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As he was returning to the Place de la Bourse again, the sight of Gundermann, whom he espied in the distance emerging from the Rue Vivienne, made his heart flutter once more. There could be no doubt of it; distance might shorten the great Baron's figure, but it was indeed he, walking slowly as was his wont, carrying his pale head erect without looking at anybody, as though, in the midst of all that crowd, he were alone in his royalty. And Saccard watched him with a feeling of terror, seeking to interpret each movement that he made. On seeing Nathansohn approach him, he imagined[Pg 210] that all was lost. But his hopes revived when he saw the coulissier draw back with a discomfited air. No, there was certainly nothing unusual about the great banker; he had his every-day look. And all at once Saccard's heart leapt with joy, for Gundermann had just entered the confectioner's shop to make his customary purchase of sweetmeats for his little grand-daughters; and that was a sure sign of his knowing nothing, for he never set foot in the shop on days of crisis.

One o'clock struck and the bell announced the opening of the market. It was a memorable Bourse, one of those great days of disaster—disaster caused by a totally unexpected rise—which are so rare that they remain legendary. At the outset, amid the overpowering heat, prices fell yet lower. Then some sudden isolated purchases—the desultory fire of skirmishers, as it were, before the opening of a battle—provoked astonishment. But amidst the general distrust, things still remained dull and heavy, when all at once the number of purchases began to increase, demands sprang up in all directions, and Nathansohn at the coulisse under the colonnade, and Mazaud, Jacoby, and Delarocque in the corbeille within the building, were to be heard shouting that they would take any stock at any price. And then there was a tremor, a sudden ground-swell as it were, though nobody yet dared to rush into the fight, so inexplicable was this sudden change in the tone of the market.

Prices had but slightly risen, and Saccard had time to give Massias fresh orders for Nathansohn. Then, as little Flory passed by on the run, he asked him to hand Mazaud a fiche on which he had written a request to the broker to continue buying, to keep on at it indeed until he sent him word to stop. Flory read what was written on the fiche as he trotted off, and, fired with confidence, followed the great man's lead, at once effecting some purchases on his own account. And at a quarter to two o'clock the thunderbolt fell in the midst of the crowded Bourse. Austria surrendered Venetia to the Emperor; the war was over. Whence had the news arrived? Nobody knew; but it came simultaneously from every tongue, and, indeed, from the very flagstones. Someone had brought it,[Pg 211] and all repeated it in a growing clamour, like the loud voice of an equinoctial tide. Prices then began to rise with furious bounds amidst the frightful uproar; and before the bell rang out the closing hour there was a difference of forty, fifty francs in many quotations. It was an indescribable mêlée—one of those battles in which confusion prevails, when soldiers and officers alike rush hither and thither, thinking only of saving their skins, but unable to do so because they are blinded, deafened, and no longer possess any clear idea of the situation. Perspiration streamed from the foreheads of the combatants, whilst the relentless sun beat upon the steps, wrapping the Bourse in the blaze of a conflagration.

When settling day came round, and it was possible to form an idea of the disaster, it proved an immense one. The battle-field was strewn with wounded and ruined. 'Bear' Moser was one of the most severely hit. Pillerault, who on this one occasion had despaired of a rise, paid dearly for his weakness. Maugendre was out of pocket to the tune of fifty thousand francs, his first serious loss. The Baroness Sandorff had such heavy differences to make good that Delcambre, it was reported, refused to pay for her; and she turned quite white with rage and hatred at the mere mention of her husband, the Embassy councillor, who had held the despatch in his own hands before Rougon had ever seen it, and yet had not said a word to her on the subject. But the big bankers, the Jewish bankers especially, had been subjected to a terrible defeat—a real massacre, so to say. It was asserted that Gundermann, for his part, had lost eight millions of francs. And this astounded people. How was it that he had not been warned—he, the undisputed master of the market, to whom Cabinet Ministers were but clerks and states, dependencies? There had evidently been one of those extraordinary combinations of circumstances which bring about great strokes of chance. It was an unforeseen, an idiotic disaster that had befallen the market, a disaster outside the pale of logic and reason.

However, the story spread, and Saccard passed for a great man. He had raked in nearly all the money lost by the 'bears.' Personally, he had put a couple of million francs in[Pg 212] his pockets. The rest was to be placed in the coffers of the Universal Bank, or rather in the hands of the directors. With great difficulty he succeeded in persuading Madame Caroline that Hamelin's share of the plunder so legitimately gained from the Jews was a million. Huret, having helped in the work, had taken care to secure for himself a princely share of the booty. As for the others, the Daigremonts, the Bohains, they needed no pressing to accept what was offered them. Thanks and congratulations were voted to the eminent manager unanimously. And one heart especially was warm with gratitude to Saccard, the heart of little Flory, who had gained ten thousand francs, a small fortune, which would enable him to live with Chuchu in a little nest in the Rue Condorcet, and join Gustave Sédille and other friends at expensive restaurants in the evening. As for Jantrou, it was found necessary to make him a considerable present, as he was very angry at not having been forewarned. Dejoie alone remained in the dumps, fated to experience eternal regret at having one evening scented fortune vaguely, mysteriously passing by in the air, all to no purpose.

This, Saccard's first triumph, seemed as it were some florescence of the Empire which now had attained its apogee. He became a part of the splendour of the reign, one of its glorious reflections. On the very evening when he waxed powerful and wealthy amidst so many shattered fortunes, at the very hour when the Bourse became but a field of ruin, all Paris adorned itself with bunting and illuminated as on the occasion of some great victory; and festivities at the Tuileries and rejoicings in the streets proclaimed Napoleon III. the master of Europe—so high and mighty that emperors and kings chose him as arbiter in their quarrels, and handed provinces over to him that he might dispose of them between them. No doubt there were protests at the Chamber of Deputies; prophets of misfortune confusedly predicted a terrible future. Prussia increased, strengthened by all that France had tolerated, Austria beaten, and Italy ungrateful. But bursts of laughter and shouts of anger drowned those anxious voices; and on the morrow of Sadowa, Paris, the[Pg 213] centre of the world, set all her avenues and monuments ablaze with illuminations, pending the coming of those black, icy nights, those gasless nights, through which the red fuses of shells were destined to wing their flight.

Overflowing with success, Saccard that evening walked the streets, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs élysées, all the footways where lampions were lighted. Carried along in the full-tide stream of promenaders, his eyes dazzled by the day-like brilliancy, it was possible for him to imagine that folks had illuminated in his honour. For was he not also an unexpected conqueror, one who rose to increased power in the midst of the disasters of others? A single annoyance tempered his satisfaction—the anger displayed by Rougon, who, in a terrible fury, on realising the origin of the Bourse stroke, had given Huret his dismissal. So the great man had not shown himself a good brother by sending him (Saccard) the all-important news. Must he dispense with that high patronage? must he even attack the omnipotent Minister? All at once, while he was standing in front of the Palace of the Legion of Honour, which was surmounted by a gigantic cross of fire, glowing brightly against the black sky, he boldly resolved to do so on the day when he should feel himself sufficiently strong. And then, intoxicated by the songs of the crowd and the flapping of the flags, he retraced his steps through flaming Paris to the Rue Saint Lazare.

Two months later, in September, Saccard, rendered audacious by his victory over Gundermann, decided that he must give fresh impulse to the Universal. At the shareholders' meeting held at the end of April the balance-sheet had shown for the year 1865 a profit of nine million francs, inclusive of the premium of twenty francs on each of the fifty thousand new shares issued when the capital had been doubled. The preliminary expenses had now been entirely paid, the shareholders had received their five per cent., and the directors their ten per cent.; whilst, in addition to the regulation percentage, a sum of five million francs had been carried to the reserve fund. With the remaining million they had contrived to pay a dividend of ten francs per share. This was a fine result for[Pg 214] an institution which had not yet been two years in existence. Saccard, however, worked in a feverish way, cultivating the financial soil on a violent system, heating it, overheating it at the risk of burning the crop; and thus he prevailed, first on the directors, and then on a special shareholders' meeting held on September 15, to authorise a fresh increase of capital. In fact, the capital was again doubled—raised from fifty to a hundred millions of francs—by the creation of one hundred thousand new shares, exclusively reserved to existing shareholders, share per share. However, these new shares were issued at no less than six hundred and seventy-five francs, inclusive of a premium of one hundred and seventy-five francs which was to be paid into the reserve fund. The Universal's growing successes, the profitable strokes which it had already made, and especially the great enterprises which it was about to launch—such were the reasons brought forward to justify this enormous increase of the capital, twice doubled at short intervals; for it was certainly necessary to endow the Bank with an importance and strength commensurate to the interests it represented. Moreover, this increase of capital had an immediate effect; the shares, which for some months had remained stationary, their average quotation at the Bourse being seven hundred and fifty francs, rose to nine hundred francs in three days.

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Hamelin, who had not been able to return from the East to preside over the extraordinary meeting of shareholders, wrote his sister an anxious letter, in which he expressed his fears respecting this mode of conducting the affairs of the Universal, this fashion of madly forcing the pace. He well divined that false declarations had again been made at Ma?tre Lelorrain's office. And, indeed, all the new shares had not been subscribed, as the law required, and the Bank remained in possession of those refused by its shareholders. The instalments on allotment not being paid, these shares were transferred by some jugglery in the book-keeping to the Sabatani account. Moreover, by borrowing the names of some of its directors and employees, the Bank had subscribed a portion of its own issue, so that it now held nearly thirty[Pg 215] thousand of its shares, representing seventeen and a half millions of francs.

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Not only was this illegal, but the situation might become dangerous, for experience has proved that every financial establishment which speculates in its own stock is lost. Nevertheless, Madame Caroline answered her brother gaily, twitting him with having now become the trembler, to such a point that it was she, formerly the suspicious one, who had to reassure him. She said that she was always on the watch, and could detect nothing suspicious; on the contrary, she was wonderstruck by the great things, all so clear and logical, which she was witnessing. The truth was that she, of course, knew nothing of the things which were hidden from her, and was, moreover, blinded by her admiration for Saccard, the sympathetic emotion into which she was thrown on beholding that little man's activity and intelligence.

In December Universal shares commanded more than a thousand francs. And in presence of this triumph there was a flutter among the big-wigs of the banking world. Gundermann, who was still to be met at times on the Place de la Bourse entering the confectioner's shop to buy sweetmeats with an automatic step and absorbed air, had paid the eight millions which he had lost without complaining, without a single of his intimates hearing a word of anger or rancour fall from his lips. As a rule, whenever he lost in this fashion, which rarely happened, he would say that it served him right and would teach him to be less careless; and folks would smile at this, for carelessness on Gundermann's part was scarcely to be imagined. But the hard lesson he had received must this time have remained upon his heart; the idea that he, so cold, so phlegmatic, so thoroughly a master of men and things, should have been beaten by that break-neck fellow, that passionate lunatic Saccard, must surely have been unendurable to him. And, indeed, from that very moment he began to watch, certain that in time he should have his revenge. In presence of the general infatuation for the Universal, he at once took up position, knowing, as he did, by long observation, that success achieved with unnatural[Pg 216] rapidity, that lying prosperity conduct to the most complete disasters. However, the figure of a thousand francs, at which the shares were now quoted, was still a reasonable one, and he waited for further developments before beginning to 'bear' the stock.

His theory was that no man could bring about events at the Bourse, that at the utmost one could foresee them and profit by them when they came to pass. Logic was sole ruler; truth, in speculation as in other things, was an omnipotent force. As soon as the price of Universals should have risen to an unduly exaggerated figure there would come a collapse; a fall would take place, it was a mathematical certainty; and he would simply be there to see his calculations realised and pocket his profits. And he already decided that he would open the campaign when the quotations should have risen to fifteen hundred francs. At that price he would begin selling Universals, moderately at first, but to an increasing extent as each settling day came by, in accordance with a predetermined plan. He did not need to form any syndicate of 'bears,' his own efforts would suffice; sensible people would clearly divine the truth and follow his play. That noisy Universal, that Universal which was so rapidly taking up a big position in the market, which was rising like a menace against the great Jew bankers—he would coldly wait till it should crack of itself, and then with a shove of the shoulder he would throw it to the ground.

Later on, folks related that it was Gundermann himself who secretly facilitated Saccard's purchase of an old building in the Rue de Londres, which he had the intention of demolishing in order to raise upon the site the monument of his dreams, the palace in which he purposed installing his bank in the most sumptuous style. He had succeeded in winning over the directors with regard to this matter, and the workmen began their task in the middle of October.

On the day when the foundation stone was laid with great ceremony, Saccard repaired to the newspaper office at about four o'clock, and whilst awaiting the return of Jantrou, who had gone to carry some reports of the solemnity to friendly[Pg 217] contemporaries, he received a visit from the Baroness Sandorff. She had at first asked for the editor, and then, as though by chance, came upon the manager of the Universal, who gallantly placed himself at her disposal with regard to any information that she might desire, and ushered her into his own private room at the end of the passage. And this interview proved decisive.

It happened, however, that Madame Caroline, who had been shopping in the neighbourhood, called at the office at this very time. She would occasionally come up in this way, either to give Saccard an answer about some matter or other, or to ask for news. Moreover, she knew Dejoie, for whom she had found a situation there, and usually stopped to chat with him for a moment, well pleased with the gratitude which he displayed towards her. On this occasion she did not find him in the ante-room, and so turned into the passage, where she ran against him just as he was returning from listening at Saccard's door. This was now quite a disease with him; he trembled with fever, and applied his ear to every keyhole in the hope of overhearing some Bourse secret.

'He is in, isn't he?' said Madame Caroline, trying to pass on.

But Dejoie stopped her, stammering, lacking the time to prepare a lie. 'Yes, he's there, but you can't go in.'

'Can't go in. Why is that?'