Honore de Balzac
Part 11 out of 16
'Anything fresh to-day, Daddy Monistrol?'--(for he always lets me look
over his lots before the big buyers come)--and at that he began to
tell me how Lienard, that did such beautiful work for the Government
in the Chapelle de Dreux, had been at the Aulnay sale and rescued the
carved panels out of the clutches of the Paris dealers, while their
heads were running on china and inlaid furniture.--'I did not do much
myself,' he went on, 'but I may make my traveling expenses out of
/this/,' and he showed me a what-not; a marvel! Boucher's designs
executed in marquetry, and with such art!--One could have gone down on
one's knees before it.--'Look, sir,' he said, 'I have just found this
fan in a little drawer; it was locked, I had to force it open. You
might tell me where I can sell it'--and with that he brings out this
little carved cherry-wood box.--'See,' says he, 'it is the kind of
Pompadour that looks like decorated Gothic.'--'Yes,' I told him, 'the
box is pretty; the box might suit me; but as for the fan, Monistrol, I
have no Mme. Pons to give the old trinket to, and they make very
pretty new ones nowadays; you can buy miracles of painting on vellum
cheaply enough. There are two thousand painters in Paris, you know.'
--And I opened out the fan carelessly, keeping down my admiration,
looked indifferently at those two exquisite little pictures, touched
off with an ease fit to send you into raptures. I held Mme. de
Pompadour's fan in my hand! Watteau had done his utmost for this.
--'What do you want for the what-not?'--'Oh! a thousand francs; I have
had a bid already.'--I offered him a price for the fan corresponding
with the probable expenses of the journey. We looked each other in the
eyes, and I saw that I had my man. I put the fan back into the box
lest my Auvergnat should begin to look at it, and went into ecstasies
over the box; indeed, it is a jewel.--'If I take it,' said I, 'it is
for the sake of the box; the box tempts me. As for the what-not, you
will get more than a thousand francs for that. Just see how the brass
is wrought; it is a model. There is business in it. . . . It has never
been copied; it is a unique specimen, made solely for Mme. de
Pompadour'--and so on, till my man, all on fire for his what-not,
forgets the fan, and lets me have it for a mere trifle, because I have
pointed out the beauties of his piece of Riesener's furniture. So here
it is; but it needs a great deal of experience to make such a bargain
as that. It is a duel, eye to eye; and who has such eyes as a Jew or
The old artist's wonderful pantomime, his vivid, eager way of telling
the story of the triumph of his shrewdness over the dealer's
ignorance, would have made a subject for a Dutch painter; but it was
all thrown away upon the audience. Mother and daughter exchanged cold,
contemptuous glances.--"What an oddity!" they seemed to say.
"So it amuses you?" remarked Mme. de Marville. The question sent a
cold chill through Pons; he felt a strong desire to slap the
"Why, my dear cousin, that is the way to hunt down a work of art. You
are face to face with antagonists that dispute the game with you. It
is craft against craft! A work of art in the hands of a Norman, an
Auvergnat, or a Jew, is like a princess guarded by magicians in a
"And how can you tell that this is by Wat--what do you call him?"
"Watteau, cousin. One of the greatest eighteenth century painters in
France. Look! do you not see that it is his work?" (pointing to a
pastoral scene, court-shepherd swains and shepherdesses dancing in a
ring). "The movement! the life in it! the coloring! There it is--see!
--painted with a stroke of the brush, as a writing-master makes a
flourish with a pen. Not a trace of effort here! And, turn it over,
look!--a ball in a drawing-room. Summer and Winter! And what
ornaments! and how well preserved it is! The hinge-pin is gold, you
see, and on cleaning it, I found a tiny ruby at either side."
"If it is so, cousin, I could not think of accepting such a valuable
present from you. It would be better to lay up the money for
yourself," said Mme. de Marville; but all the same, she asked no
better than to keep the splendid fan.
"It is time that it should pass from the service of Vice into the
hands of Virtue," said the good soul, recovering his assurance. "It
has taken a century to work the miracle. No princess at Court, you may
be sure, will have anything to compare with it; for, unfortunately,
men will do more for a Pompadour than for a virtuous queen, such is
"Very well," Mme. de Marville said, laughing, "I will accept your
present.--Cecile, my angel, go to Madeleine and see that dinner is
worthy of your cousin."
Mme. de Marville wished to make matters even. Her request, made aloud,
in defiance of all rules of good taste, sounded so much like an
attempt to repay at once the balance due to the poor cousin, that Pons
flushed red, like a girl found out in fault. The grain of sand was a
little too large; for some moments he could only let it work in his
heart. Cecile, a red-haired young woman, with a touch of pedantic
affectation, combined her father's ponderous manner with a trace of
her mother's hardness. She went and left poor Pons face to face with
the terrible Presidente.
"How nice she is, my little Lili!" said the mother. She still called
her Cecile by this baby name.
"Charming!" said Pons, twirling his thumbs.
"I /cannot/ understand these times in which we live," broke out the
Presidente. "What is the good of having a President of the Court of
Appeal in Paris and a Commander of the Legion of Honor for your
father, and for a grandfather the richest wholesale silk merchant in
Paris, a deputy, and a millionaire that will be a peer of France some
of these days?"
The President's zeal for the new Government had, in fact, recently
been rewarded with a commander's ribbon--thanks to his friendship with
Popinot, said the envious. Popinot himself, modest though he was, had,
as has been seen, accepted the title of count, "for his son's sake,"
he told his numerous friends.
"Men look for nothing but money nowadays," said Cousin Pons. "No one
thinks anything of you unless you are rich, and--"
"What would it have been if Heaven had spared my poor little
Charles!--" cried the lady.
"Oh, with two children you would be poor," returned the cousin. "It
practically means the division of the property. But you need not
trouble yourself, cousin; Cecile is sure to marry sooner or later. She
is the most accomplished girl I know."
To such depths had Pons fallen by adapting himself to the company of
his entertainers! In their houses he echoed their ideas, and said the
obvious thing, after the manner of a chorus in a Greek play. He did
not dare to give free play to the artist's originality, which had
overflowed in bright repartee when he was young; he had effaced
himself, till he had almost lost his individuality; and if the real
Pons appeared, as he had done a moment ago, he was immediately
"But I myself was married with only twenty thousand francs for my
"In 1819, cousin. And it was /you/, a woman with a head on your
shoulders, and the royal protection of Louis XVIII."
"Be still, my child is a perfect angel. She is clever, she has a warm
heart, she will have a hundred thousand francs on her wedding day, to
say nothing of the most brilliant expectations; and yet she stays on
our hands," and so on and so on. For twenty minutes, Mme. de Marville
talked on about herself and her Cecile, pitying herself after the
manner of mothers in bondage to marriageable daughters.
Pons had dined at the house every week for twenty years, and Camusot
de Marville was the only cousin he had in the world; but he had yet to
hear the first word spoken as to his own affairs--nobody cared to know
how he lived. Here and elsewhere the poor cousin was a kind of sink
down which his relatives poured domestic confidences. His discretion
was well known; indeed, was he not bound over to silence when a single
imprudent word would have shut the door of ten houses upon him? And he
must combine his role of listener with a second part; he must applaud
continually, smile on every one, accuse nobody, defend nobody; from
his point of view, every one must be in the right. And so, in the
house of his kinsman, Pons no longer counted as a man; he was a
In the course of a long tirade, Mme. Camusot de Marville avowed with
due circumspection that she was prepared to take almost any son-in-law
with her eyes shut. She was even disposed to think that at
eight-and-forty or so a man with twenty thousand francs a year was a
"Cecile is in her twenty-third year. If it should fall out so
unfortunately that she is not married before she is five or
six-and-twenty, it will be extremely hard to marry her at all. When a
girl reaches that age, people want to know why she has been so long on
hand. We are a good deal talked about in our set. We have come to the
end of all the ordinary excuses--'She is so young.--She is so fond of
her father and mother that she doesn't like to leave them.--She is so
happy at home.--She is hard to please, she would like a good name--'
We are beginning to look silly; I feel that distinctly. And besides,
Cecile is tired of waiting, poor child, she suffers--"
"In what way?" Pons was noodle enough to ask.
"Why, because it is humiliating to her to see all her girl friends
married before her," replied the mother, with a duenna's air.
"But, cousin, has anything happened since the last time that I had the
pleasure of dining here? Why do you think of men of eight-and-forty?"
Pons inquired humbly.
"This has happened," returned the Presidente. "We were to have had an
interview with a Court Councillor; his son is thirty years old and
very well-to-do, and M. de Marville would have obtained a post in the
audit-office for him and paid the money. The young man is a
supernumerary there at present. And now they tell us that he has taken
it into his head to rush off to Italy in the train of a duchess from
the Bal Mabille. . . . It is nothing but a refusal in disguise. The
fact is, the young man's mother is dead; he has an income of thirty
thousand francs, and more to come at his father's death, and they
don't care about the match for him. You have just come in in the
middle of all this, dear cousin, so you must excuse our bad temper."
While Pons was casting about for the complimentary answer which
invariably occurred to him too late when he was afraid of his host,
Madeleine came in, handed a folded note to the Presidente, and waited
for an answer. The note ran as follows:
"DEAR MAMMA,--If we pretend that this note comes to you from papa
at the Palais, and that he wants us both to dine with his friend
because proposals have been renewed--then the cousin will go, and
we can carry out our plan of going to the Popinots."
"Who brought the master's note?" the Presidente asked quickly.
"A lad from the Salle du Palais," the withered waiting woman
unblushingly answered, and her mistress knew at once that Madeleine
had woven the plot with Cecile, now at the end of her patience.
"Tell him that we will both be there at half-past five."
Madeleine had no sooner left the room than the Presidente turned to
Cousin Pons with that insincere friendliness which is about as
grateful to a sensitive soul as a mixture of milk and vinegar to the
palate of an epicure.
"Dinner is ordered, dear cousin; you must dine without us; my husband
has just sent word from the court that the question of the marriage
has been reopened, and we are to dine with the Councillor. We need not
stand on ceremony at all. Do just as if you were at home. I have no
secrets from you; I am perfectly open with you, as you see. I am sure
you would not wish to break off the little darling's marriage."
"/I/, cousin? On the contrary, I should like to find some one for her;
but in my circle--"
"Oh, that is not at all likely," said the Presidente, cutting him
short insolently. "Then you will stay, will you not? Cecile will keep
you company while I dress.
"Oh! I can dine somewhere else, cousin."
Cruelly hurt though he was by her way of casting up his poverty to
him, the prospect of being left alone with the servants was even more
"But why should you? Dinner is ready; you may just as well have it; if
you do not, the servants will eat it."
At that atrocious speech Pons started up as if he had received a shock
from a galvanic battery, bowed stiffly to the lady, and went to find
his spencer. Now, it so happened that the door of Cecile's bedroom,
beyond the little drawing-room, stood open, and looking into the
mirror, he caught sight of the girl shaking with laughter as she
gesticulated and made signs to her mother. The old artist understood
beyond a doubt that he had been the victim of some cowardly hoax. Pons
went slowly down the stairs; he could not keep back the tears. He
understood that he had been turned out of the house, but why and
wherefore he did not know.
"I am growing too old," he told himself. "The world has a horror of
old age and poverty--two ugly things. After this I will not go
anywhere unless I am asked."
Downstairs the great gate was shut, as it usually is in houses
occupied by the proprietor; the kitchen stood exactly opposite the
porter's lodge, and the door was open. Pons was obliged to listen
while Madeleine told the servants the whole story amid the laughter of
the servants. She had not expected him to leave so soon. The footman
loudly applauded a joke at the expense of a visitor who was always
coming to the house and never gave you more than three francs at the
"Yes," put in the cook; "but if he cuts up rough and does not come
back, there will be three francs the less for some of us on New Year's
"Eh! How is he to know?" retorted the footman.
"Pooh!" said Madeleine, "a little sooner or a little later--what
difference does it make? The people at the other houses where he dines
are so tired of him that they are going to turn him out."
"The gate, if you please!"
Madeleine had scarcely uttered the words when they heard the old
musician's call to the porter. It sounded like a cry of pain. There
was a sudden silence in the kitchen.
"He heard!" the footman said.
"Well, and if he did, so much the worser, or rather so much the
better," retorted Madeleine. "He is an arrant skinflint."
Poor Pons had lost none of the talk in the kitchen; he heard it all,
even to the last word. He made his way home along the boulevards, in
the same state, physical and mental, as an old woman after a desperate
struggle with burglars. As he went he talked to himself in quick
spasmodic jerks; his honor had been wounded, and the pain of it drove
him on as a gust of wind whirls away a straw. He found himself at last
in the Boulevard du Temple; how he had come thither he could not tell.
It was five o'clock, and, strange to say, he had completely lost his
But if the reader is to understand the revolution which Pons'
unexpected return at that hour was to work in the Rue de Normandie,
the promised biography of Mme. Cibot must be given in this place.
Any one passing along the Rue de Normandie might be pardoned for
thinking that he was in some small provincial town. Grass runs to seed
in the street, everybody knows everybody else, and the sight of a
stranger is an event. The houses date back to the reign of Henry IV.,
when there was a scheme afoot for a quarter in which every street was
to be named after a French province, and all should converge in a
handsome square to which La France should stand godmother. The
Quartier de l'Europe was a revival of the same idea; history repeats
itself everywhere in the world, and even in the world of speculation.
The house in which the two musicians used to live is an old mansion
with a courtyard in front and a garden at the back; but the front part
of the house which gives upon the street is comparatively modern,
built during the eighteenth century when the Marais was a fashionable
quarter. The friends lived at the back, on the second floor of the old
part of the house. The whole building belongs to M. Pillerault, an old
man of eighty, who left matters very much in the hands of M. and Mme.
Cibot, his porters for the past twenty-six years.
Now, as a porter cannot live by his lodge alone, the aforesaid Cibot
had other means of gaining a livelihood; and supplemented his five per
cent on the rental and his faggot from every cartload of wood by his
own earnings as a tailor. In time Cibot ceased to work for the master
tailors; he made a connection among the little trades-people of the
quarter, and enjoyed a monopoly of the repairs, renovations, and fine
drawing of all the coats and trousers in three adjacent streets. The
lodge was spacious and wholesome, and boasted a second room; wherefore
the Cibot couple were looked upon as among the luckiest porters in the
Cibot, small and stunted, with a complexion almost olive-colored by
reason of sitting day in day out in Turk-fashion on a table level with
the barred window, made about twelve or fourteen francs a week. He
worked still, though he was fifty-eight years old, but fifty-eight is
the porter's golden age; he is used to his lodge, he and his room fit
each other like the shell and the oyster, and "he is known in the
Mme. Cibot, sometime opener of oysters at the /Cadran Bleu/, after all
the adventures which come unsought to the belle of an oyster-bar, left
her post for love of Cibot at the age of twenty-eight. The beauty of a
woman of the people is short-lived, especially if she is planted
espalier fashion at a restaurant door. Her features are hardened by
puffs of hot air from the kitchen; the color of the heeltaps of
customers' bottles, finished in the company of the waiters, gradually
filters into her complexion--no beauty is full blown so soon as the
beauty of an oyster-opener. Luckily for Mme. Cibot, lawful wedlock and
a portress' life were offered to her just in time; while she still
preserved a comeliness of a masculine order slandered by rivals of the
Rue de Normandie, who called her "a great blowsy thing," Mme. Cibot
might have sat as a model to Rubens. Those flesh tints reminded you of
the appetizing sheen on a pat of Isigny butter; but plump as she was,
no woman went about her work with more agility. Mme. Cibot had
attained the time of life when women of her stamp are obliged to shave
--which is as much as to say that she had reached the age of
forty-eight. A porter's wife with a moustache is one of the best
possible guarantees of respectability and security that a landlord can
have. If Delacroix could have seen Mme. Cibot leaning proudly on her
broom handle, he would assuredly have painted her as Bellona.
Strange as it may seem, the circumstances of the Cibots, man and wife
(in the style of an indictment), were one day to affect the lives of
the two friends; wherefore the chronicler, as in duty bound, must give
some particulars as to the Cibots' lodge.
The house brought in about eight thousand francs for there were three
complete sets of apartments--back and front, on the side nearest the
Rue de Normandie, as well as the three floors in the older mansion
between the courtyard and the garden, and a shop kept by a marine
store-dealer named Remonencq, which fronted on the street. During the
past few months this Remonencq had begun to deal in old curiosities,
and knew the value of Pons' collection so well that he took off his
hat whenever the musician came in or went out.
A sou in the livre on eight thousand francs therefore brought in about
four hundred francs to the Cibots. They had no rent to pay and no
expenses for firing; Cibot's earnings amounted on an average to seven
or eight hundred francs, add tips at New Year, and the pair had
altogether in income of sixteen hundred francs, every penny of which
they spent, for the Cibots lived and fared better than working people
usually do. "One can only live once," La Cibot used to say. She was
born during the Revolution, you see, and had never learned her
The husband of this portress with the unblenching tawny eyes was an
object of envy to the whole fraternity, for La Cibot had not forgotten
the knowledge of cookery picked up at the /Cadran Bleu/. So it had
come to pass that the Cibots had passed the prime of life, and saw
themselves on the threshold of old age without a hundred francs put by
for the future. Well clad and well fed, they enjoyed among the
neighbors, it is true, the respect due to twenty-six years of strict
honesty; for if they had nothing of their own, they "hadn't nothing
belonging to nobody else," according to La Cibot, who was a prodigal
of negatives. "There wasn't never such a love of a man," she would say
to her husband. Do you ask why? You might as well ask the reason of
her indifference in matters of religion.
Both of them were proud of a life lived in open day, of the esteem in
which they were held for six or seven streets round about, and of the
autocratic rule permitted to them by the proprietor ("perprietor,"
they called him); but in private they groaned because they had no
money lying at interest. Cibot complained of pains in his hands and
legs, and his wife would lament that her poor, dear Cibot should be
forced to work at his age; and, indeed, the day is not far distant
when a porter after thirty years of such a life will cry shame upon
the injustice of the Government and clamor for the ribbon of the
Legion of Honor. Every time that the gossip of the quarter brought
news of such and such a servant-maid, left an annuity of three or four
hundred francs after eight or ten years of service, the porters'
lodges would resound with complaints, which may give some idea of the
consuming jealousies in the lowest walks of life in Paris.
"Oh, indeed! It will never happen to the like of us to have our names
mentioned in a will! We have no luck, but we do more than servants,
for all that. We fill a place of trust; we give receipts, we are on
the lookout for squalls, and yet we are treated like dogs, neither
more nor less, and that's the truth!"
"Some find fortune and some miss fortune," said Cibot, coming in with
"If I had left Cibot here in his lodge and taken a place as cook, we
should have our thirty thousand francs out at interest," cried Mme.
Cibot, standing chatting with a neighbor, her hands on her prominent
hips. "But I didn't understand how to get on in life; housed inside of
a snug lodge and firing found and want for nothing, but that is all."
In 1836, when the friends took up their abode on the second floor,
they brought about a sort of revolution in the Cibot household. It
befell on this wise. Schmucke, like his friend Pons, usually arranged
that the porter or the porter's wife should undertake the cares of
housekeeping; and being both of one mind on this point when they came
to live in the Rue de Normandie, Mme. Cibot became their housekeeper
at the rate of twenty-five francs per month--twelve francs fifty
centimes for each of them. Before the year was out, the emeritus
portress reigned in the establishment of the two old bachelors, as she
reigned everywhere in the house belonging to M. Pillerault, great
uncle of Mme. le Comtesse Popinot. Their business was her business;
she called them "my gentlemen." And at last, finding the pair of
nutcrackers as mild as lambs, easy to live with, and by no means
suspicious--perfect children, in fact--her heart, the heart of a woman
of the people, prompted her to protect, adore, and serve them with
such thorough devotion, that she read them a lecture now and again,
and saved them from the impositions which swell the cost of living in
Paris. For twenty-five francs a month, the two old bachelors
inadvertently acquired a mother.
As they became aware of Mme. Cibot's full value, they gave her
outspoken praises, and thanks, and little presents which strengthened
the bonds of the domestic alliance. Mme. Cibot a thousand times
preferred appreciation to money payments; it is a well-known fact that
the sense that one is appreciated makes up for a deficiency in wages.
And Cibot did all that he could for his wife's two gentlemen, and ran
errands and did repairs at half-price for them.
The second year brought a new element into the friendship between the
lodge and the second floor, and Schmucke concluded a bargain which
satisfied his indolence and desire for a life without cares. For
thirty sous per day, or forty-five francs per month, Mme. Cibot
undertook to provide Schmucke with breakfast and dinner; and Pons,
finding his friend's breakfast very much to his mind, concluded a
separate treaty for that meal only at the rate of eighteen francs.
This arrangement, which added nearly ninety francs every month to the
takings of the porter and his wife, made two inviolable beings of the
lodgers; they became angels, cherubs, divinities. It is very doubtful
whether the King of the French, who is supposed to understand economy,
is as well served as the pair of nutcrackers used to be in those days.
For them the milk issued pure from the can; they enjoyed a free
perusal of all the morning papers taken by other lodgers, later
risers, who were told, if need be, that the newspapers had not come
yet. Mme. Cibot, moreover, kept their clothes, their rooms, and the
landing as clean as a Flemish interior. As for Schmucke, he enjoyed
unhoped-for happiness; Mme. Cibot had made life easy for him; he paid
her about six francs a month, and she took charge of his linen,
washing, and mending. Altogether, his expenses amounted to sixty-six
francs per month (for he spent fifteen francs on tobacco), and
sixty-six francs multiplied by twelve produces the sum total of seven
hundred and ninety-two francs. Add two hundred and twenty francs for
rent, rates, and taxes, and you have a thousand and twelve francs.
Cibot was Schmucke's tailor; his clothes cost him on average a hundred
and fifty francs, which further swells the total to the sum of twelve
hundred. On twelve hundred francs per annum this profound philosopher
lived. How many people in Europe, whose one thought it is to come to
Paris and live there, will be agreeably surprised to learn that you
may exist in comfort upon an income of twelve hundred francs in the
Rue de Normandie in the Marais, under the wing of a Mme. Cibot.
Mme. Cibot, to resume the story, was amazed beyond expression to see
Pons, good man, return at five o'clock in the evening. Such a thing
had never happened before; and not only so, but "her gentleman" had
given her no greeting--had not so much as seen her!
"Well, well, Cibot," said she to her spouse, "M. Pons has come in for
a million, or gone out of his mind!"
"That is how it looks to me," said Cibot, dropping the coat-sleeve in
which he was making a "dart," in tailor's language.
The savory odor of a stew pervaded the whole courtyard, as Pons
returned mechanically home. Mme. Cibot was dishing up Schmucke's
dinner, which consisted of scraps of boiled beef from a little
cook-shop not above doing a little trade of this kind. These morsels
were fricasseed in brown butter, with thin slices of onion, until the
meat and vegetables had absorbed the gravy and this true porter's dish
was browned to the right degree. With that fricassee, prepared with
loving care for Cibot and Schmucke, and accompanied by a bottle of beer
and a piece of cheese, the old German music-master was quite content.
Not King Solomon in all his glory, be sure, could dine better than
Schmucke. A dish of boiled beef fricasseed with onions, scraps of
/saute/ chicken, or beef and parsley, or venison, or fish served with
a sauce of La Cibot's own invention (a sauce with which a mother might
unsuspectingly eat her child),--such was Schmucke's ordinary, varying
with the quantity and quality of the remnants of food supplied by
boulevard restaurants to the cook-shop in the Rue Boucherat. Schmucke
took everything that "goot Montame Zipod" gave him, and was content,
and so from day to day "goot Montame Zipod" cut down the cost of his
dinner, until it could be served for twenty sous.
"It won't be long afore I find out what is the matter with him, poor
dear," said Mme. Cibot to her husband, "for here is M. Schmucke's
dinner all ready for him."
As she spoke she covered the deep earthenware dish with a plate; and,
notwithstanding her age, she climbed the stair and reached the door
before Schmucke opened it to Pons.
"Vat is de matter mit you, mein goot friend?" asked the German, scared
by the expression of Pons' face.
"I will tell you all about it; but I have come home to have dinner
"Tinner! tinner!" cried Schmucke in ecstasy; "but it is impossible!"
the old German added, as he thought of his friend's gastronomical
tastes; and at that very moment he caught sight of Mme. Cibot
listening to the conversation, as she had a right to do as his lawful
housewife. Struck with one of those happy inspirations which only
enlighten a friend's heart, he marched up to the portress and drew her
out to the stairhead.
"Montame Zipod," he said, "der goot Pons is fond of goot dings; shoost
go rount to der /Catran Pleu/ und order a dainty liddle tinner, mit
anjovies und maggaroni. Ein tinner for Lugullus, in vact."
"What is that?" inquired La Cibot.
"Oh! ah!" returned Schmucke, "it is veal /a la pourcheoise/"
(/bourgeoise/, he meant), "a nice fisch, ein pottle off Porteaux, und
nice dings, der fery best dey haf, like groquettes of rice und shmoked
pacon! Bay for it, und say nodings; I vill gif you back de monny
Back went Schmucke, radiant and rubbing his hands; but his expression
slowly changed to a look of bewildered astonishment as he heard Pons'
story of the troubles that had but just now overwhelmed him in a
moment. He tried to comfort Pons by giving him a sketch of the world
from his own point of view. Paris, in his opinion, was a perpetual
hurly-burly, the men and women in it were whirled away by a
tempestuous waltz; it was no use expecting anything of the world,
which only looked at the outsides of things, "und not at der
inderior." For the hundredth time he related how that the only three
pupils for whom he had really cared, for whom he was ready to die, the
three who had been fond of him, and even allowed him a little pension
of nine hundred francs, each contributing three hundred to the amount
--his favorite pupils had quite forgotten to come to see him; and so
swift was the current of Parisian life which swept them away, that if
he called at their houses, he had not succeeded in seeing them once in
three years--(it is a fact, however, that Schmucke had always thought
fit to call on these great ladies at ten o'clock in the morning!)
--still, his pension was paid quarterly through the medium of
"Und yet, dey are hearts of gold," he concluded. "Dey are my liddle
Saint Cecilias, sharming vimmen, Montame de Bordentuere, Montame de
Fantenesse, und Montame du Dilet. Gif I see dem at all, it is at die
Jambs Elusees, und dey do not see me . . . yet dey are ver' fond of
me, und I might go to dine mit dem, und dey vould be ver' bleased to
see me; und I might go to deir country-houses, but I vould much rader
be mit mine friend Bons, because I kann see him venefer I like, und
Pons took Schmucke's hand and grasped it between his own. All that was
passing in his inmost soul was communicated in that tight pressure.
And so for awhile the friends sat like two lovers, meeting at last
after a long absence.
"Tine here, efery tay!" broke out Schmucke, inwardly blessing Mme. de
Marville for her hardness of heart. "Look here! Ve shall go a
prick-a-pracking togeders, und der teufel shall nefer show his tail
"Ve shall go prick-a-pracking togeders!" for the full comprehension of
those truly heroic words, it must be confessed that Schmucke's
ignorance of bric-a-brac was something of the densest. It required all
the strength of his friendship to keep him from doing heedless damage
in the sitting-room and study which did duty as a museum for Pons.
Schmucke, wholly absorbed in music, a composer for love of his art,
took about as much interest in his friend's little trifles as a fish
might take in a flower-show at the Luxembourg, supposing that it had
received a ticket of admission. A certain awe which he certainly felt
for the marvels was simply a reflection of the respect which Pons
showed his treasures when he dusted them. To Pons' exclamations of
admiration, he was wont to reply with a "Yes, it is ver' bretty," as a
mother answers baby-gestures with meaningless baby-talk. Seven times
since the friends had lived together, Pons had exchanged a good clock
for a better one, till at last he possessed a timepiece in Boule's
first and best manner, for Boule had two manners, as Raphael had
three. In the first he combined ebony and copper; in the second
--contrary to his convictions--he sacrificed to tortoise-shell inlaid
work. In spite of Pons' learned dissertations, Schmucke never could
see the slightest difference between the magnificent clock in Boule's
first manner and its six predecessors; but, for Pons' sake, Schmucke
was even more careful among the "chimcracks" than Pons himself. So it
should not be surprising that Schmucke's sublime words comforted Pons
in his despair; for "Ve shall go prick-a-pracking togeders," meant,
being interpreted, "I will put money into bric-a-brac, if you will
only dine here."
"Dinner is ready," Mme. Cibot announced, with astonishing
It is not difficult to imagine Pons' surprise when he saw and relished
the dinner due to Schmucke's friendship. Sensations of this kind, that
came so rarely in a lifetime, are never the outcome of the constant,
close relationship by which friend daily says to friend, "You are a
second self to me"; for this, too, becomes a matter of use and wont.
It is only by contact with the barbarism of the world without that the
happiness of that intimate life is revealed to us as a sudden glad
surprise. It is the outer world which renews the bond between friend
and friend, lover and lover, all their lives long, wherever two great
souls are knit together by friendship or by love.
Pons brushed away two big tears, Schmucke himself wiped his eyes; and
though nothing was said, the two were closer friends than before.
Little friendly nods and glances exchanged across the table were like
balm to Pons, soothing the pain caused by the sand dropped in his
heart by the President's wife. As for Schmucke, he rubbed his hands
till they were sore; for a new idea had occurred to him, one of those
great discoveries which cause a German no surprise, unless they sprout
up suddenly in a Teuton brain frost-bound by the awe and reverence due
to sovereign princes.
"Mine goot Bons?" began Schmucke.
"I can guess what you mean; you would like us both to dine together
here, every day--"
"Gif only I vas rich enof to lif like dis efery tay--" began the good
German in a melancholy voice. But here Mme. Cibot appeared upon the
scene. Pons had given her an order for the theatre from time to time,
and stood in consequence almost as high in her esteem and affection as
her boarder Schmucke.
"Lord love you," said she, "for three francs and wine extra I can give
you both such a dinner every day that you will be ready to lick the
plates as clean as if they were washed."
"It is a fact," Schmucke remarked, "dat die dinners dat Montame Zipod
cooks for me are better as de messes dey eat at der royal dable!" In
his eagerness, Schmucke, usually so full of respect for the powers
that be, so far forgot himself as to imitate the irreverent newspapers
which scoffed at the "fixed-price" dinners of Royalty.
"Really?" said Pons. "Very well, I will try to-morrow."
And at that promise Schmucke sprang from one end of the table to the
other, sweeping off tablecloth, bottles, and dishes as he went, and
hugged Pons to his heart. So might gas rush to combine with gas.
"Vat happiness!" cried he.
Mme. Cibot was quite touched. "Monsieur is going to dine here every
day!" she cried proudly.
That excellent woman departed downstairs again in ignorance of the
event which had brought about this result, entered her room like
Josepha in /William Tell/, set down the plates and dishes on the table
with a bang, and called aloud to her husband:
"Cibot! run to the /Cafe Turc/ for two small cups of coffee, and tell
the man at the stove that it is for me."
Then she sat down and rested her hands on her massive knees, and gazed
out of the window at the opposite wall.
"I will go to-night and see what Ma'am Fontaine says," she thought.
(Madame Fontaine told fortunes on the cards for all the servants in
the quarter of the Marais.) "Since these two gentlemen came here, we
have put two thousand francs in the savings bank. Two thousand francs
in eight years! What luck! Would it be better to make no profit out of
M. Pons' dinner and keep him here at home? Ma'am Fontaine's hen will
tell me that."
Three years ago Mme. Cibot had begun to cherish a hope that her name
might be mentioned in "her gentlemen's" wills; she had redoubled her
zeal since that covetous thought tardily sprouted up in the midst of
that so honest moustache. Pons hitherto had dined abroad, eluding her
desire to have both of "her gentlemen" entirely under her management;
his "troubadour" collector's life had scared away certain vague ideas
which hovered in La Cibot's brain; but now her shadowy projects
assumed the formidable shape of a definite plan, dating from that
memorable dinner. Fifteen minutes later she reappeared in the
dining-room with two cups of excellent coffee, flanked by a couple of
tiny glasses of /kirschwasser/.
"Long lif Montame Zipod!" cried Schmucke; "she haf guessed right!"
The diner-out bemoaned himself a little, while Schmucke met his
lamentations with coaxing fondness, like a home pigeon welcoming back
a wandering bird. Then the pair set out for the theatre.
Schmucke could not leave his friend in the condition to which he had
been brought by the Camusots--mistresses and servants. He knew Pons so
well; he feared lest some cruel, sad thought should seize on him at
his conductor's desk, and undo all the good done by his welcome home
to the nest.
And Schmucke brought his friend back on his arm through the streets at
midnight. A lover could not be more careful of his lady. He pointed
out the edges of the curbstones, he was on the lookout whenever they
stepped on or off the pavement, ready with a warning if there was a
gutter to cross. Schmucke could have wished that the streets were
paved with cotton-down; he would have had a blue sky overhead, and
Pons should hear the music which all the angels in heaven were making
for him. He had won the lost province in his friend's heart!
For nearly three months Pons and Schmucke dined together every day.
Pons was obliged to retrench at once; for dinner at forty-five francs
a month and wine at thirty-five meant precisely eighty francs less to
spend on bric-a-brac. And very soon, in spite of all that Schmucke
could do, in spite of his little German jokes, Pons fell to regretting
the delicate dishes, the liqueurs, the good coffee, the table talk,
the insincere politeness, the guests, and the gossip, and the houses
where he used to dine. On the wrong side of sixty a man cannot break
himself of a habit of thirty-six years' growth. Wine at a hundred and
thirty francs per hogshead is scarcely a generous liquid in a
/gourmet's/ glass; every time that Pons raised it to his lips he
thought, with infinite regret, of the exquisite wines in his
In short, at the end of three months, the cruel pangs which had gone
near to break Pons' sensitive heart had died away; he forgot
everything but the charms of society; and languished for them like
some elderly slave of a petticoat compelled to leave the mistress who
too repeatedly deceives him. In vain he tried to hide his profound and
consuming melancholy; it was too plain that he was suffering from one
of the mysterious complaints which the mind brings upon the body.
A single symptom will throw light upon this case of nostalgia (as it
were) produced by breaking away from an old habit; in itself it is
trifling, one of the myriad nothings which are as rings in a coat of
chain-mail enveloping the soul in a network of iron. One of the
keenest pleasures of Pons' old life, one of the joys of the
dinner-table parasite at all times, was the "surprise," the thrill
produced by the extra dainty dish added triumphantly to the bill of
fare by the mistress of a bourgeois house, to give a festal air to the
dinner. Pons' stomach hankered after that gastronomical satisfaction.
Mme. Cibot, in the pride of her heart, enumerated every dish beforehand;
a salt and savor once periodically recurrent, had vanished utterly from
daily life. Dinner proceeded without /le plat couvert/, as our
grandsires called it. This lay beyond the bounds of Schmucke's powers
Pons had too much delicacy to grumble; but if the case of
unappreciated genius is hard, it goes harder still with the stomach
whose claims are ignored. Slighted affection, a subject of which too
much has been made, is founded upon an illusory longing; for if the
creature fails, love can turn to the Creator who has treasures to
bestow. But the stomach! . . . Nothing can be compared to its
sufferings; for, in the first place, one must live.
Pons thought wistfully of certain creams--surely the poetry of
cookery!--of certain white sauces, masterpieces of the art; of
truffled chickens, fit to melt your heart; and above these, and more
than all these, of the famous Rhine carp, only known at Paris, served
with what condiments! There were days when Pons, thinking upon Count
Popinot's cook, would sigh aloud, "Ah, Sophie!" Any passer-by hearing
the exclamation might have thought that the old man referred to a lost
mistress; but his fancy dwelt upon something rarer, on a fat Rhine
carp with a sauce, thin in the sauce-boat, creamy upon the palate, a
sauce that deserved the Montyon prize! The conductor of the orchestra,
living on memories of past dinners, grew visibly leaner; he was pining
away, a victim to gastric nostalgia.
By the beginning of the fourth month (towards the end of January,
1845), Pons' condition attracted attention at the theatre. The flute,
a young man named Wilhelm, like almost all Germans; and Schwab, to
distinguish him from all other Wilhelms, if not from all other
Schwabs, judged it expedient to open Schmucke's eyes to his friend's
state of health. It was a first performance of a piece in which
Schmucke's instruments were all required.
"The old gentleman is failing," said the flute; "there is something
wrong somewhere; his eyes are heavy, and he doesn't beat time as he
used to do," added Wilhelm Schwab, indicating Pons as he gloomily took
"Dat is alvays de vay, gif a man is sixty years old," answered
The Highland widow, in /The Chronicles of the Canongate/, sent her son
to his death to have him beside her for twenty-four hours; and
Schmucke could have sacrificed Pons for the sake of seeing his face
every day across the dinner-table.
"Everybody in the theatre is anxious about him," continued the flute;
"and, as the /premiere danseuse/, Mlle. Brisetout, says, 'he makes
hardly any noise now when he blows his nose.'"
And, indeed, a peal like a blast of a horn used to resound through the
old musician's bandana handkerchief whenever he raised it to that
lengthy and cavernous feature. The President's wife had more
frequently found fault with him on that score than on any other.
"I vould gif a goot teal to amuse him," said Schmucke, "he gets so
"M. Pons always seems so much above the like of us poor devils, that,
upon my word, I didn't dare to ask him to my wedding," said Wilhelm
Schwab. "I am going to be married--"
"How?" demanded Schmucke.
"Oh! quite properly," returned Wilhelm Schwab, taking Schmucke's
quaint inquiry for a gibe, of which that perfect Christian was quite
"Come, gentlemen, take your places!" called Pons, looking round at his
little army, as the stage manager's bell rang for the overture.
The piece was a dramatized fairy tale, a pantomime called /The Devil's
Betrothed/, which ran for two hundred nights. In the interval, after
the first act, Wilhelm Schwab and Schmucke were left alone in the
orchestra, with a house at a temperature of thirty-two degrees
"Tell me your hishdory," said Schmucke.
"Look there! Do you see that young man in the box yonder? . . . Do you
"Nefer a pit--"
"Ah! That is because he is wearing yellow gloves and shines with all
the radiance of riches, but that is my friend Fritz Brunner out of
"Dat used to komm to see du blav und sit peside you in der orghestra?"
"The same. You would not believe he could look so different, would
The hero of the promised story was a German of that particular type in
which the sombre irony of Goethe's Mephistopheles is blended with a
homely cheerfulness found in the romances of August Lafontaine of
pacific memory; but the predominating element in the compound of
artlessness and guile, of shopkeeper's shrewdness, and the studied
carelessness of a member of the Jockey Club, was that form of disgust
which set a pistol in the hands of a young Werther, bored to death
less by Charlotte than by German princes. It was a thoroughly German
face, full of cunning, full of simplicity, stupidity, and courage; the
knowledge which brings weariness, the worldly wisdom which the veriest
child's trick leaves at fault, the abuse of beer and tobacco,--all
these were there to be seen in it, and to heighten the contrast of
opposed qualities, there was a wild diabolical gleam in the fine blue
eyes with the jaded expression.
Dressed with all the elegance of a city man, Fritz Brunner sat in full
view of the house displaying a bald crown of the tint beloved by
Titian, and a few stray fiery red hairs on either side of it; a
remnant spared by debauchery and want, that the prodigal might have a
right to spend money with the hairdresser when he should come into his
fortune. A face, once fair and fresh as the traditional portrait of
Jesus Christ, had grown harder since the advent of a red moustache; a
tawny beard lent it an almost sinister look. The bright blue eyes had
lost something of their clearness in the struggle with distress. The
countless courses by which a man sells himself and his honor in Paris
had left their traces upon his eyelids and carved lines about the
eyes, into which a mother once looked with a mother's rapture to find
a copy of her own fashioned by God's hand.
This precocious philosopher, this wizened youth was the work of a
Herewith begins the curious history of a prodigal son of
Frankfort-on-the-Main--the most extraordinary and astounding portent
ever beheld by that well-conducted, if central, city.
Gideon Brunner, father of the aforesaid Fritz, was one of the famous
innkeepers of Frankfort, a tribe who make law-authorized incisions in
travelers' purses with the connivance of the local bankers. An
innkeeper and an honest Calvinist to boot, he had married a converted
Jewess and laid the foundations of his prosperity with the money she
When the Jewess died, leaving a son Fritz, twelve years of age, under
the joint guardianship of his father and maternal uncle, a furrier at
Leipsic, head of the firm of Virlaz and Company, Brunner senior was
compelled by his brother-in-law (who was by no means as soft as his
peltry) to invest little Fritz's money, a goodly quantity of current
coin of the realm, with the house of Al-Sartchild. Not a penny of it
was he allowed to touch. So, by way of revenge for the Israelite's
pertinacity, Brunner senior married again. It was impossible, he said,
to keep his huge hotel single-handed; it needed a woman's eye and
hand. Gideon Brunner's second wife was an innkeeper's daughter, a very
pearl, as he thought; but he had had no experience of only daughters
spoiled by father and mother.
The second Mme. Brunner behaved as German girls may be expected to
behave when they are frivolous and wayward. She squandered her
fortune, she avenged the first Mme. Brunner by making her husband as
miserable a man as you could find in the compass of the free city of
Frankfort-on-the-Main, where the millionaires, it is said, are about
to pass a law compelling womankind to cherish and obey them alone. She
was partial to all the varieties of vinegar commonly called Rhine wine
in Germany; she was fond of /articles Paris/, of horses and dress;
indeed, the one expensive taste which she had not was a liking for
women. She took a dislike to little Fritz, and would perhaps have
driven him mad if that young offspring of Calvinism and Judaism had
not had Frankfort for his cradle and the firm of Virlaz at Leipsic for
his guardian. Uncle Virlaz, however, deep in his furs, confined his
guardianship to the safe-keeping of Fritz's silver marks, and left the
boy to the tender mercies of this stepmother.
That hyena in woman's form was the more exasperated against the pretty
child, the lovely Jewess' son, because she herself could have no
children in spite of efforts worthy of a locomotive engine. A
diabolical impulse prompted her to plunge her young stepson, at
twenty-one years of age, into dissipations contrary to all German
habits. The wicked German hoped that English horses, Rhine vinegar,
and Goethe's Marguerites would ruin the Jewess' child and shorten his
days; for when Fritz came of age, Uncle Virlaz had handed over a very
pretty fortune to his nephew. But while roulette at Baden and
elsewhere, and boon companions (Wilhelm Schwab among them) devoured
the substance accumulated by Uncle Virlaz, the prodigal son himself
remained by the will of Providence to point a moral to younger
brothers in the free city of Frankfort; parents held him up as a
warning and an awful example to their offspring to scare them into
steady attendance in their cast-iron counting houses, lined with
But so far from perishing in the flower of his age, Fritz Brunner had
the pleasure of laying his stepmother in one of those charming little
German cemeteries, in which the Teuton indulges his unbridled passion
for horticulture under the specious pretext of honoring his dead. And
as the second Mme. Brunner expired while the authors of her being were
yet alive, Brunner senior was obliged to bear the loss of the sums of
which his wife had drained his coffers, to say nothing of other ills,
which had told upon a Herculean constitution, till at the age of
sixty-seven the innkeeper had wizened and shrunk as if the famous
Borgia's poison had undermined his system. For ten whole years he had
supported his wife, and now he inherited nothing! The innkeeper was a
second ruin of Heidelberg, repaired continually, it is true, by
travelers' hotel bills, much as the remains of the castle of
Heidelberg itself are repaired to sustain the enthusiasm of the
tourists who flock to see so fine and well-preserved a relic of
At Frankfort the disappointment caused as much talk as a failure.
People pointed out Brunner, saying, "See what a man may come to with a
bad wife that leaves him nothing and a son brought up in the French
In Italy and Germany the French nation is the root of all evil, the
target for all bullets. "But the god pursuing his way----" (For the
rest, see Lefranc de Pompignan's Ode.)
The wrath of the proprietor of the Grand Hotel de Hollande fell on
others besides the travelers, whose bills were swelled with his
resentment. When his son was utterly ruined, Gideon, regarding him as
the indirect cause of all his misfortunes, refused him bread and salt,
fire, lodging, and tobacco--the force of the paternal malediction in a
German and an innkeeper could no farther go. Whereupon the local
authorities, making no allowance for the father's misdeeds, regarded
him as one of the most ill-used persons in Frankfort-on-the-Main, came
to his assistance, fastened a quarrel on Fritz (/une querelle
d'Allemand/), and expelled him from the territory of the free city.
Justice in Frankfort is no whit wiser nor more humane than elsewhere,
albeit the city is the seat of the German Diet. It is not often that a
magistrate traces back the stream of wrongdoing and misfortune to the
holder of the urn from which the first beginnings trickled forth. If
Brunner forgot his son, his son's friends speedily followed the old
Ah! if the journalists, the dandies, and some few fair Parisians among
the audience wondered how that German with the tragical countenance
had cropped up on a first night to occupy a side box all to himself
when fashionable Paris filled the house,--if these could have seen the
history played out upon the stage before the prompter's box, they
would have found it far more interesting than the transformation
scenes of /The Devil's Betrothed/, though indeed it was the two
hundred thousandth representation of a sublime allegory performed
aforetime in Mesopotamia three thousand years before Christ was born.
Fritz betook himself on foot to Strasbourg, and there found what the
prodigal son of the Bible failed to find--to wit, a friend. And herein
is revealed the superiority of Alsace, where so many generous hearts
beat to show Germany the beauty of a combination of Gallic wit and
Teutonic solidity. Wilhelm Schwab, but lately left in possession of a
hundred thousand francs by the death of both parents, opened his arms,
his heart, his house, his purse to Fritz. As for describing Fritz's
feelings, when dusty, down on his luck, and almost like a leper, he
crossed the Rhine and found a real twenty-franc piece held out by the
hand of a real friend,--that moment transcends the powers of the prose
writer; Pindar alone could give it forth to humanity in Greek that
should rekindle the dying warmth of friendship in the world.
Put the names of Fritz and Wilheim beside those of Damon and Pythias,
Castor and Pollux, Orestes and Pylades, Dubreuil and Pmejah, Schmucke
and Pons, and all the names that we imagine for the two friends of
Monomotapa, for La Fontaine (man of genius though he was) has made of
them two disembodied spirits--they lack reality. The two new names may
join the illustrious company, and with so much the more reason, since
that Wilhelm who had helped to drink Fritz's inheritance now
proceeded, with Fritz's assistance, to devour his own substance;
smoking, needless to say, every known variety of tobacco.
The pair, strange to relate, squandered the property in the dullest,
stupidest, most commonplace fashion, in Strasbourg /brasseries/, in
the company of ballet-girls of the Strasbourg theatres, and little
Alsaciennes who had not a rag of a tattered reputation left.
Every morning they would say, "We really must stop this, and make up
our minds and do something or other with the money that is left."
"Pooh!" Fritz would retort, "just one more day, and to-morrow" . . .
In the lives of Prodigal Sons, /To-day/ is a prodigious coxcomb, but
/To-morrow/ is a very poltroon, taking fright at the big words of his
predecessor. /To-day/ is the truculent captain of old world comedy,
/To-morrow/ the clown of modern pantomime.
When the two friends had reached their last thousand-franc note, they
took places in the mail-coach, styled Royal, and departed for Paris,
where they installed themselves in the attics of the Hotel du Rhin, in
the Rue du Mail, the property of one Graff, formerly Gideon Brunner's
head-waiter. Fritz found a situation as clerk in the Kellers' bank (on
Graff's recommendation), with a salary of six hundred francs. And a
place as book-keeper was likewise found for Wilhelm, in the business
of Graff the fashionable tailor, brother of Graff of the Hotel du
Rhin, who found the scantily-paid employment for the pair of
prodigals, for the sake of old times, and his apprenticeship at the
Hotel de Hollande. These two incidents--the recognition of a ruined
man by a well-to-do friend, and a German innkeeper interesting himself
in two penniless fellow-countrymen--give, no doubt, an air of
improbability to the story, but truth is so much the more like
fiction, since modern writers of fiction have been at such untold
pains to imitate truth.
It was not long before Fritz, a clerk with six hundred francs, and
Wilhelm, a book-keeper with precisely the same salary, discovered the
difficulties of existence in a city so full of temptations. In 1837,
the second year of their abode, Wilhelm, who possessed a pretty talent
for the flute, entered Pons' orchestra, to earn a little occasional
butter to put on his dry bread. As to Fritz, his only way to an
increase of income lay through the display of the capacity for
business inherited by a descendant of the Virlaz family. Yet, in spite
of his assiduity, in spite of abilities which possibly may have stood
in his way, his salary only reached the sum of two thousand francs in
1843. Penury, that divine stepmother, did for the two men all that
their mothers had not been able to do for them; Poverty taught them
thrift and worldly wisdom; Poverty gave them her grand rough
education, the lessons which she drives with hard knocks into the
heads of great men, who seldom know a happy childhood. Fritz and
Wilhelm, being but ordinary men, learned as little as they possibly
could in her school; they dodged the blows, shrank from her hard
breast and bony arms, and never discovered the good fairy lurking
within, ready to yield to the caresses of genius. One thing, however,
they learned thoroughly--they discovered the value of money, and vowed
to clip the wings of riches if ever a second fortune should come to
This was the history which Wilhelm Schwab related in German, at much
greater length, to his friend the pianist, ending with;
"Well, Papa Schmucke, the rest is soon explained. Old Brunner is dead.
He left four millions! He made an immense amount of money out of Baden
railways, though neither his son nor M. Graff, with whom we lodge, had
any idea that the old man was one of the original shareholders. I am
playing the flute here for the last time this evening; I would have
left some days ago, but this was a first performance, and I did not
want to spoil my part."
"Goot, mine friend," said Schmucke. "But who is die prite?"
"She is Mlle. Graff, the daughter of our host, the landlord of the
Hotel du Rhin. I have loved Mlle. Emilie these seven years; she has
read so many immoral novels, that she refused all offers for me,
without knowing what might come of it. She will be a very wealthy
young lady; her uncles, the tailors in the Rue de Richelieu, will
leave her all their money. Fritz is giving me the money we squandered
at Strasbourg five times over! He is putting a million francs in a
banking house, M. Graff the tailor is adding another five hundred
thousand francs, and Mlle. Emilie's father not only allows me to
incorporate her portion--two hundred and fifty thousand francs--with
the capital, but he himself will be a shareholder with as much again.
So the firm of Brunner, Schwab and Company will start with two
millions five hundred thousand francs. Fritz has just bought fifteen
hundred thousand francs' worth of shares in the Bank of France to
guarantee our account with them. That is not all Fritz's fortune. He
has his father's house property, supposed to be worth another million,
and he has let the Grand Hotel de Hollande already to a cousin of the
"You look sad ven you look at your friend," remarked Schmucke, who had
listened with great interest. "Kann you pe chealous of him?"
"I am jealous for Fritz's happiness," said Wilhelm. "Does that face
look as if it belonged to a happy man? I am afraid of Paris; I should
like to see him do as I am doing. The old tempter may awake again. Of
our two heads, his carries the less ballast. His dress, and the
opera-glass and the rest of it make me anxious. He keeps looking at
the lorettes in the house. Oh! if you only knew how hard it is to
marry Fritz. He has a horror of 'going a-courting,' as you say; you
would have to give him a drop into a family, just as in England they
give a man a drop into the next world."
During the uproar that usually marks the end of a first night, the
flute delivered his invitation to the conductor. Pons accepted
gleefully; and, for the first time in three months, Schmucke saw a
smile on his friend's face. They went back to the Rue de Normandie in
perfect silence; that sudden flash of joy had thrown a light on the
extent of the disease which was consuming Pons. Oh, that a man so
truly noble, so disinterested, so great in feeling, should have such a
weakness! . . . This was the thought that struck the stoic Schmucke
dumb with amazement. He grew woefully sad, for he began to see that
there was no help for it; he must even renounce the pleasure of seeing
"his goot Bons" opposite him at the dinner-table, for the sake of
Pons' welfare; and he did not know whether he could give him up; the
mere thought of it drove him distracted.
Meantime, Pons' proud silence and withdrawal to the Mons Aventinus of
the Rue de Normandie had, as might be expected, impressed the
Presidente, not that she troubled herself much about her parasite, now
that she was freed from him. She thought, with her charming daughter,
that Cousin Pons had seen through her little "Lili's" joke. But it was
otherwise with her husband the President.
Camusot de Marville, a short and stout man, grown solemn since his
promotion at the Court, admired Cicero, preferred the Opera-Comique to
the Italiens, compared the actors one with another, and followed the
multitude step by step. He used to recite all the articles in the
Ministerialist journals, as if he were saying something original, and
in giving his opinion at the Council Board he paraphrased the remarks
of the previous speaker. His leading characteristics were sufficiently
well known; his position compelled him to take everything seriously;
and he was particularly tenacious of family ties.
Like most men who are ruled by their wives, the President asserted his
independence in trifles, in which his wife was very careful not to
thwart him. For a month he was satisfied with the Presidente's
commonplace explanations of Pons' disappearance; but at last it struck
him as singular that the old musician, a friend of forty years'
standing, should first make them so valuable a present as a fan that
belonged to Mme. de Pompadour, and then immediately discontinue his
visits. Count Popinot had pronounced the trinket a masterpiece; when
its owner went to Court, the fan had been passed from hand to hand,
and her vanity was not a little gratified by the compliments it
received; others had dwelt on the beauties of the ten ivory sticks,
each one covered with delicate carving, the like of which had never
been seen. A Russian lady (Russian ladies are apt to forget that they
are not in Russia) had offered her six thousand francs for the marvel
one day at Count Popinot's house, and smiled to see it in such hands.
Truth to tell, it was a fan for a Duchess.
"It cannot be denied that poor Cousin Pons understands rubbish of that
sort--" said Cecile, the day after the bid.
"Rubbish!" cried her parent. "Why, Government is just about to buy the
late M. le Conseiller Dusommerard's collection for three hundred
thousand francs; and the State and the Municipality of Paris between
them are spending nearly a million francs over the purchase and repair
of the Hotel de Cluny to house the 'rubbish,' as you call it.--Such
'rubbish,' dear child," he resumed, "is frequently all that remains of
vanished civilizations. An Etruscan jar, and a necklace, which
sometimes fetch forty and fifty thousand francs, is 'rubbish' which
reveals the perfection of art at the time of the siege of Troy,
proving that the Etruscans were Trojan refugees in Italy."
This was the President's cumbrous way of joking; the short, fat man
was heavily ironical with his wife and daughter.
"The combination of various kinds of knowledge required to understand
such 'rubbish,' Cecile," he resumed, "is a science in itself, called
archaeology. Archaeology comprehends architecture, sculpture,
painting, goldsmiths' work, ceramics, cabinetmaking (a purely modern
art), lace, tapestry--in short, human handiwork of every sort and
"Then Cousin Pons is learned?" said Cecile.
"Ah! by the by, why is he never to be seen nowadays?" asked the
President. He spoke with the air of a man in whom thousands of
forgotten and dormant impressions have suddenly begun to stir, and
shaping themselves into one idea, reach consciousness with a ricochet,
as sportsmen say.
"He must have taken offence at nothing at all," answered his wife. "I
dare say I was not as fully sensible as I might have been of the value
of the fan that he gave me. I am ignorant enough, as you know, of--"
"/You!/ One of Servin's best pupils, and you don't know Watteau?"
cried the President.
"I know Gerard and David and Gros and Griodet, and M. de Forbin and M.
Turpin de Crisse--"
"Ought what, sir?" demanded the lady, gazing at her husband with the
air of a Queen of Sheba.
"To know a Watteau when you see it, my dear. Watteau is very much in
fashion," answered the President with meekness, that told plainly how
much he owed to his wife.
This conversation took place a few days before that night of first
performance of /The Devil's Betrothed/, when the whole orchestra
noticed how ill Pons was looking. But by that time all the circle of
dinner-givers who were used to seeing Pons' face at their tables, and
to send him on errands, had begun to ask each other for news of him,
and uneasiness increased when it was reported by some who had seen him
that he was always in his place at the theatre. Pons had been very
careful to avoid his old acquaintances whenever he met them in the
streets; but one day it so fell out that he met Count Popinot, the
ex-cabinet minister, face to face in the bric-a-brac dealer's shop in
the new Boulevard Beaumarchais. The dealer was none other than that
Monistrol of whom Pons had spoken to the Presidente, one of the famous
and audacious vendors whose cunning enthusiasm leads them to set more
and more value daily on their wares; for curiosities, they tell you,
are growing so scarce that they are hardly to be found at all
"Ah, my dear Pons, how comes it that we never see you now? We miss you
very much, and Mme. Popinot does not know what to think of your
"M. le Comte," said the good man, "I was made to feel in the house of
a relative that at my age one is not wanted in the world. I have never
had much consideration shown me, but at any rate I had not been
insulted. I have never asked anything of any man," he broke out with
an artist's pride. "I have often made myself useful in return for
hospitality. But I have made a mistake, it seems; I am indefinitely
beholden to those who honor me by allowing me to sit at table with
them; my friends, and my relatives. . . . Well and good; I have sent
in my resignation as smellfeast. At home I find daily something which
no other house has offered me--a real friend."
The old artist's power had not failed him; with tone and gesture he
put such bitterness into the words, that the peer of France was struck
by them. He drew Pons aside.
"Come, now, my old friend, what is it? What has hurt you? Could you
not tell me in confidence? You will permit me to say that at my house
surely you have always met with consideration--"
"You are the one exception," said the artist. "And besides, you are a
great lord and a statesman, you have so many things to think about.
That would excuse anything, if there were need for it."
The diplomatic skill that Popinot had acquired in the management of
men and affairs was brought to bear upon Pons, till at length the
story of his misfortunes in the President's house was drawn from him.
Popinot took up the victim's cause so warmly that he told the story to
Mme. Popinot as soon as he went home, and that excellent and
noble-natured woman spoke to the Presidente on the subject at the
first opportunity. As Popinot himself likewise said a word or two to
the President, there was a general explanation in the family of Camusot
Camusot was not exactly master in his own house; but this time his
remonstrance was so well founded in law and in fact, that his wife and
daughter were forced to acknowledge the truth. They both humbled
themselves and threw the blame on the servants. The servants, first
bidden, and then chidden, only obtained pardon by a full confession,
which made it clear to the President's mind that Pons had done rightly
to stop away. The President displayed himself before the servants in
all his masculine and magisterial dignity, after the manner of men who
are ruled by their wives. He informed his household that they should
be dismissed forthwith, and forfeit any advantages which their long
term of service in his house might have brought them, unless from that
time forward his cousin and all those who did him the honor of coming
to his house were treated as he himself was. At which speech Madeleine
was moved to smile.
"You have only one chance of salvation as it is," continued the
President. "Go to my cousin, make your excuses to him, and tell him
that you will lose your situations unless he forgives you, for I shall
turn you all away if he does not."
Next morning the President went out fairly early to pay a call on his
cousin before going down to the court. The apparition of M. le
President de Marville, announced by Mme. Cibot, was an event in the
house. Pons, thus honored for the first time in his life saw
"At last, my dear cousin," said the President after the ordinary
greetings; "at last I have discovered the cause of your retreat. Your
behavior increases, if that were possible, my esteem for you. I have
but one word to say in that connection. My servants have all been
dismissed. My wife and daughter are in despair; they want to see you
to have an explanation. In all this, my cousin, there is one innocent
person, and he is an old judge; you will not punish me, will you, for
the escapade of a thoughtless child who wished to dine with the
Popinots? especially when I come to beg for peace, admitting that all
the wrong has been on our side? . . . An old friendship of thirty-six
years, even suppose that there had been a misunderstanding, has still
some claims. Come, sign a treaty of peace by dining with us
Pons involved himself in a diffuse reply, and ended by informing his
cousin that he was to sign a marriage contract that evening; how that
one of the orchestra was not only going to be married, but also about
to fling his flute to the winds to become a banker.
"Very well. To-morrow."
"Mme. la Comtesse Popinot has done me the honor of asking me, cousin.
She was so kind as to write--"
"The day after to-morrow then."
"M. Brunner, a German, my first flute's future partner, returns the
compliment paid him to-day by the young couple--"
"You are such pleasant company that it is not surprising that people
dispute for the honor of seeing you. Very well, next Sunday? Within a
week, as we say at the courts?"
"On Sunday we are to dine with M. Graff, the flute's father-in-law."
"Very well, on Saturday. Between now and then you will have time to
reassure a little girl who has shed tears already over her fault. God
asks no more than repentance; you will not be more severe than the
Eternal father with poor little Cecile?--"
Pons, thus reached on his weak side, again plunged into formulas more
than polite, and went as far as the stairhead with the President.
An hour later the President's servants arrived in a troop on poor
Pons' second floor. They behaved after the manner of their kind; they
cringed and fawned; they wept. Madeleine took M. Pons aside and flung
herself resolutely at his feet.
"It is all my fault; and monsieur knows quite well that I love him,"
here she burst into tears. "It was vengeance boiling in my veins;
monsieur ought to throw all the blame of the unhappy affair on that.
We are all to lose our pensions. . . . Monsieur, I was mad, and I
would not have the rest suffer for my fault. . . . I can see now well
enough that fate did not make me for monsieur. I have come to my
senses, I aimed too high, but I love you still, monsieur. These ten
years I have thought of nothing but the happiness of making you happy
and looking after things here. What a lot! . . . Oh! if monsieur but
knew how much I love him! But monsieur must have seen it through all
my mischief-making. If I were to die to-morrow, what would they find?
--A will in your favor, monsieur. . . . Yes, monsieur, in my trunk
under my best things."
Madeleine had set a responsive chord vibrating; the passion inspired
in another may be unwelcome, but it will always be gratifying to
self-love; this was the case with the old bachelor. After generously
pardoning Madeleine, he extended his forgiveness to the other
servants, promising to use his influence with his cousin the
Presidente on their behalf.
It was unspeakably pleasant to Pons to find all his old enjoyments
restored to him without any loss of self-respect. The world had come
to Pons, he had risen in the esteem of his circle; but Schmucke looked
so downcast and dubious when he heard the story of the triumph, that
Pons felt hurt. When, however, the kind-hearted German saw the sudden
change wrought in Pons' face, he ended by rejoicing with his friend,
and made a sacrifice of the happiness that he had known during those
four months that he had had Pons all to himself. Mental suffering has
this immense advantage over physical ills--when the cause is removed
it ceases at once. Pons was not like the same man that morning. The
old man, depressed and visibly failing, had given place to the
serenely contented Pons, who entered the Presidente's house that
October afternoon with the Marquise de Pompadour's fan in his pocket.
Schmucke, on the other hand, pondered deeply over this phenomenon, and
could not understand it; your true stoic never can understand the
courtier that dwells in a Frenchman. Pons was a born Frenchman of the
Empire; a mixture of eighteenth century gallantry and that devotion to
womankind so often celebrated in songs of the type of /Partant pour la
So Schmucke was fain to bury his chagrin beneath the flowers of his
German philosophy; but a week later he grew so yellow that Mme. Cibot
exerted her ingenuity to call in the parish doctor. The leech had
fears of icterus, and left Mme. Cibot frightened half out of her wits
by the Latin word for an attack of the jaundice.
Meantime the two friends went out to dinner together, perhaps for the
first time in their lives. For Schmucke it was a return to the
Fatherland; for Johann Graff of the Hotel du Rhin and his daughter
Emilie, Wolfgang Graff the tailor and his wife, Fritz Brunner and
Wilhelm Schwab, were Germans, and Pons and the notary were the only
Frenchmen present at the banquet. The Graffs of the tailor's business
owned a splendid house in the Rue de Richelieu, between the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Champs and the Rue Villedo; they had brought up their
niece, for Emilie's father, not without reason, had feared contact
with the very mixed society of an inn for his daughter. The good
tailor Graffs, who loved Emilie as if she had been their own daughter,
were giving up the ground floor of their great house to the young
couple, and here the bank of Brunner, Schwab and Company was to be
established. The arrangements for the marriage had been made about a
month ago; some time must elapse before Fritz Brunner, author of all
this felicity, could settle his deceased father's affairs, and the
famous firm of tailors had taken advantage of the delay to redecorate
the first floor and to furnish it very handsomely for the bride and
bridegroom. The offices of the bank had been fitted into the wing
which united a handsome business house with the hotel at the back,
between courtyard and garden.
On the way from the Rue de Normandie to the Rue de Richelieu, Pons
drew from the abstracted Schmucke the details of the story of the
modern prodigal son, for whom Death had killed the fatted innkeeper.
Pons, but newly reconciled with his nearest relatives, was immediately
smitten with a desire to make a match between Fritz Brunner and Cecile
de Marville. Chance ordained that the notary was none other than
Berthier, old Cardot's son-in-law and successor, the sometime second
clerk with whom Pons had been wont to dine.
"Ah! M. Berthier, you here!" he said, holding out a hand to his host
of former days.
"We have not had the pleasure of seeing you at dinner lately; how is
it?" returned the notary. "My wife has been anxious about you. We saw
you at the first performance of /The Devil's Betrothed/, and our
anxiety became curiosity?"
"Old folk are sensitive," replied the worthy musician; "they make the
mistake of being a century behind the times, but how can it be helped?
It is quite enough to represent one century--they cannot entirely
belong to the century which sees them die."
"Ah!" said the notary, with a shrewd look, "one cannot run two
centuries at once."
"By the by," continued Pons, drawing the young lawyer into a corner,
"why do you not find some one for my cousin Cecile de Marville--"
"Ah! why--?" answered Berthier. "In this century, when luxury has
filtered down to our very porters' lodges, a young fellow hesitates
before uniting his lot with the daughter of a President of the Court
of Appeal in Paris if she brings him only a hundred thousand francs.
In the rank of life in which Mlle. de Marville's husband would take,
the wife was never yet known that did not cost her husband three
thousand francs a year; the interest on a hundred thousand francs
would scarcely find her in pin-money. A bachelor with an income of
fifteen or twenty thousand francs can live on an entre-sol; he is not
expected to cut any figure; he need not keep more than one servant,
and all his surplus income he can spend on his amusements; he puts
himself in the hands of a good tailor, and need not trouble any
further about keeping up appearances. Far-sighted mothers make much of
him; he is one of the kings of fashion in Paris.
"But a wife changes everything. A wife means a properly furnished
house," continued the lawyer; "she wants the carriage for herself; if
she goes to the play, she wants a box, while the bachelor has only a
stall to pay for; in short, a wife represents the whole of the income
which the bachelor used to spend on himself. Suppose that husband and
wife have thirty thousand francs a year between them--practically, the
sometime bachelor is a poor devil who thinks twice before he drives
out to Chantilly. Bring children on the scene--he is pinched for money
"Now, as M. and Mme. de Marville are scarcely turned fifty, Cecile's
expectations are bills that will not fall due for fifteen or twenty
years to come; and no young fellow cares to keep them so long in his
portfolio. The young featherheads who are dancing the polka with
lorettes at the Jardin Mabille, are so cankered with self-interest,
that they don't stand in need of us to explain both sides of the
problem to them. Between ourselves, I may say that Mlle. de Marville
scarcely sets hearts throbbing so fast but that their owners can
perfectly keep their heads, and they are full of these
anti-matrimonial reflections. If any eligible young man, in full
possession of his senses and an income of twenty thousand francs,
happens to be sketching out a programme of marriage that will satisfy
his ambitions, Mlle. de Marville does not altogether answer the
"And why not?" asked the bewildered musician.
"Oh!--" said the notary, "well--a young man nowadays may be as ugly as
you and I, my dear Pons, but he is almost sure to have the
impertinence to want six hundred thousand francs, a girl of good
family, with wit and good looks and good breeding--flawless perfection
"Then it will not be easy to marry her?"
"She will not be married so long as M. and Mme. de Marville cannot
make up their minds to settle Marville on her when she marries; if
they had chosen, she might have been the Vicomtesse Popinot by now.
But here comes M. Brunner.--We are about to read the deed of
partnership and the marriage contract."
Greetings and introductions over, the relations made Pons promise to
sign the contract. He listened to the reading of the documents, and
towards half-past five the party went into the dining-room. The dinner
was magnificent, as a city merchant's dinner can be, when he allows
himself a respite from money-making. Graff of the Hotel du Rhin was
acquainted with the first provision dealers in Paris; never had Pons
nor Schmucke fared so sumptuously. The dishes were a rapture to think
of! Italian paste, delicate of flavor, unknown to the public; smelts
fried as never smelts were fried before; fish from Lake Leman, with a
real Genevese sauce, and a cream for plum-pudding which would have
astonished the London doctor who is said to have invented it. It was
nearly ten o'clock before they rose from table. The amount of wine,
German and French, consumed at that dinner would amaze the
contemporary dandy; nobody knows the amount of liquor that a German
can imbibe and yet keep calm and quiet; to have even an idea of the
quantity, you must dine in Germany and watch bottle succeed to bottle,
like wave rippling after wave along the sunny shores of the
Mediterranean, and disappear as if the Teuton possessed the absorbing
power of sponges or sea sand. Perfect harmony prevails meanwhile;
there is none of the racket that there would be over the liquor in
France; the talk is as sober as a money-lender's extempore speech;
countenances flush, like the faces of the brides in frescoes by
Cornelius or Schnorr (imperceptibly, that is to say), and
reminiscences are poured out slowly while the smoke puffs from the
About half-past ten that evening Pons and Schmucke found themselves
sitting on a bench out in the garden, with the ex-flute between them;
they were explaining their characters, opinions, and misfortunes, with
no very clear idea as to why or how they had come to this point. In
the thick of a potpourri of confidences, Wilhelm spoke of his strong
desire to see Fritz married, expressing himself with vehement and
"What do you say to this programme for your friend Brunner?" cried
Pons in confidential tones. "A charming and sensible young lady of
twenty-four, belonging to a family of the highest distinction. The
father holds a very high position as a judge; there will be a hundred
thousand francs paid down and a million to come."
"Wait!" answered Schwab; "I will speak to Fritz this instant."
The pair watched Brunner and his friend as they walked round and round
the garden; again and again they passed the bench, sometimes one
spoke, sometimes the other.
Pons was not exactly intoxicated; his head was a little heavy, but his
thoughts, on the contrary, seemed all the lighter; he watched Fritz
Brunner's face through the rainbow mist of fumes of wine, and tried to
read auguries favorable to his family. Before very long Schwab
introduced his friend and partner to M. Pons; Fritz Brunner expressed
his thanks for the trouble which Pons had been so good as to take.
In the conversation which followed, the two old bachelors Schmucke and
Pons extolled the estate of matrimony, going so far as to say, without
any malicious intent, "that marriage was the end of man." Tea and
ices, punches and cakes, were served in the future home of the
betrothed couple. The wine had begun to tell upon the honest
merchants, and the general hilarity reached its height when it was
announced that Schwab's partner thought of following his example.
At two o'clock that morning, Schmucke and Pons walked home along the
boulevards, philosophizing /a perte de raison/ as they went on the
harmony pervading the arrangements of this our world below.
On the morrow of the banquet, Cousin Pons betook himself to his fair
cousin the Presidente, overjoyed--poor dear noble soul!--to return
good for evil. Surely he had attained to a sublime height, as every
one will allow, for we live in an age when the Montyon prize is given
to those who do their duty by carrying out the precepts of the Gospel.
"Ah!" said Pons to himself, as he turned the corner of the Rue de
Choiseul, "they will lie under immense obligations to their parasite."
Any man less absorbed in his contentment, any man of the world, any
distrustful nature would have watched the President's wife and
daughter very narrowly on this first return to the house. But the poor
musician was a child, he had all the simplicity of an artist,
believing in goodness as he believed in beauty; so he was delighted
when Cecile and her mother made much of him. After all the
vaudevilles, tragedies, and comedies which had been played under the
worthy man's eyes for twelve long years, he could not detect the
insincerity and grimaces of social comedy, no doubt because he had
seen too much of it. Any one who goes into society in Paris, and knows
the type of woman, dried up, body and soul, by a burning thirst for
social position, and a fierce desire to be thought virtuous, any one
familiar with the sham piety and the domineering character of a woman
whose word is law in her own house, may imagine the lurking hatred she
bore this husband's cousin whom she had wronged.
All the demonstrative friendliness of mother and daughter was lined
with a formidable longing for revenge, evidently postponed. For the
first time in Amelie de Marville's life she had been put in the wrong,
and that in the sight of the husband over whom she tyrannized; and not
only so--she was obliged to be amiable to the author of her defeat!
You can scarcely find a match for this position save in the
hypocritical dramas which are sometimes kept up for years in the
sacred college of cardinals, or in chapters of certain religious
At three o'clock, when the President came back from the law-courts,
Pons had scarcely made an end of the marvelous history of his
acquaintance, M. Frederic Brunner. Cecile had gone straight to the
point. She wanted to know how Frederic Brunner was dressed, how he
looked, his height and figure, the color of his hair and eyes; and
when she had conjectured a distinguished air for Frederic, she admired
his generosity of character.
"Think of his giving five hundred thousand francs to his companion in
misfortune! Oh! mamma, I shall have a carriage and a box at the
Italiens----" Cecile grew almost pretty as she thought that all her
mother's ambitions for her were about to be realized, that the hopes
which had almost left her were to come to something after all.
As for the Presidente, all that she said was, "My dear little girl,
you may perhaps be married within the fortnight."
All mothers with daughters of three-and-twenty address them as "little
"Still," added the President, "in any case, we must have time to make
inquiries; never will I give my daughter to just anybody--"
"As to inquiries," said Pons, "Berthier is drawing up the deeds. As to
the young man himself, my dear cousin, you remember what you told me?
Well, he is quite forty years old; he is bald. He wishes to find in
family life a haven after a storm; I did not dissuade him; every man
has his tastes--"
"One reason the more for a personal interview," returned the
President. "I am not going to give my daughter to a valetudinarian."
"Very good, cousin, you shall see my suitor in five days if you like;
for, with your views, a single interview would be enough"--(Cecile and
her mother signified their rapture)--"Frederic is decidedly a
distinguished amateur; he begged me to allow him to see my little
collection at his leisure. You have never seen my pictures and
curiosities; come and see them," he continued, looking at his
relatives. "You can come simply as two ladies, brought by my friend
Schmucke, and make M. Brunner's acquaintance without betraying
yourselves. Frederic need not in the least know who you are."
"Admirable!" cried the President.
The attention they paid to the once scorned parasite may be left to
the imagination! Poor Pons that day became the Presidente's cousin.
The happy mother drowned her dislike in floods of joy; her looks, her
smiles, her words sent the old man into ecstasies over the good that
he had done, over the future that he saw by glimpses. Was he not sure
to find dinners such as yesterday's banquet over the signing of the
contract, multiplied indefinitely by three, in the houses of Brunner,
Schwab, and Graff? He saw before him a land of plenty--a /vie de
cocagne/, a miraculous succession of /plats couverts/, of delicate
surprise dishes, of exquisite wines.
"If Cousin Pons brings this through," said the President, addressing
his wife after Pons had departed, "we ought to settle an income upon
him equal to his salary at the theatre."
"Certainly," said the lady; and Cecile was informed that if the
proposed suitor found favor in her eyes, she must undertake to induce
the old musician to accept a munificence in such bad taste.
Next day the President went to Berthier. He was anxious to make sure
of M. Frederic Brunner's financial position. Berthier, forewarned by
Mme. de Marville, had asked his new client Schwab to come. Schwab the
banker was dazzled by the prospect of such a match for his friend
(everybody knows how deeply a German venerates social distinctions, so
much so, that in Germany a wife takes her husband's (official) title,
and is the Frau General, the Frau Rath, and so forth)--Schwab
therefore was as accommodating as a collector who imagines that he is
cheating a dealer.
"In the first place," said Cecile's father, "as I shall make over my
estate of Marville to my daughter, I should wish the contract to be
drawn up on the dotal system. In that case, M. Brunner would invest a
million francs in land to increase the estate, and by settling the
land on his wife he would secure her and his children from any share
in the liabilities of the bank."
Berthier stroked his chin. "He is coming on well, is M. le President,"
When the dotal system had been explained to Schwab, he seemed much
inclined that way for his friend. He had heard Fritz say that he
wished to find some way of insuring himself against another lapse into
"There is a farm and pasture land worth twelve hundred thousand francs
in the market at this moment," remarked the President.
"If we take up shares in the Bank of France to the amount of a million
francs, that will be quite enough to guarantee our account," said
Schwab. "Fritz does not want to invest more than two million francs in
business; he will do as you wish, I am sure, M. le President."
The President's wife and daughter were almost wild with joy when he
brought home this news. Never, surely, did so rich a capture swim so
complacently into the nets of matrimony.
"You will be Mme. Brunner de Marville," said the parent, addressing
his child; "I will obtain permission for your husband to add the name
to his, and afterwards he can take out letters of naturalization. If I
should be a peer of France some day, he will succeed me!"
The five days were spent by Mme. de Marville in preparations. On the
great day she dressed Cecile herself, taking as much pains as the
admiral of the British fleet takes over the dressing of the pleasure
yacht for Her Majesty of England when she takes a trip to Germany.
Pons and Schmucke, on their side, cleaned, swept, and dusted Pons'
museum rooms and furniture with the agility of sailors cleaning down a
man-of-war. There was not a speck of dust on the carved wood; not an
inch of brass but it glistened. The glasses over the pastels obscured
nothing of the work of Latour, Greuze, and Liotard (illustrious
painter of /The Chocolate Girl/), miracles of an art, alas! so
fugitive. The inimitable lustre of Florentine bronze took all the
varying hues of the light; the painted glass glowed with color. Every
line shone out brilliantly, every object threw in its phrase in a
harmony of masterpieces arranged by two musicians--both of whom alike
had attained to be poets.
With a tact which avoided the difficulties of a late appearance on the
scene of action, the women were the first to arrive; they wished to be
on their own ground. Pons introduced his friend Schmucke, who seemed
to his fair visitors to be an idiot; their heads were so full of the
eligible gentleman with the four millions of francs, that they paid
but little attention to the worthy Pons' dissertations upon matters of
which they were completely ignorant.
They looked with indifferent eyes at Petitot's enamels, spaced over
crimson velvet, set in three frames of marvelous workmanship. Flowers
by Van Huysum, David, and Heim; butterflies painted by Abraham Mignon;
Van Eycks, undoubted Cranachs and Albrecht Durers; the Giorgione, the
Sebastian del Piombo; Backhuijzen, Hobbema, Gericault, the rarities of
painting--none of these things so much as aroused their curiosity;
they were waiting for the sun to arise and shine upon these treasures.
Still, they were surprised by the beauty of some of the Etruscan
trinkets and the solid value of the snuff-boxes, and out of politeness
they went into ecstasies over some Florentine bronzes which they held
in their hands when Mme. Cibot announced M. Brunner! They did not
turn; they took advantage of a superb Venetian mirror framed in huge
masses of carved ebony to scan this phoenix of eligible young men.
Frederic, forewarned by Wilhelm, had made the most of the little hair
that remained to him. He wore a neat pair of trousers, a soft shade of
some dark color, a silk waistcoat of superlative elegance and the very
newest cut, a shirt with open-work, its linen hand-woven by a
Friesland woman, and a blue-and-white cravat. His watch chain, like
the head of his cane, came from Messrs. Florent and Chanor; and the
coat, cut by old Graff himself, was of the very finest cloth. The
Suede gloves proclaimed the man who had run through his mother's
fortune. You could have seen the banker's neat little brougham and
pair of horses mirrored in the surface of his speckless varnished
boots, even if two pairs of sharp ears had not already caught the
sound of wheels outside in the Rue de Normandie.
When the prodigal of twenty years is a kind of chrysalis from which a
banker emerges at the age of forty, the said banker is usually an
observer of human nature; and so much the more shrewd if, as in
Brunner's case, he understands how to turn his German simplicity to
good account. He had assumed for the occasion the abstracted air of a
man who is hesitating between family life and the dissipations of
bachelorhood. This expression in a Frenchified German seemed to Cecile
to be in the highest degree romantic; the descendant of the Virlaz was
a second Werther in her eyes--where is the girl who will not allow
herself to weave a little novel about her marriage? Cecile thought
herself the happiest of women when Brunner, looking round at the
magnificent works of art so patiently collected during forty years,
waxed enthusiastic, and Pons, to his no small satisfaction, found an
appreciative admirer of his treasures for the first time in his life.
"He is poetical," the young lady said to herself; "he sees millions in
the things. A poet is a man that cannot count and leaves his wife to
look after his money--an easy man to manage and amuse with trifles."
Every pane in the two windows was a square of Swiss painted glass; the
least of them was worth a thousand francs; and Pons possessed sixteen
of these unrivaled works of art for which amateurs seek so eagerly
nowadays. In 1815 the panes could be bought for six or ten francs
apiece. The value of the glorious collection of pictures, flawless
great works, authentic, untouched since they left the master's hands,
could only be proved in the fiery furnace of a saleroom. Not a picture
but was set in a costly frame; there were frames of every kind
--Venetians, carved with heavy ornaments, like English plate of the
present day; Romans, distinguishable among the others for a certain
dash that artists call /flafla/; Spanish wreaths in bold relief;
Flemings and Germans with quaint figures, tortoise-shell frames inlaid
with copper and brass and mother-of-pearl and ivory; frames of ebony
and boxwood in the styles of Louis Treize, Louis Quatorze, Louis
Quinze, and Louis Seize--in short, it was a unique collection of the
finest models. Pons, luckier than the art museums of Dresden and
Vienna, possessed a frame by the famous Brustoloni--the Michael Angelo
Mlle. de Marville naturally asked for explanations of each new
curiosity, and was initiated into the mysteries of art by Brunner. Her
exclamations were so childish, she seemed so pleased to have the value
and beauty of the paintings, carvings, or bronzes pointed out to her,
that the German gradually thawed and looked quite young again, and
both were led on further than they intended at this (purely
accidental) first meeting.
The private view lasted for three hours. Brunner offered his arm when
Cecile went downstairs. As they descended slowly and discreetly,
Cecile, still talking fine art, wondered that M. Brunner should admire
her cousin's gimcracks so much.
"Do you really think that these things that we have just seen are
worth a great deal of money?"
"Mademoiselle, if your cousin would sell his collection, I would give
eight hundred thousand francs for it this evening, and I should not
make a bad bargain. The pictures alone would fetch more than that at a
"Since you say so, I believe it," returned she; "the things took up so
much of your attention that it must be so."
"On! mademoiselle!" protested Brunner. "For all answer to your
reproach, I will ask your mother's permission to call, so that I may
have the pleasure of seeing you again."
"How clever she is, that 'little girl' of mine!" thought the
Presidente, following closely upon her daughter's heels. Aloud she
said, "With the greatest pleasure, monsieur. I hope that you will come
at dinner-time with our Cousin Pons. The President will be delighted
to make your acquaintance.--Thank you, cousin."
The lady squeezed Pons' arm with deep meaning; she could not have said
more if she had used the consecrated formula, "Let us swear an eternal
friendship." The glance which accompanied that "Thank you, cousin,"
was a caress.
When the young lady had been put into the carriage, and the jobbed
brougham had disappeared down the Rue Charlot, Brunner talked
bric-a-brac to Pons, and Pons talked marriage.
"Then you see no obstacle?" said Pons.
"Oh!" said Brunner, "she is an insignificant little thing, and the
mother is a trifle prim.--We shall see."
"A handsome fortune one of these days. . . . More than a million--"
"Good-bye till Monday!" interrupted the millionaire. "If you should
care to sell your collection of pictures, I would give you five or six
hundred thousand francs--"
"Ah!" said Pons; he had no idea that he was so rich. "But they are my
great pleasure in life, and I could not bring myself to part with
them. I could only sell my collection to be delivered after my death."
"Very well. We shall see."
"Here we have two affairs afoot!" said Pons; he was thinking only of
Brunner shook hands and drove away in his splendid carriage. Pons
watched it out of sight. He did not notice that Remonencq was smoking
his pipe in the doorway.
That evening Mme. de Marville went to ask advice of her father-in-law,
and found the whole Popinot family at the Camusots' house. It was only
natural that a mother who had failed to capture an eldest son should
be tempted to take her little revenge; so Mme. de Marville threw out
hints of the splendid marriage that her Cecile was about to make.
--"Whom can Cecile be going to marry?" was the question upon all lips.
And Cecile's mother, without suspecting that she was betraying her
secret, let fall words and whispered confidences, afterwards
supplemented by Mme. Berthier, till gossip circulating in the
bourgeois empyrean where Pons accomplished his gastronomical
evolutions took something like the following form:
"Cecile de Marville is engaged to be married to a young German, a
banker from philanthropic motives, for he has four millions; he is
like a hero in a novel, a perfect Werther, charming and kind-hearted.
He has sown his wild oats, and he is distractedly in love with Cecile;
it is a case of love at first sight; and so much the more certain,
since Cecile had all Pons' paintings of Madonnas for rivals," and so
forth and so forth.
Two or three of the set came to call on the Presidente, ostensibly to
congratulate, but really to find out whether or not the marvelous tale
were true. For their benefit Mme. de Marville executed the following
admirable variations on the theme of son-in-law which mothers may
consult, as people used to refer to the /Complete Letter Writer/.
"A marriage is not an accomplished fact," she told Mme. Chiffreville,
"until you have been in the mayor's office and the church. We have
only come as far as a personal interview; so I count upon your
friendship to say nothing of our hopes."
"You are very fortunate, madame; marriages are so difficult to arrange
in these days."
"What can one do? It was chance; but marriages are often made in that
"Ah! well. So you are going to marry Cecile?" said Mme. Cardot.
"Yes," said Cecile's mother, fully understanding the meaning of the
"so." "We were very particular, or Cecile would have been established
before this. But now we have found everything we wish: money, good
temper, good character, and good looks; and my sweet little girl
certainly deserves nothing less. M. Brunner is a charming young man,
most distinguished; he is fond of luxury, he knows life; he is wild
about Cecile, he loves her sincerely; and in spite of his three or
four millions, Cecile is going to accept him.--We had not looked so
high for her; still, store is no sore."
"It was not so much the fortune as the affection inspired by my
daughter which decided us," the Presidente told Mme. Lebas. "M.
Brunner is in such a hurry that he wants the marriage to take place
with the least possible delay."
"Is he a foreigner?"
"Yes, madame; but I am very fortunate, I confess. No, I shall not have
a son-in-law, but a son. M. Brunner's delicacy has quite won our
hearts. No one would imagine how anxious he was to marry under the
dotal system. It is a great security for families. He is going to
invest twelve hundred thousand francs in grazing land, which will be
added to Marville some day."
More variations followed on the morrow. For instance--M. Brunner was a
great lord, doing everything in lordly fashion; he did not haggle. If
M. de Marville could obtain letters of naturalization, qualifying M.
Brunner for an office under Government (and the Home Secretary surely
could strain a point for M. de Marville), his son-in-law would be a
peer of France. Nobody knew how much money M. Brunner possessed; "he
had the finest horses and the smartest carriages in Paris!" and so on
and so on.
From the pleasure with which the Camusots published their hopes, it
was pretty clear that this triumph was unexpected.
Immediately after the interview in Pons' museum, M. de Marville, at
his wife's instance, begged the Home Secretary, his chief, and the
attorney for the crown to dine with him on the occasion of the
introduction of this phoenix of a son-in-law.
The three great personages accepted the invitation, albeit it was
given on short notice; they all saw the part that they were to play in
the family politics, and readily came to the father's support. In
France we are usually pretty ready to assist the mother of
marriageable daughters to hook an eligible son-in-law. The Count and
Countess Popinot likewise lent their presence to complete the splendor
of the occasion, although they thought the invitation in questionable
There were eleven in all. Cecile's grandfather, old Camusot, came, of
course, with his wife to a family reunion purposely arranged to elicit
a proposal from M. Brunner.
The Camusot de Marvilles had given out that the guest of the evening
was one of the richest capitalists in Germany, a man of taste (he was
in love with "the little girl"), a future rival of the Nucingens,
Kellers, du Tillets, and their like.
"It is our day," said the Presidente with elaborate simplicity, when
she had named her guests one by one for the German whom she already
regarded as her son-in-law. "We have only a few intimate friends
--first, my husband's father, who, as you know, is sure to be raised
to the peerage; M. le Comte and Mme. la Comtesse Popinot, whose son
was not thought rich enough for Cecile; the Home Secretary; our First
President; our attorney for the crown; our personal friends, in short.
--We shall be obliged to dine rather late to-night, because the
Chamber is sitting, and people cannot get away before six."
Brunner looked significantly at Pons, and Pons rubbed his hands as if
to say, "Our friends, you see! /My/ friends!"
Mme. de Marville, as a clever tactician, had something very particular
to say to her cousin, that Cecile and her Werther might be left
together for a moment. Cecile chattered away volubly, and contrived
that Frederic should catch sight of a German dictionary, a German
grammar, and a volume of Goethe hidden away in a place where he was
likely to find them.
"Ah! are you learning German?" asked Brunner, flushing red.
(For laying traps of this kind the Frenchwoman has not her match!)
"Oh! how naughty you are!" she cried; "it is too bad of you, monsieur,
to explore my hiding-places like this. I want to read Goethe in the
original," she added; "I have been learning German for two years."
"Then the grammar must be very difficult to learn, for scarcely ten
pages have been cut--" Brunner remarked with much candor.
Cecile, abashed, turned away to hide her blushes. A German cannot
resist a display of this kind; Brunner caught Cecile's hand, made her
turn, and watched her confusion under his gaze, after the manner of
the heroes of the novels of Auguste Lafontaine of chaste memory.
"You are adorable," said he.
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