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In talk like this the minutes slipped away, and they came at last to the apportionment of the advertising funds for the next quarter, to the subsidies to be paid to the principal newspapers, to the terrible financial scribe employed by a hostile house whose silence it was necessary to purchase, and the course which they should take with regard to the approaching sale by auction of the fourth page of a very old and highly-respected print. And, amidst their prodigality with regard to all the money that they thus uproariously scattered to the four corners of heaven, you could detect what immense disdain they felt for the public, what contempt in which they, intelligent business men, held the dense ignorance of the masses—the masses which were ready to believe all stories, and were so incompetent to understand the complex operations of the Bourse that the most shameless traps caught passers-by, and made millions of money rain down.

Whilst Jordan was still striving to concoct fifty lines of[Pg 187] 'copy' with which to complete his two columns, he was disturbed by Dejoie, who called him. 'Ah!' said the young fellow, 'is Monsieur Jantrou alone now?'

'No, monsieur, not yet. But your wife is here, and wants to see you.'

Very anxious, Jordan hurried out. For a few months past, since La Méchain had at last discovered that he was writing over his own name in 'L'Espérance,' he had been pursued by Busch for payment of the six notes of fifty francs each which he had formerly given to a tailor. He could have managed to pay the three hundred francs which the notes represented, but what exasperated him was the enormity of the costs, that total of seven hundred and thirty francs and fifteen centimes to which the debt had risen. He had entered into a compromise, however, and pledged himself to pay a hundred francs a month; and, as he could not manage it, his young household having more pressing needs, the costs rose higher yet every month, and the intolerable annoyances were ever beginning afresh.

Just then he was again passing through a serious crisis. 'What's the matter?' he asked his wife, whom he found in the ante-room.

But, before she could answer, the door of the director's office was thrown open, and Saccard appeared, shouting: 'I say, Dejoie—and Monsieur Huret?'

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'Why, monsieur, he isn't here,' stammered the bewildered attendant; 'I cannot make him hurry.'

The door was closed again with an oath, and Jordan, having taken his wife into one of the adjoining offices, was there able to question her at his ease.

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'What's the matter, darling?' he again asked.

Marcelle, usually so gay and brave, whose little, plump, dark person and clear countenance, with laughing eyes and healthy mouth, expressed happiness even in trying times, now seemed utterly upset. 'Oh, Paul, if you only knew!' she replied. 'A man came—oh! a frightful, ugly man—who smelt bad, and had been drinking, I think. Well, he told me that the matter was ended, that the sale of our furniture was fixed[Pg 188] for to-morrow. And he had a placard, which he wanted to stick up at the street door.'

'But it is impossible!' cried Jordan. 'I have received nothing; there are other formalities to be observed.'

'Oh! you know still less about these matters than I do. When papers come, you do not even read them. Well, to keep him from putting up the placard I gave him forty sous, and hurried off to tell you.'

They were in despair. Their poor little home in the Avenue de Clichy! Those few little bits of furniture, of mahogany and blue rep, which they had purchased with such difficulty at so much a month, and of which they were so proud, although they sometimes laughed at them, finding them in execrable bourgeois taste! Still they loved them, because ever since their wedding night they had formed part of their happiness in those two little rooms over yonder, those little rooms which were so sunny, so open to space, with a view stretching away even to Mont Valérien. And he who had driven in so many nails, and she who had shown so much ingenuity to give the apartments an artistic appearance! Was it possible that all was going to be sold, that they were to be driven from that pretty nook, where even poverty was delightful to them?

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'Listen,' said he, 'I was thinking of asking for an advance; I will do what I can, but I haven't much hope.'

Then, in a hesitating way, she confided her idea to him. 'This is what I have been thinking of,' said she. 'Oh! I would not have done it without your consent, as you may judge from the fact that I have come here to talk with you about it. Yes, I desire to apply to my parents.'