`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 obeying Moncharmin.

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?'

`No one.'

`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 Moncharmint'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.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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