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XXIII

After a few hours of that leaden sleep which follows great
catastrophes, Mme. Favoral and her children were awakened on the
morning of the next day, which was Sunday, by the furious clamors
of an exasperated crowd. Each one, from his own room, understood
that the apartment had just been invaded. Loud blows upon the door
were mingled with the noise of feet, the oaths of men, and the
screams of women. And, above this confused and continuous tumult,
such vociferations as these could be heard:

"I tell you they must be at home!"

"Canailles, swindlers, thieves!"

"We want to go in: we will go in!"

"Let the woman come, then: we want to see her, to speak to her!"

Occasionally there were moments of silence, during which the
plaintive voice of the servant could be heard; but almost at once
the cries and the threats commenced again, louder than ever.
Maxence, being ready first, ran to the parlor, where his mother and
sister joined him directly, their eyes swollen by sleep and by tears.
Mme. Favoral was trembling so much that she could not succeed in
fastening her dress.

"Do you hear?" she said in a choking voice.

From the parlor, which was divided from the dining-room by
folding-doors, they did not miss a single insult.

"Well," said Mlle. Gilberte coldly, "what else could we expect? If
Bertan came alone last night, it is because he alone had been
notified. Here are the others now."


And, turning to her brother,

"You must see them," she added, "speak to them."

But Maxence did not stir. The idea of facing the insults and the
curses of these enraged creditors was too repugnant to him.

"Would you rather let them break in the door?" said Mlle. Gilberte.
"That won't take long."

He hesitated no more. Gathering all his courage, he stepped into
the dining-room. The disorder was beyond limits. The table had
been pushed towards one of the corners, the chairs were upset.
They were there some thirty men and women, - concierges,
shop-keepers, and retired bourgeois of the neighborhood, their
cheeks flushed, their eyes staring, gesticulating as if they had a
fit, shaking their clinched fists at the ceiling.

"Gentlemen," commenced Maxence.

But his voice was drowned by the most frightful shouts. He had
hardly got in, when he was so closely surrounded, that he had been
unable to close the parlor-door after him, and had been driven and
backed against the embrasure of a window.

"My father, gentlemen," he resumed.

Again he was interrupted. There were three or four before him, who
were endeavoring before all to establish their own claims clearly.

They were speaking all at once, each one raising his own voice so
as to drown that of the others. And yet, through their confused
explanations, it was easy to understand the way in which the cashier
of the Mutual Credit had managed things.

Formerly it was only with great reluctance that he consented to take
charge of the funds which were offered to him; and then he never
accepted sums less than ten thousand francs, being always careful to
say, that, not being a prophet, he could not answer for any thing,
and might be mistaken, like any one else. Since the Commune, on the
contrary, and with a duplicity, that could never have been suspected,
he had used all his ingenuity to attract deposits. Under some
pretext or other, he would call among the neighbors, the
shop-keepers; and, after lamenting with them about the hard times
and the difficulty of making money, he always ended by holding up to
them the dazzling profits which are yielded by certain investments
unknown to the public.

If these very proceedings had not betrayed him, it is because he
recommended to each the most inviolable secrecy, saying, that, at
the slightest indiscretion, he would be assailed with demands, and
that it would be impossible for him to do for all what he did for one.

At any rate, he took every thing that was offered, even the most
insignificant sums, affirming, with the most imperturbable assurance,
that he could double or treble them without the slightest risk.

The catastrophe having come, the smaller creditors showed themselves,
as usual, the most angry and the most intractable. The less money
one has, the more anxious one is to keep it. There was there an old
newspaper-vender, who had placed in M. Favoral's hands all she had
in the world, the savings of her entire life, - five hundred francs.
Clinging desperately to Maxence's garments, she begged him to give
them back to her, swearing, that, if he did not, there was nothing
left for her to do, except to throw herself in the river. Her groans
and her cries of distress exasperated the other creditors.

That the cashier of the Mutual Credit should have embezzled millions,
they could well understand, they said. But that he could have
robbed this poor woman of her five hundred francs, - nothing more
low, more cowardly, and more vile could be imagined; and the law
had no chastisement severe enough for such a crime.

"Give her back her five hundred francs;" they cried. For there was
not one of them but would have wagered his head that M. Favoral had
lots of money put away; and some went even so far as to say that he
must have hid it in the house, and, if they looked well, they would
find it.

Maxence, bewildered, was at a loss what to do, when, in the midst
of this hostile crowd, he perceived M. Chapelain's friendly face.

Driven from his bed at daylight by the bitter regrets at the heavy
loss he had just sustained, the old lawyer had arrived in the Rue
St. Gilles at the very moment when the creditors invaded M. Favoral's
apartment. Standing behind the crowd, he had seen and heard every
thing without breathing a word; and, if he interfered now, it was
because he thought things were about to take an ugly turn. He was
well known; and, as soon as he showed himself,

"He is a friend of the rascal!" they shouted on all sides.

But he was not the man to be so easily frightened. He had seen many
a worse case during twenty years that he had practised law,, and had
witnessed all the sinister comedies and all the grotesque dramas of
money. He knew how to speak to infuriated creditors, how to handle
them, and what strings can be made to vibrate within them. In the
most quiet tone,

"Certainly," he answered, "I was Favoral's intimate friend; and the
proof of it is, that he has treated me more friendly than the rest.
I am in for a hundred and sixty thousand francs."

By this mere declaration he conquered the sympathies of the crowd.
He was a brother in misfortune; they respected him: he was a skilful
business-man; they stopped to listen to him.

At once, and in a short and trenchant tone, he asked these invaders
what they were doing there, and what they wanted. Did they not know
to what they exposed themselves in violating a domicile? What would
have happened, if, instead of stopping to parley, Maxence had sent
for the commissary of police? Was it to Mme. Favoral and her
children that they had intrusted their funds? No! What did they
want with them then? Was there by chance among them some of those
shrewd fellows who always try to get themselves paid in full, to the
detriment of the others?

This last insinuation proved sufficient to break up the perfect
accord that had hitherto existed among all the creditors. Distrust
arose; suspicious glances were exchanged; and, as the old newspaper
woman was keeping up her groans,

"I should like to know why you should be paid before us," two women
told her roughly. "Our rights are just as good as yours!"

Prompt to avail himself of the dispositions of the crowd,

"And, moreover," resumed the old lawyer, "in whom did we place our
confidence? Was it in Favoral the private individual? To a certain
extent, yes; but it was much more to the cashier of the Mutual
Credit. Therefore that establishment owes us, at least, some
explanations. And this is .not all. Are we really so badly burned,
that we should scream so loud? What do we know about it? That
Favoral is charged with embezzlement, that they came to arrest him,
and that he has run away. Is that any reason why our money should
be lost? I hope not. And so what should we do? Act prudently,
and wait patiently for the work of justice."

Already, by this time, the creditors had slipped out one by one;
and soon the servant closed the door on the last of them.

Then Mme. Favoral, Maxence, and Mlle. Gilberte surrounded M.
Chapelain, and, pressing his hands,

"How thankful we feel, sir, for the service you have just
rendered us!

But the old lawyer seemed in no wise proud of his victory.

"Do not thank me," he said. "I have only done my duty, - what any
honest man would have done in my place."

And yet, under the appearance of impassible coldness, which he owed
to the long practice of a profession which leaves no illusions, he
evidently felt a real emotion.

"It is you whom I pity," he added, "and with all my soul, - you,
madame, you, my dear Gilberte, and you, too, Maxence. Never had I
so well understood to what degree is guilty the head of a family
who leaves his wife and children exposed to the consequences of his
crimes.

He stopped. The servant was trying her best to put the dining-room
in some sort of order wheeling the table to the centre of the room,
and lifting up the chairs from the floor.

"What pillage!" she grumbled. "Neighbors too, - people from whom
we bought our things! But they were worse than savages; impossible
to do any thing with them."

"Don't trouble yourself, my good girl," said M. Chapelain: "they
won't come back any more!"

Mme. Favoral looked as if she wished to drop on her knees before
the old lawyer.

"How, very kind you are!" she murmured: "you are not too angry with
my poor Vincent!"

With the look of a man who has made up his mind to make the best of
a disaster that he cannot help, M. Chapelain shrugged his shoulders.

"I am angry with no one but myself," he uttered in a bluff tone.
"An old bird like me should not have allowed himself to be caught
in a pigeon-trap. I am inexcusable. But we want to get rich. It's
slow work getting rich by working, and it's so much easier to get
the money already made out of our neighbor's pockets! I have been
unable to resist the temptation myself. It's my own fault; and I
should say it was a good lesson, if it did not cost so dear."'





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