So much philosophy could hardly have been expected of him.
“All my father’s friends are not as indulgent as you are,” said Maxence,—“M. Desclavettes, for instance.”
“Have you seen him?”
“Yes, last night, about twelve o’clock. He came to ask us to get father to pay him back, if we should ever see him again.”
“That might be an idea!”
Mlle. Gilberte started.
“What!” said she, “you, too, sir, can imagine that my father has run away with millions?”
The old lawyer shook his head.
“I believe nothing,” he answered. “Favoral has taken me in so completely,—me, who had the pretension of being a judge of men, —that nothing from him, either for good or for evil, could surprise me hereafter.”
Mme. Favoral was about to offer some objection; but he stopped her with a gesture.
“And yet,” he went on, “I’d bet that he has gone off with empty pockets. His recent operations reveal a frightful distress. Had he had a few thousand francs at his command, would he have extorted five hundred francs from a poor old woman, a newspaper-vender? What did he want with the money? Try his luck once more, no doubt.”
He was seated, his elbow upon the arm of the chair, his head resting upon his hands, thinking; and the contraction of his features indicated an extraordinary tension of mind.
Suddenly he drew himself up.
“But why,” he exclaimed, “why wander in idle conjectures? What do we know about Favoral? Nothing. One entire side of his existence escapes us,—that fantastic side, of which the insane prodigalities and inconceivable disorders have been revealed to us by the bills found in his desk. He is certainly guilty; but is he as guilty as we think? and, above all, is he alone guilty? Was it for himself alone that he drew all this money? Are the missing millions really lost? and wouldn’t it be possible to find the biggest share of them in the pockets of some accomplice? Skilful men do not expose themselves. They have at their command poor wretches, sacrificed in advance, and who, in exchange for a few crumbs that are thrown to them, risk the criminal court, are condemned, and go to prison.”
“That’s just what I was telling my mother and sister, sir,” interrupted Maxence.
“And that’s what I am telling myself,” continued the old lawyer. “I have been thinking over and over again of last evening’s scene; and strange doubts have occurred to my mind. For a man who has been robbed of a dozen millions, M. de Thaller was remarkably quiet and self-possessed. Favoral appeared to me singularly calm for a man charged with embezzlement and forgery. M. de Thaller, as manager of the Mutual Credit, is really responsible for the stolen funds, and, as such, should have been anxious to secure the guilty party, and