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Rene Mauperin
by Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt
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* * * * *

The friend to whom Henri Mauperin was speaking, Denoisel, was the son of a compatriot, and old school friend and brother-in-arms of M. Mauperin. The two men had been in the same battles, they had shed their blood in the same places, and during the retreat from Russia they had eaten the same horse-flesh.

A year after his return to France, M. Mauperin had lost this friend, who on his death-bed had left him guardian to his son. The boy had found a second father in his guardian. When at college, he had spent all his holidays at Morimond, and he looked upon the Mauperins as his own family.

When M. Mauperin's children came it seemed to the young man that a brother and sister had been just what he had wanted; he felt as though he were their elder brother, and he became a child again in order to be one with them.

His favourite was, of course, Renee, who when quite little began to adore him. She was very lively and self-willed and he alone could make her listen to reason and obey. As she grew up he had been the moulder of her character, the confessor of her intellect, and the director of her tastes. His influence over the young girl had increased day by day as they grew more and more familiar. A room was always kept ready for Denoisel in the house, his place was always kept for him at table, and he came whenever he liked to spend a week with the Mauperins.

* * * * *

"There are days," continued Henri, "when Renee's nonsense does not matter, but this evening—before that man. It will be all off with that marriage, I'm sure! It would have been an excellent match—he has such good prospects. He's just the man in every respect—charming, too, and distinguished."

"Do you think so? For my part, I should have been afraid of him for your sister. That is really the reason why I behaved as I did this evening. That man has a sort of common distinction about him—a distinction made up of the vulgarity of all kinds of elegancies. He's a fashion poster, a tailor's model, morally and physically. There's nothing, absolutely nothing, in a little fellow like that. A husband for your sister—that man? Why, how in the world do you suppose he could ever understand her? How is he ever to discover all the warmth of feeling and the elevation and nobility of character hidden under her eccentricities? Can you imagine them having a thought in common? Good heavens! if your sister married, no matter whom, so long as the man were intelligent and had some character and individuality, as long as there were something in him that would either govern or appeal to a nature like hers—why, I would say nothing. A man has often great faults which appeal to a woman's heart. He may be a bad lot, and there is the chance that she will go on loving him through sheer jealousy. With a busy, ambitious man like you she would have all the thought and excitement and all the dreams about his career to occupy her mind. But a dandy like that for life! Why, your sister would be absolutely wretched; she would die of misery. She isn't like other girls, you know, your sister—one must take that into consideration. She is high-minded, untrammelled by conventionalities, very fond of fun, and very affectionate. At bottom she is a melancolique tintamarresque."

"A melancolique tintamarresque? What does that mean?"

"I'll explain. She——"

"Henri, hurry up!" called out Davarande from the platform. "They are getting into the train. I have your ticket."



V

M. and Mme. Mauperin were in their bed-room. The clock had just struck midnight, gravely and slowly, as though to emphasize the solemnity of that confidential and conjugal moment which is both the tete-a-tete of wedded life and the secret council of the household—that moment of transformation and magic which is both bourgeois and diabolic, and which reminds one of that story of the woman metamorphosed into a cat. The shadow of the bed falls mysteriously over the wife, and as she lies down there is a sort of charm about her. Something of the bewitchments of a mistress come to her at this instant. Her will seems to be roused there by the side of the marital will which is dormant. She sits up, scolds, sulks, teases, struggles. She has caresses and scratches for the man. The pillow confers on her its force, her strength comes to her with the night.

Mme. Mauperin was putting her hair in papers in front of the glass, which was lighted by a single candle. She was in her skirt and dressing-jacket. Her stout figure, above which her little arms kept moving as if she were crowning herself, threw on the wall a fantastic outline of a woman of fifty in deshabille, and on the paper at the end of the room could be seen wavering about one of those corpulent shadows which one could imagine Hoffman and Daumier sketching from the back of the beds of old married couples. M. Mauperin was already lying down.

"Louis!" said Mme. Mauperin.

"Well?" answered M. Mauperin, with that accent of indifference, regret, and weariness of a man who, with his eyes still open, is beginning to enjoy the delight of the horizontal position.

"Oh, if you are asleep——"

"I am not asleep. What is it?"

"Oh, nothing. I think Renee behaved most improperly this evening; that's all. Did you notice?"

"No, I wasn't paying any attention."

"It's just a whim. There isn't the least reason in it. Hasn't she said anything to you? Do you know anything? I'm nowhere—with all your mysteries and secrets. I'm always the last to know about things. It's quite different with you—you are told everything. It's very fortunate that I was not born jealous, don't you think so?"

M. Mauperin pulled the sheet up over his shoulder without answering.

"You certainly are asleep," continued Mme. Mauperin in the sharp, disappointed tone of a woman who is expecting a parry for her attack.

"I told you I wasn't asleep."

"Then you surely don't understand. Oh, these intelligent men—it's curious. It concerns you though, too; it's your business quite as much as mine. This is another marriage fallen through—do you understand? A marriage that was most suitable—money—good family—everything. I know what these hesitations mean. We may as well give up all idea of it. Henri was talking to me about it this evening; the young man hadn't said anything to him; of course, he's too well-bred for that. But Henri is quite persuaded that he's drawing out of it. One can always tell in matters of this kind; people have a way of——"

"Well, let him draw out of it then; what do you want me to say?" M. Mauperin sat straight up and put his two hands on his thighs. "Let him go. There are plenty of young men like Reverchon; he is not unique, we can find others; while girls like my daughter——"

"Good heavens! Your daughter—your daughter!"

"You don't do her justice, Therese."

"I? Oh, yes, I do; but I see her as she is and not with your eyes. She has her faults, and great faults, too, which you have encouraged—yes, you. She is as heedless and full of freaks as a child of ten. If you imagine that it doesn't worry me—her unreasonableness, her uncertain moods, and so many other absurdities ever since we have been trying to get her married! And then her way of criticising every one to whom we introduce her. She is terrible at interviews of this kind. This makes about the tenth man she has sent about his business."

At Mme. Mauperin's last words a gleam of paternal vanity lighted up M. Mauperin's face.

"Yes, yes," he said, smiling at the remembrance, "the fact is she is diabolically witty. Do you recollect her words about that poor Prefect: 'Oh, he's a regular old cock!' I remember how she said it directly she saw him."

"It really is very funny, and above all very fit and proper. Jokes of this kind will help her to get married, take my word for it. Such things will induce other men to come forward, don't you think so? I am quite certain that Renee must have a reputation for being a terror. A little more of her precious wit and you will see what proposals you will get for your daughter! I married Henriette so easily! Renee is my cross."

M. Mauperin had picked up his snuff-box from the table by the side of the bed and appeared to be intent on turning it round between his thumb and first finger.

"Well," continued Mme. Mauperin, "it's her own lookout. When she is thirty, when she has refused every one, and there is no one left who wants her, in spite of all her wit, her good qualities and everything else, she will have time to reflect a little—and you will, too."

There was a pause. Mme. Mauperin gave M. Mauperin time enough to imagine that she had finished, and then changing her tone she began again:

"I want to speak to you, too, about your son——"

Hereupon M. Mauperin, whose head had been bent while his wife was talking, looked up, and there was a half smile of mischievous humour on his face. In the upper as well as the lower middle class there is a certain maternal love capable of rising to the height of passion and of sinking to mere idolatry. There are mothers who in their affection and love will fall down and worship their son. Theirs is not that maternal love which veils its own weaknesses, which defends its rights, is jealous of its duties, which is careful about the hierarchy and discipline of the family, and which commands respect and consideration. The child, brought near to his mother by all kinds of familiarity, receives from her attentions which are more like homage, and caresses in which there is a certain amount of servility. All the mother's dreams are centred in him, for he is not only the heir but the whole future of the family. Through him the family will reap the benefits of wealth, of all the improvements and progressive rise of the bourgeoisie from one generation to another. The mother revels in the thought of what he is and what he will be. She loves him and is glorified herself in him. She dedicates all her ambitions to him and worships him. This son appears to her a superior being, and she is amazed that he should have been born of her; she seems to feel the mingled pride and humility of the mother of a god.

Mme. Mauperin was a typical example of one of these mothers of modern middle-class life. The merits, the features, the intellect of her son were for her those of a divinity. His whole person, his accomplishments, everything he said and everything he did, all was sacred to her. She would spend her time in contemplation of him; she saw no one else when he was there. It seemed to her as though the whole world began and ended in her son. He was in her eyes perfection itself, the most intelligent, the handsomest, and, above all, the most distinguished of men. He was short-sighted and wore an eye-glass, but she would not even own that he was near-sighted.

When he was there she watched him talk, sit down or walk about, and she would smile at him when his back was turned. She liked the very creases of his coat. When he was not there she would lean back for a few minutes in her arm-chair and some reminiscence of infinite sweetness would gradually brighten and soften her face. It was as though light, restfulness, and peace had suddenly come to her; her expression was joyous at such times, her eyes were looking at something in the past, her heart was living over again some happy moment, and if any one spoke to her she seemed to wake up out of a dream.

It was in a certain measure hereditary, this intense maternal love. Mme. Mauperin came of a race which had always loved its sons with a warm, violent, and almost frenzied love. The mothers in her family had been mothers with a vengeance. There was a story told of her grandmother in the Haute-Marne. It was said that she had disfigured a child with a burning coal who had been considered handsomer than her own boy.

At the time of her son's first ailments Mme. Mauperin had almost lost her reason; she had hated all children who were well, and had hoped that God would kill them if her son died. Once when he had been seriously ill she had been forty-eight nights without going to bed, and her legs had swelled with fatigue. When he was about again he had been allowed anything and everything. If any one came to complain to her that he had been fighting with the village children she would say feelingly: "Poor little dear!" As the boy grew up his mother's spirit preceded him on his walk through life, strewing his pathway with hope as he emerged into manhood. She thought of all the heiresses in the neighbourhood whose age would be suitable to his. She used to imagine him visiting at all the country-houses, and she saw him on horseback, riding to the meet in a red coat. She used to be fairly dazzled by all her dreams of the future.

Then came the time when he went away to college, the time when she had to separate from him. Mme. Mauperin struggled for three months to keep her son, to have him educated at home by a tutor, but M. Mauperin was resolute on this score. All that Mme. Mauperin could obtain from him was the permission to select the college for her son. She chose one with the mildest discipline possible, one of those colleges for the children of wealthy parents, where there is no severity, where the boys are allowed to eat pastry when they are taking their walks, and where the professors believe in more theatrical rehearsals than punishments. During the seven years he was there, Mme. Mauperin never missed a single day going from Saint-Denis to see him during the recreation hour. Rain, cold, fatigue, illness, nothing prevented her. In the parlour or in the courtyard the other mothers pointed her out to each other. The boy would kiss her, take the cakes she had brought him, and then, telling her he had a lesson to finish learning, he would hurry back to his games. It was quite enough for his mother, though, for she had seen him and he was well. She was always thinking about his health. He was weighed down with flannel, and in the holidays she fed him well with meat, giving him all the gravy from underdone beef so that he should grow strong and tall. She bought him a small mat to sit on at school because the forms were so hard. There were separate bed-rooms for the pupils, and Mme. Mauperin furnished her son's like a man's room. At twelve years of age he had a rosewood dressing-table and chest of drawers of his own. The boy became a young man, the young man left college, and Mme. Mauperin's passion for him increased with all that satisfaction which a mother feels in a tall son when his looks begin to change and his beard makes its first appearance. Forgetting all about the tradespeople whose bills she had paid, she was amazed at the style in which her son dressed, at his boots, and the way in which he did his hair. There was a certain elegance of taste in everything that he liked, in his luxurious habits, in his ways, and in his whole life, to which she bowed down in astonishment and delight, as though she herself were not the mainspring of it all and his cashier. Her son's valet did not seem to her like an ordinary domestic; his horse was not merely a horse, it was her son's horse. When her son went out she gave orders that she should be told so that she might have the satisfaction of seeing him get into the carriage and drive away.

Every day she was more and more taken up with this son. She had no diversions, nothing to occupy her imagination; she did not read, and had grown old living with a husband who had brought her no love and whom she had always felt to be quite apart from her, engrossed as he had ever been in his studies, politics, and business. She had no one left with her but a daughter to whom she had never given her whole heart, and so she had ended by devoting her life to Henri's interests and putting all her vanity into his future. And her one thought—the thought which occupied every hour of her days and nights, her fixed idea—was the marriage of this adored son. She wanted him to marry well, to make a match which should be rich enough and brilliant enough to make up to her and repay her for all the dulness and obscurity of her own existence, for her life of economy and solitude, for all her own privations as wife and mother.

"Do you even know your son's age, M. Mauperin?" continued Mme. Mauperin.

"Henri, why, my dear, Henri must be—He was born in 1826, wasn't he?"

"Oh, that's just like a father to ask! Yes, 1826, the 12th of July, 1826."

"Well, then, he is twenty-nine. Fancy that now, he is twenty-nine!"

"And you fold your arms and take things easily! You don't trouble in the least about his future! You say, 'Fancy that now, he's twenty-nine'—just like that, quite calmly! Any other man would stir himself and look round. Henri isn't like his sister, he wants to marry. Have you ever thought of finding a suitable match for him—a wife? Oh, dear, no, not any more than for the King of Prussia, of course not! It's just the same as it was for your elder daughter. I should like to know what you did towards that marriage? Whether she found any one or not, it appeared to be all the same to you. How I did have to urge you on to do anything in the matter! Oh, you can wipe your hands of that marriage; your daughter's happiness can't weigh much on your conscience, I should think! If I had not been there you would have found a husband like M. Davarande, shouldn't you? A model husband, who adores Henriette—and such a gentleman!"

Mme. Mauperin blew out the candle and got into bed by the side of M. Mauperin, who had turned over with his face towards the wall.

"Yes," she went on, stretching herself out full length under the sheets, "a model husband! Do you imagine that there are many sons-in-law who would be so attentive to us? He would do anything to give us pleasure. You invite him to dinner and give him meat on fasting-days and he never says a word. Then, too, he is so obliging. I wanted to match some wools for my tapestry-work the other day——"

"My dear, what is it we were talking about? I must tell you that I should like to get a bit of sleep to-night. You began with your daughter, and now you've started the chapter of M. Davarande's perfections. I know that chapter—there's enough to last till to-morrow morning. Come now, you want your son to marry, don't you? That's it, isn't it? Well, I'm quite willing—let's get him married."

"Just as though I could count on you for getting him married! A lot of trouble you'll go to about it; you are the right sort of man to inconvenience yourself for anything."

"Oh, come, come, my dear, that's unjust. It seems to me that about a fortnight ago I showed you what I was capable of. To go and listen to the dullest of operas, to eat ices at night, which is a thing I detest, and to talk about the weather with a provincial man who shouted about his daughter's dowry on the boulevards. If you don't call that inconveniencing myself! I suppose you'll say it didn't come to anything? Was it my fault, though, if the gentleman wanted 'a handsome, manly husband,' as he put it, for his daughter? Is it my fault and mine only if our son has not the frame of a Hercules?"

"M. Mauperin——"

"Oh, yes, it is, of course. I am to blame for everything, according to you. You would make me pass everywhere for a selfish——"

"Oh, you are like all men!"

"Thank you on behalf of them all."

"No, it's in your character—it's no good blaming you. It's only the mothers who worry. Ah, if you were only like I am; if at every instant you were thinking of what might happen to a young man. I know Henri is sensible; but a young man's fancy is so quickly caught. It might be some worthless creature—some bad lot—one never knows—such things happen every day. I should go mad! What do you say to sounding Mme. Rosieres? Shall we?"

There was no reply, and Mme. Mauperin was obliged to resign herself to silence. She turned over and over, but could not sleep until daylight appeared.



VI

"Ah, what's that mean? Where in the world are you going?" asked M. Mauperin in the morning as Mme. Mauperin stood at the glass putting on a black lace cape.

"Where am I going?" said Mme. Mauperin, fastening the cape to her shoulder with one of the two pins she was holding in her mouth. "Is my cape too low down? Just look."

"No."

"Pull it a little."

"How fine you are!" said M. Mauperin, stepping back and examining his wife's dress.

She was wearing a black dress of the most elegant style, in excellent taste though somewhat severe looking.

"I am going to Paris."

"Oh! you are going to Paris? What are you going to do in Paris?"

"Oh, dear, how you do worry always with your questions: 'Where are you going? What are you going to do?' You really want to know, do you?"

"Well, I was only asking you——"

"My dear, I am going to confession," said Mme. Mauperin, looking down.

M. Mauperin was speechless. His wife in the early days of her married life had gone regularly on Sundays to church. Later she had accompanied her daughters to their catechism class, and these were all the religious duties he had ever known her to accomplish. For the last ten years it seemed to him that she had been as indifferent as he was about such things—naturally and frankly indifferent. When the first moment of stupefaction had passed, he opened his mouth to speak, looked at her, said nothing, and, turning suddenly on his heels, went out of the room humming a kind of air to which music and words were about all that were missing.

* * * * *

On arriving at a handsome, cheerful-looking house in the Rue de la Madeleine, Mme. Mauperin went upstairs to the fourth story and rang at a door where there was no attempt at any style. It was opened promptly.

"M. l'Abbe Blampoix?"

"Yes, madame," answered a servant-man in black livery.

He spoke with a Belgian accent and bowed as he spoke. He took Mme. Mauperin across the entrance-hall, where a faint odour was just dying away, and through a dining-room flooded with sunshine, where the cloth was simply laid for one person. Mme. Mauperin then found herself in a drawing-room decorated and scented with flowers. Above a harmonium with rich inlaid work was a copy of Correggio's "Night." On another panel, framed in black, was the Communion of Marie Antoinette and of her gendarmes at the Conciergerie, lithographed according to a story that was told about her. Keepsakes, a hundred little things that might have been New Year's gifts, filled the brackets. A small bronze statue of Canova's "Madeleine" was on a table in the middle of the room.

The tapestry chairs, each one of a different design and piously worked by hand, were evidently presents which devoted women had done for the abbe.

There were men and women waiting there, and each by turn went into the abbe's room, stayed a few minutes, then came out again and went away. The last person waiting, a woman, stayed a long time, and when she came out of the room Mme. Mauperin could not see her face through her double veil.

The abbe was standing by his chimney-piece when Mme. Mauperin entered. He was holding apart the flaps of his cassock like the tails of a coat.

* * * * *

The Abbe Blampoix had neither benefice nor parish. He had a large connection and a specialty: he was the priest of society people, of the fashionable world, and of the aristocracy. He confessed the frequenters of drawing-rooms, he was the spiritual director of well-born consciences, and he comforted those souls that were worth the trouble of comforting. He brought Jesus Christ within reach of the wealthy. "Every one has his work to do in the Lord's vineyard," he used often to say, appearing to groan and bend beneath the burden of saving the Faubourg Saint-Germain, the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and the Chaussee-d'Antin.

He was a man of common sense and intellect, an obliging sort of priest who adapted everything to the precept, "The letter killeth, and the spirit maketh alive." He was tolerant and intelligent, could comprehend things and could smile. He measured faith out according to the temperament of the people and only gave it in small doses. He made the penances light, he loosened the bonds of the cross and sprinkled the way of salvation with sand. From the hard, unlovely, stern religion of the poor he had evolved a pleasant religion for the rich; it was easy, charming, elastic, adapting itself to things and to people, to all the ways and manners of society, to its customs and habits, and even to its prejudices. Of the idea of God he had made something quite comfortable and elegant.

The Abbe Blampoix had all the fascination of the priest who is well educated, talented, and accomplished. He could talk well during confession, and could put some wit into his exhortations and a certain graciousness into his unction. He knew how to move and interest his hearers. He was well versed in words that touch the heart and in speeches that are flattering and pleasing to the ear. His voice was musical and his style flowery. He called the devil "the Prince of evil," and the eucharist "the Divine aliment"! He abounded in periphrases as highly coloured as sacred pictures. He talked of Rossini, quoted Racine, and spoke of "the Bois" for the Bois de Boulogne. He talked of divine love in words which were somewhat disconcerting, of present-day vices with piquant details, and of society in society language. Occasionally, expressions which were in vogue and which had only recently been invented, expressions only known among worldly people, would slip into his spiritual consultations and had the same effect as extracts from a newspaper in an ascetic book. There was a pleasant odour of the century about him. His priestly robe seemed to be impregnated with all the pretty little sins which had approached it. He was very well up and always to the point with regard to subtle temptations, admirably shrewd, keen, and tactful in his discussions on sensuality. Women doted on him.

His first step, his debut in the ecclesiastical career, had been distinguished by a veritable seduction and capturing of souls, by a success which had been a perfect triumph and indeed almost a scandal. After taking the catechism classes for a year in the parish of B——, the archbishop had appointed him to other work, putting another priest in his place. The result of this was a rebellion, as all the girls who had attended the catechism classes refused to speak or listen to the newcomer. They had lost their young hearts and heads, and there were tears shed by all the flock, a regular riot of wailing and sorrow, which before long changed into revolt. The elder girls, the chief members of the society, kept up the struggle several months. They agreed together not to go to the classes, and they went so far as to refuse to hand over to the cure the cash-box which had been intrusted to them. It was with the greatest difficulty that they were appeased.

The success which all this augured to the Abbe Blampoix had not failed him. His fame had quickly spread. That great force, Fashion, which in Paris affects everything, even a priest's cassock, had taken him up and launched him. People came to him from all parts. The ordinary, commonplace confessions were heard by other priests; but all the choice sins were brought to him. Around him was always to be heard a hubbub of great names, of large fortunes, of pretty contritions, and the rustling of beautiful dresses. Mothers consulted him about taking their daughters out, and the daughters were instructed by him before going into society. He was appealed to for permission to wear low-necked dresses, and he was the man who regulated the modesty of ball costumes and the propriety of reading certain books. He was also asked for titles of novels and lists of moral plays. He prepared candidates for confirmation and led them on to marriage. He baptized children and listened to the confession of the adulterous in thought. Wives who considered themselves slighted or misunderstood came to him to lament over the materiality of their husbands, and he supplied them with a little idealism to take back to their homes. All who were in trouble or despair had recourse to him, and he ordered a trip to Italy for them, with music and painting for diversions and a good confession in Rome.

Wives who were separated from their husbands addressed themselves to him when they wanted to return quietly to their home. His conciliations came between the love of wives and the jealousy of mothers-in-law. He found governesses for the mothers and lady's maids of forty years of age for young wives. Newly married wives learned from him to secure their happiness and to keep their husband's affection by their discreet and dainty toilettes, by cleanliness and care, by the spotlessness and elegance of their linen. "My dear child," he would say sometimes, "a wife should have just a faint perfume of the lorette about her." His experience intervened in questions of the hygiene of marriage. He was consulted on such matters as maternity and pregnancy. He would decide whether a wife should become a mother and whether a mother should suckle her child.

This vogue and role, the dealings that he had with women and the possession of all their secrets, so many confidences and so much knowledge on all subjects, his intercourse of all kinds with the dignitaries and lady-treasurers of various societies, and the acquaintance he had, thanks to the steps he was obliged to take in the interests of charity, with all the important personages of Paris, all the influence that, as a clever, discreet, and obliging priest, he had succeeded in obtaining, had given to the Abbe Blampoix an immense power and authority which radiated silently and unseen. Worldly interests and social ambitions were confessed to him. Nearly all the marriageable individuals in society were recommended to this priest, who professed no political preferences, who mixed with every one, and who was admirably placed for bringing families together, for uniting houses, arranging matches of expediency or balancing social positions, pairing off money with money, or joining an ancient title to a newly made fortune. It was as though marriages in Paris had an occult Providence in the person of this rare sort of man in whom were blended the priest and the lawyer, the apostle and the diplomatist—Fenelon and M. de Foy. The Abbe Blampoix had an income of sixteen hundred pounds, the half of which he gave to the poor. He had refused a bishopric for the sake of remaining what he was—a priest.

"To whom have I the honour," began the abbe, who appeared to be searching his memory for a name.

"Mme. Mauperin, the mother of Mme. Davarande."

"Oh, excuse me, madame, excuse me. Your family are not persons whom one could forget. Do sit down, please—let me give you this arm-chair."

And then, taking a seat himself with his back to the light, he continued:

"I like to think of that marriage, which gave me the opportunity of making your acquaintance—the marriage of your daughter with M. Davarande. You and I, madame, you, with the devotion of a mother, and I—well, with just the feeble insight of a humble priest—brought about a truly Christian marriage, a marriage which has satisfied the needs of the dear child as regards her religion and her affection and which was also in accordance with her social position. Mme. Davarande is one of my model penitents; I am thoroughly satisfied with her. M. Davarande is an excellent young man who shares the religious beliefs of his wife, and that is a rare thing nowadays. One's mind is easy about such happy and superior young couples, and I am quite convinced beforehand that you have not come about either of these dear children——"

"You are right. I am quite satisfied as regards them, and their happiness is a great joy in my life. It is such a responsibility to get one's children married. No, monsieur, it is not for them that I have come; it is for myself."

"For yourself—madame?"

And the abbe glanced quickly at her with an expression which softened just as quickly.

"Ah, monsieur, time brings many changes. One has a hundred things to think about before one reaches my age. There are the people one meets, and society ties, and all that is very entertaining. We give ourselves up to such things, enjoy them and count on them. We fancy we shall never need anything beyond. Well, now, monsieur, I have reached the age when one does need something beyond. You will understand me, I am sure. I have begun to feel the emptiness of the world. Nothing interests me, and I should like to come back to what I had given up. I know how indulgent and charitable you are. I need your counsel and your hand to lead me back to duties that I have neglected far too long, although I have always remembered and respected them. You must know how wretched I am, monsieur."

While speaking thus, with that easy flow of words so natural to a woman, and especially to a Parisian woman, and which in Parisian slang is known as bagou, Mme. Mauperin, who had avoided meeting the priest's eyes, which she had felt fixed on her, now glanced mechanically at a light which was being stirred by the abbe's hands and which flamed up under a ray of sunshine, shining brightly in the midst of this room—the severe-looking, solemn, cold room of a man of business. This light came from a casket containing some diamonds with which the abbe was idly playing.

"Ah, you are looking at this!" said the abbe, catching Mme. Mauperin's eye and answering her thoughts instead of her phrases. "You are surprised to see it, are you not? Yes, a jewel-case, a case of diamonds—and just look at them—rather good ones, too." He passed her the necklace. "It's odd for that to be here, isn't it? But what was I to do? This is our modern society. We are obliged to see a little of all sorts. Such a pitiful scene! I don't feel myself again yet, after it—such sobs and tears! Perhaps you heard—a poor young wife throwing herself down here at my feet—a mother of a family, madame! Alas! that's how the world is—this is what the love of finery and the fondness of admiration will lead to. People spend and spend, until finally they can only pay the interest of what they owe at the shops. Yes, indeed, madame, that happens constantly. I could mention the shops. People hope to be able to pay the capital some day; they count on a son-in-law to whom they can tell everything and who will only be too happy to pay his mother-in-law's debts. But in the meantime the shops get impatient; and at last they threaten to tell the husband everything. Then—oh, just think of the anguish then! Do you know that this woman talked just now of throwing herself into the river? I had to promise to find her twelve hundred pounds. I beg your pardon, though—a thousand times. Here I am talking of my own affairs. Let us go back to yours. You had another daughter—a charming girl. I prepared her for confirmation. Let me see, now, what was her name?"

"Renee."

"Oh, yes, of course, a very intelligent child, very quick—quite an exceptional character. Tell me now, isn't she married?"

"No, monsieur, and it's a great trouble to me. You've no idea what a headstrong girl she is. She is nothing like her sister. It's very unfortunate for a mother to have a daughter with a character like hers. I would rather she were a little less intelligent. We have found most suitable matches for her, and she refuses them in the most thoughtless, foolish way. There was another one yesterday. And her father spoils her so."

"Ah, that's a pity. You have no idea what a maternal affection we have for these dear children that we have led to Christ. But you don't say anything about your son, a delightful young man, so good-looking—and just the age to marry, it seems to me——"

"Do you know him, monsieur?"

"I had the pleasure of meeting him once at his sister's, at Mme. Davarande's, when I went to see her during her illness; those are the only visits we pay, you know—visits to the sick. Then, too, I have heard all sorts of good reports about him. You are a fortunate mother, madame. Your son goes to church, and at Easter he took communion with the Jesuit Fathers. He has not told you, probably, but he was one of those society men, true Christians, who waited nearly all night to get to the confessional—there was such a crowd. Yes, people do not believe it, but, thank God, it is quite true. Some of the young men waited until five o'clock in the morning to confess. I need not tell you how deeply the Church is touched by such zeal, how thankful she is to those who give her this consolation and who pay her this homage in these sad times of demoralization and incredulity. We are drawn towards young men who set such a good example and who are so willing to do what is right, and we are always ready to give them what help we can and to use any influence that we may have in certain families in their favour."

"Oh, monsieur, you are too good. And our gratitude—mine and my son's—if only you would interest yourself on his behalf. What a happy thought it was to come to you! You see I came to you as a woman, but as a mother too. My son is angelic—and then, monsieur, you can do so much."

The abbe shook his head with a deprecatory smile of mingled modesty and melancholy.

"No, madame, you overestimate our power. We are far from all that you say. We are able to do a little good sometimes, but it is with great difficulty. If only you knew how little a priest can do in these days. People are afraid of our influence; they do not care to meet us outside the church, nor to speak to us except in the confessional. You yourself, madame, would be surprised if your confessor ventured to speak to you about your daily conduct. Thanks to the deplorable prejudices of people with regard to us, every one's object is to keep us at a distance and to stand on the defensive."

"Oh, dear, why, it is one o'clock—and I saw that your table was laid when I came. I'm quite ashamed of myself. May I come again in a few days?"

"My luncheon can always wait," said the Abbe Blampoix, and turning to a desk covered with papers at his side, he made a sign to Mme. Mauperin to sit down again. There was a moment's silence, broken only by the rustle of papers which the abbe was turning over. Finally he drew out a visiting-card, turned down at the corner, from under a pile of papers, held it to the light, and read:

"Twelve thousand pounds in deeds and preference shares. Six hundred pounds a year from the day of marriage; father and mother dead. Twenty-four thousand pounds on the death of some uncles and aunts who will never marry. Young girl, nineteen, charming, much prettier than she imagines herself to be. You see," said the abbe, putting the card back among the papers. "Think it over. Anyhow, you will see. I have, too, at this very moment a thousand pounds a year on her marriage—an orphan—Ah, no, that would not do—her guardian wants to find some one who is influential. He is sub-referendary judge on the Board of Finance and he will only marry his ward to a son-in-law who can get him promoted. Ah, wait a minute—this would do, perhaps," and he read aloud from some notes: "Twenty-two years of age, not pretty, accomplished, intelligent, dresses well, father sixty thousand pounds, three children, substantial fortune. He owns the house in the Rue de Provence, where the offices of the Security are, an estate in the Orne, eight thousand pounds in the Credit Foncier. Rather an opinionated sort of man, of Portuguese descent. The mother is a mere cipher in the house. There is no family, and the father would be annoyed if you went to see his relatives. I am not keeping anything back, as you see; a family dinner party once a year and that is all. The father will give twelve thousand pounds for the dowry; he wants his daughter to live in the same house.

"Yes," continued the abbe, looking through his notes, "that's all I see that would do for you just now. Will you talk it over with your son, madame, and consult your husband? I am quite at your service. When I have the pleasure of seeing you here again, will you bring with you just a few figures, a little note that would give me an idea of your intentions with regard to settling your son. And bring your daughter with you. I should be delighted to see the dear child again."

"Would you mind fixing some time when I should not disturb you quite so much as I have done to-day, monsieur?"

"Oh, madame, my time belongs to every one who has need of me, and I am only too much honoured. The thing is that in a fortnight's time—if you came then, I should be in the country, and I only come one day a week to Paris, then. Yes, it's a sheer necessity, and so I have had to make up my mind to it. By the end of the winter I get so worn out; I have so much to attend to, and then these four flights of stairs kill me. But what am I to do? I am obliged to pay in some way for the right of having my chapel, for the precious privilege of being able to have mass in my own home. No one could sleep over a chapel, you see. Ah, an idea has just struck me: why should you not come to see me in the country—at Colombes? It would be a little excursion. I have plenty of fruit, and I take a landowner's pride in my fruit. I could offer you luncheon, a very informal luncheon. Will you come, madame—and your daughter? Would your son give me the pleasure of his company too?"



VII

A quarter of an hour later a footman in a red coat opened the door of a flat on a first floor in the Rue Taitbout in answer to Mme. Mauperin's ring.

"Good-morning, Georges. Is my son in?"

"Yes, madame, monsieur is there."

Mme. Mauperin had smiled on her son's domestic, and as she walked along she smiled on the rooms, on the furniture, and on everything she saw. When she entered the study her son was writing and smoking at the same time.

"Well, I never!" he exclaimed, taking his cigar out of his mouth and leaning his head against the back of his chair for his mother to kiss him. "It's you, is it, mamma?" he went on, continuing to smoke. "You didn't say a word about coming to Paris to-day. What brings you here?"

"Oh, I had some shopping and some visits to pay—you know I am always behind. How comfortable you are here!"

"Ah, yes, to be sure, you hadn't seen my new arrangements."

"Dear me, how well you do arrange everything! There's no one like you, really. It isn't damp here is it, are you quite sure?" and Mme. Mauperin put her hand against the wall. "Tell Georges to air the room always when you are away, won't you?"

"Yes, yes, mother," said Henri in a bored way, as one answers a child.

"Oh, why do you have those? I don't like your having such things." Mme. Mauperin had just caught sight of two swords above the bookcase. "The very sight of them! When one thinks—" and Mme. Mauperin closed her eyes for an instant and sat down. "You don't know how your dreadful bachelor life makes us poor mothers tremble. If you were married, it seems to me that I should not be so worried about you. I do wish you were married, Henri!"

"I do, too, I can assure you."

"Really? Come, now—mothers, you know—well, secrets ought not to be kept from them. I am so afraid, when I look at you, handsome as you are, and so distinguished and clever and fascinating. You are just the sort of man that any one would fall in love with, and I'm so afraid——"

"Of what?"

"Lest you should have some reason for not——"

"For not marrying, you mean, don't you? A chain—is that what you mean?"

Mme. Mauperin nodded and Henri burst out laughing.

"Oh, my dear mamma, if I had one, make your mind easy, it should be a polished one. A man who has any respect for himself would not wear any other."

"Well, then, tell me about Mlle. Herbault. It was your fault that it all came to nothing."

"Mlle. Herbault? The introduction at the Opera with father? Oh, no, it wasn't that. Yes, yes, I remember, the dinner at Mme. Marquisat's, wasn't it—the last one? That was a trap you laid for me. I must say you are sweetly innocent! I was announced: 'Mossieu Henri Mauperin,' in that grand, important sort of way which being interpreted meant: 'Behold the future husband!' I found all the candles in the drawing-room lighted up. The mistress of the house, whom I had seen just twice in my life, overpowered me with her smiles; her son, whom I did not know at all, shook hands with me. There was a lady with her daughter in the room, they neither of them appeared to see me. My place at dinner was next the young person, of course; a provincial family, their money placed in farms, simple tastes, etc. I discovered all that before the soup was finished. The mother, on the other side of the table, was keeping watch over us; an impossible sort of mother, in such a get-up! I asked the daughter whether she had seen the 'Prophet' at the Opera. 'Yes, it was superb—and then there was that wonderful effect in the third act. Oh, yes, that effect, that wonderful effect.' She hadn't seen it any more than I had. A fibber to begin with. I entertained myself with keeping her to the subject, and that made her crabby. We went back to the drawing-room and then the hostess began: 'What a pretty dress!' she said to me. 'Did you notice it? Would you believe that Emmeline has had that dress five years. I can remember it. She is so careful—so orderly!' 'All right,' I thought to myself, 'a lot of miserly wretches who mean to take me in.'"

"Do you really think so? And yet, from what we were told about them——"

"A woman who makes her dresses last five years! That speaks for itself, that's quite enough. I can picture the dowry hoarded up in a stocking. The money would be in land at two and a half per cent; repairs, taxes, lawsuits, farmers who don't pay their rent, a father-in-law who makes over to you unsalable property. No, no, I'm not quite young enough. I want to get married, but I mean to marry well. Leave me to manage it, and you'll see. You can make your mind easy; I'm not the sort to be taken in with: 'She has such beautiful hair and she is so devoted to her mother!' You see, mamma, I've thought a great deal about marriage, although you may not imagine I have. The most difficult thing to get in this world, the thing we pay the most dearly for, snatch from each other, fight for, the thing we only obtain by force of genius or by luck, by meanness, privations, by wild efforts, perseverance, resolution, energy, audacity or work, is money—isn't that so? Now money means happiness and the honour of being rich, it means enjoyment, and it brings with it the respect and esteem of the million. Well, I have discovered that there is a way of getting it, straightforwardly and promptly, without any fatigue, without difficulty and without genius, quite simply, naturally, quickly and honourably; and this way is by marriage. Another thing I have discovered is that there is no need to be remarkably handsome nor astonishingly intelligent in order to make a rich marriage; the only thing necessary is to will it, to will it coolly, calmly and with all one's force of will-power, to stake all one's chances on that card; in fact to look upon getting married as one's object in life, one's future career. I see that in playing that game it is no more difficult to make an extraordinary marriage than an ordinary one, to get a dowry of fifty thousand pounds than one of five thousand; it is merely a question of cool-headedness and luck; the stake is the same in both cases. In our times when a good tenor can marry an income of thirty thousand pounds arithmetic becomes a thing of the past. All this is what I have wanted to explain to you, and I am sure you will understand me."

Henri Mauperin took his mother's hand in his as he spoke. She was fairly aghast with surprise, admiration, and a sentiment very near akin to respect.

"Don't you worry yourself," continued her son. "I shall marry well—better even perhaps than you dream of."

As soon as his mother had gone Henri took up his pen and, continuing the article he had commenced for the Revue economique, wrote: "The trajectory of humanity is a spiral and not a circle——"



VIII

Henri Mauperin's age, like that of so many present-day young men, could not be reckoned by the years of his life; he was of the same age as the times in which he lived. The coldness and absence of enthusiasm in the younger generation, that distinguishing mark of the second half of the nineteenth century, had set its seal on him entirely. He looked grave, and one felt that he was icy cold. One recognised in him those elements, so contrary to the French temperament, which constitute in French history sects without ardour and political parties without enthusiasm, such as the Jansenism of former days and the Doctrinarianism of to-day.

Henri Mauperin was a young Doctrinaire. He had belonged to that generation of children whom nothing astonishes and nothing amuses; who go, without the slightest excitement, to see anything to which they are taken and who come back again perfectly unmoved. When quite young he had always been well behaved and thoughtful. At college it had never happened to him in the midst of his lessons to go off in a dream, his face buried in his hands, his elbows on a dictionary and his eyes looking into the future. He had never been assailed by temptations with regard to the unknown and by those first visions of life which at the age of sixteen fill the minds of young men with trouble and delight, shut up as they are between the four walls of a courtyard with grated windows, against which their balls bounce and over and beyond which their thoughts soar. In his class there were two or three boys who were sons of eminent political men and with them he made friends. While studying classics he was thinking of the club he should join later on. On leaving college Henri's conduct was not like that of a young man of twenty. He was considered very steady, and was never seen in places where drinking and gambling went on and where his reputation might have suffered. He was to be met with in staid drawing-rooms, where he was always extremely attentive and polite to ladies who were no longer young. All that would have gone against him elsewhere served him there in good stead. His reserve was considered an attraction, his seriousness was thought fascinating.

There are fashions with regard to what finds favour in men. The reign of Louis Philippe, with its great wealth of scholars, had just accustomed the political and literary circles of Paris to value in a society man that something which recalls the cap and gown, that a professor takes about with him everywhere, even when he has become a minister.

With women of the upper middle class the taste for gay, lively, frivolous qualities of mind had been succeeded by a taste for conversation which savoured of the lecture-room, for science direct from the professor's chair, for a sort of learned amiability. A pedant did not alarm them, even though he might be old; when young he was made much of, and it was rumoured that Henri Mauperin was a great favourite.

He had a practical mind. He set up for being a believer in all that was useful, in mathematical truths, positive religions and the exact sciences. He had a certain compassion for art, and maintained that Boule furniture had never been made as well as at present. Political economy, that science which leads on to all things, had appealed to him when he went out into the world as a vocation and a career, consequently he had decided to be an economist. He had brought to this dry study a narrow-minded intelligence, but he had been patient and persevering, and now, once a fortnight, he published in important reviews a long article well padded with figures which the women skipped and the men said they had read.

By the interest which it takes in the poorer classes, by its care for their welfare and the algebraic account it keeps of all their misery and needs, political economy had, of course, given to Henri Mauperin a colouring of Liberalism. It was not that he belonged to a very decided Opposition: his opinions were merely a little ahead of Government principles, and his convictions induced him to make overtures to whatever was likely to succeed. He limited his war against the powers that were to the shooting of an arrow or to a veiled allusion, the key and meaning of which he would by means of his friends convey to the various salons. As a matter of fact, he was carrying on a flirtation, rather than hostilities, with the Government in power. Drawing-room acquaintances, people whom he met in society, brought him within reach of Government influence and into touch with Government patronage. He would prepare the works and correct the proofs of some high official who was always busy and who had scarcely time to do more than sign his books. He had managed to get on good terms with his Prefect, hoping through him to get into the Council and afterward into the Chamber. He excelled in playing double parts, and was clever at compromises and arrangements which kept him in touch with everything without quarrelling with anybody or anything. Though a liberal and political economist, he had found a way of turning aside the distrust of the Catholics and their enmity against himself and his doctrines. He had won the indulgence and sympathy of some of them, and had managed to make himself agreeable to the clergy and to flatter the church by linking together material progress and spiritual progress, the religion of political economy and that of Catholicism: Quesnay and Saint Augustin, Bastiat and the Gospel, statistics and God. Then besides this programme of his, the alliance of Religion and Political Economy, he had a reserve stock of piety, and he observed most regularly certain religious practices, which won for him the affectionate regard of the Abbe Blampoix and brought him into secret communion with believers and with those who observed their religious duties.

Henri Mauperin had taken his flat in the Rue Taitbout for the purpose of entertaining his friends. These entertainments consisted of solemn parties for young men, where the guests would gather round a table which looked like a desk and talk about Natural Law, Public Charities, Productive Forces, and the Multiplicabilite of the Human Species. Henri tried to turn these reunions into something approaching conferences. He was selecting the men and looking for the elements he would require for the famous salon he hoped to have in Paris as soon as he was married; he lured to his reunions the great authorities and notabilities of economic science, and invited to a sort of honorary presidency members of the Institute, whom he had pursued with his politeness and his newspaper puffs and who, according to his plans, would some day help him to take his seat among them in the moral and political science section.

It was, however, in turning associations to account that Henri had shown his talent and all his skill. He had from the very first clung to that great means of getting on peculiar to ciphers—that means by which a man is no longer one alone, but a unit joined to a number. He had gained a footing for himself in associations of every kind. He had joined the d'Aguesseau Debating Society and had glided in and taken his place among all those young men who were practising speech-making, educating themselves for the platform, doing their apprenticeship as orators and their probation as statesmen for future parliamentary struggles. Clubs, college reunions and banquets of old boys, barriers' lectures, historical and geographical societies, scientific and benevolent societies, he had neglected nothing. Everywhere, in all centres which give to the individual an opportunity of shining and which bring him any profit by the collective influence of a group, he appeared and was here, there and everywhere, making fresh acquaintances, forming new connections, cultivating friendships and interests which might lead him on to something, thus driving in the landmarks of his various ambitions, marching ahead, from the committee of one society to the committee of another society, to an importance, a sort of veiled notoriety and to one of those names which, thanks to political influence, are suddenly brought to the front when the right time comes.

He certainly was well qualified for the part he was playing. Eloquent and active, he could make all the noise and stir which lead a man on to success in this century of ours. He was commonplace with plenty of show about him. In society he rarely recited his own articles, but he usually posed with one hand in his waistcoat, after the fashion of Guizot in Delaroche's portrait.



IX

"Well!" exclaimed Renee, entering the dining-room at eleven o'clock, breathless like a child who had been running, "I thought every one would be down. Where is mamma?"

"Gone to Paris—shopping," answered M. Mauperin.

"Oh!—and where's Denoisel?"

"He's gone to see the man with the sloping ground, who must have kept him to luncheon. We'll begin luncheon."

"Good-morning, papa!" And instead of taking her seat Renee went across to her father and putting her arms round his neck began to kiss him.

"There, there, that's enough—you silly child!" said M. Mauperin, smiling as he endeavoured to free himself.

"Let me kiss you tong-fashion—there—like that," and she pinched his cheeks and kissed him again.

"What a child you are, to be sure."

"Now look at me. I want to see whether you care for me."

And Renee, standing up after kissing him once more, moved back from her father, still holding his head between her hands. They gazed at each other lovingly and earnestly, looking into one another's eyes. The French window was open and the light, the scents and the various noises from the garden penetrated into the room. A beam of sunshine darted on to the table, lighted on the china and made the glass glitter. It was bright, cheerful weather and a faint breeze was stirring; the shadows of the leaves trembled slightly on the floor. A vague sound of wings fluttering in the trees and of birds sporting among the flowers could be heard in the distance.

"Only we two; how nice!" exclaimed Renee, unfolding her serviette. "Oh, the table is too large; I am too far away," and taking her knife and fork she went and sat next her father. "As I have my father all to myself to-day I'm going to enjoy my father," and so saying she drew her chair still nearer to him.

"Ah, you remind me of the time when you always wanted to have your dinner in my pocket. But you were eight years old then."

Renee began to laugh.

"I was scolded yesterday," said M. Mauperin, after a minute's silence, putting his knife and fork down on his plate.

"Oh!" remarked Renee, looking up at the ceiling in an innocent way and then letting her eyes fall on her father with a sly look in them such as one sees in the eyes of a cat. "Really, poor papa! Why were you scolded? What had you done?"

"Yes, I should advise you to ask me that again; you know better than I do myself why I was scolded. What do you mean, you dreadful child?"

"Oh, if you are going to lecture me, papa, I shall get up and—I shall kiss you."

She half rose as she said this, but M. Mauperin interrupted her, endeavouring to speak in a severe tone:

"Sit down again, Renee, please. You must own, my dear child, that yesterday——"

"Oh, papa, are you going to talk to me like this on such a beautiful day?"

"Well, but will you explain?" persisted M. Mauperin, trying to remain dignified in face of the rebellious expression, made up of smiles mingled with defiance, in his daughter's eyes. "It was very evident that you behaved in the way you did purposely."

Renee winked mischievously and nodded her head two or three times affirmatively.

"I want to speak to you seriously, Renee."

"But I am quite serious, I assure you. I have told you that I was like that on purpose."

"And why—will you tell me that?"

"Why? Oh, yes, I'll tell you, but on condition that you won't be too conceited. It was because—because——"

"Because of what?"

"Because I love you much more than that gentleman who was here yesterday—there now—very much more—it's quite true!"

"But, then, we ought not to have allowed him to come if you did not care for this young man. We didn't force you into it. It was you yourself who agreed that he should be invited. On the contrary, your mother and I believed that this match——"

"Excuse me, papa, but if I had refused M. Reverchon at first sight, point-blank, you would have said I was unreasonable, mad, senseless. I fancy I can hear mamma now on the subject. Whereas, as things were, what is there to reproach me with? I saw M. Reverchon once, and I saw him again, I had plenty of time to judge him and I knew that I disliked him. It is very silly, perhaps, but it is nevertheless——"

"But why did you not tell us? We could have found a hundred ways of getting out of it."

"You are very ungrateful, papa. I have saved you all that worry. The young man is drawing out of it himself and it is not your fault at all; I alone am responsible. And this is all the gratitude I get for my self-sacrifice! Another time——"

"Listen to me, my dear. If I speak to you like this it is because it is a question of your marriage. Your marriage—ah, it took me a long time to get reconciled to the idea that—to the idea of being separated from you. Fathers are selfish, you see; they would like it better if you never took to yourself wings. They have the greatest difficulty in making up their minds to it all. They think they cannot be happy without your smiles, and that the house will be very different when your dress is not flitting about. But we have to submit to what must be, and now it seems to me that I shall like my son-in-law. I am getting old, you know, my dear little Renee," and M. Mauperin took his daughter's hands in his. "Your father is sixty-eight, my child, he has only just time enough left to see you settled and happy. Your future, if only you knew it, is my one thought, my one torment. Your mother loves you dearly, too, I know, but your character and hers are different; and then, if anything happened to me. You know we must face things; and at my age. You see the thought of leaving you without a husband—and children—without any love which would make up to you for your old father's when he is no longer with you——"

M. Mauperin could not finish; his daughter had thrown her arms round him, stifling down her sobs, and her tears were flowing freely on his waistcoat.

"Oh, it's dreadful of you, dreadful!" she said in a choking voice. "Why do you talk about it? Never—never!" and with a gesture she waved back the dark shadow called up by her imagination.

M. Mauperin had taken her on his knee. He put his arms round her, kissed her forehead and said, "Don't cry, Renee, don't cry!"

"How dreadful! Never!" she repeated once more, as though she were just rousing herself from some bad dream, and then, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she said to her father: "I must go away and have my cry out," and with that she escaped.

* * * * *

"That Dardouillet is certainly mad," remarked Denoisel, as he entered the room. "Just fancy, I could not possibly get rid of him. Ah, you are alone?"

"Yes, my wife is in Paris, and Renee has just gone upstairs."

"Why, what's the matter, M. Mauperin? You look——"

"Oh, it's nothing—a little scene with Renee that I've just had—about this marriage—this Reverchon. I was silly enough to tell her that I am in a hurry to see my grandchildren, that fathers of my age are not immortal, and thereupon—the child is so sensitive, you know. She is up in her room now, crying. Don't go up; it will take her a little time to recover. I'll go and look after my work people."

Denoisel, left to himself, lighted a cigar, picked up a book and went out to one of the garden seats to read. He had been there about two hours when he saw Renee coming towards him. She had her hat on and her animated face shone with joy and a sort of serene excitement.

"Well, have you been out? Where have you come from?"

"Where have I come from?" repeated Renee, unfastening her hat. "Well, I'll tell you, as you are my friend," and she took her hat off and threw her head back with that pretty gesture women have for shaking their hair into place. "I've come from church, and if you want to know what I've been doing there, why, I've been asking God to let me die before papa. I was in front of a large statue of the Virgin—you are not to laugh—it would make me unhappy if you laughed. Perhaps it was the sun or the effect of gazing at her all the time, I don't know, but it seemed to me all in a minute that she did like this—" and Renee nodded her head. "Anyhow, I am very happy and my knees ache, too, I can tell you; for all the time I was praying I was on my knees, and not on a chair or a cushion either—but on the stone floor. Ah, I prayed in earnest; God can't surely refuse me that!"



X

A few days after this M. and Mme. Mauperin, Henri, Renee, and Denoisel were sitting together after dinner in the little garden which stretched out at the back of the house, between the walls of the refinery and its outbuildings. The largest tree in the garden was a fir, and the rose-trees had been allowed to climb up to its lowest branches, so that its green arms stirred the roses. Under the tree was a swing, and at the back of it a sort of thicket of lilacs and witch-elms; there was a round plot of grass, with a garden bench and a very small pool with a white curbstone round it and a fountain that did not play. The pool was full of aquatic plants and a few black newts were swimming in it.

"You don't intend to have any theatricals, then, Renee?" Henri was saying to his sister. "You've quite given up that idea?"

"Given up—no; but what can I do? It isn't my fault, for I would act anything—I'd stand on my head. But I can't find any one else, so that, unless I give a monologue—Denoisel has refused, and as for you, a sober man like you—well, I suppose it's no use asking."

"I, why, I would act right enough," answered Henri.

"You, Henri?" exclaimed Mme. Mauperin in astonishment.

"And then, too, we are not short of men," continued Renee, "there are always men to act. It's for the women's parts. Ah, that's the difficulty—to find ladies. I don't see who is to act with me."

"Oh," said Henri, "if we look about among all the people we know, I'll wager——"

"Well, let's see: there's M. Durand's daughter. Why, yes—what do you think? M. Durand's daughter? They are at Saint-Denis; that will be convenient for the rehearsals. She's rather a simpleton, but I should think for the role of Mme. de Chavigny——"

"Ah," put in Denoisel, "you still want to act 'The Caprice'?"

"Now for a lecture, I suppose? But as I'm going to act with my brother——"

"And the performance will be for the benefit of the poor, I hope?" continued Denoisel.

"Why?"

"It would make the audience more disposed to be charitable."

"We'll see about that, sir, we'll see about it. Well, Emma Durand—will that do? What do you think, mamma?"

"They are not our sort of people, my dear," answered Mme. Mauperin quickly; "they are all very well at a distance, people like that, but every one knows where they sprang from—the Rue St. Honore. Mme. Durand used to go and receive the ladies at their carriage-door, and M. Durand would slip out at the back and take the servant-men to have a glass at the wine-shop round the corner. That's how the Durands made their fortune."

Although at bottom Mme. Mauperin was an excellent sort of woman she rarely lost an opportunity of depreciating, in this way and with the most superb contempt and disgust, the wealth, birth and position of all the people she knew. It was not out of spite, nor was it for the pleasure of slandering and backbiting, nor yet because she was envious. She would refuse to believe in the respectability and uprightness of people, or even in the wealth they were said to have, simply from a prodigious bourgeois pride, from a conviction that outside her own family there could be no good blood, and no integrity; that, with the exception of her own people, every one was an upstart; that nothing was substantial except what she possessed, and that what she had not was not worth having.

"And to think that my wife has tales like that to tell about all the people we know!" said M. Mauperin.

"Come now, papa—shall we have the pretty little Remoli girl—shall we?"

"Ask your mother. Say on, Mme. Mauperin."

"The Remoli girl? But, my dear, you know—"

"I know nothing."

"Oh! do you mean to say that you don't know her father's history? A poor Italian stucco worker. He came to Paris without a sou and bought a bit of ground with a wretched little house at Montparnasse. I don't know where he got the money from to buy it. Well, this land turned out to be a regular Montfaucon! He sold thirty thousand pounds' worth of his precious stuff—and then he's been mixed up with Stock Exchange affairs. Disgusting!"

"Oh, well," put in Henri, "I fancy you are going out of your way to find folks. Why don't you ask Mlle. Bourjot? They happen to be at Sannois now."

"Mlle. Bourjot?" repeated Mme. Mauperin.

"Noemi?" said Renee quickly, "I should just think I should like to ask her. But this winter I thought her so distant with me. She has something or other—I don't know——"

"She has, or rather she will have, twelve thousand pounds a year," interrupted Denoisel, "and mothers are apt to watch over their daughters when such is the case. They will not allow them to get too intimate with a sister who has a brother. They have made her understand this; that's about the long and short of it."

"Then, too, they are so high and mighty, those folks are; they might have descended from—And yet," continued Mme. Mauperin, breaking off and turning to her son, "they have always been very pleasant with you, Henri, haven't they? Mme. Bourjot is always very nice to you?"

"Yes, and she has complained several times of your not going to her soirees; she says you don't take Renee often enough to see her daughter."

"Really?" exclaimed Renee, very delighted.

"My dear," said Mme. Mauperin, "what do you think of what Henri says—Mlle. Bourjot?"

"What objection do you want me to make?"

"Well, then," said Mme. Mauperin, "Henri's idea shall be carried out. We'll go on Saturday, shall we, my dear? And you'll come with us, Henri?"

A few hours later every one was in bed with the exception of Henri Mauperin. He was walking up and down in his room puffing on a cigar that had gone out, and every now and then he appeared to be smiling at his own thoughts.



XI

Renee often went during the day to paint in a little studio, built out of an old green-house at the bottom of the garden. It was very rustic-looking, half hidden with verdure and walled with ivy, something between an old ruin and a nest.

On a table covered with an Algerian cloth there were, on this particular day in the little studio, a Japanese box with a blue design, a lemon, an old red almanac with the French coat of arms, and two or three other bright-coloured objects grouped together as naturally as possible to make a picture, with the light from the glass roof falling on them. Seated in front of the table, Renee was painting all this with brushes as fine as pins on a canvas which already had something on the under side. The skirt of her white pique dress hung in ample folds on each side of the stool on which she was seated. She had gathered a white rose as she came through the garden and had fastened it in her loosely arranged hair just above her ear. Her foot, visible below her dress, in a low shoe which showed her white stocking, was resting on the cross-bar of the easel. Denoisel was seated near her, watching her work and making a bad sketch of her profile in an album he had picked up in the studio.

"Oh, you do pose well," he remarked, as he sharpened his pencil again; "I would just as soon try to catch an omnibus as your expression. You never cease. If you always move like that——"

"Ah, now, Denoisel, no nonsense with your portrait. I hope you'll flatter me a little."

"No more than the sun does. I am as conscientious as a photograph."

"Let me look," she said, leaning back towards Denoisel and holding her maulstick and palette out in front of her. "Oh! I am not beautiful. Truly, now," she continued, as she went on with her painting, "am I like that?"

"Something. Come, Renee—honestly now—what do you think you are like yourself—beautiful?"

"No."

"Pretty?"

"No—no——"

"Ah, you took the trouble to think the matter over this time."

"Yes, but I said it twice."

"Good! If you think you are neither beautiful nor pretty, you don't fancy either that you are——"

"Ugly? No, that's quite true. It's very difficult to explain. Sometimes, now, when I look at myself, I think—how am I to explain? Well, I like my looks; it isn't my face, I know, it's just a sort of expression I have at such times, a something that is within me and which I can feel passing over my features. I don't know what it is—happiness, pleasure, a sort of emotion or whatever you like to call it. I get moments like that when it seems to me as though I am taking all my people in finely. All the same, though, I should have liked to be beautiful."

"Really!"

"It must be very pleasant for one's own sake, it seems to me. Now, for instance, I should have liked to be tall, with very black hair. It's stupid to be almost blonde. It's the same with white skin; I should have chosen a skin—well, like Mme. Stavelot, rather orange-coloured. I like that, but it's a matter of taste. And then I should have enjoyed looking in my glass. It's like when I get up in the morning and walk about the carpet with bare feet. I should love to have feet like a statue I once saw—it's just an idea!"

"If that's how you feel you wouldn't care about being beautiful for the sake of other people?"

"Yes and no. Not for every one—only for those I care for. We ought to be ugly for people about whom we are indifferent, for all the people we don't love—don't you think so? They would have just what they deserved then."

Denoisel began sketching again.

"How odd it is, your ideal, to wish to be dark!" he said, after a moment's silence.

"What should you like to be?"

"If I were a woman? I should like to be small and neither very fair nor very dark——"

"Auburn then?"

"And plump—Oh, as plump as a quail."

"Plump? Ah, I can breathe again. Just for a moment I was afraid of a declaration—If the light had not shown up your hair I should have forgotten you were forty."

"Oh, you don't make me out any older than I am, Renee; that is exactly my age. But do you know what yours is for me?"

"No——"

"Twelve—and you will always be that age to me."

"Thanks—I am very glad," said Renee. "If that's it I shall always be able to tell you all the nonsense that comes into my head. Denoisel," she continued, after a short silence, "have you ever been in love?" She had drawn back slightly from her canvas and was looking at it sideways, her head leaning over her shoulder to see the effect of the colour she had just put on.

"Oh, well! that's a good start," answered Denoisel. "What a question!"

"What's the matter with my question? I'm asking you that just as I might ask you anything else. I don't see anything in it. Would there be any harm in asking such a thing in society? Come now, Denoisel! you say I am twelve years old and I agree to be twelve; but I'm twenty all the same. I'm a young person, that's true, but if you imagine that young persons of my age have never read any novels nor sung any love-songs—why, it's all humbug—it's just posing as sweet innocents. After all, just as you like. If you think I am not old enough I'll take back my question. I thought we were to consider ourselves men when we talked about things together."

"Well, since you want to know, yes—I have been in love."

"Ah! And what effect did it have on you—being in love?"

"You have only to read over again the novels you have read, my dear, and you will find the effect described on every page."

"There, now, that's just what puzzles me; all the books one reads are full of love—there's nothing but that! And then in real life one sees nothing of it—at least I don't see anything of it; on the contrary, I see every one doing without it, and quite easily, too. Sometimes I wonder whether it is not just invented for books, whether it is not all imagined by authors—really."

Denoisel laughed at the young girl's words.

"Tell me, Renee," he said, "since we are men for the time being, as you just said and as we talk to each other of what we feel, quite frankly like two old friends, I should like to ask you in my turn whether you have ever—well, not been in love with any one, but whether you have ever cared for any one?"

"No, never," answered Renee, after a moment's reflection, "but then I am not a fair example. I fancy that such things happen to people who have an empty heart, no one to think about; people who are not taken up, absorbed, possessed and, as it were, protected by one of those affections which take hold of you wholly and entirely—the affection one has for one's father, for instance."

Denoisel did not answer.

"You don't believe that that does preserve you?" said Renee. "Well, but I can assure you I have tried in vain to remember. Oh, I'm examining my conscience thoroughly, I promise you. Well, from my very childhood, I cannot remember anything—no, nothing at all. And yet some of my little friends, who were no older than I was, would kiss the inside of the caps of the little boys who used to play with us; and they would collect the peach-stones from the plates the little boys had used and put them into a box and then take the box to bed with them. Yes, I remember all that. Noemi, for instance, Mlle. Bourjot, was very great at all that. But as for me, I simply went on with my games."

"And later on when you were no longer a child?"

"Later on? I have always been a child as regards all that. No, there is nothing at all—I cannot remember a single impression. I mean—well, I'm going to be quite frank with you—I had just a slight, a very slight commencement of what you were talking about—just a sensation of that feeling that I recognised later on in novels—and can you guess for whom?"

"No."

"For you. Oh, it was only for an instant. I soon liked you in quite a different way—and better, too. I respected you and was grateful to you. I liked you for correcting my faults as a spoiled child, for enlarging my mind, for teaching me to appreciate all that is beautiful, elevated and noble; and all, too, in a joking way by making fun of everything that is ugly and worthless and of everything that is dull or mean and cowardly. You taught me how to play ball and how to endure being bored to death with imbeciles. I have to thank you for much of what I think about, for much of what I am and for a little of any good there is in me. I wanted to pay my debt with a true and lasting friendship, and by giving you cordially, as a comrade, some of the affection I have for father."

As Renee said these last words she raised her voice slightly and spoke in a graver tone.

"What in the world is that?" exclaimed M. Mauperin, who had just entered and had caught sight of Denoisel's sketch. "Is that intended for my daughter! Why, it's a frightful libel," and M. Mauperin picked up the album and began to tear the page up.

"Oh, papa!" exclaimed Renee, "and I wanted it—for a keepsake!"



XII

A light carriage, drawn by one horse, was conveying the Mauperin family along the Sannois road. Renee had taken the reins and the whip from her brother, who was seated at her side smoking. Animated by the drive, the air, and the movement, M. Mauperin was joking about the people they met and bowing gaily to any acquaintances they passed. Mme. Mauperin was silent and absorbed. She was buried in herself, thinking out and preparing her amiability for the approaching visit.

"Why, mamma," remarked Renee, "you don't say a word. Are you not well?"

"Oh, yes, very well, quite well," answered Mme. Mauperin; "but the fact is I'm worrying rather about this visit—and if it had not been for Henri—There's something so stiff and cold about Mme. Bourjot—they are all so high and mighty. Oh, it isn't that they impress me at all—their money indeed! I know too well where they had it from. They made their money from some invention they bought from an unfortunate working-man for a mere nothing—a few coppers."

"Come, come, Mme. Mauperin," put in her husband, "they must have bought more than——"

"Well, anyhow, I don't feel at ease with these people."

"You are very foolish to trouble yourself——"

"We can tell them we don't care a hang for their fine airs!" said Mlle. Mauperin, whipping up the horse so that her slang was lost in the sound of the animal's gallop.

* * * * *

There was some reason for Mme. Mauperin's uneasiness. Her feeling of constraint was certainly justified. Everything in the house to which she was going was calculated to intimidate people, to set them down, crush them, penetrate and overwhelm them with a sense of their own inferiority. There was an ostentatious and studied show of money, a clever display of wealth. Opulence aimed at the humiliation of less fortunate beings, by all possible means of intimidation, by outrageous or refined forms of luxury, by the height of the ceilings, by the impertinent airs of the lackeys, by the footman with his silver chain, stationed in the entrance-hall, by the silver plate on which everything was served, by all kinds of princely ways and customs, such as the strict observance of evening dress, even when mother and daughter were dining alone, by an etiquette as rigid as that of a small German court. The master and mistress were in harmony with and maintained the style of their house. The spirit of their home and life was as it were incarnate in them.

The man, with all that he had copied from the English gentry, his manners, his dress, his curled whiskers, his outward distinction; the woman, with her grand manners, her supreme elegance, all the stiffness and formality of the upper middle class, represented admirably the pride of money. Their disdainful politeness, their haughty amiability, seemed to come down to people. There was a kind of insolence which was visible in their tastes even. M. Bourjot had neither any pictures nor any objects of art; his collection was a collection of precious stones, among which he pointed out a ruby worth a thousand pounds, one of the finest in Europe.

People had overlooked all this display of wealth, and the Bourjot's salon was now very much in vogue and conspicuous on account of its pronounced tendencies in favour of the Opposition party. It had become, in fact, one of the three or four important salons of Paris. It had been peopled after two or three winters which Mme. Bourjot had spent in Nice under pretext of benefitting her health. She had converted her house there into a kind of hotel on the road to Italy, open to all who passed by provided they were great, wealthy, celebrated, or that they had a name. At her musical evenings, when Mme. Bourjot gave every one an opportunity for admiring her beautiful voice and her great musical talent, the celebrities of Europe and Parisians of repute met in her drawing-room. Scientists, great philosophers and aesthetes mingled with politicians. The latter were represented by a compact group of Orleanists and a band of Liberals not pledged to any party, in whose ranks Henri Mauperin had figured most assiduously for the past year. A few Legitimists whom the husband brought to his wife's salon were also to be seen, M. Bourjot himself being a Legitimist.

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