'Well, my dear fellow,' said he, 'if the Empire is moving towards liberty, it is because all France is pushing it firmly in that direction. The Emperor is borne along with the current, and Rougon is obliged to follow him.'

But Saccard was already passing to other grievances, without a thought of making his attacks in any degree logical.

'And see,' said he, 'it is the same with our foreign situation; why, it is deplorable! Since the Treaty of Villafranca which followed upon Solferino, Italy has harboured resentment against us for not having finished the campaign and given her Venice; so that now she is allied with Prussia, in the certainty that the latter will help her to beat Austria. When war breaks out, you'll see what a row there'll be, and what a fix we shall be in; especially as we have made the great mistake of letting Bismarck and King William seize the[Pg 192] Duchies in the Denmark affair, in contempt of a treaty which France herself had signed. It is a slap in the face, there's no denying it, and there is nothing for us to do now but to turn the other cheek. Oh! war is certain; you remember how French and Italian securities fell last month, when there was some talk of a possible intervention on our part in German affairs. Within a fortnight, perhaps, Europe will be on fire.'

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More and more surprised, Huret became excited, contrary to his habit. 'You talk like the Opposition papers,' said he; 'but you certainly don't want "L'Espérance" to follow the lead of the "Siècle" and the others. There is nothing left for you but to insinuate, like those rags do, that, if the Emperor allowed himself to be humiliated in the Schleswig-Holstein affair, and let Prussia grow with impunity, it is because he had for many months kept an entire army corps in Mexico. Come, be a little fair; the Mexican affair is over, our troops are coming back. And then I do not understand you, my dear fellow. If you wish to keep Rome for the Pope, why do you seem to blame the hasty peace of Villafranca? Venice given to Italy means the Italians in Rome within two years; you know that as well as I do, and Rougon knows it too, although he swears the contrary in the tribune.'

'Ah! you see what a trickster he is!' shouted Saccard superbly. 'Never will they touch the Pope, do you hear me? without the whole of Catholic France rising up to defend him. We should carry him our money, yes! all the money of the Universal. I have my plan, our affair lies there, and really, if you keep on exasperating me, you will make me say things that I do not want to say as yet.'

Jantrou, very much interested, had suddenly pricked up his ears, beginning to understand, trying to profit by the remarks thus casually dropped.

'Well,' replied Huret, 'I want to know what to depend upon with regard to my articles, and we must come to an understanding. Are you for intervention or against intervention? If we are for the principle of nationalities, by what right are we to meddle with the affairs of Italy and Germany?[Pg 193] Do you wish us to carry on a campaign against Bismarck? Yes! in the name of our menaced frontiers.'

But Saccard, erect, beside himself, burst out: 'What I want is that Rougon shall not make a fool of me any longer. What! after all that I have done! I buy a newspaper, the worst of his enemies; I make it an organ devoted to his policy; I allow you to sing his praises for months, and yet never has the beggar given us a single lift. I have still to receive the first service from him.'

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Thereupon the deputy timidly remarked that the Minister's support had singularly aided the engineer Hamelin in the East, opening all doors to him, and exercising pressure upon influential personages.

'Oh, stuff and nonsense! He could not do otherwise. But has he ever sent me a word of warning the day before a rise or a fall, he who is so well placed to know everything? Remember, I have a score of times charged you to sound him, you who see him every day, and you have yet to bring me a useful bit of information. Yet it would not be such a serious matter—a simple word for you to repeat to me.'

'Undoubtedly. But he doesn't like that sort of thing; he says it is all jobbery, which a man always repents of.'

'Nonsense! Has he any such scruples with Gundermann? He plays the honest man with me, and he gives tips to Gundermann.'

'Oh, Gundermann, no doubt! They all need Gundermann; they could not float a loan without him.'

At this Saccard clapped his hands with a violent gesture of triumph. 'There we are, then; you confess it! The empire is sold to the Jews—the dirty Jews! All our money is doomed to fall into their thieving paws. There is nothing left for the Universal but to collapse before their omnipotence.'

And then he exhaled his hereditary hatred, again brought forward his charges against that race of traffickers and usurers for centuries on the march through the nations, sucking their blood, like the parasites of scab and itch, and, although spat upon and beaten, yet marching on to the certain conquest of the world, which they would some day possess by the[Pg 194] invincible power of gold. And he was especially furious against Gundermann, giving way to his old resentment, to his unrealisable mad desire to strike that Jew down; and this in spite of a presentiment that he was the limit against which he (Saccard) would fall should he ever engage in a struggle with him. Ah, that Gundermann! a Prussian in the house, albeit born in France; for his sympathies were evidently with Prussia; he would willingly have supported her with his money, perhaps he was secretly supporting her even now! Had he not dared to say one evening, in a salon, that, if war should ever break out between Prussia and France, the latter would be vanquished?