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.

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

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'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.

'Excuse me,' he said, 'you do not know all yet; she had a child. Yes, a child who is now in his fourteenth year—a child who so resembles you that you cannot deny him.'

'A child, a child!' Saccard repeated several times, quite thunderstruck.

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Then, suddenly replacing the six bank-notes in his pocket-book, recovering his self-possession and becoming quite merry, he continued:

'But, I say, are you having a game with me? If there is[Pg 306] a child, I shan't give you a copper! The little one is his mother's heir. He shall have the money and whatever more he wants besides. A child, indeed! Why, it makes me feel quite young again. Where is he? I must go to see him. Why didn't you bring him to me at once?'

In his turn stupefied, Busch now thought of how long he had hesitated and of the infinite pains that Madame Caroline had taken to hide Victor's existence from his father. And, quite nonplussed, he burst into complicated explanations, revealing everything—the six thousand francs claimed by La Méchain for keep and money lent, the two thousand which Madame Caroline had paid on account, the frightful instincts which Victor had displayed, and his removal to the Institute of Work. And at each fresh revelation Saccard gave a violent start. What! Six thousand francs, indeed! How was he to know, on the contrary, that they had not despoiled the little fellow? Two thousand francs on account! They had had the audacity to extort two thousand francs from a lady friend of his! Why, it was robbery, abuse of confidence! The little one, of course, had been brought up badly, and now he, Saccard, was expected to pay those who were responsible for his evil education! Did they take him to be a fool, then?

'Not a copper!' he cried. 'You hear me. You need not expect to get a copper from me!'

With a pale face, Busch rose and took his stand in front of his table. 'Well, we will see,' he exclaimed; 'I will drag you into court!'