“It is true that Maxime appeared almost distressed when he heard that that immense fortune which he coveted with all his might was still to be made, and that Sarah was no farther advanced now than she was on the day of their separation. She might even have said that she was less so; for the two years and more which had just elapsed had made a large inroad upon the savings of M. Elgin and Mrs. Brian. When they had paid for their establishment in Circus Street, when they had advanced the hire of a coupe, a landau, and two saddle-horses, they had hardly four thousand dollars left in all.
“They knew, therefore, that they must succeed or sink in the coming year. And, thus driven to bay, they were doubly to be feared. They were determined to fall furiously upon the first victim that should pass within reach, when chance brought to them the unlucky cashier of the Mutual Discount Society, Malgat.”
For a few moments the fatigue of the old dealer seemed to have disappeared. He was sitting up straight, with tremulous lips, with flashing eyes, and continued in a strangely strident voice,—
“Fools alone attach no weight to trifling occurrences. And still it is those that appear most insignificant which we ought to fear most, because they alone determine our fate, precisely as an atom of sand dismembers the most powerful engine.
“It was on a fine afternoon in the month of October when Sarah Brandon appeared for the first time before the eyes of Malgat. He was at that time a man of forty, sprung from an old and respectable though modest family, content with his lot in life, and rather simple, as most men are who have always lived far from the intrigues of society. He had one passion, however,—he filled the five rooms of his lodgings with curiosities of every kind, happy for a week to come, if he had discovered a piece of old china, or a curious piece of furniture, which he could purchase cheap. He was not rich, his whole patrimony having been long since spent on his collections; but he had a place that brought him some three thousand dollars; and he was sure of an ample pension in his old age.
“He was honest in the highest sense of the word; his honesty being instinctive, so to say, never reasoning, never hesitating. For fifteen years now, he had been cashier; and hundreds of millions had passed through his hands without arousing in him a shadow of covetousness. He handled the gold in the bags, and the notes in the portfolios, with as much indifference as if they had been pebbles and dry leaves. His employers, besides, felt for him more than ordinary esteem: it was true and devoted friendship. Their confidence in him was so great, that they would have laughed in the face of any one who should have come and told them, ‘Malgat is a thief!’
“Such he was, when, that morning, he was standing near his safe, and saw a gentleman come to his window who had just cashed a check drawn by the Central Bank of Philadelphia upon the Mutual Discount Bank. This gentleman, who was M. Elgin, spoke such imperfect French, that Malgat asked him, for convenience sake, to step inside the railing. He came in, and behind him Sarah Brandon.