Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nabob - Chapter 11. The Festivities In Honour Of The Bey
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Nabob - Chapter 11. The Festivities In Honour Of The Bey Post by :mlhays Category :Long Stories Author :Alphonse Daudet Date :May 2012 Read :1552

Click below to download : The Nabob - Chapter 11. The Festivities In Honour Of The Bey (Format : PDF)

The Nabob - Chapter 11. The Festivities In Honour Of The Bey

CHAPTER XI. THE FESTIVITIES IN HONOUR OF THE BEY

In the regions of the Midi, of bygone civilization, historical castles still standing are rare. Only at long intervals on the hillsides some old abbey lifts its tottering and dismembered front, perforated by holes that once were windows, whose empty spaces look now only to the sky. A monument of dust, burnt up by the sun, dating from the time of the Crusades or of the Courts of Love, without a trace of man among its stones, where even the ivy no longer clings nor the acanthus, but which the dried lavenders and the ferns embalm. In the midst of all those ruins the castle of Saint-Romans is an illustrious exception. If you have travelled in the Midi you have seen it, and you are to see it again now. It is between Valence and Montelimart, on a site just where the railway runs alongside the Rhone, at the foot of the rich slopes of Baume, Raucoule, and Mercurol, where the far-famed vineyards of l'Ermitage, spreading out for five miles in close-planted rows of vines, which seem to grow as one looks, roll down almost into the river, which is there as green and full of islands as the Rhine at Basle, but under a sun the Rhine has never known. Saint-Romans is opposite on the other side of the river; and, in spite of the brevity of the vision, the headlong rush of the train, which seems trying to throw itself madly into the Rhone at each turning, the castle is so large, so well situated on the neighbouring hill, that it seems to follow the crazy race of the train, and stamps on your mind forever the memory of its terraces, its balustrades, its Italian architecture; two low stories surmounted by a colonnaded gallery and flanked by two slate-roofed pavilions dominating the great slopes where the water of the cascades rebounds, the network of gravel walks, the perspective of long hedges, terminated by some white statue which stands out against the blue sky as on the luminous ground of a stained-glass window. Quite at the top, in the middle of the vast lawns whose green turf shines ironically under the scorching sun, a gigantic cedar uplifts its crested foliage, enveloped in black and floating shadows--an exotic silhouette, upright before this former dwelling of some Louis XIV farmer of revenue, which makes one think of a great negro carrying the sunshade of a gentleman of the court.

From Valence to Marseilles, throughout all the Valley of the Rhone, Saint-Romans of Bellaignes is famous as an enchanted palace; and, indeed, in that country burnt up by the fiery wind, this oasis of greenness and beautiful rushing water is a true fairy-land.

"When I am rich, mamma," Jansoulet used to say, as quite a small boy, to his mother whom he adored, "I shall give you Saint-Romans of Bellaignes." And as the life of the man seemed the fulfilment of a story from the Arabian Nights, as all his wishes came true, even the most disproportionate, as his maddest chimeras came to lie down before him, to lick his hands like familiar and obedient spaniels, he had bought Saint-Romans to offer it, newly furnished and grandiosely restored, to his mother. Although it was ten years since then, the dear old woman was not yet used to her splendid establishment. "It is the palace of Queen Jeanne that you have given me, my dear Bernard," she wrote to her son. "I shall never live there." She never did live there, as a matter of fact, having stayed at the steward's house, an isolated building of modern construction, situated quite at the other end of the grounds, so as to overlook the outbuildings and the farm, the sheepfolds and the oil-mills, with their rural horizon of stacks, olive-trees and vines, extending over the plain as far as one could see. In the great castle she would have imagined herself a prisoner in one of those enchanted dwellings where sleep seizes you in the midst of your happiness and does not let you go for a hundred years. Here, at least, the peasant-woman--who had never been able to accustom herself to this colossal fortune, come too late, from too far, and like a thunder-clap--felt herself linked to reality by the coming and going of the work-people, the letting-out and taking-in of the cattle, their slow movement to the drinking pond, all that pastoral life which woke her by the familiar call of the cocks and the sharp cries of the peacocks, and brought her down the corkscrew staircase of the pavilion before dawn. She looked upon herself only as the trustee of this magnificent estate, which she was taking care of for her son, and wished to give back to him in perfect condition on the day when, rich enough and tired of living with the Turks, he would come, according to his promise, to live with her beneath the shade of Saint-Romans.

Then, too, what universal and indefatigable supervision! Through the mists of early morning the farm-servants heard her rough and husky voice: "Olivier, Peyrol, Audibert. Come on! It is four o'clock." Then she would hasten to the immense kitchen, where the maids, heavy with sleep, were heating the porridge over the crackling, new-lit fire. They gave her a little dish of red Marseilles-ware full of boiled chestnuts--frugal breakfast of bygone times, which nothing would have induced her to change. At once she was off, hurrying with great strides, her large silver keyring at her belt, whence jingled all her keys, her plate in her hand, balanced by the distaff which she held, in working order, under her arm, for she spun all day long, and did not stop even to eat her chestnuts. On the way, a glance at the stables, still dark, where the animals were moving duly, at the stifling pens with their rows of impatient and outstretched muzzles; and the first glimmers of light creeping over the layers of stones that supported the embankment of the park, lit up the figure of the old woman, running in the dew, with the lightness of a girl, despite her seventy years--verifying exactly each morning all the wealth of the domain, anxious to make sure that the night had not taken away the statues and the vases, uprooted the hundred-year-old quincunx, dried up the springs which filtered into their resounding basins. Then the full sunlight of midday, humming and vibrating, showed still, on the sand of an alley, against the white wall of a terrace, the long figure of the old woman, elegant and straight as her spindle, picking up bits of dead wood, breaking off some uneven branch of a shrub, careless of the shock it caused her and the sweat which broke out over her skin. Towards this hour another figure was to be seen in the park also--less active, less noisy, dragging rather than walking, leaning against the walls and railings--a poor round-shouldered being, shaky and stiff, a figure from which life seemed to have gone out, never speaking, when he was tired giving a little plaintive cry towards the servant, who was always near, who helped him to sit down, to crouch upon some step, where he would stay for hours, motionless, mute, his mouth hanging, his eyes blinking, hushed by the strident monotony of the grasshopper's cry--a blotch of humanity in the splendid horizon.

This, this was the first-born, Bernard's brother, the darling child of his father and mother, the glorious hope of the nail-maker's family. Slaves, like so many others in the Midi, to the superstition of the rights of primogeniture, they had made every possible sacrifice to send to Paris their fine, ambitious lad, who set out assured of success, the admiration of all the young women of the town; and Paris, after having for six years, beaten, twisted, and squeezed in its great vat the brilliant southern stripling, after having burnt him with all its vitriol, rolled him in all its mud, finished by sending him back in this state of wreckage, stupefied and paralyzed--killing his father with sorrow, and forcing his mother to sell her all, and live as a sort of char-woman in the better-class houses of her own country-side. Lucky it was that just then, when this broken piece of humanity, discharged from all the hospitals of Paris, was sent back by public charity to Bourg-Saint-Andeol, Bernard--he whom they called Cadet, as in these southern families, half Arab as they are, the eldest always takes the family name, and the last-comer that of Cadet--Bernard was at Tunis making his fortune, and sending home money regularly. But what pain it was for the poor mother to owe everything, even the life, the comfort of the sad invalid, to the robust and courageous boy whom his father and she had loved without any tenderness; who, since he was five years old, they had treated as a "hand," because he was very strong, woolly-headed, and ugly, and even then knew better than any one in the house how to deal in old nails. Ah! how she longed to have him near her, her Cadet, to make some return to him for all the good he did, to pay at last the debt of love and motherly tenderness that she owed him!

But, you see, these princely fortunes have the burdens, the wearinesses of royal lives. This poor mother, in her dazzling surroundings, was very like a real queen: familiar with long exiles, cruel separations, and the trials which detract from greatness; one of her sons forever stupefied, the other far away, seldom writing, absorbed in his business, saying, "I will come," and never coming. She had only seen him once in twelve years, and then in the whirl of a visit of the Bey to Saint-Romans--a rush of horses and carriages, of fireworks, and of banquets. He had gone in the suite of his monarch, having scarcely time to say good-bye to his old mother, to whom there remained of this great joy only a few pictures in the illustrated papers, showing Bernard Jansoulet arriving at the castle with Ahmed, and presenting his mother. Is it not thus that kings and queens have their family feelings exploited in the journals? There was also a cedar of Lebanon, brought from the other end of the world, a regular mountain of a tree, whose transport had been as difficult and as costly as that of Cleopatra's needle, and whose erection as a souvenir of the royal visit by dint of men, money, and teams had shaken the very foundations. But this time, at least, knowing him to be in France for several months--perhaps for good--she hoped to have her Bernard to herself. And now he returned to her, one fine evening, enveloped in the same triumphant glory, in the same official display, surrounded by a crowd of counts, of marquises, of fine gentlemen from Paris, filling, they and their servants, the two large wagonettes she had sent to meet them at the little station of Giffas on the other side of the Rhone.

"Come, give me a kiss, my dear mother. There is nothing to be ashamed of in giving a good hug to the boy you haven't seen all these years. Besides, all these gentlemen are our friends. This is the Marquis de Monpavon, the Marquis de Bois d'Hery. Ah! the time is past when I brought you to eat vegetable soup with us, little Cabassu and Jean-Batiste Bompain. You know M. de Gery? With my old friend Cardailhac, whom I now present, that makes the first batch. There are others to come. Prepare yourself for a fine upsetting. We entertain the Bey in four days."

"The Bey again!" said the old woman, astounded. "I thought he was dead."

Jansoulet and his guests could not help laughing at this comical terror, accentuated by her southern intonation.

"It is another, mamma. There is always a Bey--thank goodness. But don't be afraid. You won't have so much bother this time. Our friend Cardailhac has undertaken everything. We are going to have magnificent celebrations. In the meantime, quick--dinner and our rooms. Our Parisians are worn out."

"Everything is ready, my son," said the old lady quietly, stiff and straight under her Cambrai cap, the head-dress with its yellowing flaps, which she never left off even for great occasions. Good fortune had not changed her. She was a true peasant of the Rhone valley, independent and proud, without any of the sly humilities of Balzac's country folk, too artless to be purse-proud. One pride alone she had--that of showing her son with what scrupulous care she had discharged her duties as guardian. Not an atom of dust, not a trace of damp on the walls. All the splendid ground-floor, the reception-rooms with their hangings of iridescent silk new out of the dust sheets, the long summer galleries cool and sonorous, paved with mosaics and furnished with a flowery lightness in the old-fashioned style, with Louis XIV sofas in cane and silk, the immense dining-room decorated with palms and flowers, the billiard-room with its rows of brilliant ivory balls, its crystal chandeliers and its suits of armour--all the length of the castle, through its tall windows, wide open to the stately terrace, lay displayed for the admiration of the visitors. The marvellous beauty of the horizon and the setting sun, its own serene and peaceful richness, were reflected in the panes of glass and in the waxed and polished wood with the same clearness as in the mirror-like ornamental lakes, the pictures of the poplars and the swans. The setting was so lovely, the whole effect so grand, that the clamorous and tasteless luxury melted away, disappeared, even to the most hypercritical eyes.

"There is something to work on," said Cardailhac, the manager, his glass in his eye, his hat on one side, combining already his stage-effect. And the haughty air of Monpavon, whom the head-dress of the old woman receiving them on the terrace had shocked, gave way to a condescending smile. Here was something to work on, certainly, and, guided by persons of taste, their friend Jansoulet could really give his Moorish Highness an exceedingly suitable reception. All the evening they talked of nothing else. In the sumptuous dining-room, their elbows on the table, full of meat and drink, they planned and discussed. Cardailhac, who had great ideas, had already his plan complete.

"First of all, you give me _carte-blanche_, don't you, Nabob? _Carte-blanche_, old fellow, and make that fat Hemerlingue burst with envy."

Then the manager explained his scheme. The festivities were to be divided into days, as at Vaux, when Fouquet entertained Louis XIV. One day a play; another day Provencal games, dances, bull-fights, local bands; the third day--And already the manager's hand sketched programmes, announcements; while Bois l'Hery slept, his hands in his pockets, his chair tilted back, his cigar sunk in the corner of his sneering mouth; and the Marquis de Monpavon, always on his best behaviour, straightened his shirt-front to keep himself awake.

De Gery had left them early. He had sought refuge beside the old mother--who had known him as a boy, him and his brothers--in the humble parlour of the brightly decorated, white-curtained house, where the Nabob's mother tried to perpetuate her humble past with the help of a few relics saved from its wreck.

Paul chatted quietly with the fine old woman, admiring her severe and regular features, her white hair massed together like the hemp of her distaff, as she sat holding herself straight in her seat--never in her life having leaned back or sat in an arm-chair--a little green shawl folded tightly across her flat breast. He called her Francoise, and she called him M. Paul. They were old friends. And guess what they talked about? Of her grandchildren, of Bernard's three sons, whom she did not know and so much longed to know.

"Ah, M. Paul, if you knew how I long to see them! I should have been so happy if he had brought them, my three little ones, instead of these fine gentlemen. Think, I have never seen them, only their portraits which are over there. I am a little afraid of their mother, she is quite a great lady, a Miss Afchin. But them, the children, I am sure they are not proud, and they would love their old granny. It would be like having their father a little boy again, and I would give to them what I did not give to him. You see, M. Paul, parents are not always just. They have their favourites. But God is just, he is. The ones that are most petted and spoiled at the expense of the others, you should see what he does to them for you! And the favour of the old often brings misfortune to the young!"

She sighed, looking towards the large recess from behind the curtains of which there came, at intervals, a long sobbing breath like the sleeping wail of a beaten child who has cried bitterly.

A heavy step on the staircase, a loud, sweet voice saying, very softly, "It is I; don't move," and Jansoulet appeared. He knew his mother's habits, how her lamp was the last to go out, so when every one in the castle was in bed, he came to see her, to chat with her for a little, to rejoice her heart with an affection he could not show before the others. "Oh, stay, my dear Paul; we don't mind you," and once more a child in his mother's presence, with loving gestures and words that were really touching, the huge man threw himself on the ground at her feet. She was very happy to have him there, so dearly near, but she was just a little shy. She looked upon him as an all-powerful being, extraordinary, raising him, in her simplicity, to the greatness of an Olympian commanding the thunder and lightning. She spoke to him, asking about his friends, his business, but not daring to put the question she had asked de Gery: "Why haven't my grandchildren come?" But he spoke of them himself. "They are at school, mother. Whenever the holidays begin they shall be sent with Bompain. You remember Jean-Baptiste Bompain? And you shall keep them for two long months. They will come to you and make you tell them stories, and they will go to sleep with their heads on your lap--there, like that."

And he himself, putting his heavy, woolly head on her knee, remembered the happy evenings of his childhood when he would go to sleep so, if she would let him, and his brother had not taken up all the room. He tasted for the first time since his return to France a few minutes of delicious peace away from his restless and artificial life, as he lay pressed to his old mother's heart, in the deep silence of night and of the country which one feels hovering over him in limitless space; the only sounds the beating of that old faithful heart and the swing of the pendulum of the ancient clock in the corner. Suddenly came the same long sigh, as of a child fallen asleep sobbing. Jansoulet lifted his head and looked at his mother, and softly asked: "Is it--?" "Yes," she said, "I make him sleep there. He might need me in the night."

"I would like to see him, to embrace him."

"Come, then." She rose very gravely, took the lamp and went to the alcove, of which she softly drew the large curtain, making a sign to her son to draw near quietly.

He was sleeping. And no doubt something lived in him while he slept that was not there when he waked, for instead of the flaccid immobility in which he was congealed all day, he was now shaken by sudden starts, and on the inexpressive and death-like face there were lines of pain and the contractions of suffering life. Jansoulet, much affected, looked long at those wasted features, faded and sickly, where the beard grew with a surprising vigour. Then he bent down, put his lips to the damp brow, and feeling him move, said very gravely and respectfully, as one speaks to the head of the family, "Good-night, my brother." Perhaps the captive soul had heard it from the depths of its dark and abject limbo. For the lips moved and a long moan answered him, a far-away wail, a despairing cry, which filled with helpless tears the glance exchanged between Francoise and her son, and tore from them both the same cry in which their sorrow met, "Pecaire," the local word which expressed all pity and all tenderness.

The next day, from early morning, the commotion began with the arrival of the actors, an avalanche of hats and wigs and big boots, of short skirts and affected cries, of floating veils and fresh make-ups. The women were in a great majority, as Cardailhac thought that for a Bey the play was of little consequence, and that all that was needful was to have catchy tunes in pretty mouths, to show fine arms and shapely legs in the easy costume of light opera. All the well-made celebrities of his theatre were there, Amy Ferat at the head of them, a bold young woman who had already had her teeth in the gold of several crowns. There were two or three well-known men whose pale faces made the same kind of chalky and spectral spots amid the green of the trees as the plaster of the statues. All these people, enlivened by the journey, the surprise of the country, the overflowing hospitality, as well as the hope of making something out of this sojourn of Beys and Nabobs and other gilded fools, wanted only to play, to jest and sing with the vulgar boisterousness of a crew of freshly discharged Seine boatmen. But Cardailhac meant otherwise. No sooner were they unpacked, freshened up, and luncheon over than, quick, the parts, the rehearsals! There was no time to lose. They worked in the small drawing-room next the summer gallery, where the theatre was already being fitted up; and the noise of hammers, the songs from the burlesque, the shrill voices, the conductor's fiddle, mingled with the loud trumpet-like calls of the peacocks, and rose upon the hot southern wind, which, not recognising it as only the mad rattle of its own grasshoppers, shook it all disdainfully on the trailing tip of its wings.

Seated in the centre of the terrace, as in the stage-box of his theatre, Cardailhac watched the rehearsals, gave orders to a crowd of workmen and gardeners, had trees cut down as spoiling the view, designed the triumphal arches, sent off telegrams, express messengers to mayors, to sub-prefects, to Arles--to arrange for a deputation of girls in national costume; to Barbantane, where the best dancers are; to Faraman, famous for its wild bulls and Camargue horses. And as the name of Jansoulet, joined to that of the Bey of Tunis, flared at the end of all these messages, on all sides they hastened to obey; the telegraph wires were never still, messengers wore out horses on the roads. And this little Sardanapalus of the stage called Cardailhac repeated ever, "There's something to work on here," happy to scatter gold at random like handfuls of seed, to have a stage of forty leagues to stir about--the whole of Provence, of which this rabid Parisian was a native and whose picturesque resources he knew to the core.

Dispossessed of her office, the old mother never appeared. She occupied herself with the farm, and her invalid. She was terrified by this crowd of visitors, these insolent servants whom it was difficult to know from the masters, these women with their impudent and elegant airs, these clean-shaven men who looked like bad priests--all these mad-caps who chased each other at night in the corridors with pillows, with wet sponges, with curtain tassels they had torn down, for weapons. Even after dinner she no longer had her son; he was obliged to stay with his guests, whose number grew each day as the _fetes approached; not even the resource of talking to M. Paul about her grandchildren was left, for Jansoulet, a little embarrassed by the seriousness of his friend, had sent him to spend a few days with his brothers. And the careful housekeeper, to whom they came every minute asking the keys for linen, for a room, for extra silver, thought of her piles of beautiful dishes, of the sacking of her cupboards and larders, remembered the state in which the old Bey's visit had left the castle, devastated as by a cyclone, and said in her _patois as she feverishly wet the linen on her distaff: "May lightning strike them, this Bey and all the Beys!"

At last the day came, the great day which is still spoken of in all the country-side. Towards three o'clock in the afternoon, after a sumptuous luncheon at which the old mother presided, this time in a new cap, over a company composed of Parisian celebrities, prefects, deputies, all in full uniform, mayors with their sashes, priests newshaven, Jansoulet in full dress stepped out on to the terrace surrounded by his guests. He saw before him in that splendid frame of magnificent natural scenery, in the midst of flags and arches and coats of arms, a vast swarm of people, a flare of brilliant costumes in rows on the slopes, at corners of the walks; here, grouped in beds, like flowers on a lawn, the prettiest girls of Arles, whose little dark heads showed delicately from beneath their lace fichus; farther down were the dancers from Barbantane--eight tambourine players in a line, ready to begin, their hands joined, ribbons flying, hats cocked, and the red scarves round their hips; beyond them, on the succeeding terraces were the choral societies in rows, dressed in black with red caps, their standard-bearer in front, grave, important, his teeth clinched, holding high his carved staff; farther down still, on a vast circular space now arranged as an amphitheatre, were the black bulls, and the herdsmen from Camargue seated on their long-haired white horses, their high boots over their knees, at their wrists an uplifted spear; then more flags, helmets, bayonets, and decorations right down to the triumphal arch at the gates; as far as the eye could see, on the other side of the Rhone (across which the two railways had made a pontoon bridge that they might come straight from the station to Saint-Romans), whole villages were assembling from every side, crowding to the Giffas road in a cloud of dust and a confusion of cries, sitting at the hedge-sides, clinging to the elms, squeezed in carts--a living wall for the procession. Above all a great white sun which scintillated in every direction--on the copper of a tambourine, on the point of a trident, on the fringe of a banner; and in the midst the great proud Rhone carrying to the sea the moving picture of this royal feast. Before these marvels, where shone all the gold of his coffers, the Nabob had a sudden feeling of admiration and of pride.

"This is beautiful," he said, paling; and behind him his mother murmured, "It is too beautiful for man. It is as if God were coming." She was pale, too, but with an unutterable fear.

The sentiment of the old Catholic peasant was indeed that which was vaguely felt by all those people massed upon the roads as though for the passing of a gigantic Corpus Christi procession, and whom this visit of an Eastern prince to a child of their own country reminded of the legends of the Magi, or the advent of Gaspard the Moor, bringing to the carpenter's son myrrh and the triple crown.

As Jansoulet was being warmly congratulated by every one, Cardailhac, who had not been seen since morning, suddenly appeared, triumphant and perspiring. "Didn't I tell you there was something to work on! Eh? Isn't it fine? What a scene! I bet our Parisians would pay dear to be at such a first performance as this!" And lowering his voice, on account of the mother who was quite near, "Have you seen our country girls? No? Examine them more closely--the first, the one in front, who is to present the bouquet."

"Why, it is Amy Ferat!"

"Just so. You see, old fellow, if the Bey should throw his handkerchief amid that group of loveliness there must be some one to pick it up. They wouldn't understand, these innocents. Oh, I have thought of everything, you will see. Everything is prepared and regulated just as on the stage. Garden side--farm side."

Here, to give an idea of the perfect organization, the manager raised his stick. Immediately his gesture was repeated from the top to the bottom of the park, and from the choral societies, from the brass bands, from the tambourines, there burst forth the majestic strains of the popular southern song, _Grand Soleil de la Provence_. Voices and instruments rose in the sunlight, the banners filled, the dancers swayed to their first movement, while on the other side of the river a report flew like a breeze that the Bey had arrived unexpectedly by another route. The manager made another gesture, and the immense orchestra was hushed. The response was slower this time, there were little delays, a hail of words lost in the leaves; but one could not expect more from a concourse of three thousand people. Just then the carriages appeared, the state coaches which had been used on the occasion of the last Bey's visit--two large chariots, pink and gold as at Tunis. Mme. Jansoulet had tended them almost as holy relics, and they had come out of their coverings, with their panels, their hangings and their gold fringes, as shining and new as the day they were made. Here again Cardailhac's ingenuity had been freely exercised. He had thought horses looked too heavy for those unreal fragilities, so he had harnessed instead eight mules, with white reins, decorated with bows and pompons and bells, and caparisoned from head to foot in that marvellous Esparto work--an art Provence has borrowed from the Moors and perfected. How could the Bey not be pleased!

The Nabob, Monpavon, the prefect, and one of the generals got into the first coach; the others filled the succeeding carriages. The priests and the mayors, swelling with importance, rushed to the head of the choral societies of their villages which were to go in front, and all moved off along the road to Giffas.

The weather was magnificent, but hot and heavy, three months in advance of the season, as often happens in this impetuous country, where everything is in a hurry and comes too soon. Although there was not a cloud to be seen, the stillness of the atmosphere--the wind had fallen suddenly like a loose sail--dazzling and heated white, a silent solemnity hanging over all, foretold a storm brewing in some corner of the horizon. The immense torpor of things gradually influenced the living beings. One heard too distinctly the tinkling mule-bells, the heavy steps in the dust of the band of singers whom Cardailhac was placing at regular distances in the seething human hedge which bordered the road and was lost in the distance; a sudden call, children's voices, and the cry of the water-seller, that necessary accompaniment of all open-air festivals in the Midi.

"Open your window, general, it is stifling," said Monpavon, crimson, fearing for his paint, and the lowered windows exposed to the populace these high functionaries mopping their august faces, strained, agonized, by the same expression of waiting--waiting for the Bey, for the storm, waiting for something, in short.

Still another trimphal arch. It was at Giffas, its long, stony street strewn with green palms, and its sordid houses gay with flowers and bright hangings. The station was outside the village, white and square, stuck like a thimble on the roadside--true type of a little country station, lost in the midst of vineyards, never having any one in it except perhaps sometimes an old woman and her parcels waiting in a corner, come three hours before the time.

In honour of the Bey this slight building had been rigged out with flags, adorned with rugs and divans; a splendid buffet had been fitted up with sherbets, all ready for his Highness. Once there and out of the carriage the Nabob tried to dispel the feeling of uneasiness which he, too, had begun to suffer from. Prefects, generals, deputies, people in dress-coats and uniforms, were standing about on the platform in imposing groups, their faces solemn, their mouths pursed, their bodies swaying and jerking in the knowing way of public functionaries who feel people are looking at them. And you can imagine how noses were flattened against the windows to see all this hierarchical swelldom. There was Monpavon, his shirt-front bulging like a whipped egg. Cardailhac breathlessly giving his last orders, and the honest face of Jansoulet, whose sparkling eyes, set over his fat, sunburnt cheeks, looked like two gold nails in a goffering of Spanish leather. Suddenly an electric bell rang. The station-master, in a new uniform, ran down the line: "Gentlemen, the train is signalled. It will be here in eight minutes." Every one started, and with the same instinctive movement pulled out their watches. Only six minutes more. Then in the great silence some one said: "Look over there!" To the right, on the side from which the train was to come, two great slopes, covered with vines, made a sort of funnel into which the track disappeared as though swallowed up. Just then all this hollow was as black as ink, darkened by an enormous cloud, a bar of gloom, cutting the blue of the sky perpendicularly, throwing out banks that resembled cliffs of basalt on which the light broke all white like moonshine. In the solemnity of the deserted track, over the lines of silent rails where one felt that everything was ready for the coming of the prince, it was terrifying to see this aerial crag approaching, throwing its shadow before it, to watch the play of the perspective which gave the cloud a slow, majestic movement, and the shadow the rapidity of a galloping horse. "What a storm we shall have directly!" was the thought which came to every one, but none had voice to express it, for a strident whistle sounded and the train appeared at the end of the dark funnel. A real royal train, rapid and short, and decorated with flags. The smoking, roaring engine carried a large bouquet of roses on its breastplate, like a bridesmaid at some leviathan wedding.

It came out of the funnel at full speed, but slowed down as it approached. The functionaries grouped themselves, straightened their backs, hitched their swords and eased their collars, while Jansoulet went down the track to meet the train, an obsequious smile on his lips, his back curved ready for the "Salam Alek." The train proceeded very slowly. Jansoulet thought it had stopped, and put his hand on the door of the royal carriage, glittering with gold under the black sky. But, doubtless, the impetus had been too strong, and the train continued to advance, the Nabob walking beside it, trying to open the accursed door which was stuck fast, and making signs to the engine-driver. The engine was not answering. "Stop, stop, there!" It did not stop. Losing patience, he jumped on to the velvet-covered step, and in that fiery, impulsive manner of his which had so delighted the old Bey, he cried, his woolly head at the door, "Saint-Romans station, your Highness."

You know the sort of vague light there is in dreams, the colourless empty atmosphere where everything has the look of a phantom. Jansoulet was suddenly enveloped in this, stricken, paralyzed. He wanted to speak, words would not come, his nerveless hand held the door so feebly that he almost fell backward. What had he seen? On a divan at the back of the saloon, reposing on his elbow, his beautiful dark head with its long silky beard leaning on his hand, was the Bey, close wrapped in his Oriental coat, without other ornaments than the large ribbon of the Legion of Honour across his breast and the diamond in the aigrette of his fez. He was fanning himself impassively with a little fan of gold-embroidered strawwork. Two aides-de-camp and an engineer of the railway company were standing beside him. Opposite, on another divan, in a respectful attitude, but favoured evidently, as they were the only ones seated in the Bey's presence, were two owl-like men, their long whiskers falling on their white ties, one fat and the other thin. They were the Hemerlingues, father and son, who had won over his Highness and were bearing him off in triumph to Paris. What a horrible dream! All three men, who knew Jansoulet well, looked at him coldly as though his face recalled nothing. Piteously white, his forehead covered with sweat, he stammered, "But, your Highness, are you not going to--" A vivid flash of lightning, followed by a terrible peal of thunder, stopped the words. But the lightning in the eyes of his sovereign seemed to him as terrible. Sitting up, his arm outstretched, in guttural voice as of one accustomed to roll the hard Arab syllables, but in pure French, the Bey struck him down with the slow, carefully prepared words: "Go home, swindler. The feet go where the heart guides. Mine will never enter the house of the man who has cheated my country."

Jansoulet tried to say something. The Bey made a sign: "Go on." The engineer pressed a button, a whistle replied, the train, which had never really stopped, seemed to stretch itself, making all its iron muscles crack, to take a bound and start off at full speed, the flags fluttering in the storm-wind, and the black smoke meeting the lightning flashes.

Jansoulet, left standing on the track, staggering, stunned, ruined, watched his fortune fly away and disappear, oblivious of the large drops of rain which were falling on his bare head. Then, when the others rushed upon him, surrounded him, rained questions upon him, he stuttered some disconnected words: "Court intrigues--infamous plot." And suddenly, shaking his fist after the train, with eyes that were bloodshot, and a foam of rage upon his lips, he roared like a wild beast, "Blackguards!"

"You forget yourself, Jansoulet, you forget yourself." You guess who it was that uttered those words, and, taking the Nabob's arm, tried to pull him together, to make him hold his head as high as his own, conducted him to the carriage through the rows of stupefied people in uniform, and made him get in, exhausted and broken, like a near relation of the deceased that one hoists into a mourning-coach after the funeral. The rain began to fall, peals of thunder followed one another. Every one now hurried into the carriages, which quickly took the homeward road. Then there occurred a heart-rending yet comical thing, one of the cruel farces played by that cowardly destiny which kicks its victims after they are down. In the falling day and the growing darkness of the cyclone, the crowd, squeezed round the approaches of the station, thought they saw his Highness somewhere amid the gorgeous trappings, and as soon as the wheels started an immense clamour, a frightful bawling, which had been hatching for an hour in all those breasts, burst out, rose, rolled, rebounded from side to side and prolonged itself in the valley. "Hurrah, hurrah for the Bey!" This was the signal for the first bands to begin, the choral societies started in their turn, and the noise growing step by step, the road from Giffas to Saint-Romans was nothing but an uninterrupted bellow. Cardailhac and all the gentlemen, Jansoulet himself, leant in vain out of the windows making desperate signs, "That will do! That's enough!" Their gestures were lost in the tumult and the darkness; what the crowd did see seemed to act only as an excitant. And I promise you there was no need of that. All these meridionals, whose enthusiasm had been carefully led since early morning, excited the more by the long wait and the storm, shouted with all the force of their voices and the strength of their lungs, mingling with the song of Provence the cry of "Hurrah for the Bey!" till it seemed a perpetual chorus. Most of them had no idea what a Bey was, did not even think about it. They accentuated the appellation in an extraordinary manner as though it had three b's and ten y's. But it made no difference, they excited themselves with the cry, holding up their hands, waving their hats, becoming agitated as a result of their own activity. Women wept and rubbed their eyes. Suddenly, from the top of an elm, the shrill voice of a child made itself heard: "Mamma, mamma--I see him!" He saw him! They all saw him, for that matter! Now even, they will all swear to you they saw him!

Confronted by such a delirium, in the impossibility of imposing silence and calm on such a crowd, there was only one thing for the people in the carriages to do: to leave them alone, pull up the windows and dash along at full speed. It would at least shorten a bitter martyrdom. But this was even worse. Seeing the procession hurrying, all the road began to gallop with it. To the dull booming of their tambourines the dancers from Barbantane, hand in hand, sprang--a living garland--round the carriage doors. The choral societies, breathless with singing as they ran, but singing all the same, dragged on their standard-bearers, the banners now hanging over their shoulders; and the good, fat priests, red and panting, shoving their vast overworked bellies before them, still found strength to shout into the very ear of the mules, in an unctuous, effusive voice, "Long live our noble Bey!" The rain on all this, the rain falling in buckets, discolouring the pink coaches, precipitating the disorder, giving the appearance of a rout to this triumphal return, but a comic rout, mingled with songs and laughs, mad embraces, and infernal oaths. It was something like the return of a religious procession flying before a storm, cassocks turned up, surplices over heads, and the Blessed Sacrament put back in all haste, under a porch.

The dull roll of the wheels over the wooden bridge told the poor Nabob, motionless and silent in a corner of his carriage, that they were almost there. "At last!" he said, looking through the clouded windows at the foaming waters of the Rhone, whose tempestuous rush seemed calm after what he had just suffered. But at the end of the bridge, when the first carriage reached the great triumphal arch, rockets went off, drums beat, saluting the monarch as he entered the estates of his faithful subject. To crown the irony, in the gathering darkness a gigantic flare of gas suddenly illuminated the roof of the castle, and in spite of the wind and the rain, these fiery letters could still be seen very plainly, "Long liv' th' B'Y 'HMED!"

"That--that is the wind-up," said the poor Nabob, who could not help laughing, though it was a very piteous and bitter laugh. But no, he was mistaken. The end was the bouquet waiting at the castle door. Amy Ferat came to present it, leaving the group of country maidens under the veranda, where they were trying to shelter the shining silks of their skirts and the embroidered velvets of their caps as they waited for the first carriage. Her bunch of flowers in her hand, modest, her eyes downcast, but showing a roguish leg, the pretty actress sprang forward to the door in a low courtesy, almost on her knees, a pose she had worked at for a week. Instead of the Bey, Jansoulet got out, stiff and troubled, and passed without even seeing her. And as she stayed there, bouquet in hand, with the silly look of a stage fairy who has missed her cue, Cardailhac said to her with the ready chaff of the Parisian who is never at a loss: "Take away your flowers, my dear. The Bey is not coming. He had forgotten his handkerchief, and as it is only with that he speaks to ladies, you understand--"


Now it is night. Everything is asleep at Saint-Romans after the tremendous uproar of the day. Torrents of rain continue to fall; and in the park, where the triumphal arches and the Venetian masts still lift vaguely their soaking carcasses, one can hear streams rushing down the slopes transformed into waterfalls. Everything streams or drips. A noise of water, an immense noise of water. Alone in his sumptuous room, with its lordly bed all hung with purple silks, the Nabob is still awake, turning over his own black thoughts as he strides to and fro. It is not the affront, that public outrage before all these people, that occupies him, it is not even the gross insult the Bey had flung at him in the presence of his mortal enemies. No, this southerner, whose sensations were all physical and as rapid as the firing of new guns, had already thrown off the venom of his rancour. And then, court favourites, by famous examples, are always prepared for these sudden falls. What terrifies him is that which he guesses to lie behind this affront. He reflects that all his possessions are over there, firms, counting-houses, ships, all at the mercy of the Bey, in that lawless East, that country of the ruler's good-pleasure. Pressing his burning brow to the streaming windows, his body in a cold sweat, his hands icy, he remains looking vaguely out into the night, as dark, as obscure as his own future.

Suddenly a noise of footsteps, of precipitate knocks at the door.

"Who is there?"

"Sir," said Noel, coming in half dressed, "it is a very urgent telegram that has been sent from the post-office by special messenger."

"A telegram! What can there be now?"

He takes the envelope and opens it with shaking fingers. The god, struck twice already, begins to feel himself vulnerable, to know the fears, the nervous weakness of other men. Quick--to the signature. MORA! Is it possible? The duke--the duke to him! Yes, it is indeed--M-O-R-A. And above it: "Popolasca is dead. Election coming in Corsica. You are official candidate."

Deputy! It was salvation. With that, nothing to fear. No one dares treat a representative of the great French nation as a mere swindler. The Hemerlingues were finely defeated.

"Oh, my duke, my noble duke!"

He was so full of emotion that he could not sign his name. Suddenly: "Where is the man who brought this telegram?"

"Here, M. Jansoulet," replied a jolly south-country voice from the corridor.

He was lucky, that postman.

"Come in," said the Nabob. And giving him the receipt, he took in a heap from his pockets--ever full--as many gold pieces as his hands could hold, and threw them into the cap of the poor fellow, who stuttered, distracted and dazzled by the fortune showered upon him, in the night of this fairy palace.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Nabob - Chapter 12. A Corsican Election The Nabob - Chapter 12. A Corsican Election

The Nabob - Chapter 12. A Corsican Election
CHAPTER XII. A CORSICAN ELECTIONPozzonegro--near Sartene. At last I can give you my news, dear M. Joyeuse. During the five days we have been in Corsica we have rushed about so much, made so many speeches, so often changed carriages and mounts--now on mules, now on asses, or even on the backs of men for crossing the torrents--written so many letters, noted so many requests, visited so many schools, presented chasubles, altar-cloths, renewed cracked bells, and founded kindergartens; we have inaugurated so many things, proposed so many toasts, listened to so many harangues, consumed so much Talano wine and white cheese,
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Nabob - Chapter 10. Memoirs Of An Office Porter Servants The Nabob - Chapter 10. Memoirs Of An Office Porter Servants

The Nabob - Chapter 10. Memoirs Of An Office Porter Servants
CHAPTER X. MEMOIRS OF AN OFFICE PORTER SERVANTSTruly Fortune in Paris has bewildering turns of the wheel! To have seen the Territorial Bank as I have seen it, the rooms without fires, never swept, the desert with its dust, protested bills piled high as _that on the desks, every week a notice of sale posted at the door, my stew spreading throughout the whole place the odour of a poor man's kitchen; and then to witness now the reconstitution of our company in its newly furnished halls, in which I have orders to light fires big enough for a Government department,
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT