Part 6 out of 8
everybody turn round, and turned him as it were into the delegate of a
tribe of Tuaregs in the midst of civilized folk, he was obliged to
implore with a look the help of some attendant on duty familiar with
such acts of rescue, who would come to him with an air of urgency to
say "that he was wanted immediately in Bureau No. 8." So at last,
embarrassed everywhere, driven from the corridors, from the Pas-
Perdus, from the refreshment-room, the poor Nabob had adopted the
course of never leaving his seat, where he remained motionless and
without speaking during the whole time of the sitting.
He had, however, one friend in the Chamber, a deputy newly elected for
the Deux-Sevres, called M. Sarigue, a poor man sufficiently resembling
the inoffensive and ill-favoured animal whose name he bore, with his
red and scanty hair, his timorous eyes, his hopping walk, his white
gaiters; he was so timid that he could not utter two words without
stuttering, almost voiceless, continually sucking jujubes, which
completed the confusion of his speech. One asked what such a weakling
as he had come to do in the Assembly, what feminine ambition run mad
had urged into public life this being useless for no matter what
By an amusing irony of fate, Jansoulet, himself agitated by all the
anxieties of his own validation, was chosen in Bureau no. 8 to draw up
the report on the election in the Deux-Sevres; and M. Sarigue, humble
and supplicating, conscious of his incapacity and filled by a horrible
dread of being sent back to his home in disgrace, used to follow about
this great jovial fellow with the curly hair and big shoulder blades
that moved like the bellows of a forge beneath a light and tightly
fitting frock-coat, without any suspicion that a poor anxious being
like himself lay concealed within that solid envelope.
As he worked at the report on the Deux-Sevres election, as he examined
the numerous protests, the accusations of electioneering trickery,
meals given, money spent, casks of wine broached at the doors of the
mayors' houses, the usual accompaniments of an election in those days,
Jansoulet used to shudder on his own account. "Why, I did all that
myself," he would say to himself, terrified. Ah! M. Sarigue need not
be afraid; never could he have put his hand on an examiner with kinder
intentions or more indulgent, for the Nabob, taking pity on the
sufferer, knowing by experience how painful is the anguish of waiting,
had made haste through his labour; and the enormous portfolio which he
carried under his arm, as he left the Mora mansion, contained his
report ready to be sent in to the bureau.
Whether it were this first essay in a public function, the kind words
of the duke, or the magnificent weather out of doors, keenly enjoyed
by this southerner, with his susceptibility to wholly physical
impressions and accustomed to life under a blue sky and the warmth of
the sunshine--however that may have been, certain it is that the
attendants of the legislative body beheld that day a proud and haughty
Jansoulet whom they had not previously known. The fat Hemerlingue's
carriage, caught sight of at the gate, recognisable by the unusual
width of its doors, completed his reinstatement in the possession of
his true nature of assurance and bold audacity. "The enemy is there.
Attention!" As he crossed the Salle des Pas-Perdus, he caught sight of
the financier chatting in a corner with Le Merquier, the examiner; he
passed quite near them, and looked at them with a triumphant air which
made people wonder:
"What is the meaning of this?"
Then, highly pleased at his own coolness, he passed on towards the
committee-rooms, big and lofty apartments opening right and left on a
long corridor, and having large tables covered with green baize, and
heavy chairs all of a similar pattern and bearing the impress of a
dull solemnity. People were beginning to come in. Groups were taking
up their positions, discussing matters, gesticulating, with bows,
shakings of hands, inclinations of the head, like Chinese shadows
against the luminous background of the windows.
Men were there who walked about with bent back, solitary, as it were
crushed down beneath the weight of the thoughts which knitted their
brow. Others whispering in their neighbour's ears, confiding to each
other exceedingly mysterious and terribly important pieces of news,
finger on lip, eyes opened wide in silent recommendation to
discretion. A provincial flavour characterized it all, varieties of
intonation, the violence of southern speech, drawling accents of the
central districts, the sing-song of Brittany, fused into one and the
same imbecile self-conceit, frock-coats as they cut them at
Landerneau, mountain shoes, home-spun linen, and a self-assurance
begotten in a village or in the club of some insignificant town, local
expressions, provincialisms abruptly introduced into the speech of the
political and administrative world, that flabby and colourless
phraseology which has invented such expressions as "burning questions
that come again to the surface" and "individualities without mandate."
To see these excited or thoughtful people, you might have supposed
them the greatest apostles of ideas in the world; unfortunately, on
the days of the sittings they underwent a transformation, sat in
hushed silence in their places, laughing in servile fashion at the
jests of the clever man who presided over them, or only rising to make
ridiculous propositions, the kind of interruption which would tempt
one to believe that it is not a type only, but a whole race, that
Henri Monnier has satirized in his immortal sketch. Two or three
orators in all the Chamber, the rest well qualified to plant
themselves before the fireplace of a provincial drawing-room, after an
excellent meal at the Prefect's, and to say in nasal voice, "The
administration, gentlemen," or "The Government of the Emperor," but
incapable of anything further.
Ordinarily the good Nabob had been dazzled by these poses, that
buzzing as of an empty spinning-wheel which is made by would-be
important people; but to-day he found his own place, and fell in with
the general note. Seated at the centre of the green table, his
portfolio open before him, his elbows planted well forward upon it, he
read the report drawn up by de Gery, and the members of the committee
looked at him in amazement.
It was a concise, clear, and rapid summary of their fortnight's
proceedings, in which they found their ideas so well expressed that
they had great difficulty in recognising them. Then, as two or three
among them considered the report too favourable, that it passed too
lightly over certain protests that had reached the committee, the
examiner addressed the meeting with an astonishing assurance, with the
prolixity, the verbosity of his own people, demonstrated that a deputy
ought not to be held responsible beyond a certain point for the
imprudence of his election agents, that no election, otherwise, would
bear a minute examination, and since in reality it was his own cause
that he was pleading, he brought to the task a conviction, an
irresistible enthusiasm, taking care to let out now and then one of
those long, dull substantives with a thousand feet, such as the
The others listened to him thoughtfully, communicating their
sentiments to each other by nods of the head, making flourishes, in
order the better to concentrate their attention, and drawing heads on
their blotting-pads--a proceeding which harmonized well with the
schoolboyish noises in the corridors, a murmur of lessons in course of
repetition, and those droves of sparrows which you could hear chirping
under the casements in a flagged court-yard, just like the court-yard
of a school. The report having been adopted, M. Sarigue was summoned
in order that he might offer some supplementary explanations. He
arrived, pale, emaciated, stuttering like a criminal before
conviction, and you would have laughed to see with what an air of
authority and protection Jansoulet encouraged and reassured him. "Calm
yourself, my dear colleague." But the members of Committee No. 8 did
not laugh. They were all, or nearly all, Sarigues in their way, two or
three of them being absolutely broken down, stricken by partial
paralysis. So much assurance, such great eloquence, had moved them to
When Jansoulet issued from the legislative assembly, reconducted to
his carriage by his grateful colleague, it was about six o'clock. The
splendid weather--a beautiful sunset over the Seine, which lay
stretching away like molten gold on the Trocadero side--was a
temptation to a walk for this robust plebeian, on whom it was imposed
by the conventions that he should ride in a carriage and wear gloves,
but who escaped such encumbrances as often as he possibly could. He
dismissed his servants, and, with his portfolio under his arm, set
forth across the Pont de la Concorde.
Since the first of May he had not experienced such a sense of well-
being. With rolling gait, hat a little to the back of his head, in the
position in which he had seen it worn by overworked politicians
harassed by pressure of business, allowing all the laborious fever of
their brain to evaporate in the coolness of the air, as a factory
discharges its steam into the gutter at the end of a day's work, he
moved forward among other figures like his own, evidently coming too
from that colonnaded temple which faces the Madeleine above the
fountains of the /Place/. As they passed, people turned to look after
them, saying, "Those are deputies." And Jansoulet felt the delight of
a child, a plebeian joy, compounded of ignorance and naive vanity.
"Ask for the /Messenger/, evening edition."
The words came from a newspaper kiosk at the corner of the bridge,
full at that hour of fresh printed sheets in heaps, which two women
were quickly folding, and which smelt of the damp press--late news,
the success of the day or its scandal.
Nearly all the deputies bought a copy as they passed, and glanced over
it quickly in the hope of finding their name. Jansoulet, for his part,
feared to see his in it and did not stop. Then suddenly he reflected:
"Must not a public man be above these weaknesses? I am strong enough
now to read everything." He retraced his steps and took a newspaper
like his colleagues. He opened it, very calmly, right at the place
usually occupied by Moessard's articles. As it happened, there was
one. Still the same title: "/Chinoiseries/," and an /M./ for
"Ah! ah!" said the public man, firm and cold as marble, with a fine
smile of disdain. Mora's lesson still rung in his ears, and, had he
forgotten it, the air from /Norma/ which was being slowly played in
little ironical notes not far off would have sufficed to recall it to
him. Only, after all calculations have been made amid the fleeting
happenings of our existence, there is always the unforeseen to be
reckoned with; and that is how it came that the poor Nabob suddenly
felt a wave of blood blind him, a cry of rage strangle itself in the
sudden contraction of his throat. This time his mother, his old
Frances, had been dragged into the infamous joke of the "Bateau de
fleurs." How well he aimed his blows, this Moessard, how well he knew
the really sensitive spots in that heart, so frankly exposed!
"Be quiet, Jansoulet; be quiet."
It was in vain that he repeated the words to himself again and again:
anger, a wild anger, that intoxication of the blood that demands
blood, took possession of him. His first impulse was to hail a cab,
that he might escape from the irritating street, free his body from
the preoccupation of walking and maintaining a physical composure--to
hail a cab as for a wounded man. But the carriages which thronged the
square at that hour of general home-going were victorias, landaus,
private broughams, hundreds of them, passing down from the lurid
splendour of the Arc de Triomphe towards the violet shadows of the
Tuileries, rushing, it seemed, one over another, in the sloping
perspective of the avenue, down to the great square where the
motionless statues, with their circular crowns on their brows, watched
them as they separated towards the Faubourg Saint-Germain, the Rue
Royale and the Rue de Rivoli.
Jansoulet, his newspaper in his hand, traversed this tumult without
giving it a thought, carried by force of habit towards the club where
he went every day for his game of cards from six to seven. A public
man, he was that still; but excited, speaking aloud, muttering oaths
and threats in a voice that had suddenly grown tender again at the
memory of the dear old woman. To have dragged her into that--her also!
Oh, if she should read it, if she should understand! What punishment
could he invent for such an infamy? He had reached the Rue Royale, up
which were disappearing with the speed of horses that knew they were
going home and with glancings of shining axles, visions of veiled
women, heads of fair-haired children, equipages of all kinds returning
from the Bois, depositing a little genuine earth upon the Paris
pavement, and bringing odours of spring mingled with the scent of
/poudre de riz/.
Opposite the Ministry of Marine, a very high phaeton on light wheels,
rather like a great spider, its body represented by the little groom
hanging on to the box and the two persons occupying the front seat,
just missed a collision with the curb as it turned the corner.
The Nabob raised his head and stifled a cry.
Beside a painted woman, with red hair and wearing a tiny hat with wide
strings, who, perched on her leathern cushion, sat leaning stiffly
forward, hands, eyes, her whole factitious person intent on driving
the horse, there sat, pink and made-up also, grown fat with the same
vices, Moessard, the handsome Moessard--the harlot and the journalist;
and of the two, it was not the woman who had sold herself the most.
High above those women reclining in their open carriages, those men
opposite them half buried beneath the flounces of their gowns, all
those poses of fatigue and weariness which the overfed exhibit in
public as in contempt of pleasure and riches, they lorded it
insolently, she very proud to be seen driving with the lover of the
Queen, and he without the least shame in sitting beside a creature who
hooked men in the drives of the Bois with the lash of her whip,
removed on her high-perched seat from all fear of the salutary raids
of the police. Perhaps, in order to whet the appetite of his royal
mistress, he chose to parade beneath her windows in company of Suzanne
Bloch, known as Suze the Red.
"Hep! hep, then!"
The horse, a high trotter with slim legs, just such a horse as a
/cocotte/ would care to own, recovered from its swerve and resumed its
proper place with dancing steps, graceful pawings executed on the same
spot without advancing. Jansoulet let fall his portfolio, and as
though he had dropped with it all his gravity, his prestige as a
public man, he made a terrible spring, and dashed to the bit of the
animal, which he held firm with his strong, hairy hands.
A carriage forcibly stopped in the Rue Royale, and in broad daylight--
only this Tartar would have dared such a stroke as that!
"Get down!" said he to Moessard, whose face had turned green and
yellow when he saw him. "Get down immediately!"
"Will you let go my horse, you bloated idiot! Whip up Suzanne; it is
She tried to gather up the reins, but the animal, held firmly, reared
so sharply that a little more and like a sling the fragile vehicle
would have sent everybody in it flying far away. At this, furious with
one of those plebeian rages which in women of her kind shatter all the
veneer of their luxury, she dealt the Nabob two stinging lashes with
her whip, which left little trace on his tanned and hardened face, but
which brought there a ferocious expression, accentuated by the short
nose which had turned white and was slit at the end like that of a
"Come down, or, by God, I will upset the whole thing!"
Amid an eddy of carriages arrested by the block in the traffic, or
that passed slowly round the obstacle, with thousands of curious eyes,
amid cries of coachmen and clinking of bits, two wrists of iron shook
the entire vehicle.
"Jump--but jump, I tell you! Don't you see he will have us over? What
And the woman looked at the Hercules with interest.
Hardly had Moessard set foot to the ground, and before he could take
refuge on the pavement, whither the black military caps of policemen
could be seen hastening, Jansoulet threw himself upon him, lifted him
by the back of the neck like a rabbit, and, careless of his
protestations and his terrified stammerings:
"Yes, yes, I will give you satisfaction, you blackguard! But, first, I
intend to do to you what is done to dirty beasts to prevent them from
repeating the same offence."
And roughly he set to work rubbing his nose and face all over with his
newspaper, which he had rolled into a ball, stifling him, blinding him
with it, and making scratches from which the blood trickled over his
skin. The man was dragged from his hands, crimson, suffocated. A
little more and he would have killed him.
The struggle over, pulling down his sleeves, adjusting his crumpled
linen, picking up his portfolio out of which the papers of the Sarigue
election were flying scattered even to the gutter, the Nabob answered
the policemen who were asking him for his name in order to draw up a
"Bernard Jansoulet, Deputy for Corsica."
A public man!
Only then did he remember that he was one. Who would have suspected
it, seeing him breathless and bare-headed, like a porter after a
street fight, under the eager, coldly mocking glances of the crowd?
If you want simple and sincere feeling, if you would see overflowing
affection, tenderness, laughter--the laughter born of great happiness
which, at a tiny movement of the lips, is brought to the verge of
tears--and the beautiful wild joy of youth illumined by bright eyes
transparent to the very depths of the souls behind them--all these
things you may find this Sunday morning in a house that you know of, a
new house, down yonder, right at the end of the old faubourg. The
glass door on the ground floor shines more brightly than usual. More
gaily than ever dance the letters over the door, and from the open
windows comes the sound of glad cries, flowing from a stream of
"Accepted! it is accepted! Oh, what good luck! Henriette, Elise, do
come here! M. Maranne's play is accepted!"
Andre heard the news yesterday. Cardailhac, the manager of the
/Nouveautes/, sent for him to inform him that his play was to be
produced immediately--that it would be put on next month. They passed
the evening discussing scenic arrangements and the distribution of
parts; and, as it was too late to knock at his neighbour's door when
he got home from the theatre, the happy author waited for the morning
in feverish impatience, and then, as soon as he heard people stirring
below and the shutters open with a click against the house-front, he
made haste to go down to announce the good news to his friends. Just
now they are all assembled together, the young ladies in pretty
/deshabille/, their hair hastily twisted up, and M. Joyeuse, whom the
announcement had surprised in the midst of shaving, presenting under
his embroidered night-cap a strange face divided into two parts, one
side shaved, the other not. But Andre Maranne is the most excited, for
you know what the acceptance of /Revolt/ means for him; what was
agreed between them and Bonne Maman. The poor fellow looks at her as
if to find an encouragement in her eyes; and the rather mischievous,
kind eyes seem to say, "Make the experiment, in any case. What is the
risk?" To give himself courage he looks also at Mlle. Elise, pretty as
a flower, with her long eyelashes drooped. At last, making up his
"M. Joyeuse," said he thickly, "I have a very serious communication to
make to you."
M. Joyeuse expresses astonishment.
"A communication? Ah, /mon Dieu/, you alarm me!"
And lowering his voice:
"Are the girls in the way?"
"No. Bonne Maman knows what I mean. Mlle. Elise also must have some
suspicion of it. It is only the children."
Mlle. Henriette and her sister are asked to retire, which they
immediately do, the one with a dignified and annoyed air, like a true
daughter of the Saint-Amands, the other, the young Chinese Yaia,
hardly hiding a wild desire to laugh.
Thereupon a great silence; after which, the lover begins his little
I quite believe that Mlle. Elise has some suspicion in her mind, for
as soon as their young neighbour spoke of a communication, she drew
her /Ansart et Rendu/ from her pocket and plunged precipitately into
the adventures of somebody surnamed the Hutin, thrilling reading which
makes the book tremble in her hands. There is reason for trembling,
certainly, before the bewilderment, the indignant stupefaction into
which M. Joyeuse receives this request for his daughter's hand.
"Is it possible? How has it happened? What an extraordinary event! Who
could ever have suspected such a thing?"
And suddenly the good old man burst into a great roar of laughter.
Well, no, it is not true. He had heard of the affair; knew about it, a
long time ago.
Her father knew all about it! Bonne Maman had betrayed them then! And
before the reproachful glances cast in her direction, the culprit
comes forward smiling:
"Yes, my dears, it is I. The secret was too much for me. I found I
could not keep it to myself alone. And then, father is so kind--one
cannot hide anything from him."
As she says this she throws her arms round the little man's neck; but
there is room enough for two, and when Mlle. Elise in her turn takes
refuge there, there is still an affectionate, fatherly hand stretched
out towards him whom M. Joyeuse considers thenceforward as his son.
Silent embraces, long looks meeting each other full of emotion,
blessed moments that one would like to hold forever by the fragile
tips of their wings. There is chat, and gentle laughter when certain
details are recalled. M. Joyeuse tells how the secret was revealed to
him in the first instance by tapping spirits, one day when he was
alone in Andre's apartment. "How is business going, M. Maranne?" the
spirits had inquired, and he himself had replied in Maranne's absence:
"Fairly well, for the season, Sir Spirit." The little man repeats,
"Fairly well for the season," in a mischievous way, while Mlle. Elise,
quite confused at the thought that it was with her father that she
talked that day, disappears under her fair curls.
After the first stress of emotion they talk more seriously. It is
certain that Mme. Joyeuse, /nee/ de Saint-Amand, would never have
consented to this marriage. Andre Maranne is not rich, still less
noble; but the old accountant, luckily, has not the same ideas of
grandeur that his wife possessed. They love each other; they are
young, healthy, and good-looking--qualities that in themselves
constitute fine dowries, without involving any heavy registration fees
at the notary's. The new household will be installed on the floor
above. The photography will be continued, unless /Revolt/ should
produce enormous receipts. (The Visionary may be trusted to see to
that.) In any case, the father will still remain near them; he has a
good place at his stockbroker's office, some expert business in the
courts; provided that the little ship continue to sail in deep enough
water, all will go well, with the aid of wave, wind, and star.
Only one question preoccupies M. Joyeuse: "Will Andre's parents
consent to this marriage? How will Dr. Jenkins, so rich, so
celebrated, take it?"
"Let us not speak of that man," said Andre, turning pale; "he is a
wretch to whom I owe nothing--who is nothing to me."
He stops, embarrassed by this explosion of anger, which he was unable
to restrain and cannot explain, and goes on more gently:
"My mother, who comes to see me sometimes in spite of the prohibition
laid upon her, was the first to be told of our plans. She already
loves Mlle. Elise as her daughter. You will see, mademoiselle, how
good she is, and how beautiful and charming. What a misfortune that
she belongs to such a wicked man, who tyrannizes over her, and
tortures her even to the point of forbidding her to utter her son's
Poor Maranne heaves a sign that speaks volumes on the great grief
which he hides in the depths of his heart. But what sadness would not
have been vanquished in presence of that dear face lighted up with its
fair curls and the radiant perspective of the future? These serious
questions having been settled, they are able to open the door and
recall the two exiles. In order to avoid filling their little heads
with thoughts above their age, it has been agreed to say nothing about
the prodigious event, to tell them nothing except that they have all
to make haste and dress, breakfast still more quickly, so as to be
able to spend the afternoon in the Bois, where Maranne will read his
play to them, before they go on to Suresnes to have dinner at
Kontzen's: a whole programme of delights in honour of the acceptance
of /Revolt/, and of another piece of good news which they will hear
"Ah, really--what is it, then?" ask the two little girls, with an
But if you fancy they don't know what is in the air, if you think that
when Mlle. Elise used to give three raps on the ceiling they imagined
that it was for information on business, you are more ingenuous even
than /le pere/ Joyeuse.
"That's all right--that's all right, children; go and dress, in any
Then there begins another refrain:
"What frock must I put on, Bonne Maman--the gray?"
"Bonne Maman, there is a string off my hat."
"Bonne Maman, my child, have I no more starched cravats left?"
For ten minutes the charming grandmother is besieged with questions
and entreaties. Every one needs her help in some way; it is she who
had the keys of everything, she who gives out the pretty, white, fine
goffered linen, the embroidered handkerchiefs, the best gloves, all
the dainty things which, taken out from drawers and wardrobes, spread
over the bed, fill a house with a bright Sunday gaiety.
The workers, the people with tasks to fulfil, alone know that delight
which returns each week consecrated by the customs of a nation. For
these prisoners of the week, the almanac with its closed prison-like
gratings opens at regular intervals into luminous spaces, with breaths
of refreshing air. It is Sunday, the day that seems so long to
fashionable folk, to the Parisians of the boulevard whose habits it
disturbs, so gloomy to people far from their homes and relatives, that
constitutes for a multitude of human beings the only recompense, the
one aim of the desperate efforts of six days of toil. Neither rain nor
hail, nothing makes any difference, nothing will prevent them from
going out, from closing behind them the door of the deserted workshop,
of the stuffy little lodging. But when the springtime is come, when
the May sunshine glitters on it as this morning, and it can deck
itself out in gay colours, then indeed Sunday is the holiday of
If one would know it well, it must be seen especially in the working
quarters of the town, in those gloomy streets which it lights up and
enlarges by closing the shops, keeping in their sheds the heavy drays
and trucks, leaving the space free for wandering bands of children
washed and in their Sunday clothes, and for games of battledore and
shuttlecock played amid the great circlings of the swallows beneath
some porch of old Paris. It must be seen in the densely populated,
feverishly toiling suburbs, where, as soon as morning is come, you may
feel it hovering, resposeful and sweet, in the silence of the
factories, passing with the ringing of church-bells and that sharp
whistle of the railways, and filling the horizon, all around the
outskirts of the city, with an immense song, as it were, of departure
and of deliverance. Then one understands it and loves it.
O Sunday of Paris, Sunday of the toilers and the humble, often have I
cursed thee without reason, I have poured whole streams of abusive ink
over thy noisy and extravagant joys, over the dust of railway stations
filled by thy uproar and the maddening omnibuses that thou takest by
assault, over thy tavern songs bawled everywhere from carts adorned
with green and pink dresses, on thy barrel-organs grinding out their
tunes beneath the balconies of deserted court-yards; but to-day,
abjuring my errors, I exalt thee, and I bless thee for all the joy and
relief thou givest to courageous and honest labour, for the laughter
of the children who greet thee with acclamation, the pride of mothers
happy to dress their little ones in their best clothes in thy honour,
for the dignity thou dost preserve in the homes of the poorest, the
glorious raiment set aside for thee at the bottom of the old shaky
chest of drawers; I bless thee especially by reason of all the
happiness thou hast brought that morning to the great new house in the
Toilettes having been completed, the /dejeuner/ finished, taken on the
thumb, as they say--and you can imagine what quantity these young
ladies' thumbs would carry--they came to put on their hats before the
mirror in the drawing-room. Bonne Maman threw around her supervising
glance, inserted a pin here, retied a ribbon there, straightened her
father's cravat; but while all this little world was stamping with
impatience, beckoned out of doors by the beauty of the day, there came
a ring at the bell, echoing through the apartment and disturbing their
"Suppose we don't open the door?" propose the children.
And what a relief, with a cry of delight, they see their friend Paul
"Quick! quick! Come and let us tell you the good news."
He knew well, before any of them, that the play had been accepted. He
had had a good deal of trouble to get it read by Cardailhac, who, the
moment he saw its "short lines," as he called verse, wished to send
the manuscript to the Levantine and her /masseur/, as he was wont to
do in the case of all beginners in the writing of drama. But Paul was
careful not to refer to his own intervention. As for the other event,
the one of which nothing was said, on account of the children, he
guessed it easily by the trembling greeting of Maranne, whose fair
mane was standing straight up over his forehead by reason of the
poet's two hands having been pushed through it so many times, a thing
he always did in his moments of joy, by the slightly embarrassed
demeanour of Elise, by the triumphant airs of M. Joyeuse, who was
standing very erect in his new summer clothes, with all the happiness
of his children written on his face.
Bonne Maman alone preserved her usual peaceful air; but one noticed,
in the eager alacrity with which she forestalled her sister's wants, a
certain attention still more tender than before, an anxiety to make
her look pretty. And it was delicious to watch the girl of twenty as
she busied herself about the adornment of others, without envy,
without regret, with something of the gentle renunciation of a mother
welcoming the young love of her daughter in memory of a happiness gone
by. Paul saw this; he was the only one who did see it; but while
admiring Aline, he asked himself sadly if in that maternal heart there
would ever be place for other affections, for preoccupations outside
the tranquil and bright circle wherein Bonne Maman presided so
prettily over the evening work.
Love is, as one knows, a poor blind creature, deprived of hearing and
speech, and only led by presentiments, divinations, the nervous
faculties of a sick man. It is pitiable indeed to see him wandering,
feeling his way, constantly making false steps, passing his hands over
the supports by which he guides himself with the distrustful
awkwardness of the infirm. At the very moment when Paul was doubting
Aline's sensibility, in announcing to his friends that he was about to
start on a journey which would occupy several days, perhaps several
weeks, did not remark the girl's sudden paleness, did not hear the
distressed cry that escaped her lips:
"You are going away?"
He was going away, going to Tunis, very much troubled at leaving his
poor Nabob in the midst of the pack of furious wolves that surrounded
him. Mora's protection, however, gave him some reassurance; and then,
the journey in question was absolutely necessary.
"And the Territorial?" asked the old accountant, ever returning to the
subject in his mind. "How are things standing there? I see Jansoulet's
name still at the head of the board. You cannot get him out, then,
from that Ali-Baba's cave? Take care--take care!"
"Ah, I know all about that, M. Joyeuse. But, to leave it with honour,
money is needed, much money, a fresh sacrifice of two or three
millions, and we have not got them. That is exactly the reason why I
am going to Tunis to try to wrest from the rapacity of the Bey a slice
of that great fortune which he is retaining in his possession so
unjustly. At present I have still some chance of succeeding, while
later on, perhaps--"
"Go, then, and make haste, my dear lad, and if you return, as I wish
you may, with a heavy bag, see that you deal first of all with the
Paganetti gang. Remember that one shareholder less patient than the
rest has the power to smash the whole thing up, to demand an inquiry;
and you know what the inquiry would reveal. Now I come to think of
it," added M. Joyeuse, whose brow had contracted a frown, "I am even
surprised that Hemerlingue, in his hatred for you, has not secretly
brought up a few shares."
He was interrupted by the chorus of imprecations which the name of
Hemerlingue raised from all the young people, who detested the fat
banker for the injury he had done their father, and for the ill-will
he bore that good Nabob, who was adored in the house through Paul de
"Hemerlingue, the heartless monster! Wretch! That wicked man!"
But amid all these exclamations, the Visionary was following up his
idea of the fat baron becoming a shareholder in the Territorial for
the purpose of dragging his enemy into the courts. And you may imagine
the stupefaction of Andre Maranne, a complete stranger to the whole
affair, when he saw M. Joyeuse turn to him, and, with face purple and
swollen with rage, point his finger at him, with these terrible words:
"The greatest rascal, after all, in this affair, is you, sir!"
"Oh, papa, papa! what are you saying?"
"Eh, what? Ah, forgive me, my dear Andre. I was fancying myself in the
examining magistrate's private room, face to face with that rogue. It
is my confounded brain that is always running away with me."
All broke into uproarious laughter, which escaped into the outer air
through the open windows, and went to mingle with the thousand noises
of moving vehicles and people in their Sunday clothes going up the
Avenue des Ternes. The author of /Revolt/ took advantage of the
diversion to ask whether they were not soon going to start. It was
late--the good places would be taken in the Bois.
"To the Bois de Boulogne, on Sunday!" exclaimed Paul de Gery.
"Oh, our Bois is not yours," replied Aline with a smile. "Come with
us, and you will see."
Did it ever happen to you, in the course of a solitary and
contemplative walk, to lie down on your face in the undergrowth of a
forest, amid that vegetation which springs up, various and manifold,
through the fallen autumn leaves, and allow your eyes to wander along
the level of the ground before you? Little by little the sense of
height is lost, the interwoven branches of the oaks above your head
form an inaccessible sky, and you behold a new forest extending
beneath the other, opening its deep avenues filled by a green and
mysterious light, and formed of tiny shrubs or root fibres taking the
appearance of the stems of sugar-canes, of severely graceful palm-
trees, of delicate cups containing a drop of water, of many-branched
candlesticks bearing little yellow lights which the wind blows on as
it passes. And the miraculous thing is, that beneath these light
shadows live minute plants and thousand of insects whose existence,
observed from so near at hand, is a revelation to you of all the
mysteries. An ant, bending like a wood-cutter under his burden, drags
after it a splinter of bark bigger than itself; a beetle makes its way
along a blade of grass thrown like a bridge from one stem to another;
while beneath a lofty bracken standing isolated in the middle of a
patch of velvety moss, a little blue or red insect waits, with
antennae at attention, for another little insect on its way through
some desert path over there to arrive at the trysting-place beneath
the giant tree. It is a small forest beneath a great one, too near the
soil to be noticed by its big neighbours, too humble, too hidden to be
reached by its great orchestra of song and storm.
A similar revelation awaits in the Bois de Boulogne. Behind those
sanded drives, watered and clean, whereon files of carriage-wheels
moving slowly round the lake trace all day long a worn and mechanical
furrow, behind that admirably set scene of trimmed green hedges, of
captive water, of flowery rocks, the true Bois, a wild wood with
perennial undergrowth, grows and flourishes, forming impenetrable
recesses traversed by narrow paths and bubbling springs.
This is the Bois of the children, the Bois of the humble, the little
forest beneath the great one. And Paul, who knew only the long avenues
of the aristocratic Parisian promenades, the sparkling lake perceived
from the depths of a carriage or from the top of a coach in a drive
back from Longchamps, was astonished to see the deliciously sheltered
nook to which his friends had led him. It was on the banks of a pond
lying like a mirror under willow-trees, covered with water-lilies,
with here and there large white shimmering spaces where sunbeams fell
and lay on the bright surface.
On the sloping bank, sheltered by the boughs of trees where the leaves
were already thick, they sat down to listen to the reading of the
play, and the pretty, attentive faces, the skirts lying puffed out
over the grass, made one think of some Decameron, more innocent and
chaste, in a peaceful atmosphere. To complete this pleasant country
scene, two windmill-sails seen through an opening in the branches were
revolving over in the direction of Suresnes, while of the dazzling and
luxurious vision to be met at every cross-roads in the Bois there
reached them only a confused and perpetual murmur, which one ended by
ceasing to notice. The poet's voice alone rose in the silence, the
verses fell on the air tremblingly, repeated below the breath by other
moved lips, and stifled sounds of approbation greeted them, with
shudders at the tragic passages. Bonne Maman was even seen to wipe
away a big tear. That comes, you see, from having no embroidery in
His first work! That was what the /Revolt/ was for Andre, that first
work always too exuberant and ornate, into which the author throws, to
begin with, whole arrears of ideas and opinions, pent up like the
waters of a river-lock; that first work which is often the richest if
not the best of its writer's productions. As for the fate that awaited
it, no one could predict it; and the uncertainty that hovered over the
reading of the drama added to its own emotion that of each auditor,
the hopes, all arrayed in white, of Mlle. Elise, the fantastic
hallucinations of M. Joyeuse, and the more positive desires of Aline
as she installed in advance the modest fortune of her sister in the
nest of an artist's household, beaten by the winds but envied by the
Ah, if one of those idle people, taking a turn for the hundredth time
round the lake, overwhelmed by the monotony of his habitual promenade,
had come and parted the branches, how surprised he would have been at
this picture! But would he ever have suspected how much passion, how
many dreams, what poetry and hope there could be contained in that
little green corner, hardly larger than the shadow a fern throws on
"You were right; I did not know the Bois," said Paul in a low voice to
Aline, who was leaning on his arm.
They were following a narrow path overarched by the boughs of trees,
and as they talked were moving forward at a quick pace, well in
advance of the others. It was not, however, /pere/ Kontzen's terrace
nor his appetizing fried dishes that drew them on. No; the beautiful
lines which they had just heard had carried them away, lifting them to
great heights, and they had not yet come down to earth again. They
walked straight on towards the ever-retreating end of the road, which
opened out at its extremity into a luminous glory, a mass of sunbeams,
as if all the sunshine of that beautiful day lay waiting for them
where it had fallen on the outskirts of the wood. Never had Paul felt
so happy. That light arm that lay on his arm, that child's step by
which his own was guided, these alone would have made life sweet and
pleasant to him, no less than this walk over the mossy turf of a green
path. He would have told the girl so, simply, as he felt it, had he
not feared to alarm that confidence which Aline placed in him, no
doubt because of the sentiments which she knew he possessed for
another woman, and which seemed to hold at a distance from them every
thought of love.
Suddenly, right before them, against the bright background, a group of
persons riding on horseback came in sight, at first vague and
indistinct, then appearing as a man and a woman, handsomely mounted,
and entered the mysterious path among the bars of gold, the leafy
shadows, the thousand dots of light with which the ground was strewn,
and which, displaced by their progress as they cantered along, rose
and covered them with flowery patterns from the chests of the horses
to the blue veil of the lady rider. They came along slowly,
capriciously, and the two young people, who had drawn back into the
copse, could see pass close by them, with a clinking of bits proudly
shaken and white with foam as though after a furious gallop, two
splendid animals carrying a pair of human beings brought very near
together by the narrowing of the path; he, supporting with one arm the
supple figure moulded in a dark cloth habit; she, with a hand resting
on the shoulder of her cavalier and her small head seen in retreating
profile beneath the half-dropped tulle of her veil, resting on it
tenderly. This embrace, half disturbed by the impatience of the
horses, that kiss on which their reins became confused, that passion
which stalked in broad day through the Bois with so great a contempt
for public opinion, would have been enough to betray the duke and
Felicia, if the haughty and charming mein of the lady and the
aristocratic ease of her companion, his pallor slightly tinged with
colour as the result of his ride and of Jenkins's miraculous pearls,
had not already betrayed them.
It is not an extraordinary thing to meet Mora in the Bois on a Sunday.
Like his master, he loved to show himself to the Parisians, to
advertise his popularity with all sections of the public; and then the
duchess never accompanied him on that day, and he could make a halt
quite at his ease in that little villa of Saint-James, known to all
Paris, whose red towers, outlined among the trees schoolboys used to
point out to each other in whispers. But only a mad woman, a daring
affronter of society like this Felicia, could have dreamt of
advertising herself like this, with the loss of her reputation
forever. A sound of hoofs dying away in the distance, of shrubs
brushed in passing; a few plants that had been pressed down and were
straightening themselves again; branches pushed out of the way
resuming their places--that was all that remained of the apparition.
"You saw?" said Paul; speaking first.
She had seen, and she had understood, notwithstanding the candour of
her innocence, for a blush spread over her features, one of those
feelings of shame experienced for the faults of those we love.
"Poor Felicia!" she said in a low voice, pitying not only the unhappy
woman who had just passed them, but also him whom this defection must
have smitten to the very heart. The truth is that Paul de Gery had
felt no surprise at this meeting, which justified previous suspicions
and the instinctive aversion which he had felt for Felicia at their
dinner some days before. But he found it pleasant to be pitied by
Aline, to feel the compassion in that voice becoming more tender, in
that arm leaning upon his. Like children who pretend to be ill for the
sake of the pleasure of being fondled by their mother, he allowed his
consoler to strive to appease his grief, speaking to him of his
brothers, of the Nabob, and of his forthcoming trip to Tunis--a fine
country, they said. "You must write to us often, and long letters
about the interesting things on the journey, the place you stay in.
For one can see those who are far away better when one imagines the
kind of place they are inhabiting."
So talking, they reached the end of the bowered path terminating in an
immense open glade through which there moved the tumult of the Bois,
carriages and riders on horseback alternating with each other, and the
crowd at that distance seeming to be tramping through a flaky dust
which blended it into a single confused herd. Paul slackened his pace,
emboldened by this last minute of solitude.
"Do you know what I am thinking of?" he said, taking Aline's hand. "I
am thinking that it would be a pleasure to be unhappy so as to be
comforted by you. But however precious your pity may be to me, I
cannot allow you to waste your compassion on an imaginary pain. No, my
heart is not broken, but more alive, on the contrary, and stronger.
And if I were to tell you what miracle it is that has preserved it,
He held out before her eyes a little oval frame in which was set a
simple profile, a pencil outline wherein she recognised herself,
surprised to see herself so pretty, reflected, as it were, in the
magic mirror of Love. Tears came into her eyes without her knowing the
reason, an open spring whose stream beat within her chaste breast. He
"This portrait belongs to me. It was drawn for me. And yet, at the
moment of starting on this journey I have a scruple. I do not wish to
have it except from yourself. Take it, then, and if you find a
worthier friend, some one who loves you with a love deeper and more
loyal than mine, I am willing that you should give it to him."
She had regained her composure, and looking de Gery full in the face
with a serious tenderness, she said:
"If I listened only to my heart, I should feel no hesitation about my
reply: for, if you love me as you say, I am sure that I love you too.
But I am not free; I am not alone in the world. Look yonder."
She pointed to her father and her sisters, who were beckoning to them
in the distance and hastening to come up with them.
"Well, and I myself?" answered Paul quickly. "Have I not similar
duties, similar responsibilities? We are like two widowed heads of
families. Will you not love mine as much as I love yours?"
"True? is it true? You will let me stay with them? I shall be Aline
for you, and Bonne Maman for all our children? Oh! then," exclaimed
the dear creature, beaming with joy, "there is my portrait--I give it
to you! And all my soul with it, too, and forever."
THE JENKINS PEARLS
About a week after his adventure with Moessard, that new complication
in the terrible muddle of his affairs, Jansoulet, on leaving the
Chamber, one Thursday, ordered his coachman to drive him to Mora's
house. He had not paid a visit there since the scuffle in the Rue
Royale, and the idea of finding himself in the duke's presence gave
him, through his thick skin, something of the panic that agitates a
boy on his way upstairs to see the head-master after a fight in the
schoolroom. However, the embarrassment of this first interview had to
be gone through. They said in the committee-rooms that Le Merquier had
completed his report, a masterpiece of logic and ferocity, that it
meant an invalidation, and that he was bound to carry it with a high
hand unless Mora, so powerful in the Assembly, should himself
intervene and give him his word of command. A serious matter, and one
that made the Nabob's cheeks flush, while in the curved mirrors of his
brougham he studied his appearance, his courtier's smiles, trying to
think out a way of effecting a brilliant entry, one of those strokes
of good-natured effrontery which had brought him fortune with Ahmed,
and which served him likewise in his relations with the French
ambassador. All this accompanied by beatings of the heart and by those
shudders between the shoulder-blades which precede decisive actions,
even when these are settled within a gilded chariot.
When he arrived at the mansion by the river, he was much surprised to
notice that the porter on the quay, as on the days of great
receptions, was sending carriages up the Rue de Lille, in order to
keep a door free for those leaving. Rather anxious, he wondered, "What
is there going on?" Perhaps a concert given by the duchess, a charity
bazaar, some festivity from which Mora might have excluded him on
account of the scandal of his last adventure. And this anxiety was
augmented still further when Jansoulet, after having passed across the
principal court-yard amid a din of slamming doors and a dull and
continuous rumble of wheels over the sand, found himself--after
ascending the steps--in the immense entrance-hall filled by a crowd
which did not extend beyond any of the doors leading to the rooms;
centring its anxious going and coming around the porter's table, where
all the famous names of fashionable Paris were being inscribed. It
seemed as though a disastrous gust of wind had gone through the house,
carrying off a little of its calm, and allowing disquiet and danger to
filter into its comfort.
"What a misfortune!"
"Ah! it is terrible."
"And so suddenly!"
Such were the remarks that people were exchanging as they met.
An idea flashed into Jansoulet's mind:
"Is the duke ill?" he inquired of a servant.
"Ah, monsieur, he is dying! He will not live through the night!"
If the roof of the palace had fallen in upon his head he would not
have been more utterly stunned. Red lights flashed before his eyes, he
tottered, and let himself drop into a seat on a velvet-covered bench
beside the great cage of monkeys. The animals, over-excited by all
this bustle, suspended by their tails, by their little long-thumbed
hands, were hanging to the bars in groups, and came, inquisitive and
frightened, to make the most ludicrous grimaces at this big, stupefied
man as he sat staring at the marble floor, repeating aloud to himself,
"I am ruined! I am ruined!"
The duke was dying. He had been seized suddenly with illness on the
Sunday after his return from the Bois. He had felt intolerable
burnings in his bowels, which passed through his whole body, searing
as with a red-hot iron, and alternating with a cold lethargy and long
periods of coma. Jenkins, summoned at once, did not say much, but
ordered certain sedatives. The next day the pains came on again with
greater intensity and followed by the same icy torpor, also more
accentuated, as if life, torn up by the roots, were departing in
violent spasms. Among those around him, none was greatly concerned.
"The day after a visit to Saint-James Villa," was muttered in the
antechamber, and Jenkins's handsome face preserved its serenity. He
had spoken to two or three people, in the course of his morning
rounds, of the duke's indisposition, and that so lightly that nobody
had paid much attention to the matter.
Mora himself, notwithstanding his extreme weakness, although he felt
his head absolutely blank, and, as he said, "not an idea anywhere,"
was far from suspecting the gravity of his condition. It was only on
the third day, on waking in the morning, that the sight of a tiny
stream of blood, which had trickled from his mouth over his beard and
the stained pillow, had frightened this fastidious man, who had a
horror of all human ills, especially sickness, and now saw it arrive
stealthily with its pollutions, its weaknesses, and the loss of
physical self-control, the first concession made to death. Monpavon,
entering the room behind Jenkins, surprised the anxious expression of
the great seigneur faced by the terrible truth, and at the same time
was horrified by the ravages made in a few hours upon Mora's emaciated
face, in which all the wrinkles of age, suddenly evident, were mingled
with lines of suffering, and those muscular depressions which tell of
serious internal lesions. He took Jenkins aside, while the duke's
toilet necessaries were carried to him--a whole apparatus of crystal
and silver contrasting with the yellow pallor of the invalid.
"Look here, Jenkins, the duke is very ill."
"I am afraid so," said the Irishman, in a low voice.
"But what is the matter with him?"
"What he wanted, /parbleu/!" answered the other in a fury. "One cannot
be young at his age with impunity. This intrigue will cost him dear."
Some evil passion was getting the better of him but he subdued it
immediately, and, puffing out his cheeks as though his head were full
of water, he sighed deeply as he pressed the old nobleman's hands.
"Poor duke! poor duke! Ah, my friend, I am most unhappy!"
"Take care, Jenkins," said Monpavon coldly, disengaging his hands,
"you are assuming a terrible responsibility. What! is the duke as bad
as that?--ps--ps--ps-- Will you see nobody? You have arranged no
The Irishman raised his hands as if to say, "What good can it do?"
The other insisted. It was absolutely necessary that Brisset,
Jousseline, Bouchereau, all the great physicians should be called in.
"But you will frighten him."
De Monpavon expanded his chest, the one pride of the old broken-down
"/Mon Cher/, if you had seen Mora and me in the trenches of
Constantine--ps--ps. Never looked away. We don't know fear. Give
notice to your colleagues. I undertake to inform him."
The consultation took place in the evening with great privacy, the
duke having insisted on this from a singular sense of shame produced
by his illness, by that suffering which discrowned him, making him the
equal of other men. Like those African kings who hide themselves in
the recesses of their palaces to die, he would have wished that men
should believe him carried off, transfigured, become a god. Then, too,
he dreaded above all things the expressions of pity, the condolences,
the compassion with which he knew that his sick-bed would be
surrounded; the tears because he suspected them to be hypocritical,
and because, if sincere, they displeased him still more by their
He had always detested scenes, exaggerated sentiments, everything that
could move him to emotion or disturb the harmonious equilibrium of his
life. Every one knew this, and the order was to keep away from him the
distress, the misery, which from one end of France to the other flowed
towards Mora as to one of those forest refuges lighted during the
night at which all wanderers may knock. Not that he was hard to the
unfortunate; perhaps he may have been too easily moved to the pity
which he regarded as an inferior sentiment, a weakness unworthy of the
strong, and, refusing it to others, he dreaded it for himself, for the
integrity of his courage. Nobody in the palace, then, except Monpavon
and Louis the /valet de chambre/, knew of the visit of those three
personages introduced mysteriously into the Minister of State's
apartments. The duchess herself was ignorant of it. Separated from her
husband by the barriers frequently placed by the political and
fashionable life of the great world between married people, she
believed him slightly indisposed, nervous more than anything else; and
had so little suspicion of a catastrophe that at the very hour when
the doctors were mounting the great, dimly lit staircase at the other
end of the palace, her private apartments were being lit up for a
girls' dance, one of those /bals blancs/ which the ingenuity of the
idle world had begun to make fashionable in Paris.
This consultation was like all others: solemn and sinister. Doctors no
longer wear their great periwigs of the time of Moliere, but they
still assume the same gravity of the priests of Isis, of astrologers
bristling with cabalistic formulae pronounced with sage noddings of
the head, to which, for comical effect, there is only wanting the high
pointed cap of former days. In this case the scene borrowed an
imposing aspect from its setting. In the vast bed-chamber,
transformed, heightened, as it were, in dignity by the immobility of
the owner, these grave figures came forward round the bed on which the
light was concentrated, illuminating amid the whiteness of the linen
and the purple of the hangings a face worn into hollows, pale from
lips to eyes, but wrapped in serenity as in a veil, as in a shroud.
The consultants spoke in low tones, cast furtive glances as each
other, or exchanged some barbarous word, remaining impassive, without
even a frown. But this mute and reticent expression of the doctor and
magistrate, this solemnity with which science and justice hedge
themselves about to hide their frailty or ignorance, had no power to
move the duke.
Sitting up in bed, he continued to talk quietly, with the upward
glance of the eye in which it seems as if thought rises before it
finally takes wing, and Monpavon coldly followed his cue, hardening
himself against his own emotion, taking from his friend a last lesson
in "form"; while Louis, in the background, stood leaning against the
door leading to the duchess's apartment, the spectre of a silent
domestic in whom detached indifference is a duty.
The most agitated, nervous man present was Jenkins. Full of obsequious
attentions for his "illustrious colleagues," as he called them, with
his lips pursed up, he hung round their consultation and attempted to
take part in it; but the colleagues kept him at a distance and hardly
answered him, as Fagon--the Fagon of Louis XIV--might have addressed
some empiric summoned to the royal bedside. Old Bouchereau especially
had black looks for the inventor of the Jenkins pearls. Finally, when
they had thoroughly examined and questioned their patient, they
retired to deliberate among themselves in a little room with lacquered
ceilings and walls, filled by an assortment of /bric-a-brac/ the
triviality of which contrasted strangely with the importance of the
Solemn moment! Anguish of the accused awaiting the decision of his
judges--life, death, reprieve, or pardon!
With his long, white hand Mora continued to stroke his mustache with a
favourite gesture, to talk with Monpavon of the club, of the foyer of
the /Varietes/, asking news of the Chamber, how matters stood with
regard to the Nabob's election--all this coldly, without the least
affectation. Then, tired, no doubt, or fearing lest his glance,
constantly drawn to that curtain opposite him, from behind which the
sentence was to come presently, should betray the emotion which he
must have felt in the depths of his soul, he laid his head on the
pillow, closed his eyes, and did not open them again until the return
of the doctors. Still the same cold and sinister faces, veritable
physiognomies of judges having on their lips the terrible decree of
human fate, the final word which the courts pronounce fearlessly, but
which the doctors, whose science it mocks, elude, and express in
"Well, gentlemen, what says the faculty?" demanded the sick man.
There were sundry murmurs of hypocritical encouragement, vague
recommendations; then the three learned physicians hastened to depart,
eager to escape from the responsibility of this disaster. Monpavon
rushed after them. Jenkins remained at the bedside, overwhelmed by the
cruel truths which he had just heard during the consultation. In vain
had he laid his hand on his heart, quoted his famous motto; Bouchereau
had not spared him. It was not the first of the Irishman's clients
whom he had seen thus suddenly collapse; but he fervently hoped that
the death of Mora would act as a salutary warning to the world of
fashion, and that the prefect of police, after this great calamity,
would send the "dealer in cantharides" to retail his drugs on the
other side of the Channel.
The duke understood immediately that neither Jenkins nor Louis would
tell him the true issue of the consultation. He abstained, therefore,
from any insistence in his questionings of them, submitted to their
pretended confidence, affected even to share it, to believe the most
hopeful things they announced to him. But when Monpavon returned, he
summoned him to his bedside, and, confronted by the lie visible even
beneath the make-up of the decrepit old man, remarked:
"Oh, you know--no humbug! From you to me, truth. What do they say? I
am in a very bad way, eh?"
Monpavon prefaced his reply with a significant silence; then brutally,
cynically, for fear of breaking down as he spoke:
"Done for, my poor Augustus!"
The duke received the sentence full in the face without flinching.
"Ah!" he said simply.
He pulled his mustache with a mechanical gesture, but his features
remained motionless. And immediately he made up his mind.
That the poor wretch who dies in a hospital, without home or family,
without other name than the number of his bed, that he should accept
death as a deliverance or bear it as his last trial; that the old
peasant who passes away, bent double, worn out, in his dark and smoky
cellar, that he should depart without regret, savouring in advance the
taste of that fresh earth which he has so many times dug over and over
--that is intelligible. And yet how many, even among such, cling to
existence despite all their misery! how many there are who cry,
holding on to their sordid furniture and to their rags, "I don't want
to die!" and depart with nails broken and bleeding from that supreme
wrench. But here there was nothing of the kind.
To possess all, and to lose all. What a catastrophe!
In the first silence of that dreadful moment, while he heard the sound
of the music coming faintly from the duchess's ball at the other end
of the palace, whatever attached this man to life, power, honour,
wealth, all that splendour must have seemed to him already far away
and in an irrevocable past. A courage of a quite exceptional temper
must have been required to bear up under such a blow without any spur
of personal vanity. No one was present save the friend, the doctor,
the servant, three intimates acquainted with all his secrets; the
lights moved back, left the bed in shadow, and the dying man might
quite well have turned his face to the wall in lamentation of his own
fate without being noticed. But not an instant of weakness, nor of
useless demonstration. Without breaking a branch of the chestnut-trees
in the garden, without withering a flower on the great staircase of
the palace, his footsteps muffled on the thick pile of the carpets,
Death had opened the door of this man of power and signed to him
"Come!" And he answered simply, "I am ready." The true exit of a man
of the world, unforeseen, rapid, and discreet.
Man of the world! Mora was nothing if not that. Passing through life
masked, gloved, breast-plated--breast-plate of white satin, such as
the masters of fence wear on great days; preserving his fighting dress
immaculate and clean; sacrificing everything to that irreproachable
exterior which with him did duty for armour; he had determined on his
/role/ as statesman in the passage from the drawing-room to a wider
scene, and made, indeed, a statesman of the first rank on the strength
alone of his qualities as a man about town, the art of listening and
of smiling, knowledge of men, scepticism, and coolness. That coolness
did not leave him at the supreme moment.
With eyes fixed on the time, so short, which still remained to him--
for the dark visitor was in a hurry, and he could feel on his face the
draught from the door which he had not closed behind him--his one
thought now was to occupy the time well, to satisfy all the
obligations of an end like his, which must leave no devotion
unrecompensed nor compromise any friend. He gave a list of certain
persons whom he wished to see and who were sent for immediately,
summoned the head of his cabinet, and, as Jenkins ventured the opinion
that it was a great fatigue for him, said:
"Can you guarantee that I shall wake to-morrow morning? I feel strong
at this moment; let me take advantage of it."
Louis inquired whether the duchess should be informed. The duke,
before replying, listened to the sounds of music that reached his room
through the open windows from the little ball, sounds that seemed
prolonged in the night on an invisible bow, then answered:
"Let us wait a little. I have something to finish."
They brought to his bedside the little lacquered table that he might
himself sort out the letters which were to be destroyed; but feeling
his strength give way, he called Monpavon.
"Burn everything," said he to him in a faint voice; and seeing him
move towards the fireplace, where a fire was burning despite the
warmth of the season,
"No," he added, "not here. There are too many of them. Some one might
Monpavon took up the writing-table, which was not heavy, and signed to
the /valet de chambre/ to go before him with a light. But Jenkins
"Stay here, Louis; the duke may want you."
He took hold of the lamp; and moving carefully down the whole length
of the great corridor, exploring the waiting-rooms, the galleries, in
which the fireplaces proved to be filled with artificial plants and
quite emptied of ashes, they wandered like spectres in the silence and
darkness of the vast house, alive only over yonder on the right, were
pleasure was singing like a bird on a roof which is about to fall in
"There is no fire anywhere. What is to be done with all this?" they
asked each other in great embarrassment. They might have been two
thieves dragging away a chest which they did not know how to open. At
last Monpavon, out of patience, walked straight to a door, the only
one which they had not yet opened.
"/Ma foi/, so much the worse! Since we cannot burn them, we will drown
them. Hold the light, Jenkins."
And they entered.
Where were they? Saint-Simon relating the downfall of one of those
sovereign existences, the disarray of ceremonies, of dignities, of
grandeurs, caused by death and especially by sudden death, only
Saint-Simon might have found words to tell you. With his delicate,
carefully kept hands, the Marquis de Monpavon did the pumping. The
other passed to him the letters after tearing them into small pieces,
packets of letters, on satin paper, tinted, perfumed, adorned with
crests, coats of arms, small flags with devices, covered with
handwritings, fine, hurried, scrawling, entwining, persuasive; and all
those flimsy pages went whirling one over the other in eddying streams
of water which crumpled them, soiled them, washed out their tender
links before allowing them to disappear with a gurgle down the drain.
They were love-letters and of every kind, from the note of the
adventuress, "/I saw you pass yesterday in the Bois, M. le Duc/," to
the aristocratic reproaches of the last mistress but one, and the
complaints of ladies deserted, and the page, still fresh, of recent
confidences. Monpavon was in the secret of all these mysteries--put a
name on each of them: "That is Mme. Moor. Hallo! Mme. d'Athis!" A
confusion of coronets and initials, of caprices and old habits,
sullied by the promiscuity of this moment, all engulfed in the horrid
closet by the light of a lamp, with the noise of an intermittent gush
of water, departing into oblivion by a shameful road. Suddenly Jenkins
paused in his work of destruction. Two satin-gray letters trembled as
he held them in his fingers.
"Who is that?" asked Monpavon, noticing the unfamiliar handwriting and
the Irishman's nervous excitement. "Ah, doctor, if you want to read
them all, we shall never have finished."
Jenkins, his cheeks flushed, the two letters in his hand, was consumed
by a desire to carry them away, to pore over them at his ease, to
martyrize himself with delight by reading them, perhaps also to forge
out of this correspondence a weapon for himself against the imprudent
woman who had signed her name. But the rigorous correctness of the
marquis made him afraid. How could he distract his attention--get him
away? The opportunity occurred of its own accord. Among the letters, a
tiny page written in a senile and shaky hand, caught the attention of
the charlatan, who said with an ingenuous air: "Oh, oh! here is
something that does not look much like a /billet-doux. 'Mon Duc, to
the rescue--I am sinking! The Court of Exchequer has once more stuck
its nose into my affairs.'/"
"What are you reading there?" exclaimed Monpavon abruptly, snatching
the letter from his hands. And immediately, thanks to Mora's
negligence in thus allowing such private letters to lie about, the
terrible situation in which he would be left by the death of his
protector returned to his mind. In his grief, he had not yet given it
a thought. He told himself that in the midst of all his preparations
for his departure, the duke might quite possibly overlook him; and,
leaving Jenkins to complete the drowning of Don Juan's casket by
himself, he returned precipitately in the direction of the bed-
chamber. Just as he was on the point of entering, the sound of a
discussion held him back behind the lowered door-curtain. It was
Louis's voice, tearful like that of a beggar in a church-porch, trying
to move the duke to pity for his distress, and asking permission to
take certain bundles of bank-notes that lay in a drawer. Oh, how
hoarse, utterly wearied, hardly intelligible the answer, in which
there could be detected the effort of the sick man to turn over in his
bed, to bring back his vision from a far-off distance already half in
"Yes, yes; take them. But for God's sake, let me sleep--let me sleep!"
Drawers opened, closed again, a short and panting breath. Monpavon
heard no more of what was going on, and retraced his steps without
entering. The ferocious rapacity of his servant had set his pride upon
its guard. Anything rather than degradation to such a point as that.
The sleep which Mora craved for so insistently--the lethargy, to be
more accurate--lasted a whole night, and through the next morning
also, with uncertain wakings disturbed by terrible sufferings relieved
each time by soporifics. No further attempt was made to nurse him to
recovery; they tried only to soothe his last moments, to help him to
slip painlessly over that terrible last step. His eyes had opened
again during this time, but were already dimmed, fixed in the void on
floating shadows, vague forms like those a diver sees quivering in the
uncertain light under water.
In the afternoon of the Thursday, towards three o'clock, he regained
complete consciousness, and recognising Monpavon, Cardailhac, and two
or three other intimate friends, he smiled to them, and betrayed in a
sentence his only anxiety:
"What do they say about it in Paris?"
They said many things about it, different and contradictory; but very
certainly he was the only subject of conversation, and the news spread
through the town since the morning, that Mora was at his last breath,
agitated the streets, the drawing-rooms, the cafes, the workshops,
revived the question of the political situation in newspaper offices
and clubs, even in porters' lodges and on the tops of omnibuses, in
every place where the unfolded public newspapers commented on this
startling rumour of the day.
Mora was the most brilliant incarnation of the Empire. One sees from a
distance, not the solid or insecure base of the building, but the
gilded and delicate spire, embellished, carved into hollow tracery,
added for the satisfaction of the age. Mora was what was seen in
France and throughout Europe of the Empire. If he fell, the monument
would find itself bereft of all its elegance, split as by some long
and irreparable crack. And how many lives would be dragged down by
that sudden fall, how many fortunes undermined by the weakened
reverberations of the catastrophe! None so completely as that of the
big man sitting motionless downstairs, on the bench in the monkey-
For the Nabob, this death was his own death, the ruin, the end of all
things. He was so deeply conscious of it that, when he entered the
house, on learning the hopeless condition of the duke, no expression
of pity, no regrets of any sort, had escaped him, only the ferocious
word of human egoism, "I am ruined!" And this word kept recurring to
his lips; he repeated it mechanically each time that he awoke suddenly
afresh to all the horror of his situation, as in those dangerous
mountain storms, when a sudden flash of lightning illumines the abyss
to its depths, showing the wounding spurs and the bushes on its sides,
ready to tear and scratch the man who should fall.
The rapid clairvoyance which accompanies cataclysms spared him no
detail. He saw the invalidation of his election almost certain, now
that Mora would no longer be there to plead his cause; then the
consequences of the defeat--bankruptcy, poverty, and still worse; for
when these incalculable riches collapse they always bury a little of a
man's honour beneath their ruins. But how many briers, how many
thorns, how many cruel scratches and wounds before arriving at the
end! In a week there would be the Schwalbach bills--that is to say,
eight hundred thousand francs--to pay; indemnity for Moessard, who
wanted a hundred thousand francs, or as the alternative he would apply
for the permission of the Chamber to prosecute him for a misdemeanour,
a suit still more sinister instituted by the families of two little
martyrs of Bethlehem against the founders of the Society; and, on top
of all, the complications of the Territorial Bank. There was one
solitary hope, the mission of Paul de Gery to the Bey, but so vague,
so chimerical, so remote!
"Ah, I am ruined! I am ruined!"
In the immense entrance-hall no one noticed his distress. The crowd of
senators, of deputies, of councillors of state, all the high officials
of the administration, came and went around him without seeing him,
holding mysterious consultations with uneasy importance near the two
fireplaces of white marble which faced one another. So many ambitions
disappointed, deceived, hurled down, met in this visit /in extremis/,
that personal anxieties dominated every other preoccupation.
The faces, strangely enough, expressed neither pity nor grief, rather
a sort of anger. All these people seemed to have a grudge against the
duke for dying, as though he had deserted them. One heard remarks of
this kind: "It is not surprising, with such a life as he has lived!"
And looking out of the high windows, these gentlemen pointed out to
each other, amid the going and coming of the equipages in the court-
yard, the drawing up of some little brougham from within which a well-
gloved hand, with its lace sleeve brushing the sash of the door, would
hold out a card with a corner turned back to the footman.
From time to time one of the /habitues/ of the palace, one of those
whom the dying man had summoned to his bedside, appeared in the
medley, gave an order, then went away, leaving the scared expression
of his face reflected on twenty others. Jenkins showed himself thus
for a moment, with his cravat untied, his waistcoat unbuttoned, his
cuffs crumpled, in all the disorder of the battle in which he was
engaged upstairs against a terrible opponent. He was instantly
surrounded, besieged with questions.
Certainly the monkeys flattening their short noses against the bars of
their cage, excited by the unaccustomed tumult, and very attentive to
all that passed about them as though they were occupied in making a
methodical study of human hypocrisy, had a magnificent model in the
Irish physician. His grief was superb, a splendid grief, masculine and
strong, which compressed his lips and made him pant.
"The agony has begun," he said mournfully. "It is only a matter of
And as Jansoulet came towards him, he said to him emphatically:
"Ah, my friend, what a man! What courage! He has forgotten nobody.
Only just now he was speaking to me of you."
" 'The poor Nabob,' said he, 'how does the affair of his election
And that was all. The duke had added no further word.
Jansoulet bowed his head. What had he been hoping? Was it not enough
that at such a moment a man like Mora had given him a thought? He
returned and sat down on his bench, falling back into the stupor which
had been galvanized by one moment of mad hope, and remained until,
without his noticing it, the hall had become nearly deserted. He did
not remark that he was the only and last visitor left, until he heard
the men-servants talking aloud in the waning light of the evening:
"For my part, I've had enough of it. I shall leave service."
"I shall stay on with the duchess."
And these projects, these arrangements some hours in advance of death,
condemned the noble duke still more surely than the faculty.
The Nabob understood then that it was time for him to go, but, first,
he wished to inscribe his name in the visitors' book kept by the
porter. He went up to the table, and leaned over it to see distinctly.
The page was full. A blank space was pointed out to him below a
signature in a very small, spidery hand, such as is frequently written
by very fat fingers, and when he had signed, it proved to be the name
of Hemerlingue dominating his own, crushing it, clasping it round with
insidious flourish. Superstitious, like the true Latin he was, he was
struck by this omen, and went away frightened by it.
Where should he dine? At the club? Place Vendome? To hear still more
talk of this death that obsessed him! He preferred to go somewhere by
chance, walking straight before him, like all those who are a prey to
some fixed idea which they hope to conjure away by rapid movement. The
evening was warm, the air full of sweet scents. He walked along the
quays, and reached the trees of the Cours-la-Reine, then found himself
breathing that air in which is mingled the freshness of watered roads
and the odour of fine dust so characteristic of summer evenings in
Paris. At that hour all was deserted. Here and there chandeliers were
being lighted for the concerts, blazes of gaslight flared among the
green trees. A sound of glasses and plates from a restaurant gave him
the idea of going in.
The strong man was hungry despite all his troubles. He was served
under a veranda with glazed walls backed by shrubs, and facing the
great porch of the Palais de l'Industrie, where the duke, in the
presence of a thousand people, had greeted him as a deputy. The
refined, aristocratic face rose before his memory in the darkness of
the sky, while he could see it also as it lay over yonder on the
funereal whiteness of the pillow; and suddenly, as he ran his eye over
the bill of fare presented to him by the waiter, he noticed with
stupefaction that it bore the date of the 20th of May. So a month had
not elapsed since the opening of the exhibition. It seemed to him like
ten years ago. Gradually, however, the warmth of the meal cheered him.
In the corridor he could hear waiters talking:
"Has anybody heard news of Mora? It appears he is very ill."
"Nonsense! He will get over it, you will see. Men like him get all the
And so deeply is hope implanted in the human soul, that, despite what
Jansoulet had himself seen and heard, these few words, helped by two
bottles of burgundy and a few glasses of cognac, sufficed to restore
his courage. After all, people had been known to recover from
illnesses quite as desperate. Doctors often exaggerate the ill in
order to get more credit afterward for curing it. "Suppose I called to
inquire." He made his way back towards the house, full of illusion,
trusting to that chance which had served him so many times in his
life. And indeed the aspect of the princely abode had something about
it to fortify his hope. It presented the reassuring and tranquil
appearance of ordinary evenings, from the avenue with its lights at
long intervals, majestic and deserted, to the steps where stood
waiting a huge carriage of old-fashioned shape.
In the antechamber, peaceful also, two enormous lamps were burning. A
footman slept in a corner; the porter was reading before the
fireplace. He looked at the new arrival over his spectacles, made no
remark, and Jansoulet dared ask no question. Piles of newspapers lying
on the table in their wrappers, addressed to the duke, seemed to have
been thrown there as useless. The Nabob took up one of them, opened
it, and tried to read, but quick and gliding steps, a muttered
chanting, made him lift his eyes, and he saw a white-haired and bent
old man, decked out in lace as though he had been an altar, who was
praying aloud as he departed with a long priestly stride, his ample
red cassock spreading in a train over the carpet. It was the
Archbishop of Paris, accompanied by two assistants. The vision, with
its murmur as of an icy north wind, passed quickly before Jansoulet,
plunged into the great carriage and disappeared, carrying away with it
his last hope.
"Doing the right thing, /mon cher/," remarked Monpavon, appearing
suddenly at his side. "Mora is an epicurean, brought up in the ideas
of how do you say--you know--what is it you call it? Eighteenth
century. Very bad for the masses, if a man in his position--ps--ps--
ps-- Ah, he is the master who sets us all an example--ps--ps--
"Then, it is all over?" said Jansoulet, overwhelmed. "There is no
longer any hope?"
Monpavon signed to him to listen. A carriage rolled heavily along the
avenue on the quay. The visitors' bell rang sharply several times in
succession. The marquis counted aloud: "One, two, three, four." At the
fifth he rose:
"No more hope now. Here comes the other," said he, alluding to the
Parisian superstition that a visit from the sovereign was always fatal
to dying persons. From every side the lackeys hastened up, opened the
doors wide, ranged themselves in line, while the porter, his hat
cocked forward and his staff resounding on the marble floor, announced
the passage of two august shadows, of whom Jansoulet only caught a
confused glimpse behind the liveried domestics, but whom he saw beyond
a long perspective of open doors climbing the great staircase,
preceded by a footman bearing a candelabrum. The woman ascended, erect
and proud, enveloped in a black Spanish mantilla; the man supported
himself by the baluster, slower in his movements and tired, the collar
of his light overcoat turned up above a rather bent back, which was
shaken by a convulsive sob.
"Let us be off, Nabob. Nothing more to be done here," said the old
beau, taking Jansoulet by the arm and drawing him outside. He paused
on the threshold, with raised hand, making a little gesture of
farewell in the direction of the man who lay dying upstairs. "Good-bye
old fellow!" The gesture and the tone were polite, irreproachable, but
the voice trembled a little.
The club in the Rue Royale, which was famous for its gambling parties,
rarely saw one so desperate as the gaming of that night. It commenced
at eleven o'clock and was still going on at five in the morning.
Enormous sums were scattered over the green cloth, changing hands,
moved now to one side, now to the other, heaped up, distributed,
regained. Fortunes were engulfed in this monster play, at the end of
which the Nabob, who had started it to forget his terrors in the
hazards of chance, after singular alternations and runs of luck enough
to turn the hair of a beginner white, retired with winnings amounting
to five hundred thousand francs. On the boulevard the next day they
said five millions, and everybody cried out on the scandal, especially
the /Messenger/, three-quarters filled by an article against certain
adventurers tolerated in the clubs, and who cause the ruin of the most
Alas! what Jansoulet had won hardly represented enough to meet the
first Schwalbach bills.
During this wild play, of which Mora was, however, the involuntary
cause, and, as it were, the soul, his name was not once uttered.
Neither Cardailhac nor Jenkins put in an appearance. Monpavon had
taken to his bed, stricken more deeply than he wished it to be
thought. Nobody had any news.
"Is he dead?" Jansoulet said to himself as he left the club; and he
felt a desire to make a call to inquire before going home. It was no
longer hope that urged him, but that sort of morbid and nervous
curiosity which after a great fire leads the smitten unfortunate
people, ruined and homeless, back to the wreck of their dwellings.
Although it was still very early, and a pink mist of dawn hung in the
sky, the whole mansion stood open as if for a solemn departure. The
lamps still smoked over the fire-places, dust floated about the rooms.
The Nabob advanced amid an inexplicable solitude of desertion to the
first floor, where at last he heard a voice he knew, that of
Cardailhac, who was dictating names, and the scratching of pens over
paper. The clever stage-manager of the festivities in honour of the
Bey was organizing with the same ardour the funeral pomps of the Duc
de Mora. What activity! His excellency had died during the evening;
when morning came already ten thousand letters were being printed, and
everybody in the house who could hold a pen was busy with the writing
of the addresses. Without passing through these improvised offices,
Jansoulet reached the waiting-room, ordinarily so crowded, to-day with
all its arm-chairs empty. In the middle, on a table, lay the hat,
cane, and gloves of M. le Duc, always ready in case he should go out
unexpectedly, so as to save him even the trouble of giving an order.
The objects that we always wear keep about them something of
ourselves. The curve of the hat suggested that of the mustache; the
light-coloured gloves were ready to grasp the supple and strong
Chinese cane; the total effect was one of life and energy, as if the
duke were about to appear, stretch out his hand while talking, take up
those things, and go out.
Oh, no. M. le Duc was not going out. Jansoulet had but to approach the
half-open door of the bed-chamber to see on the bed, raised three
steps--always the platform even after death--a rigid, haughty form, a
motionless and aged profile, metamorphosed by the beard's growth of a
night, quite gray; near the sloping pillow, kneeling and burying her
head in the white drapery, was a woman, whose fair hair lay in rippled
disorder, ready to fall beneath the shears of eternal widowhood; then
a priest and a nun, gathered in this atmosphere of watch by the dead,
in which are mingled the fatigue of sleepless nights and the murmurs
The chamber in which so many ambitions had strengthened their wings,
so many hopes and disappointments had throbbed, was wholly given over
now to the peace of passing Death. Not a sound, not a sigh. Only,
notwithstanding the early hour, away yonder, towards the Pont de la
Concorde, a little clarinet, shrill and sharp, could be heard above
the rumbling of the first vehicles; but its exasperating mockery was
henceforth lost on him who lay there asleep, showing to the terrified
Nabob an image of his own destiny, chilled, discoloured, ready for the
Others besides Jansoulet found that death-chamber lugubrious: the
windows wide open, the night and the wind entering freely from the
garden, making a strong draught; a human form on a table; the body,
which had just been embalmed; the hollow skull filled with a sponge,
the brain in a basin. The weight of this brain of a statesman was
truly extraordinary. It weighed--it weighed--the newspapers of the
period mentioned the figure. But who remembers it to-day?
"Don't weep, my fairy, you rob me of all my courage. Come, you will be
a great deal happier when you no longer have your terrible demon. You
will go back to Fontainebleau and look after your chickens. The ten
thousand francs from Brahim will help to get you settled down. And
then, don't be afraid, once you are over there I shall send you money.
Since this Bey wants to have sculpture done by me, he will have to pay
for it, as you may imagine. I shall return rich, rich. Who knows?
Perhaps a sultana."
"Yes, you will be a sultana, but I--I shall be dead and I shall never
see you again." And the good Crenmitz in despair huddled herself into
a corner of the cab so that she would not be seen weeping.
Felicia was leaving Paris. She was trying to escape the horrible
sadness, the sinister disgust into which Mora's death had thrown her.
What a terrible blow for the proud girl! /Ennui/, pique, had thrown
her into this man's arms; she had given him pride--modesty--all; and
now he had carried all away with him, leaving her tarnished for life,
a tearless widow, without mourning and without dignity. Two or three
visits to Saint-James Villa, a few evenings in the back of some box at
some small theatre, behind the curtain that shelters forbidden and
shameful pleasure, these were the only memories left to her by this
liaison of a fortnight, this loveless intrigue wherein her pride had
not found even the satisfaction of the commotion caused by a big
scandal. The useless and indelible stain, the stupid fall of a woman
who does not know how to walk and who is embarrassed in her rising by
the ironical pity of the passers-by.
For a moment she thought of suicide, then the reflection that it would
be set down to a broken heart arrested her. She saw in a glance the
sentimental compassion of the drawing-rooms, the foolish figure that
her sham passion would cut among the innumberable love affairs of the
duke, and the Parma violets scattered by the pretty Moessards of
journalism on her grave, dug so near the other. Travelling remained to
her--one of those journeys so distant that they take even one's
thoughts into a new world. Unfortunately the money was wanting. Then
she remembered that on the morrow of her great success at the
Exhibition, old Brahim Bey had called to see her, to make her, in
behalf of his master, magnificent proposals for certain great works to
be executed in Tunis. She had said No at the time, without allowing
herself to be tempted by Oriental remuneration, a splendid
hospitality, the finest court in the Bardo for a studio, with its
surrounding facades of stone in lacework carving. But now she was
quite willing. She had to make but a sign, the agreement was
immediately concluded, and after an exchange of telegrams, a hasty
packing and shutting up of the house, she set out for the railway
station as if for a week's absence, astonished herself by her prompt
decision, flattered on all the adventurous and artistic sides of her
nature by the hope of a new life in an unknown country.
The Bey's pleasure yacht was to await her at Genoa; and in
anticipation, closing her eyes in the cab which was taking her to the
station, she could see the white stone buildings of an Italian port
embracing an iridescent sea where the sunshine was already Eastern,
where everything sang, to the very swelling of the sails on the blue
water. Paris, as it happened, was muddy that day, uniformly gray,
flooded by one of those continuous rains of which it seems to have the
special property, rains that seem to have risen in clouds from its
river, from its smoke, from its monster's breath, and to fall in
torrents from its roofs, from its spouts, from the innumerable windows
of its garrets. Felicia was impatient to get away from this gloomy
Paris, and her feverish impatience found fault with the cabmen who
made slow progress with the horses, two sorry creatures of the
veritable cab-horse type, with an inexplicable block of carriages and
omnibuses crowded together in the vicinity of the Pont de la Concorde.
"But go on, driver, go on, then."
"I cannot, madame. It is the funeral procession."
She put her head out of the window and drew it back again immediately,
terrified. A line of soldiers marching with reversed arms, a confusion
of caps and hats raised from the forehead at the passage of an endless
cortege. It was Mora's funeral procession defiling past.
"Don't stop here. Go round," she cried to the cabman.
The vehicle turned about with difficulty, dragging itself regretfully
from the superb spectacle which Paris had been awaiting for four days;
it remounted the avenues, took the Rue Montaigne, and, with its slow
and surly little trot, came out at the Madeleine by the Boulevard
Malesherbes. Here the crowd was greater, more compact.
In the misty rain, the illuminated stained-glass windows of the
church, the dull echo of the funeral chants beneath the lavishly
distributed black hangings under which the very outline of the Greek
temple was lost, filled the whole square with a sense of the office in
course of celebration, while the greater part of the immense
procession was still squeezed up in the Rue Royale, and as far even as
the bridges a long black line connecting the dead man with that gate
of the Legislative Assembly through which he had so often passed.
Beyond the Madeleine the highway of the boulevard stretched away
empty, and looking bigger between two lines of soldiers with arms
reversed, confining the curious to the pavements black with people,
all the shops closed, and the balconies, in spite of the rain,
overflowing with human beings all leaning forward in the direction of
the church, as if to see a mid-Lent festival or the home-coming of
victorious troops. Paris, hungry for the spectacular, constructs it
indifferently out of anything, civil war as readily as the burial of a
It was necessary for the cab to retrace its course again and to make a
new circuit; and it is easy to imagine the bad temper of the driver
and his beasts, all three of them Parisian in soul and passions, at
having to deprive themselves of so fine a show. Then, as all the life
of Paris had been drawn into the great artery of the boulevard, there
began through the deserted and silent streets--a capricious and
irregular drive--the snail-like progress of a cab taken by the hour.
First touching the extreme points of the Faubourg Saint-Martin and the
Faubourg Saint-Denis, returning again towards the centre, and at the
conclusion of circuits and dodges finding always the same obstacle in
ambush, the same crowd, some fragment of the black defile perceived
for a moment at the branching of a street, unfolding itself in the
rain to the sound of muffled drums--a dull and heavy sound, like that
of earth falling on a coffin-lid.
What torture for Felicia! It was her weakness and her remorse crossing
Paris in this solemn pomp, this funeral train, this public mourning
reflected by the very clouds; and the proud girl revolted against this
affront done her by fate, and tried to escape from it to the back of
the carriage, where she remained exhausted with eyes closed, while old
Crenmitz, believing her nervousness to be grief, did her best to
comfort her, herself wept over their separation, and hiding also, left
the entire window of the cab to the big Algerian hound with his finely
modelled head scenting the wind, and his two paws resting in the sash
with an heraldic stiffness of pose. Finally, after a thousand
interminable windings, the cab suddenly came to a halt, jolted on
again with difficulty amid cries and abuse, then, tossed about, the
luggage on top threatening its equilibrium, it ended by coming to a
full stop, held prisoner, as it were, at anchor.
"/Bon Dieu!/ what a mass of people!" murmured the Crenmitz, terrified.
Felicia came out of her stupor.
"Where are we?"
Under a colourless, smoky sky, blotted out by a fine network of rain
and stretched like gauze over everything, there lay an immense space
filled by an ocean of humanity surging from all the streets that led
to it, and motionless around a lofty column of bronze, which dominated
this sea like the gigantic mast of a sunken vessel. Cavalry in
squadrons, with swords drawn, guns in batteries stood at intervals
along an open passage, awaiting him who was to come by, perhaps in
order to try to retake him, to carry him off by force from the
formidable enemy who was bearing him away. Alas! all the cavalry
charges, all the guns could be of no avail here. The prisoner was
departing, firmly guarded, defended by a triple wall of hardwood,
metal, and velvet, impervious to grape-shot; and it was not from those
soldiers that he could hope for his deliverance.
"Get away from this. I will not stay here," said Felicia, furious,
plucking at the wet box-coat of the driver, and seized by a wild dread
at the thought of the nightmare which was pursuing her, of /that/
which she could hear coming in a frightful rumbling, still distant,
but growing nearer from minute to minute. At the first movement of the
wheels, however, the cries and shouts broke out anew. Thinking that he
would be allowed to cross the square, the driver had penetrated with
great difficulty to the front ranks of the crowd; it now closed behind
him and refused to allow him to go forward. There they had to remain,
to endure those odours of common people and of alcohol, those curious
glances, already fired by the prospect of an exceptional spectacle.
They stared rudely at the beautiful traveller who was starting off
with so many trunks, and a dog of such size for her defender. Crenmitz
was horribly afraid; Felicia, for her part, could think of only one
thing, and that was that /he/ was about to pass before her eyes, that
she would be in the front rank to see him.
Suddenly a great shout "Here it comes!" Then silence fell on the whole
square at last at the end of three weary hours of waiting.
Felicia's first impulse was to lower the blind on her side, on the
side past which the procession was about to pass. But at the rolling
of the drums close at hand, seized by the nervous wrath at her
inability to escape the obsession of the thing, perhaps also infected
by the morbid curiosity around her, she suddenly let the blind fly up,
and her pale and passionate little face showed itself at the window,
supported by her two clinched hands.
"There! since you will have it: I am watching you."
As a funeral it was as fine a thing as can be seen, the supreme
honours rendered in all their vain splendour, as sonorous, as hollow
as the rhythmic accompaniment on the muffled drums. First the white
surplices of the clergy, amid the mourning drapery of the first five
carriages; next, drawn by six black horses, veritable horses of
Erebus, there advanced the funeral car, all beplumed, fringed and
embroidered in silver, with big tears, heraldic coronets surmounting
gigantic M's, prophetic initials which seemed those of Death himself,
/La Mort/ made a duchess decorated with the eight waving plumes. So
many canopies and massive hangings hid the vulgar body of the hearse,
as it trembled and quivered at each step from top to bottom as though
crushed beneath the majesty of its dead burden. On the coffin, the
sword, the coat, the embroidered hat, parade undress--which had never
been worn--shone with gold and mother-of-pearl in the darkened little
tent formed by the hangings and among the bright tints of fresh
flowers telling of spring in spite of the sullenness of the sky. At a
distance of ten paces came the household servants of the duke; then,
behind, in majestic isolation, the cloaked officer bearing the emblems
of honour--a veritable display of all the orders of the whole world--
crosses, multicoloured ribbons, which covered to overflowing the
cushion of black velvet with silver fringe.
The master of ceremonies came next, in front of the representatives of
the Legislative Assembly--a dozen deputies chosen by lot, among them
the tall figure of the Nabob, wearing the official costume for the
first time, as if ironical Fortune had desired to give to the
representative on probation a foretaste of all parliamentary joys. The
friends of the dead man, who followed, formed a rather small group,
singularly well chosen to exhibit in its crudity the superficiality
and the void of that existence of a great personage reduced to the
intimacy of a theatrical manager thrice bankrupt, of a picture-dealer
grown wealthy through usuary, of a nobleman of tarnished reputation,
and of a few men about town without distinction. Up to this point
everybody was walking on foot and bareheaded; among the parliamentary
representatives there were only a few black skull-caps, which had been
put on timidly as they approached the populous districts. After them
the carriages began.
At the death of a great warrior it is the custom for the funeral
convoy to be followed by the favourite horse of the hero, his battle
charger, regulating to the slow step of the procession that dancing
step excited by the smell of powder and the pageantry of standards. In
this case, Mora's great brougham, that "C-spring" which used to bear
him to fashionable or political gatherings, took the place of that
companion in victory, its panels draped with black, its lamps veiled
in long streamers of light crape, floating to the ground with
undulating feminine grace. These veiled lamps constituted a new
fashion for funerals--the supreme "chic" of mourning; and it well
became this dandy to give a last lesson in elegance to the Parisians,
who flocked to his obsequies as to a "Longchamps" of death.
Three more masters of ceremony; then came the impassive official
procession, always the same for marriages, deaths, baptisms, openings
of Parliament, or receptions of sovereigns, the interminable cortege
of glittering carriages, with large windows and showy liveries
bedizened with gilt, which passed through the midst of the dazzled
people, to whom they recalled fairy-tales, Cinderella chariots, while
evoking those "Oh's!" of admiration that mount and die away with the
rockets on the evenings of firework displays. And in the crowd there
was always to be found some good-natured policeman, some learned
little grocer sauntering round on the lookout for public ceremonies,
ready to name in a loud voice all the people in the carriages, as they
defiled past, with their regulation escorts of dragoons, cuirassiers,
or Paris guards.
First the representatives of the Emperor, the Empress and all the
Imperial family; after these, in the hierarchic order, cunningly
elaborated, and the least infraction of which might have been the
cause of grave conflicts between the various departments of the State
--the members of the Privy Council, the Marshals, the Admirals, the
High Chancellor of the Legion of Honour; then the Senate, the
Legislative Assembly, the Council of State, the whole organization of
the law and of the university, the costumes, the ermine, the headgear
of which took you back to the days of old Paris--an air of something
stately and antiquated, out of date in our sceptical epoch of the
workman's blouse and the dress-coat.
Felicia, to avoid her thoughts, voluntarily fixed her eyes upon this
monotonous defile, exasperating in its length; and little by little a
torpor stole over her, as if on a rainy day she had been turning over
the leaves of an album of engravings, a history of official costumes
from the most remote times down to our own day. All these people, seen
in profile, still and upright, behind the large glass panes of the
carriage windows, had indeed the appearance of personages in coloured
plates, sitting well forward on the edge of the seats in order that
the spectators should miss nothing of their golden embroideries, their
palm-leaves, their galloons, their braids--puppets given over to the
curiosity of the crowd--and exposing themselves to it with an air of
indifference and detachment.
Indifference! That was the most special characteristic of this
funeral. It was to be felt everywhere, on people's faces and in their
hearts, as well among these functionaries of whom the greater part had
only known the duke by sight, as in the ranks on foot between his
hearse and his brougham, his closest friends, or those who had been in
daily attendance upon him. The fat minister, Vice-President of the
Council, seemed indifferent, and even glad, as he held in his powerful
fist the strings of the pall and seemed to draw it forward, in more
haste than the horses and the hearse to conduct to his six feet of
earth the enemy of twenty years' standing, the eternal rival, the
obstacle to all his ambitions. The other three dignitaries did not
advance with the same vigour, and the long cords floated loosely in
their weary or careless hands with significant slackness. The priests
were indifferent by profession. Indifferent were the servants of his
household, whom he never called anything but "/chose/," and whom he
treated really like "things." Indifferent was M. Louis, for whom it
was the last day of servitude, a slave become emancipated, rich enough
to enjoy his ransom. Even among the intimate friends of the dead man
this glacial cold had penetrated. Yet some of them had been deeply
attached to him. But Cardailhac was too busy superintending the order
and the progress of the procession to give way to the least emotion,
which would, besides, have been foreign to his nature. Old Monpavon,
stricken to the heart, would have considered the least bending of his
linen cuirass and of his tall figure a piece of deplorably bad taste,
totally unworthy of his illustrious friend. His eyes remained as dry
and glittering as ever, since the undertakers provide the tears for
great mournings, embroidered in silver on black cloth. Some one was
weeping, however, away yonder among the members of the committee; but
he was expending his compassion very naively upon himself. Poor Nabob!
softened by that music and splendour, it seemed to him that he was
burying all his ambitions of glory and dignity. And his was but one
more variety of indifference.
Among the public, the enjoyment of a fine spectacle, the pleasure of
turning a week-day into a Sunday, dominated every other sentiment.
Along the line of the boulevards, the spectators on the balconies
almost seemed disposed to applaud; here, in the populous districts,
irreverence was still more frankly manifest. Jests, blackguardly wit
at the expense of the dead man and his doings, known to all Paris,
laughter raised by the tall hats of the rabbis, the pass-word of the
council experts, all were heard in the air between two rolls of the
drum. Poverty, forced labour, with its feet in the wet, wearing its
blouse, its apron, its cap raised from habit, with sneering chuckle
watched this inhabitant of another sphere pass by, this brilliant
duke, severed now from all his honours, who perhaps while living had
never paid a visit to that end of the town. But there it is. To arrive
up yonder, where everybody has to go, the common route must be taken,
the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the Rue de la Roquette as far as that
great gate where the /octroi/ is collected and the infinite begins.
And well! it does one good to see that lordly persons like Mora,
dukes, ministers, follow the same road towards the same destination.
This equality in death consoles for many of the injustices of life.
To-morrow bread will seem less dear, wine better, the workman's tool
less heavy, when he will be able to say to himself as he rises in the
morning, "That old Mora, he has come to it like the rest!"
The procession still went on, more fatiguing even than lugubrious. Now
it consisted of choral societies, deputations from the army and the
navy, officers of all descriptions, pressing on in a troop in advance
of a long file of empty vehicles--mourning-coaches, private carriages
--present for reasons of etiquette. Then the troops followed in their
turn, and into the sordid suburb, that long Rue de la Roquette,
already swarming with people as far as eye could reach, there plunged
a whole army, foot-soldiers, dragoons, lancers, carabineers, heavy
guns with their great mouths in the air, ready to bark, making
pavement and windows tremble, but not able to drown the rolling of the
drums--a sinister and savage rolling which suggested to Felicia's
imagination some funeral of an African chief, at which thousands of
sacrificed victims accompany the soul of a prince so that it shall not
pass alone into the kingdom of spirits, and made her fancy that
perhaps this pompous and interminable retinue was about to descend and
disappear in the superhuman grave large enough to receive the whole of
"/Now and in the hour of our death. Amen/," Crenmitz murmured, while
the cab swayed from side to side in the lighted square, and high in
space the golden statue of Liberty seemed to be taking a magic flight;
and the old dancer's prayer was perhaps the one note of sincere
feeling called forth on the immense line of the funeral procession.
All the speeches are over; three long speeches as icy as the vault
into which the dead man has just descended, three official
declamations which, above all, have provided the orators with an
opportunity of giving loud voice to their own devotion to the
interests of the dynasty. Fifteen times the guns have roused the many
echoes of the cemetery, shaken the wreaths of jet and everlasting
flowers--the light /ex-voto/ offerings suspended at the corners of the
monuments--and while a reddish mist floats and rolls with a smell of
gunpowder across the city of the dead, ascends and mingles slowly with
the smoke of factories in the plebeian district, the innumerable
assembly disperses also, scattered through the steep streets, down the
lofty steps all white among the foliage, with a confused murmur, a
rippling as of waves over rocks. Purple robes, black robes, blue and
green coats, shoulder-knots of gold, slender swords, of whose safety
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