What Love Costs an Old Man/Section 14
Monsieur de Nucingen did not go home till Monday at about noon. But at one o'clock his broker informed him that Mademoiselle Esther van Bogseck had sold the bond bearing thirty thousand francs interest on Friday last, and had just received the money.
"But, Monsieur le Baron, Derville's head-clerk called on me just as I was settling this transfer; and after seeing Mademoiselle Esther's real names, he told me she had come into a fortune of seven millions."
"Yes, she is the only heir to the old bill-discounter Gobseck.—Derville will verify the facts. If your mistress' mother was the handsome Dutch woman, la Belle Hollandaise, as they called her, she comes in for——"
"I know dat she is," cried the banker. "She tolt me all her life. I shall write ein vort to Derville."
The Baron at down at his desk, wrote a line to Derville, and sent it by one of his servants. Then, after going to the Bourse, he went back to Esther's house at about three o'clock.
"Madame forbade our waking her on any pretence whatever. She is in bed—asleep——"
"Ach der Teufel!" said the Baron. "But, Europe, she shall not be angry to be tolt that she is fery, fery rich. She shall inherit seven millions. Old Gobseck is deat, and your mis'ess is his sole heir, for her moter vas Gobseck's own niece; and besides, he shall hafe left a vill. I could never hafe tought that a millionaire like dat man should hafe left Esther in misery!"
"Ah, ha! Then your reign is over, old pantaloon!" said Europe, looking at the Baron with an effrontery worthy of one of Moliere's waiting-maids. "Shooh! you old Alsatian crow! She loves you as we love the plague! Heavens above us! Millions!—Why, she may marry her lover; won't she be glad!"
And Prudence Servien left the Baron simply thunder-stricken, to be the first to announce to her mistress this great stroke of luck. The old man, intoxicated with superhuman enjoyment, and believing himself happy, had just received a cold shower-bath on his passion at the moment when it had risen to the intensest white heat.
"She vas deceiving me!" cried he, with tears in his eyes. "Yes, she vas cheating me. Oh, Esther, my life! Vas a fool hafe I been! Can such flowers ever bloom for de old men! I can buy all vat I vill except only yout!—Ach Gott, ach Gott! Vat shall I do! Vat shall become of me!—She is right, dat cruel Europe. Esther, if she is rich, shall not be for me. Shall I go hank myself? Vat is life midout de divine flame of joy dat I have known? Mein Gott, mein Gott!"
The old man snatched off the false hair he had combed in with his gray hairs these three months past.
A piercing shriek from Europe made Nucingen quail to his very bowels. The poor banker rose and walked upstairs on legs that were drunk with the bowl of disenchantment he had just swallowed to the dregs, for nothing is more intoxicating than the wine of disaster.
At the door of her room he could see Esther stiff on her bed, blue with poison—dead!
He went up to the bed and dropped on his knees.
"You are right! She tolt me so!—She is dead—of me——"
Paccard, Asie, every one hurried in. It was a spectacle, a shock, but not despair. Every one had their doubts. The Baron was a banker again. A suspicion crossed his mind, and he was so imprudent as to ask what had become of the seven hundred and fifty thousand francs, the price of the bond. Paccard, Asie, and Europe looked at each other so strangely that Monsieur de Nucingen left the house at once, believing that robbery and murder had been committed. Europe, detecting a packet of soft consistency, betraying the contents to be banknotes, under her mistress' pillow, proceeded at once to "lay her out," as she said.
"Go and tell monsieur, Asie!—Oh, to die before she knew that she had seven millions! Gobseck was poor madame's uncle!" said she.
Europe's stratagem was understood by Paccard. As soon as Asie's back was turned, Europe opened the packet, on which the hapless courtesan had written: "To be delivered to Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre."
Seven hundred and fifty thousand-franc notes shone in the eyes of Prudence Servien, who exclaimed:
"Won't we be happy and honest for the rest of our lives!"
Paccard made no objection. His instincts as a thief were stronger than his attachment to Trompe-la-Mort.
"Durut is dead," he said at length; "my shoulder is still a proof before letters. Let us be off together; divide the money, so as not to have all our eggs in one basket, and then get married."
"But where can we hide?" said Prudence.
"In Paris," replied Paccard.
Prudence and Paccard went off at once, with the promptitude of two honest folks transformed into robbers.
"My child," said Carlos to Asie, as soon as she had said three words, "find some letter of Esther's while I write a formal will, and then take the copy and the letter to Girard; but he must be quick. The will must be under Esther's pillow before the lawyers affix the seals here."
And he wrote out the following will:—
"Never having loved any one on earth but Monsieur Lucien Chardon
de Rubempre, and being resolved to end my life rather than relapse
into vice and the life of infamy from which he rescued me, I give
and bequeath to the said Lucien Chardon de Rubempre all I may
possess at the time of my decease, on condition of his founding a
mass in perpetuity in the parish church of Saint-Roch for the
repose of her who gave him her all, to her last thought.
"That is quite in her style," thought Trompe-la-Mort.
By seven in the evening this document, written and sealed, was placed by Asie under Esther's bolster.
"Jacques," said she, flying upstairs again, "just as I came out of the room justice marched in——"
"The justice of the peace you mean?"
"No, my son. The justice of the peace was there, but he had gendarmes with him. The public prosecutor and the examining judge are there too, and the doors are guarded."
"This death has made a stir very quickly," remarked Jacques Collin.
"Ay, and Paccard and Europe have vanished; I am afraid they may have scared away the seven hundred and fifty thousand francs," said Asie.
"The low villains!" said Collin. "They have done for us by their swindling game."
Human justice, and Paris justice, that is to say, the most suspicious, keenest, cleverest, and omniscient type of justice—too clever, indeed, for it insists on interpreting the law at every turn—was at last on the point of laying its hand on the agents of this horrible intrigue.
The Baron of Nucingen, on recognizing the evidence of poison, and failing to find his seven hundred and fifty thousand francs, imagined that one of two persons whom he greatly disliked—either Paccard or Europe—was guilty of the crime. In his first impulse of rage he flew to the prefecture of police. This was a stroke of a bell that called up all Corentin's men. The officials of the prefecture, the legal profession, the chief of the police, the justice of the peace, the examining judge,—all were astir. By nine in the evening three medical men were called in to perform an autopsy on poor Esther, and inquiries were set on foot.
Trompe-la-Mort, warned by Asie, exclaimed:
"No one knows that I am here; I may take an airing." He pulled himself up by the skylight of his garret, and with marvelous agility was standing in an instant on the roof, whence he surveyed the surroundings with the coolness of a tiler.
"Good!" said he, discerning a garden five houses off in the Rue de Provence, "that will just do for me."
"You are paid out, Trompe-la-Mort," said Contenson, suddenly emerging from behind a stack of chimneys. "You may explain to Monsieur Camusot what mass you were performing on the roof, Monsieur l'Abbe, and, above all, why you were escaping——"
"I have enemies in Spain," said Carlos Herrera.
"We can go there by way of your attic," said Contenson.
The sham Spaniard pretended to yield; but, having set his back and feet across the opening of the skylight, he gripped Contenson and flung him off with such violence that the spy fell in the gutter of the Rue Saint-Georges.
Contenson was dead on his field of honor; Jacques Collin quietly dropped into the room again and went to bed.
"Give me something that will make me very sick without killing me," said he to Asie; "for I must be at death's door, to avoid answering inquisitive persons. I have just got rid of a man in the most natural way, who might have unmasked me."