'Well, my poor Dejoie,' she began, but on noticing the pallor of the old fellow's face she stopped short quite frightened. His eyes seemed lifeless, his features were distorted, and his very tall figure had become both shrunken and bowed.

'Come,' she added, 'you must not let the idea that all this money is lost prostrate you.'

'Oh, madame, it isn't that,' he answered in a low voice. 'At the first moment, no doubt, it was a hard blow, because I had accustomed myself to believe that we were rich. When a man's winning the fever flies to his head, he feels as though he were drunk. But, mon Dieu! I was ready to go to work once more; I would have worked so hard that I should have succeeded in getting the sum together again. But you do not know——' He paused; big tears were rolling down his cheeks. 'You do not know,' he added. 'She is gone!'

'Gone! Who?' asked Madame Caroline in surprise.

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'Nathalie, my daughter. Her marriage had fallen through; she was furious when Theodore's father came to tell us that his son had already waited too long, and that he was going to marry the daughter of a haberdasher, who would bring him nearly eight thousand francs. Oh, I can understand her anger at the thought of no longer having a copper, and remaining single! But I who loved her so well! Only last winter I used to get up at night to see if she were well covered. And I deprived myself of tobacco in order that she might have prettier hats, and I was her real mother; I had brought her up; I lived only for the pleasure of seeing her in our little rooms.'

His tears choked him; he began to sob.

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'You see, it was the fault of my ambition,' he continued. 'If I had sold out as soon as my eight shares had given me the dowry of six thousand francs, she would now have been married. But, you know, they were still going up, and I[Pg 369] thought of myself; I wanted first an income of six hundred francs, then one of eight hundred, then one of a thousand; especially as the little one would have inherited this money later on. To think that at one time, when the shares were worth three thousand francs apiece, I had twenty-four thousand francs before me, enough to give her a dowry of six thousand and retire, myself, on an income of nine hundred! But no! I wanted a thousand; how stupid! And now my shares don't represent as much as two hundred francs even. Oh! it was my fault; I should have done better to have thrown myself into the water!'

Greatly distressed by his grief, Madame Caroline allowed him to relieve himself. Still she was desirous of knowing what had happened. 'Gone, my poor Dejoie!' she said, 'how gone?'

Then embarrassment came over him, and a slight flush rose to his pale face. 'Yes, gone, disappeared, three days ago. She had made the acquaintance of a gentleman who lived opposite us—oh! a very good-looking man, about forty years old. In short, she has run away.'

And while he gave details, seeking for fitting words in his embarrassment, Madame Caroline in her mind's eye again beheld Nathalie, slender and blonde, with the frail grace of a pretty girl of the Parisian pavements. She again saw her large eyes, with their tranquil, cold expression reflecting egotism with such extraordinary clearness. She had suffered her father to adore her like an idol, conducting herself with all propriety so long as it was her interest to do so, so long as there remained any hope of a dowry, a marriage, a counter in some little shop where she would be enthroned. But to continue leading a penniless life, to live in rags with her good old father, to have to work again, oh! no, she had had enough of that kind of life, which henceforth had no prospect to offer. And so she had taken herself off, had coldly put on her hat and boots to go elsewhere.

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'Mon Dieu!' Dejoie continued, stammering, 'there was little to amuse her at home, it's true; and when a girl is pretty, it is provoking for her to waste her youth in weary[Pg 370] waiting. But all the same she has been very hard. Just fancy, she did not even bid me good-bye, did not even leave a word of a letter, not the smallest promise to come to see me again from time to time. She shut the door behind her and it was all over. You see, my hands tremble, I have been like an idiot ever since. It is more than I can bear; I am always looking for her at home. After so many years, mon Dieu! is it possible that I have her no more, that I shall never have her any more, my poor little child?'

He had ceased weeping, and his wild grief was so distressing that Madame Caroline caught hold of both his hands, unable to find any other words of consolation than: 'My poor Dejoie, my poor Dejoie.'

At last, to divert his attention, she again spoke of the downfall of the Universal. She expressed her regret at having allowed him to take any shares; she judged Saccard severely without naming him. But the old fellow at once became animated again. The passion for gambling which had seized upon him was still alive in his heart. 'Monsieur Saccard?' he said, 'oh! he did quite right to keep me from selling. It was a superb affair; we should have conquered them all, but for the traitors who abandoned us. Ah! madame, if Monsieur Saccard were here, things would go on differently. It was our death-blow when they threw him into prison. And only he can save us. I told the judge so: "Restore him to us, monsieur," I said, "and I'll confide my fortune to him again. I'll confide my life to him because you see he's like Providence itself. He does whatever he likes."'

Madame Caroline looked at Dejoie in stupefaction. What! not a word of anger, not a reproach? This was the ardent faith of a believer. What powerful influence, then, could Saccard have had upon the flock, in order to place it under such a yoke of credulity?

'In fact, madame, that was the only thing I came to tell you,' Dejoie resumed; 'and you must excuse me for having spoken to you of my own sorrow. I only did so because I couldn't control myself. However, when you see Monsieur Saccard, be sure to tell him that we are still on his side.'

He then went off with his faltering step, and she, left to herself, for a moment felt horrified with existence. That poor man had broken her heart; against the other, the man whom she did not name, she felt increased anger, and had to put forth a great effort in order to restrain an outburst. However, other visitors had arrived, and it was necessary she should see them. She had not a moment to herself that morning.

Among the number the Jordans particularly distressed her. They came together, Paul and Marcelle, like a loving husband and wife who act conjointly in all serious matters, to ask her if there were really no hope of their parents the Maugendres, getting something more from their Universal shares. In this direction, too, there had been an irreparable disaster. Prior to the great battles of the last two settlements, the old awning manufacturer had already possessed seventy-five shares, which had cost him about eighty thousand francs; a superb affair, since these shares at one time, when quoted at the price of three thousand francs apiece, had represented two hundred and twenty-five thousand francs. But the terrible part was that, in the passion of the struggle, Maugendre had played without depositing any cover, believing in Saccard's genius and buying incessantly, so that the frightful differences which now had to be paid—more than two hundred thousand francs—had just swallowed up the rest of his fortune, that income of fifteen thousand francs accumulated by thirty years of hard work. He had nothing left; in fact, he would be barely freed from debt, after selling that little residence in the Rue Legendre of which he was so proud. And in this disaster Madame Maugendre was certainly guiltier than he.

'Ah! madame,' explained Marcelle, whose charming face remained fresh and gay even in the midst of catastrophes, 'you cannot imagine how mamma had changed! She, so prudent, so economical, the terror of her servants, always at their heels, always checking their accounts, had reached such a point that she talked of nothing but hundreds of thousands of francs. She urged on papa—oh! he was not nearly so brave as she was, but would willingly have listened to Uncle Chave if she[Pg 372] had not made him crazy with her dream of gaining the big prize, the million. They caught the fever through reading those horrid, lying financial papers; and papa was the first to get it, and tried to hide it in the beginning; however, when mamma caught it, she who had so long professed a hatred of all gambling, everything blazed up and it wasn't long before they were ruined. To think that the rage for gain can so change honest folks!'