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had time to bid his nurse good-bye.

" Darena has succeeded ! " said Monfreville ; " the
bird has left his nest."

" Yes," replied Monsieur d'Hurbain, " but this sort of
thing must not go too far. And this dinner with those
women; really, I can't be there. I, a notary, dine with
ballet dancers ! "

" Oh ! bless my soul ! just once ; you can go incog.
Besides, it's for a good motive, and your presence will
prevent the dinner from being too indecent. Let us take
my tilbury, we can follow them better."

Monsieur d'Hurbain entered the tilbury with Monfre-
ville, and Monsieur Gerondif and Jasmin jumped into
the carriage.

" They are taking my young master to the Rocher de
Cancale," said the old servant, " and I have ordered a
sumptuous banquet at the house, and a reception, with
music and flowers and "

" Never mind, worthy Jasmin," rejoined the tutor, " all
those things will serve as well later; my pupil will have
to go home eventually. As for myself, I am Mentor,
and I must not abandon Telemachus, even when he goes
to dinner at the Rocher de Cancale."




A handsome salon had been engaged and a sumptuous
banquet ordered at the Rocher de Cancale, by Comte
Darena, who had said to himself before he started for

" Whatever happens, we shall surely come back to
dinner; to be sure, if I happen to be one of those who
are to pay, it will be rather hard for me just at this
time; but that doesn't worry me much; I'll order the
dinner none the less."

To give no thought to anything but pleasure, to pay
no heed to the future, to be, in truth, often indifferent
concerning affairs of the present, such was Darena's
nature. Born of a noble family, he had received an ex-
cellent education and had studied diligently. His father,
a man of a proud and stern character, having observed in
his son early in life a decided taste for independence and
dissipation, had thought that he could correct him by
depriving him of those amusements and that liberty
which are the ordinary means of relaxation after toil and
study. Thus, when Darena was nineteen years of age,
he had never had a franc that he could call his own, or
a half hour of freedom. At that time his father died;
his mother had died long before, and he suddenly found
himself his own master and possessed of a very pretty
little fortune. He plunged recklessly into pleasure and
dissipation, trying to make up all the time that his father's


severity had caused him to lose, and bade adieu forever
to study and to serious things.

Cards, women, horses, the table, became his idols.
At first he frequented the best society, to which his
name and his wealth gave him access; from the very
beginning he had a multitude of love intrigues; but
Darena was not sentimental, he looked for nothing but
pleasure in such affairs, and broke them off as soon as
he foreshadowed the slightest exaction or annoyance.

As ladies in good society are not always disposed to
form a liaison of a few days only, and as Comte Darena's
behavior was no secret, since he plumed himself on not
becoming attached to any woman, his amatory triumphs
gradually became less numerous in the fashionable world,
and he was compelled to pay his addresses to petites
bourgeoises, then to ladies of the theatre, then to gri-
settes, then to courtesans; and finally he had grown
to be so unexacting on that point that he had been known
to take his mistresses from the most humble ranks of

Darena's fortune, like his love-affairs, had sunk con-
stantly lower and lower. At last, at the age of twenty-
eight, the count had squandered his whole patrimony
and had nothing left save the house in Faubourg Saint-
Antoine, which he desired to sell, and upon which he had
already borrowed more than it was worth.

But, far from worrying concerning his present plight
and his future, so long as he was able to dine well, to
drink champagne with a ballet dancer, a figurante, a
lace-maker, or even a lady's maid, Darena snapped his
fingers at all the rest. To obtain those enjoyments, he
was often obliged to resort to doubtful expedients; but
the man who is not particular in choosing his acquaint-
ances is not always particular as to his means of existence.


A person named Poterne had seconded Darena's dis-
sipation and ruin to the utmost of his power. This
Poterne was a man whose age it was impossible to guess,
he was so ugly and unshapely. A gaunt, bony, angular
body, supported by thin, knock-kneed legs, was sur-
mounted by an oblong head of excessive length, a nose
broken in the centre and hooked at the end, a mouth
without lips, a protruding chin, and small eyes of a dull
green hue, shaded by bushy eyebrows, and turning inces-
santly in every direction. Add to these an enormous
quantity of thick, dirty brown hair, always cut like the
quills of a hedgehog, and you have a faithful image of
Monsieur Poterne.

This man had become attached to Comte Darena when
he was still wealthy; he had offered his services in any
capacity ; he knew all the places in Paris where a young
man of family can ruin himself with the least difficulty.
If Darena spied, at the play or on the street, a woman
who attracted him, Poterne undertook to follow her, and
to hand her a letter containing information concerning
him. Later, Poterne made it his business to find usurers,
money-lenders, accommodating tradesmen; so that he
had become indispensable to the count, who treated him
sometimes as his friend, sometimes as his servant, cajoled
him occasionally, despised him always, and could never
do without him.

The reader will assume perhaps that it had been this
gentleman's aim to enrich himself at the expense of the
person whom he was assisting to ruin himself. That
was Poterne's idea at first; but his own vices prevented
him from taking advantage of another's failings. As
inveterate a gambler and libertine as Darena, while the
latter was losing thousand- franc notes in a fashionable
salon, Poterne was gambling away, in some wine-shop


or low resort, the money he had extracted from his in-
timate friend. While Darena entertained some charmer
at Vefour's or Very's, Poterne betook himself to a gin-
shop to squander what money he had with a street ped-
dler, and he was too ugly not to be compelled to be open-
handed. And when Darena was without a sou he some-
times abused his friend, and accused him of being the
author of his ruin. At such times he unceremoniously
appropriated all that Poterne possessed ; and that worthy,
who was also a coward, allowed himself to be despoiled
without a murmur, promising himself that he would have
his revenge ere long.

It may seem strange that the refined Monfreville
should be on intimate terms with a man whose tastes,
whose conduct, whose very dress, proved his disorderly
mode of life. But there are people who, after knowing
a person when he was rich and fortunate, dare not turn
their backs on him when they meet him with a soiled coat
and dingy hat. Moreover, Darena still had intervals of
prosperity; when the cards had been favorable to him,
or when his friend Poterne had discovered some new
resource, he instantly reappeared, elegantly and stylishly
dressed; he frequented the theatres, the ballrooms and
the best restaurants in Paris; and a few days later, a
perceptible falling off in his toilet, a certain lack of
neatness in some part of his costume, indicated that the
situation had changed. But even with a wretched hat
and dirty linen, Darena succeeded so well in retaining
the manners of good society, that it was hard to believe
that he consorted with the very lowest.

Indeed, does anyone know aught of the private life of
the great majority of the persons with whom he has only
a passing connection? Meeting Darena arrayed as in
the days of his prosperity, seeing him squander money


madly in some pleasure resort, no one asked him by
what blessed change of luck he had become rich; and
for the same reason, when he was seen, in shabby gar-
ments, slinking into a wretched twenty-two sou restaur-
ant, no one took pains to inquire what hard luck he had
had. In Paris, people do not try to worm themselves
into other people's secrets; and in this respect, discre-
tion very often resembles indifference.

Monfreville, who had known Darena when he was
rich, was well aware that he had squandered his fortune,
but he did not believe him to be entirely without re-
sources, having no idea that he would resort to indelicate
methods of obtaining money. The count had frequently
borrowed a thousand- franc note of him, however, none
of which had he ever returned ; but Edouard de Monfre-
ville was wealthy and attached little importance to those
trifling services. And then, too, Darena's society amused
him; his sallies, his indifference, sometimes carried to
the point of cynicism, made him laugh and banished the
melancholy humor which now and then took possession
of his mind.

Sometimes people wondered what could be the cause
of that pensive air, of that smile, rather bitter than
mocking, which often played about Monfreville's mouth.
He was rich, he had everything calculated to attract.
In society he was sought after, women schemed to gain
his notice; he had been known to have a great number
of love-affairs, and he was still at an age to have more.
But his merriment rarely seemed genuine, and in his
conversation he avoided speaking of a sex of which he
could hardly have had reason to complain. Some thought
that Monfreville had reached the point of being surfeited
with all sorts of pleasure, and attributed to that fact the
clouds that sometimes darkened his brow; others, when


they heard him sneer at those of his friends who be-
lieved in the constancy of their mistresses, concluded
that the handsome and fascinating Monfreville had had
some unfortunate passion, had been the victim of some
treachery. Finally, when he was seen to pass his thirtieth
year, and even to approach his fortieth, without appar-
ently thinking of marriage, all sorts of conjectures were
indulged in.

" He must have a very low opinion of women," peo-
ple said, " as he doesn't choose to do like other men, and
settle down, under the yoke of hymen."

But Edouard de Monfreville paid no heed to what
people might think or say of him; he continued to live
according to his taste, to do exactly as he chose; some-
times after passing a month in a succession of uproarious
debauches, surrounded by a jovial, dissipated crowd, all
whose follies he shared, he would hold himself aloof
from society for weeks at a time, finding pleasure only
in solitude. His friends had finally become accustomed
to the eccentricities of his humor, because in society a
rich man is always entitled to be original ; only the poor
devils are denied that privilege.

Now that we are better acquainted with the people
whom we are to join, let us enter the Rocher de Cancale,
where Cherubin had just arrived with the priestesses of




Cherubin found himself in Paris, and at the Rocher
de Cancale, before he had had time to collect his thoughts.
All the way to town the ladies had talked so much non-
sense, their conversation was so lively, their remarks so
amusing, that the boy had not ears enough to hear, and
he glanced constantly from one to another of the dancers,
to make sure that he was not dreaming.

When they entered the cab, the ladies enveloped them-
selves in ample cloaks, which concealed their costumes,
and pulled hoods over their heads, so that their head-
dresses could not be seen.

" Why do these ladies all disguise themselves in
hoods ? " Cherubin asked Darena in an undertone.

" My dear marquis," the latter replied aloud, " they
do it so that their stage costumes may not be seen when
they go into the restaurant, for the Carnival hasn't come
yet. A modest dress is the correct thing in Paris."

" Bah ! I don't care a fig for your correct thing ! "
said Mademoiselle Malvina ; " for my part I'd just as
lief walk about Paris in a Swiss costume. I say, why
mightn't I be a real Swiss ? "

"If you wore an oyster woman's costume, my dear
girl, it's much more probable that no one would think
that you were disguised."

" Well ! well ! that's a joke, I suppose ! how ugly you
are ! When you're out-at-elbows the way you sometimes


are, you don't look any too much like a count your-

Darena laughed heartily and tapped Malvina on the
cheek, saying:

" Come, come, hold your tongue, and above all things
behave decently, mesdames; in the country a mild sort
of freedom is permissible, but at the Rocher de Cancale,
and in the honorable company with which you are
to dine, remember, my little shepherdesses, that if you
are not discreet I shall be obliged to turn you out of the

" Bless my soul ! we know how to behave, monsieur !
Do you think we never go into swell society ? "

" Why, I often dine with my friend and his brother,
who's one of the biggest butchers in Paris ! "

" And I sometimes keep my cousin's desk ; she's a
baker and sells pastry, and only gentlemen with canary-
colored gloves come to her little place to eat."

" Very good, mesdames, very good ; we are certain
now that you are worthy to go into good society, and
that you know how to behave decorously. Oh ! if Mon-
sieur d'Hurbain had not come to dine with us! But he
has come, for I see him and Monfreville getting out of
the tilbury. We have arrived; come, my young mar-
quis, hand out the ladies."

The carriage stopped and the door was opened ; a
porcupine's head appeared, surmounting a body clad in
an old nut-colored box-coat, the collar of which was
marred by some very extensive spots of grease. It was
Monsieur Poterne, who had stepped forward to assist the
ladies to alight.

Malvina drew back, crying:

" Great God ! what sort of thing is that ? An owl, a
hedgehog? "


" It is my my business agent," replied Darena ; " he
has looked to it that everything is properly prepared, and
now he has come to assist you to alight; he is an ex-
tremely obliging man."

" He may possibly be obliging, but he is very ugly ; isn't
he, Rosina?"

" Yes. Oh ! how stupid it is to be ugly like that ! "

" And when you look from him to our charming little
Monsieur Cherubin ! "

" Gad ! there's as much difference as there is between
the sun and a flea ! "

" Come, mesdames, get out of the carriage ; you can
talk upstairs."

The company soon assembled in the salon where the
table was laid. Messieurs d'Hurbain and Monfreville
had arrived at the same time with the cab containing
Cherubin and the dancers. The notary went to Darena
and said in his ear:

" I trust, my dear count, that your dancers will behave
properly here. I agree that by their graceful dancing
and their bright eyes they have fascinated this young
man ; but he is still a mere child, who ought not to con-
sort with ballet dancers "

" Mon Dieu ! don't be alarmed ! You surprise me !
It is due to me that this baby of sixteen years and
a half consented to leave his nurse, and, instead of thank-
ing me, you preach at me. Be of service to people exert
your imagination so that they may lecture you after-

" I say, Darena," said Monfreville, scrutinizing Mon-
sieur Poterne, who was sidling by the ladies, casting
furtive glances at them, to which they replied by wry
faces, " is that horribly dirty person a friend of yours ?
Do you expect us to dine with him ? I must confess that


I am not charmed by the prospect of his company. Who
is the fellow? He looks very like a hawk."

" He is my steward."

" Ah ! so you still have a steward ? I thought that
you had ceased to keep up an establishment."

" I have kept nobody else. This man looks after my
affairs he's an invaluable fellow for expedients."

" In that case, he would do well to devise an expedient
for obtaining another coat."

" Well ! aren't we ever going to dine? " asked Malvina,
trying a pas de seul in a corner of the salon.

" Yes, indeed, madame. Come, Monsieur Cherubin,
be kind enough to take your seat."

Monsieur d'Hurbain was about to sit beside Cherubin,
but Monfreville stopped him, saying in an undertone:

" Let these girls sit by our pupil, or else we may lose
all the fruit of our trouble. I have been watching Cheru-
bin among all these people; he sighs sometimes, and if
he should have an attack of homesickness, he might ab-
solutely insist on returning to his nurse, and we should
have much difficulty in keeping him in Paris."

Monsieur d'Hurbain submitted; he allowed Mesde-
moiselles Rosina and Coelina to seat themselves on each
side of Cherubin; Malvina, who was too late to obtain
a seat next the young man, attempted to force Rosina to
give up her chair to her and threatened to strike her ; but
a stern glance from Darena put an end to the dispute,
and Mademoiselle Malvina seated herself at the other
end of the table, humming:

" You shall not take him away, Nicolas ! "Tis I whom
he will love, tradera ! "

There was one vacant place, for Monsieur Poterne had
ordered the table laid for nine, and, despite Darena's
signs, the gentleman in the box-coat seemed to be on


the point of taking the vacant chair, when the door
opened and Monsieur Gerondif appeared, accompanied
by Jasmin.

The professor bowed to the company, saying:

" I humbly salute the gentlemen, and I lay my homage
at the feet of the ladies simultaneously."

" What is the man doing to our feet ? " Malvina asked
Darena, who was seated beside her, and whose only
reply was a violent blow with his knee.

But Cherubin's face lighted up when he saw the new
arrivals, and he cried:

" Ah ! here you are, my dear tutor ! How glad I am
that you came to Paris too! What a pity that that
you "

Cherubin did not finish the sentence; he was think-
ing of Louise, and something which he could not define
told him that his innocent playmate would not be in her
proper place in the company of those young ladies who
danced so prettily. Monsieur d'Hurbain, who was greatly
pleased by the tutor's arrival, because he saw therein
an additional safeguard for Cherubin, saluted Monsieur
Gerondif with a gracious smile, and said:

" You did well to follow your pupil, monsieur, and
we relied upon your doing so. Pray take a seat at the
table there is a place awaiting you."

" Yes, yes, sit there, Monsieur Gerondif," cried Cheru-
bin, pointing to the vacant seat. " And you, my good
Jasmin, stand by me."

" I know my duty, monsieur le marquis, and I will
take my proper station."

As he spoke, the old retainer put a napkin over his arm
and planted himself behind Cherubin's chair. As for
Monsieur Gerondif, he did not wait for the invitation to
be repeated; he pushed Monsieur Poterne aside, took


his seat at the table and swallowed the soup that was
placed before him, crying:

" This is the banquet of Belshazzar ! It is the feast of
Eleusis ! the wedding festival of Gamache ! Never as-
suredly was there a more sumptuous repast ! "

" I say ! that gentleman is talking in poetry," said
Malvina to her neighbor.

" Yes," replied Darena, " I believe that it was mon-
sieur who wrote the tragedy called the Earthquake of

Monsieur Gerondif smiled graciously at the count,
murmuring with an air of modesty :

" I write verse rather easily, but I never wrote a
tragedy, that is sure, certainly."

" I beg pardon, monsieur, I took you for Master
Andre; you have much affinity with him. But let us
drink to monsieur le marquis's health, and to the pleasure
of having him in Paris at last."

Darena's proposition was eagerly welcomed; the
glasses were filled with madeira, and emptied in Cheru-
bin's honor; the four dancers drank without heel-taps,
and poured down madeira in a way to arouse an English-
man's envy.

Meanwhile Monsieur Poterne, having been cheated out
of the seat to which he aspired, had decided to remain on
his feet and to assist Jasmin, in preference to retiring.
So he took his stand behind Darena; but while making
a pretence of passing him a plate now and then, he asked
him in undertones for whatever he saw on the table.
Darena passed him well filled dishes, and Poterne, in-
stead of serving them to the guests, turned his back and
rapidly made away with the contents.

The beginning of the repast was lively, but free from
anything offensive to the proprieties ; the young women,


upon whom Darena had enjoined the most rigidly correct
behavior, gave their whole attention to doing justice to
the dinner, and maintained an irreproachable demeanor,
although they bestowed an amiable smile on Cherubin
from time to time. Malvina alone let slip an occasional
remark or jest of a somewhat obscene flavor; but Darena
always made haste to cover it by beginning to talk. His
conversation, which was always piquant or rambling,
Monfreville's, who was in an unusually cheerful mood,
and the quotations of Monsieur Gerondif, who, while
eating for four, found time to display all that he knew,
did not leave Cherubin a moment for reflection. Sur-
prised to find himself the hero of that impromptu fete,
he was dazzled, fascinated, taken captive; the glances
that were darted at him, the witty remarks that he heard
on all sides, the flattering things that were said to him,
and the delicious, dainty, toothsome dinner, which grati-
fied his sense of smell and of taste alike, prevented him
from giving a thought to the village ; for when his face
became grave and indicated the arrival of a memory,
his companions redoubled their attentions, their gayety
and their pranks, to banish the cloud that had dimmed
his eyes.

" I say," suddenly exclaimed Malvina, who, as she
turned her head, happened to see Monsieur Poterne tak-
ing away a plate that Darena passed him, " so your man
of business waits on you at table, does he? Is he your
servant too ? "

" He serves me in every capacity," said Darena ; " I
tell you he is an invaluable man; I make whatever I
choose of him ! "

" Then you'd better make a good-looking man of him ! "

" Socrates, Horace, Cicero and Pelisson were hide-
ously ugly," said Gerondif, filling the little Swiss maiden's


glass ; " a man may be very plain and still have a bril-
liant intellect."

" Ah ! you fox, you have your reasons for saying so,"
retorted Malvina, tossing off her champagne.

The tutor, who did not expect that reply, scratched
his nose and called for truffles.

The crash of a breaking plate interrupted the conver-
sation; Jasmin, while trying to remove his young mas-
ter's plate, had dropped it on the floor ; it was the fourth
which had met that fate at his hands, together with two
bottles and a carafe.

" I say, is that old fellow Jocrisse ? " cried Malvina,
with a roar of laughter.

" Such a valet de chambre must be very expensive ! "
said Monfreville, with a smile.

" Excuse me, my dear master," said Jasmin, who turned
scarlet at each new mishap caused by his awkwardness.
" You see, it is a long while since I have waited at table ;
but I shall soon get used to it it is simply a matter .of
renewing an old habit."

" The devil ! " said Darena, " if he means to go on
until he gets used to it, it will be very fine ! "

" But why do you stand behind me, my good Jasmin ?
It is altogether too fatiguing for a man of your years.
Sit in the corner yonder ; I will call you if I should need

" The idea of it ! " said Jasmin, trying to stand erect.
" Does monsieur think that I do not know my duty ?
I will not quit my post, monsieur ; I will die first ! "

" In other words, all the landlord's crockery will die ! "
said Darena, laughingly. " Honor to unlucky pluck ! "
he added aloud, raising his glass.

" This old servant's attachment is greatly to his credit
and to his master's," said Monfreville, " I propose a


toast to fidelity; it is so rare that we cannot do it too
much honor, in whatever guise it appears."

The toast was drunk with enthusiasm by the company.
Monsieur d'Hurbain proposed a toast to the late Mon-
sieur de Grandvilain, and Darena to the ballet dancers at
the Opera. Monsieur Gerondif rose and exclaimed with

Online LibraryPaul de KockNovels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) → online text (page 9 of 27)