But it was the last effort of his will. He yielded, though not without an agonizing struggle and gave up to his daughter the money, the proofs and the arms. And as she was walking away, leaning on M. de Tregars' arm,
"But send me your mother, at least," he begged. "She will understand me: she will not be without pity. She is my wife: let her come quick. I will not, I can not remain alone."
It was with convulsive haste that the Baroness de Thaller went over the distance that separated the Rue St. Lazare from the Rue de la Pepiniere. The sudden intervention of M. de Tregars had upset all her ideas. The most sinister presentiments agitated her mind. In the courtyard of her residence, all the servants, gathered in a group, were talking. They did not take the trouble to stand aside to let her pass; and she even noticed some smiles and ironical gigglings. This was a terrible blow to her. What was the matter? What had they heard? In the magnificent vestibule, a man was sitting as she came in. It was the same suspicious character that Marius de Tregars had seen in the grand parlor, in close conference with the baroness.
"Bad news," he said with a sheepish look.
"That little Lucienne must have her soul riveted to her body. She is only wounded; and she'll get over it."
"Never mind Lucienne. What about M. de Tregars?"
"Oh! he is another sharp one. Instead of taking up our man's provocation, he collared him, and took away from him the note I had sent him."
Mme. de Thaller started violently.
"What is the meaning, then," she asked, "of your letter of last night, in which you requested me to hand two thousand francs to the bearer?"
The man became pale as death.
"You received a letter from me," he stammered, "last night?"
"Yes, from you; and I gave the money."
The man struck his forehead.
"I understand it all!" he exclaimed.
"They wanted proofs. They imitated my handwriting, and you swallowed the bait. That's the reason why I spent the night in the station-house; and, if they let me go this morning, it was to find out where I'd go. I have been followed, they are shadowing me. We are gone up, Mme. le Baronne. Sauve qui peut!"
And he ran out.
More agitated than ever Mme. de Thaller went up stairs. In the little red-and-gold parlor, the Baron de Thaller and Mlle. Cesarine were waiting for her. Stretched upon an arm-chair, her legs crossed, the tip of her boot on a level with her eye, Mlle. Cesarine, with a look of ironical curiosity, was watching her father, who, livid and trembling with nervous excitement, was walking up and down, like a wild beast in his cage. As soon as the baroness appeared,
"Things are going badly," said her husband, "very badly. Our game is devilishly compromised."
"You think so?"
"I am but too sure of it. Such a well-combined stroke too! But every thing is against us. In presence of the examining magistrate, Jottras held out well; but Saint Pavin spoke. That dirty rascal was not satisfied with the share allotted to him. On the information furnished by him, Costeclar was arrested this morning. And Costeclar knows all, since he has been your confidant, Vincent Favoral's, and my own. When a man has, like him, two or three forgeries in his record, he is sure to speak. He will speak. Perhaps he has already done so, since the police has taken possession of Latterman's office, with whom I had organized the panic and the tumble in the Mutual Credit stock. What can we do to ward off this blow?"
With a surer glance than her husband, Mme. de Thaller had measured the situation.
"Do not try to ward it off," she replied: "It would be useless."
"Because M. de Tregars has found Vincent Favoral; because, at this very moment, they are together, arranging their plans."
The baron made a terrible gesture.
"Ah, thunder and lightning!" he exclaimed. "I always told you that this stupid fool, Favoral, would cause our ruin. It was so easy for you to find an occasion for him to blow his brains out."
"Was it so difficult for you to accept M. de Tregars' offers?"
"It was you who made me refuse."
"Was it me, too, who was so anxious to get rid of Lucienne?"
For years, Mlle. Cesarine had not seemed so amused; and, in a half whisper, she was humming the famous tune, from "The Pearl of Poutoise,"
"Happy accord! Happy couple!"
M. de Thaller, beside himself, was advancing to seize the baroness: she was drawing back, knowing him, perhaps to be capable of any thing, when suddenly there was a violent knocking at the door.
"In the name of the law!"
It was a commissary of police.
And, whilst surrounded by agents, they were taken to a cab.
* * *
"Orphan on both sides!" exclaimed Mlle. Cesarine, "I am free, then. Now we'll have some fun!"
At that very moment, M. de Tregars and Mlle. Gilberte reached the Rue St. Gilles.
Hearing that her husband had been found,
"I must see him!" exclaimed Mme. Favoral.
And, in spite of any thing they could tell her, she threw a shawl over her shoulders, and started with Mlle. Gilberte.
When they had entered Mme. Zelie's apartment, of which they had a key, they found in the parlor, with his back towards them, Vincent Favoral sitting at the table, leaning forward, and apparently writing. Mme. Favoral approached on tiptoe, and over her husband's shoulder she read what he had just written,
"Affrays, my beloved, eternally-adored mistress, will you forgive me? The money that I was keeping for you, my darling, the proofs which will crush your husband—they have taken every thing from me, basely, by force. And it is my daughter—"
He had stopped there. Surprised at his immobility, Mme. Favoral called,
He made no answer. She pushed him with her finger. He rolled to the ground. He was dead.
Three months later the great Mutual Credit suit was tried before the Sixth Court. The scandal was great; but public curiosity was strangely disappointed. As in most of these financial affairs, justice, whilst exposing the most audacious frauds, was not able to unravel the true secret.
She managed, at least, to lay hands upon every thing that the Baron de Thaller had hoped to save. That worthy was condemned to five years' prison; M. Costeclar got off with three years; and M. Jottras with two. M. Saint Pavin was acquitted.
Arrested for subornation of murder, the former Marquise de Javelle the Baroness de Thaller, was released for want of proper proof. But, implicated in the suit against her husband, she lost three-fourths of her fortune, and is now living with her daughter, whose debut is announced at the Bouffes-Parisiens, or at the Delassements-Comiques.
Already, before that time, Mlle. Lucienne, completely restored, had married Maxence Favoral.
Of the five hundred thousand francs which were returned to her, she applied three hundred thousand to discharge the debts of her father-in-law, and with the rest she induced her husband to emigrate to America. Paris had become odious to both.
Marius and Mlle. Gilberte, who has now become Marquise de Tregars, have taken up their residence at the Chateau de Tregars, three leagues from Quimper. They have been followed in their retreat by Mme. Favoral and by General Count de Villegre.
The greater portion of his father's fortune, Marius had applied to pay off all the personal creditors of the former cashier of the Mutual Credit, all the trades-people, and also M. Chapelain, old man Desormeaux, and M. and Mme. Desclavettes.
All that is left to the Marquis and Marquise de Tregars is some twenty thousand francs a year, and if they ever lose them, it will not be at the bourse.
The Mutual Credit is quoted at 467.25!