Part 8 out of 8
In the semi-obscurity of a great drawing-room filled with flowers, the
seats of the furniture covered with holland, the chandeliers draped
with muslin, the windows open, and the venetians lowered, Mme. Jenkins
is seated at the piano reading the new song of the fashionable
musician; some melodic phrases accompanying exquisite verse, a
melancholy /Lied/, unequally divided, which seems written for the
tender gravities of her voice and the disturbed state of her soul.
Le temps nous enleve
sighs the poor woman, moved by the sound of her own voice, and while
the notes float away in the court-yard of the house, where the
fountain falls drop by drop among a bed of rhododendrons, the singer
breaks off, her hands holding the chord, her eyes fixed on the music,
but her look far away. The doctor is absent. The care of his health
and business has exiled him from Paris for some days, and the thoughts
of the beautiful Mme. Jenkins have taken that grave turn, as often
happens in solitude, that analytical tendency which sometimes makes
even momentary separations fatal in the most united households. United
they had not been for sometime. They only saw each other at meal-
times, before the servants, hardly speaking unless he, the man of
unctuous manners, allowed himself to make some disobliging or brutal
remark on her son, or on her age, which she began to show, or on some
dress which did not become her. Always gentle and serene, she stifled
her tears, accepted everything, feigned not to understand; not that
she loved him still after so much cruelty and contempt, but it was the
story, as their coachman Joe told it, "of an old clinger who was
determined to make him marry her." Up to then a terrible obstacle--the
life of the legitimate wife--had prolonged a dishonourable situation.
Now that the obstacle no longer existed she wished to put an end to
the situation, because of Andre, who from one day to another might be
forced to despise his mother, because of the world which they had
deceived for ten years--a world she never entered but with a beating
heart, for fear of the treatment she would receive after a discovery.
To her allusions, to her prayers, Jenkins had answered at first by
phrases, grand gestures: "Could you distrust me? Is not our engagement
He pointed out the difficulty of keeping an act of this importance
secret. Then he shut himself up in a malignant silence, full of cold
anger and violent determinations. The death of the duke, the fall of
an absurd vanity, had struck a final blow at the household; for
disaster, which often brings hearts ready to understand one another
nearer, finishes and completes disunions. And it was indeed a
disaster. The popularity of the Jenkins pearls suddenly stopped, the
situation of the foreign doctor and charlatan, ably defined by
Bouchereau in the Journal of the Academy, and people of fashion looked
at each other in fright, paler from terror than from the arsenic they
had imbibed. Already the Irishman had felt the effect of those counter
blasts which make Parisian infatuations so dangerous.
It was for that reason, no doubt, that Jenkins had judged it wise to
disappear for some time, leaving madame to continue to frequent the
houses still open to them, to gauge and hold public opinion in
respect. It was a hard task for the poor woman, who found everywhere
the cool and distant welcome which she had received at the
Hemerlingues. But she did not complain; thus earning her marriage, she
was putting between them as a last resource the sad tie of pity and
common trials. And as she knew that she was welcomed in the world on
account of her talent, of the artistic distraction she lent to their
private parties, she was always ready to lay on the piano her fan and
long gloves, to play some fragment of her vast repertory. She worked
constantly, passing her afternoons in turning over new music, choosing
by preference sad and complicated harmonies, the modern music which no
longer contents itself with being an art, but becomes a science, and
answers better to our nerves, to our restlessness, than to sentiment.
Daylight flooded the room as a maid brought a card to her mistress;
"Heurteux, business agent."
The gentleman was there, he insisted on seeing madame.
"You have told him the doctor is travelling?"
He had been told, but it was to madame he wished to speak.
Disturbed, she examined this rough, crumpled card, this unknown name:
"Heurteux." What could it be?
"Well, show him in."
Heurteux, business agent, coming from broad daylight into the semi-
obscurity of the room, was blinking with an uncertain air, trying to
see. She, on the other hand, saw very distinctly a stiff figure, with
iron-gray whiskers and protruding jaw, one of those hangers-on of the
law whom one meets round the law courts, born fifty years old, with a
bitter mouth, an envious air, and a morocco portfolio under the arm.
He sat down on the edge of the chair which she pointed out to him,
turned his head to make sure that the servant had gone out, then
opened his portfolio methodically to search for a paper. Seeing that
he did not speak, she began in a tone of impatience:
"I ought to warn you, sir, that my husband is absent, and that I am
not acquainted with his business."
Without any astonishment, his hand in his papers, the man answered: "I
know that /M. Jenkins/ is absent, madame"--he emphasized more
particularly the two words "M. Jenkins"--"especially as I come on his
She looked at him frightened. "On his behalf?"
"Alas! yes, madame. The doctor's situation, as you are no doubt aware,
is one, for the moment, of very great embarrassment. Unfortunate
dealings on the Stock Exchange, the failure of a great financial
enterprise in which his money is invested, the /OEuvre de Bethleem/
which weighs heavily on him, all these reverses coming at once have
forced him to a grave resolution. He is selling his mansion, his
horses, everything that he possesses, and has given me a power of
attorney for that purpose."
He had at last found what he was looking for--one of those stamped
folded papers, interlined and riddled with references, where the
impassible law makes itself responsible for so many lies. Mme. Jenkins
was going to say: "But I was here. I would have carried out all his
wishes, all his orders--" when she suddenly understood by the coolness
of her visitor, his easy, almost insolent attitude, that she was
included in this clearing up, in the getting rid of the costly mansion
and useless riches, and that her departure would be the signal for the
She rose suddenly. The man, still seated, went on: "What I have still
to say, madame"--oh, she knew it, she could have dictated to him, what
he had still to say--"is so painful, so delicate. M. Jenkins is
leaving Paris for a long time, and in the fear of exposing you to the
hazards and adventures of the new life he is undertaking, of taking
you away from a son you cherish, and in whose interest perhaps you had
She heard no more, saw no more, and while he was spinning out his
gossamer phrases, given over to despair, she heard the song over and
over in her mind, as the last image seen pursues a drowning man:
Le temps nous enleve
All at once her pride returned. "Let us put a stop to this, sir. All
your turns and phrases are only an additional insult. The fact is that
I am driven out--turned into the street like a servant."
"Oh, madame, madame! The situation is cruel enough, don't let us make
it worse by hard words. In the evolution of his /modus vivendi/ M.
Jenkins has to separate from you, but he does so with the greatest
pain to himself; and the proposals which I am charged to make are a
proof of his sentiments for you. First, as to furniture and clothes, I
am authorized to let you take--"
"That will do," said she. She flew to the bell. "I am going out. Quick
--my hat, my mantle, anything, never mind what. I am in a hurry."
And while they went to fetch her what she wanted she said:
"Everything here belongs to M. Jenkins. Let him dispose of it as he
likes. I want nothing from him. Don't insist; it is useless."
The man did not insist. His mission fulfilled, the rest mattered
little to him.
Steadily, coldly, she arranged her hat carefully before the glass, the
maid fastening her veil, and arranging on her shoulders the folds of
her mantle, then she looked round her and considered for a moment
whether she was forgetting anything precious to her. No, nothing--her
son's letters were in her pocket, she never allowed them to be away
"Madame does not wish for the carriage?"
"No." And she left the house.
It was about five o'clock. At that moment Bernard Jansoulet was
crossing the doorway of the legislative chamber, his mother on his
arm; but poignant as was the drama enacted there, this one surpassed
it--more sudden, unforeseen, and without any stage effects. A drama
between four walls, improvised in Paris day by day. Perhaps it is this
which gives that vibration to the air of the city, that tremor which
forces the nerves into activity. The weather was magnificent. The
streets of the wealthy quarter, large and straight as avenues, shone
in the declining light, embellished with open windows, flowery
balconies, and patches of green seen on the boulevards, light and soft
among the narrow, hard prospects of stone. Mme. Jenkins hurried in
this direction, walking aimlessly, in a dull stupor. What a horrible
crash! Five minutes ago rich, surrounded by all the respect and
comfort of easy circumstances. Now--nothing. Not even a roof to sleep
under, not even a name. The street!
Where was she to go? What would become of her?
At first she had thought of her son. But, to acknowledge her fault, to
blush before her own child, to weep while taking from him the right to
console her, was more than she could do. No, there was nothing for her
but death. To die as soon as possible, to escape shame by a complete
disappearance, to unravel in this way an inextricable situation. But
where to die! How? There are so many ways of departure! And she called
them all up mentally while she walked. Life flowed around her, its
luxury at this time of the year in full flower, round the Madeleine
and its market, in a space marked off by the perfume of carnations and
roses. On the wide footpath were well-dressed women whose skirts
mingled their rustle with the trembling of the young leaves; there was
some of the pleasure here of a meeting in a drawing-room, an air of
acquaintance among the passers-by, of smiles and discreet greetings in
passing. And all at once Mme. Jenkins, anxious lest her features might
betray her, fearing what might be thought if any one saw her rushing
on so blindly, slackened her pace to the aimless gait of an afternoon
walk, stopping here and there. The light materials of the dresses
spoke of summer, of the country; a thin skirt for the sandy paths of
the parks, gauze-trimmed hats for the seaside, fans, sunshades. Her
fixed eyes fastened on these trifles without seeing them; but in a
vague and pale reflection in the clear windows she saw her image,
lying motionless on the bed of some hotel, the leaden sleep of a
poison in her head; or, down there, beyond the walls, among the slime
of some sunken boat. Which of the two was better?
She hesitated, considered, compared; then, her decision made, started
off with the resolved air of a woman tearing herself regretfully from
the temptations of the window. As she moved away, the Marquis de
Monpavon, proud and well-dressed, a flower in his coat, saluted her at
a distance with that sweep of the hat so dear to women's vanity, the
well-bred brow, with the hat lifted high above the erect head. She
answered him with her pretty Parisian's greeting, expressed in an
imperceptible inclination of the body and a smile; and seeing this
exchange of politeness in the midst of the spring gaiety, one would
never think that the same sinister idea was guiding the two, meeting
by chance on the road they were traversing in opposite directions, but
to the same end.
The prediction of Mora's valet had come true for the marquis: "We may
die or lose power; then there will be a reckoning, and it will be
terrible." It was terrible. The former receiver-general had obtained
with difficulty a delay of a fortnight to make up his deficiencies,
taking the last chance that Jansoulet, with his election confirmed,
and with full control over his millions again, would come to the
rescue once more. The decision of the Assembly had just taken from him
this last hope. As soon as he knew it, he returned to the club calmly,
and went up to his room, where Francis was waiting impatiently for him
with an important paper just arrived. It was a notification to the
Sieur Louis-Marie-Agenor de Monpavon to appear the next day in the
office of the Juge d'Instruction. Was it addressed to the censor of
the Territorial Bank or to the former receiver-general? In any case,
the bold formula of a judicial assignation in the first instance,
instead of a private invitation, spoke sufficiently of the gravity of
the situation and the firm resolution of Justice.
In view of such an extremity, foreseen and expected for long, he had
made his plans. A Monpavon in the criminal courts!--a Monpavon,
librarian in a convict prison! Never! He put all his affairs in order,
tore up his papers, emptied his pockets carefully, and took something
from his toilet-table, so calmly and naturally, that when he said to
Francis, as he was going out, "Am going to the baths--That dirty
Chamber--Filthy dust"--the servant took him at his word. And the
marquis was not lying. His exciting post up there in the dust of the
tribune had tired him as much as two nights in the train; and his
decision to die associated itself with his desire to take a bath, the
old Sybarite thought of going to sleep in the bath, like what's his
name, and other famous personages of antiquity. And in justice, it
must be said that not one of these Stoics went to his death more
quietly than he.
With a white camellia in his buttonhole, above his rosette of the
Legion of Honour, he was going up the Boulevard des Capucines with a
light step, when the sight of Mme. Jenkins troubled his serenity for a
moment. She had a youthful air, a light in her eyes, something so
piquant that he stopped to look at her. Tall and beautiful, with her
long dress of black gauze, her shoulders wrapped in a lace mantle, her
hat trimmed with a garland of autumn leaves, she disappeared in the
midst of other elegant women in the balmy atmosphere; and the thought
that his eyes were going to close forever on this delightful sight,
whose pleasures he knew so well, saddened Monpavon a little, and took
the spring from his step. But a few paces farther on, a meeting of
another kind gave him back all his courage.
Some one, threadbare, shamefaced, dazzled by the light, was coming
down the Boulevard. It was old Marestang, former senator, former
minister, so deeply compromised in the affairs of the "Malta
Biscuits," that, in spite of his age, his services, and the great
scandal of such a proceeding, he had been condemned to two years of
prison, struck off the roll of the Legion of Honour, of which he had
been one of the dignitaries. The affair was long ago; the poor wretch
had just been let out of prison before his sentence had expired, lost,
ruined, not having even the means to gild his trouble, for he had had
to pay what he owed. Standing on the curb, he was waiting with bent
head till the crowds of carriages should allow him to pass,
embarrassed by this stoppage at the fullest spot of the boulevards
between the passers-by and the sea of open carriages filled with
familiar figures. Monpavon walking near him, caught his timid, uneasy
look, imploring a recognition and hiding from it at the same time. The
idea that one day he could humiliate himself thus, gave him a shudder
of revolt. "Oh! that is not possible!" And straightening himself up
and throwing out his chest, he kept on his way, firmer and more
resolute than before.
M. de Monpavon walks to his death! He goes there by the long line of
the boulevards, all on fire in the direction of the Madeleine, where
he treads the elastic asphalt once more as a lounger, nose in the air,
hands crossed behind. He has time; there is no hurry; he is master of
the rendezvous. At each instant he smiles before him, waves a greeting
from the ends of his fingers or makes the more formal bow we have just
seen. Everything revives him, charms him, the noise of the watering-
carts, the awnings of the /cafes/, pulled down to the middle of the
foot-paths. The approach of death gives him the feelings of a
convalescent accessible to all the delicacy, the hidden poesy of an
exquisite hour of summer in the midst of Parisian life--of an
exquisite hour--his last, and which he will prolong till night. No
doubt it is for that reason that he passes the sumptuous establishment
where he ordinarily takes his bath. He does not stop either at the
Chinese Baths. He is too well known here. All Paris would know of it
the same evening. There would be a scandal of bad taste, much coarse
rumour about his death in the clubs and drawing-rooms. And the old
sensualist, the well-bred man, wishes to spare himself this shame, to
plunge and be swallowed up in the vague anonymity of suicide, like
those soldiers who, after great battles, neither wounded, dead, or
living, are simply put down as "missing." That is why he has nothing
on him which can be recognised, or furnish a hint to the inquiries of
the police, why he seeks in this immense Paris the distant quarter
where will open for him the terrible but oblivious confusion of the
pauper's grave. Already, since Monpavon has been walking, the aspect
of the boulevard has changed. The crowd has become more compact, more
active, and preoccupied, the houses smaller, marked with signs of
commerce. When the gates of Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin are passed,
with their overflow from the faubourgs, the provincial physiognomy of
the town accentuates itself. The old beau no longer knows any one, and
can congratulate himself on being unknown.
The shopkeepers looking curiously after him, with his fine linen, his
well-cut coat, and good figure, take him for some famous actor
strolling on the boulevard--witness of his first triumphs--before the
play begins. The wind freshens, the twilight softens the distances,
and while the long road behind him still glitters, it grows darker now
at every step--like the past, with its retrospections to him who looks
back and regrets. It seems to Monpavon that he is walking into
blackness. He shivers a little, but does not falter, and continues to
walk with erect head and chest thrown out.
M. de Monpavon walks to his death! Now he is entering the complicated
labyrinth of noisy streets, where the clatter of the omnibus mingles
with the thousand humming trades of the working city, where the heat
of the factory chimneys loses itself in the fever of a whole people
struggling against hunger. The air trembles, the gutters steam, the
houses shake at the passing of the wagons, of the heavy drays rumbling
round the narrow streets. On a sudden the marquis stops; he has found
what he wanted. Between the black shop of a charcoal-seller and the
establishment of a packing-case maker, whose pine boards leaning on
the walls give him a little shiver, there is a wide door, surmounted
by its sign, the word BATHS on a dirty lantern. He enters, crosses a
little damp garden where a jet of water weeps in a rockery. Here is
the gloomy corner he was looking for. Who would ever believe that the
Marquis de Monpavon had come there to cut his throat? The house is at
the end, low, with green blinds and a glass door, with a sham air of a
villa. He asks for a bath, and while it is being prepared he smokes
his cigar at the window, with the noise of the water behind him, looks
at the flower-bed of sparse lilac, and the high walls which inclose
At the side there is a great yard, the court-yard of a fire station,
with a gymnasium, whose masts and swings, vaguely seen from below,
look like gibbets. A bugle-call sounds in the yard, and its call takes
the marquis thirty years back, reminds him of his campaigns in
Algeria, the high ramparts of Constantine, the arrival of Mora at the
regiment, and the duels, and the little parties. Ah! how well life
began then! What a pity that those cursed cards--ps--ps--ps-- Well,
it's something to have saved appearances.
"Your bath is ready, sir," said the attendant.
At that moment, breathless and pale, Mme. Jenkins was entering Andre's
studio, where an instinct stronger than her will had brought her--the
wish to embrace her child before she died. When she opened the door
(he had given her a key) she was relieved to find that he was not
there, and that she would have time to calm her excitement, increased
as it was by the long walk to which she was so little accustomed. No
one was there. But on the table was the little note which he always
left when he went out, so that his mother, whose visits were becoming
shorter and less frequent on account of the tyranny of Jenkins, could
tell where he was, and wait for him or rejoin him easily. The two had
not ceased to love each other deeply, tenderly, in spite of the
cruelty of life which forced into the relations of mother and son the
clandestine precautions of an intrigue.
"I am at my rehearsal," said the note to-day, "I shall be back at
This attention of the son, whom she had not seen for three weeks, yet
who persisted in expecting her all the same, brought to the mother's
eyes the flood of tears which was suffocating her. She felt as if she
had just entered a new world. This little room was so pure, so quiet,
so elevated. It kept the last rays of the setting sun on its windows,
and seemed, with its bare walls, hewn from a corner of the sky. It was
adorned only with one great portrait, hers, nothing but hers, smiling
in the place of honour, and again, down there, on the table in a gilt
frame. This humble little lodging, so light when all Paris was
becoming dark, made an extraordinary impression on her, in spite of
the poverty of its sparse furniture, scattered in two rooms, its
common chintz, and its chimney garnished with two great bunches of
hyacinths--those flowers which are hawked round the streets in
barrowsful. What a good and worthy life she could have led by the side
of her Andre! And in her mind's eye she had arranged her bed in one
corner, her piano in another, she saw herself giving lessons, and
caring for the home to which she was adding her share of ease and
courageous gaiety. How was it that she had not seen that her duty, the
pride of her widowhood, was there? By what blindness, what unworthy
It was a great fault, no doubt, but one for which many excuses might
be found in her easy and tender disposition, and the clever knavery of
her accomplice, always talking of marriage, hiding from her that he
himself was no longer free, and when at last obliged to confess it,
painting such a picture of his dull life, of his despair, of his love,
that the poor creature, so deeply compromised already, and incapable
of one of those heroic efforts which raise the sufferer above the
false situations, had given way at last, had accepted this double
existence, so brilliant and so miserable, built on a lie which had
lasted ten years. Ten years of intoxicating success and unspeakable
unhappiness--ten years of singing, with the fear of exposure between
each verse--where the least remark on irregular unions wounded her
like an allusion--where the expression of her face had softened to the
air of mild humility, of a guilty woman begging for pardon. Then the
certainty that she would be deserted had come to spoil even these
borrowed joys, had tarnished her luxury; and what misery, what
sufferings borne in silence, what incessant humiliations, even to this
last, the most terrible of all!
While she is thus sadly reviewing her life in the cool of the evening
and the calm of the deserted house, a gust of happy laughter rose from
the rooms beneath; and recalling the confidences of Andre, his last
letter telling the great news, she tried to distinguish among all
these fresh and limpid voices that of her daughter Elise, her son's
betrothed, whom she did not know, whom she would never know. This
reflection added to the misery of her last moments, and loaded them
with so much remorse and regret that, in spite of her will to be
brave, she wept.
Night comes on little by little. Large shadows cover the sloping
windows, where the immense depth of the sky seems to lose its colour,
and to deepen into obscurity. The roofs seem to draw close together
for the night, like soldiers preparing for the attack. The bells count
the hours gravely, while the martins fly round their hidden nests, and
the wind makes its accustomed invasion of the rubbish of the old wood-
yard. To-night it sighs with the sound of the river, a shiver of the
fog; it sighs of the river, to remind the unfortunate woman that it is
there she must go. She shivers beforehand in her lace mantle. Why did
she come here to reawaken her desire for a life impossible after the
avowal she was forced to make? Hasty steps shake the staircase; the
door opens precipitately; it is Andre. He is singing, happy, in a
great hurry, for they are waiting dinner for him below. But, as he is
striking the match, he feels that someone is in the room--a moving
shadow among the shadows at rest.
"Who is there?"
Something answers him like a stifled laugh or a sob. He believes that
it is one of his little neighbours, a plot of the children to amuse
themselves. He draws near. Two hands, two arms, seize and surround
"It is I."
And with a feverish voice, hurrying as if to assure herself, she tells
him that she is setting out on a long journey, and that before going--
"A journey! And where are you going?"
"Oh, I do not know. We are going over there, a long way, on business
in his own part of the world."
"What! You will not be here for my play? It is in three days. And
then, immediately after, my marriage. Come now, he cannot hinder you
from coming to my marriage?"
She makes excuses, imagines reasons, but her hands burning between her
son's, and her altered voice, tell Andre that she is not speaking the
truth. He is going to strike a light; she prevents him.
"No, no; it is useless. We are better without it. Besides, I have so
much to get ready still. I must go away."
They are both standing up, ready for the separation, but Andre will
not let her go without telling him what is the matter, what tragic
care is hollowing that fair face where the eyes--was it an effect of
the dusk?--shone with a strange light.
"Nothing; no, nothing, I assure you. Only the idea of not being able
to take part in your happiness, your triumph. At any rate, you know I
love you; you don't mistrust your mother, do you? I have never been a
day without thinking of you: do the same--keep me in your heart. And
now kiss me and let me go quickly. I have waited too long."
Another minute and she would have the strength for what she had to do.
She darts forward.
"No, you shall not go. I feel that something extraordinary is
happening in your life which you do not want to tell. You are in some
great trouble, I am sure. This man has done some infamous thing."
"No, no. Let me go! Let me go!"
But he held her fast.
"Tell me, what is it? Tell me."
Then, whispering in her ear, with a voice tender and low as a kiss:
"He has left you, hasn't he?"
The wretched woman shivers, hesitates.
"Ask me nothing. I will say nothing. Adieu!"
He pressed her to his heart:
"What could you tell me that I do not know already, poor mother? You
did not guess, then, why I left six months ago?"
"I know everything. And what has happened to you to-day I have
foreseen for long, and hoped for."
"Oh, wretch, wretch that I am, why did I come?"
"Because it is your home, because you owe me ten years of my mother.
You see now that I must keep you."
He said all this on his knees, before the sofa on which she had let
herself fall, in a flood of tears, and the last painful sobs of her
wounded pride. She wept thus for long, her child at her feet. And now
the Joyeuse family, anxious because Andre did not come down, hurried
up in a troop to look for him. It was an invasion of innocent faces,
transparent gaiety, floating curls, modest dress, and over all the
group shone the big lamp, the good old lamp with the vast shade which
M. Joyeuse solemnly carried, as high, as straight as he could, with
the gesture of a caryatid. Suddenly they stopped before this pale and
sad lady, who looked, touched to the depths, at all this smiling
grace, above all at Elise, a little behind the others, whose conscious
air in this indiscreet visit points her out as the /fiancee/.
"Elise, embrace our mother and thank her. She has come to live with
There she is, caught in all these caressing arms, pressed against four
little feminine hearts which have missed the shelter of a mother's
love for so long; there she is introduced, and so gently, into the
luminous circle of the family lamp, widened to allow her to take her
place there, to dry her eyes, to warm and brighten her spirit at this
steady flame, even in this little studio near the roof, where just now
the terrible storm blew so wildly.
He who breathes his last over there, lying in his blood-stained bath,
has never known this sacred flame. Egoistical and hard, he has lived
up to the last for show, throwing out his chest in a bubble of vanity.
And this vanity was what was best in him. It alone had held him firm
and upright so long; it alone clinched his teeth on the groans of his
last agony. In the damp garden the water drips sadly. The bugle of the
firemen sounds the curfew. "Go and look at No. 7," says the mistress,
"he will never have done with his bath." The attendant goes, and
utters a cry of fright, of horror: "Oh, madame, he is dead! But it is
not the same man." They go, but nobody can recognise the fine
gentleman who entered a short time ago, in this death's-head puppet,
the head leaning on the edge of the bath, a face where the blood
mingles with paint and powder, all the limbs lying in the supreme
lassitude of a part played to the end--to the death of the actor. Two
cuts of the razor across the magnificent chest, and all the factitious
majesty has burst and resolved itself into this nameless horror, this
heap of mud, of blood, of spoiled and dead flesh, where,
unrecognisable, lies the man of appearances, the Marquis Louis-Marie-
Agenor de Monpavon.
MEMOIRS OF AN OFFICE PORTER
THE LAST LEAVES
I put down in haste and with an agitated pen the terrible events of
which I have been the plaything for the last few days. This time it is
all up with the Territorial and with my ambitious dreams. Disputed
bills, men in possession, visits of the police, all our books in the
hands of the courts, the governor fled, Bois l'Hery, the director, in
prison, another--Monpavon--disappeared. My brain reels in the midst of
these catastrophes. And if I had obeyed the warnings of reason, I
should have been quietly six months ago at Montbars cultivating my
vineyard, with no other care than that of seeing the clusters grow
round and golden in the good Burgundian sun, and to gather from the
leaves, after the dew, the little gray snails, so excellent when they
are fried. I should have built for myself with my savings, at the end
of the vineyard, on the height--I can see the place at this moment--a
tower in rough stone, like M. Chalmette's, so convenient for an
afternoon nap, while the quails are chirping round the place. But
always misled by deceiving illusions, I wished to enrich myself,
speculate, meddle in finance, chain my fortune to the car of the
conquerors of the day; and now here I am back again in the saddest
pages of my history, clerk in a bankrupt establishment, my duty to
answer a horde of creditors, of shareholders drunk with fury, who load
my white hairs with the worst outrages, and would like to make me
responsible for the ruin of the Nabob and the flight of the governor;
as if I myself was not as cruelly struck by the loss of my four years
of arrears, and my seven thousand francs which I had confided to that
scoundrel of Paganetti de Porto-Vecchio.
But it is my fate to empty the cup of humiliation and degradation to
the dregs. Have I not been made to appear before a Juge d'Instruction
--I, Passajon, former apparitor of the faculty, with thirty years of
faithful service, and the ribbon of Officer of the Academy? Oh! when I
saw myself going up that staircase of the Palace of Justice, so big,
so conspicuous, without a rail to hold by, I felt my head turning and
my legs sinking under me. I was forced to reflect there, crossing
these halls, black with lawyers and judges, studded with great green
doors behind which one heard the imposing noise of the hearings; and
up higher, in the corridor of the Juges d'Instruction, during my
hour's waiting on a bench, where the prison vermin crawled on my legs,
while I listened to a lot of thieves, pickpockets, and loose women
talking and laughing with the gendarmes, and the butts of the rifles
echo in the passages, and the dull roll of prison vans. I understood
then the danger of "combinations," and that it was not always good to
ridicule M. Gogo.
What reassured me, however, was that never having taken any part in
the deliberations of the Territorial, I had no share in their dealings
and intrigues. But explain this to me: Once in the judge's office,
before that man in a velvet cap looking at me across his table with
his little eyes like hooks, I felt so pierced through, searched,
turned over to the very depth of my being, that, in spite of my
innocence, I wanted to confess. Confess what? I don't know. But that
is the effect which the law had. This devil of a man spent five
minutes looking at me without speaking, all the while turning over a
book filled with writing not unknown to me, and suddenly he said, in a
mocking and severe tone:
"Well, M. Passajon, how long is it since the affair of the drayman?"
The memory of a certain little misdeed, in which I had taken part in
my days of distress, was already so distant that I did not understand
at once; but some words of the judge showed me how completely he knew
the history of our bank. This terrible man knew everything, down to
the least details, the most secret things. Who could have informed him
It was all very short, very dry, and, when I wished to enlighten
justice with some wise observations, a certain insolent fashion of
saying, "Don't make phrases," so much the more wounding at my age and
with my reputation of a good talker; also we were not alone in his
office. A clerk seated near me was writing down my deposition, and
behind I heard the noise of great leaves turning. The judge asked me
all sorts of questions about the Nabob--the time when he had made his
payments, the place where we kept our books; and all at once,
addressing himself to the person whom I could not see: "Show us the
cash-book, /M. l'Expert/."
A little man in a white tie brought the great register to the table.
It was M. Joyeuse, the former cashier of Hemerlingue & Sons. But I had
not time to offer him my respects.
"Who has done that?" asked the judge, opening the book where a page
was torn out. "Don't lie, now."
I did not lie; I knew nothing of it, never having had to do with the
books. However, I thought it my duty to mention M. de Gery, the
Nabob's secretary, who often came at night into the office and shut
himself up for hours casting balances. Then little Father Joyeuse
turned red with anger.
"That is an absurdity, M. le Juge d'Instruction. M. de Gery is the
young man of whom I have spoken to you. He came to the Territorial as
a superintendent, and thought too much of this poor M. Jansoulet to
remove the receipts for his payments; that is the proof of his blind
but thorough honesty. Besides, M. de Gery, who has been detained in
Tunis, is on his way back, and will furnish before long all the
I felt that my zeal was about to compromise me.
"Take care, Passajon," said the judge. "You are only here as a
witness; but if you attempt to mislead justice, you may return a
prisoner" (he, the monster, had, indeed, the manner of desiring it).
"Come now, consider; who tore out this page?"
Then I very fortunately remembered that some days before he left Paris
the governor had me made bring the books to his house, where they were
all night. The clerk took a note of my declaration, after which the
judge dismissed me with a sign, warning me to be ready when I was
wanted. Then, on the threshold, he called me back: "Stay, M. Passajon,
take this away. I don't want it any more."
He held out the papers he had been consulting while he was questioning
me; and judge of my confusion when I saw on the cover the word
"Memoirs," written in my best round-hand. I, myself, had provided
material to Justice--important details which the suddenness of our
catastrophe had prevented me from saving from the police search of our
My first idea on returning home was to tear up these indiscreet
papers; but on reflection, and after having assured myself that the
Memoirs contained nothing that would compromise me, I have decided to
go on with them, with the certainty of getting some profit out of them
one day or another. There are plenty of novelists at Paris who have no
imagination and can only put true stories in their books, who would be
glad to buy a little book of incidents. That is how I shall avenge
myself on this society of well-to-do swindlers, with which I have been
mixed up to my shame and misfortune.
Besides, I must occupy my leisure time. There is nothing to do at the
bank, which is completely deserted since the judicial inquiry began,
except to arrange the bills of all colours. I have again undertaken
the writing for the cook on the second floor, Mlle. Seraphine, from
whom I accept in return some little refreshment, which I keep in the
strong-box, once more become a provision safe. The wife of the
governor is also very good to me, and stuffs my pockets each time I go
to see her in her great rooms on the Chaussee d'Antin. There nothing
has changed; the same luxury, the same comfort, also a three-months'-
old baby--the seventh--and a superb nurse, whose Norman cap is the
admiration of the Bois de Boulogne. It seems that once started on the
rails of fortune, people need a certain time to slacken their speed or
stop. Besides, this thief of a Paganetti had, in case of accident,
settled everything on his wife. Perhaps that is why this rag-bag of an
Italian woman has such an unshakable admiration for him. He has fled,
he is in hiding; but she remains convinced that her husband is a
little Saint-John of innocence, the victim of his goodness and
credulity. One ought to hear her. "You know him, you Moussiou
Passajon. You know if he is scrupulous. But as true as there is a God,
if my husband had committed such crimes as he is accused of, I myself
--you hear me--I myself would put a blunderbuss in his hands, and
would say to him, 'Here, Tchecco, blow out your brains!' " and by the
way in which she opens the nostrils of her little turned-up nose, her
round eyes, black as jet, one feels that this little Corsican would
have acted as she spoke. He must be very clever, this infernal
governor, to deceive even his wife, to act a part even at home, where
the cleverest let themselves be seen as they really are.
In the meantime all these rogues have good dinners; even Bois l'Hery
has his meals sent in to the prison from the Cafe Anglais, and poor
old Passajon is reduced to live on scraps picked up in the kitchen.
Still we must not grumble too much. There are others more wretched
than we are--witness M. Francis, who came in this morning to the
Territorial, thin, pale, with dirty linen and frayed cuffs, which he
still pulled down by force of habit.
I was at the moment grilling some bacon before the fire in the board-
room, my plate laid on the corner of a marqueterie table, with a
newspaper underneath to preserve it. I invited Monpavon's valet to
share my frugal meal; but since he has waited on a marquis he had come
to think that he formed part of the nobility, and he declined with a
dignified air, perfectly ridiculous with his hollow cheeks. He began
by telling me that he still had no news of his master; that they had
sent him away from the club, all the papers under seal, and a horde of
creditors like locusts on the marquis's small wardrobe. "So that I am
a little short," added M. Francis. That is to say, that he had not the
worth of a radish in his pockets, that he had been sleeping for two
days on the benches in the streets, awakened at each instant by the
police, obliged to rise, to pretend to be drunk so as to seek another
shelter. As to eating, I believe he had not done so for a long time,
for he looked at the food with such hungry eyes as to wring one's
heart, and when I insisted on putting before him a slice of bacon and
a glass of wine, he fell on it like a wolf. All at once the blood came
back to his cheeks and, still eating, he began to chatter.
"You know, /pere/ Passajon," said he to me between two mouthfuls, "I
know where he is. I have seen him."
He winked his eye knowingly. I looked at him in wonder. "Who is it you
have seen, M. Francis?"
"The marquis, my master--over there in the little white house behind
Notre-Dame." (He did not use the word morgue, it is too low.) "I was
sure I should find him there. I went there first thing next morning.
There he was. Oh, well disguised, I tell you. Only his valet could
recognise him. The hair gray, the teeth gone, the wrinkles showing his
sixty-five years, which he used to hide so well. On the marble slab,
with the tap running above, I seemed to see him at his dressing-
"And you said nothing?"
"No. I knew his intentions on the subject for long. I let him go away
discreetly, without awakening attention, as he wished. But, all the
same, he might have given me a crust of bread before he went, after a
service of twenty years."
And on a sudden, striking the table with his fist with rage:
"When I think that if I had liked I might have been with Mora, instead
of going to Monpavon, that I might have had Louis's place. What luck
he has had! How many bags of gold he laid his hands on when his duke
died! And the wardrobe--hundreds of shirts, a dressing-gown of blue
fox fur worth more than twenty thousand francs. Like Noel, too, he
must have made his pile! He had to hurry, too, for he knew that it
would stop soon. Now there is nothing to be got in the Place Vendome.
An old policeman of a mother who manages everything. Saint-Romans is
to be sold, the pictures are to be sold, half the house to be let. It
is a real break-up."
I must confess that I could not help showing my satisfaction, for this
wretched Jansoulet is the cause of all our misfortunes. A man who
boasted of being so rich, who said so everywhere. The public bit at it
like a fish who sees the scales shine through the net. He has lost
millions, I admit, but why did he make us believe he had more? They
have arrested Bois l'Hery; they should have arrested /him/. Ah! if we
had had another expert, I am sure it would have been done. Besides, as
I said to Francis, you had only to look at this upstart of a Jansoulet
to see what he was worth. What a head--like a bandit!
"And so common," said the ex-valet.
"An absolute want of form. Well, there he is on his beam-ends, and
then Jenkins, too, and plenty of others with them."
"What! the doctor too? Ah! so much the worse. Such a polite and
"Yes, still another breaking-up of his establishment. Horses,
carriages, furniture. The yard of the house is full of bills, and it
sounds as empty as if some one were dead. The place at Nanterre is on
sale. There were half a dozen of the 'little Bethlehems' left whom
they packed up in a cab. It is a break-up, I tell you, /pere/
Passajon, a ruin which we, old as we are, may not see the end of, but
it will be complete. Everything is rotten, it must all come down!"
He was a sinister figure, this old steward of the Empire, thin,
stubbly, covered with mud, and shouting like a Jeremiah, "It is the
downfall!" with a toothless mouth, black and wide open. I felt afraid
and ashamed of him, with a great desire to see him outside, and I
thought: "Oh, M. Chalmette! Oh, my little vineyard of Montbars!"
/Same date/.--Great news. Mme. Gaganetti came this afternoon to bring
me mysteriously a letter from the governor. He is in London, going to
begin a magnificent thing. Fine offices in the best part of the town,
a superb list of shareholders. He offers me the chance of joining him,
"happy to repair thus the damage he has caused me," says he. I shall
have twice my wages at the Territorial, be lodged comfortably, five
shares in the new bank, and all my arrears paid. All I need is a
little money to go there and to pay a few small debts round here. Good
luck! My fortune is assured. I shall write to the notary of Montbars
to mortgage my vineyard.
As M. Joyeuse had told the Juge d'Instruction, Paul de Gery returned
from Tunis after three weeks' absence. Three interminable weeks spent
in struggling among intrigues, and traps secretly laid by the powerful
hatred of the Hemerlingues--in wandering from hall to hall, from
ministry to ministry through the immense palace of the Bardo, which
gathered within one enclosure, bristling with culverins, all the
departments of the State, as much under the master's eye as his
stables and harem. On his arrival, Paul had learned that the Chamber
of Justice was preparing secretly Jansoulet's trial--a derisive trial,
lost beforehand; and the closed offices of the Nabob on the Marine
Quay, the seals on his strong boxes, his ships moored to the Goulette,
a guard round his palace, seemed to speak of a sort of civil death, of
a disputed succession of which the spoils would not long remain to be
There was not a defender, nor a friend, in this voracious crowd; the
French colony itself appeared satisfied with the fall of a courtier
who had so long monopolized the roads to favour. To attempt to snatch
this prey from the Bey, excepting by a striking triumph at the
Assembly, was not to be thought of. All that de Gery could hope for
was to save some shreds of his fortune, and this only if he hurried,
for he was expecting day by day to learn of his friend's complete
He set himself to work, therefore, hurried on his business with an
activity which nothing could discourage, neither Oriental
discursiveness--that refined fair-spoken politeness, under which is
hidden ferocity--nor coolly indifferent smiles, nor averted looks,
invoking divine fatalism when human lies fail. The self-possession of
this southerner, in whom was condensed, as it were, all the exuberance
of his compatriots, served him as well as his perfect knowledge of
French law, of which the Code of Tunis is only a disfigured copy.
By his diplomacy and discretion, in spite of the intrigues of
Hemerlingue's son--who was very influential at the Bardo--he succeeded
in withdrawing from confiscation the money lent by the Nabob some
months before, and to snatch ten millions out of fifteen from
Mohammed's rapacity. The very morning of the day on which the money
was to be paid over, he received from Paris the news of the unseating
of Jansoulet. He hurried at once to the Palace to arrive there before
the news, and on his return with the ten millions in bills on
Marseilles secure in his pocket-book, he passed young Hemerlingue's
carriage, with his three mules at full gallop. The thin owl's face was
radiant. De Gery understood that if he remained many hours at Tunis
his bills ran the risk of being confiscated, so took his place at once
on an Italian packet which was sailing next morning for Genoa, passed
the night on board, and was only easy in his mind when he saw far
behind him white Tunis with her gulf and the rocks of Cape Carthage
spread out before her. On entering Genoa, the steamer while making for
the quay passed near a great yacht with the Tunisian flag flying. De
Gery felt greatly excited, and for a moment believed that she had come
in pursuit of him, and that on landing he might be seized by the
Italian police like a common thief. But the yacht was swinging
peacefully at anchor, her sailors cleaning the deck or repainting the
red siren of her figurehead, as if they were expecting someone of
importance. Paul had not the curiosity to ask who this personage was.
He crossed the marble city, and returned by the coast railway from
Genoa to Marseilles--that marvellous route where one passes suddenly
from the blackness of the tunnels to the dazzling light of the blue
At Savona the train stopped, and the passengers were told that they
could go no farther, as one of the little bridges over the torrents
which rush from the mountains to the sea had been broken during the
night. They must wait for the engineer and the break-down gang,
already summoned by telegraph; wait perhaps a half day. It was early
morning. The Italian town was waking in one of those veiled dawns
which forecast great heat for the day. While the dispersed travellers
took refuge in the hotels, installed themselves in the /cafes/, and
others visited the town, de Gery, chafing at the delay, tried to think
of some means of saving these few hours. He thought of poor Jansoulet,
to whom the money he was bringing might save honour and life, of his
dear Aline, her whose remembrance had not quitted him a single day of
his journey, no more than the portrait which she had given him. Then
he was inspired to hire one of those four-horse /calesinos/ which run
from Genoa to Nice, along the Italian Corniche--an adorable trip which
foreigners, lovers, and winners at Monaco often enjoy. The driver
guaranteed that he would be at Nice early; and even if he arrived no
earlier than the train, his impatient spirit felt the comfort of
movement, of feeling at each turn of the wheel the distance from his
On a fine morning in June, when one is young and in love, it is a
delicious intoxication to tear behind four horses over the white
Corniche road. To the left, a hundred feet below, the sea sparkling
with foam, from the rounded rocks of the shore to those vapoury
distances where the blue of the waves and of the heavens mingle; red
or white sails are scattered over it like wings, steamers leaving
behind them their trail of smoke; and on the sands, fishermen no
larger than birds, in their anchored boats like nests. Then the road
descends, follows a rapid declivity along the rocks and sharp
promontories. The fresh wind from the waves shakes the little harness
bells; while on the right, on the side of the mountain, the rows of
pine-trees, the green oaks with roots capriciously leaving the arid
soil, and olive-trees growing on their terraces, up to a wide and
white pebbly ravine, bordered with grass, marking the passage of the
waters. This is really a dried-up water-course, which the loaded mules
ascend with firm foot among the shingle, and a washer-woman stoops
near a microscopic pond--the few drops that remained of the great
inundation of winter. From time to time one crosses the street of some
village, or little town rather, grown rusty through too much sun, of
historic age, the houses closely packed and joined by dark arcades--a
network of vaulted courts which clamber the hillside with glimpses of
the upper daylight, here and there letting one see crowds of children
with aureoles of hair, baskets of brilliant fruit, a woman coming down
the road, her water-pot on her head and her distaff on her arm. Then
at a corner of the street, the blue sparkle of the waves and the
immensity of nature.
But as the day advanced, the sun rising in the heavens spread over the
sea--now escaped from its mists, still with the transparence of quartz
--thousands of rays striking the water like arrow-heads, a dazzling
sight made doubly so by the whiteness of the rocks and of the soil, by
a veritable African sirocco which raised the dust in a whirlwind on
the road. They were coming to the hottest and most sheltered places of
the Corniche--a true exotic temperature, scattering dates, cactus, and
aloes. Seeing these thin trunks, this fantastic vegetation in the
white hot air, feeling the blinding dust crackle under the wheels like
snow, de Gery, his eyes half closed, dreaming in this leaden noon,
thought he was once more on that fatiguing road from Tunis to the
Bardo, in a singular medley of Levantine carriages with brilliant
liveries, of long-necked camels, of caparisoned mules, of young
donkeys, of Arabs in rags, of half-naked negroes, of officials in
full-dress with their guard of honour. Should he find there, where the
road ran through the gardens of palm-trees, the strange and colossal
architecture of the Bey's palace, its barred windows with closed
lattices, its marble gates, its balconies in carved wood painted in
bright colours?-- It was not the Bardo, but the lovely country of
Bordighera, divided, like all those on the coast, into two parts--the
sea town lying on the shore; and the upper town, joined to it by a
forest of motionless palm-trees, with upright stem and falling crown--
like green rockets, springing into the blue with their thousand
The insupportable heat, the overtired horses, forced the traveller to
stop for a couple of hours at one of those great hotels which line the
road, and bring every November into this little town, so marvellously
sheltered, the luxurious life and cosmopolitan animation of an
aristocratic wintering place. But at this time of year there was no
one in the sea town of Bordighera but fishermen, invisible at this
hour. The villas and hotels seemed dead, their blinds and shutters
closed. They took Paul through long, cool, and silent passages to a
great drawing-room facing north, which seemed to be part of the suites
let for the season, whose doors communicated with the other rooms.
White curtains, a carpet, the comfort demanded by the English even
when travelling, and outside the windows, which the hotel-keeper
opened wide to tempt the traveller to a longer stay, a splendid view
of the mountain. An astonishing quiet reigned in this great deserted
inn, with neither manager, nor cook, nor waiters--the whole staff
coming only in the winter--and given up for domestic needs to a local
spoil-sauce, expert at a /stoffato/, a /risotto/; also to two
stablemen, who clothed themselves at meal-time with the dress-coat and
white tie of office. Happily, de Gery was only going to remain there
for an hour or two, to rest his eyes from the overpowering light, his
head from the dolorous grip of the sun.
From the divan where he lay, the admirable landscape, diversified with
light and trembling leaves, seemed to descend to his window by stages
of different greens, where scattered villas shone white, and among
them that of Maurice Trott, the banker, recognisable by its capricious
architecture and the height of its palms.
The Levantine house, whose gardens came up to the windows of the
hotel, had sheltered for some months an artistic celebrity, the
sculptor Brehat, who was dying of consumption, and owed the prolonging
of his existence to this princely hospitality. The neighbourhood of
this dying celebrity--of which the hotel-keeper was proud, and which
he would have liked to charge in the bill--the name of Brehat, which
de Gery had so often heard pronounced with admiration in Felicia
Ruys's studio, brought back his thoughts to the beautiful face, with
its pure lines, which he had last seen in the Bois de Boulogue,
leaning on Mora's shoulder. What had become of this unfortunate girl
when this prop had failed her? Would this lesson be of use to her in
the future? And, by a strange coincidence, while he was thinking thus
of Felicia, a great white greyhound was bounding up an alley of green
trees on the slopes of the neighbouring garden. It was like Kadour--
the same short hair, the same mouth, red, fierce, and delicate. Paul,
before his open window, was assailed in a moment by all sorts of
visions, sad or charming. Perhaps the beauty of the scene before his
eyes made his thoughts wander. Under the orange-trees and lemon-trees
in rows, laden with their golden fruit, stretched immense fields of
violets in regular and packed beds, separated by little irrigation
canals, whose white stone cut up the exuberant verdure.
An exquisite ordour of violets dried in the sun was rising--a hot
boudoir scent, enervating, enfeebling, which called up for de Gery
feminine visions--Aline, Felicia--permeating the fairy-like landscape,
in this blue-charged atmosphere, this heavenly day, which one might
have called the perfume become visible of so many open flowers. The
creaking of a door made him open his eyes. Some one had just gone into
the next room. He heard the rustle of a dress against the thin
partition, a leaf turned in a book which could not be very
interesting, for a long sigh turning into a yawn made him start. Was
he still sleeping, dreaming? Had he not heard the cry of the "jackal
in the desert," so much in keeping with the burning temperature out of
doors? No--nothing more. He fell asleep again, and this time all the
confused images which pursued him fixed themselves in a dream--a very
He was on his honeymoon with Aline. She was a delicious wife, her
clear eyes full of love and faith, which only knew, only looked at
him. In this very room, on the other side of the partition, she was
sitting in white morning dress, which smelt of violets and of the fine
lace of her trousseau. They were having breakfast--one of those
solitary breakfasts of a honeymoon, served in their bedroom, opposite
the blue sea, and the clear sky, which tinge with azure the glass in
which one drinks, the eyes where one sees one's self, the future--life
--the distant horizon. Oh! how good it was; what a divine youth-giving
light; how happy they were!
And all at once, in the delight of their kisses, Aline became sad. Her
eyes filled with tears. She said to him: "Felicia is there. You will
love me no longer." And he laughed, "Felicia here? What an idea!"
"Yes, yes; she is there." Trembling she pointed to the next room, from
which came angry barks, and the voice of Felicia: "Here, Kadour! Here,
Kadour!" the low, concentrated, furious voice of some one who is
hiding and suddenly discovered.
Wide awake, the lover, disenchanted, found himself in his empty room,
before an empty table, his dream, fled through the window to the great
hillside. But he heard very distinctly in the next room the bark of a
dog, and hurried knocks on the door.
"Open the door! It is I--it is Jenkins."
Paul sat up on his divan, stupefied. Jenkins here? How was that? To
whom was he speaking? What voice was going to answer him? No one
answered. A light step went to the door, and the lock creaked
"Here you are at last," said the Irishman, entering.
And truly if he had not taken care to announce himself, Paul would
never have taken this brutal, violent, hoarse voice heard through the
partition for the doctor's with his sugary manners.
"At last I have found you after a week of searching, of mad rushing
from Genoa to Nice, from Nice to Genoa. I knew that you had not gone,
because the yacht was in the harbour, and I was going to inspect all
the inns on the coast, when I remembered Brehat. I have just come from
him. It was he who told me you were here."
But to whom was he speaking? Who was so singularly obstinate? At last
a beautiful, sad voice, which Paul well knew, made the hot afternoon
"Well, yes, Jenkins, here I am. What is the matter?"
Through the wall Paul could see the disdainful mouth, turned down with
"I have come to prevent you from going--from doing this foolish
"What foolish thing? I have some work at Tunis. I must go there."
"But you don't think, my dear child, that--"
"Oh, enough of your fatherly airs, Jenkins. We know what lies
underneath it. Speak to me as you did just now. I prefer the bull-dog
to the spaniel. I fear it less."
"Well, I tell you that you must be mad to go over there alone, young
and beautiful as you are."
"And am I not always alone? Would you like me to take Constance, at
"You!" She pronounced the word with an ironical laugh. "And what about
Paris? And your patients--deprive society of its Cagliostro? Never, on
"I have, however, made up my mind to follow you wherever you go," said
There was an instant of silence. Paul asked himself if it was worthy
of him to listen to this conversation which was full of terrible
revelations. But in spite of his fatigue an invincible curiosity
nailed him to the spot. It seemed to him that the enigma which had so
long been perplexing and troubling him was going to be solved at last,
to show the woman sad or perverse, concealed by the fashionable
artist. He remained there, still holding his breath, needlessly,
however; for the two, believing themselves to be alone in the hotel,
let their passions and their voices rise without constraint.
"Well, what do you want of me?"
"I want you."
"Yes, yes, I know; you have forbidden me to say such words before you,
but other men than I have said them, and nearer still."
"And if it were so, wretch! If I have not been able to protect myself
from disgust and boredom, if I have lost my pride, is it for you to
say a word? As if you were not the cause of it; as if you had not
forever saddened and darkened my life for me!"
And these burning and rapid words revealed to the terrified Paul de
Gery the horrible meaning of this apparently affectionate
guardianship, against which the mind, the thought, the dreams of the
young girl had had to struggle so long, and which had left her the
incurable sadness of precocious regret, the heart-break of a life
"I loved you! I love you still! Passion excuses everything," answered
Jenkins in a hollow voice.
"Love me, then, if that amuses you. As for me, I hate you not only for
the wrong you have done me, all the beliefs and energy you have killed
in me, but because you represent what is most execrable, most hideous
under the sun--hypocrisy and lies. This society masquerade, this heap
of falsity, of grimaces, of cowardly and unclean conventions have
sickened me to such an extent, that I am running away exiling myself
so as to see them no longer; rather than them I would have the prison,
the sewer, the streets. And yet it is your deceit, O sublime Jenkins,
which horrifies me most. You have mingled our French hypocrisy, all
smiles and politeness, with your large English shakes of the hand,
with your cordial and demonstrative loyalty. They have all been caught
by it. They said, 'The good Jenkins; the worthy, honest Jenkins.' But
I--I knew you, and in spite of your fine motto on the envelopes of
your letters, on your seal, your sleeve-links, your hat-bands, the
doors of your carriage, I always saw the rascal you are."
Her voice hissed through her teeth, clinched by an incredible ferocity
of expression, and Paul expected some furious revolt of Jenkins under
so many insults. But this hate and contempt of the woman he loved must
have given him more sorrow than anger, for he answered softly, in a
tone of wounded gentleness:
"Oh! you are cruel. If you knew the pain you are giving me! Hypocrite!
yes, it is true; but I was not born like that. One is forced into it
by the difficulties of life. When one has the wind against one, and
wishes to advance, one tacks. I have tacked. Lay the blame on my
miserable beginnings, my false entry into existence, and agree at
least that one thing in me has never lied--my passion! Nothing has
been able to kill it--neither your disdain, nor your abuse, nor all
that I have read in your eyes, which for so many years have not once
smiled at me. It is still my passion which gives me the strength, even
after what I have just heard, to tell you why I am here. Listen! You
told me once that you wanted a husband--some one who would watch over
you during your work, who would take over some of the duties of the
poor Crenmitz. Those were your own words, which wounded me then
because I was not free. Now all that is changed. Will you marry me,
"And your wife?" cried the young girl, while Paul was asking himself
the same question.
"My wife is dead."
"Dead? Mme. Jenkins? Is it true?"
"You never knew her of whom I speak. The other was not my wife. When I
met her I was already married in Ireland--years before. A horrible
forced marriage. My dear, when I was twenty-five I was confronted with
this alternative: a debtor's prison or Miss Strang, an ugly and gouty
old maid, sister of the usurer who had lent me five hundred pounds to
pay for my medical studies. I preferred the prison; but after weeks
and months I came to the end of my courage, and I married Miss Strang,
who brought me for dowry--my note of hand. You can guess what my life
was between these two monsters who adored each other. A jealous,
impotent wife. The brother spied on me, following me everywhere. I
should have gone away, but one thing kept me there. The usurer was
said to be very rich. I wished to have some return for my cowardice.
You see, I tell you all. Come now, I have been punished. Old Strang
died insolvent; he used to gamble, had ruined himself without saying a
word. Then I put my wife and her rheumatism in a hospital, and came to
France. I had to begin existence again, more struggles and misery. But
I had experience on my side, hatred and contempt for men, and my newly
conquered liberty, for I did not dream that the horrible weight of
this cursed union was going to hinder my getting on, at that distance.
Happily, it is over--I am free."
"Yes, Jenkins, free. But why do you not make your wife the poor
creature who has shared your life so long, so humble and devoted as
"Oh!" said he, with an outburst of sincerity, "between my two prisons
I would prefer the other, where I could be frankly indifferent. But
the atrocious comedy of conjugal love, of unwearying happiness, when
for so long I had loved you and thought of you alone! There is not
such a torture on earth. If I can guess, the poor woman must have
uttered a cry of relief and happiness at the separation. It is the
only adieu I hoped for from her."
"But who forced you to such a thing?"
"Paris, society, the world. Married by its opinion, we were held by
"And now you are held no longer?"
"Now something comes before all--it is the idea of losing you, of
seeing you no longer. Oh! when I learned of your flight, when I saw
the bill over your door TO LET, I felt sure that it was all up with
poses and grimaces, that I had nothing else to do but to set out, to
run quickly after my happiness, which you were taking away. You were
leaving Paris--I have left it. Everything of yours was being sold;
everything of mine will be sold."
"And she?" said Felicia trembling. "She, the irreproachable companion,
the honest woman whom no one has ever suspected, where will she go?
What will she do? And it is her place you have just offered me. A
stolen place, think what a hell! Well, and your motto, good Jenkins,
virtuous Jenkins, what shall we do with it? '/Le bien sans
At this sneer, cutting his face like a whip, the wretch answered
"That will do! Do not sneer at me so. It is too horrible now. Does it
not touch you, then, to be loved as I love you in sacrificing
everything to you--fortune, honour, respect? See, look at me. I have
snatched my mask off for you, I have snatched if off before all. And
now, see, here is the hypocrite."
He heard the muffled noise of two knees falling on the floor. And
stammering, distracted with love, weak before her, he begged her to
consent to this marriage, to give him the right to follow her
everywhere, to defend her. Then the words failed him, stifled in a
passionate sob, so deep, so lacerating that it should have touched any
heart, above all among this splendid impassible scenery in this
perfumed heat. But Felicia was not touched. "Let us have done,
Jenkins," said she brusquely. "What you ask is impossible. We have
nothing to hide from each other, and after your confidences just now,
I wish to make one to you, which humbles my pride, but your
degradation makes you worthy. I was Mora's mistress."
Paul knew this. And yet it was so sad to hear this beautiful, pure
voice laden with such a confession, in the midst of the intoxicating
air, that he felt his heart contract.
"I knew it," answered Jenkins in a low voice, "I have the letters you
wrote to him."
"Oh, I will give them to you--here. I know them by heart. I have read
and reread them. It is that which hurts one, when one loves. But I
have suffered other tortures. When I think that it was I--" He stopped
himself. He choked. "I who had to furnish fuel for your flames, warm
this frozen lover, send him to you ardent and young-- Ah! he has
devoured my pearls--I might refuse over and over again, he was always
taking them. At last I was mad. You wish to burn, wretched woman.
Well, burn, then!"
Paul rose to his feet in terror. Was he going to hear the confession
of a crime? But the shame of hearing more was not inflicted on him. A
violent knocking, this time on his own door, warned him that his
/calesino/ was ready.
"Is the French gentleman ready?"
In the next room there was silence, then a whisper.--There had been
some one near who had heard them.--Paul de Gery hurried downstairs. He
must get out of this room to escape the weight of so much infamy.
As the post-chaise swayed, he saw among the common white curtains,
which float at all the windows in the south, a pale figure with the
hair of a goddess, and great burning eyes fixed on him. But a glance
at Aline's portrait quickly dispelled this disturbing vision, and
forever cured of his old love, he travelled until evening through the
magic landscape with the lovely bride of the /dejeuner/, who carried
in the folds of her modest robe and mantle all the violets of
THE FIRST NIGHT OF "REVOLT"
"Take your places for the first act!"
The cry of the stage-manager, standing with his hand raised to his
mouth to form a trumpet, at the foot of the staircase behind the
scenes, echoes under the roof, rises and rolls along, to be lost in
the depths of corridors full of the noise of doors banging, of hasty
steps, of desperate calls to the /coiffeur/ and the dressers; while
there appear one by one on the landings of the various floors, slow
and majestic, without moving their heads for fear of disturbing the
least detail of their make-up, all the personages of the first act of
/Revolt/, in elegant modern ball costumes, with the creaking of new
shoes, the silken rustle of the trains, the jingling of rich bracelets
pushed up the arm while gloves are being buttoned. All these people
seem excited, nervous, pale beneath their paint, and under the
skilfully prepared satin-like surface of the shoulders, tremors
flutter like shadows. Dry-mouthed, they speak little. The least
nervous, while affecting to smile, have in their eyes and voice the
hesitation that marks an absent mind--that apprehension of the battle
behind the foot-lights which is ever one of the most powerful
attractions of the comedian's art, its piquancy, its freshness.
The stage is encumbered by the passage to and fro of machinists and
scene-builders hastening about, running into one another in the dim,
pallid light falling from above, which will give place directly, as
soon as the curtain rises, to the dazzling of the foot-lights.
Cardailhac is there in his dress-coat and white tie, his opera hat on
one side, giving a final glance to the arrangement of the scenery,
hurrying the workmen, complimenting the /ingenue/ who is waiting
dressed and ready, beaming, humming an air, looking superb. To see him
no one would ever guess the terrible worries which distract him. He is
compromised by the fall of the Nabob--which entails the loss of his
directorate--and is risking his all on the piece of this evening,
obliged, if it be not a success, to leave the cost of this marvellous
scenery, these stuffs at a hundred francs the yard, unpaid. It is a
fourth bankruptcy that stares him in the face. But, bah! our manager
is confident. Success, like all the monsters that feed on men, loves
youth; and this unknown author, whose name is appearing for the first
time on a theatre bill, flatters the gambler's superstitions.
Andre Maranne feels less confident. As the hour for the production of
the piece approaches he loses faith in his work, terrified by the
sight of the house, at which he looks through the hole in the curtain
as through the narrow lens of a stereoscope.
A splendid house, crammed to the roof, notwithstanding the late period
of the spring and the fashionable taste for early departure to the
country; a house that Cardailhac, a declared enemy of nature and the
country, endeavouring always to keep Parisians in Paris till the
latest possible date, has succeeded in crowding and making as
brilliant as in midwinter. Fifteen hundred heads are swarming beneath
the great central chandelier, erect--bent forward--turning round--
questioning amid a great play of shadows and reflections; some massed
in the obscure corners of the floor, others in a bright light
reflected through the open doors of the boxes from the white walls of
the corridor; the first-night public which is always the same, that
brigand-like /tout Paris/ which goes everywhere, carrying those envied
places by storm when a favour or a claim by right of some official
position fails to secure them.
In the stalls are low-cut waistcoats, clubmen, shining bald heads,
wide partings in scanty hair, light-coloured gloves, big opera-glasses
raised and directed towards various points. In the galleries a mixture
of different social sets and all kinds of dress, all the people well
known as figuring at this kind of solemnity, and the embarrassing
promiscuity which places the modest smile of the virtuous woman along-
side of the black-ringed eyes, the vermilion-painted lips of her who
belongs to another category. White hats, pink hats, diamonds and
paint. Above, the boxes present the same confusion; actresses and
women of the demi-monde, ministers, ambassadors, famous authors,
critics--these last wearing a grave air and frowning brow, sitting
crosswise in their /fauteuils/ with the impassive haughtiness of
judges whom nothing can corrupt. The boxes near the stage especially
stand out in the general picture brilliantly lighted, occupied by
celebrities of the financial world, the women /decollete/ and with
bare arms, glittering with jewels like the Queen of Sheba on her visit
to the King of Judea. But on the left, one of these large boxes,
entirely empty, attracts attention by reason of its curious
decoration, lighted from the back by a Moorish lantern. Over the whole
assembly is an impalpable and floating dust, the flickering of the
gas, that odour that mingles with all the pleasures of Paris, its
little sputterings, sharp and quick like the breaths drawn by a
consumptive, accompanying the movement of opened fans. And then, too,
/ennui/, a gloomy /ennui/, the /ennui/ of seeing the same faces always
in the same places, with their defects or their poses, that uniformity
of fashionable gatherings which ends by establishing in Paris each
winter a spiteful and gossiping provincialism more petty than that of
the provinces themselves.
Maranne observed this ill-humour, this lassitude of the public, and
thinking of all the changes which the success of his play might bring
about in his simple life, he asked himself, full of a great anxiety,
what he could do to bring his ideas home to those thousands of people,
to pluck them away from their preoccupation, and to send through this
crowd a single current which should draw to himself those absent
glances, those minds of every different calibre, so difficult to move
to unison. Instinctively his eyes sought friendly faces, a box facing
the stage occupied by the Joyeuse family; Elise and the younger girls
seated in the front, Aline and the father in the row behind--a
charming family group, like a bouquet wet with dew amid a display of
artificial flowers. And while all Paris was disdainfully asking, "Who
are those people there?" the poet instrusted his fate to those little
fairy hands, new gloved for the occasion, which very soon would boldly
give the signal for applause.
The curtain is going up! Maranne has barely time to spring into the
wings; and suddenly he hears as from far, very far away, the first
words of his play, which rise, like a flight of timid birds, into the
silence and immensity of the theatre. A terrible moment. Where should
he go? What should he do? Remain there leaning against a wing, with
straining ear and beating heart? Encourage the actors when he himself
stood in so much need of encouragement? He prefers rather to look the
peril in the face; and by the little door communicating with the
corridor behind the boxes he slips out to a corner box, which he
orders to be opened for him softly. "Sh! It is I." Some one is seated
in the shadow--a woman, she whom all Paris knows and who is hiding
herself from the public gaze. Andre sits down by her side, and so,
close to one another, mother and son tremblingly watch the progress of
It astonished the audience at first. This Theatre des Nouveautes,
situated in the very heart of the boulevard, where its portico
glitters all illuminated among the great restaurants of the smart
clubs; this theatre, to which people were accustomed to come in
parties after a luxurious dinner to listen until supper-time to an act
or two of some suggestive piece, had become in the hands of its clever
manager the most fashionable of all Parisian entertainments, without
any very precise character of its own, and partaking something of all,
from the fairy-operetta which exhibits undressed women, to the serious
modern drama. Cardailhac was especially anxious to justify his title
of "Manager of the Nouveautes," and, since the Nabob's millions had
been at the back of the undertaking, had made a point of preparing for
the boulevardiers the most dazzling surprises. That of this evening
surpassed them all; the piece was in verse--and moral.
A moral play!
The old rogue had realized that the moment had arrived to try that
effect, and he was trying it. After the astonishment of the first
minutes, a few disappointed exclamations here and there in the boxes,
"Why, it is in verse!" the house began to feel the charm of this
invigorating and healthy piece, as if there had been sprinkled on it,
in its rarefied atmosphere, some fresh and pungent essence, an elixir
of life perfumed with thyme from the hillside.
"Ah! this is nice--it is restful."
Such was the general sense, a thrill of ease, a spasm of pleasure
accompanying each line. That fat old Hemerlingue found it restful,
puffing in his stage-box on the ground floor as in a trough of cerise
satin. It was restful also to that tall Suzanne Bloch, her hair
dressed in the antique way, ringlets flowing over a diadem of gold;
and near her, Amy Ferat, all in white like a bride and with sprigs of
orange-blossom in her fluffy hair, it was restful to her also, you may
A crowd of demi-mondaines were present, some very fat, with a dirty
greasiness acquired in a hundred seraglios, three chins, and an air of
stupidity; others absolutely green in spite of their paint, as if they
had been dipped in a bath of that arsenate of copper which is called
in the shops "Paris green." These were wrinkled, faded to such a
degree that they hid in the back of their boxes, only allowing a
portion of a white arm to be seen, a rounded shoulder protruding. Then
there were young men about town, flabby and without backbone, those
who at that time used to be called /petits creves/, creatures worn out
by dissipation, with stooping necks and drooping lids, incapable of
standing erect or of articulating a single word perfectly. And all
these people exclaimed with one accord: "This is nice--it is restful."
The handsome Moessard murmured it like a refrain beneath his little
fair mustache, while his queen in the stage-box translated it into the
barbarism of her foreign tongue. Positively they found it restful.
They did not say after what--after what heart-breaking labour, after
what forced, idle and useless task.
All these friendly murmurs, united and mingled, began to give to the
house an eventful appearance. Success was felt in the air, faces
became serene again, the women seemed the more beautiful for
reflecting enthusiasm, for being moved to glances that were as
exciting as applause. Andre, at his mother's side, thrilled with such
an unknown pleasure, with that proud delight which a man feels when he
stirs the multitude, be he only a singer in a suburban back-yard, with
a patriotic refrain and two pathetic notes in his voice. Suddenly the
whisperings redoubled, were transformed into a tumult. People were
chuckling and fidgeting with excitement. What had happened? Some
accident on the stage? Andre, leaning terrified towards the actors as
astonished as himself, saw every opera-glass turned towards the big
stage-box which had remained empty until then, and which some one had
just entered, who sat down immediately with both his elbows on the
velvet ledge, and with his opera-glass drawn from its case, taking his
place in gloomy solitude.
In ten days the Nabob had aged twenty years. Violent southern natures
like his, if they are rich in enthusiasms, become also more utterly
prostrate than others. Since his unseating the unfortunate man had
shut himself up in his bedroom, with drawn curtains, no longer wishing
even to see the light of day nor to cross over the threshold beyond
which life was waiting for him, with the engagements he had
undertaken, the promises he had made, a mass of protested bills and
writs. The Levantine, gone off to some spa accompanied by her
/masseur/ and her negress, was totally indifferent to the ruin of the
establishment; Bompain--the man in the fez--in frightened bewilderment
amid the demands for money, not knowing how to approach his ill-
starred master, who persistently kept his bed and turned his face to
the wall as soon as business matters were mentioned. His old mother
alone remained behind to face the disaster, with the knowledge born of
her narrow and straitened experience as a village woman, who knows
what a stamped document--a signature--is, and thinks honour is the
greatest and best thing in the world. Her peasant's cap made its
appearance on every floor of the mansion, examining bills, reforming
the domestic arrangements, and fearing neither outcries or
humiliation. At all hours the good woman might be seen striding about
the Place Vendome, gesticulating, talking to herself, and saying
aloud: "/Te/, I will go and see the bailiff." And never did she
consult her son about anything save when it was indispensable, and
then only in a few discreet words, while avoiding even a glance at
him. To rouse Jansoulet from his torpor it had required de Gery's
telegram, dated from Marseilles, announcing that he was on his way
back, bringing ten million francs. Ten millions!--that is to say,
bankruptcy averted, the possibility of recovering his position--of
starting life afresh. And behold our southerner rebounding from the
depth of his fall, intoxicated with joy, and full of hope. He ordered
the windows to be opened and newspapers to be brought to him. What a
magnificent opportunity was this first night of /Revolt/ to show
himself to the Parisians, who were believing him to have gone under,
to enter the great whirlpool once more through the swing door of his
box at the Nouveautes! His mother, warned by some instinct, did indeed
try to hold him back. Paris now terrified her. She would have liked to
carry off her child to some unknown corner of the Midi, to nurse him
along with his elder brother--stricken down both of them by the great
city. But he was the master. Resistance was impossible to that will of
a man spoiled by wealth. She helped him to dress for the occasion,
"made him look nice," as she said laughing, and watched him not
without a certain pride as he departed, dignified, full of new life,
having almost got over the prostration of the preceding days.
After his arrival at the theatre, Jansoulet quickly perceived the
commotion which his presence caused in the house. Accustomed to
similar curious ovations, he acknowledged them ordinarily without the
least embarrassment, with a frank display of his wide and good-natured
smile; but this time the manifestation was hostile, almost indignant.
"What! It is he?"
"There he is."
Such exclamations from the stalls confusedly rose among many others.
The retirement in which he had taken refuge for some days past had
left him in ignorance of the public exasperation, of the homilies, the
statements broadcast in the newspapers, with the corrupting influence
of his wealth as their text--articles written for effect, hypocritical
phraseology by the aid of which opinion avenges itself from time to
time on the innocent for all its own concessions to the guilty. It was
a terribly embarrassing exhibition, which gave him at first more
sorrow than anger. Deeply moved, he hid his emotion behind his opera-
glass, fixing his attention on the least details of the stage
arrangements, giving a three-quarters view of his back to the house,
but unable to escape the scandalous observation of which he was the
victim and which made his ears buzz, his temples beat, the dulled
lenses of his opera-glass become full of those whirling multi-coloured
circles which are the first symptom of brain disorder.
When the curtain fell at the end of the first act he remained
motionless, in the same attitude of embarrassment; the whisperings,
now more distinct when they were no longer held in check by the
dialogue on the stage, the pertinacity of certain inquisitive people
changing their places in order to get a better view of him, obliged
him to leave his box and to beat a hurried retreat into the corridors,
like a wild beast escaping across a circus from the arena. Beneath the
low ceiling in the narrow circular passage of the theatre corridors,
he found himself suddenly in the midst of a dense crowd of emasculate
youths, journalists, tightly laced women wearing their hats, laughing
as part of their trade, their backs against the wall. From box-doors
opened for air, mixed and disjointed fragments of conversation were
"A delightful piece. It is fresh; it is good."
"That Nabob! What impudence!"
"Yes, indeed, it is restful. One feels better for it."
"How is it that he has not yet been arrested?"
"Quite a young man, it seems. It is his first play."
"Bois l'Hery at Mazas! It is impossible. Why, there is the marquise
opposite, in the balcony, with a new hat."
"What does that prove? She is at her business as a stager of new
fashions. It is very pretty, that hat. In Desgrange's racing colours."
"And Jenkins? What is Jenkins doing?"
"At Tunis, with Felicia. Old Brahim has seen them both. It seems that
the Bey has begun to take the pearls."
"The deuce he has!"
Farther along, soft voices were murmuring:
"Yes, father, do, do go speak to him. See how lonely he looks, poor
"But, children, I do not know him."
"Never mind. Just a bow. Something to show him that he is not utterly
Thereupon the little old gentleman, very red in the face and wearing a
white tie, stepped quickly in front of the Nabob, and ceremoniously
raised his hat to him with great respect. With what gratitude, what a
smile of eager good-will was that solitary greeting returned, that
greeting from a man whom Jansoulet did not know, whom he had never
seen, and who had yet exerted a weighty influence upon his destiny;
for, but for the /pere/ Joyeuse, the chairman of the board of the
Territorial would probably have shared the fate of the Marquis de Bois
l'Hery. Thus it is that in the tangle of modern society, that great
web of interests, ambitions, services accepted and rendered, all the
various worlds are connected, united beneath the surface, from the
highest existences to the most humble; this it is that explains the
variegation, the complexity of this study of manners, the collection
of the scattered threads of which the writer who is careful of truth
is bound to make the background of his story.
In ten minutes the Nabob had been subjected to every manifestation of
the terrible ostracism of that Paris world to which he had neither
relationship nor serious ties, and whose contempt isolated him more
surely than a visiting monarch is isolated by respect--the averted
look, the apparently aimless step aside, the hat suddenly put on and
pulled down over the eyes. Overcome by embarrassment and shame, he
stumbled. Some one said quite loudly, "He is drunk," and all that the
poor man could manage to do was to return and shut himself up in the
salon at the back of his box. Ordinarily, this little retreat was
crowded during the intervals between the acts by stock-brokers and
journalists. They laughed and smoked and made a great noise; the
manager would come to greet his sleeping partner. But on this evening
there was nobody. And the absence of Cardailhac, with his keen nose
for success, signified fully to Jansoulet the measure of his disgrace.
"What have I done? Why will Paris have no more of me?"
Thus he questioned himself amid a solitude that was accentuated by the
noises around, the abrupt turning of keys in the doors of the boxes,
the thousand exclamations of an amused crowd. Then suddenly, the
freshness of his luxurious surroundings, the Moorish lantern casting
strange shadows on the brilliant silks of the divan and walls,
reminded him of the date of his arrival. Six months! Only six months
since he came to Paris! Completely done for and ruined in six months!
He sank into a kind of torpor, from which he was roused by the sound
of applause and enthusiastic bravos. It was decidedly a great success
--this play /Revolt/. There were some passages of strength and satire,
and the violent tirades, a trifle over-emphatic but written with youth
and sincerity, excited the audience after the idyllic calm of the
opening. Jansoulet in his turn wished to hear and see. This theatre
belonged to him after all. His place in that stage-box had cost him
over a million francs; the very least he could do was to occupy it.
So he seated himself in the front of his box. In the theatre the heat
was suffocating in spite of the fans which were vigorously at work,
throwing reflections from their bright spangles through the impalpable
atmosphere of silence. The house was listening religiously to an
indignant and lofty denunciation of the scamps who occupied exalted
positions, after having robbed their fellows in those depths from
which they were sprung. Certainly, Maranne when he wrote these fine
lines had been far from having the Nabob in his mind. But the public
saw an allusion in them; and while a triple salvo of applause greeted
the conclusion of the speech, all heads were turned towards the stage-
box on the left with an indignant, openly offensive movement. The poor
wretch, pilloried in his own theatre! A pillory which had cost him so
dear! This time he made no attempt to escape the insult, but settled
himself resolutely in his seat, with arms folded, and braved the crowd
that was staring at him--those hundreds of faces raised in mockery,
that virtuous /tout Paris/ which had seized upon him as a scapegoat
and was driving him into the wilderness, after having laden him with
the burden of all its own crimes.
A pretty gang, truly, for a manifestation of that kind! Opposite, the
box of a bankrupt banker, the wife and her lover sitting next each
other in the front row, the husband behind in the shadow, voluntarily
inconspicuous and solemn. Near them the frequent trio of a mother who
has married her daughter in accordance with the personal inclination
of her own heart, in order to make a son-in-law of her lover. Then
irregular households, courtesans exhibiting the price of shame,
diamonds like circlets of fire riveted around arms and neck. And those
groups of emasculate youths, with their open collars and painted
eyebrows, whose shirts of embroidered cambric and white satin corsets
people used to admire in the guest-chambers at Compiegne; those
/mignons/, of the time of Agrippa, calling each other among
themselves: "My heart--My dear girl." An assemblage of all the
scandals, all the turpitudes, consciences sold or for sale, the vice
of an epoch devoid of greatness and without originality, intent on
making trial of the caprices of every other age.
And these were the people who were insulting him and crying: "Away
with thee, thou art unworthy!"
"Unworthy--I! But my worth is a hundred times greater than that of any
among you, wretches that you are! You make my millions a reproach to
me, but who has helped me to spend them? Thou, cowardly and
treacherous comrade, who hidest thy sick pasha-like obesity in the
corner of thy stage-box! I made thy fortune along with my own in the
days when we shared all things in brotherly community. Thou, pale
marquis--I paid a hundred thousand francs at the club in order to save
thee from shameful expulsion!
"Thee I covered with jewels, hussy, letting thee pass for my mistress,
because that kind of thing makes a good impression in our world--but
without ever asking thee anything in return. And thou, brazen-faced
journalist, who for brain hast all the dirty sediment of thy inkstand,
and on thy conscience as many spots as thy queen has on her skin, thou
thinkest that I have not paid thee thy price and that is why thy
insults are heaped on me. Yes, yes; stare at me, you vermin! I am
proud. My worth is above yours."
All that he was thus saying to himself mentally, in an ungovernable
rage, visible in the quivering of his pale, thick lips. The
unfortunate man, who was nearly mad, was about perhaps to shout it
aloud in the silence, to denounce that insulting crowd--who knows?--to
spring into the midst of it, kill one of them--ah! kill /one/ of them
--when he felt a light tap on his shoulder, and a fair head came
before his eyes, serious and frank, two hands held out, which he
grasped convulsively, like a drowning man.
"Ah! dear friend, dear--" the poor man stammered. But he had not the
strength to say more. This emotion of joy coming suddenly in the midst
of his fury melted him into a sobbing torrent of tears, and stifled
words. His face became purple. He motioned "Take me away." And,
stumbling in his walk, leaning on de Gery's arm, he only managed to
cross the threshold of his box before he fell prostrate in the
"Bravo! Bravo! cried the house in reply to the speech which the actor
had just finished; and there was a noise like a hailstorm, and
stamping of enthusiastic feet while the great lifeless body, raised
with difficulty by the scene-shifters, was carried through the
brightly lighted wings, crowded with people pressing in their
curiosity round the stage, excited by the atmosphere of success and
who hardly noticed the passage of the inert and vanquished man, borne
on men's arms like some victim of a riot. They laid him on a couch in
the room where the properties were stored, Paul de Gery at his side,
with a doctor and two porters who eagerly lent all the assistance in
their power. Cardailhac, extremely busy over his play, had sent word
that he should come to hear the news "directly, after the fifth act."
Bleeding after bleeding, cuppings, mustard leaves--nothing brought
even a quiver to the skin of the patient, insensible apparently to all
the remedies usually employed in cases of apoplexy. The whole being
seemed to be surrendering to death, to be preparing the way for the
rigidity of the corpse; and this in the most sinister place in the
world, this chaos, lighted by a lantern merely, amid which there lie
about pell-mell in the dust all the remains of former plays--gilt
furniture, curtains with gay fringes, coaches, boxes, card-tables,
dismantled staircases and balusters, among ropes and pulleys, a
confusion of out-of-date theatrical properties, thrown down, broken,
and damaged. Bernard Jansoulet, as he lay among this wreckage, his
shirt opened over his chest, pale and covered with blood, was indeed a
man come to the shipwreck of his life, bruised and tossed aside along
with the pitiful ruins of his artificial luxury dispersed and broken
up, in the whirlpool of Paris. Paul, with aching heart, contemplated
the scene sadly, that face with its short nose, preserving in its
inertia the savage yet kindly expression of an inoffensive creature
that tried to defend itself before it died and had not time to bite.
He reproached himself bitterly with his inability to be of any service
to him. Where was that fine project of leading Jansoulet across the
bogs, of guarding him against ambushes? All that he had been able to
do had been to save a few millions for him, and even these had come
The windows had just been thrown open upon the curved balcony over the
boulevard, now at the height of its noisy and brilliant stir. The
theatre was surrounded by, as it were, a plinth of gas-jets, a zone of
fire which brought the gloomiest recesses into light, pricked out with
revolving lanterns, like stars journeying through a dark sky. The play
was over. People were coming out. The black and dense crowd on the
steps was dispersing over the white pavements, on its way to spread
through the town the news of a great success and the name of an
unknown author who to-morrow would be triumphant and famous. A
splendid evening, so that the windows of the restaurants were lighted
up in gaiety and files of carriages passed through the streets at a
late hour. This tumult of festivity which the poor Nabob had loved so
keenly, which seemed to go so well with the dizzy whirl of his
existence, roused him to life for a moment. His lips moved, and into
his dilated eyes, turned towards de Gery, there came before he died a
pained expression, beseeching and protesting, as though to call upon
him as witness of one of the greatest and most cruel acts of injustice
that Paris has ever committed.
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