He waved his hand, as though over yonder, in space, he could behold that triumphant quotation blazing in figures of fire which set the horizon of the Bourse all aglow and ascended to the heavens like stars.

'It is madness!' said Madame Caroline.

'As soon as prices exceed two thousand francs,' Hamelin declared, 'each fresh rise will constitute a danger; and for my own part I warn you that I shall sell my shares so as not to take part in such lunacy.'

By way of reply Saccard began to hum a tune. People always talk of selling and yet do not sell. He would enrich them, despite themselves. Then again he began to smile in a[Pg 257] very affectionate, though somewhat mocking way. 'Trust me,' said he. 'It seems to me that I haven't managed your affairs so badly until now. Sadowa brought you a million.'

This was true; the Hamelins had forgotten it. Yet they had accepted that million fished out of the troubled waters of the Bourse. For a moment they remained silent, turning pale, with the heart-pang felt by those who are still honest but are no longer certain whether they have acted rightly. Had the leprosy of gambling seized upon them also? Were they, too, rotting in that maddening atmosphere of Money in which circumstances compelled them to live?

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'No doubt that is so,' the engineer at last muttered; 'but if I had been here——'

Saccard would not let him finish. 'Nonsense,' said he. 'You need feel no remorse; it was only so much money regained from those dirty Jews!'

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At this all three began to laugh; and Madame Caroline, having seated herself, made a gesture of tolerance and resignation. Could one let oneself be devoured and not devour others? It was life. To do otherwise would require virtues of too sublime a character, or else the solitude of a cloister, far from all temptation.

'Come, come!' Saccard continued gaily. 'Do not appear to spit upon money: in the first place, it would be idiotic to do so; and secondly, it is only the powerless who disdain power. It would be illogical to kill yourselves in labouring to enrich others without cutting off the share you are legitimately entitled to. Otherwise, you might just as well go to bed and sleep!' He dominated them and would not permit them to say another word. 'Do you know that you will soon have a pretty sum in your pockets?' he exclaimed. 'Wait a moment.' And then, with a school-boy's petulance, he rushed to Madame Caroline's table, and, taking a pencil and a sheet of paper, began covering the latter with figures. 'Wait!' he said again. 'I am going to draw up your account. Oh! I know it. At the outset you had five hundred shares, doubled a first time and then doubled again, so that you now hold two[Pg 258] thousand. And you will have three thousand after our next issue.'

Hamelin tried to interrupt him.

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'No, no!' said he. 'I know that you have the money to pay for them, what with the three hundred thousand francs that you inherited on the one hand, and your Sadowa million on the other. See! your first two thousand shares have cost you four hundred and thirty-five thousand francs, the other thousand will cost you eight hundred and fifty thousand francs, in all twelve hundred and eighty-five thousand francs. So you will still have fifteen thousand francs left you for pocket money, to say nothing of your salary, now thirty thousand francs a year, but which we shall raise to sixty thousand.'

Bewildered by his flow of words, they listened, and at last began to take an acute interest in these figures.