List Of Contents | Contents of The Wandering Jew, V6, by Eugene Sue
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

"They deceived you, mademoiselle?"

"They did worse.  They treated me as they have treated many a poor girl,
who had no more wish to go wrong than I had.  My story is not a three
volume one.  My father and mother are peasants near Saint-Valery, but so
poor--so poor, that having five children to provide for, they were
obliged to send me, at eight years old, to my aunt, who was a charwoman
here in Paris.  The good woman took me out of charity, and very kind it
was of her, for I earned but little.  At eleven years of age she sent me
to work in one of the factories of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.  I don't
wish to speak, ill of the masters of these factories; but what do they
care, if little boys and girls are mixed up pell-mell with young men and
women of eighteen to twenty?  Now you see, there, as everywhere, some are
no better than they should be; they are not particular in word or deed,
and I ask you, what art example for the children, who hear and see more
than you think for.  Then, what happens?  They get accustomed as they
grow older, to hear and see things, that afterwards will not shock them
at all."

"What you say there is true, Rose-Pompon.  Poor children! who takes any
trouble about them?--not their father or mother, for they are at their
daily work."

"Yes, yes, Mother Arsene, it is all very well; it is easy to cry down a
young girl that has gone wrong; but if they knew all the ins and outs,
they would perhaps pity rather than blame her.  To come back to myself--
at fifteen years old I was tolerably pretty.  One day I had something to
ask of the head clerk.  I went to him in his private room.  He told me he
would grant what I wanted, and even take me under his patronage, if I
would listen to him; and he began by trying to kiss me.  I resisted.
Then he said to me:--'You refuse my offer?  You shall have no more work;
I discharge you from the factory.'"

"Oh, the wicked man!" said Mother Arsene.

"I went home all in tears, and my poor aunt encouraged me not to yield,
and she would try to place me elsewhere.  Yes--but it was impossible; the
factories were all full.  Misfortunes never come single; my aunt fell
ill, and there was not a sou in the house; I plucked up my courage, and
returned to entreat the mercy of the clerk at the factory.  Nothing would
do.  `So much the worse,' said he; `you are throwing away your luck.  If
you had been more complying, I should perhaps have married you.'  What
could I do, Mother Arsene?--misery was staring me in the face; I had no
work; my aunt was ill; the clerk said he would marry me--I did like so
many others."

"And when, afterwards, you spoke to him about marriage?"

"Of course he laughed at me, and in six months left me.  Then I wept all
the tears in my body, till none remained--then I was very ill--and then--
I console myself, as one may console one's self for anything.  After some
changes, I met with Philemon.  It is upon him that I revenge myself for
what others have done to me.  I am his tyrant," added Rose-Pompon, with a
tragic air, as the cloud passed away which had darkened her pretty face
during her recital to Mother Arsene.

"It is true," said the latter thoughtfully.  "They deceive a poor girl--
who is there to protect or defend her?  Oh! the evil we do does not
always come from ourselves, and then--"

"I spy Ninny Moulin!" cried Rose-Pompon, interrupting the greengrocer,
and pointing to the other side of the street.  "How early abroad!  What
can he want with me?" and Rose wrapped herself still more closely and
modestly in her cloak.

It was indeed Jacques Dumoulin, who advanced with his hat stuck on one
side, with rubicund nose and sparkling eye, dressed in a loose coat,
which displayed the rotundity of his abdomen.  His hands, one of which
held a huge cane shouldered like a musket, were plunged into the vast
pockets of his outer garment.

Just as he reached the threshold of the door, no doubt with the intention
of speaking to the portress, he perceived Rose-Pompon.  "What!" he
exclaimed, "my pupil already stirring?  That is fortunate.  I came on
purpose to bless her at the rise of morn!"

So saying, Ninny Moulin advanced with open arms towards Rose-Pompon who
drew back a step.

"What, ungrateful child!" resumed the writer on divinity.  "Will you
refuse me the morning's paternal kiss?"

"I accept paternal kisses from none but Philemon.  I had a letter from
him yesterday, with a jar of preserves, two geese, a bottle of home-made
brandy, and an eel.  What ridiculous presents!  I kept the drink, and
changed the rest for two darling live pigeons, which I have installed in
Philemon's cabinet, and a very pretty dove-cote it makes me.  For the
rest, my husband is coming back with seven hundred francs, which he got
from his respectable family, under pretence of learning the bass viol,
the cornet-a-piston, and the speaking trumpet, so as to make his way in
society, and a slap-up marriage--to use your expression--my good child."

"Well, my dear pupil, we will taste the family brandy, and enjoy
ourselves in expectation of Philemon and his seven hundred francs."

So saying, Ninny Moulin slapped the pockets of his waistcoat, which gave
forth a metallic sound, and added: "I come to propose to you to embellish
my life, to-day and to-morrow, and even the day after, if your heart is

"If the announcements are decent and fraternal, my heart does not say

"Be satisfied; I will act by you as your grandfather, your great-
grandfather, your family portrait.  We will have a ride, a dinner, the
play, a fancy dress ball, and a supper afterwards.  Will that suit you?"

"On condition that poor Cephyse is to go with us.  It will raise her

"Well, Cephyse shall be of the party."

"Have you come into a fortune, great apostle?"

"Better than that, most rosy and pompous of all Rose-Pom, pons!  I am
head editor of a religious journal; and as I must make some appearance in
so respectable a concern, I ask every month for four weeks in advance,
and three days of liberty.  On this condition, I consent to play the
saint for twenty-seven days out of thirty, and to be always as grave and
heavy as the paper itself."

"A journal! that will be something droll, and dance forbidden steps all
alone on the tables of the cafes."

"Yes, it will be droll enough; but not for everybody.  They are rich
sacristans, who pay the expenses.  They don't look to money, provided the
journal bites, tears, burns, pounds, exterminates and destroys.  On my
word of honor, I shall never have been in such a fury!" added Ninny
Moulin, with a loud, hoarse laugh.  "I shall wash the wounds of my
adversaries with venom of the finest vintage, and gall of the first

For his peroration, Ninny Moulin imitated the pop of uncorking a bottle
of champagne--which made Rose-Pompon laugh heartily.

"And what," resumed she, "will be the name of your journal of

"It will be called `Neighborly Love.'"

"Come! that is a very pretty name."

"Wait a little! there is a second title."

"Let us hear it."

"`Neighborly Love; or, the Exterminator of the Incredulous, the
Indifferent, the Lukewarm, and Others,' with this motto from the great
Bossuet: `Those who are not for us are against us.'"

"That is what Philemon says in the battles at the Chaumiere, when he
shakes his cane."

"Which proves, that the genius of the Eagle of Meaux is universal.  I
only reproach him for having been jealous of Moliere."

"Bah! actor's jealousy," said Rose-Pompon.

"Naughty girl!" cried Ninny Moulin, threatening her with his finger.

"But if you are going to exterminate Madame de la Sainte-Colombo, who is
somewhat lukewarm--how about your marriage?"

"My journal will advance it, on the contrary.  Only think! editor-In-
chief is a superb position; the sacristans will praise, and push, and
support, and bless me; I shall get La-Sainte-Colombe--and then, what a
life I'll lead!"

At this moment, a postman entered the shop, and delivered a letter to the
greengrocer, saying: "For M. Charlemagne, post-paid!"

"My!" said Rose-Pompon; "it is for the little mysterious old man, who has
such extraordinary ways.  Does it come from far?"

"I believe you; it comes from Italy, from Rome," said Ninny Moulin,
looking in his turn at the letter, which the greengrocer held in her
hand.  "Who is the astonishing little old man of whom you speak?"

"Just imagine to yourself, my great apostle," said Rose-Pompon, "a little
old man, who has two rooms at the bottom of that court.  He never sleeps
there, but comes from time to time, and shuts himself up for hours,
without ever allowing any one to enter his lodging, and without any one
knowing what he does there."

"He is a conspirator," said Ninny Moulin, laughing, "or else a comer."

"Poor dear man," said Mother Arsene, "what has he done with his false
money?  He pays me always in sous for the bit of bread and the radish I
furnish him for his breakfast."

"And what is the name of this mysterious chap?" asked Dumoulin.

"M. Charlemagne," said the greengrocer.  "But look, surely one speaks of
the devil, one is sure to see his horns."

"Where's the horns?"

"There, by the side of the house--that little old man, who walks with his
neck awry, and his umbrella under his arm."

"M. Rodin!" ejaculated Ninny Moulin, retreating hastily, and descending
three steps into the shop, in order not to be seen.  Then he added.  "You
say, that this gentleman calls himself--"

"M. Charlemagne--do you know him?" asked the greengrocer.

"What the devil does he do here, under a false name?" said Jacques
Dumoulin to himself.

"You know him?" said Rose-Pompon, with impatience.  "You are quite

"And this gentleman has two rooms in this house, and comes here
mysteriously," said Jacques Dumoulin, more and more surprised.

"Yes," resumed Rose-Pompon; "you can see his windows from Philemon's

"Quick! quick! let me go into the passage, that I may not meet him," said

And, without having been perceived by Rodin, he glided from the shop into
the passage, and thence mounted to the stairs, which led to the apartment
occupied by Rose-Pompon.

"Good-morning, M. Charlemagne," said Mother Arsene to Rodin, who made his
appearance on the threshold.  "You come twice in a day; that is right,
for your visits are extremely rare."

"You are too polite, my good lady," said Rodin, with a very courteous
bow; and he entered the shop of the greengrocer.

[21] There are, really, ordinances, full of a touching interest for the
canine race, which forbid the harnessing of dogs.



Rodin's countenance, when he entered Mother Arsene's shop, was expressive
of the most simple candor.  He leaned his hands on the knob of his
umbrella, and said: "I much regret, my good lady, that I roused you so
early this morning."

"You do not come often enough, my dear sir, for me to find fault with

"How can I help it, my good lady?  I live in the country, and only come
hither from time to time to settle my little affairs."

"Talking of that sir, the letter you expected yesterday has arrived this
morning.  It is large, and comes from far.  Here it is," said the
greengrocer, drawing it from her pocket; "it cost nothing for postage."

"Thank you, my dear lady," said Rodin, taking the letter with apparent
indifference, and putting it into the side-pocket of his great-coat,
which he carefully buttoned over.

"Are you going up to your rooms, sir?"

"Yes, my good, lady."

"Then I will get ready your little provisions," said Mother Arsene; "as
usual, I suppose, my dear sir?"

"Just as usual."

"It shall be ready in the twinkling of an eye, sir."

So saying, the greengrocer took down an old basket; after throwing into
it three or four pieces of turf, a little bundle of wood, and some
charcoal, she covered all this fuel with a cabbage leaf; then, going to
the further end of the shop, she took from a chest a large round loaf,
cut off a slice, and selecting a magnificent radish with the eye of a
connoisseur, divided it in two, made a hole in it, which she filled with
gray salt joined the two pieces together again, and placed it carefully
by the side of the bread, on the cabbage leaf which separated the
eatables from the combustibles.  Finally, taking some embers from the
stove, she put them into a little earthen pot, containing ashes, which
she placed also in the basket.

Then, reascending to her top step, Mother Arsene said to Rodin: "Here is
your basket, sir."

"A thousand thanks, my good lady," answered Rodin, and plunging his hand
into the pocket of his trousers, he drew forth eight sous, which he
counted out only one by one to the greengrocer, and said to her, as he
carried off his store: "Presently, when I come down again, I will return
your basket as usual."

"Quite at your service, my dear sir, quite at your service," said Mother

Rodin tucked his umbrella under his left arm, took up the greengrocer's
basket with his right hand, entered the dark passage, crossed the little
court and mounted with light step to the second story of a dilapidated
building; there, drawing a key from his pocket, he opened a door, which
he locked carefully after him.  The first of the two rooms which he
occupied was completely unfurnished, as for the second, it is impossible
to imagine a more gloomy and miserable den.  Papering so much worn, torn
and faded, that no one could recognize its primitive color, bedecked the
walls.  A wretched flock-bed, covered with a moth-fretted blanket; a
stool, and a little table of worm-eaten wood; an earthenware stove, as
cracked as old china; a trunk with a padlock, placed under the bed--such
was the furniture of this desolate hole.  A narrow window, with dirty
panes, hardly gave any light to this room, which was almost deprived of
air by the height of the building in front; two old cotton pocket-
handkerchiefs, fastened together with pins, and made to slide upon a
string stretched across the window, served for curtains.  The plaster of
the roof, coming through the broken and disjointed tiles, showed the
extreme neglect of the inhabitant of this abode.  After locking his door,
Rodin threw his hat and umbrella on the bed, placed his basket on the
ground, set the radish and bread on the table, and kneeling down before
his stove, stuffed it with fuel, and lighted it by blowing with vigorous
lungs on the embers contained in his earthen pot.

When, to use the consecrated expression, the stove began to draw, Rodin
spread out the handkerchiefs, which served him for curtains; then,
thinking himself quite safe from every eye, he took from the side-pocket
of his great-coat the letter that Mother Arsene had given him.  In doing
so, he brought out several papers and different articles; one of these
papers, folded into a thick and rumpled packet, fell upon the table, and
flew open.  It contained a silver cross of the Legion of Honor, black
with time.  The red ribbon of this cross had almost entirely lost its
original color.  At sight of this cross, which he replaced in his pocket

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: