Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 7
de Lappe. It is the usual start in life in his line of business. Jews,
Normans, Auvergnats, and Savoyards, those four different races of men
all have the same instincts, and make their fortunes in the same way;
they spend nothing, make small profits, and let them accumulate at
compound interest. Such is their trading charter, and /that/ charter
is no delusion.
Remonencq at this moment had made it up with his old master Monistrol;
he did business with wholesale dealers, he was a /chineur/ (the
technical word), plying his trade in the /banlieue/, which, as
everybody knows, extends for some forty leagues round Paris.
After fourteen years of business, he had sixty thousand francs in hand
and a well-stocked shop. He lived in the Rue de Normandie because the
rent was low, but casual customers were scarce, most of his goods were
sold to other dealers, and he was content with moderate gains. All his
business transactions were carried on in the Auvergue dialect or
/charabia/, as people call it.
Remonencq cherished a dream! He wished to establish himself on a
boulevard, to be a rich dealer in curiosities, and do a direct trade
with amateurs some day. And, indeed, within him there was a formidable
man of business. His countenance was the more inscrutable because it
was glazed over by a deposit of dust and particles of metal glued
together by the sweat of his brow; for he did everything himself, and
the use and wont of bodily labor had given him something of the
stoical impassibility of the old soldiers of 1799.
In personal appearance Remonencq was short and thin; his little eyes
were set in his head in porcine fashion; a Jew's slyness and
concentrated greed looked out of those dull blue circles, though in
his case the false humility that masks the Hebrew's unfathomed
contempt for the Gentile was lacking.
The relations between the Cibots and the Remonencqs were those of
benefactors and recipients. Mme. Cibot, convinced that the Auvergnats
were wretchedly poor, used to let them have the remainder of "her
gentlemen's" dinners at ridiculous prices. The Remonencqs would buy a
pound of broken bread, crusts and crumbs, for a farthing, a porringer-
full of cold potatoes for something less, and other scraps in
proportion. Remonencq shrewdly allowed them to believe that he was not
in business on his own account, he worked for Monistrol, the rich
shopkeepers preyed upon him, he said, and the Cibots felt sincerely
sorry for Remonencq. The velveteen jacket, waistcoat, and trousers,
particularly affected by Auvergnats, were covered with patches of
Cibot's making, and not a penny had the little tailor charged for
repairs which kept the three garments together after eleven years of
Thus we see that all Jews are not in Israel.
"You are not laughing at me, Remonencq, are you?" asked the portress.
"Is it possible that M. Pons has such a fortune, living as he does?
There is not a hundred francs in the place--"
"Amateursh are all like that," Remonencq remarked sententiously.
"Then do you think that my gentleman has worth of seven hundred
thousand francs, eh?--"
"In pictures alone," continued Remonencq (it is needless, for the sake
of clearness in the story, to give any further specimens of his
frightful dialect). "If he would take fifty thousand francs for one up
there that I know of, I would find the money if I had to hang myself.
Do you remember those little frames full of enameled copper on crimson
velvet, hanging among the portraits? . . . Well, those are Petitot's
enamels; and there is a cabinet minister as used to be a druggist that
will give three thousand francs apiece for them."
La Cibot's eyes opened wide. "There are thirty of them in the pair of
frames!" she said.
"Very well, you can judge for yourself how much he is worth."
Mme. Cibot's head was swimming; she wheeled round. In a moment came
the thought that she would have a legacy, /she/ would sleep sound on
old Pons' will, like the other servant-mistresses whose annuities had
aroused such envy in the Marais. Her thoughts flew to some commune in
the neighborhood of Paris; she saw herself strutting proudly about her
house in the country, looking after her garden and poultry yard,
ending her days, served like a queen, along with her poor dear Cibot,
who deserved such good fortune, like all angelic creatures whom nobody
knows nor appreciates.
Her abrupt, unthinking movement told Remonencq that success was sure.
In the /chineur's/ way of business--the /chineur/, be it explained,
goes about the country picking up bargains at the expense of the
ignorant--in the /chineur's/ way of business, the one real difficulty
is the problem of gaining an entrance to a house. No one can imagine
the Scapin's roguery, the tricks of a Sganarelle, the wiles of a
Dorine by which the /chineur/ contrives to make a footing for himself.
These comedies are as good as a play, and founded indeed on the old
stock theme of the dishonesty of servants. For thirty francs in money
or goods, servants, and especially country servants, will sometimes
conclude a bargain on which the /chineur/ makes a profit of a thousand
or two thousand francs. If we could but know the history of such and
such a service of Sevres porcelain, /pate tendre/, we should find that
all the intellect, all the diplomatic subtlety displayed at Munster,
Nimeguen, Utrecht, Ryswick, and Vienna was surpassed by the /chineur/.
His is the more frank comedy; his methods of action fathom depths of
personal interest quite as profound as any that plenipotentiaries can
explore in their difficult search for any means of breaking up the
best cemented alliances.
"I have set La Cibot nicely on fire," Remonencq told his sister, when
she came to take up her position again on the ramshackle chair. "And
now," he continued, "I shall go to consult the only man that knows,
our Jew, a good sort of Jew that did not ask more than fifteen per
cent of us for his money."
Remonencq had read La Cibot's heart. To will is to act with women of
her stamp. Let them see the end in view; they will stick at nothing to
gain it, and pass from scrupulous honesty to the last degree of
scoundrelism in the twinkling of an eye. Honesty, like most
dispositions of mind, is divided into two classes--negative and
positive. La Cibot's honesty was of the negative order; she and her
like are honest until they see their way clear to gain money belonging
to somebody else. Positive honesty, the honesty of the bank collector,
can wade knee-deep through temptations.
A torrent of evil thoughts invaded La Cibot's heart and brain so soon
as Remonencq's diabolical suggestion opened the flood-gates of self-
interest. La Cibot climbed, or, to be more accurate, fled up the
stairs, opened the door on the landing, and showed a face disguised in
false solicitude in the doorway of the room where Pons and Schmucke
were bemoaning themselves. As soon as she came in, Schmucke made her a
warning sign; for, true friend and sublime German that he was, he too
had read the doctor's eyes, and he was afraid that Mme. Cibot might
repeat the verdict. Mme. Cibot answered by a shake of the head
indicative of deep woe.
"Well, my dear monsieur," asked she, "how are you feeling?" She sat
down on the foot of the bed, hands on hips, and fixed her eyes
lovingly upon the patient; but what a glitter of metal there was in
them, a terrible, tiger-like gleam if any one had watched her.
"I feel very ill," answered poor Pons. "I have not the slightest
appetite left.--Oh! the world, the world!" he groaned, squeezing
Schmucke's hand. Schmucke was sitting by his bedside, and doubtless
the sick man was talking of the causes of his illness.--"I should have
done far better to follow your advice, my good Schmucke, and dined
here every day, and given up going into this society, that has fallen
on me with all its weight, like a tumbril cart crushing an egg! And
"Come, come, don't complain, M. Pons," said La Cibot; "the doctor told
me just how it is--"
Schmucke tugged at her gown.--"And you will pull through," she
continued, "only we must take great care of you. Be easy, you have a
good friend beside you, and without boasting, a woman as will nurse
you like a mother nurses her first child. I nursed Cibot round once
when Dr. Poulain had given him over; he had the shroud up to his eyes,
as the saying is, and they gave him up for dead. Well, well, you have
not come to that yet, God be thanked, ill though you may be. Count on
me; I would pull you through all by myself, I would! Keep still, don't
you fidget like that."
She pulled the coverlet over the patient's hands as she spoke.
"There, sonny! M. Schmucke and I will sit up with you of nights. A
prince won't be no better nursed . . . and besides, you needn't refuse
yourself nothing that's necessary, you can afford it.--I have just
been talking things over with Cibot, for what would he do without me,
poor dear?--Well, and I talked him round; we are both so fond of you,
that he will let me stop up with you of a night. And that is a good
deal to ask of a man like him, for he is as fond of me as ever he was
the day we were married. I don't know how it is. It is the lodge, you
see; we are always there together! Don't you throw off the things like
that!" she cried, making a dash for the bedhead to draw the coverlet
over Pons' chest. "If you are not good, and don't do just as Dr.
Poulain says--and Dr. Poulain is the image of Providence on earth--I
will have no more to do with you. You must do as I tell you--"
"Yes, Montame Zipod, he vill do vat you dell him," put in Schmucke;
"he vants to lif for his boor friend Schmucke's sake, I'll pe pound."
"And of all things, don't fidget yourself," continued La Cibot, "for
your illness makes you quite bad enough without your making it worse
for want of patience. God sends us our troubles, my dear good
gentlemen; He punishes us for our sins. Haven't you nothing to
reproach yourself with? some poor little bit of a fault or other?"
The invalid shook his head.
"Oh! go on! You were young once, you had your fling, there is some
love-child of yours somewhere--cold, and starving, and homeless. . . .
What monsters men are! Their love doesn't last only for a day, and
then in a jiffy they forget, they don't so much as think of the child
at the breast for months. . . . Poor women!"
"But no one has ever loved me except Schmucke and my mother," poor
Pons broke in sadly.
"Oh! come, you aren't no saint! You were young in your time, and a
fine-looking young fellow you must have been at twenty. I should have
fallen in love with you myself, so nice as you are--"
"I always was as ugly as a toad," Pons put in desperately.
"You say that because you are modest; nobody can't say that you aren't
"My dear Mme. Cibot, /no/, I tell you. I always was ugly, and I never
was loved in my life."
"You, indeed!" cried the portress. "You want to make me believe at
this time of day that you are as innocent as a young maid at your time
of life. Tell that to your granny! A musician at a theatre too! Why,
if a woman told me that, I wouldn't believe her."
"Montame Zipod, you irritate him!" cried Schmucke, seeing that Pons
was writhing under the bedclothes.
"You hold your tongue too! You are a pair of old libertines. If you
were ugly, it don't make no difference; there was never so ugly a
saucepan-lid but it found a pot to match, as the saying is. There is
Cibot, he got one of the handsomest oyster-women in Paris to fall in
love with him, and you are infinitely better looking than him! You are
a nice pair, you are! Come, now, you have sown your wild oats, and God
will punish you for deserting your children, like Abraham--"
Exhausted though he was, the invalid gathered up all his strength to
make a vehement gesture of denial.
"Do lie quiet; if you have, it won't prevent you from living as long
"Then, pray let me be quiet!" groaned Pons. "I have never known what
it is to be loved. I have had no child; I am alone in the world."
"Really, eh?" returned the portress. "You are so kind, and that is
what women like, you see--it draws them--and it looked to me
impossible that when you were in your prime--"
"Take her away," Pons whispered to Schmucke; "she sets my nerves on
"Then there's M. Schmucke, he has children. You old bachelors are not
all like that--"
"/I!/" cried Schmucke, springing to his feet, "vy!--"
"Come, then, you have none to come after you either, eh? You both
sprung up out of the earth like mushrooms--"
"Look here, komm mit me," said Schmucke. The good German manfully took
Mme. Cibot by the waist and carried her off into the next room, in
spite of her exclamations.
"At your age, you would not take advantage of a defenceless woman!"
cried La Cibot, struggling in his arms.
"Don't make a noise!"
"You too, the better one of the two!" returned La Cibot. "Ah! it is my
fault for talking about love to two old men who have never had nothing
to do with women. I have roused your passions," cried she, as
Schmucke's eyes glittered with wrath. "Help! help! police!"
"You are a stoopid!" said the German. "Look here, vat tid de toctor
"You are a ruffian to treat me so," wept La Cibot, now released,--"me
that would go through fire and water for you both! Ah! well, well,
they say that that is the way with men--and true it is! There is my
poor Cibot, /he/ would not be rough with me like this. . . . And I
treated you like my children, for I have none of my own; and
yesterday, yes, only yesterday I said to Cibot, 'God knew well what He
was doing, dear,' I said, 'when He refused us children, for I have two
children there upstairs.' By the holy crucifix and the soul of my
mother, that was what I said to him--"
"Eh! but vat did der doctor say?" Schmucke demanded furiously,
stamping on the floor for the first time in his life.
"Well," said Mme. Cibot, drawing Schmucke into the dining-room, "he
just said this--that our dear, darling love lying ill there would die
if he wasn't carefully nursed; but I am here, in spite of all your
brutality, for brutal you were, you that I thought so gentle. And you
are one of that sort! Ah! now, you would not abuse a woman at your
age, great blackguard--"
"Placard? I? Vill you not oonderstand that I lof nopody but Bons?"
"Well and good, you will let me alone, won't you?" said she, smiling
at Schmucke. "You had better; for if Cibot knew that anybody had
attempted his honor, he would break every bone in his skin."
"Take crate care of him, dear Montame Zipod," answered Schmucke, and
he tried to take the portress' hand.
"Oh! look here now, /again/."
"Chust listen to me. You shall haf all dot I haf, gif ve safe him."
"Very well; I will go round to the chemist's to get the things that
are wanted; this illness is going to cost a lot, you see, sir, and
what will you do?"
"I shall vork; Bons shall be nursed like ein brince."
"So he shall, M. Schmucke; and look here, don't you trouble about
nothing. Cibot and I, between us, have saved a couple of thousand
francs; they are yours; I have been spending money on you this long
time, I have."
"Goot voman!" cried Schmucke, brushing the tears from his eyes. "Vat
"Wipe your tears; they do me honor; this is my reward," said La Cibot,
melodramatically. "There isn't no more disinterested creature on earth
than me; but don't you go into the room with tears in your eyes, or M.
Pons will be thinking himself worse than he is."
Schmucke was touched by this delicate feeling. He took La Cibot's hand
and gave it a final squeeze.
"Spare me!" cried the ex-oysterseller, leering at Schmucke.
"Bons," the good German said when he returned "Montame Zipod is an
anchel; 'tis an anchel dat brattles, but an anchel all der same."
"Do you think so? I have grown suspicious in the past month," said the
invalid, shaking his head. "After all I have been through, one comes
to believe in nothing but God and my friend--"
"Get bedder, and ve vill lif like kings, all tree of us," exclaimed
"Cibot!" panted the portress as she entered the lodge. "Oh, my dear,
our fortune is made. My two gentlemen haven't nobody to come after
them, no natural children, no nothing, in short! Oh, I shall go round
to Ma'am Fontaine's and get her to tell my fortune on the cards, then
we shall know how much we are going to have--"
"Wife," said the little tailor, "it's ill counting on dead men's
"Oh, I say, are /you/ going to worry me?" asked she, giving her spouse
a playful tap. "I know what I know! Dr. Poulain has given up M. Pons.
And we are going to be rich! My name will be down in the will. . . .
I'll see to that. Draw your needle in and out, and look after the
lodge; you will not do it for long now. We will retire, and go into
the country, out at Batignolles. A nice house and a fine garden; you
will amuse yourself with gardening, and I shall keep a servant!"
"Well, neighbor, and how are things going on upstairs?" The words were
spoken with the thick Auvergnat accent, and Remonencq put his head in
at the door. "Do you know what the collection is worth?"
"No, no, not yet. One can't go at that rate, my good man. I have
begun, myself, by finding out more important things--"
"More important!" exclaimed Remonencq; "why, what things can be more
"Come, let me do the steering, ragamuffin," said La Cibot
"But thirty per cent on seven hundred thousand francs," persisted the
dealer in old iron; "you could be your own mistress for the rest of
your days on that."
"Be easy, Daddy Remonencq; when we want to know the value of the
things that the old man has got together, then we will see."
La Cibot went for the medicine ordered by Dr. Poulain, and put off her
consultation with Mme. Fontaine until the morrow; the oracle's
faculties would be fresher and clearer in the morning, she thought;
and she would go early, before everybody else came, for there was
often a crowd at Mme. Fontaine's.
Mme. Fontaine was at this time the oracle of the Marais; she had
survived the rival of forty years, the celebrated Mlle. Lenormand. No
one imagines the part that fortune-tellers play among Parisians of the
lower classes, nor the immense influence which they exert over the
uneducated; general servants, portresses, kept women, workmen, all the
many in Paris who live on hope, consult the privileged beings who
possess the mysterious power of reading the future.
The belief of the occult science is far more widely spread than
scholars, lawyers, doctors, magistrates, and philosophers imagine. The
instincts of the people are ineradicable. One among those instincts,
so foolishly styled "superstition," runs in the blood of the populace,
and tinges no less the intellects of better educated folk. More than
one French statesman has been known to consult the fortune-teller's
cards. For sceptical minds, astrology, in French, so oddly termed
/astrologie judiciare/, is nothing more than a cunning device for
making a profit out of one of the strongest of all the instincts of
human nature--to wit, curiosity. The sceptical mind consequently
denies that there is any connection between human destiny and the
prognostications obtained by the seven or eight principal methods
known to astrology; and the occult sciences, like many natural
phenomena, are passed over by the freethinker or the materialist
philosopher, /id est/, by those who believe in nothing but visible and
tangible facts, in the results given by the chemist's retort and the
scales of modern physical science. The occult sciences still exist;
they are at work, but they make no progress, for the greatest
intellects of two centuries have abandoned the field.
If you only look at the practical side of divination, it seems absurd
to imagine that events in a man's past life and secrets known only to
himself can be represented on the spur of the moment by a pack of
cards which he shuffles and cuts for the fortune-teller to lay out in
piles according to certain mysterious rules; but then the steam-engine
was condemned as absurd, aerial navigation is still said to be absurd,
so in their time were the inventions of gunpowder, printing,
spectacles, engraving, and that latest discovery of all--the
daguerreotype. If any man had come to Napoleon to tell him that a
building or a figure is at all times and in all places represented by
an image in the atmosphere, that every existing object has a spectral
intangible double which may become visible, the Emperor would have
sent his informant to Charenton for a lunatic, just as Richelieu
before his day sent that Norman martyr, Salomon de Caux, to the
Bicetre for announcing his immense triumph, the idea of navigation by
steam. Yet Daguerre's discovery amounts to nothing more nor less than
And if for some clairvoyant eyes God has written each man's destiny
over his whole outward and visible form, if a man's body is the record
of his fate, why should not the hand in a manner epitomize the body?--
since the hand represents the deed of man, and by his deeds he is
Herein lies the theory of palmistry. Does not Society imitate God? At
the sight of a soldier we can predict that he will fight; of a lawyer,
that he will talk; of a shoemaker, that he shall make shoes or boots;
of a worker of the soil, that he shall dig the ground and dung it; and
is it a more wonderful thing that such an one with the "seer's" gift
should foretell the events of a man's life from his hand?
To take a striking example. Genius is so visible in a man that a great
artist cannot walk about the streets of Paris but the most ignorant
people are conscious of his passing. He is a sun, as it were, in the
mental world, shedding light that colors everything in its path. And
who does not know an idiot at once by an impression the exact opposite
of the sensation of the presence of genius? Most observers of human
nature in general, and Parisian nature in particular, can guess the
profession or calling of the man in the street.
The mysteries of the witches' Sabbath, so wonderfully painted in the
sixteenth century, are no mysteries for us. The Egyptian ancestors of
that mysterious people of Indian origin, the gypsies of the present
day, simply used to drug their clients with hashish, a practice that
fully accounts for broomstick rides and flights up the chimney, the
real-seeming visions, so to speak, of old crones transformed into
young damsels, the frantic dances, the exquisite music, and all the
fantastic tales of devil-worship.
So many proven facts have been first discovered by occult science,
that some day we shall have professors of occult science, as we
already have professors of chemistry and astronomy. It is even
singular that here in Paris, where we are founding chairs of Mantchu
and Slave and literatures so little professable (to coin a word) as
the literatures of the North (which, so far from providing lessons,
stand very badly in need of them); when the curriculum is full of the
everlasting lectures on Shakespeare and the sixteenth century,--it is
strange that some one has not restored the teaching of the occult
philosophies, once the glory of the University of Paris, under the
title of anthropology. Germany, so childlike and so great, has
outstripped France in this particular; in Germany they have professors
of a science of far more use than a knowledge of the heterogeneous
philosophies, which all come to the same thing at bottom.
Once admit that certain beings have the power of discerning the future
in its germ-form of the Cause, as the great inventor sees a glimpse of
the industry latent in his invention, or a science in something that
happens every day unnoticed by ordinary eyes--once allow this, and
there is nothing to cause an outcry in such phenomena, no violent
exception to nature's laws, but the operation of a recognized faculty;
possibly a kind of mental somnambulism, as it were. If, therefore, the
hypothesis upon which the various ways of divining the future are
based seem absurd, the facts remain. Remark that it is not really more
wonderful that the seer should foretell the chief events of the future
than that he should read the past. Past and future, on the sceptic's
system, equally lie beyond the limits of knowledge. If the past has
left traces behind it, it is not improbable that future events have,
as it were, their roots in the present.
If a fortune-teller gives you minute details of past facts known only
to yourself, why should he not foresee the events to be produced by
existing causes? The world of ideas is cut out, so to speak, on the
pattern of the physical world; the same phenomena should be
discernible in both, allowing for the difference of the medium. As,
for instance, a corporeal body actually projects an image upon the
atmosphere--a spectral double detected and recorded by the
daguerreotype; so also ideas, having a real and effective existence,
leave an impression, as it were, upon the atmosphere of the spiritual
world; they likewise produce effects, and exist spectrally (to coin a
word to express phenomena for which no words exist), and certain human
beings are endowed with the faculty of discerning these "forms" or
traces of ideas.
As for the material means employed to assist the seer--the objects
arranged by the hands of the consultant that the accidents of his life
may be revealed to him,--this is the least inexplicable part of the
process. Everything in the material world is part of a series of
causes and effects. Nothing happens without a cause, every cause is a
part of a whole, and consequently the whole leaves its impression on
the slightest accident. Rabelais, the greatest mind among moderns,
resuming Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, and Dante, pronounced
three centuries ago that "man is a microcosm"--a little world. Three
hundred years later, the great seer Swedenborg declared that "the
world was a man." The prophet and the precursor of incredulity meet
thus in the greatest of all formulas.
Everything in human life is predestined, so it is also with the
existence of the planet. The least event, the most futile phenomena,
are all subordinate parts of a scheme. Great things, therefore, great
designs, and great thoughts are of necessity reflected in the smallest
actions, and that so faithfully, that should a conspirator shuffle and
cut a pack of playing-cards, he will write the history of his plot for
the eyes of the seer styled gypsy, fortune-teller, charlatan, or what
not. If you once admit fate, which is to say, the chain of links of
cause and effect, astrology has a /locus standi/, and becomes what it
was of yore, a boundless science, requiring the same faculty of
deduction by which Cuvier became so great, a faculty to be exercised
spontaneously, however, and not merely in nights of study in the
For seven centuries astrology and divination have exercised an
influence not only (as at present) over the uneducated, but over the
greatest minds, over kings and queens and wealthy people. Animal
magnetism, one of the great sciences of antiquity, had its origin in
occult philosophy; chemistry is the outcome of alchemy; phrenology and
neurology are no less the fruit of similar studies. The first
illustrious workers in these, to all appearance, untouched fields,
made one mistake, the mistake of all inventors; that is to say, they
erected an absolute system on a basis of isolated facts for which
modern analysis as yet cannot account. The Catholic Church, the law of
the land, and modern philosophy, in agreement for once, combined to
prescribe, persecute, and ridicule the mysteries of the Cabala as well
as the adepts; the result is a lamentable interregnum of a century in
occult philosophy. But the uneducated classes, and not a few
cultivated people (women especially), continue to pay a tribute to the
mysterious power of those who can raise the veil of the future; they
go to buy hope, strength, and courage of the fortune-teller; in other
words, to ask of him all that religion alone can give. So the art is
still practised in spite of a certain amount of risk. The eighteenth
century encyclopaedists procured tolerance for the sorcerer; he is no
longer amenable to a court of law, unless, indeed, he lends himself to
fraudulent practices, and frightens his "clients" to extort money from
them, in which case he may be prosecuted on a charge of obtaining
money under false pretences. Unluckily, the exercise of the sublime
art is only too often used as a method of obtaining money under false
pretences, and for the following reasons.
The seer's wonderful gifts are usually bestowed upon those who are
described by the epithets rough and uneducated. The rough and
uneducated are the chosen vessels into which God pours the elixirs at
which we marvel. From among the rough and uneducated, prophets arise--
an Apostle Peter, or St. Peter the Hermit. Wherever mental power is
imprisoned, and remains intact and entire for want of an outlet in
conversation, in politics, in literature, in the imaginings of the
scholar, in the efforts of the statesman, in the conceptions of the
inventor, or the soldier's toils of war; the fire within is apt to
flash out in gleams of marvelously vivid light, like the sparks hidden
in an unpolished diamond. Let the occasion come, and the spirit within
kindles and glows, finds wings to traverse space, and the god-like
power of beholding all things. The coal of yesterday under the play of
some mysterious influence becomes a radiant diamond. Better educated
people, many-sided and highly polished, continually giving out all
that is in them, can never exhibit this supreme power, save by one of
the miracles which God sometimes vouchsafes to work. For this reason
the soothsayer is almost always a beggar, whose mind is virgin soil, a
creature coarse to all appearance, a pebble borne along the torrent of
misery and left in the ruts of life, where it spends nothing of itself
save in mere physical suffering.
The prophet, the seer, in short, is some /Martin le Laboureur/ making
a Louis XVIII. tremble by telling him a secret known only to the king
himself; or it is a Mlle. Lenormand, or a domestic servant like Mme.
Fontaine, or again, perhaps it is some half-idiotic negress, some
herdsman living among his cattle, who receives the gift of vision;
some Hindoo fakir, seated by a pagoda, mortifying the flesh till the
spirit gains the mysterious power of the somnambulist.
Asia, indeed, through all time, has been the home of the heroes of
occult science. Persons of this kind, recovering their normal state,
are usually just as they were before. They fulfil, in some sort, the
chemical and physical functions of bodies which conduct electricity;
at times inert metal, at other times a channel filled with a
mysterious current. In their normal condition they are given to
practices which bring them before the magistrate, yea, verily, like
the notorious Balthazar, even unto the criminal court, and so to the
hulks. You could hardly find a better proof of the immense influence
of fortune-telling upon the working classes than the fact that poor
Pons' life and death hung upon the prediction that Mme. Fontaine was
to make from the cards.
Although a certain amount of repetition is inevitable in a canvas so
considerable and so full of detail as a complete picture of French
society in the nineteenth century, it is needless to repeat the
description of Mme. Fontaine's den, already given in /Les Comediens
sans le savoir/; suffice it to say that Mme. Cibot used to go to Mme.
Fontaine's house in the Rue Vieille-du-Temple as regularly as
frequenters of the Cafe Anglais drop in at that restaurant for lunch.
Mme. Cibot, being a very old customer, often introduced young persons
and old gossips consumed with curiosity to the wise woman.
The old servant who acted as provost marshal flung open the door of
the sanctuary with no further ceremony than the remark, "It's Mme.
Cibot.--Come in, there's nobody here."
"Well, child, what can bring you here so early of a morning?" asked
the sorceress, as Mme. Fontaine might well be called, for she was
seventy-eight years old, and looked like one of the Parcae.
"Something has given me a turn," said La Cibot; "I want the /grand
jeu/; it is a question of my fortune." Therewith she explained her
position, and wished to know if her sordid hopes were likely to be
"Do you know what the /grand jeu/ means?" asked Mme. Fontaine, with
"No, I haven't never seen the trick, I am not rich enough.--A hundred
francs! It's not as if it cost so much! Where was the money to come
from? But now I can't help myself, I must have it."
"I don't do it often, child," returned Mme. Fontaine; "I only do it
for rich people on great occasions, and they pay me twenty-five louis
for doing it; it tires me, you see, it wears me out. The 'Spirit'
rives my inside, here. It is like going to the 'Sabbath,' as they used
"But when I tell you that it means my whole future, my dear good Ma'am
"Well, as it is you that have come to consult me so often, I will
submit myself to the Spirit!" replied Mme. Fontaine, with a look of
genuine terror on her face.
She rose from her filthy old chair by the fireside, and went to a
table covered with a green cloth so worn that you could count the
threads. A huge toad sat dozing there beside a cage inhabited by a
black disheveled-looking fowl.
"Astaroth! here, my son!" she said, and the creature looked up
intelligently at her as she rapped him on the back with a long
knitting-needle.--"And you, Mademoiselle Cleopatre!--attention!" she
continued, tapping the ancient fowl on the beak.
Then Mme. Fontaine began to think; for several seconds she did not
move; she looked like a corpse, her eyes rolled in their sockets and
grew white; then she rose stiff and erect, and a cavernous voice
"Here I am!"
Automatically she scattered millet for Cleopatre, took up the pack of
cards, shuffled them convulsively, and held them out to Mme. Cibot to
cut, sighing heavily all the time. At the sight of that image of Death
in the filthy turban and uncanny-looking bed-jacket, watching the
black fowl as it pecked at the millet-grains, calling to the toad
Astaroth to walk over the cards that lay out on the table, a cold
thrill ran through Mme. Cibot; she shuddered. Nothing but strong
belief can give strong emotions. An assured income, to be or not to
be, that was the question.
The sorceress opened a magical work and muttered some unintelligible
words in a sepulchral voice, looked at the remaining millet-seeds, and
watched the way in which the toad retired. Then after seven or eight
minutes, she turned her white eyes on the cards and expounded them.
"You will succeed, although nothing in the affair will fall out as you
expect. You will have many steps to take, but you will reap the fruits
of your labors. You will behave very badly; it will be with you as it
is with all those who sit by a sick-bed and covet part of the
inheritance. Great people will help you in this work of wrongdoing.
Afterwards in the death agony you will repent. Two escaped convicts, a
short man with red hair and an old man with a bald head, will murder
you for the sake of the money you will be supposed to have in the
village whither you will retire with your second husband. Now, my
daughter, it is still open to you to choose your course."
The excitement which seemed to glow within, lighting up the bony
hollows about the eyes, was suddenly extinguished. As soon as the
horoscope was pronounced, Mme. Fontaine's face wore a dazed
expression; she looked exactly like a sleep-walker aroused from sleep,
gazed about her with an astonished air, recognized Mme. Cibot, and
seemed surprised by her terrified face.
"Well, child," she said, in a totally different voice, "are you
Mme. Cibot stared stupidly at the sorceress, and could not answer.
"Ah! you would have the /grand jeu/; I have treated you as an old
acquaintance. I only want a hundred francs--"
"Cibot,--going to die?" gasped the portress.
"So I have been telling you very dreadful things, have I?" asked Mme.
Fontaine, with an extremely ingenuous air.
"Why, yes!" said La Cibot, taking a hundred francs from her pocket and
laying them down on the edge of the table. "Going to be murdered,
think of it--"
"Ah! there it is! You would have the /grand jeu/; but don't take on
so, all the folk that are murdered on the cards don't die."
"But is it possible, Ma'am Fontaine?"
"Oh, /I/ know nothing about it, my pretty dear! You would rap at the
door of the future; I pull the cord, and it came."
"/It/, what?" asked Mme. Cibot.
"Well, then, the Spirit!" cried the sorceress impatiently.
"Good-bye, Ma'am Fontaine," exclaimed the portress. "I did not know
what the /grand jeu/ was like. You have given me a good fright, that
"The mistress will not put herself in that state twice in a month,"
said the servant, as she went with La Cibot to the landing. "She would
do herself to death if she did, it tires her so. She will eat cutlets
now and sleep for three hours afterwards."
Out in the street La Cibot took counsel of herself as she went along,
and, after the manner of all who ask for advice of any sort or
description, she took the favorable part of the prediction and
rejected the rest. The next day found her confirmed in her resolutions
--she would set all in train to become rich by securing a part of
Pons' collection. Nor for some time had she any other thought than the
combination of various plans to this end. The faculty of self-
concentration seen in rough, uneducated persons, explained on a
previous page, the reserve power accumulated in those whose mental
energies are unworn by the daily wear and tear of social life, and
brought into action so soon as that terrible weapon the "fixed idea"
is brought into play,--all this was pre-eminently manifested in La
Cibot. Even as the "fixed idea" works miracles of evasion, and brings
forth prodigies of sentiment, so greed transformed the portress till
she became as formidable as a Nucingen at bay, as subtle beneath her
seeming stupidity as the irresistible La Palferine.
About seven o'clock one morning, a few days afterwards, she saw
Remonencq taking down his shutters. She went across to him.
"How could one find out how much the things yonder in my gentlemen's
rooms are worth?" she asked in a wheedling tone.
"Oh! that is quite easy," replied the owner of the old curiosity shop.
"If you will play fair and above board with me, I will tell you of
somebody, a very honest man, who will know the value of the pictures
to a farthing--"
"M. Magus, a Jew. He only does business to amuse himself now."
Elie Magus has appeared so often in the /Comedie Humaine/, that it is
needless to say more of him here. Suffice it to add that he had
retired from business, and as a dealer was following the example set
by Pons the amateur. Well-known valuers like Henry, Messrs. Pigeot and
Moret, Theret, Georges, and Roehn, the experts of the Musee, in fact,
were but children compared with Elie Magus. He could see a masterpiece
beneath the accumulated grime of a century; he knew all schools, and
the handwriting of all painters.
He had come to Paris from Bordeaux, and so long ago as 1835 he had
retired from business without making any change for the better in his
dress, so faithful is the race to old tradition. The persecutions of
the Middle Ages compelled them to wear rags, to snuffle and whine and
groan over their poverty in self-defence, till the habits induced by
the necessities of other times have come to be, as usual, instinctive,
a racial defect.
Elie Magus had amassed a vast fortune by buying and selling diamonds,
pictures, lace, enamels, delicate carvings, old jewelry, and rarities
of all kinds, a kind of commerce which has developed enormously of
late, so much so indeed that the number of dealers has increased
tenfold during the last twenty years in this city of Paris, whither
all the curiosities in the world come to rub against one another. And
for pictures there are but three marts in the world--Rome, London, and
Elie Magus lived in the Chausee des Minimes, a short, broad street
leading to the Place Royale. He had bought the house, an old-fashioned
mansion, for a song, as the saying is, in 1831. Yet there were
sumptuous apartments within it, decorated in the time of Louis XV.;
for it had once been the Hotel Maulaincourt, built by the great
President of the Cour des Aides, and its remote position had saved it
at the time of the Revolution.
You may be quite sure that the old Jew had sound reasons for buying
house property, contrary to the Hebrew law and custom. He had ended,
as most of us end, with a hobby that bordered on a craze. He was as
miserly as his friend, the late lamented Gobseck; but he had been
caught by the snare of the eyes, by the beauty of the pictures in
which he dealt. As his taste grew more and more fastidious, it became
one of the passions which princes alone can indulge when they are
wealthy and art-lovers. As the second King of Prussia found nothing
that so kindled enthusiasm as the spectacle of a grenadier over six
feet high, and gave extravagant sums for a new specimen to add to his
living museum of a regiment, so the retired picture-dealer was roused
to passion-pitch only by some canvas in perfect preservation,
untouched since the master laid down the brush; and what was more, it
must be a picture of the painter's best time. No great sales,
therefore, took place but Elie Magus was there; every mart knew him;
he traveled all over Europe. The ice-cold, money-worshiping soul in
him kindled at the sight of a perfect work of art, precisely as a
libertine, weary of fair women, is roused from apathy by the sight of
a beautiful girl, and sets out afresh upon the quest of flawless
loveliness. A Don Juan among fair works of art, a worshiper of the
Ideal, Elie Magus had discovered joys that transcend the pleasure of a
miser gloating over his gold--he lived in a seraglio of great
His masterpieces were housed as became the children of princes; the
whole first floor of the great old mansion was given up to them. The
rooms had been restored under Elie Magus' orders, and with what
The windows were hung with the richest Venetian brocade; the most
splendid carpets from the Savonnerie covered the parquetry flooring.
The frames of the pictures, nearly a hundred in number, were
magnificent specimens, regilded cunningly by Servais, the one gilder
in Paris whom Elie Magus thought sufficiently painstaking; the old Jew
himself had taught him to use the English leaf, which is infinitely
superior to that produced by French gold-beaters. Servais is among
gilders as Thouvenin among bookbinders--an artist among craftsmen,
making his work a labor of love. Every window in that gallery was
protected by iron-barred shutters. Elie Magus himself lived in a
couple of attics on the floor above; the furniture was wretched, the
rooms were full of rags, and the whole place smacked of the Ghetto;
Elie Magus was finishing his days without any change in his life.
The whole of the ground floor was given up to the picture trade (for
the Jew still dealt in works of art). Here he stored his canvases,
here also packing-cases were stowed on their arrival from other
countries; and still there was room for a vast studio, where Moret,
most skilful of restorers of pictures, a craftsman whom the Musee
ought to employ, was almost always at work for Magus. The rest of the
rooms on the ground floor were given up to Magus' daughter, the child
of his old age, a Jewess as beautiful as a Jewess can be when the
Semitic type reappears in its purity and nobility in a daughter of
Israel. Noemi was guarded by two servants, fanatical Jewesses, to say
nothing of an advanced-guard, a Polish Jew, Abramko by name, once
involved in a fabulous manner in political troubles, from which Elie
Magus saved him as a business speculation. Abramko, porter of the
silent, grim, deserted mansion, divided his office and his lodge with
three remarkably ferocious animals--an English bull-dog, a
Newfoundland dog, and another of the Pyrenean breed.
Behold the profound observations of human nature upon which Elie Magus
based his feeling of security, for secure he felt; he left home
without misgivings, slept with both ears shut, and feared no attempt
upon his daughter (his chief treasure), his pictures, or his money. In
the first place, Abramko's salary was increased every year by two
hundred francs so long as his master should live; and Magus, moreover,
was training Abramko as a money-lender in a small way. Abramko never
admitted anybody until he had surveyed them through a formidable
grated opening. He was a Hercules for strength, he worshiped Elie
Magus, as Sancho Panza worshiped Don Quixote. All day long the dogs
were shut up without food; at nightfall Abramko let them loose; and by
a cunning device the old Jew kept each animal at his post in the
courtyard or the garden by hanging a piece of meat just out of reach
on the top of a pole. The animals guarded the house, and sheer hunger
guarded the dogs. No odor that reached their nostrils could tempt them
from the neighborhood of that piece of meat; they would not have left
their places at the foot of the poles for the most engaging female of
the canine species. If a stranger by any chance intruded, the dogs
suspected him of ulterior designs upon their rations, which were only
taken down in the morning by Abramko himself when he awoke. The
advantages of this fiendish scheme are patent. The animals never
barked, Magus' ingenuity had made savages of them; they were
treacherous as Mohicans. And now for the result.
One night burglars, emboldened by the silence, decided too hastily
that it would be easy enough to "clean out" the old Jew's strong box.
One of their number told off to advance to the assault scrambled up
the garden wall and prepared to descend. This the bull-dog allowed him
to do. The animal, knowing perfectly well what was coming, waited for
the burglar to reach the ground; but when that gentleman directed a
kick at him, the bull-dog flew at the visitor's shins, and, making but
one bite of it, snapped the ankle-bone clean in two. The thief had the
courage to tear him away, and returned, walking upon the bare bone of
the mutilated stump till he reached the rest of the gang, when he fell
fainting, and they carried him off. The /Police News/, of course, did
not fail to report this delightful night incident, but no one believed
Magus at this time was seventy-five years old, and there was no reason
why he should not live to a hundred. Rich man though he was, he lived
like the Remonencqs. His necessary expenses, including the money he
lavished on his daughter, did not exceed three thousand francs. No
life could be more regular; the old man rose as soon as it was light,
breakfasted on bread rubbed with a clove of garlic, and ate no more
food until dinner-time. Dinner, a meal frugal enough for a convent, he
took at home. All the forenoons he spent among his treasures, walking
up and down the gallery where they hung in their glory. He would dust
everything himself, furniture and pictures; he never wearied of
admiring. Then he would go downstairs to his daughter, drink deep of a
father's happiness, and start out upon his walks through Paris, to
attend sales or visit exhibitions and the like.
If Elie Magus found a great work of art under the right conditions,
the discovery put new life into the man; here was a bit of sharp
practice, a bargain to make, a battle of Marengo to win. He would pile
ruse on ruse to buy the new sultana as cheaply as possible. Magus had
a map of Europe on which all great pictures were marked; his
co-religionists in every city spied out business for him, and received
a commission on the purchase. And then, what rewards for all his
pains! The two lost Raphaels so earnestly sought after by Raphael
lovers are both in his collection. Elie Magus owns the original
portrait of /Giorgione's Mistress/, the woman for whom the painter
died; the so-called originals are merely copies of the famous picture,
which is worth five hundred thousand francs, according to its owner's
estimation. This Jew possesses Titian's masterpiece, an /Entombment/
painted for Charles V., sent by the great man to the great Emperor
with a holograph letter, now fastened down upon the lower part of the
canvas. And Magus has yet another Titian, the original sketch from
which all the portraits of Philip II. were painted. His remaining
ninety-seven pictures are all of the same rank and distinction.
Wherefore Magus laughs at our national collection, raked by the
sunlight which destroys the fairest paintings, pouring in through
panes of glass that act as lenses. Picture galleries can only be
lighted from above; Magus opens and closes his shutters himself; he is
as careful of his pictures as of his daughter, his second idol. And
well the old picture-fancier knows the laws of the lives of pictures.
To hear him talk, a great picture has a life of its own; it is
changeable, it takes its beauty from the color of the light. Magus
talks of his paintings as Dutch fanciers used to talk of their tulips;
he will come home on purpose to see some one picture in the hour of
its glory, when the light is bright and clean.
And Magus himself was a living picture among the motionless figures on
the wall--a little old man, dressed in a shabby overcoat, a silk
waistcoat, renewed twice in a score of years, and a very dirty pair of
trousers, with a bald head, a face full of deep hollows, a wrinkled,
callous skin, a beard that had a trick of twitching its long white
bristles, a menacing pointed chin, a toothless mouth, eyes bright as
the eyes of his dogs in the yard, and a nose like an obelisk--there he
stood in his gallery smiling at the beauty called into being by
genius. A Jew surrounded by his millions will always be one of the
finest spectacles which humanity can give. Robert Medal, our great
actor, cannot rise to this height of poetry, sublime though he is.
Paris of all the cities of the world holds most of such men as Magus,
strange beings with a strange religion in their heart of hearts. The
London "eccentric" always finds that worship, like life, brings
weariness and satiety in the end; the Parisian monomaniac lives
cheerfully in concubinage with his crotchet to the last.
Often shall you meet in Paris some Pons, some Elie Magus, dressed
badly enough, with his face turned from the rising sun (like the
countenance of the perpetual secretary of the Academie), apparently
heeding nothing, conscious of nothing, paying no attention to shop-
windows nor to fair passers-by, walking at random, so to speak, with
nothing in his pockets, and to all appearance an equally empty head.
Do you ask to what Parisian tribe this manner of man belongs? He is a
collector, a millionaire, one of the most impassioned souls upon
earth; he and his like are capable of treading the miry ways that lead
to the police-court if so they may gain possession of a cup, a
picture, or some such rare unpublished piece as Elie Magus once picked
up one memorable day in Germany.
This was the expert to whom Remonencq with much mystery conducted La
Cibot. Remonencq always asked advice of Elie Magus when he met him in
the streets; and more than once Magus had lent him money through
Abramko, knowing Remonencq's honesty. The Chaussee des Minimes is
close to the Rue de Normandie, and the two fellow-conspirators reached
the house in ten minutes.
"You will see the richest dealer in curiosities, the greatest
connoisseur in Paris," Remonencq had said. And Mme. Cibot, therefore,
was struck dumb with amazement to be confronted with a little old man
in a great-coat too shabby for Cibot to mend, standing watching a
painter at work upon an old picture in the chilly room on the vast
ground floor. The old man's eyes, full of cold feline malignance, were
turned upon her, and La Cibot shivered.
"What do you want, Remonencq?" asked this person.
"It is a question of valuing some pictures; there is nobody but you in
Paris who can tell a poor tinker-fellow like me how much he may give
when he has not thousands to spend, like you."
"Where is it?"
"Here is the portress of the house where the gentleman lives; she does
for him, and I have arranged with her--"
"Who is the owner?"
"M. Pons!" put in La Cibot.
"Don't know the name," said Magus, with an innocent air, bringing down
his foot very gently upon his artist's toes.
Moret the painter, knowing the value of Pons' collection, had looked
up suddenly at the name. It was a move too hazardous to try with any
one but Remonencq and La Cibot, but the Jew had taken the woman's
measure at sight, and his eye was as accurate as a jeweler's scales.
It was impossible that either of the couple should know how often
Magus and old Pons had matched their claws. And, in truth, both rabid
amateurs were jealous of each other. The old Jew had never hoped for a
sight of a seraglio so carefully guarded; it seemed to him that his
head was swimming. Pons' collection was the one private collection in
Paris which could vie with his own. Pons' idea had occurred to Magus
twenty years later; but as a dealer-amateur the door of Pons' museum
had been closed to him, as for Dusommerard. Pons and Magus had at
heart the same jealousy. Neither of them cared about the kind of
celebrity dear to the ordinary collector. And now for Elie Magus came
his chance to see the poor musician's treasures! An amateur of beauty
hiding in a boudoir or a stolen glance at a mistress concealed from
him by his friend might feel as Elie Magus felt at that moment.
La Cibot was impressed by Remonencq's respect for this singular
person; real power, moreover, even when it cannot be explained, is
always felt; the portress was supple and obedient, she dropped the
autocratic tone which she was wont to use in her lodge and with the
tenants, accepted Magus' conditions, and agreed to admit him into
Pons' museum that very day.
So the enemy was to be brought into the citadel, and a stab dealt to
Pons' very heart. For ten years Pons had carried his keys about with
him; he had forbidden La Cibot to allow any one, no matter whom, to
cross his threshold; and La Cibot had so far shared Schmucke's
opinions of /bric-a-brac/, that she had obeyed him. The good Schmucke,
by speaking of the splendors as "chimcracks," and deploring his
friend's mania, had taught La Cibot to despise the old rubbish, and so
secured Pons' museum from invasion for many a long year.
When Pons took to his bed, Schmucke filled his place at the theatre
and gave lessons for him at his boarding-schools. He did his utmost to
do the work of two; but Pons' sorrows weighing heavily upon his mind,
the task took all his strength. He only saw his friend in the morning,
and again at dinnertime. His pupils and the people at the theatre,
seeing the poor German look so unhappy, used to ask for news of Pons;
and so great was his grief, that the indifferent would make the
grimaces of sensibility which Parisians are wont to reserve for the
greatest calamities. The very springs of life had been attacked, the
good German was suffering from Pons' pain as well as from his own.
When he gave a music lesson, he spent half the time in talking of
Pons, interrupting himself to wonder whether his friend felt better
to-day, and the little school-girls listening heard lengthy
explanations of Pons' symptoms. He would rush over to the Rue de
Normandie in the interval between two lessons for the sake of a
quarter of an hour with Pons.
When at last he saw that their common stock was almost exhausted, when
Mme. Cibot (who had done her best to swell the expenses of the
illness) came to him and frightened him; then the old music-master
felt that he had courage of which he never thought himself capable--
courage that rose above his anguish. For the first time in his life he
set himself to earn money; money was needed at home. One of the
school-girl pupils, really touched by their troubles, asked Schmucke
how he could leave his friend alone. "Montemoiselle," he answered,
with the sublime smile of those who think no evil, "ve haf Montame
Zipod, ein dreasure, montemoiselle, ein bearl! Bons is nursed like ein
So while Schmucke trotted about the streets, La Cibot was mistress of
the house and ruled the invalid. How should Pons superintend his self-
appointed guardian angel, when he had taken no solid food for a
fortnight, and lay there so weak and helpless that La Cibot was
obliged to lift him up and carry him to the sofa while she made the
La Cibot's visit to Elie Magus was paid (as might be expected) while
Schmucke breakfasted. She came in again just as the German was bidding
his friend good-bye; for since she learned that Pons possessed a
fortune, she never left the old bachelor; she brooded over him and his
treasures like a hen. From the depths of a comfortable easy-chair at
the foot of the bed she poured forth for Pons' delectation the gossip
in which women of her class excel. With Machiavelian skill, she had
contrived to make Pons think that she was indispensable to him; she
coaxed and she wheedled, always uneasy, always on the alert. Mme.
Fontaine's prophecy had frightened La Cibot; she vowed to herself that
she would gain her ends by kindness. She would sleep secure on M.
Pons' legacy, but her rascality should keep within the limits of the
law. For ten years she had not suspected the value of Pons'
collection; she had a clear record behind her of ten years of
devotion, honesty, and disinterestedness; it was a magnificent
investment, and now she proposed to realize. In one day, Remonencq's
hint of money had hatched the serpent's egg, the craving for riches
that had lain dormant within her for twenty years. Since she had
cherished that craving, it had grown in force with the ferment of all
the evil that lurks in the corners of the heart. How she acted upon
the counsels whispered by the serpent will presently be seen.
"Well?" she asked of Schmucke, "has this cherub of ours had plenty to
drink? Is he better?"
"He is not doing fery vell, tear Montame Zipod, not fery vell," said
poor Schmucke, brushing away the tears from his eyes.
"Pooh! you make too much of it, my dear M. Schmucke; we must take
things as we find them; Cibot might be at death's door, and I should
not take it to heart as you do. Come! the cherub has a good
constitution. And he has been steady, it seems, you see; you have no
idea what an age sober people live. He is very ill, it is true, but
with all the care I take of him, I shall bring him round. Be easy,
look after your affairs, I will keep him company and see that he
drinks his pints of barley water."
"Gif you vere not here, I should die of anxiety--" said Schmucke,
squeezing his kind housekeeper's hand in both his own to express his
confidence in her.
La Cibot wiped her eyes as she went back to the invalid's room.
"What is the matter, Mme. Cibot?" asked Pons.
"It is M. Schmucke that has upset me; he is crying as if you were
dead," said she. "If you are not well, you are not so bad yet that
nobody need cry over you; but it has given me such a turn! Oh dear! oh
dear! how silly it is of me to get so fond of people, and to think
more of you than of Cibot! For, after all, you aren't nothing to me,
you are only my brother by Adam's side; and yet, whenever you are in
the question, it puts me in such a taking, upon my word it does! I
would cut off my hand--my left hand, of course--to see you coming and
going, eating your meals, and screwing bargains out of dealers as
usual. If I had had a child of my own, I think I should have loved it
as I love you, eh! There, take a drink, dearie; come now, empty the
glass. Drink it off, monsieur, I tell you! The first thing Dr. Poulain
said was, 'If M. Pons has no mind to go to Pere Lachaise, he ought to
drink as many buckets full of water in a day as an Auvergnat will
sell.' So, come now, drink--"
"But I do drink, Cibot, my good woman; I drink and drink till I am
"That is right," said the portress, as she took away the empty glass.
"That is the way to get better. Dr. Poulain had another patient ill of
your complaint; but he had nobody to look after him, his children left
him to himself, and he died because he didn't drink enough--so you
must drink, honey, you see--he died and they buried him two months
ago. And if you were to die, you know, you would drag down old M.
Schmucke with you, sir. He is like a child. Ah! he loves you, he does,
the dear lamb of a man; no woman never loved a man like that! He
doesn't care for meat nor drink; he has grown as thin as you are in
the last fortnight, and you are nothing but skin and bones.--It makes
me jealous to see it, for I am very fond of you; but not to that
degree; I haven't lost my appetite, quite the other way; always going
up and down stairs, till my legs are so tired that I drop down of an
evening like a lump of lead. Here am I neglecting my poor Cibot for
you; Mlle. Remonencq cooks his victuals for him, and he goes on about
it and says that nothing is right! At that I tell him that one ought
to put up with something for the sake of other people, and that you
are so ill that I cannot leave you. In the first place, you can't
afford a nurse. And before I would have a nurse here!--I have done for
you these ten years; they want wine and sugar, and foot-warmers, and
all sorts of comforts. And they rob their patients unless the patients
leave them something in their wills. Have a nurse in here to-day, and
to-morrow we should find a picture or something or other gone--"
"Oh! Mme. Cibot!" cried Pons, quite beside himself, "do not leave me!
No one must touch anything--"
"I am here," said La Cibot; "so long as I have the strength I shall be
here.--Be easy. There was Dr. Poulain wanting to get a nurse for you;
perhaps he has his eye on your treasures. I just snubbed him, I did.
'The gentleman won't have any one but me,' I told him. 'He is used to
me, and I am used to him.' So he said no more. A nurse, indeed! They
are all thieves; I hate that sort of woman, I do. Here is a tale that
will show you how sly they are. There was once an old gentleman--it
was Dr. Poulain himself, mind you, who told me this--well, a Mme.
Sabatier, a woman of thirty-six that used to sell slippers at the
Palais Royal--you remember the Galerie at the Palais that they pulled
"Well, at that time she had not done very well; her husband used to
drink, and died of spontaneous imbustion; but she had been a fine
woman in her time, truth to tell, not that it did her any good, though
she had friends among the lawyers. So, being hard up, she became a
monthly nurse, and lived in the Rue Barre-du-Bec. Well, she went out
to nurse an old gentleman that had a disease of the lurinary guts
(saving your presence); they used to tap him like an artesian well,
and he needed such care that she used to sleep on a truckle-bed in the
same room with him. You would hardly believe such a thing!--'Men
respect nothing,' you'll tell me, 'so selfish as they are.' Well, she
used to talk with him, you understand; she never left him, she amused
him, she told him stories, she drew him on to talk (just as we are
chatting away together now, you and I, eh?), and she found out that
his nephews--the old gentleman had nephews--that his nephews were
wretches; they had worried him, and final end of it, they had brought
on this illness. Well, my dear sir, she saved his life, he married
her, and they have a fine child; Ma'am Bordevin, the butcher's wife in
the Rue Charlot, a relative of hers, stood godmother. There is luck
"As for me, I am married; and if I have no children, I don't mind
saying that it is Cibot's fault; he is too fond of me, but if I cared
--never mind. What would have become of me and my Cibot if we had had
a family, when we have not a penny to bless ourselves with after
thirty years' of faithful service? I have not a farthing belonging to
nobody else, that is what comforts me. I have never wronged nobody.--
Look here, suppose now (there is no harm in supposing when you will be
out and about again in six weeks' time, and sauntering along the
boulevard); well, suppose that you had put me down in your will; very
good, I shouldn't never rest till I had found your heirs and given the
money back. Such is my horror of anything that is not earned by the
sweat of my brow.
"You will say to me, 'Why, Mme. Cibot, why should you worry yourself
like that? You have fairly earned the money; you looked after your two
gentlemen as if they had been your children; you saved them a thousand
francs a year--' (for there are plenty, sir, you know, that would have
had their ten thousand francs put out to interest by now if they had
been in my place)--'so if the worthy gentleman leaves you a trifle of
an annuity, it is only right.'--Suppose they told me that. Well, now;
I am not thinking of myself.--I cannot think how some women can do a
kindness thinking of themselves all the time. It is not doing good,
sir, is it? I do not go to church myself, I haven't the time; but my
conscience tells me what is right. . . . Don't you fidget like that,
my lamb!--Don't scratch yourself! . . . Dear me, how yellow you grow!
So yellow you are--quite brown. How funny it is that one can come to
look like a lemon in three weeks! . . . Honesty is all that poor folk
have, and one must surely have something! Suppose that you were just
at death's door, I should be the first to tell you that you ought to
leave all that you have to M. Schmucke. It is your duty, for he is all
the family you have. He loves you, he does, as a dog loves his
"Ah! yes," said Pons; "nobody else has ever loved me all my life
"Ah! that is not kind of you, sir," said Mme. Cibot; "then I do not
love you, I suppose?"
"I do not say so, my dear Mme. Cibot."
"Good. You take me for a servant, do you, a common servant, as if I
hadn't no heart! Goodness me! for eleven years you do for two old
bachelors, you think of nothing but their comfort. I have turned half
a score of greengrocers' shops upside down for you, I have talked
people round to get you good Brie cheese; I have gone down as far as
the market for fresh butter for you; I have taken such care of things
that nothing of yours hasn't been chipped nor broken in all these ten
years; I have just treated you like my own children; and then to hear
a 'My dear Mme. Cibot,' that shows that there is not a bit of feeling
for you in the heart of an old gentleman that you have cared for like
a king's son! for the little King of Rome was not so well looked
after. He died in his prime; there is proof for you. . . . Come, sir,
you are unjust! You are ungrateful! It is because I am only a poor
portress. Goodness me! are /you/ one of those that think we are
"But, my dear Mme. Cibot--"
"Indeed, you that know so much, tell me why we porters are treated
like this, and are supposed to have no feelings; people look down on
us in these days when they talk of Equality!--As for me, am I not as
good as another woman, I that was one of the finest women in Paris,
and was called /La belle Ecaillere/, and received declarations seven
or eight times a day? And even now if I liked--Look here, sir, you
know that little scrubby marine store-dealer downstairs? Very well, he
would marry me any day, if I were a widow that is, with his eyes shut;
he has had them looking wide open in my direction so often; he is
always saying, 'Oh! what fine arms you have, Ma'am Cibot!--I dreamed
last night that it was bread and I was butter, and I was spread on the
top.' Look, sir, there is an arm!"
She rolled up her sleeve and displayed the shapeliest arm imaginable,
as white and fresh as her hand was red and rough; a plump, round,
dimpled arm, drawn from its merino sheath like a blade from the
scabbard to dazzle Pons, who looked away.
"For every oyster the knife opened, the arm has opened a heart! Well,
it belongs to Cibot, and I did wrong when I neglected him, poor dear,
HE would throw himself over a precipice at a word from me; while you,
sir, that call me 'My dear Mme. Cibot' when I do impossible things for
"Do just listen to me," broke in the patient; "I cannot call you my
mother, nor my wife--"
"No, never in all my born days will I take again to anybody--"
"Do let me speak!" continued Pons. "Let me see; I put M. Schmucke
"M. Schmucke! there is a heart for you," cried La Cibot. "Ah! he loves
me, but then he is poor. It is money that deadens the heart; and you
are rich! Oh, well, take a nurse, you will see what a life she will
lead you; she will torment you, you will be like a cockchafer on a
string. The doctor will say that you must have plenty to drink, and
she will do nothing but feed you. She will bring you to your grave and
rob you. You do not deserve to have a Mme. Cibot!--there! When Dr.
Poulain comes, ask him for a nurse."
"Oh fiddlestickend!" the patient cried angrily. "/Will/ you listen to
me? When I spoke of my friend Schmucke, I was not thinking of women. I
know quite well that no one cares for me so sincerely as you do, you
"Have the goodness not to irritate yourself in this way!" exclaimed La
Cibot, plunging down upon Pons and covering him by force with the
"How should I not love you?" said poor Pons.
"You love me, really? . . . There, there, forgive me, sir!" she said,
crying and wiping her eyes. "Ah, yes, of course, you love me, as you
love a servant, that is the way!--a servant to whom you throw an
annuity of six hundred francs like a crust you fling into a dog's
"Oh! Mme. Cibot," cried Pons, "for what do you take me? You do not
"Ah! you will care even more than that for me," she said, meeting
Pons' eyes. "You will love your kind old Cibot like a mother, will you
not? A mother, that is it! I am your mother; you are both of you my
children. . . . Ah, if I only knew them that caused you this sorrow, I
would do that which would bring me into the police-courts, and even to
prison; I would tear their eyes out! Such people deserve to die at the
Barriere Saint-Jacques, and that is too good for such scoundrels.
. . . So kind, so good as you are (for you have a heart of
gold), you were sent into the world to make some woman happy! . . .
Yes, you would have her happy, as anybody can see; you were cut out
for that. In the very beginning, when I saw how you were with M.
Schmucke, I said to myself, 'M. Pons has missed the life he was meant
for; he was made to be a good husband.' Come, now, you like women."
"Ah, yes," said Pons, "and no woman has been mine."
"Really?" exclaimed La Cibot, with a provocative air as she came
nearer and took Pons' hand in hers. "Do you not know what it is to
love a woman that will do anything for her lover? Is it possible? If I
were in your place, I should not wish to leave this world for another
until I had known the greatest happiness on earth! . . . Poor dear! If
I was now what I was once, I would leave Cibot for you! upon my word,
I would! Why, with a nose shaped like that--for you have a fine nose--
how did you manage it, poor cherub? . . . You will tell me that 'not
every woman knows a man when she sees him'; and a pity it is that they
marry so at random as they do, it makes you sorry to see it.--Now, for
my own part, I should have thought that you had had mistresses by the
dozen--dancers, actresses, and duchesses, for you went out so much.
. . . When you went out, I used to say to Cibot, 'Look! there is M.
Pons going a-gallivanting,' on my word, I did, I was so sure that
women ran after you. Heaven made you for love. . . . Why, my dear sir,
I found that out the first day that you dined at home, and you were so
touched with M. Schmucke's pleasure. And next day M. Schmucke kept
saying to me, 'Montame Zipod, he haf tined hier,' with the tears in
his eyes, till I cried along with him like a fool, as I am. And how
sad he looked when you took to gadding abroad again and dining out!
Poor man, you never saw any one so disconsolate! Ah! you are quite
right to leave everything to him. Dear worthy man, why he is as good
as a family to you, he is! Do not forget him; for if you do, God will
not receive you into his Paradise, for those that have been ungrateful
to their friends and left them no /rentes/ will not go to heaven."
In vain Pons tried to put in a word; La Cibot talked as the wind
blows. Means of arresting steam-engines have been invented, but it
would tax a mechanician's genius to discover any plan for stopping a
"I know what you mean," continued she. "But it does not kill you, my
dear gentleman, to make a will when you are out of health; and in your
place I might not leave that poor dear alone, for fear that something
might happen; he is like God Almighty's lamb, he knows nothing about
nothing, and I should not like him to be at the mercy of those sharks
of lawyers and a wretched pack of relations. Let us see now, has one
of them come here to see you in twenty years? And would you leave your
property to /them/? Do you know, they say that all these things here
are worth something."
"Why, yes," said Pons.
"Remonencq, who deals in pictures, and knows that you are an amateur,
says that he would be quite ready to pay you an annuity of thirty
thousand francs so long as you live, to have the pictures afterwards.
. . . There is a change! If I were you, I should take it. Why, I
thought he said it for a joke when he told me that. You ought to let
M. Schmucke know the value of all those things, for he is a man that
could be cheated like a child. He has not the slightest idea of the
value of these fine things that you have! He so little suspects it,
that he would give them away for a morsel of bread if he did not keep
them all his life for love of you, always supposing that he lives
after you, for he will die of your death. But /I/ am here; I will take
his part against anybody and everybody! . . . I and Cibot will defend
"Dear Mme. Cibot!" said Pons, "what would have become of me if it had
not been for you and Schmucke?" He felt touched by this horrible
prattle; the feeling in it seemed to be ingenuous, as it usually is in
the speech of the people.
"Ah! we really are your only friends on earth, that is very true, that
is. But two good hearts are worth all the families in the world.--
Don't talk of families to me! A family, as the old actor said of the
tongue, is the best and the worst of all things. . . . Where are those
relations of yours now? Have you any? I have never seen them--"
"They have brought me to lie here," said Pons, with intense
"So you have relations! . . . " cried La Cibot, springing up as if her
easy-chair had been heated red-hot. "Oh, well, they are a nice lot,
are your relations! What! these three weeks--for this is the twentieth
day, to-day, that you have been ill and like to die--in these three
weeks they have not come once to ask for news of you? That's a trifle
too strong, that is! . . . Why, in your place, I would leave all I had
to the Foundling Hospital sooner than give them one farthing!"
"Well, my dear Mme. Cibot, I meant to leave all that I had to a cousin
once removed, the daughter of my first cousin, President Camusot, you
know, who came here one morning nearly two months ago."
"Oh! a little stout man who sent his servants to beg your pardon--for
his wife's blunder?--The housemaid came asking me questions about you,
an affected old creature she is, my fingers itched to give her velvet
tippet a dusting with my broom handle! A servant wearing a velvet
tippet! did anybody ever see the like? No, upon my word, the world is
turned upside down; what is the use of making a Revolution? Dine twice
a day if you can afford it, you scamps of rich folk! But laws are no
good, I tell you, and nothing will be safe if Louis-Philippe does not
keep people in their places; for, after all, if we are all equal, eh,
sir? a housemaid didn't ought to have a velvet tippet, while I, Mme.
Cibot, haven't one, after thirty years of honest work.--There is a
pretty thing for you! People ought to be able to tell who you are. A
housemaid is a housemaid, just as I myself am a portress. Why do they
have silk epaulettes in the army? Let everybody keep their place. Look
here, do you want me to tell you what all this comes to? Very well,
France is going to the dogs. . . . If the Emperor had been here,
things would have been very different, wouldn't they, sir? . . . So I
said to Cibot, I said, 'See here, Cibot, a house where the servants
wear velvet tippets belongs to people that have no heart in them--' "
"No heart in them, that is just it," repeated Pons. And with that he
began to tell Mme. Cibot about his troubles and mortifications, she
pouring out abuse of the relations the while and showing exceeding
tenderness on every fresh sentence in the sad history. She fairly wept
To understand the sudden intimacy between the old musician and Mme.
Cibot, you have only to imagine the position of an old bachelor lying
on his bed of pain, seriously ill for the first time in his life. Pons
felt that he was alone in the world; the days that he spent by himself
were all the longer because he was struggling with the indefinable
nausea of a liver complaint which blackens the brightest life. Cut off
from all his many interests, the sufferer falls a victim to a kind of
nostalgia; he regrets the many sights to be seen for nothing in Paris.
The isolation, the darkened days, the suffering that affects the mind
and spirits even more than the body, the emptiness of the life,--all
these things tend to induce him to cling to the human being who waits
on him as a drowned man clings to a plank; and this especially if the
bachelor patient's character is as weak as his nature is sensitive and
Pons was charmed to hear La Cibot's tittle-tattle. Schmucke, Mme.
Cibot, and Dr. Poulain meant all humanity to him now, when his
sickroom became the universe. If invalid's thoughts, as a rule, never
travel beyond in the little space over which his eyes can wander; if
their selfishness, in its narrow sphere, subordinates all creatures
and all things to itself, you can imagine the lengths to which an old
bachelor may go. Before three weeks were out he had even gone so far
as to regret, once and again, that he had not married Madeleine Vivet!
Mme. Cibot, too, had made immense progress in his esteem in those
three weeks; without her he felt that he should have been utterly
lost; for as for Schmucke, the poor invalid looked upon him as a
second Pons. La Cibot's prodigious art consisted in expressing Pons'
own ideas, and this she did quite unconsciously.
"Ah! here comes the doctor!" she exclaimed, as the bell rang, and away
she went, knowing very well that Remonencq had come with the Jew.
"Make no noise, gentlemen," said she, "he must not know anything. He
is all on the fidget when his precious treasures are concerned."
"A walk round will be enough," said the Hebrew, armed with a
magnifying-glass and a lorgnette.
The greater part of Pons' collection was installed in a great old-
fashioned salon such as French architects used to build for the old
/noblesse/; a room twenty-five feet broad, some thirty feet in length,
and thirteen in height. Pons' pictures to the number of sixty-seven
hung upon the white-and-gold paneled walls; time, however, had
reddened the gold and softened the white to an ivory tint, so that the
whole was toned down, and the general effect subordinated to the
effect of the pictures. Fourteen statues stood on pedestals set in the
corners of the room, or among the pictures, or on brackets inlaid by
Boule; sideboards of carved ebony, royally rich, surrounded the walls
to elbow height, all the shelves filled with curiosities; in the
middle of the room stood a row of carved credence-tables, covered with
rare miracles of handicraft--with ivories and bronzes, wood-carvings
and enamels, jewelry and porcelain.
As soon as Elie Magus entered the sanctuary, he went straight to the
four masterpieces; he saw at a glance that these were the gems of
Pons' collection, and masters lacking in his own. For Elie Magus these
were the naturalist's /desiderata/ for which men undertake long
voyages from east to west, through deserts and tropical countries,
across southern savannahs, through virgin forests.
The first was a painting by Sebastian del Piombo, the second a Fra
Bartolommeo della Porta, the third a Hobbema landscape, and the fourth
and last a Durer--a portrait of a woman. Four diamonds indeed! In the
history of art, Sebastian del Piombo is like a shining point in which
three schools meet, each bringing its pre-eminent qualities. A
Venetian painter, he came to Rome to learn the manner of Raphael under
the direction of Michael Angelo, who would fain oppose Raphael on his
own ground by pitting one of his own lieutenants against the reigning
king of art. And so it came to pass that in Del Piombo's indolent
genius Venetian color was blended with Florentine composition and a
something of Raphael's manner in the few pictures which he deigned to
paint, and the sketches were made for him, it is said, by Michael
If you would see the perfection to which the painter attained (armed
as he was with triple power), go to the Louvre and look at the Baccio
Bandinelli portrait; you might place it beside Titian's /Man with a
Glove/, or by that other /Portrait of an Old Man/ in which Raphael's
consummate skill blends with Correggio's art; or, again, compare it
with Leonardo da Vinci's /Charles VIII./, and the picture would
scarcely lose. The four pearls are equal; there is the same lustre and
sheen, the same rounded completeness, the same brilliancy. Art can go
no further than this. Art has risen above Nature, since Nature only
gives her creatures a few brief years of life.
Pons possessed one example of this immortal great genius and incurably
indolent painter; it was a /Knight of Malta/, a Templar kneeling in
prayer. The picture was painted on slate, and in its unfaded color and
its finish was immeasurably finer than the /Baccio Bandinelli/.
Fra Bartolommeo was represented by a /Holy Family/, which many
connoisseurs might have taken for a Raphael. The Hobbema would have
fetched sixty thousand francs at a public sale; and as for the Durer,
it was equal to the famous /Holzschuer/ portrait at Nuremberg for
which the kings of Bavaria, Holland, and Prussia have vainly offered
two hundred thousand francs again and again. Was it the portrait of
the wife or the daughter of Holzschuer, Albrecht Durer's personal
friend?--The hypothesis seems to be a certainty, for the attitude of
the figure in Pons' picture suggests that it is meant for a pendant,
the position of the coat-of-arms is the same as in the Nuremberg
portrait; and, finally, the /oetatis suoe XLI./ accords perfectly with
the age inscribed on the picture religiously kept by the Holzschuers
of Nuremberg, and but recently engraved.
The tears stood in Elie Magus' eyes as he looked from one masterpiece
to another. He turned round to La Cibot, "I will give you a commission
of two thousand francs on each of the pictures if you can arrange that
I shall have them for forty thousand francs," he said. La Cibot was
amazed at this good fortune dropped from the sky. Admiration, or, to
be more accurate, delirious joy, had wrought such havoc in the Jew's
brain, that it had actually unsettled his habitual greed, and he fell
headlong into enthusiasm, as you see.
"And I?----" put in Remonencq, who knew nothing about pictures.
"Everything here is equally good," the Jew said cunningly, lowering
his voice for Remonencq's ears; "take ten pictures just as they come
and on the same conditions. Your fortune will be made."
Again the three thieves looked each other in the face, each one of
them overcome with the keenest of all joys--sated greed. All of a
sudden the sick man's voice rang through the room; the tones vibrated
like the strokes of a bell:
"Who is there?" called Pons.
"Monsieur! just go back to bed!" exclaimed La Cibot, springing upon
Pons and dragging him by main force. "What next! Have you a mind to
kill yourself?--Very well, then, it is not Dr. Poulain, it is
Remonencq, good soul, so anxious that he has come to ask after you!--
Everybody is so fond of you that the whole house is in a flutter. So
what is there to fear?"
"It seems to me that there are several of you," said Pons.
"Several? that is good! What next! Are you dreaming!--You will go off
your head before you have done, upon my word!--Here, look!"--and La
Cibot flung open the door, signed to Magus to go, and beckoned to
"Well, my dear sir," said the Auvergnat, now supplied with something
to say, "I just came to ask after you, for the whole house is alarmed
about you.--Nobody likes Death to set foot in a house!--And lastly,
Daddy Monistrol, whom you know very well, told me to tell you that if
you wanted money he was at your service----"
"He sent you here to take a look round at my knick-knacks!" returned
the old collector from his bed; and the sour tones of his voice were
full of suspicion.
A sufferer from liver complaint nearly always takes momentary and
special dislikes to some person or thing, and concentrates all his
ill-humor upon the object. Pons imagined that some one had designs
upon his precious collection; the thought of guarding it became a
fixed idea with him; Schmucke was continually sent to see if any one
had stolen into the sanctuary.
"Your collection is fine enough to attract the attention of
/chineurs/," Remonencq answered astutely. "I am not much in the art
line myself; but you are supposed to be such a great connoisseur, sir,
that with my eyes shut--supposing, for instance, that you should need
money some time or other, for nothing costs so much as these
confounded illnesses; there was my sister now, when she would have got
better again just as well without. Doctors are rascals that take
advantage of your condition to--"
"Thank you, good-day, good-day," broke in Pons, eying the marine
"I will go to the door with him, for fear he should touch something,"
La Cibot whispered to her patient.
"Yes, yes," answered the invalid, thanking her by a glance.
La Cibot shut the bedroom door behind her, and Pons' suspicions awoke
again at once.
She found Magus standing motionless before the four pictures. His
immobility, his admiration, can only be understood by other souls open
to ideal beauty, to the ineffable joy of beholding art made perfect;
such as these can stand for whole hours before the /Antiope/--
Correggio's masterpiece--before Leonardo's /Gioconda/, Titian's
/Mistress/, Andrea del Sarto's /Holy Family/, Domenichino's /Children
Among the Flowers/, Raphael's little cameo, or his /Portrait of an Old
Man/--Art's greatest masterpieces.
"Be quick and go, and make no noise," said La Cibot.
The Jew walked slowly backwards, giving the pictures such a farewell
gaze as a lover gives his love. Outside on the landing, La Cibot
tapped his bony arm. His rapt contemplations had put an idea into her
"Make it /four/ thousand francs for each picture," said she, "or I do
"I am so poor! . . ." began Magus. "I want the pictures simply for
their own sake, simply and solely for the love of art, my dear lady."
"I can understand that love, sonny, you are so dried up. But if you do
not promise me sixteen thousand francs now, before Remonencq here, I
shall want twenty to-morrow."
"Sixteen; I promise," returned the Jew, frightened by the woman's
La Cibot turned to Remonencq.
"What oath can a Jew swear?" she inquired.
"You may trust him," replied the marine store-dealer. "He is as honest
as I am."
"Very well; and you?" asked she, "if I get him to sell them to you,
what will you give me?"
"Half-share of profits," Remonencq answered briskly.
"I would rather have a lump sum," returned La Cibot; "I am not in
"You understand business uncommonly well!" put in Elie Magus, smiling;
"a famous saleswoman you would make!"
"I want her to take me into partnership, me and my goods," said the
Auvergnat, as he took La Cibot's plump arm and gave it playful taps
like hammer-strokes. "I don't ask her to bring anything into the firm
but her good looks! You are making a mistake when your stick to your
Turk of a Cibot and his needle. Is a little bit of a porter the man to
make a woman rich--a fine woman like you? Ah, what a figure you would
make in a shop on the boulevard, all among the curiosities, gossiping
with amateurs and twisting them round your fingers! Just you leave
your lodge as soon as you have lined your purse here, and you shall
see what will become of us both."
"Lined my purse!" cried Cibot. "I am incapable of taking the worth of
a single pin; you mind that, Remonencq! I am known in the neighborhood
for an honest woman, I am."
La Cibot's eyes flashed fire.
"There, never mind," said Elie Magus; "this Auvergnat seems to be too
fond of you to mean to insult you."
"How she would draw on the customers!" cried the Auvergnat.
Mme. Cibot softened at this.
"Be fair, sonnies," quoth she, "and judge for yourselves how I am
placed. These ten years past I have been wearing my life out for these
two old bachelors yonder, and neither or them has given me anything
but words. Remonencq will tell you that I feed them by contract, and
lose twenty or thirty sous a day; all my savings have gone that way,
by the soul of my mother (the only author of my days that I ever
knew), this is as true as that I live, and that this is the light of
day, and may my coffee poison me if I lie about a farthing. Well,
there is one up there that will die soon, eh? and he the richer of the
two that I have treated like my own children. Would you believe it, my
dear sir, I have told him over and over again for days past that he is
at death's door (for Dr. Poulain has given him up), he could not say
less about putting my name down in his will. We shall only get our due
by taking it, upon my word, as an honest woman, for as for trusting to
the next-of-kin!--No fear! There! look you here, words don't stink; it
is a bad world!"
"That is true," Elie Magus answered cunningly, "that is true; and it
is just the like of us that are among the best," he added, looking at
"Just let me be," returned La Cibot; "I am not speaking of you.
'Pressing company is always accepted,' as the old actor said. I swear
to you that the two gentlemen already owe me nearly three thousand
francs; the little I have is gone by now in medicine and things on
their account; and now suppose they refuse to recognize my advances? I
am so stupidly honest that I did not dare to say nothing to them about
it. Now, you that are in business, my dear sir, do you advise me to
got to a lawyer?"
"A lawyer?" cried Remonencq; "you know more about it than all the
lawyers put together--"
Just at that moment a sound echoed in the great staircase, a sound as
if some heavy body had fallen in the dining-room.
"Oh, goodness me!" exclaimed La Cibot; "it seems to me that monsieur
has just taken a ticket for the ground floor."
She pushed her fellow-conspirators out at the door, and while the pair
descended the stairs with remarkable agility, she ran to the dining-
room, and there beheld Pons, in his shirt, stretched out upon the
tiles. He had fainted. She lifted him as if he had been a feather,
carried him back to his room, laid him in bed, burned feathers under
his nose, bathed his temples with eau-de-cologne, and at last brought
him to consciousness. When she saw his eyes unclose and life return,
she stood over him, hands on hips.
"No slippers! In your shirt! That is the way to kill yourself! Why do
you suspect me?--If this is to be the way of it, I wish you good-day,
sir. Here have I served you these ten years, I have spent money on you
till my savings are all gone, to spare trouble to that poor M.
Schmucke, crying like a child on the stairs--and /this/ is my reward!
You have been spying on me. God has punished you! It serves you right!
Here I am straining myself to carry you, running the risk of doing
myself a mischief that I shall feel all my days. Oh dear, oh dear! and
the door left open too--"
"You were talking with some one. Who was it?"
"Here are notions!" cried La Cibot. "What next! Am I your bond-slave?
Am I to give account of myself to you? Do you know that if you bother
me like this, I shall clear out! You shall take a nurse."
Frightened by this threat, Pons unwittingly allowed La Cibot to see
the extent of the power of her sword of Damocles.
"It is my illness!" he pleaded piteously.
"It is as you please," La Cibot answered roughly.
She went. Pons, confused, remorseful, admiring his nurse's scalding
devotion, reproached himself for his behavior. The fall on the paved
floor of the dining-room had shaken and bruised him, and aggravated
his illness, but Pons was scarcely conscious of his physical
La Cibot met Schmucke on the staircase.
"Come here, sir," she said. "There is bad news, that there is! M. Pons
is going off his head! Just think of it! he got up with nothing on, he
came after me--and down he came full-length. Ask him why--he knows
nothing about it. He is in a bad way. I did nothing to provoke such
violence, unless, perhaps, I waked up ideas by talking to him of his
early amours. Who knows men? Old libertines that they are. I ought not
to have shown him my arms when his eyes were glittering like
Schmucke listened. Mme. Cibot might have been talking Hebrew for
anything that he understood.
"I have given myself a wrench that I shall feel all my days," added
she, making as though she were in great pain. (Her arms did, as a
matter of fact, ache a little, and the muscular fatigue suggested an
idea, which she proceeded to turn to profit.) "So stupid I am. When I
saw him lying there on the floor, I just took him up in my arms as if
he had been a child, and carried him back to bed, I did. And I
strained myself, I can feel it now. Ah! how it hurts!--I am going
downstairs. Look after our patient. I will send Cibot for Dr. Poulain.
I had rather die outright than be crippled."
La Cibot crawled downstairs, clinging to the banisters, and writhing
and groaning so piteously that the tenants, in alarm, came out upon
their landings. Schmucke supported the suffering creature, and told
the story of La Cibot's devotion, the tears running down his cheeks as
he spoke. Before very long the whole house, the whole neighborhood
indeed, had heard of Mme. Cibot's heroism; she had given herself a
dangerous strain, it was said, with lifting one of the "nutcrackers."
Schmucke meanwhile went to Pons' bedside with the tale. Their factotum
was in a frightful state. "What shall we do without her?" they said,
as they looked at each other; but Pons was so plainly the worse for
his escapade, that Schmucke did not dare to scold him.
"Gonfounded pric-a-prac! I would sooner purn dem dan loose mein
friend!" he cried, when Pons told him of the cause of the accident.
"To suspect Montame Zipod, dot lend us her safings! It is not goot;
but it is der illness--"
"Ah! what an illness! I am not the same man, I can feel it," said
Pons. "My dear Schmucke, if only you did not suffer through me!"
"Scold me," Schmucke answered, "und leaf Montame Zipod in beace."
As for Mme. Cibot, she soon recovered in Dr. Poulain's hands; and her
restoration, bordering on the miraculous, shed additional lustre on
her name and fame in the Marais. Pons attributed the success to the
excellent constitution of the patient, who resumed her ministrations
seven days later to the great satisfaction of her two gentlemen. Her
influence in their household and her tyranny was increased a hundred-
fold by the accident. In the course of a week, the two nutcrackers ran
into debt; Mme. Cibot paid the outstanding amounts, and took the
opportunity to obtain from Schmucke (how easily!) a receipt for two
thousand francs, which she had lent, she said, to the friends.
"Oh, what a doctor M. Poulain is!" cried La Cibot, for Pons' benefit.
"He will bring you through, my dear sir, for he pulled me out of my
coffin! Cibot, poor man, thought I was dead. . . . Well, Dr. Poulain
will have told you that while I was in bed I thought of nothing but
you. 'God above,' said I, 'take me, and let my dear Mr. Pons live--' "
"Poor dear Mme. Cibot, you all but crippled yourself for me."
"Ah! but for Dr. Poulain I should have been put to bed with a shovel
by now, as we shall all be one day. Well, what must be, must, as the
old actor said. One must take things philosophically. How did you get
on without me?"
"Schmucke nursed me," said the invalid; "but our poor money-box and
our lessons have suffered. I do not know how he managed."
"Calm yourself, Bons," exclaimed Schmucke; "ve haf in Zipod ein
"Do not speak of it, my lamb. You are our children, both of you,"
cried La Cibot. "Our savings will be well invested; you are safer than
the Bank. So long as we have a morsel of bread, half of it is yours.
It is not worth mentioning--"
"Boor Montame Zipod!" said Schmucke, and he went.
Pons said nothing.
"Would you believe it, my cherub?" said La Cibot, as the sick man
tossed uneasily, "in my agony--for it was a near squeak for me--the
thing that worried me most was the thought that I must leave you
alone, with no one to look after you, and my poor Cibot without a
farthing. . . . My savings are such a trifle, that I only mention them
in connection with my death and Cibot, an angel that he is! No. He
nursed me as if I had been a queen, he did, and cried like a calf over
me! . . . But I counted on you, upon my word. I said to him, 'There,
Cibot! my gentlemen will not let you starve--' "
Pons made no reply to this thrust /ad testamentum/; but as the
portress waited for him to say something--"I shall recommend you to M.
Schmucke," he said at last.
"Ah!" cried La Cibot, "whatever you do will be right; I trust in you
and your heart. Let us never talk of this again; you make me feel
ashamed, my cherub. Think of getting better, you will outlive us all
Profound uneasiness filled Mme. Cibot's mind. She cast about for some
way of making the sick man understand that she expected a legacy. That
evening, when Schmucke was eating his dinner as usual by Pons'
bedside, she went out, hoping to find Dr. Poulain at home.
Dr. Poulain lived in the Rue d'Orleans in a small ground floor
establishment, consisting of a lobby, a sitting-room, and two
bedrooms. A closet, opening into the lobby and the bedroom, had been
turned into a study for the doctor. The kitchen, the servant's
bedroom, and a small cellar were situated in a wing of the house, a
huge pile built in the time of the Empire, on the site of an old
mansion of which the garden still remained, though it had been divided
among the three ground floor tenants.
Nothing had been changed in the doctor's house since it was built.
Paint and paper and ceilings were all redolent of the Empire. The
grimy deposits of forty years lay thick on walls and ceilings, on
paper and paint and mirrors and gilding. And yet, this little
establishment, in the depths of the Marais, paid a rent of a thousand
Mme. Poulain, the doctor's mother, aged sixty-seven, was ending her
days in the second bedroom. She worked for a breeches-maker, stitching
men's leggings, breeches, belts, and braces, anything, in fact, that
is made in a way of business which has somewhat fallen off of late
years. Her whole time was spent in keeping her son's house and
superintending the one servant; she never went abroad, and took the
air in the little garden entered through the glass door of the
sitting-room. Twenty years previously, when her husband died, she sold
his business to his best workman, who gave his master's widow work
enough to earn a daily wage of thirty sous. She had made every
sacrifice to educate her son. At all costs, he should occupy a higher
station than his father before him; and now she was proud of her
Aesculapius, she believed in him, and sacrificed everything to him as
before. She was happy to take care of him, to work and put by a little
money, and dream of nothing but his welfare, and love him with an
intelligent love of which every mother is not capable. For instance,
Mme. Poulain remembered that she had been a working girl. She would
not injure her son's prospects; he should not be ashamed by his mother
(for the good woman's grammar was something of the same kind as Mme.
Cibot's); and for this reason she kept in the background, and went to
her room of her own accord if any distinguished patient came to
consult the doctor, or if some old schoolfellow or fellow-student
chanced to call. Dr. Poulain had never had occasion to blush for the
mother whom he revered; and this sublime love of hers more than atoned
for a defective education.
The breeches-maker's business sold for about twenty thousand francs,
and the widow invested the money in the Funds in 1820. The income of
eleven hundred francs per annum derived from this source was, at one
time, her whole fortune. For many a year the neighbors used to see the
doctor's linen hanging out to dry upon a clothes-line in the garden,
and the servant and Mme. Poulain thriftily washed everything at home;
a piece of domestic economy which did not a little to injure the
doctor's practice, for it was thought that if he was so poor, it must
be through his own fault. Her eleven hundred francs scarcely did more
than pay the rent. During those early days, Mme. Poulain, good, stout,
little old woman, was the breadwinner, and the poor household lived
upon her earnings. After twelve years of perseverance upon a rough and
stony road, Dr. Poulain at last was making an income of three thousand
francs, and Mme. Poulain had an income of about five thousand francs
at her disposal. Five thousand francs for those who know Paris means a
The sitting-room, where patients waited for an interview, was shabbily
furnished. There was the inevitable mahogany sofa covered with yellow-
flowered Utrecht velvet, four easy-chairs, a tea-table, a console, and
half-a-dozen chairs, all the property of the deceased breeches-maker,
and chosen by him. A lyre-shaped clock between two Egyptian
candlesticks still preserved its glass shade intact. You asked
yourself how the yellow chintz window-curtains, covered with red
flowers, had contrived to hang together for so long; for evidently
they had come from the Jouy factory, and Oberkampf received the
Emperor's congratulations upon similar hideous productions of the
cotton industry in 1809.
The doctor's consulting-room was fitted up in the same style, with
household stuff from the paternal chamber. It looked stiff, poverty-
stricken, and bare. What patient could put faith in the skill of any
unknown doctor who could not even furnish his house? And this in a
time when advertising is all-powerful; when we gild the gas-lamps in
the Place de la Concorde to console the poor man for his poverty by
reminding him that he is rich as a citizen.
The ante-chamber did duty as a dining-room. The servant sat at her
sewing there whenever she was not busy in the kitchen or keeping the
doctor's mother company. From the dingy short curtains in the windows
you would have guessed at the shabby thrift behind them without
setting foot in the dreary place. What could those wall-cupboards
contain but stale scraps of food, chipped earthenware, corks used over
and over again indefinitely, soiled table-linen, odds and ends that
could descend but one step lower into the dust-heap, and all the
squalid necessities of a pinched household in Paris?
In these days, when the five-franc piece is always lurking in our
thoughts and intruding itself into our speech, Dr. Poulain, aged
thirty-three, was still a bachelor. Heaven had bestowed on him a
mother with no connections. In ten years he had not met with the
faintest pretext for a romance in his professional career; his
practice lay among clerks and small manufacturers, people in his own
sphere of life, with homes very much like his own. His richer patients
were butchers, bakers, and the more substantial tradespeople of the
neighborhood. These, for the most part, attributed their recovery to
Nature, as an excuse for paying for the services of a medical man, who
came on foot, at the rate of two francs per visit. In his profession,
a carriage is more necessary than medical skill.
A humdrum monotonous life tells in the end upon the most adventurous
spirit. A man fashions himself to his lot, he accepts a commonplace
existence; and Dr. Poulain, after ten years of his practice, continued
his labors of Sisyphus without the despair that made early days so
bitter. And yet--like every soul in Paris--he cherished a dream.
Remonencq was happy in his dream; La Cibot had a dream of her own; and
Dr. Poulain, too, dreamed. Some day he would be called in to attend a
rich and influential patient, would effect a positive cure, and the
patient would procure a post for him; he would be head surgeon to a
hospital, medical officer of a prison or police-court, or doctor to
the boulevard theatres. He had come by his present appointment as
doctor to the Mairie in this very way. La Cibot had called him in when
the landlord of the house in the Rue de Normandie fell ill; he had
treated the case with complete success; M. Pillerault, the patient,
took an interest in the young doctor, called to thank him, and saw his
carefully-hidden poverty. Count Popinot, the cabinet minister, had
married M. Pillerault's grand-niece, and greatly respected her uncle;
of him, therefore, M. Pillerault had asked for the post, which Poulain
had now held for two years. That appointment and its meagre salary
came just in time to prevent a desperate step; Poulain was thinking of
emigration; and for a Frenchman, it is a kind of death to leave
Dr. Poulain went, you may be sure, to thank Count Popinot; but as
Count Popinot's family physician was the celebrated Horace Bianchon,
it was pretty clear that his chances of gaining a footing in that
house were something of the slenderest. The poor doctor had fondly
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