Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 online

. (page 8 of 10)
Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

she lacked neither wit, nor style, nor deportment. She had been rolling
through the theatres for ten years or so, applauded for her beauty's
sake, and she had even ended by obtaining some pretty little successes in
such parts as those of very pure young girls or loving and persecuted
young women. Since there had been a question, though, of her entering the
Comedie Francaise to play the _role_ of Pauline in "Polyeucte," some
people had waxed indignant and others had roared with laughter, so
ridiculous did the idea appear, so outrageous for the majesty of classic
tragedy. She, however, quiet and stubborn, wished this thing to be, was
resolved that it should be, certain as she was that she would secure it,
insolent like a creature to whom men had never yet been able to refuse

That day, at three o'clock, Gerard de Quinsac, not knowing how to kill
the time pending the appointment he had given Eve in the Rue Matignon,
had thought of calling at Silviane's, which was in the neighbourhood. She
was an old caprice of his, and even nowadays he would sometimes linger at
the little mansion if its pretty mistress felt bored. But he had this
time found her in a fury; and, reclining in one of the deep armchairs of
the _salon_ where "old gold" formed the predominant colour, he was
listening to her complaints. She, standing in a white gown, white indeed
from head to foot like Eve herself at the _dejeuner_, was speaking
passionately, and fast convincing the young man, who, won over by so much
youth and beauty, unconsciously compared her to his other flame, weary
already of his coming assignation, and so mastered by supineness, both
moral and physical, that he would have preferred to remain all day in the
depths of that armchair.

"You hear me, Gerard!" she at last exclaimed, "I'll have nothing whatever
to do with him, unless he brings me my nomination."

Just then Baron Duvillard came in, and forthwith she changed to ice and
received him like some sorely offended young queen who awaits an
explanation; whilst he, who foresaw the storm and brought moreover
disastrous tidings, forced a smile, though very ill at ease. She was the
stain, the blemish attaching to that man who was yet so sturdy and so
powerful amidst the general decline of his race. And she was also the
beginning of justice and punishment, taking all his piled-up gold from
him by the handful, and by her cruelty avenging those who shivered and
who starved. And it was pitiful to see that feared and flattered man,
beneath whom states and governments trembled, here turn pale with
anxiety, bend low in all humility, and relapse into the senile, lisping
infancy of acute passion.

"Ah! my dear friend," said he, "if you only knew how I have been rushing
about. I had a lot of worrying business, some contractors to see, a big
advertisement affair to settle, and I feared that I should never be able
to come and kiss your hand."

He kissed it, but she let her arm fall, coldly, indifferently, contenting
herself with looking at him, waiting for what he might have to say to
her, and embarrassing him to such a point that he began to perspire and
stammer, unable to express himself. "Of course," he began, "I also
thought of you, and went to the Fine Arts Office, where I had received a
positive promise. Oh! they are still very much in your favour at the Fine
Arts Office! Only, just fancy, it's that idiot of a minister, that
Taboureau,* an old professor from the provinces who knows nothing about
our Paris, that has expressly opposed your nomination, saying that as
long as he is in office you shall not appear at the Comedie."

* Taboureau is previously described as Minister of Public
Instruction. It should be pointed out, however, that
although under the present Republic the Ministries of
Public Instruction and Fine Arts have occasionally been
distinct departments, at other times they have been
united, one minister, as in Taboureau's case, having
charge of both. - Trans.

Erect and rigid, she spoke but two words: "And then?"

"And then - well, my dear, what would you have me do? One can't after all
overthrow a ministry to enable you to play the part of Pauline."

"Why not?"

He pretended to laugh, but his blood rushed to his face, and the whole of
his sturdy figure quivered with anguish. "Come, my little Silviane," said
he, "don't be obstinate. You can be so nice when you choose. Give up the
idea of that _debut_. You, yourself, would risk a great deal in it, for
what would be your worries if you were to fail? You would weep all the
tears in your body. And besides, you can ask me for so many other things
which I should be so happy to give you. Come now, at once, make a wish
and I will gratify it immediately."

In a frolicsome way he sought to take her hand again. But she drew back
with an air of much dignity. "No, you hear me, my dear fellow, I will
have nothing whatever to do with you - nothing, so long as I don't play

He understood her fully, and he knew her well enough to realise how
rigorously she would treat him. Only a kind of grunt came from his
contracted throat, though he still tried to treat the matter in a jesting
way. "Isn't she bad-tempered to-day!" he resumed at last, turning towards
Gerard. "What have you done to her that I find her in such a state?"

But the young man, who kept very quiet for fear lest he himself might be
bespattered in the course of the dispute, continued to stretch himself
out in a languid way and gave no answer.

But Silviane's anger burst forth. "What has he done to me? He has pitied
me for being at the mercy of such a man as you - so egotistical, so
insensible to the insults heaped upon me. Ought you not to be the first
to bound with indignation? Ought you not to have exacted my admittance to
the Comedie as a reparation for the insult? For, after all, it is a
defeat for you; if I'm considered unworthy, you are struck at the same
time as I am. And so I'm a drab, eh? Say at once that I'm a creature to
be driven away from all respectable houses."

She went on in this style, coming at last to vile words, the abominable
words which, in moments of anger, always ended by returning to her
innocent-looking lips. The Baron, who well knew that a syllable from him
would only increase the foulness of the overflow, vainly turned an
imploring glance on the Count to solicit his intervention. Gerard, with
his keen desire for peace and quietness, often brought about a
reconciliation, but this time he did not stir, feeling too lazy and
sleepy to interfere. And Silviane all at once came to a finish, repeating
her trenchant, severing words: "Well, manage as you can, secure my
_debut_, or I'll have nothing more to do with you, nothing!"

"All right! all right!" Duvillard at last murmured, sneering, but in
despair, "we'll arrange it all."

However, at that moment a servant came in to say that M. Duthil was
downstairs and wished to speak to the Baron in the smoking-room.
Duvillard was astonished at this, for Duthil usually came up as though
the house were his own. Then he reflected that the deputy had doubtless
brought him some serious news from the Chamber which he wished to impart
to him confidentially at once. So he followed the servant, leaving Gerard
and Silviane together.

In the smoking-room, an apartment communicating with the hall by a wide
bay, the curtain of which was drawn up, Pierre stood with his companion,
waiting and glancing curiously around him. What particularly struck him
was the almost religious solemnness of the entrance, the heavy hangings,
the mystic gleams of the stained-glass, the old furniture steeped in
chapel-like gloom amidst scattered perfumes of myrrh and incense. Duthil,
who was still very gay, tapped a low divan with his cane and said: "She
has a nicely-furnished house, eh? Oh! she knows how to look after her

Then the Baron came in, still quite upset and anxious. And without even
perceiving the priest, desirous as he was of tidings, he began: "Well,
what did they do? Is there some very bad news, then?"

"Mege interpellated and applied for a declaration of urgency so as to
overthrow Barroux. You can imagine what his speech was."

"Yes, yes, against the _bourgeois_, against me, against you. It's always
the same thing - And then?"

"Then - well, urgency wasn't voted, but, in spite of a very fine defence,
Barroux only secured a majority of two votes."

"Two votes, the devil! Then he's down, and we shall have a Vignon
ministry next week."

"That's what everybody said in the lobbies."

The Baron frowned, as if he were estimating what good or evil might
result to the world from such a change. Then, with a gesture of
displeasure, he said: "A Vignon ministry! The devil! that would hardly be
any better. Those young democrats pretend to be virtuous, and a Vignon
ministry wouldn't admit Silviane to the Comedie."

This, at first, was his only thought in presence of the crisis which made
the political world tremble. And so the deputy could not refrain from
referring to his own anxiety. "Well, and we others, what is our position
in it all?"

This brought Duvillard back to the situation. With a fresh gesture, this
time a superbly proud one, he expressed his full and impudent confidence.
"We others, why we remain as we are; we've never been in peril, I
imagine. Oh! I am quite at ease. Sagnier can publish his famous list if
it amuses him to do so. If we haven't long since bought Sagnier and his
list, it's because Barroux is a thoroughly honest man, and for my part I
don't care to throw money out of the window - I repeat to you that we fear

Then, as he at last recognised Abbe Froment, who had remained in the
shade, Duthil explained what service the priest desired of him. And
Duvillard, in his state of emotion, his heart still rent by Silviane's
sternness, must have felt a covert hope that a good action might bring
him luck; so he at once consented to intervene in favour of Laveuve's
admission. Taking a card and a pencil from his pocket-book he drew near
to the window. "Oh! whatever you desire, Monsieur l'Abbe," he said, "I
shall be very happy to participate in this good work. Here, this is what
I have written: 'My dear, please do what M. l'Abbe Froment solicits in
favour of this unfortunate man, since our friend Fonsegue only awaits a
word from you to take proper steps.'"

At this moment through the open bay Pierre caught sight of Gerard, whom
Silviane, calm once more, and inquisitive no doubt to know why Duthil had
called, was escorting into the hall. And the sight of the young woman
filled him with astonishment, so simple and gentle did she seem to him,
full of the immaculate candour of a virgin. Never had he dreamt of a lily
of more unobtrusive yet delicious bloom in the whole garden of innocence.

"Now," continued Duvillard, "if you wish to hand this card to my wife at
once, you must go to the Princess de Harn's, where there is a
_matinee_ - "

"I was going there, Monsieur le Baron."

"Very good. You will certainly find my wife there; she is to take the
children there." Then he paused, for he too had just seen Gerard; and he
called him: "I say, Gerard, my wife said that she was going to that
_matinee_, didn't she? You feel sure - don't you? - that Monsieur l'Abbe
will find her there?"

Although the young man was then going to the Rue Matignon, there to wait
for Eve, it was in the most natural manner possible that he replied: "If
Monsieur l'Abbe makes haste, I think he will find her there, for she was
certainly going there before trying on a corsage at Salmon's."

Then he kissed Silviane's hand, and went off with the air of a handsome,
indolent man, who knows no malice, and is even weary of pleasure.

Pierre, feeling rather embarrassed, was obliged to let Duvillard
introduce him to the mistress of the house. He bowed in silence, whilst
she, likewise silent, returned his bow with modest reserve, the tact
appropriate to the occasion, such as no _ingenue_, even at the Comedie,
was then capable of. And while the Baron accompanied the priest to the
door, she returned to the _salon_ with Duthil, who was scarcely screened
by the door-curtain before he passed his arm round her waist.

When Pierre, who at last felt confident of success, found himself, still
in his cab, in front of the Princess de Harn's mansion in the Avenue
Kleber, he suddenly relapsed into great embarrassment. The avenue was
crowded with carriages brought thither by the musical _matinee_, and such
a throng of arriving guests pressed round the entrance, decorated with a
kind of tent with scallopings of red velvet, that he deemed the house
unapproachable. How could he manage to get in? And how in his cassock
could he reach the Princess, and ask for a minute's conversation with
Baroness Duvillard? Amidst all his feverishness he had not thought of
these difficulties. However, he was approaching the door on foot, asking
himself how he might glide unperceived through the throng, when the sound
of a merry voice made him turn: "What, Monsieur l'Abbe! Is it possible!
So now I find you here!"

It was little Massot who spoke. He went everywhere, witnessed ten sights
a day, - a parliamentary sitting, a funeral, a wedding, any festive or
mourning scene, - when he wanted a good subject for an article. "What!
Monsieur l'Abbe," he resumed, "and so you have come to our amiable
Princess's to see the Mauritanians dance!"

He was jesting, for the so-called Mauritanians were simply six Spanish
dancing-girls, who by the sensuality of their performance were then
making all Paris rush to the Folies-Bergere. For drawing-room
entertainments these girls reserved yet more indecorous dances - dances of
such a character indeed that they would certainly not have been allowed
in a theatre. And the _beau monde_ rushed to see them at the houses of
the bolder lady-entertainers, the eccentric and foreign ones like the
Princess, who in order to draw society recoiled from no "attraction."

But when Pierre had explained to little Massot that he was still running
about on the same business, the journalist obligingly offered to pilot
him. He knew the house, obtained admittance by a back door, and brought
Pierre along a passage into a corner of the hall, near the very entrance
of the grand drawing-room. Lofty green plants decorated this hall, and in
the spot selected Pierre was virtually hidden. "Don't stir, my dear
Abbe," said Massot, "I will try to ferret out the Princess for you. And
you shall know if Baroness Duvillard has already arrived."

What surprised Pierre was that every window-shutter of the mansion was
closed, every chink stopped up so that daylight might not enter, and that
every room flared with electric lamps, an illumination of supernatural
intensity. The heat was already very great, the atmosphere heavy with a
violent perfume of flowers and _odore di femina_. And to Pierre, who felt
both blinded and stifled, it seemed as if he were entering one of those
luxurious, unearthly Dens of the Flesh such as the pleasure-world of
Paris conjures from dreamland. By rising on tiptoes, as the drawing-room
entrance was wide open, he could distinguish the backs of the women who
were already seated, rows of necks crowned with fair or dark hair. The
Mauritanians were doubtless executing their first dance. He did not see
them, but he could divine the lascivious passion of the dance from the
quiver of all those women's necks, which swayed as beneath a great gust
of wind. Then laughter arose and a tempest of bravos, quite a tumult of

"I can't put my hand on the Princess; you must wait a little," Massot
returned to say. "I met Janzen and he promised to bring her to me. Don't
you know Janzen?"

Then, in part because his profession willed it, and in part for
pleasure's sake, he began to gossip. The Princess was a good friend of
his. He had described her first _soiree_ during the previous year, when
she had made her _debut_ at that mansion on her arrival in Paris. He knew
the real truth about her so far as it could be known. Rich? yes, perhaps
she was, for she spent enormous sums. Married she must have been, and to
a real prince, too; no doubt she was still married to him, in spite of
her story of widowhood. Indeed, it seemed certain that her husband, who
was as handsome as an archangel, was travelling about with a vocalist. As
for having a bee in her bonnet that was beyond discussion, as clear as
noonday. Whilst showing much intelligence, she constantly and suddenly
shifted. Incapable of any prolonged effort, she went from one thing that
had awakened her curiosity to another, never attaching herself anywhere.
After ardently busying herself with painting, she had lately become
impassioned for chemistry, and was now letting poetry master her.

"And so you don't know Janzen," continued Massot. "It was he who threw
her into chemistry, into the study of explosives especially, for, as you
may imagine, the only interest in chemistry for her is its connection
with Anarchism. She, I think, is really an Austrian, though one must
always doubt anything she herself says. As for Janzen, he calls himself a
Russian, but he's probably German. Oh! he's the most unobtrusive,
enigmatical man in the world, without a home, perhaps without a name - a
terrible fellow with an unknown past. I myself hold proofs which make me
think that he took part in that frightful crime at Barcelona. At all
events, for nearly a year now I've been meeting him in Paris, where the
police no doubt are watching him. And nothing can rid me of the idea that
he merely consented to become our lunatic Princess's lover in order to
throw the detectives off the scent. He affects to live in the midst of
_fetes_, and he has introduced to the house some extraordinary people,
Anarchists of all nationalities and all colours - for instance, one
Raphanel, that fat, jovial little man yonder, a Frenchman he is, and his
companions would do well to mistrust him. Then there's a Bergaz, a
Spaniard, I think, an obscure jobber at the Bourse, whose sensual,
blobber-lipped mouth is so disquieting. And there are others and others,
adventurers and bandits from the four corners of the earth! . . . Ah! the
foreign colonies of our Parisian pleasure-world! There are a few spotless
fine names, a few real great fortunes among them, but as for the rest,
ah! what a herd!"

Rosemonde's own drawing-room was summed up in those words: resounding
titles, real millionaires, then, down below, the most extravagant medley
of international imposture and turpitude. And Pierre thought of that
internationalism, that cosmopolitanism, that flight of foreigners which,
ever denser and denser, swooped down upon Paris. Most certainly it came
thither to enjoy it, as to a city of adventure and delight, and it helped
to rot it a little more. Was it then a necessary thing, that
decomposition of the great cities which have governed the world, that
affluxion of every passion, every desire, every gratification, that
accumulation of reeking soil from all parts of the world, there where, in
beauty and intelligence, blooms the flower of civilisation?

However, Janzen appeared, a tall, thin fellow of about thirty, very fair
with grey, pale, harsh eyes, and a pointed beard and flowing curly hair
which elongated his livid, cloudy face. He spoke indifferent French in a
low voice and without a gesture. And he declared that the Princess could
not be found; he had looked for her everywhere. Possibly, if somebody had
displeased her, she had shut herself up in her room and gone to bed,
leaving her guests to amuse themselves in all freedom in whatever way
they might choose.

"Why, but here she is!" suddenly said Massot.

Rosemonde was indeed there, in the vestibule, watching the door as if she
expected somebody. Short, slight, and strange rather than pretty, with
her delicate face, her sea-green eyes, her small quivering nose, her
rather large and over-ruddy mouth, which was parted so that one could see
her superb teeth, she that day wore a sky-blue gown spangled with silver;
and she had silver bracelets on her arms and a silver circlet in her pale
brown hair, which rained down in curls and frizzy, straggling locks as
though waving in a perpetual breeze.

"Oh! whatever you desire, Monsieur l'Abbe," she said to Pierre as soon as
she knew his business. "If they don't take your old man in at our asylum,
send him to me, I'll take him, I will; I will sleep him somewhere here."

Still, she remained disturbed, and continually glanced towards the door.
And on the priest asking if Baroness Duvillard had yet arrived, "Why no!"
she cried, "and I am much surprised at it. She is to bring her son and
daughter. Yesterday, Hyacinthe positively promised me that he would

There lay her new caprice. If her passion for chemistry was giving way to
a budding taste for decadent, symbolical verse, it was because one
evening, whilst discussing Occultism with Hyacinthe, she had discovered
an extraordinary beauty in him: the astral beauty of Nero's wandering
soul! At least, said she, the signs of it were certain.

And all at once she quitted Pierre: "Ah, at last!" she cried, feeling
relieved and happy. Then she darted forward: Hyacinthe was coming in with
his sister Camille.

On the very threshold, however, he had just met the friend on whose
account he was there, young Lord George Eldrett, a pale and languid
stripling with the hair of a girl; and he scarcely condescended to notice
the tender greeting of Rosemonde, for he professed to regard woman as an
impure and degrading creature. Distressed by such coldness, she followed
the two young men, returning in their rear into the reeking, blinding
furnace of the drawing-room.

Massot, however, had been obliging enough to stop Camille and bring her
to Pierre, who at the first words they exchanged relapsed into despair.
"What, mademoiselle, has not madame your mother accompanied you here?"

The girl, clad according to her wont in a dark gown, this time of
peacock-blue, was nervous, with wicked eyes and sibilant voice. And as
she ragefully drew up her little figure, her deformity, her left shoulder
higher than the right one, became more apparent than ever. "No," she
rejoined, "she was unable. She had something to try on at her
dressmaker's. We stopped too long at the Exposition du Lis, and she
requested us to set her down at Salmon's door on our way here."

It was Camille herself who had skilfully prolonged the visit to the art
show, still hoping to prevent her mother from meeting Gerard. And her
rage arose from the ease with which her mother had got rid of her, thanks
to that falsehood of having something to try on.

"But," ingenuously said Pierre, "if I went at once to this person Salmon,
I might perhaps be able to send up my card."

Camille gave a shrill laugh, so funny did the idea appear to her. Then
she retorted: "Oh! who knows if you would still find her there? She had
another pressing appointment, and is no doubt already keeping it!"

"Well, then, I will wait for her here. She will surely come to fetch you,
will she not?"

"Fetch us? Oh no! since I tell you that she has other important affairs
to attend to. The carriage will take us home alone, my brother and I."

Increasing bitterness was infecting the girl's pain-fraught irony. Did he
not understand her then, that priest who asked such naive questions which
were like dagger-thrusts in her heart? Yet he must know, since everybody
knew the truth.

"Ah! how worried I am," Pierre resumed, so grieved indeed that tears
almost came to his eyes. "It's still on account of that poor man about
whom I have been busying myself since this morning. I have a line from
your father, and Monsieur Gerard told me - " But at this point he paused
in confusion, and amidst all his thoughtlessness of the world, absorbed
as he was in the one passion of charity, he suddenly divined the truth.
"Yes," he added mechanically, "I just now saw your father again with
Monsieur de Quinsac."

"I know, I know," replied Camille, with the suffering yet scoffing air of
a girl who is ignorant of nothing. "Well, Monsieur l'Abbe, if you have a
line from papa for mamma, you must wait till mamma has finished her
business. You might come to the house about six o'clock, but I doubt if
you'll find her there, as she may well be detained."

While Camille thus spoke, her murderous eyes glistened, and each word she
uttered, simple as it seemed, became instinct with ferocity, as if it
were a knife, which she would have liked to plunge into her mother's

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 8 of 10)