Other People’s Money

Author: Emile Gaboriau


"When I think," said Coleridge, "that every morning, in Paris alone, thirty thousand fellows wake up, and rise with the fixed and settled idea of appropriating other people’s money, it is with renewed wonder that every night, when I go home, I find my purse still in my pocket."

And yet it is not those who simply aim to steal your portemonnaie who are either the most dishonest or the most formidable.

To stand at the corner of some dark street, and rush upon the first man that comes along, demanding, "Your money or your life," is but a poor business, devoid of all prestige, and long since given up to chivalrous natures.

A man must be something worse than a simpleton to still ply his trade on the high-roads, exposed to all sorts of annoyances on the part of the gendarmes, when manufacturing and financial enterprises offer such a magnificently fertile field to the activity of imaginative people.

And, in order to thoroughly understand the mode of proceeding in this particular field, it is sufficient to open from time to time a copy of "The Police Gazette," and to read some trial, like that, for instance, of one Lefurteux, ex-president of the Company for the Drainage and Improvement of the Orne Swamps.

This took place less than a month ago in one of the police-courts.

The Judge to the Accused - Your profession?

M.Lefurteux - President of the company.

Question - Before that what were you doing?

Answer - I speculated at the bourse.

Q - You had no means?

A - I beg your pardon: I was making money.

Q - And it was under such circumstances that you had the audacity to organize a company with a capital stock of three million of francs, divided in shares of five hundred francs?

A - Having discovered an idea, I did not suppose that I was forbidden to work it up.

Q - What do you call an idea?

A - The idea of draining swamps, and making them productive.

Q - What swamps? Yours never had any existence, except in your prospectus.

A - I expected to buy them as soon as my capital was paid in.

Q - And in the mean time you promised ten per cent to your stockholders.

A-That’s the least that draining operations ever pay.

Q - You have advertised?

A - Of course.

Q - To what extent?

A - To the extent of about sixty thousand francs.

Q - Where did you get the money?

A - I commenced with ten thousand francs, which a friend of mine had lent me; then I used the funds as they came in.

9 - In other words, you made use of the money of your first dupes to attract others?

A - Many~people thought it was a good thing.

Q - Who? Those to whom you sent your prospectus with a plan of your pretended swamps?

A - Excuse me. Others too.

Q - How much money did you ever receive?

A - About six hundred thousand francs, as the expert has stated.

Q - And you have spent the whole of the money?

A - Permit me? I have never applied to my personal wants any thing beyond the salary which was allowed me by the By-laws.

Q - How is it, then, that, when you were arrested, there were only twelve hundred and fifty francs found in your safe, and that amount had been sent you through the post-office that very morning? What has become of the rest?

A - The rest has been spent for the good of the company.

Q - Of course! You had a carriage?

A - It was allowed to me by Article 27 of the By-laws.

9 - For the good of the company too, I suppose.

A - Certainly. I was compelled to make a certain display. The head of an important company must endeavor to inspire confidence.

The Judge, with an Ironical Look - Was it also to inspire confidence that you had a mistress, for whom you spent considerable sums of money?

The Accused, in a Tone of Perfect Candor - Yes, sir.

After a pause of a few moments, the judge resumes,

Q - Your offices were magnificent. They must have cost you a great deal to furnish.

A - On the contrary, sir, almost nothing. The furniture was all hired. You can examine the upholsterer.

The upholsterer is sent for, and in answer to the judge’s questions,

"What M. Lefurteux has stated," he says, "is true. My specialty is to hire office-fixtures for financial and other companies. I furnish every thing, from the book-keepers’ desks to the furniture for the president’s private room: from the iron safe to the servant’s livery. In twenty-four hours, every thing is ready, and the subscribers can come. As soon as a company is organized, like the one in question, the officers call on me, and, according to the magnitude of the capital required, I furnish a more or less costly establishment. I have a good deal of experience, and I know just what’s wanted. When M. Lefurteux came to see me, I gauged his operation at a glance. Three millions of capital, swamps in the Orne, shares of five hundred francs, small subscribers, anxious and noisy.

"’Very well,’ I said to him, ’it’s a six-months’ job. Don’t go into useless expenses. Take reps for your private office: that’s good enough.’"

The Judge, in a tone of Profound Surprise - You told him that?

The Upholsterer, in the Simple Accent of an Honest Man - Exactly as I am telling your Honor. He followed my advice; and I sent him red hot the furniture and fixtures which had been used by the River Fishery Company, whose president had just been sent to prison for three years.

When, after such revelations, renewed from week to week, with instructive variations, purchasers may still be found for the shares of the Tiffla Mines, the Bretoneche Lands, and the Forests of Formanoid, is it to be wondered that the Mutual Credit Company found numerous subscribers?

It had been admirably started at that propitious hour of the December coup d’etat, when the first ideas of mutuality were beginning to penetrate the financial world.

It had lacked neither capital nor powerful patronage at the start, and had been at once admitted to the honor of being quoted at the bourse.

Beginning business ostensibly as an accommodation bank for manufacturers and merchants, the Mutual Credit had had, for a number of years, a well-determined specialty.

But gradually it had enlarged the circle of its operations, altered its by-laws, changed its board of directors; and at the end the original subscribers would have been not a little embarrassed to tell what was the nature of its business, and from what sources it drew its profits.

All they knew was, that it always paid respectable dividends; that their manager, M. de Thaller, was personally very rich; and that they were willing to trust him to steer clear of the code.

There were some, of course, who did not view things in quite so favorable a light; who suggested that the dividends were suspiciously large; that M. de Thaller spent too much money on his house, his wife, his daughter, and his mistress.

One thing is certain, that the shares of the Mutual Credit Society were much above par, and were quoted at 580 francs on that Saturday, when, after the closing of the bourse, the rumor had spread that the cashier. Vincent Favoral, had run off with twelve millions.

"What a haul!" thought, not without a feeling of envy, more than one broker, who, for merely one-twelfth of that amount would have gayly crossed the frontier. It was almost an event in Paris.

Although such adventures are frequent enough, and not taken much notice of, in the present instance, the magnitude of the amount more than made up for the vulgarity of the act.

Favoral was generally pronounced a very smart man; and some persons declared, that to take twelve millions could hardly be called stealing.

The first question asked was,

"Is Thaller in the operation? Was he in collusion with his cashier?"

"That’s the whole question."

"If he was, then the Mutual Credit is better off than ever: otherwise, it is gone under."

"Thaller is pretty smart."

"That Favoral was perhaps more so still."

This uncertainty kept up the price for about half an hour. But soon the most disastrous news began to spread, brought, no one knew whence or by whom; and there was an irresistible panic.

From 425, at which price it had maintained itself for a time, the Mutual Credit fell suddenly to 300, then 200, and finally to 150 francs.

Some friends of M. de Thaller, M. Costeclar, for instance, had endeavored to keep up the market; but they had soon recognized the futility of their efforts, and then they had bravely commenced doing like the rest.

The next day was Sunday. From the early morning, it was reported, with the most circumstantial details, that the Baron de Thaller had been arrested.

But in the evening this had been contradicted by people who had gone to the races, and who had met there Mme. de Thaller and her daughter, more brilliant than ever, very lively, and very talkative. To the persons who went to speak to them,

"My husband was unable to come," said the baroness. "He is busy with two of his clerks, looking over that poor Favoral’s accounts. It seems that they are in the most inconceivable confusion. Who would ever have thought such a thing of a man who lived on bread and nuts? But he operated at the bourse; and he had organized, under a false name, a sort of bank, in which he has very foolishly sunk large sums of money.

And with a smile, as if all danger had been luckily averted,

"Fortunately," she added, "the damage is not as great as has been reported, and this time, again, we shall get off with a good fright."

But the speeches of the baroness were hardly sufficient to quiet the anxiety of the people who felt in their coat-pockets the worthless certificates of Mutual Credit stock.

And the next day, Monday, as early as eight o’clock, they began to arrive in crowds to demand of M. de Thaller some sort of an explanation.

They were there, at least a hundred, huddled together in the vestibule, on the stairs, and on the first landing, a prey to the most painful emotion and the most violent excitement; for they had been refused admittance.

To all those who insisted upon going in, a tall servant in livery, standing before the door, replied invariably, "The office is not open, M. de Thaller has not yet come."

Whereupon they uttered such terrible threats and such loud imprecations, that the frightened concierge had run, and hid himself at the very bottom of his lodge.

No one can imagine to what epileptic contortions the loss of money can drive an assemblage of men, who has not seen a meeting of shareholders on the morrow of a great disaster, with their clinched fists, their convulsed faces, their glaring eyes, and foaming lips.

They felt indignant at what had once been their delight. They laid the blame of their ruin upon the splendor of the house, the sumptuousness of the stairs, the candelabras of the vestibule, the carpets, the chairs every thing.

" And it is our money too," they cried, "that has paid for all that!"

Standing upon a bench, a little short man was exciting transports of indignation by describing the magnificence of the Baron de Thaller’s residence, where he had once had some dealings.

He had counted five carriages in the carriage-house, fifteen horses in the stables, and Heaven knows how many servants.

He had never been inside the apartments, but he had visited the kitchen; and he declared that he had been dazzled by the number and brightness of the saucepans, ranged in order of size over the furnace.

Gathered in a group under the vestibule, the most sensible deplored their rash confidence.

"That’s the way," concluded one, "with all these adventurous affairs."

"That’s a fact. There’s nothing, after all, like government bonds."

"Or a first mortgage on good property, with subrogation of the wife’s rights."

But what exasperated them, all was not to be admitted to the presence of M. de Thaller, and to see that servant mounting guard before the door.

"What impudence," they growled, "to leave us on the stairs! - we who are the masters, after all."

"Who knows where M. de Thaller may be?"

"He is hiding, of course."

"No matter: I will see him," clamored a big fat man, with a brick-colored face, "if I shouldn’t stir from here for a week."

"You’ll see nothing at all," giggled his neighbor. "Do you suppose they don’t have back-stairs and private entrances in this infernal shop?"

"Ah! if I believed any thing of the kind," exclaimed the big man in a voice trembling with passion. "I’d soon break in some of these doors: it isn’t so hard, after all."

Already he was gazing at the servant with an alarming air, when an old gentleman with a discreet look, stepped up to him, and inquired,

"Excuse me, sir: how many shares have you?"

"Three," answered the man with the brick-colored face.

The other sighed.

"I have two hundred and fifty," he said. "That’s why, being at least as interested as yourself in not losing every thing, I beg of you to indulge in no violent proceedings."

There was no need of further speaking.

The door which the servant was guarding flew open. A clerk appeared, and made sign that he wished to speak.

"Gentlemen," he began, "M. de Thaller has just come; but he is just now engaged with the examining judge."

Shouts having drowned his voice, he withdrew precipitately.

"If the law gets its finger in," murmured the discreet gentleman, "good-by!"

"That’s a fact," said another. "But we will have the precious advantage of hearing that dear baron condemned to one year’s imprisonment, and a fine of fifty francs. That’s the regular rate. He wouldn’t get off so cheap, if he had stolen a loaf of bread from a baker."

"Do you believe that story about the judge?" interrupted rudely the big man.

They had to believe it, when they saw him appear, followed by a commissary of police and a porter, carrying on his back a load of books and papers. They stood aside to let them pass; but there was no time to make any comments, as another clerk appeared immediately who said,

"M. de Thaller is at your command, gentlemen. Please walk in."

There was then a terrible jamming and pushing to see who would get first into the directors’ room, which stood wide open.

M. de Thaller was standing against the mantel-piece, neither paler nor more excited than usual, but like a man who feels sure of himself and of his means of action. As soon as silence was restored,

"First of all, gentlemen," he began, "I must tell you that the board of directors is about to meet, and that a general meeting of the stockholders will be called."

Not a murmur. As at the touch of a magician’s wand, the dispositions of the shareholders seemed to have changed.

"I have nothing new to inform you of," he went on. "What happens is a misfortune, but not a disaster. The thing to do was to save the company; and I had first thought of calling for funds."

"Well," said two or three timid voices, "If it was absolutely necessary -"

"But there is no need of it."

"Ah, ah!"

"And I can manage to carry every thing through by adding to our reserve fund my own personal fortune."

This time the hurrahs and the bravos drowned the voice.

M. de Thaller received them like a man who deserves them, and, more slowly,

"Honor commanded it," he continued. "I confess it, gentlemen, the wretch who has so basely deceived us had my entire confidence. You will understand my apparent blindness when you know with what infernal skill he managed."

Loud imprecations burst on all sides against Vincent Favoral. But the president of the Mutual Credit proceeded,

"For the present, all I have to ask of you is to keep cool, and continue to give me your confidence."

"Yes, yes!

"The panic of night before last was but a stock-gambling manoeuvre, organized by rival establishments, who were in hopes of taking our clients away from us. They will be disappointed, gentlemen. We will triumphantly demonstrate our soundness; and we shall come out of this trial more powerful than ever."

It was all over. M. de Thaller understood his business. They offered him a vote of thanks. A smile was beaming upon the same faces that were a moment before contracted with rage.

One stockholder alone did not seem to share the general enthusiasm: he was no other than our old friend. M. Chapelain, the ex-lawyer.

"That fellow, Thaller, is just capable of getting himself out of the scrape," he grumbled. "I must tell Maxence."


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Chicago: Emile Gaboriau, "I," Other People’s Money, ed. Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896 and trans. Douglas, Robert B. (Robert Bruce) in Other People’s Money (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1921), Original Sources, accessed May 11, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z8EPSGT2JLH1CH.

MLA: Gaboriau, Emile. "I." Other People’s Money, edited by Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896, and translated by Douglas, Robert B. (Robert Bruce), in Other People’s Money, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1921, Original Sources. 11 May. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z8EPSGT2JLH1CH.

Harvard: Gaboriau, E, 'I' in Other People’s Money, ed. and trans. . cited in 1921, Other People’s Money, Henry Holt and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 11 May 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3Z8EPSGT2JLH1CH.