"But you must excuse me," he said, rushing towards the other end of the parlor.
Mme. Favoral had just left the room to order tea to be brought in; and, the seat by Mlle. Gilberte being vacant, M. Costeclar occupied it promptly.
"He understands his business," growled M. Desormeaux.
"Surely," said M. Desclavettes, "if I had some funds to dispose of just now."
"I would be most happy to have him for my son-in-law," declared M. Favoral.
He was doing his best. Somewhat intimidated by Mlle. Gilberte's first look, he had now fully recovered his wits.
He commenced by sketching his own portrait.
He had just turned thirty, and had experienced the strong and the weak side of life. He had had "successes," but had tired of them. Having gauged the emptiness of what is called pleasure, he only wished now to find a partner for life, whose graces and virtues would secure his domestic happiness.
He could not help noticing the absent look of the young girl; but he had, thought he, other means of compelling her attention. And he went on, saying that he felt himself cast of the metal of which model husbands are made. His plans were all made in advance. His wife would be free to do as she pleased. She would have her own carriage and horses, her box at the Italiens and at the Opera, and an open account at Worth's and Van Klopen's. As to diamonds, he would take care of that. He meant that his wife's display of wealth should be noticed; and even spoken of in the newspapers.
Was this the terms of a bargain that he was offering?
If so, it was so coarsely, that Mlle. Gilberte, ignorant of life as she was, wondered in what world it might be that he had met with so many "successes." And, somewhat indignantly:
"Unfortunately," she said, "the bourse is perfidious; and the man who drives his own carriage to-day, to-morrow may have no shoes to wear."
M. Costeclar nodded with a smile.
"Exactly so," said he. "A marriage protects one against such reverses.
"Every man in active business, when he marries, settles upon his wife reasonable fortune. I expect to settle six hundred thousand francs upon mine."
"So that, if you were to meet with an—accident?"
"We should enjoy our thirty thousand a year under the very nose of the creditors."
Blushing with shame, Mlle. Gilberte rose.
"But then," said she, "it isn't a wife that you are looking for: it is an accomplice."
He was spared the embarrassment of an answer, by the servant, who came in, bringing in tea. He accepted a cup; and after two or three anecdotes, judging that he had done enough for a first visit, he withdrew, and a moment later they heard his carriage driving off at full gallop.
It was not without mature thought that M. Costeclar had determined to withdraw, despite M. Favoral's pressing overtures. However infatuated he might be with his own merits, he had been compelled to surrender to evidence, and to acknowledge that he had not exactly succeeded with Mlle. Gilberte. But he also knew that he had the head of the house on his side; and he flattered himself that he had produced an excellent impression upon the guests of the house.
"Therefore," had he said to himself, "if I leave first, they will sing my praise, lecture the young person, and make her listen to reason."
He was not far from being right. Mme. Desclavettes had been completely subjugated by the grand manners of this pretender; and M. Desclavettes did not hesitate to affirm that he had rarely met any one who pleased him more.
The others, M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux, did not, doubtless, share this optimism; but M. Costeclar's annual half-million obscured singularly their clear-sightedness.
They thought perhaps, they had discovered in him some alarming features; but they had full and entire confidence in their friend Favoral's prudent sagacity.
The particular and methodic cashier of the Mutual Credit was not apt to be enthusiastic; and, if he opened the doors of his house to a young man, if he was so anxious to have him for his son-in-law, he must evidently have taken ample information.
Finally there are certain family matters from which sensible people keep away as they would from the plague; and, on the question of marriage especially, he is a bold man who would take side for or against.
Thus Mme. Desclavettes was the only one to raise her voice. Taking Mlle. Gilberte's hands within hers:
"Let me scold you, my dear," said she, "for having received thus a poor young man who was only trying to please you."
Excepting her mother, too weak to take her defence, and her brother, who was debarred from interfering, the young girl understood readily, that, in that parlor, every one, overtly or tacitly, was against her. The idea came to her mind to repeat there boldly what she had already told her father that she was resolved not to marry, and that she would not marry, not being one of those weak girls, without energy, whom they dress in white, and drag to church against their will.
Such a bold declaration would be in keeping with her character. But she feared a terrible, and perhaps degrading scene. The most intimate friends of the family were ignorant of its most painful sores. In presence of his friends, M. Favoral dissembled, speaking in a mild voice, and assuming a kindly smile. Should she suddenly reveal the truth?
"It is childish of you to run the risk of discouraging a clever fellow who makes half a million a year," continued the wife of the old bronze-merchant, to whom such conduct seemed an abominable crime of lese-money. Mlle. Gilberte had withdrawn her hands.
"You did not hear what he said, madame."
"I beg your pardon: I was quite near, and involuntarily—"
"You have heard his—propositions?"
"Perfectly. He was promising you a carriage, a box at the opera, diamonds, freedom. Isn't that the dream of all young ladies?"
"It is not mine, madame!"
"Dear me! What better can you wish? You must not expect more from a husband than he can possibly give."
"That is not what I shall expect of him."
In a tone of paternal indulgence, which his looks belied:
"She is mad," suggested M. Favoral.
Tears of indignation filled Mlle. Gilberte's eyes.
"Mme. Desclavettes," she exclaimed, "forgets something. She forgets that this gentleman dared to tell me that he proposed to settle upon the woman he marries a large fortune, of which his creditors would thus be cheated in case of his failure in business."
She thought, in her simplicity, that a cry of indignation would rise at these words. Instead of which:
"Well, isn't it perfectly natural?" said M. Desclavettes.
"It seems to me more than natural," insisted Mme. Desclavettes, "that a man should be anxious to preserve from ruin his wife and children."
"Of course," put in M. Favoral.
Stepping resolutely toward her father:
"Have you, then, taken such precautions yourself?" demanded Mlle. Gilberte.
"No," answered the cashier of the Mutual Credit. And, after a moment of hesitation:
"But I am running no risks," he added. "In business, and when a man may be ruined by a mere rise or fall in stocks, he would be insane indeed who did not secure bread for his family, and, above all, means for himself, wherewith to commence again. The Baron de Thaller did not act otherwise; and, should he meet with a disaster, Mme. de Thaller would still have a handsome fortune."
M. Desormeaux was, perhaps, the only one not to admit freely that theory, and not to accept that ever-decisive reason, "Others do it."
But he was a philosopher, and thought it silly not to be of his time. He therefore contented himself with saying:
"Hum! M. de Thaller's creditors might not think that mode of proceeding entirely regular."
"Then they might sue," said M. Chapelain, laughing. "People can always sue; only when the papers are well drawn—"
Mlle. Gilberte stood dismayed. She thought of Marius de Tregars giving up his mother's fortune to pay his father's debts.
"What would he say," thought she, "should he hear such opinions!"
The cashier of the Mutual Credit resumed:
"Surely I blame every species of fraud. But I pretend, and I maintain, that a man who has worked twenty years to give a handsome dowry to his daughter has the right to demand of his son-in-law certain conservative measures to guarantee the money, which, after all, is his own, and which is to benefit no one but his own family."
This declaration closed the evening. It was getting late. The Saturday guests put on their overcoats; and, as they were walking home,
"Can you understand that little Gilberte?" said Mme. Desclavettes. "I'd like to see a daughter of mine have such fancies! But her poor mother is so weak!"
"Yes; but friend Favoral is firm enough for both," interrupted M. Desormeaux; "and it is more than probable that at this very moment he is correcting his daughter of the sin of sloth."
Well, not at all. Extremely angry as M. Favoral must have been, neither that evening, nor the next day, did he make the remotest allusion to what had taken place.
The following Monday only, before leaving for his office, casting upon his wife and daughter one of his ugliest looks:
"M. Costeclar owes us a visit," said he; "and it is possible that he may call in my absence. I wish him to be admitted; and I forbid you to go out, so that you can have no pretext to refuse him the door. I presume there will not be found in my house any one bold enough to ill receive a man whom I like, and whom I have selected for my son-in-law."
But was it probable, was it even possible, that M. Costeclar could venture upon such a step after Mlle. Gilberte's treatment of him on the previous Saturday evening?
"No, a thousand times no!" affirmed Maxence to his mother and sister. "So you may rest easy."
Indeed they tried to be, until that very afternoon the sound of rapidly-rolling wheels attracted Mme. Favoral to the window. A coupe, drawn by two gray horses, had just stopped at the door.
"It must be he," she said to her daughter.
Mlle. Gilberte had turned slightly pale.
"There is no help for it, mother," she said: "You must receive him."
"I shall remain in my room."
"Do you suppose he won't ask for you?"
"You will answer that I am unwell. He will understand."
"But your father, unhappy child, your father?"
"I do not acknowledge to my father the right of disposing of my person against my wishes. I detest that man to whom he wishes to marry me. Would you like to see me his wife, to know me given up to the most intolerable torture? No, there is no violence in the world that will ever wring my consent from me. So, mother dear, do what I ask you. My father can say what he pleases: I take the whole responsibility upon myself."
There was no time to argue: the bell rang. Mlle. Gilberte had barely time to escape through one of the doors of the parlor, whilst M. Costeclar was entering at the other.
If he did have enough perspicacity to guess what had just taken place, he did not in any way show it. He sat down; and it was only after conversing for a few moments upon indifferent subjects, that he asked how Mlle. Gilberte was.
"She is somewhat—unwell," stammered Mme. Favoral.
He did not appear surprised; only,
"Our dear Favoral," he said, "will be still more pained than I am when he hears of this mishap."
Better than any other mother, Mme. Favoral must have understood and approved Mlle. Gilberte's invincible repugnance. To her also, when she was young, her father had come one day, and said, "I have discovered a husband for you." She had accepted him blindly. Bruised and wounded by daily outrages, she had sought refuge in marriage as in a haven of safety.
And since, hardly a day had elapsed that she had not thought it would have been better for her to have died rather then to have riveted to her neck those fetters that death alone can remove. She thought, therefore, that her daughter was perfectly right. And yet twenty years of slavery had so weakened the springs of her energy, that under the glance of Costeclar, threatening her with her husband's name, she felt embarrassed, and could scarcely stammer some timid excuses. And she allowed him to prolong his visit, and consequently her torment, for over an half an hour; then, when he had gone,
"He and your father understand each other," said she to her daughter, "that is but too evident. What is the use of struggling?"
A fugitive blush colored the pale cheeks of Mlle. Gilberte. For the past forty-eight hours she had been exhausting herself, seeking an issue to an impossible situation; and she had accustomed her mind to the worst eventualities.
"Do you wish me, then, to desert the paternal roof?" she exclaimed.
Mme. Favoral almost dropped on the floor.
"You would run away," she stammered, "you!"
"Rather than become that man's wife, yes!"
"And where would you go, unfortunate child? what would you do?"
"I can earn my living."
Mme. Favoral shook her head sadly. The same suspicions were reviving within her that she had felt once before.
"Gilberte," she said in a beseeching tone, "am I, then, no longer your best friend? and will you not tell me from what sources you draw your courage and your resolution?"
And, as her daughter said nothing:
"God alone knows what may happen!" sighed the poor woman.
Nothing happened, but what could have been easily foreseen. When M. Favoral came home to dinner, he was whistling a perfect storm on the stairs. He abstained at first from all recrimination; but towards the end of the meal, with the most sarcastic look he could assume:
"It seems," he said to his daughter, "that you were unwell this afternoon?"
Bravely, and without flinching, she sustained his look; and, in a firm voice:
"I shall always be indisposed," she replied, "when M. Costeclar calls. You hear me, don't you, father—always!"
But the cashier of the Credit Mutual was not one of those men whose wrath finds vent in mere sarcasms. Rising suddenly to his feet:
"By the holy heavens!" he screamed forth, "you are wrong to trifle thus with my will; for, all of you here, I shall crush you as I do this glass."
And, with a frenzied gesture, he dashed the glass he held in his hand against the wall, where it broke in a thousand pieces. Trembling like a leaf, Mme. Favoral staggered upon her chair.
"Better kill her at once," said Mlle. Gilberte coldly. "She would suffer less."
It was by a torrent of invective that M. Favoral replied. His rage, dammed up for the past four days, finding at last an outlet, flowed in gross insults and insane threats. He spoke of throwing out in the street his wife and children, or starving them out, or shutting up his daughter in a house of correction; until at last, language failing his fury, beside himself, he left, swearing that he would bring M. Costeclar home himself, and then they would see.
"Very well, we shall see," said Mlle. Gilberte.
Motionless in his place, and white as a plaster cast, Maxence had witnessed this lamentable scene. A gleam of common-sense had enabled him to control his indignation, and to remain silent. He had understood, that, at the first word, his father's fury would have turned against him; and then what might have happened? The most frightful dramas of the criminal courts have often had no other origin.
"No, this is no longer bearable!" he exclaimed.
Even at the time of his greatest follies, Maxence had always had for his sister a fraternal affection. He admired her from the day she had stood up before him to reproach him for his misconduct. He envied her her quiet determination, her patient tenacity, and that calm energy that never failed her.
"Have patience, my poor Gilberte," he added: "the day is not far, I hope, when I may commence to repay you all you have done for me. I have not lost my time since you restored me my reason. I have arranged with my creditors. I have found a situation, which, if not brilliant, is at least sufficiently lucrative to enable me before long to offer you, as well as to our mother, a peaceful retreat."
"But it is to-morrow," interrupted Mme. Favoral, "to-morrow that your father is to bring M. Costeclar. He has said so, and he will do it."
And so he did. About two o'clock in the afternoon M. Favoral and his protege arrived in the Rue St. Gilles, in that famous coupe with the two horses, which excited the wonder of the neighbors.
But Mlle. Gilberte had her plan ready. She was on the lookout; and, as soon as she heard the carriage stop, she ran to her room, undressed in a twinkling, and went to bed.
When her father came for her, and saw her in bed, he remained surprised and puzzled on the threshold of the door.
"And yet I'll make you come into the parlor!" he said in a hoarse voice.
"Then you must carry me there as I am," she said in a tone of defiance; "for I shall certainly not get up."
For the first time since his marriage, M. Favoral met in his own house a more inflexible will than his own, and a more unyielding obstinacy. He was baffled. He threatened his daughter with his clinched fists, but could discover no means of making her obey. He was compelled to surrender, to yield.
"This will be settled with the rest," he growled, as he went out.
"I fear nothing in the world, father," said the girl.
It was almost true, so much did the thought of Marius de Tregars inflame her courage. Twice already she had heard from him through the Signor Gismondo Pulei, who never tired talking of this new pupil, to whom he had already given two lessons.
"He is the most gallant man in the world," he said, his eye sparkling with enthusiasm, "and the bravest, and the most generous, and the best; and no quality that can adorn one of God's creatures shall be wanting in him when I have taught him the divine art. It is not with a little contemptible gold that he means to reward my zeal. To him I am as a second father; and it is with the confidence of a son that he explains to me his labors and his hopes."
Thus Mlle. Gilberte learned through the old maestro, that the newspaper article she had read was almost exactly true, and that M. de Tregars and M. Marcolet had become associated for the purpose of working, in joint account, certain recent discoveries, which bid fair to yield large profits in a near future.
"And yet it is for my sake alone that he has thus thrown himself into the turmoil of business, and has become as eager for gain as that M. Marcolet himself."
And, at the height of her father's persecutions, she felt glad of what she had done, and of her boldness in placing her destiny in the hands of a stranger. The memory of Marius had become her refuge, the element of all her dreams and of all her hopes; in a word, her life.
It was of Marius she was thinking, when her mother, surprising her gazing into vacancy, would ask her, "What are you thinking of?" And, at every new vexation she had to endure, her imagination decked him with a new quality, and she clung to him with a more desperate grasp.
"How much he would grieve," thought she, "if he knew of what persecution I am the object!"
And very careful was she not to allow the Signor Gismondo Pulei to suspect any thing of it, affecting, on the contrary, in his presence, the most cheerful serenity.
And yet she was a prey to the most cruel anxiety, since she observed a new and most incredible transformation in her father.
That man so violent and so harsh, who flattered himself never to have been bent, who boasted never to have forgotten or forgiven any thing, that domestic tyrant, had become quite a debonair personage. He had referred to the expedient imagined by Mlle. Gilberte only to laugh at it, saying that it was a good trick, and he deserved it; for he repented bitterly, he protested, his past brutalities.
He owned that he had at heart his daughter's marriage with M. Costeclar; but he acknowledged that he had made use of the surest means for making it fail. He should, he humbly confessed, have expected every thing of time and circumstances, of M. Costeclar's excellent qualities, and of his beautiful, darling daughter's good sense.
More than of all his violence, Mme. Favoral was terrified at this affected good nature.
"Dear me!" she sighed, "what does it all mean?"
But the cashier of the Mutual Credit was not preparing any new surprise to his family. If the means were different, it was still the same object that he was pursuing with the tenacity of an insect. When severity had failed, he hoped to succeed by gentleness, that's all. Only this assumption of hypocritical meekness was too new to him to deceive any one. At every moment the mask fell off, the claws showed, and his voice trembled with ill-suppressed rage in the midst of his most honeyed phrases.
Moreover, he entertained the strangest illusions. Because for forty-eight hours he had acted the part of a good-natured man, because one Sunday he had taken his wife and daughter out riding in the Bois de Vincennes, because he had given Maxence a hundred-franc note, he imagined that it was all over, that the past was obliterated, forgotten, and forgiven.
And, drawing Gilberte upon his knees,
"Well, daughter," he said, "you see that I don't importune you any more, and I leave you quite free. I am more reasonable than you are."
But on the other hand, and according to an expression which escaped him later, he tried to turn the enemy.
He did every thing in his power to spread in the neighborhood the rumor of Mlle. Gilberte's marriage with a financier of colossal wealth,—that elegant young man who came in a coupe with two horses. Mme. Favoral could not enter a shop without being covertly complimented upon having found such a magnificent establishment for her daughter.
Loud, indeed, must have been the gossip; for its echo reached even the inattentive ears of the Signor Gismondo Pulei.
One day, suddenly interrupting his lesson,—"You are going to be married, signora?" he inquired.
Mlle. Gilberte started.
What the old Italian had heard, he would surely ere long repeat to Marius. It was therefore urgent to undeceive him.
"It is true," she replied, "that something has been said about a marriage, dear maestro."
"Only my father had not consulted me. That marriage will never take place: I swear it."
She expressed herself in a tone of such ardent conviction, that the old gentleman was quite astonished, little dreaming that it was not to him that this energetic denial was addressed.
"My destiny is irrevocably fixed," added Mlle. Gilberte. "When I marry, I will consult the inspirations of my heart only."
In the mean time, it was a veritable conspiracy against her. M. Favoral had succeeded in interesting in the success of his designs his habitual guests, not M. and Mme. Desclavettes, who had been seduced from the first, but M. Chapelain and old Desormeaux himself. So that they all vied with each other in their efforts to bring the "dear child" to reason, and to enlighten her with their counsels.
"Father must have a still more considerable interest in this alliance than he has allowed us to think," she remarked to her brother. Maxence was also absolutely of the same opinion.
"And then," he added, "our father must be terribly rich; for, do not deceive yourself, it isn't solely for your pretty blue eyes that this Costeclar persists in coming here twice a week to pocket a new mortification. What enormous dowry can he be hoping for? I am going to speak to him myself, and try to find out what he is after."
But Mlle. Gilberte had but slight confidence in her brother's diplomacy.
"I beg of you," she said, "don't meddle with that business!"
"Yes, yes, I will! Fear nothing, I'll be prudent."
Having taken his resolution, Maxence placed himself on the lookout; and the very next day, as M. Costeclar was stepping out of his carriage at the door, he walked straight up to him.
"I wish to speak to you, sir," he said. Self-possessed as he was, the brilliant financier succeeded but poorly in concealing a surprise that looked very much like fright.
"I am going in to call on your parents, sir," he replied; "and whilst waiting for your father, with whom I have an appointment, I shall be at your command."
"No, no!" interrupted Maxence. "What I have to say must be heard by you alone. Come along this way, and we shall not be interrupted."
And he led M. Costeclar away as far as the Place Royal. Once there,
"You are very anxious to marry my sister, sir," he commenced.
During their short walk M. Costeclar had recovered himself. He had resumed all his impertinent assurance. Looking at Maxence from head to foot with any thing but a friendly look,
"It is my dearest and my most ardent wish, sir," he replied.
"Very well. But you must have noticed the very slight success, to use no harsher word, of your assiduities."
"And, perhaps, you will judge, like myself, that it would be the act of a gentleman to withdraw in presence of such positive repugnance?"
An ugly smile was wandering upon M. Costeclar's pale lips.
"Is it at the request of your sister, sir, that you make me this communication?"
"Are you aware whether your sister has some inclination that may be an obstacle to the realization of my hopes?"
"Excuse me! What I say has nothing to offend. It might very well be that your sister, before I had the honor of being introduced to her, had already fixed her choice."
He spoke so loud, that Maxence looked sharply around to see whether there was not some one within hearing. He saw no one but a young man, who seemed quite absorbed reading a newspaper.
"But, sir," he resumed, "what would you answer, if I, the brother of the young lady whom you wish to marry against her wishes,—I called upon you to cease your assiduities?"
M. Costeclar bowed ceremoniously,
"I would answer you, sir," he uttered, "that your father's assent is sufficient for me. My suit has nothing but is honorable. Your sister may not like me: that is a misfortune; but it is not irreparable. When she knows me better, I venture to hope that she will overcome her unjust prejudices. Therefore I shall persist."
Maxence insisted no more. He was irritated at M. Costeclar's coolness; but it was not his intention to push things further.
"There will always be time," he thought, "to resort to violent measures."
But when he reported this conversation to his sister,
"It is clear," he said, "that, between our father and that man, there is a community of interests which I am unable to discover. What business have they together? In what respect can your marriage either help or injure them? I must see, try and find out exactly who is this Costeclar: the deuse take him!"
He started out the same day, and had not far to go.
M. Costeclar was one of those personalities which only bloom in Paris, and are only met in Paris,—the same as cab-horses, and young ladies with yellow chignons.
He knew everybody, and everybody knew him.
He was well known at the bourse, in all the principal restaurants, where he called the waiters by their first names, at the box-office of the theatres, at all the pool-rooms, and at the European Club, otherwise called the Nomadic Club, of which he was a member.
He operated at the bourse: that was sure. He was said to own a third interest in a stock-broker's office. He had a good deal of business with M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and M. Saint Pavin, the manager of a very popular journal, "The Financial Pilot."
It was further known that he had on Rue Vivienne, a magnificent apartment, and that he had successively honored with his liberal protection Mlle. Sidney of the Varieties, and Mme. Jenny Fancy, a lady of a certain age already, but so situated as to return to her lovers in notoriety what they gave her in good money. So much did Maxence learn without difficulty. As to any more precise details, it was impossible to obtain them. To his pressing questions upon M. Costeclar's antecedents,
"He is a perfectly honest man," answered some.
"He is simply a speculator," affirmed others.
But all agreed that he was a sharp one; who would surely make his fortune, and without passing through the police-courts, either.
"How can our father and such a man be so intimately connected?" wondered Maxence and his sister.
And they were lost in conjectures, when suddenly, at an hour when he never set his foot in the house, M. Favoral appeared.
Throwing a letter upon his daughter's lap,
"See what I have just received from Costeclar," he said in a hoarse voice. "Read."
She read, "Allow me, dear friend, to release you from your engagement. Owing to circumstances absolutely beyond my control, I find myself compelled to give up the honor of becoming a member of your family."
What could have happened?
Standing in the middle of the parlor, the cashier of the Mutual Credit held, bowed down beneath his glance, his wife and children, Mme. Favoral trembling, Maxence starting in mute surprise, and Mlle. Gilberte, who needed all the strength of her will to control the explosion of her immense joy.
Every thing in M. Favoral betrayed, nevertheless, much more the excitement of a disaster than the rage of a deception.
Never had his family seen him thus,—livid, his cravat undone, his hair wet with perspiration, and clinging to his temples.
"Will you please explain this letter?" he asked at last.
And, as no one answered him, he took up that letter again from the table where Mlle. Gilberte had laid it, and commenced reading it again, scanning each syllable, as if in hopes of discovering in each word some hidden meaning.
"What did you say to Costeclar?" he resumed, "what did you do to him to make him take such a determination?"
"Nothing," answered Maxence and Mlle. Gilberte.
The hope of being at last rid of that man inspired Mme. Favoral with something like courage.
"He has doubtless understood," she meekly suggested, "that he could not triumph over our daughter's repugnance."
But her husband interrupted her,
"No," he uttered, "Costeclar is not the man to trouble himself about the ridiculous caprices of a little girl. There is something else. But what is it? Come, if you know it, any of you, if you suspect it even, speak, say it. You must see that I am in a state of fearful anxiety."
It was the first time that he thus allowed something to appear of what was passing within him, the first time that he ever complained.
"M. Costeclar alone, father, can give you the explanation you ask of us," said Mlle. Gilberte.
The cashier of the Mutual Credit shook his head. "Do you suppose, then, that I have not questioned him? I found his letter this morning at the office. At once I ran to his apartments, Rue Vivienne. He had just gone out; and it is in vain that I called for him at Jottras', and at the office of 'The Financial Pilot.' I found him at last at the bourse, after running three hours. But I could only get from him evasive answers and vague explanations. Of course he did not fail to say, that, if he does withdraw, it is because he despairs of ever succeeding in pleasing Gilberte. But it isn't so: I know it; I am sure of it; I read it in his eyes. Twice his lips moved as if he were about to confess all; and then he said nothing. And the more I insisted, the more he seemed ill at ease, embarrassed, uneasy, troubled, the more he appeared to me like a man who has been threatened, and dares not brave the threat."
He directed upon his children one of those obstinate looks which search the inmost depths of the conscience.
"If you have done any thing to drive him off," he resumed, "confess it frankly, and I swear I will not reproach you."
"We did not."
"You did not threaten him?"
M. Favoral seemed appalled.
"Doubtless you deceive me," he said, "and I hope you do. Unhappy children! you do not know what this rupture may cost you."
And, instead of returning to his office, he shut himself up in that little room which he called his study, and only came out of it at about five o'clock, holding under his arm an enormous bundle of papers, and saying that it was useless to wait for him for dinner, as he would not come home until late in the night, if he came home at all, being compelled to make up for his lost day.
"What is the matter with your father, my poor children?" exclaimed Mme. Favoral. "I have never seen him in such a state."
"Doubtless," replied Maxence, "the rupture with Costeclar is going to break up some combination."
But that explanation did not satisfy him any more than it did his mother. He, too, felt a vague apprehension of some impending misfortune. But what? He had nothing upon which to base his conjectures. He knew nothing, any more than his mother, of his father's affairs, of his relations, of his interests, or even of his life, outside the house.
And mother and son lost themselves in suppositions as vain as if they had tried to find the solution of a problem, without possessing its terms.
With a single word Mlle. Gilberte thought she might have enlightened them.
In the unerring certainty of the blow, in the crushing promptness of the result, she thought she could recognize the hand of Marius de Tregars.
She recognized the hand of the man who acts, and does not talk. And the girl's pride felt flattered by this victory, by this proof of the powerful energy of the man whom, unknown to all, she had selected. She liked to imagine Marius de Tregars and M. Costeclar in presence of each other,—the one as imperious and haughty as she had seen him meek and trembling; the other more humble still than he was arrogant with her.
"One thing is certain," she repeated to herself; "and that is, I am saved."
And she wished the morrow to come, that she might announce her happiness to the very involuntary and very unconscious accomplice of Marius, the worthy Maestro Gismondo Pulei.
The next day M. Favoral seemed to have resigned himself to the failure of his projects; and, the following Saturday, he told as a pleasant joke, how Mlle. Gilberte had carried the day, and had managed to dismiss her lover.
But a close observer could discover in him symptoms of devouring cares. Deep wrinkles showed along his temples; his eyes were sunken; a continued tension of mind contracted his features. Often during the dinner he would remain motionless for several minutes, his fork aloft; and then he would murmur, "How is it all going to end?"
Sometimes in the morning, before his departure for his office, M. Jottras, of the house of Jottras and Brother, and M. Saint Pavin, the manager of "The Financial Pilot," came to see him. They closeted themselves together, and remained for hours in conference, speaking so low, that not even a vague murmur could be heard outside the door.
"Your father has grave subjects of anxiety, my children," said Mme. Favoral: "you may believe me,—me, who for twenty years have been trying to guess our fate upon his countenance."
But the political events were sufficient to explain any amount of anxiety. It was the second week of July, 1870; and the destinies of France trembled, as upon a cast of the dice, in the hands of a few presumptuous incapables. Was it war with Prussia, or was it peace, that was to issue from the complications of a childishly astute policy?
The most contradictory rumors caused daily at the bourse the most violent oscillations, which endangered the safest fortunes. A few words uttered in a corridor by Emile Ollivier had made a dozen heavy operators rich, but had ruined five hundred small ones. On all hands, credit was trembling.
Until one evening when he came home,
"War is declared," said M. Favoral.
It was but too true; and no one then had any fears of the result for France. They had so much exalted the French army, they had so often said that it was invincible, that every one among the public expected a series of crushing victories.
Alas! the first telegram announced a defeat. People refused to believe it at first. But there was the evidence. The soldiers had died bravely; but the chiefs had been incapable of leading them.
From that time, and with a vertiginous rapidity, from day to day, from hour to hour, the fatal news came crowding on. Like a river that overflows its banks, Prussia was overrunning France. Bazaine was surrounded at Metz; and the capitulation of Sedan capped the climax of so many disasters.
At last, on the 4th of September, the republic was proclaimed.
On the 5th, when the Signor Gismondo Pulei presented himself at Rue St. Gilles, his face bore such an expression of anguish, that Mlle. Gilberte could not help asking what was the matter.
He rose on that question, and, threatening heaven with his clinched fist,
"Implacable fate does not tire to persecute me," he replied. "I had overcome all obstacles: I was happy: I was looking forward to a future of fortune and glory. No, the dreadful war must break out."
For the worthy maestro, this terrible catastrophe was but a new caprice of his own destiny.
"What has happened to you?" inquired the young girl, repressing a smile.
"It happens to me, signora, that I am about to lose my beloved pupil. He leaves me; he forsakes me. In vain have I thrown myself at his feet. My tears have not been able to detain him. He is going to fight; he leaves; he is a soldier!"
Then it was given to Mlle. Gilberte to see clearly within her soul. Then she understood how absolutely she had given herself up, and to what extent she had ceased to belong to herself.
Her sensation was terrible, such as if her whole blood had suddenly escaped through her open arteries. She turned pale, her teeth chattered; and she seemed so near fainting, that the Signor Gismondo sprang to the door, crying, "Help, help! she is dying."
Mme. Favoral, frightened, came running in. But already, thanks to an all-powerful projection of will, Mlle. Gilberte had recovered, and, smiling a pale smile,
"It's nothing, mamma," she said. "A sudden pain in the head; but it's gone already."
The worthy maestro was in perfect agony. Taking Mme. Favoral aside,
"It is my fault," he said. "It is the story of my unheard-of misfortunes that has upset her thus. Monstrous egotist that I am! I should have been careful of her exquisite sensibility."
She insisted, nevertheless, upon taking her lesson as usual, and recovered enough presence of mind to extract from the Signor Gismondo everything that his much-regretted pupil had confided to him.
That was not much. He knew that his pupil had gone, like anyone else, to Rue de Cherche Midi; that he had signed an engagement; and had been ordered to join a regiment in process of formation near Tours. And, as he went out,
"That is nothing," said the kind maestro to Mme. Favoral. "The signora has quite recovered, and is as gay as a lark."
The signora, shut up in her room, was shedding bitter tears. She tried to reason with herself, and could not succeed. Never had the strangeness of her situation so clearly appeared to her. She repeated to herself that she must be mad to have thus become attached to a stranger. She wondered how she could have allowed that love, which was now her very life, to take possession of her soul. But to what end? It no longer rested with her to undo what had been done.
When she thought that Marius de Tregars was about to leave Paris to become a soldier, to fight, to die perhaps, she felt her head whirl; she saw nothing around her but despair and chaos.
And, the more she thought, the more certain she felt that Marius could not have trusted solely to the chance gossip of the Signor Pulei to communicate to her his determination.
"It is perfectly inadmissible," she thought. "It is impossible that he will not make an effort to see me before going."
Thoroughly imbued with the idea, she wiped her eyes, took a seat by an open window; and, whilst apparently busy with her work, she concentrated her whole attention upon the street.
There were more people out than usual. The recent events had stirred Paris to its lowest depths, and, as from the crater of a volcano in labor, all the social scoriae rose to the surface. Men of sinister appearance left their haunts, and wandered through the city. The workshops were all deserted; and people strolled at random, stupor or terror painted on their countenance. But in vain did Mlle. Gilberte seek in all this crowd the one she hoped to see. The hours went by, and she was getting discouraged, when suddenly, towards dusk, at the corner of the Rue Turenne,
"'Tis he," cried a voice within her.
It was, in fact, M. de Tregars. He was walking towards the Boulevard, slowly, and his eyes raised.
Palpitating, the girl rose to her feet. She was in one of those moments of crisis when the blood, rushing to the brain, smothers all judgment. Unconscious, as it were, of her acts, she leaned over the window, and made a sign to Marius, which he understood very well, and which meant, "Wait, I am coming down."
"Where are you going, dear?" asked Mme. Favoral, seeing Gilberte putting on her bonnet.
"To the shop, mamma, to get a shade of worsted I need."
Mlle. Gilberte was not in the habit of going out alone; but it happened quite often that she would go down in the neighborhood on some little errand.
"Do you wish the girl to go out with you?" asked Mme. Favoral.
"Oh, it isn't worth while!"
She ran down the stairs; and once out, regardless of the looks that might be watching her, she walked straight to M. de Tregars, who was waiting on the corner of the Rue des Minimes.
"You are going away?" she said, too much agitated to notice his own emotion, which was, however, quite evident.
"I must," he answered.
"When France is invaded, the place for a man who bears my name is where the fighting is."
"But there will be fighting in Paris too."
"Paris has four times as many defenders as it needs. It is outside that soldiers will be wanted."
They walked slowly, as they spoke thus, along the Rue des Minimes, one of the least frequented in Paris; and there were only to be seen at this hour five or six soldiers talking in front of the barracks gate.
"Suppose I were to beg you not to go," resumed Mlle. Gilberte. "Suppose I beseeched you, Marius!"
"I should remain then," he answered in a troubled voice; "but I would be betraying my duty, and failing to my honor; and remorse would weigh upon our whole life. Command now, and I will obey."
They had stopped; and no one seeing them standing there side by side affectionate and familiar could have believed that they were speaking to each other for the first time. They themselves did not notice it, so much had they come, with the help of all-powerful imagination, and in spite of separation, to the understanding of intimacy. After a moment of painful reflection,
"I do not ask you any longer to stay," uttered the young girl. He took her hand, and raised it to his lips.
"I expected no less of your courage," he said, his voice vibrating with love. But he controlled himself, and, in a more quiet tone,
"Thanks to the indiscretion of Pulei," he added, "I was in hopes of seeing you, but not to have the happiness of speaking to you. I had written—"
He drew from his pocket a large envelope, and, handing it to Mlle. Gilberte,
"Here is the letter," he continued, "which I intended for you. It contains another, which I beg you to preserve carefully, and not to open unless I do not return. I leave you in Paris a devoted friend, the Count de Villegre. Whatever may happen to you, apply to him with all confidence, as you would to myself."
Mlle. Gilberte, staggering, leaned against the wall.
"When do you expect to leave?" she inquired.
"This very night. Communications may be cut off at any moment."
Admirable in her sorrow, but also full of energy, the poor girl looked up, and held out her hand to him.
"Go then," she said, "O my only friend! go, since honor commands. But do not forget that it is not your life alone that you are going to risk."
And, fearing to burst into sobs, she fled, and reached the Rue St. Gilles a few moments before her father, who had gone out in quest of news.
Those he brought home were of the most sinister kind.
Like the rising tide, the Prussians spread and advanced, slowly, but steadily. Their marches were numbered; and the day and hour could be named when their flood would come and strike the walls of Paris.
And so, at all the railroad stations, there was a prodigious rush of people who wished to leave at any cost, in any way, in the baggage-car if needs be, and who certainly were not, like Marius, rushing to meet the enemy.
One after another, M. Favoral had seen nearly every one he knew take flight.
The Baron and Baroness de Thaller and their daughter had gone to Switzerland; M. Costeclar was traveling in Belgium; the elder Jottras was in England, buying guns and cartridge; and if the younger Jottras, with M. Saint Pavin of "The Financial Pilot," remained in Paris, it was because, through the gallant influence of a lady whose name was not mentioned, they had obtained some valuable contracts from the government.
The perplexities of the cashier of the Mutual Credit were great. The day that the Baron and the Baroness de Thaller had left,
"Pack up our trunks," he ordered his wife. "The bourse is going to close; and the Mutual Credit can very well get along without me."
But the next day he became undecided again. What Mlle. Gilberte thought she could guess, was, that he was dying to start alone, and leave his family, but dared not do it. He hesitated so long, that at last, one evening,
"You may unpack the trunks," he said to his wife. "Paris is invested; and no one can now leave."
In fact, the news had just come, that the Western Railroad, the last one that had remained open, was now cut off.
Paris was invested; and so rapid had been the investment, that it could hardly be believed.
People went in crowds on all the culminating points, the hills of Montmartre, and the heights of the Trocadero. Telescopes had been erected there; and every one was anxious to scan the horizon, and look for the Prussians.
But nothing could be discovered. The distant fields retained their quiet and smiling aspect under the mild rays of the autumn sun.
So that it really required quite an effort of imagination to realize the sinister fact, to understand that Paris, with its two millions of inhabitants, was indeed cut off from the world and separated from the rest of France, by an insurmountable circle of steel.
Doubt, and something like a vague hope, could be traced in the tone of the people who met on the streets, saying,
"Well, it's all over: we can't leave any more. Letters, even, cannot pass. No more news, eh?"
But the next day, which was the 19th of September, the most incredulous were convinced.
For the first time Paris shuddered at the hoarse voice of the cannon, thundering on the heights of Chatillon. The siege of Paris, that siege without example in history, had commenced.
The life of the Favorals during these interminable days of anguish and suffering, was that of a hundred thousand other families.
Incorporated in the battalion of his ward, the cashier of the Mutual Credit went off two or three times a week, as well as all his neighbors, to mount guard on the ramparts,—a useless service perhaps, but which those that performed it did not look upon as such, —a very arduous service, at any rate, for poor merchants, accustomed to the comforts of their shops, or the quiet of their offices.
To be sure, there was nothing heroic in tramping through the mud, in receiving the rain or the snow upon the back, in sleeping on the ground or on dirty straw, in remaining on guard with the thermometer twenty degrees below the freezing-point. But people die of pleurisy quite as certainly as of a Prussian bullet; and many died of it.
Maxence showed himself but rarely at Rue St. Gilles: enlisted in a battalion of sharpshooters, he did duty at the advanced posts. And, as to Mme. Favoral and Mlle. Gilberte, they spent the day trying to get something to live on. Rising before daylight, through rain or snow, they took their stand before the butcher's stall, and, after waiting for hours, received a small slice of horse-meat.
Alone in the evening, by the side of the hearth where a few pieces of green wood smoked without burning, they started at each of the distant reports of the cannon. At each detonation that shook the window-panes, Mme. Favoral thought that it was, perhaps, the one that had killed her son.
And Mlle. Gilberte was thinking of Marius de Tregars. The accursed days of November and December had come. There were constant rumors of bloody battles around Orleans. She imagined Marius, mortally wounded, expiring on the snow, alone, without help, and without a friend to receive his supreme will and his last breath.
One evening the vision was so clear, and the impression so strong, that she started up with a loud cry.
"What is it?" asked Mme. Favoral, alarmed. "What is the matter?"
With a little perspicacity, the worthy woman could easily have obtained her daughter's secret; for Mlle. Gilberte was not in condition to deny anything. But she contented herself with an explanation which meant nothing, and had not a suspicion, when the girl answered with a forced smile,
"It's nothing, dear mother, nothing but an absurd idea that crossed my mind."
Strange to say, never had the cashier of the Mutual Credit been for his family what he was during these months of trials.
During the first weeks of the siege he had been anxious, agitated, nervous; he wandered through the house like a soul in trouble; he had moments of inconceivable prostration, during which tears could be seen rolling down upon his cheeks, and then fits of anger without motive.
But each day that elapsed had seemed to bring calm to his soul. Little by little, he had become to his wife so indulgent and so affectionate, that the poor helot felt her heart touched. He had for his daughter attentions which caused her to wonder.
Often, when the weather was fine, he took them out walking, leading them along the quays towards a part of the walls occupied by the battalion of their ward. Twice he took them to St. Onen, where the sharp-shooters were encamped to which Maxence belonged.
Another day he wished to take them to visit M. de Thaller's house, of which he had charge. They refused, and instead of getting angry, as he certainly would have done formerly, he commenced describing to them the splendors of the apartments, the magnificent furniture, the carpets and the hangings, the paintings by the great masters, the objects of arts, the bronzes, in a word, all that dazzling luxury of which financiers make use, somewhat as hunters do of the mirror with which larks are caught.
Of business, nothing was ever said.
He went every morning as far as the office of the Mutual Credit; but, as he said, it was solely as a matter of form. Once in a long while, M. Saint Pavin and the younger Jottras paid a visit to the Rue St. Gilles. They had suspended,—the one the payments of his banking house; the other, the publication of "The Financial Pilot."
But they were not idle for all that; and, in the midst of the public distress, they still managed to speculate upon something, no one knew what, and to realize profits.
They rallied pleasantly the fools who had faith in the defence, and imitated in the most laughable manner the appearance, under their soldier's coat, of three or four of their friends who had joined the marching battalions. They boasted that they had no privations to endure, and always knew where to find the fresh butter wherewith to dress the large slices of beef which they possessed the art of finding. Mme. Favoral heard them laugh; and M. Saint Pavin, the manager of "The Financial Pilot," exclaimed,
"Come, come! we would be fools to complain. It is a general liquidation, without risks and without costs." Their mirth had something revolting in it; for it was now the last and most acute period of the siege.
At the beginning, the greatest optimists hardly thought that Paris could hold out longer than six weeks. And now the investment had lasted over four months. The population was reduced to nameless articles of food. The supply of bread had failed; the wounded, for lack of a little soup, died in the ambulances; old people and children perished by the hundred; on the left bank the shells came down thick and fast, the weather was intensely cold, and there was no more fuel.
And yet no one complained. From the midst of that population of two millions of inhabitants, not one voice rose to beg for their comfort, their health, their life even, at the cost of a capitulation.
Clear-sighted men had never hoped that Paris alone could compel the raising of the siege; but they thought, that by holding out, and keeping the Prussians under its walls, Paris would give to France time to rise, to organize armies, and to rush upon the enemy. There was the duty of Paris; and Paris was toiling to fulfil it to the utmost limits of possibility, reckoning as a victory each day that it gained.
Unfortunately, all this suffering was to be in vain. The fatal hour struck, when, supplies being exhausted, it became necessary to surrender. During three days the Prussians camped in the Champs Elysees, gazing with longing eyes upon that city, object of their most eager desires,—that Paris within which, victorious though they were, they had not dared to venture. Then, soon after, communications were reopened; and one morning, as he received a letter from Switzerland,
"It is from the Baron de Thaller!" exclaimed M. Favoral.
Exactly so. The manager of the Mutual Credit was a prudent man. Pleasantly situated in Switzerland, he was in nowise anxious to return to Paris before being quite certain that he had no risks to run.
Upon receiving M. Favoral's assurances to that effect, he started; and, almost at the same time the elder Jottras and M. Costeclar made their appearance.
It was a curious spectacle, the return of those braves for whom Parisian slang had invented the new and significant expression of franc-fileur.
They were not so proud then as they have been since. Feeling rather embarrassed in the midst of a population still quivering with the emotions of the siege, they had at least the good taste to try and find pretexts for their absence.
"I was cut off," affirmed the Baron de Thaller. "I had gone to Switzerland to place my wife and daughter in safety. When I came back, good-by! the Prussians had closed the doors. For more than a week, I wandered around Paris, trying to find an opening. I became suspected of being a spy. I was arrested. A little more, and I was shot dead!"
"As to myself," declared M. Costeclar, "I foresaw exactly what has happened. I knew that it was outside, to organize armies of relief, that men would be wanted. I went to offer my services to the government of defence; and everybody in Bordeaux saw me booted and spurred, and ready to leave."
He was consequently soliciting the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and was not without hopes of obtaining it through the all-powerful influence of his financial connections.
"Didn't So-and-so get it?" he replied to objections. And he named this or that individual whose feats of arms consisted principally in having exhibited themselves in uniforms covered with gold lace to the very shoulders.
"But I am the man who deserves it most, that cross," insisted the younger M. Jottras; "for I, at least, have rendered valuable services."
And he went on telling how, after searching for arms all over England, he had sailed for New York, where he had purchased any number of guns and cartridges, and even some batteries of artillery.
This last journey had been very wearisome to him, he added and yet he did not regret it; for it had furnished him an opportunity to study on the spot the financial morals of America; and he had returned with ideas enough to make the fortune of three or four stock companies with twenty millions of capital.
"Ah, those Americans!" he exclaimed. "They are the men who understand business! We are but children by the side of them."
It was through M. Chapelain, the Desclavettes, and old Desormeaux, that these news reached the Rue St. Gilles.
It was also through Maxence, whose battalion had been dissolved, and who, whilst waiting for something better, had accepted a clerkship in the office of the Orleans Railway, where he earned two hundred francs a month. For M. Favoral saw and heard nothing that was going on around him. He was wholly absorbed in his business: he left earlier, came home later, and hardly allowed himself time to eat and drink.
He told all his friends that business was looking up again in the most unexpected manner; that there were fortunes to be made by those who could command ready cash; and that it was necessary to make up for lost time.
He pretended that the enormous indemnity to be paid to the Prussians would necessitate an enormous movement of capital, financial combinations, a loan, and that so many millions could not be handled without allowing a few little millions to fall into intelligent pockets.
Dazzled by the mere enumeration of those fabulous sums, "I should not be a bit surprised," said the others, "to see Favoral double and treble his fortune. What a famous match his daughter will be!"
Alas! never had Mlle. Gilberte felt in her heart so much hatred and disgust for that money, the only thought, the sole subject of conversation, of those around her,—for that cursed money which had risen like an insurmountable obstacle between Marius and herself.
For two weeks past, the communications had been completely restored; and there was as yet no sign of M. de Tregars. It was with the most violent palpitations of her heart that she awaited each day the hour of the Signor Gismondo Pulei's lesson: and more painful each time became her anguish when she heard him exclaim,
"Nothing, not a line, not a word. The pupil has forgotten his old master!"
But Mlle. Gilberte knew well that Marius did not forget. Her blood froze in her veins when she read in the papers the interminable list of those poor soldiers who had succumbed during the invasion, —the more fortunate ones under Prussian bullets; the others along the roads, in the mud or in the snow, of cold, of fatigue, of suffering and of want.
She could not drive from her mind the memory of that lugubrious vision which had so much frightened her; and she was asking herself whether it was not one of those inexplicable presentiments, of which there are examples, which announce the death of a beloved person.
Alone at night in her little room, Mlle. Gilberte withdrew from the hiding-place, where she kept it preciously, that package which Marius had confided to her, recommending her not to open it until she was sure that he would not return. It was very voluminous, enclosed in an envelope of thick paper, sealed with red wax, bearing the arms of Tregars; and she had often wondered what it could possibly contain. And now she shuddered at the thought that she had perhaps the right to open it.
And she had no one of whom she could ask for a word of hope. She was compelled to hide her tears, and to put on a smile. She was compelled to invent pretexts for those who expressed their wonder at seeing her exquisite beauty withering in the bud,—for her mother, whose anxiety was without limit, when she saw her thus pale, her eyes inflamed, and undermined by a continuous fever.
True, Marius, on leaving, had left her a friend, the Count de Villegre; and, if any one knew any thing, he certainly did. But she could see no way of hearing from him without risking her secret. Write to him? Nothing was easier, since she had his address,—Rue Turenne. But where could she ask him to direct his answer? Rue St. Gilles? Impossible! True, she might go to him, or make an appointment in the neighborhood. But how could she escape, even for an hour, without exciting Mme. Favoral's suspicions?
Sometimes it occurred to her to confide in Maxence, who was laboring with admirable constancy to redeem his past.
But what! must she, then, confess the truth,—confess that she, Gilberte, had lent her ears to the words of a stranger, met by chance in the street, and that she looked forward to no happiness in life save through him? She dared not. She could not take upon herself to overcome the shame of such a situation.
She was on the verge of despair, the day when the Signor Pulei arrived radiant, exclaiming from the very threshold, "I have news!"
And at once, without surprise at the awful emotion of the girl, which he attributed solely to the interest she felt for him,—him Gismondo Pulei, he went on,—"I did not get them direct, but through a respectable signor with long mustaches, and a red ribbon at his buttonhole, who, having received a letter from my dear pupil, has deigned to come to my room, and read it to me."
The worthy maestro had not forgotten a single word of that letter; and it was almost literally that he repeated it.
Six weeks after having enlisted, his pupil had been promoted corporal, then sergeant, then lieutenant. He had fought in all the battles of the army of the Loire without receiving a scratch. But at the battle of the Maus, whilst leading back his men, who were giving way, he had been shot twice, full in the breast. Carried dying into an ambulance, he had lingered three weeks between life and death, having lost all consciousness of self. Twenty-four hours after, he had recovered his senses; and he took the first opportunity to recall himself to the affection of his friends. All danger was over, he suffered scarcely any more; and they promised him, that, within a month, he would be up, and able to return to Paris.
For the first time in many weeks Mlle. Gilberte breathed freely. But she would have been greatly surprised, had she been told that a day was drawing near when she would bless those wounds which detained Marius upon a hospital cot. And yet it was so.
Mme. Favoral and her daughter were alone, one evening, at the house, when loud clamors arose from the street, in the midst of which could be heard drunken voices yelling the refrains of revolutionary songs, accompanied by continuous rumbling sounds. They ran to the window. The National Guards had just taken possession of the cannon deposited in the Place Royale. The reign of the Commune was commencing.
In less than forty-eight hours, people came to regret the worst days of the siege. Without leaders, without direction, the honest men had lost their heads. All the braves who had returned at the time of the armistice had again taken flight. Soon people had to hide or to fly to avoid being incorporated in the battalions of the Commune. Night and day, around the walls, the fusillade rattled, and the artillery thundered.
Again M. Favoral had given up going to his office. What's the use? Sometimes, with a singular look, he would say to his wife and children,
"This time it is indeed a liquidation. Paris is lost!"
And indeed they thought so, when at the hour of the supreme struggle, among the detonations of the cannon and the explosion of the shells; they felt their house shaking to its very foundations; when in the midst of the night they saw their apartment as brilliantly lighted as at mid-day by the flames which were consuming the Hotel de Ville and the houses around the Place de la Bastille. And, in fact, the rapid action of the troops alone saved Paris from destruction.
But towards the end of the following week, matters had commenced to quiet down; and Gilberte learned the return of Marius.
"At last it has been given to my eyes to contemplate him, and to my arms to press him against my heart!"
It was in these terms that the old Italian master, all vibrating with enthusiasm, and with his most terrible accent, announced to Mlle. Gilberte that he had just seen that famous pupil from whom he expected both glory and fortune.
"But how weak he is still!" he added, "and suffering from his wounds. I hardly recognized him, he has grown so pale and so thin."
But the girl was listening to him no more. A flood of life filled her heart. This moment made her forget all her troubles and all her anguish.
"And I too," thought she, "shall see him again to-day."
And, with the unerring instinct of the woman who loves, she calculated the moment when Marius would appear in Rue St. Gilles. It would probably be about nightfall, like the first time, before leaving; that is, about eight o'clock, for the days just then were about the longest in the year. Now it so happened, that, on that very day and hour, Mlle. Gilberte expected to be alone at home. It was understood that her mother would, after dinner, call on Mme. Desclavettes, who was in bed, half dead of the fright she had had during the last convulsions of the Commune. She would therefore be free and would not need to invent a pretext to go out for a few moments. She could not help, however, but feel that this was a bold and most venturesome step for her to take; and, when her mother went out, she had not yet fully decided what to do. But her bonnet was within reach, and Marius' letter was in her pocket. She went to sit at the window. The street was solitary and silent as of old. Night was coming; and heavy black clouds floated over Paris. The heat was overpowering: there was not a breath of air.
One by one, as the hour was approaching when she expected to see Marius, the hesitations of the young girl vanished like smoke. She feared but one thing,—that he would not come, or that he may already have come and left, without succeeding in seeing her.
Already did the objects become less distinct; and the gas was being lit in the back-shops, when she recognized him on the other side of the street. He looked up as he went by; and, without stopping, he addressed her a rapid gesture, which she alone could understand, and which meant, "Come, I beseech you!"
Her heart beating loud enough to be heard, Mlle. Gilberte ran down the stairs. But it was only when she found herself in the street that she could appreciate the magnitude of the risk she was running. Concierges and shopkeepers were all sitting in front of their doors, taking the fresh air. All knew her. Would they not be surprised to see her out alone at such an hour? Twenty steps in front of her she could see Marius. But he had understood the danger; for, instead of turning the corner of the Rue des Minimes, he followed the Rue St. Gilles straight, and only stopped on the other side of the Boulevard.
Then only did Mlle. Gilberte join him; and she could not withhold an exclamation, when she saw that he was as pale as death, and scarcely able to stand and to walk.
"How imprudent of you to have returned so soon!" she said.
A little blood came to M. de Tregars' cheeks. His face brightened up, and, in a voice quivering with suppressed passion,
"It would have been more imprudent still to stay away," he uttered. "Far from you, I felt myself dying."
They were both leaning against the door of a closed shop; and they were as alone in the midst of the throng that circulated on the Boulevards, busy looking at the fearful wrecks of the Commune.
"And besides," added Marius, "have I, then, a minute to lose? I asked you for three years. Fifteen months have gone, and I am no better off than on the first day. When this accursed war broke out, all my arrangements were made. I was certain to rapidly accumulate a sufficient fortune to enable me to ask for your hand without being refused. Whereas now—"
"Now every thing is changed. The future is so uncertain, that no one wishes to venture their capital. Marcolet himself, who certainly does not lack boldness, and who believes firmly in the success of our enterprise, was telling me yesterday, 'There is nothing to be done just now: we must wait.'"
There was in his voice such an intensity of grief, that the girl felt the tears coming to her eyes.
"We will wait then," she said, attempting to smile.
But M. de Tregars shook his head.
"Is it possible?" he said. "Do you, then, think that I do not know what a life you lead?"
Mlle. Gilberte looked up.
"Have I ever complained?" she asked proudly.
"No. Your mother and yourself, you have always religiously kept the secret of your tortures; and it was only a providential accident that revealed them to me. But I learned every thing at last. I know that she whom I love exclusively and with all the power of my soul is subjected to the most odious despotism, insulted, and condemned to the most humiliating privations. And I, who would give my life for her a thousand times over,—I can do nothing for her. Money raises between us such an insuperable obstacle, that my love is actually an offence. To hear from her, I am driven to accept accomplices. If I obtain from her a few moments of conversation, I run the risk of compromising her maidenly reputation."
Deeply affected by his emotion:
"At least," said Mlle. Gilberte, "you succeeded in delivering me from M. Costeclar."
"Yes, I was fortunately able to find weapons against that scoundrel. But can I find some against all others that may offer? Your father is very rich; and the men are numerous for whom marriage is but a speculation like any other."
"Would you doubt me?"
"Ah, rather would I doubt myself! But I know what cruel trials your refusal to marry M. Costeclar imposed upon you: I know what a merciless struggle you had to sustain. Another pretender may come, and then—No, no, you see that we cannot wait."
"What would you do?"
"I know not. I have not yet decided upon my future course. And yet Heaven knows what have been the labors of my mind during that long month I have just spent upon an ambulance-bed, that month during which you were my only thought. Ah! when I think of it, I cannot find words to curse the recklessness with which I disposed of my fortune."
As if she had heard a blasphemy, the young girl drew back a step.
"It is impossible," she exclaimed, "that you should regret having paid what your father owed."
A bitter smile contracted M. de Tregars' lips.
"And suppose I were to tell you," he replied, "that my father in reality owed nothing?"
"Suppose I told you they took from him his entire fortune, over two millions, as audaciously as a pick-pocket robs a man of his handkerchief? Suppose I told you, that, in his loyal simplicity, he was but a man of straw in the hands of skillful knaves? Have you forgotten what you once heard the Count de Villegre say?"
Mlle. Gilberte had forgotten nothing.
"The Count de Villegre," she replied, "pretended that it was time enough still to compel the men who had robbed your father to disgorge."
"Exactly!" exclaimed Marius. "And now I am determined to make them disgorge."
In the mean time night had quite come. Lights appeared in the shop-windows; and along the line of the Boulevard the gas-lamps were being lit. Alarmed by this sudden illumination, M. de Tregars drew off Mlle. Gilberte to a more obscure spot, by the stairs that lead to the Rue Amelot; and there, leaning against the iron railing, he went on,
"Already, at the time of my father's death, I suspected the abominable tricks of which he was the victim. I thought it unworthy of me to verify my suspicions. I was alone in the world: my wants were few. I was fully convinced that my researches would give me, within a brief time, a much larger fortune than the one I gave up. I found something noble and grand, and which flattered my vanity, in thus abandoning every thing, without discussion, without litigation, and consummating my ruin with a single dash of my pen. Among my friends the Count de Villegre alone had the courage to tell me that this was a guilty piece of folly; that the silence of the dupes is the strength of the knaves; that my indifference, which made the rascals rich, would make them laugh too. I replied that I did not wish to see the name of Tregars dragged into court in a scandalous law-suit, and that to preserve a dignified silence was to honor my father's memory. Treble fool that I was! The only way to honor my father's memory was to avenge him, to wrest his spoils from the scoundrels who had caused his death. I see it clearly to-day. But, before undertaking any thing, I wished to consult you."
Mlle. Gilberte was listening with the most intense attention. She had come to mingle so completely in her thoughts her future life and that of M. de Tregars, that she saw nothing unusual in the fact of his consulting her upon matters affecting their prospects, and of seeing herself standing there deliberating with him.
"You will require proofs," she suggested.
"I have none, unfortunately," replied M. de Tregars; "at least, none sufficiently positive, and such as are required by courts of justice. But I think I may find them. My former suspicions have become a certainty. The same good luck that enabled me to deliver you of M. Costeclar's persecutions, also placed in my hands the most valuable information."
"Then you must act," uttered Mlle. Gilberte resolutely.
Marius hesitated for a moment, as if seeking expression to convey what he had still to say. Then,
"It is my duty," he proceeded, "to conceal nothing from you. The task is a heavy one. The obscure schemers of ten years ago have become big financiers, intrenched behind their money-bags as behind an impregnable fort. Formerly isolated, they have managed to gather around them powerful interests, accomplices high in office, and friends whose commanding situation protects them. Having succeeded, they are absolved. They have in their favor what is called public consideration,—that idiotic thing which is made up of the admiration of the fools, the approbation of the knaves, and the concert of all interested vanities. When they pass, their horses at full trot, their carriage raising a cloud of dust, insolent, impudent, swelled with the vulgar fatuity of wealth, people bow to the ground, and say, 'Those are smart fellows!' And in fact, yes, by skill or luck, they have hitherto avoided the police-courts where so many others have come to grief. Those who despise them fear them, and shake hands with them. Moreover, they are rich enough not to steal any more themselves. They have employes to do that. I take Heaven to witness that never until lately had the idea come to me to disturb in their possession the men who robbed my father. Alone, what need had I of money? Later, O my friend! I thought I could succeed in conquering the fortune I needed to obtain your hand. You had promised to wait; and I was happy to think that I should owe you to my sole exertions. Events have crushed my hopes. I am to-day compelled to acknowledge that all my efforts would be in vain. To wait would be to run the risk of losing you. Therefore I hesitate no longer. I want what's mine: I wish to recover that of which I have been robbed. Whatever I may do,—for, alas! I know not to what I may be driven, what role I may have to play,—remember that of all my acts, of all my thoughts, there will not be a single one that does not aim to bring nearer the blessed day when you shall become my wife."
There was in his voice so much unspeakable affection, that the young girl could hardly restrain her tears.
"Never, whatever may happen, shall I doubt you, Marius," she uttered.
He took her hands, and, pressing them passionately within his,
"And I," he exclaimed, "I swear, that, sustained by the thought of you, there is no disgust that I will not overcome, no obstacle that I will not overthrow."
He spoke so loud, that two or three persons stopped. He noticed it, and was brought suddenly from sentiment to the reality,
"Wretches that we are," he said in a low voice, and very fast, "we forget what this interview may cost us!"
And he led Mlle. Gilberte across the Boulevard; and, whilst making their way to the Rue St. Gilles, through the deserted streets,
"It is a dreadful imprudence we have just committed," resumed M. de Tregars. "But it was indispensable that we should see each other; and we had not the choice of means. Now, and for a long time, we shall be separated. Every thing you wish me to know,—say it to that worthy Gismondo, who repeats faithfully to me every word you utter. Through him, also, you shall hear from me. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, about nightfall, I shall pass by your house; and, if I am lucky enough to have a glimpse of you, I shall return home fired with fresh energy. Should any thing extraordinary happen, beckon to me, and I'll wait for you in the Rue des Minimes. But this is an expedient to which we must only resort in the last extremity. I should never forgive myself, were I to compromise your fair name."
They had reached the Rue St. Gilles. Marius stopped.
"We must part," he began.
But then only Mlle. Gilberte remembered M. de Tregars' letter, which she had in her pocket. Taking it out, and handing it to him,
"Here," she said, "is the package you deposited with me."
"No," he answered, repelling her gently, "keep that letter: it must never be opened now, except by the Marquise de Tregars."
And raising her hand to his lips, and in a deeply agitated voice,
"Farewell!" he murmured. "Have courage, and have hope."
Mlle. Gilberte was soon far away; and Marius de Tregars remained motionless at the corner of the street, following her with his eyes through the darkness.
She was walking fast, staggering over the rough pavement. Leaving Marius, she fell back upon the earth from the height of her dreams. The deceiving illusion had vanished, and, returned to the world of sad reality, she was seized with anxiety.
How long had she been out? She knew not, and found it impossible to reckon. But it was evidently getting late; for some of the shops were already closing.
Meantime, she had reached the house. Stepping back, and looking up, she saw that there was light in the parlor.
"Mother has returned," she thought, trembling with apprehension.
She hurried up, nevertheless; and, just as she reached the landing, Mme. Favoral opened the door, preparing to go down.
"At last you are restored to me!" exclaimed the poor mother, whose sinister apprehensions were revealed by that single exclamation. "I was going out to look for you at random,—in the streets, anywhere."
And, drawing her daughter within the parlor, she clasped her in her arms with convulsive tenderness, exclaiming,
"Where were you? Where do you come from? Do you know that it is after nine o'clock?"
Such had been Mlle. Gilberte's state of mind during the whole of that evening, that she had not even thought of finding a pretext to justify her absence. Now it was too late. Besides, what explanation would have been plausible? Instead, therefore, of answering,
"Why, dear mother," she said with a forced smile, "has it not happened to me twenty times to go out in the neighborhood?"
But Mme. Favoral's confiding credulity existed no longer.
"I have been blind, Gilberte," she interrupted; "but this time my eyes must open to evidence. There is in your life a mystery, something extraordinary, which I dare not try to guess."
Mlle. Gilberte drew herself up, and, looking her mother straight in the eyes, with her beautiful, clear glance,
"Would you suspect me of something wrong, then?" she exclaimed.
Mme. Favoral stopped her with a gesture.
"A young girl who conceals something from her mother always does wrong," she uttered. "It is a long while since I have had for the first time the presentiment that you were hiding something from me. But, when I questioned you, you succeeded in quieting my suspicions. You have abused my confidence and my weakness."
This reproach was the most cruel that could be addressed to Mlle. Gilberte. The blood rushed to her face, and, in a firm voice,
"Well, yes," said she: "I have a secret."
"And, if I did not confide it to you, it is because it is also the secret of another. Yes, I confess it, I have been imprudent in the extreme; I have stepped beyond all the limits of propriety and social custom; I have exposed myself to the worst calumnies. But never,—I swear it,—never have I done any thing of which my conscience can reproach me, nothing that I have to blush for, nothing that I regret, nothing that I am not ready to do again to-morrow."
"I said nothing, 'tis true; but it was my duty. Alone I had to suffer the responsibility of my acts. Having alone freely engaged my future, I wished to bear alone the weight of my anxiety. I should never have forgiven myself for having added this new care to all your other sorrows."
Mme. Favoral stood dismayed. Big tears rolled down her withered cheeks.
"Don't you see, then," she stammered, "that all my past suffering is as nothing compared to what I endure to-day? Good heavens! what have I ever done to deserve so many trials? Am I to be spared none of the troubles of this world? And it is through my own daughter that I am the most cruelly stricken!"
This was more than Mlle. Gilberte could bear. Her heart was breaking at the sight of her mother's tears, that angel of meekness and resignation. Throwing her arms around her neck, and kissing her on the eyes,
"Mother," she murmured, "adored mother, I beg of you do not weep thus! Speak to me! What do you wish me to do?"
Gently the poor woman drew back.
"Tell me the truth," she answered.
Was it not certain that this was the very thing she would ask; in fact, the only thing she could ask? Ah! how much would the young girl have preferred one of her father's violent scenes, and brutalities which would have exalted her energy, instead of crushing it!
Attempting to gain time,
"Well, yes," she answered, "I'll tell you every thing, mother, but not now, to-morrow, later."
She was about to yield, however, when her father's arrival cut short their conversation.
The cashier of the Mutual Credit was quite lively that night. He was humming a tune, a thing which did not happen to him four times a year, and which was indicative of the most extreme satisfaction. But he stopped short at the sight of the disturbed countenance of his wife and daughter.
"What is the matter?" he inquired.
"Nothing," hastily answered Mlle. Gilberte,—"nothing at all, father."
"Then you are crying for your amusement," he said. "Come, be candid for once, and confess that Maxence has been at his tricks again!"
"You are mistaken, father: I swear it!"
He asked no further questions, being in his nature not very curious, whether because family matters were of so little consequence to him, or because he had a vague idea that his general behavior deprived him of all right to their confidence.
"Very well, then," he said in a gruff tone, "let us all go to bed. I have worked so hard to-day, that I am quite exhausted. People who pretend that business is dull make me laugh. Never has M. de Thaller been in the way of making so much money as now."
When he spoke, they obeyed. So that Mlle. Gilberte was thus going to have the whole night before her to resume possession of herself, to pass over in her mind the events of the evening, and deliberate coolly upon the decision she must come to; for, she could not doubt it, Mme. Favoral would, the very next day, renew her questions.
What should she say? All? Mlle. Gilberte felt disposed to do so by all the aspirations of her heart, by the certainty of indulgent complicity, by the thought of finding in a sympathetic soul the echo of her joys, of her troubles, and of her hopes.
Yes. But Mme. Favoral was still the same woman, whose firmest resolutions vanished under the gaze of her husband. Let a pretender come; let a struggle begin, as in the case of M. Costeclar,—would she have strength enough to remain silent? No!
Then it would be a fearful scene with M. Favoral. He might, perhaps, even go to M. de Tregars. What scandal! For he was a man who spared no one; and then a new obstacle would rise between them, more insurmountable still than the others.
Mlle. Gilberte was thinking, too, of Marius's projects; of that terrible game he was about to play, the issue of which was to decide their fate. He had said enough to make her understand all its perils, and that a single indiscretion might suffice to set at nought the result of many months' labor and patience. Besides, to speak, was it not to abuse Marius's confidence. How could she expect another to keep a secret she had been unable to keep herself?
At last, after protracted and painful hesitation, she decided that she was bound to silence, and that she would only vouchsafe the vaguest explanations.
It was in vain, then, that, on the next and the following days, Mme. Favoral tried to obtain that confession which she had seen, as it were, rise to her daughter's lips. To her passionate adjurations, to her tears, to her ruses even, Mlle. Gilberte invariably opposed equivocal answers, a story through which nothing could be guessed, save one of those childish romances which stop at the preface,—a schoolgirl love for a chimerical hero.
There was nothing in this very reassuring to a mother; but Mme. Favoral knew her daughter too well to hope to conquer her invincible obstinacy. She insisted no more, appeared convinced, but resolved to exercise the utmost vigilance. In vain, however, did she display all the penetration of which she was capable. The severest attention did not reveal to her a single suspicious fact, not a circumstance from which she could draw an induction, until, at last, she thought that she must have been mistaken.
The fact is, that Mlle. Gilberte had not been long in feeling herself watched; and she observed herself with a tenacious circumspection that could hardly have been expected of her resolute and impatient nature. She had trained herself to a sort of cheerful carelessness, to which she strictly adhered, watching every expression of her countenance, and avoiding carefully those hours of vague revery in which she formerly indulged.
For two successive weeks, fearing to be betrayed by her looks, she had the courage not to show herself at the window at the hour when she knew Marius would pass. Moreover, she was very minutely informed of the alternatives of the campaign undertaken by M. de Tregars.
More enthusiastic than ever about his pupil, the Signor Gismondo Pulei never tired of singing his praise, and with such pomp of expression, and so curious an exuberance of gesticulation, that Mme. Favoral was much amused; and, on the days when she was present at her daughter's lesson, she was the first to inquire,
"Well, how is that famous pupil?"
And, according to what Marius had told him,
"He is swimming in the purest satisfaction," answered the candid maestro. "Every thing succeeds miraculously well, and much beyond his hopes."
Or else, knitting his brows—
"He was sad yesterday," he said, "owing to an unexpected disappointment; but he does not lose courage. We shall succeed."
The young girl could not help smiling to see her mother assisting thus the unconscious complicity of the Signor Gismondo. Then she reproached herself for having smiled, and for having thus come, through a gradual and fatal descent, to laugh at a duplicity at which she would have blushed in former times. In spite of herself, however, she took a passionate interest in the game that was being played between her mother and herself, and of which her secret was the stake. It was an ever-palpitating interest in her hitherto monotonous life, and a source of constantly-renewed emotions.
The days became weeks, and the weeks months; and Mme. Favoral relaxed her useless surveillance, and, little by little, gave it up almost entirely. She still thought, that, at a certain moment, something unusual had occurred to her daughter; but she felt persuaded, that, whatever that was, it had been forgotten.
So that, on the stated days, Mlle. Gilberte could go and lean upon the window, without fear of being called to account for the emotion which she felt when M. de Tregars appeared. At the expected hour, invariably, and with a punctuality to shame M. Favoral himself, he turned the corner of the Rue Turenne, exchanged a rapid glance with the young girl, and passed on.
His health was completely restored; and with it he had recovered that graceful virility which results from the perfect blending of suppleness and strength. But he no longer wore the plain garments of former days. He was dressed now with that elegant simplicity which reveals at first sight that rarest of objects,—a "perfect gentleman." And, whilst she accompanied him with her eyes as he walked towards the Boulevard, she felt thoughts of joy and pride rising from the bottom of her soul.
"Who would ever imagine," thought she, "that this young gentleman walking away yonder is my affianced husband, and that the day is perhaps not far, when, having become his wife, I shall lean upon his arm? Who would think that all my thoughts belong to him, that it is for my sake that he has given up the ambition of his life, and is now prosecuting another object? Who would suspect that it is for Gilberte Favoral's sake that the Marquis de Tregars is walking in the Rue St. Gilles?"
And, indeed, Marius did deserve some credit for these walks; for winter had come, spreading a thick coat of mud over the pavement of all those little streets which are always forgotten by the street-cleaners.
The cashier's home had resumed its habits of before the war, its drowsy monotony scarcely disturbed by the Saturday dinner, by M. Desclavettes' naivetes or old Desormeaux's puns.
Maxence, in the mean time, had ceased to live with his parents. He had returned to Paris immediately after the Commune; and, feeling no longer in the humor to submit to the paternal despotism, he had taken a small apartment on the Boulevard du Temple; but, at the pressing instance of his mother, he had consented to come every night to dine at the Rue St. Gilles.
Faithful to his oath, he was working hard, though without getting on very fast. The moment was far from propitious; and the occasion, which he had so often allowed to escape, did not offer itself again. For lack of any thing better, he had kept his clerkship at the railway; and, as two hundred francs a month were not quite sufficient for his wants, he spent a portion of his nights copying documents for M. Chapelain's successor.
"What do you need so much money for?" his mother said to him when she noticed his eyes a little red.
"Every thing is so dear!" he answered with a smile, which was equivalent to a confidence, and yet which Mme. Favoral did not understand.
He had, nevertheless, managed to pay all his debts, little by little. The day when, at last, he held in his hand the last receipted bill, he showed it proudly to his father, begging him to find him a place at the Mutual Credit, where, with infinitely less trouble, he could earn so much more.
M. Favoral commenced to giggle.
"Do you take me for a fool, like your mother?" he exclaimed. "And do you think I don't know what life you lead?"
"My life is that of a poor devil who works as hard as he can."
"Indeed! How is it, then, that women are constantly seen at your house, whose dresses and manners are a scandal in the neighborhood?"
"You have been deceived, father."
"I have seen."
"It is impossible. Let me explain."
"No, you would have your trouble for nothing. You are, and you will ever remain, the same; and it would be folly on my part to introduce into an office where I enjoy the esteem of all, a fellow, who, some day or other, will be fatally dragged into the mud by some lost creature."
Such discussions were not calculated to make the relations between father and son more cordial. Several times M. Favoral had insinuated, that, since Maxence lodged away from home, he might as well dine away too. And he would evidently have notified him to do so, had he not been prevented by a remnant of human respect, and the fear of gossip.
On the other hand, the bitter regret of having, perhaps, spoiled his life, the uncertainty of the future, the penury of the moment, all the unsatisfied desires of youth, kept Maxence in a state of perpetual irritation.
The excellent Mme. Favoral exhausted all her arguments to quiet him.
"Your father is harsh for us," she said; "but is he less harsh for himself? He forgives nothing; but he has never needed to be forgiven himself. He does not understand youth, but he has never been young himself; and at twenty he was as grave and as cold as you see him now. How could he know what pleasure is?—he to whom the idea has never come to take an hour's enjoyment."
"Have I, then, been guilty of any crimes, to be thus treated by my father?" exclaimed Maxence, flushed with anger. "Our existence here is an unheard-of thing. You, poor, dear mother!—you have never had the free disposition of a five-franc-piece. Gilberte spends her days turning her dresses, after having had them dyed. I am driven to a petty clerkship. And my father has fifty thousand francs a year!"