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

'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.

Left alone on her bench, Marcelle fell back into a melancholy reverie, she who was usually so gay and brave. Mon Dieu! how dark it was, what a gloomy day it was! and to think that her poor husband was running about the streets in that diluvian rain! He had such contempt for money, felt[Pg 283] such uneasiness at the very idea of occupying himself with it, that it cost him a great effort to ask it even of those who owed it to him! Then becoming absorbed, hearing nothing, she recalled her experiences since waking in the morning; while all around her feverish work went on in connection with the paper—contributors rushing past, 'copy' coming and going, doors slamming and bells ringing incessantly.

To her it had been an evil day. In the first place she had scarcely washed and was still in her morning wrap when at nine o'clock, just as Jordan had gone out to investigate an accident which he was to report, she was astounded to see Busch make his appearance, accompanied by two very dirty-looking men, perhaps process servers, perhaps bandits, she never could tell exactly which. That abominable fellow Busch, undoubtedly taking advantage of the fact that there was only a woman to contend with, declared that they meant to seize everything if she did not pay him on the spot. And she argued the matter in vain, being unacquainted with any of the legal formalities. He affirmed so stoutly that judgment had been signified and the placard posted that she was left in bewilderment, believing at last in the possibility of these things happening without one knowing of them. However, she did not surrender, but explained that her husband would not return even to lunch, and that she would allow nothing to be touched until he should come back. Then, between these three shady personages and this young woman with her hair hanging over her shoulders, there ensued a most painful scene, the men already making an inventory of the goods, and she locking the cupboards, and placing herself in front of the door as though to prevent them from taking anything away. To think of it! Her poor little home which she was so proud of, those few sticks of furniture which she was ever dusting and polishing, those hangings in the bedroom which she had put up herself! As she shouted to them with warlike bravery, they would have to pass over her body if they wished to take those things away. And she called Busch rogue and thief to his very face. Yes! a thief who wasn't ashamed to demand seven hundred and thirty francs and fifteen centimes,[Pg 284] without counting the fresh costs, for a claim which he had picked out of some heap of rags and old iron bought for a hundred sous! To think that they had already paid the thief four hundred francs in instalments and that he talked of carrying off their furniture to pay himself the other three hundred and odd francs which he wished to rob them of! Yet he knew perfectly well that they were honest people and would have paid him at once had they only possessed the sum. And he profited by the circumstance that she was alone, unable to answer, ignorant of legal matters, to come there and frighten her and make her weep. He was a rogue, a thief, a thief! Quite infuriated, Busch shouted even louder than she did, slapping his chest and asking: Was he not an honest man? Had he not paid sterling money for the claim? He had fulfilled all the formalities of the law and meant to make an end of the matter. However, when one of the two dirty men began opening the chest of drawers in search of the linen, Marcelle's demeanour became so terrific, she threatened so stoutly to bring everyone in the house and in the street to the spot, that the Jew slightly calmed down; and at last after another half-hour's wild discussion he consented to wait until the morrow, furiously swearing, however, that he would then remove everything if she did not keep her promise to him. Oh! what burning shame it had been, a shame from which she still suffered—those horrid men in her rooms, wounding all her feelings, even her modesty, searching her very bed, and quite infecting the happy chamber, whose window she had been obliged to leave wide open after their departure.

But another and a deeper sorrow awaited Marcelle that day. The idea had occurred to her of at once hastening to her parents to borrow the needed sum of them: in this way, when her husband came back at night, she would not have to fill him with despair, but would be able to make him laugh by telling him of the scene of the morning. She already saw herself describing the great battle, the ferocious assault made upon their household, the heroic way in which she had repulsed the attack. Her heart beat very fast as she[Pg 285] entered the little residence in the Rue Legendre, that comfortable house in which she had grown up, and where it now seemed to her she would find only strangers, so different, so icy was the atmosphere. As her parents were sitting down to table, she accepted their invitation to breakfast, in order to put them in better humour. Throughout the meal the conversation ran upon the rise in Universals, the price of which had gone up another twenty francs only the day before; and Marcelle was astonished to find her mother more feverish, more greedy even than her father, she who at the outset had trembled at the very idea of speculation; whereas now, with the violence of a conquered woman, it was she who chided him for his timidity, in her anxious eagerness for great strokes of luck. They had scarcely begun eating, when she flew into a tantrum: she was astounded at hearing him talk of selling their seventy-five shares at the unhoped-for figure of two thousand five hundred and twenty francs, which would have yielded them a hundred and eighty-nine thousand francs, in truth a pretty profit, more than a hundred thousand francs above the price at which they bought the stock. Yet this did not satisfy her. 'Sell!' said she, 'when the "C?te Financière" promised the figure of three thousand francs!' Had he gone mad? For the 'C?te Financière' was known for its old-time honesty; he himself often repeated that with this newspaper as a guide one could sleep soundly. Oh! no, indeed, she would not let him sell! She would sooner sell their house to buy more shares. And Marcelle, silent, with her heart compressed at hearing them so passionately bandy these big figures, wondered how she might venture to ask for a loan of five hundred francs in this house which gambling had invaded, and where little by little she had seen rise the flood of financial newspapers that now submerged it, enveloped it with the intoxicating glamour of their puffs.

At last, at dessert, she ventured to speak out. She and her husband were in need of five hundred francs, they were on the point of being sold up, and surely her parents would not abandon them in such disaster. Her father at once[Pg 286] lowered his head and darted a glance of embarrassment at her mother. But the latter was already refusing the request in a firm voice. Five hundred francs, indeed! where did she expect them to find them? All their capital was invested in their operations; and besides, she reverted to her old-time diatribes. When a girl has married a pauper, a man who writes books and articles, she must put up with the consequence of her folly, and not fall back for support upon her parents. No! she—the mother—had not a copper for idlers, who with their pretended contempt for money only dreamed of living on that of other people. And thereupon she allowed her daughter to depart; and Marcelle went off in despair, her heart bleeding at the great change that had taken place in her mother, formerly so reasonable and so kind.

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Once in the street Marcelle had walked along in an almost unconscious state, her eyes fixed on the ground as though she hoped to find the money there. Then the idea of applying to Uncle Chave suddenly occurred to her, and she immediately betook herself to his little lodging in the Rue Nollet, so as to catch him before he went off to the Bourse. She found him smoking his pipe all alone; and on hearing of her trouble he became greatly distressed and even angry with himself, exclaiming that he never had a hundred francs before him, for he no sooner won a trifle at the Bourse than like a dirty pig he went and spent it. Then, on hearing of the Maugendres' refusal, he began to thunder against them, horrid beasts that they were! He no longer associated with them, said he, since the rise of their shares had driven them crazy. Hadn't his sister contemptuously called him a higgler by way of ridiculing his prudent system of operations, and this simply because he had advised her in a friendly spirit to sell and realise? Ah! well, she would get no pity from him when the fall came and she found herself in a pickle!

Once more in the street, with her pocket still empty, Marcelle had to resign herself to the unpleasant course of calling at the newspaper office to acquaint her husband with what had occurred that morning. It was absolutely necessary that Busch should be paid. Having heard her story, Jordan,[Pg 287] whose book had not yet been accepted by any publisher, had started off to hunt for money, through the streets of muddy Paris in that rainy weather—not knowing where to apply—at friends' houses or at the offices of the newspapers he wrote for, but vaguely relying upon some chance meeting. Although he had begged her to go home again, she was so anxious that she had preferred to remain waiting for him on that bench.

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Dejoie, seeing her alone after his daughter's departure, ventured to bring her a newspaper. 'If Madame would like to read this,' said he, 'just to while away the time.'

But she refused the offer with a wave of the hand; and, as Saccard arrived at that moment, she assumed a brave air, and gaily explained that she had sent her husband on a bothersome errand in the neighbourhood which she had not cared to undertake herself. Saccard, who had a feeling of friendship for the young couple, insisted that she should go into his office, where she could wait more comfortably. But she declined the offer, saying that she was very well where she was. And he ceased to press the matter, in the surprise he experienced at suddenly finding himself face to face with the Baroness Sandorff, who was leaving Jantrou's office. However, they both smiled, with an air of amiable understanding, like people who merely exchange a bow, in order not to parade their intimacy.

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Jantrou had just told the Baroness that he no longer dared to give her any advice. His perplexity was increasing, since the Universal still stood firm in spite of the growing efforts of the 'bears.' Undoubtedly Gundermann would eventually win, but Saccard might last a long time, and perhaps there was yet a lot of money to be made by clinging to him. He, Jantrou, had decided to postpone any rupture and to keep on good terms with both sides. The best plan for her to adopt, he said, was to try to retain Saccard's confidence, and either keep the secrets which he might confide to her for herself, or else sell them to Gundermann, should it be to her advantage to do so. And Jantrou offered this advice in a jesting sort of way, without affecting any of the mysteriousness of a conspirator;[Pg 288] whilst she, on her side, laughed and promised to give him a share in the affair.

'So now she is trying her fascinations on you!' exclaimed Saccard in his brutal way as he entered Jantrou's office.