Part 2 out of 7
"No," said Joseph, "that is how they are copied."
"How much do they pay you for that?"
"Eh! never enough; two hundred and fifty francs. But I study the
manner of the masters and learn a great deal; I found out the secrets
of their method. There's one of my own pictures," he added, pointing
with the end of his brush to a sketch with the colors still moist.
"How much do you pocket in a year?"
"Unfortunately, I am known only to painters. Schinner backs me; and he
has got me some work at the Chateau de Presles, where I am going in
October to do some arabesques, panels, and other decorations, for
which the Comte de Serizy, no doubt, will pay well. With such trifles
and with orders from the dealers, I may manage to earn eighteen
hundred to two thousand francs a year over and above the working
expenses. I shall send that picture to the next exhibition; if it hits
the public taste, my fortune is made. My friends think well of it."
"I don't know anything about such things," said Philippe, in a subdued
voice which caused Joseph to turn and look at him.
"What is the matter?" said the artist, seeing that his brother was
"I should like to know how long it would take you to paint my
"If I worked steadily, and the weather were clear, I could finish it
in three or four days."
"That's too long; I have only one day to give you. My poor mother
loves me so much that I wished to leave her my likeness. We will say
no more about it."
"Why! are you going away again?"
"I am going never to return," replied Philippe with an air of forced
"Look here, Philippe, what is the matter? If it is anything serious, I
am a man and not a ninny. I am accustomed to hard struggles, and if
discretion is needed, I have it."
"Are you sure?"
"On my honor."
"You will tell no one, no matter who?"
"Well, I am going to blow my brains out."
"You!--are you going to fight a duel?"
"I am going to kill myself."
"I have taken eleven hundred francs from the funds in my hands; I have
got to send in my accounts to-morrow morning. Half my security is
lost; our poor mother will be reduced to six hundred francs a year.
That would be nothing! I could make a fortune for her later; but I am
dishonored! I cannot live under dishonor--"
"You will not be dishonored if it is paid back. To be sure, you will
lose your place, and you will only have the five hundred francs a year
from your cross; but you can live on five hundred francs."
"Farewell!" said Philippe, running rapidly downstairs, and not waiting
to hear another word.
Joseph left his studio and went down to breakfast with his mother; but
Philippe's confession had taken away his appetite. He took Madame
Descoings aside and told her the terrible news. The old woman made a
frightened exclamation, let fall the saucepan of milk she had in her
hand, and flung herself into a chair. Agathe rushed in; from one
exclamation to another the mother gathered the fatal truth.
"He! to fail in honor! the son of Bridau to take the money that was
trusted to him!"
The widow trembled in every limb; her eyes dilated and then grew
fixed; she sat down and burst into tears.
"Where is he?" she cried amid the sobs. "Perhaps he has flung himself
into the Seine."
"You must not give up all hope," said Madame Descoings, "because a
poor lad has met with a bad woman who has led him to do wrong. Dear
me! we see that every day. Philippe has had such misfortunes! he has
had so little chance to be happy and loved that we ought not to be
surprised at his passion for that creature. All passions lead to
excess. My own life is not without reproach of that kind, and yet I
call myself an honest woman. A single fault is not vice; and after
all, it is only those who do nothing that are never deceived."
Agathe's despair overcame her so much that Joseph and the Descoings
were obliged to lessen Philippe's wrong-doings by assuring her that
such things happened in all families.
"But he is twenty-eight years old," cried Agathe, "he is no longer a
Terrible revelation of the inward thought of the poor woman on the
conduct of her son.
"Mother, I assure you he thought only of your sufferings and of the
wrong he had done you," said Joseph.
"Oh, my God! let him come back to me, let him live, and I will forgive
all," cried the poor mother, to whose mind a horrible vision of
Philippe dragged dead out of the river presented itself.
Gloomy silence reigned for a short time. The day went by with cruel
alternations of hope and fear; all three ran to the window at the
least sound, and gave way to every sort of conjecture. While the
family were thus grieving, Philippe was quietly getting matters in
order at his office. He had the audacity to give in his accounts with
a statement that, fearing some accident, he had retained eleven
hundred francs at his own house for safe keeping. The scoundrel left
the office at five o'clock, taking five hundred francs more from the
desk, and coolly went to a gambling-house, which he had not entered
since his connection with the paper, for he knew very well that a
cashier must not be seen to frequent such a place. The fellow was not
wanting in acumen. His past conduct proved that he derived more from
his grandfather Rouget than from his virtuous sire, Bridau. Perhaps he
might have made a good general; but in private life, he was one of
those utter scoundrels who shelter their schemes and their evil
actions behind a screen of strict legality, and the privacy of the
At this conjuncture Philippe maintained his coolness. He won at first,
and gained as much as six thousand francs; but he let himself be
dazzled by the idea of getting out of his difficulties at one stroke.
He left the trente-et-quarante, hearing that the black had come up
sixteen times at the roulette table, and was about to put five
thousand francs on the red, when the black came up for the seventeenth
time. The colonel then put a thousand francs on the black and won. In
spite of this remarkable piece of luck, his head grew weary; he felt
it, though he continued to play. But that divining sense which leads a
gambler, and which comes in flashes, was already failing him.
Intermittent perceptions, so fatal to all gamblers, set in. Lucidity
of mind, like the rays of the sun, can have no effect except by the
continuity of a direct line; it can divine only on condition of not
breaking that line; the curvettings of chance bemuddle it. Philippe
lost all. After such a strain, the careless mind as well as the
bravest weakens. When Philippe went home that night he was not
thinking of suicide, for he had never really meant to kill himself; he
no longer thought of his lost place, nor of the sacrificed security,
nor of his mother, nor of Mariette, the cause of his ruin; he walked
along mechanically. When he got home, his mother in tears, Madame
Descoings, and Joseph, all fell on his neck and kissed him and brought
him joyfully to a seat by the fire.
"Bless me!" thought he, "the threat has worked."
The brute at once assumed an air suitable to the occasion; all the
more easily, because his ill-luck at cards had deeply depressed him.
Seeing her atrocious Benjamin so pale and woe-begone, the poor mother
knelt beside him, kissed his hands, pressed them to her heart, and
gazed at him for a long time with eyes swimming in tears.
"Philippe," she said, in a choking voice, "promise not to kill
yourself, and all shall be forgotten."
Philippe looked at his sorrowing brother and at Madame Descoings,
whose eyes were full of tears, and thought to himself, "They are good
creatures." Then he took his mother in his arms, raised her and put
her on his knee, pressed her to his heart and whispered as he kissed
her, "For the second time, you give me life."
The Descoings managed to serve an excellent dinner, and to add two
bottles of old wine with a little "liqueur des iles," a treasure left
over from her former business.
"Agathe," she said at dessert, "we must let him smoke his cigars," and
she offered some to Philippe.
These two poor creatures fancied that if they let the fellow take his
ease, he would like his home and stay in it; both, therefore, tried to
endure his tobacco-smoke, though each loathed it. That sacrifice was
not so much as noticed by Philippe.
On the morrow, Agathe looked ten years older. Her terrors calmed,
reflection came back to her, and the poor woman had not closed an eye
throughout that horrible night. She was now reduced to six hundred
francs a year. Madame Descoings, like all fat women fond of good
eating, was growing heavy; her step on the staircase sounded like the
chopping of logs; she might die at any moment; with her life, four
thousand francs would disappear. What folly to rely on that resource!
What should she do? What would become of them? With her mind made up
to become a sick-nurse rather than be supported by her children,
Agathe did not think of herself. But Philippe? what would he do if
reduced to live on the five hundred francs of an officer of the Legion
of honor? During the past eleven years, Madame Descoings, by giving up
three thousand francs a year, had paid her debt twice over, but she
still continued to sacrifice her grandson's interests to those of the
Bridau family. Though all Agathe's honorable and upright feelings were
shocked by this terrible disaster, she said to herself: "Poor boy! is
it his fault? He is faithful to his oath. I have done wrong not to
marry him. If I had found him a wife, he would not have got entangled
with this danseuse. He has such a vigorous constitution--"
Madame Descoings had likewise reflected during the night as to the
best way of saving the honor of the family. At daybreak, she got out
of bed and went to her friend's room.
"Neither you nor Philippe should manage this delicate matter," she
urged. "Our two old friends Du Bruel and Claparon are dead, but we
still have Desroches, who is very sagacious. I'll go and see him this
morning. He can tell the newspaper people that Philippe trusted a
friend and has been made a victim; that his weakness in such respects
makes him unfit to be a cashier; what has now happened may happen
again, and that Philippe prefers to resign. That will prevent his
being turned off."
Agathe, seeing that this business lie would save the honor of her son,
at any rate in the eyes of strangers, kissed Madame Descoings, who
went out early to make an end of the dreadful affair.
Philippe, meanwhile, had slept the sleep of the just. "She is sly,
that old woman," he remarked, when his mother explained to him why
breakfast was late.
Old Desroches, the last remaining friend of these two poor women, who,
in spite of his harsh nature, never forgot that Bridau had obtained
for him his place, fulfilled like an accomplished diplomat the
delicate mission Madame Descoings had confided to him. He came to dine
that evening with the family, and notified Agathe that she must go the
next day to the Treasury, rue Vivienne, sign the transfer of the funds
involved, and obtain a coupon for the six hundred francs a year which
still remained to her. The old clerk did not leave the afflicted
household that night without obliging Philippe to sign a petition to
the minister of war, asking for his reinstatement in the active army.
Desroches promised the two women to follow up the petition at the war
office, and to profit by the triumph of a certain duke over Philippe
in the matter of the danseuse, and so obtain that nobleman's
"Philippe will be lieutenant-colonel in the Duc de Maufrigneuse's
regiment within three months," he declared, "and you will be rid of
Desroches went away, smothered with blessings from the two poor widows
and Joseph. As to the newspaper, it ceased to exist at the end of two
months, just as Finot had predicted. Philippe's crime had, therefore,
so far as the world knew, no consequences. But Agathe's motherhood had
received a deadly wound. Her belief in her son once shaken, she lived
in perpetual fear, mingled with some satisfactions, as she saw her
worst apprehensions unrealized.
When men like Philippe, who are endowed with physical courage, and yet
are cowardly and ignoble in their moral being, see matters and things
resuming their accustomed course about them after some catastrophe in
which their honor and decency is well-nigh lost, such family kindness,
or any show of friendliness towards them is a premium of
encouragement. They count on impunity; their minds distorted, their
passions gratified, only prompt them to study how it happened that
they succeeded in getting round all social laws; the result is they
become alarmingly adroit.
A fortnight later, Philippe, once more a man of leisure, lazy and
bored, renewed his fatal cafe life,--his drams, his long games of
billiards embellished with punch, his nightly resort to the gambling-
table, where he risked some trifling stake and won enough to pay for
his dissipations. Apparently very economical, the better to deceive
his mother and Madame Descoings, he wore a hat that was greasy, with
the nap rubbed off at the edges, patched boots, a shabby overcoat, on
which the red ribbon scarcely showed so discolored and dirty was it by
long service at the buttonhole and by the spatterings of coffee and
liquors. His buckskin gloves, of a greenish tinge, lasted him a long
while; and he only gave up his satin neckcloth when it was ragged
enough to look like wadding. Mariette was the sole object of the
fellow's love, and her treachery had greatly hardened his heart. When
he happened to win more than usual, or if he supped with his old
comrade, Giroudeau, he followed some Venus of the slums, with brutal
contempt for the whole sex. Otherwise regular in his habits, he
breakfasted and dined at home and came in every night about one
o'clock. Three months of this horrible life restored Agathe to some
degree of confidence.
As for Joseph, who was working at the splendid picture to which he
afterwards owed his reputation, he lived in his atelier. On the
prediction of her grandson Bixiou, Madame Descoings believed in
Joseph's future glory, and she showed him every sort of motherly
kindness; she took his breakfast to him, she did his errands, she
blacked his boots. The painter was never seen till dinner-time, and
his evenings were spent at the Cenacle among his friends. He read a
great deal, and gave himself that deep and serious education which
only comes through the mind itself, and which all men of talent strive
after between the ages of twenty and thirty. Agathe, seeing very
little of Joseph, and feeling no uneasiness about him, lived only for
Philippe, who gave her the alternations of fears excited and terrors
allayed, which seem the life, as it were, of sentiment, and to be as
necessary to maternity as to love. Desroches, who came once a week to
see the widow of his patron and friend, gave her hopes. The Duc de
Maufrigneuse had asked to have Philippe in his regiment; the minister
of war had ordered an inquiry; and as the name of Bridau did not
appear on any police list, nor an any record at the Palais de Justice,
Philippe would be reinstated in the army early in the coming year.
To arrive at this result, Desroches set all the powers that he could
influence in motion. At the prefecture of police he learned that
Philippe spent his evenings in the gambling-house; and he thought it
best to tell this fact privately to Madame Descoings, exhorting her
keep an eye on the lieutenant-colonel, for one outbreak would imperil
all; as it was, the minister of war was not likely to inquire whether
Philippe gambled. Once restored to his rank under the flag of his
country, he would perhaps abandon a vice only taken up from idleness.
Agathe, who no longer received her friends in the evening, sat in the
chimney-corner reading her prayers, while Madame Descoings consulted
the cards, interpreted her dreams, and applied the rules of the
"cabala" to her lottery ventures. This jovial fanatic never missed a
single drawing; she still pursued her trey,--which never turned up. It
was nearly twenty-one years old, just approaching its majority; on
this ridiculous idea the old woman now pinned her faith. One of its
three numbers had stayed at the bottom of all the wheels ever since
the institution of the lottery. Accordingly, Madame Descoings laid
heavy stakes on that particular number, as well as on all the
combinations of the three numbers. The last mattress remaining to her
bed was the place where she stored her savings; she unsewed the
ticking, put in from time to time the bit of gold saved from her
needs, wrapped carefully in wool, and then sewed the mattress up
again. She intended, at the last drawing, to risk all her savings on
the different combinations of her treasured trey.
This passion, so universally condemned, has never been fairly studied.
No one has understood this opium of poverty. The lottery, all-powerful
fairy of the poor, bestowed the gift of magic hopes. The turn of the
wheel which opens to the gambler a vista of gold and happiness, lasts
no longer than a flash of lightning, but the lottery gave five days'
existence to that magnificent flash. What social power can to-day, for
the sum of five sous, give us five days' happiness and launch us
ideally into all the joys of civilization? Tobacco, a craving far more
immoral than play, destroys the body, attacks the mind, and stupefies
a nation; while the lottery did nothing of the kind. This passion,
moreover, was forced to keep within limits by the long periods that
occurred between the drawings, and by the choice of wheels which each
investor individually clung to. Madame Descoings never staked on any
but the "wheel of Paris." Full of confidence that the trey cherished
for twenty-one years was about to triumph, she now imposed upon
herself enormous privations, that she might stake a large amount of
savings upon the last drawing of the year. When she dreamed her
cabalistic visions (for all dreams did not correspond with the numbers
of the lottery), she went and told them to Joseph, who was the sole
being who would listen, and not only not scold her, but give her the
kindly words with which an artist knows how to soothe the follies of
the mind. All great talents respect and understand a real passion;
they explain it to themselves by finding the roots of it in their own
hearts or minds. Joseph's ideas was, that his brother loved tobacco
and liquors, Maman Descoings loved her trey, his mother loved God,
Desroches the younger loved lawsuits, Desroches the elder loved
angling,--in short, all the world, he said, loved something. He
himself loved the "beau ideal" in all things; he loved the poetry of
Lord Byron, the painting of Gericault, the music of Rossini, the
novels of Walter Scott. "Every one to his taste, maman," he would say;
"but your trey does hang fire terribly."
"It will turn up, and you will be rich, and my little Bixiou as well."
"Give it all to your grandson," cried Joseph; "at any rate, do what
you like best with it."
"Hey! when it turns up I shall have enough for everybody. In the first
place, you shall have a fine atelier; you sha'n't deprive yourself of
going to the opera so as to pay for your models and your colors. Do
you know, my dear boy, you make me play a pretty shabby part in that
picture of yours?"
By way of economy, Joseph had made the Descoings pose for his
magnificent painting of a young courtesan taken by an old woman to a
Doge of Venice. This picture, one of the masterpieces of modern
painting, was mistaken by Gros himself for a Titian, and it paved the
way for the recognition which the younger artists gave to Joseph's
talent in the Salon of 1823.
"Those who know you know very well what you are," he answered gayly.
"Why need you trouble yourself about those who don't know you?"
For the last ten years Madame Descoings had taken on the ripe tints of
a russet apple at Easter. Wrinkles had formed in her superabundant
flesh, now grown pallid and flabby. Her eyes, full of life, were
bright with thoughts that were still young and vivacious, and might be
considered grasping; for there is always something of that spirit in a
gambler. Her fat face bore traces of dissimulation and of the mental
reservations hidden in the depths of her heart. Her vice necessitated
secrecy. There were also indications of gluttony in the motion of her
lips. And thus, although she was, as we have seen, an excellent and
upright woman, the eye might be misled by her appearance. She was an
admirable model for the old woman Joseph wished to paint. Coralie, a
young actress of exquisite beauty who died in the flower of her youth,
the mistress of Lucien de Rubempre, one of Joseph's friends, had given
him the idea of the picture. This noble painting has been called a
plagiarism of other pictures, while in fact it was a splendid
arrangement of three portraits. Michel Chrestien, one of his
companions at the Cenacle, lent his republican head for the senator,
to which Joseph added a few mature tints, just as he exaggerated the
expression of Madame Descoings's features. This fine picture, which
was destined to make a great noise and bring the artist much hatred,
jealousy, and admiration, was just sketched out; but, compelled as he
was to work for a living, he laid it aside to make copies of the old
masters for the dealers; thus he penetrated the secrets of their
processes, and his brush is therefore one of the best trained of the
modern school. The shrewd sense of an artist led him to conceal the
profits he was beginning to lay by from his mother and Madame
Descoings, aware that each had her road to ruin,--the one in Philippe,
the other in the lottery. This astuteness is seldom wanting among
painters; busy for days together in the solitude of their studios,
engaged in work which, up to a certain point, leaves the mind free,
they are in some respects like women,--their thoughts turn about the
little events of life, and they contrive to get at their hidden
Joseph had bought one of those magnificent chests or coffers of a past
age, then ignored by fashion, with which he decorated a corner of his
studio, where the light danced upon the bas-reliefs and gave full
lustre to a masterpiece of the sixteenth century artisans. He saw the
necessity for a hiding-place, and in this coffer he had begun to
accumulate a little store of money. With an artist's carelessness, he
was in the habit of putting the sum he allowed for his monthly
expenses in a skull, which stood on one of the compartments of the
coffer. Since his brother had returned to live at home, he found a
constant discrepancy between the amount he spent and the sum in this
receptacle. The hundred francs a month disappeared with incredible
celerity. Finding nothing one day, when he had only spent forty or
fifty francs, he remarked for the first time: "My money must have got
wings." The next month he paid more attention to his accounts; but add
as he might, like Robert Macaire, sixteen and five are twenty-three,
he could make nothing of them. When, for the third time, he found a
still more important discrepancy, he communicated the painful fact to
Madame Descoings, who loved him, he knew, with that maternal, tender,
confiding, credulous, enthusiastic love that he had never had from his
own mother, good as she was,--a love as necessary to the early life of
an artist as the care of the hen is to her unfledged chickens. To her
alone could he confide his horrible suspicions. He was as sure of his
friends as he was of himself; and the Descoings, he knew, would take
nothing to put in her lottery. At the idea which then suggested itself
the poor woman wrung her hands. Philippe alone could have committed
this domestic theft.
"Why didn't he ask me, if he wanted it?" cried Joseph, taking a dab of
color on his palette and stirring it into the other colors without
seeing what he did. "Is it likely I should refuse him?"
"It is robbing a child!" cried the Descoings, her face expressing the
"No," replied Joseph, "he is my brother; my purse is his: but he ought
to have asked me."
"Put in a special sum, in silver, this morning, and don't take
anything out," said Madame Descoings. "I shall know who goes into the
studio; and if he is the only one, you will be certain it is he."
The next day Joseph had proof of his brother's forced loans upon him.
Philippe came to the studio when his brother was out and took the
little sum he wanted. The artist trembled for his savings.
"I'll catch him at it, the scamp!" he said, laughing, to Madame
"And you'll do right: we ought to break him of it. I, too, I have
missed little sums out of my purse. Poor boy! he wants tobacco; he's
accustomed to it."
"Poor boy! poor boy!" cried the artist. "I'm rather of Fulgence and
Bixiou's opinion: Philippe is a dead-weight on us. He runs his head
into riots and has to be shipped to America, and that costs the mother
twelve thousand francs; he can't find anything to do in the forests of
the New World, and so he comes back again, and that costs twelve
thousand more. Under pretence of having carried two words of Napoleon
to a general, he thinks himself a great soldier and makes faces at the
Bourbons; meantime, what does he do? amuse himself, travel about, see
foreign countries! As for me, I'm not duped by his misfortunes; he
doesn't look like a man who fails to get the best of things! Somebody
finds him a good place, and there he is, leading the life of a
Sardanapalus with a ballet-girl, and guzzling the funds of his
journal; that costs the mother another twelve thousand francs! I don't
care two straws for myself, but Philippe will bring that poor woman to
beggary. He thinks I'm of no account because I was never in the
dragoons of the Guard; but perhaps I shall be the one to support that
poor dear mother in her old age, while he, if he goes on as he does,
will end I don't know how. Bixiou often says to me, 'He is a downright
rogue, that brother of yours.' Your grandson is right. Philippe will
be up to some mischief that will compromise the honor of the family,
and then we shall have to scrape up another ten or twelve thousand
francs! He gambles every night; when he comes home, drunk as a
templar, he drops on the staircase the pricked cards on which he marks
the turns of the red and black. Old Desroches is trying to get him
back into the army, and, on my word on honor, I believe he would hate
to serve again. Would you ever have believed that a boy with such
heavenly blue eyes and the look of Bayard could turn out such a
In spite of the coolness and discretion with which Philippe played his
trifling game every night, it happened every now and then that he was
what gamblers call "cleaned out." Driven by the irresistible necessity
of having his evening stake of ten francs, he plundered the household,
and laid hands on his brother's money and on all that Madame Descoings
or Agathe left about. Already the poor mother had had a dreadful
vision in her first sleep: Philippe entered the room and took from the
pockets of her gown all the money he could find. Agathe pretended to
sleep, but she passed the rest of the night in tears. She saw the
truth only too clearly. "One wrong act is not a vice," Madame
Descoings had declared; but after so many repetitions, vice was
unmistakable. Agathe could doubt no longer; her best-beloved son had
neither delicacy nor honor.
On the morrow of that frightful vision, before Philippe left the house
after breakfast, she drew him into her chamber and begged him, in a
tone of entreaty, to ask her for what money he needed. After that, the
applications were so numerous that in two weeks Agathe was drained of
all her savings. She was literally without a penny, and began to think
of finding work. The means of earning money had been discussed in the
evenings between herself and Madame Descoings, and she had already
taken patterns of worsted work to fill in, from a shop called the
"Pere de Famille,"--an employment which pays about twenty sous a day.
Notwithstanding Agathe's silence on the subject, Madame Descoings had
guessed the motive of this desire to earn money by women's-work. The
change in her appearance was eloquent: her fresh face had withered,
the skin clung to the temples and the cheek-bones, and the forehead
showed deep lines; her eyes lost their clearness; an inward fire was
evidently consuming her; she wept the greater part of the night. A
chief cause of these outward ravages was the necessity of hiding her
anguish, her sufferings, her apprehensions. She never went to sleep
until Philippe came in; she listened for his step, she had learned the
inflections of his voice, the variations of his walk, the very
language of his cane as it touched the pavement. Nothing escaped her.
She knew the degree of drunkenness he had reached, she trembled as she
heard him stumble on the stairs; one night she picked up some pieces
of gold at the spot where he had fallen. When he had drunk and won,
his voice was gruff and his cane dragged; but when he had lost, his
step had something sharp, short and angry about it; he hummed in a
clear voice, and carried his cane in the air as if presenting arms. At
breakfast, if he had won, his behavior was gay and even affectionate;
he joked roughly, but still he joked, with Madame Descoings, with
Joseph, and with his mother; gloomy, on the contrary, when he had
lost, his brusque, rough speech, his hard glance, and his depression,
frightened them. A life of debauch and the abuse of liquors debased,
day by day, a countenance that was once so handsome. The veins of the
face were swollen with blood, the features became coarse, the eyes
lost their lashes and grew hard and dry. No longer careful of his
person, Philippe exhaled the miasmas of a tavern and the smell of
muddy boots, which, to an observer, stamped him with debauchery.
"You ought," said Madame Descoings to Philippe during the last days of
December, "you ought to get yourself new-clothed from head to foot."
"And who is to pay for it?" he answered sharply. "My poor mother
hasn't a sou; and I have five hundred francs a year. It would take my
whole year's pension to pay for the clothes; besides I have mortgaged
it for three years--"
"What for?" asked Joseph.
"A debt of honor. Giroudeau borrowed a thousand francs from Florentine
to lend me. I am not gorgeous, that's a fact; but when one thinks that
Napoleon is at Saint Helena, and has sold his plate for the means of
living, his faithful soldiers can manage to walk on their bare feet,"
he said, showing his boots without heels, as he marched away.
"He is not bad," said Agathe, "he has good feelings."
"You can love the Emperor and yet dress yourself properly," said
Joseph. "If he would take any care of himself and his clothes, he
wouldn't look so like a vagabond."
"Joseph! you ought to have some indulgence for your brother," cried
Agathe. "You do the things you like, while he is certainly not in his
"What did he leave it for?" demanded Joseph. "What can it matter to
him whether Louis the Eighteenth's bugs or Napoleon's cuckoos are on
the flag, if it is the flag of his country? France is France! For my
part, I'd paint for the devil. A soldier ought to fight, if he is a
soldier, for the love of his art. If he had stayed quietly in the
army, he would have been a general by this time."
"You are unjust to him," said Agathe, "your father, who adored the
Emperor, would have approved of his conduct. However, he has consented
to re-enter the army. God knows the grief it has caused your brother
to do a thing he considers treachery."
Joseph rose to return to his studio, but his mother took his hand and
"Be good to your brother; he is so unfortunate."
When the artist got back to his painting-room, followed by Madame
Descoings, who begged him to humor his mother's feelings, and pointed
out to him how changed she was, and what inward suffering the change
revealed, they found Philippe there, to their great amazement.
"Joseph, my boy," he said, in an off-hand way, "I want some money.
Confound it! I owe thirty francs for cigars at my tobacconist's, and I
dare not pass the cursed shop till I've paid it. I've promised to pay
it a dozen times."
"Well, I like your present way best," said Joseph; "take what you want
out of the skull."
"I took all there was last night, after dinner."
"There was forty-five francs."
"Yes, that's what I made it," replied Philippe. "I took them; is there
"No, my friend, no," said Joseph. "If you were rich, I should do the
same by you; only, before taking what I wanted, I should ask you if it
"It is very humiliating to ask," remarked Philippe; "I would rather
see you taking as I do, without a word; it shows more confidence. In
the army, if a comrade dies, and has a good pair of boots, and you
have a bad pair, you change, that's all."
"Yes, but you don't take them while he is living."
"Oh, what meanness!" said Philippe, shrugging his shoulders. "Well, so
you haven't got any money?"
"No," said Joseph, who was determined not to show his hiding-place.
"In a few days we shall be rich," said Madame Descoings.
"Yes, you; you think your trey is going to turn up on the 25th at the
Paris drawing. You must have put in a fine stake if you think you can
make us all rich."
"A paid-up trey of two hundred francs will give three millions,
without counting the couplets and the singles."
"At fifteen thousand times the stake--yes, you are right; it is just
two hundred you must pay up!" cried Philippe.
Madame Descoings bit her lips; she knew she had spoken imprudently. In
fact, Philippe was asking himself as he went downstairs:--
"That old witch! where does she keep her money? It is as good as lost;
I can make a better use of it. With four pools at fifty francs each, I
could win two hundred thousand francs, and that's much surer than the
turning up of a trey."
He tried to think where the old woman was likely to have hid the
money. On the days preceding festivals, Agathe went to church and
stayed there a long time; no doubt she confessed and prepared for the
communion. It was now the day before Christmas; Madame Descoings would
certainly go out to buy some dainties for the "reveillon," the
midnight meal; and she might also take occasion to pay up her stake.
The lottery was drawn every five days in different localities, at
Bordeaux, Lyons, Lille, Strasburg, and Paris. The Paris lottery was
drawn on the twenty-fifth of each month, and the lists closed on the
twenty-fourth, at midnight. Philippe studied all these points and set
himself to watch. He came home at midday; the Descoings had gone out,
and had taken the key of the appartement. But that was no difficulty.
Philippe pretended to have forgotten something, and asked the
concierge to go herself and get a locksmith, who lived close by, and
who came at once and opened the door. The villain's first thought was
the bed; he uncovered it, passed his hands over the mattress before he
examined the bedstead, and at the lower end felt the pieces wrapped up
in paper. He at once ripped the ticking, picked out twenty napoleons,
and then, without taking time to sew up the mattress, re-made the bed
neatly enough, so that Madame Descoings could suspect nothing.
The gambler stole off with a light foot, resolving to play at three
different times, three hours apart, and each time for only ten
minutes. Thorough-going players, ever since 1786, the time at which
public gaming-houses were established,--the true players whom the
government dreaded, and who ate up, to use a gambling term, the money
of the bank,--never played in any other way. But before attaining this
measure of experience they lost fortunes. The whole science of
gambling-houses and their gains rests upon three things: the
impassibility of the bank; the even results called "drawn games," when
half the money goes to the bank; and the notorious bad faith
authorized by the government, in refusing to hold or pay the player's
stakes except optionally. In a word, the gambling-house, which refuses
the game of a rich and cool player, devours the fortune of the foolish
and obstinate one, who is carried away by the rapid movement of the
machinery of the game. The croupiers at "trente et quarante" move
nearly as fast as the ball.
Philippe had ended by acquiring the sang-froid of a commanding
general, which enables him to keep his eye clear and his mind prompt
in the midst of tumult. He had reached that statesmanship of gambling
which in Paris, let us say in passing, is the livelihood of thousands
who are strong enough to look every night into an abyss without
getting a vertigo. With his four hundred francs, Philippe resolved to
make his fortune that day. He put aside, in his boots, two hundred
francs, and kept the other two hundred in his pocket. At three o'clock
he went to the gambling-house (which is now turned into the theatre of
the Palais-Royal), where the bank accepted the largest sums. He came
out half an hour later with seven thousand francs in his pocket. Then
he went to see Florentine, paid the five hundred francs which he owed
to her, and proposed a supper at the Rocher de Cancale after the
theatre. Returning to his game, along the rue de Sentier, he stopped
at Giroudeau's newspaper-office to notify him of the gala. By six
o'clock Philippe had won twenty-five thousand francs, and stopped
playing at the end of ten minutes as he had promised himself to do.
That night, by ten o'clock, he had won seventy-five thousand francs.
After the supper, which was magnificent, Philippe, by that time drunk
and confident, went back to his play at midnight. In defiance of the
rule he had imposed upon himself, he played for an hour and doubled
his fortune. The bankers, from whom, by his system of playing, he had
extracted one hundred and fifty thousand francs, looked at him with
"Will he go away now, or will he stay?" they said to each other by a
glance. "If he stays he is lost."
Philippe thought he had struck a vein of luck, and stayed. Towards
three in the morning, the hundred and fifty thousand francs had gone
back to the bank. The colonel, who had imbibed a considerable quantity
of grog while playing, left the place in a drunken state, which the
cold of the outer air only increased. A waiter from the gambling-house
followed him, picked him up, and took him to one of those horrible
houses at the door of which, on a hanging lamp, are the words:
"Lodgings for the night." The waiter paid for the ruined gambler, who
was put to bed, where he remained till Christmas night. The managers
of gambling-houses have some consideration for their customers,
especially for high players. Philippe awoke about seven o'clock in the
evening, his mouth parched, his face swollen, and he himself in the
grip of a nervous fever. The strength of his constitution enabled him
to get home on foot, where meanwhile he had, without willing it,
brought mourning, desolation, poverty, and death.
The evening before, when dinner was ready, Madame Descoings and Agathe
expected Philippe. They waited dinner till seven o'clock. Agathe
always went to bed at ten; but as, on this occasion, she wished to be
present at the midnight mass, she went to lie down as soon as dinner
was over. Madame Descoings and Joseph remained alone by the fire in
the little salon, which served for all, and the old woman asked the
painter to add up the amount of her great stake, her monstrous stake,
on the famous trey, which she was to pay that evening at the Lottery
office. She wished to put in for the doubles and singles as well, so
as to seize all chances. After feasting on the poetry of her hopes,
and pouring the two horns of plenty at the feet of her adopted son,
and relating to him her dreams which demonstrated the certainty of
success, she felt no other uneasiness than the difficulty of bearing
such joy, and waiting from mid-night until ten o'clock of the morrow,
when the winning numbers were declared. Joseph, who saw nothing of the
four hundred francs necessary to pay up the stakes, asked about them.
The old woman smiled, and led him into the former salon, which was now
"You shall see," she said.
Madame Descoings hastily unmade the bed, and searched for her scissors
to rip the mattress; she put on her spectacles, looked at the ticking,
saw the hole, and let fall the mattress. Hearing a sigh from the
depths of the old woman's breast, as though she were strangled by a
rush of blood to the heart, Joseph instinctively held out his arms to
catch the poor creature, and placed her fainting in a chair, calling
to his mother to come to them. Agathe rose, slipped on her dressing-
gown, and ran in. By the light of a candle, she applied the ordinary
remedies,--eau-de-cologne to the temples, cold water to the forehead,
a burnt feather under the nose,--and presently her aunt revived.
"They were there is morning; HE has taken them, the monster!" she
"Taken what?" asked Joseph.
"I had twenty louis in my mattress; my savings for two years; no one
but Philippe could have taken them."
"But when?" cried the poor mother, overwhelmed, "he has not been in
"I wish I might be mistaken," said the old woman. "But this morning in
Joseph's studio, when I spoke before Philippe of my stakes, I had a
presentiment. I did wrong not to go down and take my little all and
pay for my stakes at once. I meant to, and I don't know what prevented
me. Oh, yes!--my God! I went out to buy him some cigars."
"But," said Joseph, "you left the door locked. Besides, it is so
infamous. I can't believe it. Philippe couldn't have watched you, cut
open the mattress, done it deliberately,--no, no!"
"I felt them this morning, when I made my bed after breakfast,"
repeated Madame Descoings.
Agathe, horrified, went down stairs and asked if Philippe had come in
during the day. The concierge related the tale of his return and the
locksmith. The mother, heart-stricken, went back a changed woman.
White as the linen of her chemise, she walked as we might fancy a
spectre walks, slowly, noiselessly, moved by some superhuman power,
and yet mechanically. She held a candle in her hand, whose light fell
full upon her face and showed her eyes, fixed with horror.
Unconsciously, her hands by a desperate movement had dishevelled the
hair about her brow; and this made her so beautiful with anguish that
Joseph stood rooted in awe at the apparition of that remorse, the
vision of that statue of terror and despair.
"My aunt," she said, "take my silver forks and spoons. I have enough
to make up the sum; I took your money for Philippe's sake; I thought I
could put it back before you missed it. Oh! I have suffered much."
She sat down. Her dry, fixed eyes wandered a little.
"It was he who did it," whispered the old woman to Joseph.
"No, no," cried Agathe; "take my silver plate, sell it; it is useless
to me; we can eat with yours."
She went to her room, took the box which contained the plate, felt its
light weight, opened it, and saw a pawnbroker's ticket. The poor
mother uttered a dreadful cry. Joseph and the Descoings ran to her,
saw the empty box, and her noble falsehood was of no avail. All three
were silent, and avoided looking at each other; but the next moment,
by an almost frantic gesture, Agathe laid her finger on her lips as if
to entreat a secrecy no one desired to break. They returned to the
salon, and sat beside the fire.
"Ah! my children," cried Madame Descoings, "I am stabbed to the heart:
my trey will turn up, I am certain of it. I am not thinking of myself,
but of you two. Philippe is a monster," she continued, addressing her
niece; "he does not love you after all that you have done for him. If
you do not protect yourself against him he will bring you to beggary.
Promise me to sell out your Funds and buy a life-annuity. Joseph has a
good profession and he can live. If you will do this, dear Agathe, you
will never be an expense to Joseph. Monsieur Desroches has just
started his son as a notary; he would take your twelve thousand francs
and pay you an annuity."
Joseph seized his mother's candlestick, rushed up to his studio, and
came down with three hundred francs.
"Here, Madame Descoings!" he cried, giving her his little store, "it
is no business of ours what you do with your money; we owe you what
you have lost, and here it is, almost in full."
"Take your poor little all?--the fruit of those privations that have
made me so unhappy! are you mad, Joseph?" cried the old woman, visibly
torn between her dogged faith in the coming trey, and the sacrilege of
accepting such a sacrifice.
"Oh! take it if you like," said Agathe, who was moved to tears by this
action of her true son.
Madame Descoings took Joseph by the head, and kissed him on the
"My child," she said, "don't tempt me. I might only lose it. The
lottery, you see, is all folly."
No more heroic words were ever uttered in the hidden dramas of
domestic life. It was, indeed, affection triumphant over inveterate
vice. At this instant, the clocks struck midnight.
"It is too late now," said Madame Descoings.
"Oh!" cried Joseph, "here are your cabalistic numbers."
The artist sprang at the paper, and rushed headlong down the staircase
to pay the stakes. When he was no longer present, Agathe and Madame
Descoings burst into tears.
"He has gone, the dear love," cried the old gambler; "but it shall all
be his; he pays his own money."
Unhappily, Joseph did not know the way to any of the lottery-offices,
which in those days were as well known to most people as the
cigarshops to a smoker in ours. The painter ran along, reading the
street names upon the lamps. When he asked the passers-by to show him
a lottery-office, he was told they were all closed, except the one
under the portico of the Palais-Royal which was sometimes kept open a
little later. He flew to the Palais-Royal: the office was shut.
"Two minutes earlier, and you might have paid your stake," said one of
the vendors of tickets, whose beat was under the portico, where he
vociferated this singular cry: "Twelve hundred francs for forty sous,"
and offered tickets all paid up.
By the glimmer of the street lamp and the lights of the cafe de la
Rotonde, Joseph examined these tickets to see if, by chance, any of
them bore the Descoings's numbers. He found none, and returned home
grieved at having done his best in vain for the old woman, to whom he
related his ill-luck. Agathe and her aunt went together to the
midnight mass at Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Joseph went to bed. The
collation did not take place. Madame Descoings had lost her head; and
in Agathe's heart was eternal mourning.
The two rose late on Christmas morning. Ten o'clock had struck before
Madame Descoings began to bestir herself about the breakfast, which
was only ready at half-past eleven. At that hour, the oblong frames
containing the winning numbers are hung over the doors of the lottery-
offices. If Madame Descoings had paid her stake and held her ticket,
she would have gone by half-past nine o'clock to learn her fate at a
building close to the ministry of Finance, in the rue Neuve-des-Petits
Champs, a situation now occupied by the Theatre Ventadour in the place
of the same name. On the days when the drawings took place, an
observer might watch with curiosity the crowd of old women, cooks, and
old men assembled about the door of this building; a sight as
remarkable as the cue of people about the Treasury on the days when
the dividends are paid.
"Well, here you are, rolling in wealth!" said old Desroches, coming
into the room just as the Descoings was swallowing her last drop of
"What do you mean?" cried poor Agathe.
"Her trey has turned up," he said, producing the list of numbers
written on a bit of paper, such as the officials of the lottery put by
hundreds into little wooden bowls on their counters.
Joseph read the list. Agathe read the list. The Descoings read
nothing; she was struck down as by a thunderbolt. At the change in her
face, at the cry she gave, old Desroches and Joseph carried her to her
bed. Agathe went for a doctor. The poor woman was seized with
apoplexy, and she only recovered consciousness at four in the
afternoon; old Haudry, her doctor, then said that, in spite of this
improvement, she ought to settle her worldly affairs and think of her
salvation. She herself only uttered two words:--
Old Desroches, informed by Joseph, with due reservations, of the state
of things, related many instances where lottery-players had seen a
fortune escape them on the very day when, by some fatality, they had
forgotten to pay their stakes; but he thoroughly understood that such
a blow might be fatal when it came after twenty years' perseverance.
About five o'clock, as a deep silence reigned in the little
appartement, and the sick woman, watched by Joseph and his mother, the
one sitting at the foot, the other at the head of her bed, was
expecting her grandson Bixiou, whom Desroches had gone to fetch, the
sound of Philippe's step and cane resounded on the staircase.
"There he is! there he is!" cried the Descoings, sitting up in bed and
suddenly able to use her paralyzed tongue.
Agathe and Joseph were deeply impressed by this powerful effect of the
horror which violently agitated the old woman. Their painful suspense
was soon ended by the sight of Philippe's convulsed and purple face,
his staggering walk, and the horrible state of his eyes, which were
deeply sunken, dull, and yet haggard; he had a strong chill upon him,
and his teeth chattered.
"Starvation in Prussia!" he cried, looking about him. "Nothing to eat
or drink?--and my throat on fire! Well, what's the matter? The devil
is always meddling in our affairs. There's my old Descoings in bed,
looking at me with her eyes as big as saucers."
"Be silent, monsieur!" said Agathe, rising. "At least, respect the
sorrows you have caused."
"MONSIEUR, indeed!" he cried, looking at his mother. "My dear little
mother, that won't do. Have you ceased to love your son?"
"Are you worthy of love? Have you forgotten what you did yesterday? Go
and find yourself another home; you cannot live with us any longer,--
that is, after to-morrow," she added; "for in the state you are in now
it is difficult--"
"To turn me out,--is that it?" he interrupted. "Ha! are you going to
play the melodrama of 'The Banished Son'? Well done! is that how you
take things? You are all a pretty set! What harm have I done? I've
cleaned out the old woman's mattress. What the devil is the good of
money kept in wool? Do you call that a crime? Didn't she take twenty
thousand francs from you? We are her creditors, and I've paid myself
as much as I could get,--that's all."
"My God! my God!" cried the dying woman, clasping her hands and
"Be silent!" exclaimed Joseph, springing at his brother and putting
his hand before his mouth.
"To the right about, march! brat of a painter!" retorted Philippe,
laying his strong hand on Joseph's head, and twirling him round, as he
flung him on a sofa. "Don't dare to touch the moustache of a commander
of a squadron of the dragoons of the Guard!"
"She has paid me back all that she owed me," cried Agathe, rising and
turning an angry face to her son; "and besides, that is my affair. You
have killed her. Go away, my son," she added, with a gesture that took
all her remaining strength, "and never let me see you again. You are a
"I kill her?"
"Her trey has turned up," cried Joseph, "and you stole the money for
"Well, if she is dying of a lost trey, it isn't I who have killed
her," said the drunkard.
"Go, go!" said Agathe. "You fill me with horror; you have every vice.
My God! is this my son?"
A hollow rattle sounded in Madame Descoings's throat, increasing
"I love you still, my mother,--you who are the cause of all my
misfortunes," said Philippe. "You turn me out of doors on Christmas-
day. What did you do to grandpa Rouget, to your father, that he should
drive you away and disinherit you? If you had not displeased him, we
should all be rich now, and I should not be reduced to misery. What
did you do to your father,--you who are a good woman? You see by your
own self, I may be a good fellow and yet be turned out of house and
home,--I, the glory of the family--"
"The disgrace of it!" cried the Descoings.
"You shall leave this room, or you shall kill me!" cried Joseph,
springing on his brother with the fury of a lion.
"My God! my God!" cried Agathe, trying to separate the brothers.
At this moment Bixiou and Haudry the doctor entered. Joseph had just
knocked his brother over and stretched him on the ground.
"He is a regular wild beast," he cried. "Don't speak another word, or
"I'll pay you for this!" roared Philippe.
"A family explanation," remarked Bixiou.
"Lift him up," said the doctor, looking at him. "He is as ill as
Madame Descoings; undress him and put him to bed; get off his boots."
"That's easy to say," cried Bixiou, "but they must be cut off; his
legs are swollen."
Agathe took a pair of scissors. When she had cut down the boots, which
in those days were worn outside the clinging trousers, ten pieces of
gold rolled on the floor.
"There it is,--her money," murmured Philippe. "Cursed fool that I was,
I forgot it. I too have missed a fortune."
He was seized with a horrible delirium of fever, and began to rave.
Joseph, assisted by old Desroches, who had come back, and by Bixiou,
carried him to his room. Doctor Haudry was obliged to write a line to
the Hopital de la Charite and borrow a strait-waistcoat; for the
delirium ran so high as to make him fear that Philippe might kill
himself,--he was raving. At nine o'clock calm was restored. The Abbe
Loraux and Desroches endeavored to comfort Agathe, who never ceased to
weep at her aunt's bedside. She listened to them in silence, and
obstinately shook her head; Joseph and the Descoings alone knew the
extent and depth of her inward wound.
"He will learn to do better, mother," said Joseph, when Desroches and
Bixiou had left.
"Oh!" cried the widow, "Philippe is right,--my father cursed me: I
have no right to-- Here, here is your money," she said to Madame
Descoings, adding Joseph's three hundred francs to the two hundred
found on Philippe. "Go and see if your brother does not need
something," she said to Joseph.
"Will you keep a promise made to a dying woman?" asked Madame
Descoings, who felt that her mind was failing her.
"Then swear to me to give your property to young Desroches for a life
annuity. My income ceases at my death; and from what you have just
said, I know you will let that wretch wring the last farthing out of
"I swear it, aunt."
The old woman died on the 31st of December, five days after the
terrible blow which old Desroches had so innocently given her. The
five hundred francs--the only money in the household--were barely
enough to pay for her funeral. She left a small amount of silver and
some furniture, the value of which Madame Bixiou paid over to her
grandson Bixiou. Reduced to eight hundred francs' annuity paid to her
by young Desroches, who had bought a business without clients, and
himself took the capital of twelve thousand francs, Agathe gave up her
appartement on the third floor, and sold all her superfluous
furniture. When, at the end of a month, Philippe seemed to be
convalescent, his mother coldly explained to him that the costs of his
illness had taken all her ready money, that she should be obliged in
future to work for her living, and she urged him, with the utmost
kindness, to re-enter the army and support himself.
"You might have spared me that sermon," said Philippe, looking at his
mother with an eye that was cold from utter indifference. "I have seen
all along that neither you nor my brother love me. I am alone in the
world; I like it best!"
"Make yourself worthy of our affection," answered the poor mother,
struck to the very heart, "and we will give it back to you--"
"Nonsense!" he cried, interrupting her.
He took his old hat, rubbed white at the edges, stuck it over one ear,
and went downstairs, whistling.
"Philippe! where are you going without any money?" cried his mother,
who could not repress her tears. "Here, take this--"
She held out to him a hundred francs in gold, wrapped up in paper.
Philippe came up the stairs he had just descended, and took the money.
"Well; won't you kiss me?" she said, bursting into tears.
He pressed his mother in his arms, but without the warmth of feeling
which was all that could give value to the embrace.
"Where shall you go?" asked Agathe.
"To Florentine, Girodeau's mistress. Ah! they are real friends!" he
He went away. Agathe turned back with trembling limbs, and failing
eyes, and aching heart. She fell upon her knees, prayed God to take
her unnatural child into His own keeping, and abdicated her woeful
By February, 1822, Madame Bridau had settled into the attic room
recently occupied by Philippe, which was over the kitchen of her
former appartement. The painter's studio and bedroom was opposite, on
the other side of the staircase. When Joseph saw his mother thus
reduced, he was determined to make her as comfortable as possible.
After his brother's departure he assisted in the re-arrangement of the
garret room, to which he gave an artist's touch. He added a rug; the
bed, simple in character but exquisite in taste, had something
monastic about it; the walls, hung with a cheap glazed cotton selected
with taste, of a color which harmonized with the furniture and was
newly covered, gave the room an air of elegance and nicety. In the
hallway he added a double door, with a "portiere" to the inner one.
The window was shaded by a blind which gave soft tones to the light.
If the poor mother's life was reduced to the plainest circumstances
that the life of any woman could have in Paris, Agathe was at least
better off than all others in a like case, thanks to her son.
To save his mother from the cruel cares of such reduced housekeeping,
Joseph took her every day to dine at a table-d'hote in the rue de
Beaune, frequented by well-bred women, deputies, and titled people,
where each person's dinner cost ninety francs a month. Having nothing
but the breakfast to provide, Agathe took up for her son the old
habits she had formerly had with the father. But in spite of Joseph's
pious lies, she discovered the fact that her dinner was costing him
nearly a hundred francs a month. Alarmed at such enormous expense, and
not imaging that her son could earn much money by painting naked
women, she obtained, thanks to her confessor, the Abbe Loraux, a place
worth seven hundred francs a year in a lottery-office belonging to the
Comtesse de Bauvan, the widow of a Chouan leader. The lottery-offices
of the government, the lot, as one might say, of privileged widows,
ordinarily sufficed for the support of the family of each person who
managed them. But after the Restoration the difficulty of rewarding,
within the limits of constitutional government, all the services
rendered to the cause, led to the custom of giving to reduced women of
title not only one but two lottery-offices, worth, usually, from six
to ten thousand a year. In such cases, the widow of a general or
nobleman thus "protected" did not keep the lottery-office herself; she
employed a paid manager. When these managers were young men they were
obliged to employ an assistant; for, according to law, the offices had
to be kept open till midnight; moreover, the reports required by the
minister of finance involved considerable writing. The Comtesse de
Bauvan, to whom the Abbe Loraux explained the circumstances of the
widow Bridau, promised, in case her manager should leave, to give the
place to Agathe; meantime she stipulated that the widow should be
taken as assistant, and receive a salary of six hundred francs. Poor
Agathe, who was obliged to be at the office by ten in the morning, had
scarcely time to get her dinner. She returned to her work at seven in
the evening, remaining there till midnight. Joseph never, for two
years, failed to fetch his mother at night, and bring her back to the
rue Mazarin; and often he went to take her to dinner; his friends
frequently saw him leave the opera or some brilliant salon to be
punctually at midnight at the office in the rue Vivienne.
Agathe soon acquired the monotonous regularity of life which becomes a
stay and a support to those who have endured the shock of violent
sorrows. In the morning, after doing up her room, in which there were
no longer cats and little birds, she prepared the breakfast at her own
fire and carried it into the studio, where she ate it with her son.
She then arranged Joseph's bedroom, put out the fire in her own
chamber, and brought her sewing to the studio, where she sat by the
little iron stove, leaving the room if a comrade or a model entered
it. Though she understood nothing whatever of art, the silence of the
studio suited her. In the matter of art she made not the slightest
progress; she attempted no hypocrisy; she was utterly amazed at the
importance they all attached to color, composition, drawing. When the
Cenacle friends or some brother-painter, like Schinner, Pierre
Grassou, Leon de Lora,--a very youthful "rapin" who was called at that
time Mistigris,--discussed a picture, she would come back afterwards,
examine it attentively, and discover nothing to justify their fine
words and their hot disputes. She made her son's shirts, she mended
his stockings, she even cleaned his palette, supplied him with rags to
wipe his brushes, and kept things in order in the studio. Seeing how
much thought his mother gave to these little details, Joseph heaped
attentions upon her in return. If mother and son had no sympathies in
the matter of art, they were at least bound together by signs of
tenderness. The mother had a purpose. One morning as she was petting
Joseph while he was sketching a large picture (finished in after years
and never understood), she said, as it were, casually and aloud,--
"My God! what is he doing?"
"Oh, ah! he's sowing his wild oats; that fellow will make something of
himself by and by."
"But he has gone through the lesson of poverty; perhaps it was poverty
which changed him to what he is. If he were prosperous he would be
"You think, my dear mother, that he suffered during that journey of
his. You are mistaken; he kept carnival in New York just as he does
"But if he is suffering at this moment, near to us, would it not be
"Yes," replied Joseph. "For my part, I will gladly give him some
money; but I don't want to see him; he killed our poor Descoings."
"So," resumed Agathe, "you would not be willing to paint his
"For you, dear mother, I'd suffer martyrdom. I can make myself
remember nothing except that he is my brother."
"His portrait as a captain of dragoons on horseback?"
"Yes, I've a copy of a fine horse by Gros and I haven't any use for
"Well, then, go and see that friend of his and find out what has
become of him."
Agathe rose; her scissors and work fell at her feet; she went and
kissed Joseph's head, and dropped two tears on his hair.
"He is your passion, that fellow," said the painter. "We all have our
That afternoon, about four o'clock, Joseph went to the rue du Sentier
and found his brother, who had taken Giroudeau's place. The old
dragoon had been promoted to be cashier of a weekly journal
established by his nephew. Although Finot was still proprietor of the
other newspaper, which he had divided into shares, holding all the
shares himself, the proprietor and editor "de visu" was one of his
friends, named Lousteau, the son of that very sub-delegate of Issoudun
on whom the Bridaus' grandfather, Doctor Rouget, had vowed vengeance;
consequently he was the nephew of Madame Hochon. To make himself
agreeable to his uncle, Finot gave Philippe the place Giroudeau was
quitting; cutting off, however, half the salary. Moreover, daily, at
five o'clock, Giroudeau audited the accounts and carried away the
receipts. Coloquinte, the old veteran, who was the office boy and did
errands, also kept an eye on the slippery Philippe; who was, however,
behaving properly. A salary of six hundred francs, and the five
hundred of his cross sufficed him to live, all the more because,
living in a warm office all day and at the theatre on a free pass
every evening, he had only to provide himself with food and a place to
sleep in. Coloquinte was departing with the stamped papers on his
head, and Philippe was brushing his false sleeves of green linen, when
"Bless me, here's the cub!" cried Philippe. "Well, we'll go and dine
together. You shall go to the opera; Florine and Florentine have got a
box. I'm going with Giroudeau; you shall be of the party, and I'll
introduce you to Nathan."
He took his leaded cane, and moistened a cigar.
"I can't accept your invitation; I am to take our mother to dine at a
"Ah! how is she, the poor, dear woman?"
"She is pretty well," answered the painter, "I have just repainted our
father's portrait, and aunt Descoings's. I have also painted my own,
and I should like to give our mother yours, in the uniform of the
dragoons of the Imperial Guard."
"You will have to come and sit."
"I'm obliged to be in this hen-coop from nine o'clock till five."
"Two Sundays will be enough."
"So be it, little man," said Napoleon's staff officer, lighting his
cigar at the porter's lamp.
When Joseph related Philippe's position to his mother, on their way to
dinner in the rue de Beaune, he felt her arm tremble in his, and joy
lighted up her worn face; the poor soul breathed like one relieved of
a heavy weight. The next day, inspired by joy and gratitude, she paid
Joseph a number of little attentions; she decorated his studio with
flowers, and bought him two stands of plants. On the first Sunday when
Philippe was to sit, Agathe arranged a charming breakfast in the
studio. She laid it all out on the table; not forgetting a flask of
brandy, which, however, was only half full. She herself stayed behind
a screen, in which she made a little hole. The ex-dragoon sent his
uniform the night before, and she had not refrained from kissing it.
When Philippe was placed, in full dress, on one of those straw horses,
all saddled, which Joseph had hired for the occasion, Agathe, fearing
to betray her presence, mingled the soft sound of her tears with the
conversation of the two brothers. Philippe posed for two hours before
and two hours after breakfast. At three o'clock in the afternoon, he
put on his ordinary clothes and, as he lighted a cigar, he proposed to
his brother to go and dine together in the Palais-Royal, jingling gold
in his pocket as he spoke.
"No," said Joseph, "it frightens me to see gold about you."
"Ah! you'll always have a bad opinion of me in this house," cried the
colonel in a thundering voice. "Can't I save my money, too?"
"Yes, yes!" cried Agathe, coming out of her hiding-place, and kissing
her son. "Let us go and dine with him, Joseph!"
Joseph dared not scold his mother. He went and dressed himself; and
Philippe took them to the Rocher de Cancale, where he gave them a
splendid dinner, the bill for which amounted to a hundred francs.
"The devil!" muttered Joseph uneasily; "with an income of eleven
hundred francs you manage, like Ponchard in the 'Dame Blance,' to save
enough to buy estates."
"Bah, I'm on a run of luck," answered the dragoon, who had drunk
Hearing this speech just as they were on the steps of the cafe, and
before they got into the carriage to go to the theatre,--for Philippe
was to take his mother to the Cirque-Olympique (the only theatre her
confessor allowed her to visit),--Joseph pinched his mother's arm. She
at once pretended to feel unwell, and refused to go the theatre;
Philippe accordingly took them back to the rue Mazarin, where, as soon
as she was alone with Joseph in her garret, Agathe fell into a gloomy
The following Sunday Philippe came again. This time his mother was
visibly present at the sitting. She served the breakfast, and put
several questions to the dragoon. She then learned that the nephew of
old Madame Hochon, the friend of her mother, played a considerable
part in literature. Philippe and his friend Giroudeau lived among a
circle of journalists, actresses, and booksellers, where they were
regarded in the light of cashiers. Philippe, who had been drinking
kirsch before posing, was loquacious. He boasted that he was about to
become a great man. But when Joseph asked a question as to his
pecuniary resources he was dumb. It so happened that there was no
newspaper on the following day, it being a fete, and to finish the
picture Philippe proposed to sit again on the morrow. Joseph told him
that the Salon was close at hand, and as he did not have the money to
buy two frames for the pictures he wished to exhibit, he was forced to
procure it by finishing a copy of a Rubens which had been ordered by
Elie Magus, the picture-dealer. The original belonged to a wealthy
Swiss banker, who had only lent it for ten days, and the next day was
the last; the sitting must therefore be put off till the following
"Is that it?" asked Philippe, pointing to a picture by Rubens on an
"Yes," replied Joseph; "it is worth twenty thousand francs. That's
what genius can do. It will take me all to-morrow to get the tones of
the original and make the copy look so old it can't be distinguished
"Adieu, mother," said Philippe, kissing Agathe. "Next Sunday, then."
The next day Elie Magus was to come for his copy. Joseph's friend,
Pierre Grassou, who was working for the same dealer, wanted to see it
when finished. To play him a trick, Joseph, when he heard his knock,
put the copy, which was varnished with a special glaze of his own, in
place of the original, and put the original on his easel. Pierre
Grassou was completely taken in; and then amazed and delighted at
"Do you think it will deceive old Magus?" he said to Joseph.
"We shall see," answered the latter.
The dealer did not come as he had promised. It was getting late;
Agathe dined that day with Madame Desroches, who had lately lost her
husband, and Joseph proposed to Pierre Grassou to dine at his table
d'hote. As he went out he left the key of his studio with the
An hour later Philippe appeared and said to the concierge,--
"I am to sit this evening; Joseph will be in soon, and I will wait for
him in the studio."
The woman gave him the key; Philippe went upstairs, took the copy,
thinking it was the original, and went down again; returned the key to
the concierge with the excuse that he had forgotten something, and
hurried off to sell his Rubens for three thousand francs. He had taken
the precaution to convey a message from his brother to Elie Magus,
asking him not to call till the following day.
That evening when Joseph returned, bringing his mother from Madame
Desroches's, the concierge told him of Philippe's freak,--how he had
called intending to wait, and gone away again immediately.
"I am ruined--unless he has had the delicacy to take the copy," cried
the painter, instantly suspecting the theft. He ran rapidly up the
three flights and rushed into his studio. "God be praised!" he
ejaculated. "He is, what he always has been, a vile scoundrel."
Agathe, who had followed Joseph, did not understand what he was
saying; but when her son explained what had happened, she stood still,
with the tears in her eyes.
"Have I but one son?" she said in a broken voice.
"We have never yet degraded him to the eyes of strangers," said
Joseph; "but we must now warn the concierge. In future we shall have
to keep the keys ourselves. I'll finish his blackguard face from
memory; there's not much to do to it."
"Leave it as it is; it will pain me too much ever to look at it,"
answered the mother, heart-stricken and stupefied at such wickedness.
Philippe had been told how the money for this copy was to be expended;
moreover he knew the abyss into which he would plunge his brother
through the loss of the Rubens; but nothing restrained him. After this
last crime Agathe never mentioned him; her face acquired an expression
of cold and concentrated and bitter despair; one thought took
possession of her mind.
"Some day," she said to herself, "we shall hear of a Bridau in the
Two months later, as Agathe was about to start for her office, an old
officer, who announced himself as a friend of Philippe on urgent
business, called on Madame Bridau, who happened to be in Joseph's
When Giroudeau gave his name, mother and son trembled, and none the
less because the ex-dragoon had the face of a tough old sailor of the
worst type. His fishy gray eyes, his piebald moustache, the remains of
his shaggy hair fringing a skull that was the color of fresh butter,
all gave an indescribably debauched and libidinous expression to his
appearance. He wore an old iron-gray overcoat decorated with the red
ribbon of an officer of the Legion of honor, which met with difficulty
over a gastronomic stomach in keeping with a mouth that stretched from
ear to ear, and a pair of powerful shoulders. The torso was supported
by a spindling pair of legs, while the rubicund tints on the cheek-
bones bore testimony to a rollicking life. The lower part of the
cheeks, which were deeply wrinkled, overhung a coat-collar of velvet
the worse for wear. Among other adornments, the ex-dragoon wore
enormous gold rings in his ears.
"What a 'noceur'!" thought Joseph, using a popular expression, meaning
a "loose fish," which had lately passed into the ateliers.
"Madame," said Finot's uncle and cashier, "your son is in so
unfortunate a position that his friends find it absolutely necessary
to ask you to share the somewhat heavy expense which he is to them. He
can no longer do his work at the office; and Mademoiselle Florentine,
of the Porte-Saint-Martin, has taken him to lodge with her, in a
miserable attic in the rue de Vendome. Philippe is dying; and if you
and his brother are not able to pay for the doctor and medicines, we
shall be obliged, for the sake of curing him, to have him taken to the
hospital of the Capuchins. For three hundred francs we would keep him
where he is. But he must have a nurse; for at night, when Mademoiselle
Florentine is at the theatre, he persists in going out, and takes
things that are irritating and injurious to his malady and its
treatment. As we are fond of him, this makes us really very unhappy.
The poor fellow has pledged the pension of his cross for the next
three years; he is temporarily displaced from his office, and he has
literally nothing. He will kill himself, madame, unless we can put him
into the private asylum of Doctor Dubois. It is a decent hospital,
where they will take him for ten francs a day. Florentine and I will
pay half, if you will pay the rest; it won't be for more than two
"Monsieur, it is difficult for a mother not to be eternally grateful
to you for your kindness to her son," replied Agathe; "but this son is
banished from my heart, and as for money, I have none. Not to be a
burden on my son whom you see here, who works day and night and
deserves all the love his mother can give him, I am the assistant in a
lottery-office--at my age!"
"And you, young man," said the old dragoon to Joseph; "can't you do as
much for your brother as a poor dancer at the Porte-Saint-Martin and
an old soldier?"
"Look here!" said Joseph, out of patience; "do you want me to tell you
in artist language what I think of your visit? Well, you have come to
swindle us on false pretences."
"To-morrow your brother shall go to the hospital."
"And he will do very well there," answered Joseph. "If I were in like
case, I should go there too."
Giroudeau withdrew, much disappointed, and also really mortified at
being obliged to send to a hospital a man who had carried the
Emperor's orders at the battle of Montereau. Three months later, at
the end of July, as Agathe one morning was crossing the Pont Neuf to
avoid paying a sou at the Pont des Arts, she saw, coming along by the
shops of the Quai de l'Ecole, a man bearing all the signs of second-
class poverty, who, she thought, resembled Philippe. In Paris, there
are three distinct classes of poverty. First, the poverty of the man
who preserves appearances, and to whom a future still belongs; this is
the poverty of young men, artists, men of the world, momentarily
unfortunate. The outward signs of their distress are not visible,
except under the microscope of a close observer. These persons are the
equestrian order of poverty; they continue to drive about in
cabriolets. In the second order we find old men who have become
indifferent to everything, and, in June, put the cross of the Legion
of honor on alpaca overcoats; that is the poverty of small incomes,--
of old clerks, who live at Sainte-Perine and care no longer about
their outward man. Then comes, in the third place, poverty in rags,
the poverty of the people, the poverty that is poetic; which Callot,
Hogarth, Murillo, Charlet, Raffet, Gavarni, Meissonier, Art itself
adores and cultivates, especially during the carnival. The man in whom
poor Agathe thought she recognized her son was astride the last two
classes of poverty. She saw the ragged neck-cloth, the scurfy hat, the
broken and patched boots, the threadbare coat, whose buttons had shed
their mould, leaving the empty shrivelled pod dangling in congruity
with the torn pockets and the dirty collar. Scraps of flue were in the
creases of the coat, which showed plainly the dust that filled it. The
man drew from the pockets of his seam-rent iron-gray trousers a pair
of hands as black as those of a mechanic. A knitted woollen waistcoat,
discolored by use, showed below the sleeves of his coat, and above the
trousers, and no doubt served instead of a shirt. Philippe wore a
green silk shade with a wire edge over his eyes; his head, which was
nearly bald, the tints of his skin, and his sunken face too plainly
revealed that he was just leaving the terrible Hopital du Midi. His
blue overcoat, whitened at the seams, was still decorated with the
ribbon of his cross; and the passers-by looked at the hero, doubtless
some victim of the government, with curiosity and commiseration; the
rosette attracted notice, and the fiercest "ultra" was jealous for the
honor of the Legion. In those days, however much the government
endeavored to bring the Order into disrepute by bestowing its cross
right and left, there were not fifty-three thousand persons decorated.
Agathe trembled through her whole being. If it were impossible to love
this son any longer, she could still suffer for him. Quivering with
this last expression of motherhood, she wept as she saw the brilliant
staff officer of the Emperor turn to enter tobacconist's and pause on
the threshold; he had felt in his pocket and found nothing. Agathe
left the bridge, crossed the quai rapidly, took out her purse, thrust
it into Philippe's hand, and fled away as if she had committed a
crime. After that, she ate nothing for two days; before her was the
horrible vision of her son dying of hunger in the streets of Paris.
"When he has spent all the money in my purse, who will give him any?"
she thought. "Giroudeau did not deceive us; Philippe is just out of
She no longer saw the assassin of her poor aunt, the scourge of the
family, the domestic thief, the gambler, the drunkard, the low liver
of a bad life; she saw only the man recovering from illness, yet
doomed to die of starvation, the smoker deprived of his tobacco. At
forty-seven years of age she grew to look like a woman of seventy. Her
eyes were dimmed with tears and prayers. Yet it was not the last grief
this son was to bring upon her; her worst apprehensions were destined
to be realized. A conspiracy of officers was discovered at the heart
of the army, and articles from the "Moniteur" giving details of the
arrests were hawked about the streets.
In the depths of her cage in the lottery-office of the rue Vivienne,
Agathe heard the name of Philippe Bridau. She fainted, and the
manager, understanding her trouble and the necessity of taking certain
steps, gave her leave of absence for two weeks.
"Ah! my friend," she said to Joseph, as she went to bed that night,
"it is our severity which drove him to it."
"I'll go and see Desroches," answered Joseph.
While the artist was confiding his brother's affairs to the younger
Desroches,--who by this time had the reputation of being one of the
keenest and most astute lawyers in Paris, and who, moreover, did
sundry services for personages of distinction, among others for des
Lupeaulx, then secretary of a ministry,--Giroudeau called upon the
widow. This time, Agathe believed him.
"Madame," he said, "if you can produce twelve thousand francs your son
will be set at liberty for want of proof. It is necessary to buy the
silence of two witnesses."
"I will get the money," said the poor mother, without knowing how or
Inspired by this danger, she wrote to her godmother, old Madame
Hochon, begging her to ask Jean-Jacques Rouget to send her the twelve
thousand francs and save his nephew Philippe. If Rouget refused, she
entreated Madame Hochon to lend them to her, promising to return them
in two years. By return of courier, she received the following
My dear girl: Though your brother has an income of not less than
forty thousand francs a year, without counting the sums he has
laid by for the last seventeen years, and which Monsieur Hochon
estimates at more than six hundred thousand francs, he will not
give one penny to nephews whom he has never seen. As for me, you
know I cannot dispose of a farthing while my husband lives. Hochon
is the greatest miser in Issoudun. I do not know what he does with
his money; he does not give twenty francs a year to his
grandchildren. As for borrowing the money, I should have to get
his signature, and he would refuse it. I have not even attempted
to speak to your brother, who lives with a concubine, to whom he
is a slave. It is pitiable to see how the poor man is treated in
his own home, when he might have a sister and nephews to take care
I have hinted to you several times that your presence at Issoudun
might save your brother, and rescue a fortune of forty, perhaps
sixty, thousand francs a year from the claws of that slut; but you
either do not answer me, or you seem never to understand my
meaning. So to-day I am obliged to write without epistolary
circumlocution. I feel for the misfortune which has overtaken you,
but, my dearest, I can do no more than pity you. And this is why:
Hochon, at eighty-five years of age, takes four meals a day, eats
a salad with hard-boiled eggs every night, and frisks about like a
rabbit. I shall have spent my whole life--for he will live to
write my epitaph--without ever having had twenty francs in my
purse. If you will come to Issoudun and counteract the influence
of that concubine over your brother, you must stay with me, for
there are reasons why Rouget cannot receive you in his own house;
but even then, I shall have hard work to get my husband to let me
have you here. However, you can safely come; I can make him mind
me as to that. I know a way to get what I want out of him; I have
only to speak of making my will. It seems such a horrid thing to
do that I do not often have recourse to it; but for you, dear
Agathe, I will do the impossible.
I hope your Philippe will get out of his trouble; and I beg you to
employ a good lawyer. In any case, come to Issoudun as soon as you
can. Remember that your imbecile of a brother at fifty-seven is an
older and weaker man than Monsieur Hochon. So it is a pressing
matter. People are talking already of a will that cuts off your
inheritance; but Monsieur Hochon says there is still time to get
Adieu, my little Agathe; may God help you! Believe in the love of
Maximilienne Hochon, nee Lousteau.
P.S. Has my nephew, Etienne, who writes in the newspapers and is
intimate, they tell me, with your son Philippe, been to pay his
respects to you? But come at once to Issoudun, and we will talk
This letter made a great impression on Agathe, who showed it, of
course, to Joseph, to whom she had been forced to mention Giroudeau's
proposal. The artist, who grew wary when it concerned his brother,
pointed out to her that she ought to tell everything to Desroches.
Conscious of the wisdom of that advice, Agathe went with her son the
next morning, at six o'clock, to find Desroches at his house in the
rue de Bussy. The lawyer, as cold and stern as his late father, with a
sharp voice, a rough skin, implacable eyes, and the visage of a fox as
he licks his lips of the blood of chickens, bounded like a tiger when
he heard of Giroudeau's visit and proposal.
"And pray, mere Bridau," he cried, in his little cracked voice, "how
long are you going to be duped by your cursed brigand of a son? Don't
give him a farthing. Make yourself easy, I'll answer for Philippe. I
should like to see him brought before the Court of Peers; it might
save his future. You are afraid he will be condemned; but I say, may
it please God his lawyer lets him be convicted. Go to Issoudun, secure
the property for your children. If you don't succeed, if your brother
has made a will in favor of that woman, and you can't make him revoke
it,--well then, at least get all the evidence you can of undue
influence, and I'll institute proceedings for you. But you are too
honest a woman to know how to get at the bottom facts of such a
matter. I'll go myself to Issoudun in the holidays,--if I can."
That "go myself" made Joseph tremble in his skin. Desroches winked at
him to let his mother go downstairs first, and then the lawyer
detained the young man for a single moment.
"Your brother is a great scoundrel; he is the cause of the discovery
of this conspiracy,--intentionally or not, I can't say, for the rascal
is so sly no one can find out the exact truth as to that. Fool or
traitor,--take your choice. He will be put under the surveillance of
the police, nothing more. You needn't be uneasy; no one knows this
secret but myself. Go to Issoudun with your mother. You have good
sense; try to save the property."
"Come, my poor mother, Desroches is right," said Joseph, rejoining
Agathe on the staircase. "I have sold my two pictures, let us start
for Berry; you have two weeks' leave of absence."
After writing to her godmother to announce their arrival, Agathe and
Joseph started the next evening for their trip to Issoudun, leaving
Philippe to his fate. The diligence rolled through the rue d'Enfer
toward the Orleans highroad. When Agathe saw the Luxembourg, to which
Philippe had been transferred, she could not refrain from saying,--
"If it were not for the Allies he would never be there!"
Many sons would have made an impatient gesture and smiled with pity;
but the artist, who was alone with his mother in the coupe, caught her
in his arms and pressed her to his heart, exclaiming:--
"Oh, mother! you are a mother just as Raphael was a painter. And you
will always be a fool of a mother!"
Madame Bridau's mind, diverted before long from her griefs by the
distractions of the journey, began to dwell on the purpose of it. She
re-read the letter of Madame Hochon, which had so stirred up the
lawyer Desroches. Struck with the words "concubine" and "slut," which
the pen of a septuagenarian as pious as she was respectable had used
to designate the woman now in process of getting hold of Jean-Jacques
Rouget's property, struck also with the word "imbecile" applied to
Rouget himself, she began to ask herself how, by her presence at
Issoudun, she was to save the inheritance. Joseph, poor disinterested
artist that he was, knew little enough about the Code, and his
mother's last remark absorbed his mind.
"Before our friend Desroches sent us off to protect our rights, he
ought to have explained to us the means of doing so," he exclaimed.
"So far as my poor head, which whirls at the thought of Philippe in
prison,--without tobacco, perhaps, and about to appear before the
Court of Peers!--leaves me any distinct memory," returned Agathe, "I
think young Desroches said we were to get evidence of undue influence,
in case my brother has made a will in favor of that--that--woman."
"He is good at that, Desroches is," cried the painter. "Bah! if we can
make nothing of it I'll get him to come himself."
"Well, don't let us trouble our heads uselessly," said Agathe. "When
we get to Issoudun my godmother will tell us what to do."
This conversation, which took place just after Madame Bridau and
Joseph changed coaches at Orleans and entered the Sologne, is
sufficient proof of the incapacity of the painter and his mother to
play the part the inexorable Desroches had assigned to them.
In returning to Issoudun after thirty years' absence, Agathe was about
to find such changes in its manners and customs that it is necessary
to sketch, in a few words, a picture of that town. Without it, the
reader would scarcely understand the heroism displayed by Madame
Hochon in assisting her goddaughter, or the strange situation of Jean-
Jacques Rouget. Though Doctor Rouget had taught his son to regard
Agathe in the light of a stranger, it was certainly a somewhat
extraordinary thing that for thirty years a brother should have given
no signs of life to a sister. Such a silence was evidently caused by
peculiar circumstances, and any other sister and nephew than Agathe
and Joseph would long ago have inquired into them. There is, moreover,
a certain connection between the condition of the city of Issoudun and
the interests of the Bridau family, which can only be seen as the
story goes on.
Issoudun, be it said without offence to Paris, is one of the oldest
cities in France. In spite of the historical assumption which makes
the emperor Probus the Noah of the Gauls, Caesar speaks of the
excellent wine of Champ-Fort ("de Campo Forti") still one of the best
vintages of Issoudun. Rigord writes of this city in language which
leaves no doubt as to its great population and its immense commerce.
But these testimonies both assign a much lesser age to the city than
its ancient antiquity demands. In fact, the excavations lately
undertaken by a learned archaeologist of the place, Monsieur Armand
Peremet, have brought to light, under the celebrated tower of
Issoudun, a basilica of the fifth century, probably the only one in
France. This church preserves, in its very materials, the sign-manual
of an anterior civilization; for its stones came from a Roman temple
which stood on the same site.
Issoudun, therefore, according to the researches of this antiquary,
like other cities of France whose ancient or modern autonym ends in
"Dun" ("dunum") bears in its very name the certificate of an
autochthonous existence. The word "Dun," the appanage of all dignity
consecrated by Druidical worship, proves a religious and military
settlement of the Celts. Beneath the Dun of the Gauls must have lain
the Roman temple to Isis. From that comes, according to Chaumon, the
name of the city, Issous-Dun,--"Is" being the abbreviation of "Isis."
Richard Coeur-de-lion undoubtedly built the famous tower (in which he
coined money) above the basilica of the fifth century,--the third
monument of the third religion of this ancient town. He used the
church as a necessary foundation, or stay, for the raising of the
rampart; and he preserved it by covering it with feudal fortifications
as with a mantle. Issoudun was at that time the seat of the ephemeral
power of the Routiers and the Cottereaux, adventurers and free-
lancers, whom Henry II. sent against his son Richard, at the time of
his rebellion as Comte de Poitou.
The history of Aquitaine, which was not written by the Benedictines,
will probably never be written, because there are no longer
Benedictines: thus we are not able to light up these archaeological
tenebrae in the history of our manners and customs on every occasion
of their appearance. There is another testimony to the ancient
importance of Issoudun in the conversion into a canal of the
Tournemine, a little stream raised several feet above the level of the
Theols which surrounds the town. This is undoubtedly the work of Roman
genius. Moreover, the suburb which extends from the castle in a
northerly direction is intersected by a street which for more than two
thousand years has borne the name of the rue de Rome; and the
inhabitants of this suburb, whose racial characteristics, blood, and
physiognomy have a special stamp of their own, call themselves
descendants of the Romans. They are nearly all vine-growers, and
display a remarkable inflexibility of manners and customs, due,
undoubtedly, to their origin,--perhaps also to their victory over the
Cottereaux and the Routiers, whom they exterminated on the plain of
Charost in the twelfth century.
After the insurrection of 1830, France was too agitated to pay much
attention to the rising of the vine-growers of Issoudun; a terrible
affair, the facts of which have never been made public,--for good
reasons. In the first place, the bourgeois of Issoudun refused to
allow the military to enter the town. They followed the use and wont
of the bourgeoisie of the Middle Ages and declared themselves
responsible for their own city. The government was obliged to yield to
a sturdy people backed up by seven or eight thousand vine-growers, who
had burned all the archives, also the offices of "indirect taxation,"
and had dragged through the streets a customs officer, crying out at
every street lantern, "Let us hang him here!" The poor man's life was
saved by the national guard, who took him to prison on pretext of
drawing up his indictment. The general in command only entered the
town by virtue of a compromise made with the vine-growers; and it
needed some courage to go among them. At the moment when he showed
himself at the hotel-de-ville, a man from the faubourg de Rome slung a
"volant" round his neck (the "volant" is a huge pruning-hook fastened
to a pole, with which they trim trees) crying out, "No more clerks, or
there's an end to compromise!" The fellow would have taken off that
honored head, left untouched by sixteen years of war, had it not been
for the hasty intervention of one of the leaders of the revolt, to
whom a promise had been made that THE CHAMBERS SHOULD BE ASKED TO
SUPPRESS THE EXCISEMEN.
In the fourteenth century, Issoudun still had sixteen or seventeen
thousand inhabitants, remains of a population double that number in
the time of Rigord. Charles VII. possessed a mansion which still
exists, and was known, as late as the eighteenth century, as the
Maison du Roi. This town, then a centre of the woollen trade, supplied
that commodity to the greater part of Europe, and manufactured on a
large scale blankets, hats, and the excellent Chevreautin gloves.
Under Louis XIV., Issoudun, the birthplace of Baron and Bourdaloue,
was always cited as a city of elegance and good society, where the
language was correctly spoken. The curate Poupard, in his History of
Sancerre, mentions the inhabitants of Issoudun as remarkable among the
other Berrichons for subtlety and natural wit. To-day, the wit and the
splendor have alike disappeared. Issoudun, whose great extent of
ground bears witness to its ancient importance, has now barely twelve
thousand inhabitants, including the vine-dressers of four enormous
suburbs,--those of Saint-Paterne, Vilatte, Rome, and Alouette, which
are really small towns. The bourgeoisie, like that of Versailles, are
spread over the length and breadth of the streets. Issoudun still
holds the market for the fleeces of Berry; a commerce now threatened
by improvements in the stock which are being introduced everywhere
except in Berry.
The vineyards of Issoudun produce a wine which is drunk throughout the
two departments, and which, if manufactured as Burgundy and Gascony
manufacture theirs, would be one of the best wines in France. Alas,
"to do as our fathers did," with no innovations, is the law of the
land. Accordingly, the vine-growers continue to leave the refuse of
the grape in the juice during its fermentation, which makes the wine
detestable, when it might be a source of ever-springing wealth, and an
industry for the community. Thanks to the bitterness which the refuse
infuses into the wine, and which, they say, lessens with age, a
vintage will keep a century. This reason, given by the vine-grower in
excuse for his obstinacy, is of sufficient importance to oenology to
be made public here; Guillaume le Breton has also proclaimed it in
some lines of his "Phillippide."
The decline of Issoudun is explained by this spirit of sluggishness,
sunken to actual torpor, which a single fact will illustrate. When the
authorities were talking of a highroad between Paris and Toulouse, it
was natural to think of taking it from Vierzon to Chateauroux by way
of Issoudun. The distance was shorter than to make it, as the road now
is, through Vatan, but the leading people of the neighborhood and the
city council of Issoudun (whose discussion of the matter is said to be
recorded), demanded that it should go by Vatan, on the ground that if
the highroad went through their town, provisions would rise in price
and they might be forced to pay thirty sous for a chicken. The only
analogy to be found for this proceeding is in the wilder parts of
Sardinia, a land once so rich and populous, now so deserted. When
Charles Albert, with a praiseworthy intention of civilization, wished
to unite Sassari, the second capital of the island, with Cagliari by a
magnificent highway (the only one ever made in that wild waste by name
Sardinia), the direct line lay through Bornova, a district inhabited
by lawless people, all the more like our Arab tribes because they are
descended from the Moors. Seeing that they were about to fall into the
clutches of civilization, the savages of Bornova, without taking the
trouble to discuss the matter, declared their opposition to the road.
The government took no notice of it. The first engineer who came to
survey it, got a ball through his head, and died on his level. No
action was taken on this murder, but the road made a circuit which
lengthened it by eight miles!
The continual lowering of the price of wines drunk in the
neighborhood, though it may satisfy the desire of the bourgeoisie of
Issoudun for cheap provisions, is leading the way to the ruin of the
vine-growers, who are more and more burdened with the costs of
cultivation and the taxes; just as the ruin of the woollen trade is
the result of the non-improvement in the breeding of sheep. Country-
folk have the deepest horror of change; even that which is most
conducive to their interests. In the country, a Parisian meets a
laborer who eats an enormous quantity of bread, cheese, and
vegetables; he proves to him that if he would substitute for that diet
a certain portion of meat, he would be better fed, at less cost; that
he could work more, and would not use up his capital of health and
strength so quickly. The Berrichon sees the correctness of the
calculation, but he answers, "Think of the gossip, monsieur." "Gossip,
what do you mean?" "Well, yes, what would people say of me?" "He would
be the talk of the neighborhood," said the owner of the property on
which this scene took place; "they would think him as rich as a
tradesman. He is afraid of public opinion, afraid of being pointed at,
afraid of seeming ill or feeble. That's how we all are in this
region." Many of the bourgeoisie utter this phrase with feelings of
While ignorance and custom are invincible in the country regions,
where the peasants are left very much to themselves, the town of
Issoudun itself has reached a state of complete social stagnation.
Obliged to meet the decadence of fortunes by the practice of sordid
economy, each family lives to itself. Moreover, society is permanently
deprived of that distinction of classes which gives character to
manners and customs. There is no opposition of social forces, such as
that to which the cities of the Italian States in the Middle Ages owed
their vitality. There are no longer any nobles in Issoudun. The
Cottereaux, the Routiers, the Jacquerie, the religious wars and the
Revolution did away with the nobility. The town is proud of that
triumph. Issoudun has repeatedly refused to receive a garrison, always
on the plea of cheap provisions. She has thus lost a means of
intercourse with the age, and she has also lost the profits arising
from the presence of troops. Before 1756, Issoudun was one of the most
delightful of all the garrison towns. A judicial drama, which occupied
for a time the attention of France, the feud of a lieutenant-general
of the department with the Marquis de Chapt, whose son, an officer of
dragoons, was put to death,--justly perhaps, yet traitorously, for
some affair of gallantry,--deprived the town from that time forth of a
garrison. The sojourn of the forty-fourth demi-brigade, imposed upon
it during the civil war, was not of a nature to reconcile the
inhabitants to the race of warriors.
Bourges, whose population is yearly decreasing, is a victim of the
same social malady. Vitality is leaving these communities.
Undoubtedly, the government is to blame. The duty of an administration
is to discover the wounds upon the body-politic, and remedy them by
sending men of energy to the diseased regions, with power to change
the state of things. Alas, so far from that, it approves and
encourages this ominous and fatal tranquillity. Besides, it may be
asked, how could the government send new administrators and able
magistrates? Who, of such men, is willing to bury himself in the
arrondissements, where the good to be done is without glory? If, by
chance, some ambitious stranger settles there, he soon falls into the
inertia of the region, and tunes himself to the dreadful key of
provincial life. Issoudun would have benumbed Napoleon.
As a result of this particular characteristic, the arrondissement of
Issoudun was governed, in 1822, by men who all belonged to Berry. The
administration of power became either a nullity or a farce,--except in
certain cases, naturally very rare, which by their manifest importance
compelled the authorities to act. The procureur du roi, Monsieur
Mouilleron, was cousin to the entire community, and his substitute
belonged to one of the families of the town. The judge of the court,
before attaining that dignity, was made famous by one of those
provincial sayings which put a cap and bells on a man's head for the
rest of his life. As he ended his summing-up of all the facts of an
indictment, he looked at the accused and said: "My poor Pierre! the
thing is as plain as day; your head will be cut off. Let this be a
lesson to you." The commissary of police, holding office since the
Restoration, had relations throughout the arrondissement. Moreover,
not only was the influence of religion null, but the curate himself
was held in no esteem.
It was this bourgeoisie, radical, ignorant, and loving to annoy
others, which now related tales, more or less comic, about the
relations of Jean-Jacques Rouget with his servant-woman. The children
of these people went none the less to Sunday-school, and were as
scrupulously prepared for their communion: the schools were kept up
all the same; mass was said; the taxes were paid (the sole thing that
Paris extracts of the provinces), and the mayor passed resolutions.
But all these acts of social existence were done as mere routine, and
thus the laxity of the local government suited admirably with the
moral and intellectual condition of the governed. The events of the
following history will show the effects of this state of things, which
is not as unusual in the provinces as might be supposed. Many towns in
France, more particularly in the South, are like Issoudun. The
condition to which the ascendency of the bourgeoisie has reduced that
local capital is one which will spread over all France, and even to
Paris, if the bourgeois continues to rule the exterior and interior
policy of our country.
Now, one word of topography. Issoudun stretches north and south, along
a hillside which rounds towards the highroad to Chateauroux. At the
foot of the hill, a canal, now called the "Riviere forcee" whose