Part 2 out of 8
come on the same errand. From the good Jenkins, who opened the
advance, to the masseur Cabassu, who closes it, all draw the Nabob
away to some room apart. But, however far they lead him down this
gallery of reception-rooms, there is always some indiscreet mirror to
reflect the profile of the host and the gestures of his broad back.
That back has eloquence. Now and then it straightens itself up in
indignation. "Oh, no; that is too much." Or again it sinks forward
with a comical resignation. "Well, since it must be so." And always
Bompain's fez in some corner of the view.
When those are finished, others arrive. They are the small fry who
follow in the wake of the big eaters in the ferocious hunts of the
rivers. There is a continual coming and going through these handsome
white-and-gold drawing rooms, a noise of doors, an established current
of bare-faced and vulgar exploitation attracted from the four corners
of Paris and the suburbs by this gigantic fortune and incredible
For these small sums, these regular distributions, recourse was not
had to the check-book. For such purposes the Nabob kept in one of his
rooms a mahogany chest of drawers, a horrible little piece of
furniture representing the savings of a house porter, the first that
Jansoulet had bought when he had been able to give up living in
furnished apartments; which he had preserved since, like a gambler's
fetish; and the three drawers of which contained always two hundred
thousand francs in cash. It was to this constant supply that he had
recourse on the days of his large receptions, displaying a certain
ostentation in the way in which he would handle the gold and silver,
by great handfuls, thrusting it to the bottom of his pockets to draw
it out thence with the gesture of a cattle dealer; a certain vulgar
way of raising the skirts of his frock-coat and of sending his hand
"to the bottom and into the pile." To-day there must be a terrible
void in the drawers of the little chest.
After so many mysterious whispered confabulations, demands more or
less clearly formulated, chance entries and triumphant departures, the
last client having been dismissed, the chest of drawers closed and
locked, the flat in the Place Vendome began to empty in the uncertain
light of the afternoon towards four o'clock, that close of the
November days so exceedingly prolonged afterward by artificial light.
The servants were clearing away the coffee and the raki, and bearing
off the open and half-emptied cigar-boxes. The Nabob, thinking himself
alone, gave a sigh of relief. "Ouf! that's over." But no. Opposite
him, some one comes out from a corner that is already dark, and
approaches with a letter in his hand.
And at once, mechanically, the poor man made that eloquent, horse-
dealer's gesture of his. Instinctively, also, the visitor showed a
movement of recoil so prompt, so hurt, that the Nabob understood that
he was making a mistake, and took the trouble to examine the young man
who stood before him, simply but correctly dressed, of a dull
complexion, without the least sign of a beard, with regular features,
perhaps a little too serious and fixed for his age, which, aided by
his hair of pale blond colour, curled in little ringlets like a
powdered wig, gave him the appearance of a young deputy of the Commons
under Louis XVI, the head of a Barnave at twenty! This face, although
the Nabob beheld it for the first time, was not absolutely unknown to
"What do you desire, monsieur?"
Taking the letter which the young man held out to him, he went to a
window in order to see to read it.
"Te! It is from mamma."
He said it with so happy an air; that word "mamma" lit up all his face
with so young, so kind a smile, that the visitor, who had been at
first repulsed by the vulgar aspect of this /parvenu/, felt himself
filled with sympathy for him.
In an undertone the Nabob read these few lines written in an awkward
hand, incorrect and shaky, which contrasted with the large glazed
note-paper, with its heading "Chateau de Saint-Romans."
"My dear son, this letter will be delivered to you by the eldest son
of M. de Gery, the former justice of the peace for Bourg-Saint-Andeol,
who has shown us so much kindness."
The Nabob broke off his reading.
"I ought to have recognised you, M. de Gery. You resemble your father.
Sit down, I beg of you."
Then he finished running through the letter. His mother asked him
nothing precise, but, in the name of the services which the de Gery
family had rendered them in former years, she recommended M. Paul to
him. An orphan, burdened with the care of his two young brothers, he
had been called to the bar in the south, and was now coming to Paris
to seek his fortune. She implored Jansoulet to aid him, "for he needed
it badly, poor fellow," and she signed herself, "Thy mother who pines
for thee, Francoise."
This letter from his mother, whom he had not seen for six years, those
expressions of the south country of which he could hear the
intonations that he knew so well, that coarse handwriting which
sketched for him an adored face, all wrinkled, scored, and cracked,
but smiling beneath its peasant's head-dress, had affected the Nabob.
During the six weeks that he had been in France, lost in the whirl of
Paris, the business of getting settled in his new habitation, he had
not yet given a thought to his dear old lady at home; and now he saw
all of her again in these lines. He remained a moment looking at the
letter, which trembled in his heavy fingers.
Then, this emotion having passed:
"M. de Gery," said he, "I am glad of the opportunity which is about to
permit me to repay to you a little of the kindness which your family
has shown to mine. From to-day, if you consent, I take you into my
house. You are educated, you seem intelligent, you can be of great
service to me. I have a thousand plans, a thousand affairs in hand. I
am being drawn into a crowd of large industrial enterprises. I want
some one who will aid me; represent me at need. I have indeed a
secretary, a steward, that excellent Bompain, but the unfortunate
fellow knows nothing of Paris; he has been, as it were, bewildered
ever since his arrival. You will tell me that you also come straight
from the country, but that does not matter. Well brought up as you
are, a southerner, alert and adaptable, you will quickly pick up the
routine of the Boulevard. For the rest, I myself undertake your
education from that point of view. In a few weeks you will find
yourself, I answer for it, as much at home in Paris as I am."
Poor man! It was touching to hear him speak of his Parisian habits,
and of his experience; he whose destiny it was to be always a
"Now, that is understood, is it not? I engage you as secretary. You
will have a fixed salary which we will settle directly, and I shall
provide you with the opportunity to make your fortune rapidly."
And while de Gery, raised suddenly above all the anxieties of a
newcomer, of one who solicits a favour, of a neophyte, did not move
for fear of awaking from a dream:
"Now," said the Nabob to him in a gentle voice, "sit down there, next
me, and let us talk a little about mamma."
MEMOIRS OF AN OFFICE PORTER
A MERE GLANCE AT THE TERRITORIAL BANK
I had just finished my frugal morning repast and, as my habit was,
placed the remains of my modest provisions in the board-room safe with
a secret lock, which has served me as a store-cupboard during four
years, almost, that I have been at the Territorial. Suddenly the
governor walks into the offices, with his face all red and eyes
inflamed, as though after a night's feasting, draws in his breath
noisily, and in rude terms says to me, with his Italian accent:
"But this place stinks, /Moussiou/ Passajon."
The place did not stink, if you like the word. Only--shall I say it?--
I had ordered a few onions to garnish a knuckle of veal which Mme.
Seraphine had sent down to me, she being the cook on the second floor,
whose accounts I write out for her every evening. I tried to explain
the matter to the governor, but he had flown into a temper, saying
that to his mind there was no sense in poisoning the atmosphere of an
office in that way, and that it was not worth while to maintain
premises at a rent of twelve thousand francs, with eight windows
fronting full on the Boulevard Malesherbes, in order to roast onions
in them. I don't know what he did not say to me in his passion. For my
own part, naturally I got angry at hearing myself addressed in that
insolent manner. It is surely the least a man can do to be polite with
people in his service whom he does not pay. What the deuce! So I
answered him that it was annoying, in truth, but that if the
Territorial Bank paid me what it owed me, namely, four years' arrears
of salary, /plus/ seven thousand francs personal advances made by me
to the governor for expenses of cabs, newspapers, cigars, and American
grogs on board days, I would go and eat decently at the nearest
cookshop, and should not be reduced to cooking, in the room where our
board was accustomed to sit, a wretched stew, for which I had to thank
the public compassion of female cooks. Take that!
In speaking thus I had yielded to an impulse of indignation very
excusable in the eyes of any person whatever acquainted with my
position here. Even so, I had said nothing improper and had confined
myself within the limits of language conformable to my age and
education. (I must have mentioned somewhere in the course of these
memoirs that of the sixty-five years I have lived I passed more than
thirty as beadle to the Faculty of Letters in Dijon. Hence my taste
for reports and memoirs, and those ideas of academical style of which
traces will be found in many passages of this lucubration.) I had,
then, expressed myself in the governor's presence with the most
complete reserve, without employing any one of those terms of abuse to
which he is treated by everybody here, from our two censors--M. de
Monpavon, who, every time he comes, calls him laughingly "Fleur-de-
Mazas," and M. de Bois l'Hery, of the Trumpet Club, coarse as a groom,
who, for adieu, always greets him with, "To your bedstead, bug!"--to
our cashier, whom I have heard repeat a hundred times, tapping on his
big book, "That he has in there enough to send him to the galleys when
he pleases." Ah, well! All the same, my simple observation produced an
extraordinary effect upon him. The circles round his eyes became quite
yellow, and, trembling with rage, one of those evil rages of his
country, he uttered these words: "Passajon, you are a blackguard. One
word more, and I discharge you!" Stupor nailed me to the floor when I
heard them. Discharge me--/me!/ and my four years' arrears, and my
seven thousand francs of money lent!
As though he could read my thought before it was put into words, the
governor replied that all accounts were going to be settled, mine
included. "And as to that," he added, "summon these gentlemen to my
private room. I have important news to announce to them."
Upon that, he went into his office, banging the doors.
That devil of a man! In vain you may know him to the core--know him a
liar, a comedian--he manages always to get the better of you with his
stories. My account, mine!--mine! I was so affected by the thought
that my legs seemed to give way beneath me as I went to inform the
According to the regulations, there are twelve of us employed at the
Territorial Bank, including the governor and the handsome Moessard,
manager of /Financial Truth/; but more than half of that number were
wanting. To begin with, since /Truth/ ceased to be issued--it is two
years since its last appearance--M. Moessard has not once set foot in
the place. It seems he moves amid honours and riches, has a queen for
his mistress--a real queen--who gives him all the money he desires.
Oh, what a Babylon, this Paris! The others come from time to time to
learn whether by chance anything new has happened at the bank; and, as
nothing ever has, we remain weeks without seeing them. Four or five
faithful ones, all poor old men like myself, persist in putting in an
appearance regularly every morning at the same hour, from habit, from
want of occupation, not knowing what else to do. Every one, however,
busies himself about things quite foreign to the work of the office. A
man must live, you know. And then, too, one cannot pass the day
dragging one's self from easy chair to easy chair, from window to
window, to look out of doors (eight windows fronting on the
Boulevard). So one tries to do some work as best one can. I myself, as
I have said, keep the accounts of Mme. Seraphine, and of another cook
in the building. Also, I write my memoirs, which, again, takes a good
deal of my time. Our receipt clerk--one who has not very hard work
with us--makes line for a firm that deals in fishing requisites. Of
our two copying-clerks, one, who writes a good hand, copies plays for
a dramatic agency; the other invents little halfpenny toys which the
hawkers sell at street corners about the time of the New Year, and
manages by this means to keep himself from dying of hunger during all
the rest of the year. Our cashier is the only one who does no outside
work. He would believe his honour lost if he did. He is a very proud
man, who never utters a complaint, and whose one dread is to have the
appearance of being in want of linen. Locked in his office, he is
occupied from morning till evening in the manufacture of shirt-fronts,
collars, and cuffs of paper. In this, he has attained very great
skill, and his ever-dazzling linen would deceive, if it were not that
at the least movement, when he walks, when he sits down, the stuff
crackles upon him as though he had a cardboard box under his
waistcoat. Unfortunately all this paper does not feed him; and he is
so thin, has such a mien, that you ask yourself on what he lives.
Between ourselves, I suspect him of paying a visit sometimes to my
store-cupboard. He can do so with ease; for, as cashier, he has the
"word" which opens the safe with the secret lock, and I fancy that
when my back is turned he forages a little among my provisions.
These are certainly very extraordinary, very incredible internal
arrangements for a banking house. It is, however, the mere truth that
I am telling, and Paris is full of financial institutions after the
pattern of ours. Oh, if ever I publish my memoirs! But to take up the
interrupted thread of my story.
When he saw us all collected in his private room, the manager said to
us with solemnity:
"Gentlemen and dear comrades, the time of trials is ended. The
Territorial Bank inaugurates a new phase."
Upon this he commenced to speak to us of a superb /combinazione/--it
is his favourite word and he pronounces it in such an insinuating
manner--a /combinazione/ into which there was entering this famous
Nabob, of whom all the newspapers are talking. The Territorial Bank
was therefore about to find itself in a position which would enable it
to acquit itself of its obligations to its faithful servants,
recognise acts of devotion, rid itself of useless parasites. This for
me, I imagine. And in conclusion: "Prepare your statements. All
accounts will be settled not later than to-morrow." Unhappily he has
so often soothed us with lying words, that the effect of his speech
was lost. Formerly these fine promises were always swallowed. At the
announcement of a new /combinazione/, there used to be dancing,
weeping for joy in the offices, and men would embrace each other like
shipwrecked sailors discovering a sail.
Each one would prepare his account for the morrow, as he had said. But
on the morrow, no manager. The day following, still nobody. He had
left town on a little journey.
At length, one day when all would be there, exasperated, putting out
our tongues, maddened by the water which he had brought to our mouths,
the governor would arrive, let himself drop into an easy chair, his
head in his hands, and before one could speak to him: "Kill me," he
would say, "kill me. I am a wretched impostor. The /combinazione/ has
failed. It has failed, /Pechero!/ the /combinazione/." And he would
cry, sob, throw himself on his knees, pluck out his hair by handfuls,
roll on the carpet. He would call us by our Christian names, implore
us to put an end to his existence, speak of his wife and children
whose ruin he had consummated. And none of us would have the courage
to protest in face of a despair so formidable. What do I say? One
always ended by sympathizing with him. No, since theatres have
existed, never has there been a comedian of his ability. But to-day,
that is all over, confidence is gone. When he had left, every one
shrugged his shoulders. I must admit, however, that for a moment I had
been shaken. That assurance about the settling of my account, and then
the name of the Nabob, that man so rich----
"You actually believe it, you?" the cashier said to me. "You will be
always innocent, then, my poor Passajon. Don't disturb yourself. It
will be the same with the Nabob as it was with Moessard's Queen." And
he returned to the manufacture of his shirt-fronts.
What he had just said referred to the time when Moessard was making
love to his Queen, and had promised the governor that in case of
success he would induce her Majesty to put capital into our
undertaking. At the office, we were all aware of this new adventure,
and very anxious, as you may imagine, that it should succeed quickly,
since our money depended upon it. For two months this story held all
of us breathless. We felt some disquiet, we kept a watch on Moessard's
face, considered that the lady was inclined to insist upon a great
deal of ceremony; and our old cashier, with his dignified and serious
air, when he was questioned on the matter, would answer gravely,
behind his wire screen: "Nothing fresh," or "The thing is in a good
way." Whereupon everybody was contented. One would say to another, "It
is making progress," as though merely an ordinary enterprise was in
question. No, in good truth, there is only one Paris, where one can
see such things. Positively it makes your head turn sometimes. In a
word, Moessard, one fine morning, ceased coming to the office. He had
succeeded, it appears, but the Territorial Bank had not seemed to him
a sufficiently advantageous investment for the money of his mistress.
Now, I ask you, was that honest?
For that matter, the notion of honesty is lost so easily as hardly to
be believed. When I reflect that I, Passajon, with my white hair, my
venerable appearance, my so blameless past--thirty years of academical
services--am grown accustomed to living like a fish in the water, in
the midst of these infamies, this swindling! One might well ask what I
am doing here, why I remain, how I am come to this.
How I am come to it? Oh, /mon Dieu!/ very simply. Four years ago, my
wife being dead, my children married, I had just retired from my post
as hall-porter at the college, when an advertisement in the newspaper
chanced to meet my eye: "Wanted, an office-porter, middle-aged, at the
Territorial Bank, 56, Boulevard Malesherbes. Good references." Let me
confess it at the outset. The modern Babylon had always attracted me.
Then, too, I felt myself still a young man. I saw before me ten good
years during which I might earn a little money, a great deal, perhaps,
by means of investing my savings in the banking-house which I should
enter. So I wrote, inclosing my photograph, the one taken at
Crespon's, in the Market Place, which represents me with chin closely
shaven, a keen eye beneath my thick white eyebrows, my steel chain
about my neck, my ribbon as an academy official, "the air of a
conscript father upon his curule-chair," as M. Chalmette, our dean
used to say. (He insisted also that I much resembled the late King
Louis XVIII; less strongly, however.) I supplied, further, the best of
references; the most flattering recommendations from the gentlemen of
the college. By return of post, the governor replied that my
appearance pleased him--I believe it, /parbleu!/ an antechamber in the
charge of a person with a striking face like mine is a bait for the
shareholder--and that I might come when I liked. I ought, you may say
to me, myself also to have made my inquiries. Eh! no doubt. But I had
to give so much information about myself that it never occurred to me
to ask for any about them. Besides, how could a man be suspicious,
seeing this admirable installation, these lofty ceilings, these great
safes, as big as cupboards, and these mirrors, in which you can see
yourself from head to knee? And then those sonorous prospectuses,
those millions that I seemed to hear flying through the air, those
colossal enterprises with their fabulous profits. I was dazzled,
fascinated. It must be mentioned, too, that at the time the house did
not bear quite the aspect which it has to-day. Certainly, business was
already going badly--our business always has gone badly--the paper
appeared only at irregular intervals. But a little /combinazione/ of
the governor's enabled him to save appearances.
He had conceived the idea, just imagine, of opening a patriotic
subscription for the purpose of erecting a statue to General Paolo
Paoli, or some such name; in any case, to a great countryman of his
own. Money flowed accordingly into the Territorial. Unfortunately,
that state of things did not last. By the end of a couple of months
the statue was eaten up before it had been made, and the series of
protests and writs recommenced. Nowadays I am accustomed to them. But
in the days when I had just come from the country, the Auvergnats at
the door, caused me a painful impression. In the house, nobody paid
attention to such things any longer. It was known that at the last
moment there would always arrive a Monpavon, a Bois l'Hery, to pacify
the bailiffs; for all those gentlemen, being deeply implicated in the
concern, have an interest in avoiding a bankruptcy. That is the very
circumstance which saves him, our wily governor. The others run after
their money--we know the meaning which that expression has in gaming--
and they would not like all the stock on their hands to become
worthless save to sell for waste paper.
Small and great, that is the case of all of us who are connected with
the firm. From the landlord, to whom two years' rent is owing and who,
for fear of losing it all, allows us to stay for nothing, to us poor
employees, even to me, who am involved to the extent of my seven
thousand francs of savings and my four years of arrears, we are
running after our money. That is the reason why I remain obstinately
Doubtless, in spite of my advanced age, thanks to my good appearance,
to my education, to the care which I have always taken of my clothes,
I might have obtained some post under other management. There is one
person of excellent repute known to me, M. Joyeuse, a bookkeeper in
the firm of Hemerlingue & Son, the great bankers of the Rue Saint-
Honore, who, every time he meets me, never fails to remark:
"Passajon, my friend, don't stop in that den of brigands. You are
wrong to persist in remaining. You will never get a halfpenny out of
them. So come to Hemerlingue's. I undertake to find some little corner
for you there. You will earn less, but you will be paid much more."
I feel that he is quite right, that worthy fellow. But the thing is
stronger than I. I cannot make up my mind to leave. And yet it is by
no means gay, the life I lead here in these great, cold rooms, where
no one ever comes, where each man stows himself away in a corner
without speaking. What will you have? Each knows the other too well.
Everything has been said already.
Again, until last year, we used to have sittings of the board of
inspection, meetings of shareholders, stormy and noisy assemblies,
veritable battles of savages, from which the cries could be heard to
the Madeleine. Several times a week also there would call subscribers
indignant at no longer ever receiving any news of their money. It was
on such occasions that our governor shone. I have seen these people,
monsieur, go into his office furious as wolves thirsting for blood,
and, after a quarter of an hour, come out milder than sheep,
satisfied, reassured, and their pockets relieved of a few bank-notes.
For, there lay the acme of his cleverness; in the extraction of money
from the unlucky people who came to demand it. Nowadays the
shareholders of the Territorial Bank no longer give any sign of
existence. I think they are all dead or else resigned to the
situation. The board never meets. The sittings only take place on
paper; it is I who am charged with the preparation of a so-called
report--always the same--which I copy out afresh each quarter. We
should never see a living soul, if, at long intervals, there did not
rise from the depths of Corsica some subscribers to the statue of
Paoli, curious to know how the monument is progressing; or, it may be,
some worthy reader of /Financial Truth/, which died over two years
ago, who calls to renew his subscription with a timid air, and begs a
little more regularity, if possible, in the forwarding of the paper.
There is a faith that nothing shakes. So, when one of these innocents
falls among our hungry band, it is something terrible. He is
surrounded, hemmed in, an attempt is made to secure his name for one
of our lists, and, in case of resistance, if he wishes to subscribe
neither to the Paoli monument nor to Corsican railways, these
gentlemen deal him what they call--my pen blushes to write it--what
they call, I say, "the drayman thrust."
Here is what it is: We always keep at the office a parcel prepared in
advance, a well-corded case which arrives nominally from the railway
station while the visitor is present. "There are twenty francs
carriage to pay," says the one among us who brings the thing in.
(Twenty francs, sometimes thirty, according to the appearance of the
patient.) Every one then begins to ransack his pockets: "Twenty francs
carriage! but I haven't got it." "Nor I either. What a nuisance!" Some
one runs to the cash-till. Closed. The cashier is summoned. He is out.
And the gruff voice of the drayman, growing impatient in the
antechamber: "Come, come, make haste." (It is generally I who play the
drayman, because of the strength of my vocal organs.) What is to be
done now? Return the parcel? That will vex the governor. "Gentlemen, I
beg, will you permit me," ventures the innocent victim, opening his
purse. "Ah, monsieur, indeed--" He hands over his twenty francs, he is
ushered to the door, and, as soon as his heel is turned, we all divide
the fruit of the crime, laughing like highway robbers.
Fie! M. Passajon. At your age, such a trade! Eh! /mon Dieu!/ I well
know it. I know that I should do myself more honour in quitting this
evil place. But what! You would have me then renounce the hope of
getting back anything of all I have put in here. No, it is not
possible. There is urgent need on the contrary that I should remain,
that I should be on the watch, always at hand, ready to profit by any
windfall, if one should come. Oh, for example, I swear it upon my
ribbon, upon my thirty years of academical service, if ever an affair
like this of the Nabob allow me to recover my disbursements, I shall
not wait another single minute. I shall quickly be off to look after
my pretty vineyard down yonder, near Monbars, cured forever of my
thoughts of speculation. But, alas! that is a very chimerical hope.
Exhausted, used up, known as we are upon the Paris market, with our
stocks which are no longer quoted on the Bourse, our bonds which are
near being waste paper, so many lies, so many debts, and the hole that
grows ever deeper and deeper. (We owe at this moment three million
five hundred thousand francs. It is not, however, those three millions
that worry us. On the contrary, it is they that keep us going; but we
have with the /concierge/ a little bill of a hundred and twenty-five
francs for postage-stamps, a month's gas bill, and other little
things. That is the really terrible part of it.) and we are expected
to believe that a man, a great financier like this Nabob, even though
he were just arrived from the Congo, or dropped from the moon the same
day, would be fool enough to put his money into a concern like this.
Come! Is the thing possible? You may tell that story to the marines,
my dear governor.
A DEBUT IN SOCIETY
"M. BERNARD JANSOULET!"
The plebeian name, accentuated proudly by the liveried servants, and
announced in a resounding voice, sounded in Jenkins's drawing-rooms
like the clash of a cymbal, one of those gongs which, in fairy pieces
at the theatre, are the prelude to fantastic apparitions. The light of
the chandeliers paled, every eye sparkled at the dazzling perspective
of the treasures of the Orient, of the showers of the sequins and of
pearls evoked by the magic syllables of that name, yesterday unknown.
He, it was he himself, the Nabob, the rich among the rich, the great
Parisian curiosity, spiced by that relish of adventure which is so
pleasing to the surfeited crowd. All heads turned, all conversations
were interrupted; near the door there was a pushing among the guests,
a crush as upon the quay of a seaport to witness the entry of a
felucca laden with gold.
Jenkins himself, so hospitable, so self-possessed, who was standing in
the first drawing-room receiving his guests, abruptly quitted the
group of men about him and hurried to place himself at the head of the
galleons bearing down upon the guest.
"You are a thousand times, a thousand times kind. Mme. Jenkins will be
so glad, so proud.--Come, let me conduct you!"
And in his haste, in his vainglorious delight, he bore Jansoulet off
so quickly that the latter had no time to present his companion, Paul
de Gery, to whom he was giving his first entry into society. The young
man welcomed this forgetfulness. He slipped away among the crowd of
black dress-coats constantly pressed back at each new arrival, buried
himself in it, seized by that wild terror which is experienced by
every young man from the country at his first introduction to a Paris
drawing-room, especially when he is intelligent and refined, and
beneath his breastplate of linen does not wear like a coat of mail the
imperturbable assurance of a boor.
All you, Parisians of Paris, who from the age of sixteen, in your
first dress-coat and with opera-hat against your thigh, have been wont
to air your adolescence at receptions of all kinds, you know nothing
of that anguish, compounded of vanity, of timidity, of recollections
of romantic readings, which keeps a young man from opening his mouth
and so makes him awkward and for a whole night pins him down to one
spot in a doorway, and converts him into a piece of furniture in a
recess, a poor, wandering and wretched being, incapable of manifesting
his existence save by an occasional change of place, dying of thirst
rather than approach the buffet, and going away without having uttered
a word, unless perhaps to stammer out one of those incoherent pieces
of foolishness which he remembers for months, and which make him, at
night, as he thinks of them, heave an "Ah!" of raging shame, with head
buried in the pillow.
Paul de Gery was that martyr. Away yonder in his country home he had
always lived a very retired existence with an old, pious, and gloomy
aunt, up to the time when the law-student, destined in the first
instance to the career in which his father had left an excellent
reputation, had found himself introduced to a few judges' drawing-
rooms, ancient, melancholy dwellings with faded pier-glasses, where he
used to go to make a fourth at whist with venerable shadows. Jenkins's
evening party was therefore a /debut/ for this provincial, of whom his
very ignorance and his southern adaptability made immediately an
From the place where he stood, he watched the curious defile of
Jenkins's guests which had not yet come to an end at midnight; all the
clients of the fashionable physician; the fine flower of society; a
strong political and financial element, bankers, deputies, a few
artists, all the jaded people of Parisian "high life," wan-faced, with
glittering eyes, saturated with arsenic like greedy mice, but with
appetite insatiable for poison and for life. The drawing-room being
thrown open, the vast antechamber of which the doors had been removed
to be seen, laden with flowers at the sides, the principal staircase
of the mansion, over which swept, now shaken out to their full extent,
the long trains, whose silky weight seemed to give a backward pull to
the undraped busts of the women in the course of that pretty ascending
movement which brought them into view, little by little, till the
complete flower of their splendour was reached. The couples as they
gained the top seemed to be making an entry on the stage of a theatre;
and that was twice true, since each person left on the last step the
contracted eyebrows, the lines that marked preoccupation, the wearied
air, his vexations, his sorrows, to display instead a contented face,
a gay smile over the reposeful harmony of the features. The men
exchanged honest shakes of the hand, exhibitions of fraternal good-
feeling; the women, preoccupied with themselves, as they stood making
little caracoling movements, with trembling graces, play of eyes and
shoulders, murmured, without meaning anything, a few words of
"Thank you--oh, thank you! How kind you are!"
Then the couples would separate, for evening parties are no longer the
gatherings of charming wits, in which feminine delicacy was wont to
compel the character, the lofty knowledge, the genius, even, of men to
bow graciously before it; but these overcrowded routs, in which the
women, who alone are seated, chattering together like slaves in a
harem, have no longer aught save the pleasure of being beautiful or
appearing so. De Gery, after having wandered through the doctor's
library, the conservatory, the billiard-room, where men were smoking,
weary of serious and dry conversation which seemed to him out of place
amid surroundings so decorated and in the brief hour of pleasure--some
one had asked him carelessly, without looking at him, what the Bourse
was doing that day--made his way again towards the door of the large
drawing-room, which was barricaded by a wedged crowd of dress-coats, a
sea of heads bent sideways and peering past each other, watching.
This salon was a spacious apartment richly furnished with the artistic
taste which distinguished the host and hostess. There were a few old
pictures on the light background of the hangings. A monumental
chimneypiece, adorned by a handsome group in marble--"The Seasons," by
Sebastien Ruys--around which long green stems cut in lacework or of a
goffered bronze-like rigidity curved back towards the mirror as
towards the limpidity of a clear lake. On the low seats, women in
close groups, so close as almost to blend the delicate colours of
their toilettes, forming an immense basket of living flowers, above
which there floated the gleam of bare shoulders, of hair sown with
diamonds that looked like drops of water on the dark women, glittering
reflections on the fair, and the same heady perfume, the same confused
and gentle hum, compact of vibrant warmth and intangible wings, which,
in summer, caresses a garden-bed through all its flowering time. Now
and then a little laugh, rising into this luminous atmosphere, a
quicker inspiration in the air, which would cause aigrettes and curls
to tremble, a handsome profile to stand out suddenly. Such was the
aspect of the drawing-room.
A few men were present, a very small number, however, and all of them
personages of note, laden with years and decorations. They were
standing about near couches, leaning over the backs of chairs, with
that air of condescension which men assume when speaking to children.
But in the peaceful buzz of these conversations, one voice rang out
piercing and brazen, that of the Nabob, who was tranquilly performing
his evolutions across this social hothouse with the assurance bestowed
upon him by his immense wealth, and a certain contempt for women which
he had brought back from the East.
At that moment, comfortably installed on a settee, his big hands in
yellow gloves crossed carelessly one over the other, he was talking
with a very handsome woman, whose original physiognomy--much vitality
coupled with severe features--stood out pale among the pretty faces
about her, just as her dress, all white, classic in its folds and
following closely the lines of her supple figure, contrasted with
toilettes that were richer, but among which none had that air of
daring simplicity. From his corner, de Gery admired the low and smooth
forehead beneath its fringe of downward combed hair, the well-opened
eyes, deep blue in colour, an abysmal blue, the mouth which ceased to
smile only to relax its pure curve into an expression that was weary
and drooping. In sum, the rather haughty mien of an exceptional being.
Somebody near him mentioned her name--Felicia Ruys. At once he
understood the rare attraction of this young girl, the continuer of
her father's genius, whose budding celebrity had penetrated even to
the remote country district where he had lived, with the aureole of
reputed beauty. While he stood gazing at her, admiring her least
gestures, a little perplexed by the enigma of her handsome
countenance, he heard whispers behind him.
"But see how pleasant she is with the Nabob! If the duke were to come
"The Duc de Mora is coming?"
"Certainly. It is for him that the party is given; to bring about a
meeting between him and Jansoulet."
"And you think that the duke and Mlle. Ruys----"
"Where have you come from? It is an intrigue known to all Paris. The
affair dates from the last exhibition, for which she did a bust of
"And the duchess?"
"Bah! it is not her first experience of that sort. Ah! there is Mme.
Jenkins going to sing."
There was a movement in the drawing-room, a more violent swaying of
the crowd near the door, and conversation ceased for a moment. Paul de
Gery breathed. What he had just heard had oppressed his heart. He felt
himself reached, soiled, by this mud flung in handfuls over the ideal
which in his own mind he had formed of that splendid adolescence,
matured by the sun of Art to so penetrating a charm. He moved away a
little, changed his place. He feared to hear again some whispered
infamy. Mme. Jenkins's voice did him good, a voice that was famous in
the drawing-rooms of Paris and that in spite of all its magnificence
had nothing theatrical about it, but seemed an emotional utterance
vibrating over unstudied sonorities. The singer, a woman of forty or
forty-five, had splendid ash-blond hair, delicate, rather nerveless
features, a striking expression of kindness. Still good-looking, she
was dressed in the costly taste of a woman who has not given up the
thought of pleasing. Indeed, she was far from having given it up.
Married a dozen years ago, for a second time, to the doctor, they
seemed still to be at the first months of their dual happiness. While
she sang a popular Russian melody, savage and sweet like the smile of
a Slav, Jenkins was ingenuously proud, without seeking to dissimulate
the fact, his broad face all beaming; and she, each time that she bent
her head as she regained her breath, glanced in his direction a timid,
affectionate smile that flew to seek him over the unfolded music. And
then, when she had finished amid an admiring and delighted murmur, it
was touching to notice how discreetly she gave her husband's hand a
secret squeeze, as though to secure to themselves a corner of private
bliss in the midst of her great triumph. Young de Gery was feeling
cheered by the spectacle of this happy couple, when quite close to him
a voice murmured--it was not, however, the same voice that he had
heard just before:
"You know what they say--that the Jenkinses are not married."
"I assure you. It would seem that there is a veritable Mme. Jenkins
somewhere, but not the lady we know. Besides, have you noticed----"
The dialogue continued in an undertone. Mme. Jenkins advanced, bowing,
smiling, while the doctor, stopping a tray that was being borne round,
brought her a glass of claret with the alacrity of a mother, an
impresario, a lover. Calumny, calumny, ineffaceable defilement! To the
provincial young man, Jenkins's attentions now seemed exaggerated. He
fancied that there was something affected about them, something
deliberate, and, too, in the words of thanks which she addressed in a
low voice to her husband he thought he could detect a timidity, a
submissiveness, not consonant with the dignity of the legitimate
spouse, glad and proud in an assured happiness. "But Society is a
hideous affair!" said de Gery to himself, dismayed and with cold
hands. The smiles around him had upon him the effect of hypocritical
grimaces. He felt shame and disgust. Then suddenly revolting: "Come,
it is not possible." And, as though in reply to this exclamation,
behind him the scandalous tongue resumed in an easy tone: "After all,
you know, I cannot vouch for its truth. I am only repeating what I
have heard. But look! Baroness Hemerlingue. He gets all Paris, this
The baroness moved forward on the arm of the doctor, who had rushed to
meet her, and appeared, despite all his control of his facial muscles,
a little ill at ease and discomfited. He had thought, the good
Jenkins, to profit by the opportunity afforded by this evening party
to bring about a reconciliation between his friend Hemerlingue and his
friend Jansoulet, who were his two most wealthy clients and
embarrassed him greatly with their intestine feud. The Nabob was
perfectly willing. He bore his old chum no grudge. Their quarrel had
arisen out of Hemerlingue's marriage with one of the favourites of the
last Bey. "A story with a woman at the bottom of it, in short," said
Jansoulet, and a story which he would have been glad to see come to an
end, since his exuberant nature found every antipathy oppressive. But
it seemed that the baron was not anxious for any settlement of their
differences; for, notwithstanding his word passed to Jenkins, his wife
arrived alone, to the Irishman's great chagrin.
She was a tall, slender, frail person, with eyebrows that suggested a
bird's plumes, and a youthful intimidated manner. She was aged about
thirty but looked twenty, and wore a head-dress of grasses and ears of
corn drooping over very black hair peppered with diamonds. With her
long lashes against cheeks white with that transparency of complexion
which characterizes women who have long led a cloistered existence,
and a little ill at ease in her Parisian clothes, she resembled less
one who had formerly been a woman of the harem than a nun who, having
renounced her vows, was returning into the world.
An air of piety, of extreme devoutness, in her bearing, a certain
ecclesiastical trick of walking with downcast eyes, elbows close to
the body, hands crossed, mannerisms which she had acquired in the very
religious atmosphere in which she had lived since her conversion and
her recent baptism, completed this resemblance. And you can imagine
with what ardent curiosity that worldly assembly regarded this quondam
odalisk turned fervent Catholic, as she advanced escorted by a man
with a livid countenance like that of some spectacled sacristan,
Maitre le Merquier, deputy of Lyons, Hemerlingue's man of business,
who accompanied the baroness whenever the baron "was somewhat
indisposed," as on this evening.
At their entry into the second drawing-room, the Nabob came straight
up to her, expecting to see appear in her wake the puffy face of his
old comrade to whom it was agreed that he should go and offer his
hand. The baroness perceived him and became still whiter. A flash as
of steel shot from beneath her long lashes. Her nostrils dilated,
quivered, and, as Jansoulet bowed, she quickened her step, carrying
her head high and erect, and letting fall from her thin lips an Arab
word which no one else could understand but of which the Nabob himself
well appreciated the insult; for, as he raised his head again, his
tanned face was of the colour of baked earthenware as it leaves the
furnace. He stood for an instant without moving, his huge fists
clinched, his mouth swollen with anger. Jenkins came up and rejoined
him, and de Gery, who had followed the whole scene from a distance,
saw them talking together with preoccupied air.
The thing was a failure. The reconciliation, so cunningly planned,
would not take place. Hemerlingue did not desire it. If only the duke,
now, did not fail to keep his engagement with them. This reflection
was prompted by the lateness of the hour. The Wauters who was to sing
the music of the Night from the /Enchanted Flute/, on her way home
from her theatre, had just entered, completely muffled in her hoods of
And there was still no sign of the Minister.
It was, however, a clearly understood, definitely promised
arrangement. Monpavon was to call for him at the club. From time to
time the good Jenkins glanced at his watch, while applauding absently
the bouquet of brilliant notes which the Wauters was pouring forth
from her fairy lips, a bouquet costing three thousand francs, useless,
like the other expenses of the evening, if the duke did not come.
Suddenly the double doors were flung wide open:
"His excellency M. le Duc de Mora!"
A long quiver of excitement welcomed him, a respectful curiosity that
ranged itself in two rows instead of the mobbing crowd that flocked on
the heels of the Nabob.
None better than he knew how to bear himself in society, to walk
across a drawing-room with gravity, to endow futile things with an air
of seriousness, and to treat serious things lightly; that was the
epitome of his attitude in life, a paradoxical distinction. Still
handsome, despite his fifty-six years, with a comeliness compounded of
elegance and proportion, wherein the grace of the dandy was fortified
by something military about the figure and the haughtiness of the
face; he wore with striking effect his black dress-coat, on which, to
do honour to Jenkins, he had pinned a few of his decorations, which he
was in the habit of never wearing except upon official occasions. The
reflection from the linen, from the white cravat, the dull silver of
the decorations, the smoothness of the thin hair now turning gray,
enhanced the pallor of the features, more bloodless than all the
bloodless faces that were to be seen that evening in the Irishman's
He had led such a terrible life! Politics, play under all its forms,
from the Stock Exchange to the baccarat-table, and that reputation of
a man successful with women which had to be maintained at all costs.
Oh, this man was a true client of Jenkins; and this princely visit, he
owed it in good sooth to the inventor of those mysterious pills which
gave that fire to his glance, to his whole being that energy so
vibrating and extraordinary.
"My dear duke, permit me to----"
Monpavon, with solemn air and a great sense of his own importance,
endeavoured to effect the presentation so long looked forward to; but
his excellency, preoccupied, seemed not to hear, continued his
progress towards the large drawing-room, borne along by one of those
electric currents that break the social monotony. On his passage, and
while he greeted the handsome Mme. Jenkins, the ladies bent forward a
little with seductive airs, a soft laugh, concerned to please. But he
noticed only one among them, Felicia, on her feet in the centre of a
group of men, discussing some question as though she were in her
studio, and watching the duke come towards her, while tranquilly
taking her sherbet. She greeted him with perfect naturalness. Those
near had discreetly retired to a little distance. There seemed to
exist between them, however, notwithstanding what de Gery had
overheard with regard to their presumed relations, nothing more than a
quite intellectual intimacy, a playful familiarity.
"I called at your house, mademoiselle, on my way to the Bois."
"I was informed of it. You even went into the studio."
"And I saw the famous group--my group."
"It is very fine. The hound runs as though he were mad. The fox
scampers away admirably. Only I did not quite understand. You had told
me that it was our own story, yours and mine."
"Ah, there! Try. It is an apologue that I read in-- You do not read
Rabelais, M. le Duc?"
"My faith, no. He is too coarse."
"Ah, well, his works were the text-book of my first reading lessons.
Very badly brought up, you know. Oh, exceedingly badly. My apologue,
then, is taken from Rabelais. Here it is: Bacchus created a wonderful
fox, impossible to capture. Vulcan, on the other hand, gave a dog of
his own creation the power to catch every animal that he should
pursue. 'Now,' as my author has it, 'it happened that the two met.'
You see what a wild and interminable chase. It seems to me, my dear
duke, that destiny has in the same way brought us together, endowed
with conflicting attributes; you who have received from the gods the
gift of reaching all hearts, I whose heart will never be made
She spoke these words, looking him full in the face, almost laughing,
but sheathed and erect in the white tunic which seemed to defend her
person against the liberties of his thought. He, the conqueror, the
irresistible, had never before met one of this audacious and
headstrong breed. He brought to bear upon her, therefore, all the
magnetic currents of his seductiveness, while around them the rising
murmur of the /fete/, the soft laughter, the rustle of satins and the
rattling of pearls formed the accompaniment to this duet of mundane
passion and juvenile irony. He resumed after a minute's pause:
"But how did the gods escape from that awkward situation?"
"By turning the two runners into stone."
"Upon my word," said he, "that is a solution which I do not at all
accept. I defy the gods ever to petrify my heart."
A fiery gleam shot for a moment from his eyes, extinguished
immediately by the thought that people were observing them.
In effect, people were observing them intently, but no one with so
much curiosity as Jenkins, who wandered round them a little way off,
impatient and fidgety, as though he were annoyed with Felicia for
taking private possession of the important personage of the assembly.
The young girl laughingly called the duke's attention to it.
"People will say that I am monopolizing you."
She pointed out to him Monpavon waiting, standing near the Nabob who,
from afar, was gazing at his excellency with the beseeching,
submissive eyes of a big, good-tempered mastiff. The Minister of State
then remembered the object which had brought him. He bowed to the
young girl and returned to Monpavon, who was able at last to present
to him "his honourable friend, M. Bernard Jansoulet." His excellency
bowed slightly, the /parvenu/ humbled himself lower than the earth,
then they chatted for a moment.
A group curious to observe. Jansoulet, tall, strong, with an air of
the people about him, a sunburned skin, his broad back arched as
though made round for ever by the low bowings of Oriental courtiery,
his big, short hands splitting his light gloves, his excessive
gestures, his southern exuberance chopping up his words like a
puncher. The other, a high-bred gentleman, a man of the world,
elegance itself, easy in his least gestures, though these, however,
were extremely rare, carelessly letting fall unfinished sentences,
relieving by a half smile the gravity of his face, concealing beneath
an imperturbable politeness the deep contempt which he had for man and
woman; and it was in that contempt that his strength lay. In an
American drawing-room the antithesis would have been less violent. The
Nabob's millions would have re-established the balance and even made
the scale lean to his side. But Paris does not yet place money above
every other force, and to realize this, it was sufficient to observe
the great contractor wriggling amiably before the great gentleman and
casting under his feet, like the courtier's cloak of ermine, the dense
vanity of a newly rich man.
From the corner in which he had ensconced himself, de Gery was
watching the scene with interest, knowing what importance his friend
attached to this introduction, when the same chance which all through
the evening had so cruelly been giving the lie to the native
simplicity of his inexperience, caused him to distinguish a short
dialogue near him, amid that buzz of many conversations through which
each hears just the word that interests him.
"It is indeed the least that Monpavon can do, to enable him to make a
few good acquaintances. He has introduced him to so many bad ones. You
know that he has just put Paganetti and all his gang on his
"Poor fellow! But they will devour him."
"Bah! It is only fair that he should be made to disgorge a little. He
has been such a thief himself away yonder among the Turks."
"Really, do you believe that is so?"
"Do I believe it? I am in possession of very precise details on the
point which I have from Baron Hemerlingue, the banker, who effected
the last Tunisian loan. He knows some stories about the Nabob, he
does. Just imagine."
And the infamous gossip commenced. For fifteen years Jansoulet had
exploited the former Bey in a scandalous fashion. Names of purveyors
were cited and tricks wonderful in their assurance, their effrontery;
for instance, the story of a musical frigate, yes, a veritable musical
box, like a dining-room picture, which he had bought for two hundred
thousand francs and sold again for ten millions; the cost price of a
throne sold at three millions for which the account could be seen in
the books of an upholsterer of the Faubourg Saint-Honore did not
exceed a hundred thousand francs; and the funniest part of it was
that, the Bey having changed his mind, the royal seat, fallen into
disgrace before it had even been unpacked, remained still nailed in
its packing-case at the custom-house in Tripoli.
Next, beyond these wildly extravagant commissions on the provision of
the least toy, they laid stress upon accusations more grave but no
less certain, since they also sprang from the same source. It seemed
there was, adjoining the seraglio, a harem of European women admirably
equipped for his Highness by the Nabob, who must have been a good
judge in such matters, having practised formerly, in Paris--before his
departure for the East--the most singular trades: vendor of theatre-
tickets, manager of a low dancing-hall, and of an establishment more
ill-famed still. And the whispering ended in a smothered laugh, the
coarse laugh of men chatting among themselves.
The first impulse of the young man from the country, as he heard these
infamous calumnies, was to turn round and exclaim:
A few hours earlier he would have done it without hesitating; but,
since he had been there, he had learned distrust, scepticism. He
contained himself, therefore, and listened to the end, motionless in
the same place, having deep down within himself an unavowed desire to
become further acquainted with the man whose service he had entered.
As for the Nabob, the completely unconscious subject of this hideous
recital, tranquilly installed in a small room to which its blue
hangings and two shaded lamps gave a reposeful air, he was playing his
game of /ecarte/ with the Duc de Mora.
O magic of Fortune's argosy! The son of the dealer in old iron seated
alone at a card-table opposite the first personage of the Empire!
Jansoulet could scarcely believe the Venetian mirror in which were
reflected his own bright countenance and the august head with its
parting down the middle. Accordingly, in order to show his
appreciation of this great honour, he sought to lose decently as many
thousand-franc notes as possible, feeling himself even so the winner
of the game, and quite proud to see his money pass into those
aristocratic hands, whose least gesture he studied as they dealt, cut,
or held the cards.
A circle had formed around them, always keeping a distance, however,
the ten paces exacted for the salutation of a prince; it was the
public there to witness this triumph in which the Nabob was bearing
his part as in a dream, intoxicated by those fairy harmonies rather
faint in the distance, whose songs that reached him in snatches as
over the resonant obstacle of a pool, the perfume of flowers that seem
to become full blown in so singular fashion towards the end of
Parisian balls, when the late hour that confuses all notions of time
and the weariness of the sleepless nights communicate to brains
soothed in a more nervous atmosphere, as it were, a dizzy sense of
enjoyment. The robust nature of Jansoulet, civilized savage that he
was, was more sensitive than another to these unknown subtleties, and
he had need of all his strength to refrain from manifesting by some
glad hurrah, by some untimely effusion of gestures and speech, the
impulse of physical gaiety which pervaded his whole being, as happens
to those great mountain dogs that are thrown into epileptic fits of
madness by the inhaling of a drop of some essence.
"The sky is clear, the pavement dry. If you like, my dear boy, we will
send the carriage away and return on foot," said Jansoulet to his
companion as they left Jenkins's house.
De Gery accepted with eagerness. He felt that he required to walk, to
shake off in the open air the infamies and the lies of that comedy of
society which had left his heart cold and oppressed, with all his
life-blood driven to his temples where he could hear the swollen veins
beating. He staggered as he walked, like those unfortunate persons
who, having been operated upon for cataract, in the terror of sight
regained, do not dare put one foot before the other. But with what a
brutal hand the operation had been performed! So that great artist
with the glorious name, that pure and untamed beauty the sight alone
of whom had troubled him like an apparition, was only a courtesan.
Mme. Jenkins, that stately woman, of bearing at once so proud and so
gentle, had no real title to the name. That illustrious man of science
with the open countenance, and a manner so pleasant in his welcome,
had the impudence thus to parade a disgraceful concubinage. And Paris
suspected it, but that did not prevent it from running to their
parties. And, finally, Jansoulet, so kind, so generous, for whom he
felt in his heart so much gratitude, he knew him to be fallen into the
hands of a gang of brigands, a brigand himself and well worthy of the
conspiracy organized to cause him to disgorge his millions.
Was it possible, and how much of it was he to be obliged to believe?
A glance which he threw sideways at the Nabob, whose immense person
almost blocked the pavement, revealed to him suddenly in that walk
oppressed by the weight of his wealth, a something low and vulgar
which he had not previously remarked. Yes, he was indeed the
adventurer from the south, moulded of the slimy clay that covers the
quays of Marseilles, trodden down by all the nomads and wanderers of a
seaport. Kind, generous, forsooth! as harlots are, or thieves. And the
gold, flowing in torrents through that tainted and luxurious world,
splashing the very walls, seemed to him now to be loaded with all the
dross, all the filth of its impure and muddy source. There remained,
then, for him, de Gery, but one thing to do, to go away, to quit with
all possible speed this situation in which he risked the compromising
of his good name, the one heritage from his father. Doubtless. But the
two little brothers down yonder in the country. Who would pay for
their board and lodging? Who would keep up the modest home
miraculously brought into being once more by the handsome salary of
the eldest son, the head of the family? Those words, "head of the
family," plunged him immediately into one of those internal combats in
which interest and conscience struggled for the mastery--the one
brutal, substantial, attacking vigorously with straight thrusts, the
other elusive, breaking away by subtle disengagements--while the
worthy Jansoulet, unconscious cause of the conflict, walked with long
strides close by his young friend, inhaling the fresh air with delight
at the end of his lighted cigar.
Never had he felt it such a happiness to be alive; and this evening
party at Jenkins's, which had been his own first real entry into
society as well as de Gery's, had left with him an impression of
porticoes erected as for a triumph, of an eagerly assembled crowd, of
flowers thrown on his path. So true is it that things only exist
through the eyes that observe them. What a success! the duke, as he
took leave of him inviting him to come to see his picture gallery,
which meant the doors of Mora House opened to him within a week.
Felicia Ruys consenting to do his bust, so that at the next exhibition
the son of the nail-dealer would have his portrait in marble by the
same great artist who had signed that of the Minister of State. Was it
not the satisfaction of all his childish vanities?
And each pondering his own thoughts, sombre or glad, they continued to
walk shoulder to shoulder, absorbed and so absent in mind that the
Place Vendome, silent and bathed in a blue and chilly light, rang
under their steps before a word had been uttered between them.
"Already?" said the Nabob. "I should not at all have minded walking a
little longer. What do you say?" And while they strolled two or three
times around the square, he gave vent in spasmodic bursts to the
immense joy which filled him.
"How pleasant the air is! How one can breathe! Thunder of God! I would
not have missed this evening's party for a hundred thousand francs.
What a worthy soul that Jenkins is! Do you like Felicia Ruys's style
of beauty? For my part, I dote on it. And the duke, what a great
gentleman! so simple, so kind. A fine place, Paris, is it not, my
"It is too complicated for me. It frightens me," answered Paul de Gery
in a hollow voice.
"Yes, yes, I understand," replied the other with an adorable fatuity.
"You are not yet accustomed to it; but, never mind, one quickly
becomes so. See how after a single month I find myself at my ease."
"That is because it is not your first visit to Paris. You have lived
"I? Never in my life. Who told you that?"
"Indeed! I thought--" answered the young man; and immediately, a host
of reflections crowding into his mind:
"What, then, have you done to this Baron Hemerlingue? It is a hatred
to the death between you."
For a moment the Nabob was taken aback. That name of Hemerlingue,
thrown suddenly into his glee, recalled to him the one annoying
episode of the evening.
"To him as to the others," said he in a saddened voice, "I have never
done anything save good. We began together in poverty. We made
progress and prospered side by side. Whenever he wished to try a
flight on his own wings, I always aided and supported him to the best
of my ability. It was I who during ten consecutive years secured for
him the contracts for the fleet and the army; almost his whole fortune
came from that source. Then one fine morning this slow-blooded
imbecile of a Bernese goes crazy over an odalisk whom the mother of
the Bey had caused to be expelled from the harem. The hussy was
beautiful and ambitious, she made him marry her, and naturally, after
this brilliant match, Hemerlingue was obliged to leave Tunis. Somebody
had persuaded him to believe that I was urging the Bey to close the
principality to him. It was not true. On the contrary, I obtained from
his Highness permission for Hemerlingue's son--a child by his first
wife--to remain in Tunis in order to look after their suspended
interests, while the father came to Paris to found his banking-house.
Moreover, I have been well rewarded for my kindness. When, at the
death of my poor Ahmed, the Mouchir, his brother, ascended the throne,
the Hemerlingues, restored to favour, never ceased to work for my
undoing with the new master. The Bey still keeps on good terms with
me; but my credit is shaken. Well, in spite of that, in spite of all
the shabby tricks that Hemerlingue has played me, that he plays me
still, I was ready this evening to hold out my hand to him. Not only
does the blackguard refuse it, but he causes me to be insulted by his
wife, a savage and evil-disposed creature, who does not pardon me for
always having declined to receive her in Tunis. Do you know what she
called me just now as she passed me? 'Thief and son of a dog.' As free
in her language as that, the odalisk--That is to say, that if I did
not know my Hemerlingue to be as cowardly as he is fat--After all,
bah! let them say what they like. I snap my fingers at them. What can
they do against me? Ruin me with the Bey? That is a matter of
indifference to me. There is nothing any longer for me to do in Tunis,
and I shall withdraw myself from the place altogether as soon as
possible. There is only one town, one country in the world, and that
is Paris--Paris welcoming, hospitable, not prudish, where every
intelligent man may find space to do great things. And I, now, do you
see, de Gery, I want to do great things. I have had enough of
mercantile life. For twenty years I have worked for money; to-day I am
greedy of glory, of consideration, of fame. I want to be somebody in
the history of my country, and that will be easy for me. With my
immense fortune, my knowledge of men and of affairs, the things I know
I have here in my head, nothing is beyond my reach and I aspire to
everything. Believe me, therefore, my dear boy, never leave me"--one
would have said that he was replying to the secret thought of his
young companion--"remain faithfully on board my ship. The masts are
firm; I have my bunkers full of coal. I swear to you that we shall go
far, and quickly, /nom d'un sort/!"
The ingenuous southerner thus poured out his projects into the night
with many expressive gestures, and from time to time, as they walked
rapidly to and fro in the vast and deserted square, majestically
surrounded by its silent and closed palaces, he raised his head
towards the man of bronze on the column, as though taking to witness
that great upstart whose presence in the midst of Paris authorizes all
ambitions, endows every chimera with probability.
There is in young people a warmth of heart, a need of enthusiasm which
is awakened by the least touch. As the Nabob talked, de Gery felt his
suspicion take wing and all his sympathy return, together with a shade
of pity. No, very certainly this man was not a rascal, but a poor,
illuded being whose fortune had gone to his head like a wine too heavy
for a stomach long accustomed to water. Alone in the midst of Paris,
surrounded by enemies and people ready to take advantage of him,
Jansoulet made upon him the impression of a man on foot laden with
gold passing through some evil-haunted wood, in the dark and unarmed.
And he reflected that it would be well for the /protege/ to watch,
without seeming to do so, over the protector, to become the discerning
Telemachus of the blind Mentor, to point out to him the quagmires, to
defend him against the highwaymen, to aid him, in a word, in his
combats amid all that swarm of nocturnal ambuscades which he felt were
prowling ferociously around the Nabob and his millions.
THE JOYEUSE FAMILY
Every morning of the year, at exactly eight o'clock, a new and almost
tenantless house in a remote quarter of Paris, echoed to cries, calls,
merry laughter, ringing clear in the desert of the staircase:
"Father, don't forget my music."
"Father, my crochet wool."
"Father, bring us some rolls."
And the voice of the father calling from below:
"Yaia, bring me down my portfolio, please."
"There you are, you see! He has forgotten his portfolio."
And there would be a glad scurry from top to bottom of the house, a
running of all those pretty faces confused by sleep, of all those
heads with disordered hair which the owners made tidy as they ran,
until the moment when, leaning over the baluster, half a dozen girls
bade loud good-bye to a little, old gentleman, neat and well-groomed,
whose reddish face and short profile disappeared at length in the
spiral perspective of the stairs. M. Joyeuse had departed for his
office. At once the whole band, escaped from their cage, would rush
quickly upstairs again to the fourth floor, and, the door having been
opened, group themselves at an open casement to gain one last glimpse
of their father. The little man used to turn round, kisses were
exchanged across the distance, then the windows were closed, the new
and tenantless house became quiet again, except for the posters
dancing their wild saraband in the wind of the unfinished street, as
if made gay, they also, by all these proceedings. A moment later the
photographer on the fifth floor would descend to hang at the door his
showcase, always the same, in which was to be seen the old gentleman
in a white tie surrounded by his daughters in various groups; he went
upstairs again in his turn, and the calm which succeeded immediately
upon this little morning uproar left one to imagine that the "father"
and his young ladies had re-entered the case of photographs, where
they remained smiling and motionless until evening.
From the Rue Saint-Ferdinand to the establishment of Hemerlingue &
Son, his employers, M. Joyeuse had a good three-quarters of an hour's
journey. He walked with head erect and straight, as though he had
feared to disarrange the smart knot of the cravat tied by his
daughters, or his hat put on by them, and when the eldest, ever
anxious and prudent, just as he went out raised his coat-collar to
protect him against the harsh gusts of the wind that blew round the
street corner, even if the temperature were that of a hothouse M.
Joyeuse would not lower it again until he reached the office, like the
lover who, quitting his mistress's arms, dares not to move for fear of
losing the intoxicating perfume.
A widower for some years, this worthy man lived only for his children,
thought only of them, went through life surrounded by those fair
little heads that fluttered around him confusedly as in a picture of
the Assumption. All his desires, all his projects, bore reference to
"those young ladies," returned to them without ceasing, sometimes
after long circuits, for M. Joyeuse--this was connected no doubt with
the fact that he possessed a short neck and a small figure whereof his
turbulent blood made the circuit in a moment--was a man of fecund and
astonishing imagination. In his brain the ideas performed their
evolutions with the rapidity of hollow straws around a sieve. At the
office, figures kept his steady attention by reason of their positive
quality; but, outside, his mind took its revenge upon that inexorable
occupation. The activity of the walk, the habit that led him by a
route where he was familiar with the least incidents, allowed full
liberty to his imaginative faculties. He invented at these times
extraordinary adventures, enough of them to crank out a score of the
serial stories that appear in the newspapers.
If, for example, M. Joyeuse, as he went up the Faubourg Saint-Honore,
on the right-hand footwalk--he always took that one--noticed a heavy
laundry-cart going along at a quick pace, driven by a woman from the
country with a child perched on a bundle of linen and leaning over
"The child!" the terrified old fellow would cry. "Have a care of the
His voice would be lost in the noise of the wheels and his warning
among the secrets of Providence. The cart passed. He would follow it
for a moment with his eye, then resume his walk; but the drama begun
in his mind would continue to unfold itself there, with a thousand
catastrophes. The child had fallen. The wheels were about to pass over
him. M. Joyeuse dashed forward, saved the little creature on the very
brink of destruction; the pole of the cart, however, struck himself
full in the chest and he fell bathed in blood. Then he would see
himself borne to some chemists' shop through the crowd that had
collected. He was placed in an ambulance, carried to his own house,
and then suddenly he would hear the piercing cry of his daughters, his
well-beloved daughters, when they beheld him in this condition. And
that agonized cry touched his heart so deeply, he would hear it so
distinctly, so realistically: "Papa, my dear papa," that he would
himself utter it aloud in the street, to the great astonishment of the
passers-by, in a hoarse voice which would wake him from his fictitious
Will you have another sample of this prodigious imagination? It is
raining, freezing; wretched weather. M. Joyeuse has taken the omnibus
to go to his office. Finding himself seated opposite a sort of
colossus, with the head of a brute and formidable biceps, M. Joyeuse,
himself very small, very puny, with his portfolio on his knees, draws
in his legs in order to make room for the enormous columns which
support the monumental body of his neighbour. As the vehicle moves on
and as the rain beats on the windows, M. Joyeuse falls into reverie.
And suddenly the colossus opposite, whose face is kind after all, is
very much surprised to see the little man change colour, look at him
and grind his teeth, look at him with ferocious eyes, an assassin's
eyes. Yes, with the eyes of a veritable assassin, for at that moment
M. Joyeuse is dreaming a terrible dream. He sees one of his daughters
sitting there opposite him, by the side of this giant brute, and the
wretch has put his arm round her waist under her cape.
"Remove your hand, sir!" M. Joyeuse has already said twice over. The
other has only sneered. Now he wishes to kiss Elise.
Too feeble to defend his daughter, M. Joyeuse, foaming with rage,
draws his knife from his pocket, stabs the insolent fellow full in the
breast, and with head high goes off, strong in the right of an
outraged father, to make his declaration at the nearest police-
"I have just killed a man in an omnibus!" At the sound of his own
voice actually uttering these sinister words, but not in the police-
station, the poor fellow wakes us, guesses from the bewildered manner
of the passengers that he must have spoken the words aloud, and very
quickly takes advantage of the conductor's call, "Saint-Philippe--
Pantheon--Bastille--" to alight, feeling greatly confused, amid
This imagination constantly on the stretch, gave to M. Joyeuse a
singular physiognomy, feverish and worn, in strong contrast with the
general correct appearance of a subordinate clerk which he presented.
In one day he lived so many passionate existences. The race is more
numerous than one thinks of these waking dreamers, in whom a too
restricted fate compresses forces unemployed and heroic faculties.
Dreaming is the safety-valve through which all those expend themselves
with terrible ebullitions, as of the vapour of a furnace and floating
images that are forthwith dissipated into air. From these visions some
return radiant, others exhausted and discouraged, as they find
themselves once more on the every-day level. M. Joyeuse was of these
latter, rising without ceasing to heights whence a man cannot but
re-descend, somewhat bruised by the velocity of the transit.
Now, one morning that our "visionary" had left his house at his
habitual hour, and under the usual circumstances, he began at the
turning of the Rue Saint-Ferdinand one of his little private romances.
As the end of the year was at hand, perhaps it was the hammer-strokes
on a wooden hut which was being erected in the neighbouring timber-
yard that caused his thoughts to turn to "presents--New Year's Day."
And immediately the word bounty implanted itself in his mind as the
first landmark of a marvelous story. In the month of December all
persons in Hemerlingue's service received double pay, and you know
that in small households there are founded on windfalls of this kind a
thousand projects, ambitious or kind, presents to be made, a piece of
furniture to be replaced, a little sum of money to be saved in a
drawer against the unforeseen.
In simple fact, M. Joyeuse was not rich. His wife, a Mlle. de Saint-
Armand, tormented with ideas of greatness and society, had set this
little clerk's household on a ruinous footing, and though since her
death three years had passed during which Bonne Maman had managed the
housekeeping with so much wisdom, they had not yet been able to save
anything, so heavy had proved the burden of the past. Suddenly it
occurred to the good fellow that this year the bounty would be larger
by reason of the increase of work which had been caused by the
Tunisian loan. The loan constituted a very fine stroke of business for
the firm, too fine even, for M. Joyeuse had permitted himself to
remark in the office that this time "Hemerlingue & Son had shaved the
Turk a little too close."
"Certainly, yes, the bounty will be doubled," reflected the visionary,
as he walked; and already he saw himself, a month thence, mounting
with his comrades, for the New Year's visit, the little staircase that
led to Hemerlingue's apartment. He announced the good news to them;
then he detained M. Joyeuse for a few words in private. And, behold,
that master habitually so cold in his manner, sheathed in his yellow
fat as in a bale of raw silk, became affectionate, paternal,
communicative. He desired to know how many daughters Joyeuse had.
"I have three; no, I should say, four, M. le Baron. I always confuse
them. The eldest is such a sensible girl."
Further he wished to know their ages.
"Aline is twenty, M. le Baron. She is the eldest. Then we have Elise,
who is preparing for the examination which she must pass when she is
eighteen. Henriette, who is fourteen, and Zara or Yaia who is only
That pet name of Yaia intensely amused M. le Baron, who inquired next
what were the resources of this interesting family.
"My salary, M. le Baron; nothing else. I had a little money put aside,
but my poor wife's illness, the education of the girls--"
"What you are earning is not sufficient, my dear Joyeuse. I raise your
salary to a thousand francs a month."
"Oh, M. le Baron, it is too much."
But although he had uttered this last sentence aloud, in the ear of a
policeman who watched with a mistrustful eye the little man pass,
gesticulating and nodding his head, the poor visionary awoke not. With
admiration he saw himself returning home, announcing the news to his
daughters, taking them to the theatre in the evening in celebration of
the happy day. /Dieu!/ how pretty they looked in the front of their
box, the Demoiselles Joyeuse, what a bouquet of rosy faces! And then,
the next day, the two eldest asked in marriage by-- Impossible to
determine by whom, for M. Joyeuse had just suddenly found himself once
more beneath the arch of the Hemerlingue establishment, before the
swing-door surmounted by a "counting-house" in letters of gold.
"I shall always be the same, it seems," said he to himself, laughing a
little and passing his hand over his forehead, on which the
perspiration stood in drops.
In a good humour as the result of this pleasant fancy and at the sight
of the fire crackling in the suite of parquet-floored offices, with
their screens of iron trellis-work and their air of secrecy in the
cold light of the ground floor, where one could count the pieces of
gold without dazzling his eyes, M. Joyeuse gave a gay greeting to the
other clerks and slipped on his working coat and his black velvet cap.
Suddenly, some one whistled from upstairs, and the cashier, applying
his ear to the tube, heard the oily and gelatinous voice of
Hemerlingue, the sole and veritable Hemerlingue--the other, the son,
was always absent--asking for M. Joyeuse.
What! Could the dream be continuing?
He was conscious of a great agitation; took the little inside
staircase which he had seen himself ascending just before so bravely,
and found himself in the banker's private room, a narrow apartment,
with a very high ceiling, furnished only with green curtains and
enormous leather easy chairs of a size proportioned to the terrific
bulk of the head of the house. He was there, seated at his desk which
his belly prevented him from approaching very closely, obese, ill-
shaped, and so yellow that his round face with its hooked nose, the
head of a fat and sick owl, suggested as it were a light at the end of
the solemn and gloomy room. A rich Moorish merchant grown mouldy in
the damp of his little court-yard. Beneath his heavy eyelids, raised
with an effort, his glance glittered for a second when the accountant
entered; he signed to him to approach, and slowly, coldly, pausing to
take breath between his sentences, instead of "M. Joyeuse, how many
daughters have you?" he said this:
"Joyeuse, you have allowed yourself to criticise in the office our
last operations in the Tunis market. Useless to defend yourself. Your
remarks have been reported to me word for word. And as I am unable to
admit them from the mouth of one in my service, I give you notice that
dating from the end of this month you cease to be a member of my
A wave of blood mounted to the accountant's face, fell back, returned
again, bringing each time a confused whizzing into his ears, into his
brain a tumult of thoughts and images.
What was to become of them?
Employment is so hard to find at that period of the year.
Poverty appeared before his eyes and also the vision of an unfortunate
man falling at Hemerlingue's feet, supplicating him, threatening him,
springing at his throat in an access of despairing rage. All this
agitation passed over his features like a gust of wind which throws
the surface of a lake into ripples, fashioning there all manner of
mobile whirlpools; but he remained mute, standing in the same place,
and upon the master's intimation that he could withdraw, went down
with tottering step to resume his work in the counting-house.
In the evening when he went home to the Rue Saint-Ferdinand, M.
Joyeuse told his daughters nothing. He did not dare. The idea of
darkening that radiant gaiety which was the life of the house, of
making dull with heavy tears those pretty bright eyes, was
insupportable to him. Timorous, too, and weak, he was of those who
always say, "Let us wait till to-morrow." He waited therefore before
speaking, at first until the month of November should be ended,
deluding himself with the vague hope that Hemerlingue might change his
mind, as though he did not know that will as of some mollusk flabby
and tenacious upon its ingot of gold. Then when his salary had been
paid up and another accountant had taken his place before the high
desk at which he had stood for so long, he hoped to find something
else quickly and repair his misfortune before being obliged to confess
Every morning he feigned to start for the office, allowed himself to
be equipped and accompanied to the door as usual, his huge leather
portfolio all ready for the evening's numerous commissions. Although
he would forget some of them on purpose because of the approaching and
so problematical end of the month, he did not lack time now to execute
them. He had his day to himself, the whole of an interminable day
which he spent in rushing about Paris in search for an employment.
People gave him addresses, excellent recommendations. But in that
terrible month of December, so cold and with such short hours of
daylight, bringing with it so many expenses and preoccupations,
employees need to take patience and employers also. Each man tries to
end the year in peace, postponing to the month of January, to that
great leap of time towards a fresh halting-place, any changes,
ameliorations, attempts at a new life.
In every house where M. Joyeuse presented himself, he beheld faces
suddenly grow cold as soon as he explained the object of his visit.
"What! You are no longer with Hemerlingue & Son? How is that?"
He would explain the matter as best he could through a caprice of the
head of the firm, the ferocious Hemerlingue whom Paris knew; but he
was conscious of a coldness, a mistrust in the uniform reply which he
received: "Call on us again after the holidays." And, timid as he was
to begin with, he reached a point at which he could no longer bring
himself to call on any one, a point at which he could walk past the
same door a score of times and never have crossed its threshold at all
had it not been for the thought of his daughters. This alone pushed
him along by the shoulders, put heart in his legs, despatched him in
the course of the same day to the opposite extremities of Paris, to
very vague addresses given to him by comrades, to a great manufactory
of animal black at Aubervilliers, where he was made to return for
nothing three days in succession.
Oh, the journeys in the rain, in the frost, the closed doors, the
master who is out or engaged, the promises given and immediately
withdrawn, the hopes deceived, the enervation of hours of waiting, the
humiliations reserved for every man who asks for work, as though it
were a shameful thing to lack it. M. Joyeuse knew all these melancholy
things and, too, the good will that tires and grows discouraged before
the persistence of evil fortune. And you may imagine how the hard
martyrdom of "the man who seeks a place" was rendered tenfold more
bitter by the mirages of his imagination, by those chimeras which rose
before him from the Paris pavements as over them he journeyed along on
foot in every direction.
For a month he was one of those woeful puppets, talking in monologue,
gesticulating on the footways, from whom every chance collision with
the crowd wrests an exclamation as of one walking in his sleep. "I
told you so," or "I have no doubt of it, sir." One passes by, almost
one would laugh, but one is seized with pity before the
unconsciousness of those unhappy men possessed by a fixed idea, blind
whom the dream leads, drawn along by an invisible leash. The terrible
thing was that after those long, cruel days of inaction and fatigue,
when M. Joyeuse returned home, he had perforce to play the comedy of
the man returning from his work, to recount the incidents of the day,
the things he had heard, the gossip of the office with which he had
been always wont to entertain his girls.
In humble homes there is always a name which comes up more often than
all others, which is invoked in days of stress, which is mingled with
every wish, with every hope, even with the games of the children,
penetrated as they are with its importance, a name which sustains in
the dwelling the part of a sub-Providence, or rather of a household
divinity, familiar and supernatural. In the Joyeuse family, it was
Hemerlingue, always Hemerlingue, returning ten times, twenty times a
day in the conversation of the girls, who associated it with all their
plans, with the most intimate details of their feminine ambitions. "If
Hemerlingue would only----" "All that depends on Hemerlingue." And
nothing could be more charming than the familiarity with which these
young people spoke of that enormously wealthy man whom they had never
They would ask for news of him. Had their father spoken to him? Was he
in a good temper? And to think that we all of us, whatever our
position, however humble we be, however weighed down by fate, we have
always beneath us unfortunate beings more humble, yet more weighed
down, for whom we are great, for whom we are as gods, and in our
quality of gods, indifferent, disdainful, or cruel.
One imagines the torture of M. Joyeuse, obliged to invent stories and
anecdotes about the wretch who had so ruthlessly discharged him after
ten years of good service. He played his little comedy, however, so
well as completely to deceive everybody. Only one thing had been
remarked, and that was that father when he came home in the evening
always sat down to table with a great appetite. I believe it! Since he
lost his place the poor man had gone without his luncheon.
The days passed. M. Joyeuse found nothing. Yes, one place as
accountant in the Territorial Bank, which he refused, however, knowing
too much about banking operations, about all the corners and innermost
recesses of the financial Bohemia in general, and of the Territorial
bank in particular, to set foot in that den.
"But," said Passajon to him--for it was Passajon who, meeting the
honest fellow and hearing that he was out of employment, had suggested
to him that he should come to Paganetti's--"but since I repeat that it
is serious. We have lots of money. They pay one. I have been paid. See
how prosperous I look."
In effect, the old office porter had a new livery, and beneath his
tunic with its buttons of silver-gilt his paunch protruded, majestic.
All the same M. Joyeuse had not allowed himself to be tempted, even
after Passajon, opening wide his shallow-set blue eyes, had whispered
into his ear with emphasis these words rich in promises:
"The Nabob is in the concern."
Even after that, M. Joyeuse had had the courage to say No. Was it not
better to die of hunger than to enter a fraudulent house of which he
might perhaps one day be summoned to report upon the books in the
So he continued to wander; but, discouraged, he no longer sought
employ. As it was necessary that he should absent himself from home,
he used to linger over the stalls on the quays, lean for hours on the
parapets, watch the water flow and the unladening of the vessels. He
became one of those idlers whom one sees in the first rank whenever a
crowd collects in the street, taking shelter from the rain under the
porches, warming himself at the stoves where, in the open air, the tar
of the asphalters reeks, sinking on a bench of some boulevard when his
legs could no longer carry him.
To do nothing! What a fine way of making life seem longer!
On certain days, however, when M. Joyeuse was too weary or the sky too
unkind, he would wait at the end of the street until his daughters
should have closed their window again and, returning to the house,
keeping close to the walls, would mount the staircase very quickly,
pass before his own door holding his breath, and take refuge in the
apartment of the photographer Andre Maranne, who, aware of his ill-
fortune, always gave him that kindly welcome which the poor have for
each other. Clients are rare so near the outskirts of the town. He
used to remain long hours in the studio, talking in a very low voice,
reading at his friend's side, listening to the rain on the window-
panes or the wind that blew as it does on the open sea, shaking the
old doors and the window-sashes below in the wood-sheds. Beneath him
he could hear sounds well known and full of charm, songs that escaped
in the satisfaction of work accomplished, assembled laughter, the
pianoforte lesson being given by Bonne Maman, the tic-tac of the
metronome, all the delicious household stir that pleased his heart. He
lived with his darlings, who certainly never could have guessed that
they had him so near them.
Once, when Maranne was out, M. Joyeuse keeping faithful watch over the
studio and its new apparatus, heard two little strokes given on the
ceiling of the apartment below, two separate, very distinct strokes,
then a cautious pattering of fingers, like the scamper of mice. The
friendliness of the photographer with his neighbours sufficiently
authorized these communications like those of prisoners. But what did
they mean? How reply to what seemed a call? Quite at hazard, he
repeated the two strokes, the light tapping, and the conversation
ended there. On the return of Andre Maranne he learned the explanation
of the incident. It was very simple. Sometimes, in the course of the
day, the young ladies below, who only saw their neighbour in the
evening, would inquire how things were going with him, whether any
clients were coming in. The signal he had heard meant, "Is business
good to-day?" And M. Joyeuse had replied, obeying only an instinct
without any knowledge, "Fairly well for the season." Although young
Maranne was very red as he made this affirmation, M. Joyeuse accepted
his word at once. Only this idea of frequent communications between
the two households made him afraid for the secrecy of his position,
and from that time forward he cut himself off from what he used to
call his "artistic days." Moreover, the moment was approaching when he
would no longer be able to conceal his misfortune, the end of the
month arriving, complicated by the ending of the year.
Paris was already assuming the holiday appearance which it wears
during the last weeks of December. In the way of national or popular
rejoicing it had little left but that. The follies of the Carnival
died with Gavarni, the religious festivals with their peals of bells
which one scarcely hears amid the noise of the streets confine
themselves within their heavy church-doors, the 15th of August has
never been anything but the Saint Charles-the-Great of the barracks;
but Paris has maintained its observance of New Year's Day.
From the beginning of December an immense childishness begins to
permeate the town. You see hand-carts pass laden with gilded drums,
wooden horses, playthings by the dozen. In the industrial quarters,
from top to bottom of the five-storied houses, the old private
residences still standing in that low-lying district, where the
warehouses have such lofty ceilings and majestic double doors, the
nights are passed in the making up of gauze flowers and spangles, in
the gumming of labels upon satin-lined boxes, in sorting, marking,
packing, the thousand details of the toy, that great branch of
commerce on which Paris places the seal of its elegance. There is a
smell about of new wood, of fresh paint, glossy varnish, and, in the
dust of garrets, on the wretched stairways where the poor leave behind
them all the dirt through which they have passed, there lie shavings
of rosewood, scraps of satin and velvet, bits of tinsel, all the
/debris/ of the luxury whose end is to dazzle the eyes of children.
Then the shop-windows are decorated. Behind the panes of clear glass
the gilt of presentation-books rises like a glittering wave under the
gaslight, the stuffs of various and tempting colours display their
brittle and heavy folds, while the young ladies behind the counter,
with their hair dressed tapering to a point and with a ribbon beneath
their collar, tie up the article, little finger in the air, or fill
bags of moire into which the sweets fall like a rain of pearls.
But, over against this kind of well-to-do business, established in its
own house, warmed, withdrawn behind its rich shop-front, there is
installed the improvised commerce of those wooden huts, open to the
wind of the streets, of which the double row gives to the boulevards
the aspect of some foreign mall. It is in these that you find the true
interest and the poetry of New Year's gifts. Sumptuous in the district
of the Madeleine, well-to-do towards the Boulevard Saint-Denis, of
more "popular" order as you ascend to the Bastille, these little sheds
adapt themselves according to their public, calculate their chances of
success by the more or less well-lined purses of the passers-by. Among
these, there are set up portable tables, laden with trifling objects,
miracles of the Parisian trade that deals in such small things,
constructed out of nothing, frail and delicate, and which the wind of
fashion sometimes sweeps forward in its great rush by reason of their
very triviality. Finally, along the curbs of the footways, lost in the
defile of the carriage traffic which grazes their wandering path, the
orange-girls complete this peripatetic commerce, heaping up the sun-
coloured fruit beneath their lanterns of red paper, crying "La
Valence" amid the fog, the tumult, the excessive haste which Paris
displays at the ending of its year.
Ordinarily, M. Joyeuse was accustomed to make one of the busy crowd
which goes and comes with the jingle of money in its pocket and
parcels in every hand. He would wander about with Bonne Maman at his
side on the lookout for New Year's presents for his girls, stop before
the booths of the small dealers, who are accustomed to do much
business and excited by the appearance of the least important
customer, have based upon this short season hopes of extraordinary
profits. And there would be colloquies, reflections, an interminable
perplexity to know what to select in that little complex brain of his,
always ahead of the present instant and of the occupation of the
This year, alas! nothing of that kind. He wandered sadly through the
town in its rejoicing, time seeming to hang all the heavier for the
activity around him, jostled, hustled, as all are who stand
obstructing the way of active folk, his heart beating with a perpetual
fear, for Bonne Maman for some days past, in conversation with him at
table, had been making significant allusions with regard to the New
Year's presents. Consequently he avoided finding himself alone with
her and had forbidden her to come to meet him at the office at
closing-time. But in spite of all his efforts he knew the moment was
drawing near when concealment would be impossible and his grievous
secret be unveiled. Was, then, a very formidable person, Bonne Maman,
that M. Joyeuse should stand in such fear of her? By no means. A
little stern, that was all, with a pretty smile that instantly forgave
one. But M. Joyeuse was a coward, timid from his birth; twenty years
of housekeeping with a masterful wife, "a member of the nobility,"
having made him a slave for ever, like those convicts who, after their
imprisonment is over, have to undergo a period of surveillance. And
for him this meant all his life.
One evening the Joyeuse family was gathered in the little drawing-
room, last relic of its splendour, still containing two upholstered
chairs, many crochet decorations, a piano, two lamps crowned with
little green shades, and a what-not covered with bric-a-brac.
True family life exists in humble homes.
For the sake of economy, there was lighted for the whole household but
one fire and a single lamp, around which the occupations and
amusements of all were grouped. A fine big family lamp, whose old
painted shade--night scenes pierced with shining dots--had been the
astonishment and the joy of every one of those young girls in her
early childhood. Issuing softly from the shadow of the room, four
young heads were bent forward, fair or dark, smiling or intent, into
that intimate and warm circle of light which illumined them as far as
the eyes, seemed to feed the fire of their glance, to shelter them,
protect them, preserve them from the black cold blowing outside, from
phantoms, from snares, from miseries and terrors, from all the
sinister things that a winter night in Paris brings forth in the
remoteness of its quiet suburbs.
Thus, drawn close together in a small room at the top of the lonely
house, in the warmth, the security of their comfortable home, the
Joyeuse household seems like a nest right at the top of a lofty tree.
The girls sew, read, chat a little. A leap of the lamp-flame, a
crackling of fire, is what you may hear, with from time to time an
exclamation from M. Joyeuse, a little removed from his small circle,
lost in the shadow where he hides his anxious brow and all the
extravagance of his imagination. Just now he is imagining that in the
distress into which he finds himself driven beyond possibility of
escape, in that absolute necessity of confessing everything to his
children, this evening, at latest to-morrow, an unhoped-for succour
may come to him. Hemerlingue, seized with remorse, sends to him, as to
all those who took part in the work connected with the Tunis loan, his
December gratuity. A tall footman brings it: "On behalf of M. le
Baron." The visionary says those words aloud. The pretty faces turn
towards him; the girls laugh, move their chairs, and the poor fellow
awakes suddenly to reality.
Oh, how angry he is with himself now for his delay in confessing all,
for that false security which he has maintained around him and which
he will have to destroy at a blow. What need had he, too, to criticise
that Tunis loan? At this moment he even reproaches himself for not
having accepted a place in the Territorial Bank. Had he the right to
refuse? Ah, the sorry head of a family, without strength to keep or to
defend the happiness of his own! And, glancing at the pretty group
within the circle of the lamp-shade, whose reposeful aspect forms so
great a contrast with his own internal agitation, he is seized by a
remorse so violent for the weakness of his soul that his secret rises
to his lips, is about to escape him in a burst of sobs, when the ring
of a bell--no chimera, that--gives them all a start and arrests him at
the very moment when he was about to speak.
Whoever could it be, coming at this hour? They had lived in retirement
since the mother's death and saw almost nobody. Andre Maranne, when he
came down to spend a few minutes with them, tapped like a familiar
friend. Profound silence in the drawing-room, long colloquy on the
landing. Finally, the old servant--she had been in the family as long
as the lamp--showed in a young man, complete stranger, who stopped,
struck with admiration at the charming picture of the four darlings
gathered round the table. This made his entrance timid, rather
awkward. However, he explained clearly the object of his visit. He had
been referred to M. Joyeuse by an honest fellow of his acquaintance,
old Passajon, to take lessons in bookkeeping. One of his friends
happened to be engaged in large financial transactions in connection
with an important joint-stock company. He wished to be of service to
him in keeping an eye on the employment of the capital, the
straightforwardness of the operations; but he was a lawyer, little
familiar with financial methods, with the terms employed in banking.
Could not M. Joyeuse in the course of a few months, with three or four
lessons a week--
"Yes, indeed, sir, yes, indeed," stammered the father, quite overcome
by this unlooked-for piece of good luck. "Assuredly I can undertake,
in a few months, to qualify you for such auditing work. Where shall we
have our lessons?"
"Here, at your own house, if you are agreeable," said the young man,
"for I am anxious that no one should know that I am working at the
subject. But I shall be grieved if I always frighten everybody away as
I have this evening."
For, at the first words of the visitor, the four curly heads had
disappeared, with little whisperings, and with rustlings of skirts,
and the drawing-room looked very bare now that the big circle of white
light was empty.
Always quick to take offence, where his daughters were concerned, M.
Joyeuse replied that "the young girls were accustomed to retire early
every evening," and the words were spoken in a brief, dry tone which
very clearly signified: "Let us talk of our lessons, young man, if you
please." Days were then fixed, free hours in the evening.
As for the terms, they would be whatever monsieur desired.
Monsieur mentioned a sum.
The accountant became quite red. It was the amount he used to earn at
"Oh, no, that is too much."
But the other was no longer listening. He was seeking for words, as
though he had something very difficult to say, and suddenly, making up
his mind to it:
"Here is your first month's salary."
The young man insisted. He was a stranger. It was only fair that he
should pay in advance. Evidently, Passajon has told his secret.
M. Joyeuse understood, and in a low voice said, "Thank you, oh, thank
you," so deeply moved that words failed him. Life! it meant life,
several months of life, the time to turn round, to find another place.
His darlings would want for nothing. They would have their New Year's
presents. Oh, the mercy of Providence!
"Till Wednesday, then, M. Joyeuse."
"Till Wednesday, monsieur--"
"De Gery--Paul de Gery."
And they separated, both delighted, fascinated, the one by the
apparition of this unexpected saviour, the other by the adorable
picture of which he had only a glimpse, all those young girls grouped
round the table covered with books, exercise-books, and skeins of
wool, with an air of purity, of industrious honesty. This was a new
Paris for Paul de Gery, a courageous, home-like Paris, very different
from that which he already knew, a Paris of which the writers of
stories in the newspapers and the reporters never speak, and which
recalled to him his own country home, with an additional charm, that
charm which the struggle and tumult around lend to the tranquil,
"And your son, Jenkins. What are you doing with him? Why does one
never see him now at your house? He seemed a nice fellow."
As she spoke in that tone of disdainful bluntness which she almost
always used when speaking to the Irishman, Felicia was at work on the
bust of the Nabob which she had just commenced, posing her model,
laying down and taking up the boasting-tool, quickly wiping her
fingers with the little sponge, while the light and peace of a fine
Sunday afternoon fell on the top-light of the studio. Felicia
"received" every Sunday, if to receive were to leave her door open to
allow people to come in, go out, sit down for a moment, without
stirring from her work or even interrupting the course of a discussion
to welcome the new arrivals. They were artists, with refined heads and
luxuriant beards; here and there you might see among them white-haired
friends of Ruys, her father; then there were society men, bankers,
stock-brokers, and a few young men about town, come to see the
handsome girl rather than her sculpture, in order to be able to say at
the club in the evening, "I was at Felicia's to-day." Among them was
Paul de Gery, silent, absorbed in an admiration which each day sunk
into his heart a little more deeply, trying to understand the
beautiful sphinx draped in purple cashmere and ecru lace, who worked
away bravely amid her clay, a burnisher's apron reaching nearly to her
neck, allowing her small, proud head to emerge with those transparent
tones, those gleams of veiled radiance of which the sense, the
inspiration bring the blood to the cheek as they pass. Paul always
remembered what had been said of her in his presence, endeavoured to
form an opinion for himself, doubted, worried himself, and was
charmed, vowing to himself each time that he would come no more and
never missing a Sunday. A little woman with gray, powdered hair was
always there in the same place, her pink face like a pastel somewhat
worn by years, who, in the discrete light of a recess, smiled sweetly,
with her hands lying idly on her knees, motionless as a fakir.
Jenkins, amiable, with his open face, his black eyes, and his
apostolical manner, moved on from one group to another, liked and
known by all. He did not miss, either, one of Felicia's days; and,
indeed, he showed his patience in this, all the snubs of his hostess
both as artist and pretty woman being reserved for him alone. Without
appearing to notice them, with ever the same smiling, indulgent
serenity, he continued to pay his visits to the daughter of his old
Ruys, of the man whom he had so loved and tended to his last moments.
This time, however, the question which Felicia had just addressed to
him respecting his son appeared extremely disagreeable to him, and it
was with a frown and a real expression of annoyance that he replied:
"Ma foi! I know no more than yourself what he is doing. He has quite
deserted us. He was bored at home. He cares only for his Bohemia."
Felicia gave a jump that made them all start, and with flashing eyes
and nostrils that quivered, said:
"That is too absurd. Ah, now, come, Jenkins. What do you mean by
Bohemia? A charming word, by-the-bye, and one that ought to recall
long days of wandering in the sun, halts in woody nooks, all the
freshness of fruits gathered by the open road. But since you have made
a reproach of the name, to whom do you apply it? To a few poor devils
with long hair, in love with liberty in rags, who starve to death in a
fifth-floor garret, or seek rhymes under tiles through which the rain
filters; to those madmen, growing more and more rare, who, from horror
of the customary, the traditional, the stupidity of life, have put
their feet together and made a jump into freedom? Come, that is too
old a story. It is the Bohemia of Murger, with the workhouse at the
end, terror of children, boon of parents, Red Riding-Hood eaten by the
wolf. It was worn out a long time ago, that story. Nowadays, you know
well that artists are the most regular people in their habits on
earth, that they earn money, pay their debts, and contrive to look
like the first man you may meet on the street. The true Bohemians
exist, however; they are the backbone of our society; but it is in
your own world especially that they are to be found. /Parbleu!/ They
bear no external stamp and nobody distrusts them; but, so far as
uncertainty, want of substantial foundation in their lives is
concerned, they have nothing to wish for from those whom they call so
disdainfully 'irregulars.' Ah! if we knew how much turpitude, what
fantastic or abominable stories, a black evening-coat, the most
correct of your hideous modern garments, can mask. Why, see, Jenkins,
the other evening at your house I was amusing myself by counting them
--all these society adventurers--"
The little old lady, pink and powdered, put in gently from her place:
"Felicia, take care!"
But she continued, without listening:
"What do you call Monpavon, doctor? And Bois l'Hery? And de Mora
himself? And--" She was going to say "and the Nabob?" but stopped
"And how many others! Oh, truly, you may well speak of Bohemia with
contempt. But your fashionable doctor's clientele, oh sublime Jenkins,
consists of that very thing alone. The Bohemia of commerce, of
finance, of politics; unclassed people, shady people of all castes,
and the higher one ascends the more you find of them, because rank
gives impunity and wealth can pay for rude silence."
She spoke with a hard tone, greatly excited, with lip curled by a
savage disdain. The doctor forced a laugh and assumed a light,
condescending tone, repeating: "Ah, feather-brain, feather-brain!" And
his glance, anxious and beseeching, sought the Nabob, as though to
demand his pardon for all these paradoxical impertinences.
But Jansoulet, far from appearing vexed, was so proud of posing to
this handsome artist, so appreciative of the honour that was being
done him, that he nodded his head approvingly.
"She is right, Jenkins," said he at last, "she is right. It is we who
are the true Bohemia. Take me, for example; take Hemerlingue, two of
the men who handle the most money in Paris. When I think of the point
from which we started, of all the trades through which we have made
our way. Hemerlingue, once keeper of a regimental canteen. I, who have
carried sacks of wheat in the docks of Marseilles for my living. And
the strokes of luck by which our fortunes have been built up--as all
fortunes, moreover, in these times are built up. Go to the Bourse
between three and five. But, pardon, mademoiselle, see, through my
absurd habit of gesticulating when I speak, I have lost the pose.
Come, is this right?"
"It is useless," said Felicia. A true daughter of an artist, of a
genial and dissolute artist, thoroughly in the romantic tradition, as