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house of Babou, replied in the affirmative,
and begged me to give myself the trouble of
being seated. I obeyed her wish, and placing
myself on a somewhat lofty stool, with a very
shiny surface, took out my purse, and placed
a few sovereigns on the counter. "Ah, you
desire to change some gold! " said
Mademoiselle Babou. "Wait." I waited, and
with some effort, she drew from beneath the
counter an enormous folio, which she opened
wide upon the glass case, at the imminent
risk, as I thought, of grinding it to powder.
She then began carefully to turn over the
leaves, and from the number of plates
all of them representing similar objectsI
judged that it was a work on coins, and served
the purpose of a Numismatic Cambist.

"Business," I said, to myself, while the
young lady poured over the huge tome
"business can't be very brisk at Saint Lo, if
this is the way they set about it." Presently
there was a pause; a smile dimpled the
pretty cheek of Mademoiselle Babou, she
extended her taper fingers, and taking up
one of the sovereigns placed it on the page,
side by side with one of the engravings. "I
see," she said, with an air of supreme
satisfaction, "those are guineas! " I rectified the
mistake by remarking that the coins to which
she referred were sovereigns, bearing the
effigies of George, of William, and of Victoria.
She examined them more closely. It was true.
The obverse bore some resemblance to her
engraving, but the other side was very different.
Moreover, the "milling" puzzled her.
"I should not be surprised," she said, "if
this were gold"—I assured her it was—"but
I am not in a position to say how much it is
worth." I explained the actual amount in
francs." It is possible," was her reply, "but
see, sir, I am all alone to day; my papa, who
understands perfectly all these things, is gone
to visit my aunt to arrange some family
affairs. The house of my aunt is two leagues
distant, and papa, who dines there, will not
return until late in the evening. Still, if
Monsieur desires, and will confide to me one
of these guineas (she could not get out of that
track) I will send the servant with it to my
papa, who will instantly know its exact value,
and, when once I am informed on the subject,
I can, without difficulty, calculate how much
the whole of this comes to!" I answered
that the arrangement which Mademoiselle
Babou proposed was excellent in all respects
except one: that her messenger could not
reasonably be expected to return in less than
five hours, and I was obliged to leave Saint
Lo by the diligence for C├Žn in about ten
minutes. Mademoiselle Babou was very
sorry; did I desire any other thing? her
papa had recently invented a very ingenious
mecanique for catching flies, which had been
patented by the Government; he made them
of silver-gilt as well as pure silver, and if
Monsieur would like——"

I was obliged to cut short the proposition
that was about to follow, by pleading my
immediate departure, and bowing to
Mademoiselle Babou, I left her to study numismatics,
or catch flies, whichever she preferred,
while I went to the diligence office, where my
sovereigns were converted into five-franc
pieces without a syllable.

This is the opposite phase of French
character: implicit belief in the pecuniosity of
any Englishman who chooses to aver it. At
Bordeaux once, on High Change, I
tendered a bank note for twenty pounds to
an old lady who sat before a small table
covered with piles of silver and gold. Without
looking at it, she asked me what was the
amount; and, on my assurance, gave me the
value in French money with the additional
premium. I could not help saying that if
she gave herself no more trouble with
others than she did with me, she ran
the risk of being cheated. Her reply was
an indescribable grimace, and then
followed the admission that she had been
"done" once to the tune of three or four
thousand francs. But it did not seem to
have made her a whit more cautious. In
Paris, too, amongst people who are so
eternally on the qui vive, every one knows the
facility with which notes are changed, but
then, it may be said, that the quick eyes
of the changers can detect a forgery as
rapidly as a banker's clerk. That is true
enough, but all their skill cannot enable them
to tell at sight whether the note presented
be your own, or stolen property; it may have
been advertised in the Times of the day
before, or it may not; the chances, at any
rate, are in favour of the offerer, and against
the money-changer; but he is content; a
certain profit attaches to the exchange, and
he tosses the note into the window, while he
methodically piles up the five-franc pieces, or
hands the rouleau.

But supposing you have neither gold, nor
bank notes; only a credit. In Paris this
makes no difference, but there are some
capitals I wot of where you may present the
best letter of credit in the world, and get for
answerwhat? That which I received at
a certain city, where I was informed that
nothing could be done that day because the
principal had gone to the mountains for a
day's hunting!

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                                   HARD TIMES
                          BY CHARLES DICKENS.
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