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Saccard had risen, quivering: 'You have made up your mind, then; you won't take any stock, you won't be with us?'

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'With you? Never in my life. You will be cleared out within three years.'

There was a spell of silence, instinct with conflict; a sharp exchange of defiant glances.

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'Then, good afternoon. I have not breakfasted yet, and am very hungry. We shall see who will be cleared out.'

And thereupon Saccard left the great financier in the midst of his tribe; and whilst they finished noisily stuffing themselves with pastry, the master went on receiving the last belated brokers, wearily closing his eyes every now and then, and draining his bowl with little sips, his lips all white with milk.

Throwing himself into his cab, Saccard gave his own address, Rue Saint-Lazare. One o'clock was striking, the day was lost; he was going home to lunch quite beside himself. Ah! the dirty Jew! There indeed was a fellow whom he would have been pleased to crunch with his teeth as a dog crunches a bone! Certainly he was a terrible morsel, too big to eat. But could one ever tell? The greatest empires had crumbled, a time always comes when the powerful succumb.[Pg 98] And without eating him entirely at the first bite, might he not manage to get his teeth into him, tear from him some shreds of his milliard? That done, yes, he might afterwards eat him—why not?—and in the person of their undisputed king destroy those Jews who thought the feast to be entirely intended for themselves. These reflections, this wrath with which he had come away from Gundermann's, filled Saccard with a furious hankering, an imperative desire for traffic, immediate success. He would have liked to found his banking-house, set it working, triumph and crush all rival houses at a wave of his hand. All at once, the thought of Daigremont came back to him; and without debating the matter, swayed by an irresistible impulse, he leaned forward and called to the driver to go up the Rue Larochefoucauld. If he wanted to see Daigremont, he must make haste and postpone lunch till later, for he knew that it was Daigremont's habit to go out at about one o'clock. No doubt this Christian was worse than any two Jews, and passed for an ogre who devoured the young enterprises entrusted to his care. But at that moment Saccard would have negotiated with Cartouche[15] himself in order to conquer, and even on condition of dividing the spoil. Later on, they would see, he himself would prove the stronger.

Meanwhile the cab, after ascending the steep hill with some difficulty, stopped in front of the lofty monumental entrance of one of the last grand mansions of this neighbourhood, which once had some very fine ones. The detached buildings, at the rear of a vast paved courtyard, wore an air of royal grandeur; and the garden beyond, in which centenarian trees were still growing, remained a veritable park, isolated from the populous streets. All Paris knew that mansion for its splendid entertainments, and especially for the admirable collection of pictures assembled there, which not a grand-duke on his travels failed to visit. Married to a woman who was famous for her beauty, like his pictures were for theirs, and who had achieved a great success in society as a vocalist, the master of the house led a princely life, was as proud of his racing stable as of his gallery, belonged to one of[Pg 99] the principal clubs, paraded the most costly women, and had a box at the Opera, a chair at the H?tel Drouot,[16] and a foot-stool at the questionable resorts most in vogue. And all this profuse life, this luxury coruscating in an apotheosis of caprice and art, was entirely paid for by speculation, by a fortune which was incessantly on the move, and which seemed infinite like the sea, though, like the sea, it had its ebb and flow—balances in one or the other sense of two and three hundred thousand francs at each fortnightly settlement.

When Saccard had climbed the majestic entrance steps, a valet announced him, and escorted him through three reception rooms filled with marvels, to a little smoking room where Daigremont was finishing a cigar before going out. Already forty-five years of age, and struggling against stoutness, he was of high stature and very elegant, with his hair carefully trimmed, and wearing only a moustache and imperial, like a fanatic of the Tuileries. He affected great amiability, having absolute confidence in himself, a firm conviction of conquering.

He at once darted forward. 'Ah! my dear friend, what is becoming of you?' said he. 'Only the other day I was thinking about you. But are you not now my neighbour?'

He calmed down, however, and set aside this effusive manner, which he kept for the common herd, when Saccard, deeming it useless to beat about the bush, forthwith broached the object of his visit, expatiating on his great enterprise, and explaining that, before establishing the Universal Bank with a capital of twenty-five millions of francs, he wished to form a syndicate of friends—bankers and manufacturers—who would pressure the success of the issue by agreeing to take four-fifths of the shares, that was, some forty thousand. Daigremont had become very serious, and listened to him, and watched him, as if searching to the depths of his brain, to ascertain what effort, what labour useful to himself, he might yet get out of this man whom he had known so active, so full of marvellous qualities amidst all his blundering fever. At first he hesitated. 'No, no,' said he, 'I am overwhelmed[Pg 100] already; I do not wish to take anything fresh in hand.'

Then, tempted nevertheless, he asked some questions, wished to know what projects the new venture would patronise, projects which Saccard was prudent enough to speak about with the extremest reserve. And when Daigremont had been made acquainted with the first enterprise which it was intended to launch, that idea of syndicating all the Mediterranean transport companies under the name of the United Steam Navigation Company, he seemed very much struck with it, and suddenly yielded.

'Well, I consent to go in. But on one condition only. How do you stand with your brother, the minister?'

Saccard was so surprised at the question that he frankly displayed his rancour. 'With my brother? Oh! he does his business, and I do mine. He hasn't very fraternal feelings, that brother of mine.'

'Then so much the worse!' flatly declared Daigremont. 'I won't be with you unless your brother is with you too. You understand, I won't have you two at loggerheads together.'

With an angry gesture of impatience Saccard began protesting. What need had they of Rougon? Would it not be seeking chains with which to bind themselves hand and foot? But at the same time the voice of prudence, stronger than his irritation, repeated to him that it was at least necessary that they should assure themselves of the great man's neutrality. And yet, after all, he brutally refused. 'No, no, he has always been too hoggish with me. I will never take the first step.'

'Listen,' resumed Daigremont. 'I expect Huret here at five o'clock with respect to a commission he has undertaken for me. You will hurry off to the Corps Législatif, take Huret into a corner, tell him your plans, and he will at once speak of the matter to Rougon, find out what the latter thinks of it, and we shall have the answer here at five o'clock. That's it, eh? An appointment here at five o'clock?'

With his head low, Saccard reflected. 'Mon Dieu!' said he, 'if you insist upon it.'

'Oh, absolutely! Without Rougon, nothing; with Rougon, anything you like.'

'All right, I will go then.'