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II

Close upon the heels of the servant M. de Thaller came.

Tall, thin, stiff, he had a very small head, a flat face, pointed
nose, and long reddish whiskers, slightly shaded with silvery threads,
falling half-way down his chest. Dressed in the latest style, he
wore a loose overcoat of rough material, pantaloons that spread
nearly to the tip of his boots, a wide shirt-collar turned over a
light cravat, on the bow of which shone a large diamond, and a tall
hat with rolled brims. With a blinking glance, he made a rapid
estimate of the dining-room, the shabby furniture, and the guests
seated around the table. Then, without even condescending to touch
his hat, with his large hand tightly fitted into a lavender glove,
in a brief and imperious tone, and with a slight accent which he
affirmed was the Alsatian accent:

"I must speak with you, Vincent," said he to his cashier, "alone and
at once."

M. Favoral made visible efforts to conceal his anxiety. "You see,"
he commenced, "we are dining with a few friends, and -"

"Do you wish me to speak in presence of everybody?" interrupted
harshly the manager of the Mutual Credit.

The cashier hesitated no longer. Taking up a candle from the table,
he opened the door leading to the parlor, and, standing respectfully
to one side:

"Be kind enough to pass on, sir," said he: "I follow you."

And, at the moment of disappearing himself,

"Continue to dine without me," said he to his guests, with a last
effort at self-control. "I shall soon catch up with you. This will
take but a moment. Do not be uneasy in the least."

They were not uneasy, but surprised, and, above all, shocked at the
manners of M. de Thaller.

"What a brute!" muttered Mme. Desclavettes.

M. Desormeaux, the head clerk at the Department of Justice, was an
old legitimist, much imbued with re-actionary ideas.

"Such are our masters," said he with a sneer, "the high barons of
financial feudality. Ah! you are indignant at the arrogance of the
old aristocracy; well, on your knees, by Jupiter! on your face,
rather, before the golden crown on field of gules."

No one replied: every one was trying his best to hear.

In the parlor, between M. Favoral and M. de Thaller, a discussion of
the utmost violence was evidently going on. To seize the meaning
of it was not possible; and yet through the door, the upper panels of
which were of glass, fragments could be heard; and from time to time
such words distinctly reached the ear as dividend, stockholders,
deficit, millions, etc.

"What can it all mean? great heaven!" moaned Mme. Favoral.

Doubtless the two interlocutors, the director and the cashier, had
drawn nearer to the door of communication; for their voices, which
rose more and more, had now become quite distinct.

"It is an infamous trap!" M. Favoral was saying. "I should have been
notified "

"Come, come," interrupted the other. "Were you not fully warned? did
I ever conceal any thing from you?"

Fear, a fear vague still, and unexplained, was slowly taking
possession of the guests ; and they remained motionless, their forks
in suspense, holding their breath.

"Never," M. Favoral was repeating, stamping his foot so violently
that the partition shook, - " never, never!"

"And yet it must be," declared M. de Thaller. "It is the only, the
last resource

"And suppose I will not!"

"Your will has nothing to do with it now. It is twenty years ago
that you might have willed, or not willed. But listen to me, and
let us reason a little."

Here M. de Thaller dropped his voice; and for some minutes nothing
was heard in the dining-room, except confused words, and
incomprehensible exclamations, until suddenly,

"That is ruin," he resumed in a furious tone: "it is bankruptcy on
the last of the month."

Sir," the cashier was replying, - "sir!"

"You are a forger, M. Vincent Favoral; you are a thief!"

Maxence leaped from his seat.

"I shall not permit my father to be thus insulted in his own house,"
he exclaimed.

"Maxence," begged Mme. Favoral, "my son!"

The old lawyer, M. Chapelain, held him by the arm; but he struggled
hard, and was about to burst into the parlor, when the door opened,
and the director of the Mutual Credit stepped out.

With a coolness quite, remarkable after such a scene, he advanced
towards Mlle. Gilberte, and, in a tone of offensive protection,.

"Your father is a wretch, mademoiselle," he said; "and my duty should
be to surrender him at once into the hands of justice. On account of
your worthy mother, however, of your father himself, above all, on
your own account, mademoiselle, I shall forbear doing so. But let
him fly, let him disappear, and never more be heard from."

He drew from his pocket a roll of bank-notes, and, throwing them upon
the table,

"Hand him this," he added. "Let him leave this very night. The
police may have been notified. There is a train for Brussels at
five minutes past eleven."

And, having bowed, he withdrew, no one addressing him a single word,
so great was the astonishment of all the guests of this house,
heretofore so peaceful.

Overcome with stupor, Maxence had dropped upon his chair. Mlle.
Gilberte alone retained some presence of mind.

"It is a shame," she exclaimed, "for us to give up thus! That man
is an impostor, a wretch; he lies! Father, father!

M. Favoral had not waited to be called, and was standing up against
the parlor-door, pale as death, and yet calm.

"Why attempt any explanations?" he said. "The money is gone; and
appearances are against me."

His wife had drawn near to him, and taken his hand. "The misfortune
is immense," she said, "but not irreparable. We will sell everything
we have."

"Have you not friends? Are we not here," insisted the others, - M.
Desclavettes, M. Desormeaux, and M. Chapelain.

Gently he pushed his wife aside, and coldly.

"All we had," he said, "would be as a grain of sand in an ocean.
But we have no longer anything; we are ruined."

"Ruined!" exclaimed M. Desormeaux, - "ruined! And where are the
forty-five thousand francs I placed into your hands?"

He made no reply.


"And our hundred and twenty thousand francs?" groaned M. and Mme.
Desciavettes.

"And my sixty thousand francs?" shouted M. Chapelain, with a
blasphemous oath.

The cashier shrugged his shoulders. "Lost," he said, "irrevocably
lost!"

Then their rage exceeded all bounds. Then they forgot that this
unfortunate man had been their friend for twenty years, that they
were his guests; and they commenced heaping upon him threats and
insults without name.

He did not even deign to defend himself.

"Go on," he uttered, "go on. When a poor dog, carried away by the
current, is drowning, men of heart cast stones at him from the bank.
Go on!"

"You should have told us that you speculated," screamed M.
Desclavettes.

On hearing these words, he straightened himself up, and with a
gesture so terrible that the others stepped back frightened.

"What!"said he, in a tone of crushing irony, "it is this evening
only, that you discover that I speculated? Kind friends! Where,
then, and in whose pockets, did you suppose I was getting the
enormous interests I have been paying you for years? Where have
you ever seen honest money, the money of labor, yield twelve or
fourteen per cent? The money that yields thus is the money of the
gaming table, the money of the bourse. Why did you bring me your
funds? Because you were fully satisfied that I knew how to handle
the cards. Ah! If I was to tell you that I had doubled your capital,
you would not ask how I did it, nor whether I had stocked the cards.
You would virtuously pocket the money. But I have lost: I am a
thief. Well, so be it. But, then, you are all my accomplices. It
is the avidity of the dupes which induces the trickery of the
sharpers."

Here he was interrupted by the servant coming in. "Sir," she
exclaimed excitedly, "0 sir! the courtyard is full of police agents.
They are speaking to the concierge. They are coming up stairs: I
hear them!"





Other People's Money by Emile Gaboriau
Category:
General Fiction
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