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And he made a gesture of ironical carelessness, which she did not understand. What—what did he mean? Did he not believe in his father's great qualities, his certainty of attaining to fortune?

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'No, no, I have my pile,' he added. 'I need nobody. But[Pg 162] really this is such a queer affair that I cannot help laughing at it.'

And he did laugh, but in a vexed, anxious, hollow fashion, thinking only of himself, not yet having had time to consider what good or harm this event might bring him. He felt that he lived altogether apart from the others, and dropped a remark in which he brutally gave expression to his real feelings: 'After all, what do I care?'

Having risen, he passed into the dressing-room, and came back directly with a tortoiseshell polisher, with which he began gently rubbing his nails. 'And what are you going to do with your monster?' he asked. 'He cannot be put in the Bastille, like the Man with the Iron Mask.'

She then spoke of La Méchain's accounts, explained her idea of placing Victor at the Institute of Work, and asked for the two thousand francs.

'I don't wish your father to know anything of the matter yet awhile,' said she. 'You are the only person to whom I can apply; you must advance this money.'

But he flatly refused. 'To papa—not if I know it! not a sou! Listen, it is an oath! Even if papa only needed a sou to pay a bridge-toll, I would not lend it to him. Understand! there are some silly things that are altogether too silly; I do not wish to be ridiculous.'

Again she looked at him, disturbed by his ugly insinuations. In this exciting moment, however, she had neither the wish nor the time to make him talk. 'And to me,' she abruptly rejoined—'will you lend these two thousand francs to me?'

'To you, to you——'

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He continued polishing his nails with a light, pretty movement, while examining her with his clear eyes, which searched women to their heart's blood. 'To you, yes; after all—I am willing. You are one of the gullible ones, you will pay me back.'

Then, after going to take two notes of a thousand francs each from a little desk, and giving them to her, he grasped her hands and held them for a moment in his own, with an air of[Pg 163] friendly gaiety, like a step-son who feels some sympathy for his step-mother. 'You have some illusions respecting papa,' said he. 'Oh! don't protest; I don't want to meddle with your affairs. Women are so queer; it amuses them sometimes to devote themselves, and of course they are quite right in taking their pleasure where they find it. All the same, if some day you should be ill rewarded, come and see me, we will have a chat.'

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When Madame Caroline was once more in her cab, still stifling from the soft warmth of the little residence and the heliotrope perfume which had penetrated her garments, she shuddered as though she had just left some house of ill-repute, frightened also by the son's reticence and jocularity with regard to his father, which increased her suspicion of a past life such as none would confess to. However, she did not wish to know anything; she had the money, and quieted herself by planning the work of the morrow, so that by night time the child might be saved from his vices.

Accordingly, early in the morning, she already had to start out, for there were all sorts of formalities to be fulfilled in order to ensure her protege's admission into the Institute of Work. Naturally, her position as secretary of the Committee of Superintendence, to which the Princess d'Orviedo, the founder of the Institute, had appointed ten ladies of high social standing, facilitated the accomplishment of these formalities; and in the afternoon she had only to go to the Cité de Naples to fetch Victor. She took some suitable garments with her, and was not really without anxiety as to the resistance which the boy might offer—he who would not hear speak of going to school. However, La Méchain, to whom she had sent a telegram, and who was waiting for her, informed her on the threshold of a piece of news by which she herself had been upset. Mother Eulalie had died suddenly in the night, from some cause which the doctor had been unable to precisely fix—a congestion, perhaps, some distemper produced by her corrupted blood. This tragedy had quite stupefied the boy, filled him with a secret fear, so that he consented to dress and seemed even pleased with the idea of living in a house with a beautiful[Pg 164] garden. There was nothing to keep him at the Cité any longer since the 'fat 'un,' as he called Mother Eulalie, was going to rot in the grave.

Meanwhile, La Méchain, while writing her receipt for the two thousand francs, laid down her conditions. 'It is agreed, isn't it? you will complete the six thousand in one payment, six months from now. Otherwise, I shall apply to Monsieur Saccard.'

'But you will be paid by Monsieur Saccard himself,' said Madame Caroline. 'To-day I am simply his substitute, that is all.'

There was no affection in the farewells exchanged between Victor and his old cousin; a kiss upon the hair, and then the urchin was all haste to get into the cab, while La Méchain, scolded by Busch for having consented to accept merely an instalment of her claim, remained secretly annoyed at seeing her security thus escape her. 'Now, madame, be honest with me,' said she, 'otherwise I shall find a way to make you repent.'