He had drawn his chair nearer, and he took her hand. But at this she at once seemed sobered. Ah! no, she had not yet come to that point! And she rose up in a revolt of birth and breeding.

'So you say, monsieur, that you were satisfied with your chef?' she exclaimed.

Quite astonished, Saccard rose in his turn. Had she hoped that he would put her name on the list and give her information for nothing? However, he merely replied: 'Very well satisfied, I assure you. It was only a change in my household arrangements which led me to part with him.'

The Baroness Sandorff hesitated, though scarcely for a second. Then she responded with a simple inclination of her head to the respectful bow with which he bade her good-day; and he was accompanying her to the little door when it was suddenly opened in a familiar manner. The intruder was Saccard's son Maxime, who was to breakfast with him that morning. He stepped aside, likewise bowing, and allowed the Baroness to pass. When she had gone, however, he gave a slight laugh, followed by a few bantering words.

Then seating himself in a large arm-chair, and taking up a newspaper, he added: 'Don't mind me; finish your receiving, if I am not in the way. I have arrived too early, but the fact is I wanted to see my doctor, and I did not find him at home.'

Just then the valet came in to say that the Countess de Beauvilliers requested to be received. Saccard, a little surprised, although he had already met his 'noble neighbour,' as he called her, at the Institute of Work, gave orders for her immediate admittance; then, recalling the valet, he told him to send everybody else away, as he was tired and very hungry.

When the Countess entered, she did not even see Maxime, who was hidden by the back of the large arm-chair. And Saccard was still more astonished to find that she had brought her daughter Alice with her. This lent additional solemnity to the visit: these two women so sad and so pale, the mother slender, tall and very white, with a past-century air, and the daughter already ageing, with a neck elongated to the point of ugliness. He set chairs for them with a bustling politeness, the better to show his deference. 'I am extremely honoured, madame,' said he; 'can I have the happiness to be of any use to you?'

With great timidity, which her haughty manners failed to conceal, the Countess finally explained the motive of her visit.

'Monsieur,' she said, 'it is in consequence of a conversation I lately had with my friend, the Princess d'Orviedo, that the idea occurred to me of calling on you. I confess to you that I hesitated at first, for at my age one cannot easily change one's ideas, and I have always been very much afraid of certain things of nowadays which I do not understand. At last, however, I have talked matters over with my daughter, and I believe it is my duty to stifle my scruples, so that I may try to assure the happiness of my children.'

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And she continued; saying how the Princess had spoken to her of the Universal Bank, certainly a financial establishment like the rest of them in the eyes of the profane, but endowed in the eyes of the initiated with an irreproachable excuse, an object so meritorious and lofty as to silence the most timorous consciences. She named neither the Pope nor Jerusalem; those were matters not to be spoken of, scarcely to be whispered among the faithful; therein lay the mystery destined to[Pg 128] excite enthusiasm; but each of her words, allusions, and hints revealed a hope and faith which imparted a true religious flame to her belief in the success of the new bank.

Saccard himself was astonished at her suppressed emotion, at the trembling in her voice. As yet he had only spoken of Jerusalem in the poetical phases of his fever. In his heart he distrusted that mad project, scenting something ridiculous in it, and quite prepared to abandon it and laugh at it if it should be greeted with jests. And the emotional application of this pious woman who brought her daughter with her, the earnest way in which she gave him to understand that she and all her kindred, the entire French nobility, would believe and become infatuated with the scheme, struck him forcibly, gave substance to what had been purely a dream, and infinitely enlarged his field of evolution. Was it true, then, that he had a lever here, the employment of which would permit him to move the world? With his gift of rapid assimilation, he at once entered into the situation, talking in mysterious terms of this final triumph which he would pursue in silence; and his speech was full of fervour, for he had really just acquired faith—faith in the excellence of the instrument placed in his hands by the crisis through which the Papacy was passing. He indeed had the happy faculty of believing, as soon as the success of his plans required it.

'In short, monsieur,' continued the Countess, 'I have decided upon a thing which has hitherto been repugnant to me. Yes, the idea of making money work, of putting it out at interest, had never entered my head. Mine are the old ways of viewing life, scruples that are becoming a little stupid, I know; but what would you have? One cannot easily throw off the ideas acquired in childhood, and I imagined that land alone, extensive estates, ought to support people like ourselves. Unfortunately, large estates——'

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She blushed slightly, for she was coming to the confession of the ruin which she had so carefully concealed. 'Large estates can now scarcely be found in France; we have been sorely tried, and now we have but one farm left.'

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Thereupon Saccard, to spare her further embarrassment,[Pg 129] began blazing away. 'But nowadays, madame, no one lives on land. The landed fortune of olden times is an out-of-date form of wealth, which has ceased to have its raison d'être. It was the very stagnation of money, the value of which we have increased tenfold by throwing it into circulation, and by inventing paper money, and securities of all sorts, commercial and financial. It is by this means that the world is to be renewed, for nothing would be possible—neither the applications of science nor the final universal peace—without money, liquid money which flows and penetrates everywhere. Oh! landed wealth! it has gone to keep company with the old stage-coaches. With a million in land a man dies; whereas with a fourth of that capital invested in good enterprises at fifteen, twenty, and even thirty per cent., he lives.'

Gently, and with infinite sadness, the Countess shook her head. 'I scarcely understand you, and, as I have told you, I am a survivor of an epoch in which these things were feared, as things wicked and forbidden. However, I am not alone; above all, I must think of my daughter. In the last few years I have succeeded in laying aside, oh! a little sum——'