Translation © Steven Rowan.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
Sorbets and Cakes
…[sor]bets and cakes, you can bravely choose from the virgins that have fascinated your gaze…
Six months after that marriage — let’s say twelve, fifteen, twenty-eight, if you wish … — indifference, repulsion, even disgust, take the place of some frivolous hours, and then there comes, for the woman, depression, abandonment, torment; or for the man, all the humiliating companions of the minotaur! And look at how you see great ladies getting in their coaches when they have recognized that he is doing better than their husband, visiting the unnamable houses to grow numb and … take pleasure because they are not happy, or many things as ignoble, such as selling yourself decently and quite dearly to enjoy an indispensible luxury … which does not prevent wearing silk, plumes and lace, so as to mount a carriage of silver or gilded copper.
Once again, this is the chief cause of a thousand more or less well-hidden scandals, and no more in Paris than in Rome, or in New Orleans than in Peking, but everywhere, more or less.
So, at the end of some weeks, Julien married the most beautiful girl in Paris, who also had the advantage of not being Parisian. What a crowd there was to see her enter the church and depart from it, was curious to see, although the ceremony was not particularly rich. There was almost indecent applause, too many signs of admiration. Julien, in place of being humiliated or shocked by this, did not feel at ease and raised his hopes for a rent higher than the hundred thousand livres with which he had endowed his wife. So far as she was concerned, several times she raised her head and looked about to find the cause of the murmurs that accompanied her, and each time her beautiful face shone on the vulgar ones that surrounded her, there was an almost overwhelming crescendo which she did not understand at all.
During the first few days of their union, Marie could think herself loved, and it was understandable, since she was so miraculous beautiful. But experience quickly grew in the skill of matrimony, as did the growing chilliness of her ardent spouse, a chilliness as sudden as the fall of the sun in the tropics, that struck her saddened heart.
Marie had lost her father and mother some years before, but, in the place of what these titles have in holiness, she had found, one could almost say something better, in one sense, and it was this: it was an uncle on her mother’s side, but the best of uncles, easy and good, indulgent and generous to a fault. The good man would have cut off a finger to provide a charm for his pretty niece. He was rich, which does not hurt — on the contrary! Every time the young girl had to make some complaint, some request, some secret to tell, it was to this fine man that she went, and she always returned satisfied. Julien barely knew him, since he rarely went to his relatives, where Marie had been received after the death of her own.
A week had passed without making a great difference in the sad situation of the young spouse, who had the misfortune, in these circumstances, of loving her husband. Only, on the last day of this second week, Julien returned to his wife, so as to make an excuse for his singular conduct, The next day he came to her and presented her with a cavalier of good appearance, one of his friends, he said, and he prayed his wife to receive him pleasantly. She then did not see what he wished to have, an act of politeness, and, being a well-raised woman, she was charming, which was the least she could do, with the smallest intention of being amiable! Only she found that this gentleman looked at her a great deal, and sometimes rather oddly. This observation was brief; soon she thought nothing of it.
The unknown man departed with Julien.
— “Well?” he said.
— “Admirable, my dear,” the financier responded, raising his right arm to the sky “… Everything beautiful in the world! Eight hours on my property with this houri, and at once my property is yours!”
— “When is the attack?” Julien said.
— “Tomorrow! Starting tomorrow!” the financier said. “But she is so beautiful that I am afraid of being a beast… I who always have a strong head!”
— “You know the chief condition, Monsieur Cossudor,” the husband said… “She must never know that I am your accomplice in this conquest. There are only so many men who have privileges!”
— “That’s certainly understood, sure! You, tomorrow, you will be going to Bercy, correct?”
— “There or someplace else; I will not bother you.”
— “Great,” Cossudor responded.
After which he mounted a rich, elegant phaeton that departed with the elongated trot of a racehorse.
The next day at eleven o’clock in the morning, Cossudor arrived at the home of his friend Julien … who was absent. He only found Marie there, who was quite surprised at this prompt visit, received him indifferently.
— “My husband is absent,” she told him…
— “What significance does that have?” he responded … “we can talk more easily.”
Marie sensed a blush rising in her face. This impertinence surprised her so that she did not find an immediate response. This silence, interpreted in a sense positive for him, made Cossudor at once braver. “We should not delay getting to know one another” he thought… And he sought a phrase that was spiritual and explicit. Marie tortured him with her beauty, and all he could come up with was this banality:
— “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!”
What do you respond to such vapidities?
Marie no longer knew how to react to the visit and words of the financier.
— “Oh!” went the banker… “I do not exaggerate! What a wonderful figure! What an enchanting face!”
The millionaire grew heated. He moved his couch next to that which held the young woman.
She looked at him in such a manner, with such shock, that he sensed ice falling on the brilliant words he was about to speak.
— “Do you love the countryside, Madame?” he finally asked, so as not to remain mute, and to return via a detour to the place he had lost.
— “Very much, Monsieur,” she responded, rather coldly.
— “Some leagues from here I have a charming villa where there are waters, woods … a delicious life…”
— “That’s very nice…”
— “Particularly at this moment, when the city is dull and sad…”
Then, suddenly making a major decision:
— “Keep in mind,” he said, “I am a solid man; I do not know how to search for a thousand detours. Would you permit me to invite you to pass some days at my villa?”
Marie did not respond immediately. Cossudor was as if on pins and needles.
The surprise, the incertitude of the role that this man played, his daring, which perhaps derived from eccentricity, perhaps something else, or simply a drunken pressure to excess; all of this meant that the woman barely knew how to respond.
— “But,” she finally said, “there are two obstacles to accepting this invitation: first of all, I would have to talk to my husband; secondly, I do not have the honor of knowing your wife.”
— “Oh!” Cossudor said, who believed he saw in these two obstacles futile pretexts used by the young woman not to accept outright, “I wish to set you at ease. For your husband, I will obtain his consent; so far as my wife goes, it would be difficult to introduce her to you, seeing that I have none.”
— “Truly, Monsieur,” Marie responded, who was beginning to pierce the dark parts of this conversation, “I go from surprise to surprise. It seems that your visit, which is so extraordinary, has a motive you are not mentioning. If I am not wrong, you are trying to hide it.”
“Devil!” the financier thought, “Here I am at the foot of the wall; I must either leap over it or remain here … go for broke!”
He approached the young woman, looked at her close up, with the effrontery of a man who had a well-stuffed safe, and spoke to her in a low voice over several minutes.
During these minutes of stupefaction, Julien’s wife grew pale, then red, then white. She passed from shock to fury, then from fury to shame, and from shame to hatred.
When Cossudor was finished, without her interrupting with a single word, she rose up, cold and majestic, went to the door, which she opened herself with the greatest calm, and, with a gesture of untranslatable authority, she showed him the way he should take outside.
The financier wanted to speak, but he was unable to find a word. The young woman imposed on him in such a way that he was overcome, mute, obliterated. He took his hat, his gold-headed cane, and departed without salute.
As soon as he had gone, Marie collapsed in tears. But a sudden thought crossed her heart. She dried her beautiful eyes, fiercely took her hat, and, dressing herself in haste, she departed …
She took herself to the good uncle of whom we have spoken.
When Marie entered his room, the good man was occupied with doing his accounts.
— “And eight makes eighty-eight,” he said in a loud voice.
— “Good day my dear good uncle!” the young woman cried out, crossing the salon … How happy I am to find you!”
The dignified man let his pen fall, quickly raised his spectacles, turned his seat and opened his arms to the beautiful weeping girl who fell into them.
When the first cry had dissipated a bit, Marie told her uncle what had occurred since her marriage, finally describing the scene that had just taken place.
The simple, fine figure of the good man was covered with sympathetic wrinkles as his niece’s account clarified each position in this mysterious piece.
— “Listen,” he said, after several minutes of reflection, taking in his hands those of his beautiful niece, “Before tracing to you the line of conduct that you have to hold, I need to go out and get certain important information. This will be done here this evening. This evening I will come to you at the hour when your husband is not home. You already know what it is about, and I will describe to you the route you have to follow and what the position is that you will have to find.”
— “Go,” he said to her at the end of some moments, conducting her back to the door. “You see that I will be going, from my side.”
— “You know,” he added, “what I was calculating when you came in! I was making the account of my savings for the last year: eighty-eight thousand francs! Dear Marie, and there will be more gained this year. That will bring me the impractical sum of one hundred seventy-five thousands! It is necessary for you to help me spend it…”
The young woman smiled without attaching great importance to these last words, embraced her uncle, and parted almost consoled.
That evening she saw him return, faithful to his promise, and he went to her with his usual seriousness.
The forehead of the good man showed worry. The good smile usually on his lips had disappeared, and his eyebrows were low, testifying to great irritation or profound preoccupation.
— “You frighten me, my good uncle!” the young woman told him. “I have never seen you so angry and somber…”
— “There is something, my dear child… But when a misfortune has come, if possible, it needs to be repaired, or to overcome the pain received, finally to reshape the future, and not to wallow in pain nor to dwell only on the past.”
— “Then you have truly terrible things to tell me?”
— “Terrible … perhaps, but certainly very disgraceful!… And now, tell me, but as you would to a confessor … do you love your husband?”
— “Yes!” the young woman responded.
— “That is really unfortunate!… If you did not love him, this would be a minor matter. Finally, what is … is! Sit down there and let’s talk.”
The good man passed the end of his finger over his eyes, placed his cane in a corner and his hat on a cabinet, then, after having absorbed time through these small maneuvers to compose himself to render a sage decision, he went to sit beside his niece and said to her:
— “My child, your husband is an infamous person, and again I use the word ‘infamous’ because I do not know a stronger word.”
Marie looked at her uncle with big crazed eyes, as if seeing a thief taken red-handed…
— “You may open your big eyes, my child,” her uncle said, “and above all be brave, for I have not finished! Your husband has never loved you, does not love you now, and probably will never love you. Taking a poor woman when one has ambitions to have something, and one is neither elderly nor infirm, proves that there is love. With an honest man, the proof is logic, but there is no logic with a dishonest one. Do you know why Julien married you?”
Marie looked at her uncle but did not respond.
— “To sell you!” he said… “yes, to sell you! I insist specifically on this word. I press this instrument into the wound on purpose, first of all to cauterize it, so that it will heal more quickly. Note everything as you foresaw it: Julien searched for a woman of extraordinary beauty, and he found that in you. It was a double happiness for him that your parents had left you nothing, and they could not suspect him for his interest. All that he allowed others to believe was his powerful passion. Julien is a man who believes in nothing, and as a result, he had no doubt about the success that would come from your beauty, that is the gold and the luxury that he could win from you by giving you to rich lovers! You see clearly that when I say that the word ‘infamous’ is too soft, I do not exaggerate!
“My dear child!” the good uncle said, his eyes moist and his voice trembling, “You see these lovely things after three and four weeks of marriage, right? It has been a long time since I passed sixty, and for sure, during this long existence, I have never seen the like. I heard all of it said. And you, not yet nineteen, you know it by experience…
“It is fine, have courage. I am here!”
Marie’s uncle expected tears and sobs. Perhaps, if the matter had been less strong, the infamy smaller, the young woman would have found nothing but tears, but all the excess led to excess. Indignation over her spouse imposed itself on the woman’s sensibility; the reaction was prompt and energetic…
— “Go ahead, dear uncle,” she said, I am too fierce to feel grief. Hatred has killed all my pain. I will leave this man, and that’s it.”
— “Not at all, my fine little niece!” her second father said, “it is not necessary to leave your husband. You must remain an honest woman to the end. Victory always goes to the honesty that knows how to wait. But permit me to continue, and then you will permit me to show step by step the line of conduct that I shall trace for you.
“So, Julien, by marrying you, wished to enjoy a rich revenue through your beauty, persuaded that he would abandon you little by little, and that you would support yourself on lovers — that you would not take as such, until the end — and that you would finish by consoling yourself with them, and that, from these consolations, riches and a splendid existence would flow to him. You would profit as a consequence, either knowing or not knowing the source of this prosperity. There it is.
“Now, do you wish (or not wish) to listen to your uncle and follow his advice without discussing it? I am an honest man, and I love you, therefore I will not lead you on the wrong path…”
For her entire response, the young woman threw herself into the arms of the old nobleman:
— “Everything that you command I will do, my good father!”
— “Well, you may begin by taking this little packet of banknotes, and tomorrow, when you are alone, you are to pay the domestics’ wages for six months; you will also pay rent for six months to the property owner, after which you will pay off the accounts that have been delivered to you by various suppliers, always in Julien’s absence, and, if he happens later to find that all the payments have been made, by you, whom he thought had nothing, you are simply to say, ‘I have paid them.’ He will ask nothing more; only later, he will ask to borrow money from you, which we will easily provide.”
— “But,” Julien’s wife asked, “my husband is broke? Is everything true as you say, uncle?”
— “Yes, my child, not including what I don’t know. Recently, after having dissipated his substance in twenty years of ease, he has become a leader of industry, has found dupes, as such men almost always find them, and he was able to appear to have a position that he did not have. From outside, he played the role well, but one day, trouble surfaced, and comedy was not longer possible. Your husband is a lost man whom only a miracle can resuscitate. Chance will perhaps bring this miracle. You have done nothing but your duty, and, as a moral writer has said, ‘The duty of an honest woman who has a bad husband is to live with him in patience rather than leaving him, as the duty of a Christian who suffers is to live with the suffering rather than put an end to it by suicide.’
“I will be your banker so far as will be necessary,” the good uncle declared. “Only it is necessary for you to have an incredible courage of letting Julien believe that the money comes from the source he thinks it is. For him, I am outside of all of it. When he sees that success is so easy, he will not ask more questions. He will be persuaded that you have earned it, and that you are acting according to his plan, and we will allow things to go on, until there is a circumstance — which times cannot help but provide — that permits us to end it in some manner or other.
“There are those who create conspiracies with evil ends; we are making one for a good end,” the decent man observed: “we will see if it is true that Providence is ever on the right side…”
After some special recommendations, among which was that of arranging a separate room, and to be silent about the result of Cossador’s visit, the uncle departed calmer, leaving the young woman to the thoughts of such a sad experience of life.
Julien only returned at the end of two days. He had gambled, and the gambling had been in his favor. Also, like all those who only believe in money, and who, as a result, are his inferior, bear their heads high and use a peculiar language.
— “I did rather good business,” he said to his wife on entering; I had a bad piece of land about twenty leagues from here, and I got rid of it to my advantage. This little transaction took me two days…
“Concerning which,” he added, “I have to give some wages to our people: that is the most important thing to maintain us on a good footing.”
— “I believe that would be pointless,” Marie said — who could not help but blush at the memory of what her uncle had revealed to her — “The domestics have received wages for six months.”
— “From you?” said Julien…
— “From me,” Marie replied.
— “Then let’s go,” the unhappy man thought, “she cut it short!”
— “The house rent has been paid for the same period,” the young woman added.
After a pause:
— “The friend that I presented to you, has he returned … to see me?” Julien demanded, turning around, as if expecting some new object.
— “Ah! ah…” the husband murmured, who did not yet dare to approach the subject directly, despite his cynicism.
This “Ah, ah,” was as if to say, “Let’s get to the point; it is necessary to actually break the ice.”
Julien went to his wife and extended his head to embrace her. She coldly offered her forehead; then, when he announced that he was going to change clothes, she showed him a room that was not his usual place, telling him that his bed and his clothes were there.
— “Well!” he said, “you have done it like they do in the larger world, each his own home…”
— “Yes,” she responded, “I found that more suitable.”
And she accompanied these two words with a look that Julien interpreted as indicating his wife’s intention,
Shocked at the last point, he entered the new room without adding a word.
— “Devil!” he said to himself, “one accepted the agreement, but with conditions. I have really been placed to the side, and one will finance it. This is not absolutely what I intended, but it is still good that way. It is perhaps better than otherwise, in the last account: freedom and riches!”
And at that, Julien changed clothes.
When he returned to the salon, his wife had departed. He asked where she had gone, and since she had spoken to no one, no one could tell him.
He sat down and thought…
—“Let’s see her room,” he said.
Since she had decorated Julien’s sleeping room with furniture that had been shared when there was only one for the two of them, she had to have new for herself. They were reflected exquisite taste and delicate choice. Nothing said to the eyes that this was the room of an easy woman who had made an immoral, not to say ignoble, pact. On the contrary, everything there breathed something of honesty, almost of a virgin. At the head of the bed, white and soft, a single pillow, decorated in lace and exhaling a soft scent, was raised above the chastely closed covers. A pretty dressing table, a mahogany commode with a real mirror, a round table with a pretty shaded lamp; on this table were books that do not exceed the light genre; on the parquet, a small strip carpet, embroidered with flowers in a pale color; on the windows, screens of white muslin in large frames, glittering against rods of gilded wood; some fantasy pictures, hung on tapestry walls, representing moral subjects of intimate conduct, such as The Procession of the Poor, where you see a sad poodle, alone, following through wind and rain a more than modest hearse with neither plumes nor ribbons, driven by an old coach-driver whose worn clothing is already black, drawn by a consumptive quadruped with thinned flanks, bony sides, ears lowered, hair worn. — This brings tears to those who gaze at it with the eyes of the soul. — The bad member of the Family, an admirable portrayal of the misery of five persons due to the misconduct of the father alone. The Departure: It is a young village girl, pretty and stooped, her eye full of desires, with a brisk stride. — She is abandoning the paternal hearth to fly to Paris, the great city, where reveries of luxury and opulence call her… In a corner of the picture, you see the old grandmother with white hair on her bent back, holding on her trembling knees the last-born of her daughter; not far from her, the eldest of the young family, a robust worker of eighteen, shades his eyes with his right hand, these eyes stupefied and wet, asking in his naïve love of the paternal hearth why his young sister wishes to leave her people and country… Here and there, the little children, separated from one another by some twelve months, one occupying a mother’s skirt, another spoons his meal, this girl has a broom, that one a fixed spindle … staring, with a heavy air, at the lovely clothes of her big sister on a day that is not Sunday … while in the background, hidden in the half-shadow, stand the boat and the sailor … who wait for her. — You shift your gaze — the young girl is not there, she has gone away! — Next there is The Return: — She is no longer neat and confident, the poor girl! Neither her breasts nor her legs appear under a dress of worn black. A long stick is in her right hand, her left hand is crossed over her chest to cover a bad tear. Her head is uncovered and her hair dry. Bad shoes try to protect her tired feet. Her figure, still young, is bent … her thin cheeks have sad furrows: easy pleasures and bitter tears… — It is a distressing scene — All the family has aged by several years. The old grandmother has lost her sight; the little children have grown … but the cottage is always quiet: bad passions have not penetrated there. — When the poor girl places a timid foot on the peaceful threshold that she had left almost joyfully, the mother ceases spinning; the father, who has risen, neither rejects nor accuses his child: his two arms open, but lowered, appear to say that there is always a place at the hearth, but that it is no longer what it had once been!
These are the pictures that Julien saw in his wife’s room.
Following these painted dramas that he had before him like an amateur artist, he whistled a little tune from Zampa. His hands in his pockets, his nose in the air, a smile on his lips, he appeared to personify the opposite of poetry.
— “look, what here is gay?… In place of pictures of hunting or gastronomy, barking dogs and fine suppers; a gambling scene or a race on the Champ-de-Mars … even lacking a little cleverness, like a gust of wind up skirts, a panic among bathing women surprised by a storm, the fall of an amazone during a steeplechase, etcetera…”
On turning around, Julien noticed a pretty secretary in inlaid mahogany. An idea ran through his head:
— “It is really too bad,” he said to himself, responding to a thought, “that I do not have a key! I would really like to look in there…”
And he approached the item of furniture.
— “Very well shut!” he added, “but if it happens that there is one to open it among my little keys…”
He did not succeed, returned to his room and returned with a collection worthy of a jailer of Lilliput.
He tried one key, two keys, three, six, ten … none of them worked; impatience began to seize him… He continued nevertheless. Finally, which often happens when you search for something you need, and you don’t find it so that you despair, dropping your hands — the last key opened the secretary as if it were expressly made for it!
Then he began searching everything, but with order and intelligence, returning everything to its place. In a small drawer he found many banknotes, the remnant of what the generous uncle had given to Marie.
— “This is going well!” he said, shuffling the silky papers, better and faster than he had expected…
Then he returned each object to its place, closed the piece of furniture, and left.
The first person Julien went to was Charles.
Since their marriage, the two friends had not seen one another; Charles, as often happens, had let Julien know that he had avoided continuing their relations due to Julien’s principles.
This particular day, their reunion was unplanned, and they could not avoid it.
— “Well,” Julien said first, “Monsieur morality, you have not yet departed for far away?”
— “Yes,” Charles responded, “departed and returned alone, several days ago. I left my wife in the country to arrange a rather difficult business that has given me a great deal of trouble.”
— “Ah, ah,” Julien said, “and perhaps as a result you were delayed…”
— “Yes, by my faith; but there was no danger in the delay, as shysters say, in their peculiar language.”
— “In my case,” said Julien, placing his thumbs in the arm-holes of his vest and balancing on his heels, “I will be a millionaire soon if it continues. If you want some money…”
— “Thanks,” Charles responded, making a negative sign with his head.
At this moment, they had arrived on the boulevard du Temple, at the top of the Jardin Turc, situated opposite the place where Fieschi’s bomb killed Marshal Mortier.
A semi-luxurious carriage arrived across the street. It was seen to contain only two persons, an old man and a young woman.
— “Look,” Charles said to Julien, “would you believe there was another woman of such beauty? They would stand in the bushes to see her pass…”
And he pointed out the carriage mentioned.
Julien smiled and did not respond.
“I would not wish to be either the lover or the husband of this woman,” he added, “this would be a life of torments! This is the third time I have seen her, and each time it is the same crowd to watch her… It is like an emperor or someone condemned to death.”
— “Bah!” said Julien, “a woman is only a woman…”
— “Yes … and if she permitted you to touch her hand, perhaps you would not say with such disdain, ‘A woman is only a woman!’”
— “you believe … oh well, look at the distance that exists between my disdaining indifference and your novelistic beliefs; you would be afraid of that woman because she has large eyes, a small mouth, beautiful hair, a perfect body, in total a bunch of silliness, and me, I care for her like any other, so far as she is concerned.”
— “Do you know her, by chance?”
— “A little.”
— “Have you spoken with her?”
— “Several times.”
— “Did you meet her in a theater; have you touched her at a ball, in a dance?”
— “Better than that!”
— “Then she invited you to a promenade, and, in your pride, you disdain her … like de Lafontaine’s Renard disdaining the grapes!”
— “I will kill you in three words: She’s my wife!”
Charles stood for some seconds without responding.
— “Poor woman!” he finally said…
— “Bah! You believe … that she is happy as a fish in water … and me, too.”
— “I do not dare to ask how happy you are. If it is in the manner that you have spoke to me, remain there, I beg of you.”
— “I have plenty of money and no cares. That is how happy I am. And you?”
— “Me, I have cares and little money: despite that, or perhaps for that reason, I am the most happy of men: I love and am loved.”
— “Like the refrain of the romance,” said Julien, laughing rather loudly.
— “But with whom was she, your wife, in the carriage?”
— “By my faith, I don’t know! Not at all … and I am not concerned about it,” the man responded, “without prejudices,” twirling his walking stick.
In the carriage, there was a different conversation:
— “Oh yes,” Marie’s uncle said, “it is necessary that I speak of a rather delicate matter, and one that might seem extraordinary if one does not understand the motives. Have you ever reflect on this, my dear child: I am rich; I love you as if I were your father, at least, and you married without a dowry?…”
— “But no, my uncle, I never thought about that.”
— “Listen to me. For reasons that you have no reason to know, your father and I did not always live in fraternal friendship. Richer than me at one time, he had lost everything … essentially by his own fault. I then sought to return to him and had offered to share my wealth with him. But he had an intractable character, more than proud. He rejected me. When he was dead, he had designated the place where you were to retire until your marriage. If your mother had remained for you, things would have happened differently. You saw me rarely in your new family: the trusteeship was well executed. For me, you could not be free without being married. To provide a dowry, such as under seal, was easy, but I had other ideas. I wanted that someone would take you for yourself, and the best means would be to let you marry poor. There was always time to enrich you, you two, your husband and you, or at least to give you a good ease.
“It was reasonable, correct? Or one could not find a surer means of happiness for you: a loved woman, a home in ease forever… Oh well, you see that the wisest calculations of men are broken by the accidents and exceptions impossible to foresee, even to make up.
“But as I have already said to you, let’s let things happen, preserving bad appearances and making them good. This comedy is more praiseworthy than blamable, adding that it has as a goal to remain in honesty … if at the end of a certain time, this situation is no longer the solution, one would have no reproaches to employ major means.
“Behold, deal child, how and why it is that, although I was rich, you married poor.”
— “I do not know,” Marie said, “if contempt can kill love with one blow in a woman’s heart, but I swear to you, my uncle, that, for several days, there has been such a change in me that, today, I no longer love Julien, but even the sight of him repels and irritates me, I will say even disgusts me. and it is necessary that it is you who demands that I live this way through a more or less long time, for me to consent to it.”
— “I have a presentiment, my dear child, that the advice I give you will produce good results. And besides, let me see what resolution the times, aided by events, will leave this singular, sad play in which misfortune has wished you to play one of the principal roles.”
— “We will see,” the young woman responded.
At this moment they arrived at the old man’s door. He got off at his home, and Marie went on foot back to her home.
On entering, she found a letter addressed to her. She opened it and read:
To the most beautiful creature in the world:
I am writing to you, utterly charming lady, to excuse myself somewhat for the perhaps too cavalier fashion in which I proposed a nice party at my villa. I have two qualities that well excuse my faults toward women: I am discrete and generous. You know, rich men, particularly those who are involved in business, are in the habit of going fast in everything; this is often a fault, as I was able to see the other day at your home. If you would pardon my clumsiness, then, and permit me to hope that we will meet soon. Since the moment you showed me to the door — that is the word — I do not know what I did; I barely know what it is I said. I would never have believed that of a man such as me… It is true that I have never seen such a woman as you! Finally, it is to the point where I can no longer be involved in business, and it even seems to me that I grow thinner.
You see that I am not hiding my position and the ravages you are causing. In business, it is unwise to state that; one grants a great advantage against oneself. But too bad!… I am totally dedicated; there is no sacrifice I would not be ready to perform to have the happiness I ask from you. I assure you that I have never said, nor ever written, anything of this sort! I am no longer where I was. If this situation continues for long, I will endure enormous losses in my business, for what passes for a strong mind and a great commercial intelligence!
Respond to me, even if it is only a single line. Without it I would be capable of an assault on your home. I am not signing this letter, and further, don’t sign your response if you find it more prudent.
Without even removing her shawl and hat, the young woman went to her secretary and wrote these few words, sending them immediately by the messenger who was waiting downstairs:
It is not useful that Monsieur —— should be upset. He will not be received.
The next day, during the course of the day, Julien returned home. This time, he did not hold up his head as a peacock shows his tail. His face was dark, somber; he spoke little and in a low tone. Since he had been so proud and handsome from having won at gambling, it would be supposed that this time he had lost, and that he had suddenly become humble and depressed.
The episode that we are about to tell is related, as we shall soon see, to the principal narrative, which we are cutting on purpose. Just as this is only an episode — what could be called a long parenthesis — we will proceed rapidly, omitting a thousand small details, and not trying to explain this exceptional act, really not that exceptional, of which there is nothing similar anywhere, saving, with good intentions, the good conduct of the woman we place in the scene.
The reader shall doubtless already have divined who this Marie is, who, as we have said, has another name.
The current episode is only the explanation that we promised earlier concerning a feminine characteristic that might seem rather unique, because it was not explained. When this episode is over, light shall be shed on some obscure points, and certain gaps shall be filled. We will end it differently from the way it was begun, by just telling the story without placing the persons themselves into scenes of dialogue.
For several months, things followed the course that we already know. The roles were well distributed, well formed and well played.
On the first level, Julien and Marie; on the second, the young woman’s uncle.
Julien, sometimes happy, sometimes despairing, always having something to do with gambling and money, had lost his constant skeptical nature, but without also losing the bad consequences. A week did not pass when he did not need money, and each time his wife would give it to him, without any further explanation. The uncle, on the second level where he was placed, only had to turn his hand in order to pass to his niece the sums that she was thought to be finding elsewhere.
Gambling, with its burning torches, had awakened Julien from his moral torpor. Under the restraint of thousands upon thousands of contrary emotions, performing the office of successive galvanic shocks, some passions were awakened in him. On winning days, he recovered that communicative joy that he loved to spread around himself as he floated in satisfaction. If he had had time to study, he would perhaps have seen that he still had some fibers in his heart. At those moments, he felt like a flood of hot lava on seeing the soft face of a woman. His thought, almost despite itself, turned toward the woman he had sold, was still selling, and that he was condemned to sell forever … Then he returned again to the poison, his temporary seduction, to gambling to forget the present, and, like a fool who searches for pearls at the bottom of a puddle, he dived with rage, returning to the surface of the water when the lack of air began to throttle him.
Some months passed in this way.
An intelligent and interested observer, the uncle saw, and perhaps sensed, the approach of some sort of crisis.
Marie waited, cold in appearance and resigned. No incident came again to break the cruel monotony of her role.
Often Julien had recourse to his key to open the secretary where he had found banknotes while searching. He never saw money missing. All the expenses of the house were precisely paid. No creditor tormented Julien, for the simple reason that he had no need to cover his debts. He only had one occupation, which was to gamble to win, to gamble to lose, and, increasingly, to gamble to grow numb.
Julien had no more emotions except in front of green cloth. These emotions were pains, and, outside that place, he had nothing but pain. His god, gold, rather than fill the cavities of his ambition, did nothing but dig them deeper by falling without cease, never getting out. A new Tantalus, we was dying of thirst, and the spring to which he resorted offered him nothing but a drink of fire that only increased the scorching in his gullet.
But he had no waking without rest, no excess without reaction, no slow suicides without remorse, without occasionally having to express the instinct of conservation.
From time to time, Julien called a halt to this forced march that was pushing him, like another Wandering Jew, over mountains and valleys, along routes burning from orgy and gambling. Then, after passing hours for which the vain vapors of all his being evaporated, leaving him almost soulless, the thought germinated in himself and gradually grew lucid, because nature, whose charity cannot be denied, always calmed him in his strength, troubled by excessive ardors.
Then he also reflected.
And when he returned home, he resembled a supplicant who had obtained a pardon at the foot of the scaffold, and who, returning to his prison, returned with a shred of hope, with the perspective of having at least a few hours of tranquility.
If his wife were there, he looked at her, barely daring to address a word to her. This calm and beautiful face, this resigned and tranquil gaze, this resigned and tranquil walk, but fierce as a secret martyr, imposed on him … to him debauchery, to him the merchant of the most sacred thing in the world, to him the pillager of houses without decency, blustering and infidel, parasite of what should nourish bread, love and respect……
If his wife were absent when he arrived, for him it was a relief and at the same time a pain. He came and went within the house, unquiet and tormented, without knowing why. From his place to her place, from there to the salon, and back again, he resembled a man who was visiting a rental property to negotiate the price of moving there. Sometimes, like a commissioner-appraiser, he inventoried Marie’s sleeping room. He looked at everything and touched everything, the tables, the bed, the clothing, like a child searching for a needle in a haystack … or like a lover who searches everything in nothing or nothing in everything. When he had enough of roads, marching and counter-marching, he wandered without direction, going here and there at hazard, and always happened on some interesting situation where found something to numb himself, to roll among the habitual dives, where his shipwrecked reason no longer permitted him to see the riverside, on which he began to ponder the lighthouse of his regrets.
This route only had three ends: dishonor, rehabilitation or death in the flower of the age by suicide or tuberculosis…
Dishonor, for weak characters who, lacking money, and by this halted on their path of seduction, passed through all the ways of vice from theft to gambling, besides trying twenty other ways, to the hour when all is discovered;
Rehabilitation for those to whom the excess of evil leads at the end to disgust for evil: they are the braggarts of vice, among whom there remains a place spared, and who, one fine day, react through some fortuitous cause, turning their eyes away from the pit in which they were rolling without consciousness of being trapped, like a ship that is foundering, they are seized by seasickness.
Death by suicide, for those who, degraded or still prideful — or cowards — do not wish, or do not dare read the disgust that they will inspire on the faces of honest men; by tuberculosis, for physical organisms too weak to support the vigils and other excesses that vigils bring with them.
There is no other end beside these three.
Julien therefore marched inevitably toward one of these three points: two where Satan smiled, and the third, where the merciful arms of Providence opened.
Cossudor had returned, had been shown out, had returned again and had been chased away; then he had written, written letter after letter, made offer after offer, and increased money each time … and each time his letters were returned in the envelope without response.
Other rich men had tempted to seize the difficult position, abandoned by its natural defender. All had the same fate, but since money came in continually to the house, Julien thought everything was fine.
This went on in this way for a year, a year of widowhood and cruel tests for Marie; a year of storms, of despairs and near madness for Julien; of magnificent patience and sublime devotion on the part of the old uncle.
At the end of these twelve long months, Julien was no more recognizable. Gambling had not broken him, but he was disgusted of it. This monotone system: win, lose, get money from his wife, and always this fatal triangle, this annoying circle … it finished with him feeling cold, also annoyed, then disgusted, as we have said. What to do then? A sterile nature, arms incapable of work, a used-up head, an empty heart, he could not be anything but a parasitical beggar. He was weary.
Weary!… There perhaps cannot be a worse penalty in the world. To be weary is to drag behind oneself a sort of cold shroud; it is to love nothing and nobody and to be paid in return. It is to slip slowly and silently over the seconds, hours, months, years, encountering always the same thing at the same time, like the perpetual needle on the tick-tack of a balance, turning the circle of hours with desperate monotony; it is in heavy steps to drag a semi-inert body and a stupid face … to drink, to eat, to sleep, to go, to come, to respond without understanding, to plant oneself, like a vegetable, on a piece of land or, like a mushroom, on a rotting trunk; … it is a living death, a life full of death, a disgust of everything, a general impotence, the swelling of a mollusk, a stagnation of bad water, like an immobile island in the midst of a perpetually agitated flow…
Julien grew weary…
But after the excess of movement when he had found satiety, he could not rest long in the contrary excess. At the end of a period of lethargy, he began to look around himself. He returned, almost on his own, to life, just as, after a severe illness that had conquered nature, the body regenerates and appears to live with new emotions, with new blood, so to speak.
In looking around himself, he saw strange things that he had never noticed, of which he had ever even doubted, for the reason that, believing in nothing, he did not wish to perceive anything.
Little by little, he saw, as through a mist that the sun was dissipating, that life is not a negation, that there were pleasures alongside pains, consolations alongside suffering, happiness for those who wished to search for it, and knew how to make themselves worthy of it.
When he was initiated into these mysteries, which a believing and sensible soul sees by instinct, he cursed his first years… and those which had been made so empty for the future… He saw the paradise whose gates he had closed. The tardy regrets assailed him and cast melancholy over all his being, to the extent that he stripped himself of his skepticisms.
“Skepticism,” said one author, “is a fort raised by pride on the frontiers of science and ignorance.”
Julien wanted to change his conduct, but in what direction? He did not yet know. It was more stable and regular at his home. He ate there, he slept there, he saw his wife rather often, and the more he saw her, the shame of having pushed her into an infamous role that she had accepted — so he thought — grew in him different sentiment for which he could not account.
At this unexpected change, Marie turned her head, like a traveler in a dark wood who hears a human voice in the distance.
But this was not enough to return to honest habits; the infamous traffic did not have to continue longer. Only, how to stop it once it had been sent underway……… And besides, another problem even more difficult, by what resources could the household continue, since Julien, to use a common expression, had nothing to do?
There would be no rehabilitation possible except through work, whatever it might be … and the unhappy man had not expected this consolation and recovery in the laxly leasurely or dirtily brilliant existence that he had led up to then…
The conclusion of this domestic drama depended most of all, probably, on Julien’s moral courage … but moral courage is a hundred times rarer and more beautiful than physical courage, which is not, in most cases, more than pride.
—“I have departed the life I have led,” he said to Marie one day.
—“That would be something!” she responded.
And the conversation remained there.
Some days later, arising despite himself from some unknown charm or a hidden power:
— “I have things to say to you,” he addressed her without looking at her, “but I do not dare.”
—“Perhaps you are right to do that,” she said to him.
This word silenced him … and stunned him.
On the one hand, he sensed that he was too categorized for anyone to be able to believe a return to good on his part: on the other hand, it shocked him, and greatly, that his companion — after all — asserted the right to categorize him. In his eyes, she was more guilty than he, she who, barely removed from the virginal state, had accepted, without hesitation and without opposition, a role as a courtesan, and a legitimately married courtesan … double prostitution, double crime!
But he had the right to say all of that, he had the right, supported by the facts that were obvious to him, to excuse his ignominiousness, taking on the same line the part that his wife had taken there, he sensed — by something inexplicable — that Marie and he were at antipodes from one another.
There is nothing so intolerable as false positions, the unexplained current situation, the received ideas that exist in the spirit or in the heart…
If, in the place of this backward view, of these half-measures, of these fears and vague regrets, Julien had had the courage of the situation he had created, if he had caused himself to stand up for once, courageous and loyal, if he had dared to take on himself the punishment of the ignoble initiative he had taken, and to rise by repenting, lifting the weight that he thought he had imposed on his wife, and if he had asked for pardon for having taken her for a venal thing, for a woman of a seraglio to be sold, that one puts on the market, if he had made on this, let us say, some sweet, suave recompense, wouldn’t it be received for his courageous humility when his wife perhaps responded to him, “I am pure in intention and fact. See that I have what you believed to be the price of an infamous transaction: it was this old man, my uncle, who gave it to me!… I had chased away all those you believed to be my lovers … and, when you believed the reports of my beauty being for rent, I kept myself for your repentance and return!…”
But Julien did not have this courage.
After the two short phrases addressed by Julien to his wife, and the responses that we have seen, Julien became somber and taciturn; his humor became changeable and eccentric. Yet, elegiac and melancholic, he spoke softly and attentively, his eyes moist and his voice affected. At these moments, he showed in his minor concerns for Marie as if, by these manifestations, he was requesting pardon for the past. Still, even if he had taken part and he no longer stopped at nothing, it was an affected indifference, blustering about everything and concerning nothing, treating serious and sentimental matters with puns and facetious sayings. Within the space of forty-eight hours, he was day and night, sensible and braggart, humble and prideful, serious and comedian.
During this continual variation, Marie, poor Marie, did not know any more to whom to listen. As we have said of him at Julien’s first return, it was like an hour of surprise where a ray of hope would glimmer. Her native good will was again, at this moment, beneath the blows she had to endure, and despite what she had said of her love for Julien, perhaps this love was only lingering, but not dead. But Julien’s brusque alterations during these last times of which we speak threw her into an uncertainty that change little by little into desperation.
The position was sustained to a point where it was necessary that something had to break.
— “Marie,” Julien said one day to his wife — for a long time he had not addressed her this way — “If I had known what I know or if I had been what I was when I married you, I would be quite happy today.”
— “Couldn’t you explain yourself more clearly?” she responded to him.
There the unhappy man had an opportunity: once more freedom, the straight line… To say everything without restriction. But the straight line which, in everything as in geometry, is the shortest route between two points, is the route one takes the least often, because on this saving line one finds miserable human pride that does not wish to admit fault.
Julien again failed this opportunity…
— “Do you not know,” he responded, “what I want to say?”
— “Not clearly,” Marie responded, who perhaps wanted to push to a complete confession.
— “Then,” Julien said in a deliberate tone, “we will speak no further!”
And that was it.
Marie left and Julien remained alone in the house.
— “This life is insupportable!” he cried out… “This woman, I do not understand her… And I do not dare speak to her that at the end of story, she has very bad grace not to understand me, although she had even obeyed me without command! She had all the appearances of a virgin, and at the first sign she had followed the route of the courtesan to which I had pointed her… Oh well, this woman, I love right now!… and I do not dare say it, because I sold … like a Judas! — Oh! Charles has reason to have contempt for me; I have contempt for myself! But she! she!… This secretary is there … every time I have opened it, I found large sums! Every time I asked for money, she gave it to me. Doubt would be absurd! Women just play comedy better than men!… — Me, I am nothing but a drunkard, half a head… I wanted to deny everything, scoff at everything, walk proud and strong on the prejudiced (I said) and on the world’s beliefs… How did that turn out? Today I sense myself as turned toward the truth, and I resist. Am I mad? Like the tomb of Mohammed, I am suspended between the roof and the ground. Two lovers dispute over my being…
At this moment, Julien was near the secretary in his wife’s room. He opened it, plunging his arm at the place he knew, and he took some banknotes, one or two thousand francs. With a convulsive hand he shook them above his head:
— “Here they are!” he cried out, “here is what I worshipped and is killing me today. At present, the game is over … and I still profit! No!” he added forcefully, “no! I do not want more in this way, I do not want more at the price of the torments that pursue me.”
And he tore up the banknotes.
When he was done, he stopped…
— “I’ll go to the end!” he said.
He posed the shredded notes on the writing surface of the secretary, took something with which to write, and wrote these lines with a trembling hand:
If I do not dare speak with you, I do dare write to you. Both of us are guilty, but I am guiltier than you. I beg of you, let us end this infamous pact that has led us to wealth: I will seek other means, but not a penny shall pass between us by this accursed route that I opened to you. I will seek work. I will borrow in expectation. For some time I shall not see you any more. We shall save ourselves in another land, and there, I shall become a different man. I tore up the accursed banknotes that I found in the furniture, to prove to us that I no longer wish more, either for you or for me, to come from this source… I do not rightly know what I want to write to you, my head is so full of stains and noise…
At this moment, the apartment bell sounded. Julien signed his letter, closed it, then he gathered together the torn banknotes in the place he had found them. He had hardly closed the secretary when the door opened, and a visit was announced.
In two steps he was in the salon.
Before him was an old man, still fresh, and with a sweet face. At the sight of Julien, this old man appeared to be embarrassed, but this embarrassment was not for long. For Julien, a bout of rage rose to his face, and he was the first to speak:
— “It was not me that Monsieur expected to find here!” he said, gnashing his teeth with visible bitterness.
— “No, Monsieur,” the stranger responded, without losing the affability of his face, “it was not you whom I expected to find.”
— “Monsieur loves it better to have an affair with a pretty girl,” Julien said while chuckling, “which proves that one has passions at every age.”
Julien sat down on a chair. A convulsive trembling ran through the whole of his body, and some sobs escaped his chest.
The old man approached him and extended his had as if to touch him.
— “Get back!” Julien cried out, passing brusquely from sadness to rage… “get back! the time for infamy has passed!…”
“And it is I who wished it!” he added, “unfortunate!”
Instead of going, the old man took a couch, brought it up to Julien’s chair, placed his cane and hat on a piece of furniture, and sat down.
— “What do you want of me?” Julien asked the old man…
— “What I want of you, young man, the old man replied… “what I want from you?… you will know right away, because I believe I see in you a gloomy and repentent man…”
— “I do not understand you…”
— “Look in my face, young man; do I have the air of an old courier of gallant adventures? Is it that, if sadness and remorse are painted in visible traces on a man‘s face, as they are painted right now on your face, don’t good sentiments have their own open expression?”
“Do you wish to respond to me openly? What did you think when you saw me enter here? — You are not responding; you do not dare respond… I will do it for you?”
“You would have said, ‘Here is one of those I have summoned to enrich my house’ — and, when that was it, what would you say when one responds to your appeal, in the last analysis?”
Julien lifted his head like a swan hearing approaching hounds…
— “Who are you, Monsieur,” he cried out…
— “You will learn soon,” the old man responded… “I have suffered long enough!”
— “Me too!” murmured Julien…
— “In expectation, I will come directly before you, for you have need to speak, and you do not dare to! — Perhaps today you regret the twelve months that trail behind you like a wake of shame; if it is so — you see that I know everything — don’t you have something to say?”
— “It is not only for me alone, this shame…” Julien stuttered.
— “Perhaps!” the old man responded…
— “Listen,” Julien said after a moment of silence, “perhaps I would have thrown a man out of the window who came to me to say what you have said, but you have excited my curiosity, and, to force you to satisfy this, it is necessary that you respond. Yes, I have a regrettable past … twelve months in all, which were like punishment. I have suffered like a condemned man from remorse, from shame … and other things as well. All that you guard in your silences is true; all that you throw at me in reproach at the base of your thought, is merited. But you do not know all of it; I am not the only one who may throw a stone, and I am the only one to suffer!”
— “There is pride in your regrets,” the old man replied. “As yet there is no courage to repent! Before going further, and to have the right to go further, I will say who I am … I am your wife’s uncle! Your wife is my favorite child. Your wife is also honest, in intention and in fact, in every way … and since accident has brought us together at this moment, I have concluded that this is the moment to explain everything in order to finish everything.”
He fell silent and listened.
— “You have understood?” the uncle asked.
— “Yes,” Julien said, “but I had too many proofs to believe that I am not the only one to weep over the past.”
— “And what proofs do you have?”
— “The men here…”
— “They were chased away.”
— “My wife’s frequent absences…”
— “She came to my place.”
— “The banknotes in her secretary, always, always!”
— “So look at them! You see me there, and you did not understand!”
— Julien jumped. An electric current ran through all his fibers. A still-vague glow appeared at the bottom of his soul, like a spark on a dark horizon. A cold sweat covered his forehead, and he began to tremble.
— “You do not understand,” the old man repeated, “that this money … that was mine that came … for more than a year! That, for more than a year, I know, and Marie also knows, your silent compromise and all of your conduct — Oh! Monsieur! If you do not have a gangrenous heart and a soul tainted by the moral poison that you have carried for so long, you would never have dreamed to place a beautiful and noble creature such as you were given into the gutter of prostitution! And today, since the past is irreparable — you will die of shame … while you redeem yourself by years of repentance and labor.”
— “Wait,” Julien said on rising and taking the old man by the hand, “come and see…”
And he led him into the Marie’s room. There, he opened the secretary, taking out the shredded banknotes, and he said to the old man with exaltation:
— “See, I had expected your arrival to renounce past infamy! Look if you will on the money I thought was gathered in shame!”
“These are the banknotes I gave today,” the young woman’s uncle said as he took them. This act is something, but it is very little compared with what remains for you to do.”
— “I will work!” Julien cried out, moved in part by the momentary courage inspired by the high probity of the old man, partly by vague desires for a possible happiness, of which he had never been able to dream.
— “Done, if you have the courage for it, but do it quickly and long enough so that the future redeems the past … because, for me, my role as payer is finished so far as you are concerned. So far as my niece vis-ā-vis you, she will do what she pleases, because no one should intervene in these sorts of things. Adieu, Monsieur: the accident by which we met is perhaps the act of the Providence in which you do not believe. You now know that you have an angel in your house. The simplest thing for you would be to ignore in her regard what you have learned from me and to work so that she does not suffer … perhaps God will have pity on you.
On this, the old man departed, much affected, and left Julien depressed and in consternation.
Julien entered his room and closed the door.
A long quarter-hour passed in that way. The unhappy man was alone with his conscience, alone with a new passion, even more violent, as he sought to pierce under the ray of a virtue that he had believed to be ended forever.
His forehead was down, supported on his two hands. A thousand confused ideas assaulted his brain. Among his tumultuous thoughts he had glimmers of courage for future work, of aspiration for an unexpected love, and perhaps of suicide. At certain moments, delirium gave birth to the heroism of a laborious rehabilitation; a second later, impetuous desires were born, then discouragement that, child of a bad past, said to the guilty one, “It will be a long and miserable struggle; kill yourself and finish it!”
There is nothing more difficult to say and easier to comprehend than these fluctuations of thought in a head moving with all the waves, who turns into all winds, like a skiff fighting a storm.
Suddenly Julien heard a noise. It was his wife coming home. He watched her through an opening of the screen, as Claude Frollo watched Esméralda being caressed by Captain Phoebus de Châteaupert in Victor Hugo’s Nôtre-Dame de Paris… Only, he did not have a dagger in his hand, since he did not have a rival to kill.
Now Julien was silent, watching and listening.
Marie was entering. She removed her hat and her little coat. She had a white dress, with a tight bodice that encompassed her bust with elegance. All her movements were imprinted with this feline grace that undulates voluptuously with young cats and with well-made young women. A fresh, vigorous health is mixed on her face with a touch of sadness and discouragement. This physical force, allied with this moral crushing, gave Marie’s beauty a rare seal of originality. She came and went in the salon, occupied by a thousand little nothings that one could not conjure, as a person does who believes she is by herself. At the end of several minutes, she opened the door of her room and did not close it. There, she changed her clothes, going and coming, as if she had done in the salon. At certain moments, Julien could see her, at others, she was naked — She went to her secretary when she was completely dressed…
Julien, his face at the screen, opened an ardent eye; his respiration became uneven, an abundant sweat pearled on his forehead … he followed his wife’s movements as the magnetizing serpent follows the compelled flight of a bird until, gradually retracing circles upon circles until it delivers itself, bewildered and mad, to the death that invincibly attracts it.
Marie opened the secretary, placed a piece of paper there and wrote. Over half an hour her pen went on and on … and during that half-hour Julien did not budge more than would a statue from the observatory where he was placed.
At various times, the young woman put her handkerchief to her eyes and ceased correcting her letter. When she had finished it, she placed her elbow on the writing surface of the piece of furniture, propped her head on a hand, and plunged into an immobile stare at nothing…
At the end of this moment of meditation, she rose and went to close the door of her room.
Julien breathed again.
— “Will she see my letter?” he asked himself… “What will she do when she has read it?”… And the banknotes I have shredded! There is probably no more money here… What will I do?…”
Julien departed soundlessly to avoid being heard. When he was outside, he did not know where he should go.
— “It is necessary for me to find work … to live!” he said to himself, knitting his brows as he wrung his hands… “Work! But which? Where? When? What shall I do?”
He went straight ahead, like a vagabond who was killing time. He proceeded mechanically to the home of a friend, that is, to one of those men he had often frequented in houses of leisure or vice where he had been so long.
As the first word of “work” was dropped, his friend laughed through his nose in an indecent manner. Julien was ashamed. He did not have the courage of his situation. His friend having turned this eccentricity into ridicule, the poor man finished by mocking himself and confessed that he only wanted to make a pleasantry…
— “Until a good time!” the friend cried out…
— “Parbleu!” Julien said.
When he was outside, he fell into poignant incertitude.
— “Something must be done for us to live,” he thought.
A part of the day passed in gaining courage and then losing it. Toward evening, finally, he felt somewhat self-assured by the excitement he had created in himself, and he decided to go visit another friend.
He fell into the middle of a supper-orgy that was still at its beginning stages. When he turned the doorbell and he had taken two steps inside, acclamations arose from several points of the table.
— “Hurrah! Here is Julien!…” cried out one of the celebrants…
— “Sit down right there!” cried another…
Julien took the place offered. He drank and ate like the others. They talked about the theater girls; the lesbians in the public gardens, the semi-chaste women who were the grandes dames, and the utterly chaste, who were the students’ darling working girls. The honest woman of the bourgeoisie did not exist for these celebrants.
Little by little, Julien recovered his artificial, brilliant gaiety, the territory he had barely abandoned. Under the influence of the general uproar and the liquor, he rose little by little to his ordinary pitch, and he was finally one of the most ardent lives of the party at the rendezvous…
Toward midnight, the celebrants had reached that state of verbal tempest that becomes a virtual Tower of Babel. Everyone was talking at once, about women, politics, theater, creditors, and all the rest across the waves of smoke that the more or less genuine Havanas exhaled.
— “Tell me, all of you!” Julien cried out, “do you know of some vacant place for a hard-working young man? … in a store, in a study, in a bureau, at the post office, in the ministries, in the monopolies, to the devil? … a place for a thousand écus, or twelve hundred francs… Going once! Going twice!… Don’t all talk at once!”
— “Me, I have a place to give,” a fourth-rate journalist, “it is to translate from Chinese.”
— “Doesn’t matter!” Julien replied. What are the conditions?”
— “One year on trial, three years as an unpaid assistant, two additional years on half-pay … and the rest at the boss’s will!”
— “Me,” another said, “I know a bony old female, well preserved, who pays a hundred francs a trimester to a young man who does four hours of reading aloud all evenings, from eight to twelve…”
— “There are two places to get at the Ambigu,” a third player added, “ten sous a night and a refreshment!”
— “You are scoundrels!” Julien shouted. The virtuous young man in question knows how to do nothing, and he wants to earn money!”
— “He should get to pleasing the old woman, and that he be a gentleman: there will probably be a will!”
— “Is it necessary for one to work?” cried out a socialist theoretician… Work is made for bulls!”
— “And for proletarians!” said a pale figure with burning moustaches…”
— “No politics!” someone piped up in falsetto…
— “Opinions are free!”
— “All the more reason!”
Julien let out a roar of laughter. “Do you know,” he declaimed, “that this interesting young man who needs a place, who is searching for a place, who wishes a place … is me! Yes, me, Julien! I have lost all of my fortune … I had three ships wrecked in the Indian Sees. Railroads are bankrupt, the crash had stripped me naked, and the routlette wheel has cut me in half … properly and up to date! I have no bread!”
— “Eat paté!”
— “No credit…”
— “Then put your head in the Seine!”
— “Drink laudanum!”
— “Use your head for a gun target!…”
— “And leave us in peace!” declared the son of the owner of a spice shop…
— “Who will loan me money?” Julien cried out.
— “Don’t you have a wife?” his neighbor asked.
In response to these last words, Julien went pale; his tongue slipped and his knees trembled. With a convulsive hand he seized a nearby glass and threw it at the young man’s head. He ducked in time, and the projectile smashed to pieces a Henry IV nobly seated on his warhorse.
There was a little tumult; but, since these little interludes are not rare in orgies, the storm did not last long.
We will pass over the end of the party, which was drawing to its conclusion, in silence, since the custom in parallel circumstances in such places are such as not to be useful to cite.
Julien did not end his night in those places. In the midst of the half-drunkenness that he had acquired like the others, a vague image passed through his brain. He really did not know what he was to do or what to think about. He had plunged into this state of semi-recalling or semi-forgetting of facts, which follow excesses in natures dwelling on fixed ideas. The vapors of wine turned his spirit first one way, then another. At times his present position appeared to him naked, that is to say that its conclusion and misery appeared very close.
— “I must live tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and each day,” he said to himself, and he struck his forehead in wrath. — “Bah!” he said five minutes later, life is driving me crazy … and that woman, too! … and I will take a bachelor’s room… After me the deluge!”
With these words, he arrived near his house. At what was about two in the morning, he saw light at the window of his wife’s room. A moment of wrath passed through his head, and he entered the salon under this last impression. Since he had gone up the stairs with heavy steps, and singing in a wine-soaked voice, Marie opened her door to see if it really had been he who entered in that manner…
— “It is you, Monsieur!” she said, with disgust.
— “Go to the devil!” Julien responded.
And he entered his room while continuing to hum.
That night was, for Julien, a long, sad nightmare. His troubled morality and his agitated body mixed together into a hodge-podge of contrary fluctuations, producing a bitter combat of which the unfortunate man was the victim.
He woke up about ten, but he had a head so heavy and a body so torn that he could not sustain himself on his feet when he got down from his bed. The furniture of his room stunned his dizzy and vacillating gaze.
He was obliged to return to bed.
It was over the next two hours that he was able to integrate his thought and sustain his body well. Then he rose and dressed himself.
To the extent that the chaos in his head dissipated, memories of the day before assumed their accustomed place. He recalled two attempts to find work, the night of orgy that he had passed, and the grossness with which he had responded to his wife’s observation.
This last tormented him particularly.
We have said it was two in the afternoon.
Since morning at the start of the day there had been much movement in the house, but Julien slept too hard and too deeply to hear this movement.
When he opened the door of his room to enter the salon, his wife was in front of him, completely dressed, standing, and ready to depart. She was wearing a long black dress, like a widow. Her face was paler than was customary. She had a severe gaze and her head held high…
Julien’s thought went back to his memory of Mademoiselle Georges in the role of Lucretia Borgia, when she appeared at the great doorway of the banquet to announce to her guests that they had all been poisoned…
He had a presentiment of evil.
— “I did not wish to flee in your absence,” she said. “I have waited for you to tell you that everything is over between us, and that you will never see me again!”
On pronouncing this last word, she turned without saluting and headed for the door.
Julien put his head between his two hands, like a man from whom madness had taken his brain, and he ran to his room…
Marie descended the stairs for the last time, when a detonation sounded.
She stopped and placed her hand on her heart, as if a blow had struck it.
At the same instant, the old man we know descended quickly from a carriage stationed at the door and ran to the young woman.
—“Courage!” he said to her, and he mounted the stairs as quickly as he could.
Two minutes later, he slowly descended.
— “Dead!” he said; “completely……”
Marie did not respond with a word. White and icy, she advanced to the carriage, like Charlotte Corday to the scaffold, and when she was seated near her uncle, the four wheels resounded on the pavement.
It was the first moment of stupor.
Fifteen months later, the suicide’s wife was married to a rich resident of Porto-Rico.
It had been six months since the old uncle had left this earth, leaving his entire fortune to his niece.
This second marriage was no happier than the first, in another way.
During the first weeks of her visit to the magnificent Spanish colony known by the name of Puerto Rico, Marie did not perceive what would appear to the reader, an infamy of another type, much less rare than that of which we have seen a suicide as the end…
Enticed by the seduction of a new nature, rich and luxuriant, crowned with perpetual spring, beset by an impenetrable vegetation, under one of the softest and bluest of skies in the world, the young woman permitted herself to be rocked to sleep to the soft song of warm breezes that agitated the green fronds of the great palm trees, the golden spears of sugar canes, and playing among the aromatic branches of a coffee plantation, loaded with grains as red as coral … and besides, everywhere around the island, the sea — the most beautiful spectacle in the world along with the sky! — the sea, with high or dormant waves, the faithful servant mirror faithful to a azure or somber firmament, joyous or sad, charged with smiles or tears … the sea … that all the poets have sung, before Virgil and after Lord Byron, as the most grandiose image of infinity, movement, of eternity! There, about this island, buffeted by the floods that Marie observed from on high one morn, floating the ships of all nations, to the breezes of the south or to the winds of the north, their pavilions in brilliant colors: the glorious tricolor of France, the free star-spangled of the United States, the maritime pioneer of England, and so many others with colors and bizarre combinations, carrying across the spaces a sacred torch of the fatherland.
The first visit in most of the Antilles has an enchantment that one never forgets. It is a softer life, a hotter sun, a warmer wind, a richer nature. All of this seizes you by all your senses, penetrates you by all the pores, charms you and seduces you in all ways. They say that the oases are placed, like natural and suave halting places for the voyager making the tour of the globe.
At first Marie closed her eyes to permit herself to win a balance with this novel existence of far niente. But the enchantment declined with acquaintance, and she began waking up. Then, after having regarded distant horizons, she turned her eyes to look around her, and barely healed from the grief of one infamy, she fell into another infamy of which the spectacle would have a decisive influence on her future.
Her new husband was one of those men of whom, happily, few are found today, but of which there were many once in the lands of slaves: a merchant ceaselessly armed with a stick or la rigoise, and making use of it on every occasion to the point of cruelty. This was already something to disgust a woman, but that was not all! This man, arriving young in the country with some uncles, bought some slaves, one by one, of every sex, and to increase the number and quality faster, he had planned to work himself at increasing their number without emptying his purse, following for reasons of greed and cupidity the “grow and multiply” command of Our Lord. He had found two plantations in the same region, and it was a marvel to see how his operation increased in workers and hogsheads from year to year!
Like Charles VI in the opera of that name, he could literally say “My subjects are my children,” which did not prevent extra-paternalistic flogging. He had worked through twelve years in this manner. His two plantations had done as he had, and the figures for other births, added to the rest, finished by making a considerable contingent…
As one always learns bad things quickly, Marie learned this at the end of several weeks. It was the past, and she never imagined that it could still be the present and future. She observed and was quickly convinced that things there had changed little in the usage and customs of its lord and master. So she demanded her property back, quit the island of the blue sky and green harvests; besides, having obtained what she wanted, due to the testimonies she could produce against her husband, she went to the United States as a woman-bachelor, neither daughter, nor spouse, nor widow. Only pride and contempt had created in her a taste for vengeance that she fed in a large scale along her way.
Now that we know what had changed this Marie whose story we have sketched, we will give her the second baptismal name that we have hidden since the first line of this episode, and we tell it to the reader — if he has not already divined it — that this other name is:
Where the author must return to his Sheep
The episode that one has just read appears to have been necessary to explain the nature of the most inexplicable character so far in this work.
So far as the affiliation of Lavinia with the Finance Company, it is possible that the following will acquaint the reader through the sequence of events that took place for her. We shall not deal with such a minor matter separately.
Let us just review the position in which we have left each of our characters before the opening of the long parenthesis that we now close by the title of this new chapter.
Louis and Anna, legitimately united, had departed, as we have seen, aboard a sloop, loaded by the efforts of Eugène. The Captain, instead of being delivered by the Company, since that might not have worked, was delivered by his brother … and perhaps one has not forgotten the rather comic situation of Alexandre before the Recorder.
Lavinia was in New Orleans, seriously seized by her love for Eugène. So far as he was concerned, he had returned to the city after having seen his brother and his sister-in-law depart, and he said to them in the last chapter of the second volume, “Be happy … we will meet again…”
Finot and Rousto, saved from the Baton-Rouge Penitentiary, are wherever they may be, for the moment useless to know. We do not even know now whether we will return to them later.
And Mélanie! This good girl who is so naïvely unfaithful! How similar to the times and the seasons in her variability and reversals of her loves! What will she do in this California where we have seen her arriving at the end of the eighteenth chapter of the previous volume?…
At least one of our characters is there at this moment, and what good luck! This character is a woman who appears created and sent into the world for this exceptional country, where the extremes touch one another more often than anywhere else, let us say a little something, not from our own knowledge, which would be very little, but by borrowing from the revelation of a writer-traveler:
What was the role of the first women in California? Let us permit the author who wrote best about this fairy land:
A woman was for a long time a myth, a miracle. In general, the sentiment that the American has for her consists of a cult and veneration. With this practical intelligence that characterizes him in this vast land that ceaselessly solicits a population always too slowly, he sees in the woman the mother of the family.
You conclude then, in this unisex society that to those who disposed their fealties, their treasures, at the feet of the woman who appeared in the middle of the crowd like a prodigy, a meteor. Nothing was impossible for her caprice; a single sign that betrayed the most fantastic desire, a flood of adoring men would have fulfilled, satisfied, overwhelmed this desire.
So everything was promised to these women; she was enthroned on a pedestal where her rarity had placed her.
And yet none were more unworthy of such fealties. Justice was rendered to them. Fascinated, giving in to the vertigo of gold and easy enjoyment, they descended from their throne to act at their ease, downstairs Messalinas, priestesses of the rites of Venus, debased in the filth of abject pleasures and debauchery.
Even when the numerical difference between the two sexes grew less enormous, and the equilibrium was less far from being established after numerous arrivals from Europe, in the midst of this population that was never able to do its Sabine seizure, women soon reached large numbers.
To draw men to the eating boarding houses, bar rooms, and exchanges that filled the town, nothing could equal the presence of a cashier girl, a title that any woman received, no matter her age or position. The crowd flooded in, and the American, a serious and taciturn admirer, found pleasure in going and slipping a gold or silver coin under her delicate fingers, the price of his consumption.
So far as the girl goes, her pleasure consisted, among other things, in earning from her craft, I am speaking at the outset, from two to four ounces of gold a day.
There were other houses, and quite numerous, where the crowd went without cease all day and all night, where gold rang and sparkled under the shine of a thousand lights, reflected in vast mirrors to rich parquet floors by day, where large paintings, full of nudity more naked than nature, seeming to wish to excite all the passions of the onlookers, and to push them into a complete revolt against reason; where rich tapestries, soft, comfortable seating, appearing to wish to create the sweetness of luxury and to give birth to desire, a foretaste of need, where sometimes cries of rage were interrupted by revolver shots, and the rattle of death, without which, so to speak, gold ceased to ring and the dry, curt voice of the banker ceased his periodic, slow appeals.
There were gambling houses.
There were gathered all the pillars of the café, the European chicken-eaters, the Greeks of all the empires adroit at the croup, able to make a card jump, the cavaliers of the brothel, the heroines of the green cloth, the baronesses and viscountesses of contraband, the ladies of the ball, the amorosinettes and all the marquises of francs on the carpet. Happy mortals, they no more have to fear the sudden appearance of a commissioner clothed in his sash and master of all issues.
A cutthroat unbound, Mexican monte, bacarat multiplied and was organized everywhere; each house became a gaming house.
The spectacle was always strange to see groups gathered about tables piled with gold, to observe the sinister physiognomies in their impassiveness interrupted by explosions; to see the fat deerskin purses, crammed, disgorging for these; — thin, emptied for others; — to the tune of ceaselessly rousing music, always deafening, from an orchestra.
But no spectacle was more pitiful than to see what presents itself so often: a miner, his skin darkened by the placers’ sun, already bent by the fatigue of crushing labor, enters these dens, looks around, submitting without knowing it, influenced by the music, the splendor, unconsciously he approaches, bearing the metal that he knew so well, and as if by a mechanical movement, forgetting fate, he throws away the nuggets of his treasure on a single card. More than once, almost always, this gold, so painfully harvested, that he intended to be brought to his family in his native land, passed under the hands of the croupier, and the unhappy, mute, stunned man must extend again his farewell to his homeland and direct his steps once more to the gold-bearing soil that he has already soaked so many times with his sweat.
And, what was even more dreadful than the shots and the cries of rage was to see the unhappy gambler rise trembling from his guilty seat where his insatiability had pushed him, pale, defeated, searching to master the pain and despair that beset his face, and to depart, staggering, with a pace that the shame of defeat sought to render firm.
Others, in contrast, brilliant, rejoicing, face illuminated, prodigal with animated gestures, wide with grace, expansive, full of a banal tenderness, throwing on the bar, without picking up, what was scattered on the soil, handfuls of gold to pay all those who took the trouble to pass by, pass a glass and to treat the good luck of the fortunate gambler.
These women, so celebrated in disorderly places, so fierce, so vain for blind or thoughtless homage, have been, at least most of them, long in Paris, relegated, unseen among the rank and file of some little boulevard theater or unknown habitués of balls of whom everyone knows her name. — They have found there their old friends, their old stories — the habits of the past had also returned, and nothing anymore impeded their being treated with generosity.
The most remarkable new phase was, without contradiction, that of civilization and moralization, which had two large causes: the arrival of the real women in the land, and exploitation of a more continual and more durable mine, that of the earth, the attention of emigrants turning to agriculture.
The country had found itself in a moment on the edge of starvation in the midst of the greatest treasures. — Immediately, as we have seen it, speculation sought to assure life and provisions of all varieties. — A number of miners around San Francisco, as well as on the other side of the Bay, threw away their pickaxe to take up the spade, and succeeded at cultivating vegetables of all sorts, that the Sandwich Islands and Paya, the volcanic coast, had held the privilege of provisioning the city up to then. The French and the Germans realized considerable profit in this way.
At the same time, the great landwise emigration from Overland, the west of the United States, composed largely of farmers and woodcutters, arrived in the land.
With little confidence in the riches of the mines and disdainful of its gifts, they planted themselves on the soil, not on the caņade, the creek, on gold-producing streams, but the shadowed valley, the bunches of trees or the neighboring forest, a rich soil, the fertile second lines and the lines of fertilizing water. Having found it, the cart was stopped, the beef-cattle of the Far West they brought with them from Missouri or Arkansas, crossing the rivers, the deserts, the Rocky Mountains, were harnessed and commenced the first harvest for themselves. The head of the family made the wife come out with her numerous children of all ages, always one on each breast: also their old white-haired parents, the dii penates of the hearth, who would find their tomb in the shadow of their future cabin. Besides, the rest of the living migration of this new Ark, the pigs that had eaten remnants during the trip and who have not yet served to feed the walking colony; beside the principal tools of the gathering, the most important instruments of agriculture, the plow, the scythe, the mattock, and the necessary provisions while awaiting the seeding and the first harvest.
The woman immediately set herself to prepare food, while the head of the family, aided by the eldest of his sons, began his task of clearance, striking with his American axe the surrounding trees with a cadenced and sustained speed, rolling them together end to end to form an enclosure and to establish the taking of possession. At first the cart serves as lodging.
The first need, once housing was begun, was the work of seeding. You would have passed several days after the arrival of the family on the soil, before you would have seen, as I did, the blade of the plow opening the soil, tracing the first furrow. And, like me, you would have had an inexpressible satisfaction, you would have greeted the first, true symptom of civilization on the land. At a thousand diverse places this land would have been excavated by the avidity of workers, but with no other utility than the inconstant and fugitive utility of the moment and without result for the future, — without any result whatsoever for moralization. While here was the work of the family, the soil wisely furrowed and which, prepared to repay the worker, improved and opened the fertile and stable sources for the times to come.
Labor terminated and the seed placed in the earth, the emigrant-colonist raised the tent of cloth made by his wife and the eldest of her daughters, aided by the aged parents, never unoccupied — Besides, the cart being freed, it went to gather the immense wild oats spread on the hills, and he constructed his mill for provisioning. Finally, he went to the nearby center of habitation to buy the planks needed for the construction of the definitive house, and by operating the transport, or better yet, as the intelligent universal worker, laborer, butcher, architect, he chose the most voluminous, straightest oaks, giving, with the aid of his son, many pulls of the saw in the giant fallen trunk, dividing every cylinder into shingles and small boards, and by covering the carpentry, the cage of the house that he had assembled and fashioned, by means of the high trees he had chosen, here and there, in the surrounding forest. He then did masonry work in adobe and small stones to make the large chimney around which the family will unite, using it for prayer, nourishment or rest, and the fuel was not lacking. — Good times will then smile on this colony, which will expand. The effort of harvest will not prevent the husband to use his cart and his dray animals for transportation, here and there. The wife, to keep travelers and workers, has a bar, and an eating and lodging house. No one was without an occupation: the little baby with his forked baguette leads the pigs to the acorns, — and the daughters make butter and cheese of the unused milk and cheese that sells well in the first times.
No region shall be so favored for agriculture as Oregon and California, or is more ready for a number of the most varied cultures. — From San Diego to Astoria, over an extent of almost five hundred leagues with a variable width, one encounters along with all climates and all temperatures, all vegetal productions. — In the family of palms, the most beautiful varieties; in that of malvaceous plants, citron, vines, oranges, and lemons. In the nettle family, hemp, figs, and mulberry, besides banana and sugar cane in the far south. All the fruit trees of temperate lands, not forgetting nuts: various species of laurel and magnolia. In the family of amentaceous plants, there are oak, elm, and weeping willow. Finally, in the most northerly parts and near the Ocean, as well as on the heights, there are the most magnificent species of conifers and legions of flowers. — For nature has refused nothing to California. — It has arid deserts, fatal to the improvident traveler, but these are deserts of flowers. In the spring the soil is literally covered by a painted carpet of the most lively and glistening colors.
We have said that a large cause for civilization and moralization was the arrival in the land of the feminine population.
For whatever there is of civilization, all the female immigrants, whoever they are, contribute. Women always soften and polish morals. So far as moralization, they are not, to be sure, of that inconstant troupe, undisciplined, led by the desire of change and of the unknown that thinks nothing less than to make themselves, like Marion, into a virgin under a foreign sky, beneath a new sun that it suffices to touch to replace the fact of independence by the right so long desired, and rarely so dearly bought. No, this was the tutelary angel of the market, the woman of devotion, the mother of the family who, participating in the fatigues of the road or the crossing, supported on the companion for life, and supporting her infants, coming with all she had, to establish herself forever in the rich land of the future, or joining her spouse who, gone first to test and see, called his family to participate in his new prosperity. — It was above all the young American woman who, gracious and modest, committed to the business of their household, while their little blond and pink children play in the fresh reeking cottages constructed at the summit of the hill across from the savage bush.
The arrival of the feminine population began to become normal, changing in an instant, and as if by magic, the aspect of the principal cities, and above all of San Francisco. Almost until then, it had preserved a part of the custom of the first times, a mixture of the sailor and the voyageur, recalling the moment when each one had to serve himself and give in to the situation, carry his chest or pack over beaten-down and all too often catastrophic trails. The growth of the feminine population caused this circumstantial custom to disappear, or at least to restrict itself to the working class. Articles of novelty and fantasy appeared in the cases of boutiques. The vestments of civilized lands became abundant there.
Soon nothing was missing in San Francisco. It became a pastiche, a double of New York and Paris: it had its Delmonico, its Tortoni, its Véry, its Café de Paris with its Good french Coffee at any time; it finally had its reading rooms for cosmopolitan reading, its Masonic lodges, and this whole legion of necromancers, ornithologists, homeopaths, dentists, and magnetizers, the Bohemians of science and extreme civilization, of whom the dazzling symbols and floating flags, full of striking designs, gigantic letters, and formidable points of admiration played in the air and caressed the hats of passers-by, a touching and fraternal appeal to a suffering humanity!
This was not all of it; the lovers of sport also had their pleasures and their emotions; their Champ-de-Mars and their Chantilly. They had courses, spring courses organized by the French residents, as well as the most curious and picturesque courses. The Mexican, who is, as we know, a cavalier from his infancy, student of nature, on his nervous horse, with a heavy and splendid caparison, competed, often with advantage, against the American, also nearly one with his mount, the problematic masterpiece of science and good pleasure, reduced to its simplest expression. Alongside this Anglo-Saxon importation, one again found in certain circles cock-fighting, a symbol of civil wars that I have seen so charming to the gouchos of the banks of La Plata, like the corrida of bulls, where the magnanimous torero, on his knees before his adversary, who charges toward him furiously, makes the coup en cachette, under which the animal stops brusquely and drops without a bellow, without a murmur, without a sigh: the effect of the fall is instantaneous.
At this time there resounded in the eastern United States the raising of women’s shields, who found their cotillions too long and dreamed, as an emblem of their liberation, a semi-masculine costume, on the condition that it would remain seductive, gracious and coquettish. One understands that it was a question of the bloomerists.
One of these coryphées of fashion, moved by a desire to start something, wished to raise the standard of reform in California and went straight to the deed, promoting the short skirt and wide pantaloon; she saddled up her charger and committed herself to the mission with her companions, for the moment clothed in the long dress of Amazons, but criticizing the costume of subservience under the round hat of the privileged sex.
The Americans, we have said, are devoted to a sort of cult toward the woman; it is almost a veneration, and this sentiment is so well inborn, so profound, that they have difficulty distinguishing whether the object of their cult is worthy or not. This time the case was too obvious. The Americans are not used to this sort of emancipation. The prank was revolting, public opinion declared.
The bloomerist who played her role outside the scene had to give a bail of 100 piastres, which she was careful not to reclaim for fear of appearing before the recorder.
California was the object of the most enthusiastic descriptions and the most unlimited infatuation; then, since every excess in this world has its reaction, which one might compare to the physical law of the angle of reflection, it gave way to the most favorable reports and to the most disparaging predictions. They have exaggerated the past and misread the future; the present proves the double error. For every wise spirit, it must be evident that the facts of the past went beyond the truth, not on the relationship of its existence and the importance of its marvels, but rather on the relationship of their generalization with the present ability, as an absolute, of obtaining it.
There is, besides, here on earth, a law that is more than humane that attaches a cost to every benefit, a labor to every recompense, — a law of all justice and all moralization. The exception to this law, in the great capitals of the world as in the savage caņadas of California, the placers of Tasmania, the desert gorges of Siberia, is in fact unjust and doubly demoralizing by the discouragement and envy it inspires for less happy work, both the enticement of the example and the desire for easy winning; — a fact for which its exceptional length is always too long.
California has endured this phase. The sailors and the workers, for the most part, have acquired in several hours treasures that have rendered them the equals, and more, than an honorable capitalist, if they have not found on their way the attraction, which was for a large number irresistible, of assaulting gross pleasures in the presence of their riches and raising in them the thirst of gathering desires and the satisfaction of activating a new, unaccustomed fortune. For those whose head resisted the temptation of the heart, the struggle, doubtless, was so intense, or rather, as with ice-water, the shock of novelty, of the unexpected, and the joyous exaltation was so great, that many will become madmen, maniacs, stupefied.
Now as then, all individuals who wish to board for the California coast require a robust body, a firm will, an ardent and lively intelligence, a spirit fertile in resources, a large ability for business, or one of the manual professions that, to the extent that civilization will grow and extend, find chances of success day by day, and a good craft is even better. But always, before everything, that one should not overlook having some capital proportionate to the goal one wishes to obtain. So far as those go who depart, now as earlier, without these conditions, whether for American California, or Mexican California, New Holland, the gold mines of Queen Charlotte’s Island, of Oregon, of El Chaco, of New Granada, of Dutch Guyana, etc., etc., they will expose themselves to enduring the fate of the Mexican colonials, who must, to be just, succumb without complaint.
Mélanie had departed for California, as we have said, “in the company of a young man very rich … in hopes.” Only she arrived alone, since the young man died in the midst of the crossing. Mélanie consoled herself more rapidly and easily, since this last liaison was quite fresh when it was broken by destiny, and because the captain of the steamer was a charming man who occupied himself intensely with the young widow until the end of the crossing… Finally, she arrived and marveled. It was the terrible year of fires. The city was almost entirely consumed, and everywhere the population courageously rebuilt on the gallop.
Eight times (says the author from whom we will borrow some pages) the town had to wake up on a jump, to a thousand sinister repeated cries of fire! fire! Eight times the bells of the Fire Houses rang and were repeated — a deafening call, mixed with the vibrating sound of the Chinese gong and the calls of the multitude; — and eight times the great city, indomitable in its energy, struggled with its lively courage, inalterable, invincible, that men may do in a profound conviction, and which comes to be for those for whom a high, grandiose destiny is reserved.
One could say that the infernal spirit, the genius of evil, indefatigable in its hatred, incarnated itself to ruin the marvelous city with its kiss of death, while the good genius, the spirit of progress and conservation, dressed its injuries and, always attentive in its solicitude, revived hope and will, ceaselessly feeding the sources of life.
When Mélanie put her foot on the already cool soil of California, she perceived that her purse was very light; but she was no woman to torment herself for so minor a reason. She went to a nice hotel, took a superb room, and acted as if she had overlooked the rent. One could say that she knew in advance, without anyone telling her, that fortune could not sleep in the midst of the floods of the Rubicon, the audacious fortune of Caesar.
And, in effect, Mélanie had not passed twenty-four hours to look out the window of her lovely room before the offers commenced to pour around her, like the bouquets tossed at a Talma or a Rachel.
It was the era of fabulous jobs, where:
Construction workers, carpenters, interior carpenters, locksmiths, and others received what they wanted; they argued over twenty-five and thirty piastres per day; where a chef would have dreamed of imitating Vatel, or at least would have thrown his apron into the fire if he did not regularly earn one or two ounces of gold per day, in all cases five hundred piastres per month; and the dishwasher himself, an interesting brotherhood that opened its ranks to more than one refugee of fortune, sons of nobles or from rich houses, authors of talent, great political names, would rather smash underfoot all the chinaware of the restaurant than wash them for less than two hundred, or at the least a hundred fifty piastres, a salary they would not regard except as a remuneration, a monthly indemnity. It was the patron who was gracious, anticipating, obsequious for his salaried help; an irritating word … the dignity of his acolytes would deprive him of their aid for several hours, perhaps a day! And what was a day worth, a single hour?… Besides, what was the difference between the patron and the salaried help, the capitalist from the worker? Fortune? But fortune never permits itself to be seen better, never shows itself naked, blind! Its nature is mobile, unquiet, capricious. By a system of see-saw, without repose nor delay, it dumps one to raise the other.
The culinary art is not the only one so richly endowed. The most wretched sawyer of the violin, worn out in the balls of Idalie, escaped from the barriers of the thatched houses of the suburbs, would traditionally stamp his instrument with his feet — an energetic, lonely, worthy protest against the profanation of the arts — if one offered him less than two ounces of gold for an evening. The least courlaud de boutique employs three extras to grind the pepper or the coffee, and to roll trifles, rue des Lombards, would think himself humiliated to exercise his talents in San Francisco for less than five piastres a day, besides being fed, lodged, cleaned: whitening a shirt, perhaps a unique historic fact, costs a piastre and a half. One does not change anything but fresh linen!
So Mélanie was besieged by requests of all types. They wanted her to train to preside over a fashion shop, to preside over the sale of Havana Segars, to receive the gold pieces of restaurant customers, and other employment of half-known industries. But the careless girl had little interest in continuous work with set hours, she called it small-scale slavery, and she cherished her liberty above all, that is, to come and go at all hours. She would prefer the fate of the woodland wolf to that of a fat, well-nourished dog, bearing the mark of a collar on the neck. Two days after the refusals by which she responded to all those who had come to plead, there was a different riding school with a change of crew … and little by little, Mélanie came to understand her proper value. It was no longer work that they would demand of her; on the contrary, it was a question of her doing nothing, to clothe herself with care and elegance; to pass the hot hours of the day in semi-obscurity behind pretty Persian shades, and the fresh hours of the evening in a carriage or on horseback along the promenades. To live well and aristocratically; to sleep like a princess from eleven hours or midnight to eleven or noon; to take perfumed baths and fragrant sorbets. To have a loge in all the theaters and presents on every occasion, even for nothing! But for that, what was she to do as we would have said, “Nothing!” “What a lovely country!” she declared to herself, “so much for so little!” Alas! In all the countries of the world, it is the same thing, more or less, in certain conditions: in view of the fact that one is generally paid little when one works little. Only, if this word with four letters, “Rien” [=“Nothing”], for certain women, justly said, it is less than not much; for others, it is the synonym for venality, laxness and dishonor: it debases the sublime role of women to the bestial role of a bitch. This kennel, one must say, is usually covered with silk, jewels, even plumes; she eats at ease and travels by carriage: — that is what so seduces — but, later, eight times out of ten, it ends in hiding under rags, in living from garbage, and in walking along low-class roads. To complete the balance with the past, she is beaten up by soldiers and sailors.
Mélanie accepted neither the offers of repose nor the offers of work; she could not rise so high nor descend so low.
Among all those she saw over several days, she did not find one who suited her, and for her suiting was the entire matter, whether rich or poor. She would not sell herself, she would give herself.
Where we see one of our Characters again
One evening as Mélanie returned from a promenade that she had made through the city to see the fantastic panorama of constructions executed by thousands at a time from one end of San Francisco to the other, she found four letters at her address. These four varied in orthography, style, and type, but basically they basically all said the same thing.
The most eccentric finished in this manner:
“Finally, if you wish that we should have a common life together, I can offer you a bath in gold dust, and when you come from this bath, you may keep the tub and its contents!”
— “Ah, for example,” she cried out to herself, “this is really an original! I recognize here this big canary with carrot hair, with one furious eye and the other split! Fi donk!”
She tore the whole letter into little pieces that she then amused herself by throwing one by one out the window. Some fell on a straw hat decorated with a green band; the others, lifted by a breeze, played for some seconds here and there before flying to a neighboring balcony; several fell, alas! in the gutter and the rest scattered where they will on the roofs or in the street.
When she had finished this stunt — which resembled that of Monsieur de Chateaubriand throwing pieces of bread into running water, Mèlanie left her balcony window to return to her room. She had barely taken two steps than the door opened with a noise, without any warning, and a man fell toward her, opening his arms and trying to speak,
— Mé … mé … Méla … Mélanie!” he cried out…
And he could not say any more.
— “Finot!” Mélanie responded with the same voice, and with moist eyes.
And the good girl opened her arms to her old friend, recovered so suddenly.
— “Eh! My God,” Mélanie said, like then and other times, the principal thing is that he was found.
Finot made an enormous sigh.
— “I am really happy to find this!” he said.
— “Why ‘this,’” Mélanie said.
— “Damn!… because … if you had not been alone…”
— “If I had not been alone, I would have been two: is that what ‘this’ meant?”
— “Because! What does ‘this’ mean?”
— “Yes indeed! I would have sent away the other to return to my old one, parbleau!”
— “This dear child!” the little man cried out.
And he rushed to embrace his mistress, which he was so happy to find constant, if not faithful.
— “But,” Finot said, “why on earth did I find you in California?”
— “Do you know the play of Robert Macaire?” Mélanie replied…
— “But of course…”
— “Do you recall the scene in the forest where Bertrand stops Robert and says to him, a pistol in his hand, “Your money or your life!”
— “Well… Robert replies, ‘That is certainly the question that I was about to ask you…’”
— “Yes; then?”
— “Well, you asked me, ‘How did I find you in California?’ and I responded to you, ‘How did I find you in California?’… So!”
— “Ah me!” Finot said, “I have had some misfortunes …”
— “Poor Finot! Me, I searched for you…”
— “In California!”
— “Why not?”
— “But it was too far away!”
— “The proof that it is not is that I found you!”
— “But it is I who found you…”
— “See, we found each other.”
— “That is nevertheless true,” Finot said, beating his hands one against the other.
At this moment, nine o’clock sounded, and the evening canon echoed.
Finot received it like a sign.
— “We will not speak again of our little affairs,” Mélanie said, rising and going to her dressing table — “it is good for now that we have found one another.”
— “I had better go…” Finot said with a large sigh. “I am staying rather far from here.”
“What silliness!” the good girl said, looking at him… “and why go?… Is it because you are not comfortable here?”
— “Oh yes!… Mélanie, it is comfortable! I knew some things, but I did not dare hope…”
— “What is it with that language, ‘I did not dare … hope…’ Is that what one says to a duchess, or to his dear friend?…”
Finot had, for the third time, recourse to his major means of reconnaissance: it was to say that, for the third time he went to press on his mouth her lovely fat cheeks, those fine animated eyes, and the vermilion lips of his appetizing friend.
— “Ah that,” she said, “we have finally finished with your silly ‘vous,’ right?”
— “Yes,” Finot responded: I have recovered you, I love you; I am happy as a pasha to be with you, and…”
— “And I remain there!” added Mélanie, while making a great act of reverence to her lover.
— “And I remain there!” Finot responded like a joyous echo…
As it was, Finot remained……
The next morning, a tall one-eyed man, thin, dressed in black, white gloves, with a savage air and red hair, came to Mélanie’s place.
The view of a man with the young woman seem to bother him a little. Nevertheless, since he was there, he spoke to her.
— “Did you receive my letter?” he said with a question mark at the end of his eye…
— “But yes,” she responded…
— “And then?…”
— “And then I made it into a thousand little pieces that I threw to the wind, to amuse myself.” — “Wait,” she added, “you can see a remnant on the roof, there in front?…
The big man blushed and stuttered some words.
— “Besides,” Mélanie concluded, “I don’t like baths!”
At this, the ungainly man turned on his heels and went down the stairs, his head held low.
— “What is it with that man there?” Finot asked.
— “Damn! you saw him well, I think.”
— “He wanted you to take a bath?”
— “Yes indeed, in gold dust. By my faith, I can barely understand it.”
— “It’s really very simple: it is an eccentric manner to offer you a certain sum, in gold.”
— “He does that nicely so that he could then take the whole body.”
— “I do believe it! Or to offer me as much more on the side!”
— “I knew that,” observed Finot. It is that women here are rare, yes! and, in terms of money, they get as much as they want! Also for a moment, I was afraid when I knew you had arrived here.”
— “Fear of what, my dear?… Is it because I am a woman who sells herself!”
— “No, Mélanie, no! but … finally … one cannot remain alone when one is young, pretty and … in such good health!”
— “So far as that goes, certainly. But I could have had a lover at my convenience without asking him whether he was rich or not. Immediately. That is my thought!”
Then each told the other their story … as each intended, which goes without saying. Mélanie forgot her death, not because that was shameful, but because the matter was so brief to be worth mentioning. Finot, on his part, passed in silence over his residence in the Baton Rouge Penitentiary. He arranged his story from the day of his release from the Mobile cellar, and shifted to voyages to find her, Mélanie. Everything was as short as possible. Each attributed his or her San Francisco voyage to a desire to see the country, and what a country! Briefly, in fifty or sixty minutes, the two odysseys arrived at the same word: The End.
Now it was a question of the present.
Mélanie quickly took the balance of her affairs. She had been in the hotel for eight days, had paid nothing in advance, and she did not have a single ounce, in other terms, sixteen piastres!
Finot had been to the mines. There he had amassed several hundred piastres, but the unhappy man! He had been robbed… The pains he had taken to obtain this gold were such that he did not have the courage to recommend the same work after his misfortune, and he had come to the city to get work. He found a position before arriving in San Francisco. At this time the maÎtres d’establissement were hunting for employees, while in all other lands, unemployed men were desperate for jobs. Finot was serving in a café with a monthly salary of four hundred piastres. If he had taken forty-eight hours to look, he would infallibly have found a hundred piastres more. His month would be over in two days, but he had already spent nine-tenths of it.
— “You see,” he said to Mélanie, “bad luck pursues me. I am fortunate to find you again, you are in trouble and I cannot come to your aid!”
— “Come to my aid! And why?”
— “But … to free you here.”
— “Just a minute, my boy! You will see how I free myself.”
And she pulled the bell cord as if she had a hundred thousand in income.
Ten minutes later, a boy arrived.
— “Summon the proprietor,” she said.
He arrived immediately.
— “How much do I owe,” Mélanie asked him without hestitation…
— “We have eight days: that makes, quite reasonably, one hundred sixty dollars.”
Finot, who had never been a resident in a California hotel, did a summersault.
Mélanie did not flinch.
— “By my faith … I do not have any money,” she said.
— “That doesn’t matter,” the proprietor responded, laughing in a manner that was both unpleasant and respectful.
— “How … does that not matter?”
— “That is to say that, if I dare, I will offer you … something … in expectation.”
— “Offer away: then we shall see.”
— “Here is the matter: it is easy, I even dare to say, agreeable. Here there is a buffet. The person who kept it — during the meal — quit the day before yesterday, and that created problems … if you wish … to replace her, I would pay you well.”
Finot looked at Mélanie, and Mélanie looked at the floor. At the end of some seconds, she raised her head.
— “How much are you paying?” she asked.
The master of the house could not hide a feeling of great satisfaction. The Dame de table who had quit was a real problem, thin as a herring, called in Paris, at the barrier balls, Mademoiselle Quille. Mélanie, in contrast, was of moderate height, was young and fresh, and of an adequate weight. She was, in the words of Rabelais, “full of round temptations.” It was a lucky day for the hotel proprietor.
As Mélanie was about to respond, Finot passed her a small card that she read at once.
— “She who just quit,” the hotel proprietor answered, “had two hundred piastres a week. If you wish?…”
Mélanie was not a woman interested in money.
— “That will do!” she said. “Only, since I could find twenty jobs in twenty minutes, I will make one small condition.”
The patron scratched his ear.
— “We shall see,” he said.
— “The eight days I passed here … will disappear, right? Me, I do not like things that trail behind.”
— “I am in favor of it: so it’s agreed?”
— “It is agreed. Ah! I forgot,” Mélanie said, looking at Finot, partly hidden, “I have found my husband, here he is. I want to present him…”
The patron made a grand salute to Finot. He was happy that there was nothing more than that. He rose to depart…
— “One moment,” said Mélanie, “I have another small condition…”
— “Ah!…” said the patron, halting…
— “Yes. As a good wife should always care for her husband, I wish that my husband be your pensioner, without paying.”
— “But,” the patron said, “the pension is very expensive…”
— “It is proper for me to wish to make him a gift … on your part. If that is good to you, we are in agreement; if not, we will not speak further on it.”
— “Oh well,” the patron responded, “it is fine with me.”
— “Then you may inscribe this name in your registers:”
And Marie handed her new bourgeois the card that Finot gave her. On this card one read: “Monsieur Jules Bonaventure” and on the second line, “Performs all variety of professions.”
A moment later, Finot and Mélanie were alone.
Monsieur Bonaventure and Monsieur Firmament
Some months before the epoch where our narrative has reached at this moment, two men were sitting on the poop deck of a three-masted bark, talking in a low voice.
The ship in question spread sail for California. It had departed New York and its crossing was so short that it is cited as one of the most rapid ever to take place.
— “Oh that,” said one of the two men to his companion, a thin little man with a lively eye and a deliberating air, “it is necessary that we forge for ourselves new names. It is not prudent to disembark that way under an old one that is compromised.”
— “It’s true that way, my big man,” the little man responded, “we need names. So let us hunt for a moment, and consider. Let’s see, how would you baptize me?”
The heavy man huffed like a little whale.
— “It is difficult,” he said, “there is no name that suits you better than Finot… You are mischievous, you are small, you are fine: with fin, you have Finot by adding an o and a t.”
— “Parbleu! Better something new! It is not a question of two plus two makes four; it is a matter of finding another thing.”
— “Oh well,” the fat man said, “since you have adventures, call yourself Aventure!”
— “What a beast you are! Could anybody be named Monsieur Aventure? It is too outrageous.”
— Ah! Big fool, what spirit you’ve got!” Finot cried out… I will change Mauvais to Bon, and I have Bonaventure!”
The big man remained in admiration before his friend. A little more, and he would have embraced him.
— “Finot, my friend!” he cried out, “I declare you a superior man. You are my master, Monsieur Bonaventure!”
— “Now, it is a question of you. How do you want to name yourself?”
— “Me?” Rousto said — because one had recognized him — “if I were named Cuirasse?”
— “And that is proper! Why not Casque or Bottalécuyère?”
— “Bottalé … what? It’s too long, I would never remember my own name.”
— “Jobard! It is for your pestering that I say that!”
— “At a good hour! What if I called myself Roustagnac?”
— “It is too Gascon.”
— “Too Spanish.”
— “And Roustolan?”
— “One would ask if you descended from the Emperor’s Mameluk. Listen, you need to take a name that you can never forget. Raise your head!”
Rousto raised his head.
— “What is it you see?” Finot, or Bonaventure, asked him.
— “But … I see the sky…”
— “Good, do you know what they call the sky? Do you know another name?”
— “Yes, the firmament.”
— “Bravo! You will be named Monsieur Firmament!”
— “Right! But that is really pretty, that name! And I would only have to look up in the air if I forgot my name!”
— “Behold, my big man! Your name is written in the heavens! You who were whipped with yellow leather in the Yellow House of Baton-Rouge.”
— “And you, who has cut wooden pegs!”
— “All true. Give me your hand, Monsieur Firmament…”
— “Happily, Monsieur Bonaventure!”
And so that is how, before arriving in California, our two characters baptized themselves — without water — aboard the three-masted bark that carried them.
When the two friends arrived in California, they commenced to gather some tools, and they directed themselves, with slow step, toward the mines. There they found gathered together Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Germans, in sum, men of all lands. They were particularly happy to find the Frenchmen, who understood one another easily. Firmament’s extraordinary strength, Bonaventure’s spirit, fertile in resources, made the two inseparable, a complete partnership. Finot — we cannot renounce using this name from time to time — had a superfine eye for discovering gold veins. The least bit, the smallest brilliant grain glinting in the sun, was like the north pole that attracted to itself the love of the little man. It was like a ferret in a rabbit cage. Rousto himself, who set about to shatter the soil with great blows, when his leader told him, “pick there, my big man!”
The Frenchmen, in contrast to what they are elsewhere, hung together in a cordial association, and they obtained excellent results in their operations.
In California, the Frenchmen created for themselves, so to speak, “a little France,” as the author from whom we have borrowed some passages,
Where two of our compatriots meet, (he continues) on the other side of the seas, they quickly form of these two a new fatherland. The Frenchman imposes his influence on the region that extends him hospitality; he does not submit to foreign influence, he dominates it. See the old French colonies and the lands where it has briefly extended its power, among others the Île-de-France, the left bank of the Rhine, Louisiana and principally New Orleans with its First Municipality, a French town in an American city, which has been preserved for almost eighty years of foreign domination, borders as deep as the yellow flow of a river that moves through the dark waves of the Ocean. And Canada, this old France in North America, where religion, customs, character, language, all has remained faithful to the primitive motherland, whose image, graved profoundly in the heart of the population, will never be effaced.
Everywhere the Frenchman steps, he brings with himself his tastes, his habits, and, little by little, without pressing at all, he makes them accepted, and establishes their triumph. It has been chased from the banks of the Eastern Republic the English influence that predominated. He is the natural courtier of our products, to us who have them not, for our export commerce, of special agents paid three and four thousand piastres per year by the manufacturers of Boston, of Liverpool, of Manchester, finally to receive not only orders of businessmen of one place, but to travel beyond, provoking and making offers of rebates, presenting models, to establish, in a word — the most pressing, the most militant, competition, as the agents of English and American manufacturers in New Orleans, for example.
These appreciations are true, but it would be another matter of French influence if the French knew how to live cordially among themselves in other foreign lands! It is perhaps a necessary thing that this fine friendship has little existence among them, because, united and fraternal, their moral ascendance would become a usurpation.
So the two friends amassed gold as they sang La Marseillaise, Les Souvenirs du Peuple, Le Chant du Départ, Le Grenier, La Vivandière du Régiment, and such other national poetry. It was a valiant gayety, an exciting gayety, a French gayety in the end! … and Firmament’s mattock went its way! and Bonaventure’s tongue never fell silent! and the philosophic powder went, in little grains or in stronger fractions, to fill the leather bag that the former victim of the lash of the fair sex held attached to his throat.
— “Fearless, my big man!” Finot-Bonaventure said, “fearless! It was no longer a question of false gold or false silver, let alone false bills! It was pure gold, there! And in an unknown number of carats! What, then, is a carat, my Porthos?…”
— “Don’t know!” responded Rousto-Firmament.
— “It is, as they say, a conventional idea for knowing the quality of the gold.”
— “Don’t understand!”
“Finally, if the gold is bad, it does not have many carats; if it is very good, it has lots of carats…”
— “So, it has many ideas, so the carat is an idea!”
— “But no, it is a convention.”
— “So there are many conventions!”
— “Rousto… Firmament, my friend, dig lots of gold, and I will make you see carats.”
— “I understand it better that way,” the heavy Hercules responded.
This day they won for themselves twice the annual salary of a colonel.
The next day, while Bonaventure told a story to ten compatriots sitting around him, their legs crossed, a big noise was heard far away. All of them rose and pricked up their ears. A hundred citizens were advancing on the place where the workers were located. All of them were talking at once, which produced a cacophony than one could easily describe as deafening. On arriving near the Frenchmen, the column slowed its pace, and one of them walking at the head called the ten men. They invited them, and, once they met the troupe, the chief ordered and obtained silence. An individual, his hands tied behind him, when seen up close, threw frightened looks all around. He trembled in all his members and hung his head in a sign of despair.
— “Messieurs,” the chief of the troupe said in English, “this man was taken red-handed in the crime of theft and assassination. Every day we are at the mercy of thieves and murderers; we are menaced every moment, menaced in our property and our existence; the law is powerless; legal penalty does not have any power because there are no agents to apply it. We have condemned this man to be hanged … and we are going to hang him immediately.”
— “Hang him!” all the voices cried out.
A rope was attached to a strong limb of a tree. At the end of the rope they tied a sliding greased knot.
The man was placed on a cart and the rope was put around his neck. Then the chief of the band delivered his sentence, after which he was permitted to speak.
— “I have nothing to say for my justification,” he said. “I was taken, too bad for me; it is the fourth time I have killed.”
The clamor revived, and, in the midst of the greatest hubbub, the body of the condemned quickly floated several feet off the ground. He had ceased to live.
— “That was well done, that!” Bonaventure said to Firmament.
The gathering dispersed without a sound, with a sort of satisfaction.
This summary justice appeared to be a barbaric act; in an absolute sense that is true. Still, one should read and consider.
It is known what Lynch Law is: it is this laconic, expeditious legislation, adopted by several Oregon tribes, among others by the Nez Percés grouped on the banks of the Koos-Koos-Ky river, and which considers every case as a hanging case, formed entirely of articles that begin, Every person who is convicted, finishing with Shall be hanged.
Indeed, the situation and deeds here have forced the return to an equal means of repression.
The pickpockets; the salters, large-scale thieves of mines, once the field was not as free there for impunity, suddenly appeared in the towns. San Francisco became the theater of preference for their exploits. — Articles of merchandise, hitherto piled along public roads, were imported by the thieves. — Under the direction of organizing chiefs of disciplined gangs, under an open sky, they practiced their industry openly. — It was not possible to know where the merchant ended and the thief began. — Justice was stymied, stunned, and remained indecisive, inactive. — But soon the promoters of disorder, encouraged by the action and made bolder by success — the harvest was too slow for their desires. — Incendiary torches raised tumult and facilitated the work. The pickpocket has become a bloodhound, an assassin, and impatient crime spread blood on the streets before the night had extended its mysterious shadow.
Justice, meanwhile, remained deliberate and hesitant to act. But an old man, knocked down by blows from an iron bar wielded by a supposed customer, fell with his injured head at the foot of his stall, which the brigand then carried toward a ship that was raising its sail.
In response to the pleas of the victim, neighbors and passers-by pursued the criminal, grabbed him and arrested him. From one end of the town to the other, the news spread terror and indignation.
A committee of public safety was organized, calling itself the Vigilance Committee, constituting itself as a jury, caused the assassin to appear, interrogated him, forced him to admit his crime, judged him and condemned him to be hanged at once.
The fire-company’s belfry rang in monumental pomp; this time it was not ringing for a fire, this time it was calling the population to the spectacle of an execution.
Regular justice could not renounce asserting the powers it had not known how to use in its hesitancy. It reclaimed the criminal to an improvised court; in response to the repeated testimony, it only responded with a formal refusal.
The comforts of religion were accorded to the guilty man, who put his conscience at rest and asked only for a last cigar. He lit it and approached the place of execution surrounded by members of the committee, who marched slowly, formed in three ranks, in the middle of the population guarding a solemn and profound silence.
The municipal police tried to intervene with force to seize the prisoner, who had been taken from its control. Rudely rejected, the police had to flee; the armed escort was making ready to fire.
One had arrived at the fatal place: a rope hung from a pulley on a beam that served to raise parcels to the loading dock of a store. The condemned threw away his cigar. Two paces from eternity, he confessed his crime in a loud voice, refused to have his face covered, and, face to face, death remained covered in its presence, a sad privilege.
The example was terrible, but one also saw that the facts were of a menacing gravity that reclaimed, and to some extent, justified this example.
Certainly it was profoundly regrettable to see mob justice, easily blind and passionate, taking the place of the regular action of the laws, but when the land is flooded by universal emigration, and the desire for gold invited an entire population of convicts, ruffians, knaves that I have already described, feeding themselves on this land. Once satisfied by easy and plentiful gains, in a minute they return to their nature of violence and crimes, when conditions change, and the serious labor of which they have a horror and dislike becomes one of the conditions of their well-being. In the presence of a great number of thefts and crimes, the justice of the land, momentarily invested by the legislature, of the right to fight theft by death, but without soldiers of gendarmes, without either force or energy, nor — with a removable, elected magistracy — the integrity nor the independence necessary. How is it a surprise that the mass of honest men, victims of bandits, take in hand, provisionally, their own defense and organize, to guarantee their security, a Vigilance Committee of eighty of the most prominent and reputable citizens, appealing to the energy of the crowd to execute pitiless but salutary arrests. That is the truth.
The illegality is regrettable in principle, but the disorder and the triumph of bad passions are regrettable to a greater degree.
Finot and Rousto together occupied a crummy little cabin, built of rubbish and covered by every sort of more or less permeable materials. They had made in the soil a ditch where they buried every evening the gold dust they have collected during the day. They tranquilly slept every night alongside their little treasure, and comparing their present situation with the illegal and dangerous life they had led previously in New Orleans, they found it very happy.
But … — there is always a but in all states of happiness … — a fatal day arrived. The love that lost Troy robbed poor Bonaventure, and, at the same time — poor Firmament.
We must relate the matter carefully.
By the greatest of accidents, they found, near the place these two inseparables had chosen, some women … whom in other lands would have been more or less ignored, but who, in view of their rarity, were taken to be the equal of rare beauties.
Bonaventure had, as is known, lively passions; the sight of the sex tickled his fibers and caused him to smile maliciously. Since they had arrived in California, he had been like a short fuse. He made heavy sighs and could not sit still. One day he discovered what he had sought so intensely: he had a good lady friend. Naturally, his absences from the cabin he shared with his friend Firmament were rather frequent, and, one fine day, or rather one fine night, while Rousto snored with an uncommon pulmonary force, the hidden treasure of the partners vanished. In any case, the theft was not immediately discovered.
The next morning, early, Bonaventure arrived from his nocturnal excursion and awoke Firmament.
— “Have you slept well?” he asked…
— “It is as I know!” Firmament responded. “I threw myself down on my back, on my belly, on one side, right, left, it is all the same, and when I open my eyes, it is daytime!”
— “That is a sign that you sleep solidly…—
— “Perhaps good; I will not say no.”
They departed for the mine.
This day was one of the finest for the partners. They collected nuggets of superb size, and in a very satisfactory number. On returning in the evening, they were excessively gay. Finot sang like a finch, and the California echoes repeated the couplets of our immortal Béranger.
Rousto whistled, “The more the fool, the more you laugh …” as a funny accompaniment, making quite a droll effect.
— “Give me that, my big man,” Bonaventure said to him, “to put with the rest.”
Then he kissed himself, emptied his bag with a little throw ad hoc, and let out a cry:
— “Robbed!” he repeated…
And he looked at his partner … who looked back…
— “My poor Rousto!” he said…
— “My poor Finot!”
— “What will we do?”
— “I have no idea.”
— “Should we go and complain?”
— “Yes, let’s go!”
Rousto had already taken two strides.
— “I believe that it would be useless,” his friend observed.
— “That is possible! Who knows?”
— “Who knows? Let’s go…”
And they departed to complain.
There quickly gathered about twenty individuals, They posed questions and suppositions. It was who would stop whom who was visiting the cabin.
It goes without saying that nothing was discovered.
The evening of this accursed day, Bonaventure did not go to his habitual rendezvous!
The next morning, while waking up, the two friends, sitting on their common bed, their legs dangling, their shirts in disarray, their hair in every direction, looked at one another and yawning and scratching themselves where the mosquitoes had bitten them.
— “We are ruined, Firmament…”
— “And how, Bonaventure…”
— “Not exactly; not completely…”
— “No, not completely!”
— “We still have today’s nuggets…”
— “And they were good ones!”
— “That’s true. What are we to decide?”
— “I don’t care.”
— “It was your own fault, Rousto! I am sure that they robbed us during your heavy sleep…”
— “It is certainly possible. But if you had been there…”
— “Oh! For sure they would not have done it, considering that I sleep as lightly as the idea of a woman.”
— “So then, it is your fault, Finot! If you had not been gadding about, this would not have happened.”
— “You are right: both of us were wrong … and both of us are suffering. There is nothing more just, Firmament.”
— “You are talking like a book, Bonaventure! But should we get dressed?”
— “Let’s get dressed, but first a decision.”
— “I am listening,” Firmament said, getting on his pants.
— “My advice, Bonaventure said, imitating his partner, “is that, since we were robbed once, they could rob us again.”
— “That seems right to me.”
— “And besides,” Finot continued, “it is awfully tiring, mining! … particularly for you: I am afraid lest you should get thin, my Porthos!”
— “Huh, if I get thin?”
— “And me, if I get fat! I would be like a ball! Well, let’s go work in town. We have enough to get started, and for the rest, it would not take long to find a job.”
— “That’s true! Let’s go work at something different. We can go ask our gang of three inseparables living over there, near the woods … what do you say?”
— “I think it would be best to sell everything than to leave it behind indefinitely.”
— “Let’s go sell it!” Rousto said, who did not have any will.
An hour later, the entire place was sold and paid for, and two hours later, Orestes and Pylades walked side by side toward San Francisco, each armed with a walking stick that could serve at the same time for support and for defense.
The route unrolled clean and white, bordered by green trees whose high oaks waved back and forth in the breeze. Some crops grew here and there, surrounded by a barrier made of untrimmed logs and trees used where they fell. After the gold of the mines, one would have dreamed of this other gold, less quickly won but surer, that the earth gives to those who desire to contribute their labor to it. Families gathered more willingly around a cultivated field than around all sorts of holes dug to search for precious metal.
Bonaventure and Firmament had a road to cover, but, as the jokester of a military company says in his narration, “March today, march tomorrow, through marching you get a lot of road.”
So they will march, consume the road, and arrive.
Forty-eight hours after their arrival in San Francisco, they had jobs. Firmament was employed in a brewery, Bonaventure in a café. Each of them earned four hundred piastres a month, without counting what is called les tours de bâton, profit sharing.
Or a broken Thread is renewed
So Bonaventure and Firmament separated every day to go to work, each in his own way. This separation was not done without pain. The poor friends had contracted an affection for one another that was stronger than that born by their well-marked differences, and by their common work and pains shared.
Still, it was necessary for Firmament to go to his brewery and for Bonaventure to appear at his café.
— “So we are going to leave one another!” Bonaventure said to his comrade as they arose on the morning of the day they would have to be forcibly separated…
— “Damn! Sure, but we will make some money.”
— “Farewell, Firmament!” said Bonaventure…
— “Farewell, Bonaventure!” Firmament responded…
And they shook hands emotionally. Each began to take his own way, when Rousto — whose eyes were moist — turned around suddenly, with a joyous face, and cried out:
— “I just got an idea!”
— “Bah!” said the little one…
— “Yes, listen: Each of us has to pose a condition to our bosses. They will not dare refuse.”
— “Let’s see!…
— “You will ask for the right to leave every evening for two hours, and I will demand that you have the right to drink beer for two hours … gratis! In this way, we will see one another every evening, and we will not have need to be sad!”
— “And if my boss refuses, I will find another job.”
With that, they separated, consoled.
The following morning, Bonaventure received the note that read as follows:
My dear companion,
Before putting my hand to the hops, barley, and the other drugs of which my boss makes use for the confection of his liquid, I took him aside, rolled up my sleeves, and I said to him, “Look how I am built! I could build you a terrible lot of work, all the more so because I am not afraid of work.”
He thought I was done, and he responded, “That is very good; in a little while I will give you a raise, if my business prospers.”
Then I said to him, “That is not all. I have something to ask of you! My intimate friend, named Bonaventure, cannot avoid coming to see me; without that, I will lose my strength. I want to see him every evening and offer him beer … without paying!” He did not hesitate a minute, and he responded to me that you may come every evening and consume gratis and at discretion. Until this evening!
It is not necessary to ask whether Bonaventure was exact about this rendezvous. For two hours, seated one opposite the other, one smoking a cigar, the other with a big Turkish pipe, only separated by five or six bottles and two glasses, they conversed like good bourgeois who were relaxing from their work.
— “I am lacking nothing but one thing for my happiness,” Bonaventure said.
— “What is it?” Firmament asked as he hoisted a large glass of beer…
— “Ah, my dear!… I am only lacking she whom I love! If only I had Mélanie … I would be the happiest mortal in all the Californias…
— “To me,” Firmament said, “I don’t need that. A woman is trouble!”
— “Trouble!” Bonaventure cried out, returning to the table the glass he had taken to his lips… “trouble! Oh no, on the contrary, it is very agreeable.”
— “I prefer beer!” the novice brewer responded…
— “Parbleu! All these big, fat men … they are like molasses! It always turns gold and loves to remain single!”
— “Possible: each to his own taste.”
— “Firmament, I will go crazy if I am alone for a long time.”
— “That’s impossible.”
— “It is as I tell you. It is necessary that I act. Unfortunately, women are very rare here. You do recall Mélanie, Firmament…”
— “Not much!”
— “Fat scoundrel, go! I have long believed you were trying to suffocate me!…
— “I would happily stick a finger in your eye!”
— “I believe it now, my big man. Just like that, you do not recall this excellent girl who gave me so much trouble and so much happiness. Me, I could see her here. Size a little more than moderate, bodice … full, and famously formed! Belt, round, above the haunches … very pretty haunches! Rous… Firmament. And the legs … perfect! My dear…”
Finot let our a heavy sigh, had an enormous glass of beer, and blew out an enormous puff of smoke; then he shook his head, adding with a continual exaltation:
— “And what eyes! Firmament… And what a mouth! And what fresh cheeks! T………! I will go mad!”
— “Drink your beer!” Rousto said.
— “To hell with the beer! If God is a good God, he will get me Mélanie … I swear to go to mass all Sundays!”
— “You!” cried Firmament … you will go to mass!”
— “Yes, I swear by all I hold most sacred! For five years I never will never miss Sunday mass, except for a major obstacle independent of my will, if I recover Mélanie!”
— “Name of God! That’s a solemn oath!” Rousto hurled, making a fist blow that clove the table…
The glass bottles broke into little pieces.
A boy came running at once.
— “It is nothing,” Firmament said, “I put a patch on the table, and it’s fine.”
— “I believe that you wish another beer,” said the boy.
— “But yes. Bring us two or three bottles. That can’t hurt, it is very healthy!”
— “It is very healthy —” Bonaventure repeated, who did not know what the theme of the conversation was, he was so absorbed” —
At this moment they heard on the street the sound of horses.
Firmament took a look outside; Bonaventure held his head in his two hands, his elbows on the table.
— “Well!” said the former, “it is a cavalcade coming into town. Six Amazons … and rather well kept!”
— “Amazons!” cried Bonaventure, and he rose as if his chair were on fire.
In a moment, Finot had his gaze fixed, his arms frozen at middle-height, his head immobile. Immediately, all his body trembled, his head turned toward Firmament, as if stunned by higher power; his mouth opened … and … he was unable to speak. He grew horribly pale.
— “What do you have?” his friend asked him. “Did the beer make you sick?”
— “What then?”
— “Rousto!! Do you know?”
— “But what!”
— “Do you know … what I am seeing?”
— “Oh! My friend … my friend! If I have not gone mad, that will stun me!”
— “But … they say that it is the beginning…”
— “Of happiness, my boy! Of felicity. Maybe I’m dying!”
— “Ah there … but … he is suddenly insane!”
— “Oh!” said Bonaventure, slapping his forehead, “perhaps I am truly unhappy…”
— “Would you like me to pour beer on your head to cause you to revive?” Firmanent asked, opening a bottle…
— “No!” Finot responded, extending his glass.
— “Well! To me you have the air of becoming reasonable again…”
— “Listen, my companion, my Porthos, listen!”
— “I am listening.”
— “I am seeing … guess who?”
— “I will never guess!” the new Porthos responded.
— “I am seeing… Mélanie!!!”
— “Where? There?”
— “Where you are … it is not important where! Among the Amazons!”
— “It is this beautiful woman in blue … who has such lovely breasts.”
Firmament remained stupefied.
— “And I saw nothing,” he said. “Concerning that, you will have to go to mass for five years, right?”
— “Yes, Rousto! … yes, Firmament! … yes, Porthos! I will go for five years, that’s a vow! Perhaps I will go for ten years; but there is one condition — half-heard in my oath, but which fits quite naturally — it is this — Listen well! — If I thank Providence, it must be for a good that has been done to me, right?”
— “Nothing is more clear!”
— Oh well, if Providence offers me Mélanie, I will recognize Him, I will keep my oath. But if Mélanie belongs to another! Do you understand, Firmament?”
— “Oh my dear!” Rousto murmured, “that would really be bad to see her with another than to do the same due to her absence!”
— “So in that case, I would only have the subjects of pain, and jealousy would render my existence impossible.”
— “So then you would die of it, my friend?’
— “Perhaps! … or better, I would become a murderer over it!”
— “A murderer, Finot!…
— “Why not? Is it because I did not stab you for Mélanie, because you are my intimate, the son of my heart!”
— “We shall see: be wise and reasonable. Inform yourself about Mélanie, go to see her, and you will know immediately if you are the happiest or the most unhappy of men. After that, if you have a rival more powerful than yourself, I would pursue a quarrel with him, he will fight with me, and I will kill him with two stabs. This would not be an assassination, it would be an assault and battery, as one says in the jargon of the recorder.”
— “I will be your counsel,” Bonaventure responded. If I am happy, I will keep my oath … and if … I do not return this evening, Firmament, my dear Firmament! … it is because your friend has found … heaven! Too bad for my café!”
On that, Finot departed, Pursued information, found Mélanie and … did not return until the next day, as we have discovered in a previous chapter!
How Finot-Bonaventure kept his vow
At the end of several weeks, Bonaventure and Firmament were, as in the previous chapter, at table, one across from the other. It was the first time in a week!
Love has always come before friendship.
Bonaventure was hardly aware of the void created in his habits by the diminution of the number of his meetings with Firmament, for the simple reason that this void was filled, and more, by a sweeter liaison. He loved Mélanie more than ever. So far as Firmament went, it was not the same. In the evening, when the accustomed hour of talk in the presence of bottles of beer came, he grew sad. He would have a glass or two of beer, but that would not have the same taste, taken alone. He understood that his friend was complete, and he was not. Often, the idea of the mines came back to him. He wanted to speak with Bonaventure, but he was so content when he came back to the brewery that Porthos did not dare speak of his pain to his Aramis.
The idea of returning to the mines had come to Firmament for two reasons: the first, the less frequent visits of Bonaventure; the second, the attraction of this seductive independence that has so many charms for certain natures.
As our author who has written best on California, from whom we have already borrowed, says of the predilection:
Free by himself, stripped of all ties, capable of setting up his own penates and choosing the field of his work, the miner at any time cannot decide to exchange this independent existence common to a voyageur or a hunter, where the total being dwells in a unspeakable sentiment of pride born of the conscience of liberty and in the enjoyment of an endless calm in the place of the agitated, tumultuous life of towns, where necessity throws you into the vortex of interests, producing a desperate struggle, where shabby rivalries cover you with bruises: where the head must bow under inferior authorities, where more than once Gulliver is troubled in his sleep by the blows of pins and laced in the imperceptible threads of imperceptible Lilliputians.
And besides, on the other side — it must be said — Firmament, whose extraordinary physical power and ardor were known to a great number of miners, Firmament, we say, had received many offers from mining companies that had found the means by well-extended association to reduce the costs and to increase the ordinary revenues of isolated operations.
In California, better than elsewhere, association brings the happiest fruits. Not only because by these means the costs of good nourishment are less, but generally all the costs of installation — acquisition or construction of housing, acquisition of tools and training in these instruments of labor, as well as clothing — are also.
The associated workers promise one another mutual aid; special workers make the tools; the association itself operates as a merchant both of the food and necessary objects for the work of mines; in part it leads in agricultural exploitation, hunting, the mine, small commerce; it has its own forge, its bakery, its slaughterhouse, its wash-house, its grocery store, its saw for planks, its carriage shop, it finally has its bar facing its church of fronds, the congregation or the faithful consisting of several couples from places around there, assisting in the divine office, and seeking to repair bodily forces after having cared for their souls.
It is entirely from the point of view of mining exploitation that the association renders eminent services. It permits associated workers to undertake great works, to keep beasts of burden to transport the gold ore from the man to watercourses where it is washed, to operate on large scale with efficient and easy means, to obtain, in a word, the most complete and most profitable results.
The strangers, the miners of the Anglo-Saxon race, deal admirably with these sorts of affairs: they do not discuss, they execute. One does not know who gives the direction, all of them work.
In fact, one had made offers to Firmament. But as brilliant as they were, he would certainly not have accepted if his friend had not virtually abandoned him. Despite his taste for independent work, not restricted in their results, the brave boy had never dreamed of working without seeing Finot.
On the day of which we are speaking at the start of the chapter, Firmament was very distressed, if taciturn. He had an air that was so constrained, so preoccupied, that Bonaventure could not stop him to ask the cause of this unusual humor.
— “You see,” Firmament responded, scratching an ear, “since you recovered Mélanie…”
— “I have always attended the mass on Sunday!” Bonaventure cried out.
— “I know, but … you don’t come to the brewery in the evening.”
— “Ah, damn! … that’s true, but … you see that … I cannot leave my dear child alone … who has received me so well.”
— “I understand that very well,” Firmament replied, but no less, I who am accustomed to you, it is heart-breaking to remain alone through all the long evenings.”
— “Oh well, we shall see.”
— “It is not the same thing, my friend. But do you know the idea that has come to me now? It is to return to the mines. They have made me propositions on the part of a rich company that is working on a grand scale. Being continually at work, I would not have time to have spleen!”
After this tirade — very long for him — Firmament let out a powerful sigh that extinguished one of the two candles on the table.
Bonaventure relit the candle, and a moment of silence followed Firmament’s conclusion.
— “You don’t like the situation of a brewer?” Bonaventure said so as not to respond directly to his friend’s proposition…
— “No,” he responded, “it is always the same song: hops and hot water, barley and hot water, and then always the same work, always the same ingredients in the same quantities. It resembles the work of a squirrel in a cage that turns!”
— “But my dear, one can say as much for all situations.”
— “That is why I do not like them. I love change, novelty, of pain and pleasure; today is danger, tomorrow work with a horse, the next day rest, the following day, a feast … and so on! To each his taste…”
In this particular moment, Firmament was much more eloquent than Bonaventure, because what he said was a sincere expression of his thought, while Bonaventure did not know what to respond, because he felt himself guilty of treason against friendship!
It is necessary to be sincere to be eloquent! It is necessary to be convinced to convince others.
Finally, Bonaventure took the floor; then he explained himself clearly.
— “Listen,” he said to his friend, “let each of us take what is ours. I will come here every two evenings. We are to the fifteenth of the month; complete this month and then the following month at the brewery. In this time, if nothing new has changed our positions, if you still have the same intensions, you can go to the mines, and I will even accompany you for ten leagues.
Finot was only trying to win time. When one is uncomfortable about a conclusion, this procedure is often quite good, because events, or Providence — the word makes no difference — leads almost always to unforeseen incidents that change our intentions.
— “So,” Firmament responded, “you will come every second evening?”
— “Yes, exactly, as exactly as I was at the mass since I found Mélanie again. But you promise not to make any decision before a month and a half?”
— “Word of honor!” Firmament responded. Let’s drink beer!”
— “Let’s drink beer!”
Since the blessed day when Finot had, as if on cue, found his Mélanie again, he had scrupulously carried out his oath. Each Sunday, as the religious bell sent its ringing, echoing call in the great city of California, the faithful Bonaventure put on black pants, a pink necktie, a black coat and a yellow waistcoat. On all that he put a gray hat; at the end of his arms, a pair of gloves in fantasy colors … and he proceeded, as the third bell sounded, toward the temple where the faithful were gathered.
The third time this took place, Mélanie — to whom Finot had said nothing … perhaps intending for another day — asked her dear lover so miraculously recovered, where he was going with such regularity and in this outfit.
To his mistress’s question, Bonaventure spoke of an incommensurable joy. He wanted to make the pleasure last.
He began by raising his hand to heaven, then, with a voice deep and slow, he let these words fall:
— “It was a vow that I have made in my heart!”
— “Devil!” Mélanie said, but once more, “what vow?”
— “The vow to go to mass every Sunday for five years …”
— “For what purpose?”
— “Because of the great happiness that I have found. Because this happiness came to me … and I believe, instead of five years, I will do it for ten!”
— “You won the lottery?”
— “Better than that!”
— “Finot, if you do not tell me the thing categorically and without interruptions, I will not embrace you from now to the end of the week!”
This menace was always victorious for Mélanie’s lover’s sensible heart. It also had its immediate effect, she said.
— “Here is the matter,” he said with a voice filled with sentiment: “I have found gold in this blessed land; I had here and still had here a true friend; my health here is also perfect… In short for other hearts than mine, everything was for the best in the best of all worlds; but … I was lacking the most beautiful jewel in this crown of felicity! And this jewel, Mélanie! This jewel was you!… — One day … no, one evening, at table opposite a friend, in the company of several pitchers of beer, the pain that grew in me made an explosion! I wept over your absence, your loss! And, in a moment of holy exaltation, I swore that if, by accident or by an act of Providence, I would come to recover you, Mélanie! I would go to mass every Sunday for five years! — Listen! — I had barely taken my vow, than the sound of a cavalcade struck my ears. I quickly got up, looked out, and among a dozen Amazons, I recognized this conquering air, these enchanting breasts which could only belong to one Mélanie … to Finot’s Mélanie. I suddenly felt ill … of happiness! A minute later, I felt ill … with rage!… The first impression was the happiness of finding you again; the second, was the rage of jealousy, the thought of you being with another! It was then that I fell like a bomb, to know whether I must go to mass for five years, or whether I must … burn my brain! Look!…”
— “And you will burn your brain?” Mélanie asked…
— “Let’s see … say the truth?”
— “Oh well, the truth — at present the thing has passed away — it is that my friend Firmament, who is a Hercules, would have killed your lover … with two stabs of a knife!”
— “No more than that!”
— “Oh! My God, no!”
— “Who is this Firmament?”
— “You know him well! I had neglected to stick six ounces of steel into his stomach because he was seen promenading with you in New Orleans, rue de l’Esplanade! It is Rousto.”
— “I faintly recall,” Mélanie responded, “but you are certainly wrong: the poor boy is not a seducer!”
— “I have recognized that since. He has no feeling for women: he says he is an inconvenient piece of furniture … the unfortunate fellow!”
— “Finot! Come here, so I may embrace you! Go to mass, my dear! … your vow proves your love, and, if I know how to repay you properly…”
— “Oh! I will tell you,” the little man replied after having taken the offered kiss…
— “Oh well … it is the dream of my entire life: let me marry you! But there, marry you legitimately! That you will call yourself Madame Bonaventure!”
Finot was heating up.
— “And that I should have the right, by law, to kill whomever is taken by me in flagrante delicto of…”
— “Of what?” Mélanie said, turning with a bound…
— “Excuse me,” Finot said in a reduced tone, “I was seized by an exaltation of love … and jealousy!”
— “In time! But remember one thing well: whether I become Madame Bonaventure or not, do not be either a spy or a tyrant, because then you will lose me!”
“No, my little cat, I shall be neither a spy, nor a tyrant, nor jealous. Do you want us to marry?”
— “Yes, as early as tomorrow!”
Finot executed a series of turns, of jumps and skips, singing and tapping his hands like a puppet gone mad.
— “But you are mad!” Mélanie said to him.
— “Yes, thank God! Mad from happiness, my tigress! My lioness! My countess! It is necessary that my boss extend me an advance of five hundred piastres; I want to celebrate worthily the great day of which I have long dreamed. Feasting, feasting to death! The more mad one is, the more one laughs! I wish that my friend Firmament should be my first witness; for the second, I will get a miner.”
— “You have to be an adult to be a witness,” Mélanie objected.
— “What a bad pun you make there, my cat … I am speaking of a person who works or has worked in mines, and not of a youth of less than twenty-one years.”
— “Let it be so!”
And, forty-eight hours later, Mademoiselle Mélanie no longer existed … that is, she was, before God and men, Madame Bonaventure.
— It is entirely impossible to pass in silence the memorable night which cost Finot the round sum of five hundred piastres, advanced by his boss, and which served to defray a dinner of twelve persons, and everything that followed.