Again, until last year, we used to have sittings of the board of inspection, meetings of shareholders, stormy and noisy assemblies, veritable battles of savages, from which the cries could be heard to the Madeleine. Several times a week also there would call subscribers indignant at no longer ever receiving any news of their money. It was on such occasions that our governor shone. I have seen these people, monsieur, go into his office furious as wolves thirsting for blood, and, after a quarter of an hour, come out milder than sheep, satisfied, reassured, and their pockets relieved of a few bank-notes. For, there lay the acme of his cleverness; in the extraction of money from the unlucky people who came to demand it. Nowadays the shareholders of the Territorial Bank no longer give any sign of existence. I think they are all dead or else resigned to the situation. The board never meets. The sittings only take place on paper; it is I who am charged with the preparation of a so-called report—always the same—which I copy out afresh each quarter. We should never see a living soul, if, at long intervals, there did not rise from the depths of Corsica some subscribers to the statue of Paoli, curious to know how the monument is progressing; or, it may be, some worthy reader of Financial Truth, which died over two years ago, who calls to renew his subscription with a timid air, and begs a little more regularity, if possible, in the forwarding of the paper. There is a faith that nothing shakes. So, when one of these innocents falls among our hungry band, it is something terrible. He is surrounded, hemmed in, an attempt is made to secure his name for one of our lists, and, in case of resistance, if he wishes to subscribe neither to the Paoli monument nor to Corsican railways, these gentlemen deal him what they call—my pen blushes to write it—what they call, I say, “the drayman thrust.”
Here is what it is: We always keep at the office a parcel prepared in advance, a well-corded case which arrives nominally from the railway station while the visitor is present. “There are twenty francs carriage to pay,” says the one among us who brings the thing in. (Twenty francs, sometimes thirty, according to the appearance of the patient.) Every one then begins to ransack his pockets: “Twenty francs carriage! but I haven’t got it.” “Nor I either. What a nuisance!” Some one runs to the cash-till. Closed. The cashier is summoned. He is out. And the gruff voice of the drayman, growing impatient in the antechamber: “Come, come, make haste.” (It is generally I who play the drayman, because of the strength of my vocal organs.) What is to be done now? Return the parcel? That will vex the governor. “Gentlemen, I beg, will you permit me,” ventures the innocent victim, opening his purse. “Ah, monsieur, indeed—” He hands over his twenty francs, he is ushered to the door, and, as soon as his heel is turned, we all divide the fruit of the crime, laughing like highway robbers.