RINGING THE CHANGES.
Andre, who was gifted with plenty of intelligence, at once judged of the kind of business done by the Mutual Loan Society by the dinginess of the brass plate on the door and the generally dilapidated aspect of the house.
“I don’t like the look of it at all,” said he.
“It does not go in for show,” answered Gaston, affecting an air of wisdom, “but it is deemed handy sometimes. It does all sorts of business that you would never think of. A real downy card is Verminet.”
Andre could easily believe this, for, of course, there could be but one opinion concerning the character of a man who could have induced a mere simpleton like Gaston to affix a forged signature to the bills which he had discounted. He made no remark, however, but entered the house, with the interior arrangements of which Gaston appeared to be perfectly familiar. They passed through a dirty, ill-smelling passage, went across a courtyard, cold and damp as a cell, and ascended a flight of stairs with a grimy balustrade. On the second floor Gaston made a halt before a door upon which several names were painted. They passed through into a large and lofty room. The paper on the walls of this delectable chamber was torn and spotted, and a light railing ran along it, behind which sat two or three clerks, whose chief occupation appeared to be consuming the breakfast which they had brought with them to the office. The heat of the stove, which was burning in one corner of the room, the general mouldiness of the atmosphere, and the smell of the coarse food, were sufficient to turn the stomach of any one coming in from the fresh air.
“Where is M. Verminet?” asked Gaston authoritatively.
“Engaged,” replied one of the clerks, without pausing to empty his mouth before he replied.
“Don’t you talk to me like that. What do I care whether he is engaged or not? Tell him that Gaston de Gandelu desires to see him at once.”
The clerk was evidently impressed by his visitor’s manner, and, taking the card which was handed to him, made his exit through a door at the other end of the room.
Gaston was delighted at this first victory, and glanced at Andre with a triumphant smile.
The clerk came back almost at once. “M. Verminet,” cried he, “has a client with him just now. He begs that you will excuse him for a few minutes, when he will see you;” and evidently anxious to be civil to the gorgeously attired youths before him, he added, “My master is just now engaged with M. de Croisenois.”
“Aha,” cried Gaston; “I will lay you ten to one that the dear Marquis will be delighted to see me.”