“A match!” she repeated in a tone of immense surprise.
“Yes, and which suits me.”
“But I do not wish to marry, father.”
“All young girls say the same thing; and, as soon as a pretender offers himself, they are delighted. Mine is a fellow of twenty-six, quite good looking, amiable, witty, and who has had the greatest success in society.”
“Father, I assure you that I do not wish to leave mother.”
“Of course not. He is an intelligent, hard-working man, destined, everybody says, to make an immense fortune. Although he is rich already, for he holds a controlling interest in a stock-broker’s firm, he works as hard as any poor devil. I would not be surprised to hear that he makes half a million of francs a year. His wife will have her carriage, her box at the opera, diamonds, and dresses as handsome as Mlle. de Thaller’s.”
“Eh! What do I care for such things?”
“It’s understood. I’ll present him to you on Saturday.”
But Mlle. Gilberte was not one of those young girls who allow themselves, through weakness or timidity, to become engaged, and so far engaged, that later, they can no longer withdraw. A discussion being unavoidable, she preferred to have it out at once.
“A presentation is absolutely useless, father,” she declared resolutely.
“I have told you that I did not wish to marry.”
“But if it is my will?”
“I am ready to obey you in every thing except that.”
“In that as in every thing else,” interrupted the cashier of the Mutual Credit in a thundering voice.
And, casting upon his wife and children a glance full of defiance and threats:
“In that, as in every thing else,” he repeated, “because I am the master; and I shall prove it. Yes, I will prove it; for I am tired to see my family leagued against my authority.”
And out he went, slamming the door so violently, that the partitions shook.
“You are wrong to resist your father thus,” murmured the weak Mme. Favoral.
The fact is, that the poor woman could not understand why her daughter refused the only means at her command to break off with her miserable existence.
“Let him present you this young man,” she said. “You might like him.”
“I am sure I shall not like him.”
She said this in such a tone, that the light suddenly flashed upon Mme. Favoral’s mind.
“Heavens!” she murmured. “Gilberte, my darling child, have you then a secret which your mother does not know?”
Yes, Mlle. Gilberte had her secret—a very simple one, though, chaste, like herself, and one of those which, as the old women say, must cause the angels to rejoice.
The spring of that year having been unusually mild, Mme. Favoral and her daughter had taken the habit of going daily to breathe the fresh air in the Place Royale. They took their work with them, crotchet or knitting; so that this salutary exercise did not in any way diminish the earnings of the week. It was during these walks that Mlle. Gilberte had at last noticed a young man, unknown to her, whom she met every day at the same place.