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As Saccard entered the Salle des Pas Perdus,[17] he was lucky enough to meet the deputy, and led him into one of the little reception-rooms near by, where they found themselves alone, thanks to the great excitement prevailing in the lobbies. The opposition was growing more and more formidable, a wind of catastrophe was beginning to blow—a wind destined to increase and sweep everything away. Thus Huret, who was[Pg 102] very preoccupied, did not at first understand Saccard, and the latter had to repeat his request. On the deputy realising what was wanted of him, his dismay increased: 'Oh, my dear friend, how can you think of such a thing!' he exclaimed. 'Speak to Rougon at such a moment as this! He will send me to the deuce, you may be sure of it.'

Then his anxiety as to his personal interests became manifest. His very existence depended on the great man, to whom he owed his selection as an official candidate, his election, his situation as a kind of general servant living on the crumbs of his master's favour. By following this calling for a couple of years, he had, thanks to bribes and pickings prudently realised, been able to increase his extensive Calvados estates, intending to retire and enthrone himself there after the Downfall.

His fat, cunning, peasant-like face had now darkened, and expressed all the embarrassment he felt at this sudden request for intervention, which gave him no time to consider whether he would gain or lose thereby. 'No, no! I cannot,' he repeated. 'I told you your brother's decision; I cannot disturb him again. The devil! think of me a little. He's by no means gentle when he's bothered; and, plainly now, I've no desire to pay for you at the cost of my own credit.'

Thereupon, Saccard, understanding, strove to convince him that millions of money were to be gained by the launching of the Universal Bank. With broad touches and glowing words, which transformed a pecuniary affair into a poet's tale, he explained all the superb enterprises which were in view, and dwelt on their certain and colossal success. Daigremont, whose enthusiasm was roused, would place himself at the head of the syndicate. Bohain and Sédille had already asked to come into it. It was impossible that he, Huret, should not be one of them: the others absolutely wanted him to join them on account of his high political position. They even hoped that he would consent to become a member of the board of directors, for his name was a guarantee of method and probity.

At this promise that he should be made a director, the[Pg 103] deputy looked Saccard full in the face. 'Well, what is it that you want of me, what reply do you wish me to get from Rougon?' he asked.

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'Oh! for my part,' replied Saccard, 'I would willingly have dispensed with my brother. But Daigremont insists on a reconciliation. Perhaps he is right—so I think that you ought simply to speak of our affair to the terrible fellow, and obtain, if not his help, at least a promise that he won't oppose us.'

Huret, his eyes half closed, still seemed undecided.

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'You see, if you can only draw an amiable word from him—just an amiable word, you understand—Daigremont will be satisfied with it, and we will settle the matter this afternoon between us three.'

'Well, I will try,' suddenly declared the deputy, affecting a peasant's bluntness, 'but I shall only do so for your sake, for he is not a pleasant customer by any means—no indeed, especially when the Left is tormenting him. At five o'clock, then?'

'At five o'clock.'

For nearly an hour longer Saccard lingered at the Palais Bourbon, greatly disturbed by the rumours of battle which were afloat. Hearing one of the great orators of the Opposition announce that he meant to speak, he momentarily felt a desire to go in search of Huret again, and ask him if it would not be prudent to postpone the interview with Rougon until the next day. Then, fatalist that he was, believing in chance, he trembled lest he might compromise everything if he altered existing arrangements. Perhaps, too, in the scramble, his brother would the more readily speak the desired word. And thereupon, in order to let things take their course, he started off, and again got into his cab, which was already recrossing the Pont de la Concorde, when he recollected the desire expressed by Daigremont: 'Driver,' he called, 'Rue de Babylone.'

It was in the Rue de Babylone that the Marquis de Bohain lived, occupying a grand mansion's former dependencies—a pavilion which had once sheltered stablemen, but had now been transformed into a very comfortable modern house, the[Pg 104] luxurious appointments of which were coquettishly aristocratic. The Marquis's wife, by the way, was never seen; her health was bad, he said; infirmities kept her in her apartments. Nevertheless, the house and furniture were hers; he lived with her only as a lodger, having nothing of his own save his clothes, a trunkful, which he could have carried away on a cab. He and she had been legally separated, so far as estate went, since he had begun living by speculation. On two disastrous occasions already he had flatly refused to pay up what he owed, and the official receiver, after looking into matters, had not even taken the trouble to send him any stamped paper. The sponge was passed over the claims against him. He pocketed as long as he won, but as soon as he lost he did not pay; folks knew it, and resigned themselves to it. On the other hand, he bore an illustrious name, and his presence and manners were of a kind to adorn a board of directors, so that new companies in search of a little gilding disputed with each other for his services, and he never knew a slack time. At the Bourse he had his chair on the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Victoires side frequented by the rich speculators, who pretended to take no interest in the little rumours of the day. They respected and frequently consulted him. He had often influenced the market. And, briefly, he was quite a personage.

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Though Saccard knew the Marquis well, he was nevertheless impressed by the loftily polite reception accorded him by this handsome old man of sixty, whose small head was perched upon a colossal body, a brown wig setting off his pale face, the expression of which was exceedingly aristocratic.

'Monsieur le Marquis, I come as a veritable solicitor,' said Saccard, explaining the motive of his visit, but without entering into details.

At his first words, however, the Marquis stopped him. 'No no, all my time is taken. I have at this moment a dozen proposals which I must refuse.'

Then, as Saccard added, smiling, 'Daigremont sent me; he thought of you,' he immediately exclaimed, 'Oh! is Daigremont in it? Well, well, if Daigremont is with you, so am I. Rely on me.'

Then, as his visitor wished to furnish him with at least a little information, so that he might know what sort of an undertaking he was joining, he closed his mouth, with the amiable, easy-going manner of a grand seigneur, who does not descend to such details, and has a natural confidence in people's probity.