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Without waiting to discuss the question any further, Saccard took out his pocket-book. 'I am going to give you two hundred francs,' said he, 'and you will give me the Jordan papers, with a receipt in full.'

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Busch's exasperation made him start. 'Two hundred francs! Not if I know it! The amount is three hundred[Pg 304] and thirty francs and fifteen centimes, and I want the centimes!'

But with the tranquil assurance of a man who knows the power which money has when it is spread out before one, Saccard, in a voice which neither rose nor fell, repeated: 'I am going to give you two hundred francs.'

Three times he spoke these words, and the Jew, convinced at heart that it would be sensible to compromise, ended by accepting the offer, but with a cry of rage and with tears starting from his eyes. 'I am too weak. What a wretched trade! Upon my word I am plundered, robbed. Go on while you are about it, don't restrain yourself, take some others too—yes, pick some out of the heap, for your two hundred francs.'

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Then having signed a receipt and written a line to the process-server, for the papers were no longer at the office in the Rue Feydeau, Busch remained for a moment panting at his desk, so upset that he would have let Saccard then and there go off had it not been for La Méchain, who so far had neither made a gesture nor spoken a word.

'And the affair?' said she.

He suddenly remembered. He was going to take his revenge. But all that he had prepared, his narrative, his questions, the skilfully planned moves which were to make the interview take the course he desired, were swept away, forgotten in his haste to come to the brutal fact.

'The affair, true—I wrote to you, Monsieur Saccard. We now have an old account to settle together.'

He stretched out his hand to take the wrapper containing the Sicardot notes, and laid it open in front of him.

'In 1852,' he said, 'you stayed at a lodging-house in the Rue de la Harpe; you there signed twelve promissory notes of fifty francs each in favour of a girl of sixteen, Octavie Chavaille, whom you had ruined. Those notes are here. You have never paid a single one of them, for you went away without leaving any address before the first one matured. And the worst of it is you signed them with a false name, Sicardot, the name of your first wife.'

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Very pale, Saccard listened and looked at him. In utter[Pg 305] consternation he once more beheld the past, and it seemed as though some huge, shadowy, but crushing mass were falling upon him. In the fear of the first moment he quite lost his head, and stammered, 'How is it you know that? How did you get hold of those notes?'

Then, with trembling hands, he hastened to take out his pocket-book again, with the one thought of paying and regaining possession of those annoying papers. 'There are no costs, are there?' said he. 'It is six hundred francs. Oh! a good deal might be said, but I prefer to pay without discussion.'

And thereupon he tendered six bank-notes.

'By-and-by!' cried Busch, pushing back the money. 'I have not finished. Madame, whom you see there, is Octavie's cousin, and these papers are hers; it is in her name that I seek payment. That poor Octavie became a cripple, and had many misfortunes before she at last died at Madame's house in frightful poverty. If Madame chose, she could tell you things——'

'Terrible things!' emphasised La Méchain in her piping voice, breaking silence at last.

Saccard, quite scared, having forgotten her, turned and saw her sitting there all of a heap, like a half-empty wineskin. Bird of prey that she was with her shady trade in worthless securities, she had always made him feel uneasy, and now he found her mixed up in this unpleasant story.

'Undoubtedly, poor creature, it is very sad,' he murmured.

'But if she is dead, I really do not see——Here, at any rate, are the six hundred francs.'

A second time Busch refused to take the sum.