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VIII

When, on the morning after this dinner, which was to form an era in
her life, Mme. Favoral woke up, her husband was already up, pencil
in hand, and busy figuring.

The charm had vanished with the fumes of the champagne; and the
clouds of the worst days were gathering upon his brow.

Noticing that his wife was looking at him,

"It's expensive work," he said in a bluff tone, "to set a business
going; and it wouldnt do to commence over again every day."

To hear him speak, one would have thought that Mme. Favoral alone,
by dint of hard begging, had persuaded him, into that expense which
he now seemed to regret so much. She quietly called his attention
to the fact, reminding him that, far from urging, she had endeavored
to hold him back; repeating that she augured ill of that business
over which he was so enthusiastic, and that, if he would believe her,
he would not venture.

"Do you even know what the project is?" he interrupted rudely.

"You have not told me."

"Very well, then: leave me in peace with your presentiments. You
dislike my friends; and I saw very well how you treated Mme. de
Thaller. But I am the master; and what I have decided shall be.
Besides, I have signed. Once for all, I forbid you ever speaking
to me again on that subject."

Whereupon, having dressed himself with much care, he started off,
saying that he was expected at breakfast by Saint Pavin, the
financial editor, and by M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras
& Brother.

A shrewd woman would not have given it up so easy, and, in the end,
would probably have mastered the despot, whose intellect was far
from brilliant. But Mme. Favoral was too proud to be shrewd; and
besides, the springs of her will had been broken by the successive
oppression of an odious stepmother and a brutal master. Her
abdication of all was complete. Wounded, she kept the secret of
her wound, hung her head, and said nothing.

She did not, therefore, venture a single allusion; and nearly a
week elapsed, during which the names of her late guests were not
once mentioned.

It was through a newspaper, which M. Favoral had forgotten in the
parlor, that she learned that the Baron de Thaller had just founded
a new stock company, the Mutual Credit Society, with a capital of
several millions.

Below the advertisement, which was printed in enormous letters,
came a long article, in which it was demonstrated that the new
company was, at the same time, a patriotic undertaking and an
institution of credit of the first class; that it supplied a great
public want; that it would be of inestimable benefit to industry;
that its profits were assured; and that to subscribe to its stock
was simply to draw short bills upon fortune.

Already somewhat re-assured by the reading of this article, Mme.
Favoral became quite so when she read the names of the board of
directors. Nearly all were titled, and decorated with many foreign
orders; and the remainder were bankers, office-holders, and even
some exministers.

"I must have been mistaken," she thought, yielding unconsciously to
the influence of printed evidence.

And no objection occurred to her, when, a few days later, her
husband told her,

"I have the situation I wanted. I am head cashier of the company
of which M. de Thaller is manager."

That was all. Of the nature of this society, of the advantages
which it offered him, not one word.

Only by the way in which he expressed himself did Mme. Favoral judge
that he must have been well treated; and he further confirmed her in
that opinion by granting her, of his own accord, a few additional
francs for the daily expenses of the house.

"We must," he declared on this memorable occasion, "do honor to our
social position, whatever it may cost."

For the first time in his life, he seemed heedful of public opinion.
He recommended his wife to be careful of her dress and of that of
the children, and re-engaged a servant. He expressed the wish of
enlarging their circle of acquaintances, and inaugurated his Saturday
dinners, to which came assiduously, M. and Mme. Desclavettes, M.
Chapelain the attorney, the old man Desormeaux, and a few others.

As to himself he gradually settled down into those habits from
which he was nevermore to depart, and the chronometric regularity
of which had secured him the nickname of Old Punctuality, of which
he was proud.

In all other respects never did a man, to such a degree, become so
utterly indifferent to his wife and children. His house was for him
but a mere hotel, where he slept, and took his evening meal. He
never thought of questioning his wife as to the use of her time, and
what she did in his absence. Provided she did not ask him for money,
and was there when he came home, he was satisfied.

Many women, at Mme. Favoral's age, might have made a strange use of
that insulting indifference and of that absolute freedom.

If she did avail herself of it, it was solely to follow one of those
inspirations which can only spring in a mother's heart.

The increase in the budget of the household was relatively large, but
so nicely calculated, that she had not one cent more that she could
call her own.

With the most intense sorrow, she thought that her children might
have to endure the humiliating privations which had made her own
life wretched. They were too young yet to suffer from the paternal
parsimony; but they would grow; their desires would develop; and it
would be impossible for her to grant them the most innocent
satisfactions.

Whilst turning over and over in her mind this distressing thought,
she remembered a friend of her mother's, who kept, in the Rue St.
Denis, a large establishment for the sale of hosiery and woollen
goods. There, perhaps, lay the solution of the problem. She called
to see the worthy woman, and, without even needing to confess the
whole truth to her, she obtained sundry pieces of work, ill paid
as a matter of course, but which, by dint of close application,
might be made to yield from eight to twelve francs a week.

From this time she never lost a minute, concealing her work as if
it were an evil act.

She knew her husband well enough to feel certain that he would
break out, and swear that he spent money enough to enable his wife
to live without being reduced to making a work woman of herself.

But what joy, the day when she hid way down at the bottom of a
drawer the first twenty-franc-piece she had earned, a beautiful
gold-piece, which belonged to her without contest, and which she
might spend as she pleased, without having to render any account
to any one!

And with what pride, from week to week, she saw her little treasure
swell, despite the drafts she made upon it, sometimes to buy a toy
for Maxence, sometimes to add a few ribbons or trinkets to Gilberte's
toilet!

This was the happiest time of her life, a halt in that painful
journey through which she had been dragging herself for so many
years. Between her two children, the hours flew light and rapid
as so many seconds. If all the hopes of the young girl and of the
woman had withered before they had blossomed, the mother's joys,
at least should not fail her. Because, whilst the present sufficed
to her modest ambition, the future had ceased to cause her any
uneasiness.

No reference had ever been made, between herself and her husband,
to that famous dinner-party: he never spoke to her of the Mutual
Credit Society; but now and then he allowed some words or exclamations
to escape, which she carefully recorded, and which betrayed a
prosperous state of affairs.

"That Thaller is a tough fellow!" he would exclaim, "and he has the
most infernal luck!"

And at other times,

"Two or three more operations like the one we have just successfully
wound up, and we can shut up shop!"

From all this, what could she conclude, if not that he was marching
with rapid strides towards that fortune, the object of all his
ambition?

Already in the neighborhood he had that reputation to be very rich,
which is the beginning of riches itself. He was admired for keeping
his house with such rigid economy; for a man is always esteemed who
has money, and does not spend it.

"He is not the man ever to squander what he has," the neighbors
repeated.

The persons whom he received on Saturdays believed him more than
comfortably off. When M. Desclavettes and M. Chapelain had
complained to their hearts' contents, the one of the shop, the
other of his office, they never failed to add,

"You laugh at us, because you are engaged in large operations, where
people make as much money as they like."

They seemed to hold his financial capacities in high estimation.
They consulted him, and followed his advice.

M. Desormeaux was wont to say,

"Oh! he knows what he is about."

And Mme. Favoral tried to persuade herself, that, in this respect
at least, her husband was a remarkable man. She attributed his
silence and his distractions to the grave cares that filled his mind.
In the same manner that he had once announced to her that they had
enough to live on, she expected him, some fine morning, to tell her
that he was a millionaire.





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