Part 1 out of 8
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
by ALPHONSE DAUDET
Daudet once remarked that England was the last of foreign countries to
welcome his novels, and that he was surprised at the fact, since for
him, as for the typical Englishman, the intimacy of home life had
great significance. However long he may have taken to win Anglo-Saxon
hearts, there is no question that he finally won them more completely
than any other contemporary French novelist was able to do, and that
when but a few years since the news came that death had released him
from his sufferings, thousands of men and women, both in England and
in America, felt that they had lost a real friend. Just at the present
moment one does not hear or read a great deal about him, but a similar
lull in criticism follows the deaths of most celebrities of whatever
kind, and it can scarcely be doubted that Daudet is every day making
new friends, while it is as sure as anything of the sort can be that
it is death, not estrangement, that has lessened the number of his
"Admirers"? The word is much too cold. "Lovers" would serve better,
but is perhaps too expansive to be used of a self-contained race.
"Friends" is more appropriate because heartier, for hearty the
relations between Daudet and his Anglo-Saxon readers certainly were.
Whether it was that some of us saw in him that hitherto unguessed-at
phenomenon, a French Dickens--not an imitator, indeed, but a kindred
spirit--or that others found in him a refined, a volatilized "Mark
Twain," with a flavour of Cervantes, or that still others welcomed him
as a writer of naturalistic fiction that did not revolt, or finally
that most of us enjoyed him because whatever he wrote was as steeped
in the radiance of his own exquisitely charming personality as a
picture of Corot's is in the light of the sun itself--whatever may
have been the reason, Alphonse Daudet could count before he died
thousands of genuine friends in England and America who were loyal to
him in spite of the declining power shown in his latest books, in
spite even of the strain which /Sapho/ laid upon their Puritan
It is likely that a majority of these friends were won by the two
great Tartarin books and by the chief novels, /Fromont/, /Jack/, /The
Nabob/, /Kings in Exile/, and /Numa/, aided by the artistic sketches
and short stories contained in /Letters from my Mill/ and /Monday
Tales (Contes du Lundi)/. The strong but overwrought /Evangelist/,
/Sapho/--which of course belongs with the chief novels from the
Continental but not from the insular point of view--and the books of
Daudet's decadence, /The Immortal/, and the rest, cost him few
friendships, but scarcely gained him many. His delightful essays in
autobiography, whether in fiction, /Le Petit Chose (Little What's-his-
Name)/, or in /Thirty Years of Paris/ and /Souvenirs of a Man of
Letters/, doubtless sealed more friendships than they made; but they
can be almost as safely recommended as the more notable novels to
readers who have yet to make Daudet's acquaintance.
For the man and his career are as unaffectedly charming as his style,
and more of a piece than his elaborate works of fiction. A sunny
Provencal childhood is clouded by family misfortunes; then comes a
year of wretched slavery as usher in a provincial school; then the
inevitable journey to Paris with a brain full of verses and dreams,
and the beginning of a life of Bohemian nonchalance, to which we
Anglo-Saxons have little that is comparable outside the career of
Oliver Goldsmith. But poor Goldsmith had his pride wounded by the
editorial tyranny of a Mrs. Griffiths. Daudet, by a merely pretty poem
about a youth and maiden making love under a plum-tree, won the
protection of the Empress Eugenie, and through her of the Duke de
Morny, the prop of the Second Empire. His life now reads like a fairy-
tale inserted by some jocular elf into that book of dolors entitled
/The Lives of Men of Genius/. A /protege/ of a potentate not usually
lavish of his favours, and a valetudinarian, he is allowed to flit to
Algiers and Corsica, to enjoy his beloved Provence in company with
Mistral, to write for the theatres, and to continue to play the
Bohemian. Then the death of Morny seems to turn the idyl into a
tragedy, but only for a moment. Daudet's delicate, nervous beauty made
his friend Zola think of an Arabian horse, but the poet had also the
spirit of such a high-bred steed. Years of conscientious literary
labour followed, cheered by marriage with a woman of genius capable of
supplementing him in his weakest points, and then the war with Prussia
and its attendant horrors gave him the larger and deeper view of life
and the intensified patriotism--in short, the final stimulus he
needed. From the date of his first great success--/Fromont, Jr., and
Risler, Sr./--glory and wealth flowed in upon him, while envy scarcely
touched him, so unspoiled was he and so continuously and eminently
lovable. One seemed to see in his career a reflection of his luminous
nature, a revised myth of the golden touch, a new version of the
fairy-tale of the fair mouth dropping pearls. Then, as though grown
weary of the idyllic romance she was composing, Fortune donned the
tragic robes of Nemesis. Years of pain followed, which could not abate
the spirits or disturb the geniality of the sufferer, but did somewhat
abate the power and disturb the serenity of his work. Then came the
inevitable end of all life dramas, whether comic or romantic or
tragic, and friends who had known him stood round his grave and
listened sadly to the touching words in which Emile Zola expressed not
merely his own grief but that of many thousands throughout the
civilized world. Here was a life more winsome, more appealing, more
complete than any creation of the genius of the man that lived it--a
life which, whether we know it in detail or not, explains in part the
fascination Daudet exerts upon us and the conviction we cherish that,
whatever ravages time may make among his books, the memory of their
writer will not fade from the hearts of men. Many Frenchmen have
conquered the world's mind by the power or the subtlety of their
genius; few have won its heart through the catholicity, the broad
sympathy of their genius. Daudet is one of these few; indeed, he is
almost if not quite the only European writer who has of late achieved
such a triumph, for Tolstoi has stern critics as well as steadfast
devotees, and has won most of his disciples as moralist and reformer.
But we must turn from Daudet the man to Daudet the author of /The
Nabob/ and other memorable novels.
If this were a general essay and not an introduction, it would be
proper to say something of Daudet's early attempts as poet and
dramatist. Here it need only be remarked that it is almost a
commonplace to insist that even in his later novels he never entirely
ceased to see the outer world with the eyes of a poet, to delight in
colour and movement, to seize every opportunity to indulge in vivid
description couched in a style more swift and brilliant than normal
prose aspires to. This bent for description, together with the
tendency to episodic rather than sustained composition and the
comparative weakness of his character drawing--features of his work
shortly to be discussed--partly explains his failure, save in one or
two instances, to score a real triumph with his plays, but does not
explain his singular lack of sympathy with actors. Nor was he able to
win great success with his first book of importance, /Le Petit Chose/,
delightful as that mixture of autobiography and romance must prove to
any sympathetic reader. He was essentially a romanticist and a poet
cast upon an age of naturalism and prose, and he needed years of
training and such experience as the Prussian invasion gave him to
adjust himself to his life-work. Such adjustment was not needed for
/Tartarin de Tarascon/, begun shortly after /Le Petit Chose/, because
subtle humour of the kind lavished in that inimitable creation and in
its sequels, while implying observation, does not necessarily imply
any marked departure from the romantic and poetic points of view.
The training Daudet required for his novels he got from the sketches
and short stories that occupied him during the late sixties and early
seventies. Here again little in the way of comment need be given, and
that little can express the general verdict that the art displayed in
these miniature productions is not far short of perfect. The two
principal collections, /Lettres de mon Moulin/ and /Contes du Lundi/,
together with /Artists' Wives (Les Femmes d'Artistes)/ and parts at
least of /Robert Helmont/, would almost of themselves suffice to put
Daudet high in the ranks of the writers who charm without leaving upon
one's mind the slightest suspicion that they are weak. It is true that
Daudet's stories do not attain the tremendous impressiveness that
Balzac's occasionally do, as, for example, in /La Grande Breteche/,
nor has his clear-cut art the almost disconcerting firmness, the
surgeon-like quality of Maupassant's; but the author of the ironical
/Elixir of Father Gaucher/ and of the pathetic /Last Class/, to name
no others, could certainly claim with Musset that his glass was his
own, and had no reason to concede its smallness.
As we have seen, the production of /Fromont jeune et Risler aine/
marked the beginning of Daudet's more than twenty years of successful
novel-writing. His first elaborate study of Parisian life, while it
indicated no advance of the art of fiction, deserved its popularity
because, in spite of the many criticisms to which it was open, it was
a thoroughly readable and often a moving book. One character,
Delobelle, the played-out actor who is still a hero to his pathetic
wife and daughter, was constructed on effective lines--was a personage
worthy of Dickens. The vile heroine, Sidonie, was bad enough to excite
disgusted interest, but, as Mr. Henry James pointed out later, she was
not effective to the extent her creator doubtless hoped. She paled
beside Valerie Marneffe, though, to be sure, Daudet knew better than
to attempt to depict any such queen of vice. Yet, after all, it is
mainly the compelling power of vile heroines that makes them
tolerable, and neither Sidonie nor the web of intrigue she wove can
fairly be said to be characterized by extraordinary strength. But the
public was and is interested greatly by the novel, and Daudet deserved
the fame and money it brought him. His next book, /Jack/, was not so
popular. Still, it showed artistic improvement, although, as in its
predecessor, that bias towards the sentimental, which was to be
Daudet's besetting weakness, was too plainly visible. Its author took
to his heart a book which the general reader found too long and
perhaps overpathetic. Some of us, while recognising its faults, will
share in part Daudet's predilection for it--not so much because of the
strong and early study made of the artisan class, or of the mordantly
satirical exposure of D'Argenton and his literary "dead-beats"
(/rates/), or of any other of the special features of a story that is
crowded with them, as because the ill-fated hero, the product of
genuine emotions on Daudet's part, excites cognate and equally genuine
emotions in us. We cannot watch the throbbing engines of a great
steamship without seeing Jack at work among them. But the fine,
pathetic /Jack/ brings us to the finer, more pathetic /Nabob/.
Whether /The Nabob/ is Daudet's greatest novel is a question that may
be postponed, but it may be safely asserted that there are good
reasons why it should have been chosen to represent Daudet in the
present series. It has been immensely popular, and thus does not
illustrate merely the taste of an inner circle of its author's
admirers. It is not so subtle a study of character as /Numa
Roumestan/, nor is it a drama the scene of which is set somewhat in a
corner removed from the world's scrutiny and full comprehension, as is
more or less the case with /Kings in Exile/. It is comparatively
unamenable to the moral, or, if one will, the puritanical, objections
so naturally brought against /Sapho/. It obviously represents Daudet's
powers better than any novel written after his health was permanently
wrecked, and as obviously represents fiction more adequately than
either of the Tartarin masterpieces, which belong rather to the
literature of humour. Besides, it is probably the most broadly
effective of all Daudet's novels; it is fuller of striking scenes; and
as a picture of life in the picturesque Second Empire it is of unique
Perhaps to many readers this last reason will seem the best of all.
However much we may moralize about its baseness and hollowness,
whether with the Hugo of /Les Chatiments/ we scorn and vituperate its
charlatan head or pity him profoundly as we see him ill and helpless
in Zola's /Debacle/, most of us, if we are candid, will confess that
the Second Empire, especially the Paris of Morny and Hausmann, of
cynicism and splendour, of frivolity and chicane, of servile
obsequiousness and haughty pretension, the France and the Paris that
drew to themselves the eyes of all Europe and particularly the eyes of
the watchful Bismarck, have for us a fascination almost as great as
they had for the gay and audacious men and women who in them courted
fortune and chased pleasure from the morrow of the /Coup d'Etat/ to
the eve of Sedan. A nearly equal fascination is exerted upon us by a
book which is the best sort of historical novel, since it is the
product of its author's observation, not of his reading--a story that
sets vividly before us the political corruption, the financial
recklessness, the social turmoil, the public ostentation, the private
squalor, that led to the downfall of an empire and almost to that of a
Daudet drew on his experiences, and on the notes he was always
accumulating, more strenuously than he should have done. He assures us
that he laboured over /The Nabob/ for eight months, mainly in his bed-
room, sometimes working eighteen consecutive hours, often waking from
restless sleep with a sentence on his lips. Yet, such is the irony of
literary history, the novel is loosely enough put together to have
been written, one might suppose, in bursts of inspiration or else more
or less methodically--almost with the intention, as Mr. James has
noted, of including every striking phase of Parisian life. For it is a
series of brilliant, effective episodes and scenes, not a closely knit
drama. Jenkins's visit to Monpavon at his toilet, the /dejeuner/ at
the Nabob's, the inspection of the OEuvre de Bethleem--which would
have delighted Dickens--the collapse of the fetes of the Bey, the
Nabob's thrashing Moessard, the death of Mora, Felicia's attempt to
escape the funeral of the duke, the interview between the Nabob and
Hemerlingue, the baiting in the Chamber, the suicide of that supreme
man of tone, Monpavon, the Nabob's apoplectic seizure in the
theatre--these and many other scenes and episodes, together with
descriptions and touches, stand out in our memories more distinctly
and impressively than the characters do--perhaps more so than does the
central motive, the outrageous exploitation of the naive hero. For
from the beginning of his career to the end Daudet's eye, like that of
a genuine but not supereminent poet, was chiefly attracted by colour,
movement, effective pose--in other words, by the surfaces of things.
One may almost say that he was more of a landscape engineer than of an
architect and builder, although one must at once add that he could and
did erect solid structures. But the reader at least helps greatly to
lay the foundations, for, to drop the metaphor, Daudet relied largely
on suggestion, contenting himself with the belief that a capable
imagination could fill up the gaps he left in plot and character
analysis. Thus, for example, he indicated and suggested rather than
detailed the way in which Hemerlingue finally triumphed over the
Nabob, Jansoulet. To use another figure, he drew the spider, the fly,
and a few strands of the web. The Balzac whose bust looked satirically
down upon the two adventurers in Pere la Chaise would probably have
given us the whole web. This is not quite to say that Daudet is
plausible, Balzac inevitable; but rather that we stroll with the
former master and follow submissively in the footsteps of the latter.
Yet a caveat is needed, for the intense interest we take in the
characters of a novel like /The Nabob/ scarcely suggests strolling.
For although Daudet, in spite of his abounding sympathy, which is one
reason of his great attractiveness, cannot fairly be said to be a
great character creator, he had sufficient flexibility and force of
genius to set in action interesting personages. Part of the early
success of /The Nabob/ was due to this fact, although the brilliant
description of the Second Empire and the introduction of exotic
elements, the Tunisian and Corsican episodes and characters, counted,
probably, for not a little. Readers insisted upon seeing in the book
this person and that more or less thinly disguised. The Irish
adventurer-physician, Jenkins, was supposed to be modelled upon a
popular Dr. Olliffe; the arsenic pills were derived from another
source, as was also the goat's-milk hospital for infants. Felicia Ruys
was thought by some to be Sarah Bernhardt, and originals were easily
provided for Monpavon and the other leading figures. But Daudet
confessed to only two important originals, and if one does not take an
author's word in such matters one soon finds one's self in a maze of
conjectures and contradictions.
The two characters drawn from life in a special sense--for Daudet,
like most other writers of fiction, had human life in general
constantly before him--are Jansoulet and Mora, precisely the most
effective personages in the book, and scarcely surpassed in the whole
range of Daudet's fiction. The Nabob was Francois Bravay, who rose
from poverty to wealth by devious transactions in the Orient, and came
to grief in Paris, much as Jansoulet did. He survived the Empire, and
his relatives are said to have been incensed at the treatment given
him in the novel, an attitude on their part which is explicable but
scarcely justifiable, since Daudet's sympathy for his hero could not
well have been greater, and since the adventurer had already attained
a notoriety that was not likely to be completely forgotten. Whether
Daudet was as much at liberty to make free with the character of his
benefactor Morny is another matter. He himself thought that he was,
and he was a man of delicate sensitiveness. Probably he was right in
claiming that the natural son of Queen Hortense, the intrepid soldier,
the author of the /Coup d'Etat/ that set his weaker half-brother on
the throne, the dandy, the libertine, the leader of fashion, the
cynical statesman--in short, the "Richelieu-Brummel" who drew the eyes
of all Europe upon himself, would not have been in the least
disconcerted could he have known that thirteen years after his death
the public would be discussing him as the prototype of the Mora of his
young /protege's/ masterpiece. In fact, it is easy to agree with those
critics who think that Daudet's kindly nature caused him to soften
many features of Morny's unlovely character. Mora does not, indeed,
win our love or our esteem, but we confess him to have been in every
respect an exceptional man, and there is not a page in which he
appears that is not intensely interesting. He must be an
unimpressionable reader who soon forgets the death-room scenes, the
destruction of the compromising letters, the spectacular funeral.
Of the other characters there is little space to speak here. Nearly
all have their good points, as might be expected of the creator of his
two fellow Provencals, Numa and Tartarin, the latter being probably
the only really cosmopolitan figure in recent literature; but some,
like the Hemerlingues, verge upon mere sketches; others, like
Jansoulet's obese wife, upon caricatures. The old mother is
excellently done, however, and Monpavon, especially in his suicide, is
nothing short of a triumph of art. It is the more or less romantic or
sentimental personages that give the critic most qualms. Daudet seems
to have introduced them--De Gery, the Joyeuse family, and the rest--as
a concession to popular taste, and on this score was probably
justified. A fair case may also be made out for the use of idyllic
scenes as a foil to the tragical, for the Shakespearian critics have
no monopoly of the overworked plea, "justification by contrast." Nor
could a French analogue of Dickens easily resist the temptation to
give us a fatuous Passajon, an ebullient Pere Joyeuse--who seems to
have been partly modelled on a real person--an exemplary "Bonne
Maman," a struggling but eventually triumphant Andre Maranne. The
home-lover Daudet also felt the necessity of showing that Paris could
set the Joyeuse household, sunny in its poverty, over against the
stately elegance of the Mora palace, the walls of which listened at
one and the same moment to the music of a ball and the death-rattle of
its haughty owner. But when all is said, it remains clear that /The
Nabob/ is open to the charge that applies to all the greater novels
save /Sapho/--the charge that it exhibits a somewhat inharmonious
mixture of sentimentalism and naturalism. Against this charge, which
perhaps applies most forcibly to that otherwise almost perfect work of
art, /Numa Roumestan/, Daudet defended himself, but rather weakly. Nor
does Mr. Henry James, who in the case of the last-named novel comes to
his help against Zola, much mend matters. But the fault, if fault it
be, is venial, especially in a friend, though not strictly a coworker,
Naturally an elaborate novel like /The Nabob/ lends itself
indefinitely to minute comment, but we must be sparing of it. Still it
is worth while to call attention to the skill with which, from the
opening page, the interest of the reader is controlled; indeed, to the
remarkable art displayed in the whole first chapter devoted to the
morning rounds of Dr. Jenkins. The note of romantic extravagance is on
the whole avoided until the Nabob brings out his check-book, when the
money flies with a speed for which, one fancies, Daudet could have
found little justification this side of Timon of Athens. In the
description of the /Caisse Territoriale/ given by Passajon this note
is relieved by a delicate irony, but seems still somewhat incongruous.
One turns more willingly to the description of Jansoulet's sitting
down to play /ecarte/ with Mora, to the story of how he gorged himself
with the duke's putative mushrooms, and to similar episodes and
touches. In the matter of effective and ironically turned situations
few novels can compare with this; indeed, it almost seems as if Daudet
made an inordinate use of them. Think of the poor Nabob reading the
announcement of the cross bestowed on Jenkins, and of the absurd
populace mistaking him for the ungrateful Bey! As for great dramatic
moments, there is at least one that no reader can forget--the moment
when Jansoulet, in the midst of the speech on which his fate depends,
catches sight of his old mother's face and forbears to clear himself
of calumny at the expense of his wretched elder brother. The situation
may not bear close analysis, but who wishes to analyze? Or who,
indeed, wishes to indulge in further comment after the scene has risen
to his mind?
/The Nabob/ was followed by /Kings in Exile/; then came /Numa
Roumestan/ and /The Evangelist/; then, on the eve of Daudet's
breakdown, /Sapho/; and the greatest of his humorous masterpieces,
/Tartarin in the Alps/. It is not yet certain what rank is to be given
to these books. Perhaps the adventures of the mountain-climbing hero
of the Midi, combined with his previous exploits as a slayer of lions
--his experiences as a colonist in /Port-Tarascon/ need scarcely be
considered--will prove, in the lapse of years, to be the most solid
foundation of that fame which even envious Time will hardly begrudge
Daudet. As for /Kings in Exile/, it is difficult to see how even the
art with which the tragedy of Queen Frederique's life is unfolded or
the growing power of characterization displayed in her, in the loyal
Merault, in the facile, decadent Christian, can make up for the lack
of broadly human appeal in the general subject-matter of a book which
was so sympathetically written as to appeal alike to Legitimists and
to Republicans. Good as /Kings in Exile/ is, it is not so effective a
book as /The Nabob/, nor such a unique and marvellous work of art as
/Numa Roumestan/, due allowance being made for the intrusion of
sentimentality into the latter. Daudet thought /Numa/ the "least
incomplete" of his works; it is certainly inclusive enough, since some
critics are struck by the tragic relations subsisting between the
virtuous discreet Northern wife and the peccable, expansive Southern
husband, while others see in the latter the hero of a comedy of
manners almost worthy of Moliere. If /Numa/ represents the highest
achievement of Daudet in dramatic fiction or else in the art of
characterization, /The Evangelist/ proved that his genius was not at
home in those fields. Instead of marking an ordered advance, this
overwrought study of Protestant bigotry marked not so much a halt, or
a retreat, as a violent swerving to one side. Yet in a way this
swerving into the devious orbit of the novel of intense purpose helped
Daudet in his progress towards naturalism, and imparted something of
stability to his methods of work. /Sapho/, which appeared next, was
the first of his novels that left little to be desired in the way of
artistic unity and cumulative power. If such a study of the /femme
collante/, the mistress who cannot be shaken off--or rather of the man
whom she ruins, for it is Gaussin, not Sapho, that is the main subject
of Daudet's acute analysis--was to be written at all, it had to be
written with a resolute art such as Daudet applied to it. It is not
then surprising that Continental critics rank /Sapho/ as its author's
greatest production; it is more in order to wonder what Daudet might
not have done in this line of work had his health remained unimpaired.
The later novels, in which he came near to joining forces with the
naturalists and hence to losing some of the vogue his eclecticism gave
him, need not detain us.
And now, in conclusion, how can we best characterize briefly this
fascinating, versatile genius, the most delightful humorist of his
time, one of the most artistic story-tellers, one of the greatest
novelists? It is impossible to classify him, for he was more than a
humorist, he nearly outgrew romance, he never accepted unreservedly
the canons of naturalism. He obviously does not belong to the small
class of the supreme writers of fiction, for he has no consistent or
at least profound philosophy of life. He is a true poet, yet for the
main he has expressed himself not in verse, but in prose, and in a
form of prose that is being so extensively cultivated that its
permanence is daily brought more and more into question. What is
Daudet, and what will he be to posterity? Some admirers have already
answered the first question, perhaps as satisfactorily as it can be
answered, by saying, "Daudet is simply Daudet." As for the second
question, a whole school of critics is inclined to answer it and all
similar queries with the curt statement, "That concerns posterity, not
us." If, however, less evasive answers are insisted upon, let the
following utterance, which might conceivably be more indefinite and
oracular, suffice: Alphonse Daudet is one of those rare writers who
combine greatness with a charm so intimate and appealing that some of
us would not, if we could, have their greatness increased.
W. P. TRENT.
Alphonse Daudet was born at Nimes on the 13th of May, 1840. He was the
younger son of a rich and enthusiastically Royalist silk-manufacturer
of that town, the novelist, Ernest Daudet (born 1837), being his elder
brother. In their childhood, the father, Vincent Daudet, suffered
reverses, and had to settle with his family, in reduced circumstances,
at Lyons. Alphonse, in 1856, obtained a post as usher in a school at
Alais, in the Gard, where he was extremely unhappy. All these painful
early experiences are told very pathetically in "Le Petit Chose." On
the 1st of November, 1857, Alphonse fled from the horrors of his life
at Alais, and joined his brother Ernest, who had just secured a post
in the service of the Duc de Morny in Paris. Alphonse determined to
live by his pen, and presently obtained introductions to the "Figaro."
His early volumes of verse, "Les Amoureuses" of 1858 and "La Double
Conversion" of 1861, attracted some favourable notice. In this latter
year his difficulties ceased, for he had the good fortune to become
one of the secretaries of the Duc de Morny, a post which he held for
four years, until the popularity of his writings rendered him
independent. To the generosity of his patron, moreover, he owed the
opportunity of visiting Italy and the East. His first novel, "Le
Chaperon Rouge," 1863, was not very remarkable, and Daudet turned to
the stage. His principal dramatic efforts of this period were "Le
Dernier Idole," 1862, and "L'OEillet Blanc," 1865. Alphonse Daudet's
earliest important work, however, was "Le Petit Chose," 1868, a very
pathetic autobiography of the first eighteen years of his life, over
which he cast a thin veil of romance. After the death of the Duc de
Morny, Daudet retired to Provence, leasing a ruined mill at
Fortvielle, in the valley of the Rhone; from this romantic solitude,
among the pines and green oaks, he sent forth those exquisite studies
of Provencal life, the "Lettres de mon Moulin." After the war, Daudet
reappeared in Paris, greatly strengthened and ripened by his hermit-
existence in the heart of Provence. He produced one masterpiece after
another. He had studied with laughter and joy the mirthful side of
southern exaggeration, and he created a figure in which its peculiar
qualities should be displayed, as it were, in excelsis. This study
resulted, in 1872, in "The Prodigious Feats of Tartarin of Tarascon,"
one of the most purely delightful works of humour in the French
language. Alphonse Daudet now, armed with his cahiers, his little
green-backed books of notes, set out to be a great historian of French
manners in the second half of the nineteenth century. His first
important novel, "Fromont Jeune et Risler Aine," 1874, enjoyed a
notable success; it was followed in 1876 by "Jack," in 1878 by "Le
Nabob," in 1879 by "Les Rois en Exil," in 1881 by "Numa Roumestan," in
1883 by "L'Evangeliste," and in 1884 by "Sapho." These are the seven
great romances of modern French life on which the reputation of
Alphonse Daudet as a novelist is mainly built. They placed him, for
the moment at all events, near the head of contemporary European
literature. By this time, however, a physical malady, which Charcot
was the first to locate in the spinal cord, had begun to exhaust the
novelist's powers. This disease, which took the form of what was
supposed to be neuralgia in 1881, racked him with pain during the
sixteen remaining years of his life, and gradually destroyed his
powers of locomotion. It spared the functions of the brain, but it
cannot be denied that after 1884 something of force and spontaneous
charm was lacking in Daudet's books. He continued, however, the
adventures of Tartarin, first with unabated gusto in the Alps, then
less happily as a colonist in the South Seas. He wrote, in the form of
a novel, a bitter satire on the French Academy, of which he was never
a member; this was "L'Immortel" of 1888. He wrote romances, of little
power, the best being "Rose et Ninette" of 1892, but his imaginative
work steadily declined in value. He published in 1887 his
reminiscences, "Trente Ans de Paris," and later on his "Souvenirs d'un
Homme de Lettres." He suffered more and more from his complaint, from
the insomnia it caused, and from the abuse of chloral. He was able,
however, to the last, to enjoy the summer at his country-house, at
Champrosay, and even to travel in an invalid's chair; in 1896 he
visited for the first time London and Oxford, and saw Mr. George
Meredith. In Paris he had long occupied rooms in the Rue de
Bellechasse, where Madame Alphonse Daudet was accustomed to entertain
a brilliant company. But in 1897 it became impossible for him to mount
five flights of stairs any longer, and he moved to the first floor of
No. 41 Rue de l'Universite. Here on the 16th of December, 1897, as he
was chatting gaily at the dinner-table, he uttered a cry, fell back in
his chair, and was dead. The personal appearance of Alphonse Daudet,
in his prime, was very striking; he had clearly cut features, large
brilliant eyes, and an amazing exuberance of curled hair and forked
EDMUND GOSSE, LL.D.
William Peterfield Trent
Life of Alphonse Daudet
Dr. Jenkins's patients
A luncheon in the Place Vendome
Memoirs of an office porter--A mere glance at the Territorial Bank
A debut in society
The Joyeuse family
Jansoulet at home
The Bethlehem Society
Memoirs of an office porter--Servants
The festivities in honour of the Bey
A Corsican election
A day of spleen
Memoirs of an office porter--In the antechamber
A public man
The Jenkins pearls
La Baronne Hemerlingue
Dramas of Paris
Memoirs of an office porter--The last leaves
The first night of "Revolt"
by Alphonse Daudet
DOCTOR JENKIN'S PATIENTS
Standing on the steps of his little town-house in the Rue de Lisbonne,
freshly shaven, with sparkling eyes, and lips parted in easy
enjoyment, his long hair slightly gray flowing over a huge coat
collar, square shouldered, strong as an oak, the famous Irish doctor,
Robert Jenkins, Knight of the Medjidjieh and of the distinguished
order of Charles III of Spain, President and Founder of the Bethlehem
Society. Jenkins in a word, the Jenkins of the Jenkins Pills with an
arsenical base--that is to say, the fashionable doctor of the year
1864, the busiest man in Paris, was preparing to step into his
carriage when a casement opened on the first floor looking over the
inner court-yard of the house, and a woman's voice asked timidly:
"Shall you be home for luncheon, Robert?"
Oh, how good and loyal was the smile that suddenly illumined the fine
apostle-like head with its air of learning, and in the tender "good-
morning" which his eyes threw up towards the warm, white dressing-gown
visible behind the raised curtains; how easy it was to divine one of
those conjugal passions, tranquil and sure, which habit re-enforces
and with supple and stable bonds binds closer.
"No, Mrs. Jenkins." He was fond of thus bestowing upon her publicly
her title as his lawful wife, as if he found in it an intimate
gratification, a sort of acquittal of conscience towards the woman who
made life so bright for him. "No, do not expect me this morning. I
lunch in the Place Vendome."
"Ah! yes, the Nabob," said the handsome Mrs. Jenkins with a very
marked note of respect for this personage out of the /Thousand and One
Nights/ of whom all Paris had been talking for the last month; then,
after a little hesitation, very tenderly, in a quite low voice, from
between the heavy tapestries, she whispered for the ears of the doctor
"Be sure you do not forget what you promised me."
Apparently it was something very difficult to fulfil, for at the
reminder of this promise the eyebrows of the apostle contracted into a
frown, his smile became petrified, his whole visage assumed an
expression of incredible hardness; but it was only for an instant. At
the bedside of their patients the physiognomies of these fashionable
doctors become expert in lying. In his most tender, most cordial
manner, he replied, disclosing a row of dazzling white teeth:
"What I promised shall be done, Mrs. Jenkins. And now, go in quickly
and shut your window. The fog is cold this morning."
Yes, the fog was cold, but white as snow mist; and, filling the air
outside the glasses of the large brougham, it brightened with soft
gleams the unfolded newspaper in the doctor's hands. Over yonder, in
the populous quarters, confined and gloomy, in the Paris of tradesman
and mechanic, that charming morning haze which lingers in the great
thoroughfares is not known. The bustle of awakening, the going and
coming of the market-carts, of the omnibuses, of the heavy trucks
rattling their old iron, have early and quickly cut it up, unravelled
and scattered it. Every passer-by carries away a little of it in a
threadbare overcoat, a muffler which shows the woof, and coarse gloves
rubbed one against the other. It soaks through the thin blouses, and
the mackintoshes thrown over the working skirts; it melts away at
every breath that is drawn, warm from sleeplessness or alcohol; it is
engulfed in the depths of empty stomachs, dispersed in the shops as
they are opened, and the dark courts, or even to the fireless attics.
That is the reason why there remains so little of it out of doors. But
in that spacious and grandiose region of Paris, which was inhabited by
Jenkins's clients, on those wide boulevards planted with trees, and
those deserted quays, the fog hovered without a stain, like so many
sheets, with waverings and cotton wool-like flakes. The effect was of
a place inclosed, secret, almost sumptuous, as the sun after his
slothful rising began to diffuse softly crimsoned tints, which gave to
the mist enshrouding the rows of houses to their summits the
appearance of white muslin thrown over some scarlet material. One
might have fancied it a great curtain beneath which nothing could be
heard save the cautious closing of some court-yard gate, the tin
measuring-cans of the milkmen, the little bells of a herd of she-asses
passing at a quick trot followed by the short and panting breath of
their shepherd, and the dull rumble of Jenkins's brougham commencing
its daily round.
First, to Mora House. This was a magnificent palace on the Quai
d'Orsay, next door to the Spanish embassy, whose long terraces
succeeded its own, having its principal entrance in the Rue de Lille,
and a door upon the side next the river. Between two lofty walls
overgrown with ivy, and united by imposing vaulted arches, the
brougham shot in, announced by two strokes of a sonorous bell which
roused Jenkins from the reverie into which the reading of his
newspaper seemed to have plunged him. Then the noise of the wheels
became deadened on the sand of a vast court-yard, and they drew up,
after describing an elegant curve, before the steps of the mansion,
which were surrounded by a large circular awning. In the obscurity of
the fog, a dozen carriages could be seen ranged in line, and along an
avenue of acacias, quite withered at that season and leafless in their
bark, the profiles of English grooms leading out the saddle-horses of
the duke for their exercise. Everything revealed a luxury thought-out,
settled, grandiose, and assured.
"It is quite useless for me to come early; others always arrive before
me," said Jenkins to himself as he saw the file in which his brougham
took its place; but, certain of not having to wait, with head carried
high, and an air of tranquil authority, he ascended that official
flight of steps which is mounted every day by so many trembling
ambitions, so many anxieties on hesitating feet.
From the very antechamber, lofty and resonant like a church, which,
although calorifers burned night and day, possessed two great wood-
fires that filled it with a radiant life, the luxury of this interior
reached you by warm and heady puffs. It suggested at once a hot-house
and a Turkish bath. A great deal of heat and yet brightness; white
wainscoting, white marbles, immense windows, nothing stifling or shut
in, and yet a uniform atmosphere meet for the surrounding of some rare
existence, refined and nervous. Jenkins always expanded in this
factitious sun of wealth; he greeted with a "good-morning, my lads,"
the powdered porter, with his wide golden scarf, the footmen in knee-
breeches and livery of gold and blue, all standing to do him honour;
lightly drew his finger across the bars of the large cages of monkeys
full of sharp cries and capers, and, whistling under his breath,
stepped quickly up the staircase of shining marble laid with a carpet
as thick as the turf of a lawn, which led to the apartments of the
duke. Although six months had passed since his first visit to Mora
House, the good doctor was not yet become insensible to the quite
physical impression of gaiety, of frivolity, which he received from
Although you were in the abode of the first official of the Empire
there was nothing here suggestive of the work of government or its
boxes of dusty old papers. The duke had only consented to accept his
high dignitaries as Minister of State and President of the Council
upon the condition that he should not quit his private mansion; he
only went to his office for an hour or two daily, the time necessary
to give the indispensable signatures, and held his receptions in his
bed-chamber. At this moment, notwithstanding the earliness of the
hour, the hall was crowded. You saw there grave, anxious faces,
provincial prefects with shaven lips, and administrative whiskers,
slightly less arrogant in this antechamber than yonder in their
prefectures, magistrates of austere air, sober in gesture, deputies
important of manner, big-wigs of the financial world, rich and boorish
manufacturers, among whom stood out here and there the slender,
ambitious figure of some substitute of a prefectorial councillor, in
the garb of one seeking a favour, dress-coat and white tie; and all,
standing, sitting in groups or solitary, sought silently to penetrate
with their gaze that high door closed upon their destiny, by which
they would issue forth directly triumphant or with cast-down head.
Jenkins passed through the crowd rapidly, and every one followed with
an envious eye this newcomer whom the doorkeeper, with his official
chain, correct and icy in his demeanour, seated at a table beside the
door, greeted with a little smile at once respectful and familiar.
"Who is with him?" asked the doctor, indicating the chamber of the
Hardly moving his lips, and not without a slightly ironical glance of
the eye, the doorkeeper whispered a name which, if they had heard it,
would have roused the indignation of all these high personages who had
been waiting for an hour past until the costumier of the opera should
have ended his audience.
A sound of voices, a ray of light. Jenkins had just entered the duke's
presence; he never waited, he.
Standing with his back to the fireplace, closely wrapped in a
dressing-jacket of blue fur, the soft reflections from which gave an
air of refinement to an energetic and haughty head, the President of
the Council was causing to be designed under his eyes a Pierrette
costume for the duchess to wear at her next ball, and was giving his
directions with the same gravity with which he would have dictated the
draft of a new law.
"Let the frill be very fine on the ruff, and put no frills on the
sleeves.--Good-morning, Jenkins. I am with you directly."
Jenkins bowed, and took a few steps in the immense room, of which the
windows, opening on a garden that extended as far as the Seine, framed
one of the finest views of Paris, the bridges, the Tuileries, the
Louvre, in a network of black trees traced as it were in Indian ink
upon the floating background of fog. A large and very low bed, raised
by a few steps above the floor, two or three little lacquer screens
with vague and capricious gilding, indicating, like the double doors
and the carpets of thick wool, a fear of cold pushed even to excess,
various seats, lounges, warmers, scattered about rather
indiscriminately, all low, rounded, indolent, or voluptuous in shape,
composed the furniture of this celebrated chamber in which the gravest
questions and the most frivolous were wont to be treated alike with
the same seriousness. On the wall was a handsome portrait of the
duchess; on the chimneypiece a bust of the duke, the work of Felicia
Ruys, which at the recent Salon had received the honours of a first
"Well, Jenkins, how are we this morning?" said his excellency,
approaching, while the costumier was picking up his fashion-plates,
scattered over all the easy chairs.
"And you, my dear duke? I thought you a little pale last evening at
"Come, come! I have never felt so well. Your pills have a most
marvellous effect upon me. I am conscious of a vivacity, a freshness,
when I remember how run down I was six months ago."
Jenkins, without saying anything, had laid his great head against the
fur-coat of the minister of state, at the place where, in common men,
the heart beats. He listened a moment while his excellency continued
to speak in the indolent, bored tone which was one of the
characteristics of his distinction.
"And who was your companion, doctor, last night? That huge, bronzed
Tartar who was laughing so loudly in the front of your box."
"It was the Nabob, /Monsieur le Duc/. The famous Jansoulet, about whom
people are talking so much just now."
"I ought to have guessed it. The whole house was watching him. The
actresses played for him alone. You know him? What sort of man is he?"
"I know him. That is to say, I attend him professionally.--Thank you,
my dear duke, I have finished. All is right in that region.--When he
arrived in Paris a month ago, he had found the change of climate
somewhat trying. He sent for me, and since then has received me upon
the most friendly footing. What I know of him is that he possesses a
colossal fortune, made in Tunis, in the service of the Bey, that he
has a loyal heart, a generous soul, in which the ideas of humanity--"
"In Tunis?" interrupted the duke, who was by nature very little
sentimental and humanitarian. "In that case, why this name of Nabob?"
"Bah! the Parisians do not look at things so closely. For them, every
rich foreigner is a nabob, no matter whence he comes. Furthermore,
this nabob has all the physical qualities for the part--a copper-
coloured skin, eyes like burning coals, and, what is more, gigantic
wealth, of which he makes, I do not fear to say it, the most noble and
the most intelligent use. It is to him that I owe"--here the doctor
assumed a modest air--"that I owe it that I have at last been able to
found the Bethlehem Society for the suckling of infants, which a
morning paper, that I was looking over just now--the /Messenger/, I
think--calls 'the great philanthropic idea of the century.' "
The duke threw a listless glance over the sheet which Jenkins held out
to him. He was not the man to be caught by the turn of an
"He must be very rich, this M. Jansoulet," said he, coldly. "He
finances Cardailhac's theatre; Monpavon gets him to pay his debts;
Bois l'Hery starts a stable for him; old Schwalbach a picture gallery.
It means money, all that."
"What will you have, my dear duke, this poor Nabob, you are his great
occupation. Arriving here with the firm resolution to become a
Parisian, a man of the world, he has taken you for his model in
everything, and I do not conceal from you that he would very much like
to study his model from a nearer standpoint."
"I know, I know. Monpavon has already asked my permission to bring him
to see me. But I prefer to wait; I wish to see. With these great
fortunes that come from so far away one has to be careful. /Mon Dieu/!
I do not say that if I should meet him elsewhere than in my own house,
at the theatre, in a drawing-room----"
"As it just happens, Mrs. Jenkins is proposing to give a small party
next month. If you would do us the honour----"
"I shall be glad to come, my dear doctor, and if your Nabob should
chance to be there I should make no objection to his being presented
At this moment the usher on duty opened the door.
"Monsieur the Minister of the Interior is in the blue salon. He has
only one word to say to his excellency. Monsieur the Prefect of Police
is still waiting downstairs, in the gallery."
"Very well," said the duke, "I am coming. But I should like first to
finish the matter of this costume. Let us see--friend, what's your
name--what are we deciding upon for these ruffs? Au revoir, doctor.
There is nothing to be done, is there, except to continue the pills?"
"Continue the pills," said Jenkins, bowing; and he left the room
beaming with delight at the two pieces of good fortune which were
befalling him at the same time--the honour of entertaining the duke
and the pleasure of obliging his dear Nabob. In the antechamber, the
crowd of petitioners through which he passed was still more numerous
than at his entry; newcomers had joined those who had been patiently
waiting from the first, others were mounting the staircase, with busy
look and very pale, and in the courtyard the carriages continued to
arrive, and to range themselves on ranks in a circle, gravely,
solemnly, while the question of the sleeve ruffs was being discussed
upstairs with not less solemnity.
"To the club," said Jenkins to his coachman.
The brougham bowled along the quays, recrossed the bridges, reached
the Place de la Concorde, which already no longer wore the same aspect
as an hour earlier. The fog was lifting in the direction of the Garde-
Meuble and the Greek temple of the Madeleine, allowing to be dimly
distinguished here and there the white plume of a jet of water, the
arcade of a palace, the upper portion of a statue, the tree-clumps of
the Tuileries, grouped in chilly fashion near the gates. The veil, not
raised, but broken in places, disclosed fragments of horizon; and on
the avenue which leads to the Arc de Triomphe could be seen brakes
passing at full trot laden with coachmen and jobmasters, dragoons of
the Empress, fuglemen bedizened with lace and covered with furs, going
two by two in long files with a jangling of bits and spurs, and the
snorting of fresh horses, the whole lighted by a sun still invisible,
the light issuing from the misty atmosphere, and here and there
withdrawing into it again as if offering a fleeting vision of the
morning luxury of that quarter of the town.
Jenkins alighted at the corner of the Rue Royale. From top to bottom
of the great gambling house the servants were passing to and fro,
shaking the carpets, airing the rooms where the fume of cigars still
hung about and heaps of fine glowing ashes were crumbling away at the
back of the hearths, while on the green tables, still vibrant with the
night's play, there stood burning a few silver candlesticks whose
flames rose straight in the wan light of day. The noise, the coming
and going, ceased at the third floor, where sundry members of the club
had their apartments. Among them was the Marquis de Monpavon, whose
abode Jenkins was now on his way to visit.
"What! It is you, doctor? The devil take it! What is the time then?
I'm not visible."
"Not even for the doctor?"
"Oh, for nobody. Question of etiquette, /mon cher/. No matter, come in
all the same. You'll warm your feet for a moment while Francis
finishes doing my hair."
Jenkins entered the bed-chamber, a banal place like all furnished
apartments, and moved towards the fire on which there were set to heat
curling-tongs of all sizes, while in the contiguous laboratory,
separated from the room by a curtain of Algerian tapestry, the Marquis
de Monpavon gave himself up to the manipulations of his valet. Odours
of patchouli, of cold-cream, of hartshorn, and of singed hair escaped
from the part of the room which was shut off, and from time to time,
when Francis came to fetch a curling-iron, Jenkins caught sight of a
huge dressing-table laden with a thousand little instruments of ivory,
and mother-of-pearl, with steel files, scissors, puffs, and brushes,
with bottles, with little trays, with cosmetics, labelled and arranged
methodically in groups and lines; and amid all this display, awkward
and already shaky, an old man's hand, shrunken and long, delicately
trimmed and polished about the nails like that of a Japanese painter,
which faltered about among this fine hardware and doll's china.
While continuing the process of making up his face, the longest, the
most complicated of his morning occupations, Monpavon chatted with the
doctor, told of his little ailments, and the good effect of the
/pills/. They made him young again, he said. And at a distance, thus,
without seeing him, one would have taken him for the Duc de Mora, to
such a degree had he usurped his manner of speech. There were the same
unfinished phrases, ended by "ps, ps, ps," muttered between the teeth,
expressions like "What's its name?" "Who was it?" constantly thrown
into what he was saying, a kind of aristocratic stutter, fatigued,
listless, wherein you might perceive a profound contempt for the
vulgar art of speech. In the society of which the duke was the centre,
every one sought to imitate that accent, those disdainful intonations
with an affectation of simplicity.
Jenkins, finding the sitting rather long, had risen to take his
"Adieu, I must be off. We shall see you at the Nabob's?"
"Yes, I intend to be there for luncheon. Promised to bring him--what's
his name. Who was it? What? You know, for our big affair--ps, ps, ps.
Were it not for that, should gladly stay away. Real menagerie, that
The Irishman, despite his benevolence, agreed that the society was
rather mixed at his friend's. But then! One could hardly blame him for
it. The poor fellow, he knew no better.
"Neither knows nor is willing to learn," remarked Monpavon with
bitterness. "Instead of consulting people of experience--ps, ps, ps--
first sponger that comes along. Have you seen the horses that Bois
l'Hery has persuaded him to buy? Absolute rubbish those animals. And
he paid twenty thousand francs for them. We may wager that Bois l'Hery
got them for six thousand."
"Oh, for shame--a nobleman!" said Jenkins, with the indignation of a
lofty soul refusing to believe in baseness.
Monpavon continued, without seeming to hear:
"All that because the horses came from Mora's stable."
"It is true that the dear Nabob's heart is very full of the duke. I am
about to make him very happy, therefore, when I inform him----"
The doctor paused, embarrassed.
"When you inform him of what, Jenkins?"
Somewhat abashed, Jenkins had to confess that he had obtained
permission from his excellency to present to him his friend Jansoulet.
Scarcely had he finished his sentence before a tall spectre, with
flabby face and hair and whiskers diversely coloured, bounded from the
dressing-room into the chamber, with his two hands folding round a
fleshless but very erect neck a dressing-gown of flimsy silk with
violet spots, in which he was wrapped like a sweetmeat in its paper.
The most striking thing about this mock-heroic physiognomy was a large
curved nose all shiny with cold cream, and an eye alive, keen, too
young, too bright, for the heavy and wrinkled eyelid which covered it.
Jenkins's patients all had that eye.
Monpavon must indeed have been deeply moved to show himself thus
devoid of all prestige. In point of fact, with white lips and a
changed voice he addressed the doctor quickly, without the lisp this
time, and in a single outburst:
"Come now, /mon cher/, no tomfoolery between us, eh? We are both met
before the same dish, but I leave you your share. I intend that you
shall leave me mine."
And Jenkins's air of astonishment did not make him pause. "Let this be
said once for all. I have promised the Nabob to present him to the
duke, just as, formerly, I presented you. Do not mix yourself up,
therefore, with what concerns me alone."
Jenkins laid his hand on his heart, protested his innocence. He had
never had any intention. Certainly Monpavon was too intimate a friend
of the duke, for any other--How could he have supposed?
"I suppose nothing," said the old nobleman, calmer but still cold. "I
merely desired to have a very clear explanation with you on this
The Irishman extended a widely opened hand.
"My dear marquis, explanations are always clear between men of
"Honour is a big word, Jenkins. Let us say people of deportment--that
And that deportment, which he invoked as the supreme guide of conduct,
recalling him suddenly to the sense of his ludicrous situation, the
marquis offered one finger to his friend's demonstrative shake of the
hand, and passed back with dignity behind his curtain, while the other
left, in haste to resume his round.
What a magnificent clientele he had, this Jenkins! Nothing but
princely mansions, heated staircases, laden with flowers at every
landing, upholstered and silky alcoves, where disease was transformed
into something discreet, elegant, where nothing suggested that brutal
hand which throws on a bed of pain those who only cease to work in
order to die. They were not in any true speech, sick people, these
clients of the Irish doctor. They would have been refused admission to
a hospital. Their organs not possessing even strength to give them a
shock, the seat of their malady was to be discovered nowhere, and the
doctor, as he bent over them, might have sought in vain the throb of
any suffering in those bodies which the inertia, the silence of death
already inhabited. They were worn-out, debilitated people, anaemics,
exhausted by an absurd life, but who found it so good still that they
fought to have it prolonged. And the Jenkins pills became famous
precisely by reason of that lash of the whip which they gave to jaded
"Doctor, I beseech you, let me be fit to go to the ball this evening!"
the young woman would say, prostrate on her lounge, and whose voice
was reduced to a breath.
"You shall go, my dear child."
And she went; and never had she looked more beautiful.
"Doctor, at all costs, though it should kill me, to-morrow morning I
must be at the Cabinet Council."
He was there, and carried away from it in a triumph of eloquence and
of ambitious diplomacy.
Afterward--oh, afterward, if you please! But no matter! To their last
day Jenkins's clients went about, showed themselves, cheated the
devouring egotism of the crowd. They died on their feet, as became men
and women of the world.
After a thousand peregrinations in the Chaussee d'Antin and the
Champs-Elysees, after having visited every millionaire or titled
personage in the Faubourg Saint Honore, the fashionable doctor arrived
at the corner of the Cours-la-Reine and the Rue Francois I., before a
house with a rounded front, which occupied the angle on the quay, and
entered an apartment on the ground floor which resembled in nowise
those through which he had been passing since morning. From the
threshold, tapestries covering the wall, windows of old stained glass
with strips of lead cutting across a discrete and composite light, a
gigantic saint in carved wood which fronted a Japanese monster with
protruding eyes and a back covered with delicate scales like tiles,
indicated the imaginative and curious taste of an artist. The little
page who answered the door held in leash an Arab greyhound larger than
"Mme. Constance is at mass," he said, "and Mademoiselle is in the
studio quite alone. We have been at work since six o'clock this
morning," added the child with a rueful yawn which the dog caught on
the wing, making him open wide his pink mouth with its sharp teeth.
Jenkins, whom we have seen enter with so much self-possession the
chamber of the Minister of State, trembled a little as he raised the
curtain masking the door of the studio which had been left open. It
was a splendid sculptor's studio, the front of which, on the street
corner, semi-circular in shape, gave the room one whole wall of glass,
with pilasters at the sides, a large, well-lighted bay, opal-coloured
just then by reason of the fog. More ornate than are usually such
work-rooms, which the stains of the plaster, the boasting-tools, the
clay, the puddles of water generally cause to resemble a stone-mason's
shed, this one added a touch of coquetry to its artistic purpose.
Green plants in every corner, a few good pictures suspended against
the bare wall and, here and there, resting upon oak brackets, two or
three works of Sebastien Ruys, of which the last, exhibited after his
death, was covered with a piece of black gauze.
The mistress of the house, Felicia Ruys, the daughter of the famous
sculptor and herself already known by two masterpieces, the bust of
her father and that of the Duc de Mora, was standing in the middle of
the studio, occupied in the modelling of a figure. Wearing a tightly
fitting riding-habit of blue cloth with long folds, a fichu of China
silk twisted about her neck like a man's tie, her black, fine hair
caught up carelessly above the antique modelling of her small head,
Felicia was at work with an extreme earnestness which added to her
beauty the concentration, the intensity which are given to the
features by an attentive and satisfied expression. But that changed
immediately upon the arrival of the doctor.
"Ah, it is you," said she brusquely, as though awaked from a dream.
"The bell was rung, then? I did not hear it."
And in the ennui, the lassitude that suddenly took possession of that
adorable face, the only thing that remained expressive and brilliant
was the eyes, eyes in which the factitious gleam of the Jenkins pills
was heightened by the constitutional wildness.
Oh, how the doctor's voice became humble and condescending as he
"So you are quite absorbed in your work, my dear Felicia. Is it
something new that you are at work on there? It seems to me very
He moved towards the rough and still formless model out of which there
was beginning to issue vaguely a group of two animals, one a greyhound
which was scampering at full speed with a rush that was truly
"The idea of it came to me last night. I began to work it out by
lamplight. My poor Kadour, he sees no fun in it," said the girl,
glancing with a look of caressing kindness at the greyhound whose paws
the little page was endeavouring to place apart in order to get the
Jenkins remarked in a fatherly way that she did wrong to tire herself
thus, and taking her wrist with ecclesiastical precautions:
"Come, I am sure you are feverish."
At the contact of his hand with her own, Felicia made a movement
almost of repulsion.
"No, no, leave me alone. Your pills can do nothing for me. When I do
not work I am bored. I am bored to death, to extinction; my thoughts
are the colour of that water which flows over yonder, brackish and
heavy. To be commencing life, and to be disgusted with it! It is hard.
I am reduced to the point of envying my poor Constance, who passes her
days in her chair, without opening her mouth, but smiling to herself
over her memories of the past. I have not even that, I, happy
remembrances to muse upon. I have only work--work!"
As she talked she went on modelling furiously, now with the boasting-
tool, now with her fingers, which she wiped from time to time on a
little sponge placed on the wooden platform which supported the group;
so that her complaints, her melancholies, inexplicable in the mouth of
a girl of twenty which, in repose, had the purity of a Greek smile,
seemed uttered at random and addressed to no one in particular.
Jenkins, however, appeared disturbed by them, troubled, despite the
evident attention which he gave to the work of the artist, or rather
to the artist herself, to the triumphant grace of this girl whom her
beauty seemed to have predestined to the study of the plastic arts.
Embarrassed by the admiring gaze which she felt fixed upon her,
"Apropos, I have seen him, you know, your Nabob. Some one pointed him
out to me last Friday at the opera."
"You were at the opera on Friday?"
"Yes. The duke had sent me his box."
Jenkins changed colour.
"I persuaded Constance to go with me. It was the first time for
twenty-five years since her farewell performance, that she had been
inside the Opera-House. It made a great impression on her. During the
ballet, especially, she trembled, she beamed, all her old triumphs
sparkled in her eyes. Happy who has emotions like that. A real type,
that Nabob. You will have to bring him to see me. He has a head that
it would amuse me to do."
"He! Why, he is hideous! You cannot have looked at him carefully."
"On the contrary, I had a perfect view. He was opposite us. That mask,
as of a white Ethiopian, would be superb in marble. And not vulgar, in
any case. Besides, since he is so ugly as that, you will not be so
unhappy as you were last year when I was doing Mora's bust. What a
disagreeable face you had, Jenkins, in those days!"
"For ten years of life," muttered Jenkins in a gloomy voice, "I would
not have that time over again. But you it amuses to behold suffering."
"You know quite well that nothing amuses me," said she, shrugging her
shoulders with a supreme impertinence.
Then, without looking at him, without adding another word, she plunged
into one of those dumb activities by which true artists escape from
themselves and from everything that surrounds them.
Jenkins paced a few steps in the studio, much moved, with avowals on
the tip of his tongue which yet dared not put themselves into words.
At length, feeling himself dismissed, he took his hat and walked
towards the door.
"So it is understood. I must bring him to see you."
"Why, the Nabob. It was you who this very moment----"
"Ah, yes," remarked the strange person whose caprices were short-
lived. "Bring him if you like. I don't care, otherwise."
And her beautiful dejected voice, in which something seemed broken,
the listlessness of her whole personality, said distinctly enough that
it was true, that she cared really for nothing in the world.
Jenkins left the room, extremely troubled, and with a gloomy brow.
But, the moment he was outside, he assumed once more his laughing and
cordial expression, being of those who, in the streets, go masked. The
morning was advancing. The mist, still perceptible in the vicinity of
the Seine, floated now only in shreds and gave a vaporous
unsubstantiality to the houses on the quay, to the river steamers
whose paddles remained invisible, to the distant horizon in which the
dome of the Invalides hung poised like a gilded balloon with a rope
that darted sunbeams. A diffused warmth, the movement in the streets,
told that noon was not far distant, that it would be there directly
with the striking of all the bells.
Before going on to the Nabob's, Jenkins had, however, one other visit
to make. But he appeared to find it a great nuisance. However, since
he had made the promise! And, resolutely:
"68 Rue Saint-Ferdinand, at the Ternes," he said, as he sprang into
The address required to be repeated twice to the coachman, Joey, who
was scandalized; the very horse showed a momentary hesitation, as if
the valuable beast and the impeccably clad servant had felt revolt at
the idea of driving out to such a distant suburb, beyond the limited
but so brilliant circle wherein their master's clients were scattered.
The carriage arrived, all the same, without accident, at the end of a
provincial-looking, unfinished street, and at the last of its
buildings, a house of unfurnished apartments with five stories, which
the street seemed to have despatched forward as a reconnoitring party
to discover whether it might continue on that side isolated as it
stood between vaguely marked-out sites waiting to be built upon or
heaped with the debris of houses broken down, with blocks of
freestone, old shutters lying amid the desolation, mouldy butchers'
blocks with broken hinges hanging, an immense ossuary of a whole
demolished region of the town.
Innumerable placards were stuck above the door, the latter being
decorated by a great frame of photographs white with dust before which
Jenkins paused for a moment as he passed. Had the famous doctor come
so far, then, simply for the purpose of having a photograph taken? It
might have been thought so, judging by the attention with which he
stayed to examine this display, the fifteen or twenty photographs
which represented the same family in different poses and actions and
with varying expressions; an old gentleman, with chin supported by a
high white neckcloth, and a leathern portfolio under his arm,
surrounded by a bevy of young girls with their hair in plait or in
curls, and with modest ornaments on their black frocks. Sometimes the
old gentleman had posed with but two of his daughters; or perhaps one
of those young and pretty profile figures stood out alone, the elbow
resting upon a broken column, the head bowed over a book in a natural
and easy pose. But, in short, it was always the same air with
variations, and within the glass frame there was no gentleman save the
old gentleman with the white neckcloth, nor other feminine figures
that those of his numerous daughters.
"Studios upstairs, on the fifth floor," said a line above the frame.
Jenkins sighed, measured with his eye the distance that separated the
ground from the little balcony up there in the clouds, then he decided
to enter. In the corridor he passed a white neckcloth and a majestic
leathern portfolio, evidently the old gentleman of the photographic
exhibition. Questioned, this individual replied that M. Maranne did
indeed live on the fifth floor. "But," he added, with an engaging
smile, "the stories are not lofty." Upon this encouragement the
Irishman began to ascend a narrow and quite new staircase with
landings no larger than a step, only one door on each floor, and badly
lighted windows through which could be seen a gloomy, ill-paved court-
yard and other cage-like staircases, all empty; one of those frightful
modern houses, built by the dozen by penniless speculators, and having
as their worst disadvantage thin partition walls which oblige all the
inhabitants to live in a phalansterian community.
At this particular time the inconvenience was not great, the fourth
and fifth floors alone happening to be occupied, as though the tenants
had dropped into them from the sky.
On the fourth floor, behind a door with a copper plate bearing the
announcement "M. Joyeuse, Expert in Bookkeeping," the doctor heard a
sound of fresh laughter, of young people's chatter, and of romping
steps, which accompanied him to the floor above, to the photographic
These little businesses perched away in corners with the air of having
no communication with any outside world are one of the surprises of
Paris. One asks one's self how the people live who go into these
trades, what fastidious Providence can, for example, send clients to a
photographer lodged on a fifth floor in a nondescript region, well
beyond the Rue Saint-Ferdinand, or books to keep to the accountant
below. Jenkins, as he made this reflection, smiled in pity, then went
straight in as he was invited by the following inscription, "Enter
without knocking." Alas! the permission was scarcely abused. A tall
young man wearing spectacles, and writing at a small table, with his
legs wrapped in a travelling-rug, rose precipitately to greet the
visitor whom his short sight had prevented him from recognising.
"Good-morning, Andre," said the doctor, stretching out his loyal hand.
"You see, I am good-natured as I have always been. Your conduct
towards us, your obstinacy in persisting in living far away from your
parents, imposed a great reserve on me, for my own dignity's sake; but
your mother has wept. And here I am."
While he spoke, he examined the poor little studio, with its bare
walls, its scanty furniture, the brand-new photographic apparatus, the
little Prussian fireplace, new also and never yet used for a fire, all
forced into painfully clear evidence beneath the direct light falling
from the glass roof. The drawn face, the scanty beard of the young
man, to whom the bright colour of his eyes, the narrow height of his
forehead, his long and fair hair thrown backward gave the air of a
visionary, everything was accentuated in the crude light; and also the
resolute will in that clear glance which settled upon Jenkins coldly,
and in advance to all his reasonings, to all his protestations,
opposed an invincible resistance.
But the good Jenkins feigned not to perceive anything of this.
"You know, my dear Andre, since the day when I married your mother I
have regarded you as my son. I looked forward to leaving you my
practice and my patients, to putting your foot in a golden stirrup,
happy to see you following a career consecrated to the welfare of
humanity. All at once, without giving any reason, without taking into
any consideration the effect which such a rupture might well have in
the eyes of the world, you have separated yourself from us, you have
abandoned your studies, renounced your future, in order to launch out
into I know not what eccentric life, engaging in a ridiculous trade,
the refuge and the excuse of all unclassed people."
"I follow this occupation in order to earn a living. It is bread and
butter in the meantime."
"In what meantime? While you are waiting for literary glory?"
He glanced disdainfully at the scribbling scattered over the table.
"All that is not serious, you know, and here is what I am come to tell
you. An opportunity presents itself to you, a double-swing door
opening into the future. The Bethlehem Society is founded. The most
splendid of my philanthropic dreams has taken body. We have just
purchased a superb villa at Nanterre for the housing of our first
establishment. It is the care, the management of this house that I
have thought of intrusting to you as to an /alter ego/. A princely
dwelling, the salary of the commander of a division, and the
satisfaction of a service rendered to the great human family. Say one
word, and I take you to see the Nabob, the great-hearted man who
defrays the expense of our undertaking. Do you accept?"
"No," said the other so curtly that Jenkins was somewhat put out of
"Just so. I was prepared for this refusal when I came here. But I am
come nevertheless. I have taken for motto, 'To do good without hope,'
and I remain faithful to my motto. So then, it is understood you
prefer to the honourable, worthy, and profitable existence which I
have just proposed to you, a life of hazard without aim and without
Andre answered nothing, but his silence spoke for him.
"Take care. You know what that decision will involve, a definitive
estrangement, but you have always wanted that. I need not tell you,"
continued Jenkins, "that to break with me is to break off relations
also with your mother. She and I are one."
The young man turned pale, hesitated a moment, then said with effort:
"If it please my mother to come to see me here, I shall be delighted,
certainly. But my determination to quit your house, to have no longer
anything in common with you, is irrevocable."
"And will you at least say why?"
He made a negative sign; he would not say.
For once the Irishman felt a genuine impulse of anger. His whole face
assumed a cunning, savage expression which would have very much
astonished those that only knew the good and loyal Jenkins; but he
took good care not to push further an explanation which he feared
perhaps as much as he desired it.
"Adieu," said he, half turning his head on the threshold. "And never
apply to us."
"Never," replied his stepson in a firm voice.
This time, when the doctor had said to Joey, "Place Vendome," the
horse, as though he had understood that they were going to the
Nabob's, gave a proud shake to his glittering curb-chains, and the
brougham set off at full speed, transforming each axle of its wheels
into sunshine. "To come so far to get a reception like that! A
celebrity of the time to be treated thus by that Bohemian! One may try
indeed to do good!" Jenkins gave vent to his anger in a long monologue
of this character, then suddenly rousing himself, exclaimed, "Ah,
bah!" and what anxiety there was remaining on his brow quickly
vanished on the pavement of the Place Vendome. Noon was striking
everywhere in the sunshine. Issued forth from behind its curtain of
mist, luxurious Paris, awake and on its feet, was commencing its
whirling day. The shop-windows of the Rue de la Paix shone brightly.
The mansions of the square seemed to be ranging themselves haughtily
for the receptions of the afternoon; and, right at the end of the Rue
Castiglione with its white arcades, the Tuileries, beneath a fine
burst of winter sunshine, raised shivering statues, pink with cold,
amid the stripped trees.
A LUNCHEON IN THE PLACE VENDOME
There were scarcely more than a score of persons that morning in the
Nabob's dining-room, a dining-room in carved oak, supplied the
previous evening as it were by some great upholsterer, who at the same
stroke had furnished these suites of four drawing-rooms of which you
caught sight through an open doorway, the hangings on the ceiling, the
objects of art, the chandeliers, even the very plate on the sideboards
and the servants who were in attendance. It was obviously the kind of
interior improvised the moment he was out of the railway-train by a
gigantic /parvenu/ in haste to enjoy. Although around the table there
was no trace of any feminine presence, no bright frock to enliven it,
its aspect was yet not monotonous, thanks to the dissimilarity, the
oddness of the guests, people belonging to every section of society,
specimens of humanity detached from all races, in France, in Europe,
in the entire globe, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder.
To begin with, the master of the house--a kind of giant, tanned,
burned by the sun, saffron-coloured, with head in his shoulders. His
nose, which was short and lost in the puffiness of his face, his
woolly hair massed like a cap of astrakhan above a low and obstinate
forehead, and his bristly eyebrows with eyes like those of an ambushed
chapard gave him the ferocious aspect of a Kalmuck, of some frontier
savage living by war and rapine. Fortunately the lower part of the
face, the fleshy and strong lip which was lightened now and then by a
smile adorable in its kindness, quite redeemed, by an expression like
that of a St. Vincent de Paul, this fierce ugliness, this physiognomy
so original that it was no longer vulgar. An inferior extraction,
however, betrayed itself yet again by the voice, the voice of a Rhone
waterman, raucous and thick, in which the southern accent became
rather uncouth than hard, and by two broad and short hands, hairy at
the back, square and nailless fingers which, laid on the whiteness of
the table-cloth, spoke of their past with an embarrassing eloquence.
Opposite him, on the other side of the table at which he was one of
the habitual guests, was seated the Marquis de Monpavon, but a
Monpavon presenting no resemblance to the painted spectre of whom we
had a glimpse in the last chapter. He was now a haughty man of no
particular age, fine majestic nose, a lordly bearing, displaying a
large shirt-front of immaculate linen crackling beneath the continual
effort of the chest to throw itself forward, and bulging itself out
each time with a noise like that made by a white turkey when it struts
in anger, or by a peacock when he spreads his tail. His name of
Monpavon suited him well.
Of great family and of a wealthy stock, but ruined by gambling and
speculation, the friendship of the Duc de Mora had secured him an
appointment as receiver-general in the first class. Unfortunately his
health had not permitted him to retain this handsome position--well-
informed people said his health had nothing to do with it--and for the
last year he had been living in Paris, awaiting his restoration to
health, according to his own account of the matter, before resuming
his post. The same people were confident that he would never regain
it, and that even were it not for certain exalted influences--However,
he was the important personage of the luncheon; that was clear from
the manner in which the servants waited upon him, and the Nabob
consulted him, calling him "Monsieur le Marquis," as at the Comedie-
Francaise, less almost out of deference than from pride, by reason of
the honour which it reflected upon himself. Full of disdain for the
people around him, M. le Marquis spoke little, in a very high voice,
and as though he were stooping towards those whom he was honouring
with his conversation. From time to time he would throw to the Nabob
across the table a few words enigmatical for all.
"I saw the duke yesterday. He was talking a great deal about you in
connection with that matter. You know, that thing--that business. What
was the name of it?"
"You really mean it? He spoke of me to you?" And the good Nabob, quite
proud, would look around him with movements of the head that were
supremely laughable, or perhaps assume the contemplative air of a
devotee who should hear the name of Our Lord pronounced.
"His excellency would have pleasure in seeing you take up the--ps, ps,
"He told you so?"
"Ask the governor if he did not--heard it like myself."
The person who was called the governor--Paganetti, to give him his
real name--was a little, expressive man, constantly gesticulating and
fatiguing to behold, so many were the different expressions which his
face would assume in the course of a single minute. He was managing
director of the Territorial Bank of Corsica, a vast financial
enterprise, and had now come to the house for the first time,
introduced by Monpavon; he occupied accordingly a place of honour. On
the other side of the Nabob was an old gentleman, buttoned up to the
chin in a frock-coat having a straight collar without lapels, like an
Oriental tunic, his face slashed by a thousand little bloodshot veins
and wearing a white moustache of military cut. It was Brahim Bey, the
most valiant colonel of the Regency of Tunis, aide-de-camp of the
former Bey who had made the fortune of Jansoulet. The glorious
exploits of this warrior showed themselves written in wrinkles, in
blemishes wrought by debauchery upon the nerveless under-lip that hung
as it were relaxed, and upon his eyes without lashes, inflamed and
red. It was a head such as one may see in the dock at certain criminal
trials that are held with closed doors. The other guests were seated
pell-mell, just as they had happened to arrive or to find themselves,
for the house was open to everybody, and the table was laid every
morning for thirty persons.
There were present the manager of the theatre financed by the Nabob,
Cardailhac, renowned for his wit almost as much as for his
insolvencies, a marvellous carver who, while he was engaged in
severing the limbs of a partridge, would prepare one of his witticisms
and deposit it with a wing upon the plate which was presented to him.
He worked up his witticisms instead of improvising them, and the new
fashion of serving meats, /a la Russe/ and carved beforehand, had been
fatal to him by its removal of all excuse for a preparatory silence.
Consequently it was the general remark that his vogue was on the
decline. Parisian, moreover, a dandy to the finger tips, and, as he
himself was wont to boast, "with not one particle of superstition in
his whole body," a characteristic which permitted him to give very
piquant details concerning the ladies of his theatre to Brahim Bey--
who listened to him as one turns over the pages of a naughty book--and
to talk theology to the young priest who was his nearest neighbour, a
curate of some little southern village, lean and with a complexion
sunburnt till it matched the cloth of his cassock in colour, with
fiery patches above the cheek-bones, and the pointed, forward-pushing
nose of the ambitious man, who would remark to Cardailhac very loudly,
in a tone of protection and sacerdotal authority:
"We are quite pleased with M. Guizot. He is doing very well--very
well. It is a conquest for the Church."
Seated next this pontiff, with a black neck-band, old Schwalbach, the
famous picture-dealer, displayed his prophet's beard, tawny in places
like a dirty fleece, his three overcoats tinged by mildew, all that
loose and negligent attire for which he was excused in the name of
art, and because, in a time when the mania for picture galleries had
already begun to cause millions to change hands, it was the proper
thing to entertain the man who was the best placed for the conduct of
these absurdly vain transactions. Schwalbach did not speak, contenting
himself with gazing around him through his enormous monocle, shaped
like a hand magnifying-glass, and with smiling in his beard over the
singular neighbours made by this unique assembly. Thus it happened
that M. de Monpavon had quite close to him--and it was a sight to
watch how the disdainful curve of his nose was accentuated at each
glance in that direction--the singer Garrigou, a fellow-countryman of
Jansoulet, a distinguished ventriloquist who sang Figaro in the
dialect of the south, and had no equal in his imitations of animals.
Just beyond, Cabassu, another compatriot, a little short and dumpy
man, with the neck of a bull and the biceps of a statue by Michel
Angelo, who suggested at once a Marseilles hairdresser and the strong
man at a fair, a masseur, pedicure, manicure, and something of a
dentist, sat with elbows on the table with the coolness of a charlatan
whom one receives in the morning and knows the little infirmities, the
intimate distresses of the abode in which he chances to find himself.
M. Bompain completed this array of subordinates, all alike in one
respect at any rate, Bompain, the secretary, the steward, the
confidential agent, through whose hands the entire business of the
house passed; and it sufficed to observe that solemnly stupid
attitude, that indefinite manner, the Turkish fez placed awkwardly on
a head suggestive of a village school-master, in order to understand
to what manner of people interests like those of the Nabob had been
Finally, to fill the gaps among these figures I have sketched, the
Turkish crowd--Tunisians, Moors, Egyptians, Levantines; and, mingled
with this exotic element, a whole variegated Parisian Bohemia of
ruined nobleman, doubtful traders, penniless journalists, inventors of
strange products, people arrived from the south without a farthing,
all the lost ships needing revictualling, or flocks of birds wandering
aimlessly in the night, which were drawn by this great fortune as by
the light of a beacon. The Nabob admitted this miscellaneous
collection of individuals to his table out of kindness, out of
generosity, out of weakness, by reason of his easy-going manners,
joined to an absolute ignorance and a survival of that loneliness of
the exile, of that need for expansion which, down yonder in Tunis, in
his splendid palace of the Bardo, had caused him to welcome everybody
who hailed from France, from the small tradesman exporting Parisian
wares to the famous pianist on tour and the consul-general himself.
As one listened to those various accents, those foreign intonations,
gruff or faltering, as one gazed upon those widely different
physiognomies, some violent, barbarous, vulgar, others hyper-
civilized, worn, suggestive only of the Boulevard and as it were
flaccid, one noted that the same diversity was evident also among the
servants who, some apparently lads just out of an office, insolent in
manner, with heads of hair like a dentist's or a bath-attendant's,
busied themselves among Ethiopians standing motionless and shining
like candelabra of black marble, and it was impossible to say exactly
where one was; in any case, you would never have imagined yourself to
be in the Place Vendome, right in the beating heart and very centre of
the life of our modern Paris. Upon the table there was a like
importation of exotic dishes, saffron or anchovy sauces, spices mixed
up with Turkish delicacies, chickens with fried almonds, and all this
taken together with the banality of the interior, the gilding of the
panels, the shrill ringing of the new bells, gave the impression of a
/table d'hote/ in some big hotel in Smyrna or Calcutta, or of a
luxurious dining-saloon on board a transatlantic liner, the "Pereire"
or the "Sinai."
It might seem that this diversity among the guests--I was about to say
among the passengers--ought to have caused the meal to be animated and
noisy. Far otherwise. They all ate nervously, watching each other out
of eye-corners, and even those most accustomed to society, those who
appeared the most at their ease, had in their glance the wandering
look and the distraction of a fixed idea, a feverish anxiety which
caused them to speak without relevance and to listen without
understanding a word of what was being said to them.
Suddenly the door of the dining-room opened.
"Ah, here comes Jenkins!" exclaimed the Nabob delightedly. "Welcome,
welcome, doctor. How are you, my friend?"
A smile to those around, a hearty shake of his host's hand, and
Jenkins sat down opposite him, next to Monpavon, before a place at the
table which a servant had just prepared in all haste and without
having received any order, exactly as at a /table d'hote/. Among those
preoccupied and feverish faces, this one at any rate stood out in
contrast by its good humour, its cheerfulness, and that loquacious and
flattering benevolence which makes the Irish in a way the Gascons of
England. And what a splendid appetite! With what heartiness, what ease
of conscience he used his white teeth as he talked!
"Well, Jansoulet, you have read it?"
"How, then! you do not know? You have not read what the /Messenger/
says about you this morning?"
Beneath the dark tan of his cheeks the Nabob blushed like a child,
and, his eyes shining with pleasure:
"Is it possible--the /Messenger/ has spoken of me?"
"Through two columns. How is it that Moessard has not shown it to
"Oh," put in Moessard modestly, "it was not worth the trouble."
He was a little journalist, with a fair complexion and smart in his
dress, sufficiently good-looking, but with a face which presented that
worn appearance noticeable as the special mark of waiters in night-
restaurants, actors, and light women, and produced by conventional
grimacing and the wan reflection of gaslight. He was reputed to be the
paid lover of an exiled and profligate queen. The rumour was whispered
around him, and, in his own world, secured him an envied and
Jansoulet insisted on reading the article, impatient to know what had
been said of him. Unfortunately Jenkins had left his copy at the
"Let some one go fetch me a /Messenger/ quickly," said the Nabob to
the servant behind him.
"It is needless. I must have the thing on me somewhere."
And with the absence of ceremony of the tavern /habitue/, of the
reporter who scribbles his paragraph with his glass beside him, the
journalist drew out a pocket-book, crammed full of notes, stamped
papers, newspaper cuttings, notes written on glazed paper with crests,
which he proceeded to litter over the table, pushing away his plate in
order to search for the proof of his article.
"There you are." He passed it over to Jansoulet; but Jenkins besought
"No, no; read it aloud."
The company having echoed the request in chorus, Moessard took back
his proof and commenced to read in a loud voice, "The Bethlehem
Society and Mr. Bernard Jansoulet," a long dithyramb in favour of
artificial lactation, written from notes made by Jenkins, which were
recognisable through certain fine phrases much affected by the
Irishman, such as "the long martyrology of childhood," "the sordid
traffic in the breast," "the beneficent nanny-goat as foster-mother,"
and finishing, after a pompous description of the splendid
establishment at Nanterre, with a eulogy of Jenkins and a
glorification of Jansoulet: "O Bernard Jansoulet, benefactor of
childhood!" It was a sight to see the vexed, scandalized faces of the
guests. What an intriguer was this Moessard! What an impudent piece of
sycophantry! And the same envious, disdainful smile quivered on every
mouth. And the deuce of it was that a man had to applaud, to appear
charmed, the master of the house not being weary as yet of incense,
and taking everything very seriously, both the article and the
applause it provoked. His big face shone during the reading. Often,
down yonder, far away, had he dreamed a dream of having his praises
sung like this in the newspapers of Paris, of being somebody in that
society, the first among all, on which the entire world has its eyes
fixed as on the bearer of a torch. Now, that dream was becoming a
reality. He gazed upon all these people seated at his board, the
sumptuous dessert, this panelled dining-room as high, certainly, as
the church of his native village; he listened to the dull murmur of
Paris rolling along in its carriages and treading the pavements
beneath his windows, with the intimate conviction that he was about to
become an important piece in that active and complicated machine. And
then, through the atmosphere of physical well-being produced by the
meal, between the lines of that triumphant vindication, by an effect
of contrast, he beheld unfold itself his own existence, his youth,
adventurous as it was sad, the days without bread, the nights without
shelter. Then suddenly, the reading having come to an end, his joy
overflowing in one of those southern effusions which force thought
into speech, he cried, beaming upon his guests with that frank and
thick-lipped smile of his:
"Ah, my friends, my dear friends, if you could know how happy I am!
What pride I feel!"
Scarce six weeks had passed since he had landed in France. Excepting
two or three compatriots, those whom he thus addressed as his friends
were but the acquaintances of a day, and that through his having lent
them money. This sudden expansion, therefore, appeared sufficiently
extraordinary; but Jansoulet, too much under the sway of emotion to
notice anything, continued:
"After what I have just heard, when I behold myself here in this great
Paris, surrounded by all its wealth of illustrious names, of
distinguished intellects, and then call up the remembrance of my
father's booth! For I was born in a booth. My father used to sell old
nails at the corner of a boundary stone in the Bourg-Saint-Andeol. If
we had bread in the house every day and stew every Sunday it was the
most we had to expect. Ask Cabassu whether it was not so. He knew me
in those days. He can tell you whether I am not speaking the truth.
Oh, yes, I have known what poverty is." He threw back his head with an
impulse of pride as he savoured the odour of truffles diffused through
the suffocating atmosphere. "I have known it, and the real thing too,
and for a long time. I have been cold. I have known hunger--genuine
hunger, remember--the hunger that intoxicates, that wrings the
stomach, sets circles dancing in your head, deprives you of sight as
if the inside of your eyes was being gouged out with an oyster-knife.
I have passed days in bed for want of an overcoat to go out in;
fortunate at that when I had a bed, which was not always. I have
sought my bread from every trade, and that bread cost me such bitter
toil, it was so black, so tough, that in my mouth I keep still the
flavour of its acrid and mouldy taste. And thus until I was thirty.
Yes, my friends, at thirty years of age--and I am not yet fifty--I was
still a beggar, without a sou, without a future, with the remorseful
thought of the poor old mother, become a widow, who was half-dying of
hunger away yonder in her booth, and to whom I had nothing to give."
Around this Amphitryon recounting the story of his evil days the faces
of his hearers expressed curiosity. Some appeared shocked, Monpavon
especially. For him, this exposure of rags was in execrable taste, an
absolute breach of good manners. Cardailhac, sceptical and dainty, an
enemy to scenes of emotion, with face set as if it were hypnotized,
sliced a fruit on the end of his fork into wafers as thin as cigarette
The governor exhibited, on the contrary, a flatly admiring demeanour,
uttering exclamations of amazement and compassion; while, not far
away, in singular contrast, Brahmin Bey, the thunderbolt of war, upon
whom this reading followed by a lecture after a heavy meal had had the
effect of inducing a restorative slumber, slept with his mouth open
beneath his white moustache, his face congested by his collar, which
had slipped up. But the most general expression was one of
indifference and boredom. What could it matter to them, I ask you;
what had they to do with Jansoulet's childhood in the Bourg-Saint-
Andeol, the trials he had endured, the way in which he had trudged his
path? They had not come to listen to idle nonsense of that kind. Airs
of interest falsely affected, glances that counted the ovals of the
ceiling or the bread-crumbs on the table-cloth, mouths compressed to
stifle a yawn, betrayed, accordingly, the general impatience provoked
by this untimely story. Yet he himself seemed not to weary of it. He
found pleasure in the recital of his sufferings past, even as the
mariner safe in port, remembering his voyagings over distant seas, and
the perils and the great shipwrecks. There followed the story of his
good luck, the prodigious chance that had placed him suddenly upon the
road to fortune. "I was wandering about the quays of Marseilles with a
comrade as poverty-stricken as myself, who is become rich, he also, in
the service of the Bey, and, after having been my chum, my partner, is
now my most cruel enemy. I may mention his name, /pardi/! It is
sufficiently well known--Hemerlingue. Yes, gentlemen, the head of the
great banking house. 'Hemerlingue & Co.' had not in those days even
the wherewithal to buy a pennyworth of /clauvisses/ on the quay.
Intoxicated by the atmosphere of travel that one breathes down there,
the idea came into our minds of starting out, of going to seek our
livelihood in some country where the sun shines, since the lands of
mist were so inhospitable to us. But where to go? We did what sailors
sometimes do in order to decide in what low hole they will squander
their pay. You fix a scrap of paper on the brim of your hat. You make
the hat spin on a walking-stick; when it stops spinning you follow the
pointer. In our case the paper needle pointed towards Tunis. A week
later I landed at Tunis with half a louis in my pocket, and I came
back to-day with twenty-five millions!"
An electric shock passed round the table; there was a gleam in every
eye, even in those of the servants. Cardailhac said, "Phew!"
Monpavon's nose descended to common humanity.
"Yes, my boys, twenty-five millions in liquidated cash, without
speaking of all that I have left in Tunis, of my two palaces at the
Bardo, of my vessels in the harbour of La Goulette, of my diamonds, of
my precious stones, which are worth certainly more than the double.
And you know," he added, with his kindly smile and in his hoarse,
plebeian voice, "when that is done there will still be more."
The whole company rose to its feet, galvanized.
"Bravo! Ah, bravo!"
"Deuced clever--deuced clever!"
"Now, that is something worth talking about."
"A man like him ought to be in the Chamber."
"He will be, /per Bacco/! I answer for it," said the governor in a
piercing voice; and in the transport of admiration, not knowing how to
express his enthusiasm, he seized the fat, hairy hand of the Nabob and
on an unreflective impulse raised it to his lips. They are
demonstrative in his country. Everybody was standing up; no one sat
Jansoulet, beaming, had risen in his turn, and, throwing down his
serviette: "Let us go and have some coffee," he said.
A glad tumult immediately spread through the salons, vast apartments
in which light, decoration, sumptuousness, were represented by gold
alone. It seemed to fall from the ceiling in blinding rays, it oozed
from the walls in mouldings, sashes, framings of every kind. A little
of it remained on your hands if you moved a piece of furniture or
opened a window; and the very hangings, dipped in this Pactolus, kept
on their straight folds the rigidity, the sparkle of a metal. But
nothing bearing the least personal stamp, nothing intimate, nothing
thought out. The monotonous luxury of the furnished flat. And there
was a re-enforcement of this impression of a moving camp, of a merely
provisory home, in the suggestion of travel which hovered like an
uncertainty or a menace over this fortune derived from far-off
Coffee having been served, in the Eastern manner, with all its
grounds, in little cups filigreed with silver, the guests grouped
themselves round, making haste to drink, scalding themselves, keeping
watchful eyes on each other and especially on the Nabob as they looked
out for the favourable moment to spring upon him, draw him into some
corner of those immense rooms, and at length negotiate their loan. For
this it was that they had been awaiting for two hours; this was the
object of their visit and the fixed idea which gave them during the
meal that absent, falsely attentive manner. But here no more
constraint, no more pretence. In that peculiar social world of theirs
it is of common knowledge that in the Nabob's busy life the hour of
coffee remains the only time free for private audiences, and each
desiring to profit by it, all having come there in order to snatch a
handful of wool from the golden fleece offered them with so much good
nature, people no longer talk, they no longer listen, every man is
absorbed in his own errand of business.
It is the good Jenkins who begins. Having drawn his friend Jansoulet
aside into a recess, he submits to him the estimates for the house at
Nanterre. A big purchase, indeed! A cash price of a hundred and fifty
thousand francs, then considerable expenses in connection with getting
the place into proper order, the personal staff, the bedding, the
nanny-goats for milking purposes, the manager's carriage, the
omnibuses going to meet the children coming by every train. A great
deal of money. But how well off and comfortable they will be there,
those dear little things! what a service rendered to Paris, to
humanity! The Government cannot fail to reward with a bit of red
ribbon so disinterested, so philanthropic a devotion. "The Cross, on
the 15th of August." With these magic words Jenkins will obtain
everything he desires. In his merry, guttural voice, which seems
always as though it were hailing a boat in a fog, the Nabob calls,
The man in the fez, quickly leaving the liqueur-stand, walks
majestically across the room, whispers, moves away, and returns with
an inkstand and a counterfoil check-book from which the slips detach
themselves and fly away of their own accord. A fine thing, wealth! To
sign a check on his knee for two hundred thousand francs troubles
Jansoulet no more than to draw a louis from his pocket.
Furious, with noses in their cups, the others watch this little scene
from a distance. Then, as Jenkins takes his departure, bright,
smiling, with a nod to the various groups, Monpavon seizes the
governor: "Now is our chance." And both, springing on the Nabob, drag
him off towards a couch, oblige him almost forcibly to sit down, press
upon each side of him with a ferocious little laugh that seems to
signify, "What shall we do with him now?" Get the money out of him,
the largest amount possible. It is needed, to set afloat once more the
Territorial Bank, for years lain aground on a sand-bank, buried to the
very top of its masts. A superb operation, this re-flotation, if these
two gentlemen are to be believed, for the submerged bank is full of
ingots, of precious things, of the thousand various forms of wealth of
a new country discussed by everybody and known by none.
In founding this unique establishment, Paganetti of Porto-Vecchio had
as his aim to monopolize the commercial development of the whole of
Corsica: iron mines, sulphur mines, copper mines, marble quarries,
coral fisheries, oyster beds, water ferruginous and sulphurous,
immense forests of thuya, of cork-oak, and to establish for the
facilitation of this development a network of railways over the
island, with a service of packet-boats in addition. Such is the
gigantic undertaking to which he has devoted himself. He has sunk
considerable capital in it, and it is the new-comer, the workman of
the last hour, who will gain the whole profit.
While with his Italian accent and violent gestures the Corsican
enumerates the "splendours" of the affair, Monpavon, haughty, and with
an air calculated to command confidence, nods his head approvingly
with conviction, and from time to time, when he judges the moment
propitious, throws into the conversation the name of the Duc de Mora,
which never fails in its effect on the Nabob.
"Well, in short, how much would be required?"
"Millions," says Monpavon boldly, in the tone of a man who would have
no difficulty in addressing himself elsewhere. "Yes, millions; but the
enterprise is magnificent. And, as his excellency was saying, it would
provide even a political position. Just think! In that district
without a metallic currency, you might become counsellor-general,
deputy." The Nabob gives a start. And the little Paganetti, who feels
the bait quiver on his hook: "Yes, deputy. You will be that whenever I
choose. At a sign from me all Corsica is at your disposal." Then he
launches out into an astonishing improvisation, counting the votes
which he controls, the cantons which will obey his call. "You bring me
your capital. I--I give you an entire people." The cause is gained.
"Bompain, Bompain!" calls the Nabob, roused to enthusiasm. He has now
but one fear, that is lest the thing escape him; and in order to bind
Paganetti, who has not concealed his need of money, he hastens to
effect the payment of a first instalment to the Territorial bank. New
appearance of the man in red breeches with the check-book which he
carries clasped gravely to his chest, like a choir-boy moving the
Gospel from one side to the other. New inscription of Jansoulet's
signature upon a slip, which the governor pockets with a negligent air
and which operates on his person a sudden transformation. The
Paganetti who was so humble and spiritless just now, goes away with
the assurance of a man worth four hundred thousand francs, while
Monpavon, carrying it even higher than usual, follows after him in his
steps, and watches over him with a more than paternal solicitude.
"That's a good piece of business done," says the Nabob to himself. "I
can drink my coffee now."
But the borrowers are waiting for him to pass. The most prompt, the
most adroit, is Cardailhac, the manager, who lays hold of him and
bears him off into a side-room.
"Let us have a little talk, old friend. I must explain to you the
situation of affairs in connection with our theatre." Very
complicated, doubtless, the situation; for here is M. Bompain who
advances once more, and there are the slips of blue paper flying away
from the check-book. Whose turn now? There is the journalist Moessard
coming to draw his pay for the article in the /Messenger/; the Nabob
will find out what it costs to have one's self called "benefactor of
childhood" in the morning papers. There is the parish priest from the
country who demands funds for the restoration of his church, and takes
checks by assault with the brutality of a Peter the Hermit. There is
old Schwalbach coming up with nose in his beard and winking
"Sh! He had found a pearl for monsieur's gallery, an Hobbema from the
collection of the Duc de Mora. But several people are after it. It
will be difficult--"
"I must have it at any price," says the Nabob, hooked by the name of
Mora. "You understand, Schwalbach. I must have this Hobbema. Twenty
thousand francs for you if you secure it."
"I shall do my utmost, M. Jansoulet."
And the old rascal calculates, as he goes away, that the twenty
thousand of the Nabob added to the ten thousand promised him by the
duke if he gets rid of his picture for him, will make a nice little
profit for himself.
While these fortunate ones follow each other, others look on around,
wild with impatience, biting their nails to the quick, for all are