Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 3 online

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ON the Wednesday preceding the mid-Lent Thursday, a great charity bazaar
was held at the Duvillard mansion, for the benefit of the Asylum of the
Invalids of Labour. The ground-floor reception rooms, three spacious
Louis Seize _salons_, whose windows overlooked the bare and solemn
courtyard, were given up to the swarm of purchasers, five thousand
admission cards having been distributed among all sections of Parisian
society. And the opening of the bombarded mansion in this wise to
thousands of visitors was regarded as quite an event, a real
manifestation, although some people whispered that the Rue
Godot-de-Mauroy and the adjacent streets were guarded by quite an army of
police agents.

The idea of the bazaar had come from Duvillard himself, and at his
bidding his wife had resigned herself to all this worry for the benefit
of the enterprise over which she presided with such distinguished
nonchalance. On the previous day the "Globe" newspaper, inspired by its
director Fonsegue, who was also the general manager of the asylum, had
published a very fine article, announcing the bazaar, and pointing out
how noble, and touching, and generous was the initiative of the Baroness,
who still gave her time, her money, and even her home to charity, in
spite of the abominable crime which had almost reduced that home to
ashes. Was not this the magnanimous answer of the spheres above to the
hateful passions of the spheres below? And was it not also a peremptory
answer to those who accused the capitalists of doing nothing for the
wage-earners, the disabled and broken-down sons of toil?

The drawing-room doors were to be opened at two o'clock, and would only
close at seven, so that there would be five full hours for the sales. And
at noon, when nothing was as yet ready downstairs, when workmen and women
were still decorating the stalls, and sorting the goods amidst a final
scramble, there was, as usual, a little friendly _dejeuner_, to which a
few guests had been invited, in the private rooms on the first floor.
However, a scarcely expected incident had given a finishing touch to the
general excitement of the house: that very morning Sagnier had resumed
his campaign of denunciation in the matter of the African Railway Lines.
In a virulent article in the "Voix du Peuple," he had inquired if it were
the intention of the authorities to beguile the public much longer with
the story of that bomb and that Anarchist whom the police did not arrest.
And this time, while undertaking to publish the names of the thirty-two
corrupt senators and deputies in a very early issue, he had boldly named
Minister Barroux as one who had pocketed a sum of 200,000 francs. Mege
would therefore certainly revive his interpellation, which might become
dangerous, now that Paris had been thrown into such a distracted state by
terror of the Anarchists. At the same time it was said that Vignon and
his party had resolved to turn circumstances to account, with the object
of overthrowing the ministry. Thus a redoubtable crisis was inevitably at
hand. Fortunately, the Chamber did not meet that Wednesday; in fact, it
had adjourned until the Friday, with the view of making mid-Lent a
holiday. And so forty-eight hours were left one to prepare for the

Eve, that morning, seemed more gentle and languid than ever, rather pale
too, with an expression of sorrowful anxiety in the depths of her
beautiful eyes. She set it all down to the very great fatigue which the
preparations for the bazaar had entailed on her. But the truth was that
Gerard de Quinsac, after shunning any further assignation, had for five
days past avoided her in an embarrassed way. Still she was convinced that
she would see him that morning, and so she had again ventured to wear the
white silk gown which made her look so much younger than she really was.
At the same time, beautiful as she had remained, with her delicate skin,
superb figure and noble and charming countenance, her six and forty years
were asserting themselves in her blotchy complexion and the little
creases which were appearing about her lips, eyelids and temples.

Camille, for her part, though her position as daughter of the house made
it certain that she would attract much custom as a saleswoman, had
obstinately persisted in wearing one of her usual dresses, a dark
"carmelite" gown, an old woman's frock, as she herself called it with a
cutting laugh. However, her long and wicked-looking face beamed with some
secret delight; such an expression of wit and intelligence wreathing her
thin lips and shining in her big eyes that one lost sight of her
deformity and thought her almost pretty.

Eve experienced a first deception in the little blue and silver
sitting-room, where, accompanied by her daughter, she awaited the arrival
of her guests. General de Bozonnet, whom Gerard was to have brought with
him, came in alone, explaining that Madame de Quinsac had felt rather
poorly that morning, and that Gerard, like a good and dutiful son, had
wished to remain with her. Still he would come to the bazaar directly
after _dejeuner_. While the Baroness listened to the General, striving to
hide her disappointment and her fear that she would now be unable to
obtain any explanation from Gerard that day, Camille looked at her with
eager, devouring eyes. And a certain covert instinct of the misfortune
threatening her must at that moment have come to Eve, for in her turn she
glanced at her daughter and turned pale as if with anxiety.

Then Princess Rosemonde de Harn swept in like a whirlwind. She also was
to be one of the saleswomen at the stall chosen by the Baroness, who
liked her for her very turbulence, the sudden gaiety which she generally
brought with her. Gowned in fire-hued satin (red shot with yellow),
looking very eccentric with her curly hair and thin boyish figure, she
laughed and talked of an accident by which her carriage had almost been
cut in halves. Then, as Baron Duvillard and Hyacinthe came in from their
rooms, late as usual, she took possession of the young man and scolded
him, for on the previous evening she had vainly waited for him till ten
o'clock in the expectation that he would keep his promise to escort her
to a tavern at Montmartre, where some horrible things were said to occur.
Hyacinthe, looking very bored, quietly replied that he had been detained
at a seance given by some adepts in the New Magic, in the course of which
the soul of St. Theresa had descended from heaven to recite a love

However, Fonsegue was now coming in with his wife, a tall, thin, silent
and generally insignificant woman, whom he seldom took about with him. On
this occasion he had been obliged to bring her, as she was one of the
lady-patronesses of the asylum, and he himself was coming to lunch with
the Duvillards in his capacity as general manager. To the superficial
observer he looked quite as gay as usual; but he blinked nervously, and
his first glance was a questioning one in the direction of Duvillard, as
if he wished to know how the latter bore the fresh thrust directed at him
by Sagnier. And when he saw the banker looking perfectly composed, as
superb, as rubicund as usual, and chatting in a bantering way with
Rosemonde, he also put on an easy air, like a gamester who had never lost
but had always known how to compel good luck, even in hours of treachery.
And by way of showing his unconstraint of mind he at once addressed the
Baroness on managerial matters: "Have you now succeeded in seeing M.
l'Abbe Froment for the affair of that old man Laveuve, whom he so warmly
recommended to us? All the formalities have been gone through, you know,
and he can be brought to us at once, as we have had a bed vacant for
three days past."

"Yes, I know," replied Eve; "but I can't imagine what has become of Abbe
Froment, for he hasn't given us a sign of life for a month past. However,
I made up my mind to write to him yesterday, and beg him to come to the
bazaar to-day. In this manner I shall be able to acquaint him with the
good news myself."

"It was to leave you the pleasure of doing so," said Fonsegue, "that I
refrained from sending him any official communication. He's a charming
priest, is he not?"

"Oh! charming, we are very fond of him."

However, Duvillard now intervened to say that they need not wait for
Duthil, as he had received a telegram from him stating that he was
detained by sudden business. At this Fonsegue's anxiety returned, and he
once more questioned the Baron with his eyes. Duvillard smiled, however,
and reassured him in an undertone: "It's nothing serious. Merely a
commission for me, about which he'll only be able to bring me an answer
by-and-by." Then, taking Fonsegue on one side, he added: "By the way,
don't forget to insert the paragraph I told you of."

"What paragraph? Oh! yes, the one about that _soiree_ at which Silviane
recited a piece of verse. Well, I wanted to speak to you about it. It
worries me a little, on account of the excessive praise it contains."

Duvillard, but a moment before so full of serenity, with his lofty,
conquering, disdainful mien, now suddenly became pale and agitated. "But
I absolutely want it to be inserted, my dear fellow! You would place me
in the greatest embarrassment if it were not to appear, for I promised
Silviane that it should."

As he spoke his lips trembled, and a scared look came into his eyes,
plainly revealing his dismay.

"All right, all right," said Fonsegue, secretly amused, and well pleased
at this complicity. "As it's so serious the paragraph shall go in, I
promise you."

The whole company was now present, since neither Gerard nor Duthil was to
be expected. So they went into the dining-room amidst a final noise of
hammering in the sale-rooms below. The meal proved somewhat of a
scramble, and was on three occasions disturbed by female attendants, who
came to explain difficulties and ask for orders. Doors were constantly
slamming, and the very walls seemed to shake with the unusual bustle
which filled the house. And feverish as they all were in the dining-room,
they talked in desultory, haphazard fashion on all sorts of subjects,
passing from a ball given at the Ministry of the Interior on the previous
night, to the popular mid-Lent festival which would take place on the
morrow, and ever reverting to the bazaar, the prices that had been given
for the goods which would be on sale, the prices at which they might be
sold, and the probable figure of the full receipts, all this being
interspersed with strange anecdotes, witticisms and bursts of laughter.
On the General mentioning magistrate Amadieu, Eve declared that she no
longer dared to invite him to _dejeuner_, knowing how busy he was at the
Palace of Justice. Still, she certainly hoped that he would come to the
bazaar and contribute something. Then Fonsegue amused himself with
teasing Princess Rosemonde about her fire-hued gown, in which, said he,
she must already feel roasted by the flames of hell; a suggestion which
secretly delighted her, as Satanism had now become her momentary passion.
Meantime, Duvillard lavished the most gallant politeness on that silent
creature, Madame Fonsegue, while Hyacinthe, in order to astonish even the
Princess, explained in a few words how the New Magic could transform a
chaste young man into a real angel. And Camille, who seemed very happy
and very excited, from time to time darted a hot glance at her mother,
whose anxiety and sadness increased as she found the other more and more
aggressive, and apparently resolved upon open and merciless warfare.

At last, just as the dessert was coming to an end, the Baroness heard her
daughter exclaim in a piercing, defiant voice: "Oh! don't talk to me of
the old ladies who still seem to be playing with dolls, and paint
themselves, and dress as if they were about to be confirmed! All such
ogresses ought to retire from the scene! I hold them in horror!"

At this, Eve nervously rose from her seat, and exclaimed apologetically:
"You must forgive me for hurrying you like this. But I'm afraid that we
shan't have time to drink our coffee in peace."

The coffee was served in the little blue and silver sitting-room, where
bloomed some lovely yellow roses, testifying to the Baroness's keen
passion for flowers, which made the house an abode of perpetual spring.
Duvillard and Fonsegue, however, carrying their cups of steaming coffee
with them, at once went into the former's private room to smoke a cigar
there and chat in freedom. As the door remained wide open, one could
hear their gruff voices more or less distinctly. Meantime, General de
Bozonnet, delighted to find in Madame Fonsegue a serious, submissive
person, who listened without interrupting, began to tell her a very long
story of an officer's wife who had followed her husband through every
battle of the war of 1870. Then Hyacinthe, who took no
coffee - contemptuously declaring it to be a beverage only fit for
door-keepers - managed to rid himself of Rosemonde, who was sipping some
kummel, in order to come and whisper to his sister: "I say, it was very
stupid ofyou to taunt mamma in the way you did just now. I don't care
a rap about it myself. But it ends by being noticed, and, I warn you
candidly, it shows ill breeding."

Camille gazed at him fixedly with her black eyes. "Pray don't _you_
meddle with my affairs," said she.

At this he felt frightened, scented a storm, and decided to take
Rosemonde into the adjoining red drawing-room in order to show her a
picture which his father had just purchased. And the General, on being
called by him, likewise conducted Madame Fonsegue thither.

The mother and daughter then suddenly found themselves alone and face to
face. Eve was leaning on a pier-table, as if overcome; and indeed, the
least sorrow bore her down, so weak at heart she was, ever ready to weep
in her naive and perfect egotism. Why was it that her daughter thus hated
her, and did her utmost to disturb that last happy spell of love in which
her heart lingered? She looked at Camille, grieved rather than irritated;
and the unfortunate idea came to her of making a remark about her dress
at the very moment when the girl was on the point of following the others
into the larger drawing-room.

"It's quite wrong of you, my dear," said she, "to persist in dressing
like an old woman. It doesn't improve you a bit."

As Eve spoke, her soft eyes, those of a courted and worshipped handsome
woman, clearly expressed the compassion she felt for that ugly, deformed
girl, whom she had never been able to regard as a daughter. Was it
possible that she, with her sovereign beauty, that beauty which she
herself had ever adored and nursed, making it her one care, her one
religion - was it possible that she had given birth to such a graceless
creature, with a dark, goatish profile, one shoulder higher than the
other, and a pair of endless arms such as hunchbacks often have? All her
grief and all her shame at having had such a child became apparent in the
quivering of her voice.

Camille, however, had stopped short, as if struck in the face with a
whip. Then she came back to her mother and the horrible explanation began
with these simple words spoken in an undertone: "You consider that I
dress badly? Well, you ought to have paid some attention to me, have seen
that my gowns suited your taste, and have taught me your secret of
looking beautiful!"

Eve, with her dislike of all painful feeling, all quarrelling and bitter
words, was already regretting her attack. So she sought to make a
retreat, particularly as time was flying and they would soon be expected
downstairs: "Come, be quiet, and don't show your bad temper when all
those people can hear us. I have loved you - "

But with a quiet yet terrible laugh Camille interrupted her. "You've
loved me! Oh! my poor mamma, what a comical thing to say! Have you ever
loved _anybody_? You want others to love _you_, but that's another
matter. As for your child, any child, do you even know how it ought to be
loved? You have always neglected me, thrust me on one side, deeming me so
ugly, so unworthy of you! And besides, you have not had days and nights
enough to love yourself! Oh! don't deny it, my poor mamma; but even now
you're looking at me as if I were some loathsome monster that's in your

From that moment the abominable scene was bound to continue to the end.
With their teeth set, their faces close together, the two women went on
speaking in feverish whispers.

"Be quiet, Camille, I tell you! I will not allow such language!"

"But I won't be quiet when you do all you can to wound me. If it's wrong
of me to dress like an old woman, perhaps another is rather ridiculous in
dressing like a girl, like a bride."

"Like a bride? I don't understand you."

"Oh! yes, you do. However, I would have you know that everybody doesn't
find me so ugly as you try to make them believe."

"If you look amiss, it is because you don't dress properly; that is all I

"I dress as I please, and no doubt I do so well enough, since I'm loved
as I am."

"What, really! Does someone love you? Well, let him inform us of it and
marry you."

"Yes - certainly, certainly! It will be a good riddance, won't it? And
you'll have the pleasure of seeing me as a bride!"

Their voices were rising in spite of their efforts to restrain them.
However, Camille paused and drew breath before hissing out the words:
"Gerard is coming here to ask for my hand in a day or two."

Eve, livid, with wildly staring eyes, did not seem to understand.
"Gerard? why do you tell me that?"

"Why, because it's Gerard who loves me and who is going to marry me! You
drive me to extremities; you're for ever repeating that I'm ugly; you
treat me like a monster whom nobody will ever care for. So I'm forced to
defend myself and tell you the truth in order to prove to you that
everybody is not of your opinion."

Silence fell; the frightful thing which had risen between them seemed to
have arrested the quarrel. But there was neither mother nor daughter left
there. They were simply two suffering, defiant rivals. Eve in her turn
drew a long breath and glanced anxiously towards the adjoining room to
ascertain if anyone were coming in or listening to them. And then in a
tone of resolution she made answer:

"You cannot marry Gerard."

"Pray, why not?"

"Because I won't have it; because it's impossible."

"That isn't a reason; give me a reason."

"The reason is that the marriage is impossible that is all."

"No, no, I'll tell you the reason since you force me to it. The reason is
that Gerard is your lover! But what does that matter, since I know it and
am willing to take him all the same?"

And to this retort Camille's flaming eyes added the words: "And it is
particularly on that account that I want him." All the long torture born
of her infirmities, all her rage at having always seen her mother
beautiful, courted and adored, was now stirring her and seeking vengeance
in cruel triumph. At last then she was snatching from her rival the lover
of whom she had so long been jealous!

"You wretched girl!" stammered Eve, wounded in the heart and almost
sinking to the floor. "You don't know what you say or what you make me

However, she again had to pause, draw herself erect and smile; for
Rosemonde hastened in from the adjoining room with the news that she was
wanted downstairs. The doors were about to be opened, and it was
necessary she should be at her stall. Yes, Eve answered, she would be
down in another moment. Still, even as she spoke she leant more heavily
on the pier-table behind her in order that she might not fall.

Hyacinthe had drawn near to his sister: "You know," said he, "it's simply
idiotic to quarrel like that. You would do much better to come

But Camille harshly dismissed him: "Just _you_ go off, and take the
others with you. It's quite as well that they shouldn't be about our

Hyacinthe glanced at his mother, like one who knew the truth and
considered the whole affair ridiculous. And then, vexed at seeing her so
deficient in energy in dealing with that little pest, his sister, he
shrugged his shoulders, and leaving them to their folly, conducted the
others away. One could hear Rosemonde laughing as she went off below,
while the General began to tell Madame Fonsegue another story as they
descended the stairs together. However, at the moment when the mother and
daughter at last fancied themselves alone once more, other voices reached
their ears, those of Duvillard and Fonsegue, who were still near at hand.
The Baron from his room might well overhear the dispute.

Eve felt that she ought to have gone off. But she had lacked the strength
to do so; it had been a sheer impossibility for her after those words
which had smote her like a buffet amidst her distress at the thought of
losing her lover.

"Gerard cannot marry you," she said; "he does not love you."

"He does."

"You fancy it because he has good-naturedly shown some kindness to you,
on seeing others pay you such little attention. But he does not love

"He does. He loves me first because I'm not such a fool as many others
are, and particularly because I'm young."

This was a fresh wound for the Baroness; one inflicted with mocking
cruelty in which rang out all the daughter's triumphant delight at seeing
her mother's beauty at last ripening and waning. "Ah! my poor mamma, you
no longer know what it is to be young. If I'm not beautiful, at all
events I'm young; my eyes are clear and my lips are fresh. And my hair's
so long too, and I've so much of it that it would suffice to gown me if I
chose. You see, one's never ugly when one's young. Whereas, my poor
mamma, everything is ended when one gets old. It's all very well for a
woman to have been beautiful, and to strive to keep so, but in reality
there's only ruin left, and shame and disgust."

She spoke these words in such a sharp, ferocious voice that each of them
entered her mother's heart like a knife. Tears rose to the eyes of the
wretched woman, again stricken in her bleeding wound. Ah! it was true,
she remained without weapons against youth. And all her anguish came from
the consciousness that she was growing old, from the feeling that love
was departing from her now, that like a fruit she had ripened and fallen
from the tree.

"But Gerard's mother will never let him marry you," she said.

"He will prevail on her; that's his concern. I've a dowry of two
millions, and two millions can settle many things."

"Do you now want to libel him, and say that he's marrying you for your

"No, indeed! Gerard's a very nice and honest fellow. He loves me and he's
marrying me for myself. But, after all, he isn't rich; he still has no
assured position, although he's thirty-six; and there may well be some
advantage in a wife who brings you wealth as well as happiness. For, you
hear, mamma, it's happiness I'm bringing him, real happiness, love that's
shared and is certain of the future."

Once again their faces drew close together. The hateful scene,
interrupted by sounds around them, postponed, and then resumed, was
dragging on, becoming a perfect drama full of murderous violence,
although they never shouted, but still spoke on in low and gasping
voices. Neither gave way to the other, though at every moment they were
liable to some surprise; for not only were all the doors open, so that
the servants might come in, but the Baron's voice still rang out gaily,
close at hand.

"He loves you, he loves you" - continued Eve. "That's what you say. But
_he_ never told you so."

"He has told me so twenty times; he repeats it every time that we are
alone together!"

"Yes, just as one says it to a little girl by way of amusing her. But he
has never told you that he meant to marry you."

"He told it me the last time he came. And it's settled. I'm simply
waiting for him to get his mother's consent and make his formal offer."

"You lie, you lie, you wretched girl! You simply want to make me suffer,
and you lie, you lie!"

Eve's grief at last burst forth in that cry of protest. She no longer
knew that she was a mother, and was speaking to her daughter. The woman,

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Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 3 → online text (page 1 of 10)