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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

Then he, who knew nothing of her position with regard to Saccard, allowed her to divine the truth.

For a moment Madame Caroline remained motionless. In the dim passage the livid pallor of her face could not be detected. She had just felt so keen, so cruel a pain in her heart that she could not remember having ever suffered so much before; and it was the stupor caused by this frightful pang which nailed her there. What should she do?—force her way in, create a scandal?

Whilst she still stood there, dazed, destitute of will, Marcelle, who had come to fetch her husband, approached her gaily. 'Oh, is it you, dear madame?' the young woman exclaimed. 'Just fancy, we are going to the theatre this[Pg 218] evening. Oh! it's quite an affair, for we can't afford expense. But Paul has discovered a little restaurant where we shall feast ourselves at thirty-five sous a head.'

Just then Jordan entered the passage and laughingly interrupted his wife. 'Two courses, a decanter of wine, and as much bread as one can eat,' said he.

'And then,' continued Marcelle, 'we shan't take a cab. It is so amusing to walk home at a late hour. As we are rich to-night, we shall spend a franc on an almond cake to take home with us. It will be a perfect fête, a reckless jollification.'

She went off, delighted, on her husband's arm; and Madame Caroline, who had returned to the ante-room with them, now found sufficient strength to smile. 'I hope you will amuse yourselves,' she murmured in a trembling voice.