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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Parisians - Book 11 - Chapter 13
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The Parisians - Book 11 - Chapter 13 Post by :onyx40 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2832

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The Parisians - Book 11 - Chapter 13


It is now the middle of November-a Sunday. The day has been mild, and is drawing towards its close. The Parisians have been enjoying the sunshine. Under the leafless trees in the public gardens and the Champs Elysees children have been at play. On the Boulevards the old elegance of gaiety is succeeded by a livelier animation. Itinerant musicians gather round them ragged groups. Fortune-tellers are in great request, especially among the once brilliant Laises and Thaises, now looking more shabby, to whom they predict the speedy restoration of Nabobs and Russians, and golden joys. Yonder Punch is achieving a victory over the Evil One, who wears the Prussian spiked helmet, and whose face has been recently beautified into a resemblance to Bismarck. Punch draws to his show a laughing audience of Moblots and recruits to the new companies of the National Guard. Members of the once formidable police, now threadbare and hunger-pinched, stand side by side with unfortunate beggars and sinister-looking patriots who have served their time in the jails or galleys.

Uniforms of all variety are conspicuous--the only evidence visible of an enemy at the walls. But the aspects of the wearers of warlike accoutrements are debonnaire and smiling, as of revellers on a holiday of peace. Among these defenders of their country, at the door of a crowded cafe, stands Frederic Lemercier, superb in the costume, bran-new, of a National Guard,--his dog Fox tranquilly reposing on its haunches, with eyes fixed upon its fellow-dog philosophically musing on the edge of Punch's show, whose master is engaged in the conquest of the Bismarck fiend.

"Lemercier," cried the Vicomte de Breze, approaching the cafe, "I scarcely recognise you in that martial guise. You look magnifique--the galons become you. Peste! an officer already?"

"The National Guards and Mobiles are permitted to choose their own officers, as you are aware. I have been elected, but to subaltern grade, by the warlike patriots of my department. Enguerrand de Vandemar is elected a captain of the Mobiles in his, and Victor de Mauleon is appointed to the command of a battalion of the National Guards. But I soar above jealousy at such a moment,--

"'Rome a choisi mon bras; je n'examine rien.'"

"You have no right to be jealous. De Mauldon has had experience and won distinction in actual service, and from all I hear is doing wonders with his men--has got them not only to keep but to love drill. I heard no less an authority than General V---- say that if all the officers of the National Guard were like De Mauleon, that body would give an example of discipline to the line."

"I say nothing as to the promotion of a real soldier like the Vicomte--but a Parisian dandy like Euguerrand de Vande--"

"You forget that Enguerrand received a military education--an advantage denied to you."

"What does that matter? Who cares for education nowadays? Besides, have I not been training ever since the 4th of September, to say nothing of the hard work on the ramparts?"

"Parlez moi de cela it is indeed hard work on the ramparts. Infandum dolorem quorum pars magna fui. Take the day duty. What with rising at seven o'clock, and being drilled between a middle-aged and corpulent grocer on one side and a meagre beardless barber's apprentice on the other; what with going to the bastions at eleven, and seeing half one's companions drunk before twelve; what with trying to keep their fists off one's face when one politely asks them not to call one's general a traitor or a poltroon,--the work of the ramparts would be insupportable, if I did not take a pack of cards with me, and enjoy a quiet rubber with three other heroes in some sequestered corner. As for night work, nothing short of the indomitable fortitude of a Parisian could sustain it; the tents made expressly not to be waterproof, like the groves of the Muses,

"' per
Quos et aquea subeant et aurae.'

A fellow-companion of mine tucks himself up on my rug, and pillows his head on my knapsack. I remonstrate--he swears--the other heroes wake up and threaten to thrash us both; and just when peace is made, and one hopes for a wink of sleep, a detachment of spectators, chiefly gamins, coming to see that all is safe in the camp, strike up the Marseillaise. Ah, the world will ring to the end of time with the sublime attitude of Paris in the face of the Vandal invaders, especially when it learns that the very shoes we stand in are made of cardboard. In vain we complain. The contractor for shoes is a staunch Republican, and jobs by right divine. May I ask if you have dined yet?"

"Heavens! no, it is too early. But I am excessively hungry. I had only a quarter of jugged cat for breakfast, and the brute was tough. In reply to your question, may I put another--Did you lay in plenty of stores?"

"Stores? no; I am a bachelor, and rely on the stores of my married friends."

"Poor De Breze! I sympathise with you, for I am in the same boat, and dinner invitations have become monstrous rare."

"Oh, but you are so confoundedly rich! What to you are forty francs for a rabbit, or eighty francs for a turkey?"

"Well, I suppose I am rich, but I have no money, and the ungrateful restaurants will not give me credit. They don't believe in better days."

"How can you want money?"

"Very naturally. I had invested my capital famously-the best speculations--partly in house rents, partly in company shares; and houses pay no rents, and nobody will buy company shares. I had 1,000 napoleons on hand, it is true, when Duplessis left Paris--much more, I thought, than I could possibly need, for I never believed in the siege. But during the first few weeks I played at whist with bad luck, and since then so many old friends have borrowed of me that I doubt if I have 200 francs left. I have despatched four letters to Duplessis by pigeon and balloon, entreating him to send me 25,000 francs by some trusty fellow who will pierce the Prussian lines. I have had two answers: 1st, that he will find a man; 2nd, that the man is found and on his way. Trust to that man, my dear friend, and meanwhile lend me 200 francs."

"Mon cher, desole to refuse; but I was about to ask you to share your 200 francs with me who live chiefly by my pen; and that resource is cut off. Still, il faut vivre--one must dine."

"That is a fact, and we will dine together to-day at my expense; limited liability, though--eight francs a head."

"Generous Monsieur, I accept. Meanwhile let us take a turn towards the Madeleine."

The two Parisians quit the cafe, and proceed up the Boulevard. On their way they encounter Savarin. "Why," said De Breze, "I thought you had left Paris with Madame."

"So I did, and deposited her safely with the Morleys at Boulogne. These kind Americans were going to England, and they took her with them. But I quit Paris! No: I am old; I am growing obese. I have always been short-sighted. I can neither wield a sword nor handle a musket. But Paris needs defenders; and every moment I was away from her I sighed to myself, 'il faut etre la!' I returned before the Vandals had possessed themselves of our railways, the convoi overcrowded with men like myself, who had removed wives and families; and when we asked each other why we went back, every answer was the same, 'il faut etre la.' No, poor child, no--I have nothing to give you."

These last words were addressed to a woman young and handsome, with a dress that a few weeks ago might have been admired for taste and elegance by the lady leaders of the ton, but was now darned, and dirty, and draggled.

"Monsieur, I did not stop you to ask for alms. You do not seem to remember me, M. Savarin."

"But I do," said Lemercier, "surely I address Mademoiselle Julie Caumartin."

"Ah, excuse me, le petit Frederic," said Julie with a sickly attempt at coquettish sprightliness; "I had no eyes except for M. Savarin."

"And why only for me, my poor child?" asked the kindhearted author.

"Hush!" She drew him aside. "Because you can give me news of that monster Gustave. It is not true, it cannot be true, that he is going to be married?"

"Nay, surely, Mademoiselle, all connection between you and young Rameau has ceased for months--ceased from the date of that illness in July which nearly carried him off."

"I resigned him to the care of his mother," said the girl; "but when he no longer needs a mother, he belongs to me. Oh, consider, M. Savarin, for his sake I refused the most splendid offers! When he sought me, I had my coupe, my opera-box, my cachemires, my jewels. The Russians--the English--vied for my smiles. But I loved the man. I never loved before: I shall never love again; and after the sacrifices I have made for him, nothing shall induce me to give him up. Tell me, I entreat, my dear M. Savarin, where he is hiding. He has left the parental roof, and they refused there to give me his address."

"My poor girl, don't be mechante. It is quite true that Gustave Rameau is engaged to be married; and any attempt of yours to create scandal--"

"Monsieur," interrupted Julie, vehemently, "don't talk to me about scandal! The man is mine, and no one else shall have him. His address?"

"Mademoiselle," cried Savarin, angrily, "find it out for yourself." Then--repentant of rudeness to one so young and so desolate--he added, in mild expostulatory accents: "Come, come, ma belle enfant, be reasonable: Gustave is no loss. He is reduced to poverty."

"So much the better. When he was well off I never cost him more than a supper at the Maison Doree; and if he is poor he shall marry me, and I will support him!"

"You!--and how?"

"By my profession when peace comes; and meanwhile I have offers from a cafe to recite warlike songs. Ah! you shake your head incredulously. The ballet-dancer recite verses? Yes! he taught me to recite his own Soyez bon pour moi. M. Savarin! do say where I can find mon homme."


"That is your last word?"

"It is."

The girl drew her thin shawl round her and hurried off. Savarin rejoined his friends. "Is that the way you console yourself for the absence of Madame?" asked De Breze, drily.

"Fie!" cried Savarin, indignantly; "such bad jokes are ill-timed. What strange mixtures of good and bad, of noble and base, every stratum of Paris life contains! There is that poor girl, in one way contemptible, no doubt, and yet in another way she has an element of grandeur. On the whole, at Paris, the women, with all their faults, are of finer mould than the men."

"French gallantry has always admitted that truth," said Lemercier. "Fox, Fox, Fox." Uttering this cry, he darted forward after the dog, who had strayed a few yards to salute another dog led by a string, and caught the animal in his arms. "Pardon me," he exclaimed, returning to his friends, "but there are so many snares for dogs at present. They are just coming into fashion for roasts, and Fox is so plump."

"I thought," said Savarin, "that it was resolved at all the sporting clubs that, be the pinch of famine ever so keen, the friend of man should not be eaten."

"That was while the beef lasted; but since we have come to cats, who shall predict immunity to dogs? Quid intactum nefasti linquimus? Nothing is sacred from the hand of rapine."

The church of the Madeleine now stood before them. Moblots were playing pitch-and-toss on its steps.

"I don't wish you to accompany me, Messieurs," said Lemercier, apologetically, "but I am going to enter the church."

"To pray?" asked De Breze, in profound astonishment. "Not exactly; but I want to speak to my friend Rochebriant, and I know I shall find him there."

"Praying?" again asked De Breze.


"That is curious--a young Parisian exquisite at prayer--that is worth seeing. Let us enter, too, Savarin."

They enter the church. It is filled, and even the sceptical De Breze is impressed and awed by the sight. An intense fervour pervades the congregation. The majority, it is true, are women, many of them in deep mourning, and many of their faces mourning deeper than the dress. Everywhere may be seen gushing tears, and everywhere faintly heard the sound of stifled sighs. Besides the women are men of all ages--young, middle-aged, old, with heads bowed and hands clasped, pale, grave, and earnest. Most of them were evidently of the superior grade of life--nobles, and the higher bourgeoisie: few of the ouvrier class, very few, and these were of an earlier generation. I except soldiers, of whom there were many, from the provincial Mobiles, chiefly Bretons; you know the Breton soldiers by the little cross worn on their kepis.

Among them Lemercier at once distinguished the noble countenance of Alain de Rochebriant. De Breze and Savarin looked at each other with solemn eyes. I know not when either had last been within a church; perhaps both were startled to find that religion still existed in Paris--and largely exist it does, though little seen on the surface of society, little to be estimated by the articles of journals and the reports of foreigners. Unhappily, those among whom it exists are not the ruling class--are of the classes that are dominated over and obscured in every country the moment the populace becomes master. And at that moment the journals chiefly read were warring more against the Deity than the Prussians--were denouncing soldiers who attended mass. "The Gospel certainly makes a bad soldier," writes the patriot Pyat.

Lemercier knelt down quietly. The other two men crept noiselessly out, and stood waiting for him on the steps, watching the Moblots (Parisian Moblots) at play.

"I should not wait for the roturier if he had not promised me a roti," said the Vicomte de Breze, with a pitiful attempt at the patrician wit of the ancien regime.

Savarin shrugged his shoulders. "I am not included in the invitation," said he, "and therefore free to depart. I must go and look up a former confrere who was an enthusiastic Red Republican, and I fear does not get so much to eat since he has no longer an Emperor to abuse."

So Savarin went away. A few minutes afterwards Lemercier emerged from the church with Alain.

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