Part 7 out of 8
the wearers assure themselves with their hands as they walk, all
hasten to regain their carriages. People exchange low bows, discreet
smiles, while the mourning-coaches tear down the carriage-ways at a
gallop, revealing long lines of black coachmen, with backs bent, hats
tilted forward, the box-coats flying in the wind made by their rapid
The general impression is one of thankfulness to have reached the end
of a long and fatiguing performance, a legitimate eagerness to quit
the administrative harness and ceremonial costumes, to unbuckle
sashes, to loosen stand-up collars and neckbands, to slacken the
tension of facial muscles, which had been subject to long restraint.
Heavy and short, dragging along his swollen legs with difficulty,
Hemerlingue was hastening towards the exit, declining the offers which
were made to him of a seat in this or that carriage, since he knew
well that his own alone was of size adequate to cope with his
"Baron, Baron, this way. There is room for you."
"No, thank you. I want to walk to straighten my legs."
And to avoid these invitations, which were beginning to embarrass him,
he took an almost deserted pathway, one that proved too deserted
indeed, for hardly had he taken a step along it before he regretted
it. Ever since entering the cemetery he had had but one preoccupation
--the fear of finding himself face to face with Jansoulet, whose
violence of temper he knew, and who might well forget the sacredness
of the place, and even in Pere Lachaise renew the scandal of the Rue
Royale. Two or three times during the ceremony he had seen the great
head of his old chum emerge from among the crowd of insignificant
types which largely composed the company and move in his direction, as
though seeking him and desiring a meeting. Down there, in the main
road, there would, at any rate, have been people about in case of
trouble, while here--Brr-- It was this anxiety that made him quicken
his short step, his panting breaths, but in vain. As he looked round,
in his fear of being followed, the strong, erect shoulders of the
Nabob appeared at the entrance to the path. Impossible for the big man
to slip away through one of the narrow passages left between the
tombs, which are placed so close together that there is not even space
to kneel. The damp, rich soil slipped and gave way beneath his feet.
He decided to walk on with an air of indifference, hoping that perhaps
the other might not recognise him. But a hoarse and powerful voice
cried behind him:
His name--the name of this rich man--was Lazarus. He made no reply,
but tried to catch up a group of officers who were moving on, very far
in front of him.
"Lazarus! Oh, Lazarus!"
Just as in old times on the quay of Marseilles. Under the influence of
old habit he was tempted to stop; then the remembrance of his
infamies, of all the ill he had done the Nabob, that he was still
occupied in doing him, came back to him suddenly with a horrible fear
so strong that it amounted to a paroxysm, when an iron hand laid hold
of him unceremoniously. A sweat of terror broke out over all his
flabby limbs, his face became still more yellow, his eyes blinked in
anticipation of the formidable blow which he expected to come, while
his fat arms were instinctively raised to ward it off.
"Oh, don't be afraid. I wish you no harm," said Jansoulet sadly. "Only
I have come to beg you to do no more to me."
He stooped to breathe. The banker, bewildered and frightened, opened
wide his round owl's eyes in presence of this suffocating emotion.
"Listen, Lazarus; it is you who are the stronger in this war we have
been waging on each other for so long. I am down; yes, down. My
shoulders have touched the ground. Now, be generous; spare your old
chum. Give me quarter; come, give me quarter.
This southerner was trembling, defeated and softened by the emotional
display of the funeral ceremony. Hemerlingue, as he stood facing him,
was hardly more courageous. The gloomy music, the open grave, the
speeches, the cannonade of that lofty philosophy of inevitable death,
all these things had worked on the feelings of this fat baron. The
voice of his old comrade completed the awakening of whatever there
remained of human in that packet of gelatine.
His old chum! It was the first time for ten years--since their quarrel
--that he had seen him so near. How many things were recalled to him
by those sun-tanned features, those broad shoulders, so ill adapted
for the wearing of embroidered coats! The thin woollen rug full of
holes, in which they used to wrap themselves both to sleep on the
bridge of the /Sinai/, the food shared in brotherly fashion, the
wanderings through the burned-up country round Marseilles, where they
used to steal big onions and eat them raw by the side of some ditch,
the dreams, the schemings, the pence put into a common fund, and, when
fortune had begun to smile on them, the fun they had had together,
those excellent quiet little suppers over which they would tell each
other everything, with their elbows on the table.
How can one ever reach the point of seriously quarrelling when one
knows the other so well, when they have lived together like two twins
at the breast of the lean and strong nurse, Poverty, sharing her sour
milk and her rough caresses! These thoughts passed through
Hemerlingue's mind like a flash of lightning. Almost instinctively he
let his heavy hand fall into the one which the Nabob was holding out
to him. Something of the primitive animal was roused in them,
something stronger than their enmity, and these two men, each of whom
for ten years had been trying to bring the other to ruin and disgrace,
fell to talking without any reserve.
Generally, between friends newly met, after the first effusions are
over, a silence comes as if they had no more to tell each other, while
it is in reality the abundance of things, their precipitate rush, that
prevents them from finding utterance. The two chums had touched that
condition; but Jansoulet kept a tight grasp on the banker's arm,
fearing to see him escape and resist the kindly impulse he had just
"You are not in a hurry, are you? We can take a little walk, if you
like. It has stopped raining, the air is pleasant; one feels twenty
"Yes, it is pleasant," said Hemerlingue; "only I cannot walk for long;
my legs are heavy."
"True, your poor legs. See, there is a bench over there. Let us go and
sit down. Lean on me, old friend."
And the Nabob, with brotherly aid, led him to one of those benches
dotted here and there among the tombs, on which those inconsolable
mourners rest who make the cemetery their usual walk and abode. He
settled him in his seat, gazed upon him tenderly, pitied him for his
infirmity, and, following what was quite a natural channel in such a
spot, they came to talking of their health, of the old age that was
approaching. This one was dropsical, the other subject to apoplectic
fits. Both were in the habit of dosing themselves with the Jenkins
pearls, a dangerous remedy--witness Mora, so quickly carried off.
"My poor duke!" said Jansoulet.
"A great loss to the country," remarked the banker with an air of
And the Nabob added naively:
"For me above all, for me; for, if he had lived-- Ah! what luck you
have, what luck you have!"
Fearing to have wounded him, he went on quickly:
"And then, too, you are clever, so very clever."
The baron looked at him with a wink so droll, that his little black
eyelashes disappeared amid his yellow fat.
"No," said he, "it is not I who am clever. It is Marie."
"Yes, the baroness. Since her baptism she has given up her name of
Yamina for that of Marie. She is a real sort of woman. She knows more
than I do myself about banking and Paris and business. It is she who
manages everything at home."
"You are very fortunate," sighed Jansoulet. His air of gloom told a
long story of qualities missing in Mlle. Afchin. Then, after a
silence, the baron resumed:
"She has a great grudge against you, Marie, you know. She will not be
pleased when she hears that we have been talking together."
A frown passed over his heavy brow, as though he were regretting their
reconciliation, at the thought of the scene which he would have with
his wife. Jansoulet stammered:
"I have done her no harm, however."
"Come, come, neither of you has been very nice to her. Think of the
affront put upon her when we called after our marriage. Your wife
sending word to us that she was not in the habit of receiving quondam
slaves. As though our friendship ought not to have been stronger than
a prejudice. Women don't forget things of that kind."
"But no responsibility lay with me for that, old friend. You know how
proud those Afchins are."
He was not proud himself, poor man. His mien was so woebegone, so
supplicating under his friend's frown, that he moved him to pity.
Decidedly, the cemetery had softened the baron.
"Listen, Bernard; there is only one thing that counts. If you want us
to be friends, as formerly, and this reconciliation not to be wasted,
you will have to get my wife to consent. Without her nothing can be
done. When Mlle. Afchin shut her door in our faces you let her have
her way, did you not? In the same way, on my side, if Marie said to me
when I go home, 'I will not let you be friends,' all my protestations
now would not prevent me from throwing you overboard. For there is no
such thing as friendship in face of such difficulties. Peace at one's
fireside is better than everything else."
"But in that case, what is to be done?" asked the Nabob, frightened.
"I am going to tell you. The baroness is at home every Saturday. Come
with your wife and pay her a visit the day after to-morrow. You will
find the best society in Paris at the house. The past shall not be
mentioned. The ladies will gossip together of chiffons and frocks,
talk of the things women do talk about. And then the whole matter will
be settled. We shall become friends as we used to be; and since you
are in difficulties, well, we will find some way of getting you out of
"Do you think so? The fact is I am in terrible straits," said the
other, shaking his head.
Hemerlingue's cunning eyes disappeared again beneath the folds of his
cheeks like two flies in butter.
"Well, yes; I have played a strong game. But you don't lack
shrewdness, all the same. The loan of the fifteen millions to the Bey
--it was a good stroke, that. Ah! you are bold enough; only you hold
your cards badly. One can see your game."
Till now they had been talking in low tones, impressed by the silence
of the great necropolis; but little by little human interests asserted
themselves in a louder key even there where their nothingness lay
exposed on all those flat stones covered with dates and figures, as if
death was only an affair of time and calculation--the desired solution
of a problem.
Hemerlingue enjoyed the sight of his friend reduced to such humility,
and gave him advice on his affairs, with which he seemed to be fully
acquainted. According to him the Nabob could still get out of his
difficulties very well. Everything depended on the validation, on the
turning up of a card. The question was to make sure that it should be
a good one. But Jansoulet had no more confidence. In losing Mora, he
had lost everything.
"You lose Mora, but you regain me; so things are equalized," said the
"No, do you see it is impossible. It is too late. Le Merquier has
completed the report. It is a dreadful one, I believe."
"Well, if he has completed his report, he will have to prepare
"How is that to be done?"
The baron looked at him with surprise.
"Ah, you are losing your senses. Why, by paying him a hundred, two
hundred, three hundred thousand francs, if necessary.
"How can you think of such a thing? Le Merquier, that man of
integrity! 'My conscience,' as they call him."
This time Hemerlingue's laugh burst forth with an extraordinary
heartiness, and must have reached the inmost recesses of the
neighbouring mausoleums, little accustomed to such disrespect.
" 'My conscience' a man of integrity! Ah! you amuse me. You don't
know, then, that he is in my pay, conscience and all, and that--" He
paused, and looked behind him, somewhat startled by a sound which he
had heard. "Listen."
It was the echo of his laughter sent back to them from the depths of a
vault, as if the idea of Le Merquier having a conscience moved even
the dead to mirth.
"Suppose we walk a little," said he, "it begins to be chilly on this
Then, as they walked among the tombs, he went on to explain to him
with a certain pedantic fatuity, that in France bribes played as
important a part as in the East. Only one had to be a little more
delicate about it here. You veiled your bribes. "Thus, take this Le
Merquier, for instance. Instead of offering him your money openly, in
a big purse, as you would to a local pasha, you go about it
indirectly. The man is fond of pictures. He is constantly having
dealings with Schwalbach, who employs him as a decoy for his Catholic
clients. Well, you offer him some picture--a souvenir to hang on a
panel in his study. The whole point is to make the price quite clear.
But you will see. I will take you round to call on him myself. I will
show you how the thing is worked."
And delighted at the amazement of the Nabob, who, to flatter him,
exaggerated his surprise still further, and opened his eyes wide with
an air of admiration, the banker enlarged the scope of his lesson--
made of it a veritable course of Parisian and worldly philosophy.
"See, old comrade, what one has to look after in Paris, above
everything else, is the keeping up of appearances. They are the only
things that count--appearances! Now you have not sufficient care for
them. You go about town, your waistcoat unbuttoned, a good-humoured
fellow, talking of your affairs, just what you are by nature. You
stroll around just as you would in the bazaars of Tunis. That is how
you have come to get bowled over, my good Bernard."
He paused to take breath, feeling quite exhausted. In an hour he had
walked farther and spoken more than he was accustomed to do in the
course of a whole year. They noticed, as they stopped, that their walk
and conversation had led them back in the direction of Mora's grave,
which was situated just above a little exposed plateau, whence looking
over a thousand closely packed roofs, they could see Montmartre, the
Buttes Chaumont, their rounded outline in the distance looking like
high waves. In the hollows lights were already beginning to twinkle,
like ships' lanterns, through the violet mists that were rising;
chimneys seemed to leap upward like masts, or steamer funnels
discharging their smoke. Those three undulations, with the tide of
Pere Lachaise, were clearly suggestive of waves of the sea, following
each other at equal intervals. The sky was bright, as often happens in
the evening of a rainy day, an immense sky, shaded with tints of dawn,
against which the family tomb of Mora exhibited in relief four
allegorical figures, imploring, meditative, thoughtful, whose
attitudes were made more imposing by the dying light. Of the speeches,
of the official condolences, nothing remained. The soil trodden down
all around, masons at work washing the dirt from the plaster
threshold, were all that was left to recall the recent burial.
Suddenly the door of the ducal tomb shut with a clash of all its
metallic weight. Thenceforth the late Minister of State was to remain
alone, utterly alone, in the shadow of its night, deeper than that
which then was creeping up from the bottom of the garden, invading the
winding paths, the stone stairways, the bases of the columns, pyramids
and tombs of every kind, whose summits were reached more slowly by the
shroud. Navvies, all white with that chalky whiteness of dried bones,
were passing by, carrying their tools and wallets. Furtive mourners,
dragging themselves away regretfully from tears and prayer, glided
along the margins of the clumps of trees, seeming to skirt them as
with the silent flight of night-birds, while from the extremities of
Pere Lachaise voices rose--melancholy calls announcing the closing
time. The day of the cemetery was at its end. The city of the dead,
handed over once more to Nature, was becoming an immense wood with
open spaces marked by crosses. Down in a valley, the window-panes of a
custodian's house were lighted up. A shudder seemed to run through the
air, losing itself in murmurings along the dim paths.
"Let us go," the two old comrades said to each other, gradually coming
to feel the impression of that twilight, which seemed colder than
elsewhere; but before moving off, Hemerlingue, pursuing his train of
thought, pointed to the monument winged at the four corners by the
draperies and the outstretched hands of its sculptured figures.
"Look here," said he. "That was the man who understood the art of
keeping up appearances."
Jansoulet took his arm to aid him in the descent.
"Ah, yes, he was clever. But you are the most clever of all," he
answered with his terrible Gascon intonation.
Hemerlingue made no protest.
"It is to my wife that I owe it. So I strongly recommend you to make
your peace with her, because unless you do----"
"Oh, don't be afraid. We shall come on Saturday. But you will take me
to see Le Merquier."
And while the two silhouettes, the one tall and square, the other
massive and short, were passing out of sight among the twinings of the
great labyrinth, while the voice of Jansoulet guiding his friend,
"This way, old fellow--lean hard on my arm," died away by insensible
degrees, a stray beam of the setting sun fell upon and illuminated
behind them in the little plateau, an expressive and colossal bust,
with great brow beneath long swept-back hair, and powerful and ironic
lip--the bust of Balzac watching them.
LA BARONNE HEMERLINGUE
Just at the end of the long vault, under which were the offices of
Hemerlingue and Sons, the black tunnel which Joyeuse had for ten years
adorned and illuminated with his dreams, a monumental staircase with a
wrought-iron balustrade, a staircase of mediaeval time, led towards
the left to the reception rooms of the baroness, which looked out on
the court-yard just above the cashier's office, so that in summer,
when the windows were open, the ring of the gold, the crash of the
piles of money scattered on the counters, softened a little by the
rich and lofty hangings at the windows, made a mercantile
accompaniment to the buzzing conversation of fashionable Catholicism.
The entrance struck at once the note of this house, as of her who did
the honours of it. A mixture of a vague scent of the sacristy, with
the excitement of the Bourse, and the most refined fashion, these
heterogeneous elements, met and crossed each other's path there, but
remained as much apart as the noble faubourg, under whose patronage
the striking conversion of the Moslem had taken place, was from the
financial quarters where Hemerlingue had his life and his friends. The
Levantine colony--pretty numerous in Paris--was composed in great
measure of German Jews, bankers or brokers who had made colossal
fortunes in the East, and still did business here, not to lose the
habit. The colony showed itself regularly on the baroness's visiting
day. Tunisians on a visit to Paris never failed to call on the wife of
the great banker; and old Colonel Brahim, /charge d'affaires/ of the
Bey, with his flabby mouth and bloodshot eyes, had his nap every
Saturday in the corner of the same divan.
"One seems to smell scorching in your drawing-room, my child," said
the old Princess de Dions smilingly to the newly named Marie, whom M.
Le Merquier and she had led to the font. But the presence of all these
heretics--Jews, Moslems, and even renegades--of these great over-
dressed blotched women, loaded with gold and ornaments, veritable
bundles of clothes, did not hinder the Faubourg Saint-Germain from
visiting, surrounding, and looking after the young convert, the
plaything of these noble ladies, a very obedient puppet, whom they
showed, whom they took out, and whose evangelical simplicities, so
piquant by contrast with her past, they quoted everywhere. Perhaps
deep down in the heart of her amiable patronesses a hope lay of
meeting in this circle of returned Orientals some new subject for
conversion, an occasion for filling the aristocratic Chapel of
Missions again with the touching spectacle of one of those adult
baptisms which carry one back to the first days of the Faith, far away
on the banks of the Jordan; baptisms soon to be followed by a first
communion, a confirmation, when baptismal vows are renewed; occasions
when a godmother may accompany her godchild, guide the young soul,
share in the naive transports of a newly awakened belief, and may also
display a choice of toilettes, delicately graduated to the importance
of the sentiment of the ceremony. But not every day does it happen
that one of the leaders of finance brings to Paris an Armenian slave
as his wife.
A slave! That was the blot in the past of this woman from the East,
bought in the bazaar of Adrianople for the Emperor of Morocco, then
sold, when he died and his harem was dispersed, to the young Bey
Ahmed. Hemerlingue had married her when she passed from this new
seraglio, but she could not be received at Tunis, where no woman--
Moor, Turk or European--would consent to treat a former slave as an
equal, on account of a prejudice like that which separates the creoles
from the best disguised quadroons. Even in Paris the Hemerlingues
found this invincible prejudice among the small foreign colonies,
constituted, as they were, of little circles full of susceptibilities
and local traditions. Yamina thus passed two or three years in a
complete solitude whose leisure and spiteful feelings she well knew
how to utilize, for she was an ambitious woman endowed with
extraordinary will and persistence. She learned French thoroughly,
said farewell to her embroidered vests and pantaloons of red silk,
accustomed her figure and her walk to European toilettes, to the
inconvenience of long dresses, and then, one night at the opera,
showed the astonished Parisians the spectacle, a little uncivilized
still, but delicate, elegant, and original, of a Mohammedan in a
costume of /Leonard's/.
The sacrifice of her religion soon followed that of her costume. Mme.
Hemerlingue had long abandoned the practices of Mohammedan religion,
when M. le Merquier, their friend and mentor in Paris, showed them
that the baroness's public conversion would open to her the doors of
that section of the Parisian world whose access became more and more
difficult as society became more democratic. Once the Faubourg Saint-
Germain was conquered, all the others would follow. And, in fact,
when, after the announcement of the baptism, they learned that the
greatest ladies in France could be seen at the Baroness Hemerlingue's
Saturdays, Mmes. Gugenheim, Furenberg, Caraiscaki, Maurice Trott--all
wives of millionaires celebrated on the markets of Tunis--gave up
their prejudices and begged to be invited to the former slave's
receptions. Mme. Jansoulet alone--newly arrived with a stock of
cumbersome Oriental ideas in her mind, like her ostrich eggs, her
narghile pipe, and the Tunisian /bric-a-brac/ in her rooms--protested
against what she called an impropriety, a cowardice, and declared that
she would never set her foot at /her/ house. Soon a little retrograde
movement was felt round the Gugenheims, the Caraiscaki, and the other
people, as happens at Paris every time when some irregular position,
endeavouring to establish itself, brings on regrets and defections.
They had gone too far to draw back, but they resolved to make the
value of their good-will, of their sacrificed prejudices, felt, and
the Baroness Marie well understood the shade of meaning in the
protecting tone of the Levantines, treating her as "My dear child,"
"My dear good girl," with an almost contemptuous pride. Thenceforward
her hatred of the Jansoulets knew no bounds--the complicated ferocious
hatred of the seraglio, with strangling and the sack at the end,
perhaps more difficult to arrive at in Paris than on the banks of the
lake of El Bahaira, but for which she had already prepared the stout
sack and the cord.
One can imagine, knowing all this, what was the surprise and agitation
of this corner of exotic society, when the news spread, not only that
the great Afchin--as these ladies called her--had consented to see the
baroness, but that she would pay her first visit on her next Saturday.
Neither the Fuernbergs nor the Trotts would wish to miss such an
occasion. On her side, the baroness did everything in her power to
give the utmost brilliancy to this solemn reparation. She wrote, she
visited, and succeeded so well, that in spite of the lateness of the
season, Mme. Jansoulet, on arriving at four o'clock at the Faubourg
Saint-Honore, would have seen drawn up before the great arched
doorway, side by side with the discreet russet livery of the Princess
de Dion, and of many authentic /blasons/, the pretentious and
fictitious arms, the multicoloured wheels of a crowd of plutocrat
equipages, and the tall powdered lackeys of the Caraiscaki.
Above, in the reception rooms, was another strange and resplendent
crowd. In the first two rooms there was a going and coming, a
continual passage of rustling silks up to the boudoir where the
baroness sat, sharing her attentions and cajoleries between two very
distinct camps. On one side were dark toilettes, modest in appearance,
whose refinement was appreciable only to observant eyes; on the other,
a wild burst of vivid colour, opulent figures, rich diamonds, floating
scarfs, exotic fashions, in which one felt a regret for a warmer
climate, and more luxurious life. Here were sharp taps with the fan,
discreet whispers from the few men present, some of the /bien pensant/
youth, silent, immovable, sucking the handles of their canes, two or
three figures, upright behind the broad backs of their wives, speaking
with their heads bent forward, as if they were offering contraband
goods for sale; and in a corner the fine patriarchal beard and violet
cassock of an orthodox Armenian bishop.
The baroness, in attempting to harmonize these fashionable
diversities, to keep her rooms full until the famous interview, moved
about continually, took part in ten different conversations, raising
her harmonious and velvety voice to the twittering diapason which
distinguishes Oriental women, caressing and coaxing, the mind supple
as the body, touching on all subjects, and mixing in the requisite
proportions fashion and charity sermons, theatres and bazaars, the
dressmaker and the confessor. The mistress of the house united a great
personal charm with this acquired science--a science visible even in
her black and very simple dress, which brought out her nun-like
pallor, her houri-like eyes, her shining and plaited hair drawn back
from a narrow, child-like forehead, a forehead of which the small
mouth accentuated the mystery, hiding from the inquisitive the former
/favourite's/ whole varied past, she who had no age, who knew not
herself the date of her birth, and never remembered to have been a
Evidently if the absolute power of evil--rare indeed among women,
influenced as they are by their impressionable physical nature by so
many different currents--could take possession of a soul, it would be
in that of this slave, moulded by basenesses, revolted but patient,
and complete mistress of herself, like all those whom the habit of
veiling the eyes has accustomed to lie safely and unscrupulously.
At this moment no one could have suspected the anguish she suffered;
to see her kneeling before the princess, an old, good, straightforward
soul, of whom the Fuernberg was always saying, "Call that a princess--
"I beg of you, godmamma, don't go away yet."
She surrounded her with all sorts of cajoleries, of graces, of little
airs, without telling her, to be sure, that she wanted to keep her
till the arrival of the Jansoulets, to add to her triumph.
"But," said the princess, pointing out to her the majestic Armenian,
silent and grave, his tasselled hat on his knees, "I must take this
poor bishop to the /Grand Saint-Christophe/, to buy some medals. He
would never get on without me."
"No, no, I wish--you must--a few minutes more." And the baroness threw
a furtive look on the ancient and sumptuous clock in a corner of the
Five o'clock already, and the great Afchin not arrived. The Levantines
began to laugh behind their fans. Happily tea was just being served,
also Spanish wines, and a crowd of delicious Turkish cakes which were
only to be had in that house, whose receipts, brought away with her by
the favourite, had been preserved in the harem, like some secrets of
confectionery on our convents. That made a diversion. Hemerlingue, who
on Saturdays came out of his office from time to time to make his bow
to the ladies, was drinking a glass of Madeira near the little table
while talking to Maurice Trott, once the dresser of Said-Pasha, when
his wife approached him, gently and quietly. He knew what anger this
impenetrable calm must cover, and asked her, in a low tone, timidly:
"No one. You see to what an insult you expose me."
She smiled, her eyes half closed, taking with the end of her nail a
crumb of cake from his long black whiskers, but her little transparent
nostrils trembled with a terrible eloquence.
"Oh, she will come," said the banker, his mouth full. "I am sure she
The noise of dresses, of a train rustling in the next room made the
baroness turn quickly. But, to the great joy of the "bundles," looking
on from their corners, it was not the lady they were expecting.
This tall, elegant blonde, with worn features and irreproachable
toilette, was not like Mlle. Afchin. She was worthy in every way to
bear a name as celebrated as that of Dr. Jenkins. In the last two or
three months the beautiful Mme. Jenkins had greatly changed, become
much older. In the life of a woman who has long remained young there
comes a time when the years, which have passed over her head without
leaving a wrinkle, trace their passage all at once brutally in
indelible marks. People no longer say, on seeing her, "How beautiful
she is!" but "How beautiful she must have been!" And this cruel way of
speaking in the past, of throwing back to a distant period that which
was but yesterday a visible fact, marks a beginning of old age and of
retirement, a change of all her triumphs into memories. Was it the
disappointment of seeing the doctor's wife arrive, instead of Mme.
Jansoulet, or did the discredit which the Duke de Mora's death had
thrown on the fashionable physician fall on her who bore his name?
There was a little of each of these reasons, and perhaps of another,
in the cool greeting of the baroness. A slight greeting on the ends of
her lips, some hurried words, and she returned to the noble battalion
nibbling vigorously away. The room had become animated under the
effects of wine. People no longer whispered; they talked. The lamps
brought in added a new brilliance to the gathering, but announced that
it was near its close; some indeed, not interested in the great event,
having already taken their leave. And still the Jansoulets did not
All at once a heavy, hurried step. The Nabob appeared, alone, buttoned
up in his black coat, correctly dressed, but with his face upset, his
eyes haggard, still trembling from the terrible scene which he had
She would not come.
In the morning he had told the maids to dress madame for three
o'clock, as he did each time he took out the Levantine with him, when
it was necessary to move this indolent person, who, not being able to
accept even any responsibility whatever, left others to think, decide,
act for her, going willingly where she was desired to go, once she was
started. And it was on this amiability that he counted to take her to
Hemerlingue's. But when, after /dejeuner/, Jansoulet dressed, superb,
perspiring with the effort to put on gloves, asked if madame would
soon be ready, he was told that she was not going out. The matter was
grave, so grave, that putting on one side all the intermediaries of
valets and maids, which they made use of in their conjugal dialogues,
he ran up the stairs four steps at once like a gust of wind, and
entered the draperied rooms of the Levantine.
She was still in bed, dressed in that great open tunic of silk of two
colours, which the Moors call a /djebba/, and in a little cap
embroidered with gold, from which escaped her heavy long black hair,
all entangled round her moon-shaped face, flushed from her recent
meal. The sleeves of her /djebba/ pushed back showed two enormous
shapeless arms, loaded with bracelets, with long chains wandering
through a heap of little mirrors, of red beads, of scent-boxes, of
microscopic pipes, of cigarette cases--the childish toyshop collection
of a Moorish woman at her rising.
The room, filled with the heavy opium-scented smoke of Turkish
tobacco, was in similar disorder. Negresses went and came, slowly
removing their mistress's coffee, the favourite gazelle was licking
the dregs of a cup which its delicate muzzle had overturned on the
carpet, while seated at the foot of the bed with a touching
familiarity, the melancholy Cabassu was reading aloud to madame a
drama in verse which Cardailhac was shortly going to produce. The
Levantine was stupefied with this reading, absolutely astounded.
"My dear," said she to Jansoulet, in her thick Flemish accent, "I
don't know what our manager is thinking of. I am just reading this
/Revolt/, which he is so mad about. But it is impossible. There is
nothing dramatic about it."
"Don't talk to me of the theatre," said Jansoulet, furious, in spite
of his respect for the daughter of the Afchins. "What, you are not
dressed yet? Weren't you told that we were going out?"
They had told her, but she had begun to read this stupid piece. And
with her sleepy air:
"We will go out to-morrow."
"To-morrow! Impossible. We are expected to-day. A most important
He hesitated a second.
She raised her great eyes, thinking he was making game of her. Then he
told her of his meeting with the baron at the funeral of de Mora and
the understanding they had come to.
"Go there, if you like," said she coldly. "But you little know me if
you believe that I, an Afchin, will ever set foot in that slave's
Cabassu, prudently seeing what was likely to happen, had fled into a
neighbouring room, carrying with him the five acts of /The Revolt/
under his arm.
"Come," said the Nabob to his wife, "I see that you do not know the
terrible position I am in. Listen."
Without thinking of the maids or the negresses, with the sovereign
indifference of an Oriental for his household, he proceeded to picture
his great distress, his fortune sequestered over seas, his credit
destroyed over here, his whole career in suspense before the judgment
of the Chamber, the influence of the Hemerlingues on the judge-
advocate, and the necessity of the sacrifice at the moment of all
personal feeling to such important interests. He spoke hotly, tried to
convince her, to carry her away. But she merely answered him, "I shall
not go," as if it were only a matter of some unimportant walk, a
little too long for her.
He said trembling:
"See, now, it is not possible that you should say that. Think that my
fortune is at stake, the future of our children, the name you bear.
Everything is at stake in what you cannot refuse to do."
He could have spoken thus for hours and been always met by the same
firm, unshakable obstinacy--an Afchin could not visit a slave.
"Well, madame," said he violently, "this slave is worth more than you.
She has increased tenfold her husband's wealth by her intelligence,
while you, on the contrary----"
For the first time in the twelve years of their married life Jansoulet
dared to hold up his head before his wife. Was he ashamed of this
crime of /lese-majeste/, or did he understand that such a remark would
place an impassable gulf between them? He changed his tone, knelt down
before the bed, with that cheerful tenderness when one persuades
children to be reasonable.
"My little Martha, I beg of you--get up, dress yourself. It is for
your own sake I ask it, for your comfort, for your own welfare. What
would become of you if, for a caprice, a stupid whim, we should become
But the word--poor--represented absolutely nothing to the Levantine.
One could speak of it before her, as of death before little children.
She was not moved by it, not knowing what it was. She was perfectly
determined to keep in bed in her /djebba/; and to show her decision,
she lighted a new cigarette at her old one just finished; and while
the poor Nabob surrounded his "dear little wife" with excuses, with
prayers, with supplications, promising her a diadem of pearls a
hundred times more beautiful than her own, if she would come, she
watched the heavy smoke rising to the painted ceiling, wrapping
herself up in it as in an imperturbable calm. At last, in face of this
refusal, this silence, this barrier of headstrong obstinacy, Jansoulet
unbridled his wrath and rose up to his full height:
"Come," said he, "I wish it."
He turned to the negresses:
"Dress your mistress at once."
And boor as he was at the bottom, the son of a southern nail-maker
asserting itself in this crisis which moved him so deeply, he threw
back the coverlids with a brutal and contemptuous gesture, knocking
down the innumerable toys they bore, and forcing the half-clad
Levantine to bound to her feet with a promptitude amazing in so
massive a person. She roared at the outrage, drew the folds of her
dalmatic against her bust, pushed her cap sideways on her dishevelled
hair, and began to abuse her husband.
"Never, understand me, never! You may drag me sooner to this----"
The filth flowed from her heavy lips as from a spout. Jansoulet could
have imagined himself in some frightful den of the port of Marseilles,
at some quarrel of prostitutes and bullies, or again at some open-air
dispute between Genoese, Maltese, and Provencal hags, gleaning on the
quays round the sacks of wheat, and abusing each other, crouched in
the whirlwinds of golden dust. She was indeed a Levantine of a
seaport, a spoiled child, who, in the evening, left alone, had heard
from her terrace or from her gondola the sailors revile each other in
every tongue of the Latin seas, and had remembered it all. The
wretched man looked at her, frightened, terrified at what she forced
him to hear, at her grotesque figure, foaming and gasping:
"No, I will not go--no, I will not go!"
And this was the mother of his children, a daughter of the Afchins!
Suddenly, at the thought that his fate was in the hands of this woman,
that it would only cost her a dress to put on to save him--and that
time was flying--that soon it would be too late, a criminal feeling
rose to his brain and distorted his features. He came straight to her,
his hands contracted, with such a terrible expression that the
daughter of the Afchins, frightened, rushed, calling towards the door
by which the /masseur/ had just gone out:
This cry, the words, this intimacy of his wife with a servant!
Jansoulet stopped, his rage suddenly calmed; then, with a gesture of
disgust, he flung himself out, slamming the doors, more eager to fly
the misfortune and the horror whose presence he divined in his own
home, than to seek elsewhere the help he had been promised.
A quarter of an hour later he made his appearance at the
Hemerlingues', making a despairing gesture as he entered to the
banker, and approached the baroness stammering the ready-made phrase
he had heard repeated so often the night of his ball, "His wife, very
unwell--most grieved not to have been able to come--" She did not give
him time to finish, rose slowly, unwound herself like a long and
slender snake from the pleated folds of her tight dress, and said,
without looking at him, "Oh, I knew--I knew!" then changed her place
and took no more notice of him. He attempted to approach Hemerlingue,
but the good man seemed absorbed in his conversation with Maurice
Trott. Then he went to sit down near Mme. Jenkins, whose isolation
seemed like his own. But, even while talking to the poor woman, as
languid as he was preoccupied, he was watching the baroness doing the
honours of this drawing-room, so comfortable when compared with his
own gilded halls.
It was time to leave. Mme. Hemerlingue went to the door with some of
the ladies, presented her forehead to the old princess, bent under the
benediction of the Armenian bishop, nodded with a smile to the young
men with the canes, found for each the fitting adieu with perfect
ease; and the wretched man could not prevent himself from comparing
this Eastern slave, so Parisian, so distinguished in the best society
of the world, with the other, the European brutalized by the East,
stupefied with Turkish tobacco, and swollen with idleness. His
ambitions, his pride as a husband, were extinguished and humiliated in
this marriage of which he saw the danger and the emptiness--a final
cruelty of fate taking from him even the refuge of personal happiness
from all his public disasters.
Little by little the room was emptied. The Levantines disappeared one
after another, leaving each time an immense void in their place. Mme.
Jenkins was gone, and only two or three ladies remained whom Jansoulet
did not know, and behind whom the mistress of the house seemed to
shelter herself from him. But Hemerlingue was free, and the Nabob
rejoined him at the moment when he was furtively escaping to his
offices on the same floor opposite his rooms. Jansoulet went out with
him, forgetting in his trouble to salute the baroness, and once on the
antechamber staircase, Hemerlingue, cold and reserved while he was
under his wife's eye, expanded a little.
"It is very annoying," said he in a low voice, as if he feared to be
overheard, "that Mme. Jansoulet has not been willing to come."
Jansoulet answered him by a movement of despair and savage
"Annoying, annoying," repeated the other in a whisper, and feeling for
his key in his pocket.
"Come, old fellow," said the Nabob, taking his hand, "there's no
reason, because our wives don't agree-- That doesn't hinder us from
remaining friends. What a good chat the other day, eh?"
"No doubt" said the baron, disengaging himself, as he opened the door
noiselessly, showing the deep workroom, whose lamp burned solitarily
before the enormous empty chair. "Come, good-bye, I must go; I have my
mail to despatch."
"/Ya didon, monci/" (But look here, sir) said the poor Nabob, trying
to joke, and using the /patois/ of the south to recall to his old chum
all the pleasant memories stirred up the other evening. "Our visit to
Le Merquier still holds good. The picture we were going to present to
him, you know. What day?"
"Ah, yes, Le Merquier--true--eh--well, soon. I will write to you."
"Really? You know it is very important."
"Yes, yes. I will write to you. Good-bye."
And the big man shut his door in a hurry, as if he were afraid of his
Two days after, the Nabob received a note from Hemerlingue, almost
unreadable on account of the complicated scrawls, of abbreviations
more or less commercial, under which the ex-sutler hid his entire want
MY DEAR OLD COM/--I cannot accom/ you to Le Mer/. Too bus/ just
now. Besid/ y/ will be bet/ alone to tal/. Go th/ bold/. You are
exp/. A/ Cassette, ev/ morn/ 8 to 10.
Below as a postscript, a very small hand had written very legibly:
"A religious picture, as good as possible."
What was he to think of this letter? Was there real good-will in it,
or polite evasion? In any case hesitation was no longer possible. Time
pressed. Jansoulet made a bold effort, then--for he was very
frightened of Le Merquier--and called on him one morning.
Our strange Paris, alike in its population and its aspects, seems a
specimen map of the whole world. In the Marais there are narrow
streets, with old sculptured worm-eaten doors, with overhanging gables
and balconies, which remind you of old Heidelberg. The Faubourg Saint-
Honore, lying round the Russian church with its white minarets and
golden domes, seems a part of Moscow. On Montmartre I know a
picturesque and crowded corner which is simply Algiers. Little, low,
clean houses, each with its brass plate and little front garden, are
English streets between Neuilly and the Champs-Elysees while all
behind the apse of Saint-Sulpice, the Rue Feron, the Rue Cassette,
lying peaceably in the shadow of its great towers, roughly paved,
their doors each with its knocker, seem lifted out of some provincial
and religious town--Tours or Orleans, for example--in the district of
the cathedral or the palace, where the great over-hanging trees in the
gardens rock themselves to the sound of the bells and the choir.
It was there, in the neighbourhood of the Catholic Club--of which he
had just been made honorary president--that M. Le Merquier lived. He
was /avocat/, deputy for Lyons, business man of all the great
communities of France; and Hemerlingue, moved by a deep-seated
instinct, had intrusted him with the affairs of his firm.
He arrived before nine o'clock at an old mansion of which the ground
floor was occupied by a religious bookshop, asleep in the odour of the
sacristy, and of the thick gray paper on which the stories of miracles
are printed for hawkers, and mounted the great whitewashed convent
stairway. Jansoulet was touched by this provincial and Catholic
atmosphere, in which revived the souvenirs of his past in the south,
impressions of infancy still intact, thanks to his long absence from
home; and since his arrival at Paris he had had neither the time nor
the occasion to call them in question. Fashionable hypocrisy had
presented itself to him in all its forms save that of religious
integrity, and he refused now to believe in the venality of a man who
lived in such surroundings. Introduced into the /avocat's/ waiting-
room--a vast parlour with fine white muslin curtains, having for its
sole ornament a large and beautiful copy of Tintoretto's Dead Christ--
his doubt and trouble changed into indignant conviction. It was not
possible! He had been deceived as to Le Merquier. There was surely
some bold slander in it, such as so easily spreads in Paris--or
perhaps it was one of those ferocious snares among which he had
stumbled for six months. No, this stern conscience, so well known in
Parliament and the courts, this cold and austere personage, could not
be treated like those great swollen pashas with loosened waist-belts
and floating sleeves open to conceal the bags of gold. He would only
expose himself to a scandalous refusal, to the legitimate revolt of
outraged honour, if he attempted such means of corruption.
The Nabob told himself all this, as he sat on the oak bench which ran
round the room, a bench polished with serge dresses and the rough
cloth of cassocks. In spite of the early hour several persons were
waiting there with him. A Dominican, ascetic and serene, walking up
and down with great strides; two sisters of charity, buried under
their caps, counting long rosaries which measured their time of
waiting; priests from Lyons, recognisable by the shape of their hats;
others reserved and severe in air, sitting at the great ebony table
which filled the middle of the room, and turning over some of those
pious journals printed at Fouvieres, just above Lyons, the /Echo of
Purgatory/, the /Rose-bush of Mary/, which give as a present to all
yearly subscribers pontifical indulgences and remissions of future
sins. Some muttered words, a stifled cough, the light whispered
prayers of the sisters, recalled to Jansoulet the distant and confused
sensation of the hours of waiting in the corner of his village church
round the confessional on the eves of the great festivals of the
At last his turn came, and if a doubt as to M. Le Merquier had
remained, he doubted no longer when he saw this great office, simple
and severe, yet a little more ornate than the waiting-room, a fitting
frame for the austerity of the lawyer's principles, and for his thin
form, tall, stooping, narrow-shouldered, squeezed into a black coat
too short in the sleeves, from which protruded two black fists, broad
and flat, two sticks of Indian ink with hieroglyphs of great veins.
The clerical deputy had, with the leaden hue of a Lyonnese grown
mouldy between his two rivers, a certain life of expression which he
owed to his double look--sometimes sparkling, but impenetrable behind
the glass of his spectacles; more often, vivid, mistrustful, and dark,
above these same glasses, surrounded by the shadow which a lifted eye
and a stooping head gives the eyebrow.
After a greeting almost cordial in comparison with the cold bow which
the two colleagues exchanged at the Chamber, a n"I was expecting you"
in which perhaps an intention showed itself, the lawyer pointed the
Nabob into a seat near his desk, told the smug domestic in black not
to come till he was summoned, arranged a few papers, after which,
sinking into his arm-chair with the attitude of a man ready to listen,
who becomes all ears, his legs crossed, he rested his chin on his
hand, with his eyes fixed on a great rep curtain falling to the ground
in front of him.
The moment was decisive, the situation embarrassing. Jansoulet did not
hesitate. It was one of the poor Nabob's pretensions to know men as
well as Mora. And this instinct, which, said he, had never deceived
him, warned him that he was at that moment dealing with a rigid and
unshakable honesty, a conscience in hard stone, untouchable by pick-
axe or powder. "My conscience!" Suddenly he changed his programme,
threw to the winds the tricks and equivocations which embarrassed his
open and courageous disposition, and, head high and heart open, held
to this honest man a language he was born to understand.
"Do not be astonished, my dear colleague,"--his voice trembled, but
soon became firm in the conviction of his defence--"do not be
astonished if I am come to find you here instead of asking simply to
be heard by the third committee. The explanation which I have to make
to you is so delicate and confidential that it would have been
impossible to make it publicly before my colleagues."
Maitre Le Merquier, above his spectacles, looked at the curtain with a
disturbed air. Evidently the conversation was taking an unexpected
"I do not enter on the main question," said the Nabob. "Your report, I
am assured, is impartial and loyal, such as your conscience has
dictated to you. Only there are some heart-breaking calumnies spread
about me to which I have not answered, and which have perhaps
influenced the opinion of the committee. It is on this subject that I
wish to speak to you. I know the confidence with which you are
honoured by your colleagues, M. Le Merquier, and that, when I shall
have convinced you, your word will be enough without forcing me to lay
bare my distress to them all. You know the accusation--the most
terrible, the most ignoble. There are so many people who might be
deceived by it. My enemies have given names, dates, addresses. Well, I
bring you the proofs of my innocence. I lay them bare before you--you
only--for I have grave reasons for keeping the whole affair secret."
Then he showed the lawyer a certificate from the Consulate of Tunis,
that during twenty years he had only left the principality twice--the
first time to see his dying father at Bourg-Saint Andeol; the second,
to make, with the Bey, a visit of three days to his chateau of Saint-
"How comes it, then, that with a document so conclusive in my hands I
have not brought my accusers before the courts to contradict and
confound them? Alas, monsieur, there are cruel responsibilities in
families. I have a brother, a poor fellow, weak and spoiled, who has
for long wallowed in the mud of Paris, who has left there his
intelligence and his honour. Has he descended to that degree of
baseness which I, in his name, am accused of? I have not dared to find
out. All I can say is, that my poor father, who knew more than any one
in the family of it, whispered to me in dying, 'Bernard, it is your
elder brother who has killed me. I die of shame, my child.' "
He paused, compelled by his suppressed emotion; then:
"My father is dead, Maitre Le Merquier, but my mother still lives, and
it is for her sake, for her peace, that I have held back, that I hold
back still, before the scandal of my justification. Up to now, in
fact, the mud thrown at me has not touched her; it only comes from a
certain class, in a special press, a thousand leagues away from the
poor woman. But law courts, a trial--it would be proclaiming our
misfortune from one end of France to the other, the articles of the
official paper reproduced by all the journals, even those of the
little district where my mother lives. The calumny, my defence, her
two children covered with shame by the one stroke, the name--the only
pride of the old peasant--forever disgraced. It would be too much for
her. It would be enough to kill her. And truly, I find it enough, too.
That is why I have had the courage to be silent, to weary, if I could,
my enemies by silence. But I need some one to answer for me in the
Chamber. It must not have the right to expel me for reasons which
would dishonour me, and since it has chosen you as the chairman of the
committee, I am come to tell you everything, as to a confessor, to a
priest, begging you not to divulge anything of this conversation, even
in the interests of my case. I only ask you, my dear colleague,
absolute silence; for the rest, I rely on your justice and your
He rose, ready to go, and Le Merquier did not move, still asking the
green curtain in front of him, as if seeking inspiration for his
answer there. At last he said:
"It shall be as you desire, my dear colleague. This confidence shall
remain between us. You have told me nothing, I have heard nothing."
The Nabob, still heated with his burst of confidence, which demanded,
it seemed to him, a cordial response, a pressure of the hand, was
seized with a strange uneasiness. This coolness, this absent look, so
unnerved him that he was at the door with the awkward bow of one who
feels himself importunate, when the other stopped him.
"Wait, then, my dear colleague. What a hurry you are in to leave me! A
few moments, I beg of you. I am too happy to have a chat with a man
like you. Besides, we have more than one common bond. Our friend
Hemerlingue has told me that you, too, are much interested in
Jansoulet trembled. The two words--"Hemerlingue," "pictures"--meeting
in the same phrase so unexpectedly, restored all his doubts, all his
perplexities. He did not give himself away yet, however, and let Le
Merquier advance, word by word, testing the ground for his stumbling
advances. People had told him often of the collection of his
honourable colleague. "Would it be indiscreet to ask the favour of
being admitted, to--"
"On the contrary, I should feel much honoured," said the Nabob,
tickled in the most sensible--since the most costly--point of his
vanity; and looking round him at the walls of the room, he added with
the tone of a connoisseur, "You have some fine things, too."
"Oh," said the other modestly, "just a few canvases. Painting is so
dear now, it is a taste so difficult to satisfy, a true passion /de
luxe/--a passion for a Nabob," said he, smiling, with a furtive look
over his glasses.
They were two prudent players, face to face; but Jansoulet was a
little astray in this new situation, where he who only knew how to be
bold, had to be on his guard.
"When I think," murmured the lawyer, "that I have been ten years
covering these walls, and that I have still this panel to fill."
In fact, at the most conspicuous place on the wall there was an empty
place, emptied rather, for a great gold-headed nail near the ceiling
showed the visible, almost clumsy, trace of a snare laid for the poor
simpleton, who let himself be taken in it so foolishly.
"My dear M. Le Merquier," said he with his engaging, good-natured
voice, "I have a Virgin of Tintoretto's just the size of your panel."
Impossible to read anything in the eyes of the lawyer, this time
hidden under their overhanging brows.
"Permit me to hang it there, opposite your table. That will help you
to think sometimes of me."
"And to soften the severities of my report, too, sir?" cried Le
Merquier, formidable and upright, his hand on the bell. "I have seen
many shameless things in my life, but never anything like this. Such
offers to me, in my own house!"
"But, my dear colleague, I swear to you----"
"Show him out," said the lawyer to the hang-dog servant who had just
entered; and from the middle of his office, whose door remained open,
before all the waiting-room, where the paternosters were silent, he
pursued Jansoulet--who slunk off murmuring excuses to the door--with
these terrible words:
"You have outraged the honour of the Chamber in my person, sir. Our
colleagues shall be informed of it this very day; and, this crime
coming after your others, you will learn to your cost that Paris is
not the East, and that here we do not make shameless traffic of the
Then, after having chased the seller from the temple, the just man
closed his door, and approaching the mysterious green curtain, said in
a tone that sounded soft amidst his pretended anger:
"Is that what you wanted, Baroness Marie?"
That morning there were no guests to lunch at 32 Place Vendome, so
that towards one o'clock might have been seen the majestic form of M.
Barreau, gleaming white at the gate, among four or five of his
scullions in their cook's caps, and as many stable-boys in Scotch caps
--an imposing group, which gave to the house the aspect of an hotel
where the staff was taking the air between the arrivals of the trains.
To complete the resemblance, a cab drew up before the door and the
driver took down an old leather trunk, while a tall old woman, her
upright figure wrapped in a little green shawl, jumped lightly to the
footpath, a basket on her arm, looked at the number with great
attention, then approached the servants to ask if it was there that M.
Bernard Jansoulet lived.
"It is here," was the answer; "but he is not in."
"That does not matter," said the old lady simply.
She returned to the driver, who put her trunk in the porch, and paid
him, returning her purse to her pocket at once with a gesture that
said much for the caution of the provincial.
Since Jansoulet had been deputy for Corsica, the domestics had seen so
many strange and exotic figures at his house, that they were not
surprised at this sunburnt woman, with eyes glowing like coals, a true
Corsican under her severe coif, but different from the ordinary
provincial in the ease and tranquility of her manners.
"What, the master is not here?" said she, with an intonation which
seemed better fitted for farm people in her part of the country, than
for the insolent servants of a great Parisian mansion.
"No, the master is not here."
"And the children?"
"They are at lessons. You cannot see them."
"She is asleep. No one sees her before three o'clock."
It seemed to astonish the good woman a little that any one could stay
in bed so late; but the tact which guides a refined nature, even
without education, prevented her from saying anything before the
servants, and she asked for Paul de Gery.
"He is abroad."
"Bompain Jean-Baptiste, then."
"He is with monsieur at the sitting."
Her great gray eyebrows wrinkled.
"It does not matter; take up my trunk just the same."
And with a little malicious twinkle of her eye, a proud revenge for
their insolent looks, she added: "I am his mother."
The scullions and stable-boys drew back respectfully. M. Barreau
raised his cap:
"I thought I had seen madame somewhere."
"And I too, my lad," answered Mme. Jansoulet, who shivered still at
the remembrance of the Bey's /fete/.
"My lad," to M. Barreau, to a man of his importance! It raised her at
once to a very high place in the esteem of the others.
Well! grandeur and splendour hardly dazzled this courageous old lady.
She did not go into ecstasies over gilding and petty baubles, and as
she walked up the grand staircase behind her trunk, the baskets of
flowers on the landings, the lamps held by bronze statues, did not
prevent her from noticing that there was an inch of dust on the
balustrade, and holes in the carpet. She was taken to the rooms on the
second floor belonging to the Levantine and her children; and there,
in an apartment used as a linen-room, which seemed to be near the
school-room (to judge by the murmur of children's voices), she waited
alone, her basket on her knees, for the return of her Bernard, perhaps
the waking of her daughter-in-law, or the great joy of embracing her
grandchildren. What she saw around her gave her an idea of the
disorder of this house left to the care of the servants, without the
oversight and foreseeing activity of a mistress. The linen was heaped
in disorder, piles on piles in great wide-open cupboards, fine linen
sheets and table-cloths crumpled up, the locks prevented from shutting
by pieces of torn lace, which no one took the trouble to mend. And yet
there were many servants about--negresses in yellow Madras muslin, who
came to snatch here a towel, there a table-cloth, walking among the
scattered domestic treasures, dragging with their great flat feet
frills of fine lace from a petticoat which some lady's-maid had thrown
down--thimble here, scissors there--ready to pick up again in a few
Jansoulet's mother was doubly wounded. The half-rustic artisan in her
was outraged in the tenderness, the respect, the sweet
unreasonableness the woman of the provinces feels towards a full linen
cupboard--a cupboard filled piece by piece, full of relics of past
struggles, whose contents grow finer little by little, the first token
of comfort, of wealth, in the house. Besides, she had held the distaff
from morning till night, and if the housewife in her was angry, the
spinner could have wept at the profanation. At last, unable to contain
herself longer, she rose, and actively, her little shawl displaced at
each movement, she set herself to pick up, straighten, and carefully
fold this magnificent linen, as she used to do in the fields of Saint-
Romans, when she gave herself the treat of a grand washing-day, with
twenty washerwomen, the clothes-baskets flowing over with floating
whiteness, and the sheets flapping in the morning wind on the clothes-
lines. She was in the midst of this occupation, forgetting her
journey, forgetting Paris, even the place where she was, when a stout,
thick-set, bearded man, with varnished boots and a velvet jacket, over
the torso of a bull, came into the linen-room.
"You here, Mme. Francoise! What a surprise!" said the /masseur/,
staring like a bronze figure.
"Yes, my brave Cabassu, it is I. I have just arrived; and as you see,
I am at work already. It made my heart bleed to see all this muddle."
"You came up for the sitting, then?"
"Why, the grand sitting of the legislative body. It's do-day."
"Dear me, no. What has that got to do with me? I should understand
nothing at all about it. No, I came because I wanted to know my little
Jansoulets, and then, I was beginning to feel uneasy. I have written
several times without getting an answer. I was afraid that there was a
child sick, that Bernard's business was going wrong--all sorts of
ideas. At last I got seriously worried, and came away at once. They
are well here, they tell me."
"Yes, Mme. Francoise. Thank God, every one is quite well."
"And Bernard. His business--is that going on as he wants it to?"
"Well, you know one has always one's little worries in life--still, I
don't think he should complain. But, now I think of it, you must be
hungry. I will go and make them bring you something."
He was going to ring, more at home and at ease than the old mother
herself. She stopped him.
"No, no, I don't want anything. I have still something left in my
basket." And she put two figs and a crust of bread on the edge of the
table. Then, while she was eating: "And you, lad, your business? You
look very much sprucer than you did the last time you were at Bourg.
How smart you are! What do you do in the house?"
"Professor of massage," said Aristide gravely.
"Professor--you?" said she with respectful astonishment; but she did
not dare ask him what he taught, and Cabassu, who felt such questions
a little embarrassing, hastened to change the subject.
"Shall I go and find the children? Haven't they told them that their
grandmother is here?"
"I didn't want to disturb them at their work. But I believe it must be
Behind the door they could hear the shuffling impatience of the
children anxious to be out in the open air, and the old woman enjoyed
this state of things, doubling her maternal desire, and hindering her
from doing anything to hasten its pleasure. At last the door opened.
The tutor came out first--a priest with a pointed nose and great
cheek-bones, whom we have met before at the great /dejeuners/. On bad
terms with his bishop, he had left the diocese where he had been
engaged, and in the precarious position of an unattached priest--for
the clergy have their Bohemians too--he was glad to teach the little
Jansoulets, recently turned out of the Bourdaloue College. With his
arrogant, solemn air, overweighted with responsibilities, which would
have become the prelates charged with the education of the dauphins of
France, he preceded three curled and gloved little gentlemen in short
jackets, with leather knapsacks, and great red stockings reaching
half-way up their little thin legs, in complete suits of cyclist
dress, ready to mount.
"My children," said Cabassu, "that is Mme. Jansoulet, your
grandmother, who has come to Paris expressly to see you."
They stopped in a row, astonished, examining this old wrinkled visage
between the folds of her cap, this strange dress of a simplicity
unknown to them; and their grandmother's astonishment answered theirs,
complicated with a heart-breaking discomfiture and constraint in
dealing with these little gentlemen, as stiff and disdainful as any of
the nobles or ministers whom her son had brought to Saint-Romans. On
the bidding of their tutor "to salute their venerable grandmother,"
they came in turn to give her one of those little half-hearted shakes
of the hand of which they had distributed so many in the garrets they
had visited. The fact is that this good woman, with her agricultural
appearance and clean but very simple clothes, reminded them of the
charity visits of the College Bourdaloue. They felt between them the
same unknown quality, the same distance, which no remembrance, no word
of their parents had ever helped to bridge. The abbe felt this
constraint, and tried to dispel it--speaking with the tone of voice
and gestures customary to those who always think they are in the
"Well, madame, the day has come, the great day when Jansoulet will
confound his enemies--/confundantur hostes mei, quia injuste
iniquitatem fecerunt in me/--because they have unjustly persecuted
The old lady bent religiously before the Latin of the Church, but her
face expressed a vague expression of uneasiness at this idea of
enemies and of persecutions.
"These enemies are powerful and numerous, my noble lady, but let us
not be alarmed beyond measure. Let us have confidence in the decrees
of Heaven and in the justice of our cause. God is in the midst of it,
it shall not be overthrown--/in medio ejus non commovebitur/."
A gigantic negro, resplendent with gold braid, interrupted him by
announcing that the bicycles were ready for the daily lesson on the
terrace of the Tuileries. Before setting out, the children again shook
solemnly their grandmother's wrinkled and hardened hand. She was
watching them go, stupefied and oppressed, when all at once, by an
adorable spontaneous movement, the youngest turned back when he had
got to the door and, pushing the great negro aside, came to throw
himself head foremost, like a little buffalo, into Mme. Jansoulet's
skirts, squeezing her to him, while holding out his smooth forehead,
covered with brown curls, with the grace of a child offering its kiss
like a flower. Perhaps this one, nearer the warmth of the nest, the
cradling knees of the nurses with their peasant songs, had felt the
maternal influence, of which the Levantine had deprived him, reach his
heart. The old woman trembled all over with the surprise of this
"Oh! little one, little one," said she, seizing the little silky,
curly head which reminded her so much of another and she kissed it
wildly. Then the child unloosed himself, and ran off without saying
anything, his head moist with hot tears.
Left alone with Cabassu, the mother, comforted by this embrace, asked
some explanation of the priest's words. Had her son many enemies?
"Oh!" said Cabassu, "it is not astonishing, in his position."
"But what is this great day--this sitting of which you all speak?"
"Well, then, it is to-day that we shall know whether Bernard will be
deputy or no."
"What? He is not one now, then? And I have told them everywhere in the
country. I illuminated Saint-Romans a month ago. Then they have made
me tell a lie."
The /masseur/ had a great deal of trouble in explaining to her the
parliamentary formalities of the verification of elections. She only
listened with one ear, walking up and down the linen-room feverishly.
"That's where my Bernard is now, then?"
"And can women go to the Chamber? Then why is his wife not there? For
one does not need telling that it is an important matter for him. On a
day like this he needs to feel all those whom he loves at his side.
See, my lad, you must take me there, to this sitting. Is it far?"
"No, quite near. Only, it must have begun already. And then," added
he, a little disconcerted, "it is the hour when madame wants me."
"Ah! Do you teach her this thing you are professor of? What do you
"Massage. We have learned it from the ancients. Yes, there she is
ringing for me, and some one will come to fetch me. Shall I tell her
you are here?"
"No, no; I prefer to go there at once."
"But you have no admission ticket."
"Bah! I will tell them I am Jansoulet's mother, come to hear him
judged." Poor mother, she spoke truer than she knew.
"Wait, Mme. Francoise. I will give you some one to show you the way,
"Oh, you know, I have never been able to put up with servants. I have
a tongue. There are people in the streets. I shall find my way."
He made a last attempt, without letting her see all his thought. "Take
care; his enemies are going to speak against him in the Chamber. You
will hear things to hurt you."
Oh, the beautiful smile of belief and maternal pride with which she
answered: "Don't I know better than them all what my child is worth?
Could anything make me mistaken in him? I should have to be very
ungrateful then. Get along with you!"
And shaking her head with its flapping cap wings, she set off fiercely
With head erect and upright bearing the old woman strode along under
the great arcades which they had told her to follow, a little troubled
by the incessant noise of the carriages, and by the idleness of this
walk, unaccompanied by the faithful distaff which had never quitted
her for fifty years. All these ideas of enmities and persecutions, the
mysterious words of the priest, the guarded talk of Cabassu,
frightened and agitated her. She found in them the meaning of the
presentiments which had so overpowered her as to snatch her from her
habits, her duties, the care of the house and of her invalid. Besides,
since Fortune had thrown on her and her son this golden mantle with
its heavy folds, Mme. Jansoulet had never become accustomed to it, and
was always waiting for the sudden disappearance of these splendours.
Who knows if the break-up was not going to begin this time? And
suddenly, through these sombre thoughts, the remembrance of the scene
that had just passed, of the little one rubbing himself on her woollen
gown, brought on her wrinkled lips a tender smile, and she murmured in
her peasant tongue:
"Oh, for the little one, at any rate."
She crossed a magnificent square, immense, dazzling, two fountains
throwing up their water in a silvery spray, then a great stone bridge,
and at the end was a square building with statues on its front, a
railing with carriages drawn up before it, people going on, numbers of
policemen. It was there. She pushed through the crowd bravely and came
up to the high glass doors.
"Your card, my good woman?"
The "good woman" had no card, but she said quite simply to one of the
porters in red who were keeping the door:
"I am Bernard Jansoulet's mother. I have come for the sitting of my
It was indeed the sitting of her boy; for everywhere in this crowd
besieging the doors, filling the passages, the hall, the tribune, the
whole palace, the same name was repeated, accompanied with smiles and
anecdotes. A great scandal was expected, terrible revelations from the
chairman, which would no doubt lead to some violence from the
barbarian brought to bay, and they hurried to the spot as to a first
night or a celebrated trial. The old mother would hardly have been
heard in the middle of this crowd, if the stream of gold left by the
Nabob wherever he had passed, marking his royal progress, had not
opened all the roads to her. She went behind the attendant in this
tangle of passages, of folding-doors, of empty resounding halls,
filled with a hum which circulated with the air of the building, as if
the walls, themselves soaked with babble, were joining to the sound of
all these voices the echoes of the past. While crossing a corridor she
saw a little dark man gesticulating and crying to the servants:
"You will tell Moussiou Jansoulet that it is I, that I am the Mayor of
Sarlazaccio, that I have been condemned to five months' imprisonment
for him. In God's name, surely that is worth a card for the sitting."
Five months' imprisonment for her son! Why? Very much disturbed, she
arrived at last, her ears singing, at the top of the staircase, where
different inscriptions--"Tribune of the Senate, of the Diplomatic
Body, of the Deputies"--stood above little doors like boxes in a
theatre. She entered, and without seeing anything at first except four
or five rows of seats filled with people, and opposite, very far off,
separated from her by a vast clear space, other galleries similarly
filled. She leaned up against the wall, astonished to be there,
exhausted, almost ashamed. A current of hot air which came to her
face, a chatter of rising voices, drew her towards the slope of the
gallery, towards the kind of gulf open in the middle where her son
must be. Oh! how she would like to see him. So squeezing herself in,
and using her elbows, pointed and hard as her spindle, she glided and
slipped between the wall and the seats, taking no notice of the anger
she aroused or the contempt of the well-dressed women whose lace and
fresh toilettes she crushed; for the assembly was elegant and
fashionable. Mme. Jansoulet recognised, by his stiff shirt-front and
aristocratic nose, the marquis who had visited them at Saint-Romans,
who so well suited his name, but he did not look at her. She was
stopped farther progress by the back of a man sitting down, an
enormous back which barred everything and forbade her go farther.
Happily, she could see nearly all the hall from here by leaning
forward a little; and these semi-circular benches filled with
deputies, the green hanging of the walls, the chair at the end,
occupied by a bald man with a severe air, gave her the idea, under the
studious and gray light from the roof, of a class about to begin, with
all the chatter and movement of thoughtless schoolboys.
One thing struck her--the way in which all looks turned to one side,
to the same point of attraction; and as she followed this current of
curiosity which carried away the entire assembly, hall as well as
galleries, she saw that what they were all looking at--was her son.
In the Jansoulet's country there is still, in some old churches, at
the end of the choir, half-way up the crypt, a stone cell where lepers
were admitted to hear mass, showing their dark profiles to the curious
and fearful crowd, like wild beasts crouched against the loopholes in
the wall. Francoise well remembered having seen in the village where
she had been brought up the leper, the bugbear of her infancy, hearing
mass from his stone cage, lost in the shade and in isolation. Now,
seeing her son seated, his head in his hands, alone, up there away
from the others, this memory came to her mind. "One might think it was
a leper," murmured the peasant. And, in fact, this poor Nabob was a
leper, his millions from the East weighing on him like some terrible
and mysterious disease. It happened that the bench on which he had
chosen to sit had several recent vacancies on account of holidays or
deaths; so that while the other deputies were talking to each other,
laughing, making signs, he sat silent, alone, the object of attention
to all the Chamber; an attention which his mother felt to be
malevolent, ironic, which burned into her heart. How was she to let
him know that she was there, near him, that one faithful heart beat
not far from his? He would not turn to the gallery. One would have
said that he felt it hostile, that he feared to look there. Suddenly,
at the sound of the bell from the presidential platform, a rustle ran
through the assembly, every head leaned forward with that fixed
attention which makes the features unmovable, and a thin man in
spectacles, whose sudden rise among so many seated figures gave him
the authority of attitude at once, said, opening the paper he held in
"Gentlemen, in the name of your third committee, I beg to move that
the election of the second division of the department of Corsica be
In the deep silence following this phrase, which Mme. Jansoulet did
not understand, the giant seated before her began to puff vigorously,
and all at once, in the front row of the gallery, a lovely face turned
round to address him a rapid sign of intelligence and approval.
Forehead pale, lips thin, eyebrows too black for the white framing of
her hat, it all produced in the eyes of the good old lady, without her
knowing why, the effect of the first flash of lightning in a storm and
the apprehension of the thunderbolt following the lightning.
Le Merquier was reading his report. The slow, dull monotonous voice,
the drawling, weak Lyonnese accent, while the long form of the lawyer
balanced itself in an almost animal movement of the head and
shoulders, made a singular contrast to the ferocious clearness of the
brief. First, a rapid account of the electoral irregularities. Never
had universal suffrage been treated with such primitive and barbarous
contempt. At Sarlazaccio, where Jansoulet's rival seemed to have a
majority, the ballot-box was destroyed the night before it was
counted. The same thing almost happened at Levia, at Saint-Andre, at
Avabessa. And it was the mayors themselves who committed these crimes,
who carried the urns home with them, broke the seals, tore up the
voting papers, under cover of their municipal authority. There had
been no respect for the law. Everywhere fraud, intrigue, even
violence. At Calcatoggio an armed man sat during the election at the
window of a tavern in front of the /mairie/, holding a blunderbuss,
and whenever one of Sebastiani's electors (Sebastiani was Jansoulet's
opponent) showed himself, the man took aim: "If you come in, I will
blow out your brains." And when one saw the inspectors of police,
justices, inspectors of weights and measures, not afraid to turn into
canvassing agents, to frighten or cajole a population too submissive
before all these little tyrannical local influences, was that not
proof of a terrible state of things? Even priests, saintly pastors,
led astray by their zeal for the poor-box and the restoration of an
impoverished building, had preached a mission in favour of Jansoulet's
election. But an influence still more powerful, though less
respectable, had been called into play for the good cause--the
influence of the banditti. "Yes, banditti, gentlemen; I am not
joking." And then came a sketch in outline of Corsican banditti in
general, and of the Piedigriggio family in particular.
The Chamber listened attentively, with a certain uneasiness. For,
after all, it was an official candidate whose doings were thus
described, and these strange doings belonged to that privileged land,
cradle of the imperial family, so closely attached to the fortunes of
the dynasty, that an attack on Corsica seemed to strike at the
sovereign. But when people saw the new minister, successor and enemy
of Mora, glad of the blow to a /protege/ of his predecessor, smile
complacently from the Government bench at Le Merquier's cruel banter,
all constraint disappeared at once, and the ministerial smile repeated
on three hundred mouths, grew into a scarcely restrained laugh--the
laugh of crowds under the rod which bursts out at the least
approbation of the master. In the galleries, not usually treated to
the picturesque, but amused by these stories of brigands, there was
general joy, a radiant animation on all these faces, pleased to look
pretty without insulting the solemnity of the spot. Little bright
bonnets shook with all their flowers and plumes, round gold-encircled
arms leaned forward the better to hear. The grave Le Merquier had
imported into the sitting the distraction of a show, the little spice
of humour allowed in a charity concert to bribe the uninitiated.
Impassable and cold in the midst of his success, he continued to read
in his gloomy voice, penetrating like the rain of Lyons:
"Now, gentlemen, one asks how a stranger, a Provencial returned from
the East, ignorant of the interests and needs of this island where he
had never been seen before the election, a true type of what the
Corsican disdainfully calls a 'continental'--how has this man been
able to excite such an enthusiasm, such devotion carried to crime, to
profanity. His wealth will answer us, his fatal gold thrown in the
face of the electors, thrust by force into their pockets with a
barefaced cynicism of which we have a thousand proofs." Then the
interminable series of denunciations: "I, the undersigned, Croce
(Antoine), declare in the interests of truth, that the Commissary of
Police Nardi, calling on us one evening, said: 'Listen, Croce
(Antoine), I swear by the fire of this lamp that if you vote for
Jansoulet you will have fifty francs to-morrow morning.' " And this
other: "I, the undersigned, Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse), declare that I
refused with contempt seventeen francs offered me by the Mayor of
Pozzonegro to vote against my cousin Sebastiani." It is probably that
for three francs more Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse) would have swallowed
his contempt in silence. But the Chamber did not look into things so
Indignation seized on this incorruptible Chamber. It murmured, it
fidgeted on its padded seats of red velvet, it raised a positive
clamour. There were "Oh's" of amazement, eyes lifted in astonishment,
brusque movements on the benches, as if in disgust at this spectacle
of human degradation. And remark that the greater part of these
deputies had used the same electoral methods, that these were the
heroes of those famous orgies when whole oxen were carried in triumph,
ribanded and decorated as at Gargantuan feasts. Just these men cried
louder than others, turned furiously towards the solitary seat where
the poor leper listened, still and downcast. Yet in the midst of the
general uproar, one voice was raised in his favour, but low,
unpractised, less a voice than a sympathetic murmur, through which was
distinguished vaguely: "Great services to the Corsican population--
Considerable works--Territorial Bank."
He who mumbled thus was a little man in white gaiters, an albino head,
and thin hair in scattered locks. But the interruption of this
unfortunate friend only furnished Le Merquier with a rapid and natural
transition. A hideous smile parted his flabby lips. "The honourable M.
Sarigue mentions the Territorial Bank. We shall be able to answer
him." He seemed in fact to be very familiar with the Paganetti den. In
a few neat and lively phrases he threw the light on to the depths of
the gloomy cave, showed all the traps, the gulfs, the windings, the
snares, like a guide waving his torch above the /oubliettes/ of some
sinister dungeon. He spoke of the fictitious quarries, of the railways
on paper, of the chimeric liners disappearing in their own steam. The
frightful desert of the Taverna was not forgotten, nor the old Genoese
castle, the office of the steamship agency. But what amused the
Chamber most was the story of a swindling ceremony organized by the
governor for the piercing of a tunnel through Monte Rotondo, a
gigantic undertaking always in project, put off from year to year,
demanding millions of money and thousands of workmen, and which was
begun in great pomp a week before the election. His report gave the
thing a comic air--the first blow of the pickaxe given by the
candidate in the enormous mountain covered by ancient forests, the
speech of the Prefect, the benediction of the flags with the cries of
"Long live Bernard Jansoulet!" and the two hundred workmen beginning
the task at once, working day and night for a week; then, when the
election was over, leaving the fragments of rock heaped round the
abandoned excavation for a laughing-stock--another asylum for the
terrible banditti. The game was over. After having extorted the
shareholders' money for so long, the Territorial Bank this time was
used as a means to swindle the electors of their votes. "Furthermore,
gentlemen, another detail, with which perhaps I should have begun and
spared you the recital of this electoral pasquinade. I learn that a
judicial inquiry has been opened to-day into the affairs of the
Corsican Bank, and that a serious examination of its books will very
probably reveal one of those financial scandals--too frequent, alas!
in our days--and in which, for the honour of the Chamber, we would
wish that none of our members were concerned."
With this sudden revelation, the speaker stopped a moment, like an
actor making his point; and in the heavy silence weighing on the
assembly, the noise of a closing door was heard. It was the Governor
Paganetti leaving the tribune, his face white, the eyes wide open, his
mouth half opened, like some Pierrot scenting in the air a formidable
blow. Monpavon, motionless, expanded his shirtfront. The big man
puffed violently into the flowers of his wife's little white hat.
Jansoulet's mother looked at her son.
"I have spoken of the honour of the Chamber, gentlemen. On that point
I have more to say." Now Le Merquier was reading no longer. After the
chairman of the committees, the orator came on the scene, or rather
the judge. His face was expressionless, his eyes hidden; nothing
lived, nothing moved in all his body save the right arm--the long
angular arm with short sleeves--which rose and fell automatically,
like a sword of justice, making at the end of each sentence the cruel
and inexorable gesture of beheading. And truly it was an execution at
which they were present. The orator would leave on one side scandalous
legends, the mystery which brooded over this colossal fortune acquired
in distant lands, far from all control. But there were in the life of
the candidate certain points difficult to clear up, certain details.
He hesitated, seemed to select his words; then, before the
impossibility of formulating a direct accusation: "Do not let us lower
the debate, gentlemen. You have understood me. You know to what
infamous stories I allude--to what calumnies, I wish I could say; but
truth forces me to state that when M. Jansoulet called before your
committee, was asked to deny the accusations made against him, his
explanations were so vague that, though convinced of his innocence, a
scrupulous regard for your honour forced us to reject a candidature so
besmirched. No, this man must not sit among you. Besides, what would
he do there? Living so long in the East, he has unlearned the laws,
the manners, and the usages of his country. He believes in rough and
ready justice, in fights in the open street; he relies on the abuses
of power, and worse still, on the venality and crouching baseness of
all men. He is the merchant who thinks that everything can be bought
at a price--even the votes of the electors, even the conscience of his
One should have seen with what naive admiration these fat deputies,
enervated with good fortune, listened to this ascetic, this man of
another age, like some Saint-Jerome who had left his Thebaid to
overwhelm with his vigorous eloquence, in a full assembly of the Roman
Empire, the shameless luxury of the prevaricators and of the
/concussionaires/. How well they understood now this grand surname of
"My conscience" which the courts had given him. In the galleries the
enthusiasm rose higher still. Lovely heads leaned to see him, to drink
in his words. Applause went round, bending the bouquets here and
there, like the wind in a wheat-field. A woman's voice cried with a
little foreign accent, "Bravo! Bravo!"
And the mother?
Standing upright, immovable, concentrated in her desire to understand
something of this legal phraseology, of these mysterious allusions,
she was there like deaf-mutes who only understand what is said before
them by the movement of the lips and the expression of the faces. But
it was enough for her to watch her son and Le Merquier to understand
what harm one was doing to the other, what perfidious and poisoned
meaning fell from this long discourse on the unfortunate man whom one
might have believed asleep, except for the trembling of his strong
shoulders and the clinching of his hands in his hair, while hiding his
face. Oh, if she could have said to him: "Don't be afraid, my son. If
they all misconstrue you, your mother loves you. Let us come away
together. What need have we of them?" And for one moment she could
believe that what she was saying to him thus in her heart he had
understood by some mysterious intuition. He had just raised and shaken
his grizzled head, where the childish curve of his lips quivered under
a possibility of tears. But instead of leaving his seat, he spoke from
it, his great hands pounded the wood of the desk. The other had
finished, now it was his time to answer:
"Gentlemen," said he.
He stopped at once, frightened by the sound of his voice, hoarse,
frightfully low and vulgar, which he heard for the first time in
public. He must find the words for his defence, tormented as he was by
the twitchings of his face, the intonations which he could not
express. And if the anguish of the poor man was touching, the old
mother up there, leaning, gasping, moving her lips nervously as if to
help him find words, reflected the picture of his torture. Though he
could not see her, intentionally turned away from her gallery, as he
evidently was, this maternal inspiration, the ardent magnetism of
those black eyes, ended by giving him life, and suddenly his words and
gestures flowed freely:
"First of all, gentlemen, I must say that I do not defend the methods
of my election. If you believe that electoral morals have not been
always the same in Corsica, that all the irregularities committed are
due to the corrupting influence of my gold and not to the uncultivated
and passionate temperament of its people, reject me--it will be
justice and I will not murmur. But in this debate other matters have
been dealt with, accusations have been made which involve my personal
honour, and those, and those alone, I wish to answer." His voice was
growing firmer, always broken, veiled, but with some soft cadences. He
spoke rapidly of his life, his first steps, his departure for the
East. It sounded like an eighteenth century tale of the Barbary
corsairs sailing the Latin seas, of Beys and of bold Provencals, as
sunburned as crickets, who used to end by marrying some sultana and
"taking the turban," in the old expression of the Marseillais. "As for
me," said the Nabob, with his good-humoured smile. "I had no need of
taking the turban to grow rich. I had only to take into this land of
idleness the activity and flexibility of a southern Frenchman; and in
a few years I made one of those fortunes which can only be made in
those hot countries, where everything is gigantic, prodigious,
disproportionate, where flowers grow in a night, and one tree produces
a forest. The excuse of such fortunes is the manner in which they are
used; and I make bold to say that never has any favourite of fortune
tried harder to justify his wealth. I have not been successful." No!
he had not succeeded. From all the gold he had scattered he had only
gathered contempt and hatred. Hatred! Who could boast more of it than
he? like a great ship in the dock when its keel touches the bottom. He
was too rich, and that stood for every vice, and every crime pointed
him out for anonymous vengeances, cruel and incessant enmities.
"Ah, gentlemen," cried the poor Nabob, lifting his clinched hands, "I
have known poverty, I have struggled face to face with it, and it is a
dreadful struggle, I swear. But to struggle against wealth, to defend
one's happiness, honour--rest--to have no shelter but piles of gold
which fall and crush you, is something more hideous, more heart-
breaking still. Never, in the darkest days of my distress, have I had
the pains, the anguish, the sleepless nights with which fortune has
loaded me--this horrible fortune which I hate and which stifles me.
They call me the Nabob, in Paris. It is not the Nabob they should say,
but the Pariah--a social pariah holding out wide arms to a society
which will have none of him."
Written down, the words may appear cold; but there, before the
assembly, the defence of this man was stamped with an eloquent and
grandiose sincerity, which at first, coming from this rustic, this
upstart, without culture or education, with the voice of a boatman,
first astonished and then singularly moved his hearers just on account
of its wild, uncultivated style, foreign to every notion of
parliamentary etiquette. Already marks of favour had agitated members,
used to the flood of gray and monotonous administrative speech. But at
this cry of rage and despair against wealth, uttered by the wretch
whom it was enfolding, rolling, drowning in its floods of gold, while
he was struggling and calling for help from the depths of his
Pactolus, the whole Chamber rose with loud applause, and outstretched
hands, as if to give the unfortunate Nabob more testimonies of esteem,
of which he was so desirous, and at the same time to save him from
shipwreck. Jansoulet felt it; and warmed by this sympathy, he went on,
with head erect and confident look:
"You have just been told, gentlemen, that I was unworthy of sitting
among you. And he who said it was the last from whom I should have
expected it, for he alone knew the sad secret of my life, he alone
could speak for me, justify me, and convince you. He has not done it.
Well, I will try, whatever it may cost me. Outrageously calumniated
before my country, I owe it to myself and my children this public
justification, and I will make it."
With a brusque movement he turned towards the tribune where he knew
his enemy was watching him, and suddenly stopped, full of fear. There,
in front of him, behind the pale, malignant head of the baroness, his
mother, his mother whom he believed to be two hundred leagues away
from the terrible storm, was looking at him, leaning against the wall,
bending down her saintly face, flooded with tears, but proud and
beaming nevertheless with her Bernard's great success. For it was
really a success of sincere human emotion, which a few more words
would change into a triumph. Cries of "Go on, go on!" came from all
sides of the Chamber to reassure and encourage him. But Jansoulet did
not speak. He had only to say: "Calumny has wilfully confused two
names. I am called Bernard Jansoulet, the other Jansoulet Louis." Not
a word more was needed.
But in the presence of his mother, still ignorant of his brother's
dishonour, he could not say it. Respect--family ties forbade it. He
could hear his father's voice: "I die of shame, my child." Would not
she die of shame too, if he spoke? He turned from the maternal smile
with a sublime look of renunciation, then in a low voice, utterly
discouraged, he said:
"Excuse me, gentlemen; this explanation is beyond my power. Order an
investigation of my whole life, open as it is to all, alas! since any
one can interpret all my actions. I swear to you that you will find
nothing there which unfits me to sit among the representatives of my
In the face of this defeat, which seemed to everybody the sudden
crumbling of an edifice of effrontery, the astonishment and
disillusionment were immense. There was a moment of excitement on the
benches, the tumult of a vote taken on the spot, which the Nabob saw
vaguely through the glass doors, as the condemned man looks down from
the scaffold on the howling crowd. Then, after that terrible pause
which precedes a supreme moment, the president made, amid deep
silence, the simple pronouncement:
"The election of M. Bernard Jansoulet is annulled."
Never had a man's life been cut off with less solemnity or
Up there in her gallery, Jansoulet's mother understood nothing, except
that the seats were emptying near her, that people were rising and
going away. Soon there was no one else there save the fat man and the
lady in the white hat, who leaned over the barrier, watching Bernard
with curiosity, who seemed also to be going away, for he was putting
up great bundles of papers in his portfolio quite calmly. When they
were in order, he rose and left his place. Ah! the life of public men
had sometimes cruel situations. Gravely, slowly, under the gaze of the
whole assembly, he must descend those steps which he had mounted at
the cost of so much trouble and money, to whose feet an inexorable
fatality was precipitating him.
The Hemerlingues were waiting for this, following to its last stage
this humiliating exit, which crushes the unseated member with some of
the shame and fear of a dismissal. Then, when the Nabob had
disappeared, they looked at each other with a silent laugh, and left
the gallery before the old woman had dared to ask them anything,
warned by her instinct of their secret hostility. Left alone, she gave
all her attention to a new speech, persuaded that her son's affairs
were still in question. They spoke of an election, of a scrutiny, and
the poor mother leaning forward in her red hood, wrinkling her great
eyebrows, would have religiously listened to the whole of the report
of the Sarigue election, if the attendant who had introduced her had
not come to say that it was finished and she had better go away. She
seemed very much surprised.
"Indeed! Is it over?" said she, rising almost regretfully.
And quietly, timidly:
"Has he--has he won?"
It was innocent, so touching that the attendant did not even dream of
"Unfortunately, no, madame. M. Jansoulet has not won. But why did he
stop in that way? If it is true that he never came to Paris, and that
another Jansoulet did everything they accuse him of, why did he not
The old mother, turning pale, leaned on the balustrade of the
staircase. She had understood.
Bernard's brusque interruption on seeing her, the sacrifice he had
made to her so simply--that noble glance as of a dying animal, came to
her mind, and the shame of the elder, the favourite child, mingled
itself with Bernard's disaster--a double-edged maternal sorrow, which
tore her whichever way she turned. Yes, yes, it was on her account he
would not speak. But she would not accept such a sacrifice. He must
come back at once and explain himself before the deputies.
"My son, where is my son?"
"Below, madame, in his carriage. It was he who sent me to look for
She ran before the attendant, walking quickly, talking aloud, pushing
aside out of her way the little black and bearded men who were
gesticulating in the passages. After the waiting-hall she crossed a
great round antechamber where servants in respectful rows made a
living wainscotting to the high, blank wall. From there she could see
through the glass doors, the outside railing, the crowd in waiting,
and among the other vehicles, the Nabob's carriage waiting. As she
passed, the peasant recognised in one of the groups her enormous
neighbour of the gallery, with the pale man in spectacles who had
attacked her son, who was receiving all sorts of felicitation for his
discourse. At the name of Jansoulet, pronounced among mocking and
satisfied sneers, she stopped.
"At any rate," said a handsome man with a bad feminine face, "he has
not proved where our accusations were false."
The old woman, hearing that, wrenched herself through the crowd, and
facing Moessard said:
"What he did not say I will. I am his mother, and it is my duty to
She stopped to seize Le Merquier by the sleeve, who was escaping:
"Wicked man, you must listen, first of all. What have you got against
my child? Don't you know who he is? Wait a little till I tell you."
And turning to the journalist:
"I had two sons, sir."
Moessard was no longer there. She returned to Le Merquier: "Two sons,
sir." Le Merquier had disappeared.
"Oh, listen to me, some one, I beg," said the poor mother, throwing
her hands and her voice round her to assemble and retain her hearers;
but all fled, melted away, disappeared--deputies, reporters, unknown
and mocking faces to whom she wished at any cost to tell her story,
careless of the indifference where her sorrows and her joys fell, her
pride and maternal tenderness expressed in a tornado of feeling. And
while she was thus exciting herself and struggling--distracted, her
bonnet awry--at once grotesque and sublime, as are all the children of
nature when brought into civilization, taking to witness the honesty
of her son and the injustice of men, even the liveried servants, whose
disdainful impassibility was more cruel than all, Jansoulet appeared
suddenly beside her.
"Take my arm, mother. You must not stop there."
He said it in a tone so firm and calm that all the laughter ceased,
and the old woman, suddenly quieted, sustained by this solid hold,
still trembling a little with anger, left the palace between two
respectful rows. A dignified and rustic couple, the millions of the
son gilding the countrified air of the mother, like the rags of a
saint enshrined in a golden /chasse/--they disappeared in the bright
sunlight outside, in the splendour of their glittering carriage--a
ferocious irony in their deep distress, a striking symbol of the
terrible misery of the rich.
They sat well back, for both feared to be seen, and hardly spoke at
first. But when the vehicle was well on its way, and he had behind him
the sad Calvary where his honour hung gibbeted, Jansoulet, utterly
overcome, laid his head on his mother's shoulder, hid it in the old
green shawl, and there, with the burning tears flowing, all his great
body shaken by sobs, he returned to the cry of his childhood:
DRAMAS OF PARIS
Que l'heure est donc breve,
Qu'on passe en aimant!
C'est moins qu'un moment,
Un peu plus qu'un reve.
Back to Full Books