FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS
"When I think," said Coleridge, "that every morning, in Paris alone,
thirty thousand fellows wake up, and rise with the fixed and settled
idea of appropriating other people's money, it is with renewed wonder
that every night, when I go home, I find my purse still in my pocket."
And yet it is not those who simply aim to steal your portemonnaie
who are either the most dishonest or the most formidable.
To stand at the corner of some dark street, and rush upon the first
man that comes along, demanding, "Your money or your life," is but a
poor business, devoid of all prestige, and long since given up to
A man must be something worse than a simpleton to still ply his
trade on the high-roads, exposed to all sorts of annoyances on the
part of the gendarmes, when manufacturing and financial enterprises
offer such a magnificently fertile field to the activity of
And, in order to thoroughly understand the mode of proceeding in
this particular field, it is sufficient to open from time to time a
copy of "The Police Gazette," and to read some trial, like that, for
instance, of one Lefurteux, ex-president of the Company for the
Drainage and Improvement of the Orne Swamps.
This took place less than a month ago in one of the police-courts.
The Judge to the Accused - Your profession?
M.Lefurteux - President of the company.
Question - Before that what were you doing?
Answer - I speculated at the bourse.
Q - You had no means?
A - I beg your pardon: I was making money.
Q - And it was under such circumstances that you had the audacity
to organize a company with a capital stock of three million of
francs, divided in shares of five hundred francs?
A - Having discovered an idea, I did not suppose that I was forbidden
to work it up.
Q - What do you call an idea?
A - The idea of draining swamps, and making them productive.
Q - What swamps? Yours never had any existence, except in your
A - I expected to buy them as soon as my capital was paid in.
Q - And in the mean time you promised ten per cent to your
A-That's the least that draining operations ever pay.
Q - You have advertised?
A - Of course.
Q - To what extent?
A - To the extent of about sixty thousand francs.
Q - Where did you get the money?
A - I commenced with ten thousand francs, which a friend of mine had
lent me; then I used the funds as they came in.
9 - In other words, you made use of the money of your first dupes to
A - Many~people thought it was a good thing.
Q - Who? Those to whom you sent your prospectus with a plan of your
A - Excuse me. Others too.
Q - How much money did you ever receive?
A - About six hundred thousand francs, as the expert has stated.
Q - And you have spent the whole of the money?
A - Permit me? I have never applied to my personal wants any thing
beyond the salary which was allowed me by the By-laws.
Q - How is it, then, that, when you were arrested, there were only
twelve hundred and fifty francs found in your safe, and that amount
had been sent you through the post-office that very morning? What
has become of the rest?
A - The rest has been spent for the good of the company.
Q - Of course! You had a carriage?
A - It was allowed to me by Article 27 of the By-laws.
Q - For the good of the company too, I suppose.
A - Certainly. I was compelled to make a certain display. The head
of an important company must endeavor to inspire confidence.
The Judge, with an Ironical Look - Was it also to inspire confidence
that you had a mistress, for whom you spent considerable sums of
The Accused, in a Tone of Perfect Candor - Yes, sir.
After a pause of a few moments, the judge resumes,
Q - Your offices were magnificent. They must have cost you a great
deal to furnish.
A - On the contrary, sir, almost nothing. The furniture was all
hired. You can examine the upholsterer.
The upholsterer is sent for, and in answer to the judge's questions,
"What M. Lefurteux has stated," he says, "is true. My specialty is
to hire office-fixtures for financial and other companies. I furnish
every thing, from the book-keepers' desks to the furniture for the
president's private room: from the iron safe to the servant's livery.
In twenty-four hours, every thing is ready, and the subscribers can
come. As soon as a company is organized, like the one in question,
the officers call on me, and, according to the magnitude of the
capital required, I furnish a more or less costly establishment. I
have a good deal of experience, and I know just what's wanted.
When M. Lefurteux came to see me, I gauged his operation at a glance.
Three millions of capital, swamps in the Orne, shares of five hundred
francs, small subscribers, anxious and noisy.
"'Very well,' I said to him, 'it's a six-months' job. Don't go into
useless expenses. Take reps for your private office: that's good
The Judge, in a tone of Profound Surprise - You told him that?
The Upholsterer, in the Simple Accent of an Honest Man - Exactly as
I am telling your Honor. He followed my advice; and I sent him red
hot the furniture and fixtures which had been used by the River
Fishery Company, whose president had just been sent to prison for
When, after such revelations, renewed from week to week, with
instructive variations, purchasers may still be found for the shares
of the Tiffla Mines, the Bretoneche Lands, and the Forests of
Formanoid, is it to be wondered that the Mutual Credit Company found
It had been admirably started at that propitious hour of the
December coup d'etat, when the first ideas of mutuality were
beginning to penetrate the financial world.
It had lacked neither capital nor powerful patronage at the start,
and had been at once admitted to the honor of being quoted at the
Beginning business ostensibly as an accommodation bank for
manufacturers and merchants, the Mutual Credit had had, for a number
of years, a well-determined specialty.
But gradually it had enlarged the circle of its operations, altered
its by-laws, changed its board of directors; and at the end the
original subscribers would have been not a little embarrassed to
tell what was the nature of its business, and from what sources it
drew its profits.
All they knew was, that it always paid respectable dividends; that
their manager, M. de Thaller, was personally very rich; and that
they were willing to trust him to steer clear of the code.
There were some, of course, who did not view things in quite so
favorable a light; who suggested that the dividends were suspiciously
large; that M. de Thaller spent too much money on his house, his
wife, his daughter, and his mistress.
One thing is certain, that the shares of the Mutual Credit Society
were much above par, and were quoted at 580 francs on that Saturday,
when, after the closing of the bourse, the rumor had spread that
the cashier. Vincent Favoral, had run off with twelve millions.
"What a haul!" thought, not without a feeling of envy, more than
one broker, who, for merely one-twelfth of that amount would have
gayly crossed the frontier. It was almost an event in Paris.
Although such adventures are frequent enough, and not taken much
notice of, in the present instance, the magnitude of the amount
more than made up for the vulgarity of the act.
Favoral was generally pronounced a very smart man; and some persons
declared, that to take twelve millions could hardly be called
The first question asked was,
"Is Thaller in the operation? Was he in collusion with his cashier?"
"That's the whole question."
"If he was, then the Mutual Credit is better off than ever:
otherwise, it is gone under."
"Thaller is pretty smart."
"That Favoral was perhaps more so still."
This uncertainty kept up the price for about half an hour. But soon
the most disastrous news began to spread, brought, no one knew
whence or by whom; and there was an irresistible panic.
From 425, at which price it had maintained itself for a time, the
Mutual Credit fell suddenly to 300, then 200, and finally to 150
Some friends of M. de Thaller, M. Costeclar, for instance, had
endeavored to keep up the market; but they had soon recognized the
futility of their efforts, and then they had bravely commenced
doing like the rest.
The next day was Sunday. From the early morning, it was reported,
with the most circumstantial details, that the Baron de Thaller
had been arrested.
But in the evening this had been contradicted by people who had
gone to the races, and who had met there Mme. de Thaller and her
daughter, more brilliant than ever, very lively, and very talkative.
To the persons who went to speak to them,
"My husband was unable to come," said the baroness. "He is busy
with two of his clerks, looking over that poor Favoral's accounts.
It seems that they are in the most inconceivable confusion. Who
would ever have thought such a thing of a man who lived on bread and
nuts? But he operated at the bourse; and he had organized, under a
false name, a sort of bank, in which he has very foolishly sunk
large sums of money.
And with a smile, as if all danger had been luckily averted,
"Fortunately," she added, "the damage is not as great as has been
reported, and this time, again, we shall get off with a good fright."
But the speeches of the baroness were hardly sufficient to quiet
the anxiety of the people who felt in their coat-pockets the
worthless certificates of Mutual Credit stock.
And the next day, Monday, as early as eight o'clock, they began to
arrive in crowds to demand of M. de Thaller some sort of an
They were there, at least a hundred, huddled together in the
vestibule, on the stairs, and on the first landing, a prey to the
most painful emotion and the most violent excitement; for they had
been refused admittance.
To all those who insisted upon going in, a tall servant in livery,
standing before the door, replied invariably, "The office is not
open, M. de Thaller has not yet come."
Whereupon they uttered such terrible threats and such loud
imprecations, that the frightened concierge had run, and hid himself
at the very bottom of his lodge.
No one can imagine to what epileptic contortions the loss of money
can drive an assemblage of men, who has not seen a meeting of
shareholders on the morrow of a great disaster, with their clinched
fists, their convulsed faces, their glaring eyes, and foaming lips.
They felt indignant at what had once been their delight. They laid
the blame of their ruin upon the splendor of the house, the
sumptuousness of the stairs, the candelabras of the vestibule, the
carpets, the chairs every thing.
" And it is our money too," they cried, "that has paid for all that!"
Standing upon a bench, a little short man was exciting transports
of indignation by describing the magnificence of the Baron de
Thaller's residence, where he had once had some dealings.
He had counted five carriages in the carriage-house, fifteen horses
in the stables, and Heaven knows how many servants.
He had never been inside the apartments, but he had visited the
kitchen; and he declared that he had been dazzled by the number
and brightness of the saucepans, ranged in order of size over
Gathered in a group under the vestibule, the most sensible deplored
their rash confidence.
"That's the way," concluded one, "with all these adventurous affairs."
"That's a fact. There's nothing, after all, like government bonds."
"Or a first mortgage on good property, with subrogation of the wife's
But what exasperated them, all was not to be admitted to the presence
of M. de Thaller, and to see that servant mounting guard before
"What impudence," they growled, "to leave us on the stairs! - we who
are the masters, after all."
"Who knows where M. de Thaller may be?"
"He is hiding, of course."
"No matter: I will see him," clamored a big fat man, with a
brick-colored face, "if I shouldn't stir from here for a week."
"You'll see nothing at all," giggled his neighbor. "Do you suppose
they don't have back-stairs and private entrances in this infernal
"Ah! if I believed any thing of the kind," exclaimed the big man
in a voice trembling with passion. "I'd soon break in some of these
doors: it isn't so hard, after all."
Already he was gazing at the servant with an alarming air, when an
old gentleman with a discreet look, stepped up to him, and inquired,
"Excuse me, sir: how many shares have you?"
"Three," answered the man with the brick-colored face.
The other sighed.
"I have two hundred and fifty," he said. "That's why, being at
least as interested as yourself in not losing every thing, I beg of
you to indulge in no violent proceedings."
There was no need of further speaking.
The door which the servant was guarding flew open. A clerk appeared,
and made sign that he wished to speak.
"Gentlemen," he began, "M. de Thaller has just come; but he is just
now engaged with the examining judge."
Shouts having drowned his voice, he withdrew precipitately.
"If the law gets its finger in," murmured the discreet gentleman,
"That's a fact," said another. "But we will have the precious
advantage of hearing that dear baron condemned to one year's
imprisonment, and a fine of fifty francs. That's the regular rate.
He wouldn't get off so cheap, if he had stolen a loaf of bread from
"Do you believe that story about the judge?" interrupted rudely the
They had to believe it, when they saw him appear, followed by a
commissary of police and a porter, carrying on his back a load of
books and papers. They stood aside to let them pass; but there was
no time to make any comments, as another clerk appeared immediately
"M. de Thaller is at your command, gentlemen. Please walk in."
There was then a terrible jamming and pushing to see who would get
first into the directors' room, which stood wide open.
M. de Thaller was standing against the mantel-piece, neither paler
nor more excited than usual, but like a man who feels sure of
himself and of his means of action. As soon as silence was restored,
"First of all, gentlemen," he began, "I must tell you that the board
of directors is about to meet, and that a general meeting of the
stockholders will be called."
Not a murmur. As at the touch of a magician's wand, the dispositions
of the shareholders seemed to have changed.
"I have nothing new to inform you of," he went on. "What happens
is a misfortune, but not a disaster. The thing to do was to save
the company; and I had first thought of calling for funds."
"Well," said two or three timid voices, "If it was absolutely
"But there is no need of it."
"And I can manage to carry every thing through by adding to our
reserve fund my own personal fortune."
This time the hurrahs and the bravos drowned the voice.
M. de Thaller received them like a man who deserves them, and,
"Honor commanded it," he continued. "I confess it, gentlemen, the
wretch who has so basely deceived us had my entire confidence. You
will understand my apparent blindness when you know with what
infernal skill he managed."
Loud imprecations burst on all sides against Vincent Favoral. But
the president of the Mutual Credit proceeded,
"For the present, all I have to ask of you is to keep cool, and
continue to give me your confidence."
"The panic of night before last was but a stock-gambling manoeuvre,
organized by rival establishments, who were in hopes of taking our
clients away from us. They will be disappointed, gentlemen. We
will triumphantly demonstrate our soundness; and we shall come out
of this trial more powerful than ever."
It was all over. M. de Thaller understood his business. They
offered him a vote of thanks. A smile was beaming upon the same
faces that were a moment before contracted with rage.
One stockholder alone did not seem to share the general enthusiasm:
he was no other than our old friend. M. Chapelain, the ex-lawyer.
"That fellow, Thaller, is just capable of getting himself out of
the scrape," he grumbled. "I must tell Maxence."