GEORGE BURNHAM IVES
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
IN TWO VOLUMES
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved.
JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
XIII. A DAY OF SPLEEN 1
XIV. THE EXHIBITION 20
XV. MEMOIRS OF A CLERK.—IN THE RECEPTION-ROOM 42
XVI. A PUBLIC MAN 57
XVII. THE APPARITION 86
XVIII. THE JENKINS PEARLS 107
XIX. THE OBSEQUIES 135
XX. BARONESS HEMERLINGUE 163
XXI. THE SITTING 194
XXII. PARISIAN DRAMAS 230
XXIII. MEMOIRS OF A CLERK.—LAST SHEETS 255
XXIV. AT BORDIGHERA 267
XXV. THE FIRST NIGHT OF "REVOLTE" 287
The Duc, the Duchesse, and the Doctor Frontispiece
"'Don't be afraid. I have no evil designs on you'" Page 153
The First Night of "Revolte" " 287
From drawings by Lucius Rossi.
A DAY OF SPLEEN.
Five o'clock in the afternoon. Rain ever since the morning, a gray sky, so low that one can touch it with one's umbrella, dirty weather, puddles, mud, nothing but mud, in thick pools, in gleaming streaks along the edge of the sidewalks, driven back in vain by automatic sweepers, sweepers with handkerchiefs tied over their heads, and carted away on enormous tumbrils which carry it slowly and in triumph through the streets toward Montreuil; removed and ever reappearing, oozing between the pavements, splashing carriage panels, horses' breasts, the clothing of the passers-by, soiling windows, thresholds, shop-fronts, until one would think that all Paris was about to plunge in and disappear beneath that depressing expanse of miry earth in which all things are jumbled together and lose their identity. And it is a pitiable thing to see how that filth invades the spotless precincts of new houses, the copings of the quays, the colonnades of stone balconies. There is some one, however, whom this spectacle rejoices, a poor, ill, disheartened creature, who, stretched out at full length on the embroidered silk covering of a divan, her head resting on her clenched fists, gazes gleefully out through the streaming window-panes and gloats over all these ugly details:
"You see, my Fairy, this is just the kind of weather I wanted to-day. See them splash along. Aren't they hideous, aren't they filthy? What mud! It's everywhere, in the streets, on the quays, even in the Seine, even in the sky. Ah! mud is a fine thing when you're downhearted. I would like to dabble in it, to mould a statue with it, a statue one hundred feet high, and call it, 'My Ennui.'"
"But why do you suffer from ennui, my darling?" mildly inquires the ex-ballet-dancer, good-natured and rosy, from her armchair, in which she sits very erect for fear of damage to her hair, which is even more carefully arranged than usual. "Haven't you all that any one can need to be happy?"
And she proceeds, in her placid voice, to enumerate for the hundredth time her reasons for happiness, her renown, her genius, her beauty, all men at her feet, the handsomest, the most powerful; oh! yes, the most powerful, for that very day—But an ominous screech, a heart-rending wail from the jackal, maddened by the monotony of her desert, suddenly makes the studio windows rattle and sends the terrified old chrysalis back into her cocoon.
The completion of her group and its departure for the Salon has left Felicia for a week past in this state of prostration, of disgust, of heart-rending, distressing irritation. It requires all of the old fairy's unwearying patience, the magic of the memories she evokes every moment in the day, to make life endurable to her beside that restlessness, that wicked wrath which she can hear grumbling beneath the girl's silences, and which suddenly bursts forth in a bitter word, in a pah! of disgust apropos of everything. Her group is hideous. No one will speak of it. All the critics are donkeys. The public? an immense goitre with three stories of chin. And yet, a few Sundays ago, when the Duc de Mora came with the superintendent of Fine Arts to see her work at the studio, she was so happy, so proud of the praise bestowed on her, so thoroughly delighted with her work, which she admired at a distance as if it were by another hand, now that the modelling-tool had ceased to form between her and her work the bond which tends to impair the impartiality of the artist's judgment.
But it is so every year. When the studio is robbed of the latest work, when her famous name is once more at the mercy of the public's unforeseen caprice, Felicia's preoccupations—for she has then no visible object in life—stray through the empty void of her heart, of her existence as one who has turned aside from the peaceful furrow, until she is once more intent upon another task. She shuts herself up, she refuses to see anybody. One would say that she is distrustful of herself. The good Jenkins is the only one who can endure her during those crises. He even seems to take pleasure in them, as if he expected something from them. And yet God knows she is not amiable to him. Only yesterday he remained two hours with the beautiful ennui-ridden creature, who did not so much as speak a single word to him. If that is the sort of welcome she has in store for the great personage who does them the honor to dine with them—At that point the gentle Crenmitz, who has been placidly ruminating all these things and gazing at the slender toe of her tufted shoes, suddenly remembers that she has promised to make a dish of Viennese cakes for the dinner of the personage in question, and quietly leaves the studio on the tips of her little toes.
Still the rain, still the mud, still the beautiful sphinx, crouching in her seat, her eyes wandering aimlessly over the miry landscape. Of what is she thinking? What is she watching on those muddy roads, growing dim in the fading light, with that frown on her brow and that lip curled in disgust? Is she awaiting her destiny? A melancholy destiny, to have gone abroad in such weather, without fear of the darkness, of the mud.
Some one has entered the studio, a heavier step than Constance's mouse-like trot. The little servant, doubtless. And Felicia says roughly, without turning:
"Go to bed. I am not at home to any one."
"I should be very glad to speak with you if you were," a voice replied good-naturedly.
She starts, rises, and says in a softer tone, almost laughing at sight of that unexpected visitor:
"Ah! it's you, young Minerva! How did you get in?"
"Very easily. All the doors are open."
"I am not surprised. Constance has been like a madwoman ever since morning, with her dinner."
"Yes, I saw. The reception room is full of flowers. You have—?"
"Oh! a stupid dinner, an official dinner. I don't know how I ever made up my mind to it. Sit down here, beside me. I am glad to see you."
Paul sat down, a little perturbed in mind. She had never seemed so lovely to him. In the half-light of the studio, amid the confusion of objects of art, bronzes, tapestries, her pallor cast a soft light, her eyes shone like jewels, and her long, close-fitting riding habit outlined the negligent attitude of her goddess-like figure. Then her tone was so affectionate, she seemed so pleased at his call. Why had he stayed away so long? It was almost a month since she had seen him. Had they ceased to be friends, pray? He excused himself as best he could. Business, a journey. Moreover, although he had not been there, he had often talked about her, oh! very often, almost every day.
"Really? With whom?"
He was on the point of saying: "With Aline Joyeuse," but something checked him, an indefinable sentiment, a sort of shame at uttering that name in the studio which had heard so many other names. There are some things which do not go together, although one cannot tell why. Paul preferred to answer with a falsehood which led him straight to the object of his call.
"With an excellent man upon whom you have unnecessarily inflicted great pain. Tell me, why haven't you finished the poor Nabob's bust? It was a source of great joy and great pride to him, the thought of that bust at the Salon. He relied upon it."
At the name of the Nabob she was slightly embarrassed.
"It is true," she said, "I broke my word. What do you expect? I am the slave of my whims. But it is my purpose to take it up again one of these days. See, the cloth thrown over it is all damp, so that the clay won't dry."
"And the accident? Ah! do you know, we hardly believed in that?"
"You were wrong. I never lie. A fall, a terrible crash. But the clay was fresh, I easily repaired it. Look!"
She removed the cloth with a movement of her arm; the Nabob stood forth, with his honest face beaming with joy at being reproduced, and so true, so natural, that Paul uttered a cry of admiration.
"Isn't it good?" she asked ingenuously. "A few touches there and there—" She had taken the tool and the little sponge and pushed the stand into what little light there was. "It would be a matter of a few hours; but it couldn't go to the Exhibition. This is the 22d; everything had to be sent in long ago."
"Pshaw! With influence—"
She frowned, and the wicked, drooping expression played about her mouth.
"True. The Duc de Mora's protegee. Oh! you need not excuse yourself. I know what people say of him, and I care as little for it as that!" She threw a pellet of clay which flattened out against the wall. "Perhaps, indeed, by dint of imagining what is not—But let us drop those vile things," she said, with a toss of her little aristocratic head. "I am anxious to give you pleasure, Minerva. Your friend shall go to the Salon this year."
At that moment the odor of caramel, of hot pastry invaded the studio, where the twilight was falling in fine, decolorized dust; and the Fairy appeared, with a plate of fritters in her hand, a true fairy, rejuvenated in gay attire, arrayed in a white tunic which afforded glimpses, beneath the yellowed lace, of her lovely old woman's arms, the charm that is the last to die.
"Look at my kuchlen, darling; see if they're not a success this time. Oh! I beg your pardon; I didn't see that you had company. Ah! It's Monsieur Paul? Are you pretty well, Monsieur Paul? Pray taste one of my cakes."
And the amiable old lady, to whom her costume seemed to impart extraordinary animation, came prancing forward, balancing her plate on the ends of her doll-like fingers.
"Let him alone," said Felicia calmly. "You can offer him some at dinner."
The dancer was so thunderstruck that she nearly overturned her pretty cakes, which were as light and dainty and excellent as herself.
"Why, yes, I am keeping him to dinner with us. Oh! I beg you," she added with peculiar earnestness, seeing that the young man made a gesture of refusal, "I beg you, do not say no. You can do me a real service by staying to-night. Come, I did not hesitate a moment ago, you know."
She had taken his hand; really there seemed to be a strange disproportion between her request and the anxious, imploring tone in which it was made. Paul still held back. He was not properly dressed. How could she expect him to stay? A dinner-party at which she was to have other guests.
"My dinner-party? Why, I will countermand the orders for it. That is the way I feel. We three will dine alone, you and I and Constance."
"But, Felicia, my child, you can't think of doing such a thing. Upon my word! What about the—the other who will soon be here?"
"Parbleu! I will write to him to stay at home."
"Wretched girl, it is too late."
"Not at all, It's just striking six. The dinner was to be at half-past seven. You must send him this at once."
She wrote a note, in haste, on a corner of the table.
"Mon Dieu, mon Dieu! what a strange girl!" murmured the dancer, lost in bewilderment, while Felicia, enchanted, transfigured, joyously sealed her letter.
"There, my excuses are all made. The sick-headache wasn't invented for Kadour. Oh! how glad I am!" she added, when the letter had gone; "what a delightful evening we will have! Kiss me, Constance. This won't prevent our doing honor to your kuchlen, and we shall enjoy seeing you in a pretty gown that makes you look younger than I."
Less than that would have induced the dancer to forgive this latest whim of her dear demon and the crime of lese-majeste in which she had made her an accomplice. The idea of treating such a personage so cavalierly! No one else in the world would have done it, no one but her. As for Paul de Gery, he made no further attempt at resistance, being caught once more in the network from which he believed that he had set himself free by absence, but which, as soon as he crossed the threshold of the studio, suppressed his will and delivered him over, fast bound and conquered, to the sentiment that he was firmly resolved to combat.
* * * * *
It was evident that the dinner, a veritable gourmand's dinner, superintended by the Austrian even in its least important details, had been prepared for a guest of first-rate consequence. From the high Berber chandeliers of carved wood, with seven branches, which shed a flood of light upon the richly embroidered cloth, to the long-necked wine-jugs of curious and exquisite shape, the sumptuous table appointments and the delicacy of the dishes, which were highly seasoned to an unusual degree, everything disclosed the importance of the expected guest and the pains that had been taken to please him. There was no mistaking the fact that it was an artist's establishment. Little silverware, but superb china, perfect harmony without the slightest attempt at arrangement. Old Rouen, pink Sevres, Dutch glass mounted in old finely-wrought pewter met on that table as on a stand of rare objects collected by a connoisseur simply to gratify his taste. The result was some slight confusion in the household, dependent as it was upon the chance of a lucky find. The exquisite oil-cruet had no stopper. The broken salt-cellar overflowed on the cloth, and every moment it was: "What has become of the mustard-pot? What has happened to that fork?" All of which troubled de Gery a little on account of the young mistress of the house, who, for her part, was not in the least disturbed.
But something that made him even more ill at ease was his anxiety to know who the privileged guest was whose place he had taken at that table, whom they could entertain with such magnificence and at the same time such utter lack of ceremony. In spite of everything he felt as if that countermanded guest were present, a constant affront to his own dignity. In vain did he try to forget him; everything reminded him of him, even to the holiday attire of the kindly Fairy, who sat opposite him and who still retained some of the grand manners which she had assumed in anticipation of the solemn occasion. The thought disturbed him, poisoned his joy in being there.
On the other hand, as is always the case in parties of two, where harmony of mood is very rare, he had never seen Felicia so affectionate, in such merry humor. She was in a state of effervescent, almost childlike gayety, one of those fervent outbursts of emotion which one experiences when some danger has passed, the reaction of a clear, blazing fire after the excitement of a shipwreck. She laughed heartily, teased Paul about his accent and what she called his bourgeois ideas. "For you are shockingly bourgeois, you know. But that is just what I like in you. It's on account of the contrast, I have no doubt, because I was born under a bridge, in a gust of wind, that I have always been fond of sedate, logical natures."
"Oh! my dear, what do you suppose Monsieur Paul will think, when you say you were born under a bridge?" exclaimed the excellent Crenmitz, who could not accustom herself to the exaggeration of metaphors, and always took everything literally.
"Let him think what he pleases, my Fairy. We haven't our eye on him for a husband. I am sure he would have none of that monster known as an artist wife. He would think he had married the devil. You are quite right, Minerva. Art is a despot. One must give oneself to it unreservedly. You put into your work all the imagination, energy, honesty, conscience that you possess, so that you have no more of any of them as long as you live, and the completion of the work tosses you adrift, helpless and without a compass, like a dismasted hulk, at the mercy of every wave. Such a wife would be a melancholy acquisition."
"And yet," the young man ventured timidly to observe, "it seems to me that art, however exacting it may be, cannot take entire possession of the woman. What would she do with her affections, with the craving for love, for self-sacrifice, which is in her, far more than in man, the motive for every act?"
She mused a moment before replying.
"You may be right, O wise Minerva! It is the truth that there are days when my life rings terribly hollow. I am conscious of holes in it, unfathomable depths. Everything disappears that I throw in to fill them up. My noblest artistic enthusiasms are swallowed up in them and die every time in a sigh. At such times I think of marriage. A husband, children, a lot of children, tumbling about the studio, all their nests to look after, the satisfaction of the physical activity which is lacking in our artistic lives, regular occupations, constant movement, innocent fun, which would compel one to play instead of always thinking in the dark and the great void, to laugh at a blow to one's self-esteem, to be simply a happy mother on the day when the public casts one aside as a used-up, played-out artist."
And in presence of that vision of domestic happiness the girl's lovely features assumed an expression which Paul had never before seen upon them, and which took entire possession of him, gave him a mad longing to carry away in his arms that beautiful wild bird dreaming of the dovecot, to protect her, to shelter her with the sure love of an honest man.
She continued, without looking at him:
"I am not so flighty as I seem to be, you know. Ask my dear godmother if I didn't keep straight up to the mark when she put me at boarding-school. But what a hurly-burly my life was after that! If you knew what a youth I had, if you knew how premature experience withered my mind, and what confusion there was, in my small girl's brain, between what was and was not forbidden, between reason and folly. Only art, which was constantly discussed and eulogized, stood erect in all that ruin, and I took refuge in that. That, perhaps, is why I shall never be anything but an artist, a woman apart from other women, a poor Amazon with her heart held captive under her iron breastplate, rushing into battle like a man, and condemned to live and die like a man."
Why did he not say to her then:
"Beautiful warrior, lay aside your weapons, don the floating robe and the charms of the sex to which you belong. I love you, I entreat you to marry me that you may be happy and may make me happy too."
Ah! this is why. He was afraid that the other, he who was to come to dinner that night, you know, and who remained between them despite his absence, would hear him speak in that strain and would have the right to laugh at him or to pity him for such a fervent outburst.
"At all events, I promise you one thing," she continued, "and that is that if I ever have a daughter, I will try to make a true woman of her and not such a poor abandoned creature as I am. Oh! you know, my good Fairy, I do not mean that for you. You have always been kind to your demon, full of affection and care. Why just look at her, see how pretty she is, how young she looks to-night."
Enlivened by the repast, the lights, and one of those white dresses whose reflection causes wrinkles to disappear, La Crenmitz was leaning back in her chair, holding on a level with her half-closed eyes a glass of Chateau-Yquem from the cellar of their neighbor the Moulin-Rouge; and her little pink face, her airy pastel-like costume reflected in the golden wine, which loaned to it its sparkling warmth, recalled the former heroine of the dainty suppers after the play, the Crenmitz of the good old days, not an audacious hussy after the style of our modern operatic stars, but entirely unaffected and nestling contentedly in her splendor like a fine pearl in its mother-of-pearl shell. Felicia, who was certainly determined to be agreeable to everybody that evening, led her thoughts to the chapter of reminiscences, made her describe once more her triumphs in Giselle and in the Peri, and the ovations from the audience, the visit of the princes to her dressing-room, and Queen Amelie's gift, accompanied by such charming words. The evocation of those glorious scenes intoxicated the poor Fairy, her eyes shone, they could hear her little feet moving restlessly under the table as if seized by a dancing frenzy. And, indeed, when the dinner was at an end and they had returned to the studio, Constance began to pace back and forth, to describe a dance-step or a pirouette, talking all the time, interrupting herself to hum an air from some ballet to which she kept time with her head, then suddenly gathered herself together and with one leap was at the other end of the studio.
"Now she's off," whispered Felicia to de Gery. "Watch. It will be worth your while, for you are about to see La Crenmitz dance."
It was a fascinating, fairy-like spectacle. Against the background of the enormous room, drowned in shadow and hardly lighted save through the round window from without, where the moon was climbing upward in a deep blue sky, a typical operatic sky, the famous dancer's figure stood out all white, a light, airy unsubstantial ghost, flying, rather than springing, through the air; then, standing upon her slender toes, upheld in the air by naught but her outstretched arms, her face raised in a fleeting attitude in which nothing was visible but the smile, she came quickly forward toward the light, or receded with little jerky steps, so rapid that one constantly expected to hear the crash of glass and see her glide backward up the slope of the broad moonbeam that shone aslant into the studio. There was one fact that imparted a strange, poetic charm to that fantastic ballet, and that was the absence of music, of every other sound than that of the measured footfalls, whose effect was heightened by the semi-darkness, of that quick, light patter no louder than the fall of the petals from a dahlia, one by one. This lasted for some minutes, then they could tell from the quickening of her breath that she was becoming exhausted.
"Enough, enough! Sit down," said Felicia.
Thereupon the little white ghost lighted on the edge of an armchair and sat there poised and ready to start anew, smiling and panting, until sleep seized upon her, and began to sway and rock her softly to and fro without disturbing her pretty attitude, like a dragon-fly on a willow branch that drags in the water and moves with the current.
As they watched her nodding in the chair, Felicia said:
"Poor little Fairy! that is the best and most serious thing in the way of friendship, protection and guardianship that I have had during my life. That butterfly acted as my godmother. Do you wonder now at the zigzags, the erratic flights of my mind? Lucky for me that I have clung to her."
She added abruptly, with joyful warmth:
"Ah! Minerva, Minerva, I am very glad that you came to-night. You mustn't leave me alone so long again, you see. I need to have an upright mind like yours by my side, to see one true face amid all the masks that surround me. But you're fearfully bourgeois all the same," she added laughingly, "and a provincial to boot. But never mind! you are the man that I most enjoy looking at all the same. And I believe that my liking for you is due mainly to one thing. You remind me of some one who was the dearest friend of my youth, a serious, sensible little creature like yourself, bound fast to the commonplace side of existence, but mingling with it the element of idealism which we artists put aside for the benefit of our work alone. Some things that you say seem to me to come from her lips. You have a mouth built on the same antique model. Is that what makes your words alike? I don't know about that, but you certainly do resemble each other. I'll show you."
As she sat opposite him at the table laden with sketches and albums, she began to draw as she talked, her face bending over the paper, her unmanageable curls shading her shapely little head. She was no longer the beautiful crouching monster, with the frowning anxious face, lamenting her own destiny; but a woman, a true woman, who loves and seeks to charm. Paul forgot all his suspicions then, in presence of such sincerity and grace. He was on the point of speaking, of pleading with her. It was the decisive moment. But the door opened and the little servant appeared. Monsieur le Duc had sent to ask if Mademoiselle were still suffering from her sick headache.
"Just as much as ever," she said testily.
When the servant had gone, there was a moment's silence between them, a freezing pause. Paul had risen. She went on with her sketch, her head still bent.
He walked away a few steps, then returned to the table and asked gently, astonished to find that he was so calm:
"Was it the Duc de Mora who was to dine here?"
"Yes—I was bored—a day of spleen. Such days are very bad for me."
"Was the duchess to come?"
"The duchess? No. I don't know her."
"Well, if I were in your place, I would never receive in my house, at my table, a married man whose wife I did not meet in society. You complain of being abandoned; why do you abandon yourself? When one is without reproach, one must keep oneself above suspicion. Do I offend you?"
"No, no, scold me, Minerva. I like your morality. It is frank and straightforward; it doesn't squint like Jenkins'. As I told you, I need some one to guide me."
She held before him the sketch she had just finished.
"See! there's the friend of whom I spoke to you. A deep, sure affection which I was foolish enough to throw away, like the wasteful idiot I am. I always used to invoke her memory in moments of perplexity, when there was some question to be decided or some sacrifice to be made. I would say to myself: 'What will she think about it?' as we pause in our work to think of some great man, of one of our masters. You must fill that place for me. Will you?"
Paul did not answer. He was looking at Aline's portrait. It was she, it was she to the life, her regular profile, her kindly, laughing mouth, and the long curl caressing the slender neck. Ah! all the Ducs de Mora on earth might come now. Felicia no longer existed for him.
Poor Felicia, a creature endowed with superior powers, was much like those sorceresses who weave and ravel the destinies of others without the power to accomplish anything for their own happiness.
"Will you give me this sketch?" he said almost inaudibly, in a voice that trembled with emotion.
"Very gladly; she is pretty, isn't she? Ah! if you should happen to meet her, love her, marry her. She is worth more than all the rest. But, failing her, failing her—"
And the beautiful tamed sphinx looked up at him with her great tearful, laughing eyes, whose enigma was no longer insoluble.
"A tremendous success. Barye never did anything as fine."
"And the bust of the Nabob! What a marvellous likeness! I tell you, Constance Crenmitz is happy. See her trotting about."
"What! is that La Crenmitz, that little old woman in a fur cape? I supposed she was dead twenty years ago."
Oh! no; on the contrary, she is very much alive. Enchanted, rejuvenated by the triumph of her goddaughter, who is decidedly the success of the Exhibition, she glides through the crowd of artists and people of fashion grouped around the two points where Felicia's contributions are exhibited like two huge masses of black backs, variegated costumes, jostling and squeezing in their struggles to look. Constance, usually so retiring, makes her way into the front row, listens to the discussions, catches on the wing snatches of sentences, technical phrases which she remembers, nods her head approvingly, smiles, shrugs her shoulders when she hears any slighting remark, longing to crush the first person who should fail to admire.
Whether it be the excellent Crenmitz or another, you always see, at the opening of the Salon, that shadow prowling furtively about where people are conversing, with ears on the alert and an anxious expression; sometimes it is an old father who thanks you with a glance for a kindly word said in passing, or assumes a despairing expression at the epigram which you hurl at a work of art and which strikes a heart behind you. A face not to be omitted surely, if ever some painter in love with things modern should conceive the idea of reproducing on canvas that perfectly typical manifestation of Parisian life, the opening of the Salon in that vast hothouse of statuary, with the yellow gravelled paths and the great glass ceiling, beneath which, half-way from the floor, the galleries of the first tier stand forth, lined with heads bending over to look, and with extemporized waving draperies.
In a light that seems slightly cold and pale as it falls on the green decorations of the walls, where the rays become rarefied, one would say, in order to afford the spectators an opportunity for concentration and accuracy of vision, the crowd moves slowly back and forth, pauses, scatters over the benches, divided into groups, and yet mingling castes more thoroughly than any other gathering, just as the fickle and changing weather, at that time of year, brings together all sorts of costumes, so that the black lace and superb train of the great lady who has come to observe the effect of her own portrait rub against the Siberian furs of the actress who has just returned from Russia and proposes that everybody shall know it.
Here there are no boxes, no reserved seats, and that is what gives such abiding interest and charm to this first view in broad daylight. The real society women can pass judgment at close quarters on the painted beauties that excite so much applause by artificial light; the tiny hat, latest shape, of the Marquise de Bois-l'Hery and her like brushes against the more than modest costume of some artist's wife or daughter, while the model who has posed for that lovely Andromeda near the entrance struts triumphantly by, dressed in a too short skirt, in wretched clothes tossed upon her beauty with the utmost lack of taste. They scrutinize one another, admire or disparage one another, exchange contemptuous, disdainful or inquisitive glances, which suddenly become fixed as some celebrity passes, the illustrious critic, for instance, whom we seem to see at this moment, serene and majestic, his powerful face framed in long hair, making the circuit of the exhibits of sculpture, followed by half a score of young disciples who hang breathlessly upon his kindly dicta. Although the sound of voices is lost in that immense vessel, which is resonant only under the two arched doorways of entrance and exit, faces assume extraordinary intensity there, a character of energy and animation especially noticeable in the vast, dark recess of the restaurant, overflowing with a gesticulating multitude, the light hats of the women and the waiters' white aprons standing out in bold relief against the background of dark clothing, and in the broad aisle in the centre, where the swarm of promenaders en vignette forms a striking contrast to the immobility of the statues, the unconscious palpitation with which their chalky whiteness and their glorified attitudes are encompassed.
There are gigantic wings spread for flight, a sphere upheld by four allegorical figures, whose attitude, as if they were twirling their burden, suggests a vague waltz measure, a marvel of equilibrium which perfectly produces the illusion of the earth's revolution; and there are arms raised as a signal, bodies of heroic size, containing an allegory, a symbol that brings death and immortality upon them, gives them to history, to legend, to the ideal world of the museums which nations visit from curiosity or admiration.
Although Felicia's bronze group had not the proportions of those productions, its exceptional merit had procured for it the honor of a position at one of the points of intersection of the aisles in the centre, from which the public was standing respectfully aloof at that moment, staring over the shoulders of the line of attendants and police officers at the Bey of Tunis and his suite, a group of long burnous, falling in sculptural folds, which made them seem like living statues confronting the dead ones. The bey, who had been in Paris for a few days, the lion of all the first nights, had expressed a desire to see the opening of the Salon. He was "an enlightened prince, a friend of the arts," who possessed a gallery of amazing Turkish pictures on the Bardo, and chromo-lithographic reproductions of all the battles of the First Empire. The great Arabian hound had caught his eye as soon as he entered the hall of sculpture. It was the slougui to the life, the genuine slender, nervous slougui of his country, the companion of all his hunts. He laughed in his black beard, felt the animal's loins, patted his muscles, seemed to be trying to rouse him, while, with dilated nostrils, protruding teeth, every limb outstretched and indefatigable in its strength and elasticity, the aristocratic beast, the beast of prey, ardent in love and in the chase, drunk with his twofold drunkenness, his eyes fixed on his victim, seemed to be already tasting the delights of his victory, with the end of his tongue hanging from his mouth, as he sharpened his teeth with a ferocious laugh. If you looked only at him, you said to yourself: "He has him!" But a glance at the fox reassured you at once. Under his lustrous, velvety coat, catlike, with his body almost touching the ground, skimming along without effort, you felt that he was in truth a wizard, and his fine head with its pointed ears, which he turned toward the hound as he ran, had an ironical expression of security which clearly indicated the gift he had received from the gods.
While an inspector of the Beaux-Arts, who had hurried to the spot, with his uniform all awry, and bald to the middle of his back, explained to Mohammed the apologue of "The Dog and the Fox," as told in the catalogue, with this moral: "Suppose that they meet," and the note: "The property of the Duc de Mora," the bulky Hemerlingue, puffing and perspiring beside his Highness, had great difficulty in persuading him that that masterly production was the work of the lovely equestrian they had met in the Bois the day before. How could a woman with a woman's weak hands so soften the hard bronze and give it the appearance of flesh? Of all the marvels of Paris that one caused the bey the most profound amazement. So he asked the official if there was nothing else of the same artist's to see.
"Yes, indeed, Monseigneur, another chef-d'oeuvre. If your Highness will come this way I will take you to it."
The bey moved on with his suite. They were all fine specimens of their race, beautifully chiselled features and pure profiles, complexions of a warm pallor of which the snowy whiteness of the haik absorbed even the reflection. Magnificently draped, they contrasted strangely with the busts which were ranged on both sides of the aisle they had taken, and which, perched on their high pedestals, exiled from their familiar surroundings, from the environment in which they would doubtless have recalled some engrossing toil, some deep affection, a busy and courageous life, seemed very forlorn in the empty air about them and presented the distressing aspect of people who had gone astray and were very much ashamed to find themselves there. Aside from two or three female figures, well-rounded shoulders enveloped in petrified lace, hair reproduced in marble with the soft touch that gives the impression of a powdered head-dress, and a few profiles of children with simple lines, in which the polish of the stone seems like the moisture of life, there were nothing but wrinkles, furrows, contortions and grimaces, our excess of toil and activity, our nervous paroxysms and our fevers contrasted with that art of repose and noble serenity.
The Nabob's ugliness, at all events, had in its favor its energy, the peculiar characteristics of the adventurer and the proletaire, and that kindly expression so well rendered by the artist, who had taken pains to mix a supply of ochre with her plaster, thereby giving it almost the swarthy, sun-burned tone of the model. The Arabs, on seeing it, uttered a stifled exclamation: "Bon-Said!" (the father of good-luck). It was the Nabob's sobriquet at Tunis, the label of his fortune, so to speak. The bey, for his part, thinking that someone intended to make sport of him by bringing him thus face to face with the detested mercanti, glanced suspiciously at the inspector.
"Jansoulet?" he said in his guttural voice.
"Yes, your Highness, Bernard Jansoulet, the new Deputy for Corsica."
At that the bey turned to Hemerlingue, with a frown on his face.
"Yes, Monseigneur, the news came this morning; but nothing is settled yet."
And the banker, ill at ease and lowering his voice, added: "No French Chamber would ever admit that adventurer."
No matter! the blow had been dealt at the bey's blind confidence in his baron-financier. Hemerlingue had declared so positively that the other would never be chosen, that they could act freely and without fear so far as he was concerned. And lo! instead of the crushed, discredited man, a representative of the nation towered before him, a deputy whose figure in stone Parisians thronged to admire; for, from the Oriental sovereign's standpoint, as that public exhibition necessarily involved the idea of conferring honor upon the subject, that bust had all the prestige of a statue overlooking a public square. Hemerlingue, even yellower than usual, inwardly accused himself of bungling and imprudence. But how could he have suspected such a thing? He had been assured that the bust was not finished. And, indeed, it had arrived that very morning, and seemed overjoyed to be there, quivering with gratified pride, expressing contempt for its enemies with the good-natured smile of its curling lip. A veritable silent revenge for the disaster at Saint-Romans.
For several minutes the bey, as cold and impassive as the carved image, stared at it without speaking, his forehead divided by a straight fold wherein his courtiers alone could read his wrath; then, after a few words spoken rapidly in Arabic, to order his carriages and collect his scattered suite, he strode gravely toward the exit, without deigning to look at anything else. Who can say what takes place in those august brains, surfeited with power? Even our western monarchs have incomprehensible whims; but they are as nothing beside Oriental caprices. Monsieur l'Inspecteur des Beaux-Arts, who had confidently expected to show his Highness all over the Exhibition, and to earn thereby the pretty little red and green ribbon of the Order of Nicham-Iftikhar, never knew the secret of that sudden flight.
Just as the white haiks disappeared under the porch, and just in time to catch a glimpse of the fluttering of their last folds, the Nabob entered through the centre door. That morning he had received the news: "Elected by an overwhelming majority;" and, after a sumptuous breakfast, at which many a toast had been drunk to the new Deputy for Corsica, he had come with some of his guests, to show himself, to see himself as well, and to enjoy his new glory to the full.
The first person he saw when he arrived was Felicia Ruys, leaning against the pedestal of a statue, receiving compliments and homage with which he hastened to mingle his own. She was dressed simply, in a black embroidered gown trimmed with jet, tempering the severe simplicity of her costume by its scintillating reflections and by the brilliancy of a fascinating little hat adorned with the feathers of the lophophore, whose changing colors her hair, tightly curled over the forehead and parted at the neck in broad waves, seemed to prolong and to soften.
A crowd of artists, of society folk hastened to pay their respects to so great genius allied to so great beauty; and Jenkins, bareheaded, swelling with effusive warmth, went about from one to another, extorting enthusiasm, but broadening the circle about that youthful renown, posing as both guardian and fugleman. Meanwhile, his wife was talking with the young woman. Poor Madame Jenkins! He had said to her in that brutal voice which she alone knew: "You must go and speak to Felicia." And she had obeyed, restraining her emotion; for she knew now what lay hidden beneath that fatherly affection, although she avoided any explanation with the doctor as if she were apprehensive of the result.
After Madame Jenkins, the Nabob rushed to the artist's side, and taking her slender, neatly gloved hands in his two great paws expressed his gratitude with a warmth that brought the tears to his own eyes.
"You have done me a very great honor, Mademoiselle, to associate my name with yours, my humble self with your triumph, and to prove to all these vermin who are digging their claws into me that you don't believe in all the slanderous reports that are current about me. Really, it is something I can never forget. I might cover this magnificent bust with gold and diamonds and I should still be in your debt."
Luckily for the good Nabob, who was more susceptible to emotion than eloquent, he was obliged to make room for all those who were attracted by the refulgent talent, the artistic personality before their eyes: frantic enthusiasm which, for lack of words in which to express itself, disappears as it came; worldly admiration, inspired by kindly feeling, by an earnest desire to please, but whose every word is like a cold shower-bath; and then the hearty hand-clasps of rivals, of comrades, some very frank and cordial, others which communicate to you the inertness of their pressure; the tall, conceited zany whose absurd praise ought to delight you beyond measure, and who, in order not to spoil you utterly, accompanies it with "a few trifling reservations;" and the man who, while overwhelming you with compliments, proves to you that you do not know the first word of the trade; and the other good fellow, full of business, who stops just long enough to whisper in your ear that "So-and-so, the famous critic, doesn't seem to be satisfied." Felicia listened to it all with the utmost tranquillity, being raised by her triumph above the petty slurs of envy, and glowed with pride when a renowned veteran, some old associate of her father's, tossed her a "Well done, little one!" which carried her back to the past, to the little corner that was always reserved for her in the paternal studio in the days when she was beginning to carve out a little glory for herself in the renown of the great Ruys. But as a whole the congratulations left her quite unmoved, because she missed one which was more desirable in her eyes than all the rest, and which she was surprised that she had not yet received. Clearly she thought of him more than she had ever thought of any man before. Was this love at last, the great love that is so rare in the heart of an artist, who is incapable of abandoning herself unreservedly to a sentiment, or was it simply a dream of an honest, bourgeois life, well protected against ennui, that vile ennui, the precursor of storms, which she had so much reason to dread? In any event, she suffered herself to be deceived and had been living for several days in a state of delicious unrest, for love is so strong, so beautiful, that its semblance, its mirage, takes us captive and may move us as deeply as love itself.
Has it ever happened to you, as you walked along the street, thinking intently of some absent person very dear to your heart, to be warned of his approach by meeting one or more persons who bear a vague resemblance to him, preparatory images, outline sketches of the face that is soon to rise before you, which come forth from the crowd like successive appeals to your overstrained attention? These are magnetic, nervous phenomena at which we must not smile too broadly, because they constitute a susceptibility to suffering. Several times Felicia had fancied that she recognized Paul de Gery's curly head in the ever-moving, ever-changing flow of visitors, when suddenly she uttered a cry of pleasure. It was not he, however, but some one who much resembled him, whose regular, tranquil face was always blended now in her thoughts with that of her friend Paul, as the result of a resemblance rather moral than physical, and of the mild influence they both exerted over her mind.
Although nothing is more difficult of comprehension than the friendship of two of society's queens, dividing salon royalty among themselves and lavishing flattering epithets, the petty graces of feminine effusiveness, upon each other, the friendships of childhood retain in the woman a frankness of demeanor which distinguishes them and makes them recognizable among all other friendships; bonds woven in innocence and woven firmly, like the pieces of needlework made by little girls, whereon an inexperienced hand has lavished thread and great knots; plants that have grown in virgin soil, past their bloom but deeply-rooted and full of life and vigor. And what joy to turn back a few steps, hand in hand,—boarding-school Arguses, where are you?—with equal knowledge of the road and of its slightest windings, and with the same wistful laugh. Standing a little apart, the two girls, who needed only to stand face to face to forget five years of separation, talked rapidly, recalling bygone days, while little Pere Joyeuse, his ruddy face set off by a new cravat, drew himself up to his full height, proud beyond words that his daughter should be so warmly greeted by a celebrity. Proud he certainly had reason to be, for that little Parisian, even beside her resplendent friend, retained her full value for charm and youth and luminous innocence, beneath her twenty years, her rich, golden girlhood, which the joy of meeting caused to put forth fresh flowers.
"How happy you must be! I haven't seen anything; but I hear everybody say that it is so beautiful."
"Happy above all things to find you again, little Aline. It is such a long time—"
"I should say as much, you bad girl. Whose fault is it?"
In the saddest recess of her memory Felicia found the date of the rupture between them, coincident in her mind with another date when her youth died in a never-to-be-forgotten scene.
"What have you been doing all this time, my love?"
"Oh! always the same thing—nothing worth talking about."
"Yes, yes, we know what you call doing nothing, little brave heart. It is giving your life to others, is it not?"
But Aline was no longer listening. She was smiling affectionately at a point straight before her, and Felicia, turning to see to whom that smile was addressed, saw Paul de Gery replying to Mademoiselle Joyeuse's shy and blushing salutation.
"Do you know each other, pray?"
"Do I know Monsieur Paul! I should think so. We talk of you often enough. Has he never told you?"
"Never. He is terribly sly—"
She stopped abruptly as a light flashed through her mind; and, paying no heed to de Gery, who came forward to do homage to her triumph, she leaned hastily toward Aline and whispered to her. The other blushed, protested with smiles, with inaudible words: "How can you imagine such a thing? At my age. A grandmamma!" And at last she grasped her father's arm to escape that friendly raillery.
When Felicia saw the two young people walk away side by side, when she realized—what they themselves did not yet know—that they loved each other, she felt as if everything about her were crumbling. And when her dream lay at her feet, in a thousand fragments, she began to stamp upon it in a rage. After all, he was quite right to prefer that little Aline to her. Would a respectable man ever dare to marry Mademoiselle Ruys? She with a home of her own, a family, nonsense! You are a strumpet's daughter, my dear; you must be a strumpet yourself, if you wish to be anything.
The day was drawing near its close. The crowd, moving more rapidly than before, with gaps here and there, was beginning to stream toward the exit, after eddying violently around the success of the year, surfeited, a little weary, but still excited by the artistic electricity with which the atmosphere was charged. A great ray of sunlight, the sunlight of four o'clock in the afternoon, illuminated the rosework of the windows, cast upon the gravelled paths rainbow-like beams that crept gently up the bronze or marble of the statues, suffusing a lovely nude body with bright colors and giving to the vast museum something of the aspect of a garden. Felicia, absorbed in her profound, melancholy reverie, did not see the man who came toward her, superb, refined, fascinating, through the throng of visitors, who respectfully opened a passage for him, while the name of "Mora" was whispered on every side.
"Well, well, Mademoiselle, this is a grand triumph. I regret only one thing, that is the unpleasant symbolism that you have concealed in your masterpiece."
When she saw the duke standing before her, she shuddered.
"Ah! yes, the symbolism," she said, looking up at him with a disheartened smile; and, leaning against the pedestal of the great, voluptuous statue, near which they happened to be standing, with her eyes closed, like a woman who gives herself voluntarily or surrenders, she murmured in a low, very low voice:
"Rabelais lied, as all men lie. The real truth is that the fox can go no farther, that he is at the end of his breath and his courage, ready to fall into the ditch, and if the hound persists in his pursuit—"
Mora started, became a little paler, as all the blood in his veins rushed back to his heart. Two darkly flashing glances met, two words were swiftly exchanged with the ends of the lips; then the duke bowed low and walked away with a step as brisk and light as if the gods were carrying him.
There was only one man in the palace as happy as he at that moment, and that was the Nabob. Escorted by his friends, he occupied, filled the main aisle all by himself, talking in a loud tone, gesticulating, so proud that he seemed almost handsome, as if, by dint of gazing long at his bust in artless admiration, he had caught a little of the splendid idealization with which the artist had softened the vulgarity of the type. The head at an elevation of three-fourths, free from the high rolling collar, gave rise to contradictory opinions from the spectators concerning the resemblance; and Jansoulet's name, which had been repeated so many times by the electoral urns, was echoed by the prettiest lips in Paris, by its most influential voices. Any other than the Nabob would have been embarrassed by hearing as he passed the exclamations of these curious bystanders, who were not always in sympathy with him. But the platform and the springboard were congenial to that nature, which was always braver under the fire of staring eyes, like those women who are beautiful and clever only in society, and whom the slightest admiration transfigures and perfects.
When he felt that that delirious joy was subsiding, when he thought that he had drained the cup of his proud intoxication, he had only to say to himself: "Deputy! I am a deputy!" and the triumphal cup was brimming full once more. It meant the raising of the embargo from all his property, the awakening from a nightmare of two months' duration, the blast of the mistral sweeping away all vexations, all anxieties, even to the insult at Saint-Romans, heavily as it weighed on his memory.
He laughed all by himself as he thought of the baron's face when he heard the news, of the bey's stupefaction when he was taken to look at his bust; and suddenly, at the thought that he was no longer a mere adventurer gorged with gold, arousing the senseless admiration of the vulgar like an enormous nugget in a money-changer's window, but that he was entitled to be looked upon as one of the chosen exponents of the national will, his good-natured, mobile face assumed an expression of ponderous gravity suited to the occasion, his mind was filled with plans for the future, for reform, and the longing to profit by the lessons he had lately learned from destiny. Already, mindful of the promise he had made de Gery, he exhibited a certain contemptuous coldness for the hungry herd that fawned servilely about his heels, and seemed to have adopted deliberately a system of peremptory contradiction. He called the Marquis de Bois-l'Hery "my good fellow," sharply imposed silence on the Governor, whose enthusiasm was becoming scandalous, and was inwardly making a solemn vow that he would rid himself as speedily as possible of all that begging, compromising horde of bohemians, when an excellent opportunity presented itself for him to begin to put his purpose in execution. Moessard, the handsome Moessard, in a sky-blue cravat, pale and puffed-up like a white abscess, his bust confined in a tight frock coat, seeing that the Nabob, after making the circuit of the hall of sculpture a score of times, was walking toward the exit, forced his way through the crowd, sprang to his side and said, as he passed his arm through Jansoulet's:
"You are to take me with you, you know—"
Of late, especially during the period of the election, he had assumed an authority on Place Vendome almost equal to Monpavon's, but more impudent; for, in respect of impudence, the queen's lover had not his equal on the sidewalk that extends from Rue Drouot to the Madeleine. But on this occasion he had a bad fall. The muscular arm that he grasped violently shook itself free, and the Nabob answered him very shortly:
"I am very sorry, my dear fellow, but I have no seat to offer you."
No seat, in a carriage as big as a house, which had often held five of them!
Moessard gazed at him in utter stupefaction.
"But I had something very urgent to say to you. On the subject of my little note. You received it, did you not?"
"To be sure, and Monsieur de Gery should have answered it this morning. What you ask is impossible. Twenty thousand francs!—tonnerre de Dieu! how fast you go."
"It seems to me, however, that my services—" stammered the fop.
"Have been handsomely paid. So it seems to me too. Two hundred thousand francs in five months! We will stop at that, if you please. You have long teeth, young man; we must file them a bit."
They exchanged these words as they walked along, pushed by the crowd which flocked like sheep through the door of exit. Moessard stopped:
"That is your last word?"
The Nabob hesitated a second, seized by a presentiment of evil at sight of that pale, wicked mouth; then he remembered the promise he had given his friend.
"That is my last word."
"Very well, we will see," said Beau Moessard, while his cane cleft the air with a noise like a snake's hiss; and, turning on his heel, he strode rapidly away like a man who has very important business awaiting him.
Jansoulet continued his triumphal march. On that day it would have required something much more serious to disturb the equilibrium of his happiness; on the other hand he felt encouraged by the beginning so successfully accomplished.
The great vestibule was filled with a compact crowd, whom the approach of the hour for closing impelled toward the outer world, but whom one of the sudden downpours which seem an essential part of the opening of the Salon detained under the porch with its floor of hard-trodden gravel, like the entrance to the Circus where the lady-killers disport themselves. It was a curious, thoroughly Parisian spectacle.
Outside, the sunbeams shining through the rain, attaching to its limpid threads those sharp, brilliant blades of light which justify the proverb "It rains halberds;" the young verdure of the Champs-Elysees, the clumps of dripping, rustling rhododendrons, the carriages drawn up in line on the avenue, the oilcloth capes of the coachmen, all the splendid accoutrements of the horses to which the water and the sunbeams imparted vastly greater richness and effect, and everywhere a gleam of blue, the blue of the sky, smiling in the interval between two showers.
Within, laughter, idle chatter, salutations, impatience, skirts turned up, satins puffing vaingloriously over the narrow pleats of petticoats and delicately striped silk stockings, oceans of fringe, of lace, of flounces, held with one hand in too heavy bundles, and torn beyond recognition. Then, to connect the two sides of the picture, the prisoners framed by the arched doorway and standing in its dark shadow, with the vast background of light behind them, footmen running about under umbrellas, shouting names of coachmen and names of masters, and coupes slowly approaching, into which terrified couples hastily jump.
"Monsieur Jansoulet's carriage!"
Everybody turned to look, but we know that that disturbed him but little. And while the honest Nabob posed for a moment, awaiting his people, amid those fashionable women, those famous men, that assorted gathering of all Paris which was present there with a name to fit each of its figures, a slender, neatly-gloved hand was held out to him, and the Duc de Mora, who was about to enter his coupe, said to him as he passed, with the effusiveness that happiness gives to the most reserved of men:
"My congratulations, my dear deputy."
It was said aloud, and every one could hear,—"My dear deputy."
* * * * *
There is in the life of every man a golden hour, a luminous mountain-top where all that he can hope for of prosperity, of joy, of triumph, awaits him and is showered upon him. The mountain is more or less high, more or less precipitous and difficult to climb; but it exists equally for all, for the most powerful and the humblest. But, like the longest day of the year, when the sun has reached the end of his upward journey and the next day seems a first step toward winter, that summum bonum of human existence is but a moment to be enjoyed, after which we have no choice but to descend. Poor man! you must remember that late afternoon in May, that time of alternating rain and sunshine, you must fix its changing splendor forever in your memory. It was the hour of your midsummer, when the flowers were blooming, the branches bending beneath their weight of golden fruit, and the crops whose gleanings you so recklessly threw aside, were fully ripe. The star will fade now, gradually receding and descending, and soon will be incapable of piercing the woeful darkness wherein your destiny is about to be fulfilled.
MEMOIRS OF A CLERK.—IN THE RECEPTION-ROOM.
There was a grand affair last Saturday on Place Vendome.
Monsieur Bernard Jansoulet, the new Deputy for Corsica, gave a magnificent evening party in honor of his election, with municipal guards at the door, the whole house illuminated and two thousand invitations strewn broadcast through fashionable Paris.
I was indebted to the distinction of my manners, to the resonance of my voice, which the president of the administrative council has had a chance to appreciate at the meetings of the Caisse Territoriale, for the privilege of taking part in that sumptuous festivity, where I stood for three hours in the reception-room, amid flowers and draperies, dressed in scarlet and gold, with the majestic bearing peculiar to persons who exert some little authority, and with my calves exposed for the first time in my life, and sent the name of each guest like the report of a cannon into the long line of five salons, a resplendent footman saluting each time with the bing of his halberd on the floor.
How many interesting observations I was able to make that evening, what jocose sallies, what quips, all in most excellent taste, were tossed back and forth by the servants, concerning the people of fashion who passed! I should never have heard anything so amusing with the vine-dressers of Montbars. I ought to say that the worthy M. Barreau caused us all to be served with a hearty, well-irrigated lunch in his office, which was filled to the ceiling with iced drinks and refreshments, thereby putting every one of us in an excellent humor, which was maintained throughout the evening by glasses of punch and champagne whisked from the salvers as they passed.
The masters, however, were not so contented as we were. When I reached my post, at nine o'clock, I was struck by the anxious, nervous face of the Nabob, whom I spied walking with M. de Gery through the brilliantly-lighted, empty salons, talking earnestly and gesticulating wildly.
"I will kill him," he said, "I will kill him."
The other tried to soothe him, then Madame appeared and they talked about something else.
A magnificent figure of a woman, that Levantine, twice as powerful as I am, and dazzling to look at with her diamond diadem, the jewels that covered her huge white shoulders, her back as round as her breast, her waist squeezed into a breastplate of greenish gold, which extended in long stripes the whole length of her skirt. I never saw anything so rich, so imposing. She was like one of those beautiful white elephants with towers on their backs that we read about in books of travel. When she walked, clinging painfully to the furniture, all her flesh shook and her ornaments jangled like old iron. With it all a very shrill little voice and a beautiful red face which a little negro boy kept fanning all the time with a fan of white feathers as big as a peacock's tail.
It was the first time that that indolent savage had made her appearance in Parisian society, and M. Jansoulet seemed very proud and very happy that she had consented to preside at his fete: a task that involved no great labor on the lady's part, however, for, leaving her husband to receive his guests in the first salon, she went and stretched herself out on the couch in the little Japanese salon, wedged between two piles of cushions, and perfectly motionless, so that you could see her in the distance, at the end of the line of salons, like an idol, under the great fan which her negro waved with a clocklike motion, as if by machinery. These foreigners have the brass for you!
The Nabob's irritation had impressed me all the same, and as I saw his valet going downstairs four steps at a time, I caught him on the wing and whispered in his ear:
"What the deuce is the matter with your governor, Monsieur Noel?"
"It's the article in the Messager," he replied, and I had to abandon the idea of finding out anything more for the moment, as a loud ring at the bell announced the arrival of the first carriage, and it was followed by a multitude of others.
Intent upon my business, giving close attention to the proper pronunciation of the names given me and to making them ricochet from salon to salon, I thought of nothing else. It is no easy matter to announce properly people who always think that their names must be well known, so that they simply murmur them through their closed lips as they pass, and then are surprised to hear you murder them in your most sonorous tone and almost bear you a grudge for the unimpressive entrances, greeted with faint smiles, that follow a bungling announcement. The task was made even more difficult at M. Jansoulet's by the swarm of foreigners, Turks, Egyptians, Persians, Tunisians. I do not mention the Corsicans, who were also very numerous on that occasion, because, during my four years of service at the Caisse Territoriale, I have become accustomed to pronouncing those high-sounding, interminable names, always followed by the name of a place: "Paganetti of Porto-Vecchio, Bastelica of Bonifacio, Paianatchi of Barbicaglia."
I enjoyed dwelling upon those Italian syllables, giving them their full resonant value, and I could see by the stupefied expressions of those worthy islanders how surprised and delighted they were to be introduced in that fashion into the best continental society. But with the Turks, the pachas and beys and effendis, I had much more difficulty, and I must often have pronounced them awry, for M. Jansoulet, on two different occasions, sent word to me to pay more attention to the names given me, and especially to announce them more naturally. That command, uttered in a loud voice at the door of the reception-room with unnecessary brutality, annoyed me exceedingly, and prevented me—shall I confess it?—from pitying the vulgar parvenu when I learned, during the evening, what sharp thorns had found their way into his bed of roses.
From half-past ten till midnight the bell did not cease to ring, the carriages to rumble under the porch, the guests to follow on one another's heels, deputies, senators, councillors of state, municipal councillors, who acted much more as if they were attending a meeting of shareholders than an evening party in society. What did it all mean? I could not succeed in puzzling it out, but a word from Nicklauss the door-keeper opened my eyes.
"Do you notice, Monsieur Passajon," said that worthy retainer, standing in front of me, halberd in hand, "do you notice how few ladies we have?"
Pardieu! that was it. And we two were not the only ones who noticed it. At each new arrival, I heard the Nabob, who stood near the door, exclaim in consternation with the hoarse voice of a Marseillais with a cold in his head:
The guest would apologize in an undertone. M-m-m-m-m-m—his wife not very well. Very sorry indeed. Then another would come; and the same question would bring the same reply.
We heard that word "alone" so much, that at last we began to joke about it in the reception-room; outriders and footmen tossed it from one to another when a new guest entered: "Alone!" And we laughed and enjoyed ourselves. But M. Nicklauss, with his extended knowledge of society, considered that the almost universal abstention of the fair sex was by no means natural.
"It must be the article in the Messager," he said.
Everybody was talking of that rascally article, and as each guest paused before entering the salon to look himself over in the mirror with its garland of flowers, I overheard snatches of whispered dialogue of this sort:
"Have you read it?"
"It's a frightful thing."
"Do you believe it can possibly be true?"
"I have no idea. At all events I preferred not to bring my wife."
"I felt as you did. A man can go anywhere without compromising himself."
"Of course. While a woman—"
Then they would go in, their crush hats under their arms, with the conquering air of married men unaccompanied by their wives.
What was this newspaper article, this terrible article which threatened so seriously the influence of such a wealthy man? Unfortunately my duties held me fast; I could not go down to the butlers pantry or the dressing-room, to talk with the coachmen, the footmen and outriders whom I saw standing at the foot of the stairs, amusing themselves by making fun of the people who went up. What can you expect? The masters give themselves too many airs. How could one help laughing to see the Marquis and Marquise de Bois-l'Hery sail by with a haughty air and empty stomachs, after all the stories we have heard about Monsieur's business arrangements and Madame's dresses? And then the Jenkins family, so affectionate, so united, the attentive doctor throwing a lace shawl over his wife's shoulders for fear she may take cold in the hall; she, tricked out and smiling, dressed all in velvet, with a train yards long, leaning on her husband's arm as if to say: "How happy I am!" when I know that, ever since the death of the Irishwoman, his lawful wife, the doctor has been thinking of getting rid of his old incubus so that he can marry a young woman, and that the old incubus passes her nights in despair, in wearing away with tears what beauty she still has.
The amusing part of it was that not one of them all suspected the quips and jokes that were spit out at them as they passed, the vile things that their trains swept up from the vestibule carpet, and the whole crew assumed disdainful airs fit to make one die with laughter.
The two ladies I have named, the Governor's wife, a little Corsican woman whose heavy eyebrows, white teeth and ruddy cheeks, dark in the lower part, make her look like a clean-shaved Auvergnat—a clever creature by the way, and always laughing except when her husband looks at other women—these with a few Levantines with diadems of gold or pearls, less resplendent than ours but in the same style, wives of upholsterers, jewellers, dealers who supply the household regularly, with shoulders as extensive as shop-fronts and dresses in which the material was not sparingly used; and lastly, several wives of clerks at the Caisse Territoriale, with rustling dresses and devil a sou in their pockets,—such was the representation of the fair sex at that function, some thirty ladies lost among myriads of black coats; one might as well say that there were none at all there. From time to time, Cassagne, Laporte and Grandvarlet, who were carrying dishes, told us what was going on in the salons.
"Ah! my children, if you could just see how gloomy, how mournful it is! The men don't move from the sideboards. The women are all sitting in a circle, way at the end, fanning themselves, without a word. La Grosse doesn't speak to any one. I believe she's taking a snooze. Monsieur's the one who keeps things going. Pere Passajon, a glass of Chateau-Larose. It will set you up."
 The Fat Woman, or "Fatty."
All those young fellows were delightful to me, and took a mischievous pleasure in doing the honors of the cellar so often and in such bumpers that my tongue began to grow heavy and uncertain; as they said to me, in their slightly familiar language: "You're spluttering, uncle." Luckily the last of the effendis had arrived and there was no one else to announce; for it was of no use for me to struggle against it, every time I walked between the hangings to launch a name into the salons, the chandeliers whirled round and round with hundreds of thousands of dancing lights, and the floors became inclined planes as slippery and steep as Russian mountains. I must have spluttered, that is sure.
The fresh night air and repeated ablutions at the pump in the courtyard soon got the better of that little indisposition, and when I betook myself to the servants' quarters it had altogether disappeared. I found a large and merry party gathered around a marquise of champagne, of which all my nieces, in fine array, with fluffy hair and cravats of pink ribbon, took their full share, notwithstanding the fascinating little shrieks and grimaces, which deceived no one. Naturally they were talking about the famous article, an article by Moessard, it seems, full of shocking disclosures concerning all sorts of degrading occupations that the Nabob was engaged in fifteen or twenty years ago, at the time of his first stay in Paris.
It was the third attack of that sort that the Messager had published within a week, and that rascal Moessard was malicious enough to send a copy of each number under cover to Place Vendome.
M. Jansoulet received it in the morning with his chocolate; and at the same hour his friends and his enemies—for a man like the Nabob cannot be indifferent to anybody—read it and discussed it, and adopted a line of conduct toward him calculated not to compromise themselves. That day's article must have been well loaded; for Jansoulet the coachman told us that in the Bois his master did not exchange ten salutations in ten circuits of the lake, whereas ordinarily his hat is not on his head any more than a sovereign's when out for a drive. And when they returned home it was much worse. The three boys had just reached the house, all in tears and frightened to death, brought home from Bourdaloue College by a good Father in their own interest, poor little fellows; they had been given temporary leave of absence so that they might not hear any unkind remarks, any cruel allusions in the parlor or the courtyard. Thereupon the Nabob flew into a terrible rage, so that he demolished a whole porcelain service, and it seems that, if it had not been for M. de Gery, he would have gone off on the instant to break Moessard's head.
"And he would have done quite right," said M. Noel, entering the room at that moment; and he, too, was greatly excited. "There's not a single word of truth in that villain's article. My master never came to Paris until last year. From Tunis to Marseille, and Marseille to Tunis, that's all the travelling he did. But that scurvy journalist is taking his revenge on us for refusing him twenty thousand francs."
"You made a very great mistake in doing that," said M. Francis, Monpavon's Francis, valet to that old dandy, whose only tooth waggles in the middle of his mouth whenever he says a word, but whom the young ladies look favorably upon all the same because of his fine manners. "Yes, you made a mistake. It is necessary to know how to handle people carefully, as long as they are able to serve or injure us. Your Nabob turned his back on his friends too suddenly after his success; and, between you and me, my dear boy, he isn't strong enough to return such blows as that."
I thought I might venture to say a word.
"It's quite true, Monsieur Noel, that your master isn't the same since his election. He has adopted a very different tone and manners. Day before yesterday at the Territoriale, he made such a hullabaloo as you can't imagine. I heard him shout in the middle of the council meeting: 'You have lied to me, you have robbed me and made me as much of a thief as yourselves. Show me your books, you pack of rascals!' If he treated Moessard in that fashion, I don't wonder that he takes his revenge in his newspaper."
"But what does the article say, anyway?" inquired M. Barreau; "who has read it?"
No one answered. Several had tried to buy the paper; but in Paris anything scandalous sells like hot cakes. At ten o'clock in the morning there was not a copy of the Messager to be had on the street. Thereupon one of my nieces, a sly hussy if ever there was one, had the happy thought of looking in the pocket of one of the numerous top-coats hanging in long rows against the walls of the dressing-room.
"Here you are!" said the merry creature triumphantly, drawing from the first pocket she searched a copy of the Messager, crumpled at the folds as if it had been well read.
"And here's another!" cried Tom Bois-l'Hery, who was investigating on his own account. A third top-coat, a third Messager. And so it was with them all; buried in the depths of the pocket, or with its title sticking out, the paper was everywhere, even as the article was certain to be in every mind; and we imagined the Nabob upstairs, exchanging amiable sentences with his guests, who could have recited to him word for word the horrible things printed concerning him. We all laughed heartily at the idea; but we were dying to know the contents of that interesting page.
"Here, Pere Passajon, read it aloud to us."
That was the general desire, and I complied with it.
I do not know if you are like me, but when I read aloud I gargle with my voice, so to speak, I introduce inflections and flourishes, so that I do not understand a word of what I read, like those public singers to whom the meaning of the words they sing is of little consequence provided that the notes are all there. It was called "The Flower Boat." A decidedly mixed-up story with Chinese names, relating to a very rich mandarin, newly elevated to the first class, who had once kept a "flower boat" moored on the outskirts of a town near a fortified gate frequented by soldiers. At the last word of the article we knew no more than at the beginning. To be sure, we tried to wink and to look very knowing; but, frankly, there was no ground for it. A genuine rebus without a key; and we should still be staring at it, had not old Francis, who is the very devil for his knowledge of all sorts of things, explained to us that the fortified gate with soldiers must mean the Ecole Militaire, and that the "flower boat" had not so pretty a name as that in good French. And he said the name aloud, despite the ladies. Such an explosion of exclamations, of "Ahs!" and "Ohs!" some saying: "I expected as much," others: "It isn't possible."
"I beg your pardon," added Francis, who was formerly a trumpeter in the 9th Lancers, Mora's and Monpavon's regiment, "I beg your pardon. Twenty years ago or more I was in barracks at the Ecole Militaire, and I remember very well that there was near the barrier a dirty little dance-house called the Bal Jansoulet, with furnished rooms upstairs at five sous the hour, to which we used to adjourn between dances."
"You're an infernal liar!" cried M. Noel, fairly beside himself; "a sharper and liar like your master. Jansoulet never came to Paris until this time."
Francis was sitting a little outside of the circle we made around the "marquise," sipping something sweet, because champagne is bad for his nerves, and besides, it is not a chic enough drink for him. He rose solemnly, without putting down his glass, and, walking up to M. Noel, said to him, quietly:
"You lack good form, my dear fellow. The other evening, at your own house, I considered your manners very vulgar and unbecoming. It serves no purpose to insult people, especially as I'm a fencing-master, and, if we should carry the thing any farther, I could put two inches of cold steel into your body at whatever point I chose; but I am a good sort of fellow, and instead of a sword-thrust I prefer to give you some advice which your master will do well to profit by. This is what I would do if I were in your place; I would hunt up Moessard and buy him without haggling over the price. Hemerlingue has given him twenty thousand francs to speak, I would offer him thirty thousand to hold his tongue."
"Never, never!" roared M. Noel. "Instead of that I will go and wring the miserable bandit's neck."
"You will wring nothing at all. Whether the story is true or false, you have seen the effect of it to-night. That's a specimen of the pleasures in store for you. What do you expect, my dear fellow? You have thrown away your crutches and tried to walk alone too soon. That's all right if you're sure of yourself and firm on your legs; but when your footing is not very good anyway, and in addition you are unlucky enough to have Hemerlingue at your heels, it's a bad business. And with it all your master's beginning to be short of money; he has given notes to old Schwalbach, and don't talk to me of a Nabob who gives notes. I am well aware that you have heaps of millions over yonder in Tunis; but you will have to have your election confirmed in order to get possession of them, and after a few more articles like the one to-day, I'll answer for it that you won't succeed. You undertake to struggle with Paris, my boy, but you're not big enough, you know nothing about it. This isn't the Orient, and, although we don't wring the necks of people who offend us, or throw them into the water in leather bags, we have other ways of putting them out of sight. Let your master beware, Noel. One of these days Paris will swallow him as I swallow this plum, without spitting out the stone or the skin!"
Really the old man was most imposing, and, notwithstanding the paint on his face, I began to feel some respect for him. While he was speaking we heard the music overhead, the singing provided for the entertainment of the guests, and out on the square the horses of the municipal guards shaking their curb-chains. Our party must have been a very brilliant affair from outside, with the myriads of candles and the illuminated doorway. And when one thinks of the ruin that perhaps was beneath it all! We stood there in the vestibule like rats taking council together in the hold, when the vessel is beginning to take in water without the crew suspecting it, and I saw plainly enough that everybody, footmen and lady's maids, would soon scamper away at the first alarm. Can it be that such a catastrophe is possible? But in that case, what would become of me and the Territoriale, and my advances and my back pay?
That Francis left me with cold shivers running down my back.
A PUBLIC MAN.
The luminous warmth of a bright May afternoon made the lofty windows of the hotel de Mora as hot as the glass roof of a greenhouse; its transparent hangings of blue silk could be seen from without between the branches, and its broad terraces, where the exotic flowers, brought into the air for the first time, ran like a border all the length of the quay. The great rakes scraping among the shrubs in the garden left on the gravelled paths the light footprints of summer, while the soft pattering of the water from the sprinklers on the green lawn seemed like its revivifying song.
All the magnificence of the princely abode shone resplendent in the pleasant mildness of the temperature, borrowing a grandiose beauty from the silence, the repose of that noonday hour, the only hour in the day when one did not hear carriages rumbling under the arches, the great doors of the reception-room opening and closing, and the constant vibration in the ivy on the walls caused by the pulling of bells to announce somebody's coming in or going out, like the feverish throbbing of life in the house of a leader of society. It was well known that until three o'clock the duke received at the department; that the duchess, a Swede still benumbed by the snow of Stockholm, had hardly emerged from behind her somnolent bed-curtains; so that no one came, neither callers nor petitioners, and the footmen, perched like flamingoes on the steps of the deserted stoop, alone enlivened the scene with the slim shadows of their long legs and the yawning ennui of their idleness.
It happened however, on that day, that Jenkins' maroon-lined coupe was waiting in a corner of the courtyard. The duke, who had been feeling badly the day before, felt still worse when he left the breakfast table, and lost no time in sending for the man of the pearls in order to question him concerning his singular condition. He had no pain anywhere, slept well and had his usual appetite; but there was a most extraordinary sensation of weariness and of terrible cold, which nothing could overcome. So it was that, at that moment, notwithstanding the lovely spring sunshine which flooded his room and put to shame the flame blazing on his hearth as in the depth of winter, the duke was shivering in his blue firs, between his little screens, and as he wrote his name on divers documents for a clerk from his office, on a low lacquered table that stood so near the fire that the lacquer came off in scales, he kept holding his benumbed fingers to the blaze, which might have scorched them on the surface without restoring circulation and life to their bloodless rigidity.
Was it anxiety caused by the indisposition of his illustrious patient? At all events Jenkins seemed nervous, excited, strode up and down the room, prying and sniffing to right and left, trying to find in the air something that he believed to be there, something subtle and intangible, like the faint trace of a perfume or the invisible mark left by a passing bird. He could hear the wood snapping on the hearth, the sound of papers hastily turned, the duke's indolent voice, indicating in a word or two, always concise and clear, the answer to a letter of four pages, and the clerk's respectful monosyllables: "Yes, Monsieur le Ministre." "No, Monsieur le Ministre." Outside, the swallows whistled merrily over the water, and some one was playing a clarinet in the direction of the bridges.
"It is impossible," said the minister abruptly, rising from his chair. "Take them away, Lartigues. You can come again, to-morrow. I can't write, I am too cold. Just feel my hands, doctor, and tell me if you would not say they were just out of a pail of iced water. My whole body has been like that for two days. It's absurd enough in such weather!"
"It doesn't surprise me," growled the Irishman in a surly, short tone, very unusual in that mellifluous voice.
The door had closed behind the young clerk, who carried away his documents with a majestic stiffness of bearing, but was very happy, I fancy, to feel that he was at liberty, and to have the opportunity, before returning to the department, to saunter for an hour or two in the Tuileries, overflowing at that hour with spring dresses and pretty girls seated around the still unoccupied chairs of the musicians under the flowering chestnut trees, which quivered from top to bottom with the glad thrill of the month of nests. He was not frozen, not he.
Jenkins examined his patient without speaking, ausculted him, percussed him, then, in the same rough tone, which might possibly be ascribed to anxious affection, to the irritation of the physician who finds that his instructions have been disregarded, he said:
"In God's name, my dear Duke, what sort of a life have you been leading lately?"
He knew from ante-room gossips—the doctor did not despise them in the households of those of his patients with whom he was on intimate terms—he knew that the duke had a new one, that this caprice of recent date had taken possession of him, excited him to an unusual degree, and that information, added to other observations made in other directions, had sown in Jenkins' mind a suspicion, a mad desire to know the name of this new one. That is what he was trying to read on his patient's pale brow, seeking the subject of his thoughts rather than the cause of his illness. But he had to do with one of those faces peculiar to men who are successful with women, faces as hermetically sealed as the caskets with secret compartments which contain women's jewels and letters,—one of those reticent natures locked with a cold, limpid glance, a glance of steel against which the most perspicacious cunning is powerless.
"You are mistaken, Doctor," replied His Excellency calmly, "I have not changed my habits in any respect."
"Very good! you have done wrong, Monsieur le Duc," said the Irishman bluntly, furious at his inability to discover anything.
But the next moment, realizing that he had gone too far, he tempered his ill-humor and the brutality of his diagnosis with a bolus of trite, axiomatic observations.—He must be careful. Medicine was not magic. The power of the Jenkins Pearls was limited by human strength, the necessities of advancing age, the resources of nature, which, unhappily, are not inexhaustible. The duke interrupted him nervously:
"Come, come, Jenkins, you know that I don't like fine phrases. They don't go with me. What is the matter with me? What is the cause of this coldness?"
"It's anaemia, exhaustion—a lowering of the oil in the lamp."
"What must I do?"
"Nothing. Absolute rest. Eat and sleep, nothing more. If you could go and pass a few weeks at Grandbois—"
Mora shrugged his shoulders.
"What about the Chamber, and the Council, and—Nonsense! as if it were possible!"
"At all events, Monsieur le Duc, you must put on the drag, as someone said, you must absolutely give up—"
Jenkins was interrupted by the entrance of the usher, who glided softly into the room on tiptoe, like a dancing-master, and handed a letter and a card to the minister who was still shivering in front of the fire. When he saw that envelope, of a satiny shade of gray, and of peculiar shape, the Irishman involuntarily started, while the duke, having opened his letter and glanced over it, rose to his feet full of animation, on his cheeks the faint flush of factitious health which all the heat from the fire had failed to bring to them.
"My dear Doctor, you must at any cost—"
The usher was standing near, waiting.
"What is it?—Oh! yes, this card. Show him into the gallery, I will be there in a moment."
The Duc de Mora's gallery, which was open to visitors twice a week, was to him a sort of neutral territory, a public place where he could see anybody on earth without binding himself to anything or compromising himself. Then, when the usher had left the room:
"Jenkins, my good friend, you have already performed miracles for me. I ask you to perform another. Double my dose of the pearls, think up something, whatever you choose. But I must be in condition Sunday. You understand, in perfect condition."
And his hot, feverish fingers closed upon the little note he held with a shudder of longing.
"Beware, Monsieur le Duc," said Jenkins, very pale, his lips pressed tightly together, "I have no desire to alarm you beyond measure concerning your weak state, but it is my duty—"
Mora smiled, a charming, mischievous smile.
"Your duty and my pleasure are two, my good fellow. Let me burn my life at both ends if it amuses me. I have never had such a fine opportunity as I have now."
A door under the hangings had opened, giving passage to a dishevelled little head of fair hair, like a mass of vapor amid the laces and furbelows of a royal deshabille.
"What is this I hear? You haven't gone out? Pray scold him, Doctor. Isn't he foolish to listen to his own fears so much? Just look at him. He looks in superb health."
"There! You see," said the duke, with a laugh, to the Irishman. "Aren't you coming in, Duchess?"
"No, I am going to take you away, on the contrary. My uncle d'Estaing has sent me a cage filled with birds from the Indies. I want to show them to you. Marvels of all colors, with little eyes like black pearls. And so cold, so cold, almost as sensitive to cold as you are."
"Let us go and see them," said the minister. "Wait for me, Jenkins; I will come back."
Then, realizing that he still had his letter in his hand, he tossed it carelessly into the drawer of the little table on which he had been signing documents, and went out behind the duchess, with the perfect sang-froid of a husband accustomed to such manoeuvres. What marvellously skilful workman, what incomparable maker of toys was able to endow the human countenance with its flexibility, its wonderful elasticity? Nothing could be prettier than that great nobleman's face, surprised with his adultery on his lips, the cheeks inflamed by the vision of promised delights, and suddenly assuming a serene expression of conjugal affection; nothing could be finer than the hypocritical humility of Jenkins, his paternal smile in the duchess's presence, giving place instantly when he was left alone, to a savage expression of wrath and hatred, a criminal pallor, the pallor of a Castaing or a Lapommerais devising his sinister schemes.
A swift glance at each of the doors, and in a twinkling he stood before the drawer filled with valuable papers, in which the little gold key was allowed to remain with an insolent negligence that seemed to say:
"No one will dare."
But Jenkins dared.
The letter was there, on top of a pile of others. The texture of the paper, the three words of the address dashed off in a plain, bold hand, and the perfume, that intoxicating, conjuring perfume, the very breath from her divine mouth. So it was true, his jealous love had not led him astray, nor her evident embarrassment in his presence for some time past, nor Constance's mysterious, youthful airs, nor the superb bouquets strewn about the studio, as in the mysterious shadow of a sin. So that indomitable pride had surrendered at last! But in that case why not to him, Jenkins? He who had loved her so long, always in fact, who was ten years younger than the other, and who certainly was no shiverer? All those thoughts rushed through his brain like arrows shot from a tireless bow. And he stood there, riddled with wounds, torn with emotion, his eyes blinded with blood, staring at the little cold, soft envelope which he dared not open for fear of removing one last doubt, when a rustling of the hangings, which made him hastily toss the letter back and close the smoothly-running drawer of the lacquer table, warned him that somebody had entered the room.
"Hallo! is it you, Jansoulet? How came you here?"
"His Excellency told me to come and wait for him in his bedroom," replied the Nabob, very proud to be thus admitted to the sanctuary of the private apartments, especially at an hour when the minister did not receive. The fact was that the duke was beginning to show a genuine, sympathetic feeling for that savage. For several reasons: in the first place he liked audacious, pushing fellows, lucky adventurers. Was he not one himself? And then the Nabob amused him; his accent, his unvarnished manners, his flattery, a trifle unblushing and impudent, gave him a respite from the everlasting conventionality of his surroundings, from that scourge of administrative and court ceremonial which he held in horror,—the conventional phrase,—in so great horror that he never finished the period he had begun. The Nabob, for his part, finished his in unforeseen ways that were sometimes full of surprises; he was a first-rate gambler too, losing games of ecarte at five thousand francs the turn, at the club on Rue Royale, without winking. And then he was so convenient when one wanted to get rid of a picture, always ready to buy, no matter at what price. These motives of condescending amiability had been reinforced latterly by a feeling of pity and indignation because of the persistent ferocity with which the poor fellow was being persecuted, because of the cowardly, merciless war upon him, which was carried on so skilfully that public opinion, always credulous, always putting out its neck to see how the wind is blowing, was beginning to be seriously influenced. We must do Mora the justice to say that he was no follower of the crowd. When he saw the Nabob's face, always good-humored, but wearing a piteous, discomfited look, in a corner of the gallery, it had occurred to him that it was cowardly to receive him there, and he had told him to go up to his room.
Jenkins and Jansoulet, being decidedly embarrassed in each other's presence, exchanged a few commonplace words. Their warm friendship had grown sensibly cooler of late, Jansoulet having flatly refused any further subsidy to the Work of Bethlehem, thereby leaving the enterprise on the Irishman's hands; he was furious at that defection, much more furious just then because he had been unable to open Felicia's letter before the intruder's arrival. The Nabob, for his part, was wondering whether the doctor was to be present at the conversation he wished to have with the duke on the subject of the infamous allusions with which the Messager was hounding him; he was anxious also to know whether those calumnies had cooled the all-powerful goodwill, which would be so necessary to him in the confirmation of his election. The welcome he had received in the gallery had partly quieted his fears; they vanished altogether when the duke returned and came toward him with outstretched hand.
"Well, well! my poor Jansoulet, I should say that Paris is making you pay dear for her welcome. What a tempest of scolding and hatred and bad temper!"
"Ah! Monsieur le Duc, if you knew—"
"I do know—I have read it all," said the minister, drawing near the fire.
"I trust that your Excellency doesn't believe those infamous stories. At all events I have here—I have brought proofs."
With his strong hairy hands trembling with emotion, he fumbled among the papers in an enormous portfolio that he had under his arm.
"Never mind—never mind. I know all about it. I know that, purposely or not, they have confused you with another person whom family reasons—"
The duke could not restrain a smile in face of the utter bewilderment of the Nabob, who was astounded to find him so well informed.
"A minister of State should know everything. But never fear. Your election shall be confirmed, all the same. And when it is once confirmed—"
Jansoulet drew a long breath of relief.
"Ah! Monsieur le Duc, how much good you do me by talking to me thus. I was beginning to lose all my confidence. My enemies are so powerful! And on top of all the rest there's another piece of ill-luck. Le Merquier, of all people, is assigned to make the report concerning my election."
"Le Merquier?—the devil!"
"Yes, Le Merquier, Hemerlingue's confidential man, the vile hypocrite who converted the baroness, doubtless because his religion forbids him to have a Mohammedan for his mistress."