Cousin Pons/Section 6
At three o'clock, when the President came back from the law-courts, Pons had scarcely made an end of the marvelous history of his acquaintance, M. Frederic Brunner. Cecile had gone straight to the point. She wanted to know how Frederic Brunner was dressed, how he looked, his height and figure, the color of his hair and eyes; and when she had conjectured a distinguished air for Frederic, she admired his generosity of character.
"Think of his giving five hundred thousand francs to his companion in misfortune! Oh! mamma, I shall have a carriage and a box at the Italiens——" Cecile grew almost pretty as she thought that all her mother's ambitions for her were about to be realized, that the hopes which had almost left her were to come to something after all.
As for the Presidente, all that she said was, "My dear little girl, you may perhaps be married within the fortnight."
All mothers with daughters of three-and-twenty address them as "little girl."
"Still," added the President, "in any case, we must have time to make inquiries; never will I give my daughter to just anybody—"
"As to inquiries," said Pons, "Berthier is drawing up the deeds. As to the young man himself, my dear cousin, you remember what you told me? Well, he is quite forty years old; he is bald. He wishes to find in family life a haven after a storm; I did not dissuade him; every man has his tastes—"
"One reason the more for a personal interview," returned the President. "I am not going to give my daughter to a valetudinarian."
"Very good, cousin, you shall see my suitor in five days if you like; for, with your views, a single interview would be enough"—(Cecile and her mother signified their rapture)—"Frederic is decidedly a distinguished amateur; he begged me to allow him to see my little collection at his leisure. You have never seen my pictures and curiosities; come and see them," he continued, looking at his relatives. "You can come simply as two ladies, brought by my friend Schmucke, and make M. Brunner's acquaintance without betraying yourselves. Frederic need not in the least know who you are."
"Admirable!" cried the President.
The attention they paid to the once scorned parasite may be left to the imagination! Poor Pons that day became the Presidente's cousin. The happy mother drowned her dislike in floods of joy; her looks, her smiles, her words sent the old man into ecstasies over the good that he had done, over the future that he saw by glimpses. Was he not sure to find dinners such as yesterday's banquet over the signing of the contract, multiplied indefinitely by three, in the houses of Brunner, Schwab, and Graff? He saw before him a land of plenty—a vie de cocagne, a miraculous succession of plats couverts, of delicate surprise dishes, of exquisite wines.
"If Cousin Pons brings this through," said the President, addressing his wife after Pons had departed, "we ought to settle an income upon him equal to his salary at the theatre."
"Certainly," said the lady; and Cecile was informed that if the proposed suitor found favor in her eyes, she must undertake to induce the old musician to accept a munificence in such bad taste.
Next day the President went to Berthier. He was anxious to make sure of M. Frederic Brunner's financial position. Berthier, forewarned by Mme. de Marville, had asked his new client Schwab to come. Schwab the banker was dazzled by the prospect of such a match for his friend (everybody knows how deeply a German venerates social distinctions, so much so, that in Germany a wife takes her husband's (official) title, and is the Frau General, the Frau Rath, and so forth)—Schwab therefore was as accommodating as a collector who imagines that he is cheating a dealer.
"In the first place," said Cecile's father, "as I shall make over my estate of Marville to my daughter, I should wish the contract to be drawn up on the dotal system. In that case, M. Brunner would invest a million francs in land to increase the estate, and by settling the land on his wife he would secure her and his children from any share in the liabilities of the bank."
Berthier stroked his chin. "He is coming on well, is M. le President," thought he.
When the dotal system had been explained to Schwab, he seemed much inclined that way for his friend. He had heard Fritz say that he wished to find some way of insuring himself against another lapse into poverty.
"There is a farm and pasture land worth twelve hundred thousand francs in the market at this moment," remarked the President.
"If we take up shares in the Bank of France to the amount of a million francs, that will be quite enough to guarantee our account," said Schwab. "Fritz does not want to invest more than two million francs in business; he will do as you wish, I am sure, M. le President."
The President's wife and daughter were almost wild with joy when he brought home this news. Never, surely, did so rich a capture swim so complacently into the nets of matrimony.
"You will be Mme. Brunner de Marville," said the parent, addressing his child; "I will obtain permission for your husband to add the name to his, and afterwards he can take out letters of naturalization. If I should be a peer of France some day, he will succeed me!"
The five days were spent by Mme. de Marville in preparations. On the great day she dressed Cecile herself, taking as much pains as the admiral of the British fleet takes over the dressing of the pleasure yacht for Her Majesty of England when she takes a trip to Germany.
Pons and Schmucke, on their side, cleaned, swept, and dusted Pons' museum rooms and furniture with the agility of sailors cleaning down a man-of-war. There was not a speck of dust on the carved wood; not an inch of brass but it glistened. The glasses over the pastels obscured nothing of the work of Latour, Greuze, and Liotard (illustrious painter of The Chocolate Girl), miracles of an art, alas! so fugitive. The inimitable lustre of Florentine bronze took all the varying hues of the light; the painted glass glowed with color. Every line shone out brilliantly, every object threw in its phrase in a harmony of masterpieces arranged by two musicians—both of whom alike had attained to be poets.
With a tact which avoided the difficulties of a late appearance on the scene of action, the women were the first to arrive; they wished to be on their own ground. Pons introduced his friend Schmucke, who seemed to his fair visitors to be an idiot; their heads were so full of the eligible gentleman with the four millions of francs, that they paid but little attention to the worthy Pons' dissertations upon matters of which they were completely ignorant.
They looked with indifferent eyes at Petitot's enamels, spaced over crimson velvet, set in three frames of marvelous workmanship. Flowers by Van Huysum, David, and Heim; butterflies painted by Abraham Mignon; Van Eycks, undoubted Cranachs and Albrecht Durers; the Giorgione, the Sebastian del Piombo; Backhuijzen, Hobbema, Gericault, the rarities of painting—none of these things so much as aroused their curiosity; they were waiting for the sun to arise and shine upon these treasures. Still, they were surprised by the beauty of some of the Etruscan trinkets and the solid value of the snuff-boxes, and out of politeness they went into ecstasies over some Florentine bronzes which they held in their hands when Mme. Cibot announced M. Brunner! They did not turn; they took advantage of a superb Venetian mirror framed in huge masses of carved ebony to scan this phoenix of eligible young men.
Frederic, forewarned by Wilhelm, had made the most of the little hair that remained to him. He wore a neat pair of trousers, a soft shade of some dark color, a silk waistcoat of superlative elegance and the very newest cut, a shirt with open-work, its linen hand-woven by a Friesland woman, and a blue-and-white cravat. His watch chain, like the head of his cane, came from Messrs. Florent and Chanor; and the coat, cut by old Graff himself, was of the very finest cloth. The Suede gloves proclaimed the man who had run through his mother's fortune. You could have seen the banker's neat little brougham and pair of horses mirrored in the surface of his speckless varnished boots, even if two pairs of sharp ears had not already caught the sound of wheels outside in the Rue de Normandie.
When the prodigal of twenty years is a kind of chrysalis from which a banker emerges at the age of forty, the said banker is usually an observer of human nature; and so much the more shrewd if, as in Brunner's case, he understands how to turn his German simplicity to good account. He had assumed for the occasion the abstracted air of a man who is hesitating between family life and the dissipations of bachelorhood. This expression in a Frenchified German seemed to Cecile to be in the highest degree romantic; the descendant of the Virlaz was a second Werther in her eyes—where is the girl who will not allow herself to weave a little novel about her marriage? Cecile thought herself the happiest of women when Brunner, looking round at the magnificent works of art so patiently collected during forty years, waxed enthusiastic, and Pons, to his no small satisfaction, found an appreciative admirer of his treasures for the first time in his life.
"He is poetical," the young lady said to herself; "he sees millions in the things. A poet is a man that cannot count and leaves his wife to look after his money—an easy man to manage and amuse with trifles."
Every pane in the two windows was a square of Swiss painted glass; the least of them was worth a thousand francs; and Pons possessed sixteen of these unrivaled works of art for which amateurs seek so eagerly nowadays. In 1815 the panes could be bought for six or ten francs apiece. The value of the glorious collection of pictures, flawless great works, authentic, untouched since they left the master's hands, could only be proved in the fiery furnace of a saleroom. Not a picture but was set in a costly frame; there were frames of every kind—Venetians, carved with heavy ornaments, like English plate of the present day; Romans, distinguishable among the others for a certain dash that artists call flafla; Spanish wreaths in bold relief; Flemings and Germans with quaint figures, tortoise-shell frames inlaid with copper and brass and mother-of-pearl and ivory; frames of ebony and boxwood in the styles of Louis Treize, Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze, and Louis Seize—in short, it was a unique collection of the finest models. Pons, luckier than the art museums of Dresden and Vienna, possessed a frame by the famous Brustoloni—the Michael Angelo of wood-carvers.
Mlle. de Marville naturally asked for explanations of each new curiosity, and was initiated into the mysteries of art by Brunner. Her exclamations were so childish, she seemed so pleased to have the value and beauty of the paintings, carvings, or bronzes pointed out to her, that the German gradually thawed and looked quite young again, and both were led on further than they intended at this (purely accidental) first meeting.
The private view lasted for three hours. Brunner offered his arm when Cecile went downstairs. As they descended slowly and discreetly, Cecile, still talking fine art, wondered that M. Brunner should admire her cousin's gimcracks so much.
"Do you really think that these things that we have just seen are worth a great deal of money?"
"Mademoiselle, if your cousin would sell his collection, I would give eight hundred thousand francs for it this evening, and I should not make a bad bargain. The pictures alone would fetch more than that at a public sale."
"Since you say so, I believe it," returned she; "the things took up so much of your attention that it must be so."
"On! mademoiselle!" protested Brunner. "For all answer to your reproach, I will ask your mother's permission to call, so that I may have the pleasure of seeing you again."
"How clever she is, that 'little girl' of mine!" thought the Presidente, following closely upon her daughter's heels. Aloud she said, "With the greatest pleasure, monsieur. I hope that you will come at dinner-time with our Cousin Pons. The President will be delighted to make your acquaintance.—Thank you, cousin."
The lady squeezed Pons' arm with deep meaning; she could not have said more if she had used the consecrated formula, "Let us swear an eternal friendship." The glance which accompanied that "Thank you, cousin," was a caress.
When the young lady had been put into the carriage, and the jobbed brougham had disappeared down the Rue Charlot, Brunner talked bric-a-brac to Pons, and Pons talked marriage.
"Then you see no obstacle?" said Pons.
"Oh!" said Brunner, "she is an insignificant little thing, and the mother is a trifle prim.—We shall see."
"A handsome fortune one of these days. . . . More than a million—"
"Good-bye till Monday!" interrupted the millionaire. "If you should care to sell your collection of pictures, I would give you five or six hundred thousand francs—"
"Ah!" said Pons; he had no idea that he was so rich. "But they are my great pleasure in life, and I could not bring myself to part with them. I could only sell my collection to be delivered after my death."
"Very well. We shall see."
"Here we have two affairs afoot!" said Pons; he was thinking only of the marriage.
Brunner shook hands and drove away in his splendid carriage. Pons watched it out of sight. He did not notice that Remonencq was smoking his pipe in the doorway.
That evening Mme. de Marville went to ask advice of her father-in-law, and found the whole Popinot family at the Camusots' house. It was only natural that a mother who had failed to capture an eldest son should be tempted to take her little revenge; so Mme. de Marville threw out hints of the splendid marriage that her Cecile was about to make.—"Whom can Cecile be going to marry?" was the question upon all lips. And Cecile's mother, without suspecting that she was betraying her secret, let fall words and whispered confidences, afterwards supplemented by Mme. Berthier, till gossip circulating in the bourgeois empyrean where Pons accomplished his gastronomical evolutions took something like the following form:
"Cecile de Marville is engaged to be married to a young German, a banker from philanthropic motives, for he has four millions; he is like a hero in a novel, a perfect Werther, charming and kind-hearted. He has sown his wild oats, and he is distractedly in love with Cecile; it is a case of love at first sight; and so much the more certain, since Cecile had all Pons' paintings of Madonnas for rivals," and so forth and so forth.
Two or three of the set came to call on the Presidente, ostensibly to congratulate, but really to find out whether or not the marvelous tale were true. For their benefit Mme. de Marville executed the following admirable variations on the theme of son-in-law which mothers may consult, as people used to refer to the Complete Letter Writer.
"A marriage is not an accomplished fact," she told Mme. Chiffreville, "until you have been in the mayor's office and the church. We have only come as far as a personal interview; so I count upon your friendship to say nothing of our hopes."
"You are very fortunate, madame; marriages are so difficult to arrange in these days."
"What can one do? It was chance; but marriages are often made in that way."
"Ah! well. So you are going to marry Cecile?" said Mme. Cardot.
"Yes," said Cecile's mother, fully understanding the meaning of the "so." "We were very particular, or Cecile would have been established before this. But now we have found everything we wish: money, good temper, good character, and good looks; and my sweet little girl certainly deserves nothing less. M. Brunner is a charming young man, most distinguished; he is fond of luxury, he knows life; he is wild about Cecile, he loves her sincerely; and in spite of his three or four millions, Cecile is going to accept him.—We had not looked so high for her; still, store is no sore."
"It was not so much the fortune as the affection inspired by my daughter which decided us," the Presidente told Mme. Lebas. "M. Brunner is in such a hurry that he wants the marriage to take place with the least possible delay."
"Is he a foreigner?"
"Yes, madame; but I am very fortunate, I confess. No, I shall not have a son-in-law, but a son. M. Brunner's delicacy has quite won our hearts. No one would imagine how anxious he was to marry under the dotal system. It is a great security for families. He is going to invest twelve hundred thousand francs in grazing land, which will be added to Marville some day."
More variations followed on the morrow. For instance—M. Brunner was a great lord, doing everything in lordly fashion; he did not haggle. If M. de Marville could obtain letters of naturalization, qualifying M. Brunner for an office under Government (and the Home Secretary surely could strain a point for M. de Marville), his son-in-law would be a peer of France. Nobody knew how much money M. Brunner possessed; "he had the finest horses and the smartest carriages in Paris!" and so on and so on.
From the pleasure with which the Camusots published their hopes, it was pretty clear that this triumph was unexpected.
Immediately after the interview in Pons' museum, M. de Marville, at his wife's instance, begged the Home Secretary, his chief, and the attorney for the crown to dine with him on the occasion of the introduction of this phoenix of a son-in-law.
The three great personages accepted the invitation, albeit it was given on short notice; they all saw the part that they were to play in the family politics, and readily came to the father's support. In France we are usually pretty ready to assist the mother of marriageable daughters to hook an eligible son-in-law. The Count and Countess Popinot likewise lent their presence to complete the splendor of the occasion, although they thought the invitation in questionable taste.
There were eleven in all. Cecile's grandfather, old Camusot, came, of course, with his wife to a family reunion purposely arranged to elicit a proposal from M. Brunner.
The Camusot de Marvilles had given out that the guest of the evening was one of the richest capitalists in Germany, a man of taste (he was in love with "the little girl"), a future rival of the Nucingens, Kellers, du Tillets, and their like.
"It is our day," said the Presidente with elaborate simplicity, when she had named her guests one by one for the German whom she already regarded as her son-in-law. "We have only a few intimate friends—first, my husband's father, who, as you know, is sure to be raised to the peerage; M. le Comte and Mme. la Comtesse Popinot, whose son was not thought rich enough for Cecile; the Home Secretary; our First President; our attorney for the crown; our personal friends, in short.—We shall be obliged to dine rather late to-night, because the Chamber is sitting, and people cannot get away before six."
Brunner looked significantly at Pons, and Pons rubbed his hands as if to say, "Our friends, you see! My friends!"
Mme. de Marville, as a clever tactician, had something very particular to say to her cousin, that Cecile and her Werther might be left together for a moment. Cecile chattered away volubly, and contrived that Frederic should catch sight of a German dictionary, a German grammar, and a volume of Goethe hidden away in a place where he was likely to find them.
"Ah! are you learning German?" asked Brunner, flushing red.
(For laying traps of this kind the Frenchwoman has not her match!)
"Oh! how naughty you are!" she cried; "it is too bad of you, monsieur, to explore my hiding-places like this. I want to read Goethe in the original," she added; "I have been learning German for two years."
"Then the grammar must be very difficult to learn, for scarcely ten pages have been cut—" Brunner remarked with much candor.
Cecile, abashed, turned away to hide her blushes. A German cannot resist a display of this kind; Brunner caught Cecile's hand, made her turn, and watched her confusion under his gaze, after the manner of the heroes of the novels of Auguste Lafontaine of chaste memory.
"You are adorable," said he.
Cecile's petulant gesture replied, "So are you—who could help liking you?"
"It is all right, mamma," she whispered to her parent, who came up at that moment with Pons.
The sight of a family party on these occasions is not to be described. Everybody was well satisfied to see a mother put her hand on an eligible son-in-law. Compliments, double-barreled and double-charged, were paid to Brunner (who pretended to understand nothing); to Cecile, on whom nothing was lost; and to the Presidente, who fished for them. Pons heard the blood singing in his ears, the light of all the blazing gas-jets of the theatre footlights seemed to be dazzling his eyes, when Cecile, in a low voice and with the most ingenious circumspection, spoke of her father's plan of the annuity of twelve hundred francs. The old artist positively declined the offer, bringing forward the value of his fortune in furniture, only now made known to him by Brunner.
The Home Secretary, the First President, the attorney for the crown, the Popinots, and those who had other engagements, all went; and before long no one was left except M. Camusot senior, and Cardot the old notary, and his assistant and son-in-law Berthier. Pons, worthy soul, looking round and seeing no one but the family, blundered out a speech of thanks to the President and his wife for the proposal which Cecile had just made to him. So it is with those who are guided by their feelings; they act upon impulse. Brunner, hearing of an annuity offered in this way, thought that it had very much the look of a commission paid to Pons; he made an Israelite's return upon himself, his attitude told of more than cool calculation.
Meanwhile Pons was saying to his astonished relations, "My collection or its value will, in any case, go to your family, whether I come to terms with our friend Brunner or keep it." The Camusots were amazed to hear that Pons was so rich.
Brunner, watching, saw how all these ignorant people looked favorably upon a man once believed to be poor so soon as they knew that he had great possessions. He had seen, too, already that Cecile was spoiled by her father and mother; he amused himself, therefore, by astonishing the good bourgeois.
"I was telling mademoiselle," said he, "that M. Pons' pictures were worth that sum to me; but the prices of works of art have risen so much of late, that no one can tell how much the collection might sell for at public auction. The sixty pictures might fetch a million francs; several that I saw the other day were worth fifty thousand apiece."
"It is a fine thing to be your heir!" remarked old Cardot, looking at Pons.
"My heir is my Cousin Cecile here," answered Pons, insisting on the relationship. There was a flutter of admiration at this.
"She will be a very rich heiress," laughed old Cardot, as he took his departure.
Camusot senior, the President and his wife, Cecile, Brunner, Berthier, and Pons were now left together; for it was assumed that the formal demand for Cecile's hand was about to be made. No sooner was Cardot gone, indeed, than Brunner began with an inquiry which augured well.
"I think I understood," he said, turning to Mme. de Marville, "that mademoiselle is your only daughter."
"Certainly," the lady said proudly.
"Nobody will make any difficulties," Pons, good soul, put in by way of encouraging Brunner to bring out his proposal.
But Brunner grew thoughtful, and an ominous silence brought on a coolness of the strangest kind. The Presidente might have admitted that her "little girl" was subject to epileptic fits. The President, thinking that Cecile ought not to be present, signed to her to go. She went. Still Brunner said nothing. They all began to look at one another. The situation was growing awkward.
Camusot senior, a man of experience, took the German to Mme. de Marville's room, ostensibly to show him Pons' fan. He saw that some difficulty had arisen, and signed to the rest to leave him alone with Cecile's suitor-designate.
"Here is the masterpiece," said Camusot, opening out the fan.
Brunner took it in his hand and looked at it. "It is worth five thousand francs," he said after a moment.
"Did you not come here, sir, to ask for my granddaughter?" inquired the future peer of France.
"Yes, sir," said Brunner; "and I beg you to believe that no possible marriage could be more flattering to my vanity. I shall never find any one more charming nor more amiable, nor a young lady who answers to my ideas like Mlle. Cecile; but—"
"Oh, no buts!" old Camusot broke in; "or let us have the translation of your 'buts' at once, my dear sir."
"I am very glad, sir, that the matter has gone no further on either side," Brunner answered gravely. "I had no idea that Mlle. Cecile was an only daughter. Anybody else would consider this an advantage; but to me, believe me, it is an insurmountable obstacle to—"
"What, sir!" cried Camusot, amazed beyond measure. "Do you find a positive drawback in an immense advantage? Your conduct is really extraordinary; I should very much like to hear the explanation of it."
"I came here this evening, sir," returned the German phlegmatically, "intending to ask M. le President for his daughter's hand. It was my desire to give Mlle. Cecile a brilliant future by offering her so much of my fortune as she would consent to accept. But an only daughter is a child whose will is law to indulgent parents, who has never been contradicted. I have had the opportunity of observing this in many families, where parents worship divinities of this kind. And your granddaughter is not only the idol of the house, but Mme. la Presidente . . . you know what I mean. I have seen my father's house turned into a hell, sir, from this very cause. My stepmother, the source of all my misfortunes, an only daughter, idolized by her parents, the most charming betrothed imaginable, after marriage became a fiend incarnate. I do not doubt that Mlle. Cecile is an exception to the rule; but I am not a young man, I am forty years old, and the difference between our ages entails difficulties which would put it out of my power to make the young lady happy, when Mme. la Presidente always carried out her daughter's every wish and listened to her as if Mademoiselle was an oracle. What right have I to expect Mlle. Cecile to change her habits and ideas? Instead of a father and mother who indulge her every whim, she would find an egotistic man of forty; if she should resist, the man of forty would have the worst of it. So, as an honest man—I withdraw. If there should be any need to explain my visit here, I desire to be entirely sacrificed—"
"If these are your motives, sir," said the future peer of France, "however singular they may be, they are plausible—"
"Do not call my sincerity in question, sir," Brunner interrupted quickly. "If you know of a penniless girl, one of a large family, well brought up but without fortune, as happens very often in France; and if her character offers me security, I will marry her."
A pause followed; Frederic Brunner left Cecile's grandfather and politely took leave of his host and hostess. When he was gone, Cecile appeared, a living commentary upon her Werther's leave-taking; she was ghastly pale. She had hidden in her mother's wardrobe and overheard the whole conversation.
"Refused! . . ." she said in a low voice for her mother's ear.
"And why?" asked the Presidente, fixing her eyes upon her embarrassed father-in-law.
"Upon the fine pretext that an only daughter is a spoilt child," replied that gentleman. "And he is not altogether wrong there," he added, seizing an opportunity of putting the blame on the daughter-in-law, who had worried him not a little for twenty years.
"It will kill my child!" cried the Presidente, "and it is your doing!" she exclaimed, addressing Pons, as she supported her fainting daughter, for Cecile thought well to make good her mother's words by sinking into her arms. The President and his wife carried Cecile to an easy-chair, where she swooned outright. The grandfather rang for the servants.
"It is a plot of his weaving; I see it all now," said the infuriated mother.
Pons sprang up as if the trump of doom were sounding in his ears.
"Yes!" said the lady, her eyes like two springs of green bile, "this gentleman wished to repay a harmless joke by an insult. Who will believe that that German was right in his mind? He is either an accomplice in a wicked scheme of revenge, or he is crazy. I hope, M. Pons, that in future you will spare us the annoyance of seeing you in the house where you have tried to bring shame and dishonor."
Pons stood like a statue, with his eyes fixed on the pattern of the carpet.
"Well! Are you still here, monster of ingratitude?" cried she, turning round on Pons, who was twirling his thumbs.—"Your master and I are never at home, remember, if this gentleman calls," she continued, turning to the servants.—"Jean, go for the doctor; and bring hartshorn, Madeleine."
In the Presidente's eyes, the reason given by Brunner was simply an excuse, there was something else behind; but, at the same time, the fact that the marriage was broken off was only the more certain. A woman's mind works swiftly in great crises, and Mme. de Marville had hit at once upon the one method of repairing the check. She chose to look upon it as a scheme of revenge. This notion of ascribing a fiendish scheme to Pons satisfied family honor. Faithful to her dislike of the cousin, she treated a feminine suspicion as a fact. Women, generally speaking, hold a creed peculiar to themselves, a code of their own; to them anything which serves their interests or their passions is true. The Presidente went a good deal further. In the course of the evening she talked the President into her belief, and next morning found the magistrate convinced of his cousin's culpability.
Every one, no doubt, will condemn the lady's horrible conduct; but what mother in Mme. Camusot's position will not do the same? Put the choice between her own daughter and an alien, she will prefer to sacrifice the honor of the latter. There are many ways of doing this, but the end in view is the same.
The old musician fled down the staircase in haste; but he went slowly along the boulevards to his theatre, he turned in mechanically at the door, and mechanically he took his place and conducted the orchestra. In the interval he gave such random answers to Schmucke's questions, that his old friend dissembled his fear that Pons' mind had given way. To so childlike a nature, the recent scene took the proportions of a catastrophe. He had meant to make every one happy, and he had aroused a terrible slumbering feeling of hate; everything had been turned topsy-turvy. He had at last seen mortal hate in the Presidente's eyes, tones, and gesture.
On the morrow, Mme. Camusot de Marville made a great resolution; the President likewise sanctioned the step now forced upon them by circumstances. It was determined that the estate of Marville should be settled upon Cecile at the time of her marriage, as well as the house in the Rue de Hanovre and a hundred thousand francs. In the course of the morning, the Presidente went to call upon the Comtesse Popinot; for she saw plainly that nothing but a settled marriage could enable them to recover after such a check. To the Comtesse Popinot she told the shocking story of Pons' revenge, Pons' hideous hoax. It all seemed probable enough when it came out that the marriage had been broken off simply on the pretext that Cecile was an only daughter. The Presidente next dwelt artfully upon the advantage of adding "de Marville" to the name of Popinot; and the immense dowry. At the present price fetched by land in Normandy, at two per cent, the property represented nine hundred thousand francs, and the house in the Rue de Hanovre about two hundred and fifty thousand. No reasonable family could refuse such an alliance. The Comte and Comtesse Popinot accepted; and as they were now touched by the honor of the family which they were about to enter, they promised to help explain away yesterday evening's mishap.
And now in the house of the elder Camusot, before the very persons who had heard Mme. de Marville singing Frederic Brunner's praises but a few days ago, that lady, to whom nobody ventured to speak on the topic, plunged courageously into explanations.
"Really, nowadays" (she said), "one could not be too careful if a marriage was in question, especially if one had to do with foreigners."
"And why, madame?"
"What has happened to you?" asked Mme. Chiffreville.
"Do you not know about our adventure with that Brunner, who had the audacity to aspire to marry Cecile? His father was a German that kept a wine-shop, and his uncle is a dealer in rabbit-skins!"
"Is it possible? So clear-sighted as you are! . . ." murmured a lady.
"These adventurers are so cunning. But we found out everything through Berthier. His friend is a beggar that plays the flute. He is friendly with a person who lets furnished lodgings in the Rue du Mail and some tailor or other. . . . We found out that he had led a most disreputable life, and no amount of fortune would be enough for a scamp that has run through his mother's property."
"Why, Mlle. de Marville would have been wretched!" said Mme. Berthier.
"How did he come to your house?" asked old Mme. Lebas.
"It was M. Pons. Out of revenge, he introduced this fine gentleman to us, to make us ridiculous. . . . This Brunner (it is the same name as Fontaine in French)—this Brunner, that was made out to be such a grandee, has poor enough health, he is bald, and his teeth are bad. The first sight of him was enough for me; I distrusted him from the first."
"But how about the great fortune that you spoke of?" a young married woman asked shyly.
"The fortune was not nearly so large as they said. These tailors and the landlord and he all scraped the money together among them, and put all their savings into this bank that they are starting. What is a bank for those that begin in these days? Simply a license to ruin themselves. A banker's wife may lie down at night a millionaire and wake up in the morning with nothing but her settlement. At first word, at the very first sight of him, we made up our minds about this gentleman—he is not one of us. You can tell by his gloves, by his waistcoat, that he is a working man, the son of a man that kept a pot-house somewhere in Germany; he has not the instincts of a gentleman; he drinks beer, and he smokes—smokes? ah! madame, twenty-five pipes a day! . . . What would have become of poor Lili? . . . It makes me shudder even now to think of it. God has indeed preserved us! And besides, Cecile never liked him. . . . Who would have expected such a trick from a relative, an old friend of the house that had dined with us twice a week for twenty years? We have loaded him with benefits, and he played his game so well, that he said Cecile was his heir before the Keeper of the Seals and the Attorney General and the Home Secretary! . . . That Brunner and M. Pons had their story ready, and each of them said that the other was worth millions! . . . No, I do assure you, all of you would have been taken in by an artist's hoax like that."
In a few weeks' time, the united forces of the Camusot and Popinot families gained an easy victory in the world, for nobody undertook to defend the unfortunate Pons, that parasite, that curmudgeon, that skinflint, that smooth-faced humbug, on whom everybody heaped scorn; he was a viper cherished in the bosom of the family, he had not his match for spite, he was a dangerous mountebank whom nobody ought to mention.