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She gave a start of surprise and protest. 'What! triumph? Why, you hadn't a sou left; you were conquered.'

'Evidently,' he rejoined, bitterly, 'I was conquered and[Pg 411] so I am a blackguard. Honesty, glory, are simply other names for success. A man must not let himself be beaten, for otherwise he will find himself a fool and a fraud on the morrow. Oh, I can guess very well what they are saying; you need not repeat their words to me! They talk of me as a robber; they accuse me of having put all those millions in my pocket; they would strangle me, if they held me in their clutches; and, what is worse, they shrug their shoulders with pity, look upon me as a mere madman, a man of no intelligence. That is it, eh? But, if I had succeeded! Yes, if I had struck down Gundermann, conquered the market, if I were at this hour the undisputed king of gold, what a triumph would there then have been! I should now be a hero, I should have Paris at my feet.'

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She openly opposed him, however. 'You had neither justice nor logic on your side,' said she; 'you could not succeed.'

He had stopped short in front of her, and became angry. 'Not succeed, nonsense! Money was lacking, that was all. If Napoleon, on the day of Waterloo, had had another hundred thousand men to send to the butchery, he would have triumphed, and the face of the world would have been changed. And if I had had the necessary few hundred millions to throw into the gulf, I should now be the master of the world.'

'But it is frightful!' she cried, revolting. 'What! Do you think there have not been ruins enough, not tears enough, not blood enough as it is? You would have more disasters still, more families stripped, more unfortunates reduced to begging in the streets!'

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He began tramping to and fro again, and with a gesture of supreme indifference shouted: 'Does life concern itself about that? At every step we take we stamp out thousands of existences.'

Silence fell; she watched him with a freezing heart as he marched up and down. Was he a knave? Was he a hero? She trembled as she asked herself what thoughts he could have revolved, like a great captain, conquered and[Pg 412] reduced to powerlessness, during the six months that he had been confined in that cell; and then only did she glance about her and espy the four bare walls, the little iron bedstead, the deal table, and the two straw-bottomed chairs. To think of it! He who had lived amid lavish, dazzling luxury!

But suddenly he sat down again, as if his legs were weary; and then he began talking at length in an undertone, as though making a kind of involuntary confession.

'Gundermann was right,' he said; 'fever is worth nothing at the Bourse. Ah, the rascal, how happy he is in having no blood or nerves left him! I believe, however, that he has always been like that, his veins flowing with ice instead of blood. I am too passionate, that is evident. There is no other reason for my defeat; that is why my back has been so often broken. And it must be added that, if my passion kills me, it is also my passion that gives me life. Yes, it bears me on, it lifts me up on high, and then strikes me down and suddenly destroys all its work. Enjoyment is, after all, perhaps only the devouring of self.'

Then he was stirred by a fit of anger against his conqueror. 'Ah! that Gundermann, that dirty Jew, who triumphs because he has no desires! The whole race is summed up in him, frigid, stubborn conqueror that he is, on the march towards sovereign sway over the whole world, amid the nations whom he buys up one by one by means of his omnipotent gold. For centuries past his race has been invading us and triumphing over us, no matter how much it may have been cuffed and kicked. He already has one milliard: he will have two, he will have ten, he will eventually have a hundred, he will some day be the master of the earth. I have been shouting this from the housetops for years past, but no one seems to listen to me. Everybody thinks it the mere spite of a jealous speculator, when it is the very cry of my blood. Yes, hatred of the Jew, I have it in me—oh! very deep, in the very roots of my being!'

'What a singular thing!' quietly murmured Madame Caroline, who, with her vast knowledge, practised universal[Pg 413] toleration. 'To me the Jews are men like any others. If they are apart, it is because they have been put apart.'

But Saccard, who had not even heard her, continued with increasing violence: 'And what exasperates me is that I see governments the accomplices of these rascals, governments at their very feet! Thus the Empire has sold itself to Gundermann! As if it were impossible to reign without Gundermann's money! Certainly, Rougon, that great man my brother, has behaved in a very disgusting manner towards me; for I have not told you of it before, but I was cowardly enough to seek a reconciliation before the catastrophe, and, if I am here, it is because it pleased him. But no matter; since I embarrass him, let him get rid of me; I shall feel no anger against him, except with regard to his alliance with those dirty Jews. Have you thought of that? the Universal strangled in order that Gundermann may continue his commerce; every Catholic bank that grows too powerful crushed, as a social danger, in order to ensure the definitive triumph of the children of Israel, who will devour us, and that soon. Ah, Rougon should be careful! He will be the first to be eaten, swept away from the post of power to which he clings, and for which he betrays everything. His game of see-saw is very cunning, with its guarantees given one day to the Liberals and the next day to the Reactionaries; but it is a game at which one always ends by breaking one's neck. And, since everything is cracking and falling, let Gundermann's desires be accomplished, he who predicted that France would be beaten, if we should ever have a war with Germany! We are ready; the Prussians have only to cross the frontier, and take our provinces!'

With a terrified, supplicating gesture, she begged him not to talk like that. It was as though he were calling down the thunder of heaven. 'No, no! do not say such things. You have no right to say them. Moreover, your brother had nothing to do with your arrest. I know from a certain source that it was Delcambre, the Keeper of the Seals, who did it all.'

On hearing this Saccard's wrath fell, and he smiled. 'Oh, the fellow is taking his revenge!' he said. She gave[Pg 414] him a questioning look, and he added: 'Yes, an old affair between us—I know in advance that I shall be condemned.'

She doubtless suspected the truth, for she did not insist. A brief silence prevailed, during which he again took up the papers on the table, absorbed in his fixed idea.

'It is very kind of you to have come,' he said at last, 'and you must promise me you will come again, because you are a good counsellor, and I wish to submit my projects to you. Ah, if I only had some money!'

She quickly interrupted him, seizing this opportunity to enlighten herself upon a question which had haunted and tormented her for months. What had he done with the millions which he must possess for his own share? Had he sent them abroad, buried them under some tree known to himself alone? 'But you have plenty of money!' she exclaimed. I The two millions you made after Sadowa and the nine millions which your three thousand shares represented, if you sold them at the rate of three thousand francs apiece!'

'I, my dear,' he cried, 'I haven't a copper!'