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VII

But already, at this time, M. Vincent Favoral's situation had been
singularly modified.

The revolution of 1848 had just taken place. The factory in the
Faubourg St. Antoine, where he was employed, had been compelled to
close its doors.

One evening, as he came home at the usual hour, he announced that
he had been discharged.

Mme. Favoral shuddered at the thought of what her husband might be,
without work, and deprived of his salary.

"What is to become of us?" she murmured.

He shrugged his shoulders. Visibly he was much excited. His cheeks
were flushed; his eyes sparkled.

"Bash!" he said: "we shan't starve for all that." And, as his wife
was gazing at him in astonishment:

Well, he went o what are looking at? It is so: I know many a one
who affects to live on his income, and who are not as well off as
we are."

It was, for over six years since he was married, the first time that
he spoke of his business otherwise than to groan and complain, to
accuse fate, and curse the high price of living. The very day before,
he had declared himself ruined by the purchase of a pair of shoes
for Maxence. The change was so sudden and so great, that she hardly
knew what to think, and wondered if grief at the loss of his situation
had not somewhat disturbed his mind.

"Such are women," he went on with a giggle. "Results astonish them,
because they know nothing of the means used to bring them about. Am
I a fool, then? Would I impose upon myself privations of all sorts,
if it were to accomplish nothing? Parbleu! I love fine living
too, I do, and good dinners at the restaurant, and the theatre, and
the nice little excursions in the country. But I want to be rich.
At the price of all the comforts which I have not had, I have saved
a capital, the income of which will support us all. Eh, eh! That's
the power of the little penny put out to fatten!"

As she went to bed that night, Mme. Favoral felt more happy than she
had done since her mother's death. She almost forgave her husband
his sordid parsimony, and the humiliations he had heaped upon her.

"Well, be it so," she thought. "I shall have lived miserably, I shall
have endured nameless sufferings; but my children shall be rich, their
life shall be easy and pleasant."

The next day M. Favoral's excitement had completely abated.
Manifestly he regretted his confidences.

"You must not think on that account that you can waste and pillage
every thing," he declared rudely. "Besides, I have greatly
exaggerated."

And he started in search of a situation.

To find one was likely to be difficult. Times of revolution are not
exactly propitious to industry. Whilst the parties discussed in the
Chamber, there were on the street twenty thousand clerks, who, every
morning as they rose, wondered where they would dine that day.

For want of any thing better, Vincent Favoral undertook to keep
books in various places, - an hour here, an hour there, twice a week
in one house, four times in another.

In this way he earned as much and more than he did at the factory;
but the business did not suit him.

What he liked was the office from which one does not stir, the
stove-heated atmosphere, the elbow-worn desk, the leather-cushioned
chair, the black alpaca sleeves over the coat. The idea that he
should on one and the same day have to do with five or six different
houses, and be compelled to walk an hour, to go and work another hour
at the other end of Paris, fairly irritated him. He found himself
out of his reckoning, like a horse who has turned a mill for ten
years; if he is made to trot straight before him.

So, one morning, he gave up the whole thing, swearing that he would
rather remain idle until he could find a place suited to his taste
and his convenience; and, in the mean time, all they would have to
do would be to put a little less butter in the soup, and a little
more water in the wine.

He went out, nevertheless, and remained until dinner-time. And he
did the same the next and the following days.

He started off the moment he had swallowed the last mouthful of his
breakfast, came home at six o'clock, dined in haste, and disappeared
again, not to return until about midnight. He had hours of delirious
joy, and moments of frightful discouragement. Sometimes he seemed
horribly uneasy.

"What can he be doing?" thought Mme. Favoral.

She ventured to ask him the question one morning, when he was in
fine humor.

"Well," he answered, "am I not the master? I am operating at the
bourse, that's all!"

He could hardly have owned to any thing that would have frightened
the poor woman as much.

"Are you not afraid," she objected, "to lose all we have so
painfully accumulated? We have children -"

He did not allow her to proceed.

"Do you take me for a child?" he exclaimed; "or do I look to you
like a man so easy to be duped? Mind to economize in your household
expenses, and don't meddle with my business."

And he continued. And he must have been lucky in his operations;
for he had never been so pleasant at home. All his ways had changed.
He had had clothes made at a first-class tailor's, and was evidently
trying to look elegant. He gave up his pipe, and smoked only cigars.
He got tired of giving every morning the money for the house, and
took the habit of handing it to his wife every week, on Sunday. A
mark of vast confidence, as he observed to her. And so, the first
time:

"Be careful," he said, "that you don't find yourself penniless
before Thursday."

He became also more communicative. Often during the dinner, he
would tell what he had heard during the day, anecdotes, gossip.
He enumerated the persons with whom he had spoken. He named a
number of people whom he called his friends, and whose names Mme.
Favoral carefully stored away in her memory.

There was one especially, who seemed to inspire him with a profound
respect, a boundless admiration, and of whom he never tired of
talking. He was, said he, a man of his age, - M. de Thaller, the
Baron de Thaller.

"This one," he kept repeating, "is really mad: he is rich, he has
ideas, he'll go far. It would be a great piece of luck if I could
get him to do something for me!"

Until at last one day:

"Your parents were very rich once.?" he asked his wife.

"I have heard it said," she answered.

"They spent a good deal of money, did they not? They had friends:
they gave dinner-parties."

"Yes, they received a good deal of company."

"You remember that time?"

"Surely I do."

"So that if I should take a fancy to receive some one here, some
one of note, you would know how to do things properly?"

"I think so."

He remained silent for a moment, like a man who thinks before taking
an important decision, and then:

"I wish to invite a few persons to dinner," he said. She could
scarcely believe her ears. He had never received at his table any
one but a fellow-clerk at the factory, named Desclavettes, who had
just married the daughter of a dealer in bronzes, and succeeded to
his business.

"Is it possible?" exclaimed Mme. Favoral.

"So it is. The question is now, How much would a first-class dinner
cost, the best of every thing?"

"That depends upon the number of guests."

"Say three or four persons."

The poor woman set herself to figuring diligently for some time;
and then timidly, for the sum seemed formidable to her:

"I think," she began, "that with a hundred francs "

Her husband commenced whistling.

"You'll need that for the wines alone;' he interrupted. "Do you
take me for a fool? But here, don't let us go into figures. Do as
your parents did when they did their best; and, if it's well, I
shall not complain of the expense. Take a good cook, hire a waiter
who understands his business well."

She was utterly confounded; and yet she was not at the end of her
surprises.

Soon M. Favoral declared that their table-ware was not suitable, and
that he must buy a new set. He discovered a hundred purchases to
be made, and swore that he would make them. He even hesitated a
moment about renewing the parlor furniture, although it was in
tolerably good condition still, and was a present from his
father-in-law.

And, having finished his inventory:

"And you," he asked his wife: "what dress will you wear?"

"I have my black silk dress -"

He stopped her.

"Which means that you have none at all," he said. "Very well. You
must go this very day and get yourself one, - a very handsome, a
magnificent one; and you'll send it to be made to a fashionable
dressmaker. And at the same time you had better get some little
suits for Maxence and Gilberte. Here are a thousand francs."

Completely bewildered:

"Who in the world are you going to invite, then?" she asked.

"The Baron and the Baroness de Thaller," he replied with an emphasis
full of conviction. "So try and distinguish yourself. Our fortune
is at stake."

That this dinner was a matter of considerable import, Mme. Favoral
could not doubt when she saw her husband's fabulous liberality
continue without flinching for a number of days.

Ten times of an afternoon he would come home to tell his wife the
name of some dish that had been mentioned before him, or to consult
her on the subject of some exotic viand he had just noticed in some
shop-window. Daily he brought home wines of the most fantastic
vintages, - those wines which dealers manufacture for the special
use of verdant fools, and which they sell in odd-shaped bottles
previously overlaid with secular dust and cobwebs.

He subjected to a protracted cross-examination the cook whom Mme.
Favoral had engaged, and demanded that she should enumerate the
houses where she had cooked. He absolutely required the man who was
to wait at the table to exhibit the dress-coat he was to wear.

The great day having come, he did not stir from the house, going
and coming from the kitchen to the dining-room, uneasy, agitated,
unable to stay in one place. He breathed only when he had seen the
table set and loaded with the new china he had purchased and the
magnificent silver he had gone to hire in person. And when his
young wife made her appearance, looking lovely in her new dress,
and leading by the hands the two children, Maxence and Gilberte, in
their new suits:

"That's perfect," he exclaimed, highly delighted. "Nothing could be
better. Now, let our four guests come!

They arrived a few minutes before seven, in two carriages, the
magnificence of which astonished the Rue St. Gilles.

And, the presentations over, Vincent Favoral had at last the
ineffable satisfaction to see seated at his table the Baron and
Baroness de Thaller, M. Saint Pavin, who called himself a financial
editor, and M. Jules Jottras, of the house of Jottras & Brother.

It was with an eager curiosity that Mme. Favoral observed these
people whom her husband called his friends, and whom she saw herself
for the first time.

M. de Thaller, who could not then have been much over thirty, was
already a man without any particular age.

Cold, stiff, aping evidently the English style, he expressed
himself in brief sentences, and with a strong foreign accent.
Nothing to surprise on his countenance. He had the forehead
prominent, the eyes of a dull blue, and the nose very thin. His
scanty hair was spread over the top of his head with labored
symmetry; and his red, thick, and carefully-trimmed whiskers seemed
to engross much of his attention.

M. Saint Pavin had not the same stiff manner. Careless in his
dress, he lacked breeding. He was a robust fellow, dark and bearded,
with thick lips, the eye bright and prominent, spreading upon the
table-cloth broad hands ornamented at the joints with small tufts of
hair, speaking loud, laughing noisily, eating much and drinking more.

By the side of him, M. Jules Jottras, although looking like a
fashion-plate, did not show to much advantage. Delicate, blonde,
sallow, almost beardless, M. Jottras distinguished himself only by
a sort of unconscious impudence, a harmless cynicism, and a sort of
spasmodic giggle, that shook the eye-glasses which he wore stuck
over his nose.

But it was above all Mme. de Thaller who excited Mme. Favoral's
apprehensions.

Dressed with a magnificence of at least questionable taste, very
much decolletee, wearing large diamonds at her ears, and rings on
all her fingers, the young baroness was insolently handsome, of a
beauty sensuous even to coarseness. With hair of a bluish black,
twisted over the neck in heavy ringlets, she had skin of a pearly
whiteness, lips redder than blood, and great eyes that threw flames
from beneath their long, curved lashes. It was the poetry of flesh;
and one could not help admiring. Did she speak, however, or make
a gesture, all admiration vanished. The voice was vulgar, the motion
common. Did M. Jouras venture upon a double-entendre, she would
throw herself back upon her chair to laugh, stretching her neck, and
thrusting her throat forward.

Wholly absorbed in the care of his guests, M. Favoral remarked
nothing. He only thought of loading the plates, and filling the
glasses, complaining that they ate and drank nothing, asking
anxiously if the cooking was not good, if the wines were bad, and
almost driving the waiter out of his wits with questions and
suggestions.

It is a fact, that neither M. de Thaller nor M. Jottras had much
appetite. But M. Saint Pavin officiated for all; and the sole task
of keeping up with him caused M. Favoral to become visibly animated.

His cheeks were much flushed, when, having passed the champagne all
around, he raised his froth-tipped glass, exclaiming:

"I drink to the success of the business."

"To the success of the business," echoed the others, touching his
glass.

And a few moments later they passed into the parlor to take coffee.

This toast had caused Mme. Favoral no little uneasiness. But she
found it impossible to ask a single question; Mme. de Thaller
dragging her almost by force to a seat by her side on the sofa,
pretending that two women always have secrets to exchange, even when
they see each other for the first time.

The young baroness was fully an fait in matters of bonnets and
dresses; and it was with giddy volubility that she asked Mme.
Favoral the names of her milliner and her dressmaker, and to what
jeweler she intrusted her diamonds to be reset.

This looked so much like a joke, that the poor housekeeper of the
Rue St. Gilles could not help smiling whilst answering that she had
no dressmaker, and that, having no diamonds, she had no possible
use for the services of a jeweler.

The other declared she could not get over it. No diamonds! That
was a misfortune exceeding all. And quick she seized the opportunity
charitably to enumerate the parures in her jewel-case, and laces in
her drawers, and the dresses in her wardrobes, In the first place, it
would have been impossible for her, she swore, to live with a husband
either miserly or poor. Hers had just presented her with a lovely
coupe, lined with yellow satin, a perfect bijon. And she made good
use of it too; for she loved to go about. She spent her days
shopping, or riding in the Bois. Every evening she had the choice
of the theatre or a ball, often both. The genre theatres were those
she preferred. To be sure, the opera and the Italians were more
stylish; but she could not help gaping there.

Then she wished to kiss the children; and Gilberte and Maxence had
to be brought in. She adored children, she vowed: it was her
weakness, her passion. She had herself a little girl, eighteen
months old, called Cesarine, to whom she was devoted; and certainly
she would have brought her, had she not feared she would have been
in the way.

All this verbiage sounded like a confused murmur to Mme. Favoral's
ears. "Yes, no," she answered, hardly knowing to what she did answer.

Her head heavy with a vague apprehension, it required her utmost
attention to observe her husband and his guests.

Standing by the mantel-piece, smoking their cigars, they conversed
with considerable animation, but not loud enough to enable her to
hear all they said. It was only when M. Saint Pavin spoke that she
understood that they were still discussing the "business;" for he
spoke of articles to publish, stocks to sell, dividends to distribute,
sure profits to reap.

They all, at any rate, seemed to agree perfectly; and at a certain
moment she saw her husband and M. de Thaller strike each other's
hand, as people do who exchange a pledge.

Eleven o'clock struck.

M. Favoral was insisting to make his guests accept a cup of tea or
a glass of punch; but M. de Thaller declared that he had some work
to do, and that, his carriage having come, he must go.

And go he did, taking with him the baroness, followed by M. Saint
Pavin and M. Jottras. And when, the door having closed upon them,
M. Favoral found himself alone with his wife,

"Well," he exclaimed, swelling with gratified vanity, "what do you
think of our friends?"

"They surprised me," she answered.

He fairly jumped at that word.

"I should like to know why?"

Then, timidly, and with infinite precautions, she commenced
explaining that M. de Thaller's face inspired her with no confidence;
that M. Jottras had seemed to her a very impudent personage; that M.
Saint Pavin appeared low and vulgar; and that, finally, the young
baroness had given her of herself the most singular idea.

M. Favoral refused to hear more.

"It's because you have never seen people of the best society," he
exclaimed.

"Excuse me. Formerly, during my mother's life -"

"Eh! Your mother never received but shop-keepers."

The poor woman dropped her head.

"I beg of you, Vincent," she insisted, "before doing any thing with
these new friends, think well, consult -"

He burst out laughing.

"Are you not afraid that they will cheat me?" he said, - "people ten
times as rich as we are. Here, don't let us speak of it any more,
and let us go to bed. You'll see what this dinner will bring us, and
whether I ever have reason to regret the money we have spent."





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