect education, and declared himself quite
ignorant of life. He had scarcely any means outside his profession.
He was at this time chief accountant in a large factory of the
Faubourg St. Antoine, with a salary of four thousand Francs a year.

The young girl did not hesitate a moment. Any thing appeared to
her preferable to the contact of a woman whom she abhorred and
despised.

She gave her consent; and, twenty days after the first interview,
she had become Mme. Favoral.

Alas! six weeks had not elapsed, before she knew that she had but
exchanged her wretched fate for a more wretched one still.

Not that her husband was in any way unkind to her (he dared not, as
yet); but he had revealed himself enough to enable her to judge him.
He was one of those formidably selfish men who wither every thing
around them, like those trees within the shadow of which nothing can
grow. His coldness concealed a stupid obstinacy; his mildness, an
iron will.

If he had married, 'twas because he thought a wife a necessary
adjunct, because he desired a home wherein to command, because, above
all, he had been seduced by the dowry of twenty thousand francs.

For the man had one passion, - money. Under his placid countenance
revolved thoughts of the most burning covetousness. He wished to
be rich.

Now, as he had no illusion whatever upon his own merits, as he knew
himself to be perfectly incapable of any of those daring conceptions
which lead to rapid fortune, as he was in no wise enterprising, he
conceived but one means to achieve wealth, that is, to save, to
economize, to stint himself, to pile penny upon penny.

His profession of accountant had furnished him with a number of
instances of the financial power of the penny daily saved, and
invested so as to yield its maximum of interest.

If ever his blue eye became animated, it was when he calculated what
would be at the present time the capital produced by a simple penny
placed at five per cent interest the year of the birth of our Saviour.

For him this was sublime. He conceived nothing beyond. One penny!
He wished, he said, he could have lived eighteen hundred years, to
follow the evolutions of that penny, to see it grow tenfold, a
hundred-fold, produce, swell, enlarge, and become, after centuries,
millions and hundreds of millions.

In spite of all, he had, during the early months of his marriage,
allowed his wife to have a young servant. He gave her from time to
time, a five-franc-piece, and took her to the country on Sundays.

This was the honeymoon; and, as he declared himself, this life of
prodigalities could not last.

Under a futile pretext, the little servant was dismissed. He
tightened the strings of his purse. The Sunday excursions were
suppressed.

To mere economy succeeded the niggardly parsimony which counts the
grains of salt in the pot-au-feu, which weighs the soap for the
washing, and measures the evening's allowance of candle.

Gradually the accountant took the habit of treating his young wife
like a servant, whose honesty is suspected; or like a child, whose
thoughtlessness is to be feared. Every morning he handed her the
money for the expenses of the day; and every evening he expressed
his surprise that she had not made better use of it. He accused her
of allowing herself to be grossly cheated, or even to be in collusion
with the dealers. He charged her with being foolishly extravagant;
which fact, however, he added, did not surprise him much on the part
of the daughter of a man who had dissipated a large fortune.

To cap the climax, Vincent Favoral was on the worst possible terms
with his father-in-law. Of the twenty thousand francs of his wife's
dowry, twelve thousand only had been paid, and it was in vain that he
clamored for the balance. The silk-merchant's business had become
unprofitable; he was on the verge of bankruptcy. The eight thousand
francs seemed in imminent danger.

His wife alone he held responsible for this deception. He repeated
to her constantly that she had connived with her father to " take
him in," to fleece him, to ruin him.

What an existence! Certainly, had the unhappy woman known where to
find a refuge, she would, have fled from that home where each of her
days was but a protracted torture. But where could she go? Of whom
could she beg a shelter?

She had terrible temptations at this time, when she was not yet
twenty, and they called her the beautiful Mme. Favoral.

Perhaps she would have succumbed, when she discovered that she was
about to become a mother. One year, day for day, after her marriage,
she gave birth to a son, who received the name of Maxence.

The accountant was but indifferently pleased at the coming of this
son. It was, above all, a cause of expense. He had been compelled
to give some thirty francs to a nurse, and almost twice as much for
the baby's clothes. Then a child breaks up the regularity of one's
habits; and he, as he affirmed, was attached to his as much as to
life itself. And now he saw his household disturbed, the hours of
his meals altered, his own importance reduced, his authority, even
ignored.

But what mattered now to his young wife the ill-humor which he no
longer took the trouble to conceal? Mother, she defied her tyrant.


Now, at least, she had in this world a being upon whom she could
lavish all her caresses so brutally repelled. There existed a soul
within which she reigned supreme. What troubles would not a smile
of her son have made her forget?

With the admirable instinct of an egotist, M. Favoral understood so
well what passed in the mind of his wife, that he dared not complain
too much of what the little fellow cost. He made up his mind bravely;
and when four years later, his daughter Gilberte was born, instead
of lamenting:

"Bash! "said he: "God blesses large families."





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