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Rene Mauperin
by Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt
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XXV

"Go up, Henri," said M. Mauperin to his son, and then as Henri wanted his father to pass first M. Mauperin repeated, "No, go on up."

Half an hour later father and son were coming downstairs again from the office of the Keeper of the Seals.

"Well, you ought to be satisfied with me, Henri," observed M. Mauperin, whose face was very red. "I have done as you and your mother wished. You will have this name."

"Father——"

"All right, don't let us talk about it. Are you coming home with me?" he asked, buttoning his frock-coat with that military gesture with which old soldiers gird up their emotions.

"No, father, I must ask you to let me leave you now. I have so many things to do to-day. I'll come to dinner to-morrow."

"Good-bye, then, till to-morrow. You'd better come; your sister is not well."

When the carriage had driven away with his father Henri drew himself up, looked at his watch, and with the brisk, easy step of a man who feels the wind of fortune behind him blowing him along, walked briskly towards the Rue de la Paix.

At the corner of the Chaussee d'Antin he went into the Cafe Bignon, where some heavy-looking young men, suggestive of money and the provinces, were waiting for him. During luncheon the conversation turned on provincial cattle shows and competitions, and afterward, while smoking their cigars on the boulevards, the questions of the varied succession of crops, of drainage, and of liming were brought up, and there was a discussion on elections, the opinions of the various departments, and on the candidatures which had been planned, thought of, or attempted at the agricultural meetings.

At two o'clock Henri left these gentlemen, after promising one of them an article on his model farm; he then went into his club, looked at the papers, and wrote down something in his note-book which appeared to give him a great deal of trouble to get to his mind. He next hurried off to an insurance company to read a report, as he had managed to get on to the committee, thanks to the commercial fame and high repute of his father. At four o'clock he sprang into a carriage and paid a round of visits to ladies who had either a salon or any influence and acquaintances at the service of a man with a career. He remembered, too, that he had not paid his subscription to the "Society for the Right Employment of the Sabbath among the Working Classes," and he called and paid it.

At seven o'clock, with cordial phrases on the tip of his tongue and ready to shake hands with every one, he went upstairs at Lemardelay's, where the "Friendly Association" of his old college friends held its annual banquet. At dessert, when it was his turn to speak, he recited the speech he had composed at his club, talked of this fraternal love-feast, of coming back to his family, of the bonds between the past and the future, of help to old comrades who had been afflicted with undeserved misfortunes, etc.

There were bursts of applause, but the orator had already gone. He put in an appearance at the d'Aguesseau lecture, left there, pulled a white necktie out of his pocket, put it on in the carriage, and showed up at three or four society gatherings.



XXVI

The shock which Renee had had on leaving her brother's room, and which had made her totter for a moment, had brought on palpitation of the heart, and for a week afterward she had not been well. She had been kept quiet and had taken medicines, but she did not recover her gaiety, and time did not appear to bring it back to her. On seeing her ill, Henri knew very well what was the matter, and he had done all in his power to make things up with her again. He had been most affectionate, attentive, and considerate, and had endeavoured to show his repentance. He had tried to get into her good graces once more, to appease her conscience, and to calm her indignation; but his efforts were all in vain. He was always conscious of a certain coolness in her manner, of a repugnance for him, and of a sort of quiet resolution which caused him a vague dread. He understood perfectly well that she had only forgotten the insult of his brutality; she had forgiven her brother, but she had not forgiven him as a man.

Her mother had arranged to take her to Paris one day for a little change, and at the last moment had not felt well enough to go. Henri had some business to do, and he offered to accompany his sister. They started, and on reaching Paris drove to the Rue Richelieu. As they were passing the library Henri told the cabman to draw up.

"Will you wait here for me a moment?" he said to his sister, "I want to ask one of the librarians a question. Why not come in with me, though," he added as an after-thought. "You have always wanted to see the manuscript scroll-work and that is in the same room. You would find it interesting, and I could get my information at the same time."

Renee went up with her brother to the manuscript-room, and Henri took her to the end of a table, waited until the prayer-book he had asked for was brought, and then went to speak to a librarian in one of the window recesses.

Renee turned over the leaves of her book slowly. Just behind her one of the employees was warming himself at the hot-air grating. Presently he was joined by another, who had just taken some volumes and some title-deeds to the desk near which Henri was talking, and Renee heard the following conversation just behind her:

"I say, Chamerot, you see that little chap?"

"Yes, at M. Reisard's desk."

"Well, he can flatter himself that he's got hold of some information which isn't quite correct. He's come to ask whether there used to be a family named Villacourt, and whether the name has died out. They've told him that it has. Now if he'd asked me, I could have told him that some folks of that name must be living. I don't know whether it's the same family; but there was one of them there before I left that part of the world, and a strong, healthy fellow too—the eldest, M. Boisjorand—the proof is that we had a fight once, and that he knew how to give hard blows. Their place was quite near to where we lived. One of the turrets of their house could be seen above Saint-Mihiel, and from a good distance too; but it didn't belong to them in my time. They were a spendthrift lot, that family. Oh, they were queer ones for nobility; they lived with the charcoal-burners in the Croix-du-Soldat woods, at Motte-Noire, like regular satyrs."

Saint-Mihiel, the Croix-du-Soldat woods, and Motte-Noire—all these names fixed themselves on Renee's memory and haunted her.

"There, now I have what I wanted," said Henri, gaily, when he came back to her to take her away.



XXVII

Denoisel had left Renee at her piano, and had gone out into the garden. As he came back towards the house he was surprised to hear her playing something that was not the piece she was learning; then all at once the music broke off and all was silent. He went to the drawing-room, pushed the door open, and discovered Renee seated on the music-stool, her face buried in her hands, weeping bitterly.

"Renee, good heavens! What in the world is the matter?"

Two or three sobs prevented Renee's answering at first, and then, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands, as children do, she said in a voice choked with tears:

"It's—it's—too stupid. It's this thing of Chopin's, for his funeral, you know—his funeral mass, that he composed. Papa always tells me not to play it. As there was no one in the house to-day—I thought you were at the bottom of the garden—oh, I knew very well what would happen, but I wanted to make myself cry with it, and you see it has answered to my heart's content. Isn't it silly of me—and for me, too, when I'm naturally so fond of fun!"

"Don't you feel well, Renee? Come, tell me; there's something the matter. You wouldn't cry like that."

"No, there's nothing the matter, I assure you. I'm as strong as a horse; there's nothing at all the matter, really and truly. If there were anything I should tell you, shouldn't I? It all came about through that dreadful, stupid music. And to-day, too—to-day, when papa has promised to take me to see The Straw Hat."

A faint smile lighted up her wet eyes as she spoke, and she continued in the same strain:

"Only fancy, The Straw Hat—at the Palais Royal. It will be fun, I'm sure; I only like pieces of that kind. As for the others, dramas and sentimental things—well, I think we have enough to stir us up with our own affairs; it isn't worth while going in search of trouble. Then, too, crying with other people; why, it's like weeping into some one else's handkerchief. We are going to take you with us, you know—a regular bachelor's outing it's to be. Papa said we should dine at a restaurant; and I promise you that I'll be as nonsensical, and laugh as I used to when I was a little girl—when I had my English governess—you remember her? She used to wear orange-coloured ribbons, and drink eau de Cologne that she kept in a cupboard until it got in her head. She was a nice old thing."

And as she uttered these words her fingers flew over the keyboard, and she attacked an arrangement with variations of the Carnival of Venice.

"You've been to Venice, haven't you?" she said suddenly, stopping short.

"Yes."

"Isn't it odd that there should be a spot like that on earth, that I don't know and yet that attracts me and makes me dream of it? For some people it's one place, and for others it's another. Now, I've never wanted to see any place except Venice. I'm going to say something silly—Venice seems to me like a city where all the musicians should be buried."

She put her fingers on the notes again, but she only skimmed over them without striking them at all, as if she were just caressing the silence of the piano. Her hands then fell on her knees again, and in a pensive manner, giving way to her thoughts, she half turned her head towards Denoisel.

"You see," she said, "it seems as though there is sadness in the very air. I don't know how it is, but there are days when the sun is shining, when I have nothing the matter with me, no worry and no troubles to face; and yet I positively want to be sad, I try to get the blues, and feel as though I must cry. Many a time I've said I had a headache and gone to bed, just simply for the sake of having a good cry, of burying my face in the pillow; it did me ever so much good. And at such times I haven't the energy to fight against it or to try to overcome it. It's just the same when I am going off in a faint; there's a certain charm in feeling all my courage leaving me——"

"There, there, that's enough, Renee dear! I'll have your horse saddled and we'll go for a ride."

"Ah, that's a good idea! But I warn you I shall go like the wind, to-day."



XXVIII

"What was he to do? poor Montbreton has four children, and none too much money," said M. Mauperin with a sigh, as he folded up the newspaper in which he had just been reading the official appointments and put it at some distance from him on the table.

"Yes, people always say that. As soon as any one ever does anything mean, people always say 'He has children.' One would think that in society people only had children for the sake of that—for the sake of being able to beg, and to do a lot of mean things. It's just as though the fact of being the father of a family gave you the right to be a scoundrel."

"Come, come, Renee," M. Mauperin began.

"No, it's quite true. I only know two kinds of people: the straightforward, honest ones; and then the others. Four children! But that only ought to serve as an excuse for a father when he steals a loaf. Mere Gigogne would have had the right to poison hers according to that, then. I'm sure Denoisel thinks as I do."

"I? Not at all; indeed I don't! I vote for indulgence in favour of married folks—fathers of families. I should like to see people more charitable, too, towards any one who has a vice—a vice which may be rather ruinous, but which one cannot give up. As to the others, those who have nothing to use their money for, no vice, no wife, no children, and who sell themselves, ruin themselves, bow down, humiliate, enrich, and degrade themselves—ah! I'd give all such over to you willingly."

"I'm not going to talk to you," said Renee in a piqued tone. "Anyhow, papa," she went on, "I cannot understand how it is that it does not make you indignant, you who have always sacrificed everything to your opinions. It's disgusting what he has done, and that's the long and short of it."

"I do not say that it isn't; but you get so excited, child, you get so excited."

"I should think so. Yes, I do get excited—and enough to make me, too. Only fancy, a man who owed everything to the other government, and who said everything bad he could about the present one; and now he joins this one. Why, he's a wretch!—your friend, Montbreton—a wretch!"

"Ah! my dear child, it's very easy to say that. When you have had a little more experience of life you will be more indulgent. One has to be more merciful. You are young."

"No, it's something I've inherited, this is. I'm your daughter, and there's too much of you in me, that's what it is. I shall never be able to swallow things that disgust me. It's the way I'm made—how can I help it? Every time I see any one I know—or even any one I don't know—fail in what you men call points of honour, well, I can't help it at all, but it has the same effect on me as the sight of a toad. I have such a horror of it, and it disgusts me so, that I want to step on it. Come now, do you call a man honourable because he takes care to only do abominable things for which he can't be tried in the law courts? Do you call a man honourable when he has done something for which he must blush when he is alone? Is a man honourable when he has done things for which no one can reproach him and for which he cannot be punished, but which tarnish his conscience? I think there are things that are lower and viler than cheating at the card-table; and the indulgence with which society looks on makes me feel as though society is an accomplice, and I think it is perfectly revolting. There are things that are so disloyal, so dishonest, that when I think of them it makes me quite merciful towards out-and-out scoundrels. You see they do risk something; their life is at stake and their liberty. They go in for things prepared to win or lose: they don't put gloves on to do their infamous deeds. I like that better; it's not so cowardly, anyhow!"

Renee was seated on a sofa at the far side of the drawing-room. Her arms were folded, her hands feverish, and her whole body quivering with emotion. She spoke in jerks, and her voice vibrated with the wrath she felt in her very soul. Her eyes looked like fire lighting up her face, which was in the shade.

"And very interesting, too, he is," she continued, "your M. de Montbreton. He has an income of six hundred or six hundred and fifty pounds. If he did not pay quite such a high house-rent, and if his daughters had not always had their dresses made by Mme. Carpentier——"

"Ah, this requires consideration," put in Denoisel. "A man who has more than two hundred a year, if a bachelor, and more than four hundred if married, can perfectly well remain faithful to a government which is no longer in power. His means allow him to regret——"

"And he will expect you to esteem him, to shake hands with him, and raise your hat to him as usual," continued Renee. "No, it is rather too much! I hope when he comes here, papa—well, I shall promptly go straight out of the room."

"Will you have a glass of water, Renee?" asked M. Mauperin, smiling; "you know orators always do. You were really fine just then. Such eloquence—it flowed like a brook."

"Yes, make fun of me by all means. You know I get carried away, as you tell me. And your Montbreton—but how silly I am, to be sure. He doesn't belong to us, this man, does he? Oh, if it were one of my family who had done such a thing, such a dishonourable thing, such a——"

She stopped short for a second, and then began again:

"I think," she said, speaking with an effort, as though the tears were coming into her eyes, "I think I could never love him again. Yes, it seems to me as though my heart would be perfectly hard as far as he was concerned."

"Good! this is quite touching. We had the young orator just now, and at present it is the little girl's turn. You'd do better to come and look at this caricature album that Davarande has sent your mother."

"Ah yes, let's look at that," said Renee, going quickly across to her father and leaning on his shoulder as he turned over the leaves. She glanced at two or three pages and then looked away.

"There, I've had enough of them, thank you. Goodness, how can people enjoy making things ugly—uglier than nature? What a queer idea. Now in art, in books, and in everything, I'm for all that is beautiful, and not for what is ugly. Then, too, I don't think caricatures are amusing. It's the same with hunchbacks—it never makes me laugh to see a hunchback. Do you like caricatures, Denoisel?"

"Do I? No, they make me want to howl. Yes, it is a kind of comical thing that hurts me," answered Denoisel, picking up a Review that was next the album. "Caricatures are like petrified jokes to me. I can never see one on a table without thinking of a lot of dismal things, such as the wit of the Directory, Carle Vernet's drawings, and the gaiety of middle-class society."

"Thank you," said M. Mauperin laughing, "and in addition to that you are cutting my Revue des Deux Mondes with a match. How hopeless he is, to be sure, Denoisel."

"Do you want a knife, Denoisel?" asked Renee, plunging her hand into her pockets and pulling out a whole collection of things, which she threw on the table.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Denoisel, "why, you have a regular museum in your pockets. You'd have enough for a whole sale at the auction-rooms. What in the world are all those things?"

"Presents from a certain person, and they go about with me everywhere. There's the knife for you," and Renee showed it to her father before passing it to Denoisel. "Do you remember where you bought it for me?" she asked. "It was at Langres once when we had stopped for a fresh horse; oh, it's a very old one. This one," she continued, picking up another, "you brought me from Nogent. It has a silver blade, if you please; I gave you a halfpenny for it, do you remember?"

"Ah, if we are to begin making inventories!" said M. Mauperin laughing.

"And what's in that?" asked Denoisel, pointing to a little worn-out pocket-book stuffed full of papers, the dirty crumpled edges of which could be seen at each end.

"That? Oh, those are my secrets," and, picking up all the things she had thrown on the table, she put them quickly back in her pocket with the little book. The next minute, with a burst of laughter and diving once more into her pockets, she pulled the book out again, opened the flap, and scattered all the little papers on the table in front of Denoisel, and without opening them proceeded to explain what they were. "There, this is a prescription that was given for papa when he was ill. That's a song he composed for me two years ago for my birthday——"

"There, that's enough! Pack up your relics; put all that out of sight," said M. Mauperin, sweeping all the little papers from him just as the door opened and M. Dardouillet entered.

"Oh, you've mixed them all up for me!" exclaimed Renee, looking annoyed as she put them back in her pocket-book.



XXIX

A month later, in the little studio, Renee said to Denoisel: "Am I really romantic—do you think I am?"

"Romantic—romantic? In the first place, what do you mean by romantic?"

"Oh, you know what I mean; having ideas that are not like every one else's, and fancying a lot of things that can never happen. For instance, a girl is romantic when it would be a great trouble to her to marry, as girls do marry, a man with nothing extraordinary about him, who is introduced to her by papa and mamma, and who has not even so much as saved her life by stopping a horse that has taken fright, or by dragging her out of the water. You don't imagine I'm one of that sort, I hope?"

"No; at least I don't know at all. I'd wager that you yourself don't know, either."

"Nonsense. It may be, in the first place, because I have no imagination; but it has always seemed to me so odd to have an ideal—to dream about some imaginary man. It's just the same with the heroes in novels; they've never turned my head. I always think they are too well-bred, too handsome, too rotten, with all their accomplishments. I get so sick of them in the end. But it isn't that. Tell me now, suppose they wanted to make you live your whole life long with a creature—a creature who——"

"A creature—what sort of a creature?"

"Let me finish what I am saying. A man, then, who did not answer at all to certain delicate little requirements of your nature, who did not strike you as being poetical—there, that's what I mean—not a scrap poetical, but who on the other hand made up for what was wanting in him, in other ways, by such kindness—well, such kindness as one never meets with——"

"As much kindness as all that? Oh, I should not hesitate; I should take the kindness blindfold. Dear me, yes, indeed I should. It's so rare."

"You think kindness worth a great deal then?"

"I do, Renee. I value it as one values what one has lost."

"You? Why, you are always very kind."

"I am not downright bad; but that's all. I might perhaps be envious if I had more modesty and less pride. But as for always being kind, oh no, I am not. Life cures you of that just as it cures you of being a child. One gets over one's good-nature, Renee, just as one gets over teething."

"Then you think that a kindly disposition and a good heart——"

"Yes, I mean the goodness that endures in spite of men and in spite of experience—such goodness as I have met with in a primitive state in two or three men in my life. I look upon it as the best and most divine quality a man can have."

"Yes, but if a man who is very good, as good as those you describe—this is just a supposition, you know—suppose he had feet that looked like lumps of cake in his boots. And then, suppose he were corpulent, this good man, this very good man?"

"Well, one need not look at his feet nor at his corpulency—that's all. Oh, I beg your pardon, though, of course, I had completely forgotten."

"What?"

"Oh, nothing; except that you are a woman."

"But that's very insulting to my sex—that remark of yours."

Denoisel did not answer, and the conversation ceased for a few minutes.

"Have you ever wished for wealth?" Renee began again.

"Yes, several times; but absolutely for the sake of treating it as it deserves to be treated—to be disrespectful to it."

"How do you mean?"

"Why, yes, I should like to be rich just to show the contempt I have for money. I remember that two or three times I have fallen asleep with the idea of going to Italy to get married."

"To Italy?"

"Yes, there are more Russian princesses there than anywhere else, and Russian princesses are the only women left in this world who will marry a man without a farthing. Then, too, I was prepared to be contented with a princess who was not very well off. I was not at all exacting, and would have come down without a murmur to thirty thousand pounds a year. That was my very lowest figure though."

"Indeed!" said Renee laughing. "And what should you have done with all that money?"

"I should just have poured it away in streams between my fingers; it would have been something astounding to see; something that I have never seen rich people do with their money. I think all the millionaires ought to be ashamed of themselves. For instance, from the way in which a man lives who has four thousand a year, and the way a man lives who has forty thousand, could you tell their difference of fortune? Now with me you would have known. For a whole year I should have flung away my money in all kinds of caprices, fancies, and follies; I should have dazzled and fairly humiliated Paris; I should have been like a sun-god showering bank-notes down; I should have positively degraded my gold by all kinds of prodigalities; and at the end of a year, day for day, I should have left my wife."

"Nonsense!"

"Certainly; in order to prove to myself that I did not love money. If I had not left her, I should have considered myself dishonoured."

"Well, what extraordinary ideas! I must confess that I haven't arrived at your philosophy yet. A large fortune and all that it gives you, all kinds of enjoyment and luxuries, houses, carriages, and then the pleasure of making the people you don't like envious—of annoying them. Oh, I think it would be most delightful to be rich."

"I told you just now, Renee, that you were a woman—merely a woman."



XXX

Denoisel had spoken as he really felt. If he had sometimes wished for wealth, he had never envied people who had it. He had a sincere and thorough contempt for money—the contempt of a man who is rich with very little.

Denoisel was a Parisian, or rather he was the true Parisian. Well up in all the experiences of Paris, wonderfully skilled in the great art of living, thanks to the habits and customs of Parisian life, he was the very man for that life; he had all its instincts, its sentiments, and its genius. He represented perfectly that very modern personage, the civilized man, triumphing, day by day, like the inhabitants of a forest of Bondy, over the price of things, over the costly life of capitals, as the savage triumphs over nature in a virgin forest. He had all the show and glitter of wealth. He lived among rich people, frequented their restaurants and clubs, had their habits, and shared in their amusements. He knew some of the wealthiest people, and all that money opened to them was open to him. He was seen at the grand private balls of the Provencaux, at the races, and at first nights at the theatres. In summer he went to the watering-places, to the sea, and to the gambling resorts. He dressed like a man who owns a carriage.

And yet Denoisel only possessed between four and five thousand pounds. Belonging to a family that had been steeped in the ideas of the past with regard to property, attached and devoted to landed wealth, always talking of bankruptcy, and as mistrustful of stocks and shares as peasants formerly were of bank-notes, Denoisel had shaken himself free of all the prejudices of his own people. Without troubling about the advice, the remonstrances, the indignation, and the threats of old and distant relatives, he had sold the small farms which his father and mother had left him. It seemed to him that there was no longer any proportion between the revenue of land and the expenses of modern life. In his opinion landed estate might have been a means of wealth at the time when Paul de Kock's novels said of a young man, "Paul was rich, he had two hundred and fifty a year." But since that time it had, according to him, become an anachronism, a kind of archaic property, a fancy fox which was only permissible in very wealthy people. He therefore realized his land and turned it into a small capital, which he placed, after consulting with a friend of his who frequented the Stock Exchange, in foreign bonds, in shares and securities, thus doubling and tripling his revenue without any risk to his regular income. Having thus converted his capital into a figure which meant nothing, except in the eyes of a notary, and which no longer regulated his current means, Denoisel arranged his life as he had done his money. He organized his expenses. He knew exactly the cost in Paris of vanity, little extras, bargains, and all such ruinous things. He was not ashamed to add up a bill himself before paying it. Away from home he only smoked fourpenny cigars, but at home he smoked pipes. He knew where to buy things, discovered the new shops, which give such good value during the first three months. He knew the wine-cellars at the various restaurants, ordered Chambertin a certain distance up the boulevards, and only ordered it there. If he gave a dinner, his menu won the respect of the waiter. And with all that, he knew how to order supper for four shillings at the Cafe Anglais.

All his expenses were regulated with the same skill. He went to one of the first tailors in Paris, but a friend of his who was in the Foreign Office procured for him from London all the suits he wanted between the seasons. When he had a present to make, or any New Year's gifts to buy, he always knew of a cargo of Indian or Chinese things that had just arrived, or he remembered an old piece of Saxony or Sevres china that was lying hidden away in some shop in an unfrequented part of Paris, one of those old curiosities, the price of which cannot be discovered by the person for whom it is destined. All this with Denoisel was spontaneous, natural, and instinctive. This never-ending victory of Parisian intelligence over all the extravagance of life had nothing of the meanness and pettiness of sordid calculation about it. It was the happy discovery of a scheme of existence under satisfactory conditions, and not a series of vulgar petty economies, and in the well-organized expenditure of his six hundred pounds a year the man remained liberal and high-minded: he avoided what was too expensive for him, and never attempted to beat prices down. Denoisel had a flat of his own on the first storey of a well-ordered house with a carpeted staircase. He had only three rooms, but the Boulevard des Italiens was at his very door. His little drawing-room, which he had furnished as a smoking-den, was charming. It was one of those snug little rooms which Parisian upholsterers are so clever in arranging. It was all draped and furnished with chintz, and had divans as wide as beds. It had been Denoisel's own wish that the absence of all objects of art should complete the cheerful look of the room. He was waited on in the morning by his hall-porter, who brought him a cup of chocolate and did all the necessary housework. He dined at a club or restaurant or with friends.

The low rent and the simplicity of his household and domestic arrangements left Denoisel more of that money of which wealthy people are so often short, that money for the little luxuries of life, which is more necessary than any other in Paris, and which is known as pocket-money. Occasionally, however, that force majeure, the Unforeseen, would suddenly arrive in the midst of this regular existence and disarrange its equilibrium and its budget.

Denoisel would then disappear from Paris for a time. He would ruralize at some little country inn, near a river, on half-a-crown a day, and he would spend no other money than what was necessary for tobacco. Two or three winters, finding himself quite out of funds, he had emigrated, and, on discovering a city like Florence, where happiness costs nothing and where the living is almost as inexpensive as that happiness, he had stayed there six months, lodging in a room with a cupola, dining a la trattoria on truffles with Parmesan cheese, passing his evenings in the boxes of society people, going to the Grand Duke's balls, feted, invited everywhere, with white camellias in his buttonhole—economizing in the happiest way in the world.

Denoisel spent no more for his love-affairs than for other things. It was no longer a question of self-respect with him, so that he only paid what he thought them worth. And yet such things had been his one allurement as a young man. He had, however, always been cool and methodical, even in his love-affairs. He had wanted, in a lordly way, to test for himself what the love of the woman who was the most in vogue in Paris was like. He allowed himself for this experiment about two thousand pounds of the seven thousand he then possessed, and, during the six months that he was the accepted lover of the celebrated Genicot, a woman who would give a five-pound note as a tip to her postillion on returning from the Marche, he lived in the same style as a man with five thousand a year. When the six months were over he left her, and she, for the first time in her life, was in love with a man who had paid for that love.

Tempered by this proof he had had several other experiences afterward, until they had palled on him; and then there had suddenly come to him, not a desire for further love adventures, but a great curiosity about women. He set out to discover all that was unforeseen, unexpected, and unknown to him in woman. All actresses seemed to him very much the same kind of courtesan, and all courtesans very much the same kind of actress. What attracted him now was the unclassed woman, the woman that bewilders the observer and the oldest Parisian. He often went wandering about at night, vaguely and irresistibly led on by one of those creatures who are neither all vice nor all virtue, and who walk so gracefully along in the mire. Sometimes he was dazzled by one of those fine-looking girls, so often seen in Paris, who seem to brighten everything as they pass along, and he would turn round to look at her and stand there even after she had suddenly disappeared in the darkness of some passage. His vocation was to discover tarnished stars. Now and then in some faubourg he would come across one of these marvellous daughters of the people and of Nature, and he would talk to her, watch her, listen to her, and study her; then when she wearied him he would let her go, and it would amuse him later on to raise his hat to her when he met her again driving in a carriage.

Denoisel's wealthy air won for him a welcome in social circles. He soon established himself there and on a superior footing, thanks to his geniality and wit, the services of every kind he was always ready to render, and the need every one had of him. His large circle of acquaintances among foreigners, artists, and theatrical people, his knowledge of the ins and outs of things when small favours were required, made him very valuable on hundreds of occasions. Every one applied to him for a box at a theatre, permission to visit a prison or a picture gallery, an entrance for a lady to the law courts at some trial, or a foreign decoration for some man. In two or three duels in which he had served as seconds, he had shown sound sense, decision, and a manly regard for the honour as well as the life of the man for whom he was answerable. People were under all kinds of obligations to him, and the respect they had for him was not lessened by his reputation as a first-rate swordsman. His character had won for him the esteem of all with whom he came in contact, and he was even held in high consideration by wealthy people, whose millions, nevertheless, were not always respected by him.



XXXI

"My wife, for instance, wanted to have her portrait painted by Ingres. You've seen it—it isn't like her—but it's by Ingres. Well, do you know what he asked me for it? Four hundred pounds. I paid it him, but I consider that taking advantage; it's the war against capital. Do you mean to say that because a man's name is known he should make me pay just what he likes? because he's an artist, he has no price, no fixed rate, he has a right to fleece me? Why, according to that he might ask me a million for it. It's like the doctors who make you pay according to your fortune. To begin with, how does any one know what I have? I call it an iniquity. Yes, four hundred pounds; what do you think of that?"

M. Bourjot was standing by the chimney-piece talking to Denoisel. He put the other foot, on which he had been standing, to the fire as he spoke.

"Upon my word," said Denoisel, very seriously, "you are quite right: all these folks take advantage of their reputation. You see there's only one way to prevent it, and that would be to decree a legal maximum for talent, a maximum for master-pieces. Why, yes! It would be very easy."

"That's it; that would be the very thing!" exclaimed M. Bourjot, "and it would be quite just, for you see——"

The Bourjots had dined that evening alone with the Mauperins. The two families had been talking of the wedding, and were only waiting to fix the day, until the expiration of a year from the date of the first insertion of the name of Villacourt in the Monitor. It was M. Bourjot who had insisted on this delay. The ladies were talking about the trousseau, jewellery, laces, and wedding-presents, and Mme. Mauperin, who was seated by Mme. Bourjot, was contemplating her as though she were a person who had performed a miracle.

M. Mauperin's face beamed with joy. He had in the end yielded to the fascination of money. This great, upright man, genuine, severe, rigid, and incorruptible as he was, had gradually allowed the vast wealth of the Bourjots to come into his thoughts and into his dreams, to appeal to him and to his instincts as a practical man, as an old man, the father of a family and a manufacturer. He had been won over and disarmed. Ever since his son's success with regard to this marriage, he had felt that respect for Henri which ability or the prospect of a large fortune inspires in people, and, without being aware of it himself, he scarcely blamed him now for having changed his name. Fathers are but men, after all.

Renee, who for some time past had been worried, thoughtful, and low-spirited, was almost cheerful this evening. She was amusing herself with blowing about the fluffy feathers which Noemi was wearing in her hair. The latter, languid and absent-minded, with a dreamy look in her eyes, was replying in monosyllables to Mme. Davarande's ceaseless chatter.

"Nowadays, everything is against money," began M. Bourjot again, sententiously. "There's a league—now, for instance, I made a road for the people at Sannois. Well, do you imagine that they even touch their hats to us? Oh dear no, never. In 1848 we gave them bushels of corn; and what do you think they said? Excuse me, ladies, if I repeat their words. They said: 'That old beast must be afraid of us!' That was all the gratitude I had. I started a model farm, and I applied to the Government for a man to manage it; a red-hot radical was sent to me, a rascal who had spent his life running down the rich. At present I have to do with a Municipal Council with the most detestable opinions. I find work for every one, don't I? Thanks to us, the country round is prosperous. Well, if there were to be a revolution, now, I am convinced that they would set fire to our place. They'd have no compunction about that. You've no idea what enemies you get if you pay as much as three hundred and sixty pounds for taxes. They'd simply burn us out of house and home—they'd have no scruple about it. You see what happened in February. Oh, my ideas with regard to the people have quite changed; and they are preparing a nice future for us, you can count on that. We shall be simply ruined by a lot of penniless wretches. I can see that beforehand. I often think of all these things. If only it were not for one's children—money, as far as I am concerned——"

"What's that you are saying, neighbour?" asked M. Mauperin, approaching.

"I'm saying that I'm afraid the day will come when our children will be short of bread, M. Mauperin; that's what I'm saying."

"You'll make them hesitate about this wedding if you talk like that," said M. Mauperin.

"Oh, if my husband begins with his gloomy ideas, if he's going to talk about the end of the world—" put in Mme. Bourjot.

"I congratulate you that you don't feel the anxiety I do," remarked M. Bourjot, bowing to his wife; "but I can assure you that, without being weak-minded, there is every reason for feeling very uneasy."

"Certainly, certainly," said Denoisel. "I think that money is in danger, in great danger, in very great danger indeed. In the first place, it is threatened by that envy which is at the bottom of nearly all revolutions; and then by progress, which baptizes the revolutions."

"But, sir, such progress would be infamous. Take me, for instance: no one could doubt me. I used to be a Liberal—I am now, in fact. I am a soldier of Liberty, a born Republican; I am for progress of every kind. But a revolution against wealth—why, it would be barbarous! We should be going back to savage times. What we want is justice and common sense. Can you imagine now a society without wealth?"

"No, not any more than a greasy pole without a silver cup."

"What," continued M. Bourjot, who in his excitement had not caught Denoisel's words, "the money that I have earned with hard work, honestly and with the greatest difficulty—the money that is mine, that I have made, and which is for my children—why, there is nothing more sacred! I even look upon the income-tax as a violation of property."

"Why, yes," said Denoisel in the most perfectly good-natured tone, "I am quite of your opinion. And I should be very sorry," he added wickedly, "to make things seem blacker to you than they already do. But you see we have had a revolution against the nobility; we shall have one against wealth. Great names have been abolished by the guillotine, and great fortunes will be done away with next. A man was considered guilty if his name happened to be M. de Montmorency; it will be criminal to be M. Two Thousand Pounds a Year. Things are certainly getting on. I can speak all the more freely as I am absolutely disinterested, myself. I should not have had anything to be guillotined for in the old days, and I haven't enough to be ruined for nowadays. So, you see——"

"Excuse me," put in M. Bourjot, solemnly, "but your comparison—no one could deplore excesses more than I do, and the event of 1793 was a great crime, sir. The nobility were treated abominably, and all honest people must be of the same opinion as I am."

M. Mauperin smiled as he thought of the Bourjot of 1822.

"But then," continued M. Bourjot, "the situation is not the same at all. Social conditions are entirely changed, the basis of society has been restored. Everything is different. There were reasons—or pretexts, if you prefer that—for this hatred of the nobility. The Revolution of '89 was against privileges, which I am not criticising, but which existed. That is quite different. The fact was people wanted equality. It was more or less legitimate that they should have it, but at least there was some reason in it. At present all that is altered; and where are the privileges? One man is as good as another. Hasn't every man a vote? You may say, 'What about money?' Well, every one can earn money; all trades and professions are open to every one."

"Except those that are not," put in Denoisel.

"In short, all men can now arrive at anything and everything. The only things necessary are hard work, intelligence——"

"And circumstances," put in Denoisel, once more.

"Circumstances must be made, sir, by each man himself. Just look at what society is. We are all parvenus. My father was a cloth merchant—in a wholesale way, certainly—and yet you see—now this is equality, sir, the real and the right kind of equality. There is no such thing as caste now. The upper class springs from the people, and the people rise to the upper class. I could have found a count for my daughter, if I had wanted to. But it is just simply a case of evil instincts, evil passions, and these communist ideas—it is all this which is against wealth. We hear a lot of rant about poverty and misery. Well, I can tell you this, there has never been so much done for the people as at present. There is great progress with regard to comfort and well-being in France. People who never used to eat meat, now eat it twice a week. These are facts; and I am sure that on that subject our young social economist, M. Henri, could tell us——"

"Yes, yes," said Henri, "that has been proved. In twenty-five years the increase of cattle has been twelve per cent. By dividing the population of France into twelve millions inhabiting the towns, and twenty-four to twenty-five millions inhabiting the country districts, it is reckoned that the former consume about sixty-five kilogrammes a head each year, and the latter twenty kilogrammes twenty-six centigrammes. I can guarantee the figures. What is quite sure is that the most conscientious estimates prove that since 1789 there has been an increase in the average length of life, and this progress is the surest sign of prosperity for a nation. Statistics——"

"Ah, statistics, the chief of the inexact sciences!" interrupted Denoisel, who delighted in muddling M. Bourjot's brain with paradoxes. "But I grant that," he went on. "I grant that the lives of the people have been prolonged, and that they eat more meat than they have ever eaten. Do you, on that account, believe in the immortality of the present social constitution? There has been a revolution which has brought about the reign of the middle class—that is to say, the reign of money; and now you say: 'Everything is finished; there must be no other; there can be no legitimate revolution now.' That is quite natural; but, between ourselves, I don't know up to what point the supremacy of the middle class can be considered as final. As far as you are concerned, when once political equality is given to all, social equality is complete: that is perhaps quite just; but the thing is to convince people of it, whose interest it is not to believe it. One man is as good as another. Certainly he may be in the eyes of God. Every one in this century of ours has a right to wear a black coat—provided he can pay for it. Modern equality—shall I explain briefly what it is? It is the same equality as our conscription; every man draws his number, but if you can pay one hundred and twenty pounds, you have the right of sending another man to be killed instead of you. You spoke of privileges; there are no such things now, that's true. The Bastille was destroyed; but it gave birth to others first. Let us take, for instance, Justice, and I do acknowledge that a man's position, his name, and his money weigh less and are made less of in courts of justice than anywhere else. Well, commit a crime, and be, let us say, a peer of France; you would be allowed poison instead of the scaffold. Take notice that I think it should be so; I am only mentioning it to show you how inequalities spring up again, and, indeed, when I see the ground that they cover now I wonder where the others could have been. Hereditary rights—something else that the Revolution thought it had buried. All that was an abuse of the former Government, about which enough has been said. Well, I should just like to know whether, at present, the son of a politician does not inherit his father's name and all the privileges connected with that name, his father's electors, his connection, his place everywhere, and his chair at the Academy? We are simply overrun with these sons. We come across them everywhere; they take all the good berths and, thanks to these reversions, everything is barred for other people. The fact is that old customs are terrible things for unmaking laws. You are wealthy, and you say money is sacred. But why? Well, you say 'We are not a caste.' No, but you are already an aristocracy, and quite a new aristocracy, the insolence of which has already surpassed all the impertinences of the oldest aristocracies on the globe. There is no court now, you say. There never has been one, I should imagine, in the whole history of the world where people have had to put up with such contempt as in the private office of certain great bankers. You talk of evil instincts and evil passions. Well, the power of the wealthy middle class is not calculated to elevate the mind. When the higher ranks of society are engaged in digesting and placing out money there are no longer any ideas, nothing in fact but appetites, in the class below. Formerly, when by the side of money there was something above it and beyond it, during a revolution instead of asking bluntly for money—clumsy rough coins with which to buy their happiness—the people contented themselves with asking for the change of colours on a flag, or with having a few words written over a guard-house, or even with glorious victories that were quite hollow. But in our times—oh, we all know where the heart of Paris is now. The bank would be besieged instead of the Hotel de ville. Ah, the bourgeoisie has made a great mistake!"

"And what is the mistake, pray?" asked M. Bourjot, astounded by Denoisel's tirade.

"That of not leaving Paradise in heaven—which was certainly its place. The day when the poor could no longer comfort themselves with the thought that the next life would make up to them for this, the day when the people gave up counting on the happiness of the other world—oh, I can tell you, Voltaire did a lot of harm to the wealthy classes——"

"Ah, you are right there!" exclaimed M. Bourjot, impulsively. "That is quite evident. All these wretches ought to go to church regularly——"



XXXII

There was a grand ball at the Bourjots' in honour of the approaching marriage of their daughter with M. Mauperin de Villacourt.

"You are going in for it to-day. How you are dancing!" said Renee to Noemi, fanning her as she stood talking in a corner of the vast drawing-room.

"I have never danced so much, that's quite true," answered Noemi, taking her friend's arm and leading her away into the small drawing-room. "No, never," she continued, drawing Renee to her and kissing her. "Oh, how lovely it is to be happy," and then kissing her again in a perfect fever of joy, she said: "She does not care for him now. Oh, I'm quite sure she doesn't care for him. In the old days I could see she did by the very way she got up when he came; by her eyes, her voice, the very rustle of her dress, everything. Then when he wasn't there, I could tell by her silence she was thinking of him. You are surprised at my noticing, silly thing that I am; but there are some things that I understand with this"—and she drew Renee's hand on to her white moire dress just where her heart was—"and this never deceives me."

"And you love him now, do you?" asked Renee.

Noemi stopped her saying any more by pressing her bouquet of roses against her friend's lips.

"Mademoiselle, you promised me the first redowa," and a young man took Noemi away. She turned as she reached the door and threw a kiss to Renee with the tips of her fingers.

Noemi's confession had given Renee a thrill of joy, and she had revelled in the smile on her friend's face. She herself felt immensely comforted and relieved. In an instant everything had changed for her, and the thought that Noemi loved her brother chased away all other ideas. She no longer saw the shame and the crime which she had so long seen in this marriage. She kept repeating to herself that Noemi loved him, that they both loved each other. The rest all belonged to the past, and they would each of them forget that past, Noemi by forgiving it, and Henri by redeeming it. Suddenly the remembrance of something came back to her, bringing with it an anxious thought and a vague dread. She was determined, however, just then to see no dark clouds in the horizon and nothing threatening in the future. Chasing all this from her mind, she began to think of her brother and of Noemi once more. She pictured to herself the wedding-day and their future home, and she recalled the voices of some children she had once heard calling "Auntie! Auntie!"

"Will mademoiselle do me the honour of dancing with me?"

It was Denoisel who was bowing in front of her.

"Do we dance together—you and I? We know each other too well. Sit down there, and don't crease my dress. Well, what are you looking at?"

Renee was wearing a dress of white tulle, trimmed with seven narrow flounces and bunches of ivy leaves and red berries. In her bodice and the tulle ruches of her sleeves she wore ivy and berries to match. A long spray of the ivy was twisted round her hair with a few berries here and there and the leaves hung down over her shoulders. She was leaning her head back on the sofa, and her beautiful chestnut hair, which was brought forward, fell slightly over her white forehead. There was a new gleam, a soft intense light in her brown, dreamy eyes, the expression of which could not be seen. A shadow played over her mouth at the corners, and her lips, which were generally closed in a disdainful little pout, were unsealed and half open, partially revealing the gladness which came from her very soul. The light fell on her chin, and a ring of shadow played round her neck each time that she moved her head. She looked charming thus, the outline of her features indistinct under the full light of the chandeliers, and her whole face beaming with childish joy.

"You are very pretty this evening, Renee."

"Ah—this evening?"

"Well, to tell the truth, just lately you've looked so worried and so sad. It suits you much better to enjoy yourself."

"Do you think so? Do you waltz?"

"As though I had just learnt and had been badly taught. But you have only this very minute refused."

"I, refused? What an idea! Why, I want to dance dreadfully. Well, there's plenty of time—oh, don't look at your watch; I don't want to know the time. And so you think I am gay, do you? Well, no, I don't feel gay. I'm happy—I'm very happy—there, now! I say, Denoisel, when you are strolling about in Paris, you know those old women who wear Lorraine caps, and who stand in the doorways selling matches—well, you are to give a sovereign each to the first five you meet; I'll give it you back. I've saved some money—don't forget. Is that waltz still going on? Is it really true that I refused to dance? Well, after this one I'm going to dance everything, and I shall not be particular about my partners. They can be as ugly as they like, they can wear shoes that have been resoled, and talk to me about Royer-Collard if they like, they can be too tall or too short, they can come up to my elbow or I can come up to their waist—it won't matter to me even if their hands perspire—I'll dance with any of them. That's how I feel to-night, and yet people say that I am not charitable."

Just at that moment a man entered the little drawing-room. It was M. Davarande.

"Invite me for this waltz, please," said Renee, and as she passed by Denoisel she whispered:

"You see I'm beginning with the family."



XXXIII

"What's the matter with your mother this evening?" Denoisel asked Renee. They were alone, as Mme. Mauperin had just gone upstairs to bed, and M. Mauperin to have a look round at the works, which were on late that night.

"What's the matter with her, she seems as——"

"Surly as a bulldog—say it out."

"Well, but what's it all about?"

"Ah, that's just it," and Renee began to laugh. "The fact is I've just lost a chance of being married—and so here I am still."

"Another? But then that's your speciality!"

"Oh, this is only the fourteenth. That's only an average number; and it's all through you that I've lost this chance."

"Through me? Well, I never! What do you mean?"

Renee got up, put her hands in her pockets, and walked up and down the room from one end to the other. Every now and then she stopped short, turned round on one heel, and gave a sort of whistle.

"Yes, through you!" she said, coming back to Denoisel. "What should you think if I told you that I had refused eighty thousand pounds?"

"They must have been astonished."

"I can't say that I wasn't rather tempted. It's no good setting up for being better than I am; and then, too, with you I don't make any pretences. Well, I'll own that just for a minute I was very nearly caught. It was M. Barousse who arranged it all—very nicely indeed. Then, here at home, they worked me up to it; mamma and Henri besieged me; I was bored to death about it all day long. And then, too, quite exceptionally for me, I began to have fancies, too. Anyhow, it is quite certain that I slept very badly two nights. These big fortunes do keep you awake. Then, too, to be quite just, I must say that I thought a great deal about papa in the midst of it all. Wouldn't he have been proud—wouldn't he, now? Wouldn't he have revelled in my four thousand a year? He has so much vanity always where I am concerned. Do you remember his indignation and wrath that time? 'A son-in-law who would allow my daughter to get in an omnibus!' He was superb, wasn't he? Then I began to think of you—yes, of you—and your ideas, your paradoxes, your theories, of all sorts of things you had said to me; I thought of your contempt for money, and as I thought of it—well, I suppose it is catching, for I felt the same contempt myself. And so all at once, one fine morning, I just cut it all short. No, you influence me too much, my dear boy, decidedly."

"Well, but I'm—I'm an idiot, Renee. Oh, I'm so sorry. I—I thought that sort of thing was not catching—indeed I did. Come, really now, was it my fault?"

"Yes, yours—in a great measure—and then just a little his fault, too."

"Ah!"

"Yes, it was just a little M. Lemeunier's. When I felt the money getting into my head, when I was seriously thinking of marrying him, why, I just looked at him. And you didn't know you were speaking so truly the other day. I suddenly felt that I was a woman—oh, you've no idea what it was like. Then on the other hand I saw how good he was. Oh, he really is goodness itself. I tried him in every way, I turned him inside out, it worried me to find him so perfect; but it was no use, there was no fault to find in him. He is thoroughly good, that man is. Oh, he's quite different from Reverchon and the others. Only fancy what he said to me: 'Mademoiselle,' he said, 'I know that you don't care for me, but will you let me wait a little and see if you can dislike me less than you do now?' It was quite pathetic. Sometimes I felt inclined to say to him: 'Suppose we were to sit down and cry a little together, shall we?' Fortunately, when he made me feel inclined to cry, papa, on the other hand, made me want to laugh. He looked so funny, my dear old father, half gay and half sad. I never saw such a resigned kind of happiness. The sadness of losing me, and the thought of seeing me make a good match made him feel so mixed up. Well, it's all finished now, thank Heaven! He makes great eyes at me as though he's angry—didn't you notice, when mamma was looking at us? But he is not angry at all in reality. He's very glad in his heart; I can see that."



XXXIV

Denoisel was at Henri Mauperin's. They were sitting by the fire talking and smoking. Suddenly they heard a noise and a discussion in the hall, and, almost at the same time, the room door was opened violently and a man entered abruptly, pushing aside the domestic who was trying to keep him back.

"M. Mauperin de Villacourt?" he demanded.

"That is my name, monsieur," said Henri, rising.

"Well, my name is Boisjorand de Villacourt," and with the back of his hand he gave Henri a blow which made his face bleed. Henri turned as white as the silk scarf he was wearing as a necktie and, with the blood trickling down his face, he bent forward to return the blow, and then, just as suddenly, drew himself up and stretched his hand out towards Denoisel, who stepped forward, folded his arms, and spoke in his calmest tone:

"I think I understand what you mean, sir," he said; "you consider that there is a Villacourt too many. I think so too."

The visitor was visibly embarrassed before the calmness of this man of the world. He took off his hat, which he had kept on his head hitherto, and began to stammer out a few words.

"Will you kindly leave your address with my servant?" said Henri, interrupting him; "I will send round to you to-morrow."

* * * * *

"A disagreeable affair," began Henri, when he was once more alone with Denoisel. "Where can he have sprung from, this Villacourt? They told me that there were none of them left. Ah, my face is bleeding," he said, wiping it with his handkerchief. "He's a regular buffalo. Georges, bring some water," he called out to his domestic.

"You'll choose the sword, shall you not?" asked Denoisel. "Hand me a stick. Now listen—you must be on guard from the first, and strike out very little. That man's one of the bloodthirsty sort; he'll go straight for you, and you must defend yourself with circular parries. When you are hard pressed and he rushes headlong at you, move aside to the right with the left foot, turn round on tip-toes on your right foot—like that. He'll have nothing in front of him then, and you'll have him from the side and can run him through like a frog."

"No," said Henri, lifting his face from the basin, in which he was sponging it, "not the sword."

"But, my dear fellow, that man is evidently a sportsman; he'll be accustomed to fire-arms."

"My dear fellow, there are certain situations which are most awkward. I've taken another name, and that's always ridiculous. Here's a man who accuses me of having stolen it from him. I have enemies, and a good number of them, too; they'll make a scandal with all this. I must kill this fellow, that's very evident; it's the only way to make my position good. I should put an end to everything by that, lawsuits, and all the stories and gossip—everything. The sword would not serve my purpose. With the sword you can kill a man who has been five years at it, who can use it, and who keeps his body in the positions you have been accustomed to. But a man who has had no sword practice, who jumps and dances about, who flourishes it about like a stick; I should wound him, and that would be all. Now with the pistol—I'm a good shot, you know. You must do me the justice of admitting that I was wise in my choice of accomplishments. And my idea is to put it there," he touched Denoisel as he spoke just above the hip, "just there, you see. Higher up, it's no good, the arm is there to ward it off; but here, why there are a lot of very necessary organs; there's the bladder, for instance; now if you are lucky enough to hit that, and if it should happen to be full, why it would be a case of peritonitis. And you'll get the pistol for me. A duel—without a fuss, you understand. I want it kept quite secret, so that no one shall hear of it beforehand. Whom shall you take with you?"

"Suppose I asked Dardouillet? He served in the National Guard, in the cavalry; I shall have to appeal to his military instincts."

"That's the very thing, good! Will you call in and see mother first. Tell her that I cannot come before Thursday. It would be awkward if she happened to drop in on us just the next day or two. I shall not go out; I'll have a bath and get a little more presentable. This mark doesn't show very much now, does it? I shall send out for dinner, and then spend the evening writing two or three necessary letters. By-the-bye, if you see the gentleman to-morrow morning, why not have it out in the afternoon at four o'clock? It's just as well to get it over. To-morrow you'll find me here all the day—or else I shall be at the shooting gallery. Arrange things as you would for yourself, and thanks for all your trouble, old man. Four o'clock, then—if possible."



XXXV

The name of the farm that Henri Mauperin had added to his surname to make it sound more aristocratic happened, by a strange chance, such as sometimes occurs, to be the name of an estate in Lorraine and of a family, illustrious in former days, but at present so completely forgotten that every one believed it had died out.

The man who had just dealt Henri this blow was the last of those Villacourts who took their name from the domain and chateau of Villacourt, situated some three leagues from Saint-Mihiel, and owned by them from time immemorial.

In 1303 Ulrich de Villacourt was one of the three lords who set their seal to the will of Ferry, Duke of Lorraine, by order of that prince. Under Charles the Bold, Gantonnet de Villacourt, who had been taken prisoner by the Messinians, only regained his liberty by giving his word never to mount a battle-horse, nor to carry military weapons again. From that time forth he rode a mule, arrayed himself in buffalo-skin, carried a heavy iron bar, and returned to the fight bolder and more terrible than ever. Maheu de Villacourt married Gigonne de Malain and afterward Christine de Gliseneuve. His marble statue, between his two wives, was to be seen before the Revolution in the Church of the Grey Friars at Saint-Mihiel. Duke Rene allowed him to take eight hundred florins from the town of Ligny for the ransom that he had had to pay after the disastrous battle of Bulgneville.

Remacle de Villacourt, Maheu's son, was killed in 1476, in the battle waged by Duke Rene before Nancy against Charles the Daring. Hubert de Villacourt, Remacle's sons, Seneschal of Barrois and Bailiff of Bassigny, followed Duke Antoine as standard-bearer in the Alsatian war, while his brother Bonaventure, a monk of the strict order of Saint-Francois, was made three times over the triennial Superior of his order, and confessor of Antoine and Francois, Dukes of Lorraine; and one of his sisters, Salmone, was appointed Abbess of Sainte Glossinde of Metz.

Jean-Marie de Villacourt served in the French army, and after the Landrecies day, the king made him a knight and embraced him. He was afterward captain of three hundred foot soldiers and Equerry of the King's stables, and was then appointed to the captaincy of Vaucouleurs and made Governor of Langres. He had married a sister of Jean de Chaligny, the celebrated gun-founder of Lorraine, who cast the famous culverin, twenty-two feet high. His brother Philibert was a cavalry captain under Charles IX. His brother Gaston made himself famous by his duels. It was he who killed Captain Chambrulard, with two sword-strokes, before four thousand persons assembled at the back of the Chartreux in Paris. Jean-Marie had another brother, Angus, who was Canon of Toul and Archdeacon of Tonnerrois, and a sister, Archange, who was Abbess of Saint-Maur, Verdun.

Then came Guillaume de Villacourt, who fought against Louis XIII. He was obliged to surrender with Charles de Lenoncourt, who was defending the town of Saint-Mihiel, and he shared his four years' captivity in the Bastille. His son, Mathias de Villacourt, married in 1656 Marie Dieudonnee, a daughter of Claude de Jeandelincourt, who opened the salt mine of Chateau-Salins. Mathias had fourteen children, ten of whom were killed in the service of Louis XIV: Charles, captain of the regiment of the Pont, killed in the siege of Philisbourg; Jean, killed in the battle of Nerwinde; Antoine, captain of the regiment of Normandie, killed in the siege of Fontarabie; Jacques, killed in the siege of Bellegarde, where he had gone by permission of the king; Philippe, captain of the grenadiers in the Dauphin's regiment, killed in the battle of Marsaille; Thibaut, captain in the same regiment, killed in the battle of Hochstett; Pierre-Francois, commander in the Lyonnais regiment, killed in the battle of Fleurus; Claude-Marie, commander in the Perigord regiment, killed in the passage of the Hogue; Edme, lieutenant in his brother's company, killed at his side in the same affair, and Gerard, Knight of the Order of Saint-Jean of Jerusalem, killed in 1700, in a conflict between four galleys of Christians and a Turkish man-of-war. Of the three daughters of Charles-Mathias, Lydie married the Seigneur de Majastre, Governor of Epinal, and the other two, Berthe and Phoebe, died unmarried.

The eldest of the sons of Charles-Mathias, Louis-Aime de Villacourt, who served eighteen years and retired from service after the battle of Malplaquet, died in 1702. His son left Villacourt, settled down in Paris, threw himself into the life of the capital, and so got rid of the remainder of a fortune which had already been encroached upon by the loss of a lawsuit between his father and the d'Haraucourts. He endeavoured to recover his losses at the gaming-table, got into debt, and returned to Villacourt with a wife from Carrouge who had kept a gambling house in Paris. He died in 1752, owning very little besides the walls of the chateau, and leaving a name less famous and less honourable than his father's had been. He had two children by his marriage, a daughter and a son. The daughter became maid of honour to the Empress-Queen, the son remained at Villacourt, leading a low, coarse life as a country gentleman. On the abolition of privileges in 1790 he gave up his rank and lived on a friendly and equal footing with the peasants until he died in 1792. His son Jean, lieutenant in the regiment of the Royal-Liegeois in 1787, was in the Nancy affair. He emigrated, went through the campaigns of 1792 to 1801 in Mirabeau's legion, which was then commanded by Roger de Damas, and in the Bourbon grenadiers in Conde's army. On the thirteenth of August, 1796, he was wounded on the head in the Oberkamlach battle. In 1802 he returned to France, bringing with him a wife he had married in Germany, who died after bearing him four children, four sons. He had become weak in intellect, almost childish in fact, from the result of his wound, and after his wife's death there was no one to regulate the household expenses. Disorder gradually crept in, he kept open table and took to drinking, until at last he was obliged to sell what little land he had round the chateau. Finally the chateau itself began to crumble away. He could not have it repaired, as he had no money to pay the workmen. The wind could be felt through the cracks, and the rain came in. The family were obliged to give up one room after another, taking refuge where the roof was still sound. He himself was indifferent to all this; after drinking two or three glasses of brandy he would take his seat in what used to be the kitchen garden, on a stone bench near a meridian, the figures of which had worn away, and there he would get quite cheerful in the sunshine, calling to people over the hedge to come in and drink with him. Decay and poverty, however, made rapid strides in the chateau. There was nothing left of all the old silver but a salad-bowl, which was used for the food of a horse called Brouska, that the exile had brought with him from Germany, and which was now allowed to roam in liberty through the rooms on the ground-floor.

The four sons grew up as the chateau went to decay, accustomed to wind, rain, and roughing it. They were entirely neglected and abandoned by their father, and their only education consisted of a few lessons from the parish priest. From living like the peasants, and mixing with them in their work and games, they gradually became regular peasants themselves, and the roughest and strongest in the country round. When their father died the four brothers, by common consent, made over to a land agent the remaining stones of their chateau in return for a few pounds, with which to pay their most pressing debts, and an annuity of twenty pounds, which was to be paid until the death of the last of the four. They then took up their abode in the forest, which joined their estate, and lived there with the wood-cutters and in the same way as they did, making a regular den of their hut, and living there with their sweethearts or wives, peopling the forest with a half-bred race, in which the Villacourts were crossed with nature, noblemen mated with children of the forest, whose language, even, was no longer French. Some of Jean de Villacourt's old comrades in arms had tried, on his death, to do something for his children. They were interested in this name, which had been so great and had now fallen so low. In 1826 the youngest of the boys, who was scarcely more than sixteen, was brought to Paris. The little savage was clothed and presented to the Duchesse d'Angouleme: he appeared three or four times in the salons of the Minister of War, who was related to his family, and who was very anxious to do something for him; but at the end of a week, feeling stifled in these drawing-rooms, and ill at ease in his clothes, he had escaped like a little wolf, gone straight back to his hiding-place, and had not come out of it again for years.

Of these four Villacourts, he was the only one left at the end of twenty years. His three brothers died one after the other, and all by violent deaths; one from drunkenness, the second from illness, and the other from blows he had received in a skirmish. All three had been struck down suddenly, snatched as it were from the midst of life. Living among the bastards they had left, this last of the Villacourts was looked up to in the forest as the chieftain of a clan until 1854, when the game laws came into force. All the regulations and the supervision, the trials, fines, confiscations, and liabilities connected with the chase, which had now become his very life, and the fear of giving way to his anger some day and of putting a bullet into one of the keepers, disgusted him with this part of the world, with France, and with this land which was no longer his own.

It occurred to him to go to America in order to be quite free, and to be able to hunt in untrodden fields where no gun license was necessary. He went to Paris to set sail from Havre, but he had not enough money for the voyage. He then fell back on Africa, but there he found a second France with laws, gendarmes, and forest-keepers. He tried working a grant of land, and then a clearing, but that kind of labour did not suit him. The country and the climate tried him, and the burning heat of the sun and soil began to take effect on his robust health. At the end of two years he returned to France.

On going back to his log-hut at Motte-Noire he found a newspaper there, the only thing which had come for him during his absence. It was a number of the Moniteur and was more than a year old. He tore it up to light his pipe, and, just as he was twisting it, caught sight of a red-pencil mark. He opened it out again and read the marked paragraph:

"M. Mauperin (Alfred-Henri), better known by the name of Villacourt, is about to apply to the Keeper of the Seals for permission to add to his name that of Villacourt, and will henceforth be known as Mauperin de Villacourt."

He got up, walked about, fumed, then sat down again, and slowly lighted his pipe.

Three days later he was in Paris.

Just at first on reading the paper he had felt as though some one had struck him across the face with a horsewhip. Then he had said to himself that he was robbed of his name, but that was all, that his name was no longer worth anything, as it was now the name of a beggar. This philosophizing mood did not last long, the thought of the theft of his name gradually came back to him, and it irritated and hurt him, and made him feel bitter. After all he had nothing left but this name, and he could not endure the idea of having it stolen from him, and so started for Paris.

On arriving he was as furious as a mad bull, and his one idea was to go and knock this M. Mauperin down at once. When once he was in the capital, though, with its streets and its crowds, face to face with its people, its shops, its life, all the passers-by, and the noise, he felt dazed, like some wild beast let loose in a huge circus, whose rage is suddenly turned into fright and who stops short after its first leap. He went straight to the law courts, and in the long hall accosted one of those men in black, who are generally leaning against a pillar, and told him what had happened. The man in black informed him that as the year's delay had expired there was nothing to be done but appeal to the high court against the decree authorizing the addition of the name, and he gave him the address of a counsel of the higher court. M. de Villacourt hurried to this counsel. He found a very cold, polite man, wearing a white necktie, who, while leaning back in a green morocco chair, listened with a fixed expression in his eyes all the time to his case, his claims, his rights, his indignation, and to the sound of the parchments he was turning over with a nervous hand.

The expression of the counsel's face never changed, so that when M. de Villacourt had finished he fancied that the other man had not understood, and he began all over again. The lawyer stopped him with a gesture, saying: "I think you will gain your case, monsieur."

"You think so? Do you mean to say you are not sure of it?"

"A lawsuit is always a lawsuit, monsieur," answered the lawyer with a faint smile, which was so sceptical that it chilled M. de Villacourt, who was just prepared to burst out in a rage. "The chances are on your side, though, and I am quite willing to undertake your case."

"Here you are then," said M. de Villacourt, putting his roll of title-deeds down on the desk. "Thank you, sir," he added, rising to take his leave.

"Excuse me," said the lawyer on seeing him walk towards the door, "but I must call your attention to the fact that in business of this kind, in an appeal to the higher court, we do not only act as the barrister but as the lawyer of our client. There are certain expenses, for getting information and examining deeds—If I take up your case I shall be obliged to ask you to cover these expenses. Oh, it is only a matter of from twenty to twenty-five pounds. Let us say twenty pounds."

"Twenty to twenty-five pounds! Why, what do you mean!" exclaimed M. de Villacourt, turning red with indignation. "Some one steals my name, and because I have not seen the newspaper in which the man warns me that he intends robbing me, I must pay twenty-five pounds to make this rascal give up my name again. Twenty to twenty-five pounds! But I haven't the money, sir," he said, lowering his head and letting his arms fall down at his sides.

"I am extremely sorry, monsieur, but this little formality is indispensable. Oh, you must be able to find it. I feel sure that among the relatives of the families into which your family has married—in such questions as these, families are always ready to pull together."

"I do not know any one—and the Count de Villacourt will never ask for money. I had just twelve pounds when I arrived. I bought this coat for about two pounds at the Palais Royal on the way here. This hat cost me five and tenpence. I suppose my hotel bill will cost me about a sovereign, and I shall want about a sovereign to get back home. Could you do with what is left?"

"I am very sorry, monsieur——"

M. de Villacourt put his hat on and left the room. At the hall-door he suddenly turned round, passed through the dining-room and opening the office-door again, he said, in a smothered voice which he was doing his utmost to control:

"Can I have the address of M. Henri Mauperin—known as de Villacourt—without paying for it?"

"Certainly; he is a barrister. I shall find his address in this book. Here it is; Rue Taitbout—14."

It was after all this that M. de Villacourt had hurried away to Henri Mauperin's.



XXXVI

When Denoisel entered the Mauperins' drawing-room that evening he found every one more gay and cheerful than usual. There was a look of happiness on all the faces; M. Mauperin's good-humour could be guessed by the mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Mme. Mauperin was most gracious, she positively beamed and looked blissfully happy. Renee was flitting about the room, and her quick, girlish movements were so bird-like that one could almost imagine the sound of a bird's wings.

"Why, here's Denoisel!" exclaimed M. Mauperin.

"Good-evening, m'sieu," said Renee, in a playful tone.

"You haven't brought Henri with you?" asked Mme. Mauperin.

"He couldn't come. He'll be here the day after to-morrow without fail."

"How nice of you! Oh, isn't he a good boy to have come this evening," said Renee, hovering round and trying to make him laugh as though he had been a child.

"Oh, he's a bad lot! Ah, my dear fellow—" and M. Mauperin shook hands and winked at his wife.

"Yes; just come here, Denoisel," said Mme. Mauperin. "Come and sit down and confess your sins. It appears that you were seen the other day in the Bois—driving——"

She stopped a minute like a cat when it is drinking milk.

"Ah, now your mother's wound up!" said M. Mauperin to Renee. "She's in very good spirits to-day—my wife is. I warn you, Denoisel."

Mme. Mauperin had lowered her voice. Leaning forward towards Denoisel she was telling him a very lively story. The others could only catch a word here and there between smothered bursts of laughter.

"Mamma, it's not allowed; that sort of thing—laughing all to yourselves. Give me back my Denoisel, or I'll tell stories like yours to papa."

"Oh, dear, wasn't it absurd!" said Mme. Mauperin, when she had finished her bit of gossip, laughing heartily as old ladies do over a spicy tale.

"How very lively you all are this evening!" exclaimed Denoisel, chilled by all this gaiety.

"Yes, we are as gay as Pinchon," said Renee, "that's how we all feel! And we shall be like this to-morrow, and the day after, and always; shall we not, papa?" and running across to her father she sat down on his knees like a child.

"My darling!" said M. Mauperin to his daughter. "Well, I never! Just look, my dear, do you remember? This was her knee when she was a little girl."

"Yes," said Mme. Mauperin, "and Henri had the other one."

"Yes, I can see them now," continued M. Mauperin; "Henri was the girl and you were the boy, Renee. Just to fancy that all that was fifteen years ago. It used to amuse you finely when I let you put your little hands on the scars that my wounds had left. What rascals of children they were! How they laughed!" Then turning to his wife he added, "What work you had with them, my dear. It doesn't matter though, Denoisel; it's a good thing to have a family. Instead of only having one heart, it's as though you have several—upon my word it is!"

"Ah, Denoisel, now that you are here, we shall not let you go again," said Renee. "Your room has been waiting for you long enough."

"I'm so sorry, Renee, but really I have some business to attend to this evening in Paris; I have, really."

"Oh, business! You? How important you must feel, to be sure!"

"Do stay, Denoisel," said M. Mauperin. "My wife has a whole collection of stories for you like the one she has just told you."

"Oh yes, do, will you?" pleaded Renee. "We'll have such fun; you'll see. I won't touch the piano at all, and I won't put too much vinegar in the salad. We'll make puns on everything. Come now, Denoisel."

"I accept your invitation for next week."

"Horrid thing!" and Renee turned her back on him.

"And Dardouillet," said Denoisel; "isn't he coming this evening?"

"Oh, he'll come later on," said Mauperin. "By-the-bye, it's just possible he won't come, though. He's very busy—in the very thick of marking out his land. I fancy he's just busy transporting his mountain into his lake and his lake on to the top of his mountain."

"Well, but what about this evening?"

"Oh, this evening—no one knows," said Renee. "He's full of mysteries, M. Dardouillet. But how queer you look to-day, Denoisel!"

"I do?"

"Yes, you; you don't seem at all frolicsome; there's no sparkle about you. What's been ruffling you?"

"Denoisel, there's something the matter," said Mme. Mauperin.

"Nothing whatever, madame," answered Denoisel. "What could be the matter with me? I'm not low-spirited in the least. I'm simply tired; I've had to rush about so much this last week for Henri. He would have my opinion about everything in connection with his furnishing."

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