On the second of November, All–Souls’ day, Philippe Bridau appeared before the commissary of police at Issoudun, to have the date of his arrival recorded on his papers; and by that functionary’s advice he went to lodge in the rue l’Avenier. The news of the arrival of an officer, banished on account of the late military conspiracy, spread rapidly through the town, and caused all the more excitement when it was known that this officer was a brother of the painter who had been falsely accused. Maxence Gilet, by this time entirely recovered from his wound, had completed the difficult operation of turning all Pere Rouget’s mortgages into money, and putting the proceeds in one sum, on the “grand-livre.” The loan of one hundred and forty thousand francs obtained by the old man on his landed property had caused a great sensation — for everything is known in the provinces. Monsieur Hochon, in the Bridau interest, was much put about by this disaster, and questioned old Monsieur Heron, the notary at Bourges, as to the object of it.
“The heirs of old Rouget, if old Rouget changes his mind, ought to make me a votive offering,” cried Monsieur Heron. “If it had not been for me, the old fellow would have allowed the fifty thousand francs’ income to stand in the name of Maxence Gilet. I told Mademoiselle Brazier that she ought to look to the will only, and not run the risk of a suit for spoliation, seeing what numerous proofs these transfers in every direction would give against them. To gain time, I advised Maxence and his mistress to keep quiet, and let this sudden change in the usual business habits of the old man be forgotten.”
“Protect the Bridaus, for they have nothing,” said Monsieur Hochon, who in addition to all other reasons, could not forgive Gilet the terrors he had endured when fearing the pillage of his house.
Maxence Gilet and Flore Brazier, now secure against all attack, were very merry over the arrival of another of old Rouget’s nephews. They knew they were able, at the first signal of danger, to make the old man sign a power of attorney under which the money in the Funds could be transferred either to Max or Flore. If the will leaving Flore the principal, should be revoked, an income of fifty thousand francs was a very tolerable crumb of comfort — more particularly after squeezing from the real estate that mortgage of a hundred and forty thousand.
The day after his arrival, Philippe called upon his uncle about ten o’clock in the morning, anxious to present himself in his dilapidated clothing. When the convalescent of the Hopital du Midi, the prisoner of the Luxembourg, entered the room, Flore Brazier felt a shiver pass over her at the repulsive sight. Gilet himself was conscious of that particular disturbance both of mind and body, by which Nature sometimes warns us of a latent enmity, or a coming danger. If there was something indescribably sinister in Philippe’s countenance, due to his recent misfortunes, the effect was heightened by his clothes. His forlorn blue great-coat was buttoned in military fashion to the throat, for painful reasons; and yet it showed much that it pretended to conceal. The bottom edges of the trousers, ragged like those of an almshouse beggar, were the sign of abject poverty. The boots left wet splashes on the floor, as the mud oozed from fissures in the soles. The gray hat, which the colonel held in his hand, was horribly greasy round the rim. The malacca cane, from which the polish had long disappeared, must have stood in all the corners of all the cafes in Paris, and poked its worn-out end into many a corruption. Above the velvet collar, rubbed and worn till the frame showed through it, rose a head like that which Frederick Lemaitre makes up for the last act in “The Life of a Gambler,”— where the exhaustion of a man still in the prime of life is betrayed by the metallic, brassy skin, discolored as if with verdigris. Such tints are seen on the faces of debauched gamblers who spend their nights in play: the eyes are sunken in a dusky circle, the lids are reddened rather than red, the brow is menacing from the wreck and ruin it reveals. Philippe’s cheeks, which were sunken and wrinkled, showed signs of the illness from which he had scarcely recovered. His head was bald, except for a fringe of hair at the back which ended at the ears. The pure blue of his brilliant eyes had acquired the cold tones of polished steel.
“Good-morning, uncle,” he said, in a hoarse voice. “I am your nephew, Philippe Bridau — a specimen of how the Bourbons treat a lieutenant-colonel, an old soldier of the old army, one who carried the Emperor’s orders at the battle of Montereau. If my coat were to open, I should be put to shame in presence of Mademoiselle. Well, it is the rule of the game! We hoped to begin it again; we tried it, and we have failed! I am to reside in your city by the order of the police, with a full pay of sixty francs a month. So the inhabitants needn’t fear that I shall raise the price of provisions! I see you are in good and lovely company.”
“Ah! you are my nephew,” said Jean–Jacques.
“Invite monsieur le colonel to breakfast with us,” said Flore.
“No, I thank you, madame,” answered Philippe, “I have breakfasted. Besides, I would cut off my hand sooner than ask a bit of bread or a farthing from my uncle, after the treatment my mother and brother received in this town. It did not seem proper, however, that I should settle here, in Issoudun, without paying my respects to him from time to time. You can do what you like,” he added, offering the old man his hand, into which Rouget put his own, which Philippe shook, “— whatever you like. I shall have nothing to say against it; provided the honor of the Bridaus is untouched.”
Gilet could look at the lieutenant-colonel as much as he pleased, for Philippe pointedly avoided casting his eyes in his direction. Max, though the blood boiled in his veins, was too well aware of the importance of behaving with political prudence — which occasionally resembles cowardice — to take fire like a young man; he remained, therefore, perfectly calm and cold.
“It wouldn’t be right, monsieur,” said Flore, “to live on sixty francs a month under the nose of an uncle who has forty thousand francs a year, and who has already behaved so kindly to Captain Gilet, his natural relation, here present —”
“Yes, Philippe,” cried the old man, “you must see that!”
On Flore’s presentation, Philippe made a half-timid bow to Max.
“Uncle, I have some pictures to return to you; they are now at Monsieur Hochon’s. Will you be kind enough to come over some day and identify them.”
Saying these last words in a curt tone, lieutenant-colonel Philippe Bridau departed. The tone of his visit made, if possible, a deeper impression on Flore’s mind, and also on that of Max, than the shock they had felt at the first sight of that horrible campaigner. As soon as Philippe had slammed the door, with the violence of a disinherited heir, Max and Flore hid behind the window-curtains to watch him as he crossed the road, to the Hochons’.
“What a vagabond!” exclaimed Flore, questioning Max with a glance of her eye.
“Yes; unfortunately there were men like him in the armies of the Emperor; I sent seven to the shades at Cabrera,” answered Gilet.
“I do hope, Max, that you won’t pick a quarrel with that fellow,” said Mademoiselle Brazier.
“He smelt so of tobacco,” complained the old man.
“He was smelling after your money-bags,” said Flore, in a peremptory tone. “My advice is that you don’t let him into the house again.”
“I’d prefer not to,” replied Rouget.
“Monsieur,” said Gritte, entering the room where the Hochon family were all assembled after breakfast, “here is the Monsieur Bridau you were talking about.”
Philippe made his entrance politely, in the midst of a dead silence caused by general curiosity. Madame Hochon shuddered from head to foot as she beheld the author of all Agathe’s woes and the murderer of good old Madame Descoings. Adolphine also felt a shock of fear. Baruch and Francois looked at each other in surprise. Old Hochon kept his self-possession, and offered a seat to the son of Madame Bridau.
“I have come, monsieur,” said Philippe, “to introduce myself to you; I am forced to consider how I can manage to live here, for five years, on sixty francs a month.”
“It can be done,” said the octogenarian.
Philippe talked about things in general, with perfect propriety. He mentioned the journalist Lousteau, nephew of the old lady, as a “rara avis,” and won her good graces from the moment she heard him say that the name of Lousteau would become celebrated. He did not hesitate to admit his faults of conduct. To a friendly admonition which Madame Hochon addressed to him in a low voice, he replied that he had reflected deeply while in prison, and could promise that in future he would live another life.
On a hint from Philippe, Monsieur Hochon went out with him when he took his leave. When the miser and the soldier reached the boulevard Baron, a place where no one could overhear them, the colonel turned to the old man —
“Monsieur,” he said, “if you will be guided by me, we will never speak together of matters and things, or people either, unless we are walking in the open country, or in places where we cannot be heard. Maitre Desroches has fully explained to me the influence of the gossip of a little town. Therefore I don’t wish you to be suspected of advising me; though Desroches has told me to ask for your advice, and I beg you not to be chary of giving it. We have a powerful enemy in our front, and it won’t do to neglect any precaution which may help to defeat him. In the first place, therefore, excuse me if I do not call upon you again. A little coldness between us will clear you of all suspicion of influencing my conduct. When I want to consult you, I will pass along the square at half-past nine, just as you are coming out after breakfast. If you see me carry my cane on my shoulder, that will mean that we must meet — accidentally — in some open space which you will point out to me.”
“I see you are a prudent man, bent on success,” said old Hochon.
“I shall succeed, monsieur. First of all, give me the names of the officers of the old army now living in Issoudun, who have not taken sides with Maxence Gilet; I wish to make their acquaintance.”
“Well, there’s a captain of the artillery of the Guard, Monsieur Mignonnet, a man about forty years of age, who was brought up at the Ecole Polytechnique, and lives in a quiet way. He is a very honorable man, and openly disapproves of Max, whose conduct he considers unworthy of a true soldier.”
“Good!” remarked the lieutenant-colonel.
“There are not many soldiers here of that stripe,” resumed Monsieur Hochon; “the only other that I know is an old cavalry captain.”
“That is my arm,” said Philippe. “Was he in the Guard?”
“Yes,” replied Monsieur Hochon. “Carpentier was, in 1810, sergeant-major in the dragoons; then he rose to be sub-lieutenant in the line, and subsequently captain of cavalry.”
“Giroudeau may know him,” thought Philippe.
“This Monsieur Carpentier took the place in the mayor’s office which Gilet threw up; he is a friend of Monsieur Mignonnet.”
“How can I earn my living here?”
“They are going, I think, to establish a mutual insurance agency in Issoudun, for the department of the Cher; you might get a place in it, but the pay won’t be more than fifty francs a month at the outside.”
“That will be enough.”
At the end of a week Philippe had a new suit of clothes — coat, waistcoat, and trousers — of good blue Elbeuf cloth, bought on credit, to be paid for at so much a month; also new boots, buckskin gloves, and a hat. Giroudeau sent him some linen, with his weapons and a letter for Carpentier, who had formerly served under Giroudeau. The letter secured him Carpentier’s good-will, and the latter presented him to his friend Mignonnet as a man of great merit and the highest character. Philippe won the admiration of these worthy officers by confiding to them a few facts about the late conspiracy, which was, as everybody knows, the last attempt of the old army against the Bourbons; for the affair of the sergeants at La Rochelle belongs to another order of ideas.
Warned by the fate of the conspiracy of the 19th of August, 1820, and of those of Berton and Caron, the soldiers of the old army resigned themselves, after their failure in 1822, to await events. This last conspiracy, which grew out of that of the 19th of August, was really a continuation of the latter, carried on by a better element. Like its predecessor, it was absolutely unknown to the royal government. Betrayed once more, the conspirators had the wit to reduce their vast enterprise to the puny proportions of a barrack plot. This conspiracy, in which several regiments of cavalry, infantry, and artillery were concerned, had its centre in the north of France. The strong places along the frontier were to be captured at a blow. If success had followed, the treaties of 1815 would have been broken by a federation with Belgium, which, by a military compact made among the soldiers, was to withdraw from the Holy Alliance. Two thrones would have been plunged in a moment into the vortex of this sudden cyclone. Instead of this formidable scheme — concerted by strong minds and supported by personages of high rank — being carried out, one small part of it, and that only, was discovered and brought before the Court of Peers. Philippe Bridau consented to screen the leaders, who retired the moment the plot was discovered (either by treachery or accident), and from their seats in both Chambers lent their cooperation to the inquiry only to work for the ultimate success of their purpose at the heart of the government.
To recount this scheme, which, since 1830, the Liberals have openly confessed in all its ramifications, would trench upon the domain of history and involve too long a digression. This glimpse of it is enough to show the double part which Philippe Bridau undertook to play. The former staff-officer of the Emperor was to lead a movement in Paris solely for the purpose of masking the real conspiracy and occupying the mind of the government at its centre, while the great struggle should burst forth at the north. When the latter miscarried before discovery, Philippe was ordered to break all links connecting the two plots, and to allow the secrets of the secondary plot only to become known. For this purpose, his abject misery, to which his state of health and his clothing bore witness, was amply sufficient to undervalue the character of the conspiracy and reduce its proportions in the eyes of the authorities. The role was well suited to the precarious position of the unprincipled gambler. Feeling himself astride of both parties, the crafty Philippe played the saint to the royal government, all the while retaining the good opinion of the men in high places who were of the other party — determined to cast in his lot at a later day with whichever side he might then find most to his advantage.
These revelations as to the vast bearings of the real conspiracy made Philippe a man of great distinction in the eyes of Carpentier and Mignonnet, to whom his self-devotion seemed a state-craft worthy of the palmy days of the Convention. In a short time the tricky Bonapartist was seen to be on friendly terms with the two officers, and the consideration they enjoyed in the town was, of course, shared by him. He soon obtained, through their recommendation, the situation in the insurance office that old Hochon had suggested, which required only three hours of his day. Mignonnet and Carpentier put him up at their club, where his good manners and bearing, in keeping with the high opinion which the two officers expressed about him, won him a respect often given to external appearances that are only deceitful.
Philippe, whose conduct was carefully considered and planned, had indeed made many reflections while in prison as to the inconveniences of leading a debauched life. He did not need Desroches’s lecture to understand the necessity of conciliating the people at Issoudun by decent, sober, and respectable conduct. Delighted to attract Max’s ridicule by behaving with the propriety of a Mignonnet, he went further, and endeavored to lull Gilet’s suspicions by deceiving him as to his real character. He was bent on being taken for a fool by appearing generous and disinterested; all the while drawing a net around his adversary, and keeping his eye on his uncle’s property. His mother and brother, on the contrary, who were really disinterested, generous, and lofty, had been accused of greed because they had acted with straightforward simplicity. Philippe’s covetousness was fully roused by Monsieur Hochon, who gave him all the details of his uncle’s property. In the first secret conversation which he held with the octogenarian, they agreed that Philippe must not awaken Max’s suspicions; for the game would be lost if Flore and Max were to carry off their victim, though no further than Bourges.
Once a week the colonel dined with Mignonnet; another day with Carpentier; and every Thursday with Monsieur Hochon. At the end of three weeks he received other invitations for the remaining days, so that he had little more than his breakfast to provide. He never spoke of his uncle, nor of the Rabouilleuse, nor of Gilet, unless it were in connection with his mother and his brother’s stay in Issoudun. The three officers — the only soldiers in the town who were decorated, and among whom Philippe had the advantage of the rosette, which in the eyes of all provincials gave him a marked superiority — took a habit of walking together every day before dinner, keeping, as the saying is, to themselves. This reserve and tranquillity of demeanor had an excellent effect on Issoudun. All Max’s adherents thought Philippe a “sabreur,”— an expression applied by soldiers to the commonest sort of courage in their superior officers, while denying that they possess the requisite qualities of a commander.
“He is a very honorable man,” said Goddet the surgeon, to Max.
“Bah!” replied Gilet, “his behavior before the Court of Peers proves him to have been either a dupe or a spy; he is, as you say, ninny enough to have been duped by the great players.”
After obtaining his situation, Philippe, who was well informed as to the gossip of the town, wished to conceal certain circumstances of his present life as much as possible from the knowledge of the inhabitants; he therefore went to live in a house at the farther end of the faubourg Saint–Paterne, to which was attached a large garden. Here he was able in the utmost secrecy to fence with Carpentier, who had been a fencing-master in the infantry before entering the cavalry. Philippe soon recovered his early dexterity, and learned other and new secrets from Carpentier, which convinced him that he need not fear the prowess of any adversary. This done, he began openly to practise with pistols, with Mignonnet and Carpentier, declaring it was for amusement, but really intending to make Max believe that, in case of a duel, he should rely on that weapon. Whenever Philippe met Gilet he waited for him to bow first, and answered the salutation by touching the brim of his hat cavalierly, as an officer acknowledges the salute of a private. Maxence Gilet gave no sign of impatience or displeasure; he never uttered a single word about Bridau at the Cognettes’ where he still gave suppers; although, since Fario’s attack, the pranks of the Order of Idleness were temporarily suspended.
After a while, however, the contempt shown by Lieutenant-colonel Bridau for the former cavalry captain, Gilet, was a settled fact, which certain Knights of Idleness, who were less bound to Max than Francois, Baruch, and three or four others, discussed among themselves. They were much surprised to see the violent and fiery Max behave with such discretion. No one in Issoudun, not even Potel or Renard, dared broach so delicate a subject with him. Potel, somewhat disturbed by this open misunderstanding between two heroes of the Imperial Guard, suggested that Max might be laying a net for the colonel; he asserted that some new scheme might be looked for from the man who had got rid of the mother and one brother by making use of Fario’s attack upon him, the particulars of which were now no longer a mystery. Monsieur Hochon had taken care to reveal the truth of Max’s atrocious accusation to the best people of the town. Thus it happened that in talking over the situation of the lieutenant-colonel in relation to Max, and in trying to guess what might spring from their antagonism, the whole town regarded the two men, from the start, as adversaries.
Philippe, who had carefully investigated all the circumstances of his brother’s arrest and the antecedents of Gilet and the Rabouilleuse, was finally brought into rather close relations with Fario, who lived near him. After studying the Spaniard, Philippe thought he might trust a man of that quality. The two found their hatred so firm a bond of union, that Fario put himself at Philippe’s disposal, and related all that he knew about the Knights of Idleness. Philippe promised, in case he succeeded in obtaining over his uncle the power now exercised by Gilet, to indemnify Fario for his losses; this bait made the Spaniard his henchman. Maxence was now face to face with a dangerous foe; he had, as they say in those parts, some one to handle. Roused by much gossip and various rumors, the town of Issoudun expected a mortal combat between the two men, who, we must remark, mutually despised each other.
One morning, toward the end of November, Philippe met Monsieur Hochon about twelve o’clock, in the long avenue of Frapesle, and said to him:—
“I have discovered that your grandsons Baruch and Francois are the intimate friends of Maxence Gilet. The rascals are mixed up in all the pranks that are played about this town at night. It was through them that Maxence knew what was said in your house when my mother and brother were staying there.”
“How did you get proof of such a monstrous thing?”
“I overheard their conversation one night as they were leaving a drinking-shop. Your grandsons both owe Max more than three thousand francs. The scoundrel told the lads to try and find out our intentions; he reminded them that you had once thought of getting round my uncle by priestcraft, and declared that nobody but you could guide me; for he thinks, fortunately, that I am nothing more than a ‘sabreur.’”
“My grandsons! is it possible?”
“Watch them,” said Philippe. “You will see them coming home along the place Saint–Jean, at two or three o’clock in the morning, as tipsy as champagne-corks, and in company with Gilet —”
“That’s why the scamps keep so sober at home!” cried Monsieur Hochon.
“Fario has told me all about their nocturnal proceedings,” resumed Philippe; “without him, I should never have suspected them. My uncle is held down under an absolute thraldom, if I may judge by certain things which the Spaniard has heard Max say to your boys. I suspect Max and the Rabouilleuse of a scheme to make sure of the fifty thousand francs’ income from the Funds, and then, after pulling that feather from their pigeon’s wing, to run away, I don’t know where, and get married. It is high time to know what is going on under my uncle’s roof, but I don’t see how to set about it.”
“I will think of it,” said the old man.
They separated, for several persons were now approaching.
Never, at any time in his life, did Jean–Jacques suffer as he had done since the first visit of his nephew Philippe. Flore was terrified by the presentiment of some evil that threatened Max. Weary of her master, and fearing that he might live to be very old, since he was able to bear up under their criminal practices, she formed the very simple plan of leaving Issoudun and being married to Maxence in Paris, after obtaining from Jean–Jacques the transfer of the income in the Funds. The old bachelor, guided, not by any justice to his family, nor by personal avarice, but solely by his passion, steadily refused to make the transfer, on the ground that Flore was to be his sole heir. The unhappy creature knew to what extent Flore loved Max, and he believed he would be abandoned the moment she was made rich enough to marry. When Flore, after employing the tenderest cajoleries, was unable to succeed, she tried rigor; she no longer spoke to her master; Vedie was sent to wait upon him, and found him in the morning with his eyes swollen and red with weeping. For a week or more, poor Rouget had breakfasted alone, and Heaven knows on what food!
The day after Philippe’s conversation with Monsieur Hochon, he determined to pay a second visit to his uncle, whom he found much changed. Flore stayed beside the old man, speaking tenderly and looking at him with much affection; she played the comedy so well that Philippe guessed some immediate danger, merely from the solicitude thus displayed in his presence. Gilet, whose policy it was to avoid all collision with Philippe, did not appear. After watching his uncle and Flore for a time with a discerning eye, the colonel judged that the time had come to strike his grand blow.
“Adieu, my dear uncle,” he said, rising as if to leave the house.
“Oh! don’t go yet,” cried the old man, who was comforted by Flore’s false tenderness. “Dine with us, Philippe.”
“Yes, if you will come and take a walk with me.”
“Monsieur is very feeble,” interposed Mademoiselle Brazier; “just now he was unwilling even to go out in the carriage,” she added, turning upon the old man the fixed look with which keepers quell a maniac.
Philippe took Flore by the arm, compelling her to look at him, and looking at her in return as fixedly as she had just looked at her victim.
“Tell me, mademoiselle,” he said, “is it a fact that my uncle is not free to take a walk with me?”
“Why, yes he is, monsieur,” replied Flore, who was unable to make any other answer.
“Very well. Come, uncle. Mademoiselle, give him his hat and cane.”
“But — he never goes out without me. Do you, monsieur?”
“Yes, Philippe, yes; I always want her —”
“It would be better to take the carriage,” said Flore.
“Yes, let us take the carriage,” cried the old man, in his anxiety to make his two tyrants agree.
“Uncle, you will come with me, alone, and on foot, or I shall never return here; I shall know that the town of Issoudun tells the truth, when it declares you are under the dominion of Mademoiselle Flore Brazier. That my uncle should love you, is all very well,” he resumed, holding Flore with a fixed eye; “that you should not love my uncle is also on the cards; but when it comes to your making him unhappy — halt! If people want to get hold of an inheritance, they must earn it. Are you coming, uncle?”
Philippe saw the eyes of the poor imbecile roving from himself to Flore, in painful hesitation.
“Ha! that’s how it is, is it?” resumed the lieutenant-colonel. “Well, adieu, uncle. Mademoiselle, I kiss your hands.”
He turned quickly when he reached the door, and caught Flore in the act of making a menacing gesture at his uncle.
“Uncle,” he said, “if you wish to go with me, I will meet you at your door in ten minutes: I am now going to see Monsieur Hochon. If you and I do not take that walk, I shall take upon myself to make some others walk.”
So saying, he went away, and crossed the place Saint–Jean to the Hochons.
Every one can imagine the scenes which the revelations made by Philippe to Monsieur Hochon had brought about within that family. At nine o’clock, old Monsieur Heron, the notary, presented himself with a bundle of papers, and found a fire in the hall which the old miser, contrary to all his habits, had ordered to be lighted. Madame Hochon, already dressed at this unusual hour, was sitting in her armchair at the corner of the fireplace. The two grandsons, warned the night before by Adolphine that a storm was gathering about their heads, had been ordered to stay in the house. Summoned now by Gritte, they were alarmed at the formal preparations of their grandparents, whose coldness and anger they had been made to feel in the air for the last twenty-four hours.
“Don’t rise for them,” said their grandfather to Monsieur Heron; “you see before you two miscreants, unworthy of pardon.”
“Oh, grandpapa!” said Francois.
“Be silent!” said the old man sternly. “I know of your nocturnal life and your intimacy with Monsieur Maxence Gilet. But you will meet him no more at Mere Cognette’s at one in the morning; for you will not leave this house, either of you, until you go to your respective destinations. Ha! it was you who ruined Fario, was it? you, who have narrowly escaped the police-courts — Hold your tongue!” he said, seeing that Baruch was about to speak. “You both owe money to Monsieur Maxence Gilet; who, for six years, has paid for your debauchery. Listen, both of you, to my guardianship accounts; after that, I shall have more to say. You will see, after these papers are read, whether you can still trifle with me — still trifle with family laws by betraying the secrets of this house, and reporting to a Monsieur Maxence Gilet what is said and what is done here. For three thousand francs, you became spies; for ten thousand, you would, no doubt, become assassins. You did almost kill Madame Bridau; for Monsieur Gilet knew very well it was Fario who stabbed him when he threw the crime upon my guest, Monsieur Joseph Bridau. If that jail-bird did so wicked an act, it was because you told him what Madame Bridau meant to do. You, my grandsons, the spies of such a man! You, house-breakers and marauders! Don’t you know that your worthy leader killed a poor young woman, in 1806? I will not have assassins and thieves in my family. Pack your things; you shall go hang elsewhere!”
The two young men turned white and stiff as plaster casts.
“Read on, Monsieur Heron,” said Hochon.
The old notary read the guardianship accounts; from which it appeared that the net fortune of the two Borniche children amounted to seventy thousand francs, a sum derived from the dowry of their mother: but Monsieur Hochon had lent his daughter various large sums, and was now, as creditor, the owner of a part of the property of his Borniche grandchildren. The portion coming to Baruch amounted to only twenty thousand francs.
“Now you are rich,” said the old man, “take your money, and go. I remain master of my own property and that of Madame Hochon, who in this matter shares all my intentions, and I shall give it to whom I choose; namely, our dear Adolphine. Yes, we can marry her if we please to the son of a peer of France, for she will be an heiress.”
“A noble fortune!” said Monsieur Heron.
“Monsieur Maxence Gilet will make up this loss to you,” said Madame Hochon.
“Let my hard-saved money go to a scapegrace like you? no, indeed!” cried Monsieur Hochon.
“Forgive me!” stammered Baruch.
“‘Forgive, and I won’t do it again,’” sneered the old man, imitating a child’s voice. “If I were to forgive you, and let you out of this house, you would go and tell Monsieur Maxence what has happened, and warn him to be on his guard. No, no, my little men. I shall keep my eye on you, and I have means of knowing what you do. As you behave, so shall I behave to you. It will be by a long course of good conduct, not that of a day or a month, but of years, that I shall judge you. I am strong on my legs, my eyes are good, my health is sound; I hope to live long enough to see what road you take. Your first move will be to Paris, where you will study banking under Messieurs Mongenod and Sons. Ill-luck to you if you don’t walk straight; you will be watched. Your property is in the hand of Messieurs Mongenod; here is a cheque for the amount. Now then, release me as guardian, and sign the accounts, and also this receipt,” he added, taking the papers from Monsieur Heron and handing them to Baruch.
“As for you, Francois Hochon, you owe me money instead of having any to receive,” said the old man, looking at his other grandson. “Monsieur Heron, read his account; it is all clear — perfectly clear.”
The reading was done in the midst of perfect stillness.
“You will have six hundred francs a year, and with that you will go to Poitiers and study law,” said the grandfather, when the notary had finished. “I had a fine life in prospect for you; but now, you must earn your living as a lawyer. Ah! my young rascals, you have deceived me for six years; you now know it has taken me but one hour to get even with you: I have seven-leagued boots.”
Just as old Monsieur Heron was preparing to leave with the signed papers, Gritte announced Colonel Bridau. Madame Hochon left the room, taking her grandsons with her, that she might, as old Hochon said, confess them privately and find out what effect this scene had produced upon them.
Philippe and the old man stood in the embrasure of a window and spoke in low tones.
“I have been reflecting on the state of your affairs over there,” said Monsieur Hochon pointing to the Rouget house. “I have just had a talk with Monsieur Heron. The security for the fifty thousand francs a year from the property in the Funds cannot be sold unless by the owner himself or some one with a power of attorney from him. Now, since your arrival here, your uncle has not signed any such power before any notary; and, as he has not left Issoudun, he can’t have signed one elsewhere. If he attempts to give a power of attorney here, we shall know it instantly; if he goes away to give one, we shall also know it, for it will have to be registered, and that excellent Heron has means of finding it out. Therefore, if Rouget leaves Issoudun, have him followed, learn where he goes, and we will find a way to discover what he does.”
“The power of attorney has not been given,” said Philippe; “they are trying to get it; but — they — will — not — suc — ceed —” added the vagabond, whose eye just then caught sight of his uncle on the steps of the opposite house: he pointed him out to Monsieur Hochon, and related succinctly the particulars, at once so petty and so important, of his visit.
“Maxence is afraid of me, but he can’t evade me. Mignonnet says that all the officers of the old army who are in Issoudun give a yearly banquet on the anniversary of the Emperor’s coronation; so Maxence Gilet and I are sure to meet in a few days.”
“If he gets a power of attorney by the morning of the first of December,” said Hochon, “he might take the mail-post for Paris, and give up the banquet.”
“Very good. The first thing is, then, to get possession of my uncle; I’ve an eye that cows a fool,” said Philippe, giving Monsieur Hochon an atrocious glance that made the old man tremble.
“If they let him walk with you, Maxence must believe he has found some means to win the game,” remarked the old miser.
“Oh! Fario is on the watch,” said Philippe, “and he is not alone. That Spaniard has discovered one of my old soldiers in the neighborhood of Vatan, a man I once did some service to. Without any one’s suspecting it, Benjamin Bourdet is under Fario’s orders, who has lent him a horse to get about with.”
“If you kill that monster who has corrupted my grandsons, I shall say you have done a good deed.”
“Thanks to me, the town of Issoudun now knows what Monsieur Maxence Gilet has been doing at night for the last six years,” replied Philippe; “and the cackle, as you call it here, is now started on him. Morally his day is over.”
The moment Philippe left his uncle’s house Flore went to Max’s room to tell him every particular of the nephew’s bold visit.
“What’s to be done?” she asked.
“Before trying the last means — which will be to fight that big reprobate,” replied Maxence, “— we must play double or quits, and try our grand stroke. Let the old idiot go with his nephew.”
“But that big brute won’t mince matters,” remonstrated Flore; “he’ll call things by their right names.”
“Listen to me,” said Maxence in a harsh voice. “Do you think I’ve not kept my ears open, and reflected about how we stand? Send to Pere Cognette for a horse and a char-a-banc, and say we want them instantly: they must be here in five minutes. Pack all your belongings, take Vedie, and go to Vatan. Settle yourself there as if you mean to stay; carry off the twenty thousand francs in gold which the old fellow has got in his drawer. If I bring him to you in Vatan, you are to refuse to come back here unless he signs the power of attorney. As soon as we get it I’ll slip off to Paris, while you’re returning to Issoudun. When Jean–Jacques gets back from his walk and finds you gone, he’ll go beside himself, and want to follow you. Well! when he does, I’ll give him a talking to.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05