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« Thirty thousand francs.”
She seemed to be going mad; she wrung her hands in despair.
« To-night!” she said: “why didn't you come sooner? Do you lack confidence in me? To-night there is no one to open the safe — without that — »
The expectant Raoul caught the word. He gave an exclamation of joy, as if a light had broken upon his dark despair.
“The safe!” he cried; do you know where the key is ? »
He looked at Madame Fauvel with such a demoniacal glance that she dropped her eyes.
«Give it to me, mother,” he entreated. «Miserable boy!”
It is life that I ask of you."
This prayer decided her. Taking a candle, she stepped quickly into her room, opened the writing-desk, and there found M. Fauvel's own key.
But as she was handing it to Raoul, reason returned.
She stopped him:-“What will you do with the key, Raoul ? Have you also the secret word ? »
“No, but I can try.”
« Let us try. If I open it by a miracle, and if there is money in the box, then I shall believe that God has taken pity upon us.”
«And if you do not succeed? Then will you swear that you will wait until to-morrow ? »
“Upon the memory of my father, I swear it.” « Then here is the key! Come.” ...
They had now reached Prosper's office, and Raoul had placed the lamp on a high shelf, from which point it lighted the entire room. He had recovered all of his self-possession, or rather that peculiar mechanical precision of action which seems to be independent of the will, and which men accustomed to peril always find at their service in times of pressing need. Rapidly, and with the dexterity of experience, he placed the five buttons of the iron box upon the letters forming the name g,y,p,sy. His expression during this short performance was one of intense anxiety. He began to fear that the excited energy which he had summoned might fail him, and also that if he did open the box he might not find the hoped-for sum. Prosper might have changed the letters, and he might have been sent to the bank that day.
Madame Fauvel watched Raoul with pathetic distress. She read in his wild eyes that despair of the unfortunate, who so passionately desire a result that they fancy their unassisted will can overcome all obstacles.
Being intimate with Prosper, and having frequently watched him close the office, Raoul knew perfectly well — indeed, he had made it a study and attempted it himself, for he was a far-seeing youth — how to manipulate the key in the lock.
He inserted it gently, turned it, pushed it in deeper, and turned it again, then he pushed it in with a violent shock and turned it once more. His heart beat so loudly that Madame Fauvel could hear it.
The word had not been changed: the box opened.
Raoul and his mother uttered cries — hers of terror, his of triumph.
"Shut it! ” screamed Madame Fauvel, frightened at this inexplicable and incomprehensible result; “leave it — come ! »
And half mad, she threw herself upon Raoul, clinging to his arm in desperation and drawing him to her with such violence that the key was dragged from the lock and along the door of the coffer, leaving a long and deep mark.
But Raoul had had time to notice upon the upper shelf of the box three bundles of bank-notes. These he quickly snatched with his left hand, slipped them under his coat and placed them between his waistcoat and shirt.
Exhausted by her efforts, and yielding to the violence of her emotions, Madame Fauvel dropped Raoul's arm, and to avoid falling, supported herself on the back of Prosper's arm-chair.
"I implore you, Raoul,” she said, “I beseech you to put those bank-notes back in the box. I shall have money to-morrow, I swear it to you a hundred times over, and I will give it to you, my son. I beg you to take pity on your mother! »
He paid no attention to her. He was examining the long scratch on the door. This mark of the theft was very convincing and disturbing.
"At least,” implored Madame Fauvel, “don't take all. Keep what you need to save yourself, and leave the rest.”
“What for? Would a balance make discovery less easy ?”
“Yes, because I—you see I can manage it. Let me arrange it! I can find an explanation! I will tell André that I needed money
With precaution, Raoul closed the safe.
"Come,” he said to his mother, “let us leave, so that we may not be suspected. One of the servants might go to the drawingroom and be surprised not to find us there.”
His cruel indifference and cold calculation at such a moment filled Madame Fauvel with indignation. Yet she still hoped that she might influence her son. She still believed in the power of her entreaties and tears.
"Ah me!” she said, “it might be as well! If they discover us, I care little or nothing. We are lost! André will drive me from the house, a miserable creature. But at least, I will not sacrifice the innocent. To-morrow Prosper will be accused. Clameran has taken from him the woman he loves, and you, now you will rob him of his honor. I will not.”
She spoke so loud and with such a penetrating voice that Raoul was alarmed. He knew that the office clerk slept in an adjoining room. Although it was not late, he might have gone to bed; and if so, he could hear every word.
"Let us go,” he said, seizing Madame Fauvel by the arm. But she resisted, and clung to a table, the better to resist.
“I have been a coward to sacrifice Madeleine,” she said quietly. "I will not sacrifice Prosper!”
Raoul knew of a victorious argument which would break Madame Fauvel's resolution.
"Ah!” he cried with a cynical laugh; "you do not know, then, that Prosper and I are in league, and that he shares my fate.”
“That is impossible.”
«What do you think? Do you imagine that it was chance which gave me the secret word and opened the box ? »
“Prosper is honest.”
“No, dear mother. Madeleine left Prosper, and — well, bless me! he has tried to console himself, the poor fellow; and such consolations are expensive.”
He had lifted the lamp; and gently but with much force pushed Madame Fauvel towards the staircase.
She seemed to be more dumbfounded than when she saw the open safe.
“What,” she said, “Prosper a thief ? »
She asked herself if she were not the victim of a terrible nightmare; if an awakening would not rid her of this unspeakable torture. She could not control her thoughts, and mechanically, supported by Raoul, she placed her foot on the narrow stairs.
“The key must be returned to the writing-desk,” said Raoul, when they reached the bedroom.
She appeared not to hear, and it was Raoul who replaced the key in the box from which he had seen her take it.
He then led or rather carried Madame Fauvel to the little drawing-room where he had found her upon his arrival, and placed her in an easy-chair. The utter prostration of this unhappy woman, her fixed eyes, and her loss of expression, revealed only too well the agony of her mind. Raoul, frightened, asked if she had gone mad ?
Come, mother dear,” he said, as he tried to warm her icy hands, "come to yourself. You have saved my life, and we have both rendered a great service to Prosper. Fear nothing: all will come straight. Prosper will be accused, perhaps arrested. He expects that; but he will deny it, and as his guilt cannot be proved, he will be released.”
But his lies and his efforts were lost upon Madame Fauvel, who was too distracted to hear them.
«Raoul,” she murmured, “my son, you have killed me!”
Her voice was so impressive in its sorrow, her tone was so tender in its despair, that Raoul was affected, and even decided to restore the stolen money. But the thought of Clameran returned.
Then, noticing that Madame Fauvel remained in her chair, bewildered and as still as death, trembling at the thought that M. Fauvel or Madeleine might enter at any moment, he pressed a kiss upon his mother's forehead—and fled.
Translated for (A Library of the World's Best Literature.) XI—385
M. LECOQ'S SYSTEM
From “File No. 113) IN THE centre of a large and curiously furnished room, half 1 library and half actor's study, was seated at a desk the same
person wearing gold spectacles who had said at the police station to the accused cashier Prosper Bertomy, « Take courage!» This was M. Lecoq in his official character.
Upon the entrance of Fanferlot, who advanced respectfully, curving his backbone as he bowed, M. Lecoq slightly lifted his head and laid down his pen, saying, “Ah! you have come at last, my boy! Well, you don't seem to be progressing with the Bertomy case.”
«Why, really,” stammered Fanferlot, you know — »
«I know that you have muddled everything, until you are so blinded that you are ready to give over.”
“But master, it was not 1— "
M. Lecoq had arisen and was pacing the floor. Suddenly he stopped before Fanferlot, nicknamed “the Squirrel.”
“What do you think, Master Squirrel,” he asked in a hard and ironical tone, "of a man who abuses the confidence of those who employ him, who reveals enough of what he has discovered to make the evidence misleading, and who betrays for the benefit of his foolish vanity the cause of justice — and an unhappy prisoner ?”
The frightened Fanferlot recoiled a step.
“ You think this man should be punished and dismissed; and you are right. The less a profession is honored, the more honorable should be those who follow it. You however are treacherous. Ah! Master Squirrel, we are ambitious, and we try to play the police in our own way! We let Justice wander where she will, while we search for other things. It takes a more cunning bloodhound than you, my boy, to hunt without a hunter and at his own risk.”
“But master, I swear — »
"Be silent. Do you wish me to prove that you have told everything to the examining magistrate, as was your duty ? Go to! While others were charging the cashier, you informed against the banker! You watched him; you became intimate with his valet de chambre! »