Honore de Balzac
Part 5 out of 7
"What a providence!" Fraisier said to himself as he descended the
staircase; "and what a sharp woman Mme. Camusot is! I should want a
woman in these circumstances. Now to work!"
And he departed for Mantes to gain the good graces of a man he
scarcely knew; but he counted upon Mme. Vatinelle, to whom,
unfortunately, he owed all his troubles--and some troubles are of a
kind that resemble a protested bill while the defaulter is yet
solvent, in that they bear interest.
Three days afterwards, while Schmucke slept (for in accordance with
the compact he now sat up at night with the patient), La Cibot had a
"tiff," as she was pleased to call it, with Pons. It will not be out
of place to call attention to one particularly distressing symptom of
liver complaint. The sufferer is always more or less inclined to
impatience and fits of anger; an outburst of this kind seems to give
relief at the time, much as a patient while the fever fit is upon him
feels that he has boundless strength; but collapse sets in so soon as
the excitement passes off, and the full extent of mischief sustained
by the system is discernible. This is especially the case when the
disease has been induced by some great shock; and the prostration is
so much the more dangerous because the patient is kept upon a
restricted diet. It is a kind of fever affecting neither the blood nor
the brain, but the humoristic mechanism, fretting the whole system,
producing melancholy, in which the patient hates himself; in such a
crisis anything may cause dangerous irritation.
In spite of all that the doctor could say, La Cibot had no belief in
this wear and tear of the nervous system by the humoristic. She was a
woman of the people, without experience or education; Dr. Poulain's
explanations for her were simply "doctor's notions." Like most of her
class, she thought that sick people must be fed, and nothing short of
Dr. Poulain's direct order prevented her from administering ham, a
nice omelette, or vanilla chocolate upon the sly.
The infatuation of the working classes on this point is very strong.
The reason of their reluctance to enter a hospital is the idea that
they will be starved there. The mortality caused by the food smuggled
in by the wives of patients on visiting-days was at one time so great
that the doctors were obliged to institute a very strict search for
If La Cibot was to realize her profits at once, a momentary quarrel
must be worked up in some way. She began by telling Pons about her
visit to the theatre, not omitting her passage at arms with Mlle.
Heloise the dancer.
"But why did you go?" the invalid asked for the third time. La Cibot
once launched on a stream of words, he was powerless to stop her.
"So, then, when I had given her a piece of my mind, Mademoiselle
Heloise saw who I was and knuckled under, and we were the best of
friends.--And now do you ask me why I went?" she added, repeating
There are certain babblers, babblers of genius are they, who sweep up
interruptions, objections, and observations in this way as they go
along, by way of provision to swell the matter of their conversation,
as if that source were ever in any danger of running dry.
"Why I went?" repeated she. "I went to get your M. Gaudissart out of a
fix. He wants some music for a ballet, and you are hardly fit to
scribble on sheets of paper and do your work, dearie.--So I
understood, things being so, that a M. Garangeot was to be asked to
set the /Mohicans/ to music--"
"Garangeot!" roared Pons in fury. "/Garangeot!/ a man with no talent;
I would not have him for first violin! He is very clever, he is very
good at musical criticism, but as to composing--I doubt it! And what
the devil put the notion of going to the theatre into your head?"
"How confoundedly contrairy the man is! Look here, dearie, we mustn't
boil over like milk on the fire! How are you to write music in the
state that you are in? Why, you can't have looked at yourself in the
glass! Will you have the glass and see? You are nothing but skin and
bone--you are as weak as a sparrow, and do you think that you are fit
to make your notes! why, you would not so much as make out mine. . . .
And that reminds me that I ought to go up to the third floor lodger's
that owes us seventeen francs, for when the chemist has been paid we
shall not have twenty left.--So I had to tell M. Gaudissart (I like
that name), a good sort he seems to be,--a regular Roger Bontemps that
would just suit me.--/He/ will never have liver complaint!--Well, so I
had to tell him how you were.--Lord! you are not well, and he has put
some one else in your place for a bit--"
"Some one else in my place!" cried Pons in a terrible voice, as he sat
right up in bed. Sick people, generally speaking, and those most
particularly who lie within the sweep of the scythe of Death, cling to
their places with the same passionate energy that the beginner
displays to gain a start in life. To hear that someone had taken his
place was like a foretaste of death to the dying man.
"Why, the doctor told me that I was going on as well as possible,"
continued he; "he said that I should soon be about again as usual. You
have killed me, ruined me, murdered me!"
"Tut, tut, tut!" cried La Cibot, "there you go! I am killing you, am
I? Mercy on us! these are the pretty things that you are always
telling M. Schmucke when my back is turned. I hear all that you say,
that I do! You are a monster of ingratitude."
"But you do not know that if I am only away for another fortnight,
they will tell me that I have had my day, that I am old-fashioned, out
of date, Empire, rococo, when I go back. Garangeot will have made
friends all over the theatre, high and low. He will lower the pitch to
suit some actress that cannot sing, he will lick M. Gaudissart's
boots!" cried the sick man, who clung to life. "He has friends that
will praise him in all the newspapers; and when things are like that
in such a shop, Mme. Cibot, they can find holes in anybody's coat.
. . . What fiend drove you to do it?"
"Why! plague take it, M. Schmucke talked it over with me for a week.
What would you have? You see nothing but yourself! You are so selfish
that other people may die if you can only get better.--Why poor M.
Schmucke has been tired out this month past! he is tied by the leg, he
can go nowhere, he cannot give lessons nor take his place at the
theatre. Do you really see nothing? He sits up with you at night, and
I take the nursing in the day. If I were to sit up at night with you,
as I tried to do at first when I thought you were so poor, I should
have to sleep all day. And who would see to the house and look out for
squalls! Illness is illness, it cannot be helped, and here are you--"
"This was not Schmucke's idea, it is quite impossible--"
"That means that it was /I/ who took it into my head to do it, does
it? Do you think that we are made of iron? Why, if M. Schmucke had
given seven or eight lessons every day and conducted the orchestra
every evening at the theatre from six o'clock till half-past eleven at
night, he would have died in ten days' time. Poor man, he would give
his life for you, and do you want to be the death of him? By the
authors of my days, I have never seen a sick man to match you! Where
are your senses? have you put them in pawn? We are all slaving our
lives out for you; we do all for the best, and you are not satisfied!
Do you want to drive us raging mad? I myself, to begin with, am tired
out as it is----"
La Cibot rattled on at her ease; Pons was too angry to say a word. He
writhed on his bed, painfully uttering inarticulate sounds; the blow
was killing him. And at this point, as usual, the scolding turned
suddenly to tenderness. The nurse dashed at her patient, grasped him
by the head, made him lie down by main force, and dragged the blankets
"How any one can get into such a state!" exclaimed she. "After all, it
is your illness, dearie. That is what good M. Poulain says. See now,
keep quiet and be good, my dear little sonny. Everybody that comes
near you worships you, and the doctor himself comes to see you twice a
day. What would he say if he found you in such a way? You put me out
of all patience; you ought not to behave like this. If you have Ma'am
Cibot to nurse you, you should treat her better. You shout and you
talk!--you ought not to do it, you know that. Talking irritates you.
And why do you fly into a passion? The wrong is all on your side; you
are always bothering me. Look here, let us have it out! If M. Schmucke
and I, who love you like our life, thought that we were doing right--
well, my cherub, it was right, you may be sure."
"Schmucke never could have told you to go to the theatre without
speaking to me about it--"
"And must I wake him, poor dear, when he is sleeping like one of the
blest, and call him in as a witness?"
"No, no!" cried Pons. "If my kind and loving Schmucke made the
resolution, perhaps I am worse than I thought." His eyes wandered
round the room, dwelling on the beautiful things in it with a
melancholy look painful to see.
"So I must say good-bye to my dear pictures, to all the things that
have come to be like so many friends to me . . . and to my divine
friend Schmucke? . . . Oh! can it be true?"
La Cibot, acting her heartless comedy, held her handkerchief to her
eyes; and at that mute response the sufferer fell to dark musing--so
sorely stricken was he by the double stab dealt to health and his
interests by the loss of his post and the near prospect of death, that
he had no strength left for anger. He lay, ghastly and wan, like a
consumptive patient after a wrestling bout with the Destroyer.
"In M. Schmucke's interests, you see, you would do well to send for M.
Trognon; he is the notary of the quarter and a very good man," said La
Cibot, seeing that her victim was completely exhausted.
"You are always talking about this Trognon--"
"Oh! he or another, it is all one to me, for anything you will leave
She tossed her head to signify that she despised riches. There was
silence in the room.
A moment later Schmucke came in. He had slept for six hours, hunger
awakened him, and now he stood at Pons' bedside watching his friend
without saying a word, for Mme. Cibot had laid a finger on her lips.
"Hush!" she whispered. Then she rose and went up to add under her
breath, "He is going off to sleep at last, thank Heaven! He is as
cross as a red donkey!--What can you expect, he is struggling with his
"No, on the contrary, I am very patient," said the victim in a weary
voice that told of a dreadful exhaustion; "but, oh! Schmucke, my dear
friend, she has been to the theatre to turn me out of my place."
There was a pause. Pons was too weak to say more. La Cibot took the
opportunity and tapped her head significantly. "Do not contradict
him," she said to Schmucke; "it would kill him."
Pons gazed into Schmucke's honest face. "And she says that you sent
her--" he continued.
"Yes," Schmucke affirmed heroically. "It had to pe. Hush!--let us safe
your life. It is absurd to vork and train your sdrength gif you haf a
dreasure. Get better; ve vill sell some prick-a-prack und end our tays
kvietly in a corner somveres, mit kind Montame Zipod."
"She has perverted you," moaned Pons.
Mme. Cibot had taken up her station behind the bed to make signals
unobserved. Pons thought that she had left the room. "She is murdering
me," he added.
"What is that? I am murdering you, am I?" cried La Cibot, suddenly
appearing, hand on hips and eyes aflame. "I am as faithful as a dog,
and this is all I get! God Almighty!--"
She burst into tears and dropped down into the great chair, a tragical
movement which wrought a most disastrous revulsion in Pons.
"Very good," she said, rising to her feet. The woman's malignant eyes
looked poison and bullets at the two friends. "Very good. Nothing that
I can do is right here, and I am tired of slaving my life out. You
shall take a nurse."
Pons and Schmucke exchanged glances in dismay.
"Oh! you may look at each other like actors. I mean it. I shall ask
Dr. Poulain to find a nurse for you. And now we will settle accounts.
You shall pay me back the money that I have spent on you, and that I
would never have asked you for, I that have gone to M. Pillerault to
borrow another five hundred francs of him--"
"It ees his illness!" cried Schmucke--he sprang to Mme. Cibot and put
an arm round her waist--"haf batience."
"As for you, you are an angel, I could kiss the ground you tread
upon," said she. "But M. Pons never liked me, he always hated me.
Besides, he thinks perhaps that I want to be mentioned in his will--"
"Hush! you vill kill him!" cried Schmucke.
"Good-bye, sir," said La Cibot, with a withering look at Pons. "You
may keep well for all the harm I wish you. When you can speak to me
pleasantly, when you can believe that what I do is done for the best,
I will come back again. Till then I shall stay in my own room. You
were like my own child to me; did anybody ever see a child revolt
against its mother? . . . No, no, M. Schmucke, I do not want to hear
more. I will bring you /your/ dinner and wait upon /you/, but you must
take a nurse. Ask M. Poulain about it."
And she went out, slamming the door after her so violently that the
precious, fragile objects in the room trembled. To Pons in his
torture, the rattle of china was like the final blow dealt by the
executioner to a victim broken on the wheel.
An hour later La Cibot called to Schmucke through the door, telling
him that his dinner was waiting for him in the dining-room. She would
not cross the threshold. Poor Schmucke went out to her with a haggard,
"Mein boor Bons in vandering," said he; "he says dat you are ein pad
voman. It ees his illness," he added hastily, to soften La Cibot and
excuse his friend.
"Oh, I have had enough of his illness! Look here, he is neither
father, nor husband, nor brother, nor child of mine. He has taken a
dislike to me; well and good, that is enough! As for you, you see, I
would follow /you/ to the end of the world; but when a woman gives her
life, her heart, and all her savings, and neglects her husband (for
here has Cibot fallen ill), and then hears that she is a bad woman--it
is coming it rather too strong, it is."
"Too strong, yes. Never mind idle words. Let us come to the facts. As
to that, you owe me for three months at a hundred and ninety francs--
that is five hundred seventy francs; then there is the rent that I
have paid twice (here are the receipts), six hundred more, including
rates and the sou in the franc for the porter--something under twelve
hundred francs altogether, and with the two thousand francs besides--
without interest, mind you--the total amounts to three thousand one
hundred and ninety-two francs. And remember that you will want at
least two thousand francs before long for the doctor, and the nurse,
and the medicine, and the nurse's board. That was why I borrowed a
thousand francs of M. Pillerault," and with that she held up
It may readily be conceived that Schmucke listened to this reckoning
with amazement, for he knew about as much of business as a cat knows
"Montame Zipod," he expostulated, "Bons haf lost his head. Bardon him,
and nurse him as before, und pe our profidence; I peg it of you on
mine knees," and he knelt before La Cibot and kissed the tormentor's
La Cibot raised Schmucke and kissed him on the forehead. "Listen, my
lamb," said she, "here is Cibot ill in bed; I have just sent for Dr.
Poulain. So I ought to set my affairs in order. And what is more,
Cibot saw me crying, and flew into such a passion that he will not
have me set foot in here again. It is /he/ who wants the money; it is
his, you see. We women can do nothing when it comes to that. But if
you let him have his money back again--the three thousand two hundred
francs--he will be quiet perhaps. Poor man, it is his all, earned by
the sweat of his brow, the savings of twenty-six years of life
together. He must have his money to-morrow; there is no getting round
him.--You do not know Cibot; when he is angry he would kill a man.
Well, I might perhaps get leave of him to look after you both as
before. Be easy. I will just let him say anything that comes into his
head. I will bear it all for love of you, an angel as you are."
"No, I am ein boor man, dot lof his friend and vould gif his life to
"But the money?" broke in La Cibot. "My good M. Schmucke, let us
suppose that you pay me nothing; you will want three thousand francs,
and where are they to come from? Upon my word, do you know what I
should do in your place? I should not think twice, I should just sell
seven or eight good-for-nothing pictures and put up some of those
instead that are standing in your closet with their faces to the wall
for want of room. One picture or another, what difference does it
"He is so cunning. It is his illness, for he is a lamb when he is
well. He is capable of getting up and prying about; and if by any
chance he went into the salon, he is so weak that he could not go
beyond the door; he would see that they are all still there."
"And when he is quite well, we will tell him about the sale. And if
you wish to confess, throw it all upon me, say that you were obliged
to pay me. Come! I have a broad back--"
"I cannot tispose of dings dot are not mine," the good German answered
"Very well. I will summons you, you and M. Pons."
"It vould kill him--"
"Take your choice! Dear me, sell the pictures and tell him about it
afterwards . . . you can show him the summons--"
"Ver' goot. Summons us. Dot shall pe mine egscuse. I shall show him
Mme. Cibot went down to the court, and that very day at seven o'clock
she called to Schmucke. Schmucke found himself confronted with M.
Tabareau the bailiff, who called upon him to pay. Schmucke made
answer, trembling from head to foot, and was forthwith summoned
together with Pons, to appear in the county court to hear judgment
against him. The sight of the bailiff and a bit of stamped paper
covered with scrawls produced such an effect upon Schmucke, that he
held out no longer.
"Sell die bictures," he said, with tears in his eyes.
Next morning, at six o'clock, Elie Magus and Remonencq took down the
paintings of their choice. Two receipts for two thousand five hundred
francs were made out in correct form:--
"I, the undersigned, representing M. Pons, acknowledge the receipt of
two thousand five hundred francs from M. Elie Magus for the four
pictures sold to him, the said sum being appropriated to the use of M.
Pons. The first picture, attributed to Durer, is a portrait of a
woman; the second, likewise a portrait, is of the Italian School; the
third, a Dutch landscape by Breughel; and the fourth, a /Holy Family/
by an unknown master of the Florentine School."
Remonencq's receipt was worded in precisely the same way; a Greuze, a
Claude Lorraine, a Rubens, and a Van Dyck being disguised as pictures
of the French and Flemish schools.
"Der monny makes me beleef dot the chimcracks haf som value," said
Schmucke when the five thousand francs were paid over.
"They are worth something," said Remonencq. "I would willingly give
you a hundred thousand francs for the lot."
Remonencq, asked to do a trifling service, hung eight pictures of the
proper size in the same frames, taking them from among the less
valuable pictures in Schmucke's bedroom.
No sooner was Elie Magus in possession of the four great pictures than
he went, taking La Cibot with him, under pretence of settling
accounts. But he pleaded poverty, he found fault with the pictures,
they needed rebacking, he offered La Cibot thirty thousand francs by
way of commission, and finally dazzled her with the sheets of paper on
which the Bank of France engraves the words "One thousand francs" in
capital letters. Magus thereupon condemned Remonencq to pay the like
sum to La Cibot, by lending him the money on the security of his four
pictures, which he took with him as a guarantee. So glorious were
they, that Magus could not bring himself to part with them, and next
day he bought them of Remonencq for six thousand francs over and above
the original price, and an invoice was duly made out for the four.
Mme. Cibot, the richer by sixty-eight thousand francs, once more swore
her two accomplices to absolute secrecy. Then she asked the Jew's
advice. She wanted to invest the money in such a way that no one
should know of it.
"Buy shares in the Orleans Railway," said he; "they are thirty francs
below par, you will double your capital in three years. They will give
you scraps of paper, which you keep safe in a portfolio."
"Stay here, M. Magus. I will go and fetch the man of business who acts
for M. Pons' family. He wants to know how much you will give him for
the whole bag of tricks upstairs. I will go for him now."
"If only she were a widow!" said Remonencq when she was gone. "She
would just suit me; she will have plenty of money now--"
"Especially if she puts her money into the Orleans Railway; she will
double her capital in two years' time. I have put all my poor little
savings into it," added the Jew, "for my daughter's portion.--Come,
let us take a turn on the boulevard until this lawyer arrives."
"Cibot is very bad as it is," continued Remonencq; "if it should
please God to take him to Himself, I should have a famous wife to keep
a shop; I could set up on a large scale--"
"Good-day, M. Fraisier," La Cibot began in an ingratiating tone as she
entered her legal adviser's office. "Why, what is this that your
porter has been telling me? are you going to move?"
"Yes, my dear Mme. Cibot. I am taking the first floor above Dr.
Poulain, and trying to borrow two or three thousand francs so as to
furnish the place properly; it is very nice, upon my word, the
landlord has just papered and painted it. I am acting, as I told you,
in President de Marville's interests and yours. . . . I am not a
solicitor now; I mean to have my name entered on the roll of
barristers, and I must be well lodged. A barrister in Paris cannot
have his name on the rolls unless he has decent furniture and books
and the like. I am a doctor of law, I have kept my terms, and have
powerful interest already. . . . Well, how are we getting on?"
"Perhaps you would accept my savings," said La Cibot. "I have put them
in a savings bank. I have not much, only three thousand francs, the
fruits of twenty-five years of stinting and scraping. You might give
me a bill of exchange, as Remonencq says; for I am ignorant myself, I
only know what they tell me."
"No. It is against the rules of the guild for a barrister (/avocat/)
to put his name to a bill. I will give you a receipt, bearing interest
at five per cent per annum, on the understanding that if I make an
income of twelve hundred francs for you out of old Pons' estate you
will cancel it."
La Cibot, caught in the trap, uttered not a word.
"Silence gives consent," Fraisier continued. "Let me have it to-morrow
"Oh! I am quite willing to pay fees in advance," said La Cibot; "it is
one way of making sure of my money."
Fraisier nodded. "How are you getting on?" he repeated. "I saw Poulain
yesterday; you are hurrying your invalid along, it seems. . . . One
more scene such as yesterday's, and gall-stones will form. Be gentle
with him, my dear Mme. Cibot, do not lay up remorse for yourself. Life
is not too long."
"Just let me alone with your remorse! Are you going to talk about the
guillotine again? M. Pons is a contrairy old thing. You don't know
him. It is he that bothers me. There is not a more cross-grained man
alive; his relations are in the right of it, he is sly, revengeful,
and contrairy. . . . M. Magus has come, as I told you, and is waiting
to see you."
"Right! I will be there as soon as you. Your income depends upon the
price the collection will fetch. If it brings in eight hundred
thousand francs, you shall have fifteen hundred francs a year. It is a
"Very well. I will tell them to value the things on their
An hour later, Pons was fast asleep. The doctor had ordered a soothing
draught, which Schmucke administered, all unconscious that La Cibot
had doubled the dose. Fraisier, Remonencq, and Magus, three gallows-
birds, were examining the seventeen hundred different objects which
formed the old musician's collection one by one.
Schmucke had gone to bed. The three kites, drawn by the scent of a
corpse, were masters of the field.
"Make no noise," said La Cibot whenever Magus went into ecstasies or
explained the value of some work of art to Remonencq. The dying man
slept on in the neighboring room, while greed in four different forms
appraised the treasures that he must leave behind, and waited
impatiently for him to die--a sight to wring the heart.
Three hours went by before they had finished the salon.
"On an average," said the grimy old Jew, "everything here is worth a
"Seventeen hundred thousand francs!" exclaimed Fraisier in
"Not to me," Magus answered promptly, and his eyes grew dull. "I would
not give more than a hundred thousand francs myself for the
collection. You cannot tell how long you may keep a thing on hand.
. . . There are masterpieces that wait ten years for a buyer, and
meanwhile the purchase money is doubled by compound interest. Still, I
should pay cash."
"There is stained glass in the other room, as well as enamels and
miniatures and gold and silver snuff-boxes," put in Remonencq.
"Can they be seen?" inquired Fraisier.
"I'll see if he is sound asleep," replied La Cibot. She made a sign,
and the three birds of prey came in.
"There are masterpieces yonder!" said Magus, indicating the salon,
every bristle of his white beard twitching as he spoke. "But the
riches are here! And what riches! Kings have nothing more glorious in
Remonencq's eyes lighted up till they glowed like carbuncles, at the
sight of the gold snuff-boxes. Fraisier, cool and calm as a serpent,
or some snake-creature with the power of rising erect, stood with his
viper head stretched out, in such an attitude as a painter would
choose for Mephistopheles. The three covetous beings, thirsting for
gold as devils thirst for the dew of heaven, looked simultaneously, as
it chanced, at the owner of all this wealth. Some nightmare troubled
Pons; he stirred, and suddenly, under the influence of those
diabolical glances, he opened his eyes with a shrill cry.
"Thieves! . . . There they are! . . . Help! Murder! Help!"
The nightmare was evidently still upon him, for he sat up in bed,
staring before him with blank, wide-open eyes, and had not the power
Elie Magus and Remonencq made for the door, but a word glued them to
"/Magus/ here! . . . I am betrayed!"
Instinctively the sick man had known that his beloved pictures were in
danger, a thought that touched him at least as closely as any dread
for himself, and he awoke. Fraisier meanwhile did not stir.
"Mme. Cibot! who is that gentleman?" cried Pons, shivering at the
"Goodness me! how could I put him out of the door?" she inquired, with
a wink and gesture for Fraisier's benefit. "This gentleman came just a
minute ago, from your family."
Fraisier could not conceal his admiration for La Cibot.
"Yes, sir," he said, "I have come on behalf of Mme. la Presidente de
Marville, her husband, and her daughter, to express their regret. They
learned quite by accident that you are ill, and they would like to
nurse you themselves. They want you to go to Marville and get well
there. Mme. la Vicomtesse Popinot, the little Cecile that you love so
much, will be your nurse. She took your part with her mother. She
convinced Mme. de Marville that she had made a mistake."
"So my next-of-kin have sent you to me, have they?" Pons exclaimed
indignantly, "and sent the best judge and expert in all Paris with you
to show you the way? Oh! a nice commission!" he cried, bursting into
wild laughter. "You have come to value my pictures and curiosities, my
snuff-boxes and miniatures! . . . Make your valuation. You have a man
there who understands everything, and more--he can buy everything, for
he is a millionaire ten times over. . . . My dear relatives will not
have long to wait," he added, with bitter irony, "they have choked the
last breath out of me. . . . Ah! Mme. Cibot, you said you were a
mother to me, and you bring dealers into the house, and my competitor
and the Camusots, while I am asleep! . . . Get out, all of you!--"
The unhappy man was beside himself with anger and fear; he rose from
the bed and stood upright, a gaunt, wasted figure.
"Take my arm, sir," said La Cibot, rushing to the rescue, lest Pons
should fall. "Pray calm yourself, the gentlemen are gone."
"I want to see the salon. . . ." said the death-stricken man. La Cibot
made a sign to the three ravens to take flight. Then she caught up
Pons as if he had been a feather, and put him in bed again, in spite
of his cries. When she saw that he was quite helpless and exhausted,
she went to shut the door on the staircase. The three who had done
Pons to death were still on the landing; La Cibot told them to wait.
She heard Fraisier say to Magus:
"Let me have it in writing, and sign it, both of you. Undertake to pay
nine hundred thousand francs in cash for M. Pons' collection, and we
will see about putting you in the way of making a handsome profit."
With that he said something to La Cibot in a voice so low that the
others could not catch it, and went down after the two dealers to the
"Have they gone, Mme. Cibot?" asked the unhappy Pons, when she came
"Gone? . . . who?" asked she.
"What men? There, now, you have seen men," said she. "You have just
had a raving fit; if it hadn't been for me you would have gone out the
window, and now you are still talking of men in the room. Is it always
to be like this?"
"What! was there not a gentleman here just now, saying that my
relatives had sent him?"
"Will you still stand me out?" said she. "Upon my word, do you know
where you ought to be sent?--To the asylum at Charenton. You see
"Elie Magus, Remonencq, and--"
"Oh! as for Remonencq, you may have seen /him/, for he came up to tell
me that my poor Cibot is so bad that I must clear out of this and come
down. My Cibot comes first, you see. When my husband is ill, I can
think of nobody else. Try to keep quiet and sleep for a couple of
hours; I have sent for Dr. Poulain, and I will come up with him. . . .
Take a drink and be good--"
"Then was there no one in the room just now, when I waked? . . ."
"No one," said she. "You must have seen M. Remonencq in one of your
"You are right, Mme. Cibot," said Pons, meek as a lamb.
"Well, now you are sensible again. . . . Good-bye, my cherub; keep
quiet, I shall be back again in a minute."
When Pons heard the outer door close upon her, he summoned up all his
remaining strength to rise.
"They are cheating me," he muttered to himself, "they are robbing me!
Schmucke is a child that would let them tie him up in a sack."
The terrible scene had seemed so real, it could not be a dream, he
thought; a desire to throw light upon the puzzle excited him; he
managed to reach the door, opened it after many efforts, and stood on
the threshold of his salon. There they were--his dear pictures, his
statues, his Florentine bronzes, his porcelain; the sight of them
revived him. The old collector walked in his dressing-gown along the
narrow spaces between the credence-tables and the sideboards that
lined the wall; his feet bare, his head on fire. His first glance of
ownership told him that everything was there; he turned to go back to
bed again, when he noticed that a Greuze portrait looked out of the
frame that had held Sebastian del Piombo's /Templar/. Suspicion
flashed across his brain, making his dark thoughts apparent to him, as
a flash of lightning marks the outlines of the cloud-bars on a stormy
sky. He looked round for the eight capital pictures of the collection;
each one of them was replaced by another. A dark film suddenly
overspread his eyes; his strength failed him; he fell fainting upon
the polished floor.
So heavy was the swoon, that for two hours he lay as he fell, till
Schmucke awoke and went to see his friend, and found him lying
unconscious in the salon. With endless pains Schmucke raised the half-
dead body and laid it on the bed; but when he came to question the
death-stricken man, and saw the look in the dull eyes and heard the
vague, inarticulate words, the good German, so far from losing his
head, rose to the very heroism of friendship. Man and child as he was,
with the pressure of despair came the inspiration of a mother's
tenderness, a woman's love. He warmed towels (he found towels!), he
wrapped them about Pons' hands, he laid them over the pit of the
stomach; he took the cold, moist forehead in his hands, he summoned
back life with a might of will worthy of Apollonius of Tyana, laying
kisses on his friend's eyelids like some Mary bending over the dead
Christ, in a /pieta/ carved in bas-relief by some great Italian
sculptor. The divine effort, the outpouring of one life into another,
the work of mother and of lover, was crowned with success. In half an
hour the warmth revived Pons; he became himself again, the hues of
life returned to his eyes, suspended faculties gradually resumed their
play under the influence of artificial heat; Schmucke gave him balm-
water with a little wine in it; the spirit of life spread through the
body; intelligence lighted up the forehead so short a while ago
insensible as a stone; and Pons knew that he had been brought back to
life, by what sacred devotion, what might of friendship!
"But for you, I should die," he said, and as he spoke he felt the good
German's tears falling on his face. Schmucke was laughing and crying
Poor Schmucke! he had waited for those words with a frenzy of hope as
costly as the frenzy of despair; and now his strength utterly failed
him, he collapsed like a rent balloon. It was his turn to fall; he
sank into the easy-chair, clasped his hands, and thanked God in
fervent prayer. For him a miracle had just been wrought. He put no
belief in the efficacy of the prayer of his deeds; the miracle had
been wrought by God in direct answer to his cry. And yet that miracle
was a natural effect, such as medical science often records.
A sick man, surrounded by those who love him, nursed by those who wish
earnestly that he should live, will recover (other things being
equal), when another patient tended by hirelings will die. Doctors
decline to see unconscious magnetism in this phenomenon; for them it
is the result of intelligent nursing, of exact obedience to their
orders; but many a mother knows the virtue of such ardent projection
of strong, unceasing prayer.
"My good Schmucke--"
"Say nodings; I shall hear you mit mein heart . . . rest, rest!" said
Schmucke, smiling at him.
"Poor friend, noble creature, child of God, living in God! . . . The
one being that has loved me. . . ." The words came out with pauses
between them; there was a new note, a something never heard before, in
Pons' voice. All the soul, so soon to take flight, found utterance in
the words that filled Schmucke with happiness almost like a lover's
"Yes, yes. I shall be shtrong as a lion. I shall vork for two!"
"Listen, my good, my faithful, adorable friend. Let me speak, I have
not much time left. I am a dead man. I cannot recover from these
Schmucke was crying like a child.
"Just listen," continued Pons, "and cry afterwards. As a Christian,
you must submit. I have been robbed. It is La Cibot's doing. . . . I
ought to open your eyes before I go; you know nothing of life. . . .
Somebody has taken away eight of the pictures, and they were worth a
great deal of money."
"Vorgif me--I sold dem."
"/You/ sold them?"
"Yes, I," said poor Schmucke. "Dey summoned us to der court--"
"/Summoned?/. . . . Who summoned us?"
"Wait," said Schmucke. He went for the bit of stamped-paper left by
the bailiff, and gave it to Pons. Pons read the scrawl through with
close attention, then he let the paper drop and lay quite silent for a
while. A close observer of the work of men's hands, unheedful so far
of the workings of the brain, Pons finally counted out the threads of
the plot woven about him by La Cibot. The artist's fire, the intellect
that won the Roman scholarship--all his youth came back to him for a
"My good Schmucke," he said at last, "you must do as I tell you, and
obey like a soldier. Listen! go downstairs into the lodge and tell
that abominable woman that I should like to see the person sent to me
by my cousin the President; and that unless he comes, I shall leave my
collection to the Musee. Say that a will is in question."
Schmucke went on his errand; but at the first word, La Cibot answered
by a smile.
"My good M. Schmucke, our dear invalid has had a delirious fit; he
thought that there were men in the room. On my word, as an honest
woman, no one has come from the family."
Schmucke went back with his answer, which he repeated word for word.
"She is cleverer, more astute and cunning and wily, than I thought,"
said Pons with a smile. "She lies even in her room. Imagine it! This
morning she brought a Jew here, Elie Magus by name, and Remonencq, and
a third whom I do not know, more terrific than the other two put
together. She meant to make a valuation while I was asleep; I happened
to wake, and saw them all three, estimating the worth of my snuff-
boxes. The stranger said, indeed, that the Camusots had sent him here;
I spoke to him. . . . That shameless woman stood me out that I was
dreaming! . . . My good Schmucke, it was not a dream. I heard the man
perfectly plainly; he spoke to me. . . . The two dealers took fright
and made for the door. . . . I thought that La Cibot would contradict
herself--the experiment failed. . . . I will lay another snare, and
trap the wretched woman. . . . Poor Schmucke, you think that La Cibot
is an angel; and for this month past she has been killing me by inches
to gain her covetous ends. I would not believe that a woman who served
us faithfully for years could be so wicked. That doubt has been my
ruin. . . . How much did the eight pictures fetch?"
"Vife tausend vrancs."
"Good heavens! they were worth twenty times as much!" cried Pons; "the
gems of the collection! I have not time now to institute proceedings;
and if I did, you would figure in court as the dupe of those rascals.
. . . A lawsuit would be the death of you. You do not know what
justice means--a court of justice is a sink of iniquity. . . . At the
sight of such horrors, a soul like yours would give way. And besides,
you will have enough. The pictures cost me forty thousand francs. I
have had them for thirty-six years. . . . Oh, we have been robbed with
surprising dexterity. I am on the brink of the grave, I care for
nothing now but thee--for thee, the best soul under the sun. . . .
"I will not have you plundered; all that I have is yours. So you must
trust nobody, Schmucke, you that have never suspected any one in your
life. I know God watches over you, but He may forget for one moment,
and you will be seized like a vessel among pirates. . . . La Cibot is
a monster! She is killing me; and you think her an angel! You shall
see what she is. Go and ask her to give you the name of a notary, and
I will show you her with her hand in the bag."
Schmucke listened as if Pons proclaimed an apocalypse. Could so
depraved a creature as La Cibot exist? If Pons was right, it seemed to
imply that there was no God in the world. He went right down again to
"Mein boor vriend Bons feel so ill," he said, "dat he vish to make his
vill. Go und pring ein nodary."
This was said in the hearing of several persons, for Cibot's life was
despaired of. Remonencq and his sister, two women from neighboring
porters' lodges, two or three servants, and the lodger from the first
floor on the side next the street, were all standing outside in the
"Oh! you can just fetch a notary yourself, and have your will made as
you please," cried La Cibot, with tears in her eyes. "My poor Cibot is
dying, and it is no time to leave him. I would give all the Ponses in
the world to save Cibot, that has never given me an ounce of
unhappiness in these thirty years since we were married."
And in she went, leaving Schmucke in confusion.
"Is M. Pons really seriously ill, sir?" asked the first-floor lodger,
one Jolivard, a clerk in the registrar's office at the Palais de
"He nearly died chust now," said Schmucke, with deep sorrow in his
"M. Trognon lives near by in the Rue Saint-Louis," said M. Jolivard,
"he is the notary of the quarter."
"Would you like me to go for him?" asked Remonencq.
"I should pe fery glad," said Schmucke; "for gif Montame Zipod cannot
pe mit mine vriend, I shall not vish to leaf him in der shtate he is
"Mme. Cibot told us that he was going out of his mind," resumed
"Bons! out off his mind!" cried Schmucke, terror-stricken by the idea.
"Nefer vas he so clear in der head . . . dat is chust der reason vy I
am anxious for him."
The little group of persons listened to the conversation with a very
natural curiosity, which stamped the scene upon their memories.
Schmucke did not know Fraisier, and could not note his satanic
countenance and glittering eyes. But two words whispered by Fraisier
in La Cibot's ear had prompted a daring piece of acting, somewhat
beyond La Cibot's range, it may be, though she played her part
throughout in a masterly style. To make others believe that the dying
man was out of his mind--it was the very corner-stone of the edifice
reared by the petty lawyer. The morning's incident had done Fraisier
good service; but for him, La Cibot in her trouble might have fallen
into the snare innocently spread by Schmucke, when he asked her to
send back the person sent by the family.
Remonencq saw Dr. Poulain coming towards them, and asked no better
than to vanish. The fact was that for the last ten days the Auvergnat
had been playing Providence in a manner singularly displeasing to
Justice, which claims the monopoly of that part. He had made up his
mind to rid himself at all costs of the one obstacle in his way to
happiness, and happiness for him meant capital trebled and marriage
with the irresistibly charming portress. He had watched the little
tailor drinking his herb-tea, and a thought struck him. He would
convert the ailment into mortal sickness; his stock of old metals
supplied him with the means.
One morning as he leaned against the door-post, smoking his pipe and
dreaming of that fine shop on the Boulevard de la Madeleine where Mme.
Cibot, gorgeously arrayed, should some day sit enthroned, his eyes
fell upon a copper disc, about the size of a five-franc piece, covered
thickly with verdigris. The economical idea of using Cibot's medicine
to clean the disc immediately occurred to him. He fastened the thing
in a bit of twine, and came over every morning to inquire for tidings
of his friend the tailor, timing his visit during La Cibot's visit to
her gentlemen upstairs. He dropped the disc into the tumbler, allowed
it to steep there while he talked, and drew it out again by the string
when he went away.
The trace of tarnished copper, commonly called verdigris, poisoned the
wholesome draught; a minute dose administered by stealth did
incalculable mischief. Behold the results of this criminal
homoeopathy! On the third day poor Cibot's hair came out, his teeth
were loosened in their sockets, his whole system was deranged by a
scarcely perceptible trace of poison. Dr. Poulain racked his brains.
He was enough of a man of science to see that some destructive agent
was at work. He privately carried off the decoction, analyzed it
himself, but found nothing. It so chanced that Remonencq had taken
fright and omitted to dip the disc in the tumbler that day.
Then Dr. Poulain fell back on himself and science and got out of the
difficulty with a theory. A sedentary life in a damp room; a cramped
position before the barred window--these conditions had vitiated the
blood in the absence of proper exercise, especially as the patient
continually breathed an atmosphere saturated with the fetid
exhalations of the gutter. The Rue de Normandie is one of the old-
fashioned streets that slope towards the middle; the municipal
authorities of Paris as yet have laid on no water supply to flush the
central kennel which drains the houses on either side, and as a result
a stream of filthy ooze meanders among the cobblestones, filters into
the soil, and produces the mud peculiar to the city. La Cibot came and
went; but her husband, a hard-working man, sat day in day out like a
fakir on the table in the window, till his knee-joints were stiffened,
the blood stagnated in his body, and his legs grew so thin and crooked
that he almost lost the use of them. The deep copper tint of the man's
complexion naturally suggested that he had been out of health for a
very long time. The wife's good health and the husband's illness
seemed to the doctor to be satisfactorily accounted for by this
"Then what is the matter with my poor Cibot?" asked the portress.
"My dear Mme. Cibot, he is dying of the porter's disease," said the
doctor. "Incurable vitiation of the blood is evident from the general
No one had anything to gain by a crime so objectless. Dr. Poulain's
first suspicions were effaced by this thought. Who could have any
possible interest in Cibot's death? His wife?--the doctor saw her
taste the herb-tea as she sweetened it. Crimes which escape social
vengeance are many enough, and as a rule they are of this order--to
wit, murders committed without any startling sign of violence, without
bloodshed, bruises, marks of strangling, without any bungling of the
business, in short; if there seems to be no motive for the crime, it
most likely goes unpunished, especially if the death occurs among the
poorer classes. Murder is almost always denounced by its advanced
guards, by hatred or greed well known to those under whose eyes the
whole matter has passed. But in the case of the Cibots, no one save
the doctor had any interest in discovering the actual cause of death.
The little copper-faced tailor's wife adored her husband; he had no
money and no enemies; La Cibot's fortune and the marine-store dealer's
motives were alike hidden in the shade. Poulain knew the portress and
her way of thinking perfectly well; he thought her capable of
tormenting Pons, but he saw that she had neither motive enough nor wit
enough for murder; and besides--every time the doctor came and she
gave her husband a draught, she took a spoonful herself. Poulain
himself, the only person who might have thrown light on the matter,
inclined to believe that this was one of the unaccountable freaks of
disease, one of the astonishing exceptions which make medicine so
perilous a profession. And in truth, the little tailor's unwholesome
life and unsanitary surroundings had unfortunately brought him to such
a pass that the trace of copper-poisoning was like the last straw.
Gossips and neighbors took it upon themselves to explain the sudden
death, and no suspicion of blame lighted upon Remonencq.
"Oh! this long time past I have said that M. Cibot was not well,"
"He worked too hard, he did," said another; "he heated his blood."
"He would not listen to me," put in a neighbor; "I advised him to walk
out of a Sunday and keep Saint Monday; two days in the week is not too
much for amusement."
In short, the gossip of the quarter, the tell-tale voice to which
Justice, in the person of the commissary of police, the king of the
poorer classes, lends an attentive ear--gossip explained the little
tailor's demise in a perfectly satisfactory manner. Yet M. Poulain's
pensive air and uneasy eyes embarrassed Remonencq not a little, and at
sight of the doctor he offered eagerly to go in search of M. Trognon,
Fraisier's acquaintance. Fraisier turned to La Cibot to say in a low
voice, "I shall come back again as soon as the will is made. In spite
of your sorrow, you must look for squalls." Then he slipped away like
a shadow and met his friend the doctor.
"Ah, Poulain!" he exclaimed, "it is all right. We are safe! I will
tell you about it to-night. Look out a post that will suit you, you
shall have it! For my own part, I am a justice of the peace. Tabareau
will not refuse me now for a son-in-law. And as for you, I will
undertake that you shall marry Mlle. Vitel, granddaughter of our
justice of the peace."
Fraisier left Poulain reduced to dumb bewilderment by these wild
words; bounced like a ball into the boulevard, hailed an omnibus, and
was set down ten minutes later by the modern coach at the corner of
the Rue de Choiseul. By this time it was nearly four o'clock. Fraisier
felt quite sure of a word in private with the Presidente, for
officials seldom leave the Palais de Justice before five o'clock.
Mme. de Marville's reception of him assured Fraisier that M. Leboeuf
had kept his promise made to Mme. Vatinelle and spoken favorably of
the sometime attorney at Mantes. Amelie's manner was almost caressing.
So might the Duchesse de Montpensier have treated Jacques Clement. The
petty attorney was a knife to her hand. But when Fraisier produced the
joint-letter signed by Elie Magus and Remonencq offering the sum of
nine hundred thousand francs in cash for Pons' collection, then the
Presidente looked at her man of business and the gleam of the money
flashed from her eyes. That ripple of greed reached the attorney.
"M. le President left a message with me," she said; "he hopes that you
will dine with us to-morrow. It will be a family party. M. Godeschal,
Desroches' successor and my attorney, will come to meet you, and
Berthier, our notary, and my daughter and son-in-law. After dinner,
you and I and the notary and attorney will have the little
consultation for which you ask, and I will give you full powers. The
two gentlemen will do as you require and act upon your inspiration;
and see that /everything/ goes well. You shall have a power of
attorney from M. de Marville as soon as you want it."
"I shall want it on the day of the decease."
"It shall be in readiness."
"Mme. la Presidente, if I ask for a power of attorney, and would
prefer that your attorney's name should not appear I wish it less in
my own interest than in yours. . . . When I give myself, it is without
reserve. And in return, madame, I ask the same fidelity; I ask my
patrons (I do not venture to call you my clients) to put the same
confidence in me. You may think that in acting thus I am trying to
fasten upon this affair--no, no, madame; there may be reprehensible
things done; with an inheritance in view one is dragged on . . .
especially with nine hundred thousand francs in the balance. Well,
now, you could not disavow a man like Maitre Godeschal, honesty
itself, but you can throw all the blame on the back of a miserable
Mme. Camusot de Marville looked admiringly at Fraisier.
"You ought to go very high," said she, "or sink very low. In your
place, instead of asking to hide myself away as a justice of the
peace, I would aim at the crown attorney's appointment--at, say,
Mantes!--and make a great career for myself."
"Let me have my way, madame. The post of justice of the peace is an
ambling pad for M. Vitel; for me it shall be a war-horse."
And in this way the Presidente proceeded to a final confidence.
"You seem to be so completely devoted to our interests," she began,
"that I will tell you about the difficulties of our position and our
hopes. The President's great desire, ever since a match was projected
between his daughter and an adventurer who recently started a bank,--
the President's wish, I say, has been to round out the Marville estate
with some grazing land, at that time in the market. We dispossessed
ourselves of fine property, as you know, to settle it upon our
daughter; but I wish very much, my daughter being an only child, to
buy all that remains of the grass land. Part has been sold already.
The estate belongs to an Englishman who is returning to England after
a twenty years' residence in France. He built the most charming
cottage in a delightful situation, between Marville Park and the
meadows which once were part of the Marville lands; he bought up
covers, copse, and gardens at fancy prices to make the grounds about
the cottage. The house and its surroundings make a feature of the
landscape, and it lies close to my daughter's park palings. The whole,
land and house, should be bought for seven hundred thousand francs,
for the net revenue is about twenty thousand francs. . . . But if Mr.
Wadman finds out that /we/ think of buying it, he is sure to add
another two or three hundred thousand francs to the price; for he will
lose money if the house counts for nothing, as it usually does when
you buy land in the country--"
"Why, madame," Fraisier broke in, "in my opinion you can be so sure
that the inheritance is yours that I will offer to act the part of
purchaser for you. I will undertake that you shall have the land at
the best possible price, and have a written engagement made out under
private seal, like a contract to deliver goods. . . . I will go to the
Englishman in the character of buyer. I understand that sort of thing;
it was my specialty at Mantes. Vatinelle doubled the value of his
practice, while I worked in his name."
"Hence your connection with little Madame Vatinelle. He must be very
"But Mme. Vatinelle has expensive tastes. . . . So be easy, madame--I
will serve you up the Englishman done to a turn--"
"If you can manage that you will have eternal claims to my gratitude.
Good-day, my dear M. Fraisier. Till to-morrow--"
Fraisier went. His parting bow was a degree less cringing than on the
"I am to dine to-morrow with President de Marville!" he said to
himself. "Come now, I have these folk in my power. Only, to be
absolute master, I ought to be the German's legal adviser in the
person of Tabareau, the justice's clerk. Tabareau will not have me now
for his daughter, his only daughter, but he will give her to me when I
am a justice of the peace. I shall be eligible. Mlle. Tabareau, that
tall, consumptive girl with the red hair, has a house in the Place
Royale in right of her mother. At her father's death she is sure to
come in for six thousand francs, you must not look too hard at the
As he went back to the Rue de Normandie by way of the boulevards, he
dreamed out his golden dream, he gave himself up to the happiness of
the thought that he should never know want again. He would marry his
friend Poulain to Mlle. Vitel, the daughter of the justice of the
peace; together, he and his friend the doctor would reign like kings
in the quarter; he would carry all the elections--municipal, military,
or political. The boulevards seem short if, while you pace afoot, you
mount your ambition on the steed of fancy in this way.
Schmucke meanwhile went back to his friend Pons with the news that
Cibot was dying, and Remonencq gone in search of M. Trognon, the
notary. Pons was struck by the name. It had come up again and again in
La Cibot's interminable talk, and La Cibot always recommended him as
honesty incarnate. And with that a luminous idea occurred to Pons, in
whom mistrust had grown paramount since the morning, an idea which
completed his plan for outwitting La Cibot and unmasking her
completely for the too-credulous Schmucke.
So many unexpected things had happened that day that poor Schmucke was
quite bewildered. Pons took his friend's hand.
"There must be a good deal of confusion in the house, Schmucke; if the
porter is at death's door, we are almost free for a minute or two;
that is to say, there will be no spies--for we are watched, you may be
sure of that. Go out, take a cab, go to the theatre, and tell Mlle.
Heloise Brisetout that I should like to see her before I die. Ask her
to come here to-night when she leaves the theatre. Then go to your
friends Brunner and Schwab and beg them to come to-morrow morning at
nine o'clock to inquire after me; let them come up as if they were
just passing by and called in to see me."
The old artist felt that he was dying, and this was the scheme that he
forged. He meant Schmucke to be his universal legatee. To protect
Schmucke from any possible legal quibbles, he proposed to dictate his
will to a notary in the presence of witnesses, lest his sanity should
be called in question and the Camusots should attempt upon that
pretext to dispute the will. At the name of Trognon he caught a
glimpse of machinations of some kind; perhaps a flaw purposely
inserted, or premeditated treachery on La Cibot's part. He would
prevent this. Trognon should dictate a holograph will which should be
signed and deposited in a sealed envelope in a drawer. Then Schmucke,
hidden in one of the cabinets in his alcove, should see La Cibot
search for the will, find it, open the envelope, read it through, and
seal it again. Next morning, at nine o'clock, he would cancel the will
and make a new one in the presence of two notaries, everything in due
form and order. La Cibot had treated him as a madman and a visionary;
he saw what this meant--he saw the Presidente's hate and greed, her
revenge in La Cibot's behavior. In the sleepless hours and lonely days
of the last two months, the poor man had sifted the events of his past
It has been the wont of sculptors, ancient and modern, to set a
tutelary genius with a lighted torch upon either side of a tomb. Those
torches that light up the paths of death throw light for dying eyes
upon the spectacle of a life's mistakes and sins; the carved stone
figures express great ideas, they are symbols of a fact in human
experience. The agony of death has its own wisdom. Not seldom a simple
girl, scarcely more than a child, will grow wise with the experience
of a hundred years, will gain prophetic vision, judge her family, and
see clearly through all pretences, at the near approach of Death.
Herein lies Death's poetry. But, strange and worthy of remark it is,
there are two manners of death.
The poetry of prophecy, the gift of seeing clearly into the future or
the past, only belongs to those whose bodies are stricken, to those
who die by the destruction of the organs of physical life. Consumptive
patients, for instance, or those who die of gangrene like Louis XIV.,
of fever like Pons, of a stomach complaint like Mme. de Mortsauf, or
of wounds received in the full tide of life like soldiers on the
battlefield--all these may possess this supreme lucidity to the full;
their deaths fill us with surprise and wonder. But many, on the other
hand, die of /intelligential/ diseases, as they may be called; of
maladies seated in the brain or in that nervous system which acts as a
kind of purveyor of thought fuel--and these die wholly, body and
spirit are darkened together. The former are spirits deserted by the
body, realizing for us our ideas of the spirits of Scripture; the
latter are bodies untenanted by a spirit.
Too late the virgin nature, the epicure-Cato, the righteous man almost
without sin, was discovering the Presidente's real character--the sac
of gall that did duty for her heart. He knew the world now that he was
about to leave it, and for the past few hours he had risen gaily to
his part, like a joyous artist finding a pretext for caricature and
laughter in everything. The last links that bound him to life, the
chains of admiration, the strong ties that bind the art lover to Art's
masterpieces, had been snapped that morning. When Pons knew that La
Cibot had robbed him, he bade farewell, like a Christian, to the pomps
and vanities of Art, to his collection, to all his old friendships
with the makers of so many fair things. Our forefathers counted the
day of death as a Christian festival, and in something of the same
spirit Pons' thoughts turned to the coming end. In his tender love he
tried to protect Schmucke when he should be low in the grave. It was
this father's thought that led him to fix his choice upon the leading
lady of the ballet. Mlle. Brisetout should help him to baffle
surrounding treachery, and those who in all probability would never
forgive his innocent universal legatee.
Heloise Brisetout was one of the few natures that remain true in a
false position. She was an opera-girl of the school of Josepha and
Jenny Cadine, capable of playing any trick on a paying adorer; yet she
was a good comrade, dreading no power on earth, accustomed as she was
to see the weak side of the strong and to hold her own with the police
at the scarcely idyllic Bal de Mabille and the carnival.
"If she asked for my place for Garangeot, she will think that she owes
me a good turn by so much the more," said Pons to himself.
Thanks to the prevailing confusion in the porter's lodge, Schmucke
succeeded in getting out of the house. He returned with the utmost
speed, fearing to leave Pons too long alone. M. Trognon reached the
house just as Schmucke came in. Albeit Cibot was dying, his wife came
upstairs with the notary, brought him into the bedroom, and withdrew,
leaving Schmucke and Pons with M. Trognon; but she left the door ajar,
and went no further than the next room. Providing herself with a
little hand-glass of curious workmanship, she took up her station in
the doorway, so that she could not only hear but see all that passed
at the supreme moment.
"Sir," said Pons, "I am in the full possession of my faculties,
unfortunately for me, for I feel that I am about to die; and
doubtless, by the will of God, I shall be spared nothing of the agony
of death. This is M. Schmucke"--(the notary bowed to M. Schmucke)--"my
one friend on earth," continued Pons. "I wish to make him my universal
legatee. Now, tell me how to word the will, so that my friend, who is
a German and knows nothing of French law, may succeed to my
possessions without any dispute."
"Anything is liable to be disputed, sir," said the notary; "that is
the drawback of human justice. But in the matter of wills, there are
wills so drafted that they cannot be upset--"
"In what way?" queried Pons.
"If a will is made in the presence of a notary, and before witnesses
who can swear that the testator was in the full possession of his
faculties; and if the testator has neither wife nor children, nor
father nor mother--"
"I have none of these; all my affection is centred upon my dear friend
The tears overflowed Schmucke's eyes.
"Then, if you have none but distant relatives, the law leaves you free
to dispose of both personalty and real estate as you please, so long
as you bequeath them for no unlawful purpose; for you must have come
across cases of wills disputed on account of the testator's
eccentricities. A will made in the presence of a notary is considered
to be authentic; for the person's identity is established, the notary
certifies that the testator was sane at the time, and there can be no
possible dispute over the signature.--Still, a holograph will,
properly and clearly worded, is quite as safe."
"I have decided, for reasons of my own, to make a holograph will at
your dictation, and to deposit it with my friend here. Is this
"Quite possible," said the notary. "Will you write? I will begin to
"Schmucke, bring me my little Boule writing-desk.--Speak low, sir," he
added; "we may be overheard."
"Just tell me, first of all, what you intend," demanded the notary.
Ten minutes later La Cibot saw the notary look over the will, while
Schmucke lighted a taper (Pons watching her reflection all the while
in a mirror). She saw the envelope sealed, saw Pons give it to
Schmucke, and heard him say that it must be put away in a secret
drawer in his bureau. Then the testator asked for the key, tied it to
the corner of his handkerchief, and slipped it under his pillow.
The notary himself, by courtesy, was appointed executor. To him Pons
left a picture of price, such a thing as the law permits a notary to
receive. Trognon went out and came upon Mme. Cibot in the salon.
"Well, sir, did M. Pons remember me?"
"You do not expect a notary to betray secrets confided to him, my
dear," returned M. Trognon. "I can only tell you this--there will be
many disappointments, and some that are anxious after the money will
be foiled. M. Pons has made a good and very sensible will, a patriotic
will, which I highly approve."
La Cibot's curiosity, kindled by such words, reached an unimaginable
pitch. She went downstairs and spent the night at Cibot's bedside,
inwardly resolving that Mlle. Remonencq should take her place towards
two or three in the morning, when she would go up and have a look at
Mlle. Brisetout's visit towards half-past ten that night seemed
natural enough to La Cibot; but in her terror lest the ballet-girl
should mention Gaudissart's gift of a thousand francs, she went
upstairs with her, lavishing polite speeches and flattery as if Mlle.
Heloise had been a queen.
"Ah! my dear, you are much nicer here on your own ground than at the
theatre," Heloise remarked. "I advise you to keep to your employment."
Heloise was splendidly dressed. Bixiou, her lover, had brought her in
his carriage on the way to an evening party at Mariette's. It so fell
out that the first-floor lodger, M. Chapoulot, a retired braid
manufacturer from the Rue Saint-Denis, returning from the Ambigu-
Comique with his wife and daughter, was dazzled by a vision of such a
costume and such a charming woman upon their staircase.
"Who is that, Mme. Cibot?" asked Mme. Chapoulot.
"A no-better-than-she-should-be, a light-skirts that you may see half-
naked any evening for a couple of francs," La Cibot answered in an
undertone for Mme. Chapoulot's ear.
"Victorine!" called the braid manufacturer's wife, "let the lady pass,
The matron's alarm signal was not lost upon Heloise.
"Your daughter must be more inflammable than tinder, madame, if you
are afraid that she will catch fire by touching me," she said.
M. Chapoulot waited on the landing. "She is uncommonly handsome off
the stage," he remarked. Whereupon Mme. Chapoulot pinched him sharply
and drove him indoors.
"Here is a second-floor lodger that has a mind to set up for being on
the fourth floor," said Heloise as she continued to climb.
"But mademoiselle is accustomed to going higher and higher."
"Well, old boy," said Heloise, entering the bedroom and catching sight
of the old musician's white, wasted face. "Well, old boy, so we are
not very well? Everybody at the theatre is asking after you; but
though one's heart may be in the right place, every one has his own
affairs, you know, and cannot find time to go to see friends.
Gaudissart talks of coming round every day, and every morning the
tiresome management gets hold of him. Still, we are all of us fond of
"Mme. Cibot," said the patient, "be so kind as to leave us; we want to
talk about the theatre and my post as conductor, with this lady.
Schmucke, will you go to the door with Mme. Cibot?"
At a sign from Pons, Schmucke saw Mme. Cibot out at the door, and drew
"Ah, that blackguard of a German! Is he spoiled, too?" La Cibot said
to herself as she heard the significant sounds. "That is M. Pons'
doing; he taught him those disgusting tricks. . . . But you shall pay
for this, my dears," she thought as she went down stairs. "Pooh! if
that tight-rope dancer tells him about the thousand francs, I shall
say that it is a farce.
She seated herself by Cibot's pillow. Cibot complained of a burning
sensation in the stomach. Remonencq had called in and given him a
draught while his wife was upstairs.
As soon as Schmucke had dismissed La Cibot, Pons turned to the ballet-
"Dear child, I can trust no one else to find me a notary, an honest
man, and send him here to make my will to-morrow morning at half-past
nine precisely. I want to leave all that I have to Schmucke. If he is
persecuted, poor German that he is, I shall reckon upon the notary;
the notary must defend him. And for that reason I must have a wealthy
notary, highly thought of, a man above the temptations to which
pettifogging lawyers yield. He must succor my poor friend. I cannot
trust Berthier, Cardot's successor. And you know so many people--"
"Oh! I have the very man for you," Heloise broke in; "there is the
notary that acts for Florine and the Comtesse du Bruel, Leopold
Hannequin, a virtuous man that does not know what a /lorette/ is! He
is a sort of chance-come father--a good soul that will not let you
play ducks and drakes with your earnings; I call him /Le Pere aux
Rats/, because he instils economical notions into the minds of all my
friends. In the first place, my dear fellow, he has a private income
of sixty thousand francs; and he is a notary of the real old sort, a
notary while he walks or sleeps; his children must be little notaries
and notaresses. He is a heavy, pedantic creature, and that's the
truth; but on his own ground, he is not the man to flinch before any
power in creation. . . . No woman ever got money out of him; he is a
fossil pater-familias, his wife worships him, and does not deceive
him, although she is a notary's wife.--What more do you want? as a
notary he has not his match in Paris. He is in the patriarchal style;
not queer and amusing, as Cardot used to be with Malaga; but he will
never decamp like little What's-his-name that lived with Antonia. So I
will send round my man to-morrow morning at eight o'clock. . . . You
may sleep in peace. And I hope, in the first place, that you will get
better, and make charming music for us again; and yet, after all, you
see, life is very dreary--managers chisel you, and kings mizzle and
ministers fizzle and rich fold economizzle.--Artists have nothing left
/here/" (tapping her breast)--"it is a time to die in. Good-bye, old
"Heloise, of all things, I ask you to keep my counsel."
"It is not a theatre affair," she said; "it is sacred for an artist."
"Who is your gentleman, child?"
"M. Baudoyer, the mayor of your arrondissement, a man as stupid as the
late Crevel; Crevel once financed Gaudissart, you know, and a few days
ago he died and left me nothing, not so much as a pot of pomatum. That
made me say just now that this age of ours is something sickening."
"What did he die of?"
"Of his wife. If he had stayed with me, he would be living now. Good-
bye, dear old boy, I am talking of going off, because I can see that
you will be walking about the boulevards in a week or two, hunting up
pretty little curiosities again. You are not ill; I never saw your
eyes look so bright." And she went, fully convinced that her protege
Garangeot would conduct the orchestra for good.
Every door stood ajar as she went downstairs. Every lodger, on tip-
toe, watched the lady of the ballet pass on her way out. It was quite
an event in the house.
Fraisier, like the bulldog that sets his teeth and never lets go, was
on the spot. He stood beside La Cibot when Mlle. Brisetout passed
under the gateway and asked for the door to be opened. Knowing that a
will had been made, he had come to see how the land lay, for Maitre
Trognon, notary, had refused to say a syllable--Fraisier's questions
were as fruitless as Mme. Cibot's. Naturally the ballet-girl's visit
/in extremis/ was not lost upon Fraisier; he vowed to himself that he
would turn it to good account.
"My dear Mme. Cibot," he began, "now is the critical moment for you."
"Ah, yes . . . my poor Cibot!" said she. "When I think that he will
not live to enjoy anything I may get--"
"It is a question of finding out whether M. Pons has left you anything
at all; whether your name is mentioned or left out, in fact," he
interrupted. "I represent the next-of-kin, and to them you must look
in any case. It is a holograph will, and consequently very easy to
upset.--Do you know where our man has put it?"
"In a secret drawer in his bureau, and he has the key of it. He tied
it to a corner of his handkerchief, and put it under his pillow. I saw
"Is the will sealed?"
"It is a criminal offence if you carry off a will and suppress it, but
it is only a misdemeanor to look at it; and anyhow, what does it
amount to? A peccadillo, and nobody will see you. Is your man a heavy
"Yes. But when you tried to see all the things and value them, he
ought to have slept like a top, and yet he woke up. Still, I will see
about it. I will take M. Schmucke's place about four o'clock this
morning; and if you care to come, you shall have the will in your
hands for ten minutes."
"Good. I will come up about four o'clock, and I will knock very
"Mlle Remonencq will take my place with Cibot. She will know, and open
the door; but tap on the window, so as to rouse nobody in the house."
"Right," said Fraisier. "You will have a light, will you not. A candle
At midnight poor Schmucke sat in his easy-chair, watching with a
breaking heart that shrinking of the features that comes with death;
Pons looked so worn out with the day's exertions, that death seemed
Presently Pons spoke. "I have just enough strength, I think, to last
till to-morrow night," he said philosophically. "To-morrow night the
death agony will begin; poor Schmucke! As soon as the notary and your
two friends are gone, go for our good Abbe Duplanty, the curate of
Saint-Francois. Good man, he does not know that I am ill, and I wish
to take the holy sacrament to-morrow at noon."
There was a long pause.
"God so willed it that life has not been as I dreamed," Pons resumed.
"I should so have loved wife and children and home. . . . To be loved
by a very few in some corner--that was my whole ambition! Life is hard
for every one; I have seen people who had all that I wanted so much
and could not have, and yet they were not happy. . . . Then at the end
of my life, God put untold comfort in my way, when He gave me such a
friend. . . . And one thing I have not to reproach myself with--that I
have not known your worth nor appreciated you, my good Schmucke. . . .
I have loved you with my whole heart, with all the strength of love
that is in me. . . . Do not cry, Schmucke; I shall say no more if you
cry and it is so sweet to me to talk of ourselves to you. . . . If I
had listened to you, I should not be dying. I should have left the
world and broken off my habits, and then I should not have been
wounded to death. And now, I want to think of no one but you at the
"You are missdaken--"
"Do not contradict me--listen, dear friend. . . . You are as guileless
and simple as a six-year-old child that has never left its mother; one
honors you for it--it seems to me that God Himself must watch over
such as you. But men are so wicked, that I ought to warn you
beforehand . . . and then you will lose your generous trust, your
saint-like belief in others, the bloom of a purity of soul that only
belongs to genius or to hearts like yours. . . . In a little while you
will see Mme. Cibot, who left the door ajar and watched us closely
while M. Trognon was here--in a little while you will see her come for
the will, as she believes it to be. . . . I expect the worthless
creature will do her business this morning when she thinks you are
asleep. Now, mind what I say, and carry out my instructions to the
letter. . . . Are you listening?" asked the dying man.
But Schmucke was overcome with grief, his heart was throbbing
painfully, his head fell back on the chair, he seemed to have lost
"Yes," he answered, "I can hear, but it is as if you vere doo huntert
baces afay from me. . . . It seem to me dat I am going town into der
grafe mit you," said Schmucke, crushed with pain.
He went over to the bed, took one of Pons' hands in both his own, and
within himself put up a fervent prayer.
"What is that that you are mumbling in German?"
"I asked Gott dat He vould take us poth togedders to Himself!"
Schmucke answered simply when he had finished his prayer.
Pons bent over--it was a great effort, for he was suffering
intolerable pain; but he managed to reach Schmucke, and kissed him on
the forehead, pouring out his soul, as it were, in benediction upon a
nature that recalled the lamb that lies at the foot of the Throne of
"See here, listen, my good Schmucke, you must do as dying people tell
"I am lisdening."
"The little door in the recess in your bedroom opens into that
"Yes, but it is blocked up mit bictures."
"Clear them away at once, without making too much noise."
"Clear a passage on both sides, so that you can pass from your room
into mine.--Now, leave the door ajar.--When La Cibot comes to take
your place (and she is capable of coming an hour earlier than usual),
you can go away to bed as if nothing had happened, and look very
tired. Try to look sleepy. As soon as she settles down into the
armchair, go into the closet, draw aside the muslin curtains over the
glass door, and watch her. . . . Do you understand?"
"I oondershtand; you belief dat die pad voman is going to purn der
"I do not know what she will do; but I am sure of this--that you will
not take her for an angel afterwards.--And now play for me; improvise
and make me happy. It will divert your thoughts; your gloomy ideas
will vanish, and for me the dark hours will be filled with your
dreams. . . ."
Schmucke sat down at the piano. Here he was in his element; and in a
few moments, musical inspiration, quickened by the pain with which he
was quivering and the consequent irritation that followed came upon
the kindly German, and, after his wont, he was caught up and borne
above the world. On one sublime theme after another he executed
variations, putting into them sometimes Chopin's sorrow, Chopin's
Raphael-like perfection; sometimes the stormy Dante's grandeur of
Liszt--the two musicians who most nearly approach Paganini's
temperament. When execution reaches this supreme degree, the executant
stands beside the poet, as it were; he is to the composer as the actor
is to the writer of plays, a divinely inspired interpreter of things
divine. But that night, when Schmucke gave Pons an earnest of diviner
symphonies, of that heavenly music for which Saint Cecile let fall her
instruments, he was at once Beethoven and Paganini, creator and
interpreter. It was an outpouring of music inexhaustible as the
nightingale's song--varied and full of delicate undergrowth as the
forest flooded with her trills; sublime as the sky overhead. Schmucke
played as he had never played before, and the soul of the old musician
listening to him rose to ecstasy such as Raphael once painted in a
picture which you may see at Bologna.
A terrific ringing of the door-bell put an end to these visions. The
first-floor lodgers sent up a servant with a message. Would Schmucke
please stop the racket overhead. Madame, Monsieur, and Mademoiselle
Chapoulot had been wakened, and could not sleep for the noise; they
called his attention to the fact that the day was quite long enough
for rehearsals of theatrical music, and added that people ought not to
"strum" all night in a house in the Marais.--It was then three o'clock
in the morning. At half-past three, La Cibot appeared, just as Pons
had predicted. He might have actually heard the conference between
Fraisier and the portress: "Did I not guess exactly how it would be?"
his eyes seemed to say as he glanced at Schmucke, and, turning a
little, he seemed to be fast asleep.
Schmucke's guileless simplicity was an article of belief with La Cibot
(and be it noted that this faith in simplicity is the great source and
secret of the success of all infantine strategy); La Cibot, therefore,
could not suspect Schmucke of deceit when he came to say to her, with
a face half of distress, half of glad relief:
"I haf had a derrible night! a derrible dime of it! I vas opliged to
play to keep him kviet, and the virst-floor lodgers vas komm up to
tell /me/ to be kviet! . . . It was frightful, for der life of mein
friend vas at shtake. I am so tired mit der blaying all night, dat dis
morning I am all knocked up."
"My poor Cibot is very bad, too; one more day like yesterday, and he
will have no strength left. . . . One can't help it; it is God's
"You haf a heart so honest, a soul so peautiful, dot gif der Zipod
die, ve shall lif togedder," said the cunning Schmucke.
The craft of simple, straightforward folk is formidable indeed; they
are exactly like children, setting their unsuspected snares with the
perfect craft of the savage.
"Oh, well go and sleep, sonny!" returned La Cibot. "Your eyes look
tired, they are as big as my fist. But there! if anything could
comfort me for losing Cibot, it would be the thought of ending my days
with a good man like you. Be easy. I will give Mme. Chapoulot a
dressing down. . . . To think of a retired haberdasher's wife giving
herself such airs!"
Schmucke went to his room and took up his post in the closet.
La Cibot had left the door ajar on the landing; Fraisier came in and
closed it noiselessly as soon as he heard Schmucke shut his bedroom
door. He had brought with him a lighted taper and a bit of very fine
wire to open the seal of the will. La Cibot, meanwhile, looking under
the pillow, found the handkerchief with the key of the bureau knotted
to one corner; and this so much the more easily because Pons purposely
left the end hanging over the bolster, and lay with his face to the
La Cibot went straight to the bureau, opened it cautiously so as to
make as little noise as possible, found the spring of the secret
drawer, and hurried into the salon with the will in her hand. Her
flight roused Pons' curiosity to the highest pitch; and as for
Schmucke, he trembled as if he were the guilty person.
"Go back," said Fraisier, when she handed over the will. "He may wake,
and he must find you there."
Fraisier opened the seal with a dexterity which proved that his was no
'prentice hand, and read the following curious document, headed "My
Will," with ever-deepening astonishment:
"On this fifteenth day of April, eighteen hundred and forty-five,
I, being in my sound mind (as this my Will, drawn up in concert
with M. Trognon, will testify), and feeling that I must shortly
die of the malady from which I have suffered since the beginning
of February last, am anxious to dispose of my property, and have
herein recorded my last wishes:--
"I have always been impressed by the untoward circumstances that
injure great pictures, and not unfrequently bring about total
destruction. I have felt sorry for the beautiful paintings
condemned to travel from land to land, never finding some fixed
abode whither admirers of great masterpieces may travel to see
them. And I have always thought that the truly deathless work of a
great master ought to be national property; put where every one of
every nation may see it, even as the light, God's masterpiece,
shines for all His children.
"And as I have spent my life in collecting together and choosing a
few pictures, some of the greatest masters' most glorious work,
and as these pictures are as the master left them--genuine
examples, neither repainted nor retouched,--it has been a painful
thought to me that the paintings which have been the joy of my
life, may be sold by public auction, and go, some to England, some
to Russia, till they are all scattered abroad again as if they had
never been gathered together. From this wretched fate I have
determined to save both them and the frames in which they are set,
all of them the work of skilled craftsmen.
"On these grounds, therefore, I give and bequeath the pictures
which compose my collection to the King, for the gallery in the
Louvre, subject to the charge (if the legacy is accepted) of a
life-annuity of two thousand four hundred francs to my friend
"If the King, as usufructuary of the Louvre collection, should
refuse the legacy with the charge upon it, the said pictures shall
form a part of the estate which I leave to my friend, Schmucke, on
condition that he shall deliver the /Monkey's Head/, by Goya, to
my cousin, President Camusot; a /Flower-piece/, the tulips, by
Abraham Mignon, to M. Trognon, notary (whom I appoint as my
executor): and allow Mme. Cibot, who has acted as my housekeeper
for ten years, the sum of two hundred francs per annum.
"Finally, my friend Schmucke is to give the /Descent from the
Cross/, Ruben's sketch for his great picture at Antwerp, to adorn
a chapel in the parish church, in grateful acknowledgment of M.
Duplanty's kindness to me; for to him I owe it that I can die as a
Christian and a Catholic."--So ran the will.
"This is ruin!" mused Fraisier, "the ruin of all my hopes. Ha! I begin
to believe all that the Presidente told me about this old artist and
"Well?" La Cibot came back to say.
"Your gentleman is a monster. He is leaving everything to the Crown.
Now, you cannot plead against the Crown. . . . The will cannot be
disputed. . . . We are robbed, ruined, spoiled, and murdered!"
"What has he left to me?"
"Two hundred francs a year."
"A pretty come-down! . . . Why, he is a finished scoundrel."
"Go and see," said Fraisier, "and I will put your scoundrel's will
back again in the envelope."
While Mme. Cibot's back was turned, Fraisier nimbly slipped a sheet of
blank paper into the envelope; the will he put in his pocket. He next
proceeded to seal the envelope again so cleverly that he showed the
seal to Mme. Cibot when she returned, and asked her if she could see
the slightest trace of the operation. La Cibot took up the envelope,
felt it over, assured herself that it was not empty, and heaved a deep
sigh. She had entertained hopes that Fraisier himself would have
burned the unlucky document while she was out of the room.
"Well, my dear M. Fraisier, what is to be done?"
"Oh! that is your affair! I am not one of the next-of-kin, myself; but
if I had the slightest claim to any of /that/" (indicating the
collection), "I know very well what I should do."
"That is just what I want to know," La Cibot answered, with sufficient
"There is a fire in the grate----" he said. Then he rose to go.
"After all, no one will know about it, but you and me----" began La
"It can never be proved that a will existed," asserted the man of law.
"I? . . . If M. Pons dies intestate, you shall have a hundred thousand
"Oh yes, no doubt," returned she. "People promise you heaps of money,
and when they come by their own, and there is talk of paying they
swindle you like--" "Like Elie Magus," she was going to say, but she
stopped herself just in time.
"I am going," said Fraisier; "it is not to your interest that I should
be found here; but I shall see you again downstairs."
La Cibot shut the door and returned with the sealed packet in her
hand. She had quite made up her mind to burn it; but as she went
towards the bedroom fireplace, she felt the grasp of a hand on each
arm, and saw--Schmucke on one hand, and Pons himself on the other,
leaning against the partition wall on either side of the door.
La Cibot cried out, and fell face downwards in a fit; real or feigned,
no one ever knew the truth. This sight produced such an impression on
Pons that a deadly faintness came upon him, and Schmucke left the
woman on the floor to help Pons back to bed. The friends trembled in
every limb; they had set themselves a hard task, it was done, but it
had been too much for their strength. When Pons lay in bed again, and
Schmucke had regained strength to some extent, he heard a sound of
sobbing. La Cibot, on her knees, bursting into tears, held out
supplicating hands to them in very expressive pantomime.
"It was pure curiosity!" she sobbed, when she saw that Pons and
Schmucke were paying attention to her proceedings. "Pure curiosity; a
woman's fault, you know. But I did not know how else to get a sight of
your will, and I brought it back again--"
"Go!" said Schmucke, standing erect, his tall figure gaining in height
by the full height of his indignation. "You are a monster! You dried
to kill mein goot Bons! He is right. You are worse than a monster, you
are a lost soul!"
La Cibot saw the look of abhorrence in the frank German's face; she
rose, proud as Tartuffe, gave Schmucke a glance which made him quake,
and went out, carrying off under her dress an exquisite little picture
of Metzu's pointed out by Elie Magus. "A diamond," he had called it.
Fraisier downstairs in the porter's lodge was waiting to hear that La
Cibot had burned the envelope and the sheet of blank paper inside it.
Great was his astonishment when he beheld his fair client's agitation
"What has happened?"
"/This/ has happened, my dear M. Fraisier. Under pretence of giving me
good advice and telling me what to do, you have lost me my annuity and
the gentlemen's confidence. . . ."
One of the word-tornadoes in which she excelled was in full progress,
but Fraisier cut her short.
"This is idle talk. The facts, the facts! and be quick about it."
"Well; it came about in this way,"--and she told him of the scene
which she had just come through.
"You have lost nothing through me," was Fraisier's comment. "The
gentlemen had their doubts, or they would not have set this trap for
you. They were lying in wait and spying upon you. . . . You have not
told me everything," he added, with a tiger's glance at the woman
"/I/ hide anything from you!" cried she--"after all that we have done
together!" she added with a shudder.
"My dear madame, /I/ have done nothing blameworthy," returned
Fraisier. Evidently he meant to deny his nocturnal visit to Pons'
Every hair on La Cibot's head seemed to scorch her, while a sense of
icy cold swept over her from head to foot.
"/What?/" . . . she faltered in bewilderment.
"Here is a criminal charge on the face of it. . . . You may be accused
of suppressing the will," Fraisier made answer drily.
La Cibot started.
"Don't be alarmed; I am your legal adviser. I only wished to show you
how easy it is, in one way or another, to do as I once explained to
you. Let us see, now; what have you done that this simple German
should be hiding in the room?"
"Nothing at all, unless it was that scene the other day when I stood
M. Pons out that his eyes dazzled. And ever since, the two gentlemen
have been as different as can be. So you have brought all my troubles
upon me; I might have lost my influence with M. Pons, but I was sure
of the German; just now he was talking of marrying me or of taking me
with him--it is all one."
The excuse was so plausible that Fraisier was fain to be satisfied
with it. "You need fear nothing," he resumed. "I gave you my word that
you shall have your money, and I shall keep my word. The whole matter,
so far, was up in the air, but now it is as good as bank-notes. . . .
You shall have at least twelve hundred francs per annum. . . . But, my
good lady, you must act intelligently under my orders."
"Yes, my dear M. Fraisier," said La Cibot with cringing servility. She
was completely subdued.
"Very good. Good-bye," and Fraisier went, taking the dangerous
document with him. He reached home in great spirits. The will was a
"Now," thought he, "I have a hold on Mme. la Presidente de Marville;
she must keep her word with me. If she did not, she would lose the
At daybreak, when Remonencq had taken down his shutters and left his
sister in charge of the shop, he came, after his wont of late, to
inquire for his good friend Cibot. The portress was contemplating the
Metzu, privately wondering how a little bit of painted wood could be
worth such a lot of money.
"Aha!" said he, looking over her shoulder, "that is the one picture
which M. Elie Magus regretted; with that little bit of a thing, he
says, his happiness would be complete."
"What would he give for it?" asked La Cibot.
"Why, if you will promise to marry me within a year of widowhood, I
will undertake to get twenty thousand francs for it from Elie Magus;
and unless you marry me you will never get a thousand francs for the
"Because you would be obliged to give a receipt for the money, and
then you might have a lawsuit with the heirs-at-law. If you were my
wife, I myself should sell the thing to M. Magus, and in the way of
business it is enough to make an entry in the day-book, and I should
note that M. Schmucke sold it to me. There, leave the panel with me.
. . . If your husband were to die you might have a lot of bother over
it, but no one would think it odd that I should have a picture in the
shop. . . . You know me quite well. Besides, I will give you a receipt
if you like."
The covetous portress felt that she had been caught; she agreed to a
proposal which was to bind her for the rest of her life to the marine-
"You are right," said she, as she locked the picture away in a chest;
"bring me the bit of writing."
Remonencq beckoned her to the door.
"I can see, neighbor, that we shall not save our poor dear Cibot," he
said lowering his voice. "Dr. Poulain gave him up yesterday evening,
and said that he could not last out the day. . . . It is a great
misfortune. But after all, this was not the place for you. . . . You
ought to be in a fine curiosity shop on the Boulevard des Capucines.
Do you know that I have made nearly a hundred thousand francs in ten
years? And if you will have as much some day, I will undertake to make
a handsome fortune for you--as my wife. You would be the mistress--my
sister should wait on you and do the work of the house, and--"
A heartrending moan from the little tailor cut the tempter short; the
death agony had begun.
"Go away," said La Cibot. "You are a monster to talk of such things
and my poor man dying like this--"
"Ah! it is because I love you," said Remonencq; "I could let
everything else go to have you--"
"If you loved me, you would say nothing to me just now," returned she.
And Remonencq departed to his shop, sure of marrying La Cibot.
Towards ten o'clock there was a sort of commotion in the street; M.
Cibot was taking the Sacrament. All the friends of the pair, all the
porters and porters' wives in the Rue de Normandie and neighboring
streets, had crowded into the lodge, under the archway, and stood on
the pavement outside. Nobody so much as noticed the arrival of M.
Leopold Hannequin and a brother lawyer. Schwab and Brunner reached
Pons' rooms unseen by Mme. Cibot. The notary, inquiring for Pons, was
shown upstairs by the portress of a neighboring house. Brunner
remembered his previous visit to the museum, and went straight in with
his friend Schwab.
Pons formally revoked his previous will and constituted Schmucke his
universal legatee. This accomplished, he thanked Schwab and Brunner,
and earnestly begged M. Leopold Hannequin to protect Schmucke's
interests. The demands made upon him by last night's scene with La
Cibot, and this final settlement of his worldly affairs, left him so
faint and exhausted that Schmucke begged Schwab to go for the Abbe
Duplanty; it was Pons' great desire to take the Sacrament, and
Schmucke could not bring himself to leave his friend.
La Cibot, sitting at the foot of her husband's bed, gave not so much
as a thought to Schmucke's breakfast--for that matter had been
forbidden to return; but the morning's events, the sight of Pons'
heroic resignation in the death agony, so oppressed Schmucke's heart
that he was not conscious of hunger. Towards two o'clock, however, as
nothing had been seen of the old German, La Cibot sent Remonencq's
sister to see whether Schmucke wanted anything; prompted not so much
by interest as by curiosity. The Abbe Duplanty had just heard the old
musician's dying confession, and the administration of the sacrament
of extreme unction was disturbed by repeated ringing of the door-bell.
Pons, in his terror of robbery, had made Schmucke promise solemnly to
admit no one into the house; so Schmucke did not stir. Again and again
Mlle. Remonencq pulled the cord, and finally went downstairs in alarm
to tell La Cibot that Schmucke would not open the door; Fraisier made
a note of this. Schmucke had never seen any one die in his life;
before long he would be perplexed by the many difficulties which beset
those who are left with a dead body in Paris, this more especially if
they are lonely and helpless and have no one to act for them. Fraisier
knew, moreover, that in real affliction people lose their heads, and
therefore immediately after breakfast he took up his position in the
porter's lodge, and sitting there in perpetual committee with Dr.
Poulain, conceived the idea of directing all Schmucke's actions
To obtain the important result, the doctor and the lawyer took their
measures on this wise:--
The beadle of Saint-Francois, Cantinet by name, at one time a retail
dealer in glassware, lived in the Rue d'Orleans, next door to Dr.
Poulain and under the same roof. Mme. Cantinet, who saw to the letting
of the chairs at Saint-Francois, once had fallen ill and Dr. Poulain
had attended her gratuitously; she was, as might be expected,
grateful, and often confided her troubles to him. The "nutcrackers,"
punctual in their attendance at Saint-Francois on Sundays and saints'-
days, were on friendly terms with the beadle and the lowest
ecclesiastical rank and file, commonly called in Paris /le bas
clerge/, to whom the devout usually give little presents from time to
time. Mme. Cantinet therefore knew Schmucke almost as well as Schmucke
knew her. And Mme. Cantinet was afflicted with two sore troubles which
enabled the lawyer to use her as a blind and involuntary agent.
Cantinet junior, a stage-struck youth, had deserted the paths of the
Church and turned his back on the prospect of one day becoming a
beadle, to make his /debut/ among the supernumeraries of the Cirque-
Olympique; he was leading a wild life, breaking his mother's heart and
draining her purse by frequent forced loans. Cantinet senior, much
addicted to spirituous liquors and idleness, had, in fact, been driven
to retire from business by those two failings. So far from reforming,
the incorrigible offender had found scope in his new occupation for
the indulgence of both cravings; he did nothing, and he drank with
drivers of wedding-coaches, with the undertaker's men at funerals,
with poor folk relieved by the vicar, till his morning's occupation
was set forth in rubric on his countenance by noon.
Mme. Cantinet saw no prospect but want in her old age, and yet she had
brought her husband twelve thousand francs, she said. The tale of her
woes related for the hundredth time suggested an idea to Dr. Poulain.
Once introduce her into the old bachelor's quarters, and it would be
easy by her means to establish Mme. Sauvage there as working
housekeeper. It was quite impossible to present Mme. Sauvage herself,
for the "nutcrackers" had grown suspicious of every one. Schmucke's
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