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a strange idea of his to have called at the hour when one has just
finished _dejeuner_, when the aroma of hot coffee flatters happy
digestion. Nevertheless he went on, and even ended by raising his voice,
yielding to the feeling of revolt which gradually stirred him, going to
the end of his terrible narrative, naming Laveuve, insisting on the
unjust abandonment in which the old man was left, and asking for succour
in the name of human compassion. And the whole company approached to
listen to him; he could see the Baron and the General, and Duthil and
Amadieu, in front of him, sipping their coffee, in silence, without a
gesture.

"Well, madame," he concluded, "it seemed to me that one could not leave
that old man an hour longer in such a frightful position, and that this
very evening you would have the extreme goodness to have him admitted
into the Asylum of the Invalids of Labour, which is, I think, the proper
and only place for him."

Tears had moistened Eve's beautiful eyes. She was in consternation at so
sad a story coming to her to spoil her afternoon when she was looking
forward to her assignation with Gerard. Weak and indolent as she was,
lacking all initiative, too much occupied moreover with her own person,
she had only accepted the presidency of the Committee on the condition
that all administrative worries were to fall on Fonsegue. "Ah! Monsieur
l'Abbe," she murmured, "you rend my heart. But I can do nothing, nothing
at all, I assure you. Moreover, I believe that we have already inquired
into the affair of that man Laveuve. With us, you know, there must be the
most serious guarantees with regard to every admission. A reporter is
chosen who has to give us full information. Wasn't it you, Monsieur
Duthil, who was charged with this man Laveuve's affair?"

The deputy was finishing a glass of Chartreuse. "Yes, it was I. That fine
fellow played you a comedy, Monsieur l'Abbe. He isn't at all ill, and if
you left him any money you may be sure he went down to drink it as soon
as you were gone. For he is always drunk; and, besides that, he has the
most hateful disposition imaginable, crying out from morning till evening
against the _bourgeois_, and saying that if he had any strength left in
his arms he would undertake to blow up the whole show. And, moreover, he
won't go into the asylum; he says that it's a real prison where one's
guarded by Beguins who force one to hear mass, a dirty convent where the
gates are shut at nine in the evening! And there are so many of them like
that, who rather than be succoured prefer their liberty, with cold and
hunger and death. Well then, let the Laveuves die in the street, since
they refuse to be with us, and be warm and eat in our asylums!"

The General and Amadieu nodded their heads approvingly. But Duvillard
showed himself more generous. "No, no, indeed! A man's a man after all,
and should be succoured in spite of himself."

Eve, however, in despair at the idea that she would be robbed of her
afternoon, struggled and sought for reasons. "I assure you that my hands
are altogether tied. Monsieur l'Abbe does not doubt my heart or my zeal.
But how call I possibly assemble the Committee without a few days' delay?
And I have particular reasons for coming to no decision, especially in an
affair which has already been inquired into and pronounced upon, without
the Committee's sanction." Then, all at once she found a solution: "What
I advise you to do, Monsieur l'Abbe, is to go at once to see Monsieur
Fonsegue, our managing director. He alone can act in an urgent case, for
he knows that the ladies have unlimited confidence in him and approve
everything he does."

"You will find Fonsegue at the Chamber," added Duthil smiling, "only the
sitting will be a warm one, and I doubt whether you will be able to have
a comfortable chat with him."

Pierre, whose heart had contracted yet more painfully, insisted on the
subject no further; but at once made up his mind to see Fonsegue, and in
any event obtain from him a promise that the wretched Laveuve should be
admitted to the Asylum that very evening. Then he lingered in the saloon
for a few minutes listening to Gerard, who obligingly pointed out to him
how he might best convince the deputy, which was by alleging how bad an
effect such a story could have, should it be brought to light by the
revolutionary newspapers. However, the guests were beginning to take
their leave. The General, as he went off, came to ask his nephew if he
should see him that afternoon at his mother's, Madame de Quinsac, whose
"day" it was: a question which the young man answered with an evasive
gesture when he noticed that both Eve and Camille were looking at him.
Then came the turn of Amadieu, who hurried off saying that a serious
affair required his presence at the Palace of Justice. And Duthil soon
followed him in order to repair to the Chamber.

"I'll see you between four and five at Silviane's, eh?" said the Baron as
he conducted him to the door. "Come and tell me what occurs at the
Chamber in consequence of that odious article of Sagnier's. I must at all
events know. For my part I shall go to the Ministry of Fine Arts, to
settle that affair of the Comedie; and besides I've some calls to make,
some contractors to see, and a big launching and advertisement affair to
settle."

"It's understood then, between four and five, at Silviane's," said the
deputy, who went off again mastered by his vague uneasiness, his anxiety
as to what turn that nasty affair of the African Railway Lines might
take.

And all of them had forgotten Laveuve, the miserable wretch who lay at
death's door; and all of them were hastening away to their business or
their passions, caught in the toils, sinking under the grindstone and
whisked away by that rush of all Paris, whose fever bore them along,
throwing one against another in an ardent scramble, in which the sole
question was who should pass over the others and crush them.

"And so, mamma," said Camille, who continued to scrutinise her mother and
Gerard, "you are going to take us to the Princess's _matinee_?"

"By-and-by, yes. Only I shan't be able to stay there with you. I received
a telegram from Salmon about my corsage this morning, and I must
absolutely go to try it on at four o'clock."

By the slight trembling of her mother's voice, the girl felt certain that
she was telling a falsehood. "Oh!" said she, "I thought you were only
going to try it on to-morrow? In that case I suppose we are to go and
call for you at Salmon's with the carriage on leaving the _matinee_?"

"Oh! no my dear! One never knows when one will be free; and besides, if I
have a moment, I shall call at the _modiste's_."

Camille's secret rage brought almost a murderous glare to her dark eyes.
The truth was evident. But however passionately she might desire to set
some obstacle across her mother's path, she could not, dared not, carry
matters any further. In vain had she attempted to implore Gerard with her
eyes. He was standing to take his leave, and turned away his eyes.
Pierre, who had become acquainted with many things since he had
frequented the house, noticed how all three of them quivered, and divined
thereby the mute and terrible drama.

At this moment, however, Hyacinthe, stretched in an armchair, and
munching an ether capsule, the only liqueur in which he indulged, raised
his voice: "For my part, you know, I'm going to the Exposition du Lis.
All Paris is swarming there. There's one painting in particular, 'The
Rape of a Soul,' which it's absolutely necessary for one to have seen."

"Well, but I don't refuse to drive you there," resumed the Baroness.
"Before going to the Princess's we can look in at that exhibition."

"That's it, that's it," hastily exclaimed Camille, who, though she
harshly derided the symbolist painters as a rule, now doubtless desired
to delay her mother. Then, forcing herself to smile, she asked: "Won't
you risk a look-in at the Exposition du Lis with us, Monsieur Gerard?"

"Well, no," replied the Count, "I want to walk. I shall go with Monsieur
l'Abbe Froment to the Chamber."

Thereupon he took leave of mother and daughter, kissing the hand of each
in turn. It had just occurred to him that to while away his time he also
might call for a moment at Silviane's, where, like the others, he had his
_entrees_. On reaching the cold and solemn courtyard he said to the
priest, "Ah! it does one good to breathe a little cool air. They keep
their rooms too hot, and all those flowers, too, give one the headache."

Pierre for his part was going off with his brain in a whirl, his hands
feverish, his senses oppressed by all the luxury which he left behind
him, like the dream of some glowing, perfumed paradise where only the
elect had their abode. At the same time his reviving thirst for charity
had become keener than ever, and without listening to the Count, who was
speaking very affectionately of his mother, he reflected as to how he
might obtain Laveuve's admission to the Asylum from Fonsegue. However,
when the door of the mansion had closed behind them and they had taken a
few steps along the street, it occurred to Pierre that a moment
previously a sudden vision had met his gaze. Had he not seen a workman
carrying a tool-bag, standing and waiting on the foot pavement across the
road, gazing at that monumental door, closed upon so much fabulous
wealth - a workman in whom he fancied he had recognised Salvat, that
hungry fellow who had gone off that morning in search of work? At this
thought Pierre hastily turned round. Such wretchedness in face of so much
affluence and enjoyment made him feel anxious. But the workman, disturbed
in his contemplation, and possibly fearing that he had been recognised,
was going off with dragging step. And now, getting only a back view of
him, Pierre hesitated, and ended by thinking that he must have been
mistaken.



III

RANTERS AND RULERS

WHEN Abbe Froment was about to enter the Palais-Bourbon he remembered
that he had no card, and he was making up his mind that he would simply
ask for Fonsegue, though he was not known to him, when, on reaching the
vestibule, he perceived Mege, the Collectivist deputy, with whom he had
become acquainted in his days of militant charity in the poverty-stricken
Charonne district.

"What, you here? You surely have not come to evangelise us?" said Mege.

"No, I've come to see Monsieur Fonsegue on an urgent matter, about a poor
fellow who cannot wait."

"Fonsegue? I don't know if he has arrived. Wait a moment." And stopping a
short, dark young fellow with a ferreting, mouse-like air, Mege said to
him: "Massot, here's Monsieur l'Abbe Froment, who wants to speak to your
governor at once."

"The governor? But he isn't here. I left him at the office of the paper,
where he'll be detained for another quarter of an hour. However, if
Monsieur l'Abbe likes to wait he will surely see him here."

Thereupon Mege ushered Pierre into the large waiting-hall, the Salle des
Pas Perdus, which in other moments looked so vast and cold with its
bronze Minerva and Laocoon, and its bare walls on which the pale mournful
winter light fell from the glass doors communicating with the garden.
Just then, however, it was crowded, and warmed, as it were, by the
feverish agitation of the many groups of men that had gathered here and
there, and the constant coming and going of those who hastened through
the throng. Most of these were deputies, but there were also numerous
journalists and inquisitive visitors. And a growing uproar prevailed:
colloquies now in undertones, now in loud voices, exclamations and bursts
of laughter, amidst a deal of passionate gesticulation, Mege's return
into the tumult seemed to fan it. He was tall, apostolically thin, and
somewhat neglectful of his person, looking already old and worn for his
age, which was but five and forty, though his eyes still glowed with
youth behind the glasses which never left his beak-like nose. And he had
a warm but grating voice, and had always been known to cough, living on
solely because he was bitterly intent on doing so in order to realise the
dream of social re-organisation which haunted him. The son of an
impoverished medical man of a northern town, he had come to Paris when
very young, living there during the Empire on petty newspaper and other
unknown work, and first making a reputation as an orator at the public
meetings of the time. Then, after the war, having become the chief of the
Collectivist party, thanks to his ardent faith and the extraordinary
activity of his fighting nature, he had at last managed to enter the
Chamber, where, brimful of information, he fought for his ideas with
fierce determination and obstinacy, like a _doctrinaire_ who has decided
in his own mind what the world ought to be, and who regulates in advance,
and bit by bit, the whole dogma of Collectivism. However, since he had
taken pay as a deputy, the outside Socialists had looked upon him as a
mere rhetorician, an aspiring dictator who only tried to cast society in
a new mould for the purpose of subordinating it to his personal views and
ruling it.

"You know what is going on?" he said to Pierre. "This is another nice
affair, is it not? But what would you have? We are in mud to our very
ears."

He had formerly conceived genuine sympathy for the priest, whom he had
found so gentle with all who suffered, and so desirous of social
regeneration. And the priest himself had ended by taking an interest in
this authoritarian dreamer, who was resolved to make men happy in spite
even of themselves. He knew that he was poor, and led a retired life with
his wife and four children, to whom he was devoted.

"You can well understand that I am no ally of Sagnier's," Mege resumed.
"But as he chose to speak out this morning and threaten to publish the
names of all those who have taken bribes, we can't allow ourselves to
pass as accomplices any further. It has long been said that there was
some nasty jobbery in that suspicious affair of the African railways. And
the worst is that two members of the present Cabinet are in question, for
three years ago, when the Chambers dealt with Duvillard's emission,
Barroux was at the Home Department, and Monferrand at that of Public
Works. Now that they have come back again, Monferrand at the Home
Department, and Barroux at that of Finance, with the Presidency of the
Council, it isn't possible, is it, for us to do otherwise than compel
them to enlighten us, in their own interest even, about their former
goings-on? No, no, they can no longer keep silence, and I've announced
that I intend to interpellate them this very day."

It was the announcement of Mege's interpellation, following the terrible
article of the "Voix du Peuple," which thus set the lobbies in an uproar.
And Pierre remained rather scared at this big political affair falling
into the midst of his scheme to save a wretched pauper from hunger and
death. Thus he listened without fully understanding the explanations
which the Socialist deputy was passionately giving him, while all around
them the uproar increased, and bursts of laughter rang out, testifying to
the astonishment which the others felt at seeing Mege in conversation
with a priest.

"How stupid they are!" said Mege disdainfully. "Do they think then that I
eat a cassock for _dejeuner_ every morning? But I beg your pardon, my
dear Monsieur Froment. Come, take a place on that seat and wait for
Fonsegue."

Then he himself plunged into all the turmoil, and Pierre realised that
his best course was to sit down and wait quietly. His surroundings began
to influence and interest him, and he gradually forgot Laveuve for the
passion of the Parliamentary crisis amidst which he found himself cast.
The frightful Panama adventure was scarcely over; he had followed the
progress of that tragedy with the anguish of a man who every night
expects to hear the tocsin sound the last hour of olden, agonising
society. And now a little Panama was beginning, a fresh cracking of the
social edifice, an affair such as had been frequent in all parliaments in
connection with big financial questions, but one which acquired mortal
gravity from the circumstances in which it came to the front. That story
of the African Railway Lines, that little patch of mud, stirred up and
exhaling a perturbing odour, and suddenly fomenting all that emotion,
fear, and anger in the Chamber, was after all but an opportunity for
political strife, a field on which the voracious appetites of the various
"groups" would take exercise and sharpen; and, at bottom, the sole
question was that of overthrowing the ministry and replacing it by
another. Only, behind all that lust of power, that continuous onslaught
of ambition, what a distressful prey was stirring - the whole people with
all its poverty and its sufferings!

Pierre noticed that Massot, "little Massot," as he was generally called,
had just seated himself on the bench beside him. With his lively eye and
ready ear listening to everything and noting it, gliding everywhere with
his ferret-like air, Massot was not there in the capacity of a gallery
man, but had simply scented a stormy debate, and come to see if he could
not pick up material for some occasional "copy." And this priest lost in
the midst of the throng doubtless interested him.

"Have a little patience, Monsieur l'Abbe," said he, with the amiable
gaiety of a young gentleman who makes fun of everything. "The governor
will certainly come, for he knows well enough that they are going to heat
the oven here. You are not one of his constituents from La Correze, are
you?"

"No, no! I belong to Paris; I've come on account of a poor fellow whom I
wish to get admitted into the Asylum of the Invalids of Labour."

"Oh! all right. Well, I'm a child of Paris, too."

Then Massot laughed. And indeed he was a child of Paris, son of a chemist
of the St. Denis district, and an ex-dunce of the Lycee Charlemagne,
where he had not even finished his studies. He had failed entirely, and
at eighteen years of age had found himself cast into journalism with
barely sufficient knowledge of orthography for that calling. And for
twelve years now, as he often said, he had been a rolling stone wandering
through all spheres of society, confessing some and guessing at others.
He had seen everything, and become disgusted with everything, no longer
believing in the existence of great men, or of truth, but living
peacefully enough on universal malice and folly. He naturally had no
literary ambition, in fact he professed a deliberate contempt for
literature. Withal, he was not a fool, but wrote in accordance with no
matter what views in no matter what newspaper, having neither conviction
nor belief, but quietly claiming the right to say whatever he pleased to
the public on condition that he either amused or impassioned it.

"And so," said he, "you know Mege, Monsieur l'Abbe? What a study in
character, eh? A big child, a dreamer of dreams in the skin of a terrible
sectarian! Oh! I have had a deal of intercourse with him, I know him
thoroughly. You are no doubt aware that he lives on with the everlasting
conviction that he will attain to power in six months' time, and that
between evening and morning he will have established that famous
Collectivist community which is to succeed capitalist society, just as
day follows night. And, by the way, as regards his interpellation to-day,
he is convinced that in overthrowing the Barroux ministry he'll be
hastening his own turn. His system is to use up his adversaries. How many
times haven't I heard him making his calculations: there's such a one to
be used up, then such a one, and then such a one, so that he himself may
at last reign. And it's always to come off in six months at the latest.
The misfortune is, however, that others are always springing up, and so
his turn never comes at all."

Little Massot openly made merry over it. Then, slightly lowering his
voice, he asked: "And Sagnier, do you know him? No? Do you see that
red-haired man with the bull's neck - the one who looks like a butcher?
That one yonder who is talking in a little group of frayed frock-coats."

Pierre at last perceived the man in question. He had broad red ears, a
hanging under-lip, a large nose, and big, projecting dull eyes.

"I know that one thoroughly, as well," continued Massot; "I was on the
'Voix du Peuple' under him before I went on the 'Globe.' The one thing
that nobody is exactly aware of is whence Sagnier first came. He long
dragged out his life in the lower depths of journalism, doing nothing at
all brilliant, but wild with ambition and appetite. Perhaps you remember
the first hubbub he made, that rather dirty affair of a new Louis XVII.
which he tried to launch, and which made him the extraordinary Royalist
that he still is. Then it occurred to him to espouse the cause of the
masses, and he made a display of vengeful Catholic socialism, attacking
the Republic and all the abominations of the times in the name of justice
and morality, under the pretext of curing them. He began with a series of
sketches of financiers, a mass of dirty, uncontrolled, unproved
tittle-tattle, which ought to have led him to the dock, but which met, as
you know, with such wonderful success when gathered together in a volume.
And he goes on in the same style in the 'Voix du Peuple,' which he
himself made a success at the time of the Panama affair by dint of
denunciation and scandal, and which to-day is like a sewer-pipe pouring
forth all the filth of the times. And whenever the stream slackens, why,
he invents things just to satisfy his craving for that hubbub on which
both his pride and his pocket subsist."

Little Massot spoke without bitterness; indeed, he had even begun to
laugh again. Beneath his thoughtless ferocity he really felt some respect
for Sagnier. "Oh! he's a bandit," he continued, "but a clever fellow all
the same. You can't imagine how full of vanity he is. Lately it occurred
to him to get himself acclaimed by the populace, for he pretends to be a
kind of King of the Markets, you know. Perhaps he has ended by taking his
fine judge-like airs in earnest, and really believes that he is saving
the people and helping the cause of virtue. What astonishes me is his
fertility in the arts of denunciation and scandalmongering. Never a
morning comes but he discovers some fresh horror, and delivers fresh
culprits over to the hatred of the masses. No! the stream of mud never
ceases; there is an incessant, unexpected spurt of infamy, an increase of
monstrous fancies each time that the disgusted public shows any sign of
weariness. And, do you know, there's genius in that, Monsieur l'Abbe; for
he is well aware that his circulation goes up as soon as he threatens to
speak out and publish a list of traitors and bribe-takers. His sales are
certain now for some days to come."

Listening to Massot's gay, bantering voice, Pierre began to understand
certain things, the exact meaning of which had hitherto escaped him. He
ended by questioning the young journalist, surprised as he was that so
many deputies should be in the lobbies when the sitting was in progress.
Oh! the sitting indeed. The gravest matters, some bill of national
interest, might be under discussion, yet every member fled from it at the
sudden threat of an interpellation which might overturn the ministry. And
the passion stirring there was the restrained anger, the growing anxiety
of the present ministry's clients, who feared that they might have to
give place to others; and it was also the sudden hope, the eager hunger
of all who were waiting - the clients of the various possible ministries
of the morrow.

Massot pointed to Barroux, the head of the Cabinet, who, though he was
out of his element in the Department of Finances, had taken it simply
because his generally recognised integrity was calculated to reassure
public opinion after the Panama crisis. Barroux was chatting in a corner
with the Minister of Public Instruction, Senator Taboureau, an old
university man with a shrinking, mournful air, who was extremely honest,
but totally ignorant of Paris, coming as he did from some far-away
provincial faculty. Barroux for his part was of decorative aspect, tall,
and with a handsome, clean-shaven face, which would have looked quite
noble had not his nose been rather too small. Although he was sixty, he
still had a profusion of curly snow-white hair completing the somewhat
theatrical majesty of his appearance, which he was wont to turn to
account when in the tribune. Coming of an old Parisian family,


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Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 5 of 10)