Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau - HTML preview
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In the Rue St. Gilles the hours were dragging, slow and gloomy. After Maxence had left to go and meet M. de Tregars, Mme. Favoral and her daughter had remained alone with M. Chapelain, and had been compelled to bear the brunt of his wrath, and to hear his interminable complaints.
He was certainly an excellent man, that old lawyer, and too just to hold Mlle. Gilberte or her mother responsible for Vincent Favoral's acts. He spoke the truth when he assured them that he had for them a sincere affection, and that they might rely upon his devotion. But he was losing a hundred and sixty thousand francs; and a man who loses such a large sum is naturally in bad humor, and not much disposed to optimism.
The cruellest enemies of the poor women would not have tortured them so mercilessly as this devoted friend.
He spared them not one sad detail of that meeting at the Mutual Credit office, from which he had just come. He exaggerated the proud assurance of the manager, and the confiding simplicity of the stockholders. "That Baron de Thaller," he said to them, "is certainly the most impudent scoundrel and the cleverest rascal I have ever seen. You'll see that he'll get out of it with clean hands and full pockets. Whether or not he has accomplices, Vincent will be the scapegoat. We must make up our mind to that."
His positive intention was to console Mme. Favoral and Gilberte. Had he sworn to drive them to distraction, he could not have succeeded better.
"Poor woman!" he said, "what is to become of you? Maxence is a good and honest fellow, I am sure, but so weak, so thoughtless, so fond of pleasure! He finds it difficult enough to get along by himself. Of what assistance will he be to you?"
Then came advice.
Mme. Favoral, he declared, should not hesitate to ask for a separation, which the tribunal would certainly grant. For want of this precaution, she would remain all her life under the burden of her husband's debts, and constantly exposed to the annoyances of the creditors.
And always he wound up by saying, "Who could ever have expected such a thing from Vincent,--a friend of twenty years' standing! A hundred and sixty thousand francs! Who in the world can be trusted hereafter?"
Big tears were rolling slowly down Mme. Favoral's withered cheeks. But Mlle. Gilberte was of those for whom the pity of others is the worst misfortune and the most acute suffering.
Twenty times she was on the point of exclaiming, "Keep your compassion, sir: we are neither so much to be pitied nor so much forsaken as you think. Our misfortune has revealed to us a true friend,--one who does not speak, but acts."
At last, as twelve o'clock struck, M. Chapelain withdrew, announcing that he would return the next day to get the news, and to bring further consolation.
"Thank Heaven, we are alone at last!" said Mlle. Gilberte. But they had not much peace, for all that.
Great as had been the noise of Vincent Favoral's disaster, it had not reached at once all those who had intrusted their savings to him. All day long, the belated creditors kept coming in; and the scenes of the morning were renewed on a smaller scale. Then legal summonses began to pour in, three or four at a time. Mme. Favoral was losing all courage.
"What disgrace!" she groaned. "Will it always be so hereafter?"
And she exhausted herself in useless conjectures upon the causes of the catastrophe; and such was the disorder of her mind, that she knew not what to hope and what to fear, and that from one minute to another she wished for the most contradictory things.
She would have been glad to hear that her husband was safe out of the country, and yet she would have deemed herself less miserable, had she known that he was hid somewhere in Paris.
And obstinately the same questions returned to her lips, "Where is he now? What is he doing? What is he thinking about? How can he leave us without news? Is it possible that it is a woman who has driven him into the precipice? And, if so, who is that woman?"
Very different were Mlle. Gilberte's thoughts.
The great calamity that befell her family had brought about the sudden realization of her hopes. Her father's disaster had given her an opportunity to test the man she loved; and she had found him even superior to all that she could have dared to dream. The name of Favoral was forever disgraced; but she was going to be the wife of Marius, Marquise de Tregars.
And, in the candor of her loyal soul, she accused herself of not taking enough interest in her mother's grief, and reproached herself for the quivers of joy which she felt within her.
"Where is Maxence?" asked Mme. Favoral.
"Where is M. de Tregars? Why have they told us nothing of their projects?"
"They will, no doubt, come home to dinner," replied Mlle. Gilberte.
So well was she convinced of this, that she had given orders to the servant to have a somewhat better dinner than usual; and her heart was beating at the thought of being seated near Marius, between her mother and her brother.
At about six o'clock, the bell rang violently.
"There he is!" said the young girl, rising to her feet.
But no: it was only the porter, bringing up a summons ordering Mme. Favoral, under penalty of the law, to appear the next day, at one o'clock precisely, before the examining judge, Barban d'Avranchel, at his office in the Palace of Justice. The poor woman came near fainting.
"What can this judge want with me? It ought to be forbidden to call a wife to testify against her husband," she said.
"M. de Tregars will tell you what to answer, mamma," said Mlle. Gilberte. Meantime, seven o'clock came, then eight, and still neither Maxence nor M. de Tregars had come.
Both mother and daughter were becoming anxious, when at last, a little before nine, they heard steps in the hall.
Marius de Tregars appeared almost immediately.
He was pale; and his face bore the trace of the crushing fatigues of the day, of the cares which oppressed him, of the reflections which had been suggested to his mind by the quarrel of which he had nearly been the victim a few moments since.
"Maxence is not here?" he asked at once.
"We have not seen him," answered Mlle. Gilberte.
He seemed so much surprised, that Mme. Favoral was frightened.
"What is the matter again, good God!" she exclaimed.
"Nothing, madame," said M. de Tregars,--"nothing that should alarm you. Compelled, about two hours ago, to part from Maxence, I was to have met him here. Since he has not come, he must have been detained. I know where; and I will ask your permission to run and join him."
He went out; but Mlle. Gilberte followed him in the hall, and, taking his hand, "How kind of you!" she began, "and how can we ever sufficiently thank you?" He interrupted her.
"You owe me no thanks, my beloved; for, in what I am doing, there is more selfishness than you think. It is my own cause, more than yours, that I am defending. Any way, every thing is going on well."
And, without giving any more explanations, he started again. He had no doubt that Maxence, after leaving him, had run to the Hotel des Folies to give to Mlle. Lucienne an account of the day's work. And, though somewhat annoyed that he had tarried so long, on second thought, he was not surprised.
It was, therefore, to the Hotel des Folies that he was going. Now that he had unmasked his batteries and begun the struggle, he was not sorry to meet Mlle. Lucienne.
In less than five minutes he had reached the Boulevard du Temple. In front of the Fortins' narrow corridor a dozen idlers were standing, talking. M. de Tregars was listening as he went along.
"It is a frightful accident," said one,--"such a pretty girl, and so young too!"
"As to me," said another, "it is the driver that I pity the most; for after all, if that pretty miss was in that carriage, it was for her own pleasure; whereas, the poor coachman was only attending to his business."
A confused presentiment oppressed M. de Tregars' heart. Addressing himself to one of those worthy citizens, "Have you heard any particulars?" Flattered by the confidence, "Certainly I have," he replied. "I didn't see the thing with my own proper eyes; but my wife did. It was terrible. The carriage, a magnificent private carriage too, came from the direction of the Madeleine. The horses had run away; and already there had been an accident in the Place du Chateau d'Eau, where an old woman had been knocked down. Suddenly, here, over there, opposite the toy-shop, which is mine, by the way, the wheel of the carriage catches into the wheel of an enormous truck; and at once, palata! the coachman is thrown down, and so is the lady, who was inside,--a very pretty girl, who lives in this hotel."
Leaving there the obliging narrator, M. de Tregars rushed through the narrow corridor of the Hotel des Folies. At the moment when he reached the yard, he found himself in presence of Maxence.
Pale, his head bare, his eyes wild, shaking with a nervous chill, the poor fellow looked like a madman. Noticing M. de Tregars,
"Ah, my friend!" he exclaimed, "what misfortune!"
"Dead, perhaps. The doctor will not answer for her recovery. I am going to the druggist's to get a prescription."
He was interrupted by the commissary of police, whose kind protection had hitherto preserved Mlle. Lucienne. He was coming out of the little room on the ground-floor, which the Fortins used for an office, bedroom, and dining-room.
He had recognized Marius de Tregars, and, coming up to him, he pressed his hand, saying, "Well, you know?"
"It is my fault, M. le Marquis; for we were fully notified. I knew so well that Mlle. Lucienne's existence was threatened, I was so fully expecting a new attempt upon her life, that, whenever she went out riding, it was one of my men, wearing a footman's livery, who took his seat by the side of the coachman. To-day my man was so busy, that I said to myself, 'Bash, for once!' And behold the consequences!"
It was with inexpressible astonishment that Maxence was listening. It was with a profound stupor that he discovered between Marius and the commissary that serious intimacy which is the result of long intercourse, real esteem, and common hopes.
"It is not an accident, then," remarked M. de Tregars. "The coachman has spoken, doubtless?"
"No: the wretch was killed on the spot." And, without waiting for another question, "But don't let us stay here," said the commissary.
"Whilst Maxence runs to the drug-store, let us go into the Fortins' office."
The husband was alone there, the wife being at that moment with Mlle. Lucienne.
"Do me the favor to go and take a walk for about fifteen minutes," said the commissary to him. "We have to talk, this gentleman and myself."
Humbly, without a word, and like a man who does himself justice, M. Fortin slipped off.
And at once,--"It is clear, M. le Marquis, it is manifest, that a crime has been committed. Listen, and judge for yourself. I was just rising from dinner, when I was notified of what was called our poor Lucienne's accident. Without even changing my clothes, I ran. The carriage was lying in the street, broken to pieces. Two policemen were holding the horses, which had been stopped. I inquire. I learn that Lucienne, picked up by Maxence, has been able to drag herself as far as the Hotel des Folies, and that the driver has been taken to the nearest drug- store. Furious at my own negligence, and tormented by vague suspicions, it is to the druggist's that I go first, and in all haste. The driver was in a backroom, stretched on a mattress.
"His head having struck the angle of the curbstone, his skull was broken; and he had just breathed his last. It was, apparently, the annihilation of the hope which I had, of enlightening myself by questioning this man. Nevertheless, I give orders to have him searched. No paper is discovered upon him to establish his identity; but, in one of the pockets of his pantaloons, do you know what they find? Two bank-notes of a thousand francs each, carefully wrapped up in a fragment of newspaper."
M. de Tregars had shuddered. "What a revelation!" he murmured.
It was not to the present circumstance that he applied that word. But the commissary naturally mistook him.
"Yes," he went on, "it was a revelation. To me these two thousand francs were worth a confession: they could only be the wages of a crime. So, without losing a moment, I jump into a cab, and drive to Brion's. Everybody was upside down, because the horses had just been brought back. I question; and, from the very first words, the correctness of my presumption is demonstrated to me. The wretch who had just died was not one of Brion's coachmen. This is what had happened. At two o'clock, when the carriage ordered by M. Van Klopen was ready to go for Mlle. Lucienne, they had been compelled to send for the driver and the footman, who had forgotten themselves drinking in a neighboring wine- shop, with a man who had called to see them in the morning. They were slightly under the influence of wine, but not enough so to make it imprudent to trust them with horses; and it was even probable that the fresh air would sober them completely. They had then started; but, they had not gone very far, for one of their comrades had seen them stop the carriage in front of a wine-shop, and join there the same individual with whom they had been drinking all the morning."
"And who was no other than the man who was killed?"
"Wait. Having obtained this information, I get some one to take me to the wine- shop; and I ask for the coachman and the footman from Brion's. They were there still; and they are shown to me in a private room, lying on the floor, fast asleep. I try to wake them up, but in vain. I order to water them freely; but a pitcher of water thrown on their faces has no effect, save to make them utter an inarticulate groan. I guess at once what they have taken. I send for a physician, and I call on the wine-merchant for explanations. It is his wife and his barkeeper who answer me. They tell me, that, at about two o'clock, a man came in the shop, who stated that he was employed at Brion's, and who ordered three glasses for himself and two comrades, whom he was expecting.
"A few moments later, a carriage stops at the door; and the driver and the footman leave it to come in. They were in a great hurry, they said, and only wished to take one glass. They do take three, one after another; then they order a bottle. They were evidently forgetting their horses, which they had given to hold to a commissionaire. Soon the man proposes a game. The others accept; and here they are, settled in the back-room, knocking on the table for sealed wine.
The game must have lasted at least twenty minutes. At the end of that time, the man who had come in first appeared, looking very much annoyed, saying that it was very unpleasant, that his comrades were dead drunk, that they will miss their work, and that the boss, who is anxious to please his customers, will certainly dismiss them. Although he had taken as much, and more than the rest, he was perfectly steady; and, after reflecting for a moment,--'I have an idea,' he says.
'Friends should help each other, shouldn't they? I am going to take the coachman's livery, and drive in his stead. I happen to know the customer they were going after. She is a very kind old lady, and I'll tell her a story to explain the absence of the footman.'
"Convinced that the man is in Brion's employment, they have no objection to offer to this fine project.
"The brigand puts on the livery of the sleeping coachman, gets up on the box, and starts off, after stating that he will return for his comrades as soon as he has got through the job, and that doubtless they will be sober by that time."
M. de Tregars knew well enough the savoir-faire of the commissary not to be surprised at his promptness in obtaining precise information.
Already he was going on, "Just as I was closing my examination, the doctor arrived. I show him my drunkards; and at once he recognizes that I have guessed correctly, and that these men have been put asleep by means of one of those narcotics of which certain thieves make use to rob their victims. A potion, which he administers to them by forcing their teeth open with a knife, draws them from this lethargy. They open their eyes, and soon are in condition to reply to my questions. They are furious at the trick that has been played upon them; but they do not know the man. They saw him, they swear to me, for the first time that very morning; and they are ignorant even of his name."
There was no doubt possible after such complete explanations. The commissary had seen correctly, and he proved it.
It was not of a vulgar accident that Mlle. Lucienne had just been the victim, but of a crime laboriously conceived, and executed with unheard-of audacity,--of one of those crimes such as too many are committed, whose combinations, nine times out of ten, set aside even a suspicion, and foil all the efforts of human justice.
M. de Tregars knew now what had taken place, as clearly as if he had himself received the confession of the guilty parties.
A man had been found to execute that perilous programme,--to make the horses run away, and then to run into some heavy wagon. The wretch was staking his life on that game; it being evident that the light carriage must be smashed in a thousand pieces. But he must have relied upon his skill and his presence of mind, to avoid the shock, to jump off safe and sound; whilst Mlle. Lucienne, thrown upon the pavement, would probably be killed on the spot. The event had deceived his expectations, and he had been the victim of his rascality; but his death was a misfortune.
"Because now," resumed the commissary, "the thread is broken in our hands which would infallibly have led us to the truth. Who is it that ordered the crime, and paid for it? We know it, since we know who benefits by the crime. But that is not sufficient. Justice requires something more than moral proofs. Living, this bandit would have spoken. His death insures the impunity of the wretches of whom he was but the instrument."
"Perhaps," said M. Tregars.
And at the same time he took out of his pocket, and showed the note found in Vincent Favoral's pocket-book,--that note, so obscure the day before, now so terribly clear.
"I cannot understand your negligence. You should get through with that Van Klopen affair: there is the danger."
The commissary of police cast but a glance upon it, and, replying to the objections of his old experience rather more than addressing himself to M. de Tregars,
"There can be no doubt about it," he murmured. "It is to the crime committed to- day that these pressing recommendations relate; and, directed as they are to Vincent Favoral, they attest his complicity. It was he who had charge of finishing the Van Klopen affair; in other words, to get rid of Lucienne. It was he, I'd wager my head, who had treated with the false coachman."
He remained for over a minute absorbed in his own thoughts, then, "But who is the author of these recommendations to Vincent Favoral? Do you know that, M. le Marquis?" he said.
They looked at each other; and the same name rose to their lips, "The Baroness de Thaller!"
This name, however, they did not utter.
The commissary had placed himself under the gas burner which gave light to the Fortin's office; and, adjusting his glasses, he was scrutinizing the note with the most minute attention, studying the grain and the transparency of the paper, the ink, and the handwriting. And at last, "This note," he declared, "cannot constitute a proof against its author: I mean an evident, material proof, such as we require to obtain from a judge an order of arrest."
And, as Marius was protesting, "This note," he insisted, "is written with the left hand, with common ink, on ordinary foolscap paper, such as is found everywhere. Now all left-hand writings look alike. Draw your own conclusions."
But M. de Tregars did not give it up yet. "Wait a moment," he interrupted.
And briefly, though with the utmost exactness, he began telling his visit to the Thaller mansion, his conversation with Mlle. Cesarine, then with the baroness, and finally with the baron himself.
He described in the most graphic manner the scene which had taken place in the grand parlor between Mme. de Thaller and a worse than suspicious-looking man,--that scene, the secret of which had been revealed to him in its minutest details by the looking-glass. Its meaning was now as clear as day.
This suspicious-looking man had been one of the agents in arranging the intended murder: hence the agitation of the baroness when she had received his card, and her haste to join him. If she had started when he first spoke to her, it was because he was telling her of the successful execution of the crime. If she had afterwards made a gesture of joy, it was because he had just informed her that the coachman had been killed at the same time, and that she found herself thus rid of a dangerous accomplice.
The commissary of police shook his head.
"All this is quite probable," he murmured; "but that's all." Again M. de Tregars stopped him.
"I have not done yet," he said.
And he went on saying how he had been suddenly and brutally assaulted by an unknown man in a restaurant; how he had collared this abject scoundrel, and taken out of his pocket a crushing letter, which left no doubt as to the nature of his mission.
The commissary's eyes were sparkling, "That letter!" he exclaimed, "that letter!" And, as soon as he had looked over it, "Ah! This time," he resumed, "I think that we have something tangible. 'A troublesome gentleman to keep quiet,'--the Marquis de Tregars, of course, who is on the right track. 'It will be for you the matter of a sword-thrust.' Naturally, dead men tell no tales. 'It will be for us the occasion of dividing a round amount.' An honest trade, indeed!"
The good man was rubbing his hand with all his might.
"At last we have a positive fact," he went on,--"a foundation upon which to base our accusations. Don't be uneasy. That letter is going to place into our hands the scoundrel who assaulted you,--who will make known the go-between, who himself will not fail to surrender the Baroness de Thaller. Lucienne shall be avenged. If we could only now lay our hands on Vincent Favoral! But we'll find him yet. I set two fellows after him this afternoon, who have a superior scent, and understand their business."
He was here interrupted by Maxence, who was returning all out of breath, holding in his hand the medicines which he had gone after.
"I thought that druggist would never get through," he said.
And regretting to have remained away so long, feeling uneasy, and anxious to return up stairs, "Don't you wish to see Lucienne?" he added, addressing himself to M. de Tregars rather more than to the commissary. For all answer, they followed him at once.
A cheerless-looking place was Mlle. Lucienne's room, without any furniture but a narrow iron bedstead, a dilapidated bureau, four straw-bottomed chairs, and a small table. Over the bed, and at the windows, were white muslin curtains, with an edging that had once been blue, but had become yellow from repeated washings.
Often Maxence had begged his friend to take a more comfortable lodging, and always she had refused.
"We must economize," she would say. "This room does well enough for me; and, besides, I am accustomed to it."
When M. de Tregars and the commissary walked in, the estimable hostess of the Hotel des Folies was kneeling in front of the fire, preparing some medicine. Hearing the footsteps, she got up, and, with a finger upon her lips, "Hush!" she said. "Take care not to wake her up!" The precaution was useless. "I am not asleep," said Mlle. Lucienne in a feeble voice. "Who is there?"
"I," replied Maxence, advancing towards the bed.
It was only necessary to see the poor girl in order to understand Maxence's frightful anxiety. She was whiter than the sheet; and fever, that horrible fever which follows severe wounds, gave to her eyes a sinister lustre.
"But you are not alone," she said again.
"I am with him, my child," replied the commissary. "I come to beg your pardon for having so badly protected you."
She shook her head with a sad and gentle motion.
"It was myself who lacked prudence," she said; "for to-day, while out, I thought I noticed something wrong; but it looked so foolish to be afraid! If it had not happened to-day, it would have happened some other day. The villains who have been pursuing me for years must be satisfied now. They will soon be rid of me."
"Lucienne," said Maxence in a sorrowful tone. M. de Tregars now stepped forward.
"You shall live, mademoiselle," he uttered in a grave voice. "You shall live to learn to love life."
And, as she was looking at him in surprise, "You do not know me," he added. Timidly, and as if doubting the reality, "You," she said, "the Marquis de Tregars!"
"Yes, mademoiselle, your brother."
Had he had the control of events, Marius de Tregars would probably not have been in such haste to reveal this fact.
But how could he control himself in presence of that bed where a poor girl was, perhaps, about to die, sacrificed to the terrors and to the cravings of the miserable woman who was her mother,--to die at twenty, victim of the basest and most odious of crimes? How could he help feeling an intense pity at the sight of this unfortunate young woman who had endured every thing that a human being can suffer, whose life had been but a long and painful struggle, whose courage had risen above all the woes of adversity, and who had been able to pass without a stain through the mud and mire of Paris.
Besides, Marius was not one of those men who mistrust their first impulse, who manifest their emotion only for a purpose, who reflect and calculate before giving themselves up to the inspirations of their heart.
Lucienne was the daughter of the Marquis de Tregars: of that he was absolutely certain. He knew that the same blood flowed in his veins and in hers; and he told her so.
He told her so, above all, because he believed her in danger; and he wished, were she to die, that she should have, at least, that supreme joy. Poor Lucienne! Never had she dared to dream of such happiness. All her blood rushed to her cheeks; and, in a voice vibrating with the most intense emotion, "Ah, now, yes," she uttered, "I would like to live." The commissary of police, also, felt moved.
"Do not be alarmed, my child," he said in his kindest tone. "Before two weeks you will be up. M. de Tregars is a great physician."
In the mean time, she had attempted to raise herself on her pillow; and that simple effort had wrung from her a cry of anguish.
"Dear me! How I do suffer!"
"That's because you won't keep quiet, my darling," said Mme. Fortin in a tone of gentle scolding. "Have you forgotten that the doctor has expressly forbidden you to stir?"
Then taking aside the commissary, Maxence, and M. de Tregars, she explained to them how imprudent it was to disturb Mlle. Lucienne's rest. She was very ill, affirmed the worthy hostess; and her advice was, that they should send for a sick-nurse as soon as possible.
She would have been extremely happy, of course, to spend the night by the side of her dear lodger; but, unfortunately, she could not think of it, the hotel requiring all her time and attention. Fortunately, however, she knew in the neighborhood a widow, a very honest woman, and without her equal in taking care of the sick.
With an anxious and beseeching look, Maxence was consulting M. de Tregars. In his eyes could be read the proposition that was burning upon his lips, "Shall I not go for Gilberte?"
But that proposition he had no time to express. Though they had been speaking very low, Mlle. Lucienne had heard.
"I have a friend," she said, "who would certainly be willing to sit up with me." They all went up to her.
"What friend," inquired the commissary of police.
"You know her very well, sir. It is that poor girl who had taken me home with her at Batignolles when I left the hospital, who came to my assistance during the Commune, and whom you helped to get out of the Versailles prisons."
"Do you know what has become of her?"
"Only since yesterday, when I received a letter from her, a very friendly letter. She writes that she has found money to set up a dressmaking establishment, and that she is relying upon me to be her forewoman. She is going to open in the Rue St. Lazare; but, in the mean time, she is stopping in the Rue du Cirque."
M. de Tregars and Maxence had started slightly. "What is your friend's name?" they inquired at once.
Not being aware of the particulars of the two young men's visit to the Rue du Cirque, the commissary of police could not understand the cause of their agitation.
"I think," he said, "that it would hardly be proper now to send for that girl."
"It is to her alone, on the contrary, that we must resort," interrupted M. de Tregars.
And, as he had good reasons to mistrust Mme. Fortin, he took the commissary outside the room, on the landing; and there, in a few words, he explained to him that this Zelie was precisely the same woman whom they had found in the Rue du Cirque, in that sumptuous mansion where Vincent Favoral, under the simple name of Vincent, had been living, according to the neighbors, in such a princely style.
The commissary of police was astounded. Why had he not known all this sooner? Better late than never, however.
"Ah! you are right, M. le Marquis, a hundred times right!" he declared. "This girl must evidently know Vincent Favoral's secret, the key of the enigma that we are vainly trying to solve. What she would not tell to you, a stranger, she will tell to Lucienne, her friend."
Maxence offered to go himself for Zelie Cadelle.
"No," answered Marius. "If she should happen to know you, she would mistrust you, and would refuse to come."
It was, therefore, M. Fortin who was despatched to the Rue du Cirque, and who went off muttering, though he had received five francs to take a carriage, and five francs for his trouble.
"And now," said the commissary of police to Maxence, "we must both of us get out of the way. I, because the fact of my being a commissary would frighten Mme. Cadelle; you because, being Vincent Favoral's son, your presence would certainly prove embarrassing to her."
And so they went out; but M. de Tregars did not remain long alone with Mlle. Lucienne. M. Fortin had had the delicacy not to tarry on the way.
Eleven o'clock struck as Zelie Cadelle rushed like a whirlwind into her friend's room.
Such had been his haste, that she had given no thought whatever to her dress. She had stuck upon her uncombed hair the first bonnet she had laid her hand upon, and thrown an old shawl over the wrapper in which she had received Marius in the afternoon.
"What, my poor Lucienne!" she exclaimed. "Are you so sick as all that?"
But she stopped short as she recognized M. de Tregars; and, in a suspicious tone, "What a singular meeting!" she said. Marius bowed.
"You know Lucienne?"
What she meant by that he understood perfectly. "Lucienne is my sister, madame," he said coldly.
She shrugged her shoulders. "What humbug!"
"It's the truth," affirmed Mlle. Lucienne; "and you know that I never lie." Mme. Zelie was dumbfounded.
"If you say so," she muttered. "But no matter: that's queer."
M. de Tregars interrupted her with a gesture, "And, what's more, it is because Lucienne is my sister that you see her there lying upon that bed. They attempted to murder her to-day!"
"It was her mother who tried to get rid of her, so as to possess herself of the fortune which my father had left her; and there is every reason to believe that the snare was contrived by Vincent Favoral."
Mme. Zelie did not understand very well; but, when Marius and Mlle. Lucienne had informed her of all that it was useful for her to know, "Why," she exclaimed, "what a horrid rascal that old Vincent must be!" And, as M. de Tregars remained dumb, "This afternoon," she went on, "I didn't tell you any stories; but I didn't tell you every thing, either." She stopped; and, after a moment of deliberation, "Well, I don't care for old Vincent," she said. "Ah! he tried to have Lucienne killed, did he? Well, then, I am going to tell every thing I know. First of all, he wasn't any thing to me. It isn't very flattering; but it is so. He has never kissed so much as the end of my finger. He used to say that he loved me, but that he respected me still more, because I looked so much like a daughter he had lost. Old humbug! And I believed him too! I did, upon my word, at least in the beginning. But I am not such a fool as I look. I found out very soon that he was making fun of me; and that he was only using me as a blind to keep suspicion away from another woman."
"From what woman?"
"Ah! now, I do not know! All I know is that she is married, that he is crazy about her, and that they are to run away together."
"Hasn't he gone, then?"
Mme. Cadelle's face had become somewhat anxious, and for over a minute she seemed to hesitate.
"Do you know," she said at last, "that my answer is going to cost me a lot? They have promised me a pile of money; but I haven't got it yet. And, if I say any thing, good-by! I sha'n't have any thing."
M. de Tregars was opening his lips to tell her that she might rest easy on that score; but she cut him short.
"Well, no," she said: "Old Vincent hasn't gone. He got up a comedy, so he told me, to throw the lady's husband off the track. He sent off a whole lot of baggage by the railroad; but he staid in Paris."
"And do you know where he is hid?"
"In the Rue St. Lazare, of course: in the apartment that I hired two weeks ago."
In a voice trembling with the excitement of almost certain success, "Would you consent to take me there?" asked M. de Tregars.
"Whenever you like,--to-morrow."