Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 7
for him. He had won the lost province in his friend's heart!
For nearly three months Pons and Schmucke dined together every day.
Pons was obliged to retrench at once; for dinner at forty-five francs
a month and wine at thirty-five meant precisely eighty francs less to
spend on bric-a-brac. And very soon, in spite of all that Schmucke
could do, in spite of his little German jokes, Pons fell to regretting
the delicate dishes, the liqueurs, the good coffee, the table talk,
the insincere politeness, the guests, and the gossip, and the houses
where he used to dine. On the wrong side of sixty a man cannot break
himself of a habit of thirty-six years' growth. Wine at a hundred and
thirty francs per hogshead is scarcely a generous liquid in a
/gourmet's/ glass; every time that Pons raised it to his lips he
thought, with infinite regret, of the exquisite wines in his
In short, at the end of three months, the cruel pangs which had gone
near to break Pons' sensitive heart had died away; he forgot
everything but the charms of society; and languished for them like
some elderly slave of a petticoat compelled to leave the mistress who
too repeatedly deceives him. In vain he tried to hide his profound and
consuming melancholy; it was too plain that he was suffering from one
of the mysterious complaints which the mind brings upon the body.
A single symptom will throw light upon this case of nostalgia (as it
were) produced by breaking away from an old habit; in itself it is
trifling, one of the myriad nothings which are as rings in a coat of
chain-mail enveloping the soul in a network of iron. One of the
keenest pleasures of Pons' old life, one of the joys of the dinner-
table parasite at all times, was the "surprise," the thrill produced
by the extra dainty dish added triumphantly to the bill of fare by the
mistress of a bourgeois house, to give a festal air to the dinner.
Pons' stomach hankered after that gastronomical satisfaction. Mme.
Cibot, in the pride of her heart, enumerated every dish beforehand; a
salt and savor once periodically recurrent, had vanished utterly from
daily life. Dinner proceeded without /le plat couvert/, as our
grandsires called it. This lay beyond the bounds of Schmucke's powers
Pons had too much delicacy to grumble; but if the case of
unappreciated genius is hard, it goes harder still with the stomach
whose claims are ignored. Slighted affection, a subject of which too
much has been made, is founded upon an illusory longing; for if the
creature fails, love can turn to the Creator who has treasures to
bestow. But the stomach! . . . Nothing can be compared to its
sufferings; for, in the first place, one must live.
Pons thought wistfully of certain creams--surely the poetry of
cookery!--of certain white sauces, masterpieces of the art; of
truffled chickens, fit to melt your heart; and above these, and more
than all these, of the famous Rhine carp, only known at Paris, served
with what condiments! There were days when Pons, thinking upon Count
Popinot's cook, would sigh aloud, "Ah, Sophie!" Any passer-by hearing
the exclamation might have thought that the old man referred to a lost
mistress; but his fancy dwelt upon something rarer, on a fat Rhine
carp with a sauce, thin in the sauce-boat, creamy upon the palate, a
sauce that deserved the Montyon prize! The conductor of the orchestra,
living on memories of past dinners, grew visibly leaner; he was pining
away, a victim to gastric nostalgia.
By the beginning of the fourth month (towards the end of January,
1845), Pons' condition attracted attention at the theatre. The flute,
a young man named Wilhelm, like almost all Germans; and Schwab, to
distinguish him from all other Wilhelms, if not from all other
Schwabs, judged it expedient to open Schmucke's eyes to his friend's
state of health. It was a first performance of a piece in which
Schmucke's instruments were all required.
"The old gentleman is failing," said the flute; "there is something
wrong somewhere; his eyes are heavy, and he doesn't beat time as he
used to do," added Wilhelm Schwab, indicating Pons as he gloomily took
"Dat is alvays de vay, gif a man is sixty years old," answered
The Highland widow, in /The Chronicles of the Canongate/, sent her son
to his death to have him beside her for twenty-four hours; and
Schmucke could have sacrificed Pons for the sake of seeing his face
every day across the dinner-table.
"Everybody in the theatre is anxious about him," continued the flute;
"and, as the /premiere danseuse/, Mlle. Brisetout, says, 'he makes
hardly any noise now when he blows his nose.' "
And, indeed, a peal like a blast of a horn used to resound through the
old musician's bandana handkerchief whenever he raised it to that
lengthy and cavernous feature. The President's wife had more
frequently found fault with him on that score than on any other.
"I vould gif a goot teal to amuse him," said Schmucke, "he gets so
"M. Pons always seems so much above the like of us poor devils, that,
upon my word, I didn't dare to ask him to my wedding," said Wilhelm
Schwab. "I am going to be married--"
"How?" demanded Schmucke.
"Oh! quite properly," returned Wilhelm Schwab, taking Schmucke's
quaint inquiry for a gibe, of which that perfect Christian was quite
"Come, gentlemen, take your places!" called Pons, looking round at his
little army, as the stage manager's bell rang for the overture.
The piece was a dramatized fairy tale, a pantomime called /The Devil's
Betrothed/, which ran for two hundred nights. In the interval, after
the first act, Wilhelm Schwab and Schmucke were left alone in the
orchestra, with a house at a temperature of thirty-two degrees
"Tell me your hishdory," said Schmucke.
"Look there! Do you see that young man in the box yonder? . . . Do you
"Nefer a pit--"
"Ah! That is because he is wearing yellow gloves and shines with all
the radiance of riches, but that is my friend Fritz Brunner out of
"Dat used to komm to see du blav und sit peside you in der orghestra?"
"The same. You would not believe he could look so different, would
The hero of the promised story was a German of that particular type in
which the sombre irony of Goethe's Mephistopheles is blended with a
homely cheerfulness found in the romances of August Lafontaine of
pacific memory; but the predominating element in the compound of
artlessness and guile, of shopkeeper's shrewdness, and the studied
carelessness of a member of the Jockey Club, was that form of disgust
which set a pistol in the hands of a young Werther, bored to death
less by Charlotte than by German princes. It was a thoroughly German
face, full of cunning, full of simplicity, stupidity, and courage; the
knowledge which brings weariness, the worldly wisdom which the veriest
child's trick leaves at fault, the abuse of beer and tobacco,--all
these were there to be seen in it, and to heighten the contrast of
opposed qualities, there was a wild diabolical gleam in the fine blue
eyes with the jaded expression.
Dressed with all the elegance of a city man, Fritz Brunner sat in full
view of the house displaying a bald crown of the tint beloved by
Titian, and a few stray fiery red hairs on either side of it; a
remnant spared by debauchery and want, that the prodigal might have a
right to spend money with the hairdresser when he should come into his
fortune. A face, once fair and fresh as the traditional portrait of
Jesus Christ, had grown harder since the advent of a red moustache; a
tawny beard lent it an almost sinister look. The bright blue eyes had
lost something of their clearness in the struggle with distress. The
countless courses by which a man sells himself and his honor in Paris
had left their traces upon his eyelids and carved lines about the
eyes, into which a mother once looked with a mother's rapture to find
a copy of her own fashioned by God's hand.
This precocious philosopher, this wizened youth was the work of a
Herewith begins the curious history of a prodigal son of Frankfort-on-
the-Main--the most extraordinary and astounding portent ever beheld by
that well-conducted, if central, city.
Gideon Brunner, father of the aforesaid Fritz, was one of the famous
innkeepers of Frankfort, a tribe who make law-authorized incisions in
travelers' purses with the connivance of the local bankers. An
innkeeper and an honest Calvinist to boot, he had married a converted
Jewess and laid the foundations of his prosperity with the money she
When the Jewess died, leaving a son Fritz, twelve years of age, under
the joint guardianship of his father and maternal uncle, a furrier at
Leipsic, head of the firm of Virlaz and Company, Brunner senior was
compelled by his brother-in-law (who was by no means as soft as his
peltry) to invest little Fritz's money, a goodly quantity of current
coin of the realm, with the house of Al-Sartchild. Not a penny of it
was he allowed to touch. So, by way of revenge for the Israelite's
pertinacity, Brunner senior married again. It was impossible, he said,
to keep his huge hotel single-handed; it needed a woman's eye and
hand. Gideon Brunner's second wife was an innkeeper's daughter, a very
pearl, as he thought; but he had had no experience of only daughters
spoiled by father and mother.
The second Mme. Brunner behaved as German girls may be expected to
behave when they are frivolous and wayward. She squandered her
fortune, she avenged the first Mme. Brunner by making her husband as
miserable a man as you could find in the compass of the free city of
Frankfort-on-the-Main, where the millionaires, it is said, are about
to pass a law compelling womankind to cherish and obey them alone. She
was partial to all the varieties of vinegar commonly called Rhine wine
in Germany; she was fond of /articles Paris/, of horses and dress;
indeed, the one expensive taste which she had not was a liking for
women. She took a dislike to little Fritz, and would perhaps have
driven him mad if that young offspring of Calvinism and Judaism had
not had Frankfort for his cradle and the firm of Virlaz at Leipsic for
his guardian. Uncle Virlaz, however, deep in his furs, confined his
guardianship to the safe-keeping of Fritz's silver marks, and left the
boy to the tender mercies of this stepmother.
That hyena in woman's form was the more exasperated against the pretty
child, the lovely Jewess' son, because she herself could have no
children in spite of efforts worthy of a locomotive engine. A
diabolical impulse prompted her to plunge her young stepson, at
twenty-one years of age, into dissipations contrary to all German
habits. The wicked German hoped that English horses, Rhine vinegar,
and Goethe's Marguerites would ruin the Jewess' child and shorten his
days; for when Fritz came of age, Uncle Virlaz had handed over a very
pretty fortune to his nephew. But while roulette at Baden and
elsewhere, and boon companions (Wilhelm Schwab among them) devoured
the substance accumulated by Uncle Virlaz, the prodigal son himself
remained by the will of Providence to point a moral to younger
brothers in the free city of Frankfort; parents held him up as a
warning and an awful example to their offspring to scare them into
steady attendance in their cast-iron counting houses, lined with
But so far from perishing in the flower of his age, Fritz Brunner had
the pleasure of laying his stepmother in one of those charming little
German cemeteries, in which the Teuton indulges his unbridled passion
for horticulture under the specious pretext of honoring his dead. And
as the second Mme. Brunner expired while the authors of her being were
yet alive, Brunner senior was obliged to bear the loss of the sums of
which his wife had drained his coffers, to say nothing of other ills,
which had told upon a Herculean constitution, till at the age of
sixty-seven the innkeeper had wizened and shrunk as if the famous
Borgia's poison had undermined his system. For ten whole years he had
supported his wife, and now he inherited nothing! The innkeeper was a
second ruin of Heidelberg, repaired continually, it is true, by
travelers' hotel bills, much as the remains of the castle of
Heidelberg itself are repaired to sustain the enthusiasm of the
tourists who flock to see so fine and well-preserved a relic of
At Frankfort the disappointment caused as much talk as a failure.
People pointed out Brunner, saying, "See what a man may come to with a
bad wife that leaves him nothing and a son brought up in the French
In Italy and Germany the French nation is the root of all evil, the
target for all bullets. "But the god pursuing his way----" (For the
rest, see Lefranc de Pompignan's Ode.)
The wrath of the proprietor of the Grand Hotel de Hollande fell on
others besides the travelers, whose bills were swelled with his
resentment. When his son was utterly ruined, Gideon, regarding him as
the indirect cause of all his misfortunes, refused him bread and salt,
fire, lodging, and tobacco--the force of the paternal malediction in a
German and an innkeeper could no farther go. Whereupon the local
authorities, making no allowance for the father's misdeeds, regarded
him as one of the most ill-used persons in Frankfort-on-the-Main, came
to his assistance, fastened a quarrel on Fritz (/une querelle
d'Allemand/), and expelled him from the territory of the free city.
Justice in Frankfort is no whit wiser nor more humane than elsewhere,
albeit the city is the seat of the German Diet. It is not often that a
magistrate traces back the stream of wrongdoing and misfortune to the
holder of the urn from which the first beginnings trickled forth. If
Brunner forgot his son, his son's friends speedily followed the old
Ah! if the journalists, the dandies, and some few fair Parisians among
the audience wondered how that German with the tragical countenance
had cropped up on a first night to occupy a side box all to himself
when fashionable Paris filled the house,--if these could have seen the
history played out upon the stage before the prompter's box, they
would have found it far more interesting than the transformation
scenes of /The Devil's Betrothed/, though indeed it was the two
hundred thousandth representation of a sublime allegory performed
aforetime in Mesopotamia three thousand years before Christ was born.
Fritz betook himself on foot to Strasbourg, and there found what the
prodigal son of the Bible failed to find--to wit, a friend. And herein
is revealed the superiority of Alsace, where so many generous hearts
beat to show Germany the beauty of a combination of Gallic wit and
Teutonic solidity. Wilhelm Schwab, but lately left in possession of a
hundred thousand francs by the death of both parents, opened his arms,
his heart, his house, his purse to Fritz. As for describing Fritz's
feelings, when dusty, down on his luck, and almost like a leper, he
crossed the Rhine and found a real twenty-franc piece held out by the
hand of a real friend,--that moment transcends the powers of the prose
writer; Pindar alone could give it forth to humanity in Greek that
should rekindle the dying warmth of friendship in the world.
Put the names of Fritz and Wilheim beside those of Damon and Pythias,
Castor and Pollux, Orestes and Pylades, Dubreuil and Pmejah, Schmucke
and Pons, and all the names that we imagine for the two friends of
Monomotapa, for La Fontaine (man of genius though he was) has made of
them two disembodied spirits--they lack reality. The two new names may
join the illustrious company, and with so much the more reason, since
that Wilhelm who had helped to drink Fritz's inheritance now
proceeded, with Fritz's assistance, to devour his own substance;
smoking, needless to say, every known variety of tobacco.
The pair, strange to relate, squandered the property in the dullest,
stupidest, most commonplace fashion, in Strasbourg /brasseries/, in
the company of ballet-girls of the Strasbourg theatres, and little
Alsaciennes who had not a rag of a tattered reputation left.
Every morning they would say, "We really must stop this, and make up
our minds and do something or other with the money that is left."
"Pooh!" Fritz would retort, "just one more day, and to-morrow" . . .
In the lives of Prodigal Sons, /To-day/ is a prodigious coxcomb, but
/To-morrow/ is a very poltroon, taking fright at the big words of his
predecessor. /To-day/ is the truculent captain of old world comedy,
/To-morrow/ the clown of modern pantomime.
When the two friends had reached their last thousand-franc note, they
took places in the mail-coach, styled Royal, and departed for Paris,
where they installed themselves in the attics of the Hotel du Rhin, in
the Rue du Mail, the property of one Graff, formerly Gideon Brunner's
head-waiter. Fritz found a situation as clerk in the Kellers' bank (on
Graff's recommendation), with a salary of six hundred francs. And a
place as book-keeper was likewise found for Wilhelm, in the business
of Graff the fashionable tailor, brother of Graff of the Hotel du
Rhin, who found the scantily-paid employment for the pair of
prodigals, for the sake of old times, and his apprenticeship at the
Hotel de Hollande. These two incidents--the recognition of a ruined
man by a well-to-do friend, and a German innkeeper interesting himself
in two penniless fellow-countrymen--give, no doubt, an air of
improbability to the story, but truth is so much the more like
fiction, since modern writers of fiction have been at such untold
pains to imitate truth.
It was not long before Fritz, a clerk with six hundred francs, and
Wilhelm, a book-keeper with precisely the same salary, discovered the
difficulties of existence in a city so full of temptations. In 1837,
the second year of their abode, Wilhelm, who possessed a pretty talent
for the flute, entered Pons' orchestra, to earn a little occasional
butter to put on his dry bread. As to Fritz, his only way to an
increase of income lay through the display of the capacity for
business inherited by a descendant of the Virlaz family. Yet, in spite
of his assiduity, in spite of abilities which possibly may have stood
in his way, his salary only reached the sum of two thousand francs in
1843. Penury, that divine stepmother, did for the two men all that
their mothers had not been able to do for them; Poverty taught them
thrift and worldly wisdom; Poverty gave them her grand rough
education, the lessons which she drives with hard knocks into the
heads of great men, who seldom know a happy childhood. Fritz and
Wilhelm, being but ordinary men, learned as little as they possibly
could in her school; they dodged the blows, shrank from her hard
breast and bony arms, and never discovered the good fairy lurking
within, ready to yield to the caresses of genius. One thing, however,
they learned thoroughly--they discovered the value of money, and vowed
to clip the wings of riches if ever a second fortune should come to
This was the history which Wilhelm Schwab related in German, at much
greater length, to his friend the pianist, ending with;
"Well, Papa Schmucke, the rest is soon explained. Old Brunner is dead.
He left four millions! He made an immense amount of money out of Baden
railways, though neither his son nor M. Graff, with whom we lodge, had
any idea that the old man was one of the original shareholders. I am
playing the flute here for the last time this evening; I would have
left some days ago, but this was a first performance, and I did not
want to spoil my part."
"Goot, mine friend," said Schmucke. "But who is die prite?"
"She is Mlle. Graff, the daughter of our host, the landlord of the
Hotel du Rhin. I have loved Mlle. Emilie these seven years; she has
read so many immoral novels, that she refused all offers for me,
without knowing what might come of it. She will be a very wealthy
young lady; her uncles, the tailors in the Rue de Richelieu, will
leave her all their money. Fritz is giving me the money we squandered
at Strasbourg five times over! He is putting a million francs in a
banking house, M. Graff the tailor is adding another five hundred
thousand francs, and Mlle. Emilie's father not only allows me to
incorporate her portion--two hundred and fifty thousand francs--with
the capital, but he himself will be a shareholder with as much again.
So the firm of Brunner, Schwab and Company will start with two
millions five hundred thousand francs. Fritz has just bought fifteen
hundred thousand francs' worth of shares in the Bank of France to
guarantee our account with them. That is not all Fritz's fortune. He
has his father's house property, supposed to be worth another million,
and he has let the Grand Hotel de Hollande already to a cousin of the
"You look sad ven you look at your friend," remarked Schmucke, who had
listened with great interest. "Kann you pe chealous of him?"
"I am jealous for Fritz's happiness," said Wilhelm. "Does that face
look as if it belonged to a happy man? I am afraid of Paris; I should
like to see him do as I am doing. The old tempter may awake again. Of
our two heads, his carries the less ballast. His dress, and the opera-
glass and the rest of it make me anxious. He keeps looking at the
lorettes in the house. Oh! if you only knew how hard it is to marry
Fritz. He has a horror of 'going a-courting,' as you say; you would
have to give him a drop into a family, just as in England they give a
man a drop into the next world."
During the uproar that usually marks the end of a first night, the
flute delivered his invitation to the conductor. Pons accepted
gleefully; and, for the first time in three months, Schmucke saw a
smile on his friend's face. They went back to the Rue de Normandie in
perfect silence; that sudden flash of joy had thrown a light on the
extent of the disease which was consuming Pons. Oh, that a man so
truly noble, so disinterested, so great in feeling, should have such a
weakness! . . . This was the thought that struck the stoic Schmucke
dumb with amazement. He grew woefully sad, for he began to see that
there was no help for it; he must even renounce the pleasure of seeing
"his goot Bons" opposite him at the dinner-table, for the sake of
Pons' welfare; and he did not know whether he could give him up; the
mere thought of it drove him distracted.
Meantime, Pons' proud silence and withdrawal to the Mons Aventinus of
the Rue de Normandie had, as might be expected, impressed the
Presidente, not that she troubled herself much about her parasite, now
that she was freed from him. She thought, with her charming daughter,
that Cousin Pons had seen through her little "Lili's" joke. But it was
otherwise with her husband the President.
Camusot de Marville, a short and stout man, grown solemn since his
promotion at the Court, admired Cicero, preferred the Opera-Comique to
the Italiens, compared the actors one with another, and followed the
multitude step by step. He used to recite all the articles in the
Ministerialist journals, as if he were saying something original, and
in giving his opinion at the Council Board he paraphrased the remarks
of the previous speaker. His leading characteristics were sufficiently
well known; his position compelled him to take everything seriously;
and he was particularly tenacious of family ties.
Like most men who are ruled by their wives, the President asserted his
independence in trifles, in which his wife was very careful not to
thwart him. For a month he was satisfied with the Presidente's
commonplace explanations of Pons' disappearance; but at last it struck
him as singular that the old musician, a friend of forty years'
standing, should first make them so valuable a present as a fan that
belonged to Mme. de Pompadour, and then immediately discontinue his
visits. Count Popinot had pronounced the trinket a masterpiece; when
its owner went to Court, the fan had been passed from hand to hand,
and her vanity was not a little gratified by the compliments it
received; others had dwelt on the beauties of the ten ivory sticks,
each one covered with delicate carving, the like of which had never
been seen. A Russian lady (Russian ladies are apt to forget that they
are not in Russia) had offered her six thousand francs for the marvel
one day at Count Popinot's house, and smiled to see it in such hands.
Truth to tell, it was a fan for a Duchess.
"It cannot be denied that poor Cousin Pons understands rubbish of that
sort--" said Cecile, the day after the bid.
"Rubbish!" cried her parent. "Why, Government is just about to buy the
late M. le Conseiller Dusommerard's collection for three hundred
thousand francs; and the State and the Municipality of Paris between
them are spending nearly a million francs over the purchase and repair
of the Hotel de Cluny to house the 'rubbish,' as you call it.--Such
'rubbish,' dear child," he resumed, "is frequently all that remains of
vanished civilizations. An Etruscan jar, and a necklace, which
sometimes fetch forty and fifty thousand francs, is 'rubbish' which
reveals the perfection of art at the time of the siege of Troy,
proving that the Etruscans were Trojan refugees in Italy."
This was the President's cumbrous way of joking; the short, fat man
was heavily ironical with his wife and daughter.
"The combination of various kinds of knowledge required to understand
such 'rubbish,' Cecile," he resumed, "is a science in itself, called
archaeology. Archaeology comprehends architecture, sculpture,
painting, goldsmiths' work, ceramics, cabinetmaking (a purely modern
art), lace, tapestry--in short, human handiwork of every sort and
"Then Cousin Pons is learned?" said Cecile.
"Ah! by the by, why is he never to be seen nowadays?" asked the
President. He spoke with the air of a man in whom thousands of
forgotten and dormant impressions have suddenly begun to stir, and
shaping themselves into one idea, reach consciousness with a ricochet,
as sportsmen say.
"He must have taken offence at nothing at all," answered his wife. "I
dare say I was not as fully sensible as I might have been of the value
of the fan that he gave me. I am ignorant enough, as you know, of--"
"/You!/ One of Servin's best pupils, and you don't know Watteau?"
cried the President.
"I know Gerard and David and Gros and Griodet, and M. de Forbin and M.
Turpin de Crisse--"
"Ought what, sir?" demanded the lady, gazing at her husband with the
air of a Queen of Sheba.
"To know a Watteau when you see it, my dear. Watteau is very much in
fashion," answered the President with meekness, that told plainly how
much he owed to his wife.
This conversation took place a few days before that night of first
performance of /The Devil's Betrothed/, when the whole orchestra
noticed how ill Pons was looking. But by that time all the circle of
dinner-givers who were used to seeing Pons' face at their tables, and
to send him on errands, had begun to ask each other for news of him,
and uneasiness increased when it was reported by some who had seen him
that he was always in his place at the theatre. Pons had been very
careful to avoid his old acquaintances whenever he met them in the
streets; but one day it so fell out that he met Count Popinot, the
ex-cabinet minister, face to face in the bric-a-brac dealer's shop in
the new Boulevard Beaumarchais. The dealer was none other than that
Monistrol of whom Pons had spoken to the Presidente, one of the famous
and audacious vendors whose cunning enthusiasm leads them to set more
and more value daily on their wares; for curiosities, they tell you,
are growing so scarce that they are hardly to be found at all
"Ah, my dear Pons, how comes it that we never see you now? We miss you
very much, and Mme. Popinot does not know what to think of your
"M. le Comte," said the good man, "I was made to feel in the house of
a relative that at my age one is not wanted in the world. I have never
had much consideration shown me, but at any rate I had not been
insulted. I have never asked anything of any man," he broke out with
an artist's pride. "I have often made myself useful in return for
hospitality. But I have made a mistake, it seems; I am indefinitely
beholden to those who honor me by allowing me to sit at table with
them; my friends, and my relatives. . . . Well and good; I have sent
in my resignation as smellfeast. At home I find daily something which
no other house has offered me--a real friend."
The old artist's power had not failed him; with tone and gesture he
put such bitterness into the words, that the peer of France was struck
by them. He drew Pons aside.
"Come, now, my old friend, what is it? What has hurt you? Could you
not tell me in confidence? You will permit me to say that at my house
surely you have always met with consideration--"
"You are the one exception," said the artist. "And besides, you are a
great lord and a statesman, you have so many things to think about.
That would excuse anything, if there were need for it."
The diplomatic skill that Popinot had acquired in the management of
men and affairs was brought to bear upon Pons, till at length the
story of his misfortunes in the President's house was drawn from him.
Popinot took up the victim's cause so warmly that he told the story to
Mme. Popinot as soon as he went home, and that excellent and noble-
natured woman spoke to the Presidente on the subject at the first
opportunity. As Popinot himself likewise said a word or two to the
President, there was a general explanation in the family of Camusot de
Camusot was not exactly master in his own house; but this time his
remonstrance was so well founded in law and in fact, that his wife and
daughter were forced to acknowledge the truth. They both humbled
themselves and threw the blame on the servants. The servants, first
bidden, and then chidden, only obtained pardon by a full confession,
which made it clear to the President's mind that Pons had done rightly
to stop away. The President displayed himself before the servants in
all his masculine and magisterial dignity, after the manner of men who
are ruled by their wives. He informed his household that they should
be dismissed forthwith, and forfeit any advantages which their long
term of service in his house might have brought them, unless from that
time forward his cousin and all those who did him the honor of coming
to his house were treated as he himself was. At which speech Madeleine
was moved to smile.
"You have only one chance of salvation as it is," continued the
President. "Go to my cousin, make your excuses to him, and tell him
that you will lose your situations unless he forgives you, for I shall
turn you all away if he does not."
Next morning the President went out fairly early to pay a call on his
cousin before going down to the court. The apparition of M. le
President de Marville, announced by Mme. Cibot, was an event in the
house. Pons, thus honored for the first time in his life saw
"At last, my dear cousin," said the President after the ordinary
greetings; "at last I have discovered the cause of your retreat. Your
behavior increases, if that were possible, my esteem for you. I have
but one word to say in that connection. My servants have all been
dismissed. My wife and daughter are in despair; they want to see you
to have an explanation. In all this, my cousin, there is one innocent
person, and he is an old judge; you will not punish me, will you, for
the escapade of a thoughtless child who wished to dine with the
Popinots? especially when I come to beg for peace, admitting that all
the wrong has been on our side? . . . An old friendship of thirty-six
years, even suppose that there had been a misunderstanding, has still
some claims. Come, sign a treaty of peace by dining with us
Pons involved himself in a diffuse reply, and ended by informing his
cousin that he was to sign a marriage contract that evening; how that
one of the orchestra was not only going to be married, but also about
to fling his flute to the winds to become a banker.
"Very well. To-morrow."
"Mme. la Comtesse Popinot has done me the honor of asking me, cousin.
She was so kind as to write--"
"The day after to-morrow then."
"M. Brunner, a German, my first flute's future partner, returns the
compliment paid him to-day by the young couple--"
"You are such pleasant company that it is not surprising that people
dispute for the honor of seeing you. Very well, next Sunday? Within a
week, as we say at the courts?"
"On Sunday we are to dine with M. Graff, the flute's father-in-law."
"Very well, on Saturday. Between now and then you will have time to
reassure a little girl who has shed tears already over her fault. God
asks no more than repentance; you will not be more severe than the
Eternal father with poor little Cecile?--"
Pons, thus reached on his weak side, again plunged into formulas more
than polite, and went as far as the stairhead with the President.
An hour later the President's servants arrived in a troop on poor
Pons' second floor. They behaved after the manner of their kind; they
cringed and fawned; they wept. Madeleine took M. Pons aside and flung
herself resolutely at his feet.
"It is all my fault; and monsieur knows quite well that I love him,"
here she burst into tears. "It was vengeance boiling in my veins;
monsieur ought to throw all the blame of the unhappy affair on that.
We are all to lose our pensions. . . . Monsieur, I was mad, and I
would not have the rest suffer for my fault. . . . I can see now well
enough that fate did not make me for monsieur. I have come to my
senses, I aimed too high, but I love you still, monsieur. These ten
years I have thought of nothing but the happiness of making you happy
and looking after things here. What a lot! . . . Oh! if monsieur but
knew how much I love him! But monsieur must have seen it through all
my mischief-making. If I were to die to-morrow, what would they find?
--A will in your favor, monsieur. . . . Yes, monsieur, in my trunk
under my best things."
Madeleine had set a responsive chord vibrating; the passion inspired
in another may be unwelcome, but it will always be gratifying to self-
love; this was the case with the old bachelor. After generously
pardoning Madeleine, he extended his forgiveness to the other
servants, promising to use his influence with his cousin the
Presidente on their behalf.
It was unspeakably pleasant to Pons to find all his old enjoyments
restored to him without any loss of self-respect. The world had come
to Pons, he had risen in the esteem of his circle; but Schmucke looked
so downcast and dubious when he heard the story of the triumph, that
Pons felt hurt. When, however, the kind-hearted German saw the sudden
change wrought in Pons' face, he ended by rejoicing with his friend,
and made a sacrifice of the happiness that he had known during those
four months that he had had Pons all to himself. Mental suffering has
this immense advantage over physical ills--when the cause is removed
it ceases at once. Pons was not like the same man that morning. The
old man, depressed and visibly failing, had given place to the
serenely contented Pons, who entered the Presidente's house that
October afternoon with the Marquise de Pompadour's fan in his pocket.
Schmucke, on the other hand, pondered deeply over this phenomenon, and
could not understand it; your true stoic never can understand the
courtier that dwells in a Frenchman. Pons was a born Frenchman of the
Empire; a mixture of eighteenth century gallantry and that devotion to
womankind so often celebrated in songs of the type of /Partant pour la
So Schmucke was fain to bury his chagrin beneath the flowers of his
German philosophy; but a week later he grew so yellow that Mme. Cibot
exerted her ingenuity to call in the parish doctor. The leech had
fears of icterus, and left Mme. Cibot frightened half out of her wits
by the Latin word for an attack of the jaundice.
Meantime the two friends went out to dinner together, perhaps for the
first time in their lives. For Schmucke it was a return to the
Fatherland; for Johann Graff of the Hotel du Rhin and his daughter
Emilie, Wolfgang Graff the tailor and his wife, Fritz Brunner and
Wilhelm Schwab, were Germans, and Pons and the notary were the only
Frenchmen present at the banquet. The Graffs of the tailor's business
owned a splendid house in the Rue de Richelieu, between the Rue Neuve-
des-Petits-Champs and the Rue Villedo; they had brought up their
niece, for Emilie's father, not without reason, had feared contact
with the very mixed society of an inn for his daughter. The good
tailor Graffs, who loved Emilie as if she had been their own daughter,
were giving up the ground floor of their great house to the young
couple, and here the bank of Brunner, Schwab and Company was to be
established. The arrangements for the marriage had been made about a
month ago; some time must elapse before Fritz Brunner, author of all
this felicity, could settle his deceased father's affairs, and the
famous firm of tailors had taken advantage of the delay to redecorate
the first floor and to furnish it very handsomely for the bride and
bridegroom. The offices of the bank had been fitted into the wing
which united a handsome business house with the hotel at the back,
between courtyard and garden.
On the way from the Rue de Normandie to the Rue de Richelieu, Pons
drew from the abstracted Schmucke the details of the story of the
modern prodigal son, for whom Death had killed the fatted innkeeper.
Pons, but newly reconciled with his nearest relatives, was immediately
smitten with a desire to make a match between Fritz Brunner and Cecile
de Marville. Chance ordained that the notary was none other than
Berthier, old Cardot's son-in-law and successor, the sometime second
clerk with whom Pons had been wont to dine.
"Ah! M. Berthier, you here!" he said, holding out a hand to his host
of former days.
"We have not had the pleasure of seeing you at dinner lately; how is
it?" returned the notary. "My wife has been anxious about you. We saw
you at the first performance of /The Devil's Betrothed/, and our
anxiety became curiosity?"
"Old folk are sensitive," replied the worthy musician; "they make the
mistake of being a century behind the times, but how can it be helped?
It is quite enough to represent one century--they cannot entirely
belong to the century which sees them die."
"Ah!" said the notary, with a shrewd look, "one cannot run two
centuries at once."
"By the by," continued Pons, drawing the young lawyer into a corner,
"why do you not find some one for my cousin Cecile de Marville--"
"Ah! why--?" answered Berthier. "In this century, when luxury has
filtered down to our very porters' lodges, a young fellow hesitates
before uniting his lot with the daughter of a President of the Court
of Appeal in Paris if she brings him only a hundred thousand francs.
In the rank of life in which Mlle. de Marville's husband would take,
the wife was never yet known that did not cost her husband three
thousand francs a year; the interest on a hundred thousand francs
would scarcely find her in pin-money. A bachelor with an income of
fifteen or twenty thousand francs can live on an entre-sol; he is not
expected to cut any figure; he need not keep more than one servant,
and all his surplus income he can spend on his amusements; he puts
himself in the hands of a good tailor, and need not trouble any
further about keeping up appearances. Far-sighted mothers make much of
him; he is one of the kings of fashion in Paris.
"But a wife changes everything. A wife means a properly furnished
house," continued the lawyer; "she wants the carriage for herself; if
she goes to the play, she wants a box, while the bachelor has only a
stall to pay for; in short, a wife represents the whole of the income
which the bachelor used to spend on himself. Suppose that husband and
wife have thirty thousand francs a year between them--practically, the
sometime bachelor is a poor devil who thinks twice before he drives
out to Chantilly. Bring children on the scene--he is pinched for money
"Now, as M. and Mme. de Marville are scarcely turned fifty, Cecile's
expectations are bills that will not fall due for fifteen or twenty
years to come; and no young fellow cares to keep them so long in his
portfolio. The young featherheads who are dancing the polka with
lorettes at the Jardin Mabille, are so cankered with self-interest,
that they don't stand in need of us to explain both sides of the
problem to them. Between ourselves, I may say that Mlle. de Marville
scarcely sets hearts throbbing so fast but that their owners can
perfectly keep their heads, and they are full of these anti-
matrimonial reflections. If any eligible young man, in full possession
of his senses and an income of twenty thousand francs, happens to be
sketching out a programme of marriage that will satisfy his ambitions,
Mlle. de Marville does not altogether answer the description--"
"And why not?" asked the bewildered musician.
"Oh!--" said the notary, "well--a young man nowadays may be as ugly as
you and I, my dear Pons, but he is almost sure to have the
impertinence to want six hundred thousand francs, a girl of good
family, with wit and good looks and good breeding--flawless perfection
"Then it will not be easy to marry her?"
"She will not be married so long as M. and Mme. de Marville cannot
make up their minds to settle Marville on her when she marries; if
they had chosen, she might have been the Vicomtesse Popinot by now.
But here comes M. Brunner.--We are about to read the deed of
partnership and the marriage contract."
Greetings and introductions over, the relations made Pons promise to
sign the contract. He listened to the reading of the documents, and
towards half-past five the party went into the dining-room. The dinner
was magnificent, as a city merchant's dinner can be, when he allows
himself a respite from money-making. Graff of the Hotel du Rhin was
acquainted with the first provision dealers in Paris; never had Pons
nor Schmucke fared so sumptuously. The dishes were a rapture to think
of! Italian paste, delicate of flavor, unknown to the public; smelts
fried as never smelts were fried before; fish from Lake Leman, with a
real Genevese sauce, and a cream for plum-pudding which would have
astonished the London doctor who is said to have invented it. It was
nearly ten o'clock before they rose from table. The amount of wine,
German and French, consumed at that dinner would amaze the
contemporary dandy; nobody knows the amount of liquor that a German
can imbibe and yet keep calm and quiet; to have even an idea of the
quantity, you must dine in Germany and watch bottle succeed to bottle,
like wave rippling after wave along the sunny shores of the
Mediterranean, and disappear as if the Teuton possessed the absorbing
power of sponges or sea sand. Perfect harmony prevails meanwhile;
there is none of the racket that there would be over the liquor in
France; the talk is as sober as a money-lender's extempore speech;
countenances flush, like the faces of the brides in frescoes by
Cornelius or Schnorr (imperceptibly, that is to say), and
reminiscences are poured out slowly while the smoke puffs from the
About half-past ten that evening Pons and Schmucke found themselves
sitting on a bench out in the garden, with the ex-flute between them;
they were explaining their characters, opinions, and misfortunes, with
no very clear idea as to why or how they had come to this point. In
the thick of a potpourri of confidences, Wilhelm spoke of his strong
desire to see Fritz married, expressing himself with vehement and
"What do you say to this programme for your friend Brunner?" cried
Pons in confidential tones. "A charming and sensible young lady of
twenty-four, belonging to a family of the highest distinction. The
father holds a very high position as a judge; there will be a hundred
thousand francs paid down and a million to come."
"Wait!" answered Schwab; "I will speak to Fritz this instant."
The pair watched Brunner and his friend as they walked round and round
the garden; again and again they passed the bench, sometimes one
spoke, sometimes the other.
Pons was not exactly intoxicated; his head was a little heavy, but his
thoughts, on the contrary, seemed all the lighter; he watched Fritz
Brunner's face through the rainbow mist of fumes of wine, and tried to
read auguries favorable to his family. Before very long Schwab
introduced his friend and partner to M. Pons; Fritz Brunner expressed
his thanks for the trouble which Pons had been so good as to take.
In the conversation which followed, the two old bachelors Schmucke and
Pons extolled the estate of matrimony, going so far as to say, without
any malicious intent, "that marriage was the end of man." Tea and
ices, punches and cakes, were served in the future home of the
betrothed couple. The wine had begun to tell upon the honest
merchants, and the general hilarity reached its height when it was
announced that Schwab's partner thought of following his example.
At two o'clock that morning, Schmucke and Pons walked home along the
boulevards, philosophizing /a perte de raison/ as they went on the
harmony pervading the arrangements of this our world below.
On the morrow of the banquet, Cousin Pons betook himself to his fair
cousin the Presidente, overjoyed--poor dear noble soul!--to return
good for evil. Surely he had attained to a sublime height, as every
one will allow, for we live in an age when the Montyon prize is given
to those who do their duty by carrying out the precepts of the Gospel.
"Ah!" said Pons to himself, as he turned the corner of the Rue de
Choiseul, "they will lie under immense obligations to their parasite."
Any man less absorbed in his contentment, any man of the world, any
distrustful nature would have watched the President's wife and
daughter very narrowly on this first return to the house. But the poor
musician was a child, he had all the simplicity of an artist,
believing in goodness as he believed in beauty; so he was delighted
when Cecile and her mother made much of him. After all the
vaudevilles, tragedies, and comedies which had been played under the
worthy man's eyes for twelve long years, he could not detect the
insincerity and grimaces of social comedy, no doubt because he had
seen too much of it. Any one who goes into society in Paris, and knows
the type of woman, dried up, body and soul, by a burning thirst for
social position, and a fierce desire to be thought virtuous, any one
familiar with the sham piety and the domineering character of a woman
whose word is law in her own house, may imagine the lurking hatred she
bore this husband's cousin whom she had wronged.
All the demonstrative friendliness of mother and daughter was lined
with a formidable longing for revenge, evidently postponed. For the
first time in Amelie de Marville's life she had been put in the wrong,
and that in the sight of the husband over whom she tyrannized; and not
only so--she was obliged to be amiable to the author of her defeat!
You can scarcely find a match for this position save in the
hypocritical dramas which are sometimes kept up for years in the
sacred college of cardinals, or in chapters of certain religious
At three o'clock, when the President came back from the law-courts,
Pons had scarcely made an end of the marvelous history of his
acquaintance, M. Frederic Brunner. Cecile had gone straight to the
point. She wanted to know how Frederic Brunner was dressed, how he
looked, his height and figure, the color of his hair and eyes; and
when she had conjectured a distinguished air for Frederic, she admired
his generosity of character.
"Think of his giving five hundred thousand francs to his companion in
misfortune! Oh! mamma, I shall have a carriage and a box at the
Italiens----" Cecile grew almost pretty as she thought that all her
mother's ambitions for her were about to be realized, that the hopes
which had almost left her were to come to something after all.
As for the Presidente, all that she said was, "My dear little girl,
you may perhaps be married within the fortnight."
All mothers with daughters of three-and-twenty address them as "little
"Still," added the President, "in any case, we must have time to make
inquiries; never will I give my daughter to just anybody--"
"As to inquiries," said Pons, "Berthier is drawing up the deeds. As to
the young man himself, my dear cousin, you remember what you told me?
Well, he is quite forty years old; he is bald. He wishes to find in
family life a haven after a storm; I did not dissuade him; every man
has his tastes--"
"One reason the more for a personal interview," returned the
President. "I am not going to give my daughter to a valetudinarian."
"Very good, cousin, you shall see my suitor in five days if you like;
for, with your views, a single interview would be enough"--(Cecile and
her mother signified their rapture)--"Frederic is decidedly a
distinguished amateur; he begged me to allow him to see my little
collection at his leisure. You have never seen my pictures and
curiosities; come and see them," he continued, looking at his
relatives. "You can come simply as two ladies, brought by my friend
Schmucke, and make M. Brunner's acquaintance without betraying
yourselves. Frederic need not in the least know who you are."
"Admirable!" cried the President.
The attention they paid to the once scorned parasite may be left to
the imagination! Poor Pons that day became the Presidente's cousin.
The happy mother drowned her dislike in floods of joy; her looks, her
smiles, her words sent the old man into ecstasies over the good that
he had done, over the future that he saw by glimpses. Was he not sure
to find dinners such as yesterday's banquet over the signing of the
contract, multiplied indefinitely by three, in the houses of Brunner,
Schwab, and Graff? He saw before him a land of plenty--a /vie de
cocagne/, a miraculous succession of /plats couverts/, of delicate
surprise dishes, of exquisite wines.
"If Cousin Pons brings this through," said the President, addressing
his wife after Pons had departed, "we ought to settle an income upon
him equal to his salary at the theatre."
"Certainly," said the lady; and Cecile was informed that if the
proposed suitor found favor in her eyes, she must undertake to induce
the old musician to accept a munificence in such bad taste.
Next day the President went to Berthier. He was anxious to make sure
of M. Frederic Brunner's financial position. Berthier, forewarned by
Mme. de Marville, had asked his new client Schwab to come. Schwab the
banker was dazzled by the prospect of such a match for his friend
(everybody knows how deeply a German venerates social distinctions, so
much so, that in Germany a wife takes her husband's (official) title,
and is the Frau General, the Frau Rath, and so forth)--Schwab
therefore was as accommodating as a collector who imagines that he is
cheating a dealer.
"In the first place," said Cecile's father, "as I shall make over my
estate of Marville to my daughter, I should wish the contract to be
drawn up on the dotal system. In that case, M. Brunner would invest a
million francs in land to increase the estate, and by settling the
land on his wife he would secure her and his children from any share
in the liabilities of the bank."
Berthier stroked his chin. "He is coming on well, is M. le President,"
When the dotal system had been explained to Schwab, he seemed much
inclined that way for his friend. He had heard Fritz say that he
wished to find some way of insuring himself against another lapse into
"There is a farm and pasture land worth twelve hundred thousand francs
in the market at this moment," remarked the President.
"If we take up shares in the Bank of France to the amount of a million
francs, that will be quite enough to guarantee our account," said
Schwab. "Fritz does not want to invest more than two million francs in
business; he will do as you wish, I am sure, M. le President."
The President's wife and daughter were almost wild with joy when he
brought home this news. Never, surely, did so rich a capture swim so
complacently into the nets of matrimony.
"You will be Mme. Brunner de Marville," said the parent, addressing
his child; "I will obtain permission for your husband to add the name
to his, and afterwards he can take out letters of naturalization. If I
should be a peer of France some day, he will succeed me!"
The five days were spent by Mme. de Marville in preparations. On the
great day she dressed Cecile herself, taking as much pains as the
admiral of the British fleet takes over the dressing of the pleasure
yacht for Her Majesty of England when she takes a trip to Germany.
Pons and Schmucke, on their side, cleaned, swept, and dusted Pons'
museum rooms and furniture with the agility of sailors cleaning down a
man-of-war. There was not a speck of dust on the carved wood; not an
inch of brass but it glistened. The glasses over the pastels obscured
nothing of the work of Latour, Greuze, and Liotard (illustrious
painter of /The Chocolate Girl/), miracles of an art, alas! so
fugitive. The inimitable lustre of Florentine bronze took all the
varying hues of the light; the painted glass glowed with color. Every
line shone out brilliantly, every object threw in its phrase in a
harmony of masterpieces arranged by two musicians--both of whom alike
had attained to be poets.
With a tact which avoided the difficulties of a late appearance on the
scene of action, the women were the first to arrive; they wished to be
on their own ground. Pons introduced his friend Schmucke, who seemed
to his fair visitors to be an idiot; their heads were so full of the
eligible gentleman with the four millions of francs, that they paid
but little attention to the worthy Pons' dissertations upon matters of
which they were completely ignorant.
They looked with indifferent eyes at Petitot's enamels, spaced over
crimson velvet, set in three frames of marvelous workmanship. Flowers
by Van Huysum, David, and Heim; butterflies painted by Abraham Mignon;
Van Eycks, undoubted Cranachs and Albrecht Durers; the Giorgione, the
Sebastian del Piombo; Backhuijzen, Hobbema, Gericault, the rarities of
painting--none of these things so much as aroused their curiosity;
they were waiting for the sun to arise and shine upon these treasures.
Still, they were surprised by the beauty of some of the Etruscan
trinkets and the solid value of the snuff-boxes, and out of politeness
they went into ecstasies over some Florentine bronzes which they held
in their hands when Mme. Cibot announced M. Brunner! They did not
turn; they took advantage of a superb Venetian mirror framed in huge
masses of carved ebony to scan this phoenix of eligible young men.
Frederic, forewarned by Wilhelm, had made the most of the little hair
that remained to him. He wore a neat pair of trousers, a soft shade of
some dark color, a silk waistcoat of superlative elegance and the very
newest cut, a shirt with open-work, its linen hand-woven by a
Friesland woman, and a blue-and-white cravat. His watch chain, like
the head of his cane, came from Messrs. Florent and Chanor; and the
coat, cut by old Graff himself, was of the very finest cloth. The
Suede gloves proclaimed the man who had run through his mother's
fortune. You could have seen the banker's neat little brougham and
pair of horses mirrored in the surface of his speckless varnished
boots, even if two pairs of sharp ears had not already caught the
sound of wheels outside in the Rue de Normandie.
When the prodigal of twenty years is a kind of chrysalis from which a
banker emerges at the age of forty, the said banker is usually an
observer of human nature; and so much the more shrewd if, as in
Brunner's case, he understands how to turn his German simplicity to
good account. He had assumed for the occasion the abstracted air of a
man who is hesitating between family life and the dissipations of
bachelorhood. This expression in a Frenchified German seemed to Cecile
to be in the highest degree romantic; the descendant of the Virlaz was
a second Werther in her eyes--where is the girl who will not allow
herself to weave a little novel about her marriage? Cecile thought
herself the happiest of women when Brunner, looking round at the
magnificent works of art so patiently collected during forty years,
waxed enthusiastic, and Pons, to his no small satisfaction, found an
appreciative admirer of his treasures for the first time in his life.
"He is poetical," the young lady said to herself; "he sees millions in
the things. A poet is a man that cannot count and leaves his wife to
look after his money--an easy man to manage and amuse with trifles."
Every pane in the two windows was a square of Swiss painted glass; the
least of them was worth a thousand francs; and Pons possessed sixteen
of these unrivaled works of art for which amateurs seek so eagerly
nowadays. In 1815 the panes could be bought for six or ten francs
apiece. The value of the glorious collection of pictures, flawless
great works, authentic, untouched since they left the master's hands,
could only be proved in the fiery furnace of a saleroom. Not a picture
but was set in a costly frame; there were frames of every kind--
Venetians, carved with heavy ornaments, like English plate of the
present day; Romans, distinguishable among the others for a certain
dash that artists call /flafla/; Spanish wreaths in bold relief;
Flemings and Germans with quaint figures, tortoise-shell frames inlaid
with copper and brass and mother-of-pearl and ivory; frames of ebony
and boxwood in the styles of Louis Treize, Louis Quatorze, Louis
Quinze, and Louis Seize--in short, it was a unique collection of the
finest models. Pons, luckier than the art museums of Dresden and
Vienna, possessed a frame by the famous Brustoloni--the Michael Angelo
Mlle. de Marville naturally asked for explanations of each new
curiosity, and was initiated into the mysteries of art by Brunner. Her
exclamations were so childish, she seemed so pleased to have the value
and beauty of the paintings, carvings, or bronzes pointed out to her,
that the German gradually thawed and looked quite young again, and
both were led on further than they intended at this (purely
accidental) first meeting.
The private view lasted for three hours. Brunner offered his arm when
Cecile went downstairs. As they descended slowly and discreetly,
Cecile, still talking fine art, wondered that M. Brunner should admire
her cousin's gimcracks so much.
"Do you really think that these things that we have just seen are
worth a great deal of money?"
"Mademoiselle, if your cousin would sell his collection, I would give
eight hundred thousand francs for it this evening, and I should not
make a bad bargain. The pictures alone would fetch more than that at a
"Since you say so, I believe it," returned she; "the things took up so
much of your attention that it must be so."
"On! mademoiselle!" protested Brunner. "For all answer to your
reproach, I will ask your mother's permission to call, so that I may
have the pleasure of seeing you again."
"How clever she is, that 'little girl' of mine!" thought the
Presidente, following closely upon her daughter's heels. Aloud she
said, "With the greatest pleasure, monsieur. I hope that you will come
at dinner-time with our Cousin Pons. The President will be delighted
to make your acquaintance.--Thank you, cousin."
The lady squeezed Pons' arm with deep meaning; she could not have said
more if she had used the consecrated formula, "Let us swear an eternal
friendship." The glance which accompanied that "Thank you, cousin,"
was a caress.
When the young lady had been put into the carriage, and the jobbed
brougham had disappeared down the Rue Charlot, Brunner talked bric-a-
brac to Pons, and Pons talked marriage.
"Then you see no obstacle?" said Pons.
"Oh!" said Brunner, "she is an insignificant little thing, and the
mother is a trifle prim.--We shall see."
"A handsome fortune one of these days. . . . More than a million--"
"Good-bye till Monday!" interrupted the millionaire. "If you should
care to sell your collection of pictures, I would give you five or six
hundred thousand francs--"
"Ah!" said Pons; he had no idea that he was so rich. "But they are my
great pleasure in life, and I could not bring myself to part with
them. I could only sell my collection to be delivered after my death."
"Very well. We shall see."
"Here we have two affairs afoot!" said Pons; he was thinking only of
Brunner shook hands and drove away in his splendid carriage. Pons
watched it out of sight. He did not notice that Remonencq was smoking
his pipe in the doorway.
That evening Mme. de Marville went to ask advice of her father-in-law,
and found the whole Popinot family at the Camusots' house. It was only
natural that a mother who had failed to capture an eldest son should
be tempted to take her little revenge; so Mme. de Marville threw out
hints of the splendid marriage that her Cecile was about to make.--
"Whom can Cecile be going to marry?" was the question upon all lips.
And Cecile's mother, without suspecting that she was betraying her
secret, let fall words and whispered confidences, afterwards
supplemented by Mme. Berthier, till gossip circulating in the
bourgeois empyrean where Pons accomplished his gastronomical
evolutions took something like the following form:
"Cecile de Marville is engaged to be married to a young German, a
banker from philanthropic motives, for he has four millions; he is
like a hero in a novel, a perfect Werther, charming and kind-hearted.
He has sown his wild oats, and he is distractedly in love with Cecile;
it is a case of love at first sight; and so much the more certain,
since Cecile had all Pons' paintings of Madonnas for rivals," and so
forth and so forth.
Two or three of the set came to call on the Presidente, ostensibly to
congratulate, but really to find out whether or not the marvelous tale
were true. For their benefit Mme. de Marville executed the following
admirable variations on the theme of son-in-law which mothers may
consult, as people used to refer to the /Complete Letter Writer/.
"A marriage is not an accomplished fact," she told Mme. Chiffreville,
"until you have been in the mayor's office and the church. We have
only come as far as a personal interview; so I count upon your
friendship to say nothing of our hopes."
"You are very fortunate, madame; marriages are so difficult to arrange
in these days."
"What can one do? It was chance; but marriages are often made in that
"Ah! well. So you are going to marry Cecile?" said Mme. Cardot.
"Yes," said Cecile's mother, fully understanding the meaning of the
"so." "We were very particular, or Cecile would have been established
before this. But now we have found everything we wish: money, good
temper, good character, and good looks; and my sweet little girl
certainly deserves nothing less. M. Brunner is a charming young man,
most distinguished; he is fond of luxury, he knows life; he is wild
about Cecile, he loves her sincerely; and in spite of his three or
four millions, Cecile is going to accept him.--We had not looked so
high for her; still, store is no sore."
"It was not so much the fortune as the affection inspired by my
daughter which decided us," the Presidente told Mme. Lebas. "M.
Brunner is in such a hurry that he wants the marriage to take place
with the least possible delay."
"Is he a foreigner?"
"Yes, madame; but I am very fortunate, I confess. No, I shall not have
a son-in-law, but a son. M. Brunner's delicacy has quite won our
hearts. No one would imagine how anxious he was to marry under the
dotal system. It is a great security for families. He is going to
invest twelve hundred thousand francs in grazing land, which will be
added to Marville some day."
More variations followed on the morrow. For instance--M. Brunner was a
great lord, doing everything in lordly fashion; he did not haggle. If
M. de Marville could obtain letters of naturalization, qualifying M.
Brunner for an office under Government (and the Home Secretary surely
could strain a point for M. de Marville), his son-in-law would be a
peer of France. Nobody knew how much money M. Brunner possessed; "he
had the finest horses and the smartest carriages in Paris!" and so on
and so on.
From the pleasure with which the Camusots published their hopes, it
was pretty clear that this triumph was unexpected.
Immediately after the interview in Pons' museum, M. de Marville, at
his wife's instance, begged the Home Secretary, his chief, and the
attorney for the crown to dine with him on the occasion of the
introduction of this phoenix of a son-in-law.
The three great personages accepted the invitation, albeit it was
given on short notice; they all saw the part that they were to play in
the family politics, and readily came to the father's support. In
France we are usually pretty ready to assist the mother of
marriageable daughters to hook an eligible son-in-law. The Count and
Countess Popinot likewise lent their presence to complete the splendor
of the occasion, although they thought the invitation in questionable
There were eleven in all. Cecile's grandfather, old Camusot, came, of
course, with his wife to a family reunion purposely arranged to elicit
a proposal from M. Brunner.
The Camusot de Marvilles had given out that the guest of the evening
was one of the richest capitalists in Germany, a man of taste (he was
in love with "the little girl"), a future rival of the Nucingens,
Kellers, du Tillets, and their like.
"It is our day," said the Presidente with elaborate simplicity, when
she had named her guests one by one for the German whom she already
regarded as her son-in-law. "We have only a few intimate friends--
first, my husband's father, who, as you know, is sure to be raised to
the peerage; M. le Comte and Mme. la Comtesse Popinot, whose son was
not thought rich enough for Cecile; the Home Secretary; our First
President; our attorney for the crown; our personal friends, in short.
--We shall be obliged to dine rather late to-night, because the
Chamber is sitting, and people cannot get away before six."
Brunner looked significantly at Pons, and Pons rubbed his hands as if
to say, "Our friends, you see! /My/ friends!"
Mme. de Marville, as a clever tactician, had something very particular
to say to her cousin, that Cecile and her Werther might be left
together for a moment. Cecile chattered away volubly, and contrived
that Frederic should catch sight of a German dictionary, a German
grammar, and a volume of Goethe hidden away in a place where he was
likely to find them.
"Ah! are you learning German?" asked Brunner, flushing red.
(For laying traps of this kind the Frenchwoman has not her match!)
"Oh! how naughty you are!" she cried; "it is too bad of you, monsieur,
to explore my hiding-places like this. I want to read Goethe in the
original," she added; "I have been learning German for two years."
"Then the grammar must be very difficult to learn, for scarcely ten
pages have been cut--" Brunner remarked with much candor.
Cecile, abashed, turned away to hide her blushes. A German cannot
resist a display of this kind; Brunner caught Cecile's hand, made her
turn, and watched her confusion under his gaze, after the manner of
the heroes of the novels of Auguste Lafontaine of chaste memory.
"You are adorable," said he.
Cecile's petulant gesture replied, "So are you--who could help liking
"It is all right, mamma," she whispered to her parent, who came up at
that moment with Pons.
The sight of a family party on these occasions is not to be described.
Everybody was well satisfied to see a mother put her hand on an
eligible son-in-law. Compliments, double-barreled and double-charged,
were paid to Brunner (who pretended to understand nothing); to Cecile,
on whom nothing was lost; and to the Presidente, who fished for them.
Pons heard the blood singing in his ears, the light of all the blazing
gas-jets of the theatre footlights seemed to be dazzling his eyes,
when Cecile, in a low voice and with the most ingenious
circumspection, spoke of her father's plan of the annuity of twelve
hundred francs. The old artist positively declined the offer, bringing
forward the value of his fortune in furniture, only now made known to
him by Brunner.
The Home Secretary, the First President, the attorney for the crown,
the Popinots, and those who had other engagements, all went; and
before long no one was left except M. Camusot senior, and Cardot the
old notary, and his assistant and son-in-law Berthier. Pons, worthy
soul, looking round and seeing no one but the family, blundered out a
speech of thanks to the President and his wife for the proposal which
Cecile had just made to him. So it is with those who are guided by
their feelings; they act upon impulse. Brunner, hearing of an annuity
offered in this way, thought that it had very much the look of a
commission paid to Pons; he made an Israelite's return upon himself,
his attitude told of more than cool calculation.
Meanwhile Pons was saying to his astonished relations, "My collection
or its value will, in any case, go to your family, whether I come to
terms with our friend Brunner or keep it." The Camusots were amazed to
hear that Pons was so rich.
Brunner, watching, saw how all these ignorant people looked favorably
upon a man once believed to be poor so soon as they knew that he had
great possessions. He had seen, too, already that Cecile was spoiled
by her father and mother; he amused himself, therefore, by astonishing
the good bourgeois.
"I was telling mademoiselle," said he, "that M. Pons' pictures were
worth that sum to /me/; but the prices of works of art have risen so
much of late, that no one can tell how much the collection might sell
for at public auction. The sixty pictures might fetch a million
francs; several that I saw the other day were worth fifty thousand
"It is a fine thing to be your heir!" remarked old Cardot, looking at
"My heir is my Cousin Cecile here," answered Pons, insisting on the
relationship. There was a flutter of admiration at this.
"She will be a very rich heiress," laughed old Cardot, as he took his
Camusot senior, the President and his wife, Cecile, Brunner, Berthier,
and Pons were now left together; for it was assumed that the formal
demand for Cecile's hand was about to be made. No sooner was Cardot
gone, indeed, than Brunner began with an inquiry which augured well.
"I think I understood," he said, turning to Mme. de Marville, "that
mademoiselle is your only daughter."
"Certainly," the lady said proudly.
"Nobody will make any difficulties," Pons, good soul, put in by way of
encouraging Brunner to bring out his proposal.
But Brunner grew thoughtful, and an ominous silence brought on a
coolness of the strangest kind. The Presidente might have admitted
that her "little girl" was subject to epileptic fits. The President,
thinking that Cecile ought not to be present, signed to her to go. She
went. Still Brunner said nothing. They all began to look at one
another. The situation was growing awkward.
Camusot senior, a man of experience, took the German to Mme. de
Marville's room, ostensibly to show him Pons' fan. He saw that some
difficulty had arisen, and signed to the rest to leave him alone with
"Here is the masterpiece," said Camusot, opening out the fan.
Brunner took it in his hand and looked at it. "It is worth five
thousand francs," he said after a moment.
"Did you not come here, sir, to ask for my granddaughter?" inquired
the future peer of France.
"Yes, sir," said Brunner; "and I beg you to believe that no possible
marriage could be more flattering to my vanity. I shall never find any
one more charming nor more amiable, nor a young lady who answers to my
ideas like Mlle. Cecile; but--"
"Oh, no /buts/!" old Camusot broke in; "or let us have the translation
of your 'buts' at once, my dear sir."
"I am very glad, sir, that the matter has gone no further on either
side," Brunner answered gravely. "I had no idea that Mlle. Cecile was
an only daughter. Anybody else would consider this an advantage; but
to me, believe me, it is an insurmountable obstacle to--"
"What, sir!" cried Camusot, amazed beyond measure. "Do you find a
positive drawback in an immense advantage? Your conduct is really
extraordinary; I should very much like to hear the explanation of it."
"I came here this evening, sir," returned the German phlegmatically,
"intending to ask M. le President for his daughter's hand. It was my
desire to give Mlle. Cecile a brilliant future by offering her so much
of my fortune as she would consent to accept. But an only daughter is
a child whose will is law to indulgent parents, who has never been
contradicted. I have had the opportunity of observing this in many
families, where parents worship divinities of this kind. And your
granddaughter is not only the idol of the house, but Mme. la
Presidente . . . you know what I mean. I have seen my father's house
turned into a hell, sir, from this very cause. My stepmother, the
source of all my misfortunes, an only daughter, idolized by her
parents, the most charming betrothed imaginable, after marriage became
a fiend incarnate. I do not doubt that Mlle. Cecile is an exception to
the rule; but I am not a young man, I am forty years old, and the
difference between our ages entails difficulties which would put it
out of my power to make the young lady happy, when Mme. la Presidente
always carried out her daughter's every wish and listened to her as if
Mademoiselle was an oracle. What right have I to expect Mlle. Cecile
to change her habits and ideas? Instead of a father and mother who
indulge her every whim, she would find an egotistic man of forty; if
she should resist, the man of forty would have the worst of it. So, as
an honest man--I withdraw. If there should be any need to explain my
visit here, I desire to be entirely sacrificed--"
"If these are your motives, sir," said the future peer of France,
"however singular they may be, they are plausible--"
"Do not call my sincerity in question, sir," Brunner interrupted
quickly. "If you know of a penniless girl, one of a large family, well
brought up but without fortune, as happens very often in France; and
if her character offers me security, I will marry her."
A pause followed; Frederic Brunner left Cecile's grandfather and
politely took leave of his host and hostess. When he was gone, Cecile
appeared, a living commentary upon her Werther's leave-taking; she was
ghastly pale. She had hidden in her mother's wardrobe and overheard
the whole conversation.
"Refused! . . ." she said in a low voice for her mother's ear.
"And why?" asked the Presidente, fixing her eyes upon her embarrassed
"Upon the fine pretext that an only daughter is a spoilt child,"
replied that gentleman. "And he is not altogether wrong there," he
added, seizing an opportunity of putting the blame on the daughter-in-
law, who had worried him not a little for twenty years.
"It will kill my child!" cried the Presidente, "and it is your doing!"
she exclaimed, addressing Pons, as she supported her fainting
daughter, for Cecile thought well to make good her mother's words by
sinking into her arms. The President and his wife carried Cecile to an
easy-chair, where she swooned outright. The grandfather rang for the
"It is a plot of his weaving; I see it all now," said the infuriated
Pons sprang up as if the trump of doom were sounding in his ears.
"Yes!" said the lady, her eyes like two springs of green bile, "this
gentleman wished to repay a harmless joke by an insult. Who will
believe that that German was right in his mind? He is either an
accomplice in a wicked scheme of revenge, or he is crazy. I hope, M.
Pons, that in future you will spare us the annoyance of seeing you in
the house where you have tried to bring shame and dishonor."
Pons stood like a statue, with his eyes fixed on the pattern of the
"Well! Are you still here, monster of ingratitude?" cried she, turning
round on Pons, who was twirling his thumbs.--"Your master and I are
never at home, remember, if this gentleman calls," she continued,
turning to the servants.--"Jean, go for the doctor; and bring
In the Presidente's eyes, the reason given by Brunner was simply an
excuse, there was something else behind; but, at the same time, the
fact that the marriage was broken off was only the more certain. A
woman's mind works swiftly in great crises, and Mme. de Marville had
hit at once upon the one method of repairing the check. She chose to
look upon it as a scheme of revenge. This notion of ascribing a
fiendish scheme to Pons satisfied family honor. Faithful to her
dislike of the cousin, she treated a feminine suspicion as a fact.
Women, generally speaking, hold a creed peculiar to themselves, a code
of their own; to them anything which serves their interests or their
passions is true. The Presidente went a good deal further. In the
course of the evening she talked the President into her belief, and
next morning found the magistrate convinced of his cousin's
Every one, no doubt, will condemn the lady's horrible conduct; but
what mother in Mme. Camusot's position will not do the same? Put the
choice between her own daughter and an alien, she will prefer to
sacrifice the honor of the latter. There are many ways of doing this,
but the end in view is the same.
The old musician fled down the staircase in haste; but he went slowly
along the boulevards to his theatre, he turned in mechanically at the
door, and mechanically he took his place and conducted the orchestra.
In the interval he gave such random answers to Schmucke's questions,
that his old friend dissembled his fear that Pons' mind had given way.
To so childlike a nature, the recent scene took the proportions of a
catastrophe. He had meant to make every one happy, and he had aroused
a terrible slumbering feeling of hate; everything had been turned
topsy-turvy. He had at last seen mortal hate in the Presidente's eyes,
tones, and gesture.
On the morrow, Mme. Camusot de Marville made a great resolution; the
President likewise sanctioned the step now forced upon them by
circumstances. It was determined that the estate of Marville should be
settled upon Cecile at the time of her marriage, as well as the house
in the Rue de Hanovre and a hundred thousand francs. In the course of
the morning, the Presidente went to call upon the Comtesse Popinot;
for she saw plainly that nothing but a settled marriage could enable
them to recover after such a check. To the Comtesse Popinot she told
the shocking story of Pons' revenge, Pons' hideous hoax. It all seemed
probable enough when it came out that the marriage had been broken off
simply on the pretext that Cecile was an only daughter. The Presidente
next dwelt artfully upon the advantage of adding "de Marville" to the
name of Popinot; and the immense dowry. At the present price fetched
by land in Normandy, at two per cent, the property represented nine
hundred thousand francs, and the house in the Rue de Hanovre about two
hundred and fifty thousand. No reasonable family could refuse such an
alliance. The Comte and Comtesse Popinot accepted; and as they were
now touched by the honor of the family which they were about to enter,
they promised to help explain away yesterday evening's mishap.
And now in the house of the elder Camusot, before the very persons who
had heard Mme. de Marville singing Frederic Brunner's praises but a
few days ago, that lady, to whom nobody ventured to speak on the
topic, plunged courageously into explanations.
"Really, nowadays" (she said), "one could not be too careful if a
marriage was in question, especially if one had to do with
"And why, madame?"
"What has happened to you?" asked Mme. Chiffreville.
"Do you not know about our adventure with that Brunner, who had the
audacity to aspire to marry Cecile? His father was a German that kept
a wine-shop, and his uncle is a dealer in rabbit-skins!"
"Is it possible? So clear-sighted as you are! . . ." murmured a lady.
"These adventurers are so cunning. But we found out everything through
Berthier. His friend is a beggar that plays the flute. He is friendly
with a person who lets furnished lodgings in the Rue du Mail and some
tailor or other. . . . We found out that he had led a most
disreputable life, and no amount of fortune would be enough for a
scamp that has run through his mother's property."
"Why, Mlle. de Marville would have been wretched!" said Mme. Berthier.
"How did he come to your house?" asked old Mme. Lebas.
"It was M. Pons. Out of revenge, he introduced this fine gentleman to
us, to make us ridiculous. . . . This Brunner (it is the same name as
Fontaine in French)--this Brunner, that was made out to be such a
grandee, has poor enough health, he is bald, and his teeth are bad.
The first sight of him was enough for me; I distrusted him from the
"But how about the great fortune that you spoke of?" a young married
woman asked shyly.
"The fortune was not nearly so large as they said. These tailors and
the landlord and he all scraped the money together among them, and put
all their savings into this bank that they are starting. What is a
bank for those that begin in these days? Simply a license to ruin
themselves. A banker's wife may lie down at night a millionaire and
wake up in the morning with nothing but her settlement. At first word,
at the very first sight of him, we made up our minds about this
gentleman--he is not one of us. You can tell by his gloves, by his
waistcoat, that he is a working man, the son of a man that kept a pot-
house somewhere in Germany; he has not the instincts of a gentleman;
he drinks beer, and he smokes--smokes? ah! madame, /twenty-five pipes
a day!/ . . . What would have become of poor Lili? . . . It makes me
shudder even now to think of it. God has indeed preserved us! And
besides, Cecile never liked him. . . . Who would have expected such a
trick from a relative, an old friend of the house that had dined with
us twice a week for twenty years? We have loaded him with benefits,
and he played his game so well, that he said Cecile was his heir
before the Keeper of the Seals and the Attorney General and the Home
Secretary! . . . That Brunner and M. Pons had their story ready, and
each of them said that the other was worth millions! . . . No, I do
assure you, all of you would have been taken in by an artist's hoax
In a few weeks' time, the united forces of the Camusot and Popinot
families gained an easy victory in the world, for nobody undertook to
defend the unfortunate Pons, that parasite, that curmudgeon, that
skinflint, that smooth-faced humbug, on whom everybody heaped scorn;
he was a viper cherished in the bosom of the family, he had not his
match for spite, he was a dangerous mountebank whom nobody ought to
About a month after the perfidious Werther's withdrawal, poor Pons
left his bed for the first time after an attack of nervous fever, and
walked along the sunny side of the street leaning on Schmucke's arm.
Nobody in the Boulevard du Temple laughed at the "pair of
nutcrackers," for one of the old men looked so shattered, and the
other so touchingly careful of his invalid friend. By the time that
they reached the Boulevard Poissonniere, a little color came back to
Pons' face; he was breathing the air of the boulevards, he felt the
vitalizing power of the atmosphere of the crowded street, the life-
giving property of the air that is noticeable in quarters where human
life abounds; in the filthy Roman Ghetto, for instance, with its
swarming Jewish population, where malaria is unknown. Perhaps, too,
the sight of the streets, the great spectacle of Paris, the daily
pleasure of his life, did the invalid good. They walked on side by
side, though Pons now and again left his friend to look at the shop
windows. Opposite the Theatre des Varietes he saw Count Popinot, and
went up to him very respectfully, for of all men Pons esteemed and
venerated the ex-Minister.
The peer of France answered him severely:
"I am at a loss to understand, sir, how you can have no more tact than
to speak to a near connection of a family whom you tried to brand with
shame and ridicule by a trick which no one but an artist could devise.
Understand this, sir, that from to-day we must be complete strangers
to each other. Mme. la Comtesse Popinot, like every one else, feels
indignant at your behavior to the Marvilles."
And Count Popinot passed on, leaving Pons thunderstruck. Passion,
justice, policy, and great social forces never take into account the
condition of the human creature whom they strike down. The statesman,
driven by family considerations to crush Pons, did not so much as see
the physical weakness of his redoubtable enemy.
"Vat is it, mine boor friend?" exclaimed Schmucke, seeing how white
Pons had grown.
"It is a fresh stab in the heart," Pons replied, leaning heavily on
Schmucke's arm. "I think that no one, save God in heaven, can have any
right to do good, and that is why all those who meddle in His work are
so cruelly punished."
The old artist's sarcasm was uttered with a supreme effort; he was
trying, excellent creature, to quiet the dismay visible in Schmucke's
"So I dink," Schmucke replied simply.
Pons could not understand it. Neither the Camusots nor the Popinots
had sent him notice of Cecile's wedding.
On the Boulevard des Italiens Pons saw M. Cardot coming towards them.
Warned by Count Popinot's allocution, Pons was very careful not to
accost the old acquaintance with whom he had dined once a fortnight
for the last year; he lifted his hat, but the other, mayor and deputy
of Paris, threw him an indignant glance and went by. Pons turned to
"Do go and ask him what it is that they all have against me," he said
to the friend who knew all the details of the catastrophe that Pons
could tell him.
"Mennseir," Schmucke began diplomatically, "mine friend Bons is chust
recofering from an illness; you haf no doubt fail to rekognize him?"
"Not in the least."
"But mit vat kann you rebroach him?"
"You have a monster of ingratitude for a friend, sir; if he is still
alive, it is because nothing kills ill weeds. People do well to
mistrust artists; they are as mischievous and spiteful as monkeys.
This friend of yours tried to dishonor his own family, and to blight a
young girl's character, in revenge for a harmless joke. I wish to have
nothing to do with him; I shall do my best to forget that I have known
him, or that such a man exists. All the members of his family and my
own share the wish, sir, so do all the persons who once did the said
Pons the honor of receiving him."
"Boot, mennseir, you are a reasonaple mann; gif you vill bermit me, I
shall exblain die affair--"
"You are quite at liberty to remain his friend, sir, if you are minded
that way," returned Cardot, "but you need go no further; for I must
give you warning that in my opinion those who try to excuse or defend
his conduct are just as much to blame."
"To chustify it?"
"Yes, for his conduct can neither be justified nor qualified." And
with that word, the deputy for the Seine went his way; he would not
hear another syllable.
"I have two powers in the State against me," smiled poor Pons, when
Schmucke had repeated these savage speeches.
"Eferpody is against us," Schmucke answered dolorously. "Let us go
avay pefore we shall meed oder fools."
Never before in the course of a truly ovine life had Schmucke uttered
such words as these. Never before had his almost divine meekness been
ruffled. He had smiled childlike on all the mischances that befell
him, but he could not look and see his sublime Pons maltreated; his
Pons, his unknown Aristides, the genius resigned to his lot, the
nature that knew no bitterness, the treasury of kindness, the heart of
gold! . . . Alceste's indignation filled Schmucke's soul--he was moved
to call Pons' amphitryons "fools." For his pacific nature that impulse
equaled the wrath of Roland.
With wise foresight, Schmucke turned to go home by the way of the
Boulevard du Temple, Pons passively submitting like a fallen fighter,
heedless of blows; but chance ordered that he should know that all his
world was against him. The House of Peers, the Chamber of Deputies,
strangers and the family, the strong, the weak, and the innocent, all
combined to send down the avalanche.
In the Boulevard Poissonniere, Pons caught sight of that very M.
Cardot's daughter, who, young as she was, had learned to be charitable
to others through trouble of her own. Her husband knew a secret by
which he kept her in bondage. She was the only one among Pons'
hostesses whom he called by her Christian name; he addressed Mme.
Berthier as "Felicie," and he thought that she understood him. The
gentle creature seemed to be distressed by the sight of Cousin Pons,
as he was called (though he was in no way related to the family of the
second wife of a cousin by marriage). There was no help for it,
however; Felicie Berthier stopped to speak to the invalid.
"I did not think you were cruel, cousin," she said; "but if even a
quarter of all that I hear of you is true, you are very false. . . .
Oh! do not justify yourself," she added quickly, seeing Pons'
significant gesture, "it is useless, for two reasons. In the first
place, I have no right to accuse or judge or condemn anybody, for I
myself know so well how much may be said for those who seem to be most
guilty; secondly, your explanation would do no good. M. Berthier drew
up the marriage contract for Mlle. de Marville and the Vicomte
Popinot; he is so exasperated, that if he knew that I had so much as
spoken one word to you, one word for the last time, he would scold me.
Everybody is against you."
"So it seems indeed, madame," Pons said, his voice shaking as he
lifted his hat respectfully.
Painfully he made his way back to the Rue de Normandie. The old German
knew from the heavy weight on his arm that his friend was struggling
bravely against failing physical strength. That third encounter was
like the verdict of the Lamb at the foot of the throne of God; and the
anger of the Angel of the Poor, the symbol of the Peoples, is the last
word of Heaven. They reached home without another word.
There are moments in our lives when the sense that our friend is near
is all that we can bear. Our wounds smart under the consoling words
that only reveal the depths of pain. The old pianist, you see,
possessed a genius for friendship, the tact of those who, having
suffered much, knew the customs of suffering.
Pons was never to take a walk again. From one illness he fell into
another. He was of a sanguine-bilious temperament, the bile passed
into his blood, and a violent liver attack was the result. He had
never known a day's illness in his life till a month ago; he had never
consulted a doctor; so La Cibot, with almost motherly care and
intentions at first of the very best, called in "the doctor of the
In every quarter of Paris there is a doctor whose name and address are
only known to the working classes, to the little tradespeople and the
porters, and in consequence he is called "the doctor of the quarter."
He undertakes confinement cases, he lets blood, he is in the medical
profession pretty much what the "general servant" of the advertising
column is in the scale of domestic service. He must perforce be kind
to the poor, and tolerably expert by reason of much practice, and he
is generally popular. Dr. Poulain, called in by Mme. Cibot, gave an
inattentive ear to the old musician's complainings. Pons groaned out
that his skin itched; he had scratched himself all night long, till he
could scarcely feel. The look of his eyes, with the yellow circles
about them, corroborated the symptoms.
"Had you some violent shock a couple of days ago?" the doctor asked
"You have the same complaint that this gentleman was threatened with,"
said Dr. Poulain, looking at Schmucke as he spoke; "it is an attack of
jaundice, but you will soon get over it," he added, as he wrote a
But in spite of that comfortable phrase, the doctor's eyes had told
another tale as he looked professionally at the patient; and the
death-sentence, though hidden under stereotyped compassion, can always
be read by those who wish to know the truth. Mme. Cibot gave a spy's
glance at the doctor, and read his thought; his bedside manner did not
deceive her; she followed him out of the room.
"Do you think he will get over it?" asked Mme. Cibot, at the
"My dear Mme. Cibot, your lodger is a dead man; not because of the
bile in the system, but because his vitality is low. Still, with great
care, your patient may pull through. Somebody ought to take him away
for a change--"
"How is he to go?" asked Mme. Cibot. "He has nothing to live upon but
his salary; his friend has just a little money from some great ladies,
very charitable ladies, in return for his services, it seems. They are
two children. I have looked after them for nine years."
"I spend my life watching people die, not of their disease, but of
another bad and incurable complaint--the want of money," said the
doctor. "How often it happens that so far from taking a fee, I am
obliged to leave a five-franc piece on the mantel-shelf when I go--"
"Poor, dear M. Poulain!" cried Mme. Cibot. "Ah, if you hadn't only the
hundred thousand livres a year, what some stingy folks has in the
quarter (regular devils from hell they are), you would be like
Providence on earth."
Dr. Poulain had made the little practice, by which he made a bare
subsistence, chiefly by winning the esteem of the porters' lodges in
his district. So he raised his eyes to heaven and thanked Mme. Cibot
with a solemn face worthy of Tartuffe.
"Then you think that with careful nursing our dear patient will get
better, my dear M. Poulain?"
"Yes, if this shock has not been too much for him."
"Poor man! who can have vexed him? There isn't nobody like him on
earth except his friend M. Schmucke. I will find out what is the
matter, and I will undertake to give them that upset my gentleman a
hauling over the coals--"
"Look here, my dear Mme. Cibot," said the doctor as they stood in the
gateway, "one of the principal symptoms of his complaint is great
irritability; and as it is hardly to be supposed that he can afford a
nurse, the task of nursing him will fall to you. So--"
"Are you talking of Mouchieu Ponsh?" asked the marine store-dealer. He
was sitting smoking on the curb-post in the gateway, and now he rose
to join in the conversation.
"Yes, Daddy Remonencq."
"All right," said Remonencq, "ash to moneysh, he ish better off than
Mouchieu Monishtrol and the big men in the curioshity line. I know
enough in the art line to tell you thish--the dear man has treasursh!"
he spoke with a broad Auvergne dialect.
"Look here, I thought you were laughing at me the other day when my
gentlemen were out and I showed you the old rubbish upstairs," said
In Paris, where walls have ears, where doors have tongues, and window
bars have eyes, there are few things more dangerous than the practice
of standing to chat in a gateway. Partings are like postscripts to a
letter--indiscreet utterances that do as much mischief to the speaker
as to those who overhear them. A single instance will be sufficient as
a parallel to an event in this history.
In the time of the Empire, when men paid considerable attention to
their hair, one of the first coiffeurs of the day came out of a house
where he had just been dressing a pretty woman's head. This artist in
question enjoyed the custom of all the lower floor inmates of the
house; and among these, there flourished an elderly bachelor guarded
by a housekeeper who detested her master's next-of-kin. The /ci-
devant/ young man, falling seriously ill, the most famous of doctors
of the day (they were not as yet styled the "princes of science") had
been called in to consult upon his case; and it so chanced that the
learned gentlemen were taking leave of one another in the gateway just
as the hairdresser came out. They were talking as doctors usually talk
among themselves when the farce of a consultation is over. "He is a
dead man," quoth Dr. Haudry.--"He had not a month to live," added
Desplein, "unless a miracle takes place."--These were the words
overheard by the hairdresser.
Like all hairdressers, he kept up a good understanding with his
customers' servants. Prodigious greed sent the man upstairs again; he
mounted to the /ci-devant/ young man's apartment, and promised the
servant-mistress a tolerably handsome commission to persuade her
master to sink a large portion of his money in an annuity. The dying
bachelor, fifty-six by count of years, and twice as old as his age by
reason of amorous campaigns, owned, among other property, a splendid
house in the Rue de Richelieu, worth at that time about two hundred
and fifty thousand francs. It was this house that the hairdresser
coveted; and on agreement to pay an annuity of thirty thousand francs
so long as the bachelor lived, it passed into his hands. This happened
in 1806. And in this year 1846 the hairdresser is still paying that
annuity. He has retired from business, he is seventy years old; the
/ci-devant/ young man is in his dotage; and as he has married his Mme.
Evrard, he may last for a long while yet. As the hairdresser gave the
woman thirty thousand francs, his bit of real estate has cost him,
first and last, more than a million, and the house at this day is
worth eight or nine hundred thousand francs.
Like the hairdresser, Remonencq the Auvergnat had overheard Brunner's
parting remark in the gateway on the day of Cecile's first interview
with that phoenix of eligible men. Remonencq at once longed to gain a
sight of Pons' museum; and as he lived on good terms with his
neighbors the Cibots, it was not very long before the opportunity came
one day when the friends were out. The sight of such treasures dazzled
him; he saw a "good haul," in dealers' phrase, which being interpreted
means a chance to steal a fortune. He had been meditating this for
five or six days.
"I am sho far from joking," he said, in reply to Mme. Cibot's remark,
"that we will talk the thing over; and if the good shentleman will
take an annuity, of fifty thousand francsh, I will shtand a hamper of
"Fifty thousand francs!" interrupted the doctor; "what are you
thinking about? Why, if the good man is so well off as that, with me
in attendance, and Mme. Cibot to nurse him, he may get better--for
liver complaint is a disease that attacks strong constitutions."
"Fifty, did I shay? Why, a shentleman here, on your very doorshtep,
offered him sheven hundred thoushand francsh, shimply for the
While Remonencq made this announcement, Mme. Cibot was looking at Dr.
Poulain. There was a strange expression in her eyes; the devil might
have kindled that sinister glitter in their tawny depths.
"Oh, come! we must not pay any attention to such idle tales," said the
doctor, well pleased, however, to find that his patient could afford
to pay for his visits.
"If my dear Mme. Cibot, here, would let me come and bring an ekshpert
(shinsh the shentleman upshtairs ish in bed), I will shertainly find
the money in a couple of hoursh, even if sheven hundred thousand
francsh ish in queshtion--"
"All right, my friend," said the doctor. "Now, Mme. Cibot, be careful
never to contradict the invalid. You must be prepared to be very
patient with him, for he will find everything irritating and
wearisome, even your services; nothing will please him; you must
"He will be uncommonly hard to please," said La Cibot.
"Look here, mind what I tell you," the doctor said in a tone of
authority, "M. Pons' life is in the hands of those that nurse him; I
shall come perhaps twice a day. I shall take him first on my round."
The doctor's profound indifference to the fate of a poor patient had
suddenly given place to a most tender solicitude when he saw that the
speculator was serious, and that there was a possible fortune in
"He will be nursed like a king," said Madame Cibot, forcing up
enthusiasm. She waited till the doctor turned the corner into the Rue
Charlot; then she fell to talking again with the dealer in old iron.
Remonencq had finished smoking his pipe, and stood in the doorway of
his shop, leaning against the frame; he had purposely taken this
position; he meant the portress to come to him.
The shop had once been a cafe. Nothing had been changed there since
the Auvergnat discovered it and took over the lease; you could still
read "Cafe de Normandie" on the strip left above the windows in all
modern shops. Remonencq had found somebody, probably a housepainter's
apprentice, who did the work for nothing, to paint another inscription
in the remaining space below--"REMONENCQ," it ran, "DEALER IN MARINE
STORES, FURNITURE BOUGHT"--painted in small black letters. All the
mirrors, tables, seats, shelves, and fittings of the Cafe de Normandie
had been sold, as might have been expected, before Remonencq took
possession of the shop as it stood, paying a yearly rent of six
hundred francs for the place, with a back shop, a kitchen, and a
single room above, where the head-waiter used to sleep, for the house
belonging to the Cafe de Normandie was let separately. Of the former
splendor of the cafe, nothing now remained save the plain light green
paper on the walls, and the strong iron bolts and bars of the shop-
When Remonencq came hither in 1831, after the Revolution of July, he
began by displaying a selection of broken doorbells, cracked plates,
old iron, and the obsolete scales and weights abolished by a
Government which alone fails to carry out its own regulations, for
pence and half pence of the time of Louis XVI. are still in
circulation. After a time this Auvergnat, a match for five ordinary
Auvergnats, bought up old saucepans and kettles, old picture-frames,
old copper, and chipped china. Gradually, as the shop was emptied and
filled, the quality of the stock-in-trade improved, like Nicolet's
farces. Remonencq persisted in an unfailing and prodigiously
profitable martingale, a "system" which any philosophical idler may
study as he watches the increasing value of the stock kept by this
intelligent class of trader. Picture-frames and copper succeed to
tin-ware, argand lamps, and damaged crockery; china marks the next
transition; and after no long tarriance in the "omnium gatherum"
stage, the shop becomes a museum. Some day or other the dusty windows
are cleaned, the interior is restored, the Auvergnat relinquishes
velveteen and jackets for a great-coat, and there he sits like a
dragon guarding his treasure, surrounded by masterpieces! He is a
cunning connoisseur by this time; he has increased his capital
tenfold; he is not to be cheated; he knows the tricks of the trade.
The monster among his treasures looks like some old hag among a score
of young girls that she offers to the public. Beauty and miracles of
art are alike indifferent to him; subtle and dense as he is, he has a
keen eye to profits, he talks roughly to those who know less than he
does; he has learned to act a part, he pretends to love his pictures,
or again he lets you know the price he himself gave for the things, he
offers to let you see the memoranda of the sale. He is a Proteus; in
one hour he can be Jocrisse, Janot, /Queue-rouge/, Mondor, Hapagon, or
The third year found armor, and old pictures, and some tolerably fine
clocks in Remonencq's shop. He sent for his sister, and La Remonencq
came on foot all the way from Auvergne to take charge of the shop
while her brother was away. A big and very ugly woman, dressed like a
Japanese idol, a half-idiotic creature with a vague, staring gaze she
would not bate a centime of the prices fixed by her brother. In the
intervals of business she did the work of the house, and solved the
apparently insoluble problem--how to live on "the mists of the Seine."
The Remonencqs' diet consisted of bread and herrings, with the outside
leaves of lettuce or vegetable refuse selected from the heaps
deposited in the kennel before the doors of eating-houses. The two
between them did not spend more than fivepence a day on food (bread
included), and La Remonencq earned the money by sewing or spinning.
Remonencq came to Paris in the first instance to work as an errand-
boy. Between the years 1825 and 1831 he ran errands for dealers in
curiosities in the Boulevard Beaumarchais or coppersmiths in the Rue
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