The hour had now come for the denouement of that home tragedy which was being enacted in the Rue St. Gilles.
The reader will remember the incidents narrated at the beginning of this story,—M. de Thaller’s visit and angry words with M. Favoral, his departure after leaving a package of bank-notes in Mlle. Gilberte’s hands, the advent of the commissary of police, M. Favoral’s escape, and finally the departure of the Saturday evening guests.
The disaster which struck Mme. Favoral and her children had been so sudden and so crushing, that they had been, on the moment, too stupefied to realize it. What had happened went so far beyond the limits of the probable, of the possible even, that they could not believe it. The too cruel scenes which had just taken place were to them like the absurd incidents of a horrible nightmare.
But when their guests had retired after a few commonplace protestations, when they found themselves alone, all three, in that house whose master had just fled, tracked by the police,—then only, as the disturbed equilibrium of their minds became somewhat restored, did they fully realize the extent of the disaster, and the horror of the situation.
Whilst Mme. Favoral lay apparently lifeless on an arm-chair, Gilberte kneeling at her feet, Maxence was walking up and down the parlor with furious steps. He was whiter than the plaster on the halls; and a cold perspiration glued his tangled hair to his temples.
His eyes glistening, and his fists clinched,
“Our father a thief!” he kept repeating in a hoarse voice, “a forger!”
And in fact never had the slightest suspicion arisen in his mind. In these days of doubtful reputations, he had been proud indeed of M. Favoral’s reputation of austere integrity. And he had endured many a cruel reproach, saying to himself that his father had, by his own spotless conduct, acquired the right to be harsh and exacting.
“And he has stolen twelve millions!” he exclaimed.
And he went on, trying to calculate all the luxury and splendor which such a sum represents, all the cravings gratified, all the dreams realized, all it can procure of things that may be bought. And what things are not for sale for twelve millions!
Then he examined the gloomy home in the Rue St. Gilles,—the contracted dwelling, the faded furniture, the prodigies of a parsimonious industry, his mother’s privations, his sister’s penury, and his own distress. And he exclaimed again,
“It is a monstrous infamy!”
The words of the commissary of police had opened his eyes; and he now fancied the most wonderful things. M. Favoral, in his mind, assumed fabulous proportions. By what miracles of hypocrisy and dissimulation had he succeeded in making himself ubiquitous as it were, and, without awaking a suspicion, living two lives so distinct and so different,—here, in the midst of his family, parsimonious, methodic, and severe; elsewhere, in some illicit household, doubtless facile, smiling, and generous, like a successful thief.