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'So, my good friend,' he added, 'as I am very busy, if you have nothing more interesting to say to me——'

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He was evidently about to dismiss her; and she in her[Pg 340] fury sought to rebel. 'I have had confidence in you,' she said. 'I spoke first. It is a real trap. You promised me that, if I should be useful to you, you in your turn would be useful to me, and give me some good advice——'

Rising from his chair, he interrupted her. He, who never laughed, gave a slight chuckle, so amusing did he find it to dupe a young and pretty woman in this brutal way. 'Good advice! Why, I do not refuse it, my good friend; listen to me. Don't gamble, don't ever gamble. It will spoil your face; a woman who gambles is not at all nice.'

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However, when she had gone off quite beside herself, he shut himself up with his two sons and his son-in-law and distributed the r?les, sending at once for Jacoby and other brokers to prepare the grand stroke of the morrow. His plan was simple: to do that which, in his ignorance of the real situation of the Universal, prudence had hitherto prevented him from risking—that is, to crush the market under the weight of enormous sales now that he knew the Universal to be at the end of its resources and incapable of sustaining the quotations. Like a general who wishes to end matters, and whose spies have fully acquainted him with the enemy's weak point, he was going to bring the formidable reserves of his milliard into line. Logic would triumph; all securities which rise above the real value which they represent are doomed.

That very same day, towards five o'clock, Saccard, warned of the danger by his keen scent, called upon Daigremont. He was feverish; he felt that the hour had come to strike a blow at the 'bears,' if he did not wish to be definitively beaten by them. And his giant idea tormented him, that idea of the colossal army of six hundred millions, which must yet be raised in order to conquer the world. Daigremont received him with his usual amiability, in his princely mansion, amid his costly pictures and all the dazzling luxury which his fortnightly profits at the Bourse provided for; no one really knowing whether there was anything solid behind all this show, which seemed ever liable to be swept away by some caprice of chance. So far Daigremont had not betrayed the Universal, but had refused to sell, affecting absolute confidence,[Pg 341] happy in thus comporting himself like a good gambler playing for a rise, from which by the way he reaped large profits; and it had even pleased him not to flinch after the unfavourable settlement of the 16th, feeling convinced, as he said everywhere, that the rise would begin afresh. Still he was constantly on the watch, and quite ready to pass over to the enemy at the first grave symptom.

Saccard's visit, the extraordinary energy of which the little man gave proof, the vast idea which he unfolded of buying up every share in the market, struck Daigremont with real admiration. It was madness, but are not the great men of war and finance often only madmen who succeed? At all events, Daigremont formally promised to come to Saccard's aid at the Bourse the next day; he had already taken up strong positions, he said, but he would go to Delarocque, his broker, and extend them; to say nothing of his friends, whom he would also go to see—a complete syndicate, as it were, which he would bring up as reinforcements. In his opinion, they could estimate this new army corps at a hundred millions, for immediate use. That would suffice. Thereupon Saccard, radiant, feeling certain of conquering, decided on his plan of battle—a flank movement of rare boldness, borrowed from the tactics of the most illustrious captains: in the first place, at the opening of the Bourse, a simple skirmish to attract the 'bears' and give them confidence; then, when the 'bears' should have obtained a first success and prices should be falling, Daigremont and his friends would arrive with their heavy artillery, all those unexpected millions, emerging from ambush, assailing the 'bears' in the rear and overwhelming them; they would be crushed to pieces—massacred. Such was the plan, and when it had been agreed upon Saccard and Daigremont separated, shaking hands and laughing triumphantly.

An hour later, just as Daigremont, who was dining out that evening, was about to dress, he received another visit, from the Baroness Sandorff. In her bewilderment she had been seized with the idea of consulting him. She told her fears, and whilst lying as to the feverish spirit of treachery[Pg 342] that had prompted her, narrated her visit to Gundermann and repeated the latter's reply. Daigremont, becoming very merry, amused himself by frightening her still more, assuming an air of doubt, as though almost believing that Gundermann had told the truth in swearing that he was not a 'bear.' And, indeed, can one ever tell? 'The Bourse is a real forest, a forest on a dark night through which one has to grope one's way. In such darkness, if you are so ill-advised as to listen to all the silly contradictory stories that are invented, you are certain to come to grief.'

'Then I ought not to sell?' she asked anxiously.

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'Sell, why? It would be madness! To-morrow we shall be the masters; Universals will go up again to three thousand one hundred. So stand firm, whatever happens: you will be pleased with the last quotation. I cannot tell you more.'

The Baroness had gone, and Daigremont had at last begun to dress, when a ring at the bell announced a third visit. Ah! this time, no; he would not see the person, whoever it might be. However, when Delarocque's card had been handed to him, he at once exclaimed that the broker was to be shown up. Delarocque came in looking unusually agitated, and Daigremont, seeing that he was unwilling to speak in presence of the valet, sent the latter away, and tied his white cravat himself in front of a high mirror.

'My dear fellow,' said Delarocque with the familiarity of a man belonging to the same club as the person he was addressing, 'this is what brings me. I trust to your friendship, because it is rather a delicate matter. The fact is, Jacoby, my brother-in-law, has just had the kindness to warn me of an assault that is being prepared. Gundermann and the others have decided to give the finishing stroke to the Universal at to-morrow's Bourse. They are going to throw the whole pile upon the market. Jacoby already has orders. Gundermann sent for him.'

'The devil!' ejaculated Daigremont, turning pale.

'You understand, I have customers of mine who are playing for a rise to a very big tune indeed. Yes! I hold[Pg 343] orders to the amount of fifteen millions, enough to knock a man into a cocked hat in the case of disaster. So, you see, I jumped into a cab, and am making the round of my leading clients. It is not correct, but the intention is good.'

'The devil!' repeated the other.

'In short, my good friend, as you are playing uncovered, I have come to ask you either to secure me or to abandon your position.'

'Abandon, abandon it, my dear fellow,' cried Daigremont. 'Oh! I don't remain in falling houses; that is useless heroism. Don't buy; sell! My orders with you are for nearly three millions; sell, sell everything!' Then, as Delarocque turned to go, saying that he had other customers to see, Daigremont took his hands and shook them energetically. 'Thank you; I shall never forget. Sell, sell everything!'

As soon as he was alone he recalled his valet, in order to have his hair and beard arranged. Ah, what a blunder! He had this time almost let himself be robbed like a child. That was what came of associating with a madman!

The panic began that same evening, at the Petite Bourse of eight o'clock, which was then held upon the footway of the Boulevard des Italiens, at the entrance of the Passage de l'Opéra; and here only the coulissiers operated amid an unprepossessing crowd of brokers, remisiers, and shady speculators. Street hawkers moved up and down and gatherers of cigar-stumps crawled on all fours through the tramping groups. The Boulevard was quite obstructed by this obstinate mob, for, although the stream of promenaders occasionally carried it away and dispersed it, it always formed again. That evening nearly two thousand persons remained collected there, thanks to the mildness of the weather, which, with the misty, lowering sky, betokened rain after the terrible cold. The market was very active; Universals were offered on all sides, and the quotations fell rapidly. Rumours soon became current, and anxiety set in. What had happened, then? In an undertone, folks named the probable vendors, according to the remisier who gave the order or the coulissier who[Pg 344] executed it. If the big-wigs were selling in this way, something serious was preparing, surely. And so from eight o'clock until ten there was no end of jostling and scrambling; all the keen-scented gamblers abandoned their positions; there were even some who had time to change sides and become 'bears' instead of 'bulls.' And all went to bed in a fever of uneasiness, as on the eve of great battles.