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"Yes," interrupted the baroness; "and I must speak to you at once,Frederic. Come: M. de Traggers will wait for you."And she led her husband into the adjoining room, not without firstcasting upon Marius a look of burning and triumphant hatred.

Left alone, M. de Traggers sat down. Far from annoying him, thissudden intervention of the manager of the Mutual Credit seemed tohim a stroke of fortune. It spared him an explanation more painfulstill than the first, and the unpleasant necessity of having toconfound a villain by proving his infamy to him.

"And besides," he thought, "when the husband andthe wife have consulted with each other, they will ac-knowledge that they cannot resist, and that it is best tosurrender." The deliberation was brief. In less than tenminutes, M. de Thaller returned alone. He was pale;and his face expressed well the grief of an honest manwho discovers too late that he has misplaced his confidence.

"My wife has told me all, sir," he began.

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M. de Tregars had risen. "Well?" he asked.

"You see me distressed. Ah, M. le Marquis! how could I ever expectsuch a thing from you? - you, whom I thought I had the right to lookupon as a friend. And it is you, who, when a great misfortunebefalls me, attempts to give me the finishing stroke. It is you whowould crush me under the weight of slanders gathered in the gutter."M. de Tregars stopped him with a gesture.

"Mme. de Thaller cannot have correctly repeated my words to you,else you would not utter that word 'slander.'""She has repeated them to me without the least change.""Then she cannot have told you the importance of the proofs I havein my hands."But the Baron persisted, as Mlle. Cesarine would have said, to "doit up in the tender style.""There is scarcely a family," he resumed, " in which there is notsome one of those painful secrets which they try to withhold fromthe wickedness of the world. There is one in mine. Yes, it istrue, that before our marriage, my wife had had a child, whompoverty had compelled her to abandon. We have since done everythingthat it was humanly possible to find that child, but without success.

It is a great misfortune, which has weighed upon our life; but it isnot a crime. If, however, you deem it your interest to divulge oursecret, and to disgrace a woman, you are free to do so: I cannotprevent you. But I declare it to you, that fact is the only thingreal in your accusations. You say that your father has been dupedand defrauded. From whom did you get such an idea?

"From Marcolet, doubtless, a man without character, who has becomemy mortal enemy since the day when he tried a sharp game on me, andcame out second best. Or from Costeclar, perhaps, who does notforgive me for having refused him my daughter's hand, and who hatesme because I know that he committed forgery once, and that he wouldbe in prison but for your father's extreme indulgence. Well,Costeclar and Marcolet have deceived you. If the Marquis de Tregarsruined himself, it is because he undertook a business that he knewnothing about, and speculated right and left. It does not takelong to sink a fortune, even without the assistance of thieves.

"As to pretend that I have benefitted by the embezzlements of mycashier that is simply stupid; and there can be no one to suggestsuch a thing, except Jottras and Saint Pavin, two scoundrels whomI have had ten times the opportunity to send to prison and who werethe accomplices of Favoral. Besides, the matter is in the hands ofjustice; and I shall prove in the broad daylight of the court-room,as I have already done in the office of the examining judge, that,to save the Mutual Credit, I have sacrificed more than half myprivate fortune."Tired of this speech, the evident object of which was to lead himto discuss, and to betray himself,"Conclude, sir," M. de Traggers interrupted harshly. Still in thesame placid tone,"To conclude is easy enough," replied the baron. "My wife has toldme that you were about to marry the daughter of my old cashier, - avery handsome girl, but without a sou. She ought to have a dowry.""Sir!""Let us show our hands. I am in a critical position: you know it,and you are trying to take advantage of it. Very well: we can stillcome to an understanding. What would you say, if I were to give toMlle. Gilberte the dowry I intended for my daughter?"All M. de Traggers' blood rushed to his face.

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"Ah, not another word!" he exclaimed with a gesture of unprecedentedviolence. But, controlling himself almost at once,"I demand," he added, "my father's fortune. I demand that youshould restore to the Mutual Credit Company the twelve millionswhich have been abstracted.""And if not?""Then I shall apply to the courts."They remained for a moment face to face, looking into each other'seyes. Then,"What have you decided?" asked M. de Traggers.

Without perhaps, suspecting that his offer was a new insult,"I will go as far as fifteen hundred thousand francs," replied M.

de Thaller, "and I pay cash.""Is that your last word?""It is.""If I enter a complaint, with the proofs in my hands,you are lost.""We'll see about that."To insist further would have been puerile.

"Very well, we'll see, then," said M. de Traggers. But as hewalked out and got into his cab, which had been waiting for him atthe door, he could not help wondering what gave the Baron deThaller so much assurance, and whether he was not mistaken in hisconjectures.

It was nearly eight o'clock, and Maxence, Mme. Favoral and Mlle.

Gilberte must have been waiting for him with a feverish impatience;but he had eaten nothing since morning, and he stopped in front ofone of the restaurants of the Boulevard.

He had just ordered his dinner, when a gentleman of a certain age,but active and vigorous still, of military bearing, wearing amustache, and a van-colored ribbon at his buttonhole, came to takea seat at the adjoining table.

In less than fifteen minutes M. de Traggers had despatched a bowlof soup and a slice of beef, and was hastening out, when his footstruck his neighbor's foot, without his being able to understandhow it had happened.

Though fully convinced that it was not his fault, he hastened toexcuse himself. But the other began to talk angrily, and so loud,that everybody turned around.