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On leaving the broker's private room, he recognised Moser and Pillerault in the cashiers' office; the first was pocketing with a woeful air his fortnight's profits of seven or eight thousand francs; while the other, who had lost, paid over ten thousand francs with a loud voice, and a proud, aggressive air, as if after a victory. The luncheon and Bourse hour was approaching, and the office would then partly empty. Meantime, from the 'account' office, the door of which was ajar, there came a sound of laughter, provoked by a story which Gustave was telling Flory—a story of a boating party, at which a coxswain of the softer sex had fallen into the Seine.

On reaching the street, Saccard consulted his watch. Eleven o'clock—what a lot of time he had lost! No, he would not go to Daigremont's; and although he had flown into a passion at the very mention of Gundermann's name, he suddenly decided to go to see him. Besides, had he not warned him of his visit on that occasion at Champeaux' restaurant, when he had spoken to him of his great scheme by way of silencing his malicious laugh? He even excused the visit on the plea that he did not wish to get anything out of the man, but simply desired to confront and triumph over one who ever affected to treat him as an urchin. And so, as a fresh shower began to lash the pavement with a flood of water, he leaped into a cab, bidding the Jehu drive him to the Rue de Provence.

Gundermann there occupied an immense mansion, just large enough for his innumerable family. He had five daughters and four sons, of whom three daughters and three sons were married, and these had already given him fourteen grandchildren. At the evening meal, when all were gathered together, there were, counting his wife and himself, thirty-one[Pg 90] at table. And, excepting two of his sons-in-law, who did not live in the house, all had their apartments there, in the left and right wings facing the garden; for the central block was entirely occupied by the spacious banking offices. In less than a century a monstrous fortune of a milliard of francs[13] had been amassed by this one family, thanks partly to thrift, and partly to fortunate combinations of circumstances. This wealth seemed a sort of predestination, which keen intelligence, persistent labour, prudent and invincible effort—continually directed to the same end—had largely assisted. Every river of gold now flowed into that sea; other millions were absorbed by those which Gundermann already possessed; it was a swallowing-up of the public wealth by the ever-increasing wealth of a single individual; and Gundermann was the true master, the omnipotent king, feared and obeyed by Paris and by the world.

As Saccard ascended the broad stone stairway, the steps of which were worn by the continual ascent and descent of scores of feet—more worn indeed than the thresholds of many old churches—he felt inextinguishable hatred for this man rising within him. Ah! the Jew! Against the Jew he harboured all the old racial resentment, to be found especially in the South of France; and it was something like a revolt of his very flesh, a repugnance of the skin, which, at the idea of the slightest contact, filled him with disgust and anger, a sensation which no reasoning could allay, which he was quite unable to overcome. And the singular thing was that he, Saccard, the terrible company promoter, the spendthrift with unclean hands, lost all self-consciousness as soon as a Jew was in question, and spoke of him with the harshness, the revengeful indignation of an honest man who lives by the labour of his arms, unstained by any usurious dealings. He indicted the whole Hebrew race, the cursed race without a country, without a prince, which lives as a parasite upon the nations, pretending to recognise their laws, but in reality only obeying its Jehovah—its God of robbery, blood, and wrath; and he pointed to it fulfilling on all sides the mission of ferocious[Pg 91] conquest which this God has assigned to it, establishing itself among every people, like a spider in the centre of its web, in order to watch its prey, to suck the blood of one and all, to fatten itself by devouring others. 'Did anyone ever see a Jew working with his fingers?' he would ask.[14] Were there any Jewish peasants and working men? 'No,' he would say; 'labour disgraces, their religion almost forbids it, exalting only the exploitation of the labour of others. Ah! the rogues!' Saccard's rage was all the greater because he admired them, envied their prodigious financial faculties, that innate knowledge of arithmetic, that natural facility evinced by them in the most complicated operations, that scent and that luck which assure triumph in everything they undertake. 'Christians,' he would say, 'make sorry financial rogues, they always end by coming to grief; but take a Jew who does not even understand book-keeping, throw him into the troubled waters of any shady affair, and he will not only save himself, but bring out all the profit on his back.' It was the gift of the race, the reason why it ever subsisted among all the other nationalities that start up and disappear. And he would passionately predict the final conquest of every nation by the Jews, when they should at last have secured possession of the entire fortune of the globe, a feat which it would not take them long to accomplish, since they were allowed every day to freely extend their kingdom, and one could already see in Paris a Gundermann reigning on a firmer and more respected throne than the Emperor's.

When, after climbing the stairs, he was on the point of entering the spacious ante-room, he felt an inclination to turn back, for he saw that it was full of remisiers and other applicants, a tumultuous swarming crowd of men and women. The remisiers especially were struggling for first place, in the improbable hope of carrying off an order; for the great banker had his own agents; but it was already an honour, a[Pg 92] recommendation, even to be received by him, and each of them wished to be able to boast of it. Accordingly the 'waits' were never long, the two office attendants had little else to do than to organise the procession—a continuous procession it was, a real gallop through the swinging doors. And thus, in spite of the crowd, Saccard was almost immediately admitted with the stream.

Gundermann's private office was a vast apartment, of which he simply occupied a little corner at the farther end, near the last window. Seated at a simple mahogany writing table, he was so placed as to turn his back to the light, his face remaining completely in the shade. Up at five o'clock every morning, he was at work when Paris was still asleep; and when at about nine the scramble of appetites began, rushing past him at a gallop, his day's work was already done. In the middle of the office, and at larger tables, stood two of his sons, and one of his sons-in-law who assisted him, rarely sitting down, but moving about hither and thither amid a world of clerks. All this, however, was the inner working of the establishment. The crowd from the street went straight across the room to him, the master, seated in his modest corner, as for hours and hours he held this open reception with an impassive gloomy air, often contenting himself with a mere sign, and only now and again speaking a word when he wished to appear particularly amiable.

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As soon as he perceived Saccard, a faint, somewhat sarcastic smile lighted up his face.

'Ah! so it's you, my friend,' he said. 'Be seated a moment, if you have anything to say to me. I will be at your disposal directly.'

Then he pretended to forget him. Saccard, however, was not impatient, for he felt interested in the procession of remisiers, who, at each other's heels, entered the room with the same profound bow, drawing from their irreproachable frock coats the same little cards setting forth the same Bourse quotations, which they presented to the banker with the same suppliant and respectful gestures. Ten of them, twenty of them, passed by; the banker each time took the list, glanced[Pg 93] at it and then returned it; and nothing equalled the patience he displayed beneath this avalanche of offers, unless indeed it were his absolute indifference.

At last Massias appeared, with the gay yet anxious air of a good dog who is often whipped. At times folks received him so badly that he could have cried. That day, undoubtedly, his stock of humility was exhausted, for he ventured to insist in the most unexpected fashion.

'See! monsieur, Mobiliers are very low. How much shall I buy for you?'

Without taking the proffered list, Gundermann raised his sea-green eyes upon this young man, who was so familiar, and roughly answered: 'I say, my friend, do you think it amuses me to receive you?'

'Well, monsieur,' retorted Massias, turning pale, 'it amuses me still less to come every morning for nothing, as I have done for three months past.'

'Then don't come again.'

The remisier bowed and withdrew, after exchanging with Saccard the furious, distressful glance of one who has suddenly become conscious that he will never make his fortune.

Saccard meantime was asking himself what interest Gundermann could have in receiving all these people. Evidently he had a special power of isolating himself; he remained absorbed, continued thinking. Moreover, in all this there must be some question of discipline, a habit of passing the market in review every morning, which invariably conduced to some little profit or other. In a greedy fashion Gundermann deducted eighty francs from the amount claimed by some jobber to whom he had given an order the day before, and who, it should be said, was certainly robbing him. Then a dealer in curiosities arrived, bringing an enamelled gold box of the last century, which had been considerably restored, a trick which the banker immediately scented. Next came two ladies, an old one with the beak of a night-bird, and a young one, a very beautiful brunette; they wished to show him at their house a Louis XV. commode, which he promptly refused to go and see. Then came a jeweller with some[Pg 94] rubies, a couple of inventors, some Englishmen, Germans, and Italians, folks of both sexes and every language. And meantime the procession of remisiers went on just the same, between the other visits, endless to all appearance, with an incessant repetition of one and the same gesture—the mechanical presentation of the list; while, as the hour for the opening of the Bourse approached, the clerks crossed the room in greater numbers than ever, bringing telegrams, or coming to ask for signatures.