All the guests enumerated by the shop-keeper, and a few others besides, were in the parlor when M. Favoral came in. But, instead of returning their greeting:
“Where is Maxence?” he inquired.
“I am expecting him, my dear,” said Mme. Favoral gently.
“Always behind time,” he scolded. “It is too trifling.”
His daughter, Mlle. Gilberte, interrupted him:
“Where is my bouquet, father?” she asked.
M. Favoral stopped short, struck his forehead, and with the accent of a man who reveals something incredible, prodigious, unheard of,
“Forgotten,” he answered, scanning the syllables: “I have for-got-ten it.”
It was a fact. Every Saturday, on his way home, he was in the habit of stopping at the old woman’s shop in front of the Church of St. Louis, and buying a bouquet for Mlle. Gilberte. And to-day . . .
“Ah! I catch you this time, father!” exclaimed the girl.
Meantime, Mme. Favoral, whispering to Mme. Desclavettes:
“Positively,” she said in a troubled voice, “something serious must have happened to—my husband. He to forget! He to fail in one of his habits! It is the first time in twenty-six years.”
The appearance of Maxence at this moment prevented her from going on. M. Favoral was about to administer a sound reprimand to his son, when dinner was announced.
“Come,” exclaimed M. Chapelain, the old lawyer, the conciliating man par excellence,—“come, let us to the table.”
They sat down. But Mme. Favoral had scarcely helped the soup, when the bell rang violently. Almost at the same moment the servant appeared, and announced:
“The Baron de Thaller!”
More pale than his napkin, the cashier stood up. “The manager,” he stammered, “the director of the Mutual Credit Society.”
Close upon the heels of the servant M. de Thaller came.
Tall, thin, stiff, he had a very small head, a flat face, pointed nose, and long reddish whiskers, slightly shaded with silvery threads, falling half-way down his chest. Dressed in the latest style, he wore a loose overcoat of rough material, pantaloons that spread nearly to the tip of his boots, a wide shirt-collar turned over a light cravat, on the bow of which shone a large diamond, and a tall hat with rolled brims. With a blinking glance, he made a rapid estimate of the dining-room, the shabby furniture, and the guests seated around the table. Then, without even condescending to touch his hat, with his large hand tightly fitted into a lavender glove, in a brief and imperious tone, and with a slight accent which he affirmed was the Alsatian accent:
“I must speak with you, Vincent,” said he to his cashier, “alone and at once.”
M. Favoral made visible efforts to conceal his anxiety. “You see,” he commenced, “we are dining with a few friends, and—”