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'Very well, my friend,' said the financier, 'I am about to purchase a newspaper, and I will engage you as office attendant. Let me have your address, and now good-day.'

Dejoie did not take his departure, however, but with fresh embarrassment resumed: 'It's very kind of you, monsieur. I'll accept the situation gratefully, for sure enough I shall have to work when I have arranged Nathalie's matter. But I came[Pg 133] for something else. Yes, I have heard through Madame Caroline and other people too, that you are about to start a big enterprise, monsieur, and will be able to place your friends and acquaintances in a position to make as much money as you may choose them to make. So if you would be kind enough, monsieur, to interest yourselves in us, if you would consent to let us have some of your shares——'

A second time was Saccard moved, more moved even than he had been on the first occasion when the Countess likewise had intrusted her daughter's dowry to him. Did not this simple man, this microscopical capitalist, with savings scraped up copper by copper, personify the believing, truthful multitude, the great multitude that means abundant, substantial custom, the fanatical army that endows a financial establishment with invincible power? If this worthy fellow hurried to him in this fashion, before a single announcement had been made, a single advertisement issued, what would it be when the offices opened? He smiled with emotion upon this first little shareholder, in whose coming he beheld an omen of immense success.

'Agreed, my friend, you shall have some shares,' said he.

Dejoie's face became radiant, as though some great unhoped-for favour had been promised him. 'You are very kind, monsieur. And with my four thousand francs I shall be able, shan't I? to gain two thousand more, in six months' time or so, and then we can make up the amount we want. And since you consent, monsieur, I would rather settle the matter at once. I've brought the money.'

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out an envelope which he offered to Saccard, who stood there motionless, silent, struck with admiration at this final proof of confidence. And he, the terrible corsair, who had levied tribute on so many fortunes, ended by bursting into a hearty laugh, honestly resolved that he would enrich this trusting man as well as all the others.

'But, my good fellow,' he said, 'things are not managed in that way. Keep your money. I will put your name down, and you will pay up at the proper time and place.'

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Thereupon he finally dismissed them, after Dejoie had made Nathalie thank him, which she did with a smile of content lighting up her hard, yet candid eyes.

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When Maxime at last found himself alone with his father he remarked with that insolently jeering air of his: 'And so now you dower young girls?'

'Why not?' Saccard answered gaily. 'It's a good thing to invest in other people's happiness.' Then before leaving his room he turned to set some papers in order, and all at once exclaimed: 'And you, by the way, don't you want some shares?'

Maxime, who was slowly walking up and down, turned round with a start, and planted himself in front of his father. 'Oh no, indeed! Do you take me to be a fool?' he asked.

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Saccard made an angry gesture, for he found the answer sadly disrespectful and witty. He was on the point of shouting that the affair was really a superb one, and that he, Maxime, credited him with little common sense if he imagined him to be a mere thief like others; but as he looked at the young fellow, a feeling of pity came over him for this poor boy of his, who at five and twenty was already exhausted, worn-out, settled down, and even avaricious—so aged by vice, so anxious as to his health that he no longer ventured on any expenditure or enjoyment without carefully calculating the profits that might accrue to him. And thereupon, thoroughly consoled, quite proud of the passionate imprudence which he himself displayed at the age of fifty, he once more began laughing, and tapped his son on the shoulder: 'Come, let's go to breakfast, my poor youngster, and mind you are careful of your rheumatism.'

Two days later, October 5, Saccard, accompanied by Hamelin and Daigremont, repaired to the offices of Ma?tre Lelorrain, notary, in the Rue Sainte-Anne, and there executed the deed which established the joint stock company of the Universal Bank, with a capital of five and twenty millions of francs, divided into fifty thousand shares of five hundred francs each, a fourth part of the amount alone having[Pg 135] to be paid on allotment. The offices of the company were fixed at the Orviedo mansion in the Rue St. Lazare, and a copy of the bye-laws, drawn up in accordance with the deed, was deposited at Ma?tre Lelorrain's office. Then, on leaving the notary's, as it happened to be a very bright, sunny autumn day, the three gentlemen lighted cigars, and slowly sauntered homeward by way of the boulevard and the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, feeling well pleased with life, and as merry as boys escaped from school.

The initial general meeting was not held until the following week, in a hall in the Rue Blanche which had formerly been used for public balls, and in which a scheming individual was now endeavouring to start a fine art exhibition. The members of the syndicate had already disposed of those shares which they had taken, but did not wish to keep for themselves; and there came to the meeting one hundred and twenty-two shareholders, representing nearly forty thousand shares, which should have given a total of two thousand votes, since twenty shares were necessary to entitle one to sit and vote. However, as no one shareholder was allowed more than ten votes, whatever might be the amount of stock held by him, the exact total number of votes proved to be sixteen hundred and forty-three.

Saccard positively insisted upon Hamelin presiding. He himself had voluntarily disappeared among the crowd. He had put down the engineer's name and his own for five hundred shares apiece, which were to be paid for, temporarily at all events, by a manipulation of accounts. All the members of the syndicate were present: Daigremont, Huret, Sédille, Kolb, and the Marquis de Bohain, each with the group of shareholders marching under his orders. Sabatani, one of the largest subscribers, was also noticed there, together with Jantrou, accompanied by several of the higher officials of the bank, who had entered upon their duties a couple of days previously. And all the decisions which had to be arrived at had been so well foreseen and settled beforehand, that never was there a shareholders' meeting at which more splendid calmness, simplicity, and harmony were displayed. The sincerity[Pg 136] of the declaration that the entire capital had been subscribed, and that one hundred and twenty-five francs per share had been paid on allotment, was endorsed by an unanimous vote; and then with all solemnity the company was declared to be established. Immediately afterwards came the appointment of the board of directors, which was to consist of twenty members, who, in addition to attendance fees, calculated at an annual total of fifty thousand francs, were, according to the bye-laws, to receive ten per cent. upon the net profits.

This was not to be despised, so each member of the syndicate had insisted upon having a seat on the board; and naturally, at the head of the list of those who were elected, came Daigremont, Huret, Sédille, Kolb, the Marquis de Bohain, and Hamelin, whom his colleagues wished to appoint chairman, followed by fourteen others of minor importance, selected from among the most subservient and ornamental of the shareholders. At last Saccard, who so far had remained in the background, came forward on Hamelin proposing him for the post of general manager. A murmur of sympathy greeted the mention of his name, and he also obtained a unanimous vote.

It then only remained for them to elect the two auditors, whose duty it would be to examine and report on the balance sheets and in this way check the accounts supplied by the management—functions, at once delicate and useless, for which Saccard had designated a certain Sieur Rousseau and a Sieur Lavignière, the first completely under the influence of the second, who was a tall, fair-haired fellow with very polite manners and a disposition to approve of everything, being consumed with a desire to become a member of the board when the latter, later on, should express satisfaction with his services. Rousseau and Lavignière having been appointed, the meeting was about to end, when the chairman thought it his duty to refer to the premium of ten per cent. granted to the members of the syndicate, in all four hundred thousand francs, which, at his suggestion, the meeting charged to the preliminary expenses account. It was a trifle; it was necessary to make an allowance to the promoters; and, this point being settled,[Pg 137] whilst the crowd of petty shareholders hurried away like a flock of sheep, the larger subscribers lingered behind, shaking hands with one another on the footway with smiling faces.