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'I hold at three thousand and forty-five!' bellowed Jacoby. 'Two hundred at three thousand and forty-five!'

Then Mazaud himself made a higher offer: 'I take at three thousand and fifty!'

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'How many?'

'Five hundred. Deliver!'

However, the frightful hubbub had reached such a pitch, amidst so much epileptical gesticulation, that the brokers themselves could no longer hear each other. And, since the cavernous bass voices of some of them miscarried, while the fluty notes of others thinned out into nothingness, they continued in their professional fury to do business by gestures. Huge mouths were seen to open, from which no distinct sound apparently came, and hands alone spoke—a gesture from the person implying an offer, another gesture towards the person signifying acceptance; whilst raised fingers indicated the quantities, and yes and no were expressed by a nod or shake of the head. Intelligible only to the initiated, this sign-making seemed like one of those attacks of madness which fall upon crowds. In the gallery of the telegraph-office up above women were leaning over, in astonishment and fear at the extraordinary spectacle. One might have thought that a brawl was in progress at the Rente market, where a central group seemed to be furiously resorting to fisticuffs; while the other groups, ever being displaced by the public traversing this part of the hall in either direction, kept on breaking up and forming again in continual eddies. Between the Cash market and the corbeille, above the wild tempestuous sea of heads, one now only saw the three quoters, perched on their high chairs, floating on the billows like waifs, with their great white registers before them, and thrown now to left, now to[Pg 329] right, by the rapid fluctuations of the quotations hurled at them. Inside the Cash market, where the scramble was at its height, you beheld a compact mass of hairy heads; no faces were to be seen; there was nothing but a dark swarming, relieved only by the small white leaves of the memorandum-books waved in the air. And at the corbeille, around the basin which the crumpled fiches now filled with a blossoming of divers colours, men's hair was turning gray, bald pates were glistening, you could distinguish the pallor of shaken faces and of hands feverishly outstretched—all the jerky pantomime of speculators, seemingly ready to devour each other if the balustrade had not restrained them. This rage of the last minutes had, moreover, gained the public; men crushed against each other in the hall; there was an incessant sonorous tramping, all the helter-skelter of a huge mob let loose in too narrow a passage; and above the undefined mass of frock-coats, silk hats were shining in the diffused light that fell from the high windows.

But all at once the peal of a bell pierced through the tumult. Everything became quiet; gestures were arrested, voices hushed at the Cash market, the Rente market, the corbeille. There remained only the muffled rumbling of the mob, sounding like the continuous voice of a torrent returning to its bed and again following its course. And amidst this persistent if subdued agitation, the last quotations circulated. Universals had reached three thousand and sixty, a rise of thirty francs above the quotation of the day before. The rout of the 'bears' was complete; once more the settlement would prove a disastrous one for them, for large sums would be required to pay the fortnight's differences.

For a moment, Saccard, before leaving the hall, straightened himself to his full height, as if the better to survey the crowd around him. He had really grown so magnified by his triumph that all his little person expanded, lengthened, became enormous. And the man whom he seemed to be thus seeking over the heads of the crowd was the absent Gundermann—Gundermann, whom he would have liked to have seen struck down, grimacing, asking pardon; and he[Pg 330] was determined at least that all the Jew's unknown creatures, all the vile Israelites who were there, morose and spiteful, should see him transfigured in the glory of his success. It was his grand day, the day which people still speak of, as they speak of Austerlitz and Marengo. His customers, his friends, had darted towards him. The Marquis de Bohain, Sédille, Kolb, Huret, shook both his hands; while Daigremont, with the false smile of his worldly amiability, proceeded to compliment him, albeit well aware that one is ofttimes killed by such victories at the Bourse. Maugendre could have kissed him on both cheeks, such was his exultation, an exultation tinged with anger, however, when he saw Captain Chave continue to shrug his shoulders. But the perfect, religious adoration was that of Dejoie, who, coming from the newspaper office on the run, in order to ascertain the last quotation at the earliest moment, was standing a few steps away, motionless, rooted to the spot by affection and admiration, his eyes glittering with tears. Jantrou had disappeared, undoubtedly to carry the news to the Baroness Sandorff. Massias and Sabatani were panting, radiant, as on the triumphal evening of a great battle.

'Well, what did I tell you?' cried Pillerault, delighted.

Pulling a very long face, Moser growled out some sullen threats.

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'Yes, yes,' said he; 'don't holloa till you are out of the wood. There's the Mexican bill to pay; there are the affairs of Rome, which have become still more entangled since Mentana; and then one of these fine mornings Germany will fall on us. Yes, yes, and to think that those imbeciles keep going up and up, in order, no doubt, that they may fall from a greater height! Ah! it is all over, you'll soon see!'

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Then, as Salmon, who was looking at him, remained grave this time, he added: 'Such is your opinion, too, is it not? When things go too well a crash is generally at hand.'

Meanwhile the hall was emptying; there would soon be nothing left in the air but the cigar-smoke, a bluish cloud, thickened and yellowed by all the flying dust. Mazaud and Jacoby, resuming their prim deportment, had gone back into[Pg 331] the brokers' room together, the latter more worried by his secret private losses than by the defeat of his customers; while the former, who did not gamble, was filled with delight at the gallant way in which the last quotation had been carried. They talked for a few minutes with Delarocque in order to exchange engagements, still holding their memorandum-books, full of notes, which their settlement clerks would classify that afternoon, in order to debit or credit the various customers with the transactions that had been effected. Meantime, in the clerks' hall—a low, pillared hall, looking not unlike an ill-kept school-room, with its rows of desks and a cloak-room at the farther end—Flory and Gustave Sédille, who had gone there to get their hats, began noisily rejoicing while waiting to know the mean quotation, which the employees of the syndicate, taking the highest and lowest quotations, were now calculating at one of the desks. Towards half-past three, when the placard had been posted on a pillar, Flory and Gustave neighed, and clucked, and crowed, in their satisfaction with the fine result of their deal in Fayeux' orders to purchase. This meant a pair of solitaires for Chuchu, who was now tyrannising Flory with her demands, and six months' allowance in advance for Gustave's inamorata. Meantime the uproar continued in the clerks' hall, what with a succession of silly farces, a massacre of hats, and jostling such as that of school-boys just released from their lessons. And, on the other side, under the peristyle, the coulisse completed various transactions; while Nathansohn, delighted with his deal, wended his way down the steps through the ranks of the last speculators, who were still hanging about in spite of the cold, which had become terrible. By six o'clock all these gamblers, brokers, coulissiers, and remisiers, after calculating their gain or loss, or preparing their brokerage bills, had gone home to dress, in order to wind up the day with relaxation in restaurants, theatres, fashionable drawing-rooms, or cosy boudoirs.

That evening, the one subject of conversation among those Parisians who sit up and amuse themselves was the formidable duel upon which Gundermann and Saccard had entered.[Pg 332] The women, whom passion and fashion had entirely given over to gambling, made a show of using such technical terms as settlement, options, carry over, and close—without always understanding them. They talked especially of the critical position of the 'bears,' who, for many months, had been paying larger and larger differences at each settlement in proportion as Universals went up and up beyond all reasonable limits. Certainly, many were gambling without cover, getting their brokers to carry them over, as they were altogether unable to deliver; and they kept on at it, still and ever playing for a fall, in the hope that the collapse of the shares was near at hand; but, in spite of all the carrying over—the charges for which increased as money became more and more scarce—it seemed as if the already exhausted 'bears' would be annihilated if the rise continued much longer. The situation of Gundermann, who was reputed to be their chief, was different, since he had his milliard in his cellars—an inexhaustible supply of money which he could keep on sending to the massacre, however long and murderous the campaign might be. That was the invincible force: the power to keep on selling, with the certainty of being always able to pay his differences, until the day of the inevitable fall came and brought him victory.

People talked and calculated the considerable sums which he must have already parted with, the sacks of gold which he had had to bring to the front on the fifteenth and thirtieth of each month, and which had melted away in the fire of speculation like ranks of soldiers swept away by bullets. Never before had he sustained at the Bourse such a severe attack upon his power, which he wished to be sovereign, indisputable; for if, as he was fond of repeating, he was a simple money merchant, and not a gambler, he was on the other hand fully conscious that, to remain this merchant, the first of the world, disposing of public fortune, he must also be absolute master of the market; and he was fighting, not for immediate profit, but for his royalty itself, for his life. Hence the cold obstinacy, the grim grandeur of the struggle. He was to be met upon the Boulevards and in the Rue[Pg 333] Vivienne, walking with the step of an exhausted old man, his face pale and impassive, nothing in him betraying the slightest anxiety. He believed only in logic. Madness had set in when Universals had risen above two thousand francs; to quote them at three thousand was sheer insanity; they were bound to fall, even as the stone thrown into the air inevitably falls to the ground; and so he waited. Would he go on with the game even to the end of his milliard? People trembled with admiration around him, with the desire also to see him devoured at last; while Saccard, who excited a more tumultuous enthusiasm, on his side had the women, the drawing-rooms, the whole fashionable world of gamblers, who had pocketed such handsome sums since they had begun coining money with their faith, trafficking with Mount Carmel and Jerusalem. The approaching ruin of the big Jew bankers was decreed; Catholicism was about to acquire the empire of money, as it had acquired that of souls. Only, although his troops were winning heavily, Saccard himself was getting to the end of his cash, emptying his vaults for his continual purchases. Of the two hundred millions at his disposal nearly two-thirds had thus been tied up, so that his triumph was an asphyxiating one, a triumph which suffocates. Every company that seeks to become mistress at the Bourse, in order to sustain the price of its shares, is doomed. For that reason he had only intervened with prudence in the earlier stages. But he had always been a man of imagination, seeing things on too grand a scale, transforming his shady dealings as an adventurer into poems; and this time, with this really colossal and prosperous enterprise, he had been carried off into extravagant dreams of conquest, to so crazy, so vast an idea, that he did not even clearly formulate it to himself. Ah! if he had only had millions, endless millions, like those dirty Jews! The worst was that he already saw his troops coming to an end; he had but a few more millions for the massacre. Then, if the fall should come, it would be his turn to pay differences; and he would be obliged to get someone to carry him over. Despite his victory, the smallest bit of gravel must upset his vast[Pg 334] machine. There was a secret consciousness of this, even among the faithful, those who believed in the rise as in the Divinity. And Paris was impassioned the more by this, by the confusion and doubt amid which it tossed, in this duel between Saccard and Gundermann—this duel in which the conqueror would lose all his blood, this hand-to-hand struggle between two superhuman monsters, who crushed between them the poor devils who risked following their game, and seemed likely to strangle one another at last on the heap of ruins which they were accumulating.

All at once, on January 3, on the very morrow of the day when the accounts of the last settlement had been balanced, there was a drop of fifty francs in Universals. This caused great excitement. In truth, everything had gone down; the market, so long over-taxed, inflated beyond measure, was giving way in every direction; two or three rotten enterprises had collapsed with a bang, and, moreover, people ought to have been accustomed to these violent fluctuations, since prices sometimes varied several hundred francs in the same day's Bourse, shifting wildly like the needle of the compass in the midst of a storm. In the great quiver which passed, however, all felt the beginning of the crash. Universals were going down; the cry rose and spread with a clamour, made up of astonishment, hope, and fear.