Part 4 out of 7
Dr. Poulain went, you may be sure, to thank Count Popinot; but as
Count Popinot's family physician was the celebrated Horace Bianchon,
it was pretty clear that his chances of gaining a footing in that
house were something of the slenderest. The poor doctor had fondly
hoped for the patronage of a powerful cabinet minister, one of the
twelve or fifteen cards which a cunning hand has been shuffling for
sixteen years on the green baize of the council table, and now he
dropped back again into his Marais, his old groping life among the
poor and the small tradespeople, with the privilege of issuing
certificates of death for a yearly stipend of twelve hundred francs.
Dr. Poulain had distinguished himself to some extent as a
house-student; he was a prudent practitioner, and not without
experience. His deaths caused no scandal; he had plenty of
opportunities of studying all kinds of complaints /in anima vili/.
Judge, therefore, of the spleen that he nourished! The expression of
his countenance, lengthy and not too cheerful to begin with, at times
was positively appalling. Set a Tartuffe's all-devouring eyes, and
the sour humor of an Alceste in a sallow-parchment visage, and try to
imagine for yourself the gait, bearing, and expression of a man who
thought himself as good a doctor as the illustrious Bianchon, and
felt that he was held down in his narrow lot by an iron hand. He
could not help comparing his receipts (ten francs a day if he was
fortunate) with Bianchon's five or six hundred.
Are the hatreds and jealousies of democracy incomprehensible after
this? Ambitious and continually thwarted, he could not reproach
himself. He had once already tried his fortune by inventing a
purgative pill, something like Morrison's, and intrusted the business
operations to an old hospital chum, a house-student who afterwards
took a retail drug business; but, unluckily, the druggist, smitten
with the charms of a ballet-dancer of the Ambigu-Comique, found
himself at length in the bankruptcy court; and as the patent had been
taken out in his name, his partner was literally without a remedy, and
the important discovery enriched the purchaser of the business. The
sometime house-student set sail for Mexico, that land of gold, taking
poor Poulain's little savings with him; and, to add insult to injury,
the opera-dancer treated him as an extortioner when he applied to her
for his money.
Not a single rich patient had come to him since he had the luck to
cure old M. Pillerault. Poulain made his rounds on foot, scouring the
Marais like a lean cat, and obtained from two to forty sous out of a
score of visits. The paying patient was a phenomenon about as rare as
that anomalous fowl known as a "white blackbird" in all sublunary
The briefless barrister, the doctor without a patient, are
pre-eminently the two types of a decorous despair peculiar to this
city of Paris; it is mute, dull despair in human form, dressed in a
black coat and trousers with shining seams that recall the zinc on an
attic roof, a glistening satin waistcoat, a hat preserved like a relic,
a pair of old gloves, and a cotton shirt. The man is the incarnation
of a melancholy poem, sombre as the secrets of the Conciergerie. Other
kinds of poverty, the poverty of the artist--actor, painter, musician,
or poet--are relieved and lightened by the artist's joviality, the
reckless gaiety of the Bohemian border country--the first stage of the
journey to the Thebaid of genius. But these two black-coated
professions that go afoot through the street are brought continually
in contact with disease and dishonor; they see nothing of human nature
but its sores; in the forlorn first stages and beginnings of their
career they eye competitors suspiciously and defiantly; concentrated
dislike and ambition flashes out in glances like the breaking forth of
hidden flames. Let two schoolfellows meet after twenty years, the rich
man will avoid the poor; he does not recognize him, he is afraid even
to glance into the gulf which Fate has set between him and the friend
of other years. The one has been borne through life on the mettlesome
steed called Fortune, or wafted on the golden clouds of success; the
other has been making his way in underground Paris through the sewers,
and bears the marks of his career upon him. How many a chum of old
days turned aside at the sight of the doctor's greatcoat and
With this explanation, it should be easy to understand how Dr. Poulain
came to lend himself so readily to the farce of La Cibot's illness and
recovery. Greed of every kind, ambition of every nature, is not easy
to hide. The doctor examined his patient, found that every organ was
sound and healthy, admired the regularity of her pulse and the perfect
ease of her movements; and as she continued to moan aloud, he saw that
for some reason she found it convenient to lie at Death's door. The
speedy cure of a serious imaginary disease was sure to cause a
sensation in the neighborhood; the doctor would be talked about. He
made up his mind at once. He talked of rupture, and of taking it in
time, and thought even worse of the case than La Cibot herself. The
portress was plied with various remedies, and finally underwent a sham
operation, crowned with complete success. Poulain repaired to the
Arsenal Library, looked out a grotesque case in some of Desplein's
records of extraordinary cures, and fitted the details to Mme. Cibot,
modestly attributing the success of the treatment to the great
surgeon, in whose steps (he said) he walked. Such is the impudence of
beginners in Paris. Everything is made to serve as a ladder by which
to climb upon the scene; and as everything, even the rungs of a
ladder, will wear out in time, the new members of every profession are
at a loss to find the right sort of wood of which to make steps for
There are moments when the Parisian is not propitious. He grows tired
of raising pedestals, pouts like a spoiled child, and will have no
more idols; or, to state it more accurately, Paris cannot always find
a proper object for infatuation. Now and then the vein of genius gives
out, and at such times the Parisian may turn supercilious; he is not
always willing to bow down and gild mediocrity.
Mme. Cibot, entering in her usual unceremonious fashion, found the
doctor and his mother at table, before a bowl of lamb's lettuce, the
cheapest of all salad-stuffs. The dessert consisted of a thin wedge of
Brie cheese flanked by a plate of specked foreign apples and a dish of
mixed dry fruits, known as /quatre-mendiants/, in which the raisin
stalks were abundantly conspicuous.
"You can stay, mother," said the doctor, laying a hand on Mme.
Poulain's arm; "this is Mme. Cibot, of whom I have told you."
"My respects to you, madame, and my duty to you, sir," said La Cibot,
taking the chair which the doctor offered. "Ah! is this your mother,
sir? She is very happy to have a son who has such talent; he saved my
life, madame, brought me back from the depths."
The widow, hearing Mme. Cibot praise her son in this way, thought her
a delightful woman.
"I have just come to tell you, that, between ourselves, poor M. Pons
is doing very badly, sir, and I have something to say to you about
"Let us go into the sitting-room," interrupted the doctor, and with a
significant gesture he indicated the servant.
In the sitting-room La Cibot explained her position with regard to the
pair of nutcrackers at very considerable length. She repeated the
history of her loan with added embellishments, and gave a full account
of the immense services rendered during the past ten years to MM. Pons
and Schmucke. The two old men, to all appearance, could not exist
without her motherly care. She posed as an angel; she told so many
lies, one after another, watering them with her tears, that old Mme.
Poulain was quite touched.
"You understand, my dear sir," she concluded, "that I really ought to
know how far I can depend on M. Pons' intentions, supposing that he
should not die; not that I want him to die, for looking after those
two innocents is my life, madame, you see; still, when one of them is
gone I shall look after the other. For my own part, I was built by
Nature to rival mothers. Without nobody to care for, nobody to take
for a child, I don't know what I should do. . . . So if M. Poulain
only would, he might do me a service for which I should be very
grateful; and that is, to say a word to M. Pons for me. Goodness me!
an annuity of a thousand francs, is that too much, I ask you? . . .
To. M. Schmucke it would be so much gained.--Our dear patient said
that he should recommend me to the German, poor man; it is his idea,
no doubt, that M. Schmucke should be his heir. But what is a man that
cannot put two ideas together in French? And besides, he would be
quite capable of going back to Germany, he will be in such despair
over his friend's death--"
The doctor grew grave. "My dear Mme. Cibot," he said, "this sort of
thing does not in the least concern a doctor. I should not be allowed
to exercise my profession if it was known that I interfered in the
matter of my patients' testamentary dispositions. The law forbids a
doctor to receive a legacy from a patient--"
"A stupid law! What is to hinder me from dividing my legacy with you?"
La Cibot said immediately.
"I will go further," said the doctor; "my professional conscience will
not permit me to speak to M. Pons of his death. In the first place, he
is not so dangerously ill that there is any need to speak of it, and
in the second, such talk coming from me might give a shock to the
system that would do him real harm, and then his illness might
"/I/ don't put on gloves to tell him to get his affairs in order,"
cried Mme. Cibot, "and he is none the worse for that. He is used to
it. There is nothing to fear."
"Not a word more about it, my dear Mme. Cibot! These things are not
within a doctor's province; it is a notary's business--"
"But, my dear M. Poulain, suppose that M. Pons of his own accord
should ask you how he is, and whether he had better make his
arrangements; then, would you refuse to tell him that if you want to
get better it is an excellent plan to set everything in order? Then
you might just slip in a little word for me--"
"Oh, if /he/ talks of making his will, I certainly shall not dissuade
him," said the doctor.
"Very well, that is settled. I came to thank you for your care of me,"
she added, as she slipped a folded paper containing three gold coins
into the doctor's hands. "It is all I can do at the moment. Ah! my
dear M. Poulain, if I were rich, you should be rich, you that are the
image of Providence on earth.--Madame, you have an angel for a son."
La Cibot rose to her feet, Mme. Poulain bowed amiably, and the doctor
went to the door with the visitor. Just then a sudden, lurid gleam of
light flashed across the mind of this Lady Macbeth of the streets. She
saw clearly that the doctor was her accomplice--he had taken the fee
for the sham illness.
"M. Poulain," she began, "how can you refuse to say a word or two to
save me from want, when you helped me in the affair of my accident?"
The doctor felt that the devil had him by the hair, as the saying is;
he felt, too, that the hair was being twisted round the pitiless red
claw. Startled and afraid lest he should sell his honesty for such a
trifle, he answered the diabolical suggestion by another no less
"Listen, my dear Mme. Cibot," he said, as he drew her into his
consulting-room. "I will now pay a debt of gratitude that I owe you
for my appointment to the mairie--"
"We go shares?" she asked briskly.
"In the legacy."
"You do not know me," said Dr. Poulain, drawing himself up like
Valerius Publicola. "Let us have no more of that. I have a friend, an
old schoolfellow of mine, a very intelligent young fellow; and we are
so much the more intimate, because, our lives have fallen out very
much in the same way. He was studying law while I was a house-student,
he was engrossing deeds in Maitre Couture's office. His father was a
shoemaker, and mine was a breeches-maker; he has not found anyone to
take much interest in his career, nor has he any capital; for, after
all, capital is only to be had from sympathizers. He could only afford
to buy a provincial connection--at Mantes--and so little do
provincials understand the Parisian intellect, that they set all sorts
of intrigues on foot against him."
"The wretches!" cried La Cibot.
"Yes," said the doctor. "They combined against him to such purpose,
that they forced him to sell his connection by misrepresenting
something that he had done; the attorney for the crown interfered, he
belonged to the place, and sided with his fellow-townsmen. My friend's
name is Fraisier. He is lodged as I am, and he is even leaner and more
threadbare. He took refuge in our arrondissement, and is reduced to
appear for clients in the police-court or before the magistrate. He
lives in the Rue de la Perle close by. Go to No. 9, third floor, and
you will see his name on the door on the landing, painted in gilt
letters on a small square of red leather. Fraisier makes a special
point of disputes among the porters, workmen, and poor folk in the
arrondissement, and his charges are low. He is an honest man; for I
need not tell you that if he had been a scamp, he would be keeping his
carriage by now. I will call and see my friend Fraisier this evening.
Go to him early to-morrow; he knows M. Louchard, the bailiff; M.
Tabareau, the clerk of the court; and the justice of the peace, M.
Vitel; and M. Trognon, the notary. He is even now looked upon as one
of the best men of business in the Quarter. If he takes charge of your
interests, if you can secure him as M. Pons' adviser, you will have a
second self in him, you see. But do not make dishonorable proposals to
him, as you did just now to me; he has a head on his shoulders, you
will understand each other. And as for acknowledging his services, I
will be your intermediary--"
Mme. Cibot looked askance at the doctor.
"Is that the lawyer who helped Mme. Florimond the haberdasher in the
Rue Vieille-du-Temple out of a fix in that matter of her friend's
"The very same."
"Wasn't it a shame that she did not marry him after he had gained two
thousand francs a year for her?" exclaimed La Cibot. "And she thought
to clear off scores by making him a present of a dozen shirts and a
couple of dozen pocket-handkerchiefs; an outfit, in short."
"My dear Mme. Cibot, that outfit cost a thousand francs, and Fraisier
was just setting up for himself in the Quarter, and wanted the things
very badly. And what was more, she paid the bill without asking any
questions. That affair brought him clients, and now he is very busy;
but in my line a practice brings--"
"It is only the righteous that suffer here below," said La Cibot.
"Well, M. Poulain, good-day and thank you."
And herewith begins the tragedy, or, if you like to have it so, a
terrible comedy--the death of an old bachelor delivered over by
circumstances too strong for him to the rapacity and greed that
gathered about his bed. And other forces came to the support of
rapacity and greed; there was the picture collector's mania, that most
intense of all passions; there was the cupidity of the Sieur Fraisier,
whom you shall presently behold in his den, a sight to make you
shudder; and lastly, there was the Auvergnat thirsting for money,
ready for anything--even for a crime--that should bring him the
capital he wanted. The first part of the story serves in some sort as
a prelude to this comedy in which all the actors who have hitherto
occupied the stage will reappear.
The degradation of a word is one of those curious freaks of manners
upon which whole volumes of explanation might be written. Write to an
attorney and address him as "Lawyer So-and-so," and you insult him as
surely as you would insult a wholesale colonial produce merchant by
addressing your letter to "Mr. So-and-so, Grocer." There are plenty of
men of the world who ought to be aware, since the knowledge of such
subtle distinctions is their province, that you cannot insult a French
writer more cruelly than by calling him /un homme de lettres/--a
literary man. The word /monsieur/ is a capital example of the life and
death of words. Abbreviated from monseigneur, once so considerable a
title, and even now, in the form of /sire/, reserved for emperors and
kings, it is bestowed indifferently upon all and sundry; while the
twin-word /messire/, which is nothing but its double and equivalent,
if by any chance it slips into a certificate of burial, produces an
outcry in the Republican papers.
Magistrates, councillors, jurisconsults, judges, barristers, officers
for the crown, bailiffs, attorneys, clerks of the court, procurators,
solicitors, and agents of various kinds, represent or misrepresent
Justice. The "lawyer" and the bailiff's men (commonly called "the
brokers") are the two lowest rungs of the ladder. Now, the bailiff's
man is an outsider, an adventitious minister of justice, appearing to
see that judgment is executed; he is, in fact, a kind of inferior
executioner employed by the county court. But the word "lawyer" (homme
de loi) is a depreciatory term applied to the legal profession.
Consuming professional jealousy finds similar disparaging epithets for
fellow-travelers in every walk of life, and every calling has its
special insult. The scorn flung into the words /homme de loi, homme de
lettres/, is wanting in the plural form, which may be used without
offence; but in Paris every profession, learned or unlearned, has its
/omega/, the individual who brings it down to the level of the lowest
class; and the written law has its connecting link with the custom
right of the streets. There are districts where the pettifogging man
of business, known as Lawyer So-and-So, is still to be found. M.
Fraisier was to the member of the Incorporated Law Society as the
money-lender of the Halles, offering small loans for a short period at
an exorbitant interest, is to the great capitalist.
Working people, strange to say are as shy of officials as of
fashionable restaurants, they take advice from irregular sources as
they turn into a little wineshop to drink. Each rank in life finds its
own level, and there abides. None but a chosen few care to climb the
heights, few can feel at ease in the presence of their betters, or
take their place among them, like a Beaumarchais letting fall the
watch of the great lord who tried to humiliate him. And if there are
few who can even rise to a higher social level, those among them who
can throw off their swaddling-clothes are rare and great exceptions.
At six o'clock the next morning Mme. Cibot stood in the Rue de la
Perle; she was making a survey of the abode of her future adviser,
Lawyer Fraisier. The house was one of the old-fashioned kind formerly
inhabited by small tradespeople and citizens with small means. A
cabinetmaker's shop occupied almost the whole of the ground floor, as
well as the little yard behind, which was covered with his workshops
and warehouses; the small remaining space being taken up by the
porter's lodge and the passage entry in the middle. The staircase
walls were half rotten with damp and covered with saltpetre to such a
degree that the house seemed to be stricken with leprosy.
Mme. Cibot went straight to the porter's lodge, and there encountered
one of the fraternity, a shoemaker, his wife, and two small children,
all housed in a room ten feet square, lighted from the yard at the
back. La Cibot mentioned her profession, named herself, and spoke of
her house in the Rue de Normandie, and the two women were on cordial
terms at once. After a quarter of an hour spent in gossip while the
shoemaker's wife made breakfast ready for her husband and the
children, Mme. Cibot turned the conversation to the subject of the
lodgers, and spoke of the lawyer.
"I have come to see him on business," she said. "One of his friends,
Dr. Poulain, recommended me to him. Do you know Dr. Poulain?"
"I should think I do," said the lady of the Rue de la Perle. "He saved
my little girl's life when she had the croup."
"He saved my life, too, madame. What sort of a man is this M.
"He is the sort of man, my dear lady, out of whom it is very difficult
to get the postage-money at the end of the month."
To a person of La Cibot's intelligence this was enough.
"One may be poor and honest," observed she.
"I am sure I hope so," returned Fraisier's portress. "We are not
rolling in coppers, let alone gold or silver; but we have not a
farthing belonging to anybody else."
This sort of talk sounded familiar to La Cibot.
"In short, one can trust him, child, eh?"
"Lord! when M. Fraisier means well by any one, there is not his like,
so I have heard Mme. Florimond say."
"And why didn't she marry him when she owed her fortune to him?" La
Cibot asked quickly. "It is something for a little haberdasher, kept
by an old man, to be a barrister's wife--"
"Why?--" asked the portress, bringing Mme. Cibot out into the passage.
"Why?--You are going to see him, are you not, madame?--Very well, when
you are in his office you will know why."
From the state of the staircase, lighted by sash-windows on the side
of the yard, it was pretty evident that the inmates of the house, with
the exception of the landlord and M. Fraisier himself, were all
workmen. There were traces of various crafts in the deposit of mud
upon the steps--brass-filings, broken buttons, scraps of gauze, and
esparto grass lay scattered about. The walls of the upper stories were
covered with apprentices' ribald scrawls and caricatures. The
portress' last remark had roused La Cibot's curiosity; she decided,
not unnaturally, that she would consult Dr. Poulain's friend; but as
for employing him, that must depend upon her impressions.
"I sometimes wonder how Mme. Sauvage can stop in his service," said
the portress, by way of comment; she was following in Mme. Cibot's
wake. "I will come up with you, madame" she added; "I am taking the
milk and the newspaper up to my landlord."
Arrived on the second floor above the entresol, La Cibot beheld a door
of the most villainous description. The doubtful red paint was coated
for seven or eight inches round the keyhole with a filthy glaze, a
grimy deposit from which the modern house-decorator endeavors to
protect the doors of more elegant apartments by glass "finger-plates."
A grating, almost stopped up with some compound similar to the deposit
with which a restaurant-keeper gives an air of cellar-bound antiquity
to a merely middle-aged bottle, only served to heighten the general
resemblance to a prison door; a resemblance further heightened by the
trefoil-shaped iron-work, the formidable hinges, the clumsy
nail-heads. A miser, or a pamphleteer at strife with the world at
large, must surely have invented these fortifications. A leaden sink,
which received the waste water of the household, contributed its quota
to the fetid atmosphere of the staircase, and the ceiling was covered
with fantastic arabesques traced by candle-smoke--such arabesques! On
pulling a greasy acorn tassel attached to the bell-rope, a little bell
jangled feebly somewhere within, complaining of the fissure in its
Every detail was in keeping with the general dismal effect. La Cibot
heard a heavy footstep, and the asthmatic wheezing of a virago within,
and Mme. Sauvage presently showed herself. Adrien Brauwer might have
painted just such a hag for his picture of /Witches starting for the
Sabbath/; a stout, unwholesome slattern, five feet six inches in
height, with a grenadier countenance and a beard which far surpassed
La Cibot's own; she wore a cheap, hideously ugly cotton gown, a
bandana handkerchief knotted over hair which she still continued to
put in curl papers (using for that purpose the printed circulars which
her master received), and a huge pair of gold earrings like
cart-wheels in her ears. This female Cerberus carried a battered
skillet in one hand, and opening the door, set free an imprisoned
odor of scorched milk--a nauseous and penetrating smell, that lost
itself at once, however, among the fumes outside.
"What can I do for you, missus?" demanded Mme. Sauvage, and with a
truculent air she looked La Cibot over; evidently she was of the
opinion that the visitor was too well dressed, and her eyes looked the
more murderous because they were naturally bloodshot.
"I have come to see M. Fraisier; his friend, Dr. Poulain, sent me."
"Oh! come in, missus," said La Sauvage, grown very amiable of a
sudden, which proves that she was prepared for this morning visit.
With a sweeping courtesy, the stalwart woman flung open the door of a
private office, which looked upon the street, and discovered the
ex-attorney of Mantes.
The room was a complete picture of a third-rate solicitor's office;
with the stained wooden cases, the letter-files so old that they had
grown beards (in ecclesiastical language), the red tape dangling limp
and dejected, the pasteboard boxes covered with traces of the gambols
of mice, the dirty floor, the ceiling tawny with smoke. A frugal
allowance of wood was smouldering on a couple of fire-dogs on the
hearth. And on the chimney-piece above stood a foggy mirror and a
modern clock with an inlaid wooden case; Fraisier had picked it up at
an execution sale, together with the tawdry imitation rococo
candlesticks, with the zinc beneath showing through the lacquer in
M. Fraisier was small, thin, and unwholesome looking; his red face,
covered with an eruption, told of tainted blood; and he had, moreover,
a trick of continually scratching his right arm. A wig pushed to the
back of his head displayed a brick-colored cranium of ominous
conformation. This person rose from a cane-seated armchair, in which
he sat on a green leather cushion, assumed an agreeable expression,
and brought forward a chair.
"Mme. Cibot, I believe?" queried he, in dulcet tones.
"Yes, sir," answered the portress. She had lost her habitual
Something in the tones of a voice which strongly resembled the sounds
of the little door-bell, something in a glance even sharper than the
sharp green eyes of her future legal adviser, scared Mme. Cibot.
Fraisier's presence so pervaded the room, that any one might have
thought there was pestilence in the air; and in a flash Mme. Cibot
understood why Mme. Florimond had not become Mme. Fraisier.
"Poulain told me about you, my dear madame," said the lawyer, in the
unnatural fashion commonly described by the words "mincing tones";
tones sharp, thin, and grating as verjuice, in spite of all his
Arrived at this point, he tried to draw the skirts of his
dressing-gown over a pair of angular knees encased in threadbare felt.
The robe was an ancient printed cotton garment, lined with wadding
which took the liberty of protruding itself through various slits in
it here and there; the weight of this lining had pulled the skirts
aside, disclosing a dingy-hued flannel waistcoat beneath. With
something of a coxcomb's manner, Fraisier fastened this refractory
article of dress, tightening the girdle to define his reedy figure;
then with a blow of the tongs, he effected a reconciliation between
two burning brands that had long avoided one another, like brothers
after a family quarrel. A sudden bright idea struck him, and he rose
from his chair.
"Mme. Sauvage!" called he.
"I am not at home to anybody!"
"Eh! bless your life, there's no need to say that!"
"She is my old nurse," the lawyer said in some confusion.
"And she has not recovered her figure yet," remarked the heroine of
Fraisier laughed, and drew the bolt lest his housekeeper should
interrupt Mme. Cibot's confidences.
"Well, madame, explain your business," said he, making another effort
to drape himself in the dressing-gown. "Any one recommended to me by
the only friend I have in the world may count upon me--I may say
For half an hour Mme. Cibot talked, and the man of law made no
interruption of any sort; his face wore the expression of curious
interest with which a young soldier listens to a pensioner of "The Old
Guard." Fraisier's silence and acquiescence, the rapt attention with
which he appeared to listen to a torrent of gossip similar to the
samples previously given, dispelled some of the prejudices inspired in
La Cibot's mind by his squalid surroundings. The little lawyer with
the black-speckled green eyes was in reality making a study of his
client. When at length she came to a stand and looked to him to speak,
he was seized with a fit of the complaint known as a "churchyard
cough," and had recourse to an earthenware basin half full of herb
tea, which he drained.
"But for Poulain, my dear madame, I should have been dead before
this," said Fraisier, by way of answer to the portress' look of
motherly compassion; "but he will bring me round, he says--"
As all the client's confidences appeared to have slipped from the
memory of her legal adviser, she began to cast about for a way of
taking leave of a man so apparently near death.
"In an affair of this kind, madame," continued the attorney from
Mantes, suddenly returning to business, "there are two things which it
is most important to know. In the first place, whether the property is
sufficient to be worth troubling about; and in the second, who the
next-of-kin may be; for if the property is the booty, the next-of-kin
is the enemy."
La Cibot immediately began to talk of Remonencq and Elie Magus, and
said that the shrewd couple valued the pictures at six hundred
"Would they take them themselves at that price?" inquired the lawyer.
"You see, madame, that men of business are shy of pictures. A picture
may mean a piece of canvas worth a couple of francs or a painting
worth two hundred thousand. Now, paintings worth two hundred thousand
francs are usually well known; and what errors in judgment people make
in estimating even the most famous pictures of all! There was once a
great capitalist whose collection was admired, visited, and engraved
--actually engraved! He was supposed to have spent millions of francs
on it. He died, as men must, and--well, his /genuine/ pictures did not
fetch more than two hundred thousand francs! You must let me see these
gentlemen.--Now for the next-of-kin," and Fraisier again relapsed into
his attitude of listener.
When President Camusot's name came up, he nodded with a grimace which
riveted Mme. Cibot's attention. She tried to read the forehead and the
villainous face, and found what is called in business a "wooden head."
"Yes, my dear sir," repeated La Cibot. "Yes, my M. Pons is own cousin
to President Camusot de Marville; he tells me that ten times a day. M.
Camusot the silk mercer was married twice--"
"He that has just been nominated for a peer of France?--"
"And his first wife was a Mlle. Pons, M. Pons' first cousin."
"Then they are first cousins once removed--"
"They are 'not cousins.' They have quarreled."
It may be remembered that before M. Camusot de Marville came to Paris,
he was President of the Tribunal of Mantes for five years; and not
only was his name still remembered there, but he had kept up a
correspondence with Mantes. Camusot's immediate successor, the judge
with whom he had been most intimate during his term of office, was
still President of the Tribunal, and consequently knew all about
"Do you know, madame," Fraisier said, when at last the red sluices of
La Cibot's torrent tongue were closed, "do you know that your
principal enemy will be a man who can send you to the scaffold?"
The portress started on her chair, making a sudden spring like a
"Calm yourself, dear madame," continued Fraisier. "You may not have
known the name of the President of the Chamber of Indictments at the
Court of Appeal in Paris; but you ought to have known that M. Pons
must have an heir-at-law. M. le President de Marville is your
invalid's sole heir; but as he is a collateral in the third degree, M.
Pons is entitled by law to leave his fortune as he pleases. You are
not aware either that, six weeks ago at least, M. le President's
daughter married the eldest son of M. le Comte Popinot, peer of
France, once Minister of Agriculture, and President of the Board of
Trade, one of the most influential politicians of the day. President
de Marville is even more formidable through this marriage than in his
own quality of head of the Court of Assize."
At that word La Cibot shuddered.
"Yes, and it is he who sends you there," continued Fraisier. "Ah! my
dear madame, you little know what a red robe means! It is bad enough
to have a plain black gown against you! You see me here, ruined, bald,
broken in health--all because, unwittingly, I crossed a mere attorney
for the crown in the provinces. I was forced to sell my connection at
a loss, and very lucky I was to come off with the loss of my money. If
I had tried to stand out, my professional position would have gone as
"One thing more you do not know," he continued, "and this it is. If
you had only to do with President Camusot himself, it would be
nothing; but he has a wife, mind you!--and if you ever find yourself
face to face with that wife, you will shake in your shoes as if you
were on the first step of the scaffold, your hair will stand on end.
The Presidente is so vindictive that she would spend ten years over
setting a trap to kill you. She sets that husband of hers spinning
like a top. Through her a charming young fellow committed suicide at
the Conciergerie. A count was accused of forgery--she made his
character as white as snow. She all but drove a person of the highest
quality from the Court of Charles X. Finally, she displaced the
Attorney-General, M. de Granville--"
"That lived in the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, at the corner of the Rue
"The very same. They say that she means to make her husband Home
Secretary, and I do not know that she will not gain her end.--If she
were to take it into her head to send us both to the Criminal Court
first and the hulks afterwards--I should apply for a passport and set
sail for America, though I am as innocent as a new-born babe. So well
I know what justice means. Now, see here, my dear Mme. Cibot; to marry
her only daughter to young Vicomte Popinot (heir to M. Pillerault,
your landlord, it is said)--to make that match, she stripped herself
of her whole fortune, so much so that the President and his wife have
nothing at this moment except his official salary. Can you suppose, my
dear madame, that under the circumstances Mme. la Presidente will let
M. Pons' property go out of the family without a word?--Why, I would
sooner face guns loaded with grape-shot than have such a woman for my
"But they have quarreled," put in La Cibot.
"What has that got to do with it?" asked Fraisier. "It is one reason
the more for fearing her. To kill a relative of whom you are tired, is
something; but to inherit his property afterwards--that is a real
"But the old gentleman has a horror of his relatives. He says over and
over again that these people--M. Cardot, M. Berthier, and the rest of
them (I can't remember their names)--have crushed him as a tumbril
cart crushes an egg--"
"Have you a mind to be crushed too?"
"Oh dear! oh dear!" cried La Cibot. "Ah! Ma'am Fontaine was right when
she said that I should meet with difficulties: still, she said that I
"Listen, my dear Mme. Cibot.--As for making some thirty thousand
francs out of this business--that is possible; but for the whole of
the property, it is useless to think of it. We talked over your case
yesterday evening, Dr. Poulain and I--"
La Cibot started again.
"Well, what is the matter?"
"But if you knew about the affair, why did you let me chatter away
like a magpie?"
"Mme. Cibot, I knew all about your business, but I knew nothing of
Mme. Cibot. So many clients, so many characters--"
Mme. Cibot gave her legal adviser a queer look at this; all her
suspicions gleamed in her eyes. Fraisier saw this.
"I resume," he continued. "So, our friend Poulain was once called in
by you to attend old M. Pillerault, the Countess Popinot's
great-uncle; that is one of your claims to my devotion. Poulain goes
to see your landlord (mark this!) once a fortnight; he learned all
these particulars from him. M. Pillerault was present at his
grand-nephew's wedding--for he is an uncle with money to leave; he
has an income of fifteen thousand francs, though he has lived like a
hermit for the last five-and-twenty years, and scarcely spends a
thousand crowns--well, /he/ told Poulain all about this marriage. It
seems that your old musician was precisely the cause of the row; he
tried to disgrace his own family by way of revenge.--If you only hear
one bell, you only hear one sound.--Your invalid says that he meant
no harm, but everybody thinks him a monster of--"
"And it would not astonish me if he was!" cried La Cibot. "Just
imagine it!--For these ten years past I have been money out of pocket
for him, spending my savings on him, and he knows it, and yet he will
not let me lie down to sleep on a legacy!--No, sir! he will /not/. He
is obstinate, a regular mule he is.--I have talked to him these ten
days, and the cross-grained cur won't stir no more than a sign-post.
He shuts his teeth and looks at me like--The most that he would say
was that he would recommend me to M. Schmucke."
"Then he means to make his will in favor of this Schmucke?"
"Everything will go to him--"
"Listen, my dear Mme. Cibot, if I am to arrive at any definite
conclusions and think of a plan, I must know M. Schmucke. I must see
the property and have some talk with this Jew of whom you speak; and
then, let me direct you--"
"We shall see, M. Fraisier."
"What is this? 'We shall see?'" repeated Fraisier, speaking in the
voice natural to him, as he gave La Cibot a viperous glance. "Am I
your legal adviser or am I not, I say? Let us know exactly where we
La Cibot felt that he read her thoughts. A cold chill ran down her
"I have told you all I know," she said. She saw that she was at the
"We attorneys are accustomed to treachery. Just think carefully over
your position; it is superb.--If you follow my advice point by point,
you will have thirty or forty thousand francs. But there is a reverse
side to this beautiful medal. How if the Presidente comes to hear that
M. Pons' property is worth a million of francs, and that you mean to
have a bit out of it?--for there is always somebody ready to take that
kind of errand--" he added parenthetically.
This remark, and the little pause that came before and after it, sent
another shudder through La Cibot. She thought at once that Fraisier
himself would probably undertake that office.
"And then, my dear client, in ten minutes old Pillerault is asked to
dismiss you, and then on a couple of hours' notice--"
"What does that matter to me?" said La Cibot, rising to her feet like
a Bellona; "I shall stay with the gentlemen as their housekeeper."
"And then, a trap will be set for you, and some fine morning you and
your husband will wake up in a prison cell, to be tried for your
"/I?/" cried La Cibot, "I that have not a farthing that doesn't belong
to me? . . . /I!/ . . . /I!/"
For five minutes she held forth, and Fraisier watched the great artist
before him as she executed a concerto of self-praise. He was quite
untouched, and even amused by the performance. His keen glances
pricked La Cibot like stilettos; he chuckled inwardly, till his
shrunken wig was shaking with laughter. He was a Robespierre at an age
when the Sylla of France was make couplets.
"And how? and why? And on what pretext?" demanded she, when she had
come to an end.
"You wish to know how you may come to the guillotine?"
La Cibot turned pale as death at the words; the words fell like a
knife upon her neck. She stared wildly at Fraisier.
"Listen to me, my dear child," began Fraisier, suppressing his inward
satisfaction at his client's discomfiture.
"I would sooner leave things as they are--" murmured La Cibot, and she
rose to go.
"Stay," Fraisier said imperiously. "You ought to know the risks that
you are running; I am bound to give you the benefit of my lights.--You
are dismissed by M. Pillerault, we will say; there is no doubt about
that, is there? You enter the service of these two gentlemen. Very
good! That is a declaration of war against the Presidente. You mean to
do everything you can to gain possession of the property, and to get a
slice of it at any rate--
"Oh, I am not blaming you," Fraisier continued, in answer to a gesture
from his client. "It is not my place to do so. This is a battle, and
you will be led on further than you think for. One grows full of one's
ideas, one hits hard--"
Another gesture of denial. This time La Cibot tossed her head.
"There, there, old lady," said Fraisier, with odious familiarity, "you
will go a very long way!--"
"You take me for a thief, I suppose?"
"Come, now, mamma, you hold a receipt in M. Schmucke's hand which did
not cost you much.--Ah! you are in the confessional, my lady! Don't
deceive your confessor, especially when the confessor has the power of
reading your thoughts."
La Cibot was dismayed by the man's perspicacity; now she knew why he
had listened to her so intently.
"Very good," continued he, "you can admit at once that the Presidente
will not allow you to pass her in the race for the property.--You will
be watched and spied upon.--You get your name into M. Pons' will;
nothing could be better. But some fine day the law steps in, arsenic
is found in a glass, and you and your husband are arrested, tried, and
condemned for attempting the life of the Sieur Pons, so as to come by
your legacy. I once defended a poor woman at Versailles; she was in
reality as innocent as you would be in such a case. Things were as I
have told you, and all that I could do was to save her life. The
unhappy creature was sentenced to twenty years' penal servitude. She
is working out her time now at St. Lazare."
Mme. Cibot's terror grew to the highest pitch. She grew paler and
paler, staring at the little, thin man with the green eyes, as some
wretched Moor, accused of adhering to her own religion, might gaze at
the inquisitor who doomed her to the stake.
"Then, do you tell me, that if I leave you to act, and put my
interests in your hands, I shall get something without fear?"
"I guarantee you thirty thousand francs," said Fraisier, speaking like
a man sure of the fact.
"After all, you know how fond I am of dear Dr. Poulain," she began
again in her most coaxing tones; "he told me to come to you, worthy
man, and he did not send me here to be told that I shall be
guillotined for poisoning some one."
The thought of the guillotine so moved her that she burst into tears,
her nerves were shaken, terror clutched at her heart, she lost her
head. Fraisier gloated over his triumph. When he saw his client
hesitate, he thought that he had lost his chance; he had set himself
to frighten and quell La Cibot till she was completely in his power,
bound hand and foot. She had walked into his study as a fly walks into
a spider's web; there she was doomed to remain, entangled in the toils
of the little lawyer who meant to feed upon her. Out of this bit of
business, indeed, Fraisier meant to gain the living of old days;
comfort, competence, and consideration. He and his friend Dr. Poulain
had spent the whole previous evening in a microscopic examination of
the case; they had made mature deliberations. The doctor described
Schmucke for his friend's benefit, and the alert pair had plumbed all
hypotheses and scrutinized all risks and resources, till Fraisier,
exultant, cried aloud, "Both our fortunes lie in this!" He had gone so
far as to promise Poulain a hospital, and as for himself, he meant to
be justice of the peace of an arrondissement.
To be a justice of the peace! For this man with his abundant capacity,
for this doctor of law without a pair of socks to his name, the dream
was a hippogriff so restive, that he thought of it as a
deputy-advocate thinks of the silk gown, as an Italian priest thinks
of the tiara. It was indeed a wild dream!
M. Vitel, the justice of the peace before whom Fraisier pleaded, was a
man of sixty-nine, in failing health; he talked of retiring on a
pension; and Fraisier used to talk with Poulain of succeeding him,
much as Poulain talked of saving the life of some rich heiress and
marrying her afterwards. No one knows how greedily every post in the
gift of authority is sought after in Paris. Every one wants to live in
Paris. If a stamp or tobacco license falls in, a hundred women rise up
as one and stir all their friends to obtain it. Any vacancy in the
ranks of the twenty-four collectors of taxes sends a flood of
ambitious folk surging in upon the Chamber of Deputies. Decisions are
made in committee, all appointments are made by the Government. Now
the salary of a justice of the peace, the lowest stipendiary
magistrate in Paris, is about six thousand francs. The post of
registrar to the court is worth a hundred thousand francs. Few places
are more coveted in the administration. Fraisier, as a justice of the
peace, with the head physician of a hospital for his friend, would
make a rich marriage himself and a good match for Dr. Poulain. Each
would lend a hand to each.
Night set its leaden seal upon the plans made by the sometime attorney
of Mantes, and a formidable scheme sprouted up, a flourishing scheme,
fertile in harvests of gain and intrigue. La Cibot was the hinge upon
which the whole matter turned; and for this reason, any rebellion on
the part of the instrument must be at once put down; such action on
her part was quite unexpected; but Fraisier had put forth all the
strength of his rancorous nature, and the audacious portress lay
trampled under his feet.
"Come, reassure yourself, my dear madame," he remarked, holding out
his hand. The touch of the cold, serpent-like skin made a terrible
impression upon the portress. It brought about something like a
physical reaction, which checked her emotion; Mme. Fontaine's toad,
Astaroth, seemed to her to be less deadly than this poison-sac that
wore a sandy wig and spoke in tones like the creaking of a hinge.
"Do not imagine that I am frightening you to no purpose," Fraisier
continued. (La Cibot's feeling of repulsion had not escaped him.) "The
affairs which made Mme. la Presidente's dreadful reputation are so
well known at the law-courts, that you can make inquiries there if you
like. The great person who was all but sent into a lunatic asylum was
the Marquis d'Espard. The Marquis d'Esgrignon was saved from the
hulks. The handsome young man with wealth and a great future before
him, who was to have married a daughter of one of the first families
of France, and hanged himself in a cell of the Conciergerie, was the
celebrated Lucien de Rubempre; the affair made a great deal of noise
in Paris at the time. That was a question of a will. His mistress, the
notorious Esther, died and left him several millions, and they accused
the young fellow of poisoning her. He was not even in Paris at the
time of her death, nor did he so much as know the woman had left the
money to him!--One cannot well be more innocent than that! Well, after
M. Camusot examined him, he hanged himself in his cell. Law, like
medicine, has its victims. In the first case, one man suffers for the
many, and in the second, he dies for science," he added, and an ugly
smile stole over his lips. "Well, I know the risks myself, you see;
poor and obscure little attorney as I am, the law has been the ruin of
me. My experience was dearly bought--it is all at your service."
"Thank you, no," said La Cibot; "I will have nothing to do with it,
upon my word! . . . I shall have nourished ingratitude, that is all! I
want nothing but my due; I have thirty years of honesty behind me,
sir. M. Pons says that he will recommend me to his friend Schmucke;
well and good, I shall end my days in peace with the German, good
Fraisier had overshot his mark. He had discouraged La Cibot. Now he
was obliged to remove these unpleasant impressions.
"Do not let us give up," he said; "just go away quietly home. Come,
now, we will steer the affair to a good end."
"But what about my /rentes/, what am I to do to get them, and--"
"And feel no remorse?" he interrupted quickly. "Eh! it is precisely
for that that men of business were invented; unless you keep within
the law, you get nothing. You know nothing of law; I know a good deal.
I will see that you keep on the right side of it, and you can hold
your own in all men's sight. As for your conscience, that is your own
"Very well, tell me how to do it," returned La Cibot, curious and
"I do not know how yet. I have not looked at the strong points of the
case yet; I have been busy with the obstacles. But the first thing to
be done is to urge him to make a will; you cannot go wrong over that;
and find out, first of all, how Pons means to leave his fortune; for
if you were his heir--"
"No, no; he does not like me. Ah! if I had but known the value of his
gimcracks, and if I had known what I know now about his amours, I
should be easy in my mind this day--"
"Keep on, in fact," broke in Fraisier. "Dying folk have queer fancies,
my dear madame; they disappoint hopes many a time. Let him make his
will, and then we shall see. And of all things, the property must be
valued. So I must see this Remonencq and the Jew; they will be very
useful to us. Put entire confidence in me, I am at your disposal. When
a client is a friend to me, I am his friend through thick and thin.
Friend or enemy, that is my character."
"Very well," said La Cibot, "I am yours entirely; and as for fees, M.
"Let us say nothing about that," said Fraisier. "Think how you can
keep Poulain at the bedside; he is one of the most upright and
conscientious men I know; and, you see, we want some one there whom we
can trust. Poulain would do better than I; I have lost my character."
"You look as if you had," said La Cibot; "but, for my own part, I
should trust you."
"And you would do well. Come to see me whenever anything happens, and
--there!--you are an intelligent woman; all will go well."
"Good-day, M. Fraisier. I hope you will recover your health. Your
Fraisier went to the door with his client. But this time it was he,
and not La Cibot, who was struck with an idea on the threshold.
"If you could persuade M. Pons to call me in, it would be a great
"I will try," said La Cibot.
Fraisier drew her back into his sanctum. "Look here, old lady, I know
M. Trognon, the notary of the quarter, very well. If M. Pons has not a
notary, mention M. Trognon to him. Make him take M. Trognon--"
"Right," returned La Cibot.
And as she came out again she heard the rustle of a dress and the
sound of a stealthy, heavy footstep.
Out in the street and by herself, Mme. Cibot to some extent recovered
her liberty of mind as she walked. Though the influence of the
conversation was still upon her, and she had always stood in dread of
scaffolds, justice, and judges, she took a very natural resolution
which was to bring about a conflict of strategy between her and her
formidable legal adviser.
"What do I want with other folk?" said she to herself. "Let us make a
round sum, and afterwards I will take all that they offer me to push
their interests;" and this thought, as will shortly be seen, hastened
the poor old musician's end.
"Well, dear M. Schmucke, and how is our dear, adored patient?" asked
La Cibot, as she came into the room.
"Fery pad; Bons haf peen vandering all der night."
"Then, what did he say?"
"Chust nonsense. He vould dot I haf all his fortune, on kondition dot
I sell nodings.--Den he cried! Boor mann! It made me ver' sad."
"Never mind, honey," returned the portress. "I have kept you waiting
for your breakfast; it is nine o'clock and past; but don't scold me. I
have business on hand, you see, business of yours. Here are we without
any money, and I have been out to get some."
"Vere?" asked Schmucke.
"Of my uncle."
"Up the spout."
"Oh! the dear man! how simple he is? No, you are a saint, a love, an
archbishop of innocence, a man that ought to be stuffed, as the old
actor said. What! you have lived in Paris for twenty-nine years; you
saw the Revolution of July, you did, and you have never so much as
heard tell of a pawnbroker--a man that lends you money on your things?
--I have been pawning our silver spoons and forks, eight of them,
thread pattern. Pooh, Cibot can eat his victuals with German silver;
it is quite the fashion now, they say. It is not worth while to say
anything to our angel there; it would upset him and make him yellower
than before, and he is quite cross enough as it is. Let us get him
round again first, and afterwards we shall see. What must be must; and
we must take things as we find them, eh?"
"Goot voman! nople heart!" cried poor Schmucke, with a great
tenderness in his face. He took La Cibot's hand and clasped it to his
breast. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes.
"There, that will do, Papa Schmucke; how funny you are! This is too
bad. I am an old daughter of the people--my heart is in my hand. I
have something /here/, you see, like you have, hearts of gold that you
are," she added, slapping her chest.
"Baba Schmucke!" continued the musician. "No. To know de tepths of
sorrow, to cry mit tears of blood, to mount up in der hefn--dat is
mein lot! I shall not lif after Bons--"
"Gracious! I am sure you won't, you are killing yourself.--Listen,
"Very well, my sonny--"
"My lamb, then, if you like it better."
"It is not more clear."
"Oh, well, let /me/ take care of you and tell you what to do; for if
you go on like this, I shall have both of you laid up on my hands, you
see. To my little way of thinking, we must do the work between us. You
cannot go about Paris to give lessons for it tires you, and then you
are not fit to do anything afterwards, and somebody must sit up of a
night with M. Pons, now that he is getting worse and worse. I will run
round to-day to all your pupils and tell them that you are ill; is it
not so? And then you can spend the nights with our lamb, and sleep of
a morning from five o'clock till, let us say, two in the afternoon. I
myself will take the day, the most tiring part, for there is your
breakfast and dinner to get ready, and the bed to make, and the things
to change, and the doses of medicine to give. I could not hold out for
another ten days at this rate. What would become of you if I were to
fall ill? And you yourself, it makes one shudder to see you; just look
at yourself, after sitting up with him last night!"
She drew Schmucke to the glass, and Schmucke thought that there was a
"So, if you are of my mind, I'll have your breakfast ready in a jiffy.
Then you will look after our poor dear again till two o'clock. Let me
have a list of your people, and I will soon arrange it. You will be
free for a fortnight. You can go to bed when I come in, and sleep till
So prudent did the proposition seem, that Schmucke then and there
agreed to it.
"Not a word to M. Pons; he would think it was all over with him, you
know, if we were to tell him in this way that his engagement at the
theatre and his lessons are put off. He would be thinking that he
should not find his pupils again, poor gentleman--stuff and nonsense!
M. Poulain says that we shall save our Benjamin if we keep him as
quiet as possible."
"Ach! fery goot! Pring up der preakfast; I shall make der bett, and
gif you die attresses!--You are right; it vould pe too much for me."
An hour later La Cibot, in her Sunday clothes, departed in great
state, to the no small astonishment of the Remonencqs; she promised
herself that she would support the character of confidential servant
of the pair of nutcrackers, in the boarding-schools and private
families in which they gave music-lessons.
It is needless to repeat all the gossip in which La Cibot indulged on
her round. The members of every family, the head-mistress of every
boarding-school, were treated to a variation upon the theme of Pons'
illness. A single scene, which took place in the Illustrious
Gaudissart's private room, will give a sufficient idea of the rest. La
Cibot met with unheard-of difficulties, but she succeeded in
penetrating at last to the presence. Kings and cabinet ministers are
less difficult of access than the manager of a theatre in Paris; nor
is it hard to understand why such prodigious barriers are raised
between them and ordinary mortals: a king has only to defend himself
from ambition; the manager of a theatre has reason to dread the
wounded vanity of actors and authors.
La Cibot, however, struck up an acquaintance with the portress, and
traversed all distances in a brief space. There is a sort of
freemasonry among the porter tribe, and, indeed, among the members of
every profession; for each calling has its shibboleth, as well as its
insulting epithet and the mark with which it brands its followers.
"Ah! madame, you are the portress here," began La Cibot. "I myself am
a portress, in a small way, in a house in the Rue de Normandie. M.
Pons, your conductor, lodges with us. Oh, how glad I should be to have
your place, and see the actors and dancers and authors go past. It is
the marshal's baton in our profession, as the old actor said."
"And how is M. Pons going on, good man?" inquired the portress.
"He is not going on at all; he has not left his bed these two months.
He will only leave the house feet foremost, that is certain."
"He will be missed."
"Yes. I have come with a message to the manager from him. Just try to
get me a word with him, dear."
"A lady from M. Pons to see you, sir!" After this fashion did the
youth attached to the service of the manager's office announce La
Cibot, whom the portress below had particularly recommended to his
Gaudissart had just come in for a rehearsal. Chance so ordered it that
no one wished to speak with him; actors and authors were alike late.
Delighted to have news of his conductor, he made a Napoleonic gesture,
and La Cibot was admitted.
The sometime commercial traveler, now the head of a popular theatre,
regarded his sleeping partners in the light of a legitimate wife; they
were not informed of all his doings. The flourishing state of his
finances had reacted upon his person. Grown big and stout and
high-colored with good cheer and prosperity, Gaudissart made no
disguise of his transformation into a Mondor.
"We are turning into a city-father," he once said, trying to be the
first to laugh.
"You are only in the Turcaret stage yet, though," retorted Bixiou, who
often replaced Gaudissart in the company of the leading lady of the
ballet, the celebrated Heloise Brisetout.
The former Illustrious Gaudissart, in fact, was exploiting the theatre
simply and solely for his own particular benefit, and with brutal
disregard of other interests. He first insinuated himself as a
collaborator in various ballets, plays, and vaudevilles; then he
waited till the author wanted money and bought up the other half of
the copyright. These after-pieces and vaudevilles, always added to
successful plays, brought him in a daily harvest of gold coins. He
trafficked by proxy in tickets, allotting a certain number to himself,
as the manager's share, till he took in this way a tithe of the
receipts. And Gaudissart had other methods of making money besides
these official contributions. He sold boxes, he took presents from
indifferent actresses burning to go upon the stage to fill small
speaking parts, or simply to appear as queens, or pages, and the like;
he swelled his nominal third share of the profits to such purpose that
the sleeping partners scarcely received one-tenth instead of the
remaining two-thirds of the net receipts. Even so, however, the tenth
paid them a dividend of fifteen per cent on their capital. On the
strength of that fifteen per cent Gaudissart talked of his
intelligence, honesty, and zeal, and the good fortune of his partners.
When Count Popinot, showing an interest in the concern, asked Matifat,
or General Gouraud (Matifat's son-in-law), or Crevel, whether they
were satisfied with Gaudissart, Gouraud, now a peer of France,
answered, "They say he robs us; but he is such a clever, good-natured
fellow, that we are quite satisfied."
"This is like La Fontaine's fable," smiled the ex-cabinet minister.
Gaudissart found investments for his capital in other ventures. He
thought well of Schwab, Brunner, and the Graffs; that firm was
promoting railways, he became a shareholder in the lines. His
shrewdness was carefully hidden beneath the frank carelessness of a
man of pleasure; he seemed to be interested in nothing but amusements
and dress, yet he thought everything over, and his wide experience of
business gained as a commercial traveler stood him in good stead.
A self-made man, he did not take himself seriously. He gave suppers
and banquets to celebrities in rooms sumptuously furnished by the
house decorator. Showy by nature, with a taste for doing things
handsomely, he affected an easy-going air, and seemed so much the less
formidable because he had kept the slang of "the road" (to use his own
expression), with a few green-room phrases superadded. Now, artists in
the theatrical profession are wont to express themselves with some
vigor; Gaudissart borrowed sufficient racy green-room talk to blend
with his commercial traveler's lively jocularity, and passed for a
wit. He was thinking at that moment of selling his license and "going
into another line," as he said. He thought of being chairman of a
railway company, of becoming a responsible person and an
administrator, and finally of marrying Mlle. Minard, daughter of the
richest mayor in Paris. He might hope to get into the Chamber through
"his line," and, with Popinot's influence, to take office under the
"Whom have I the honor of addressing?" inquired Gaudissart, looking
magisterially at La Cibot.
"I am M. Pons' confidential servant, sir."
"Well, and how is the dear fellow?"
"Ill, sir--very ill."
"The devil he is! I am sorry to hear it--I must come and see him; he
is such a man as you don't often find."
"Ah yes! sir, he is a cherub, he is. I have always wondered how he
came to be in a theatre."
"Why, madame, the theatre is a house of correction for morals," said
Gaudissart. "Poor Pons!--Upon my word, one ought to cultivate the
species to keep up the stock. 'Tis a pattern man, and has talent too.
When will he be able to take his orchestra again, do you think? A
theatre, unfortunately, is like a stage coach: empty or full, it
starts at the same time. Here at six o'clock every evening, up goes
the curtain; and if we are never sorry for ourselves, it won't make
good music. Let us see now--how is he?"
La Cibot pulled out her pocket-handkerchief and held it to her eyes.
"It is a terrible thing to say, my dear sir," said she; "but I am
afraid we shall lose him, though we are as careful of him as of the
apple of our eyes. And, at the same time, I came to say that you must
not count on M. Schmucke, worthy man, for he is going to sit up with
him at night. One cannot help doing as if there was hope still left,
and trying one's best to snatch the dear, good soul from death. But
the doctor has given him up----"
"What is the matter with him?"
"He is dying of grief, jaundice, and liver complaint, with a lot of
family affairs to complicate matters."
"And a doctor as well," said Gaudissart. "He ought to have had Lebrun,
our doctor; it would have cost him nothing."
"M. Pons' doctor is a Providence on earth. But what can a doctor do,
no matter how clever he is, with such complications?"
"I wanted the good pair of nutcrackers badly for the accompaniment of
my new fairy piece."
"Is there anything that I can do for them?" asked La Cibot, and her
expression would have done credit to a Jocrisse.
Gaudissart burst out laughing.
"I am their housekeeper, sir, and do many things for my gentlemen--"
She did not finish her speech, for in the middle of Gaudissart's roar
of laughter a woman's voice exclaimed, "If you are laughing, old man,
one may come in," and the leading lady of the ballet rushed into the
room and flung herself upon the only sofa. The newcomer was Heloise
Brisetout, with a splendid /algerienne/, such as scarves used to be
called, about her shoulders.
"Who is amusing you? Is it this lady? What post does she want?" asked
this nymph, giving the manager such a glance as artist gives artist, a
glance that would make a subject for a picture.
Heloise, a young woman of exceedingly literary tastes, was on intimate
terms with great and famous artists in Bohemia. Elegant, accomplished,
and graceful, she was more intelligent than dancers usually are. As
she put her question, she sniffed at a scent-bottle full of some
"One fine woman is as good as another, madame; and if I don't sniff
the pestilence out of a scent-bottle, nor daub brickdust on my
"That would be a sinful waste, child, when Nature put it on for you to
begin with," said Heloise, with a side glance at her manager.
"I am an honest woman--"
"So much the worse for you. It is not every one by a long chalk that
can find some one to keep them, and kept I am, and in slap-up style,
"So much the worse! What do you mean? Oh, you may toss your head and
go about in scarves, you will never have as many declarations as I
have had, missus. You will never match the /Belle Ecaillere of the
Heloise Brisetout rose at once to her feet, stood at attention, and
made a military salute, like a soldier who meets his general.
"What?" asked Gaudissart, "are you really /La Belle Ecaillere/ of whom
my father used to talk?"
"In that case the cachucha and the polka were after your time; and
madame has passed her fiftieth year," remarked Heloise, and striking
an attitude, she declaimed, "'Cinna, let us be friends.'"
"Come, Heloise, the lady is not up to this; let her alone."
"Madame is perhaps the New Heloise," suggested La Cibot, with sly
"Not bad, old lady!" cried Gaudissart.
"It is a venerable joke," said the dancer, "a grizzled pun; find us
another old lady--or take a cigarette."
"I beg your pardon, madame, I feel too unhappy to answer you; my two
gentlemen are very ill; and to buy nourishment for them and to spare
them trouble, I have pawned everything down to my husband's clothes
that I pledged this morning. Here is the ticket!"
"Oh! here, the affair is becoming tragic," cried the fair Heloise.
"What is it all about?"
"Madame drops down upon us like--"
"Like a dancer," said Heloise; "let me prompt you,--missus!"
"Come, I am busy," said Gaudissart. "The joke has gone far enough.
Heloise, this is M. Pons' confidential servant; she had come to tell
me that I must not count upon him; our poor conductor is not expected
to live. I don't know what to do."
"Oh! poor man; why, he must have a benefit."
"It would ruin him," said Gaudissart. "He might find next day that he
owed five hundred francs to charitable institutions, and they refuse
to admit that there are any sufferers in Paris except their own. No,
look here, my good woman, since you are going in for the Montyon
He broke off, rang the bell, and the youth before mentioned suddenly
"Tell the cashier to send me up a thousand-franc note.--Sit down,
"Ah! poor woman, look, she is crying!" exclaimed Heloise. "How stupid!
There, there, mother, we will go to see him; don't cry.--I say, now,"
she continued, taking the manager into a corner, "you want to make me
take the leading part in the ballet in /Ariane/, you Turk. You are
going to be married, and you know how I can make you miserable--"
"Heloise, my heart is copper-bottomed like a man-of-war."
"I shall bring your children on the scene! I will borrow some
"I have owned up about the attachment."
"Do be nice, and give Pons' post to Garangeot; he has talent, poor
fellow, and he has not a penny; and I promise peace."
"But wait till Pons is dead, in case the good man may come back
"Oh, as to that, no, sir," said La Cibot. "He began to wander in his
mind last night, and now he is delirious. It will soon be over,
"At any rate, take Garangeot as a stop-gap!" pleaded Heloise. "He has
the whole press on his side--"
Just at that moment the cashier came in with a note for a thousand
francs in his hand.
"Give it to madame here," said Gaudissart. "Good-day, my good woman;
take good care of the dear man, and tell him that I am coming to see
him to-morrow, or sometime--as soon as I can, in short."
"A drowning man," said Heloise.
"Ah, sir, hearts like yours are only found in a theatre. May God bless
"To what account shall I post this item?" asked the cashier.
"I will countersign the order. Post it to the bonus account."
Before La Cibot went out, she made Mlle. Brisetout a fine courtesy,
and heard Gaudissart remark to his mistress:
"Can Garangeot do the dance-music for the /Mohicans/ in twelve days?
If he helps me out of my predicament, he shall have Pons' place."
La Cibot had cut off the incomes of the two friends, she had left them
without means of subsistence if Pons should chance to recover, and was
better rewarded for all this mischief than for any good that she had
done. In a few days' time her treacherous trick would bring about the
desired result--Elie Magus would have his coveted pictures. But if
this first spoliation was to be effected, La Cibot must throw dust in
Fraisier's eyes, and lull the suspicions of that terrible
fellow-conspirator of her own seeking; and Elie Magus and Remonencq
must be bound over to secrecy.
As for Remonencq, he had gradually come to feel such a passion as
uneducated people can conceive when they come to Paris from the depths
of the country, bringing with them all the fixed ideas bred of the
solitary country life; all the ignorance of a primitive nature, all
the brute appetites that become so many fixed ideas. Mme. Cibot's
masculine beauty, her vivacity, her market-woman's wit, had all been
remarked by the marine store-dealer. He thought at first of taking La
Cibot from her husband, bigamy among the lower classes in Paris being
much more common than is generally supposed; but greed was like a
slip-knot drawn more and more tightly about his heart, till reason at
length was stifled. When Remonencq computed that the commission paid
by himself and Elie Magus amounted to about forty thousand francs, he
determined to have La Cibot for his legitimate spouse, and his
thoughts turned from a misdemeanor to a crime. A romantic purely
speculative dream, persistently followed through a tobacco-smoker's
long musings as he lounged in the doorway, had brought him to the
point of wishing that the little tailor were dead. At a stroke he
beheld his capital trebled; and then he thought of La Cibot. What a
good saleswoman she would be! What a handsome figure she would make in
a magnificent shop on the boulevards! The twofold covetousness turned
Remonencq's head. In fancy he took a shop that he knew of on the
Boulevard de la Madeleine, he stocked it with Pons' treasures, and
then--after dreaming his dream in sheets of gold, after seeing
millions in the blue spiral wreaths that rose from his pipe, he awoke
to find himself face to face with the little tailor. Cibot was
sweeping the yard, the doorstep, and the pavement just as his neighbor
was taking down the shutters and displaying his wares; for since Pons
fell ill, La Cibot's work had fallen to her husband.
The Auvergnat began to look upon the little, swarthy, stunted,
copper-colored tailor as the one obstacle in his way, and pondered how
to be rid of him. Meanwhile this growing passion made La Cibot very
proud, for she had reached an age when a woman begins to understand
that she may grow old.
So early one morning, she meditatively watched Remonencq as he
arranged his odds and ends for sale. She wondered how far his love
could go. He came across to her.
"Well," he said, "are things going as you wish?"
"It is you who makes me uneasy," said La Cibot. "I shall be talked
about; the neighbors will see you making sheep's eyes at me."
She left the doorway and dived into the Auvergnat's back shop.
"What a notion!" said Remonencq.
"Come here, I have something to say to you," said La Cibot. "M. Pons'
heirs are about to make a stir; they are capable of giving us a lot of
trouble. God knows what might come of it if they send the lawyers here
to poke their noses into the affair like hunting-dogs. I cannot get M.
Schmucke to sell a few pictures unless you like me well enough to keep
the secret--such a secret!--With your head on the block, you must not
say where the pictures come from, nor who it was that sold them. When
M. Pons is once dead and buried, you understand, nobody will know how
many pictures there ought to be; if there are fifty-three pictures
instead of sixty-seven, nobody will be any the wiser. Besides, if M.
Pons sold them himself while he was alive, nobody can find fault."
"No," agreed Remonencq, "it is all one to me, but M. Elie Magus will
want receipts in due form."
"And you shall have your receipt too, bless your life! Do you suppose
that /I/ should write them?--No, M. Schmucke will do that. But tell
your Jew that he must keep the secret as closely as you do," she
"We will be as mute as fishes. That is our business. I myself can
read, but I cannot write, and that is why I want a capable wife that
has had education like you. I have thought of nothing but earning my
bread all my days, and now I wish I had some little Remonencqs. Do
leave that Cibot of yours."
"Why, here comes your Jew," said the portress; "we can arrange the
Elie Magus came every third day very early in the morning to know when
he could buy his pictures. "Well, my dear lady," said he, "how are we
"Has nobody been to speak to you about M. Pons and his gimcracks?"
asked La Cibot.
"I received a letter from a lawyer," said Elie Magus, "a rascal that
seems to me to be trying to work for himself; I don't like people of
that sort, so I took no notice of his letter. Three days afterwards he
came to see me, and left his card. I told my porter that I am never at
home when he calls."
"You are a love of a Jew," said La Cibot. Little did she know Elie
Magus' prudence. "Well, sonnies, in a few days' time I will bring M.
Schmucke to the point of selling you seven or eight pictures, ten at
most. But on two conditions.--Absolute secrecy in the first place. M.
Schmucke will send for you, sir, is not that so? And M. Remonencq
suggested that you might be a purchaser, eh?--And, come what may, I
will not meddle in it for nothing. You are giving forty-six thousand
francs for four pictures, are you not?"
"So be it," groaned the Jew.
"Very good. This is the second condition. You will give me
/forty-three/ thousand francs, and pay three thousand only to M.
Schmucke; Remonencq will buy four for two thousand francs, and hand
over the surplus to me.--But at the same time, you see my dear M.
Magus, I am going to help you and Remonencq to a splendid bit of
business--on condition that the profits are shared among the three of
us. I will introduce you to that lawyer, as he, no doubt, will come
here. You shall make a valuation of M. Pons' things at the prices
which you can give for them, so that M. Fraisier may know how much
the property is worth. But--not until after our sale, you understand!"
"I understand," said the Jew, "but it takes time to look at the things
and value them."
"You shall have half a day. But, there, that is my affair. Talk it
over between yourselves, my boys, and for that matter the business
will be settled by the day after to-morrow. I will go round to speak
to this Fraisier; for Dr. Poulain tells him everything that goes on in
the house, and it is a great bother to keep that scarecrow quiet."
La Cibot met Fraisier halfway between the Rue de la Perle and the Rue
de Normandie; so impatient was he to know the "elements of the case"
(to use his own expression), that he was coming to see her.
"I say! I was going to you," said she.
Fraisier grumbled because Elie Magus had refused to see him. But La
Cibot extinguished the spark of distrust that gleamed in the lawyer's
eyes by informing him that Elie Magus had returned from a journey, and
that she would arrange for an interview in Pons' rooms and for the
valuation of the property; for the day after to-morrow at latest.
"Deal frankly with me," returned Fraisier. "It is more than probable
that I shall act for M. Pons' next-of-kin. In that case, I shall be
even better able to serve you."
The words were spoken so drily that La Cibot quaked. This starving
limb of the law was sure to manoeuvre on his side as she herself was
doing. She resolved forthwith to hurry on the sale of the pictures.
La Cibot was right. The doctor and lawyer had clubbed together to buy
a new suit of clothes in which Fraisier could decently present himself
before Mme. la Presidente Camusot de Marville. Indeed, if the clothes
had been ready, the interview would have taken place sooner, for the
fate of the couple hung upon its issues. Fraisier left Mme. Cibot, and
went to try on his new clothes. He found them waiting for him, went
home, adjusted his new wig, and towards ten o'clock that morning set
out in a carriage from a livery stable for the Rue de Hanovre, hoping
for an audience. In his white tie, yellow gloves, and new wig,
redolent of /eau de Portugal/, he looked something like a poisonous
essence kept in a cut-glass bottle, seeming but the more deadly
because everything about it is daintily neat, from the stopper covered
with white kid to the label and the thread. His peremptory manner, the
eruption on his blotched countenance, the green eyes, and a malignant
something about him,--all these things struck the beholder with the
same sense of surprise as storm-clouds in a blue sky. If in his
private office, as he showed himself to La Cibot, he was the common
knife that a murderer catches up for his crime,--now, at the
Presidente's door, he was the daintily-wrought dagger which a woman
sets among the ornaments on her what-not.
A great change had taken place in the Rue de Hanovre. The Count and
Countess Popinot and the young people would not allow the President
and his wife to leave the house that they had settled upon their
daughter to pay rent elsewhere. M. and Mme. la Presidente, therefore,
were installed on the second floor, now left at liberty, for the
elderly lady had made up her mind to end her days in the country.
Mme. Camusot took Madeleine Vivet, with her cook and her man-servant,
to the second floor, and would have been as much pinched for money as
in the early days, if the house had not been rent free, and the
President's salary increased to ten thousand francs. This /aurea
mediocritas/ was but little satisfactory to Mme. de Marville. Even now
she wished for means more in accordance with her ambitions; for when
she handed over their fortune to their daughter, she spoiled her
husband's prospects. Now Amelie had set her heart upon seeing her
husband in the Chamber of Deputies; she was not one of those women who
find it easy to give up their way; and she by no means despaired of
returning her husband for the arrondissement in which Marville is
situated. So for the past two months she had teased her father-in-law,
M. le Baron Camusot (for the new peer of France had been advanced to
that rank), and done her utmost to extort an advance of a hundred
thousand francs of the inheritance which one day would be theirs. She
wanted, she said, to buy a small estate worth about two thousand
francs per annum set like a wedge within the Marville lands. There she
and her husband would be near their children and in their own house,
while the addition would round out the Marville property. With that
the Presidente laid stress upon the recent sacrifices which she and
her husband had been compelled to make in order to marry Cecile to
Viscount Popinot, and asked the old man how he could bar his eldest
son's way to the highest honors of the magistracy, when such honors
were only to be had by those who made themselves a strong position in
parliament. Her husband would know how to take up such a position, he
would make himself feared by those in office, and so on and so on.
"They do nothing for you unless you tighten a halter round their necks
to loosen their tongues," said she. "They are ungrateful. What do they
not owe to Camusot! Camusot brought the House of Orleans to the throne
by enforcing the ordinances of July."
M. Camusot senior answered that he had gone out of his depth in
railway speculations. He quite admitted that it was necessary to come
to the rescue, but put off the day until shares should rise, as they
were expected to do.
This half-promise, extracted some few days before Fraisier's visit,
had plunged the Presidente into depths of affliction. It was doubtful
whether the ex-proprietor of Marville was eligible for re-election
without the land qualification.
Fraisier found no difficulty in obtaining speech of Madeleine Vivet;
such viper natures own their kinship at once.
"I should like to see Mme. la Presidente for a few moments,
mademoiselle," Fraisier said in bland accents; "I have come on a
matter of business which touches her fortune; it is a question of a
legacy, be sure to mention that. I have not the honor of being known
to Mme. la Presidente, so my name is of no consequence. I am not in
the habit of leaving my chambers, but I know the respect that is due
to a President's wife, and I took the trouble of coming myself to save
all possible delay."
The matter thus broached, when repeated and amplified by the
waiting-maid, naturally brought a favorable answer. It was a decisive
moment for the double ambition hidden in Fraisier's mind. Bold as a
petty provincial attorney, sharp, rough-spoken, and curt as he was, he
felt as captains feel before the decisive battle of a campaign. As he
went into the little drawing-room where Amelie was waiting for him, he
felt a slight perspiration breaking out upon his forehead and down his
back. Every sudorific hitherto employed had failed to produce this
result upon a skin which horrible diseases had left impervious. "Even
if I fail to make my fortune," said he to himself, "I shall recover.
Poulain said that if I could only perspire I should recover."
The Presidente came forward in her morning gown.
"Madame--" said Fraisier, stopping short to bow with the humility by
which officials recognize the superior rank of the person whom they
"Take a seat, monsieur," said the Presidente. She saw at a glance that
this was a man of law.
"Mme. la Presidente, if I take the liberty of calling your attention
to a matter which concerns M. le President, it is because I am sure
that M. de Marville, occupying, as he does, a high position, would
leave matters to take their natural course, and so lose seven or eight
hundred thousand francs, a sum which ladies (who, in my opinion, have
a far better understanding of private business than the best of
magistrates)--a sum which ladies, I repeat, would by no means
"You spoke of a legacy," interrupted the lady, dazzled by the wealth,
and anxious to hide her surprise. Amelie de Marville, like an
impatient novel-reader, wanted the end of the story.
"Yes, madame, a legacy that you are like to lose; yes, to lose
altogether; but I can, that is, I /could/, recover it for you, if--"
"Speak out, monsieur." Mme. de Marville spoke frigidly, scanning
Fraisier as she spoke with a sagacious eye.
"Madame, your eminent capacity is known to me; I was once at Mantes.
M. Leboeuf, President of the Tribunal, is acquainted with M. de
Marville, and can answer inquiries about me--"
The Presidente's shrug was so ruthlessly significant, that Fraisier
was compelled to make short work of his parenthetic discourse.
"So distinguished a woman will at once understand why I speak of
myself in the first place. It is the shortest way to the property."
To this acute observation the lady replied by a gesture. Fraisier took
the sign for a permission to continue.
"I was an attorney, madame, at Mantes. My connection was all the
fortune that I was likely to have. I took over M. Levroux's practice.
You knew him, no doubt?"
The Presidente inclined her head.
"With borrowed capital and some ten thousand francs of my own, I went
to Mantes. I had been with Desroches, one of the cleverest attorneys
in Paris, I had been his head-clerk for six years. I was so unlucky as
to make an enemy of the attorney for the crown at Mantes, Monsieur--"
"Son of the Attorney-General, yes, madame. He was paying his court to
a little person--"
"Oh! Mme. Vatinelle. She was very pretty and very--er--when I was
"She was not unkind to me: /inde iroe/," Fraisier continued. "I was
industrious; I wanted to repay my friends and to marry; I wanted work;
I went in search of it; and before long I had more on my hands than
anybody else. Bah! I had every soul in Mantes against me--attorneys,
notaries, and even the bailiffs. They tried to fasten a quarrel on me.
In our ruthless profession, as you know, madame, if you wish to ruin a
man, it is soon done. I was concerned for both parties in a case, and
they found it out. It was a trifle irregular; but it is sometimes done
in Paris, attorneys in certain cases hand the rhubarb and take the
senna. They do things differently at Mantes. I had done M. Bouyonnet
this little service before; but, egged on by his colleagues and the
attorney for the crown, he betrayed me.--I am keeping back nothing,
you see.--There was a great hue and cry about it. I was a scoundrel;
they made me out blacker than Marat; forced me to sell out; ruined me.
And I am in Paris now. I have tried to get together a practice; but my
health is so bad, that I have only two quiet hours out of the
"At this moment I have but one ambition, and a very small one. Some
day," he continued, "you will be the wife of the Keeper of the Seals,
or of the Home Secretary, it may be; but I, poor and sickly as I am,
desire nothing but a post in which I can live in peace for the rest of
my life, a place without any opening in which to vegetate. I should
like to be a justice of the peace in Paris. It would be a mere trifle
for you and M. le President to gain the appointment for me; for the
present Keeper of the Seals must be anxious to keep on good terms with
you . . .
"And that is not all, madame," added Fraisier. Seeing that Mme. de
Marville was about to speak, he cut her short with a gesture. "I have
a friend, the doctor in attendance on the old man who ought to leave
his property to M. le President. (We are coming to the point, you
see.) The doctor's co-operation is indispensable, and the doctor is
precisely in my position: he has abilities, he is unlucky. I learned
through him how far your interests were imperiled; for even as I
speak, all may be over, and the will disinheriting M. le President may
have been made. This doctor wishes to be head-surgeon of a hospital or
of a Government school. He must have a position in Paris equal to
mine. . . . Pardon me if I have enlarged on a matter so delicate; but
we must have no misunderstandings in this business. The doctor is,
besides, much respected and learned; he saved the life of the Comtesse
Popinot's great-uncle, M. Pillerault.
"Now, if you are so good as to promise these two posts--the
appointment of justice of the peace and the sinecure for my friend--I
will undertake to bring you the property, /almost/ intact.--Almost
intact, I say, for the co-operation of the legatee and several other
persons is absolutely indispensable, and some obligations will be
incurred. You will not redeem your promises until I have fulfilled
The Presidente had folded her arms, and for the last minute or two sat
like a person compelled to listen to a sermon. Now she unfolded her
arms, and looked at Fraisier as she said, "Monsieur, all that you say
concerning your interests has the merit of clearness; but my own
interests in the matter are by no means so clear--"
"A word or two will explain everything, madame. M. le President is M.
Pons' first cousin once removed, and his sole heir. M. Pons is very
ill; he is about to make his will, if it is not already made, in favor
of a German, a friend of his named Schmucke; and he has more than
seven hundred thousand francs to leave. I hope to have an accurate
valuation made in two or three days--"
"If this is so," said the Presidente, "I made a great mistake in
quarreling with him and throwing the blame----" she thought aloud,
amazed by the possibility of such a sum.
"No, madame. If there had been no rupture, he would be as blithe as a
lark at this moment, and might outlive you and M. le President and me.
. . . The ways of Providence are mysterious, let us not seek to fathom
them," he added to palliate to some extent the hideous idea. "It
cannot be helped. We men of business look at the practical aspects of
things. Now you see clearly, madame, that M. de Marville in his public
position would do nothing, and could do nothing, as things are. He has
broken off all relations with his cousin. You see nothing now of Pons;
you have forbidden him the house; you had excellent reasons, no doubt,
for doing as you did, but the old man is ill, and he is leaving his
property to the only friend left to him. A President of the Court of
Appeal in Paris could say nothing under such circumstances if the will
was made out in due form. But between ourselves, madame, when one has
a right to expect seven or eight hundred thousand francs--or a
million, it may be (how should I know?)--it is very unpleasant to have
it slip through one's fingers, especially if one happens to be the
heir-at-law. . . . But, on the other hand, to prevent this, one is
obliged to stoop to dirty work; work so difficult, so ticklish,
bringing you cheek by jowl with such low people, servants and
subordinates; and into such close contact with them too, that no
barrister, no attorney in Paris could take up such a case.
"What you want is a briefless barrister like me," said he, "a man who
should have real and solid ability, who has learned to be devoted, and
yet, being in a precarious position, is brought temporarily to a level
with such people. In my arrondissement I undertake business for small
tradespeople and working folk. Yes, madame, you see the straits to
which I have been brought by the enmity of an attorney for the crown,
now a deputy-public prosecutor in Paris, who could not forgive me my
superiority.--I know you, madame, I know that your influence means a
solid certainty; and in such a service rendered to you, I saw the end
of my troubles and success for my friend Dr. Poulain."
The lady sat pensive during a moment of unspeakable torture for
Fraisier. Vinet, an orator of the Centre, attorney-general
(/procureur-general/) for the past sixteen years, nominated
half-a-score of times for the chancellorship, the father, moreover, of
the attorney for the crown at Mantes who had been appointed to a post
in Paris within the last year--Vinet was an enemy and a rival for the
malignant Presidente. The haughty attorney-general did not hide his
contempt for President Camusot. This fact Fraisier did not know, and
could not know.
"Have you nothing on your conscience but the fact that you were
concerned for both parties?" asked she, looking steadily at Fraisier.
"Mme. la Presidente can see M. Leboeuf; M. Leboeuf was favorable to
"Do you feel sure that M. Leboeuf will give M. de Marville and M. le
Comte Popinot a good account of you?"
"I will answer for it, especially now that M. Olivier Vinet has left
Mantes; for between ourselves, good M. Leboeuf was afraid of that
crabbed little official. If you will permit me, Madame La Presidente,
I will go to Mantes and see M. Leboeuf. No time will be lost, for I
cannot be certain of the precise value of the property for two or
three days. I do not wish that you should know all the ins and outs of
this affair; you ought not to know them, Mme. la Presidente, but is
not the reward that I expect for my complete devotion a pledge of my
"Very well. If M. Leboeuf will speak in your favor, and if the
property is worth as much as you think (I doubt it myself), you shall
have both appointments, /if/ you succeed, mind you--"
"I will answer for it, madame. Only, you must be so good as to have
your notary and your attorney here when I shall need them; you must
give me a power of attorney to act for M. le President, and tell those
gentlemen to follow my instructions, and to do nothing on their own
"The responsibility rests with you," the Presidente answered solemnly,
"so you ought to have full powers.--But is M. Pons very ill?" she
"Upon my word, madame, he might pull through, especially with so
conscientious a doctor as Poulain in attendance; for this friend of
mine, madame, is simply an unconscious spy directed by me in your
interests. Left to himself, he would save the old man's life; but
there is some one else by the sickbed, a portress, who would push him
into the grave for thirty thousand francs. Not that she would kill him
outright; she will not give him arsenic, she is not so merciful; she
will do worse, she will kill him by inches; she will worry him to
death day by day. If the poor old man were kept quiet and left in
peace; if he were taken into the country and cared for and made much
of by friends, he would get well again; but he is harassed by a sort
of Mme. Evrard. When the woman was young she was one of thirty /Belles
Ecailleres/, famous in Paris, she is a rough, greedy, gossiping woman;
she torments him to make a will and to leave her something handsome,
and the end of it will be induration of the liver, calculi are
possibly forming at this moment, and he has not enough strength to
bear an operation. The doctor, noble soul, is in a horrible
predicament. He really ought to send the woman away--"
"Why, then, this vixen is a monster!" cried the lady in thin
Fraisier smiled inwardly at the likeness between himself and the
terrible Presidente; he knew all about those suave modulations of a
naturally sharp voice. He thought of another president, the hero of an
anecdote related by Louis XI., stamped by that monarch's final praise.
Blessed with a wife after the pattern of Socrates' spouse, and
ungifted with the sage's philosophy, he mingled salt with the corn in
the mangers and forbad the grooms to give water to the horses. As his
wife rode along the Seine towards their country-house, the animals
bolted into the river with the lady, and the magistrate returned
thanks to Providence for ridding him of his wife "in so natural a
manner." At this present moment Mme. de Marville thanked Heaven for
placing at Pons' bedside a woman so likely to get him "decently" out
of the way.
Aloud she said, "I would not take a million at the price of a single
scruple.--Your friend ought to speak to M. Pons and have the woman
"In the first place, madame, Messrs. Schmucke and Pons think the woman
an angel; they would send my friend away. And secondly, the doctor
lies under an obligation to this horrid oyster-woman; she called him
in to attend M. Pillerault. When he tells her to be as gentle as
possible with the patient, he simply shows the creature how to make
"What does your friend think of /my/ cousin's condition?"
This man's clear, business-like way of putting the facts of the case
frightened Mme. de Marville; she felt that his keen gaze read the
thoughts of a heart as greedy as La Cibot's own.
"In six weeks the property will change hands."
The Presidente dropped her eyes.
"Poor man!" she sighed, vainly striving after a dolorous expression.
"Have you any message, madame, for M. Leboeuf? I am taking the train
"Yes. Wait a moment, and I will write to ask him to dine with us
to-morrow. I want to see him, so that he may act in concert to repair
the injustice to which you have fallen a victim."
The Presidente left the room. Fraisier saw himself a justice of the
peace. He felt transformed at the thought; he grew stouter; his lungs
were filled with the breath of success, the breeze of prosperity. He
dipped into the mysterious reservoirs of volition for fresh and strong
doses of the divine essence. To reach success, he felt, as Remonencq
half felt, that he was ready for anything, for crime itself, provided
that no proofs of it remained. He had faced the Presidente boldly; he
had transmuted conjecture into reality; he had made assertions right
and left, all to the end that she might authorize him to protect her
interests and win her influence. As he stood there, he represented the
infinite misery of two lives, and the no less boundless desires of two
men. He spurned the squalid horrors of the Rue de la Perle. He saw the
glitter of a thousand crowns in fees from La Cibot, and five thousand
francs from the Presidente. This meant an abode such as befitted his
future prospects. Finally, he was repaying Dr. Poulain.
There are hard, ill-natured beings, goaded by distress or disease into
active malignity, that yet entertain diametrically opposed sentiments
with a like degree of vehemence. If Richelieu was a good hater, he was
no less a good friend. Fraisier, in his gratitude, would have let
himself be cut in two for Poulain.
So absorbed was he in these visions of a comfortable and prosperous
life, that he did not see the Presidente come in with the letter in
her hand, and she, looking at him, thought him less ugly now than at
first. He was about to be useful to her, and as soon as a tool belongs
to us we look upon it with other eyes.
"M. Fraisier," said she, "you have convinced me of your intelligence,
and I think that you can speak frankly."
Fraisier replied by an eloquent gesture.
"Very well," continued the lady, "I must ask you to give a candid
reply to this question: Are we, either of us, M. de Marville or I,
likely to be compromised, directly or indirectly, by your action in
"I would not have come to you, madame, if I thought that some day I
should have to reproach myself for bringing so much as a splash of mud
upon you, for in your position a speck the size of a pin's head is
seen by all the world. You forget, madame, that I must satisfy you if
I am to be a justice of the peace in Paris. I have received one lesson
at the outset of my life; it was so sharp that I do not care to lay
myself open to a second thrashing. To sum it up in a last word,
madame, I will not take a step in which you are indirectly involved
without previously consulting you--"
"Very good. Here is the letter. And now I shall expect to be informed
of the exact value of the estate."
"There is the whole matter," said Fraisier shrewdly, making his bow to
the Presidente with as much graciousness as his countenance could