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'Of course not,' muttered Moser; 'he's like the rest: he has nothing to say; he is frightened.'

Indeed, that day Salmon's silence disturbed no one, such was the deep, mute expectancy of one and all.

It was around Saccard, however, that a stream of customers[Pg 346] especially crowded, trembling with uncertainty and eager for an encouraging word. It was afterwards remembered that Daigremont did not show himself that day any more than Deputy Huret, who had doubtless been warned, and was once more Rougon's faithful dog. Kolb, amid a group of bankers, pretended to be absorbed in a big arbitrage affair. The Marquis de Bohain, above the vicissitudes of fortune, quietly promenaded his little pale aristocratic head, certain of winning whatever happened, since he had given Jacoby orders to sell as many Universals as he had charged Mazaud to buy. And Saccard, besieged by the multitude of the others, the believers and the simpletons, displayed a particularly amiable and tranquillizing manner towards Sédille and Maugendre, who, with trembling lips and moist, supplicating eyes, came in search of the hope of triumph. He vigorously pressed their hands, putting into his grasp the absolute promise of victory, and then, like a man who is ever happy, beyond the reach of all danger, he began lamenting over a trifle.

'I am very worried,' said he. 'A camellia was forgotten in my yard during the very cold weather, and it has died.'

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The remark ran through the hall, and everybody began deploring the fate of the camellia. What a man that Saccard was, with his impassable assurance, his ever-smiling face! for one could never tell if it were not some mask, concealing frightful anxieties which would have tortured any other.

'The brute! how fine he is!' murmured Jantrou, in the ear of Massias, who was coming back.

Just then Saccard called Jantrou, a sudden recollection coming to him at this supreme moment—a recollection of the afternoon when, in Jantrou's company, he had seen the Baroness Sandorff's brougham drawn up in the Rue Brongniart. Was it again there on this day of crisis? Was the high-perched coachman maintaining his stony immobility in that pelting rain, while the Baroness, behind the closed windows, awaited the quotations?

'Certainly, she is there,' answered Jantrou, in an undertone, 'and heartily with you, thoroughly determined not to retreat a step. We are all here, solid, at our posts.'

Saccard felt happy at this proof of fidelity, although he doubted the disinterestedness of the lady and the others. However, in the blindness of his fever, he believed that he was still marching on to conquest, with his whole nation of shareholders behind him—that infatuated, fanaticised people of the humble and the fashionable worlds, in which pretty women of good position mingled with servant girls in the same impulse of faith.

At last the bell sounded, passing like the wail of a tocsin over the wild sea of heads. And Mazaud, who was giving orders to Flory, hurried back to the corbeille, while the young clerk rushed to the telegraph office, greatly agitated on his own account; for, having been losing for some time, through his obstinacy in following the fortunes of the Universal, he had that day risked a decisive stroke, on the strength of the story of Daigremont's intervention, which he had overheard in the office, behind a door. The corbeille was quite as anxious as the hall; ever since the last settlement the brokers had plainly felt the ground trembling beneath them, amidst such serious symptoms that their experience took alarm. There had already been some partial collapses; the market, too heavily burdened, exhausted, was cracking in every direction. Was there going to be, then, one of those great cataclysms, such as occur every ten or fifteen years, one of those crises which supervene when gambling has reached an acutely feverish stage, and which decimate the Bourse and sweep it clean like a wind of death? The shouts in the Rente and Cash markets drowned one another, the jostling was rougher than ever, while on high were the tall black silhouettes of the quoters, who were waiting, pen in hand. And Mazaud, standing at his post, with his hands grasping the red-velvet balustrade of the corbeille, at once heard Jacoby, on the other side of the circular basin, shouting in his deep bass voice: 'I have Universals! At two thousand eight hundred, I have Universals!'

This was the last quotation of the Petite Bourse of the night before; and, in order to put a stop to the fall at once, Mazaud thought it prudent to take at this price. His shrill[Pg 348] voice arose above all the others: 'At two thousand eight hundred I take! Three hundred Universals, deliver!'

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Thus was the first quotation fixed. But it was impossible to maintain it. Offers flowed in from all sides. Mazaud struggled desperately for half an hour, but with no other result than that of slackening the rapidity of the fall. What surprised him was that he was no longer sustained by the coulisse. What game was being played by Nathansohn, whose orders to purchase he was expecting? And not until afterwards did he learn the shrewd tactics of the coulissier who, whilst buying for Saccard, was selling on his own account, having been warned of the real situation by his keen Jew scent. Massias, heavily involved himself as a buyer, ran up, out of breath, to report the rout of the coulisse to Mazaud, who lost his head and burned his last cartridges, at once letting fly the orders which he had hitherto been keeping back, in view of executing them by degrees pending the arrival of the reinforcements. This sent the price up a little; from twenty-five hundred it rose to twenty-six hundred and fifty, with the sudden leaps peculiar to tempestuous days; and again for a moment did boundless hope buoy up the hearts of Mazaud, Saccard, all who were in the secret of the plan of battle. Since the quotations were so soon going up again, the day was won, and the victory would be overwhelming when the reserves should fall upon the 'bears' flank, changing their defeat into a frightful rout. There was a movement of profound joy; Sédille and Maugendre could have kissed Saccard's hand, Kolb drew nearer, while Jantrou disappeared, running off to carry the good news to the Baroness Sandorff. And at this moment little Flory, quite radiant, was seen hunting everywhere for Sabatani, now his intermediary, to give him a fresh order to buy.

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But it had just struck two, and Mazaud, who bore the brunt of the attack, again weakened, his surprise now increasing at the delay of the reinforcements in taking the field. It was high time for them to turn up; what were they waiting for? Why did they not relieve him from the untenable position in which he was exhausting himself?

Although, through professional pride, he displayed an impassive countenance, a keen chill was rising to his cheeks, and he feared that he was turning pale. Jacoby, in a thundering voice, continued hurling his offers at him, in methodical instalments, but Mazaud ceased accepting them. And it was no longer at Jacoby that he was looking; his eyes were turned towards Delarocque, Daigremont's broker, whose silence he could not understand. Stout and thickset, with a reddish beard, and the smiling beatific air of a man who has amused himself the night before, Delarocque retained a very quiet, peaceable air whilst waiting in this inexplicable fashion. Was he not going to catch at all these offers, however, and save everything, by means of the orders to buy, which must cover the fiches in his hand?