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'Oh, somebody!' she murmured with a gesture of profound disdain. 'No, nobody—I have nobody. It is your advice that I should like to have, the advice of the master. And it really would not cost you anything to be my friend, just to say a word to me, merely one word every now and then. If you only knew how happy you would make me, how grateful I should be to you!'

Speaking in this wise, she sought to fascinate him by glance and gesture, but all to no avail. He remained cold, impassive, like one who has no passions. And whilst he listened to her he took some grapes, one by one, from a fruit-stand on the table, and ate them in a languid, mechanical way. This was the only excess which he allowed himself, the indulgence of his most sensual moments, the penalty for which was days of suffering, for his digestive organs were so impaired that a rigorous milk diet had been prescribed for him. Looking at the Baroness, he gave her the cunning smile of a man who knows that he is invincible; and without wasting further time, coming straight to the point, he said: 'Well, you are very charming, and I should really like to oblige you. So on the day, my beautiful friend, when you bring me some good advice, I promise to give you some in return. Come and tell me what others are doing, and I'll tell you what I shall do. It is understood, eh?'

He had risen, and she was obliged to return with him into the adjoining room. She had perfectly understood the bargain which he proposed, the spying and treachery which he required of her. But she was unwilling to answer, and made a pretence of reverting to the subject of the lottery; whilst he, with a shake of his head, seemed to be adding that he did not really need any help, since the logical, inevitable dénouement would come just the same, though perhaps not quite so fast. And when she at last went off his attention was immediately turned to other important matters, amid all the extraordinary tumult prevailing in that market of capital, what with the procession of Boursiers, the gallop of his employees, and the play of his grandchildren, who had just[Pg 281] torn the doll's head off with shouts of triumph. Seated at his narrow table, he became absorbed in the study of a sudden idea, and heard nothing more.

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The Baroness Sandorff returned twice to the office of 'L'Espérance' to acquaint Jantrou with what she had done, but she did not find him there. At last Dejoie admitted her one day when his daughter Nathalie sat talking with Madame Jordan on a bench in the passage. A diluvian rain had been falling since the day before; and in the wet gray weather the old building, overlooking a dark well-like courtyard, seemed frightfully melancholy. Such was the darkness that the gas had been lighted, and Marcelle, waiting for Jordan, who had gone in search of some money, to pay a new instalment to Busch, listened sadly to Nathalie as the latter chatted away like a vain magpie, with the dry voice and sharp gestures of a precocious Parisian girl.

'You understand, madame, papa won't sell. There is a lady who is urging him to do so, trying to frighten him. I do not give her name, because surely it is hardly her place to frighten people. It is I who am now preventing papa from selling. Sell indeed! when the price is still going up! To do that one would need to be a regular simpleton, don't you think so?'

'No doubt!' Marcelle simply answered.

'The price, you know, has now got to two thousand five hundred francs,' continued Nathalie. 'I keep the accounts because papa scarcely knows how to write. And so our eight shares represent twenty thousand francs already. That's nice, is it not? First of all, papa wanted to stop at eighteen thousand, that was his figure—six thousand for my dowry, and twelve thousand for himself, enough for a little income of six hundred francs a year, which he would have well earned with all these emotions. But is it not lucky that he didn't sell, since we have already got two thousand francs more? And now we want more still, we want enough to give papa an income of a thousand francs at the very least. And we shall get it; Monsieur Saccard has told us so. He is so nice, is Monsieur Saccard!'

Marcelle could not help smiling. 'Then you no longer intend to marry?' she said.

'Yes, yes, when the rise comes to an end. We were in a hurry, Theodore's father especially, on account of his business. But it would be silly, wouldn't it, to stop up the source when the money keeps pouring out of it? Oh! Theodore understands it all very well, especially as the larger papa's income gets, the more capital there will be for us by-and-by. That's worth considering—and so we are all waiting. We have had the six thousand francs for months, and I might have married, but we prefer to let them increase and multiply. Do you read the articles in the newspapers about the shares?'

Without waiting for a reply, she went on: 'Papa brings me the papers and I read them every evening. He has already seen them and I have to read them over to him again. One could never tire of them, they make such beautiful promises! I have my head so full of them when I go to bed that I dream about them all night. Papa tells me, too, that he sees things in his sleep which are very good signs. The night before last we had the same dream, of five-franc pieces which we were picking up by the shovelful in the street. It was very amusing.'

Again she paused in her cackle to ask: 'How many shares have you got?'

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'We, not one!' answered Marcelle.

Nathalie's fair little face, crowned with light wavy hair, assumed an expression of intense compassion. Ah! the poor people who had no shares! And her father having called her to ask her to carry some proofs to a contributor, on her way back to the Batignolles, she went off, affecting the importance of a capitalist, who now came to the office almost every day in order to ascertain the Bourse quotations at the earliest possible moment.