Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 online

. (page 4 of 10)
Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 4 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

suddenly learnt that she had allowed Monseigneur Martha to convert her to
the Roman Catholic faith. This thing, which she had refused to do when
solicited by her lawful husband, she had now done in the hope of ensuring
herself a lover's eternal affection. And all Paris was still stirred by
the magnificence exhibited at the Madeleine, on the occasion of the
baptism of this Jewess of five and forty, whose beauty and whose tears
had upset every heart.

* About 3000 dollars.

Gerard, on his side, was still flattered by the deep and touching
tenderness shown to him; but weariness was coming, and he had already
sought to break off the connection by avoiding any further assignations.
He well understood Eve's glances and her tears, and though he was moved
at sight of them he tried to excuse himself. "I assure you," said he, "my
mother has kept me so busy that I could not get away." But she, without a
word, still turned her tearful glance on him, and weak, like herself, in
despair that he should have been left alone with her in this fashion, he
yielded, unable to continue refusing. "Well, then," said he, "this
afternoon at four o'clock if you are free."

He had lowered his voice in speaking, but a slight rustle made him turn
his head and start like one in fault. It was the Baroness's daughter
Camille entering the room. She had heard nothing; but by the smile which
the others had exchanged, by the very quiver of the air, she understood
everything; an assignation for that very day and at the very spot which
she suspected. Some slight embarrassment followed, an exchange of anxious
and evil glances.

Camille, at three and twenty, was a very dark young woman, short of
stature and somewhat deformed, with her left shoulder higher than the
right. There seemed to be nothing of her father or mother in her. Her
case was one of those unforeseen accidents in family heredity which make
people wonder whence they can arise. Her only pride lay in her beautiful
black eyes and superb black hair, which, short as she was, would, said
she, have sufficed to clothe her. But her nose was long, her face
deviated to the left, and her chin was pointed. Her thin, witty, and
malicious lips bespoke all the rancour and perverse anger stored in the
heart of this uncomely creature, whom the thought of her uncomeliness
enraged. However, the one whom she most hated in the whole world was her
own mother, that _amorosa_ who was so little fitted to be a mother, who
had never loved her, never paid attention to her, but had abandoned her
to the care of servants from her very infancy. In this wise real hatred
had grown up between the two women, mute and frigid on the one side, and
active and passionate on the other. The daughter hated her mother because
she found her beautiful, because she had not been created in the same
image: beautiful with the beauty with which her mother crushed her. Day
by day she suffered at being sought by none, at realising that the
adoration of one and all still went to her mother. As she was amusing in
her maliciousness, people listened to her and laughed; however, the
glances of all the men - even and indeed especially the younger ones - soon
reverted to her triumphant mother, who seemingly defied old age. In part
for this reason Camille, with ferocious determination, had decided that
she would dispossess her mother of her last lover Gerard, and marry him
herself, conscious that such a loss would doubtless kill the Baroness.
Thanks to her promised dowry of five millions of francs, the young woman
did not lack suitors; but, little flattered by their advances, she was
accustomed to say, with her malicious laugh: "Oh! of course; why for five
millions they would take a wife from a mad-house." However, she, herself,
had really begun to love Gerard, who, good-natured as he was, evinced
much kindness towards this suffering young woman whom nature had treated
so harshly. It worried him to see her forsaken by everyone, and little by
little he yielded to the grateful tenderness which she displayed towards
him, happy, handsome man that he was, at being regarded as a demi-god and
having such a slave. Indeed, in his attempt to quit the mother there was
certainly a thought of allowing the daughter to marry him, which would be
an agreeable ending to it all, though he did not as yet acknowledge this,
ashamed as he felt and embarrassed by his illustrious name and all the
complications and tears which he foresaw.

The silence continued. Camille with her piercing glance, as sharp as any
knife, had told her mother that she knew the truth; and then with another
and pain-fraught glance she had complained to Gerard. He, in order to
re-establish equilibrium, could only think of a compliment: "Good
morning, Camille. Ah! that havana-brown gown of yours looks nice! It's
astonishing how well rather sombre colours suit you."

Camille glanced at her mother's white robe, and then at her own dark
gown, which scarcely allowed her neck and wrists to be seen. "Yes," she
replied laughing, "I only look passable when I don't dress as a young

Eve, ill at ease, worried by the growth of a rivalry in which she did not
as yet wish to believe, changed the conversation. "Isn't your brother
there?" she asked.

"Why yes, we came down together."

Hyacinthe, who came in at that moment, shook hands with Gerard in a weary
way. He was twenty, and had inherited his mother's pale blond hair, and
her long face full of Oriental languor; while from his father he had
derived his grey eyes and thick lips, expressive of unscrupulous
appetites. A wretched scholar, regarding every profession with the same
contempt, he had decided to do nothing. Spoilt by his father, he took
some little interest in poetry and music, and lived in an extraordinary
circle of artists, low women, madmen and bandits; boasting himself of all
sorts of crimes and vices, professing the very worst philosophical and
social ideas, invariably going to extremes, becoming in turn a
Collectivist, an Individualist, an Anarchist, a Pessimist, a Symbolist,
and what not besides; without, however, ceasing to be a Catholic, as this
conjunction of Catholicity with something else seemed to him the supreme
_bon ton_. In reality he was simply empty and rather a fool. In four
generations the vigorous hungry blood of the Duvillards, after producing
three magnificent beasts of prey, had, as if exhausted by the contentment
of every passion, ended in this sorry emasculated creature, who was
incapable alike of great knavery or great debauchery.

Camille, who was too intelligent not to realise her brother's
nothingness, was fond of teasing him; and looking at him as he stood
there, tightly buttoned in his long frock coat with pleated skirt - a
resurrection of the romantic period, which he carried to exaggeration,
she resumed: "Mamma has been asking for you, Hyacinthe. Come and show her
your gown. You are the one who would look nice dressed as a young girl."

However, he eluded her without replying. He was covertly afraid of her,
though they lived together in great intimacy, frankly exchanging
confidences respecting their perverse views of life. And he directed a
glance of disdain at the wonderful basket of orchids which seemed to him
past the fashion, far too common nowadays. For his part he had left the
lilies of life behind him, and reached the ranunculus, the flower of

The two last guests who were expected now arrived almost together. The
first was the investigating magistrate Amadieu, a little man of five and
forty, who was an intimate of the household and had been brought into
notoriety by a recent anarchist affair. Between a pair of fair, bushy
whiskers he displayed a flat, regular judicial face, to which he tried to
impart an expression of keenness by wearing a single eyeglass behind
which his glance sparkled. Very worldly, moreover, he belonged to the new
judicial school, being a distinguished psychologist and having written a
book in reply to the abuses of criminalist physiology. And he was also a
man of great, tenacious ambition, fond of notoriety and ever on the
lookout for those resounding legal affairs which bring glory. Behind him,
at last appeared General de Bozonnet, Gerard's uncle on the maternal
side, a tall, lean old man with a nose like an eagle's beak. Chronic
rheumatism had recently compelled him to retire from the service. Raised
to a colonelcy after the Franco-German War in reward for his gallant
conduct at St. Privat, he had, in spite of his extremely monarchical
connections, kept his sworn faith to Napoleon III. And he was excused in
his own sphere of society for this species of military Bonapartism, on
account of the bitterness with which he accused the Republic of having
ruined the army. Worthy fellow that he was, extremely fond of his sister,
Madame de Quinsac, it seemed as though he acted in accordance with some
secret desire of hers in accepting the invitations of Baroness Duvillard
by way of rendering Gerard's constant presence in her house more natural
and excusable.

However, the Baron and Duthil now returned from the study, laughing
loudly in an exaggerated way, doubtless to make the others believe that
they were quite easy in mind. And one and all passed into the large
dining-room where a big wood fire was burning, its gay flames shining
like a ray of springtide amid the fine mahogany furniture of English make
laden with silver and crystal. The room, of a soft mossy green, had an
unassuming charm in the pale light, and the table which in the centre
displayed the richness of its covers and the immaculate whiteness of its
linen adorned with Venetian point, seemed to have flowered miraculously
with a wealth of large tea roses, most admirable blooms for the season,
and of delicious perfume.

The Baroness seated the General on her right, and Amadieu on her left.
The Baron on his right placed Duthil, and on his left Gerard. Then the
young people installed themselves at either end, Camille between Gerard
and the General, and Hyacinthe between Duthil and Amadieu. And forthwith,
from the moment of starting on the scrambled eggs and truffles,
conversation began, the usual conversation of Parisian _dejeuners_, when
every event, great or little, of the morning or the day before is passed
in review: the truths and the falsehoods current in every social sphere,
the financial scandal, and the political adventure of the hour, the novel
that has just appeared, the play that has just been produced, the stories
which should only be retailed in whispers, but which are repeated aloud.
And beneath all the light wit which circulates, beneath all the laughter,
which often has a false ring, each retains his or her particular worry,
or distress of mind, at times so acute that it becomes perfect agony.

With his quiet and wonted impudence, the Baron, bravely enough, was the
first to speak of the article in the "Voix du Peuple." "I say, have you
read Sagnier's article this morning? It's a good one; he has _verve_ you
know, but what a dangerous lunatic he is!"

This set everybody at ease, for the article would certainly have weighed
upon the _dejeuner_ had no one mentioned it.

"It's the 'Panama' dodge over again!" cried Duthil. "But no, no, we've
had quite enough of it!"

"Why," resumed the Baron, "the affair of the African Railway Lines is as
clear as spring water! All those whom Sagnier threatens may sleep in
peace. The truth is that it's a scheme to upset Barroux's ministry. Leave
to interpellate will certainly be asked for this afternoon. You'll see
what a fine uproar there'll be in the Chamber."

"That libellous, scandal-seeking press," said Amadieu gravely, "is a
dissolving agent which will bring France to ruin. We ought to have laws
against it."

The General made an angry gesture: "Laws, what's the use of them, since
nobody has the courage to enforce them."

Silence fell. With a light, discreet step the house-steward presented
some grilled mullet. So noiseless was the service amid the cheerful
perfumed warmth that not even the faintest clatter of crockery was heard.
Without anyone knowing how it had come about, however, the conversation
had suddenly changed; and somebody inquired: "So the revival of the piece
is postponed?"

"Yes," said Gerard, "I heard this morning that 'Polyeucte' wouldn't get
its turn till April at the earliest."

At this Camille, who had hitherto remained silent, watching the young
Count and seeking to win him back, turned her glittering eyes upon her
father and mother. It was a question of that revival in which Silviane
was so stubbornly determined to make her _debut_. However, the Baron and
the Baroness evinced perfect serenity, having long been acquainted with
all that concerned each other. Moreover Eve was too much occupied with
her own passion to think of anything else; and the Baron too busy with
the fresh application which he intended to make in tempestuous fashion at
the Ministry of Fine Arts, so as to wrest Silviane's engagement from
those in office. He contented himself with saying: "How would you have
them revive pieces at the Comedie! They have no actresses left there."

"Oh, by the way," the Baroness on her side simply remarked, "yesterday,
in that play at the Vaudeville, Delphine Vignot wore such an exquisite
gown. She's the only one too who knows how to arrange her hair."

Thereupon Duthil, in somewhat veiled language, began to relate a story
about Delphine and a well-known senator. And then came another scandal,
the sudden and almost suspicious death of a lady friend of the
Duvillards'; whereupon the General, without any transition, broke in to
relieve his bitter feelings by denouncing the idiotic manner in which the
army was nowadays organised. Meantime the old Bordeaux glittered like
ruby blood in the delicate crystal glasses. A truffled fillet of venison
had just cast its somewhat sharp scent amidst the dying perfume of the
roses, when some asparagus made its appearance, a _primeur_ which once
had been so rare but which no longer caused any astonishment.

"Nowadays we get it all through the winter," said the Baron with a
gesture of disenchantment.

"And so," asked Gerard at the same moment, "the Princess de Harn's
_matinee_ is for this afternoon?"

Camille quickly intervened. "Yes, this afternoon. Shall you go?"

"No, I don't think so, I shan't be able," replied the young man in

"Ah! that little Princess, she's really deranged you know," exclaimed
Duthil. "You are aware that she calls herself a widow? But the truth, it
seems, is that her husband, a real Prince, connected with a royal house
and very handsome, is travelling about the world in the company of a
singer. She with her vicious urchin-like face preferred to come and reign
in Paris, in that mansion of the Avenue Hoche, which is certainly the
most extraordinary Noah's ark imaginable, with its swarming of
cosmopolitan society indulging in every extravagance!"

"Be quiet, you malicious fellow," the Baroness gently interrupted. "We,
here, are very fond of Rosemonde, who is a charming woman."

"Oh! certainly," Camille again resumed. "She invited us; and we are going
to her place by-and-by, are we not, mamma?"

To avoid replying, the Baroness pretended that she did not hear, whilst
Duthil, who seemed to be well-informed concerning the Princess, continued
to make merry over her intended _matinee_, at which she meant to produce
some Spanish dancing girls, whose performance was so very indecorous that
all Paris, forewarned of the circumstance, would certainly swarm to her
house. And he added: "You've heard that she has given up painting. Yes,
she busies herself with chemistry. Her _salon_ is full of Anarchists
now - and, by the way, it seemed to me that she had cast her eyes on you,
my dear Hyacinthe."

Hyacinthe had hitherto held his tongue, as if he took no interest in
anything. "Oh! she bores me to death," he now condescended to reply. "If
I'm going to her _matinee_ it's simply in the hope of meeting my friend
young Lord George Eldrett, who wrote to me from London to give me an
appointment at the Princess's. And I admit that hers is the only _salon_
where I find somebody to talk to."

"And so," asked Amadieu in an ironical way, "you have now gone over to

With his air of lofty elegance Hyacinthe imperturbably confessed his
creed: "But it seems to me, monsieur, that in these times of universal
baseness and ignominy, no man of any distinction can be other than an

A laugh ran round the table. Hyacinthe was very much spoilt, and
considered very entertaining. His father in particular was immensely
amused by the notion that he of all men should have an Anarchist for a
son. However, the General, in his rancorous moments, talked anarchically
enough of blowing up a society which was so stupid as to let itself be
led by half a dozen disreputable characters. And, indeed, the
investigating magistrate, who was gradually making a specialty of
Anarchist affairs, proved the only one who opposed the young man,
defending threatened civilisation and giving terrifying particulars
concerning what he called the army of devastation and massacre. The
others, while partaking of some delicious duck's-liver _pate_, which the
house-steward handed around, continued smiling. There was so much misery,
said they; one must take everything into account: things would surely end
by righting themselves. And the Baron himself declared, in a conciliatory
manner: "It's certain that one might do something, though nobody knows
exactly what. As for all sensible and moderate claims, oh! I agree to
them in advance. For instance, the lot of the working classes may be
ameliorated, charitable enterprises may be undertaken, such, for
instance, as our Asylum for the Invalids of Labour, which we have reason
to be proud of. But we must not be asked for impossibilities."

With the dessert came a sudden spell of silence; it was as if, amidst the
restless fluttering of the conversation, and the dizziness born of the
copious meal, each one's worry or distress was again wringing the heart
and setting an expression of perturbation on the countenance. The nervous
unconscientiousness of Duthil, threatened with denunciation, was seen to
revive; so, too, the anxious anger of the Baron, who was meditating how
he might possibly manage to content Silviane. That woman was this sturdy,
powerful man's taint, the secret sore which would perhaps end by eating
him away and destroying him. But it was the frightful drama in which the
Baroness, Camille and Gerard were concerned that flitted by most visibly
across the faces of all three of them: that hateful rivalry of mother and
daughter, contending for the man they loved. And, meantime, the
silver-gilt blades of the dessert-knives were delicately peeling choice
fruit. And there were bunches of golden grapes looking beautifully fresh,
and a procession of sweetmeats, little cakes, an infinity of dainties,
over which the most satiated appetites lingered complacently.

Then, just as the finger-glasses were being served, a footman came and
bent over the Baroness, who answered in an undertone, "Well, show him
into the _salon_, I will join him there." And aloud to the others she
added: "It's Monsieur l'Abbe Froment, who has called and asks most
particularly to see me. He won't be in our way; I think that almost all
of you know him. Oh! he's a genuine saint, and I have much sympathy for

For a few minutes longer they loitered round the table, and then at last
quitted the dining-room, which was full of the odours of viands, wines,
fruits and roses; quite warm, too, with the heat thrown out by the big
logs of firewood, which were falling into embers amidst the somewhat
jumbled brightness of all the crystal and silver, and the pale, delicate
light which fell upon the disorderly table.

Pierre had remained standing in the centre of the little blue and silver
_salon_. Seeing a tray on which the coffee and the liqueurs were in
readiness, he regretted that he had insisted upon being received. And his
embarrassment increased when the company came in rather noisily, with
bright eyes and rosy cheeks. However, his charitable fervour had revived
so ardently within him that he overcame this embarrassment, and all that
remained to him of it was a slight feeling of discomfort at bringing the
whole frightful morning which he had just spent amid such scenes of
wretchedness, so much darkness and cold, so much filth and hunger, into
this bright, warm, perfumed affluence, where the useless and the
superfluous overflowed around those folks who seemed so gay at having
made a delightful meal.

However, the Baroness at once came forward with Gerard, for it was
through the latter, whose mother he knew, that the priest had been
presented to the Duvillards at the time of the famous conversion. And as
he apologised for having called at such an inconvenient hour, the
Baroness responded: "But you are always welcome, Monsieur l'Abbe. You
will allow me just to attend to my guests, won't you? I will be with you
in an instant."

She thereupon returned to the table on which the tray had been placed, in
order to serve the coffee and the liqueurs, with her daughter's
assistance. Gerard, however, remained with Pierre; and, it so chanced,
began to speak to him of the Asylum for the Invalids of Labour, where
they had met one another at the recent laying of the foundation-stone of
a new pavilion which was being erected, thanks to a handsome donation of
100,000 francs made by Baron Duvillard. So far, the enterprise only
comprised four pavilions out of the fourteen which it was proposed to
erect on the vast site given by the City of Paris on the peninsula of
Gennevilliers*; and so the subscription fund remained open, and, indeed,
no little noise was made over this charitable enterprise, which was
regarded as a complete and peremptory reply to the accusations of those
evilly disposed persons who charged the satiated _bourgeoisie_ with doing
nothing for the workers. But the truth was that a magnificent chapel,
erected in the centre of the site, had absorbed two-thirds of the funds
hitherto collected. Numerous lady patronesses, chosen from all the
"worlds" of Paris - the Baroness Duvillard, the Countess de Quinsac, the
Princess Rosemonde de Harn, and a score of others - were entrusted with
the task of keeping the enterprise alive by dint of collections and fancy
bazaars. But success had been chiefly obtained, thanks to the happy idea
of ridding the ladies of all the weighty cares of organisation, by
choosing as managing director a certain Fonsegue, who, besides being a
deputy and editor of the "Globe" newspaper, was a prodigious promoter of
all sorts of enterprises. And the "Globe" never paused in its propaganda,
but answered the attacks of the revolutionaries by extolling the
inexhaustible charity of the governing classes in such wise that, at the
last elections, the enterprise had served as a victorious electoral

* This so-called peninsula lies to the northwest of Paris, and
is formed by the windings of the Seine. - Trans.

However, Camille was walking about with a steaming cup of coffee in her
hand: "Will you take some coffee, Monsieur l'Abbe?" she inquired.

"No, thank you, mademoiselle."

"A glass of Chartreuse then?"

"No, thank you."

Then everybody being served, the Baroness came back and said amiably:
"Come, Monsieur l'Abbe, what do you desire of me?"

Pierre began to speak almost in an undertone, his throat contracting and
his heart beating with emotion. "I have come, madame, to appeal to your
great kindness of heart. This morning, in a frightful house, in the Rue
des Saules, behind Montmartre, I beheld a sight which utterly upset me.
You can have no idea what an abode of misery and suffering it was; its
inmates without fire or bread, the men reduced to idleness because there
is no work, the mothers having no more milk for their babes, the children
barely clad, coughing and shivering. And among all these horrors I saw
the worst, the most abominable of all, an old workman, laid on his back
by age, dying of hunger, huddled on a heap of rags, in a nook which a dog
would not even accept as kennel."

He tried to recount things as discreetly as possible, frightened by the
very words he spoke, the horrors he had to relate in that sphere of
superlative luxury and enjoyment, before those happy ones who possessed
all the gifts of this world; for - to use a slang expression - he fully
realised that he sang out of tune, and in most uncourteous fashion. What

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 4 of 10)