Part 13 out of 16
"Do just listen to me," broke in the patient; "I cannot call you my
mother, nor my wife--"
"No, never in all my born days will I take again to anybody--"
"Do let me speak!" continued Pons. "Let me see; I put M. Schmucke
"M. Schmucke! there is a heart for you," cried La Cibot. "Ah! he loves
me, but then he is poor. It is money that deadens the heart; and you
are rich! Oh, well, take a nurse, you will see what a life she will
lead you; she will torment you, you will be like a cockchafer on a
string. The doctor will say that you must have plenty to drink, and
she will do nothing but feed you. She will bring you to your grave and
rob you. You do not deserve to have a Mme. Cibot!--there! When Dr.
Poulain comes, ask him for a nurse."
"Oh fiddlestickend!" the patient cried angrily. "/Will/ you listen to
me? When I spoke of my friend Schmucke, I was not thinking of women. I
know quite well that no one cares for me so sincerely as you do, you
"Have the goodness not to irritate yourself in this way!" exclaimed La
Cibot, plunging down upon Pons and covering him by force with the
"How should I not love you?" said poor Pons.
"You love me, really? . . . There, there, forgive me, sir!" she said,
crying and wiping her eyes. "Ah, yes, of course, you love me, as you
love a servant, that is the way!--a servant to whom you throw an
annuity of six hundred francs like a crust you fling into a dog's
"Oh! Mme. Cibot," cried Pons, "for what do you take me? You do not
"Ah! you will care even more than that for me," she said, meeting
Pons' eyes. "You will love your kind old Cibot like a mother, will you
not? A mother, that is it! I am your mother; you are both of you my
children. . . . Ah, if I only knew them that caused you this sorrow, I
would do that which would bring me into the police-courts, and even to
prison; I would tear their eyes out! Such people deserve to die at the
Barriere Saint-Jacques, and that is too good for such scoundrels.
. . . So kind, so good as you are (for you have a heart of
gold), you were sent into the world to make some woman happy! . . .
Yes, you would have her happy, as anybody can see; you were cut out
for that. In the very beginning, when I saw how you were with M.
Schmucke, I said to myself, 'M. Pons has missed the life he was meant
for; he was made to be a good husband.' Come, now, you like women."
"Ah, yes," said Pons, "and no woman has been mine."
"Really?" exclaimed La Cibot, with a provocative air as she came
nearer and took Pons' hand in hers. "Do you not know what it is to
love a woman that will do anything for her lover? Is it possible? If I
were in your place, I should not wish to leave this world for another
until I had known the greatest happiness on earth! . . . Poor dear! If
I was now what I was once, I would leave Cibot for you! upon my word,
I would! Why, with a nose shaped like that--for you have a fine nose
--how did you manage it, poor cherub? . . . You will tell me that 'not
every woman knows a man when she sees him'; and a pity it is that they
marry so at random as they do, it makes you sorry to see it.--Now, for
my own part, I should have thought that you had had mistresses by the
dozen--dancers, actresses, and duchesses, for you went out so much.
. . . When you went out, I used to say to Cibot, 'Look! there is M.
Pons going a-gallivanting,' on my word, I did, I was so sure that
women ran after you. Heaven made you for love. . . . Why, my dear sir,
I found that out the first day that you dined at home, and you were so
touched with M. Schmucke's pleasure. And next day M. Schmucke kept
saying to me, 'Montame Zipod, he haf tined hier,' with the tears in
his eyes, till I cried along with him like a fool, as I am. And how
sad he looked when you took to gadding abroad again and dining out!
Poor man, you never saw any one so disconsolate! Ah! you are quite
right to leave everything to him. Dear worthy man, why he is as good
as a family to you, he is! Do not forget him; for if you do, God will
not receive you into his Paradise, for those that have been ungrateful
to their friends and left them no /rentes/ will not go to heaven."
In vain Pons tried to put in a word; La Cibot talked as the wind
blows. Means of arresting steam-engines have been invented, but it
would tax a mechanician's genius to discover any plan for stopping a
"I know what you mean," continued she. "But it does not kill you, my
dear gentleman, to make a will when you are out of health; and in your
place I might not leave that poor dear alone, for fear that something
might happen; he is like God Almighty's lamb, he knows nothing about
nothing, and I should not like him to be at the mercy of those sharks
of lawyers and a wretched pack of relations. Let us see now, has one
of them come here to see you in twenty years? And would you leave your
property to /them/? Do you know, they say that all these things here
are worth something."
"Why, yes," said Pons.
"Remonencq, who deals in pictures, and knows that you are an amateur,
says that he would be quite ready to pay you an annuity of thirty
thousand francs so long as you live, to have the pictures afterwards.
. . . There is a change! If I were you, I should take it. Why, I
thought he said it for a joke when he told me that. You ought to let
M. Schmucke know the value of all those things, for he is a man that
could be cheated like a child. He has not the slightest idea of the
value of these fine things that you have! He so little suspects it,
that he would give them away for a morsel of bread if he did not keep
them all his life for love of you, always supposing that he lives
after you, for he will die of your death. But /I/ am here; I will take
his part against anybody and everybody! . . . I and Cibot will defend
"Dear Mme. Cibot!" said Pons, "what would have become of me if it had
not been for you and Schmucke?" He felt touched by this horrible
prattle; the feeling in it seemed to be ingenuous, as it usually is in
the speech of the people.
"Ah! we really are your only friends on earth, that is very true, that
is. But two good hearts are worth all the families in the world.
--Don't talk of families to me! A family, as the old actor said of the
tongue, is the best and the worst of all things. . . . Where are those
relations of yours now? Have you any? I have never seen them--"
"They have brought me to lie here," said Pons, with intense
"So you have relations! . . ." cried La Cibot, springing up as if her
easy-chair had been heated red-hot. "Oh, well, they are a nice lot,
are your relations! What! these three weeks--for this is the twentieth
day, to-day, that you have been ill and like to die--in these three
weeks they have not come once to ask for news of you? That's a trifle
too strong, that is! . . . Why, in your place, I would leave all I had
to the Foundling Hospital sooner than give them one farthing!"
"Well, my dear Mme. Cibot, I meant to leave all that I had to a cousin
once removed, the daughter of my first cousin, President Camusot, you
know, who came here one morning nearly two months ago."
"Oh! a little stout man who sent his servants to beg your pardon--for
his wife's blunder?--The housemaid came asking me questions about you,
an affected old creature she is, my fingers itched to give her velvet
tippet a dusting with my broom handle! A servant wearing a velvet
tippet! did anybody ever see the like? No, upon my word, the world is
turned upside down; what is the use of making a Revolution? Dine twice
a day if you can afford it, you scamps of rich folk! But laws are no
good, I tell you, and nothing will be safe if Louis-Philippe does not
keep people in their places; for, after all, if we are all equal, eh,
sir? a housemaid didn't ought to have a velvet tippet, while I, Mme.
Cibot, haven't one, after thirty years of honest work.--There is a
pretty thing for you! People ought to be able to tell who you are. A
housemaid is a housemaid, just as I myself am a portress. Why do they
have silk epaulettes in the army? Let everybody keep their place. Look
here, do you want me to tell you what all this comes to? Very well,
France is going to the dogs. . . . If the Emperor had been here,
things would have been very different, wouldn't they, sir? . . . So I
said to Cibot, I said, 'See here, Cibot, a house where the servants
wear velvet tippets belongs to people that have no heart in them--'"
"No heart in them, that is just it," repeated Pons. And with that he
began to tell Mme. Cibot about his troubles and mortifications, she
pouring out abuse of the relations the while and showing exceeding
tenderness on every fresh sentence in the sad history. She fairly wept
To understand the sudden intimacy between the old musician and Mme.
Cibot, you have only to imagine the position of an old bachelor lying
on his bed of pain, seriously ill for the first time in his life. Pons
felt that he was alone in the world; the days that he spent by himself
were all the longer because he was struggling with the indefinable
nausea of a liver complaint which blackens the brightest life. Cut off
from all his many interests, the sufferer falls a victim to a kind of
nostalgia; he regrets the many sights to be seen for nothing in Paris.
The isolation, the darkened days, the suffering that affects the mind
and spirits even more than the body, the emptiness of the life,--all
these things tend to induce him to cling to the human being who waits
on him as a drowned man clings to a plank; and this especially if the
bachelor patient's character is as weak as his nature is sensitive and
Pons was charmed to hear La Cibot's tittle-tattle. Schmucke, Mme.
Cibot, and Dr. Poulain meant all humanity to him now, when his
sickroom became the universe. If invalid's thoughts, as a rule, never
travel beyond in the little space over which his eyes can wander; if
their selfishness, in its narrow sphere, subordinates all creatures
and all things to itself, you can imagine the lengths to which an old
bachelor may go. Before three weeks were out he had even gone so far
as to regret, once and again, that he had not married Madeleine Vivet!
Mme. Cibot, too, had made immense progress in his esteem in those
three weeks; without her he felt that he should have been utterly
lost; for as for Schmucke, the poor invalid looked upon him as a
second Pons. La Cibot's prodigious art consisted in expressing Pons'
own ideas, and this she did quite unconsciously.
"Ah! here comes the doctor!" she exclaimed, as the bell rang, and away
she went, knowing very well that Remonencq had come with the Jew.
"Make no noise, gentlemen," said she, "he must not know anything. He
is all on the fidget when his precious treasures are concerned."
"A walk round will be enough," said the Hebrew, armed with a
magnifying-glass and a lorgnette.
The greater part of Pons' collection was installed in a great
old-fashioned salon such as French architects used to build for the
old /noblesse/; a room twenty-five feet broad, some thirty feet in
length, and thirteen in height. Pons' pictures to the number of
sixty-seven hung upon the white-and-gold paneled walls; time, however,
had reddened the gold and softened the white to an ivory tint, so that
the whole was toned down, and the general effect subordinated to the
effect of the pictures. Fourteen statues stood on pedestals set in the
corners of the room, or among the pictures, or on brackets inlaid by
Boule; sideboards of carved ebony, royally rich, surrounded the walls
to elbow height, all the shelves filled with curiosities; in the
middle of the room stood a row of carved credence-tables, covered with
rare miracles of handicraft--with ivories and bronzes, wood-carvings
and enamels, jewelry and porcelain.
As soon as Elie Magus entered the sanctuary, he went straight to the
four masterpieces; he saw at a glance that these were the gems of
Pons' collection, and masters lacking in his own. For Elie Magus these
were the naturalist's /desiderata/ for which men undertake long
voyages from east to west, through deserts and tropical countries,
across southern savannahs, through virgin forests.
The first was a painting by Sebastian del Piombo, the second a Fra
Bartolommeo della Porta, the third a Hobbema landscape, and the fourth
and last a Durer--a portrait of a woman. Four diamonds indeed! In the
history of art, Sebastian del Piombo is like a shining point in which
three schools meet, each bringing its pre-eminent qualities. A
Venetian painter, he came to Rome to learn the manner of Raphael under
the direction of Michael Angelo, who would fain oppose Raphael on his
own ground by pitting one of his own lieutenants against the reigning
king of art. And so it came to pass that in Del Piombo's indolent
genius Venetian color was blended with Florentine composition and a
something of Raphael's manner in the few pictures which he deigned to
paint, and the sketches were made for him, it is said, by Michael
If you would see the perfection to which the painter attained (armed
as he was with triple power), go to the Louvre and look at the Baccio
Bandinelli portrait; you might place it beside Titian's /Man with a
Glove/, or by that other /Portrait of an Old Man/ in which Raphael's
consummate skill blends with Correggio's art; or, again, compare it
with Leonardo da Vinci's /Charles VIII./, and the picture would
scarcely lose. The four pearls are equal; there is the same lustre and
sheen, the same rounded completeness, the same brilliancy. Art can go
no further than this. Art has risen above Nature, since Nature only
gives her creatures a few brief years of life.
Pons possessed one example of this immortal great genius and incurably
indolent painter; it was a /Knight of Malta/, a Templar kneeling in
prayer. The picture was painted on slate, and in its unfaded color and
its finish was immeasurably finer than the /Baccio Bandinelli/.
Fra Bartolommeo was represented by a /Holy Family/, which many
connoisseurs might have taken for a Raphael. The Hobbema would have
fetched sixty thousand francs at a public sale; and as for the Durer,
it was equal to the famous /Holzschuer/ portrait at Nuremberg for
which the kings of Bavaria, Holland, and Prussia have vainly offered
two hundred thousand francs again and again. Was it the portrait of
the wife or the daughter of Holzschuer, Albrecht Durer's personal
friend?--The hypothesis seems to be a certainty, for the attitude of
the figure in Pons' picture suggests that it is meant for a pendant,
the position of the coat-of-arms is the same as in the Nuremberg
portrait; and, finally, the /oetatis suoe XLI./ accords perfectly with
the age inscribed on the picture religiously kept by the Holzschuers
of Nuremberg, and but recently engraved.
The tears stood in Elie Magus' eyes as he looked from one masterpiece
to another. He turned round to La Cibot, "I will give you a commission
of two thousand francs on each of the pictures if you can arrange that
I shall have them for forty thousand francs," he said. La Cibot was
amazed at this good fortune dropped from the sky. Admiration, or, to
be more accurate, delirious joy, had wrought such havoc in the Jew's
brain, that it had actually unsettled his habitual greed, and he fell
headlong into enthusiasm, as you see.
"And I?----" put in Remonencq, who knew nothing about pictures.
"Everything here is equally good," the Jew said cunningly, lowering
his voice for Remonencq's ears; "take ten pictures just as they come
and on the same conditions. Your fortune will be made."
Again the three thieves looked each other in the face, each one of
them overcome with the keenest of all joys--sated greed. All of a
sudden the sick man's voice rang through the room; the tones vibrated
like the strokes of a bell:
"Who is there?" called Pons.
"Monsieur! just go back to bed!" exclaimed La Cibot, springing upon
Pons and dragging him by main force. "What next! Have you a mind to
kill yourself?--Very well, then, it is not Dr. Poulain, it is
Remonencq, good soul, so anxious that he has come to ask after you!
--Everybody is so fond of you that the whole house is in a flutter.
So what is there to fear?"
"It seems to me that there are several of you," said Pons.
"Several? that is good! What next! Are you dreaming!--You will go off
your head before you have done, upon my word!--Here, look!"--and La
Cibot flung open the door, signed to Magus to go, and beckoned to
"Well, my dear sir," said the Auvergnat, now supplied with something
to say, "I just came to ask after you, for the whole house is alarmed
about you.--Nobody likes Death to set foot in a house!--And lastly,
Daddy Monistrol, whom you know very well, told me to tell you that if
you wanted money he was at your service----"
"He sent you here to take a look round at my knick-knacks!" returned
the old collector from his bed; and the sour tones of his voice were
full of suspicion.
A sufferer from liver complaint nearly always takes momentary and
special dislikes to some person or thing, and concentrates all his
ill-humor upon the object. Pons imagined that some one had designs
upon his precious collection; the thought of guarding it became a
fixed idea with him; Schmucke was continually sent to see if any one
had stolen into the sanctuary.
"Your collection is fine enough to attract the attention of
/chineurs/," Remonencq answered astutely. "I am not much in the art
line myself; but you are supposed to be such a great connoisseur, sir,
that with my eyes shut--supposing, for instance, that you should need
money some time or other, for nothing costs so much as these
confounded illnesses; there was my sister now, when she would have got
better again just as well without. Doctors are rascals that take
advantage of your condition to--"
"Thank you, good-day, good-day," broke in Pons, eying the marine
"I will go to the door with him, for fear he should touch something,"
La Cibot whispered to her patient.
"Yes, yes," answered the invalid, thanking her by a glance.
La Cibot shut the bedroom door behind her, and Pons' suspicions awoke
again at once.
She found Magus standing motionless before the four pictures. His
immobility, his admiration, can only be understood by other souls open
to ideal beauty, to the ineffable joy of beholding art made perfect;
such as these can stand for whole hours before the /Antiope/
--Correggio's masterpiece--before Leonardo's /Gioconda/, Titian's
/Mistress/, Andrea del Sarto's /Holy Family/, Domenichino's /Children
Among the Flowers/, Raphael's little cameo, or his /Portrait of an Old
Man/--Art's greatest masterpieces.
"Be quick and go, and make no noise," said La Cibot.
The Jew walked slowly backwards, giving the pictures such a farewell
gaze as a lover gives his love. Outside on the landing, La Cibot
tapped his bony arm. His rapt contemplations had put an idea into her
"Make it /four/ thousand francs for each picture," said she, "or I do
"I am so poor! . . ." began Magus. "I want the pictures simply for
their own sake, simply and solely for the love of art, my dear lady."
"I can understand that love, sonny, you are so dried up. But if you do
not promise me sixteen thousand francs now, before Remonencq here, I
shall want twenty to-morrow."
"Sixteen; I promise," returned the Jew, frightened by the woman's
La Cibot turned to Remonencq.
"What oath can a Jew swear?" she inquired.
"You may trust him," replied the marine store-dealer. "He is as honest
as I am."
"Very well; and you?" asked she, "if I get him to sell them to you,
what will you give me?"
"Half-share of profits," Remonencq answered briskly.
"I would rather have a lump sum," returned La Cibot; "I am not in
"You understand business uncommonly well!" put in Elie Magus, smiling;
"a famous saleswoman you would make!"
"I want her to take me into partnership, me and my goods," said the
Auvergnat, as he took La Cibot's plump arm and gave it playful taps
like hammer-strokes. "I don't ask her to bring anything into the firm
but her good looks! You are making a mistake when your stick to your
Turk of a Cibot and his needle. Is a little bit of a porter the man to
make a woman rich--a fine woman like you? Ah, what a figure you would
make in a shop on the boulevard, all among the curiosities, gossiping
with amateurs and twisting them round your fingers! Just you leave
your lodge as soon as you have lined your purse here, and you shall
see what will become of us both."
"Lined my purse!" cried Cibot. "I am incapable of taking the worth of
a single pin; you mind that, Remonencq! I am known in the neighborhood
for an honest woman, I am."
La Cibot's eyes flashed fire.
"There, never mind," said Elie Magus; "this Auvergnat seems to be too
fond of you to mean to insult you."
"How she would draw on the customers!" cried the Auvergnat.
Mme. Cibot softened at this.
"Be fair, sonnies," quoth she, "and judge for yourselves how I am
placed. These ten years past I have been wearing my life out for these
two old bachelors yonder, and neither or them has given me anything
but words. Remonencq will tell you that I feed them by contract, and
lose twenty or thirty sous a day; all my savings have gone that way,
by the soul of my mother (the only author of my days that I ever
knew), this is as true as that I live, and that this is the light of
day, and may my coffee poison me if I lie about a farthing. Well,
there is one up there that will die soon, eh? and he the richer of the
two that I have treated like my own children. Would you believe it, my
dear sir, I have told him over and over again for days past that he is
at death's door (for Dr. Poulain has given him up), he could not say
less about putting my name down in his will. We shall only get our due
by taking it, upon my word, as an honest woman, for as for trusting to
the next-of-kin!--No fear! There! look you here, words don't stink; it
is a bad world!"
"That is true," Elie Magus answered cunningly, "that is true; and it
is just the like of us that are among the best," he added, looking at
"Just let me be," returned La Cibot; "I am not speaking of you.
'Pressing company is always accepted,' as the old actor said. I swear
to you that the two gentlemen already owe me nearly three thousand
francs; the little I have is gone by now in medicine and things on
their account; and now suppose they refuse to recognize my advances? I
am so stupidly honest that I did not dare to say nothing to them about
it. Now, you that are in business, my dear sir, do you advise me to
got to a lawyer?"
"A lawyer?" cried Remonencq; "you know more about it than all the
lawyers put together--"
Just at that moment a sound echoed in the great staircase, a sound as
if some heavy body had fallen in the dining-room.
"Oh, goodness me!" exclaimed La Cibot; "it seems to me that monsieur
has just taken a ticket for the ground floor."
She pushed her fellow-conspirators out at the door, and while the pair
descended the stairs with remarkable agility, she ran to the
dining-room, and there beheld Pons, in his shirt, stretched out upon
the tiles. He had fainted. She lifted him as if he had been a feather,
carried him back to his room, laid him in bed, burned feathers under
his nose, bathed his temples with eau-de-cologne, and at last brought
him to consciousness. When she saw his eyes unclose and life return,
she stood over him, hands on hips.
"No slippers! In your shirt! That is the way to kill yourself! Why do
you suspect me?--If this is to be the way of it, I wish you good-day,
sir. Here have I served you these ten years, I have spent money on you
till my savings are all gone, to spare trouble to that poor M.
Schmucke, crying like a child on the stairs--and /this/ is my reward!
You have been spying on me. God has punished you! It serves you right!
Here I am straining myself to carry you, running the risk of doing
myself a mischief that I shall feel all my days. Oh dear, oh dear! and
the door left open too--"
"You were talking with some one. Who was it?"
"Here are notions!" cried La Cibot. "What next! Am I your bond-slave?
Am I to give account of myself to you? Do you know that if you bother
me like this, I shall clear out! You shall take a nurse."
Frightened by this threat, Pons unwittingly allowed La Cibot to see
the extent of the power of her sword of Damocles.
"It is my illness!" he pleaded piteously.
"It is as you please," La Cibot answered roughly.
She went. Pons, confused, remorseful, admiring his nurse's scalding
devotion, reproached himself for his behavior. The fall on the paved
floor of the dining-room had shaken and bruised him, and aggravated
his illness, but Pons was scarcely conscious of his physical
La Cibot met Schmucke on the staircase.
"Come here, sir," she said. "There is bad news, that there is! M. Pons
is going off his head! Just think of it! he got up with nothing on, he
came after me--and down he came full-length. Ask him why--he knows
nothing about it. He is in a bad way. I did nothing to provoke such
violence, unless, perhaps, I waked up ideas by talking to him of his
early amours. Who knows men? Old libertines that they are. I ought not
to have shown him my arms when his eyes were glittering like
Schmucke listened. Mme. Cibot might have been talking Hebrew for
anything that he understood.
"I have given myself a wrench that I shall feel all my days," added
she, making as though she were in great pain. (Her arms did, as a
matter of fact, ache a little, and the muscular fatigue suggested an
idea, which she proceeded to turn to profit.) "So stupid I am. When I
saw him lying there on the floor, I just took him up in my arms as if
he had been a child, and carried him back to bed, I did. And I
strained myself, I can feel it now. Ah! how it hurts!--I am going
downstairs. Look after our patient. I will send Cibot for Dr. Poulain.
I had rather die outright than be crippled."
La Cibot crawled downstairs, clinging to the banisters, and writhing
and groaning so piteously that the tenants, in alarm, came out upon
their landings. Schmucke supported the suffering creature, and told
the story of La Cibot's devotion, the tears running down his cheeks as
he spoke. Before very long the whole house, the whole neighborhood
indeed, had heard of Mme. Cibot's heroism; she had given herself a
dangerous strain, it was said, with lifting one of the "nutcrackers."
Schmucke meanwhile went to Pons' bedside with the tale. Their factotum
was in a frightful state. "What shall we do without her?" they said,
as they looked at each other; but Pons was so plainly the worse for
his escapade, that Schmucke did not dare to scold him.
"Gonfounded pric-a-prac! I would sooner purn dem dan loose mein
friend!" he cried, when Pons told him of the cause of the accident.
"To suspect Montame Zipod, dot lend us her safings! It is not goot;
but it is der illness--"
"Ah! what an illness! I am not the same man, I can feel it," said
Pons. "My dear Schmucke, if only you did not suffer through me!"
"Scold me," Schmucke answered, "und leaf Montame Zipod in beace."
As for Mme. Cibot, she soon recovered in Dr. Poulain's hands; and her
restoration, bordering on the miraculous, shed additional lustre on
her name and fame in the Marais. Pons attributed the success to the
excellent constitution of the patient, who resumed her ministrations
seven days later to the great satisfaction of her two gentlemen. Her
influence in their household and her tyranny was increased a
hundred-fold by the accident. In the course of a week, the two
nutcrackers ran into debt; Mme. Cibot paid the outstanding amounts,
and took the opportunity to obtain from Schmucke (how easily!) a
receipt for two thousand francs, which she had lent, she said, to
"Oh, what a doctor M. Poulain is!" cried La Cibot, for Pons' benefit.
"He will bring you through, my dear sir, for he pulled me out of my
coffin! Cibot, poor man, thought I was dead. . . . Well, Dr. Poulain
will have told you that while I was in bed I thought of nothing but
you. 'God above,' said I, 'take me, and let my dear Mr. Pons live--'"
"Poor dear Mme. Cibot, you all but crippled yourself for me."
"Ah! but for Dr. Poulain I should have been put to bed with a shovel
by now, as we shall all be one day. Well, what must be, must, as the
old actor said. One must take things philosophically. How did you get
on without me?"
"Schmucke nursed me," said the invalid; "but our poor money-box and
our lessons have suffered. I do not know how he managed."
"Calm yourself, Bons," exclaimed Schmucke; "ve haf in Zipod ein
"Do not speak of it, my lamb. You are our children, both of you,"
cried La Cibot. "Our savings will be well invested; you are safer than
the Bank. So long as we have a morsel of bread, half of it is yours.
It is not worth mentioning--"
"Boor Montame Zipod!" said Schmucke, and he went.
Pons said nothing.
"Would you believe it, my cherub?" said La Cibot, as the sick man
tossed uneasily, "in my agony--for it was a near squeak for me--the
thing that worried me most was the thought that I must leave you
alone, with no one to look after you, and my poor Cibot without a
farthing. . . . My savings are such a trifle, that I only mention them
in connection with my death and Cibot, an angel that he is! No. He
nursed me as if I had been a queen, he did, and cried like a calf over
me! . . . But I counted on you, upon my word. I said to him, 'There,
Cibot! my gentlemen will not let you starve--'"
Pons made no reply to this thrust /ad testamentum/; but as the
portress waited for him to say something--"I shall recommend you to M.
Schmucke," he said at last.
"Ah!" cried La Cibot, "whatever you do will be right; I trust in you
and your heart. Let us never talk of this again; you make me feel
ashamed, my cherub. Think of getting better, you will outlive us all
Profound uneasiness filled Mme. Cibot's mind. She cast about for some
way of making the sick man understand that she expected a legacy. That
evening, when Schmucke was eating his dinner as usual by Pons'
bedside, she went out, hoping to find Dr. Poulain at home.
Dr. Poulain lived in the Rue d'Orleans in a small ground floor
establishment, consisting of a lobby, a sitting-room, and two
bedrooms. A closet, opening into the lobby and the bedroom, had been
turned into a study for the doctor. The kitchen, the servant's
bedroom, and a small cellar were situated in a wing of the house, a
huge pile built in the time of the Empire, on the site of an old
mansion of which the garden still remained, though it had been divided
among the three ground floor tenants.
Nothing had been changed in the doctor's house since it was built.
Paint and paper and ceilings were all redolent of the Empire. The
grimy deposits of forty years lay thick on walls and ceilings, on
paper and paint and mirrors and gilding. And yet, this little
establishment, in the depths of the Marais, paid a rent of a thousand
Mme. Poulain, the doctor's mother, aged sixty-seven, was ending her
days in the second bedroom. She worked for a breeches-maker, stitching
men's leggings, breeches, belts, and braces, anything, in fact, that
is made in a way of business which has somewhat fallen off of late
years. Her whole time was spent in keeping her son's house and
superintending the one servant; she never went abroad, and took the
air in the little garden entered through the glass door of the
sitting-room. Twenty years previously, when her husband died, she sold
his business to his best workman, who gave his master's widow work
enough to earn a daily wage of thirty sous. She had made every
sacrifice to educate her son. At all costs, he should occupy a higher
station than his father before him; and now she was proud of her
Aesculapius, she believed in him, and sacrificed everything to him as
before. She was happy to take care of him, to work and put by a little
money, and dream of nothing but his welfare, and love him with an
intelligent love of which every mother is not capable. For instance,
Mme. Poulain remembered that she had been a working girl. She would
not injure her son's prospects; he should not be ashamed by his mother
(for the good woman's grammar was something of the same kind as Mme.
Cibot's); and for this reason she kept in the background, and went to
her room of her own accord if any distinguished patient came to
consult the doctor, or if some old schoolfellow or fellow-student
chanced to call. Dr. Poulain had never had occasion to blush for the
mother whom he revered; and this sublime love of hers more than atoned
for a defective education.
The breeches-maker's business sold for about twenty thousand francs,
and the widow invested the money in the Funds in 1820. The income of
eleven hundred francs per annum derived from this source was, at one
time, her whole fortune. For many a year the neighbors used to see the
doctor's linen hanging out to dry upon a clothes-line in the garden,
and the servant and Mme. Poulain thriftily washed everything at home;
a piece of domestic economy which did not a little to injure the
doctor's practice, for it was thought that if he was so poor, it must
be through his own fault. Her eleven hundred francs scarcely did more
than pay the rent. During those early days, Mme. Poulain, good, stout,
little old woman, was the breadwinner, and the poor household lived
upon her earnings. After twelve years of perseverance upon a rough and
stony road, Dr. Poulain at last was making an income of three thousand
francs, and Mme. Poulain had an income of about five thousand francs
at her disposal. Five thousand francs for those who know Paris means a
The sitting-room, where patients waited for an interview, was shabbily
furnished. There was the inevitable mahogany sofa covered with
yellow-flowered Utrecht velvet, four easy-chairs, a tea-table, a console,
and half-a-dozen chairs, all the property of the deceased breeches-maker,
and chosen by him. A lyre-shaped clock between two Egyptian
candlesticks still preserved its glass shade intact. You asked
yourself how the yellow chintz window-curtains, covered with red
flowers, had contrived to hang together for so long; for evidently
they had come from the Jouy factory, and Oberkampf received the
Emperor's congratulations upon similar hideous productions of the
cotton industry in 1809.
The doctor's consulting-room was fitted up in the same style, with
household stuff from the paternal chamber. It looked stiff,
poverty-stricken, and bare. What patient could put faith in the skill
of any unknown doctor who could not even furnish his house? And this
in a time when advertising is all-powerful; when we gild the gas-lamps
in the Place de la Concorde to console the poor man for his poverty by
reminding him that he is rich as a citizen.
The ante-chamber did duty as a dining-room. The servant sat at her
sewing there whenever she was not busy in the kitchen or keeping the
doctor's mother company. From the dingy short curtains in the windows
you would have guessed at the shabby thrift behind them without
setting foot in the dreary place. What could those wall-cupboards
contain but stale scraps of food, chipped earthenware, corks used over
and over again indefinitely, soiled table-linen, odds and ends that
could descend but one step lower into the dust-heap, and all the
squalid necessities of a pinched household in Paris?
In these days, when the five-franc piece is always lurking in our
thoughts and intruding itself into our speech, Dr. Poulain, aged
thirty-three, was still a bachelor. Heaven had bestowed on him a
mother with no connections. In ten years he had not met with the
faintest pretext for a romance in his professional career; his
practice lay among clerks and small manufacturers, people in his own
sphere of life, with homes very much like his own. His richer patients
were butchers, bakers, and the more substantial tradespeople of the
neighborhood. These, for the most part, attributed their recovery to
Nature, as an excuse for paying for the services of a medical man, who
came on foot, at the rate of two francs per visit. In his profession,
a carriage is more necessary than medical skill.
A humdrum monotonous life tells in the end upon the most adventurous
spirit. A man fashions himself to his lot, he accepts a commonplace
existence; and Dr. Poulain, after ten years of his practice, continued
his labors of Sisyphus without the despair that made early days so
bitter. And yet--like every soul in Paris--he cherished a dream.
Remonencq was happy in his dream; La Cibot had a dream of her own; and
Dr. Poulain, too, dreamed. Some day he would be called in to attend a
rich and influential patient, would effect a positive cure, and the
patient would procure a post for him; he would be head surgeon to a
hospital, medical officer of a prison or police-court, or doctor to
the boulevard theatres. He had come by his present appointment as
doctor to the Mairie in this very way. La Cibot had called him in when
the landlord of the house in the Rue de Normandie fell ill; he had
treated the case with complete success; M. Pillerault, the patient,
took an interest in the young doctor, called to thank him, and saw his
carefully-hidden poverty. Count Popinot, the cabinet minister, had
married M. Pillerault's grand-niece, and greatly respected her uncle;
of him, therefore, M. Pillerault had asked for the post, which Poulain
had now held for two years. That appointment and its meagre salary
came just in time to prevent a desperate step; Poulain was thinking of
emigration; and for a Frenchman, it is a kind of death to leave
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?"