Honore de Balzac
Part 12 out of 16
Cecile's petulant gesture replied, "So are you--who could help liking
"It is all right, mamma," she whispered to her parent, who came up at
that moment with Pons.
The sight of a family party on these occasions is not to be described.
Everybody was well satisfied to see a mother put her hand on an
eligible son-in-law. Compliments, double-barreled and double-charged,
were paid to Brunner (who pretended to understand nothing); to Cecile,
on whom nothing was lost; and to the Presidente, who fished for them.
Pons heard the blood singing in his ears, the light of all the blazing
gas-jets of the theatre footlights seemed to be dazzling his eyes,
when Cecile, in a low voice and with the most ingenious
circumspection, spoke of her father's plan of the annuity of twelve
hundred francs. The old artist positively declined the offer, bringing
forward the value of his fortune in furniture, only now made known to
him by Brunner.
The Home Secretary, the First President, the attorney for the crown,
the Popinots, and those who had other engagements, all went; and
before long no one was left except M. Camusot senior, and Cardot the
old notary, and his assistant and son-in-law Berthier. Pons, worthy
soul, looking round and seeing no one but the family, blundered out a
speech of thanks to the President and his wife for the proposal which
Cecile had just made to him. So it is with those who are guided by
their feelings; they act upon impulse. Brunner, hearing of an annuity
offered in this way, thought that it had very much the look of a
commission paid to Pons; he made an Israelite's return upon himself,
his attitude told of more than cool calculation.
Meanwhile Pons was saying to his astonished relations, "My collection
or its value will, in any case, go to your family, whether I come to
terms with our friend Brunner or keep it." The Camusots were amazed to
hear that Pons was so rich.
Brunner, watching, saw how all these ignorant people looked favorably
upon a man once believed to be poor so soon as they knew that he had
great possessions. He had seen, too, already that Cecile was spoiled
by her father and mother; he amused himself, therefore, by astonishing
the good bourgeois.
"I was telling mademoiselle," said he, "that M. Pons' pictures were
worth that sum to /me/; but the prices of works of art have risen so
much of late, that no one can tell how much the collection might sell
for at public auction. The sixty pictures might fetch a million
francs; several that I saw the other day were worth fifty thousand
"It is a fine thing to be your heir!" remarked old Cardot, looking at
"My heir is my Cousin Cecile here," answered Pons, insisting on the
relationship. There was a flutter of admiration at this.
"She will be a very rich heiress," laughed old Cardot, as he took his
Camusot senior, the President and his wife, Cecile, Brunner, Berthier,
and Pons were now left together; for it was assumed that the formal
demand for Cecile's hand was about to be made. No sooner was Cardot
gone, indeed, than Brunner began with an inquiry which augured well.
"I think I understood," he said, turning to Mme. de Marville, "that
mademoiselle is your only daughter."
"Certainly," the lady said proudly.
"Nobody will make any difficulties," Pons, good soul, put in by way of
encouraging Brunner to bring out his proposal.
But Brunner grew thoughtful, and an ominous silence brought on a
coolness of the strangest kind. The Presidente might have admitted
that her "little girl" was subject to epileptic fits. The President,
thinking that Cecile ought not to be present, signed to her to go. She
went. Still Brunner said nothing. They all began to look at one
another. The situation was growing awkward.
Camusot senior, a man of experience, took the German to Mme. de
Marville's room, ostensibly to show him Pons' fan. He saw that some
difficulty had arisen, and signed to the rest to leave him alone with
"Here is the masterpiece," said Camusot, opening out the fan.
Brunner took it in his hand and looked at it. "It is worth five
thousand francs," he said after a moment.
"Did you not come here, sir, to ask for my granddaughter?" inquired
the future peer of France.
"Yes, sir," said Brunner; "and I beg you to believe that no possible
marriage could be more flattering to my vanity. I shall never find any
one more charming nor more amiable, nor a young lady who answers to my
ideas like Mlle. Cecile; but--"
"Oh, no /buts/!" old Camusot broke in; "or let us have the translation
of your 'buts' at once, my dear sir."
"I am very glad, sir, that the matter has gone no further on either
side," Brunner answered gravely. "I had no idea that Mlle. Cecile was
an only daughter. Anybody else would consider this an advantage; but
to me, believe me, it is an insurmountable obstacle to--"
"What, sir!" cried Camusot, amazed beyond measure. "Do you find a
positive drawback in an immense advantage? Your conduct is really
extraordinary; I should very much like to hear the explanation of it."
"I came here this evening, sir," returned the German phlegmatically,
"intending to ask M. le President for his daughter's hand. It was my
desire to give Mlle. Cecile a brilliant future by offering her so much
of my fortune as she would consent to accept. But an only daughter is
a child whose will is law to indulgent parents, who has never been
contradicted. I have had the opportunity of observing this in many
families, where parents worship divinities of this kind. And your
granddaughter is not only the idol of the house, but Mme. la
Presidente . . . you know what I mean. I have seen my father's house
turned into a hell, sir, from this very cause. My stepmother, the
source of all my misfortunes, an only daughter, idolized by her
parents, the most charming betrothed imaginable, after marriage became
a fiend incarnate. I do not doubt that Mlle. Cecile is an exception to
the rule; but I am not a young man, I am forty years old, and the
difference between our ages entails difficulties which would put it
out of my power to make the young lady happy, when Mme. la Presidente
always carried out her daughter's every wish and listened to her as if
Mademoiselle was an oracle. What right have I to expect Mlle. Cecile
to change her habits and ideas? Instead of a father and mother who
indulge her every whim, she would find an egotistic man of forty; if
she should resist, the man of forty would have the worst of it. So, as
an honest man--I withdraw. If there should be any need to explain my
visit here, I desire to be entirely sacrificed--"
"If these are your motives, sir," said the future peer of France,
"however singular they may be, they are plausible--"
"Do not call my sincerity in question, sir," Brunner interrupted
quickly. "If you know of a penniless girl, one of a large family, well
brought up but without fortune, as happens very often in France; and
if her character offers me security, I will marry her."
A pause followed; Frederic Brunner left Cecile's grandfather and
politely took leave of his host and hostess. When he was gone, Cecile
appeared, a living commentary upon her Werther's leave-taking; she was
ghastly pale. She had hidden in her mother's wardrobe and overheard
the whole conversation.
"Refused! . . ." she said in a low voice for her mother's ear.
"And why?" asked the Presidente, fixing her eyes upon her embarrassed
"Upon the fine pretext that an only daughter is a spoilt child,"
replied that gentleman. "And he is not altogether wrong there," he
added, seizing an opportunity of putting the blame on the
daughter-in-law, who had worried him not a little for twenty years.
"It will kill my child!" cried the Presidente, "and it is your doing!"
she exclaimed, addressing Pons, as she supported her fainting
daughter, for Cecile thought well to make good her mother's words by
sinking into her arms. The President and his wife carried Cecile to an
easy-chair, where she swooned outright. The grandfather rang for the
"It is a plot of his weaving; I see it all now," said the infuriated
Pons sprang up as if the trump of doom were sounding in his ears.
"Yes!" said the lady, her eyes like two springs of green bile, "this
gentleman wished to repay a harmless joke by an insult. Who will
believe that that German was right in his mind? He is either an
accomplice in a wicked scheme of revenge, or he is crazy. I hope, M.
Pons, that in future you will spare us the annoyance of seeing you in
the house where you have tried to bring shame and dishonor."
Pons stood like a statue, with his eyes fixed on the pattern of the
"Well! Are you still here, monster of ingratitude?" cried she, turning
round on Pons, who was twirling his thumbs.--"Your master and I are
never at home, remember, if this gentleman calls," she continued,
turning to the servants.--"Jean, go for the doctor; and bring
In the Presidente's eyes, the reason given by Brunner was simply an
excuse, there was something else behind; but, at the same time, the
fact that the marriage was broken off was only the more certain. A
woman's mind works swiftly in great crises, and Mme. de Marville had
hit at once upon the one method of repairing the check. She chose to
look upon it as a scheme of revenge. This notion of ascribing a
fiendish scheme to Pons satisfied family honor. Faithful to her
dislike of the cousin, she treated a feminine suspicion as a fact.
Women, generally speaking, hold a creed peculiar to themselves, a code
of their own; to them anything which serves their interests or their
passions is true. The Presidente went a good deal further. In the
course of the evening she talked the President into her belief, and
next morning found the magistrate convinced of his cousin's
Every one, no doubt, will condemn the lady's horrible conduct; but
what mother in Mme. Camusot's position will not do the same? Put the
choice between her own daughter and an alien, she will prefer to
sacrifice the honor of the latter. There are many ways of doing this,
but the end in view is the same.
The old musician fled down the staircase in haste; but he went slowly
along the boulevards to his theatre, he turned in mechanically at the
door, and mechanically he took his place and conducted the orchestra.
In the interval he gave such random answers to Schmucke's questions,
that his old friend dissembled his fear that Pons' mind had given way.
To so childlike a nature, the recent scene took the proportions of a
catastrophe. He had meant to make every one happy, and he had aroused
a terrible slumbering feeling of hate; everything had been turned
topsy-turvy. He had at last seen mortal hate in the Presidente's eyes,
tones, and gesture.
On the morrow, Mme. Camusot de Marville made a great resolution; the
President likewise sanctioned the step now forced upon them by
circumstances. It was determined that the estate of Marville should be
settled upon Cecile at the time of her marriage, as well as the house
in the Rue de Hanovre and a hundred thousand francs. In the course of
the morning, the Presidente went to call upon the Comtesse Popinot;
for she saw plainly that nothing but a settled marriage could enable
them to recover after such a check. To the Comtesse Popinot she told
the shocking story of Pons' revenge, Pons' hideous hoax. It all seemed
probable enough when it came out that the marriage had been broken off
simply on the pretext that Cecile was an only daughter. The Presidente
next dwelt artfully upon the advantage of adding "de Marville" to the
name of Popinot; and the immense dowry. At the present price fetched
by land in Normandy, at two per cent, the property represented nine
hundred thousand francs, and the house in the Rue de Hanovre about two
hundred and fifty thousand. No reasonable family could refuse such an
alliance. The Comte and Comtesse Popinot accepted; and as they were
now touched by the honor of the family which they were about to enter,
they promised to help explain away yesterday evening's mishap.
And now in the house of the elder Camusot, before the very persons who
had heard Mme. de Marville singing Frederic Brunner's praises but a
few days ago, that lady, to whom nobody ventured to speak on the
topic, plunged courageously into explanations.
"Really, nowadays" (she said), "one could not be too careful if a
marriage was in question, especially if one had to do with
"And why, madame?"
"What has happened to you?" asked Mme. Chiffreville.
"Do you not know about our adventure with that Brunner, who had the
audacity to aspire to marry Cecile? His father was a German that kept
a wine-shop, and his uncle is a dealer in rabbit-skins!"
"Is it possible? So clear-sighted as you are! . . ." murmured a lady.
"These adventurers are so cunning. But we found out everything through
Berthier. His friend is a beggar that plays the flute. He is friendly
with a person who lets furnished lodgings in the Rue du Mail and some
tailor or other. . . . We found out that he had led a most
disreputable life, and no amount of fortune would be enough for a
scamp that has run through his mother's property."
"Why, Mlle. de Marville would have been wretched!" said Mme. Berthier.
"How did he come to your house?" asked old Mme. Lebas.
"It was M. Pons. Out of revenge, he introduced this fine gentleman to
us, to make us ridiculous. . . . This Brunner (it is the same name as
Fontaine in French)--this Brunner, that was made out to be such a
grandee, has poor enough health, he is bald, and his teeth are bad.
The first sight of him was enough for me; I distrusted him from the
"But how about the great fortune that you spoke of?" a young married
woman asked shyly.
"The fortune was not nearly so large as they said. These tailors and
the landlord and he all scraped the money together among them, and put
all their savings into this bank that they are starting. What is a
bank for those that begin in these days? Simply a license to ruin
themselves. A banker's wife may lie down at night a millionaire and
wake up in the morning with nothing but her settlement. At first word,
at the very first sight of him, we made up our minds about this
gentleman--he is not one of us. You can tell by his gloves, by his
waistcoat, that he is a working man, the son of a man that kept a
pot-house somewhere in Germany; he has not the instincts of a
gentleman; he drinks beer, and he smokes--smokes? ah! madame,
/twenty-five pipes a day!/ . . . What would have become of poor Lili?
. . . It makes me shudder even now to think of it. God has indeed
preserved us! And besides, Cecile never liked him. . . . Who would
have expected such a trick from a relative, an old friend of the house
that had dined with us twice a week for twenty years? We have loaded
him with benefits, and he played his game so well, that he said Cecile
was his heir before the Keeper of the Seals and the Attorney General
and the Home Secretary! . . . That Brunner and M. Pons had their story
ready, and each of them said that the other was worth millions! . . .
No, I do assure you, all of you would have been taken in by an
artist's hoax like that."
In a few weeks' time, the united forces of the Camusot and Popinot
families gained an easy victory in the world, for nobody undertook to
defend the unfortunate Pons, that parasite, that curmudgeon, that
skinflint, that smooth-faced humbug, on whom everybody heaped scorn;
he was a viper cherished in the bosom of the family, he had not his
match for spite, he was a dangerous mountebank whom nobody ought to
About a month after the perfidious Werther's withdrawal, poor Pons
left his bed for the first time after an attack of nervous fever, and
walked along the sunny side of the street leaning on Schmucke's arm.
Nobody in the Boulevard du Temple laughed at the "pair of
nutcrackers," for one of the old men looked so shattered, and the
other so touchingly careful of his invalid friend. By the time that
they reached the Boulevard Poissonniere, a little color came back to
Pons' face; he was breathing the air of the boulevards, he felt the
vitalizing power of the atmosphere of the crowded street, the
life-giving property of the air that is noticeable in quarters where
human life abounds; in the filthy Roman Ghetto, for instance, with
its swarming Jewish population, where malaria is unknown. Perhaps,
too, the sight of the streets, the great spectacle of Paris, the daily
pleasure of his life, did the invalid good. They walked on side by
side, though Pons now and again left his friend to look at the shop
windows. Opposite the Theatre des Varietes he saw Count Popinot, and
went up to him very respectfully, for of all men Pons esteemed and
venerated the ex-Minister.
The peer of France answered him severely:
"I am at a loss to understand, sir, how you can have no more tact than
to speak to a near connection of a family whom you tried to brand with
shame and ridicule by a trick which no one but an artist could devise.
Understand this, sir, that from to-day we must be complete strangers
to each other. Mme. la Comtesse Popinot, like every one else, feels
indignant at your behavior to the Marvilles."
And Count Popinot passed on, leaving Pons thunderstruck. Passion,
justice, policy, and great social forces never take into account the
condition of the human creature whom they strike down. The statesman,
driven by family considerations to crush Pons, did not so much as see
the physical weakness of his redoubtable enemy.
"Vat is it, mine boor friend?" exclaimed Schmucke, seeing how white
Pons had grown.
"It is a fresh stab in the heart," Pons replied, leaning heavily on
Schmucke's arm. "I think that no one, save God in heaven, can have any
right to do good, and that is why all those who meddle in His work are
so cruelly punished."
The old artist's sarcasm was uttered with a supreme effort; he was
trying, excellent creature, to quiet the dismay visible in Schmucke's
"So I dink," Schmucke replied simply.
Pons could not understand it. Neither the Camusots nor the Popinots
had sent him notice of Cecile's wedding.
On the Boulevard des Italiens Pons saw M. Cardot coming towards them.
Warned by Count Popinot's allocution, Pons was very careful not to
accost the old acquaintance with whom he had dined once a fortnight
for the last year; he lifted his hat, but the other, mayor and deputy
of Paris, threw him an indignant glance and went by. Pons turned to
"Do go and ask him what it is that they all have against me," he said
to the friend who knew all the details of the catastrophe that Pons
could tell him.
"Mennseir," Schmucke began diplomatically, "mine friend Bons is chust
recofering from an illness; you haf no doubt fail to rekognize him?"
"Not in the least."
"But mit vat kann you rebroach him?"
"You have a monster of ingratitude for a friend, sir; if he is still
alive, it is because nothing kills ill weeds. People do well to
mistrust artists; they are as mischievous and spiteful as monkeys.
This friend of yours tried to dishonor his own family, and to blight a
young girl's character, in revenge for a harmless joke. I wish to have
nothing to do with him; I shall do my best to forget that I have known
him, or that such a man exists. All the members of his family and my
own share the wish, sir, so do all the persons who once did the said
Pons the honor of receiving him."
"Boot, mennseir, you are a reasonaple mann; gif you vill bermit me, I
shall exblain die affair--"
"You are quite at liberty to remain his friend, sir, if you are minded
that way," returned Cardot, "but you need go no further; for I must
give you warning that in my opinion those who try to excuse or defend
his conduct are just as much to blame."
"To chustify it?"
"Yes, for his conduct can neither be justified nor qualified." And
with that word, the deputy for the Seine went his way; he would not
hear another syllable.
"I have two powers in the State against me," smiled poor Pons, when
Schmucke had repeated these savage speeches.
"Eferpody is against us," Schmucke answered dolorously. "Let us go
avay pefore we shall meed oder fools."
Never before in the course of a truly ovine life had Schmucke uttered
such words as these. Never before had his almost divine meekness been
ruffled. He had smiled childlike on all the mischances that befell
him, but he could not look and see his sublime Pons maltreated; his
Pons, his unknown Aristides, the genius resigned to his lot, the
nature that knew no bitterness, the treasury of kindness, the heart of
gold! . . . Alceste's indignation filled Schmucke's soul--he was moved
to call Pons' amphitryons "fools." For his pacific nature that impulse
equaled the wrath of Roland.
With wise foresight, Schmucke turned to go home by the way of the
Boulevard du Temple, Pons passively submitting like a fallen fighter,
heedless of blows; but chance ordered that he should know that all his
world was against him. The House of Peers, the Chamber of Deputies,
strangers and the family, the strong, the weak, and the innocent, all
combined to send down the avalanche.
In the Boulevard Poissonniere, Pons caught sight of that very M.
Cardot's daughter, who, young as she was, had learned to be charitable
to others through trouble of her own. Her husband knew a secret by
which he kept her in bondage. She was the only one among Pons'
hostesses whom he called by her Christian name; he addressed Mme.
Berthier as "Felicie," and he thought that she understood him. The
gentle creature seemed to be distressed by the sight of Cousin Pons,
as he was called (though he was in no way related to the family of the
second wife of a cousin by marriage). There was no help for it,
however; Felicie Berthier stopped to speak to the invalid.
"I did not think you were cruel, cousin," she said; "but if even a
quarter of all that I hear of you is true, you are very false. . . .
Oh! do not justify yourself," she added quickly, seeing Pons'
significant gesture, "it is useless, for two reasons. In the first
place, I have no right to accuse or judge or condemn anybody, for I
myself know so well how much may be said for those who seem to be most
guilty; secondly, your explanation would do no good. M. Berthier drew
up the marriage contract for Mlle. de Marville and the Vicomte
Popinot; he is so exasperated, that if he knew that I had so much as
spoken one word to you, one word for the last time, he would scold me.
Everybody is against you."
"So it seems indeed, madame," Pons said, his voice shaking as he
lifted his hat respectfully.
Painfully he made his way back to the Rue de Normandie. The old German
knew from the heavy weight on his arm that his friend was struggling
bravely against failing physical strength. That third encounter was
like the verdict of the Lamb at the foot of the throne of God; and the
anger of the Angel of the Poor, the symbol of the Peoples, is the last
word of Heaven. They reached home without another word.
There are moments in our lives when the sense that our friend is near
is all that we can bear. Our wounds smart under the consoling words
that only reveal the depths of pain. The old pianist, you see,
possessed a genius for friendship, the tact of those who, having
suffered much, knew the customs of suffering.
Pons was never to take a walk again. From one illness he fell into
another. He was of a sanguine-bilious temperament, the bile passed
into his blood, and a violent liver attack was the result. He had
never known a day's illness in his life till a month ago; he had never
consulted a doctor; so La Cibot, with almost motherly care and
intentions at first of the very best, called in "the doctor of the
In every quarter of Paris there is a doctor whose name and address are
only known to the working classes, to the little tradespeople and the
porters, and in consequence he is called "the doctor of the quarter."
He undertakes confinement cases, he lets blood, he is in the medical
profession pretty much what the "general servant" of the advertising
column is in the scale of domestic service. He must perforce be kind
to the poor, and tolerably expert by reason of much practice, and he
is generally popular. Dr. Poulain, called in by Mme. Cibot, gave an
inattentive ear to the old musician's complainings. Pons groaned out
that his skin itched; he had scratched himself all night long, till he
could scarcely feel. The look of his eyes, with the yellow circles
about them, corroborated the symptoms.
"Had you some violent shock a couple of days ago?" the doctor asked
"You have the same complaint that this gentleman was threatened with,"
said Dr. Poulain, looking at Schmucke as he spoke; "it is an attack of
jaundice, but you will soon get over it," he added, as he wrote a
But in spite of that comfortable phrase, the doctor's eyes had told
another tale as he looked professionally at the patient; and the
death-sentence, though hidden under stereotyped compassion, can always
be read by those who wish to know the truth. Mme. Cibot gave a spy's
glance at the doctor, and read his thought; his bedside manner did not
deceive her; she followed him out of the room.
"Do you think he will get over it?" asked Mme. Cibot, at the
"My dear Mme. Cibot, your lodger is a dead man; not because of the
bile in the system, but because his vitality is low. Still, with great
care, your patient may pull through. Somebody ought to take him away
for a change--"
"How is he to go?" asked Mme. Cibot. "He has nothing to live upon but
his salary; his friend has just a little money from some great ladies,
very charitable ladies, in return for his services, it seems. They are
two children. I have looked after them for nine years."
"I spend my life watching people die, not of their disease, but of
another bad and incurable complaint--the want of money," said the
doctor. "How often it happens that so far from taking a fee, I am
obliged to leave a five-franc piece on the mantel-shelf when I go--"
"Poor, dear M. Poulain!" cried Mme. Cibot. "Ah, if you hadn't only the
hundred thousand livres a year, what some stingy folks has in the
quarter (regular devils from hell they are), you would be like
Providence on earth."
Dr. Poulain had made the little practice, by which he made a bare
subsistence, chiefly by winning the esteem of the porters' lodges in
his district. So he raised his eyes to heaven and thanked Mme. Cibot
with a solemn face worthy of Tartuffe.
"Then you think that with careful nursing our dear patient will get
better, my dear M. Poulain?"
"Yes, if this shock has not been too much for him."
"Poor man! who can have vexed him? There isn't nobody like him on
earth except his friend M. Schmucke. I will find out what is the
matter, and I will undertake to give them that upset my gentleman a
hauling over the coals--"
"Look here, my dear Mme. Cibot," said the doctor as they stood in the
gateway, "one of the principal symptoms of his complaint is great
irritability; and as it is hardly to be supposed that he can afford a
nurse, the task of nursing him will fall to you. So--"
"Are you talking of Mouchieu Ponsh?" asked the marine store-dealer. He
was sitting smoking on the curb-post in the gateway, and now he rose
to join in the conversation.
"Yes, Daddy Remonencq."
"All right," said Remonencq, "ash to moneysh, he ish better off than
Mouchieu Monishtrol and the big men in the curioshity line. I know
enough in the art line to tell you thish--the dear man has treasursh!"
he spoke with a broad Auvergne dialect.
"Look here, I thought you were laughing at me the other day when my
gentlemen were out and I showed you the old rubbish upstairs," said
In Paris, where walls have ears, where doors have tongues, and window
bars have eyes, there are few things more dangerous than the practice
of standing to chat in a gateway. Partings are like postscripts to a
letter--indiscreet utterances that do as much mischief to the speaker
as to those who overhear them. A single instance will be sufficient as
a parallel to an event in this history.
In the time of the Empire, when men paid considerable attention to
their hair, one of the first coiffeurs of the day came out of a house
where he had just been dressing a pretty woman's head. This artist in
question enjoyed the custom of all the lower floor inmates of the
house; and among these, there flourished an elderly bachelor guarded
by a housekeeper who detested her master's next-of-kin. The
/ci-devant/ young man, falling seriously ill, the most famous of
doctors of the day (they were not as yet styled the "princes of
science") had been called in to consult upon his case; and it so
chanced that the learned gentlemen were taking leave of one another
in the gateway just as the hairdresser came out. They were talking as
doctors usually talk among themselves when the farce of a consultation
is over. "He is a dead man," quoth Dr. Haudry.--"He had not a month
to live," added Desplein, "unless a miracle takes place."--These were
the words overheard by the hairdresser.
Like all hairdressers, he kept up a good understanding with his
customers' servants. Prodigious greed sent the man upstairs again; he
mounted to the /ci-devant/ young man's apartment, and promised the
servant-mistress a tolerably handsome commission to persuade her
master to sink a large portion of his money in an annuity. The dying
bachelor, fifty-six by count of years, and twice as old as his age by
reason of amorous campaigns, owned, among other property, a splendid
house in the Rue de Richelieu, worth at that time about two hundred
and fifty thousand francs. It was this house that the hairdresser
coveted; and on agreement to pay an annuity of thirty thousand francs
so long as the bachelor lived, it passed into his hands. This happened
in 1806. And in this year 1846 the hairdresser is still paying that
annuity. He has retired from business, he is seventy years old; the
/ci-devant/ young man is in his dotage; and as he has married his Mme.
Evrard, he may last for a long while yet. As the hairdresser gave the
woman thirty thousand francs, his bit of real estate has cost him,
first and last, more than a million, and the house at this day is
worth eight or nine hundred thousand francs.
Like the hairdresser, Remonencq the Auvergnat had overheard Brunner's
parting remark in the gateway on the day of Cecile's first interview
with that phoenix of eligible men. Remonencq at once longed to gain a
sight of Pons' museum; and as he lived on good terms with his
neighbors the Cibots, it was not very long before the opportunity came
one day when the friends were out. The sight of such treasures dazzled
him; he saw a "good haul," in dealers' phrase, which being interpreted
means a chance to steal a fortune. He had been meditating this for
five or six days.
"I am sho far from joking," he said, in reply to Mme. Cibot's remark,
"that we will talk the thing over; and if the good shentleman will
take an annuity, of fifty thousand francsh, I will shtand a hamper of
"Fifty thousand francs!" interrupted the doctor; "what are you
thinking about? Why, if the good man is so well off as that, with me
in attendance, and Mme. Cibot to nurse him, he may get better--for
liver complaint is a disease that attacks strong constitutions."
"Fifty, did I shay? Why, a shentleman here, on your very doorshtep,
offered him sheven hundred thoushand francsh, shimply for the
While Remonencq made this announcement, Mme. Cibot was looking at Dr.
Poulain. There was a strange expression in her eyes; the devil might
have kindled that sinister glitter in their tawny depths.
"Oh, come! we must not pay any attention to such idle tales," said the
doctor, well pleased, however, to find that his patient could afford
to pay for his visits.
"If my dear Mme. Cibot, here, would let me come and bring an ekshpert
(shinsh the shentleman upshtairs ish in bed), I will shertainly find
the money in a couple of hoursh, even if sheven hundred thousand
francsh ish in queshtion--"
"All right, my friend," said the doctor. "Now, Mme. Cibot, be careful
never to contradict the invalid. You must be prepared to be very
patient with him, for he will find everything irritating and
wearisome, even your services; nothing will please him; you must
"He will be uncommonly hard to please," said La Cibot.
"Look here, mind what I tell you," the doctor said in a tone of
authority, "M. Pons' life is in the hands of those that nurse him; I
shall come perhaps twice a day. I shall take him first on my round."
The doctor's profound indifference to the fate of a poor patient had
suddenly given place to a most tender solicitude when he saw that the
speculator was serious, and that there was a possible fortune in
"He will be nursed like a king," said Madame Cibot, forcing up
enthusiasm. She waited till the doctor turned the corner into the Rue
Charlot; then she fell to talking again with the dealer in old iron.
Remonencq had finished smoking his pipe, and stood in the doorway of
his shop, leaning against the frame; he had purposely taken this
position; he meant the portress to come to him.
The shop had once been a cafe. Nothing had been changed there since
the Auvergnat discovered it and took over the lease; you could still
read "Cafe de Normandie" on the strip left above the windows in all
modern shops. Remonencq had found somebody, probably a housepainter's
apprentice, who did the work for nothing, to paint another inscription
in the remaining space below--"REMONENCQ," it ran, "DEALER IN MARINE
STORES, FURNITURE BOUGHT"--painted in small black letters. All the
mirrors, tables, seats, shelves, and fittings of the Cafe de Normandie
had been sold, as might have been expected, before Remonencq took
possession of the shop as it stood, paying a yearly rent of six
hundred francs for the place, with a back shop, a kitchen, and a
single room above, where the head-waiter used to sleep, for the house
belonging to the Cafe de Normandie was let separately. Of the former
splendor of the cafe, nothing now remained save the plain light green
paper on the walls, and the strong iron bolts and bars of the
When Remonencq came hither in 1831, after the Revolution of July, he
began by displaying a selection of broken doorbells, cracked plates,
old iron, and the obsolete scales and weights abolished by a
Government which alone fails to carry out its own regulations, for
pence and half pence of the time of Louis XVI. are still in
circulation. After a time this Auvergnat, a match for five ordinary
Auvergnats, bought up old saucepans and kettles, old picture-frames,
old copper, and chipped china. Gradually, as the shop was emptied and
filled, the quality of the stock-in-trade improved, like Nicolet's
farces. Remonencq persisted in an unfailing and prodigiously
profitable martingale, a "system" which any philosophical idler may
study as he watches the increasing value of the stock kept by this
intelligent class of trader. Picture-frames and copper succeed to
tin-ware, argand lamps, and damaged crockery; china marks the next
transition; and after no long tarriance in the "omnium gatherum"
stage, the shop becomes a museum. Some day or other the dusty windows
are cleaned, the interior is restored, the Auvergnat relinquishes
velveteen and jackets for a great-coat, and there he sits like a
dragon guarding his treasure, surrounded by masterpieces! He is a
cunning connoisseur by this time; he has increased his capital
tenfold; he is not to be cheated; he knows the tricks of the trade.
The monster among his treasures looks like some old hag among a score
of young girls that she offers to the public. Beauty and miracles of
art are alike indifferent to him; subtle and dense as he is, he has a
keen eye to profits, he talks roughly to those who know less than he
does; he has learned to act a part, he pretends to love his pictures,
or again he lets you know the price he himself gave for the things, he
offers to let you see the memoranda of the sale. He is a Proteus; in
one hour he can be Jocrisse, Janot, /Queue-rouge/, Mondor, Hapagon, or
The third year found armor, and old pictures, and some tolerably fine
clocks in Remonencq's shop. He sent for his sister, and La Remonencq
came on foot all the way from Auvergne to take charge of the shop
while her brother was away. A big and very ugly woman, dressed like a
Japanese idol, a half-idiotic creature with a vague, staring gaze she
would not bate a centime of the prices fixed by her brother. In the
intervals of business she did the work of the house, and solved the
apparently insoluble problem--how to live on "the mists of the Seine."
The Remonencqs' diet consisted of bread and herrings, with the outside
leaves of lettuce or vegetable refuse selected from the heaps
deposited in the kennel before the doors of eating-houses. The two
between them did not spend more than fivepence a day on food (bread
included), and La Remonencq earned the money by sewing or spinning.
Remonencq came to Paris in the first instance to work as an
errand-boy. Between the years 1825 and 1831 he ran errands for dealers
in curiosities in the Boulevard Beaumarchais or coppersmiths in the Rue
de Lappe. It is the usual start in life in his line of business. Jews,
Normans, Auvergnats, and Savoyards, those four different races of men
all have the same instincts, and make their fortunes in the same way;
they spend nothing, make small profits, and let them accumulate at
compound interest. Such is their trading charter, and /that/ charter
is no delusion.
Remonencq at this moment had made it up with his old master Monistrol;
he did business with wholesale dealers, he was a /chineur/ (the
technical word), plying his trade in the /banlieue/, which, as
everybody knows, extends for some forty leagues round Paris.
After fourteen years of business, he had sixty thousand francs in hand
and a well-stocked shop. He lived in the Rue de Normandie because the
rent was low, but casual customers were scarce, most of his goods were
sold to other dealers, and he was content with moderate gains. All his
business transactions were carried on in the Auvergue dialect or
/charabia/, as people call it.
Remonencq cherished a dream! He wished to establish himself on a
boulevard, to be a rich dealer in curiosities, and do a direct trade
with amateurs some day. And, indeed, within him there was a formidable
man of business. His countenance was the more inscrutable because it
was glazed over by a deposit of dust and particles of metal glued
together by the sweat of his brow; for he did everything himself, and
the use and wont of bodily labor had given him something of the
stoical impassibility of the old soldiers of 1799.
In personal appearance Remonencq was short and thin; his little eyes
were set in his head in porcine fashion; a Jew's slyness and
concentrated greed looked out of those dull blue circles, though in
his case the false humility that masks the Hebrew's unfathomed
contempt for the Gentile was lacking.
The relations between the Cibots and the Remonencqs were those of
benefactors and recipients. Mme. Cibot, convinced that the Auvergnats
were wretchedly poor, used to let them have the remainder of "her
gentlemen's" dinners at ridiculous prices. The Remonencqs would buy a
pound of broken bread, crusts and crumbs, for a farthing, a
porringer-full of cold potatoes for something less, and other scraps
in proportion. Remonencq shrewdly allowed them to believe that he was
not in business on his own account, he worked for Monistrol, the rich
shopkeepers preyed upon him, he said, and the Cibots felt sincerely
sorry for Remonencq. The velveteen jacket, waistcoat, and trousers,
particularly affected by Auvergnats, were covered with patches of
Cibot's making, and not a penny had the little tailor charged for
repairs which kept the three garments together after eleven years of
Thus we see that all Jews are not in Israel.
"You are not laughing at me, Remonencq, are you?" asked the portress.
"Is it possible that M. Pons has such a fortune, living as he does?
There is not a hundred francs in the place--"
"Amateursh are all like that," Remonencq remarked sententiously.
"Then do you think that my gentleman has worth of seven hundred
thousand francs, eh?--"
"In pictures alone," continued Remonencq (it is needless, for the sake
of clearness in the story, to give any further specimens of his
frightful dialect). "If he would take fifty thousand francs for one up
there that I know of, I would find the money if I had to hang myself.
Do you remember those little frames full of enameled copper on crimson
velvet, hanging among the portraits? . . . Well, those are Petitot's
enamels; and there is a cabinet minister as used to be a druggist that
will give three thousand francs apiece for them."
La Cibot's eyes opened wide. "There are thirty of them in the pair of
frames!" she said.
"Very well, you can judge for yourself how much he is worth."
Mme. Cibot's head was swimming; she wheeled round. In a moment came
the thought that she would have a legacy, /she/ would sleep sound on
old Pons' will, like the other servant-mistresses whose annuities had
aroused such envy in the Marais. Her thoughts flew to some commune in
the neighborhood of Paris; she saw herself strutting proudly about her
house in the country, looking after her garden and poultry yard,
ending her days, served like a queen, along with her poor dear Cibot,
who deserved such good fortune, like all angelic creatures whom nobody
knows nor appreciates.
Her abrupt, unthinking movement told Remonencq that success was sure.
In the /chineur's/ way of business--the /chineur/, be it explained,
goes about the country picking up bargains at the expense of the
ignorant--in the /chineur's/ way of business, the one real difficulty
is the problem of gaining an entrance to a house. No one can imagine
the Scapin's roguery, the tricks of a Sganarelle, the wiles of a
Dorine by which the /chineur/ contrives to make a footing for himself.
These comedies are as good as a play, and founded indeed on the old
stock theme of the dishonesty of servants. For thirty francs in money
or goods, servants, and especially country servants, will sometimes
conclude a bargain on which the /chineur/ makes a profit of a thousand
or two thousand francs. If we could but know the history of such and
such a service of Sevres porcelain, /pate tendre/, we should find that
all the intellect, all the diplomatic subtlety displayed at Munster,
Nimeguen, Utrecht, Ryswick, and Vienna was surpassed by the /chineur/.
His is the more frank comedy; his methods of action fathom depths of
personal interest quite as profound as any that plenipotentiaries can
explore in their difficult search for any means of breaking up the
best cemented alliances.
"I have set La Cibot nicely on fire," Remonencq told his sister, when
she came to take up her position again on the ramshackle chair. "And
now," he continued, "I shall go to consult the only man that knows,
our Jew, a good sort of Jew that did not ask more than fifteen per
cent of us for his money."
Remonencq had read La Cibot's heart. To will is to act with women of
her stamp. Let them see the end in view; they will stick at nothing to
gain it, and pass from scrupulous honesty to the last degree of
scoundrelism in the twinkling of an eye. Honesty, like most
dispositions of mind, is divided into two classes--negative and
positive. La Cibot's honesty was of the negative order; she and her
like are honest until they see their way clear to gain money belonging
to somebody else. Positive honesty, the honesty of the bank collector,
can wade knee-deep through temptations.
A torrent of evil thoughts invaded La Cibot's heart and brain so soon
as Remonencq's diabolical suggestion opened the flood-gates of
self-interest. La Cibot climbed, or, to be more accurate, fled up the
stairs, opened the door on the landing, and showed a face disguised in
false solicitude in the doorway of the room where Pons and Schmucke
were bemoaning themselves. As soon as she came in, Schmucke made her a
warning sign; for, true friend and sublime German that he was, he too
had read the doctor's eyes, and he was afraid that Mme. Cibot might
repeat the verdict. Mme. Cibot answered by a shake of the head
indicative of deep woe.
"Well, my dear monsieur," asked she, "how are you feeling?" She sat
down on the foot of the bed, hands on hips, and fixed her eyes
lovingly upon the patient; but what a glitter of metal there was in
them, a terrible, tiger-like gleam if any one had watched her.
"I feel very ill," answered poor Pons. "I have not the slightest
appetite left.--Oh! the world, the world!" he groaned, squeezing
Schmucke's hand. Schmucke was sitting by his bedside, and doubtless
the sick man was talking of the causes of his illness.--"I should have
done far better to follow your advice, my good Schmucke, and dined
here every day, and given up going into this society, that has fallen
on me with all its weight, like a tumbril cart crushing an egg! And
"Come, come, don't complain, M. Pons," said La Cibot; "the doctor told
me just how it is--"
Schmucke tugged at her gown.--"And you will pull through," she
continued, "only we must take great care of you. Be easy, you have a
good friend beside you, and without boasting, a woman as will nurse
you like a mother nurses her first child. I nursed Cibot round once
when Dr. Poulain had given him over; he had the shroud up to his eyes,
as the saying is, and they gave him up for dead. Well, well, you have
not come to that yet, God be thanked, ill though you may be. Count on
me; I would pull you through all by myself, I would! Keep still, don't
you fidget like that."
She pulled the coverlet over the patient's hands as she spoke.
"There, sonny! M. Schmucke and I will sit up with you of nights. A
prince won't be no better nursed . . . and besides, you needn't refuse
yourself nothing that's necessary, you can afford it.--I have just
been talking things over with Cibot, for what would he do without me,
poor dear?--Well, and I talked him round; we are both so fond of you,
that he will let me stop up with you of a night. And that is a good
deal to ask of a man like him, for he is as fond of me as ever he was
the day we were married. I don't know how it is. It is the lodge, you
see; we are always there together! Don't you throw off the things like
that!" she cried, making a dash for the bedhead to draw the coverlet
over Pons' chest. "If you are not good, and don't do just as Dr.
Poulain says--and Dr. Poulain is the image of Providence on earth--I
will have no more to do with you. You must do as I tell you--"
"Yes, Montame Zipod, he vill do vat you dell him," put in Schmucke;
"he vants to lif for his boor friend Schmucke's sake, I'll pe pound."
"And of all things, don't fidget yourself," continued La Cibot, "for
your illness makes you quite bad enough without your making it worse
for want of patience. God sends us our troubles, my dear good
gentlemen; He punishes us for our sins. Haven't you nothing to
reproach yourself with? some poor little bit of a fault or other?"
The invalid shook his head.
"Oh! go on! You were young once, you had your fling, there is some
love-child of yours somewhere--cold, and starving, and homeless. . . .
What monsters men are! Their love doesn't last only for a day, and
then in a jiffy they forget, they don't so much as think of the child
at the breast for months. . . . Poor women!"
"But no one has ever loved me except Schmucke and my mother," poor
Pons broke in sadly.
"Oh! come, you aren't no saint! You were young in your time, and a
fine-looking young fellow you must have been at twenty. I should have
fallen in love with you myself, so nice as you are--"
"I always was as ugly as a toad," Pons put in desperately.
"You say that because you are modest; nobody can't say that you aren't
"My dear Mme. Cibot, /no/, I tell you. I always was ugly, and I never
was loved in my life."
"You, indeed!" cried the portress. "You want to make me believe at
this time of day that you are as innocent as a young maid at your time
of life. Tell that to your granny! A musician at a theatre too! Why,
if a woman told me that, I wouldn't believe her."
"Montame Zipod, you irritate him!" cried Schmucke, seeing that Pons
was writhing under the bedclothes.
"You hold your tongue too! You are a pair of old libertines. If you
were ugly, it don't make no difference; there was never so ugly a
saucepan-lid but it found a pot to match, as the saying is. There is
Cibot, he got one of the handsomest oyster-women in Paris to fall in
love with him, and you are infinitely better looking than him! You are
a nice pair, you are! Come, now, you have sown your wild oats, and God
will punish you for deserting your children, like Abraham--"
Exhausted though he was, the invalid gathered up all his strength to
make a vehement gesture of denial.
"Do lie quiet; if you have, it won't prevent you from living as long
"Then, pray let me be quiet!" groaned Pons. "I have never known what
it is to be loved. I have had no child; I am alone in the world."
"Really, eh?" returned the portress. "You are so kind, and that is
what women like, you see--it draws them--and it looked to me
impossible that when you were in your prime--"
"Take her away," Pons whispered to Schmucke; "she sets my nerves on
"Then there's M. Schmucke, he has children. You old bachelors are not
all like that--"
"/I!/" cried Schmucke, springing to his feet, "vy!--"
"Come, then, you have none to come after you either, eh? You both
sprung up out of the earth like mushrooms--"
"Look here, komm mit me," said Schmucke. The good German manfully took
Mme. Cibot by the waist and carried her off into the next room, in
spite of her exclamations.
"At your age, you would not take advantage of a defenceless woman!"
cried La Cibot, struggling in his arms.
"Don't make a noise!"
"You too, the better one of the two!" returned La Cibot. "Ah! it is my
fault for talking about love to two old men who have never had nothing
to do with women. I have roused your passions," cried she, as
Schmucke's eyes glittered with wrath. "Help! help! police!"
"You are a stoopid!" said the German. "Look here, vat tid de toctor
"You are a ruffian to treat me so," wept La Cibot, now released,--"me
that would go through fire and water for you both! Ah! well, well,
they say that that is the way with men--and true it is! There is my
poor Cibot, /he/ would not be rough with me like this. . . . And I
treated you like my children, for I have none of my own; and
yesterday, yes, only yesterday I said to Cibot, 'God knew well what He
was doing, dear,' I said, 'when He refused us children, for I have two
children there upstairs.' By the holy crucifix and the soul of my
mother, that was what I said to him--"
"Eh! but vat did der doctor say?" Schmucke demanded furiously,
stamping on the floor for the first time in his life.
"Well," said Mme. Cibot, drawing Schmucke into the dining-room, "he
just said this--that our dear, darling love lying ill there would die
if he wasn't carefully nursed; but I am here, in spite of all your
brutality, for brutal you were, you that I thought so gentle. And you
are one of that sort! Ah! now, you would not abuse a woman at your
age, great blackguard--"
"Placard? I? Vill you not oonderstand that I lof nopody but Bons?"
"Well and good, you will let me alone, won't you?" said she, smiling
at Schmucke. "You had better; for if Cibot knew that anybody had
attempted his honor, he would break every bone in his skin."
"Take crate care of him, dear Montame Zipod," answered Schmucke, and
he tried to take the portress' hand.
"Oh! look here now, /again/."
"Chust listen to me. You shall haf all dot I haf, gif ve safe him."
"Very well; I will go round to the chemist's to get the things that
are wanted; this illness is going to cost a lot, you see, sir, and
what will you do?"
"I shall vork; Bons shall be nursed like ein brince."
"So he shall, M. Schmucke; and look here, don't you trouble about
nothing. Cibot and I, between us, have saved a couple of thousand
francs; they are yours; I have been spending money on you this long
time, I have."
"Goot voman!" cried Schmucke, brushing the tears from his eyes. "Vat
"Wipe your tears; they do me honor; this is my reward," said La Cibot,
melodramatically. "There isn't no more disinterested creature on earth
than me; but don't you go into the room with tears in your eyes, or M.
Pons will be thinking himself worse than he is."
Schmucke was touched by this delicate feeling. He took La Cibot's hand
and gave it a final squeeze.
"Spare me!" cried the ex-oysterseller, leering at Schmucke.
"Bons," the good German said when he returned "Montame Zipod is an
anchel; 'tis an anchel dat brattles, but an anchel all der same."
"Do you think so? I have grown suspicious in the past month," said the
invalid, shaking his head. "After all I have been through, one comes
to believe in nothing but God and my friend--"
"Get bedder, and ve vill lif like kings, all tree of us," exclaimed
"Cibot!" panted the portress as she entered the lodge. "Oh, my dear,
our fortune is made. My two gentlemen haven't nobody to come after
them, no natural children, no nothing, in short! Oh, I shall go round
to Ma'am Fontaine's and get her to tell my fortune on the cards, then
we shall know how much we are going to have--"
"Wife," said the little tailor, "it's ill counting on dead men's
"Oh, I say, are /you/ going to worry me?" asked she, giving her spouse
a playful tap. "I know what I know! Dr. Poulain has given up M. Pons.
And we are going to be rich! My name will be down in the will. . . .
I'll see to that. Draw your needle in and out, and look after the
lodge; you will not do it for long now. We will retire, and go into
the country, out at Batignolles. A nice house and a fine garden; you
will amuse yourself with gardening, and I shall keep a servant!"
"Well, neighbor, and how are things going on upstairs?" The words were
spoken with the thick Auvergnat accent, and Remonencq put his head in
at the door. "Do you know what the collection is worth?"
"No, no, not yet. One can't go at that rate, my good man. I have
begun, myself, by finding out more important things--"
"More important!" exclaimed Remonencq; "why, what things can be more
"Come, let me do the steering, ragamuffin," said La Cibot
"But thirty per cent on seven hundred thousand francs," persisted the
dealer in old iron; "you could be your own mistress for the rest of
your days on that."
"Be easy, Daddy Remonencq; when we want to know the value of the
things that the old man has got together, then we will see."
La Cibot went for the medicine ordered by Dr. Poulain, and put off her
consultation with Mme. Fontaine until the morrow; the oracle's
faculties would be fresher and clearer in the morning, she thought;
and she would go early, before everybody else came, for there was
often a crowd at Mme. Fontaine's.
Mme. Fontaine was at this time the oracle of the Marais; she had
survived the rival of forty years, the celebrated Mlle. Lenormand. No
one imagines the part that fortune-tellers play among Parisians of the
lower classes, nor the immense influence which they exert over the
uneducated; general servants, portresses, kept women, workmen, all the
many in Paris who live on hope, consult the privileged beings who
possess the mysterious power of reading the future.
The belief of the occult science is far more widely spread than
scholars, lawyers, doctors, magistrates, and philosophers imagine. The
instincts of the people are ineradicable. One among those instincts,
so foolishly styled "superstition," runs in the blood of the populace,
and tinges no less the intellects of better educated folk. More than
one French statesman has been known to consult the fortune-teller's
cards. For sceptical minds, astrology, in French, so oddly termed
/astrologie judiciare/, is nothing more than a cunning device for
making a profit out of one of the strongest of all the instincts of
human nature--to wit, curiosity. The sceptical mind consequently
denies that there is any connection between human destiny and the
prognostications obtained by the seven or eight principal methods
known to astrology; and the occult sciences, like many natural
phenomena, are passed over by the freethinker or the materialist
philosopher, /id est/, by those who believe in nothing but visible and
tangible facts, in the results given by the chemist's retort and the
scales of modern physical science. The occult sciences still exist;
they are at work, but they make no progress, for the greatest
intellects of two centuries have abandoned the field.
If you only look at the practical side of divination, it seems absurd
to imagine that events in a man's past life and secrets known only to
himself can be represented on the spur of the moment by a pack of
cards which he shuffles and cuts for the fortune-teller to lay out in
piles according to certain mysterious rules; but then the steam-engine
was condemned as absurd, aerial navigation is still said to be absurd,
so in their time were the inventions of gunpowder, printing,
spectacles, engraving, and that latest discovery of all--the
daguerreotype. If any man had come to Napoleon to tell him that a
building or a figure is at all times and in all places represented by
an image in the atmosphere, that every existing object has a spectral
intangible double which may become visible, the Emperor would have
sent his informant to Charenton for a lunatic, just as Richelieu
before his day sent that Norman martyr, Salomon de Caux, to the
Bicetre for announcing his immense triumph, the idea of navigation by
steam. Yet Daguerre's discovery amounts to nothing more nor less than
And if for some clairvoyant eyes God has written each man's destiny
over his whole outward and visible form, if a man's body is the record
of his fate, why should not the hand in a manner epitomize the body?
--since the hand represents the deed of man, and by his deeds he is
Herein lies the theory of palmistry. Does not Society imitate God? At
the sight of a soldier we can predict that he will fight; of a lawyer,
that he will talk; of a shoemaker, that he shall make shoes or boots;
of a worker of the soil, that he shall dig the ground and dung it; and
is it a more wonderful thing that such an one with the "seer's" gift
should foretell the events of a man's life from his hand?
To take a striking example. Genius is so visible in a man that a great
artist cannot walk about the streets of Paris but the most ignorant
people are conscious of his passing. He is a sun, as it were, in the
mental world, shedding light that colors everything in its path. And
who does not know an idiot at once by an impression the exact opposite
of the sensation of the presence of genius? Most observers of human
nature in general, and Parisian nature in particular, can guess the
profession or calling of the man in the street.
The mysteries of the witches' Sabbath, so wonderfully painted in the
sixteenth century, are no mysteries for us. The Egyptian ancestors of
that mysterious people of Indian origin, the gypsies of the present
day, simply used to drug their clients with hashish, a practice that
fully accounts for broomstick rides and flights up the chimney, the
real-seeming visions, so to speak, of old crones transformed into
young damsels, the frantic dances, the exquisite music, and all the
fantastic tales of devil-worship.
So many proven facts have been first discovered by occult science,
that some day we shall have professors of occult science, as we
already have professors of chemistry and astronomy. It is even
singular that here in Paris, where we are founding chairs of Mantchu
and Slave and literatures so little professable (to coin a word) as
the literatures of the North (which, so far from providing lessons,
stand very badly in need of them); when the curriculum is full of the
everlasting lectures on Shakespeare and the sixteenth century,--it is
strange that some one has not restored the teaching of the occult
philosophies, once the glory of the University of Paris, under the
title of anthropology. Germany, so childlike and so great, has
outstripped France in this particular; in Germany they have professors
of a science of far more use than a knowledge of the heterogeneous
philosophies, which all come to the same thing at bottom.
Once admit that certain beings have the power of discerning the future
in its germ-form of the Cause, as the great inventor sees a glimpse of
the industry latent in his invention, or a science in something that
happens every day unnoticed by ordinary eyes--once allow this, and
there is nothing to cause an outcry in such phenomena, no violent
exception to nature's laws, but the operation of a recognized faculty;
possibly a kind of mental somnambulism, as it were. If, therefore, the
hypothesis upon which the various ways of divining the future are
based seem absurd, the facts remain. Remark that it is not really more
wonderful that the seer should foretell the chief events of the future
than that he should read the past. Past and future, on the sceptic's
system, equally lie beyond the limits of knowledge. If the past has
left traces behind it, it is not improbable that future events have,
as it were, their roots in the present.
If a fortune-teller gives you minute details of past facts known only
to yourself, why should he not foresee the events to be produced by
existing causes? The world of ideas is cut out, so to speak, on the
pattern of the physical world; the same phenomena should be
discernible in both, allowing for the difference of the medium. As,
for instance, a corporeal body actually projects an image upon the
atmosphere--a spectral double detected and recorded by the
daguerreotype; so also ideas, having a real and effective existence,
leave an impression, as it were, upon the atmosphere of the spiritual
world; they likewise produce effects, and exist spectrally (to coin a
word to express phenomena for which no words exist), and certain human
beings are endowed with the faculty of discerning these "forms" or
traces of ideas.
As for the material means employed to assist the seer--the objects
arranged by the hands of the consultant that the accidents of his life
may be revealed to him,--this is the least inexplicable part of the
process. Everything in the material world is part of a series of
causes and effects. Nothing happens without a cause, every cause is a
part of a whole, and consequently the whole leaves its impression on
the slightest accident. Rabelais, the greatest mind among moderns,
resuming Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Aristophanes, and Dante, pronounced
three centuries ago that "man is a microcosm"--a little world. Three
hundred years later, the great seer Swedenborg declared that "the
world was a man." The prophet and the precursor of incredulity meet
thus in the greatest of all formulas.
Everything in human life is predestined, so it is also with the
existence of the planet. The least event, the most futile phenomena,
are all subordinate parts of a scheme. Great things, therefore, great
designs, and great thoughts are of necessity reflected in the smallest
actions, and that so faithfully, that should a conspirator shuffle and
cut a pack of playing-cards, he will write the history of his plot for
the eyes of the seer styled gypsy, fortune-teller, charlatan, or what
not. If you once admit fate, which is to say, the chain of links of
cause and effect, astrology has a /locus standi/, and becomes what it
was of yore, a boundless science, requiring the same faculty of
deduction by which Cuvier became so great, a faculty to be exercised
spontaneously, however, and not merely in nights of study in the
For seven centuries astrology and divination have exercised an
influence not only (as at present) over the uneducated, but over the
greatest minds, over kings and queens and wealthy people. Animal
magnetism, one of the great sciences of antiquity, had its origin in
occult philosophy; chemistry is the outcome of alchemy; phrenology and
neurology are no less the fruit of similar studies. The first
illustrious workers in these, to all appearance, untouched fields,
made one mistake, the mistake of all inventors; that is to say, they
erected an absolute system on a basis of isolated facts for which
modern analysis as yet cannot account. The Catholic Church, the law of
the land, and modern philosophy, in agreement for once, combined to
prescribe, persecute, and ridicule the mysteries of the Cabala as well
as the adepts; the result is a lamentable interregnum of a century in
occult philosophy. But the uneducated classes, and not a few
cultivated people (women especially), continue to pay a tribute to the
mysterious power of those who can raise the veil of the future; they
go to buy hope, strength, and courage of the fortune-teller; in other
words, to ask of him all that religion alone can give. So the art is
still practised in spite of a certain amount of risk. The eighteenth
century encyclopaedists procured tolerance for the sorcerer; he is no
longer amenable to a court of law, unless, indeed, he lends himself to
fraudulent practices, and frightens his "clients" to extort money from
them, in which case he may be prosecuted on a charge of obtaining
money under false pretences. Unluckily, the exercise of the sublime
art is only too often used as a method of obtaining money under false
pretences, and for the following reasons.
The seer's wonderful gifts are usually bestowed upon those who are
described by the epithets rough and uneducated. The rough and
uneducated are the chosen vessels into which God pours the elixirs at
which we marvel. From among the rough and uneducated, prophets arise
--an Apostle Peter, or St. Peter the Hermit. Wherever mental power is
imprisoned, and remains intact and entire for want of an outlet in
conversation, in politics, in literature, in the imaginings of the
scholar, in the efforts of the statesman, in the conceptions of the
inventor, or the soldier's toils of war; the fire within is apt to
flash out in gleams of marvelously vivid light, like the sparks hidden
in an unpolished diamond. Let the occasion come, and the spirit within
kindles and glows, finds wings to traverse space, and the god-like
power of beholding all things. The coal of yesterday under the play of
some mysterious influence becomes a radiant diamond. Better educated
people, many-sided and highly polished, continually giving out all
that is in them, can never exhibit this supreme power, save by one of
the miracles which God sometimes vouchsafes to work. For this reason
the soothsayer is almost always a beggar, whose mind is virgin soil, a
creature coarse to all appearance, a pebble borne along the torrent of
misery and left in the ruts of life, where it spends nothing of itself
save in mere physical suffering.
The prophet, the seer, in short, is some /Martin le Laboureur/ making
a Louis XVIII. tremble by telling him a secret known only to the king
himself; or it is a Mlle. Lenormand, or a domestic servant like Mme.
Fontaine, or again, perhaps it is some half-idiotic negress, some
herdsman living among his cattle, who receives the gift of vision;
some Hindoo fakir, seated by a pagoda, mortifying the flesh till the
spirit gains the mysterious power of the somnambulist.
Asia, indeed, through all time, has been the home of the heroes of
occult science. Persons of this kind, recovering their normal state,
are usually just as they were before. They fulfil, in some sort, the
chemical and physical functions of bodies which conduct electricity;
at times inert metal, at other times a channel filled with a
mysterious current. In their normal condition they are given to
practices which bring them before the magistrate, yea, verily, like
the notorious Balthazar, even unto the criminal court, and so to the
hulks. You could hardly find a better proof of the immense influence
of fortune-telling upon the working classes than the fact that poor
Pons' life and death hung upon the prediction that Mme. Fontaine was
to make from the cards.
Although a certain amount of repetition is inevitable in a canvas so
considerable and so full of detail as a complete picture of French
society in the nineteenth century, it is needless to repeat the
description of Mme. Fontaine's den, already given in /Les Comediens
sans le savoir/; suffice it to say that Mme. Cibot used to go to Mme.
Fontaine's house in the Rue Vieille-du-Temple as regularly as
frequenters of the Cafe Anglais drop in at that restaurant for lunch.
Mme. Cibot, being a very old customer, often introduced young persons
and old gossips consumed with curiosity to the wise woman.
The old servant who acted as provost marshal flung open the door of
the sanctuary with no further ceremony than the remark, "It's Mme.
Cibot.--Come in, there's nobody here."
"Well, child, what can bring you here so early of a morning?" asked
the sorceress, as Mme. Fontaine might well be called, for she was
seventy-eight years old, and looked like one of the Parcae.
"Something has given me a turn," said La Cibot; "I want the /grand
jeu/; it is a question of my fortune." Therewith she explained her
position, and wished to know if her sordid hopes were likely to be
"Do you know what the /grand jeu/ means?" asked Mme. Fontaine, with
"No, I haven't never seen the trick, I am not rich enough.--A hundred
francs! It's not as if it cost so much! Where was the money to come
from? But now I can't help myself, I must have it."
"I don't do it often, child," returned Mme. Fontaine; "I only do it
for rich people on great occasions, and they pay me twenty-five louis
for doing it; it tires me, you see, it wears me out. The 'Spirit'
rives my inside, here. It is like going to the 'Sabbath,' as they used
"But when I tell you that it means my whole future, my dear good Ma'am
"Well, as it is you that have come to consult me so often, I will
submit myself to the Spirit!" replied Mme. Fontaine, with a look of
genuine terror on her face.
She rose from her filthy old chair by the fireside, and went to a
table covered with a green cloth so worn that you could count the
threads. A huge toad sat dozing there beside a cage inhabited by a
black disheveled-looking fowl.
"Astaroth! here, my son!" she said, and the creature looked up
intelligently at her as she rapped him on the back with a long
knitting-needle.--"And you, Mademoiselle Cleopatre!--attention!" she
continued, tapping the ancient fowl on the beak.
Then Mme. Fontaine began to think; for several seconds she did not
move; she looked like a corpse, her eyes rolled in their sockets and
grew white; then she rose stiff and erect, and a cavernous voice
"Here I am!"
Automatically she scattered millet for Cleopatre, took up the pack of
cards, shuffled them convulsively, and held them out to Mme. Cibot to
cut, sighing heavily all the time. At the sight of that image of Death
in the filthy turban and uncanny-looking bed-jacket, watching the
black fowl as it pecked at the millet-grains, calling to the toad
Astaroth to walk over the cards that lay out on the table, a cold
thrill ran through Mme. Cibot; she shuddered. Nothing but strong
belief can give strong emotions. An assured income, to be or not to
be, that was the question.
The sorceress opened a magical work and muttered some unintelligible
words in a sepulchral voice, looked at the remaining millet-seeds, and
watched the way in which the toad retired. Then after seven or eight
minutes, she turned her white eyes on the cards and expounded them.
"You will succeed, although nothing in the affair will fall out as you
expect. You will have many steps to take, but you will reap the fruits
of your labors. You will behave very badly; it will be with you as it
is with all those who sit by a sick-bed and covet part of the
inheritance. Great people will help you in this work of wrongdoing.
Afterwards in the death agony you will repent. Two escaped convicts, a
short man with red hair and an old man with a bald head, will murder
you for the sake of the money you will be supposed to have in the
village whither you will retire with your second husband. Now, my
daughter, it is still open to you to choose your course."
The excitement which seemed to glow within, lighting up the bony
hollows about the eyes, was suddenly extinguished. As soon as the
horoscope was pronounced, Mme. Fontaine's face wore a dazed
expression; she looked exactly like a sleep-walker aroused from sleep,
gazed about her with an astonished air, recognized Mme. Cibot, and
seemed surprised by her terrified face.
"Well, child," she said, in a totally different voice, "are you
Mme. Cibot stared stupidly at the sorceress, and could not answer.
"Ah! you would have the /grand jeu/; I have treated you as an old
acquaintance. I only want a hundred francs--"
"Cibot,--going to die?" gasped the portress.
"So I have been telling you very dreadful things, have I?" asked Mme.
Fontaine, with an extremely ingenuous air.
"Why, yes!" said La Cibot, taking a hundred francs from her pocket and
laying them down on the edge of the table. "Going to be murdered,
think of it--"
"Ah! there it is! You would have the /grand jeu/; but don't take on
so, all the folk that are murdered on the cards don't die."
"But is it possible, Ma'am Fontaine?"
"Oh, /I/ know nothing about it, my pretty dear! You would rap at the
door of the future; I pull the cord, and it came."
"/It/, what?" asked Mme. Cibot.
"Well, then, the Spirit!" cried the sorceress impatiently.
"Good-bye, Ma'am Fontaine," exclaimed the portress. "I did not know
what the /grand jeu/ was like. You have given me a good fright, that
"The mistress will not put herself in that state twice in a month,"
said the servant, as she went with La Cibot to the landing. "She would
do herself to death if she did, it tires her so. She will eat cutlets
now and sleep for three hours afterwards."
Out in the street La Cibot took counsel of herself as she went along,
and, after the manner of all who ask for advice of any sort or
description, she took the favorable part of the prediction and
rejected the rest. The next day found her confirmed in her resolutions
--she would set all in train to become rich by securing a part of
Pons' collection. Nor for some time had she any other thought than the
combination of various plans to this end. The faculty of
self-concentration seen in rough, uneducated persons, explained on a
previous page, the reserve power accumulated in those whose mental
energies are unworn by the daily wear and tear of social life, and
brought into action so soon as that terrible weapon the "fixed idea"
is brought into play,--all this was pre-eminently manifested in La
Cibot. Even as the "fixed idea" works miracles of evasion, and brings
forth prodigies of sentiment, so greed transformed the portress till
she became as formidable as a Nucingen at bay, as subtle beneath her
seeming stupidity as the irresistible La Palferine.
About seven o'clock one morning, a few days afterwards, she saw
Remonencq taking down his shutters. She went across to him.
"How could one find out how much the things yonder in my gentlemen's
rooms are worth?" she asked in a wheedling tone.
"Oh! that is quite easy," replied the owner of the old curiosity shop.
"If you will play fair and above board with me, I will tell you of
somebody, a very honest man, who will know the value of the pictures
to a farthing--"
"M. Magus, a Jew. He only does business to amuse himself now."
Elie Magus has appeared so often in the /Comedie Humaine/, that it is
needless to say more of him here. Suffice it to add that he had
retired from business, and as a dealer was following the example set
by Pons the amateur. Well-known valuers like Henry, Messrs. Pigeot and
Moret, Theret, Georges, and Roehn, the experts of the Musee, in fact,
were but children compared with Elie Magus. He could see a masterpiece
beneath the accumulated grime of a century; he knew all schools, and
the handwriting of all painters.
He had come to Paris from Bordeaux, and so long ago as 1835 he had
retired from business without making any change for the better in his
dress, so faithful is the race to old tradition. The persecutions of
the Middle Ages compelled them to wear rags, to snuffle and whine and
groan over their poverty in self-defence, till the habits induced by
the necessities of other times have come to be, as usual, instinctive,
a racial defect.
Elie Magus had amassed a vast fortune by buying and selling diamonds,
pictures, lace, enamels, delicate carvings, old jewelry, and rarities
of all kinds, a kind of commerce which has developed enormously of
late, so much so indeed that the number of dealers has increased
tenfold during the last twenty years in this city of Paris, whither
all the curiosities in the world come to rub against one another. And
for pictures there are but three marts in the world--Rome, London, and
Elie Magus lived in the Chausee des Minimes, a short, broad street
leading to the Place Royale. He had bought the house, an old-fashioned
mansion, for a song, as the saying is, in 1831. Yet there were
sumptuous apartments within it, decorated in the time of Louis XV.;
for it had once been the Hotel Maulaincourt, built by the great
President of the Cour des Aides, and its remote position had saved it
at the time of the Revolution.
You may be quite sure that the old Jew had sound reasons for buying
house property, contrary to the Hebrew law and custom. He had ended,
as most of us end, with a hobby that bordered on a craze. He was as
miserly as his friend, the late lamented Gobseck; but he had been
caught by the snare of the eyes, by the beauty of the pictures in
which he dealt. As his taste grew more and more fastidious, it became
one of the passions which princes alone can indulge when they are
wealthy and art-lovers. As the second King of Prussia found nothing
that so kindled enthusiasm as the spectacle of a grenadier over six
feet high, and gave extravagant sums for a new specimen to add to his
living museum of a regiment, so the retired picture-dealer was roused
to passion-pitch only by some canvas in perfect preservation,
untouched since the master laid down the brush; and what was more, it
must be a picture of the painter's best time. No great sales,
therefore, took place but Elie Magus was there; every mart knew him;
he traveled all over Europe. The ice-cold, money-worshiping soul in
him kindled at the sight of a perfect work of art, precisely as a
libertine, weary of fair women, is roused from apathy by the sight of
a beautiful girl, and sets out afresh upon the quest of flawless
loveliness. A Don Juan among fair works of art, a worshiper of the
Ideal, Elie Magus had discovered joys that transcend the pleasure of a
miser gloating over his gold--he lived in a seraglio of great
His masterpieces were housed as became the children of princes; the
whole first floor of the great old mansion was given up to them. The
rooms had been restored under Elie Magus' orders, and with what
The windows were hung with the richest Venetian brocade; the most
splendid carpets from the Savonnerie covered the parquetry flooring.
The frames of the pictures, nearly a hundred in number, were
magnificent specimens, regilded cunningly by Servais, the one gilder
in Paris whom Elie Magus thought sufficiently painstaking; the old Jew
himself had taught him to use the English leaf, which is infinitely
superior to that produced by French gold-beaters. Servais is among
gilders as Thouvenin among bookbinders--an artist among craftsmen,
making his work a labor of love. Every window in that gallery was
protected by iron-barred shutters. Elie Magus himself lived in a
couple of attics on the floor above; the furniture was wretched, the
rooms were full of rags, and the whole place smacked of the Ghetto;
Elie Magus was finishing his days without any change in his life.
The whole of the ground floor was given up to the picture trade (for
the Jew still dealt in works of art). Here he stored his canvases,
here also packing-cases were stowed on their arrival from other
countries; and still there was room for a vast studio, where Moret,
most skilful of restorers of pictures, a craftsman whom the Musee
ought to employ, was almost always at work for Magus. The rest of the
rooms on the ground floor were given up to Magus' daughter, the child
of his old age, a Jewess as beautiful as a Jewess can be when the
Semitic type reappears in its purity and nobility in a daughter of
Israel. Noemi was guarded by two servants, fanatical Jewesses, to say
nothing of an advanced-guard, a Polish Jew, Abramko by name, once
involved in a fabulous manner in political troubles, from which Elie
Magus saved him as a business speculation. Abramko, porter of the
silent, grim, deserted mansion, divided his office and his lodge with
three remarkably ferocious animals--an English bull-dog, a
Newfoundland dog, and another of the Pyrenean breed.
Behold the profound observations of human nature upon which Elie Magus
based his feeling of security, for secure he felt; he left home
without misgivings, slept with both ears shut, and feared no attempt
upon his daughter (his chief treasure), his pictures, or his money. In
the first place, Abramko's salary was increased every year by two
hundred francs so long as his master should live; and Magus, moreover,
was training Abramko as a money-lender in a small way. Abramko never
admitted anybody until he had surveyed them through a formidable
grated opening. He was a Hercules for strength, he worshiped Elie
Magus, as Sancho Panza worshiped Don Quixote. All day long the dogs
were shut up without food; at nightfall Abramko let them loose; and by
a cunning device the old Jew kept each animal at his post in the
courtyard or the garden by hanging a piece of meat just out of reach
on the top of a pole. The animals guarded the house, and sheer hunger
guarded the dogs. No odor that reached their nostrils could tempt them
from the neighborhood of that piece of meat; they would not have left
their places at the foot of the poles for the most engaging female of
the canine species. If a stranger by any chance intruded, the dogs
suspected him of ulterior designs upon their rations, which were only
taken down in the morning by Abramko himself when he awoke. The
advantages of this fiendish scheme are patent. The animals never
barked, Magus' ingenuity had made savages of them; they were
treacherous as Mohicans. And now for the result.
One night burglars, emboldened by the silence, decided too hastily
that it would be easy enough to "clean out" the old Jew's strong box.
One of their number told off to advance to the assault scrambled up
the garden wall and prepared to descend. This the bull-dog allowed him
to do. The animal, knowing perfectly well what was coming, waited for
the burglar to reach the ground; but when that gentleman directed a
kick at him, the bull-dog flew at the visitor's shins, and, making but
one bite of it, snapped the ankle-bone clean in two. The thief had the
courage to tear him away, and returned, walking upon the bare bone of
the mutilated stump till he reached the rest of the gang, when he fell
fainting, and they carried him off. The /Police News/, of course, did
not fail to report this delightful night incident, but no one believed
Magus at this time was seventy-five years old, and there was no reason
why he should not live to a hundred. Rich man though he was, he lived
like the Remonencqs. His necessary expenses, including the money he
lavished on his daughter, did not exceed three thousand francs. No
life could be more regular; the old man rose as soon as it was light,
breakfasted on bread rubbed with a clove of garlic, and ate no more
food until dinner-time. Dinner, a meal frugal enough for a convent, he
took at home. All the forenoons he spent among his treasures, walking
up and down the gallery where they hung in their glory. He would dust
everything himself, furniture and pictures; he never wearied of
admiring. Then he would go downstairs to his daughter, drink deep of a
father's happiness, and start out upon his walks through Paris, to
attend sales or visit exhibitions and the like.
If Elie Magus found a great work of art under the right conditions,
the discovery put new life into the man; here was a bit of sharp
practice, a bargain to make, a battle of Marengo to win. He would pile
ruse on ruse to buy the new sultana as cheaply as possible. Magus had
a map of Europe on which all great pictures were marked; his
co-religionists in every city spied out business for him, and received
a commission on the purchase. And then, what rewards for all his
pains! The two lost Raphaels so earnestly sought after by Raphael
lovers are both in his collection. Elie Magus owns the original
portrait of /Giorgione's Mistress/, the woman for whom the painter
died; the so-called originals are merely copies of the famous picture,
which is worth five hundred thousand francs, according to its owner's
estimation. This Jew possesses Titian's masterpiece, an /Entombment/
painted for Charles V., sent by the great man to the great Emperor
with a holograph letter, now fastened down upon the lower part of the
canvas. And Magus has yet another Titian, the original sketch from
which all the portraits of Philip II. were painted. His remaining
ninety-seven pictures are all of the same rank and distinction.
Wherefore Magus laughs at our national collection, raked by the
sunlight which destroys the fairest paintings, pouring in through
panes of glass that act as lenses. Picture galleries can only be
lighted from above; Magus opens and closes his shutters himself; he is
as careful of his pictures as of his daughter, his second idol. And
well the old picture-fancier knows the laws of the lives of pictures.
To hear him talk, a great picture has a life of its own; it is
changeable, it takes its beauty from the color of the light. Magus
talks of his paintings as Dutch fanciers used to talk of their tulips;
he will come home on purpose to see some one picture in the hour of
its glory, when the light is bright and clean.
And Magus himself was a living picture among the motionless figures on
the wall--a little old man, dressed in a shabby overcoat, a silk
waistcoat, renewed twice in a score of years, and a very dirty pair of
trousers, with a bald head, a face full of deep hollows, a wrinkled,
callous skin, a beard that had a trick of twitching its long white
bristles, a menacing pointed chin, a toothless mouth, eyes bright as
the eyes of his dogs in the yard, and a nose like an obelisk--there he
stood in his gallery smiling at the beauty called into being by
genius. A Jew surrounded by his millions will always be one of the
finest spectacles which humanity can give. Robert Medal, our great
actor, cannot rise to this height of poetry, sublime though he is.
Paris of all the cities of the world holds most of such men as Magus,
strange beings with a strange religion in their heart of hearts. The
London "eccentric" always finds that worship, like life, brings
weariness and satiety in the end; the Parisian monomaniac lives
cheerfully in concubinage with his crotchet to the last.
Often shall you meet in Paris some Pons, some Elie Magus, dressed
badly enough, with his face turned from the rising sun (like the
countenance of the perpetual secretary of the Academie), apparently
heeding nothing, conscious of nothing, paying no attention to
shop-windows nor to fair passers-by, walking at random, so to speak,
with nothing in his pockets, and to all appearance an equally empty
head. Do you ask to what Parisian tribe this manner of man belongs? He
is a collector, a millionaire, one of the most impassioned souls upon
earth; he and his like are capable of treading the miry ways that lead
to the police-court if so they may gain possession of a cup, a
picture, or some such rare unpublished piece as Elie Magus once picked
up one memorable day in Germany.
This was the expert to whom Remonencq with much mystery conducted La
Cibot. Remonencq always asked advice of Elie Magus when he met him in
the streets; and more than once Magus had lent him money through
Abramko, knowing Remonencq's honesty. The Chaussee des Minimes is
close to the Rue de Normandie, and the two fellow-conspirators reached
the house in ten minutes.
"You will see the richest dealer in curiosities, the greatest
connoisseur in Paris," Remonencq had said. And Mme. Cibot, therefore,
was struck dumb with amazement to be confronted with a little old man
in a great-coat too shabby for Cibot to mend, standing watching a
painter at work upon an old picture in the chilly room on the vast
ground floor. The old man's eyes, full of cold feline malignance, were
turned upon her, and La Cibot shivered.
"What do you want, Remonencq?" asked this person.
"It is a question of valuing some pictures; there is nobody but you in
Paris who can tell a poor tinker-fellow like me how much he may give
when he has not thousands to spend, like you."
"Where is it?"
"Here is the portress of the house where the gentleman lives; she does
for him, and I have arranged with her--"
"Who is the owner?"
"M. Pons!" put in La Cibot.
"Don't know the name," said Magus, with an innocent air, bringing down
his foot very gently upon his artist's toes.
Moret the painter, knowing the value of Pons' collection, had looked
up suddenly at the name. It was a move too hazardous to try with any
one but Remonencq and La Cibot, but the Jew had taken the woman's
measure at sight, and his eye was as accurate as a jeweler's scales.
It was impossible that either of the couple should know how often
Magus and old Pons had matched their claws. And, in truth, both rabid
amateurs were jealous of each other. The old Jew had never hoped for a
sight of a seraglio so carefully guarded; it seemed to him that his
head was swimming. Pons' collection was the one private collection in
Paris which could vie with his own. Pons' idea had occurred to Magus
twenty years later; but as a dealer-amateur the door of Pons' museum
had been closed to him, as for Dusommerard. Pons and Magus had at
heart the same jealousy. Neither of them cared about the kind of
celebrity dear to the ordinary collector. And now for Elie Magus came
his chance to see the poor musician's treasures! An amateur of beauty
hiding in a boudoir or a stolen glance at a mistress concealed from
him by his friend might feel as Elie Magus felt at that moment.
La Cibot was impressed by Remonencq's respect for this singular
person; real power, moreover, even when it cannot be explained, is
always felt; the portress was supple and obedient, she dropped the
autocratic tone which she was wont to use in her lodge and with the
tenants, accepted Magus' conditions, and agreed to admit him into
Pons' museum that very day.
So the enemy was to be brought into the citadel, and a stab dealt to
Pons' very heart. For ten years Pons had carried his keys about with
him; he had forbidden La Cibot to allow any one, no matter whom, to
cross his threshold; and La Cibot had so far shared Schmucke's
opinions of /bric-a-brac/, that she had obeyed him. The good Schmucke,
by speaking of the splendors as "chimcracks," and deploring his
friend's mania, had taught La Cibot to despise the old rubbish, and so
secured Pons' museum from invasion for many a long year.
When Pons took to his bed, Schmucke filled his place at the theatre
and gave lessons for him at his boarding-schools. He did his utmost to
do the work of two; but Pons' sorrows weighing heavily upon his mind,
the task took all his strength. He only saw his friend in the morning,
and again at dinnertime. His pupils and the people at the theatre,
seeing the poor German look so unhappy, used to ask for news of Pons;
and so great was his grief, that the indifferent would make the
grimaces of sensibility which Parisians are wont to reserve for the
greatest calamities. The very springs of life had been attacked, the
good German was suffering from Pons' pain as well as from his own.
When he gave a music lesson, he spent half the time in talking of
Pons, interrupting himself to wonder whether his friend felt better
to-day, and the little school-girls listening heard lengthy
explanations of Pons' symptoms. He would rush over to the Rue de
Normandie in the interval between two lessons for the sake of a
quarter of an hour with Pons.
When at last he saw that their common stock was almost exhausted, when
Mme. Cibot (who had done her best to swell the expenses of the
illness) came to him and frightened him; then the old music-master
felt that he had courage of which he never thought himself capable
--courage that rose above his anguish. For the first time in his life
he set himself to earn money; money was needed at home. One of the
school-girl pupils, really touched by their troubles, asked Schmucke
how he could leave his friend alone. "Montemoiselle," he answered,
with the sublime smile of those who think no evil, "ve haf Montame
Zipod, ein dreasure, montemoiselle, ein bearl! Bons is nursed like ein
So while Schmucke trotted about the streets, La Cibot was mistress of
the house and ruled the invalid. How should Pons superintend his
self-appointed guardian angel, when he had taken no solid food for a
fortnight, and lay there so weak and helpless that La Cibot was
obliged to lift him up and carry him to the sofa while she made the
La Cibot's visit to Elie Magus was paid (as might be expected) while
Schmucke breakfasted. She came in again just as the German was bidding
his friend good-bye; for since she learned that Pons possessed a
fortune, she never left the old bachelor; she brooded over him and his
treasures like a hen. From the depths of a comfortable easy-chair at
the foot of the bed she poured forth for Pons' delectation the gossip
in which women of her class excel. With Machiavelian skill, she had
contrived to make Pons think that she was indispensable to him; she
coaxed and she wheedled, always uneasy, always on the alert. Mme.
Fontaine's prophecy had frightened La Cibot; she vowed to herself that
she would gain her ends by kindness. She would sleep secure on M.
Pons' legacy, but her rascality should keep within the limits of the
law. For ten years she had not suspected the value of Pons'
collection; she had a clear record behind her of ten years of
devotion, honesty, and disinterestedness; it was a magnificent
investment, and now she proposed to realize. In one day, Remonencq's
hint of money had hatched the serpent's egg, the craving for riches
that had lain dormant within her for twenty years. Since she had
cherished that craving, it had grown in force with the ferment of all
the evil that lurks in the corners of the heart. How she acted upon
the counsels whispered by the serpent will presently be seen.
"Well?" she asked of Schmucke, "has this cherub of ours had plenty to
drink? Is he better?"
"He is not doing fery vell, tear Montame Zipod, not fery vell," said
poor Schmucke, brushing away the tears from his eyes.
"Pooh! you make too much of it, my dear M. Schmucke; we must take
things as we find them; Cibot might be at death's door, and I should
not take it to heart as you do. Come! the cherub has a good
constitution. And he has been steady, it seems, you see; you have no
idea what an age sober people live. He is very ill, it is true, but
with all the care I take of him, I shall bring him round. Be easy,
look after your affairs, I will keep him company and see that he
drinks his pints of barley water."
"Gif you vere not here, I should die of anxiety--" said Schmucke,
squeezing his kind housekeeper's hand in both his own to express his
confidence in her.
La Cibot wiped her eyes as she went back to the invalid's room.
"What is the matter, Mme. Cibot?" asked Pons.
"It is M. Schmucke that has upset me; he is crying as if you were
dead," said she. "If you are not well, you are not so bad yet that
nobody need cry over you; but it has given me such a turn! Oh dear! oh
dear! how silly it is of me to get so fond of people, and to think
more of you than of Cibot! For, after all, you aren't nothing to me,
you are only my brother by Adam's side; and yet, whenever you are in
the question, it puts me in such a taking, upon my word it does! I
would cut off my hand--my left hand, of course--to see you coming and
going, eating your meals, and screwing bargains out of dealers as
usual. If I had had a child of my own, I think I should have loved it
as I love you, eh! There, take a drink, dearie; come now, empty the
glass. Drink it off, monsieur, I tell you! The first thing Dr. Poulain
said was, 'If M. Pons has no mind to go to Pere Lachaise, he ought to
drink as many buckets full of water in a day as an Auvergnat will
sell.' So, come now, drink--"
"But I do drink, Cibot, my good woman; I drink and drink till I am
"That is right," said the portress, as she took away the empty glass.
"That is the way to get better. Dr. Poulain had another patient ill of
your complaint; but he had nobody to look after him, his children left
him to himself, and he died because he didn't drink enough--so you
must drink, honey, you see--he died and they buried him two months
ago. And if you were to die, you know, you would drag down old M.
Schmucke with you, sir. He is like a child. Ah! he loves you, he does,
the dear lamb of a man; no woman never loved a man like that! He
doesn't care for meat nor drink; he has grown as thin as you are in
the last fortnight, and you are nothing but skin and bones.--It makes
me jealous to see it, for I am very fond of you; but not to that
degree; I haven't lost my appetite, quite the other way; always going
up and down stairs, till my legs are so tired that I drop down of an
evening like a lump of lead. Here am I neglecting my poor Cibot for
you; Mlle. Remonencq cooks his victuals for him, and he goes on about
it and says that nothing is right! At that I tell him that one ought
to put up with something for the sake of other people, and that you
are so ill that I cannot leave you. In the first place, you can't
afford a nurse. And before I would have a nurse here!--I have done for
you these ten years; they want wine and sugar, and foot-warmers, and
all sorts of comforts. And they rob their patients unless the patients
leave them something in their wills. Have a nurse in here to-day, and
to-morrow we should find a picture or something or other gone--"
"Oh! Mme. Cibot!" cried Pons, quite beside himself, "do not leave me!
No one must touch anything--"
"I am here," said La Cibot; "so long as I have the strength I shall be
here.--Be easy. There was Dr. Poulain wanting to get a nurse for you;
perhaps he has his eye on your treasures. I just snubbed him, I did.
'The gentleman won't have any one but me,' I told him. 'He is used to
me, and I am used to him.' So he said no more. A nurse, indeed! They
are all thieves; I hate that sort of woman, I do. Here is a tale that
will show you how sly they are. There was once an old gentleman--it
was Dr. Poulain himself, mind you, who told me this--well, a Mme.
Sabatier, a woman of thirty-six that used to sell slippers at the
Palais Royal--you remember the Galerie at the Palais that they pulled
"Well, at that time she had not done very well; her husband used to
drink, and died of spontaneous imbustion; but she had been a fine
woman in her time, truth to tell, not that it did her any good, though
she had friends among the lawyers. So, being hard up, she became a
monthly nurse, and lived in the Rue Barre-du-Bec. Well, she went out
to nurse an old gentleman that had a disease of the lurinary guts
(saving your presence); they used to tap him like an artesian well,
and he needed such care that she used to sleep on a truckle-bed in the
same room with him. You would hardly believe such a thing!--'Men
respect nothing,' you'll tell me, 'so selfish as they are.' Well, she
used to talk with him, you understand; she never left him, she amused
him, she told him stories, she drew him on to talk (just as we are
chatting away together now, you and I, eh?), and she found out that
his nephews--the old gentleman had nephews--that his nephews were
wretches; they had worried him, and final end of it, they had brought
on this illness. Well, my dear sir, she saved his life, he married
her, and they have a fine child; Ma'am Bordevin, the butcher's wife in
the Rue Charlot, a relative of hers, stood godmother. There is luck
"As for me, I am married; and if I have no children, I don't mind
saying that it is Cibot's fault; he is too fond of me, but if I cared
--never mind. What would have become of me and my Cibot if we had had
a family, when we have not a penny to bless ourselves with after
thirty years' of faithful service? I have not a farthing belonging to
nobody else, that is what comforts me. I have never wronged nobody.
--Look here, suppose now (there is no harm in supposing when you will be
out and about again in six weeks' time, and sauntering along the
boulevard); well, suppose that you had put me down in your will; very
good, I shouldn't never rest till I had found your heirs and given the
money back. Such is my horror of anything that is not earned by the
sweat of my brow.
"You will say to me, 'Why, Mme. Cibot, why should you worry yourself
like that? You have fairly earned the money; you looked after your two
gentlemen as if they had been your children; you saved them a thousand
francs a year--' (for there are plenty, sir, you know, that would have
had their ten thousand francs put out to interest by now if they had
been in my place)--'so if the worthy gentleman leaves you a trifle of
an annuity, it is only right.'--Suppose they told me that. Well, now;
I am not thinking of myself.--I cannot think how some women can do a
kindness thinking of themselves all the time. It is not doing good,
sir, is it? I do not go to church myself, I haven't the time; but my
conscience tells me what is right. . . . Don't you fidget like that,
my lamb!--Don't scratch yourself! . . . Dear me, how yellow you grow!
So yellow you are--quite brown. How funny it is that one can come to
look like a lemon in three weeks! . . . Honesty is all that poor folk
have, and one must surely have something! Suppose that you were just
at death's door, I should be the first to tell you that you ought to
leave all that you have to M. Schmucke. It is your duty, for he is all
the family you have. He loves you, he does, as a dog loves his
"Ah! yes," said Pons; "nobody else has ever loved me all my life
"Ah! that is not kind of you, sir," said Mme. Cibot; "then I do not
love you, I suppose?"
"I do not say so, my dear Mme. Cibot."
"Good. You take me for a servant, do you, a common servant, as if I
hadn't no heart! Goodness me! for eleven years you do for two old
bachelors, you think of nothing but their comfort. I have turned half
a score of greengrocers' shops upside down for you, I have talked
people round to get you good Brie cheese; I have gone down as far as
the market for fresh butter for you; I have taken such care of things
that nothing of yours hasn't been chipped nor broken in all these ten
years; I have just treated you like my own children; and then to hear
a 'My dear Mme. Cibot,' that shows that there is not a bit of feeling
for you in the heart of an old gentleman that you have cared for like
a king's son! for the little King of Rome was not so well looked
after. He died in his prime; there is proof for you. . . . Come, sir,
you are unjust! You are ungrateful! It is because I am only a poor
portress. Goodness me! are /you/ one of those that think we are
"But, my dear Mme. Cibot--"
"Indeed, you that know so much, tell me why we porters are treated
like this, and are supposed to have no feelings; people look down on
us in these days when they talk of Equality!--As for me, am I not as
good as another woman, I that was one of the finest women in Paris,
and was called /La belle Ecaillere/, and received declarations seven
or eight times a day? And even now if I liked--Look here, sir, you
know that little scrubby marine store-dealer downstairs? Very well, he
would marry me any day, if I were a widow that is, with his eyes shut;
he has had them looking wide open in my direction so often; he is
always saying, 'Oh! what fine arms you have, Ma'am Cibot!--I dreamed
last night that it was bread and I was butter, and I was spread on the
top.' Look, sir, there is an arm!"
She rolled up her sleeve and displayed the shapeliest arm imaginable,
as white and fresh as her hand was red and rough; a plump, round,
dimpled arm, drawn from its merino sheath like a blade from the
scabbard to dazzle Pons, who looked away.
"For every oyster the knife opened, the arm has opened a heart! Well,
it belongs to Cibot, and I did wrong when I neglected him, poor dear,
HE would throw himself over a precipice at a word from me; while you,
sir, that call me 'My dear Mme. Cibot' when I do impossible things for
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