"Fie, fie, Jansoulet!"
"What can you expect, Monsieur le Duc? You lose your temper sometimes, too. Just think of the position those villains are putting me in. A week ago my election should have been confirmed, and they have postponed the meeting of the committee purposely, because they know the terrible plight I am in, with all my fortune paralyzed, and the bey waiting for the decision of the Chamber to know whether he can strip me clean or not. I have eighty millions over there, Monsieur le Duc, and here I am beginning to be in need of money. If this lasts a little longer—"
He wiped away the great drops of perspiration that were rolling down his cheeks.
"Very well! I will make this matter of your confirmation my business," said the minister with much animation. "I will write to What's-his-name to hurry up his report; and even if I have to be carried to the Chamber—"
"Is your Excellency ill?" queried Jansoulet in a tone of deep interest, in which there was no lack of sincerity, I promise you.
"No—a little weakness. We are a little short of blood; but Jenkins is going to give us a new supply. Eh, Jenkins?"
The Irishman, who was not listening, made a vague gesture.
"Thunder! And to think that I have too much blood!" And the Nabob loosened his cravat around his swollen neck, on the verge of apoplexy with excitement and the heat of the room. "If I could only let you have a little, Monsieur le Duc!"
"It would be fortunate for both of us," rejoined the minister with a touch of irony. "For you especially; you are such a violent fellow and at this moment need to be so calm. Look out for that, Jansoulet. Be on your guard against the traps, the fits of passion they would like to drive you into. Say to yourself now that you are a public man, standing on an elevation, and that all your gestures can be seen from a distance. The newspapers insult you; don't read them if you cannot conceal the emotion they cause you. Don't do what I did with my blind man on Pont de la Concorde, that horrible clarinet player, who has made my life a burden for ten years, whistling at me every day: De tes fils, Norma. I tried everything to make him go away, money, threats. Nothing would induce him to go. The police? Oh! yes. With our modern ideas, to turn a poor blind man off his bridge would become a momentous affair. The opposition newspapers would speak of it, the Parisians would make a fable of it. The Cobbler and the Financier; The Duke and the Clarinet. I must resign myself to it. Indeed, it's my own fault. I should not have shown the fellow that he annoyed me. I am confident that my torture is half of his life now. Every morning he leaves his hovel with his dog, his folding-stool and his horrible instrument, and says to himself: 'Now I'll go and make life a burden to the Duc de Mora.' Not a day does he miss, the villain. Look you! if I should open the window a crack, you would hear that deluge of shrill little notes above the noise of the water and the carriages. Very well! this Messager man is your clarinet; if you let him see that his music wearies you, he will never stop. By the way, my dear deputy, let me remind you that you have a committee meeting at three o'clock, and I shall see you very soon in the Chamber."
Then, turning to Jenkins, he added: "You know what I asked you for, Doctor,—pearls for day after to-morrow. And well loaded!"
Jenkins started and shook himself, as if suddenly aroused from a dream.
"I understand, my dear Duke; I'll supply you with breath—oh! breath enough to win the Derby."
He bowed, and went away, laughing, a genuine wolf's laugh, showing his white, parted teeth. The Nabob also took his leave, his heart overflowing with gratitude, but not daring to allow that sceptic to see anything of it, for any sort of demonstration aroused his distrust. And the Minister of State, left alone, crouching in front of the crackling, blazing fire, sheltered by the velvety warmth of his luxurious garments, lined on that day by the feverish caress of a lovely May sun, began to shiver anew, to shiver so violently that Felicia's letter, which he held open in his blue fingers and read with amorous zest, trembled with a rustling noise as of silk.
* * * * *
A very peculiar situation is that of a deputy in the period which follows his election and precedes—as they say in Parliamentary parlance—the verification of his credentials. It bears some resemblance to the plight of a husband during the twenty-four hours between the marriage at the mayor's office and its consecration by the Church. Rights one cannot use, a semi-happiness, semi-privileges, the annoyance of having to hold oneself in check in one direction or another, the lack of a definite standing. You are married without being married, a deputy without being sure of it; but, in the case of the deputy, that uncertainty is prolonged for days and weeks, and the longer it lasts the more problematical the result becomes; and it is downright torture for the unfortunate representative on trial to be obliged to go to the Chamber, to occupy a seat which he may not keep, to listen to debates whose conclusion he is likely not to hear, to implant in his eyes and ears the delightful memory of parliamentary sessions, with their ocean of bald or apoplectic heads, the endless noise of crumpled paper, the shouts of the pages, the drumming of paper knives on the tables, and the hum of private conversations, above which the orator's voice soars in a timid or vociferous solo with a continuous accompaniment.
That situation, disheartening enough at best, was made worse for the Nabob by the calumnious stones, whispered at first, now printed and put in circulation by thousands of copies, which resulted in his being tacitly quarantined by his colleagues. At first he went about in the corridors, to the library, to the restaurant, to the Salle des Conferences, like the others, overjoyed to leave his footprints in every corner of that majestic labyrinth; but, being a stranger to the majority, cut by some members of the club on Rue Royale, who avoided him, detested by the whole clerical coterie, of which Le Merquier was the leader, and by the financial clique, naturally hostile to that billionaire, with his power to cause a rise or fall in stocks, like the vessels of large tonnage which divert the channel in a harbor, his isolation was simply emphasized by change of locality, and the same hostility accompanied him everywhere.
His movements, his bearing were marked by a sort of constraint, of hesitating distrust. He felt that he was watched. If he entered the restaurant for a moment, that great light room looking on the gardens of the presidency, which he liked because there, at the broad white marble counter laden with food and drink, the deputies laid aside their imposing, high and mighty airs, the legislative haughtiness became more affable, recalled to naturalness by nature, he knew that a sneering, insulting item would appear in the Messager the next morning, holding him up to his constituents as "a wine-bibber emeritus."
They were another source of vexation to him,—those terrible constituents.
They came in flocks, invaded the Salle des Pas-Perdus, galloped about in all directions like excited little black kids, calling from one end to the other of the echoing hall: "O Pe! O Tche!" inhaling with delight the odor of government, of administration that filled the air, making eyes at the ministers who passed, sniffing at their heels, as if some prebend were about to fall from their venerable pockets, from their swollen portfolios; but crowding around "Moussiou" Jansoulet especially, with so many urgent petitions, demands, demonstrations, that, in order to rid himself of that gesticulating mob at which everybody turned to look, and which made him seem like the delegate of a tribe of Touaregs in the midst of a civilized people, he was obliged to glance imploringly at some usher who was skilled in the art of rescue under such circumstances and would come to him in a great hurry and say, "that he was wanted immediately in the eighth committee." So that the poor Nabob, persecuted everywhere, driven from the corridors, the Pas-Perdus, the restaurant, had adopted the course of never leaving his bench, where he sat motionless and mute throughout the sitting.
He had, however, one friend in the Chamber,—a deputy newly elected for Deux-Sevres, named M. Sarigue, a poor fellow not unlike the inoffensive, ignoble animal whose name he bore, with his sparse, red hair, his frightened eyes, his hopping gait in his white gaiters. He was so shy that he could not say two words without stammering, almost tongue-tied, incessantly rolling balls of chewing-gum around in his mouth, which put the finishing touch to the viscosity of his speech; and every one wondered why such an impotent creature had cared to become a member of the Assembly, what delirious female ambition had spurred on to public office a man so unfitted for the least important private function.
 A sarigue is an opossum.
By an amusing manifestation of the irony of fate, Jansoulet, who was intensely agitated by the uncertainty concerning his own confirmation, was chosen by the eighth committee to make the report on the Deux-Sevres election, and M. Sarigue, realizing his incapacity, full of a ghastly dread of being sent back in disgrace to his own fireside, prowled humbly and beseechingly around that tall, curly-haired worthy, whose broad shoulder-blades moved back and forth like the bellows of a forge under his fine tightly fitting frock-coat, little suspecting that a poor, worried creature like himself was hidden beneath that solid envelope.
As he worked at the report of the election at Deux-Sevres, going over the numerous protests, the charges of electoral trickery, banquets given, money squandered, casks of wine broached in front of the mayor's office, the usual manoeuvres of an election in those days, Jansoulet shuddered on his own account. "Why, I did all that!" he said to himself in dismay. Ah! M. Sarigue need have no fear, he could never have put his hand upon a more kindly-disposed judge or a more indulgent one, for the Nabob, moved to pity for his patient, knowing by experience how painful the agony of suspense is, did his work with all possible haste, and the huge portfolio that he had under his arm when he left the hotel de Mora, contained his report, all ready to be read to the Committee.
Whether it was the thought of that first essay as a public officer, or the duke's kind words, or the magnificent weather, which was keenly enjoyed by that Southerner whose impressions were wholly physical, and who was accustomed to transact business in the warm sunlight and beneath the blue sky,—certain it is that the ushers of the Corps Legislatif beheld that day a superb and haughty Jansoulet whom they had not known before. Old Hemerlingue's carriage, recognizable by the unusual width of its doors, of which he caught a glimpse through the iron railing, was all that was needed to put him in full possession of his natural assurance and audacity.
"The enemy is at hand. Attention!" As he walked through the Salle des Pas-Perdus, he saw the financier talking in a corner with Le Merquier, the judge of his election, passed close by them and stared at them with a triumphant air which made them wonder: "What in God's name has happened to him?"
Then, enchanted by his own sang-froid, he walked toward the committee-rooms, vast, high apartments, opening from both sides of a long corridor, furnished with huge tables covered with green cloths and heavy chairs of uniform pattern which bore the stamp of wearisome solemnity. He reached his destination. Men were standing about in groups, discussing, gesticulating, exchanging salutations and grasps of the hand, throwing back their heads, like Chinese shadows, against the bright background of the windows. There were some who walked alone, with backs bent, as if crushed by the weight of thoughts that furrowed their brows. Others whispered in one another's ears, imparting excessively mysterious information of the utmost importance, putting a finger to their lips, screwing up their eyes to enjoin secrecy. A provincial flavor distinguished them all, with differences of inflection, Southern excitability, the drawling accent of the Centre, Breton sing-song, all blended in the same idiotic, strutting self-sufficiency; frock-coats after the style of Landerneau, mountain shoes, and home-spun linen; the monumental assurance of village clubs, local expressions, provincialisms abruptly imported into political and administrative language, the limp, colorless phraseology which invented "the burning questions returning to the surface," and "individualities without a commission."
To see those worthies, excited or pensive as the case might be, you would have said that they were the greatest breeders of ideas on earth; unluckily, on the days when the Chamber was in session they were transformed, they clung coyly to their benches, as frightened as school-boys under the master's ferule, laughing obsequiously at the jests of the man of wit who presided over them, or taking the floor to put forward the most amazing propositions, or for interruptions of the sort that make one think that it was not a type simply, but a whole race that Henri Monnier stigmatized in his immortal sketch. Two or three orators in the whole Chamber, the rest well skilled in the art of planting themselves before the fire in a provincial salon, after an excellent repast at the prefect's table, and saying in a nasal tone: "The administration, Messieurs," or "The Emperor's government,"—but incapable of going farther.
On ordinary occasions the good-natured Nabob allowed himself to be dazzled by those attitudes, that clattering noise as of an empty spinning-wheel; but to-day he found himself on a level with the others. As he sat at the centre of the green table, his portfolio before him, his two elbows firmly planted upon it, reading the report drawn by de Gery, the members of the committee stared at him in mute amazement.
It was a clear, concise, rapid summary of their labors of the past fortnight, in which they found their ideas so well expressed that they had great difficulty in recognizing them. Then, when two or three among them suggested that the report was too favorable, that he glided too lightly over certain protests that had reached the committee, the maker of the report spoke with surprising assurance, with the prolixity and exuberance of men of his province, proved that a deputy should not be held responsible beyond a certain point for the imprudence of his electoral agents, that otherwise no election would stand against an investigation that was at all minute; and as, in reality, he was pleading his own cause, he displayed an irresistible warmth and conviction, taking care to let fly from time to time one of the long meaningless substantives with a thousand claws, of the sort that the committee liked.
The others listened, deep in thought, exchanging their impressions by nods of the head, drawing flourishes and faces on their blotting-pads the better to fix their attention; a detail that harmonized with the schoolboy-like noise in the corridors, a muttering as of lessons being recited, and the flocks of sparrows chirping under the windows in a flagged courtyard surrounded by arches, a veritable school-yard. The report adopted, they sent for M. Sarigue to make some supplementary explanations. He appeared, pale-faced, abashed, stammering like a criminal before conviction, and you would have laughed to see the patronizing, authoritative air with which Jansoulet encouraged and reassured him: "Be calm, my dear colleague." But the members of the eighth committee did not laugh. They were all, or almost all, of the Sarigue species, two or three being absolutely nerveless, afflicted with partial loss of the power of speech. Such self-assurance, such eloquence had aroused their enthusiasm.
When Jansoulet left the Corps Legislatif, escorted to his carriage by his grateful colleague, it was about six o'clock. The superb weather, a gorgeous sunset over by the Trocadero, across the Seine, which shone like burnished gold, tempted that robust plebeian, whom the conventional proprieties of his position compelled to ride in a carriage and to wear gloves, but who dispensed with them as often as possible, to return on foot. He sent away his servants, and started across Pont de la Concorde, his leather satchel under his arm. He had known no such feeling of contentment since the first of May. Throwing back his shoulders, with his hat tipped slightly back in the attitude he had noticed in men who were worried, overdone with business, allowing all the toil-born fever of their brain to evaporate in the fresh air, as a factory discharges its vapor into the gutter at the close of a day of labor, he walked on among other figures like his own, evidently just from the pillared temple that faces the Madeleine beyond the monumental fountains of the square. As they passed, people turned and said: "They are deputies." And Jansoulet felt a childlike joy, a vulgar joy compounded of ignorance and ingenuous vanity.
"Buy the Messager evening edition."
The words came from the newspaper booth at the end of the bridge, filled at that hour with piles of freshly printed sheets which two women were hastily folding and which smelt of the damp press, of the latest news, the triumph of the day or its scandal. Almost all the deputies purchased a copy as they passed, and ran through it rapidly, hoping to find their names. Jansoulet, for his part, dreaded to see his and did not stop. But suddenly he thought: "Ought not a public man to be above such weaknesses as this? I am strong enough to read anything now." He retraced his steps and took a paper like his colleagues. He opened it very calmly at the place usually occupied by Moessard's articles. There was one there. Still the same title: Chinoiseries, and an M. for signature.
"Aha!" said the public man, as unmoved and cold as marble, with a fine, scornful smile. Mora's lesson was still ringing in his ears, and even if he had forgotten it, the air from Norma in jerky, ironical little notes not far away would have sufficed to remind him of it. But, however carefully we may make our calculations in the rush of events in our lives, we must still reckon with the unforeseen; and that is why the Nabob suddenly found himself blinded by a rush of blood to his eyes, while a cry of rage was stifled by the sudden contraction of his throat. His mother, his old Francoise, was dragged into the infamous jest of the "flower boat" at last. How well that Moessard aimed, how well he knew the really sensitive spots in that heart, so innocently laid bare!
"Be calm, Jansoulet, be calm."
In vain did he repeat the injunction in every tone,—anger, furious anger, the drunkenness of blood demanding blood enveloped him. His first impulse was to stop a cab and hurl himself into it, in order to escape the irritating street, to rid his body of the necessity of walking and choosing a path—to stop a cab as for a wounded man. But at that hour of general home-coming the square was crowded with hundreds of victorias, caleches, coupes, descending from the resplendent glory of the Arc-de-Triomphe toward the purple freshness of the Tuileries, crowding closely upon one another down the inclined surface of the avenue to the great cross-roads where the motionless statues, standing firmly on their pedestals with their wreath-encircled brows, watched them diverge toward Faubourg Saint-Germain, Rue Royale and Rue de Rivoli.
Jansoulet, newspaper in hand, made his way through the uproar, without thinking of it, bending his steps instinctively toward the club, where he went every day to play cards from six to seven. He was a public man still; but intensely excited, talking aloud, stammering oaths and threats in a voice that suddenly became soft once more as he thought of the dear old woman.—To think of rolling her in the mire too! Oh! if she should read it, if she could understand! What punishment could he invent for such an infamous outrage? He reached Rue Royale, where equipages of all sorts returning from the Bois bowled swiftly homeward, with whirling axles, visions of veiled women and children's curly heads, bringing a little vegetable mould to the pavements of Paris and whiffs of spring mingled with the perfume of rice-powder. In front of the Ministry of Marine, a phaeton perched very high upon slender wheels, bearing a strong resemblance to a huge field-spider, the little groom clinging behind and the two persons on the box-seat forming its body, came very near colliding with the sidewalk as it turned.
The Nabob raised his head, and restrained an exclamation.
Beside a painted hussy with red hair, wearing a tiny little hat with broad ribbons, who, from her perch on her leather cushion, was driving the horse with her hands, her eyes, her whole made-up person, stiffly erect, yet leaning forward, sat Moessard, Moessard the dandy, pink-cheeked and painted like his companion, raised on the same dung-heap, fattened on the same vices. The strumpet and the journalist, and she was not the one of the two who sold herself most shamelessly! Towering above the women lolling in their caleches, the men who sat opposite them buried under flounces, all the attitudes of fatigue and ennui which they whose appetites are sated display in public as if in scorn of pleasure and wealth, they insolently exhibited themselves, she very proud to drive the queen's lover, and he without the slightest shame beside that creature who flicked her whip at men in passage-ways, safe on her lofty perch from the salutary drag-nets of the police. Perhaps he found it necessary to quicken his royal mistress's pulses by thus parading under her windows with Suzanne Bloch, alias Suze la Rousse.
"Hi! hi there!"
The horse, a tall trotter with slender legs, a genuine cocotte's horse, was returning from his digression, toward the middle of the street, with dancing steps, prancing gracefully up and down without going forward. Jansoulet dropped his satchel, and as if he had cast aside at the same time all his gravity, his prestige as a public man, he gave a mighty leap and grasped the animal's bit, holding him fast with his strong hairy hands.
An arrest on Rue Royale and in broad daylight; no one but that Tartar would have dared do such a thing!
"Get down," he said to Moessard, whose face turned green and yellow in spots when he recognized him. "Get down at once."
"Will you let go my horse, you fat beast!—Lash him, Suzanne, it's the Nabob."
She tried to gather up the reins, but the animal, held in a powerful grasp, reared so suddenly that in another second the fragile vehicle would have shot out all that it contained, like a sling. Thereupon, carried away by one of the furious fits of rage peculiar to the faubourg, which in such girls as she scale off the varnish of their luxury and their false skin, she struck the Nabob two blows with her whip, which glided off the hard, tanned face, but gave it a ferocious expression, accentuated by the short nose, slit at the end like a hunting terrier's, which had turned white.
"Get down, or, by God, I will overturn the whole thing!"
In a confused mass of carriages, standing still because movement was impossible or slowly skirting the obstacle, with thousands of curious eyes, amid the shouts of drivers and clashing of bits, two iron wrists shook the whole phaeton.
"Jump down—jump, I say—don't you see he's going to tip us over? What a grip!"
And the girl gazed at the Hercules with interest.
Moessard had hardly put his foot to the ground, when, before he could take refuge on the sidewalk, where black kepis were hastening to the scene, Jansoulet threw himself upon him, lifted him by the nape of the neck like a rabbit, and exclaimed, heedless of his protestations, his terrified, stammering entreaties:
"Yes, yes, I'll give you satisfaction, you miserable scoundrel. But first I propose to do to you what we do to dirty beasts so that they sha'n't come back again."
And he began to rub him, to scrub his face mercilessly with his newspaper, which he held like a tampon and with which he choked and blinded him and made great raw spots where the paint bled. They dragged him from his hands, purple and breathless. If he had worked himself up a little more, he would have killed him.
The scuffle at an end, the Nabob pulled down his sleeves, which had risen to his elbows, smoothed his rumpled linen, picked up his satchel from which the papers relating to the Sarigue election had scattered as far as the gutter, and replied to the police officers, who asked him his name in order to prepare their report: "Bernard Jansoulet, Deputy for Corsica."
A public man!
Not until then did he remember that he was one. Who would have suspected it, to see him thus, out of breath and bareheaded, like a porter after a street fight, under the inquisitive, coldly contemptuous glances of the slowly dispersing crowd?
If you wish for sincere, straightforward passion, if you wish for effusive demonstrations of affection, laughter, the laughter of great happiness, which differs from tears only in a very slight movement of the mouth, if you wish for the fascinating folly of youth illumined by bright eyes, so transparent that you can look to the very bottom of the soul, there are all of those to be seen this Sunday morning in a house that you know, a new house on the outskirts of the old faubourg. The show-case on the ground-floor is more brilliant than usual. The signs over the door dance about more airily than ever, and through the open windows issue joyous cries, a soaring heavenward of happiness.
"Accepted, it's accepted! Oh! what luck! Henriette, Elise, come, come! M. Maranne's play is accepted."
Andre has known the news since yesterday. Cardailhac, the manager of the Nouveautes, sent for him to inform him that his play would be put in rehearsal at once and produced next month. They passed the evening discussing the stage setting, the distribution of parts; and, as it was too late to knock at his neighbors' door when he returned from the theatre, he waited for morning with feverish impatience, and as soon as he heard signs of life below, the blinds thrown back against the house-front, he hurried down to tell his friends the good news. And now they are all together, the young ladies in modest deshabille, their hair hastily braided, and M. Joyeuse, whom the announcement had surprised in the act of shaving, presenting an astonishing bipartite face beneath his embroidered night-cap, with one side shaved, the other not. But the most excited of all is Andre Maranne, for you know what the acceptance of Revolte meant to him, what agreement Grandmamma had made with him. The poor fellow looks at her as if seeking encouragement in her eyes; and those eyes, kindly as always, and with a slight suggestion of raillery, seem to say to him: "Try, at all events. What do you risk?" He also glances, in order to give himself courage, at Mademoiselle Elise, pretty as a flower, her long lashes lowered. At last, making a bold effort, he says, in a choking voice:
"Monsieur Joyeuse, I have a very serious communication to make to you."
M. Joyeuse is surprised.
"A communication? Mon Dieu! you terrify me."
And he too lowers his voice as he adds:
"Are these young ladies in the way?"
No. Grandmamma knows what is going on. Mademoiselle Elise, too, must have a suspicion. That leaves only the children. Mademoiselle Henriette and her sister are requested to retire, which they do at once, the former with a majestic, annoyed air, like a worthy descendant of the Saint-Amands, the other, the little monkey Yaia, with a wild desire to laugh, dissembled with difficulty.
Profound silence ensues. Then the lover begins his little story.
I should say that Mademoiselle Elise does in very truth suspect something, for as soon as their young neighbor spoke of a "communication," she had taken her Ansart et Rendu from her pocket and plunged madly into the adventures of a certain Le Hutin, an exciting passage which made the book tremble in her fingers. Surely there is cause for trembling in the dismay, the indignant amazement with which M. Joyeuse welcomes this request for his daughter's hand.
"Is it possible? How did this come about? What an extraordinary thing! Whoever would have suspected anything of the sort!"
And suddenly the good man bursts into a roar of laughter. Well, no, that is not true. He has known what was going on for a long while; some one told him the whole story.
Father knows the whole story! Then Grandmamma must have betrayed them. And the culprit comes forward smiling to meet the reproachful glances that are turned in her direction.
"Yes, my dears, I did. The secret was too heavy. I could not keep it all by myself. And then father is so dear, one cannot conceal anything from him."
As she says this, she leaps on the little man's neck, but it is large enough for two, and when Mademoiselle Elise takes refuge there in her turn, there is an affectionate, fatherly hand extended to him whom M. Joyeuse looks upon thenceforth as his son.
Silent embraces, long searching glances, melting or passionate, blissful moments which one would like to detain forever by the tips of their fragile wings! They talk, they laugh softly as they recall certain incidents. M. Joyeuse tells how the secret was revealed to him at first by rapping spirits, one day when he was alone in Andre's room. "How is business, Monsieur Maranne?" the spirits inquired, and he answered in Maranne's absence: "Not so bad for the season, Messieurs Spirits." You should see the mischievous air with which the little man repeats: "Not so bad for the season," while Mademoiselle Elise, sadly confused at the thought that it was her father with whom she was corresponding that day, disappears beneath her flaxen curls.
After the first excitement has passed and their voices are steady once more, they talk more seriously. It is certain that Madame Joyeuse, nee de Saint-Amand, would never have consented to the marriage. Andre Maranne is not rich, far less of noble blood; but luckily the old book-keeper has not the same ideas of grandeur that his wife had. They love each other, they are young, healthy and virtuous, qualities which constitute a handsome dowry and one which the notary will not make a heavy charge for recording. The new household will take up its abode on the floor above. They will continue the photographing business unless the receipts from Revolte are enormous. (The Imaginaire can be trusted to attend to that.) In any event, the father will be always at hand, he has a good place with his broker and some expert work at the Palais de Justice; if the small vessel sails always in the wake of the larger one, all will go well, with the help of the waves, the wind and the stars.
A single question disturbs M. Joyeuse: "Will Andre's parents consent to this marriage? How can Dr. Jenkins, rich and famous as he is—"
"Let us not speak of that man," exclaims Andre, turning pale; "he's a miserable villain to whom I owe nothing, who is nothing to me."
He pauses, a little embarrassed by this explosion of wrath, which he could not hold back and cannot explain, and continues in a milder tone:
"My mother, who comes to see me sometimes, although she has been forbidden to do so, was the first to be informed of our plans. She already loves Mademoiselle Elise like her own daughter. You will see, Mademoiselle, how good she is, and how lovely and charming. What a misfortune that she belongs to such a vile man, who tyrannizes over her and tortures her so far as to forbid her mentioning her son's name!"
Poor Maranne heaves a sigh which tells the whole story of the great sorrow he conceals in the depths of his heart. But what melancholy can endure before the dear face illumined by fair curls and the radiant outlook for the future? The serious questions decided, they can open the door and recall the banished children. In order not to fill those little heads with thoughts beyond their years, they have agreed to say nothing of the prodigious event, to tell them nothing except that they must dress in haste and eat their breakfast even more hurriedly, so that they can pass the afternoon at the Bois, where Maranne will read his play to them, awaiting the hour to go to Suresnes for a fish-dinner at Kontzen's; a long programme of delights in honor of the acceptance of Revolte and of another piece of good news which they shall know later.
"Ah! indeed. What can it be?" query the two children with an innocent air.
But if you fancy that they do not know what is in the wind, if you think that, when Mademoiselle Elise struck three blows on the ceiling, they believed that she did it for the special purpose of inquiring about the photographing business, you are even more ingenuous than Pere Joyeuse.
"Never mind, never mind, mesdemoiselles. Go and dress."
Thereupon another refrain begins:
"What dress must I wear, Grandmamma? The gray?"
"Grandmamma, there's a ribbon gone from my hat."
"Grandmamma, my child, I haven't any starched cravat."
For ten minutes there is a constant going and coming around the charming Grandmamma, constant appeals to her. Every one needs her, she keeps the keys to everything, distributes the pretty, finely fluted white linen, the embroidered handkerchiefs, the best gloves, all the treasures which, when produced from bandboxes and cupboards and laid out upon the beds, spread throughout a house the sunshiny cheerfulness of Sunday.
The laboring men, the people who work with their hands, alone know the joy that comes with the end of each week, consecrated by the custom of a nation. For those people, prisoners throughout the week, the crowded lines of the almanac open at equal intervals in luminous spaces, in refreshing whiffs of air. Sunday, the day that seems so long to worldly people, to the Parisians of the boulevard, whose fixed habits it deranges, and so melancholy to exiles without a family, is the day which constitutes to a multitude of people the only recompense, the only goal of six days of toil. Neither rain nor hail makes any difference to them; nothing will prevent them from going out, from closing the door of the deserted workshop or the stuffy little lodging behind them. But when the springtime takes a hand, when a May sun is shining as it is shining this morning and Sunday can array itself in joyous colors, then indeed it is the holiday of holidays.
If you would appreciate it to the full, you must see it in the laboring quarters, in those dismal streets which it illumines, which it makes broader by closing the shops, housing the great vans, leaving the space free for the romping of children with clean faces and in their best clothes, and games of battledore mingled with circling flocks of swallows under some porch in old Paris. You must see it in the swarming, fever-stricken faubourgs where from early morning you feel it hovering, soothing and grateful, over the silent factories, passing with the clang of bells and the shrill whistle of the locomotives, which give the impression of a mighty hymn of departure and deliverance arising from all the suburbs. Then you appreciate it and love it.
O thou Parisian Sunday, Sunday of the working man and the humble, I have often cursed thee without reason, I have poured out floods of abusive ink upon thy noisy, effervescent joy, the dusty railway stations filled with thy uproar, and the lumbering omnibuses which thou takest by assault, upon thy wine-shop ballads roared forth in spring-carts bedecked with green and pink dresses, thy barrel-organs wheezing under balconies in deserted court-yards; but to-day, renouncing my errors, I exalt thee and bless thee for all the joy and relief thou bringest to courageous, honorable toil, for the laughter of the children who acclaim thee, for the pride of happy mothers dressing their little ones in thy honor, for the dignity which thou dost keep alive in the dwellings of the lowliest, for the gorgeous apparel put aside for thee in the depths of the old crippled wardrobe; above all I bless thee for all the happiness which thou didst bring in full measure that morning to the great new house on the outskirts of the old faubourg.
The toilets completed, the breakfast hastily swallowed, they are putting on their hats in front of the mirror in the salon. Grandmamma is casting her eye around for the last time, sticking in a pin here, retying a ribbon there, adjusting the paternal cravat; but, while all the little party are pawing the floor impatiently, beckoned out of doors by the beauty of the day, suddenly their gayety is clouded by a ring at the door-bell.
 There is in the text at this point a play upon words which it is impossible to render in English. "Les toilettes terminees, le dejeuner fini, pris sur le pouce—et sur le pouce de ces demoiselles vous pensez ce qu'il peut tenir," etc., that is to say: "the breakfast at an end, taken upon the thumb—and you can imagine how much the thumbs of those young ladies would hold." To eat sur le pouce (eat upon the thumb) means to eat hastily, without taking time to sit down.
"Suppose we don't go to the door?" the children suggest.
And what relief, what a shout of joy when friend Paul appears!
"Come quick, quick; let us tell you the good news!"
He knew before anybody else that the play was accepted. He had had difficulty enough in making Cardailhac read it, for at the first sight of the "little lines," as he called the verses, he wanted to send the manuscript to the Levantine and her masseur, as he did with all the rubbish that was sent to him. But Paul was careful not to speak of his intervention. As for the other great event, which was not mentioned because of the children, he guessed it without difficulty from the tremulous happiness of Maranne, whose fair hair stood straight on end over his forehead,—because the poet constantly thrust both hands through it, as he always did in his moments of joy,—from the slightly embarrassed demeanor of Elise, and from the triumphant airs of M. Joyeuse, who stood proudly erect in his spotless linen, with all the happiness of his dear ones written on his face.
Grandmamma alone preserved her usual tranquil bearing; but one detected in her, in the zeal with which she waited upon her sister, a more affectionate warmth than usual, a wish to make her attractive. And it was delightful to see that girl of twenty intent upon beautifying another, without envy or regret, with something of the sweet renunciation of a mother celebrating her daughter's young love in memory of her own bygone happiness. Paul saw it, indeed he was the only one who saw it; but, while he gazed in admiration at Aline, he asked himself sadly if there would ever be room in that motherly heart for other than family attachments, for interests outside of the tranquil circle of light in which Grandmamma presided so prettily over the work-table in the evening.
Love, as we know, is a poor blind boy, bereft of speech and hearing as well, and with no other guide than prescience, divination, the nervous faculties of the invalid. Really, it is pitiful to see him wander about, feeling his way, faltering at every step, tapping with his fingers the projections upon which he depends for guidance, with the distrustful awkwardness of an infirm old man. At the very moment when he was mentally casting a doubt upon Aline's susceptibility, Paul, having informed his friends that he was about to leave Paris for a journey of several days, of several weeks perhaps, did not notice the girl's sudden pallor, did not hear the sorrowful exclamation from her discreet lips:
"You are going away?"
He was going away, he was going to Tunis, very uneasy at the idea of leaving his poor Nabob in the midst of his bloodthirsty pack of pursuers; however, Mora's friendship reassured him somewhat, and, moreover, the journey was absolutely necessary.
"And what about the Territoriale?" asked the old book-keeper, always recurring to his fixed idea. "How does that stand? I see that Jansoulet's name is still at the head of the administrative council. Can't you get him out of that Ali Baba's cave? Beware, beware!"
"Ah! I know it, Monsieur Joyeuse. But in order to get out of it with honor, we must have money, much money, must sacrifice two or three millions more; and we haven't them. That is why I am going to Tunis, to try and extort from the bey's rapacity a small portion of the great fortune which he so unjustly withholds. At this moment I have some chance of success, whereas a little later perhaps—"
"Go at once then, my dear boy, and if you return with a bag full of money as I trust you will, attend first of all to the Paganetti gang. Remember that one shareholder less patient than the rest will be enough to blow the whole thing into the air, to demand an inquiry; and you know as well as I what an inquiry would disclose. On reflection," added M. Joyeuse, wrinkling his brow, "I am surprised that Hemerlingue in his hatred of you has not secretly procured a few shares—"
He was interrupted by the concert of maledictions, of imprecations which the name of Hemerlingue always called forth from all those young people, who hated the corpulent banker for the injury he had done their father and for the injury he wished to do the worthy Nabob, who was adored in that household for Paul de Gery's sake.
"Hemerlingue, the heartless creature! Villain! Wicked man!"
But, amid that chorus of outcries, the Imaginaire worked out his theory of the stout baron becoming a shareholder in the Territoriale in order to drag his enemy before the courts. And we can imagine Andre Maranne's stupefaction, knowing absolutely nothing of the affair, when he saw M. Joyeuse turn toward him, his face purple and swollen with rage, and point his finger at him with these terrible words:
"The greatest rascal here is yourself, monsieur!"
"O papa, papa! what are you saying?"
"Eh? What's that?—Oh! I beg your pardon, my dear Andre. I imagined that I was in the examining magistrate's office, confronting that villain. It's my infernal brain that is forever rushing off to the devil."
A roar of laughter rang out through all the open windows, mingling with the rumbling of innumerable carriages and the chatter of gayly-dressed crowds on Avenue des Ternes; and the author of Revolte took advantage of the diversion to inquire if they did not propose to start soon. It was late—the good places in the Bois would all be taken.
"The Bois de Boulogne, on Sunday!" exclaimed Paul de Gery.
"Oh! our Bois is not the same as yours," replied Aline with a smile. "Come with us, and you will see."
* * * * *
Has it ever happened to you, when you were walking alone and in contemplative mood, to lie flat on your face in the grassy underbrush of a forest, amid the peculiar vegetation, of many and varying species, that grows between the fallen autumn leaves, and to let your eyes stray along the level of the earth before you? Gradually the idea of height vanishes, the interlaced branches of the oaks above your head form an inaccessible sky, and you see a new forest stretching out beneath the other, opening its long avenues pierced by a mysterious green light and lined by slender or tufted shrubs ending in round tops of exotic or wild aspect, stalks of sugar-cane, the graceful rigidity of palms, slender cups holding a drop of water, girandoles bearing little yellow lights which flicker in the passing breeze. And the miraculous feature of it all is that beneath those slender stalks live miniature plants and myriads of insects whose existence, seen at such close quarters, reveals all its mysteries to you. An ant, staggering like a woodcutter under his burden, drags a piece of bark larger than himself; a beetle crawls along a blade of grass stretched like a bridge from trunk to trunk; while, beneath a tall fern standing by itself in a clearing carpeted with velvety moss, some little blue or red creature waits, its antennae on the alert, until some other beast, on its way thither by some deserted path, arrives at the rendezvous under the gigantic tree. It is a small forest beneath the large one, too near the ground for the latter to perceive it, too humble, too securely hidden to be reached by its grand orchestra of songs and tempests.
A similar phenomenon takes place in the Bois de Boulogne. Behind those neat, well-watered gravelled paths, where long lines of wheels moving slowly around the lake draw a furrow by constant wear throughout the day, with the precision of a machine, behind that wonderful stage-setting of verdure-covered walls, of captive streams, of flower-girt rocks, the real forest, the wild forest, with its luxuriant underbrush, advances and recedes, forming impenetrable shadows traversed by narrow paths and rippling brooks. That is the forest of the lowly, the forest of the humble, the little forest under the great. And Paul, who knew nothing of the aristocratic resort save the long avenues, the gleaming lake as seen from the back seat of a carriage or from the top of a break in the dust of a return from Longchamps, was amazed to see the deliciously secluded nook to which his friends escorted him.
It was on the edge of a pond that lay mirrorlike beneath the willows, covered with lilies and lentils, with great patches of white here and there, where the sun's rays fell upon the gleaming surface, and streaked with great tendrils of argyronetes as with lines drawn by diamond points.
They had seated themselves, to listen to the reading of the play, on the sloping bank, covered with verdure already dense, although made up of slender plants, and the pretty attentive faces, the skirts spread out upon the grass made one think of a more innocent and chaste Decameron in a reposeful atmosphere. To complete the picture of nature at its loveliest, the distant rustic landscape, two windmills could be seen through an opening between the branches, turning in the direction of Suresnes, while, of the dazzling gorgeous vision to be seen at every cross-road in the Bois, naught reached them save a confused endless rumbling, to which they finally became so accustomed that they did not hear it at all. The poet's voice alone, fresh and eloquent, rose in the silence, the lines came quivering forth, repeated in undertones by other deeply-moved lips, and there were murmured words of approval, and thrills of emotion at the tragic passages. Grandmamma, indeed, was seen to wipe away a great tear. But that was because she had no embroidery in her hand.
The first work! That is what Revolte was to Andre—the first work, always too copious and diffuse, into which the author tosses first of all a whole lifetime of ideas and opinions, pressing for utterance like water against the edge of a dam, and which is often the richest, if not the best, of an author's productions. As for the fate that awaited it, no one could say what it might be; and the uncertainty that hovered about the reading of the drama added to his emotion the emotion of each of his auditors, the white-robed hopes of Mademoiselle Elise, M. Joyeuse's fanciful hallucinations and the more positive desires of Aline, who was already in anticipation installing her sister in the nest, rocked by the winds but envied by the multitude, of an artist's household!
Ah! if one of those pleasure-seekers circling the lake for the hundredth time, overwhelmed by the monotony of his habit, had chanced to put aside the branches, how surprised he would have been at that picture! But would he have suspected all the passion and dreams and poetry and hope that were contained in that little nook of verdure hardly larger than the denticulated shadow of a fern on the moss?
"You were right, I did not know the Bois," said Paul in an undertone to Aline, as she leaned on his arm.
They were following a narrow sheltered path, and as they talked they walked very rapidly, far in advance of the others. But it was not Pere Kontzen's terrace nor his crisp fritters that attracted them. No, the noble verses they had heard had carried them to a great height, and they had not yet descended. They walked straight on toward the ever-receding end of the path, which broadened at its extremity into a luminous glory, a dust of sunbeams, as if all the sunshine of that lovely day awaited them at the edge of the woods. Paul had never felt so happy. The light arm resting on his, the childlike step by which his own was guided, would have made life as sweet and pleasant to him as that walk upon the mossy carpet of a green path. He would have told the young girl as much, in words as simple as his feelings, had he not feared to alarm Aline's confidence, caused doubtless by the feeling which she knew that he entertained for another, and which seemed to forbid any thought of love between them.
Suddenly, directly in front of them, a group of equestrians stood out against the bright background, at first vague and indistinct, then taking shape as a man and woman beautifully mounted and turning into the mysterious path among the shafts of gold, the leafy shadows, the myriad specks of light with which the ground was dotted, which they displaced as they cantered forward, and which ran in fanciful designs from the horses' breasts to the Amazon's veil. They rode slowly, capriciously, and the two young people, who had stepped into the bushes, could see perfectly as they passed quite near to them, with a creaking of new leather, a jangling of bits tossed proudly and white with foam as after a wild gallop, two superb horses bearing a human couple compelled to ride close together by the narrowing of the path; he supporting with one arm the flexible form moulded into a waist of dark cloth, she, with her hand on her companion's shoulder and her little head, in profile—hidden beneath the tulle of her half-fallen veil—resting tenderly thereon. That amorous entwining, cradled by the impatience of the steeds, restive under the restraint imposed upon their fiery spirits, that kiss, causing the reins to become entangled, that passion riding through the woods in hunting costume, in broad daylight, with such contempt of public opinion, would have sufficed to betray the duke and Felicia, even though the haughty and fascinating appearance of the Amazon, and the high-bred ease of her companion, his pallid cheeks slightly flushed by the exercise and Jenkins' miraculous pearls, had not already led to their recognition.
It was not an extraordinary thing to meet Mora in the Bois on Sunday. He, like his master, loved to show himself to the Parisians, to keep his popularity alive in all public places; and then the duchess never accompanied him on that day, and he could draw rein without restraint at the little chalet of Saint-James, known to all Paris, whose pink turrets peering out among the trees school-boys pointed out to one another with whispered comments. But only a madwoman, a shameless creature like that Felicia, would advertise herself thus, destroy her reputation forever. The sound of hoofs and of rustling bushes dying away in the distance, bent weeds standing erect, branches thrust aside resuming their places—that was all that remained of the apparition.
"Did you see?" Paul was the first to ask.
She had seen and she had understood, despite her virtuous innocence, for a blush overspread her features, caused by the shame we feel for the sins of those we love.
"Poor Felicia!" she whispered, pitying not only the poor abandoned creature who had passed before them, but him as well whom that fall from grace was certain to strike full in the heart. The truth is that Paul de Gery was in no wise surprised by that meeting, which confirmed some previous suspicions and the instinctive repulsion he had felt for the seductive creature at their dinner-party some days before. But it seemed sweet to him to be pitied by Aline, to feel her sympathy in the increased tenderness of her voice, in the arm that leaned more heavily upon his. Like children who play at being ill for the joy of being petted by their mothers, he allowed the comforter to do her utmost to soothe his disappointment, to talk to him of his brothers, of the Nabob, and of the impending journey to Tunis, a beautiful country, so it was said. "You must write to us often, and write long letters about the interesting things you see and about the place you live in. For we can see those who are far away from us better when we can form an idea of their surroundings."—Chatting thus, they reached the end of the shady path, at a vast clearing where the tumult of the Bois was in full blast, carriages and equestrians alternating, and the crowd tramping in a fleecy dust which gave it, at that distance, the appearance of a disorderly flock of sheep. Paul slackened his pace, emboldened by that last moment of solitude.
"Do you know what I am thinking?" he said, taking Aline's hand; "that any one would enjoy being unhappy for the sake of being comforted by you. But, precious as your sympathy is to me, I cannot allow you to expend your emotion upon an imaginary grief. No, my heart is not broken, but, on the contrary, more alive, more vigorous than before. And if I should tell you what miracle has preserved it, what talisman—"
He placed before her eyes a little oval frame surrounding a profile without shading, a simple pencil sketch in which she recognized herself, surprised to find that she was so pretty, as if reflected in the magic mirror of Love. Tears came to her eyes, although she knew not why,—an open spring whose pulsing flood caused her chaste heart to beat fast.
"This portrait belongs to me. It was made for me. But now, as I am on the point of going away, I am assailed by a scruple. I prefer not to keep it except from your own hands. So take it, and if you find a worthier friend, one who loves you with a deeper, truer love than mine, I authorize you to give it to him."
She had recovered from her confusion, and replied, looking de Gery in the face with affectionate gravity:
"If I listened to nothing but my heart, I should not hesitate to answer you; for, if you love me as you say you do, I am sure that I love you no less. But I am not free, I am not alone in life,—look!"
She pointed to her father and sisters who were motioning to them in the distance and hurrying to overtake them.
"Even so! And I?" said Paul eagerly. "Have I not the same duties, the same burdens? We are like two widowed heads of families. Will you not love mine as dearly as I love yours?"
"Do you mean it? Is it true? You will let me stay with them? I shall be Aline to you and still be Grandmamma to all our children? Oh! then," said the dear creature, beaming with joy and radiance, "then here is my picture, I give it to you. And, with it, all my heart, and forever."
THE JENKINS PEARLS.
About a week after his adventure with Moessard,—a new complication in his sadly muddled affairs,—Jansoulet, on leaving the Chamber one Thursday, ordered his coachman to drive him to the hotel de Mora. He had not been there since the fracas on Rue Royale, and the idea of appearing before the duke caused something of the same panicky sensation beneath his tough epidermis that a schoolboy feels on being summoned before the master after a scuffle in the class-room. However, it was necessary to submit to the embarrassment of that first interview. It was currently reported in the committee rooms that Le Merquier had completed his report, a masterpiece of logic and ferocity, recommending that Jansoulet be unseated, and that he was certain to carry his point off-hand unless Mora, whose power in the Assembly was so great, should himself issue contrary orders. A serious crisis, as will be seen, and one that caused his cheeks to burn with fever as he studied the expression of his features and his courtier-like smiles in the bevelled mirrors of his coupe, striving to prepare an adroit entry into the presence,—one of his masterstrokes of amiable impudence which had served him so well with Ahmed and thus far with the French statesman,—the whole accompanied by a rapid beating of the heart and the shivering sensation between the shoulders which precedes decisive steps, even when taken in a carriage with gilded panels.
When he reached the mansion on the river bank, he was greatly surprised to see that the footman on the quay, as on the days of great receptions, ordered the carriages to turn into Rue de Lille in order to leave one gateway free for exit. He said to himself, a little disturbed in mind: "What is going on?" Perhaps a concert given by the duchess, a charity bazaar, or some festivity from which Mora had left him out because of the scandal caused by his last adventure. And his anxiety augmented when, after crossing the court of honor amid the tumult of slamming carriage-doors and a constant, dull rumbling on the gravel, he had ascended the steps and found himself in the vast reception-room filled to overflowing with a great throng who were allowed to pass none of the inner doors, but whose anxious steps centred about the table of the servant in attendance, where all the famous names of aristocratic Paris were being inscribed. It seemed as if a sudden blast of disaster had passed through the house, swept away something of its superb tranquillity and allowed unrest and danger to creep into its well-being.
"What a misfortune!"
"Ah! yes, it is terrible."
"And so sudden!"
The people around him exchanged such phrases as they met. A thought passed swiftly through Jansoulet's mind.
"Is the duke ill?" he asked a servant.
"Ah! monsieur. He is dying. He cannot live through the night."
If the roof of the palace had fallen in upon his head, it would not have crushed him more completely. He saw red butterflies whirling around before his eyes, then staggered and fell upon the velvet-covered bench beside the great cage of monkeys, who, over-excited by all the turmoil, clung in a bunch to the bars, hanging by their tails or by their little long-thumbed hands, and in their frightened inquisitiveness assailed with the most extravagant grimaces of their race the stout bewildered man, who sat staring at the floor and repeating to himself aloud: "I am lost! I am lost!"
The duke was dying. He had been taken suddenly ill on Sunday while returning from the Bois. He had felt an intolerable burning sensation which seemed to outline, as with a red-hot iron, the whole internal structure of his body, alternating with chills and numbness and long periods of drowsiness. Jenkins, being summoned at once, prescribed some sedative remedies. The next day the pains returned, more intense than before, and followed by the same icy torpor, also intensified, as if life were leaving him by fierce leaps and bounds, uprooted. No one in the household was at all disturbed. "The day after Saint-James," callers whispered to one another in the reception-room, and Jenkins' handsome face retained its serenity. He mentioned the duke's indisposition to but two or three persons in his morning round of visits, and so lightly that no one thought anything of it.
Mora himself, despite his extreme weakness, and although he felt as if his head were absolutely empty, "not an idea behind his forehead," as he expressed it, was very far from suspecting the gravity of his condition. Not until the third day, when, upon waking in the morning, he saw a slender thread of blood that had flowed from his mouth over his beard and reddened his pillow, did that refined dandy shudder, that fastidious creature who held in horror all forms of human misery, especially disease, and who saw it creeping upon him stealthily with its defilement, its weaknesses and with the self-abandonment which is the first concession to death. Monpavon, entering the room in Jenkins' wake, caught the suddenly perturbed expression of the great nobleman brought face to face with the terrible truth, and was at the same time horrified by the ravages made in a few hours on Mora's emaciated face, where all the wrinkles belonging to his age, appearing suddenly, mingled with the wrinkles caused by suffering, with the depression of muscles which indicates serious internal lesions. He took Jenkins aside while the fine gentleman's servants were supplying him with what he required to make his toilet in bed, a whole outfit of silver and crystal in striking contrast with the yellow pallor of the invalid.
"Look you, Jenkins—the duke is very ill."
"I am afraid so," said the Irishman, in an undertone.
"What's the matter with him?"
"What he apparently wanted, parbleu!" exclaimed the other, in a sort of frenzy. "A man can't be young with impunity at his age. This passion of his will cost him dear."
Some evil thought triumphed in him for the moment, but he instantly imposed silence upon it, and, completely transformed, puffing out his cheeks as if his head were filled with water, he sighed profoundly as he pressed the old nobleman's hands:
"Poor duke! Poor duke! Ah! my friend, I am in despair."
"Have a care, Jenkins," said Monpavon coldly, withdrawing his hands. "You are assuming a terrible responsibility. What! the duke is as ill as you say, ps—ps—ps. See no one? No consultation?"
The Irishman threw up his arms as if to say: "What's the use?"
The other insisted. It was absolutely essential that Brisset, Jousselin, Bouchereau, all the great men should be called in.
"But you will frighten him to death."
Monpavon inflated his breast, the old foundered charger's only pride.
"My dear fellow, if you had seen Mora and myself in the trenches at Constantine—ps—ps—Never lowered our eyes—Don't know what fear means. Send word to your confreres, I will undertake to prepare him."
The consultation took place that evening behind closed doors, the duke having demanded that it be kept secret through a curious feeling of shame because of his illness, because of the suffering that dethroned him and reduced him to the level of other men. Like those African kings who conceal themselves in the depths of their palaces to die, he would have liked the world to believe that he had been taken away, transfigured, had become a god. Then, too, above all, he dreaded the compassion, the condolence, the emotion with which he knew that his pillow would be surrounded, the tears that would be shed, because he would suspect that they were insincere, and because, if sincere, they would offend him even more by their grimacing ugliness.
He had always detested scenes, exaggerated sentiments, whatever was likely to move him, to disturb the harmonious equilibrium of his life. Everybody about him was aware of it and the orders were to keep at a distance all the cases of distress, all the despairing appeals that were made to Mora from one end of France to the other, as to one of those houses of refuge in the forest in which a light shines at night and at which all those who have lost their way apply for shelter. Not that he was hard to the unfortunate, perhaps indeed he felt that he was too readily susceptible to pity, which he regarded as an inferior sentiment, a weakness unworthy of the strong, and for the same reason that he denied it to others, dreaded it for himself, lest it impair his courage. So that no one in the palace, save Monpavon and Louis the valet, knew the purpose of the visit of those three persons who were mysteriously ushered into the presence of the Minister of State. Even the duchess herself was in ignorance. Separated from her husband by all the barriers that life in the most exalted political and social circles places between the husband and wife in such exceptional establishments, she supposed that he was slightly indisposed, ill mainly in his imagination, and had so little suspicion of an impending catastrophe that, at the very hour when the physicians were ascending the half-darkened grand staircase, her private apartments at the other end of the palace were brilliantly illuminated for an informal dancing-party, one of those white balls which the ingenuity of idle Paris was just beginning to introduce.
That consultation was, like all consultations, grim and solemn. Doctors no longer wear the huge wigs of Moliere's day, but they still assume the same portentous gravity of priests of Isis or astrologers, bristling with cabalistic formulae accompanied by movements of the head which lack only the pointed cap of an earlier age to produce a laughable effect. On this occasion the scene borrowed an imposing aspect from the surroundings. In the vast room, transformed, magnified as it were, by the master's immobility, those solemn faces approached the bed upon which the light was concentrated, revealing amid the white linen and the purple curtains a shrivelled face, pale from the lips to the eyes, but enveloped with serenity as with a veil, as with a winding-sheet. The consulting physicians talked in low tones, exchanged a furtive glance, an outlandish word or two, remained perfectly impassive without moving an eyebrow. But that mute, unmeaning expression characteristic of the doctor and the magistrate, that solemnity with which science and justice encompass themselves in order to conceal their weakness or their ignorance, had no power to move the duke.
Sitting on his bed, he continued to talk tranquilly, with that slightly exalted expression in which the thought seems to soar upward as if to escape, and Monpavon coolly replied to him, hardening himself against his emotion, taking a last lesson in breeding from his friend, while Louis, in the background, leaned against the door leading to the duchess's apartments, the type of the silent servitor, in whom heedless indifference is a duty.
The agitated, the feverish member of the party was Jenkins.
Overflowing with obsequious respect for "his illustrious confreres," as he unctuously called them, he prowled about their conference and tried to take part in it; but his confreres kept him at a distance, hardly answered him, or answered him haughtily, as Fagon—Louis the Fourteenth's Fagon—might have answered some charlatan who had been summoned to the royal bedside. Old Bouchereau especially looked askance at the inventor of the Jenkins Pearls. At last, when they had thoroughly examined and questioned their patient, they withdrew for deliberation to a small salon, all in lacquer-work, with gleaming highly-colored walls and ceiling, filled with an assortment of pretty trifles, whose uselessness contrasted strangely with the importance of the discussion.
A solemn moment, the agony of the accused man awaiting the decision of his judges, life, death, reprieve or pardon!
With his long white hand Mora continued to caress his moustache, his favorite gesture, to talk with Monpavon about the club and the green-room at the Varietes, asking for news of the proceedings in the Chamber and what progress had been made in the matter of the Nabob's election—all with perfect coolness and without the slightest affectation. Then, fatigued doubtless, or fearing that his glance, which constantly returned to the portiere opposite through which the decree of fate was presently to come forth, should betray the emotion that lurked at the bottom of his heart, he leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and did not open them again until the doctors returned. Still the same cold, ominous faces, veritable faces of judges with the terrible word of human destiny on their lips, the Final word, which the courts pronounce without emotion, but which the doctors, all of whose skill and learning it baffles, evade and seek to convey by circumlocution.
"Well, messieurs, what says the Faculty?" inquired the sick man.
There were a few hypocritical, stammered words of encouragement, vague recommendations; then the three learned men hastily took their leave, eager to be gone, to avoid any responsibility for the impending disaster. Monpavon rushed after them. Jenkins remained by the bedside, overwhelmed by the brutal truths he had heard during the consultation. In vain had he put his hand upon his heart, quoted his famous motto. Bouchereau had not spared him. This was not the first of the Irishman's patients whom he had seen fall suddenly to pieces thus; but he trusted that Mora's death would be a salutary warning to people in society, and that the prefect of police, as the result of this great calamity, would send the "dealer in cantharides," to advertise his aphrodisiacs on the other side of the Channel.
The duke realized that neither Jenkins nor Louis would tell him the real result of the consultation. He did not press them, therefore, but submitted to their assumed confidence, even pretended to share it and to believe all that they told him. But when Monpavon returned, he called him to his bedside, and, undaunted by the falsehood that was visible even under the paint of that wreck, he said:
"Oh! no wry faces, I beg. Between you and me, let us have the truth. What do they say?—I am in a bad way, am I not?"
Monpavon prefaced his reply by a significant pause; then roughly, cynically, for fear of showing emotion at the words:
"Damnation, my poor Auguste!"
The duke received it between the eyes without winking.
"Ah!" he said, simply.
He twisted his moustache mechanically; but his features did not change. And in an instant his resolution was formed.
That the poor wretch who dies in the hospital, without home or kindred, with no other name than the number of his bed, should accept death as a deliverance or submit to it as a last trial, that the old peasant who falls asleep, bent double, worn out and stiff-jointed, in his dark, smoke-begrimed mole-hole, should go thence without regret, that he should relish in anticipation the taste of the cool earth he has turned and returned so many times, one can understand. And yet how many of them are attached to existence by their very misery, how many exclaim as they cling to their wretched furniture, to their rags: "I do not want to die," and go with their nails broken and bleeding from that last wrench! But there was nothing of the sort here.
To have everything and to lose everything. What an upheaval!
In the first silence of that awful moment, while he listened to the muffled music of the duchess's ball at the other end of the palace, the things that still bound that man to life—power, honors, wealth, all the magnificence that surrounded him—must have seemed to him to be already far away in an irrevocable past. It required courage of a very exceptional temper to resist such a blow without the slightest outburst of self-love. No one was present save the friend, the physician, the servant, three intimate acquaintances, who were familiar with all his secrets; the lights being turned low left the bed in shadow, and the dying man could have turned his face to the wall and given vent to his emotion unseen. But no. Not a second of weakness, of fruitless demonstrations. Without breaking a branch of the chestnut trees in the garden, without withering a flower in the great hall of the palace, Death, muffling his footsteps in the heavy carpets, had opened that great man's door and motioned to him: "Come!" And he replied, simply, "I am ready." A fit exit for a man of the world, unforeseen, swift and noiseless.
A man of the world! Mora was nothing else. Passing smoothly through life, arrayed in mask and gloves and breastplate, the breastplate of white satin worn by fencing-masters on days of great exhibitions, keeping his fighting costume ever clean and spotless, sacrificing everything to that irreproachable exterior which served him instead of a coat of mail, he had metamorphosed himself into a statesman, passing from the salon to a vaster stage, and made in truth a statesman of the first order simply by virtue of his qualities as a leader of society, the art of listening and smiling, knowledge of men, scepticism and sang-froid. That sang-froid did not leave him at the supreme moment.
With his eyes upon the brief, limited time which still remained to him, for his dark-browed visitor was in haste and he could feel on his face the wind from the door which he had not closed, he thought of nothing but making good use of that time and fulfilling all the obligations of an end like his own, which should leave no devotion unrewarded, should compromise no friend. He made a list of the few persons whom he wished to see and to whom messengers were sent at once; then he asked for his chief clerk, and when Jenkins suggested that he was overtiring himself, "Will you promise me that I shall wake to-morrow morning? I have a spasm of strength at this moment. Let me make the most of it."
Louis asked if he should warn the duchess. The duke, before replying, listened to the strains from the ball that came floating in through the opened windows, prolonged in the darkness by an invisible bow; then he said:
"Let us wait a little. I have something to do first."
He bade them move to his bedside the little lacquer table, intending himself to sort out the letters to be destroyed; but, finding that his strength was failing, he called Monpavon: "Burn everything," he said to him in a feeble voice, and added, when he saw him going toward the fireplace, where a bright fire was burning, notwithstanding the fine weather:
"No—not here. There are too many of them. Some one might come."
Monpavon lifted the light desk and motioned to the valet to carry a light for him. But Jenkins darted forward:
"Stay, Louis, the duke may need you."
He took possession of the lamp; and they stole cautiously along the long corridor, exploring the reception-rooms, the galleries, where the fireplaces were filled with artificial plants with no trace of ashes, wandering like ghosts in the silence and darkness of the vast dwelling, alive only over yonder at the right where pleasure sang like a bird on a roof that is about to fall.
"There's no fire anywhere. What are we to do with all this stuff?" they asked each other, sorely perplexed. One would have said they were two thieves dragging away a safe which they were unable to open. At last Monpavon, out of patience, walked with an air of resolution to a certain door, the only one they had not yet opened.
"Faith, we'll do the best we can! As we can't burn them, we'll drown them. Show me a light, Jenkins."
And they entered.
Where were they? Saint-Simon, describing the downfall of one of these sovereign existences, the utter confusion of ceremonials, of dignities, of grandeurs caused by death, especially by sudden death, Saint-Simon alone could have told you. With his delicate, carefully-kept hands the Marquis de Monpavon pumped. The other passed him torn letters, bundles of letters, soft as satin, many-hued, perfumed, adorned with ciphers, crests, banderoles with mottoes, covered with fine, close, scrawling, enlaced, persuasive chirography; and all those delicate pages whirled round and round in the eddying stream of water which crumpled and soiled them and washed away the pale ink before allowing them to disappear with a gurgling hiccough at the bottom of the filthy sink.
There were love-letters and love-letters of all sorts, from the note of the adventuress—"I saw you pass at the Bois yesterday, Monsieur le Duc,"—to the aristocratic reproaches of the mistress before the last, the wailing of the abandoned, and the page still fresh with recent confidences. Monpavon was familiar with all these mysteries, gave a name to each of them: "That's from Madame Moor"—"Ah! Madame d'Athis." A confused mass of coronets and initials, passing whims and old habits, sullied at that moment by being thrown together promiscuously, all swallowed up in that ghastly place, by lamplight, with a noise as of an intermittent deluge, going to oblivion by a shameful road. Suddenly Jenkins paused in his work of destruction. Two letters on pearl-gray satin paper trembled in his fingers.
"Who's that?" queried Monpavon, at sight of the unfamiliar hand and the Irishman's nervous excitement. "Ah! doctor, if you mean to read everything we shall never finish."
Jenkins, with burning cheeks, his two letters in his hand, was consumed by a fierce longing to carry them away in order to gloat over them at his leisure, to torture himself with delicious pain by reading them, perhaps also to use that correspondence as a weapon against the imprudent creature who had signed it. But the marquis's rigid demeanor frightened him. How could he divert his attention, get rid of him? An opportunity presented itself unsought. A tiny sheet, written in a senile, tremulous hand, had found its way between those same letters, and attracted the attention of the charlatan, who said with an artless expression:
"Oho! here's something that doesn't look like a billet-doux. 'My dear duke, help, I am drowning! The Cour des Comptes has stuck its nose into my affairs again'—"
"What the devil's that you're reading?" exclaimed Monpavon abruptly, snatching the letter from his hands. And in an instant, thanks to Mora's negligence in allowing such private letters to lie around, the terrible plight in which he would be left by his protector's death came to his mind. In his grief he had not as yet thought of it. He said to himself that, amid his preparations for leaving the world, the duke might very well forget him; and, leaving Jenkins to finish alone the drowning of Don Juan's casket, he returned hurriedly to the bedroom. As he was about to enter, the sound of voices detained him behind the lowered portiere. It was Louis's voice, as whining as that of a pauper under a porch, trying to move the duke to pity for his distress and asking his permission to take a few rolls of gold that were lying in a drawer. Oh! what a hoarse, wearied, hardly audible reply, in which one could feel the effort of the sick man compelled to turn in his bed, to remove his eyes from a distant point already clearly distinguished:
"Yes, yes—take them. But for God's sake let me sleep! let me sleep!"
Drawers opened and closed, a hurried, panting breath. Monpavon heard no more, but retraced his steps without entering the room. The servant's ferocious greed had given his pride the alarm. Anything rather than degrade himself to that point.
The slumber for which Mora begged so persistently, the lethargy, to speak more accurately, lasted a whole night and morning, with partial awakenings caused by excruciating pain which yielded each time to soporifics. They did nothing for him except to try to make his last moments comfortable, to help him over that last step which it requires such a painful effort to pass. His eyes had opened during that time, but they were already dim, staring into emptiness at wavering shadows, indistinct forms, like those which a diver sees quivering in the vague depths of the water. On Thursday afternoon, about three o'clock, he recovered consciousness completely, and, recognizing Monpavon, Cardailhac and two or three other close friends, smiled at them and betrayed in a word his sole preoccupation:
"What do people say of this in Paris?"
People said many things, diverse and contradictory; but one thing was certain, that they talked of nothing else, and the report which had been circulated through the city that morning, that Mora was at death's door, had put the streets, the salons, the cafes, the studios in a ferment, revived political questions in the newspaper offices, in the clubs, and even in porters' lodges and on the omnibuses, wherever open newspapers furnished a pretext for comment on that startling item of news.
This Mora was the most brilliant incarnation of the Empire. The part of a building that we see from afar is not its foundation, be it solid or tottering, not its architectural features, but the slender, gilded arrow, fancifully carved and perforated, added for the gratification of the eye. What people saw of the Empire in France and throughout Europe was Mora. When he fell, the structure was stripped of all its elegance, marred by a long irreparable crack. And how many existences were involved in that sudden fall, how many fortunes shattered by the after effects of the catastrophe! Not one so completely as that of the stout man sitting motionless on the monkeys' bench in the reception-room below.
To the Nabob that man's death meant his own death, his ruin, the end of everything. He was so thoroughly conscious of it that when he was informed, on entering the house, of the Duke's desperate condition, he indulged in no whining or wry faces of any sort, simply the savage ejaculation of human selfishness: "I am lost!" And the words came constantly to his lips, he repeated them instinctively each time that all the horror of his position came over him in sudden flashes,—as in those dangerous mountain storms, when a sharp flash of lightning illumines the abyss to the very bottom, with the jagged projections of the walls and the clumps of bushes scattered here and there to supply the rents and bruises of the fall.
The rapid keenness of vision that accompanies cataclysms spared him no detail. He saw that he was almost certain to be unseated now that Mora would not be at hand to plead his cause; and the consequences of defeat, bankruptcy, poverty and something worse, for these incalculable fortunes, when they crumble away, always keep a little of a man's honor under the ruins. But what thorns, what brambles, what bruises, what cruel wounds before reaching the end! In a week the Schwalbach notes to be paid, that is to say eight hundred thousand francs, Moessard's claim for damages—he demanded a hundred thousand francs or would apply to the Chamber for authority to institute criminal process against him—another more dangerous suit begun by the families of two little martyrs of Bethlehem against the founders of the establishment; and, in addition to all the rest, the complications of the Caisse Territoriale. A single ray of hope, Paul de Gery's negotiations with the bey, but so vague, so problematical, so far away!
"Ah! I am lost! I am lost!"
In the vast apartment no one noticed his trouble. That crowd of senators, deputies, councillors of state, all the leading men in the government, went and came around him without seeing him, held mysterious conferences and rested their elbows in anxious importance on the two white marble mantels that faced each other. So many disappointed, betrayed, over-hasty ambitions met in that visit in extremis, that selfish anxiety predominated over every other form of preoccupation.
The faces, strangely enough, expressed neither pity nor grief, rather a sort of wrath. All those people seemed to bear the duke a grudge for dying, as if for turning his back upon them. Such remarks as this were heard: "It's not at all strange after such a life!" And, standing at the long windows, the gentlemen called one another's attention to some dainty coupe drawing up amid the constant stream of carriages going and coming outside, while a gloved hand, its lace sleeve brushing against the door, handed a folded card to the footman who brought her information of the invalid's condition.
From time to time one of the intimates of the palace, one of those whom the dying man had sent for, appeared for a moment in the throng, gave an order, then vanished, leaving the terrified expression of his face reflected upon a score of others. Jenkins showed himself in that way for a moment, cravat untied, waistcoat open, cuffs soiled and rumpled, in all the disarray of the battle he was waging upstairs against a terrible opponent. He was at once surrounded, pressed with questions. Certainly the monkeys flattening their short noses against the bars of the cage, awed by the unusual uproar and very attentive to what was taking place, as if they were making a careful study of human expression, had a magnificent model in the Irish doctor. His grief was superb, the noble grief of a strong man, which compressed his lips and made his breast heave.
"The death-agony has begun," he said dolefully. "It is only a matter of hours now."
And, as Jansoulet drew near, he said to him in an emphatic tone:
"Ah! my friend, what a man! What courage! He has forgotten nobody. Only a little while ago he spoke to me about you."
"'Poor Nabob!'" he said, "'how is his election coming on?'"
And that was all. He had said nothing more.
Jansoulet hung his head. What had he expected, in heaven's name? Was it not enough that a man like Mora should have thought of him at such a moment? He returned to his seat on the bench, relapsed into his former state of prostration, galvanized by a moment of wild hope, sat there heedless of the fact that the vast apartment was becoming almost entirely deserted, and did not notice that he was the last and only visitor remaining until he heard the servants talking aloud in the fading light.
"I have had enough—my service here is done."
"For my part I shall stay with the duchess."
And those plans, those decisions anticipating the master's death by some hours, doomed the noble duke even more surely than the Faculty had done.
The Nabob realized then that it was time for him to withdraw, but he determined first to write his name on the register. He went to the table and leaned far over in order to see clearly. The page was full. A blank space was pointed out to him, below a name written in small, threadlike characters, as if by fingers too stout for the pen, and, when he had signed, Hemerlingue's name overshadowed his, crushed it, entangled it in an insidious flourish. Superstitious like the true Latin that he was, he was impressed by the omen and carried the terror of it away with him.
Where should he dine? At the club? On Place Vendome? And hear nothing talked of but this death which engrossed his thoughts! He preferred to trust to chance, to go straight ahead like all those who are beset by a persistent idea which they try to escape by walking. It was a warm, balmy evening. He walked on and on along the quays till he reached the tree-lined paths of the Cours-la-Reine, then returned to the combination of freshly-watered streets and odor of fine dust which characterizes fine evenings in Paris. At that uncertain hour everything was deserted. Here and there girandoles were lighted for concerts, gas-jets flared among the foliage. The rattle of plates and glasses from a restaurant suggested to him the idea of entering.
The robust creature was hungry notwithstanding his anxiety. His dinner was served under a verandah with walls of glass, lined with foliage and facing the great porch of the Palais de l'Industrie, where the duke, in presence of a thousand persons, had saluted him as deputy. The refined and aristocratic face appeared to his mind's eye in the dark archway, while at the same time he saw him lying yonder on his white pillow; and, suddenly, as he stared at the bill of fare the waiter handed him, he noticed with a sort of stupefaction that it was dated May 20th. So not a month had passed since the opening of the Salon. It seemed to him as if it were ten years since that day. Gradually, however, the excellent repast warmed and comforted his heart. In the passage he heard some of the waiters talking:
"Is there any news of Mora? It seems he's very sick."
"Nonsense! He'll pull through. Such fellows as he are the only ones who have any luck."
Hope is anchored so firmly to the human entrails that, despite what Jansoulet had seen and heard, those few words, assisted by two bottles of burgundy and divers petits verres sufficed to restore his courage. After all, people had been known to recover when they were as far gone. Doctors often exaggerate the danger in order to gain more credit for averting it. "Suppose I go and see?" He returned to the hotel de Mora, full of illusions, appealing to the luck that had stood him in good stead so many times in his life. And in truth there was something in the appearance of the princely abode to justify his hope. It wore the tranquil, reassuring aspect of ordinary evenings, from the avenue with lights burning at equal intervals, to the main doorway, at which an enormous carriage of antique shape was waiting.
In the reception-room, where there were no signs of excitement, two great lamps were burning. A footman was asleep in a corner, the usher was reading in front of the fire. He glanced at the new arrival over his spectacles, but said nothing to him, and Jansoulet dared ask no questions. Piles of newspapers lay on the table in wrappers addressed to the duke, apparently tossed there as useless. The Nabob opened one and tried to read; but a rapid, gliding step, a sing-song murmuring made him raise his eyes, and he saw a white-haired, stooping old man, decked out with finery like an altar, who was praying as he walked with long priest-like strides, his red cassock spread out like a train over the carpet. It was the Archbishop of Paris, accompanied by two assistants. The vision with its murmur as of an icy wind passed swiftly before Jansoulet, was engulfed by the great chariot and disappeared, carrying away his last hope.
"A question of propriety, my dear fellow," said Monpavon, suddenly appearing at his side. "Mora is an epicurean, brought up in the ideas of What's-his-name—Thingamy—you know whom I mean! Eighteenth century. But it's very bad for the masses, if a man in his position—ps—ps—ps—Ah! he was head and shoulders above all of us—ps—ps—irreproachable breeding."