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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nabob - Chapter 21. The Sitting
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The Nabob - Chapter 21. The Sitting Post by :irony Category :Long Stories Author :Alphonse Daudet Date :May 2012 Read :981

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The Nabob - Chapter 21. The Sitting


That morning there were no guests to lunch at 32 Place Vendome, so that towards one o'clock might have been seen the majestic form of M. Barreau, gleaming white at the gate, among four or five of his scullions in their cook's caps, and as many stable-boys in Scotch caps--an imposing group, which gave to the house the aspect of an hotel where the staff was taking the air between the arrivals of the trains. To complete the resemblance, a cab drew up before the door and the driver took down an old leather trunk, while a tall old woman, her upright figure wrapped in a little green shawl, jumped lightly to the footpath, a basket on her arm, looked at the number with great attention, then approached the servants to ask if it was there that M. Bernard Jansoulet lived.

"It is here," was the answer; "but he is not in."

"That does not matter," said the old lady simply.

She returned to the driver, who put her trunk in the porch, and paid him, returning her purse to her pocket at once with a gesture that said much for the caution of the provincial.

Since Jansoulet had been deputy for Corsica, the domestics had seen so many strange and exotic figures at his house, that they were not surprised at this sunburnt woman, with eyes glowing like coals, a true Corsican under her severe coif, but different from the ordinary provincial in the ease and tranquility of her manners.

"What, the master is not here?" said she, with an intonation which seemed better fitted for farm people in her part of the country, than for the insolent servants of a great Parisian mansion.

"No, the master is not here."

"And the children?"

"They are at lessons. You cannot see them."

"And madame?"

"She is asleep. No one sees her before three o'clock."

It seemed to astonish the good woman a little that any one could stay in bed so late; but the tact which guides a refined nature, even without education, prevented her from saying anything before the servants, and she asked for Paul de Gery.

"He is abroad."

"Bompain Jean-Baptiste, then."

"He is with monsieur at the sitting."

Her great gray eyebrows wrinkled.

"It does not matter; take up my trunk just the same."

And with a little malicious twinkle of her eye, a proud revenge for their insolent looks, she added: "I am his mother."

The scullions and stable-boys drew back respectfully. M. Barreau raised his cap:

"I thought I had seen madame somewhere."

"And I too, my lad," answered Mme. Jansoulet, who shivered still at the remembrance of the Bey's _fete_.

"My lad," to M. Barreau, to a man of his importance! It raised her at once to a very high place in the esteem of the others.

Well! grandeur and splendour hardly dazzled this courageous old lady. She did not go into ecstasies over gilding and petty baubles, and as she walked up the grand staircase behind her trunk, the baskets of flowers on the landings, the lamps held by bronze statues, did not prevent her from noticing that there was an inch of dust on the balustrade, and holes in the carpet. She was taken to the rooms on the second floor belonging to the Levantine and her children; and there, in an apartment used as a linen-room, which seemed to be near the school-room (to judge by the murmur of children's voices), she waited alone, her basket on her knees, for the return of her Bernard, perhaps the waking of her daughter-in-law, or the great joy of embracing her grandchildren. What she saw around her gave her an idea of the disorder of this house left to the care of the servants, without the oversight and foreseeing activity of a mistress. The linen was heaped in disorder, piles on piles in great wide-open cupboards, fine linen sheets and table-cloths crumpled up, the locks prevented from shutting by pieces of torn lace, which no one took the trouble to mend. And yet there were many servants about--negresses in yellow Madras muslin, who came to snatch here a towel, there a table-cloth, walking among the scattered domestic treasures, dragging with their great flat feet frills of fine lace from a petticoat which some lady's-maid had thrown down--thimble here, scissors there--ready to pick up again in a few minutes.

Jansoulet's mother was doubly wounded. The half-rustic artisan in her was outraged in the tenderness, the respect, the sweet unreasonableness the woman of the provinces feels towards a full linen cupboard--a cupboard filled piece by piece, full of relics of past struggles, whose contents grow finer little by little, the first token of comfort, of wealth, in the house. Besides, she had held the distaff from morning till night, and if the housewife in her was angry, the spinner could have wept at the profanation. At last, unable to contain herself longer, she rose, and actively, her little shawl displaced at each movement, she set herself to pick up, straighten, and carefully fold this magnificent linen, as she used to do in the fields of Saint-Romans, when she gave herself the treat of a grand washing-day, with twenty washerwomen, the clothes-baskets flowing over with floating whiteness, and the sheets flapping in the morning wind on the clothes-lines. She was in the midst of this occupation, forgetting her journey, forgetting Paris, even the place where she was, when a stout, thick-set, bearded man, with varnished boots and a velvet jacket, over the torso of a bull, came into the linen-room.

"What! Cabassu!"

"You here, Mme. Francoise! What a surprise!" said the _masseur_, staring like a bronze figure.

"Yes, my brave Cabassu, it is I. I have just arrived; and as you see, I am at work already. It made my heart bleed to see all this muddle."

"You came up for the sitting, then?"

"What sitting?"

"Why, the grand sitting of the legislative body. It's do-day."

"Dear me, no. What has that got to do with me? I should understand nothing at all about it. No, I came because I wanted to know my little Jansoulets, and then, I was beginning to feel uneasy. I have written several times without getting an answer. I was afraid that there was a child sick, that Bernard's business was going wrong--all sorts of ideas. At last I got seriously worried, and came away at once. They are well here, they tell me."

"Yes, Mme. Francoise. Thank God, every one is quite well."

"And Bernard. His business--is that going on as he wants it to?"

"Well, you know one has always one's little worries in life--still, I don't think he should complain. But, now I think of it, you must be hungry. I will go and make them bring you something."

He was going to ring, more at home and at ease than the old mother herself. She stopped him.

"No, no, I don't want anything. I have still something left in my basket." And she put two figs and a crust of bread on the edge of the table. Then, while she was eating: "And you, lad, your business? You look very much sprucer than you did the last time you were at Bourg. How smart you are! What do you do in the house?"

"Professor of massage," said Aristide gravely.

"Professor--you?" said she with respectful astonishment; but she did not dare ask him what he taught, and Cabassu, who felt such questions a little embarrassing, hastened to change the subject.

"Shall I go and find the children? Haven't they told them that their grandmother is here?"

"I didn't want to disturb them at their work. But I believe it must be over now--listen!"

Behind the door they could hear the shuffling impatience of the children anxious to be out in the open air, and the old woman enjoyed this state of things, doubling her maternal desire, and hindering her from doing anything to hasten its pleasure. At last the door opened. The tutor came out first--a priest with a pointed nose and great cheek-bones, whom we have met before at the great _dejeuners_. On bad terms with his bishop, he had left the diocese where he had been engaged, and in the precarious position of an unattached priest--for the clergy have their Bohemians too--he was glad to teach the little Jansoulets, recently turned out of the Bourdaloue College. With his arrogant, solemn air, overweighted with responsibilities, which would have become the prelates charged with the education of the dauphins of France, he preceded three curled and gloved little gentlemen in short jackets, with leather knapsacks, and great red stockings reaching half-way up their little thin legs, in complete suits of cyclist dress, ready to mount.

"My children," said Cabassu, "that is Mme. Jansoulet, your grandmother, who has come to Paris expressly to see you."

They stopped in a row, astonished, examining this old wrinkled visage between the folds of her cap, this strange dress of a simplicity unknown to them; and their grandmother's astonishment answered theirs, complicated with a heart-breaking discomfiture and constraint in dealing with these little gentlemen, as stiff and disdainful as any of the nobles or ministers whom her son had brought to Saint-Romans. On the bidding of their tutor "to salute their venerable grandmother," they came in turn to give her one of those little half-hearted shakes of the hand of which they had distributed so many in the garrets they had visited. The fact is that this good woman, with her agricultural appearance and clean but very simple clothes, reminded them of the charity visits of the College Bourdaloue. They felt between them the same unknown quality, the same distance, which no remembrance, no word of their parents had ever helped to bridge. The abbe felt this constraint, and tried to dispel it--speaking with the tone of voice and gestures customary to those who always think they are in the pulpit.

"Well, madame, the day has come, the great day when Jansoulet will confound his enemies--_confundantur hostes mei, quia injuste iniquitatem fecerunt in me_--because they have unjustly persecuted me."

The old lady bent religiously before the Latin of the Church, but her face expressed a vague expression of uneasiness at this idea of enemies and of persecutions.

"These enemies are powerful and numerous, my noble lady, but let us not be alarmed beyond measure. Let us have confidence in the decrees of Heaven and in the justice of our cause. God is in the midst of it, it shall not be overthrown--_in medio ejus non commovebitur_."

A gigantic negro, resplendent with gold braid, interrupted him by announcing that the bicycles were ready for the daily lesson on the terrace of the Tuileries. Before setting out, the children again shook solemnly their grandmother's wrinkled and hardened hand. She was watching them go, stupefied and oppressed, when all at once, by an adorable spontaneous movement, the youngest turned back when he had got to the door and, pushing the great negro aside, came to throw himself head foremost, like a little buffalo, into Mme. Jansoulet's skirts, squeezing her to him, while holding out his smooth forehead, covered with brown curls, with the grace of a child offering its kiss like a flower. Perhaps this one, nearer the warmth of the nest, the cradling knees of the nurses with their peasant songs, had felt the maternal influence, of which the Levantine had deprived him, reach his heart. The old woman trembled all over with the surprise of this instinctive embrace.

"Oh! little one, little one," said she, seizing the little silky, curly head which reminded her so much of another and she kissed it wildly. Then the child unloosed himself, and ran off without saying anything, his head moist with hot tears.

Left alone with Cabassu, the mother, comforted by this embrace, asked some explanation of the priest's words. Had her son many enemies?

"Oh!" said Cabassu, "it is not astonishing, in his position."

"But what is this great day--this sitting of which you all speak?"

"Well, then, it is to-day that we shall know whether Bernard will be deputy or no."

"What? He is not one now, then? And I have told them everywhere in the country. I illuminated Saint-Romans a month ago. Then they have made me tell a lie."

The _masseur had a great deal of trouble in explaining to her the parliamentary formalities of the verification of elections. She only listened with one ear, walking up and down the linen-room feverishly.

"That's where my Bernard is now, then?"

"Yes, madame."

"And can women go to the Chamber? Then why is his wife not there? For one does not need telling that it is an important matter for him. On a day like this he needs to feel all those whom he loves at his side. See, my lad, you must take me there, to this sitting. Is it far?"

"No, quite near. Only, it must have begun already. And then," added he, a little disconcerted, "it is the hour when madame wants me."

"Ah! Do you teach her this thing you are professor of? What do you call it?"

"Massage. We have learned it from the ancients. Yes, there she is ringing for me, and some one will come to fetch me. Shall I tell her you are here?"

"No, no; I prefer to go there at once."

"But you have no admission ticket."

"Bah! I will tell them I am Jansoulet's mother, come to hear him judged." Poor mother, she spoke truer than she knew.

"Wait, Mme. Francoise. I will give you some one to show you the way, at least."

"Oh, you know, I have never been able to put up with servants. I have a tongue. There are people in the streets. I shall find my way."

He made a last attempt, without letting her see all his thought. "Take care; his enemies are going to speak against him in the Chamber. You will hear things to hurt you."

Oh, the beautiful smile of belief and maternal pride with which she answered: "Don't I know better than them all what my child is worth? Could anything make me mistaken in him? I should have to be very ungrateful then. Get along with you!"

And shaking her head with its flapping cap wings, she set off fiercely indignant.

With head erect and upright bearing the old woman strode along under the great arcades which they had told her to follow, a little troubled by the incessant noise of the carriages, and by the idleness of this walk, unaccompanied by the faithful distaff which had never quitted her for fifty years. All these ideas of enmities and persecutions, the mysterious words of the priest, the guarded talk of Cabassu, frightened and agitated her. She found in them the meaning of the presentiments which had so overpowered her as to snatch her from her habits, her duties, the care of the house and of her invalid. Besides, since Fortune had thrown on her and her son this golden mantle with its heavy folds, Mme. Jansoulet had never become accustomed to it, and was always waiting for the sudden disappearance of these splendours. Who knows if the break-up was not going to begin this time? And suddenly, through these sombre thoughts, the remembrance of the scene that had just passed, of the little one rubbing himself on her woollen gown, brought on her wrinkled lips a tender smile, and she murmured in her peasant tongue:

"Oh, for the little one, at any rate."

She crossed a magnificent square, immense, dazzling, two fountains throwing up their water in a silvery spray, then a great stone bridge, and at the end was a square building with statues on its front, a railing with carriages drawn up before it, people going on, numbers of policemen. It was there. She pushed through the crowd bravely and came up to the high glass doors.

"Your card, my good woman?"

The "good woman" had no card, but she said quite simply to one of the porters in red who were keeping the door:

"I am Bernard Jansoulet's mother. I have come for the sitting of my boy."

It was indeed the sitting of her boy; for everywhere in this crowd besieging the doors, filling the passages, the hall, the tribune, the whole palace, the same name was repeated, accompanied with smiles and anecdotes. A great scandal was expected, terrible revelations from the chairman, which would no doubt lead to some violence from the barbarian brought to bay, and they hurried to the spot as to a first night or a celebrated trial. The old mother would hardly have been heard in the middle of this crowd, if the stream of gold left by the Nabob wherever he had passed, marking his royal progress, had not opened all the roads to her. She went behind the attendant in this tangle of passages, of folding-doors, of empty resounding halls, filled with a hum which circulated with the air of the building, as if the walls, themselves soaked with babble, were joining to the sound of all these voices the echoes of the past. While crossing a corridor she saw a little dark man gesticulating and crying to the servants:

"You will tell Moussiou Jansoulet that it is I, that I am the Mayor of Sarlazaccio, that I have been condemned to five months' imprisonment for him. In God's name, surely that is worth a card for the sitting."

Five months' imprisonment for her son! Why? Very much disturbed, she arrived at last, her ears singing, at the top of the staircase, where different inscriptions--"Tribune of the Senate, of the Diplomatic Body, of the Deputies"--stood above little doors like boxes in a theatre. She entered, and without seeing anything at first except four or five rows of seats filled with people, and opposite, very far off, separated from her by a vast clear space, other galleries similarly filled. She leaned up against the wall, astonished to be there, exhausted, almost ashamed. A current of hot air which came to her face, a chatter of rising voices, drew her towards the slope of the gallery, towards the kind of gulf open in the middle where her son must be. Oh! how she would like to see him. So squeezing herself in, and using her elbows, pointed and hard as her spindle, she glided and slipped between the wall and the seats, taking no notice of the anger she aroused or the contempt of the well-dressed women whose lace and fresh toilettes she crushed; for the assembly was elegant and fashionable. Mme. Jansoulet recognised, by his stiff shirt-front and aristocratic nose, the marquis who had visited them at Saint-Romans, who so well suited his name, but he did not look at her. She was stopped farther progress by the back of a man sitting down, an enormous back which barred everything and forbade her go farther. Happily, she could see nearly all the hall from here by leaning forward a little; and these semi-circular benches filled with deputies, the green hanging of the walls, the chair at the end, occupied by a bald man with a severe air, gave her the idea, under the studious and gray light from the roof, of a class about to begin, with all the chatter and movement of thoughtless schoolboys.

One thing struck her--the way in which all looks turned to one side, to the same point of attraction; and as she followed this current of curiosity which carried away the entire assembly, hall as well as galleries, she saw that what they were all looking at--was her son.

In the Jansoulet's country there is still, in some old churches, at the end of the choir, half-way up the crypt, a stone cell where lepers were admitted to hear mass, showing their dark profiles to the curious and fearful crowd, like wild beasts crouched against the loopholes in the wall. Francoise well remembered having seen in the village where she had been brought up the leper, the bugbear of her infancy, hearing mass from his stone cage, lost in the shade and in isolation. Now, seeing her son seated, his head in his hands, alone, up there away from the others, this memory came to her mind. "One might think it was a leper," murmured the peasant. And, in fact, this poor Nabob was a leper, his millions from the East weighing on him like some terrible and mysterious disease. It happened that the bench on which he had chosen to sit had several recent vacancies on account of holidays or deaths; so that while the other deputies were talking to each other, laughing, making signs, he sat silent, alone, the object of attention to all the Chamber; an attention which his mother felt to be malevolent, ironic, which burned into her heart. How was she to let him know that she was there, near him, that one faithful heart beat not far from his? He would not turn to the gallery. One would have said that he felt it hostile, that he feared to look there. Suddenly, at the sound of the bell from the presidential platform, a rustle ran through the assembly, every head leaned forward with that fixed attention which makes the features unmovable, and a thin man in spectacles, whose sudden rise among so many seated figures gave him the authority of attitude at once, said, opening the paper he held in his hand:

"Gentlemen, in the name of your third committee, I beg to move that the election of the second division of the department of Corsica be annulled."

In the deep silence following this phrase, which Mme. Jansoulet did not understand, the giant seated before her began to puff vigorously, and all at once, in the front row of the gallery, a lovely face turned round to address him a rapid sign of intelligence and approval. Forehead pale, lips thin, eyebrows too black for the white framing of her hat, it all produced in the eyes of the good old lady, without her knowing why, the effect of the first flash of lightning in a storm and the apprehension of the thunderbolt following the lightning.

Le Merquier was reading his report. The slow, dull monotonous voice, the drawling, weak Lyonnese accent, while the long form of the lawyer balanced itself in an almost animal movement of the head and shoulders, made a singular contrast to the ferocious clearness of the brief. First, a rapid account of the electoral irregularities. Never had universal suffrage been treated with such primitive and barbarous contempt. At Sarlazaccio, where Jansoulet's rival seemed to have a majority, the ballot-box was destroyed the night before it was counted. The same thing almost happened at Levia, at Saint-Andre, at Avabessa. And it was the mayors themselves who committed these crimes, who carried the urns home with them, broke the seals, tore up the voting papers, under cover of their municipal authority. There had been no respect for the law. Everywhere fraud, intrigue, even violence. At Calcatoggio an armed man sat during the election at the window of a tavern in front of the _mairie_, holding a blunderbuss, and whenever one of Sebastiani's electors (Sebastiani was Jansoulet's opponent) showed himself, the man took aim: "If you come in, I will blow out your brains." And when one saw the inspectors of police, justices, inspectors of weights and measures, not afraid to turn into canvassing agents, to frighten or cajole a population too submissive before all these little tyrannical local influences, was that not proof of a terrible state of things? Even priests, saintly pastors, led astray by their zeal for the poor-box and the restoration of an impoverished building, had preached a mission in favour of Jansoulet's election. But an influence still more powerful, though less respectable, had been called into play for the good cause--the influence of the banditti. "Yes, banditti, gentlemen; I am not joking." And then came a sketch in outline of Corsican banditti in general, and of the Piedigriggio family in particular.

The Chamber listened attentively, with a certain uneasiness. For, after all, it was an official candidate whose doings were thus described, and these strange doings belonged to that privileged land, cradle of the imperial family, so closely attached to the fortunes of the dynasty, that an attack on Corsica seemed to strike at the sovereign. But when people saw the new minister, successor and enemy of Mora, glad of the blow to a _protege of his predecessor, smile complacently from the Government bench at Le Merquier's cruel banter, all constraint disappeared at once, and the ministerial smile repeated on three hundred mouths, grew into a scarcely restrained laugh--the laugh of crowds under the rod which bursts out at the least approbation of the master. In the galleries, not usually treated to the picturesque, but amused by these stories of brigands, there was general joy, a radiant animation on all these faces, pleased to look pretty without insulting the solemnity of the spot. Little bright bonnets shook with all their flowers and plumes, round gold-encircled arms leaned forward the better to hear. The grave Le Merquier had imported into the sitting the distraction of a show, the little spice of humour allowed in a charity concert to bribe the uninitiated.

Impassable and cold in the midst of his success, he continued to read in his gloomy voice, penetrating like the rain of Lyons:

"Now, gentlemen, one asks how a stranger, a Provencial returned from the East, ignorant of the interests and needs of this island where he had never been seen before the election, a true type of what the Corsican disdainfully calls a 'continental'--how has this man been able to excite such an enthusiasm, such devotion carried to crime, to profanity. His wealth will answer us, his fatal gold thrown in the face of the electors, thrust by force into their pockets with a barefaced cynicism of which we have a thousand proofs." Then the interminable series of denunciations: "I, the undersigned, Croce (Antoine), declare in the interests of truth, that the Commissary of Police Nardi, calling on us one evening, said: 'Listen, Croce (Antoine), I swear by the fire of this lamp that if you vote for Jansoulet you will have fifty francs to-morrow morning.'" And this other: "I, the undersigned, Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse), declare that I refused with contempt seventeen francs offered me by the Mayor of Pozzonegro to vote against my cousin Sebastiani." It is probably that for three francs more Lavezzi (Jacques-Alphonse) would have swallowed his contempt in silence. But the Chamber did not look into things so closely.

Indignation seized on this incorruptible Chamber. It murmured, it fidgeted on its padded seats of red velvet, it raised a positive clamour. There were "Oh's" of amazement, eyes lifted in astonishment, brusque movements on the benches, as if in disgust at this spectacle of human degradation. And remark that the greater part of these deputies had used the same electoral methods, that these were the heroes of those famous orgies when whole oxen were carried in triumph, ribanded and decorated as at Gargantuan feasts. Just these men cried louder than others, turned furiously towards the solitary seat where the poor leper listened, still and downcast. Yet in the midst of the general uproar, one voice was raised in his favour, but low, unpractised, less a voice than a sympathetic murmur, through which was distinguished vaguely: "Great services to the Corsican population--Considerable works--Territorial Bank."

He who mumbled thus was a little man in white gaiters, an albino head, and thin hair in scattered locks. But the interruption of this unfortunate friend only furnished Le Merquier with a rapid and natural transition. A hideous smile parted his flabby lips. "The honourable M. Sarigue mentions the Territorial Bank. We shall be able to answer him." He seemed in fact to be very familiar with the Paganetti den. In a few neat and lively phrases he threw the light on to the depths of the gloomy cave, showed all the traps, the gulfs, the windings, the snares, like a guide waving his torch above the _oubliettes of some sinister dungeon. He spoke of the fictitious quarries, of the railways on paper, of the chimeric liners disappearing in their own steam. The frightful desert of the Taverna was not forgotten, nor the old Genoese castle, the office of the steamship agency. But what amused the Chamber most was the story of a swindling ceremony organized by the governor for the piercing of a tunnel through Monte Rotondo, a gigantic undertaking always in project, put off from year to year, demanding millions of money and thousands of workmen, and which was begun in great pomp a week before the election. His report gave the thing a comic air--the first blow of the pickaxe given by the candidate in the enormous mountain covered by ancient forests, the speech of the Prefect, the benediction of the flags with the cries of "Long live Bernard Jansoulet!" and the two hundred workmen beginning the task at once, working day and night for a week; then, when the election was over, leaving the fragments of rock heaped round the abandoned excavation for a laughing-stock--another asylum for the terrible banditti. The game was over. After having extorted the shareholders' money for so long, the Territorial Bank this time was used as a means to swindle the electors of their votes. "Furthermore, gentlemen, another detail, with which perhaps I should have begun and spared you the recital of this electoral pasquinade. I learn that a judicial inquiry has been opened to-day into the affairs of the Corsican Bank, and that a serious examination of its books will very probably reveal one of those financial scandals--too frequent, alas! in our days--and in which, for the honour of the Chamber, we would wish that none of our members were concerned."

With this sudden revelation, the speaker stopped a moment, like an actor making his point; and in the heavy silence weighing on the assembly, the noise of a closing door was heard. It was the Governor Paganetti leaving the tribune, his face white, the eyes wide open, his mouth half opened, like some Pierrot scenting in the air a formidable blow. Monpavon, motionless, expanded his shirtfront. The big man puffed violently into the flowers of his wife's little white hat.

Jansoulet's mother looked at her son.

"I have spoken of the honour of the Chamber, gentlemen. On that point I have more to say." Now Le Merquier was reading no longer. After the chairman of the committees, the orator came on the scene, or rather the judge. His face was expressionless, his eyes hidden; nothing lived, nothing moved in all his body save the right arm--the long angular arm with short sleeves--which rose and fell automatically, like a sword of justice, making at the end of each sentence the cruel and inexorable gesture of beheading. And truly it was an execution at which they were present. The orator would leave on one side scandalous legends, the mystery which brooded over this colossal fortune acquired in distant lands, far from all control. But there were in the life of the candidate certain points difficult to clear up, certain details. He hesitated, seemed to select his words; then, before the impossibility of formulating a direct accusation: "Do not let us lower the debate, gentlemen. You have understood me. You know to what infamous stories I allude--to what calumnies, I wish I could say; but truth forces me to state that when M. Jansoulet called before your committee, was asked to deny the accusations made against him, his explanations were so vague that, though convinced of his innocence, a scrupulous regard for your honour forced us to reject a candidature so besmirched. No, this man must not sit among you. Besides, what would he do there? Living so long in the East, he has unlearned the laws, the manners, and the usages of his country. He believes in rough and ready justice, in fights in the open street; he relies on the abuses of power, and worse still, on the venality and crouching baseness of all men. He is the merchant who thinks that everything can be bought at a price--even the votes of the electors, even the conscience of his colleagues."

One should have seen with what naive admiration these fat deputies, enervated with good fortune, listened to this ascetic, this man of another age, like some Saint-Jerome who had left his Thebaid to overwhelm with his vigorous eloquence, in a full assembly of the Roman Empire, the shameless luxury of the prevaricators and of the _concussionaires_. How well they understood now this grand surname of "My conscience" which the courts had given him. In the galleries the enthusiasm rose higher still. Lovely heads leaned to see him, to drink in his words. Applause went round, bending the bouquets here and there, like the wind in a wheat-field. A woman's voice cried with a little foreign accent, "Bravo! Bravo!"

And the mother?

Standing upright, immovable, concentrated in her desire to understand something of this legal phraseology, of these mysterious allusions, she was there like deaf-mutes who only understand what is said before them by the movement of the lips and the expression of the faces. But it was enough for her to watch her son and Le Merquier to understand what harm one was doing to the other, what perfidious and poisoned meaning fell from this long discourse on the unfortunate man whom one might have believed asleep, except for the trembling of his strong shoulders and the clinching of his hands in his hair, while hiding his face. Oh, if she could have said to him: "Don't be afraid, my son. If they all misconstrue you, your mother loves you. Let us come away together. What need have we of them?" And for one moment she could believe that what she was saying to him thus in her heart he had understood by some mysterious intuition. He had just raised and shaken his grizzled head, where the childish curve of his lips quivered under a possibility of tears. But instead of leaving his seat, he spoke from it, his great hands pounded the wood of the desk. The other had finished, now it was his time to answer:

"Gentlemen," said he.

He stopped at once, frightened by the sound of his voice, hoarse, frightfully low and vulgar, which he heard for the first time in public. He must find the words for his defence, tormented as he was by the twitchings of his face, the intonations which he could not express. And if the anguish of the poor man was touching, the old mother up there, leaning, gasping, moving her lips nervously as if to help him find words, reflected the picture of his torture. Though he could not see her, intentionally turned away from her gallery, as he evidently was, this maternal inspiration, the ardent magnetism of those black eyes, ended by giving him life, and suddenly his words and gestures flowed freely:

"First of all, gentlemen, I must say that I do not defend the methods of my election. If you believe that electoral morals have not been always the same in Corsica, that all the irregularities committed are due to the corrupting influence of my gold and not to the uncultivated and passionate temperament of its people, reject me--it will be justice and I will not murmur. But in this debate other matters have been dealt with, accusations have been made which involve my personal honour, and those, and those alone, I wish to answer." His voice was growing firmer, always broken, veiled, but with some soft cadences. He spoke rapidly of his life, his first steps, his departure for the East. It sounded like an eighteenth century tale of the Barbary corsairs sailing the Latin seas, of Beys and of bold Provencals, as sunburned as crickets, who used to end by marrying some sultana and "taking the turban," in the old expression of the Marseillais. "As for me," said the Nabob, with his good-humoured smile. "I had no need of taking the turban to grow rich. I had only to take into this land of idleness the activity and flexibility of a southern Frenchman; and in a few years I made one of those fortunes which can only be made in those hot countries, where everything is gigantic, prodigious, disproportionate, where flowers grow in a night, and one tree produces a forest. The excuse of such fortunes is the manner in which they are used; and I make bold to say that never has any favourite of fortune tried harder to justify his wealth. I have not been successful." No! he had not succeeded. From all the gold he had scattered he had only gathered contempt and hatred. Hatred! Who could boast more of it than he? like a great ship in the dock when its keel touches the bottom. He was too rich, and that stood for every vice, and every crime pointed him out for anonymous vengeances, cruel and incessant enmities.

"Ah, gentlemen," cried the poor Nabob, lifting his clinched hands, "I have known poverty, I have struggled face to face with it, and it is a dreadful struggle, I swear. But to struggle against wealth, to defend one's happiness, honour--rest--to have no shelter but piles of gold which fall and crush you, is something more hideous, more heart-breaking still. Never, in the darkest days of my distress, have I had the pains, the anguish, the sleepless nights with which fortune has loaded me--this horrible fortune which I hate and which stifles me. They call me the Nabob, in Paris. It is not the Nabob they should say, but the Pariah--a social pariah holding out wide arms to a society which will have none of him."

Written down, the words may appear cold; but there, before the assembly, the defence of this man was stamped with an eloquent and grandiose sincerity, which at first, coming from this rustic, this upstart, without culture or education, with the voice of a boatman, first astonished and then singularly moved his hearers just on account of its wild, uncultivated style, foreign to every notion of parliamentary etiquette. Already marks of favour had agitated members, used to the flood of gray and monotonous administrative speech. But at this cry of rage and despair against wealth, uttered by the wretch whom it was enfolding, rolling, drowning in its floods of gold, while he was struggling and calling for help from the depths of his Pactolus, the whole Chamber rose with loud applause, and outstretched hands, as if to give the unfortunate Nabob more testimonies of esteem, of which he was so desirous, and at the same time to save him from shipwreck. Jansoulet felt it; and warmed by this sympathy, he went on, with head erect and confident look:

"You have just been told, gentlemen, that I was unworthy of sitting among you. And he who said it was the last from whom I should have expected it, for he alone knew the sad secret of my life, he alone could speak for me, justify me, and convince you. He has not done it. Well, I will try, whatever it may cost me. Outrageously calumniated before my country, I owe it to myself and my children this public justification, and I will make it."

With a brusque movement he turned towards the tribune where he knew his enemy was watching him, and suddenly stopped, full of fear. There, in front of him, behind the pale, malignant head of the baroness, his mother, his mother whom he believed to be two hundred leagues away from the terrible storm, was looking at him, leaning against the wall, bending down her saintly face, flooded with tears, but proud and beaming nevertheless with her Bernard's great success. For it was really a success of sincere human emotion, which a few more words would change into a triumph. Cries of "Go on, go on!" came from all sides of the Chamber to reassure and encourage him. But Jansoulet did not speak. He had only to say: "Calumny has wilfully confused two names. I am called Bernard Jansoulet, the other Jansoulet Louis." Not a word more was needed.

But in the presence of his mother, still ignorant of his brother's dishonour, he could not say it. Respect--family ties forbade it. He could hear his father's voice: "I die of shame, my child." Would not she die of shame too, if he spoke? He turned from the maternal smile with a sublime look of renunciation, then in a low voice, utterly discouraged, he said:

"Excuse me, gentlemen; this explanation is beyond my power. Order an investigation of my whole life, open as it is to all, alas! since any one can interpret all my actions. I swear to you that you will find nothing there which unfits me to sit among the representatives of my country."

In the face of this defeat, which seemed to everybody the sudden crumbling of an edifice of effrontery, the astonishment and disillusionment were immense. There was a moment of excitement on the benches, the tumult of a vote taken on the spot, which the Nabob saw vaguely through the glass doors, as the condemned man looks down from the scaffold on the howling crowd. Then, after that terrible pause which precedes a supreme moment, the president made, amid deep silence, the simple pronouncement:

"The election of M. Bernard Jansoulet is annulled."

Never had a man's life been cut off with less solemnity or disturbance.

Up there in her gallery, Jansoulet's mother understood nothing, except that the seats were emptying near her, that people were rising and going away. Soon there was no one else there save the fat man and the lady in the white hat, who leaned over the barrier, watching Bernard with curiosity, who seemed also to be going away, for he was putting up great bundles of papers in his portfolio quite calmly. When they were in order, he rose and left his place. Ah! the life of public men had sometimes cruel situations. Gravely, slowly, under the gaze of the whole assembly, he must descend those steps which he had mounted at the cost of so much trouble and money, to whose feet an inexorable fatality was precipitating him.

The Hemerlingues were waiting for this, following to its last stage this humiliating exit, which crushes the unseated member with some of the shame and fear of a dismissal. Then, when the Nabob had disappeared, they looked at each other with a silent laugh, and left the gallery before the old woman had dared to ask them anything, warned by her instinct of their secret hostility. Left alone, she gave all her attention to a new speech, persuaded that her son's affairs were still in question. They spoke of an election, of a scrutiny, and the poor mother leaning forward in her red hood, wrinkling her great eyebrows, would have religiously listened to the whole of the report of the Sarigue election, if the attendant who had introduced her had not come to say that it was finished and she had better go away. She seemed very much surprised.

"Indeed! Is it over?" said she, rising almost regretfully.

And quietly, timidly:

"Has he--has he won?"

It was innocent, so touching that the attendant did not even dream of smiling.

"Unfortunately, no, madame. M. Jansoulet has not won. But why did he stop in that way? If it is true that he never came to Paris, and that another Jansoulet did everything they accuse him of, why did he not say so?"

The old mother, turning pale, leaned on the balustrade of the staircase. She had understood.

Bernard's brusque interruption on seeing her, the sacrifice he had made to her so simply--that noble glance as of a dying animal, came to her mind, and the shame of the elder, the favourite child, mingled itself with Bernard's disaster--a double-edged maternal sorrow, which tore her whichever way she turned. Yes, yes, it was on her account he would not speak. But she would not accept such a sacrifice. He must come back at once and explain himself before the deputies.

"My son, where is my son?"

"Below, madame, in his carriage. It was he who sent me to look for you."

She ran before the attendant, walking quickly, talking aloud, pushing aside out of her way the little black and bearded men who were gesticulating in the passages. After the waiting-hall she crossed a great round antechamber where servants in respectful rows made a living wainscotting to the high, blank wall. From there she could see through the glass doors, the outside railing, the crowd in waiting, and among the other vehicles, the Nabob's carriage waiting. As she passed, the peasant recognised in one of the groups her enormous neighbour of the gallery, with the pale man in spectacles who had attacked her son, who was receiving all sorts of felicitation for his discourse. At the name of Jansoulet, pronounced among mocking and satisfied sneers, she stopped.

"At any rate," said a handsome man with a bad feminine face, "he has not proved where our accusations were false."

The old woman, hearing that, wrenched herself through the crowd, and facing Moessard said:

"What he did not say I will. I am his mother, and it is my duty to speak."

She stopped to seize Le Merquier by the sleeve, who was escaping:

"Wicked man, you must listen, first of all. What have you got against my child? Don't you know who he is? Wait a little till I tell you."

And turning to the journalist:

"I had two sons, sir."

Moessard was no longer there. She returned to Le Merquier: "Two sons, sir." Le Merquier had disappeared.

"Oh, listen to me, some one, I beg," said the poor mother, throwing her hands and her voice round her to assemble and retain her hearers; but all fled, melted away, disappeared--deputies, reporters, unknown and mocking faces to whom she wished at any cost to tell her story, careless of the indifference where her sorrows and her joys fell, her pride and maternal tenderness expressed in a tornado of feeling. And while she was thus exciting herself and struggling--distracted, her bonnet awry--at once grotesque and sublime, as are all the children of nature when brought into civilization, taking to witness the honesty of her son and the injustice of men, even the liveried servants, whose disdainful impassibility was more cruel than all, Jansoulet appeared suddenly beside her.

"Take my arm, mother. You must not stop there."

He said it in a tone so firm and calm that all the laughter ceased, and the old woman, suddenly quieted, sustained by this solid hold, still trembling a little with anger, left the palace between two respectful rows. A dignified and rustic couple, the millions of the son gilding the countrified air of the mother, like the rags of a saint enshrined in a golden _chasse_--they disappeared in the bright sunlight outside, in the splendour of their glittering carriage--a ferocious irony in their deep distress, a striking symbol of the terrible misery of the rich.

They sat well back, for both feared to be seen, and hardly spoke at first. But when the vehicle was well on its way, and he had behind him the sad Calvary where his honour hung gibbeted, Jansoulet, utterly overcome, laid his head on his mother's shoulder, hid it in the old green shawl, and there, with the burning tears flowing, all his great body shaken by sobs, he returned to the cry of his childhood: "Mother."

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