Do you have anyone else to translate money?

Do you have anyone else to translate money?

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Hamelin tried to interrupt him.

'No, no!' said he. 'I know that you have the money to pay for them, what with the three hundred thousand francs that you inherited on the one hand, and your Sadowa million on the other. See! your first two thousand shares have cost you four hundred and thirty-five thousand francs, the other thousand will cost you eight hundred and fifty thousand francs, in all twelve hundred and eighty-five thousand francs. So you will still have fifteen thousand francs left you for pocket money, to say nothing of your salary, now thirty thousand francs a year, but which we shall raise to sixty thousand.'

Bewildered by his flow of words, they listened, and at last began to take an acute interest in these figures.

'You can see very well that you are honest,' he continued 'that you pay for what you take. But those matters are mere bagatelles. This is what I wanted to get at!'

So saying he sprang to his feet again and flourished his sheet of paper with an air of triumph. 'At three thousand francs apiece your three thousand shares will yield you nine millions,' he said.

'Three thousand francs apiece!' they exclaimed, protesting with a gesture against his mad obstinacy.

'Yes, of course!' said he. 'I forbid you to sell until that price is reached. I shall know how to prevent you—oh! by force if necessary, by the right a man has to prevent his friends from acting foolishly. Three thousand francs, that is the quotation I must have, and I will have it!'

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What answer could they give to that terrible fellow, whose strident voice sounded like the crow of a cock proclaiming his triumph? They again laughed and affected to shrug their shoulders. Their minds were quite easy, they declared, for that wonderful price would never be reached. He, however, had again seated himself at the table, and was making fresh calculations, drawing up his own account. Had he paid for his three thousand shares? would he pay for them? That[Pg 259] point remained obscure. It was even probable that he possessed a still larger number of shares; but the matter could not be easily elucidated, for he also served as one of the Bank's prête-noms, and how was one to distinguish the shares which really belonged to him among all those that were entered in his name? His pencil continued jotting down line after line of figures. Then all at once, with a rapid zig-zag stroke, he effaced everything and crumpled up the paper. The amount he had noted on it, with the two millions which he had picked up amid the blood and mire of Sadowa, constituted his share of the spoil.

'I must leave you, I have an appointment,' he said, taking up his hat. 'But it's agreed, isn't it? In a week's time we'll have the board meeting, and immediately afterwards the shareholders' meeting to vote on the new scheme.'

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When Madame Caroline and Hamelin, bewildered and weary, again found themselves alone, they remained silent for a moment, seated opposite each other.

'What would you have?' at last said the engineer, responding to his sister's secret thoughts. 'We are in it and must remain in it. He is right in saying that it would be stupid of us to refuse this fortune. I have always looked on myself as a mere man of science who brings water to the mill; and I have brought it, I think, clear and abundant in the shape of excellent affairs, to which the Bank owes its rapid prosperity. And so, since no reproach can fall upon me, let us keep free from discouragement, let us work.'

She had risen from her chair, staggering and stammering: 'Oh, all that money! all that money!' And, choking with invincible emotion at the thought of those millions which were about to fall upon them, she hung upon his neck and wept. It was with joy undoubtedly, with happiness at seeing him at last worthily rewarded for his intelligence and labour; but with pain also, a pain of which she could not have told the exact cause, but in which there was a commingling of shame and fear. He began to make fun of her, and they once more affected cheerfulness; yet a feeling of uneasiness remained within them, a secret dissatisfaction with themselves, unconfessed[Pg 260] remorse at being forced into this soiling complicity.

'After all, he is right,' repeated Madame Caroline; 'everybody does it. Such is life.'

The board meeting was held in the new room in the sumptuous building of the Rue de Londres. Here, there was no damp reception-room to which the pale reflections from a neighbouring garden imparted a greenish hue, but a vast apartment, lighted by four windows, overlooking the street, an apartment with a lofty ceiling and majestic walls, decorated with large paintings and streaming with gold. The chairman's arm-chair was a veritable throne, dominating the other arm-chairs, which, superb and grave, were ranged as if for a meeting of Cabinet Ministers around an immense table, covered with red velvet. And, above the monumental white marble chimney-piece, where trunks of trees blazed in winter time, there stood a bust of the Pope,[24] a shrewd amiable face which seemed to be smiling maliciously at the idea of finding itself in such a place.

Saccard had now acquired complete control over the board by buying most of its members. Thanks to him, the Marquis de Bohain, compromised in the matter of a pot-de-vin, the fraudulent appropriation of some money which he had pocketed and spent, was able to stifle the scandal by refunding the amount to the company he had robbed, and so he was now Saccard's very humble servant, albeit he still carried his head high like a perfect flower of nobility, the finest ornament of the board. Huret, too, since Rougon had dismissed him for revealing the despatch respecting the surrender of Venice, had been devoting himself entirely to the fortunes of the Universal, acting as the Bank's representative at the Corps Législatif, and fishing for it in the miry waters of politics, though retaining for himself the larger part of the profits accruing from his shameless jobbery, which some fine morning would probably land him in Mazas. And the Viscount de Robin-Chagot, the vice-chairman, pocketed a secret allowance of a hundred thousand francs for giving all the signatures[Pg 261] that were asked of him during Hamelin's long absences. Banker Kolb also paid himself for his passive compliance by utilizing the Universal's influence abroad, and even by compromising it in his arbitrage operations. And Sédille, the silk merchant, shaken by a terrible settlement, had borrowed a large sum which he had been unable to refund. Daigremont alone remained absolutely independent, a circumstance which at times disturbed Saccard, although the amiable fellow continued treating him in a very charming way, inviting him to his entertainments, and readily signing everything that was submitted to him with the good grace of a Parisian sceptic, who as long as he makes money considers that everything is going on all right.

On this occasion, in spite of the exceptional importance of the business, the board was managed quite as easily as at other times. It had indeed become a matter of habit—all the real work was done at the petty meetings held on the 15th of the month; at the full meetings, which took place a fortnight later, there was merely a question of sanctioning the predetermined resolutions with due ceremony.

Such was the indifference now displayed by the directors, that the minutes of each successive meeting threatened to become mere repetitions of one another, trite records of unswerving, uniform approval; and so it became necessary to attribute scruples and remarks to sundry members of the board, to concoct indeed an entirely imaginary discussion, which nobody was surprised to find recorded, when, at the following meeting, the minutes were read over in all seriousness and duly signed.