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'Here you are, then?' said Busch, who had evidently been waiting for her.

'Yes, and I have received the Vend?me papers; I have brought them,' she replied.

'Good! Let us be off to my place, then. There's nothing to be done here to-day.'

Saccard had darted a wavering glance at the vast leather bag. He knew that into it inevitably fell all sorts of discredited stock, the shares of bankrupt companies, in which the 'Wet Feet' still speculate—shares issued at five hundred francs, but which they dispute for at twenty or even ten sous apiece, either in the vague hope of an improbable rise or, more practically,[Pg 18] as merchandise which they can sell at a profit to fraudulent bankrupts who are desirous of having something to show by way of explaining their pretended losses. In the deadly battles of speculation, La Méchain was the raven that followed the armies on the march; not a company, not a large financial establishment was founded, but she appeared with her bag, sniffing the air, awaiting the corpses, even in the prosperous hours of triumphant issues. For she well knew that ruin was inevitable, that the day of massacre would come, when there would be dead to eat, shares to pick up for nothing, from amid the mire and the blood. And Saccard, who even then was revolving a grand banking project in his mind, gave a slight shudder, and felt a presentiment at sight of that bag, that charnel-house, as it were, of depreciated stock, into which passed all the dirty paper swept away from the Bourse.

Busch was on the point of taking the old woman off, when Saccard stopped him, saying: 'Then I can go up? I am certain of finding your brother, eh?'

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The Jew's eyes softened with an expression of anxious surprise. 'My brother! Why, certainly. Where do you expect him to be?'

'Very well, then; I will go up directly.'

Allowing them to move away, Saccard thereupon resumed his slow walk under the trees, towards the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. This is one of the most frequented sides of the Place, overlooked by houses occupied by commercial firms and petty manufacturers, whose gilt signboards were flaming in the sunlight. Blinds, too, were flapping at the balconies; and a whole family of provincials stood gaping at the window of a hotel. Saccard mechanically raised his head, and looked at these people, whose amazement made him smile, comforting him with the thought that plenty of investors would always be found in the provinces. Behind him, the clamour of the Bourse, the distant flood-tide roar, was still resounding, haunting him, following him like a threat of doom which would presently overtake him.

Another meeting, however, made him pause.

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'What, Jordan, you at the Bourse?' he exclaimed, shaking hands with a tall, dark young man, with a small moustache and a determined, wilful air.

For ten years past, Jordan, whose father, a Marseilles banker, had committed suicide in consequence of some disastrous speculations, had been tramping the pavements of Paris with the fever of literature within him, in a gallant struggle against black misery. One of his cousins, residing at Plassans, where he knew the Rougon family, had formerly recommended him to Saccard, at the time when the latter was receiving all Paris at his mansion of the Parc Monceau.

'Oh! at the Bourse, never!' answered the young man, with a violent gesture, as if he were driving away the tragic memory of his father. Then, beginning to smile, he added: 'You know that I have got married—yes, to a little friend of my childhood's days. We were betrothed at the time when I was rich, and she has persisted in taking me—poor devil though I now am.'

'Quite so; I received the notification,' said Saccard. 'And do you know that I used to be in business relations with your father-in-law, Monsieur Maugendre, when he had his awning factory at La Villette? He must have made a pretty fortune there.'

The conversation was taking place near a bench; and at this point Jordan interrupted it to introduce a short, stout gentleman, of military bearing, who was sitting there, and with whom he had been talking when Saccard came up. 'Captain Chave, an uncle of my wife's,' said he. 'Madame Maugendre, my mother-in-law, is a Chave, of Marseilles.'

The captain had risen, and Saccard bowed. He was by sight acquainted with the owner of that apoplectic face, set on a neck stiffened by long wearing a military choker—that type of the petty cash gambler, whom one is certain to find somewhere about the Bourse every day from one to three o'clock. The game that men of this class play is one of small winnings, an almost certain profit of from fifteen to twenty francs, which must be realised before the day's operations are over.

Jordan, with his good-natured laugh, now added, by way of[Pg 20] explaining his presence: 'My uncle is a ferocious speculator, with whom I sometimes stop to shake hands as I pass by.'

'Why,' said the captain, simply. 'I'm obliged to speculate, since the Government, with its beggarly pension, leaves me to die of hunger.'