Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 7
Etext prepared by Dagny, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Ellen Marriage
Towards three o'clock in the afternoon of one October day in the year
1844, a man of sixty or thereabouts, whom anybody might have credited
with more than his actual age, was walking along the Boulevard des
Italiens with his head bent down, as if he were tracking some one.
There was a smug expression about the mouth--he looked like a merchant
who has just done a good stroke of business, or a bachelor emerging
from a boudoir in the best of humors with himself; and in Paris this
is the highest degree of self-satisfaction ever registered by a human
As soon as the elderly person appeared in the distance, a smile broke
out over the faces of the frequenters of the boulevard, who daily,
from their chairs, watch the passers-by, and indulge in the agreeable
pastime of analyzing them. That smile is peculiar to Parisians; it
says so many things--ironical, quizzical, pitying; but nothing save
the rarest of human curiosities can summon that look of interest to
the faces of Parisians, sated as they are with every possible sight.
A saying recorded of Hyacinthe, an actor celebrated for his repartees,
will explain the archaeological value of the old gentleman, and the
smile repeated like an echo by all eyes. Somebody once asked Hyacinthe
where the hats were made that set the house in a roar as soon as he
appeared. "I don't have them made," he said; "I keep them!" So also
among the million actors who make up the great troupe of Paris, there
are unconscious Hyacinthes who "keep" all the absurd freaks of
vanished fashions upon their backs; and the apparition of some bygone
decade will startle you into laughter as you walk the streets in
bitterness of soul over the treason of one who was your friend in the
In some respects the passer-by adhered so faithfully to the fashions
of the year 1806, that he was not so much a burlesque caricature as a
reproduction of the Empire period. To an observer, accuracy of detail
in a revival of this sort is extremely valuable, but accuracy of
detail, to be properly appreciated, demands the critical attention of
an expert /flaneur/; while the man in the street who raises a laugh as
soon as he comes in sight is bound to be one of those outrageous
exhibitions which stare you in the face, as the saying goes, and
produce the kind of effect which an actor tries to secure for the
success of his entry. The elderly person, a thin, spare man, wore a
nut-brown spencer over a coat of uncertain green, with white metal
buttons. A man in a spencer in the year 1844! it was as if Napoleon
himself had vouchsafed to come to life again for a couple of hours.
The spencer, as its name indicates, was the invention of an English
lord, vain, doubtless, of his handsome shape. Some time before the
Peace of Amiens, this nobleman solved the problem of covering the bust
without destroying the outlines of the figure and encumbering the
person with the hideous boxcoat, now finishing its career on the backs
of aged hackney cabmen; but, elegant figures being in the minority,
the success of the spencer was short-lived in France, English though
At the sight of the spencer, men of forty or fifty mentally invested
the wearer with top-boots, pistachio-colored kerseymere small clothes
adorned with a knot of ribbon; and beheld themselves in the costumes
of their youth. Elderly ladies thought of former conquests; but the
younger men were asking each other why the aged Alcibiades had cut off
the skirts of his overcoat. The rest of the costume was so much in
keeping with the spencer, that you would not have hesitated to call
the wearer "an Empire man," just as you call a certain kind of
furniture "Empire furniture;" yet the newcomer only symbolized the
Empire for those who had known that great and magnificent epoch at any
rate /de visu/, for a certain accuracy of memory was needed for the
full appreciation of the costume, and even now the Empire is so far
away that not every one of us can picture it in its Gallo-Grecian
The stranger's hat, for instance, tipped to the back of his head so as
to leave almost the whole forehead bare, recalled a certain jaunty
air, with which civilians and officials attempted to swagger it with
military men; but the hat itself was a shocking specimen of the
fifteen-franc variety. Constant friction with a pair of enormous ears
had left their marks which no brush could efface from the underside of
the brim; the silk tissue (as usual) fitted badly over the cardboard
foundation, and hung in wrinkles here and there; and some skin-disease
(apparently) had attacked the nap in spite of the hand which rubbed it
down of a morning.
Beneath the hat, which seemed ready to drop off at any moment, lay an
expanse of countenance grotesque and droll, as the faces which the
Chinese alone of all people can imagine for their quaint curiosities.
The broad visage was as full of holes as a colander, honeycombed with
the shadows of the dints, hollowed out like a Roman mask. It set all
the laws of anatomy at defiance. Close inspection failed to detect the
substructure. Where you expected to find a bone, you discovered a
layer of cartilaginous tissue, and the hollows of an ordinary human
face were here filled out with flabby bosses. A pair of gray eyes,
red-rimmed and lashless, looked forlornly out of a countenance which
was flattened something after the fashion of a pumpkin, and surmounted
by a Don Quixote nose that rose out of it like a monolith above a
plain. It was the kind of nose, as Cervantes must surely have
explained somewhere, which denotes an inborn enthusiasm for all things
great, a tendency which is apt to degenerate into credulity.
And yet, though the man's ugliness was something almost ludicrous, it
aroused not the slightest inclination to laugh. The exceeding
melancholy which found an outlet in the poor man's faded eyes reached
the mocker himself and froze the gibes on his lips; for all at once
the thought arose that this was a human creature to whom Nature had
forbidden any expression of love or tenderness, since such expression
could only be painful or ridiculous to the woman he loved. In the
presence of such misfortune a Frenchman is silent; to him it seems the
most cruel of all afflictions--to be unable to please!
The man so ill-favored was dressed after the fashion of shabby
gentility, a fashion which the rich not seldom try to copy. He wore
low shoes beneath gaiters of the pattern worn by the Imperial Guard,
doubtless for the sake of economy, because they kept the socks clean.
The rusty tinge of his black breeches, like the cut and the white or
shiny line of the creases, assigned the date of the purchase some
three years back. The roomy garments failed to disguise the lean
proportions of the wearer, due apparently rather to constitution than
to a Pythagorean regimen, for the worthy man was endowed with thick
lips and a sensual mouth; and when he smiled, displayed a set of white
teeth which would have done credit to a shark.
A shawl-waistcoat, likewise of black cloth, was supplemented by a
white under-waistcoat, and yet again beneath this gleamed the edge of
a red knitted under-jacket, to put you in mind of Garat's five
waistcoats. A huge white muslin stock with a conspicuous bow, invented
by some exquisite to charm "the charming sex" in 1809, projected so
far above the wearer's chin that the lower part of his face was lost,
as it were, in a muslin abyss. A silk watch-guard, plaited to resemble
the keepsakes made of hair, meandered down the shirt front and secured
his watch from the improbable theft. The greenish coat, though older
by some three years than the breeches, was remarkably neat; the black
velvet collar and shining metal buttons, recently renewed, told of
carefulness which descended even to trifles.
The particular manner of fixing the hat on the occiput, the triple
waistcoat, the vast cravat engulfing the chin, the gaiters, the metal
buttons on the greenish coat,--all these reminiscences of Imperial
fashions were blended with a sort of afterwaft and lingering perfume
of the coquetry of the Incroyable--with an indescribable finical
something in the folds of the garments, a certain air of stiffness and
correctness in the demeanor that smacked of the school of David, that
recalled Jacob's spindle-legged furniture.
At first sight, moreover, you set him down either for the gentleman by
birth fallen a victim to some degrading habit, or for the man of small
independent means whose expenses are calculated to such a nicety that
the breakage of a windowpane, a rent in a coat, or a visit from the
philanthropic pest who asks you for subscriptions to a charity,
absorbs the whole of a month's little surplus of pocket-money. If you
had seen him that afternoon, you would have wondered how that
grotesque face came to be lighted up with a smile; usually, surely, it
must have worn the dispirited, passive look of the obscure toiler
condemned to labor without ceasing for the barest necessaries of life.
Yet when you noticed that the odd-looking old man was carrying some
object (evidently precious) in his right hand with a mother's care;
concealing it under the skirts of his coat to keep it from collisions
in the crowd, and still more, when you remarked that important air
always assumed by an idler when intrusted with a commission, you would
have suspected him of recovering some piece of lost property, some
modern equivalent of the marquise's poodle; you would have recognized
the assiduous gallantry of the "man of the Empire" returning in
triumph from his mission to some charming woman of sixty, reluctant as
yet to dispense with the daily visit of her elderly /attentif/.
In Paris only among great cities will you see such spectacles as this;
for of her boulevards Paris makes a stage where a never-ending drama
is played gratuitously by the French nation in the interests of Art.
In spite of the rashly assumed spencer, you would scarcely have
thought, after a glance at the contours of the man's bony frame, that
this was an artist--that conventional type which is privileged, in
something of the same way as a Paris gamin, to represent riotous
living to the bourgeois and philistine mind, the most /mirific/
joviality, in short (to use the old Rabelaisian word newly taken into
use). Yet this elderly person had once taken the medal and the
traveling scholarship; he had composed the first cantata crowned by
the Institut at the time of the re-establishment of the Academie de
Rome; he was M. Sylvain Pons, in fact--M. Sylvain Pons, whose name
appears on the covers of well-known sentimental songs trilled by our
mothers, to say nothing of a couple of operas, played in 1815 and
1816, and divers unpublished scores. The worthy soul was now ending
his days as the conductor of an orchestra in a boulevard theatre, and
a music master in several young ladies' boarding-schools, a post for
which his face particularly recommended him. He was entirely dependent
upon his earnings. Running about to give private lessons at his age!--
Think of it. How many a mystery lies in that unromantic situation!
But the last man to wear the spencer carried something about him
besides his Empire Associations; a warning and a lesson was written
large over that triple waistcoat. Wherever he went, he exhibited,
without fee or charge, one of the many victims of the fatal system of
competition which still prevails in France in spite of a century of
trial without result; for Poisson de Marigny, brother of the Pompadour
and Director of Fine Arts, somewhere about 1746 invented this method
of applying pressure to the brain. That was a hundred years ago. Try
if you can count upon your fingers the men of genius among the
prizemen of those hundred years.
In the first place, no deliberate effort of schoolmaster or
administrator can replace the miracles of chance which produce great
men: of all the mysteries of generation, this most defies the
ambitious modern scientific investigator. In the second--the ancient
Egyptians (we are told) invented incubator-stoves for hatching eggs;
what would be thought of Egyptians who should neglect to fill the
beaks of the callow fledglings? Yet this is precisely what France is
doing. She does her utmost to produce artists by the artificial heat
of competitive examination; but, the sculptor, painter, engraver, or
musician once turned out by this mechanical process, she no more
troubles herself about them and their fate than the dandy cares for
yesterday's flower in his buttonhole. And so it happens that the
really great man is a Greuze, a Watteau, a Felicien David, a Pagnesi,
a Gericault, a Decamps, an Auber, a David d'Angers, an Eugene
Delacroix, or a Meissonier--artists who take but little heed of
/grande prix/, and spring up in the open field under the rays of that
invisible sun called Vocation.
To resume. The Government sent Sylvain Pons to Rome to make a great
musician of himself; and in Rome Sylvain Pons acquired a taste for the
antique and works of art. He became an admirable judge of those
masterpieces of the brain and hand which are summed up by the useful
neologism "bric-a-brac;" and when the child of Euterpe returned to
Paris somewhere about the year 1810, it was in the character of a
rabid collector, loaded with pictures, statuettes, frames, wood-
carving, ivories, enamels, porcelains, and the like. He had sunk the
greater part of his patrimony, not so much in the purchases themselves
as on the expenses of transit; and every penny inherited from his
mother had been spent in the course of a three-years' travel in Italy
after the residence in Rome came to an end. He had seen Venice, Milan,
Florence, Bologna, and Naples leisurely, as he wished to see them, as
a dreamer of dreams, and a philosopher; careless of the future, for an
artist looks to his talent for support as the /fille de joie/ counts
upon her beauty.
All through those splendid years of travel Pons was as happy as was
possible to a man with a great soul, a sensitive nature, and a face so
ugly that any "success with the fair" (to use the stereotyped formula
of 1809) was out of the question; the realities of life always fell
short of the ideals which Pons created for himself; the world without
was not in tune with the soul within, but Pons had made up his mind to
the dissonance. Doubtless the sense of beauty that he had kept pure
and living in his inmost soul was the spring from which the delicate,
graceful, and ingenious music flowed and won him reputation between
1810 and 1814.
Every reputation founded upon the fashion or the fancy of the hour, or
upon the short-lived follies of Paris, produces its Pons. No place in
the world is so inexorable in great things; no city of the globe so
disdainfully indulgent in small. Pons' notes were drowned before long
in floods of German harmony and the music of Rossini; and if in 1824
he was known as an agreeable musician, a composer of various drawing-
room melodies, judge if he was likely to be famous in 183l! In 1844,
the year in which the single drama of this obscure life began, Sylvain
Pons was of no more value than an antediluvian semiquaver; dealers in
music had never heard of his name, though he was still composing, on
scanty pay, for his own orchestra or for neighboring theatres.
And yet, the worthy man did justice to the great masters of our day; a
masterpiece finely rendered brought tears to his eyes; but his
religion never bordered on mania, as in the case of Hoffmann's
Kreislers; he kept his enthusiasm to himself; his delight, like the
paradise reached by opium or hashish, lay within his own soul.
The gift of admiration, of comprehension, the single faculty by which
the ordinary man becomes the brother of the poet, is rare in the city
of Paris, that inn whither all ideas, like travelers, come to stay for
awhile; so rare is it, that Pons surely deserves our respectful
esteem. His personal failure may seem anomalous, but he frankly
admitted that he was weak in harmony. He had neglected the study of
counterpoint; there was a time when he might have begun his studies
afresh and held his own among modern composers, when he might have
been, not certainly a Rossini, but a Herold. But he was alarmed by the
intricacies of modern orchestration; and at length, in the pleasures
of collecting, he found such ever-renewed compensation for his
failure, that if he had been made to choose between his curiosities
and the fame of Rossini--will it be believed?--Pons would have
pronounced for his beloved collection.
Pons was of the opinion of Chenavard, the print-collector, who laid it
down as an axiom--that you only fully enjoy the pleasure of looking at
your Ruysdael, Hobbema, Holbein, Raphael, Murillo, Greuze, Sebastian
del Piombo, Giorgione, Albrecht Durer, or what not, when you have paid
less than sixty francs for your picture. Pons never gave more than a
hundred francs for any purchase. If he laid out as much as fifty
francs, he was careful to assure himself beforehand that the object
was worth three thousand. The most beautiful thing in the world, if it
cost three hundred francs, did not exist for Pons. Rare had been his
bargains; but he possessed the three qualifications for success--a
stag's legs, an idler's disregard of time, and the patience of a Jew.
This system, carried out for forty years, in Rome or Paris alike, had
borne its fruits. Since Pons returned from Italy, he had regularly
spent about two thousand francs a year upon a collection of
masterpieces of every sort and description, a collection hidden away
from all eyes but his own; and now his catalogue had reached the
incredible number of 1907. Wandering about Paris between 1811 and
1816, he had picked up many a treasure for ten francs, which would
fetch a thousand or twelve hundred to-day. Some forty-five thousand
canvases change hands annually in Paris picture sales, and these Pons
had sifted through year by year. Pons had Sevres porcelain, /pate
tendre/, bought of Auvergnats, those satellites of the Black Band who
sacked chateaux and carried off the marvels of Pompadour France in
their tumbril carts; he had, in fact, collected the drifted wreck of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; he recognized the genius of
the French school, and discerned the merit of the Lepautres and
Lavallee-Poussins and the rest of the great obscure creators of the
Genre Louis Quinze and the Genre Louis Seize. Our modern craftsmen now
draw without acknowledgment from them, pore incessantly over the
treasures of the Cabinet des Estampes, borrow adroitly, and give out
their /pastiches/ for new inventions. Pons had obtained many a piece
by exchange, and therein lies the ineffable joy of the collector. The
joy of buying bric-a-brac is a secondary delight; in the give-and-take
of barter lies the joy of joys. Pons had begun by collecting snuff-
boxes and miniatures; his name was unknown in bric-a-bracology, for he
seldom showed himself in salesrooms or in the shops of well-known
dealers; Pons was not aware that his treasures had any commercial
The late lamented Dusommerard tried his best to gain Pons' confidence,
but the prince of bric-a-brac died before he could gain an entrance to
the Pons museum, the one private collection which could compare with
the famous Sauvageot museum. Pons and M. Sauvageot indeed resembled
each other in more ways than one. M. Sauvageot, like Pons, was a
musician; he was likewise a comparatively poor man, and he had
collected his bric-a-brac in much the same way, with the same love of
art, the same hatred of rich capitalists with well-known names who
collect for the sake of running up prices as cleverly as possible.
There was yet another point of resemblance between the pair; Pons,
like his rival competitor and antagonist, felt in his heart an
insatiable craving after specimens of the craftsman's skill and
miracles of workmanship; he loved them as a man might love a fair
mistress; an auction in the salerooms in the Rue des Jeuneurs, with
its accompaniments of hammer strokes and brokers' men, was a crime of
/lese-bric-a-brac/ in Pons' eyes. Pons' museum was for his own delight
at every hour; for the soul created to know and feel all the beauty of
a masterpiece has this in common with the lover--to-day's joy is as
great as the joy of yesterday; possession never palls; and a
masterpiece, happily, never grows old. So the object that he held in
his hand with such fatherly care could only be a "find," carried off
with what affection amateurs alone know!
After the first outlines of this biographical sketch, every one will
cry at once, "Why! this is the happiest man on earth, in spite of his
ugliness!" And, in truth, no spleen, no dullness can resist the
counter-irritant supplied by a "craze," the intellectual moxa of a
hobby. You who can no longer drink of "the cup of pleasure," as it has
been called through all ages, try to collect something, no matter what
(people have been known to collect placards), so shall you receive the
small change for the gold ingot of happiness. Have you a hobby? You
have transferred pleasure to the plane of ideas. And yet, you need not
envy the worthy Pons; such envy, like all kindred sentiments, would be
founded upon a misapprehension.
With a nature so sensitive, with a soul that lived by tireless
admiration of the magnificent achievements of art, of the high rivalry
between human toil and the work of Nature--Pons was a slave to that
one of the Seven Deadly Sins with which God surely will deal least
hardly; Pons was a glutton. A narrow income, combined with a passion
for bric-a-brac, condemned him to a regimen so abhorrent to a
discriminating palate, that, bachelor as he was, he had cut the knot
of the problem by dining out every day.
Now, in the time of the Empire, celebrities were more sought after
than at present, perhaps because there were so few of them, perhaps
because they made little or no political pretension. In those days,
besides, you could set up for a poet, a musician, or a painter, with
so little expense. Pons, being regarded as the probable rival of
Nicolo, Paer, and Berton, used to receive so many invitations, that he
was forced to keep a list of engagements, much as barristers note down
the cases for which they are retained. And Pons behaved like an
artist. He presented his amphitryons with copies of his songs, he
"obliged" at the pianoforte, he brought them orders for boxes at the
Feydeau, his own theatre, he organized concerts, he was not above
taking the fiddle himself sometimes in a relation's house, and getting
up a little impromptu dance. In those days, all the handsome men in
France were away at the wars exchanging sabre-cuts with the handsome
men of the Coalition. Pons was said to be, not ugly, but "peculiar-
looking," after the grand rule laid down by Moliere in Eliante's
famous couplets; but if he sometimes heard himself described as a
"charming man" (after he had done some fair lady a service), his good
fortune went no further than words.
It was between the years 1810 and 1816 that Pons contracted the
unlucky habit of dining out; he grew accustomed to see his hosts
taking pains over the dinner, procuring the first and best of
everything, bringing out their choicest vintages, seeing carefully to
the dessert, the coffee, the liqueurs, giving him of their best, in
short; the best, moreover, of those times of the Empire when Paris was
glutted with kings and queens and princes, and many a private house
emulated royal splendours.
People used to play at Royalty then as they play nowadays at
parliament, creating a whole host of societies with presidents, vice-
presidents, secretaries and what not--agricultural societies,
industrial societies, societies for the promotion of sericulture,
viticulture, the growth of flax, and so forth. Some have even gone so
far as to look about them for social evils in order to start a society
to cure them.
But to return to Pons. A stomach thus educated is sure to react upon
the owner's moral fibre; the demoralization of the man varies directly
with his progress in culinary sapience. Voluptuousness, lurking in
every secret recess of the heart, lays down the law therein. Honor and
resolution are battered in breach. The tyranny of the palate has never
been described; as a necessity of life it escapes the criticism of
literature; yet no one imagines how many have been ruined by the
table. The luxury of the table is indeed, in this sense, the
courtesan's one competitor in Paris, besides representing in a manner
the credit side in another account, where she figures as the
With Pons' decline and fall as an artist came his simultaneous
transformation from invited guest to parasite and hanger-on; he could
not bring himself to quit dinners so excellently served for the
Spartan broth of a two-franc ordinary. Alas! alas! a shudder ran
through him at the mere thought of the great sacrifices which
independence required him to make. He felt that he was capable of
sinking to even lower depths for the sake of good living, if there
were no other way of enjoying the first and best of everything, of
guzzling (vulgar but expressive word) nice little dishes carefully
prepared. Pons lived like a bird, pilfering his meal, flying away when
he had taken his fill, singing a few notes by way of return; he took a
certain pleasure in the thought that he lived at the expense of
society, which asked of him--what but the trifling toll of grimaces?
Like all confirmed bachelors, who hold their lodgings in horror, and
live as much as possible in other people's houses, Pons was accustomed
to the formulas and facial contortions which do duty for feeling in
the world; he used compliments as small change; and as far as others
were concerned, he was satisfied with the labels they bore, and never
plunged a too-curious hand into the sack.
This not intolerable phase lasted for another ten years. Such years!
Pons' life was closing with a rainy autumn. All through those years he
contrived to dine without expense by making himself necessary in the
houses which he frequented. He took the first step in the downward
path by undertaking a host of small commissions; many and many a time
Pons ran on errands instead of the porter or the servant; many a
purchase he made for his entertainers. He became a kind of harmless,
well-meaning spy, sent by one family into another; but he gained no
credit with those for whom he trudged about, and so often sacrificed
"Pons is a bachelor," said they; "he is at a loss to know what to do
with his time; he is only too glad to trot about for us.--What else
would he do?"
Very soon the cold which old age spreads about itself began to set in;
the communicable cold which sensibly lowers the social temperature,
especially if the old man is ugly and poor. Old and ugly and poor--is
not this to be thrice old? Pons' winter had begun, the winter which
brings the reddened nose, and frost-nipped cheeks, and the numbed
fingers, numb in how many ways!
Invitations very seldom came for Pons now. So far from seeking the
society of the parasite, every family accepted him much as they
accepted the taxes; they valued nothing that Pons could do for them;
real services from Pons counted for nought. The family circles in
which the worthy artist revolved had no respect for art or letters;
they went down on their knees to practical results; they valued
nothing but the fortune or social position acquired since the year
1830. The bourgeoisie is afraid of intellect and genius, but Pons'
spirit and manner were not haughty enough to overawe his relations,
and naturally he had come at last to be accounted less than nothing
with them, though he was not altogether despised.
He had suffered acutely among them, but, like all timid creatures, he
kept silence as to his pain; and so by degrees schooled himself to
hide his feelings, and learned to take sanctuary in his inmost self.
Many superficial persons interpret this conduct by the short word
"selfishness;" and, indeed, the resemblance between the egoist and the
solitary human creature is strong enough to seem to justify the
harsher verdict; and this is especially true in Paris, where nobody
observes others closely, where all things pass swift as waves, and
last as little as a Ministry.
So Cousin Pons was accused of selfishness (behind his back); and if
the world accuses any one, it usually finds him guilty and condemns
him into the bargain. Pons bowed to the decision. Do any of us know
how such a timid creature is cast down by an unjust judgment? Who will
ever paint all that the timid suffer? This state of things, now
growing daily worse, explains the sad expression on the poor old
musician's face; he lived by capitulations of which he was ashamed.
Every time we sin against self-respect at the bidding of the ruling
passion, we rivet its hold upon us; the more that passion requires of
us, the stronger it grows, every sacrifice increasing, as it were, the
value of a satisfaction for which so much has been given up, till the
negative sum-total of renouncements looms very large in a man's
imagination. Pons, for instance, after enduring the insolently
patronizing looks of some bourgeois, incased in buckram of stupidity,
sipped his glass of port or finished his quail with breadcrumbs, and
relished something of the savor of revenge, besides. "It is not too
dear at the price!" he said to himself.
After all, in the eyes of the moralist, there were extenuating
circumstances in Pons' case. Man only lives, in fact, by some personal
satisfaction. The passionless, perfectly righteous man is not human;
he is a monster, an angel wanting wings. The angel of Christian
mythology has nothing but a head. On earth, the righteous person is
the sufficiently tiresome Grandison, for whom the very Venus of the
Crosswords is sexless.
Setting aside one or two commonplace adventures in Italy, in which
probably the climate accounted for his success, no woman had ever
smiled upon Pons. Plenty of men are doomed to this fate. Pons was an
abnormal birth; the child of parents well stricken in years, he bore
the stigma of his untimely genesis; his cadaverous complexion might
have been contracted in the flask of spirit-of-wine in which science
preserves some extraordinary foetus. Artist though he was, with his
tender, dreamy, sensitive soul, he was forced to accept the character
which belonged to his face; it was hopeless to think of love, and he
remained a bachelor, not so much of choice as of necessity. Then
Gluttony, the sin of the continent monk, beckoned to Pons; he rushed
upon temptation, as he had thrown his whole soul into the adoration of
art and the cult of music. Good cheer and bric-a-brac gave him the
small change for the love which could spend itself in no other way. As
for music, it was his profession, and where will you find the man who
is in love with his means of earning a livelihood? For it is with a
profession as with marriage: in the long length you are sensible of
nothing but the drawbacks.
Brillat-Savarin has deliberately set himself to justify the
gastronome, but perhaps even he has not dwelt sufficiently on the
reality of the pleasures of the table. The demands of digestion upon
the human economy produce an internal wrestling-bout of human forces
which rivals the highest degree of amorous pleasure. The gastronome is
conscious of an expenditure of vital power, an expenditure so vast
that the brain is atrophied (as it were), that a second brain, located
in the diaphragm, may come into play, and the suspension of all the
faculties is in itself a kind of intoxication. A boa constrictor
gorged with an ox is so stupid with excess that the creature is easily
killed. What man, on the wrong side of forty, is rash enough to work
after dinner? And remark in the same connection, that all great men
have been moderate eaters. The exhilarating effect of the wing of a
chicken upon invalids recovering from serious illness, and long
confined to a stinted and carefully chosen diet, has been frequently
remarked. The sober Pons, whose whole enjoyment was concentrated in
the exercise of his digestive organs, was in the position of chronic
convalescence; he looked to his dinner to give him the utmost degree
of pleasurable sensation, and hitherto he had procured such sensations
daily. Who dares to bid farewell to old habit? Many a man on the brink
of suicide has been plucked back on the threshold of death by the
thought of the cafe where he plays his nightly game of dominoes.
In the year 1835, chance avenged Pons for the indifference of
womankind by finding him a prop for his declining years, as the saying
goes; and he, who had been old from his cradle, found a support in
friendship. Pons took to himself the only life-partner permitted to
him among his kind--an old man and a fellow-musician.
But for La Fontaine's fable, /Les Deux Amis/, this sketch should have
borne the title of /The Two Friends/; but to take the name of this
divine story would surely be a deed of violence, a profanation from
which every true man of letters would shrink. The title ought to be
borne alone and for ever by the fabulist's masterpiece, the revelation
of his soul, and the record of his dreams; those three words were set
once and for ever by the poet at the head of a page which is his by a
sacred right of ownership; for it is a shrine before which all
generations, all over the world, will kneel so long as the art of
printing shall endure.
Pons' friend gave lessons on the pianoforte. They met and struck up an
acquaintance in 1834, one prize day at a boarding-school; and so
congenial were their ways of thinking and living, that Pons used to
say that he had found his friend too late for his happiness. Never,
perhaps, did two souls, so much alike, find each other in the great
ocean of humanity which flowed forth, in disobedience to the will of
God, from its source in the Garden of Eden. Before very long the two
musicians could not live without each other. Confidences were
exchanged, and in a week's time they were like brothers. Schmucke (for
that was his name) had not believed that such a man as Pons existed,
nor had Pons imagined that a Schmucke was possible. Here already you
have a sufficient description of the good couple; but it is not every
mind that takes kindly to the concise synthetic method, and a certain
amount of demonstration is necessary if the credulous are to accept
This pianist, like all other pianists, was a German. A German, like
the eminent Liszt and the great Mendelssohn, and Steibelt, and Dussek,
and Meyer, and Mozart, and Doelher, and Thalberg, and Dreschok, and
Hiller, and Leopold Hertz, Woertz, Karr, Wolff, Pixis, and Clara Wieck
--and all Germans, generally speaking. Schmucke was a great musical
composer doomed to remain a music master, so utterly did his character
lack the audacity which a musical genius needs if he is to push his
way to the front. A German's naivete does not invariably last him
through his life; in some cases it fails after a certain age; and even
as a cultivator of the soil brings water from afar by means of
irrigation channels, so, from the springs of his youth, does the
Teuton draw the simplicity which disarms suspicion--the perennial
supplies with which he fertilizes his labors in every field of
science, art, or commerce. A crafty Frenchman here and there will turn
a Parisian tradesman's stupidity to good account in the same way. But
Schmucke had kept his child's simplicity much as Pons continued to
wear his relics of the Empire--all unsuspectingly. The true and noble-
hearted German was at once the theatre and the audience, making music
within himself for himself alone. In this city of Paris he lived as a
nightingale lives among the thickets; and for twenty years he sang on,
mateless, till he met with a second self in Pons. [See /Une Fille
Both Pons and Schmucke were abundantly given, both by heart and
disposition, to the peculiarly German sentimentality which shows
itself alike in childlike ways--in a passion for flowers, in that form
of nature-worship which prompts a German to plant his garden-beds with
big glass globes for the sake of seeing miniature pictures of the view
which he can behold about him of a natural size; in the inquiring turn
of mind that sets a learned Teuton trudging three hundred miles in his
gaiters in search of a fact which smiles up in his face from a wayside
spring, or lurks laughing under the jessamine leaves in the back-yard;
or (to take a final instance) in the German craving to endow every
least detail in creation with a spiritual significance, a craving
which produces sometimes Hoffmann's tipsiness in type, sometimes the
folios with which Germany hedges the simplest questions round about,
lest haply any fool should fall into her intellectual excavations;
and, indeed, if you fathom these abysses, you find nothing but a
German at the bottom.
Both friends were Catholics. They went to Mass and performed the
duties of religion together; and, like children, found nothing to tell
their confessors. It was their firm belief that music is to feeling
and thought as thought and feeling are to speech; and of their
converse on this system there was no end. Each made response to the
other in orgies of sound, demonstrating their convictions, each for
each, like lovers.
Schmucke was as absent-minded as Pons was wide-awake. Pons was a
collector, Schmucke a dreamer of dreams; Schmucke was a student of
beauty seen by the soul, Pons a preserver of material beauty. Pons
would catch sight of a china cup and buy it in the time that Schmucke
took to blow his nose, wondering the while within himself whether the
musical phrase that was ringing in his brain--the /motif/ from Rossini
or Bellini or Beethoven or Mozart--had its origin or its counterpart
in the world of human thought and emotion. Schmucke's economies were
controlled by an absent mind, Pons was a spendthrift through passion,
and for both the result was the same--they had not a penny on Saint
Perhaps Pons would have given way under his troubles if it had not
been for this friendship; but life became bearable when he found some
one to whom he could pour out his heart. The first time that he
breathed a word of his difficulties, the good German had advised him
to live as he himself did, and eat bread and cheese at home sooner
than dine abroad at such a cost. Alas! Pons did not dare to confess
that heart and stomach were at war within him, that he could digest
affronts which pained his heart, and, cost what it might, a good
dinner that satisfied his palate was a necessity to him, even as your
gay Lothario must have a mistress to tease.
In time Schmucke understood; not just at once, for he was too much of
a Teuton to possess that gift of swift perception in which the French
rejoice; Schmucke understood and loved poor Pons the better. Nothing
so fortifies a friendship as a belief on the part of one friend that
he is superior to the other. An angel could not have found a word to
say to Schmucke rubbing his hands over the discovery of the hold that
gluttony had gained over Pons. Indeed, the good German adorned their
breakfast-table next morning with delicacies of which he went in
search himself; and every day he was careful to provide something new
for his friend, for they always breakfasted together at home.
If any one imagines that the pair could not escape ridicule in Paris,
where nothing is respected, he cannot know that city. When Schmucke
and Pons united their riches and poverty, they hit upon the economical
expedient of lodging together, each paying half the rent of the very
unequally divided second-floor of a house in the Rue de Normandie in
the Marais. And as it often happened that they left home together and
walked side by side along their beat of boulevard, the idlers of the
quarter dubbed them "the pair of nutcrackers," a nickname which makes
any portrait of Schmucke quite superfluous, for he was to Pons as the
famous statue of the Nurse of Niobe in the Vatican is to the Tribune
Mme. Cibot, portress of the house in the Rue de Normandie, was the
pivot on which the domestic life of the nutcrackers turned; but Mme.
Cibot plays so large a part in the drama which grew out of their
double existence, that it will be more appropriate to give her
portrait on her first appearance in this Scene of Parisian Life.
One thing remains to be said of the characters of the pair of friends;
but this one thing is precisely the hardest to make clear to ninety-
nine readers out of a hundred in this forty-seventh year of the
nineteenth century, perhaps by reason of the prodigious financial
development brought about by the railway system. It is a little thing,
and yet it is so much. It is a question, in fact, of giving an idea of
the extreme sensitiveness of their natures. Let us borrow an
illustration from the railways, if only by way of retaliation, as it
were, for the loans which they levy upon us. The railway train of
to-day, tearing over the metals, grinds away fine particles of dust,
grains so minute that a traveler cannot detect them with the eye; but
let a single one of those invisible motes find its way into the
kidneys, it will bring about that most excruciating, and sometimes
fatal, disease known as gravel. And our society, rushing like a
locomotive along its metaled track, is heedless of the all but
imperceptible dust made by the grinding of the wheels; but it was
otherwise with the two musicians; the invisible grains of sand sank
perpetually into the very fibres of their being, causing them
intolerable anguish of heart. Tender exceedingly to the pain of
others, they wept for their own powerlessness to help; and their own
susceptibilities were almost morbidly acute. Neither age nor the
continual spectacle of the drama of Paris life had hardened two souls
still young and childlike and pure; the longer they lived, indeed, the
more keenly they felt their inward suffering; for so it is, alas! with
natures unsullied by the world, with the quiet thinker, and with such
poets among the poets as have never fallen into any excess.
Since the old men began housekeeping together, the day's routine was
very nearly the same for them both. They worked together in harness in
the fraternal fashion of the Paris cab-horse; rising every morning,
summer and winter, at seven o'clock, and setting out after breakfast
to give music lessons in the boarding-schools, in which, upon
occasion, they would take lessons for each other. Towards noon Pons
repaired to his theatre, if there was a rehearsal on hand; but all his
spare moments were spent in sauntering on the boulevards. Night found
both of them in the orchestra at the theatre, for Pons had found a
place for Schmucke, and upon this wise.
At the time of their first meeting, Pons had just received that
marshal's baton of the unknown musical composer--an appointment as
conductor of an orchestra. It had come to him unasked, by a favor of
Count Popinot, a bourgeois hero of July, at that time a member of the
Government. Count Popinot had the license of a theatre in his gift,
and Count Popinot had also an old acquaintance of the kind that the
successful man blushes to meet. As he rolls through the streets of
Paris in his carriage, it is not pleasant to see his boyhood's chum
down at heel, with a coat of many improbable colors and trousers
innocent of straps, and a head full of soaring speculations on too
grand a scale to tempt shy, easily scared capital. Moreover, this
friend of his youth, Gaudissart by name, had done not a little in the
past towards founding the fortunes of the great house of Popinot.
Popinot, now a Count and a peer of France, after twice holding a
portfolio had no wish to shake off "the Illustrious Gaudissart." Quite
otherwise. The pomps and vanities of the Court of the Citizen-King had
not spoiled the sometime druggist's kind heart; he wished to put his
ex-commercial traveler in the way of renewing his wardrobe and
replenishing his purse. So when Gaudissart, always an enthusiastic
admirer of the fair sex, applied for the license of a bankrupt
theatre, Popinot granted it on condition that Pons (a parasite of the
Hotel Popinot) should be engaged as conductor of the orchestra; and at
the same time, the Count was careful to send certain elderly amateurs
of beauty to the theatre, so that the new manager might be strongly
supported financially by wealthy admirers of feminine charms revealed
by the costume of the ballet.
Gaudissart and Company, who, be it said, made their fortune, hit upon
the grand idea of operas for the people, and carried it out in a
boulevard theatre in 1834. A tolerable conductor, who could adapt or
even compose a little music upon occasion, was a necessity for ballets
and pantomimes; but the last management had so long been bankrupt,
that they could not afford to keep a transposer and copyist. Pons
therefore introduced Schmucke to the company as copier of music, a
humble calling which requires no small musical knowledge; and
Schmucke, acting on Pons' advice, came to an understanding with the
/chef-de-service/ at the Opera-Comique, so saving himself the clerical
The partnership between Pons and Schmucke produced one brilliant
result. Schmucke being a German, harmony was his strong point; he
looked over the instrumentation of Pons' compositions, and Pons
provided the airs. Here and there an amateur among the audience
admired the new pieces of music which served as accompaniment to two
or three great successes, but they attributed the improvement vaguely
to "progress." No one cared to know the composer's name; like
occupants of the /baignoires/, lost to view of the house, to gain a
view of the stage, Pons and Schmucke eclipsed themselves by their
success. In Paris (especially since the Revolution of July) no one can
hope to succeed unless he will push his way /quibuscumque viis/ and
with all his might through a formidable host of competitors; but for
this feat a man needs thews and sinews, and our two friends, be it
remembered, had that affection of the heart which cripples all
Pons, as a rule, only went to his theatre towards eight o'clock, when
the piece in favor came on, and overtures and accompaniments needed
the strict ruling of the baton; most minor theatres are lax in such
matters, and Pons felt the more at ease because he himself had been by
no means grasping in all his dealings with the management; and
Schmucke, if need be, could take his place. Time went by, and Schmucke
became an institution in the orchestra; the Illustrious Gaudissart
said nothing, but he was well aware of the value of Pons'
collaborator. He was obliged to include a pianoforte in the orchestra
(following the example of the leading theatres); the instrument was
placed beside the conductor's chair, and Schmucke played without
increase of salary--a volunteer supernumerary. As Schmucke's
character, his utter lack of ambition or pretence became known, the
orchestra recognized him as one of themselves; and as time went on, he
was intrusted with the often needed miscellaneous musical instruments
which form no part of the regular band of a boulevard theatre. For a
very small addition to his stipend, Schmucke played the viola d'amore,
hautboy, violoncello, and harp, as well as the piano, the castanets
for the /cachucha/, the bells, saxhorn, and the like. If the Germans
cannot draw harmony from the mighty instruments of Liberty, yet to
play all instruments of music comes to them by nature.
The two old artists were exceedingly popular at the theatre, and took
its ways philosophically. They had put, as it were, scales over their
eyes, lest they should see the offences that needs must come when a
/corps de ballet/ is blended with actors and actresses, one of the
most trying combinations ever created by the laws of supply and demand
for the torment of managers, authors, and composers alike.
Every one esteemed Pons with his kindness and his modesty, his great
self-respect and respect for others; for a pure and limpid life wins
something like admiration from the worst nature in every social
sphere, and in Paris a fair virtue meets with something of the success
of a large diamond, so great a rarity it is. No actor, no dancer
however brazen, would have indulged in the mildest practical joke at
the expense of either Pons or Schmucke.
Pons very occasionally put in an appearance in the /foyer/; but all
that Schmucke knew of the theatre was the underground passage from the
street door to the orchestra. Sometimes, however, during an interval,
the good German would venture to make a survey of the house and ask a
few questions of the first flute, a young fellow from Strasbourg, who
came of a German family at Kehl. Gradually under the flute's tuition
Schmucke's childlike imagination acquired a certain amount of
knowledge of the world; he could believe in the existence of that
fabulous creature the /lorette/, the possibility of "marriages at the
Thirteenth Arrondissement," the vagaries of the leading lady, and the
contraband traffic carried on by box-openers. In his eyes the more
harmless forms of vice were the lowest depths of Babylonish iniquity;
he did not believe the stories, he smiled at them for grotesque
inventions. The ingenious reader can see that Pons and Schmucke were
exploited, to use a word much in fashion; but what they lost in money
they gained in consideration and kindly treatment.
It was after the success of the ballet with which a run of success
began for the Gaudissart Company that the management presented Pons
with a piece of plate--a group of figures attributed to Benvenuto
Cellini. The alarming costliness of the gift caused talk in the green-
room. It was a matter of twelve hundred francs! Pons, poor honest
soul, was for returning the present, and Gaudissart had a world of
trouble to persuade him to keep it.
"Ah!" said the manager afterwards, when he told his partner of the
interview, "if we could only find actors up to that sample."
In their joint life, outwardly so quiet, there was the one disturbing
element--the weakness to which Pons sacrificed, the insatiable craving
to dine out. Whenever Schmucke happened to be at home while Pons was
dressing for the evening, the good German would bewail this deplorable
"Gif only he vas ony fatter vor it!" he many a time cried.
And Schmucke would dream of curing his friend of his degrading vice,
for a true friend's instinct in all that belongs to the inner life is
unerring as a dog's sense of smell; a friend knows by intuition the
trouble in his friend's soul, and guesses at the cause and ponders it
in his heart.
Pons, who always wore a diamond ring on the little finger of his right
hand, an ornament permitted in the time of the Empire, but ridiculous
to-day--Pons, who belonged to the "troubadour time," the sentimental
periods of the first Empire, was too much a child of his age, too much
of a Frenchman to wear the expression of divine serenity which
softened Schmucke's hideous ugliness. From Pons' melancholy looks
Schmucke knew that the profession of parasite was growing daily more
difficult and painful. And, in fact, in that month of October 1844,
the number of houses at which Pons dined was naturally much
restricted; reduced to move round and round the family circle, he had
used the word family in far too wide a sense, as will shortly be seen.
M. Camusot, the rich silk mercer of the Rue des Bourdonnais, had
married Pons' first cousin, Mlle. Pons, only child and heiress of one
of the well-known firm of Pons Brothers, court embroiderers. Pons' own
father and mother retired from a firm founded before the Revolution of
1789, leaving their capital in the business until Mlle. Pons' father
sold it in 1815 to M. Rivet. M. Camusot had since lost his wife and
married again, and retired from business some ten years, and now in
1844 he was a member of the Board of Trade, a deputy, and what not.
But the Camusot clan were friendly; and Pons, good man, still
considered that he was some kind of cousin to the children of the
second marriage, who were not relations, or even connected with him in
The second Mme. Camusot being a Mlle. Cardot, Pons introduced himself
as a relative into the tolerably numerous Cardot family, a second
bourgeois tribe which, taken with its connections, formed quite as
strong a clan as the Camusots; for Cardot the notary (brother of the
second Mme. Camusot) had married a Mlle. Chiffreville; and the well-
known family of Chiffreville, the leading firm of manufacturing
chemists, was closely connected with the whole drug trade, of which M.
Anselme Popinot was for many years the undisputed head, until the
Revolution of July plunged him into the very centre of the dynastic
movement, as everybody knows. So Pons, in the wake of the Camusots and
Cardots, reached the Chiffrevilles, and thence the Popinots, always in
the character of a cousin's cousin.
The above concise statement of Pons' relations with his entertainers
explains how it came to pass that an old musician was received in 1844
as one of the family in the houses of four distinguished persons--to
wit, M. le Comte Popinot, peer of France, and twice in office; M.
Cardot, retired notary, mayor and deputy of an arrondissement in
Paris; M. Camusot senior, a member of the Board of Trade and the
Municipal Chamber and a peerage; and lastly, M. Camusot de Marville,
Camusot's son by his first marriage, and Pons' one genuine relation,
albeit even he was a first cousin once removed.
This Camusot, President of a Chamber of the Court of Appeal in Paris,
had taken the name of his estate at Marville to distinguish himself
from his father and a younger half brother.
Cardot the retired notary had married his daughter to his successor,
whose name was Berthier; and Pons, transferred as part of the
connection, acquired a right to dine with the Berthiers "in the
presence of a notary," as he put it.
This was the bourgeois empyrean which Pons called his "family," that
upper world in which he so painfully reserved his right to a knife and
Of all these houses, some ten in all, the one in which Pons ought to
have met with the kindest reception should by rights have been his own
cousin's; and, indeed, he paid most attention to President Camusot's
family. But, alas! Mme. Camusot de Marville, daughter of the Sieur
Thirion, usher of the cabinet to Louis XVIII. and Charles X., had
never taken very kindly to her husband's first cousin, once removed.
Pons had tried to soften this formidable relative; he wasted his time;
for in spite of the pianoforte lessons which he gave gratuitously to
Mlle. Camusot, a young woman with hair somewhat inclined to red, it
was impossible to make a musician of her.
And now, at this very moment, as he walked with that precious object
in his hand, Pons was bound for the President's house, where he always
felt as if he were at the Tuileries itself, so heavily did the solemn
green curtains, the carmelite-brown hangings, thick piled carpets,
heavy furniture, and general atmosphere of magisterial severity
oppress his soul. Strange as it may seem, he felt more at home in the
Hotel Popinot, Rue Basse-du-Rempart, probably because it was full of
works of art; for the master of the house, since he entered public
life, had acquired a mania for collecting beautiful things, by way of
contrast no doubt, for a politician is obliged to pay for secret
services of the ugliest kind.
President de Marville lived in the Rue de Hanovre, in a house which
his wife had bought ten years previously, on the death of her parents,
for the Sieur and Dame Thirion left their daughter about a hundred and
fifty thousand francs, the savings of a lifetime. With its north
aspect, the house looks gloomy enough seen from the street, but the
back looks towards the south over the courtyard, with a rather pretty
garden beyond it. As the President occupied the whole of the first
floor, once the abode of a great financier of the time of Louis XIV.,
and the second was let to a wealthy old lady, the house wore a look of
dignified repose befitting a magistrate's residence. President Camusot
had invested all that he inherited from his mother, together with the
savings of twenty years, in the purchase of the splendid Marville
estate; a chateau (as fine a relic of the past as you will find to-day
in Normandy) standing in a hundred acres of park land, and a fine
dependent farm, nominally bringing in twelve thousand francs per
annum, though, as it cost the President at least a thousand crowns to
keep up a state almost princely in our days, his yearly revenue, "all
told," as the saying is, was a bare nine thousand francs. With this
and his salary, the President's income amounted to about twenty
thousand francs; but though to all appearance a wealthy man,
especially as one-half of his father's property would one day revert
to him as the only child of the first marriage, he was obliged to live
in Paris as befitted his official position, and M. and Mme. de
Marville spent almost the whole of their incomes. Indeed, before the
year 1834 they felt pinched.
This family schedule sufficiently explains why Mlle. de Marville, aged
three-and-twenty, was still unwed, in spite of a hundred thousand
francs of dowry and tempting prospects, frequently, skilfully, but so
far vainly, held out. For the past five years Pons had listened to
Mme. la Presidente's lamentations as she beheld one young lawyer after
another led to the altar, while all the newly appointed judges at the
Tribunal were fathers of families already; and she, all this time, had
displayed Mlle. de Marville's brilliant expectations before the
undazzled eyes of young Vicomte Popinot, eldest son of the great man
of the drug trade, he of whom it was said by the envious tongues of
the neighborhood of the Rue des Lombards, that the Revolution of July
had been brought about at least as much for his particular benefit as
for the sake of the Orleans branch.
Arrived at the corner of the Rue de Choiseul and the Rue de Hanovre,
Pons suffered from the inexplicable emotions which torment clear
consciences; for a panic terror such as the worst of scoundrels might
feel at sight of a policeman, an agony caused solely by a doubt as to
Mme. de Marville's probable reception of him. That grain of sand,
grating continually on the fibres of his heart, so far from losing its
angles, grew more and more jagged, and the family in the Rue de
Hanovre always sharpened the edges. Indeed, their unceremonious
treatment and Pons' depreciation in value among them had affected the
servants; and while they did not exactly fail in respect, they looked
on the poor relation as a kind of beggar.
Pons' arch-enemy in the house was the ladies'-maid, a thin and wizened
spinster, Madeleine Vivet by name. This Madeleine, in spite of, nay,
perhaps on the strength of, a pimpled complexion and a viper-like
length of spine, had made up her mind that some day she would be Mme.
Pons. But in vain she dangled twenty thousand francs of savings before
the old bachelor's eyes; Pons had declined happiness accompanied by so
many pimples. From that time forth the Dido of the ante-chamber, who
fain had called her master and mistress "cousin," wreaked her spite in
petty ways upon the poor musician. She heard him on the stairs, and
cried audibly, "Oh! here comes the sponger!" She stinted him of wine
when she waited at dinner in the footman's absence; she filled the
water-glass to the brim, to give him the difficult task of lifting it
without spilling a drop; or she would pass the old man over
altogether, till the mistress of the house would remind her (and in
what a tone!--it brought the color to the poor cousin's face); or she
would spill the gravy over his clothes. In short, she waged petty war
after the manner of a petty nature, knowing that she could annoy an
unfortunate superior with impunity.
Madeleine Vivet was Mme. de Marville's maid and housekeeper. She had
lived with M. and Mme. Camusot de Marville since their marriage; she
had shared the early struggles in the provinces when M. Camusot was a
judge at Alencon; she had helped them to exist when M. Camusot,
President of the Tribunal of Mantes, came to Paris, in 1828, to be an
examining magistrate. She was, therefore, too much one of the family
not to wish, for reasons of her own, to revenge herself upon them.
Beneath her desire to pay a trick upon her haughty and ambitious
mistress, and to call her master her cousin, there surely lurked a
long-stifled hatred, built up like an avalanche, upon the pebble of
some past grievance.
"Here comes your M. Pons, madame, still wearing that spencer of his!"
Madeleine came to tell the Presidente. "He really might tell me how he
manages to make it look the same for five-and-twenty years together."
Mme. Camusot de Marville, hearing a man's footstep in the little
drawing-room between the large drawing-room and her bedroom, looked at
her daughter and shrugged her shoulders.
"You always make these announcements so cleverly that you leave me no
time to think, Madeleine."
"Jean is out, madame, I was all alone; M. Pons rang the bell, I opened
the door; and as he is almost one of the family, I could not prevent
him from coming after me. There he is, taking off his spencer."
"Poor little puss!" said the Presidente, addressing her daughter, "we
are caught. We shall have to dine at home now.--Let us see," she
added, seeing that the "dear puss" wore a piteous face; "must we get
rid of him for good?"
"Oh! poor man!" cried Mlle. Camusot, "deprive him of one of his
Somebody coughed significantly in the next room by way of warning that
he could hear.
"Very well, let him come in!" said Mme. Camusot, looking at Madeleine
with another shrug.
"You are here so early, cousin, that you have come in upon us just as
mother was about to dress," said Cecile Camusot in a coaxing tone. But
Cousin Pons had caught sight of the Presidente's shrug, and felt so
cruelly hurt that he could not find a compliment, and contented
himself with the profound remark, "You are always charming, my little
Then, turning to the mother, he continued with a bow:
"You will not take it amiss, I think, if I have come a little earlier
than usual, dear cousin; I have brought something for you; you once
did me the pleasure of asking me for it."
Poor Pons! Every time he addressed the President, the President's
wife, or Cecile as "cousin," he gave them excruciating annoyance. As
he spoke, he draw a long, narrow cherry-wood box, marvelously carved,
from his coat-pocket.
"Oh, did I?--I had forgotten," the lady answered drily.
It was a heartless speech, was it not? Did not those few words deny
all merit to the pains taken for her by the cousin whose one offence
lay in the fact that he was a poor relation?
"But it is very kind of you, cousin," she added. "How much to I owe
you for this little trifle?"
Pons quivered inwardly at the question. He had meant the trinket as a
return for his dinners.
"I thought that you would permit me to offer it you----" he faltered
"What?" said Mme. Camusot. "Oh! but there need be no ceremony between
us; we know each other well enough to wash our linen among ourselves.
I know very well that you are not rich enough to give more than you
get. And to go no further, it is quite enough that you should have
spent a good deal of time in running among the dealers--"
"If you were asked to pay the full price of the fan, my dear cousin,
you would not care to have it," answered poor Pons, hurt and insulted;
"it is one of Watteau's masterpieces, painted on both sides; but you
may be quite easy, cousin, I did not give one-hundredth part of its
value as a work of art."
To tell a rich man that he is poor! you might as well tell the
Archbishop of Granada that his homilies show signs of senility. Mme.
la Presidente, proud of her husband's position, of the estate of
Marville, and her invitations to court balls, was keenly susceptible
on this point; and what was worse, the remark came from a poverty-
stricken musician to whom she had been charitable.
"Then the people of whom you buy things of this kind are very stupid,
are they?" she asked quickly.
"Stupid dealers are unknown in Paris," Pons answered almost drily.
"Then you must be very clever," put in Cecile by way of calming the
"Clever enough to know a Lancret, a Watteau, a Pater, or Greuze when I
see it, little cousin; but anxious, most of all, to please your dear
Mme. de Marville, ignorant and vain, was unwilling to appear to
receive the slightest trifle from the parasite; and here her ignorance
served her admirably, she did not even know the name of Watteau. And,
on the other hand, if anything can measure the extent of the
collector's passion, which, in truth, is one of the most deeply seated
of all passions, rivaling the very vanity of the author--if anything
can give an idea of the lengths to which a collector will go, it is
the audacity which Pons displayed on this occasion, as he held his own
against his lady cousin for the first time in twenty years. He was
amazed at his own boldness. He made Cecile see the beauties of the
delicate carving on the sticks of this wonder, and as he talked to her
his face grew serene and gentle again. But without some sketch of the
Presidente, it is impossible fully to understand the perturbation of
heart from which Pons suffered.
Mme. de Marville had been short and fair, plump and fresh; at forty-
six she was as short as ever, but she looked dried up. An arched
forehead and thin lips, that had been softly colored once, lent a
soured look to a face naturally disdainful, and now grown hard and
unpleasant with a long course of absolute domestic rule. Time had
deepened her fair hair to a harsh chestnut hue; the pride of office,
intensified by suppressed envy, looked out of eyes that had lost none
of their brightness nor their satirical expression. As a matter of
fact, Mme. Camusot de Marville felt almost poor in the society of
self-made wealthy bourgeois with whom Pons dined. She could not
forgive the rich retail druggist, ex-president of the Commercial
Court, for his successive elevations as deputy, member of the
Government, count and peer of France. She could not forgive her
father-in-law for putting himself forward instead of his eldest son as
deputy of his arrondissement after Popinot's promotion to the peerage.
After eighteen years of services in Paris, she was still waiting for
the post of Councillor of the Court of Cassation for her husband. It
was Camusot's own incompetence, well known at the Law Courts, which
excluded him from the Council. The Home Secretary of 1844 even
regretted Camusot's nomination to the presidency of the Court of
Indictments in 1834, though, thanks to his past experience as an
examining magistrate, he made himself useful in drafting decrees.
These disappointments had told upon Mme. de Marville, who, moreover,
had formed a tolerably correct estimate of her husband. A temper
naturally shrewish was soured till she grew positively terrible. She
was not old, but she had aged; she deliberately set herself to extort
by fear all that the world was inclined to refuse her, and was harsh
and rasping as a file. Caustic to excess she had few friends among
women; she surrounded herself with prim, elderly matrons of her own
stamp, who lent each other mutual support, and people stood in awe of
her. As for poor Pons, his relations with this fiend in petticoats
were very much those of a schoolboy with the master whose one idea of
communication is the ferule.
The Presidente had no idea of the value of the gift. She was puzzled
by her cousin's sudden access of audacity.
"Then, where did you find this?" inquired Cecile, as she looked
closely at the trinket.
"In the Rue de Lappe. A dealer in second-hand furniture there had just
brought it back with him from a chateau that is being pulled down near
Dreux, Aulnay. Mme. de Pompadour used to spend part of her time there
before she built Menars. Some of the most splendid wood-carving ever
known has been saved from destruction; Lienard (our most famous living
wood-carver) had kept a couple of oval frames for models, as the /ne
plus ultra/ of the art, so fine it is.--There were treasures in that
place. My man found the fan in the drawer of an inlaid what-not, which
I should certainly have bought if I were collecting things of the
kind, but it is quite out of the question--a single piece of
Riesener's furniture is worth three or four thousand francs! People
here in Paris are just beginning to find out that the famous French
and German marquetry workers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and
eighteenth centuries composed perfect pictures in wood. It is a
collector's business to be ahead of the fashion. Why, in five years'
time, the Frankenthal ware, which I have been collecting these twenty
years, will fetch twice the price of Sevres /pata tendre/."
"What is Frankenthal ware?" asked Cecile.
"That is the name of the porcelain made by the Elector of the
Palatinate; it dates further back than our manufactory at Sevres; just
as the famous gardens at Heidelberg, laid waste by Turenne, had the
bad luck to exist before the garden of Versailles. Sevres copied
Frankenthal to a large extent.--In justice to the Germans, it must be
said that they have done admirable work in Saxony and in the
Mother and daughter looked at one another as if Pons were speaking
Chinese. No one can imagine how ignorant and exclusive Parisians are;
they only learn what they are taught, and that only when they choose.
"And how do you know the Frankenthal ware when you see it?"
"Eh! by the mark!" cried Pons with enthusiasm. "There is a mark on
every one of those exquisite masterpieces. Frankenthal ware is marked
with a C and T (for Charles Theodore) interlaced and crowned. On old
Dresden china there are two crossed swords and the number of the order
in gilt figures. Vincennes bears a hunting-horn; Vienna, a V closed
and barred. You can tell Berlin by the two bars, Mayence by the wheel,
and Sevres by the two crossed L's. The queen's porcelain is marked A
for Antoinette, with a royal crown above it. In the eighteenth
century, all the crowned heads of Europe had rival porcelain
factories, and workmen were kidnaped. Watteau designed services for
the Dresden factory; they fetch frantic prices at the present day. One
has to know what one is about with them too, for they are turning out
imitations now at Dresden. Wonderful things they used to make; they
will never make the like again--"
"No, cousin. Some inlaid work and some kinds of porcelain will never
be made again, just as there will never be another Raphael, nor
Titian, nor Rembrandt, nor Van Eyck, nor Cranach. . . . Well, now!
there are the Chinese; they are very ingenious, very clever; they make
modern copies of their 'grand mandarin' porcelain, as it is called.
But a pair of vases of genuine 'grand mandarin' vases of the largest
size, are worth, six, eight, and ten thousand francs, while you can
buy the modern replicas for a couple of hundred!"
"You are joking."
"You are astonished at the prices, but that is nothing, cousin. A
dinner service of Sevres /pate tendre/ (and /pate tendre/ is not
porcelain)--a complete dinner service of Sevres /pate tendre/ for
twelve persons is not merely worth a hundred thousand francs, but that
is the price charged on the invoice. Such a dinner-service cost
fifteen thousand francs at Sevres in 1750; I have seen the original
"But let us go back to this fan," said Cecile. Evidently in her
opinion the trinket was an old-fashioned thing.
"You can understand that as soon as your dear mamma did me the honor
of asking for a fan, I went round of all the curiosity shops in Paris,
but I found nothing fine enough. I wanted nothing less than a
masterpiece for the dear Presidente, and thought of giving her one
that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, the most beautiful of all
celebrated fans. But yesterday I was dazzled by this divine /chef-
d'oeuvre/, which certainly must have been ordered by Louis XV.
himself. Do you ask how I came to look for fans in the Rue de Lappe,
among an Auvergnat's stock of brass and iron and ormolu furniture?
Well, I myself believe that there is an intelligence in works of art;
they know art-lovers, they call to them--'Cht-tt!' "
Mme. de Marville shrugged her shoulders and looked at her daughter;
Pons did not notice the rapid pantomime.
"I know all those sharpers," continued Pons, "so I asked him,
'Anything fresh to-day, Daddy Monistrol?'--(for he always lets me look
over his lots before the big buyers come)--and at that he began to
tell me how Lienard, that did such beautiful work for the Government
in the Chapelle de Dreux, had been at the Aulnay sale and rescued the
carved panels out of the clutches of the Paris dealers, while their
heads were running on china and inlaid furniture.--'I did not do much
myself,' he went on, 'but I may make my traveling expenses out of
/this/,' and he showed me a what-not; a marvel! Boucher's designs
executed in marquetry, and with such art!--One could have gone down on
one's knees before it.--'Look, sir,' he said, 'I have just found this
fan in a little drawer; it was locked, I had to force it open. You
might tell me where I can sell it'--and with that he brings out this
little carved cherry-wood box.--'See,' says he, 'it is the kind of
Pompadour that looks like decorated Gothic.'--'Yes,' I told him, 'the
box is pretty; the box might suit me; but as for the fan, Monistrol, I
have no Mme. Pons to give the old trinket to, and they make very
pretty new ones nowadays; you can buy miracles of painting on vellum
cheaply enough. There are two thousand painters in Paris, you know.'--
And I opened out the fan carelessly, keeping down my admiration,
looked indifferently at those two exquisite little pictures, touched
off with an ease fit to send you into raptures. I held Mme. de
Pompadour's fan in my hand! Watteau had done his utmost for this.--
'What do you want for the what-not?'--'Oh! a thousand francs; I have
had a bid already.'--I offered him a price for the fan corresponding
with the probable expenses of the journey. We looked each other in the
eyes, and I saw that I had my man. I put the fan back into the box
lest my Auvergnat should begin to look at it, and went into ecstasies
over the box; indeed, it is a jewel.--'If I take it,' said I, 'it is
for the sake of the box; the box tempts me. As for the what-not, you
will get more than a thousand francs for that. Just see how the brass
is wrought; it is a model. There is business in it. . . . It has never
been copied; it is a unique specimen, made solely for Mme. de
Pompadour'--and so on, till my man, all on fire for his what-not,
forgets the fan, and lets me have it for a mere trifle, because I have
pointed out the beauties of his piece of Riesener's furniture. So here
it is; but it needs a great deal of experience to make such a bargain
as that. It is a duel, eye to eye; and who has such eyes as a Jew or
The old artist's wonderful pantomime, his vivid, eager way of telling
the story of the triumph of his shrewdness over the dealer's
ignorance, would have made a subject for a Dutch painter; but it was
all thrown away upon the audience. Mother and daughter exchanged cold,
contemptuous glances.--"What an oddity!" they seemed to say.
"So it amuses you?" remarked Mme. de Marville. The question sent a
cold chill through Pons; he felt a strong desire to slap the
"Why, my dear cousin, that is the way to hunt down a work of art. You
are face to face with antagonists that dispute the game with you. It
is craft against craft! A work of art in the hands of a Norman, an
Auvergnat, or a Jew, is like a princess guarded by magicians in a
"And how can you tell that this is by Wat--what do you call him?"
"Watteau, cousin. One of the greatest eighteenth century painters in
France. Look! do you not see that it is his work?" (pointing to a
pastoral scene, court-shepherd swains and shepherdesses dancing in a
ring). "The movement! the life in it! the coloring! There it is--see!
--painted with a stroke of the brush, as a writing-master makes a
flourish with a pen. Not a trace of effort here! And, turn it over,
look!--a ball in a drawing-room. Summer and Winter! And what
ornaments! and how well preserved it is! The hinge-pin is gold, you
see, and on cleaning it, I found a tiny ruby at either side."
"If it is so, cousin, I could not think of accepting such a valuable
present from you. It would be better to lay up the money for
yourself," said Mme. de Marville; but all the same, she asked no
better than to keep the splendid fan.
"It is time that it should pass from the service of Vice into the
hands of Virtue," said the good soul, recovering his assurance. "It
has taken a century to work the miracle. No princess at Court, you may
be sure, will have anything to compare with it; for, unfortunately,
men will do more for a Pompadour than for a virtuous queen, such is
"Very well," Mme. de Marville said, laughing, "I will accept your
present.--Cecile, my angel, go to Madeleine and see that dinner is
worthy of your cousin."
Mme. de Marville wished to make matters even. Her request, made aloud,
in defiance of all rules of good taste, sounded so much like an
attempt to repay at once the balance due to the poor cousin, that Pons
flushed red, like a girl found out in fault. The grain of sand was a
little too large; for some moments he could only let it work in his
heart. Cecile, a red-haired young woman, with a touch of pedantic
affectation, combined her father's ponderous manner with a trace of
her mother's hardness. She went and left poor Pons face to face with
the terrible Presidente.
"How nice she is, my little Lili!" said the mother. She still called
her Cecile by this baby name.
"Charming!" said Pons, twirling his thumbs.
"I /cannot/ understand these times in which we live," broke out the
Presidente. "What is the good of having a President of the Court of
Appeal in Paris and a Commander of the Legion of Honor for your
father, and for a grandfather the richest wholesale silk merchant in
Paris, a deputy, and a millionaire that will be a peer of France some
of these days?"
The President's zeal for the new Government had, in fact, recently
been rewarded with a commander's ribbon--thanks to his friendship with
Popinot, said the envious. Popinot himself, modest though he was, had,
as has been seen, accepted the title of count, "for his son's sake,"
he told his numerous friends.
"Men look for nothing but money nowadays," said Cousin Pons. "No one
thinks anything of you unless you are rich, and--"
"What would it have been if Heaven had spared my poor little
Charles!--" cried the lady.
"Oh, with two children you would be poor," returned the cousin. "It
practically means the division of the property. But you need not
trouble yourself, cousin; Cecile is sure to marry sooner or later. She
is the most accomplished girl I know."
To such depths had Pons fallen by adapting himself to the company of
his entertainers! In their houses he echoed their ideas, and said the
obvious thing, after the manner of a chorus in a Greek play. He did
not dare to give free play to the artist's originality, which had
overflowed in bright repartee when he was young; he had effaced
himself, till he had almost lost his individuality; and if the real
Pons appeared, as he had done a moment ago, he was immediately
"But I myself was married with only twenty thousand francs for my
"In 1819, cousin. And it was /you/, a woman with a head on your
shoulders, and the royal protection of Louis XVIII."
"Be still, my child is a perfect angel. She is clever, she has a warm
heart, she will have a hundred thousand francs on her wedding day, to
say nothing of the most brilliant expectations; and yet she stays on
our hands," and so on and so on. For twenty minutes, Mme. de Marville
talked on about herself and her Cecile, pitying herself after the
manner of mothers in bondage to marriageable daughters.
Pons had dined at the house every week for twenty years, and Camusot
de Marville was the only cousin he had in the world; but he had yet to
hear the first word spoken as to his own affairs--nobody cared to know
how he lived. Here and elsewhere the poor cousin was a kind of sink
down which his relatives poured domestic confidences. His discretion
was well known; indeed, was he not bound over to silence when a single
imprudent word would have shut the door of ten houses upon him? And he
must combine his role of listener with a second part; he must applaud
continually, smile on every one, accuse nobody, defend nobody; from
his point of view, every one must be in the right. And so, in the
house of his kinsman, Pons no longer counted as a man; he was a
In the course of a long tirade, Mme. Camusot de Marville avowed with
due circumspection that she was prepared to take almost any son-in-law
with her eyes shut. She was even disposed to think that at eight-and-
forty or so a man with twenty thousand francs a year was a good match.
"Cecile is in her twenty-third year. If it should fall out so
unfortunately that she is not married before she is five or six-and-
twenty, it will be extremely hard to marry her at all. When a girl
reaches that age, people want to know why she has been so long on
hand. We are a good deal talked about in our set. We have come to the
end of all the ordinary excuses--'She is so young.--She is so fond of
her father and mother that she doesn't like to leave them.--She is so
happy at home.--She is hard to please, she would like a good name--'
We are beginning to look silly; I feel that distinctly. And besides,
Cecile is tired of waiting, poor child, she suffers--"
"In what way?" Pons was noodle enough to ask.
"Why, because it is humiliating to her to see all her girl friends
married before her," replied the mother, with a duenna's air.
"But, cousin, has anything happened since the last time that I had the
pleasure of dining here? Why do you think of men of eight-and-forty?"
Pons inquired humbly.
"This has happened," returned the Presidente. "We were to have had an
interview with a Court Councillor; his son is thirty years old and
very well-to-do, and M. de Marville would have obtained a post in the
audit-office for him and paid the money. The young man is a
supernumerary there at present. And now they tell us that he has taken
it into his head to rush off to Italy in the train of a duchess from
the Bal Mabille. . . . It is nothing but a refusal in disguise. The
fact is, the young man's mother is dead; he has an income of thirty
thousand francs, and more to come at his father's death, and they
don't care about the match for him. You have just come in in the
middle of all this, dear cousin, so you must excuse our bad temper."
While Pons was casting about for the complimentary answer which
invariably occurred to him too late when he was afraid of his host,
Madeleine came in, handed a folded note to the Presidente, and waited
for an answer. The note ran as follows:
"DEAR MAMMA,--If we pretend that this note comes to you from papa
at the Palais, and that he wants us both to dine with his friend
because proposals have been renewed--then the cousin will go, and
we can carry out our plan of going to the Popinots."
"Who brought the master's note?" the Presidente asked quickly.
"A lad from the Salle du Palais," the withered waiting woman
unblushingly answered, and her mistress knew at once that Madeleine
had woven the plot with Cecile, now at the end of her patience.
"Tell him that we will both be there at half-past five."
Madeleine had no sooner left the room than the Presidente turned to
Cousin Pons with that insincere friendliness which is about as
grateful to a sensitive soul as a mixture of milk and vinegar to the
palate of an epicure.
"Dinner is ordered, dear cousin; you must dine without us; my husband
has just sent word from the court that the question of the marriage
has been reopened, and we are to dine with the Councillor. We need not
stand on ceremony at all. Do just as if you were at home. I have no
secrets from you; I am perfectly open with you, as you see. I am sure
you would not wish to break off the little darling's marriage."
"/I/, cousin? On the contrary, I should like to find some one for her;
but in my circle--"
"Oh, that is not at all likely," said the Presidente, cutting him
short insolently. "Then you will stay, will you not? Cecile will keep
you company while I dress.
"Oh! I can dine somewhere else, cousin."
Cruelly hurt though he was by her way of casting up his poverty to
him, the prospect of being left alone with the servants was even more
"But why should you? Dinner is ready; you may just as well have it; if
you do not, the servants will eat it."
At that atrocious speech Pons started up as if he had received a shock
from a galvanic battery, bowed stiffly to the lady, and went to find
his spencer. Now, it so happened that the door of Cecile's bedroom,
beyond the little drawing-room, stood open, and looking into the
mirror, he caught sight of the girl shaking with laughter as she
gesticulated and made signs to her mother. The old artist understood
beyond a doubt that he had been the victim of some cowardly hoax. Pons
went slowly down the stairs; he could not keep back the tears. He
understood that he had been turned out of the house, but why and
wherefore he did not know.
"I am growing too old," he told himself. "The world has a horror of
old age and poverty--two ugly things. After this I will not go
anywhere unless I am asked."
Downstairs the great gate was shut, as it usually is in houses
occupied by the proprietor; the kitchen stood exactly opposite the
porter's lodge, and the door was open. Pons was obliged to listen
while Madeleine told the servants the whole story amid the laughter of
the servants. She had not expected him to leave so soon. The footman
loudly applauded a joke at the expense of a visitor who was always
coming to the house and never gave you more than three francs at the
"Yes," put in the cook; "but if he cuts up rough and does not come
back, there will be three francs the less for some of us on New Year's
"Eh! How is he to know?" retorted the footman.
"Pooh!" said Madeleine, "a little sooner or a little later--what
difference does it make? The people at the other houses where he dines
are so tired of him that they are going to turn him out."
"The gate, if you please!"
Madeleine had scarcely uttered the words when they heard the old
musician's call to the porter. It sounded like a cry of pain. There
was a sudden silence in the kitchen.
"He heard!" the footman said.
"Well, and if he did, so much the worser, or rather so much the
better," retorted Madeleine. "He is an arrant skinflint."
Poor Pons had lost none of the talk in the kitchen; he heard it all,
even to the last word. He made his way home along the boulevards, in
the same state, physical and mental, as an old woman after a desperate
struggle with burglars. As he went he talked to himself in quick
spasmodic jerks; his honor had been wounded, and the pain of it drove
him on as a gust of wind whirls away a straw. He found himself at last
in the Boulevard du Temple; how he had come thither he could not tell.
It was five o'clock, and, strange to say, he had completely lost his
But if the reader is to understand the revolution which Pons'
unexpected return at that hour was to work in the Rue de Normandie,
the promised biography of Mme. Cibot must be given in this place.
Any one passing along the Rue de Normandie might be pardoned for
thinking that he was in some small provincial town. Grass runs to seed
in the street, everybody knows everybody else, and the sight of a
stranger is an event. The houses date back to the reign of Henry IV.,
when there was a scheme afoot for a quarter in which every street was
to be named after a French province, and all should converge in a
handsome square to which La France should stand godmother. The
Quartier de l'Europe was a revival of the same idea; history repeats
itself everywhere in the world, and even in the world of speculation.
The house in which the two musicians used to live is an old mansion
with a courtyard in front and a garden at the back; but the front part
of the house which gives upon the street is comparatively modern,
built during the eighteenth century when the Marais was a fashionable
quarter. The friends lived at the back, on the second floor of the old
part of the house. The whole building belongs to M. Pillerault, an old
man of eighty, who left matters very much in the hands of M. and Mme.
Cibot, his porters for the past twenty-six years.
Now, as a porter cannot live by his lodge alone, the aforesaid Cibot
had other means of gaining a livelihood; and supplemented his five per
cent on the rental and his faggot from every cartload of wood by his
own earnings as a tailor. In time Cibot ceased to work for the master
tailors; he made a connection among the little trades-people of the
quarter, and enjoyed a monopoly of the repairs, renovations, and fine
drawing of all the coats and trousers in three adjacent streets. The
lodge was spacious and wholesome, and boasted a second room; wherefore
the Cibot couple were looked upon as among the luckiest porters in the
Cibot, small and stunted, with a complexion almost olive-colored by
reason of sitting day in day out in Turk-fashion on a table level with
the barred window, made about twelve or fourteen francs a week. He
worked still, though he was fifty-eight years old, but fifty-eight is
the porter's golden age; he is used to his lodge, he and his room fit
each other like the shell and the oyster, and "he is known in the
Mme. Cibot, sometime opener of oysters at the /Cadran Bleu/, after all
the adventures which come unsought to the belle of an oyster-bar, left
her post for love of Cibot at the age of twenty-eight. The beauty of a
woman of the people is short-lived, especially if she is planted
espalier fashion at a restaurant door. Her features are hardened by
puffs of hot air from the kitchen; the color of the heeltaps of
customers' bottles, finished in the company of the waiters, gradually
filters into her complexion--no beauty is full blown so soon as the
beauty of an oyster-opener. Luckily for Mme. Cibot, lawful wedlock and
a portress' life were offered to her just in time; while she still
preserved a comeliness of a masculine order slandered by rivals of the
Rue de Normandie, who called her "a great blowsy thing," Mme. Cibot
might have sat as a model to Rubens. Those flesh tints reminded you of
the appetizing sheen on a pat of Isigny butter; but plump as she was,
no woman went about her work with more agility. Mme. Cibot had
attained the time of life when women of her stamp are obliged to shave
--which is as much as to say that she had reached the age of forty-
eight. A porter's wife with a moustache is one of the best possible
guarantees of respectability and security that a landlord can have. If
Delacroix could have seen Mme. Cibot leaning proudly on her broom
handle, he would assuredly have painted her as Bellona.
Strange as it may seem, the circumstances of the Cibots, man and wife
(in the style of an indictment), were one day to affect the lives of
the two friends; wherefore the chronicler, as in duty bound, must give
some particulars as to the Cibots' lodge.
The house brought in about eight thousand francs for there were three
complete sets of apartments--back and front, on the side nearest the
Rue de Normandie, as well as the three floors in the older mansion
between the courtyard and the garden, and a shop kept by a marine
store-dealer named Remonencq, which fronted on the street. During the
past few months this Remonencq had begun to deal in old curiosities,
and knew the value of Pons' collection so well that he took off his
hat whenever the musician came in or went out.
A sou in the livre on eight thousand francs therefore brought in about
four hundred francs to the Cibots. They had no rent to pay and no
expenses for firing; Cibot's earnings amounted on an average to seven
or eight hundred francs, add tips at New Year, and the pair had
altogether in income of sixteen hundred francs, every penny of which
they spent, for the Cibots lived and fared better than working people
usually do. "One can only live once," La Cibot used to say. She was
born during the Revolution, you see, and had never learned her
The husband of this portress with the unblenching tawny eyes was an
object of envy to the whole fraternity, for La Cibot had not forgotten
the knowledge of cookery picked up at the /Cadran Bleu/. So it had
come to pass that the Cibots had passed the prime of life, and saw
themselves on the threshold of old age without a hundred francs put by
for the future. Well clad and well fed, they enjoyed among the
neighbors, it is true, the respect due to twenty-six years of strict
honesty; for if they had nothing of their own, they "hadn't nothing
belonging to nobody else," according to La Cibot, who was a prodigal
of negatives. "There wasn't never such a love of a man," she would say
to her husband. Do you ask why? You might as well ask the reason of
her indifference in matters of religion.
Both of them were proud of a life lived in open day, of the esteem in
which they were held for six or seven streets round about, and of the
autocratic rule permitted to them by the proprietor ("perprietor,"
they called him); but in private they groaned because they had no
money lying at interest. Cibot complained of pains in his hands and
legs, and his wife would lament that her poor, dear Cibot should be
forced to work at his age; and, indeed, the day is not far distant
when a porter after thirty years of such a life will cry shame upon
the injustice of the Government and clamor for the ribbon of the
Legion of Honor. Every time that the gossip of the quarter brought
news of such and such a servant-maid, left an annuity of three or four
hundred francs after eight or ten years of service, the porters'
lodges would resound with complaints, which may give some idea of the
consuming jealousies in the lowest walks of life in Paris.
"Oh, indeed! It will never happen to the like of us to have our names
mentioned in a will! We have no luck, but we do more than servants,
for all that. We fill a place of trust; we give receipts, we are on
the lookout for squalls, and yet we are treated like dogs, neither
more nor less, and that's the truth!"
"Some find fortune and some miss fortune," said Cibot, coming in with
"If I had left Cibot here in his lodge and taken a place as cook, we
should have our thirty thousand francs out at interest," cried Mme.
Cibot, standing chatting with a neighbor, her hands on her prominent
hips. "But I didn't understand how to get on in life; housed inside of
a snug lodge and firing found and want for nothing, but that is all."
In 1836, when the friends took up their abode on the second floor,
they brought about a sort of revolution in the Cibot household. It
befell on this wise. Schmucke, like his friend Pons, usually arranged
that the porter or the porter's wife should undertake the cares of
housekeeping; and being both of one mind on this point when they came
to live in the Rue de Normandie, Mme. Cibot became their housekeeper
at the rate of twenty-five francs per month--twelve francs fifty
centimes for each of them. Before the year was out, the emeritus
portress reigned in the establishment of the two old bachelors, as she
reigned everywhere in the house belonging to M. Pillerault, great
uncle of Mme. le Comtesse Popinot. Their business was her business;
she called them "my gentlemen." And at last, finding the pair of
nutcrackers as mild as lambs, easy to live with, and by no means
suspicious--perfect children, in fact--her heart, the heart of a woman
of the people, prompted her to protect, adore, and serve them with
such thorough devotion, that she read them a lecture now and again,
and saved them from the impositions which swell the cost of living in
Paris. For twenty-five francs a month, the two old bachelors
inadvertently acquired a mother.
As they became aware of Mme. Cibot's full value, they gave her
outspoken praises, and thanks, and little presents which strengthened
the bonds of the domestic alliance. Mme. Cibot a thousand times
preferred appreciation to money payments; it is a well-known fact that
the sense that one is appreciated makes up for a deficiency in wages.
And Cibot did all that he could for his wife's two gentlemen, and ran
errands and did repairs at half-price for them.
The second year brought a new element into the friendship between the
lodge and the second floor, and Schmucke concluded a bargain which
satisfied his indolence and desire for a life without cares. For
thirty sous per day, or forty-five francs per month, Mme. Cibot
undertook to provide Schmucke with breakfast and dinner; and Pons,
finding his friend's breakfast very much to his mind, concluded a
separate treaty for that meal only at the rate of eighteen francs.
This arrangement, which added nearly ninety francs every month to the
takings of the porter and his wife, made two inviolable beings of the
lodgers; they became angels, cherubs, divinities. It is very doubtful
whether the King of the French, who is supposed to understand economy,
is as well served as the pair of nutcrackers used to be in those days.
For them the milk issued pure from the can; they enjoyed a free
perusal of all the morning papers taken by other lodgers, later
risers, who were told, if need be, that the newspapers had not come
yet. Mme. Cibot, moreover, kept their clothes, their rooms, and the
landing as clean as a Flemish interior. As for Schmucke, he enjoyed
unhoped-for happiness; Mme. Cibot had made life easy for him; he paid
her about six francs a month, and she took charge of his linen,
washing, and mending. Altogether, his expenses amounted to sixty-six
francs per month (for he spent fifteen francs on tobacco), and sixty-
six francs multiplied by twelve produces the sum total of seven
hundred and ninety-two francs. Add two hundred and twenty francs for
rent, rates, and taxes, and you have a thousand and twelve francs.
Cibot was Schmucke's tailor; his clothes cost him on average a hundred
and fifty francs, which further swells the total to the sum of twelve
hundred. On twelve hundred francs per annum this profound philosopher
lived. How many people in Europe, whose one thought it is to come to
Paris and live there, will be agreeably surprised to learn that you
may exist in comfort upon an income of twelve hundred francs in the
Rue de Normandie in the Marais, under the wing of a Mme. Cibot.
Mme. Cibot, to resume the story, was amazed beyond expression to see
Pons, good man, return at five o'clock in the evening. Such a thing
had never happened before; and not only so, but "her gentleman" had
given her no greeting--had not so much as seen her!
"Well, well, Cibot," said she to her spouse, "M. Pons has come in for
a million, or gone out of his mind!"
"That is how it looks to me," said Cibot, dropping the coat-sleeve in
which he was making a "dart," in tailor's language.
The savory odor of a stew pervaded the whole courtyard, as Pons
returned mechanically home. Mme. Cibot was dishing up Schmucke's
dinner, which consisted of scraps of boiled beef from a little cook-
shop not above doing a little trade of this kind. These morsels were
fricasseed in brown butter, with thin slices of onion, until the meat
and vegetables had absorbed the gravy and this true porter's dish was
browned to the right degree. With that fricassee, prepared with loving
care for Cibot and Schmucke, and accompanied by a bottle of beer and a
piece of cheese, the old German music-master was quite content. Not
King Solomon in all his glory, be sure, could dine better than
Schmucke. A dish of boiled beef fricasseed with onions, scraps of
/saute/ chicken, or beef and parsley, or venison, or fish served with
a sauce of La Cibot's own invention (a sauce with which a mother might
unsuspectingly eat her child),--such was Schmucke's ordinary, varying
with the quantity and quality of the remnants of food supplied by
boulevard restaurants to the cook-shop in the Rue Boucherat. Schmucke
took everything that "goot Montame Zipod" gave him, and was content,
and so from day to day "goot Montame Zipod" cut down the cost of his
dinner, until it could be served for twenty sous.
"It won't be long afore I find out what is the matter with him, poor
dear," said Mme. Cibot to her husband, "for here is M. Schmucke's
dinner all ready for him."
As she spoke she covered the deep earthenware dish with a plate; and,
notwithstanding her age, she climbed the stair and reached the door
before Schmucke opened it to Pons.
"Vat is de matter mit you, mein goot friend?" asked the German, scared
by the expression of Pons' face.
"I will tell you all about it; but I have come home to have dinner
"Tinner! tinner!" cried Schmucke in ecstasy; "but it is impossible!"
the old German added, as he thought of his friend's gastronomical
tastes; and at that very moment he caught sight of Mme. Cibot
listening to the conversation, as she had a right to do as his lawful
housewife. Struck with one of those happy inspirations which only
enlighten a friend's heart, he marched up to the portress and drew her
out to the stairhead.
"Montame Zipod," he said, "der goot Pons is fond of goot dings; shoost
go rount to der /Catran Pleu/ und order a dainty liddle tinner, mit
anjovies und maggaroni. Ein tinner for Lugullus, in vact."
"What is that?" inquired La Cibot.
"Oh! ah!" returned Schmucke, "it is veal /a la pourcheoise/"
(/bourgeoise/, he meant), "a nice fisch, ein pottle off Porteaux, und
nice dings, der fery best dey haf, like groquettes of rice und shmoked
pacon! Bay for it, und say nodings; I vill gif you back de monny
Back went Schmucke, radiant and rubbing his hands; but his expression
slowly changed to a look of bewildered astonishment as he heard Pons'
story of the troubles that had but just now overwhelmed him in a
moment. He tried to comfort Pons by giving him a sketch of the world
from his own point of view. Paris, in his opinion, was a perpetual
hurly-burly, the men and women in it were whirled away by a
tempestuous waltz; it was no use expecting anything of the world,
which only looked at the outsides of things, "und not at der
inderior." For the hundredth time he related how that the only three
pupils for whom he had really cared, for whom he was ready to die, the
three who had been fond of him, and even allowed him a little pension
of nine hundred francs, each contributing three hundred to the amount
--his favorite pupils had quite forgotten to come to see him; and so
swift was the current of Parisian life which swept them away, that if
he called at their houses, he had not succeeded in seeing them once in
three years--(it is a fact, however, that Schmucke had always thought
fit to call on these great ladies at ten o'clock in the morning!)--
still, his pension was paid quarterly through the medium of
"Und yet, dey are hearts of gold," he concluded. "Dey are my liddle
Saint Cecilias, sharming vimmen, Montame de Bordentuere, Montame de
Fantenesse, und Montame du Dilet. Gif I see dem at all, it is at die
Jambs Elusees, und dey do not see me . . . yet dey are ver' fond of
me, und I might go to dine mit dem, und dey vould be ver' bleased to
see me; und I might go to deir country-houses, but I vould much rader
be mit mine friend Bons, because I kann see him venefer I like, und
Pons took Schmucke's hand and grasped it between his own. All that was
passing in his inmost soul was communicated in that tight pressure.
And so for awhile the friends sat like two lovers, meeting at last
after a long absence.
"Tine here, efery tay!" broke out Schmucke, inwardly blessing Mme. de
Marville for her hardness of heart. "Look here! Ve shall go a prick-a-
pracking togeders, und der teufel shall nefer show his tail here."
"Ve shall go prick-a-pracking togeders!" for the full comprehension of
those truly heroic words, it must be confessed that Schmucke's
ignorance of bric-a-brac was something of the densest. It required all
the strength of his friendship to keep him from doing heedless damage
in the sitting-room and study which did duty as a museum for Pons.
Schmucke, wholly absorbed in music, a composer for love of his art,
took about as much interest in his friend's little trifles as a fish
might take in a flower-show at the Luxembourg, supposing that it had
received a ticket of admission. A certain awe which he certainly felt
for the marvels was simply a reflection of the respect which Pons
showed his treasures when he dusted them. To Pons' exclamations of
admiration, he was wont to reply with a "Yes, it is ver' bretty," as a
mother answers baby-gestures with meaningless baby-talk. Seven times
since the friends had lived together, Pons had exchanged a good clock
for a better one, till at last he possessed a timepiece in Boule's
first and best manner, for Boule had two manners, as Raphael had
three. In the first he combined ebony and copper; in the second--
contrary to his convictions--he sacrificed to tortoise-shell inlaid
work. In spite of Pons' learned dissertations, Schmucke never could
see the slightest difference between the magnificent clock in Boule's
first manner and its six predecessors; but, for Pons' sake, Schmucke
was even more careful among the "chimcracks" than Pons himself. So it
should not be surprising that Schmucke's sublime words comforted Pons
in his despair; for "Ve shall go prick-a-pracking togeders," meant,
being interpreted, "I will put money into bric-a-brac, if you will
only dine here."
"Dinner is ready," Mme. Cibot announced, with astonishing self-
It is not difficult to imagine Pons' surprise when he saw and relished
the dinner due to Schmucke's friendship. Sensations of this kind, that
came so rarely in a lifetime, are never the outcome of the constant,
close relationship by which friend daily says to friend, "You are a
second self to me"; for this, too, becomes a matter of use and wont.
It is only by contact with the barbarism of the world without that the
happiness of that intimate life is revealed to us as a sudden glad
surprise. It is the outer world which renews the bond between friend
and friend, lover and lover, all their lives long, wherever two great
souls are knit together by friendship or by love.
Pons brushed away two big tears, Schmucke himself wiped his eyes; and
though nothing was said, the two were closer friends than before.
Little friendly nods and glances exchanged across the table were like
balm to Pons, soothing the pain caused by the sand dropped in his
heart by the President's wife. As for Schmucke, he rubbed his hands
till they were sore; for a new idea had occurred to him, one of those
great discoveries which cause a German no surprise, unless they sprout
up suddenly in a Teuton brain frost-bound by the awe and reverence due
to sovereign princes.
"Mine goot Bons?" began Schmucke.
"I can guess what you mean; you would like us both to dine together
here, every day--"
"Gif only I vas rich enof to lif like dis efery tay--" began the good
German in a melancholy voice. But here Mme. Cibot appeared upon the
scene. Pons had given her an order for the theatre from time to time,
and stood in consequence almost as high in her esteem and affection as
her boarder Schmucke.
"Lord love you," said she, "for three francs and wine extra I can give
you both such a dinner every day that you will be ready to lick the
plates as clean as if they were washed."
"It is a fact," Schmucke remarked, "dat die dinners dat Montame Zipod
cooks for me are better as de messes dey eat at der royal dable!" In
his eagerness, Schmucke, usually so full of respect for the powers
that be, so far forgot himself as to imitate the irreverent newspapers
which scoffed at the "fixed-price" dinners of Royalty.
"Really?" said Pons. "Very well, I will try to-morrow."
And at that promise Schmucke sprang from one end of the table to the
other, sweeping off tablecloth, bottles, and dishes as he went, and
hugged Pons to his heart. So might gas rush to combine with gas.
"Vat happiness!" cried he.
Mme. Cibot was quite touched. "Monsieur is going to dine here every
day!" she cried proudly.
That excellent woman departed downstairs again in ignorance of the
event which had brought about this result, entered her room like
Josepha in /William Tell/, set down the plates and dishes on the table
with a bang, and called aloud to her husband:
"Cibot! run to the /Cafe Turc/ for two small cups of coffee, and tell
the man at the stove that it is for me."
Then she sat down and rested her hands on her massive knees, and gazed
out of the window at the opposite wall.
"I will go to-night and see what Ma'am Fontaine says," she thought.
(Madame Fontaine told fortunes on the cards for all the servants in
the quarter of the Marais.) "Since these two gentlemen came here, we
have put two thousand francs in the savings bank. Two thousand francs
in eight years! What luck! Would it be better to make no profit out of
M. Pons' dinner and keep him here at home? Ma'am Fontaine's hen will
tell me that."
Three years ago Mme. Cibot had begun to cherish a hope that her name
might be mentioned in "her gentlemen's" wills; she had redoubled her
zeal since that covetous thought tardily sprouted up in the midst of
that so honest moustache. Pons hitherto had dined abroad, eluding her
desire to have both of "her gentlemen" entirely under her management;
his "troubadour" collector's life had scared away certain vague ideas
which hovered in La Cibot's brain; but now her shadowy projects
assumed the formidable shape of a definite plan, dating from that
memorable dinner. Fifteen minutes later she reappeared in the dining-
room with two cups of excellent coffee, flanked by a couple of tiny
glasses of /kirschwasser/.
"Long lif Montame Zipod!" cried Schmucke; "she haf guessed right!"
The diner-out bemoaned himself a little, while Schmucke met his
lamentations with coaxing fondness, like a home pigeon welcoming back
a wandering bird. Then the pair set out for the theatre.
Schmucke could not leave his friend in the condition to which he had
been brought by the Camusots--mistresses and servants. He knew Pons so
well; he feared lest some cruel, sad thought should seize on him at
his conductor's desk, and undo all the good done by his welcome home
to the nest.
And Schmucke brought his friend back on his arm through the streets at
midnight. A lover could not be more careful of his lady. He pointed
out the edges of the curbstones, he was on the lookout whenever they
stepped on or off the pavement, ready with a warning if there was a
gutter to cross. Schmucke could have wished that the streets were
paved with cotton-down; he would have had a blue sky overhead, and
Pons should hear the music which all the angels in heaven were making
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