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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Parisians - Book 12 - Chapter 2
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The Parisians - Book 12 - Chapter 2 Post by :cenovia21love Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3116

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The Parisians - Book 12 - Chapter 2

BOOK XII CHAPTER II

Scarcely had De Mauleon quitted Lemercier before the latter was joined by two loungers scarcely less famished than himself--Savarin and De Breze. Like himself, too, both had been sufferers from illness, though not of a nature to be consigned to an hospital. All manner of diseases then had combined to form the pestilence which filled the streets with unregarded hearses--bronchitis, pneumonia, smallpox, a strange sort of spurious dysentery much more speedily fatal than the genuine. The three men, a year before so sleek, looked like ghosts under the withering sky; yet all three retained embers of the native Parisian humour, which their very breath on meeting sufficed to kindle up into jubilant sparks or rapid flashes.

"There are two consolations," said Savarin, as the friends strolled or rather crawled towards the Boulevards--"two consolations for the gourmet and for the proprietor in these days of trial for the gourmand, because the price of truffles is come down."

"Truffles!" gasped De Breze, with watering mouth; "impossible! They are gone with the age of gold."

"Not so. I speak on the best authority--my laundress; for she attends the succursale in the Rue de Chateaudun; and if the poor woman, being, luckily for me, a childless widow, gets a morsel she can spare, she sells it to me."

"Sells it!" feebly exclaimed Lemercier. "Croesus! you have money then, and can buy?"

"Sells it--on credit! I am to pension her for life if I live to have money again. Don't interrupt me. This honest woman goes this morning to the succursale. I promise myself a delicious bifteck of horse. She gains the succursale, and the employee informs her that there is nothing left in his store except--truffles. A glut of those in the market allows him to offer her a bargain-seven francs la boite. Send me seven francs, De Breze, and you shall share the banquet."

De Breze shook his head expressively.

"But," resumed Savarin, "though credit exists no more except with my laundress, upon terms of which the usury is necessarily proportioned to the risk, yet, as I had the honour before to observe, there is comfort for the proprietor. The instinct of property is imperishable."

"Not in the house where I lodge," said Lemercier. "Two soldiers were billeted there; and during my stay in the ambulance they enter my rooms, and cart away all of the little furniture left there, except a bed and a table. Brought before a court-martial, they defend themselves by saying, 'The rooms were abandoned.' The excuse was held valid. They were let off with a reprimand and a promise to restore what was not already disposed of. They have restored me another table and four chairs."

"Nevertheless, they had the instinct of property, though erroneously developed, otherwise they would not have deemed any excuse for their act necessary. Now for my instance of the inherent tenacity of that instinct. A worthy citizen in want of fuel sees a door in a garden wall, and naturally carries off the door. He is apprehended by a gendarme who sees the act. 'Voleur,' he cries to the gendarme, 'do you want to rob me of my property?' 'That door your property? I saw you take it away.' 'You confess,' cries the citizen, triumphantly--'you confess that it is my property; for you saw me appropriate it.' Thus you see how imperishable is the instinct of property. No sooner does it disappear as yours than it reappears as mine."

"I would laugh if I could," said Lemercier, "but such a convulsion would be fatal. Dieu des dieux, how empty I am!" He reeled as he spoke, and clung to De Breze for support. De Breze had the reputation of being the most selfish of men. But at that moment, when a generous man might be excused for being selfish enough to desire to keep the little that he had for his own reprieve from starvation, this egotist became superb. "Friends," he cried, with enthusiasm, "I have something yet in my pocket; we will dine, all three of us."

"Dine!" faltered Lemercier. "Dine! I have not dined since I left the hospital. I breakfasted yesterday--on two mice upon toast. Dainty, but not nutritious. And I shared them with Fox."

"Fox! Fox lives still, then?" cried De Breze, startled.

"In a sort of way he does. But one mouse since yesterday morning is not much; and he can't expect that every day."

"Why don't you take him out?" asked Savarin. "Give him a chance of picking up a bone somewhere."

"I dare not; he would be picked up himself. Dogs are getting very valuable: they sell for 50 francs apiece. Come, De Breze, where are we to dine?"

"I and Savarin can dine at the London Tavern upon rat pate or jugged cat. But it would be impertinence to invite a satrap like yourself who has a whole dog in his larder--a dish of 50 francs--a dish for a king. Adieu, my dear Frederic. Allons, Savarin."

"I feasted you on better meats than dog when I could afford it," said Frederic, plaintively; "and the first time you invite me you retract the invitation. Be it so. Bon appetit."

"Bah!" said De Breze, catching Frederic's arm as he turned to depart. "Of course I was but jesting. Only another day, when my pockets will be empty, do think what an excellent thing a roasted dog is, and make up your mind while Fox has still some little flesh on his bones."

"Flesh!" said Savarin, detaining them. "Look! See how right Voltaire was in saying, 'Amusement is the first necessity of civilised man.' Paris can do without bread Paris still retains Polichinello."

He pointed to the puppet-show, round which a crowd, not of children alone, but of men-middle-aged and old-were collected; while sous were dropped into the tin handed round by a squalid boy.

"And, mon ami," whispered De Breze to Lemercier, with the voice of a tempting fiend, "observe how Punch is without his dog."

It was true. The dog was gone,--its place supplied by a melancholy emaciated cat.

Frederic crawled towards the squalid boy. "What has become of Punch's dog?"

"We ate him last Sunday. Next Sunday we shall have the cat in a pie," said the urchin, with a sensual smack of the lips.

"O Fox! Fox!" murmured Frederic, as the three men went slowly down through the darkening streets--the roar of the Prussian guns heard afar, while distinct and near rang the laugh of the idlers round the Punch without a dog.

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