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It was here that Sédille had his warehouses and offices on a vast ground-floor at the far end of a courtyard. After thirty years' toil, Sédille, who was a native of Lyons and had retained some workshops there, had at last succeeded in making his silk business one of the best known and best established in Paris, when a passion for gambling, due to chance circumstances, broke out and spread within him with the destructive violence of a conflagration. A couple of strokes, which one after the other yielded him considerable profit, made him altogether lose his head. What was the use of giving thirty years of one's life to the earning of a paltry million, when, in a single hour, by a simple transaction at the Bourse, one can put the same amount in one's pocket? From that time he gradually ceased to take any interest in his business, which simply continued working thanks to pre-acquired motive power. He lived in the sole hope of some triumphant stroke of speculation; and, having fallen on a vein of persistent ill-luck, soon sank in gambling all the profits of his business. The worst of such a fever as this is that a man becomes disgusted with legitimate gains, and finally even loses an exact idea of money. And ruin lay inevitably at the end, for in vain did the Lyons workshops bring Sédille in a couple of hundred thousand francs a year, since speculation swept away three hundred thousand.

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Saccard found him agitated and anxious, for this merchant gambler lacked phlegm and philosophy. He lived in a state of remorse, always hoping, always dejected, sick with uncertainty, and all this because he was still honest at heart. The settlement at the end of April had proved disastrous to him. However, his fat face, fringed with large fair whiskers, flushed at the first words: 'Ah! my dear fellow, if it is luck that you bring me, you are welcome!' Then seized with a fit of terror, he added: 'But no, no, do not tempt me. I should do better to shut myself up with my goods, and never stir from my counting-house.'

Wishing to let him calm himself, Saccard began speaking to him of his son Gustave, whom he had seen, he said, that morning at Mazaud's. But to the merchant this was another subject of chagrin, for he had dreamt of transferring the responsibility of his establishment to this son, and the latter despised commercial pursuits, and cared only for mirth and festivity, having the white teeth of a parvenu's son, teeth only fit to devour the fortune that might some day fall to them. Still, his father had placed him with Mazaud to see if he would nibble at finance.

'Since the death of his poor mother,' murmured the manufacturer, 'he has given me very little satisfaction. But in a broker's office he will perhaps learn some things that may be useful to me.'

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'Well,' resumed Saccard abruptly, 'are you with us? Daigremont told me to come and tell you that he was going in.'

Sédille raised his trembling arms to heaven, and, in a voice expressive both of desire and fear, replied: 'Why, yes, I am with you. You know very well that I can't do otherwise than go in with you! If I should refuse and your enterprise should prosper, I should fall ill with regret. Tell Daigremont that I will go in.'

When Saccard found himself in the street again, he pulled out his watch, and saw that it was scarcely four o'clock. The time that he had before him, and the desire that he felt to walk a little, induced him to dismiss his cab. He repented of[Pg 107] it almost immediately, however, for he had not reached the boulevard when a fresh shower, a deluge of water mingled with hail, again forced him to take refuge in a doorway. What cursed weather, when one had to scour Paris! After watching the rain fall for a quarter of an hour, he grew impatient again, and hailed an empty cab which was passing. It was a victoria, and in vain did he tuck the leather apron about his legs, for he was quite drenched when he reached the Rue Larochefoucauld, a good half-hour before his time.

The valet stated that his master had not yet returned, but conducted him to the smoking-room, where with slow short steps he paced up and down looking at the pictures. Then as a superb female voice, a contralto of deep and melancholy power, suddenly broke the silence of the mansion, he approached the open window to listen: it was Madame Daigremont rehearsing at her piano a composition which she doubtless meant to sing that evening in some salon. Lulled by the music, Saccard began thinking of the extraordinary stories that had been told him of Daigremont: the story of the Adamantine Company especially, that loan of fifty millions, all the securities of which he had kept in hand, selling them and re-selling them five times in succession, through agents of his own, until he had created a market, established a price for them. Then had come the genuine sale, followed by the inevitable fall from three hundred to fifteen francs, enormous profits being made out of a little world of simpletons, who were ruined at one blow. Ah! Daigremont was indeed a strong, a terrible man. Meantime his wife's voice still rang out, exhaling a wild, loving plaint of tragic intensity; while Saccard, stepping back to the middle of the room, halted before a Meissonier, which he valued at a hundred thousand francs.

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Just then, however, some one came in, and on turning he was surprised to recognise Huret. 'What! here already? It is not yet five o'clock. Is the sitting over, then?'

'Over! what an idea! They are still squabbling.'

And thereupon he explained that, as the deputy of the[Pg 108] Opposition was still speaking, Rougon would certainly not be able to answer until the next day. On realising that, he had ventured to tackle the minister, during a short adjournment, between two doors.

'Well,' asked Saccard nervously, 'and what did my illustrious brother say?'

Huret did not answer immediately. 'Oh! he was as surly as a bear. I will own that I relied on the exasperation in which I found him, for I hoped that he would simply tell me to be off. Well, I told him of your affair, and said that you did not wish to undertake anything without his approval.'

'And then?'

'Then he seized me by both arms, and shook me, shouting in my face: "Let him go and get hanged!" and there he planted me.'

Saccard, who had turned pale, gave a forced laugh. 'That was pleasant,' said he.

'Why yes, pleasant indeed,' answered the deputy, in a tone of conviction. 'I did not ask for so much; with that we can go ahead.' Then as in the next room he heard the footfall of Daigremont, who had just returned, he added in a low voice: 'Let me arrange it all.'