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He had just had a piece of luck. After so many years of thankless toil, his first novel, issued at first as a newspaper serial, and then in book form by a publisher, had suddenly proved a big success; and he now found himself in possession of several thousand francs with all doors henceforth open before him. And he was all eagerness to set to work again, certain of attaining to fortune and glory.

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'If we cannot take them to live with us,' he resumed, 'we will secure a little lodging for them. We shall arrange matters in some way.'

A slight trembling came over Marcelle, who was looking at him with bewildered tenderness. 'Oh! Paul, Paul, how good you are!'

And she began to sob.

'Come, my child, calm yourself, I beg of you,' Madame Caroline repeated in bewilderment; 'you must not grieve like this.'

'Oh! let me be; it is not grief. But really, it is all so stupid! When I married Paul, ought not mamma and papa to have given me the dowry which they had always spoken about? Under the pretext, however, that Paul no longer had a copper, and that I was acting foolishly in keeping my promise to him, they did not give us a centime. Ah! they are well punished! If they had given me my dowry they could have had it back now. That would always have been something saved from the Bourse!'

Madame Caroline and Jordan could not help laughing; however, that did not console Marcelle, who only cried the more.

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'And then, it is not only that,' she stammered. 'But when Paul was poor, I had a dream. Yes! as in the fairy tales, I dreamed that I was a princess, and that some day I should bring my ruined prince ever so much money, to help him to become a great poet. And now he has no need of me, I have become nothing but a burden, I and my family! It is he who is to have all the trouble, who is to make all the presents. Ah! I stifle at the thought!'

Paul, however, had caught her in his arms. 'What are you talking about, you big silly? Does the wife need to bring anything? Why, you brought yourself, your youth, your love, your good-humour, and there is not a princess in the world that can give more.'

These words at once pacified her. She felt happy at finding that she was loved so well, and realised indeed that it was very stupid of her to cry.

'If your father and your mother are willing,' continued Jordan, 'we will get them a place at Clichy, where I have seen some ground floors, with gardens, at a very reasonable figure. Our little nest is very nice, but it is too small, and, besides, we shall be needing every inch of room.' Then smiling again, and turning towards Madame Caroline, who was greatly touched by this family scene, he added: 'Yes, there will soon be three of us; we may as well confess it, now that I am earning a living! So you see, madame, here she is about to make me a present—she who weeps at having brought me nothing!'

Madame Caroline, who to her incurable despair was condemned to remain childless, looked at Marcelle, who was blushing slightly. Her eyes filled with tears. 'Ah! my dear children, love each other well,' she said; 'you alone are reasonable, you alone are happy!'

Then, before they took their leave, Jordan gave some particulars concerning the newspaper 'L'Espérance.' With his instinctive horror of business matters, he spoke of the office as a most singular cavern, where, himself alone excepted, the entire staff, from the director to the door porter, had engaged in speculation; and he, because he had not gambled, had been looked upon with intense disfavour and treated with contempt by all. Moreover, the fall of the Universal, and especially the arrest of Saccard, had virtually killed the journal. There had been a general scattering of the contributors, and Jantrou alone obstinately clung to the waif, beggared but hoping to derive a livelihood from the remnants of the wreck. He was now quite done for; those three years of prosperity during which he had to a monstrous degree enjoyed everything that could be bought, had finished him off. It was a case similar to that of those starving people who die of indigestion on the day when they sit down to table. And the curious feature, though logical for that matter, was the final downfall of the Baroness Sandorff, who, driven to desperation, longing to recover her money, had, amid all the confusion of the catastrophe, become this scoundrel's mistress.

Madame Caroline turned slightly pale on hearing the Baroness's name; but Jordan, who did not know that the two women had been rivals, went on telling his story. It appeared that on returning to the newspaper office one day to endeavour to obtain some money due to him, he had actually caught Jantrou boxing the Baroness's ears. Yet she had suffered it, clinging to him, perhaps, because she thought that he could give her 'tips,' thanks to his position as an advertising agent. And so she was now rolling lower and lower, carried along that downward course by her passion for gambling, that passion which corrodes and rots everything, which turns one of even the highest and proudest race into a human rag, a waste scrap swept into the gutter. To think of that drunkard, a prey to every vice, belabouring that lady of the aristocracy with all the brutality of a professional bully!

With a gesture of grievous pain, Madame Caroline made Jordan stop. It seemed to her as though she herself were bespattered by this excess of degradation. At the moment of leaving, Marcelle took hold of her hand in a caressing way. 'Pray don't think, dear madame,' said she, 'that we came here to annoy you. Paul, on the contrary, stoutly defends Monsieur Saccard.'

'Why, certainly!' the young man exclaimed. 'He has always been very kind to me. I shall never forget the way in which he relieved us of that terrible Busch. And then, too, he is wonderfully clever and energetic. When you see him, madame, be sure to tell him that we are still deeply grateful to him.'

When the Jordans had gone, Madame Caroline made a gesture of silent wrath. Grateful? Why? For the ruin of the Maugendres? Those Jordans were like Dejoie; they went away repeating the same words of excuse, the same good wishes. And yet they knew; that writer who had passed through the world of finance, with such a fine contempt for money, was certainly not an ignorant man. However, her own revolt continued and grew. No, there was no pardon possible, there was too much mud. Jantrou might have[Pg 376] boxed the Baroness's ears, but that did not avenge her. It was Saccard who had rotted everything.