Honoré de Balzac.

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meat-jelly.

At nine o'clock the priest, sent by the curate to watch by the dead,
came in with Cantinet, who brought four tall wax candles and some
tapers. In the death-chamber Schmucke was lying with his arms about
the body of his friend, holding him in a tight clasp; nothing but the
authority of religion availed to separate him from his dead. Then the
priest settled himself comfortably in the easy-chair and read his
prayers while Schmucke, kneeling beside the couch, besought God to
work a miracle and unite him to Pons, so that they might be buried in
the same grave; and Mme. Cantinet went on her way to the Temple to buy
a pallet and complete bedding for Mme. Sauvage. The twelve hundred and
fifty francs were regarded as plunder. At eleven o'clock Mme. Cantinet
came in to ask if Schmucke would not eat a morsel, but with a gesture
he signified that he wished to be left in peace.

"Your supper is ready, M. Pastelot," she said, addressing the priest,
and they went.

Schmucke, left alone in the room, smiled to himself like a madman free
at last to gratify a desire like the longing of pregnancy. He flung
himself down beside Pons, and yet again he held his friend in a long,
close embrace. At midnight the priest came back and scolded him, and
Schmucke returned to his prayers. At daybreak the priest went, and at
seven o'clock in the morning the doctor came to see Schmucke, and
spoke kindly and tried hard to persuade him to eat, but the German
refused.

"If you do not eat now you will feel very hungry when you come back,"
the doctor told him, "for you must go to the mayor's office and take a
witness with you, so that the registrar may issue a certificate of
death."

"_I_ must go!" cried Schmucke in frightened tones.

"Who else? . . . You must go, for you were the one person who saw him
die."

"Mein legs vill nicht carry me," pleaded Schmucke, imploring the
doctor to come to the rescue.

"Take a cab," the hypocritical doctor blandly suggested. "I have given
notice already. Ask some one in the house to go with you. The two
women will look after the place while you are away."

No one imagines how the requirements of the law jar upon a heartfelt
sorrow. The thought of it is enough to make one turn from civilization
and choose rather the customs of the savage. At nine o'clock that
morning Mme. Sauvage half-carried Schmucke downstairs, and from the
cab he was obliged to beg Remonencq to come with him to the registrar
as a second witness. Here in Paris, in this land of ours besotted with
Equality, the inequality of conditions is glaringly apparent
everywhere and in everything. The immutable tendency of things peeps
out even in the practical aspects of Death. In well-to-do families, a
relative, a friend, or a man of business spares the mourners these
painful details; but in this, as in the matter of taxation, the whole
burden falls heaviest upon the shoulders of the poor.

"Ah! you have good reason to regret him," said Remonencq in answer to
the poor martyr's moan; "he was a very good, a very honest man, and he
has left a fine collection behind him. But being a foreigner, sir, do
you know that you are like to find yourself in a great predicament
- for everybody says that M. Pons left everything to you?"

Schmucke was not listening. He was sounding the dark depths of sorrow
that border upon madness. There is such a thing as tetanus of the
soul.

"And you would do well to find some one - some man of business - to
advise you and act for you," pursued Remonencq.

"Ein mann of pizness!" echoed Schmucke.

"You will find that you will want some one to act for you. If I were
you, I should take an experienced man, somebody well known to you in
the quarter, a man you can trust. . . . I always go to Tabareau myself
for my bits of affairs - he is the bailiff. If you give his clerk power
to act for you, you need not trouble yourself any further."

Remonencq and La Cibot, prompted by Fraisier, had agreed beforehand to
make a suggestion which stuck in Schmucke's memory; for there are
times in our lives when grief, as it were, congeals the mind by
arresting all its functions, and any chance impression made at such
moments is retained by a frost-bound memory. Schmucke heard his
companion with such a fixed, mindless stare, that Remonencq said no
more.

"If he is always to be idiotic like this," thought Remonencq, "I might
easily buy the whole bag of tricks up yonder for a hundred thousand
francs; if it is really his. . . . Here we are at the mayor's office,
sir."

Remonencq was obliged to take Schmucke out of the cab and to
half-carry him to the registrar's department, where a wedding-party
was assembled. Here they had to wait for their turn, for, by no very
uncommon chance, the clerk had five or six certificates to make out
that morning; and here it was appointed that poor Schmucke should
suffer excruciating anguish.

"Monsieur is M. Schmucke?" remarked a person in a suit of black,
reducing Schmucke to stupefaction by the mention of his name. He
looked up with the same blank, unseeing eyes that he had turned upon
Remonencq, who now interposed.

"What do you want with him?" he said. "Just leave him in peace; you
can plainly see that he is in trouble."

"The gentleman has just lost his friend, and proposes, no doubt, to do
honor to his memory, being, as he is, the sole heir. The gentleman, no
doubt, will not haggle over it, he will buy a piece of ground outright
for a grave. And as M. Pons was such a lover of the arts, it would be
a great pity not to put Music, Painting, and Sculpture on his tomb
- three handsome full-length figures, weeping - "

Remonencq waved the speaker away, in Auvergnat fashion, but the man
replied with another gesture, which being interpreted means "Don't
spoil sport"; a piece of commercial free-masonry, as it were, which
the dealer understood.

"I represent the firm of Sonet and Company, monumental stone-masons;
Sir Walter Scott would have dubbed me _Young Mortality_," continued
this person. "If you, sir, should decide to intrust your orders to us,
we would spare you the trouble of the journey to purchase the ground
necessary for the interment of a friend lost to the arts - "

At this Remonencq nodded assent, and jogged Schmucke's elbow.

"Every day we receive orders from families to arrange all
formalities," continued he of the black coat, thus encouraged by
Remonencq. "In the first moment of bereavement, the heir-at-law finds
it very difficult to attend to such matters, and we are accustomed to
perform these little services for our clients. Our charges, sir, are
on a fixed scale, so much per foot, freestone or marble. Family vaults
a specialty. - We undertake everything at the most moderate prices. Our
firm executed the magnificent monument erected to the fair Esther
Gobseck and Lucien de Rubempre, one of the finest ornaments of
Pere-Lachaise. We only employ the best workmen, and I must warn you,
sir, against small contractors - who turn out nothing but trash," he
added, seeing that another person in a black suit was coming up to say
a word for another firm of marble-workers.

It is often said that "death is the end of a journey," but the aptness
of the simile is realized most fully in Paris. Any arrival, especially
of a person of condition, upon the "dark brink," is hailed in much the
same way as the traveler recently landed is hailed by hotel touts and
pestered with their recommendations. With the exception of a few
philosophically-minded persons, or here and there a family secure of
handing down a name to posterity, nobody thinks beforehand of the
practical aspects of death. Death always comes before he is expected;
and, from a sentiment easy to understand, the heirs usually act as if
the event were impossible. For which reason, almost every one that
loses father or mother, wife or child, is immediately beset by scouts
that profit by the confusion caused by grief to snare others. In
former days, agents for monuments used to live round about the famous
cemetery of Pere-Lachaise, and were gathered together in a single
thoroughfare, which should by rights have been called the Street of
Tombs; issuing thence, they fell upon the relatives of the dead as
they came from the cemetery, or even at the grave-side. But
competition and the spirit of speculation induced them to spread
themselves further and further afield, till descending into Paris
itself they reached the very precincts of the mayor's office. Indeed,
the stone-mason's agent has often been known to invade the house of
mourning with a design for the sepulchre in his hand.

"I am in treaty with this gentleman," said the representative of the
firm of Sonet to another agent who came up.

"Pons deceased! . . ." called the clerk at this moment. "Where are the
witnesses?"

"This way, sir," said the stone-mason's agent, this time addressing
Remonencq.

Schmucke stayed where he had been placed on the bench, an inert mass.
Remonencq begged the agent to help him, and together they pulled
Schmucke towards the balustrade, behind which the registrar shelters
himself from the mourning public. Remonencq, Schmucke's Providence,
was assisted by Dr. Poulain, who filled in the necessary information
as to Pons' age and birthplace; the German knew but one thing - that
Pons was his friend. So soon as the signatures were affixed, Remonencq
and the doctor (followed by the stone-mason's man), put Schmucke into
a cab, the desperate agent whisking in afterwards, bent upon taking a
definite order.

La Sauvage, on the lookout in the gateway, half-carried Schmucke's
almost unconscious form upstairs. Remonencq and the agent went up with
her.

"He will be ill!" exclaimed the agent, anxious to make an end of the
piece of business which, according to him, was in progress.

"I should think he will!" returned Mme. Sauvage. "He has been crying
for twenty-four hours on end, and he would not take anything. There is
nothing like grief for giving one a sinking in the stomach."

"My dear client," urged the representative of the firm of Sonet, "do
take some broth. You have so much to do; some one must go to the Hotel
de Ville to buy the ground in the cemetery on which you mean to erect
a monument to perpetuate the memory of the friend of the arts, and
bear record to your gratitude."

"Why, there is no sense in this!" added Mme. Cantinet, coming in with
broth and bread.

"If you are as weak as this, you ought to think of finding some one to
act for you," added Remonencq, "for you have a good deal on your
hands, my dear sir. There is the funeral to order. You would not have
your friend buried like a pauper!"

"Come, come, my dear sir," put in La Sauvage, seizing a moment when
Schmucke laid his head back in the great chair to pour a spoonful of
soup into his mouth. She fed him as if he had been a child, and almost
in spite of himself.

"Now, if you were wise, sir, since you are inclined to give yourself
up quietly to grief, you would find some one to act for you - "

"As you are thinking of raising a magnificent monument to the memory
of your friend, sir, you have only to leave it all to me; I will
undertake - "

"What is all this? What is all this?" asked La Sauvage. "Has M.
Schmucke ordered something? Who may you be?"

"I represent the firm of Sonet, my dear madame, the biggest monumental
stone-masons in Paris," said the person in black, handing a
business-card to the stalwart Sauvage.

"Very well, that will do. Some one will go with you when the time
comes; but you must not take advantage of the gentleman's condition
now. You can quite see that he is not himself - - "

The agent led her out upon the landing.

"If you will undertake to get the order for us," he said
confidentially, "I am empowered to offer you forty francs."

Mme. Sauvage grew placable. "Very well, let me have your address,"
said she.

Schmucke meantime being left to himself, and feeling the stronger for
the soup and bread that he had been forced to swallow, returned at
once to Pons' rooms, and to his prayers. He had lost himself in the
fathomless depths of sorrow, when a voice sounding in his ears drew
him back from the abyss of grief, and a young man in a suit of black
returned for the eleventh time to the charge, pulling the poor,
tortured victim's coatsleeve until he listened.

"Sir!" said he.

"Vat ees it now?"

"Sir! we owe a supreme discovery to Dr. Gannal; we do not dispute his
fame; he has worked miracles of Egypt afresh; but there have been
improvements made upon his system. We have obtained surprising
results. So, if you would like to see your friend again, as he was
when he was alive - "

"See him again!" cried Schmucke. "Shall he speak to me?"

"Not exactly. Speech is the only thing wanting," continued the
embalmer's agent. "But he will remain as he is after embalming for all
eternity. The operation is over in a few seconds. Just an incision in
the carotid artery and an injection. - But it is high time; if you wait
one single quarter of an hour, sir, you will not have the sweet
satisfaction of preserving the body. . . ."

"Go to der teufel! . . . Bons is ein spirit - und dat spirit is in
hefn."

"That man has no gratitude in his composition," remarked the youthful
agent of one of the famous Gannal's rivals; "he will not embalm his
friend."

The words were spoken under the archway, and addressed to La Cibot,
who had just submitted her beloved to the process.

"What would you have, sir!" she said. "He is the heir, the universal
legatee. As soon as they get what they want, the dead are nothing to
them."

An hour later, Schmucke saw Mme. Sauvage come into the room, followed
by another man in a suit of black, a workman, to all appearance.

"Cantinet has been so obliging as to send this gentleman, sir," she
said; "he is coffin-maker to the parish."

The coffin-maker made his bow with a sympathetic and compassionate
air, but none the less he had a business-like look, and seemed to know
that he was indispensable. He turned an expert's eye upon the dead.

"How does the gentleman wish 'it' to be made? Deal, plain oak, or oak
lead-lined? Oak with a lead lining is the best style. The body is a
stock size," - he felt for the feet, and proceeded to take the measure
- "one metre seventy!" he added. "You will be thinking of ordering the
funeral service at the church, sir, no doubt?"

Schmucke looked at him as a dangerous madman might look before
striking a blow. La Sauvage put in a word.

"You ought to find somebody to look after all these things," she said.

"Yes - - " the victim murmured at length.

"Shall I fetch M. Tabareau? - for you will have a good deal on your
hands before long. M. Tabareau is the most honest man in the quarter,
you see."

"Yes. Mennesir Dapareau! Somepody vas speaking of him chust now - "
said Schmucke, completely beaten.

"Very well. You can be quiet, sir, and give yourself up to grief, when
you have seen your deputy."

It was nearly two o'clock when M. Tabareau's head-clerk, a young man
who aimed at a bailiff's career, modestly presented himself. Youth has
wonderful privileges; no one is alarmed by youth. This young man
Villemot by name, sat down by Schmucke's side and waited his
opportunity to speak. His diffidence touched Schmucke very much.

"I am M. Tabareau's head-clerk, sir," he said; "he sent me here to
take charge of your interests, and to superintend the funeral
arrangements. Is this your wish?"

"You cannot safe my life, I haf not long to lif; but you vill leaf me
in beace!"

"Oh! you shall not be disturbed," said Villemot.

"Ver' goot. Vat must I do for dat?"

"Sign this paper appointing M. Tabareau to act for you in all matters
relating to the settlement of the affairs of the deceased."

"Goot! gif it to me," said Schmucke, anxious only to sign it at once.

"No, I must read it over to you first."

"Read it ofer."

Schmucke paid not the slightest attention to the reading of the power
of attorney, but he set his name to it. The young clerk took
Schmucke's orders for the funeral, the interment, and the burial
service; undertaking that he should not be troubled again in any way,
nor asked for money.

"I vould gif all dat I haf to be left in beace," said the unhappy man.
And once more he knelt beside the dead body of his friend.

Fraisier had triumphed. Villemot and La Sauvage completed the circle
which he had traced about Pons' heir.

There is no sorrow that sleep cannot overcome. Towards the end of the
day La Sauvage, coming in, found Schmucke stretched asleep at the
bed-foot. She carried him off, put him to bed, tucked him in
maternally, and till the morning Schmucke slept.

When he awoke, or rather when the truce was over and he again became
conscious of his sorrows, Pons' coffin lay under the gateway in such a
state as a third-class funeral may claim, and Schmucke, seeking vainly
for his friend, wandered from room to room, across vast spaces, as it
seemed to him, empty of everything save hideous memories. La Sauvage
took him in hand, much as a nurse manages a child; she made him take
his breakfast before starting for the church; and while the poor
sufferer forced himself to eat, she discovered, with lamentations
worthy of Jeremiah, that he had not a black coat in his possession. La
Cibot took entire charge of his wardrobe; since Pons fell ill, his
apparel, like his dinner, had been reduced to the lowest terms - to a
couple of coats and two pairs of trousers.

"And you are going just as you are to M. Pons' funeral? It is an
unheard-of thing; the whole quarter will cry shame upon us!"

"Und how vill you dat I go?"

"Why, in mourning - "

"Mourning!"

"It is the proper thing."

"Der bropper ding! . . . Confound all dis stupid nonsense!" cried poor
Schmucke, driven to the last degree of exasperation which a childlike
soul can reach under stress of sorrow.

"Why, the man is a monster of ingratitude!" said La Sauvage, turning
to a personage who just then appeared. At the sight of this
functionary Schmucke shuddered. The newcomer wore a splendid suit of
black, black knee-breeches, black silk stockings, a pair of white
cuffs, an extremely correct white muslin tie, and white gloves. A
silver chain with a coin attached ornamented his person. A typical
official, stamped with the official expression of decorous gloom, an
ebony wand in his hand by way of insignia of office, he stood waiting
with a three-cornered hat adorned with the tricolor cockade under his
arm.

"I am the master of the ceremonies," this person remarked in a subdued
voice.

Accustomed daily to superintend funerals, to move among families
plunged in one and the same kind of tribulation, real or feigned, this
man, like the rest of his fraternity, spoke in hushed and soothing
tones; he was decorous, polished, and formal, like an allegorical
stone figure of Death.

Schmucke quivered through every nerve as if he were confronting his
executioner.

"Is this gentleman the son, brother, or father of the deceased?"
inquired the official.

"I am all dat and more pesides - I am his friend," said Schmucke
through a torrent of weeping.

"Are you his heir?"

"Heir? . . ." repeated Schmucke. "Noding matters to me more in dis
vorld," returning to his attitude of hopeless sorrow.

"Where are the relatives, the friends?" asked the master of the
ceremonies.

"All here!" exclaimed the German, indicating the pictures and
rarities. "Not von of dem haf efer gifn bain to mein boor Bons. . . .
Here ees everydings dot he lofed, after me."

Schmucke had taken his seat again, and looked as vacant as before; he
dried his eyes mechanically. Villemot came up at that moment; he had
ordered the funeral, and the master of the ceremonies, recognizing
him, made an appeal to the newcomer.

"Well, sir, it is time to start. The hearse is here; but I have not
often seen such a funeral as this. Where are the relatives and
friends?"

"We have been pressed for time," replied Villemot. "This gentleman was
in such deep grief that he could think of nothing. And there is only
one relative."

The master of the ceremonies looked compassionately at Schmucke; this
expert in sorrow knew real grief when he saw it. He went across to
him.

"Come, take heart, my dear sir. Think of paying honor to your friend's
memory."

"We forgot to send out cards; but I took care to send a special
message to M. le Presidente de Marville, the one relative that I
mentioned to you. - There are no friends. - M. Pons was conductor of an
orchestra at a theatre, but I do not think that any one will come.
- This gentleman is the universal legatee, I believe."

"Then he ought to be chief mourner," said the master of the
ceremonies. - "Have you a black coat?" he continued, noticing
Schmucke's costume.

"I am all in plack insite!" poor Schmucke replied in heartrending
tones; "so plack it is dot I feel death in me. . . . Gott in hefn is
going to haf pity upon me; He vill send me to mein friend in der
grafe, und I dank Him for it - "

He clasped his hands.

"I have told our management before now that we ought to have a
wardrobe department and lend the proper mourning costumes on hire,"
said the master of the ceremonies, addressing Villemot; "it is a want
that is more and more felt every day, and we have even now introduced
improvements. But as this gentleman is chief mourner, he ought to wear
a cloak, and this one that I have brought with me will cover him from
head to foot; no one need know that he is not in proper mourning
costume. - Will you be so kind as to rise?"

Schmucke rose, but he tottered on his feet.

"Support him," said the master of the ceremonies, turning to Villemot;
"you are his legal representative."

Villemot held Schmucke's arm while the master of the ceremonies
invested Schmucke with the ample, dismal-looking garment worn by
heirs-at-law in the procession to and from the house and the church.
He tied the black silken cords under the chin, and Schmucke as heir
was in "full dress."

"And now comes a great difficulty," continued the master of the
ceremonies; "we want four bearers for the pall. . . . If nobody comes
to the funeral, who is to fill the corners? It is half-past ten
already," he added, looking at his watch; "they are waiting for us at
the church."

"Oh! here comes Fraisier!" Villemot exclaimed, very imprudently; but
there was no one to hear the tacit confession of complicity.

"Who is this gentleman?" inquired the master of the ceremonies.

"Oh! he comes on behalf of the family."

"Whose family?"

"The disinherited family. He is M. Camusot de Marville's
representative."

"Good," said the master of the ceremonies, with a satisfied air. "We
shall have two pall-bearers at any rate - you and he."

And, happy to find two of the places filled up, he took out some
wonderful white buckskin gloves, and politely presented Fraisier and
Villemot with a pair apiece.

"If you gentlemen will be so good as to act as pall-bearers - " said
he.

Fraisier, in black from head to foot, pretentiously dressed, with his
white tie and official air, was a sight to shudder at; he embodied a
hundred briefs.

"Willingly, sir," said he.

"If only two more persons will come, the four corners will be filled
up," said the master of the ceremonies.

At that very moment the indefatigable representative of the firm of
Sonet came up, and, closely following him, the man who remembered Pons
and thought of paying him a last tribute of respect. This was a
supernumerary at the theatre, the man who put out the scores on the
music-stands for the orchestra. Pons had been wont to give him a
five-franc piece once a month, knowing that he had a wife and family.

"Oh, Dobinard (Topinard)!" Schmucke cried out at the sight of him,
"_you_ love Bons!"

"Why, I have come to ask news of M. Pons every morning, sir."

"Efery morning! boor Dobinard!" and Schmucke squeezed the man's hand.

"But they took me for a relation, no doubt, and did not like my visits
at all. I told them that I belonged to the theatre and came to inquire
after M. Pons; but it was no good. They saw through that dodge, they
said. I asked to see the poor dear man, but they never would let me
come upstairs."

"Dat apominable Zipod!" said Schmucke, squeezing Topinard's horny hand
to his heart.

"He was the best of men, that good M. Pons. Every month he use to give
me five francs. . . . He knew that I had three children and a wife. My
wife has gone to the church."

"I shall difide mein pread mit you," cried Schmucke, in his joy at
finding at his side some one who loved Pons.

"If this gentleman will take a corner of the pall, we shall have all



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacPoor Relations → online text (page 59 of 62)