Fancy, the other day I was in his room with that old tub Norbert, and that Don Quixote Rival, when Montelin, our business manager, came in with his morocco bill-case, that bill-case that everyone in Paris knows, under his arm.
Walter raised his head and asked:
'What news?' Montelin answered simply:
'I have just paid the sixteen thousand francs we owed the paper maker.'
The governor gave a jump, an astonishing jump.
'What do you mean?' said he.
'I have just paid Monsieur Privas,' replied Montelin.
'But you are mad.'
'Why--why--why--' he took off his spectacles and wiped them. Then he smiled with that queer smile that flits across his fat cheeks whenever he is going to say something deep or smart, and went on in a mocking and derisive tone,
Because we could have obtained a reduction of from four to five thousand francs.'
Montelin replied, in astonishment:
'But, sir, all the accounts were correct, checked by me and passed by yourself.' Then the governor, quite serious again, observed:
'What a fool you are.
Don't you know, Monsieur Montelin, that one should always let one's debts mount up, in order to offer a composition?'"
And Saint-Potin added, with a knowing shake of his head,
"Eh! isn't that worthy of Balzac?"
Duroy had not read Balzac, but he replied,
"By Jove! yes."
Then the reporter spoke of Madame Walter, an old goose; of Norbert de Varenne, an old failure; of Rival, a copy of Fervacques.
Next he came to Forestier.
"As to him, he has been lucky in marrying his wife, that is all."
Duroy asked: "What is his wife, really?"
Saint-Potin rubbed his hands. "Oh! a deep one, a smart woman.
She was the mistress of an old rake named Vaudrec, the Count de Vaudrec, who gave her a dowry and married her off."
Duroy suddenly felt a cold shiver run through him, a tingling of the nerves, a longing to smack this gabbler on the face.
But he merely interrupted him by asking:
"And your name is Saint-Potin?"
The other replied, simply enough: "No, my name is Thomas.
It is in the office that they have nicknamed me Saint-Potin."
Duroy, as he paid for the drinks, observed: "But it seems to me that time is getting on, and that we have two noble foreigners to call on."
Saint-Potin began to laugh.
"You are still green.
So you fancy I am going to ask the Chinese and the Hindoo what they think of England?
As if I did not know better than themselves what they ought to think in order to please the readers of the _Vie Francaise_.
I have already interviewed five hundred of these Chinese, Persians, Hindoos, Chilians, Japanese, and others.
They all reply the same, according to me.
I have only to take my article on the last comer and copy it word for word.
What has to be changed, though, is their appearance, their name, their title, their age, and their suite.
Oh! on that point it does not do to make a mistake, for I should be snapped up sharp by the _Figaro_ or the _Gaulois_.
But on these matters the hall porters at the Hotel Bristol and the Hotel Continental will put me right in five minutes.
We will smoke a cigar as we walk there.
Five francs cab hire to charge to the paper.
That is how one sets about it, my dear fellow, when one is practically inclined."
"It must be worth something decent to be a reporter under these circumstances," said Duroy.
The journalist replied mysteriously: "Yes, but nothing pays so well as paragraphs, on account of the veiled advertisements."
They had got up and were passing down the boulevards towards the Madeleine.
Saint-Potin suddenly observed to his companion: "You know if you have anything else to do, I shall not need you in any way."
Duroy shook hands and left him.