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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Impostor and the Banker’s Wife: The Robbery
By Émile Gaboriau (1832–1873)
 
From ‘File No. 113’

RAOUL SPENCER, supposed to be Raoul de Clameran, began to triumph over his instincts of revolt. He ran to the door and rang the bell. It opened.  1
  “Is my aunt at home?” he asked the footman.  2
  “Madame is alone in the boudoir next her room,” replied the servant.  3
  Raoul ascended.  4
  Clameran had said to Raoul, “Above all, be careful about your entrance; your appearance must express everything, and thus you will avoid impossible explanations.”  5
  The suggestion was useless.  6
  When Raoul entered the little reception-room, his pale face and wild eyes frightened Madame Fauvel, who cried:—  7
  “Raoul! What has happened to you?”  8
  The sound of her gentle voice produced upon the young vagrant the effect of an electric shock. He trembled from head to foot: yet his mind was clear; Louis had not been mistaken in him. Raoul continued his rôle as if on the stage, and as assurance came to him his knavery crushed his better nature.  9
  “Mother, the misfortune which has come to me,” he replied, “is the last one.”  10
  Madame Fauvel had never seen him like this. Trembling with emotion, she rose and stood before him, with her tender face near his. She fixed in a steady gaze the power of her will, as if she meant to read the depths of his soul.  11
  “What is it?” she insisted. “Raoul, my son, tell me.”  12
  He pushed her gently away.  13
  “What has happened,” he replied in a choked voice which pierced the heart of Madame Fauvel, “proves that I am unworthy of you, unworthy of my noble and generous father.”  14
  She moved her head in protestation.  15
  “Ah!” he continued, “I know and judge myself. No one could reproach my own infamous conduct so cruelly as my own conscience. I was not born wicked, but I am a miserable fool. I have hours when, as if in a vertigo, I do not know what I am doing. Ah! I should not have been like this, mother, if you had been with me in my childhood. But brought up among strangers, and left to myself without any guides but my own instincts, I am at the mercy of my own passions. Possessing nothing, not even my stolen name, I am vain and devoured by ambition. Poor and without resources but your help, I have the tastes and vices of a millionaire’s son. Alas! when I recovered you, the harm was done. Your affection, your maternal tenderness which have given me my only days of happiness, could not save me. I who have suffered so much, who have endured so many privations, who have known hunger, have been spoiled by this new luxury with which you have surrounded me. I threw myself into pleasure as a drunkard rushes for the strong drink of which he has been deprived.”  16
  Raoul expressed himself with such intense conviction and assurance that Madame Fauvel did not interrupt.  17
  Mute and terrified, she dared not question him, fearful of learning some horrible news.  18
  He however continued:—“Yes, I have been a fool. Happiness has passed by me, and I did not know enough to stretch out my hand to take it. I have rejected an exquisite reality for the pursuit of a phantom. I, who should have spent my life by your side and sought constantly for new proofs of my love and gratitude, I, a dark shadow, give you a cruel stab, cause you sorrow, and render you the most unfortunate of beings. Ah! what a brute I have been! For the sake of a creature whom I should despise, I have thrown to the wind a fortune whose every piece of gold has cost you a tear! With you lies happiness. I know it too late.”  19
  He stopped, overcome by the thought of his evil conduct, ready to burst into tears.  20
  “It is never too late to repent, my son,” murmured Madame Fauvel, “and redeem your wrong.”  21
  “Ah, if I could!” cried Raoul; “but no, it is too late. Who knows how long my good resolutions will last? It is not only to-day that I have condemned myself without pity. Seized by remorse at each new failure, I have sworn to regain my self-respect. Alas! to what has my periodical repentance amounted? At the first new temptation I forget my remorse and my oaths. You consider me a man: I am only an unstable child. I am weak and cowardly, and you are not strong enough to dominate my weakness and control my vacillating character. I have the best intentions in the world, yet my actions are those of a scoundrel. The gap between my position and my nature is too wide for me to reconcile them. Who knows where my deplorable character may lead me?”  22
  He gave a gesture expressing recklessness, and added, “I myself will bring justice upon myself.”  23
  Madame Fauvel was too deeply agitated to follow Raoul’s sudden moods.  24
  “Speak!” she cried; “explain yourself. Am I not your mother? You must tell me the truth; I must hear all.”  25
  He appeared to hesitate, as if he feared to give so terrible a shock to his mother. Finally, in a hollow voice he said, “I am ruined!”  26
  “Ruined!”  27
  “Yes, and I have nothing more to wait for nor to hope for. I am dishonored, and through my own fault, my own grievous fault!”  28
  “Raoul!”  29
  “It is true. But fear not, mother; I will not drag the name that you bestowed upon me in the dirt. I have the vulgar courage not to survive my dishonor. Go, waste no sympathy on me. I am one of those creatures of destiny who have no refuge save death. I am the victim of fate. Have you not been forced to deny my birth? Did not the memory of me haunt you and deprive your nights of sleep? And now, having found you, in exchange for your devotion I bring into your life a bitter curse.”  30
  “Ungrateful child! Have I ever reproached you?”  31
  “Never. And therefore with your blessing, and with your loved name on his lips, your Raoul will—die!”  32
  “Die? You?”  33
  “Yes, mother: honor bids it. I am condemned by inexorable judges—my will and my conscience.”  34
  An hour earlier Madame Fauvel would have sworn that Raoul had made her suffer all that a woman could endure; and now he had brought her a new grief so acute that the former ones seemed naught in comparison.  35
  “What have you done?” she stammered.  36
  “Money was intrusted to me. I played, and lost it.”  37
  “Was it a large amount?”  38
  “No, but neither you nor I can replace it. Poor mother, have I not taken everything from you? Haven’t you given me your last jewel?”  39
  “But M. De Clameran is rich; he has put his fortune at my disposal. I will order the carriage and go to him.”  40
  “M. De Clameran, mother, is absent for eight days; and I must have the money to-night, or I am lost. Go! I have thought of everything before deciding. But one loves life at twenty!”  41
  He drew a pistol half out of his pocket, saying with a grim smile, “This will arrange everything.”  42
  Madame Fauvel was too unnerved in reflecting upon the horror of the conduct of the supposed Raoul de Clameran to fancy that this last wild menace was but a means for obtaining money.  43
  Forgetting the past, ignoring the future, and concentrating her thought on the present situation, she saw but one thing—that her son was about to kill himself, and that she was powerless to arrest his suicide.  44
  “Wait, wait,” she said; “André will soon return, and I will tell him that I have need of— How much did you lose?”  45
  “Thirty thousand francs.”  46
  “You shall have them to-morrow.”  47
  “I must have them to-night.”  48
  She seemed to be going mad; she wrung her hands in despair.  49
  “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—”  50
  The expectant Raoul caught the word. He gave an exclamation of joy, as if a light had broken upon his dark despair.  51
  “The safe!” he cried; “do you know where the key is?”  52
  “Yes, it is here.”  53
  “Thank heaven!”  54
  He looked at Madame Fauvel with such a demoniacal glance that she dropped her eyes.  55
  “Give it to me, mother,” he entreated.  56
  “Miserable boy!”  57
  “It is life that I ask of you.”  58
  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.  59
  But as she was handing it to Raoul, reason returned.  60
  “No,” she murmured; “no, it is impossible.”  61
  He did not insist, and indeed seemed willing to retire.  62
  “Ah, well!” he said. “Then, my mother, one last kiss.”  63
  She stopped him:—“What will you do with the key, Raoul? Have you also the secret word?”  64
  “No, but I can try.”  65
  “You know there is never money in the safe.”  66
  “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.”  67
  “And if you do not succeed? Then will you swear that you will wait until to-morrow?”  68
  “Upon the memory of my father, I swear it.”  69
  “Then here is the key! Come.”…  70
  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,s,y. 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.  71
  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.  72
  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.  73
  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.  74
  The word had not been changed: the box opened.  75
  Raoul and his mother uttered cries—hers of terror, his of triumph.  76
  “Shut it!” screamed Madame Fauvel, frightened at this inexplicable and incomprehensible result; “leave it—come!”  77
  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.  78
  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.  79
  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.  80
  “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!”  81
  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.  82
  “At least,” implored Madame Fauvel, “don’t take all. Keep what you need to save yourself, and leave the rest.”  83
  “What for? Would a balance make discovery less easy?”  84
  “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—”  85
  With precaution, Raoul closed the safe.  86
  “Come,” he said to his mother, “let us leave, so that we may not be suspected. One of the servants might go to the drawing-room and be surprised not to find us there.”  87
  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.  88
  “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.”  89
  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.  90
  “Let us go,” he said, seizing Madame Fauvel by the arm.  91
  But she resisted, and clung to a table, the better to resist.  92
  “I have been a coward to sacrifice Madeleine,” she said quietly. “I will not sacrifice Prosper!”  93
  Raoul knew of a victorious argument which would break Madame Fauvel’s resolution.  94
  “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.”  95
  “That is impossible.”  96
  “What do you think? Do you imagine that it was chance which gave me the secret word and opened the box?”  97
  “Prosper is honest.”  98
  “Of course, and so am I. But—we need the money.”  99
  “You speak falsely!”  100
  “No, dear mother. Madeleine left Prosper, and—well, bless me! he has tried to console himself, the poor fellow; and such consolations are expensive.”  101
  He had lifted the lamp; and gently but with much force pushed Madame Fauvel towards the staircase.  102
  She seemed to be more dumbfounded than when she saw the open safe.  103
  “What,” she said, “Prosper a thief?”  104
  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.  105
  “The key must be returned to the writing-desk,” said Raoul, when they reached the bedroom.  106
  She appeared not to hear, and it was Raoul who replaced the key in the box from which he had seen her take it.  107
  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?  108
  “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.”  109
  But his lies and his efforts were lost upon Madame Fauvel, who was too distracted to hear them.  110
  “Raoul,” she murmured, “my son, you have killed me!”  111
  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.  112
  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.  113
 
 
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