He was about to ring, much more self-assured and at home than the old mother. But she checked him.
"No, no, I don't need anything. I still have some of my luncheon left."
She placed two figs and a crust of bread, taken from her basket, on the table, and continued to talk as she ate:
"And what about your affairs, little one? It seems to me you've spruced up mightily since the last time you came to the Bourg. What linen, what clothes! What department are you in?"
"I am professor of massage," said Aristide gravely.
"You a professor!" she exclaimed, with respectful amazement; but she dared not ask him what he taught, and Cabassu, somewhat embarrassed by her questions, hastened to change the subject.
"Suppose I go and fetch the children? Hasn't any one told them their grandmother was here?"
"I didn't want to take them away from their work. But I believe the lesson is over now. Listen."
On the other side of the door they heard the impatient stamping of school children longing to be dismissed, eager for room and air; and the old woman listened with delight to the fascinating sounds that increased her maternal longing ten-fold, but prevented her from doing anything to satisfy it. At last the door opened. First the tutor appeared, an abbe with a pointed nose and prominent cheek-bones, whom we have seen at the state breakfasts of an earlier day. Having fallen out with his bishop, the ambitious ecclesiastic had left the diocese where he formerly exercised the priestly functions, and, in his precarious position as an irregular member of the clergy—for the clergy has its own Bohemia—was glad of the opportunity to teach the little Jansoulets, recently expelled from Bourdaloue. With the same solemn, arrogant mien, as of one overburdened with responsibility, which the great prelates intrusted with the education of the Dauphins of France might assume, he stalked in front of three little fellows, curled and gloved, with oblong hats and short jackets, leather bags slung over their shoulders, and long red stockings reaching to the middle of the leg, the costume of the complete velocipedist about to mount his machine.
"Children," said Cabassu, the intimate friend of the family, "this is Madame Jansoulet, your grandmother, who has come to Paris on purpose to see you."
They halted, very much astonished, arranged according to height, and examined that withered old face between the yellow barbs of the cap, that strange costume, unfamiliar in its simplicity; and their grandmother's astonishment answered theirs, increased by heart-rending disappointment and by the embarrassment she felt in presence of those little gentlemen, who were as stiff and disdainful as the marquises, the counts and the prefects on circuit whom her son used to bring to her at Saint-Romans. In obedience to their tutor's injunction, "to salute their venerable grandmother," they came up one by one and gave her one of the same little handshakes with arms close to their sides of which they had distributed so many among the garrets; indeed, that good woman with the earth-colored face, and neat but very simple clothes, reminded them of their charitable visits from College Bourdaloue. They felt between herself and them the same strangeness, the same distance, which no memory, no word from their parents had ever lessened. The abbe realized her embarrassment, and, to banish it, launched forth upon a speech delivered with the throaty voice, the violent gestures common to those men who always think that they have below them the ten steps leading to a pulpit:
"Lo, the day has come, Madame, the great day when Monsieur Jansoulet is to confound his enemies. Confundantur hostes mei, quia injuste iniquitatem fecerunt in me,—because they have persecuted me unjustly."
The old woman bowed devoutly to the Church Latin; but her face assumed a vague expression of uneasiness at the idea of enemies and persecutions.
"Those enemies are numerous and powerful, noble lady, but let us not be alarmed beyond measure. Let us have confidence in the decrees of heaven and the justice of our cause. God is in the midst of it and it shall not be shaken. In medio ejus non commovebitur."
A gigantic negro, resplendent in new gold lace, interrupted them to announce that the velocipedes were ready for the daily lesson on the terrace of the Tuileries. Before leaving the room, the children solemnly shook once more the wrinkled, calloused hand of their grandmother, who was watching them walk away, utterly bewildered and with a sore heart, when, yielding to an adorable, spontaneous impulse, the youngest of the three, having reached the door, suddenly turned, pushed the great negro aside, and plunged head foremost, like a little buffalo, into Mere Jansoulet's skirts, throwing his arms around her and holding up to her his smooth brow splashed with brown curls, with the sweet grace of the child who offers his caress like a flower. Perhaps the little fellow, being nearer the nest and its warmth, the nurse's cradling lap and patois ballads, had felt the waves of maternal love of which the Levantine deprived him flowing toward his little heart. The old "Grandma" shuddered from head to foot in her surprise at that instinctive embrace.
"Oh my darling—my darling!" seizing the curly, silky little head which reminded her of another, and kissing it frantically. Then the child released himself and ran away without a word, his hair wet with hot tears.
Left alone with Cabassu, the mother, whom that kiss had consoled, asked for an explanation of the priest's words.—Had her son many enemies, pray?
"Oh!" said Cabassu, "it is not at all surprising in his position."
"But what's all this about this being a great day, and this 'sitting' you all talk about?"
"Why, yes! This is the day when we're to know whether Bernard is to be a deputy or not."
"What? Isn't he one yet? Why, I have told it everywhere in the neighborhood, and I illuminated Saint-Romans a month ago. So I was made to tell a lie!"
The masseur had much difficulty in explaining to her the parliamentary formality of testing the validity of elections. She listened with only one ear, feverishly pulling over the linen.
"And that's where my Bernard is at this moment?"
"Are women allowed to go into this Chamber?—Then why isn't his wife there? For I can understand that it's a great affair for him. On such a day as to-day he will need to feel that all those he loves are beside him. Look you, my boy, you must take me to this sitting. Is it very far?"
"No, very near. Only it must have begun before this. And then," added the Giaour, a little embarrassed, "this is the hour when Madame needs me."
"Ah! Do you teach her this thing that you're professor of? What do you call it?"
"Massage. It comes down to us from the ancients. There, she's ringing her bell now. Some one will come to call me. Do you want me to tell her that you are here?"
"No, no, I prefer to go to the Chamber at once."
"But you have no card of admission, have you?"
"Bah! I'll say that I am Jansoulet's mother and that I have come to hear my son tried."
Poor mother! she did not know how truly she described his position.
"Wait a moment, Madame Francoise. Let me, at least, send some one to show you the way."
"Oh! do you know, I've never been able to get used to these servant people. I've a tongue in my head. There are people in the streets; I shall find my way well enough."
He made one last attempt, without disclosing the whole of his thought:
"Be careful. His enemies will speak against him in the Chamber. You will hear things that will hurt you."
Oh! the lovely smile of maternal faith and pride with which she answered:
"Don't I know better than all those people what my son is worth? Is there anything that could make me unjust to him? If so, I must be a mighty ungrateful woman. Nonsense!"
And, with a threatening shake of her cap, she departed.
Straight as a statue, with head erect, the old woman strode along under the arches she had been told to follow, somewhat disturbed by the incessant rumbling of carriages and by her slow progress, unaccompanied by the movement of her faithful distaff, which had not quitted her for fifty years. All these suggestions of enmity, of persecution, the priest's mysterious words, Cabassu's dark hints, excited and terrified her. She found therein an explanation of the presentiments which had taken possession of her so firmly as to tear her away from her habits and her duties, the superintendence of the Chateau and the care of her invalid. Strangely enough, by the way, since fortune had cast upon her son and her that cloak of gold with its heavy folds, Mere Jansoulet had never become accustomed to it, and was always expecting the sudden disappearance of their splendor. Who could say that the final crash was not really beginning now? And suddenly, amid these gloomy thoughts, the remembrance of the childish scene of a moment before, of the little one rubbing against her drugget skirt, caused her wrinkled lips to swell in a loving smile, and, in her joy, she murmured in her patois:
"Oh! that little fellow!"
A vast, magnificent, dazzling square, two sheaves of water flying upward in silver dust, then a great stone bridge, and at the further end a square building with statues in front of it, and an iron gateway where carriages were standing, people passing through and a knot of police officers. That was the place. She made her way bravely through the crowd as far as a high glass door.
"Your card, my good woman?"
The good woman had no card, but she said simply to one of the ushers with red lapels who were acting as doorkeepers:
"I am Bernard Jansoulet's mother; I have come to attend my boy's sitting."
It was in very truth her boy's sitting; for in that crowd besieging the doors, in the crowd that filled the corridors, the hall, the galleries, the whole palace, the same name was whispered everywhere, accompanied by smiles and muttered comments. A great scandal was expected, shocking revelations by the spokesman of the committee which would doubtless lead to some violent outburst on the part of the savage thus brought to bay; and people crowded thither as to a first performance or the argument of a famous cause. The old mother certainly could not have made herself heard in the midst of that throng, if the train of gold left by the Nabob wherever he passed, and marking his royal progress, had not made everything smooth for her. She followed an usher through that labyrinth of corridors, folding doors, empty, echoing rooms, filled with a buzzing noise which circulated through the air in the building and passed out through its walls, as if the very stones were impregnated with that verbosity and added the echoes of bygone days to those of all the voices of to-day. Passing through a corridor, she spied a little dark man shouting and gesticulating to the attendants:
"Tell Moussiou Jansoulet zat I am ze deputy-mayor of Sarlazaccio, zat I have been sentenced to five month in prison for him. Zat deserves a card for ze sitting, Corps de Dieu!"
Five months in prison on her son's account. How could that be? Anxious beyond words, she arrived at last, with a ringing in her ears, at a landing where there were divers little doors like those of furnished lodgings or theatre boxes, surmounted by different inscriptions: "Senators' Gallery," "Gallery of the Diplomatic Corps," "Members' Gallery." She entered, seeing nothing at first but four or five rows of benches crowded with people; then, on the opposite side of the hall, far away, other galleries equally crowded, separated from her by a vast open space; she leaned, still standing, against the wall, amazed to be there, bewildered, confused. A puff of hot air striking her in the face, the hum of voices ascending from below drew her down the sloping floor of the gallery, toward the edge of a yawning pit, so to speak, in the centre of the great vessel, where her son must be. Oh, how she would have liked to see him! Thereupon, making herself as small as possible, playing about her with her elbows, sharp and hard as her distaff, she glided, wormed herself along between the wall and the benches, heedless of the outbursts of wrath she aroused, of the contemptuous glances of the women in gorgeous array, whose laces and spring dresses she crushed. For it was a distinctly fashionable society gathering.
Indeed, Mere Jansoulet recognized by his inflexible shirtfront and aristocratic nose the dandified marquis who had visited at Saint-Romans, and who bore so felicitously the name of a gorgeous bird; but he did not look at her. Having thus advanced a few rows, she was checked by the back of a man sitting, an enormous back which completely blocked her path, prevented her from going farther. Luckily, however, by leaning forward a little, she could see almost the whole hall; and those semi-circular rows of desks where the deputies stood in groups, the green hangings on the walls, that pulpit at the rear occupied by a man with a bald head and stern features, all in the quiet gray light falling from above, made her think of a recitation about to commence, preceded by the moving about and chattering of restless pupils.
One thing attracted her attention, the persistence with which all eyes seemed to be turned in the same direction, to be fixed upon the same point of attraction; and as she followed that current of curiosity which magnetized the whole assemblage, the floor as well as the galleries, she saw what everybody was staring at so earnestly; it was her son.
In the Jansoulets' province there still exists in some old churches, at the back of the choir, half-way up from the crypt, a little stone box, to which lepers were admitted to listen to the services, exhibiting to the curious and fearful throng their pitiable brute-like figures cowering against the holes cut in the wall. Francoise well remembered having seen, in the village in which she was brought up, the leper, the terror of her childhood, listening to the mass in his stone cage, lost in the shadow and in reprobation. When she saw her son sitting alone, far back, with his face in his hands, that picture came to her mind. "One would say he was a leper," muttered the peasant woman. And in very truth the poor Nabob was a moral leper, upon whom his millions brought from the Orient were at that moment imposing the torments of a terrible and mysterious exotic disease. As it happened, the bench upon which he had chosen his seat showed several gaps due to leaves of absence or recent deaths; and while the other deputies talked and laughed together, making signs to one another, he sat silent, apart, the object of the earnest scrutiny of the whole Chamber,—a scrutiny which Mere Jansoulet felt to be ironical, ill-disposed, and which burned her as it passed. How could she let him know that she was there, close at hand, that one faithful heart was beating not far from his? for he avoided turning toward that gallery. One would have said that he felt that it was hostile, that he was afraid of seeing discouraging things there. Suddenly, at the ringing of a bell on the president's desk, a thrill ran through the assemblage, every head was bent forward in the attentive attitude that immobilizes the features, and a thin man with spectacles, suddenly rising to his feet amid that multitude of seated men—a position which gave him at once the authority of attitude—said, as he opened the pile of papers which he held in his hand:
"Messieurs, I rise in the name of your third committee, to recommend to you that the election in the second district of the department of Corsica be declared void."
In the profound silence following that sentence, which Mere Jansoulet did not understand, the stout creature sitting in front of her began to wheeze violently, and suddenly a lovely woman's face, in the front row of the gallery, turned to make him a rapid sign of intelligence and satisfaction. Her pale brow, thin lips and eyebrows that seemed too black in the white frame of the hat, produced in the good old woman's eyes, although she could not tell why, the painful impression of the first lightning flash when the storm is beginning and the apprehension of the thunderbolt follows the rapid meeting of the fluids.
Le Merquier read his report. The slow, lifeless, monotonous voice, the Lyonnais accent, soft and drawling, with which the advocate kept time by a movement of the head and shoulders almost like an animal, presented a striking contrast to the savage conciseness of the conclusions. First, a rapid sketch of the electoral irregularities. Never had universal suffrage been treated with such primitive, uncivilized disrespect. At Sarlazaccio, where Jansoulet's opponent seemed likely to carry the day, the ballot-box was destroyed during the night preceding the counting. The same thing, or almost the same, happened at Levie, at Saint-Andre, at Avabessa. And these offences were committed by the mayors themselves, who carried the boxes to their houses, broke the seals and tore up the ballots, under cover of their municipal authority. On all sides fraud, intrigue, even violence. At Calcatoggio an armed man, blunderbuss in hand, stood at the window of an inn just opposite the mayor's office throughout the election; and whenever a supporter of Sebastiani, Jansoulet's opponent, appeared on the square, the man pointed his weapon at him: "If you go in, I'll blow out your brains!" Moreover, when we see police commissioners, justices of the peace, sealers of weights and measures daring to transform themselves into electoral agents, intimidating and seducing a people notorious for their subjection to all these tyrannical little local influences, have we not proof positive of unbridled license? Why, even the priests, consecrated pastors, led astray by their zealous interest in the poor-box and the maintenance of their impoverished churches, preached a veritable crusade in favor of Jansoulet's election. But an even more powerful, although less respectable, influence was set at work for the good cause,—the influence of bandits. "Yes, bandits, Messieurs, I am not jesting."—And thereupon followed a sketch in bold colors of Corsican banditti in general and the Piedigriggio family in particular.
The Chamber listened with close attention and with considerable uneasiness. The fact was that it was an official candidate whose actions were being thus described, and those strange electoral morals were indigenous in that privileged island, the cradle of the imperial family, and so intimately connected with the destiny of the dynasty that an attack on Corsica seemed to react upon the sovereign. But when it was observed that the new minister of State, Mora's successor and bitter enemy, sitting on the government benches, seemed overjoyed at the rebuke administered to a creature of the defunct statesman, and smiled complacently at Le Merquier's stinging persiflage, all embarrassment instantly disappeared and the ministerial smile, repeated on three hundred mouths, soon increased to scarce-restrained laughter, the laughter of crowds dominated by any rod, by whomsoever held, which the slightest sign of approbation from the master causes to burst forth. In the galleries, which were as a general rule but little indulged with picturesque incidents, and were entertained by these stories of bandits as by a genuine novel, there was general gayety, a radiant animation enlivened the faces of all the women, overjoyed to be able to appear pretty without jarring upon the solemnity of the place. Little light hats quivered in all their bright-hued plumes, round arms encircled with gold leaned on the rail in order to listen more at their ease. The solemn Le Merquier had imparted to the sitting the entertainment of a play, had introduced the little comical note permitted at charitable concerts as a lure to the profane.
Impassive and cold as ice, despite his triumph, he continued to read in a voice as dismal and penetrating as a Lyonnais shower.
"Now, Messieurs, we ask ourselves how it was that a stranger, a Provencal recently returned from the Orient, entirely ignorant of the interests and needs of that island where he had never been seen before the elections, the true type of what the Corsicans contemptuously call 'a continental'—how did this man succeed in arousing such enthusiasm, devotion so great as to lead to crime, to profanation? His wealth will answer the question, his vile gold thrown into the faces of the electors, stuffed by force into their pockets with a shameless cynicism of which we have innumerable proofs."—Then came the endless series of affidavits: "I, the undersigned, Croce (Antoine), do testify, in the interest of truth, that Nardi, commissioner of police, came to our house one evening and said to me, 'Hark ye, Croce (Antoine), I swear to you by the flame of yonder lamp that, if you vote for Jansoulet, you shall have fifty francs to-morrow morning,'"—And this: "I, the undersigned, Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse), declare that I refused with scorn seventeen francs offered me by the mayor of Pozzo-Negro to vote against my cousin Sebastiani."—It is probable that for three francs more Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse) would have devoured his scorn in silence. But the Chamber did not go so deep as that.
It was moved to indignation, was that incorruptible Chamber. It muttered, it moved about restlessly on its soft benches of red velvet, it uttered noisy exclamations. There were "Ohs!" of stupefaction, eyes like circumflex accents, sudden backward movements, or appalled, discouraged gestures, such as the spectacle of human degradation sometimes calls forth. And observe that the majority of those deputies had used the identical electoral methods, that there were on those benches heroes of the famous "rastels," of those open-air banquets at which begarlanded and beribboned calves were borne aloft in triumph as at Gargantua's kermesses. They naturally cried out louder than the others, turned in righteous wrath toward the high, solitary bench where the poor leper sat motionless, listening, his head in his hands. But amid the general hue and cry, a single voice arose in his favor, a low, unpractised voice, rather a sympathetic buzzing than speech, in which could be vaguely distinguished the words: "Great services rendered to Corsica. Extensive enterprises. Caisse Territoriale."
The man who spoke thus falteringly was a little fellow in white gaiters, with an albino's face and scanty hair that stood erect in bunches. But that tactless friend's interruption simply furnished Le Merquier with a pretext for an immediate and natural transition. A hideous smile parted his flabby lips. "The honorable Monsieur Sarigue refers to the Caisse Territoriale; we proceed to answer him." The Paganetti den of thieves seemed to be, in truth, very familiar to him. In a few concise, keen words he threw light into the inmost depths of that dark lair, pointed out all the snares, all the pitfalls, the windings, the trap-doors, like a guide waving his torch above the underground dungeons of some hideous in pace. He spoke of the pretended quarries, the railroads on paper, the imaginary steamboats, vanished in their own smoke. The ghastly desert of Taverna was not forgotten, nor the old Genoese tower that served as an office for the Maritime Agency. But the detail that rejoiced the heart of the Chamber above all else was the description of a burlesque ceremonial organized by the Governor for driving a tunnel through Monte-Rotondo,—a gigantic undertaking still in the air, postponed from year to year, requiring millions of money and thousands of arms, which had been inaugurated with great pomp a week before the election. The report described the affair comically, the blow of the pick delivered by the candidate on the flank of the great mountain covered with primeval forests, the prefect's speech, the blessing of the standards amid shouts of "Vive Bernard Jansoulet!" and two hundred workmen going to work at once, working day and night for a week, and then—as soon as the election was over—abandoning the piles of broken rock heaped around an absurd excavation, an additional place of refuge for the redoubtable prowlers in the thickets. The trick was played. After extorting money so long from the shareholders, the Caisse Territoriale had been made to serve as a means of capturing the votes of the electors,—"And now, Messieurs, here is one last detail with which I might well have begun, in order to spare you the distressing story of this electoral burlesque. I learn that a judicial inquiry into the Corsican concern has been opened this very day, and that a searching expert examination of its books will very probably lead to one of those financial scandals, too frequent, alas! in our day, in which you will not, for the honor of this Chamber, permit one of your members to be involved."
Upon that unexpected disclosure the reporter paused a moment to draw breath, like an actor emphasizing the effect of his words; and in the dramatic silence which suddenly settled down upon the whole assemblage, the sound of a closing door was heard. It was Paganetti, the governor, who had hastily left his seat in one of the galleries, with pale face, round eyes, and mouth puckered for a whistle, like Mr. Punch when he has detected in the air the near approach of a violent blow. Monpavon, unmoved, puffed out his breastplate. The stout man wheezed violently into the flowers on his wife's little white hat.
Mere Jansoulet gazed at her son.
"I spoke of the honor of the Chamber, Messieurs,—I have something more to say on that subject."
Le Merquier was no longer reading. After the reporter, the orator came upon the stage, the judge rather. His face was devoid of expression, his glance averted, and nothing lived, nothing stirred in his long body, but the right arm, that long, bony arm in its short sleeve, which moved mechanically up and down like a sword of justice, and punctuated the end of each sentence with the cruel and inexorable gesture of beheading. And it was in truth a veritable execution at which that audience was looking on. The orator would have been glad to omit from consideration the scandalous legends, the mystery that hovered over the amassing of that colossal fortune in distant lands, far from all supervision. But there were in the candidate's life certain points difficult to explain, certain details—He hesitated, seemed to be selecting his words with great care, then, as if recognizing the impossibility of formulating the direct charge, he continued: "Let us not degrade the discussion, Messieurs. You have understood me, you know to what infamous reports,—to what calumnies I would that I might say,—I allude; but truth compels me to declare that when Monsieur Jansoulet, being summoned before our third committee, was called upon to controvert the charges made against him, his explanations were so vague that, while we were persuaded of his innocence, our scrupulous regard for your honor led us to reject a candidate tainted with ordure of that sort. No, that man should not be allowed to sit among you. Indeed, what would he do here? Having resided so long in the Orient, he has forgotten the laws, the morals, the customs of his own country. He believes in the hasty administration of justice, bastinadoes in the public streets; he relies upon abuses of power, and, what is still worse, upon the venality, the cowering degradation of all mankind. He is the merchant who thinks that everything can be bought if he offers enough for it,—even the votes of electors, even the consciences of his colleagues."
You should have seen the artless admiration with which those estimable portly deputies, torpid with good living, listened to that ascetic, that man of another epoch, as if some Saint-Jerome had come forth from the depths of his thebaid to overwhelm with his burning eloquence, in the Senate of the Empire of the East, the unblushing profligacy of prevaricators and extortioners. How fully they understood the noble sobriquet of "My Conscience," which the Palais de Justice bestowed upon him, and which suited him so well with his great height and his wooden gestures! In the galleries the enthusiasm was even greater. Pretty faces leaned forward to see him, to drink in his words. Murmurs of approval ran along the benches, waving bouquets of all shades of color, like the wind blowing through a field of grain in flower. A woman's voice exclaimed in a slight foreign accent: "Bravo! bravo!"
And the mother?
Standing motionless, absorbed by her eager desire to understand something of that courtroom phraseology, of those mysterious allusions, she was like the deaf-mutes who detect what is said in their presence only by the movement of the lips, by the expression of the face. Now, one had only to look at her son and Le Merquier to understand what injury one was inflicting upon the other, what treacherous poisoned meaning fell from that long harangue upon the poor devil who might have been thought to be asleep, save for the quivering of his broad shoulders and the clenching of his hands in his hair, in which they rioted madly, while concealing his face. Oh! if she could have called to him from where she stood: "Don't be afraid, my son! If they all despise you, your mother loves you. Let us go away together. What do we care for them?" And for a moment she could almost believe that what she said to him thus in the depths of her heart reached him by virtue of some mysterious intuition. He had risen, shaken his curly head, with its flushed cheeks, and its thick lips quivering nervously with a childish longing to burst into tears. But, instead of leaving his bench, he clung to it, his great hands crushing the wooden rail. The other had finished; now it was his turn to reply.
"Messieurs—" he said.
He stopped instantly, dismayed by the hoarse, horribly dull and vulgar sound of his voice, which he heard for the first time in public. And in that pause, tormented by twitchings of the face, by fruitless efforts to find the intonation he sought, he must needs summon strength to make his defence. And if the poor man's agony was touching to behold, the old mother up yonder, leaning forward, breathing hard, moving her lips nervously as if to assist him to find his words, sent back to him a faithful imitation of his torture. Although he could not see her, having his face turned away from that gallery which he intentionally avoided, that maternal breath, the ardent magnetism of those black eyes gave him life at last, and the fetters suddenly dropped from his speech and his gestures.
"First of all, Messieurs, let me say that I do not come here to defend my election. If you believe that electoral morals have not always been the same in Corsica, that all the irregularities committed must be attributed to the corrupting influence of my money and not to the uncivilized and passionate nature of a people, reject me; it will be justice and I shall not murmur. But there is something else than my election involved in this matter; accusations have been made which attack my honor, which bring it directly in question, and to those alone I propose to reply." His voice gradually became stronger, still trembling and indistinct, but with now and then a thrilling note such as we sometimes hear in voices whose original harshness has undergone some changes. He sketched his life very rapidly, his early days, his departure for the Orient. You would have said that it was one of the eighteenth century tales of barbarian pirates scouring the Latin seas, of beys and fearless Provencaux, dark as crickets, who always end by marrying some sultana and "taking the turban," according to the old Marseillais expression. "For my part," said the Nabob, with his ingenuous smile, "I had no need to take the turban to enrich myself, I contented myself with importing into that land of indolence and utter heedlessness the activity, the pliability of a Frenchman from the South, and I succeeded in a few years in making one of the fortunes that are made nowhere else except in those infernally hot countries where everything is huge, hurried, out of proportion, where flowers grow in a night, where a single tree produces a whole forest. The excuse for such fortunes lies in the use that is made of them, and I undertake to say that no favorite of destiny ever tried harder than I did to earn forgiveness for his wealth. I did not succeed."—No, indeed, he had not succeeded. From all the gold he had sown with such insane lavishness he had reaped naught but hatred and contempt. Hatred! Who else could boast of having stirred up so much of that as he, as a vessel stirs up the mud when its keel touches bottom? He was too rich; that took the place in him of all sorts of vices, of all sorts of crimes, and singled him out for anonymous acts of vengeance, for cruel and persistent animosities.
"Ah! Messieurs," cried the poor Nabob, raising his clenched fists, "I have known poverty, I have struggled with it hand to hand, and it is a terrible struggle, I give you my word. But to struggle against wealth, to defend one's happiness, one's honor, one's peace of mind, feebly protected by piles of gold pieces which topple over and crush one, is a far more ghastly, more heart-sickening task. Never, in the gloomiest of my days of destitution, did I suffer the torture, the agony, the sleeplessness with which fortune has overwhelmed me, this horrible fortune which I abhor and which suffocates me! I am known as the Nabob in Paris. Nabob is not the proper name for me, but Pariah, a social pariah stretching out his arms, wide open, to a society that will have none of him."
Printed upon paper these words may seem cold; but there, before the whole Chamber, that man's defence seemed to be instinct with an eloquent and imposing serenity, which aroused astonishment at first, coming from that clown, that upstart, unread, uneducated, with his Rhone boatman's voice and his street porter's bearing, and afterward moved his auditors strangely by its unrefined, uncivilized character, utterly at variance with all parliamentary traditions. Already tokens of approval had manifested themselves among the benches, accustomed to submit to the colorless, monotonous downpour of administrative language. But at that cry of frenzy and despair hurled at wealth by the unfortunate man whom it held in its toils, whom it drenched and drowned in its floods of gold, and who struggled against it, calling for help from the depths of his Pactolus, the whole Chamber rose with fervent applause, with hands outstretched as if to give the unhappy Nabob those tokens of esteem which he seemed to covet so earnestly, and at the same time to save him from shipwreck. Jansoulet was conscious of it, and, warmed by that manifestation of sympathy, he continued, with head erect and assured glance:
"You have just been told, Messieurs, that I am not worthy to sit among you. And the man who told you that was the very last man from whom I should have expected it, for he alone knows the painful secret of my life; he alone was able to speak for me, to justify me and convince you. He did not choose to do it. Very good! I will make the attempt, whatever it may cost me. Outrageously calumniated as I have been before the whole country, I owe to myself, I owe to my children this public justification, and I have decided to make it."
With that he turned abruptly toward the gallery where he knew that the enemy was watching him, and stopped suddenly, horror-stricken. Directly in front of him, behind the baroness's pale, malicious little face, his mother, his mother whom he believed to be two hundred leagues away from the terrible storm, stood leaning against the wall, gazing at him, holding toward him her divine face streaming with tears, but proud and radiant none the less in her Bernard's great success. For it was a genuine success of sincere, eminently human emotion, which a few words more would change into a triumph.—"Go on! Go on!" men shouted from all sides of the Chamber, to reassure him, to encourage him. But Jansoulet did not speak. And yet he had very little to say to justify himself: "Calumny wilfully confused two names. My name is Bernard Jansoulet. The other's name was Jansoulet Louis." Not another word.
But that was too much in his mother's presence, as she was still ignorant of her oldest son's dishonor. It was too much for the family respect and unity.
He fancied he could hear his old father's voice: "I am dying of shame, my son."—Would not she die of shame too, if he were to speak? He met his mother's smile with a sublime glance of renunciation; then he continued in a dull voice and with a gesture of discouragement:
"Excuse me, Messieurs, this explanation is decidedly beyond my strength. Order an investigation into my life, open to all and in the broad light of day, for any one can understand my every act. I swear to you that you will find nothing therein which should debar me from sitting among the representatives of my country."
The amazement, the disappointment at that surrender, which seemed to all the sudden downfall of great effrontery when brought to bay, were beyond all bounds. There was a moment of excitement on the benches, the confusion of a standing vote, which the Nabob watched listlessly in the uncertain light from the stained glass windows, as the condemned man watches the surging crowd from the platform of the scaffold; then, after the suspense of a century which precedes a supreme moment, the president announced amid profound silence, in the simplest manner imaginable:
"Monsieur Bernard Jansoulet's election is declared void."
Never was a man's life cut short with less solemnity or pother.
Mere Jansoulet, up yonder in her gallery, understood nothing except that she could see gaps on the benches all around,—that people were getting up and going away. Soon no one remained with her save the fat man and the lady in the white hat, who were leaning over the rail and gazing curiously at Bernard, who seemed to be preparing to go, for he was very calmly packing thick bundles of papers into a great portfolio. His papers arranged, he rose and left his seat.—Ah! the lives of those who sit in high places sometimes have very cruel moments. Gravely, heavily, under the eyes of the whole Chamber, he must redescend the steps he had climbed at the price of so much toil and money, only to be hurled back to their foot by an inexorable fatality.
It was that for which the Hemerlingues were waiting, following with their eyes to its last stage that heart-rending, humiliating exit which piles upon the back of the rejected one something of the shame and horror of an expulsion; then, as soon as the Nabob had disappeared, they looked at each other with a silent laugh and left the gallery, the old woman not daring to ask them to enlighten her, being warned by her instinct of the bitter hostility of those two. Left alone, she gave all her attention to something else that was being read, convinced that her son's interests were still under discussion. There was talk of elections, of counting ballots, and the poor mother, leaning forward over the rail in her shabby cap, knitting her thick eyebrows, would have listened religiously to the report on the Sarigue election to the very end, had not the usher who had admitted her come to tell her that it was all over and that she had better go.
"Really? It's all over?" she said, rising as if with regret.
And she added, timidly, in a low tone:
"Did he—did he win?"
It was so ingenuous, so touching, that the usher had not the slightest inclination to laugh.
"Unfortunately no, Madame. Monsieur Jansoulet did not win. But why did he stop after he made such a good start? If it's true that he was never in Paris before and that another Jansoulet did all they accuse him of, why didn't he say so?"
The old mother turned very pale and clung to the stair-rail.
She had understood.
Bernard's sudden pause when he caught sight of her, the sacrifice he had offered her so simply with the eloquent glance of a murdered beast came to her mind; by the same blow the shame of the Elder, of the favorite child, was confounded with the other's downfall, a two-edged maternal sorrow, which tore her heart whichever way she turned. Yes, yes, it was for her sake that he had forborne to speak. But she would not accept such a sacrifice. He must return at once and explain himself to the deputies.
"My son? where is my son?"
"Below, Madame, in his carriage. It was he who sent me to look for you."
She darted in front of the usher, walking rapidly, talking aloud, jostling against little black-faced, bearded men who were gesticulating in the corridors. After the Salle des Pas-Perdus, she passed through a great ante-chamber, circular in shape, where servants, drawn up respectfully in line, formed a living, bedizened dado on the high bare wall. From there she could see, through the glass doors, the iron gateway outside, the crowd, and among other waiting carriages the Nabob's. The peasant woman as she passed recognized her enormous neighbor of the gallery talking with the sallow man in spectacles who had declaimed against her son and was receiving all sorts of congratulations and warm grasps of the hand for his speech. Hearing the name of Jansoulet pronounced with an accompaniment of mocking, well-satisfied laughter, she slackened her long stride.
"At all events," said a young dandy with the face of a dissolute woman, "he didn't prove wherein our charges are false."
At that the old woman made a jagged hole through the group and exclaimed, taking her stand in front of Moessard:
"What he didn't tell you I will tell you. I am his mother, and it's my duty to speak."
She interrupted herself to seize Le Merquier's sleeve as he was slinking away.
"You, above all, you bad man, you are going to listen to me. What have you against my child? Don't you know who he is? Wait a moment and let me tell you."
She turned to the journalist:
"I had two sons, Monsieur—"
Moessard was no longer there. She returned to Le Merquier:
"Two sons, Monsieur—"
Le Merquier had disappeared.
"Oh! listen to me, some one, I entreat you," said the poor mother, throwing her hands and her words about, to recall, to detain her auditors; but they all fled, melted away, disappeared, deputies, reporters, strange and mocking faces to whom she insisted upon telling her story by main force, heedless of the indifference which greeted her sorrows and her joys, her maternal pride and affection expressed in a jargon of her own. And while she rushed about and labored thus, intensely excited, her cap awry, at once grotesque and sublime like all children of nature in the drama of civilization, calling to witness to her son's uprightness and the injustice of men even the footmen whose contemptuous impassiveness was more cruel than all the rest, Jansoulet, who had come to look for her, being anxious at her non-appearance, suddenly stood beside her.
"Take my arm, mother. You must not stay here."
He spoke very loud, with a manner so composed and calm that all laughter ceased, and the old woman, suddenly quieted, supported by the firm pressure of that arm, clinging to which the last trembling of her indignation vanished, left the palace between two respectful lines of people. A sublime though rustic couple, the son's millions illumining the mother's peasantry like the relics of a saint enclosed in a golden shrine, they disappeared in the bright sunlight, in the splendor of the gorgeous carriage, brutal irony in presence of that sore distress, a striking example of the ghastly poverty of wealth.
They sat side by side on the back seat, for they dreaded to be seen, and at first they did not speak. But as soon as the carriage had started, as soon as they had left behind the sorrowful Calvary where his honor remained on the gibbet, Jansoulet, at the end of his strength, laid his head against his mother's shoulder, hid his face in a fold of the old green shawl, and there, shedding hot tears, his whole body shaken by sobs, the cry of his infancy came once more to his lips, his patois wail when he was a little child: "Mamma! mamma!"
"Que l'heure est donc breve Qu'on passe en aimant! C'est moins qu'un moment, Un peu plus qu'un reve."
In the half-light of the great salon clad in its summer garb, filled with flowers, the plush furniture swathed in white covers, the chandeliers draped in gauze, the shades lowered and the windows open, Madame Jenkins sits at the piano, picking out the last production of the fashionable musician of the day; a few sonorous chords accompany the exquisite lines, a melancholy Lied in unequal measures, which seems to have been written for the serious sweetness of her voice and the anxious state of her mind.
"Le temps nous enleve, Notre enchantement,"
sighs the poor woman, moved by the sound of her own lament; and while the notes fly away through the courtyard of the mansion, tranquil as usual, where the fountain is playing in the midst of a clump of rhododendrons, the singer interrupts herself, her hands prolonging the chord, her eyes fixed on the music, but her glance far, far away. The doctor is absent. The interests of his business and his health have banished him from Paris for a few days, and, as frequently happens in solitude, the fair Madame Jenkins' thoughts have assumed that serious cast, that analytical tendency which sometimes makes a brief separation fatal to the most united households. United they had not been for a long time. They met only at table, before the servants, hardly spoke to each other, unless he, the man of oleaginous manners, chose to indulge in some brutal, uncivil remark concerning her son, her years which were beginning to tell upon her at last, or a dress which was not becoming to her. Always gentle and serene, she forced back her tears, submitted to everything, pretended not to understand; not that she loved him still, after so much cruel and contemptuous treatment, but it was the old story, as Joe the coachman said, of "an old incubus who wants to be married." Heretofore a terrible obstacle, the life of the legitimate spouse, had prolonged a shameful situation. Now that the obstacle no longer existed, she wanted to put an end to the comedy, because of Andre, who might any day be forced to despise his mother, because of the world which they had been deceiving for ten years, so that she never went into society without a sinking at the heart, dreading the welcome that would be accorded her on the morrow of a disclosure. To her hints, her entreaties, Jenkins had replied at first with vague phrases, with grandiloquent gestures: "Do you doubt me? Isn't our engagement sacred?"
 "How swift flies the hour We pass in love's pleasures! 'Tis less than a moment, Scarce more than a dream."
 "Time tears from our grasp Our blissful enchantment."
He also dwelt upon the difficulty of keeping secret a ceremony of such importance. Then he had taken refuge in malevolent silence, big with chilling anger and violent resolutions. The duke's death, the check thereby administered to his insane vanity, had dealt the last blow; for disaster, which often brings together hearts that are ripe for a mutual understanding, consummates and completes disunion. And that was a genuine disaster. The popularity of the Jenkins Pearls suddenly arrested, the very thorough exposure of the position of the foreign physician, the charlatan, by old Bouchereau in the journal of the Academy, caused the leaders of society to gaze at one another in alarm, even paler from terror than from the absorption of arsenic into their systems, and the Irishman had already felt the effect of those bewilderingly sudden changes of the wind which make Parisian infatuations so dangerous.
It was for that reason, doubtless, that Jenkins had deemed it advisable to disappear for some time, leaving Madame to continue to frequent the salons that were still open, in order to feel the pulse of public opinion and hold it in awe. It was a cruel task for the poor woman, who found everywhere something of the same cold, distant reception she had met with at Hemerlingue's. But she did not complain, hoping in this way to earn her marriage, to knit between him and herself, as a last resort, the painful bond of pity, of trials undergone in common. And as she knew that she was always in demand in society because of her talent, because of the artistic entertainment she furnished at select parties, being always ready to lay her long gloves and her fan on the piano, as a prelude to some portion of her rich repertory, she labored constantly, passed her afternoons turning over new music, selecting by preference melancholy and complicated pieces, the modern music which is no longer content to be an art but is becoming a science, and is much better adapted to the demands of our nervous fancies, our anxieties, than to the demands of sentiment.
"C'est moins qu'un moment, Un pen plus qu'un reve. Le temps nous enleve Notre enchantement."
A flood of bright light suddenly burst into the salon with the maid, who brought her mistress a card: "Heurteux, homme d'affaires."
The gentleman was waiting. He insisted on seeing Madame.
"Did you tell him that the doctor was away from home?"
She had told him; but it was Madame with whom he wished to speak.
With a feeling of uneasiness she scrutinized that coarse, rough card, that unfamiliar, harsh name: "Heurteux." Who could he be?
"Very well; show him in."
Heurteux, homme d'affaires, coming from the bright sunlight into the semi-darkness of the salon, blinked uncertainly, tried to distinguish his surroundings. She, on the contrary, distinguished very clearly a stiff, wooden figure, grizzly whiskers, a protruding under-jaw, one of those brigands of the Law whom we meet in the outskirts of the Palais de Justice, and who seem to have been born fifty years old, with a bitter expression about the mouth, an envious manner, and morocco satchels under their arms. He sat down on the edge of the chair to which she waved him, turned his head to make sure that the servant had left the room, then opened his satchel with great deliberation, as if to look for a paper. Finding that he did not speak, she began in an impatient tone:
"I must inform you, Monsieur, that my husband is away and that I am not familiar with any of his business matters."
Unmoved, with his hand still fumbling among his documents, the man replied:
"I am quite well aware that Monsieur Jenkins is away, Madame—" he laid particular stress on the words "Monsieur Jenkins,"—"especially as I come from him."
She stared at him in terror.
"Alas! yes, Madame. The doctor—as you are doubtless aware—is in a very embarrassed position for the moment. Unfortunate operations on the Bourse, the downfall of a great financial institution in which he had funds invested, the heavy burden of the Work of Bethlehem now resting on him alone, all these disasters combined have compelled him to form an heroic resolution. He is selling his house, his horses, everything that he owns, and has given me a power of attorney to that end."
He had found at last what he was looking for, one of those stamped papers, riddled with memoranda and words erased and interlined, into which the unfeeling law sometimes crowds so much cowardice and falsehood. Madame Jenkins was on the point of saying: "But I was here. I would have done whatever he wished, carried out all his orders," when she suddenly realized, from the visitor's lack of constraint, his self-assured, almost insolent manner, that she too was involved in that general overturn, in that throwing overboard of the expensive house and useless chattels, and that her departure would be the signal for the sale.
She rose abruptly. The man, still seated, continued:
"What I still have to say, Madame,"—Oh! she knew, she could have dictated what he still had to say—"is so painful, so delicate—Monsieur Jenkins is leaving Paris for a long time, and, fearing to expose you to the perils and hazards of the new life upon which he is entering, to take you away from a son of whom you are very fond, and in whose interest it will be better perhaps—"
She no longer heard or saw him, but, given over to despair, to madness perhaps, while he lost himself in involved sentences, she listened to a voice within persistently singing the air which haunted her in that terrible crash, as the drowning man's eyes retain the image of the last object upon which they rested.
"Le temps nous enleve Notre enchantement."
Suddenly her pride returned to her.
"Let us put an end to this, Monsieur. All your circumlocution and your fine words are simply an additional insult. The truth is that I am to be driven out, turned into the street like a servant."
"O Madame! Madame! The situation is painful enough, let us not embitter it by words. In working out his modus vivendi, Monsieur Jenkins parts from you, but he does it with death in his heart, and the propositions I am instructed to make to you are a sufficient proof of his feeling for you. In the first place, as to furniture and clothes, I am authorized to allow you to take—"
"Enough," said she.
She rushed to the bell:
"I am going out. My hat, my cloak at once,—something, no matter what. I am in a hurry."
And while her servant went to bring what she required, she added:
"Everything here belongs to Monsieur Jenkins. Let him dispose of it as he will. I will take nothing from him—do not insist—it is useless."
The man did not insist. His errand being performed, the rest was of little consequence to him.
Coolly, without excitement, she carefully adjusted her hat in front of the mirror, the servant attaching the veil and arranging the folds of the cape over her shoulders; then she looked around for a moment to see if she had forgotten anything that was of value to her. No, nothing; her son's letters were in her pocket; she never parted from them.
"Does Madame wish the carriage?"
And she left the house.
It was about five o'clock. At that moment Bernard Jansoulet was passing through the iron gateway of the Corps Legislatif, his mother on his arm; but, painful as was the drama that was being enacted there, this one far surpassed it in that respect, being more sudden, more unforeseen, devoid of the slightest solemnity, one of the private domestic dramas which Paris improvises every hour in the day; and it may be that that gives to the air we breathe in Paris that vibrating, quivering quality which excites the nerves. The weather was superb. The streets in those wealthy quarters, as broad and straight as avenues, shone resplendent in the light, which was already beginning to fade, enlivened by open windows, by flower-laden balconies, by glimpses of verdure toward the boulevards, light and tremulous between the harsh, rigid lines of stone. Madame Jenkins' hurried steps were bent in that direction, as she hastened along at random in a pitiable state of bewilderment. What a horrible downfall! Five minutes ago, rich, encompassed by all the respect and comforts of a luxurious existence. Now, nothing! Not even a roof to shelter her, not even a name! The street.
Where was she to go? What would become of her?
At first she had thought of her son. But to confess her sin, to blush before the child who respected her, to weep before him while depriving herself of the right to be consoled, was beyond her strength. No, there was nothing left for her but death. To die as soon as possible, to avoid shame by disappearing utterly, the inevitable end of situations from which there is no escape. But where to die? And how? There were so many ways of turning one's back on life! And as she walked along she reviewed them all in her mind. All around her was overflowing life, the charm that Paris lacks in winter, the open-air display of its splendor, its refined elegance, visible at that hour of the day and that season of the year around the Madeleine and its flower-market, in a space marked off by the fragrance of the roses and carnations. On the broad sidewalk, where gorgeous toilets were displayed, blending their rustling with the cool quivering of the leaves, there was something of the pleasure of a meeting in a salon, an air of acquaintance among the promenaders, smiles and quiet greetings as they passed. And suddenly Madame Jenkins, anxious concerning the distress depicted on her features, and concerning what people might think to see her hurrying along with that heedless, preoccupied manner, slackened her pace to the saunter of a simple promenader, and stopped to look at the shop windows. The bright-colored, gauzy window displays all spoke of travelling, of the country: light trains for the fine gravel of the park, hats wrapped about with gauze as a protection against the sun at the seashore, fans, umbrellas, purses. Her eyes gazed at all those gewgaws without seeing them; but an indistinct, pale reflection in the clear glass showed her her own body lying motionless on a bed in a furnished lodging, the leaden sleep of a narcotic in her head, or outside the walls yonder, displacing the mud beneath some boat. Which was the better?
She hesitated, comparing the two; then, having formed her decision, walked rapidly away with the resolute stride of the woman who tears herself regretfully from the artful temptations of the shop-window. As she hurried along, the Marquis de Monpavon, vivacious and superb, with a flower in his buttonhole, saluted her at a distance with the grand flourish of the hat so dear to the vanity of woman, the acme of elegance in the way of street salutations, the hat raised high in air above a rigid head. She answered with the polite greeting of the true Parisian, hardly expressed by an imperceptible movement of the figure and a smile in the eyes; and, seeing that exchange of worldly courtesies amid the springtime merrymaking, no one would have suspected that the same sinister thought guided the footsteps of those two, who met by chance on the road they were both following, in opposite directions, but aiming for the same goal.
The prediction of Mora's valet with regard to the marquis was fulfilled: "We may die or lose our power, then you will be called to account and it will be a terrible time." It was a terrible time. With the utmost difficulty the ex-receiver-general had obtained an extension of a fortnight in which to reimburse the Treasury, clinging to one last chance, that Jansoulet's election would be confirmed, and that, having recovered his millions, he would come once more to his assistance. The decision of the Chamber had deprived him of that supreme hope. As soon as he heard of it, he returned very calmly to the club and went up to his room where Francis was impatiently waiting to hand him an important paper that had arrived during the day. It was a notice to Sieur Louis-Marie-Agenor de Monpavon to appear the next day at the office of the examining magistrate. Was that addressed to the director of the Caisse Territoriale or to the defaulting ex-receiver-general? In any event, the employment at the outset of the brutal method of formal summons, instead of a quiet notification, was sufficiently indicative of the seriousness of the affair and the firm determination of the authorities.
In the face of such an extremity, which he had long foreseen and expected, the old beau's course was determined in advance. A Monpavon in the police-court, a Monpavon librarian at Mazas! Never! He put all his affairs in order, destroyed papers, carefully emptied his pockets, in which he placed only a few ingredients taken from his toilet-table, and all in such a perfectly calm and natural way that when he said to Francis as he left the room: "Going to take a bath. Beastly Chamber. Poisonous dirt," the servant believed what he said. Indeed, the marquis did not lie. After standing through that long and exciting sitting of the Chamber in the dust of the gallery, his legs ached as if he had spent two nights in a railway carriage; and as his resolve to die blended with his longing for a good bath, it occurred to the old sybarite to go to sleep in a bath-tub like What's-his-name—Thingamy—ps—ps—ps—and other famous characters of antiquity. It is doing him no more than justice to say that not one of those Stoics went forth to meet death more tranquilly than he.
Adorned with a white camellia with which, as he passed, the pretty flower-girl at the club decorated the buttonhole above his rosette as an officer of the Legion of Honor, he was walking lightly up Boulevard des Capucines, when the sight of Madame Jenkins disturbed his serenity for a moment. He noticed a youthful air about her, a flame in her eyes, a something so alluring that he stopped to look at her. Tall and lovely, her long black gauze dress trailing behind, her shoulders covered by a lace mantle over which a garland of autumn leaves fell from her hat, she passed on, disappeared amid the throng of other women no less stylish than she, in a perfumed atmosphere; and the thought that his eyes were about to close forever on that attractive spectacle, which he enjoyed as a connoisseur, saddened the old beau a little and diminished the elasticity of his walk. But a few steps farther on a meeting of another sort restored all his courage.
A shabby, shamefaced man, dazzled by the bright light, was crossing the boulevard; it was old Marestang, ex-senator, ex-minister, who was so deeply compromised in the affair of the Tourteaux de Malte, that, notwithstanding his age, his services, and the great scandal of such a prosecution, he had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment and stricken from the rolls of the Legion of Honor, where he was numbered among the great dignitaries. The affair was already ancient history, and the poor devil, a portion of his sentence having been remitted, had just come from prison, dejected, ruined, lacking even the wherewithal to gild his mental distress, for he had been compelled to disgorge. Standing on the edge of the sidewalk, he waited, hanging his head, until there should be an opportunity to cross the crowded street, sorely embarrassed by that enforced halt on the most frequented corner of the boulevards, caught between the foot-passengers and the stream of open carriages filled with familiar faces. Monpavon, passing near him, surprised his restless, timid glance, imploring recognition and at the same time seeking to avoid it. The idea that he might some day be reduced to that degree of humiliation caused him to shudder with disgust. "Nonsense! As if it were possible!" And, drawing himself up, inflating his breastplate, he walked on, with a firmer and more determined stride than before.
Monsieur de Monpavon is walking to his death. He goes thither by the long line of the boulevards, all aflame in the direction of the Madeleine, treading once more the springy asphalt like any loiterer, his nose in the air, his hands behind his back. He has plenty of time, there is nothing to hurry him,—the hour for the rendezvous is within his control. At every step he smiles, wafts a patronizing little greeting with the ends of his fingers, or performs the great flourish of the hat of a moment ago. Everything charms him, fascinates him, from the rumbling of the watering-carts to the rattle of the blinds at the doors of cafes which overflow to the middle of the sidewalk. The approach of death gives him the acute faculties of a convalescent, sensitive to all the beauties, all the hidden poesy of a lovely hour in summer in the heart of Parisian life,—of a lovely hour which will be his last, and which he would like to prolong until night. That is the reason, doubtless, why he passes the sumptuous establishment where he usually takes his bath; nor does he pause at the Chinese Baths. He is too well known hereabout. All Paris would know what had happened the same evening. There would be a lot of ill-bred gossip in clubs and salons, much spiteful comment on his death; and the old fop, the man of breeding, wishes to spare himself that shame, to plunge and be swallowed up in the uncertainty and anonymity of suicide, like the soldiers who, on the day after a great battle, are reported neither as living, wounded or dead, but simply as missing. That is why he had been careful to keep nothing upon him that might lead to his identification or furnish any precise information for the police reports, and why he seeks the distant, out-of-the-way quarters of the vast city, where the ghastly but comforting confusion of the common grave will protect him. Already the aspect of the boulevards has changed greatly. The crowd has become compact, more active and engrossed, the houses smaller and covered with business signs. When he has passed Portes Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis, through which the swarming overflow of the faubourgs streams at all hours of the day, the provincial character of the city becomes accentuated. The old beau no longer sees any one whom he knows and can boast of being a stranger to all.
The shopkeepers, who stare curiously at him, with his display of linen, his fine frock-coat, his erect figure, take him for some famous actor out for a little healthful exercise before the play, on the old boulevard, the scene of his earliest triumphs. The wind is cooler, the twilight darkens distant objects, and while the long street is still flooded with light in those portions through which he has passed, the light fades at every step. So it is with the past when its rays fall upon him who looks back and regrets. It seems to Monpavon that he is entering the darkness. He shivers a little, but does not lose courage, and walks on with head erect and unfaltering gait.
Monsieur de Monpavon is walking to his death. Now he enters the complicated labyrinth of noisy streets where the rumble of the omnibuses blends with the thousand and one industries of the working quarters, where the hot smoke from the factories is mingled with the fever of a whole population struggling against hunger. The air quivers, the gutters smoke, the buildings tremble as the heavy drays pass and collide at the corners of the narrow streets. Suddenly the marquis stops; he has found what he wanted. Between a charcoal dealer's dark shop and an undertaker's establishment, where the spruce boards leaning against the wall cause him to shudder, is a porte-cochere surmounted by a sign, the word "BATHS" on a dull lantern. He enters and crosses a damp little garden where a fountain weeps in a basin of artificial rockwork. That is just the dismal retreat he has been seeking. Who will ever dream of thinking that the Marquis de Monpavon came to that place to cut his throat? The house is at the end of the garden, a low house with green shutters, a glass door, and the false villa-like air that they all have. He orders a bath, plenty of towels, walks along the narrow corridor, and while the bath is being prepared, listening to the running water behind him, he smokes his cigar at the window, gazes at the flower-garden with its spindling lilacs, and the high wall that incloses it.
Adjoining it is a great yard, the yard of a fire-engine house with a gymnasium, whose poles and swings and horizontal bars, seen indistinctly over the wall, have the look of gibbets. A bugle rings out in the yard, and that blast carries the marquis back thirty years, reminds him of his campaigns in Algeria, the lofty ramparts of Constantine, Mora's arrival in the regiment, and duels, and select card-parties. Ah! how well life began! What a pity that those infernal cards—Ps—ps—ps—However, it's worth something to have saved one's breeding.
"Monsieur," said the attendant, "your bath is ready."
* * * * *
At that moment Madame Jenkins, pale and gasping for breath, entered Andre's studio, drawn thither by an instinct stronger than her will, by the feeling that she must embrace her child before she died. And yet, when she opened the door—he had given her a duplicate key—it was a relief to her to see that he had not returned, that her excitement, increased by a long walk, an unusual experience in her luxurious life as a woman of wealth, would have time to subside. No one in the room. But on the table the little note that he always left when he went out, so that his mother, whose visits, because of Jenkins' tyranny, had become more and more infrequent and brief, might know where he was, and either wait for him or join him. Those two had not ceased to love each other dearly, profoundly, despite the cruel circumstances which compelled them to introduce into their relations as mother and son the precautions, the clandestine mystery of a different kind of love.
"I am at my rehearsal," said the little note to-day, "I shall return about seven."
That attention from her son, whom she had not been to see for three weeks, and who persisted in expecting her none the less, brought to the mother's eyes a flood of tears which blinded her. One would have said that she had entered a new world. It was so light, so peaceful, so high, that little room which caught the last gleam of daylight on its windows, which was all aflame with the last rays of the sun already sinking below the horizon, and which seemed, like all attic rooms, carved out of a piece of sky, with its bare walls, decorated only by a large portrait, her own; nothing but her own portrait smiling in the place of honor and another in a gilt frame on the table. Yes, in very truth, the humble little lodging, which was still so light when all Paris was becoming dark, produced a supernatural impression upon her, despite the poverty of its scanty furniture, scattered through two rooms, its common chintz coverings, and its mantel adorned with two great bunches of hyacinths, the flowers that are drawn through the streets by cartloads in the morning. What a lovely, brave, dignified life she might have led there with her Andre! And in a moment, with the rapidity of a dream, she placed her bed in one corner, her piano in another, saw herself giving lessons, taking charge of the house, to which she brought her share of enthusiasm and courageous cheerfulness. How could she have failed to understand that that should be the duty, the pride of her widowhood? What blindness, what shameful weakness!
A sad mistake, doubtless, but one for which much extenuation might have been found in her easily influenced, affectionate nature, in the adroitness and knavery of her accomplice, who talked constantly of marriage, concealing from her the fact that he was not free himself, and when at last he was obliged to confess, drawing such a picture of the unrelieved gloom of his life, of his despair, of his love, that the poor creature, already so seriously involved in the eyes of the world, incapable of one of those heroic efforts which place one above false situations, had yielded at last, had accepted that twofold existence, at once so brilliant and so wretched, resting everything upon a lie that had lasted ten years. Ten years of intoxicating triumphs and indescribable anxiety, ten years during which she had never sung without the fear of being betrayed between two measures, during which the slightest remark concerning irregular establishments wounded her like an allusion to her own case, during which the expression of her face had gradually assumed that air of gentle humility, of a culprit demanding pardon. Then the certainty of being abandoned at some time had ruined even those borrowed joys, had caused her luxurious surroundings to wither and fade; and what agony, what suffering she had silently undergone, what never-ending humiliations, down to the last and most horrible of all!
While she reviews her life thus sorrowfully in the cool evening air and the peaceful calm of the deserted house, ringing laughter, an outburst of joyous youthful spirits ascends from the floor below; and remembering Andre's confidences, his last letter, in which he told her the great news, she tries to distinguish among those unfamiliar, youthful voices that of her daughter Elise, her son's fiancee, whom she does not know, whom she will never know. That thought, which completes the voluntary disherison of the mother, adds to the misery of her last moments and fills them with such a flood of remorse and regret that, notwithstanding her determination to be brave, she weeps and weeps.
The night falls gradually. Great streaks of shadow strike the sloping windows, while the sky, immeasurable in its depth, becomes colorless, seems to recede into the darkness. The roofs mass for the night as soldiers do for an attack. The clocks gravely tell each other the hour, while the swallows circle about in the neighborhood of a hidden nest and the wind makes its usual incursion among the ruins in the old lumber-yard. Tonight it blows with a wailing noise like the sea, with a shudder of fog; it blows from the river as if to remind the wretched woman that that is where she must go. Oh! how she shivers in her lace mantle at the thought! Why did she come here to revive her taste for life, which would be impossible after the confession she would be forced to make? Swift footsteps shake the staircase, the door is thrown open; it is Andre. He is singing, he is happy, and in a great hurry, for he is expected to dine with the Joyeuses. A glimmer of light, quick, so that the lover may beautify himself. But, as he scratches the match, he divines the presence of some one in the studio, a shadow moving among the motionless shadows.
Something answers, something like a stifled laugh or a sob. He thinks it is his young neighbors, a scheme of the "children" to amuse themselves. He draws near. Two hands, two arms seize him, are wound about him.
"It is I."
And in a feverish voice, which talks hurriedly in self-defence, she tells him that she is about to start on a long journey, and that before starting—
"A journey. Where are you going, pray?"
"Oh! I don't know. We are going ever so far away,—to his own country on some business of his."
"What! you won't be here for my play? It's to be given in three days. And then, right after it, my wedding. Nonsense! he can't prevent your being present at my wedding."
She excuses herself, invents reasons, but her burning hands, which her son holds in his, her unnatural voice, convince Andre that she is not telling the truth. He attempts to light the candles, but she prevents him.
"No, no, we don't need a light. It is better this way. Besides, I have so many preparations still to make; I must go."
They are both standing, ready for the parting; but Andre will not let her go until he has made her confess what the matter is, what tragic anxiety causes the wrinkles on that lovely face, in which the eyes—is it an effect of the twilight?—gleam with fierce brilliancy.
"Nothing—no, nothing, I promise you. Only the thought that I cannot share in your joys, your triumphs. But you know that I love you, you do not doubt your mother, do you? I have never passed a day without thinking of you. Do you do as much; keep a place in your heart for me. And now kiss me, and let me go at once. I have delayed too long."
A moment more and she will not have strength to do what she still has to do. She rushes toward the door.
"I say no, you shall not go. I have a feeling that some extraordinary thing is taking place in your life that you don't wish to tell me. You are in great sorrow, I am sure of it. That man has done some shameful thing to you."
"No, no; let me go, let me go."
But on the contrary, he holds her, holds her fast.
"Come, what is the matter? Tell me, tell me—"
Then, under his breath, in a low, loving voice, like a kiss:
"He has left you, has he not?"
The unhappy creature shudders, struggles.
"Don't ask me any questions. I will not tell you anything. Adieu!"
And he rejoins, straining her to his heart:
"What can you tell me that I do not know already, my poor mother? Didn't you understand why I left his house six months ago?"
"Everything. And this that has happened to you to-day I have long foreseen and hoped for."
"Oh! wretched, wretched woman that I am, why did I come?"
"Because this is your proper place, because you owe me ten years of my mother. You see that I must keep you."
He says this kneeling in front of the couch upon which she has thrown herself in a flood of tears and with the last plaintive outcries of her wounded pride. For a long while she weeps thus, her son at her feet. And lo! the Joyeuses, anxious at Andre's non-appearance, come up in a body in search of him. There is a veritable invasion of innocent faces, waving curls, modest costumes, rippling gayety, and over the whole group shines the great lamp, the good old lamp with the huge shade, which M. Joyeuse solemnly holds aloft as high and as straight as he can, in the attitude of a canephora. They halt abruptly, dumbfounded, at sight of that pale, sad woman who gazes, deeply moved, at all those smiling, charming creatures, especially at Elise, who stands a little behind the others, and whose embarrassment in making that indiscreet visit stamps her as the fiancee.
"Elise, kiss our mother and thank her. She has come to live with her children."
Behold her entwined in all those caressing arms, pressed to four little womanly hearts which have long lacked a mother's support, behold her made welcome with sweet cordiality in the circle of light cast by the family lamp, broadened a little so that she can find room there, can dry her eyes, obtain warmth and light for her heart at that sturdy flame which rises without a flicker, even in that little artist's studio under the roof, where the storm howled so fiercely just now, the terrible storm that must be at once forgotten.
The man who is breathing his last yonder, lying in a heap in the bloody bath-tub, has never known that sacred flame. Selfish and hard-hearted, he lived to the last for show, puffing out his superficial breastplate with a blast of vanity. And that vanity was the best that there was in him. It was that which kept him on his feet and jaunty and swaggering so long, that which clenched his teeth on the hiccoughs of his death agony. In the damp garden the fountain drips sadly. The firemen's bugle sounds the curfew. "Just go up to number 7," says the mistress of the establishment, "he's a long while over his bath." The attendant goes up and utters a shriek of horror: "O Madame, he 's dead—but it isn't the same man." They run to the spot, and no one, in truth, can recognize the fine gentleman who entered just now in this lifeless doll, with its head hanging over the side of the bath-tub, the rouge mingling with the blood that moistens it, and every limb relaxed in utter weariness of the part played to the very end, until it killed the actor. Two slashes of the razor across the magnificent, unwrinkled breastplate, and all his factitious majesty has burst like a bubble, has resolved itself into this nameless horror, this mass of mud and blood and ghastly, streaked flesh, wherein lies unrecognizable the model of good-breeding, Marquis Louis-Marie-Agenor de Monpavon.
MEMOIRS OF A CLERK.—LAST SHEETS.
I here set down, in haste and with an intensely agitated pen, the shocking events of which I have been the plaything for some days past. This time it is all up with the Territoriale and all my ambitious dreams. Protests, levies, police-raids, all our books in the custody of the examining magistrate, the Governor a fugitive, our director Bois-l'Hery at Mazas, our director Monpavon disappeared. My head is in a whirl with all these disasters. And to think that, if I had followed the warnings of sound common-sense, I should have been tranquilly settled at Montbars six months ago, cultivating my little vineyard, with no other preoccupation than watching the grapes grow round and turn to the color of gold in the pleasant Burgundian sunshine, and picking from the vines, after a shower, the little gray snails that make such an excellent fricassee. With the results of my economy I would have built, on the high land at the end of the vineyard, on a spot that I can see at this moment, a stone summer-house like M. Chalmette's, so convenient for an afternoon nap, while the quail are singing all around among the vines. But no, constantly led astray by treacherous illusions, I longed to make a fortune, to speculate, to try banking operations on a grand scale, to tie my fortune to the chariot of the successful financiers of the day; and now here I am at the most melancholy stage of my history, clerk in a ruined counting-house, intrusted with the duty of answering a horde of creditors, of shareholders drunk with rage, who pour out the vilest insults upon my white hairs and would fain hold me responsible for the Nabob's ruin and the governor's flight. As if I were not as cruelly hit myself, with my four years' back pay which I lose once more, and my seven thousand francs of money advanced, all of which I intrusted to that villain, Paganetti of Porto-Vecchio.
But it was written that I should drink the cup of humiliation and mortification to the dregs. Was I not forced to appear before the examining magistrate, I, Passajon, formerly apparitor to the Faculty, with my record of thirty years of faithful service and the ribbon of an officer of the Academy! Oh! when I saw myself ascending that stairway at the Palais de Justice, so long and broad, with no rail to cling to, I felt my head going round and my legs giving way under me. That was when I had a chance to reflect, as I passed through those halls, black with lawyers and judges, with here and there a high green door, behind which I could hear the impressive sounds of courts in session; and up above, in the corridor where the offices of the examining magistrates are, during the hour that I had to wait on a bench where I had prison vermin crawling up my legs, while I listened to a lot of thieves, pickpockets and girls in Saint-Lazare caps, talking and laughing with Gardes de Paris, and the ringing of the muskets on the floor of the corridors, and the dull rumbling of prison vans. I realized then the danger of combinazioni, and that it was not always well to laugh at M. Gogo.
One thing comforted me somewhat, however, and that was that, as I had never taken part in the deliberations of the Territoriale, I was in no way responsible for its transactions and swindles. But explain this. When I was in the magistrate's office, facing that man in a velvet cap who stared at me from the other side of the table with his little crooked eyes, I had such a feeling that I was being explored and searched and turned absolutely inside out that, in spite of my innocence, I longed to confess. To confess what? I have no idea. But that is the effect that justice produces. That devil of a man sat for five long minutes staring at me without speaking, turning over a package of papers covered with a coarse handwriting that seemed familiar to me, then said to me abruptly, in a tone that was at once cunning and stern:
"Well, Monsieur Passajon! How long is it since we played the drayman's trick?"
The memory of a certain little peccadillo, in which I had taken part in days of distress, was so distant that at first I did not understand; but a few words from the magistrate proved to me that he was thoroughly posted as to the history of our bank. That terrible man knew everything, to the most trivial, the most secret details.
Who could have given him such accurate information?
And with it all he was very sharp, very abrupt, and when I attempted to guide the course of justice by some judicious observations, he had a certain insolent way of saying: "None of your fine phrases," which was the more wounding to me, at my age, with my reputation as a fine speaker, because we were not alone in his office. A clerk sat near me, writing down my deposition, and I could hear some one behind turning over the leaves of some great book. The magistrate asked me all sorts of questions about the Nabob, the time when he had made his contributions, where we kept our books, and all at once, addressing the person whom I did not see, he said:
"Show us the cash-book, Monsieur l'Expert."
A little man in a white cravat brought the great volume and placed it on the table. It was M. Joyeuse, formerly cashier for Hemerlingue and Son. But I had no time to present my respects to him.
"Who did that?" the magistrate asked me, opening the book at a place where a leaf had been torn out. "Come, do not lie about it."
I did not lie, for I had no idea, as I never concerned myself about the books. However, I thought it my duty to mention M. de Gery, the Nabob's secretary, who used often to come to our offices at night and shut himself up alone in the counting-room for hours at a time. Thereupon little Pere Joyeuse turned red with anger.
"What he says is absurd, Monsieur le Juge d'Instruction. Monsieur de Gery is the young man I mentioned to you. He went to the Territoriale solely for the purpose of keeping an eye on affairs there, and felt too deep an interest in poor Monsieur Jansoulet to destroy the receipts for his contributions, the proofs of his blind but absolute honesty. However, Monsieur de Gery, who has been detained a long while in Tunis, is now on his way home, and will soon be able to afford all necessary explanations."