'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.

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'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.

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The weather was execrable on the following day. It had rained all night; a fine, cold rain drenched the city, which the thaw changed into a cloaca of yellow liquid mud. Already, at half-past twelve o'clock, the Bourse began clamouring in this downpour. Everyone having taken refuge under the peristyle and in the hall, the crowd was enormous; and by the dripping from the wet umbrellas the hall itself was soon changed into an immense puddle of muddy, water. Dampness oozed from the black filth of the walls, whilst from the glass roof there fell but a dim, ruddy light, desperately melancholy.

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Amid the many evil reports in circulation, the extraordinary stories which were turning people's heads, one and all, on entering, began to look for Saccard and scrutinize him. He was at his post, erect, near the accustomed pillar; and he had the air of other days, the days of triumph, an air of brave gaiety and absolute confidence. He was not ignorant of the fact that Universals had fallen three hundred francs at the Petite Bourse the night before; he scented immense danger. He expected a furious assault on the part of the 'bears;' but his plan of battle seemed to him invincible; Daigremont's flank movement, the unexpected arrival of an army of fresh millions, would sweep everything before it, and once more assure him the victory. Henceforth he himself was without resources; the coffers of the Universal were empty, he had scraped even the centimes out of them; yet he did not despair, Mazaud was carrying him over, and he had so completely won the broker's confidence by acquainting him with the promised support of Daigremont's syndicate, that he had accepted without security further orders for purchase to the amount of several millions. The tactics agreed upon between them were not to let the quotations fall too low at the opening of[Pg 345] the Bourse, but to sustain them and wage war pending the arrival of the reinforcements. The excitement was so great that Massias and Sabatani, abandoning useless strategy now that the real situation was the subject of all gossip, came and spoke openly with Saccard, and then ran to carry his last orders, the one to Nathansohn under the peristyle, and the other to Mazaud, who was still in the brokers' room.

It was ten minutes to one o'clock, and Moser, who arrived looking quite pale from the effects of one of his liver attacks, the pain of which had kept him from closing his eyes all the night, remarked to Pillerault that everybody appeared yellow and ill that afternoon. Pillerault, who in the approach of disaster straightened himself up in the swaggering attitude of a knight-errant, burst out laughing. 'Why, it is you, my dear fellow, who have the colic,' said he. 'Everybody else is very gay. We are going to give you one of those thrashings which folks remember as long as they live.'

The truth was, however, that in the general anxiety the hall remained very gloomy under the reddish light, and this was particularly evident from the subdued rumble of the conversation. You no longer heard the feverish outbursts of the days when everything was rising, the agitation, the roar of a tide, streaming from all sides like a conqueror. The Boursiers no longer ran, they no longer shouted; they glided, they talked in low tones, as in a sick room. Although the crowd was very great, and one could not circulate without stifling, only a distressful murmur arose, the whispering of the current fears, of all the deplorable news which folks exchanged in one another's ears. Many remained silent, with livid, contracted faces and dilated eyes, which questioned other faces despairingly.

'And have you nothing to say, Salmon?' asked Pillerault, full of aggressive irony.

'Of course not,' muttered Moser; 'he's like the rest: he has nothing to say; he is frightened.'

Indeed, that day Salmon's silence disturbed no one, such was the deep, mute expectancy of one and all.