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Collecting all the energy that the devouring passion which hadblasted his existence had left him, the former cashier of theMutual Credit took one or two steps forward.

"Who are you, then?" he asked.

"Do you not know me? I am the son of that unfortunate Marquis deTregars of whom you spoke a moment since. I am Lucienne's brother."Like a man who has received a stunning blow, Vincent Favoral sankheavily upon a chair.

"He knows all," he groaned.

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"Yes, all!""You must hate me mortally.""I pity you."The old cashier had reached that point when all the faculties, afterbeing strained to their utmost limits, suddenly break down, whenthe strongest man gives up, and weeps like a child.

"Ah, I am the most wretched of villains!" he exclaimed.

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He had hid his face in his hands; and in one second, - as it happens,they say, to the dying on the threshold of eternity, - he reviewedhis entire existence.

"And yet," he said, "I had not the soul of a villain. I wanted toget rich; but honestly, by labor, and by rigid economy. And Ishould have succeeded. I had a hundred and fifty thousand francsof my own when I met the Baron de Thaller. Alas! why did I meethim? 'Twas he who first gave me to understand that it was stupidto work and save, when, at the bourse, with moderate luck, one mightbecome a millionaire in six months."He stopped, shook his head, and suddenly,"Do you know the Baron de Thaller?" he asked. And, without givingMarius time to answer,"He is a German," he went on, "a Prussian. His father was acab-driver in Berlin, and his mother waiting-maid in a brewery. Atthe age of eighteen, he was compelled to leave his country, owingto some petty swindle, and came to take up his residence in Paris.

He found employment in the office of a stock-broker, and was livingvery poorly, when he made the acquaintance of a young laundressnamed Affrays, who had for a lover a very wealthy gentleman, theMarquis de Tregars, whose weakness was to pass himself off for apoor clerk. Affrays and Thaller were well calculated to agree.

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They did agree, and formed an association, - she contributing herbeauty; he, his genius for intrigue; both, their corruption andtheir vices. Soon after they met, she gave birth to a child, adaughter; whom she intrusted to some poor gardeners at Louveciennes,with the firm and settled intention to leave her there forever.

And yet it was upon this daughter, whom they firmly hoped never tosee again, that the two accomplices were building their fortune.

"It was in the name of that daughter that Affrays wrungconsiderable sums from the Marquis de Tregars. As soon as Thallerand she found themselves in possession of six hundred thousandfrancs, they dismissed the marquis, and got married. Already, atthat time, Thaller had taken the title of baron, and lived in somestyle. But his first speculations were not successful. Therevolution of 1848 finished his ruin, and he was about being expelledfrom the bourse, when he found me on his way, - I, poor fool, whowas going about everywhere, asking how I could advantageously investmy hundred and fifty thousand francs."He was speaking in a hoarse voice, shaking his clinched fist in theair, doubtless at the Baron de Thaller.

"Unfortunately," he resumed, "it was only much later that Idiscovered all this. At the moment, M. de Thaller dazzled me. Hisfriends, Saint Pavin and the bankers Jottras, proclaimed him thesmartest and the most honest man in France. Still I would not havegiven my money, if it had not been for the baroness. The first timethat I was introduced to her, and that she fixed upon me her greatblack eyes, I felt myself moved to the deepest recesses of my soul.

In order to see her again, I invited her, together with her husbandand her husband's friends, to dine with me, by the side of my wifeand children. She came. Her husband made me sign every thing hepleased; but, as she went off, she pressed my hand."He was still shuddering at the recollection of it, the poor fellow!