Honore de Balzac
Part 15 out of 16
The notary himself, by courtesy, was appointed executor. To him Pons
left a picture of price, such a thing as the law permits a notary to
receive. Trognon went out and came upon Mme. Cibot in the salon.
"Well, sir, did M. Pons remember me?"
"You do not expect a notary to betray secrets confided to him, my
dear," returned M. Trognon. "I can only tell you this--there will be
many disappointments, and some that are anxious after the money will
be foiled. M. Pons has made a good and very sensible will, a patriotic
will, which I highly approve."
La Cibot's curiosity, kindled by such words, reached an unimaginable
pitch. She went downstairs and spent the night at Cibot's bedside,
inwardly resolving that Mlle. Remonencq should take her place towards
two or three in the morning, when she would go up and have a look at
Mlle. Brisetout's visit towards half-past ten that night seemed
natural enough to La Cibot; but in her terror lest the ballet-girl
should mention Gaudissart's gift of a thousand francs, she went
upstairs with her, lavishing polite speeches and flattery as if Mlle.
Heloise had been a queen.
"Ah! my dear, you are much nicer here on your own ground than at the
theatre," Heloise remarked. "I advise you to keep to your employment."
Heloise was splendidly dressed. Bixiou, her lover, had brought her in
his carriage on the way to an evening party at Mariette's. It so fell
out that the first-floor lodger, M. Chapoulot, a retired braid
manufacturer from the Rue Saint-Denis, returning from the
Ambigu-Comique with his wife and daughter, was dazzled by a vision of
such a costume and such a charming woman upon their staircase.
"Who is that, Mme. Cibot?" asked Mme. Chapoulot.
"A no-better-than-she-should-be, a light-skirts that you may see
half-naked any evening for a couple of francs," La Cibot answered in
an undertone for Mme. Chapoulot's ear.
"Victorine!" called the braid manufacturer's wife, "let the lady pass,
The matron's alarm signal was not lost upon Heloise.
"Your daughter must be more inflammable than tinder, madame, if you
are afraid that she will catch fire by touching me," she said.
M. Chapoulot waited on the landing. "She is uncommonly handsome off
the stage," he remarked. Whereupon Mme. Chapoulot pinched him sharply
and drove him indoors.
"Here is a second-floor lodger that has a mind to set up for being on
the fourth floor," said Heloise as she continued to climb.
"But mademoiselle is accustomed to going higher and higher."
"Well, old boy," said Heloise, entering the bedroom and catching sight
of the old musician's white, wasted face. "Well, old boy, so we are
not very well? Everybody at the theatre is asking after you; but
though one's heart may be in the right place, every one has his own
affairs, you know, and cannot find time to go to see friends.
Gaudissart talks of coming round every day, and every morning the
tiresome management gets hold of him. Still, we are all of us fond of
"Mme. Cibot," said the patient, "be so kind as to leave us; we want to
talk about the theatre and my post as conductor, with this lady.
Schmucke, will you go to the door with Mme. Cibot?"
At a sign from Pons, Schmucke saw Mme. Cibot out at the door, and drew
"Ah, that blackguard of a German! Is he spoiled, too?" La Cibot said
to herself as she heard the significant sounds. "That is M. Pons'
doing; he taught him those disgusting tricks. . . . But you shall pay
for this, my dears," she thought as she went down stairs. "Pooh! if
that tight-rope dancer tells him about the thousand francs, I shall
say that it is a farce.
She seated herself by Cibot's pillow. Cibot complained of a burning
sensation in the stomach. Remonencq had called in and given him a
draught while his wife was upstairs.
As soon as Schmucke had dismissed La Cibot, Pons turned to the
"Dear child, I can trust no one else to find me a notary, an honest
man, and send him here to make my will to-morrow morning at half-past
nine precisely. I want to leave all that I have to Schmucke. If he is
persecuted, poor German that he is, I shall reckon upon the notary;
the notary must defend him. And for that reason I must have a wealthy
notary, highly thought of, a man above the temptations to which
pettifogging lawyers yield. He must succor my poor friend. I cannot
trust Berthier, Cardot's successor. And you know so many people--"
"Oh! I have the very man for you," Heloise broke in; "there is the
notary that acts for Florine and the Comtesse du Bruel, Leopold
Hannequin, a virtuous man that does not know what a /lorette/ is! He
is a sort of chance-come father--a good soul that will not let you
play ducks and drakes with your earnings; I call him /Le Pere aux
Rats/, because he instils economical notions into the minds of all my
friends. In the first place, my dear fellow, he has a private income
of sixty thousand francs; and he is a notary of the real old sort, a
notary while he walks or sleeps; his children must be little notaries
and notaresses. He is a heavy, pedantic creature, and that's the
truth; but on his own ground, he is not the man to flinch before any
power in creation. . . . No woman ever got money out of him; he is a
fossil pater-familias, his wife worships him, and does not deceive
him, although she is a notary's wife.--What more do you want? as a
notary he has not his match in Paris. He is in the patriarchal style;
not queer and amusing, as Cardot used to be with Malaga; but he will
never decamp like little What's-his-name that lived with Antonia. So I
will send round my man to-morrow morning at eight o'clock. . . . You
may sleep in peace. And I hope, in the first place, that you will get
better, and make charming music for us again; and yet, after all, you
see, life is very dreary--managers chisel you, and kings mizzle and
ministers fizzle and rich fold economizzle.--Artists have nothing left
/here/" (tapping her breast)--"it is a time to die in. Good-bye, old
"Heloise, of all things, I ask you to keep my counsel."
"It is not a theatre affair," she said; "it is sacred for an artist."
"Who is your gentleman, child?"
"M. Baudoyer, the mayor of your arrondissement, a man as stupid as the
late Crevel; Crevel once financed Gaudissart, you know, and a few days
ago he died and left me nothing, not so much as a pot of pomatum. That
made me say just now that this age of ours is something sickening."
"What did he die of?"
"Of his wife. If he had stayed with me, he would be living now.
Good-bye, dear old boy, I am talking of going off, because I can see
that you will be walking about the boulevards in a week or two, hunting
up pretty little curiosities again. You are not ill; I never saw your
eyes look so bright." And she went, fully convinced that her protege
Garangeot would conduct the orchestra for good.
Every door stood ajar as she went downstairs. Every lodger, on
tip-toe, watched the lady of the ballet pass on her way out. It was
quite an event in the house.
Fraisier, like the bulldog that sets his teeth and never lets go, was
on the spot. He stood beside La Cibot when Mlle. Brisetout passed
under the gateway and asked for the door to be opened. Knowing that a
will had been made, he had come to see how the land lay, for Maitre
Trognon, notary, had refused to say a syllable--Fraisier's questions
were as fruitless as Mme. Cibot's. Naturally the ballet-girl's visit
/in extremis/ was not lost upon Fraisier; he vowed to himself that he
would turn it to good account.
"My dear Mme. Cibot," he began, "now is the critical moment for you."
"Ah, yes . . . my poor Cibot!" said she. "When I think that he will
not live to enjoy anything I may get--"
"It is a question of finding out whether M. Pons has left you anything
at all; whether your name is mentioned or left out, in fact," he
interrupted. "I represent the next-of-kin, and to them you must look
in any case. It is a holograph will, and consequently very easy to
upset.--Do you know where our man has put it?"
"In a secret drawer in his bureau, and he has the key of it. He tied
it to a corner of his handkerchief, and put it under his pillow. I saw
"Is the will sealed?"
"It is a criminal offence if you carry off a will and suppress it, but
it is only a misdemeanor to look at it; and anyhow, what does it
amount to? A peccadillo, and nobody will see you. Is your man a heavy
"Yes. But when you tried to see all the things and value them, he
ought to have slept like a top, and yet he woke up. Still, I will see
about it. I will take M. Schmucke's place about four o'clock this
morning; and if you care to come, you shall have the will in your
hands for ten minutes."
"Good. I will come up about four o'clock, and I will knock very
"Mlle Remonencq will take my place with Cibot. She will know, and open
the door; but tap on the window, so as to rouse nobody in the house."
"Right," said Fraisier. "You will have a light, will you not. A candle
At midnight poor Schmucke sat in his easy-chair, watching with a
breaking heart that shrinking of the features that comes with death;
Pons looked so worn out with the day's exertions, that death seemed
Presently Pons spoke. "I have just enough strength, I think, to last
till to-morrow night," he said philosophically. "To-morrow night the
death agony will begin; poor Schmucke! As soon as the notary and your
two friends are gone, go for our good Abbe Duplanty, the curate of
Saint-Francois. Good man, he does not know that I am ill, and I wish
to take the holy sacrament to-morrow at noon."
There was a long pause.
"God so willed it that life has not been as I dreamed," Pons resumed.
"I should so have loved wife and children and home. . . . To be loved
by a very few in some corner--that was my whole ambition! Life is hard
for every one; I have seen people who had all that I wanted so much
and could not have, and yet they were not happy. . . . Then at the end
of my life, God put untold comfort in my way, when He gave me such a
friend. . . . And one thing I have not to reproach myself with--that I
have not known your worth nor appreciated you, my good Schmucke. . . .
I have loved you with my whole heart, with all the strength of love
that is in me. . . . Do not cry, Schmucke; I shall say no more if you
cry and it is so sweet to me to talk of ourselves to you. . . . If I
had listened to you, I should not be dying. I should have left the
world and broken off my habits, and then I should not have been
wounded to death. And now, I want to think of no one but you at the
"You are missdaken--"
"Do not contradict me--listen, dear friend. . . . You are as guileless
and simple as a six-year-old child that has never left its mother; one
honors you for it--it seems to me that God Himself must watch over
such as you. But men are so wicked, that I ought to warn you
beforehand . . . and then you will lose your generous trust, your
saint-like belief in others, the bloom of a purity of soul that only
belongs to genius or to hearts like yours. . . . In a little while you
will see Mme. Cibot, who left the door ajar and watched us closely
while M. Trognon was here--in a little while you will see her come for
the will, as she believes it to be. . . . I expect the worthless
creature will do her business this morning when she thinks you are
asleep. Now, mind what I say, and carry out my instructions to the
letter. . . . Are you listening?" asked the dying man.
But Schmucke was overcome with grief, his heart was throbbing
painfully, his head fell back on the chair, he seemed to have lost
"Yes," he answered, "I can hear, but it is as if you vere doo huntert
baces afay from me. . . . It seem to me dat I am going town into der
grafe mit you," said Schmucke, crushed with pain.
He went over to the bed, took one of Pons' hands in both his own, and
within himself put up a fervent prayer.
"What is that that you are mumbling in German?"
"I asked Gott dat He vould take us poth togedders to Himself!"
Schmucke answered simply when he had finished his prayer.
Pons bent over--it was a great effort, for he was suffering
intolerable pain; but he managed to reach Schmucke, and kissed him on
the forehead, pouring out his soul, as it were, in benediction upon a
nature that recalled the lamb that lies at the foot of the Throne of
"See here, listen, my good Schmucke, you must do as dying people tell
"I am lisdening."
"The little door in the recess in your bedroom opens into that
"Yes, but it is blocked up mit bictures."
"Clear them away at once, without making too much noise."
"Clear a passage on both sides, so that you can pass from your room
into mine.--Now, leave the door ajar.--When La Cibot comes to take
your place (and she is capable of coming an hour earlier than usual),
you can go away to bed as if nothing had happened, and look very
tired. Try to look sleepy. As soon as she settles down into the
armchair, go into the closet, draw aside the muslin curtains over the
glass door, and watch her. . . . Do you understand?"
"I oondershtand; you belief dat die pad voman is going to purn der
"I do not know what she will do; but I am sure of this--that you will
not take her for an angel afterwards.--And now play for me; improvise
and make me happy. It will divert your thoughts; your gloomy ideas
will vanish, and for me the dark hours will be filled with your
dreams. . . ."
Schmucke sat down at the piano. Here he was in his element; and in a
few moments, musical inspiration, quickened by the pain with which he
was quivering and the consequent irritation that followed came upon
the kindly German, and, after his wont, he was caught up and borne
above the world. On one sublime theme after another he executed
variations, putting into them sometimes Chopin's sorrow, Chopin's
Raphael-like perfection; sometimes the stormy Dante's grandeur of
Liszt--the two musicians who most nearly approach Paganini's
temperament. When execution reaches this supreme degree, the executant
stands beside the poet, as it were; he is to the composer as the actor
is to the writer of plays, a divinely inspired interpreter of things
divine. But that night, when Schmucke gave Pons an earnest of diviner
symphonies, of that heavenly music for which Saint Cecile let fall her
instruments, he was at once Beethoven and Paganini, creator and
interpreter. It was an outpouring of music inexhaustible as the
nightingale's song--varied and full of delicate undergrowth as the
forest flooded with her trills; sublime as the sky overhead. Schmucke
played as he had never played before, and the soul of the old musician
listening to him rose to ecstasy such as Raphael once painted in a
picture which you may see at Bologna.
A terrific ringing of the door-bell put an end to these visions. The
first-floor lodgers sent up a servant with a message. Would Schmucke
please stop the racket overhead. Madame, Monsieur, and Mademoiselle
Chapoulot had been wakened, and could not sleep for the noise; they
called his attention to the fact that the day was quite long enough
for rehearsals of theatrical music, and added that people ought not to
"strum" all night in a house in the Marais.--It was then three o'clock
in the morning. At half-past three, La Cibot appeared, just as Pons
had predicted. He might have actually heard the conference between
Fraisier and the portress: "Did I not guess exactly how it would be?"
his eyes seemed to say as he glanced at Schmucke, and, turning a
little, he seemed to be fast asleep.
Schmucke's guileless simplicity was an article of belief with La Cibot
(and be it noted that this faith in simplicity is the great source and
secret of the success of all infantine strategy); La Cibot, therefore,
could not suspect Schmucke of deceit when he came to say to her, with
a face half of distress, half of glad relief:
"I haf had a derrible night! a derrible dime of it! I vas opliged to
play to keep him kviet, and the virst-floor lodgers vas komm up to
tell /me/ to be kviet! . . . It was frightful, for der life of mein
friend vas at shtake. I am so tired mit der blaying all night, dat dis
morning I am all knocked up."
"My poor Cibot is very bad, too; one more day like yesterday, and he
will have no strength left. . . . One can't help it; it is God's
"You haf a heart so honest, a soul so peautiful, dot gif der Zipod
die, ve shall lif togedder," said the cunning Schmucke.
The craft of simple, straightforward folk is formidable indeed; they
are exactly like children, setting their unsuspected snares with the
perfect craft of the savage.
"Oh, well go and sleep, sonny!" returned La Cibot. "Your eyes look
tired, they are as big as my fist. But there! if anything could
comfort me for losing Cibot, it would be the thought of ending my days
with a good man like you. Be easy. I will give Mme. Chapoulot a
dressing down. . . . To think of a retired haberdasher's wife giving
herself such airs!"
Schmucke went to his room and took up his post in the closet.
La Cibot had left the door ajar on the landing; Fraisier came in and
closed it noiselessly as soon as he heard Schmucke shut his bedroom
door. He had brought with him a lighted taper and a bit of very fine
wire to open the seal of the will. La Cibot, meanwhile, looking under
the pillow, found the handkerchief with the key of the bureau knotted
to one corner; and this so much the more easily because Pons purposely
left the end hanging over the bolster, and lay with his face to the
La Cibot went straight to the bureau, opened it cautiously so as to
make as little noise as possible, found the spring of the secret
drawer, and hurried into the salon with the will in her hand. Her
flight roused Pons' curiosity to the highest pitch; and as for
Schmucke, he trembled as if he were the guilty person.
"Go back," said Fraisier, when she handed over the will. "He may wake,
and he must find you there."
Fraisier opened the seal with a dexterity which proved that his was no
'prentice hand, and read the following curious document, headed "My
Will," with ever-deepening astonishment:
"On this fifteenth day of April, eighteen hundred and forty-five,
I, being in my sound mind (as this my Will, drawn up in concert
with M. Trognon, will testify), and feeling that I must shortly
die of the malady from which I have suffered since the beginning
of February last, am anxious to dispose of my property, and have
herein recorded my last wishes:--
"I have always been impressed by the untoward circumstances that
injure great pictures, and not unfrequently bring about total
destruction. I have felt sorry for the beautiful paintings
condemned to travel from land to land, never finding some fixed
abode whither admirers of great masterpieces may travel to see
them. And I have always thought that the truly deathless work of a
great master ought to be national property; put where every one of
every nation may see it, even as the light, God's masterpiece,
shines for all His children.
"And as I have spent my life in collecting together and choosing a
few pictures, some of the greatest masters' most glorious work,
and as these pictures are as the master left them--genuine
examples, neither repainted nor retouched,--it has been a painful
thought to me that the paintings which have been the joy of my
life, may be sold by public auction, and go, some to England, some
to Russia, till they are all scattered abroad again as if they had
never been gathered together. From this wretched fate I have
determined to save both them and the frames in which they are set,
all of them the work of skilled craftsmen.
"On these grounds, therefore, I give and bequeath the pictures
which compose my collection to the King, for the gallery in the
Louvre, subject to the charge (if the legacy is accepted) of a
life-annuity of two thousand four hundred francs to my friend
"If the King, as usufructuary of the Louvre collection, should
refuse the legacy with the charge upon it, the said pictures shall
form a part of the estate which I leave to my friend, Schmucke, on
condition that he shall deliver the /Monkey's Head/, by Goya, to
my cousin, President Camusot; a /Flower-piece/, the tulips, by
Abraham Mignon, to M. Trognon, notary (whom I appoint as my
executor): and allow Mme. Cibot, who has acted as my housekeeper
for ten years, the sum of two hundred francs per annum.
"Finally, my friend Schmucke is to give the /Descent from the
Cross/, Ruben's sketch for his great picture at Antwerp, to adorn
a chapel in the parish church, in grateful acknowledgment of M.
Duplanty's kindness to me; for to him I owe it that I can die as a
Christian and a Catholic."--So ran the will.
"This is ruin!" mused Fraisier, "the ruin of all my hopes. Ha! I begin
to believe all that the Presidente told me about this old artist and
"Well?" La Cibot came back to say.
"Your gentleman is a monster. He is leaving everything to the Crown.
Now, you cannot plead against the Crown. . . . The will cannot be
disputed. . . . We are robbed, ruined, spoiled, and murdered!"
"What has he left to me?"
"Two hundred francs a year."
"A pretty come-down! . . . Why, he is a finished scoundrel."
"Go and see," said Fraisier, "and I will put your scoundrel's will
back again in the envelope."
While Mme. Cibot's back was turned, Fraisier nimbly slipped a sheet of
blank paper into the envelope; the will he put in his pocket. He next
proceeded to seal the envelope again so cleverly that he showed the
seal to Mme. Cibot when she returned, and asked her if she could see
the slightest trace of the operation. La Cibot took up the envelope,
felt it over, assured herself that it was not empty, and heaved a deep
sigh. She had entertained hopes that Fraisier himself would have
burned the unlucky document while she was out of the room.
"Well, my dear M. Fraisier, what is to be done?"
"Oh! that is your affair! I am not one of the next-of-kin, myself; but
if I had the slightest claim to any of /that/" (indicating the
collection), "I know very well what I should do."
"That is just what I want to know," La Cibot answered, with sufficient
"There is a fire in the grate----" he said. Then he rose to go.
"After all, no one will know about it, but you and me----" began La
"It can never be proved that a will existed," asserted the man of law.
"I? . . . If M. Pons dies intestate, you shall have a hundred thousand
"Oh yes, no doubt," returned she. "People promise you heaps of money,
and when they come by their own, and there is talk of paying they
swindle you like--" "Like Elie Magus," she was going to say, but she
stopped herself just in time.
"I am going," said Fraisier; "it is not to your interest that I should
be found here; but I shall see you again downstairs."
La Cibot shut the door and returned with the sealed packet in her
hand. She had quite made up her mind to burn it; but as she went
towards the bedroom fireplace, she felt the grasp of a hand on each
arm, and saw--Schmucke on one hand, and Pons himself on the other,
leaning against the partition wall on either side of the door.
La Cibot cried out, and fell face downwards in a fit; real or feigned,
no one ever knew the truth. This sight produced such an impression on
Pons that a deadly faintness came upon him, and Schmucke left the
woman on the floor to help Pons back to bed. The friends trembled in
every limb; they had set themselves a hard task, it was done, but it
had been too much for their strength. When Pons lay in bed again, and
Schmucke had regained strength to some extent, he heard a sound of
sobbing. La Cibot, on her knees, bursting into tears, held out
supplicating hands to them in very expressive pantomime.
"It was pure curiosity!" she sobbed, when she saw that Pons and
Schmucke were paying attention to her proceedings. "Pure curiosity; a
woman's fault, you know. But I did not know how else to get a sight of
your will, and I brought it back again--"
"Go!" said Schmucke, standing erect, his tall figure gaining in height
by the full height of his indignation. "You are a monster! You dried
to kill mein goot Bons! He is right. You are worse than a monster, you
are a lost soul!"
La Cibot saw the look of abhorrence in the frank German's face; she
rose, proud as Tartuffe, gave Schmucke a glance which made him quake,
and went out, carrying off under her dress an exquisite little picture
of Metzu's pointed out by Elie Magus. "A diamond," he had called it.
Fraisier downstairs in the porter's lodge was waiting to hear that La
Cibot had burned the envelope and the sheet of blank paper inside it.
Great was his astonishment when he beheld his fair client's agitation
"What has happened?"
"/This/ has happened, my dear M. Fraisier. Under pretence of giving me
good advice and telling me what to do, you have lost me my annuity and
the gentlemen's confidence. . . ."
One of the word-tornadoes in which she excelled was in full progress,
but Fraisier cut her short.
"This is idle talk. The facts, the facts! and be quick about it."
"Well; it came about in this way,"--and she told him of the scene
which she had just come through.
"You have lost nothing through me," was Fraisier's comment. "The
gentlemen had their doubts, or they would not have set this trap for
you. They were lying in wait and spying upon you. . . . You have not
told me everything," he added, with a tiger's glance at the woman
"/I/ hide anything from you!" cried she--"after all that we have done
together!" she added with a shudder.
"My dear madame, /I/ have done nothing blameworthy," returned
Fraisier. Evidently he meant to deny his nocturnal visit to Pons'
Every hair on La Cibot's head seemed to scorch her, while a sense of
icy cold swept over her from head to foot.
"/What?/" . . . she faltered in bewilderment.
"Here is a criminal charge on the face of it. . . . You may be accused
of suppressing the will," Fraisier made answer drily.
La Cibot started.
"Don't be alarmed; I am your legal adviser. I only wished to show you
how easy it is, in one way or another, to do as I once explained to
you. Let us see, now; what have you done that this simple German
should be hiding in the room?"
"Nothing at all, unless it was that scene the other day when I stood
M. Pons out that his eyes dazzled. And ever since, the two gentlemen
have been as different as can be. So you have brought all my troubles
upon me; I might have lost my influence with M. Pons, but I was sure
of the German; just now he was talking of marrying me or of taking me
with him--it is all one."
The excuse was so plausible that Fraisier was fain to be satisfied
with it. "You need fear nothing," he resumed. "I gave you my word that
you shall have your money, and I shall keep my word. The whole matter,
so far, was up in the air, but now it is as good as bank-notes. . . .
You shall have at least twelve hundred francs per annum. . . . But, my
good lady, you must act intelligently under my orders."
"Yes, my dear M. Fraisier," said La Cibot with cringing servility. She
was completely subdued.
"Very good. Good-bye," and Fraisier went, taking the dangerous
document with him. He reached home in great spirits. The will was a
"Now," thought he, "I have a hold on Mme. la Presidente de Marville;
she must keep her word with me. If she did not, she would lose the
At daybreak, when Remonencq had taken down his shutters and left his
sister in charge of the shop, he came, after his wont of late, to
inquire for his good friend Cibot. The portress was contemplating the
Metzu, privately wondering how a little bit of painted wood could be
worth such a lot of money.
"Aha!" said he, looking over her shoulder, "that is the one picture
which M. Elie Magus regretted; with that little bit of a thing, he
says, his happiness would be complete."
"What would he give for it?" asked La Cibot.
"Why, if you will promise to marry me within a year of widowhood, I
will undertake to get twenty thousand francs for it from Elie Magus;
and unless you marry me you will never get a thousand francs for the
"Because you would be obliged to give a receipt for the money, and
then you might have a lawsuit with the heirs-at-law. If you were my
wife, I myself should sell the thing to M. Magus, and in the way of
business it is enough to make an entry in the day-book, and I should
note that M. Schmucke sold it to me. There, leave the panel with me.
. . . If your husband were to die you might have a lot of bother over
it, but no one would think it odd that I should have a picture in the
shop. . . . You know me quite well. Besides, I will give you a receipt
if you like."
The covetous portress felt that she had been caught; she agreed to a
proposal which was to bind her for the rest of her life to the
"You are right," said she, as she locked the picture away in a chest;
"bring me the bit of writing."
Remonencq beckoned her to the door.
"I can see, neighbor, that we shall not save our poor dear Cibot," he
said lowering his voice. "Dr. Poulain gave him up yesterday evening,
and said that he could not last out the day. . . . It is a great
misfortune. But after all, this was not the place for you. . . . You
ought to be in a fine curiosity shop on the Boulevard des Capucines.
Do you know that I have made nearly a hundred thousand francs in ten
years? And if you will have as much some day, I will undertake to make
a handsome fortune for you--as my wife. You would be the mistress--my
sister should wait on you and do the work of the house, and--"
A heartrending moan from the little tailor cut the tempter short; the
death agony had begun.
"Go away," said La Cibot. "You are a monster to talk of such things
and my poor man dying like this--"
"Ah! it is because I love you," said Remonencq; "I could let
everything else go to have you--"
"If you loved me, you would say nothing to me just now," returned she.
And Remonencq departed to his shop, sure of marrying La Cibot.
Towards ten o'clock there was a sort of commotion in the street; M.
Cibot was taking the Sacrament. All the friends of the pair, all the
porters and porters' wives in the Rue de Normandie and neighboring
streets, had crowded into the lodge, under the archway, and stood on
the pavement outside. Nobody so much as noticed the arrival of M.
Leopold Hannequin and a brother lawyer. Schwab and Brunner reached
Pons' rooms unseen by Mme. Cibot. The notary, inquiring for Pons, was
shown upstairs by the portress of a neighboring house. Brunner
remembered his previous visit to the museum, and went straight in with
his friend Schwab.
Pons formally revoked his previous will and constituted Schmucke his
universal legatee. This accomplished, he thanked Schwab and Brunner,
and earnestly begged M. Leopold Hannequin to protect Schmucke's
interests. The demands made upon him by last night's scene with La
Cibot, and this final settlement of his worldly affairs, left him so
faint and exhausted that Schmucke begged Schwab to go for the Abbe
Duplanty; it was Pons' great desire to take the Sacrament, and
Schmucke could not bring himself to leave his friend.
La Cibot, sitting at the foot of her husband's bed, gave not so much
as a thought to Schmucke's breakfast--for that matter had been
forbidden to return; but the morning's events, the sight of Pons'
heroic resignation in the death agony, so oppressed Schmucke's heart
that he was not conscious of hunger. Towards two o'clock, however, as
nothing had been seen of the old German, La Cibot sent Remonencq's
sister to see whether Schmucke wanted anything; prompted not so much
by interest as by curiosity. The Abbe Duplanty had just heard the old
musician's dying confession, and the administration of the sacrament
of extreme unction was disturbed by repeated ringing of the door-bell.
Pons, in his terror of robbery, had made Schmucke promise solemnly to
admit no one into the house; so Schmucke did not stir. Again and again
Mlle. Remonencq pulled the cord, and finally went downstairs in alarm
to tell La Cibot that Schmucke would not open the door; Fraisier made
a note of this. Schmucke had never seen any one die in his life;
before long he would be perplexed by the many difficulties which beset
those who are left with a dead body in Paris, this more especially if
they are lonely and helpless and have no one to act for them. Fraisier
knew, moreover, that in real affliction people lose their heads, and
therefore immediately after breakfast he took up his position in the
porter's lodge, and sitting there in perpetual committee with Dr.
Poulain, conceived the idea of directing all Schmucke's actions
To obtain the important result, the doctor and the lawyer took their
measures on this wise:--
The beadle of Saint-Francois, Cantinet by name, at one time a retail
dealer in glassware, lived in the Rue d'Orleans, next door to Dr.
Poulain and under the same roof. Mme. Cantinet, who saw to the letting
of the chairs at Saint-Francois, once had fallen ill and Dr. Poulain
had attended her gratuitously; she was, as might be expected,
grateful, and often confided her troubles to him. The "nutcrackers,"
punctual in their attendance at Saint-Francois on Sundays and
saints'-days, were on friendly terms with the beadle and the lowest
ecclesiastical rank and file, commonly called in Paris /le bas
clerge/, to whom the devout usually give little presents from time to
time. Mme. Cantinet therefore knew Schmucke almost as well as Schmucke
knew her. And Mme. Cantinet was afflicted with two sore troubles which
enabled the lawyer to use her as a blind and involuntary agent.
Cantinet junior, a stage-struck youth, had deserted the paths of the
Church and turned his back on the prospect of one day becoming a
beadle, to make his /debut/ among the supernumeraries of the
Cirque-Olympique; he was leading a wild life, breaking his mother's
heart and draining her purse by frequent forced loans. Cantinet senior,
much addicted to spirituous liquors and idleness, had, in fact, been
driven to retire from business by those two failings. So far from
reforming, the incorrigible offender had found scope in his new
occupation for the indulgence of both cravings; he did nothing, and he
drank with drivers of wedding-coaches, with the undertaker's men at
funerals, with poor folk relieved by the vicar, till his morning's
occupation was set forth in rubric on his countenance by noon.
Mme. Cantinet saw no prospect but want in her old age, and yet she had
brought her husband twelve thousand francs, she said. The tale of her
woes related for the hundredth time suggested an idea to Dr. Poulain.
Once introduce her into the old bachelor's quarters, and it would be
easy by her means to establish Mme. Sauvage there as working
housekeeper. It was quite impossible to present Mme. Sauvage herself,
for the "nutcrackers" had grown suspicious of every one. Schmucke's
refusal to admit Mlle. Remonencq had sufficiently opened Fraisier's
eyes. Still, it seemed evident that Pons and Schmucke, being pious
souls, would take any one recommended by the Abbe, with blind
confidence. Mme. Cantinet should bring Mme. Sauvage with her, and to
put in Fraisier's servant was almost tantamount to installing Fraisier
The Abbe Duplanty, coming downstairs, found the gateway blocked by the
Cibots' friends, all of them bent upon showing their interest in one
of the oldest and most respectable porters in the Marais.
Dr. Poulain raised his hat, and took the Abbe aside.
"I am just about to go to poor M. Pons," he said. "There is still a
chance of recovery; but it is a question of inducing him to undergo an
operation. The calculi are perceptible to the touch, they are setting
up an inflammatory condition which will end fatally, but perhaps it is
not too late to remove them. You should really use your influence to
persuade the patient to submit to surgical treatment; I will answer
for his life, provided that no untoward circumstance occurs during the
"I will return as soon as I have taken the sacred ciborium back to the
church," said the Abbe Duplanty, "for M. Schmucke's condition claims
the support of religion."
"I have just heard that he is alone," said Dr. Poulain. "The German,
good soul, had a little altercation this morning with Mme. Cibot, who
has acted as housekeeper to them both for the past ten years. They
have quarreled (for the moment only, no doubt), but under the
circumstances they must have some one in to help upstairs. It would be
a charity to look after him.--I say, Cantinet," continued the doctor,
beckoning to the beadle, "just go and ask your wife if she will nurse
M. Pons, and look after M. Schmucke, and take Mme. Cibot's place for a
day or two. . . . Even without the quarrel, Mme. Cibot would still
require a substitute. Mme. Cantinet is honest," added the doctor,
turning to M. Duplanty.
"You could not make a better choice," said the good priest; "she is
intrusted with the letting of chairs in the church."
A few minutes later, Dr. Poulain stood by Pons' pillow watching the
progress made by death, and Schmucke's vain efforts to persuade his
friend to consent to the operation. To all the poor German's
despairing entreaties Pons only replied by a shake of the head and
occasional impatient movements; till, after awhile, he summoned up all
his fast-failing strength to say, with a heartrending look:
"Do let me die in peace!"
Schmucke almost died of sorrow, but he took Pons' hand and softly
kissed it, and held it between his own, as if trying a second time to
give his own vitality to his friend.
Just at this moment the bell rang, and Dr. Poulain, going to the door,
admitted the Abbe Duplanty.
"Our poor patient is struggling in the grasp of death," he said. "All
will be over in a few hours. You will send a priest, no doubt, to
watch to-night. But it is time that Mme. Cantinet came, as well as a
woman to do the work, for M. Schmucke is quite unfit to think of
anything: I am afraid for his reason; and there are valuables here
which ought to be in the custody of honest persons."
The Abbe Duplanty, a kindly, upright priest, guileless and
unsuspicious, was struck with the truth of Dr. Poulain's remarks. He
had, moreover, a certain belief in the doctor of the quarter. So on
the threshold of the death-chamber he stopped and beckoned to
Schmucke, but Schmucke could not bring himself to loosen the grasp of
the hand that grew tighter and tighter. Pons seemed to think that he
was slipping over the edge of a precipice and must catch at something
to save himself. But, as many know, the dying are haunted by an
hallucination that leads them to snatch at things about them, like men
eager to save their most precious possessions from a fire. Presently
Pons released Schmucke to clutch at the bed-clothes, dragging them and
huddling them about himself with a hasty, covetous movement
significant and painful to see.
"What will you do, left alone with your dead friend?" asked M. l'Abbe
Duplanty when Schmucke came to the door. "You have not Mme. Cibot
"Ein monster dat haf killed Bons!"
"But you must have somebody with you," began Dr. Poulain. "Some one
must sit up with the body to-night."
"I shall sit up; I shall say die prayers to Gott," the innocent German
"But you must eat--and who is to cook for you now?" asked the doctor.
"Grief haf taken afay mein abbetite," Schmucke said, simply.
"And some one must give notice to the registrar," said Poulain, "and
lay out the body, and order the funeral; and the person who sits up
with the body and the priest will want meals. Can you do all this by
yourself? A man cannot die like a dog in the capital of the civilized
Schmucke opened wide eyes of dismay. A brief fit of madness seized
"But Bons shall not tie! . . ." he cried aloud. "I shall safe him!"
"You cannot go without sleep much longer, and who will take your
place? Some one must look after M. Pons, and give him drink, and nurse
"Ah! dat is drue."
"Very well," said the Abbe, "I am thinking of sending your Mme.
Cantinet, a good and honest creature--"
The practical details of the care of the dead bewildered Schmucke,
till he was fain to die with his friend.
"He is a child," said the doctor, turning to the Abbe Duplanty.
"Ein child," Schmucke repeated mechanically.
"There, then," said the curate; "I will speak to Mme. Cantinet, and
send her to you."
"Do not trouble yourself," said the doctor; "I am going home, and she
lives in the next house."
The dying seem to struggle with Death as with an invisible assassin;
in the agony at the last, as the final thrust is made, the act of
dying seems to be a conflict, a hand-to-hand fight for life. Pons had
reached the supreme moment. At the sound of his groans and cries, the
three standing in the doorway hurried to the bedside. Then came the
last blow, smiting asunder the bonds between soul and body, striking
down to life's sources; and suddenly Pons regained for a few brief
moments the perfect calm that follows the struggle. He came to
himself, and with the serenity of death in his face he looked round
almost smilingly at them.
"Ah, doctor, I have had a hard time of it; but you were right, I am
doing better. Thank you, my good Abbe; I was wondering what had become
"Schmucke has had nothing to eat since yesterday evening, and now it
is four o'clock! You have no one with you now and it would be wise to
send for Mme. Cibot."
"She is capable of anything!" said Pons, without attempting to conceal
all his abhorrence at the sound of her name. "It is true, Schmucke
ought to have some trustworthy person."
"M. Duplanty and I have been thinking about you both--"
"Ah! thank you, I had not thought of that."
"--And M. Duplanty suggests that you should have Mme. Cantinet--"
"Oh! Mme. Cantinet who lets the chairs!" exclaimed Pons. "Yes, she is
an excellent creature."
"She has no liking for Mme. Cibot," continued the doctor, "and she
would take good care of M. Schmucke--"
"Send her to me, M. Duplanty . . . send her and her husband too. I
shall be easy. Nothing will be stolen here."
Schmucke had taken Pons' hand again, and held it joyously in his own.
Pons was almost well again, he thought.
"Let us go, Monsieur l'Abbe," said the doctor. "I will send Mme.
Cantinet round at once. I see how it is. She perhaps may not find M.
While the Abbe Duplanty was persuading Pons to engage Mme. Cantinet as
his nurse, Fraisier had sent for her. He had plied the beadle's wife
with sophistical reasoning and subtlety. It was difficult to resist
his corrupting influence. And as for Mme. Cantinet--a lean, sallow
woman, with large teeth and thin lips--her intelligence, as so often
happens with women of the people, had been blunted by a hard life,
till she had come to look upon the slenderest daily wage as
prosperity. She soon consented to take Mme. Sauvage with her as
Mme. Sauvage had had her instructions already. She had undertaken to
weave a web of iron wire about the two musicians, and to watch them as
a spider watches a fly caught in the toils; and her reward was to be a
tobacconist's license. Fraisier had found a convenient opportunity of
getting rid of his so-called foster-mother, while he posted her as a
detective and policeman to supervise Mme. Cantinet. As there was a
servant's bedroom and a little kitchen included in the apartment, La
Sauvage could sleep on a truckle-bed and cook for the German. Dr.
Poulain came with the two women just as Pons drew his last breath.
Schmucke was sitting beside his friend, all unconscious of the crisis,
holding the hand that slowly grew colder in his grasp. He signed to
Mme. Cantinet to be silent; but Mme. Sauvage's soldierly figure
surprised him so much that he started in spite of himself, a kind of
homage to which the virago was quite accustomed.
"M. Duplanty answers for this lady," whispered Mme. Cantinet by way of
introduction. "She once was cook to a bishop; she is honesty itself;
she will do the cooking."
"Oh! you may talk out loud," wheezed the stalwart dame. "The poor
gentleman is dead. . . . He has just gone."
A shrill cry broke from Schmucke. He felt Pons' cold hand stiffening
in his, and sat staring into his friend's eyes; the look in them would
have driven him mad, if Mme. Sauvage, doubtless accustomed to scenes
of this sort, had not come to the bedside with a mirror which she held
over the lips of the dead. When she saw that there was no mist upon
the surface, she briskly snatched Schmucke's hand away.
"Just take away your hand, sir; you may not be able to do it in a
little while. You do not know how the bones harden. A corpse grows
cold very quickly. If you do not lay out a body while it is warm, you
have to break the joints later on. . . ."
And so it was this terrible woman who closed the poor dead musician's
With a business-like dexterity acquired in ten years of experience,
she stripped and straightened the body, laid the arms by the sides,
and covered the face with the bedclothes, exactly as a shopman wraps a
"A sheet will be wanted to lay him out.--Where is there a sheet?" she
demanded, turning on the terror-stricken Schmucke.
He had watched the religious ritual with its deep reverence for the
creature made for such high destinies in heaven; and now he saw his
dead friend treated simply as a thing in this packing process--saw
with the sharp pain that dissolves the very elements of thought.
"Do as you vill----" he answered mechanically. The innocent creature
for the first time in his life had seen a man die, and that man was
Pons, his only friend, the one human being who understood him and
"I will go and ask Mme. Cibot where the sheets are kept," said La
"A truckle-bed will be wanted for the person to sleep upon," Mme.
Cantinet came to tell Schmucke.
Schmucke nodded and broke out into weeping. Mme. Cantinet left the
unhappy man in peace; but an hour later she came back to say:
"Have you any money, sir, to pay for the things?"
The look that Schmucke gave Mme. Cantinet would have disarmed the
fiercest hate; it was the white, blank, peaked face of death that he
turned upon her, as an explanation that met everything.
"Dake it all and leaf me to mein prayers and tears," he said, and
Mme. Sauvage went to Fraisier with the news of Pons' death. Fraisier
took a cab and went to the Presidente. To-morrow she must give him the
power of attorney to enable him to act for the heirs.
Another hour went by, and Mme. Cantinet came again to Schmucke.
"I have been to Mme. Cibot, sir, who knows all about things here," she
said. "I asked her to tell me where everything is kept. But she almost
jawed me to death with her abuse. . . . Sir, do listen to me. . . ."
Schmucke looked up at the woman, and she went on, innocent of any
barbarous intention, for women of her class are accustomed to take the
worst of moral suffering passively, as a matter of course.
"We must have linen for the shroud, sir, we must have money to buy a
truckle-bed for the person to sleep upon, and some things for the
kitchen--plates, and dishes, and glasses, for a priest will be coming
to pass the night here, and the person says that there is absolutely
nothing in the kitchen."
"And what is more, sir, I must have coal and firing if I am to get the
dinner ready," echoed La Sauvage, "and not a thing can I find. Not
that there is anything so very surprising in that, as La Cibot used to
do everything for you--"
Schmucke lay at the feet of the dead; he heard nothing, knew nothing,
saw nothing. Mme. Cantinet pointed to him. "My dear woman, you would
not believe me," she said. "Whatever you say, he does not answer."
"Very well, child," said La Sauvage; "now I will show you what to do
in a case of this kind."
She looked round the room as a thief looks in search of possible
hiding-places for money; then she went straight to Pons' chest, opened
the first drawer, saw the bag in which Schmucke had put the rest of
the money after the sale of the pictures, and held it up before him.
He nodded mechanically.
"Here is money, child," said La Sauvage, turning to Mme. Cantinet. "I
will count it first and take enough to buy everything we want--wine,
provisions, wax-candles, all sorts of things, in fact, for there is
nothing in the house. . . . Just look in the drawers for a sheet to
bury him in. I certainly was told that the poor gentleman was simple,
but I don't know what he is; he is worse. He is like a new-born child;
we shall have to feed him with a funnel."
The women went about their work, and Schmucke looked on precisely as
an idiot might have done. Broken down with sorrow, wholly absorbed, in
a half-cataleptic state, he could not take his eyes from the face that
seemed to fascinate him, Pons' face refined by the absolute repose of
Death. Schmucke hoped to die; everything was alike indifferent. If the
room had been on fire he would not have stirred.
"There are twelve hundred and fifty francs here," La Sauvage told him.
Schmucke shrugged his shoulders.
But when La Sauvage came near to measure the body by laying the sheet
over it, before cutting out the shroud, a horrible struggle ensued
between her and the poor German. Schmucke was furious. He behaved like
a dog that watches by his dead master's body, and shows his teeth at
all who try to touch it. La Sauvage grew impatient. She grasped him,
set him in the armchair, and held him down with herculean strength.
"Go on, child; sew him in his shroud," she said, turning to Mme.
As soon as this operation was completed, La Sauvage set Schmucke back
in his place at the foot of the bed.
"Do you understand?" said she. "The poor dead man lying there must be
done up, there is no help for it."
Schmucke began to cry. The women left him and took possession of the
kitchen, whither they brought all the necessaries in a very short
time. La Sauvage made out a preliminary statement accounting for three
hundred and sixty francs, and then proceeded to prepare a dinner for
four persons. And what a dinner! A fat goose (the cobbler's pheasant)
by way of a substantial roast, an omelette with preserves, a salad,
and the inevitable broth--the quantities of the ingredients for this
last being so excessive that the soup was more like a strong
At nine o'clock the priest, sent by the curate to watch by the dead,
came in with Cantinet, who brought four tall wax candles and some
tapers. In the death-chamber Schmucke was lying with his arms about
the body of his friend, holding him in a tight clasp; nothing but the
authority of religion availed to separate him from his dead. Then the
priest settled himself comfortably in the easy-chair and read his
prayers while Schmucke, kneeling beside the couch, besought God to
work a miracle and unite him to Pons, so that they might be buried in
the same grave; and Mme. Cantinet went on her way to the Temple to buy
a pallet and complete bedding for Mme. Sauvage. The twelve hundred and
fifty francs were regarded as plunder. At eleven o'clock Mme. Cantinet
came in to ask if Schmucke would not eat a morsel, but with a gesture
he signified that he wished to be left in peace.
"Your supper is ready, M. Pastelot," she said, addressing the priest,
and they went.
Schmucke, left alone in the room, smiled to himself like a madman free
at last to gratify a desire like the longing of pregnancy. He flung
himself down beside Pons, and yet again he held his friend in a long,
close embrace. At midnight the priest came back and scolded him, and
Schmucke returned to his prayers. At daybreak the priest went, and at
seven o'clock in the morning the doctor came to see Schmucke, and
spoke kindly and tried hard to persuade him to eat, but the German
"If you do not eat now you will feel very hungry when you come back,"
the doctor told him, "for you must go to the mayor's office and take a
witness with you, so that the registrar may issue a certificate of
"/I/ must go!" cried Schmucke in frightened tones.
"Who else? . . . You must go, for you were the one person who saw him
"Mein legs vill nicht carry me," pleaded Schmucke, imploring the
doctor to come to the rescue.
"Take a cab," the hypocritical doctor blandly suggested. "I have given
notice already. Ask some one in the house to go with you. The two
women will look after the place while you are away."
No one imagines how the requirements of the law jar upon a heartfelt
sorrow. The thought of it is enough to make one turn from civilization
and choose rather the customs of the savage. At nine o'clock that
morning Mme. Sauvage half-carried Schmucke downstairs, and from the
cab he was obliged to beg Remonencq to come with him to the registrar
as a second witness. Here in Paris, in this land of ours besotted with
Equality, the inequality of conditions is glaringly apparent
everywhere and in everything. The immutable tendency of things peeps
out even in the practical aspects of Death. In well-to-do families, a
relative, a friend, or a man of business spares the mourners these
painful details; but in this, as in the matter of taxation, the whole
burden falls heaviest upon the shoulders of the poor.
"Ah! you have good reason to regret him," said Remonencq in answer to
the poor martyr's moan; "he was a very good, a very honest man, and he
has left a fine collection behind him. But being a foreigner, sir, do
you know that you are like to find yourself in a great predicament
--for everybody says that M. Pons left everything to you?"
Schmucke was not listening. He was sounding the dark depths of sorrow
that border upon madness. There is such a thing as tetanus of the
"And you would do well to find some one--some man of business--to
advise you and act for you," pursued Remonencq.
"Ein mann of pizness!" echoed Schmucke.
"You will find that you will want some one to act for you. If I were
you, I should take an experienced man, somebody well known to you in
the quarter, a man you can trust. . . . I always go to Tabareau myself
for my bits of affairs--he is the bailiff. If you give his clerk power
to act for you, you need not trouble yourself any further."
Remonencq and La Cibot, prompted by Fraisier, had agreed beforehand to
make a suggestion which stuck in Schmucke's memory; for there are
times in our lives when grief, as it were, congeals the mind by
arresting all its functions, and any chance impression made at such
moments is retained by a frost-bound memory. Schmucke heard his
companion with such a fixed, mindless stare, that Remonencq said no
"If he is always to be idiotic like this," thought Remonencq, "I might
easily buy the whole bag of tricks up yonder for a hundred thousand
francs; if it is really his. . . . Here we are at the mayor's office,
Remonencq was obliged to take Schmucke out of the cab and to
half-carry him to the registrar's department, where a wedding-party
was assembled. Here they had to wait for their turn, for, by no very
uncommon chance, the clerk had five or six certificates to make out
that morning; and here it was appointed that poor Schmucke should
suffer excruciating anguish.
"Monsieur is M. Schmucke?" remarked a person in a suit of black,
reducing Schmucke to stupefaction by the mention of his name. He
looked up with the same blank, unseeing eyes that he had turned upon
Remonencq, who now interposed.
"What do you want with him?" he said. "Just leave him in peace; you
can plainly see that he is in trouble."
"The gentleman has just lost his friend, and proposes, no doubt, to do
honor to his memory, being, as he is, the sole heir. The gentleman, no
doubt, will not haggle over it, he will buy a piece of ground outright
for a grave. And as M. Pons was such a lover of the arts, it would be
a great pity not to put Music, Painting, and Sculpture on his tomb
--three handsome full-length figures, weeping--"
Remonencq waved the speaker away, in Auvergnat fashion, but the man
replied with another gesture, which being interpreted means "Don't
spoil sport"; a piece of commercial free-masonry, as it were, which
the dealer understood.
"I represent the firm of Sonet and Company, monumental stone-masons;
Sir Walter Scott would have dubbed me /Young Mortality/," continued
this person. "If you, sir, should decide to intrust your orders to us,
we would spare you the trouble of the journey to purchase the ground
necessary for the interment of a friend lost to the arts--"
At this Remonencq nodded assent, and jogged Schmucke's elbow.
"Every day we receive orders from families to arrange all
formalities," continued he of the black coat, thus encouraged by
Remonencq. "In the first moment of bereavement, the heir-at-law finds
it very difficult to attend to such matters, and we are accustomed to
perform these little services for our clients. Our charges, sir, are
on a fixed scale, so much per foot, freestone or marble. Family vaults
a specialty.--We undertake everything at the most moderate prices. Our
firm executed the magnificent monument erected to the fair Esther
Gobseck and Lucien de Rubempre, one of the finest ornaments of
Pere-Lachaise. We only employ the best workmen, and I must warn you,
sir, against small contractors--who turn out nothing but trash," he
added, seeing that another person in a black suit was coming up to say
a word for another firm of marble-workers.
It is often said that "death is the end of a journey," but the aptness
of the simile is realized most fully in Paris. Any arrival, especially
of a person of condition, upon the "dark brink," is hailed in much the
same way as the traveler recently landed is hailed by hotel touts and
pestered with their recommendations. With the exception of a few
philosophically-minded persons, or here and there a family secure of
handing down a name to posterity, nobody thinks beforehand of the
practical aspects of death. Death always comes before he is expected;
and, from a sentiment easy to understand, the heirs usually act as if
the event were impossible. For which reason, almost every one that
loses father or mother, wife or child, is immediately beset by scouts
that profit by the confusion caused by grief to snare others. In
former days, agents for monuments used to live round about the famous
cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, and were gathered together in a single
thoroughfare, which should by rights have been called the Street of
Tombs; issuing thence, they fell upon the relatives of the dead as
they came from the cemetery, or even at the grave-side. But
competition and the spirit of speculation induced them to spread
themselves further and further afield, till descending into Paris
itself they reached the very precincts of the mayor's office. Indeed,
the stone-mason's agent has often been known to invade the house of
mourning with a design for the sepulchre in his hand.
"I am in treaty with this gentleman," said the representative of the
firm of Sonet to another agent who came up.
"Pons deceased! . . ." called the clerk at this moment. "Where are the
"This way, sir," said the stone-mason's agent, this time addressing
Schmucke stayed where he had been placed on the bench, an inert mass.
Remonencq begged the agent to help him, and together they pulled
Schmucke towards the balustrade, behind which the registrar shelters
himself from the mourning public. Remonencq, Schmucke's Providence,
was assisted by Dr. Poulain, who filled in the necessary information
as to Pons' age and birthplace; the German knew but one thing--that
Pons was his friend. So soon as the signatures were affixed, Remonencq
and the doctor (followed by the stone-mason's man), put Schmucke into
a cab, the desperate agent whisking in afterwards, bent upon taking a
La Sauvage, on the lookout in the gateway, half-carried Schmucke's
almost unconscious form upstairs. Remonencq and the agent went up with
"He will be ill!" exclaimed the agent, anxious to make an end of the
piece of business which, according to him, was in progress.
"I should think he will!" returned Mme. Sauvage. "He has been crying
for twenty-four hours on end, and he would not take anything. There is
nothing like grief for giving one a sinking in the stomach."
"My dear client," urged the representative of the firm of Sonet, "do
take some broth. You have so much to do; some one must go to the Hotel
de Ville to buy the ground in the cemetery on which you mean to erect
a monument to perpetuate the memory of the friend of the arts, and
bear record to your gratitude."
"Why, there is no sense in this!" added Mme. Cantinet, coming in with
broth and bread.
"If you are as weak as this, you ought to think of finding some one to
act for you," added Remonencq, "for you have a good deal on your
hands, my dear sir. There is the funeral to order. You would not have
your friend buried like a pauper!"
"Come, come, my dear sir," put in La Sauvage, seizing a moment when
Schmucke laid his head back in the great chair to pour a spoonful of
soup into his mouth. She fed him as if he had been a child, and almost
in spite of himself.
"Now, if you were wise, sir, since you are inclined to give yourself
up quietly to grief, you would find some one to act for you--"
"As you are thinking of raising a magnificent monument to the memory
of your friend, sir, you have only to leave it all to me; I will
"What is all this? What is all this?" asked La Sauvage. "Has M.
Schmucke ordered something? Who may you be?"
"I represent the firm of Sonet, my dear madame, the biggest monumental
stone-masons in Paris," said the person in black, handing a
business-card to the stalwart Sauvage.
"Very well, that will do. Some one will go with you when the time
comes; but you must not take advantage of the gentleman's condition
now. You can quite see that he is not himself----"
The agent led her out upon the landing.
"If you will undertake to get the order for us," he said
confidentially, "I am empowered to offer you forty francs."
Mme. Sauvage grew placable. "Very well, let me have your address,"
Schmucke meantime being left to himself, and feeling the stronger for
the soup and bread that he had been forced to swallow, returned at
once to Pons' rooms, and to his prayers. He had lost himself in the
fathomless depths of sorrow, when a voice sounding in his ears drew
him back from the abyss of grief, and a young man in a suit of black
returned for the eleventh time to the charge, pulling the poor,
tortured victim's coatsleeve until he listened.
"Sir!" said he.
"Vat ees it now?"
"Sir! we owe a supreme discovery to Dr. Gannal; we do not dispute his
fame; he has worked miracles of Egypt afresh; but there have been
improvements made upon his system. We have obtained surprising
results. So, if you would like to see your friend again, as he was
when he was alive--"
"See him again!" cried Schmucke. "Shall he speak to me?"
"Not exactly. Speech is the only thing wanting," continued the
embalmer's agent. "But he will remain as he is after embalming for all
eternity. The operation is over in a few seconds. Just an incision in
the carotid artery and an injection.--But it is high time; if you wait
one single quarter of an hour, sir, you will not have the sweet
satisfaction of preserving the body. . . ."
"Go to der teufel! . . . Bons is ein spirit--und dat spirit is in
"That man has no gratitude in his composition," remarked the youthful
agent of one of the famous Gannal's rivals; "he will not embalm his
The words were spoken under the archway, and addressed to La Cibot,
who had just submitted her beloved to the process.
"What would you have, sir!" she said. "He is the heir, the universal
legatee. As soon as they get what they want, the dead are nothing to
An hour later, Schmucke saw Mme. Sauvage come into the room, followed
by another man in a suit of black, a workman, to all appearance.
"Cantinet has been so obliging as to send this gentleman, sir," she
said; "he is coffin-maker to the parish."
The coffin-maker made his bow with a sympathetic and compassionate
air, but none the less he had a business-like look, and seemed to know
that he was indispensable. He turned an expert's eye upon the dead.
"How does the gentleman wish 'it' to be made? Deal, plain oak, or oak
lead-lined? Oak with a lead lining is the best style. The body is a
stock size,"--he felt for the feet, and proceeded to take the measure
--"one metre seventy!" he added. "You will be thinking of ordering the
funeral service at the church, sir, no doubt?"
Schmucke looked at him as a dangerous madman might look before
striking a blow. La Sauvage put in a word.
"You ought to find somebody to look after all these things," she said.
"Yes----" the victim murmured at length.
"Shall I fetch M. Tabareau?--for you will have a good deal on your
hands before long. M. Tabareau is the most honest man in the quarter,
"Yes. Mennesir Dapareau! Somepody vas speaking of him chust now--"
said Schmucke, completely beaten.
"Very well. You can be quiet, sir, and give yourself up to grief, when
you have seen your deputy."
It was nearly two o'clock when M. Tabareau's head-clerk, a young man
who aimed at a bailiff's career, modestly presented himself. Youth has
wonderful privileges; no one is alarmed by youth. This young man
Villemot by name, sat down by Schmucke's side and waited his
opportunity to speak. His diffidence touched Schmucke very much.
"I am M. Tabareau's head-clerk, sir," he said; "he sent me here to
take charge of your interests, and to superintend the funeral
arrangements. Is this your wish?"
"You cannot safe my life, I haf not long to lif; but you vill leaf me
"Oh! you shall not be disturbed," said Villemot.
"Ver' goot. Vat must I do for dat?"
"Sign this paper appointing M. Tabareau to act for you in all matters
relating to the settlement of the affairs of the deceased."
"Goot! gif it to me," said Schmucke, anxious only to sign it at once.
"No, I must read it over to you first."
"Read it ofer."
Schmucke paid not the slightest attention to the reading of the power
of attorney, but he set his name to it. The young clerk took
Schmucke's orders for the funeral, the interment, and the burial
service; undertaking that he should not be troubled again in any way,
nor asked for money.
"I vould gif all dat I haf to be left in beace," said the unhappy man.
And once more he knelt beside the dead body of his friend.
Fraisier had triumphed. Villemot and La Sauvage completed the circle
which he had traced about Pons' heir.
There is no sorrow that sleep cannot overcome. Towards the end of the
day La Sauvage, coming in, found Schmucke stretched asleep at the
bed-foot. She carried him off, put him to bed, tucked him in
maternally, and till the morning Schmucke slept.
When he awoke, or rather when the truce was over and he again became
conscious of his sorrows, Pons' coffin lay under the gateway in such a
state as a third-class funeral may claim, and Schmucke, seeking vainly
for his friend, wandered from room to room, across vast spaces, as it
seemed to him, empty of everything save hideous memories. La Sauvage
took him in hand, much as a nurse manages a child; she made him take
his breakfast before starting for the church; and while the poor
sufferer forced himself to eat, she discovered, with lamentations
worthy of Jeremiah, that he had not a black coat in his possession. La
Cibot took entire charge of his wardrobe; since Pons fell ill, his
apparel, like his dinner, had been reduced to the lowest terms--to a
couple of coats and two pairs of trousers.
"And you are going just as you are to M. Pons' funeral? It is an
unheard-of thing; the whole quarter will cry shame upon us!"
"Und how vill you dat I go?"
"Why, in mourning--"
"It is the proper thing."
"Der bropper ding! . . . Confound all dis stupid nonsense!" cried poor
Schmucke, driven to the last degree of exasperation which a childlike
soul can reach under stress of sorrow.
"Why, the man is a monster of ingratitude!" said La Sauvage, turning
to a personage who just then appeared. At the sight of this
functionary Schmucke shuddered. The newcomer wore a splendid suit of
black, black knee-breeches, black silk stockings, a pair of white
cuffs, an extremely correct white muslin tie, and white gloves. A
silver chain with a coin attached ornamented his person. A typical
official, stamped with the official expression of decorous gloom, an
ebony wand in his hand by way of insignia of office, he stood waiting
with a three-cornered hat adorned with the tricolor cockade under his
"I am the master of the ceremonies," this person remarked in a subdued
Accustomed daily to superintend funerals, to move among families
plunged in one and the same kind of tribulation, real or feigned, this
man, like the rest of his fraternity, spoke in hushed and soothing
tones; he was decorous, polished, and formal, like an allegorical
stone figure of Death.
Schmucke quivered through every nerve as if he were confronting his
"Is this gentleman the son, brother, or father of the deceased?"
inquired the official.
"I am all dat and more pesides--I am his friend," said Schmucke
through a torrent of weeping.
"Are you his heir?"
"Heir? . . ." repeated Schmucke. "Noding matters to me more in dis
vorld," returning to his attitude of hopeless sorrow.
"Where are the relatives, the friends?" asked the master of the
"All here!" exclaimed the German, indicating the pictures and
rarities. "Not von of dem haf efer gifn bain to mein boor Bons. . . .
Here ees everydings dot he lofed, after me."
Schmucke had taken his seat again, and looked as vacant as before; he
dried his eyes mechanically. Villemot came up at that moment; he had
ordered the funeral, and the master of the ceremonies, recognizing
him, made an appeal to the newcomer.
"Well, sir, it is time to start. The hearse is here; but I have not
often seen such a funeral as this. Where are the relatives and
"We have been pressed for time," replied Villemot. "This gentleman was
in such deep grief that he could think of nothing. And there is only
The master of the ceremonies looked compassionately at Schmucke; this
expert in sorrow knew real grief when he saw it. He went across to
"Come, take heart, my dear sir. Think of paying honor to your friend's
"We forgot to send out cards; but I took care to send a special
message to M. le Presidente de Marville, the one relative that I
mentioned to you.--There are no friends.--M. Pons was conductor of an
orchestra at a theatre, but I do not think that any one will come.
--This gentleman is the universal legatee, I believe."
"Then he ought to be chief mourner," said the master of the
ceremonies.--"Have you a black coat?" he continued, noticing
"I am all in plack insite!" poor Schmucke replied in heartrending
tones; "so plack it is dot I feel death in me. . . . Gott in hefn is
going to haf pity upon me; He vill send me to mein friend in der
grafe, und I dank Him for it--"
He clasped his hands.
"I have told our management before now that we ought to have a
wardrobe department and lend the proper mourning costumes on hire,"
said the master of the ceremonies, addressing Villemot; "it is a want
that is more and more felt every day, and we have even now introduced
improvements. But as this gentleman is chief mourner, he ought to wear
a cloak, and this one that I have brought with me will cover him from
head to foot; no one need know that he is not in proper mourning
costume.--Will you be so kind as to rise?"
Schmucke rose, but he tottered on his feet.
"Support him," said the master of the ceremonies, turning to Villemot;
"you are his legal representative."
Villemot held Schmucke's arm while the master of the ceremonies
invested Schmucke with the ample, dismal-looking garment worn by
heirs-at-law in the procession to and from the house and the church.
He tied the black silken cords under the chin, and Schmucke as heir
was in "full dress."
"And now comes a great difficulty," continued the master of the
ceremonies; "we want four bearers for the pall. . . . If nobody comes
to the funeral, who is to fill the corners? It is half-past ten
already," he added, looking at his watch; "they are waiting for us at
"Oh! here comes Fraisier!" Villemot exclaimed, very imprudently; but
there was no one to hear the tacit confession of complicity.
"Who is this gentleman?" inquired the master of the ceremonies.
"Oh! he comes on behalf of the family."
"The disinherited family. He is M. Camusot de Marville's
"Good," said the master of the ceremonies, with a satisfied air. "We
shall have two pall-bearers at any rate--you and he."
And, happy to find two of the places filled up, he took out some
wonderful white buckskin gloves, and politely presented Fraisier and
Villemot with a pair apiece.
"If you gentlemen will be so good as to act as pall-bearers--" said
Fraisier, in black from head to foot, pretentiously dressed, with his
white tie and official air, was a sight to shudder at; he embodied a
"Willingly, sir," said he.
"If only two more persons will come, the four corners will be filled
up," said the master of the ceremonies.
At that very moment the indefatigable representative of the firm of
Sonet came up, and, closely following him, the man who remembered Pons
and thought of paying him a last tribute of respect. This was a
supernumerary at the theatre, the man who put out the scores on the
music-stands for the orchestra. Pons had been wont to give him a
five-franc piece once a month, knowing that he had a wife and family.
"Oh, Dobinard (Topinard)!" Schmucke cried out at the sight of him,
"/you/ love Bons!"
"Why, I have come to ask news of M. Pons every morning, sir."
"Efery morning! boor Dobinard!" and Schmucke squeezed the man's hand.
"But they took me for a relation, no doubt, and did not like my visits
at all. I told them that I belonged to the theatre and came to inquire
after M. Pons; but it was no good. They saw through that dodge, they
said. I asked to see the poor dear man, but they never would let me
"Dat apominable Zipod!" said Schmucke, squeezing Topinard's horny hand
to his heart.
"He was the best of men, that good M. Pons. Every month he use to give
me five francs. . . . He knew that I had three children and a wife. My
wife has gone to the church."
"I shall difide mein pread mit you," cried Schmucke, in his joy at
finding at his side some one who loved Pons.
"If this gentleman will take a corner of the pall, we shall have all
four filled up," said the master of the ceremonies.
There had been no difficulty over persuading the agent for monuments.
He took a corner the more readily when he was shown the handsome pair
of gloves which, according to custom, was to be his property.
"A quarter to eleven! We absolutely must go down. They are waiting for
us at the church."
The six persons thus assembled went down the staircase.
The cold-blooded lawyer remained a moment to speak to the two women on
the landing. "Stop here, and let nobody come in," he said, "especially
if you wish to remain in charge, Mme. Cantinet. Aha! two francs a day,
By a coincidence in nowise extraordinary in Paris, two hearses were
waiting at the door, and two coffins standing under the archway;
Cibot's funeral and the solitary state in which Pons was lying was
made even more striking in the street. Schmucke was the only mourner
that followed Pons' coffin; Schmucke, supported by one of the
undertaker's men, for he tottered at every step. From the Rue de
Normandie to the Rue d'Orleans and the Church of Saint-Francois the
two funerals went between a double row of curious onlookers for
everything (as was said before) makes a sensation in the quarter.
Every one remarked the splendor of the white funeral car, with a big
embroidered P suspended on a hatchment, and the one solitary mourner
behind it; while the cheap bier that came after it was followed by an
immense crowd. Happily, Schmucke was so bewildered by the throng of
idlers and the rows of heads in the windows, that he heard no remarks
and only saw the faces through a mist of tears.
"Oh, it is the nutcracker!" said one, "the musician, you know--"
"Who can the pall-bearers be?"
"I say, just look at poor old Cibot's funeral. There is one worker the
less. What a man! he could never get enough of work!"
"He never went out."
"He never kept Saint Monday."
"How fond he was of his wife!"
"Ah! There is an unhappy woman!"
Remonencq walked behind his victim's coffin. People condoled with him
on the loss of his neighbor.
The two funerals reached the church. Cantinet and the doorkeeper saw
that no beggars troubled Schmucke. Villemot had given his word that
Pons' heir should be left in peace; he watched over his client, and
gave the requisite sums; and Cibot's humble bier, escorted by sixty or
eighty persons, drew all the crowd after it to the cemetery. At the
church door Pons' funeral possession mustered four mourning-coaches,
one for the priest and three for the relations; but one only was
required, for the representative of the firm of Sonet departed during
mass to give notice to his principal that the funeral was on the way,
so that the design for the monument might be ready for the survivor at
the gates of the cemetery. A single coach sufficed for Fraisier,
Villemot, Schmucke, and Topinard; but the remaining two, instead of
returning to the undertaker, followed in the procession to
Pere-Lachaise--a useless procession, not unfrequently seen; there are
always too many coaches when the dead are unknown beyond their own
circle and there is no crowd at the funeral. Dear, indeed, the dead
must have been in their lifetime if relative or friend will go with
them so far as the cemetery in this Paris, where every one would fain
have twenty-five hours in the day. But with the coachmen it is
different; they lose their tips if they do not make the journey; so,
empty or full, the mourning coaches go to the church and cemetery and
return to the house for gratuities. A death is a sort of
drinking-fountain for an unimagined crowd of thirsty mortals. The
attendants at the church, the poor, the undertaker's men, the drivers
and sextons, are creatures like sponges that dip into a hearse and
come out again saturated.
From the church door, where he was beset with a swarm of beggars
(promptly dispersed by the beadle), to Pere-Lachaise, poor Schmucke
went as criminals went in old times from the Palais de Justice to the
Place de Greve. It was his own funeral that he followed, clinging to
Topinard's hand, to the one living creature besides himself who felt a
pang of real regret for Pons' death.
As for Topinard, greatly touched by the honor of the request to act as
pall-bearer, content to drive in a carriage, the possessor of a new
pair of gloves,--it began to dawn upon him that this was to be one of
the great days of his life. Schmucke was driven passively along the
road, as some unlucky calf is driven in a butcher's cart to the
slaughter-house. Fraisier and Villemot sat with their backs to the
horses. Now, as those know whose sad fortune it has been to accompany
many of their friends to their last resting-place, all hypocrisy
breaks down in the coach during the journey (often a very long one)
from the church to the eastern cemetery, to that one of the
burying-grounds of Paris in which all vanities, all kinds of display,
are met, so rich is it in sumptuous monuments. On these occasions those
who feel least begin to talk soonest, and in the end the saddest listen,
and their thoughts are diverted.
"M. le President had already started for the Court." Fraisier told
Villemot, "and I did not think it necessary to tear him away from
business; he would have come too late, in any case. He is the
next-of-kin; but as he has been disinherited, and M. Schmucke gets
everything, I thought that if his legal representative were present
it would be enough."
Topinard lent an ear to this.
"Who was the queer customer that took the fourth corner?" continued
"He is an agent for a firm of monumental stone-masons. He would like
an order for a tomb, on which he proposes to put three sculptured
marble figures--Music, Painting, and Sculpture shedding tears over the
"It is an idea," said Fraisier; "the old gentleman certainly deserved
that much; but the monument would cost seven or eight hundred francs."
"Oh! quite that!"
"If M. Schmucke gives the order, it cannot affect the estate. You
might eat up a whole property with such expenses."
"There would be a lawsuit, but you would gain it--"
"Very well," said Fraisier, "then it will be his affair.--It would be
a nice practical joke to play upon the monument-makers," Fraisier
added in Villemot's ear; "for if the will is upset (and I can answer
for that), or if there is no will at all, who would pay them?"
Villemot grinned like a monkey, and the pair began to talk
confidentially, lowering their voices; but the man from the theatre,
with his wits and senses sharpened in the world behind the scenes,
could guess at the nature of their discourse; in spite of the rumbling
of the carriage and other hindrances, he began to understand that
these representatives of justice were scheming to plunge poor Schmucke
into difficulties; and when at last he heard the ominous word
"Clichy," the honest and loyal servitor of the stage made up his mind
to watch over Pons' friend.
At the cemetery, where three square yards of ground had been purchased
through the good offices of the firm of Sonet (Villemot having
announced Schmucke's intention of erecting a magnificent monument),
the master of ceremonies led Schmucke through a curious crowd to the
grave into which Pons' coffin was about to be lowered; but here, at
the sight of the square hole, the four men waiting with ropes to lower
the bier, and the clergy saying the last prayer for the dead at the
grave-side, something clutched tightly at the German's heart. He
Sonet's agent and M. Sonet himself came to help Topinard to carry poor
Schmucke into the marble-works hard by, where Mme. Sonet and Mme.
Vitelot (Sonet's partner's wife) were eagerly prodigal of efforts to
revive him. Topinard stayed. He had seen Fraisier in conversation with
Sonet's agent, and Fraisier, in his opinion, had gallows-bird written
on his face.
An hour later, towards half-past two o'clock, the poor, innocent
German came to himself. Schmucke thought that he had been dreaming for
the past two days; if he could only wake, he should find Pons still
alive. So many wet towels had been laid on his forehead, he had been
made to inhale salts and vinegar to such an extent, that he opened his
eyes at last. Mme. Sonet make him take some meat-soup, for they had
put the pot on the fire at the marble-works.
"Our clients do not often take things to heart like this; still, it
happens once in a year or two--"
At last Schmucke talked of returning to the Rue de Normandie, and at
this Sonet began at once.
"Here is the design, sir," he said; "Vitelot drew it expressly for
you, and sat up last night to do it. . . . And he has been happily
inspired, it will look fine--"
"One of the finest in Pere-Lachaise!" said the little Mme. Sonet. "But
you really ought to honor the memory of a friend who left you all his
The design, supposed to have been drawn on purpose, had, as a matter
of fact, been prepared for de Marsay, the famous cabinet minister. His
widow, however, had given the commission to Stidmann; people were
disgusted with the tawdriness of the project, and it was refused. The
three figures at that period represented the three days of July which
brought the eminent minister to power. Subsequently, Sonet and Vitelot
had turned the Three Glorious Days--"/les trois glorieuses/"--into the
Army, Finance, and the Family, and sent in the design for the
sepulchre of the late lamented Charles Keller; and here again Stidmann
took the commission. In the eleven years that followed, the sketch had
been modified to suit all kinds of requirements, and now in Vitelot's
fresh tracing they reappeared as Music, Sculpture, and Painting.
"It is a mere trifle when you think of the details and cost of setting
it up; for it will take six months," said Vitelot. "Here is the
estimate and the order-form--seven thousand francs, sketch in plaster
"If M. Schmucke would like marble," put in Sonet (marble being his
special department), "it would cost twelve thousand francs, and
monsieur would immortalize himself as well as his friend."
Topinard turned to Vitelot.
"I have just heard that they are going to dispute the will," he
whispered, "and the relatives are likely to come by their property. Go
and speak to M. Camusot, for this poor, harmless creature has not a
"This is the kind of customer that you always bring us," said Mme.
Vitelot, beginning a quarrel with the agent.
Topinard led Schmucke away, and they returned home on foot to the Rue
de Normandie, for the mourning-coaches had been sent back.
"Do not leaf me," Schmucke said, when Topinard had seen him safe into
Mme. Sauvage's hands, and wanted to go.
"It is four o'clock, dear M. Schmucke. I must go home to dinner. My
wife is a box-opener--she will not know what has become of me. The
theatre opens at a quarter to six, you know."
"Yes, I know . . . but remember dat I am alone in die earth, dat I haf
no friend. You dat haf shed a tear for Bons enliden me; I am in teep
tarkness, und Bons said dat I vas in der midst of shcoundrels."
"I have seen that plainly already; I have just prevented them from
sending you to Clichy."
"/Gligy!/" repeated Schmucke; "I do not understand."
"Poor man! Well, never mind, I will come to you. Good-bye."
"Goot-bye; komm again soon," said Schmucke, dropping half-dead with
"Good-bye, mosieu," said Mme. Sauvage, and there was something in her
tone that struck Topinard.
"Oh, come, what is the matter now?" he asked, banteringly. "You are
attitudinizing like a traitor in a melodrama."
"Traitor yourself! Why have you come meddling here? Do you want to
have a hand in the master's affairs, and swindle him, eh?"
"Swindle him! . . . Your very humble servant!" Topinard answered with
superb disdain. "I am only a poor super at a theatre, but I am
something of an artist, and you may as well know that I never asked
anything of anybody yet! Who asked anything of you? Who owes you
anything? eh, old lady!"
"You are employed at a theatre, and your name is--?"
"Topinard, at your service."
"Kind regards to all at home," said La Sauvage, "and my compliments to
your missus, if you are married, mister. . . . That was all I wanted
"Why, what is the matter, dear?" asked Mme. Cantinet, coming out.
"This, child--stop here and look after the dinner while I run round to
speak to monsieur."
"He is down below, talking with poor Mme. Cibot, that is crying her
eyes out," said Mme. Cantinet.
La Sauvage dashed down in such headlong haste that the stairs trembled
beneath her tread.
"Monsieur!" she called, and drew him aside a few paces to point out
Topinard was just going away, proud at heart to have made some return
already to the man who had done him so many kindnesses. He had saved
Pons' friend from a trap, by a stratagem from that world behind the
scenes in which every one has more or less ready wit. And within
himself he vowed to protect a musician in his orchestra from future
snares set for his simple sincerity.
"Do you see that little wretch?" said La Sauvage. "He is a kind of
honest man that has a mind to poke his nose into M. Schmucke's
"Who is he?" asked Fraisier.
"Oh! he is a nobody."
"In business there is no such thing as a nobody."
"Oh, he is employed at the theatre," said she; "his name is Topinard."
"Good, Mme. Sauvage! Go on like this, and you shall have your
And Fraisier resumed his conversation with Mme. Cibot.
"So I say, my dear client, that you have not played openly and
above-board with me, and that one is not bound in any way to a
partner who cheats."
"And how have I cheated you?" asked La Cibot, hands on hips. "Do you
think that you will frighten me with your sour looks and your frosty
airs? You look about for bad reasons for breaking your promises, and
you call yourself an honest man! Do you know what you are? You are a
blackguard! Yes! yes! scratch your arm; but just pocket that--"
"No words, and keep your temper, dearie. Listen to me. You have been
feathering your nest. . . . I found this catalogue this morning while
we were getting ready for the funeral; it is all in M. Pons'
handwriting, and made out in duplicate. And as it chanced, my eyes
fell on this--"
And opening the catalogue, he read:
"No. 7. /Magnificent portrait painted on marble, by Sebastian del
Piombo, in 1546. Sold by a family who had it removed from Terni
Cathedral. The picture, which represents a Knight-Templar kneeling
in prayer, used to hang above a tomb of the Rossi family with a
companion portrait of a Bishop, afterwards purchased by an
Englishman. The portrait might be attributed to Raphael, but for
the date. This example is, to my mind, superior to the portrait of
Baccio Bandinelli in the Musee; the latter is a little hard, while
the Templar, being painted upon 'lavagna,' or slate, has preserved
its freshness of coloring./"
"When I come to look for No. 7," continued Fraisier, "I find a
portrait of a lady, signed 'Chardin,' without a number on it! I went
through the pictures with the catalogue while the master of ceremonies
was making up the number of pall-bearers, and found that eight of
those indicated as works of capital importance by M. Pons had
disappeared, and eight paintings of no special merit, and without
numbers, were there instead. . . . And finally, one was missing
altogether, a little panel-painting by Metzu, described in the
catalogue as a masterpiece."
"And was /I/ in charge of the pictures?" demanded La Cibot.
"No; but you were in a position of trust. You were M. Pons'
housekeeper, you looked after his affairs, and he has been robbed--"
"Robbed! Let me tell you this, sir: M. Schmucke sold the pictures, by
M. Pons' orders, to meet expenses."
"And to whom?"
"To Messrs. Elie Magus and Remonencq."
"For how much?"
"I am sure I do not remember."
"Look here, my dear madame; you have been feathering your nest, and
very snugly. I shall keep an eye upon you; I have you safe. Help me, I
will say nothing! In any case, you know that since you deemed it
expedient to plunder M. le President Camusot, you ought not to expect
anything from /him/."
"I was sure that this would all end in smoke, for me," said La Cibot,
mollified by the words "I will say nothing."
Remonencq chimed in at this point.
"Here are you finding fault with Mme. Cibot; that is not right!" he
said. "The pictures were sold by private treaty between M. Pons, M.
Magus, and me. We waited for three days before we came to terms with
the deceased; he slept on his pictures. We took receipts in proper
form; and if we gave Madame Cibot a few forty-franc pieces, it is the
custom of the trade--we always do so in private houses when we
conclude a bargain. Ah! my dear sir, if you think to cheat a
defenceless woman, you will not make a good bargain! Do you
understand, master lawyer?--M. Magus rules the market, and if you do
not come down off the high horse, if you do not keep your word to Mme.
Cibot, I shall wait till the collection is sold, and you shall see
what you will lose if you have M. Magus and me against you; we can get
the dealers in a ring. Instead of realizing seven or eight hundred
thousand francs, you will not so much as make two hundred thousand."
"Good, good, we shall see. We are not going to sell; or if we do, it
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