Cousin Pons/Section 10
Pons was charmed to hear La Cibot's tittle-tattle. Schmucke, Mme. Cibot, and Dr. Poulain meant all humanity to him now, when his sickroom became the universe. If invalid's thoughts, as a rule, never travel beyond in the little space over which his eyes can wander; if their selfishness, in its narrow sphere, subordinates all creatures and all things to itself, you can imagine the lengths to which an old bachelor may go. Before three weeks were out he had even gone so far as to regret, once and again, that he had not married Madeleine Vivet! Mme. Cibot, too, had made immense progress in his esteem in those three weeks; without her he felt that he should have been utterly lost; for as for Schmucke, the poor invalid looked upon him as a second Pons. La Cibot's prodigious art consisted in expressing Pons' own ideas, and this she did quite unconsciously.
"Ah! here comes the doctor!" she exclaimed, as the bell rang, and away she went, knowing very well that Remonencq had come with the Jew.
"Make no noise, gentlemen," said she, "he must not know anything. He is all on the fidget when his precious treasures are concerned."
"A walk round will be enough," said the Hebrew, armed with a magnifying-glass and a lorgnette.
The greater part of Pons' collection was installed in a great old-fashioned salon such as French architects used to build for the old noblesse; a room twenty-five feet broad, some thirty feet in length, and thirteen in height. Pons' pictures to the number of sixty-seven hung upon the white-and-gold paneled walls; time, however, had reddened the gold and softened the white to an ivory tint, so that the whole was toned down, and the general effect subordinated to the effect of the pictures. Fourteen statues stood on pedestals set in the corners of the room, or among the pictures, or on brackets inlaid by Boule; sideboards of carved ebony, royally rich, surrounded the walls to elbow height, all the shelves filled with curiosities; in the middle of the room stood a row of carved credence-tables, covered with rare miracles of handicraft—with ivories and bronzes, wood-carvings and enamels, jewelry and porcelain.
As soon as Elie Magus entered the sanctuary, he went straight to the four masterpieces; he saw at a glance that these were the gems of Pons' collection, and masters lacking in his own. For Elie Magus these were the naturalist's desiderata for which men undertake long voyages from east to west, through deserts and tropical countries, across southern savannahs, through virgin forests.
The first was a painting by Sebastian del Piombo, the second a Fra Bartolommeo della Porta, the third a Hobbema landscape, and the fourth and last a Durer—a portrait of a woman. Four diamonds indeed! In the history of art, Sebastian del Piombo is like a shining point in which three schools meet, each bringing its pre-eminent qualities. A Venetian painter, he came to Rome to learn the manner of Raphael under the direction of Michael Angelo, who would fain oppose Raphael on his own ground by pitting one of his own lieutenants against the reigning king of art. And so it came to pass that in Del Piombo's indolent genius Venetian color was blended with Florentine composition and a something of Raphael's manner in the few pictures which he deigned to paint, and the sketches were made for him, it is said, by Michael Angelo himself.
If you would see the perfection to which the painter attained (armed as he was with triple power), go to the Louvre and look at the Baccio Bandinelli portrait; you might place it beside Titian's Man with a Glove, or by that other Portrait of an Old Man in which Raphael's consummate skill blends with Correggio's art; or, again, compare it with Leonardo da Vinci's Charles VIII., and the picture would scarcely lose. The four pearls are equal; there is the same lustre and sheen, the same rounded completeness, the same brilliancy. Art can go no further than this. Art has risen above Nature, since Nature only gives her creatures a few brief years of life.
Pons possessed one example of this immortal great genius and incurably indolent painter; it was a Knight of Malta, a Templar kneeling in prayer. The picture was painted on slate, and in its unfaded color and its finish was immeasurably finer than the Baccio Bandinelli.
Fra Bartolommeo was represented by a Holy Family, which many connoisseurs might have taken for a Raphael. The Hobbema would have fetched sixty thousand francs at a public sale; and as for the Durer, it was equal to the famous Holzschuer portrait at Nuremberg for which the kings of Bavaria, Holland, and Prussia have vainly offered two hundred thousand francs again and again. Was it the portrait of the wife or the daughter of Holzschuer, Albrecht Durer's personal friend?—The hypothesis seems to be a certainty, for the attitude of the figure in Pons' picture suggests that it is meant for a pendant, the position of the coat-of-arms is the same as in the Nuremberg portrait; and, finally, the oetatis suoe XLI. accords perfectly with the age inscribed on the picture religiously kept by the Holzschuers of Nuremberg, and but recently engraved.
The tears stood in Elie Magus' eyes as he looked from one masterpiece to another. He turned round to La Cibot, "I will give you a commission of two thousand francs on each of the pictures if you can arrange that I shall have them for forty thousand francs," he said. La Cibot was amazed at this good fortune dropped from the sky. Admiration, or, to be more accurate, delirious joy, had wrought such havoc in the Jew's brain, that it had actually unsettled his habitual greed, and he fell headlong into enthusiasm, as you see.
"And I?——" put in Remonencq, who knew nothing about pictures.
"Everything here is equally good," the Jew said cunningly, lowering his voice for Remonencq's ears; "take ten pictures just as they come and on the same conditions. Your fortune will be made."
Again the three thieves looked each other in the face, each one of them overcome with the keenest of all joys—sated greed. All of a sudden the sick man's voice rang through the room; the tones vibrated like the strokes of a bell:
"Who is there?" called Pons.
"Monsieur! just go back to bed!" exclaimed La Cibot, springing upon Pons and dragging him by main force. "What next! Have you a mind to kill yourself?—Very well, then, it is not Dr. Poulain, it is Remonencq, good soul, so anxious that he has come to ask after you!—Everybody is so fond of you that the whole house is in a flutter. So what is there to fear?"
"It seems to me that there are several of you," said Pons.
"Several? that is good! What next! Are you dreaming!—You will go off your head before you have done, upon my word!—Here, look!"—and La Cibot flung open the door, signed to Magus to go, and beckoned to Remonencq.
"Well, my dear sir," said the Auvergnat, now supplied with something to say, "I just came to ask after you, for the whole house is alarmed about you.—Nobody likes Death to set foot in a house!—And lastly, Daddy Monistrol, whom you know very well, told me to tell you that if you wanted money he was at your service——"
"He sent you here to take a look round at my knick-knacks!" returned the old collector from his bed; and the sour tones of his voice were full of suspicion.
A sufferer from liver complaint nearly always takes momentary and special dislikes to some person or thing, and concentrates all his ill-humor upon the object. Pons imagined that some one had designs upon his precious collection; the thought of guarding it became a fixed idea with him; Schmucke was continually sent to see if any one had stolen into the sanctuary.
"Your collection is fine enough to attract the attention of chineurs," Remonencq answered astutely. "I am not much in the art line myself; but you are supposed to be such a great connoisseur, sir, that with my eyes shut—supposing, for instance, that you should need money some time or other, for nothing costs so much as these confounded illnesses; there was my sister now, when she would have got better again just as well without. Doctors are rascals that take advantage of your condition to—"
"Thank you, good-day, good-day," broke in Pons, eying the marine store-dealer uneasily.
"I will go to the door with him, for fear he should touch something," La Cibot whispered to her patient.
"Yes, yes," answered the invalid, thanking her by a glance.
La Cibot shut the bedroom door behind her, and Pons' suspicions awoke again at once.
She found Magus standing motionless before the four pictures. His immobility, his admiration, can only be understood by other souls open to ideal beauty, to the ineffable joy of beholding art made perfect; such as these can stand for whole hours before the Antiope—Correggio's masterpiece—before Leonardo's Gioconda, Titian's Mistress, Andrea del Sarto's Holy Family, Domenichino's Children Among the Flowers, Raphael's little cameo, or his Portrait of an Old Man—Art's greatest masterpieces.
"Be quick and go, and make no noise," said La Cibot.
The Jew walked slowly backwards, giving the pictures such a farewell gaze as a lover gives his love. Outside on the landing, La Cibot tapped his bony arm. His rapt contemplations had put an idea into her head.
"Make it four thousand francs for each picture," said she, "or I do nothing."
"I am so poor! . . ." began Magus. "I want the pictures simply for their own sake, simply and solely for the love of art, my dear lady."
"I can understand that love, sonny, you are so dried up. But if you do not promise me sixteen thousand francs now, before Remonencq here, I shall want twenty to-morrow."
"Sixteen; I promise," returned the Jew, frightened by the woman's rapacity.
La Cibot turned to Remonencq.
"What oath can a Jew swear?" she inquired.
"You may trust him," replied the marine store-dealer. "He is as honest as I am."
"Very well; and you?" asked she, "if I get him to sell them to you, what will you give me?"
"Half-share of profits," Remonencq answered briskly.
"I would rather have a lump sum," returned La Cibot; "I am not in business myself."
"You understand business uncommonly well!" put in Elie Magus, smiling; "a famous saleswoman you would make!"
"I want her to take me into partnership, me and my goods," said the Auvergnat, as he took La Cibot's plump arm and gave it playful taps like hammer-strokes. "I don't ask her to bring anything into the firm but her good looks! You are making a mistake when your stick to your Turk of a Cibot and his needle. Is a little bit of a porter the man to make a woman rich—a fine woman like you? Ah, what a figure you would make in a shop on the boulevard, all among the curiosities, gossiping with amateurs and twisting them round your fingers! Just you leave your lodge as soon as you have lined your purse here, and you shall see what will become of us both."
"Lined my purse!" cried Cibot. "I am incapable of taking the worth of a single pin; you mind that, Remonencq! I am known in the neighborhood for an honest woman, I am."
La Cibot's eyes flashed fire.
"There, never mind," said Elie Magus; "this Auvergnat seems to be too fond of you to mean to insult you."
"How she would draw on the customers!" cried the Auvergnat.
Mme. Cibot softened at this.
"Be fair, sonnies," quoth she, "and judge for yourselves how I am placed. These ten years past I have been wearing my life out for these two old bachelors yonder, and neither or them has given me anything but words. Remonencq will tell you that I feed them by contract, and lose twenty or thirty sous a day; all my savings have gone that way, by the soul of my mother (the only author of my days that I ever knew), this is as true as that I live, and that this is the light of day, and may my coffee poison me if I lie about a farthing. Well, there is one up there that will die soon, eh? and he the richer of the two that I have treated like my own children. Would you believe it, my dear sir, I have told him over and over again for days past that he is at death's door (for Dr. Poulain has given him up), he could not say less about putting my name down in his will. We shall only get our due by taking it, upon my word, as an honest woman, for as for trusting to the next-of-kin!—No fear! There! look you here, words don't stink; it is a bad world!"
"That is true," Elie Magus answered cunningly, "that is true; and it is just the like of us that are among the best," he added, looking at Remonencq.
"Just let me be," returned La Cibot; "I am not speaking of you. 'Pressing company is always accepted,' as the old actor said. I swear to you that the two gentlemen already owe me nearly three thousand francs; the little I have is gone by now in medicine and things on their account; and now suppose they refuse to recognize my advances? I am so stupidly honest that I did not dare to say nothing to them about it. Now, you that are in business, my dear sir, do you advise me to got to a lawyer?"
"A lawyer?" cried Remonencq; "you know more about it than all the lawyers put together—"
Just at that moment a sound echoed in the great staircase, a sound as if some heavy body had fallen in the dining-room.
"Oh, goodness me!" exclaimed La Cibot; "it seems to me that monsieur has just taken a ticket for the ground floor."
She pushed her fellow-conspirators out at the door, and while the pair descended the stairs with remarkable agility, she ran to the dining-room, and there beheld Pons, in his shirt, stretched out upon the tiles. He had fainted. She lifted him as if he had been a feather, carried him back to his room, laid him in bed, burned feathers under his nose, bathed his temples with eau-de-cologne, and at last brought him to consciousness. When she saw his eyes unclose and life return, she stood over him, hands on hips.
"No slippers! In your shirt! That is the way to kill yourself! Why do you suspect me?—If this is to be the way of it, I wish you good-day, sir. Here have I served you these ten years, I have spent money on you till my savings are all gone, to spare trouble to that poor M. Schmucke, crying like a child on the stairs—and this is my reward! You have been spying on me. God has punished you! It serves you right! Here I am straining myself to carry you, running the risk of doing myself a mischief that I shall feel all my days. Oh dear, oh dear! and the door left open too—"
"You were talking with some one. Who was it?"
"Here are notions!" cried La Cibot. "What next! Am I your bond-slave? Am I to give account of myself to you? Do you know that if you bother me like this, I shall clear out! You shall take a nurse."
Frightened by this threat, Pons unwittingly allowed La Cibot to see the extent of the power of her sword of Damocles.
"It is my illness!" he pleaded piteously.
"It is as you please," La Cibot answered roughly.
She went. Pons, confused, remorseful, admiring his nurse's scalding devotion, reproached himself for his behavior. The fall on the paved floor of the dining-room had shaken and bruised him, and aggravated his illness, but Pons was scarcely conscious of his physical sufferings.
La Cibot met Schmucke on the staircase.
"Come here, sir," she said. "There is bad news, that there is! M. Pons is going off his head! Just think of it! he got up with nothing on, he came after me—and down he came full-length. Ask him why—he knows nothing about it. He is in a bad way. I did nothing to provoke such violence, unless, perhaps, I waked up ideas by talking to him of his early amours. Who knows men? Old libertines that they are. I ought not to have shown him my arms when his eyes were glittering like carbuckles."
Schmucke listened. Mme. Cibot might have been talking Hebrew for anything that he understood.
"I have given myself a wrench that I shall feel all my days," added she, making as though she were in great pain. (Her arms did, as a matter of fact, ache a little, and the muscular fatigue suggested an idea, which she proceeded to turn to profit.) "So stupid I am. When I saw him lying there on the floor, I just took him up in my arms as if he had been a child, and carried him back to bed, I did. And I strained myself, I can feel it now. Ah! how it hurts!—I am going downstairs. Look after our patient. I will send Cibot for Dr. Poulain. I had rather die outright than be crippled."
La Cibot crawled downstairs, clinging to the banisters, and writhing and groaning so piteously that the tenants, in alarm, came out upon their landings. Schmucke supported the suffering creature, and told the story of La Cibot's devotion, the tears running down his cheeks as he spoke. Before very long the whole house, the whole neighborhood indeed, had heard of Mme. Cibot's heroism; she had given herself a dangerous strain, it was said, with lifting one of the "nutcrackers."
Schmucke meanwhile went to Pons' bedside with the tale. Their factotum was in a frightful state. "What shall we do without her?" they said, as they looked at each other; but Pons was so plainly the worse for his escapade, that Schmucke did not dare to scold him.
"Gonfounded pric-a-prac! I would sooner purn dem dan loose mein friend!" he cried, when Pons told him of the cause of the accident. "To suspect Montame Zipod, dot lend us her safings! It is not goot; but it is der illness—"
"Ah! what an illness! I am not the same man, I can feel it," said Pons. "My dear Schmucke, if only you did not suffer through me!"
"Scold me," Schmucke answered, "und leaf Montame Zipod in beace."
As for Mme. Cibot, she soon recovered in Dr. Poulain's hands; and her restoration, bordering on the miraculous, shed additional lustre on her name and fame in the Marais. Pons attributed the success to the excellent constitution of the patient, who resumed her ministrations seven days later to the great satisfaction of her two gentlemen. Her influence in their household and her tyranny was increased a hundred-fold by the accident. In the course of a week, the two nutcrackers ran into debt; Mme. Cibot paid the outstanding amounts, and took the opportunity to obtain from Schmucke (how easily!) a receipt for two thousand francs, which she had lent, she said, to the friends.
"Oh, what a doctor M. Poulain is!" cried La Cibot, for Pons' benefit. "He will bring you through, my dear sir, for he pulled me out of my coffin! Cibot, poor man, thought I was dead. . . . Well, Dr. Poulain will have told you that while I was in bed I thought of nothing but you. 'God above,' said I, 'take me, and let my dear Mr. Pons live—'"
"Poor dear Mme. Cibot, you all but crippled yourself for me."
"Ah! but for Dr. Poulain I should have been put to bed with a shovel by now, as we shall all be one day. Well, what must be, must, as the old actor said. One must take things philosophically. How did you get on without me?"
"Schmucke nursed me," said the invalid; "but our poor money-box and our lessons have suffered. I do not know how he managed."
"Calm yourself, Bons," exclaimed Schmucke; "ve haf in Zipod ein panker—"
"Do not speak of it, my lamb. You are our children, both of you," cried La Cibot. "Our savings will be well invested; you are safer than the Bank. So long as we have a morsel of bread, half of it is yours. It is not worth mentioning—"
"Boor Montame Zipod!" said Schmucke, and he went.
Pons said nothing.
"Would you believe it, my cherub?" said La Cibot, as the sick man tossed uneasily, "in my agony—for it was a near squeak for me—the thing that worried me most was the thought that I must leave you alone, with no one to look after you, and my poor Cibot without a farthing. . . . My savings are such a trifle, that I only mention them in connection with my death and Cibot, an angel that he is! No. He nursed me as if I had been a queen, he did, and cried like a calf over me! . . . But I counted on you, upon my word. I said to him, 'There, Cibot! my gentlemen will not let you starve—'"
Pons made no reply to this thrust ad testamentum; but as the portress waited for him to say something—"I shall recommend you to M. Schmucke," he said at last.
"Ah!" cried La Cibot, "whatever you do will be right; I trust in you and your heart. Let us never talk of this again; you make me feel ashamed, my cherub. Think of getting better, you will outlive us all yet."
Profound uneasiness filled Mme. Cibot's mind. She cast about for some way of making the sick man understand that she expected a legacy. That evening, when Schmucke was eating his dinner as usual by Pons' bedside, she went out, hoping to find Dr. Poulain at home.
Dr. Poulain lived in the Rue d'Orleans in a small ground floor establishment, consisting of a lobby, a sitting-room, and two bedrooms. A closet, opening into the lobby and the bedroom, had been turned into a study for the doctor. The kitchen, the servant's bedroom, and a small cellar were situated in a wing of the house, a huge pile built in the time of the Empire, on the site of an old mansion of which the garden still remained, though it had been divided among the three ground floor tenants.
Nothing had been changed in the doctor's house since it was built. Paint and paper and ceilings were all redolent of the Empire. The grimy deposits of forty years lay thick on walls and ceilings, on paper and paint and mirrors and gilding. And yet, this little establishment, in the depths of the Marais, paid a rent of a thousand francs.
Mme. Poulain, the doctor's mother, aged sixty-seven, was ending her days in the second bedroom. She worked for a breeches-maker, stitching men's leggings, breeches, belts, and braces, anything, in fact, that is made in a way of business which has somewhat fallen off of late years. Her whole time was spent in keeping her son's house and superintending the one servant; she never went abroad, and took the air in the little garden entered through the glass door of the sitting-room. Twenty years previously, when her husband died, she sold his business to his best workman, who gave his master's widow work enough to earn a daily wage of thirty sous. She had made every sacrifice to educate her son. At all costs, he should occupy a higher station than his father before him; and now she was proud of her Aesculapius, she believed in him, and sacrificed everything to him as before. She was happy to take care of him, to work and put by a little money, and dream of nothing but his welfare, and love him with an intelligent love of which every mother is not capable. For instance, Mme. Poulain remembered that she had been a working girl. She would not injure her son's prospects; he should not be ashamed by his mother (for the good woman's grammar was something of the same kind as Mme. Cibot's); and for this reason she kept in the background, and went to her room of her own accord if any distinguished patient came to consult the doctor, or if some old schoolfellow or fellow-student chanced to call. Dr. Poulain had never had occasion to blush for the mother whom he revered; and this sublime love of hers more than atoned for a defective education.
The breeches-maker's business sold for about twenty thousand francs, and the widow invested the money in the Funds in 1820. The income of eleven hundred francs per annum derived from this source was, at one time, her whole fortune. For many a year the neighbors used to see the doctor's linen hanging out to dry upon a clothes-line in the garden, and the servant and Mme. Poulain thriftily washed everything at home; a piece of domestic economy which did not a little to injure the doctor's practice, for it was thought that if he was so poor, it must be through his own fault. Her eleven hundred francs scarcely did more than pay the rent. During those early days, Mme. Poulain, good, stout, little old woman, was the breadwinner, and the poor household lived upon her earnings. After twelve years of perseverance upon a rough and stony road, Dr. Poulain at last was making an income of three thousand francs, and Mme. Poulain had an income of about five thousand francs at her disposal. Five thousand francs for those who know Paris means a bare subsistence.
The sitting-room, where patients waited for an interview, was shabbily furnished. There was the inevitable mahogany sofa covered with yellow-flowered Utrecht velvet, four easy-chairs, a tea-table, a console, and half-a-dozen chairs, all the property of the deceased breeches-maker, and chosen by him. A lyre-shaped clock between two Egyptian candlesticks still preserved its glass shade intact. You asked yourself how the yellow chintz window-curtains, covered with red flowers, had contrived to hang together for so long; for evidently they had come from the Jouy factory, and Oberkampf received the Emperor's congratulations upon similar hideous productions of the cotton industry in 1809.
The doctor's consulting-room was fitted up in the same style, with household stuff from the paternal chamber. It looked stiff, poverty-stricken, and bare. What patient could put faith in the skill of any unknown doctor who could not even furnish his house? And this in a time when advertising is all-powerful; when we gild the gas-lamps in the Place de la Concorde to console the poor man for his poverty by reminding him that he is rich as a citizen.
The ante-chamber did duty as a dining-room. The servant sat at her sewing there whenever she was not busy in the kitchen or keeping the doctor's mother company. From the dingy short curtains in the windows you would have guessed at the shabby thrift behind them without setting foot in the dreary place. What could those wall-cupboards contain but stale scraps of food, chipped earthenware, corks used over and over again indefinitely, soiled table-linen, odds and ends that could descend but one step lower into the dust-heap, and all the squalid necessities of a pinched household in Paris?
In these days, when the five-franc piece is always lurking in our thoughts and intruding itself into our speech, Dr. Poulain, aged thirty-three, was still a bachelor. Heaven had bestowed on him a mother with no connections. In ten years he had not met with the faintest pretext for a romance in his professional career; his practice lay among clerks and small manufacturers, people in his own sphere of life, with homes very much like his own. His richer patients were butchers, bakers, and the more substantial tradespeople of the neighborhood. These, for the most part, attributed their recovery to Nature, as an excuse for paying for the services of a medical man, who came on foot, at the rate of two francs per visit. In his profession, a carriage is more necessary than medical skill.
A humdrum monotonous life tells in the end upon the most adventurous spirit. A man fashions himself to his lot, he accepts a commonplace existence; and Dr. Poulain, after ten years of his practice, continued his labors of Sisyphus without the despair that made early days so bitter. And yet—like every soul in Paris—he cherished a dream. Remonencq was happy in his dream; La Cibot had a dream of her own; and Dr. Poulain, too, dreamed. Some day he would be called in to attend a rich and influential patient, would effect a positive cure, and the patient would procure a post for him; he would be head surgeon to a hospital, medical officer of a prison or police-court, or doctor to the boulevard theatres. He had come by his present appointment as doctor to the Mairie in this very way. La Cibot had called him in when the landlord of the house in the Rue de Normandie fell ill; he had treated the case with complete success; M. Pillerault, the patient, took an interest in the young doctor, called to thank him, and saw his carefully-hidden poverty. Count Popinot, the cabinet minister, had married M. Pillerault's grand-niece, and greatly respected her uncle; of him, therefore, M. Pillerault had asked for the post, which Poulain had now held for two years. That appointment and its meagre salary came just in time to prevent a desperate step; Poulain was thinking of emigration; and for a Frenchman, it is a kind of death to leave France.
Dr. Poulain went, you may be sure, to thank Count Popinot; but as Count Popinot's family physician was the celebrated Horace Bianchon, it was pretty clear that his chances of gaining a footing in that house were something of the slenderest. The poor doctor had fondly hoped for the patronage of a powerful cabinet minister, one of the twelve or fifteen cards which a cunning hand has been shuffling for sixteen years on the green baize of the council table, and now he dropped back again into his Marais, his old groping life among the poor and the small tradespeople, with the privilege of issuing certificates of death for a yearly stipend of twelve hundred francs.
Dr. Poulain had distinguished himself to some extent as a house-student; he was a prudent practitioner, and not without experience. His deaths caused no scandal; he had plenty of opportunities of studying all kinds of complaints in anima vili. Judge, therefore, of the spleen that he nourished! The expression of his countenance, lengthy and not too cheerful to begin with, at times was positively appalling. Set a Tartuffe's all-devouring eyes, and the sour humor of an Alceste in a sallow-parchment visage, and try to imagine for yourself the gait, bearing, and expression of a man who thought himself as good a doctor as the illustrious Bianchon, and felt that he was held down in his narrow lot by an iron hand. He could not help comparing his receipts (ten francs a day if he was fortunate) with Bianchon's five or six hundred.
Are the hatreds and jealousies of democracy incomprehensible after this? Ambitious and continually thwarted, he could not reproach himself. He had once already tried his fortune by inventing a purgative pill, something like Morrison's, and intrusted the business operations to an old hospital chum, a house-student who afterwards took a retail drug business; but, unluckily, the druggist, smitten with the charms of a ballet-dancer of the Ambigu-Comique, found himself at length in the bankruptcy court; and as the patent had been taken out in his name, his partner was literally without a remedy, and the important discovery enriched the purchaser of the business. The sometime house-student set sail for Mexico, that land of gold, taking poor Poulain's little savings with him; and, to add insult to injury, the opera-dancer treated him as an extortioner when he applied to her for his money.
Not a single rich patient had come to him since he had the luck to cure old M. Pillerault. Poulain made his rounds on foot, scouring the Marais like a lean cat, and obtained from two to forty sous out of a score of visits. The paying patient was a phenomenon about as rare as that anomalous fowl known as a "white blackbird" in all sublunary regions.
The briefless barrister, the doctor without a patient, are pre-eminently the two types of a decorous despair peculiar to this city of Paris; it is mute, dull despair in human form, dressed in a black coat and trousers with shining seams that recall the zinc on an attic roof, a glistening satin waistcoat, a hat preserved like a relic, a pair of old gloves, and a cotton shirt. The man is the incarnation of a melancholy poem, sombre as the secrets of the Conciergerie. Other kinds of poverty, the poverty of the artist—actor, painter, musician, or poet—are relieved and lightened by the artist's joviality, the reckless gaiety of the Bohemian border country—the first stage of the journey to the Thebaid of genius. But these two black-coated professions that go afoot through the street are brought continually in contact with disease and dishonor; they see nothing of human nature but its sores; in the forlorn first stages and beginnings of their career they eye competitors suspiciously and defiantly; concentrated dislike and ambition flashes out in glances like the breaking forth of hidden flames. Let two schoolfellows meet after twenty years, the rich man will avoid the poor; he does not recognize him, he is afraid even to glance into the gulf which Fate has set between him and the friend of other years. The one has been borne through life on the mettlesome steed called Fortune, or wafted on the golden clouds of success; the other has been making his way in underground Paris through the sewers, and bears the marks of his career upon him. How many a chum of old days turned aside at the sight of the doctor's greatcoat and waistcoat!
With this explanation, it should be easy to understand how Dr. Poulain came to lend himself so readily to the farce of La Cibot's illness and recovery. Greed of every kind, ambition of every nature, is not easy to hide. The doctor examined his patient, found that every organ was sound and healthy, admired the regularity of her pulse and the perfect ease of her movements; and as she continued to moan aloud, he saw that for some reason she found it convenient to lie at Death's door. The speedy cure of a serious imaginary disease was sure to cause a sensation in the neighborhood; the doctor would be talked about. He made up his mind at once. He talked of rupture, and of taking it in time, and thought even worse of the case than La Cibot herself. The portress was plied with various remedies, and finally underwent a sham operation, crowned with complete success. Poulain repaired to the Arsenal Library, looked out a grotesque case in some of Desplein's records of extraordinary cures, and fitted the details to Mme. Cibot, modestly attributing the success of the treatment to the great surgeon, in whose steps (he said) he walked. Such is the impudence of beginners in Paris. Everything is made to serve as a ladder by which to climb upon the scene; and as everything, even the rungs of a ladder, will wear out in time, the new members of every profession are at a loss to find the right sort of wood of which to make steps for themselves.
There are moments when the Parisian is not propitious. He grows tired of raising pedestals, pouts like a spoiled child, and will have no more idols; or, to state it more accurately, Paris cannot always find a proper object for infatuation. Now and then the vein of genius gives out, and at such times the Parisian may turn supercilious; he is not always willing to bow down and gild mediocrity.