Other People's Money
Part 7 out of 10
That valiant man, that old soldier, was timid; and he would have
felt much more at ease under the fire of a battery than in that
humble parlor in the Rue St. Gilles, under the uneasy glance of
Maxence and Mme. Favoral.
Having bowed, having made a little friendly sign to Mlle. Gilberte,
he had stopped short, two steps from the door, his hat in his hand.
Eloquence was not his forte. He had prepared himself well in
advance; but though he kept coughing: hum! broum! though he kept
running his finger around his shirt-collar to facilitate his
delivery, the beginning of his speech stuck in his throat.
Seeing how urgent it was to come to his assistance,
"I was expecting you, sir," said Mlle. Gilberte. With this
encouragement, he advanced towards Mme. Favoral, and, bowing low,
"I see that my presence surprises you, madame," he began; "and I
must confess that--hum!--it does not surprise me less than it does
you. But extraordinary circumstances require exceptional action.
On any other occasion, I would not fall upon you like a bombshell.
But we had no time to waste in ceremonious formalities. I will,
therefore, ask your leave to introduce myself: I am General Count
Maxence had brought him a chair.
"I am ready to hear you, sir," said Mme. Favoral. He sat down, and,
with a further effort,
"I suppose, madame," he resumed, "that your daughter has explained
to you our singular situation, which, as I had the honor of telling
you--hum!--is not strictly in accordance with social usage."
Mlle. Gilberte interrupted him.
"When you came in, general, I was only just beginning to explain
the facts to my mother and brother."
The old soldier made a gesture, and a face which showed plainly that
he did not much relish the prospect of a somewhat difficult
explanation--broum! Nevertheless, making up his mind bravely,
"It is very simple," he said: "I come in behalf of M. de Tregars."
Maxence fairly bounced upon his chair. That was the very name which
he had just heard mentioned by the commissary of police.
"Tregars!" he repeated in a tone of immense surprise.
"Yes," said M. de Villegre. "Do you know him, by chance?"
"No, sir, no!"
"Marius de Tregars is the son of the most honest man I ever knew, of
the best friend I ever had,--of the Marquis de Tregars, in a word,
who died of grief a few years ago, after--hum!--some quite
inexplicable--broum!--reverses of fortune. Marius could not be
dearer to me, if he were my own son. He has lost his parents: I
have no relatives; and I have transferred to him all the feelings
of affection which still remained at the bottom of my old heart.
"And I can say that never was a man more worthy of affection. I
know him. To the most legitimate pride and the most scrupulous
integrity, he unites a keen and supple mind, and wit enough to get
the better of the toughest rascal. He has no fortune for the reason
that--hum!--he gave up all he had to certain pretended creditors
of his father. But whenever he wishes to be rich, he shall be; and
--broum!--he may be so before long. I know his projects, his hopes,
But, as if feeling that he was treading on dangerous ground, the
Count de Villegre stopped short, and, after taking breath for a
"In short," he went on, "Marius has been unable to see Mlle.
Gilberte, and to appreciate the rare qualities of her heart,
without falling desperately in love with her."
Mme. Favoral made a gesture of protest,
"Allow me, sir," she began.
But he interrupted her.
"I understand you, madame," he resumed. "You wonder how M. de
Tregars can have seen your daughter, have known her, and have
appreciated her, without your seeing or hearing any thing of it.
Nothing is more simple, and, if I may venture to say--hum!--more
And the worthy old soldier began to explain to Mme. Favoral the
meetings in the Place-Royale, his conversations with Marius,
intended really for Mlle. Gilberte, and the part he had consented
to play in this little comedy. But he became embarrassed in his
sentences, he multiplied his hum! and his broum! in the most
alarming manner; and his explanations explained nothing.
Mlle. Gilberte took pity on him; and, kindly interrupting him, she
herself told her story, and that of Marius.
She told the pledge they had exchanged, how they had seen each other
twice, and how they constantly heard of each other through the very
innocent and very unconscious Signor Gismondo Pulei.
Maxence and Mme. Favoral were dumbfounded. They would have
absolutely refused to believe such a story, had it not been told by
Mlle. Gilberte herself.
"Ah, my dear sister!" thought Maxence, "who could have suspected
such a thing, seeing you always so calm and so meek!"
"Is it possible," Mme. Favoral was saying to herself; "that I can
have been so blind and so deaf?"
As to the Count de Villegre, he would have tried in vain to express
the gratitude he felt towards Mlle. Gilberte for having spared him
these difficult explanations.
"I could not have done half as well myself, by the eternal!" he
thought, like a man who has no illusions on his own account.
But, as soon as she had done, addressing himself to Mme. Favoral,
"Now, madame," he said, "you know all; and you will understand
that the irreparable disaster that strikes you has removed the
only obstacle which had hitherto stood in the way of Marius."
He rose, and in a solemn tone, without any hum or broum, this time,
"I have the honor, madame," he uttered, "to solicit the hand of Mlle.
Gilberte, your daughter, for my friend Yves-Marius de Genost, Marquis
A profound silence followed this speech. But this silence the Count
de Villegre doubtless interpreted in his own favor; for, stepping to
the parlor-door, he opened it, and called, "Marius!"
Marius de Tregars had foreseen all that had just taken place, and
had so informed the Count de Villegre in advance.
Being given Mme. Favoral's disposition, he knew what could be
expected of her; and he had his own reasons to fear nothing from
Maxence. And, if he mistrusted somewhat the diplomatic talents
of his ambassador, he relied absolutely upon Mlle. Gilberte's energy.
And so confident was he of the correctness of his calculations, that
he had insisted upon accompanying his old friend, so as to be on
hand at the critical moment.
When the servant had opened the door to them, he had ordered her to
introduce M. de Villegre, stating that he would himself wait in the
dining-room. This arrangement had not seemed entirely natural to
the girl; but so many strange things had happened in the house for
the past twenty-four hours, that she was prepared for any thing.
Besides recognizing Marius as the gentleman who had had a violent
altercation in the morning with M. Costeclar, she did as he
requested, and, leaving him alone in the dining-room, went to
attend to her duties.
He had taken a seat, impassive in appearance, but in reality
agitated by that internal trepidation of which the strongest men
cannot free themselves in the decisive moments of their life.
To a certain extent, the prospects of his whole life were to be
decided on the other side of that door which had just closed behind
the Count de Villegre. To the success of his love, other interests
were united, which required immediate success.
And, counting the seconds by the beatings of his heart,
"How very slow they are!" he thought.
And so, when the door opened at last, and his old friend called him,
he jumped to his feet, and collecting all his coolness and
self-possession, he walked in.
Maxence had risen to receive him; but, when he saw him, he stepped
back, his eyes glaring in utter surprise.
"Ah, great heavens!" he muttered in a smothered voice.
But M. de Tregars seemed not to notice his stupor. Quite
self-possessed, notwithstanding his emotion, he cast a rapid glance
over the Count de Villegre, Mme. Favoral and Mlle. Gilberte. At
their attitude, and at the expression of their countenance, he
easily guessed the point to which things had come.
And, advancing towards Mme. Favoral, he bowed with an amount of
respect which was certainly not put on.
"You have heard the Count de Villegre, madame," he said in a
slightly altered tone of voice. "I am awaiting my fate."
The poor woman had never before in all her life been so fearfully
perplexed. All these events, which succeeded each other so rapidly,
had broken the feeble springs of her soul. She was utterly incapable
of collecting her thoughts, or of taking a determination.
"At this moment, sir," she stammered, taken unawares, "it would be
impossible for me to answer you. Grant me a few days for reflection.
We have some old friends whom I ought to consult."
But Maxence, who had got over his stupor, interrupted her.
"Friends, mother!" he exclaimed. "And who are they? People in our
position have no friends. What! when we are perishing, a man of
heart holds out his hand to us, and you ask to reflect? To my
sister, who bears a name henceforth disgraced, the Marquis de
Tregars offers his name, and you think of consulting."
The poor woman was shaking her head.
"I am not the mistress, my son," she murmured; "and your father--"
"My father!" interrupted the young man,--"my father! What rights
can he have over us hereafter?" And without further discussion,
without awaiting an answer, he took his sister's hand, and,
placing it in M. de Tregars' hand,
"Ah! take her, sir," he uttered. "Never, whatever she may do, will
she acquit the debt of eternal gratitude which we this day contract
A tremor that shook their frames, a long look which they exchanged,
betrayed alone the feelings of Marius and Mlle. Gilberte. They had
of life a too cruel experience not to mistrust their joy.
Returning to Mme. Favoral,
"You do not understand, madame," he went on, "why I should have
selected for such a step the very moment when an irreparable calamity
befalls you. One word will explain all. Being in a position to
serve you, I wished to acquire the right of doing so."
Fixing upon him a look in which the gloomiest despair could be read,
"Alas!" stammered the poor woman, "what can you do for me, sir? My
life is ended. I have but one wish left,--that of knowing where
my husband is hid. It is not for me to judge him. He has not given
me the happiness which I had, perhaps, the right to expect; but he
is my husband, he is unhappy: my duty is to join him wherever he may
be, and to share his sufferings."
She was interrupted by the servant, who was calling her at the
parlor-door, "Madame, madame!"
"What is the matter?" inquired Maxence.
"I must speak to madame at once."
Making an effort to rise and walk, Mme. Favoral went out. She was
gone but a minute; and, when she returned, her agitation had further
increased. "It is the hand of Providence, perhaps," she said. The
others were all looking at her anxiously. She took a seat, and,
addressing herself more especially to M. de Tregars,
"This is what happens," she said in a feeble voice. "M. Favoral
was in the habit of always changing his coat as soon as he came home.
As usual, he did so last evening. When they came to arrest him, he
forgot to change again, and went off with the coat he had on. The
other remained hanging in the room, where the girl took it just now
to brush it, and put it away; and this portfolio, which my husband
always carries with him, fell from its pocket."
It was an old Russia leather portfolio, which had once been red, but
which time and use had turned black. It was full of papers.
"Perhaps, indeed," exclaimed Maxence, "we may find some information
He opened it, and had already taken out three-fourths of its contents
without finding any thing of any consequence, when suddenly he
uttered an exclamation. He had just opened an anonymous note,
evidently written in a disguised hand, and at one glance had read,
"I cannot understand your negligence. You should get through that
Van Klopen matter. There is the danger."
"What is that note?" inquired M. de Tregars.
Maxence handed it to him.
"See!" said he, "but you will not understand the immense interest
it has for me."
But having read it,
"You are mistaken," said Marius. "I understand perfectly; and I'll
prove it to you."
The next moment, Maxence took out of the portfolio, and read aloud,
the following bill, dated two days before.
"Sold to ---- two leather trunks with safety locks at 220 francs each;
say, francs 440."
M. de Tregars started.
"At last," he said, "here is doubtless one end of the thread which
will guide us to the truth through this labyrinth of iniquities."
And, tapping gently on Maxence's shoulders,
"We must talk," he said, "and at length. To-morrow, before you go
to M. de Thaller's with his fifteen thousand francs, call and see
me: I shall expect you. We are now engaged upon a common work; and
something tells me, that, before long, we shall know what has become
of the Mutual Credit's millions."
FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS.
"When I think," said Coleridge, "that every morning, in Paris alone,
thirty thousand fellows wake up, and rise with the fixed and settled
idea of appropriating other people's money, it is with renewed wonder
that every night, when I go home, I find my purse still in my pocket."
And yet it is not those who simply aim to steal your portemonnaie
who are either the most dishonest or the most formidable.
To stand at the corner of some dark street, and rush upon the first
man that comes along, demanding, "Your money or your life," is but a
poor business, devoid of all prestige, and long since given up to
A man must be something worse than a simpleton to still ply his
trade on the high-roads, exposed to all sorts of annoyances on the
part of the gendarmes, when manufacturing and financial enterprises
offer such a magnificently fertile field to the activity of
And, in order to thoroughly understand the mode of proceeding in
this particular field, it is sufficient to open from time to time a
copy of "The Police Gazette," and to read some trial, like that, for
instance, of one Lefurteux, ex-president of the Company for the
Drainage and Improvement of the Orne Swamps.
This took place less than a month ago in one of the police-courts.
The Judge to the Accused--Your profession?
M. Lefurteux--President of the company.
Question--Before that what were you doing?
Answer--I speculated at the bourse.
Q--You had no means?
A--I beg your pardon: I was making money.
Q--And it was under such circumstances that you had the audacity
to organize a company with a capital stock of three million of
francs, divided in shares of five hundred francs?
A--Having discovered an idea, I did not suppose that I was forbidden
to work it up.
Q--What do you call an idea?
A--The idea of draining swamps, and making them productive.
Q--What swamps? Yours never had any existence, except in your
A--I expected to buy them as soon as my capital was paid in.
Q--And in the mean time you promised ten per cent to your
A--That's the least that draining operations ever pay.
Q--You have advertised?
Q--To what extent?
A--To the extent of about sixty thousand francs.
Q--Where did you get the money?
A--I commenced with ten thousand francs, which a friend of mine had
lent me; then I used the funds as they came in.
Q--In other words, you made use of the money of your first dupes to
A--Many people thought it was a good thing.
Q--Who? Those to whom you sent your prospectus with a plan of your
A--Excuse me. Others too.
Q--How much money did you ever receive?
A--About six hundred thousand francs, as the expert has stated.
Q--And you have spent the whole of the money?
A--Permit me? I have never applied to my personal wants anything
beyond the salary which was allowed me by the By-laws.
Q--How is it, then, that, when you were arrested, there were only
twelve hundred and fifty francs found in your safe, and that amount
had been sent you through the post-office that very morning? What
has become of the rest?
A--The rest has been spent for the good of the company.
Q--Of course! You had a carriage?
A--It was allowed to me by Article 27 of the By-laws.
Q--For the good of the company too, I suppose.
A--Certainly. I was compelled to make a certain display. The head
of an important company must endeavor to inspire confidence.
The Judge, with an Ironical Look--Was it also to inspire confidence
that you had a mistress, for whom you spent considerable sums of
The Accused, in a Tone of Perfect Candor--Yes, sir.
After a pause of a few moments, the judge resumes,
Q--Your offices were magnificent. They must have cost you a great
deal to furnish.
A--On the contrary, sir, almost nothing. The furniture was all
hired. You can examine the upholsterer.
The upholsterer is sent for, and in answer to the judge's questions,
"What M. Lefurteux has stated," he says, "is true. My specialty is
to hire office-fixtures for financial and other companies. I furnish
every thing, from the book-keepers' desks to the furniture for the
president's private room: from the iron safe to the servant's livery.
In twenty-four hours, every thing is ready, and the subscribers can
come. As soon as a company is organized, like the one in question,
the officers call on me, and, according to the magnitude of the
capital required, I furnish a more or less costly establishment. I
have a good deal of experience, and I know just what's wanted.
When M. Lefurteux came to see me, I gauged his operation at a glance.
Three millions of capital, swamps in the Orne, shares of five hundred
francs, small subscribers, anxious and noisy.
"'Very well,' I said to him, 'it's a six-months' job. Don't go into
useless expenses. Take reps for your private office: that's good
The Judge, in a tone of Profound Surprise--You told him that?
The Upholsterer, in the Simple Accent of an Honest Man--Exactly as
I am telling your Honor. He followed my advice; and I sent him red
hot the furniture and fixtures which had been used by the River
Fishery Company, whose president had just been sent to prison for
When, after such revelations, renewed from week to week, with
instructive variations, purchasers may still be found for the shares
of the Tiffla Mines, the Bretoneche Lands, and the Forests of
Formanoid, is it to be wondered that the Mutual Credit Company found
It had been admirably started at that propitious hour of the
December Coup d'Etat, when the first ideas of mutuality were
beginning to penetrate the financial world.
It had lacked neither capital nor powerful patronage at the start,
and had been at once admitted to the honor of being quoted at the
Beginning business ostensibly as an accommodation bank for
manufacturers and merchants, the Mutual Credit had had, for a number
of years, a well-determined specialty.
But gradually it had enlarged the circle of its operations, altered
its by-laws, changed its board of directors; and at the end the
original subscribers would have been not a little embarrassed to
tell what was the nature of its business, and from what sources it
drew its profits.
All they knew was, that it always paid respectable dividends; that
their manager, M. de Thaller, was personally very rich; and that
they were willing to trust him to steer clear of the code.
There were some, of course, who did not view things in quite so
favorable a light; who suggested that the dividends were suspiciously
large; that M. de Thaller spent too much money on his house, his
wife, his daughter, and his mistress.
One thing is certain, that the shares of the Mutual Credit Society
were much above par, and were quoted at 580 francs on that Saturday,
when, after the closing of the bourse, the rumor had spread that
the cashier, Vincent Favoral, had run off with twelve millions.
"What a haul!" thought, not without a feeling of envy, more than
one broker, who, for merely one-twelfth of that amount would have
gayly crossed the frontier. It was almost an event in Paris.
Although such adventures are frequent enough, and not taken much
notice of, in the present instance, the magnitude of the amount
more than made up for the vulgarity of the act.
Favoral was generally pronounced a very smart man; and some persons
declared, that to take twelve millions could hardly be called
The first question asked was,
"Is Thaller in the operation? Was he in collusion with his cashier?"
"That's the whole question."
"If he was, then the Mutual Credit is better off than ever:
otherwise, it is gone under."
"Thaller is pretty smart."
"That Favoral was perhaps more so still."
This uncertainty kept up the price for about half an hour. But soon
the most disastrous news began to spread, brought, no one knew
whence or by whom; and there was an irresistible panic.
From 425, at which price it had maintained itself for a time, the
Mutual Credit fell suddenly to 300, then 200, and finally to 150
Some friends of M. de Thaller, M. Costeclar, for instance, had
endeavored to keep up the market; but they had soon recognized the
futility of their efforts, and then they had bravely commenced
doing like the rest.
The next day was Sunday. From the early morning, it was reported,
with the most circumstantial details, that the Baron de Thaller
had been arrested.
But in the evening this had been contradicted by people who had
gone to the races, and who had met there Mme. de Thaller and her
daughter, more brilliant than ever, very lively, and very talkative.
To the persons who went to speak to them,
"My husband was unable to come," said the baroness. "He is busy
with two of his clerks, looking over that poor Favoral's accounts.
It seems that they are in the most inconceivable confusion. Who
would ever have thought such a thing of a man who lived on bread and
nuts? But he operated at the bourse; and he had organized, under a
false name, a sort of bank, in which he has very foolishly sunk
large sums of money."
And with a smile, as if all danger had been luckily averted,
"Fortunately," she added, "the damage is not as great as has been
reported, and this time, again, we shall get off with a good fright."
But the speeches of the baroness were hardly sufficient to quiet
the anxiety of the people who felt in their coat-pockets the
worthless certificates of Mutual Credit stock.
And the next day, Monday, as early as eight o'clock, they began to
arrive in crowds to demand of M. de Thaller some sort of an
They were there, at least a hundred, huddled together in the
vestibule, on the stairs, and on the first landing, a prey to the
most painful emotion and the most violent excitement; for they had
been refused admittance.
To all those who insisted upon going in, a tall servant in livery,
standing before the door, replied invariably, "The office is not
open, M. de Thaller has not yet come."
Whereupon they uttered such terrible threats and such loud
imprecations, that the frightened concierge had run, and hid himself
at the very bottom of his lodge.
No one can imagine to what epileptic contortions the loss of money
can drive an assemblage of men, who has not seen a meeting of
shareholders on the morrow of a great disaster, with their clinched
fists, their convulsed faces, their glaring eyes, and foaming lips.
They felt indignant at what had once been their delight. They laid
the blame of their ruin upon the splendor of the house, the
sumptuousness of the stairs, the candelabras of the vestibule, the
carpets, the chairs, every thing.
"And it is our money too," they cried, "that has paid for all that!"
Standing upon a bench, a little short man was exciting transports
of indignation by describing the magnificence of the Baron de
Thaller's residence, where he had once had some dealings.
He had counted five carriages in the carriage-house, fifteen horses
in the stables, and Heaven knows how many servants.
He had never been inside the apartments, but he had visited the
kitchen; and he declared that he had been dazzled by the number
and brightness of the saucepans, ranged in order of size over
Gathered in a group under the vestibule, the most sensible deplored
their rash confidence.
"That's the way," concluded one, "with all these adventurous affairs."
"That's a fact. There's nothing, after all, like government bonds."
"Or a first mortgage on good property, with subrogation of the wife's
But what exasperated them all was not to be admitted to the presence
of M. de Thaller, and to see that servant mounting guard before
"What impudence," they growled, "to leave us on the stairs!--we who
are the masters, after all."
"Who knows where M. de Thaller may be?"
"He is hiding, of course."
"No matter: I will see him," clamored a big fat man, with a
brick-colored face, "if I shouldn't stir from here for a week."
"You'll see nothing at all," giggled his neighbor. "Do you suppose
they don't have back-stairs and private entrances in this infernal
"Ah! if I believed any thing of the kind," exclaimed the big man
in a voice trembling with passion. "I'd soon break in some of these
doors: it isn't so hard, after all."
Already he was gazing at the servant with an alarming air, when an
old gentleman with a discreet look, stepped up to him, and inquired,
"Excuse me, sir: how many shares have you?"
"Three," answered the man with the brick-colored face.
The other sighed.
"I have two hundred and fifty," he said. "That's why, being at
least as interested as yourself in not losing every thing, I beg of
you to indulge in no violent proceedings."
There was no need of further speaking.
The door which the servant was guarding flew open. A clerk appeared,
and made sign that he wished to speak.
"Gentlemen," he began, "M. de Thaller has just come; but he is just
now engaged with the examining judge."
Shouts having drowned his voice, he withdrew precipitately.
"If the law gets its finger in," murmured the discreet gentleman,
"That's a fact," said another. "But we will have the precious
advantage of hearing that dear baron condemned to one year's
imprisonment, and a fine of fifty francs. That's the regular rate.
He wouldn't get off so cheap, if he had stolen a loaf of bread from
"Do you believe that story about the judge?" interrupted rudely the
They had to believe it, when they saw him appear, followed by a
commissary of police and a porter, carrying on his back a load of
books and papers. They stood aside to let them pass; but there was
no time to make any comments, as another clerk appeared immediately
"M. de Thaller is at your command, gentlemen. Please walk in."
There was then a terrible jamming and pushing to see who would get
first into the directors' room, which stood wide open.
M. de Thaller was standing against the mantel-piece, neither paler
nor more excited than usual, but like a man who feels sure of
himself and of his means of action. As soon as silence was restored,
"First of all, gentlemen," he began, "I must tell you that the board
of directors is about to meet, and that a general meeting of the
stockholders will be called."
Not a murmur. As at the touch of a magician's wand, the dispositions
of the shareholders seemed to have changed.
"I have nothing new to inform you of," he went on. "What happened
is a misfortune, but not a disaster. The thing to do was to save
the company; and I had first thought of calling for funds."
"Well," said two or three timid voices, "If it was absolutely
"But there is no need of it."
"And I can manage to carry every thing through by adding to our
reserve fund my own personal fortune."
This time the hurrahs and the bravos drowned the voice.
M. de Thaller received them like a man who deserves them, and,
"Honor commanded it," he continued. "I confess it, gentlemen, the
wretch who has so basely deceived us had my entire confidence. You
will understand my apparent blindness when you know with what
infernal skill he managed."
Loud imprecations burst on all sides against Vincent Favoral. But
the president of the Mutual Credit proceeded,
"For the present, all I have to ask of you is to keep cool, and
continue to give me your confidence."
"The panic of night before last was but a stock-gambling manoeuvre,
organized by rival establishments, who were in hopes of taking our
clients away from us. They will be disappointed, gentlemen. We
will triumphantly demonstrate our soundness; and we shall come out
of this trial more powerful than ever."
It was all over. M. de Thaller understood his business. They
offered him a vote of thanks. A smile was beaming upon the same
faces that were a moment before contracted with rage.
One stockholder alone did not seem to share the general enthusiasm:
he was no other than our old friend, M. Chapelain, the ex-lawyer.
"That fellow, Thaller, is just capable of getting himself out of
the scrape," he grumbled. "I must tell Maxence."
We have every species of courage in France, and to a superior
degree, except that of braving public opinion. Few men would have
dared, like Marius de Tregars, to offer their name to the daughter
of a wretch charged with embezzlement and forgery, and that at the
very moment when the scandal of the crime was at its height. But,
when Marius judged a thing good and just, he did it without
troubling himself in the least about what others would think. And
so his mere presence in the Rue. St. Gilles had brought back hope
to its inmates. Of his designs he had said but a word,--"I have
the means of helping you: I mean, by marrying Gilberte, to acquire
the right of doing so."
But that word had been enough. Mme. Favoral and Maxence had
understood that the man who spoke thus was one of those cool and
resolute men whom nothing disconcerts or discourages, and who knows
how to make the best of the most perilous situations.
And, when he had retired with the Count de Villegre,
"I don't know what he will do," said Mlle. Gilberte to her mother
and her brother: "but he will certainly do something; and, if it
is humanly possible to succeed, he will succeed."
And how proudly she spoke thus! The assistance of Marius was the
justification of her conduct. She trembled with joy at the thought
that it would, perhaps, be to the man whom she had alone and boldly
selected, that her family would owe their salvation. Shaking his
head, and making allusion to events of which he kept the secret,
"I really believe," approved Maxence, "that, to reach the enemies
of our father, M. de Tregars possesses some powerful means; and what
they are we will doubtless soon know, since I have an appointment
with him for to-morrow morning."
It came at last, that morrow, which he had awaited with an impatience
that neither his mother nor his sister could suspect. And towards
half-past nine he was ready to go out, when M. Chapelain came in.
Still irritated by the scenes he had just witnessed at the Mutual
Credit office, the old lawyer had a most lugubrious countenance.
"I bring bad news," he began. "I have just seen the Baron de
He had said so much the day before about having nothing more to do
with it, that Maxence could not repress a gesture of surprise.
"Oh! it isn't alone that I saw him," added M. Chapelain, "but
together with at least a hundred stockholders of the Mutual Credit."
"They are going to do something, then?"
"No: they only came near doing something. You should have seen them
this morning! They were furious; they threatened to break every
thing; they wanted M. de Thaller's blood. It was terrible. But M.
de Thaller condescended to receive them; and they became at once as
meek as lambs. It is perfectly simple. What do you suppose
stockholders can do, no matter how exasperated they may be, when
their manager tells them?
"'Well, yes, it's a fact you have been robbed, and your money is in
great jeopardy; but if you make any fuss, if you complain thus, all
is sure to be lost.' Of course, the stockholders keep quiet. It is
a well-known fact that a business which has to be liquidated through
the courts is gone; and swindled stockholders fear the law almost as
much as the swindling manager. A single fact will make the situation
clearer to you. Less than an hour ago, M. de Thaller's stockholders,
offered him money to make up the loss."
And, after a moment of silence,
"But this is not all. Justice has interfered; and M. de Thaller
spent the morning with an examining-magistrate."
"Well, I have enough experience to affirm that you must not rely
any more upon justice than upon the stockholders. Unless there are
proofs so evident that they are not likely to exist, M. de Thaller
will not be disturbed."
"Why? Because, my dear, in all those big financial operations,
justice, as much as possible, remains blind. Not through corruption
or any guilty connivance, but through considerations of public
interest. If the manager was prosecuted he would be condemned to a
few years' imprisonment; but his stockholders would at the same time
be condemned to lose what they have left; so that the victims would
be more severely punished than the swindler. And so, powerless,
justice does not interfere. And that's what accounts for the
impudence and impunity of all these high-flown rascals who go about
with their heads high, their pockets filled with other people's money,
and half a dozen decorations at their button-hole."
"And what then?" asked Maxence.
"Then it is evident that your father is lost. Whether or not he
did have accomplices, he will be alone sacrificed. A scapegoat is
needed to be slaughtered on the altar of credit. Well, they will
give that much satisfaction to the swindled stockholders. The
twelve millions will be lost; but the shares of the Mutual Credit
will go up, and public morality will be safe."
Somewhat moved by the old lawyer's tone,
"What do you advise me to do, then?" inquired Maxence.
"The very reverse of what, on the first impulse, I advised you to
do. That's why I have come. I told you yesterday, 'Make a row,
act, scream. It is impossible that your father be alone guilty;
attack M. de Thaller.' To-day, after mature deliberation, I say,
'Keep quiet, hide yourself, let the scandal drop.'"
A bitter smile contracted Maxence's lips.
"It is not very brave advice you are giving me there," he said.
"It is a friend's advice,--the advice of a man who knows life
better than yourself. Poor young man, you are not aware of the
peril of certain struggles. All knaves are in league and sustain
each other. To attack one is to attack them all. You have no
idea of the occult influences of which a man can dispose who
handles millions, and who, in exchange for a favor, has always a
bonus to offer, or a good operation to propose. If at least I
could see any chance of success! But you have not one. You never
can reach M. de Thaller, henceforth backed by his stockholders.
You will only succeed in making an enemy whose hostility will weigh
upon your whole life."
"What does it matter?"
M. Chapelain shrugged his shoulders.
"If you were alone," he went on, "I would say as you do, 'What does
it matter?' But you are no longer alone: you have your mother and
sister to take care of. You must think of food before thinking of
vengeance. How much a month do you earn? Two hundred francs! It
is not much for three persons. I would never suggest that you
should solicit M. de Thaller's protection; but it would be well,
perhaps, to let him know that he has nothing to fear from you. Why
shouldn't you do so when you take his fifteen thousand francs back
to him? If, as every thing indicates, he has been your father's
accomplice, he will certainly be touched by the distress of your
family, and, if he has any heart left, he will manage to make you
find, without appearing to have any thing to do with it, a situation
better suited to your wants. I know that such a step must be very
painful; but I repeat it, my dear child, you can no longer think of
yourself alone; and what one would not do for himself, one does for
a mother and a sister."
Maxence said nothing. Not that he was in any way affected by the
worthy old lawyer's speech; but he was asking himself whether or
not he should confide to him the events which in the past twenty-four
hours had so suddenly modified the situation. He did not feel
authorized to do so.
Marius de Tregars had not bound him to secrecy; but an indiscretion
might have fatal consequences. And, after a moment of thought,
"I am obliged to you, sir," he replied evasively, "for the interest
you have manifested in our welfare; and we shall always greatly
prize your advice. But for the present you must allow me to leave
you with my mother and sister. I have an appointment with--a
And, without waiting for an answer, he slipped M. de Thaller's
fifteen thousand francs in his pocket, and hurried out. It was not
to M. de Tregars that he went first, however, but to the Hotel des
"Mlle. Lucienne has just come home with a big bundle," said Mme.
Fortin to Maxence, with her pleasantest smile, as soon as she had
seen him emerge from the shades of the corridor.
For the past twenty-four hours, the worthy hostess had been watching
for her guest, in the hopes of obtaining some information which she
might communicate to the neighbors. Without even condescending to
answer, a piece of rudeness at which she felt much hurt, he crossed
the narrow court of the hotel at a bound, and started up stairs.
Mlle. Lucienne's room was open. He walked in, and, still out of
breath from his rapid ascension,
"I am glad to find you in," he exclaimed. The young girl was busy,
arranging upon her bed a dress of very light colored silk, trimmed
with ruches and lace, an overdress to match, and a bonnet of
wonderful shape, loaded with the most brilliant feathers and flowers.
"You see what brings me here," she replied. "I came home to dress.
At two o'clock the carriage is coming to take me to the bois, where
I am to exhibit this costume, certainly the most ridiculous that Van
Klopen has yet made me wear."
A smile flitted upon Maxence's lips.
"Who knows," said he, "if this is not the last time you will have
to perform this odious task? Ah, my friend! what events have taken
place since I last saw you!"
"You will judge for yourself."
He closed the door carefully, and, returning to Mlle. Lucienne,
"Do you know the Marquis de Tregars?" he asked.
"No more than you do. It was yesterday, at the commissary of police,
that I first heard his name."
"Well, before a month, M. de Tregars will be Mlle. Gilberte Favoral's
"Is it possible?" exclaimed Mlle. Lucienne with a look of extreme
But, instead of answering,
"You told me," resumed Maxence, "that once, in a day of supreme
distress, you had applied to Mme. de Thaller for assistance, whereas
you were actually entitled to an indemnity for having been run over
and seriously hurt by her carriage."
"That is true."
"Whilst you were in the vestibule, waiting for an answer to your
letter, which a servant had taken up stairs, M. de Thaller came in;
and, when he saw you, he could not repress a gesture of surprise,
almost of terror."
"That is true too."
"This behavior of M. de Thaller always remained an enigma to you."
"An inexplicable one."
"Well, I think that I can explain it to you now."
Lowering his voice; for he knew that at the Hotel des Folies there
was always to fear some indiscreet ear.
"Yes, I," he answered; "and for the reason that yesterday, when M.
de Tregars appeared in my mother's parlor, I could not suppress an
exclamation of surprise, for the reason, Lucienne, that, between
Marius de Tregars and yourself, there is a resemblance with which it
is impossible not to be struck."
Mlle. Lucienne had become very pale.
"What do you suppose, then?" she asked.
"I believe, my friend, that we are very near penetrating at once the
mystery of your birth and the secret of the hatred that has pursued
you since the day when you first set your foot in M. de Thaller's
Admirably self-possessed as Mlle. Lucienne usually was, the
quivering of her lips betrayed at this moment the intensity of her
After more than a minute of profound meditation,
"The commissary of police," she said, "has never told me his hopes,
except in vague terms. He has told me enough, however, to make me
think that he has already had suspicions similar to yours."
"Of course! Would he otherwise have questioned me on the subject
of M. de Tregars?"
Mlle. Lucienne shook her head.
"And yet," she said, "even after your explanation, it is in vain
that I seek why and how I can so far disturb M. de Thaller's security
that he wishes to do away with me."
Maxence made a gesture of superb indifference. "I confess," he
said, "that I don't see it either. But what matters it? Without
being able to explain why, I feel that the Baron de Thaller is the
common enemy, yours, mine, my father's, and M. de Tregars'. And
something tells me, that, with M. de Tregars' help, we shall triumph.
You would share my confidence, Lucienne, if you knew him. There is
a man! and my sister has made no vulgar choice. If he has told my
mother that he has the means of serving her, it is because he
He stopped, and, after a moment of silence, "Perhaps," he went on,
"the commissary of police might readily understand what I only dimly
suspect; but, until further orders, we are forbidden to have recourse
to him. It is not my own secret that I have just told you; and, if
I have confided it to you, it is because I feel that it is a great
piece of good fortune for us; and there is no joy for me, that you
do not share."
Mlle. Lucienne wanted to ask many more particulars. But, looking at
"Half-past ten!" he exclaimed, "and M. de Tregars waiting for me."
And he started off, repeating once more to the young girl,
"I will see you to-night: until then, good hope and good courage."
In the court, two ill-looking men were talking with the Fortins.
But it happened often to the Fortins to talk with ill-looking men:
so he took no notice of them, ran out to the Boulevard, and jumping
into a cab,
"Rue Lafitte 70," he cried to the driver, "I pay the trip,--three
When Marius de Tregars had finally determined to compel the bold
rascals who had swindled his father to disgorge, he had taken in
the Rue Lafitte a small, plainly-furnished apartment on the entresol,
a fit dwelling for the man of action, the tent in which he takes
shelter on the eve of battle; and he had to wait upon him an old
family servant, whom he had found out of place, and who had for him
that unquestioning and obstinate devotion peculiar to Breton servants.
It was this excellent man who came at the first stroke of the bell
to open the door. And, as soon as Maxence had told him his name,
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "my master has been expecting you with a
It was so true, that M. de Tregars himself appeared at the same
moment, and, leading Maxence into the little room which he used
as a study,
"Do you know," he said whilst shaking him cordially by the hand,
"that you are almost an hour behind time?"
Maxence had, among others the detestable fault, sure indication of
a weak nature, of being never willing to be in the wrong, and of
having always an excuse ready. On this occasion, the excuse was
too tempting to allow it to escape; and quick he began telling how
he had been detained by M. Chapelain, and how he had heard from the
old lawyer what had taken place at the Mutual Credit office.
"I know the scene already," said M. de Tregars. And, fixing upon
Maxence a look of friendly raillery,
"Only," he added, "I attributed your want of punctuality to another
reason, a very pretty one this time, a brunette."
A purple cloud spread over Maxence's cheeks.
"What!" he stammered, "you know?"
"I thought you must have been in haste to go and tell a person of
your acquaintance why, when you saw me yesterday, you uttered an
exclamation of surprise."
This time Maxence lost all countenance.
"What," he said, "you know too?"
M. de Tregars smiled.
"I know a great many things, my dear M. Maxence," he replied; "and
yet, as I do not wish to be suspected of witchcraft, I will tell
you where all my science comes from. At the time when your house
was closed to me, after seeking for a long time some means of
hearing from your sister, I discovered at last that she had for
her music-teacher an old Italian, the Signor Gismondo Pulei. I
applied to him for lessons, and became his pupil. But, in the
beginning, he kept looking at me with singular persistence. I
inquired the reason; and he told me that he had once had for a
neighbor, at the Batignolles, a young working-girl, who resembled
me prodigiously. I paid no attention to this circumstance, and
had, in fact, completely forgotten it; when, quite lately, Gismondo
told me that he had just seen his former neighbor again, and, what's
more, arm in arm with you, and that you both entered together the
Hotel des Folies. As he insisted again upon that famous resemblance,
I determined to see for myself. I watched, and I stated, _de visa_,
that my old Italian was not quite wrong, and that I had, perhaps,
just found the weapon I was looking for."
His eyes staring, and his mouth gaping, Maxence looked like a man
fallen from the clouds.
"Ah, you did watch!" he said.
M. de Tregars snapped his fingers with a gesture of indifference.
"It is certain," he replied, "that, for a month past, I have been
doing a singular business. But it is not by remaining on my chair,
preaching against the corruption of the age, that I can attain my
object. The end justifies the means. Honest men are very silly,
I think, to allow the rascals to get the better of them under the
sentimental pretext that they cannot condescend to make use of their
But an honorable scruple was tormenting Maxence.
"And you think yourself well-informed, sir?" he inquired. "You
"Enough to know that she is not what she seems to be, and what
almost any other would have been in her place; enough to be certain,
that, if she shows herself two or three times a week riding around
the lake, it is not for her pleasure; enough, also, to be persuaded,
that, despite appearances, she is not your mistress, and that, far
from having disturbed your life, and compromised your prospects,
she set you back into the right road, at the moment, perhaps, when
you were about to branch off into the wrong path."
Marius de Tregars was assuming fantastic proportions in the mind of
"How did you manage," he stammered, "thus to find out the truth?"
"With time and money, every thing is possible."
"But you must have had grave reasons to take so much trouble about
"Very grave ones, indeed."
"You know that she was basely forsaken when quite a child?"
"And that she was brought up through charity?"
"By some poor gardeners at Louveciennes: yes, I know all that."
Maxence was trembling with joy. It seemed to him that his most
dazzling hopes were about to be realized. Seizing the hands of
Marius de Tregars,
"Ah, you know Lucienne's family!" he exclaimed. But M. de Tregars
shook his head.
"I have suspicions," he answered; "but, up to this time, I have
suspicions only, I assure you."
"But that family does exist; since they have already, at three
different times, attempted to get rid of the poor girl."
"I think as you do; but we must have proofs: and we shall find some.
You may rest assured of that."
Here he was interrupted by the noise of the opening door.
The old servant came in, and advancing to the centre of the room
with a mysterious look,
"Madame la Baronne de Thaller," he said in a low voice.
Marius de Tregars started violently.
"Where?" he asked.
"She is down stairs in her carriage," replied the servant. "Her
footman is here, asking whether monsieur is at home, and whether
she can come up."
"Can she possibly have heard any thing?" murmured M. de Tregars
with a deep frown. And, after a moment of reflection,
"So much the more reason to see her," he added quickly. "Let her
come. Request her to do me the honor of coming up stairs."
This last incident completely upset all Maxence's ideas. He no
longer knew what to imagine.
"Quick," said M. de Tregars to him: "quick, disappear; and, whatever
you may hear, not a word!"
And he pushed him into his bedroom, which was divided from the study
by a mere tapestry curtain. It was time; for already in the next
room could be heard a great rustling of silk and starched petticoats.
Mme. de Thaller appeared.
She was still the same coarsely beautiful woman, who, sixteen years
before, had sat at Mme. Favoral's table. Time had passed without
scarcely touching her with the tip of his wing. Her flesh had
retained its dazzling whiteness; her hair, of a bluish black, its
marvelous opulence; her lips, their carmine hue; her eyes, their
lustre. Her figure only had become heavier, her features less
delicate; and her neck and throat had lost their undulations, and
the purity of their outlines.
But neither the years, nor the millions, nor the intimacy of the
most fashionable women, had been able to give her those qualities
which cannot be acquired,--grace, distinction, and taste.
If there was a woman accustomed to dress, it was she: a splendid
dry-goods store could have been set up with the silks and the
velvets, the satins and cashmeres, the muslins, the laces, and all
the known tissues, that had passed over her shoulders.
Her elegance was quoted and copied. And yet there was about her
always and under all circumstances, an indescribable flavor of the
_parvenue_. Her gestures had remained trivial; her voice, common and
Throwing herself into an arm-chair, and bursting into a loud laugh,
"Confess, my dear marquis," she said, "that you are terribly
astonished to see me thus drop upon you, without warning, at eleven
o'clock in the morning."
"I feel, above all, terribly flattered," replied M. de Tregars,
With a rapid glance she was surveying the little study, the modest
furniture, the papers piled on the desk, as if she had hoped that
the dwelling would reveal to her something of the master's ideas
"I was just coming from Van Klopen's," she resumed; "and passing
before your house, I took a fancy to come in and stir you up; and
here I am."
M. de Tregars was too much a man of the world, and of the best world,
to allow his features to betray the secret of his impressions; and
yet, to any one who had known him well, a certain contraction of the
eyelids would have revealed a serious annoyance and an intense
"How is the baron?" he inquired.
"As sound as an oak," answered Mme. de Thaller, "notwithstanding all
the cares and the troubles, which you can well imagine. By the way,
you know what has happened to us?"
"I read in the papers that the cashier of the Mutual Credit had
"And it is but too true. That wretch Favoral has gone off with an
enormous amount of money."
"Twelve millions, I heard."
"Something like it. A man who had the reputation of a saint too; a
puritan. Trust people's faces after that! I never liked him, I
confess. But M. de Thaller had a perfect fancy for him; and, when
he had spoken of his Favoral, there was nothing more to say. Any
way, he has cleared out, leaving his family without means. A very
interesting family, it seems, too,--a wife who is goodness itself,
and a charming daughter: at least, so says Costeclar, who is very
much in love with her."
M. de Tregars' countenance remained perfectly indifferent, like
that of a man who is hearing about persons and things in which he
does not take the slightest interest.
Mme. de Thaller noticed this.
"But it isn't to tell you all this," she went on, "that I came up.
It is an interested motive brought me. We have, some of my friends
and myself, organized a lottery--a work of charity, my dear marquis,
and quite patriotic--for the benefit of the Alsatians, I have lots of
tickets to dispose of; and I've thought of you to help me out."
More smiling than ever,
"I am at your orders, madame," answered Marius, "but, in mercy,
She took out some tickets from a small shell pocket-book.
"Twenty, at ten francs," she said. "It isn't too much, is it?"
"It is a great deal for my modest resources."
She pocketed the ten napoleons which he handed her, and, in a tone
of ironical compassion,
"Are you so very poor, then?" she asked.
"Why, I am neither banker nor broker, you know."
She had risen, and was smoothing the folds of her dress.
"Well, my dear marquis," she resumed, "it is certainly not me who
will pity you. When a man of your age, and with your name, remains
poor, it is his own fault. Are there no rich heiresses?"
"I confess that I haven't tried to find one yet." She looked at
him straight in the eyes, and then suddenly bursting out laughing,
"Look around you," she said, "and I am sure you'll not be long
discovering a beautiful young girl, very blonde, who would be
delighted to become Marquise de Tregars, and who would bring in
her apron a dowry of twelve or fifteen hundred thousand francs in
good securities,--securities which the Favorals can't carry off.
Think well, and then come to see us. You know that M. de Thaller
is very fond of you; and, after all the trouble we have been having,
you owe us a visit."
Whereupon she went out, M. de Tregars going down to escort her to
her carriage. But as he came up,
"Attention!" he cried to Maxence; "for it's very evident that the
Thallers have wind of something."
It was a revelation, that visit of Mme. de Thaller's; and there was
no need of very much perspicacity to guess her anxiety beneath her
bursts of laughter, and to understand that it was a bargain she had
come to propose. It was evident, therefore, that Marius de Tregars
held within his hands the principal threads of that complicated
intrigue which had just culminated in that robbery of twelve
millions. But would he be able to make use of them? What were his
designs, and his means of action? That is what Maxence could not in
any way conjecture.
He had no time to ask questions.
"Come," said M. Tregars, whose agitation was manifest,--"come, let
us breakfast: we have not a moment to lose."
And, whilst his servant was bringing in his modest meal,
"I am expecting M. d'Escajoul," he said. "Show him in as soon as
Retired as he had lived from the financial world, Maxence had yet
heard the name of Octave d'Escajoul.
Who has not seen him, happy and smiling, his eye bright, and his lip
ruddy, notwithstanding his fifty years, walking on the sunny side
of the Boulevard, with his royal blue jacket and his eternal white
vest? He is passionately fond of everything that tends to make life
pleasant and easy; dines at Bignon's, or the Cafe Anglais; plays
baccarat at the club with extraordinary luck; has the most comfortable
apartment and the most elegant coupe in all Paris. With all this,
he is pleased to declare that he is the happiest of men, and is
certainly one of the most popular; for he cannot walk three blocks
on the Boulevard without lifting his hat at least fifty times, and
shaking hands twice as often.
And when any one asks, "What does he do?" the invariable answer is,
"Why he operates."
To explain what sort of operations, would not be, perhaps, very
easy. In the world of rogues, there are some rogues more formidable
and more skillful than the rest, who always manage to escape the hand
of the law. They are not such fools as to operate in person,--not
they! They content themselves with watching their friends and
comrades. If a good haul is made, at once they appear and claim
their share. And, as they always threaten to inform, there is no
help for it but to let them pocket the clearest of the profit.
Well, in a more elevated sphere, in the world of speculation, it is
precisely that lucrative and honorable industry which M. d'Escajoul
carries on. Thoroughly master of his ground, possessing a superior
scent and an imperturbable patience, always awake, and continually
on the watch, he never operates unless he is sure to win.
And the day when the manager of some company has violated his
charter or stretched the law a little too far, he may be sure to
see M. d'Escajoul appear, and ask for some little--advantages,
and proffer, in exchange, the most thorough discretion, and even
his kind offices.
Two or three of his friends have heard him say,
"Who would dare to blame me? It's very moral, what I am doing."
Such is the man who came in, smiling, just as Maxence and Marius de
Tregars had sat down at the table. M. de Tregars rose to receive him.
"You will breakfast with us?" he said.
"Thank you," answered M. d'Escajoul. "I breakfasted precisely at
eleven, as usual. Punctuality is a politeness which a man owes to
his stomach. But I will accept with pleasure a drop of that old
Cognac which you offered me the other evening."
He took a seat; and the valet brought him a glass, which he set on
the edge of the table. Then,
"I have just seen our man," he said.
Maxence understood that he was referring to M. de Thaller.
"Well?" inquired M. de Tregars.
"Impossible to get any thing out of him. I turned him over and
over, every way. Nothing!"
"It's so; and you know if I understand the business. But what can
you say to a man who answers you all the time, 'The matter is in
the hands of the law; experts have been named; I have nothing to
fear from the most minute investigations'?"
By the look which Marius de Tregars kept riveted upon M. d'Escajoul,
it was easy to see that his confidence in him was not without limits.
He felt it, and, with an air of injured innocence,
"Do you suspect me, by chance," he said, "to have allowed myself to
be hoodwinked by Thaller?"
And as M. de Tregars said nothing, which was the most eloquent of
"Upon my word," he insisted, "you are wrong to doubt me. Was it
you who came after me? No. It was I, who, hearing through Marcolet
the history of your fortune, came to tell you, 'Do you want to know
a way of swamping Thaller?' And the reasons I had to wish that
Thaller might be swamped: I have them still. He trifled with me,
he 'sold' me, and he must suffer for it; for, if it came to be known
that I could be taken in with impunity, it would be all over with my
After a moment of silence,
"Do you believe, then," asked M. de Tregars, "that M. de Thaller is
"That would be curious."
"Or else his measures are so well taken that he has absolutely
nothing to fear. If Favoral takes everything upon himself, what
can they say to the other? If they have acted in collusion, the
thing has been prepared for a long time; and, before commencing
to fish, they must have troubled the water so well, that justice
will be unable to see anything in it."
"And you see no one who could help us?"
To Maxence's great surprise, M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders.
"That one is gone," he said; "and, were he at hand, it is quite
evident that if he was in collusion with M. de Thaller, he would
"That being the case, what can we do?"
M. de Tregars made a gesture of discouragement.
"I might as well give up the fight, then," he said, "and try to
"Why so? We don't know what may happen. Keep quiet, be patient;
I am here, and I am looking out for squalls."
He got up and prepared to leave.
"You have more experience than I have," said M. de Tregars; "and,
since that's your opinion----"
M. d'Escajoul had resumed all his good humor.
"Very well, then, it's understood," he said, pressing M. de Tregars'
hand. "I am watching for both of us; and if I see a chance, I come
at once, and you act."
But the outer door had hardly closed, when suddenly the countenance
of Marius de Tregars changed. Shaking the hand which M. d'Escajoul
had just touched,--"Pouah!" he said with a look of thorough
And noticing Maxence's look of utter surprise,
"Don't you understand," he said, "that this old rascal has been sent
to me by Thaller to feel my intentions, and mislead me by false
information? I had scented him, fortunately; and, if either one of
us is dupe of the other, I have every reason to believe that it will
not be me."
They had finished their breakfast. M. de Tregars called his servant.
"Have you been for a carriage?" he asked.
"It is at the door, sir."
"Well, then, come along."
Maxence had the good sense not to over-estimate himself. Perfectly
convinced that he could accomplish nothing alone, he was firmly
resolved to trust blindly to Marius de Tregars.
He followed him, therefore; and it was only after the carriage had
started, that he ventured to ask,
"Where are we going?"
"Didn't you hear me," replied M. de Tregars, "order the driver to
take us to the court-house?"
"I beg your pardon; but what I wish to know is, what we are going
to do there?"
"You are going, my dear friend, to ask an audience of the judge who
has your father's case in charge, and deposit into his hands the
fifteen thousand francs you have in your pocket."
"What! You wish me to--"
"I think it better to place that money into the hands of justice,
which will appreciate the step, than into those of M. de Thaller,
who would not breathe a word about it. We are in a position where
nothing should be neglected; and that money may prove an indication."
But they had arrived. M. de Tregars guided Maxence through the
labyrinth of corridors of the building, until he came to a long
gallery, at the entrance of which an usher was seated reading a
"M. Barban d'Avranchel?" inquired M. de Tregars.
"He is in his office," replied the usher.
"Please ask him if he would receive an important deposition in the
The usher rose somewhat reluctantly, and, while he was gone,
"You will go in alone," said M. de Tregars to Maxence. "I shall
not appear; and it is important that my name should not even be
pronounced. But, above all, try and remember even the most
insignificant words of the judge; for, upon what he tells you, I
shall regulate my conduct."
The usher returned.
"M. d'Avranchel will receive you," he said. And, leading Maxence
to the extremity of the gallery, he opened a small door, and
pushed him in, saying at the same time,
"That is it, sir: walk in."
It was a small room, with a low ceiling, and poorly furnished. The
faded curtains and threadbare carpet showed plainly that more than
one judge had occupied it, and that legions of accused criminals
had passed through it. In front of a table, two men--one old, the
judge; the other young, the clerk--were signing and classifying
papers. These papers related to the Favoral case, and were all
indorsed in large letters: Mutual Credit Company.
As soon as Maxence appeared, the judge rose, and, after measuring
him with a clear and cold look:
"Who are you?" he interrogated.
In a somewhat husky voice, Maxence stated his name and surname.
"Ah! you are Vincent Favoral's son," interrupted the judge. "And
it was you who helped him escape through the window? I was going
to send you a summons this very day; but, since you are here, so
much the better. You have something important to communicate, I
have been told."
Very few people, even among the most strictly honest, can overcome
a certain unpleasant feeling when, having crossed the threshold of
the palace of justice, they find themselves in presence of a judge.
More than almost any one else, Maxence was likely to be accessible
to that vague and inexplicable feeling; and it was with an effort
that he answered,
"On Saturday evening, the Baron de Thaller called at our house a
few minutes before the commissary. After loading my father with
reproaches, he invited him to leave the country; and, in order to
facilitate his flight, he handed him these fifteen thousand francs.
My father declined to accept them; and, at the moment of parting,
he recommended to me particularly to return them to M. de Thaller.
I thought it best to return them to you, sir."
"Because I wished the fact known to you of the money having been
offered and refused."
M. Barban d'Avranchel was quietly stroking his whiskers, once of a
bright red, but now almost entirely white.
"Is this an insinuation against the manager of the Mutual Credit?"
Maxence looked straight at him; and, in a tone which affirmed
precisely the reverse,
"I accuse no one," he said.
"I must tell you," resumed the judge, "that M. de Thaller has
himself informed me of this circumstance. When he called at your
house, he was ignorant, as yet, of the extent of the embezzlements,
and was in hopes of being able to hush up the affair. That's why
he wished his cashier to start for Belgium. This system of
helping criminals to escape the just punishment of their crimes is
to be bitterly deplored; but it is quite the habit of your financial
magnates, who prefer sending some poor devil of an employe to hang
himself abroad than run the risk of compromising their credit by
confessing that they have been robbed."
Maxence might have had a great deal to say; but M. de Tregars had
recommended him the most extreme reserve. He remained silent.
"On the other hand," resumed the judge, "the refusal to accept the
money so generously offered does not speak in favor of Vincent
Favoral. He was well aware, when he left, that it would require a
great deal of money to reach the frontier, escape pursuit, and hide
himself abroad; and, if he refused the fifteen thousand francs, it
must have been because he was well provided for already."
Tears of shame and rage started from Maxence's eyes. "I am certain,
sir," he exclaimed, "that my father went off without a sou."
"What has become of the millions, then?" he asked coldly.
Maxence hesitated. Why not mention his suspicions? He dared not.
"My father speculated at the bourse," he stammered. "And he led a
scandalous conduct, keeping up, away from home, a style of living
which must have absorbed immense sums."
"We knew nothing of it, sir; and our first suspicions were aroused
by what the commissary of police told us."
The judge insisted no more; and in a tone which indicated that his
question was a mere matter of form, and he attached but little
importance to the answer,
"You have no news from your father?" he asked.
"And you have no idea where he has gone?"
"None in the least."
M. d'Avranchel had already resumed his seat at the table, and was
again busy with his papers.
"You may retire," he said. "You will be notified if I need you."
Maxence felt much discouraged when he joined M. de Tregars at the
entrance of the gallery.
"The judge is convinced of M. de Thaller's entire innocence," he
But as soon as he had narrated, with a fidelity that did honor to
his memory, all that had just occurred,
"Nothing is lost yet," declared M. de Tregars. And, taking from
his pocket the bill for two trunks, which had been found in M.
"There," he said, "we shall know our fate."
M. de Tregars and Maxence were in luck. They had a good driver and
a fair horse; and in twenty minutes they were at the trunk store.
As soon as the cab stopped,
"Well," exclaimed M. de Tregars, "I suppose it has to be done."
And, with the look of a man who has made up his mind to do something
which is extremely repugnant to him, he jumped out, and, followed
by Maxence, entered the shop.
It was a modest establishment; and the people who kept it, husband
and wife, seeing two customers coming in, rushed to meet them, with
that welcoming smile which blossoms upon the lips of every Parisian
"What will you have, gentlemen?"
And, with wonderful volubility, they went on enumerating every
article which they had for sale in their shop,--from the
"indispensable-necessary," containing seventy-seven pieces of solid
silver, and costing four thousand francs, down to the humblest
carpet-bag at thirty-nine cents.
But Marius de Tregars interrupted them as soon as he could get an
opportunity, and, showing them their bill,
"It was here, wasn't it," he inquired, "that the two trunks were
bought which are charged in this bill?"
"Yes, sir," answered simultaneously both husband and wife.
"When were they delivered?"
"Our porter went to deliver them, less than two hours after they
By this time the shopkeepers were beginning to exchange uneasy looks.
"Why do you ask?" inquired the woman in a tone which indicated that
she had the settled intention not to answer, unless for good and
To obtain the simplest information is not always as easy as might
be supposed. The suspicion of the Parisian tradesman is easily
aroused; and, as his head is stuffed with stories of spies and
robbers, as soon as he is questioned he becomes as dumb as an oyster.
But M. de Tregars had foreseen the difficulty:
"I beg you to believe, madame," he went on, "that my questions are
not dictated by an idle curiosity. Here are the facts. A relative
of ours, a man of a certain age, of whom we are very fond, and whose
head is a little weak, left his home some forty-eight hours since.
We are looking for him, and we are in hopes, if we find these trunks,
to find him at the same time."
With furtive glances, the husband and wife were tacitly consulting
"The fact is," they said, "we wouldn't like, under any consideration,
to commit an indiscretion which might result to the prejudice of a
"Fear nothing," said M. de Tregars with a reassuring gesture. "If
we have not had recourse to the police, it's because, you know, it
isn't pleasant to have the police interfere in one's affairs. If
you have any objections to answer me, however, I must, of course,
apply to the commissary."
The argument proved decisive.
"If that's the case," replied the woman, "I am ready to tell all I
"Well, then, madame, what do you know?"
"These two trunks were bought on Friday afternoon last, by a man of
a certain age, tall, very thin, with a stern countenance, and
wearing a long frock coat."
"No more doubt," murmured Maxence. "It was he."
"And now," the woman went on, "that you have just told me that your
relative was a little weak in the head, I remember that this
gentleman had a strange sort of way about him, and that he kept
walking about the store as if he had fleas on his legs. And awful
particular he was too! Nothing was handsome enough and strong
enough for him; and he was anxious about the safety-locks, as he
had, he said, many objects of value, papers, and securities, to put
"And where did he tell you to send the two trunks?"
"Rue du Cirque, to Mme.--wait a minute, I have the name at the end
of my tongue."
"You must have it on your books, too," remarked M. de Tregars.
The husband was already looking over his blotter.
"April 26, 1872," he said. "26, here it is: 'Two leather trunks,
patent safety-locks: Mme. Zelie Cadelle, 49 Rue du Cirque.'"
Without too much affectation, M. de Tregars had drawn near to the
shopkeeper, and was looking over his shoulder.
"What is that," he asked, "written there, below the address?"
"That, sir, is the direction left by the customer 'Mark on each end
of the trunks, in large letters, "Rio de Janeiro."'"
Maxence could not suppress an exclamation. "Oh!"
But the tradesman mistook him; and, seizing this magnificent
opportunity to display his knowledge,
"Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil," he said in a tone of
importance. "And your relative evidently intended to go there; and,
if he has not changed his mind, I doubt whether you can overtake
him; for the Brazilian steamer was to have sailed yesterday from
Whatever may have been his intentions, M. de Tregars remained
"If that's the case," he said to the shopkeepers, "I think I had
better give up the chase. I am much obliged to you, however, for
But, once out again,
"Do you really believe," inquired Maxence, "that my father has
M. de Tregars shook his head.
"I will give you my opinion," he uttered, "after I have investigated
matters in the Rue du Cirque."
They drove there in a few minutes; and, the cab having stopped at
the entrance of the street, they walked on foot in front of No. 49.
It was a small cottage, only one story in height, built between a
sanded court-yard and a garden, whose tall trees showed above the
roof. At the windows could be seen curtains of light-colored silk,
--a sure indication of the presence of a young and pretty woman.
For a few minutes Marius de Tregars remained in observation; but,
as nothing stirred,
"We must find out something, somehow," he exclaimed impatiently.
And noticing a large grocery store bearing No. 62, he directed his
steps towards it, still accompanied by Maxence.
It was the hour of the day when customers are rare. Standing in
the centre of the shop, the grocer, a big fat man with an air of
importance, was overseeing his men, who were busy putting things
M. de Tregars took him aside, and with an accent of mystery,
"I am," he said, "a clerk with M. Drayton, the jeweler in the Rue
de la Paix; and I come to ask you one of those little favors which
tradespeople owe to each other."
A frown appeared on the fat man's countenance. He thought, perhaps,
that M. Drayton's clerks were rather too stylish-looking; or else,
perhaps, he felt apprehensive of one of those numerous petty swindles
of which shopkeepers are constantly the victims.
"What is it?" said he. "Speak!"
"I am on my way," spoke M. de Tregars, "to deliver a ring which a
lady purchased of us yesterday. She is not a regular customer, and
has given us no references. If she doesn't pay, shall I leave the
ring? My employer told me, 'Consult some prominent tradesman of the
neighborhood, and follow his advice.'"
Prominent tradesman! Delicately tickled vanity was dancing in the
"What is the name of the lady?" he inquired.
"Mme. Zelie Cadelle."
The grocer burst out laughing.
"In that case, my boy," he said, tapping familiarly the shoulder
of the so-called clerk, "whether she pays or not, you can deliver
The familiarity was not, perhaps, very much to the taste of the
Marquis de Tregars. No matter.
"She is rich, then, that lady?" he said.
"Personally no. But she is protected by an old fool, who allows
her all her fancies."
"It is scandalous; and you cannot form an idea of the amount of
money that is spent in that house. Horses, carriages, servants,
dresses, balls, dinners, card-playing all night, a perpetual
carnival: it must be ruinous!"
M. de Tregars never winced.
"And the old man who pays?" he asked; "do you know him?"
"I have seen him pass,--a tall, lean, old fellow, who doesn't look
very rich, either. But excuse me: here is a customer I must wait
Having walked out into the street,
"We must separate now," declared M. de Tregars to Maxence.
"What! You wish to--"
"Go and wait for me in that cafe yonder, at the corner of the street.
I must see that Zelie Cadelle and speak to her."
And without suffering an objection on the part of Maxence, he walked
resolutely up to the cottage-gate, and rang vigorously.
At the sound of the bell, one of those servants stepped out into the
yard, who seem manufactured on purpose, heaven knows where, for the
special service of young ladies who keep house,--a tall rascal with
sallow complexion and straight hair, a cynical eye, and a low,
"What do you wish, sir?" he inquired through the grating.
"That you should open the door, first," uttered M. de Tregars, with
such a look and such an accent, that the other obeyed at once.
"And now," he added, "go and announce me to Mme. Zelie Cadelle."
"Madame is out," replied the valet.
And noticing that M. de Tregars shrugged his shoulders,
"Upon my word," he said, "she has gone to the bois with one of her
friends. If you won't believe me, ask my comrades there."
And he pointed out two other servants of the same pattern as himself,
who were silting at a table in the carriage-house, playing cards,
But M. de Tregars did not mean to be imposed upon. He felt certain
that the man was lying. Instead, therefore, of discussing,
"I want you to take me to your mistress," he ordered, in a tone that
admitted of no objection; "or else I'll find my way to her alone."
It was evident that he would do just as he said, by force if needs
be. The valet saw this, and, after hesitating a moment longer,
"Come along, then," he said, "since you insist so much. We'll talk
to the chambermaid."
And, having led M. de Tregars into the vestibule, he called out,
A woman at once made her appearance who was a worthy mate for the
valet. She must have been about forty, and the most alarming
duplicity could be read upon her features, deeply pitted by the
small-pox. She wore a pretentious dress, an apron like a
stage-servant, and a cap profusely decorated with flowers and
"Here is a gentleman," said the valet, "who insists upon seeing
madame. You fix it with him."
Better than her fellow servant, Mlle. Amanda could judge with whom
Back to Full Books