Part 5 out of 8
that some accident, I know not what, has happened to it, in order to
avoid having to send it to the /Salon/. I said nothing, I affected to
believe her. But I understood that there again was some new evil
report. And it is such a disappointment to me. In a crisis as grave as
this everything has its importance. My bust in the exhibition, signed
by that famous name, would have helped me greatly in Paris. But no,
everything falls away, every one fails me. You see now that I cannot
do without you. You must not desert me."
A DAY OF SPLEEN
Five o'clock in the afternoon. Rain since morning and a gray sky low
enough to be reached with an umbrella; the close weather which sticks.
Mess, mud, nothing but mud, in heavy puddles, in shining trails in the
gutters, vainly chased by the street-scrapers and the scavengers,
heaved into enormous carts which carry it slowly towards Montreuil--
promenading it in triumph through the streets, always moving, and
always springing up again, growing through the pavements, splashing
the panels of the carriages, the breasts of the horses, the clothes of
the passers-by, spattering the windows, the door-steps, the shop-
fronts, till one feared that the whole of Paris would sink and
disappear under this sorrowful, miry soil where everything dissolves
and is lost in mud. And it moves one to pity to see the invasion of
this dirt on the whiteness of the new houses, on the parapets of the
quays, and on the colonnades of the stone balconies. There is some
one, however, who rejoices at the sight, a poor, sick, weary being,
lying all her length on a silk-embroidered divan, her chin on her
clinched fists. She is looking out gladly through the dripping windows
and delighting in all the ugliness.
"Look, my fairy! this is indeed the weather I wanted to-day. See them
draggling along! Aren't they hideous? Aren't they dirty? What mire! It
is everywhere--in the streets, on the quays, right down to the Seine,
right up to the heavens. I tell you, mud is good when one is sad. I
would like to play in it, to make sculpture with it--a statue a
hundred feet high, that should be called 'My weariness.' "
"But why are you so miserable, dearest?" said the old dancer gently,
amiable and pink, and sitting straight in her seat for fear of
disarranging her hair, which was even more carefully dressed than
usual. "Haven't you everything to make you happy?" And for the
hundredth time she enumerated in her tranquil voice the reasons for
her happiness: her glory, her genius, her beauty, all the men at her
feet, the handsomest, the greatest--oh! yes, the very greatest, as
this very day-- But a terrible howl, like the heart-rending cry of the
jackal exasperated by the monotony of his desert, suddenly made all
the studio windows shake, and frightened the old and startled little
chrysalis back into her cocoon.
A week ago, Felicia's group was finished and sent to the exhibition,
leaving her in a state of nervous prostration, moral sickness, and
distressful exasperation. It needs all the tireless patience of the
fairy, all the magic of her memories constantly evoked, to make life
supportable beside this restlessness, this wicked anger, which growls
beneath the girl's long silences and suddenly bursts out in a bitter
word or in an "Ugh!" of disgust at everything. All the critics are
asses. The public? An immense goitre with three rows of chains. And
yet, the other Sunday, when the Duc de Mora came with the
superintendent of the art section to see her exhibits in the studio,
she was so happy, so proud of the praise they gave her, so fully
delighted with her own work, which she admired from the outside, as
though the work of some one else, now that her tools no longer created
between her and her work that bond which makes impartial judgment so
hard for the artist.
But it is like this every year. The studio stripped of her recent
work, her glorious name once again thrown to the unexpected caprice of
the public, Felicia's thoughts, now without a visible object, stray in
the emptiness of her heart and in the hollowness of her life--that of
the woman who leaves the quiet groove--until she be engrossed in some
new work. She shuts herself up and will see no one, as though she
mistrusted herself. Jenkins is the only person who can help her during
these attacks. He seems even to court them, as though he expected
something therefrom. She is not pleasant with him, all the same,
goodness knows. Yesterday, even, he stayed for hours beside this
wearied beauty without her speaking to him once. If that be the
welcome she is keeping for the great personage who is doing them the
honour of dining with them-- Here the good Crenmitz, who is quietly
turning over all these thoughts as she gazes at the bows on the
pointed toes of her slippers, remembers that she has promised to make
a dish of Viennese cakes for the dinner of the personage in question,
and goes out of the studio, silently, on the tips of her little feet.
The rain falls, the mud deepens; the beautiful sphinx lies still, her
eyes lost in the dull horizon. What is she thinking of? What does she
see coming there, over those filthy roads, in the falling night, that
her lip should take that curve of disgust and her brow that frown? Is
she waiting for her fate? A sad fate, that sets forth in such weather,
fearless of the darkness and the dirt.
Some one comes into the studio with a heavier tread than the mouse-
like step of Constance--the little servant, doubtless; and, without
looking round, Felicia says roughly, "Go away! I don't want any one
"I should have liked to speak to you very much, all the same," says a
She starts, sits up. Mollified and almost smiling at this unexpected
visitor, she says:
"What--you, young Minerva! How did you get in?"
"Very easily. All the doors are open."
"I am not surprised. Constance is crazy, since this morning, over her
"Yes, I saw. The anteroom is full of flowers. Who is coming?"
"Oh! a stupid dinner--an official dinner. I don't know how I could--
Sit down here, near me. I am so glad to see you."
Paul sat down, a little disturbed. She had never seemed to him so
beautiful. In the dusk of the studio, amid the shadowy brilliance of
the works of art, bronzes, and tapestries, her pallor was like a soft
light, her eyes shone like precious stones, and her long, close-
fitting gown revealed the unrestraint of her goddess-like body. Then,
she spoke so affectionately, she seemed so happy because he had come.
Why had he stayed away so long? It was almost a month since they had
seen him. Were they no longer friends? He excused himself as best he
could--business, a journey. Besides, if he hadn't been there, he had
often spoken of her--oh, very often, almost every day.
"Really? And with whom?"
He was going to say "With Aline Joyeuse," but a feeling of restraint
stopped him, an undefinable sentiment, a sense of shame at pronouncing
her name in the studio which had heard so many others. There are
things that do not go together, one scarcely knows why. Paul preferred
to reply with a falsehood, which brought him at once to the object of
"With an excellent fellow to whom you have given very unnecessary
pain. Come, why have you not finished the poor Nabob's bust? It was a
great joy to him, such a very proud thing for him, to have that bust
in the exhibition. He counted upon it."
At the Nabob's name she was slightly troubled.
"It is true," she said, "I broke my word. But what do you expect? I am
made of caprice. See, the cover is over it; all wet, so that the clay
does not harden."
"And the accident? You know, we didn't believe in it."
"Then you were wrong. I never lie. It had a fall, a most awful upset;
only the clay was fresh, and I easily repaired it. Look!"
With a sweeping gesture she lifted the cover. The Nabob suddenly
appeared before them, his jolly face beaming with the pleasure of
being portrayed; so like, so tremendously himself, that Paul gave a
cry of admiration.
"Isn't it good?" she said artlessly. "Still a few touches here and
there--" She had taken the chisel and the little sponge and pushed the
stand into what remained of the daylight. "It could be done in a few
hours. But it couldn't go to the exhibition. To-day is the 22nd; all
the exhibits have been in a long time."
"Bah! With influence----"
She frowned, and her bad expression came back, her mouth turning down.
"That's true. The /protege/ of the Duc de Mora. Oh! you have no need
to apologize. I know what people say, and I don't care /that/--" and
she threw a little ball of clay at the wall, where it stuck, flat.
"Perhaps men, by dint of supposing the thing which is not-- But let us
leave these infamies alone," she said, holding up her aristocratic
head. "I really want to please you, Minerva. Your friend shall go to
the /Salon/ this year."
Just then a smell of caramel and warm pastry filled the studio, where
the shadows were falling like a fine gray dust, and the fairy
appeared, a dish of sweetmeats in her hand. She looked more fairy-like
than ever, bedecked and rejuvenated; dressed in a white gown which
showed her beautiful arms through sleeves of old lace; they were
beautiful still, for the arm is the beauty that fades last.
"Look at my /kuchen/, dearie; they are such a success this time. Oh! I
beg your pardon. I did not see you had friends. And it is M. Paul! How
are you M. Paul? Taste one of my cakes."
And the charming old lady, whose dress seemed to lend her an
extraordinary vivacity, came towards him, balancing the plate on the
tips of her tiny fingers.
"Don't bother him. You can give him some at dinner," said Felicia
The dancer was so astonished that she almost upset her pretty
pastries, which looked as light and airy and delicious as herself.
"Yes, he is staying to dine with us. Oh! I beg it of you," she added,
with a particular insistence as she saw he was going to refuse, "I beg
you to stay. Don't say no. You will be rendering me a real service by
staying to-night. Come--I didn't hesitate a few minutes ago."
She had taken his hand; and in truth might have been struck by a
strange disproportion between her request and the supplicating,
anxious tone in which it was made. Paul still attempted to excuse
himself. He was not dressed. How could she propose it!--a dinner at
which she would have other guests.
"My dinner? But I will countermand it! That is the kind of person I
am. We shall be alone, just the three of us, with Constance."
"But, Felicia, my child, you can't really think of such a thing. Ah,
well! And the--the other who will be coming directly.
"I am going to write to him to stay at home, /parbleu/!"
"You unlucky being, it is too late."
"Not at all. It is striking six o'clock. The dinner was for half past
seven. You must have this sent to him quickly.
She was writing hastily at a corner of the table.
"What a strange girl, /mon Dieu! mon Dieu!/" murmured the dancer in
bewilderment, while Felicia, delighted, transfigured, was joyously
sealing her letter.
"There! my excuse is made. Headaches have not been invented for
Then, the letter having been despatched:
"Oh, how pleased I am! What a jolly evening we shall have! Do kiss me,
Constance! It will not prevent us from doing honour to your /kuchen/,
and we shall have the pleasure of seeing you in a pretty toilette
which makes you look younger than I do."
This was more than was required to cause the dancer to forgive this
new caprice of her dear demon, and the crime of /lese-majeste/ in
which she had just been involved against her will. To treat so great a
personage so cavalierly! There was no one like her in the world--there
was no one like her. As for Paul de Gery, he no longer tried to
resist, under the spell once more of that attraction from which he had
been able to fancy himself released by absence, but which, from the
moment he crossed the threshold of the studio, had put chains on his
will, delivered him over, bound and vanquished, to the sentiment which
he was quite resolved to combat.
Evidently the dinner--a repast for a veritable /gourmet/,
superintended by the Austrian lady in its least details--had been
prepared for a guest of great mark. From the lofty Kabyle chandelier
with its seven branches of carved wood, which cast its light over the
table-cloth covered with embroidery, to the long-necked decanters
holding the wines within their strange and exquisite form, the
sumptuous magnificence of the service, the delicacy of the meats, to
which edge was given by a certain unusualness in their selection,
revealed the importance of the expected visitor, the anxiety which
there had been to please him. The table was certainly that of an
artist. Little silver, but superb china, much unity of effect, without
the least attempt at matching. The old Rouen, the pink Sevres, the
Dutch glass mounted in old filigree pewter met on this table as on a
sideboard devoted to the display of rare curios collected by a
connoisseur exclusively for the satisfaction of his taste. A little
disorder naturally, in this household equipped at hazard, as choice
things could be picked up. The wonderful cruet-stand had lost its
stoppers. The chipped salt-cellar allowed its contents to escape on
the table-cloth, and at every moment you would hear, "Why! what is
become of the mustard-pot?" "What has happened to this fork?" This
embarrassed de Gery a little on account of the young mistress of the
house, who for her part took no notice of it.
But something made Paul feel still more ill at ease--his anxiety,
namely, to know who the privileged guest might be whom he was
replacing at this table, who could be treated at once with so much
magnificence and so complete an informality. In spite of everything,
he felt him present, an offence to his personal dignity, that visitor
whose invitation had been cancelled. It was in vain that he tried to
forget him; everything brought him back to his mind, even the fine
dress of the good fairy sitting opposite him, who still maintained
some of the grand airs with which she had equipped herself in advance
for the solemn occasion. This thought troubled him, spoiled for him
the pleasure of being there.
On the other hand, by contrast, as it happens in all friendships
between two people who meet very rarely, never had he seen Felicia so
affectionate, in such happy temper. It was an overflowing gaiety that
was almost childish, one of those warm expansions of feeling that are
experienced when a danger has been passed, the reaction of a bright
roaring fire after the emotion of a shipwreck. She laughed heartily,
teased Paul about his accent and what she called his /bourgeois/
ideas. "For you are a terrible /bourgeois/, you know. But it is that
that I like in you. It is an effect of contraries, doubtless; it is
because I myself was born under a bridge, in a gust of wind, that I
have always liked sedate, reasonable natures."
"Oh, my child, what are you going to have M. Paul think, that you were
born under a bridge?" said the good Crenmitz, who could not accustom
herself to the exaggeration of certain metaphors, and always took
"Let him think what he likes, my fairy. We are not trying to catch him
for a husband. I am sure he would not want one of those monsters who
are known as female artists. He would think he was marrying the devil.
You are quite right, Minerva. Art is a despot. One has to give one's
self entirely up to him. To toil in his service, one devotes all the
ideal, all the energy, honesty, conscience, that one possesses, so
that you have none of these things left for real life, and the
completed labour throws you down, strengthless and without a compass,
like a dismantled hulk at the mercy of every wave. A sorry
acquisition, such a wife!"
"And yet," the young man hazarded timidly, "it seems to me that art,
however exigent it be, cannot for all that entirely absorb a woman.
What would she do with her affections, of that need to love, to devote
herself, which in her, much more than in us, is the spring of all her
She mused a moment before replying.
"Perhaps you are right, wise Minerva. It is true that there are days
when my life rings terribly hollow. I am conscious of abysses,
profound chasms in it. Everything that I throw in to fill it up
disappears. My finest enthusiasms of the artist are engulfed there and
die each time in a sigh. And then I think of marriage. A husband;
children--a swarm of children, who would roll about the studio; a nest
to look after for them all; the satisfaction of that physical activity
which is lacking in our existences of artists; regular occupations;
high spirits, songs, innocent gaieties, which would oblige you to play
instead of thinking in the air, in the dark--to laugh at a wound to
one's self-love, to be only a contented mother on the day when the
public should see you as a worn-out, exhausted artist."
And before this tender vision the girl's beauty took on an expression
which Paul had never seen in it before, an expression which gripped
his whole being, and gave him a mad longing to carry off in his arms
that beautiful wild bird, dreaming of the home-cote, to protect and
shelter it in the sure love of an honest man.
She, without looking at him, continued:
"I am not so erratic as I appear; don't think it. Ask my good
godmother if, when she sent me to boarding-school, I did not observe
the rules. But what a muddle in my life afterward. If you knew what
sort of an early youth I had; how precocious an experience tarnished
my mind, in the head of the little girl I was, what a confusion of the
permitted and the forbidden, of reason and folly! Art alone, extolled
and discussed, stood out boldly from among it all, and I took refuge
in it. That is perhaps why I shall never be anything but an artist, a
woman apart from others, a poor Amazon with heart imprisoned in her
iron cuirass, launched into the conflict like a man, and as a man
condemned to live and die."
Why did he not say to her, at this:
"Beauteous lady-warrior, lay down your arms, resume the flowing robe
and the graces of the woman's sphere. I love you! Marry me, I implore
you, and win happiness both for yourself and for me."
Ah, there it is! He was afraid lest the other--you know him, the man
who was to have come to dinner that evening and who remained between
them despite his absence--should hear him speak thus and be in a
position to jest at or to pity him for that fine outburst.
"In any case, I firmly swear one thing," she resumed, "and it is that
if ever I have a daughter, I will try to make a true woman of her, and
not a poor lonely creature like myself. Oh! you know, my fairy, it is
not for you that I say that. You have always been kind to your demon,
full of attentions and tenderness. But just see how pretty she is, how
young she looks this evening."
Animated by the meal, the bright lights, one of those white dresses
the reflection from which effaces wrinkles, the Crenmitz, leaning back
in her chair, held up on a level with her half-closed eyes a glass of
Chateau-Yquem, come from the cellar of the neighbouring Moulin-Rouge;
and her dainty little rosy face, her flowing garments, like those you
might see in some pastel, reflected in the golden wine, which lent to
them its own piquant fervour, recalled to mind the quondam heroine of
gay little suppers after the theatre, the Crenmitz of the brave old
days--not an audacious creature after the manner of the stars of our
modern opera, but unconscious, and wrapped in her luxury like a fine
pearl in the delicate whiteness of its shell. Felicia, who decidedly
that evening was anxious to please everybody, turned her mind gently
to the chapter of recollections; got her to recount once more her
great triumphs in /Gisella/, in the /Peri/, and the ovations of the
public; the visit of the princes to her dressing-room; the present of
Queen Amelia, accompanied by such a charming little speech. The
recalling of these glories intoxicated the poor fairy; her eyes shone;
they heard her little feet moving impatiently under the table as
though seized by a dancing frenzy. And in effect, dinner over, when
they had returned to the studio, Constance began to walk backward and
forward, now and then half executing a step, a pirouette, while
continuing to talk, interrupting herself to hum some ballad air of
which she would keep the rhythm with a movement of the head; then
suddenly she bent herself double, and with a bound was at the other
end of the studio.
"Now she is off!" said Felicia in a low voice to de Gery. "Watch! It
is worth your while; you are going to see the Crenmitz dance."
It was charming and fairy-like. Against the background of the immense
room lost in shadow and receiving almost no light save through the
arched glass roof over which the moon was climbing in a pale sky of
night blue, a veritable sky of the opera, the silhouette of the famous
dancer stood out all white, like a droll little shadow, light and
imponderable, which seemed rather to be flying in the air than
springing over the floor; then, erect upon the tips of her toes,
supported in the air only by her extended arms, her face lifted in an
elusive pose, which left nothing visible but the smile, she advanced
quickly towards the light or fled away with little rushes so rapid
that you were constantly expecting to hear a slight shivering of glass
and to see her thus mount backward the slope of the great moonbeam
that lay aslant the studio. That which added a charm, a singular
poetry, to this fantastic ballet was the absence of music, the sound
alone of the rhythmical beat the force of which was accentuated by the
semi-darkness, of that quick and light tapping not heavier on the
parquet floor than the fall, petal by petal, of a dahlia going out of
Thus it went on for some minutes, at the end of which they knew, by
hearing her shorter breathing, that she was becoming fatigued.
"Enough! enough! Sit down now," said Felicia. Thereupon the little
white shadow halted beside an easy chair, and there remained posed,
ready to start off again, smiling and breathless, until sleep overcame
her, rocking and balancing her gently without disturbing her pretty
pose, as of a dragon-fly on the branch of a willow dipping in the
water and swayed by the current.
While they watched her, dozing on her easy chair:
"Poor little fairy!" said Felicia, "hers is what I have had best and
most serious in my life in the way of friendship, protection, and
guardianship. Can you wonder now at the zig-zags, the erratic nature
of my mind? Fortunate at that, to have gone no further."
And suddenly, with a joyous effusion of feeling:
"Ah, Minerva, Minerva, I am very glad that you came this evening! But
you must not leave me to myself for so long again, mind. I need to
have near me an honest mind like yours, to see a true face among the
masks that surround me. A fearful /bourgeois/, all the same," she
added, laughing, "and a provincial into the bargain. But no matter! It
is you, for all that, whom it gives me the most pleasure to see. And I
believe that my liking for you is due especially to one thing: you
remind me of some one who was the great affection of my youth, a
sedate and sensible little being she also, chained to the matter-of-
fact side of existence, but tempering it with that ideal element which
we artists set aside exclusively for the profit of our work. Certain
things which you say seem to me as though they had come from her. You
have the same mouth, like an antique model's. Is it that that gives
this resemblance to your words? I have no idea, but most certainly you
are like each other. You shall see."
On the table laden with sketches and albums, at which she was sitting
facing him, she drew, as she talked, with brow inclined and her rather
wild curly hair shading her graceful little head. She was no longer
the beautiful couchant monster, with the anxious and gloomy
countenance, condemning her own destiny, but a woman, a true woman, in
love, and eager to beguile. This time Paul forgot all his mistrusts in
presence of so much sincerity and such passing grace. He was about to
speak, to persuade. The minute was decisive. But the door opened and
the little page appeared. M. le Duc had sent to inquire whether
mademoiselle was still suffering from her headache of earlier in the
"Still just as much," she said with irritation.
When the servant had gone out, a moment of silence fell between them,
a glacial coldness. Paul had risen. She continued her sketch, with her
head still bowed.
He took a few paces in the studio; then, having come back to the
table, he asked quietly, astonished to feel himself so calm:
"It was the Duc de Mora who was to have dined here?"
"Yes. I was bored--a day of spleen. Days of that kind are bad for me."
"Was the duchess to have come?"
"The duchess? No. I don't know her."
"Well, in your place I would never receive in my house, at my table, a
married man whose wife I did not meet. You complain of being deserted;
why desert yourself? When one is without reproach, one should avoid
the very suspicion of it. Do I vex you?"
"No, no, scold me, Minerva. I have no objection to your ethics. They
are honest and frank, yours; they do not blink uncertain, like those
of Jenkins. I told you, I need some one to guide me."
And tossing over to him the sketch which she had just finished:
"See, that is the friend of whom I was speaking to you. A profound and
sure affection, which I was foolish enough to allow to be lost to me,
like the bungler I am. She it was to whom I appealed in moments of
difficulty, when a decision required to be taken, some sacrifice made.
I used to say to myself, 'What will she think of this?' just as we
artists may stop in the midst of a piece of work to refer it mentally
to some great man, one of our masters. I must have you take her place
for me. Will you?"
Paul did not answer. He was looking at the portrait of Aline. It was
she, herself to the letter; her pure profile, her mocking and kindly
mouth, and the long curl like a caress on the delicate neck. Felicia
had ceased to exist for him.
Poor Felicia, endowed with superior talents, she was indeed like those
magicians who knot and unknot the destinies of men, without possessing
any power over their own happiness.
"Will you give me this sketch?" he said in a low, quivering voice.
"Most willingly. She is nice--isn't she? Ah! her indeed, if you should
meet, love her, marry her. She is worth more than all the rest of
womankind together. And yet, failing her--failing her----"
And the beautiful sphinx, tamed, raised to him, moist and laughing,
her great eyes, in which an enigma had ceased to be indecipherable.
"A tremendous success! Barye has never done anything so good before."
"And the bust of the Nabob! What a marvel. How happy Constance
Crenmitz is! Look at her trotting about!"
"What! That little old lady in the ermine cape is the Crenmitz? I
thought she had been dead twenty years ago."
Oh, no! Very much alive, on the contrary. Delighted, made young again
by the triumph of her goddaughter, who had made what is decidedly the
success of the exhibition, she passes about among the crowd of artists
and fashionable people, who, wedged together and stifling themselves
in order to get a look at the two points where the works sent by
Felicia are exhibited, form as it were two solid masses of black backs
and jumbled dresses. Constance, ordinarily so timid, edges her way
into the front rank, listens to the discussions, catches, as they fly,
disjointed phrases, formulas which she takes care to remember,
approves with a nod, smiles, raises her shoulders when she hears a
stupid remark made, inclined to murder the first person who should not
Whether it be the good Crenmitz or another, you will always see it at
every opening of the /Salon/, that furtive silhouette, prowling near
wherever a conversation is going on, with an anxious manner and alert
ear; sometimes a simple old fellow, some father, whose glance thanks
you for any kind word said in passing, or assumes a grieved expression
by reason of some epigram, flung at the work of art, that may wound
some heart behind you. A figure not to be forgotten, certainly, if
ever it should occur to any painter with a passion for modernity to
fix on canvas that very typical manifestation of Parisian life, the
opening of an exhibition in that vast conservatory of sculpture, with
its paths of yellow sand, and its immense glass roof beneath which,
half-way up, stand out the galleries of the first floor, lined by
heads bent over to look down, and decorated with improvised flowing
In a rather cold light, made pallid by those green curtains that hang
all around, in which one would fancy that the light-rays become
rarefied, in order to give to the vision of the people walking about
the room a certain contemplative justice, the slow crowd goes and
comes, pauses, disperses itself over the seats in serried groups, and
yet mixing up different sections of society more thoroughly than any
other assembly, just as the weather, uncertain and changeable at this
time of the year, produces a confusion in the world of clothes, causes
to brush each other as they pass, the black laces, the imperious train
of the great lady come to see how her portrait looks, and the Siberian
furs of the actress just back from Russia and anxious that everybody
should know it.
Here, no boxes, no stalls, no reserved seats, and it is this that
gives to this /premiere/ in full daylight so great a charm of
curiosity. Genuine ladies of fashion are able to form an opinion of
those painted beauties who receive so much commendation in an
artificial light; the little hat, following a new mode of the Marquise
de Bois l'Hery, confronts the more than modest toilette of some
artist's wife or daughter; while the model who posed for that
beautiful Andromeda at the entrance, goes by victoriously, clad in too
short a skirt, in wretched garments that hide her beauty beneath all
the false lines of fashion. People observe, admire, criticise each
other, exchange glances contemptuous, disdainful, or curious,
interrupted suddenly at the passage of a celebrity, of that
illustrious critic whom we seem still to see, tranquil and majestic,
his powerful head framed in its long hair, making the round of the
exhibits in sculpture followed by a dozen young disciples eager to
hear the verdict of his kindly authority. If the sound of voices is
lost beneath that immense dome, sonorous only under the two vaults of
the entrance and the exit, faces take on there an astonishing
intensity, a relief of movement and animation concentrated especially
in the huge, dark bay where refreshments are served, crowded to
overflowing and full of gesticulation, the brightly coloured hats of
the women and the white aprons of the waiters gleaming against the
background of dark clothes, and in the great space in the middle where
the oval swarming with visitors makes a singular contrast with the
immobility of the exhibited statues, producing the insensible
palpitation with which their marble whiteness and their movements as
of apotheosis are surrounded.
There are wings poised in giant flight, a sphere supported by four
allegorical figures whose attitude of turning suggests some vague
waltz-measure--a total effect of equilibrium well conveying the
illusion of the sweeping onward of the earth; and there are arms
raised to give the signal, bodies heroically risen, containing an
allegory, a symbol which stamps them with death and immortality,
secures to them a place in history, in legend, in that ideal world of
museums which is visited by the curiosity or the admiration of the
Although Felicia's group in bronze had not the proportions of these
large pieces, its exceptional merit had caused it to be selected to
adorn one of the open spaces in the middle, from which at this moment
the public was holding itself at a respectful distance, watching, over
the hedge of custodians and policemen, the Bey of Tunis and his suite,
an array of long bernouses falling in sculptural folds, which had the
effect of placing living statues opposite the other ones.
The Bey, who had been in Paris since a few days before, and was the
lion of all the /premieres/, had desired to see the opening of the
exhibition. He was "an enlightened prince, a friend of art," who
possessed at the Bardo a gallery of remarkable Turkish paintings and
chromo-lithographic reproductions of all the battles of the First
Empire. The moment he entered, the sight of the big Arab greyhound had
struck him as he passed. It was the /sleughi/ all over, the true
/sleughi/, delicate and nervous, of his own country, the companion of
all his hunting expeditions. He laughed in his black beard, felt the
loins of the animal, stroked its muscles, seemed to want to urge it on
still faster, while with nostrils open, teeth showing, all its limbs
stretched out and unwearying in their vigorous elasticity, the
aristocratic beast, the beast of prey, ardent in love and the chase,
intoxicated with their double intoxication, its eyes fixed, was
already enjoying a foretaste of its capture with a little end of its
tongue which hung and seemed to sharpen the teeth with a ferocious
laugh. When you only looked at the hound you said to yourself, "He has
got him!" But the sight of the fox reassured you immediately. Beneath
the velvet of his lustrous coat, cat-like almost lying along the
ground, covering it rapidly without effort, you felt him to be a
veritable fairy; and his delicate head with its pointed ears, which as
he ran he turned towards the hound, had an expression of ironical
security which clearly marked the gift received from the gods.
While an Inspector of Fine Arts, who had rushed up in all haste, with
his official dress in disorder, and a head bald right down to his
back, explained to Mohammed the apologue of "The Dog and the Fox,"
related in the descriptive catalogue with these words inscribed
beneath, "Now it happened that they met," and the indication, "The
property of the Duc de Mora," the fat Hemerlingue, perspiring and
puffing by his Highness's side, had great difficulty to convince him
that this masterly piece of sculpture was the work of the beautiful
young lady whom they had encountered the previous evening riding in
the Bois. How could a woman, with her feeble hands, thus mould the
hard bronze, and give to it the very appearance of the living body? Of
all the marvels of Paris, this was the one which caused the Bey the
most astonishment. He inquired consequently from the functionary if
there was nothing else to see by the same artist.
"Yes, indeed, monseigneur, another masterpiece. If your Highness will
deign to step this way I will conduct you to it."
The Bey commenced to move on again with his suite. They were all
admirable types, with chiselled features and pure lines, warm pallors
of complexion of which even the reflections were absorbed by the
whiteness of their /haiks/. Magnificently draped, they contrasted with
the busts ranged on either side of the aisle they were following,
which, perched on their high columns, looking slender in the open air,
exiled from their own home, from the surroundings in which doubtless
they would have recalled severe labours, a tender affection, a busy
and courageous existence, had the sad aspect of people gone astray in
their path, and very regretful to find themselves in their present
situation. Excepting two or three female heads, with opulent shoulders
framed in petrified lace, and hair rendered in marble with that
softness of touch which gives it the lightness of a powdered wig,
excepting, too, a few profiles of children with their simple lines, in
which the polish of the stone seems to resemble the moistness of the
living flesh, all the rest were only wrinkles, crow's-feet, shrivelled
features and grimaces, our excesses in work and in movement, our
nervousness and our feverishness, opposing themselves to that art of
repose and of beautiful serenity.
The ugliness of the Nabob had at least energy in its favour, the
vulgar side of him as an adventurer, and that expression of
benevolence, so well rendered by the artist, who had taken care to
underlay her plaster with a layer of ochre, which gave it almost the
weather-beaten and sunburned tone of the model. The Arabs, when they
saw it, uttered a stifled exclamation, "Bou-Said!" (the father of good
fortune). This was the surname of the Nabob in Tunis, the label, as it
were, of his luck. The Bey, for his part, thinking that some one had
wished to play a trick on him in thus leading him to inspect the bust
of the hated trader, regarded his guide with mistrust.
"Jansoulet?" said he in his guttural voice.
"Yes, Highness: Bernard Jansoulet, the new deputy for Corsica."
This time the Bey turned to Hemerlingue, with a frown on his brow.
"Yes, monseigneur, since this morning; but nothing is yet settled."
And the banker, raising his voice, added with a stutter:
"No French Chamber will ever admit that adventurer."
No matter. The stroke had fallen on the blind faith of the Bey in his
baron financier. The latter had so confidently affirmed to him that
the other would never be elected and that their action with regard to
him need not be fettered or in any way hampered by the least fear. And
now, instead of a man ruined and overthrown, there rose before him a
representative of the nation, a deputy whose portrait in stone the
Parisians were coming to admire; for in the eyes of the Oriental, an
idea of distinction being mingled in spite of everything with this
public exhibition, that bust had the prestige of a statue dominating a
square. Still more yellow than usual, Hemerlingue internally accused
himself of clumsiness and imprudence. But how could he ever have
dreamed of such a thing? He had been assured that the bust was not
finished. And in fact it had been there only since morning, and seemed
quite at home, quivering with satisfied pride, defying its enemies
with the good-tempered smile of its curling lip. A veritable silent
revenge for the disaster of Saint-Romans.
For some minutes the Bey, cold and impassible as the sculptured image,
gazed at it without saying anything, his forehead divided by a
straight crease wherein his courtiers alone could read his anger;
then, after two quick words in Arabic, to order the carriages and to
reassemble his scattered suite, he directed his steps gravely towards
the door of exit, without consenting to give even a glance to anything
else. Who shall say what passes in these august brains surfeited with
power? Even our sovereigns of the West have incomprehensible
fantasies; but they are nothing compared with Oriental caprices.
Monsieur the Inspector of Fine Arts, who had made sure of taking his
Highness all round the exhibition and of thus winning the pretty red-
and-green ribbon of the Nicham-Iftikahr, never knew the secret of
this sudden flight.
At the moment when the white /haiks/ were disappearing under the
porch, just in time to see the last wave of their folds, the Nabob
made his entry by the middle door. In the morning he had received the
news, "Elected by an overwhelming majority"; and after a sumptuous
luncheon, at which the new deputy for Corsica had been extensively
toasted, he came, with some of his guests, to show himself, to see
himself also, to enjoy all his new glory.
The first person whom he saw as he arrived was Felicia Ruys, standing,
leaning on the pedestal of a statue, surrounded by compliments and
tributes of admiration, to which he made haste to add his own. She was
simply dressed, clad in a black costume embroidered and trimmed with
jet, tempering the severity of her attire with a glittering of
reflected lights, and with a delightful little hat all made of downy
plumes, the play of colour in which her hair, curled delicately on her
forehead and drawn back to the neck in great waves, seemed to continue
and to soften.
A crowd of artists and fashionable people were assiduous in their
attentions to so great a genius allied to so much beauty; and Jenkins,
bareheaded, and puffing with warm effusiveness, was going from one to
the other, stimulating their enthusiasm but widening the circle around
this young fame of which he constituted himself at once the guardian
and the trumpeter. His wife during this time was talking to the young
girl. Poor Mme. Jenkins! She had heard that savage voice, which she
alone knew, say to her, "You must go and greet Felicia." And she had
gone to do so, controlling her emotion; for she knew now what it was
that hid itself at the bottom of that paternal affection, although she
avoided all discussion of it with the doctor, as if she had been
fearful of the issue.
After Mme. Jenkins, it is the turn of the Nabob to rush up, and taking
the artist's two long, delicately-gloved hands between his fat paws,
he expresses his gratitude with a cordiality which brings the tears to
his own eyes.
"It is a great honour that you have done me, mademoiselle, to
associate my name with yours, my humble person with your triumph, and
to prove to all this vermin gnawing at my heels that you do not
believe the calumnies which have been spread with regard to me. Yes,
truly, I shall never forget it. In vain I may cover this magnificent
bust with gold and diamonds, I shall still be your debtor."
Fortunately for the good Nabob, with more feeling than eloquence, he
is obliged to make way for all the others attracted by a dazzling
talent, the personality in view; extravagant enthusiasms which, for
want of words to express themselves, disappear as they come; the
conventional admirations of society, moved by good-will, by a lively
desire to please, but of which each word is a douche of cold water;
and then the hearty hand-shakes of rivals, of comrades, some very
frank, others that communicate to you the weakness of their grasp; the
pretentious great booby, at whose idiotic eulogy you must appear to be
transported with gladness, and who, lest he should spoil you too much,
accompanies it with "a few little reserves," and the other, who, while
overwhelming you with compliments, demonstrates to you that you have
not learned the first word of your profession; and the excellent busy
fellow, who stops just long enough to whisper in your ear "that so-
and-so, the famous critic, does not look very pleased." Felicia
listened to it all with the greatest calm, raised by her success above
the littleness of envy, and quite proud when a glorious veteran, some
old comrade of her father, threw to her a "You've done very well,
little one!" which took her back to the past, to the little corner
reserved for her in the old days in her father's studio, when she was
beginning to carve out a little glory for herself under the protection
of the renown of the great Ruys. But, taken altogether, the
congratulations left her rather cold, because there lacked one which
she desired more than any other, and which she was surprised not to
have yet received. Decidedly he was more often in her thoughts than
any other man had ever been. Was it love at last, the great love which
is so rare in an artist's soul, incapable as that is of giving itself
entirely up to the sway of sentiment, or was it perhaps simply a dream
of honest /bourgeoise/ life, well sheltered against /ennui/, that
spiritless /ennui/, the precursor of storms, which she had so much
reason to dread? In any case, she was herself taken in by it, and had
been living for some days past in a state of delicious trouble, for
love is so strong, so beautiful a thing, that its semblances, its
mirages, allure and can move us as deeply as itself.
Has it ever happened to you in the street, when you have been
preoccupied with thoughts of some one dear to you, to be warned of his
approach by meeting persons with a vague resemblance to him,
preparatory images, sketches of the type to appear directly afterward,
which stand out for you from the crowd like successive appeals to your
overexcited attention? Such presentiments are magnetic and nervous
impressions at which one should not be too disposed to smile, since
they constitute a faculty of suffering. Already, in the moving and
constantly renewed stream of visitors, Felicia had several times
thought to recognise the curly head of Paul de Gery, when suddenly she
uttered a cry of joy. It was not he, however, this time again, but
some one who resembled him closely, whose regular and peaceful
physiognomy was always now connected in her mind with that of her
friend Paul through the effect of a likeness more moral than physical,
and the gentle authority which both exercised over her thoughts.
If nothing is more open to suspicion than the friendship of two
fashionable ladies sharing the prerogatives of drawing-room royalty
and lavishing on each other epithets, and the trivial graces of
feminine fondness, the friendships of childhood keep in the grown
woman a frankness of manner which distinguishes them, and makes them
recognisable among all others, bonds woven naively and firm as the
needlework of little girls in which an experienced hand had been
prodigal of thread and big knots; plants reared in fresh soil, in
flower, but with strong roots, full of vitality and new shoots. And
what a joy, hand in hand--you glad dances of boarding-school days,
where are you?--to retrace some steps of one's way with somebody who
has an equal acquaintance with it and its least incidents, and the
same laugh of tender retrospection. A little apart, the two girls, for
whom it has been sufficient to find themselves once more face to face
to forget five years of separation, carry on a rapid exchange of
recollections, while the little /pere/ Joyeuse, his ruddy face
brightened by a new cravat, straightens himself in pride to see his
daughter thus warmly welcomed by such an illustrious person. Proud
certainly he had reason to be, for the little Parisian, even in the
neighbourhood of her brilliant friend, holds her own in grace, youth,
fair candour, beneath her twenty smooth and golden years, which the
gladness of this meeting brings to fresh bloom.
"How happy you must be! For my part, I have seen nothing yet; but I
hear everybody saying it is so beautiful."
"Happy above all to see you again, little Aline. It is so long--"
"I should think so, you naughty girl! Whose the fault?"
And from the saddest corner of her memory, Felicia recalls the date of
the breaking off of their relations, coinciding for her with another
date on which her youth came to its end in an unforgettable scene.
"And what have you been doing, darling, all this time?"
"Oh, I, always the same thing--or, nothing to speak of."
"Yes, yes, we know what you call doing nothing, you brave little
thing! Giving your life to other people, isn't it?"
But Aline was no longer listening. She was smiling affectionately to
some one straight in front of her; and Felicia, turning round to see
who it was, perceived Paul de Gery replying to the shy and tender
greeting of Mlle. Joyeuse.
"You know each other, then?"
"Do I know M. Paul! I should think so, indeed. We talk of you very
often. He has never told you, then?"
"Never. He must be a terribly sly fellow."
She stopped short, her mind enlightened by a flash; and quickly
without heed to de Gery, who was coming up to congratulate her on her
triumph, she leaned over towards Aline and spoke to her in a low
voice. That young lady blushed, protested with smiles and words under
her breath: "How can you think of such a thing? At my age--a
'grandmamma'!" and finally seized her father's arm in order to escape
some friendly teasing.
When Felicia saw the two young people going off together, when she had
realized the fact, which they had not yet grasped themselves, that
they were in love with each other, she felt as it were a crumbling all
around her. Then upon her dream, now fallen to the ground in a
thousand fragments, she set herself to stamp furiously. After all, he
was quite right to prefer this little Aline to herself. Would an
honest man ever dare to marry Mlle. Ruys? She, a home, a family--what
nonsense! A harlot's daughter you are, my dear; you must be a harlot
too if you want to become anything at all.
The day wore on. The crowd, more active now that there were empty
spaces here and there, commenced to stream towards the door of exit
after great eddyings round the successes of the year, satisfied,
rather tired, but excited still by that air charged with the
electricity of art. A great flood of sunlight, such as sometimes
occurs at four o'clock in the afternoon, fell on the stained-glass
rose-window, threw on the sand tracks of rainbow-coloured lights,
softly bathing the bronze or the marble of the statues, imparting an
iridescent hue to the nudity of a beautiful figure, giving to the vast
museum something of the luminous life of a garden. Felicia, absorbed
in her deep and sad reverie, did not notice the man who advanced
towards her, superb, elegant, fascinating, through the respectfully
opened ranks of the public, while the name of "Mora" was everywhere
"Well, mademoiselle, you have made a splendid success. I only regret
one thing about it, and that is the cruel symbol which you have hidden
in your masterpiece."
As she saw the duke before her, she shuddered.
"Ah, yes, the symbol," she said, lifting her face towards his with a
smile of discouragement; and leaning against the pedestal of the
large, voluptuous statue near which they happened to be standing, with
the closed eyes of a woman who gives or abandons herself, she murmured
low, very low:
"Rabelais lied, as all men lie. The truth is that the fox is utterly
wearied, that he is at the end of his breath and his courage, ready to
fall into the ditch, and that if the greyhound makes another
Mora started, became a shade paler, all the blood he had in his body
rushing back to his heart. Two sombre flames met with their eyes, two
rapid words were exchanged by lips that hardly moved; then the duke
bowed profoundly, and walked away with a step gay and light, as though
the gods were bearing him.
At that moment there was in the palace only one man as happy as he,
and that was the Nabob. Escorted by his friends, he occupied, quite
filled up, the principal bay with his own party alone, speaking
loudly, gesticulating, proud to such a degree that he looked almost
handsome, as though by dint of naive and long contemplation of his
bust he had been touched by something of the splendid idealization
with which the artist had haloed the vulgarity of his type. The head,
raised to the three-quarters position, standing freely out from the
wide, loose collar, drew contradictory remarks on the resemblance from
the passers-by; and the name of Jansoulet, so many times repeated by
the electoral ballot-boxes, was repeated over again now by the
prettiest mouths, by the most authoritative voices, in Paris. Any
other than the Nabob would have been embarrassed to hear uttered, as
he passed, these expressions of curiosity which were not always
friendly. But the platform, the springing-board, well suited that
nature which became bolder under the fire of glances, like those women
who are beautiful or witty only in society, and whom the least
admiration transfigures and completes.
When he felt this delirious joy growing calmer, when he thought to
have drunk the whole of its proud intoxication, he had only to say to
himself, "Deputy! I am a Deputy!" And the triumphal cup foamed once
more to the brim. It meant the embargo raised from all his
possessions, the awakening from a nightmare that had lasted two
months, the puff of cool wind sweeping away all his anxieties, all his
inquietudes, even to the affront of Saint-Romans, very heavy though
that was in his memory.
He laughed to himself as he thought of the baron's face when he
learned the news, of the stupefaction of the Bey when he had been led
up to his bust; and suddenly, upon the reflection that he was no
longer merely an adventurer stuffed with gold, exciting the stupid
admiration of the crowd, as might an enormous rough nugget in the
window of a money-changer, but that people saw in him, as he passed,
one of the men elected by the will of the nation, his simple and
mobile face grew thoughtful with a deliberate gravity, there suggested
themselves to him projects of a career, of reform, and the wish to
profit by the lessons that had been latterly taught by destiny.
Already, remembering the promise which he had given to de Gery, for
the household troop that wriggled ignobly at his heels, he made
exhibition of certain disdainful coldnesses, a deliberate pose of
authoritative contradiction. He called the Marquis de Bois l'Hery "my
good fellow," imposed silence very sharply on the governor, whose
enthusiasm was becoming scandalous, and made a solemn vow to himself
to get rid as soon as possible of all that mendicant and promising
Bohemian set, when he should have occasion to begin the process.
Penetrating the crowd which surrounded him, Moessard--the handsome
Moessard, in a sky-blue cravat, pale and bloated like a white
embodiment of disease, and pinched at the waist in a fine frock-coat--
seeing that the Nabob, after having gone twenty times round the hall
of sculpture, was making for the door, dashed forward, and passing his
arm through his, said:
"You are taking me with you, you know."
Especially of late, since the time of the election, he had assumed, in
the establishment of the Place Vendome, an authority almost equal to
that of Monpavon, but more impudent; for, in point of impudence, the
Queen's lover was without his equal on the pavement that stretches
from the Rue Drouot to the Madeleine. This time he had gone too far.
The muscular arm which he pressed was shaken violently, and the Nabob
answered very dryly:
"I am sorry, /mon cher/, but I have not a place to offer you."
No place in a carriage that was as big as a house, and which five of
them had come in!
Moessard gazed at him in stupefaction.
"I had, however, a few words to say to you which are very urgent. With
regard to the subject of my note--you received it, did you not?"
"Certainly; and M. de Gery should have sent you a reply this very
morning. What you ask is impossible. Twenty thousand francs! /Tonnerre
de Dieu!/ You go at a fine rate!"
"Still, it seems to me that my services--" stammered the beauty-man.
"Have been amply paid for. That is how it seems to me also. Two
hundred thousand francs in five months! We will draw the line there,
if you please. Your teeth are long, young man; you will have to file
them down a little."
They exchanged these words as they walked, pushed forward by the
surging wave of the people going out. Moessard stopped:
"That is your last word?"
The Nabob hesitated for a moment, seized by a presentiment as he
looked at that pale, evil mouth; then he remembered the promise which
he had given to his friend:
"That is my last word."
"Very well! We shall see," said the handsome Moessard, whose switch-
cane cut the air with the hiss of a viper; and, turning on his heel,
he made off with great strides, like a man who is expected somewhere
on very urgent business.
Jansoulet continued his triumphal progress. That day much more would
have been required to upset the equilibrium of his happiness; on the
contrary, he felt himself relieved by the so-quickly achieved
fulfilment of his purpose.
The immense vestibule was thronged by a dense crowd of people whom the
approach of the hour of closing was bringing out, but whom one of
those sudden showers, which seem inseparable from the opening of the
/Salon/, kept waiting beneath the porch, with its floor beaten down
and sandy like the entrance to the circus where the young dandies
strut about. The scene that met the eye was curious, and very
Outside, great rays of sunshine traversing the rain, attaching to its
limpid beads those sharp and brilliant blades which justify the
proverbial saying, "It rains halberds"; the young greenery of the
Champs-Elysees, the clumps of rhododendrons, rustling and wet, the
carriages ranged in the avenue, the mackintosh capes of the coachmen,
all the splendid harness-trappings of the horses receiving from the
rain and the sunbeams an added richness and effect, and blue
everywhere looming out, the blue of a sky which is about to smile in
the interval between two downpours.
Within, laughter, gossip, greetings, impatience, skirts held up,
satins bulging out above the delicate folds of frills, of lace, of
flounces gathered up in the hands of their wearers in heavy, terribly
frayed bundles. Then, to unite the two sides of the picture, these
prisoners framed in by the vaulted ceiling of the porch and in the
gloom of its shadow, with the immense background in brilliant light,
footmen running beneath umbrellas, crying out names of coachmen or of
masters, broughams coming up at walking pace, and flustered couples
getting into them.
"M. Jansoulet's carriage!"
Everybody turned round, but, as one knows, that did not embarrass him.
And while the good Nabob, waiting for his suite, stood posing a little
amid these fashionable and famous people, this mixed /tout Paris/
which was there, with its every face bearing a well-known name, a
nervous and well-gloved hand was stretched out to him, and the Duc de
Mora, on his way to his brougham, threw to him, as he passed, these
words, with that effusion which happiness gives to the most reserved
"My congratulations, my dear deputy."
It was said in a loud voice, and every one could hear it: "My dear
There is in the life of all men one golden hour, one luminous peak,
whereon all that they can hope of prosperity, joy, triumph, waits for
them and is given into their hands. The summit is more or less lofty,
more or less rugged and difficult to climb, but it exists equally for
all, for powerful and humble alike. Only, like that longest day of the
year on which the sun has shone with its utmost brilliance, and of
which the morrow seems a first step towards winter, this /summum/ of
human existences is but a moment given to be enjoyed, after which one
can but redescend. This late afternoon of the first of May, streaked
with rain and sunshine, thou must forget it not, poor man--must fix
forever its changing brilliance in thy memory. It was the hour of thy
full summer, with its flowers in bloom, its fruits bending their
golden boughs, its ripe harvests of which so recklessly thou wast
plucking the corn. The star will now pale, gradually growing more
remote and falling, incapable ere long of piercing the mournful night
wherein thy destiny shall be accomplished.
MEMOIRS OF AN OFFICE PORTER IN THE ANTCHAMBER
Great festivities last Saturday in the Place Vendome. In honour of his
election, M. Bernard Jansoulet, the new deputy for Corsica, gave a
magnificent evening party, with municipal guards at the door,
illumination of the entire mansion, and two thousand invitations sent
out to fashionable Paris.
I owed to the distinction of my manners, to the sonority of my vocal
organ, which the chairman of the board had had occasion to notice at
the meetings at the Territorial Bank, the opportunity of taking part
in this sumptuous entertainment, at which, for three hours, standing
in the vestibule, amid the flowers and hangings, clad in scarlet and
gold, with that majesty peculiar to persons who are rather generously
built, and with my calves exposed for the first time in my life, I
launched, like a cannon-ball, through the five communicating drawing-
rooms, the name of each guest, which a glittering beadle saluted every
time with the "/bing/" of his halberd on the floor.
How many the curious observations which that evening again I was able
to make; how many the pleasant sallies, the high-toned jests exchanged
among the servants upon all that world as it passed by! Not with the
vine-dressers of Montbars in any case should I have heard such
drolleries. I should remark that the worthy M. Barreau, to begin with,
had caused to be served to us all in his pantry, filled to the ceiling
with iced drinks and provisions, a solid lunch well washed down, which
put each of us in a good humour that was maintained during the evening
by the glasses of punch and champagne pilfered from the trays when
dessert was served.
The masters, indeed, seemed in less joyous mood than we. So early as
nine o'clock, when I arrived at my post, I was struck by the uneasy
nervousness apparent on the face of the Nabob, whom I saw walking with
M. de Gery through the lighted and empty drawing-rooms, talking
quickly and making large gestures.
"I will kill him!" he said; "I will kill him!"
The other endeavoured to soothe him; then madame came in, and the
subject of their conversation was changed.
A mighty fine woman, this Levantine, twice as stout as I am, dazzling
to look at with her tiara of diamonds, the jewels with which her huge
white shoulders were laden, her back as round as her bosom, her waist
compressed within a cuirass of green gold, which was continued in long
braids down the whole length of her stiff skirt. I have never seen
anything so imposing, so rich. She suggested one of those beautiful
white elephants that carry towers on their backs, of which we read in
books of travel. When she walked, supporting herself with difficulty
by means of clinging to the furniture, her whole body quivered, her
ornaments clattered like a lot of old iron. Added to this, a small,
very piercing voice, and a fine red face which a little negro boy kept
cooling for her all the time with a white feather fan as big as a
It was the first time that this indolent and retiring person had
showed herself to Parisian society, and M. Jansoulet seemed very happy
and proud that she had been willing to preside over his party; which
undertaking, for that matter, did not cost the lady much trouble, for,
leaving her husband to receive the guests in the first drawing-room,
she went and lay down on the divan of the small Japanese room, wedged
between two piles of cushions, motionless, so that you could see her
from a distance right in the background, looking like an idol, beneath
the great fan which her negro waved regularly like a piece of
clockwork. These foreign women possess an assurance!
All the same, the Nabob's irritation had struck me, and seeing the
/valet de chambre/ go by, descending the staircase four steps at a
time, I caught him on the wing and whispered in his ear:
"What's the matter, then, with your governor, M. Noel?"
"It is the article in the /Messenger/," was his reply, and I had to
give up the idea of learning anything further for the moment, the loud
ringing of a bell announcing that the first carriage had arrived,
followed soon by a crowd of others.
Wholly absorbed in my occupation, careful to utter clearly the names
which were given to me, and to make them echo from salon to salon, I
had no longer a thought for anything besides. It is no easy business
to announce in a proper manner persons who are always under the
impression that their name must be known, whisper it under their
breath as they pass, and then are surprised to hear you murder it with
the finest accent, and are almost angry with you on account of those
entrances which, missing fire and greeted with little smiles, follow
upon an ill-made announcement. At M. Jansoulet's, what made the work
still more difficult for me was the number of foreigners--Turks,
Egyptians, Persians, Tunisians. I say nothing of the Corsicans, who
were very numerous that day, because during my four years at the
Territorial I have become accustomed to the pronunciation of those
high-sounding, interminable names, always followed by that of the
locality: "Paganetti de Porto Vecchio, Bastelica di Bonifacio,
Paianatchi de Barbicaglia."
It was always a pleasure to me to modulate these Italian syllables, to
give them all their sonority, and I saw clearly, from the bewildered
airs of these worthy islanders, how charmed and surprised they were to
be introduced in such a manner into the high society of the Continent.
But with the Turks, these pashas, beys, and effendis, I had much more
trouble, and I must have happened often to fall on a wrong
pronunciation; for M. Jansoulet, on two separate occasions, sent word
to me to pay more attention to the names that were given to me, and
especially to announce in a more natural manner. This remark, uttered
aloud before the whole vestibule with a certain roughness, annoyed me
greatly, and prevented me--shall I confess it?--from pitying this rich
/parvenu/ when I learned, in the course of the evening, what cruel
thorns lay concealed in his bed of roses.
From half past ten until midnight the bell was constantly ringing,
carriages rolling up under the portico, guests succeeding one another,
deputies, senators, councillors of state, municipal councillors, who
looked much rather as though they were attending a meeting of
shareholders than an evening-party of society people. What could
account for this? I had not succeeded in finding an explanation, but a
remark of the beadle Nicklauss opened my eyes.
"Do you notice, M. Passajon," said that worthy henchman, as he stood
opposite me, halberd in hand, "do you notice how few ladies we have?"
That was it, egad! Nor were we the only two to observe the fact. As
each new arrival made his entry I could hear the Nabob, who was
standing near the door, exclaim, with consternation in his thick voice
like that of a Marseillais with a cold in his head:
"What! all alone?"
The guest would murmur his excuses. "Mn-mn-mn--his wife a trifle
indisposed. Certainly very sorry." Then another would arrive, and the
same question call forth the same reply.
By its constant repetition this phrase "All alone?" had eventually
become a jest in the vestibule; lackeys and footmen threw it at each
other whenever there entered a new guest "all alone!" And we laughed
and were put in good-humour by it. But M. Nicklauss, with his great
experience of the world, deemed this almost general abstention of the
fair sex unnatural.
"It must be the article in the /Messenger/," said he.
Everybody was talking about it, this rascally article, and before the
mirror garlanded with flowers, at which each guest gave a finishing
touch to his attire before entering, I surprised fragments of
whispered conversation such as this:
"You have read it?"
"It is horrible!"
"Do you think the thing possible?"
"I have no idea. In any case, I preferred not to bring my wife."
"I have done the same. A man can go everywhere without compromising
"Certainly. While a woman----"
Then they would go in, opera hat under arm, with that conquering air
of married men when they are unaccompanied by their wives.
What, then, could there be in this newspaper, this terrible article,
to menace to this degree the influence of so wealthy a man?
Unfortunately, my duties took up the whole of my time. I could go down
neither to the pantry nor to the cloak-room to obtain information, to
chat with the coachmen and valets and lackeys whom I could see
standing at the foot of the staircase, amusing themselves by jests
upon the people who were going up. What will you? Masters give
themselves great airs also. How not laugh to see go by with an
insolent manner and an empty stomach the Marquis and the Marquise de
Bois l'Hery, after all that we have been told about the traffickings
of Monsieur and the toilettes of Madame? And the Jenkins couple, so
tender, so united, the doctor carefully putting a lace shawl over his
lady's shoulders for fear she should take cold on the staircase; she
herself smiling and in full dress, all in velvet, with a great long
train, leaning on her husband's arm with an air that seems to say,
"How happy I am!" when I happened to know that, in fact, since the
death of the Irishwoman, his real, legitimate wife, the doctor is
thinking of getting rid of the old woman who clings to him, in order
to be able to marry a chit of a girl, and that the old woman passes
her nights in lamentation, and in spoiling with tears whatever beauty
she has left.
The humorous thing is that not one of these people had the least
suspicion of the rich jests and jeers that were spat over their backs
as they passed, not a notion of the filth which those long trains drew
after them as they crossed the carpet of the antechamber, and they all
would look at you so disdainfully that it was enough to make you die
The two ladies whom I have just named, the wife of the governor, a
little Corsican, to whom her bushy eyebrows, her white teeth, and her
shining cheeks, dark beneath the skin, give the appearance of a woman
of Auvergne with a washed face, a good sort, for the rest, and
laughing all the time except when her husband is looking at other
women; in addition, a few Levantines with tiaras of gold or pearls,
less perfect specimens of the type than our own, but still in a
similar style, wives of upholsterers, jewellers, regular tradesmen of
the establishment, with shoulders as large as shop-fronts, and
expensive toilettes; finally, sundry ladies, wives of officials of the
Territorial, in sorry, badly creased dresses; these constituted the
sole representation of the fair sex in the assembly, some thirty
ladies lost among a thousand black coats--that is to say, practically
none at all. From time to time Cassagne, Laporte, Grandvarlet, who
were serving the refreshments in trays, stopped to inform us of what
was passing in the drawing-rooms.
"Ah, my boys, if you could see it! it has a gloom, a melancholy. The
men don't stir from the buffets. The ladies are all at the back,
seated in a circle, fanning themselves and saying nothing. The fat old
lady does not speak to a soul. I fancy she is sulking. You should see
the look on Monsieur! Come, /pere/ Passajon, a glass of Chateau-
Larose; it will pick you up a bit."
They were charmingly kind to me, all these young people, and took a
mischievous pleasure in doing me the honours of the cellar so often
and so copiously, that my tongue commenced to become heavy, uncertain,
and as the young folk said to me, in their somewhat free language.
"Uncle, you are babbling." Happily the last of the effendis had just
arrived, and there was nobody else to announce; for it was in vain
that I sought to shake off the impression, every time I advanced
between the curtains to send a name hurtling through the air at
random, I saw the chandeliers of the drawing-rooms revolving with
hundreds of dazzling lights, and the floors slipping away with sharp
and perpendicular slopes like Russian mountains. I was bound to get my
speech mixed, it is certain.
The cool night-air, sundry ablutions at the pump in the court-yard,
quickly got the better of this small discomfort, and when I entered
the cloak-room nothing of it was any longer apparent. I found a
numerous and gay company collected round a /marquise au champagne/, of
which all my nieces, wearing their best dresses, with their hair
puffed out and cravats of pink ribbon, took their full share
notwithstanding exclamations and bewitching little grimaces that
deceived nobody. Naturally, the conversation turned on the famous
article, an article by Moessard, it appears, full of frightful
occupations which the Nabob was alleged to have followed fifteen or
twenty years ago, at the time of his first sojourn in Paris.
It was the third attack of the kind which the /Messenger/ had
published in the course of the last week, and that rogue of a Moessard
had the spite to send the number each time done up in a packet to the
M. Jansoulet received it in the morning with his chocolate; and at the
same hour his friends and his enemies--for a man like the Nabob could
be regarded with indifference by none--would be reading, commenting,
tracing for themselves the relation to him a line of conduct designed
to save them from becoming compromised. Today's article must be
supposed to have struck hard all the same; for Jansoulet, the
coachman, recounted to us a few hours ago, in the Bois, his master had
not exchanged ten greetings in the course of ten drives round the
lake, while ordinarily his hat is as rarely on his head as a
sovereign's when he takes the air. Then, when they got back, there was
another trouble. The three boys had just arrived at the house, all in
tears and dismay, brought home from the College Bourdaloue by a worthy
father in the interest of the poor little fellows themselves, who had
received a temporary leave of absence in order to spare them from
hearing in the parlour or the playground any unkind story or painful
allusion. Thereupon the Nabob flew into a terrible passion, which
caused him to destroy a service of porcelain, and it appears that, had
it not been for M. de Gery, he would have rushed off at once to punch
"And he would have done very well," remarked M. Noel, entering at
these last words, very much excited. "There is not a line of truth in
that rascal's article. My master had never been in Paris before last
year. From Tunis to Marseilles, from Marseilles to Tunis, those were
his only journeys. But this knave of a journalist is taking his
revenge because we refused him twenty thousand francs."
"There you acted very unwisely," observed M. Francis upon this--
Monpavon's Francis, Monpavon the old beau whose solitary tooth shakes
about in the centre of his mouth at every word he says, but whom the
young ladies regard with a favourable eye all the same on account of
his fine manners. "Yes, you were unwise. One must know how to
conciliate people, so long as they are in a position to be useful to
us or to injure us. Your Nabob has turned his back too quickly upon
his friends after his success; and between you and me, /mon cher/, he
is not sufficiently firmly established to be able to disregard attacks
of this kind."
I thought myself able here to put in a word in my turn:
"That is true enough, M. Noel, your governor is no longer the same
since his election. He has adopted a tone and manners which I can
hardly but describe as reprehensible. The day before yesterday, at the
Territorial, he raised a commotion which you can hardly imagine. He
was heard to exclaim before the whole board: 'You have lied to me; you
have robbed me, and made me a robber as much as yourselves. Show me
your books, you set of rogues!' If he has treated Moessard in the same
sort of fashion, I am not surprised any longer that the latter should
be taking his revenge in his newspaper."
"But what does this article say?" asked M. Barreau. "Who is present
that has read it?"
Nobody answered. Several had tried to buy it, but in Paris scandal
sells like bread. At ten o'clock in the morning there was not a single
copy of the /Messenger/ left in the office. Then it occurred to one of
my nieces--a sharp girl, if ever there was one--to look in the pocket
of one of the numerous overcoats in the cloak-room, folded carefully
in large pigeon-holes. At the first which she examined:
"Here it is!" exclaimed the charming child with an air of triumph, as
she drew out a /Messenger/ crumpled in the folding like a paper that
has just been read.
"Here is another!" cried Tom Bois l'Hery, who was making a search on
his own account. A third overcoat, a third /Messenger/. And in every
one the same thing: pushed down to the bottom of a pocket, or with its
titlepage protruding, the newspaper was everywhere, just as its
article must have been in every memory; and one could imagine the
Nabob up above exchanging polite phrases with his guests, while they
could have reeled off by heart the atrocious things that had been
printed about him. We all laughed much at this idea; but we were
anxious to make acquaintance in our own turn with this curious
"Come, /pere/ Passajon, read it aloud to us."
It was the general desire, and I assented.
I don't know if you are like me, but when I read aloud I gargle my
throat with my voice; I introduce modulations and flourishes to such
an extent that I understand nothing of what I am saying, like those
singers to whom the sense of the words matters little, provided the
notes be true. The thing was entitled "The Boat of Flowers"--a
sufficiently complicated story, with Chinese names, about a very rich
mandarin, who had at one time in the past kept a "boat of flowers"
moored quite at the far end of the town near a barrier frequented by
the soldiers. At the end of the article we were not farther on than at
the beginning. We tried certainly to wink at each other, to pretend to
be clever; but, frankly, we had no reason. A veritable puzzle without
solution; and we should still be stuck fast at it if old Francis, a
regular rascal who knows everything, had not explained to us that this
meeting place of the soldiers must stand for the Military School, and
that the "boat of flowers" did not bear so pretty a name as that in
good French. And this name, he said it aloud notwithstanding the
presence of the ladies. There was an explosion of cries, of "Ah's!"
and "Oh's!" some saying, "I suspected it!" others, "It is impossible!"
"Pardon me," added Francis, formerly a trumpeter in the Ninth Lancers
--the regiment of Mora and of Monpavon--"pardon me. Twenty years ago,
during the last half year of my service, I was in barracks in the
Military School, and I remember very well that near the fortifications
there was a dirty dancing-hall known as the Jansoulet Rooms, with a
little furnished flat above and bedrooms at twopence-halfpenny the
hour, to which one could retire between two quadrilles."
"You are an infamous liar!" said M. Noel, beside himself with rage--"a
thief and a liar like your master. Jansoulet has never been in Paris
Francis was seated a little outside our circle engaged in sipping
something sweet, because champagne has a bad effect on his nerves and
because, too, it is not a sufficiently distinguished beverage for him.
He rose gravely, without putting down his glass, and, advancing
towards M. Noel, said to him very quietly:
"You are wanting in manners, /mon cher/. The other evening I found
your tone coarse and unseemly. To insult people serves no good
purpose, especially in this case, since I happen to have been an
assistant to a fencing-master, and, if matters were carried further
between us, could put a couple of inches of steel into whatever part
of your body I might choose. But I am good-natured. Instead of a
sword-thrust, I prefer to give you a piece of advice, which your
master will do well to follow. This is what I should do in your place:
I should go and find Moessard, and I should buy him, without quibbling
about price. Hemerlingue has given him twenty thousand francs to
speak; I would offer him thirty thousand to hold his tongue."
"Never! never!" vociferated M. Noel. "I should rather go and knock the
rascally brigand's head off."
"You will do nothing of the kind. Whether the calumny be true or
false, you have seen the effect of it this evening. This is a sample
of the pleasures in store for you. What can you expect, /mon cher/?
You have thrown away your crutches too soon, and thought to walk by
yourselves. That is all very well when one is well set up and firm on
the legs; but when one had not a very solid footing, and has also the
misfortune to feel Hemerlingue at his heels, it is a bad business.
Besides, your master is beginning to be short of money; he has given
notes of hand to old Schwalbach--and don't talk to me of a Nabob who
gives notes of hand. I know well that you have millions over yonder,
but your election must be declared valid before you can touch them; a
few more articles like to-day's, and I answer for it that you will not
secure that declaration. You set yourselves up to struggle against
Paris, /mon bon/, but you are not big enough for such a match; you
know nothing about it. Here we are not in the East, and if we do not
wring the necks of people who displease us, if we do not throw them
into the water in a sack, we have other methods of effecting their
disappearance. Noel, let your master take care. One of these mornings
Paris will swallow him as I swallow this plum, without spitting out
either the stone or skin."
He was terrible, this old man, and notwithstanding the paint on his
face, I felt a certain respect for him. While he was speaking, we
could hear the music upstairs, and the horses of the municipal guards
shaking their curb-chains in the square. From without, our festivities
must have seemed very brilliant, all lighted up by their thousands of
candles, and with the great portico illuminated. And when one
reflected that ruin perhaps lay beneath it all! We sat there in the
vestibule like rats that hold counsel with each other at the bottom of
a ship's hold, when the vessel is beginning to leak and before the
crew has found it out, and I saw clearly that all the lackeys and
chambermaids would not be long in decamping at the first note of
alarm. Could such a catastrophe indeed be possible? And in that case
what would become of me, and the Territorial, and the money I had
advanced, and the arrears due to me?
That Francis has left me with a cold shudder down my back.
A PUBLIC MAN
The bright warmth of a clear May afternoon heated the lofty casement
windows of the Mora mansion to the temperature of a greenhouse. The
blue silk curtains were visible from outside through the branches of
the trees, and the wide terraces, where exotic flowers were planted
out of doors for the first time of the season, ran in borders along
the whole length of the quay. The raking of the garden paths traced
the light footprints of summer in the sand, while the soft fall of the
water from the hoses on the lawns was its refreshing song.
All the luxury of the princely residence lay sunning itself in the
soft warmth of the temperature, borrowing a beauty from the silence,
the repose of this noontide hour, the only hour when the roll of
carriages was not to be heard under the arches, nor the banging of the
great doors of the antechamber, and that perpetual vibration which the
ringing of bells upon arrivals or departures sent coursing through the
very ivy on the walls; the feverish pulse of the life of a fashionable
house. It was well known that up to three o'clock the duke held his
reception at the Ministry, and that the duchess, a Swede still
benumbed by the snows of Stockholm, had hardly issued from her drowsy
curtains; consequently nobody came to call, neither visitors or
petitioners, and only the footmen, perched like flamingoes on the
deserted flight of steps in front of the house, gave the place a touch
of animation with the slim shadows of their long legs and their
yawning weariness of idlers.
As an exception, however, that day Jenkins's brougham was standing
waiting in a corner of the court-yard. The duke, unwell since the
previous evening, had felt worse after leaving the breakfast-table,
and in all haste had sent for the man of the pearls in order to
question him on his singular condition. Pain nowhere, sleep and
appetite as usual; only an inconceivable lassitude, and a sense of
terrible chill which nothing could dissipate. Thus at that moment,
notwithstanding the brilliant spring sunshine which flooded his
chamber and almost extinguished the fire flaming in the grate, the
duke was shivering beneath his furs, surrounded by screens; and while
signing papers for an /attache/ of his cabinet on a low table of gold
lacquer, placed so near to the fire that it frizzled, he kept holding
out his numb fingers every moment toward the blaze, which might have
burned the skin without restoring circulation.
Was it anxiety caused by the indisposition of his illustrious client?
Jenkins appeared nervous, disquieted, walked backward and forward with
long strides over the carpet, hunting about right and left, seeking in
the air something which he believed to be present, a subtle and
intangible something like the trace of a perfume or the invisible
track left by a bird in its flight. You heard the crackling of the
wood in the fireplace, the rustle of papers hurriedly turned over, the
indolent voice of the duke indicating in a sentence, always precise
and clear, a reply to a letter of four pages, and the respectful
monosyllables of the /attache/--"Yes, M. le Ministre," "No, M. le
Ministre"; then the scraping of a rebellious and heavy pen. Out of
doors the swallows were twittering merrily over the water, the sound
of a clarinet was wafted from somewhere near the bridges.
"It is impossible," suddenly said the Minister of State, rising. "Take
that away, Lartigues; you must return to-morrow. I cannot write. I am
too cold. See, doctor; feel my hands--one would think that they had
just come out of a pail of iced water. For the last two days my whole
body has been the same. Isn't it too absurd, in this weather!"
"I am not surprised," muttered the Irishman, in a sullen, curt tone,
rarely heard from that honeyed personage.
The door had closed upon the young /attache/, bearing off his papers
with majestic dignity, but very happy, I imagine, to feel himself free
and to be able to stroll for an hour or two, before returning to the
Ministry, in the Tuileries gardens, full of spring frocks and pretty
girls sitting near the still empty chairs round the band, under the
chestnut-trees in flower, through which from root to summit there ran
the great thrill of the month when nests are built. The /attache/ was
certainly not frozen.
Jenkins, silently, examined his patient, sounded him, and tapped his
chest; then, in the same rough tone which might be explained by his
anxious devotion, the annoyance of the doctor who sees his orders
"Ah, now, my dear duke, what sort of life have you been living
He knew from the gossip of the antechamber--in the case of his regular
clients the doctor did not disdain this--he knew that the duke had a
new favourite, that this caprice of recent date possessed him, excited
him in an extraordinary measure, and the fact, taken together with
other observations made elsewhere, had implanted in Jenkins's mind a
suspicion, a mad desire to know the name of this new mistress. It was
this that he was trying to read on the pale face of his patient,
attempting to fathom the depth of his thoughts rather than the origin
of his malady. But he had to deal with one of those faces which are
hermetically sealed, like those little coffers with a secret spring
which hold jewels and women's letters, one of those discreet natures
closed by a cold, blue eye, a glance of steel by which the most astute
perspicacity may be baffled.
"You are mistaken, doctor," replied his excellency tranquilly. "I have
made no changes in my habits."
"Very well, M. le Duc, you have done wrong," remarked the Irishman
abruptly, furious at having made no discovery.
And then, feeling that he was going too far, he gave vent to his bad
temper and to the severity of his diagnosis in words which were a
tissue of banalities and axioms. One ought to take care. Medicine was
not magic. The power of the Jenkins pearls was limited by human
strength, by the necessities of age, by the resources of nature,
which, unfortunately, are not inexhaustible. The duke interrupted him
in an irritable tone:
"Come, Jenkins, you know very well that I don't like phrases. I am not
all right, then? What is the matter with me? What is the reason of
"It is anaemia, exhaustion--a sinking of the oil in the lamp."
"What must I do?"
"Nothing. An absolute rest. Eat, sleep, nothing besides. If you could
go and spend a few weeks at Grandbois."
Mora shrugged his shoulders:
"And the Chamber--and the Council--and--? Nonsense! how is it
"In any case, M. le Duc, you must put the brake on; as somebody said,
Jenkins was interrupted by the entry of the servant on duty, who,
discreetly, on tiptoe, like a dancing-master, came in to deliver a
letter and a card to the Minister of State, who was still shivering
before the fire. At the sight of that satin-gray envelope of a
peculiar shape the Irishman started involuntarily, while the duke,
having opened and glanced over his letter, rose with new vigor, his
cheeks wearing that light flush of artificial health which all the
heat of the stove had not been able to bring there.
"My dear doctor, I must at any price--"
The servant still stood waiting.
"What is it? Ah, yes; this card. Take the visitor to the gallery. I
shall be there directly."
The gallery of the Duke de Mora, open to visitors twice a week, was
for himself, as it were, a neutral ground, a public place where he
could see any one without binding or compromising himself in any way.
Then, the servant having withdrawn:
"Jenkins, /mon bon/, you have already worked miracles for me. I ask
you for one more. Double the dose of my pearls; find something,
whatever you will. But I must be feeling young by Sunday. You
understand me, altogether young."
And on the little letter in his hand, his fingers, warm once more and
feverish, clinched themselves with a thrill of eager desire.
"Take care, M. le Duc," said Jenkins, very pale and with compressed
lips. "I have no wish to alarm you unnecessarily with regard to the
feeble state of your health, but it becomes my duty--"
Mora gave a smile of pretty arrogance:
"Your duty and my pleasure are two separate things, my worthy friend.
Let me burn the candle at both ends, if it amuses me. I have never had
so fine an opportunity as this time."
A door concealed behind a curtain had just opened to give passage to a
merry little head with fair curls in disorder, quite fairy-like amid
the laces and frills of a dressing-jacket worthy of a princess:
"What do I hear? You have not gone out? But do scold him, doctor. He
is wrong, isn't he, to have so many fancies about himself? Look at him
--a picture of health!"
"There--you see," said the duke, laughing, to the Irishman. "You will
not come in, duchess?"
"No, I am going to carry you off, on the contrary. My uncle d'Estaing
has sent me a cage full of tropical birds. I want to show them to you.
Wonderful creatures, of all colours, with little eyes like black
pearls. And so sensitive to cold--nearly as much so as you are."
"Let us go and have a look at them," said the minister. "Wait for me,
Jenkins. I shall be back in a moment."
Then, noticing that he still had his letter in his hand, he threw it
carelessly into the drawer of the little table at which he had been
signing papers, and left the room behind the duchess, with the fine
coolness of a husband accustomed to these changes of situation.
What prodigious mechanic, what incomparable manufacturer of toys, must
it have been who succeeded in endowing the human mask with its
suppleness, its marvellous elasticity! How interesting to observe the
face of this great seigneur surprised in the very planning of his
adultery, with cheeks flushed in the anticipation of promised
delights, calming down at a moment's notice into the serenity of
conjugal tenderness; how fine the devout obsequiousness, the paternal
smile, after the Franklin method, of Jenkins, in the presence of the
duchess, giving place suddenly, when he found himself alone, to a
savage expression of anger and hatred, the pallor of a criminal, the
pallor of a Castaing or of a Lapommerais hatching his sinister
One rapid glance towards each of the two doors, and he stood before
the drawer full of precious papers, the little gold key still
remaining in the lock with an arrogant carelessness, which seemed to
say, "No one will dare."
The letter lay there, the first on a pile of others. The grain of the
paper, an address of three words dashed off in a simple, bold
handwriting, and then the perfume, that intoxicating, suggestive
perfume, the very breath of her divine lips-- It was true, then, his
jealous love had not deceived him, nor the embarrassment she had shown
in his presence for some time past, nor the secretive and rejuvenated
airs of Constance, nor those bouquets magnificently blooming in the
studio as in the shadow of an intrigue. That indomitable pride had
surrendered, then, at last? But in that case, why not to him, Jenkins?
To him who had loved her for so long--always; who was ten years
younger than the other man, and who certainly was troubled with no
cold shiverings! All these thoughts passed through his head like
arrows shot from a tireless bow. And, stabbed through and through,
torn to pieces, his eyes blinded, he stood there looking at the little
satiny and cold envelope which he did not dare open for fear of
dismissing a final doubt, when the rustling of a curtain warned him
that some one had just come in. He threw the letter back quickly, and
closed the wonderfully adjusted drawer of the lacquered table.
"Ah! it is you, Jansoulet. How is it you are here?"
"His excellency told me to come and wait for him in his room," replied
the Nabob, very proud of being thus introduced into the privacy of the
apartments, at an hour, especially, when visitors were not generally
received. As a fact, the duke was beginning to show a real liking for
this savage, for several reasons: to begin with, he liked audacious
people, adventurers who followed their lucky star. Was he not one of
them himself? Then, the Nabob amused him; his accent, his frank
manners, his rather coarse and impudent flattery, were a change for
him from the eternal conventionality of his surroundings, from that
scourge of administrative and court life which he held in horror--the
set speech--in such great horror that he never finished a sentence
which he had begun. The Nabob had an unforeseen way of finishing his
which was sometimes full of surprises. A fine gambler as well, losing
games of /ecarte/ at five thousand francs the fish without flinching.
And so convenient when one wanted to get rid of a picture, always
ready to buy, no matter at what price. To these motives of
condescending kindness there had come to be joined of late a sentiment
of pity and indignation in the face of the tenacity with which the
unfortunate man was being persecuted, the cowardly and merciless war
so ably managed, that public opinion, always credulous and with neck
outstretched to see which way the wind is blowing, was beginning to be
seriously influenced. One must do to Mora the justice of admitting
that he was no follower of the crowd. When he had seen in a corner of
the gallery the simple but rather piteous and discomfited face of the
Nabob, he had thought it cowardly to receive him there, and had sent
him up to his private room.
Jenkins and Jansoulet, sufficiently embarrassed by each other's
presence, exchanged a few commonplace words. Their great friendship
had recently cooled, Jansoulet having refused point-blank all further
subsidies to the Bethlehem Society, leaving the business on the
Irishman's hands, who was furious at this defection, and much more
furious still at this moment because he had not been able to open
Felicia's letter before the arrival of the intruder. The Nabob, on his
side, was asking himself whether the doctor was going to be present at
the conversation which he wished to have with the duke on the subject
of the infamous insinuations with which the /Messenger/ was pursuing
him; anxious also to know whether these calumnies might not have
produced a coolness in that sovereign good-will which was so necessary
to him at the moment of the verification of his election. The greeting
which he had received in the gallery had half reassured him on this
point; he was entirely satisfied when the duke entered and came
towards him with outstretched hand:
"Well, my poor Jansoulet, I hope Paris is making you pay dearly enough
for your welcome. What brawling and hate and spite one finds!"
"Ah, M. le Duc, if you knew--"
"I know. I have read it," said the minister, moving closer to the
"I sincerely hope that your excellency does not believe these
infamies. Besides, I have here--I bring the proof."
With his strong hairy hands, trembling with emotion, he hunted among
the papers in an enormous shagreen portfolio which he had under his
"Never mind that--never mind. I am acquainted with the whole affair. I
know that, wilfully or not, they have mixed you up with another
person, whom family considerations--"
The duke could not restrain a smile at the bewilderment of the Nabob,
stupefied to find him so well informed.
"A Minister of State has to know everything. But don't worry. Your
election will be declared valid all the same. And once declared
Jansoulet heaved a sigh of relief.
"Ah, M. le Duc, how it cheers me to hear you speak thus! I was
beginning to lose all confidence. My enemies are so powerful. And a
piece of bad luck into the bargain. Do you know that it is Le Merquier
himself who is charged with the report on my election?"
"Le Merquier? The devil!"
"Yes, Le Merquier, Hemerlingue's agent, the dirty hypocrite who
converted the baroness, no doubt because his religion forbade him to
have a Mohammedan for a mistress."
"Come, come, Jansoulet."
"Well, M. le Duc? One can't help being angry. Think of the situation
in which these wretches are placing me. Here I ought to have had my
election made valid a week ago, and they arrange the postponement of
the sitting expressly because they know the terrible position in which
I am placed--my whole fortune paralyzed, the Bey waiting for the
decision of the Chamber to decide whether or not he can plunder me. I
have eighty millions over there, M. le Duc, and here I begin to be
short of money. If the thing goes on only a little longer--"
He wiped away the big drops of sweat that trickled down his cheeks.
"Ah, well, I will look after this validation myself," said the
minister sharply. "I will write to what's-his-name to hurry up with
his report; and even if I have to be carried to the Chamber--"
"Your excellency is unwell?" asked Jansoulet, in a tone of interest
which, I swear to you, had no affectation about it.
"No--a little weakness. I am rather anaemic--wanting blood; but
Jenkins is going to put me right. Aren't you, Jenkins?"
The Irishman, who had not been listening, made a vague gesture.
"/Tonnerre!/ And here am I with only too much of it."
And the Nabob loosened his cravat about his neck, swollen like an
apoplexy by his emotion and the heat of the room. "If I could only
transfer a little to you, M. le Duc!"
"It would be an excellent thing for both," said the Minister of State
with pale irony. "For you, especially, who are a violent fellow, and
who at this moment need so much self-control. Take care on that point,
Jansoulet. Beware of the hot retorts, the steps taken in a fit of
temper to which they would like to drive you. Repeat to yourself now
that you are a public man, on a platform, all of whose actions are
observed from far. The newspapers are abusing you; don't read them, if
you cannot conceal the emotion which they cause you. Don't do what I
did, with my blind man of the Pont de la Concorde, that frightful
clarinet-player, who for the last ten years has been blighting my life
by playing all day 'De tes fils, Norma.' I have tried everything to
get him away from there--money, threats. Nothing has succeeded in
inducing him to go. The police? Ah, yes, indeed. With modern ideas, it
becomes quite a business to clear off a blind man from a bridge. The
Opposition newspapers would talk of it, the Parisians would make a
story out of it--'/The Cobbler and the Financier/.' 'The Duke and the
Clarinet.' No, I must resign myself. It is, besides, my own fault. I
never ought to have let this man see that he annoyed me. I am sure
that my torture makes half the pleasure of his life now. Every morning
he comes forth from his wretched lodging with his dog, his folding-
stool, his frightful music, and says to himself, 'Come, let us go and
worry the Duc de Mora.' Not a day does he miss, the wretch! Why, see,
if I were but to open the window a trifle, you would hear his deluge
of little sharp notes above the noise of the water and the traffic.
Well, this journalist of the /Messenger/, he is your clarinet; if you
allow him to see that his music wearies you, he will never finish. And
with this, my dear deputy, I will remind you that you have a meeting
at three o'clock at the office, and I must send you back to the
Then turning to Jenkins:
"You know what I asked of you, doctor--pearls for the day after
to-morrow; and let them be extra strong!"
Jenkins started, shook himself as at the sudden awakening from a
"Certainly, my dear duke. You shall be given some stamina--oh, yes;
stamina, breath enough to win the great Derby stakes."
He bowed, and left the room laughing, the veritable laugh of a wolf
showing its gleaming white teeth. The Nabob took leave in his turn,
his heart filled with gratitude, but not daring to let anything of it
appear in the presence of this sceptic in whom all demonstrativeness
aroused distrust. And the Minister of State, left alone, rolled up in
his wraps before the crackling and blazing fire, sheltered in the
padded warmth of his luxury, doubled that day by the feverish caress
of the May sunshine, began to shiver with cold again, to shiver so
violently that Felicia's letter which he had reopened and was reading
rapturously shook in his hands.
A deputy is in a very singular situation during the period which
follows his election and precedes--as they say in parliamentary jargon
--the verification of its validity. It is a little like the position
of the newly married man during the twenty-four hours separating the
civil marriage from its consecration by the Church. Rights of which he
cannot avail himself, a half-happiness, a semi-authority, the
embarrassment of keeping the balance a little on this side or on that,
the lack of a defined footing. One is married and yet not married, a
deputy and yet not perfectly sure of being it; only, for the deputy,
this uncertainty is prolonged over days and weeks, and since the
longer it lasts the more problematical does the validation become, it
is like torture for the unfortunate representative on probation to be
obliged to attend the Chamber, to occupy a place which he will perhaps
not keep, to listen to discussions of which it is possible that he
will never hear the end, to fix in his eyes and ears the delicious
memory of parliamentary sittings with their sea of bald or apoplectic
foreheads, their confused noise of rustling papers, the cries of
attendants, wooden knives beating a tattoo on the tables, private
conversations from amid which the voice of the orator issues, a
thundering or timid solo with a continuous accompaniment.
This situation, at best so trying to the nerves, was complicated in
the Nabob's case by these calumnies, at first whispered, now printed,
circulated in thousands of copies by the newspapers, with the
consequence that he found himself tacitly put in quarantine by his
The first days he went and came in the corridors, the library, the
dining-room, the lecture-hall, like the rest, delighted to roam
through all the corners of that majestic labyrinth; but he was unknown
to most of his associates, unacknowledged by a few members of the Rue
Royale Club, who avoided him, detested by all the clerical party of
which Le Merquier was the head. The financial set was hostile to this
multi-millionaire, powerful in both "bull" and "bear" market, like
those vessels of heavy tonnage which displace the water of a harbour,
and thus his isolation only became the more marked by the change in
his circumstances and the same enmity followed him everywhere.
His gestures, his manner, showed trace of it in a certain constraint,
a sort of hesitating distrust. He felt he was watched. If he went for
a minute into the /buffet/, that large bright room opening on the
gardens of the president's house, which he liked because there, at the
broad counter of white marble laden with bottles and provisions, the
deputies lost their big, imposing airs, the legislative haughtiness
allowed itself to become more familiar, even there he knew that the
next day there would appear in the /Messenger/ a mocking, offensive
paragraph exhibiting him to his electors as a wine-bibber of the most
Those terrible electors added to his embarrassments.
They arrived in crowds, invaded the Salle des Pas-Perdus, galloped all
over the place like little fiery black kids, shouting to each other
from one end to the other of the echoing room, "O Pe! O Tche!"
inhaling with delight the odour of government, of administration,
pervading the air, watching admiringly the ministers as they passed,
following in their trail with keen nose, as though from their
respected pockets, from their swollen portfolios, there might fall
some appointment; but especially surrounding "Moussiou" Jansoulet with
so many exacting petitions, reclamations, demonstrations, that, in
order to free himself from the gesticulating uproar which made
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