He could not help laughing at the astonishment, which at those words depicted itself upon Maxence’s face; and gayly,
“You don’t understand,” he added. “Well, never mind. It is not necessary that you should.”
Two o’clock struck as Mlle. Lucienne and Maxence left the office of the commissary of police, she pensive and agitated, he gloomy and irritated. They reached the Hotel des Folies without exchanging a word. Mme. Fortin was again at the door, speechifying in the midst of a group with indefatigable volubility. Indeed, it was a perfect godsend for her, the fact of lodging the son of that cashier who had stolen twelve millions, and had thus suddenly become a celebrity. Seeing Maxence and Mlle. Lucienne coming, she stepped toward them, and, with her most obsequious smile,
“Back already?” she said.
But they made no answer; and, entering the narrow corridor, they hurried to their fourth story. As he entered his room, Maxence threw his hat upon his bed with a gesture of impatience; and, after walking up and down for a moment, he returned to plant himself in front of Mlle. Lucienne.
“Well,” he said, “are you satisfied now?”
She looked at him with an air of profound commiseration, knowing his weakness too well to be angry at his injustice.
“Of what should I be satisfied?” she asked gently.
“I have done what you wished me to.”
“You did what reason dictated, my friend.”
“Very well: we won’t quarrel about words. I have seen your friend the commissary. Am I any better off?”
She shrugged her shoulders almost imperceptibly.
“What did you expect of him, then?” she asked. “Did you think that he could undo what is done? Did you suppose, that, by the sole power of his will, he would make up the deficit in the Mutual Credit’s cash, and rehabilitate your father?”
“No, I am not quite mad yet.”
“Well, then, could he do more than promise you his most ardent and devoted co-operation?”
But he did not allow her to proceed.
“And how do I know,” he exclaimed, “that he is not trifling with me? If he was sincere, why his reticence and his enigmas? He pretends that I may rely on him, because to serve me is to serve you. What does that mean? What connection is there between your situation and mine, between your enemies and those of my father? And I—I replied to all his questions like a simpleton. Poor fool! But the man who drowns catches at straws; and I am drowning, I am sinking, I am foundering.”
He sank upon a chair, and, hiding his face in his hands,
“Ah, how I do suffer!” he groaned.
Mlle. Lucienne approached him, and in a severe tone, despite her emotion,
“Are you, then, such a coward?” she uttered. “What! at the first misfortune that strikes you,—and this is the first real misfortune of your life, Maxence,—you despair. An obstacle rises, and, instead of gathering all your energy to overcome it, you sit down and weep like a woman. Who, then, is to inspire courage in your mother and in your sister, if you give up so?”