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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!'

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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.

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That same day Madame Caroline was to go to Mazaud's with reference to certain documents which she desired to ladd to the brief of her brother's case. She also wished to know what would be the broker's attitude in case the defence should summon him as a witness. Her appointment with him was for four o'clock, after the Bourse; and, on finding herself alone, she spent more than an hour and a half in classifying the information which she had already obtained. She was beginning to see more clearly through the heap of ruins. She had first asked herself where the money could have gone. In this catastrophe, in which two hundred millions had been swallowed up, if some pockets had been emptied, others must have been filled. Moreover, it seemed certain that the bears' rakes had not gathered in the whole sum; a frightful leakage had carried away a good third. On days of disaster at the Bourse, it is as though the soil absorbs some of the money—it wanders away, a little sticks to all fingers.

However, Gundermann alone must have pocketed fifty millions; and Daigremont, from twelve to fifteen. The Marquis de Bohain was also mentioned as a big winner. His classic stroke had once more succeeded: playing through Mazaud for a rise, he refused to pay his differences, though he was receiving nearly two millions from Jacoby, through whom he had played for a fall. This time, however, although well aware that the Marquis had transferred his property to his wife, like a vulgar sharper, Mazaud, quite bewildered by his heavy losses, talked of taking legal proceedings against him.

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Almost all the directors of the Universal, moreover, had carved themselves large slices—some, like Huret and Kolb, realising at a high figure before the collapse; others, like the Marquis and Daigremont, adopting treacherous tactics and going over to the 'bears;' to say nothing of the fact that at one of the last meetings, when the Bank was already in difficulties, the board had credited each of its members[Pg 377] with a bonus of a hundred and odd thousand francs. Finally, at the corbeille, Delarocque and Jacoby were reputed to have won large sums, while Nathansohn was said to have become one of the kings of the coulisse, thanks to a profit of three millions which he had realised by playing on his own account for a fall, while playing for Saccard for a rise. The extraordinary feature of his luck was that, having made very large purchases on behalf of the Universal which could no longer pay, he would certainly have failed, and have been 'posted,' if it had not been found necessary to pass the sponge over all the transactions of the coulisse, making it a present of the sums which it owed since it was undoubtedly insolvent. So little Nathansohn earned the reputation of being both very lucky and very adroit. And what a pretty and amusing adventure it was to be able to pocket one's winnings without being called upon to pay what one has lost!

However, all the figures remained vague; Madame Caroline could not form an exact estimate of the gains, for the operations of the Bourse are carried on with great mystery, and professional secrecy is strictly observed by the brokers. Even their memorandum-books would have told her nothing, no names being inscribed on them. Thus she in vain tried to ascertain what amount Sabatani had carried off with him on disappearing after the last settlement. That was another ruin, and a hard blow for Mazaud. It was the old story: the shady client, at first received with distrust, depositing a small security of two or three thousand francs, playing cautiously until he had established friendly relations with the broker, and the insignificance of his cover had been forgotten; then launching out, and taking to flight after perpetrating some brigand's trick. Mazaud talked of posting Sabatani, just as he had formerly posted Schlosser, a sharper of the same band, the eternal band which 'works' the market, in the same way as the robbers of olden time 'worked' a forest. And the Levantine, that half-Oriental, half-Italian, with velvet eyes, over whom all the women had grown crazy, had now gone to infest the Bourse of some foreign capital—Berlin, so it was said—pending the time when he should be forgotten at the[Pg 378] Bourse of Paris, and could come back again, ready to repeat his stroke, amid general toleration.

Besides her list of the gains, Madame Caroline had drawn up one of the disasters. The catastrophe of the Universal had been one of those terrible shocks that make a whole city totter. Nothing had remained firmly standing. Other establishments had begun to give way; every day there were fresh collapses. One after another the banks went down, with the sudden crash of bits of walls left standing after a fire. In silent dismay folks listened to these repeated falls, and asked where the ruin would stop. But what struck Madame Caroline to the heart was not so much the downfall of the bankers, the companies, the men and things of finance, all destroyed and swept away in the tempest, as the ruin of the many poor people, shareholders, and even speculators, whom she had known and loved, and who were among the victims. After the defeat she counted her dead. And these were not only her poor Dejoie, the imbecile, wretched Maugendres, the sad Beauvilliers ladies, whose misfortune was so touching. Another tragedy had upset her, the failure of the silk manufacturer, Sédille, announced on the previous day. Having seen him at work as a director, the only one of the board, she said, to whom she would have entrusted ten sous, she declared him to be the most honest man in the world. What a frightful thing, then, was this passion for gambling! Here was a man who had spent thirty years in establishing, by dint of labour and honesty, one of the firmest houses in Paris, and who, in less than three years, had so cut and eaten into it that at one stroke, it had fallen into dust! How bitterly he must now regret the laborious days of former times, when he had still believed in the acquirement of fortune by prolonged effort, before a first chance gain had filled him with contempt for work, consumed him with the dream of gaining in an hour, at the Bourse, the million which requires the whole lifetime of an honest merchant! And the Bourse had swept everything away—the unfortunate man remained overwhelmed, fallen from his brilliant position, incapable of resuming business and disqualified from doing so, with a son, too, whom poverty[Pg 379] might perhaps turn into a swindler—that Gustave, the soul of joy and festivity, who was living on a footing of from forty to fifty thousand francs worth of debts and was already compromised in an ugly story of some promissory notes signed in favour of a woman.

Then there was another poor devil who distressed Madame Caroline, the remisier Massias, and yet God knew that she was not usually tender towards those go-betweens of falsehood and theft! Only she had known Massias also, known him with his large, laughing eyes and the air of a good dog who has been whipped, at the time when he was scouring Paris seeking to obtain a few small orders. If, for a moment, in his turn, he had at last believed himself to be one of the masters of the market, having conquered luck in Saccard's wake, how frightful had been the fall which had awakened him from his dream! He had found himself owing seventy thousand francs, which he had paid, when, as so many others did, he might have pleaded that the matter was one of gambling, and that payment therefore could not be legally enforced. However, by borrowing from friends, and pledging his entire life, he had committed that sublime and useless stupidity of paying—useless, since no one felt the better of him for it; indeed, folks even shrugged their shoulders behind his back. His resentment, however, was only directed against the Bourse, for he had relapsed into his disgust for the dirty calling which he plied, and again shouted that one must be a Jew to succeed in it. Nevertheless, as he was in it, he resigned himself, still hoping that he might yet win the big prize provided he had a keen eye and good legs.

It was the thought, however, of the unknown dead, the victims without a name, without a history, that especially filled Madame Caroline's heart with pity. They were legion, strewn in the thickets, in the ditches full of weeds, and in this wise there were lost ones, wounded ones, with the death rattle in their throats, behind each tree-trunk. What frightful silent tragedies were here!—the whole throng of petty capitalists, petty shareholders, who had invested all their savings in the same securities, the retired door-porters, the pale old[Pg 380] maids living with their cats, the provincial pensioners who had regulated their lives with maniacal rigidity, the country priests stripped bare by almsgiving—all those humble beings whose budgets consist of a few sous, so much for milk, so much for bread, such precise and scanty budgets that a deficiency of two sous brings on a cataclysm! And suddenly nothing was left, the threads of life were severed, swept away, and old trembling hands incapable of working groped in the darkness in bewilderment; scores and scores of humble, peaceful existences being at one blow thrown into frightful want. A hundred desperate letters had arrived from Vend?me, where Fayeux, the dividend collector, had aggravated the disaster by flight. Holding the money and shares of the customers for whom he operated at the Bourse, he had begun to gamble on his own account at a terrible rate; and, having lost, and being unwilling to pay, he had vanished with the few hundred thousand francs which were still in his hands. All round Vend?me, even in the remotest farms, he left poverty and tears. And thus the crash had reached even the humble homesteads. As after great epidemics, were not the really pitiable victims to be found among these people of the lower middle class whose little savings their sons alone could hope to reaccumulate after long years of hard toil?