Honore de Balzac
Part 14 out of 16
"He is dying of grief, jaundice, and liver complaint, with a lot of
family affairs to complicate matters."
"And a doctor as well," said Gaudissart. "He ought to have had Lebrun,
our doctor; it would have cost him nothing."
"M. Pons' doctor is a Providence on earth. But what can a doctor do,
no matter how clever he is, with such complications?"
"I wanted the good pair of nutcrackers badly for the accompaniment of
my new fairy piece."
"Is there anything that I can do for them?" asked La Cibot, and her
expression would have done credit to a Jocrisse.
Gaudissart burst out laughing.
"I am their housekeeper, sir, and do many things for my gentlemen--"
She did not finish her speech, for in the middle of Gaudissart's roar
of laughter a woman's voice exclaimed, "If you are laughing, old man,
one may come in," and the leading lady of the ballet rushed into the
room and flung herself upon the only sofa. The newcomer was Heloise
Brisetout, with a splendid /algerienne/, such as scarves used to be
called, about her shoulders.
"Who is amusing you? Is it this lady? What post does she want?" asked
this nymph, giving the manager such a glance as artist gives artist, a
glance that would make a subject for a picture.
Heloise, a young woman of exceedingly literary tastes, was on intimate
terms with great and famous artists in Bohemia. Elegant, accomplished,
and graceful, she was more intelligent than dancers usually are. As
she put her question, she sniffed at a scent-bottle full of some
"One fine woman is as good as another, madame; and if I don't sniff
the pestilence out of a scent-bottle, nor daub brickdust on my
"That would be a sinful waste, child, when Nature put it on for you to
begin with," said Heloise, with a side glance at her manager.
"I am an honest woman--"
"So much the worse for you. It is not every one by a long chalk that
can find some one to keep them, and kept I am, and in slap-up style,
"So much the worse! What do you mean? Oh, you may toss your head and
go about in scarves, you will never have as many declarations as I
have had, missus. You will never match the /Belle Ecaillere of the
Heloise Brisetout rose at once to her feet, stood at attention, and
made a military salute, like a soldier who meets his general.
"What?" asked Gaudissart, "are you really /La Belle Ecaillere/ of whom
my father used to talk?"
"In that case the cachucha and the polka were after your time; and
madame has passed her fiftieth year," remarked Heloise, and striking
an attitude, she declaimed, "'Cinna, let us be friends.'"
"Come, Heloise, the lady is not up to this; let her alone."
"Madame is perhaps the New Heloise," suggested La Cibot, with sly
"Not bad, old lady!" cried Gaudissart.
"It is a venerable joke," said the dancer, "a grizzled pun; find us
another old lady--or take a cigarette."
"I beg your pardon, madame, I feel too unhappy to answer you; my two
gentlemen are very ill; and to buy nourishment for them and to spare
them trouble, I have pawned everything down to my husband's clothes
that I pledged this morning. Here is the ticket!"
"Oh! here, the affair is becoming tragic," cried the fair Heloise.
"What is it all about?"
"Madame drops down upon us like--"
"Like a dancer," said Heloise; "let me prompt you,--missus!"
"Come, I am busy," said Gaudissart. "The joke has gone far enough.
Heloise, this is M. Pons' confidential servant; she had come to tell
me that I must not count upon him; our poor conductor is not expected
to live. I don't know what to do."
"Oh! poor man; why, he must have a benefit."
"It would ruin him," said Gaudissart. "He might find next day that he
owed five hundred francs to charitable institutions, and they refuse
to admit that there are any sufferers in Paris except their own. No,
look here, my good woman, since you are going in for the Montyon
He broke off, rang the bell, and the youth before mentioned suddenly
"Tell the cashier to send me up a thousand-franc note.--Sit down,
"Ah! poor woman, look, she is crying!" exclaimed Heloise. "How stupid!
There, there, mother, we will go to see him; don't cry.--I say, now,"
she continued, taking the manager into a corner, "you want to make me
take the leading part in the ballet in /Ariane/, you Turk. You are
going to be married, and you know how I can make you miserable--"
"Heloise, my heart is copper-bottomed like a man-of-war."
"I shall bring your children on the scene! I will borrow some
"I have owned up about the attachment."
"Do be nice, and give Pons' post to Garangeot; he has talent, poor
fellow, and he has not a penny; and I promise peace."
"But wait till Pons is dead, in case the good man may come back
"Oh, as to that, no, sir," said La Cibot. "He began to wander in his
mind last night, and now he is delirious. It will soon be over,
"At any rate, take Garangeot as a stop-gap!" pleaded Heloise. "He has
the whole press on his side--"
Just at that moment the cashier came in with a note for a thousand
francs in his hand.
"Give it to madame here," said Gaudissart. "Good-day, my good woman;
take good care of the dear man, and tell him that I am coming to see
him to-morrow, or sometime--as soon as I can, in short."
"A drowning man," said Heloise.
"Ah, sir, hearts like yours are only found in a theatre. May God bless
"To what account shall I post this item?" asked the cashier.
"I will countersign the order. Post it to the bonus account."
Before La Cibot went out, she made Mlle. Brisetout a fine courtesy,
and heard Gaudissart remark to his mistress:
"Can Garangeot do the dance-music for the /Mohicans/ in twelve days?
If he helps me out of my predicament, he shall have Pons' place."
La Cibot had cut off the incomes of the two friends, she had left them
without means of subsistence if Pons should chance to recover, and was
better rewarded for all this mischief than for any good that she had
done. In a few days' time her treacherous trick would bring about the
desired result--Elie Magus would have his coveted pictures. But if
this first spoliation was to be effected, La Cibot must throw dust in
Fraisier's eyes, and lull the suspicions of that terrible
fellow-conspirator of her own seeking; and Elie Magus and Remonencq
must be bound over to secrecy.
As for Remonencq, he had gradually come to feel such a passion as
uneducated people can conceive when they come to Paris from the depths
of the country, bringing with them all the fixed ideas bred of the
solitary country life; all the ignorance of a primitive nature, all
the brute appetites that become so many fixed ideas. Mme. Cibot's
masculine beauty, her vivacity, her market-woman's wit, had all been
remarked by the marine store-dealer. He thought at first of taking La
Cibot from her husband, bigamy among the lower classes in Paris being
much more common than is generally supposed; but greed was like a
slip-knot drawn more and more tightly about his heart, till reason at
length was stifled. When Remonencq computed that the commission paid
by himself and Elie Magus amounted to about forty thousand francs, he
determined to have La Cibot for his legitimate spouse, and his
thoughts turned from a misdemeanor to a crime. A romantic purely
speculative dream, persistently followed through a tobacco-smoker's
long musings as he lounged in the doorway, had brought him to the
point of wishing that the little tailor were dead. At a stroke he
beheld his capital trebled; and then he thought of La Cibot. What a
good saleswoman she would be! What a handsome figure she would make in
a magnificent shop on the boulevards! The twofold covetousness turned
Remonencq's head. In fancy he took a shop that he knew of on the
Boulevard de la Madeleine, he stocked it with Pons' treasures, and
then--after dreaming his dream in sheets of gold, after seeing
millions in the blue spiral wreaths that rose from his pipe, he awoke
to find himself face to face with the little tailor. Cibot was
sweeping the yard, the doorstep, and the pavement just as his neighbor
was taking down the shutters and displaying his wares; for since Pons
fell ill, La Cibot's work had fallen to her husband.
The Auvergnat began to look upon the little, swarthy, stunted,
copper-colored tailor as the one obstacle in his way, and pondered how
to be rid of him. Meanwhile this growing passion made La Cibot very
proud, for she had reached an age when a woman begins to understand
that she may grow old.
So early one morning, she meditatively watched Remonencq as he
arranged his odds and ends for sale. She wondered how far his love
could go. He came across to her.
"Well," he said, "are things going as you wish?"
"It is you who makes me uneasy," said La Cibot. "I shall be talked
about; the neighbors will see you making sheep's eyes at me."
She left the doorway and dived into the Auvergnat's back shop.
"What a notion!" said Remonencq.
"Come here, I have something to say to you," said La Cibot. "M. Pons'
heirs are about to make a stir; they are capable of giving us a lot of
trouble. God knows what might come of it if they send the lawyers here
to poke their noses into the affair like hunting-dogs. I cannot get M.
Schmucke to sell a few pictures unless you like me well enough to keep
the secret--such a secret!--With your head on the block, you must not
say where the pictures come from, nor who it was that sold them. When
M. Pons is once dead and buried, you understand, nobody will know how
many pictures there ought to be; if there are fifty-three pictures
instead of sixty-seven, nobody will be any the wiser. Besides, if M.
Pons sold them himself while he was alive, nobody can find fault."
"No," agreed Remonencq, "it is all one to me, but M. Elie Magus will
want receipts in due form."
"And you shall have your receipt too, bless your life! Do you suppose
that /I/ should write them?--No, M. Schmucke will do that. But tell
your Jew that he must keep the secret as closely as you do," she
"We will be as mute as fishes. That is our business. I myself can
read, but I cannot write, and that is why I want a capable wife that
has had education like you. I have thought of nothing but earning my
bread all my days, and now I wish I had some little Remonencqs. Do
leave that Cibot of yours."
"Why, here comes your Jew," said the portress; "we can arrange the
Elie Magus came every third day very early in the morning to know when
he could buy his pictures. "Well, my dear lady," said he, "how are we
"Has nobody been to speak to you about M. Pons and his gimcracks?"
asked La Cibot.
"I received a letter from a lawyer," said Elie Magus, "a rascal that
seems to me to be trying to work for himself; I don't like people of
that sort, so I took no notice of his letter. Three days afterwards he
came to see me, and left his card. I told my porter that I am never at
home when he calls."
"You are a love of a Jew," said La Cibot. Little did she know Elie
Magus' prudence. "Well, sonnies, in a few days' time I will bring M.
Schmucke to the point of selling you seven or eight pictures, ten at
most. But on two conditions.--Absolute secrecy in the first place. M.
Schmucke will send for you, sir, is not that so? And M. Remonencq
suggested that you might be a purchaser, eh?--And, come what may, I
will not meddle in it for nothing. You are giving forty-six thousand
francs for four pictures, are you not?"
"So be it," groaned the Jew.
"Very good. This is the second condition. You will give me
/forty-three/ thousand francs, and pay three thousand only to M.
Schmucke; Remonencq will buy four for two thousand francs, and hand
over the surplus to me.--But at the same time, you see my dear M.
Magus, I am going to help you and Remonencq to a splendid bit of
business--on condition that the profits are shared among the three of
us. I will introduce you to that lawyer, as he, no doubt, will come
here. You shall make a valuation of M. Pons' things at the prices
which you can give for them, so that M. Fraisier may know how much
the property is worth. But--not until after our sale, you understand!"
"I understand," said the Jew, "but it takes time to look at the things
and value them."
"You shall have half a day. But, there, that is my affair. Talk it
over between yourselves, my boys, and for that matter the business
will be settled by the day after to-morrow. I will go round to speak
to this Fraisier; for Dr. Poulain tells him everything that goes on in
the house, and it is a great bother to keep that scarecrow quiet."
La Cibot met Fraisier halfway between the Rue de la Perle and the Rue
de Normandie; so impatient was he to know the "elements of the case"
(to use his own expression), that he was coming to see her.
"I say! I was going to you," said she.
Fraisier grumbled because Elie Magus had refused to see him. But La
Cibot extinguished the spark of distrust that gleamed in the lawyer's
eyes by informing him that Elie Magus had returned from a journey, and
that she would arrange for an interview in Pons' rooms and for the
valuation of the property; for the day after to-morrow at latest.
"Deal frankly with me," returned Fraisier. "It is more than probable
that I shall act for M. Pons' next-of-kin. In that case, I shall be
even better able to serve you."
The words were spoken so drily that La Cibot quaked. This starving
limb of the law was sure to manoeuvre on his side as she herself was
doing. She resolved forthwith to hurry on the sale of the pictures.
La Cibot was right. The doctor and lawyer had clubbed together to buy
a new suit of clothes in which Fraisier could decently present himself
before Mme. la Presidente Camusot de Marville. Indeed, if the clothes
had been ready, the interview would have taken place sooner, for the
fate of the couple hung upon its issues. Fraisier left Mme. Cibot, and
went to try on his new clothes. He found them waiting for him, went
home, adjusted his new wig, and towards ten o'clock that morning set
out in a carriage from a livery stable for the Rue de Hanovre, hoping
for an audience. In his white tie, yellow gloves, and new wig,
redolent of /eau de Portugal/, he looked something like a poisonous
essence kept in a cut-glass bottle, seeming but the more deadly
because everything about it is daintily neat, from the stopper covered
with white kid to the label and the thread. His peremptory manner, the
eruption on his blotched countenance, the green eyes, and a malignant
something about him,--all these things struck the beholder with the
same sense of surprise as storm-clouds in a blue sky. If in his
private office, as he showed himself to La Cibot, he was the common
knife that a murderer catches up for his crime,--now, at the
Presidente's door, he was the daintily-wrought dagger which a woman
sets among the ornaments on her what-not.
A great change had taken place in the Rue de Hanovre. The Count and
Countess Popinot and the young people would not allow the President
and his wife to leave the house that they had settled upon their
daughter to pay rent elsewhere. M. and Mme. la Presidente, therefore,
were installed on the second floor, now left at liberty, for the
elderly lady had made up her mind to end her days in the country.
Mme. Camusot took Madeleine Vivet, with her cook and her man-servant,
to the second floor, and would have been as much pinched for money as
in the early days, if the house had not been rent free, and the
President's salary increased to ten thousand francs. This /aurea
mediocritas/ was but little satisfactory to Mme. de Marville. Even now
she wished for means more in accordance with her ambitions; for when
she handed over their fortune to their daughter, she spoiled her
husband's prospects. Now Amelie had set her heart upon seeing her
husband in the Chamber of Deputies; she was not one of those women who
find it easy to give up their way; and she by no means despaired of
returning her husband for the arrondissement in which Marville is
situated. So for the past two months she had teased her father-in-law,
M. le Baron Camusot (for the new peer of France had been advanced to
that rank), and done her utmost to extort an advance of a hundred
thousand francs of the inheritance which one day would be theirs. She
wanted, she said, to buy a small estate worth about two thousand
francs per annum set like a wedge within the Marville lands. There she
and her husband would be near their children and in their own house,
while the addition would round out the Marville property. With that
the Presidente laid stress upon the recent sacrifices which she and
her husband had been compelled to make in order to marry Cecile to
Viscount Popinot, and asked the old man how he could bar his eldest
son's way to the highest honors of the magistracy, when such honors
were only to be had by those who made themselves a strong position in
parliament. Her husband would know how to take up such a position, he
would make himself feared by those in office, and so on and so on.
"They do nothing for you unless you tighten a halter round their necks
to loosen their tongues," said she. "They are ungrateful. What do they
not owe to Camusot! Camusot brought the House of Orleans to the throne
by enforcing the ordinances of July."
M. Camusot senior answered that he had gone out of his depth in
railway speculations. He quite admitted that it was necessary to come
to the rescue, but put off the day until shares should rise, as they
were expected to do.
This half-promise, extracted some few days before Fraisier's visit,
had plunged the Presidente into depths of affliction. It was doubtful
whether the ex-proprietor of Marville was eligible for re-election
without the land qualification.
Fraisier found no difficulty in obtaining speech of Madeleine Vivet;
such viper natures own their kinship at once.
"I should like to see Mme. la Presidente for a few moments,
mademoiselle," Fraisier said in bland accents; "I have come on a
matter of business which touches her fortune; it is a question of a
legacy, be sure to mention that. I have not the honor of being known
to Mme. la Presidente, so my name is of no consequence. I am not in
the habit of leaving my chambers, but I know the respect that is due
to a President's wife, and I took the trouble of coming myself to save
all possible delay."
The matter thus broached, when repeated and amplified by the
waiting-maid, naturally brought a favorable answer. It was a decisive
moment for the double ambition hidden in Fraisier's mind. Bold as a
petty provincial attorney, sharp, rough-spoken, and curt as he was, he
felt as captains feel before the decisive battle of a campaign. As he
went into the little drawing-room where Amelie was waiting for him, he
felt a slight perspiration breaking out upon his forehead and down his
back. Every sudorific hitherto employed had failed to produce this
result upon a skin which horrible diseases had left impervious. "Even
if I fail to make my fortune," said he to himself, "I shall recover.
Poulain said that if I could only perspire I should recover."
The Presidente came forward in her morning gown.
"Madame--" said Fraisier, stopping short to bow with the humility by
which officials recognize the superior rank of the person whom they
"Take a seat, monsieur," said the Presidente. She saw at a glance that
this was a man of law.
"Mme. la Presidente, if I take the liberty of calling your attention
to a matter which concerns M. le President, it is because I am sure
that M. de Marville, occupying, as he does, a high position, would
leave matters to take their natural course, and so lose seven or eight
hundred thousand francs, a sum which ladies (who, in my opinion, have
a far better understanding of private business than the best of
magistrates)--a sum which ladies, I repeat, would by no means
"You spoke of a legacy," interrupted the lady, dazzled by the wealth,
and anxious to hide her surprise. Amelie de Marville, like an
impatient novel-reader, wanted the end of the story.
"Yes, madame, a legacy that you are like to lose; yes, to lose
altogether; but I can, that is, I /could/, recover it for you, if--"
"Speak out, monsieur." Mme. de Marville spoke frigidly, scanning
Fraisier as she spoke with a sagacious eye.
"Madame, your eminent capacity is known to me; I was once at Mantes.
M. Leboeuf, President of the Tribunal, is acquainted with M. de
Marville, and can answer inquiries about me--"
The Presidente's shrug was so ruthlessly significant, that Fraisier
was compelled to make short work of his parenthetic discourse.
"So distinguished a woman will at once understand why I speak of
myself in the first place. It is the shortest way to the property."
To this acute observation the lady replied by a gesture. Fraisier took
the sign for a permission to continue.
"I was an attorney, madame, at Mantes. My connection was all the
fortune that I was likely to have. I took over M. Levroux's practice.
You knew him, no doubt?"
The Presidente inclined her head.
"With borrowed capital and some ten thousand francs of my own, I went
to Mantes. I had been with Desroches, one of the cleverest attorneys
in Paris, I had been his head-clerk for six years. I was so unlucky as
to make an enemy of the attorney for the crown at Mantes, Monsieur--"
"Son of the Attorney-General, yes, madame. He was paying his court to
a little person--"
"Oh! Mme. Vatinelle. She was very pretty and very--er--when I was
"She was not unkind to me: /inde iroe/," Fraisier continued. "I was
industrious; I wanted to repay my friends and to marry; I wanted work;
I went in search of it; and before long I had more on my hands than
anybody else. Bah! I had every soul in Mantes against me--attorneys,
notaries, and even the bailiffs. They tried to fasten a quarrel on me.
In our ruthless profession, as you know, madame, if you wish to ruin a
man, it is soon done. I was concerned for both parties in a case, and
they found it out. It was a trifle irregular; but it is sometimes done
in Paris, attorneys in certain cases hand the rhubarb and take the
senna. They do things differently at Mantes. I had done M. Bouyonnet
this little service before; but, egged on by his colleagues and the
attorney for the crown, he betrayed me.--I am keeping back nothing,
you see.--There was a great hue and cry about it. I was a scoundrel;
they made me out blacker than Marat; forced me to sell out; ruined me.
And I am in Paris now. I have tried to get together a practice; but my
health is so bad, that I have only two quiet hours out of the
"At this moment I have but one ambition, and a very small one. Some
day," he continued, "you will be the wife of the Keeper of the Seals,
or of the Home Secretary, it may be; but I, poor and sickly as I am,
desire nothing but a post in which I can live in peace for the rest of
my life, a place without any opening in which to vegetate. I should
like to be a justice of the peace in Paris. It would be a mere trifle
for you and M. le President to gain the appointment for me; for the
present Keeper of the Seals must be anxious to keep on good terms with
you . . .
"And that is not all, madame," added Fraisier. Seeing that Mme. de
Marville was about to speak, he cut her short with a gesture. "I have
a friend, the doctor in attendance on the old man who ought to leave
his property to M. le President. (We are coming to the point, you
see.) The doctor's co-operation is indispensable, and the doctor is
precisely in my position: he has abilities, he is unlucky. I learned
through him how far your interests were imperiled; for even as I
speak, all may be over, and the will disinheriting M. le President may
have been made. This doctor wishes to be head-surgeon of a hospital or
of a Government school. He must have a position in Paris equal to
mine. . . . Pardon me if I have enlarged on a matter so delicate; but
we must have no misunderstandings in this business. The doctor is,
besides, much respected and learned; he saved the life of the Comtesse
Popinot's great-uncle, M. Pillerault.
"Now, if you are so good as to promise these two posts--the
appointment of justice of the peace and the sinecure for my friend--I
will undertake to bring you the property, /almost/ intact.--Almost
intact, I say, for the co-operation of the legatee and several other
persons is absolutely indispensable, and some obligations will be
incurred. You will not redeem your promises until I have fulfilled
The Presidente had folded her arms, and for the last minute or two sat
like a person compelled to listen to a sermon. Now she unfolded her
arms, and looked at Fraisier as she said, "Monsieur, all that you say
concerning your interests has the merit of clearness; but my own
interests in the matter are by no means so clear--"
"A word or two will explain everything, madame. M. le President is M.
Pons' first cousin once removed, and his sole heir. M. Pons is very
ill; he is about to make his will, if it is not already made, in favor
of a German, a friend of his named Schmucke; and he has more than
seven hundred thousand francs to leave. I hope to have an accurate
valuation made in two or three days--"
"If this is so," said the Presidente, "I made a great mistake in
quarreling with him and throwing the blame----" she thought aloud,
amazed by the possibility of such a sum.
"No, madame. If there had been no rupture, he would be as blithe as a
lark at this moment, and might outlive you and M. le President and me.
. . . The ways of Providence are mysterious, let us not seek to fathom
them," he added to palliate to some extent the hideous idea. "It
cannot be helped. We men of business look at the practical aspects of
things. Now you see clearly, madame, that M. de Marville in his public
position would do nothing, and could do nothing, as things are. He has
broken off all relations with his cousin. You see nothing now of Pons;
you have forbidden him the house; you had excellent reasons, no doubt,
for doing as you did, but the old man is ill, and he is leaving his
property to the only friend left to him. A President of the Court of
Appeal in Paris could say nothing under such circumstances if the will
was made out in due form. But between ourselves, madame, when one has
a right to expect seven or eight hundred thousand francs--or a
million, it may be (how should I know?)--it is very unpleasant to have
it slip through one's fingers, especially if one happens to be the
heir-at-law. . . . But, on the other hand, to prevent this, one is
obliged to stoop to dirty work; work so difficult, so ticklish,
bringing you cheek by jowl with such low people, servants and
subordinates; and into such close contact with them too, that no
barrister, no attorney in Paris could take up such a case.
"What you want is a briefless barrister like me," said he, "a man who
should have real and solid ability, who has learned to be devoted, and
yet, being in a precarious position, is brought temporarily to a level
with such people. In my arrondissement I undertake business for small
tradespeople and working folk. Yes, madame, you see the straits to
which I have been brought by the enmity of an attorney for the crown,
now a deputy-public prosecutor in Paris, who could not forgive me my
superiority.--I know you, madame, I know that your influence means a
solid certainty; and in such a service rendered to you, I saw the end
of my troubles and success for my friend Dr. Poulain."
The lady sat pensive during a moment of unspeakable torture for
Fraisier. Vinet, an orator of the Centre, attorney-general
(/procureur-general/) for the past sixteen years, nominated
half-a-score of times for the chancellorship, the father, moreover, of
the attorney for the crown at Mantes who had been appointed to a post
in Paris within the last year--Vinet was an enemy and a rival for the
malignant Presidente. The haughty attorney-general did not hide his
contempt for President Camusot. This fact Fraisier did not know, and
could not know.
"Have you nothing on your conscience but the fact that you were
concerned for both parties?" asked she, looking steadily at Fraisier.
"Mme. la Presidente can see M. Leboeuf; M. Leboeuf was favorable to
"Do you feel sure that M. Leboeuf will give M. de Marville and M. le
Comte Popinot a good account of you?"
"I will answer for it, especially now that M. Olivier Vinet has left
Mantes; for between ourselves, good M. Leboeuf was afraid of that
crabbed little official. If you will permit me, Madame La Presidente,
I will go to Mantes and see M. Leboeuf. No time will be lost, for I
cannot be certain of the precise value of the property for two or
three days. I do not wish that you should know all the ins and outs of
this affair; you ought not to know them, Mme. la Presidente, but is
not the reward that I expect for my complete devotion a pledge of my
"Very well. If M. Leboeuf will speak in your favor, and if the
property is worth as much as you think (I doubt it myself), you shall
have both appointments, /if/ you succeed, mind you--"
"I will answer for it, madame. Only, you must be so good as to have
your notary and your attorney here when I shall need them; you must
give me a power of attorney to act for M. le President, and tell those
gentlemen to follow my instructions, and to do nothing on their own
"The responsibility rests with you," the Presidente answered solemnly,
"so you ought to have full powers.--But is M. Pons very ill?" she
"Upon my word, madame, he might pull through, especially with so
conscientious a doctor as Poulain in attendance; for this friend of
mine, madame, is simply an unconscious spy directed by me in your
interests. Left to himself, he would save the old man's life; but
there is some one else by the sickbed, a portress, who would push him
into the grave for thirty thousand francs. Not that she would kill him
outright; she will not give him arsenic, she is not so merciful; she
will do worse, she will kill him by inches; she will worry him to
death day by day. If the poor old man were kept quiet and left in
peace; if he were taken into the country and cared for and made much
of by friends, he would get well again; but he is harassed by a sort
of Mme. Evrard. When the woman was young she was one of thirty /Belles
Ecailleres/, famous in Paris, she is a rough, greedy, gossiping woman;
she torments him to make a will and to leave her something handsome,
and the end of it will be induration of the liver, calculi are
possibly forming at this moment, and he has not enough strength to
bear an operation. The doctor, noble soul, is in a horrible
predicament. He really ought to send the woman away--"
"Why, then, this vixen is a monster!" cried the lady in thin
Fraisier smiled inwardly at the likeness between himself and the
terrible Presidente; he knew all about those suave modulations of a
naturally sharp voice. He thought of another president, the hero of an
anecdote related by Louis XI., stamped by that monarch's final praise.
Blessed with a wife after the pattern of Socrates' spouse, and
ungifted with the sage's philosophy, he mingled salt with the corn in
the mangers and forbad the grooms to give water to the horses. As his
wife rode along the Seine towards their country-house, the animals
bolted into the river with the lady, and the magistrate returned
thanks to Providence for ridding him of his wife "in so natural a
manner." At this present moment Mme. de Marville thanked Heaven for
placing at Pons' bedside a woman so likely to get him "decently" out
of the way.
Aloud she said, "I would not take a million at the price of a single
scruple.--Your friend ought to speak to M. Pons and have the woman
"In the first place, madame, Messrs. Schmucke and Pons think the woman
an angel; they would send my friend away. And secondly, the doctor
lies under an obligation to this horrid oyster-woman; she called him
in to attend M. Pillerault. When he tells her to be as gentle as
possible with the patient, he simply shows the creature how to make
"What does your friend think of /my/ cousin's condition?"
This man's clear, business-like way of putting the facts of the case
frightened Mme. de Marville; she felt that his keen gaze read the
thoughts of a heart as greedy as La Cibot's own.
"In six weeks the property will change hands."
The Presidente dropped her eyes.
"Poor man!" she sighed, vainly striving after a dolorous expression.
"Have you any message, madame, for M. Leboeuf? I am taking the train
"Yes. Wait a moment, and I will write to ask him to dine with us
to-morrow. I want to see him, so that he may act in concert to repair
the injustice to which you have fallen a victim."
The Presidente left the room. Fraisier saw himself a justice of the
peace. He felt transformed at the thought; he grew stouter; his lungs
were filled with the breath of success, the breeze of prosperity. He
dipped into the mysterious reservoirs of volition for fresh and strong
doses of the divine essence. To reach success, he felt, as Remonencq
half felt, that he was ready for anything, for crime itself, provided
that no proofs of it remained. He had faced the Presidente boldly; he
had transmuted conjecture into reality; he had made assertions right
and left, all to the end that she might authorize him to protect her
interests and win her influence. As he stood there, he represented the
infinite misery of two lives, and the no less boundless desires of two
men. He spurned the squalid horrors of the Rue de la Perle. He saw the
glitter of a thousand crowns in fees from La Cibot, and five thousand
francs from the Presidente. This meant an abode such as befitted his
future prospects. Finally, he was repaying Dr. Poulain.
There are hard, ill-natured beings, goaded by distress or disease into
active malignity, that yet entertain diametrically opposed sentiments
with a like degree of vehemence. If Richelieu was a good hater, he was
no less a good friend. Fraisier, in his gratitude, would have let
himself be cut in two for Poulain.
So absorbed was he in these visions of a comfortable and prosperous
life, that he did not see the Presidente come in with the letter in
her hand, and she, looking at him, thought him less ugly now than at
first. He was about to be useful to her, and as soon as a tool belongs
to us we look upon it with other eyes.
"M. Fraisier," said she, "you have convinced me of your intelligence,
and I think that you can speak frankly."
Fraisier replied by an eloquent gesture.
"Very well," continued the lady, "I must ask you to give a candid
reply to this question: Are we, either of us, M. de Marville or I,
likely to be compromised, directly or indirectly, by your action in
"I would not have come to you, madame, if I thought that some day I
should have to reproach myself for bringing so much as a splash of mud
upon you, for in your position a speck the size of a pin's head is
seen by all the world. You forget, madame, that I must satisfy you if
I am to be a justice of the peace in Paris. I have received one lesson
at the outset of my life; it was so sharp that I do not care to lay
myself open to a second thrashing. To sum it up in a last word,
madame, I will not take a step in which you are indirectly involved
without previously consulting you--"
"Very good. Here is the letter. And now I shall expect to be informed
of the exact value of the estate."
"There is the whole matter," said Fraisier shrewdly, making his bow to
the Presidente with as much graciousness as his countenance could
"What a providence!" thought Mme. Camusot de Marville. "So I am to be
rich! Camusot will be sure of his election if we let loose this
Fraisier upon the Bolbec constituency. What a tool!"
"What a providence!" Fraisier said to himself as he descended the
staircase; "and what a sharp woman Mme. Camusot is! I should want a
woman in these circumstances. Now to work!"
And he departed for Mantes to gain the good graces of a man he
scarcely knew; but he counted upon Mme. Vatinelle, to whom,
unfortunately, he owed all his troubles--and some troubles are of a
kind that resemble a protested bill while the defaulter is yet
solvent, in that they bear interest.
Three days afterwards, while Schmucke slept (for in accordance with
the compact he now sat up at night with the patient), La Cibot had a
"tiff," as she was pleased to call it, with Pons. It will not be out
of place to call attention to one particularly distressing symptom of
liver complaint. The sufferer is always more or less inclined to
impatience and fits of anger; an outburst of this kind seems to give
relief at the time, much as a patient while the fever fit is upon him
feels that he has boundless strength; but collapse sets in so soon as
the excitement passes off, and the full extent of mischief sustained
by the system is discernible. This is especially the case when the
disease has been induced by some great shock; and the prostration is
so much the more dangerous because the patient is kept upon a
restricted diet. It is a kind of fever affecting neither the blood nor
the brain, but the humoristic mechanism, fretting the whole system,
producing melancholy, in which the patient hates himself; in such a
crisis anything may cause dangerous irritation.
In spite of all that the doctor could say, La Cibot had no belief in
this wear and tear of the nervous system by the humoristic. She was a
woman of the people, without experience or education; Dr. Poulain's
explanations for her were simply "doctor's notions." Like most of her
class, she thought that sick people must be fed, and nothing short of
Dr. Poulain's direct order prevented her from administering ham, a
nice omelette, or vanilla chocolate upon the sly.
The infatuation of the working classes on this point is very strong.
The reason of their reluctance to enter a hospital is the idea that
they will be starved there. The mortality caused by the food smuggled
in by the wives of patients on visiting-days was at one time so great
that the doctors were obliged to institute a very strict search for
If La Cibot was to realize her profits at once, a momentary quarrel
must be worked up in some way. She began by telling Pons about her
visit to the theatre, not omitting her passage at arms with Mlle.
Heloise the dancer.
"But why did you go?" the invalid asked for the third time. La Cibot
once launched on a stream of words, he was powerless to stop her.
"So, then, when I had given her a piece of my mind, Mademoiselle
Heloise saw who I was and knuckled under, and we were the best of
friends.--And now do you ask me why I went?" she added, repeating
There are certain babblers, babblers of genius are they, who sweep up
interruptions, objections, and observations in this way as they go
along, by way of provision to swell the matter of their conversation,
as if that source were ever in any danger of running dry.
"Why I went?" repeated she. "I went to get your M. Gaudissart out of a
fix. He wants some music for a ballet, and you are hardly fit to
scribble on sheets of paper and do your work, dearie.--So I
understood, things being so, that a M. Garangeot was to be asked to
set the /Mohicans/ to music--"
"Garangeot!" roared Pons in fury. "/Garangeot!/ a man with no talent;
I would not have him for first violin! He is very clever, he is very
good at musical criticism, but as to composing--I doubt it! And what
the devil put the notion of going to the theatre into your head?"
"How confoundedly contrairy the man is! Look here, dearie, we mustn't
boil over like milk on the fire! How are you to write music in the
state that you are in? Why, you can't have looked at yourself in the
glass! Will you have the glass and see? You are nothing but skin and
bone--you are as weak as a sparrow, and do you think that you are fit
to make your notes! why, you would not so much as make out mine. . . .
And that reminds me that I ought to go up to the third floor lodger's
that owes us seventeen francs, for when the chemist has been paid we
shall not have twenty left.--So I had to tell M. Gaudissart (I like
that name), a good sort he seems to be,--a regular Roger Bontemps that
would just suit me.--/He/ will never have liver complaint!--Well, so I
had to tell him how you were.--Lord! you are not well, and he has put
some one else in your place for a bit--"
"Some one else in my place!" cried Pons in a terrible voice, as he sat
right up in bed. Sick people, generally speaking, and those most
particularly who lie within the sweep of the scythe of Death, cling to
their places with the same passionate energy that the beginner
displays to gain a start in life. To hear that someone had taken his
place was like a foretaste of death to the dying man.
"Why, the doctor told me that I was going on as well as possible,"
continued he; "he said that I should soon be about again as usual. You
have killed me, ruined me, murdered me!"
"Tut, tut, tut!" cried La Cibot, "there you go! I am killing you, am
I? Mercy on us! these are the pretty things that you are always
telling M. Schmucke when my back is turned. I hear all that you say,
that I do! You are a monster of ingratitude."
"But you do not know that if I am only away for another fortnight,
they will tell me that I have had my day, that I am old-fashioned, out
of date, Empire, rococo, when I go back. Garangeot will have made
friends all over the theatre, high and low. He will lower the pitch to
suit some actress that cannot sing, he will lick M. Gaudissart's
boots!" cried the sick man, who clung to life. "He has friends that
will praise him in all the newspapers; and when things are like that
in such a shop, Mme. Cibot, they can find holes in anybody's coat.
. . . What fiend drove you to do it?"
"Why! plague take it, M. Schmucke talked it over with me for a week.
What would you have? You see nothing but yourself! You are so selfish
that other people may die if you can only get better.--Why poor M.
Schmucke has been tired out this month past! he is tied by the leg, he
can go nowhere, he cannot give lessons nor take his place at the
theatre. Do you really see nothing? He sits up with you at night, and
I take the nursing in the day. If I were to sit up at night with you,
as I tried to do at first when I thought you were so poor, I should
have to sleep all day. And who would see to the house and look out for
squalls! Illness is illness, it cannot be helped, and here are you--"
"This was not Schmucke's idea, it is quite impossible--"
"That means that it was /I/ who took it into my head to do it, does
it? Do you think that we are made of iron? Why, if M. Schmucke had
given seven or eight lessons every day and conducted the orchestra
every evening at the theatre from six o'clock till half-past eleven at
night, he would have died in ten days' time. Poor man, he would give
his life for you, and do you want to be the death of him? By the
authors of my days, I have never seen a sick man to match you! Where
are your senses? have you put them in pawn? We are all slaving our
lives out for you; we do all for the best, and you are not satisfied!
Do you want to drive us raging mad? I myself, to begin with, am tired
out as it is----"
La Cibot rattled on at her ease; Pons was too angry to say a word. He
writhed on his bed, painfully uttering inarticulate sounds; the blow
was killing him. And at this point, as usual, the scolding turned
suddenly to tenderness. The nurse dashed at her patient, grasped him
by the head, made him lie down by main force, and dragged the blankets
"How any one can get into such a state!" exclaimed she. "After all, it
is your illness, dearie. That is what good M. Poulain says. See now,
keep quiet and be good, my dear little sonny. Everybody that comes
near you worships you, and the doctor himself comes to see you twice a
day. What would he say if he found you in such a way? You put me out
of all patience; you ought not to behave like this. If you have Ma'am
Cibot to nurse you, you should treat her better. You shout and you
talk!--you ought not to do it, you know that. Talking irritates you.
And why do you fly into a passion? The wrong is all on your side; you
are always bothering me. Look here, let us have it out! If M. Schmucke
and I, who love you like our life, thought that we were doing right
--well, my cherub, it was right, you may be sure."
"Schmucke never could have told you to go to the theatre without
speaking to me about it--"
"And must I wake him, poor dear, when he is sleeping like one of the
blest, and call him in as a witness?"
"No, no!" cried Pons. "If my kind and loving Schmucke made the
resolution, perhaps I am worse than I thought." His eyes wandered
round the room, dwelling on the beautiful things in it with a
melancholy look painful to see.
"So I must say good-bye to my dear pictures, to all the things that
have come to be like so many friends to me . . . and to my divine
friend Schmucke? . . . Oh! can it be true?"
La Cibot, acting her heartless comedy, held her handkerchief to her
eyes; and at that mute response the sufferer fell to dark musing--so
sorely stricken was he by the double stab dealt to health and his
interests by the loss of his post and the near prospect of death, that
he had no strength left for anger. He lay, ghastly and wan, like a
consumptive patient after a wrestling bout with the Destroyer.
"In M. Schmucke's interests, you see, you would do well to send for M.
Trognon; he is the notary of the quarter and a very good man," said La
Cibot, seeing that her victim was completely exhausted.
"You are always talking about this Trognon--"
"Oh! he or another, it is all one to me, for anything you will leave
She tossed her head to signify that she despised riches. There was
silence in the room.
A moment later Schmucke came in. He had slept for six hours, hunger
awakened him, and now he stood at Pons' bedside watching his friend
without saying a word, for Mme. Cibot had laid a finger on her lips.
"Hush!" she whispered. Then she rose and went up to add under her
breath, "He is going off to sleep at last, thank Heaven! He is as
cross as a red donkey!--What can you expect, he is struggling with his
"No, on the contrary, I am very patient," said the victim in a weary
voice that told of a dreadful exhaustion; "but, oh! Schmucke, my dear
friend, she has been to the theatre to turn me out of my place."
There was a pause. Pons was too weak to say more. La Cibot took the
opportunity and tapped her head significantly. "Do not contradict
him," she said to Schmucke; "it would kill him."
Pons gazed into Schmucke's honest face. "And she says that you sent
her--" he continued.
"Yes," Schmucke affirmed heroically. "It had to pe. Hush!--let us safe
your life. It is absurd to vork and train your sdrength gif you haf a
dreasure. Get better; ve vill sell some prick-a-prack und end our tays
kvietly in a corner somveres, mit kind Montame Zipod."
"She has perverted you," moaned Pons.
Mme. Cibot had taken up her station behind the bed to make signals
unobserved. Pons thought that she had left the room. "She is murdering
me," he added.
"What is that? I am murdering you, am I?" cried La Cibot, suddenly
appearing, hand on hips and eyes aflame. "I am as faithful as a dog,
and this is all I get! God Almighty!--"
She burst into tears and dropped down into the great chair, a tragical
movement which wrought a most disastrous revulsion in Pons.
"Very good," she said, rising to her feet. The woman's malignant eyes
looked poison and bullets at the two friends. "Very good. Nothing that
I can do is right here, and I am tired of slaving my life out. You
shall take a nurse."
Pons and Schmucke exchanged glances in dismay.
"Oh! you may look at each other like actors. I mean it. I shall ask
Dr. Poulain to find a nurse for you. And now we will settle accounts.
You shall pay me back the money that I have spent on you, and that I
would never have asked you for, I that have gone to M. Pillerault to
borrow another five hundred francs of him--"
"It ees his illness!" cried Schmucke--he sprang to Mme. Cibot and put
an arm round her waist--"haf batience."
"As for you, you are an angel, I could kiss the ground you tread
upon," said she. "But M. Pons never liked me, he always hated me.
Besides, he thinks perhaps that I want to be mentioned in his will--"
"Hush! you vill kill him!" cried Schmucke.
"Good-bye, sir," said La Cibot, with a withering look at Pons. "You
may keep well for all the harm I wish you. When you can speak to me
pleasantly, when you can believe that what I do is done for the best,
I will come back again. Till then I shall stay in my own room. You
were like my own child to me; did anybody ever see a child revolt
against its mother? . . . No, no, M. Schmucke, I do not want to hear
more. I will bring you /your/ dinner and wait upon /you/, but you must
take a nurse. Ask M. Poulain about it."
And she went out, slamming the door after her so violently that the
precious, fragile objects in the room trembled. To Pons in his
torture, the rattle of china was like the final blow dealt by the
executioner to a victim broken on the wheel.
An hour later La Cibot called to Schmucke through the door, telling
him that his dinner was waiting for him in the dining-room. She would
not cross the threshold. Poor Schmucke went out to her with a haggard,
"Mein boor Bons in vandering," said he; "he says dat you are ein pad
voman. It ees his illness," he added hastily, to soften La Cibot and
excuse his friend.
"Oh, I have had enough of his illness! Look here, he is neither
father, nor husband, nor brother, nor child of mine. He has taken a
dislike to me; well and good, that is enough! As for you, you see, I
would follow /you/ to the end of the world; but when a woman gives her
life, her heart, and all her savings, and neglects her husband (for
here has Cibot fallen ill), and then hears that she is a bad woman--it
is coming it rather too strong, it is."
"Too strong, yes. Never mind idle words. Let us come to the facts. As
to that, you owe me for three months at a hundred and ninety francs
--that is five hundred seventy francs; then there is the rent that I
have paid twice (here are the receipts), six hundred more, including
rates and the sou in the franc for the porter--something under twelve
hundred francs altogether, and with the two thousand francs besides
--without interest, mind you--the total amounts to three thousand one
hundred and ninety-two francs. And remember that you will want at
least two thousand francs before long for the doctor, and the nurse,
and the medicine, and the nurse's board. That was why I borrowed a
thousand francs of M. Pillerault," and with that she held up
It may readily be conceived that Schmucke listened to this reckoning
with amazement, for he knew about as much of business as a cat knows
"Montame Zipod," he expostulated, "Bons haf lost his head. Bardon him,
and nurse him as before, und pe our profidence; I peg it of you on
mine knees," and he knelt before La Cibot and kissed the tormentor's
La Cibot raised Schmucke and kissed him on the forehead. "Listen, my
lamb," said she, "here is Cibot ill in bed; I have just sent for Dr.
Poulain. So I ought to set my affairs in order. And what is more,
Cibot saw me crying, and flew into such a passion that he will not
have me set foot in here again. It is /he/ who wants the money; it is
his, you see. We women can do nothing when it comes to that. But if
you let him have his money back again--the three thousand two hundred
francs--he will be quiet perhaps. Poor man, it is his all, earned by
the sweat of his brow, the savings of twenty-six years of life
together. He must have his money to-morrow; there is no getting round
him.--You do not know Cibot; when he is angry he would kill a man.
Well, I might perhaps get leave of him to look after you both as
before. Be easy. I will just let him say anything that comes into his
head. I will bear it all for love of you, an angel as you are."
"No, I am ein boor man, dot lof his friend and vould gif his life to
"But the money?" broke in La Cibot. "My good M. Schmucke, let us
suppose that you pay me nothing; you will want three thousand francs,
and where are they to come from? Upon my word, do you know what I
should do in your place? I should not think twice, I should just sell
seven or eight good-for-nothing pictures and put up some of those
instead that are standing in your closet with their faces to the wall
for want of room. One picture or another, what difference does it
"He is so cunning. It is his illness, for he is a lamb when he is
well. He is capable of getting up and prying about; and if by any
chance he went into the salon, he is so weak that he could not go
beyond the door; he would see that they are all still there."
"And when he is quite well, we will tell him about the sale. And if
you wish to confess, throw it all upon me, say that you were obliged
to pay me. Come! I have a broad back--"
"I cannot tispose of dings dot are not mine," the good German answered
"Very well. I will summons you, you and M. Pons."
"It vould kill him--"
"Take your choice! Dear me, sell the pictures and tell him about it
afterwards . . . you can show him the summons--"
"Ver' goot. Summons us. Dot shall pe mine egscuse. I shall show him
Mme. Cibot went down to the court, and that very day at seven o'clock
she called to Schmucke. Schmucke found himself confronted with M.
Tabareau the bailiff, who called upon him to pay. Schmucke made
answer, trembling from head to foot, and was forthwith summoned
together with Pons, to appear in the county court to hear judgment
against him. The sight of the bailiff and a bit of stamped paper
covered with scrawls produced such an effect upon Schmucke, that he
held out no longer.
"Sell die bictures," he said, with tears in his eyes.
Next morning, at six o'clock, Elie Magus and Remonencq took down the
paintings of their choice. Two receipts for two thousand five hundred
francs were made out in correct form:--
"I, the undersigned, representing M. Pons, acknowledge the receipt of
two thousand five hundred francs from M. Elie Magus for the four
pictures sold to him, the said sum being appropriated to the use of M.
Pons. The first picture, attributed to Durer, is a portrait of a
woman; the second, likewise a portrait, is of the Italian School; the
third, a Dutch landscape by Breughel; and the fourth, a /Holy Family/
by an unknown master of the Florentine School."
Remonencq's receipt was worded in precisely the same way; a Greuze, a
Claude Lorraine, a Rubens, and a Van Dyck being disguised as pictures
of the French and Flemish schools.
"Der monny makes me beleef dot the chimcracks haf som value," said
Schmucke when the five thousand francs were paid over.
"They are worth something," said Remonencq. "I would willingly give
you a hundred thousand francs for the lot."
Remonencq, asked to do a trifling service, hung eight pictures of the
proper size in the same frames, taking them from among the less
valuable pictures in Schmucke's bedroom.
No sooner was Elie Magus in possession of the four great pictures than
he went, taking La Cibot with him, under pretence of settling
accounts. But he pleaded poverty, he found fault with the pictures,
they needed rebacking, he offered La Cibot thirty thousand francs by
way of commission, and finally dazzled her with the sheets of paper on
which the Bank of France engraves the words "One thousand francs" in
capital letters. Magus thereupon condemned Remonencq to pay the like
sum to La Cibot, by lending him the money on the security of his four
pictures, which he took with him as a guarantee. So glorious were
they, that Magus could not bring himself to part with them, and next
day he bought them of Remonencq for six thousand francs over and above
the original price, and an invoice was duly made out for the four.
Mme. Cibot, the richer by sixty-eight thousand francs, once more swore
her two accomplices to absolute secrecy. Then she asked the Jew's
advice. She wanted to invest the money in such a way that no one
should know of it.
"Buy shares in the Orleans Railway," said he; "they are thirty francs
below par, you will double your capital in three years. They will give
you scraps of paper, which you keep safe in a portfolio."
"Stay here, M. Magus. I will go and fetch the man of business who acts
for M. Pons' family. He wants to know how much you will give him for
the whole bag of tricks upstairs. I will go for him now."
"If only she were a widow!" said Remonencq when she was gone. "She
would just suit me; she will have plenty of money now--"
"Especially if she puts her money into the Orleans Railway; she will
double her capital in two years' time. I have put all my poor little
savings into it," added the Jew, "for my daughter's portion.--Come,
let us take a turn on the boulevard until this lawyer arrives."
"Cibot is very bad as it is," continued Remonencq; "if it should
please God to take him to Himself, I should have a famous wife to keep
a shop; I could set up on a large scale--"
"Good-day, M. Fraisier," La Cibot began in an ingratiating tone as she
entered her legal adviser's office. "Why, what is this that your
porter has been telling me? are you going to move?"
"Yes, my dear Mme. Cibot. I am taking the first floor above Dr.
Poulain, and trying to borrow two or three thousand francs so as to
furnish the place properly; it is very nice, upon my word, the
landlord has just papered and painted it. I am acting, as I told you,
in President de Marville's interests and yours. . . . I am not a
solicitor now; I mean to have my name entered on the roll of
barristers, and I must be well lodged. A barrister in Paris cannot
have his name on the rolls unless he has decent furniture and books
and the like. I am a doctor of law, I have kept my terms, and have
powerful interest already. . . . Well, how are we getting on?"
"Perhaps you would accept my savings," said La Cibot. "I have put them
in a savings bank. I have not much, only three thousand francs, the
fruits of twenty-five years of stinting and scraping. You might give
me a bill of exchange, as Remonencq says; for I am ignorant myself, I
only know what they tell me."
"No. It is against the rules of the guild for a barrister (/avocat/)
to put his name to a bill. I will give you a receipt, bearing interest
at five per cent per annum, on the understanding that if I make an
income of twelve hundred francs for you out of old Pons' estate you
will cancel it."
La Cibot, caught in the trap, uttered not a word.
"Silence gives consent," Fraisier continued. "Let me have it to-morrow
"Oh! I am quite willing to pay fees in advance," said La Cibot; "it is
one way of making sure of my money."
Fraisier nodded. "How are you getting on?" he repeated. "I saw Poulain
yesterday; you are hurrying your invalid along, it seems. . . . One
more scene such as yesterday's, and gall-stones will form. Be gentle
with him, my dear Mme. Cibot, do not lay up remorse for yourself. Life
is not too long."
"Just let me alone with your remorse! Are you going to talk about the
guillotine again? M. Pons is a contrairy old thing. You don't know
him. It is he that bothers me. There is not a more cross-grained man
alive; his relations are in the right of it, he is sly, revengeful,
and contrairy. . . . M. Magus has come, as I told you, and is waiting
to see you."
"Right! I will be there as soon as you. Your income depends upon the
price the collection will fetch. If it brings in eight hundred
thousand francs, you shall have fifteen hundred francs a year. It is a
"Very well. I will tell them to value the things on their
An hour later, Pons was fast asleep. The doctor had ordered a soothing
draught, which Schmucke administered, all unconscious that La Cibot
had doubled the dose. Fraisier, Remonencq, and Magus, three
gallows-birds, were examining the seventeen hundred different objects
which formed the old musician's collection one by one.
Schmucke had gone to bed. The three kites, drawn by the scent of a
corpse, were masters of the field.
"Make no noise," said La Cibot whenever Magus went into ecstasies or
explained the value of some work of art to Remonencq. The dying man
slept on in the neighboring room, while greed in four different forms
appraised the treasures that he must leave behind, and waited
impatiently for him to die--a sight to wring the heart.
Three hours went by before they had finished the salon.
"On an average," said the grimy old Jew, "everything here is worth a
"Seventeen hundred thousand francs!" exclaimed Fraisier in
"Not to me," Magus answered promptly, and his eyes grew dull. "I would
not give more than a hundred thousand francs myself for the
collection. You cannot tell how long you may keep a thing on hand.
. . . There are masterpieces that wait ten years for a buyer, and
meanwhile the purchase money is doubled by compound interest. Still, I
should pay cash."
"There is stained glass in the other room, as well as enamels and
miniatures and gold and silver snuff-boxes," put in Remonencq.
"Can they be seen?" inquired Fraisier.
"I'll see if he is sound asleep," replied La Cibot. She made a sign,
and the three birds of prey came in.
"There are masterpieces yonder!" said Magus, indicating the salon,
every bristle of his white beard twitching as he spoke. "But the
riches are here! And what riches! Kings have nothing more glorious in
Remonencq's eyes lighted up till they glowed like carbuncles, at the
sight of the gold snuff-boxes. Fraisier, cool and calm as a serpent,
or some snake-creature with the power of rising erect, stood with his
viper head stretched out, in such an attitude as a painter would
choose for Mephistopheles. The three covetous beings, thirsting for
gold as devils thirst for the dew of heaven, looked simultaneously, as
it chanced, at the owner of all this wealth. Some nightmare troubled
Pons; he stirred, and suddenly, under the influence of those
diabolical glances, he opened his eyes with a shrill cry.
"Thieves! . . . There they are! . . . Help! Murder! Help!"
The nightmare was evidently still upon him, for he sat up in bed,
staring before him with blank, wide-open eyes, and had not the power
Elie Magus and Remonencq made for the door, but a word glued them to
"/Magus/ here! . . . I am betrayed!"
Instinctively the sick man had known that his beloved pictures were in
danger, a thought that touched him at least as closely as any dread
for himself, and he awoke. Fraisier meanwhile did not stir.
"Mme. Cibot! who is that gentleman?" cried Pons, shivering at the
"Goodness me! how could I put him out of the door?" she inquired, with
a wink and gesture for Fraisier's benefit. "This gentleman came just a
minute ago, from your family."
Fraisier could not conceal his admiration for La Cibot.
"Yes, sir," he said, "I have come on behalf of Mme. la Presidente de
Marville, her husband, and her daughter, to express their regret. They
learned quite by accident that you are ill, and they would like to
nurse you themselves. They want you to go to Marville and get well
there. Mme. la Vicomtesse Popinot, the little Cecile that you love so
much, will be your nurse. She took your part with her mother. She
convinced Mme. de Marville that she had made a mistake."
"So my next-of-kin have sent you to me, have they?" Pons exclaimed
indignantly, "and sent the best judge and expert in all Paris with you
to show you the way? Oh! a nice commission!" he cried, bursting into
wild laughter. "You have come to value my pictures and curiosities, my
snuff-boxes and miniatures! . . . Make your valuation. You have a man
there who understands everything, and more--he can buy everything, for
he is a millionaire ten times over. . . . My dear relatives will not
have long to wait," he added, with bitter irony, "they have choked the
last breath out of me. . . . Ah! Mme. Cibot, you said you were a
mother to me, and you bring dealers into the house, and my competitor
and the Camusots, while I am asleep! . . . Get out, all of you!--"
The unhappy man was beside himself with anger and fear; he rose from
the bed and stood upright, a gaunt, wasted figure.
"Take my arm, sir," said La Cibot, rushing to the rescue, lest Pons
should fall. "Pray calm yourself, the gentlemen are gone."
"I want to see the salon. . . ." said the death-stricken man. La Cibot
made a sign to the three ravens to take flight. Then she caught up
Pons as if he had been a feather, and put him in bed again, in spite
of his cries. When she saw that he was quite helpless and exhausted,
she went to shut the door on the staircase. The three who had done
Pons to death were still on the landing; La Cibot told them to wait.
She heard Fraisier say to Magus:
"Let me have it in writing, and sign it, both of you. Undertake to pay
nine hundred thousand francs in cash for M. Pons' collection, and we
will see about putting you in the way of making a handsome profit."
With that he said something to La Cibot in a voice so low that the
others could not catch it, and went down after the two dealers to the
"Have they gone, Mme. Cibot?" asked the unhappy Pons, when she came
"Gone? . . . who?" asked she.
"What men? There, now, you have seen men," said she. "You have just
had a raving fit; if it hadn't been for me you would have gone out the
window, and now you are still talking of men in the room. Is it always
to be like this?"
"What! was there not a gentleman here just now, saying that my
relatives had sent him?"
"Will you still stand me out?" said she. "Upon my word, do you know
where you ought to be sent?--To the asylum at Charenton. You see
"Elie Magus, Remonencq, and--"
"Oh! as for Remonencq, you may have seen /him/, for he came up to tell
me that my poor Cibot is so bad that I must clear out of this and come
down. My Cibot comes first, you see. When my husband is ill, I can
think of nobody else. Try to keep quiet and sleep for a couple of
hours; I have sent for Dr. Poulain, and I will come up with him. . . .
Take a drink and be good--"
"Then was there no one in the room just now, when I waked? . . ."
"No one," said she. "You must have seen M. Remonencq in one of your
"You are right, Mme. Cibot," said Pons, meek as a lamb.
"Well, now you are sensible again. . . . Good-bye, my cherub; keep
quiet, I shall be back again in a minute."
When Pons heard the outer door close upon her, he summoned up all his
remaining strength to rise.
"They are cheating me," he muttered to himself, "they are robbing me!
Schmucke is a child that would let them tie him up in a sack."
The terrible scene had seemed so real, it could not be a dream, he
thought; a desire to throw light upon the puzzle excited him; he
managed to reach the door, opened it after many efforts, and stood on
the threshold of his salon. There they were--his dear pictures, his
statues, his Florentine bronzes, his porcelain; the sight of them
revived him. The old collector walked in his dressing-gown along the
narrow spaces between the credence-tables and the sideboards that
lined the wall; his feet bare, his head on fire. His first glance of
ownership told him that everything was there; he turned to go back to
bed again, when he noticed that a Greuze portrait looked out of the
frame that had held Sebastian del Piombo's /Templar/. Suspicion
flashed across his brain, making his dark thoughts apparent to him, as
a flash of lightning marks the outlines of the cloud-bars on a stormy
sky. He looked round for the eight capital pictures of the collection;
each one of them was replaced by another. A dark film suddenly
overspread his eyes; his strength failed him; he fell fainting upon
the polished floor.
So heavy was the swoon, that for two hours he lay as he fell, till
Schmucke awoke and went to see his friend, and found him lying
unconscious in the salon. With endless pains Schmucke raised the
half-dead body and laid it on the bed; but when he came to question
the death-stricken man, and saw the look in the dull eyes and heard
the vague, inarticulate words, the good German, so far from losing his
head, rose to the very heroism of friendship. Man and child as he was,
with the pressure of despair came the inspiration of a mother's
tenderness, a woman's love. He warmed towels (he found towels!), he
wrapped them about Pons' hands, he laid them over the pit of the
stomach; he took the cold, moist forehead in his hands, he summoned
back life with a might of will worthy of Apollonius of Tyana, laying
kisses on his friend's eyelids like some Mary bending over the dead
Christ, in a /pieta/ carved in bas-relief by some great Italian
sculptor. The divine effort, the outpouring of one life into another,
the work of mother and of lover, was crowned with success. In half an
hour the warmth revived Pons; he became himself again, the hues of
life returned to his eyes, suspended faculties gradually resumed their
play under the influence of artificial heat; Schmucke gave him
balm-water with a little wine in it; the spirit of life spread through
the body; intelligence lighted up the forehead so short a while ago
insensible as a stone; and Pons knew that he had been brought back to
life, by what sacred devotion, what might of friendship!
"But for you, I should die," he said, and as he spoke he felt the good
German's tears falling on his face. Schmucke was laughing and crying
Poor Schmucke! he had waited for those words with a frenzy of hope as
costly as the frenzy of despair; and now his strength utterly failed
him, he collapsed like a rent balloon. It was his turn to fall; he
sank into the easy-chair, clasped his hands, and thanked God in
fervent prayer. For him a miracle had just been wrought. He put no
belief in the efficacy of the prayer of his deeds; the miracle had
been wrought by God in direct answer to his cry. And yet that miracle
was a natural effect, such as medical science often records.
A sick man, surrounded by those who love him, nursed by those who wish
earnestly that he should live, will recover (other things being
equal), when another patient tended by hirelings will die. Doctors
decline to see unconscious magnetism in this phenomenon; for them it
is the result of intelligent nursing, of exact obedience to their
orders; but many a mother knows the virtue of such ardent projection
of strong, unceasing prayer.
"My good Schmucke--"
"Say nodings; I shall hear you mit mein heart . . . rest, rest!" said
Schmucke, smiling at him.
"Poor friend, noble creature, child of God, living in God! . . . The
one being that has loved me. . . ." The words came out with pauses
between them; there was a new note, a something never heard before, in
Pons' voice. All the soul, so soon to take flight, found utterance in
the words that filled Schmucke with happiness almost like a lover's
"Yes, yes. I shall be shtrong as a lion. I shall vork for two!"
"Listen, my good, my faithful, adorable friend. Let me speak, I have
not much time left. I am a dead man. I cannot recover from these
Schmucke was crying like a child.
"Just listen," continued Pons, "and cry afterwards. As a Christian,
you must submit. I have been robbed. It is La Cibot's doing. . . . I
ought to open your eyes before I go; you know nothing of life. . . .
Somebody has taken away eight of the pictures, and they were worth a
great deal of money."
"Vorgif me--I sold dem."
"/You/ sold them?"
"Yes, I," said poor Schmucke. "Dey summoned us to der court--"
"/Summoned?/. . . . Who summoned us?"
"Wait," said Schmucke. He went for the bit of stamped-paper left by
the bailiff, and gave it to Pons. Pons read the scrawl through with
close attention, then he let the paper drop and lay quite silent for a
while. A close observer of the work of men's hands, unheedful so far
of the workings of the brain, Pons finally counted out the threads of
the plot woven about him by La Cibot. The artist's fire, the intellect
that won the Roman scholarship--all his youth came back to him for a
"My good Schmucke," he said at last, "you must do as I tell you, and
obey like a soldier. Listen! go downstairs into the lodge and tell
that abominable woman that I should like to see the person sent to me
by my cousin the President; and that unless he comes, I shall leave my
collection to the Musee. Say that a will is in question."
Schmucke went on his errand; but at the first word, La Cibot answered
by a smile.
"My good M. Schmucke, our dear invalid has had a delirious fit; he
thought that there were men in the room. On my word, as an honest
woman, no one has come from the family."
Schmucke went back with his answer, which he repeated word for word.
"She is cleverer, more astute and cunning and wily, than I thought,"
said Pons with a smile. "She lies even in her room. Imagine it! This
morning she brought a Jew here, Elie Magus by name, and Remonencq, and
a third whom I do not know, more terrific than the other two put
together. She meant to make a valuation while I was asleep; I happened
to wake, and saw them all three, estimating the worth of my
snuff-boxes. The stranger said, indeed, that the Camusots had sent him
here; I spoke to him. . . . That shameless woman stood me out that I was
dreaming! . . . My good Schmucke, it was not a dream. I heard the man
perfectly plainly; he spoke to me. . . . The two dealers took fright
and made for the door. . . . I thought that La Cibot would contradict
herself--the experiment failed. . . . I will lay another snare, and
trap the wretched woman. . . . Poor Schmucke, you think that La Cibot
is an angel; and for this month past she has been killing me by inches
to gain her covetous ends. I would not believe that a woman who served
us faithfully for years could be so wicked. That doubt has been my
ruin. . . . How much did the eight pictures fetch?"
"Vife tausend vrancs."
"Good heavens! they were worth twenty times as much!" cried Pons; "the
gems of the collection! I have not time now to institute proceedings;
and if I did, you would figure in court as the dupe of those rascals.
. . . A lawsuit would be the death of you. You do not know what
justice means--a court of justice is a sink of iniquity. . . . At the
sight of such horrors, a soul like yours would give way. And besides,
you will have enough. The pictures cost me forty thousand francs. I
have had them for thirty-six years. . . . Oh, we have been robbed with
surprising dexterity. I am on the brink of the grave, I care for
nothing now but thee--for thee, the best soul under the sun. . . .
"I will not have you plundered; all that I have is yours. So you must
trust nobody, Schmucke, you that have never suspected any one in your
life. I know God watches over you, but He may forget for one moment,
and you will be seized like a vessel among pirates. . . . La Cibot is
a monster! She is killing me; and you think her an angel! You shall
see what she is. Go and ask her to give you the name of a notary, and
I will show you her with her hand in the bag."
Schmucke listened as if Pons proclaimed an apocalypse. Could so
depraved a creature as La Cibot exist? If Pons was right, it seemed to
imply that there was no God in the world. He went right down again to
"Mein boor vriend Bons feel so ill," he said, "dat he vish to make his
vill. Go und pring ein nodary."
This was said in the hearing of several persons, for Cibot's life was
despaired of. Remonencq and his sister, two women from neighboring
porters' lodges, two or three servants, and the lodger from the first
floor on the side next the street, were all standing outside in the
"Oh! you can just fetch a notary yourself, and have your will made as
you please," cried La Cibot, with tears in her eyes. "My poor Cibot is
dying, and it is no time to leave him. I would give all the Ponses in
the world to save Cibot, that has never given me an ounce of
unhappiness in these thirty years since we were married."
And in she went, leaving Schmucke in confusion.
"Is M. Pons really seriously ill, sir?" asked the first-floor lodger,
one Jolivard, a clerk in the registrar's office at the Palais de
"He nearly died chust now," said Schmucke, with deep sorrow in his
"M. Trognon lives near by in the Rue Saint-Louis," said M. Jolivard,
"he is the notary of the quarter."
"Would you like me to go for him?" asked Remonencq.
"I should pe fery glad," said Schmucke; "for gif Montame Zipod cannot
pe mit mine vriend, I shall not vish to leaf him in der shtate he is
"Mme. Cibot told us that he was going out of his mind," resumed
"Bons! out off his mind!" cried Schmucke, terror-stricken by the idea.
"Nefer vas he so clear in der head . . . dat is chust der reason vy I
am anxious for him."
The little group of persons listened to the conversation with a very
natural curiosity, which stamped the scene upon their memories.
Schmucke did not know Fraisier, and could not note his satanic
countenance and glittering eyes. But two words whispered by Fraisier
in La Cibot's ear had prompted a daring piece of acting, somewhat
beyond La Cibot's range, it may be, though she played her part
throughout in a masterly style. To make others believe that the dying
man was out of his mind--it was the very corner-stone of the edifice
reared by the petty lawyer. The morning's incident had done Fraisier
good service; but for him, La Cibot in her trouble might have fallen
into the snare innocently spread by Schmucke, when he asked her to
send back the person sent by the family.
Remonencq saw Dr. Poulain coming towards them, and asked no better
than to vanish. The fact was that for the last ten days the Auvergnat
had been playing Providence in a manner singularly displeasing to
Justice, which claims the monopoly of that part. He had made up his
mind to rid himself at all costs of the one obstacle in his way to
happiness, and happiness for him meant capital trebled and marriage
with the irresistibly charming portress. He had watched the little
tailor drinking his herb-tea, and a thought struck him. He would
convert the ailment into mortal sickness; his stock of old metals
supplied him with the means.
One morning as he leaned against the door-post, smoking his pipe and
dreaming of that fine shop on the Boulevard de la Madeleine where Mme.
Cibot, gorgeously arrayed, should some day sit enthroned, his eyes
fell upon a copper disc, about the size of a five-franc piece, covered
thickly with verdigris. The economical idea of using Cibot's medicine
to clean the disc immediately occurred to him. He fastened the thing
in a bit of twine, and came over every morning to inquire for tidings
of his friend the tailor, timing his visit during La Cibot's visit to
her gentlemen upstairs. He dropped the disc into the tumbler, allowed
it to steep there while he talked, and drew it out again by the string
when he went away.
The trace of tarnished copper, commonly called verdigris, poisoned the
wholesome draught; a minute dose administered by stealth did
incalculable mischief. Behold the results of this criminal
homoeopathy! On the third day poor Cibot's hair came out, his teeth
were loosened in their sockets, his whole system was deranged by a
scarcely perceptible trace of poison. Dr. Poulain racked his brains.
He was enough of a man of science to see that some destructive agent
was at work. He privately carried off the decoction, analyzed it
himself, but found nothing. It so chanced that Remonencq had taken
fright and omitted to dip the disc in the tumbler that day.
Then Dr. Poulain fell back on himself and science and got out of the
difficulty with a theory. A sedentary life in a damp room; a cramped
position before the barred window--these conditions had vitiated the
blood in the absence of proper exercise, especially as the patient
continually breathed an atmosphere saturated with the fetid
exhalations of the gutter. The Rue de Normandie is one of the
old-fashioned streets that slope towards the middle; the municipal
authorities of Paris as yet have laid on no water supply to flush the
central kennel which drains the houses on either side, and as a result
a stream of filthy ooze meanders among the cobblestones, filters into
the soil, and produces the mud peculiar to the city. La Cibot came and
went; but her husband, a hard-working man, sat day in day out like a
fakir on the table in the window, till his knee-joints were stiffened,
the blood stagnated in his body, and his legs grew so thin and crooked
that he almost lost the use of them. The deep copper tint of the man's
complexion naturally suggested that he had been out of health for a
very long time. The wife's good health and the husband's illness
seemed to the doctor to be satisfactorily accounted for by this
"Then what is the matter with my poor Cibot?" asked the portress.
"My dear Mme. Cibot, he is dying of the porter's disease," said the
doctor. "Incurable vitiation of the blood is evident from the general
No one had anything to gain by a crime so objectless. Dr. Poulain's
first suspicions were effaced by this thought. Who could have any
possible interest in Cibot's death? His wife?--the doctor saw her
taste the herb-tea as she sweetened it. Crimes which escape social
vengeance are many enough, and as a rule they are of this order--to
wit, murders committed without any startling sign of violence, without
bloodshed, bruises, marks of strangling, without any bungling of the
business, in short; if there seems to be no motive for the crime, it
most likely goes unpunished, especially if the death occurs among the
poorer classes. Murder is almost always denounced by its advanced
guards, by hatred or greed well known to those under whose eyes the
whole matter has passed. But in the case of the Cibots, no one save
the doctor had any interest in discovering the actual cause of death.
The little copper-faced tailor's wife adored her husband; he had no
money and no enemies; La Cibot's fortune and the marine-store dealer's
motives were alike hidden in the shade. Poulain knew the portress and
her way of thinking perfectly well; he thought her capable of
tormenting Pons, but he saw that she had neither motive enough nor wit
enough for murder; and besides--every time the doctor came and she
gave her husband a draught, she took a spoonful herself. Poulain
himself, the only person who might have thrown light on the matter,
inclined to believe that this was one of the unaccountable freaks of
disease, one of the astonishing exceptions which make medicine so
perilous a profession. And in truth, the little tailor's unwholesome
life and unsanitary surroundings had unfortunately brought him to such
a pass that the trace of copper-poisoning was like the last straw.
Gossips and neighbors took it upon themselves to explain the sudden
death, and no suspicion of blame lighted upon Remonencq.
"Oh! this long time past I have said that M. Cibot was not well,"
"He worked too hard, he did," said another; "he heated his blood."
"He would not listen to me," put in a neighbor; "I advised him to walk
out of a Sunday and keep Saint Monday; two days in the week is not too
much for amusement."
In short, the gossip of the quarter, the tell-tale voice to which
Justice, in the person of the commissary of police, the king of the
poorer classes, lends an attentive ear--gossip explained the little
tailor's demise in a perfectly satisfactory manner. Yet M. Poulain's
pensive air and uneasy eyes embarrassed Remonencq not a little, and at
sight of the doctor he offered eagerly to go in search of M. Trognon,
Fraisier's acquaintance. Fraisier turned to La Cibot to say in a low
voice, "I shall come back again as soon as the will is made. In spite
of your sorrow, you must look for squalls." Then he slipped away like
a shadow and met his friend the doctor.
"Ah, Poulain!" he exclaimed, "it is all right. We are safe! I will
tell you about it to-night. Look out a post that will suit you, you
shall have it! For my own part, I am a justice of the peace. Tabareau
will not refuse me now for a son-in-law. And as for you, I will
undertake that you shall marry Mlle. Vitel, granddaughter of our
justice of the peace."
Fraisier left Poulain reduced to dumb bewilderment by these wild
words; bounced like a ball into the boulevard, hailed an omnibus, and
was set down ten minutes later by the modern coach at the corner of
the Rue de Choiseul. By this time it was nearly four o'clock. Fraisier
felt quite sure of a word in private with the Presidente, for
officials seldom leave the Palais de Justice before five o'clock.
Mme. de Marville's reception of him assured Fraisier that M. Leboeuf
had kept his promise made to Mme. Vatinelle and spoken favorably of
the sometime attorney at Mantes. Amelie's manner was almost caressing.
So might the Duchesse de Montpensier have treated Jacques Clement. The
petty attorney was a knife to her hand. But when Fraisier produced the
joint-letter signed by Elie Magus and Remonencq offering the sum of
nine hundred thousand francs in cash for Pons' collection, then the
Presidente looked at her man of business and the gleam of the money
flashed from her eyes. That ripple of greed reached the attorney.
"M. le President left a message with me," she said; "he hopes that you
will dine with us to-morrow. It will be a family party. M. Godeschal,
Desroches' successor and my attorney, will come to meet you, and
Berthier, our notary, and my daughter and son-in-law. After dinner,
you and I and the notary and attorney will have the little
consultation for which you ask, and I will give you full powers. The
two gentlemen will do as you require and act upon your inspiration;
and see that /everything/ goes well. You shall have a power of
attorney from M. de Marville as soon as you want it."
"I shall want it on the day of the decease."
"It shall be in readiness."
"Mme. la Presidente, if I ask for a power of attorney, and would
prefer that your attorney's name should not appear I wish it less in
my own interest than in yours. . . . When I give myself, it is without
reserve. And in return, madame, I ask the same fidelity; I ask my
patrons (I do not venture to call you my clients) to put the same
confidence in me. You may think that in acting thus I am trying to
fasten upon this affair--no, no, madame; there may be reprehensible
things done; with an inheritance in view one is dragged on . . .
especially with nine hundred thousand francs in the balance. Well,
now, you could not disavow a man like Maitre Godeschal, honesty
itself, but you can throw all the blame on the back of a miserable
Mme. Camusot de Marville looked admiringly at Fraisier.
"You ought to go very high," said she, "or sink very low. In your
place, instead of asking to hide myself away as a justice of the
peace, I would aim at the crown attorney's appointment--at, say,
Mantes!--and make a great career for myself."
"Let me have my way, madame. The post of justice of the peace is an
ambling pad for M. Vitel; for me it shall be a war-horse."
And in this way the Presidente proceeded to a final confidence.
"You seem to be so completely devoted to our interests," she began,
"that I will tell you about the difficulties of our position and our
hopes. The President's great desire, ever since a match was projected
between his daughter and an adventurer who recently started a bank,
--the President's wish, I say, has been to round out the Marville
estate with some grazing land, at that time in the market. We
dispossessed ourselves of fine property, as you know, to settle it
upon our daughter; but I wish very much, my daughter being an only
child, to buy all that remains of the grass land. Part has been sold
already. The estate belongs to an Englishman who is returning to
England after a twenty years' residence in France. He built the most
charming cottage in a delightful situation, between Marville Park and
the meadows which once were part of the Marville lands; he bought up
covers, copse, and gardens at fancy prices to make the grounds about
the cottage. The house and its surroundings make a feature of the
landscape, and it lies close to my daughter's park palings. The whole,
land and house, should be bought for seven hundred thousand francs,
for the net revenue is about twenty thousand francs. . . . But if Mr.
Wadman finds out that /we/ think of buying it, he is sure to add
another two or three hundred thousand francs to the price; for he will
lose money if the house counts for nothing, as it usually does when
you buy land in the country--"
"Why, madame," Fraisier broke in, "in my opinion you can be so sure
that the inheritance is yours that I will offer to act the part of
purchaser for you. I will undertake that you shall have the land at
the best possible price, and have a written engagement made out under
private seal, like a contract to deliver goods. . . . I will go to the
Englishman in the character of buyer. I understand that sort of thing;
it was my specialty at Mantes. Vatinelle doubled the value of his
practice, while I worked in his name."
"Hence your connection with little Madame Vatinelle. He must be very
"But Mme. Vatinelle has expensive tastes. . . . So be easy, madame--I
will serve you up the Englishman done to a turn--"
"If you can manage that you will have eternal claims to my gratitude.
Good-day, my dear M. Fraisier. Till to-morrow--"
Fraisier went. His parting bow was a degree less cringing than on the
"I am to dine to-morrow with President de Marville!" he said to
himself. "Come now, I have these folk in my power. Only, to be
absolute master, I ought to be the German's legal adviser in the
person of Tabareau, the justice's clerk. Tabareau will not have me now
for his daughter, his only daughter, but he will give her to me when I
am a justice of the peace. I shall be eligible. Mlle. Tabareau, that
tall, consumptive girl with the red hair, has a house in the Place
Royale in right of her mother. At her father's death she is sure to
come in for six thousand francs, you must not look too hard at the
As he went back to the Rue de Normandie by way of the boulevards, he
dreamed out his golden dream, he gave himself up to the happiness of
the thought that he should never know want again. He would marry his
friend Poulain to Mlle. Vitel, the daughter of the justice of the
peace; together, he and his friend the doctor would reign like kings
in the quarter; he would carry all the elections--municipal, military,
or political. The boulevards seem short if, while you pace afoot, you
mount your ambition on the steed of fancy in this way.
Schmucke meanwhile went back to his friend Pons with the news that
Cibot was dying, and Remonencq gone in search of M. Trognon, the
notary. Pons was struck by the name. It had come up again and again in
La Cibot's interminable talk, and La Cibot always recommended him as
honesty incarnate. And with that a luminous idea occurred to Pons, in
whom mistrust had grown paramount since the morning, an idea which
completed his plan for outwitting La Cibot and unmasking her
completely for the too-credulous Schmucke.
So many unexpected things had happened that day that poor Schmucke was
quite bewildered. Pons took his friend's hand.
"There must be a good deal of confusion in the house, Schmucke; if the
porter is at death's door, we are almost free for a minute or two;
that is to say, there will be no spies--for we are watched, you may be
sure of that. Go out, take a cab, go to the theatre, and tell Mlle.
Heloise Brisetout that I should like to see her before I die. Ask her
to come here to-night when she leaves the theatre. Then go to your
friends Brunner and Schwab and beg them to come to-morrow morning at
nine o'clock to inquire after me; let them come up as if they were
just passing by and called in to see me."
The old artist felt that he was dying, and this was the scheme that he
forged. He meant Schmucke to be his universal legatee. To protect
Schmucke from any possible legal quibbles, he proposed to dictate his
will to a notary in the presence of witnesses, lest his sanity should
be called in question and the Camusots should attempt upon that
pretext to dispute the will. At the name of Trognon he caught a
glimpse of machinations of some kind; perhaps a flaw purposely
inserted, or premeditated treachery on La Cibot's part. He would
prevent this. Trognon should dictate a holograph will which should be
signed and deposited in a sealed envelope in a drawer. Then Schmucke,
hidden in one of the cabinets in his alcove, should see La Cibot
search for the will, find it, open the envelope, read it through, and
seal it again. Next morning, at nine o'clock, he would cancel the will
and make a new one in the presence of two notaries, everything in due
form and order. La Cibot had treated him as a madman and a visionary;
he saw what this meant--he saw the Presidente's hate and greed, her
revenge in La Cibot's behavior. In the sleepless hours and lonely days
of the last two months, the poor man had sifted the events of his past
It has been the wont of sculptors, ancient and modern, to set a
tutelary genius with a lighted torch upon either side of a tomb. Those
torches that light up the paths of death throw light for dying eyes
upon the spectacle of a life's mistakes and sins; the carved stone
figures express great ideas, they are symbols of a fact in human
experience. The agony of death has its own wisdom. Not seldom a simple
girl, scarcely more than a child, will grow wise with the experience
of a hundred years, will gain prophetic vision, judge her family, and
see clearly through all pretences, at the near approach of Death.
Herein lies Death's poetry. But, strange and worthy of remark it is,
there are two manners of death.
The poetry of prophecy, the gift of seeing clearly into the future or
the past, only belongs to those whose bodies are stricken, to those
who die by the destruction of the organs of physical life. Consumptive
patients, for instance, or those who die of gangrene like Louis XIV.,
of fever like Pons, of a stomach complaint like Mme. de Mortsauf, or
of wounds received in the full tide of life like soldiers on the
battlefield--all these may possess this supreme lucidity to the full;
their deaths fill us with surprise and wonder. But many, on the other
hand, die of /intelligential/ diseases, as they may be called; of
maladies seated in the brain or in that nervous system which acts as a
kind of purveyor of thought fuel--and these die wholly, body and
spirit are darkened together. The former are spirits deserted by the
body, realizing for us our ideas of the spirits of Scripture; the
latter are bodies untenanted by a spirit.
Too late the virgin nature, the epicure-Cato, the righteous man almost
without sin, was discovering the Presidente's real character--the sac
of gall that did duty for her heart. He knew the world now that he was
about to leave it, and for the past few hours he had risen gaily to
his part, like a joyous artist finding a pretext for caricature and
laughter in everything. The last links that bound him to life, the
chains of admiration, the strong ties that bind the art lover to Art's
masterpieces, had been snapped that morning. When Pons knew that La
Cibot had robbed him, he bade farewell, like a Christian, to the pomps
and vanities of Art, to his collection, to all his old friendships
with the makers of so many fair things. Our forefathers counted the
day of death as a Christian festival, and in something of the same
spirit Pons' thoughts turned to the coming end. In his tender love he
tried to protect Schmucke when he should be low in the grave. It was
this father's thought that led him to fix his choice upon the leading
lady of the ballet. Mlle. Brisetout should help him to baffle
surrounding treachery, and those who in all probability would never
forgive his innocent universal legatee.
Heloise Brisetout was one of the few natures that remain true in a
false position. She was an opera-girl of the school of Josepha and
Jenny Cadine, capable of playing any trick on a paying adorer; yet she
was a good comrade, dreading no power on earth, accustomed as she was
to see the weak side of the strong and to hold her own with the police
at the scarcely idyllic Bal de Mabille and the carnival.
"If she asked for my place for Garangeot, she will think that she owes
me a good turn by so much the more," said Pons to himself.
Thanks to the prevailing confusion in the porter's lodge, Schmucke
succeeded in getting out of the house. He returned with the utmost
speed, fearing to leave Pons too long alone. M. Trognon reached the
house just as Schmucke came in. Albeit Cibot was dying, his wife came
upstairs with the notary, brought him into the bedroom, and withdrew,
leaving Schmucke and Pons with M. Trognon; but she left the door ajar,
and went no further than the next room. Providing herself with a
little hand-glass of curious workmanship, she took up her station in
the doorway, so that she could not only hear but see all that passed
at the supreme moment.
"Sir," said Pons, "I am in the full possession of my faculties,
unfortunately for me, for I feel that I am about to die; and
doubtless, by the will of God, I shall be spared nothing of the agony
of death. This is M. Schmucke"--(the notary bowed to M. Schmucke)--"my
one friend on earth," continued Pons. "I wish to make him my universal
legatee. Now, tell me how to word the will, so that my friend, who is
a German and knows nothing of French law, may succeed to my
possessions without any dispute."
"Anything is liable to be disputed, sir," said the notary; "that is
the drawback of human justice. But in the matter of wills, there are
wills so drafted that they cannot be upset--"
"In what way?" queried Pons.
"If a will is made in the presence of a notary, and before witnesses
who can swear that the testator was in the full possession of his
faculties; and if the testator has neither wife nor children, nor
father nor mother--"
"I have none of these; all my affection is centred upon my dear friend
The tears overflowed Schmucke's eyes.
"Then, if you have none but distant relatives, the law leaves you free
to dispose of both personalty and real estate as you please, so long
as you bequeath them for no unlawful purpose; for you must have come
across cases of wills disputed on account of the testator's
eccentricities. A will made in the presence of a notary is considered
to be authentic; for the person's identity is established, the notary
certifies that the testator was sane at the time, and there can be no
possible dispute over the signature.--Still, a holograph will,
properly and clearly worded, is quite as safe."
"I have decided, for reasons of my own, to make a holograph will at
your dictation, and to deposit it with my friend here. Is this
"Quite possible," said the notary. "Will you write? I will begin to
"Schmucke, bring me my little Boule writing-desk.--Speak low, sir," he
added; "we may be overheard."
"Just tell me, first of all, what you intend," demanded the notary.
Ten minutes later La Cibot saw the notary look over the will, while
Schmucke lighted a taper (Pons watching her reflection all the while
in a mirror). She saw the envelope sealed, saw Pons give it to
Schmucke, and heard him say that it must be put away in a secret
drawer in his bureau. Then the testator asked for the key, tied it to
the corner of his handkerchief, and slipped it under his pillow.
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