The Safety-Pin Again
Moncharmin's last phrase so dearly expressed the suspicion in which he
now held his partner that it was bound to cause a stormy explanation,
at the end of which it was agreed that Richard should yield to all
Moncharmin's wishes, with the object of helping him to discover
the miscreant who was victimizing them.
This brings us to the interval after the Garden Act, with the strange
conduct observed by M. Rémy and those curious lapses from the dignity
that might be expected of the managers. It was arranged between
Richard and Moncharmin, first, that Richard should repeat the exact
movements which he had made on the night of the disappearance
of the first twenty-thousand francs; and, second, that Moncharmin
should not for an instant lose sight of Richard's coat-tail pocket,
into which Mme. Giry was to slip the twenty-thousand francs.
M. Richard went and placed himself at the identical spot where he
had stood when he bowed to the under-secretary for fine arts.
M. Moncharmin took up his position a few steps behind him.
Mme. Giry passed, rubbed up against M. Richard, got rid of her
twenty-thousand francs in the manager's coat-tail pocket
and disappeared....Or rather she was conjured away.
In accordance with the instructions received from Moncharmin a few
minutes earlier, Mercier took the good lady to the
office and turned the key on her, thus making it impossible
for her to communicate with her ghost.
Meanwhile, M. Richard was bending and bowing and scraping and
walking backward, just as if he had that high and mighty minister,
the under-secretary for fine arts, before him. Only, though these
marks of politeness would have created no astonishment if the
under-secretary of state had really been in front of M. Richard,
they caused an easily comprehensible amazement to the spectators
of this very natural but quite inexplicable scene when M. Richard
had nobody in front of him.
M. Richard bowed...to nobody; bent his back...before nobody;
and walked backward...before nobody....And, a few steps
behind him, M. Moncharmin did the same thing that he was doing
in addition to pushing away M. Rémy and begging M. de La Borderie,
the ambassador, and the manager of the Crédit Central "not to touch
M. le Directeur."
Moncharmin, who had his own ideas, did not want Richard to come
to him presently, when the twenty-thousand francs were gone,
"Perhaps it was the ambassador...or the manager of the Crédit
The more so as, at the time of the first scene,
as Richard himself admitted, Richard had met nobody
in that part of the theater after Mme. Giry had brushed up against him....
Having begun by walking backward in order to bow, Richard continued
to do so from prudence, until he reached the passage leading
to the offices of the management. In this way, he was constantly
watched by Moncharmin from behind and himself kept an eye on any
one approaching from the front. Once more, this novel method
of walking behind the scenes, adopted by the managers of our
National Academy of Music, attracted attention; but the managers
themselves thought of nothing but their twenty-thousand francs.
On reaching the half-dark passage, Richard said to Moncharmin,
in a low voice:
"I am sure that nobody has touched me....You had now better
keep at some distance from me and watch me till I come to the door
of the office: it is better not to arouse suspicion and we can
see anything that happens."
But Moncharmin replied. "No, Richard, no! You walk ahead and I'll
walk immediately behind you! I won't leave you by a step!"
"But, in that case," exclaimed Richard, "they will never steal
our twenty-thousand francs!"
"I should hope not, indeed!" declared Moncharmin.
"Then what we are doing is absurd!"
"We are doing exactly what we did last time....Last time,
I joined you as you were leaving the stage and followed close behind
you down this passage."
"That's true!" sighed Richard, shaking his head and passively
Two minutes later, the joint managers locked themselves into
their office. Moncharmin himself put the key in his pocket:
"We remained locked up like this, last time," he said, "until you
left the Opera to go home."
"That's so. No one came and disturbed us, I suppose?"
"Then," said Richard, who was trying to collect his memory, "then I
must certainly have been robbed on my way home from the Opera."
"No," said Moncharmin in a drier tone than ever, "no, that's impossible.
For I dropped you in my cab. The twenty-thousand francs disappeared
at your place: there's not a shadow of a doubt about that."
"It's incredible!" protested Richard. "I am sure of my servants...
and if one of them had done it, he would have disappeared since."
Moncharmin shrugged his shoulders, as though to say that he
did not wish to enter into details, and Richard began to think
that Moncharmin was treating him in a very insupportable fashion.
"Moncharmin, I've had enough of this!"
"Richard, I've had too much of it!"
"Do you dare to suspect me?"
"Yes, of a silly joke."
"One doesn't joke with twenty-thousand francs."
"That's what I think," declared Mohcharmin, unfolding a newspaper
and ostentatiously studying its contents.
"What are you doing?" asked Richard. "Are you going to read
the paper next?"
"Yes, Richard, until I take you home."
"Like last time?"
"Yes, like last time."
Richard snatched the paper from Moncharmin's hands.
Moncharmin stood up, more irritated than ever, and found himself
faced by an exasperated Richard, who, crossing his arms on his chest, said:
"Look here, I'm thinking of this, I'm thinking of what I might
think if, like last time, after my spending the evening alone
with you, you brought me home and if, at the moment of parting,
I perceived that twenty-thousand francs had disappeared from my
coat-pocket...like last time."
"And what might you think?" asked Moncharmin, crimson with rage.
"I might think that, as you hadn't left me by a foot's breadth
and as, by your own wish, you were the only one to approach me,
like last time, I might think that, if that twenty-thousand francs
was no longer in my pocket, it stood a very good chance of being
Moncharmin leaped up at the suggestion.
"Oh!" he shouted. "A safety-pin!"
"What do you want a safety-pin for?"
"To fasten you up with!...A safety-pin!...A
"You want to fasten me with a safety-pin?"
"Yes, to fasten you to the twenty-thousand francs! Then, whether
it's here, or on the drive from here to your place, or at your place,
you will feel the hand that pulls at your pocket and you will
see if it's mine! Oh, so you're suspecting me now, are you?
And that was the moment when Moncharmin opened the door
on the passage and shouted:
"A safety-pin!...somebody give me a safety-pin!"
And we also know how, at the same moment, Rémy, who had no safety-pin,
was received by Moncharmin, while a boy procured the pin so eagerly
longed for. And what happened was this: Moncharmin first locked
the door again. Then he knelt down behind Richard's back.
"I hope," he said, "that the notes are still there?"
"So do I," said Richard.
"The real ones?" asked Moncharmin, resolved not to be "had" this time.
"Look for yourself," said Richard. "I refuse to touch them."
Moncharmin took the envelope from Richard's pocket and drew
out the bank-notes with a trembling hand, for, this time,
in order frequently to make sure of the presence of the notes,
he had not sealed the envelope nor even fastened it. He felt
reassured on finding that they were all there and quite genuine.
He put them back in the tail-pocket and pinned them with great care.
Then he sat down behind Richard's coat-tails and kept his eyes
fixed on them, while Richard, sitting at his writing-table, did
"A little patience, Richard," said Moncharmin. "We have only
a few minutes to wait....The clock will soon strike twelve.
Last time, we left at the last stroke of twelve."
"Oh, I shall have all the patience necessary!"
The time passed, slow, heavy, mysterious, stifling. Richard tried
"I shall end by believing in the omnipotence of the ghost," he said.
"Just now, don't you find something uncomfortable, disquieting,
alarming in the atmosphere of this room?"
"You're quite right," said Moncharmin, who was really impressed.
"The ghost!" continued Richard, in a low voice, as though fearing lest
he should be overheard by invisible ears. "The ghost! Suppose, all
the same, it were a ghost who puts the magic envelopes on the table
... who talks in Box Five...who killed Joseph Buquet...
who unhooked the chandelier...and who robs us! For, after all,
after all, after all, there is no one here except you and me,
and, if the notes disappear and neither you nor I have anything to
do with it, well, we shall have to believe in the ghost...in the ghost."
At that moment, the clock on the mantlepiece gave its warning click
and the first stroke of twelve struck.
The two managers shuddered. The perspiration streamed from
their foreheads. The twelfth stroke sounded strangely in their ears.
When the clock stopped, they gave a sigh and rose from their chairs.
"I think we can go now," said Moncharmin.
"I think so," Richard a agreed.
"Before we go, do you mind if I look in your pocket
"But, of course, Moncharmin, you must!...Well?" he asked,
as Moncharmin was feeling at the pocket.
"Well, I can feel the pin."
"Of course, as you said, we can't be robbed without noticing it."
But Moncharmin, whose hands were still fumbling, bellowed:
"I can feel the pin, but I can't feel the notes!"
"Come, no joking, Moncharmin!...This isn't the time for it."
"Well, feel for yourseIf."
Richard tore off his coat. The two managers turned the pocket
inside out. The pocket was empty. And the curious thing was
that the pin remained, stuck in the same place.
Richard and Moncharmin turned pale. There was no longer any doubt
about the witchcraft.
"The ghost!" muttered Moncharmin.
But Richard suddenly sprang upon his partner.
"No one but you has touched my pocket! Give me back my twenty-thousand
francs!...Give me back my twenty-thousand francs!..."
"On my soul," sighed Moncharmin, who was ready to swoon, "on my soul,
I swear that I haven't got it!"
Then somebody knocked at the door. Moncharmin opened it automatically,
seemed hardly to recognize Mercier, his business-manager, exchanged
a few words with him, without knowing what he was saying and,
with an unconscious movement, put the safety-pin, for which he
had no further use, into the hands of his bewildered subordinate....
Next: The Commissary, The Viscount and the Persian