"So, it's all over, is it?" said Jansoulet desperately. "There's no more hope?"
Monpavon motioned to him to listen. A carriage rumbled heavily along the avenue on the quay. The bell rang several times in quick succession. The marquis counted aloud: "One, two, three, four—" At the fifth he rose.
"There's no hope now. There comes the other," he said, alluding to the Parisian superstition to the effect that a visit from the sovereign was always fatal to the dying. The servants hurried from all directions, threw the folding-doors wide open and formed a lane, while the usher, his hat en bataille announced with a resounding blow of his pike upon the floor the passage of two august personages, of whom Jansoulet caught only a confused glimpse behind the servants, but whom he saw through a long vista of open doors ascending the grand staircase, preceded by a valet carrying a candelabrum. The woman was erect and haughty, enveloped in her black Spanish mantilla; the man clung to the stair-rail, walked more slowly and as if fatigued, the collar of his light top-coat standing up from a back slightly bent, which was shaken by convulsive sobs.
"Let us be off, Nabob. Nothing more to be done here," said the old beau, taking Jansoulet by the arm and leading him out. He stopped on the threshold, raised his hand, and waved a little salute with the tips of his gloves toward him who lay dying above. "Bojou, dea' boy." The tone and gesture were worldly, irreproachable; but the voice trembled a little.
The club on Rue Royale, renowned for its card-playing, had rarely seen so terrible a game as it saw that night. It began at eleven o'clock and was still in progress at five in the morning. Enormous sums lay on the green cloth, changed hands and direction, heaped up, scattered, reunited; fortunes were swallowed up in that colossal game, and at its close the Nabob, who had started it to forget his fears in the caprices of luck, after extraordinary alternations, somersaults of fortune calculated to make a neophyte's hair turn white, withdrew with winnings of five hundred thousand francs. They said five millions on the boulevard the next day, and every one cried shame, especially the Messager, which gave up three-quarters of its space to an article against certain adventurers who are tolerated in clubs, and who cause the ruin of the most respectable families.
Alas! Jansoulet's winnings hardly represented the amount of the first Schwalbach notes.
During that insane game, although Mora was its involuntary cause, and, as it were, its soul, his name was not once mentioned. Neither Cardailhac nor Jenkins appeared. Monpavon had taken to his bed, more affected than he chose to have people think. They were without news from the sick-room.
"Is he dead?" Jansoulet wondered as he left the club, and he was conscious of an impulse to go and see before returning home. It was no longer hope that impelled him, but that unhealthy, nervous sort of curiosity which attracts the poor, ruined, shelterless victims of a conflagration to the debris of their home.
Although it was still very early, the pink flush of dawn still lingering in the air, the whole mansion was open as if for a solemn departure. The lamps were still smoking on the mantels, the air was filled with dust. The Nabob walked on through inexplicable solitude as far as the first floor, where he at last heard a familiar voice, Cardailhac's, dictating names, and the scratching of pens on paper. The skilful organizer of the fetes for the bey was arranging with the same zeal the funeral ceremonial of the Duc de Mora. Such activity! His Excellency had died during the evening; in the morning ten thousand letters were already printed, and everybody in the house who knew how to hold a pen was busy with the addresses. Without passing through those extemporized offices, Jansoulet made his way to the reception-room, usually so thronged, to-day all the chairs empty. In the centre of the room, on a table, lay Monsieur le Duc's hat and gloves and cane, always ready in the event of his going out unexpectedly, to save him the trouble of an order. The articles that we wear retain something of ourselves. The curve of the hat-rim recalled the curl of the moustaches, the light gloves were ready to grasp the flexible, strong Chinese bamboo, everything seemed to quiver and live, as if the duke were about to appear, to put out his hand as he talked, take them up and go out.
Oh! no, Monsieur le Duc was not going out. Jansoulet had only to walk to the bedroom door, which stood ajar, to see lying on the bed, three steps above the floor—the same platform even after death—a rigid, haughty form, a motionless, aged profile, transformed by the gray beard that had grown in a night; kneeling against the sloping pillow, her face buried in the white sheets, was a woman whose fair hair fell neglected about her shoulders, ready to fall under the shears of eternal widowhood; a priest, too, and a nun stood absorbed in meditation in that atmosphere of the death vigil, wherein the weariness of sleepless nights is blended with the mumbling of prayers and whispering in the shadow.
That room, in which so many ambitions had felt their wings expand, in which so many hopes and disappointments had had their day, was given over to the tranquillity of death. Not a sound, not a sigh. But, early as it was, over in the direction of Pont de la Concorde, a shrill, piercing little clarinet soared above the rumbling of the first carriages; but its vigorous mockery was wasted thenceforth upon the man who lay sleeping there, revealing to the terrified Nabob the image of his own destiny, cold, discolored, ready for the grave.
Others than Jansoulet saw that death-chamber under even more dismal circumstances. The windows thrown wide open. The night air from the garden entering freely in a brisk current. A form upon trestles; that form, the body just embalmed. The head hollowed out, filled with a sponge, the brain in a bucket. The weight of that statesman's brain was really extraordinary. It weighed—it weighed—The newspapers of the day gave the figures. But who remembers them to-day?
"Don't weep, my fairy; you take away all my courage. Come, you will be much happier when you no longer have your horrible demon. You are going back to Fontainebleau to tend your hens. Brahim's ten thousand francs will be enough to give you a start. And after that have no fear; when I am once there, I'll send you money. As this bey wants some of my sculpture, I shall make him pay well for it, be sure of that. I shall return rich, rich. Who knows? Perhaps a sultana?"
"Yes, you will be a sultana,—but I shall be dead, and I shall never see you again."
And honest Crenmitz in her despair huddled in a corner of the cab, so that her companion might not see her weep.
Felicia was leaving Paris. She was trying to escape the horrible melancholy, the ominous heart-sickness in which Mora's death had plunged her. What a terrible blow for the haughty girl! Ennui, spite had driven her into that man's arms; pride, modesty, she had given all to him, and now he had carried it all away, leaving her withered for life, a widow without tears, without mourning, without dignity. Two or three visits to Saint-James, a few evenings in the back of a box at some small theatre, behind the grating where forbidden, shamefaced pleasure conceals itself,—those were the only memories bequeathed to her by that liaison of two weeks, that loveless sin, wherein not even her pride had succeeded in satisfying itself by the notoriety of a scandal in high life. The fruitless, ineffaceable stain, the senseless fall into the gutter of a woman who cannot walk, and upon whom the ironical pity of the passers-by weighs heavily when she tries to rise.
For a moment she contemplated suicide, but was deterred by the thought that it might be attributed to despairing love. She saw in anticipation the sentimental emotion of the salons, the absurd figure that her supposed passion would cut amid the duke's innumerable conquests, and upon her grave, dug so near the other, the Parma violets, stripped of their petals by the dandified Moessards of journalism. There remained the resource of travel, one of those journeys to countries so distant that they expatriate even the thoughts. Unluckily, she lacked money. Thereupon she remembered that, on the day following her success at the Salon, old Brahim Bey had come to see her, to make magnificent proposals to her in his master's name for divers great works to be executed at Tunis. She had said no at the moment, refusing to be tempted by Oriental prices, by a munificent hospitality, by the promise of the finest courtyard on the Bardo for a studio, surrounded by arches carved like exquisite lace. But now she was willing to accept. She had but to make a sign, the bargain was concluded at once, and after an exchange of despatches, a hasty packing-up, and closing the house, she started for the railway-station as if she were going away for a week, surprised herself by her prompt decision, pleased in all the adventurous and artistic portions of her nature by the prospect of a new life in a strange land.
The bey's pleasure yacht was to await her at Genoa; and, closing her eyes in the cab, she saw in anticipation the white stones of an Italian harbor enclosing an iridescent sea, where the sunlight had a gleam of the Orient, where everything sang joyously, even to the swelling sails upon the deep. It so happened that on that day Paris was muddy and murky, drowned by one of those continuous downpours of rain which seem to have been made for it alone, to have ascended in clouds from its river, its steam, its monster breath, only to descend again in streams from its roofs, its gutters, the innumerable windows of its attics. Felicia was in haste to escape from that depressing Paris, and her feverish impatience vented itself upon the driver for not driving faster, upon the horses,—two genuine broken-down cab-horses,—and upon an inexplicable multitude of carriages and omnibuses jammed together at the approaches to Pont de la Concorde.
"Go on, driver, go on."
"I can't, Madame,—it's the funeral."
She put her head out of the window and instantly withdrew it, in dismay. A double line of soldiers marching with guns reversed, a wilderness of helmets, of heads uncovered while an interminable procession passed. It was Mora's funeral procession.
"Don't stay here. Drive around some other way," she cried to the driver.
The vehicle turned painfully, tearing itself away with regret from that superb spectacle for which Paris had been waiting four days, rolled back up the avenue, into Rue Montaigne, and down Boulevard Malesherbes, at an unwilling, crawling trot, to the Madeleine. There the crowd was greater, more compact. In the heavy mist, the brightly lighted windows of the church, the muffled strains of the funeral chants behind the black hangings, which were in such profusion that they concealed even the shape of the Greek temple, filled the whole square with reminders of the service then in progress, while the greater part of the huge procession still crowded Rue Royale as far as the bridges,—a long black line connecting the defunct statesman with the iron fence of the Corps Legislatif through which he had so often passed. Beyond the Madeleine the roadway of the boulevard was entirely empty, kept clear by two lines of soldiers, who forced the spectators back to the sidewalks, black with people; all the stores closed, and the balconies, despite the rain, overflowing with bodies leaning far forward in the direction of the church, as if to watch the passage of a herd of fat cattle, or the return of victorious troops. Paris, greedy of spectacles, makes a spectacle of everything indifferently, of civil war or of the burial of a statesman.
Once more the cab must retrace its steps, make another detour, and we can fancy the ill-humor of the driver and his beasts, Parisians all three at heart, and furious at being deprived of such a fine show. Thereupon, through the silent deserted streets, all the life of Paris having betaken itself to the great artery of the boulevard, began a capricious, aimless journey, the senseless loitering of a cab hired by the hour, reaching the extreme limits of Faubourg Saint-Martin, Faubourg Saint-Denis, returning toward the centre, and always finding at the end of every circuit, every stratagem, the same obstacle lying in wait, the same crowd, some off-shoot of the black procession seen vaguely at the end of a street, defiling slowly in the rain to the sound of muffled drums, a dull heavy sound like that made by earth falling bit by bit into a hole.
What torture for Felicia! It was her sin, her remorse passing through the streets of Paris in all that solemn pomp, that funereal magnificence, that public mourning reflected even in the clouds; and the proud girl rebelled against the affront that circumstances put upon her, fled from it to the depths of the carriage, where she remained with closed eyes, overwhelmed, while old Crenmitz, believing that it was her grief which so affected her nerves, strove to comfort her, wept herself over their separation, and withdrawing into the other corner, left the cab-window in full possession of the great Algerian slougui, his delicate nostrils sniffing the air and his forepaws resting despotically on the sill with heraldic rigidity.
At last, after a thousand interminable detours, the cab suddenly stopped, moved slowly forward again amid shouts and insults, was then pushed this way and that, lifted from the ground, its equilibrium threatened by the trunks on its roof, and finally halted for good and all, as if anchored.
"Bon Dieu! What a crowd!" murmured La Crenmitz in terror.
Felicia emerged from her torpor.
"Where in heaven's name are we?"
Beneath a colorless, smoky sky, with a fine network of rain drawn like gauze over the reality of things, lay a great square, filled with a human ocean flowing in from all the adjoining streets, immobilized around a lofty column which towered above that sea of heads like the gigantic mast of a sinking ship. Cavalry in troops, with drawn sabres, artillery in batteries lined the sides of an open pathway, a complete warlike host awaiting him who was soon to pass,—perhaps to try to rescue him, to carry him off by force from the redoubtable foe in whose power he was. Alas! cavalry charges, cannonades were of no avail. The prisoner was firmly bound, protected by a threefold wall of solid wood, of metal and of velvet, inaccessible to shot and shell, and not at the hands of those soldiers could he hope for deliverance.
"Drive on. I do not wish to remain here," said Felicia frantically, pulling the driver's dripping cape, seized with a mad fear at the thought of the nightmare that pursued her, of what she could hear approaching with a ghastly rolling of drums, still distant but drawing nearer momentarily. But, at the first movement of the wheels, the shouts and hooting began anew. Thinking that they would allow him to cross the square, the driver had with great difficulty forced his way to the front rank of the crowd, which had closed in behind him and refused to allow him to turn back. It was impossible to advance or retreat She must remain there, endure those alcoholic breaths, those inquisitive glances, kindled in anticipation of an exceptionally fine spectacle, and eyeing with interest the fair traveller who was decamping "with such a pile o' trunks as that!" and a cur of that size to protect her. La Crenmitz was horribly frightened; Felicia, for her part, had but one thought, that he was about to pass, that she would be in the front rank to see him.
Suddenly there was a loud shout: "Here he comes!" then a great silence fell upon the square, which had shaken off the burden of three weary hours of waiting.
He was coming!
Felicia's first impulse was to lower the curtain on her side, the side on which the procession was to pass. But, when she heard the drums close at hand, seized with a nervous frenzy at her inability to escape that obsession, or, it may be, infected by the unhealthy curiosity that encompassed her, she raised the curtain with a jerk, and her pale, ardent little face appeared, resting on both hands, at the window.
"Very good! you will have it so; I am looking at you."
It was the most magnificent funeral one can imagine, the last honors paid in all their vain pomp, as sonorous and as hollow as the rhythmic accompaniment upon asses' skins draped in crape. First, the white surplices of the clergy indistinctly seen amid the black trappings of the first five carriages; then, drawn by six black horses, veritable horses of Erebus, as black, as slow, as sluggish as its flood, came the funeral car, all bedecked with plumes and fringe, embroidered with silver, with heavy tears, with heraldic coronets surmounting gigantic M's, a prophetic initial which seemed to be that of Death (Mort) itself, of the Duchess Death decorated with eight fleurons. Such a mass of canopies and heavy draperies concealed the ignoble framework of the hearse that it shivered and swayed from top to bottom at every step, as if oppressed by the majesty of its dead. On the casket lay the sword, the coat, the embroidered hat, garments of state which had never been used, resplendent with gold and pearl in the dark chapel formed by the hangings, amid the beautiful display of fresh flowers which told that the season was spring despite the sulkiness of the sky. Ten paces behind came the people of the duke's household; and then, in solitary majesty, an official in a cloak carrying the decorations, a veritable show-case of all the orders in the known world, crosses, ribbons of all hues, which more than covered the black velvet cushion fringed with silver.
The master of ceremonies came next, at the head of the committee of the Corps Legislatif, a dozen or more deputies chosen by lot, in their midst the tall figure of the Nabob, dressed for the first time in his official costume, as if satirical fortune had chosen to give the representative on trial a foretaste of all the joys of parliamentary life. The friends of the deceased, who came next in line, formed a very limited contingent, exceedingly well chosen to lay bare the superficiality and emptiness of the existence of that great personage, reduced to the companionship of a theatrical manager thrice insolvent, a picture-dealer enriched by usury, a nobleman of unsavory reputation and a few high-livers and boulevard idlers unknown to fame. Thus far everybody was on foot and bareheaded; in the parliamentary committee a few black silk skull caps had been timidly donned as they approached the populous quarters. After the friends came the carriages.
At the obsequies of a great warrior, it is customary to include in the funeral procession the hero's favorite horse, his battle-horse, compelled to adapt to the snail-like pace of the cortege the prancing gait which survives the smell of gunpowder and the waving of standards. On this occasion Mora's great coupe, the "eight-spring" affair which carried him to social or political gatherings, occupied the place of that companion in victory, its panels draped in black, its lanterns enveloped in long, light streamers of crepe, which floated to the ground with an indescribable undulatory feminine grace. That was a new idea for funerals, those veiled lanterns, the supreme manifestation of chic in mourning; and it was most fitting for that dandy to give one last lesson in style to the Parisians who flocked to his funeral as to a Longchamps of death.
Three more masters of ceremonies, then came the impassive official display, always the same for marriages, deaths, baptisms, openings of Parliament, receptions by the sovereign,—the interminable procession of state carriages, with gleaming panels, great mirrors, gaudy, gold-bespangled liveries, which passed amid the dazzled throngs, reminding them of fairy tales, the equipages of Cinderella, and arousing the same Ohs! of admiration that ascend and burst with the bombs at displays of fireworks. And in the crowd there was always an obliging police officer, of an erudite petty bourgeois with nothing to do, on the watch for public ceremonials, to name aloud all the people in the carriages as they passed with their proper escorts of dragoons, cuirassiers or gardes de Paris.
First the representatives of the Emperor, the Empress, all the imperial family; then, in hierarchical order, scientifically worked out, the slightest departure from which might have caused a serious conflict between the various bodies of the government, the members of the Privy Council, the marshals, the admirals, the grand chancellor of the Legion of Honor, the Senate, the Corps Legislatif, the Council of State, the whole of the judicial and educational departments, whose costumes, furred robes and wigs carried you back to the days of old Paris; they seemed pompous, superannuated, out of place in the sceptical era of the blouse and the black coat.
* * * * *
Felicia, to avoid thought, fixed her eyes persistently on that monotonous procession, of exasperating length, and gradually a sort of torpor stole over her, as if on a rainy day she were turning the leaves of an album with colored plates lying on the table of a dreary salon, a history of state costumes from the earliest times to our own day. All those people, seen in profile, sitting erect and motionless behind the wide glass panels, bore a close resemblance to the faces of people in the colored fashion-plates displayed as near as possible to the sidewalk, so that we may lose nothing of their gold embroidery, their palm-leaves, their gold lace and braid; manikins intended to gratify the curiosity of the vulgar and exposing themselves with an air of heedless indifference.
Indifference! That was the most marked characteristic of that funeral. You felt it everywhere, on the faces and in the hearts of the mourners, not only among all those functionaries, most of whom had known the duke by sight only, but in the ranks of those on foot between his hearse and his coupe, his closest friends and those who were in daily attendance upon him. Indifferent, yes, cheerful, was the corpulent minister, vice-president of the Council, who grasped the cords of the pall firmly in his powerful hand, accustomed to pound the desk of the tribune, and seemed to be drawing it forward, in greater haste than the horses and the hearse to consign to his six feet of earth his enemy of twenty years' standing, his constant rival, the obstacle to all his ambitions. The other three dignitaries did not press forward with so much of the vigor of a led horse, but the long streamers were held listlessly in their wearied or distraught hands, significantly nerveless. Indifferent the priests by profession. Indifferent the servants, whom he never called anything else than "What's-your-name," and whom he treated like things. Indifferent, too, was M. Louis, whose last day of servitude it was—an enfranchised slave rich enough to pay his ransom. Even among his intimates that freezing coldness had made its way. And yet some of them were much attached to him. But Cardailhac was too much occupied in superintending the order and progress of the ceremonial to give way to the slightest emotion, which was quite foreign to his nature moreover. Old Monpavon, although he was struck to the heart, would have considered the slightest crease in his linen breastplate, the slightest bending of his tall figure, as lamentably bad form, altogether unworthy his illustrious friend. His eyes remained dry, as sparkling as ever, for the Funeral Pageant furnishes the tears for state mourning, embroidered in silver on black cloth. Some one was weeping, however, among the members of the committee, but that some one was shedding ingenuous tears on his own account. Poor Nabob, melted by the music and the display, it seemed to him that he was burying all his fortune, all his ambition for dignity and renown. And even that was one variety of indifference.
 Chose—literally thing.
In the public the gratification of a gorgeous spectacle, the joy of making a Sunday of a weekday, dominated every other feeling. As the procession passed along the boulevards, the spectators on the balconies almost applauded; here, in the populous quarters, irreverence manifested itself even more frankly. Coarse chaff, vulgar comments on the dead man and his doings, with which all Paris was familiar, laughter called forth by the broad-brimmed hats of the rabbis and the solemn "mugs" of the council of wise men, filled the air between two drum-beats. With feet in the water, dressed in blouses and cotton caps, the head uncovered from habit, poverty, forced labor, idleness and strikes watched with a sneer the passing of that dweller in another sphere, that brilliant duke now shorn of all his honors, who never in his life perhaps had visited that extremity of the city. But here he is! To reach the spot to which everybody goes, one must follow the road that everybody follows: Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Rue de la Roquette, to that mammoth toll-gate open so wide into the infinite. And dame! it is pleasant to see that noblemen like Mora, dukes and ministers, all take the same road to the same destination. That equality in death consoles one for many unjust things in life. To-morrow the bread will seem not so dear, the wine better, the tools less heavy, when one can say to oneself on rising: "Well, that old Mora had to come to it like everybody else."
The procession dragged along, even more tiresome than lugubrious. Now it was the choral societies, deputations from the Army and Navy, officers of all arms of the service, herded together in front of a long line of empty carriages, mourning carriages, gentlemen's carriages, parading in compliance with etiquette; then came the troops in their turn, and Rue de la Roquette, that long street running through the filthy faubourg, already swarming with people as far as the eye could see, swallowed up a whole army, infantry, dragoons, lancers, carabineers, heavy guns with muzzles in the air, all ready to bark, shaking pavements and window-panes, but unable to drown the rolling of the drums, a sinister, barbarous sound, which transported Felicia's imagination to the obsequies of African monarchs, where thousands of immolated victims attend the soul of a prince so that it may not enter the kingdom of spirits alone, and made her think that perhaps that ostentatious, interminable procession was about to descend and disappear in a supernatural grave vast enough to hold it all.
"Now, and in the hour of our death. Amen!" murmured La Crenmitz, while the cab rattled across the empty square, where Liberty, in solid gold, seemed to be taking a magic flight in space; and the old dancer's prayer was perhaps the only sincere note of true emotion uttered throughout the vast space covered by the funeral.
* * * * *
All the discourses are at an end, three long discourses as cold as the cavern into which the dead man has descended, three official harangues which have afforded the orators an opportunity to proclaim in very loud tones their devotion to the interests of the dynasty. Fifteen times the cannon have awakened the numerous echoes of the cemetery, shaken the wreaths of jet and immortelles, the light ex-votos hanging at the corners of burial lots, and while a reddish cloud floats upward and revolves amid the odor of powder across the city of the dead, mingling gradually with the smoke from the factories of the plebeian quarter, the countless multitude also disperses, scattering through the sloping streets, the long stairways gleaming white among the verdure, with a confused murmur as of waves beating against the rocks. Purple robes, black robes, blue and green coats, gold ornaments, slender swords which their wearers adjust while marching, return hastily to the carriages. Dignified salutations, meaning smiles are exchanged, while the mourning equipages rumble along the paths at a gallop, displaying lines of black-coated drivers, with rounded backs, hats en bataille, capes floating in the wind caused by their swift pace.
The general feeling is one of relief at the close of a long and fatiguing exhibition, a legitimate eagerness to lay aside the administrative harness, the ceremonious costumes, to loosen the belts, the high collars and the stocks, to relax the features which, no less than the bodies, have been wearing fetters.
Short and stout, dragging his bloated legs with difficulty, Hemerlingue hurried toward the exit, declining the offers that were made him of a seat in various carriages, knowing well that only his own was adapted to the weight of his dropsical body.
"Baron, baron, this way. There's a seat for you."
"No, thanks. I am walking the numbness out of my legs."
And, in order to avoid these proposals, which at length annoyed him, he took a cross-path that was almost deserted, too deserted in fact, for he had hardly entered it when he regretted having done so. Ever since he had entered the cemetery, he had had but one absorbing thought, the fear of coming face to face with Jansoulet, whose violent temper he knew well, and who might forget the majesty of the spot and repeat the scandalous scene of Rue Royale in Pere-Lachaise. Two or three times during the ceremony he had seen his former partner's great head emerge from the mass of colorless types of which the attendant throng was largely composed, and move toward him, evidently seeking him, actuated by a desire for a meeting. In the main avenue yonder there would be people at hand in case of accident, while here—Brr! It was that anxiety which caused him to force his short steps, his panting breath; but in vain. As he turned in his fear of being followed, the Nabob's tall form and broad shoulders appeared at the entrance of the path. It was impossible for the bulky creature to walk in the narrow space between the tombs, which were packed so closely that there was hardly room to kneel. The rich, rain-soaked earth slipped and gave way under his feet. He adopted the plan of walking on with an indifferent air, hoping that the other would not recognize him. But a hoarse, powerful voice behind him called:
The capitalist's name was Lazare. He made no reply but tried to overtake a group of officers who were walking a long way in front of him.
"Lazare! O Lazare!"
Just as in the old days on the quay at Marseille. He was tempted to halt, under the influence of an old habit, but the thought of his infamous conduct, of all the injury he had inflicted on the Nabob and was still attempting to inflict on him, suddenly came to his mind with a horrible fear, amounting to frenzy, when a hand of iron brought him abruptly to a standstill. The sweat of cowardice drenched his limp and nerveless limbs, his face turned still yellower, his eyes winked in anticipation of the terrible blow he expected to receive, while his great arms were raised instinctively to ward it off.
"Oh! don't be afraid. I have no evil designs on you," said Jansoulet sadly. "I come simply to ask you to cease your designs on me."
He paused to take breath. The banker, stupefied and dismayed, opened his round owl's eyes to their fullest extent in face of that suffocating emotion.
"Listen, Lazare, you are the stronger in this war we have been carrying on so long. I am on the ground at your feet. My shoulders have touched. Now be generous, spare your old chum. Have mercy on me, I say, have mercy on me."
That Southerner, subdued and softened by the pomp of the funeral ceremony, trembled in every limb. Hemerlingue, facing him, was hardly more courageous. The dismal music, the open tomb, the orations, the cannonading, and the lofty philosophy of inevitable death, all had combined to move the stout baron to the depths of his being. His former comrade's voice completed the awakening of such human qualities as still remained in that bundle of gelatine.
His old chum! It was the first time in ten years, since their falling out, that he had seen him at such close quarters. How many things those swarthy features, those powerful shoulders ill-suited to an embroidered coat, recalled to his mind! The thin woollen blanket, full of holes, in which they both rolled themselves up to sleep on the deck of the Sinai, the rations fraternally shared, the long walks through the scorched country about Marseille, where they stole great onions and ate them on the bank of a ditch, the dreams, the projects, the sous put into the common purse, and, when fortune began to smile on them, the antics they played together, the dainty little suppers at which they told each other everything, with their elbows on the table.
How can two people ever fall out when they know each other so well, when they have lived like twins clinging to a thin, strong nurse, poverty, sharing her soured milk and her rough caresses! Such thoughts, long to analyze, passed through Hemerlingue's mind like a flash of lightning. Almost instinctively he let his heavy hand fall into the hand the Nabob held out to him. Something of the animal nature stirred in them both, stronger than their antipathy, and those two men, who had been trying for ten years to ruin and dishonor each other, began to talk together heart to heart.
Generally, when friends meet after a long separation, the first effusive greetings at an end, they remain silent as if they had nothing to tell each other, whereas it is the very abundance of things, their precipitate struggle for utterance that prevents their coming forth. The two former partners had reached that stage; but Jansoulet held the banker's arm very tight, fearing that he might escape him, might resist the kindly impulses that he had aroused in him.
"You are in no hurry, are you? We might walk a moment or two if you choose. It has stopped raining, it will do us good—we shall be twenty years younger."
"Yes, it's a pleasant thing," said Hemerlingue; "but I can't walk long, my legs are heavy."
"True, your poor legs. See, there's a bench yonder. Let's go and sit down. Lean on me, old fellow."
And the Nabob, with brotherly solicitude, led him to one of the benches placed at intervals against the tombs, for the convenience of those inconsolable mourners who make the cemetery their usual resort. He arranged him comfortably, encompassed him with a protecting glance, sympathized with him in his infirmity, and, the conversation following a course very natural in such a place, they talked of their health, of the approach of old age. One was dropsical, the other subject to rushes of blood to the head. Both were taking the Jenkins Pearls,—a dangerous remedy, witness Mora's sudden taking off.
"Poor duke!" said Jansoulet.
"A great loss to the country," rejoined the banker, in a grief-stricken tone.
Whereupon the Nabob ingenuously exclaimed:
"To me, above all others to me, for if he had lived—Ah! you have all the luck, you have all the luck! And then, you know, you are so strong, so very strong," he added, fearing that he had wounded him.
The baron looked at him and winked, so drolly that his little black lashes disappeared in his yellow flesh.
"No," he said, "I'm not the strong one. It's Marie!"
"Yes, the baroness. At the time of her baptism she dropped her old name, Yumina, for Marie. She's a real woman. She knows more about the bank than I do, and about Paris and business generally. She manages everything in the concern."
"You are very fortunate," sighed Jansoulet.
His melancholy was most eloquent touching Mademoiselle Afchin's deficiencies. After a pause the baron continued:
"Marie has a bitter grudge against you, you know. She won't like it when she knows that we have been talking together."
He contracted his heavy eyebrows as if he regretted the reconciliation at the thought of the conjugal scene it would bring upon him.
"But I have never done anything to her," stammered Jansoulet.
"Ah! but you haven't been very polite to her, you know. Think of the insult put upon her at the time of our wedding-call. Your wife sending word to us that she didn't receive former slaves! As if our friendship should not have been stronger than any prejudice. Women don't forget such things."
"But I had nothing to do with it, old fellow. You know how proud those Afchins are."
He was not proud, poor man. His expression was so piteous, so imploring at sight of his friend's frowning brow, that the baron took pity on him. The cemetery had a decidedly softening effect on the baron!
"Listen, Bernard, there's only one thing that will do any good. If you wish that we should be friends as we used to be, that these handshakes that we have exchanged should not be wasted, you must induce my wife to be reconciled to you. Without that it's of no use. When Mademoiselle Afchin shut her door in our faces, you let her do it, didn't you? It's the same with me; if Marie should say to me when I go home: 'I don't want you to be friends,' all my protestations wouldn't prevent me from throwing you overboard. For there's no friendship that amounts to anything. The best thing in the world is to have peace in your own house."
"But what am I to do, then?" queried the Nabob, in dismay.
"That's what I'm going to tell you. The baroness is at home every Saturday. Come with your wife and call on her day after to-morrow. You will find the best people in Paris at the house. Nothing will be said about the past. The ladies will talk dresses and bonnets, say what women say to each other. And then it will be all settled. We shall be friends again as in the old days; and if you're in the hole, why, we'll pull you out."
"Do you think so? It's a fact that I am in very deep," said the other, shaking his head.
Once more Hemerlingue's cunning eyes disappeared between his cheeks, like two flies in butter.
"Dame! yes, I've played pretty close. You don't lack skill. That stroke of loaning fifteen millions to the bey was very shrewd. Ah! you're a cool one; but you don't hold your cards right. Others can see your hand."
Thus far they had spoken in undertones, as if awed by the silence of the great necropolis; but gradually selfish interests raised their tones, even amid the proofs of their nothingness displayed upon all those flat stones covered with dates and figures, as if death were simply a matter of time and reckoning, the desired solution of a problem.
Hemerlingue enjoyed seeing his friend so humble, he gave him advice concerning his business affairs, with which he seemed to be thoroughly acquainted. According to his view, the Nabob could still get out of his difficulties in very good shape. Everything depended on the confirmation of his election, on having another card to play. Then it must be played judiciously. But Jansoulet had no confidence. In losing Mora he had lost everything.
"You have lost Mora, but you have found me. One's worth as much as the other," said the baron, calmly.
"But no, you see yourself it's impossible. It's too late. Le Merquier has finished his report. It's a terrible report, so it seems."
"Very well! if he's finished his report, he must draw another, not so unfavorable."
"How can that be?"
The baron stared at him in amazement.
"Come, come, you're losing your hold! Why, by giving him one, two, three hundred thousand francs, if necessary."
"What do you mean? Le Merquier, that upright man—'My conscience,' as he is called."
At that, Hemerlingue fairly roared with laughter, which echoed among the recesses of the neighboring mausoleums, little wonted to such lack of respect.
"'My conscience,' 'an upright man,' Ah! you amuse me. Can it be that you don't know that that conscience belongs to me, and that—"
He checked himself and looked behind, a little disturbed by a noise he heard.
It was the echo of his laughter, tossed back from the depths of a tomb, as if that idea of Le Merquier's conscience amused even the dead.
"Suppose we walk a little," he said, "it begins to feel cold on this bench."
Thereupon, as they walked among the tombs, he explained to him with a certain pedantic conceit that in France bribes played as important a part as in the Orient. Only more ceremony was used here. "Take Le Merquier for instance. Instead of giving him your money outright in a big purse as you would do with a seraskier, you beat around the bush. The fellow likes pictures. He is always trading with Schwalbach, who uses him as a bait to catch Catholic customers. Very good! you offer him a picture, a souvenir to hang on a panel in his cabinet. It all depends on getting your money's worth. However, you shall see. I'll take you to him myself. I'll show you how the thing is done."
And, delighted to observe the wonderment of the Nabob, who exaggerated his surprise in order to flatter him, and opened his eyes admiringly, the banker elaborated his lesson, delivering a veritable lecture upon Parisian and worldly philosophy.
"You see, old fellow, the thing that you must be more careful about than anything else in Paris, is keeping up appearances! You have never given enough attention to that. You go about with your waistcoat unbuttoned, hail fellow well met, telling your business to everybody, showing yourself just as you are. You act as if you were in Tunis, among the bazaars or the souks. That's how you got yourself into trouble, my good Bernard."
He stopped to take breath, unable to go any farther. He had expended more steps and more words in an hour than he usually did in a year. They noticed then that chance had led them back, while they talked, towards the place of sepulture of the Moras, on the summit of an open plateau from which they could see, above myriads of crowded roofs, Montmartre and Les Buttes Chaumont in the distance like vague white billows. These, with the hill of Pere-Lachaise, accurately represented the three undulations, following one another at equal intervals, of which each forward impulse of the sea consists at flood tide. In the hollows between, lights were already twinkling, like ship's lanterns, through the ascending purple haze; chimneys towered aloft like masts or funnels of steamers belching forth smoke; and whirling it all about in its undulating motion, the Parisian ocean seemed to be bringing it nearer to the dark shore in successive series of three bounds, each time less energetic than the last. The sky had become much brighter, as it often does toward the close of rainy days, a boundless sky, tinged with the hues of dawn, against which, upon the family tomb of the Moras, four allegorical figures stood forth, imploring, contemplative, pensive, the dying day exaggerating the sublimity of their attitudes. Naught remained of the orations, the perfunctory official condolences. The trampled grass all around, masons occupied in washing the spots of plaster from the threshold, were all that recalled the recent interment.
Suddenly the door of the ducal cavern closed in all its metallic ponderosity. Thenceforth the former minister of State was alone, quite alone, in the darkness of his night, more dense than that just creeping up from the garden below, invading the winding avenues, the stairways surrounding the bases of columns, pyramids, crypts of every kind, whose summits died more slowly. Gravediggers, all white with the chalky whiteness of dried bones, passed with their tools and their baskets. Stealthy mourners, tearing themselves away regretfully from tears and prayer, crept along the hedges, brushing them in their silent flight, like the flight of night-birds, while on the outskirts of Pere-Lachaise voices arose, melancholy voices announcing the hour for closing. The cemetery day was done. The city of the dead, given back to nature, became an immense forest with cross-roads marked by crosses. In the heart of a valley lights shone in the windows of a keeper's house. A shiver ran through the air and lost itself in whisperings at the end of interlaced paths.
"Let us go," said the two old comrades, yielding gradually to the influence of the twilight, which seemed colder there than elsewhere; but, before they turned away, Hemerlingue, following out his thought, pointed to the monument, with the draperies and outstretched hands of the carved figures like wings at the four corners:
"There was a man who understood all about keeping up appearances."
Jansoulet took his arm to assist him in the descent.
"Oh! yes, he was strong. But you are stronger than anybody else," he said in his fervid Gascon accent.
Hemerlingue did not protest.
"I owe it all to my wife. So I urge you to make your peace with her, because if you don't—"
"Oh! never fear—we will come Saturday; but you will go with me to Le Merquier."
And as the two silhouettes, one tall and square-shouldered, the other short and stout, disappeared in the windings of the great labyrinth, as Jansoulet's voice, guiding his friend, with a "This way, old fellow—lean on me," gradually died away, a stray beam of the setting sun fell upon the plateau behind them, and lighted the colossal bust of Balzac looking after them with its expressive face, its noble brow from which the long hair was brushed back, its powerful and sarcastic lip.
At the farther end of the long archway beneath which were the offices of Hemerlingue and Son, a dark tunnel which Pere Joyeuse had for ten years bedecked and illumined with his dreams, a monumental staircase with wrought-iron rail, a staircase of old Paris, ascended to the left, leading to the baroness's salons, whose windows looked on the courtyard just above the counting-room, so that, during the warm season, when everything was open, the chink of the gold pieces, the noise made by piles of crowns toppling over on the counters, slightly deadened by the rich hangings at the long windows, formed a sort of commercial accompaniment to the subdued conversations carried on by worldly Catholicism.
That detail was responsible for the peculiar physiognomy of that salon, no less peculiar than the woman who presided over it, mingling a vague odor of the sacristy with the excitement of the Bourse and the most consummate worldliness, heterogeneous elements which constantly met and came in contact there, but remained separate, just as the Seine separates the noble Catholic faubourg under whose auspices the notorious conversion of the Moslem woman took place, from the financial quarters in which Hemerlingue's life and his associations were located. Levantine society, which is quite numerous in Paris, consisting principally of German Jews, bankers or commission merchants, who, after making enormous fortunes in the Orient, continue in business here in order not to lose the habit of it, was very regular in its attendance on the baroness's days. Tunisians sojourning in Paris never failed to call upon the wife of the great banker, who was in favor at home, and old Colonel Brahim, the bey's charge d'affaires, with his drooping lips and his lustreless eyes, took his nap every Saturday in the corner of the same divan.
"Your salon smells of burning flesh, my goddaughter," the old Princesse de Dions said laughingly to the newly-christened Marie, whom she and Maitre Le Merquier had held at the baptismal font; but the presence of that crowd of heretics, Jews, Mussulmans and even renegades, those fat women with pimply faces, gaudily dressed, loaded down with gold and earrings, "veritable bales" of finery, did not prevent Faubourg Saint-Germain from calling upon, surrounding and watching over the young neophyte, the plaything of those noble dames, a very pliant, very docile doll, whom they took about and exhibited, quoting her naive evangelical remarks, especially interesting by way of contrast to her past. Perhaps there found its way into the hearts of those amiable patronesses the hope of encountering in that company fresh from the Orient an opportunity to make a new conversion, to fill the aristocratic mission chapel once more with the touching spectacle of one of those baptisms of adults, which carry you back to the early days of the faith, to the banks of the Jordan, and are soon followed by the first communion, the rebaptizing, the confirmation, all affording pretexts for the godmother to accompany her goddaughter, to guide that young soul, to look on at the ingenuous transports of a new-born faith, and at the same time to display costumes deftly varied and shaded to suit the brilliancy or the solemnity of the ceremony. But it does not often happen that a baron prominent in financial circles brings to Paris an Armenian slave whom he has made his lawful wife.
A slave! That was the stain in the past of that woman of the Orient, purchased long ago in the slave-mart at Adrianople for the Emperor of Morocco, then, upon the Emperor's death and the dispersion of his harem, sold to the young Bey Ahmed. Hemerlingue had married her on her exit from that second seraglio, but was unable to induce society to receive her in Tunis, where no woman, be she Moor, Turk, or European, will ever consent to treat a former slave as an equal, by virtue of a prejudice not unlike that which separates the Creole from the most perfectly disguised quadroon. There is an invincible repugnance there on that subject, which the Hemerlingue family found even in Paris, where the foreign colonies form little clubs overflowing with local susceptibilities and traditions. Thus Yumina passed two or three years in utter solitude, of which she was able to turn to good account all the bitterness of heart and all the leisure hours; for she was an ambitious woman of extraordinary strength of will and obstinacy. She learned the French language thoroughly, said adieu forever to her embroidered jackets and pink silk trousers, succeeded in adapting her figure and her gait to European garb, to the embarrassment of long skirts; and one evening, at the opera, displayed to the marvelling Parisians the figure, still a little uncivilized, but elegant, refined and so original, of a female Mussulman in a decollete costume by Leonard.
The sacrifice of her religion followed close upon that of her costume. Madame Hemerlingue had long since abandoned all Mohammedan practices, when Maitre Le Merquier, the intimate friend of the family and her cicerone in Paris, pointed out that a formal conversion of the baroness would open to her the doors of that portion of Parisian society which seems to have become more and more difficult of access, in proportion as the society all around it has become more democratic. Faubourg Saint-Germain once conquered, all the rest would follow. And so it proved that when, after the sensation occasioned by the baptism, it became known that the greatest names of France did not disdain to assemble at Baroness Hemerlingue's Saturdays, Mesdames Guggenheim, Fuernberg, Caraiscaki, Maurice Trott, all wives of Fez millionaires and illustrious in the market-places of Tunis, renounced their prejudices and prayed to be admitted to the ex-slave's receptions. Madame Jansoulet alone, newly landed in France with a stock of Oriental ideas impeding circulation in her mind, as her nargileh, her ostrich eggs and all the rest of her Tunisian trash impeded it in her apartments, protested against what she called impropriety, cowardice, and declared that she would never step foot inside "that creature's" doors. Immediately a slight retrograde movement took place among Mesdames Guggenheim, Caraiscaki, and other bales of finery, as always happens in Paris whenever obstinate resistance from some quarter to the regularizing of an irregular state of affairs leads to regrets and defections. They had advanced too far to withdraw, but they determined that the value of their complaisance, of the sacrifice of their prejudices should be more fully understood; and Baroness Marie realized the difference simply from the patronizing tone of the Levantines, who called her "my dear child—my good girl," with haughty condescension not unmingled with contempt. Thereafter her hatred of the Jansoulets knew no bounds, a complicated, savage, seraglio hatred, with strangling and secret drowning at the end, an operation rather more difficult of performance in Paris than on the shores of the Lake of El-Baheira, but she was already preparing the bow-string and stout bag.
That implacable hatred being well known and understood, we can imagine the surprise and excitement in that exotic corner of society, when it was reported that not only did the stout Afchin—as those ladies called her—consent to meet the baroness, but was to call first upon her on her next Saturday. You may be sure that neither the Fuernbergs nor the Trotts proposed to miss that occasion. The baroness for her part did all that she could to give the utmost possible publicity to that solemn act of reparation, wrote notes and made calls and played her cards so well that, notwithstanding the fact that the season was very far advanced, Madame Jansoulet, if she had arrived at the mansion in Faubourg Saint-Honore about four o'clock, might have seen before the lofty arched gateway, beside the Princesse de Dions' quiet livery of the color of dead leaves, and many genuine coats of arms, the showy, pretentious crests, the multi-colored wheels of a multitude of financiers' equipages and the tall powdered lackeys of the Caraiscakis.
Above, in the reception-rooms, there was the same strange and gorgeous medley. There was a constant going and coming over the carpets of the first two rooms, which were quite deserted, a rustling of silk dresses to and from the boudoir, where the baroness received, dividing her attentions and her cajoleries between the two very distinct camps; on one side dark dresses, modest in appearance, whose richness was discernible to none but practised eyes, on the other a tumultuous springtime of bright colors, expansive waists, diamonds in profusion, floating sashes, styles for exportation, wherein one could detect a sort of regretful longing for a warmer climate and a luxurious, ostentatious life. Fans waving majestically here, discreet whispering there. Very few men, two or three youths, very thoughtful, silent and inactive, sucking the heads of their canes, several stooping figures, standing behind their wives' broad backs, talking with their heads lowered as if they were discussing smuggling expeditions; in a corner the beautiful, patriarchal beard and violet hood of an orthodox Armenian bishop.
The baroness, in her efforts to bring these discordant social elements together and to keep her salons full until the famous interview, constantly moved about, carried on ten different conversations at once, raising her soft, melodious voice to the purring pitch that distinguishes Oriental women,—a wheedling, seductive voice, and a mind as supple as her waist, opening all sorts of subjects, and, as convention requires, mingling fashions and sermons on charity, theatres and auction sales,—the scandalmonger and the confessor. She possessed a great personal charm in addition to this acquired science of entertaining, a science visible even in her very simple black dress, which brought out in relief her cloistral pallor, her houri-like eyes, her smooth, glossy hair, parted above a narrow, unwrinkled brow,—a brow whose mystery was accentuated by the too thin lips, closing to the curious the whole varied, adventurous past of that ex-odalisque, who was of no age, had no knowledge of the date of her birth, did not remember that she had ever been a child.
Clearly, if the absolute power of evil, very rarely found in women, whom their impressionable physical nature subjects to so many varying currents, could exist in a human soul, it would be found in the soul of that slave trained to concessions and fawning, rebellious but patient, and thoroughly self-controlled, like all those whom the habit of wearing a veil lowered over their eyes has accustomed to lying without danger and without scruple.
At that moment no one could have suspected the agony of suspense from which she was suffering, to see her kneeling in front of the princess, a good-humored old woman, of unceremonious manners, of whom La Fuernberg constantly said: "Well, if she's a princess!"
"Oh! godmother, don't go yet, I beg you!"
She overwhelmed her with all sorts of fascinating little tricks of action and expression, without acknowledging, of course, that she was determined to detain her until Jansoulet's arrival, in order to make her contribute to her triumph.
"You see," said the good woman, pointing to the Armenian, sitting, majestic and solemn, his tasselled hat on his knees, "I have to take poor monseigneur to the Grand-Saint-Christophe to buy medals. He could never do it without me."
"But I want you to stay. You must. Just a few minutes more."
And the baroness glanced furtively toward the gorgeous, old-fashioned clock hanging in a corner of the salon.
Five o'clock already, and the stout Afchin did not come. The Levantines began to laugh behind their fans. Luckily, tea had just been served, and Spanish wines, and a quantity of delicious Turkish cakes, which were found nowhere else, and the receipts for which, brought to Paris by the ex-slave, are preserved in harems, as certain secrets connected with the finest confectionery are preserved in our convents. That made a diversion. Hemerlingue, who came from his office from time to time on Saturdays to pay his respects to the ladies, was drinking a glass of madeira at the small table on which the refreshments were served, talking with Maurice Trott, formerly Said-Pacha's bath-master, when his wife, always mild and tranquil externally, approached him. He knew what fierce wrath must be hidden beneath that impenetrable calm, and he asked her timidly, in an undertone:
"No one. You see to what an outrage you have exposed me!"
She smiled, her eyes half-closed, as she removed with the ends of her fingers a crumb that had lodged in his long black whiskers; but her transparent little nostrils quivered with awe-inspiring eloquence.
"Oh! she will come," said the banker, with his mouth full. "I am sure she will come."
A rustling of silk, of a train being adjusted in the adjoining room, caused the baroness to turn her head quickly. To the great delight of the cluster of "bales" in one corner, who were watching everything, it was not she who was expected.
She bore but little resemblance to Mademoiselle Afchin, the tall, graceful blonde, with the tired features and irreproachable toilet, worthy in every respect to bear a name as illustrious as that of Dr. Jenkins. In the last two or three months the beautiful Madame Jenkins had changed greatly, had grown much older. There comes a time in the life of a woman who has long retained her youth, when the years which have passed over her head without leaving a wrinkle write themselves down pitilessly all at once in ineffaceable marks. We no longer say when we see her: "How lovely she is!" but, "She must have been very lovely." And that cruel fashion of speaking of the past, of referring to a distant period what was a visible fact but yesterday, constitutes a beginning of old age and of retirement,—a substitution of reminiscences for all past triumphs. Was it the disappointment of seeing the doctor's wife instead of Madame Jansoulet, or was the discredit which the Duc de Mora's death had brought upon the fashionable doctor destined to overflow upon her who bore his name? There was something of both those causes, and perhaps of another as well, in the cold welcome which the baroness accorded Madame Jenkins. A murmured greeting, a few hurried words, and she returned to the battalion of noble dames who were nibbling away with great zest. The salon became animated under the influence of the Spanish wines. People no longer whispered; they talked. Lamps were brought in and imparted additional brilliancy to the occasion, but announced that it was very near its end, as several persons who had no interest in the great event were already moving toward the door. And the Jansoulets did not come.
Suddenly there was a heavy, hurried step. The Nabob appeared, alone, buttoned into his black frock-coat, correctly gloved and cravatted, but with distorted features and haggard eye, still trembling from the terrible scene in which he had just taken part.
She had refused to come.
In the morning he had told Madame's women to have her dressed at three o'clock, as he was accustomed to do whenever he took the Levantine abroad with him, for he found it necessary to impart motion to that indolent creature, who, being incapable of assuming any responsibility whatsoever, allowed others to think, to decide and to act for her, although she was quite willing to go wherever he chose, when she was once started. And he relied upon that willingness to enable him to take her to Hemerlingue's house. But when, after breakfast, Jansoulet, fully dressed, magnificent, perspiring in his struggles to put on his gloves, sent to ask if Madame would soon be ready, he was told that Madame was not going out. It was a serious crisis, so serious that, discarding the mediation of valets and maids, through whom their conjugal interviews were usually conducted, he ran upstairs four stairs at a time, and entered the Levantine's luxurious apartments like a gust of the mistral.
She was still in bed, clad in the ample open-work tunic in silk of two colors, which the Moors call a djebba, and in one of their gold-embroidered caps from which her beautiful heavy black mane escaped in tangled masses around her moon-like face, flushed by the hearty meal she had just finished. The sleeves of the djebba were turned back, disclosing two enormous, shapeless arms, laden with bracelets, with long slender chains wandering amid a wilderness of little mirrors, red chaplets, boxes of perfume, microscopic pipes, cigarette cases, the trivial toy-shop display of a Moorish beauty at her hour for rising.
The bedroom, heavy with the opium-laden, suffocating odor of Turkish tobacco, presented the same disorderly aspect. Negresses went in and out, slowly removing their mistress's coffee service, her favorite gazelle was lapping a cup which he had overturned on the carpet with his slender nose, while the dark-browed Cabassu, seated at the foot of the bed with touching familiarity, was reading aloud to Madame a drama in verse soon to be produced at Cardaillac's theatre. The Levantine was amazed, absolutely stupefied by the work.
"My dear," she said to Jansoulet, in her thick Flemish accent, "I don't know what our manager is thinking about. I am just reading that play, Revolte, that he is so crazy over. Why, it's a frightful thing! It's never been on the stage."
"What do I care for your stage?" cried Jansoulet fiercely, despite all his respect for the daughter of the Afchins. "What! you're not dressed, yet? Weren't you told that we were going out?"
She had been told, but she had begun to read this idiotic play.
"We will go out to-morrow," she said in her sleepy tone.
"To-morrow! Impossible! We are expected to-day without fail. A very important visit."
"Where are we to go, pray?"
He hesitated a second, then answered:
She looked up at him with her great eyes, convinced that he was laughing at her. Thereupon he told her of his meeting with the baron at Mora's funeral and the agreement they had made.
"Go there if you choose," she said coldly; "but you know me very little if you think that I, an Afchin, will ever set foot inside that slave's door."
Cabassu, seeing the turn that the discussion was taking, had prudently disappeared in an adjoining room, the five books of Revolte in a pile under his arm.
"Stay," said the Nabob to his wife, "it is clear that you don't understand the terrible plight I am in. Listen."
Heedless of the maids and negresses, with the Oriental's sovereign indifference for the servant class, he began to draw the picture of his great embarrassment, his property in Tunis seized, his credit in Paris lost, his whole life hanging in suspense on the decision of the Chamber, Hemerlingue's influence with the man who was to make the report, and the absolute necessity of sacrificing all self-love to such momentous interests. He talked with great warmth, eager to persuade her, to take her with him. But she replied, simply: "I will not go," as if it were a matter of an expedition of no possible consequence, so long that it was likely to tire her.
"Come, come, it isn't possible that you would say such a thing," he continued, quivering with excitement. "Remember that my fortune is at stake, the future of your children, the very name you bear. Everything is staked on this one concession, which you cannot refuse to make."
He might have talked thus for hours, he would still have been met by the same determined, invincible obstinacy. A Mademoiselle Afchin could not call upon a slave.
"I tell you, madame," he exclaimed, savagely, "that slave is worth more than you. By her shrewdness she has doubled her husband's wealth, while you on the contrary—"
For the first time in the twelve years of their married life Jansoulet dared to oppose his wife's will. Was he ashamed of that crime of lese-majeste or did he realize that such a declaration might dig an impassable abyss between them? At all events he changed his tone at once and knelt beside the low bed, with the affectionate, smiling tone one employs to make children listen to reason.
"My dear little Marthe, I implore you—get up and dress yourself. It's for your own interest that I ask you to do it, for your luxury, for your comfort. What will become of you if, by a mere whim, by naughty wilfulness, we are to be reduced to poverty?"
The word "poverty" conveyed absolutely no meaning to the Levantine. You could speak of it before her as you speak of death before small children. It failed to move her, as she had no idea what it was. At all events she was obstinately determined to remain in bed in her djebba, for, to emphasize her decision, she lighted a fresh cigarette from the one she had just finished, and while the Nabob enveloped his "darling little wife" in apologies and prayers and supplications, promising her a diadem of pearls a hundred times more beautiful than hers if she would come, she watched the heady smoke float up to the painted ceiling and wrapped herself in it as in imperturbable tranquillity. Finally, in face of that persistent refusal, that silence, that forehead upon which he detected the barrier of unconquerable obstinacy, Jansoulet gave rein to his wrath and drew himself up to his full height.
"Very good," said he, "I say you shall."
He turned to the negresses:
"Dress your mistress, at once."
And the boor that he really was, the son of the Southern junk-dealer coming to the surface in that crisis, which moved him to the depths of his being, he threw back the bedclothes with a brutal, contemptuous gesture, tossing the innumerable gewgaws they held to the floor, and forcing the half-naked Levantine to jump to her feet with a promptitude most remarkable in that bulky personage. She roared under the outrage, gathered the folds of her tunic about her misshapen bust, fixed her little cap crosswise over her falling hair, and began to blackguard her husband.
"Never, you hear me, never—you shall never drag me to that—"
Filth poured from her heavy lips as from the mouth of a drain. Jansoulet might well have believed that he was in one of the frightful dens along the water front in Marseille, listening to a quarrel between a prostitute and a nervi, or looking on at some open-air fracas between Genoese, Maltese and Provencal women gleaning on the quay around bags of grain in process of unloading, and reviling each other at full speed in eddies of golden dust. She was the typical seaport Levantine, the spoiled, neglected child, who from her terrace, or from her gondola, in the evening, has heard sailors cursing one another in all the languages of the Latin seas, and has remembered everything. The wretched man stared at her, horrified and dismayed at what she compelled him to hear, at her grotesque figure, foaming at the mouth and sputtering:
"No, I won't go—no, I won't go!"
And she was the mother of his children, an Afchin!
Suddenly, at the thought that his fate was in that woman's hands, that she had only to put on a dress to save him, and that time was flying, that it would soon be too late, a gust of crime rushed to his brain, distorted all his features. He rushed at her, opening and closing his hands with such a terrible expression that the daughter of the Afchins, in deadly terror, darted toward the door through which the masseur had just left the room, calling:
That cry, that voice, his wife's evident intimacy with his lieutenant—Jansoulet stopped, his frantic anger passed away, and he rushed from the room, throwing the doors open, more eager to escape the disaster and the horror whose presence he felt in his own house, than to go elsewhere to seek the help that had been promised him.
A quarter of an hour later he made his appearance at Hemerlingue's, making a despairing gesture in the banker's direction as he entered, and approached the baroness, stammering the ready-made phrase that he had heard repeated so often on the evening of his own ball: "His wife was very ill—in despair that she could not—" She did not give him time to finish, but rose slowly, like a long, slender snake in the crosswise folds of her clinging skirt, and said, in her schoolgirl accent, without looking at him: "Oh! I knew—I knew;" then moved away and paid no further heed to him. He tried to accost Hemerlingue, but that gentleman seemed deeply absorbed in his conversation with Maurice Trott. Thereupon he went and sat down beside Madame Jenkins, whose isolation was no less marked than his. But, while he talked with the poor woman, who was as languid as he himself was preoccupied, he watched the baroness do the honors of that salon, so much more comfortable than his own great gilded halls.
The guests were taking their leave. Madame Hemerlingue escorted some of the ladies to the door, bent her head beneath the benediction of the Armenian bishop, bowed smilingly to the young dandies with canes, bestowed upon every one the proper variety of salutation, with perfect self-possession; and the poor devil could not avoid a mental comparison between that Oriental slave become such a thorough Parisian, of such marked distinction in the most refined society on earth, and that other woman, the European enervated by the Orient, brutalized by Turkish tobacco and bloated by a life of sloth. His ambition, his pride as a husband were disappointed, humiliated in that union of which he now saw the peril and the emptiness, the last cruel blow of destiny which deprived him even of the refuge of domestic happiness against all his public misfortunes.
Gradually the salons became empty. The Levantines disappeared one after another, each leaving an immense void in her place. Madame Jenkins had gone, and only two or three women, strangers to Jansoulet, remained, among whom the mistress of the house seemed to be seeking refuge from him. But Hemerlingue was at liberty, and the Nabob joined him just as he was sidling furtively away in the direction of his offices, which were on the same floor opposite the state apartments. Jansoulet went out with him, forgetting in his confusion to salute the baroness; and when they were safely out on the landing, arranged as a reception-room, the corpulent Hemerlingue, who had been very cold and reserved so long as he felt his wife's eye upon him, assumed a somewhat more open expression.
"It's a great pity," he said in a low tone, as if he were afraid of being overheard, "that Madame Jansoulet would not come."
Jansoulet replied with a gesture of despair and savage helplessness.
"Too bad—too bad!" said the other, blowing his nose and feeling in his pocket for his key.
"Look here, old fellow," said the Nabob, taking his arm, "because our wives don't hit it off together, is no reason—That doesn't prevent our remaining friends. What a nice little chat we had the other day, eh?"
"To be sure," said the baron, withdrawing his hand to unlock the door, which opened noiselessly, disclosing the lofty private office with its one lamp burning in front of the capacious, empty armchair.
"Ya didon, Mouci," said the poor Nabob, trying to jest, and resorting to the sabir patois to remind his old chum of all the pleasant reminiscences they had overhauled the day before. "Our visit to Le Merquier still holds. The picture we were going to offer him, you know. What day shall we go?"
 Ah! I say, Monsieur.
"Ah! yes, Le Merquier. To be sure. Well, very soon. I will write you."
"Sure? You know it's very urgent."
"Yes, yes, I'll write you. Adieu."
And the fat man closed his door hastily as if he feared that his wife might appear.
Two days later the Nabob received a note from Hemerlingue, almost undecipherable with its little fly-tracks, complicated by abbreviations more or less commercial, behind which the ex-sutler concealed his absolute lack of orthography:
"MON CH/ANC/CAM/—Je ne puis decid/t'accom/ chez Le Merq/. Trop d'aff/en ce mom/. D'aill/v/ ser/mieux seuls pour caus/. Vas-y carrem/. On t'att/. R/Cassette, tous les mat/de 8 a 10.
"A toi cor/
 "MY DEAR OLD COMRADE,—I cannot see my way to accompanying you to see Le Merquier. Too busy just now. Indeed, you will do better to talk with him alone. Go there openly. You are expected. Rue Cassette, every morning, 8 to 10.
Below, by way of postscript, in a hand equally fine, but much clearer, was written very legibly:
"A religious picture, if possible."
What was he to think of that letter? Was it dictated by real friendliness or polite dissimulation? At all events, further hesitation was out of the question. The time was very short. So Jansoulet made a brave effort, for Le Merquier frightened him sadly, and went to his office one morning.
This strange Paris of ours, in its population and its varied aspects, seems like a map of the whole world. We find in the Marais narrow streets with old, carved, vermiculated doors, with overhanging gables, with balconies en moucharabies, which make one think of old Heidelberg. Faubourg Saint-Honore where it is broadest, near the Russian church with its white minarets and golden balls, recalls a bit of Moscow. On Montmartre there is a picturesque, crowded spot that is pure Algiers. Low, clean little houses, with their copper-plates on the doors, and their private gardens, stand in line along typical English streets between Neuilly and the Champs-Elysees; while the whole circuit of the apse of Saint-Sulpice, Rue Ferou, Rue Cassette, lying placidly in the shadow of the great towers, roughly paved, with knockers on the front doors, seems to have been transplanted from some pious provincial city,—Tours or Orleans for instance, in the neighborhood of the cathedral and the bishop's palace, where tall trees tower above the walls and sway to the music of the bells and the responses.
There, in the vicinity of the Catholic club, of which he had been chosen honorary president, lived Maitre Le Merquier, advocate, Deputy for Lyon, man of business of all the great religious communities of France, and the man whom Hemerlingue, in pursuance of an idea of great profundity for that bulky individual, had intrusted with the legal affairs of his firm.
Arriving about nine o'clock at an ancient mansion, whose ground-floor was occupied by a religious publishing house sleeping peacefully in its odor of the sacristy and of coarse paper for printing miracles, and ascending the broad staircase, the walls of which were whitewashed like those of a convent, Jansoulet felt permeated with that provincial and Catholic atmosphere wherein the memories of his Southern past revived, childish impressions still fresh and intact, thanks to his long exile, impressions which the son of Francoise had had neither time nor occasion to disown since his arrival in Paris. Worldly hypocrisy had assumed all its different shapes before him, tried all its masks, except that of religious integrity. So that he refused in his own mind to believe in the venality of a man who lived in such surroundings. Ushered into the advocate's waiting-room, a large parlor with curtains of starched muslin as fine as that of which surplices are made, its only ornament a large and beautiful copy of Tintoret's Dead Christ over the door, his uncertainty and anxiety changed to indignant conviction. It was not possible. He had been misled touching Le Merquier. Surely it was an impudent slander, such as Paris is so ready to spread; or perhaps they were laying another one of those wicked traps for him, against which he had done nothing but stumble for six months past. No, that timid conscience renowned at the Palais de Justice and the Chamber, that cold, austere man could not be dealt with like those coarse, pot-bellied pashas, with their loose belts and floating sleeves so convenient as receptacles for purses of sequins. He would expose himself to a shameful refusal, to the natural revolt of outraged honor, if he should attempt such methods of bribery.
The Nabob said this to himself as he sat on the oak bench that ran around the room, polished by serge gowns and the rough broadcloth of cassocks. Notwithstanding the early hour, several persons beside himself were waiting. A Dominican striding back and forth, ascetic and serene of face, two nuns buried in their hoods, telling their beads on long rosaries which measured their time of waiting, priests from the diocese of Lyon, recognizable from the shape of their hats, and other persons of stern and meditative mien seated by the great table of black wood which stood in the centre of the room, and turning the leaves of some of those edifying periodicals which are printed on the hill of Fourvieres, the Echoes from Purgatory, or Marie's Rose-bush, and which give as premiums to yearly subscribers papal indulgences, absolution for future sins. A few words in a low voice, a stifled cough, the faint murmuring of the two sisters' prayer reminded Jansoulet of the confused, faraway sensation of hours of waiting around the confessional, in a corner of his village church, when the great religious festivals were drawing near.
At last it came his turn to enter the sanctum, and if any shadow of doubt concerning Maitre Le Merquier remained in his mind, that doubt vanished when he saw that high-studded office, simple and severe in appearance,—although somewhat more decorated than the waiting-room—of which the advocate made a framework for his rigid principles and his long, thin, stooping, narrow-shouldered person, eternally squeezed into a black coat too short in the sleeves, from which protruded two flat, square, black hands, two clubs of India ink covered with swollen veins like hieroglyphics. In the clerical deputy's sallow complexion, the complexion of the Lyonnais turned mouldy between his two rivers, there was a certain animation, due to his varying expression, sometimes sparkling but impenetrable behind his spectacles, more frequently keen, suspicious and threatening over those same spectacles, and surrounded by the retreating shadow which follows the arch of the eyebrow when the eye is raised and the head low.
After a greeting that was almost cordial in comparison with the cold salutation which the two colleagues exchanged at the Chamber, an "I was expecting you," uttered with a purpose perhaps, the advocate waved the Nabob to the chair near his desk, bade the smug domestic, dressed in black from head to foot, not to "tighten the sack-cloth with the scourge," but to stay away until the bell should ring for him, arranged a few scattered papers, and then, crossing his legs, burying himself in his armchair in the crouching attitude of the man who is making ready to listen, who becomes all ears, he took his chin in his hand and sat with his eyes fixed on a long curtain of green ribbed velvet that fell from the ceiling to the floor opposite him.
It was a decisive moment, an embarrassing situation. But Jansoulet did not hesitate. It was one of the poor Nabob's boasts that he understood men as well as Mora. And the keen scent, which, he said, had never deceived him, warned him that he was at that moment in presence of a rigid, immovable honesty, a conscience of solid rock unassailable by pick-axe or powder. "My conscience!" So he suddenly changed his programme, cast aside the stratagems, the equivocal hints, in which his open, courageous nature was wallowing about, and with head erect and heart laid bare, talked to that upright man in a language which he was built to understand.
"Do not be surprised, my dear colleague,"—his voice trembled at first, but soon became firm in his conviction of the justice of his cause—"do not be surprised that I have come to see you here instead of simply asking to be heard by the third committee. The explanations that I have to put before you are of such a delicate and confidential nature that it would have been impossible for me to give them in a public place, before my assembled colleagues."
Maitre Le Merquier looked at the curtain over his spectacles with an air of dismay. Evidently the conversation was taking an unexpected turn.
"I do not touch upon the substance of the question," continued the Nabob. "I am sure that your report is impartial and just, such a report as your conscience must have dictated. But certain disgusting slanders have been set on foot concerning myself, to which I have not replied, and which may have influenced the opinion of the committee. That is the subject on which I wish to speak to you. I know the confidence which your colleagues repose in you, Monsieur Le Merquier, and that, when I have convinced you, your word will be sufficient and I shall not be obliged to parade my distress before the full committee. You know the charge. I refer to the most horrible, the most shameful one. There are so many that one might make a mistake among them. My enemies have given names, dates, addresses. Be it so! I bring you the proofs of my innocence. I lay them before you, before you only; for I have the gravest reasons for keeping this whole affair secret."
Thereupon he showed the advocate a certificate from the consulate at Tunis that in twenty years he had left the principality but twice, the first time to see his father who lay dying at Bourg-Saint-Andeol, the second time to pay a visit of three days at his Chateau of Saint-Romans with the bey.
"How does it happen that with such a decisive document in my hands I have not cited my defamers before the courts to contradict them and put them to shame? Alas! Monsieur, there are family bonds that cut into the flesh. I had a brother, a poor weak spoiled creature, who rolled for a long while in the filth of Paris, left his intelligence and his honor here. Did he really descend to that stage of degradation at which I have been placed in his name? I have not dared to ascertain. What I can say is that my poor father, who knew more about it than any one else in the family, whispered to me when he was dying: 'Bernard, your brother is killing me. I am dying of shame, my child.'"
He paused for a moment, compelled by his suffocating emotion, then continued:
"My father died, Monsieur Le Merquier, but my mother is still alive, and it is for her sake, for her repose, that I have recoiled, that I still recoil from making public my justification. Thus far the filth that has been thrown at me has not splashed upon her. It does not extend outside a certain social circle, a special class of newspapers, from which the dear woman is a thousand leagues away. But the courts, a law-suit, means the parading of our misfortune from one end of France to the other, the Messager articles printed by every newspaper, even those in the retired little place where my mother lives. The slander itself, my defence, both her children covered with shame at one blow, the family name—the old peasant woman's only pride—tarnished forever. That would be too much for her. And really it seems to me that one is enough. That is why I have had the courage to hold my peace, to tire out my enemies, if possible, by my silence. But I need some one to answer for me in the Chamber, I wish to deprive it of the right to eject me for reasons dishonoring to me, and as it selected you to report upon my election, I have come to tell everything to you, as to a confessor, a priest, begging you not to divulge a word of this conversation, even in the interest of my cause. I ask nothing but that, my dear colleague,—absolute reticence on this subject; for the rest I rely upon your justice and your loyalty."
He rose, prepared to go, and Le Merquier did not stir, still questioning the green hanging in front of him, as if seeking there an inspiration for his reply. At last,—
"It shall be as you wish, my dear colleague," he said. "This confidence shall remain between ourselves. You have told me nothing, I have heard nothing."
The Nabob, still all aflame with his eloquent outburst, which, as it seemed to him, called for a cordial response, a warm grasp of the hand, had a strangely uneasy feeling. That cold manner, that absent expression weighed so heavily upon him, that he was already walking to the door with the awkward salutation of unwelcome visitors. But the other detained him.
"Stay a moment, my dear colleague. How eager you are to leave me! A few moments more, I beg. I am too happy to converse with such a man as you. Especially as we have more than one common bond. Our friend Hemerlingue tells me that you, like myself, are much interested in pictures."
Jansoulet started. The two words "Hemerlingue" and "pictures," meeting so unexpectedly in the same sentence, brought back all his doubts, all his perplexity. He did not surrender even then, however, but left Le Merquier to put his words forward, one in front of another, feeling the ground for his stumbling advance. He had heard much of his honorable colleague's gallery. Would it be presumptuous for him to ask the favor of being admitted to—?
"Nonsense! why, I should be too highly honored," said the Nabob, tickled in the most sensitive—because it had been the most expensive—part of his vanity; and, glancing about at the walls of the study, he added in the tone of a connoisseur:
"You have some fine examples yourself."
"Oh!" said the other modestly, "a few poor canvases. Pictures are so dear in these days—it's a taste so hard to gratify, a genuinely luxurious passion. A Nabob's passion," he added with a smile and a stealthy glance over his spectacles.
They were two prudent gamblers face to face; Jansoulet, however, was somewhat at fault in that novel situation, in which he was obliged to walk warily, he who knew of no other mode of action than by bold, audacious strokes.
"When I think," murmured the advocate, "that I have spent ten years covering these walls, and that I still have this whole panel to fill!"
In truth, in the most conspicuous part of the high partition there was an empty space, a vacated space rather, for a great gilt-headed nail near the ceiling showed the visible, almost clumsy trace of the trap set for the poor innocent, who foolishly allowed himself to be taken in it.
"My dear Monsieur Le Merquier," he said, in an engaging, affable tone, "I have a Virgin by Tintoret just the size of your panel."
It was impossible to read anything in the advocate's eyes, which had now taken refuge behind their gleaming shelter.
"Permit me to hang it there, opposite your desk. It will give you an excuse for thinking of me sometimes—"
"And for mitigating the strictures of my report, eh, Monsieur?" cried Le Merquier, springing to his feet, a threatening figure, with his hand on the bell. "I have seen many shameless performances in my life, but never anything equal to this. Such offers to me, in my own house!"
"But, my dear colleague, I swear—"
"Show him out," said the advocate to the surly servant who entered the room at that moment; and from the centre of his office, the door remaining open, before the whole parlor, where the prayers had ceased, he pursued Jansoulet,—who turned his back and hastened, mumbling incoherently, toward the outer door—with these crushing words:
"You have insulted the honor of the whole Chamber in my person, Monsieur. Our colleagues shall be informed of it this very day; and, this additional offence being added to the others, you will learn to your sorrow that Paris is not the Orient, and the human conscience is not shamefully traded in and bartered here as it is there."
Thereupon, having driven the money-changer from the temple, the just man closed his door, and approaching the green curtain, said in a tone which sounded sweet as honey after his pretended anger:
"Was that about right, Baronne Marie?"
That morning there was not, as usual, a grand breakfast-party at number 32 Place Vendome. So that about one o'clock you might have seen M. Barreau's majestic paunch arrayed in white linen displaying itself at the entrance to the porch, surrounded by four or five scullions in their paper caps and as many grooms in Scotch caps,—an imposing group, which gave the sumptuous mansion the appearance of a hostelry, where the whole staff was taking a breath of fresh air between two arrivals. The resemblance was made complete by the cab stopping in front of the door and the driver lifting down an old-fashioned leather trunk, while a tall old woman in a yellow cap, an erect figure with a little green shawl over her shoulders, leaped lightly to the sidewalk, a basket on her arm, and looked carefully at the number, then approached the group of servants and asked if that was where M. Bernard Jansoulet lived.
"This is the place," was the reply. "But he isn't in."
"That's no matter," said the old woman, very naturally.
She returned to the driver, bade him put her trunk under the porch, and paid him, at once replacing her purse in her pocket with a gesture that said much for provincial distrust.
Since Jansoulet had been Deputy for Corsica, his servants had seen so many strange, foreign-looking creatures alight at his door that they were not greatly surprised at sight of that sun-burned woman, with eyes like glowing coals, bearing much resemblance in her simple head-dress to a genuine Corsican, some old psalm-singer straight from the underbrush, but distinguished from newly-arrived islanders by the ease and tranquillity of her manners.
"What do you say, the master isn't in?" she said with an intonation which is much more frequently heard by the hands on a farm, on a mas in her province, than by the impertinent lackeys of a great Parisian household.
"No, the master isn't in."
"And the children?"
"They're taking their lesson. You can't see them."
"She's asleep. No one enters her room before three o'clock."
That seemed to surprise the good woman a little, that any one could stay in bed so late; but the sure instinct which, in default of education, acts as a guide to intelligent natures, prevented her from saying so to the servants, and she at once asked to speak to Paul de Gery.
"He is travelling."
"Bompain Jean-Baptiste then?"
"He's at the Chamber with Monsieur."
Her great gray eyebrows contracted.
"No matter; take my trunk upstairs all the same."
And, with a malicious little twitching of the eye, a touch of pride, of vengeance for the insolent glances turned upon her, she added:
"I am his mother."
Scullions and grooms stood aside respectfully. M. Barreau raised his cap:
"I was saying to myself that I had seen Madame somewhere."
"That's just what I was saying to myself too, my boy," said Mere Jansoulet, shuddering at the memory of the ill-fated festivities in honor of the bey.
"My boy!"—to M. Barreau, to a man of his importance! That instantly placed her very high in the esteem of that little circle.
Ah! grandeurs and splendors did not dazzle her, the brave-hearted old woman. She was no opera-comique Mere Boby going into ecstasies over the gildings and fine trinkets; the vases of flowers on every landing of the staircase she ascended behind her trunk, the hall-lamps supported by bronze statues, did not prevent her noticing that there was a finger's depth of dust on the stair-rail and that the carpet was torn. They escorted her to the apartments on the second floor, reserved for the Levantine and the children, and there, in a room used as a linen closet, which was evidently near the school-room, for she could hear a murmur of childish voices, she waited, all alone, her basket on her knees, for her Bernard to return, for her daughter-in-law to awake, or for the great joy of embracing her grandchildren. Nothing could be better adapted than what she saw around her to give her an idea of the confusion of a household given over to servants, where the oversight of the housewife and her far-seeing activity are lacking. In huge wardrobes, all wide open, linen was heaped up pell-mell in shapeless, bulging, tottering piles,—fine sheets, Saxony table linen crumbled and torn, and the locks prevented from working by some stray piece of embroidery which nobody took the trouble to remove. And yet many servants passed through that linen closet,—negresses in yellow madras, who hastily seized a napkin or a table-cloth, heedlessly trampled on those domestic treasures scattered all about, dragged to the end of the room on their great flat feet lace flounces cut from a long skirt which a maid had cast aside, thimble here, scissors there, as a piece of work to be taken up again.
The semi-rustic artisan, which Mere Jansoulet had not ceased to be, was sadly grieved at the sight, wounded in the respect, the affection, the inoffensive mania which is inspired in the provincial housewife by the wardrobe filled with linen, piece by piece, to the very top, full of relics of the poor past, its contents increasing gradually in quantity and in quality, the first visible symptom of comfortable circumstances, of wealth in a house. Again, that woman always had the distaff in her hand from morning till night, and if the house-keeper was indignant, the spinster could have wept as at a profanation. Finally, unable to endure it longer, she rose, abandoned her patient, watchful attitude, and stooping over, her little green shawl displaced by every movement, began actively to pick up, smooth and fold with care that beautiful linen, as she did on the lawns at Saint-Romans, when she indulged in the amusement of a grand washing, employing twenty women, the baskets overflowing with snow-white folds, the sheets flapping in the morning breeze on the long drying lines. She was deeply engrossed in that occupation, which made her forget her journey, Paris, even the place where she was, when a stout, thickset man, heavily bearded, in varnished boots, and a velvet jacket covering the chest and shoulders of a bull, entered the linen closet.
"You here, Madame Francoise! This is a surprise," said the masseur, opening wide his great Japanese idol's eyes.
"Why, yes, good Cabassu, it's me. I've just come. And I'm at work already, as you see. It made my heart bleed to see all this mess."
"So you've come for the sitting, have you?"
"Why, the great sitting of the Corps Legislatif. This is the day."
"Faith, no. What difference do you suppose that can make to me? I don't understand anything about such things. No, I came because I wanted to know my little Jansoulets, and then, I was beginning to be uneasy. I've written two or three times now without getting any answer. I was afraid there might be a child sick, or that Bernard's business was in a bad way—all sorts of uncomfortable ideas. I had an attack of great black anxiety, and I started. Everybody's well here, so they tell me?"
"Why, yes, Madame Francoise. Everybody 's exceedingly well, thank God!"
"And Bernard? His business? Is it going along to suit him?"
"Oh! you know a man always has his little crosses in this life; however, I don't think he has any reason to complain. But now I think of it, you must be hungry. I'll go and send you something to eat."