Online selling, do not make money

Online selling, do not make money

The next day, at the office of the Bank in the Rue de Londres, Saccard had a long interview with the auditors and the judicially appointed manager, in order to draw up the balance-sheet which he desired to present to the shareholders' meeting. In spite of the sums advanced by other financial establishments, they had had to suspend payment,[Pg 364] in view of the increasing demands made upon them. This bank, which, a month previously, had possessed nearly two hundred million francs in its coffers, had not been able to pay its distracted customers more than a few hundred thousand francs. Bankruptcy had been officially declared by a judgment of the Tribunal of Commerce, after a summary report rendered by an expert who had been charged with an examination of the books. In spite of everything, however, Saccard, seemingly unconscious, still promised to save the situation, evincing an extraordinary amount of blind hopefulness and obstinate bravery. And on that very day he was awaiting a reply from the stockbrokers' association, with regard to the fixing of a rate of compensation, when his usher entered to tell him that three gentlemen wished to see him in an adjoining room. Perhaps this was salvation; he rushed out gaily, and found a commissary of police awaiting him, accompanied by two officers, by whom he was immediately arrested. The warrant had just been issued, partly on the strength of the expert's report, which pointed to irregularities in the accounts, but more particularly owing to the charge of abuse of confidence preferred by Busch, who pretended that the funds which he had entrusted to the Universal to be carried forward had been otherwise disposed of.

At the same hour, moreover, Hamelin also was arrested at his residence in the Rue Saint-Lazare. Every hatred and every mischance seemed to have combined, as though implacably bent upon securing the Bank's destruction, and at last the end had come. The specially convened meeting of shareholders could no longer be held; the Universal Bank had lived.

Madame Caroline was not at home at the time of the arrest of her brother, who could only leave a few hastily written lines for her. When she returned and learnt what had happened she was stupefied. She had never believed that they would for a moment even think of prosecuting him, for in her mind his long periods of absence showed that he could have taken no part in Saccard's shady transactions. On the day after the[Pg 365] bankruptcy, both he and she had stripped themselves of all that they possessed, in order to swell the assets, and to emerge from this adventure as naked as they had entered it. And the amount of money which they thus surrendered was a large one, nearly eight millions of francs, in which were swallowed up the three hundred thousand francs which they had inherited. Her brother arrested, Madame Caroline at once gave herself up to applications and solicitations, living only to soften the lot and prepare the defence of her poor George, and bursting into tears, in spite of her courage, whenever she thought of him, innocent, behind the prison bars, bespattered by this frightful scandal, his life wrecked and soiled for ever. To think of it! He so gentle and so weak, full of childlike piety, a 'perfect simpleton,' as she said, outside his technical work! And, at first, she became wroth with Saccard, the sole cause of the disaster, the artisan of their misfortune, whose hateful work she traced and clearly judged, from the days of the beginning, when he had gaily derided her for reading the Code, to these days of the end, when, paying the severe penalty of failure, he was about to be called to account for all the irregular practices which she had foreseen and allowed to be committed. Then, tortured by this haunting remorse of complicity, she became silent, and tried not to openly concern herself with him, resolving to act indeed as if he were not in existence. Whenever she had to mention his name, it seemed as if she were speaking of a stranger, of an opponent whose interests were different from her own. She, who visited her brother at the Conciergerie almost every day, had not even asked for a permit to see Saccard. And she was very brave; she still occupied her apartments in the Rue Saint-Lazare, receiving all who presented themselves, even those who came with insults on their lips, thus transformed into a woman of business, determined to save what little she could of their honesty and happiness.

During the long days which she passed in this way, upstairs, in that work-room where she had spent such delightful hours of toil and hope, there was one spectacle[Pg 366] which particularly distressed her. Whenever she approached one of the windows, and cast a glance at the neighbouring mansion, she could not behold without a pang at the heart the pale profiles of the Countess de Beauvilliers and her slaughter Alice behind the window-panes of the little room in which they lived. Those February days were very mild; so that she also often noticed them walking, slowly and with drooping heads, along the paths of the moss-grown garden which the winter had ravaged. The results of the crash had been frightful for those poor creatures. They who a fortnight previously could have commanded eighteen hundred thousand francs with their six hundred shares could now only get an offer of eighteen thousand for them, since the price had fallen from three thousand to thirty francs. And their entire fortune had at one stroke melted away. All had vanished—the twenty thousand francs of the dowry, so painfully and thriftily saved by the Countess; the seventy thousand francs borrowed upon Les Aublets, and the two hundred and forty thousand francs which the farm had eventually fetched when it was in reality worth four hundred thousand. What was to become of them, since the mortgage upon their house in Paris alone consumed eight thousand francs a year, and they had never been able to reduce their style of living below seven thousand, in spite of all their niggardly practices, all the miracles of sordid economy which they accomplished, in order to save appearances and keep their station? Even if they were to sell their shares, how could they henceforth live, provide for their wants out of that paltry sum of eighteen thousand francs, the last waif of the shipwreck? The Countess had not yet been willing to look the imperious necessity in the face. The only course was to leave the mansion, and abandon it to the mortgagees, since it was impossible for her to continue paying the interest. Rather than wait for its sale to be advertised, she had better at once withdraw to some small apartments, there in concealment to eke out a straitened existence, down to the last morsel of bread. However, she resisted, because this meant severance from all that she had clung to, the annihilation of all that she had dreamt, the crumbling of the[Pg 367] edifice of her race which for years her trembling hands had sustained with heroic obstinacy. The Beauvilliers, tenants, no longer living under the ancestral roof, dwelling in the houses of others, in the confessed misery of the conquered: really, would that not be the crowning degradation? And so she struggled on.

One morning Madame Caroline saw the mother and daughter washing their linen under the little shed in the garden. The old cook, now almost powerless, was no longer of much help to them; during the late cold weather they had had to nurse her; and it was the same with the husband, at once porter, coachman, and valet, who had great difficulty in sweeping the house and in keeping the old horse upon his legs, for both man and beast were fast growing halt, worn out. So the ladies had set resolutely about their housework, the daughter sometimes dropping her water-colours to prepare the meagre slops upon which all four scantily lived, the mother dusting the furniture and mending the garments and shoes, so enwrapped in her ideas of petty economy that she imagined they were effecting savings in dusters, needles, and thread now that she handled these herself. Only, as soon as a visitor called, it was a sight to see both of them run away, throw off their aprons, wash themselves, and reappear as mistresses with white and idle hands. On the side of the street their style of living had not changed, their honour was safe: the brougham still went out with the horse properly harnessed, taking the Countess and her daughter to make their calls; the guests of every winter still assembled at the fortnightly dinners; there was not a dish less upon the table, not a candle less in the candelabra. And it was necessary to command a view of the garden, as Madame Caroline did, to know what terrible to-morrows of fasting paid for all that show, the lying fa?ade of a vanished fortune. When she saw them promenading their mortal melancholy, under the greenish skeletons of the centenarian trees, in the depths of that damp pit, closely hemmed in by the neighbouring houses, she was filled with immense pity, and withdrew from the window, her heart rent by remorse, as if she felt[Pg 368] that she had been Saccard's accomplice in bringing about this misery.

Then, another morning, Madame Caroline experienced a yet more direct and grievous sorrow. She was informed that Dejoie had called, and she bravely resolved to see him.

'Well, my poor Dejoie,' she began, but on noticing the pallor of the old fellow's face she stopped short quite frightened. His eyes seemed lifeless, his features were distorted, and his very tall figure had become both shrunken and bowed.

'Come,' she added, 'you must not let the idea that all this money is lost prostrate you.'

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'Oh, madame, it isn't that,' he answered in a low voice. 'At the first moment, no doubt, it was a hard blow, because I had accustomed myself to believe that we were rich. When a man's winning the fever flies to his head, he feels as though he were drunk. But, mon Dieu! I was ready to go to work once more; I would have worked so hard that I should have succeeded in getting the sum together again. But you do not know——' He paused; big tears were rolling down his cheeks. 'You do not know,' he added. 'She is gone!'

'Gone! Who?' asked Madame Caroline in surprise.

'Nathalie, my daughter. Her marriage had fallen through; she was furious when Theodore's father came to tell us that his son had already waited too long, and that he was going to marry the daughter of a haberdasher, who would bring him nearly eight thousand francs. Oh, I can understand her anger at the thought of no longer having a copper, and remaining single! But I who loved her so well! Only last winter I used to get up at night to see if she were well covered. And I deprived myself of tobacco in order that she might have prettier hats, and I was her real mother; I had brought her up; I lived only for the pleasure of seeing her in our little rooms.'

His tears choked him; he began to sob.

'You see, it was the fault of my ambition,' he continued. 'If I had sold out as soon as my eight shares had given me the dowry of six thousand francs, she would now have been married. But, you know, they were still going up, and I[Pg 369] thought of myself; I wanted first an income of six hundred francs, then one of eight hundred, then one of a thousand; especially as the little one would have inherited this money later on. To think that at one time, when the shares were worth three thousand francs apiece, I had twenty-four thousand francs before me, enough to give her a dowry of six thousand and retire, myself, on an income of nine hundred! But no! I wanted a thousand; how stupid! And now my shares don't represent as much as two hundred francs even. Oh! it was my fault; I should have done better to have thrown myself into the water!'

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Greatly distressed by his grief, Madame Caroline allowed him to relieve himself. Still she was desirous of knowing what had happened. 'Gone, my poor Dejoie!' she said, 'how gone?'

Then embarrassment came over him, and a slight flush rose to his pale face. 'Yes, gone, disappeared, three days ago. She had made the acquaintance of a gentleman who lived opposite us—oh! a very good-looking man, about forty years old. In short, she has run away.'

And while he gave details, seeking for fitting words in his embarrassment, Madame Caroline in her mind's eye again beheld Nathalie, slender and blonde, with the frail grace of a pretty girl of the Parisian pavements. She again saw her large eyes, with their tranquil, cold expression reflecting egotism with such extraordinary clearness. She had suffered her father to adore her like an idol, conducting herself with all propriety so long as it was her interest to do so, so long as there remained any hope of a dowry, a marriage, a counter in some little shop where she would be enthroned. But to continue leading a penniless life, to live in rags with her good old father, to have to work again, oh! no, she had had enough of that kind of life, which henceforth had no prospect to offer. And so she had taken herself off, had coldly put on her hat and boots to go elsewhere.

'Mon Dieu!' Dejoie continued, stammering, 'there was little to amuse her at home, it's true; and when a girl is pretty, it is provoking for her to waste her youth in weary[Pg 370] waiting. But all the same she has been very hard. Just fancy, she did not even bid me good-bye, did not even leave a word of a letter, not the smallest promise to come to see me again from time to time. She shut the door behind her and it was all over. You see, my hands tremble, I have been like an idiot ever since. It is more than I can bear; I am always looking for her at home. After so many years, mon Dieu! is it possible that I have her no more, that I shall never have her any more, my poor little child?'

He had ceased weeping, and his wild grief was so distressing that Madame Caroline caught hold of both his hands, unable to find any other words of consolation than: 'My poor Dejoie, my poor Dejoie.'

At last, to divert his attention, she again spoke of the downfall of the Universal. She expressed her regret at having allowed him to take any shares; she judged Saccard severely without naming him. But the old fellow at once became animated again. The passion for gambling which had seized upon him was still alive in his heart. 'Monsieur Saccard?' he said, 'oh! he did quite right to keep me from selling. It was a superb affair; we should have conquered them all, but for the traitors who abandoned us. Ah! madame, if Monsieur Saccard were here, things would go on differently. It was our death-blow when they threw him into prison. And only he can save us. I told the judge so: "Restore him to us, monsieur," I said, "and I'll confide my fortune to him again. I'll confide my life to him because you see he's like Providence itself. He does whatever he likes."'