'I say, Dejoie, was it Monsieur Jantrou who just came in?'

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'Yes, Monsieur Jordan.'

The young man hesitated, experienced a feeling of uneasiness, which for a few seconds kept him there. In the difficult beginnings of his happy household, some old debts had fallen upon him; and, in spite of his luck in finding this paper to take his articles, he was passing through a period of cruel embarrassment, the greater as his salary had been attached,[Pg 183] and as that very day he had to pay a fresh note of hand, or otherwise an execution would be promptly levied on his few sticks of furniture. Twice already he had vainly applied to the director for an advance, for Jantrou had fallen back upon the attachment placed in his hands.

However, the young fellow at last made up his mind, and was approaching the door, when the porter added:

'Monsieur Jantrou is not alone.'

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'Ah! who is with him?'

'He came in with Monsieur Saccard, and Monsieur Saccard told me to let no one enter except Monsieur Huret, whom he is waiting for.'

Jordan breathed again, relieved by this delay, so painful did he find it to ask for money. 'All right, I will go back to finish my article. Let me know when the director is alone,' said he.

Just as he was stepping away, however, Dejoie detained him, with a shout of extreme delight: 'You know that Universal have reached 750.'

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The young man made a gesture as though to say that it was all one to him, and then returned to the contributors' room.

Almost every day Saccard thus went up to the newspaper office on leaving the Bourse, and often even made appointments in the room which he had reserved for himself there, in order to negotiate certain special and mysterious affairs. Jantrou, moreover, although officially only the director of 'L'Espérance,' for which he wrote political articles in the finished, florid style of a University man, articles which his opponents themselves recognised as the 'purest atticism,' was in addition the financier's secret agent, entrusted with the discharge of delicate duties. And among other things he had just organised a vast advertising scheme in connection with the Universal Bank. Of the little financial sheets that swarmed all over France, he had chosen and 'bought' a dozen. The best belonged to doubtful banking-houses, whose very simple tactics consisted in publishing and supplying copies of these prints for two or three francs a year, a sum which did not even represent the[Pg 184] cost of postage; but then they recouped themselves in another way, dealing in the money and securities of the customers which the papers brought them. It was pretended that the sole object of these papers was to publish the Bourse quotations, the winning numbers in the bond drawings, all the technical information useful to petty capitalists, but gradually puffs were slipped in among the other 'copy,' in the form of recommendation and advice, at first modestly and reasonably, but soon immoderately and with quiet impudence, so as to sow ruin among credulous readers.

From among the mass of the two or three hundred publications which were thus ravaging Paris and France, Jantrou, with keen scent, had just chosen those which had not as yet lied too boldly, and were not, therefore, in too bad odour. But the big affair which he contemplated was the purchase of one of them, the 'C?te Financière,' which already had twelve years of absolute honesty behind it; only such honesty threatened to be very expensive, and he was waiting till the Universal should be richer and find itself in one of those situations when a last trumpet blast determines the deafening peals of triumph. However, he had not confined himself to gathering together a docile battalion of these special organs, which in each successive number celebrated the beauty of Saccard's operations; he had also contracted with the principal political and literary journals, keeping up in their columns a running fire of amiable paragraphs and laudatory articles, at so much a line, and assuring himself of their aid by presents of shares when new issues were placed on the market. And then, too, there was the daily campaign carried on under his orders in 'L'Espérance,' not a violent campaign of approbation, but an explanatory and even argumentative one, a slow fashion of seizing hold of the public and strangling it.

It was to talk about the paper that Saccard had shut himself up with Jantrou that afternoon. In the morning issue he had found an article by Huret teeming with such extravagant praise of a speech made by Rougon in the Chamber the day before, that he had entered into a violent rage, and was waiting for the deputy, to have an explanation with him. Did[Pg 185] they suppose that he was his brother's hireling? Was he paid to compromise the journal's line of conduct by unreserved approval of the Minister's slightest acts? Jantrou smiled silently when he heard him speak of the journal's line of conduct. Still, as the storm did not threaten to burst upon his own shoulders, he listened to him calmly, examining his finger-nails the while. With the cynicism of a disillusioned man of letters, he had the most perfect contempt for literature, for both 'one' and 'two,' as he said, alluding to the pages of the paper upon which the articles, even his own, appeared; and he only began to evince any interest on reaching the advertisements. He now wore the newest of clothes—closely girt in an elegant frock coat, his button-hole blooming with a brilliant rosette of various colours; in summer carrying a light-coloured overcoat on his arm, in winter buried in a furcoat costing a hundred louis; and showing himself especially careful with regard to his head-gear, his hat always being irreproachable, glittering indeed like a mirror. But with all this there were still certain gaps in his elegance; a vague suspicion of uncleanliness persisting underneath, the old filth of the ex-professor fallen from the Bordeaux Lycée to the Paris Bourse, his skin penetrated, stained by the dirt in which he had lived for ten years; so that, amid the arrogant assurance of his new fortune, he still frequently evinced base humility, making himself very small and humble in the sudden fear of receiving some kick from behind, as in former times.

He now made a hundred thousand francs a year, and spent double the amount, nobody knew how, for he paraded no mistress, but was probably consumed by some awful vice, the secret cause which had driven him from the University. Absinthe, moreover, had been gradually devouring him ever since his days of poverty, and in the luxurious club-house of to-day continued the work begun in the low-class cafés of former times, mowing off his last hairs, and imparting a leaden hue to his skull and face, of which his black, fan-shaped beard remained the sole glory. And Saccard having again invoked 'L'Espérance's' line of conduct, Jantrou stopped him with a gesture, with the weary air of a man who, not[Pg 186] liking to waste his time in futile passion, had made up his mind to talk of serious matters, since Huret did not put in an appearance.

For some time the ex-professor had been nursing some new advertising ideas. He thought first of writing a pamphlet, some twenty pages long, about the great enterprises which the Universal Bank was launching—a pamphlet, however, which should have all the interest of a romance, and be couched in a dramatic and familiar style; and he wished to inundate the provinces with this pamphlet, to have it distributed gratuitously in the remotest country districts. Then he proposed to establish an agency, which should draw up and 'manifold' a daily bulletin of the Bourse, sending a hundred copies of it to the best papers in the various departments of France. This bulletin would be given away or sold at a nominal price, and in this wise they would soon have in their hands a powerful weapon, a force which every rival banking-house would have to recognise. Knowing Saccard, he thus primed him with his ideas, returning to the attack until the other had adopted them, made them his own, enlarged them to the point of really re-creating them.

In talk like this the minutes slipped away, and they came at last to the apportionment of the advertising funds for the next quarter, to the subsidies to be paid to the principal newspapers, to the terrible financial scribe employed by a hostile house whose silence it was necessary to purchase, and the course which they should take with regard to the approaching sale by auction of the fourth page of a very old and highly-respected print. And, amidst their prodigality with regard to all the money that they thus uproariously scattered to the four corners of heaven, you could detect what immense disdain they felt for the public, what contempt in which they, intelligent business men, held the dense ignorance of the masses—the masses which were ready to believe all stories, and were so incompetent to understand the complex operations of the Bourse that the most shameless traps caught passers-by, and made millions of money rain down.

Whilst Jordan was still striving to concoct fifty lines of[Pg 187] 'copy' with which to complete his two columns, he was disturbed by Dejoie, who called him. 'Ah!' said the young fellow, 'is Monsieur Jantrou alone now?'

'No, monsieur, not yet. But your wife is here, and wants to see you.'

Very anxious, Jordan hurried out. For a few months past, since La Méchain had at last discovered that he was writing over his own name in 'L'Espérance,' he had been pursued by Busch for payment of the six notes of fifty francs each which he had formerly given to a tailor. He could have managed to pay the three hundred francs which the notes represented, but what exasperated him was the enormity of the costs, that total of seven hundred and thirty francs and fifteen centimes to which the debt had risen. He had entered into a compromise, however, and pledged himself to pay a hundred francs a month; and, as he could not manage it, his young household having more pressing needs, the costs rose higher yet every month, and the intolerable annoyances were ever beginning afresh.