The clock strikes 11 as Saccard enters the stock exchange restaurant. Quickly scanning the diners packed tightly at small tables, he wears a quizzical look. The person he is looking for is nowhere to be seen. Taking a seat at a table, Saccard’s memory strays back to the events of the past year. So, this is what he has come to after last year’s tragic building incident. All those who turn their backs on him now were crowding around his chair then.
Saccard is no longer willing to settle for a semblance of wealth, but he needs the support of his brother, Rougon, a powerful government minister, who broke with him after last year’s disaster. Saccard lacks the nerve to personally call on his brother and writes a note instead. A servant hands him his brother’s spiteful reply. Rougon will only help him obtain a position if he promises to travel to one of the French colonies. Upon his return, Saccard reads a letter from Hamelin, an engineer in Asia Minor, who claims the place holds untold riches. Any man of means willing to invest could multiply his millions.
Saccard’s impressionable mind is inflamed with visions of wealth. This is his opportunity to make his dream come true, but he wants to proceed rationally, using science and money as levers. After five months of toil and no small measure of deception, he finally arrives at the point where the future board of the Universal Bank is ready to hold its statutory meeting. Now that he is flush with cash again, he is powerless to control his urge to speculate. He executes a large purchase of securities declining because of rumours of war. The deal nets Saccard a neat six million – four for the bank and two for himself. Soon, however, a market duel leaves both Saccard and The Universal Bank ruined.