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Title: The Ladies' Paradise
Author: Emile Zola
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1400561.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2014
Date most recently updated: January 2014

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Ladies' Paradise
Author: Emile Zola


* * *


The Ladies' Paradise:
A Realistic Novel.
by
Emile Zola

Translated Without Abridgement from the 50th French Edition.

[Translated by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly]

LONDON:
VIZETELLY & Co.,
42 CATHERINE STREET, STRAND.
1886.

*

PRODUCTION NOTE:

The original French publication, _Au Bonheur des Dames_ ("The Ladies'
Delight" or "The Ladies' Paradise"), is the eleventh novel in the
Rougon-Macquart series by Émile Zola. It was first serialized in the
periodical _Gil Blas_ and published in novel form by Charpentier in
1883.

In 1883 an English edition appeared in 3 volumes, published by Tinsley
Brothers, London. It was titled _The Ladies' Paradise_ and was
translated into English by Frank Belmont.

This present ebook was produced from an English translation of the 50th
French Edition of _Au Bonheur des Dames_ and appeared in 1886. Whilst
his name is not mentioned in the book as translator, the translation
has come to be attributed to Ernest Alfred Vizetelly.

The BBC used the novel as the basis for an eight-part television series
set in northern England titled _The Paradise_, first broadcast in 2012.
A second series appeared in 2013.

The novel was also was adapted into a play, _The Ladies' Delight_, for
BBC Radio 4, premiering in September 2010.

A number of Emile Zola's other works are available from
Doctor Widger's Library at Project Gutenberg Australia, at
http://www.gutenberg.net.au/widger/home.html#zola

*

CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV

*

[ILLUSTRATIONS

1. DENISE UTILIZED IN THE MANTLE DEPARTMENT OF THE LADIES' PARADISE
2. DENISE AND HER BROTHERS ARRIVING AT THEIR UNCLE BAUDU'S
3. MADAME DESFORGES INTRODUCING MOURET TO BARON HARTMANN
4. DENISE REPULSING THE AMOROUS ADVANCES OF M. JOUVE
5. PREPARING FOR THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF SUMMER NOVELTIES AT THE
   LADIES' PARADISE
6. DELOCHE FLINGING A GLASS OF WINE AT FAVIER FOR HAVING SLANDERED
   DENISE
7. MADAME DE BOVES BEING SEARCHED FOR STOLEN LACE AT THE LADIES'
   PARADISE

*

CHAPTER I.

Denise had walked from the Saint-Lazare railway station, where a
Cherbourg train had landed her and her two brothers, after a night
passed on the hard seat of a third-class carriage. She was leading
Pépé by the hand, and Jean was following her, all three fatigued after
the journey, frightened and lost in this vast Paris, their eyes on
every street name, asking at every corner the way to the Rue de la
Michodière, where their uncle Baudu lived. But on arriving in the Place
Gaillon, the young girl stopped short, astonished.

"Oh! look there, Jean," said she; and they stood still, nestling close
to one another, all dressed in black, wearing the old mourning bought
at their father's death. She, rather puny for her twenty years, was
carrying a small parcel; on the other side, her little brother, five
years old, was clinging to her arm; while behind her, the big brother,
a strapping youth of sixteen, was standing empty-handed.

"Well," said she, after a pause, "that _is_ a shop!"

They were at the corner of the Rue de la Michodière and the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, in front of a draper's shop, which displayed a
wealth of colour in the soft October light. Eight o'clock was striking
at the church of Saint-Roch; not many people were about, only a few
clerks on their way to business, and housewives doing their morning
shopping. Before the door, two shopmen, mounted on a step-ladder,
were hanging up some woollen goods, whilst in a window in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin another young man, kneeling with his back to the
pavement, was delicately plaiting a piece of blue silk. In the shop,
where there were as yet no customers, there was a buzz as of a swarm of
bees at work.

"By Jove!" said Jean, "this beats Valognes. Yours wasn't such a fine
shop."

Denise shook her head. She had spent two years there, at Cornaille's,
the principal draper's in the town, and this shop, encountered so
suddenly—this, to her, enormous place, made her heart swell, and
kept her excited, interested, and oblivious of everything else. The
high plate-glass door, facing the Place Gaillon, reached the first
storey, amidst a complication of ornaments covered with gilding. Two
allegorical figures, representing two laughing, bare-breasted women,
unrolled the scroll bearing the sign, "The Ladies' Paradise." The
establishment extended along the Rue de la Michodière and the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, and comprised, beside the corner house, four
others—two on the right and two on the left, bought and fitted up
recently. It seemed to her an endless extension, with its display on
the ground floor, and the plate-glass windows, through which could be
seen the whole length of the counters. Upstairs a young lady, dressed
all in silk, was sharpening a pencil, while two others, beside her,
were unfolding some velvet mantles.

"The Ladies' Paradise," read Jean, with the tender laugh of a handsome
youth who had already had an adventure with a woman. "That must draw
the customers—eh?"

But Denise was absorbed by the display at the principal entrance. There
she saw, in the open street, on the very pavement, a mountain of cheap
goods—bargains, placed there to tempt the passers-by, and attract
attention. Hanging from above were pieces of woollen and cloth goods,
merinoes, cheviots, and tweeds, floating like flags; the neutral,
slate, navy-blue, and olive-green tints being relieved by the large
white price-tickets. Close by, round the doorway, were hanging strips
of fur, narrow bands for dress trimmings, fine Siberian squirrel-skin,
spotless snowy swansdown, rabbit-skin imitation ermine and imitation
sable. Below, on shelves and on tables, amidst a pile of remnants,
appeared an immense quantity of hosiery almost given away; knitted
woollen gloves, neckerchiefs, women's hoods, waistcoats, a winter show
in all colours, striped, dyed, and variegated, with here and there a
flaming patch of red. Denise saw some tartan at nine sous, some strips
of American vison at a franc, and some mittens at five sous. There
appeared to be an immense clearance sale going on; the establishment
seemed bursting with goods, blocking up the pavement with the surplus.

Uncle Baudu was forgotten. Pépé himself, clinging tightly to his
sister's hand, opened his big eyes in wonder. A vehicle coming
up, forced them to quit the road-way, and they turned up the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin mechanically, following the shop windows and
stopping at each fresh display. At first they were captivated by a
complicated arrangement: above, a number of umbrellas, laid obliquely,
seemed to form a rustic roof; beneath these a quantity of silk
stockings, hung on rods, showed the roundness of the calves, some
covered with rosebuds, others of all colours, black open-worked, red
with embroidered corners, and flesh colour, the silky grain of which
made them look as soft as a fair woman's skin; and at the bottom of
all, a symmetrical array of gloves, with their taper fingers and
narrow palms, and that rigid virgin grace which characterises such
feminine articles before they are worn. But the last window especially
attracted their attention. It was an exhibition of silks, satins, and
velvets, arranged so as to produce, by a skilful artistic arrangement
of colours, the most delicious shades imaginable. At the top were
the velvets, from a deep black to a milky white: lower down, the
satins—pink, blue, fading away into shades of a wondrous delicacy;
still lower down were the silks, of all the colours of the rainbow,
pieces set up in the form of shells, others folded as if round a pretty
figure, arranged in a life-like natural manner by the clever fingers of
the window dressers. Between each motive, between each coloured phrase
of the display, ran a discreet accompaniment, a slight puffy ring of
cream-coloured silk. At each end were piled up enormous bales of the
silk of which the house had made a specialty, the "Paris Paradise"
and the "Golden Grain," two exceptional articles destined to work a
revolution in that branch of commerce.

"Oh, that silk at five francs twelve sous!" murmured Denise, astonished
at the "Paris Paradise."

Jean began to get tired. He stopped a passer-by. "Which is the Rue de
la Michodière, please, sir?"

On hearing that it was the first on the right they all turned back,
making the tour of the establishment. But just as she was entering
the street, Denise was attracted by a window in which ladies' dresses
were displayed. At Cornaille's that was her department, but she had
never seen anything like this, and remained rooted to the spot with
admiration. At the back a large sash of Bruges lace, of considerable
value, was spread out like an altar-veil, with its two white wings
extended; there were flounces of Alençon point, grouped in garlands;
then from the top to the bottom fluttered, like a fall of snow, a cloud
of lace of every description—Malines, Honiton, Valenciennes, Brussels,
and Venetian-point. On each side the heavy columns were draped with
cloth, making their background appear still more distant. And the
dresses were in this sort of chapel raised to the worship of woman's
beauty and grace. Occupying the centre was a magnificent article, a
velvet mantle, trimmed with silver fox; on one side a silk cape lined
with miniver, on the other a cloth cloak edged with cocks' plumes; and
last of all, opera cloaks in white cashmere and white silk trimmed
with swansdown or chenille. There was something for all tastes, from
the opera cloaks at twenty-nine francs to the velvet mantle marked up
at eighteen hundred. The well-rounded neck and graceful figures of
the dummies exaggerated the slimness of the waist, the absent head
being replaced by a large price-ticket pinned on the neck; whilst
the mirrors, cleverly arranged on each side of the window, reflected
and multiplied the forms without end, peopling the street with these
beautiful women for sale, each bearing a price in big figures in the
place of a head.

"How stunning they are!" murmured Jean, finding no other words to
express his emotion.

This time he himself had become motionless, his mouth open. All this
female luxury turned him rosy with pleasure. He had a girl's beauty—a
beauty he seemed to have stolen from his sister—a lovely skin, curly
hair, lips and eyes overflowing with tenderness. By his side Denise,
in her astonishment, appeared thinner still, with her rather long face
and large mouth, fading complexion, and light hair. Pépé, also fair,
in the way of most children, clung closer to her, as if wanting to be
caressed, troubled and delighted at the sight of the beautiful ladies
in the window. They looked so strange, so charming, on the pavement,
those three fair ones, poorly dressed in black—the sad-looking
young girl between the pretty child and the handsome youth—that the
passers-by looked back smilingly.

For several minutes a stout man with grey hair and a large yellow
face, standing at a shop-door on the other side of the street, had
been looking at them. He was standing there with bloodshot eyes and
contracted mouth, beside himself with rage at the display made by The
Ladies' Paradise, when the sight of the young girl and her brothers
completed his exasperation. What were those three simpletons doing
there, gaping in front of the cheap-jack's parade?

"What about uncle?" asked Denise, suddenly, as if just waking up.

"We are in the Rue de la Michodière," said Jean. "He must live
somewhere about here."

They raised their heads and looked round. Just in front of them, above
the stout man, they perceived a green sign-board bearing in yellow
letters, discoloured by the rain: "The Old Elbeuf. Cloths, Flannels.
Baudu, late Hauchecorne." The house, coated with an ancient rusty
white-wash, quite flat and unadorned, amidst the mansions in the Louis
XIV. style which surrounded it, had only three front windows, and these
windows, square, without shutters, were simply ornamented by a handrail
and two iron bars in the form of a cross. But amidst all this nudity,
what struck Denise the most, her eyes full of the light airy windows
at The Ladies' Paradise, was the ground-floor shop, crushed by the
ceiling, surmounted by a very low storey with half-moon windows, of a
prison-like appearance. The wainscoting, of a bottle-green hue, which
time had tinted with ochre and bitumen, encircled, right and left,
two deep windows, black and dusty, in which the heaped up goods could
hardly be seen. The open door seemed to lead into the darkness and
dampness of a cellar.

"That's the house," said Jean.

"Well, we must go in," declared Denise. "Come on, Pépé."

They appeared, however, somewhat troubled, as if seized with fear. When
their father died, carried off by the same fever which had, a month
previous, killed their mother, their uncle Baudu, in the emotion which
followed this double mourning, had written to Denise, assuring her
there would always be a place for her in his house whenever she would
like to come to Paris. But this was nearly a year ago, and the young
girl was now sorry to have left Valognes in a moment of temper without
informing her uncle. The latter did not know them, never having set
foot in Valognes since the day he left, as a boy, to enter as junior
in the drapery establishment kept by Hauchecorne, whose daughter he
afterwards married.

"Monsieur Baudu?" asked Denise, deciding at last to speak to the stout
man who was still eyeing them, surprised at their appearance.

"That's me," replied he.

Denise blushed and stammered out: "Oh, I'm so pleased! I am Denise.
This is Jean, and this is Pépé. You see we have come, uncle."

Baudu seemed amazed. His big eyes rolled in his yellow face; he spoke
slowly and with difficulty. He was evidently far from thinking of this
family which suddenly dropped down on him.

"What—what, you here?" repeated he several times. "But you were at
Valognes. Why aren't you at Valognes?"

With her sweet but rather faltering voice she then explained that since
the death of her father, who had spent everything in his dye-works, she
had acted as a mother to the two children, but the little she earned
at Cornaille's did not suffice to keep the three of them. Jean worked
at a cabinetmaker's, a repairer of old furniture, but didn't earn a
sou. However, he had got to like the business, and had learned to carve
in wood very well. One day, having found a piece of ivory, he amused
himself by carving a head, which a gentleman staying in the town had
seen and admired, and it was this gentleman who had persuaded them to
leave Valognes, promising to find a place in Paris for Jean with an
ivory-carver.

"So you see, uncle," continued Denise, "Jean will commence his
apprenticeship at his new master's to-morrow. They ask no premium, and
will board and lodge him. I felt sure Pépé and I could manage very
well. We can't be worse off than we were at Valognes."

She said nothing about Jean's love affair, of certain letters written
to the daughter of a nobleman living in the town, of kisses exchanged
over a wall—in fact, quite a scandal which had determined her leaving.
And she was especially anxious to be in Paris, to be able to look after
her brother, feeling quite a mother's tender anxiety for this gay
and handsome youth, whom all the women adored. Uncle Baudu couldn't
get over it, and continued his questions. However, when he heard her
speaking of her brothers in this way he became much kinder.

"So your father has left you nothing," said he. "I certainly thought
there was still something left. Ah! how many times did I write advising
him not to take that dye-work! A good-hearted fellow, but no head for
business! And you've been obliged to keep and look after these two
youngsters since?"

His bilious face had become clearer, his eyes were not so bloodshot as
when he was glaring at The Ladies' Paradise. Suddenly he noticed that
he was blocking up the doorway.

"Well," said he, "come in, now you're here. Come in, no use hanging
about gaping at a parcel of rubbish."

And after having darted a last look of anger at The Ladies' Paradise,
he made way for the children by entering the shop and calling his wife
and daughter.

"Elizabeth, Geneviève, come down; here's company for you!"

But Denise and the two boys hesitated before the darkness of the
shop. Blinded by the clear light of the street, they could hardly
see. Feeling their way with their feet with an instinctive fear of
encountering some treacherous step, and clinging still closer together
from this vague fear, the child continuing to hold the young girl's
skirts, and the big boy behind, they made their entry with a smiling,
anxious grace. The clear morning light described the dark profile of
their mourning clothes; an oblique ray of sunshine gilded their fair
hair.

"Come in, come in," repeated Baudu.

In a few brief sentences he explained the matter to his wife and
daughter. The first was a little woman, eaten up with anaemia, quite
white—white hair, white eyes, white lips. Geneviève, in whom her
mother's degenerateness appeared stronger still, had the debilitated,
colourless appearance of a plant reared in the shade. However, her
magnificent black hair, thick and heavy, marvellously vigorous for such
a weak, poor soil, gave her a sad charm.

"Come in," said both the women in their turn; "you are welcome."

And they made Denise sit down behind a counter. Pépé immediately jumped
up on his sister's lap, whilst Jean leant against some woodwork beside
her. Looking round the shop the new-comers began to take courage, their
eyes getting used to the obscurity. Now they could see it, with its low
and smoky ceiling, oaken counters bright with use, and old-fashioned
drawers with strong iron fittings. Bales of goods reached to the
beams above; the smell of linen and dyed stuffs—a sharp chemical
smell—seemed intensified by the humidity of the floor. At the further
end two young men and a young woman were putting away pieces of white
flannel.

"Perhaps this young gentleman would like to take something?" said
Madame Baudu, smiling at Pépé.

"No, thanks," replied Denise, "we had a cup of milk in a café opposite
the station." And as Geneviève looked at the small parcel she had laid
down, she added: "I left our box there too."

She blushed, feeling that she ought not to have dropped down on her
friends in this way. Even as she was leaving Valognes, she had been
full of regrets and fears; that was why she had left the box, and given
the children their breakfast.

"Come, come," said Baudu suddenly, "let's come to an understanding.
'Tis true I wrote to you, but that's a year ago, and since then
business hasn't been flourishing, I can assure you, my girl."

He stopped, choked with an emotion he did not wish to show. Madame
Baudu and Geneviève, with a resigned look, had cast their eyes down.

"Oh," continued he, "it's a crisis which will pass, no doubt, but I
have reduced my staff; there are only three here now, and this is not
the moment to engage a fourth. In short, my dear girl, I cannot take
you as I promised."

Denise listened, and turned very pale. He dwelt upon the subject,
adding: "It would do no good, either to you or to me.

"All right, uncle," replied she with a painful effort, "I'll try and
manage all the same."

The Baudus were not bad sort of people. But they complained of never
having had any luck. When their business was flourishing, they had had
to bring up five sons, of whom three had died before attaining the age
of twenty; the fourth had gone wrong, and the fifth had just left for
Mexico, as a captain. Geneviève was the only one left at home. But this
large family had cost a great deal of money, and Baudu had made things
worse by buying a great lumbering country house, at Rambouillet, near
his wife's father's place. Thus, a sharp, sour feeling was springing up
in the honest old tradesman's breast.

"You might have warned us," resumed he, gradually getting angry at his
own harshness. "You could have written; I should have told you to stay
at Valognes. When I heard of your father's death I said what is right
on such occasions, but you drop down on us without a word of warning.
It's very awkward."

He raised his voice, and that relieved him. His wife and daughter still
kept their eyes on the ground, like submissive persons who would never
think of interfering. However, whilst Jean had turned pale, Denise
had hugged the terrified Pépé to her bosom. She dropped hot tears of
disappointment.

"All right, uncle," she said, "we'll go away."

At that he stopped, an awkward silence ensued. Then he resumed in a
harsh tone: "I don't mean to turn you out. As you are here you must
stay the night; to-morrow we will see."

Then Madame Baudu and Geneviève understood they were free to arrange
matters. There was no need to trouble about Jean, as he was to commence
his apprenticeship the next day. As for Pépé, he would be well looked
after by Madame Gras, an old lady living in the Rue des Orties, who
boarded and lodged young children for forty francs a month. Denise said
she had sufficient to pay for the first month, and as for herself they
could soon find her a situation in the neighbourhood, no doubt.

"Wasn't Vinçard wanting a saleswoman?" asked Geneviève.

"Of course!" cried Baudu; "we'll go and see him after lunch. Nothing
like striking the iron while it's hot."

Not a customer had been in to interrupt this family discussion; the
shop remained dark and empty. At the other end, the two young men and
the young women were still working, talking in a low hissing tone
amongst themselves. However, three ladies arrived, and Denise was left
alone for a moment. She kissed Pépé with a swelling heart, at the
thought of their approaching separation. The child, affectionate as
a kitten, hid his head without saying a word. When Madame Baudu and
Geneviève returned, they remarked how quiet he was. Denise assured them
he never made any more noise than that, remaining for days together
without speaking, living on kisses and caresses. Until lunch-time the
three women sat and talked about children, housekeeping, life in Paris
and life in the country, in short, vague sentences, like relations
feeling rather awkward through not knowing one another very well. Jean
had gone to the shop-door, and stood there watching the passing crowd
and smiling at the pretty girls. At ten o'clock a servant appeared. As
a rule the cloth was laid for Baudu, Geneviève, and the first-hand. A
second lunch was served at eleven o'clock for Madame Baudu, the other
young man, and the young woman.

"Come to lunch!" called out the draper, turning towards his niece.

And as all sat ready in the narrow dining-room behind the shop, he
called the first-hand who had not come.

"Colomban!"

The young man apologised, having wished to finish arranging the
flannels. He was a big, stout fellow of twenty-five, heavy and
freckled, with an honest face, large weak mouth, and cunning eyes.

"There's a time for everything," said Baudu, solidly seated before a
piece of cold veal, which he was carving with a master's skill and
prudence, weighing each piece at a glance to within an ounce.

He served everybody, and even cut up the bread. Denise had placed
Pépé near her to see that he ate properly. But the dark close room
made her feel uncomfortable. She thought it so small, after the large
well-lighted rooms she had been accustomed to in the country. A single
window opened on a small back-yard, which communicated with the street
by a dark alley along the side of the house. And this yard, sodden and
filthy, was like the bottom of a well into which a glimmer of light had
fallen. In the winter they were obliged to keep the gas burning all day
long. When the weather enabled them to do without gas it was duller
still. Denise was several seconds before her eyes got sufficiently used
to the light to distinguish the food on her plate.

"That young chap has a good appetite," remarked Baudu, observing that
Jean had finished his veal. "If he works as well as he eats, he'll make
a fine fellow. But you, my girl, you don't eat. And, I say, now we can
talk a bit, tell us why you didn't get married at Valognes?"

Denise almost dropped the glass she had in her hand. "Oh! uncle—get
married! How can you think of it? And the little ones!"

She was forced to laugh, it seemed to her such a strange idea. Besides,
what man would care to have her—a girl without a sou, no fatter than
a lath, and not at all pretty? No, no, she would never marry, she had
quite enough children with her two brothers.

"You are wrong," said her uncle; "a woman always needs a man. If you
had found an honest young fellow, you wouldn't have dropped on to the
Paris pavement, you and your brothers, like a family of gipsies."

He stopped, to divide with a parsimony full of justice, a dish of bacon
and potatoes which the servant brought in. Then, pointing to Geneviève
and Colomban with his spoon, he added: "Those two will be married next
spring, if we have a good winter season."

Such was the patriarchal custom of the house. The founder, Aristide
Finet, had given his daughter, Désirée to his firsthand, Hauchecorne;
he, Baudu, who had arrived in the Rue de la Michodière with seven
francs in his pocket, had married old Hauchecorne's daughter,
Elizabeth; and he intended, in his turn, to hand over Geneviève and
the business to Colomban as soon as trade should improve. If he
thus delayed a marriage, decided on for three years past, it was by
scruple, an obstinate probity. He had received the business in a
prosperous state, and did not wish to pass it on to his son-in-law
less patronised or in a worse position than when he took it. Baudu
continued, introducing Colomban, who came from Rambouillet, the same
place as Madame Baudu's father; in fact they were distant cousins. A
hard-working fellow, who for ten years had slaved in the shop, fairly
earning his promotions! Besides, he was far from being a nobody; he had
for father that noted toper, Colomban, a veterinary surgeon, known all
over the department of Seine-et-Oise, an artist in his line, but so
fond of the flowing bowl that he was ruining himself.

"Thank heaven!" said the draper in conclusion, "if the father drinks
and runs after the women, the son has learnt the value of money here."

Whilst he was speaking Denise was examining Geneviève and Colomban.
They sat close together at table, but remained very quiet, without
a blush or a smile. From the day of his entry the young man had
counted on this marriage. He had passed through the various stages:
junior, counter-hand, etc., and had at last gained admittance into the
confidence and pleasures of the family circle, all this patiently, and
leading a clock-work style of life, looking upon this marriage with
Geneviève as an excellent, convenient arrangement. The certainty of
having her prevented him feeling any desire for her. And the young girl
had also got to love him, but with the gravity of her reserved nature,
and a real deep passion of which she herself was not aware, in her
regular, monotonous daily life.

"Quite right, if they like each other, and can do it," said Denise,
smiling, considering it her duty to make herself agreeable.

"Yes, it always finishes like that," declared Colomban, who had not
spoken a word before, masticating slowly.

Geneviève, after giving him a long look, said in her turn: "When people
understand each other, the rest comes naturally."

Their tenderness had sprung up in this gloomy house of old Paris like a
flower in a cellar. For ten years she had known no one but him, living
by his side, behind the same bales of cloth, amidst the darkness of
the shop; morning and evening they found themselves elbow to elbow in
the narrow dining-room, so damp and dull. They could not have been
more concealed, more utterly lost had they been in the country, in the
woods. But a doubt, a jealous fear, began to suggest itself to the
young girl, that she had given her hand, for ever, amidst this abetting
solitude through sheer emptiness of heart and mental weariness.

However, Denise, having remarked a growing anxiety in the look
Geneviève cast at Colomban, good-naturedly replied: "Oh! when people
are in love they always understand each other."

But Baudu kept a sharp eye on the table. He had distributed slices
of Brie cheese, and, as a treat for the visitors, he called for a
second dessert, a pot of red-currant jam, a liberality which seemed to
surprise Colomban. Pépé, who up to then had been very good, behaved
rather badly at the sight of the jam; whilst Jean, all attention during
the conversation about Geneviève's marriage, was taking stock of the
latter, whom he thought too weak, too pale, comparing her in his own
mind to a little white rabbit with black ears and pink eyes.

"We've chatted enough, and must now make room for the others," said the
draper, giving the signal to rise from table. "Just because we've had a
treat is no reason why we should want too much of it."

Madame Baudu, the other shopman, and the young lady then came and took
their places at the table. Denise, left alone again, sat near the door
waiting for her uncle to take her to Vinçard's. Pépé was playing at
her feet, whilst Jean had resumed his post of observation at the door.
She sat there for nearly an hour, taking an interest in what was going
on around her. Now and again a few customers came in; a lady, then two
others appeared, the shop retaining its musty odour, its half light, by
which the old-fashioned business, good-natured and simple, seemed to
be weeping at its desertion. But what most interested Denise was The
Ladies' Paradise opposite, the windows of which she could see through
the open door. The sky remained clouded, a sort of humid softness
warmed the air, notwithstanding the season; and in this clear light, in
which there was, as it were, a hazy diffusion of sunshine, the great
shop seemed alive and in full activity.

Denise began to feel as if she were watching a machine working at full
pressure, communicating its movement even as far as the windows. They
were no longer the cold windows she had seen in the early morning; they
seemed to be warm and vibrating from the activity within. There was a
crowd before them, groups of women pushing and squeezing, devouring
the finery with longing, covetous eyes. And the stuffs became animated
in this passionate atmosphere: the laces fluttered, drooped, and
concealed the depths of the shop with a troubling air of mystery; even
the lengths of cloth, thick and heavy, exhaled a tempting odour, while
the cloaks threw out their folds over the dummies, which assumed a
soul, and the great velvet mantle particularly, expanded, supple and
warm, as if on real fleshly shoulders, with a heaving of the bosom and
a trembling of the hips. But the furnace-like glow which the house
exhaled came above all from the sale, the crush at the counters, that
could be felt behind the walls. There was the continual roaring of the
machine at work, the marshalling of the customers, bewildered amidst
the piles of goods, and finally pushed along to the pay-desk. And all
that went on in an orderly manner, with mechanical regularity, quite a
nation of women passing through the force and logic of this wonderful
commercial machine.

Denise had felt herself being tempted all day. She was bewildered and
attracted by this shop, to her so vast, in which she saw more people
in an hour than she had seen at Gornaille's in six months; and there
was mingled with her desire to enter it a vague sense of danger which
rendered the seduction complete. At the same time her uncle's shop made
her feel ill at ease; she felt an unreasonable disdain, an instinctive
repugnance for this cold, icy place, the home of old-fashioned trading.
All her sensations—her anxious entry, her friends' cold reception,
the dull lunch eaten in a prison-like atmosphere, her waiting amidst
the sleepy solitude of this old house doomed to a speedy decay—all
these sensations reproduced themselves in her mind under the form of
a dumb protestation, a passionate longing for life and light. And
notwithstanding her really tender heart, her eyes turned to The Ladies'
Paradise, as if the saleswoman within her felt the need to go and warm
herself at the glow of this immense business.

"Plenty of customers over there!" was the remark that escaped her.

But she regretted her words on seeing the Baudus near her. Madame
Baudu, who had finished her lunch, was standing up, quite white, with
her pale eyes fixed on the monster; every time she caught sight of
this place, a mute, blank despair swelled her heart, and filled her
eyes with scalding tears. As for Geneviève, she was anxiously watching
Colomban, who, not supposing he was being observed, stood in ecstasy,
looking at the handsome young saleswomen in the dress department
opposite, the counter being visible through the first floor window.
Baudu, his anger rising, merely said:

"All is not gold that glitters. Patience!"

The thought of his family evidently kept back the flood of rancour
which was rising in his throat A feeling of pride prevented him
displaying his temper before these children, only that morning arrived.
At last the draper made an effort, and tore himself away from the
spectacle of the sale opposite.

"Well!" resumed he, "we'll go and see Vinçard. These situations are
soon snatched up; it might be too late tomorrow."

But before going out he ordered the junior to go to the station and
fetch Denise's box. Madame Baudu, to whom the young girl had confided
Pépé, decided to run over and see Madame Gras, to arrange about the
child. Jean promised his sister not to stir from the shop.

"It's two minutes' walk," explained Baudu as they went down the Rue
Gaillon; "Vinçard has a silk business, and still does a fair trade. Of
course he suffers, like every one else, but he's an artful fellow, who
makes both ends meet by his miserly ways. I fancy, though, he wants to
retire, on account of his rheumatics."

The shop was in the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, near the Passage
Choiseul. It was clean and light, well fitted up in the modern style,
but rather small, and contained but a poor stock. They found Vinçard in
consultation with two gentlemen.

"Never mind us," called out the draper; "we are in no hurry; we can
wait." And returning to the door he whispered to Denise: "The thin
fellow is at The Paradise, second in the silk department, and the stout
man is a silk manufacturer from Lyons."

Denise gathered that Vinçard was trying to sell his business to
Robineau of The Paradise. He was giving his word of honour in a frank
open way, with the facility of a man who could take any number of
oaths without the slightest trouble. According to his account, the
business was a golden one; and in the splendour of his rude health he
interrupted himself to whine and complain of those infernal pains which
prevented him stopping and making his fortune. But Robineau, nervous
and tormented, interrupted him impatiently. He knew what a crisis the
trade was passing through, and named a silk warehouse already ruined by
The Paradise. Vinçard, inflamed, raised his voice.

"No wonder! The fall of that great booby of a Vabre was certain. His
wife spent everything he earned. Besides, we are more than five hundred
yards away, whilst Vabre was almost next door to The Paradise."

Gaujean, the silk manufacturer, then chimed in, and their voices fell
again. He accused the big establishments of ruining French manufacture;
three or four laid down the law, reigning like masters over the market;
and he gave it as his opinion that the only way of fighting them was to
favour the small traders; above all, those who dealt in special classes
of goods, to whom the future belonged. Therefore he offered Robineau
plenty of credit.

"See how you have been treated at The Paradise," said he. "No notice
taken of your long service. You had the promise of the first-hand's
place long ago, when Bouthemont, an outsider without any claim, came in
and got it at once."

Robineau was still smarting under this injustice. However, he hesitated
to start on his own account, explaining that the money came from his
wife, a legacy of sixty thousand francs she had just inherited, and he
was full of scruples regarding this sum, saying that he would rather
cut off his right hand than compromise her money in a doubtful affair.

"No," said he, "I haven't made up my mind; give me time to think over
it. We'll have another talk about it."

"As you like," replied Vinçard, concealing his disappointment under a
smiling countenance. "It's to my interest not to sell; and were it not
for my rheumatics—"

And returning to the middle of the shop, he asked: "What can I do for
you, Monsieur Baudu?"

The draper, who had been listening with one ear, introduced Denise,
told him as much as he thought necessary of her story, adding that she
had two years' country experience.

"And as I have heard you are wanting a good saleswoman—"

Vinçard affected to be awfully sorry. "What an unfortunate thing!" said
he. "I have, indeed, been looking for a saleswoman all the week; but
I've just engaged one—not two hours ago."

A silence ensued. Denise seemed disheartened. Robineau, who was
looking at her with interest, probably inspired with pity by her poor
appearance, ventured to say:

"I know they're wanting a young person at our place, in the ready-made
dress department."

Baudu could not help crying out fervently: "At your place? Never!"

Then he stopped, embarrassed, Denise had turned very red; she would
never dare enter that great place, and yet the idea of being there
filled her with pride.

"Why not?" asked Robineau, surprised. "It would be a good opening
for the young lady. I advise her to go and see Madame. Aurélie, the
first-hand, to-morrow. The worst that can happen to her is not to be
accepted."

The draper, to conceal his inward revolt, began to talk vaguely. He
knew Madame Aurélie, or, at least, her husband, Lhomme, the cashier,
a stout man, who had had his right arm severed by an omnibus. Then
turning suddenly to Denise, he added: "However, that's her business.
She can do as she likes."

And he went out, after having said "good-day" to Gaujean and Robineau.
Vinçard went with him as far as the door, reiterating his regrets.
The young girl had remained in the middle of the shop, intimidated,
desirous of asking Robineau for further particulars. But not daring to,
she in her turn bowed, and simply said: "Thank you, sir."

On the way back Baudu said nothing to his niece, but walked very fast,
forcing her to run to keep up with him, as if carried away by his
reflections. Arrived in the Rue de la Michodière, he was going into his
shop, when a neighbouring shopkeeper, standing at his door, called him.

Denise stopped and waited.

"What is it, old Bourras?" asked the draper.

Bourras was a tall old man, with a prophet's head, bearded and hairy,
and piercing eyes under thick and bushy eyebrows. He kept an umbrella
and walking-stick shop, did repairs, and even carved handles, which had
won for him an artistic celebrity in the neighbourhood. Denise glanced
at the shop window, where the umbrellas and sticks were arranged in
straight lines. But on raising her eyes she was astonished at the
appearance of the house, a hovel squeezed between The Ladies' Paradise
and a large building of the Louis XIV. style, sprung up one hardly knew
how, in this narrow space, crushed by its two low storeys. Had it not
been for the support on each side it must have fallen; the slates were
old and rotten, and the two-windowed front was cracked and covered
with stains, which ran down in long rusty lines over the worm-eaten
sign-board.

"You know he's written to my landlord, offering to buy the house?" said
Bourras, looking steadily at the draper with his fiery eyes.

Baudu became paler still, and bent his shoulders. There was a silence,
during which the two men remained face to face, looking very serious.

"Must be prepared for anything now," murmured Baudu at last.

Bourras then got angry, shaking his hair and flowing beard. "Let him
buy the house, he'll have to pay four times the value for it! But I
swear that as long as I live he shall not touch a stone of it. My lease
has twelve years to run yet. We shall see! we shall see!"

It was a declaration of war. Bourras looked towards The Ladies'
Paradise, which neither had directly named. Baudu shook his head in
silence, and then crossed the street to his shop, his legs almost
failing under him. "Ah! good Lord! ah! good Lord!" he kept repeating.

Denise, who had heard all, followed her uncle. Madame Baudu had just
come back with Pépé, whom Madame Gras had agreed to receive at any
time. But Jean had disappeared, and this made his sister anxious.
When he returned with a flushed face, talking in an animated way of
the boulevards, she looked at him with such a sad expression that he
blushed with shame. The box had arrived, and it was arranged that they
should sleep in the attic.

"How did you get on at Vinçard's?" asked Madame Baudu, suddenly.

The draper related his useless errand, adding that Denise had heard
of a situation; and, pointing to The Ladies' Paradise with a scornful
gesture, he cried out: "There—in there!"

The whole family felt wounded at the idea. The first dinner was at
five o'clock. Denise and the two children took their places, with
Baudu, Geneviève, and Colomban. A single jet of gas lighted and warmed
the little dining-room, reeking with the smell of hot food. The meal
passed off in silence, but at dessert Madame Baudu, who could not rest
anywhere, left the shop, and came and sat down near Denise. And then
the storm, kept back all day, broke out, every one feeling a certain
relief in abusing the monster.

"It's your business, you can do as you like," repeated Baudu. "We
don't want to influence you. But if you only knew what sort of place
it is—" And he commenced to relate, in broken sentences, the history
of this Octave Mouret. Wonderful luck! A fellow who had come up from
the South of France with the amiable audacity of an adventurer; no
sooner arrived than he commenced to distinguish himself by all sorts of
disgraceful pranks with the ladies; had figured in an affair, which was
still the talk of the neighbourhood; and to crown all, had suddenly and
mysteriously made the conquest of Madame Hédouin, who brought him The
Ladies' Paradise as a marriage portion.

"Poor Caroline!" interrupted Madame Baudu. "We were distantly related.
If she had lived things would be different. She wouldn't have let
them ruin us like this. And he's the man who killed her. Yes, that
very building! One morning, when visiting the works she fell down a
hole, and three days after she died. A fine, strong, healthy woman,
who had never known what illness was! There's some of her blood in the
foundation of that house."

She pointed to the establishment opposite with her pale and trembling
hand. Denise, listening as to a fairy tale, slightly shuddered; the
sense of fear which had mingled with the temptation she had felt since
the morning, was caused perhaps by the presence of this woman's blood,
which she fancied she could see in the red mortar of the basement.

"It seems as if it brought him good luck," added Madame Baudu, without
mentioning Mouret by name.

But the draper shrugged his shoulders, disdaining these old women's
tales, and resumed his story, explaining the situation commercially.
The Ladies' Paradise was founded in 1822 by two brothers, named
Deleuze. On the death of the elder, his daughter, Caroline, married the
son of a linen manufacturer, Charles Hédouin; and, later on, becoming
a widow, she married Mouret. She thus brought him a half share of the
business. Three months after the marriage, the second brother Deleuze
died childless; so that when Caroline met her death, Mouret became sole
heir, sole proprietor of The Ladies' Paradise. Wonderful luck!

"A sharp fellow, a dangerous busybody, who will overthrow the whole
neighbourhood if allowed to!" continued Baudu. "I fancy that Caroline,
a rather romantic woman, must have been carried away by the gentleman's
extravagant ideas. In short, he persuaded her to buy the house on the
left, then the one on the right; and he himself, on becoming his own
master, bought two others; so that the establishment has continued to
grow—extending in such a way that it now threatens to swallow us all
up!"

He was addressing Denise, but was really speaking more to himself,
feeling a feverish longing to go over this history which haunted him
continually. At home he was always angry, always violent, clenching
his fists as if longing to go for somebody. Madame Baudu ceased to
interfere, sitting motionless on her chair; Geneviève and Colomban,
their eyes cast down, were picking up and eating the crumbs off the
table, just for the sake of something to do. It was so warm, so stuffy
in the small room, that Pépé was sleeping with his head on the table,
and even Jean's eyes were closing.

"Wait a bit!" resumed Baudu, seized with a sudden fit of anger, "such
jokers always go to smash! Mouret is hard-pushed just now; I know that
for a fact. He's been forced to spend all his savings on his mania for
extensions and advertisements. Moreover, in order to raise money, he
has induced most of his shop-people to invest all they possess with
him. So that he hasn't a sou to help himself with now; and, unless a
miracle be worked, and he treble his sales, as he hopes to do, you'll
see what a crash there'll be! Ah! I'm not ill-natured, but that day
I'll illuminate my shop-front, on my word of honour!"

And he went on in a revengeful voice; one would have thought that the
fall of The Ladies' Paradise was to restore the dignity and prestige of
compromised business. Had any one ever seen such a thing? A draper's
shop selling everything! Why not call it a bazaar at once? And the
employees! a nice set they were too—a lot of puppies, who did their
work like porters at a railway station, treating goods and customers
like so many parcels; leaving the shop or getting the sack at a
moment's notice. No affection, no manners, no taste! And all at once
he quoted Colomban as an example of a good tradesman, brought up in
the old school, knowing how long it took to learn all the cunning and
tricks of the trade. The art was not to sell a large quantity, but to
sell dear. Colomban could say how he had been treated, carefully looked
after, his washing and mending done, nursed in illness, considered as
one of the family—loved, in fact!

"Of course," repeated Colomban, after every statement the governor made.

"Ah, you're the last of the old stock," Baudu ended by declaring.
"After you're gone there'll be none left. You are my sole consolation,
for if they call all this sort of thing business I give up, I would
rather clear out."

Geneviève, her head on one side, as if her thick hair were too heavy
for her pale forehead, was watching the smiling shopman; and in her
look there was a suspicion, a wish to see whether Colomban, stricken
with remorse, would not blush at all this praise. But, like a fellow
up to every trick of the old trade, he preserved his quiet manner,
his good-natured and cunning look. However, Baudu still went on,
louder than ever, condemning the people opposite, calling them a pack
of savages, murdering each other in their struggle for existence,
destroying all family ties. And he mentioned some country neighbours,
the Lhommes—mother, father, and son—all employed in the infernal
shop, people without any home life, always out, leading a comfortless,
savage existence, never dining at home except on Sunday, feeding all
the week at restaurants, hôtels, anywhere. Certainly his dining-room
wasn't too large nor too well-lighted; but it was part of their home,
and the family had grown up affectionately about the domestic hearth.
Whilst speaking his eyes wandered about the room; and he shuddered at
the unavowed idea that the savages might one day, if they succeeded
in ruining his trade, turn him out of this house where he was so
comfortable with his wife and child. Notwithstanding the assurance with
which he predicted the utter downfall of his rivals, he was really
terrified, feeling that the neighbourhood was being gradually invaded
and devoured.

"I don't want to disgust you," resumed he, trying to calm himself; "if
you think it to your interest to go there, I shall be the first to say,
'go.'"

"I am sure of that, uncle," murmured Denise, bewildered, all this
excitement rendering her more and more desirous of entering The Ladies'
Paradise.

He had put his elbows on the table, and was staring at her so hard
that she felt uneasy. "But look here," resumed he; "you who know the
business, do you think it right that a simple draper's shop should sell
everything? Formerly, when trade was trade, drapers sold nothing but
drapery. Now they are doing their best to snap up every branch and ruin
their neighbours. The whole neighbourhood complains of it, for every
small tradesman is beginning to suffer terribly. This Mouret is ruining
them. Bédoré and his sister, who keep the hosiery shop in the Rue
Gaillon, have already lost half their customers; Mademoiselle Tatin, at
the under-linen warehouse in the Passage Choiseul, has been obliged to
lower her prices, to be able to sell at all. And the effects of this
scourge, this pest, are felt as far as the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs,
where I hear that Vanpouille Brothers, the furriers, cannot hold out
much longer. Drapers selling fur goods—what a farce! another of
Mouret's ideas!"

"And gloves," added Madame Baudu; "isn't it monstrous? He has even
dared to add a glove department! Yesterday, as I was going along the
Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, I saw Quinette, the glover, at his door,
looking so downcast that I hadn't the heart to ask him how business was
going."

"And umbrellas," resumed Baudu; "that's the climax! Bourras feels sure
that Mouret simply wants to ruin him; for, in short, where's the rhyme
between umbrellas and drapery? But Bourras is firm on his legs, and
won't allow himself to be beggared. We shall see some fun one of these
days."

He spoke of other tradesmen, passing the whole neighbourhood in review.
Now and again he let slip a confession. If Vinçard wanted to sell it
was time for the rest to pack up, for Vinçard was like the rats who
leave a house when it threatens to fall in. Then, immediately after, he
contradicted himself, alluded to an alliance, an understanding between
the small tradesmen in order to fight the colossus. He hesitated an
instant before speaking of himself, his hands shaking, and his mouth
twitching in a nervous manner. At last he made up his mind.

"As for myself, I can't complain as yet. Of course he has done me harm,
the scoundrel! But up to the present he only keeps ladies' cloths,
light stuffs for dresses and heavier goods for mantles. People still
come to me for men's goods, velvets for shooting suits, cloths for
liveries, without speaking of flannels and serges, of which I defy him
to show as good an assortment. But he thinks to annoy me by planting
his cloth department right in front of my door. You've seen his
display, haven't you? He always places his finest made-up goods there,
surrounded by a framework of various cloths—a cheapjack parade to
tempt the women. Upon my word, I should be ashamed to use such means!
The Old Elbeuf has been known for nearly a hundred years, and has no
need for such at its door. As long as I live, it shall remain as I took
it, with a few samples on each side, and nothing more!"

The whole family was affected. Geneviève ventured to make a remark
after a silence:

"You know, papa, our customers know and like us. We mustn't lose
heart. Madame Desforges and Madame de Boves have been to-day, and I am
expecting Madame Marty for some flannel."

"I," declared Colomban, "I took an order from Madame Bourdelais
yesterday. 'Tis true she spoke of an English cheviot marked up opposite
ten sous cheaper than ours, and the same stuff, it appears."

"Fancy," murmured Madame Baudu in her weak voice, "we knew that house
when it was scarcely larger than a handkerchief! Yes, my dear Denise,
when the Deleuzes started it, it had only one window in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin; and such a tiny one, in which there was barely
room for a couple of pieces of print and two or three pieces of calico.
There was no room to turn round in the shop, it was so small. At that
time The Old Elbeuf, after sixty years' trading, was as you see it now.
Ah! all that has greatly changed!"

She shook her head; the drama of her whole life was expressed in these
few words. Born in the old house, she loved every part of it, living
only for it and by it; and, formerly proud of this house, the finest,
the best patronised in the neighbourhood, she had had the daily grief
of seeing the rival establishment gradually growing in importance,
at first disdained, then equal to theirs, and finally towering above
it, and threatening all the rest. This was for her a continual, open
sore; she was slowly dying from sheer grief at seeing The Old Elbeuf
humiliated, though still living, as if by the force of impulse, like a
machine wound up. But she felt that the death of the shop would be hers
as well, and that she would never survive the closing of it.

There was a painful silence. Baudu was softly beating a tattoo with
his fingers on the American cloth on the table. He experienced a sort
of lassitude, almost a regret at having relieved his feelings once
more in this way. In fact, the whole family felt the effects of his
despondency, and could not help ruminating on the bitter story. They
never had had any luck. The children had been educated and started in
the world, fortune was beginning to smile on them, when suddenly this
competition sprang up and ruined their hopes. There was, also, the
house at Rambouillet, that country house to which he had been dreaming
of retiring for the last ten years—a bargain, he thought; but it had
turned out to be an old building always wanting repairs, and which
he had let to people who never paid any rent. His last profits were
swallowed up by the place—the only folly he had committed in his
honest, upright career as a tradesman, obstinately attached to the old
ways.

"Come, come!" said he, suddenly, "we must make room for the others.
Enough of this useless talk!"

It was like an awakening. The gas hissed, in the dead and stifling air
of the small room. They all jumped up, breaking the melancholy silence.
However, Pépé was sleeping so soundly that they laid him on some bales
of cloth. Jean had already returned to the street door yawning.

"In short," repeated Baudu to his niece, "you can do as you like.
We have explained the matter to you, that's all. You know your own
business best."

He looked at her sharply, waiting for a decisive answer. Denise, whom
these stories had inspired with a still greater longing to enter The
Ladies' Paradise, instead of turning her from it, preserved her quiet
gentle demeanour with a Norman obstinacy. She simply replied: "We shall
see, uncle."

And she spoke of going to bed early with the children, for they were
all three very tired. But it had only just struck six, so she decided
to stay in the shop a little longer. Night had come on, and she found
the street quite dark, enveloped in a fine close rain, which had been
falling since sunset. She was surprised. A few minutes had sufficed to
fill the street with small pools, a stream of dirty water was running
along the gutters, the pavement was thick with a sticky black mud;
and through the beating rain she saw nothing but a confused stream of
umbrellas, pushing, swinging along in the gloom like great black wings.
She started back at first, feeling very cold, oppressed at heart by
the badly-lighted shop, very dismal at this hour of the day. A damp
breeze, the breath of the old quarter, came in from the street; it
seemed that the rain, streaming from the umbrellas, was running right
into the shop, that the pavement with its mud and its puddles extended
all over the place, putting the finishing touches to the mouldiness of
the old shop front, white with saltpetre. It was quite a vision of old
Paris, damp and uncomfortable, which made her shiver, astonished and
heart-broken to find the great city so cold and so ugly.

But opposite, the gas-lamps were being lighted all along the frontage
of The Ladies' Paradise. She moved nearer, again attracted and, as it
were, warmed by this wealth of illumination. The machine was still
roaring, active as ever, hissing forth its last clouds of steam;
whilst the salesmen were folding up the stuffs, and the cashiers
counting up the receipts. It was, as seen through the hazy windows,
a vague swarming of lights, a confused factory-like interior. Behind
the curtain of falling rain, this apparition, distant and confused,
assumed the appearance of a giant furnace-house, where the black
shadows of the firemen could be seen passing by the red glare of the
furnaces. The displays in the windows became indistinct also; one could
only distinguish the snowy lace, heightened in its whiteness by the
ground glass globes of a row of gas jets, and against this chapel-like
background the ready-made goods stood out vigorously, the velvet mantle
trimmed with silver fox threw into relief the curved profile of a
headless woman running through the rain to some entertainment in the
unknown of the shades of the Paris night.

Denise, yielding to the seduction, had gone to the door, heedless of
the raindrops falling on her. At this hour, The Ladies' Paradise, with
its furnace-like brilliancy, entirely conquered her. In the great
metropolis, black and silent, beneath the rain—in this Paris, to which
she was a stranger, it shone out like a lighthouse, and seemed to be of
itself the life and light of the city. She dreamed of her future there,
working hard to bring up the children, and of other things besides—she
hardly knew what—far-off things, the desire and the fear of which made
her tremble. The idea of this woman who had met her death amidst the
foundations came back to her; she felt afraid, she thought she saw the
lights bleeding; then, the whiteness of the lace quieting her, a vague
hope sprang up in her heart, quite a certainty of happiness; whilst the
fine rain, blowing on her, cooled her hands, and calmed her after the
excitement of her journey.

"It's Bourras," said a voice behind her.

She leant forward, and perceived the umbrella-maker, motionless
before the window containing the ingenious display of umbrellas and
walking-sticks. The old man had slipped up there in the dark, to feast
his eyes on the triumphant show; and so great was his grief that he
was unconscious of the rain which was beating on his bare head, and
trickling off his white hair.

"How stupid he is, he'll make himself ill," resumed the voice.

Turning round, Denise found the Baudus behind her again. Though they
thought Bourras so stupid, they were obliged, against their will, to
return to this spectacle which was breaking their hearts. Geneviève,
very pale, had noticed that Colomban was watching the shadows of the
saleswomen pass to and fro on the first floor opposite; and, whilst
Baudu was choking with suppressed rancour, Madame Baudu was silently
weeping.

"You'll go and see to-morrow, won't you, Denise?" asked the draper,
tormented with uncertainty, but feeling that his niece was conquered
like the rest.

She hesitated, then gently replied: "Yes, uncle, unless it pains you
too much."

CHAPTER II.

The next morning, at half-past seven, Denise was outside The Ladies'
Paradise, wishing to call there before taking Jean to his new place,
which was a long way off, at the top of the Faubourg du Temple. But,
accustomed to early hours, she had arrived too soon; the shop was
hardly opened, and, afraid of looking ridiculous, full of timidity, she
walked up and down the Place Gaillon for a moment.

The cold wind that blew had already dried the pavement. Shopmen
were hurriedly turning out of every street in the neighbourhood,
their coat-collars turned up, and their hands in their pockets,
taken unawares by this first chill of winter. Most of them hurried
along alone, and disappeared in the depths of the warehouse, without
addressing a word or look to their colleagues marching along by their
side. Others were walking in twos and threes, talking fast, and taking
up the whole of the pavement; while they all threw away with a similar
gesture, their cigarette or cigar before crossing the threshold.

Denise noticed that several of these gentlemen took stock of her in
passing. This increased her timidity; she felt quite unable to follow
them, and resolved to wait till they had all entered before going in,
blushing at the idea of being elbowed at the door by all these men. But
the stream continued, so to escape their looks, she took a walk round.
When she returned to the principal entrance, she found a tall young
man, pale and awkward, who appeared to be waiting as she was.

"I beg your pardon, mademoiselle," he finished by stammering out, "but
perhaps you belong to the establishment?"

She was so troubled at hearing a stranger address her in this way that
she did not reply at first.

"The fact is," he continued, getting more confused than ever, "I
thought of asking them to engage me, and you might have given me a
little information."

He was as timid as she was, and had probably risked speaking to her
because he felt she was trembling like himself.

"I would with pleasure, sir," replied she at last, "But I'm no better
off than you are; I'm just going to apply myself."

"Ah, very good," said he, quite out of countenance.

And they blushed violently, their two timidities remaining face to
face for a moment, affected by the similarity of their positions, not
daring, however, to wish each other success openly. Then, as they said
nothing further, and became more and more uncomfortable, they separated
awkwardly, and recommenced their waiting, one on either side, a few
steps apart.

The shopmen continued to arrive, and Denise could now hear them joking
as they passed, casting side glances towards her. Her confusion
increased at finding herself exposed to this unpleasant ordeal, and
she had decided to take half an hour's walk in the neighbourhood, when
the sight of a young man coming rapidly through the Rue Port-Mahon,
detained her for a moment. He was evidently the manager of a
department, she thought, for the others raised their hats to him. He
was tall, with a clear skin and carefully trimmed beard; and he had
eyes the colour of old gold, of a velvety softness, which he fixed on
her for a moment as he crossed the street. He already entered the shop,
indifferent that she remained motionless, quite upset by his look,
filled with a singular emotion, in which there was more uneasiness than
pleasure. She began to feel really afraid, and, to give herself time to
collect her courage somewhat, she walked slowly down the Rue Gaillon,
and then along the Rue Saint-Roch.

It was better than a manager of a department, it was Octave Mouret in
person. He had not been to bed, for after having spent the evening at
a stockbroker's, he had gone to supper with a friend and two women,
picked up behind the scenes of a small theatre. His tightly buttoned
overcoat concealed a dress suit and white tie. He quickly ran upstairs,
performed his toilet, changed, and entered his office, quite ready
for work, with beaming eyes, and complexion as fresh as if he had had
ten hours' sleep. The spacious office, furnished in old oak and hung
with green rep, had for sole ornament the portrait of that Madame
Hédouin, who was still the talk of the neighbourhood. Since her death
Octave thought of her with a tender regret, showing himself grateful
to the memory of her, who, by marrying him, had made his fortune. And
before commencing to sign the drafts laid on his desk, he bestowed
the contented smile of a happy man on the portrait. Was it not always
before her that he returned to work, after his young widower's
escapades, every time he issued from the alcoves where his craving for
amusement attracted him?

There was a knock, and without waiting, a young man entered, a tall,
thin fellow, with thin lips and a sharp nose, very gentlemanly and
correct in his appearance, with his smooth hair already showing signs
of turning grey. Mouret raised his eyes, then continuing to sign, said:

"I hope you slept well, Bourdoncle?"

"Very well, thanks," replied the young man, walking about as if quite
at home.

Bourdoncle, the son of a poor farmer near Limoges, had started at The
Ladies' Paradise at the same time as Mouret, when it only occupied the
corner of the Place Gaillon. Very intelligent, very active, it seemed
as if he ought to have easily supplanted his comrade, who was not so
steady, and who had, besides various other faults, a careless manner
and too many intrigues with women; but he lacked that touch of genius
possessed by the impassioned Southerner, and had not his audacity, his
winning grace. Besides, by a wise instinct, he had always, from the
first, bowed before him, obedient and without a struggle; and when
Mouret advised his people to put all their money into the business,
Bourdoncle was one of the first to respond, even investing the proceeds
of an unexpected legacy left him by an aunt; and little by little,
after passing through the various grades, salesman, second, and then
first-hand in the silk department, he had become one of the governor's
most cherished and influential lieutenants, one of the six persons who
assisted Mouret to govern The Ladies' Paradise—something like a privy
council under an absolute king. Each one watched over a department.
Bourdoncle exercised a general control.

"And you," resumed he, familiarly, "have you slept well?"

When Mouret replied that he had not been to bed, he shook his head,
murmuring: "Bad habits."

"Why?" replied the other, gaily. "I'm not so tired as you are, my dear
fellow. You are half asleep now, you lead too quiet a life. Take a
little amusement, that'll wake you up a bit."

This was their constant friendly dispute. Bourdoncle had, at the
commencement, beaten his mistresses, because, said he, they prevented
him sleeping. Now he professed to hate women, having, no doubt,
chance love affairs of which he said nothing, so small was the place
they occupied in his life; he contented himself with encouraging the
extravagance of his lady customers, feeling the greatest disdain
for their frivolity, which led them to ruin themselves in stupid
gewgaws. Mouret, on the contrary, attempted to worship them, remained
before them delighted and cajoling, continually carried away by fresh
love-affairs; and this served as an advertisement for his business. One
would have said that he enveloped all the women in the same caress, the
better to bewilder them and keep them at his mercy.

"I saw Madame Desforges last night," said he; "she was looking
delicious at the ball."

"But it wasn't with her that you went to supper, was it?" asked the
other.

Mouret protested. "Oh! no, she's very virtuous, my dear fellow. I went
to supper with little Hélöise, of the Folly. Stupid as a donkey, but So
comical!"

He took another bundle of drafts and went on signing. Bourdoncle
continued to walk about. He went and took a look through the lofty
plate-glass windows, into the Rue Neuvor-Saint-Augustin, then returned,
saying: "You know they'll have their revenge."

"Who?" asked Mouret, who had lost the thread of the conversation.

"Why, the women."

At this, Mouret became merrier still, displaying, beneath his sensual,
adorative manner, his really brutal character. With a shrug of the
shoulders he seemed to declare he would throw them all over, like
so many empty sacks, when they had finished helping him to make his
fortune. Bourdoncle obstinately repeated, in his cold way: "They will
have their revenge; there will be one who will avenge all the others.
It's bound to be."

"No fear," cried Mouret, exaggerating his Southern accent. "That one
isn't born yet, my boy. And if she comes, you know—"

He had raised his penholder, brandishing it and pointing it in the air,
as if he would have liked to stab some invisible heart with a knife.
Bourdoncle resumed walking, bowing as usual before the superiority of
the governor, whose genius, though faulty, had always got the better
of him. He, so clear-headed, logical and passionless, incapable of
falling, had yet to learn the feminine character of success, Paris
yielding herself with a kiss to the boldest.

A silence reigned, broken only by Mouret's pen. Then, in reply to his
brief questions, Bourdoncle gave him the particulars of the great sale
of winter novelties, which was to commence the following Monday. This
was an important affair, and the house was risking its fortune in it;
for the rumour had some foundation, Mouret was throwing himself into
speculation like a poet, with such ostentation, such a determination
to attain the colossal, that everything seemed bound to give way under
him. It was quite a new style of doing business, an apparent commercial
recklessness which had formerly made Madame Hédouin anxious, and which
even now, notwithstanding the first successes, quite dismayed those
who had capital in the business. They blamed the governor in secret
for going too quick; accused him of having enlarged the establishment
to a dangerous extent, before making sure of a sufficient increase of
custom; above all, they trembled on seeing him put all the capital
into one venture, filling the place with a pile of goods without
leaving a sou in the reserve fund. Thus, for this sale, after the
heavy sums paid to the builders, the whole capital was out, and it
was once more a question of victory or death. And he, in the midst of
all this excitement, preserved a triumphant gaiety, a certainty of
gaining millions, like a man worshipped by the women, and who cannot
be betrayed. When Bourdoncle ventured to express certain fears with
reference to the too great development given to several not very
productive departments, he broke out into a laugh full of confidence,
and exclaimed:

"No fear! my dear fellow, the place is too small!"

The other appeared dumbfounded, seized with a fear he no longer
attempted to conceal. The house too small! a draper's shop having
nineteen departments, and four hundred and three employees!

"Of course," resumed Mouret, "we shall be obliged to enlarge our
premises before another eighteen months. I'm seriously thinking about
the matter. Last night Madame Desforges promised to introduce me to
some one. In short, we'll talk it over when the idea is ripe."

And having finished signing his drafts, he got up, and tapped his
lieutenant on the shoulder in a friendly manner, but the latter could
not get over his astonishment. The fright felt by the prudent people
around him amused Mouret. In one of his fits of brusque frankness with
which he sometimes overwhelmed his familiars, he declared he was at
heart a bigger Jew than all the Jews in the world; he took after his
father, whom he resembled physically and morally, a fellow who knew
the value of money; and, if his mother had given him that particle of
nervous fantasy, why it was, perhaps, the principal element of his
luck, for he felt the invincible force of his daring, reckless grace.

"You know very well that we'll stand by you to the last," Bourdoncle
finished by saying.

Before going down into the various departments to give their usual look
round, they settled certain other details. They examined the specimen
of a little book of account forms, which Mouret had just invented for
use at the counters. Having remarked that the old-fashioned goods, the
dead stock, went off all the more rapidly when the commission given to
the employees was high, he had based on this observation a new system.
In future he intended to interest his people in the sale of all goods,
giving them a commission on the smallest piece of stuff, the slightest
article sold: a system which had caused a revolution in the drapery
trade, creating between the salespeople a struggle for existence of
which the proprietor reaped the benefit. This struggle formed his
favourite method, the principle of organisation he constantly applied.
He excited his employees' passions, pitted one against the other,
allowed the strongest to swallow up the weakest, fattening on this
interested struggle. The specimen book was approved of; at the top
of the two forms—the one retained, and the one torn off—were the
particulars of the department and the salesman's number; then there
were columns on both for the measurement, description of the articles
sold, and the price; the salesman simply signed the bill before handing
it to the cashier. In this way an easy account was kept, it sufficed
to compare the bills delivered by the cashier's department to the
clearing-house with the salesmen's counterfoils. Every week the latter
would receive their commission, and that without the least possibility
of any error.

"We sha'n't be robbed so much," remarked Bourdoncle, with satisfaction.
"A very good idea of yours."

"And I thought of something else last night," explained Mouret. "Yes,
my dear fellow, at the supper. I should like to give the clearing-house
clerks a trifle for every error found in checking. You can understand
that we shall then be certain they won't pass any, for they would
rather invent some."

He began to laugh, whilst the other looked at him in admiration. This
new application of the struggle for existence delighted Mouret; he had
a real genius for administrative business, and dreamed of organising
the house, so as to play upon the selfish instincts of his employees,
for the complete and quiet satisfaction of his own appetites. He often
said that to make people do their best, and even to keep them fairly
honest, it was necessary to excite their selfish desires first.

"Well, let's go downstairs," resumed Mouret. "We must look after this
sale. The silk arrived yesterday, I believe, and Bouthemont must be
getting it in now."

Bourdoncle followed him. The receiving office was on the basement
floor, in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. There, on a level with the
pavement, was a kind of glazed cage, where the vans discharged the
goods. They were weighed, and then slipped down a rapid slide, its oak
and iron work shining, brightened by the chafing of goods and cases.
Everything entered by this yawning trap; it was a continual swallowing
up, a fall of goods, causing a roaring like that of a cataract. At
the approach of big sale times especially, the slide carried down a
perpetual stream of Lyons silks, English woollens, Flemish linens,
Alsatian calicoes, and Rouen printed goods; and the vans were sometimes
obliged to wait their turn along the street; the bales running down
produced the peculiar noise made by a stone thrown into deep water.

Mouret stopped a moment before the slide, which was in full activity.
Rows of cases were going down of themselves, falling like rain from
some upper stream. Then some huge bales appeared, toppling over in
their descent like so many pebbles. Mouret looked on, without saying a
word. But this wealth of goods rushing in at the rate of thousands of
francs a minute, made his eyes glisten. He had never before had such a
clear, definite idea of the struggle he was engaged in. Here was this
mountain of goods that he had to launch to the four corners of Paris.
He did not open his mouth, continuing his inspection.

By the grey light penetrating the air-holes, a squad of men were
receiving the goods, whilst others were undoing and opening the cases
and bales in presence of the managers of different departments.
A dockyard agitation filled this cellar, this basement, where
wrought-iron pillars supported the arches, and the bare walls of which
were cemented.

"Have you got all there, Bouthemont?" asked Mouret, going up to a
broad-shouldered young fellow who was checking the contents of a case.

"Yes, everything seems all right," replied he; "but the counting will
take me all the morning."

The manager was glancing at the invoice every now and then, standing up
before a large counter on which one of his salesmen was laying, one by
one, the pieces of silk he was taking from the case. Behind them ran
other counters, also encumbered with goods that a small army of shopmen
were examining. It was a general unpacking, an apparent confusion of
stuffs, examined, turned over, and marked, amidst a buzz of voices.

Bouthemont, a celebrity in the trade, had a round, jolly face, a
coal-black beard, and fine hazel eves. Born at Montpellier, noisy,
too fond of company, he was not much good for the sales, but for
buying he had not his equal. Sent to Paris by his father, who kept a
draper's shop in his native town, he had absolutely refused to return
when the old fellow thought he ought to know enough to succeed him in
his business; and from that moment a rivalry sprung up between father
and son, the former, all for his little country business, shocked to
see a simple shopman earning three times as much as he did himself,
the latter joking at the old man's routine, chinking his money, and
throwing the whole house into confusion at every flying visit he
paid. Like the other managers, Bouthemont drew, besides his three
thousand francs regular pay, a commission on the sales. Montpellier,
surprised and respectful, whispered that young Bouthemont had made
fifteen thousand francs the year before, and that that was only a
beginning—people prophesied to the exasperated father that this figure
would certainly increase.

Bourdoncle had taken up one of the pieces of silk, and was examining
the grain with the eye of a connoisseur. It was a faille with a blue
and silver selvage, the famous Paris Paradise, with which Mouret hoped
to strike a decisive blow.

"It is really very good," observed Bourdoncle.

"And the effect it produces is better than its real quality," said
Bouthemont. "Dumonteil is the only one capable of manufacturing such
stuff. Last journey when I fell out with Gaujean, the latter was
willing to set a hundred looms to work on this pattern, but he asked
five sous a yard more."

Nearly even month Bouthemont went to Lyons, staying there days
together, living at the best hôtels, with orders to treat the
manufacturers with open purse. He enjoyed, moreover, a perfect liberty,
and bought what he liked, provided that he increased the yearly
business of his department in a certain proportion, settled beforehand;
and it was on this proportion that his commission was based. In short,
his position at The Ladies' Paradise, like that of all the managers,
was that of a special tradesman, in a grouping of various businesses, a
sort of vast trading city.

"So," resumed he, "it's decided we mark it five francs twelve sous?
It's barely the cost price, you know."

"Yes, yes, five francs twelve sous," said Mouret, quickly: "and if I
were alone, I'd sell it at a loss."

The manager laughed heartily. "Oh! I don't mind, that will just suit
me; it will treble the sale, and as my only interest is to attain heavy
receipts."

But Bourdoncle remained very grave, biting his lips. He drew his
commission on the total profits, and it did not suit him to lower the
prices. Part of his business was to exercise a control over the prices
fixed upon, to prevent Bouthemont selling at too small a profit in
order to increase the sales. Moreover, his former anxiety reappeared
in the presence of these advertising combinations which he did not
understand. He ventured to show his repugnance by saying:

"If we sell it at five francs twelve sous, it will be like selling it
at a loss, as we must allow for our expenses, which are considerable.
It would fetch seven francs anywhere."

At this Mouret got angry. He struck the silk with his open hand,
crying out excitedly: "I know that, that's why I want to give it to
our customers. Really, my dear fellow, you'll never understand women's
ways. Don't you see they'll be crazy after this silk?"

"No doubt," interrupted the other, obstinately, "and the more they buy,
the more we shall lose."

"We shall lose a few sous on the stuff, very likely. What matters, if
in return we attract all the women here, and keep them at our mercy,
excited by the sight of our goods, emptying their purses without
thinking? The principal thing, my dear fellow, is to inflame them, and
for that you must have one article which flatters them—which causes
a sensation. Afterwards, you can sell the other articles as dear as
anywhere else, they'll still think yours the cheapest. For instance,
our Golden Grain, that taffeta at seven francs and a half, sold
everywhere at that price, will go down as an extraordinary bargain,
and suffice to make up for the loss on the Paris Paradise. You'll see,
you'll see!"

He became quite eloquent.

"Don't you understand? In a week's time from today I want the Paris
Paradise to make a revolution in the market. It's our master-stroke,
which will save us, and get our name up. Nothing else will be talked
of; the blue and silver selvage will be known from one end of France to
the other. And you'll hear the furious complaints of our competitors.
The small traders will lose another wing by it; they'll be done for,
all those rheumatic old brokers shivering in their cellars!"

The shopmen checking the goods round about were listening and smiling.
He liked to talk in this way without contradiction. Bourdoncle yielded
once more. However, the case was empty, two men were opening another.

"It's the manufacturers who are not exactly pleased," said Bouthemont.
"At Lyons they are all furious with you, they pretend that your cheap
trading is ruining them. You are aware that Gaujean has positively
declared war against me. Yes, he has sworn to give the little houses
longer credit, rather than accept my prices."

Mouret shrugged his shoulders. "If Gaujean doesn't look sharp," replied
he, "Gaujean will be floored. What do they complain of? We pay ready
money and we take all they can make; it's strange if they can't work
cheaper at that rate. Besides, the public gets the benefit, and that's
everything."

The shopman was emptying the second case, whilst Bouthemont was
checking the pieces by the invoice. Another shopman, at the end of the
counter, was marking them in plain figures, and the checking finished,
the invoice, signed by the manager, had to be sent to the chief
cashier's office. Mouret continued looking at this work for a moment,
at all this activity round this unpacking of goods which threatened
to drown the basement; then, without adding a word, with the air of a
captain satisfied with his troops, he went away, followed by Bourdoncle.

They slowly crossed the basement floor. The air-holes placed at
intervals admitted a pale light; while in the dark corners, and along
the narrow corridors, gas was constantly burning. In these corridors
were situated the reserves, large vaults closed with iron railings,
containing the surplus goods of each department. Mouret glanced in
passing at the heating apparatus, to be lighted on the Monday for the
first time, and at the post of firemen guarding a giant gas-meter
enclosed in an iron cage. The kitchen and dining-rooms, old cellars
turned into habitable apartments, were on the left at the corner of
the Place Gaillon. At last he arrived at the delivery department,
right at the other end of the basement floor. The parcels not taken
away by the customers were sent down there, sorted on tables, placed
in compartments each representing a district of Paris; then sent up
by a large staircase opening just opposite The Old Elbeuf, to the
vans standing alongside the pavement. In the mechanical working of
The Ladies' Paradise, this staircase in the Rue de la Michodière
disgorged without ceasing the goods swallowed up by the slide in the
Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, after they had passed through the mechanism
of the counters up above.

"Campion," said Mouret to the delivery manager, a retired sergeant
with a thin face, "why weren't six pairs of sheets, bought by a lady
yesterday about two o'clock, delivered in the evening?"

"Where does the lady live?" asked the employee.

"In the Rue de Rivoli, at the corner of the Rue d'Alger—Madame
Desforges."

At this early hour the sorting tables were bare, the compartment only
contained a few parcels left over night. Whilst Campion was searching
amongst these packets, after having consulted a list, Bourdoncle was
looking at Mouret, thinking that this wonderful fellow knew everything,
thought of everything, even when at the supper-tables of restaurants or
in the alcoves of his mistresses. At last Campion discovered the error;
the cashier's department had given a wrong number, and the parcel had
come back.

"What is the number of the pay-desk that debited that?" asked Mouret:
"No. 10, you say?" And turning towards his lieutenant, he added: "No.
10; that's Albert, isn't it? We'll just say two words to him."

But before starting on their tour round the shops, he wanted to go up
to the postal order department, which occupied several rooms on the
second floor. It was there that all the provincial and foreign orders
arrived; and he went up every morning to see the correspondence. For
two years this correspondence had been increasing daily. At first
occupying only about ten clerks, it now required more than thirty. Some
opened the letters, others read them, seated at both sides of the same
table; others again classed them, giving each one a running number,
which was repeated on a pigeon-hole. Then when the letters had been
distributed to the different departments and the latter had delivered
the articles, these articles were put in the pigeon-holes as they
arrived, according to the running numbers. There was then nothing to do
but to check and tie them up, which was done in a neighbouring room by
a squad of workmen who were nailing and tying up from morning to night.

Mouret put his usual question: "How many letters this morning,
Levasseur?"

"Five hundred and thirty-four, sir," replied the chief clerk. "After
the commencement of Monday's sale, I'm afraid we sha'n't have enough
hands. Yesterday we were driven very hard."

Bourdoncle expressed his satisfaction by a nod of the head. He had
not reckoned on five hundred and thirty-four letters on a Tuesday.
Round the table, the clerks continued opening and reading the letters
amidst a noise of rustling paper, whilst the going and coming of the
various articles commenced before the pigeon-holes. It was one of the
most complicated and important departments of the establishment, one
in which there was a continual rush, for, strictly speaking, all the
orders received in the morning ought to be sent off the same evening.

"You shall have more hands if you want them," replied Mouret, who had
seen at a glance that the work was well done. "You know that when
there's work to be done we never refuse the men."

Up above, under the roof, were the small bedrooms for the saleswomen.
But he went downstairs again and entered the chief cashier's office,
which was near his own. It was a room with a glazed wicket, and
contained an enormous safe, fixed in the wall. Two cashiers there
centralised the receipts which Lhomme, the chief cashier at the
counters, brought in every evening; they also settled the current
expenses, paid the manufacturers, the staff, all the crowd of people
who lived by the house. The cashiers' office communicated with another,
full of green cardboard boxes, where ten clerks checked the invoices.
Then came another office, the clearing-house: six young men bending
over black desks, having behind them quite a collection of registers,
were getting up the discount accounts of the salesmen, by checking the
debit notes. This work, which was new to them, did not get on very well.

Mouret and Bourdoncle had crossed the cashiers' office and the invoice
room. When they passed through the other office the young men, who
were laughing and joking, started up in surprise. Mouret, without
reprimanding them, explained the system of the little bonus he thought
of giving them for each error discovered in the debit notes; and when
he went out the clerks left off laughing, as if they had been whipped,
and commenced working in earnest, looking up the errors.

On the ground-floor, occupied by the shops, Mouret went straight to the
pay-desk No. 10, where Albert Lhomme was cleaning his nails, waiting
for customers. People regularly spoke of "the Lhomme dynasty," since
Madame Aurélie, first-hand at the dress department, after having helped
her husband on to the post of chief cashier, had managed to get a
pay desk for her son, a tall fellow, pale and vicious, who couldn't
stop anywhere, and who caused her an immense deal of anxiety. But on
reaching the young man, Mouret kept in the background, not wishing
to render himself unpopular by performing a policeman's duty, and
retaining from policy and taste his part of amiable god. He nudged
Bourdoncle gently with his elbow—Bourdoncle, the infallible man,
that model of exactitude, whom he generally charged with the work of
reprimanding.

"Monsieur Albert," said the latter, severely, "you have taken another
address wrong; the parcel has come back. It's unbearable!"

The cashier, thinking it his duty to defend himself, called as a
witness the messenger who had tied up the packet. This messenger, named
Joseph, also belonged to the Lhomme dynasty, for he was Albert's foster
brother, and owed his place to Madame Aurélie's influence. As the
young man wanted to make him say it was the customer's mistake, Joseph
stuttered, twisted the shaggy beard that ornamented his scarred face,
struggling between his old soldier's conscience and gratitude towards
his protectors.

"Let Joseph alone," Bourdoncle exclaimed at last, "and don't say any
more. Ah! it's a lucky thing for you that we are mindful of your
mother's good services!"

But at this moment Lhomme came running up. From his office near
the door he could see his son's pay-desk, which was in the glove
department. Quite white-haired already, deadened by his sedentary life,
he had a flabby, colourless face, as if worn out by the reflection of
the money he was continually handling. His amputated arm did not at all
incommode him in this work, and it was quite a curiosity to see him
verify the receipts, so rapidly did the notes and coins slip through
his left one, the only one he had. Son of a tax-collector at Chablis,
he had come to Paris as a clerk in the office of a merchant of the
Port-aux-Vins. Then, whilst lodging in the Rue Cuvier, he married the
daughter of his doorkeeper, a small tailor, an Alsatian; and from that
day he had bowed submissively before his wife, whose commercial ability
filled him with respect. She earned more than twelve thousand francs
a year in the dress department, whilst he only drew a fixed salary of
five thousand francs. And the deference he felt for a woman bringing
such sums into the home was extended to the son, who also belonged to
her.

"What's the matter?" murmured he; "is Albert in fault?"

Then, according to his custom, Mouret appeared on the scene, to play
the part of good-natured prince. When Bourdoncle had made himself
feared, he looked after his own popularity.

"Nothing of consequence!" murmured he. "My dear Lhomme, your son
Albert is a careless fellow, who should take an example from you."
Then, changing the subject, showing himself more amiable than ever, he
continued; "And that concert the other day—did you get a good seat?"

A blush overspread the white cheeks of the old cashier. Music was his
only vice, a vice which he indulged in solitarily, frequenting the
theatres, the concerts, the rehearsals. Notwithstanding the loss of his
arm, he played on the French horn, thanks to an ingenious system of
keys; and as Madame Lhomme detested noise, he wrapped up his instrument
in cloth in the evening, delighted all the same, in the highest
degree, with the strangely dull sounds he drew from it. In the forced
irregularity of their domestic life he had made himself an oasis of
this music—that and the cash-box, he knew of nothing else, beyond the
admiration he felt for his wife.

"A very good seat," replied he, with sparkling eyes. "You are really
too kind, sir."

Mouret, who enjoyed a personal pleasure in satisfying other people's
passions, sometimes gave Lhomme the tickets forced on him by the lady
patronesses of such entertainments, and he completed the old man's
delight by saying:

"Ah, Beethoven! ah, Mozart! What music!" And without waiting for a
reply, he went off, rejoining Bourdoncle, already on his tour of
inspection through the departments.

In the central hall, an inner courtyard with a glass roof formed
the silk department. Both went along the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin,
occupied by the linen department, from one end to the other. Nothing
unusual striking them, they passed on through the crowd of respectful
assistants. They then turned into the cotton and hosiery departments,
where the same order reigned. But in the department devoted to
woollens, occupying the gallery which ran through to the Rue de la
Michodière, Bourdoncle resumed the character of executioner, on
observing a young man, seated on the counter, looking knocked up after
a night passed without sleep. And this young man, named Liénard, son
of a rich Angers draper, bowed his head beneath the reprimand, fearing
nothing in his idle, careless life of pleasure except to be recalled by
his father. The reprimands now began to shower down, and the gallery of
the Rue de la Michodière received the full force of the storm. In the
drapery department a salesman, a fresh hand, who slept in the house,
had come in after eleven o'clock; in the haberdashery department, the
second counterman had just allowed himself to be caught downstairs
smoking a cigarette. But the tempest burst with especial violence in
the glove department, on the head of one of the rare Parisians in
the house, handsome Mignot, as they called him, the illegitimate son
of a music-mistress: his crime was having caused a scandal in the
dining-room by complaining of the food. As there were three tables,
one at half-past nine, one at half-past ten, and another at half-past
eleven, he wished to explain that belonging to the third table, he
always had the leavings, the worst of everything.

"What! the food not good?" asked Mouret, naïvely, opening his mouth at
last.

He only gave the head cook, a terrible Auvergnat, a franc and a half
a head per day, out of which this man still managed to make a good
profit; and the food was really execrable. But Bourdoncle shrugged
his shoulders: a cook who had four hundred luncheons and four hundred
dinners to serve, even in three series, had no time to waste on the
refinements of his art.

"Never mind," said the governor, good-naturedly, "I wish all our
employees to have good, abundant food. I'll speak to the cook." And
Mignot's complaint was shelved.

Then returning to their point of departure, standing up near the door,
amidst the umbrellas and neckties, Mouret and Bourdoncle received the
report of one of the four inspectors, charged with the superintendence
of the establishment. Old Jouve, a retired captain, decorated at
Constantine, a fine-looking man still, with his big sensual nose and
majestic baldness, having drawn their attention to a salesman, who,
in reply to a simple remonstrance on his part, had called him "an old
humbug," the salesman was immediately discharged.

However, the shop was still without customers, except a few housewives
of the neighbourhood who were going through the almost deserted
galleries. At the door the time-keeper had just closed his book, and
was making out a separate list of the late comers. The salesmen were
taking possession of their departments, which had been swept and
brushed by the messengers before their arrival. Each young man hung
up his hat and great-coat as he arrived, stifling a yawn, still half
asleep. Some exchanged a few words, gazed about the shop and seemed to
be pulling themselves together ready for another day's work; others
were leisurely removing the green baize with which they had covered the
goods over night, after having folded them up; and the piles of stuffs
appeared symmetrically arranged, the whole shop was in a clean and
orderly state, brilliant in the morning gaiety, waiting for the rush
of business to come and obstruct it, and, as it were, narrow it by the
unpacking and display of linen, cloth, silk, and lace.

In the bright light of the central hall, two young men were talking in
a low voice at the silk counter. One, short and charming, well set, and
with a pink skin, was endeavouring to blend the colours of some silks
for indoor show. His name was Hutin, his father kept a café at Yvetot,
and he had managed after eighteen months' service to become one of
the principal salesmen, thanks to a natural flexibility of character,
a continual flow of caressing flattery, under which was concealed a
furious rage for business, grasping everything, devouring everybody,
even without hunger, just for the pleasure of the thing.

"Look here, Favier, I should have struck him if I had been in your
place, honour bright!" said he to the other, a tall bilious fellow with
a dry and yellow skin, who was born at Besançon of a family of weavers,
and who, without the least grace, concealed under a cold exterior a
disquieting will.

"It does no good to strike people," murmured he, phlegmatically;
"better wait."

They were both speaking of Robineau, who was looking after the shopmen
during the manager's absence downstairs. Hutin was secretly undermining
Robineau, whose place he coveted. He had already, to wound him and make
him leave, introduced Bouthemont to fill the vacancy of manager which
had been promised to Robineau. However, the latter stood firm, and it
was now an hourly battle. Hutin dreamed of setting the whole department
against him, to hound him out by means of ill-will and vexations. At
the same time he went to work craftily, exciting Favier especially, who
stood next to him as salesman, and who appeared to allow himself to be
led on, but with certain brusque reserves, in which could be felt quite
a private campaign carried on in silence.

"Hush! seventeen!" said he, quickly, to his colleague, to warm him by
this peculiar cry of the approach of Mouret and Bourdoncle.

These latter were continuing their inspection by traversing the hall.
They stopped to ask Robineau for an explanation with regard to a stock
of velvets of which the boxes were encumbering a table. And as the
latter replied that there wasn't enough room:

"I told you so, Bourdoncle," cried out Mouret, smiling; "the place is
already too small. We shall soon have to knock down the walls as far as
the Rue de Choiseul. You'll see what a crush there'll be next Monday."

And respecting the coming sale, for which they were preparing at every
counter, he asked Robineau further questions and gave him various
orders. But for several minutes, and without having stopped talking, he
had been watching Hutin, who was contrasting the silks—blue, grey, and
yellow—drawing back to judge of the harmony of the tones. Suddenly he
interfered:

"But why are you endeavouring to please the eyes? Don't be afraid;
blind them. Look! red, green, yellow."

He had taken the pieces, throwing them together, crushing them,
producing an excessively fast effect. Every one allowed the governor
to be the best displayer in Paris, of a regular revolutionary stamp,
who had founded the brutal and colossal school in the science of
displaying. He delighted in a tumbling of stuffs, as if they had fallen
from the crowded shelves by chance, making them glow with the most
ardent colours, lighting each other up by the contrast, declaring that
the customers ought to have sore eyes on going out of the shop. Hutin,
who belonged, on the contrary, to the classic school, in which symmetry
and harmony of colour were cherished, looked at him lighting up this
fire of stuff on a table, not venturing on the least criticism, but
biting his lip with the pout of an artist whose convictions are wounded
by such a debauch.

"There!" exclaimed Mouret when he had finished, "Leave it; you'll see
if it doesn't fetch the women on Monday."

Just as he rejoined Bourdoncle and Robineau, there arrived a woman,
who remained stock-still, suffocated before this show. It was Denise,
who, having waited for nearly an hour in the street, the prey to a
violent attack of timidity, had at last decided to go in. But she
was so beside herself with bashfulness that she mistook the clearest
directions; and the shopmen, of whom she had stutteringly asked for
Madame Aurélie, directed her in vain to the lower staircase; she
thanked them, and turned to the left if they told her to turn to the
right; so that for the last ten minutes she had been wandering about
the ground-floor, going from department to department, amidst the
ill-natured curiosity and ill-tempered indifference of the salesmen.
She longed to run away, and was at the same time retained by a wish to
stop and admire. She felt herself lost, she, so little, in this monster
place, in this machine at rest, trembling for fear she should be caught
in the movement with which the walls already began to shake. And the
thought of The Old Elbeuf, black and narrow, increased the immensity of
this vast establishment, presenting it to her as bathed in light, like
a city with its monuments, squares, and streets, in which it seemed
impossible that she should ever find her way.

However, she had not dared to risk herself in the silk hall, the
high glass roof, luxurious counters, and cathedral-like air of which
frightened her. Then when she did venture in, to escape the shopmen
in the linen department, who were grinning, she had stumbled right on
to Mouret's display; and, notwithstanding her fright, the woman was
aroused within her, her cheeks suddenly became red, and she forgot
everything in looking at the glow of these silks.

"Hullo!" said Hutin in Favier's ear; "there's the girl we saw in the
Place Gaillon."

Mouret, whilst affecting to listen to Bourdoncle and Robineau, was
at heart flattered by the startled look of this poor girl, as a
marchioness might be by the brutal desire of a passing drayman. But
Denise had raised her eyes, and her confusion increased at the sight of
this young man, whom she took for a manager. She thought he was looking
at her severely. Then not knowing how to get away, quite lost, she
applied to the nearest shopman, who happened to be Favier.

"Madame Aurélie, please?"

But Favier, who was disagreeable, contented himself with replying
sharply: "First floor."

And Denise, longing to escape the looks of all these men, thanked him,
and had again turned her back to the stairs she ought to have mounted,
when Hutin, yielding naturally to his instinct of gallantry, stopped
her with his most amiable salesman's smile.

"No—this way, mademoiselle; if you don't mind."

And he even went with her a little way to the foot of the staircase
on the left-hand side of the hall under the gallery. There he bowed,
smiling tenderly, as he smiled at all women.

"When you get upstairs turn to the left. The dress department is
straight in front."

This caressing politeness affected Denise deeply. It was like a
brotherly hand extended to her; she raised her eyes and looked at
Hutin, and everything in him touched her—his handsome face, his looks
which dissolved her fears, and his voice which seemed to her of a
consoling softness. Her heart swelled with gratitude, and she bestowed
her friendship in the few disjointed words her emotion allowed her to
utter.

"Really, sir, you are too kind. Pray don't trouble to come any further.
Thank you very much."

Hutin had already rejoined Favier, to whom he coarsely whispered: "What
a bag of bones—eh?"

Upstairs the young girl suddenly found herself in the midst of the
dress department. It was a vast room, with high carved oak cupboards
all round, and clear glass windows looking on to the Rue de la
Michodière. Five or six women in silk dresses, looking very coquettish
with their frizzed chignons and crinolines drawn back, were moving
about, talking. One, tall and thin, with a long head, having a
runaway-horse appearance, was leaning against a cupboard, as if already
knocked up with fatigue.

"Madame Aurélie?" inquired Denise.

The saleswoman looked at her without replying, with an air of disdain
for her shabby dress, then turning to one of her friends, a short girl
with a sickly white skin and an innocent and disgusted appearance, she
asked: "Mademoiselle Yadon, do you know where Madame Aurélie is?"

The young girl, who was arranging some mantles according to their
sizes, did not even take the trouble to raise her head. "No,
Mademoiselle Prunaire, I don't know at all," replied she in a mincing
tone.

A silence ensued. Denise stood still, and no one took any further
notice of her. However, after waiting a moment, she ventured to put
another question: "Do you think Madame Aurélie will be back soon?"

The second-hand, a thin, ugly woman, whom she had not noticed before,
a widow with a projecting jaw-bone and coarse hair, cried out from a
cupboard, where she was checking some tickets: "You'd better wait if
you want to speak to Madame Aurélie herself." And, addressing another
saleswoman, she added: "Isn't she downstairs?"

"No, Madame Frédéric, I don't think so," replied the young lady. "She
said nothing before going, so she can't be far off."

Denise, thus instructed, remained standing. There were several chairs
for the customers; but as they had not told her to sit down, she did
not dare to take one, although she felt ready to drop with fatigue.
All these ladies had evidently put her down as an applicant for the
vacancy, and they were taking stock of her, pulling her to pieces
ill-naturedly, with the secret hostility of people at table who do
not like to close up to make room for hungry outsiders. Her confusion
increased; she crossed the room quietly and looked out of the window
into the street, just for something to do. Opposite, The Old Elbeuf,
with its rusty front and lifeless windows, appeared to her so ugly, so
miserable, seen thus from amidst the luxury and life of her present
standpoint, that a sort of remorse filled her already swollen heart
with grief.

"I say," whispered tall Prunaire to little Vadon, "have you seen her
boots?"

"And her dress!" murmured the other.

With her eyes still towards the street, Denise felt herself being
devoured. But she was not angry; she did not think them handsome,
neither the tall one with her carroty chignon falling over her
horse-like neck, nor the little one with her sour milk complexion,
which gave her flat and, as it were, boneless face a flabby appearance.
Clara Prunaire, daughter of a clog-maker in the forest of Vilet,
debauched by the footmen at the Château de Mareuil, where the countess
engaged her as needlewoman, had come later on from a shop at Langres,
and was avenging herself in Paris on the men for the kicks with which
her father had regaled her when at home. Marguerite Vadon, born at
Grenoble, where her parents kept a linen shop, had been obliged to come
to The Ladies' Paradise to conceal an accident she had met with—a brat
which had made its appearance one day. She was a well-conducted girl,
and intended to return to Grenoble to take charge of her parents' shop,
and marry a cousin who was waiting for her.

"Well," resumed Clara, in a low voice, "there's a girl who won't do
much good here!"

But they stopped talking. A woman of about forty-five came in. It was
Madame Aurélie, very stout, tightly laced in her black silk dress, the
body of which, strained over her massive shoulders and full bust, shone
like a piece of armour. She had, under very dark folds of hair, great
fixed eyes, a severe mouth, and large and rather drooping cheeks; and
in the majesty of her position as first-hand, her face assumed the
bombast of a puffy mask of Caesar.

"Mademoiselle Vadon," said she, in an irritated voice, "you didn't
return the pattern of that mantle to the workroom yesterday, it seems?"

"There was an alteration to make, madame," replied the saleswoman, "so
Madame Frédéric kept it."

The second-hand then took the pattern out of a cupboard, and the
explanation continued. Every one gave way to Madame Aurélie, when she
thought it necessary to assert her authority. Very vain, even going so
far as not to wish to be called by her real name, Lhomme, which annoyed
her, and to deny her father's humble position, always referring to him
as a regularly established tailor, she was only gracious towards those
young ladies who showed themselves flexible and caressing, bowing down
in admiration before her. Some time previously, whilst she was trying
to establish herself in a shop of her own, her temper had become sour,
continually thwarted by the worst of luck, exasperated to feel herself
born to fortune and to encounter nothing but a series of catastrophes;
and now, even after her success at The Ladies' Paradise, where she
earned twelve thousand francs a year, it seemed that she still
nourished a secret spite against every one, and she was very hard with
beginners, as life had shown itself hard for her at first.

"That will do!" said she, sharply; "you are no more reasonable than the
others, Madame Frédéric. Let the alteration be made immediately."

During this explanation, Denise had ceased to look into the street.
She had no doubt this was Madame Aurélie; but, frightened at her sharp
voice, she remained standing, still waiting. The two saleswomen,
delighted to have set their two superiors at variance, had returned
to their work with an air of profound indifference. A few minutes
elapsed, nobody being charitable enough to draw the young girl from her
uncomfortable position. At last, Madame Aurélie herself perceived her,
and astonished to see her standing there without moving, asked her what
she wanted.

"Madame Aurélie, please."

"I am Madame Aurélie."

Denise's mouth became dry and parched, and her hands cold; she felt
some such fear as when she was a child and trembled at the thought of
being whipped. She stammered out her request, but was obliged to repeat
it to make herself understood. Madame Aurélie looked at her with her
great fixed eyes, not a line of her imperial mask deigning to relax.

"How old are you?"

"Twenty, madame."

"What, twenty years old? you don't look sixteen!"

The saleswomen again raised their heads. Denise hastened to add: "Oh,
I'm very strong!"

Madame Aurélie shrugged her broad shoulders, then coldly declared:
"Well! I don't mind entering your name. We enter the names of all those
who apply. Mademoiselle Prunaire, give me the book."

But the book could not be found; Jouve, the inspector had probably got
it. As tall Clara was going to fetch it, Mouret arrived, still followed
by Bourdoncle. They had made the tour of the other departments—the
lace, the shawls, the furs, the furniture, the under-linen, and were
winding up with the dresses. Madame Aurélie left Denise a moment to
speak to them about an order for some cloaks she thought of giving to
one of the large Paris houses; as a rule, she bought direct, and on
her own responsibility; but, for important purchases, she preferred
consulting the chiefs of the house. Bourdoncle then related her son
Albert's latest act of carelessness, which seemed to fill her with
despair. That boy would kill her; his father, although not a man of
talent, was at least well-conducted, careful, and honest. All this
dynasty of Lhommes, of which she was the acknowledged head, very often
caused her a great deal of trouble. However, Mouret, surprised to see
Denise again, bent down to ask Madame Aurélie what the young lady was
doing there; and, when the first-hand replied that she was applying
for a saleswoman's situation, Bourdoncle, with his disdain for women,
seemed suffocated at this pretension.

"You don't mean it," murmured he; "it must be a joke, she's too ugly!"

"The fact is, there's nothing handsome about her," said Mouret, not
daring to defend her, although still moved by the rapture she had
displayed downstairs before his arrangement of silks.

But the book having been brought in, Madame Aurélie returned to Denise,
who had certainly not made a favourable impression. She looked very
clean in her thin black woollen dress; the question of shabbiness was
of no importance, as the house furnished a uniform, the regulation silk
dress; but she appeared rather weak and puny, and had a melancholy
face. Without insisting on handsome girls, one liked them to be of
agreeable appearance for the sale rooms. And beneath the gaze of all
these ladies and gentlemen who were studying her, weighing her like
farmers would a horse at a fair, Denise completely lost countenance.

"Your name?" asked Madame Aurélie, at the end of a counter, pen in
hand, ready to write.

"Denise Baudu, madame."

"Your age?"

"Twenty years and four months." And she repeated, risking a glance at
Mouret, at this supposed manager, whom she met everywhere and whose
presence troubled her so: "I don't look like it, but I am really very
strong."

They smiled. Bourdoncle showed evident signs of impatience; her remark
fell, moreover, amidst a most discouraging silence.

"What house have you been in, in Paris?" resumed Madame Aurélie.

"I've just arrived from Valognes."

This was a fresh disaster. As a rule, The Ladies' Paradise only took
saleswomen with a year's experience in one of the small houses in
Paris. Denise thought all was lost; and, had it not been for the
children, had she not been obliged to work for them, she would have
closed this useless interview and left the place.

"Where were you at Valognes?"

"At Cornaille's."

"I know him—good house," remarked Mouret.

It was very rarely that he interfered in the engagement of the
employees, the manager of each department being responsible for his
staff. But with his delicate appreciation of women, he divined in this
young girl a hidden charm, a wealth of grace and tenderness of which
she herself was ignorant. The good name enjoyed by the house in which
the candidate had started was of great importance, often deciding the
question in his or her favour. Madame Aurélie continued, in a kinder
tone: "And why did you leave Cornaille's?"

"For family reasons," replied Denise, turning scarlet. "We have lost
our parents, I have been obliged to follow my brothers. Here is a
certificate."

It was excellent. Her hopes were reviving, when another question
troubled her.

"Have you any other references in Paris? Where do you live?"

"At my uncle's," murmured she, hesitating about naming him, fearing
they would never take the niece of a competitor. "At my uncle Baudu's,
opposite."

At this, Mouret interfered a second time. "What! are you Baudu's niece?
Is it Baudu who sent you here?"

"Oh! no, sir!"

And she could not help laughing, the idea appeared to her so singular.
It was a transfiguration; she became quite rosy, and the smile round
her rather large mouth lighted up her whole face. Her grey eyes
sparkled with a tender flame, her cheeks filled with delicious dimples,
and even her light hair seemed to partake of the frank and courageous
gaiety that pervaded her whole being.

"Why, she's really pretty," whispered Mouret to Bourdoncle.

The partner refused to admit it, with a gesture of annoyance. Clara bit
her lips, and Marguerite turned away; but Madame Aurélie seemed won
over, and encouraged Mouret with a nod when he resumed: "Your uncle was
wrong not to bring you; his recommendation sufficed. They say he has a
grudge against us. We are people of more liberal minds, and if he can't
find employment for his niece in his house, why we will show him that
she has only to knock at our door to be received. Just tell him I still
like him very much, and that he must blame, not me, but the new style
of business. Tell him, too, that he will ruin himself if he insists on
keeping to his ridiculous old-fashioned ways."

Denise turned quite white again. It was Mouret; no one had mentioned
his name, but he had revealed himself, and now she guessed who it
was, she understood why this young man had caused her such emotion
in the street, in the silk department, and again now. This emotion,
which she could not analyse, pressed on her heart more and more, like
a too-heavy weight. All the stories related by her uncle came back to
her, increasing Mouret's importance, surrounding him with a sort of
halo, making of him the master of the terrible machine by whose wheels
she had felt herself being seized all the morning. And, behind his
handsome face, well-trimmed beard, and eyes of the colour of old gold,
she beheld the dead woman, that Madame Hédouin, whose blood had helped
to cement the stones of the house. The shiver she had felt the previous
night again seized her; and she thought she was merely afraid of him.

Meanwhile, Madame Aurélie had closed the book. She only wanted one
saleswoman, and she already had ten applications. But she was too
anxious to please the governor to hesitate for a moment. However, the
application would follow its course, Jouve, the inspector, would go
and make enquiries, send in his report, and then she would come to a
decision.

"Very good, mademoiselle," said she majestically, to preserve her
authority; "we will write to you."

Denise stood there, unable to move for a moment, hardly knowing how to
take her leave in the midst of all these people. At last she thanked
Madame Aurélie, and on passing by Mouret and Bourdoncle, she bowed.
These gentlemen, occupied in examining the pattern of a mantle with
Madame Frédéric, did not take the slightest notice. Clara looked in a
vexed way towards Marguerite, as if to predict that the new comer would
not have a very pleasant time of it in the place. Denise doubtless felt
this indifference and rancour behind her, for she went downstairs with
the same troubled feeling she had on going up, asking herself whether
she ought to be sorry or glad to have come. Could she count on having
the situation? She did not even know that, her uncomfortable state
having prevented her understanding clearly. Of all her sensations, two
remained and gradually effaced all the others—the emotion, almost
the fear, inspired in her by Mouret, and Hutin's amiability, the only
pleasure she had enjoyed the whole morning, a souvenir of charming
sweetness which filled her with gratitude. When she crossed the shop to
go out she looked for the young man, happy at the idea of thanking him
again with her eyes; and she was very sorry not to see him.

"Well, mademoiselle, have you succeeded?" asked a timid voice, as she
at last stood on the pavement outside. She turned round and recognised
the tall, awkward young fellow who had spoken to her in the morning.
He also had just come out of The Ladies' Paradise, appearing more
frightened than she did, still bewildered with the examination he had
just passed through.

"I really don't know yet, sir," replied she.

"You're like me, then. What a way of looking at and talking to you they
have in there—eh? I'm applying for a place in the lace department. I
was at Crèvecoeur's in the Rue du Mail."

They were once more standing facing each other; and, not knowing how
to take leave, they commenced to blush. Then the young man, just for
something to say in the excess of his timidity, ventured to ask in his
good-natured, awkward way: "What is your name, mademoiselle?"

"Denise Baudu."

"My name is Henri Deloche."

Now they smiled, and, yielding to the fraternity of their positions,
shook each other by the hand.

"Good luck!"

"Yes, good luck!"

CHAPTER III.

Every Saturday, between four and six, Madame Desforges offered a cup
of tea and a few cakes to those friends who were kind enough to visit
her. She occupied the third floor of a house at the corner of the Rue
de Rivoli and the Rue d'Alger; and the windows of both drawing-rooms
overlooked the Tuileries Gardens.

This Saturday, just as a footman was about to introduce him into the
principal drawing-room, Mouret perceived from the anteroom, through an
open door, Madame Desforges, who was crossing the little drawing-room.
She stopped on seeing him, and he went in that way, bowing to her with
a ceremonious air. But when the footman had closed the door, he quickly
seized the young woman's hand, and tenderly kissed it.

"Take care, I have company!" she said, in a low voice, glancing towards
the door of the larger room. "I've just been to fetch this fan to show
them," and she playfully tapped him on the face with the tip of the
fan. She was dark, rather stout, with big jealous eyes.

But he still held her hand and asked: "Will he come?"

"Certainly," replied she. "I have his promise."

Both of them referred to Baron Hartmann, director of the Crédit
Immobilier. Madame Desforges, daughter of a Councillor of State, was
the widow of a stock-broker, who had left her a fortune, denied by
some, exaggerated by others. Even during her husband's lifetime people
said she had shown herself grateful towards Baron Hartmann, whose
financial tips had proved very useful to them; and later on, after her
husband's death, the acquaintance had probably continued, but always
discreetly, without imprudence or display; for she never courted
notoriety in any way, and was received everywhere in the upper-middle
classes amongst whom she was born. Even at this time, when the passion
of the banker, a sceptical, crafty man, had subsided into a simple
paternal affection, if she permitted herself certain lovers whom he
tolerated, she displayed in these treasons of the heart such a delicate
reserve and tact, a knowledge of the world so adroitly applied, that
appearances were saved, and no one would have ventured to openly
express any doubt as to her conduct. Having met Mouret at a mutual
friend's, she had at first detested him; but she had yielded to him
later on, as if carried away by the violent love with which he attacked
her, and since he had commenced to approach Baron Hartmann through her,
she had gradually got to love him with a real profound tenderness,
adoring him with the violence of a woman already thirty-five, although
only acknowledging twenty-nine, and in despair at feeling him younger
than herself, trembling lest she should lose him.

"Does he know about it?"

"No, you'll explain the affair to him yourself," she replied.

She looked at him, thinking that he couldn't know anything or he would
not employ her in this way with the baron, affecting to consider him
simply as an old friend of hers. But he still held her hand, he called
her his good Henriette, and she felt her heart melting. Silently she
presented her lips, pressed them to his, then whispered: "Oh, they're
waiting for me. Come in behind me."

They could hear voices issuing from the principal drawing-room,
deadened by the heavy curtains. She pushed the door, leaving its two
folds open, and handed the fan to one of the four ladies who were
seated in the middle of the room.

"There it is," said she; "I didn't know exactly where it was. My maid
would never have found it." And she added in her cheerful way: "Come
in, Monsieur Mouret, come through the little drawing-room; it will be
less solemn."

Mouret bowed to the ladies whom he knew. The drawing-room, with its
flowered brocatel Louis XVI. furniture, gilded bronzes and large green
plants, had a tender feminine air, notwithstanding the height of the
ceiling; and through the two windows could be seen the chestnut trees
in the Tuileries Gardens, their leaves blowing about in the October
wind.

"But it isn't at all bad, this Chantilly!" exclaimed Madame Bourdelais,
who had taken the fan.

She was a short fair woman of thirty, with a delicate nose and
sparkling eyes, an old school-fellow of Henriette's, and who had
married a chief clerk in the Treasury. Of an old middle-class family,
she managed her household and three children with a rare activity and
good grace, and an exquisite knowledge of practical life.

"And you paid twenty-five francs for it?" resumed she, examining each
mesh of the lace. "At Luc, I think you said, to a country woman? No, it
isn't dear; but you had to get it mounted, hadn't you?"

"Of course," replied Madame Desforges. "The mounting cost me two
hundred francs."

Madame Bourdelais began to laugh. And that was what Henriette called a
bargain! Two hundred francs for a plain ivory mount, with a monogram!
And that for a simple piece of Chantilly, over which she had saved five
francs, perhaps. Similar fans could be had ready mounted for a hundred
and twenty francs, and she named a shop in the Rue Poissonnière.

However, the fan was handed round to all the ladies. Madame Guibal
barely glanced at it. She was a tall, thin woman, with red hair, and
a face full of indifference, in which her grey eyes, occasionally
penetrating her unconcerned air, cast the terrible gleams of
selfishness. She was never seen out with her husband, a barrister
well-known at the Palais de Justice, who led, it was said, a pretty
free life, dividing himself between his law business and his pleasures.

"Oh," murmured she, passing the fan to Madame de Boves, "I've scarcely
bought one in my life. One always receives too many of such things."

The countess replied with delicate malice: "You are fortunate, my dear,
in having a gallant husband." And bending over to her daughter, a tall
girl of twenty, she added: "Just look at the monogram, Blanche. What
pretty work! It's the monogram that must have increased the price like
that."

Madame de Boves had just turned forty. She was a superb woman, with the
neck of a goddess, a large regular face, and big sleepy eyes, whom her
husband, Inspector-General of the Stud, had married for her beauty. She
appeared quite moved by the delicacy of the monogram, as if seized with
a desire the emotion of which made her turn pale, and turning round
suddenly, she continued: "Give us your opinion. Monsieur Mouret. Is it
too dear—two hundred francs for this mount?"

Mouret had remained standing in the midst of the five women, smiling,
taking an interest in what interested them. He picked up the fan,
examined it, and was about to give his opinion, when the footman opened
the door and announced:

"Madame Marty."

And there entered a thin, ugly woman, ravaged with the small-pox,
dressed with a complicated elegance. She was of uncertain age, her
thirty-five years appearing sometimes equal to thirty, and sometimes to
forty, according to the intensity of the nervous fever which agitated
her. A red leather bag, which she had not let go, hung from her right
hand.

"Dear madame," said she to Henriette, "excuse me bringing my bag. Just
fancy, as I was coming along I went into The Paradise, and as I have
again been very extravagant, I did not like to leave it in my cab
for fear of being robbed." But having perceived Mouret, she resumed
laughingly: "Ah! sir, I didn't mean to give you an advertisement, for I
didn't know you were here. But you really have some extraordinary fine
lace just now."

This turned the attention from the fan, which the young man laid on
the table. The ladies were all anxious to see what Madame Marty had
bought. She was known to be very extravagant, totally unable to resist
temptation, strict in her conduct and incapable of yielding to a
lover, but weak and cowardly, easily conquered before the least bit of
finery. Daughter of a city clerk, she was ruining her husband, a master
at the Lycée Bonaparte, who was obliged to double his salary of six
thousand francs a year by giving private lessons, in order to meet the
constantly increasing household expenses. She did not open her bag,
but held it tight on her lap, and commenced to talk about her daughter
Valentine, fourteen years old, one of her dearest coquetries, for she
dressed her like herself, with all the fashionable novelties of which
she submitted to the irresistible seduction.

"You know," she said, "they are making dresses trimmed with a narrow
lace for young girls this winter. So when I saw a very pretty
Valenciennes—"

And she at last decided to open her bag. The ladies were stretching out
their necks, when, in the midst of the silence, the door-bell was heard.

"It's my husband," stammered Madame Marty, very confused. "He promised
to fetch me on leaving the Lycee Bonaparte."

She quickly shut the bag again, and put it under her chair with an
instinctive movement. All the ladies set up a laugh. This made her
blush for her precipitation, and she put the bag on her knees again,
explaining that men never understood, and that they need not know.

"Monsieur de Boves, Monsieur de Vallagnosc," announced the footman.

It was quite a surprise. Madame de Boves herself did not expect her
husband. The latter, a fine man, wearing a moustache and an imperial
with the military correctness so much liked at the Tuileries, kissed
the hand of Madame Desforges, whom he had known as a young girl at
her father's. And he made way to allow his companion, a tall, pale
fellow, of an aristocratic poverty of blood, to make his bow to the
lady of the house. But the conversation had hardly recommenced when two
exclamations were heard:

"What! Is that you, Paul?"

"Why, Octave!"

Mouret and Vallagnosc then shook hands, much to Madame Desforges's
surprise. They knew each other, then? Of course, they had grown up side
by side at the college at Plassans, and it was quite by chance they had
not met at her house before. However, with their hands still united,
they went into the little drawing-room, just as the servant brought
in the tea, a china service on a silver waiter, which he placed near
Madame Desforges, on a small round marble table with a light copper
mounting. The ladies drew up and began talking louder, all speaking
at once, producing a cross-fire of short disjointed sentences; whilst
Monsieur de Boves, standing up behind them, put in an occasional
word with the gallantry of a handsome functionary. The vast room, so
prettily and cheerfully furnished, became merrier still with these
gossiping voices, and the frequent laughter.

"Ah! Paul, old boy," repeated Mouret.

He was seated near Vallagnosc, on a sofa. And alone in the little
drawing-room, very coquettish with its pretty silk hangings, out of
hearing of the ladies, and not even seeing them, except through the
open door, the two old friends commenced grinning, examining each
other's looks, exchanging slaps on the knees. Their whole youthful
career was recalled, the old college at Plassans, with its two
courtyards, its damp classrooms, and the dining-room in which they had
consumed so much cod-fish, and the dormitories where the pillows used
to fly from bed to bed as soon as the monitor began to snore. Paul,
belonging to an old parliamentary family, noble, poor, and proud, was
a good scholar, always at the top of his class, continually held up as
an example by the master, who prophesied for him a brilliant future;
whilst Octave remained at the bottom, stuck amongst the dunces, fat and
jolly, indulging in all sorts of pleasures outside. Notwithstanding the
difference in their characters, a fast friendship had rendered them
inseparable, until their final examinations, which they passed, the
one with honours, the other in a passable manner after two vexatious
trials. Then they went out into the world, and had now met again, after
ten years, already changed and looking older.

"Well," said Mouret, "what's become of you?"

"Nothing at all," replied the other.

Vallagnosc, in the joy of their meeting, retained his tired and
disenchanted air; and as his friend, astonished, insisted, saying: "But
you must do something. What do you do?"

"Nothing," replied he.

Octave commenced to laugh. Nothing! that wasn't enough. Little by
little he succeeded in drawing Paul out to tell his story. It was the
usual story of penniless younger sons, who think themselves obliged by
their birth to choose a liberal profession, burying themselves in a
sort of vain mediocrity, happy to escape starvation, notwithstanding
their numerous degrees. He had studied law by a sort of family
tradition; and had since remained a burden on his widowed mother, who
even then hardly knew how to dispose of her two daughters. Having at
last got quite ashamed, he left the three women to vegetate on the
remnants of their fortune, and accepted an appointment in the Ministry
of the Interior, where he buried himself like a mole in its hole.

"What do you get there?" resumed Mouret.

"Three thousand francs."

"But that's pitiful pay! Ah! old man, I'm really sorry for you. What! a
clever fellow like you, who floored all of us! And they only give you
three thousand francs a year, after having already ground you down for
five years! No, it isn't right!" He interrupted himself, and returned
to his own doings. "As for me, I made them a humble bow. You know what
I'm doing?"

"Yes," said Vallagnosc, "I heard you were in business. You've got that
big place in the Place Gailion, haven't you?"

"That's it. Counter-jumper, my boy!"

Mouret raised his head, again slapped him on the knee, and repeated,
with the solid gaiety of a fellow who did not blush for the trade by
which he was making his fortune:

"Counter-jumper, and no mistake! You remember, no doubt, I didn't bite
much at their machines, although at heart I never thought myself duller
than the others. When I took my degree, just to please the family, I
could have become a barrister or a doctor quite as easily as any of my
school-fellows, but those trades frightened me. I saw so many who were
starving at them that I just threw them over without the least regret,
and pitched head-first into business."

Vallagnosc smiled with an awkward air, and ultimately said: "It's very
certain your degree can't be much good to you for selling calico."

"Well!" replied Mouret, joyously, "all I ask is, that it shall not
stand in my way, and you know, when one has been stupid enough to
burden one's self with it, it is difficult to get rid of it. One goes
at a tortoise's pace through life, whilst those who are bare-footed run
like madmen." Then, noticing that his friend seemed troubled, he took
his hand in his, and continued: "Come, come, I don't want to hurt your
feelings, but confess that your degrees have not satisfied any of your
wants. Do you know that my manager in the silk department will draw
more than twelve thousand francs this year. Just so! a fellow of very
clear intelligence, whose knowledge is confined to spelling, and the
first four rules. The ordinary salesmen in my place make from three to
four thousand francs a year, more than you can earn yourself; and their
education was not so expensive as yours, nor were they launched into
the world with a written promise to conquer it. Of course, it is not
everything to make money; but between the poor devils possessed of a
smattering of science who now block up the liberal professions, without
earning enough to keep themselves from starving, and the practical
fellows armed for life's struggle, knowing every branch of their trade,
by Jove! I don't hesitate a moment, I'm for the latter against the
former, I think they thoroughly understand the age they live in!"

His voice had become impassioned. Henriette, who was pouring out the
tea, turned her head. When he caught her smile, at the further end of
the large drawing-room, and saw the other ladies were listening, he was
the first to make merry over his own big phrases.

"In short, old man, every counter-jumper who commences, has, at the
present day, a chance of becoming a millionaire."

Vallagnosc threw himself back on the sofa indolently, half-closing his
eyes in a fatigued and disdainful attitude, in which a suspicion of
affectation was added to his real hereditary exhaustion.

"Bah!" murmured he, "life isn't worth all that trouble. There is
nothing worth living for." And as Mouret, shocked, looked at him with
an air of surprise, he added: "Everything happens and nothing happens;
one may as well stay with one's arms folded."

He then explained his pessimism—the mediocrities and the abortions of
existence. For a time he had thought of literature, but his intercourse
with certain poets had filled him with universal despair. He always
arrived at the conclusion that effort was useless, every hour equally
weary and empty, and the world incurably stupid and dull. All enjoyment
was a failure, and there was no pleasure in wrong-doing even.

"Just tell me, do you enjoy life yourself?" asked he at last.

Mouret was now in a state of astonished indignation, and exclaimed:
"What? Do I enjoy myself? What are you talking about? Why, of course
I do, my boy, and even when things give way, for then I am furious
at hearing them cracking, I am a passionate fellow myself, and don't
take life quietly; that's what interests me in it perhaps." He glanced
towards the drawing-room, and lowered his voice. "Oh! there are some
women who've bothered me awfully, I must confess. But when I've got
hold of one, I keep her. She doesn't always escape me, and then I take
my share, I assure you. But it is not so much the women, for to speak
truly, I don't care a hang for them; it's the wish to act—to create,
in short. You have an idea; you fight for it, you hammer it into
people's heads, and you see it grow and triumph. Ah! yes, my boy, I
enjoy life!"

All the joy of action, all the gaiety of existence, resounded in
these words. He repeated that he went with the times. Really, a man
must be badly constituted, have his brain and limbs out of order, to
refuse to work in an age of such vast undertakings, when the entire
century was pressing forward with giant strides. And he laughed at the
despairing ones, the disgusted ones, the pessimists, all those weak,
sickly members of our budding sciences, who assumed the weeping airs of
poets, or the mincing ways of sceptics, amidst the immense activity of
the present day. A fine part to play, proper and intelligent, that of
yawning before other people's labour!

"That's my only pleasure, yawning in other's faces," said Vallagnosc,
smiling with his cold look.

At this Mouret's passion subsided, and he became affectionate again.
"Ah, Paul, you're not changed. Just as paradoxical as ever! However,
we've not met to quarrel. Each one has his own ideas, fortunately. But
you must come and see my machine at work; you'll see it isn't a bad
idea. Come, what news? Your mother and sisters are quite well, I hope?
And weren't you supposed to get married at Plassans, about six months
ago?"

A sudden movement made by Vallagnosc stopped him; and as the former
was looking round the drawing-room with an anxious expression, Mouret
also turned round, and noticed that Mademoiselle de Boves was closely
watching them. Blanche, tall and stout, resembled her mother; but her
face was already puffed out, her large, coarse features swollen with
unhealthy fat. Paul, in reply to a discreet question, intimated that
nothing was yet settled; perhaps nothing would be settled. He had made
the young person's acquaintance at Madame Desforges's, where he had
visited a good deal last winter, but where he very rarely came now,
which explained why he had not met Octave there sooner. In their turn,
the De Boves invited him, and he was especially fond of the father,
a very amiable man, formerly well known about town, who had retired
into his present position. On the other hand, no money. Madame de
Boves having brought her husband nothing but her Juno-like beauty as a
marriage portion, the family were living poorly on the last mortgaged
farm, to which modest revenue was added, fortunately, the nine thousand
francs a year drawn by the count as Inspector-General of the Stud.
And the ladies, mother and daughter, kept very short of money by him,
impoverished by tender escapades outside, were sometimes reduced to
turning their dresses themselves.

"In that case, why marry?" was Mouret's simple question.

"Well! I can't go on like this for ever," said Vallagnosc, with a weary
movement of the eyelids. "Besides, there are certain expectations; we
are waiting the death of an aunt."

However, Mouret still kept his eye on Monsieur de Boves, who, seated
next to Madame Guibal, was most attentive, and laughing tenderly like
a man on an amorous campaign; he turned to his friend with such a
significant twinkle of the eye that the latter added:

"Not that one. At least not yet. The misfortune is, that his duty calls
him to the four corners of France, to the breeding depots, so that he
has continual pretexts for absenting himself. Last month, whilst his
wife supposed him to be at Perpignan, he was living at an hôtel, in an
out-of-the-way neighbourhood, with a music-mistress."

There ensued a pause. Then the young man, who was also watching the
count's gallantries towards Madame Guibal, resumed in a low tone:
"Really, I think you are right. The more so as the dear lady is not
exactly a saint, if all they say is true. There's a very amusing story
about her and an officer. But just look at him! Isn't he comical,
magnetising her with his eyes? The old-fashioned gallantry, my dear
fellow! I adore that man, and if I marry his daughter, he can safely
say it's for his sake!"

Mouret laughed, greatly amused. He questioned Vallagnosc again, and
when he found that the first idea of a marriage between him and Blanche
came from Madame Desforges, he thought the story better still. That
good Henriette took a widow's delight in marrying people, so much so,
that when she had provided for the girls, she sometimes allowed their
fathers to choose friends from her company; but all so naturally, with
such a good grace, that no one ever found any food for scandal. And
Mouret, who loved her with the love of an active, busy man, accustomed
to reducing his tenderness to figures, forgot all his calculations of
captivation, and felt for her a comrade's friendship.

At that moment she appeared at the door of the little drawing-room,
followed by a gentleman, about sixty years' old, whose entry had not
been observed by the two friends. Occasionally the ladies' voices
became sharper, accompanied by the tinkling of the small spoons in the
china cups; and there was heard, from time to time, in the interval of
a short silence, the noise of a saucer laid down too roughly on the
marble table. A sudden gleam of the setting sun, which had just emerged
from behind a thick cloud, gilded the top of the chestnut-trees in the
gardens, and streamed through the windows in a red, golden flame, the
fire of which lighted up the brocatel and brass-work of the furniture.

"This way, my dear baron," said Madame Desforges. "Allow me to
introduce Monsieur Octave Mouret, who is longing to express the
admiration he feels for you." And turning round towards Octave, she
added: "Baron Hartmann."

A smile played on the old man's lips. He was a short, vigorous man,
with a large Alsatian head, and a heavy face, which lighted up with a
gleam of intelligence at the slightest curl of his mouth, the slightest
movement of his eyelids. For the last fortnight he had resisted
Henriette's wish that he should consent to this interview; not that
he felt any immoderate jealousy, accepting, like a man of the world,
his position of father; but because it was the third friend Henriette
had introduced to him, and he was afraid of becoming ridiculous at
last. So that on approaching Octave he put on the discreet smile of a
rich protector, who, if good enough to show himself charming, does not
consent to be a dupe.

"Oh! sir," said Mouret, with his Southern enthusiasm, "the Crédit
Immobilier's last operation was really astonishing! You cannot think
how happy and proud I am to know you."

"Too kind, sir, too kind," repeated the baron, still smiling.

Henriette looked at them with her clear eyes without any awkwardness,
standing between the two, lifting her head, going from one to the
other; and, in her lace dress, which revealed her delicate neck and
wrists, she appeared delighted to see them so friendly together.

"Gentlemen," said she at last, "I leave you to your conversation."
Then, turning towards Paul, who had got up, she resumed: "Will you
accept of a cup of tea, Monsieur de Vallagnosc?"

"With pleasure, madame," and they both returned to the drawing-room.

Mouret resumed his place on the sofa, when Baron Hartmann had sat down;
the young man then broke out in praise of the Crédit Immobilier's
operations. From that he went on to the subject so near his heart,
speaking of the new thoroughfare, of the lengthening of the Rue
Reaumur, of which they were going to open a section under the name
of the Rue du Dix-Décembre, between the Place de la Bourse and the
Place de l'Opera. It had been declared a work of public utility
eighteen months previously; the expropriation jury had just been
appointed. The whole neighbourhood was excited about this new opening,
anxiously awaiting the commencement of the work, taking an interest
in the condemned houses. Mouret had been waiting three years for this
work—first, in the expectation of an increase of business; secondly,
with certain schemes of enlargement which he dared not openly avow, so
extensive were his ideas. As the Rue du Dix-Décembre was to cut through
the Rue de Choiseul and the Rue de la Michodière, he saw The Ladies'
Paradise invading the whole block, surrounded by these streets and
the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; he already imagined it with a princely
frontage in the new thoroughfare, lord and master of the conquered
city. Hence his strong desire to make Baron Hartmann's acquaintance,
when he learnt that the Crédit Immobilier had made a contract with the
authorities to open and build the Rue du Dix-Décembre, on condition
that they received the frontage ground on each side of the street.

"Really," repeated he, trying to assume a naïve look, "you'll hand over
the street ready made, with sewers, pavements, and gas lamps. And the
frontage ground will suffice to compensate you. Oh! it's curious, very
curious!"

At last he came to the delicate point. He was aware that the Crédit
Immobilier was buying up the houses which surrounded The Ladies'
Paradise, not only those which were to fall under the demolisher's
hands, but the others as well, those which were to remain standing;
and he suspected the projectment of some future establishment. He was
very anxious about the enlargements of which he continued to extend the
dream, seized with fear at the idea of one day clashing with a powerful
company, owning property which they certainly would not part with. It
was precisely this fear which had decided him to establish a connection
immediately between himself and the baron—the amiable connection of a
woman, so powerful between men of a gallant nature. No doubt he could
have seen the financier in his office, and talked over the affair in
question at his ease; but he felt himself stronger in Henrietta's
house; he knew how much the mutual possession of a mistress serves to
render men pliable and tender. To be both near her within the beloved
perfume of her presence, to have her ready to convince them with a
smile, seemed to him a certainty of success.

"Haven't you bought the old Hôtel Duvillard, that old building next to
mine?" he asked suddenly.

The baron hesitated a moment, and then denied it. But Mouret looked in
his face and smiled, playing from that moment, the part of a good young
man, open-hearted, simple, and straightforward in business.

"Look here, baron," said he, "as I have the unexpected honor of meeting
you, I must make a confession. Oh, I don't ask you any or your secrets,
but I am going to entrust you with mine, certain that I couldn't place
them in wiser hands. Besides. I want your advice. I have long wished to
call and see you, but dared not do so."

He did make his confession, he related his start, not even concealing
the financial crisis through which he was passing in the midst of his
triumph. Everything was brought up, the successive enlargements, the
profits continually put back into the business, the sums brought by
his employees, the house risking its existence at every fresh sale, in
which the entire capital was staked, as it were, on a single throw of
the dice. However, it was not money he wanted, for he had a fanatic's
faith in his customers: his ambition ran higher: he proposed to the
baron a partnership, into which the Crédit Immobilier should bring the
colossal palace he saw in his dreams, whilst he, for his part, would
give his genius and the business already created. The estate could be
valued, nothing appeared to him easier to realize.

"What are you going to do with your land and buildings?" asked he,
persistently. "You have a plan, no doubt. But I'm quite certain your
idea is not so good as mine. Think of that. We build a gallery on
the ground, we pull down or re-arrange the houses, and we open the
most extensive establishment in Paris—a bazaar which will bring in
millions." And he let slip the fervent heartfelt exclamation: "Ah! if I
could only do without you! But you get hold of everything now. Besides,
I shall never have the necessary capital. Come, we must come to an
understanding. It would be a crime not to do so."

"How you go ahead, my dear sir!" Baron Hartmann contented himself with
replying. "What an imagination!"

He shook his head, and continued to smile, determined not to return
confidence for confidence. The intention of the Crédit Immobilier was
to create in the Rue du Dix-Décembre a rival to the Grand Hôtel, a
luxurious establishment, the central position of which would attract
foreigners. At the same time, as the hôtel was only to occupy a
certain, frontage, the baron could also have entertained Mouret's
idea, and treated for the rest of the block of houses, occupying a
vast surface. But he had already advanced funds to two of Henriette's
friends, and he was getting tired of his position as complacent
protector. Besides, notwithstanding his passion for activity, which
prompted him to open his purse to every fellow of intelligence and
courage, Mouret's commercial genius astonished more than captivated
him. Was it not a fanciful, imprudent operation, this gigantic shop?
Would he not risk a certain failure in thus enlarging out of all bounds
the drapery trade? In short, he didn't believe in it; he refused.

"No doubt the idea is attractive, but it's a poet's idea. Where would
you find the customers to fill such a cathedral?"

Mouret looked at him for a moment silently, as if stupefied at his
refusal. Was it possible?—a man of such foresight, who smelt money at
no matter what depth! And suddenly, with an extremely eloquent gesture,
he pointed to the ladies in the drawing-room and exclaimed: "There are
my customers!"

The sun was going down, the golden-red flame was now but a pale light,
dying away in a farewell gleam on the silk of the hangings and the
panels of the furniture. At this approach of twilight, an intimacy
bathed the large room in a sweet softness. While Monsieur de Boves
and Paul de Vallagnosc were talking near one of the windows, their
eyes wandering far away into the gardens, the ladies had closed up,
forming in the middle of the room a narrow circle of petticoats, from
which issued sounds of laughter, whispered words, ardent questions and
replies, all the passion felt by woman for expenditure and finery. They
were talking about dress, and Madame de Boves was describing a costume
she had seen at a ball.

"First of all, a mauve silk skirt, then over that flounces of old
Alençon lace, twelve inches deep."

"Oh! is it possible!" exclaimed Madame Marty. "Some women are
fortunate!"

Baron Hartmann, who had followed Mouret's gesture, was looking at the
ladies through the door, which was wide open. He was listening to them
with one ear, whilst the young man, inflamed by the desire to convince
him, went deeper into the question, explaining the mechanism of the new
style of drapery business. This branch of commerce was now based on a
rapid and continual turning over of the capital, which it was necessary
to turn into goods as often as possible in the same year. Thus, that
year his capital, which only amounted to five hundred thousand francs,
had been turned over four times, and had thus produced business to the
amount of two millions. But this was a mere trifle, which could be
increased tenfold, for later on he certainly hoped to turn over the
capital fifteen or twenty times in certain departments.

"You will understand, baron, that the whole system lies in this. It is
very simple, but it had to be found out. We don't want a very large
working capital; our sole effort is to get rid as quickly as possible
of our stock to replace it by another, which will give our capital as
many times its interest. In this way we can content ourselves with
a very small profit; as our general expenses amount to the enormous
figure of sixteen per cent., and as we seldom make more than twenty per
cent, on our goods, it is only a net profit of four per cent at most;
but this will finish by bringing in millions when we can operate on
considerable quantities of goods incessantly renewed. You follow me,
don't you? nothing can be clearer."

The baron shook his head again. He who had entertained the boldest
combinations, of whom people still quoted the daring flights at the
time of the introduction of gas, still remained uneasy and obstinate.

"I quite understand," said he; "you sell cheap to sell a quantity, and
you sell a quantity to sell cheap. But you must sell, and I repeat my
former question: Whom will you sell to? How do you hope to keep up such
a colossal sale?"

The sudden burst of a voice, coming from the drawing-room, cut short
Mouret's explanation. It was Madame Guibal, who was saying she would
have preferred the flounces of old Alençon down the front only.

"But, my dear," said Madame de Boves, "the front was covered with it as
well. I never saw anything richer."

"Ah, that's a good idea," resumed Madame Desforges, "I've got several
yards of Alençon somewhere; I must look them up for a trimming."

And the voices fell again, becoming nothing but a murmur. Prices were
quoted, quite a traffic stirred up their desires, the ladies were
buying lace by the mile.

"Why!" said Mouret, when he could speak, "we can sell what we like when
we know how to sell! There lies our triumph."

And with his southern spirit, he showed the new business at work in
warm, glowing phrases which evoked whole pictures. First came the
wonderful power of the piling up of the goods, all accumulated at one
point, sustaining and pushing each other, never any stand-still, the
article of the season always on hand; and from counter to counter the
customer found herself seized, buying here the material, further on
the cotton, elsewhere the mantle, everything necessary to complete her
dress in fact, then falling into unforeseen purchases, yielding to
her longing for the useless and the pretty. He then went on to sing
the praises of the plain figure system. The great revolution in the
business sprung from this fortunate inspiration. If the old-fashioned
small shops were dying out it was because they could not struggle
against the low prices guaranteed by the tickets. The competition was
now going on under the very eyes of the public; a look into the windows
enabled them to contrast the prices; every shop was lowering its rates,
contenting itself with the smallest possible profit; no cheating, no
stroke of fortune prepared long beforehand on an article sold at double
its value, but current operations, a regular percentage on all goods,
success depending solely on the orderly working of a sale all the
larger from the fact of its being carried on in broad daylight. Was it
not an astonishing creation? It was causing a revolution in the market,
transforming Paris, for it was made of woman's flesh and blood.

"I have the women, I don't care a hang for the rest!" said Mouret, in a
brutal confession which passion snatched from him.

At this cry Baron Hartmann appeared moved. His smile lost its touch
of irony; he looked at the young man, won over gradually by his
confidence, feeling a growing tenderness for him.

"Hush!" murmured he, paternally, "they will hear you."

But the ladies were now all speaking at once, so excited that they
weren't even listening to each other. Madame de Boves was finishing the
description of a dinner-dress; a mauve silk tunic—draped and caught up
by bows of lace; the bodice cut very low, with more bows of lace on the
shoulders.

"You'll see." said she. "I am having a bodice made like it, with some
satin—"

"I," interrupted Madame Bourdelais, "I wanted some velvet. Oh! such a
bargain!"

Madame Marty asked: "How much for the silk?"

And off they started again, all together. Madame Guibal, Henriette, and
Blanche were measuring, cutting out, and making up. It was a pillage
of material, a ransacking of all the shops, an appetite for luxury
which expended itself in toilettes longed for and dreamed of—such a
happiness to find themselves in an atmosphere of finery, that they
lived buried in it, as in the warm air necessary to their existence.

Mouret, however, had glanced towards the other drawing-room, and in a
few phrases whispered into the baron's ear, as if he were confiding
to him one of those amorous secrets that men sometimes risk among
themselves, he finished explaining the mechanism of modern commerce.
And, above the facts already given, right at the summit, appeared
the exploitation of woman. Everything depended on that, the capital
incessantly renewed, the system of piling up goods, the cheapness which
attracts, the marking in plain figures which tranquillizes. It was for
woman that all the establishments were struggling in wild competition,
it was woman that they were continually catching in the snare of
their bargains, after bewildering her with their displays. They had
awakened new desires in her flesh: they were an immense temptation,
before which she succumbed fatally, yielding at first to reasonable
purchases of useful articles for the household, then tempted by their
coquetry, then devoured. In increasing their business tenfold, in
popularizing luxury, they became a terrible spending agency, ravaging
the households, working up the fashionable folly of the hour, always
dearer. And if woman reigned in their shops like a queen, cajoled,
flattered, overwhelmed with attentions, she was an amorous one, on whom
her subjects traffic, and who pays with a drop of her blood each fresh
caprice. Through the very gracefulness of his gallantry, Mouret thus
allowed to appear the brutality of a few, selling woman by the pound.
He raised a temple to her, had her covered with incense by a legion
of shopmen, created the rite of a new religion, thinking of nothing
but her, continually seeking to imagine more powerful seductions;
and, behind her back, when he had emptied her purse and shattered her
nerves, he was full of the secret scorn of a man to whom a woman had
just been stupid enough to yield herself.

"Once have the women on your side," whispered he to the baron, and
laughing boldly, "you could sell the very world."

Now the baron understood. A few sentences had sufficed, he guessed the
rest, and such a gallant exploitation inflamed him, stirring up in him
the memory of his past life of pleasure. His eyes twinkled in a knowing
way, and he ended by looking with an air of admiration at the inventor
of this machine for devouring the women. It was really clever. He made
the same remark as Bourdoncle, suggested to him by his long experience:
"You know they'll make you suffer for it."

But Mouret shrugged his shoulders in a movement of overwhelming
disdain. They all belonged to him, were his property, and he belonged
to none of them. After having drawn from them his fortune and his
pleasure, he intended to throw them all over for those who might still
find their account in them. It was the rational, cold disdain of a
Southerner and a speculator.

"Well! my dear baron," asked he in conclusion, "will you join me? Does
this affair appear possible to you?"

The baron, half conquered, did not wish, however, to engage himself
yet. A doubt remained beneath the charm which was gradually operating
on him. He was going to reply in an evasive manner, when a pressing
call from the ladies spared him the trouble. Voices were repeating,
amidst silvery laughter: "Monsieur Mouret! Monsieur Mouret!"

And as the latter, annoyed at being interrupted, pretended not to hear,
Madame de Boves, who had just got up, came as far as the door of the
little drawing-room.

"You are wanted, Monsieur Mouret. It isn't very gallant of you to bury
yourself in a corner to talk over business."

He then decided to go, with an apparent good grace, an air of rapture
which astonished the baron. Both rose up and passed into the other
drawing-room.

"But I am quite at your service, ladies," said he on entering, a smile
on his lips.

He was greeted with a burst of triumph. He was obliged to go further
forward; the ladies made room for him in their midst. The sun had just
gone down behind the trees in the gardens, the day was departing, a
fine shadow was gradually invading the vast apartment. It was the
tender hour of twilight, that minute of discreet voluptuousness in the
Parisian houses, between the dying brightness of the street and the
lighting of the lamps downstairs. Monsieur de Boves and Vallagnosc,
still standing up before a window, threw a shadow on the carpet:
whilst, motionless in the last gleam of light which came in by the
other window, Monsieur Marty, who had quietly entered, and whom the
conversation of these ladies about dress had completely confused,
placed his poor profile, a frock-coat, scanty but clean, his face pale
and wan from teaching.

"Is your sale still fixed for next Monday?" Madame Marty was just
asking.

"Certainly, madame," replied Mouret, in a soft, sweet voice, an actor's
voice, which he assumed when speaking to women.

Henriette then intervened. "We are all going, you know. They say you
are preparing wonders."

"Oh! wonders!" murmured he, with an air of modest fatuity. "I simply
try to deserve your patronage."

But they pressed him with questions: Madame Bourdelais, Madame Guibal,
Blanche even wanted to know.

"Come, give us some details," repeated Madame de Boves, persistently.
"You are making us die of curiosity."

And they were surrounding him, when Henriette observed that he had not
even taken a cup of tea. It was distressing. Four of them set about
serving him, but on condition that he would answer them afterwards.
Henriette poured it out, Madame Marty held the cup, whilst Madame de
Boves and Madame Bourdelais contended for the honour of sweetening it.
Then, when he had declined to sit down, and commenced to drink his
tea slowly, standing up in the midst of them, they all approached,
imprisoning him in the narrow circle of their skirts; and with their
heads raised, their eyes sparkling, they sat there smiling at him.

"Your silk, your Paris Paradise, that all the papers are taking about?"
resumed Madame Marty, impatiently.

"Oh!" replied he, "an extraordinary article, coarse-grained, supple and
strong. You'll see it, ladies, and you'll see it nowhere else, for we
have bought the exclusive right of it."

"Really! a fine silk at five francs twelve sous!" said Madame
Bourdelais, enthusiastic. "One cannot credit it."

Ever since the advertisement had appeared, this silk had occupied a
considerable place in their daily life. They talked of it, promising
themselves some of it, worked up with desire and doubt. And, beneath
the gossiping curiosity with which they overwhelmed the young man,
there appeared their various temperaments as buyers.

Madame Marty, carried away by her rage for spending, took everything
at The Ladies' Paradise, without choosing, just as the articles
appeared; Madame Guibal walked about the shop for hours without ever
buying anything, happy and satisfied to simply feast her eyes; Madame
de Boves, short of money, always tortured by some immoderate wish,
nourished a feeling of rancour against the goods she could not carry
away; Madame Bourdelais, with the sharp eye of a careful practical
housewife, made straight for the bargains, using the big establishments
with such a clever housewife's skill that she saved a heap of money;
and lastly, Henriette, who, very elegant, only procured certain
articles there, such as gloves, hosiery, and her coarser linen.

"We have other stuffs of astonishing cheapness and richness," continued
Mouret, with his musical voice. "For instance, I recommend you our
Golden Grain, a taffeta of incomparable brilliancy. In the fancy silks
there are some charming lines, designs chosen from among thousands by
our buyer: and in velvets you will find an exceedingly rich collection
of shades. I warn you that cloth will be greatly worn this year; you'll
see our checks and our cheviots."

They had ceased to interrupt him, and narrowed the circle, their mouths
half open with a vague smile, their eager faces close to his, as in a
sudden rush of their whole being towards the tempter. Their eyes grew
dim, a slight shudder ran through them. All this time he retained his
calm, conquering air, amidst the intoxicating perfumes which their hair
exhaled; and between each sentence he continued to sip a little of his
tea, the aroma of which cooled those sharper odours, in which there
was a particle of the savage. Before a captivating grace so thoroughly
master of itself, strong enough to play with woman in this way without
being overcome by the intoxication which she exhales, Baron Hartmann,
who had not ceased to look at him, felt his admiration increasing.

"So cloth will be worn?" resumed Madame Marty, whose ravished face
sparkled with coquettish passion.

Madame Bourdelais, who kept a cool look-out, said, in her turn:
"Your sale of remnants takes place on Thursday, doesn't it? I shall
wait. I have all my little ones to clothe." And turning her delicate
blonde head towards the mistress of the house: "Sauveur is still your
dressmaker, I suppose?"

"Yes," replied Henriette, "Sauveur is very dear, but she is the only
one in Paris who knows how to make a bodice. Besides, Monsieur Mouret
may say what he likes, she has the prettiest designs, designs that are
not seen anywhere else. I can't bear to see my dresses on every woman's
back."

Mouret smiled discreetly at first. Then he intimated that Madame
Sauveur bought her material at his shop; no doubt she went to the
manufacturers direct for certain designs of which she acquired the
sole right of sale; but for all black silks, for instance, she watched
for The Paradise bargains, laying in a considerable stock, which she
disposed of at double and treble the price she gave.

"Thus I am quite sure her buyers will snap up all our Paris Paradise.
Why should she go to the manufacturers and pay dearer for this silk
than she would at my place? On my word of honour, we shall sell it at a
loss."

This was a decisive blow for the ladies. The idea of getting goods
below cost price awoke in them all the greed felt by women, whose
enjoyment as buyers is doubled when they think they are robbing the
tradesman. He knew them to be incapable of resisting anything cheap.

"But we sell everything for nothing!" exclaimed he gaily, taking
up Madame Desforges's fan, which was behind him on the table. "For
instance, here's this fan. I don't know what it cost."

"The Chantilly lace was twenty-five francs, and the mounting cost two
hundred," said Henriette.

"Well, the Chantilly isn't dear. However, we have the same at eighteen
francs; as for the mount, my dear madame, it's a shameful robbery. I
should not dare to sell one like it for more than ninety francs."

"Just what I said!" exclaimed Madame Bourdelais.

"Ninety francs!" murmured Madame de Boves; "one must be very poor
indeed to go without one at that price."

She had taken up the fan, and was again examining it with her daughter
Blanche; and, on her large regular face, in her big sleepy eyes, there
arose an expression of the suppressed and despairing longing of a
caprice in which she could not indulge. The fan once more went the
round of the ladies, amidst various remarks and exclamations. Monsieur
de Boves and Vallagnosc, however, had left the window. Whilst the
former had returned to his place behind Madame Guibal, the charms of
whose bust he was admiring, with his correct and superior air, the
young man was leaning over Blanche, endeavouring to find something
agreeable to say.

"Don't you think it rather gloomy, mademoiselle, this white mount and
black lace?"

"Oh," replied she, gravely, not a blush colouring her inflated cheeks,
"I once saw one made of mother-of-pearl and white lace. Something truly
virginal!"

Monsieur de Boves, who had doubtless observed the heart-broken, longing
looks with which his wife was following the fan, at last added his word
to the conversation. "These flimsy things don't last long, they soon
break," said he.

"Of course they do!" declared Madame Guibal, with an air of
indifference. "I'm tired of having mine mended."

For several minutes, Madame Marty, excited by the conversation, was
feverishly turning her red leather bag about on her lap, for she had
not yet been able to show her purchases. She was burning to display
them, with a sort of sensual desire; and, suddenly forgetting her
husband's presence, she took out a few yards of narrow lace wound on a
piece of cardboard.

"It's the Valenciennes for my daughter," said she. "It's an inch and a
half wide. Isn't it delicious? One franc eighteen sous."

The lace was passed from hand to hand. The ladies were astonished.
Mouret assured them he sold these little trimmings at cost price.
However, Madame Marty had closed the bag, as if to conceal certain
things she could not show. But after the success obtained by the
Valenciennes she was unable to resist the temptation of taking out a
handkerchief.

"There was this handkerchief as well. Real Brussels, my dear. Oh! a
bargain! Twenty francs!"

And after that the bag became inexhaustible, she blushed with pleasure,
a modesty like that of a woman undressing herself made her appear more
charming and embarrassed at each fresh article she took out. There was
a Spanish blonde-lace cravat, thirty francs: she didn't want it, but
the shopman had sworn it was the last, and that in future the price
would be raised. Next came a Chantilly veil: rather dear, fifty francs;
if she didn't wear it she could make it do for her daughter.

"Really, lace is so pretty!" repeated she with her nervous laugh. "Once
I'm inside I could buy everything."

"And this?" asked Madame de Boves, taking up and examining a remnant of
Maltese lace.

"That," replied she, "is for an insertion. There are twenty-six
yards—a franc the yard. Just fancy!"

"But," said Madame Bourdelais, surprised, "what are you going to do
with it?"

"I'm sure I don't know. But it was such a funny pattern!"

At this moment she raised her eyes and perceived her terrified husband
in front of her. He had turned paler than usual, his whole person
expressed the patient, resigned anguish of a man assisting, powerless,
at the reckless expenditure of his salary, so dearly earned. Every
fresh bit of lace was for him a disaster; bitter days of teaching
swallowed up, long journeys to pupils through the mud devoured, the
continued effort of his life resulting in a secret misery, the hell of
a necessitous household. Before the increasing wildness of his look,
she wanted to catch up the veil, the cravat, and the handkerchief,
moving her feverish hands about, repeating with forced laughter:
"You'll get me a scolding from my husband. I assure you, my dear, I've
been very reasonable; for there was a fine piece of point at five
hundred francs, oh! a marvel!"

"Why didn't you buy it?" asked Madame Guibal, calmly. "Monsieur Marty
is the most gallant of men."

The poor professor was obliged to bow and say his wife was perfectly
welcome. But the idea of this point at five hundred francs was like
a lump of ice dripping down his back; and as Mouret was just at that
moment affirming that the new shops increased the comfort of the
middle-class households, he glared at him with a terrible expression,
the flash of hatred of a timid man who would have throttled him had he
dared.

But the ladies had still kept hold of the bits of lace, fascinated,
intoxicated. The pieces were unrolled, passed from one to the other,
drawing the admirers closer still, holding them in the delicate
meshes. On their laps there was a continual caress of this tissue,
so miraculously fine, and amidst which their culpable fingers fondly
lingered. They still kept Mouret a close prisoner, overwhelming him
with fresh questions. As the day continued to decline, he was now and
again obliged to bend his head, grazing their hair with his beard, to
examine a stitch, or indicate a design. But in this soft voluptuousness
of twilight, in the midst of this warm feminine atmosphere, Mouret
still remained their master beneath the rapture he affected. He seemed
to be a woman himself, they felt themselves penetrated and overcome
by this delicate sense of their secret that he possessed, and they
abandoned themselves, captivated; whilst he, certain from that moment
to have them at his mercy, appeared, brutally triumphing over them, the
despotic monarch of dress.

"Oh, Monsieur Mouret!" stammered they, in low, hysterical voices, in
the gloom of the drawing-room.

The last rays of the setting sun were dying away on the brass-work of
the furniture. The laces alone retained a snowy reflex on the dark
dresses of the ladies, of which the confused group seemed to surround
the young man with a vague appearance of kneeling, worshipping women.
A light still shone on the side of the silver teapot, a short flame
like that of a night-light, burning in an alcove warmed by the perfume
of the tea. But suddenly the servant entered with two lamps, and the
charm was destroyed. The drawing-room became light and cheerful. Madame
Marty was putting her lace in her little bag, Madame de Boves was
eating a sponge cake, whilst Henriette who had got up, was talking in a
half-whisper to the baron, near one of the windows.

"He's a charming fellow," said the baron.

"Isn't he?" exclaimed she, with the involuntary cry of a woman in love.

He smiled, and looked at her with a paternal indulgence. This was the
first time he had seen her so completely conquered; and, too proud to
suffer from it, he experienced nothing but a feeling of compassion on
seeing her in the hands of this handsome fellow, so tender and yet so
cold-hearted. He thought he ought to warn her, and murmured in a joking
tone: "Take care, my dear, or he'll eat you all up."

A flash of jealousy lighted up Henriette's eyes. Perhaps she understood
Mouret had simply made use of her to get at the baron; and she
determined to render him mad with passion, he whose hurried style of
making love had the easy charm of a song thrown to the four winds of
heaven. "Oh," said she, affecting to joke in her turn, "the lamb always
finishes up by eating the wolf."

The baron, greatly amused, encouraged, her with a nod. Could she be the
woman who was to avenge all the others?

When Mouret, after having reminded Vallagnosc that he wanted to show
him his machine at work, came up to take his leave, the baron retained
him near the window opposite the gardens, now buried in darkness. He
yielded at last to the seduction; his confidence had come on seeing
him in the midst of these ladies. Both conversed for a moment in a low
tone, then the banker said: "Well, I'll look into the affair. It's
settled if your Monday's sale proves as important as you expect."

They shook hands, and Mouret, delighted, took his leave, for he did not
enjoy his dinner unless he went and gave a look at the day's receipts
at The Ladies' Paradise.

CHAPTER IV.

The following Monday, the 10th of October, a clear, victorious sun
pierced the grey clouds which had darkened Paris during the previous
week. It had drizzled all the previous night, a sort of watery mist,
the humidity of which dirtied the streets; but in the early morning,
thanks to the sharp wind which was driving the clouds away, the
pavement had become drier, and the blue sky had a limpid, spring-like
gaiety.

Thus The Ladies' Paradise, after eight o'clock, blazed forth beneath
the clear rays of the sun, in all the glory of its great sale of winter
novelties. Flags were flying at the door, and pieces of woollens were
flapping about in the fresh morning air, animating the Place Gaillon
with the bustle of a country fair; whilst in both streets the windows
developed symphonies of displays, the clearness of the glass showing
up still further the brilliant tones. It was like a debauch of colour,
a street pleasure which burst forth there, a wealth of goods publicly
displayed, where everybody could go and feast their eyes.

But at this hour very few people entered, only a few rare customers,
housewives of the neighbourhood, women desirous of avoiding the
afternoon crush. Behind the stuffs which decorated it, one could feel
the shop to be empty, under arms and waiting for customers, with its
waxed floors and counters overflowing with goods.

The busy morning crowd barely glanced at the windows, without lingering
a moment. In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin and in the Place Gaillon,
where the carriages were to take their stand, there were only two cabs
at nine o'clock. The inhabitants of the district, especially the small
traders, stirred up by such a show of streamers and decorations, formed
little groups in the doorways, at the corners of the streets, gazing at
the shop, making bitter remarks. What most filled them with indignation
was the sight of one of the four delivery vans just introduced by
Mouret, which was standing in the Rue de la Michodière, in front of the
delivery office. They were green, picked out with yellow and red, their
brilliantly varnished panels sparkling in the sun with the brightness
of purple and gold. This van, with its brand-new medley of colours,
the name of the house painted on each side, and surmounted with an
advertisement of the day's sale, finished by going off at a trot,
drawn by a splendid horse, after being filled up with the previous
night's parcels; and Baudu, who was standing on the threshold of The
Old Elbeuf, watched it as far as the boulevard, where it disappeared,
to spread all over Paris in a starry radiance the hated name of The
Ladies' Paradise.

However, a few cabs were arriving and forming a line. Every time a
customer entered, there was a movement amongst the shop messengers, who
were drawn up under the lofty doorway, dressed in livery consisting
of a light green coat and trousers, and striped red and yellow
waistcoat. Jouve, the inspector and retired captain, was also there,
in a frock-coat and white tie, wearing his decoration like a sign
of respectability and probity, receiving the ladies with a gravely
polite air, bending over them to point out the departments. Then they
disappeared in the vestibule, which was transformed into an oriental
saloon.

From the very threshold it was a marvel, a surprise, which enchanted
all of them. It was Mouret who had been struck with this idea. He
was the first to buy, in the Levant, at very advantageous rates, a
collection of old and new carpets, articles which up to the present
had only been sold at curiosity shops, at high prices; and he intended
to flood the market with these goods, selling them at a little over
cost price, simply drawing from them a splendid decoration destined
to attract the best class of art customers to his establishment. From
the centre of the Place Gaillon could be seen this oriental saloon,
composed solely of carpets and door curtains which had been hung under
his orders. The ceiling was covered with a quantity of Smyrna carpets,
the complicated designs of which stood out boldly on a red ground.
Then from each side there hung Syrian and Karamanian door-curtains,
speckled with green, yellow, and vermilion; Diarbekir door-curtains
of a commoner type, rough to the touch, like shepherds' cloaks;
besides these there were carpets which could be used as door-curtains
and hangings—long Ispahan, Teheran, and Kermancha rugs, the larger
Schoumaka and Madras carpets, a strange florescence of peonies and
palms, the fancy let loose in a garden of dreams. On the floor were
more carpets, a heap of greasy fleeces: in the centre was an Agra
carpet, an extraordinary article with a white ground and a broad
delicate blue border, through which ran violet-coloured ornaments of
exquisite design. Everywhere there was an immense display of marvellous
fabrics; Mecca carpets with a velvety reflection, prayer carpets
from Daghestan with a symbolic point, Kurdistan carpets covered with
blossoming flowers; and finally, piled up in a corner, a heap of
Gherdes, Koula, and Kirchur rugs from fifteen francs a piece.

This sumptuous pacha's tent was furnished with divans and arm-chairs,
made with camel sacks, some ornamented with many-coloured lozenges,
others with primitive roses. Turkey, Arabia, and the Indies were
all there. They had emptied the palaces, plundered the mosques and
bazaars. A barbarous gold tone prevailed in the weft of the old
carpets, the faded tints of which still preserved a sombre warmth, as
of an extinguished furnace, a beautiful burnt hue suggestive of the
old masters. Visions of the East floated beneath the luxury of this
barbarous art, amid the strong odour which the old wools had retained
of the country of vermin and of the rising sun.

In the morning at eight o'clock, when Denise, who was to commence on
that very Monday, had crossed the oriental saloon, she stood there,
lost in astonishment, unable to recognise the shop entrance, entirely
overcome by this harem-like decoration planted at the door. A messenger
having shown her to the top of the house, and handed her over to Madame
Cabin, who cleaned and looked after the rooms, this person installed
her in No. 7, where her box had already been put. It was a narrow
cell, opening on the roof by a skylight, furnished with a small bed, a
walnut-wood wardrobe, a toilet-table, and two chairs. Twenty similar
rooms ran along the convent-like corridor, painted yellow; and, out
of the thirty-five young ladies in the house, the twenty who had no
friends in Paris slept there, whilst the remaining fifteen lodged
outside, a few with borrowed aunts and cousins. Denise at once took
off her shabby woollen dress, worn thin by brushing and mended at the
sleeves, the only one she had brought from Valognes; she then put
on the uniform of her department, a black silk dress which had been
altered for her and which she found ready on the bed. This dress was
still too large, too wide across the shoulders; but she was so hurried
in her emotion that she paid no heed to these details of coquetry. She
had never worn silk before. When she went downstairs again, dressed up,
uncomfortable, she looked at the shining skirt, feeling ashamed of the
noisy rustling of the silk.

Down below, as she was entering her department, a quarrel burst out She
heard Clara say, in a shrill voice:

"Madame, I came in before her."

"It isn't true," replied Marguerite. "She pushed past me at the door,
but I had already one foot in the room."

It was for the inscription on the list of turns, which regulated the
sales. The saleswomen wrote their names on a slate in the order of
their arrival, and whenever one of them had served a customer, she
re-wrote her name beneath the others. Madame Aurélie finished by
deciding in Marguerite's favour.

"Always some injustice here!" muttered Clara, furiously.

But Denise's entry reconciled these young ladies. They looked at her,
then smiled to each other. How could a person truss herself up in that
way! The young girl went and awkwardly wrote her name on the list,
where she found herself last. Meanwhile, Madame Aurélie was examining
her with an anxious face. She could not help saying:

"My dear, two like you could get into your dress; you must have it
taken in. Besides, you don't know how to dress yourself. Come here and
let me arrange you a bit."

And she placed herself before one of the tall glasses alternating with
the doors of the cupboards containing the dresses. The vast apartment,
surrounded by these glasses and the wood-work in carved oak, the floor
covered with red Wilton carpet of a large pattern, resembled the
commonplace drawing-room of an hôtel, traversed by a continual stream
of travellers. The young ladies completed the resemblance, dressed in
the regulation silk, promenading their commercial charms about, without
ever sitting down on the dozen chairs reserved for the customers. All
wore between two buttonholes of the body of their dresses, as if stuck
in their bosoms, a long pencil, with its point in the air; and half
out of their pockets, could be seen the white cover of the book of
debit-notes. Several risked wearing jewellery—rings, brooches, chains;
but their great coquetry, the luxury they all struggled for in the
forced uniformity of their dress, was their bare hair, quantities of
it, augmented by plaits and chignons when their own did not suffice,
combed, curled, and decked out in every way.

"Pull the waist down in front," said Madame Aurélie. "There, you have
now no hump on your back. And your hair, how can you massacre it like
that? It would be superb, if you only took a little trouble."

This was, in fact, Denise's only beauty. Of a beautiful flaxen hue, it
fell down to her ankles; and when she did it up, it was so troublesome
that she simply rolled it in a knot, keeping it together under the
strong teeth of a bone comb. Clara, greatly annoyed by this head of
hair, affected to laugh at it, so strange did it look, twisted up
anyhow in its savage grace. She made a sign to a saleswoman in the
under-linen department, a girl with a large face and agreeable manner.
The two departments, which were close together, were in continual
hostility; but the young ladies sometimes joined together in laughing
at other people.

"Mademoiselle Cugnot, just look at that mane," said Clara, whom
Marguerite was nudging, feigning also to be on the point of bursting
out laughing.

But Mademoiselle Cugnot was not in the humour for joking. She had
been looking at Denise for a moment, and she remembered what she had
suffered herself during the first few months of her arrival in the
establishment.

"Well, what?" said she. "Everybody hasn't got a mane like that!"

And she returned to her place, leaving the two others very crestfallen.
Denise, who had heard all, followed her with a look of thanks, while
Madame Aurélie gave our heroine a book of debit-notes with her name on
it, saying: "To-morrow you'll get yourself up better; and, now, try and
pick up the ways of the house, wait your turn for selling. To-day's
work will be very hard; we shall be able to judge of your capabilities."

However, the department still remained deserted; very few customers
came up at this early hour. The young ladies reserved themselves,
prudently preparing for the fatigues of the afternoon. Denise,
intimidated by the thought that they were watching her, sharpened her
pencil, for the sake of something to do; then, imitating the others,
she stuck it into her bosom, between two buttonholes, and summoned up
all her courage, determined to conquer a position. The previous evening
they had told her she entered as a probationer, that is to say without
any fixed salary; she would simply have the commission and a certain
allowance on everything she sold. But she fully hoped to earn twelve
hundred francs a year in this way, knowing that the good saleswomen
earned as much as two thousand, when they liked to take the trouble.
Her expenses were regulated; a hundred francs a month would enable
her to pay Pépé's board and lodging, assist Jean, who did not earn a
sou, and procure some clothes and linen for herself. But, in order to
attain this large sum, she would have to show herself industrious and
pushing, taking no notice of the ill-will displayed by those around
her, fighting for her share, even snatching it from her comrades
if necessary. As she was thus working herself up for the struggle,
a tall young man, passing the department, smiled at her; and when
she saw it was Deloche, who had been engaged in the lace department
the previous day, she returned his smile, happy at the friendship
which thus presented itself, accepting this smile as a good omen. At
half-past nine a bell rang for the first luncheon. Then a fresh peal
announced the second; and still no customers appeared. The second-hand,
Madame Frédéric, who, in her disagreeable widow's harshness, delighted
in prophesying disasters, declared in short sentences that the day
was lost, that they would not see a soul, that they might close the
cupboards and go away; predictions which darkened Marguerite's flat
face, she being a girl who looked sharp after her profits, whilst
Clara, with her runaway-horse appearance, was already dreaming of an
excursion to the Verrières woods, if the house failed. As for Madame
Aurélie, she was there, silent and serious, promenading her Caesar-like
mask about the empty department, like a general who has a certain
responsibility in victory and in defeat. About eleven o'clock a few
ladies appeared. Denise's turn for serving had arrived. Just at that
moment a customer came up.

"The fat old girl from the country," murmured Marguerite.

It was a woman of forty-five, who occasionally journeyed to Paris from
the depths of some out-of-the-way place. There she saved up for months;
then, hardly out of the train, she made straight for The Ladies'
Paradise, and spent all her savings. She very rarely ordered anything
by letter, she liked to see and handle the goods, and laid in a stock
of everything, even down to needles, which she said were excessively
dear in her small town. The whole staff knew her, that her name was
Boutarel, and that she lived at Albi, but troubled no further about
her, neither about her position nor her mode of life.

"How do you do, madame?" graciously asked Madame Aurélie, who had come
forward. "And what can we show you? You shall be attended to at once."
Then, turning round: "Now, young ladies!"

Denise approached; but Clara had sprung forward. As a rule, she was
very careless and idle, not caring about the money she earned in the
shop, as she could get plenty outside, without trouble. But the idea of
doing the new-comer out of a good customer spurred her on.

"I beg your pardon, it's my turn," said Denise, indignantly.

Madame Aurélie set her aside with a severe look, saying: "There are no
turns. I alone am mistress here. Wait till you know, before serving our
regular customers."

The young girl retired, and as the tears were coming in her eyes,
and she wished to conceal this excess of sensibility, she turned her
back, standing up before the window, pretending to be looking into the
street. Were they going to prevent her selling? Would they all arrange
together to deprive her of the important sales, like that? A fear
for the future seized her, she felt herself crushed between so many
interests let loose. Yielding to the bitterness of her abandonment, her
forehead against the cold glass, she gazed at The Old Elbeuf opposite,
thinking she ought to have implored her uncle to keep her. Perhaps he
himself regretted his decision, for he seemed to her greatly affected
the previous evening. Now she was quite alone in this vast house, where
no one liked her, where she found herself hurt, lost. Pépé and Jean,
who had never left her side, were living with strangers; it was a cruel
separation, and the big tears which she kept back made the street dance
in a sort of fog. All this time, the hum of voices continued behind her.

"This one makes me look a fright," Madame Boutarel was saying.

"You really make a mistake, madame," said Clara; "the shoulders fit
perfectly—but perhaps you would prefer a pelisse to a mantle?"

But Denise started. A hand was laid on her arm. Madame Aurélie
addressed her severely:

"Well, you're doing nothing now—eh? only looking at the people
passing. Things can't go on this way, you know!"

"But they prevent me selling, madame."

"Oh, there's other work for you, mademoiselle! Begin at the beginning.
Do the folding-up."

In order to please the few customers who had called, they had been
obliged to ransack all the cupboards, and on the two long oaken tables,
to the right and the le£t, were heaps of mantles, pelisses, and capes,
garments of all sizes and all materials. Without replying, Denise
set about sorting them, folding them carefully and arranging them
again in the cupboards. This was the lowest work, generally performed
by beginners. She ceased to protest, knowing that they required the
strictest obedience, waiting till the first hand should be good enough
to let her sell, as she seemed at first to have the intention of doing.
She was still folding, when Mouret appeared on the scene. This was
a violent shock for her; she blushed without knowing why, she felt
herself invaded by a strange fear, thinking he was going to speak to
her. But he did not even see her; he no longer remembered this little
girl whom the charming impression of an instant had induced him to
support.

"Madame Aurélie," called he in a brief voice.

He was rather pale, but his eyes were clear and resolute. In making the
tour of the departments he had found them empty, and the possibility of
a defeat had suddenly presented itself in the midst of his obstinate
faith in fortune. True, it was only eleven o'clock; he knew by
experience that the crowd never arrived much before the afternoon.
But certain symptoms troubled him. At the previous sales, a general
movement had taken place from the morning even; besides he did not see
any of those bareheaded women, customers living in the neighbourhood,
who usually dropped into his shop as into a neighbour's. Like all
great captains, he felt at the moment of giving battle a superstitious
weakness, notwithstanding his habitually resolute attitude. Things
would not go on well, he was lost, and he could not have explained why;
he thought he could read his defeat on the faces of the passing ladies
even.

Just at that moment, Madame Boutarel, she who always bought something,
was going away, saying: "No, you have nothing that pleases me. I'll
see, I'll decide later on."

Mouret watched her depart. Then, as Madame Aurélie ran up at his call,
he took her aside, and they exchanged a few rapid words. She wore a
despairing air, and was evidently admitting that things were looking
bad. For a moment they remained face to face, seized with one of those
doubts which generals conceal from their soldiers. Ultimately he said
out loud in his brave way: "If you want assistance, understand, take a
girl from the workroom. She'll be a little help to you."

He continued his inspection in despair. He had avoided Bourdoncle all
the morning, for his anxious doubts irritated him. On leaving the
under-linen department, where business was still worse, he dropped
right on to him, and was obliged to submit to the expression of his
fears. He did not hesitate to send him to the devil, with a brutality
that even his principal employees came in for when things were looking
bad.

"Get out of my way!" said he. "Everything is going on all right. I
shall end by pitching out the tremblers."

Mouret planted himself alone on the landing of the hall-staircase.
From there he commanded the whole shop; around him the departments
on the first-floor; beneath, those of the ground-floor. Above, the
emptiness seemed heart-breaking; in the lace department, an old woman
was having everything turned over and buying nothing; whilst three
good-for-nothing minxes in the under-linen department were slowly
choosing some collars at eighteen sous. Down below, under the covered
galleries, in the ray of light which came in from the street, he
noticed that the customers were commencing to get more numerous. It
was a slow, broken procession, a promenade before the counters; in the
mercery and the haberdashery departments some women of the commoner
class were pushing about, but there was hardly a customer in the
linen or in the woollen departments. The shop messengers, in their
green coats, the buttons of which shone brilliantly, were waiting for
customers, their hands dangling about. Now and again there passed an
inspector with a ceremonious air, very stiff in his white neck-tie.
Mouret was especially grieved by the mortal silence which reigned in
the hall, where the light fell from above from a ground glass window,
showing a white dust, diffuse and suspended, as it were, under which
the silk department seemed to be sleeping, amid a shivering religious
silence. A shopman's footstep, a few whispered words, the rustling of a
passing skirt, were the only noises heard, and they were almost stifled
by the hot air of the heating apparatus. However, carriages began to
arrive, the sudden pulling up of the horses was heard, and immediately
after the banging of the carriage doors. Outside, a distant tumult
was commencing to make itself heard, groups of idlers were pushing
in front of the windows, cabs were taking up their positions in the
Place Gaillon, there were all the appearances of an approaching crowd.
But on seeing the idle cashiers leaning back on their chairs behind
their wickets, and observing that the parcel-tables with their boxes
of string and reams of blue packing-paper remained unoccupied, Mouret,
though indignant with himself for being afraid, thought he felt his
immense machine stop and turn cold beneath him.

"I say, Favier," murmured Hutin, "look at the governor up there. He
doesn't seem to be enjoying himself."

"This is a rotten shop!" replied Favier. "Just fancy, I've not sold a
thing yet."

Both of them, waiting for customers, whispered such short remarks from
time to time without looking at each other. The other salesmen of the
department were occupied in arranging large bales of the Paris Paradise
under Robineau's orders; whilst Bouthemont, in full consultation with
a thin young woman, seemed to be taking an important order. Around
them, on frail and elegant shelves, the silks, folded in long pieces of
creamy paper, were heaped up like pamphlets of an unusual size; and,
encumbering the counters, were fancy silks, moires, satins, velvets,
presenting the appearance of mown flowers, quite a harvest of delicate
precious tissues. This was the most elegant of all the departments,
a veritable drawing-room, where the goods, so light and airy, were
nothing but a luxurious furnishing.

"I must have a hundred francs by Sunday," said Hutin. "If I don't make
an average of twelve francs a day, I'm lost. I'd reckoned on this sale."

"By Jove! a hundred francs; that's rather stiff," said Favier. "I only
want fifty or sixty. You must go in for swell women, then?"

"Oh, no, my dear fellow. It's a stupid affair; I made a bet and lost.
So I have to stand a dinner for five persons, two fellows and three
girls. Hang me! the first one that passes I'll let her in for twenty
yards of Paris Paradise!"

They continued talking for several minutes, relating what they had done
the previous day, and what they intended to do the next week. Favier
did a little betting, Hutin did a little boating, and kept music-hall
singers. But they were both possessed by the same desire for money,
struggling for it all the week, and spending it all on Sunday. It was
their sole preoccupation in the shop, an hourly and pitiless struggle.
And that cunning Bouthemont had just managed to get hold of Madame
Sauveur's messenger, the skinny woman with whom he was talking! good
business, three or four dozen pieces, at least, for the celebrated
dressmaker always gave good orders. At that moment Robineau took it
into his head to do Favier out of a customer.

"Oh! as for that fellow, we must settle up with him," said Hutin, who
took advantage of the slightest thing in order to stir up the salesmen
against the man whose place he coveted. "Ought the first and second
hands to sell? My word of honour! my dear fellow, if ever I become
second you'll see how well I shall act with the others."

And all his little Norman person, so fat and jolly, played the
good-natured man energetically. Favier could not help casting a side
glance towards him, but he preserved his phlegmatical air, contenting
himself with replying: "Yes, I know. I should be only too pleased."
Then, as a lady came up, he added in a lower tone: "Look out! Here's
one for you."

It was a lady with a blotchy face, a yellow bonnet, and a red dress.
Hutin immediately recognised in her a woman who would buy nothing.
He quickly stooped behind the counter, pretending to be doing up his
boot-lace; and, thus concealed, he murmured: "No fear, let some one
else take her. I don't want to lose my turn!"

However, Robineau called out: "Whose turn, gentlemen? Monsieur Hutin's?
Where's Monsieur Hutin?"

And as this gentleman still gave no reply, it was the next salesman who
served the lady with the blotches. Hutin was right, she simply wanted
some samples with the prices; and she kept the salesman more than ten
minutes, overwhelming him with questions. However, Robineau had seen
Hutin get up from behind the counter; so that when another customer
arrived, he interfered with a stern air, stopping the young man, who
was rushing forward.

"Your turn is passed. I called you, and as you were there behind—"

"But I didn't hear you, sir."

"That'll do! Write your name at the bottom. Now, Monsieur Favier, it's
your turn."

Favier, greatly amused at heart at this adventure, threw a glance at
his friend, as if to excuse himself. Hutin, with pale lips, had turned
his head away. What enraged him was that he knew the customer very
well, an adorable blonde who often came to their department, and whom
the salesmen called amongst themselves "the pretty lady," knowing
nothing of her, not even her name. She bought a great deal, had her
purchases taken to her carriage, and immediately disappeared. Tall,
elegant, dressed with exquisite taste, she appeared to be very rich,
and to belong to the best society.

"Well! and your courtesan?" asked Hutin of Favier, when the latter
returned from the pay-desk, where he had accompanied the lady.

"Oh! a courtesan!" replied the other. "I fancy she looks too lady-like
for that. She must be the wife of a stockbroker or a doctor, or
something of that sort."

"Don't tell me! it's a courtesan. With their grand lady airs it's
impossible to tell now-a-days!"

Favier looked at his book of debit-notes. "I don't care!" said he,
"I've stuck her for two hundred and ninety-three francs. That makes
nearly three francs for me."

Hutin bit his lips, and vented his spleen on the debit notebooks.
Another invention for cramming their pockets. There was a secret
rivalry between these two. Favier, as a rule, pretended to sing small,
to recognise Hutin's superiority, but in reality devouring him all the
while behind his back. Thus Hutin was wild at the thought of the three
francs pocketed so easily by a salesman whom he considered to be his
inferior in business. A fine day's work! If it went on like this, he
would not earn enough to pay for the seltzer water for his guests. And
in the midst of the battle, which was now becoming fiercer, he walked
along the counters with hungry eyes, eager for his share, jealous even
of his superior, who was just showing the thin young woman out, and
saying to her:

"Very well! it's understood. Tell her I'll do my best to obtain this
favour from Monsieur Mouret."

Mouret had quitted his post on the stairs some time before. Suddenly he
reappeared on the landing of the principal staircase which communicated
with the ground floor; and from there he commanded a view of the whole
establishment. His face had regained its colour, his faith was restored
and increasing before the crowd which was gradually filling the place.
It was the expected rush at last, the afternoon crush, which he had for
a moment despaired of. All the shopmen were at their posts, a last ring
of the bell had announced the end of the third lunch; the disastrous
morning, due no doubt to a shower which fell about nine o'clock, could
still be repaired, for the blue sky of early morn had resumed its
victorious gaiety. Now that the first-floor departments were becoming
animated, he was obliged to stand back to make way for the women who
were going up to the under-clothing and dress departments; whilst,
behind him, in the lace and the shawl departments, he heard large sums
bandied about. But the sight of the galleries on the ground-floor
especially reassured him. There was a crowd at the haberdashery
department, and even the linen and woollen departments were invaded.
The procession of buyers closed up, nearly all of a higher class at
present, with a few lingering housewives. Under the pale light of
the silk hall, ladies had taken off their gloves to feel the Paris
Paradise, talking in half-whispers. And there was no longer any
mistaking the noises arriving from outside, rolling of cabs, banging of
carriage-doors, an increasing tumult in the crowd. He felt the machine
commencing to work under him, getting up steam and reviving, from
the pay-desks where the money was jingling, and the tables where the
messengers were hurriedly packing up the goods, down to the basement,
in the delivery-room, which was quickly filling up with the parcels
sent down, and the underground rumbling of which seemed to shake the
whole house. In the midst of the crowd was the inspector, Jouve,
walking about gravely, watching for thieves.

"Hullo! is that you?" said Mouret, all at once, recognising Paul de
Vallagnosc whom a messenger had conducted to him. "No, no, you are
not in my way. Besides, you've only to follow me if you want to see
everything, for to-day I stay at the breach."

He still felt anxious. No doubt there were plenty of people, but would
the sale prove to be the triumph he hoped for? However, he laughed with
Paul, carrying him off gaily.

"It seems to be picking up a bit," said Hutin to Favier. "But somehow
I've no luck; there are some days that are precious bad, my word! I've
just made another miss, that old frump hasn't bought anything."

And he glanced towards a lady who was walking off, casting looks of
disgust at all the goods. He was not likely to get fat on his thousand
francs a year, unless he sold something; as a rule he made seven or
eight francs a day commission, which gave him with his regular pay an
average of ten francs a day. Favier never made much more than eight,
and there was this animal taking the bread out of his mouth, for he had
just sold another dress—a cold-natured fellow who had never known how
to amuse a customer! It was exasperating.

"Those chaps over there seem to be doing very well," remarked Favier,
speaking of the salesmen in the hosiery and haberdashery departments.

But Hutin, who was looking all round the place, suddenly asked: "Do you
know Madame Desforges, the governor's sweetheart? Look! that dark woman
in the glove department, who is having some gloves tried on by Mignot."
He stopped, then resumed in a low tone, as if speaking to Mignot, on
whom he continued to keep his eyes: "Oh, go on, old man, you may pull
her fingers about as much as you like, that won't do you any good! We
know your conquests!"

There was a rivalry between himself and the glove-man, the rivalry
of two handsome fellows, who both affected to flirt with the
lady-customers. As a matter of fact they had neither had any real
conquests to boast about. Mignot lived on the legend of a police
superintendent's wife who had fallen in love with him, whilst Hutin
had really conquered a lace-maker who had got tired of wandering about
in the doubtful hôtels in the neighbourhood; but they invented a lot
of mysterious adventures, leading people to believe in all sorts of
appointments made by titled ladies, between two purchases.

"You should get hold of her," said Favier, in his sly, artful way.

"That's a good idea!" exclaimed Hutin. "If she comes here I'll let her
in for something extensive; I want a five-franc piece!"

In the glove department quite a row of ladies were seated before the
narrow counter covered with green velvet and edged with nickel silver;
and the smiling shopmen were heaping up before them the flat boxes
of a bright red, taken out of the counter itself, and resembling the
ticketed drawers of a secrétaire. Mignot especially was bending his
pretty doll-like face over his customer, his thick Parisian voice full
of tender inflections. He had already sold Madame Desforges a dozen
pairs of kid gloves, the Paradise gloves, one of the specialities of
the house. She then took three pairs of Swedish, and was now trying on
some Saxon gloves, for fear the size should not be exact.

"Oh! quite perfect, madame!" repeated Mignot. "Six and a quarter would
be too large for a hand like yours."

Half lying on the counter, he was holding her hand, taking the
fingers one by one, slipping the glove on with a long, renewed, and
persistently caressing air, looking at her as if he expected to see
in her face the signs of a voluptuous joy. But she, with her elbow on
the velvet counter, her wrist raised, gave him her fingers with the
unconcerned air with which she gave her foot to her maid to allow her
to button her boot. For her he was not a man; she employed him for such
private work with the familiar disdain she showed for the people in her
service, without looking at him even.

"I don't hurt you, madame?"

She replied "No," with a shake of the head. The smell of the Saxon
gloves—that savage smell as of sugared musk—troubled her as a rule;
and she sometimes laughed about it, confessing her taste for this
equivocal perfume, in which there is a suspicion of the wild beast
fallen into some girl's powderbox. But seated at this commonplace
counter she did not notice the smell of the gloves, it raised no
sensual feeling between her and this salesman doing his work.

"And what next, madame?"

"Nothing, thanks. Be good enough to carry the parcel to the pay-desk
No. 10, for Madame Desforges."

Being a constant customer, she gave her name at a paydesk, and had
each purchase sent there without wanting a shopman to follow her. When
she had gone away, Mignot turned towards his neighbour and winked, and
would have liked him to believe that wonderful things had just taken
place.

"By Jove! I'd like to dress her all over!" said he, coarsely.

Meanwhile, Madame Desforges continued her purchases. She turned to the
left, stopping in the linen department to procure some dusters; then
she walked round the shop, going as far as the woollen department at
the further end of the gallery. As she was satisfied with her cook,
she wanted to make her a present of a dress. The woollen department
overflowed with a compact crowd, all the lower middle-class women were
there, feeling the stuff, absorbed in mute calculations; and she was
obliged to sit down for a moment. The shelves were piled up with great
rolls of stuff which the salesmen were taking down one by one, with a
sudden pull. They were beginning to get confused with these encumbered
counters, on which the stuffs were mixing up and tumbling over each
other. It was a rising tide of neutral tints, heavy woollen tones,
iron-greys, and blue-greys, with here and there a Scotch tartan, and
a blood-red ground of flannel breaking out. And the white tickets on
the pieces were like a shower of rare white flakes falling on a black
December soil.

Behind a pile of poplin, Liénard was joking with a tall girl without
hat or bonnet, a work-girl, sent by her mistress to match some merino.
He detested these big-sale days, which tired him to death, and he
endeavoured to shirk his work, getting plenty of money from his father,
not caring a fig about the business, doing just enough to avoid being
dismissed.

"Listen to me, Mademoiselle Fanny," he was saying; "you are always in a
hurry. Did the striped vicugna do the other day? I shall come and see
you, and ask for my commission."

But the girl escaped, laughing, and Liénard found himself before Madame
Desforges, whom he could not help asking: "What can I serve you with,
madame?"

She wanted a dress, not too dear but yet strong. Liénard, with the
view of sparing his arms, which was his principal care, manoeuvred
to make her take one of the stuffs already unfolded on the counter.
There were cashmeres, serges, vicugnas, and he declared that there was
nothing better to be had, they never wore out. But none of these seemed
to satisfy her. On one of the shelves she had observed a blue serge,
which she wished to see. He made up his mind at last, and took down
the roll, but she thought it too rough. Then he showed her a cheviot,
some diagonal, some greys, every sort of woollens, which she felt out
of curiosity, for the pleasure of doing so, decided at heart to take
no matter what. The young man was thus obliged to empty the highest
shelves; his shoulders cracked, the counter had disappeared under the
silky grain of the cashmeres and poplins, the rough nap of the cheviot,
and the tufty down of the vicugna; there were samples of every material
and every tint. Though she had not the least wish to buy any, she asked
to see some grenadine and some Chambery gauze. Then, when she had seen
enough, she said:

"Oh! after all, the first is the best; it's for my cook. Yes, the
serge, the one at two francs." And when Liénard had measured it, pale
with suppressed anger, she added: "Have the goodness to carry that to
pay-desk No. 10, for Madame Desforges."

Just as she was going away, she recognised Madame Marty close to her,
accompanied by her daughter Valentine, a tall girl of fourteen, thin
and bold, who was already casting a woman's covetous looks on the goods.

"Ah! it's you, dear madame?"

"Yes, dear madame; what a crowd—eh?"

"Oh! don't speak of it, it's stifling. And such a success! Have you
seen the oriental saloon?"

"Superb—Wonderful!"

And amidst the pushing and crushing of the growing crowd of modest
purses eagerly seeking the cheap lines in the woollen goods, they
went into ecstasies over the exhibition of carpets. Then Madame Marty
explained she was looking for some material for a mantle; but she was
not quite decided; she wanted to see some check patterns.

"Look, mamma," murmured Valentine, "it's too common."

"Come to the silk department," said Madame Desforges, "you must see
their famous Paris Paradise."

Madame Marty hesitated for a moment. It would be very dear, and she
had faithfully promised her husband to be careful! She had been buying
for an hour, quite a pile of articles were following her already: a
muff and some cuffs and collars for herself, some stockings for her
daughter. She finished by saying to the shopman who was showing her the
checks:

"Well—no; I'm going to the silk department; you've nothing to suit me."

The shopman took the articles and walked before the ladies.

In the silk department there was also a crowd, the principal crush
being opposite the inside display, arranged by Hutin, and to which
Mouret had given the finishing touches. It was at the further end of
the hall, around one of the small wrought-iron columns which supported
the glass roof, a veritable torrent of stuffs, a puffy sheet falling
from above and spreading out down to the floor. At first stood out the
light satins and tender silks, the satins _a la Reine_ and Renaissance,
with the pearly tones of spring water; light silks, transparent
as crystals—Nile-green, Indian-azure, May-rose, and Danube-blue.
Then came the stronger fabrics: marvellous satins, duchess silks,
warm tints, rolling in great waves; and right at the bottom, as in
a fountain-basin, reposed the heavy stuffs, the figured silks, the
damasks, brocades, and lovely silvered silks in the midst of a deep bed
of velvet of every sort—black, white, and coloured—skilfully disposed
on silk and satin grounds, hollowing out with their medley of colours
a still lake in which the reflex of the sky seemed to be dancing. The
women, pale with desire, bent over as if to look at themselves. And
before this falling cataract they all remained standing, with the
secret fear of being carried away by the irruption of such luxury, and
with the irresistible desire to jump in amidst it and be lost.

"Here you are, then!" said Madame Desforges, on finding Madame
Bourdelais installed before a counter.

"Ah! good-morning!" replied the latter, shaking hands with the ladies.
"Yes, I've come to have a look."

"What a prodigious exhibition! It's like a dream. And the oriental
saloon! Have you seen the oriental saloon?"

"Yes, yes; extraordinary!"

But beneath this enthusiasm, which was to be decidedly the fashionable
note of the day, Madame Bourdelais retained her practical housekeeper's
coolness. She was carefully examining a piece of Paris Paradise, for
she had come on purpose to take advantage of the exceptional cheapness
of this silk, if she found it really advantageous. She was doubtless
satisfied with it, for she took twenty-five yards, hoping it would be
sufficient to make a dress for herself and a cloak for her little girl.

"What! you are going already?" resumed Madame Desforges. "Take a walk
round with us."

"No, thanks; they are waiting for me at home. I didn't like to risk
bringing the children into this crowd."

And she went away, preceded by the salesman carrying the twenty-five
yards of silk, and who led her to pay-desk No. 10, where young Albert
was getting confused with all the demands for bills with which he
was besieged. When the salesman was able to approach, after having
inscribed his sale on the debit-note, he called out the item, which the
cashier entered in a register; then it was checked over, and the leaf
torn off the salesman's book of debit-notes was stuck on a file near
the receipting stamp.

"One hundred and forty francs," said Albert.

Madame Bourdelais paid and gave her address, for having come on foot
she did not wish to be troubled with a parcel. Joseph had already
got the silk behind the pay-desk, and was tying it up; and the
parcel, thrown into a basket on wheels, was sent down to the delivery
department, where all the goods in the shop seemed to be swallowed up
with a sluice-like noise.

Meanwhile, the block was becoming so great in the silk department
that Madame Desforges and Madame Marty could not at first find a
salesman disengaged. They remained standing, mingling with the crowd
of ladies who were looking at the silks and feeling them, staying
there hours without making up their minds. But the Paris Paradise was
a great success; around it pressed one of those crowds which decides
the fortune of a fashion in a day. A host of shopmen were engaged in
measuring off this silk; one could see, above the customers heads, the
pale glimmer of the unfolded pieces, in the continual coming and going
of the fingers along the oak yard measures hanging from brass rods; one
could hear the noise of the scissors cutting the silk, without ceasing,
as the sale went on, as if there were not enough shopmen to suffice for
all the greedy outstretched hands of the customers.

"It really isn't bad for five francs twelve sous," said Madame
Desforges, who had succeeded in getting hold of a piece at the edge of
the table.

Madame Marty and her daughter experienced a disappointment. The
newspapers had said so much about it, that they had expected something
stronger and more brilliant. But Bouthemont had just recognised Madame
Desforges, and in order to get in the good graces of such a handsome
lady, who was supposed to be all-powerful with the governor, he came
up, with his rather coarse amiability. What! no one was serving her! it
was unpardonable! He begged her to be indulgent, for really they did
not know which way to turn. And he went to look for some chairs amongst
the neighbouring skirts, laughing with his good-natured laugh, full of
a brutal love for the sex, which did not seem to displease Henriette.

"I say," murmured Favier, on going to take some velvet from a shelf
behind Hutin, "there's Bouthemont making up to your mash."

Hutin had forgotten Madame Desforges, beside himself with rage with
an old lady, who, after having kept him a quarter of an hour, had
finished by buying a yard of black satin for a pair of stays. In the
busy moments they took no notice of the turns, each salesman served
the customers as they arrived. And he was answering Madame Boutarel,
who was finishing her afternoon at The Ladies' Paradise, where she had
already spent three hours in the morning, when Favier's warning made
him start. Was he going to miss the governor's friend, from whom he had
sworn to draw a five franc piece? That would be the height of ill-luck,
for he hadn't made three francs as yet with all those other chignons
who were mooning about the place! Bouthemont was just then calling out
loudly:

"Come, gentlemen, some one this way!"

Hutin passed Madame Boutarel over to Robineau, who was doing nothing.

"Here's the second-hand, madame. He will answer you better than I can."

And he rushed off to take Madame Marty's purchases from the woollen
salesman who had accompanied the ladies. That day a nervous excitement
must have troubled his delicate scent. As a rule, the first glance told
him if a customer would buy, and how much. Then he domineered over the
customer, he hastened to serve her to pass on to another, imposing
his choice on her, persuading her that he knew best what material she
wanted.

"What sort of silk, madame?" asked he in his most gallant manner.
Madame Desforges had no sooner opened her mouth than he added: "I know,
I've got just what you want."

When the piece of Paris Paradise was unfolded on a narrow corner of the
counter, between heaps of other silks, Madame Marty and her daughter
approached. Hutin, rather anxious, understood that it was at first a
question of serving these two. Whispered words were exchanged, Madame
Desforges was advising her friend.

"Oh! certainly," murmured she. "A silk at five francs twelve sous will
never be equal to one at fifteen, or even ten."

"It is very light," repeated Madame Marty. "I'm afraid that it has not
sufficient body for a mantle."

This remarked induced the salesman to intervene. He smiled with the
exaggerated politeness of a man who cannot make a mistake.

"But, madame, flexibility is the chief quality of this silk. It will
not crumple. It's exactly what you want."

Impressed by such an assurance, the ladies said no more. They had taken
the silk up, and were examining it again, when they felt a touch on
their shoulders. It was Madame Guibal, who had been slowly walking
about the shop for an hour past, feasting her eyes on the heaped-up
riches, without buying even a yard of calico. And there was another
explosion of gossip.

"What! Is that you?"

"Yes, it's me, rather knocked about though."

"What a crowd—eh? One can't get about. And the oriental saloon?"

"Ravishing!"

"Good heavens! what a success! Stay a moment, we will go upstairs
together."

"No, thanks, I've just come down."

Hutin was waiting, concealing his impatience with a smile that did
not quit his lips. Were they going to keep him there long? Really the
women took things very coolly, it was like taking his money out of
his pocket. At last Madame Guibal went away and continued her stroll,
turning round the splendid display of silks with an enraptured air.

"If I were you I should buy the mantle ready-made," said Madame
Desforges, suddenly returning to the Paris Paradise. "It won't cost you
so much."

"It's true that the trimmings and making-up—" murmured Madame Marty.
"Besides, one has more choice."

All three had risen. Madame Desforges turned to Hutin, saying: "Have
the goodness to show us to the ready-made department."

He remained dumbfounded, not being used to such defeats. What! the dark
lady bought nothing! Had he then made a mistake? He abandoned Madame
Marty and attacked Madame Desforges, trying his powerful abilities as
salesman on her.

"And you, madame, would you not like to see our satins, our velvets? We
have some extraordinary bargains."

"Thanks, another time," replied she coolly, not looking at him any more
than she had at Mignot.

Hutin had to take up Madame Marty's purchases and walk before the
ladies to show them to the ready-made department But he had also the
grief of seeing that Robineau was selling Madame Boutarel a good
quantity of silk. Decidedly his scent was playing him false, he
wouldn't make four sous. Beneath the amiable correctness of his manners
there was the rage of a man being robbed and swallowed up by the others.

"On the first floor, ladies," said he, without ceasing to smile.

It was no easy matter to get to the staircase. A compact crowd of heads
was surging under the galleries, expanding like an overflowing river
into the middle of the hall. Quite a battle of business was going on,
the salesmen had this population of women at their mercy, passing
them from one to the other with feverish haste. The moment of the
formidable afternoon rush had arrived, when the over-heated machine
led the dance of customers, drawing the money from their very flesh.
In the silk department especially a breath of folly seemed to pervade
all, the Paris Paradise collected such a crowd that for several minutes
Hutin could not advance a step; and Henriette, half-suffocated, having
raised her eyes, beheld Mouret at the top of the stairs, his favourite
position, from which he could see the victory. She smiled, hoping that
he would come down and extricate her. But he did not even recognise her
in the crowd; he was still with Vallagnosc, showing him the house, his
face beaming with triumph.

The trepidation within was now stifling all outside noise; one no
longer heard the rumbling of the vehicles, nor the banging of the
carriage-doors; nothing remained above the vast murmur of business
but the sentiment of this enormous Paris, of such immensity that it
would always furnish buyers. In the heavy still air, in which the
fumes of the heating apparatus warmed the odour of the stuffs, the
hubbub increased, made up of all sorts of noises, of the continual
walking about, of the same phrases, a hundred times repeated around the
counters, of the gold jingling on the brass of the pay-desks, besieged
by a legion of purses, and of the baskets on wheels loaded with parcels
which were constantly disappearing into the gaping cellars. And, amidst
the fine dust, everything finished by getting mixed up, it became
impossible to recognise the divisions of the different departments;
the haberdashery department over there seemed drowned; further on, in
the linen department, a ray of sunshine, entering by the window in the
Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, was like a golden dart in a heap of snow;
close by, in the glove and woollen departments, a dense mass of bonnets
and chignons hid the background of the shop from view. The toilettes
were no longer visible, the head-dresses alone appeared, decked with
feathers and ribbons.

A few men's hats introduced here and there a black spot, whilst
the women's pale complexions assumed in the fatigue and heat the
transparencies of the camellia. At last, Hutin—thanks to his vigorous
elbows—was able to open a way for the ladies by keeping in front of
them. But on ascending the stairs, Henriette could not find Mouret,
who had just plunged Vallagnosc right into the crowd to complete his
bewilderment, himself feeling the physical want of a dip into this bath
of success. He lost his breath deliciously, he felt against his limbs a
sort of caress from all his customers.

"To the left, ladies," said Hutin, still attentive, notwithstanding his
increasing exasperation.

Up above there was the same block. It invaded even the furnishing
department, usually the quietest. The shawl, the fur, and the
under-clothing departments swarmed with people. As the ladies were
crossing the lace department another meeting took place. Madame de
Boves was there with her daughter Blanche, both buried in the articles
Deloche was showing them. And Hutin had to make another halt, bundle in
hand.

"Good afternoon! I was just thinking of you."

"I've been looking for you myself. But how can you expect to find any
one in this crowd?"

"It's magnificent, isn't it?"

"Dazzling, my dear. We can hardly stand."

"And you're buying?"

"Oh! no, we're only looking round. It rests us a little to be seated."

As a fact, Madame de Boves, scarcely possessing more than her cab-fare
in her purse, was having all sorts of laces handed down, simply for the
pleasure of seeing and handling them. She had guessed Deloche to be a
new salesman, slow and awkward, who dared not resist the customers'
whims: and she took advantage of his bewildered good nature, and kept
him there half an hour, still asking for fresh articles. The counter
was covered, she dived her hands into this increasing mountain of
lace, Malines, Valenciennes, and Chantilly, her fingers trembling with
desire, her face gradually warming with a sensual joy; whilst Blanche,
close to her, agitated by the same passion, was very pale, her flesh
inflated and soft. The conversation continued; Hutin, standing there
waiting their good pleasure, could have slapped their faces.

"Ah!" said Madame Marty, "you're looking at some cravats and
handkerchiefs like those I showed you the other day."

It was true, Madame de Boves, tormented by Madame Marty's lace since
the previous Saturday, had been unable to resist the desire to at
least handle some like it, as the allowance her husband made her did
not permit her to carry any away. She blushed slightly, explaining
that Blanche wanted to see the Spanish-blonde cravats. Then she added:
"You're going to the ready-made department—Well! we'll see you again.
Shall we say in the oriental saloon?"

"That's it, in the oriental saloon—Superb, isn't it?"

And they separated enraptured, amidst the obstruction produced by the
sale of the insertions and small trimmings at low prices. Deloche, glad
to be occupied, recommenced emptying the boxes before the mother and
daughter. And amidst the groups pressed along the counters, Jouve, the
inspector, was slowly walking about with his military air, displaying
his decoration, watching over these fine and precious goods, so easy to
conceal up a sleeve. When he passed behind Madame de Boves, surprised
to see her with her arms plunged in such a heap of lace he cast a quick
glance at her feverish hands.

"To the right, ladies," said Hutin, resuming his march.

He was beside himself with rage. Was it not enough that he had missed a
sale down below? Now they kept him waiting at each turning of the shop!
And in his annoyance there was a strong feeling of the rancour existing
between the textile departments and the ready-made departments, which
were in continual hostility, fighting over the customers, stealing each
other's percentage and commission. Those of the silk department were
more enraged than those of the woollen, whenever they were obliged
to show a lady to where the ready-made articles were kept, when she
decided to take a mantle after looking at various sorts of silk.

"Mademoiselle Vadon!" said Hutin, in an angry voice, when he at last
arrived in the department.

But she passed by without listening, absorbed in a sale which she
was conducting. The room was full, a stream of people were crossing
it, coming in by the door of the lace department and going out by
the door of the under-clothing department, whilst to the right
customers were trying on garments, and posing before the glasses.
The red carpet stifled the noise of the footsteps, the distant roar
from the ground-floor died away, giving place to a discreet murmur, a
drawing-room warmth deadened by the crowd of women.

"Mademoiselle Prunaire!" cried out Hutin. And as she took no notice
either, he added between his teeth, so as not to be heard: "A set of
frights!"

He certainly was not fond of them, tired to death as he was by climbing
the stairs to bring them customers, furious at the profits which he
accused them of taking out of his pocket. It was a secret war, in which
the young ladies themselves entered with equal fierceness; and in their
mutual fatigue, always on foot, worked to death, all difference of sex
disappeared, nothing remained but these contrary interests, irritated
by the fever of business.

"So there's no one here to serve?" asked Hutin.

But he suddenly caught sight of Denise. They had kept her folding all
the morning, only giving her a few doubtful customers to whom she had
not sold anything. When he recognised her, occupied in clearing off the
counter an enormous heap of garments, he ran up to her.

"Look here, mademoiselle! serve these ladies who are waiting."

And he quickly slipped Madame Marty's purchases into her arms, tired of
carrying them about the place. His smile returned, and in this smile
there was the ill-natured expression of the experienced salesman, who
shrewdly guessed into what an awkward position he had just thrown both
the ladies and the young girl. The latter, however, remained quite
troubled before this unhoped-for sale which suddenly presented itself.
For the second time Hutin appeared to her like an unknown friend,
fraternal and tender, always ready to spring out of darkness and
save her. Her eyes glistened with gratitude; she followed him with a
lingering look, whilst he was elbowing his way towards his department.

"I want a mantle," said Madame Marty.

Then Denise questioned her. What style of mantle? But the lady had no
idea, she wished to see what the house had got. And the young girl,
already very tired, bewildered by the crowd, lost her head; she had
never served any but the rare customers who came to Cornaille's, at
Valognes; she didn't even know the number of the models, nor their
places in the cupboards. She hardly knew how to reply to the ladies,
who were beginning to lose patience, when Madame Aurélie perceived
Madame Desforges, of whose connection with Mouret she was no doubt
aware, for she hastened over and asked with a smile:

"Are these ladies being served?"

"Yes, that young person over there is attending to us," replied
Henriette. "But she does not appear to be very well up to her work; she
can't find anything."

At this, the first-hand completely paralysed Denise by saying to her
in a whisper: "You see very well you know nothing. Don't interfere any
more, please." And turning round she called out: "Mademoiselle Vadon,
these ladies require a mantle!"

She remained there whilst Marguerite showed the models. The girl
assumed with the customers a dry polite voice, the disagreeable
attitude of a young person dressed up in silk, with a sort of varnish
of elegance, of which she retained, unknown to herself, the jealousy
and rancour. When she heard Madame Marty say she did not wish to exceed
two hundred francs, she made a grimace of pity. Oh! madame would give
more, it would be impossible to find anything respectable for two
hundred francs. And she threw some of the common mantles on a counter
with a gesture which signified: "Just see, aren't they pitiful?" Madame
Marty dared not think of them after that; she bent over to murmur in
Madame Desforges's ear:

"Don't you prefer to be served by men? One feels more comfortable?"

At last Marguerite brought a silk mantle trimmed with jet, which she
treated with more respect. And Madame Aurélie abruptly called Denise.

"Come, do something for your living. Just put that on your shoulders."

Denise, wounded to the heart, despairing of ever succeeding in the
house, had remained motionless, her hands hanging by her side. No doubt
she would be sent away, and the children would be without food. The
tumult of the crowd buzzed in her head, she felt herself tottering, her
arms bruised by the handling of so many armfuls of garments, hard work
which she had never done before. However, she was obliged to obey and
allow Marguerite to put the mantle on her, as on a dummy.

"Stand upright," said Madame Aurélie.

But a moment after they forgot Denise. Mouret had just come in with
Vallagnosc and Bourdoncle; and he bowed to the ladies, who complimented
him on his magnificent exhibition of winter novelties. Of course they
went into raptures over the oriental saloon. Vallagnosc, who was
finishing his walk round the counters, displayed more surprise than
admiration; for, after all, thought he, in his pessimist supineness,
it was nothing more than an immense collection of calico. Bourdoncle,
forgetting that he belonged to the establishment, also congratulated
the governor, to make him forget his anxious doubts and persecutions of
the early part of the day.

"Yes, yes; things are going on very well, I'm quite satisfied,"
repeated Mouret, radiant, replying with a smile to Madame Desforges's
tender looks. "But I must not interrupt you, ladies."

Then all eyes were again fixed on Denise. She placed herself entirely
in the hands of Marguerite, who was making her turn round slowly.

"What do you think of it—eh?" asked Madame Marty of Madame Desforges.

The latter gave her advice, like a supreme umpire of fashion. "It isn't
bad, the cut is original, but it doesn't seem to me very graceful about
the figure."

"Oh!" interrupted Madame Aurélie, "it must be seen on the lady herself.
You can understand it does not look much on this young person, who
is not very stout. Hold up your head, mademoiselle, give it all its
importance."

They smiled. Denise had turned very pale. She felt ashamed at being
thus turned into a machine, which they were examining and joking about
so freely.

Madame Desforges, yielding to the antipathy of a contrary nature, and
annoyed by the young girl's sweet face, maliciously added: "No doubt it
would set better if the young person's dress were not so loose-fitting."

And she cast at Mouret the mocking look of a Parisian beauty, greatly
amused by the absurd ridiculous dress of a country girl. He felt the
amorous caress of this glance, the triumph of a woman proud of her
beauty and of her art. Therefore, out of pure gratitude, the gratitude
of a man who felt himself adored, he thought himself obliged to joke in
his turn, notwithstanding his good-will towards Denise, whose secret
charm had conquered his gallant nature.

"Besides, her hair should be combed," murmured he.

This was the last straw. The director deigned to laugh, all the young
ladies were bursting. Marguerite risked a slight chuckle, like a
well-behaved girl who restrains herself; Clara had left a customer to
enjoy the fun at her ease; even the saleswomen from another department
had come, attracted by the talking. As for the ladies they took it
more quietly, with an air of well-bred enjoyment. Madame Aurélie was
the only one who did not laugh, as if Denise's splendid wild-looking
head of hair and elegant virginal shoulders had dishonoured her, in the
orderly well-kept department. The young girl had turned paler still,
in the midst of all these people who were laughing at her. She felt
herself violated, exposed to all their looks, without defence. What
had she done that they should thus attack her thin figure, and her too
luxuriant hair? But she was especially wounded by Madame Desforges's
and Mouret's laughter, instinctively divining their connection, her
heart sinking with an unknown grief. This lady was very ill-natured to
attack a poor girl who had said nothing; and as for Mouret, he most
decidedly froze her up with a sort of fear, before which all her other
sentiments disappeared, without her being able to analyse them. And,
totally abandoned, attacked in her most cherished womanly feelings of
modesty, and shocked at their injustice, she was obliged to stifle the
sobs which were rising in her throat.

"I should think so; let her comb her hair to-morrow," said the terrible
Bourdoncle to Madame Aurélie. He had condemned Denise the first day she
came, full of scorn for her small limbs.

At last the first-hand came and took the mantle off Denise's shoulders,
saying to her in a low tone: "Well! mademoiselle, here's a fine start.
Really, if this is the way you show off your capabilities—Impossible
to be more stupid!"

Denise, fearing the tears might gush from her, hastened back to the
heap of garments, which she began to sort out on the counter. There at
least she was lost in the crowd. Fatigue prevented her thinking. But
she suddenly felt Pauline near her, a saleswoman in the under-clothing
department, who had already defended her that morning. The latter had
followed the scene, and murmured in Denise's ear:

"My poor child, don't be so sensitive. Keep that to yourself, or
they'll go on worse and worse. I come from Chartres. Yes, exactly,
Pauline Cugnot is my name; and my parents are millers. Well! they would
have devoured me the first few days if I had not stood up firm. Come,
be brave! give me your hand, we'll have a talk together whenever you
like."

This hand held out redoubled Denise's confusion; she shook it
furtively, hastening to take up a load of cloaks, fearing to be doing
wrong and to get a scolding if they knew she had a friend.

However, Madame Aurélie herself had just put the mantle on Madame
Marty, and they all exclaimed: "Oh! how nice! delightful!" It at once
looked quite different. Madame Desforges decided it would be impossible
to improve on it.

There was a good deal of bowing. Mouret took his leave, whilst
Vallagnosc, who had perceived Madame de Boves and her daughter in the
lace department, hastened to offer his arm to the mother. Marguerite,
standing before one of the paydesks, was already calling out the
different purchases made by Madame Marty, who settled for them and
ordered the parcel to be taken to her cab. Madame Desforges had found
her articles at pay-desk No. 10. Then the ladies met once more in the
oriental saloon. They were leaving, but it was amidst a loquacious
feeling of admiration. Even Madame Guibal became enthusiastic.

"Oh! delicious! makes you think you are in the East; doesn't it?"

"A real harem, and not at all dear!"

"And the Smyrnas! oh, the Smyrnas! what tones, what delicacy!"

"And this Kurdestan! Just look, a Delacroix!"

The crowd was slowly diminishing. The bell, at an hour's interval,
had already announced the two first dinners; the third was about to
be served, and in the departments there were now only a few lingering
customers, whose fever for spending had made them forget the time.
Outside nothing was heard but the rolling of the last carriages amidst
the husky voice of Paris, the snort of a satiated ogre digesting the
linens and cloths, silks and lace, with which he had been gorged since
the morning. Inside, beneath the flaming gas-jets, which, burning
in the twilight, had lighted up the supreme efforts of the sale,
everything appeared like a field of battle still warm with the massacre
of the various goods. The salesmen, harassed and fatigued, camped
amidst the contents of their shelves and counters, which appeared to
have been thrown into the greatest confusion by the furious blast of
a hurricane. It was with difficulty that one traversed the galleries
on the ground floor, blocked up with a crowd of chairs, and in the
glove department it was necessary to step over a pile of cases heaped
up around Mignot; in the woollen department there was no means of
passing at all, Liénard was dozing on a sea of bales, in which certain
piles, still standing, though half destroyed, seemed to be houses that
an overflowing river was carrying away; and, further on, the linen
department was like a heavy fall of snow, one ran up against icebergs
of napkins, and walked on light flakes of handkerchiefs.

The same disorder prevailed upstairs, in the departments of the first
floor: the furs were scattered over the flooring, the ready-made
clothes were heaped up like the great-coats of wounded soldiers, the
lace and the underlinen, unfolded, crumpled, thrown about everywhere,
made one think of an army of women who had disrobed there in the
disorder of some sudden desire; whilst downstairs, at the other end
of the house, the delivery department in full activity was still
disgorging the parcels with which it was bursting, and which were
carried off by the vans—last vibration of the overheated machine.
But it was in the silk department especially that the customers had
flung themselves with the greatest ardour. There they had cleared
off everything, there was plenty of room to pass, the hall was bare;
the whole of the colossal stock of Paris Paradise had been cut up
and carried away, as if by a swarm of devouring locusts. And in the
midst of this emptiness, Hutin and Favier were running through the
counterfoils of their debit-notes, calculating their commission, still
out of breath after the struggle. Favier had made fifteen francs, Hutin
had only managed to make thirteen, thoroughly beaten that day, enraged
at his bad luck. Their eyes sparkled with the passion for money. The
whole shop around them was also adding up figures, glowing with the
same fever, in the brutal gaiety of the evening of the battle.

"Well, Bourdoncle!" cried out Mouret, "are you trembling still?"

He had returned to his favourite position at the top of the stair's of
the first floor, against the balustrade; and, in the presence of the
massacre of stuffs which was spread out under him, he indulged in a
victorious laugh. His fears of the morning, that moment of unpardonable
weakness which nobody would ever know of, inspired him with a
greater desire to triumph. The battle was definitely won, the small
tradespeople of the neighbourhood were done for, and Baron Hartmann
was conquered, with his millions and his land. Whilst he was looking
at the cashiers bending over their ledgers, adding up long columns of
figures, whilst he was listening to the sound of the gold, falling
from their fingers into the metal bowls, he already saw The Ladies'
Paradise growing beyond all bounds, enlarging its hall and prolonging
its galleries as far as the Rue du Dix-Décembre.

"And now are you convinced, Bourdoncle," he resumed, "that the house is
really too small? We could have sold twice as much."

Bourdoncle humbled himself, enraptured, moreover, to find himself
in the wrong. But a new spectacle rendered them grave. As was the
custom every evening, Lhomme, the chief cashier, had just collected
the receipts from each pay-desk; after having added them up, he
usually posted up the total amount after placing the paper on which
it was written on his file. He then took the receipts up to the chief
cashier's office, in a leather case and in bags, according to the
nature of the cash. On this occasion the gold and silver predominated,
and he was slowly walking upstairs, carrying three enormous bags.
Deprived of his right arm, cut off at the elbow, he clasped them in his
left arm against his breast, holding one up with his chin to prevent it
slipping. His heavy breathing could be heard at a distance, he passed
along, staggering and superb, amidst the respectful shopmen.

"How much, Lhomme?" asked Mouret.

"Eighty thousand seven hundred and forty-two francs two sous," replied
the cashier.

A joyous laugh stirred up The Ladies' Paradise. The amount ran through
the establishment. It was the highest figure ever attained in one day
by a draper's shop.

That evening, when Denise went up to bed, she was obliged to lean
against the partition in the corridor under the zinc roof. When in
her room, and with the door closed, she fell down on the bed; her
feet pained her so much. For a long time she continued to look with
a stupid air at the dressing-table, the wardrobe, all the hôtel-like
nudity. This, then, was where she was going to live; and her first day
tormented her—an abominable, endless day. She would never have the
courage to go through another. Then she perceived she was dressed in
silk; and this uniform depressed her. She was childish enough, before
unpacking her box, to put on her old woollen dress, which hung on
the back of a chair. But when she was once more dressed in this poor
garment of hers, a painful emotion choked her; the sobs which she had
kept back all day burst forth suddenly in a flood of hot tears. She
fell back on the bed, weeping at the thought of the two children, and
she wept on, without feeling to have the strength to take off her
boots, completely overcome with fatigue and grief.

CHAPTER V.

The next day Denise had scarcely been downstairs half an hour, when
Madame Aurélie said to her in her sharp voice: "You are wanted at the
directorate, mademoiselle."

The young girl found Mouret alone, in the large office hung with green
repp. He had suddenly remembered the "unkempt girl," as Bourdoncle
called her; and he, who usually detested the part of fault-finder,
had had the idea of sending for her and waking her up a bit, if she
were still dressed in the style of a country wench. The previous
day, notwithstanding his pleasantry, he had experienced, in Madame
Desforges's presence, a feeling of wounded vanity, on seeing the
elegance of one of his saleswomen discussed. He felt a confused
sentiment, a mixture of sympathy and anger.

"We have engaged you, mademoiselle," commenced he, "out of regard for
your uncle, and you must not put us under the sad necessity—"

But he stopped. Opposite him, on the other side of the desk, stood
Denise, upright, serious, and pale. Her silk dress was no longer too
big for her, but fitted tight round her pretty figure, displaying the
pure lines of her virgin shoulders; and if her hair, knotted in thick
tresses, still appeared untidy, she tried at least to keep it in order.
After having gone to sleep with her clothes on, her eyes red with
weeping, the young girl had felt ashamed of this attack of nervous
sensibility on waking up about four o'clock, and she had immediately
set about taking in her dress. She had spent an hour before the small
looking-glass, combing her hair, without being able to reduce it as she
would have liked to.

"Ah! thank heavens!" said Mouret, "you look better this morning. But
there's still that dreadful hair!" He rose from his seat and went up to
her to try and smooth it down in the same familiar way Madame Aurélie
had attempted to do it the previous day. "There! just tuck that in
behind your ear. The chignon is too high."

She did not speak, but let him continue to arrange her hair;
notwithstanding her vow to be strong, she had arrived at the office
full of misgivings, certain that she had been sent for to be informed
of her dismissal. And Mouret's evident kindliness did not reassure her;
she still felt afraid of him, feeling when near him that uneasiness
which she attributed to a natural anxiety in the presence of a powerful
man on whom her fate depended. When he saw her so trembling under his
hands, which were grazing her neck, he was sorry for his movement of
good-nature, for he feared above all to lose his authority.

"In short, mademoiselle," resumed he, once more placing the desk
between himself and her, "try and look to your appearance. You are no
longer at Valognes; study our Parisian young ladies. If your uncle's
name has sufficed to gain your admittance to our house, I feel sure you
will carry out what your person seemed to promise to me. Unfortunately,
everybody here is not of my opinion. Let this be a warning to you.
Don't make me tell a falsehood."

He treated her like a child, with more pity than kindness, his
curiosity in matters feminine simply awakened by the troubling, womanly
charm which he felt springing up in this poor and awkward child. And
she, whilst he was lecturing her, having suddenly perceived Madame
Hédouin's portrait—the handsome regular face smiling gravely in
the gold frame—felt herself shivering again, notwithstanding the
encouraging words he addressed to her. This was the dead lady, she whom
people accused him of having killed, in order to found the house with
the blood of her body.

Mouret was still speaking. "Now you may go," said he at last, sitting
down and taking up his pen. She went away, heaving a deep sigh of
relief.

From that day forward, Denise displayed her great courage. Beneath
these rare attacks of sensitiveness, a strong sense of reason was
constantly working, quite a feeling of bravery at finding herself weak
and alone, a cheerful determination to carry out her self-imposed task.
She made very little noise, but went straight ahead to her goal, with
an invincible sweetness, overcoming all obstacles, and that simply and
naturally, for such was her real character.

At first she had to surmount the terrible fatigues of the department
The parcels of garments tired her arms, so much so that during the
first six weeks she cried with pain when she turned over at night, bent
almost double, her shoulders bruised. But she suffered still more from
her shoes, thick shoes brought from Valognes, want of money preventing
her replacing them with light boots. Always on her feet, trotting about
from morning to night, scolded if seen leaning for a moment against
any support, her feet became swollen, little feet, like those of a
child, which seemed ground up in these torturing bluchers; her heels
throbbed with fever, the soles were covered with blisters, the skin
of which chafed off and stuck to the stocking. She felt her entire
frame shattered, her limbs and organs contracted by the lassitude of
her legs, the certain sudden weaknesses incident to her sex betraying
themselves by the paleness of her flesh. And she, so thin, so frail,
resisted courageously, whilst a great many saleswomen around her were
obliged to quit the business, attacked with special maladies. Her good
grace in suffering, her valiant obstinacy maintained her, smiling and
upright, when she felt ready to give way, thoroughly worn out and
exhausted by work to which men would have succumbed.

Another torment was to have the whole department against her. To the
physical martyrdom there was added the secret persecution of her
comrades. Two months of patience and gentleness had not disarmed them.
She was constantly exposed to wounding remarks, cruel inventions,
a series of slights which cut her to the heart, in her longing for
affection. They had joked for a long time over her unfortunate first
appearance; the words "clogs" and "numbskull" circulated. Those who
missed a sale were sent to Valognes; she passed, in short, for the fool
of the place. Then, when she revealed herself later on as a remarkable
saleswoman, well up in the mechanism of the house, the young ladies
arranged together so as never to leave her a good customer. Marguerite
and Clara pursued her with an instinctive hatred, closing up the ranks
in order not to be swallowed up by this new comer, whom they really
feared in spite of their affectation of disdain. As for Madame Aurélie,
she was hurt by the proud reserve displayed by the young girl, who did
not hover round her skirts with an air of caressing admiration; she
therefore abandoned Denise to the rancour of her favourites, to the
favoured ones of her court, who were always on their knees, engaged in
feeding her with a continual flattery, which her large authoritative
person needed to make it blossom forth. For a while, the second-hand,
Madame Frédéric, appeared not to enter into the conspiracy, but this
must have been by inadvertence, for she showed herself equally harsh
the moment she saw to what annoyances her good-nature was likely to
expose her. Then the abandonment became complete, they all made a butt
of the "unkempt girl," who lived in an hourly struggle, only managing
by the greatest courage to hold her own in the department.

Such was her life now. She had to smile, look brave and gracious in a
silk dress which did not belong to her, although dying with fatigue,
badly fed, badly treated, under the continual menace of a brutal
dismissal. Her room was her only refuge, the only place where she
could abandon herself to the luxury of a cry, when she had suffered
too much during the day. But a terrible coldness fell from the zinc
roof, covered with the December snow; she was obliged to nestle in
her iron bedstead, throw all her clothes over her, and weep under the
counterpane to prevent the frost chapping her face. Mouret never spoke
to her now. When she caught Bourdoncle's severe looks during business
hours she trembled, for she felt in him a born enemy who would not
forgive her the slightest fault. And amidst this general hostility,
Jouve the inspector's strange friendliness astonished her. If he met
her in any out-of-the-way corner he smiled at her, made some amiable
remark; twice he had saved her from being reprimanded without any show
of gratitude on her part, for she was more troubled than touched by his
protection.

One evening, after dinner, as the young ladies were setting the
cupboards in order, Joseph came and informed Denise that a young man
wanted her below. She went down, feeling very anxious.

"Hullo!" said Clara, "the 'unkempt girl' has got a young man."

"He must be hard up for a sweetheart," declared Marguerite.

Downstairs, at the door, Denise found her brother Jean. She had
formally prohibited him from coming to the shop in this way, as it
looked very bad. But she did not dare to scold him, so excited did he
appear, bareheaded, out of breath through running from the Faubourg du
Temple.

"Have you got ten francs?" stammered he. "Give me ten francs, or I'm a
lost man."

The young rascal looked so comical, with his flowing locks and handsome
girlish face, launching out with this melodramatic phrase, that she
could have smiled had it not been for the anguish which this demand for
money caused her.

"What! ten francs?" she murmured. "Whatever's the matter?"

He blushed, and explained that he had met a friend's sister. Denise
stopped him, feeling embarrassed, not wishing to know any more about
it. Twice already had he rushed in to obtain similar loans, but the
first time it was only twenty-five sous, and the next thirty. He was
always getting mixed up with women.

"I can't give you ten francs," resumed she. "Pépé's board isn't paid
yet, and I've only just the money. I shall have hardly enough to buy a
pair of boots, which I want badly. You really are not reasonable, Jean.
It's too bad of you."

"Well, I'm lost," repeated he, with a tragical gesture. "Just listen,
little sister; she's a tall, dark girl; we went to the café with her
brother. I never thought the drinks—"

She had to interrupt him again, and as tears were coming into his eyes,
she took out her purse and slipped a ten-franc piece into his hand. He
at once set up a laugh.

"I was sure—But my word of honour! never again! A fellow would have to
be a regular scamp."

And he ran off, after having kissed his sister, like a madman. The
fellows in the shop seemed astonished.

That night Denise did not sleep much. Since her entry in The
Ladies' Paradise, money had been her cruel anxiety. She was still
a probationer, without salary; the young ladies in the department
frequently prevented her from selling, and she just managed to pay
Pépé's board and lodging, thanks to the unimportant customers they
were good enough to leave her. It was a time of black misery—misery
in a silk dress. She was often obliged to spend the night repairing
her small stack of clothes, darning her linen, mending her chemises as
if they had been lace; without mentioning the patches she put on her
boots, as cleverly as any bootmaker could have done. She even risked
washing things in her hand basin. But her old woollen dress was an
especial cause of anxiety to her; she had no other, and was forced to
put it on every evening when she quitted the uniform silk, and this
wore it terribly; a spot on it gave her the fever, the least tear was
a catastrophe. And she had nothing, not a sou, not even enough to buy
the trifling articles which a woman always wants; she had been obliged
to wait a fortnight to renew her stock of needles and cotton. Thus it
was a real disaster when Jean, with his love affairs, dropped down all
at once and pillaged her purse. A franc-piece taken away caused a gulf
which she did not know how to fill up. As for finding ten francs on
the morrow it was not to be thought of for a moment. The whole night
she slept an uncomfortable sleep, haunted by the nightmare, in which
she saw Pépé thrown into the street, whilst she was turning over the
flagstones with her bruised fingers to see if there were not some money
underneath.

It happened that the next day she had to play the part of the
well-dressed girl. Some well-known customers came in, and Madame
Aurélie called her several times in order that she should show off the
new styles. And whilst she was posing there, with the stiff graces of a
fashion-plate, she was thinking of Pépé's board and lodging, which she
had promised to pay that evening. She could very well do without boots
for another month; but even on adding the thirty francs she had left to
the four francs which she had saved sou by sou, that would never make
more than thirty-four francs, and where was she to find six francs to
complete the sum? It was an anguish in which her heart failed her.

"You will notice the shoulders are free," Madame Aurélie was saying.
"It's very fashionable and very convenient. The young person can fold
her arms."

"Oh! easily," replied Denise, who continued to smile amiably. "One
can't feel it. I am sure you will like it, madame."

She now blamed herself for having gone to fetch Pépé from Madame
Gras's, the previous Sunday, to take him for a walk in the
Champs-Elysees. The poor child so seldom went out with her! But she had
had to buy some gingerbread and a little spade, and then take him to
see Punch and Judy, and that had mounted at once to twenty-nine sous.
Really Jean could not think much about the little one, or he would not
be so foolish. Afterwards, everything fell upon her shoulders.

"Of course, if it does not suit you, madame—" resumed the first-hand.
"Just put this cloak on, mademoiselle, so that the lady may judge."

And Denise walked slowly round, with the cloak on, saying: "This is
warmer. It's this year's fashion."

And she continued to torture herself, behind her professional good
graces, until the evening, to know where she was to find this money.
The young ladies, who were very busy, had left her an important sale;
but it was only Tuesday, and she had four days to wait before drawing
any money. After dinner she decided to postpone her visit to Madame
Gras till the next day. She would excuse herself, say she had been
detained, and before then she would have the six francs, perhaps.

As Denise avoided the slightest expense, she went to bed early. What
could she do in the streets, with her unsociableness, still frightened
by the big city in which she only knew the streets near the shop? After
having ventured as far as the Palais-Royal, to get a little fresh air,
she would quickly return, lock herself in her room and set about sewing
or washing.

It was, along the corridor of the bed-rooms, a barrack-like
promiscuity—girls, who were often not very tidy, gossiping over dirty
water and dirty linen, quite a disagreeable feeling, which manifested
itself in frequent quarrels and continual reconciliations. They were,
moreover, prohibited from going up to their rooms in the day-time; they
did not live there, but merely slept there at night, not going up till
the last minute, leaving again in the morning still half asleep, hardly
awakened by a rapid wash; and this gust of wind which was continually
sweeping through the corridor, the fatigue of the thirteen hours' work
which threw them on their beds thoroughly worn out, changed this upper
part of the house into an inn traversed by the tired ill-temper of a
host of travellers. Denise had no friend. Of all the young ladies,
one alone, Pauline Cugnot, showed her a certain tenderness; and the
ready-made and under-clothing departments being close to one another,
and in open war, the sympathy between the two saleswomen had hitherto
been confined to a few rare words hastily exchanged. Pauline occupied
a neighbouring room, to the right of Denise's; but as she disappeared
immediately after dinner and only returned at eleven o'clock, the
latter only heard her get into bed, without ever meeting her after
business hours.

This evening, Denise had made up her mind to play the part of bootmaker
once more. She was holding her shoes, turning them about, wondering how
she could make them last another month. At last she decided to take a
strong needle and sew on the soles, which were threatening to leave the
uppers. During this time a collar and a pair of cuffs were soaking in
the basin full of soapsuds.

Every evening she heard the same noises, the young ladies coming in
one by one, short whispered conversations, laughing, and sometimes a
dispute, which they stifled as much as possible. Then the beds creaked,
the tired occupants yawned, and fell into a heavy slumber. Denise's
left hand neighbour often talked in her sleep, which frightened her
very much at first. Perhaps others, like herself, stopped up to mend
their things, in spite of the rules; but if so they probably took the
same precautions as she did herself, keeping very quiet, avoiding the
least shock, for a shivering silence reigned in all the rooms.

It had struck eleven about ten minutes before when a sound of footsteps
made her raise her head. Another young lady late! And she recognised it
to be Pauline, by hearing the latter open the door next to hers.

But she was astonished when Pauline returned quietly and knocked at her
door.

"Make haste, it's me!"

The saleswomen not being allowed to visit each other in their rooms,
Denise quickly unlocked the door, so that her neighbour should not be
caught by Madame Cabin, who was supposed to see this rule strictly
carried out.

"Was she there?" asked Denise, closing the door.

"Who? Madame Cabin?" replied Pauline. "Oh, I'm not afraid of her, she's
easily settled with a five-franc-piece!" Then she added: "I've wanted
to have a talk with you for a long time past. But it's impossible to do
so downstairs. Besides, you looked so down-hearted to-night at table."

Denise thanked her, and invited her to sit down, touched by her
good-natured air. But in the trouble caused by the sudden visit she had
not laid down the shoe she was mending, and Pauline's eyes fell on it
at once. She shook her head, looked round and perceived the collar and
cuffs in the basin.

"My poor child, I thought as much," resumed she. "Ah, I know what it
is! When I first came up from Chartres, and old Cugnot didn't send me a
sou, I many a time washed my own chemises! Yes, yes, even my chemises!
I had two, and there was always one in soak."

She sat down, still out of breath from running. Her large face,
with small bright eyes, and big tender mouth, had a certain grace,
notwithstanding the rather coarse features. And, without transition,
all of a sudden, she related her history; her childhood at the mill;
old Cugnot ruined by a lawsuit; her being sent to Paris to make
her fortune with twenty francs in her pocket; then her start as a
shop-girl in a shop at Batignolles, then at The Ladies' Paradise—a
terrible start, all the sufferings and all the privations imaginable;
she then spoke of her present life, of the two hundred francs she
earned a month, the pleasures she indulged in, the carelessness in
which she allowed her days to glide away. Some jewellery, a brooch, a
watch-chain, glistened on her dark-blue cloth dress, coquettishly made
to the figure; and she wore a velvet hat, ornamented with a large grey
feather.

Denise had turned very red, with her shoe. She began to stammer out an
explanation.

"But the same thing happened to me," repeated Pauline. "Come, come, I'm
older than you, I'm over twenty-six, though I don't look it. Just tell
me your little troubles."

Denise yielded, conquered by this friendship so frankly offered. She
sat down in her petticoat, with an old shawl over her shoulders, near
Pauline in full dress; and an interesting gossip ensued.

It was freezing in the room, the cold seemed to run down the bare
prison-like walls; but they did not notice that their fingers were
almost frost-bitten, they were so fully taken up by their conversation.
Little by little, Denise opened her heart entirely, spoke of Jean and
Pépé, and how much the money question tortured her; which led them both
to abuse the young ladies in the dress department. Pauline relieved her
mind.

"Oh, the hussies! If they treated you properly and in a friendly
manner, you could make more than a hundred francs a month."

"Everybody is down on me, and I'm sure I don't know why," said Denise,
beginning to cry. "Look at Monsieur Bourdoncle, he's always watching me
for a chance of finding me in fault, as if I were in his way. Old Jouve
is about the only one—"

The other interrupted her. "What, that old monkey of an inspector! Ah!
my dear, don't you trust him. You know, men with big noses like his! He
may display his decoration as much as he likes, there's a story about
something that happened to him in our department. But what a child you
are to grieve like this! What a misfortune it is to be so sensitive! Of
course, what is happening to you happens to every one; they are making
you pay your footing."

She seized her hands and kissed her, carried away by her good heart.
The money-question was a graver one. Certainly a poor girl could not
support her two brothers, pay the little one's board and lodging, and
regale the big one's mistresses with the few paltry sous picked up from
the others' cast-off customers; for it was to be feared that she would
not get any salary until business improved in March.

"Listen to me, it's impossible for you to live in this way any longer.
If I were you—" said Pauline.

But a noise in the corridor stopped her. It was probably Marguerite,
who was accused of prowling about at night to watch the others.
Pauline, who was still pressing her friend's hand, looked at her for a
moment in silence, listening. Then she resumed in a very low tone, with
an air of tender conviction: "If I were you I should take some one."

"How some one?" murmured Denise, not understanding at first.

When she understood, she withdrew her hands, looking very confused.
This advice made her feel awkward, like an idea which had never
occurred to her, and of which she could not see the advantage.

"Oh! no," replied she simply.

"Then," continued Pauline, "you'll never manage, I tell you so,
plainly. Here are the figures: forty francs for the little one, a five
franc piece now and again for the big one; and then there's yourself,
you can't always go about dressed like a pauper, with boots that make
the other girls laugh at you; yes, really, your boots do you a deal of
harm. Take some one, it would be much better."

"No," repeated Denise.

"Well! you are very foolish. It's inevitable, my dear, and so natural.
We all do it sooner or later. Look at me, I was a probationer, like
you, without a sou. We are boarded and lodged, it's true; but there's
our dress; besides, it's impossible to go without a copper in one's
pocket, shut up in one's room, watching the flies. So you see girls
forcibly drift into it."

She then spoke of her first lover, a lawyer's clerk whom she had met at
a party at Meudon. After him, came a post-office clerk. And, finally,
ever since the autumn, she had been keeping company with a salesman at
the Bon Marche, a very nice tall fellow, with whom she spent all her
leisure time. Never more than one sweetheart at a time, however. She
was very respectable in her way, and became indignant when she heard
talk of those girls who yielded to the first-comer.

"I don't tell you to misconduct yourself, you know!" said she quickly.
"For instance, I should not like to be seen with your Clara, for fear
people should say I was as bad as she. But when a girl stays quietly
with one lover, and has nothing to blame herself for—do you think that
wrong?"

"No," replied Denise. "But I don't care for it, that's all." There was
a fresh silence. In the small icy-cold room they were smiling to each
other, greatly affected by this whispered conversation. "Besides, one
must have some affection for some one before doing so," resumed she,
her cheeks scarlet.

Pauline was astonished. She set up a laugh, and embraced her a second
time, saying: "But, my darling, when you meet and like each other! You
are funny! People won't force you. Look here, would you like Baugé to
take us somewhere in the country on Sunday? He'll bring one of his
friends."

"No," said Denise, in her gently obstinate way.

Pauline insisted no longer. Each one was free to act as she liked. What
she had said was out of pure kindness of heart, for she felt really
grieved to see a comrade so miserable. And as it was nearly midnight,
she got up to leave. But before doing so she forced Denise to accept
the six francs she wanted, begging her not to trouble about the matter,
but to repay the amount when she earned more.

"Now," added she, "blow your candle out, so that they can't see which
door opens; you can light it again immediately."

The candle blown out, they shook hands; and Pauline ran off to her
room, without leaving any trace in the darkness but the vague rustling
of her petticoats amidst the deep slumber of the occupants of the other
little rooms.

Before going to bed Denise wanted to finish her boot and do her
washing. The cold became sharper still as the night advanced; but she
did not feel it, this conversation had stirred up her heart's blood.
She was not shocked, it seemed to her that every one had a right to
arrange her life as she liked, when alone and free in the world. She
had never given way to such ideas; her sense of right and her healthy
nature maintained her naturally in the respectability in which she
had always lived. About one o'clock she at last went to bed. No, she
did not love any one. So what was the use of disarranging her life,
of spoiling the maternal devotion she had vowed for her two brothers?
However, she did not sleep; a crowd of indistinct forms passed before
her closed eyes, vanishing in the darkness.

From this moment Denise took an interest in the love-stories of the
department. During the slack moments they were constantly occupied by
their affairs with the men. Gossiping tales flew about, stories of
adventures amused the girls for a week. Clara was a scandal; she had
three lovers, without counting a string of chance admirers whom she had
in tow; and, if she did not leave the shop, where she did the least
work possible, disdaining the money which she could easily and more
agreeably earn elsewhere, it was to shield herself from her family;
for she was mortally afraid of old Prunaire, who threatened to come to
Paris and break her arms and legs with his clogs. Marguerite, on the
contrary, behaved very well, and was not known to have any lover; this
caused some surprise, for all knew of her adventure—her coming to
Paris to be confined in secret; how had she come to have the child, if
she were so virtuous? And there were some who hinted at an accident,
adding that she was now reserving herself for her cousin at Grenoble.
The young ladies also joked about Madame Frédéric, declaring that she
was discreetly connected with certain great personages; the truth
was that they knew nothing of her love-affairs; for she disappeared
every evening, stiff as starch in her widow's ill-temper, evidently
in a great hurry, though nobody knew where she was running off to
so eagerly. As to Madame Aurélie's passions, her pretended larks
with obedient young men, they were certainly false; mere inventions,
spread abroad by discontented saleswomen just for fun. Perhaps she had
formerly displayed rather too much motherly feeling for one of her
son's friends, but she now occupied too high a place in the drapery
business to allow her to amuse herself with such childish matters. Then
there was the crowd leaving in the evening, nine girls out of every ten
having young men waiting for them at the door; in the Place Gaillon,
along the Rue de la Michodière, and the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, there
was always quite a troop of men standing motionless, watching for the
girls coming out; and, when they came, each one gave his arm to his
lady and disappeared, talking with a marital tranquillity.

But what troubled Denise most was to have discovered Colomban's secret.
He was continually to be seen on the other side of the street, at the
door of The Old Elbeuf, his eyes raised, and never quitting the young
ladies in the ready-made department. When he felt Denise was watching
him he blushed and turned away his head, as if afraid she might betray
him to Geneviève, although there had been no further connection
between the Baudus and their niece since her engagement at The Ladies'
Paradise. At first she had thought he was in love with Marguerite, on
seeing his despairing looks, for Marguerite, being very quiet, and
sleeping in the building, was not very easy to get at. But what was
her astonishment to find that Colomban's ardent glances were intended
for Clara. He had been like that for months, devoured by passion on
the opposite side of the way, without finding the courage to declare
himself; and that for a girl who was perfectly free, who lived in the
Rue Louis-le-Grand, and whom he could have spoken to any evening before
she walked off on the arm of a fresh fellow! Clara herself appeared
to have no idea of her conquest. Denise's discovery filled her with a
painful emotion. Was love, then, such a stupid thing as that? What!
this fellow, who had real happiness within his reach, was ruining his
life, enraptured with this good-for-nothings girl as if she were a
saint! From that day she was seized with a feeling of grief every time
she saw Geneviève's pale and suffering face behind the green panes of
The Old Elbeuf.

In the evening, Denise could not help thinking a great deal, on seeing
the young ladies march off with their sweethearts. Those who did not
sleep at The Ladies' Paradise, disappeared until the next day, bringing
back into their departments an outside odour, a sort of troubling,
unknown impression. The young girl was sometimes obliged to reply with
a smile to a friendly nod from Pauline, whom Baugé waited for every
evening regularly at half-past eight, at the corner of the fountain
in the Place Gaillon. Then, after having gone out the last and taken
a furtive walk, always alone, she was invariably the first in, going
upstairs to work, or to bed, her head filled with dreams, full of
curiosity about this outdoor life, of which she knew nothing. She
certainly did not envy the young ladies, she was happy in her solitude,
in that unsociableness to which her timidity condemned her, as to
a refuge; but her imagination carried her away, she tried to guess
things, evoking the pleasures constantly described before her, the
cafés, the restaurants, the theatres, the Sundays spent on the water
and in the country taverns. This filled her with a mental weakness, a
desire mingled with lassitude; and she seemed to be already tired of
those amusements which she had never tasted.

However, there was but little room for these dangerous dreams in her
daily working life. During the thirteen hours' hard work in the shop,
there was no time for any display of tenderness between the salesmen
and the saleswomen. If the continual fight for money had not abolished
the sexes, the unceasing press of business which occupied their minds
and fatigued their bodies would have sufficed to kill all desire. But
very few love-affairs had been known in the establishment amidst the
hostilities and friendships between the men and the women, the constant
elbowings from department to department. They were all nothing but
the wheels, turned round by the immense machine, abdicating their
personalities, simply contributing their strength to this commonplace,
powerful total. It was only outside that they resumed their individual
lives, with the abrupt flame of awakening passions.

Denise, however, one day saw Albert Lhomme slipping a note into the
hand of a young lady in the underclothing department, after having
several times passed through with an air of indifference. The dead
season, which lasts from December to February was commencing; and
she had periods of rest, hours spent on her feet, her eyes wandering
all over the shop, waiting for customers. The young ladies of her
department were especially friendly with the salesmen who served the
lace, but their intimacy never went any further than some rather risky
jokes, exchanged in whispers. In the lace department there was a
second-hand, a gay youth who pursued Clara with all sorts of abominable
stories, simply for a joke—so careless at heart that he made no
effort to meet her outside; and thus it was from counter to counter,
between the gentlemen and the young ladies, a series of winks, nods,
and remarks, which they alone understood. At times they indulged in
some sly gossip with their backs half turned and with a dreamy air, in
order to put the terrible Bourdoncle off the scent. As for Deloche, for
a long time he contented himself with smiling at Denise when he met
her; but, getting bolder, he occasionally murmured a friendly word. The
day she had noticed Madame Aurélie's son giving a note to the young
lady in the under-linen department, Deloche was asking her if she had
enjoyed her lunch, feeling to want to say something, and unable to find
anything more amiable. He also saw the white paper; and looking at the
young girl, they both blushed at this intrigue carried on before them.

But under these rumours which gradually awoke the woman in her, Denise
still retained her infantine peace of mind. The one thing that stirred
her heart was meeting with Hutin. But even that was only gratitude
in her eyes; she simply thought herself touched by the young man's
politeness. He could not bring a customer to the department without her
feeling quite confused. Several times, on returning from a pay-desk,
she found herself making a _détour_ uselessly passing the silk counter,
her bosom heaving with emotion. One afternoon she met Mouret there, who
seemed to follow her with a smile. He paid no more attention to her
now, only addressing a few words to her from time to time, to give her
a few hints about her toilet, and to joke with her, as an impossible
girl, a little savage almost like a boy, of whom he would never make a
coquette, notwithstanding all his knowledge of women; sometimes he even
ventured to laugh at and tease her, without wishing to acknowledge to
himself the charm which this little saleswoman inspired in him, with
her comical head of hair. Before this mute smile, Denise trembled, as
if she were in fault. Did he know why she was going through the silk
department, when she could not herself have explained what made her
make such a _détour_.

Hutin, moreover, did not seem to be aware in any way of the young
girl's grateful looks. The shop-girls were not his style, he affected
to despise them, boasting more than ever of extraordinary adventures
with the lady customers; a baroness had been struck with him at his
counter, and the wife of an architect had fallen into his arms one day
when he went to her house about an error in measuring he had made.
Beneath this Norman boasting he simply concealed girls picked up in
cafés and music-halls. Like all young gentlemen in the drapery line,
he had a mania for spending, fighting in his department the whole week
with a miser's greediness, with the sole wish to squander his money on
Sunday on the racecourses, in the restaurants, and dancing-saloons;
never thinking of saving a penny, spending his salary as soon as he
drew it, absolutely indifferent about the future. Favier did not join
him in these parties. Hutin and he, so friendly in the shop, bowed to
each other at the door, where all further intercourse ceased. A great
many of the shopmen, in continual contact indoors, became strangers,
ignorant of each other's lives, as soon as they set foot in the
streets. But Liénard was Hutin's intimate friend. Both lived in the
same lodging-house, the Hôtel de Smyrne, in the Rue Sainte-Anne, a
murky building entirely inhabited by shop assistants. In the morning
they arrived together; then, in the evening, the first one free, after
the folding was done, waited for the other at the Café Saint-Roch, in
the Rue Saint-Roch, a little café where the employees of The Ladies'
Paradise usually met, brawling, drinking, and playing cards amidst
the smoke of their pipes. They often stopped there till one in the
morning, until the tired landlord turned them out. For the last month
they had been spending three evenings a week at a free-and-easy at
Montmartre; and they took their friends with them, creating a success
for Mademoiselle Laure, a music-hall singer, Hutin's latest conquest,
whose talent they applauded with such violent blows and such a clamour
that the police had been obliged to interfere on two occasions.

The winter passed in this way, and Denise at last obtained three
hundred francs a-year fixed salary. It was quite time, for her shoes
were completely worn out. For the last month she had avoided going out,
for fear of bursting them entirely.

"What a noise you make with your shoes, mademoiselle!" Madame Aurélie
very often remarked, with an irritated look. "It's intolerable. What's
the matter with your feet?"

The day Denise appeared with a pair of cloth boots, for which she had
given five francs, Marguerite and Clara expressed their astonishment in
a kind of half whisper, so as to be heard.

"Hullo! the 'unkempt girl' has given up her goloshes," said the one.

"Ah," retorted the other, "she must have cried over them. They were her
mother's."

In point of fact, there was a general uprising against Denis. The
girls of her department had found out her friendship with Pauline, and
thought they saw a certain bravado in this affection displayed for a
saleswoman of a rival counter. They spoke of treason, accused her of
going and repeating their slightest words. The war between the two
departments became more violent than ever, it had never waxed so warm;
hard words were exchanged like cannon-balls, and there was even a slap
given one evening behind some boxes of chemises. Perhaps this remote
quarrel arose from the fact that the young ladies in the under-linen
department wore woollen dresses, whilst those in the ready-made one
wore silk. In any case, the former spoke of their neighbours with the
shocked air of respectable girls; and facts proved that they were
right, for it had been remarked that the silk dresses appeared to have
a certain influence on the dissolute habits of the young ladies who
wore them. Clara was taunted with her troop of lovers, even Marguerite
had, so to say, had her child thrown in her face, whilst Madame
Frédéric was accused of all sorts of concealed passions. And this was
solely on account of that Denise!

"Now, young ladies, no ugly words; behave yourselves!" Madame Aurélie
would say with her imperial air, amidst the rising passions of her
little kingdom. "Show who you are."

At heart she preferred to remain neutral. As she confessed one day,
when talking to Mouret, these girls were all about the same, one was as
good as the other. But she suddenly became impassioned when she learnt
from Bourdoncle that he had just caught her son downstairs kissing a
young girl belonging to the under-linen department, the saleswoman
to whom he had passed several letters. It was abominable, and she
roundly accused the under-linen department of having laid a trap for
Albert. Yes, it was a got-up affair against herself, they were trying
to dishonour her by ruining a child without experience, after seeing
that it was impossible to attack her department. Her only object in
making such a noise was to complicate the business, for she knew what
her son was, fully aware that he was capable of doing all sorts of
stupid things. For a time the matter assumed a grave aspect, Mignot,
the glove salesman, was mixed up in it. He was a great friend of
Albert's, and the rumour got circulated that he favoured the mistresses
Albert sent him, girls with big chignons, who rummaged in the boxes
for hours together; and there was also a story about some Swedish
kid gloves given to the girl of the under-linen department which was
never properly cleared up. At last the scandal was hushed up out of
regard for Madame Aurélie, whom Mouret himself treated with deference.
Bourdoncle contented himself a week after with dismissing, for some
slight offence, the girl who allowed herself to be kissed. If they shut
their eyes to the terrible doings of their employees outdoors, the
managers did not tolerate the least nonsense in the house.

And it was Denise who suffered for all this. Madame Aurélie, although
perfectly well aware of what was going on, nourished a secret rancour
against her; she saw her laughing one evening with Pauline, and took
it for bravado, concluding that they were gossiping over her son's
love-affairs. And she caused the young girl to be isolated more than
ever in the department. For some time she had been thinking of inviting
the young ladies to spend a Sunday near Rambouillet, at Rigolles, where
she had bought a country house with the first hundred thousand francs
she had saved; and she suddenly decided to do so; it would be a means
of punishing Denise, of putting her openly on one side. She was the
only one not invited. For a fortnight in advance, nothing was talked of
but this party; the girls kept their eyes on the sky, and had already
mapped out the whole day, looking forward to all sorts of pleasures:
donkey-riding, milk and brown bread. And they were to be all women,
which was more amusing still! As a rule, Madame Aurélie killed her
holidays in this way, going out with her lady friends; for she was so
little accustomed to being at home, she always felt so uncomfortable,
so strange, during the rare occasions she could dine with her husband
and son, that she preferred to throw up even those occasions, and go
and dine at a restaurant. Lhomme went his own way, enraptured to resume
his bachelor existence, and Albert, greatly relieved, went off with
his beauties; so that, unaccustomed to being at home, feeling in each
other's way, and wearying each other when together on a Sunday, they
paid nothing more than a flying visit to the house, as to some common
hôtel where people take a bed for the night. Regarding the excursion to
Rambouillet, Madame Aurélie simply declared that propriety prevented
Albert joining them, and that the father himself would display great
tact by refusing to come; a declaration which enchanted the two men.
However, the happy day was drawing near, and the young girls chattered
more than ever, relating their preparations in the way of dress, as if
they were going on a six months' tour, whilst Denise had to listen to
them, pale and silent in her abandonment.

"Ah, they make you wild, don't they?" said Pauline to her one morning.
"If I were you I would just catch them nicely! They are going to enjoy
themselves. I would enjoy myself too. Come with us on Sunday, Baugé is
going to take me to Joinville."

"No, thanks," said the young girl with her quiet obstinacy.

"But why not? Are you still afraid of being taken by force?"

And Pauline laughed heartily. Denise also smiled. She knew how such
things came about; it was always during some similar excursions that
the young ladies had made the acquaintance of their first lovers,
brought by chance by a friend; and she did not want to.

"Come," resumed Pauline, "I assure you that Baugé won't bring any one.
We shall be all by ourselves. As you don't want to, I won't go and
marry you off, of course."

Denise hesitated, tormented by such a strong desire to go that the
blood flew to her cheeks. Since the girls had been talking about their
country pleasures she had felt stifled, overcome by a longing for fresh
air, dreaming of the tall grass into which she could sink down up to
the neck, of the giant trees the shadows of which should flow over her
like so much cooling water. Her childhood, spent in the rich verdure of
the Cotentin, was awakening with a regret for sun and air.

"Well! yes," said she at last.

Everything was soon arranged. Baugé was to come and fetch them at eight
o'clock, in the Place Gaillon; from there they would take a cab to the
Vincennes Station. Denise, whose twenty-five francs a month was quickly
swallowed up by the children, had only been able to do up her old black
woollen dress, by trimming it with strips of check poplin; and she had
also made herself a bonnet, a shape covered with silk and ornamented
with a simple blue ribbon. In this simple attire she looked very young,
like an overgrown girl, exceedingly clean, rather shamefaced and
embarrassed by her luxuriant hair, which appeared through the nakedness
of her bonnet.

Pauline, on the contrary, displayed a pretty violet and white striped
silk dress, a hat richly trimmed and laden with feathers, jewels round
her neck and rings on her fingers, which gave her the appearance of
a well-to-do tradesman's wife. It was like a Sunday revenge on the
woollen dress she was obliged to wear all the week in the shop; whilst
Denise, who wore her uniform silk from Monday to Saturday, resumed, on
Sunday, her thin woollen dress of misery.

"There's Baugé," said Pauline, pointing to a tall fellow standing near
the fountain.

She introduced her lover, and Denise felt at her ease at once, he
seemed such a nice fellow. Baugé, big, strong as an ox, had a long
Flemish face, in which his expressionless eyes twinkled with an
infantine puerility. Born at Dunkerque, the younger son of a grocer,
he had come to Paris, almost turned out by his father and brother,
who thought him a fearful dunce. However, he made three thousand five
hundred francs a year at the Bon Marche. He was rather stupid, but a
very good hand in the linen department. The women thought him nice.

"And the cab?" asked Pauline.

They had to go as far as the Boulevard. It was already rather warm
in the sun, the glorious May morning seemed to laugh on the street
pavement. There was not a cloud in the sky; quite a gaiety floated in
the blue air, transparent as crystal. An involuntary smile played on
Denise's lips; she breathed freely; it seemed to her that her bosom
was throwing off the stifling sensation of six months. At last she
no longer felt the stuffy air and the heavy stones of The Ladies'
Paradise weighing her down! She had then the prospect of a long day
in the country before her! and it was like a new lease of life, an
endless joy, into which she entered with all the glee of a little
child. However, when in the cab, she turned her eyes away, feeling very
awkward as Pauline bent over to kiss her lover.

"Oh, look!" said she, her head still at the window, "there's Monsieur
Lhomme. How he does walk!"

"He's got his French horn," added Pauline, leaning out "What an old
stupid! One would think he was running to meet his girl!"

Lhomme, with his instrument under his arm, was spinning along past the
Gymnase Theatre, his nose in the air, laughing with delight at the
thought of the treat in store for him. He was going to spend the day
at a friend's, a flautist at a small theatre, where a few amateurs
indulged in a little chamber music on Sundays as soon as breakfast was
over.

"At eight o'clock! what a madman!" resumed Pauline. "And you know that
Madame Aurélie and all her clique must have taken the Rambouillet train
that left at half-past six. It's very certain the husband and wife
won't come across each other."

Both then commenced talking of the Rambouillet excursion. They did
not wish it to be rainy for the others, because they themselves would
be obliged to suffer as well; but if a cloud could burst over there
without extending to Joinville, it would be funny all the same. Then
they attacked Clara, a dirty slut, who hardly knew how to spend the
money her men gave her: hadn't she bought three pairs of boots all at
the same time, which she threw away the next day, after having cut them
with her scissors, on account of her feet, which were covered with
bunions. In fact, the young ladies were just as bad as the fellows,
they squandered everything, never saving a sou, wasting two or three
hundred francs a month on dress and dainties.

"But he's only got one arm," said Baugé all of a sudden. "How does he
manage to play the French horn?"

He had kept his eyes on Lhomme. Pauline, who sometimes amused herself
by playing on his stupidity, told him the cashier kept the instrument
up by placing it against a wall. He thoroughly believed her, and
thought it very ingenious. Then, when stricken with remorse, she
explained to him in what way Lhomme had adapted to his stump a system
of keys which he made use of as a hand, he shook his head, full of
suspicion, declaring that they wouldn't make him swallow that.

"You are really too stupid!" she retorted, laughingly. "Never mind, I
love you all the same."

They reached the Vincennes Station just in time for a train. Baugé
paid; but Denise had previously declared that she wished to pay her
share of the expenses; they would settle up in the evening. They took
second-class tickets, and found the train full of a gay, noisy throng.
At Nogent, a wedding-party got out, amidst a storm of laughter. At
last they arrived at Joinville, and went straight to the island to
order lunch; and they stopped there, lingering on the banks of the
Marne, under the tall poplars. It was rather cold in the shade, a sharp
breeze was blowing in the sunshine, extending far into the distance,
on the other side of the river, the limpid purity of a plain dotted
with cultivated fields. Denise lingered behind Pauline and her lover,
who were walking with their arms round each other's waists. She had
picked a handful of buttercups, and was watching the flow of the river,
happy, her heart beating, her head drooping, each time Baugé leant
over to kiss his mistress. Her eyes filled with tears. And yet she was
not suffering. What was the matter with her that she had this feeling
of suffocation? and why did this vast landscape, where she had looked
forward to having so much enjoyment, fill her with a vague regret she
could not explain? Then, at lunch, Pauline's noisy laugh bewildered
her. That young lady, who loved the suburbs with the passion of an
actress living in the gas-light, in the thick air of a crowd, wanted to
lunch in an arbour, notwithstanding the sharp wind. She was delighted
with the sudden gusts which blew up the table-cloth, she thought the
arbour very funny in its nudity, with the freshly-painted trellis-work,
the lozenges of which cast a reflection on the cloth. She ate
ravenously, devouring everything with the voracity of a girl badly fed
at the shop, making up for it outside by giving herself an indigestion
with the things she liked; this was her vice, she spent most of her
money in cakes and indigestible dainties of all kinds, favourite dishes
stowed away in her leisure moments. As Denise seemed to have had enough
of the eggs, fried fish, and stewed chicken, she restrained herself,
not daring to order any strawberries, a luxury still very dear, for
fear of running the bill up too high.

"Now, what are we going to do?" asked Baugé when the coffee was served.

As a rule Pauline and he returned to Paris to dine, and finish
their day in some theatre. But at Denise's request, they decided to
stay at Joinville all day; they would be able to have their fill of
the country. So they stopped and wandered about the fields all the
afternoon. They spoke for a moment of going for a row, but abandoned
the idea; Baugé was not a good waterman. But they found themselves
walking along the banks of the Marne, all the same, and were greatly
interested by the life on the river, the squadrons of yawls and other
boats, and the young men who formed the crews. The sun was going down,
they were returning to Joinville, when they saw two boats coming down
stream at a racing speed, exchanging volleys of insults, in which the
repeated cries of "Sawbones!" and "Counter-jumpers!" dominated.

"Hallo!" said Pauline, "it's Monsieur Hutin."

"Yes," said Baugé, shading his face with his hand, "I recognise his
mahogany boat. The other one is manned by students, no doubt."

And he explained the deadly hatred existing between the young students
and the shopmen. Denise, on hearing Hutin's name mentioned, suddenly
stopped, and followed, with fixed eyes, the frail skiff spinning along
like an arrow. She tried to distinguish the young man among the rowers,
but could only manage to make out the white dresses of two women, one
of whom, who was steering, wore a red hat. Their voices were drowned by
the rapid flow of the river.

"Pitch 'em in, the sawbones!"

"Duck 'em, the counter-jumpers!"

In the evening they returned to the restaurant on the island. But it
had turned too chilly, they were obliged to dine in one of the closed
rooms, where the table-cloths were still damp from the humidity of
the winter. After six o'clock the tables were all occupied, yet the
excursionists still hurried in, looking for a corner; and the waiters
continued to bring in more chairs and forms, putting the plates closer
together, and crowding the people up. It was stifling, they had to open
the windows. Outdoors, the day was waning, a greenish twilight fell
from the poplars so quickly that the proprietor, unprepared for these
meals under cover, and having no lamps, was obliged to put a wax candle
on each table. The uproar became deafening with laughing, calling out,
and the clacking of the table utensils; the candles flared and melted
in the draught from the windows, whilst moths fluttered about in the
air, warmed by the odour of the food, and traversed by sudden gusts of
cold wind.

"What fun they're having, eh?" said Pauline, very busy with a plate
of matelote, which she declared extraordinary. She leant over to add:
"Didn't you see Monsieur Albert over there?"

It was really young Lhomme, in the middle of three questionable women,
a vulgar-looking old lady in a yellow bonnet, suspiciously like a
procuress, and two young girls of thirteen or fourteen, forward and
painfully impudent creatures. He, already intoxicated, was knocking his
glass on the table, and talking of drubbing the waiter if he did not
bring some "liqueurs" immediately.

"Well!" resumed Pauline, "there's a family, if you like! the mother at
Rambouillet, the father in Paris; and the son at Joinville; they won't
tread on one another's toes!"

Denise, who detested noise, smiled, however, and tasted the joy of
ceasing to think, amid such uproar. But all at once they heard a
noise in the other room, a burst of voices which drowned the others.
They were yelling, and must have come to blows, for one could hear
a scuffle, chairs falling down, quite a struggle, amid which the
river-cries again resounded:

"Duck 'em, the counter-jumpers!"

"Pitch 'em in, the sawbones!"

And when the hôtel-keeper's loud voice had calmed this tempest, Hutin
suddenly made his appearance, wearing a red jersey, and a little cap
at the back of his head; he had on his arm the tall, fair girl, who
had been steering, and who, in order to wear the boat's colours,
had planted a bunch of poppies behind her ear. They were greeted on
entering by a storm of applause; and his face beamed with pride, he
swelled out his chest, assuming a nautical rolling gait, showing off
a blow which had blackened his cheek, puffed up with joy at being
noticed. Behind them followed the crew. They took a table by storm, and
the uproar became something fearful.

"It appears," explained Baugé, after having listened to the
conversation behind him, "it appears that the students have recognised
the woman with Hutin as an old friend from their neighbourhood, who now
sings in a music-hall at Montmartre. So they were kicking up a row for
her. These students never pay their women."

"In any case," said Pauline, stiffly, "she's jolly ugly, with her
carroty hair. Really, I don't know where Monsieur Hutin picks them up,
but they're an ugly, dirty lot."

Denise had turned pale, and felt an icy coldness, as if her heart's
blood were flowing away, drop by drop. She had already, on seeing the
boats from the bank, felt a shiver; but now she no longer had any
doubt, this girl was certainly with Hutin. With trembling hands, and a
choking sensation in her throat, she ceased eating.

"What's the matter?" asked her friend.

"Nothing," stammered she; "it's rather warm here."

But Hutin's table was close to theirs, and when he perceived Baugé,
whom he knew, he commenced a conversation in a shrill voice, in order
to attract further attention.

"I say," cried he, "are you as virtuous as ever at the Bon Marche?"

"Not so much as all that," replied Baugé, turning very red.

"That won't do! You know they only take virgins there, and there's a
confessional box permanently fixed for the salesmen who venture to look
at them. A house where they marry you—no, thanks!"

The other fellows began to laugh. Liénard, who belonged to the crew,
added: "It isn't like the Louvre. There they have a midwife attached to
the ready-made department. My word of honour!"

The gaiety increased; Pauline herself burst out, the idea of the
midwife seemed so funny. But Baugé was annoyed by the jokes about the
innocence of his house. He launched out all at once: "Oh, you're not
too well off at The Ladies' Paradise. Sacked for the slightest thing!
And a governor who seems to tout for his lady customers."

Hutin no longer listened to him, but commenced to praise the house
in the Place Clichy. He knew a young girl there so excessively
aristocratic that the customers dared not speak to her for fear of
humiliating her. Then, drawing up closer, he related that he had made
a hundred and fifteen francs that week; oh! a capital week. Favier
left behind with fifty-two francs, the whole lot floored. And it was
visible he was bursting with money, he would not go to bed till he had
liquidated the hundred and fifteen francs. Then, as he gradually became
intoxicated, he attacked Robineau, that fool of a second-hand who
affected to keep himself apart, going so far as to refuse to walk in
the street with one of his salesmen.

"Shut up," said Liénard; "you talk too much, old man."

The heat had increased, the candles were guttering down on to the
table-cloths stained with wine; and through the open windows, when the
noise within ceased for an instant, there entered a distant prolonged
voice, the voice of the river, and of the tall poplars sleeping in the
calm night. Baugé had just called for the bill, seeing that Denise was
now quite white, her throat choked by the tears she withheld; but the
waiter did not appear, and she had to submit to Hutin's loud talk. He
was now boasting of being more superior to Liénard, because Liénard
cared for nothing, simply squandering his father's money, whilst he,
Hutin, was spending his own earnings, the fruit of his intelligence. At
last Baugé paid, and the two girls went out.

"There's one from the Louvre," murmured Pauline in the outer room,
looking at a tall thin girl putting on her mantle.

"You don't know her. You can't tell," said the young man.

"Oh, can't I? They've got a way of draping themselves. She belongs to
the midwife's department! If she heard, she must be pleased."

They got outside at last, and Denise heaved a sigh of relief. For
a moment she had thought she was going to die in that suffocating
heat, amidst all those cries; and she still attributed her faintness
to the want of air. Now she breathed freely in the freshness of the
starry night. As the two young girls were leaving the garden of the
restaurant, a timid voice murmured in the shade: "Good evening, ladies."

It was Deloche. They had not seen him at the further end of the front
room, where he was dining alone, after having come from Paris on foot,
for the pleasure of the walk. On recognising this friendly voice,
Denise, suffering, yielded mechanically to the want of some support.

"Monsieur Deloche, come back with us," said she. "Give me your arm."

Pauline and Baugé had already gone on in front. They were astonished,
never thinking it would turn out like this, and with this fellow above
all. However, as there was still an hour before the train started,
they went to the end of the island, following the bank, under the tall
poplars; and, from time to time, they turned round, murmuring: "But
where are they? Ah, there they are. It's rather funny, all the same."

At first Denise and Deloche remained silent The noise from the
restaurant was slowly dying away, changing into a musical sweetness in
the calmness of the night; and they went further in amongst the cool of
the trees, still feverish from that furnace, the lights of which were
disappearing one by one behind the foliage. Opposite them there was a
sort of shadowy wall, a mass of shade in which the trunks and branches
buried themselves so compact that they could not even distinguish any
trace of the path. However, they went forward quietly, without fear.
Then, their eyes getting more accustomed to the darkness, they saw
on the right the trunks of the poplars, resembling sombre columns
upholding the domes of their branches, pierced with stars; whilst on
the right the water assumed occasionally in the darkness the brightness
of a mirror. The wind was subsiding, they no longer heard anything but
the flowing of the river.

"I am very pleased to have met you," stammered Deloche at last, making
up his mind to speak first "You can't think how happy you render me in
consenting to walk with me."

And, aided by the darkness, after many awkward attempts, he ventured
to tell her he loved her. He had long wanted to write to her and tell
her so; and perhaps she would never have known it had it not been for
this lovely night coming to his assistance, this water that murmured
so softly, and these trees which screened them with their shade. But
she did not reply; she continued to walk by his side with the same
suffering air. And he was trying to look into her face, when he heard a
sob.

"Oh! good heavens!" he exclaimed, "you are crying, mademoiselle, you
are crying! Have I offended you?"

"No, no," she murmured.

She tried to keep back her tears, but she could not. Even when at
table, she had thought her heart was about to burst. She abandoned
herself in the darkness entirely, stifled by her sobs, thinking that if
Hutin had been in Deloche's place and said such tender things to her,
she would have been unable to resist. This confession made to herself
filled her with confusion. A feeling of shame burnt her face, as if
she had already fallen into the arms of that Hutin, who was disporting
himself with those girls.

"I didn't mean to offend you," continued Deloche, almost crying also.

"No, but listen," said she, her voice still trembling; "I am not at all
angry with you. But never speak to me again as you have just done. What
you ask is impossible. Oh! you're a good fellow, and I'm quite willing
to be your friend, but nothing more. You understand—your friend."

He shuddered. After a few steps taken in silence, he stammered: "In
fact, you don't love me?"

And as she spared him the pain of a brutal "no," he resumed in a soft,
heart-broken voice: "Oh, I was prepared for it. I have never had any
luck, I know I can never be happy. At home, they used to beat me. In
Paris, I've always been a drudge. You see, when one does not know
how to rob other fellows of their mistresses, and when one is too
awkward to earn as much as the others, why the best thing is to go
into some corner and die. Never fear, I sha'n't torment you any more.
As for loving you, you can't prevent me, can you? I shall love you for
nothing, like a dog. There, everything escapes me, that's my luck in
life."

And he, too, burst into tears. She tried to console him, and in their
friendly effusion they found they belonged to the same department—she
to Valognes, he to Briquebec, eight miles from each other, and this was
a fresh tie. His father, a poor, needy bailiff, and sickly jealous,
used to drub him, calling him a bastard, exasperated with his long pale
face and tow-like hair, which, said he, did not belong to the family.
And they got talking about the vast pastures, surrounded with quick-set
hedges, of the shady paths winding beneath the elm trees, and of the
grass grown roads, like the alleys in a park.

Around them night was getting darker, but they could still distinguish
the rushes on the banks, and the interlaced foliage, black beneath the
twinkling stars; and a peacefulness came over them, they forgot their
troubles, brought nearer by their ill-luck, in a closer feeling of
friendship.

"Well?" asked Pauline of Denise, taking her aside when they arrived at
the station.

The young girl understood by the smile and the stare of tender
curiosity; she turned very red and replied: "But—never, my dear! I
told you I did not wish to! He belongs to my part of the country. We
were talking about Valognes." Pauline and Baugé were perplexed, put
out in their ideas, not knowing what to think. Deloche left them in
the Place de la Bastille; like all young probationers, he slept at
the house, where he had to be in by eleven o'clock. Not wishing to
go in with him, Denise, who had got permission to go to the theatre,
accepted Baugé's invitation to accompany Pauline to his home—he, in
order to be nearer his mistress, had moved into the Rue Saint-Roch.
They took a cab, and Denise was stupefied on learning on the way that
her friend was going to stay all night with the young man—nothing was
easier, they only had to give Madame Cabin five francs, all the young
ladies did it. Baugé did the honours of his room, which was furnished
with old Empire furniture, given him by his father. He got angry when
Denise spoke of settling up, but at last accepted the fifteen francs
twelve sous which she had laid on the chest of drawers; but he insisted
on making her a cup of tea, and he struggled with a spirit-lamp and
saucepan, and then was obliged to go and fetch some sugar. Midnight
struck as he was pouring out the tea.

"I must be off," said Denise.

"Presently," replied Pauline. "The theatres don't close so early."

Denise felt uncomfortable in this bachelor's room. She had seen her
friend take off her things, turn down the bed, open it, and pat the
pillows with her naked arms; and these preparations for a night of
love-making carried on before her, troubled her, and made her feel
ashamed, awakening once in her wounded heart the recollection of Hutin.
Such ideas were not very salutary. At last she left them, at a quarter
past twelve. But she went away confused, when in reply to her innocent
"good night," Pauline cried out, thoughtlessly:

"Thanks, we are sure to have a good one!"

The private door leading to Mouret's apartments and to the employees'
bedrooms was in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. Madame Cabin opened the
door and gave a glance in order to mark the return. A night-light
was burning dimly in the hall, and Denise, finding herself in this
uncertain light, hesitated, and was seized with fear, for on turning
the corner of the street, she had seen the door close on the vague
shadow of a man. It must have been the governor coming home from a
party; and the idea that he was there in the dark waiting for her,
perhaps, caused her one of those strange fears with which he still
inspired her, without any reasonable cause. Some one moved on the
first-floor, a boot creaked, and losing her head entirely, she pushed
open a door which led into the shop, and which was always left open for
the night-watch. She was in the printed cotton department.

"Good heavens! what shall I do?" she stammered, in her emotion.

The idea occurred to her that there was another door upstairs leading
to the bedrooms; but she would have to go right across the shop. She
preferred this, notwithstanding the darkness reigning in the galleries.
Not a gas-jet was burning, there were only a few oil-lamps hung
here and there on the branches of the lustres; and these scattered
lights, like yellow patches, their rays lost in the gloom, resembled
the lanterns hung up in a mine. Big shadows loomed in the air; one
could hardly distinguish the piles of goods, which assumed alarming
profiles: fallen columns, squatting beasts, and lurking thieves. The
heavy silence, broken by distant respirations, increased still more the
darkness. However, she saw where she was. The linen department on her
left formed a dead colour, like the blueness of houses in the street
under a summer sky; then she wished to cross the hall immediately,
but running up against some piles of printed calico, she thought it
safer to follow the hosiery department, and then the woollen one.
There she was frightened by a loud noise of snoring. It was Joseph,
the messenger, sleeping behind some articles of mourning. She quickly
ran into the hall, now illuminated by the skylight, with a sort of
crepuscular light which made it appear larger, full of a nocturnal
church-like terror, with the immobility of its shelves, and the shadows
of its yard-measures which described reversed crosses. She now fairly
ran away. In the mercery and glove departments she nearly walked over
some more messengers, and only felt safe when she at last found herself
on the staircase. But upstairs, before the ready-made department, she
was seized with fear on perceiving a lantern moving forward, twinkling
in the darkness. It was the watch, two firemen marking their passage on
the faces of the indicators. She stood a moment unable to understand
it, watched them passing from the shawl to the furniture department,
then to the under-linen one, terrified by their strange manoeuvres, by
the grinding of the key, and by the closing of the iron doors which
made a murderous noise. When they approached, she took refuge in the
lace department, but a sound of talking made her hastily depart, and
run off to the outer door. She had recognised Deloche's voice. He slept
in his department, on a little iron bedstead which he set up himself
every evening; and he was not asleep yet, recalling the pleasant hours
he had just spent.

"What! it's you, mademoiselle?" said Mouret, whom Denise found before
her on the staircase, a small pocket-candlestick in his hand.

She stammered, and tried to explain that she had come to look for
something. But he was not angry. He looked at her with his paternal,
and at the same time curious, air.

"You had permission to go to the theatre, then?"

"Yes, sir."

"And have you enjoyed yourself? What theatre did you go to?"

"I have been in the country, sir."

That made him laugh. Then he asked, laying a certain stress on his
question: "All alone?"

"No, sir; with a lady friend," replied she, her cheeks burning, shocked
at the idea which he no doubt entertained.

He said no more; but he was still looking at her in her simple black
dress and hat trimmed with a single blue ribbon. Was this little
savage going to turn out a pretty girl? She looked all the better for
her day in the open air, charming with her splendid hair falling over
her forehead. And he, who during the last six months had treated her
like a child, sometimes giving her advice, yielding to a desire to
gain experience, to a wicked wish to know how a woman sprung up and
lost herself in Paris, no longer laughed, experiencing a feeling of
surprise and fear mingled with tenderness. No doubt it was a lover who
embellished her like this. At this thought he felt as if stung to the
quick by a favourite bird, with which he was playing.

"Good night, sir," murmured Denise, continuing her way without waiting.

He did not answer, but stood watching her till she disappeared. Then he
entered his own apartments.

CHAPTER VI.

When the dead summer season arrived, there was quite a panic at The
Ladies' Paradise. The reign of terror commenced, a great many employees
were sent away on leave, and others were dismissed in dozens by the
principals, who wished to clear the shop, no customers appearing during
the July and August heat. Mouret, on making his daily inspection with
Bourdoncle, called aside the managers, whom he had prompted during the
winter to engage more men than were necessary, so that the business
should not suffer, leaving them to weed out their staff later on. It
was now a question of reducing expenses by getting rid of quite a
third of the shop people, the weak ones who allowed themselves to be
swallowed up by the strong ones.

"Come," he would say, "you must have some who don't suit you. We can't
keep them all this time doing nothing."

And if the manager hesitated, hardly knowing whom to sacrifice, he
would continue; "Make your arrangements, six salesmen must suffice; you
can take on others in October, there are plenty to be had!"

As a rule Bourdoncle undertook the executions. He had a terrible way of
saying: "Go and be paid!" which fell like a blow from an axe. Anything
served him as a pretext for clearing off the superfluous staff. He
invented misdeeds, speculating on the slightest negligence. "You were
sitting down, sir; go and be paid!" "You dare to answer me; go and be
paid!" "Your shoes are not clean; go and be paid!" And even the bravest
trembled in presence of the massacre which he left behind him. Then,
this system not working quick enough, he invented a trap by which he
got rid in a few days, without fatigue, of the number of salesmen
condemned beforehand. At eight o'clock, he took his stand at the door,
watch in hand; and at three minutes past the hour, the breathless young
people were greeted with the implacable "Go and be paid!" This was a
quick and cleanly method of doing the work.

"You've an ugly mug," he ended by saying one day to a poor wretch whose
nose, all on one side, annoyed him, "go and be paid!"

The favoured ones obtained a fortnight's holiday without pay, which
was a more humane way of lessening the expenses. The salesmen accepted
their precarious situation, obliged to do so by necessity and habit.
Since their arrival in Paris, they had roamed about, commencing
their apprenticeship here, finishing it there, getting dismissed or
themselves resigning all at once, as interest dictated. When business
stood still, the workmen were deprived of their daily bread; and this
was well understood in the indifferent march of the machine, the
useless workmen were quietly thrown aside, like so much old plant,
there was no gratitude shown for services rendered. So much the worse
for those who did not know how to look after themselves!

Nothing else was now talked of in the various departments. Fresh
stories circulated every day. The dismissed salesmen were named, as
one counts the dead in time of cholera. The shawl and the woollen
departments suffered especially; seven employees disappeared from them
in one week. Then the underlinen department was thrown into confusion,
a customer had nearly fainted away, accusing the young person who had
served her of eating garlic; and the latter was dismissed at once,
although, badly fed and dying of hunger, she was simply finishing
a collection of bread crusts at the counter. The authorities were
pitiless at the least complaint from the customers; no excuse was
admitted, the employee was always wrong, and had to disappear like a
defective instrument, hurtful to the proper working of the business;
and the others bowed their heads, not even attempting any defence.
In the panic which was raging each one trembled for himself. Mignot,
going out one day with a parcel under his coat, notwithstanding the
rules, was nearly caught, and really thought himself lost. Liénard, who
was celebrated for his idleness, owed to his father's position in the
drapery trade that he was not turned away one afternoon that Bourdoncle
found him dozing between two piles of English velvets. But the Lhommes
were especially anxious, expecting every day to see their son Albert
sent away, the governor being very dissatisfied with his conduct at the
pay-desk. He frequently had women there who distracted his attention
from his work; and twice Madame Aurélie had been obliged to plead for
him with the principals.

Denise was so menaced amid this general clearance, that she lived in
the continual expectation of a catastrophe. It was in vain that she
summoned up her courage, struggling with all her gaiety and all her
reason not to yield to the misgivings of her tender nature; she burst
out into blinding tears as soon as she had closed the door of her
bedroom, desolated at the thought of seeing herself in the street,
on bad terms with her uncle, not knowing where to go, without a sou
saved, and having the two children to look after. The sensations she
had felt the first few weeks sprang up again, she fancied herself a
grain of seed under a powerful millstone; and, utterly discouraged,
she abandoned herself entirely to the thought of what a small atom
she was in this great machine, which would certainly crush her with
its quiet indifference. There was no illusion possible; if they sent
away any one from her department she knew it would be her. No doubt,
during the Rambouillet excursion, the other young ladies had incensed
Madame Aurélie against her, for since then that lady had treated her
with an air of severity in which there was a certain rancour. Besides,
they could not forgive her going to Joinville, regarding it as a sign
of revolt, a means of setting the whole department at defiance, by
parading about with a young lady from a rival counter. Never had Denise
suffered so much in the department, and she now gave up all hope of
conquering it.

"Let them alone!" repeated Pauline, "a lot of stuck-up things, as
stupid as donkeys!"

But it was just these fine lady airs which intimidated Denise. Nearly
all the saleswomen, by their daily contact with the rich customers,
assumed certain graces, and finished by forming a vague nameless class,
something between a work-girl and a middle-class lady. But beneath
their art in dress, and the manners and phrases learnt by heart, there
was often only a false superficial education, the fruits of attending
cheap theatres and music-halls, and picking up all the current
stupidities of the Paris pavement.

"You know the 'unkempt girl' has got a child?" said Clara one morning,
on arriving in the department. And, as they seemed astonished, she
continued: "I saw her yesterday myself taking the child out for a walk!
She's got it stowed away in the neighbourhood, somewhere."

Two days after, Margueritte came up after dinner with another piece
of news. "A nice thing, I've just seen the 'unkempt girl's' lover—a
workman, just fancy! Yes, a dirty little workman, with yellow hair, who
was watching her through the windows."

From that moment it was an accepted truth: Denise had a workman for a
lover, and an infant concealed somewhere in the neighbourhood. They
overwhelmed her with spiteful allusions. The first time she understood
she turned quite pale before the monstrosity of their suppositions. It
was abominable; she tried to explain, and stammered out: "But they are
my brothers!"

"Oh! oh! her brothers!" said Clara in a bantering tone.

Madame Aurélie was obliged to interfere. "Be quiet! young ladies. You
had better go on changing those tickets. Mademoiselle Baudu is quite
free to misbehave herself out of doors, if only she worked a bit when
here."

This curt defence was a condemnation. The young girl, feeling choked as
if they had accused her of a crime, vainly endeavoured to explain the
facts. They laughed and shrugged their shoulders, and she felt wounded
to the heart. On hearing the rumour, Deloche was so indignant that he
wanted to slap the faces of the young ladies in Denise's department;
and was only restrained by the fear of compromising her. Since the
evening at Joinville, he entertained a submissive love, an almost
religious friendship for her, which he proved by his faithful doglike
looks. He was careful not to show his affection before the others, for
they would have laughed at them; but that did not prevent his dreaming
of the avenging blow, if ever any one should attack her before him.

Denise finished by not answering the insults. It was too odious,
nobody would believe it. When any girl ventured a fresh allusion, she
contented herself with looking at her with a sad, calm air. Besides,
she had other troubles, material anxieties which took up her attention.
Jean went on as bad as ever, always worrying her for money. Hardly a
week passed that she did not receive some fresh story from him, four
pages long; and when the house postman brought her these letters,
in a big, passionate handwriting, she hastened to hide them in her
pocket, for the saleswomen affected to laugh, and sung snatches of some
doubtful ditties. Then after having invented a pretext to go to the
other end of the establishment and read the letters, she was seized
with fear; poor Jean seemed to be lost. All his fibs went down with
her, she believed all his extraordinary love adventures, her complete
ignorance of such things making her exaggerate the danger. Sometimes
it was a two-franc piece to enable him to escape the jealousy of some
woman; at other times five francs, six francs, to get some poor girl
out of a scrape, whose father would otherwise kill her. So that as her
salary and commission did not suffice, she had conceived the idea of
looking for a little work after business hours. She spoke about it to
Robineau, who had shown a certain sympathy for her since their meeting
at Vinçard's, and he had procured her the making of some neckties at
five sous a dozen. At night, between nine and one o'clock, she could do
six dozen, which made thirty sous, out of which she had to deduct four
sous for a candle. But as this sum kept Jean going she did not complain
of the want of sleep, and would have thought herself very happy had not
another catastrophe once more overthrown her budget calculations. At
the end of the second fortnight, when she went to the necktie-dealer,
she found the door closed; the woman had failed, become bankrupt, thus
carrying off her eighteen francs six sous, a considerable sum on which
she had been counting for the last week. All the annoyances in the
department disappeared before this disaster.

"You look dull," said Pauline, meeting her in the furniture gallery,
looking very pale. "Are you in want of anything?"

But as Denise already owed her friend twelve francs, she tried to smile
and replied: "No, thanks. I've not slept well, that's all."

It was the twentieth of July, when the panic caused by the dismissals
was at its worst. Out of the four hundred employees, Bourdoncle had
already sacked fifty, and there were rumours of fresh executions. She
thought but little of the menaces which were flying about, entirely
taken up by the anguish of one of Jean's adventures, still more
terrifying than the others. This very day he wanted fifteen francs,
which sum alone could save him from the vengeance of an outraged
husband. The previous evening she had received the first letter
opening the drama; then, one after the other, came two more; in the
last, which she was finishing when Pauline met her, Jean announced
his death for that evening, if she did not send the money. She was in
agony. Impossible to take it out of Pépé's board, paid two days before.
Every sort of bad luck was pursuing her, for she had hoped to get her
eighteen francs six sous through Robineau, who could perhaps find the
necktie-dealer; but Robineau having got a fortnight's holiday, had not
returned the previous night as he was expected to do.

However, Pauline still questioned her in a friendly way; when they met,
in an out-of-the-way department, they conversed for a few minutes,
keeping a sharp look-out the while. Suddenly, Pauline made a move as
if to run off, having observed the white tie of an inspector who was
coming out of the shawl department.

"Ah! it's only old Jouve!" murmured she in a relieved tone. "I can't
think what makes the old man grin as he does when he sees us together.
In your place I should beware, for he's too kind to you. He's an old
humbug, as spiteful as a cat, and thinks he's still got his troopers to
talk to."

It was quite true; Jouve was detested by all the salespeople for
the severity of his treatment. More than half the dismissals were
the result of his reports; and with his big red nose of a rakish
ex-captain, he only exercised his leniency in the departments served by
women.

"Why should I be afraid?" asked Denise.

"Well!" replied Pauline, laughing, "perhaps he may exact some return.
Several of the young ladies try to keep well with him."

Jouve had gone away, pretending not to see them; and they heard him
dropping on to a salesman in the lace department, guilty of watching a
fallen horse in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin.

"By the way," resumed Pauline, "weren't you looking for Monsieur
Robineau yesterday? He's come back."

Denise thought she was saved. "Thanks, I'll go round the other way
then, and pass through the silk department. So much the worse! They
sent me upstairs to the work-room to fetch a bodkin."

And they separated. The young girl, with a busy look, as if she were
running from pay-desk to pay-desk in search of something, arrived on
the stairs and went down into the hall. It was a quarter to ten, the
first lunch-bell had rung. A warm sun was playing on the windows, and
notwithstanding the grey linen blinds, the heat penetrated into the
stagnant air. Now and then a refreshing breath arose from the floor,
which the messengers were gently watering. It was a somnolence, a
summer siesta, in the midst of the empty space around the counters,
like the interior of a church wrapt in sleeping shadow after the last
mass. Some listless salesmen were standing about, a few rare customers
were crossing the galleries and the hall, with the fatigued step of
women annoyed by the sun.

Just as Denise went down, Pavier was measuring a dress length of light
silk, with pink spots, for Madame Boutarel, arrived in Paris the
previous day from the South. Since the commencement of the month, the
provinces had been sending up their detachments; one saw nothing but
queerly-dressed ladies with yellow shawls, green skirts, and flaring
bonnets. The shopmen, indifferent, were too indolent to laugh at them
even. Pavier accompanied Madame Boutarel to the mercery department, and
on returning, said to Hutin:

"Yesterday they were all Auvergnat women, to-day they're all
Provençales. I'm sick of them."

But Hutin rushed forward, it was his turn, and he had recognised "the
pretty lady," the lovely blonde whom the department thus designated,
knowing nothing about her, not even her name. They all smiled at her,
not a week passed without her coming to The Ladies' Paradise, always
alone. This time she had a little boy of four or five with her, and
this gave rise to some comment.

"She's married, then?" asked Favier, when Hutin returned from the
pay-desk, where he had debited her with thirty yards of Duchess satin.

"Possibly," replied he, "although the youngster proves nothing. Perhaps
he belongs to a lady friend. What's certain is, that she must have been
weeping. She's so melancholy, and her eyes are so red!"

A silence ensued. The two salesmen gazed vaguely into the depths of the
shop. Then Favier resumed in a low voice; "If she's married, perhaps
her husband's given her a drubbing."

"Possibly," repeated Hutin, "unless it be a lover who has left her."
And after a fresh silence, he added: "Any way, I don't care a hang!"

At this moment Denise crossed the silk department, slackening her pace
and looking around her, trying to find Robineau. She could not see him,
so she went into the linen department, then passed through again. The
two salesmen had noticed her movements.

"There's that bag of bones again," murmured Hutin.

"She's looking for Robineau," said Favier. "I can't think what they're
up to together. Oh! nothing smutty; Robineau's too big a fool. They say
he has procured her a little work, some neckties. What a spec, eh?"

Hutin was meditating something spiteful. When Denise passed near he
stopped her, saying: "Is it me you're looking for?"

She turned very red. Since the Joinville excursion, she dared not read
her heart, full of confused sensations. She was constantly recalling
his appearance with that red-haired girl, and if she still trembled
before him, it was doubtless from uneasiness. Had she ever loved him?
Did she love him still? She hardly liked to stir up these things, which
were painful to her.

"No, sir," she replied, embarrassed.

Hutin then began to laugh at her uneasy manner. "Would you like us to
serve him to you? Favier, just serve this young lady with Robineau."

She looked at him fixedly, with the sad calm look with which she had
received the wounding remarks the young ladies had made about her. Ah!
he was spiteful, he attacked her as well as the others! And she felt a
sort of supreme anguish, the breaking of a last tie. Her face expressed
such real suffering, that Favier, though not of a very tender nature,
came to her assistance.

"Monsieur Robineau is in the stock-room," said he. "No doubt he will
be back for lunch. You'll find him here this afternoon, if you want to
speak to him."

Denise thanked him, and went up to her department, where Madame Aurélie
was waiting for her in a terrible rage. What! she had been gone half
an hour! Where had she just sprung from? Not from the work-room, that
was quite certain! The poor girl hung down her head, thinking of this
avalanche of misfortunes. All would be over if Robineau did not come
in. However, she resolved to go down again.

In the silk department, Robineau's return had provoked quite a
revolution. The salesmen had hoped that, disgusted with the annoyances
they were incessantly causing him, he would not return; and, in fact,
there was a moment, when pressed by Vinçard to take over his business,
he had almost decided to do so. Hutin's secret working, the mine he had
been laying under the second-hand's feet for months past, was about
to be sprung. During Robineau's holidays, Hutin, who had taken his
place as second-hand, had done his best to injure him in the minds of
the principals, and get possession of his situation by an excess of
zeal; he discovered and reported all sorts of trifling irregularities,
suggested improvements, and invented new designs. In fact, every one
in the department, from the unpaid probationer, longing to become
a salesman, up to the first salesman who coveted the situation of
manager, they all had one fixed idea, and that was to dislodge the
comrade above them, to ascend another rung of the ladder, swallowing
him up if necessary; and this struggle of appetites, this pushing the
one against the other, even contributed to the better working of the
machine, provoking business and increasing tenfold the success which
was astonishing Paris. Behind Hutin, there was Favier; then behind
Favier came the others, in a long line. One heard a loud noise as of
jaw-bones working. Robineau was condemned, each one vas grabbing after
his bone. So that when the second-hand reappeared there was a general
grumbling. The matter had to be settled, the salesmen's attitude
appeared so menacing, that the head of the department had sent Robineau
to the stock-room, in order to give the authorities time to come to a
decision.

"We would sooner all leave, if they keep him," declared Hutin.

This affair bothered Bouthemont, whose gaiety ill-accorded with such
an internal vexation. He was pained to see nothing but scowling faces
around him. However, he wished to be just.

"Come, leave him alone, he doesn't hurt you."

But they protested energetically. "What! doesn't hurt us! An
insupportable object, always irritable, capable of walking over your
body, he's so proud!"

This was the great bitterness of the department. Robineau, nervous as
a woman, was intolerably stiff and susceptible. They related scores of
stories, a poor little fellow who had fallen ill through it, and lady
customers even who had been humiliated by his nasty remarks.

"Well, gentlemen, I won't take anything on myself," said Bouthemont.
"I've notified the directors, and am going to speak about it shortly."

The second lunch-bell rang, the clang of which came up from the
basement, distant and deadened in the close air of the shop. Hutin and
Favier went down. From all the counters, the salesmen were arriving
one by one, helter-skelter, hastening below to the narrow entrance to
the kitchen, a damp passage always lighted with gas. The throng pushed
forward, without a laugh or a word, amidst an increasing noise of
crockery and a strong odour of food. At the extremity of the passage
there was a sudden halt, before a wicket. Flanked with piles of plates,
armed with forks and spoons, which he was plunging in the copper-pans,
a cook was distributing the portions. And when he stood aside, the
flaring kitchen could be seen behind his white-covered belly.

"Of course!" muttered Hutin, consulting the bill of fare, written on a
black-board above the wicket. "Beef and pungent sauce, or skate. Never
any roast meat in this rotten shop! Their boiled beef and fish don't do
a bit of good to a fellow!"

Moreover, the fish was universally neglected, for the pan was quite
full. Favier, however, took some skate. Behind him, Hutin stooped down,
saying: "Beef and pungent sauce."

With a mechanical movement, the cook picked up a piece of meat, and
poured a spoonful of sauce over it; and Hutin, suffocated by the ardent
breath from the kitchen, had hardly got his portion, before the words,
"Beef, pungent sauce; beef, pungent sauce," followed each other like a
litany; whilst the cook continued to pick up the meat and pour over the
sauce, with the rapid and rhythmical movement of a well-regulated clock.

"But the skate's cold," declared Favier, whose hand felt no warmth from
the plate.

They were all hurrying along now, with their plates held out straight,
for fear of running up against one another. Ten steps further was the
bar, another wicket with a shiny zinc counter, on which were ranged the
shares of wine, small bottles, without corks, still damp from rinsing.
And each took one of these bottles in his empty hand as he passed, and
then, completely laden, made for his table with a serious air, careful
not to spill anything.

Hutin grumbled, "This is a fine dance, with all this crockery!"

Their table, Favier's and his, was at the end of the corridor in the
last dining-room. The rooms were all alike, old cellars twelve feet by
fifteen, which had been cemented over and fitted up as refectories;
but the damp came through the paint-work, the yellow walls were
covered with greenish spots; and, from the narrow air-holes, opening
on the street, on a level with the pavement, there fell a livid light,
incessantly traversed by the vague shadows of the passers-by. In July
as in December, one was stifled in the warm air, laden with nauseous
smells, coming from the neighbourhood of the kitchen.

Hutin went in first. On the table, which was fixed at one end to the
wall, and covered with American cloth, there were only the glasses,
knives, and forks, marking off the places. A pile of clean plates stood
at each end; whilst in the middle was a big loaf, a knife sticking in
it, with the handle in the air. Hutin got rid of his bottle and laid
down his plate; then, after having taken his napkin from the bottom of
a set of pigeonholes, the sole ornament on the walls, he heaved a sigh
and sat down.

"And I'm fearfully hungry, too!" he murmured.

"It's always like that," replied Favier, who took his place on the
left. "Nothing to eat when one is starving."

The table was rapidly filling. It contained twenty-two places. At
first nothing was heard but a loud clattering of knives and forks, the
gormandising of big fellows with stomachs emptied by thirteen hours'
daily work. Formerly the employees had an hour for meals, which enabled
them to go outside to a café and take their coffee; and they would
despatch their dinner in twenty minutes, anxious to get into the street
But this stirred them up too much, they came back careless, indisposed
for business; and the managers had decided that they should not go out,
but pay an extra three halfpence for a Cup of coffee, if they wanted
it. So that now they were in no hurry, but prolonged the meal, not at
all anxious to go back to work before time. A great many read some
newspaper, between mouthfuls, the journal folded and placed against
their bottle. Others, their first hunger satisfied, talked noisily,
always returning to the eternal grievance of the bad food, the money
they had earned, what they had done the previous Sunday, and what they
were going to do on the next one.

"I say, what about your Robineau?" asked a salesman of Hutin.

The struggle between the salesmen of the silk department and their
second-hand occupied all the counters. The question was discussed every
evening at the Café Saint-Roch until midnight. Hutin, who was busy with
his piece of beef, contented himself with replying:

"Well! he's come back, Robineau has." Then, suddenly getting angry,
he resumed: "But confound it! they've given me a bit of a donkey, I
believe! It's becoming disgusting, my word of honour!"

"You needn't grumble!" said Favier. "I was flat enough to ask for
skate. It's putrid."

They were all speaking at once, some complaining, some joking. At a
corner of the table, against the wall, Deloche was silently eating. He
was afflicted with an enormous appetite, which he had never been able
to satisfy, and not earning enough to afford any extras, he cut himself
enormous chunks of bread, and swallowed up the least savoury platefuls,
with an air of greediness. They all laughed at him, crying: "Favier,
pass your skate to Deloche. He likes it like that. And your meat,
Hutin; Deloche wants it for his dessert."

The poor fellow shrugged his shoulders, and did not even reply. It
wasn't his fault if he was dying of hunger. Besides, the others might
abuse the food as much as they liked, they swallowed it up all the same.

But a low whistling stopped their talk; Mouret and Bourdoncle were in
the corridor. For some time the complaints had become so frequent that
the principals pretended to come and judge for themselves the quality
of the food. They gave thirty sous a head per day to the chief cook,
who had to pay everything, provisions, coal, gas, and staff, and they
displayed a naïve astonishment when the food was not good. This very
morning even, each department had deputed a spokesman. Mignot and
Liénard had undertaken to speak for their comrades. And in the sudden
silence, all ears were stretched out to catch the conversation going
on in the next room, where Mouret and Bourdoncle had just entered. The
latter declared the beef excellent; and Mignot, astounded by this quiet
affirmation, was repeating, "But chew it, and see;" whilst Liénard,
attacking the skate, was gently saying, "But it stinks, sir!" Mouret
then launched into a cordial speech: he would do everything for his
employees' welfare, he was their father, and would rather eat dry bread
than see them badly fed.

"I promise you to look into the matter," said he in conclusion, raising
his voice so that they should hear it from one end of the passage to
the other.

The inquiry being finished, the noise of the knives and forks commenced
once more. Hutin muttered "Yes, reckon on that, and drink water! Ah,
they're not stingy of soft words. Want some promises, there you are!
And they continue to feed you on old boot-leather, and to chuck you out
like dogs!"

The salesman who had already questioned him repeated: "You say that
Robineau—"

But a noise of heavy crockery-ware drowned his voice. The men changed
their plates themselves, and the piles at both ends were diminishing.
When a kitchen-help brought in some large tin dishes, Hutin cried out:
"Baked rice! this is a finisher!"

"Good for a penn'orth of gum!" said Favier, serving himself.

Some liked it, others thought it too sticky. There were some who
remained quite silent, plunged in the fiction of their newspaper,
not even knowing what they were eating. They were all mopping their
foreheads, the narrow cellar-like apartment was full of a ruddy steam,
whilst the shadows of the passers-by were continually passing in black
bands over the untidy cloth.

"Pass Deloche the bread," cried out one of the wags.

Each one cut a piece, and then dug the knife into the loaf up to the
handle; and the bread still went round.

"Who'll take my rice for a dessert?" asked Hutin.

When he had concluded his bargain with a short, thin young fellow, he
attempted to sell his wine also; but no one would take it, it was known
to be detestable.

"As I was telling you, Robineau is back," he continued, amid the
cross-fire of laughter and conversation that was going on. "Oh!
his affair is a grave one. Just fancy, he has been debauching the
saleswomen! Yes, and he gets them cravats to make!"

"Silence!" exclaimed Favier. "They're just judging him."

And he pointed to Bouthemont, who was walking in the passage between
Mouret and Bourdoncle, all three absorbed in an animated conversation,
carried on in a low tone. The dining-room of the managers and
second-hands happened to be just opposite. Therefore, when Bouthemont
saw Mouret pass he got up, having finished, and related the affair,
explaining the awkward position he was in. The other two listened,
still refusing to sacrifice Robineau, a first-class salesman, who
dated from Madame Hédouin's time. But when he came to the story of the
neckties, Bourdoncle got angry. Was this fellow mad to interfere with
the saleswomen and procure them extra work? The house paid dear enough
for the women's time; if they worked on their own account at night they
worked less during the day in the shop, that was certain; therefore it
was a robbery, they were risking their health which did not belong to
them. No, the night was made for sleep; they must all sleep, or they
would be sent to the right-about!

"Getting rather warm!" remarked Hutin.

Every time the three men passed the dining-room, the shopmen watched
them, commenting on the slightest gestures. They had forgotten the
baked rice, in which a cashier had just found a brace-button.

"I heard the word 'cravat,'" said Favier. "And you saw how Bourdoncle's
face turned pale at once."

Mouret shared his partner's indignation. That a saleswoman should be
reduced to work at night, seemed to him an attack on the organisation
of The Ladies' Paradise. Who was the stupid that couldn't earn enough
in the business? But when Bouthemont named Denise he softened down,
and invented excuses. Ah! yes, that poor little girl; she wasn't very
sharp, and was greatly burdened, it was said. Bourdoncle interrupted
him to declare they ought to send her off immediately. They would never
do anything with such an ugly creature, he had always said so; and he
seemed to be indulging a spiteful feeling. Mouret, perplexed, affected
to laugh. Dear me! what a severe man! couldn't they forgive her for
once? They could call in the culprit and give her a scolding. In short,
Robineau was the most to blame, for he ought to have dissuaded her, he,
an old hand, knowing the ways of the house.

"Well! there's the governor laughing now!" resumed Favier, astonished,
as the group again passed the door.

"Ah, by Jove!" exclaimed Hutin, "if they persist in shoving Robineau on
our shoulders, we'll make it lively for them!"

Bourdoncle looked straight at Mouret. Then he simply assumed a
disdainful expression, to intimate that he saw how it was, and thought
it idiotic. Bouthemont resumed his complaints; the salesmen threatened
to leave, and there were some very good men amongst them. But what
appeared to touch these gentlemen especially, was the rumour of
Robineau's friendly relations with Gaujean; the latter, it was said,
was urging the former to set up for himself in the neighbourhood,
offering him any amount of credit, to run in opposition to The Ladies'
Paradise. There was a pause. Ah! Robineau was thinking of showing
fight, was he! Mouret had become serious; he affected a certain scorn,
avoided coming to a decision, treating it as a matter of no importance.
They would see, they would speak to him. And he immediately commenced
to joke with Bouthemont, whose father, arrived two days before from
his little shop at Montpellier, had been nearly choked with rage and
indignation on seeing the immense hall in which his son reigned. They
were still laughing about the old man, who, recovering his Southern
assurance, had immediately commenced to run everything down, pretending
that the drapery business would soon go to the dogs.

"Here's Robineau," said Bouthemont. "I sent him to the stock-room to
avoid any unpleasant occurrence. Excuse me if I insist, but things are
in such an unpleasant state that something must be done."

Robineau, who had just come in, passed by the group with a bow, on his
way to the table. Mouret simply repeated: "All right, we'll see about
it."

And they separated. Hutin and Favier were still waiting for them,
but on seeing they did not return, relieved their feelings. Was the
governor coming down like this to every meal, to count the mouthfuls?
A nice thing, if they could not even eat in peace! The truth was, they
had just seen Robineau come in, and the governor's good-humour made
them anxious for the result of the struggle they were engaged in. They
lowered their voices, trying to find fresh subjects for grumbling.

"But I'm dying of hunger!" continued Hutin, aloud. "One is hungrier
than ever on getting up from table!" And yet he had eaten two portions
of dessert, his own and the one he had exchanged for his plate of rice.
All at once he cried out: "Hang it, I'm going in for an extra! Victor,
give me another dessert!"

The waiter was finishing serving the dessert. He then brought in the
coffee, and those who took it gave him their three sous there and then.
A few fellows had gone away, dawdling along the corridor, looking for a
dark corner in which they could smoke a cigarette. The others remained
at table before the heaps of greasy plates and dishes, rolling up the
bread-crumbs into little bullets, going over the same old stories, in
the odour of broken food, and the sweltering heat that was reddening
their ears. The walls reeked with moisture, a slow asphyxia fell from
the mouldy ceiling. Standing against the wall was Deloche, stuffed
with bread, digesting in silence, his eyes on the air-hole; his daily
recreation, after lunch, was to watch the feet of the passers-by
spinning along the street, a continual procession of living feet, big
boots, elegant boots, and ladies' tiny boots, without head or body. On
rainy days it was very dirty.

"What! Already?" exclaimed Hutin.

A bell rang at the end of the passage, they had to make way for the
third lunch. The waiters came in with pails of warm water and big
sponges to clean the American cloth. Gradually the rooms became empty,
the salesmen returned to their departments, lingering on the stairs.
In the kitchen, the head cook had resumed his place at the wicket,
between the pans of skate, beef, and sauce, armed with his forks and
spoons, ready to fill the plates anew with the rhythmical movement of
a well-regulated clock. As Hutin and Favier slowly withdrew, they saw
Denise coming down.

"Monsieur Robineau is back, mademoiselle," said the former with
sneering politeness.

"He is still at table," added the other. "But if it's anything
important you can go in."

Denise continued on her way without replying or turning round; but when
she passed the dining-room of the managers and second-hands, she could
not help just looking in, and saw that Robineau was really there. She
resolved to try and speak to him in the afternoon, and continued her
journey along the corridor to her dining-room, which was at the other
end.

The women took their meals apart, in two special rooms. Denise entered
the first one. It was also an old cellar, transformed into a refectory;
but it had been fitted up with more comfort. On the oval table, in the
middle of the apartment, the fifteen places were further apart and the
wine was in decanters, a dish of skate and a dish of beef with pungent
sauce occupied the two ends of the table. Waiters in white aprons
attended to the young ladies, and spared them the trouble of fetching
their portions from the wicket. The management had thought that more
decent.

"You went round, then?" asked Pauline, already seated and cutting
herself some bread.

"Yes," replied Denise, blushing, "I was accompanying a customer."

But this was a falsehood. Clara nudged her neighbour. What was the
matter with the "unkempt girl?" She was quite strange in her ways. One
after the other she had received letters from her lover; then, she went
running all over the shop like a madwoman, pretending to be going to
the work-room, where she did not even make an appearance. There was
something up, that was certain. Then Clara, eating her skate without
disgust, with the indifference of a girl who had been used to nothing
better than rancid bacon, spoke of a frightful drama, the account of
which filled the newspapers.

"You've heard about that man cutting his mistress's throat with a
razor, haven't you?"

"Well!" said a little quiet delicate-looking girl belonging to the
under-linen department, "he found her with another fellow. Serve her
right!"

But Pauline protested. What! just because one had ceased to love a man,
he should be allowed to cut your throat? Ah! no, never! And stopping
all at once, she turned round to the waiter, saying: "Pierre, I can't
get through this beef. Just tell them to do me an extra, an omelet,
nice and soft, if possible."

To pass away the time, she took out some chocolate which she began
eating with her bread, for she always had her pockets full of
sweetmeats.

"Certainly it isn't very amusing with such a fellow," resumed Clara.
"And some people are fearfully jealous, you know! Only the other day
there was a workman who pitched his wife into a well."

She kept her eyes on Denise, thinking she had guessed her trouble on
seeing her turn pale. Evidently this little prude was afraid of being
beaten by her lover, whom she no doubt deceived. It would be a lark if
he came right into the shop after her, as she seemed to fear he would.
But the conversation took another turn, one of the girls was giving a
recipe for cleaning velvet. They then went on to speak of a piece at
the Gaiety, in which some darling little children danced better than
any grown-up persons. Pauline, saddened for a moment at the sight of
her omelet, which was overdone, resumed her gaiety on finding it went
down fairly well.

"Pass the wine," said she to Denise. "You should go in for an omelet."

"Oh! the beef is enough for me," replied the young girl, who, to avoid
expense, confined herself to the food provided by the house, no matter
how repugnant it might be.

When the waiter brought in the baked rice, the young ladies protested.
They had refused it the previous week, and hoped it would not appear
again. Denise, inattentive, worrying about Jean after Clara's stories,
was the only one to eat it; all the others looked at her with an air of
disgust. There was a great demand for extras, they gorged themselves
with jam. This was a sort of elegance, they felt obliged to feed
themselves with their own money.

"You know the gentlemen have complained," said the little delicate girl
from the under-linen department, "and the management has promised—"

They interrupted her with a burst of laughter, and commenced to talk
about the management. All the girls took coffee but Denise, who
couldn't bear it, she said. And they lingered there before their cups,
the young ladies from the under-linen department in woollen dresses,
with a middle-class simplicity, the young ladies from the dress
department in silk, their napkins tucked under their chins, in order
not to stain their dresses, like ladies who might have come down to
the servants' hall to dine with their chamber-maids. They had opened
the glazed sash of the airhole to change the stifling poisoned air;
but they were obliged to close it at once, the cab-wheels seemed to be
passing over the table.

"Hush!" exclaimed Pauline; "here's that old beast!"

It was Jouve, the inspector, who was rather fond of prowling about at
meal times, when the young ladies were there. He was supposed, in fact,
to look after their dining-rooms. With a smiling face he would come in
and walk round the tables; sometimes he would even indulge in a little
gossip, and inquire if they had made a good lunch. But as he annoyed
them and made them feel uncomfortable, they all hastened to get away.
Although the bell had not rung, Clara was the first to disappear; the
others followed her, so that soon only Denise and Pauline remained.
The latter, after having drunk her coffee, was finishing her chocolate
drops. All at once she got up, saying: "I'm going to send the messenger
for some oranges. Are you coming?"

"Presently," replied Denise, who was nibbling at a crust, determined to
wait till the last, so as to be able to see Robineau on going upstairs.

However, when she found herself alone with Jouve she felt uneasy, so
she quitted the table; but as she was going towards the door he stopped
her saying: "Mademoiselle Baudu—"

Standing before her, he smiled with a paternal air. His thick grey
moustache and short cropped hair gave him a respectable military
appearance; and he threw out his chest, on which was displayed the red
ribbon of his decoration.

"What is it, Monsieur Jouve?" asked she, feeling reassured.

"I caught you again this morning talking upstairs behind the carpet
department. You know it is not allowed, and if I reported you—She must
be very fond of you, your friend Pauline." His moustache quivered, a
flame lighted up his enormous nose. "What makes you so fond of each
other, eh?"

Denise, without understanding, was again becoming seized with an uneasy
feeling. He was getting too close, and was speaking right in her face.

"It's true we were talking, Monsieur Jouve," she stammered, "but
there's no harm in talking a bit. You are very good to me, and I'm very
much obliged to you."

"I ought not to be good," said he. "Justice, and nothing more, is my
motto. But when it's a pretty girl—"

And he came closer still, and she felt really afraid. Pauline's words
came back to her memory; she now remembered the stories going about,
stories of girls terrified by old Jouve into buying his good-will.
In the shop, as a rule, he confined himself to little familiarities,
such as pinching the cheeks of the complaisant young ladies with his
fat fingers, taking their hands in his and keeping them there as if
he had forgotten them. This was very paternal, and he only gave way
to his real nature outdoors, when they consented to accept a little
refreshment at his place in the Rue des Moineaux.

"Leave me alone," murmured the young girl, drawing back.

"Come," said he, "you are not going to play the savage with me, who
always treats you well. Be amiable, come and take a cup of tea and a
slice of bread-and-butter with me this evening. You are very welcome."

She was struggling now. "No! no!"

The dining room was empty, the waiter had not come back. Jouve,
listening for the sound of any footsteps, cast a rapid glance around
him; and, very excited, losing control over himself, going beyond his
fatherly familiarities, he tried to kiss her on the neck.

"What a spiteful, stupid little girl. When one has a head of hair like
yours one should not be so stupid. Come round this evening, just for
fun."

But she was very excited, shocked, and terrified at the approach of
this burning face, of which she could feel the breath. Suddenly she
pushed him, so roughly that he staggered and nearly fell on to the
table. Fortunately, a chair saved him; but in the shock, some wine left
in a glass spurted on to his white necktie, and soaked his decoration.
And he stood there, without wiping himself, choked with anger at
such brutality. What! when he was expecting nothing, when he was not
exerting his strength, and was yielding simply to his kindness of heart!

"Ah, you will be sorry for this, on my word of honour!"

Denise ran away. Just at that moment the bell rang; but troubled, still
shuddering, she forgot Robineau, and went straight to her counter, not
daring to go down again. As the sun fell on the frontage of the Place
Gaillon of an afternoon, they were all stifling in the first floor
rooms, notwithstanding the grey linen blinds. A few customers came,
put the young ladies into a very uncomfortable, warm state, and went
away without buying anything. Every one was yawning even under Madame
Aurélie's big sleepy eyes. Towards three o'clock, Denise, seeing the
first-hand falling off to sleep, quietly slipped off, and resumed her
journey across the shop, with a busy air. To put the curious ones, who
might be watching her, off the scent, she did not go straight to the
silk department; pretending to want something in the lace department,
she went up to Deloche, and asked him a question; then, on the
ground-floor, she passed through the printed cottons department, and
was just going into the cravat one, when she stopped short, startled
and surprised. Jean was before her.

"What! it's you?" she murmured, quite pale.

He had on his working blouse, and was bare-headed, with his hair in
disorder, the curls falling over his girlish face. Standing before a
show-case of narrow black neckties, he appeared to be thinking deeply.

"What are you doing here?" resumed Denise.

"What do you think?" replied he. "I was waiting for you. You won't let
me come. So I came in, but haven't said anything to anybody. You may
feel quite safe. Pretend not to know me, if you like."

Some salesmen were already looking at them with astonishment. Jean
lowered his voice. "She wanted to come with me you know. Yes, she is
close by, opposite the fountain. Give me the fifteen francs quick, or
we are done for as sure as the sun is shining on us!"

Denise lost her head. The lookers-on were grinning, listening to this
adventure. And as there was a staircase behind the cravat department
leading to the lower floor, she pushed her brother along, and quickly
led him below. Downstairs he continued his story, embarrassed,
inventing his facts, fearing not to be believed.

"The money is not for her. She is too respectable for that. And as
for her husband, he does not care a straw for fifteen francs. Not for
a million would he allow his wife. A glue manufacturer, I tell you.
People very well off indeed. No, it's for a low fellow, one of her
friends, who has seen us together; and if I don't give him this money
this evening—"

"Be quiet," murmured Denise. "Presently, do get along."

They were now in the parcels office. The dead season had thrown the
vast floor into a sort of torpor, in the pale light from the air-holes.
It was cold as well, a silence fell from the ceiling. However, a
porter was collecting from one of the compartments the few packets for
the neighbourhood of the Madeleine; and, on the large sorting-table,
was seated Campion, the chief clerk, his legs dangling, and his eyes
wandering about.

Jean began again: "The husband, who has a big knife—"

"Get along!" repeated Denise, still pushing him forward.

They followed one of the narrow corridors, where the gas was kept
continually burning. To the right and the left in the dark vaults the
reserve goods threw out their shadows behind the gratings. At last she
stopped opposite one of these. Nobody was likely to pass that way; but
it was not allowed, and she shuddered.

"If this rascal says anything," resumed Jean, "the husband, who has a
big knife—"

"Where do you expect I can find fifteen francs?" exclaimed Denise in
despair. "Can't you be more careful? You're always getting into some
stupid scrape!"

He struck his chest Amidst all his romantic inventions, he had almost
forgotten the exact truth. He dramatised his money wants, but there was
always some immediate necessity behind this display. "By all that's
sacred, it's really true this time. I was holding her like this, and
she was kissing me—"

She stopped him again, and lost her temper, feeling on thorns,
completely at a loss. "I don't want to know. Keep your wicked conduct
to yourself. It's too bad, you ought to know better! You're always
tormenting me. I'm killing myself to keep you in money. Yes, I have to
stay up all night at work. Not only that, you are taking the bread out
of your little brother's mouth."

Jean stood there with his mouth wide open, and all the colour left
his face. What! it was not right? And he could not understand, he had
always treated his sister like a comrade, he thought it quite a natural
thing to open his heart to her. But what choked him above all, was to
learn she stopped up all night. The idea that he was killing her, and
taking Pépé's share as well, affected him so much that he began to cry.

"You're right; I'm a scamp," exclaimed he. "But it isn't wicked,
really, far from it, and that's why one always does it! This woman,
Denise, is twenty, and thought it such fun, because I'm only seventeen.
Really now! I am quite furious with myself! I could slap my face!" He
had taken her hands, and was kissing them and inundating them with
tears. "Give me the fifteen francs, and this shall be the last time. I
swear to you. Or rather—no!—don't give me anything. I prefer to die.
If the husband murders me it will be a good riddance for you." And as
she was crying as well, he was stricken with remorse. "I say that, but
of course I'm not sure. Perhaps he doesn't want to kill any one. We'll
manage. I promise you that, darling. Good-bye, I'm off."

But a sound of footsteps at the end of the corridor frightened them.
She quickly drew him close to the grating, in a dark corner. For an
instant they heard nothing but the hissing of a gas-burner near them.
Then the footsteps drew nearer; and, on stretching out her neck, she
recognised Jouve, the inspector, who had just entered the corridor,
with his stiff military walk. Was he there by chance, or had some one
at the door warned him of Jean's presence? She was seized with such
a fright that she knew not what to do; and she pushed Jean out of
the dark spot where they were concealed, and drove him before her,
stammering out: "Be off! Be off!"

Both galloped along, hearing Jouve behind them, for he also had began
to run. They crossed the parcels office again, and arrived at the foot
of the stairs leading out into the Rue de la Michodière.

"Be off!" repeated Denise, "be off! If I can, I'll send you the fifteen
francs all the same."

Jean, bewildered, scampered away. The inspector, who came up panting,
out of breath, could only distinguish a corner of his white blouse, and
his locks of fair hair flying in the wind. He stood a moment to get his
breath, and resume his correct appearance. He had on a brand-new white
necktie, the large bow of which shone like a snow-flake.

"Well! this is nice behaviour, mademoiselle!" said he, his lips
trembling. "Yes, it's nice, very nice! If you think I'm going to stand
this sort of thing in the basement, you're mistaken."

And he pursued her with this whilst she was returning to the shop,
overcome with emotion, unable to find a word of defence. She was
sorry now she had run away. Why hadn't she explained the matter, and
brought her brother forward? They would now go and imagine all sorts
of villainies, and say what she might, they would not believe her.
Once more she forgot Robineau, and went straight to her counter. Jouve
immediately went to the manager's office to report the matter. But the
messenger told him Monsieur Mouret was with Monsieur Bourdoncle and
Monsieur Robineau; they had been talking together for the last quarter
of an hour. In fact, the door was half-open, and he could hear Mouret
gaily asking Robineau if he had had a pleasant holiday; there was not
the least question of a dismissal—on the contrary, the conversation
fell on certain things to be done in the department.

"Do you want anything. Monsieur Jouve?" exclaimed Mouret. "Come in."

But a sudden instinct warned the inspector. As Bourdoncle had come out,
he preferred to relate the affair to him. They slowly passed through
the shawl department, walking side by side, the one leaning over and
talking in a low tone, the other listening, not a sign on his severe
face betraying his impression.

"All right," said the latter at last.

And as they had arrived close to the dress department, he went in. Just
at that moment Madame Aurélie was scolding Denise. Where had she come
from, again? This time she couldn't say she had been to the work-room.
Really, these continual absences could not be tolerated any longer.

"Madame Aurélie!" cried Bourdoncle.

He had decided on a bold stroke, not wishing to consult Mouret, for
fear of some weakness. The first-hand came up, and the story was once
more related in a low voice. They were all waiting in the expectation
of some catastrophe. At last, Madame Aurélie turned round with a solemn
air.

"Mademoiselle Baudu!" And her puffy emperor's mask assumed the
immobility of the all-powerful: "Go and be paid!"

The terrible phrase sounded very loud in the empty department. Denise
stood there pale as a ghost, without saying a word. At last she was
able to ask in broken sentences:

"Me! me! What for? What have I done?"

Bourdoncle replied, harshly, that she knew very well, that she had
better not provoke any explanation; and he spoke of the cravats, and
said that it would be a fine thing if all the young ladies received men
down in the basement.

"But it was my brother!" cried she with the grievous anger of an
outraged virgin.

Marguerite and Clara commenced to laugh. Madame Frédéric, usually
so discreet, shook her head with an incredulous air. Always her
brother! Really it was very stupid! Denise looked round at all of
them: Bourdoncle, who had taken a dislike to her the first day; Jouve,
who had stopped to serve as a witness, and from whom she expected no
justice; then these girls whom she had not been able to soften by nine
months of smiling courage, who were happy, in fact, to turn her out of
doors. What was the good of struggling? what was the use of trying to
impose herself on them when no one liked her? And she went away without
a word, not even casting a last look towards this room where she had
so long struggled. But as soon as she was alone, before the hall
staircase, a deeper sense of suffering filled her grieved heart. No one
liked her, and the sudden thought of Mouret had just deprived her of
all idea of resignation. No! no! she could not accept such a dismissal.
Perhaps he would believe this villainous story, this rendezvous with a
man down in the cellars. At the thought, a feeling of shame tortured
her, an anguish with which she had never before been afflicted. She
wanted to go and see him, to explain the matter to him, simply to let
him know the truth; for she was quite ready to go away as soon as he
knew this. And her old fear, the shiver which chilled her when in his
presence, suddenly developed into an ardent desire to see him, not to
leave the house without telling him she had never belonged to another.

It was nearly five o'clock, and the shop was waking up into life again
in the cool evening air. She quickly started off for Mouret's office.
But when she arrived at the door, a hopeless melancholy feeling again
took possession of her. Her tongue refused its office, the intolerable
burden of existence again fell on her shoulders. He would not believe
her, he would laugh like the others, she thought; and this idea made
her almost faint away. All was over, she would be better alone, out of
the way, dead! And, without informing Pauline or Deloche, she went at
once and took her money.

"You have, mademoiselle," said the clerk, "twenty-two days; that makes
eighteen francs and fourteen sous; to which must be added seven francs
for commission. That's right, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. Thanks."

And Denise was going away with her money, when she at last met
Robineau. He had already heard of her dismissal, and promised to find
the necktie-dealer. In a lower tone he tried to console her, but lost
his temper: what an existence, to be at the continual mercy of a whim!
to be thrown out at an hour's notice, without even being able to claim
a full month's salary. Denise went up to inform Madame Cabin, saying
that she would try and send for her box during the evening. It was
just striking five when she found herself on the pavement of the Place
Gaillon, bewildered, in the midst of the crowd of people and cabs.

The same evening when Robineau got home he received a letter from the
management informing him, in a few lines, that for certain reasons
relating to the internal arrangements they were obliged to deprive
themselves of his services. He had been in the house seven years, and
it was only that afternoon that he was talking to the principals; this
was a heavy blow for him. Hutin and Favier were crowing in the silk
department, as loudly as Clara and Marguerite in the dress one. A jolly
good riddance! Such clean sweeps make room for the others! Deloche and
Pauline were the only ones to regret Denise's departure, exchanging, in
the rush of business, bitter words of regret at losing her, so kind, so
well behaved.

"Ah," said the young man, "if ever she succeeds anywhere else, I should
like to see her come back here, and trample on the others; a lot of
good-for-nothing creatures!"

It was Bourdoncle who in this affair had to bear the brunt of Mouret's
anger. When the latter heard of Denise's dismissal, he was exceedingly
annoyed. As a rule he never interfered with the staff; but this time he
affected to see an encroachment on his power, an attempt to over-ride
his authority. Was he no longer master in the place, that they dared
to give orders? Everything must pass through his hands, absolutely
everything; and he would immediately crush any one who should resist.
Then, after making personal inquiries, all the while in a nervous
torment which he could not conceal, he lost his temper again. This
poor girl was not lying; it was really her brother. Campion had fully
recognised him. Why was she sent away, then? He even spoke of taking
her back.

However, Bourdoncle, strong in his passive resistance, bent before the
storm. He watched Mouret, and one day when he saw him a little calmer,
ventured to say in a meaning voice: "It's better for everybody that
she's gone."

Mouret stood there looking very awkward, the blood rushing to his face.
"Well!" replied he, laughing, "perhaps you're right. Let's go and take
a turn down stairs. Things are looking better, we took nearly a hundred
thousand francs yesterday."

CHAPTER VII.

For a moment Denise stood bewildered on the pavement, in the sun
which still shone fiercely at five o'clock. The July heat warmed the
gutters, Paris was blazing with the chalky whiteness peculiar to it in
summer-time, and which produced quite a blinding glare. The catastrophe
had happened so suddenly, they had turned her out so roughly, that she
stood there, turning her money over in her pocket in a mechanical way,
asking herself where she was to go, and what she was to do.

A long line of cabs prevented her quitting the pavement near The
Ladies' Paradise. When she at last risked herself amongst the wheels
she crossed over the Place Gaillon, as if she intended to go into the
Rue Louis-le-Grand; then she altered her mind, and walked towards
the Rue Saint-Roch. But still she had no plan, for she stopped at
the corner of the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, and finally followed
it, after looking around her with an undecided air. Arrived at the
Passage Choiseul, she passed through, and found herself in the Rue
Monsigny, without knowing how, and ultimately came into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin again. Her head was filled with a fearful buzzing
sensation, she thought of her box on seeing a commissionaire; but where
was she to have it taken to, and why all this trouble, when an hour ago
she had a bed to go to?

Then her eyes fixed on the houses, she began to examine the windows.
There were any number of bills, "Apartments to Let." She saw them
confusedly, repeatedly seized by the inward emotion which was agitating
her whole being. Was it possible? Left alone so suddenly, lost in this
immense city in which she was a stranger, without support, without
resources. She must eat and sleep, however. The streets succeeded one
another, the Rue des Moulins, the Rue Sainte-Anne. She wandered about
the neighbourhood, frequently retracing her steps, always brought back
to the only spot she knew really well. Suddenly she was astonished,
she was again standing before The Ladies' Paradise; and to escape
this obsession she plunged into the Rue de la Michodière. Fortunately
Baudu was not at his door. The Old Elbeuf appeared to be dead, behind
its murky windows. She would never have dared to show herself at her
uncle's, for he affected not to recognise her any more, and she did
not wish to become a burden to him, in the misfortune he had predicted
for her. But, on the other side of the street, a yellow bill attracted
her attention. "Furnished room to let." It was the first that did not
frighten her, so poor did the house appear. She soon recognised it,
with its two low storeys, and rusty-coloured front, crushed between
The Ladies' Paradise and the old Hôtel Duvillard. On the threshold
of the umbrella shop, old Bourras, hairy and bearded like a prophet,
and with his glasses on his nose, stood studying the ivory handle of
a walking-stick. Hiring the whole house, he under-let the two upper
floors furnished, to lighten the rent.

"You have a room, sir?" asked Denise, obeying an instinctive impulse.

He raised his great bushy eyes, surprised to see her, for he knew all
the young persons at The Ladies' Paradise. And, after observing her
clean dress and respectable appearance, he replied: "It won't suit you."

"How much is it, then?" replied Denise.

"Fifteen francs a month."

She asked to see it. On arriving in the narrow shop, and seeing that
he was still eyeing her with an astonished air, she told him of her
departure from the shop and of her wish not to trouble her uncle.
The old man then went and fetched a key hanging on a board in the
back-shop, a small dark room, where he did his cooking and had his bed;
beyond that, behind a dirty window, could be seen a back-yard about six
feet square.

"I'll walk in front to prevent you falling," said Bourras, entering the
damp corridor which ran along the shop.

He stumbled against the lower stair, and commenced the ascent,
reiterating his warnings to be careful. Look out! the rail was close
against the wall, there was a hole at the corner, sometimes the
lodgers left their dust-boxes there. Denise, in complete obscurity,
could distinguish nothing, only feeling the chilliness of the old damp
plaster. On the first floor, however, a small window looking into
the yard enabled her to see vaguely, as at the bottom of a piece of
sleeping water, the rotten staircase, the walls black with dirt, the
cracked and discoloured doors.

"If only one of these rooms were vacant," resumed Bourras. "You would
be very comfortable there. But they are always occupied by ladies."

On the second floor the light increased, showing up with a raw paleness
the distress of the house. A journeyman-baker occupied the first room,
and it was the other, the further one, that was vacant. When Bourras
had opened the door he was obliged to stay on the landing in order that
Denise might enter with ease. The bed placed in the corner nearest the
door, left just room enough for one person to pass. At the other end
there was a small walnut-wood chest of drawers, a deal table stained
black, and two chairs. The lodgers who did any cooking were obliged to
kneel before the fire-place, where there was an earthenware stove.

"You know," said the old man, "it is not luxurious, but the view from
the window is gay. You can see the people passing in the street." And,
as Denise was looking with surprise at the ceiling just above the bed,
where a chance lady-lodger had written her name—Ernestine—by drawing
the flame of the candle over it, he added with a good-natured smile;
"If I did a lot of repairs, I should never make both ends meet. There
you are; it's all I have to offer."

"I shall be very well here," declared the young girl.

She paid a month in advance, asked for the linen—a pair of sheets and
two towels, and made her bed without delay, happy, relieved to know
where she was going to sleep that night An hour after she had sent a
commissionaire to fetch her box, and was quite at home.

During the first two months she had a terribly hard time of it. Being
unable to pay for Pépé's board, she had taken him away, and slept
him on an old sofa lent by Bourras. She could not do with less than
thirty sous a day, including the rent, even by consenting to live on
dry bread herself, in order to procure a bit of meat for the little
one. During the first fortnight she got on pretty well, having begun
her housekeeping with about ten francs; besides she had been fortunate
enough to find the cravat-dealer, who paid her her eighteen francs six
sous. But after that she became completely destitute. It was in vain
she applied to the various shops, at La Place Clichy, the Bon Marché,
the Louvre: the dead season had stopped business everywhere, they told
her to apply again in the autumn, more than five thousand employees,
dismissed like her, were wandering about Paris in want of places. She
then tried to obtain a little work elsewhere; but in her ignorance of
Paris she did not know where to apply, often accepting most ungrateful
tasks, and sometimes even not getting her money. Certain evenings she
gave Pépé his dinner alone, a plate of soup, telling him she had dined
out; and she would go to bed, her head in a whirl, nourished by the
fever which was burning her hands. When Jean dropped suddenly into
the midst of this poverty, he called himself a scoundrel with such a
despairing violence that she was obliged to tell some falsehood to
reassure him; and often found means of slipping a two-franc piece into
his hand, to prove that she still had money. She never wept before the
children. On Sundays, when she would cook a piece of veal in the stove,
on her knees before the fire, the narrow room re-echoed with the gaiety
of children, careless about existence. Then, when Jean had returned to
his master's and Pépé was sleeping, she spent a frightful night, in
anguish about the coming clay.

Other fears kept her awake. The two ladies on the first floor received
visitors up to a late hour; and sometimes a visitor mistook the floor
and came banging at Denise's door. Bourras having quietly told her not
to answer, she buried her face under her pillow to escape hearing their
oaths. Then, her neighbour, the baker, had shown a disposition to annoy
her: he never came home till the morning, and would lay in wait for
her, as she went to fetch her water; he even made holes in the wall, to
watch her washing herself, so that she was obliged to hang her clothes
against the wall. But she suffered still more from the annoyances of
the street, the continual persecution of the passers-by. She could
not go downstairs to buy a candle, in these streets swarming with the
debauchees of the old quarters, without feeling a warm breath behind
her, and hearing crude, insulting remarks; and the men pursued her to
the very end of the dark passage, encouraged by the sordid appearance
of the house. Why had she no lover? It astonished people, and seemed
ridiculous. She would certainly have to yield one day. She herself
could not have explained why she resisted, menaced as she was by
hunger, and perturbed by the desires with which the air around her was
warm.

One evening Denise had not even any bread for Pépé's soup, when a
gentleman, wearing a decoration, commenced to follow her. On arriving
opposite the passage he became brutal, and it was with a disgusted,
shocked feeling that she banged the door in his face. Then, upstairs,
she sat down, her hands trembling. The little one was sleeping. What
should she say if he woke up and asked for bread? And yet she had only
to consent and her misery would be over, she could have money, dresses,
and a fine room. It was very simple, every one came to that, it was
said; for a woman alone in Paris could not live by her labour. But her
whole being rose up in protestation, without indignation against the
others, simply averse to the disgrace of the thing. She considered life
a matter of logic, good conduct, and courage.

Denise frequently questioned herself in this way. An old love story
floated in her memory, the sailor's betrothed whom her love guarded
from all perils. At Valognes she had often hummed over this sentimental
ballad, gazing on the deserted street. Had she also a tender affection
in her heart that she was so brave? She still thought of Hutin, full
of uneasiness. Morning and evening she saw him pass under her window.
Now that he was second-hand he walked by himself, amid the respect of
the simple salesmen. He never raised his head, she thought she suffered
from his vanity, and watched him pass without any fear of being
discovered. And as soon as she saw Mouret, who also passed every day,
she began to tremble, and quickly concealed herself, her bosom heaving.
He had no need to know where she was lodging. Then she felt ashamed of
the house, and suffered at the idea of what he thought of her, although
perhaps they would never meet again.

Denise still lived amidst the agitation caused by The Ladies' Paradise.
A simple wall separated her room from her old department; and, from
early morning, she went over her day's work, feeling the arrival of the
crowd, the increased bustle of business. The slightest noise shook the
old house hanging on the flank of the colossus; she felt the gigantic
pulse beating. Besides, she could not avoid certain meetings. Twice
she had found herself face to face with Pauline, who had offered her
services, grieved to see her so unfortunate; and she had even been
obliged to tell a falsehood to avoid receiving her friend or paying
her a visit, one Sunday, at Baugé's. But it was more difficult still
to defend herself against Deloche's desperate affection; he watched
her, aware of all her troubles, waited for her in the doorways. One
day he wanted to lend her thirty francs, a brother's savings, he said,
with a blush. And these meetings made her regret the shop, continually
occupying her with the life they led inside, as if she had not quitted
it.

No one ever called upon Denise. One afternoon she was surprised by a
knock. It was Colomban. She received him standing. He, looking very
awkward, stammered at first, asked how she was getting on, and spoke of
The Old Elbeuf. Perhaps it was Uncle Baudu who had sent him, regretting
his rigour; for he continued to pass his niece without taking any
notice of her, although quite aware of her miserable position. But when
she plainly questioned her visitor, he appeared more embarrassed than
ever. No, no, it was not the governor who had sent him; and he finished
by naming Clara—he simply wanted to talk about Clara. Little by little
he became bolder, and asked Denise's advice, supposing that she could
be useful to him with her old friend. It was in vain that she tried
to dishearten him, by reproaching him with the pain he was causing
Geneviève, all for this heartless girl. He came up another day, and
got into the habit of coming to see her. This sufficed for his timid
passion; he continually commenced the same conversation, unable to
resist, trembling with joy to be with a girl who had approached Clara.
And this caused Denise to live more than ever at The Ladies' Paradise.

It was towards the end of September that the young girl experienced
the blackest misery. Pépé had fallen ill, having caught a severe cold.
He ought to have been nourished with good broth, and she had not even
a piece of bread. One evening, completely conquered, she was sobbing,
in one of those sombre straits which drive women on to the streets, or
into the Seine, when old Bourras gently knocked at the door. He brought
a loaf, and a milk-can full of broth.

"There! there's something for the youngster," said he in his abrupt
way. "Don't cry like that; it annoys my lodgers." And as she thanked
him in a fresh outburst of tears, he resumed: "Do keep quiet! To-morrow
come and see me. I've some work for you."

Bourras, since the terrible blow dealt him by The Ladies' Paradise
by their opening an umbrella department, had ceased to employ any
workwomen. He did everything himself to save expenses—the cleaning,
mending, and sewing. His trade was also diminishing, so that he was
sometimes without work. And he was obliged to invent something to do
the next day, when he installed Denise in a corner of his shop. He felt
that he could not let any one die of hunger in his house.

"You'll have two francs a day," said he. "When you find something
better, you can leave me."

She was afraid of him, and did the work so quickly that he hardly knew
what else to give her to do. He had given her some silk to stitch, some
lace to repair. During the first few days she did not dare raise her
head, uncomfortable to know he was close to her, with his lion-like
mane, hooked nose, and piercing eyes, under his thick bushy eyebrows.
His voice was harsh, his gestures extravagant, and the mothers of the
neighbourhood often frightened their youngsters by threatening to send
for him, as they would for a policeman. However, the boys never passed
his door without calling out some insulting words, which he did not
even seem to hear. All his maniacal anger was directed against the
scoundrels who dishonoured his trade by selling cheap trashy articles,
which dogs would not consent to use.

Denise trembled whenever he burst out thus: "Art is done for, I tell
you! There's not a single respectable handle made now. They make
sticks, but as for handles, it's all up! Bring me a proper handle, and
I'll give you twenty francs!"

He had a real artist's pride; not a workman in Paris was capable of
turning out a handle like his, light and strong. He carved the knobs
especially with charming ingenuity, continually inventing fresh
designs, flowers, fruit, animals, and heads, subjects conceived and
executed in a free and life-like style. A little pocket-knife sufficed,
and he spent whole days, spectacles on nose, chipping bits of boxwood
and ebony.

"A pack of ignorant beggars," said he, "who are satisfied with sticking
a certain quantity of silk on so much whalebone! They buy their handles
by the gross, handles readymade. And they sell just what they like! I
tell you, art is done for!"

Denise began to take courage. He had insisted on having Pépé down in
the shop to play, for he was wonderfully fond of children. When the
little one was crawling about on all fours, neither of them had room to
move, she in her corner doing the mending, he near the window, carving
with his little pocket-knife. Every day now brought on the same work
and the same conversation. Whilst working, he continually pitched into
The Ladies' Paradise; never tired of explaining how affairs stood. He
had occupied his house since 1845, and had a thirty years' lease, at
a rent of eighteen hundred francs a year; and, as he made a thousand
francs out of his four furnished rooms, he only paid eight hundred for
the shop. It was a mere trifle, he had no expenses, and could thus hold
out for a long time still. To hear him, there was no doubt about his
triumph; he would certainly swallow up the monster. Suddenly he would
interrupt himself.

"Have they got any dog's heads like that?"

And he would blink his eyes behind his glasses, to judge the dog's head
he was carving, with its lip turned up and fangs out, in a life-like
growl. Pépé, delighted with the dog, would get up, placing his two
little arms on the old man's knee.

"As long as I make both ends meet I don't care a hang about the rest,"
the latter would resume, delicately shaping the dog's tongue with the
point of his knife. "The scoundrels have taken away my profits; but if
I'm making nothing I'm not losing anything yet, or at least but very
little. And, you see, I'm ready to sacrifice everything rather than
yield."

He would brandish his knife, and his white hair would blow about in a
storm of anger.

"But," Denise would mildly observe, without raising her eyes from her
needle, "if they made you a reasonable offer, it would be wiser to
accept."

Then his ferocious obstinacy would burst forth. "Never! If my head were
under the knife I would say no, by heavens! I've another ten years'
lease, and they shall not have the house before then, even if I should
have to die of hunger within the four bare walls. Twice already have
they tried to get over me. They offered me twelve thousand francs for
my good-will, and eighteen thousand francs for the last ten years of my
lease; in all thirty thousand. Not for fifty thousand even! I have them
in my power, and intend to see them licking the dust before me!"

"Thirty thousand francs! it's a good sum," Denise would resume. "You
could go and establish yourself elsewhere. And suppose they were to buy
the house?"

Bourras, putting the finishing touches to his dog's tongue, would
appear absorbed for a moment, an infantine laugh pervading his
venerable prophet's face. Then he would continue: "The house, no fear!
They spoke of buying it last year, and offered eighty thousand francs,
twice as much as it's worth. But the landlord, a retired fruiterer, as
big a scoundrel as they, wanted to make them shell out more. But not
only that, they are suspicious about me; they know I'm not so likely
to give way. No! no! here I am, and here I intend to stay. The emperor
with all his cannon could not turn me out."

Denise never dared say any more, she would go on with her work, whilst
the old man continued to break out in short sentences, between two
cuts with his knife, muttering something to the effect that the game
had hardly commenced, later on they would see wonderful things, he
had certain plans which would sweep away their umbrella counter;
and, in his obstinacy, there appeared a personal revolt of the small
manufacturer against the threatening invasion of the great shops. Pépé,
however, would at last climb on his knees, and impatiently stretch out
his hand towards the dog's head.

"Give it me, sir."

"Presently, my child," the old man would reply in a voice that suddenly
became tender. "He hasn't any eyes; we must make his eyes now." And
whilst carving the eye he would continue talking to Denise. "Do you
hear them? Isn't there a roar next door? That's what exasperates me
more than anything, my word of honour! to have them always on my back
with their infernal locomotive-like noise."

It made his little table tremble, he asserted. The whole shop was
shaken, and he would spend the entire afternoon without a customer, in
the trepidation of the crowd which overflowed The Ladies' Paradise. It
was from morning to night a subject for eternal grumbling. Another good
day's work, they were knocking against the wall, the silk department
must have cleared ten thousand francs; or else he made merry over a
showery day which had killed the receipts. And the slightest rumours,
the most unimportant noises, furnished him with subjects of endless
comment.

"Ah! some one has slipped down! Ah, if they could only all fall and
break their backs! That, my dear, is a dispute between some ladies. So
much the better! So much the better! Do you hear the parcels falling on
to the lower floor? It's disgusting!"

It did not do for Denise to discuss his explanations, for he retorted
bitterly by reminding her of the shameful way they had dismissed her.
She was obliged to relate for the hundredth time her life in the
dress department, the hardships she had endured at first, the small
unhealthy bedrooms, the bad food, and the continual struggle between
the salesmen; and they were thus talking about the shop from morning to
night, absorbing it hourly in the very air they breathed.

"Give it me, sir," Pépé would repeat, with eager outstretched hands.

The dog's head finished, Bourras would hold it at a distance, then
examine it closely with childish glee. "Take care, it will bite you!
There, go and play, and don't break it, if you can help it." Then
resuming his fixed idea, he would shake his fist at the wall. "You may
do all you can to knock the house down. You sha'n't have it, even if
you invade the whole neighbourhood."

Denise had now her daily bread assured her, and she was extremely
grateful to the old umbrella-dealer, whose good heart she felt beneath
his strange violent ways. She had a strong desire, however, to find
some work elsewhere, for she often saw him inventing some trifle for
her to do; she fully understood that he did not require a workwoman in
the present slack state of his business, and that he was employing her
out of pure charity. Six months had passed thus, and the dull winter
season had again returned. She was despairing of finding a situation
before March, when, one evening in January, Deloche, who was watching
for her in a doorway, gave her a bit of advice. Why did she not go and
see Robineau; perhaps he might want some one?

In September, Robineau had decided to buy Vinçard's silk business,
trembling all the time lest he should compromise his wife's sixty
thousand francs. He had paid forty thousand for the good-will and
stock, and was starting with the remaining twenty thousand. It was not
much, but he had Gaujean behind him to back him up with any amount
of credit. Since his disagreement with The Ladies' Paradise, the
latter had been longing to stir up a system of competition against the
colossus; and he thought victory certain, by creating special shops
in the neighbourhood, where the public could find a large and varied
choice of articles. The rich Lyons manufacturers, such as Dumonteil,
were the only ones who could accept the big shops' terms, satisfied
to keep their looms going with them, looking for their profits by
selling to less important houses. But Gaujean was far from having the
solidity and staying power possessed by Dumonteil. For a long time a
simple commission agent, it was only during the last five or six years
that he had had looms of his own, and he still had a lot of work done
by other makers, furnishing them with the raw material and paying
them by the yard. It was precisely this system which, increasing his
manufacturing expenses, had prevented him competing with Dumonteil for
the supply of the Paris Paradise. This had filled him with rancour;
he saw in Robineau the instrument of a decisive battle to be declared
against these drapery bazaars which he accused of ruining the French
manufacturers.

When Denise called she found Madame Robineau alone. Daughter of an
overseer in the Department of Highways, entirely ignorant of business
matters, she still retained the charming awkwardness of a girl educated
in a Blois convent She was dark, very pretty, with a gentle, cheerful
manner, which gave her a great charm. She adored her husband, living
solely by his love. As Denise was about to leave her name Robineau came
in, and engaged her at once, one of his two saleswomen having left the
previous day to go to The Ladies' Paradise.

"They don't leave us a single good hand," said he. "However, with you I
shall feel quite easy, for you are like me, you can't be very fond of
them. Come to-morrow."

In the evening Denise hardly knew how to announce her departure to
Bourras. In fact, he called her an ungrateful girl, and lost his
temper. Then when, with tears in her eyes, she tried to defend herself
by intimating that she could see through his charitable conduct, he
softened down, said that he had plenty of work, that she was leaving
him just as he was about to bring out an umbrella of his invention.

"And Pépé?" asked he.

This was Denise's great trouble; she dared not take him back to Madame
Gras, and could not leave him alone in the bedroom, shut up from
morning to night.

"Very good, I'll keep him," said the old man; "he'll be all right in my
shop. We'll do the cooking together." Then, as she refused, fearing it
might inconvenience him, he thundered out: "Great heavens! have you no
confidence in me? I sha'n't eat your child!"

Denise was much happier at Robineau's. He only paid her sixty francs a
month, with her food, without giving her any commission on the sales,
just the same as in the old-fashioned houses. But she was treated with
great kindness, especially by Madame Robineau, always smiling at her
counter. He, nervous, worried, was sometimes rather abrupt. At the
expiration of the first month, Denise was quite one of the family, like
the other saleswoman, a silent, consumptive, little body. The Robineaus
were not at all particular before them, talking of the business at
table in the back shop, which looked on to a large yard. And it was
there they decided one evening on starting the campaign against The
Ladies' Paradise. Gaujean had come to dinner. After the usual roast leg
of mutton, he had broached the subject in his Lyons voice, thickened by
the Rhône fogs.

"It's getting unbearable," said he. "They go to Dumonteil, purchase the
sole right in a design, and take three hundred pieces straight off,
insisting on a reduction of ten sous a yard; and, as they pay ready
money, they enjoy moreover the profit of eighteen per cent discount.
Very often Dumonteil barely makes four sous a yard out of it. He works
to keep his looms going, for a loom that stands still is a dead loss.
Under these circumstances how can you expect that we, with our limited
plant, and especially with our makers, can keep up the struggle?"

Robineau, pensive, forgot his dinner. "Three hundred pieces!" he
murmured. "I tremble when I take a dozen, and at ninety days. They
can mark up a franc or two francs cheaper than us. I have calculated
there is a reduction of at least fifteen per cent, on their catalogued
articles, when compared with our prices. That's what kills the small
houses."

He was in a period of discouragement. His wife, full of anxiety, was
looking at him with a tender air. She understood very little about the
business, all these figures confused her; she could not understand why
people took such trouble, when it was so easy to be gay and love one
another. However, it sufficed that her husband wished to conquer, and
she became as impassioned as he himself, and would have stood to her
counter till death.

"But why don't all the manufacturers come to an understanding
together?" resumed Robineau, violently. "They could then lay down the
law, instead of submitting to it."

Gaujean, who had asked for another slice of mutton, was slowly
masticating. "Ah! why, why? The looms must be kept going, I tell you.
When one has weavers everywhere, in the neighbourhood of Lyons, in the
Gard, in the Isere, they can't stand still a day without an enormous
loss. Then we who sometimes employ makers having ten or fifteen looms
are better able to control the output, as far as regards the stock,
whilst the big manufacturers are obliged to have continual outlets, the
quickest and largest possible, so that they are on their knees before
the big shops. I know three or four who out-bid each other, and who
would sooner work at a loss than not obtain the orders. But they make
up for it with the small houses like yours. Yes, if they exist through
them, they make their profit out of you. Heaven knows how the crisis
will end!"

"It's odious!" exclaimed Robineau, relieved by this cry of anger.

Denise was quietly listening. She was secretly for the big shops, with
her instinctive love of logic and life.

They had relapsed into silence, and were eating some potted French
beans. At last she ventured to say in a cheerful tone: "The public does
not complain."

Madame Robineau could not suppress a little laugh, which annoyed her
husband and Gaujean. No doubt the customer was satisfied, for, in
the end, it was the customer who profited by the fall in prices. But
everybody must live; where would they be if, under the pretext of
the general welfare, the consumer was fattened at the expense of the
producer? And then commenced a long discussion. Denise affected to be
joking, all the while producing solid arguments. All the middle-men
disappeared, the manufacturing agents, representatives, commission
agents, and this greatly contributed to cheapen the articles; besides,
the manufacturers could no longer live without the big shops, for as
soon as one of them lost their custom, failure became a certainty; in
short, it was a natural commercial evolution. It would be impossible to
prevent things going on as they ought to, when everybody was working
for that, whether they liked it or not.

"So you are for those who turned you out into the street?" asked
Gaujean.

Denise became very red. She herself was surprised at the vivacity of
her defence. What had she at heart, that such a flame should have
invaded her bosom?

"Dear me, no!" replied she. "Perhaps I'm wrong, for you are more
competent to judge than I. I simply express my opinion. The prices,
instead of being settled as formerly by fifty houses, are now fixed by
four or five, which have lowered them, thanks to the power of their
capital, and the strength of their immense business. So much the better
for the public, that's all!"

Robineau was not angry, but had become grave, keeping his eyes fixed
on the table-cloth. He had often felt this breath of the new style of
business, this evolution of which the young girl spoke; and he would
ask himself in his clear, quiet moments, why he should wish to resist
such a powerful current, which must carry everything before it. Madame
Robineau herself, on seeing her husband deep in thought, glanced with
approval at Denise, who had modestly resumed her silent attitude.

"Come," resumed Gaujean, to cut short the argument, "all that is simply
theory. Let's talk of our matter."

After the cheese, the servant brought in some jam and some pears. He
took some jam, eating it with a spoon, with the unconscious greediness
of a big man very fond of sugar.

"To begin with, you must attack their Paris Paradise, which has been
their success of the year. I have come to an understanding with
several of my brother manufacturers at Lyons, and have brought you an
exceptional offer—a black silk, that you can sell at five and a half.
They sell theirs at five francs twelve sous, don't they? Well! this
will be two sous less, and that will suffice to upset them."

At this Robineau's eyes lighted up again. In his continual nervous
torment, he often skipped like this from despair to hope. "Have you
got a sample?" asked he. And when Gaujean drew from his pocket-book a
little square of silk, he went into raptures, exclaiming: "Why, this
is a handsomer silk than the Paris Paradise! In any case it produces a
better effect, the grain is coarser. You are right, we must make the
attempt If I don't bring them to my feet, I'll give up this time!"

Madame Robineau, sharing this enthusiasm, declared the silk superb,
and Denise herself thought they would succeed. The latter part of
the dinner was thus very gay. They talked in a loud tone; it seemed
that The Ladies' Paradise was at its last gasp. Gaujean, who was
finishing the pot of jam, explained what enormous sacrifices he and
his colleagues would be obliged to make to deliver such an article at
this low price; but they would ruin themselves rather than yield; they
had sworn to kill the big shops. As the coffee came in the gaiety was
greatly increased by the arrival of Vinçard, who had just called, in
passing, to see how his successor was getting on.

"Famous!" cried he, feeling the silk. "You'll floor them, I stake my
life! Ah! you owe me a rare good thing; I told you this was a golden
affair!"

He had just taken a restaurant at Vincennes. It was an old, cherished
idea, slyly nourished while he was struggling in the silk business,
trembling for fear he should not sell it before the crash came, and
swearing to himself that he would put his money into an undertaking
where he could rob at his ease. The idea of a restaurant had struck
him at the wedding of a cousin, who had been made to pay ten francs
for a bowl of dish water, in which floated some Italian paste. And,
in presence of the Robineaus, the joy he felt in having saddled them
with a badly-paying business of which he despaired of ever getting
rid, enlarged still further his face with its round eyes and large
loyal-looking mouth, a face beaming with health.

"And your pains?" asked Madame Robineau, good-naturedly.

"My pains?" murmured he, astonished.

"Yes, those rheumatic pains which tormented you so much when you were
here."

He then recollected, and blushed slightly. "Oh! I suffer from them
still! However, the country air, you know, has done wonders for me.
Never mind, you've done a good stroke of business. Had it not been for
my rheumatics, I could soon have retired with ten thousand francs a
year. My word of honour!"

A fortnight later, the struggle commenced between Robineau and The
Ladies' Paradise. It became celebrated, and occupied for a time the
whole Parisian market. Robineau, using his adversary's weapons, had
advertised extensively in the newspapers. Besides that, he made a fine
display, piling up enormous bales of the famous silk in his windows,
with immense white tickets, displaying in giant figures the price,
five francs and a half. It was this figure that caused a revolution
among the women; two sous cheaper than at The Ladies' Paradise, and
the silk appeared stronger. From the first day a crowd of customers
flocked in. Madame Marty bought a dress she did not want, pretending
it to be a bargain; Madame Bourdelais thought the silk very fine, but
preferred waiting, guessing no doubt what would happen. And, indeed
the following week, Mouret boldly reduced The Paris Paradise by four
sous, after a lively discussion with Bourdoncle and the other managers,
in which he had succeeded in inducing them to accept the challenge,
even at a sacrifice; for these four sous represented a dead loss,
the silk being sold already at strict cost price. It was a heavy
blow to Robineau, who did not think his rival would reduce; for this
suicidal competition, these losing sales, were then unknown; and the
tide of customers, attracted by the cheapness, had immediately flown
back towards the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, whilst the shop in the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Champs gradually emptied.

Gaujean came up from Lyons; there were hasty confabulations, and they
finished by coming to a most heroic resolution; the silk should be
lowered in price, they would sell it at five francs six sous, beneath
which no one could go, without folly. The next day Mouret marked his at
five francs four sous. After that it became a mania: Robineau replied
by five francs three sous, when Mouret at once ticketed his at five
francs and two sous. Neither lowered more than a sou at a time now,
losing considerable sums as often as they made this present to the
public. The customers laughed, delighted with this duel, moved by the
terrible blows dealt each other by the two houses to please them. At
last Mouret ventured as low as five francs; his staff paled before
such a challenge thrown down to fortune. Robineau, utterly beaten, out
of breath, stopped also at five francs, not having the courage to go
any lower. And they rested at their positions, face to face, with the
massacre of their goods around them.

But if honour was saved on both sides, the situation was becoming fatal
for Robineau. The Ladies' Paradise had money at its disposal and a
patronage which enabled it to balance its profits; whilst he, sustained
by Gaujean alone, unable to recoup his losses on other articles,
was exhausted, and slipped daily a little further on the verge of
bankruptcy. He was dying from his hardihood, notwithstanding the
numerous customers that the hazards of the struggle had brought him.
One of his secret torments was to see these customers slowly quitting
him, returning to The Ladies' Paradise, after the money he had lost and
the efforts he had made to conquer them.

One day he quite lost patience. A customer, Madame de Boves, had come
to his shop for some mantles, for he had added a ready-made department
to his business. She could not make up her mind, complaining of the
quality of the goods. At last she said: "Their Paris Paradise is a
great deal stronger."

Robineau restrained himself, assuring her that she was mistaken, with a
tradesman's politeness, all the more respectful, because he was afraid
to allow his anger to burst forth.

"But just look at the silk of this mantle!" resumed she, "one would
really take it for so much cobweb. You may say what you like, sir,
their silk at five francs is like leather compared with this."

He did not reply, the blood rushing to his face, and his lips tightly
closed. In point of fact he had ingeniously thought of buying some of
his rival's silk for these mantles. So that it was Mouret, not he, who
lost on the material. He simply cut off the selvage.

"Really you think the Paris Paradise thicker?" murmured he.

"Oh! a hundred times!" said Madame de Boves. "There's no comparison."

This injustice on her part, her running down the goods in this way,
filled him with indignation. And, as she was still turning the mantle
over with a disgusted air, a little piece of the blue and silver
selvage, not cut off, appeared under the lining. He could not contain
himself any longer; he confessed he would even have given his head.

"Well, madame, this _is_ Paris Paradise. I bought it myself! Look at
the border."

Madame de Boves went away greatly annoyed, and a number of ladies
quitted him when the affair became known. And he, amid this ruin, when
the fear for the future seized him, only trembled for his wife, who
had been brought up in a happy, peaceful home, and would never be able
to endure a life of poverty. What would become of her if a catastrophe
threw them into the street, with a load of debts? It was his fault,
he ought never to have touched her money. She was obliged to comfort
him. Wasn't the money as much his as hers? He loved her dearly, and she
wanted nothing more; she gave him everything, her heart and her life.
They could be heard in the back shop embracing one another. Little by
little the affairs and ways of the house became more regular; every
month their losses increased, in a slow proportion which postponed the
fatal issue. A tenacious hope sustained them, they still announced the
near discomfiture of The Ladies' Paradise.

"Pooh!" he would say, "we are young yet The future is ours."

"And besides, what matters, if you have done what you wanted to do?"
resumed she. "As long as you are satisfied, I am as well, darling."

Denise's affection increased for them on seeing their tenderness. She
trembled, feeling their inevitable fall; but she dared not interfere.
It was then she fully understood the power of the new system of
business, and became impassioned for this force which was transforming
Paris. Her ideas were ripening, a woman's grace was developing out of
the savage child newly arrived from Valognes. In fact, her life was a
pretty pleasant one, notwithstanding the fatigue and the little money
she earned. When she had spent all the day on her feet, she had to
go straight home, and look after Pépé, whom old Bourras insisted on
feeding, fortunately; but there was still a lot to do: a shirt to wash,
stockings to mend; without mentioning the noise made by the youngster,
which made her head ache fit to split. She never went to bed before
midnight. Sunday was her hardest day: she cleaned her room, and mended
her own things, so busy that it was often five o'clock before she could
dress. However, she sometimes went out for health's sake, taking the
little one for a long walk, out towards Neuilly; and their treat was to
drink a cup of milk there at a dairyman's, who allowed them to sit down
in his yard. Jean disdained these excursions; he put in an appearance
now and again on week-day evenings, then disappeared, pretending to
have other visits to pay; he asked for no more money, but he arrived
with such a melancholy face, that his sister, anxious, always managed
to keep a five-franc piece for him. That was her sole luxury.

"Five francs!" he would exclaim each time. "My stars! you're too good!
It just happens, there's the stationer's wife—"

"Not another word," Denise would say; "I don't want to know."

But he thought she was accusing him of boasting. "I tell you she's the
wife of a stationer! Oh! something magnificent!"

Three months passed away, spring was returning. Denise refused to
return to Joinville with Pauline and Baugé. She sometimes met them in
the Rue Saint-Roch, when she left the shop in the evening. Pauline, one
evening when she was alone, confided to her that she was very likely
going to marry her lover; it was she who was hesitating, for they did
not care for married saleswomen at The Ladies' Paradise. This idea
of marriage surprised Denise, she did not dare to advise her friend.
One day, just as Colomban had stopped her near the fountain to talk
about Clara, the latter was crossing the road; and Denise was obliged
to run away, for he implored her to ask her old comrade if she would
marry him. What was the matter with them all? why were they tormenting
themselves like this? She thought herself very fortunate not to be in
love with any one.

"You've heard the news?" cried out the umbrella dealer to her one
evening on her return home from business.

"No, Monsieur Bourras."

"Well! the scoundrels have bought the Hôtel Duvillard. I'm hemmed in
on all sides!" He was waving his long arms about, in a burst of fury
which made his white mane stand up on end. "A regular mixed-up affair,"
resumed the old man. "It appears that the hôtel belonged to the Crédit
Immobilier, the president of which. Baron Hartmann, has just sold it to
our famous Mouret. Now they've got me on the right, on the left, and
at the back, just in the way I'm holding the knob of this stick in my
hand!"

It was true, the sale was to have been concluded the previous day.
Bourras's small house, hemmed in between The Ladies' Paradise and the
Hôtel Duvillard, hanging on like a swallow's nest in a crack of a wall,
seemed sure to be crushed, as soon as the shop invaded the hôtel, and
the time had now arrived. The colossus had turned the feeble obstacle,
and was surrounding it with a pile of goods, threatening to swallow it
up, to absorb it by the sole force of its giant aspiration. Bourras
could feel the embrace which was making his shop creak. He thought he
could see the place getting smaller; he was afraid of being absorbed
himself, of being carried to the other side with his umbrellas and
sticks, so loudly was the terrible machine roaring just then.

"Do you hear them?" asked he. "One would think they were eating up the
walls even! And in my cellar, in the attic, everywhere, there's the
same noise as of a saw going through the plaster. Never mind! I don't
fancy they'll flatten me out like a sheet of paper. I'll stick here,
even if they blow up my roof, and the rain should fall in bucketfuls on
my bed!"

It was just at this moment that Mouret caused fresh proposals to be
made to Bourras; they would increase the figure, they would give him
fifty thousand francs for his good-will and the remainder of the lease.
This offer redoubled the old man's anger; he refused in an insulting
manner. How these scoundrels must rob people to be able to pay fifty
thousand francs for a thing not worth ten thousand. And he defended his
shop as a young girl defends her virtue, for honour's sake.

Denise noticed Bourras was pre-occupied during the next fortnight.
He wandered about in a feverish manner, measuring the walls of his
house, surveying it from the middle of the street with the air of
an architect. Then one morning some workmen arrived. This was the
decisive blow. He had conceived the bold idea of beating The Ladies'
Paradise on its own ground by making certain concessions to modern
luxury. The customers, who often reproached him about his dark shop,
would certainly come back again, when they saw it bright and new. In
the first place, the workmen stopped up the crevices and whitewashed
the frontage, then they painted the woodwork a light green, and even
carried the splendour so far as to gild the sign-board. A sum of three
thousand francs, held in reserve by Bourras as a last resource, was
swallowed up in this way. The whole neighbourhood was in a state of
revolution; people came to look at him amid all these riches, losing
his head, no longer able to find the things he was accustomed to.
He did not seem to be at home in this shining frame, in this tender
setting; he seemed frightened, with his long beard and white hair. The
people passing on the opposite side of the street were astonished on
seeing him waving his arms about and carving his handles. And he was in
a state of fever, afraid of dirtying his shop, plunging further into
this luxurious business, which he did not at all understand.

The same as with Robineau, the campaign against The Ladies' Paradise
was opened by Bourras. The latter had just brought out his invention,
the automatic umbrella, which later on was to become popular. But The
Paradise people immediately improved on the invention, and a struggle
of prices commenced. Bourras had an article at one franc and nineteen
sous, in zanella, with steel mounting, everlasting, said the ticket,
But he was especially anxious to vanquish his competitors with his
handles—bamboo, dogwood, olive, myrtle, rattan, every imaginable sort
of handle. The Paradise people, less artistic, paid more attention to
the material, extolling their alpacas and mohairs, their twills and
sarcenets. And they came out victorious. Bourras, in despair, repeated
that art was done for, that he was reduced to carving his handles for
pleasure, without any hope of selling them.

"It's my fault!" cried he to Denise. "I never ought to have kept a lot
of rotten articles, at one franc nineteen sous! That's where these new
notions lead one to. I wanted to follow the example of these brigands;
so much the better if I'm ruined by it!"

The month of July was very warm, and Denise suffered greatly in her
narrow room, under the roof. So after leaving the shop, she sometimes
went and fetched Pépé, and instead of going up-stairs at once, went
for a stroll in the Tuileries Gardens until the gates were closed.
Ono evening as she was walking under the chestnut-trees she suddenly
stopped with surprise; a few yards off, walking straight towards
her, she thought she recognised Hutin. But her heart commenced to
beat violently. It was Mouret, who had dined over the water, and was
hurrying along on foot to call on Madame Desforges. At the abrupt
movement she made to escape him, he caught sight of her. The night was
coming on, but still he recognised her.

"Ah, it's you, mademoiselle!"

She did not reply, astonished that he should deign to stop. He,
smiling, concealed his constraint beneath an air of amiable protection.

"You are still in Paris?"

"Yes, sir," said she at last.

She was slowly drawing back, desirous of making a bow and continuing
her walk. But he turned and followed her under the black shadows of the
chestnut-trees. The air was getting cooler, some children were laughing
in the distance, trundling their hoops.

"This is your brother, is it not?" resumed he, looking at Pépé.

The little boy, frightened by the unusual presence of a gentleman, was
gravely walking by his sister's side, holding her tightly by the hand.

"Yes, sir," replied she once more.

She blushed, thinking of the abominable inventions circulated by
Marguerite and Clara. No doubt Mouret understood why she was blushing,
for he quickly added: "Listen, mademoiselle, I have to apologise to
you. Yes, I should have been happy to have told you sooner how much
I regret the error that has been made. You were accused too lightly
of a fault. But the evil is done. I simply wanted to assure you that
every one in our establishment now knows of your affection for your
brothers," he continued, with a respectful politeness to which the
saleswomen in The Ladies' Paradise were little accustomed. Denise's
confusion had increased; but her heart was filled with joy. He knew,
then, that she had given herself to no one! Both remained silent; he
continued beside her, regulating his walk to the child's short steps;
and the distant murmurs of the city were dying away under the black
shadows of the spreading chestnut-trees. "I have only one reparation to
offer you," resumed he. "Naturally, if you would like to come back to
us—"

She interrupted him, and refused with a feverish haste. "No, sir, I
cannot. Thank you all the same, but I have found another situation."

He knew it, they had informed him she was with Robineau; and leisurely,
on a footing of amiable equality, he spoke of the latter, rendering
him full justice. A very intelligent fellow, but too nervous. He
would certainly come to grief: Gaujean had burdened him with a very
heavy business, in which they would both suffer. Denise, conquered
by this familiarity, opened her mind further, and allowed it to be
seen that she was for the big shops in the war between them and the
small traders: she became animated, citing examples, showing herself
well up in the question, even expressing new and enlightened ideas.
He, charmed, listened to her in surprise; and turned round, trying to
distinguish her features in the growing darkness. She seemed still
the same with her simple dress and sweet face; but from this modest
bashfulness, there seemed to exhale a penetrating perfume, of which he
felt the powerful influence. Decidedly this little girl had got used
to the air of Paris, she was becoming quite a woman, and was really
perturbing, so sensible, with her beautiful hair, overflowing with
tenderness.

"As you are on our side," said he, laughing, "why do you stay with our
adversaries? I fancy, too, they told me you lodged with Bourras."

"A very worthy man," murmured she.

"No, not a bit of it! he's an old idiot, a madman who will force me to
ruin him, though I should be glad to get rid of him with a fortune!
Besides, your place is not in his house, which has a bad reputation. He
lets to certain women—" But feeling that the young girl was confused,
he hastened to add: "One can be respectable anywhere, and there's even
more merit in remaining so when one is so poor."

They went on a few steps in silence. Pépé seemed to be listening with
the attentive air of a sharp child. Now and again he raised his eyes
to his sister, whose burning hand, quivering with sudden starts,
astonished him.

"Look here!" resumed Mouret, gaily, "will you be my ambassador? I
intended increasing my offer to-morrow—of proposing eighty thousand
francs to Bourras. Do you speak to him first about it. Tell him he's
cutting his own throat. Perhaps he'll listen to you, as he has a liking
for you, and you'll be doing him a real service."

"Very well!" said Denise, smiling also, "I will deliver your message,
but I am afraid I shall not succeed."

And a fresh silence ensued, neither of them having anything more to
say. He attempted to talk of her uncle Baudu; but had to give it up on
seeing the young girl's uneasiness. However, they continued to walk
side by side, and at last found themselves near the Rue de Rivoli, in
a path where it was still light. On coming out of the darkness of the
trees it was like a sudden awakening. He understood that he could not
detain her any longer.

"Good night, mademoiselle."

"Good night, sir."

But he did not go away. On raising his eyes he perceived in front of
him, at the corner of the Rue d'Alger, the lighted windows at Madame
Desforges's, whither he was bound. And looking at Denise, whom he could
now see, in the pale twilight, she appeared to him very puny beside
Henriette.

Why was it she touched his heart in this way? It was a stupid caprice.

"This little man is getting tired," resumed he, just for something to
say. "Remember, mind, that our house is always open to you; you've only
to knock, and I'll give you every compensation possible. Good night,
mademoiselle."

"Good night, sir."

When Mouret quitted her, Denise went back under the chestnut-trees, in
the black shadow. For a long time she walked on without any object,
between the enormous trunks, her face burning, her head in a whirl of
confused ideas. Pépé still had hold of her hand, stretching out his
short legs to keep pace with her. She had forgotten him. At last he
said:

"You go too quick, little mother."

At this she sat down on a bench; and as he was tired, the child went
to sleep on her lap. She held him there, nestling to her virgin bosom,
her eyes lost far away in the darkness. When, an hour later on, they
returned slowly to the Rue de la Michodière, she had regained her usual
quiet, sensible expression.

"Hell and thunder!" shouted Bourras, when he saw her coming, "the blow
is struck. That rascal of a Mouret has just bought my house." He was
half mad, and was striking himself in the middle of the shop with such
outrageous gestures that he almost threatened to break the windows. "Ah
I the scoundrel! It's the fruiterer who's written to tell me this. And
how much do you think he has got for the house? One hundred and fifty
thousand francs, four times its value! There's another thief, if you
like! Just fancy, he has taken advantage of my embellishments, making
capital out of the fact that the house has been done up. How much
longer are they going to make a fool of me?"

The thought that his money spent on paint and white-wash had brought
the fruiterer a profit exasperated him. And now Mouret would be his
landlord; he would have to pay him! It was beneath this detested
competitor's roof, that he must live in future! Such a thought raised
his fury to the highest possible pitch.

"Ah! I could hear them digging a hole through the wall. At this moment,
they are here eating out of my very plate, so to say!"

And the shop shook under his heavy fist which he banged on the counter;
he made the umbrellas and the parasols dance again. Denise, bewildered,
could not get in a word. She stood there, motionless, waiting for the
end of his tirade; whilst Pépé, very tired, had fallen asleep on a
chair. At last, when Bourras became a little calmer, she resolved to
deliver Mouret's message. No doubt the old man was irritated, but the
excess even of his anger, the blind alley in which he found himself,
might determine an abrupt acceptance.

"I've just met some one," she commenced. "Yes, a person from The
Paradise, very well informed. It appears that they are going to offer
you eighty thousand francs to-morrow."

"Eighty thousand francs!" interrupted he, in a terrible voice; "eighty
thousand francs! Not for a million now!"

She tried to reason with him. But at that moment the shop door opened,
and she suddenly drew back, pale and silent. It was her uncle Baudu,
with his yellow face and aged look. Bourras seized his neighbour by the
button-hole, and roared out in his face without allowing him to say a
word, as if goaded on by his presence:

"What do you think they have the cheek to offer me? Eighty thousand
francs! They've got so far, the brigands! they think I'm going to sell
myself like a prostitute. Ah! they've bought the house, and think
they've now got me. Well! it's all over, they sha'n't have it! I might
have given way, perhaps; but now it belongs to them, let them try and
take it!"

"So the news is true?" said Baudu in his slow voice. "I had heard of
it, and came over to know if it was so."

"Eighty thousand francs!" repeated Bourras. "Why not a hundred thousand
at once? It's this immense sum of money that makes me indignant. Do
they think they can make me commit a knavish trick with their money!
They sha'n't have it, by heavens! Never, never, you hear me?"

Denise gently observed, in her calm, quiet way: "They'll have it in
nine years' time, when your lease expires."

And, notwithstanding her uncle's presence, she begged of the old man to
accept. The struggle was becoming impossible, he was fighting against a
superior force; he would be mad to refuse the fortune offered him. But
he still replied no. In nine years' time he hoped to be dead, so as not
to see it.

"You hear. Monsieur Baudu," resumed he, "your niece is on their side,
it's her they have employed to corrupt me. She's with the brigands, my
word of honour!"

Baudu, who up to then had appeared not to notice Denise, now raised
his head, with the morose movement that he affected when standing at
his shop door, every time she passed. But, slowly, he turned round and
looked at her, and his thick lips trembled.

"I know it," replied he in a half-whisper, and he continued to look at
her.

Denise, affected almost to tears, thought him greatly changed by
trouble. Perhaps he was stricken with remorse for not having assisted
her during the time of misery she had just passed through. Then
the sight of Pépé sleeping on the chair, amidst the noise of the
discussion, seemed to suddenly inspire him with compassion.

"Denise," said he simply, "come to-morrow and have dinner with us and
bring the little one. My wife and Geneviève asked me to invite you if I
met you."

She turned very red, and went up and kissed him. And as he was going
away, Bourras, delighted at this reconciliation, cried out to him
again: "Just talk to her, she isn't a bad sort As for me, the house may
fall, I shall be found in the ruins."

"Our houses are already falling, neighbour," said Baudu with a sombre
air. "We shall all be crushed under them."

CHAPTER VIII.

At this time the whole neighbourhood was talking of the great
thoroughfare to be opened from the Bourse to the new Opera House, under
the name of the Rue du Dix-Décembre. The expropriation judgments had
just been delivered, two gangs of demolishers were already attacking
the opening at the two ends, the first pulling down the old mansions
in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, the other destroying the thin walls of the
old Vaudeville; and one could hear the picks getting closer. The Rue
de Choiseul and the Rue de la Michodière got quite excited over their
condemned houses. Before a fortnight passed, the opening would make a
great hole in these streets, letting in the sun and air.

But what stirred up the district still more, was the work going on
at The Ladies' Paradise. Considerable enlargements were talked of,
gigantic shops having frontages in the Rue de la Michodière, the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, and the Rue Monsigny. Mouret, it was said,
had made arrangements with Baron Hartmann, chairman of the Crédit
Immobilier, and he would occupy the whole block, except the future
frontage in the Rue du Dix-Décembre, on which the baron wished to
construct a rival to the Grand Hôtel. The Paradise people were buying
up leases on all sides, the shops were closing, the tenants moving; and
in the empty buildings an army of workmen were commencing the various
alterations under a cloud of plaster. In the midst of this disorder,
old Bourras's narrow hovel was the only one that remained standing and
intact, obstinately sticking between the high walls covered with masons.

When, the next day, Denise went with Pépé to her uncle Baudu's, the
street was just at that moment blocked up by a line of tumbrels
discharging bricks before the Hôtel Duvillard. Baudu was standing at
his shop door looking on with a gloomy air. As The Ladies' Paradise
became larger. The Old Elbeuf seemed to get smaller. The young girl
thought the windows looked blacker than ever, and more and more crushed
beneath the low first storey, with its prison-like bars; the damp had
still further discoloured the old green sign-board, a sort of distress
oozed from the whole frontage, livid in hue, and, as it were, grown
thinner.

"Here you are, then!" said Baudu. "Take care! they would run right over
you."

Inside the shop, Denise experienced the same heart-broken sensation;
she found it darker, invaded more than ever by the somnolence of
approaching ruin; empty corners formed dark and gloomy holes, the dust
was invading the counters and drawers, whilst an odour of saltpetre
rose from the bales of cloth that were no longer moved about. At the
desk Madame Baudu and Geneviève were standing mute and motionless, as
in some solitary spot, where no one would come to disturb them. The
mother was hemming some dusters. The daughter, her hands spread on her
knees, was gazing at the emptiness before her.

"Good evening, aunt," said Denise; "I'm delighted to see you again, and
if I have hurt your feelings, I hope you will forgive me."

Madame Baudu kissed her, greatly affected. "My poor child," said she,
"if I had no other troubles, you would see me gayer than this."

"Good evening, cousin," resumed Denise, kissing Geneviève on the cheeks.

The latter woke up with a sort of start, and returned her kisses,
without finding a word to say. The two women then took up Pépé, who was
holding out his little arms, and the reconciliation was complete.

"Well! it's six o'clock, let's go to dinner," said Baudu. "Why haven't
you brought Jean?"

"But he was to come," murmured Denise, embarrassed. "I saw him this
morning, and he faithfully promised me. Oh! we must not wait for him;
his master has kept him, I dare say." She suspected some extraordinary
adventure, and wished to apologise for him in advance.

"In that case, we will commence," said her uncle. Then turning towards
the obscure depths of the shop, he added:

"Come on, Colomban, you can dine with us. No one will come."

Denise had not noticed the shopman. Her aunt explained to her that
they had been obliged to get rid of the other salesman and the young
lady. Business was getting so bad that Colomban sufficed; and even he
spent many idle hours, drowsy, falling off to sleep with his eyes open.
The gas was burning in the dining-room, although they were enjoying
long summer days. Denise slightly shivered on entering, seized by the
dampness falling from the walls. She once more beheld the round table,
the places laid on the American cloth, the window drawing its air and
light from the dark and fetid back yard. And these things appeared to
her to be gloomier than ever, and tearful like the shop.

"Father," said Geneviève, uncomfortable for Denise's sake, "shall I
close the window? there's rather a bad smell."

He smelt nothing, and seemed surprised. "Shut the window if you like,"
replied he at last. "But we sha'n't get any air then."

And indeed they were almost stifled. It was a family dinner, very
simple. After the soup, as soon as the servant had served the boiled
beef, the old man as usual commenced about the people opposite. At
first he showed himself very tolerant, allowing his niece to have a
different opinion.

"Dear me! you are quite free to support these great hairbrained houses.
Each one has his ideas, my girl. If you were not disgusted at being so
disgracefully chucked out you must have strong reasons for liking them;
and even if you went back again, I should think none the worse of you.
No one here would be offended, would they?"

"Oh, no!" murmured Madame Baudu.

Denise quietly gave her reasons, as she had at Robineau's: the logical
evolution in business, the necessities of modern times, the greatness
of these new creations, in short, the growing well-being of the public.
Baudu, his eyes opened, and his mouth clamming, listened with a visible
tension of intelligence. Then, when she had finished, he shook his head.

"That's all phantasmagoria, you know. Business is business, there's
no getting over that. I own that they succeed, but that's all. For a
long time I thought they would smash up; yes, I expected that, waiting
patiently—you remember? Well, no, it appears that now-a-days thieves
make fortunes, whilst honest people die of hunger. That's what we've
come to. I'm obliged to bow to facts. And I do bow, on my word, I do
bow!" A deep anger was gradually rising within him. All at once he
flourished his fork. "But The Old Elbeuf will never give way! I said
as much to Bourras, you know, 'Neighbour, you're going over to the
cheapjacks; your paint and your varnish are a disgrace.'"

"Eat your dinner!" interrupted Madame Baudu, feeling anxious, on seeing
him so excited.

"Wait a bit, I want my niece thoroughly to understand my motto. Just
listen, my girl: I'm like this decanter, I don't budge. They succeed,
so much the worse for them! As for me, I protest—that's all!"

The servant brought in a piece of roast veal. He cut it up with his
trembling hands; but he no longer had his correct glance, his skill
in weighing the portions. The consciousness of his defeat deprived
him of the confidence he used to have as a respected employer. Pépé
thought his uncle was getting angry, and they had to pacify him, by
giving him some dessert, some biscuits which were near his plate.
Then Baudu, lowering his voice, tried to talk of something else. For
a moment he spoke of the demolitions going on, approving of the Rue
du Dix-Décembre, the cutting of which would certainly improve the
business of the neighbourhood. But then again he returned to The
Ladies' Paradise; everything brought him back to it, it was a kind of
complaint. They were covered with plaster, and business was stopped
since the builders' carts had commenced to block up the street. It
would soon be really ridiculous in its immensity; the customers would
lose themselves. Why not have the central markets at once? And, in
spite of his wife's supplicating looks, notwithstanding his own effort,
he went on from the works to the amount of business done in the big
shop. Was it not inconceivable? In less than four years they had
increased their figures five-fold; the annual receipts, formerly eight
million francs, now attained the sum of forty millions, according to
the last balance-sheet. In fact it was a piece of folly, a thing that
had never been seen before, and against which it was perfectly useless
to struggle. They were always increasing, they had now a thousand
employees and twenty-eight departments. These twenty-eight departments
enraged him more than anything else. No doubt they had duplicated a
few, but others were quite new; for instance a furniture department,
and a department for fancy goods. The idea! Fancy goods! Really these
people were not at all proud, they would end by selling fish. Baudu,
though affecting to respect Denise's opinions, attempted to convert her.

"Frankly, you can't defend them. What would you say were I to add a
hardware department to my cloth business? You would say I was mad.
Confess, at least, that you don't esteem them."

And as the young girl simply smiled, feeling uncomfortable,
understanding the uselessness of good reasons, he resumed:

"In short, you are on their side. We won't talk about it any more, for
it's useless to let that part us again. It would be too much to see
them come between me and my family! Go back with them, if you like; but
pray don't worry me with any more of their stories!"

A silence ensued. His former violence was reduced to this feverish
resignation. As they were suffocating in the narrow room, heated by the
gas-burner, the servant had to open the window again; and the damp,
pestilential air from the yard blew into the apartment. A dish of
stewed potatoes appeared, and they helped themselves slowly, without a
word.

"Look at those two," recommenced Baudu, pointing with his knife to
Geneviève and Colomban, "Ask them if they like your Ladies'' Paradise."

Side by side in the usual place where they had found themselves twice
a-day for the last twelve years, the engaged couple were eating in
moderation, and without uttering a word. He, exaggerating the coarse
good-nature of his face, seemed to be concealing, behind his drooping
eyelashes, the inner flame which was devouring him; whilst she, her
head bowed lower beneath her too heavy hair, seemed to be giving way
entirely, as if ravaged by a secret grief.

"Last year was very disastrous," explained Baudu, "and we have been
obliged to postpone the marriage, not for our own pleasure; ask them
what they think of your friends."

Denise, in order to pacify him, interrogated the young people.

"Naturally I can't be very fond of them," replied Geneviève. "But never
fear, every one doesn't detest them."

And she looked at Colomban, who was rolling up some bread-crumbs with
an absorbed air. When he felt the young girl's gaze directed towards
him, he broke out into a series of violent exclamations: "A rotten
shop! A lot of rogues, every man-jack of them! A regular pest in the
neighbourhood!"

"You hear him! You hear him!" exclaimed Baudu, delighted. "There's
one they'll never get hold of! Ah! my boy, you're the last of the old
stock, we sha'n't see any more!"

But Geneviève, with her severe and suffering look, still kept her eyes
on Colomban, diving into the depths of his heart. And he felt troubled,
he redoubled his invectives. Madame Baudu was watching them with an
anxious air, as if she foresaw another misfortune in this direction.
For some time her daughter's sadness had frightened her, she felt her
to be dying.

"The shop is left to take care of itself," said she at last, quitting
the table, desirous of putting an end to the scene. "Go and see,
Colomban; I fancy I heard some one."

They had finished, and got up. Baudu and Colomban went to speak to a
traveller, who had come for orders. Madame Baudu carried Pépé off to
show him some pictures. The servant had quickly cleared the table, and
Denise was lounging by the window, looking into the little back yard,
when turning round she saw Geneviève still in her place, her eyes fixed
on the American cloth, which was still damp from the sponge having been
passed over it.

"Are you suffering, cousin?" she asked.

The young girl did not reply, obstinately studying a rent in the cloth,
too preoccupied by the reflections passing through her mind. Then she
raised her head with pain, and looked at the sympathising face bent
over hers. The others had gone, then? What was she doing on this chair?
And suddenly a flood of sobs stifled her, her head fell forward on the
edge of the table. She wept on, wetting her sleeve with her tears.

"Good heavens! what's the matter with you?" cried Denise in dismay.
"Shall I call some one?"

Geneviève nervously seized her by the arm, and held her back,
stammering: "No, no, stay. Don't let mamma know! With you I don't mind;
but not the others—not the others! It's not my fault, I assure you. It
was on finding myself all alone. Wait a bit; I'm better, and I'm not
crying now."

But sudden attacks kept seizing her, causing her frail body to tremble.
It seemed as though the weight of her hair was weighing down her head.
As she was rolling her poor head on her folded arms, a hair-pin came
out, and her hair fell over her neck, burying it in its folds. Denise,
quietly, for fear of attracting attention, tried to console her. She
undid her dress, and was heart-broken on seeing how fearfully thin she
was. The poor girl's bosom was as hollow as that of a child. Denise
took the hair by handfuls, that superb head of hair which seemed to be
absorbing all her life, and twisted it up, to clear it away, and give
her a little air.

"Thanks, you are very kind," said Geneviève. "Ah! I'm not very stout,
am I? I used to be stouter, but it's all gone away. Do up my dress
or mamma might see my shoulders. I hide them as much as I can. Good
heavens! I'm not at all well, I'm not at all well."

However, the attack passed away, and she sat there completely worn out,
looking fixedly at her cousin. After a pause she abruptly asked: "Tell
me the truth: does he love her?"

Denise felt a blush rising to her cheek. She was perfectly well aware
that Geneviève referred to Colomban and Clara; but she pretended to be
surprised.

"Who, dear?"

Geneviève shook her head with an incredulous air, "Don't tell
falsehoods, I beg of you. Do me the favour of setting my doubts at
rest. You must know, I feel it. Yes, you have been this girl's comrade,
and I've seen Colomban run after you, and talk to you in a low voice.
He was giving you messages for her, wasn't he? Oh! for pity's sake,
tell me the truth; I assure you it will do me good."

Never had Denise been in such an awkward position. She lowered her eyes
before this almost dumb girl, who yet guessed all. However, she had the
strength to deceive her still. "But it's you he loves!"

Geneviève turned away in despair. "Very well, you won't tell me
anything. However, I don't care, I've seen them. He's continually going
outside to look at her. She, upstairs, laughs like a bad woman. Of
course they meet out of doors."

"As for that, no, I assure you!" exclaimed Denise, forgetting herself,
carried away by the desire to give her, at least, that consolation.

The young girl drew a long breath, and smiled feebly. Then with the
weak voice of a convalescent: "I should like a glass of water. Excuse
me if I trouble you. Look, over there in the sideboard."

When she got hold of the bottle, she drank a large glassful right off,
keeping Denise away with one hand, the latter being afraid Geneviève
might do herself harm.

"No, no, let me be; I'm always thirsty. In the night I get up to
drink." There was a fresh silence. Then she went on again quietly: "If
you only knew, I've been accustomed to the idea of this marriage for
the last ten years. I was still wearing short dresses, when Colomban
was courting me. I hardly remember how things have come about. By
always living together, being shut up here together, without any other
distractions between us, I must have ended by believing him to be my
husband before he really was. I didn't know whether I loved him. I was
his wife, and that's all. And now he wants to go off with another girl!
Oh, heavens! my heart is breaking! You see, it's a grief that I've
never felt before. It hurts me in the bosom, and in the head; then it
spreads everywhere, and is killing me."

Her eyes filled with tears. Denise, whose eyelids were also wet with
pity, asked her: "Does my aunt suspect anything?"

"Yes, mamma has her suspicions, I think. As to papa, he is too worried,
and does not know the pain he is causing me by postponing this
marriage. Mamma has questioned me several times, greatly alarmed to see
me pining away. She has never been very strong herself, and has often
said: 'My poor child, I've not made you very strong.' Besides, one
doesn't grow much in these shops. But she must find me getting really
too thin now. Look at my arms; would you believe it?"

And with a trembling hand she again took up the water bottle. Her
cousin tried to prevent her drinking.

"No, I'm so thirsty, let me drink."

They could hear Baudu talking in a loud voice. Then yielding to an
inspiration of her tender heart, Denise knelt down before Geneviève,
throwing her arms round her neck, kissing her, and assuring her that
everything would turn out all right, that she would marry Colomban,
that she would get well, and live happily. But she got up quickly, her
uncle was calling her.

"Jean is here. Come along."

It was indeed Jean, looking rather scared, who had come to dinner. When
they told him it was striking eight, he looked amazed. Impossible! He
had only just left his master's. They chaffed him. No doubt he had come
by way of the Bois de Vincennes. But as soon as he could get near his
sister, he whispered to her: "It's a little laundry-girl who was taking
back some linen. I've got a cab outside by the hour. Give me five
francs."

He went out a minute, and then returned to dinner, for Madame Baudu
would not hear of his going away without taking, at least, a plate
of soup. Geneviève had reappeared in her usual silent and retiring
manner. Colomban was half asleep behind the counter. The evening passed
away, slow and melancholy, only animated by Baudu's step, as he walked
from one end of the empty shop to the other. A single gas-burner was
alight—the shadow of the low ceiling fell in large masses, like black
earth from a ditch.

Several months passed away. Denise came in nearly every evening to
cheer up Geneviève a bit, but the house became more melancholy than
ever. The works opposite were a continual torment, which intensified
their bad luck. Even when they had an hour of hope—some unexpected
joy—the falling of a tumbrel-load of bricks, the sound of the saw
of a stonecutter, or the simple call of a mason, sufficed at once to
mar their pleasure. In fact, the whole neighbourhood felt the shock.
From the boarded enclosure, running along and blocking up the three
streets, there issued a movement of feverish activity. Although the
architect used the existing buildings, he altered them in various
ways to adapt them to their new uses; and right in the centre at the
opening caused by the court-yards, he was building a central gallery
as big as a church, which was to terminate with a grand entrance in
the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin right in the middle of the frontage. They
had, at first, experienced great difficulty in laying the foundations,
for they had come on to some sewer deposits and loose earth, full
of human bones. Besides that, the boring of the well had made the
neighbours very anxious—a well three hundred feet deep, destined to
give two hundred gallons a minute. They had now got the walls up to
the first storey; the entire block was surrounded by scaffolding,
regular towers of timber work. There was an incessant noise from the
grinding of the windlasses hoisting up the stone, the abrupt discharge
of iron bars, the clamour of this army of workmen, accompanied by the
noise of picks and hammers. But above all, what deafened the people
was the sound of the machinery. Everything went by steam, screeching
whistles rent the air; whilst, at the slightest gust of wind, clouds
of plaster flew about and covered the neighbouring roofs like a fall
of snow. The Baudus in despair looked on at this implacable dust
penetrating everywhere—getting through the closest woodwork, soiling
the goods in their shop, even gliding into their beds; and the idea
that they must continue to breathe it—that it would finish by killing
them—empoisoned their existence.

The situation, however, was destined to become worse still, for in
September, the architect, afraid of not being ready, decided to carry
on the work at night also. Powerful electric lamps were established,
and the uproar became continuous. Gangs of men relieved each other;
the hammers never stopped, the engines whistled night and day; the
everlasting clamour seemed to raise and scatter the white dust. The
Baudus now had to give up the idea of sleeping even; they were shaken
in their beds; the noises changed into nightmare as soon as they fell
off to sleep. Then, if they got up to calm their fever, and went with
bare feet, to look out of the window, they were frightened by the
vision of The Ladies' Paradise flaring in the darkness like a colossal
forge, where their ruin was being forged. Along the half-built walls,
dotted with open bays, the electric lamps threw a large blue flood of
light, of a blinding intensity. Two o'clock struck—then three, then
four; and during the painful sleep of the neighbourhood, the works,
increased by this lunar brightness, became colossal and fantastic,
swarming with black shadows, noisy workmen, whose profiles gesticulated
on the crude whiteness of the new plastering.

Baudu was quite right. The small traders in the neighbouring streets
were receiving another mortal blow. Every time The Ladies' Paradise
created new departments there were fresh failures among the shopkeepers
of the district. The disaster spread, one could hear the cracking
of the oldest houses. Mademoiselle Tatin, at the under-linen shop
in the Passage Choiseul, had just been declared bankrupt; Quinette,
the glover, could hardly hold out another six months; the furriers,
Vanpouille, were obliged to sub-let a part of their premises; and if
the Bédorés, brother and sister, the hosiers, still kept on in the
Rue Gaillon, they were evidently living on money saved formerly. And
now more smashes were going to be added to those long since foreseen;
the department for fancy goods threatened a toy-shopkeeper in the Rue
Saint-Roch, Deslignières, a big, full-blooded man; whilst the furniture
department attacked Messrs. Piot and Rivoire, whose shops were sleeping
in the shadow of the Passage Sainte-Anne. It was even feared that an
attack of apoplexy would carry off the toyman, who had gone into a
terrible rage on seeing The Ladies' Paradise mark up purses at thirty
per cent. reduction. The furniture dealers, who were much calmer,
affected to joke at these counter-jumpers who wanted to meddle with
such articles as chairs and tables; but customers were already leaving
them, the success of the department had every appearance of being a
formidable one. It was all over, they were obliged to bow their heads.
After these others would be swept off, and there was no reason why
every business should not be driven away. One day The Ladies' Paradise
alone would cover the neighbourhood with its roof.

At present, morning and evening, when the thousand employees went
in and came out, they formed such a long procession in the Place
Gaillon that people stopped to look at them as they would at a passing
regiment. For ten minutes they blocked up all the streets; and the
shopkeepers at their doors thought bitterly of their single assistant,
whom they hardly knew how to find food for. The last balance-sheet
of the big shop, the forty millions turned over, had also caused a
revolution in the neighbourhood. The figure passed from house to house
amid cries of surprise and anger. Forty millions! Think of that! No
doubt the net profit did not exceed more than four per cent., with
their heavy general expenses, and system of low prices; but sixteen
hundred thousand francs was a jolly sum, one could be satisfied with
four per cent., when one operated on such a scale as that. It was
said that Mouret's starting capital of five hundred thousand francs,
augmented each year by the total profits, a capital which must at
that moment have amounted to four millions, had thus passed ten times
over the counters in the form of goods. Robineau, when he made this
calculation before Denise, after dinner, was overcome for a moment, his
eyes fixed on his empty plate. She was right, it was this incessant
renewal of the capital that constituted the invincible force of the
new system of business, Bourras alone denied the facts, refusing to
understand, superb and stupid as a mile-stone. A pack of thieves and
nothing more! A lying set! Cheap-jacks who would be picked up out of
the gutter one fine morning!

The Baudus, however, notwithstanding their wish not to change anything
in the way of The Old Elbeuf, tried to sustain the competition. The
customers no longer coming to them, they forced themselves to go to the
customers, through the agency of travellers. There was at that time,
in the Paris market, a traveller connected with all the great tailors,
who saved the little cloth and flannel houses when he condescended to
represent them. Naturally they all tried to get hold of him; he assumed
the importance of a personage; and Baudu, having haggled with him, had
the misfortune of seeing him come to terms with the Matignons, in the
Rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs. One after the other, two other travellers
robbed him; a third, an honest man, did no business. It was a slow
death, without any shock, a continual decrease of business, customers
lost one by one. A day came when the bills fell very heavily. Up to
that time they had lived on their former savings; but now they began
to contract debts. In December, Baudu, terrified by the amount of the
bills he had accepted, resigned himself to a most cruel sacrifice: he
sold his country-house at Rambouillet, a house which cost him a lot of
money in continual repairs, and for which the tenants had not even paid
the rent when he decided to get rid of it. This sale killed the only
dream of his life, his heart bled as for the loss of some dear one.
And he had to sell for seventy thousand francs that which had cost him
more than two hundred thousand, considering himself fortunate to have
met the Lhommes, his neighbours, who were desirous of adding to their
property. The seventy thousand francs would keep the business going a
little longer; for notwithstanding the repulses already encountered,
the idea of struggling sprang up again; perhaps with great care they
might conquer even now.

The Sunday on which the Lhommes paid the money, they were good enough
to dine at The Old Elbeuf. Madame Aurélie was the first to arrive;
they had to wait for the cashier, who came late, scared by a whole
afternoon's music: as for young Albert, he had accepted the invitation,
but did not put in an appearance. It was, moreover, a somewhat painful
evening. The Baudus, living without air in their narrow dining-room,
suffered from the gust of wind brought in by the Lhommes, with their
scattered family and taste for a free existence. Geneviève, wounded by
Madame Aurélie's imperial airs, did not open her mouth; whilst Colomban
was admiring her with a shiver, on reflecting that she reigned over
Clara. Before retiring to rest, in the evening, Madame Baudu being
already in bed, Baudu walked about the room for a long time. It was
a mild night, thawing and damp. Outside, notwithstanding the closed
windows, and drawn curtains, one could hear the machinery roaring on
the opposite side of the way.

"Do you know what I'm thinking of, Elisabeth?" said he at last "Well!
these Lhommes may earn as much money as they like, I'd rather be in my
shoes than theirs. They get on well, it's true. The wife said, didn't
she? that she had made nearly twenty thousand francs this year, and
that has enabled her to take my poor house. Never mind! I've no longer
the house, but I don't go playing music in one direction, whilst you
are gadding about in the other. No, look you, they can't be happy."

He was still labouring under the grief of his sacrifice, nourishing
a certain rancour against those people who had bought up his darling
dream. When he came near the bed, he gesticulated, leaning over
his wife; then, returning to the window, he stood silent for a
minute, listening to the noise of the works. And he resumed his old
accusations, his despairing complaints about the new times; nobody had
ever seen such things, a shop-assistant earning more than a tradesman,
cashiers buying up the employers' property. Everything was going to the
dogs; family ties no longer existed, people lived at hôtels instead
of eating their meals at home in a respectable manner. He ended by
prophesying that young Albert would later on swallow up the Rambouillet
property with a lot of actresses.

Madame Baudu listened to him, her head flat on the pillow, so pale that
her face was the colour of the sheets. "They've paid you," at length
said she, softly.

At this Baudu became dumb. He walked about for an instant with his
eyes on the ground. Then he resumed: "They've paid me, 'tis true; and,
after all, their money is as good as another's. It would be funny if we
revived the business with this money. Ah! if I were not so old and worn
out!"

A long silence ensued. The draper was full of vague projects. Suddenly
his wife spoke again, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, without moving her
head: "Have you noticed your daughter lately?"

"No," replied he.

"Well! she makes me rather anxious. She's getting pale, she seems to be
pining away."

He stood before the bed, full of surprise. "Really! whatever for? If
she's ill she should say so. To-morrow we must send for the doctor."

Madame Baudu still remained motionless. After a short time, she
declared with her meditative air: "This marriage with Colomban, I think
it would be better to get it over."

He looked at her, then began walking about again. Certain things came
back to his mind. Was it possible that his daughter was falling ill
over the shopman? Did she love him so much that she could not wait?
Here was another misfortune! It worried him all the more from the fact
that he himself had fixed ideas about this marriage. He could never
consent to it in the present state of affairs. However, his anxiety
softened him.

"Very good," said he at last, "I'll speak to Colomban."

And without saying another word he continued his walk. Soon afterwards
his wife fell off to sleep, quite white, as if dead; but he still kept
on walking about. Before getting into bed he drew aside the curtains
and glanced outside; on the other side of the street, the gaping
windows of the old Hôtel Duvillard showed the workmen moving about in
the dazzling glare of the electric light.

The next morning Baudu took Colomban to the further end of the
store-room on the upper floor, having made up his mind over night
what be should say to him. "My boy," said he, "you know I've sold my
property at Rambouillet. That will enable us to show good fight. But I
should like beforehand to have a talk with you."

The young man, who seemed to dread the interview, waited with an
awkward air. His small eyes twinkled in his large face, and he stood
there with his mouth open—a sign with him of profound agitation.

"Just listen to me," resumed the draper. "When old Hauchecorne left me
The Old Elbeuf, the house was prosperous; he himself had received it
from old Pinet in a satisfactory state. You know my ideas; I should
consider it wrong if I passed this family trust to my children in a
diminished state; and that's why I've always postponed your marriage
with Geneviève. Yes, I was obstinate; I hoped to bring back our former
prosperity; I wanted to hand you the books, saying: 'Look here! the
year I commenced we sold so much cloth, and this year, the year I
retire, we have sold ten thousand or twenty thousand francs' worth
more.' In short, you understand, it was a vow I had made to myself, the
very natural desire I had to prove that the house had not lost anything
in my hands. Otherwise it would seem to me I was robbing you." His
voice was stifled with emotion. He blew his nose to recover a bit, and
asked, "You don't say anything?"

But Colomban had nothing to say. He shook his head, and waited, more
and more troubled, thinking he could guess what the governor was aiming
at. It was the marriage without further delay. How could he refuse? He
would never have the strength. And the other girl, of whom he dreamed
at night, devoured by such a flame that he frequently threw himself
quite naked on the floor, in the fear of dying of it.

"Now," continued Baudu, "there's a sum of money that may save us. The
situation becomes worse every day, and perhaps by making a supreme
effort—In short, I thought it right to warn you. We are going to
venture our last stake. If we are beaten, why that will entirely ruin
us! But, my poor boy, your marriage must be again postponed, for I
don't wish to throw you two all alone into the struggle. That would be
too cowardly, wouldn't it?"

Colomban, greatly relieved, had seated himself on a pile of swan-skin
flannel. His legs were still trembling. He was afraid of showing his
joy, he held down his head, rolling his fingers on his knees.

"You don't say anything?" repeated Baudu.

No, he said nothing, he could find nothing to say. The draper then
slowly continued: "I was sure this would grieve you. You must muster up
courage. Pull yourself together a bit, don't let yourself be crushed in
this way. Above all, understand my position. Can I hang such a weight
on your neck? Instead of leaving you a good business, I should leave
you a bankruptcy perhaps. No, it's only a scoundrel who would play such
a trick! No doubt, I desire nothing but your happiness, but no one
shall ever make me go against my conscience."

And he went on for a long time in this way, swaying about in a maze
of contradictions, like a man who would have liked to be understood
at half a word and finds himself obliged to explain everything. As he
had promised his daughter and the shop, strict probity forced him to
deliver both in good condition, without defects or debts. But he was
tired, the burden seemed to be too much for him, his stammering voice
was one of supplication. He got more entangled than ever in his words,
he was still expecting a sudden rally from Colomban, some heartfelt
cry, which came not.

"I know," murmured he, "that old men are wanting in ardour. With young
ones, things light up. They are full of fire, it's natural. But, no,
no, I can't, my word of honour! If I gave it up to you, you would blame
me later on."

He stopped, trembling, and as the young man still kept his head down,
he asked him for the third time, after a painful silence: "You don't
say anything?" At last, but without looking at him, Colomban replied:
"There's nothing to say. You are the master, you know better than all
of us. As you wish it we'll wait, we'll try and be reasonable."

It was all over. Baudu still hoped he was going to throw himself into
his arms, exclaiming: "Father, do you take a rest, we'll fight in our
turn; give us the shop as it is, so that we may work a miracle and save
it!" Then he looked at him, and was seized with shame, accusing himself
of having wished to dupe his children. The deep-rooted maniacal honesty
of the shopkeeper was awakened in him; it was this prudent fellow who
was right, for in business there is no such thing as sentiment, it is
only a question of figures.

"Give me your hand, my boy," said he in conclusion. "It's settled we
won't speak about the marriage for another year. One must think of the
business before everything."

That evening, in their room, when Madame Baudu questioned her husband
as to the result of the conversation, the latter had resumed his
obstinate wish to fight in person to the bitter end. He gave Colomban
high praise, calling him a solid fellow, firm in his ideas, brought up
with the best principles, incapable, for instance, of joking with the
customers like those puppies at The Paradise. No, he was honest, he
belonged to the family, he didn't speculate on the business as though
he were a stock-jobber.

"Well, then, when's the marriage to take place?" asked Madame Baudu.

"Later on," replied he, "when I am able to keep to my promises."

She made no gestures, she simply observed: "It will be our daughter's
death."

Baudu restrained himself, stirred up with anger. He was the one whom it
would kill, if they continually upset him like this! Was it his fault?
He loved his daughter—would lay down his life for her; but he could
not make the business prosper when it obstinately refused to do so.
Geneviève ought to have a little more sense, and wait patiently for a
better balance-sheet. The deuce! Colomban was there, no one would run
away with him!

"It's incredible!" repeated he; "such a well-trained girl!"

Madame Baudu said no more. No doubt she had guessed Geneviève's jealous
agony; but she did not dare to inform her husband. A singular womanly
modesty always prevented her approaching certain tender, delicate
subjects with him. When he saw her so silent, he turned his anger
against the people opposite, stretching his fists out in the air,
towards the works, where they were setting up large iron girders, with
a great noise of hammers.

Denise had decided to return to The Ladies' Paradise, having understood
that the Robineaus, though forced to cut down their staff, did not like
to dismiss her. To maintain their position, now, they were obliged
to do everything themselves. Gaujean, obstinate in his rancour,
renewed their bills, even promised to find them funds; but they were
frightened, they wanted to go in for economy and order. During a whole
fortnight Denise had felt uneasy with them, and she had to speak first,
saying she had found a situation elsewhere. This was a great relief.
Madame Robineau embraced her, deeply affected, saying she should always
miss her. Then when, in reply to a question, the young girl said she
was going back to Mouret's, Robineau turned pale.

"You are right!" he exclaimed violently.

It was not so easy to tell the news to old Bourras. However, Denise had
to give him notice, and she trembled, for she was full of gratitude
towards him. Bourras just at this time was in a continual fever of
rage—full of invectives against the works going on next door. The
builder's carts blocked up his doorway; the picks tapped on his walls;
everything in his place, the umbrellas and the sticks, danced about
to the noise of the hammers. It seemed that the hovel, obstinately
remaining amid all these demolitions, was going to give way. But the
worst of all was that the architect, in order to connect the existing
shops with those about to be opened in the Hôtel Duvillard, had
conceived the idea of boring a passage under the little house that
separated them. This house belonged to the firm of Mouret & Co., and
the lease stipulating that the tenant should submit to all necessary
repairs, the workmen appeared on the scene one morning. At this
Bourras nearly went into a fit. Wasn't it enough to strangle him on
all sides, on the right, the left, and behind, without attacking him
underfoot as well, taking the ground from under him! And he drove the
masons away, and went to law. Repairs, yes! but this was rather a work
of embellishment. The neighbourhood thought he would carry the day,
without, however, being sure of anything. The case, however, threatened
to be a long one, and people became very excited over this interminable
duel. The day Denise resolved to give him notice, Bourras had just
returned from his lawyer.

"Would you believe it!" exclaimed he, "they now say the house is not
solid; they pretend that the foundations must be strengthened. Confound
it! they have shaken it up so with their infernal machines, that it
isn't astonishing if it gives way!"

Then, when the young girl announced she was going away, and that she
was going back to The Ladies' Paradise at a salary of a thousand
francs, he was so amazed that he simply raised his trembling hands in
the air. The emotion made him drop into a chair.

"You! you!" he stammered. "Ah, I'm the only one—I'm the only one
left!" After a pause, he asked: "And the youngster?"

"He'll go back to Madame Gras's," replied Denise. "She was very fond of
him."

They again remained silent. She would have rather seen him furious,
swearing and banging with his fist; this old man, speechless, crushed,
made her heart bleed. But he gradually recovered and cried out: "A
thousand francs! that can't be refused. You'll all go. Go, then, leave
me here alone. Yes, alone—you understand! There shall be one who will
never bow his head. And tell them I'll win my lawsuit, if I have to
sell my last shirt for it!"

Denise was not to leave Robineau's till the end of the month. She had
seen Mouret again; everything was settled. One evening as she was going
up to her room, Deloche, who was watching for her in a doorway, stopped
her. He was delighted, having just heard the good news; they were all
talking about it in the shop, he said. And he told her the gossip of
the counters.

"You know, the young ladies in the dress department are pulling long
faces!" Then, interrupting himself, he added: "By the way, you remember
Clara Prunaire? Well, it appears the governor has—You understand?"

He had turned quite red. She, very pale, exclaimed: "Monsieur Mouret!"

"Funny taste—eh?" he resumed. "A woman who looks like a horse. The
little girl from the under-linen department, whom he had twice last
year, was, at least, good-looking. However, that's his business."

Denise, once upstairs, almost fainted away. It was surely through
coming up too quick. Leaning out of the window she had a sudden vision
of Valognes, the deserted street and grassy pavement, which she used
to see from her room as a child; and she was seized with a desire to
go and live there—to seek refuge in the peace and forgetfulness of
the country. Paris irritated her, she hated The Ladies' Paradise, she
hardly knew why she had consented to go back. She would certainly
suffer as much as ever there; she was already suffering from an unknown
uneasiness since Deloche's stories. Suddenly, without any notice, a
flood of tears forced her to leave the window. She wept on for some
time, and found a little courage to live on still. The next day at
breakfast-time, as Robineau had sent her on an errand, and she was
passing The Old Elbeuf, she pushed open the door on seeing Colomban
alone in the shop. The Baudus were breakfasting; she could hear the
clatter of the knives and forks in the little room.

"You can come in," said the shopman. "They are at breakfast."

But she motioned him to be silent, and drew him into a corner. Then,
lowering her voice, she said: "It's you I want to speak to. Have you no
heart? Don't you see that Geneviève loves you, and that it's killing
her."

She was trembling, the previous night's fever had taken possession
of her again. He, frightened, surprised at this sudden attack, stood
looking at her, without a word.

"Do you hear?" she continued. "Geneviève knows you love another. She
told me so. She wept like a child. Ah, poor girl! she isn't very
strong now, I can tell you! If you had seen her thin arms! It's
heart-breaking. You can't leave her to die like this!"

At last he spoke, quite overcome, "But she isn't ill—you exaggerate! I
don't see anything myself. Besides, it's her father who is postponing
the marriage."

Denise sharply corrected this falsehood, certain that the least
persistence on the part of the young man would decide her uncle. As to
Colomban's surprise, it was not feigned; he had really never noticed
Geneviève's slow agony. For him it was a very disagreeable revelation;
for while he remained ignorant of it, he had no great blame to tax
himself with.

"And who for?" resumed Denise. "For a worthless girl! You can't know
who you are loving! Up to the present I have not wanted to hurt your
feelings, I have often avoided answering your continual questions.
Well! she goes with everybody, she laughs at you, you will never have
her, or you may have her, like others, just once in a way."

He listened to her, very pale; and at each of the sentences she threw
into his face, his lips trembled. She, in a cruel fit, yielded to a
transport of anger of which she had no consciousness. "In short," said
she in a final cry, "she's with Monsieur Mouret, if you want to know!"

Her voice was stifled, she turned paler than Colomban himself. Both
stood looking at each other. Then he stammered out: "I love her!"

Denise felt ashamed of herself. Why was she talking in this way to this
young fellow? Why was she getting so excited? She stood there mute,
the simple reply he had just given resounded in her heart like the
clang of a bell, which deafened her. "I love her, I love her!" and it
seemed to spread. He was right, he could not marry another woman. And
as she turned round, she observed Geneviève on the threshold of the
dining-room.

"Be quiet!" she said rapidly.

But it was too late, Geneviève must have heard, for her face was white
and bloodless. Just at that moment a customer opened the door—Madame
Bourdelais, one of the last faithful customers of The Old Elbeuf, where
she found solid goods for her money; for a long time past Madame de
Boves had followed the fashion, and gone over to The Ladies' Paradise;
Madame Marty herself no longer came, entirely captivated by the
seductions of the display opposite. And Geneviève was forced to go
forward, and say in her weak voice:

"What do you desire, madame?"

Madame Bourdelais wished to see some flannel. Colomban took down a
roll from a shelf. Geneviève showed the article; and both of them,
their hands cold, found themselves brought together behind the counter.
Meanwhile Baudu came out of the dining-room last, behind his wife, who
had gone and seated herself at the pay-desk. At first he did not meddle
with the sale, but stood up, looking at Madame Bourdelais.

"It is not good enough," said the latter. "Show me the strongest you
have."

Colomban took down another bundle. There was a silence. Madame
Bourdelais examined the stuff.

"How much?"

"Six francs, madame," replied Geneviève. The lady made an abrupt
movement. "Six francs!" said she. "But they have the same opposite at
five francs."

A slight contraction passed over Baudu's face. He could not help
interfering politely. No doubt madame made a mistake, the stuff ought
to have been sold at six francs and a half; it was impossible to give
it at five francs. It must be another quality she was referring to.

"No, no," she repeated, with the obstinacy of a lady who could not be
deceived. "The quality is the same. It may even be a little thicker."

And the discussion got very warm. Baudu, his face getting bilious,
made an effort to continue smiling. His bitterness against The Ladies'
Paradise was bursting in his throat.

"Really," said Madame Bourdelais at last, "you must treat me better,
otherwise I shall go opposite, like the others."

He then lost his head, and cried out, shaking with a passion he could
not repress: "Well! go opposite!"

At this she got up, greatly annoyed, and went away without turning
round, saying: "That's what I am going to do, sir."

A general stupor ensued. The governor's violence had frightened all of
them. He was himself scared, and trembled at what he had just said. The
phrase had escaped against his will in the explosion of a long pent-up
rancour. And the Baudus now stood there motionless, following Madame
Bourdelais with their looks, watching her cross the street. She seemed
to be carrying off their fortune. When she slowly passed under the high
door of The Ladies' Paradise, when they saw her disappear in the crowd,
they felt a sort of sudden wrench.

"There's another they've taken from us!" murmured the draper. Then
turning towards Denise, of whose re-engagement he was aware, he said:
"You as well, they've taken you back. Oh, I don't blame you for it. As
they have the money, they are naturally the strongest."

Just then, Denise, still hoping that Geneviève had not overheard
Colomban, was saying to her: "He loves you. Try and cheer up."

But the young girl replied to her in a very low and heartbroken voice:
"Why do you tell me a falsehood? Look! he can't help it, he's always
glancing up there. I know very well they've stolen him from me, as
they've robbed us of everything else."

Geneviève went and sat down on the seat at the desk near her mother.
The latter had doubtless guessed the fresh blow received by her
daughter, for her anxious eyes wandered from her to Colomban, and then
to The Ladies' Paradise. It was true, they had stolen everything from
them: from the father, a fortune; from the mother, her dying child;
from the daughter, a husband, waited for for ten years. Before this
condemned family, Denise, whose heart was overflowing with pity, felt
for an instant afraid of being wicked. Was she not going to assist
this machine which was crushing the poor people? But she felt herself
carried away as it were by an invisible force, and knew that she was
doing no wrong.

"Bah!" resumed Baudu, to give himself courage; "we sha'n't die over
it, after all. For one customer lost we shall find two others. You
hear, Denise, I've got over seventy thousand francs there, which will
certainly trouble your Mouret's rest. Come, come, you others, don't
look so glum!"

But he could not enliven them. He himself relapsed into a pale
consternation; and they all stood with their eyes on the monster,
attracted, possessed, full of their misfortune. The work was nearly
finished, the scaffolding had been removed from the front, a whole side
of the colossal edifice appeared, with its white walls and large light
windows. Along the pavement, at last open to circulation, stood eight
vans that the messengers were loading one after the other before the
parcels-office. In the sunshine, a ray of which ran along the street,
the green panels, picked out with red and yellow, sparkled like so
many mirrors, sending blinding reflections right into The Old Elbeuf.
The drivers, dressed in black, of a correct appearance, were holding
the horses well in, superb pairs, shaking their silvered bits. And
each time a van was loaded, there was a sonorous, rolling noise, which
made the neighbouring small shops tremble. And before this triumphal
procession, which they were destined to submit to twice a day, the
Baudus' hearts broke. The father half fainted away, asking himself
where this continual flood of goods could go to; whilst the mother,
tormented to death about her daughter, continued to gaze into the
street, her eyes drowned in a flood of tears.

CHAPTER IX.

It was on a Monday, the 14th of March, that The Ladies' Paradise
inaugurated its new buildings by a great exhibition of summer
novelties, which was to last three days. Outside, a sharp wind was
blowing, the passers-by, surprised by this return of winter, spun
along, buttoned up in their overcoats. However, behind the closed doors
of the neighbouring shops, quite an agitation was fermenting; and one
could see, against the windows, the pale faces of the small tradesmen,
occupied in counting the first carriages which stopped before the new
grand entrance in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. This door, lofty and
deep like a church porch, surmounted by a group—Industry and Commerce
hand-in-hand amidst a complication of symbols—was sheltered by a vast
awning, the fresh gilding of which seemed to light up the pavement with
a ray of sunshine. To the right and left stretched the shop fronts,
barely dry and of a blinding whiteness, running along the Rue Monsigny
and the Rue de la Michodière, occupying the whole island, except on
the Rue du Dix-Décembre side, where the Crédit Immobilier intended
to build. Along this barrack-like development, the small tradesmen,
when they raised their heads, perceived the piles of goods through the
large plate-glass windows which, from the ground floor up to the second
storey, opened the house to the light of day. And this enormous cube,
this colossal bazaar, shut out the sky from them, seeming to cause the
cold which was making them shiver behind their frozen counters.

As early as six o'clock, Mouret was on the spot, giving his final
orders. In the centre, starting from the grand entrance, a large
gallery ran from end to end, flanked right and left by two narrower
galleries, the Monsigny Gallery and the Michodière Gallery. The
court-yards had been glazed and turned into halls, iron staircases rose
from the ground floor, iron bridges were thrown from one end to the
other on the two storeys. The architect, who happened to be a young man
of talent, with modern ideas, had only used stone for the underground
floor and the corner pillars, constructing the whole carcase of iron,
the assemblage of beams and rafters being supported by columns. The
arches of the flooring and the partitions were of brickwork. Space
had been gained everywhere, light and air entered freely, and the
public circulated with the greatest ease under the bold flights of
the far-stretching girders. It was the cathedral of modern commerce,
light but solid, made for a nation of customers. Below, in the central
gallery, after the door bargains, came the cravat, the glove, and the
silk departments; the Monsigny Gallery was occupied by the linen and
the Rouen goods; the Michodière Gallery by the mercery, the hosiery,
the drapery, and the woollen departments. Then, on the first floor were
installed the ready-made, the under-linen, the shawl, the lace, and
other new departments, whilst the bedding, the carpets, the furnishing
materials, all the cumbersome articles difficult to handle, had been
relegated to the second floor. The number of departments was now
thirty-nine, with eighteen hundred employees, of whom two hundred were
women. Quite a little world operated there, in the sonorous life of the
high metallic naves.

Mouret's unique passion was to conquer woman. He wished her to be queen
in his house, and he had built this temple to get her completely at
his mercy. His sole aim was to intoxicate her with gallant attentions,
and traffic on her desires, work on her fever. Night and day he racked
his brain to invent fresh attractions. He had already introduced two
lifts lined with velvet for the upper storeys, in order to spare
delicate ladies the trouble of mounting the stairs. Then he had just
opened a bar where the customers could find, gratis, some light
refreshment, syrups and biscuits, and a reading-room, a monumental
gallery, decorated with excessive luxury, in which he had even ventured
on an exhibition of pictures. But his most profound idea was to
conquer the mother through the child, when unable to do so through her
coquetry; he neglected no means, speculated on every sentiment, created
departments for little boys and girls, arresting the passing mothers by
distributing pictures and airballs to the children. A stroke of genius
this idea of distributing to each buyer a red air-ball made of fine
gutta-percha, bearing in large letters the name of the shop, and which,
held by a string, floated in the air, parading in the streets a living
advertisement.

But the greatest power of all was the advertising. Mouret spent three
hundred thousand francs a year in catalogues, advertisements, and
bills. For his summer sale he had launched forth two hundred thousand
catalogues, of which fifty thousand went abroad, translated into
every language. He now had them illustrated with engravings, even
accompanying them with samples, gummed between the leaves. It was an
overflowing display; The Ladies' Paradise became a household word
all over the world, invading the walls, the newspapers, and even the
curtains at the theatres. He declared that woman was powerless against
advertising, that she was bound to follow the crowd. Not only that, he
laid still more seductive traps for her, analysing her like a great
moralist. Thus he had discovered that she could not resist a bargain,
that she bought without necessity when she thought she saw a cheap
line, and on this observation he based his system of reductions in
price, progressively lowering the price of unsold articles, preferring
to sell them at a loss, faithful to his principle of the continual
renewal of the goods. He had penetrated still further into the heart
of woman, and had just thought of the "returns," a masterpiece of
Jesuitical seduction. "Take whatever you like, madame; you can return
the article if you don't like it." And the woman who hesitated was
provided with the last excuse, the possibility of repairing an
extravagant folly; she took the article with an easy conscience. The
returns and the reduction of prices now formed part of the classical
working of the new style of business.

But where Mouret revealed himself as an unrivalled master was in the
interior arrangement of the shops. He laid down as a law that not a
corner of The Ladies' Paradise ought to remain deserted, requiring
everywhere a noise, a crowd, evidence of life; for life, said he,
attracts life, increases and multiplies. From this law he drew all
sorts of applications. In the first place, there ought always to be
a crush at the entrance, so that the people in the street should
mistake it for a riot; and he obtained this crush by placing a lot
of bargains at the doors, shelves and baskets overflowing with very
low-priced articles; so that the common people crowded there, stopping
up the doorway, making the shop look as if it were crammed with
customers, when it was often only half full. Then, in the galleries,
he had the art of concealing the departments in which business was
slack; for instance, the shawl department in summer, and the printed
calico department in winter, he surrounded them with busy departments,
drowning them with a continual uproar. It was he alone who had been
inspired with the idea of placing on the second-floor the carpet and
furniture counters where the customers were less frequent, and which if
placed on the ground floor would have canned empty cold spaces. If he
could have managed it, he would have had the street running through his
shop.

Just at that moment, Mouret was a prey to an attack of inspiration. On
the Saturday evening, as he was giving a last look at the preparations
for the Monday's great sale, he was suddenly struck with the idea that
the arrangement of the departments adopted by him was wrong and stupid;
and yet it seemed a perfectly logical arrangement: the stuffs on one
side, the made-up articles on the other, an intelligent order o things
which would enable the customers to find their way themselves. He had
thought of this orderly arrangement formerly, in Madame Hédouin's
narrow shop; and now he fell his faith shaken, just as he carried out
his idea. Suddenly he cried out that they would "have to alter all
that." They had forty-eight hours, and half what had been done had to
be changed. The staff, frightened, bewildered, had been obliged to
work two nights and the entire Sunday, amidst a frightful disorder. On
the Monday morning even, an hour before the opening, there was still
some goods to be placed. Decidedly the governor was going mad, no one
understood, a general consternation prevailed.

"Come, look sharp!" cried Mouret, with the quiet assurance of his
genius. "There are some more costumes to be taken upstairs. And the
Japan goods, are they placed on the central landing? A last effort, my
boys, you'll see the sale by-and-by."

Bourdoncle had also been there since daybreak. He did not understand
any more than the others, and he followed the governor's movements with
an anxious eye. He hardly dared to ask him any questions, knowing how
Mouret received people in these critical moments. However, he at last
made up his mind, and gently asked:

"Was it really necessary to upset everything like that, on the eve of
our sale?"

At first Mouret shrugged his shoulders without replying. Then as the
other persisted, he burst out: "So that all the customers should heap
themselves into one corner—eh? A nice idea of mine! I should never
have got over it! Don't you see that it would have localised the crowd.
A woman would have come in, gone straight to the department she wished,
passed from the petticoat counter to the dress one, from the dress to
the mantle, then retired, without ever having even lost herself for a
moment! Not one would have thoroughly seen the establishment!"

"But," remarked Bourdoncle, "now that you have disarranged everything,
and thrown the goods all over the place, the employees will wear out
their legs in guiding the customers from department to department."

Mouret gave a look of superb contempt. "I don't care a hang for that!
They're young, it'll make them grow! So much the better if they do
walk about! They'll appear more numerous, and increase the crowd.
The greater the crush the better; all will go well!" He laughed,
and deigned to explain his idea, lowering his voice: "Look here,
Bourdoncle, listen to the result. Firstly, this continual circulation
of customers disperses them all over the shop, multiplies them, and
makes them lose their heads; secondly, as they must be conducted from
one end of the establishment to the other, if they want, for instance,
a lining after having bought a dress, these journeys in every direction
triple the size of the house in their eyes; thirdly, they are forced to
traverse departments where they would never have set foot otherwise,
temptations present themselves on their passage, and they succumb;
fourthly—" Bourdoncle was now laughing with him. At this Mouret,
delighted, stopped to call out to the messengers: "Very good, my boys!
now for a sweep, and it'll be splendid!"

But on turning round he perceived Denise. He and Bourdoncle were
opposite the ready-made department, which he had just dismembered by
sending the dresses and costumes up on the second-floor at the other
end of the building. Denise, the first down, was opening her eyes with
astonishment, quite bewildered by the new arrangements.

"What is it?" murmured she; "are we going to move?"

This surprise appeared to amuse Mouret, who adored these sensational
effects. Early in February Denise had returned to The Ladies' Paradise,
where she had been agreeably surprised to find the staff polite, almost
respectful. Madame Aurélie especially was very kind; Marguerite and
Clara seemed resigned; even down to old Jouve, who also bowed his
head, with an awkward embarrassed air, as if desirous of effacing the
disagreeable memory of the past. It sufficed that Mouret had said a
few words, everybody was whispering, following her with their eyes.
And in this general amiability, the only things that wounded her were
Deloche's singularly melancholy looks, and Pauline's inexplicable
smiles. However, Mouret was still looking at her in his delighted way.

"What is it you want, mademoiselle?" asked he at last.

Denise had not noticed him. She blushed slightly. Since her return she
had received marks of kindness from him which greatly touched her.
Pauline, without her knowing why, had given her a full account of the
governor's and Clara's love affairs: where he saw her, and what he paid
her; and she often returned to the subject, even adding that he had
another mistress, that Madame Desforges, well known by all the shop.
Such stories stirred up Denise, she felt in his presence all her former
fears, an uneasiness in which her gratitude was struggling against her
anger.

"It's all this confusion going on in the place," she murmured. Mouret
then approached her and said in a lower voice: "Have the goodness to
come to my office this evening after business. I wish to speak to you."

Greatly agitated, she bowed her head without saying a word. And she
went into the department where the other saleswomen were now arriving.
But Bourdoncle had overheard Mouret, and he looked at him with a smile.
He even ventured to say when they were alone:

"That girl again! Be careful; it will end by being serious!"

Mouret hastily defended himself, concealing his emotion beneath an air
of superior indifference. "Never fear, it's only a joke! The woman
who'll catch me isn't born, my dear fellow!"

And as the shop was opening at last, he rushed off to give a final
look at the various counters. Bourdoncle shook his head. This Denise,
so simple and quiet, began to make him uneasy. The first time, he had
conquered by a brutal dismissal. But she had reappeared, and he felt
she had become so strong that he now treated her as a redoubtable
adversary, remaining mute before her, patiently waiting. Mouret, whom
he caught up, was shouting out downstairs, in the Saint-Augustin Hall,
opposite the entrance door:

"Are you playing with me? I ordered the blue parasols to be put as a
border. Just pull all that down, and be quick about it!"

He would listen to nothing; a gang of messengers had to come and
re-arrange the exhibition of parasols. Seeing the customers arriving,
he even had the doors closed for a moment, declaring that he would not
open them, rather than have the blue parasols in the centre. It ruined
his composition. The renowned dressers, Hutin, Mignot, and others, came
to look, and opened their eyes; but they affected not to understand,
being of a different school.

At last the doors were opened again, and the crowd flowed in. From
the first, before the shop was full, there was such a crush at the
doorway that they were obliged to call the police to re-establish the
circulation on the pavement. Mouret had calculated correctly; all the
housekeepers, a compact troop of middle-class women and workmen's
wives, swarmed around the bargains and remnants displayed in the
open street. They felt the "hung" goods at the entrance; a calico at
seven sous, a wool and cotton grey stuff at nine sous, and, above
all, an Orleans cloth at seven sous and half, which was emptying the
poorer purses. There was an elbowing, a feverish crushing around
the shelves and baskets containing the articles at reduced prices,
lace at two sous, ribbon at five, garters at three the pair, gloves,
petticoats, cravats, cotton socks, and stockings, were all tumbled
about, and disappearing, as if swallowed up by the voracious crowd.
Notwithstanding the cold, the shopmen who were selling in the open
street could not serve fast enough. A woman in the family way cried out
with pain; two little girls were nearly stifled.

All the morning this crush went on increasing. Towards one o'clock
there was a crowd waiting to enter; the street was blocked as in a
time of riot. Just at that moment, as Madame de Boves and her daughter
Blanche were standing on the pavement opposite, hesitating, they were
accosted by Madame Marty, also accompanied by her daughter Valentine.

"What a crowd—eh?" said the former. "They're killing themselves
inside. I ought not to have come, I was in bed, but got up to get a
little fresh air."

"Just like me," said the other. "I promised my husband to go and see
his sister at Montmartre. Then just as I was passing, I thought of a
piece of braid I wanted. I may as well buy it here as anywhere else,
mayn't I? Oh, I sha'n't spend a sou! in fact I don't want anything."

However, they did not take their eyes off the door, seized and carried
away as it were by the force of the crowd.

"No, no, I'm not going in, I'm afraid," murmured Madame de Boves.
"Blanche, let's go away, we should be crushed."

But her voice failed, she was gradually yielding to the desire
to follow the others; and her fear dissolved in the irresistible
attraction of the crush. Madame Marty was also giving way, repeating:

"Keep hold of my dress, Valentine. Ah, well! I've never seen such a
thing before. You are lifted off your feet. What will it be inside?"

The ladies, seized by the current, could not now go back. As streams
attract to themselves the fugitive waters of a valley, so it seemed
that the wave of customers, flowing into the vestibule, was absorbing
the passers-by, drinking in the population from the four corners of
Paris. They advanced but slowly, squeezed almost to death, kept upright
by the shoulders and bellies around them, of which they felt the
close heat; and their satisfied desire enjoyed the painful entrance
which incited still further their curiosity. There was a pell-mell of
ladies arrayed in silk, of poorly dressed middle-class women, and of
bare-headed girls, all excited and carried away by the same passion.
A few men buried beneath the overflow of bosoms were casting anxious
glances around them. A nurse, in the thickest of the crowd, held her
baby above her head, the youngster crowing with delight. The only one
to get angry was a skinny woman, who broke out into bad words, accusing
her neighbour of digging right into her.

"I really think I shall lose my skirts in this crowd," remarked Madame
de Boves.

Mute, her face still fresh from the open air, Madame Marty was standing
on tip-toe to see above the others' heads into the depths of the shop.
The pupils of her grey eyes were as contracted as those of a cat coming
out of the broad daylight; she had the reposed flesh, and the clear
expression of a person just waking up.

"Ah, at last!" said she, heaving a sigh.

The ladies had just extricated themselves. They were in the
Saint-Augustin Hall, which they were greatly surprised to find
almost empty. But a feeling of comfort invaded them, they seemed to
be entering into spring-time after emerging from the winter of the
street. Whilst outside, the frozen wind, laden with rain and hail, was
still blowing, the fine season, in The Paradise galleries, was already
budding forth with the light stuffs, the flowery brilliancy of the
tender shades, the rural gaiety of the summer dresses and the parasols.

"Do look there!" exclaimed Madame de Boves, standing motionless, her
eyes in the air.

It was the exhibition of parasols. Wide-open, rounded off like shields,
they covered the whole hall, from the glazed roof to the varnished
oak mouldings below. They described festoons round the semi-circular
arches of the upper storeys; they descended in garlands along the
slender columns; they ran along in close lines on the balustrades of
the galleries and the staircases; and everywhere, ranged symmetrically,
speckling the walls with red, green, and yellow, they looked like great
Venetian lanterns, lighted up for some colossal entertainment. In the
corners were more complicated patterns, stars composed of parasols at
thirty-nine sous, the light shades of which, pale-blue, cream-white,
and blush rose, seemed to burn with the sweetness of a night-light;
whilst up above, immense Japanese parasols, on which golden-coloured
cranes soared in a purple sky, blazed forth with the reflections of a
great conflagration.

Madame Marty endeavoured to find a phrase to express her rapture, but
could only exclaim, "It's like fairyland!" Then trying to find out
where she was she continued: "Let's see, the braid is in the mercery
department. I shall buy my braid and be off."

"I will go with you," said Madame de Boves. "Eh? Blanche, we'll just go
through the shop, nothing more."

But they had hardly left the door before they lost themselves. They
turned to the left, and as the mercery department had been moved, they
dropped right into the middle of the one devoted to collarettes, cuffs,
trimmings, &c. It was very warm under the galleries, a hot-house heat,
moist and close, laden with the insipid odour of the stuffs, and in
which the stamping of the crowd was stifled. They then returned to the
door, where an outward current was already established, an interminable
line of women and children, over whom floated a multitude of red
air-balls. Forty thousand of these were ready; there were men specially
placed for their distribution. To see the customers who were going out,
one would have thought there was a flight of enormous soap-bubbles
above them, at the end of the almost invisible strings, reflecting the
fiery glare of the parasols. The whole place was illuminated by them.

"There's quite a world here!" declared Madame de Boves. "You hardly
know where you are."

However, the ladies could not remain in the eddy of the door, right in
the crush of the entrance and exit. Fortunately, Jouve, the inspector,
came to their assistance. He stood in the vestibule, grave, attentive,
eyeing each woman as she passed. Specially charged with the inside
police, he was on the lookout for thieves, and especially followed
women in the family way, when the fever of their eyes became too
alarming.

"The mercery department, ladles?" said be obligingly, "turn to the
left; look! just there behind the hosiery department."

Madame de Boves thanked him. But Madame Marty, turning round, no
longer saw her daughter Valentine beside her. She was beginning to
feel frightened, when she caught sight of her, already a long way
off, at the end of the Saint-Augustin Hall, deeply absorbed before
a table covered with a heap of women's cravats at nineteen sous.
Mouret practised the system of offering articles to the customers,
hooking and plundering them as they passed; for he used every sort of
advertisement, laughing at the discretion of certain fellow-tradesmen
who thought the articles should be left to speak for themselves.
Special salesmen, idle and smooth-tongued Parisians, thus got rid of
considerable quantities of small trashy things.

"Oh, mamma!" murmured Valentine, "just look at these cravats. They have
a bird embroidered at the corners."

The shopman cracked up the article, swore it was all silk, that the
manufacturer had become bankrupt, and that they would never have such a
bargain again.

"Nineteen sous—is it possible?" said Madame Marty, tempted as well as
her daughter. "Well! I can take a couple, that won't ruin us."

Madame de Boves disdained this style of thing, she detested things
being offered. A shopman calling her made her run away. Madame Marty,
surprised, could not understand this nervous horror of commercial
quackery, for she was of another nature; she was one of those fortunate
women who delight in being thus violated, in bathing in the caress of
this public offering, with the enjoyment of plunging one's hands in
everything, and wasting one's time in useless talk.

"Now," she said, "I'm going for my braid. I don't wish to see anything
else."

However, as she crossed the cravat and glove departments, her heart
once more failed her. There was, under the diffuse light, a display
made up of bright and gay colours, which produced a ravishing
effect. The counters, symmetrically arranged, seemed like so many
flower-borders, changing the hall into a French garden, in which
smiled a tender gamut of blossoms. Lying on the bare wood, in open
boxes, and protruding from the overflowing drawers, a quantity of
silk handkerchiefs displayed the bright scarlet of the geranium, the
creamy white of the petunia, the golden yellow of the chrysanthemum,
the sky-blue of the verbena; and higher up, on brass stems, twined
another florescence, fichus carelessly hung, ribbons unrolled, quite
a brilliant cordon, which extended along, climbed up the columns, and
were multiplied indefinitely by the mirrors. But what most attracted
the crowd was a Swiss cottage in the glove department, made entirely
of gloves, a chef d'oeuvre of Mignot's, which had taken him two days
to arrange. In the first place, the ground-floor was composed of
black gloves; then came straw-coloured, mignonette, and red gloves,
distributed in the decoration, bordering the windows, forming the
balconies, and taking the place of the tiles.

"What do you desire, madame?" asked Mignot, on seeing Madame Marty
planted before the cottage. "Here are some Swedish kid gloves at one
franc fifteen sous, first quality."

He offered his wares with furious energy, calling the passing customers
from the end of his counter, dunning them with his politeness. As
she shook her head in refusal he continued: "Tyrolian gloves, one
franc five sous. Turin gloves for children, embroidered gloves in all
colours."

"No, thanks; I don't want anything," declared Madame Marty.

But feeling that her voice was softening, he attacked her with greater
energy than ever, holding the embroidered gloves before her eyes; and
she could not resist, she bought a pair. Then, as Madame de Boves
looked at her with a smile, she blushed.

"Don't you think me childish—eh? If I don't make haste and get my
braid and be off, I shall be done for."

Unfortunately, there was such a crush in the mercery department that
she could not get served. They had both been waiting for over ten
minutes, and were getting annoyed, when the sudden meeting with Madame
Bourdelais occupied their attention. The latter explained, with her
quiet practical air, that she had just brought the little ones to see
the show. Madeleine was ten, Edmond eight, and Lucien four years old;
and they were laughing with joy, it was a cheap treat long promised.

"They are really too comical; I shall buy a red parasol," said Madame
Marty all at once, stamping with impatience at being there doing
nothing.

She choose one at fourteen francs and a-half. Madame Bourdelais, after
having watched the purchase with a look of blame, said to her amicably:
"You are very wrong to be in such a hurry. In a month's time you could
have had it for ten francs. They won't catch me like that."

And she developed quite a theory of careful housekeeping. As the shops
lowered their prices, it was simply a question of waiting. She did not
wish to be taken in by them, she preferred to take advantage of their
real bargains. She even showed a feeling of malice in the struggle,
boasting that she had never left them a sou profit.

"Come," said she at last, "I've promised my little ones to show them
the pictures upstairs in the reading-room. Come up with us, you have
plenty of time."

And the braid was forgotten. Madame Marty yielded at once, whilst
Madame de Boves refused, preferring to take a turn on the ground-floor
first. Besides, they were sure to meet again upstairs. Madame
Bourdelais was looking for a staircase when she perceived one of the
lifts; and she pushed her children in to complete their pleasure.
Madame Marty and Valentine also entered the narrow cage, where they
were closely packed; but the mirrors, the velvet seats, and the
polished brasswork took up their attention so much that they arrived
at the first storey without having felt the gentle ascent of the
machine. Another pleasure was in store for them, in the first gallery.
As they passed before the refreshment bar, Madame Bourdelais did not
fail to gorge her little family with syrup. It was a square room with
a large marble counter; at the two ends there were silvered fountains
from which flowed a small stream of water; whilst rows of bottles
stood on small shelves behind. Three waiters were continually engaged
wiping and filling the glasses. To restrain the thirsty crowd, they
had been obliged to establish a system of turns, as at theatres and
railway-stations, by erecting a barrier covered with velvet. The crush
was terrific. Some people, losing all shame before these gratuitous
treats, made themselves ill.

"Well! where are they?" exclaimed Madame Bourdelais when she extricated
herself from the crowd, after having wiped the children's faces with
her handkerchief.

But she caught sight of Madame Marty and Valentine at the further end
of another gallery, a long way off. Both buried beneath a heap of
petticoats, were still buying. They were conquered, the mother and
daughter were rapidly disappearing in the fever of spending which was
carrying them away. When she at last arrived in the reading-room Madame
Bourdelais installed Madeleine, Edmond, and Lucien before the large
table; then taking from one of the shelves some photographic albums she
brought them to them. The ceiling of the long apartment was covered
with gold; at the two extremities, monumental chimney-pieces faced
each other; some rather poor pictures, very richly framed, covered the
walls; and between the columns before each of the arched bays opening
into the various shops, were tall green plants in majolica vases.
Quite a silent crowd surrounded the table, which was littered with
reviews and newspapers, with here and there some ink-stands and boxes
of stationery. Ladies took off their gloves, and wrote their letters
on the paper stamped with the name of the house, which they crossed
out with a dash of the pen. A few men, lolling back in the armchairs,
were reading the newspapers. But a great many people sat there doing
nothing: husbands waiting for their wives, let loose in the various
departments, discreet young women looking out for their lovers, old
relations left there as in a cloak-room, to be taken away when time to
leave. And this little society, comfortably installed, quietly reposed
itself there, glancing through the open bays into the depths of the
galleries and the halls, from which a distant murmur ascended above the
grating of the pens and the rustling of the newspapers.

"What! you here!" said Madame Bourdelais. "I didn't know you."

Near the children was a lady concealed behind the pages of a review.
It was Madame Guibal She seemed annoyed at the meeting; but quickly
recovering herself, related that she had come to sit down for a moment
to escape the crush. And as Madame Bourdelais asked her if she was
going to make any purchases, she replied with her languorous air,
hiding behind her eyelashes the egoistical greediness of her looks:

"Oh! no. On the contrary, I have come to return some goods. Yes, some
door-curtains which I don't like. But there is such a crowd that I am
waiting to get near the department."

She went on talking, saying how convenient this system of returns was;
formerly she never bought anything, but now she sometimes allowed
herself to be tempted. In fact, she returned four articles out of
five, and was getting known at all the counters for her strange system
of buying, and her eternal discontent which made her bring back the
articles one by one, after having kept them several days. But, whilst
speaking, she did not take her eyes off the doors of the reading-room;
and she appeared greatly relieved when Madame Bourdelais rejoined
her children, to explain the photographs to them. Almost at the same
moment Monsieur de Boves and Paul de Vallagnosc came in. The count,
who affected to be showing the young man through the new buildings,
exchanged a rapid glance with Madame Guibal; and she then plunged into
her review again, as if she had not seen him.

"Hullo, Paul!" suddenly exclaimed a voice behind these gentlemen.

It was Mouret, on his way round to give a look at the various
departments. They shook hands, and he at once asked: "Has Madame de
Boves done us the honour of coming?"

"Well, no," replied the husband, "and she very much regrets it. She's
not very well. Oh! nothing dangerous!"

But suddenly he pretended to catch sight of Madame Guibal, and ran off,
going up to her bareheaded, whilst the others merely bowed to her from
a distance. She also pretended to be surprised. Paul smiled; he now
understood the affair, and he related to Mouret in a low voice how De
Boves, whom he had met in the Rue Richelieu, had tried to get away from
him, and had finished by dragging him into The Ladies' Paradise, under
the pretext that he must show him the new buildings. For the last year
the lady had drawn from De Boves all the money and pleasure she could,
never writing to him, making appointments with him in public places,
churches, museums, and shops, to arrange their affairs.

"I fancy that at each meeting they change their hôtel," murmured the
young man. "Not long ago, he was on a tour of inspection; he wrote to
his wife every day from Blois, Libourne, and Tarbes; and yet I feel
convinced I saw them going into a family boarding-house at Batignolles.
But look at him, isn't he splendid before her with his military
correctness! The old French gallantry, my dear fellow, the old French
gallantry!"

"And your marriage?" asked Mouret.

Paul, without taking his eyes off the count, replied that they were
still waiting for the death of the aunt. Then, with a triumphant air:
"There, did you see him? He stooped down, and slipped an address into
her hand. She's now accepting with the most virtuous air. She's a
terrible woman, that delicate red-haired creature with her careless
ways. Well! there are some fine things going on in your place!"

"Oh!" said Mouret, smiling, "these ladies are not in my house, they are
at home here."

He then began to joke. Love, like the swallows, always brought good
luck to a house. No doubt he knew the girls who wandered about from
counter to counter, the ladies who accidentally met a friend in the
shop; but if they bought nothing, they filled up a place, and helped to
crowd and warm the shop. Still continuing his gossip, he carried his
old comrade off, and planted him on the threshold of the reading-room,
opposite the grand central gallery, the successive halls of which ran
along at their feet. Behind them, the reading-room still retained
its quiet air, only disturbed by the scratching of the pens and the
rustling of the newspapers. One old gentleman had gone to sleep over
the _Moniteur_. Monsieur de Boves was looking at the pictures, with
the evident intention of losing his future son-in-law in the crowd as
soon as possible. And, alone, amid this calmness, Madame Bourdelais was
amusing her children, talking very loud, as in a conquered place.

"You see they are quite at home," said Mouret, who pointed with a broad
gesture to the multitude of women with which the departments were
overflowing.

Just at that moment Madame Desforges, after having nearly had her
mantle carried away in the crowd, at last came in and crossed the first
hall. Then, on reaching the principal gallery, she raised her eyes.
It was like a railway span, surrounded by the balustrades of the two
storeys, intersected by hanging staircases, crossed by flying bridges.
The iron staircases developed bold curves, multiplying the landings;
the iron bridges suspended in space, ran straight along, very high up;
and all this iron formed, beneath the white light of the windows, an
excessively light architecture, a complicated lace-work through which
the daylight penetrated, the modern realisation of a dreamed-of palace,
of a Babel-like heaping up of the storeys, enlarging the rooms, opening
up glimpses on to other floors and into other rooms without end. In
fact, iron reigned everywhere; the young architect had had the honesty
and courage not to disguise it under a coating of paint imitating stone
or wood. Down below, in order not to outshine the goods, the decoration
was sober, with large regular spaces in neutral tints; then as the
metallic work ascended, the capitals of the columns became richer, the
rivets formed ornaments, the shoulder-pieces and corbels were loaded
with sculptured work; up above, there was a mass of painting, green and
red, amidst a prodigality of gold, floods of gold, heaps of gold, even
to the glazed-work, the glass of which was enamelled and inlaid with
gold. Under the covered galleries, the bare brick-work of the arches
was also decorated in bright colours. Mosaics and earthenware also
formed part of the decoration, enlivening the friezes, lighting up with
their fresh notes the severity of the whole; whilst the stairs, with
their red velvet covered hand-rails, were edged with a band of carved
polished iron, which shone like the steel of a piece of armour.

Although she had already seen the new establishment, Madame Desforges
stood still, struck by the ardent life which was this day animating the
immense nave. Below, around her, continued the eddying of the crowd,
of which the double current of those entering and those going out made
itself felt as far as the silk department; a crowd still very mixed
in its elements, though the afternoon was bringing a greater number
of ladies amongst the shopkeepers and house-wives; a great many women
in mourning, with their flowing veils, and the inevitable wet nurses
straying about, protecting their babies with their outstretched arms.
And this sea of faces, these many-coloured hats, these bare heads,
both dark and light, rolled from one end of the gallery to the other,
confused and discoloured amidst the loud glare of the stuffs. Madame
Desforges could see nothing but large price tickets bearing enormous
figures everywhere, their white patches standing out on the bright
printed cottons, the shining silks, and the sombre woollens. Piles of
ribbons curtailed the heads, a wall of flannel threw out a promontory;
on all sides the mirrors carried the departments back into infinite
space, reflecting the displays with portions of the public, faces
reversed, and halves of shoulders and arms; whilst to the right and
to the left the lateral galleries opened up other vistas, the snowy
background of the linen department, the speckled depth of the hosiery
one, distant views illuminated by the rays of light from some glazed
bay, and in which the crowd appeared nothing but a mass of human
dust. Then, when Madame Desforges raised her eyes, she saw, along
the staircases, on the flying bridges, around the balustrade of each
storey, a continual humming ascent, an entire population in the air,
travelling in the cuttings of the enormous ironwork construction,
casting black shadows on the diffused light of the enamelled windows.
Large gilded lustres hung from the ceiling; a decoration of rugs,
embroidered silks, stuffs worked with gold, hung down, draping the
balustrade with gorgeous banners; and, from one end to the other,
there were clouds of lace, palpitations of muslin, trophies of silks,
apotheoses of half-dressed dummies; and right at the top, above all
this confusion, the bedding department, suspended as it were, displayed
little iron bedsteads with their mattresses, hung with their white
curtains, a sort of school dormitory sleeping amidst the stamping of
the customers, rarer and rarer as the departments ascended.

"Does madame require a cheap pair of garters?" asked a salesman of
Madame Desforges, seeing her standing still. "All silk, twenty-nine
sous."

She did not deign to answer. Things were being offered around her more
feverishly than ever. She wanted, however, to find out where she was.
Albert Lhomme's pay-desk was on her left; he knew her by sight and
ventured to give her an amiable smile, not in the least hurry in the
midst of the heaps of bills by which he was besieged; whilst, behind
him, Joseph, struggling with the string-box, could not pack up the
articles fast enough. She then saw where she was; the silk department
must be in front of her. But it took her ten minutes to get there,
the crowd was becoming so immense. Up in the air, at the end of their
invisible strings, the red air-balls had become more numerous than
ever; they now formed clouds of purple, gently blowing towards the
doors, continuing to scatter themselves over Paris; and she had to bow
her head beneath the flight of air-balls, when very young children held
them, the string rolled round their little fingers.

"What! you have ventured here, madame?" exclaimed Bouthemont gaily, as
soon as he caught sight of Madame Desforges.

The manager of the silk department, introduced to her by Mouret
himself, was now in the habit of sometimes calling on her at her five
o'clock tea. She thought him common, but very amiable, of a fine
sanguine temper, which surprised and amused her. Besides, about two
days before he had openly related to her the affair between Mouret and
Clara, without any calculation, out of stupidity, like a fellow who
loves a joke; and, stung with jealousy, concealing her wounded feelings
beneath an appearance of disdain, she had come to try and discover
her rival, a young lady in the dress department he had merely said,
refusing to name her.

"Do you require anything to-day?" he asked her.

"Of course, or else I should not have come. Have you any silk for
morning gowns?"

She hoped to obtain the name of the young lady from him, for she was
full of a desire to see her. He Immediately called Favier; and resumed
talking to her, whilst waiting for the salesman, who was just finishing
serving a customer who happened to be "the pretty lady," that beautiful
blonde of whom the whole department occasionally spoke, without knowing
anything of her life or even her name. This time the pretty lady was in
deep mourning. Ah, who had she lost—her husband or her father? Not her
father, or she would have appeared more melancholy. What had they been
saying? She was not a gay woman then; she had a real husband. Unless,
however, she should be in mourning for her mother. For a few minutes,
notwithstanding the press of business, the department exchanged these
various speculations.

"Make haste! it's intolerable!" cried Hutin to Favier, who had just
returned from showing his customer to the pay-desk. "When that lady is
here you never seem to finish. She doesn't care a fig for you!"

"She cares a deuced sight more for me than I do for her!" replied the
vexed salesman.

But Hutin threatened to report him to the directors if he did not show
more respect for the customers. He was getting terrible, of a morose
severity, since the department had conspired together to get him into
Robineau's place. He even showed himself so intolerable, after the
promises of goodfellowship, with which he had formerly warmed his
colleagues, that the latter were now secretly supporting Favier against
him.

"Now, then, no back answers," replied Hutin sharply. "Monsieur
Bouthemont wishes you to show some light designs in silks."

In the middle of the department, an exhibition of summer silks lighted
up the hall with an aurora-like brilliancy, like the rising of a star,
in the most delicate tints possible: pale rose, tender yellow, limpid
blue, the entire gamut of Iris. There were silks of a cloudy fineness,
surahs lighter than the down falling from the trees, satined pekins
soft and supple as a Chinese virgin's skin. There were, moreover,
Japanese pongees, Indian tussores and corahs, without counting the
light French silks, the thousand stripes, the small checks, the
flowered patterns, all the most fanciful designs, which made one think
of ladies in furbelows, walking about, in the sweet May mornings, under
the immense trees of some park.

"I'll take this, the Louis XIV. with figured roses," said Madame
Desforges at last.

And whilst Favier was measuring it, she made a last attempt with
Bouthemont, who had remained near her.

"I'm going up to the ready-made department to see if there are any
travelling cloaks. Is she fair, the young lady you were talking about?"

The manager, who felt rather anxious on finding her so persistent,
merely smiled. But, just at that moment, Denise went by. She had just
passed on to Liénard, who had charge of the merinoes, Madame Boutarel,
that provincial lady who came up to Paris twice a year, to scatter all
over The Ladies' Paradise the money she scraped together out of her
house-keeping. And as Favier was about to take up Madame Desforges's
silk, Hutin, thinking to annoy him, interfered.

"It's quite unnecessary, Mademoiselle Denise will have the kindness to
conduct this lady."

Denise, quite confused, at once took charge of the parcel and the
debit-note. She could never meet this young man face to face without
experiencing a feeling of shame, as if he reminded her of a former
fault; and yet she had only sinned in her dreams.

"But, tell me," said Madame Desforges, in a low tone, to Bouthemont,
"isn't it this awkward girl? He has taken her back, then? But it is
she, the heroine of the adventure!"

"Perhaps," replied the head of department, still smiling, and fully
decided not to tell the truth.

Madame Desforges then slowly ascended the staircase, preceded by
Denise; but she had to stop every two or three steps to avoid being
carried away by the descending crowd. In the living vibration of the
whole building, the iron supports seemed to stagger beneath the weight,
as if continually trembling from the breath of the crowd. On each stair
was a dummy, strongly fixed, displaying some garment: a costume, cloak,
or dressing-gown; and it was like a double row of soldiers for some
triumphal march-past, with the little wooden arm like the handle of a
poniard, stuck into the red swan-skin, which gave a bloody appearance
to the stump of a neck crowning the whole.

Madame Desforges was at last reaching the first storey, when a still
greater surging of the crowd forced her to stop once more. She had
now, beneath her, the departments on the ground-floor, with the press
of customers she had just passed through. It was a new spectacle, a
sea of heads fore-shortened, concealing the bodices, swarming with a
busy agitation. The white price tickets now appeared but so many thin
lines, the promontory of flannels cut through the gallery like a narrow
wall; whilst the carpets and the embroidered silks which decked the
balustrades hung at her feet like processional banners suspended from
the gallery of a church. In the distance, she could perceive the angles
of the lateral galleries, as from the top of a steeple one perceives
the corners of the neighbouring streets, with the black spots of the
passers-by moving about. But what surprised her above all, in the
fatigue of her eyes blinded by the brilliant pell-mell of colours,
was, when she lowered her lids, to feel the crowd more than ever, by
its dull noise like the rising tide, and by the human warmth that it
exhaled. A fine dust rose from the floor, laden with the odour of
woman, the odour of her linen and her bust, of her skirts and her hair,
an invading, penetrating odour, which seemed to be the incense of this
temple raised for the worship of her body.

Meanwhile Mouret, still standing up before the reading-room with De
Vallagnosc, was inhaling this odour, intoxicating himself with it, and
repeating: "They are quite at home. I know some who spend the whole day
here, eating cakes and writing their letters. There's only one thing
more to do, and that is, to find them beds."

This joke made Paul smile, he who, in the _ennui_ of his pessimism,
continued to think the crowd stupid in thus running after a lot of
gew-gaws. Whenever he came to give his old comrade a look up, he went
away almost vexed to see him so full of life amidst his people of
coquettes. Would not one of them, with shallow brain and empty heart,
teach him one day the stupidity and uselessness of existence? That
very day Octave seemed to lose some of his admirable equilibrium; he
who generally inspired his customers with a fever, with the tranquil
grace of an operator, was as though seized by the passion with which
the establishment was gradually burning. Since he had caught sight of
Denise and Madame Desforges coming up the grand staircase, he had been
talking louder, gesticulating against his will; and, whilst affecting
not to turn his face towards them, he became more and more animated
as he felt them drawing nearer. His face got redder, his eyes had a
little of that rapture with which the eyes of his customers ultimately
vacillated.

"You must be robbed fearfully," murmured De Vallagnosc, who thought the
crowd looked very criminal.

Mouret threw his arms out. "My dear fellow, it's beyond all
imagination."

And, nervously, delighted at having something to talk about, he gave a
number of details, related cases, and classified the subjects. In the
first place, there were the professional thieves; these women did the
least harm of all, for the police knew every one of them. Then came
the kleptomaniacs, who stole from a perverse desire, a new sort of
nervous affection which a mad doctor had classed, proving the results
of the temptation provided by the big shops. In the last place must be
counted the women in an interesting condition, whose robberies were
of a special order. For instance, at the house of one of them, the
superintendent of police had found two hundred and forty-eight pairs of
pink gloves stolen from every shop in Paris.

"That's what makes the women have such funny eyes here, then," murmured
De Vallagnosc; "I've been watching them with their greedy, shameful
looks, like mad creatures. A fine school for honesty!"

"Hang it!" replied Mouret, "though we make them quite at home, we can't
let them take away the goods under their mantles. And sometimes they
are very respectable people. Last week we had the sister of a chemist,
and the wife of a councillor. We try and settle these matters."

He stopped to point out Jouve, the inspector, who was just then looking
sharp after a woman in the family way, down below at the ribbon
counter. This woman, whose enormous belly suffered a great deal from
the pushing of the crowd, was accompanied by a friend, whose mission
appeared to be to defend her against the heavy shocks, and each time
she stopped in a department, Jouve did not take his eyes off her,
whilst her friend near her ransacked the card-board boxes at her ease.

"Oh! he'll catch her!" resumed Mouret; "he knows all their tricks."

But his voice trembled, he laughed in an awkward manner. Denise and
Henriette, whom he had ceased to watch, were at last passing behind
him, after having had a great deal of trouble to get out of the crowd.
He turned round suddenly, and bowed to his customer with the discreet
air of a friend who does not wish to compromise a woman by stopping her
in the middle of a crowd of people. But the latter, on the alert, had
at once perceived the look with which he had first enveloped Denise. It
must be this girl, this was the rival she had had the curiosity to come
and see.

In the ready-made department, the young ladies were losing their heads.
Two of them had fallen ill, and Madame Frédéric, the second-hand, had
quietly given notice the previous day, and gone to the cashier's office
to take her money, leaving The Ladies' Paradise all in a minute, as
The Ladies' Paradise itself discharged its employees. Ever since the
morning, in spite of the feverish rush of business, every one had been
talking of this adventure. Clara, maintained in the department by
Mouret's caprice, thought it grand. Marguerite related how exasperated
Bourdoncle was; whilst Madame Aurélie, greatly vexed, declared that
Madame Frédéric ought at least to have informed her, for such hypocrisy
had never before been heard of.

Although the latter had never confided in any one, she was suspected of
giving up the drapery business to marry the proprietor of some baths in
the neighbourhood of the Halles.

"It's a travelling cloak that madame desires, I believe?" asked Denise
of Madame Desforges, after having offered her a chair.

"Yes," replied the latter, curtly, decided on being rude.

The new decorations of the department were of a rich severity: high
carved oak cupboards, mirrors filling the whole space of the panels,
and a red Wilton carpet, which stifled the continued movement of the
customers. Whilst Denise was gone for the cloaks, Madame Desforges,
who was looking round, perceived herself in a glass; and she continued
contemplating herself. She must be getting old to be cast aside for
the first-comer. The glass reflected the entire department with its
commotion, but she only beheld her own pale face; she did not hear
Clara behind her relating to Marguerite instances of Madame Frédéric's
mysterious ways, the manner in which she went out of her way night and
morning to go through the Passage Choiseul, in order to make believe
that she perhaps lived over the water.

"Here are our latest designs," said Denise. "We have them in several
colours."

She laid out four or five cloaks. Madame Desforges looked at them with
a scornful air, and became harsher at each fresh one she examined. Why
those frillings which made the garment look so scanty? and the other
one, square across the shoulders, one would have thought it had been
cut out with a hatchet. Though it was for travelling she could not
dress like a sentry-box.

"Show me something else, mademoiselle."

Denise unfolded and folded the garments without the slightest sign
of ill temper. And it was just this calm, serene patience which
exasperated Madame Desforges still further. Her looks continually
returned to the glass in front of her. Now that she saw herself there,
close to Denise, she made a comparison. Was it possible that he should
prefer this insignificant creature to herself? She now remembered that
this vas the girl she had formerly seen making her debut with such a
silly figure, awkward as a peasant girl just arrived from her village.
No doubt she looked better now, stiff and correct in her silk dress.
But how puny, how common-place!

"I will show you some other models, madame," said Denise, quietly.

When she returned, the scene began again. Then it was the cloth that
was heavy and no good whatever. Madame Desforges turned round, raised
her voice, endeavouring to attract Madame Aurélie's attention, in
the hope of getting the young girl a scolding. But Denise, since her
return, had gradually conquered the department, and now felt quite at
home in it; the first-hand had even recognised in her some rare and
valuable qualities as a saleswoman—an obstinate sweetness, a smiling
conviction. Therefore Madame Aurélie simply shrugged her shoulders,
taking care not to interfere.

"Would you kindly tell me the kind of garment you require, madame?"
asked Denise, once more, with her polite persistence, which nothing
could discourage.

"But you've got nothing!" exclaimed Madame Desforges.

She stopped, surprised to feel a hand laid on her shoulder. It was
Madame Marty, carried right through the establishment by her fever for
spending. Her purchases had increased to such an extent, since the
cravats, the embroidered gloves, and the red parasol, that the last
salesman had just decided to place the whole on a chair, for it would
have broken his arm; and he walked in front of her, drawing the chair
along, on which was heaped up a pile of petticoats, napkins, curtains,
a lamp, and three straw hats.

"Ah!" said she, "you are buying a travelling cloak."

"Oh! dear, no," replied Madame Desforges; "they are frightful."

But Madame Marty had just noticed a striped cloak which she rather
liked. Her daughter Valentine was already examining it. So Denise
called Marguerite to clear the article out of the department, it
being a model of the previous year, and the latter, at a glance from
her comrade, presented it as an exceptional bargain. When she had
sworn that they had lowered the price twice, that from a hundred and
fifty francs, they had reduced it to a hundred and thirty, and that
it was now at a hundred and ten, Madame Marty could not withstand
the temptation of its cheapness. She bought it, and the salesman who
accompanied her left the chair and the parcel, with the debit-notes
attached to the goods.

Meanwhile, behind the ladies' backs, and amidst the jostlings of the
sale, the gossip of the department about Madame Frédéric still went on.

"Really! she had some one?" asked a little saleswoman, fresh in the
department.

"The bath-man, of course!" replied Clara. "Mustn't trust those sly,
quiet widows."

Then whilst Marguerite was debiting the cloak, Madame Marty turned her
head, and designating Clara by a slight movement of the eyebrows, she
whispered to Madame Desforges: "Monsieur Mouret's caprice, you know!"

The other, surprised, looked at Clara; then, turning her eyes towards
Denise, replied: "But it isn't the tall one; the little one!"

And as Madame Marty could not be sure which, Madame Desforges resumed
aloud, with the scorn of a lady for chambermaids: "Perhaps the tall one
and the little one; all those who like!"

Denise had heard everything. She turned pale, and raised her big, pure
eyes on this lady who was thus wounding her, and whom she did not know.
No doubt it was the lady of whom they had spoken to her, the lady whom
the governor saw outside. In the look that was exchanged between them,
Denise displayed such a melancholy dignity, such a frank innocence,
that Henriette felt quite awkward.

"As you have nothing presentable to show me here, conduct me to the
dress and costume department," said she, abruptly.

"I'll go with you as well," exclaimed Madame Marty, "I wanted to see a
costume for Valentine."

Marguerite took the chair by its back, and dragged it along on its hind
feet, that were getting worn by this species of cartage. Denise only
carried a few yards of silk, bought by Madame Desforges. It was quite a
journey, now that the robes and costumes were on the second floor, at
the other end of the establishment.

And the long journey commenced along the crowded galleries. Marguerite
walked in front, drawing the chair along, like a little carriage,
slowly opening herself a passage. As soon as she reached the
under-linen department, Madame Desforges began to complain: wasn't it
ridiculous, a shop where one was obliged to walk a couple of leagues to
find the least thing! Madame Marty also said she was tired to death,
yet she did not the less enjoy this fatigue, this slow exhaustion of
her strength, amidst the inexhaustible treasures displayed on every
side. Mouret's idea, full of genius, seized upon her, stopping her at
each department. She made a first halt before the trousseaux, tempted
by some chemises that Pauline sold her; and Marguerite found herself
relieved from the burden of the chair, which Pauline had to take, with
the debit-notes. Madame Desforges could have gone on her road, and
thus have liberated Denise quicker, but she seemed happy to feel her
behind her, motionless and patient, whilst she was lingering there,
advising her friend. In the baby-linen department the ladies went
into ecstasies, without buying anything. Then Madame Marty's weakness
commenced anew; she succumbed successively before a black silk corset,
a pair of fur cuffs, sold at a reduction on account of the lateness
of the season, and some Russian lace much in vogue at that time for
trimming table-linen. All these things were heaped up on the chair, the
parcels still increased, making the chair creak; and the salesmen who
succeeded each other, found it more and more difficult to drag along as
the load became heavier.

"This way, madame," said Denise without a murmur, after each halt.

"But it's absurd!" exclaimed Madame Desforges. "We shall never get
there. Why not have put the dresses and costumes near the ready-made
department? It is a jumble!"

Madame Marty, whose eyes were sparkling, intoxicated by this succession
of riches dancing before her, repeated in a half whisper:

"Oh, dear! What will my husband say? You are right, there is no order
in this place. You lose yourself, and commit all sorts of follies."

On the great central landing, the chair, could barely pass. Mouret had
just blocked the space with a lot of fancy goods, drinking-cups mounted
on gilded zinc, trashy dressing-cases and liqueur stands, being of
opinion that the crowd was not sufficiently great, and that circulation
was too easy. He had authorised one of his shopmen to exhibit there on
a small table Chinese and Japanese curiosities, knick-knacks at a low
price, which the customers eagerly snatched up. It was an unexpected
success, and he already thought of extending this business. Whilst two
messengers carried the chair up to the second storey, Madame Marty
bought six ivory studs, some silk mice, and an enamelled match-box.

On the second floor the journey was continued. Denise, who had been
showing customers about in this way since the morning, was dropping
with fatigue; but she still continued correct, amiable, and polite.
She had to wait for the ladies again in the furnishing materials
department, where a ravishing cretonne had tempted Madame Marty. Then,
in the furniture department, it was a work-table that took her fancy.
Her hands trembled, she jokingly entreated Madame Desforges to prevent
her spending any more, when a meeting with Madame Guibal furnished
her with an excuse. It was in the carpet department, where the latter
had gone to return a lot of Oriental door-curtains bought by her five
days before. And she was standing, talking to the salesman, a brawny
fellow, who, with his sinewy arms handled from morning to night loads
heavy enough to kill a bullock. Naturally he was quite astounded at
this "return," which deprived him of his commission. He did his best
to embarrass his customer, suspecting some queer adventure, no doubt
a ball given with these curtains, bought at The Ladies' Paradise, and
then returned, to avoid hiring at an upholsterer's: he knew this was
frequently done by the needy portion of society. In short, she must
have some reason for returning them; if she did not like the designs
or the colours, he would show her others, he had a most complete
assortment. To all these insinuations Madame Guibal replied in the
quietest, most unconcerned manner possible, with a queenly assurance
that the curtains did not suit her, without deigning to add any
explanation. She refused to look at any others, and he was obliged to
give way, for the salesmen had orders to take back the goods, even if
they saw they had been used.

As the three ladies went off together, and Madame Marty referred with
remorse to the work-table for which she had no earthly need, Madame
Guibal said in her calm voice: "Well! you can return it. You saw it was
quite easy. Let them send it home. You can put it in your drawing-room,
keep it for a time, then if you don't like it, return it."

"Ah! that's a good idea!" exclaimed Madame Marty. "If my husband makes
too much fuss, I'll send everything back." This was for her the supreme
excuse, she calculated no longer, but went on buying, with the secret
wish to keep everything, for she was not a woman to give anything back.

At last they arrived in the dress and costume department. But as Denise
was about to deliver to another young lady the silk bought by Madame
Desforges, the latter seemed to change her mind, and declared that
she would decidedly take one of the travelling cloaks, the light grey
one with the hood; and Denise had to wait complacently to bring her
back to the ready-made department. The young girl felt herself being
treated like a servant by this imperious, whimsical customer; but she
had sworn to herself to do her duty, and retained her calm attitude,
notwithstanding the rising of her heart and the shock to her pride.
Madame Desforges bought nothing in the dress and costume department.

"Oh! mamma," said Valentine, "if that little costume should fit me!"

In a low tone, Madame Guibal was explaining her tactics to Madame
Marty. When she saw a dress she liked in a shop, she had it sent home,
took the pattern of it, and then sent it back. And Madame Marty bought
the costume for her daughter remarking: "A good idea! You are very
practical, my dear madame."

They had been obliged to abandon the chair. It had been left in
distress, in the furniture department, with the work-table. The
weight was too much, the hind legs threatened to break off; and
it was arranged that all the purchases should be centralised at
one pay-desk, and from there sent down to the delivery department.
The ladies, still accompanied by Denise, then began wandering all
about the establishment, making a second appearance in nearly every
department. They seemed to take up all the space on the stairs and
in the galleries. Every moment some fresh meeting brought them to a
standstill. Thus, near the reading-room, they once more came across
Madame Bourdelais and her three children. The youngsters were loaded
with parcels: Madeline had a dress for herself, Edmond was carrying a
collection of little shoes, whilst the youngest, Lucien, was wearing a
new cap.

"You as well!" said Madame Desforges, laughingly, to her old
school-fellow.

"Pray, don't speak of it!" cried out Madame Bourdelais. "I'm furious.
They get hold of us by the little ones now! You know what a little I
spend on myself! But how can you expect me to resist the voices of
these young children, who want everything? I had come just to show them
round, and here am I plundering the whole establishment!"

Mouret, who happened to be there still, with De Vallagnosc and Monsieur
de Boves, was listening to her with a smile. She observed it, and
gaily complained, with a certain amount of real irritation, of these
traps laid for a mother's tenderness; the idea that she had just
yielded to the fevers of advertising raised her indignation, and he,
still smiling, bowed, fully enjoying this triumph. Monsieur de Boves
had manoeuvred so as to get near Madame Guibal, whom he ultimately
followed, trying for the second time to lose De Vallagnosc; but the
latter, tired of the crush, hastened to rejoin him. Denise was again
brought to a standstill, obliged to wait for the ladies. She turned her
back, and Mouret himself affected not to see her. Madame Desforges,
with the delicate scent of a jealous woman, had no further doubt.
Whilst he was complimenting her and walking beside her, like a gallant
host, she was deep in thought, asking herself how she could convince
him of his treason.

Meanwhile, Monsieur de Boves and De Vallagnosc, who went on in front
with Madame Guibal, had reached the lace department, a luxurious room,
near the ready-made department, surrounded with stocks of carved oak
drawers, which were constantly being opened and shut. Around the
columns, covered with red velvet, were spirals of white lace; and from
one end of the department to the other, hung lengths of Maltese; whilst
on the counters there were quantities of large cards, wound round with
Valenciennes, Malines, and hand-made point. At the further end two
ladies were seated before a mauve silk skirt, on which Deloche was
placing pieces of Chantilly, the ladies looking on silently, without
making up their minds.

"Hallo!" said De Vallagnosc, quite surprised, "you said Madame de Boves
was unwell. But there she is standing over there near that counter,
with Mademoiselle Blanche."

The count could not help starting back, and casting a side glance at
Madame Guibal.

"Dear me I so she is," said he.

It was very warm in this room. The customers, half stifled, had pale
faces with flaming eyes. It seemed as if all the seductions of the
shop had converged into this supreme temptation, that it was the
secluded alcove where the customers were doomed to fall, the corner of
perdition where the strongest must succumb. Hands were plunged into the
overflowing heaps, retaining an intoxicating trembling from the contact.

"I fancy those ladies are ruining you," resumed De Vallagnosc, amused
at the meeting.

Monsieur de Boves assumed the look of a husband perfectly sure of his
wife's discretion, from the simple fact that he did not give her a sou
to spend. The latter, after having wandered through all the departments
with her daughter, without buying anything, had just stranded in the
lace department in a rage of unsated desire. Half dead with fatigue,
she was leaning up against the counter. She dived about in a heap
of lace, her hands became soft, a warmth penetrated as far as her
shoulders. Then suddenly, just as her daughter turned her head and
the salesman went away, she was thinking of slipping a piece of point
d'Alençon under her mantle. But she shuddered, and dropped it, on
hearing De Vallagnosc's voice saying gaily:

"Ah! we've caught you, madame."

For several seconds she stood there speechless and pale. Then she
explained that, feeling much better, she thought she would take a
stroll. And on noticing that her husband was with Madame Guibal, she
quite recovered herself, and looked at them with such a dignified air
that the other lady felt obliged to say:

"I was with Madame Desforges when these gentlemen met us."

The other ladies came up just at that moment, accompanied by Mouret,
who again detained them to point out Jouve the inspector, who was still
following the woman in the family way and her lady friend. It was
very curious, they could not form any idea of the number of thieves
that were arrested in the lace department. Madame de Boves, who was
listening, fancied herself between two gendarmes, with her forty-six
years, her luxury, and her husband's fine position; but yet she felt
no remorse, thinking she ought to have slipped the lace up her sleeve.
Jouve, however, had just decided to lay hold of the woman in the family
way, despairing of catching her in the act, but fully suspecting her
of having filled her pockets, with a sleight of hand which had escaped
him. But when he had taken her aside and searched her, he was wild
to find nothing on her—not a cravat, not a button. Her friend had
disappeared. All at once he understood: the woman in the family way was
only there as a blind; it was the friend who did the trick.

This affair amused the ladies. Mouret, rather vexed, merely said: "Old
Jouve has been floored this time. He'll have his revenge."

"Oh!" replied De Vallagnosc, "I don't think he's equal to it. Besides,
why do you display such a quantity of goods? It serves you right, if
you are robbed. You ought not to tempt these poor, defenceless women
so."

This was the last word, which sounded like the sharp note of the day,
in the growing fever of the establishment. The ladies then separated,
crossing the crowded departments for the last time. It was four
o'clock, the rays of the setting sun were darting through the large
windows in the front, lighting up crossways the glazed roofs of the
halls, and in this red, fiery light sprung up, like a golden vapour,
the thick dust raised by the circulation of the crowd. A broad ray ran
along the grand central gallery, showing up on a flaming ground the
staircases, the flying bridges, all the network of suspended iron. The
mosaics and the terra-cotta of the friezes sparkled, the green and
red paint were lighted up by the fire of the masses of gold scattered
everywhere. It was like a red-hot furnace, in which the displays were
now burning, the palaces of gloves and cravats, the clusters of ribbons
and lace, the lofty piles of linen and calico, the diapered parterres
in which flourished the light silks and foulards. The exhibition
of parasols, with their shield-like roundness, threw out a sort of
metallic reflection. In the distance were a lot of lost counters,
sparkling, swarming with a moving crowd, ablaze with sunshine.

And at this last moment, amidst this over-warmed air, the women reigned
supreme. They had taken the whole place by storm, camping there as
in a conquered country, like an invading horde installed amongst the
overhauling of the goods. The salesmen, deafened, knocked up, were now
nothing but their slaves, of whom they disposed with a sovereign's
tyranny. Fat women elbowed their way through the crowd. The thinnest
ones took up a lot of space, and became quite arrogant. They were all
there, with heads high and abrupt gestures, quite at home, without the
slightest politeness one for the other, using the house as much as they
could, even carrying away the dust from the walls. Madame Bourdelais,
desirous of making up for her expenditure, had again taken her children
to the refreshment bar; the crowd was now pushing about there in a
furious way, even the mothers were gorging themselves with Malaga; they
had drunk since the opening eighty quarts of syrup and seventy bottles
of wine. After having bought her travelling cloak, Madame Desforges
had managed to secure some pictures at the pay-desk; and she went
away scheming to get Denise into her house, where she could humiliate
her before Mouret himself, so as to see their faces and arrive at a
conclusion. Whilst Monsieur de Boves succeeded in losing himself in the
crowd and disappearing with Madame Guibal, Madame de Boves, followed by
Blanche and De Vallagnosc, had had the fancy to ask for a red air-ball,
although she had bought nothing. It was always something, she would
not go away empty-handed, she would make a friend of her doorkeeper's
little girl with it. At the distributing counter they were just
commencing the fortieth thousand: forty thousand red air-balls which
had taken flight in the warm air of the shop, quite a cloud of red
air-balls which were now floating from one end of Paris to the other,
bearing upwards to the sky the name of The Ladies' Paradise!

Five o'clock struck. Of all the ladies, Madame Marty and her daughter
were the only ones to remain, in the final crisis of the sale. She
could not tear herself away, although ready to drop with fatigue,
retained by an attraction so strong that she was continually retracing
her steps, though wanting nothing, wandering about the departments out
of a curiosity that knew no bounds. It was the moment in which the
crowd, goaded on by the advertisements, completely lost itself; the
sixty thousand francs paid to the newspapers, the ten thousand bills
posted on the walls, the two hundred thousand catalogues distributed
all over the world, after having emptied their purses, left in the
women's minds the shock of their intoxication; and the customers
still remained, shaken by Mouret's other inventions, the reduction of
prices, the "returns," the endless gallantries. Madame Marty lingered
before the various stalls, amidst the hoarse cries of the salesmen,
the chinking of the gold at the pay-desks, and the rolling of the
parcels down into the basement; she again traversed the ground floor,
the linen, the silk, the glove, and the woollen departments; then she
went upstairs again, abandoning herself to the metallic vibrations
of the suspended staircases and the flying-bridges, returning to
the ready-made, the under-linen, and the lace departments; she even
ascended to the second floor, into the heights of the bedding and
furniture department; and everywhere the employees, Hutin and Favier,
Mignot and Liénard, Deloche, Pauline and Denise, nearly dead with
fatigue, were making a last effort, snatching victories from the
expiring fever of the customers. This fever had gradually increased
since the morning, like the intoxication arising from the tumbling of
the stuffs. The crowd shone forth under the fiery glare of the five
o'clock sun. Madame Marty's face was now animated and nervous, like
that of an infant after drinking pure wine. Arrived with clear eyes
and fresh skin from the cold of the street, she had slowly burnt her
sight and complexion, at the spectacle of this luxury, of these violent
colours, the continued gallop of which irritated her passion. When she
at last went away, after saying she would pay at home, terrified by
the amount of her bill, her features were drawn up, her eyes were like
those of a sick person. She was obliged to fight her way through the
crowd at the door, where the people were almost killing each other,
amidst the struggle for the bargains. Then, when she got into the
street, and found her daughter, whom she had lost for a moment, the
fresh air made her shiver, she stood there frightened in the disorder
of this neurosis of the immense establishments.

In the evening, as Denise was returning from dinner, a messenger called
her: "You are wanted at the director's office mademoiselle."

She had forgotten the order Mouret had given her in the morning, to go
to his office after the sale. He was standing waiting for her. On going
in she did not close the door, which remained wide open.

"We are very pleased with you, mademoiselle," said he, "and we have
thought of proving our satisfaction. You know in what a shameful manner
Madame Frédéric has left us. From to-morrow you will take her place as
second-hand."

Denise listened to him immovable with surprise. She murmured in a
trembling voice: "But, sir, there are saleswomen in the department who
are much my seniors."

"What does that matter?" resumed he. "You are the most capable, the
most trustworthy. I choose you; it's quite natural. Are you not
satisfied?"

She blushed, feeling a delicious happiness and embarrassment, in
which her first fright vanished. Why had she at once thought of the
suppositions with which this unhoped-for favour would be received?
And she stood filled with her confusion, notwithstanding her sudden
burst of gratitude. He was looking at her with a smile, in her simple
silk dress, without a single piece of jewellery, nothing but the
luxury of her royal, blonde head of hair. She had become more refined,
her skin was whiter, her manner delicate and grave. Her former puny
insignificance was developing into a charm of a penetrating discretion.

"You are very kind, sir," she stammered. "I don't know how to tell
you—"

But she was cut short by the appearance of Lhomme in the doorway. In
his hand he was holding a large leather bag, and with his mutilated arm
he was pressing an enormous notecase to his chest; whilst, behind him,
his son Albert was carrying a load of bags, which were weighing him
down.

"Five hundred and eighty-seven thousand two hundred and ten francs
thirty centimes!" cried out the cashier, whose flabby, used-up face
seemed to be lighted up with a ray of sunshine, in the reflection of
such a sum.

It was the day's receipts, the highest The Ladies' Paradise had ever
done. In the distance, in the depths of the shop that Lhomme had just
passed through slowly, with the heavy gait of an overloaded beast of
burden, one could hear the uproar, the ripple of surprise and joy, left
by this colossal sum which passed.

"But it's superb!" said Mouret, enchanted. "My good Lhomme, put it down
there, and take a rest, for you look quite done up. I'll have this
money taken to the central cashier's office. Yes, yes, put it all on my
table, I want to see the heap."

He was full of a childish gaiety. The cashier and his son laid down
their burdens. The leather bag gave out a clear, golden ring, two of
the other bags bursting let out a stream of silver and copper, whilst
from the note-case peeped forth corners of bank notes. One end of the
large table was entirely covered; it was like the tumbling of a fortune
picked up in ten hours.

When Lhomme and Albert had retired, mopping their faces, Mouret
remained for a moment motionless, lost, his eyes fixed on the money.
Then, raising his head, he perceived Denise, who had drawn back. He
began to smile again, forced her to come forward, and finished by
saying he would give her all she could take in her hand; and there was
a sort of love-bargain beneath his playfulness.

"Look! out of the bag. I bet it would be less than a thousand francs,
your hand is so small!"

But she drew back again. He loved her, then? Suddenly she understood,
she felt the growing flame of desire with which he had enveloped her
since her return to the shop. What overcame her more than anything else
was to feel her heart beating violently. Why did he wound her with all
this money, when she was overflowing with gratitude, and he could have
done anything with her by a friendly word? He was coming closer to her,
continuing to joke, when, to his great annoyance, Bourdoncle appeared,
under the pretence of informing him of the number of entries—the
enormous number of seventy thousand customers had entered The Ladies'
Paradise that day. And she hastened away, after having again thanked
him.

CHAPTER X.

The first Sunday in August every one was busy with the stock-taking,
which had to be finished by the evening. Early in the morning all the
employees were at their posts, as on a week-day, and the work commenced
with closed doors, in the immense establishment, entirely free from
customers.

Denise, however, had not come down with the other young ladies at eight
o'clock. Confined to her room for the last five days by a sprained
ankle, caused when going up stairs to the work-rooms, she was going
on much better; but, sure of Madame Aurélie's indulgence, she did not
hurry down, and sat putting her boots on with difficulty, resolved,
however, to show herself in the department. The young ladies' bed-rooms
now occupied the entire fifth storey of the new buildings, along the
Rue Monsigny; there were sixty of them, on either side of a corridor,
and they were much more comfortably than formerly, although still
furnished with the iron bedstead, large wardrobe, and little mahogany
toilet-table. The private life of the saleswomen became more refined
and elegant there, they displayed a taste for scented soap and fine
linen, quite a natural ascent towards middle-class ways as their
positions improved, although high words and banging doors were still
sometimes heard amidst the hôtel-like gust that carried them away,
morning and evening. Denise, being second-hand in her department, had
one of the largest rooms, the two attic windows of which looked into
the street. Being much better off now, she indulged in several little
luxuries, a red eider-down coverlet for the bed, covered with Maltese
lace, a small carpet in front of the wardrobe, and two blue-glass vases
containing a few faded roses on the toilet table.

When she got her boots on she tried to walk across the room; but was
obliged to lean against the furniture, being still rather lame. But
that would soon come right again, she thought. At the same time, she
had been quite right in refusing the invitation to dine at uncle
Baudu's that evening, and in asking her aunt to take Pépé out for a
walk, for she had placed him with Madame Gras again. Jean, who had
been to see her the previous day, was to dine at his uncle's also. She
continued to try to walk, resolved to go to bed early, in order to rest
her leg, when Madame Cabin, the housekeeper, knocked and gave her a
letter, with an air of mystery.

The door closed. Denise, astonished by this woman's discreet smile,
opened the letter. She dropped on to a chair; it was a letter from
Mouret, in which he expressed himself delighted at her recovery, and
begged her to go down and dine with him that evening, as she could
not go out. The tone of this note, at once familiar and paternal, was
in no way offensive; but it was impossible for her to mistake its
meaning. The Ladies' Paradise well knew the real signification of these
invitations, which were legendary: Clara had dined, others as well,
all those the governor had specially remarked. After dinner, as the
witlings were wont to say, came the dessert. And the young girl's white
cheeks were gradually invaded by a flow of blood.

The letter slipped on to her knees, and Denise, her heart beating
violently, remained with her eyes fixed on the blinding light of one
of the windows. This was the confession she must have made to herself,
in this very room, during her sleepless moments: if she still trembled
when he passed, she now knew it was not from fear; and her former
uneasiness, her old terror, could have been nothing but the frightened
ignorance of love, the disorder of her growing affections, in her
youthful wildness. She did not argue with herself, she simply felt that
she had always loved him from the hour she had shuddered and stammered
before him. She had loved him when she had feared him as a pitiless
master; she had loved him when her distracted heart was dreaming of
Hutin, unconsciously yielding to a desire for affection. Perhaps she
might have given herself to another, but she had never loved any but
this man, whose mere look terrified her. And her whole past life came
back to her, unfolding itself in the blinding light of the window: the
hardships of her start, that sweet walk under the shady trees of the
Tuileries Gardens, and, lastly, the desires with which he had enveloped
her ever since her return. The letter dropped on the ground, Denise
still gazed at the window, dazzled by the glare of the sun.

Suddenly there was a knock. She hastened to pick up the letter and
conceal it in her pocket. It was Pauline, who, having slipped away
under some pretext, had come for a little gossip.

"How are you, my dear? We never meet now—"

But as it was against the rules to go up into the bed-rooms, and, above
all, for two to be shut in together, Denise took her to the end of the
passage, into the ladies' drawing-room, a gallant present from Mouret
to the young ladies, who could spend their evenings there till eleven
o'clock. The apartment, decorated in white and gold, of the vulgar
nudity of an hôtel room, was furnished with a piano, a central table,
and some arm-chairs and sofas protected with white covers. But, after
a few evenings spent together, in the first novelty of the thing, the
saleswomen never went into the place without coming to high words
at once. They required educating to it, the little trading city was
wanting in accord. Meanwhile, almost the only one that went there in
the evening was the second-hand in the corset department, Miss Powell,
who strummed away at Chopin on the piano, and whose coveted talent
ended by driving the others away.

"You see my ankle's better now," said Denise, "I was going downstairs."

"Well!" exclaimed the other, "what zeal! I'd take it easy if I had the
chance!"

They both sat down on a sofa. Pauline's attitude had changed since
her friend had been promoted to be second-hand in the ready-made
department. With her good-natured cordiality was mingled a shade of
respect, a sort of surprise to feel the puny little saleswoman of
former days on the road to fortune. Denise liked her very much, and
confided in her alone, amidst the continual gallop of the two hundred
women that the firm now employed.

"What's the matter?" asked Pauline, quickly, when she remarked the
young girl's troubled looks.

"Oh! nothing," replied the latter, with an awkward smile.

"Yes, yes; there's something the matter with you. Have you no faith in
me, that you have given up telling me your troubles?"

Then Denise, in the emotion that was swelling her bosom—an emotion
she could not control—abandoned herself to her feelings. She gave her
friend the letter, stammering: "Look! he has just written to me."

Between themselves, they had never openly spoken of Mouret. But this
very silence was like a confession of their secret pre-occupations.
Pauline knew everything. After having read the letter, she clasped
Denise in her arms, and softly murmured: "My dear, to speak frankly, I
thought it was already done. Don't be shocked; I assure you the whole
shop must think as I do. Naturally! he appointed you as second-hand
so quickly, then he's always after you. It's obvious!" She kissed her
affectionately, and then asked her: "You will go this evening, of
course?"

Denise looked at her without replying. All at once she burst into
tears, her head on Pauline's shoulder. The latter was quite astonished.

"Come, try and calm yourself; there's nothing in the affair to upset
you like this."

"No, no; let me be," stammered Denise. "If you only knew what trouble I
am in! Since I received that letter, I have felt beside myself. Let me
have a good cry, that will relieve me."

Full of pity, though not understanding, Pauline endeavoured to console
her. In the first place, he had thrown up Clara. It was said he still
visited a lady outside, but that was not proved. Then she explained
that one could not be jealous of a man in such a position. He had too
much money; he was the master, after all. Denise listened to her, and
had she been ignorant of her love, she could no longer have doubted it
after the suffering she felt at the name of Clara and the allusion to
Madame Desforges, which made her heart bleed. She could hear Clara's
disagreeable voice, she could see Madame Desforges dragging her about
the different departments with the scorn of a rich lady for a poor
shop-girl.

"So you would go yourself?" asked she.

Pauline, without pausing to think, cried out: "Of course, how can one
do otherwise!" Then reflecting, she added: "Not now, but formerly,
because now I am going to marry Baugé, and it would not be right."

In fact, Baugé, who had left the Bon Marché for The Ladies' Paradise,
was going to marry her about the middle of the month. Bourdoncle did
not like these married couples; they had managed, however, to get the
necessary permission, and even hoped to obtain a fortnight's holiday
for their honeymoon.

"There you are," declared Denise, "when a man loves a girl he ought to
marry her. Baugé is going to marry you."

Pauline laughed heartily. "But my dear, it isn't the same thing. Baugé
is going to marry me because he is Baugé. He's my equal, that's a
natural thing. Whilst Monsieur Mouret! Do you think Monsieur Mouret can
marry his saleswomen?"

"Oh! No, oh! no," exclaimed the young girl, shocked by the absurdity of
the question, "and that's why he ought not to have written to me."

This argument completely astonished Pauline. Her coarse face, with her
small tender eyes, assumed quite an expression of maternal compassion.
Then she got up, opened the piano, and softly played with one finger,
"King Dagobert," to enliven the situation, no doubt. Into the nakedness
of the drawing-room, the white coverings of which seemed to increase
the emptiness, came the noises from the street, the distant melopoeia
of a woman crying out green peas. Denise had thrown herself back on the
sofa, her head against the wood-work, shaken by a fresh flood of sobs,
which she stifled in her handkerchief.

"Again!" resumed Pauline, turning round. "Really you are not
reasonable. Why did you bring me here? We ought to have stopped in your
room."

She knelt down before her, and commenced lecturing her again. How
many others would like to be in her place! Besides, if the thing did
not please her, it was very simple: she had only to say no, without
worrying herself like this. But she should reflect before risking her
position by a refusal which was inexplicable, considering she had no
engagement elsewhere. Was it such a terrible thing after all? and the
reprimand was finishing up by some pleasantries, gaily whispered, when
a sound of footsteps was heard in the passage. Pauline ran to the door
and looked out.

"Hush! Madame Aurélie!" she murmured. "I'm off, and just you dry your
eyes. She need not know what's up."

When Denise was alone, she got up, and forced back her tears; and,
her hands still trembling, with the fear of being caught there doing
nothing, she closed the piano, which her friend had left open. But on
hearing Madame Aurélie knocking at her door, she left the drawing-room.

"What! you are up!" exclaimed the first-hand. "It's very thoughtless of
you, my dear child. I was just coming up to see how you were, and to
tell you that we did not require you downstairs."

Denise assured her that she felt very much better, that it would do her
good to do something to amuse herself.

"I sha'n't tire myself, madame. You can place me on a chair, and I'll
do some writing."

Both then went downstairs. Madame Aurélie, who was most attentive,
insisted on Denise leaning on her shoulder. She must have noticed the
young girl's red eyes, for she was stealthily examining her. No doubt
she was aware of a great deal of what was going on.

It was an unexpected victory: Denise had at last conquered the
department. After struggling for six months, amidst her torments as
drudge and fag, without disarming her comrades' ill-will, she had
in a few weeks entirely overcome them, and now saw them around her
submissive and respectful. Madame Aurélie's sudden affection had
greatly assisted her in this ungrateful task of softening her comrades'
hearts towards her. It was whispered that the first-hand was Mouret's
obliging factotum, that she rendered him many delicate services; and
she took the young girl under her protection with such warmth that the
latter must have been recommended to her in a very special manner. But
Denise had also brought all her charm into play in order to disarm her
enemies. The task was all the more difficult from the fact that she
had to obtain their pardon for her appointment to the situation of
second-hand. The young ladies spoke of this as an injustice, accused
her of having earned it at dessert, with the governor; and even added
a lot of abominable details. But in spite of their revolt, the title
of second-hand influenced them, Denise assumed a certain authority
which astonished and overawed the most hostile spirits. Soon after,
she even found flatterers amongst the new hands; and her sweetness and
modesty finished the conquest. Marguerite came over to her side. Clara
was the only one to continue her ill-natured ways, still venturing on
the old insult of the "unkempt girl," which no one now saw the fun of.
During her short intimacy with Mouret, she had taken advantage of it to
neglect her work, being of a wonderfully idle, gossiping nature; then,
as he had quickly tired of her, she did not even recriminate, incapable
of jealousy in the disorderly abandon of her existence, perfectly
satisfied to have profited from it to the extent of being allowed to
stand about doing nothing. But, at the same time, she considered that
Denise had robbed her of Madame Frédéric's place. She would never have
accepted it, on account of the worry; but she was vexed at the want of
politeness, for she had the same claims as the other one, and prior
claims too.

"Hullo! there's the young mother being trotted out after her
confinement," murmured she, on seeing Madame Aurélie bringing Denise in
on her arm.

Marguerite shrugged her shoulders, saying, "I dare say you think that's
a good joke!"

Nine o'clock struck. Outside, an ardent blue sky was warming the
streets, cabs were rolling towards the railway stations, the whole
population, dressed out in Sunday clothes, was streaming in long rows
towards the suburban woods. Inside the building, inundated with sun
through the large open bays, the cooped-up staff had just commenced
the stocktaking. They had closed the doors; people stopped on the
pavement, looking through the windows, astonished at this shutting-up
when an extraordinary activity was going on inside. There was, from one
end of the galleries to the other, from the top floor to the bottom,
a continual movement of employees, their arms in the air, and parcels
flying about above their heads; and all this amidst a tempest of cries
and a calling out of prices, the confusion of which ascended and became
a deafening roar. Each of the thirty-nine departments did its work
apart, without troubling about its neighbor. At this early hour the
shelves had hardly been touched, there were only a few bales of goods
on the floors; the machine would have to get up more steam if they were
to finish that evening.

"Why have you come down?" asked Marguerite of Denise, good-naturedly.
"You'll only make yourself worse, and we are quite enough to do the
work."

"That's what I told her," declared Madame Aurélie, "but she insisted on
coming down to help us."

All the young ladies flocked round Denise. The work was interrupted
even for a time. They complimented her, listening with various
exclamations to the story of her sprained ankle. At last Madame Aurélie
made her sit down at a table; and it was understood that she should
merely write down the articles as they were called out. On such a day
as this they requisitioned any employee capable of holding a pen: the
inspectors, the cashiers, the clerks, even down to the shop messengers;
and the various departments divided amongst themselves these assistants
of a day to get the work over quicker. It was thus that Denise found
herself installed near Lhomme the cashier and Joseph the messenger,
both bending over large sheets of paper.

"Five mantles, cloth, fur trimming, third size, at two hundred and
forty francs!" cried Marguerite. "Four ditto, first size, at two
hundred and twenty!"

The work once more commenced. Behind Marguerite three saleswomen
were emptying the cupboards, classifying the articles, giving them
to her in bundles; and, when she had called them out, she threw
them on the table, where they were gradually heaping up in enormous
piles. Lhomme wrote down the articles, Joseph kept another list for
the clearinghouse. Whilst this was going on, Madame Aurélie herself,
assisted by three other saleswomen, was counting the silk garments,
which Denise entered on the sheets. Clara was employed in looking after
the heaps, to arrange them in such a manner that they should occupy
the least space possible on the tables. But she was not paying much
attention to her work, for the heaps were already tumbling down.

"I say," asked she of a little saleswoman who had joined that winter,
"are they going to give you a rise? You know the second-hand is to have
two thousand francs, which, with her commission, will bring her in
nearly seven thousand."

The little saleswoman, without ceasing to pass some cloaks down,
replied that if they didn't give her eight hundred francs she
would take her hook. The rises were always given the day after the
stock-taking; it was also the epoch at which, the amount of business
done during the year being known, the managers of the departments drew
their commission on the increase of this figure, compared with that
of the preceding year. Thus, notwithstanding the bustle and uproar
of the work, the impassioned gossiping went on everywhere. Between
two articles called out, they talked of nothing but money. The rumor
ran that Madame Aurélie would exceed twenty-five thousand francs; and
this immense sum greatly excited the young ladies. Marguerite, the
best saleswoman after Denise, had made four thousand five hundred
francs, fifteen hundred francs salary, and about three thousand francs
commission; whilst Clara had not made two thousand five hundred francs
altogether.

"I don't care a button for their rises!" resumed the latter, still
talking to the little saleswoman. "If papa were dead, I would jolly
soon clear out of this! But what exasperates me is to see seven
thousand francs given to that strip of a girl! What do you say?"

Madame Aurélie violently interrupted the conversation, turning round
with her imperial air. "Be quiet, young ladies. We can't hear ourselves
speak, my word of honor!"

Then she resumed calling out: "Seven mantles, old style, Sicilian,
first size, at a hundred and thirty! Three pelisses, surah, second
size, at a hundred and fifty! Have you got that down, Mademoiselle
Baudu?"

"Yes, madame."

Clara then had to look after the armfuls of garments piled on the
tables. She pushed them about, and made more room. But she soon left
them again to reply to a salesman, who was looking for her. It was the
glover, Mignot, escaped from his. He whispered a request for twenty
francs; he already owed her thirty, a loan effected the day after a
race, after Laving lost his week's salary on a horse; this time he had
squandered his commission, drawn over night, and had not ten sous for
his Sunday. Clara had only ten francs about her, which she lent him
with a fairly good grace. And they went on talking, spoke of a party of
six, indulged in at a restaurant at Bougival, where the women had paid
their share: it was much better, they all felt perfectly at their ease
like that. Then Mignot, who wanted his twenty francs, went and bent
over Lhomme's shoulder. The latter, stopped in his writing, appeared
greatly troubled. However, he dared not refuse, and was looking for
the money in his purse, when Madame Aurélie, astonished not to hear
Marguerite's voice, which had been interrupted, perceived Mignot, and
understood at once. She roughly sent him back to his department, saying
she didn't want anyone to come and distract her young ladies from
their work. The truth is, she dreaded this young man, a bosom friend
of Albert's, the accomplice of his doubtful tricks, which she trembled
to see turn out badly some day. Therefore, when Mignot had got his ten
francs, and had run away, she could not help saying to her husband:

"Is it possible! to let a fellow like that get over you!"

"But, my dear, I really could not refuse the young man."

She closed his mouth with a shrug of her substantial shoulders. Then,
as the saleswomen were slyly grinning at this family explanation, she
resumed with severity: "Now, Mademoiselle Vadon, don't let's go to
sleep."

"Twenty cloaks, cashmere extra, fourth size, at eighteen francs and a
half," resumed Marguerite in her sing-song voice. Lhomme, with his head
bowed down, had resumed writing. They had gradually raised his salary
to nine thousand francs a year; and he was very humble before Madame
Aurélie, who still brought nearly triple as much into the family.

For a while the work pushed forward. Figures flew about, the parcels
of garments rained thick and fast on the tables, But Clara had
invented another amusement: she was teasing the messenger, Joseph,
about a passion that he was said to nourish for a young lady in the
pattern-room. This young lady, already twenty-eight years old, thin
and pale, was a protégé of Madame Desforges, who had wanted to make
Mouret engage her as a saleswoman, backing up her recommendation with
a touching story: an orphan, the last of the De Fontenailles, an old
and noble family of Poitou, thrown into the streets of Paris with
a drunken father, but yet virtuous amidst this misfortune, with an
education too limited, unfortunately, to take a place as governess or
music-mistress. Mouret generally got angry when anyone recommended to
him these broken-down gentlewomen; there was not, said he, a class of
creatures more incapable, more insupportable, more narrow-minded than
these gentlewomen; and, besides, a saleswoman could not be improvised,
she must serve an apprenticeship, it was a complicated and delicate
business. However, he took Madame Desforges's protégé, but put her in
the pattern-room, in the same way as he had already found places, to
oblige friends, for two countesses and a baroness in the advertising
department, where they addressed envelopes, etc. Mademoiselle de
Fontenailles earned three francs a day, which just enabled her to live
in her modest room, in the Rue d'Argenteuil. It was on seeing her, with
her sad look and such shabby clothes, that Joseph's heart, very tender
under his rough soldier's manner, had been touched. He did not confess,
but he blushed, when the young ladies in the ready-made department
chaffed him; for the pattern-room was not far off, and they had often
observed him prowling about the doorway.

"Joseph is somewhat absent-minded," murmured Clara. "His nose is always
turned towards the under-linen department."

They had requisitioned Mademoiselle de Fontenailles there, and she was
assisting at the outfitting counter. As the messenger was continually
glancing in that direction, the saleswomen began to laugh. He became
very confused, and plunged into his accounts; whilst Marguerite, in
order to arrest the flood of gaiety which was tickling her throat,
cried out louder still: "Fourteen jackets, English cloth, second size,
at fifteen francs!"

At this, Madame Aurélie, who was engaged in calling out some cloaks,
could not make herself heard. She interfered with a wounded air, and
a majestic slowness: "A little softer, mademoiselle. We are not in a
market. And you are all very unreasonable, to be amusing yourselves
with these childish matters, when our time is so precious."

Just at that moment, as Clara was not paying any attention to the
parcels, a catastrophe took place. Some mantles tumbled down, and all
the heaps on the tables, dragged down with them, fell one after the
other, so that the carpet was strewn with them.

"There! what did I say!" cried the first-hand, beside herself. "Pray be
more careful, Mademoiselle Prunaire; it's intolerable!"

But a hum ran along: Mouret and Bourdoncle, making their round of
inspection, had just appeared. The voices started again, the pens
sputtered along, whilst Clara hastened to pick up the garments. The
governor did not interrupt the work. He stood there several minutes,
mute, smiling; and it was on his lips alone that a slight feverish
shivering was visible in his gay and victorious face of stock-taking
days. When he perceived Denise, he nearly gave way to a gesture of
astonishment. She had come down, then? His eyes met Madame Aurélie's.
Then, after a moment's hesitation, he went away into the under-linen
department.

However, Denise, warned by the slight noise, had raised her head.
And, after having recognized Mouret, she had immediately bent over
her work again, without ostentation. Since she had been writing in
this mechanical way, amidst the regular calling-out of the articles,
a peaceful feeling had stolen over her. She had always yielded thus
to the first excesses of her sensitiveness: the tears suffocated her,
her passion doubled her torments; then she regained her self-command,
finding a grand, calm courage, a strength of will, quiet but
inexorable. Now, with her limpid eyes, and pale complexion, she was
free from all agitation, entirely given up to her work, resolved to
crush her heart and to do nothing but her will.

Ten o'clock struck, the uproar of the stock-taking was increasing in
the activity of the departments. And amidst the cries incessantly
raised, crossing each other on all sides, the same news was circulating
with surprising rapidity: every salesman knew that Mouret had written
that morning inviting Denise to dinner. The indiscretion came from
Pauline. On going downstairs, still excited, she had met Deloche in the
lace department, and, without noticing that Liénard was talking to the
young man, she immediately relieved her mind of the secret.

"It's done, my dear fellow. She's just received a letter. He invites
her for this evening."

Deloche turned very pale. He had understood, for he often questioned
Pauline; they spoke of their common friend every day, of Mouret's love
for her, of the famous invitation which would finish by bringing the
adventure to an issue. She frequently scolded him for his secret love
for Denise, with whom he would never succeed, and she shrugged her
shoulders whenever he expressed his approval of the girl's conduct in
resisting the governor.

"Her foot's better, she's coming down," continued Pauline. "Pray don't
put on that funeral face. It's a piece of good luck for her, this
invitation." And she hastened back to her department.

"Ah! good!" murmured Liénard, who had heard all, "you're talking about
the young girl with the sprain. You were quite right to be so quick in
defending her last night at the café!"

He also ran off; but before he had returned to the woollen department,
he had already related the story to four or five fellows. In less than
ten minutes, it had gone the round of the whole shop.

Liénard's last remark referred to a scene which had taken place the
previous evening, at the Café Saint-Roch. Deloche and he were now
constantly together. The former had taken Hutin's room at the Hôtel
de Smyrne, when that gentleman, appointed second-hand, had hired a
suite of three rooms; and the two shopmen came to The Ladies' Paradise
together in the morning, and waited for each other in the evening
in order to go away together. Their rooms, which were next door to
each other, looked into the same black yard, a narrow well, the
odor from which poisoned the hôtel. They got on very well together,
notwithstanding then: difference of character, the one carelessly
squandering the money he drew from his father, the other penniless,
perpetually tortured by ideas of saving, both having, however, a
point in common, their unskilfulness as salesmen, which left them to
vegetate at their counters, without any increase of salary. After
leaving the shop, they spent the greater part of their time at the
Café Saint-Roch. Quite free from customers during the day, this café
filled up about half-past eight with an overflowing crowd of employees,
that crowd of shopmen disgorged into the street from the great door
in the Place Gaillon. Then burst forth a deafening uproar of clinking
dominoes, bursts of laughter and yelping voices, amidst the thick
smoke of the pipes. Beer and coffee were in great demand. Seated in
the left-hand corner, Liénard went in for the dearest drinks, whilst
Deloche contented himself with a glass of beer, which he would take
four hours to drink. It was there that the latter had heard Favier,
at a neighboring table, relate some abominable things about Denise,
the way in which she had "hooked" the governor, by pulling her dress
up whenever she went upstairs in front of him. He had with difficulty
restrained himself from striking him. Then, as the other went on,
saying that the young girl went down every night to join her lover, he
called him a liar, feeling mad with rage.

"What a blackguard! It's a lie, it's a lie, I tell you!"

And in the emotion which was agitating him, he let out too much, with a
stammering voice, entirely opening his heart.

"I know her, and it isn't true. She has never had any affection except
for one man; yes, for Monsieur Hutin, and even he has never noticed it,
he can't even boast of ever having as much as touched her."

The report of this quarrel, exaggerated, misconstrued, was already
affording amusement for the whole shop, when the story of Mouret's
letter was circulated. In fact, it was to a salesman in the silk
department that Liénard first confided the news. With the silk-vendors
the stock-taking was going on rapidly. Favier and two shopmen, mounted
on stools, were emptying the shelves, passing the pieces of stuff to
Hutin as they went on, the latter, standing on a table, calling out the
figures, after consulting the tickets; and he then dropped the pieces,
which, rising slowly like an autumn tide, were gradually encumbering
the floor. Other men were writing, Albert Lhomme was also helping them,
his face pale and heavy after a night spent in a low public-house at La
Chapelle. A ray of sun fell from the glazed roof of the hall, through
which could be seen the ardent blue of the sky.

"Draw those blinds!" cried out Bouthemont, very busy superintending the
work. "The sun is unbearable!"

Favier, who was stretching to reach a piece, grumbled under his breath:
"A nice thing to shut people up a lovely day like this! No fear of it
raining on a stock-taking day! And they keep us under lock and key like
a lot of convicts when all Paris is out-doors!"

He passed the piece to Hutin. On the ticket was the measurement,
diminished at each sale by the quantity sold, which greatly simplified
the work. The second-hand cried out: "Fancy silk, small check,
twenty-one yards, at six francs and a half."

And the silk went to increase the heap on the floor. Then he continued
a conversation commenced, by saying to Favier: "So he wanted to fight
you?"

"Yes, I was quietly drinking my glass of beer. It was hardly worthwhile
contradicting me, she has just received a letter from the governor
inviting her to dinner. The whole shop is talking about it."

"What! it wasn't done!"

Favier handed him another piece.

"A caution, isn't it? One would have staked his life on it. It seemed
like an old connection."

"Ditto, twenty-five yards!" cried Hutin.

The dull thud of the piece was heard, whilst he added in a lower tone:
"She carried on fearfully, you know, at that old fool Bourras's."

The whole department was now joking about the affair, without, however,
allowing the work to suffer. The young girl's name passed from mouth to
mouth, the fellows arched their backs and winked. Bouthemont himself,
who took a rare delight in such gay stories, could not help adding
his joke, the bad taste of which filled his heart with joy. Albert,
waking up a bit, swore he had seen Denise with two soldiers at the
Gros-Caillou. At that moment Mignot came down, with the twenty francs
he had just borrowed, and he stopped to slip ten francs into Albert's
hand, making an appointment with him for the evening; a projected lark,
restrained for want of money, but still possible, notwithstanding the
smallness of the sum. But handsome Mignot, when he heard about the
famous letter, made such an abominable remark, that Bouthemont was
obliged to interfere.

"That's enough, gentlemen. It isn't our business. Go on, Monsieur
Hutin."

"Fancy silk, small check, thirty-two yards, at six francs and a half,"
cried out the latter.

The pens started off again, the parcels fell regularly, the flood of
stuffs still increased, as if the overflow of a river had emptied
itself there. And the calling out of the fancy silks never ceased.
Favier, in a half whisper, remarked that the stock was in a nice state;
the governors would be enchanted; that big stupid of a Bouthemont
might be the best buyer in Paris, but as a salesman he was not worth
his salt. Hutin smiled, delighted, approving by a friendly look; for
after having himself introduced Bouthemont into The Ladies' Paradise,
in order to drive out Robineau, he was now undermining him also, with
the firm intention of robbing him of his place. It was the same war as
formerly, treacherous insinuations whispered in the partners' ears,
an excessive display of zeal in order to push one's-self forward, a
regular campaign carried on with affable cunning. However, Favier,
towards whom Hutin was displaying some fresh condescension, took a look
at the latter, thin and cold, with his bilious face, as if to count the
mouthfuls in this short, squat little man, and looking as though he
were waiting till his comrade had swallowed up Bouthemont, in order to
eat him afterwards. He, Favier, hoped to get the second-hand's place,
should his friend be appointed manager. Then, they would see. And both,
consumed by the fever which was raging from one end of the shop to the
other, talked of the probable rises of salary, without ceasing to call
out the stock of fancy silks; they felt sure Bouthemont would reach
thirty thousand francs that year; Hutin would exceed ten thousand;
Favier estimated his pay and commission at five thousand five hundred.
The amount of business in the department was increasing yearly, the
salesmen were promoted and their salaries doubled, like officers in
time of war.

"Won't those fancy silks soon be finished?" asked Bouthemont suddenly,
with an annoyed air. "What a miserable spring, always raining! People
have bought nothing but black silks."

His fat, jovial face became cloudy; he looked at the growing heap on
the floor, whilst Hutin called out louder still, in a sonorous voice,
not free from triumph—"Fancy silks, small check, twenty-eight yards,
at six francs and a half."

There was still another shelf-full. Favier, whose arms were beginning
to feel tired, was now going very slowly. As he handed Hutin the last
pieces he resumed in a low tone—"Oh! I say, I forgot. Have you heard
that the second-hand in the ready-made department once had a regular
fancy for you?"

The young man seemed greatly surprised. "What! How do you mean?"

"Yes, that great booby Deloche let it out to us. I remember her casting
sheep's eyes at you some time back."

Since his appointment as second-hand Hutin had thrown up his music-hall
singers and gone in for governesses. Greatly flattered at heart, he
replied with a scornful air, "I like them a little better stuffed, my
boy; besides, it won't do to take up with anybody, as the governor
does." He stopped to call out—

"White Poult silk, thirty-five yards, at eight francs fifteen sous."

"Oh! at last!" murmured Bouthemont, greatly relieved.

But a bell rang, it was the second table, to which Favier belonged. He
got off the stool, another salesman took his place, and he was obliged
to step over the mountain of pieces of stuff with which the floor was
encumbered. Similar heaps were scattered about in very department; the
shelves, the boxes, the cupboards were being gradually emptied, whilst
the goods were overflowing on every side, under-foot, between the
counters and the tables, in a continual rising. In the linen department
was heard the heavy falling of the bales of calico; in the mercery
department there was a clicking of boxes; and distant rumbling sounds
came from the furniture department. Every sort of voice was heard
together, shrill voices, thick voices; figures whizzed through the
air, a rustling clamor reigned in the immense nave—the clamor of the
forests in January when the wind is whistling through the branches.

Favier at last got clear and went up the dining room staircase. Since
the enlargement of The Ladies' Paradise the refectories had been
shifted to the fourth storey in the new buildings. As he hurried up
he came upon Deloche and Liénard, so he fell back on Mignot, who was
following on his heels.

"The deuce!" said he, in the corridor leading to the kitchen, opposite
the blackboard on which the bill of fare was inscribed, "you can see
it's stock-taking day. A regular feast! Chicken, or leg of mutton, and
artichokes! Their mutton won't be much of a success!"

Mignot sniggered, murmuring, "Everyone's going in for chicken, then!"

However, Deloche and Liénard had taken their portions and had gone
away. Favier then leant over at the wicket and called out—"Chicken!"

But he had to wait; one of the kitchen helps had cut his finger in
carving, and this caused some confusion. Favier stood there, with
his face to the opening, looking into the kitchen with its giant
appliances—the central range, over which two rails fixed to the
ceiling brought forward, by a system of chains and pulleys, the
colossal coppers, which four men could not have lifted. Several cooks,
quite white in the sombre red of the furnace, were attending to the
evening soup coppers, mounted on iron ladders, armed with skimmers
fixed on long handles. Then against the wall were grills large enough
to roast martyrs on, saucepans big enough to cook a whole sheep in, a
monumental plate-warmer, and a marble well kept full by a continual
stream of water. To the left could be seen a washing-up place, stone
sinks as large as ponds; whilst on the other side to the right, was an
immense meat-safe, in which some large joints of red meat were hanging
on steel hooks. A machine for peeling potatoes was working with the
tic-tac of a mill. Two small trucks laden with freshly-picked salad
were being wheeled along by some kitchen helps into the fresh air under
a fountain.

"Chicken," repeated Favier, getting impatient. Then, turning round,
he added in a lower tone, "There's one fellow cut himself. It's
disgusting, it's running over the food."

Mignot wanted to see. Quite a string of shopmen had now arrived; there
was a good deal of laughing and pushing. The two young men, their
heads at the wicket, exchanged their remarks before this phalansterian
kitchen, in which the least utensils, even the spits and larding pins,
assumed gigantic proportions. Two thousand luncheons and two thousand
dinners had to be served, and the number of employees was increasing
every week. It was quite an abyss, into which was thrown daily
something like forty-five bushels of potatoes, one hundred and twenty
pounds of butter, and sixteen hundred pounds of meat; and at each
meal they had to broach three casks of wine, over a hundred and fifty
gallons were served out at the wine counter.

"Ah! at last!" murmured Favier when the cook reappeared with a large
pan, out of which he handed him the leg of a fowl.

"Chicken," said Mignot behind him.

And with their plates in their hands they both entered the refectory,
after having taken their wine at the counter; whilst behind them the
word "Chicken" was repeated without ceasing, regularly, and one could
hear the cook picking up the pieces with his fork with a rapid and
measured sound.

The men's dining room was now an immense apartment, where places for
five hundred at each of the three dinners could easily be laid. There
were long mahogany tables, placed parallel across the room, and at
either end were similar tables reserved for the managers of departments
and the inspectors; whilst in the centre was a counter for the extras.
Large windows, right and left, lighted up with a white light this
gallery, of which the ceiling, notwithstanding its being four yards
high, seemed very low, crushed by the enormous development of the other
dimensions. The sole ornament on the walls, painted a light yellow,
were the napkin cupboards. After this first refectory came that of
the messengers and car-men, where the meals were served irregularly,
according to the necessities of the work.

"What! you've got a leg as well, Mignot?" said Favier, as he took his
place at one of the tables opposite his companion.

Other young men now sat down around them. There was no tablecloth, the
plates gave out a cracked sound on the bare mahogany, and everyone was
crying out in this particular corner, for the number of legs was really
prodigious.

"These chickens are all legs!" remarked Mignot.

Those who had pieces of the carcase were greatly discontented. However,
the food had been much better since the late improvements. Mouret no
longer treated with a contractor at a fixed sum; he had taken the
kitchen into his own hands, organizing it like one of the departments,
with a head-cook, under-cooks, and an inspector; and if he spent more
he got more work out of the staff—a practical humane calculation which
long terrified Bourdoncle.

"Mine is pretty tender, all the same," said Mignot. "Pass over the
bread!"

The big loaf was sent round, and after cutting a slice for himself
he dug the knife into the crust. A few dilatory ones now hurried in,
taking their places; a ferocious appetite, increased by the morning's
work, ran along the immense tables from one end to the other. There was
an increasing clatter of forks, a sound of bottles being emptied, the
noise of glasses laid down too violently, the grinding rumble of five
hundred pairs of powerful jaws working with wonderful energy. And the
talk, still very rare, was stifled in the mouths full of food.

Deloche, however, seated between Baugé and Liénard, found himself
nearly opposite Favier. They had glanced at each other with a rancorous
look. The neighbors whispered, aware of their quarrel the previous day.
Then they laughed at poor Deloche's ill-luck, always famishing, always
falling on to the worst piece at table, by a sort of cruel fatality.
This time he had come in for the neck of a chicken and bits of the
carcase. Without saying a word he let them joke away, swallowing large
mouthfuls of bread, and picking the neck with the infinite art of a
fellow who entertains a great respect for meat.

"Why don't you complain?" asked Baugé.

But he shrugged his shoulders. What would be the good? It was always
the same. When he ventured to complain things went worse than ever.

"You know the Bobbin fellows have got their club now," said Mignot, all
at once. "Yes, my boy, the 'Bobbin Club.' It's held at a tavern in the
Rue Saint-Honoré, where they hire a room on Saturdays."

He was speaking of the mercery salesmen. The whole table began to
joke. Between two mouthfuls, with his voice still thick, each one made
some remark, added a detail; the obstinate readers alone remained
mute, absorbed, their noses buried in some newspapers. It could not be
denied; shop-men were gradually assuming a better style; nearly half
of them now spoke English or German. It was no longer good form to go
and kick up a row at Bullier, to prowl about the music-halls for the
pleasure of hissing ugly singers. No; a score of them got together and
formed a club.

"Have they a piano like the linen-drapers?" asked Liénard.

"I should rather think they have a piano!" exclaimed Mignot. "And they
play, my boy, and sing! There's even one of them, little Bavoux, who
recites verses."

The gaiety redoubled, they chaffed little Bavoux, but still beneath
this laughter there lay a great respect. They then spoke of a piece at
the Vaudeville, in which a counter-jumper played a nasty part, which
annoyed several of them, whilst others were anxiously wondering what
time they would get away, having invitations to pass the evening at
friends' houses; and from all points were heard similar conversations
amidst the increasing noise of the crockery. To drive out the odour of
the food—the warm steam which rose from the five hundred plates—the
windows had been opened, while the lowered blinds were scorching in
the heavy August sun. An ardent breath came in from the street, golden
reflections yellowed the ceiling, bathing in a reddish light the
perspiring eaters.

"A nice thing to shut people up such a fine Sunday as this!" repeated
Favier.

This reflection brought them back to the stock-taking. It was a
splendid year. And they went on to speak of the salaries—the
rises—the eternal subject, the stirring question which occupied
them all. It was always thus on chicken days, a wonderful excitement
declared itself, the noise at last became insupportable. When the
waiters brought the artichokes one could not hear one's self speak. The
inspector on duty had orders to be indulgent.

"By the way," cried out Favier, "you've heard the news?"

But his voice was drowned. Mignot was asking: "Who doesn't like
artichoke, I'll sell my dessert for an artichoke."

No one replied. Everybody liked artichoke. This lunch would be counted
amongst the good ones, for peaches were to be given for dessert.

"He has invited her to dinner, my dear fellow," said Favier to his
right-hand neighbor, finishing his story. "What! you didn't know it?"

The whole table knew it, they were tired of talking about it since the
first thing, in the morning. And the same poor jokes passed from mouth
to mouth. Deloche had turned pale again. He looked at them, his eyes
finishing by resting on Favier, who was persisting in repeating:

"If he's not had her, he's going to. And he won't be the first; oh! no,
he won't be the first."

He was also looking at Deloche. He added with a provoking air: "Those
who like bones can have her for a crown!"

Suddenly, he ducked his head. Deloche, yielding to an irresistible
movement, had just thrown his last glass of wine into his tormentor's
face, stammering: "Take that, you infernal liar! I ought to have
drenched you yesterday!"

It caused quite a scandal. A few drops had spurted on Favier's
neighbors, whilst he only had his hair slightly wetted: the wine,
thrown by an awkward hand, had fallen the other side of the table. But
the others got angry, asking if she was his mistress that he defended
her in this way? What a brute! he deserved a good sound drubbing
to teach him manners. However, their voices fell, an inspector was
observed coming along, and it was useless to introduce the management
into the quarrel. Favier contented himself with saying:

"If it had caught me, you would have seen some sport!"

Then the affair wound up in jeers. When Deloche, still trembling,
wished to drink to hide his confusion, and seized his empty glass
mechanically, they burst out laughing. He laid his glass down again
awkwardly, and commenced sucking the leaves of the artichoke he had
already eaten.

"Pass Deloche the water bottle," said Mignot, quietly; "he's thirsty."

The laughter increased. The young men took their clean plates from the
piles standing on the table, at equal distances, whilst the waiters
handed round the dessert, which consisted of peaches, in baskets. And
they all held their sides when Mignot added, with a grin:

"Each man to his taste. Deloche takes wine with his peaches."

The latter sat motionless, with his head hanging down, as if deaf to
the joking going on around him: he was full of a despairing regret for
what he had just done. These fellows were right—what right had he
to defend her? They would now think all sorts of villainous things:
he could have killed himself for having thus compromised her, in
attempting to prove her innocence. This was always his luck, he might
just as well kill himself at once, for he could not even yield to the
promptings of his heart without doing some stupid thing. And the tears
came into his eyes. Was it not always his fault if the whole shop was
talking of the letter written by the governor? He heard them grinning
and making abominable remarks about this invitation, of which Liénard
alone had been informed; and he accused himself, he ought not to have
let Pauline speak before the latter; he was really responsible for the
annoying indiscretion committed.

"Why did you go and relate that?" he murmured at last, in a voice full
of grief. "It's very bad."

"I?" replied Liénard; "but I only told it to one or two persons,
enjoining secrecy. One never knows how these things get about!"

When Deloche made up his mind to drink a glass of water the whole table
burst out laughing again. They had finished and were lolling back on
their chairs waiting for the bell recalling them to work. They had
not asked for many extras at the great central counter, the more so
as the firm treated them to coffee that day. The cups were steaming,
perspiring faces shone under the light vapors, floating like the blue
clouds from cigarettes. At the windows the blinds hung motionless,
without the slightest flapping. One of them, drawn up, admitted a ray
of sunshine which traversed the room and gilded the ceiling. The uproar
of the voices beat on the walls with such force that the bell was at
first only heard by those at the tables near the door. They got up, and
the confusion of the departure filled the corridors for a long time.
Deloche, however, remained behind to escape the malicious remarks that
were still being made. Baugé even went out before him, and Baugé was,
as a rule, the last to leave, going a circuitous way so as to meet
Pauline as she went to the ladies' dining-room; a maneuver arranged
between them—the only chance of seeing each other for a minute during
business hours. But this time, just as they were indulging in a loving;
kiss in a corner of the passage they were surprised by Denise, who was
also going up to lunch. She was walking slowly oil account of her foot.

"Oh! my dear," stammered Pauline, very red, "don't say anything, will
you?"

Baugé, with his big limbs and giant proportions, was trembling like a
little boy. He murmured, "They'd very soon pitch us out. Though our
marriage may be announced, they don't allow any kissing, the animals!"

Denise, greatly agitated, affected not to have seen them; and Baugé
disappeared just as Deloche, who was going the longest way round,
appeared in his turn. He tried to apologize, stammering out phrases
that Denise did not at first catch. Then, as he blamed Pauline for
having spoken before Liénard, and she stood there looking very
embarrassed, Denise at last understood the whispered phrases she had
heard around her all the morning. It was the story of the letter that
was circulating. She was again seized by the shudder with which this
letter had agitated her; she felt herself disrobed by all these men.

"But I didn't know," repeated Pauline. "Besides, there's nothing bad in
the letter. Let them gossip; they're jealous, of course!"

"My dear," said Denise at last, with her prudent air, "I don't blame
you in any way! You've spoken nothing but the truth. I _have_ received
a letter, and it is my duty to answer it."

Deloche went away heart-broken, having understood that the young girl
accepted the situation and would keep the appointment that evening.
When the two young ladies had lunched in a small room adjoining the
large dining room, and in which the women were served much more
comfortably, Pauline had to assist Denise downstairs, for the latter's
foot was worse.

Down below in the afternoon warmth the stock-taking was roaring louder
than ever. The moment for the supreme effort had arrived, when before
the work, behindhand since the morning, every force was put forth
in order to finish that evening. The voices got louder still, one
saw nothing but the waving of arms continually emptying the shelves,
throwing the goods down, and it was impossible to get along, the tide
of the bales and piles of goods on the floor rose as high as the
counters. A sea of heads, of brandished fists, of limbs flying about,
seemed to extend to the very depths of the departments, like the
distant confusion of a riot. It was the last fever of the clearance,
the machine nearly ready to burst; whilst along the plate-glass
windows, round the closed shop, a few rare pedestrians continued
to pass, pale with the stifling boredom of a summer Sunday. On the
pavement in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin were planted three tall girls,
bareheaded and sluttish looking, impudently sticking their faces
against the windows, trying to see the curious work going on inside.

When Denise returned to the ready-made department Madame Aurélie left
Marguerite to finish calling out the garments. There was still a lot of
checking to be done, for which, desirous of silence, she retired into
the pattern-room, taking the young girl with her.

"Come with me, we'll do the checking; then you can add up the totals."

But as she wished to leave the door open, in order to look after the
young ladies, the noise came in, and they could not hear much better.
It was a large, square room, furnished simply with some chairs and
three long tables. In one corner were the great machine knives, for
cutting up the patterns. Entire pieces were consumed; they sent away
every year more than sixty thousand francs' worth of material, cut up
in strips. From morning to night, the knives were cutting up silk,
wool, and linen, with a scythe-like noise. Then the books had to be got
together, gummed or sewn. And there was also between the two windows, a
little printing-press for the tickets.

"Not so loud, please!" cried Madame Aurélie, now and again, quite
unable to hear Denise reading out the articles.

When the checking of the first lists was finished, she left the young
girl at one of the tables, absorbed in the adding up. But she returned
almost immediately, and placed Mademoiselle de Fontenailles near her;
the under-linen department not wanting her any longer, had sent her to
Madame Aurélie. She could also do some adding-up, it would save time.
But the appearance of the marchioness, as Clara ill-naturedly called
her, had disturbed the department. They laughed and joked at poor
Joseph, their ferocious sallies could be heard in the pattern-room.

"Don't draw back, you are not at all in my way," said Denise, seized
with pity for the poor girl. "My inkstand will suffice, we'll dip
together."

Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, dulled and stultified by her unfortunate
position, could not even find a word of gratitude. She appeared to be
a woman who drank, her thinness had a livid appearance, and her hands
alone, white and delicate, attested the distinction of her birth.

The laughter ceased all at once, and the work resumed its regular roar.
It was Mouret who was once more going through the departments. But he
stopped and looked round for Denise, surprised not to see her there. He
made a sign to Madame Aurélie; and both drew aside, talking in a low
tone for a moment. He must be questioning her. She indicated with her
eyes the pattern-room, then seemed to be making a report. No doubt she
was relating that the young girl had been weeping that morning.

"Very good!" said Mouret, aloud, coming nearer. "Show me the lists."

"This way, sir," said the first-hand. "We have run away from the noise."

He followed her into the next room. Clara was not duped by this
manoeuvre, and said they had better go and fetch a bed at once. But
Marguerite threw her the garments at a quicker rate, in order to
take up her attention and close her mouth. Wasn't the secondhand a
good comrade? Her affairs did not concern anyone. The department was
becoming an accomplice, the young ladies got more agitated than ever,
Lhomme and Joseph affected not to see or hear anything. And Jouve, the
inspector, who, passing by, had remarked Madame Aurélie's tactics,
commenced walking up and down before the pattern-room door, with the
regular step of a sentry guarding the will and pleasure of a superior.

"Give Monsieur Mouret the lists," said the first-hand.

Denise gave them, and sat there with her eyes raised. She had slightly
started, but had conquered herself, and retained a fine calm look,
although her cheeks were pale. For a moment, Mouret appeared to be
absorbed in the list of articles, without a look for the young girl.
A silence reigned, Madame Aurélie then went up to Mademoiselle de
Fontenailles, who had not even turned her head, appeared dissatisfied
with her counting, and said to her in a half whisper:

"Go and help with the parcels. You are not used to figures."

The latter got up, and returned to the department, where she was
greeted by a whispering on all sides. Joseph, exposed to the laughing
eyes of these young minxes, was writing anyhow. Clara, delighted with
this assistant who arrived, was yet very rough with her, hating her as
she hated all the women in the shop. What an idiotic thing to yield to
the love of a workman, when one was a marchioness! And yet she envied
her this love.

"Very good!" repeated Mouret, still affecting to read.

However, Madame Aurélie hardly knew how to get away in her turn in a
decent fashion. She stamped about, went to look at the knives, furious
with her husband for not inventing a pretext for calling her; but he
was never any good for serious matters, he would have died of thirst
close to a pond. It was Marguerite who was intelligent enough to go and
ask the first-hand a question.

"I'm coming," replied the latter.

And her dignity being now protected, having a pretext in the eyes of
the young ladies who were watching her, she at last left Denise and
Mouret alone together, going out with her imperial air, her profile
so noble, that the saleswomen did not even dare to smile. Mouret had
slowly laid the lists on the table, and stood looking at the young
girl, who had remained seated, pen in hand. She did not avert her gaze,
but she had turned paler.

"You will come this evening?" asked he.

"No, sir, I cannot. My brothers are to be at uncle's tonight, and I
have promised to dine with them."

"But your foot! You walk with such difficulty."

"Oh, I can get so far very well. I feel much better since the morning."

He had now turned pale in his turn, before this quiet refusal. A
nervous revolt agitated his lips. However, he restrained himself,
and resumed with the air of a good-natured master simply interesting
himself in one of his young ladies: "Come now, if I begged of you—You
know what great esteem I have for you."

Denise retained her respectful attitude. "I am greatly touched, sir, by
your kindness to me, and I thank you for this invitation. But I repeat,
I cannot; my brothers expect me."

She persisted in not understanding. The door remained open, and she
felt that the whole shop was pushing her on to yield. Pauline had
amicably called her a great simpleton, the others would laugh at her
if she refused the invitation. Madame Aurélie, who had gone away,
Marguerite, whose rising voice she could hear, Lhomme, with his
motionless, discreet attitude, all these people were wishing for her
fall, throwing her into the governor's arms. And the distant roar of
the stock-taking, the millions of goods called out on all sides, thrown
about in every direction, were like a warm wind, carrying the breath
of passion straight towards her. There was a silence. Now and again,
Mouret's voice was drowned by the noise which accompanied him, with the
formidable uproar of a kingly fortune gained in battle.

"When will you come, then?" asked he again. "Tomorrow?"

This simple question troubled Denise. She lost her calmness for a
moment, and stammered: "I don't know—I can't—"

He smiled, and tried to take her hand, which she withheld. "What are
you afraid of?"

But she quickly raised her head, looked him straight in the face, and
said, smiling, with her sweet, brave look: "I am afraid of nothing,
sir. I can do as I like, can't I? I don't wish to, that's all!"

As she finished speaking, she was surprised by hearing a creaking
noise, and on turning round saw the door slowly closing. It was Jouve,
the inspector, who had taken upon himself to pull it to. The doors
were a part of his duty, none should ever remain open. And he gravely
resumed his position as sentinel. No one appeared to have noticed this
door being closed in such a simple manner. Clara alone risked a strong
remark in Mademoiselle de Fontenailles's ear, but the latter's face
remained expressionless.

Denise, however, had got up. Mouret was saying to her in a low and
trembling voice: "Listen, Denise, I love you. You have long known
it, pray don't be so cruel as to play the ignorant. And don't fear
anything. Many a time I've thought of calling you into my office. We
should have been alone, I should only have had to lock the door. But I
did not wish to; you see I speak to you here, where anyone can enter.
I love you, Denise!" She was standing up, very pale, listening to him,
still looking straight into his face. "Tell me. Why do you refuse? Have
you no wants? Your brothers are a heavy burden. Anything you might ask
me, anything you might require of me."

With a word, she stopped him: "Thanks, I now earn more than I want."

"But it's perfect liberty that I am offering you, an existence of
pleasure and luxury. I will set you up in a home of your own. I will
assure you a little fortune."

"No, thanks; I should soon get tired of doing nothing. I earned my own
living before I was ten years old."

He was almost mad. This was the first one who did not yield. He had
only had to stoop to pick up the others, they all awaited his pleasure
like submissive slaves; and this one said no, without even giving a
reasonable pretext. His desire, long restrained, goaded by resistance,
became stronger than ever. Perhaps he had not offered enough, he
thought, and he doubled his offers; he pressed her more and more.

"No, no, thanks," replied she each time, without faltering.

Then he allowed this cry from his heart to escape him: "But don't you
see that I am suffering! Yes, it's stupid, but I am suffering like a
child!"

Tears came into his eyes. A fresh silence reigned. They could still
hear behind the closed door the softened roar of the stock-taking.
It was like a dying note of triumph, the accompaniment became more
discreet, in this defeat of the master.

"And yet if I liked—" said he in an ardent voice, seizing her hands.

She left them in his, her eyes turned pale, her whole strength was
deserting her. A warmth came from this man's burning hands, filling her
with a delicious cowardice. Good heavens! how she loved him, and with
what delight she could have hung on his neck and remained there!

"I will! I will!" repeated he, in his passionate excitement. "I expect
you tonight, otherwise I will take measures."

He was becoming brutal. She set up a low cry; the pain she felt at
her wrists restored her courage. With an angry shake she disengaged
herself. Then, very stiff, looking taller in her weakness: "No, leave
me alone! I am not a Clara, to be thrown over in a day. Besides, you
love another; yes, that lady who comes here. Stay with her. I do not
accept half an affection."

He was struck with surprise. What was she saying, and what did she
want? The girls he had picked up in the shop had never asked to be
loved. He ought to have laughed at such an idea, and this attitude of
tender pride completely conquered his heart.

"Now, sir, please open the door," resumed she. "It is not proper to be
shut up together in this way."

He obeyed; and with his temples throbbing, hardly knowing how to
conceal his anguish, he recalled Madame Aurélie, and broke out angrily
about the stock of cloaks, saying that the prices must be lowered,
until everyone had been got rid of. Such was the rule of the house—a
clean sweep was made every year, they sold at sixty per cent, loss
rather than keep an old model or any stale material. At that moment,
Bourdoncle, seeking Mouret, was waiting for him outside, stopped before
the closed door by Jouve, who had said a word in his ear with a grave
air. He got very impatient, without, however, summoning up the courage
to interrupt the governor's tête-à-tête. Was it possible? such a day
too, and with that puny creature! And when Mouret at last came out
Bourdoncle spoke to him about the fancy silks, of which the stock left
on hand would be enormous. This was a relief for Mouret, who could now
cry out at his ease. What the devil was Bouthemont thinking about? He
went off, declaring that he could not allow a buyer to display such a
want of sense as to buy beyond the requirements of the business.

"What is the matter with him?" murmured Madame Aurélie, quite overcome
by his reproaches.

And the young ladies looked at each other with a surprised air. At six
o'clock the stock-taking was finished. The sun was still shining—a
blonde summer sun, of which the golden reflection streamed through
the glazed roofs of the halls. In the heavy air of the streets,
tired families were already returning from the suburbs, loaded with
bouquets, dragging their children along. One by one, the departments
had become silent. Nothing was now heard in the depths of the galleries
but the lingering calls of a few men clearing a last shelf. Then
even these voices ceased, and there remained of the bustle of the
day nothing but a shivering, above the formidable piles of goods.
The shelves, cupboards, boxes, and band-boxes, were now empty: not a
yard of stuff, not an object of any sort had remained in its place.
The vast establishment presented nothing but the carcase of its usual
appearance, the woodwork was absolutely bare, as on the day of entering
into possession. This nakedness was the visible proof of the complete
and exact taking of the stock. And on the ground was sixteen million
francs' worth of goods, a rising sea, which had finished by submerging
the tables and counters. The shopmen, drowned up to the shoulders, had
commenced to put each article back into its place. They expected to
finish about ten o'clock.

When Madame Aurélie, who went to the first dinner, returned to the
dining room, she announced the amount of business done during the year,
which the totals of the various departments had just given. The figure
was eighty million francs, ten millions more than the preceding year.
The only real decrease was on the fancy silks.

"If Monsieur Mouret is not satisfied, I should like to know what more
he wants," added the first-hand. "See! he's over there, at the top of
the grand staircase, looking furious."

The young ladies went to look at him. He was standing alone, with a
sombre countenance, above the millions scattered at his feet.

"Madame," said Denise, at this moment, "would you kindly let me go away
now? I can't do any more good on account of my foot, and as I am to
dine at my uncle's with my brothers—"

They were all astonished. She had not yielded, then! Madame Aurélie
hesitated, and seemed inclined to prohibit her going out, her voice
sharp and disagreeable; whilst Clara shrugged her shoulders, full of
incredulity. That wouldn't do! it was very simple—the governor no
longer wanted her! When Pauline learnt this, she was in the baby-linen
department with Deloche, and the sudden joy exhibited by the young, man
made her very angry. That did him a lot of good, didn't it? Perhaps
he was pleased to see that his friend had been stupid enough to miss
a fortune? And Bourdoncle, who did not dare to approach Mouret in
his ferocious isolation, marched up and down amidst these rumors, in
despair also, and full of anxiety. However, Denise went downstairs.
As she arrived at the bottom of the left-hand staircase, slowly,
supporting herself by the banister, she came upon a group of grinning
salesmen. Her name was pronounced, and she felt that they were talking
about her adventure. They had not noticed her.

"Oh! all that's put on, you know," Favier was saying. "She's full of
vice! Yes, I know someone she wanted to take by force."

And he looked at Hutin, who, in order to preserve his dignity as
second-hand, was standing a certain distance apart, without joining in
their conversation. But he was so flattered by the air of envy with
which the others were contemplating him, that he deigned to murmur:
"She was a regular nuisance to me, that girl!"

Denise, wounded to the heart, clung to the banister. They must have
seen her, for they all disappeared, laughing. He was right, she
thought, and she accused herself of her former ignorance, when she used
to think about him. But what a coward he was, and how she scorned him
now! A great trouble had seized her: was it not strange that she should
have found the strength just now to repulse a man whom she adored,
when she used to feel herself so feeble in bygone days before this
worthless fellow, whom she had only dreamed off? Her sense of reason
and her bravery foundered before these contradictions of her being, in
which she could not read clearly. She hastened to cross the hall. Then
a sort of instinct prompted her to raise her head, whilst an inspector
opened the door, closed since the morning. And she perceived Mouret,
who was still at the top of the stairs, on the great central landing,
dominating the gallery. But he had forgotten the stock-taking, he did
not see his empire, this building bursting with riches. Everything
had disappeared, his former glorious victories, his future colossal
fortune. With a desponding look he was watching Denise's departure, and
when she had passed the door everything disappeared, a darkness came
over the house.

CHAPTER XI.

That day Bouthemont was the first to arrive at Madame Desforges's four
o'clock tea. Still alone in her large Louis XVI. drawing-room, the
brasses and brocatelle of which shone out with a clear gaiety, the
latter rose with an air of impatience, saying, "Well?"

"Well," replied the young man, "when I told him I should doubtless call
on you he formally promised me to come."

"You made him thoroughly understand that I counted on the baron today?"
"Certainly. That's what appeared to decide him."

They were speaking of Mouret, who the year before had suddenly taken
such a liking to Bouthemont that he had admitted him to share his
pleasures, and had even introduced him to Henriette, glad to have an
agreeable fellow always at hand to enliven an intimacy of which he
was getting tired. It was thus that Bouthemont had ultimately become
the confidant of his governor and of the handsome widow; he did
their little errands, talked of the one to the other, and sometimes
reconciled them. Henriette, in her jealous fits, abandoned herself to a
familiarity which sometimes surprised and embarrassed him, for she lost
all her lady-like prudence, using all her art to save appearances.

She resumed violently, "You ought to have brought him. I should have
been sure then."

"Well," said he, with a good-natured laugh, "it isn't my fault if he
escapes so frequently now. Oh! he's very fond of me, all the same. Were
it not for him I should be in a bad way at the shop."

His situation at The Ladies' Paradise was really menaced since the last
stock-taking. It was in vain that he adduced the rainy season; one
could not overlook the considerable stock of fancy silks; and as Hutin
was improving the occasion, undermining him with the governors with an
increase of sly rage, he felt the ground cracking under him. Mouret
had condemned him, weary, no doubt, of this witness who prevent him
breaking with Henriette, tired of a familiarity which was profitless.
But, in accordance with his usual tactics, he was pushing Bourdoncle
forward; it was Bourdoncle and the other partners who insisted on his
dismissal at each board-meeting; whilst he resisted still, according to
his account, defending his friend energetically, at the risk of getting
into serious trouble with the others.

"Well, I shall wait," resumed Madame Desforges. "You know that girl is
coming here at five o'clock, I want to see them face to face. I must
discover their secret."

And she returned to this long-meditated plan. She repeated in her fever
that she had requested Madame Aurélie to send her Denise to look at a
mantle which fitted badly. When she had once got the young girl in her
room, she would find a means of calling Mouret, and could then act.
Bouthemont, who had sat down opposite her, was gazing at her with his
fine laughing eyes, which he endeavoured to render grave. This jovial,
dissipated fellow, with his coal-black beard, whose warm Gascon blood
empurpled his cheeks, was thinking that these fine ladies were not much
good, and that they let out a nice lot of secrets, when they opened
their hearts. His friend's mistresses, simple shop-girls, certainly
never made more complete confessions.

"Come," he ventured to say at last, "what does that matter to you? I
swear to you there is nothing whatever between them."

"Just so," cried she, "because he loves her! I don't care in the least
for the others, chance acquaintances, friends of a day!"

She spoke of Clara with disdain. She was well aware that Mouret, after
Denise's refusal, had fallen back on this tall, red-haired girl, with
the horse's head, doubtless by calculation; for he maintained her in
the department, loading her with presents. Not only that, for the last
three months he had been leading a terrible life, squandering his money
with a prodigality which caused a great many remarks; he had bought a
mansion for a worthless actress, and was being ruined by two or three
other jades, who seemed to be struggling to outdo each other in costly,
stupid caprices.

"It's this creature's fault," repeated Henriette. "I feel sure he's
ruining himself with the others because she repulses him. Besides,
what's his money to me? I should have loved him better poor. You know
how I love him, you who have become our friend."

She stopped, choked, ready to burst into tears; and with a movement
of abandon she held out her two hands to him. It was true, she adored
Mouret for his youth and his triumphs, never had any man thus conquered
her so entirely in a quiver of her flesh and of her pride; but at the
thought of losing him, she also heard the knell of her fortieth year,
and she asked herself with terror how she should replace this great
love.

"I'll have my revenge," murmured she. "I'll have my revenge, if he
behaves badly!"

Bouthemont continued to hold her hands in his. She was still handsome.
But she would be a very awkward mistress, thought he, and he did not
like that style of woman. The thing, however, deserved thinking over;
perhaps it would be worthwhile risking certain annoyances.

"Why don't you set up for yourself?" she asked all at once, drawing her
hands away.

He was astonished. Then he replied: "But it would require an immense
sum. Last year I had an idea in my head. I feel convinced that there
are customers enough in Paris for one or two more big shops; but the
district would have to be chosen. The Bon Marché has the left side
of the river; the Louvre occupies the centre; we monopolize, at The
Paradise, the rich west-end district. There remains the north, where
a rival to the Place Clichy could be created. And I had discovered a
splendid position, near the Opera House."

"Well?"

He set up a noisy laugh. "Just fancy. I was stupid enough to go and
talk to my father about it. Yes, I was simple enough to ask him to find
some shareholders at Toulouse."

And he gaily described the anger of the old man, enraged against the
great Parisian bazaars, in his little country shop. Old Bouthemont,
suffocated by the thirty thousand francs a year earned by his son, had
replied that he would give his money and that of his friends to the
hospitals rather than contribute a sou to one of those shops which were
the pests of the drapery business.

"Besides," continued the young man, "it would require millions."

"Suppose they were found?" observed Madame Desforges, simply.

He looked at her, serious all at once. Was it not merely a jealous
woman's word? But she did not give him time to question her, adding:
"In short, you know what a great interest I take in you. We'll talk
about it again."

The outer bell had rung. She got up, and he, himself, with an
instinctive movement, drew back his chair, as if they might have been
surprised. A silence reigned in the drawing-room, with its pretty
hangings, and decorated with such a profusion of green plants that
there was quite a small wood between the two windows. She stood there
waiting, with her ear towards the door.

"There he is," she murmured.

The footman announced Monsieur Mouret and Monsieur de Vallagnosc.
Henriette could not restrain a movement of anger. Why had he not come
alone? He must have gone after his friend, fearful of a tête-à-tête
with her. However, she smiled and shook hands with the two men.

"What a stranger you are getting. I may say the same for you, Monsieur
de Vallagnosc."

Her great grief was to be becoming stout, and she squeezed herself into
tight black silk dresses, to conceal her increasing obesity. However,
her pretty face, with her dark hair, preserved its amiable expression.
And Mouret could familiarly tell her, enveloping her with a look:

"It's useless to ask how you are. You are as fresh as a rose."

"Oh! I'm almost too well," replied she. "Besides, I might have died;
you would have known nothing about it."

She was examining him also, and thought him looking tired and nervous,
his eyes heavy, his complexion livid.

"Well," she resumed, in a tone which she endeavoured to render
agreeable, "I cannot return the compliment; you don't look at all well
today."

"Overwork!" remarked De Vallagnosc.

Mouret shrugged his shoulders, without replying. He had just perceived
Bouthemont, and nodded to him in a friendly way. During the time
of their close intimacy he used to take him away direct from the
department, bringing him to Henriette's during the busiest moments of
the afternoon. But times had changed; he said to him in a half whisper:

"You went away rather early. They noticed your departure, and are
furious about it."

He referred to Bourdoncle and the other persons who had an interest in
the business, as if he were not himself the master.

"Ah!" murmured Bouthemont, rather anxious.

"Yes, I want to talk to you. Wait for me, we'll leave together."

Meanwhile, Henriette had sat down again; and while listening to De
Vallagnosc, who was announcing that Madame de Boves would probably pay
her a visit, she did not take her eyes off Mouret. The latter, silent
again, gazed at the furniture, seemed to be looking for something
on the ceiling. Then as she laughingly complained that she had only
gentlemen at her four o'clock tea, he so far forgot himself as to blurt
out:

"I expected to find Baron Hartmann here."

Henriette turned pale. No doubt she knew he came to her house solely to
meet the baron; but he might have avoided throwing his indifference in
her face like this. At that moment the door had opened and the footman
was standing behind her. When she had interrogated him by a sign, he
leant over her and said in a very low tone:

"It's for that mantle. You wished me to let you know. The young lady is
there."

Then Henriette raised her voice, so as to be heard. All her jealous
suffering found relief in the following words, of a scornful harshness:
"She can wait!"

"Shall I show her into your dressing-room?"

"No, no. Let her stay in the ante-room!"

And when the servant had gone out she quietly resumed her conversation
with De Vallagnosc. Mouret, who had relapsed into his former lassitude,
had listened with a careless, distracted air, without understanding.
Bouthemont, preoccupied by the adventure, was reflecting. But almost
immediately after the door was opened again, and two ladies were shown
in.

"Just fancy," said Madame Marty, "I was alighting at the door, when I
saw Madame de Boves coming under the arcade."

"Yes," explained the latter, "it's a fine day, and my doctor says I
must take walking exercise."

Then, after a general hand-shaking, she asked Henriette: "You're
engaging a new maid, then?"

"No," replied the other, astonished. "Why?"

"Because I've just seen a young girl in the ante-room."

Henriette interrupted her, laughing. "It's true; all these shop-girls
look like ladies' maids, don't they? Yes, it's a young person come to
alter a mantle."

Mouret looked at her intently, a suspicion crossing his mind. She went
on with a forced gaiety, explaining that she had bought this mantle at
The Ladies' Paradise the previous week.

"What!" asked Madame Marty, "have you deserted Sauveur, then?"

"No, dear, but I wished to make an experiment. Besides, I was pretty
well satisfied with a first purchase, a travelling cloak. But this
time it has not succeeded at all. You may say what you like, one is
horribly trussed up in the big shops. I speak out plainly, even before
you, Monsieur Mouret; you will never know how to dress a woman with the
slightest claim to distinction."

Mouret did not defend his house, still keeping his eyes on her,
thinking to himself that she would never have dared to do such a
thing. And it was Bouthemont who had to plead the cause of The Ladies'
Paradise.

"If all the aristocratic ladies who patronize us announced the fact,"
replied he, gaily, "you would be astonished at our customers. Order a
garment to measure at our place, it will equal one from Sauveur's, and
will cost but half the money. But there, just because it's cheaper it's
not so good."

"So it doesn't fit, this mantle you speak of?" resumed Madame de
Boves. "Ah! now I remember the young person. It's rather dark in your
ante-room."

"Yes," added Madame Marty, "I was wondering where I had seen that
figure. Well, go, my dear, don't stand on ceremony with us."

Henriette assumed a look of disdainful unconcern. "Oh, presently, there
is no hurry."

The ladies continued to discuss the articles from the big shops. Then
Madame de Boves spoke of her husband, who, she said, had gone to
inspect the breeding depot at Saint-Lô; and just then Henriette was
relating that through the illness of an aunt Madame Guibal had been
suddenly called into Franche-Comté. Moreover, she did not reckon that
day on Madame Bourdelais, who at the end of every month shut herself
up with a needlewoman to look over her young people's under-linen. But
Madame Marty seemed agitated with some secret trouble. Her husband's
position at the Lycée Bonaparte was menaced, in consequence of lessons
given by the poor man in certain doubtful institutions where a regular
trade was carried on with the B.A. diplomas; the poor fellow picked
up a pound where he could, feverishly, in order to meet the ruinous
expenses which pillaged his household; and his wife, on seeing him
weeping one evening in the fear of a dismissal, had conceived the idea
of getting her friend Henriette to speak to a director at the Ministry
of Public Instruction with whom she was acquainted. Henriette finished
by quieting her with a few words. It was understood that Monsieur Marty
was coming himself to know his fate and to thank her.

"You look ill, Monsieur Mouret," observed Madame de Boves.

"Overwork!" repeated De Vallagnosc, with his ironical phlegm.

Mouret quickly got up, as if ashamed at forgetting himself thus.
He went and took his accustomed place in the midst of the ladies,
summoning up all his agreeable talent. He was now occupied with the
winter novelties, and spoke of a considerable arrival of lace; and
Madame de Boves questioned him as to the price of Bruges lace: she felt
inclined to buy some. She had now got so far as to economize the thirty
sous for a cab, often going home quite ill from the effects of stopping
before the windows. Draped in a mantle which was already two years old
she tried, in imagination, on her queenly shoulders all the dearest
things she saw; and it was like tearing her flesh away when she awoke
and found herself dressed in her patched, old dresses, without the
slightest hope of ever satisfying her passion.

"Baron Hartmann," announced the man-servant.

Henriette observed with what pleasure Mouret shook hands with the new
arrival. The latter bowed to the ladies and looked at the young man
with that subtle expression which sometimes illumined his big Alsatian
face.

"Always plunged in dress!" murmured he, with a smile. Then, like a
friend of the house, he ventured to add, "There's a charming young girl
in the ante-room. Who is it?"

"Oh, nobody," replied Madame Desforges, in her ill-natured voice. "Only
a shop-girl waiting to see me."

But the door remained half open, the servant was bringing in the tea.
He went out, came in again, placed the china service on the table, then
some plates of sandwiches and biscuits. In the vast room, a bright
light, softened by the green plants, illuminated the brass-work,
bathing the silk hangings in a tender flame; and each time the door was
opened one could perceive an obscure corner of the ante-room, which
was only lighted by two ground-glass windows. There, in the darkness,
appeared a sombre form, motionless and patient. It was Denise, still
standing up; there was a leather-covered form there, but a feeling of
pride prevented her sitting down on it. She felt the insult keenly.
She had been there for the last half-hour, without a gesture, without
a word. The ladies and the baron had taken stock of her in passing;
she could now hear the voices from the drawing-room. All this amiable
luxury wounded her with its indifference, and still she did not move.
Suddenly, through the half-open door, she perceived Mouret, and he, on
his side, had at last guessed it to be her.

"Is it one of your saleswomen?" asked Baron Hartmann.

Mouret had succeeded in concealing his great agitation; but his voice
trembled somewhat with emotion: "No doubt; but I don't know which."

"It's the little fair girl from the ready-made department," replied
Madame Marty, obligingly, "the second-hand, I believe."

Henriette looked at Mouret in her turn.

"Ah!" said he, simply.

And he tried to change the conversation, speaking of the fetes given to
the King of Prussia then passing through Paris. But the baron returned
maliciously to the young ladies in the big establishments. He affected
to be desirous of gaining information, and put several questions: Where
did they come from in general? Was their conduct as bad as it was said
to be? Quite a discussion ensued.

"Really," he repeated, "you think them well behaved."

Mouret defended their virtue with a conviction which made De Vallagnosc
smile. Bouthemont then interfered, to save his chief. Of course there
were some of all sorts, bad and good. Formerly they had nothing but
the refuse of the trade, a poor, vague class of girls drifted into the
drapery business; whilst now, such respectable families as those living
in the Rue de Sevres, for instance, positively brought up their girls
for the Bon Marché. In short, when they liked to conduct themselves
well, they could, for they were not, like the work-girls of Paris,
obliged to board and lodge themselves; they had bed and board, their
existence was provided for, an existence excessively hard, no doubt.
The worst of all was their neutral, badly-defined position, between the
shopwoman and the lady. Thrown into the midst of luxury, often without
any previous instruction, they formed a singular, nameless class. Their
misfortunes and vices sprung from that.

"I," said Madame de Boves, "I don't know any creatures more
disagreeable. Really, one could slap them sometimes."

And the ladies vented their spite. They devoured each other before the
shop-counters; it was a question of woman against woman in the sharp
rivalry of money and beauty. It was an ill-natured jealousy felt by the
saleswomen towards the well-dressed customers, the ladies whose manners
they tried to imitate, and a still stronger feeling on the part of the
poorly-dressed customers, the lower-class ones, against the saleswomen,
those girls dressed in silk, from whom they would have liked to exact a
servant's humility when serving a ten sou purchase.

"Don't speak of them," said Henriette, by way of conclusion, "a
wretched lot of beings ready to sell themselves the same as their
goods."

Mouret had the strength to smile. The baron was looking at him, so
touched by his graceful command over himself that he changed the
conversation, returning to the fetes to be given to the King of
Prussia, saying they would be superb, the whole trade of Paris would
profit by them. Henriette remained silent and thoughtful, divided
between the desire to forget Denise in the ante-room, and the fear that
Mouret, now aware of her presence, might go away. At last she quitted
her chair.

"You will allow me?"

"Certainly, my dear," replied Madame Marty. "I'll do the honors of the
house for you."

She got up, took the teapot, and filled the cups. Henriette turned
towards Baron Hartmann, saying: "You'll stay a few minutes, won't you?"

"Yes; I want to speak to Monsieur Mouret. We are going to invade your
little drawing-room."

She went out, and her black silk dress, rustling against the door,
produced a noise like that of a snake wriggling through the brushwood.
The baron at once manoeuvred to carry Mouret off, leaving the ladies
to Bouthemont and De Vallagnosc. Then they stood talking before the
window of the other room in a low tone. It was quite a fresh affair.
For a long time Mouret had cherished a desire to realize his former
project, the invasion of the whole block by The Ladies' Paradise,
from the Rue Monsigny to the Rue de la Michodière and from the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin to the Rue du Dix-Décembre. There was still a
vast piece of ground, in the latter street, remaining to be acquired,
and that sufficed to spoil his triumph, he was tortured with the
desire to complete his conquest, to erect there a sort of apotheosis,
a monumental façade. As long as his principal entrance should remain
in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, in a dark street of old Paris, his
work would be incomplete, wanting in logic. He wished to set it up
before new Paris, in one of these modern avenues through which passed
the busy crowd of the latter part of the nineteenth century. He saw it
dominating, imposing itself as the giant palace of commerce, casting a
greater shadow over the city than the old Louvre itself. Bat up to the
present he had been baulked by the obstinacy of the Crédit Immobilier,
which still held to its first idea of building a rival to the Grand
Hôtel on this land. The plans were ready, they were only waiting for
the clearing of the Rue du Dix-Décembre to commence the work. At last,
by a supreme effort, Mouret had almost convinced Baron Hartmann.

"Well!" commenced the latter, "we had a board-meeting yesterday, and I
came today, thinking I should meet yon, and being desirous of keeping
you informed. They still resist."

The young man gave way to a nervous gesture. "But it's ridiculous. What
do they say?"

"Dear me! they say what I have said to you myself, and what I am still
inclined to think. Your façade is only an ornament, the new buildings
would only extend by about a tenth the surface of your establishment,
and it would be throwing away immense sums on a mere advertisement."

At this Mouret burst out. "An advertisement! an advertisement! In any
case this will be in stone and outlive all of us. Just consider that
it would increase our business tenfold! We should see our money back
in two years. What matters about what you call the wasted ground, if
this ground returns you an enormous interest! You will see the crowd,
when our customers are no longer obliged to struggle through the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, but can freely pass down a thoroughfare large
enough for six carriages abreast."

"No doubt," replied the baron, laughing. "But you are a poet in your
way, let me tell you once more. These gentlemen think it would be
dangerous to further extend your business. They want to be prudent for
you."

"What do they mean? Prudent! I don't understand. Don't the figures
show the constant progression of our business? At first, with a
capital of five hundred thousand francs, I did business to the extent
of two millions, turning the capital over four times. It then became
four million francs, which, turned over ten times, has produced
business to the extent of forty millions. In short, after successive
increases, I have just learnt, from the last stock-taking, that the
amount of business done now amounts to a total of eighty millions;
thus the capital, only slightly increased—for it does not exceed six
millions—has passed over our counters in the form of more than twelve
times."

He raised his voice, tapping the fingers of his right hand on the palm
of his left hand, knocking down these millions as he would have cracked
a few nuts. The baron interrupted him.

"I know, I know. But you don't hope to keep on increasing in this way,
do you?"

"Why not?" asked Mouret, ingenuously. "There's no reason why it should
stop. The capital can be turned over as often as fifteen times. I
predicted as much long ago. In certain departments it can be turned
over twenty-five or thirty times. And after? well! after, we'll find a
means of turning it over more than that."

"So you'll finish by drinking up all the money in Paris, as you'd drink
a glass of water?"

"Most decidedly. Doesn't Paris belong to the women, and don't the women
belong to us?"

The baron laid his hands on Mouret's shoulders, looking at him with
a paternal air. "Listen, you're a fine fellow, and I am really fond
of you. There's no resisting you. We'll go into the matter seriously,
and I hope to make them listen to reason. Up to the present, we are
perfectly satisfied with you. Your dividends astonish the Bourse. You
must be right; it will be better to put more money into your business,
than to risk this competition with the Grand Hôtel, which is hazardous."

Mouret's excitement subsided at once; he thanked the baron, but
without any of his usual enthusiasm; and the latter saw him turn his
eyes towards the door of the next room, again seized with the secret
anxiety which he was concealing. However, De Vallagnosc had come up,
understanding that they had finished talking business. He stood close
to them, listening to the baron, who was murmuring with the gallant air
of an old man who had seen life:

"I say, I fancy they're taking their revenge."

"Who?" asked Mouret, embarrassed.

"Why, the women. They're getting tired of belonging to you; you now
belong to them, my dear fellow; it's only just!"

He joked him, well aware of the young man's notorious love affairs: the
mansion bought for the actress, the enormous sums squandered with girls
picked up in private supper rooms, amused him as an excuse for the
follies he had formerly committed himself. His old experience rejoiced.

"Really, I don't understand," repeated Mouret.

"Oh! you understand well enough. They always get the last word In
fact, I said to myself: It isn't possible, he's boasting, be can't be
so strong as that! And there you are! Bleed the women, work them as
you would a coal mine, and what for? In order that they may work you
afterwards, and force you to refund at last! Take care, for they'll
draw more blood and money from you than you have ever sucked from them."

He laughed louder still; and De Vallagnosc was also grinning, without,
however, saying a word.

"Dear me! one must have a taste of everything," confessed Mouret, at
last, pretending to laugh as well. "Money is so stupid, if it isn't
spent."

"As for that, I agree with you," resumed the baron. "Enjoy yourself, my
dear fellow, I'll not be the one to preach to you, nor to tremble for
the great interests we have confided to your care. Everyone must sow
his wild oats, and his head is generally clearer afterwards. Besides,
there's nothing unpleasant in ruining one's self when one feels capable
of building up another fortune. But if money is nothing, there are
certain sufferings—"

He stopped, his smile became sad, former sufferings presented
themselves amid the irony of his skepticism. He had watched the duel
between Henriette and Mouret with the curiosity of one who still felt
greatly interested in other people's love battles; and he felt that
the crisis had arrived, he guessed the drama, well acquainted with the
story of this Denise, whom he had seen in the ante-room.

"Oh! as for suffering, that's not in my line," said Mouret, in a tone
of bravado. "It's quite enough to pay."

The baron looked at him for a moment without speaking. Without wishing
to insist on his discreet allusion he added, slowly—"Don't make
yourself worse than you are! You'll lose something else besides your
money at that game. Yes, you'll lose a part of yourself, my dear
fellow." He stopped, again laughing, to ask, "That often happens,
doesn't it, Monsieur de Vallagnosc?"

"So they say, baron," the young man simply replied. Just at this moment
the door was opened. Mouret, who was going to reply, slightly started.
The three men turned round. It was Madame Desforges, looking very gay,
putting her head through the doorway to call, in a hurried voice—

"Monsieur Mouret! Monsieur Mouret!" Then, when she perceived the three
men, she added, "Oh! you'll excuse me, won't you, gentlemen? I'm going
to take Monsieur Mouret away for a minute. The least he can do, as
he has sold me a frightful mantle, is to give me the benefit of his
experience. This girl is a stupid, without the least idea. Come, come!
I'm waiting for you."

He hesitated, undecided, flinching before the scene he could foresee.
But he had to obey. The baron said to him, with his air at once
paternal and mocking, "Go, my dear fellow, go, madame wants you."

Mouret followed her. The door closed, and he thought he could hear De
Vallagnosc's grin stifled by the hangings. His courage was entirely
exhausted. Since Henriette had quitted the drawing-room, and he knew
Denise was alone in the house in jealous hands, he had experienced a
growing anxiety, a nervous torment, which made him listen from time to
time as if suddenly startled by a distant sound of weeping. What could
this woman invent to torture her? And his whole love, this love which
surprised him even now, went out to the young girl like a support and
a consolation. Never had he loved her so strongly, with that charm so
powerful in suffering. His former affections, his love for Henriette
herself—so delicate, so handsome, the possession of whom was so
flattering to his pride—had never been more than agreeable pastimes,
frequently a calculation, in which he sought nothing but a profitable
pleasure. He used quietly to leave his mistresses and go home to bed,
happy in his bachelor liberty, without a regret or a care on his
mind; whilst now his heart beat with anguish, his life was taken, he
no longer enjoyed the forgetfulness of sleep in his great, solitary
bed. Denise was his only thought. Even at this moment she was the sole
object of his anxiety, and he was telling himself that he preferred to
be there to protect her, notwithstanding his fear of some regrettable
scene with the other one.

At first, they both crossed the bedroom, silent and empty. Then Madame
Desforges, pushing open a door, entered the dressing-room, followed by
Mouret. It was a rather large room, hung with red silk, furnished with
a marble toilet table and a large wardrobe with three compartments and
great glass doors. As the window looked into the yard, it was already
rather dark, and the two nickel-plated gas burners on either side of
the wardrobe had been lighted.

"Now, let's see," said Henriette, "perhaps we shall get on better."

On entering, Mouret had found Denise standing upright, middle of
the bright light. She was very pale, modestly dressed in a cashmere
jacket, and a black hat, and was holding on one arm the mantle bought
at The Ladies' Paradise. When she saw the young man her hands slightly
trembled.

"I wish Monsieur Mouret to judge," resumed Henriette. "Just help me,
mademoiselle."

And Denise, approaching, had to give her the mantle. She had already
placed some pins on the shoulders, the part that did not fit. Henriette
turned round to look at herself in the glass.

"Is it possible? Speak frankly."

"It really is a failure, madame," said Mouret, to cut the matter short.
"It's very simple; the young lady will take your measure, and we will
make you another."

"No, I want this one, I want it immediately," resumed she, with
vivacity. "But it's too narrow across the chest, and it forms a ruck
at the back between the shoulders." Then, in her sharpest voice, she
added: "It's no use you standing looking at me, mademoiselle, that
won't make it any better! Try and find a remedy. It's your business."

Denise again commenced to place the pins, without saying a word. That
went on for some time: she had to pass from one shoulder to the other,
and was even obliged to go almost on her knees, to pull the mantle
down in front. Above her placing herself entirely in Denise's hands,
Madame Desforges gave her face the harsh expression of a mistress
exceedingly difficult to please. Delighted to lower the young girl to
this servant's work, she gave her sharp and brief orders, watching for
the least sign of suffering on Mouret's face.

"Put a pin here! No! not there, here, near the sleeve. You don't seem
to understand! That isn't it, there's the ruck showing again. Take
care, you're pricking me now!"

Twice had Mouret vainly attempted to interfere, to put an end to this
scene. His heart was beating violently from this humiliation of his
love; and he loved Denise more than ever, with a deep tenderness, in
the presence of her admirably silent and patient attitude. If the young
girl's hands still trembled somewhat, at being treated in this way
before his face, she accepted the necessities of her position with the
proud resignation of a courageous girl. When Madame Desforges found
they were not likely to betray themselves, she tried another way, she
commenced to smile on Mouret, treating him openly as her lover. The
pins having run short, she said to him:

"Look, my dear, in the ivory box on the dressing-table. Really! it's
empty? Kindly see on the chimney-piece in the bedroom; you know, at the
corner of the looking-glass."

She spoke as if he were quite at home, in the habit of sleeping there,
and knew where to find everything, even the brushes and combs. When he
brought back a few pins, she took them one by one, and forced him to
stay near her, looking at him and speaking low.

"I don't fancy I'm hump-backed. Give me your hand, feel my shoulders,
just to please me. Am I really made like that?"

Denise slowly raised her eyes, paler than ever, and set about placing
the pins in silence. Mouret could only see her blonde tresses, twisted
at the back of her delicate neck; but by the slight shudder which was
raising them, he thought he could perceive the uneasiness and shame of
her face. Now, she would certainly repulse him, and send him back to
this woman, who did not conceal her connection even before strangers.
Brutal thoughts came into his head, he could have struck Henriette. How
was he to stop her talk? How should he tell Denise that he adored her,
that she alone existed for him at this moment, and that he was ready to
sacrifice for her all his former affections? The worst of women would
not have indulged in the equivocal familiarities of this well-born
lady. He took his hand away, and drew back, saying:

"You are wrong to go so far, madame, since I myself consider the
garment to be a failure."

One of the gas-burners was hissing, and in the stuffy, moist air
of the room, nothing else was heard but this ardent breath. The
looking-glasses threw large sheets of light on the red silk hangings,
on which were dancing the shadows of the two women. A bottle of
verbena, of which the cork had been left out, spread a vague odor,
something like that of a fading bouquet.

"There, madame, I can do no more," said Denise, at last, rising up.

She felt thoroughly worn out. Twice she had run the pins in her
fingers, as if blinded, her eyes in a mist. Was he in the plot? Had he
sent for her, to avenge himself for her refusal, by showing that other
women loved him? And this thought chilled her; she never remembered to
have stood in need of so much courage, not even during the terrible
hours of her life when she wanted for bread. It was comparatively
nothing to be humiliated, but to see him almost in the arms of another
woman, as if she had not been there! Henriette looked at herself in the
glass, and once more broke out into harsh words.

"But it's absurd, mademoiselle. It fits worse than ever. Just look how
tight it is across the chest. I look like a wet nurse."

Denise, losing all patience, made a rather unfortunate remark. "You are
slightly stout, madame. We cannot make you thinner than you are."

"Stout! stout!" exclaimed Henriette, who now turned pale in her turn.
"You're becoming insolent, mademoiselle. Really, I should advise you to
criticize others!"

They both stood looking at each other, face to face, trembling.
There was now neither lady or shop-girl. They were simply two women,
made equal by their rivalry. The one had violently taken off the
mantle and cast it on a chair, whilst the other was throwing oil the
dressing-table the few pins she had in her hands.

"What astonishes me," resumed Henriette, "is that Monsieur Mouret
should tolerate such insolence. I thought, sir, that you were more
particular about your employees."

Denise had again assumed her brave, calm manner. She gently replied:
"If Monsieur Mouret keeps me, it's because he has no fault to find. I
am ready to apologize to you, if he wishes it."

Mouret was listening, excited by this quarrel, unable to find a word to
put a stop to it. He had a great horror of these explanations between
women, their asperity wounding his sense of elegance and gracefulness.
Henriette wished to force him to say something in condemnation of the
young girl; and, as he remained mute, still undecided, she stung him
with a final insult:

"Very good, sir. It seems that I must suffer the insolence of your
mistresses in my own house even! A girl you've picked up out of the
gutter!"

Two big tears gushed from Denise's eyes. She had kept them back for
some time, but her whole being succumbed beneath this last insult.
When he saw her weeping like that, without the slightest attempt at
retaliation, with a silent, despairing dignity, Mouret no longer
hesitated, his heart went out towards her in an immense burst of
tenderness. He took her hands in his and stammered:

"Go away immediately, my child, and forget this house!"

Henriette, perfectly amazed, choking with anger, stood looking at them.

"Wait a minute," continued he, folding up the mantle himself, "take
this garment away. Madame can buy another elsewhere. And pray don't cry
any more. You know how much I esteem you."

He went with her to the door, which he closed after her. She had not
said a word; but a pink flame had colored her cheeks, whilst her eyes
were wet with fresh tears, tears of a delicious sweetness. Henriette,
who was suffocating, had taken out her handkerchief and was crushing
her lips with it. This was a total overthrowing of her calculations,
she herself had been caught in the trap she had laid. She was mortified
with herself for having pushed the matter too far, tortured with
jealousy. To be abandoned for such a creature as that! To see herself
disdained before her! Her pride suffered more than her love.

"So, it's that girl that you love?" said she, painfully, when they were
alone.

Mouret did not reply at once; he was walking about from the window to
the door, as if absorbed by some violent emotion. At last he stopped,
and very politely, in a voice which he tried to render cold, he replied
with simplicity: "Yes, madame."

The gas burner was still hissing in the stifling air of the
dressing-room. But the reflex of the glasses were no longer traversed
by dancing shadows, the room seemed bare, of a heavy dullness.
Henriette suddenly dropped on a chair, twisting her handkerchief in her
febrile fingers, repeating amidst her sobs:

"Good heavens! How miserable I am!"

He stood looking at her for several seconds, and then went away
quietly. She, left all alone, wept on in silence, before the pins
scattered over the dressing-table and the floor.

When Mouret returned to the little drawing-room, he found De Vallagnosc
alone, the baron having gone back to the ladies. As he felt himself
very agitated still, he sat down at the further end of the room, on a
sofa; and his friend, seeing him turn pale, charitably came and stood
before him, to conceal him from curious eyes. At first, they looked at
each other without saying a word. Then De Vallagnosc, who seemed to
be inwardly amused at Mouret's confusion, finished by asking in his
bantering voice:

"Are you still enjoying yourself?"

Mouret did not appear to understand him at first. But remembered their
former conversations on the empty and the useless torture of life,
he replied: "Of course, before lived so much. Ah! my boy, don't you
laugh, the hours that make one die of grief are by far the shortest."
He lowered his voice, continuing gaily, beneath his half-wiped tears:
"Yes, you know all, don't you? Between them they have rent my heart.
But yet it's nice, as nice as kisses, the wounds they make. I am
thoroughly worn out; but, no matter, you can't think how I love life!
Oh! I shall win her at last, this little girl who still says no!"

De Vallagnosc simply said: "And after?"

"After? Why, I shall have her! Isn't that enough? If you think yourself
strong, because you refuse to be stupid and to suffer, you make a great
mistake! You are merely a dupe, my boy, nothing more! Try and long for
a woman and win her at last: that pays you in one minute for all your
misery."

But De Vallagnosc once more trotted out his pessimism. What was the
good of working so much if money could not buy everything? He would
very soon have shut up shop and given up work forever, the day he found
out that his millions could not even buy the woman he wanted! Mouret,
listening to him, became grave. Then he set off violently, he believed
in the all-powerfulness of his will.

"I want her, and I'll have her! And if she escapes me, you'll see what
a place I shall have built to cure myself. It will be splendid, all the
same. You don't understand this language, old man, otherwise you would
know that action contains its own recompense. To act, to create, to
struggle against facts, to overcome them or be overthrown by them, all
human health and joy consists in that!"

"Simple method of diverting one's self," murmured the other.

"Well, I prefer diverting myself. As one must die, I would rather die
of passion than boredom!"

They both laughed, this reminded them of their old discussions at
college. De Vallagnosc, in an effeminate voice, then commenced to
parade his theories of the insipidity of things, investing with a sort
of fanfaronade the immobility and emptiness of his existence. Yes, he
dragged on from day to day at the office, in three years he had had a
rise of six hundred francs; he was now receiving three thousand six
hundred, barely enough to pay for his cigars; it was getting worse than
ever, and if he did not kill himself, it was simply from a dislike of
all trouble. Mouret having spoken of his marriage with Mademoiselle de
Boves, he replied that notwithstanding the obstinacy of the aunt in
refusing to die, the matter was going to be concluded; at least, he
thought so, the parents were agreed, and he was ready to do anything
they might tell him to do. What was the use of wishing or not wishing,
since things never turned out as one desired? He quoted as an example
his future father-in-law, who expected to find in Madame Guibal an
indolent blonde, the caprice of an hour, but who was now led by her
with a whip, like an old horse on its last legs. Whilst they supposed
him to be busy inspecting the stud at Saint-Lô, she was squandering his
last resources in a little house hired by him at Versailles.

"He's happier than you," said Mouret, getting up.

"Oh! rather!" declared De Vallagnosc. "Perhaps it's only doing wrong
that's somewhat amusing."

Mouret had now recovered his spirits. He was thinking about getting
away; but not wishing his departure to resemble a flight he resolved
to take a cup of tea, and went into the other drawing-room with his
friend, both in high spirits. The baron asked him if the mantle had
been made to fit, and Mouret replied, carelessly, that he gave it up
as far as he was concerned. They all seemed astonished. Whilst Madame
Marty hastened to serve him, Madame de Boves accused the shops of
always keeping their garments too narrow. At last, he managed to sit
down near Bouthemont, who had not stirred. They were forgotten for a
moment, and, in reply to anxious questions put by Bouthemont, desirous
of knowing what he had to say to him, Mouret did not wait to get into
the street, but abruptly informed him that the board of directors had
decided to deprive themselves of his services. Between each phrase he
drank a drop of tea, protesting all the while that he was in despair.
Oh! a quarrel that he had not even then got over, for he had left
the meeting beside himself with rage. But what could he do? he could
not break with these gentlemen about a simple question of staff.
Bouthemont, very pale, had to thank him once more.

"What a terrible mantle," observed Madame Marty. "Henriette can't get
over it."

And really, this prolonged absence began to make everyone feel awkward.
But, at that very moment, Madame Desforges appeared.

"So you've given it up as well?" cried Madame de Boves, gaily.

"How do you mean?"

"Why, Monsieur Mouret told us you could do nothing with it." Henriette
affected the greatest surprise. "Monsieur was joking. The mantle will
fit splendidly."

She appeared very calm and smiling. No doubt she had bathed her eyes,
for they were quite fresh, without the slightest trace of redness.
Whilst her whole being was still trembling and bleeding, she managed
to conceal her torture beneath the mask of her smiling, well-bred
elegance. And she offered the sandwiches to De Vallagnosc with her
usual graceful smile. The baron alone, who knew her so well, remarked,
the slight contraction of her lips, and the sombre fire, which she had
not been able to extinguish in her eyes. He guessed the whole scene.

"Dear me! each one to his taste," said Madame de Boves, also accepting
a sandwich. "I know some women who would never buy a ribbon except at
the Louvre. Others only swear by the Bon Marche. It's a question of
temperament, no doubt."

"The Bon Marché is very provincial," murmured Madame Marty, "and one
gets so crushed at the Louvre."

They had again returned to the big shops. Mouret had to give his
opinion; he came up to them and affected to be very just. The Bon
Marché was an excellent house, solid, respectable; but the Louvre
certainly had a more aristocratic class of customers.

"In short, you prefer The Ladies' Paradise," said the baron, smiling.

"Yes," replied Mouret, quietly. "There we really love our customers."

All the women present were of his opinion. It was just that, they were
at a sort of private party at The Ladies' Paradise, they felt there a
continual caress of flattery, an overflowing adoration which detained
the most dignified and virtuous woman. The enormous success of the
establishment sprung from this gallant seduction.

"By the way," asked Henriette, who wished to appear entirely at her
ease, "what have you done with, my protégé, Monsieur Mouret? You
know—Mademoiselle de Fontenailles." And turning towards Madame Marty
she explained, "A marchioness, my dear, a poor girl fallen into
poverty."

"Oh," said Mouret, "she earns three francs a day stitching
pattern-books, and I fancy I shall be able to marry her to one of my
messengers."

"Oh! fie! what a horror!" exclaimed Madame de Boves. He looked at her,
and replied in his calm voice: "Why madame? Isn't it better for her to
marry an honest, hard-working messenger than to run the risk of being
picked up by some good-far-nothing fellow outside?"

De Vallagnosc wished to interfere for a joke. "Don't push him too far,
madame, or he'll tell you that all the old families of France ought to
sell calico."

"Well," declared Mouret, "it would at least be an honorable end for a
great many of them."

They set up a laugh, the paradox seemed rather strong. He continued to
sing the praises of what he called the aristocracy of work. A slight
flush had colored Madame de Boves's cheeks, she was wild at the shifts
she was put to by her poverty; whilst Madame Marty on the contrary
approved, stricken with remorse on thinking of her poor husband. The
footman had just ushered in the professor, who had called to take her
home. He was drier, more emaciated than ever by his hard labor, and
still wore his thin shining frock coat. When he had thanked Madame
Desforges for having spoken for him at the Ministry, he cast at Mouret
the timid glance of a man meeting the evil that is to kill him. And he
was quite confused when he heard the latter asking him:

"Isn't it true, sir, that work leads to everything?"

"Work and economy," replied he, with a slight shivering of his whole
body. "Add economy, sir."

Meanwhile, Bouthemont had not moved from his chair, Mouret's words were
still ringing in his ears. He at last got up, and went and said to
Henriette in a low tone: "You know, he's given me notice; oh! in the
kindest possible manner. But may I be hanged if he sha'n't repent it!
I've just found my sign, The Four Seasons, and shall plant myself close
to the Opera House!"

She looked at him with a gloomy expression. "Reckon on me, I'm with
you. Wait a minute." And she immediately drew Baron Hartmann into
the recess of a window, and boldly recommended Bouthemont to him,
as a fellow who was going to revolutionize Paris, in his turn, by
setting up for himself. When she spoke of an advance of funds for
her new protegee, the baron, though now astonished at nothing, could
not suppress a gesture of bewilderment. This was the fourth fellow
of genius she had confided to him, and he began to feel himself
ridiculous. But he did not directly refuse, the idea of starting a
competitor to The Ladies' Paradise even pleased him somewhat; for he
had already invented, in banking matters, this sort of competition, to
keep off others. Besides, the adventure amused him, and he promised to
look into the matter.

"We must talk it over tonight," whispered Henriette, returning to
Bouthemont. "Don't fail to call about nine o'clock. The baron is with
us."

At this moment the vast room was full of voices. Mouret still standing
up, in the midst of the ladies, had recovered his habitual elegant
gracefulness, and was gaily defending himself from the charge of
ruining them in dress, offering to prove by the figures that he enabled
them to save thirty per cent on their purchases. Baron Hartmann watched
him, seized with the fraternal admiration of a former man about
town. Come! the duel was finished, Henriette was decidedly beaten,
she certainly was not the coming woman. And he thought he could see
the modest profile of the young girl whom he had observed on passing
through the ante-room. She was there, patient, alone, redoubtable in
her sweetness.

CHAPTER XII.

It was on the 25th of September that the building of the new façade
of The Ladies' Paradise was commenced. Baron Hartmann, according to
his promise, had had the matter settled at the last general meeting
of the Crédit Immobilier. And Mouret was at length going to enjoy
the realization of his dreams; this façade, about to arise in the
Rue du Dix-Décembre, was like the very blossoming of his fortune. He
wished, therefore, to celebrate the laying of the first stone, to
make a ceremony of the work, and he distributed gratuities amongst
his employees, and gave them game and champagne for dinner in the
evening. Everyone noticed his wonderfully good humor during the
ceremony, his victorious gesture as he laid the first stone, with a
flourish of the trowel. For weeks he had been anxious, agitated by a
nervous torment that he did not always succeed in concealing; and his
triumph served as a respite, a distraction in his suffering. During
the afternoon he seemed to have returned to his former healthy gaiety.
But, after dinner, when he went through the refectory to drink a glass
of champagne with his staff, he appeared feverish again, smiling with
a painful look, his features drawn up by the unavowed pain that was
devouring him. He was once more mastered by it.

The next day, in the ready-made department, Clara tried to be
disagreeable with Denise. She had noticed Colomban's bashful passion,
and took it into her head to joke about the Baudus. As Marguerite was
sharpening her pencil while waiting for customers, she said to her, in
a loud voice:

"You know my lover opposite. It really grieves me to see him in that
dark shop, where no one ever enters."

"He's not so badly off," replied Marguerite, "he's going to marry the
governor's daughter."

"Oh! oh!" replied Clara, "it would be good fun to lead him astray,
then! I'll try the game on, my word of honor!"

And she continued in the same strain, happy to feel Denise was shocked.
The latter forgave her everything else; but the idea of her dying
cousin Geneviève, finished by this cruelty, threw her into an indignant
rage. At that moment a customer came in, and as Madame Aurélie had just
gone downstairs, she took the direction of the counter, and called
Clara.

"Mademoiselle Prunaire, you had better attend to this lady instead of
gossiping there."

"I wasn't gossiping."

"Have the kindness to hold your tongue, and attend to this lady
immediately."

Clara gave in, conquered. When Denise showed her authority, quietly,
without raising her voice, not one of them resisted. She had acquired
absolute authority by her very moderation and sweetness. For a moment
she walked up and down in silence, amidst the young ladies, who had
become very serious. Marguerite had resumed sharpening her pencil, the
point of which was always breaking. She alone continued to approve of
Denise's resistance to Mouret, shaking her head, not acknowledging
the baby she had had, but declaring that if they had any idea of the
consequences of such a thing, they would prefer to remain virtuous.

"What! you're getting angry?" said a voice behind Denise.

It was Pauline, who was crossing the department. She had noticed the
scene, and spoke in a low tone, smiling.

"But I'm obliged to," replied Denise in the same tone, "I can't manage
them otherwise."

Pauline shrugged her shoulders. "Nonsense, you can be queen over all of
us whenever you like."

She was still unable to understand her friend's refusal. Since the
end of August, Pauline bad been married to Baugé, a most stupid
affair, she would sometimes gaily remark. The terrible Bourdoncle
treated her anyhow, now, considering her as lost for trade. Her only
terror was that they might one fine day send them to love each other
elsewhere, for the managers had decreed love to be execrable and fatal
to business. So great was her fear, that, when she met Baugé in the
galleries, she affected not to know him. She had just had a fright—old
Jouve had nearly caught her talking to her husband behind a pile of
dusters.

"See! he's followed me," added she, after having hastily related the
adventure to Denise. "Just look at him scenting me out with his big
nose!"

Jouve, in fact, was then coming from the lace department, correctly
arrayed in a white tie, his nose on the scent for some delinquent. But
when he saw Denise he assumed a knowing air, and passed by with an
amiable smile.

"Saved!" murmured Pauline. "My dear, you made him swallow that! I say,
if anything should happen to me, you would speak for me, wouldn't you!
Yes, yes, don't put on that astonished air, we know that a word from
you would revolutionize the house."

And she ran off to her counter. Denise had blushed, troubled by these
amicable allusions. It was true, however. She had a vague sensation of
her power by the flatteries with which she was surrounded. When Madame
Aurélie returned, and found the department quiet and busy under the
surveillance of the second-hand, she smiled at her amicably. She threw
over Mouret himself, her amiability increased daily for this young girl
who might one fine morning desire her situation as first-hand. Denise's
reign was commencing.

Bourdoncle alone still stood out. In the secret war which he continued
to carry on against the young girl, there was in the first place a
natural antipathy. He detested her for her gentleness and her charm.
Then he fought against her as a fatal influence which would place the
house in peril the day when Mouret should succumb. The governor's
commercial genius seemed bound to sink amidst this stupid affection:
what they had gained by women would be swallowed up by this woman. None
of them touched his heart, he treated them with the disdain of a man
without passion, whose trade is to live on them, and who had had his
last illusions dispelled by seeing them too closely in the miseries of
his traffic. Instead of intoxicating him, the odor of these seventy
thousand customers gave him frightful headaches: and so soon as he
reached home he beat his mistresses. And what made him especially
anxious in the presence of this little saleswoman, who had gradually
become so redoubtable, was that he did not in the least believe in her
disinterestedness, in the genuineness of her refusals. For him she was
playing a part, the most skilful of parts; for if she had yielded at
once, Mouret would doubtless have forgotten her the next day; whilst by
refusing, she had goaded his desires, rendering him mad, capable of any
folly. An artful jade, a woman learned in vice, would not have acted
any different to this pattern of innocence.

Thus Bourdoncle could never catch sight of her, with her clear eyes,
sweet face, and simple attitude, without being seized with a real fear,
as if he had before him some disguised female flesh-eater, the sombre
enigma of woman, Death in the guise of a virgin. In what way could he
confound the tactics of this false novice? He was now only anxious to
penetrate her artful ways, in the hope of exposing them to the light of
day. She would certainly commit some fault, he would surprise her with
one of her lovers, and she should again be dismissed. The house would
then resume its regular working like a well wound-up machine.

"Keep a good look-out, Monsieur Jouve," repeated Bourdoncle to the
inspector, "I'll take care that you shall be rewarded."

But Jouve was somewhat lukewarm, he knew something about women, and was
asking himself whether he had not better take the part of this young
girl, who might be the future sovereign mistress of the place. Though
he did not now dare to touch her, he still thought her bewitchingly
pretty. His colonel in bygone days had killed himself for a similar
little thing, with an insignificant face, delicate and modest, one look
from whom ravaged all hearts.

"I do," replied he. "But, on my word, I cannot discover anything."

And yet stories were circulating, there was quite a stream of
abominable tittle-tattle running beneath the flattery and respect
Denise felt arising around her. The whole house now declared that
she had formerly had Hutin for a lover; no one could swear that the
intimacy still continued, but they were suspected of meeting from time
to time. Deloche also was said to sleep with her, they were continually
meeting in dark corners, talking for hours together. It was quite a
scandal!

"So, nothing about the first-hand in the silk department, nor about the
young man in the lace one?" asked Bourdoncle.

"No, sir, nothing yet," replied the inspector.

It was with Deloche especially that Bourdoncle expected to surprise
Denise. One morning he himself had caught them laughing together
downstairs. In the meantime, he treated her on a footing of perfect
equality, for he no longer disdained her, he felt her to be strong
enough to overthrow even him, notwithstanding his ten years' service,
if he lost the game.

"Keep your eye on the young man in the lace department," concluded he
each time. "They are always together. If you catch them, call me, I'll
manage the rest."

Mouret, however, was living in anguish. Was it possible that this child
could torture him in this manner? He could always recall her arriving
at The Ladies' Paradise, with her big shoes, thin black dress, and
savage airs. She stammered, they all used to laugh at her, he himself
had thought her ugly at first. Ugly! and now she could have brought him
on his knees by a look, he thought her nothing less than an angel! Then
she had remained the last in the house, repulsed, joked at, treated
by him as a curious specimen of humanity. For months he had wanted to
see how a girl sprung up, and had amused himself at this experiment,
without understanding that he was risking his heart. She, little by
little grew up, became redoubtable. Perhaps he had loved her from the
first moment, even at the time he thought he felt nothing but pity for
her. And yet he had only really begun to feel this love the evening of
their walk under the chestnut trees of the Tuileries. His life started
from there, he could still hear the laughing of a group of little
girls, the distant fall of a jet of water, whilst in the warm shade she
walked on beside him in silence. After that he knew no more, his fever
had increased hour by hour; all his blood, his whole being, in fact,
was sacrificed. And for such a child—was it possible? When she passed
him now, the slight wind from her dress seemed so powerful that he
staggered.

For a long time he had struggled, and even now he frequently became
indignant, endeavoring to extricate himself from this idiotic
possession. What secret had she to be able to bind him in this way?
Had he not seen her without boots? Had she not been received almost
out of charity? He could have understood it had it been a question of
one of those superb creatures who charm the crowd! but this little
girl; this nobody! She had, in short, one of those insignificant faces
which excite no remark. She could not even be very intelligent, for
he remembered her bad beginning as a saleswoman. But, after every
explosion of anger, he had experienced a relapse of passion, like a
sacred terror at having insulted his idol. She possessed everything
that renders a woman good—courage, gaiety, simplicity; and there
exhaled from her gentleness, a charm of a penetrating, perfume-like
subtlety. One might at first ignore her, or elbow her like any other
girl; but the charm soon began to act, with a slow invincible force;
one belonged to her forever, if she deigned to smile. Everything then
smiled in her white face, her pretty eyes, her cheeks and chin full of
dimples; whilst her heavy blonde hair seemed to light up also, with a
royal and conquering beauty. He acknowledged himself vanquished; she
was as intelligent as she was beautiful, her intelligence came from
the best part of her being. Whilst the other saleswomen had only a
superficial education, the varnish which scales off from girls of that
class, she, without any false elegance, retained her native grace, the
savor of her origin. The most complete commercial ideas sprang up from
her experience, under this narrow forehead, the pure lines of which
clearly announced the presence of a firm will and a love of order. And
he could have clasped his hands to ask her pardon for having blasphemed
her during his hours of revolt.

Why did she still refuse with such obstinacy. Twenty times had he
entreated her, increasing his offers, offering money and more money.
Then, thinking she must be ambitious, he had promised to appoint her
first-hand, as soon as there should be a vacant department. And she
refused, and still she refused! For him it was a stupor, a struggle
in which his desire became enraged. Such an adventure appeared to him
impossible, this child would certainly finish by yielding, for he had
always regarded a woman's virtue as a relative matter. He could see no
other object, everything disappeared before this necessity: to have her
at last in his room, to take her on his knees, and, kiss her on her
lips; and at this vision, the blood of his veins ran quick and strong,
he trembled, distracted by his own powerlessness.

His days now passed in the same grievous obsession, Denise's image
rose with him; after having dreamed of her all night, it followed him
before the desk in his office, where he signed his bills and orders
from nine to ten o'clock: a work which he accomplished mechanically,
never ceasing to feel her present, still saying no, with her quiet air.
Then, at ten o'clock, came the board-meeting, a meeting of the twelve
directors, at which he had to preside; they discussed matters affecting
the in-door arrangements, examined the purchases, settled the window
displays; and she was still there, he heard her soft voice amidst the
figures, he saw her bright smile in the most complicated financial
situations. After the board-meeting, she still accompanied him, making
with him the daily inspection of the counters, returned with him to
his office in the afternoon, remaining close to his chair from two
till four o'clock, whilst he received a crowd of important business
men, the principal manufacturers of all France, bankers, inventors;
a continual come-and-go of the riches and intelligence of the land,
an excited dance of millions, rapid interviews during which were
hatched the biggest affairs on the Paris market. If he forgot her for
a moment whilst deciding on the ruin or the prosperity of an industry,
he found her again at a twitch of his heart; his voice died away, he
asked himself what was the use of this princely fortune when she still
refused. At last, when five o'clock struck, he had to sign the day's
correspondence, the mechanical working of his hand again commenced,
whilst she rose up before him more dominating than ever, seizing him
entirely, to possess him during the solitary and ardent hours of the
night. And the morrow was the same day over again, those days so
active, so full of a colossal labor, which the slight shadow of a child
sufficed to ravage with anguish.

But it was especially during his daily inspection of the departments
that he felt his misery. To have built up this giant machine, to reign
over such a world of people, and to be dying of grief because a little
girl would not accept him! He scorned himself, dragging the fever and
shame of his pain about with him everywhere. On certain days he became
disgusted with his power, feeling a nausea at the very sight of the
long galleries. At other times he would have wished to extend his
empire, and make it so vast that she would perhaps yield out of sheer
admiration and fear.

He first of all stopped in the basement opposite the shoot. It was
still in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; but it had been necessary to
enlarge it, and it was now as wide as the bed of a river, down which
the continual flood of goods rolled with the loud noise of rushing
water; it was a constant succession of arrivals from all parts of the
world, rows of wagons from all railways, a ceaseless discharging of
merchandise, a stream of boxes and bales running underground, absorbed
by the insatiable establishment. He gazed at this torrent flowing
into his house, thought of his position as one of the masters of the
public fortune, that he held in his hands the fate of the French
manufacturers, and that he was unable to buy a kiss from one of his
saleswomen.

Then he passed on to the receiving department, which now occupied that
part of the basement running along the Rue Monsigny. Twenty tables
were ranged there, in the pale light of the air-holes; dozens of
shopmen were bustling about, emptying the cases, checking the goods,
and marking them in plain figures, amidst the roar of the shoot, which
almost drowned their voices. Various managers of departments stopped
him, he had to resolve difficulties and confirm orders. This cellar
was filled with the tender glimmer of the satin, the whiteness of the
linen, a prodigious unpacking in which the furs were mingled with the
lace, the fancy goods with the Eastern curtains. With a slow step he
made his way amongst all these riches thrown about in disorder, heaped
up in their state. Above, they were destined to ornament the window
displays, letting loose the race after money across the counters, no
sooner shown than carried off, in the furious current of business which
traversed the place. He thought of his having offered the young girl
silks, velvets, anything she liked to take in any quantities, from
these enormous heaps, and that she had refused by a shake of her fair
head.

After that, he passed on to the other end of the basement, to pay his
usual visit to the delivery department. Interminable corridors ran
along, lighted up with gas; to the right and to the left, the reserves,
closed in with gratings, were like so many subterranean stores, a
complete commercial quarter, with its haberdashery, underclothing,
glove, and other shops, sleeping in the shade. Further on was placed
one of the three stoves; further still, a fireman's post guarding
the gas-meter, enclosed in its iron cage. He found, in the delivery
department, the sorting tables already blocked with loads of parcels,
bandboxes, and cases, continually arriving in large baskets; and
Campion, the superintendent, gave him some particulars about the
current work, whilst the twenty men placed under his orders distributed
the parcels into large compartments, each bearing the name of a
district of Paris, and from whence the messengers took them up to the
vans, ranged along the pavement. One heard a series of cries, names of
streets, and recommendations shouted out; quite an uproar, an agitation
such as on board a mail boat about to start. And he stood there for a
moment, motionless, looking at this discharge of goods which he had
just seen absorbed by the house, at the opposite extremity of the
basement: the enormous current there discharged itself into the street,
after having filled the tills with gold. His eyes became misty, this
colossal business no longer had any importance; he had but one idea,
that of going away to some distant land, and abandoning everything, if
she persisted in saying no.

He then went upstairs, continuing his inspection, talking, and
agitating himself more and more, without finding any respite. On
the second floor he entered the correspondence department, picking
quarrels, secretly exasperated against the perfect regularity of this
machine that he had himself built up. This department was the one that
was daily assuming the most considerable importance; it now required
two hundred employees—some opening, reading, and classifying the
letters coming from the provinces and abroad, whilst others gathered
into compartments the goods ordered by the correspondents. And the
number of letters was increasing to such an extent that they no longer
counted them; they weighed them, receiving as much as a hundred pounds
per day. He, feverish, went through the three offices, questioning
Levasseur as to the weight of the correspondence; eighty pounds, ninety
pounds, sometimes, on a Monday, a hundred pounds. The figure increased
daily, he ought to have been delighted. But he stood shuddering, in the
noise made by the neighboring squad of packers nailing down the cases.
Vainly he roamed about the house; the fixed idea remained fast in his
mind, and as his power unfolded itself before him, as the mechanism of
the business and the army of employees passed before his gaze, he felt
more profoundly than ever the insult of his powerlessness. Orders from
all Europe were flowing in, a special post-office van was required for
his correspondence; and yet she said no, always no.

He went downstairs again, visiting the central cashier's office,
where four clerks guarded the two giants safes, in which there had
passed the previous year forty-eight million francs. He glanced at the
clearing-house, which now occupied twenty-five clerks, chosen from
amongst the most trustworthy. He went into the next office, where
twenty-five young men, junior clerks, were engaged in checking the
debit-notes, and calculating the salesmen's commission. He returned
to the chief cashier's office, exasperated at the sight of the safes,
wandering amidst these millions, the uselessness of which drove him
mad. She said no, always no.

And it was always no, in all the departments, in the galleries, in
the saloons, and in every part of the establishment! He went from the
silk to the drapery department, from the linen to the lace department,
he ascended to the upper floors, stopping on the flying bridges,
prolonging his inspection with a maniacal, grievous minuteness. The
house had grown out of all bounds, he had created this department,
then this other; he governed this fresh domain, he extended his
empire into this industry, the last one conquered; and it was no,
always no, in spite of everything. His staff would now have sufficed
to people a small town: there were fifteen hundred salesmen, and a
thousand other employees of every sort, including forty inspectors and
seventy cashiers; the kitchens alone gave occupation to thirty-two
men; ten clerks were set apart for the advertising; there were three
hundred and fifty shop messengers, all wearing livery, and twenty-four
firemen living on the premises. And, in the stables, royal buildings
situated in the Rue Monsigny, opposite the warehouse, were one hundred
and forty-five horses, a luxurious establishment which was already
celebrated in Paris. The first four conveyances which used formerly
to stir up the whole neighborhood, when the house occupied only the
corner of the Place Gaillon, had gradually increased to sixty-two
trucks, one-horse vans, and heavy two-horse ones. They were continually
scouring Paris, driven with knowing skill by drivers dressed in black,
promenading the gold and purple sign of The Ladies' Paradise. They even
went beyond the fortifications, into the suburbs; they were to be met
on the dusty roads of Bicêtre, along the banks of the Marne, even in
the shady drives of the Forest of Saint-Germain. Sometimes one would
spring up from the depths of some sunny avenue, where all was silent
and deserted, the superb animals trotting along, throwing into the
mysterious peacefulness of this grand nature the loud advertisement of
its varnished panels. He was even dreaming of launching them further
still, into the neighboring departments; he would have liked to hear
them rolling along every road in France, from one frontier to the
other. But he no longer even troubled to visit his horses, though he
was passionately fond of them. Of what good was this conquest of the
world, since it was no, always no?

At present, in the evening, when he arrived at Lhomme's desk, he still
looked through habit at the amount of the takings written on a card,
which the cashier stuck on an iron file at his side; this figure rarely
fell below a hundred thousand francs, sometimes it ran up to eight and
nine hundred thousand on big sale days; but these figures no longer
sounded in his ears like a trumpet-blast, he regretted having looked at
them, going away full of bitterness and scorn for money.

But Mouret's sufferings were destined to increase, for he became
jealous. One morning, in the office, before the board-meeting
commenced, Bourdoncle ventured to hint that the little girl in the
ready-made department was playing with him.

"How?" asked he, very pale.

"Yes! she has lovers in this very building."

Mouret found strength to smile. "I don't think any more about her, my
dear fellow. You can speak freely. Who are her lovers?"

"Hutin, they say, and then a salesman in the lace department—Deloche,
that tall awkward fellow. I can't speak with certainty, never having
seen them together. But it appears that it's notorious."

There was a silence. Mouret affected to arrange the papers on his desk,
to conceal the trembling of his hands. At last, he observed, without
raising his head: "We must have proofs, try and bring me some proofs.
As for me, I assure you I don't care in the least, for I'm quite sick
of her. But we can't allow such things to go on here."

Bourdoncle simply replied: "Never fear, you shall have proofs one of
these days. I'm keeping a good look out."

This news deprived Mouret of all rest. He no longer had the courage to
return to this conversation, but lived in the continual expectation of
a catastrophe, in which his heart would be crushed. And this torment
rendered him terrible, the whole house trembled before him. He now
disdained to conceal himself behind Bourdoncle, but performed the
executions in person, feeling a nervous desire for revenge, solacing
himself by an abuse of his power, of that power which could do nothing
for the contentment of his sole desire. Each one of his inspections
became a massacre, his appearance caused a panic to run along from
counter to counter. The dead winter season was just then approaching,
and he made a clean sweep in the departments, multiplying the victims
and pushing them into the streets. His first idea had been to dismiss
Hutin and Deloche; then he had reflected that if he did not keep them,
he would never discover anything; and the others suffered for them:
the whole staff trembled. In the evening, when he found himself alone
again, his eyes swelled up, big with tears.

One day especially terror reigned supreme. An inspector had the idea
that Mignot was stealing. There were always a lot of strange-looking
girls prowling around his counter; and one of them had just been
arrested, her thighs and bosom padded with sixty pairs of gloves. From
that moment a watch was kept, and the inspector caught Mignot in the
act, facilitating the sleight of hand of a tall fair girl, formerly
a saleswoman at the Louvre, but since gone wrong: the maneuver was
very simple, he affected to try some gloves on her, waited till she
had padded herself, and then conducted her to the paydesk, where she
paid for a single pair only. Mouret happened to be there, just at that
moment. As a rule, he preferred not to mix himself up with these sort
of adventures, which were pretty frequent; for notwithstanding the
regular working of the well-arranged machine, great disorder reigned
in certain departments of The Ladies' Paradise, and scarcely a week
passed without some employee being dismissed for theft. The authorities
preferred to hush up such matters as far as possible, considering it
useless to set the police at work, and thus expose one of the fatal
plague-spots of these great bazaars. But, that day, Mouret felt a real
need of getting angry with someone, and he treated the handsome Mignot
with such violence, and the latter stood there trembling with fear, his
face pale and discomposed.

"I ought to call a policeman," cried Mouret, before all the other
salesmen. "But why don't you answer? who is this woman? I swear I'll
send for the police, if you don't tell me the truth."

They had taken the woman away, and two saleswomen were undressing her.
Mignot stammered out: "I don't know her, sir. She's the one who came."

"Don't tell lies!" interrupted Mouret, in a violent rage. "And there's
nobody here to warn us! You are all in the plot, on my word! We are in
a regular wood, robbed, pillaged, plundered. It's enough to make us
have the pockets of each one searched before going out!"

Murmurs were heard. The three or four customers buying gloves stood
looking on, frightened.

"Silence!" resumed he, furiously, "or I'll clear the place!"

But Bourdoncle came running up, anxious at the idea of the scandal.
He whispered a few words in Mouret's ear, the affair was assuming an
exceptional gravity; and he prevailed on him to take Mignot into the
inspectors' office, a room on the ground floor near the entrance in the
Rue Gaillon. The woman was there, quietly putting on her stays again.
She had just mentioned Albert Lhomme's name. Mignot, again questioned,
lost his head, and commenced to sob; he wasn't in fault, it was Albert
who sent him his mistresses; at first he had merely afforded them
certain advantages, enabling them to profit by the bargains; then,
when they at last took to stealing, he was already too far compromised
to report the matter. The principals now discovered a series of
extraordinary robberies; goods taken away by girls, who went into
the neighboring W.Cs, built near the refreshment bar and surrounded
by evergreen plants, to hide the goods under their petticoats;
purchases that a salesman neglected to call out at a pay-desk, when he
accompanied a customer there, the price of which he divided with the
cashier; even down to false returns, articles which they announced as
brought back to the house, pocketing the money thus repaid; without
even mentioning the classical robbery, parcels taken out under their
coats in the evening, rolled round their bodies, and sometimes even
hung down their legs. For the last fourteen months, thanks to Mignot
and other salesmen, no doubt, whom they refused to name, this pilfering
had been going on at Albert's desk, quite an impudent trade, for sums
of which no one ever knew the exact total.

Meanwhile the news had spread into the various departments, causing the
guilty consciences to tremble, and the most honest ones to quake at the
general sweep that seemed imminent. Albert had disappeared into the
inspectors' office. Next his father had passed, choking, his face full
of blood, showing signs of apoplexy. Madame Aurélie herself was then
called; and she, her head high beneath the affront, had the fat, puffed
up appearance of a wax mask. The explanation lasted some time, no one
knew the exact details; but it was said the firsthand had slapped her
son's face, and that the worthy old father wept, whilst the governor,
contrary to all his elegant habits, swore like a trooper, absolutely
wanting to deliver the offenders up to justice. However, the scandal
was hushed up. Mignot was the only one dismissed there and then. Albert
did not disappear till two days later; no doubt his mother had begged
that the family should not be dishonored by an immediate execution.
But the panic lasted several days longer, for after this scene Mouret
had wandered from one end of the establishment to the other, with a
terrible expression, venting his anger on all those who dared even to
raise their eyes.

"What are you doing there, sir, looking at the flies? Go and be paid!"

At last, the storm burst one day on the head of Hutin himself. Favier,
appointed second-hand, was undermining the first-hand, in order to
dislodge him from his position. This was always the way; he addressed
crafty reports to the directors, taking advantage of every occasion to
have the first-hand caught doing something wrong. Thus, one morning, as
Mouret was going through the silk department, he stopped, surprised to
see Favier engaged in altering the price tickets of a stock of black
velvet.

"Why are you lowering the prices?" asked he. "Who gave you the order to
do so?"

The second-hand, who was making a great noise over this work, as if
he wished to attract the governor's attention, foreseeing the result,
replied with an innocent, surprised air: "Why, Monsieur Hutin told me,
sir."

"Monsieur Hutin! Where is Monsieur Hutin?"

And when the latter came upstairs, called by a salesman, an animated
explanation ensued. What! he undertook to lower the prices himself now!
But he appeared greatly astonished in his turn, having merely talked
over the matter with Favier, without giving any positive orders. The
latter then assumed the sorrowful air of an employee who finds himself
obliged to contradict his superior. However, he was quite willing to
accept the blame, if it would get the latter out of a scrape. Things
began to look very bad.

"Understand, Monsieur Hutin!" cried Mouret, "I have never tolerated
these attempts at independence. We alone decide about the prices."

He continued, with a sharp voice, and wounding intentions, which
surprised the salesmen, for as a rule these discussions were
carried on quietly, and the case might really have resulted from a
misunderstanding. One could feel he had some unavowed spite to satisfy.
He had at last caught that Hutin at fault, that Hutin who was said to
be Denise's lover! He could now solace himself, by making him feel
that he was the master! And he exaggerated matters, even insinuating
that this reduction of price appeared to conceal very questionable
intentions.

"Sir," repeated Hutin, "I meant to consult you about it. It is really
necessary, as you know, for these velvets have not succeeded."

Mouret cut him short with a final insult. "Very good, sir; we will look
into the matter. But don't do such a thing again, if you value your
place."

And he walked off. Hutin, bewildered, furious, finding no one but
Favier to confide in, swore he would go and throw his resignation at
the brute's head. But he soon left off talking of going away, and began
to stir up all the abominable accusations which were current amongst
the salesmen against their chiefs. And Favier, his eye sparkling,
defended himself with a great show of sympathy. He was obliged to
reply, wasn't he? Besides, could anyone have foreseen such a row for so
trifling a matter? What had come to the governor lately, that he should
be so unbearable?

"We all know what's the matter with him," replied Hutin, "Is it my
fault if that little jade in the dress-department is turning his head?
My dear fellow, you can see the blow comes from there. He's aware I've
slept with her, and he doesn't like it; or perhaps it's she herself who
wants to get me pitched out, because I'm in her way. But I swear she
shall hear from me, if ever she crosses my path."

Two days after, as Hutin was going up into the work-room, upstairs,
under the roof, to recommend a person, he started on perceiving at
the end of a passage Denise and Deloche leaning out of a window, and
plunged so deeply in private conversation that they did not even turn
round. The idea of having them caught occurred to him suddenly, when he
perceived with astonishment that Deloche was weeping. He at once went
away without making any noise; and meeting Bourdoncle and Jouve on the
stairs, told them some story about one of the extincteurs the door of
which seemed to be broken; in this way they would go upstairs and drop
on to the two others. Bourdoncle discovered them first. He stopped
short, and told Jouve to go and fetch the governor, whilst he remained
there. The inspector had to obey, greatly annoyed at being forced to
compromise himself in such a matter.

This was a lost corner of the vast world in which the people of The
Ladies' Paradise worked. One arrived there by a complication of
stairs and passages. The work-rooms occupied the top of the house, a
succession of low sloping rooms, lighted by large windows cut in the
zinc roof, furnished solely with long tables and enormous iron stoves;
and right along were a crowd of work-girls of all sorts, for the
under-clothing, the lace, the dressmaking, and the house furnishing;
living winter and summer in a stifling heat, amidst the odor special to
the business; and one had to go straight through the wing, and turn to
the right on passing the dressmakers, before coming to this solitary
end of the corridor. The rare customers, that a salesman occasionally
brought here for an order, gasped for breath, tired out, frightened,
with the sensation of having been turning round for hours and hours,
and of being a hundred leagues above the street.

Denise had often found Deloche waiting for her. As secondhand she had
charge of the arrangements between her department and the work-room
where only the models and alterations were done, and was always going
up and down to give the necessary orders. He watched for her, inventing
any pretext to run after her; then he affected to be surprised when
he met her at the work-room door. She got to laugh about the matter,
it became quite an understood thing. The corridor ran alongside the
cistern, an enormous iron tank containing twelve thousand gallons of
water; and there was another one of equal size on the roof, reached by
an iron ladder. For an instant, Deloche would stand talking, leaning
with one shoulder against the cistern in the continual abandonment
of his long body, bent with fatigue. The noise of the water was
heard, a mysterious noise of which the iron tank ever retained the
musical vibration. Notwithstanding the deep silence, Denise would turn
round anxiously, thinking she had seen a shadow pass on the bare,
yellow-painted walls. But the window would soon attract them, they
would lean out, and forget themselves in a pleasant gossip, in endless
souvenirs of their native place. Below them, extended the immense glass
roof of the central gallery, a lake of glass bounded by the distant
housetops, like a rocky coast. Beyond, they saw nothing but the sky, a
sheet of sky, which reflected in the sleeping water of the glazed work
the flight of its clouds and the tender blue of its azure.

It so happened that Deloche was speaking of Valognes that day. "I was
six years old; my mother took me to Valognes market in a cart. You know
it's ten miles away; we had to leave Bricquebec at five o'clock. It's a
fine country down our way. Do you know it?"

"Yes, yes," replied Denise, slowly, her looks lost in the distance.
"I was there once, but was very little then. Nice roads with grass on
each side, aren't there? and now and again sheep browsing in couples,
dragging their clog along by the rope." She stopped, then resumed
with a vague smile: "Our roads run as straight as an arrow for miles
between rows of trees which afford a lot of shade. We have meadows
surrounded with hedges taller than I am, where there are horses and
cows feeding. We have a little river, and the water is very cold, under
the brushwood, in a spot I know well."

"It is the same with us, exactly!" cried Deloche, delighted. "There's
grass everywhere, each one encloses his plot with thorns and elms, and
is at once at home; and it's quite green, a green far different to what
we see in Paris. Dear me! what fun I've had at the bottom of the road,
to the left, coming down from the mill!"

And their voices died away, they stopped with their eyes fixed and lost
on the sunny lake of the glazed work. A mirage rose up before them from
this blinding water, they saw an endless succession of meadows, the
Cotentin bathed in the balmy breath of the ocean, a luminous vapor,
which melted the horizon into a delicate pearly grey. Below, under the
colossal iron framework, in the silk hall, roared the business, the
trepidation of the machine at work; the entire house vibrated with the
trampling of the crowd, the bustle of the shopmen, and the life of the
thirty thousand persons elbowing each other there; and they, carried
away by their dreams, on feeling this profound and dull clamor with
which the roofs were resounding, thought they heard the wind passing
over the grass, shaking the tall trees.

"Ah! Mademoiselle Denise," stammered Deloche, "why aren't you kinder to
me? I love you so much!" Tears had come into his eyes, and as she tried
to interrupt him with a gesture, he continued quickly: "No—let me tell
you these things once more. We should get on so well together! People
always find something to talk about when they come from the same place."

He was choking, and she at last managed to say kindly: "You're not
reasonable; you promised me never to speak of that again. It's
impossible. I have a good friendship for you, because you're a nice
fellow; but I wish to remain free."

"Yes, yes. I know it," replied he in a broken voice, "you don't love
me. Oh! you may say so, I quite understand it. There's nothing in me to
make you love me. Listen, I've only had one sweet moment in my life,
and that was when I met you at Joinville, do you remember? For a moment
under the trees, when it was so dark, I thought your arm trembled, and
was stupid enough to imagine. If—"

But she again interrupted him. Her quick ear had just caught
Bourdoncle's and Jouve's steps at the end of the corridor.

"Hark, there's someone coming."

"No," said he, preventing her leaving the window, "it's in the cistern:
all sorts of extraordinary noises come up from it, as if there were
someone inside."

And he continued his timid, caressing complaints. She was no longer
listening to him, rocked into dreamland by this declaration of love,
her looks wandering over the roofs of The Ladies' Paradise. To the
right and the left of the glazed gallery, other galleries, other halls,
were glistening in the sun, between the tops of the houses, pierced
with windows and running along symmetrically, like the wings of a
barracks. Immense metallic works rose up, ladders, bridges, describing
a lacework of iron in the air; whilst the kitchen chimneys threw out an
immense volume of smoke like a factory, and the great square cistern,
supported in the air on wrought-iron pillars, assumed a strange,
barbarous profile, hoisted up to this height by the pride of one man.
In the distance, Paris was roaring.

When Denise returned from this dreamy state, from this fanciful
development of The Ladies' Paradise, in which her thoughts floated as
in a vast solitude, she found that Deloche had seized her hand. And he
appeared so woe-begone, so full of grief, that she had not the heart to
draw it away.

"Forgive me," he murmured. "It's all over now; I should be quite
too miserable if you punished me by withdrawing your friendship. I
assure you I intended to say something else. Yes, I had determined to
understand the situation and be very good." His tears again began to
flow, he tried to steady his voice. "For I know my lot in life. It is
too late for my luck to turn. Beaten at home, beaten in Paris, beaten
everywhere. I've now been here four years and am still the last in the
department. So I wanted to tell you not to trouble on my account. I
won't annoy you any longer. Try to be happy, love someone else; yes,
that would really be a pleasure for me. If you are happy, I shall be
also. That will be my happiness."

He could say no more. As if to seal his promise he raised the young
girl's hand to his lips—kissing it with the humble kiss of a slave.
She was deeply affected, and said simply, in a tender, sisterly tone,
which attenuated somewhat the pity of the words:

"My poor boy!"

But they started, and turned round; Mouret was standing before them.

For the last ten minutes, Jouve had been searching for the governor all
over the place; but the latter was looking at the works going on for
the new façade in the Rue du Dix-Décembre. He spent long hours there
every day, trying to interest himself in this work, of which he had
so long dreamed. This was his refuge against his torments, amidst the
masons laying the immense corner-stones, and the engineers setting up
the great iron framework. The façade already appeared above the level
of the street, indicating the vast porch, and the windows of the first
storey, a palace-like development in its crude state. He scaled the
ladders, discussing with the architect the ornamentation which was to
be something quite new, scrambled over the heaps of brick and iron, and
even went down into the cellar; and the roar of the steam-engine, the
tic-tac of the trowels, the noise of the hammers, the clamor of this
people of workmen, all over this immense cage surrounded by sonorous
planks, really distracted him for an instant. He came out white with
plaster, black with iron-filings, his feet splashed by the water from
the pumps, his pain so far from being cured that his anguish returned
and his heart beat stronger than ever, as the noise of the works died
away behind him. It so happened, on the day in question, a slight
distraction had restored him his gaiety, and he was deeply interested
in an album of drawings of the mosaics and enamelled terra-cottas
which were to decorate the friezes, when Jouve came up to fetch him,
out of breath, annoyed at being obliged to dirty his coat amongst all
this building material. At first Mouret had cried out that they must
wait; then, at a word spoken in a low tone by the inspector, he had
immediately followed him, shivering, a prey again to his passion.
Nothing else existed, the façade crumbled away before being built; what
was the use of this supreme triumph of his pride, if the simple name of
a woman whispered in his ear tortured him to this extent.

Upstairs, Bourdoncle and Jouve thought it prudent to vanish. Deloche
had already run away, Denise alone remained to face Mouret, paler than
usual, but looking straight into his eyes.

"Have the kindness to follow me, mademoiselle," said he in a harsh
voice.

She followed him, they descended the two storeys, and crossed the
furniture and carpet departments without saying a word. When he arrived
at his office, he opened the door wide, saying, "Walk in, mademoiselle."

And, closing the door, he went to his desk. The new director's office
was fitted up more luxuriously than the old one, the reps hangings had
been replaced by velvet ones, and a book-case, incrusted with ivory,
occupied one whole side; but on the walls there was still no picture
but the portrait of Madame Hédouin, a young woman with a handsome calm
face, smiling in its gold frame.

"Mademoiselle," said he at last, trying to maintain a cold, severe air,
"there are certain things that we cannot tolerate. Good conduct is
absolutely necessary here."

He stopped, choosing his words, in order not to yield to the furious
anger which was rising up within him. What! she loved this fellow,
this miserable salesman, the laughingstock of his counter! and it was
the humblest, the most awkward of all that she preferred to him, the
master! for he had seen them, she leaving her hand in his, and he
covering that hand with kisses.

"I've been very good to you, mademoiselle," continued he, making a
fresh effort. "I little expected to be rewarded in this way."

Denise, immediately on entering, had been attracted by Madame
Hédouin's portrait; and, notwithstanding her great trouble, was still
pre-occupied by it. Every time she came into the director's office her
eyes were sure to meet those of this lady. She felt almost afraid of
her, although she knew her to have been very good. This time, she felt
her to be a protection.

"You are right, sir," he said, softly, "I was wrong to stop and talk,
and I beg your pardon for doing so. This young man comes from my part
of the country."

"I'll dismiss him!" cried Mouret, putting all his suffering into this
furious cry.

And, completely overcome, entirely forgetting his position as a
director lecturing a saleswoman guilty of an infraction of the rules,
he broke out into a torrent of violent words. Had she no shame in
her? a young girl like her abandoning herself to such a being! and he
even made most atrocious accusations, introducing Hutin's name into
the affair, and then others, in such a flood of words, that she could
not even defend herself. But he would make a clean sweep, and kick
them all out. The severe explanation he had promised himself, when
following Jouve, had degenerated into the shameful violence of a scene
of jealousy.

"Yes, your lovers! They told me about it, and I was stupid enough to
doubt it. But I was the only one! I was the only one!"

Denise, suffocating, bewildered, stood listening to these frightful
charges, which she had not at first understood. Did he really suppose
her to be as bad as this? At another remark, harsher than all the rest,
she silently turned towards the door. And, in reply to a movement he
made to stop her, said:

"Let me alone, sir, I'm going away. If you think me what you say. I
will not remain in the house another second."

But be rushed in front of the door, exclaiming: "Why don't you defend
yourself'? Say something!"

She stood there very stiff, maintaining an icy silence. For a long
time he pressed her with questions, with a growing anxiety; and the
mute dignity of this innocent girl once more appeared to be the artful
calculation of a woman learned in all the tactics of passion. She could
not have played a game better calculated to bring him to her feet,
tortured by doubt, desirous of being convinced.

"Come, you say he is from your part of the country? Perhaps you've met
there formerly. Swear that there has been nothing between you and this
fellow."

And as she obstinately remained silent, as if still wishing to open the
door and go away, he completely lost his head, and broke out into a
supreme explosion of grief.

"Good heavens! I love you! I love you! Why do you delight in tormenting
me like this? You can see that nothing else exists, that the people of
whom I speak only touch me through you, and you alone can occupy my
thoughts. Thinking you were jealous, I gave up all my pleasures. You
were told I had mistresses; well! I have them no longer; I hardly set
foot outside. Did I not prefer you at that lady's house? have I not
broken with her to belong solely to you? And I am still waiting for
a word of thanks, a little gratitude. And if you fear that I should
return to her, you may feel quite easy: she is avenging herself by
helping one of our former salesmen to found a rival establishment. Tell
me, must I go on my knees to touch your heart?"

He had come to this. He, who did not tolerate the slightest peccadillo
with the shopwomen, who turned them out for the least caprice, found
himself reduced to imploring one of them not to go away, not to abandon
him in his misery. He held the door against her, ready to forgive her
everything, to shut his eyes, if she merely deigned to lie. And it was
true, he had got thoroughly sick of girls picked up at theatres and
night-houses; he had long since given up Clara and now ceased to visit
at Madame Desforges's house, where Bouthemont reigned supreme, while
waiting for the opening of the new shop, The Four Seasons, which was
already filling the newspapers with its advertisements.

"Must I go on my knees?" repeated he, almost choked by suppressed tears.

She stopped him, herself quite unable to conceal her emotion, deeply
affected by this suffering passion. "You are wrong, sir, to agitate
yourself in this way," replied she, at last. "I assure you that all
these wicked reports are untrue. This poor fellow you have just seen is
no more guilty than I am."

She said this with her brave, frank air, looking with her bright eyes
straight into his face.

"Very good, I believe you," murmured he. "I'll not dismiss any of your
comrades, since you take all these people under your protection. But
why, then, do you repulse me, if you love no one else?"

A sudden constraint, an anxious bashfulness seized the young girl.

"You love someone, don't you?" resumed he, in a trembling voice. "Oh!
you may speak out; I have no claim on your affections. Do you love
anyone?"

She turned very red, her heart was in her mouth, and she felt all
falsehood impossible before this emotion which was betraying her, this
repugnance for a lie which made the truth appear in her face in spite
of all.

"Yes," she at last confessed, feebly. "But I beg you to let me go away,
sir, you are torturing me."

She was now suffering in her turn. Was it not enough to have to
defend herself against him? Was she to be obliged to fight against
herself, against the breath of tenderness which sometimes took away
all her courage? When he spoke to her thus, when she saw him so full
of emotion, so overcome, she hardly knew why she still refused; and
it was only afterwards that she found, in the depths of her healthy,
girlish nature, the pride and the prudence which maintained her intact
in her virtuous resolution. It was by a sort of instinct of happiness
that she still remained so obstinate, to satisfy her need of a quiet
life, and not from any idea of virtue. She would have fallen into this
man's arms, her heart seduced, her flesh overpowered if she had not
experienced a sort of revolt, almost a feeling of repulsion before the
definite bestowal of her being, ignorant of her future fate. The lover
made her afraid, inspiring her with that fear that all women feel at
the approach of the male.

Mouret gave way to a gesture of gloomy discouragement. He could not
understand her. He turned towards his desk, took up some papers and
then laid them down again, saying: "I will retain you no longer,
mademoiselle; I cannot keep you against your will."

"But I don't wish to go away," replied she, smiling. "If you believe me
to be innocent, I will remain. One ought always to believe a woman to
be virtuous, sir. There are numbers who are so, I assure you."

Denise's eyes had involuntarily wandered towards Madame Hédouin's
portrait: that lady so wise and so beautiful, whose blood, they said,
had brought good fortune to the house. Mouret followed the young girl's
look with a start, for he thought he heard his dead wife pronounce this
phrase, one of her own sayings which he at once recognized. And it was
like a resurrection, he discovered in Denise the good sense, the just
equilibrium of her he had lost, even down to the gentle voice, sparing
of useless words. He was struck by this resemblance, which rendered him
sadder still.

"You know I am yours," murmured he in conclusion. "Do what you like
with me."

Then she resumed gaily: "That is right, sir. The advice of a woman,
however humble she may be, is always worth listening to when she has a
little intelligence. If you put yourself in my hands, be sure I'll make
nothing but a good man of you!"

She smiled, with that simple unassuming air which had such a charm. He
also smiled in a feeble way, and escorted her as far as the door, as he
would a lady.

The next day Denise was appointed first-hand. The dress and costume
department was divided, the management creating especially for her one
for children's costumes, which was installed close to the ready-made
one. Since her son's dismissal, Madame Aurélie had been trembling, for
she found the directors getting cool towards her, and saw the young
girl's power increasing daily. Would they not shortly sacrifice her in
favor of this latter, by taking advantage of the first pretext? Her
emperor's mask, puffed up with fat, seemed to have got thinner from the
shame which now stained the whole Lhomme dynasty; and she made a show
of going away every evening on her husband's arm, for they were brought
nearer together by misfortune, and felt vaguely that the evil came from
the disorder of their home; whilst the poor old man, more affected than
her, in a sickly fear of being himself suspected of robbery, counted
over the receipts, again and again, noisily, performing miracles with
his amputated arm. So that, when she saw Denise appointed first-hand
in the children's costume department, she experienced such joy that
she paraded the most affectionate feeling towards the young girl,
really grateful to her for not having taken her place away. And she
overwhelmed her with attentions, treating her as an equal, often going
to talk to her in the neighboring department, with a stately air, like
a queen-mother paying a visit to a young queen.

In fact, Denise was now at the summit. Her appointment as first-hand
had destroyed the last resistance. If some still babbled, from that
itching of the tongue which ravages every assemblage of men and women,
they bowed very low before her face. Marguerite, now second-hand,
was full of praise for her. Clara, herself, inspired with a secret
respect before this good fortune, which she felt herself incapable of
achieving, had bowed her head. But Denise's victory was more complete
still over the gentlemen; over Jouve, who now bent almost double
whenever he addressed her; over Hutin, seized with anxiety on feeling
his position giving way under him; and over Bourdoncle, reduced at last
to powerlessness. When the latter saw her coming out of the director's
office, smiling, with her quiet air, and that the next day Mouret had
insisted on the board creating this new department, he had yielded,
vanquished by a sacred terror of woman. He had always given in thus
before Mouret, recognizing him to be his master, notwithstanding his
escapades and his idiotic love affairs. This time the woman had proved
the stronger, and he was expecting to be swept away by the disaster.

However, Denise bore her triumph in a peaceable, charming manner,
happy at these marks of consideration, even affecting to see in them
a sympathy for the miseries of her debut and the final success of her
patient courage. Thus she received with a laughing joy the slightest
marks of friendship, and this caused her to be really loved by some,
she was so kind, sympathetic, and full of affection. The only person
for whom she still showed an invincible repugnance was Clara, having
learned that this girl had amused herself by taking Colomban home with
her one night as she had said she would do for a joke; and he, carried
away by his passion, was becoming more dissipated every day, whilst
poor Geneviève was slowly dying. The adventure was talked of at The
Ladies' Paradise, and thought very droll.

But this trouble, the only one she had outside, did not in any way
change Denise's equable temper. It was especially in her department
that she was seen at her best, in the midst of her little world of
babies of all ages. She was passionately fond of children, and she
could not have been placed in a better position. Sometimes there were
fully fifty girls and as many boys there, quite a turbulent school, let
loose in their growing coquettish desires. The mothers completely lost
their heads. She, conciliating, smiling, had the little ones placed in
a line, on chairs; and when there happened to be amongst the number a
rosy-cheeked little angel, whose pretty face tempted her, she would
insist on serving her herself, bringing the dress and trying it on
the child's dimpled shoulders, with the tender precaution of an elder
sister. There were fits of laughter, cries of joy, amidst the scolding
voices of the mothers. Sometimes a little girl, already a grand lady,
nine or ten years old, having a cloth jacket to try on, would stand
studying it before a glass, turning round, with an absorbed air, her
eyes sparkling with a desire to please. The counters were encumbered
with the things unpacked, dresses in pink and blue Asian linen for
children of from one to five years, blue sailor costumes, with plaited
skirt and blouse, trimmed with fine cambric muslin, Louis XV. costumes,
mantles, jackets, a pell-mell of narrow garments, stiffened in their
infantine grace, something like the cloak-room of a regiment of big
dolls, taken out of the wardrobes and given up to pillage. Denise
had always a few sweets in her pockets, to appease the tears of some
youngster in despair at not being able to carry off a pair of red
trousers; and she lived there amongst these little ones as in her own
family, feeling quite young again herself from the contact of all this
innocence and freshness incessantly renewed around her skirts.

She now had frequent friendly conversations with Mouret. When she went
to the office to take orders and furnish information, he kept her
talking, enjoying the sound of her voice. It was what she laughingly
called "making a good man of him." In her prudent, cautious Norman head
there sprang up all sorts of projects, ideas about the new business
which she had already ventured to hint at when at Robineau's, and
some of which she had expressed on the evening of their walk in the
Tuileries gardens. She could not be occupied in any matter, see any
work going on, without being moved with a desire to introduce some
improvement in the mechanism. Then, since her entry into The Ladies'
Paradise, she was especially pained by the precarious position of
the employees; the sudden dismissals shocked her, she thought them
iniquitous and stupid, hurtful to all, to the house as much as to
the staff. Her former sufferings were still fresh in her mind, and
her heart was seized with pity every time she saw a new comer, her
feet bruised, her eyes dim with tears, dragging herself along in her
misery in her silk dress, amidst the spiteful persecution of the old
hands. This dog's life made the best of them bad; and the sad work of
destruction commenced: all eaten up by the trade before the age of
forty, disappearing, falling into unknown places, a great many dying
in harness, some of consumption and exhaustion, others of fatigue and
bad air, a few thrown on the street, the happiest married, buried in
some little provincial shop. Was it humane, was it just, this frightful
consumption of human life that the big shops carried on every year? And
she pleaded the cause of the wheel-work of the colossal machine, not
from any sentimental reasons, but by arguments appealing to the very
interests of the employers. To make a machine solid and strong, it is
necessary to use good iron; if the iron breaks or is broken, there is a
stoppage of work, repeated expenses of starting, quite a loss of power.

Sometimes she would become quite animated, she would picture an immense
ideal bazaar, the phalansterium of modern commerce, in which each one
should have his exact share of the profits, according to his merits,
with the certainty of the future, assured to him by a contract. Mouret
would feel amused at this, notwithstanding his fever. He accused her of
socialism, embarrassed her by pointing out the difficulties of carrying
out these schemes; for she spoke in the simplicity of her soul, bravely
trusting in the future, when she perceived a dangerous hole underlying
her tender-hearted plans. He was, however, shaken, captivated by this
young voice, still trembling from the evils endured, so convinced and
earnest in pointing out the reforms which would tend to consolidate the
house; yet he listened while joking with her; the salesmen's position
gradually improved, the wholesale dismissals were replaced by a system
of holidays granted during the dead seasons, and there was also about
to be created a sort of benefit club which would protect the employees
against bad times and ensure them a pension. It was the embryo of the
vast trades' unions of the twentieth century.

Denise did not confine her attention solely to healing the wounds from
which she had herself bled; she conceived various delicate feminine
ideas, which, communicated to Mouret, delighted the customers. She also
caused Lhomme's happiness by supporting a scheme he had long nourished,
that of creating a band of music, in which all the executants should be
chosen from amongst the staff. Three months later Lhomme had a hundred
and twenty musicians under his direction, the dream of his whole life
was realized. And a grand fête was given on the premises, a concert and
a ball, to introduce the band of The Ladies' Paradise to the customers
and the whole world. The newspapers took the matter up, Bourdoncle
himself, frightened by these innovations, was obliged to bow before
this immense advertisement. Afterwards, a recreation room for the men
was established, with two billiard tables and backgammon and chess
boards. Then classes were held in the house of an evening; there were
lessons in English and German, in grammar, arithmetic, and geography;
they even had lessons in riding and fencing. A library was formed, ten
thousand volumes were placed at the disposal of the employees. And a
resident doctor giving consultations gratis was also added, together
with baths, and hair-dressing and refreshment saloons. Every want in
life was provided for, everything was to be obtained without going
outside—board, lodging, and clothing. The Ladies' Paradise sufficed
entirely for all its own wants and pleasures, in the very heart of
Paris, taken up by all this clatter, by this working city which was
springing up so vigorously out of the ruins of the old streets, at last
opened to the rays of the sun.

Then a fresh movement of opinion took place in Denise's favor. As
Bourdoncle, vanquished, repeated with despair to his friends that he
would give a great deal to put Denise into Mouret's arms himself, it
was concluded that she had not yielded, that her all-powerfulness
resulted from her refusal. From that moment she became immensely
popular. They knew for what indulgences they were indebted to her, and
they admired her for the force of her will. There was one, at least,
who could master the governor, who avenged all the others, and knew
how to get something else besides promises out of him! So she had come
at last, she who was to make him treat the poor devils with a little
respect! When she went through the shop, with her delicate, self-willed
head, her tender, invincible air, the salesmen smiled at her, were
proud of her, and would willingly have exhibited her to the crowd.
Denise, in her happiness, allowed herself to be carried along by this
increasing sympathy. Was it all possible? She saw herself arrive in
a poor dress, frightened, lost amidst the mechanism of the terrible
machine; for a long time she had had the sensation of being nothing,
hardly a grain of seed beneath these millstones which were crushing a
whole world; and now today she was the very soul of this world, she
alone was of consequence, able at a word to increase or slacken the
pace of the colossus lying at her feet. And yet she had not wished for
these things, she had simply presented herself, without calculation,
with the sole charm of her sweetness. Her sovereignty sometimes caused
her an uneasy surprise; why did they all obey her? she was not pretty,
she did nothing wrong. Then she smiled, her heart at rest, feeling
within herself nothing but goodness and prudence, a love of truth and
logic which constituted all her strength.

One of Denise's greatest joys was to be able to assist Pauline. The
latter, being about to become a mother, was trembling, aware that
two other saleswomen in the same condition had been sent away. The
principals did not tolerate these accidents, maternity being suppressed
as cumbersome and indecent; they occasionally allowed marriage, but
would admit of no children. Pauline had, it was true, her husband in
the house; but still she felt anxious, it being almost impossible for
her to appear at the counter; and in order to postpone a probable
dismissal, she laced herself very tightly, resolved to conceal her
state as long as she could. One of the two saleswomen who had been
dismissed, had just been delivered of a still-born child, through
having laced herself up in this way; and it was not certain that
she herself would recover. Meanwhile, Bourdoncle had observed that
Pauline's complexion was getting very livid, and that she had a
painfully stiff way of walking. One morning he was standing near her,
in the under-linen department, when a messenger, taking away a bundle,
ran up against her with such force that she cried out with pain.
Bourdoncle immediately took her on one side, made her confess, and
submitted the question of her dismissal to the board, under the pretext
that she stood in need of country air: the story of this accident
would spread, and would have a disastrous effect on the public if she
should have a miscarriage, as had already taken place in the baby linen
department the year before. Mouret, who was not at the meeting, could
only give his opinion in the evening. But Denise having had time to
interfere, he closed Bourdoncle's mouth, in the interest of the house
itself. Did they wish to frighten the heads of families and the young
mothers amongst their customers? And it was decided, with great pomp,
that every married saleswoman should, when in the family way, be sent
to a special midwife's as soon as her presence at the counter became
Offensive to the customers.

The next day when Denise went up into the infirmary to see Pauline,
who had been obliged to take to her bed on account of the blow she had
received, the latter kissed her violently on both cheeks. "How kind you
are! Had it not been for you I should have been turned away. Pray don't
be anxious about me, the doctor says its nothing."

Baugé, who had slipped away from his department, was also there, on
the other side of the bed. He likewise stammered his thanks, troubled
before Denise, whom he now treated as an important person, of a
superior class. Ah! if he heard any more nasty remarks about her, he
would soon close the mouths of the jealous ones! But Pauline sent him
away with a good-natured shrug of the shoulders.

"My poor darling, you're always saying something stupid. Leave us to
talk together."

The infirmary was a long, light room, containing twelve beds, with
their white curtains. Those who did not wish to go home to their
families were nursed here. But on the day in question, Pauline was the
only occupant, in a bed near one of the large windows which looked on
to the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. And they immediately commenced to
exchange whispered words, tender confidences, in the calm air, perfumed
with a vague odor of lavender.

"So he does just what you wish him to? How cruel you are, to make him
suffer so! Come, just explain it to me, now I've ventured to approach
the subject. Do you detest him?"

Pauline had retained hold of Denise's hand, as the latter sat near the
bed, with her elbow on the bolster; and overcome by a sudden emotion,
her cheeks invaded with color, she had a moment of weakness at this
direct and unexpected question. Her secret escaped her, she buried her
head in the pillow, murmuring:

"I love him!"

Pauline was astonished. "What! you love him? But it's very simple: say
yes."

Denise, her face still concealed, replied "No" by an energetic shake
of the head. And she did so, simply because she loved him, without
being able to explain the matter. No doubt it was ridiculous; but she
felt like that, she could not change her nature. Her friend's surprise
increased, and she at length asked: "So it's all to make him marry you?"

At this the young girl sprung up, quite confused: "Marry me! Oh! no!
Oh! I assure you that I have never wished for anything of the kind! No,
never has such an idea entered my head; and you know what a horror I
have of all falsehood!"

"Well, dear," resumed Pauline, kindly, "you couldn't have acted
otherwise, if such had been your intention. All this must come to an
end, and it is very certain that it can only finish by a marriage, as
you won't let it be otherwise. I must tell you that everyone has the
same idea; yes, they feel persuaded that you are riding the high horse,
in order to make him take you to church. Dear me! what a funny girl you
are!"

And she had to console Denise, who had again dropped her head on to the
bolster, sobbing, declaring that she would certainly go away, since
they attributed all sorts of things to her that had never crossed her
mind. No doubt, when a man loved a woman he ought to marry her. But she
asked for nothing, she had made no calculations, she simply begged to
be allowed to live quietly, with her joys and her sorrows, like other
people. She would go away.

At the same moment Mouret was going through the premises below. He
had wanted to forget his thoughts by visiting the works once more.
Several months had elapsed, the façade now reared its monumental lines
behind the vast hoardings which concealed it from the public. Quite an
army of decorators were at work: marble-cutters, mosaic-workers, and
others. The central group above the door was being gilded; whilst on
the acroteria were being fixed the pedestals destined to receive the
statues of the manufacturing cities of France. From morning to night,
in the Rue du Dix-Décembre, lately opened to the public, a crowd of
idlers stood gaping about, their noses in the air, seeing nothing,
but pre-occupied by the marvels that were related of this façade, the
inauguration of which was going to revolutionize Paris. And it was on
this feverish working-ground, amidst the artists putting the finishing
touches to the realization of his dream commenced by the masons,
that Mouret felt more bitterly than ever the vanity of his fortune.
The thought of Denise had suddenly arrested him, this thought which
incessantly pierced him with a flame, like the shooting of an incurable
pain. He had run away, unable to find a word of satisfaction, fearful
lest he should show his tears, leaving behind him the disgust of his
triumph. This façade, which was at last erected, seemed little in his
eyes, very much like one of those walls of sand that children build,
and it might have been extended from one end of the city to the other,
elevated to the starry sky, yet it would not have filled the emptiness
of his heart, that the "yes" of a mere child could alone fill.

When Mouret entered his office he was almost choking with sobs. What
did she want? He dared not offer her money now; and the confused idea
of a marriage presented itself amidst his young widower's revolts. And,
in the debility of his powerlessness, his tears began to flow. He was
very miserable.

CHAPTER XIII.

One morning in November, Denise was giving her first orders in the
department when the Baudus' servant came to tell her that Mademoiselle
Geneviève had passed a very bad night, and wished to see her cousin
immediately. For some time the young girl had been getting weaker and
weaker, and she had been obliged to take to her bed two days before.

"Say I am coming at once," replied Denise, very anxious.

The blow which was finishing Geneviève was Colomban's sudden
disappearance. At first, chaffed by Clara, he had stopped out several
nights; then, yielding to the mad desires of a quiet, chaste fellow, he
had become her obedient slave, and had not returned one Monday, but had
simply sent a farewell letter to Baudu, written in the studied terms of
a man about to commit suicide. Perhaps, at the bottom of this passion,
there was also the crafty calculation of a fellow delighted at escaping
a disastrous marriage. The draper's business was in as bad a way as his
betrothed; the moment was propitious to break with them through any
stupidity. And everyone cited him as an unfortunate victim of love.

When Denise arrived at The Old Elbeuf, Madame Baudu was there alone,
sitting motionless behind the pay-desk, with her small white face,
eaten up by anaemia, silent and quiet in the cold, deserted shop. There
were no assistants now. The servant dusted the shelves, and it was even
a question of replacing her by a charwoman. A dreary cold fell from the
ceiling, hours passed away without a customer coming to disturb this
silence, and the goods, no longer touched, became mustier and mustier
every day.

"What's the matter?" asked Denise, anxiously. "Is Geneviève in danger?"

Madame Baudu did not reply at first. Her eyes filled with tears. Then
she stammered: "I don't know; they don't tell me anything. Ah, it's all
over, it's all over."

And she cast a sombre glance around the dark old shop, as if she felt
her daughter and the shop disappearing together. The seventy thousand
francs, produce of the sale of their Rambouillet property, had melted
away in less than two years in this gulf of competition. In order to
struggle against The Ladies' Paradise, which now kept men's cloths
and materials for hunting and livery suits, the draper had made
considerable sacrifices. At last he had been definitely crushed by the
swanskin cloth and flannels sold by his rival, an assortment that had
not its equal in the market. Little by little his debts had increased,
and, as a last resource, he had resolved to mortgage the old building
in the Rue de la Michodière, where Finet, their ancestor, had founded
the business; and it was now only a question of days, the crumbling
away had commenced, the very ceilings seemed to be falling down and
turning into dust, like an old worm-eaten structure carried away by the
wind.

"Your uncle is upstairs," resumed Madame Baudu in her broken voice. "We
stay with her two hours each. Someone must look out here; oh! but only
as a precaution, for to tell the truth—"

Her gesture finished the phrase. They would have put the shutters up
had it not been for their old commercial pride, which still propped
them up in the presence of the neighborhood.

"Well, I'll go up, aunt," said Denise, whose heart was bleeding, amidst
this resigned despair that even the pieces of cloth themselves exhaled.

"Yes, go upstairs quick, my girl. She's waiting for you. She's been
asking for you all night. She has something to tell you."

But just at that moment Baudu came down. The rising bile gave his
yellow face a greenish tinge, and his eyes were bloodshot. He was still
walking with the muffled step with which he had quitted the sick room,
and murmured, as if he might be heard upstairs, "She's asleep."

And, thoroughly worn out, he sat down on a chair, wiping his forehead
with a mechanical gesture, puffing like a man who has just finished
some hard work. A silence ensued, but at last he said to Denise:
"You'll see her presently. When she is sleeping, she seems to me to be
all right again."

There was again a silence. Face to face, the father and mother stood
looking at each other. Then, in a half whisper, he went over his grief
again, naming no one, addressing no one directly: "My head on the
block, I wouldn't have believed it! He was the last one. I had brought
him up as a son. If anyone had come and said to me, 'They'll take him
away from you as well; he'll fall as well,' I would have replied,
'Impossible, it could not be.' And he has fallen all the same! Ah!
the scoundrel, he who was so well up in real business, who had all my
ideas! And all for a young monkey, one of those dummies that parade at
the windows of bad houses! No! really, it's enough to drive one mad!"

He shook his head, his eyes fell on the damp floor worn away by
generations of customers. Then he continued in a lower voice, "There
are moments when I feel myself the most culpable of all in our
misfortune. Yes, it's my fault if our poor girl is upstairs devoured
by fever. Ought not I to have married them at once, without yielding
to my stupid pride, my obstinacy in refusing to leave them the house
less prosperous than before? Had I done that she would now have the
man she loved, and perhaps their united youthful strength would have
accomplished the miracle that I have failed to work. But I am an old
fool, and saw through nothing; I didn't know that people fell ill over
such things. Really he was an extraordinary fellow: with such a gift
for business, and such probity, such simplicity of conduct, so orderly
in every way—in short, my pupil."

He raised his head, still defending his ideas, in the person of the
shopman who had betrayed him. Denise could not bear to hear him accuse
himself, and she told him so, carried away by her emotion, on seeing
him so humble, with his eyes full of tears, he who used formerly to
reign as absolute master.

"Uncle, pray don't apologize for him. He never loved Geneviève, he
would have run away sooner if you had tried to hasten the marriage. I
have spoken to him myself about it; he was perfectly well aware that my
cousin was suffering on his account, and you see that did not prevent
him leaving. Ask aunt."

Without opening her lips, Madame Baudu confirmed these words by a nod.
The draper turned paler still, blinded by his tears. He stammered out:
"It must be in the blood, his father died last year through having led
a dissolute life."

And he once more looked round the obscure shop, his eyes wandering from
the empty counters to the full shelves, then resting on Madame Baudu,
who was still at the pay-desk, waiting in vain for the customers who
did not come.

"Come," said he, "it's all over. They've ruined our business, and now
one of their hussies is killing our daughter."

No one spoke. The rolling of the vehicles, which occasionally shook
the floor, passed like a funereal beating of drums in the still air,
stifled under the low ceiling. Suddenly, amidst this gloomy sadness
of the old dying shop, could be heard several heavy knocks, struck
somewhere in the house. It was Geneviève, who had just awoke, and was
knocking with a stick they had left near her bed.

"Let's go up at once," said Baudu, rising with a start. "Try and be
cheerful, she mustn't know."

He himself rubbed his eyes to efface the trace of his tears. As soon as
he had opened the door, on the first storey, they heard a frightened,
feeble voice crying: "Oh, I don't like to be left alone. Don't leave
me; I'm afraid to be left alone." Then, when she perceived Denise,
Geneviève became calmer, and smiled joyfully. "You've come, then! How
I've been longing to see you since yesterday. I thought you also had
abandoned me!"

It was a piteous sight. The young girl's room looked out on to the
yard, a little room lighted by a livid light. At first her parents had
put her in their own room, in the front; but the sight of The Ladies'
Paradise opposite affected her so much, that they had been obliged to
bring her back to her own again. And there she lay, so very thin, under
the bed-clothes, that one hardly suspected the form and existence of
a human body. Her skinny arms, consumed by a burning fever, were in a
perpetual movement of anxious, unconscious searching; whilst her black
hair seemed thicker still, and to be eating up her poor face with
its voracious vitality, that face in which was agonizing the final
degenerateness of a family sprung up in the shade, in this cellar of
old commercial Paris. Denise, her heart bursting with pity, stood
looking at her. She did not at first speak, for fear of giving way to
tears. At last she murmured:

"I came at once. Can I be of any use to you? You asked for me. Would
you like me to stay?"

"No, thanks. I don't want anything. I only wanted to embrace you."

Tears filled her eyes. Denise quickly leant over, and kissed her on
both cheeks, trembling to feel on her lips the flame of those hollow
cheeks. But Geneviève, stretching out her arms, seized and kept her in
a desperate embrace. Then she looked towards her father.

"Would you like me to stay?" repeated Denise. "Perhaps there is
something I can do for you."

Geneviève's glance was still obstinately fixed on her father, who
remained standing, with a stolid air, almost choking. He at last
understood, and went away, without saying a word; and they heard his
heavy footstep on the stairs.

"Tell me, is he with that woman?" asked the sick girl immediately,
seizing her cousin's hand, and making her sit on the side of the bed.
"I want to know, and you are the only one can tell me. They're living
together, aren't they?"

Denise, surprised by these questions, stammered, and was obliged to
confess the truth, the rumors that were current in the shop. Clara,
tired of this fellow, who was getting a nuisance to her, had already
broken with him, and Colomban, desolated, was pursuing her everywhere,
trying to obtain a meeting from time to time, with a sort of canine
humility. They said that he was going to take a situation at the Grands
Magasins du Louvre.

"If you still love him, he may return," said Denise, to cheer the dying
girl with this last hope. "Get well quick, he will acknowledge his
errors, and marry you."

Geneviève interrupted her. She had listened with all her soul, with an
intense passion that raised her in the bed. But she fell back almost
immediately. "No, I know it's all over! I don't say anything, because
I see papa crying, and I don't wish to make mamma worse than she is.
But I am going, Denise, and if I called for you last night it was for
fear of going off before the morning. And to think that he is not happy
after all!"

And Denise having remonstrated, assuring her that she was not so
bad as all that, she cut her short again, suddenly throwing off the
bed-clothes with the chaste gesture of a virgin who has nothing to
conceal in death. Naked to the waist, she murmured: "Look at me! Is
it possible?"

Trembling, Denise quitted the side of the bed, as if she feared to
destroy this fearful nudity with a breath. It was the last of the
flesh, a bride's body used up by waiting, returned to the first
infantile slimness of her young days. Geneviève slowly covered herself
up again, saying: "You see I am no longer a woman. It would be wrong to
wish for him still!"

There was a silence. Both continued to look at each other, unable to
find a word to say. It was Geneviève who resumed: "Come, don't stay
any longer, you have your own affairs to look after. And thanks, I was
tormented by the wish to know, and am now satisfied. If you see him,
tell him I forgive him. Adieu, dear Denise. Kiss me once more, for it's
the last time."

The young girl kissed her, protesting: "No, no, don't despair, all you
want is loving care, nothing more."

But the sick girl, shaking her head in an obstinate way, smiled, quite
sure of what she said. And as her cousin was making for the door, she
exclaimed: "Wait a minute, knock with this stick, so that papa may come
up. I'm afraid to stay alone."

Then, when Baudu arrived in that small, gloomy room, where he spent
hours seated on a chair, she assumed an air of gaiety, saying to
Denise—"Don't come tomorrow, I would rather not. But on Sunday I shall
expect you; you can spend the afternoon with me."

The next morning, at six o'clock, Geneviève expired after four hours'
fearful agony. The funeral took place on a Saturday, a fearfully black,
gloomy day, under a sooty sky which hung over the shivering city.
The Old Elbeuf, hung with white linen, lighted up the street with a
bright spot, and the candles burning in the fading day seemed so many
stars drowned in the twilight. The coffin was covered with wreaths and
bouquets of white roses; it was a narrow child's coffin, placed in the
obscure passage of the house on a level with the pavement, so near the
gutter that the passing carriages had already splashed the coverings.
The whole neighborhood exhaled a dampness, a cellar-like moldy odor,
with its continual rush of pedestrians on the muddy pavement.

At nine o'clock Denise came over to stay with her aunt. But as the
funeral was starting, the latter—who had ceased weeping, her eyes
burnt with tears—begged her to follow the body and look after her
uncle, whose mute affliction and almost idiotic grief filled the family
with anxiety. Below, the young girl found the street full of people,
for the small traders in the neighborhood were anxious to show the
Baudus a mark of sympathy, and in this eagerness there was also a sort
of manifestation against The Ladies' Paradise, whom they accused of
causing Geneviève's slow agony. All the victims of the monster were
there—Bédoré and sister from the hosier's shop in the Rue Gaillon, the
furriers, Vanpouille Brothers, and Deslignières the toyman, and Piot
and Rivoire the furniture dealers; even Mademoiselle Tatin from the
underclothing shop, and the glover Quinette, long since cleared off
by bankruptcy, had made it a duty to come, the one from Batignolles,
the other from the Bastille, where they had been obliged to take
situations. Whilst waiting for the hearse, which was late, these
people, tramping about in the mud, cast glances of hatred towards The
Ladies' Paradise, the bright windows and gay displays of which seemed
an insult in face of The Old Elbeuf, which, with its funeral trappings
and glimmering candles, cast a gloom over the other side of the street.
A few curious faces appeared at the plate-glass windows; but the
colossus maintained the indifference of a machine going at full speed,
unconscious of the deaths it may cause on the road.

Denise looked round for her brother Jean, whom she at last perceived
standing before Bourras's shop, and she went and asked him to walk with
his uncle, to assist him if he could not get along. For the last few
weeks Jean had been very grave, as if tormented by some worry. Today,
buttoned up in his black frock-coat, a full grown man, earning his
twenty francs a day, he seemed so dignified and so sad that his sister
was surprised, for she had no idea he loved his cousin so much as that.
Desirous of sparing Pépé this needless grief, she had left him with
Madame Gras, intending to go and fetch him in the afternoon to see his
uncle and aunt.

The hearse had still not arrived, and Denise, greatly affected, was
watching the candles burn, when she was startled by a well-known voice
behind her. It was Bourras. He had called the chestnut-seller opposite,
in his little box, against the public-house, and said to him:

"I say, Vigouroux, just keep a look-out for me a bit, will you? You
see I've closed the door. If anyone comes tell them to call again. But
don't let that disturb you, no one will come."

Then he took his stand on the pavement, waiting like the others.
Denise, feeling rather awkward, glanced at his shop. He entirely
abandoned it now; there was nothing left but a disorderly array of
umbrellas eaten up by the damp air, and canes blackened by the gas. The
embellishments that he had made, the delicate green paint work, the
glasses, the gilded sign, were all cracking, already getting dirty,
presenting that rapid and lamentable decrepitude of false luxury laid
over ruins. But though the old crevices were reappearing, though the
spots of damp had sprung up over the gildings, the house still held its
ground obstinately, hanging on to the flanks of The Ladies' Paradise
like a dishonouring wart, which, although cracked and rotten, refused
to fall off.

"Ah! the scoundrels," growled Bourras, "they won't even let her be
carried away."

The hearse, which had at last arrived, had just got into collision with
one of The Ladies' Paradise vans, which was spinning along, shedding in
the mist its starry radiance, with the rapid trot of two superb horses.
And the old man cast on Denise an oblique glance, lighted up under his
bushy eyebrows. Slowly, the funeral started off, splashing through the
muddy pools, amid the silence of the omnibuses and carriages suddenly
pulled up. When the coffin, draped with white, crossed the Place
Gaillon, the sombre looks of the cortege were once more plunged into
the windows of the big shop, where two saleswomen alone had run up to
look on, pleased at this distraction. Baudu followed the hearse with
a heavy mechanical step, refusing by a sign the arm offered by Jean,
who was walking with him. Then, after a long string of people, came
three mourning coaches. As they passed the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs,
Robineau ran up to join the cortege, very pale, and looking much older.

At Saint-Roch, a great many women were waiting, the small traders
of the neighborhood, who had been afraid of the crowd at the house.
The manifestation was developing into quite a riot; and when, after
the service, the procession started off back, all the men followed,
although it was a long walk from the Rue Saint-Honoré to the Montmartre
Cemetery. They had to go up the Rue Saint-Roch, and once more pass The
Ladies' Paradise. It was a sort of obsession; this poor young girl's
body was paraded round the big shop like the first victim fallen in
time of revolution. At the door some red flannels were flapping like so
many flags, and a display of carpets blazed forth in a florescence of
enormous roses and full-blown peonies. Denise had got into one of the
coaches, being agitated by some smarting doubts, her heart oppressed
by such a feeling of grief that she had not the strength to walk. At
that moment there was a stop, in the Rue du Dix-Décembre, before the
scaffolding of the new façade which still obstructed the thoroughfare.
And the young girl observed old Bourras, left behind, dragging along
with difficulty, close to the wheels of the coach in which she was
riding alone. He would never get as far as the cemetery, she thought.
He raised his head, looked at her, and all at once got into the coach.

"It's my confounded knees," exclaimed he. "Don't draw back'! Is it you
that we detest?"

She felt him to be friendly and furious as in former days. He grumbled,
declared that Baudu must be fearfully strong to be able to keep up
after such blows as he had received. The procession had resumed its
slow pace; and on leaning out, Denise saw her uncle walking with his
heavy step, which seemed to regulate the rumbling and painful march of
the cortege. She then threw herself back into the corner, listening
to the endless complaints of the old umbrella maker, rocked by the
melancholy movement of the coach.

"The police ought to clear the public thoroughfare, my word! They've
been blocking up our street for the last eighteen months with the
scaffolding of their façade, where a man was killed the other day.
Never mind! When they want to enlarge further they'll have to throw
bridges over the street. They say there are now two thousand seven
hundred employees, and that the business will amount to a hundred
millions this year. A hundred millions! Just fancy, a hundred millions!"

Denise had nothing to say in reply. The procession had just turned
into the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, where it was stopped by a block
of vehicles. Bourras went on, with a vague expression in his eyes, as
if he were dreaming aloud. He still failed to understand the triumph
achieved by The Ladies' Paradise, but he acknowledged the defeat of the
old-fashioned traders.

"Poor Robineau's done for, he's got the face of a drowning man. And
the Bédorés and the Vanpouilles, they can't keep going; they're like
me, played out. Deslignières will die of apoplexy. Piot and Rivoire
have the yellow jaundice. Ah! we're a fine lot; a pretty cortege of
skeletons to follow the poor child. It must be comical for those
looking on to see this string of bankrupts pass. Besides, it appears
that the clean sweep is to continue. The scoundrels are creating
departments for flowers, bonnets, perfumery, shoemaking, all sorts of
things. Grognet, the perfumer in the Rue de Grammont, can clear out,
and I wouldn't give ten francs for Naud's shoeshop in the Rue d'Antin.
The cholera has spread as far as the Rue Sainte-Anne, where Lacassagne,
at the feather and flower shop, and Madame Chadeuil, whose bonnets are
so well-known, will be swept away before long. And after those, others;
it will still go on! All the businesses in the neighborhood will
suffer. When counter jumpers commence to sell soap and goloshes, they
are quite capable of dealing in fried potatoes. My word, the world is
turning upside down!"

The hearse was just then crossing the Place de la Trinité to ascend
the steep Rue Blanche, and from the corner of the gloomy coach Denise,
who, broken-hearted, was listening to the endless complaints of the old
man, could see the coffin as they issued from the Rue de la Chausseé
d'Antin. Behind her uncle, marching along with the blind, mute face of
an ox about to be poleaxed, she seemed to hear the tramping of a flock
of sheep led to the slaughter-house, the discomfiture of the shops of a
whole district, the small traders dragging along their ruin, with the
thud of damp shoes, through the muddy streets of Paris. Bourras still
went on, in a deeper voice, as if slackened by the difficult ascent of
the Rue Blanche.

"As for me. I am settled. But I still hold on all the same, and won't
let go. He's just lost his appeal case. Ah! that's cost me something,
what with nearly two years' pleading, and the solicitors and the
barristers! Never mind, he won't pass under my shop, the judges have
decided that such a work could not be considered as a legitimate case
of repairing. Fancy, he talked of creating underneath a light saloon
to judge the colors of the stuffs by gas-light, a subterranean room
which would have united the hosiery to the drapery department! And he
can't get over it; he can't swallow the fact that an old humbug like me
should stop his progress, when everybody are on their knees before his
money. Never! I won't! that's understood. Very likely I may be worsted.
Since I have had to go to the money-lenders, I know the villain is
looking after my paper, in the hope to play me some villainous trick,
no doubt. But that doesn't matter. He says "yes," and I say "no," and
shall still say "no," even when I get between two boards like this poor
little girl who has just been nailed up."

When they reached the Boulevard de Clichy, the coach went at a
quicker pace; one could hear the heavy breathing of the mourners, the
unconscious haste of the cortege, anxious to get the sad ceremony
over. What Bourras did not openly mention, was the frightful misery
into which he had fallen, bewildered amidst the confusion of the small
trader who is on the road to ruin and yet remains obstinate, under a
shower of protested bills. Denise, well acquainted with his situation,
at last interrupted the silence by saying, in a voice of entreaty:

"Monsieur Bourras, pray don't stand out any longer. Let me arrange
matters for you."

But he interrupted her with a violent gesture. "You be quiet. That's
nobody's business. You're a good little girl, and I know you lead him
a hard life, this man who thought you were for sale like my house. But
what would you answer if I advised you to say 'yes?' You'd send me
about my business. Therefore, when I say 'no,' don't you interfere in
the matter."

And the coach having stopped at the cemetery gate, he got out with the
young girl. The Baudus' vault was situated in the first alley on the
left. In a few minutes the ceremony was terminated. Jean had drawn
away his uncle, who was looking into the grave with a gaping air. The
mourners wandered about amongst the neighboring tombs, and the faces
of all these shopkeepers, their blood impoverished by living in their
unhealthy shops, assumed an ugly suffering look under the leaden sky.
When the coffin slipped gently down, their blotched and pimpled cheeks
paled, and their bleared eyes, blinded with figures, turned away.

"We ought all to jump into this hole," said Bourras to Denise, who had
kept close to him. "In burying this poor girl they are burying the
whole district. Oh! I know what I am saying, the old-fashioned business
may go and join the white roses they are throwing on to her coffin."

Denise brought back her uncle and brother in a mourning coach. The day
was for her exceedingly dull and melancholy. In the first place, she
began to get anxious at Jean's paleness, and when she understood that
it was on account of another woman, she tried to quiet him by opening
her purse, but he shook his head and refused, saying it was serious
this time, the niece of a very rich pastry-cook, who would not accept
even a bunch of violets. Afterwards, in the afternoon, when Denise
went to fetch Pépé from Madame Gras's, the latter declared that he was
getting too big for her to keep any longer; another annoyance, for she
would be obliged to find him a school, perhaps send him away. And to
crown all she was thoroughly heart-broken, on bringing Pépé back to
kiss his aunt and uncle, to see the gloomy sadness of The Old Elbeuf.
The shop was closed, and the old couple were at the further end of the
little room, where they had forgotten to light the gas, notwithstanding
the complete obscurity of this winter's day. They were now quite alone,
face to face, in the house, slowly emptied by ruin; and the death of
their daughter deepened the shady corners, and was like the supreme
cracking which was soon to break up the old rafters, eaten away by the
damp. Beneath this destruction, her uncle, unable to stop himself,
still kept walking round the table, with his funeral-like step, blind
and silent; whilst her aunt said nothing, she had fallen into a chair,
with the white face of a wounded person, whose blood was running away
drop by drop. They did not even weep when Pépé covered their cold
cheeks with kisses. Denise was choked with tears.

That same evening Mouret sent for the young girl to speak of a child's
garment he wished to launch forth, a mixture of the Scotch and Zouave
costumes. And still trembling with pity, shocked at so much suffering,
she could not contain herself; she first ventured to speak of Bourras,
of that poor old man whom they were about to ruin. But, on hearing the
umbrella maker's name, Mouret flew into a rage at once. The old madman,
as he called him, was the plague of his life, and spoilt his triumph by
his idiotic obstinacy in not giving up his house, that ignoble hovel
which was a disgrace to The Ladies' Paradise, the only little corner
of the vast block that escaped his conquest. The matter was becoming a
regular nightmare; anyone else but Denise speaking in favor of Bourras
would have run the risk of being dismissed immediately, so violently
was Mouret tortured by the sickly desire to kick the house down. In
short, what did they wish him to do? Could he leave this heap of ruins
sticking to The Ladies' Paradise? It would be got rid of, the shop was
to pass through it. So much the worse for the old fool! And he spoke
of his repeated proposals; he had offered him as much as a hundred
thousand francs. Wasn't that fair? He never haggled, he gave the money
required; but in return he expected people to be reasonable, and allow
him to finish his work! Did anyone ever try to stop the locomotives on
a railway? She listened to him, with drooping eyes, unable to find any
but purely sentimental reasons. The old man was so old, they might have
waited till his death; a failure would kill him. Then he added that he
was no longer able to prevent things going their course. Bourdoncle had
taken the matter up, for the board had resolved to put an end to it.
She had nothing more to add, notwithstanding the grievous pity she felt
for her old friend.

After a painful silence, Mouret himself commenced to speak of the
Baudus, by expressing his sorrow at the death of their daughter. They
were very worthy people, very honest, but had been pursued by the
worst of luck. Then he resumed his arguments; at bottom, they had
really caused their own misfortune by obstinately sticking to the old
ways in their worm-eaten place; it was not astonishing that the place
should be falling about their heads. He had predicted it scores of
times; she must remember that he had charged her to warn her uncle of a
fatal disaster, if the latter still clung to his old-fashioned stupid
ways. And the catastrophe had arrived; no one in the world could now
prevent it. They could not reasonably expect him to ruin himself to
save the neighborhood. Besides, if he had been foolish enough to close
The Ladies' Paradise, another big shop would have sprung up of itself
next door, for the idea was now starting from the four corners of the
globe; the triumph of these manufacturing and industrial cities was
sown by the spirit of the times, which was sweeping away the tumbling
edifice of former ages. Little by little Mouret warmed up, and found an
eloquent emotion with which to defend himself against the hatred of his
involuntary victims, the clamor of the small dying shops that was heard
around him. They could not keep their dead, he continued, they must
bury them; and with a gesture he sent down into the grave, swept away
and threw into the common hole the corpse of old-fashioned business,
the greenish, poisonous remains of which were becoming a disgrace
to the bright, sun-lighted streets of new Paris. No, no, he felt no
remorse, he was simply doing the work of his age, and she knew it; she,
who loved life, who had a passion for big affairs, concluded in the
full glare of publicity. Reduced to silence, she listened to him for
some time, and then went away, her soul full of trouble.

That night Denise slept but little. A sleeplessness, traversed by
nightmare, kept her turning over and over in her bed. It seemed to her
that she was quite little, and she burst into tears, in their garden at
Valognes, on seeing the blackcaps eat up the spiders, which themselves
devoured the flies. Was it then really true, this necessity for the
world to fatten on death, this struggle for existence which drove
people into the charnel-house of eternal destruction? Afterwards she
saw herself before the vault into which they had lowered Geneviève,
then she perceived her uncle and aunt in their obscure dining room.
In the profound silence, a heavy voice, as of something tumbling
down, traversed the dead air; it was Bourras's house giving way, as
if undermined by a high tide. The silence recommenced, more sinister
than ever, and a fresh rumbling was heard, then another, then another;
the Robineaus, the Bédorés, the Vanpouilles, cracked and fell down
in their turn, the small shops of the neighborhood were disappearing
beneath an invisible pick, with a brusque, thundering noise, as of a
tumbrel being emptied. Then an immense pity awoke her with a start.
Heavens! what tortures! There were families weeping, old men thrown out
into the street, all the poignant dramas that ruin conjures up. And
she could save nobody; and she felt that it was right, that all this
misery was necessary for the health of the Paris of the future. When
day broke she became calmer, a feeling of resigned melancholy kept her
awake, turned towards the windows through which the light was making
its way. Yes, it was the meed of blood that every revolution exacted
from its martyrs, every step forward was made over the bodies of the
dead. Her fear of being a wicked girl, of having assisted in the ruin
of her fellow-creatures, now melted into a heartfelt pity, in face of
these evils without remedy, which are the painful accompaniment of each
generation's birth. She finished by seeking some possible comfort in
her goodness, she dreamed of the means to be employed in order to save
her relations at least from the final crash.

Mouret now appeared before her with his passionate face and caressing
eyes. He would certainly refuse her nothing; she felt sure he would
accord her all reasonable compensation. And her thoughts went astray in
trying to judge him. She knew his life, was aware of the calculating
nature of his former affections, his continual exploitation of woman,
mistresses taken up to further his own ends, and his intimacy with
Madame Desforges solely to get hold of Baron Hartmann, and all the
others, such as Clara and the rest, pleasure bought, paid for, and
thrown out on the pavement. But these beginnings of a love adventurer,
which were the talk of the shop, were gradually effaced by the strokes
of genius of this man, his victorious grace. He was seduction itself.
What she could never have forgiven was his former deception, his
lover's coldness under the gallant comedy of his attentions. But she
felt herself to be entirely without rancour, now that he was suffering
through her. This suffering had elevated him. When she saw him tortured
by her refusal, atoning so fully for his former disdain for woman, he
seemed to have made amends for all his faults.

That morning Denise obtained from Mouret the compensation she might
judge legitimate the day the Baudus and old Bourras should succumb.
Weeks passed away, during which she went to see her uncle nearly every
afternoon, escaping from her counter for a few minutes, bringing her
smiling face and brave courage to enliven the sombre shop. She was
especially anxious about her aunt, who had fallen into a dull stupor
since Geneviève's death; it seemed that her life was quitting her hourly;
and when people spoke to her she would reply with an astonished air
that she was not suffering, but that she simply felt as if overcome by
sleep. The neighbors shook their heads, saying she would not live long
to regret her daughter.

One day Denise was coming out of the Baudus', when, on turning
the corner of the Place Gaillon, she heard a loud cry. The crowd
rushed forward, a panic arose, that breath of fear and pity which so
suddenly seizes a crowd. It was a brown omnibus, belonging to the
Bastille-Batignolles line, which had run over a man, coming out of
the Rue NeuveSaint-Augustin, opposite the fountain. Upright on his
seat, with furious gestures, the driver was pulling in his two kicking
horses, and crying out, in a great passion:

"Confound you! Why don't you look out, you idiot!"

The omnibus had now stopped, and the crowd had surrounded the wounded
man, and, strange to say, a policeman was soon on the spot. Still
standing up, invoking the testimony of the people on the knife-board,
who had also got up, to look over and see the wounded man, the coachman
was explaining the matter, with exasperated gestures, choked by his
increasing anger.

"It's something fearful. This fellow was walking in the middle of the
road, quite at home. I called out, and he at once threw himself under
the wheels!"

A house-painter, who had run up, brush in hand, from a neighboring
house, then said, in a sharp voice, amidst the clamor: "Don't excite
yourself. I saw him, he threw himself under. He jumped in, head first.
Another unfortunate tired of life, no doubt."

Others spoke up, and all agreed upon it being a case of suicide,
whilst the policeman pulled out his book and made his entry. Several
ladies, very pale, got out quickly, and ran away without looking back,
filled with horror by the soft shaking which had stirred them up when
the omnibus passed over the body. Denise approached, attracted by a
practical pity, which prompted her to interest herself in all sorts of
street accidents, wounded dogs, horses down, and tillers falling off
roofs. And she immediately recognized the unfortunate fellow who had
fainted away, his clothes covered with mud.

"It's Monsieur Robineau," cried she, in her grievous astonishment.

The policeman at once questioned the young girl, and she gave his name,
profession, and address. Thanks to the driver's energy, the omnibus had
twisted round, and thus only Robineau's legs had gone under the wheels,
but it was to be feared that they were both broken. Four men carried
the wounded draper to a chemist's shop in the Rue Gaillon, whilst the
omnibus slowly resumed its journey.

"My stars!" said the driver, whipping up his horses, "I've done a
famous day's work."

Denise followed Robineau into the chemist's. The latter, waiting for a
doctor who could not be found, declared there was no immediate danger,
and that the wounded man had better be taken home, as he lived in
the neighborhood. A lad started off to the police-station to order a
stretcher, and Denise had the happy thought of going on in front and
preparing Madame Robineau for this frightful blow. But she had the
greatest trouble in the world to get into the street through the crowd,
which was struggling before the door. This crowd, attracted by death,
was increasing every minute; men, women, and children stood on tip-toe,
and held their own amidst a brutal pushing, and each new comer had his
version of the accident, so that at last it was said to be a husband
pitched out of the window by his wife's lover.

In the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, Denise perceived Madame Robineau
on the threshold of the silk warehouse. This gave her a pretext for
stopping, and she talked on for a moment, trying to find a way of
breaking the terrible news. The shop presented the disorderly,
abandoned appearance of the last struggles of a dying business. It was
the inevitable end of the great battle of the silks; the Paris Paradise
had crushed its rival by a fresh reduction of a sou; it was now sold at
four francs nineteen sous, Gaujean's silk had found its Waterloo. For
the last two months Robineau, reduced to all sorts of shifts, had been
leading a fearful life, trying to prevent a declaration of bankruptcy.

"I've just seen your husband pass through the Place Gaillon," murmured
Denise, who had now entered the shop.

Madame Robineau, whom a secret anxiety seemed to be continually
attracting towards the street, said quickly: "Ah, just now, wasn't it?
I'm waiting for him, he ought to be back; Monsieur Gaujean came up this
morning, and they have gone out together."

She was still charming, delicate, and gay; but her advanced state of
pregnancy gave her a fatigued look, and she was more frightened, more
bewildered than ever, by these business matters, which she did not
understand, and which were all going wrong. As she often said, what was
the use of it all? Would it not be better to live quietly in some small
house, and be contented with modest fare?

"My dear child," resumed she with her smile, which was becoming sadder,
"we have nothing to conceal from you. Things are not going on well,
and my poor darling is worried to death. Today this Gaujean has been
tormenting him about some bills overdue. I was dying with anxiety at
being left here all alone."

And she was returning to the door when Denise stopped her, having heard
the noise of the crowd and guessing that it was the wounded man being
brought along, surrounded by a mob of idlers anxious to see the end of
the affair. Then, with a parched throat, unable to find the consoling
words she would have wished, she had to explain the matter.

"Don't be anxious, there's no immediate danger. I've seen Monsieur
Robineau, he has met with an accident. They are just bringing him home,
pray don't be frightened."

The poor woman listened to her, white as a sheet, without clearly
understanding. The street was full of people, the drivers of the
impeded cabs were swearing, the men had laid down the stretcher before
the shop in order to open both glass doors.

"It was an accident," continued Denise, resolved to conceal the attempt
at suicide. "He was on the pavement and slipped under the wheels of an
omnibus. Only his feet were hurt. They've sent for a doctor. There's no
need to be anxious."

A shudder passed over Madame Robineau. She set up an inarticulate cry,
then ceased talking and ran to the stretcher, drawing the covering away
with her trembling hands. The men who had brought Robineau were waiting
to take him away as soon as the doctor arrived. They dared not touch
him, who had come round again, and whose sufferings were frightful
at the slightest movement. When he saw his wife his eyes filled with
tears. She embraced him, and stood looking fixedly at him, and weeping.
In the street the tumult was increasing; the people pressed forward
as at a theatre, with glistening eyes; some work-girls, escaped from
a shop, were almost pushing through the windows eager to see what was
going on. In order to avoid this feverish curiosity, and thinking,
besides, that it was not right to leave the shop open, Denise decided
on letting the metallic shutters down. She went and turned the winch,
the wheels of which gave out a plaintive cry, the sheets of iron
slowly descended, like the heavy draperies of a curtain falling on the
catastrophe of a fifth act. When she went in again, after closing the
little round door in the shutters, she found Madame Robineau still
clasping her husband in her arms, in the half-light which came from the
two stars cut in the shutters. The ruined shop seemed to be gliding
into nothingness, the two stars alone glittered on this sudden and
brutal catastrophe of the streets of Paris.

At last Madame Robineau recovered her speech. "Oh, my darling!—oh, my
darling! my darling!"

This was all she could say, and he, suffocated, confessed himself with
a cry of remorse when he saw her kneeling thus before him. When he did
not move he only felt the burning lead of his legs.

"Forgive me, I must have been mad. When the lawyer told me before
Gaujean that the posters would be put up tomorrow, I saw flames dancing
before me as if the walls were burning. After that I remember nothing
else. I came down the Rue de la Michodière—it seemed that The Paradise
people were laughing at me, that immense house seemed to crush me. So,
when the omnibus came up, I thought of Lhomme and his arm, and threw
myself underneath the omnibus."

Madame Robineau had slowly fallen on to the floor, horrified by this
confession. Heavens! he had tried to kill himself. She seized the hand
of her young friend, who leant over towards her quite overcome. The
wounded man, exhausted by emotion, had just fainted away again; and the
doctor not having arrived, two men went all over the neighborhood for
him. The doorkeeper belonging to the house had gone off in his turn to
look for him.

"Pray, don't be anxious," repeated Denise, mechanically, herself also
sobbing.

Then Madame Robineau, seated on the floor, with her head against the
stretcher, her cheek placed on the mattress where her husband was
lying, relieved her heart. "Oh! I must tell you. It's all for me he
wanted to die. He's always saying, 'I've robbed you; it was not my
money.' And at night he dreams of this money, waking up covered with
perspiration, calling himself an incapable fellow, saying that those
who have no head for business ought not to risk other people's money.
You know he has always been nervous, his brain tormented. He finished
by conjuring up things that frightened me. He saw me in the street in
tatters, begging, his darling wife, whom he loved so tenderly, whom he
longed to see rich and happy." But on turning round, she noticed he had
opened his eyes; and she continued in a trembling voice: "My darling,
why have you done this? You must think me very wicked! I assure you, I
don't care if we are ruined. So long as we are together, we shall never
be unhappy. Let them take everything, and we will go away somewhere,
where you won't hear any more about them. You can still work; you'll
see how happy we shall be!"

She placed her forehead near her husband's pale face, and both were
silent, in the emotion of their anguish. There was a pause. The shop
seemed to be sleeping, benumbed by the pale night which enveloped
it; whilst behind the thin shutters could be heard the noises of the
street, the life of the busy city, the rumble of the vehicles, and the
hustling and pushing of the passing crowd. At last Denise, who went
every minute to glance through the hall door, came back, exclaiming:
"Here's the doctor!"

He was a young fellow, with bright eyes, whom the doorkeeper had found
and brought in. He preferred to examine the poor man before they put
him to bed. Only one of his legs, the left one, was broken above the
ankle; it was a simple fracture, no serious complication appeared
likely to result from it. And they were about to carry the stretcher
into the back-room when Gaujean arrived. He came to give them an
account of a last attempt to settle matters, an attempt which had
failed; the declaration of bankruptcy was definite.

"Dear me," murmured he, "what's the matter?"

In a few words, Denise informed him. Then he stopped, feeling rather
awkward, while Robineau said, in a feeble voice: "I don't bear you any
ill-will, but all this is partly your fault."

"Well, my dear fellow," replied Gaujean, "it wanted stronger men than
us. You know I'm not in a much better state than you."

They raised the stretcher; Robineau still found strength to say: "No,
no, stronger fellows than us would have given way as we have. I can
understand such obstinate old men as Bourras and Baudu standing out,
but you and I, who are young, who had accepted the new style of things!
No, Gaujean, it's the last of a world."

They carried him off. Madame Robineau embraced Denise with an eagerness
in which there was almost a feeling of joy, to have at last got rid of
all those worrying business matters. And, as Gaujean went away with the
young girl, he confessed to her that this poor devil of a Robineau was
right. It was idiotic to try and struggle against The Ladies' Paradise.
He personally felt himself lost, if he did not give in. Last night, in
fact, he had secretly made a proposal to Hutin, who was just leaving
for Lyons. But he felt very doubtful, and tried to interest Denise in
the matter, aware, no doubt, of her powerfulness.

"My word," said he, "so much the worse for the manufacturers! Everyone
would laugh at me if I ruined myself in fighting for other people's
benefit, when these fellows are struggling who shall make at the
cheapest price! As you said some time ago, the manufacturers have
only to follow the march of progress by a better organization and new
methods. Everything will come all right; it suffices that the public
are satisfied."

Denise smiled and replied: "Go and say that to Monsieur Mouret himself.
Your visit will please him, and he's not the man to display any
rancour, if you offer him even a centime profit per yard."

Madame Baudu died in January, on a bright sunny afternoon. For some
weeks she had been unable to go down into the shop that a charwoman now
looked after. She was in bed, propped up by the pillows. Nothing but
her eyes seemed to be living in her white face, and, her head erect,
she kept them obstinately fixed on The Ladies' Paradise opposite,
through the small curtains of the windows. Baudu, himself suffering
from this obsession, from the despairing fixity of her gaze, sometimes
wanted to draw the large curtains to. But she stopped him with an
imploring gesture, obstinately desirous of seeing the monster shop till
the last moment. It had now robbed her of everything, her business,
her daughter; she herself had gradually died away with The Old Elbeuf,
losing a part of her life as the shop lost its customers; the day it
succumbed, she had no more breath left. When she felt she was dying,
she still found the strength to insist on her husband opening the two
windows. It was very mild, a bright ray of sun gilded The Ladies'
Paradise, whilst the bedroom of their old house shivered in the shade.
Madame Baudu lay with her fixed gaze, absorbed by the vision of the
triumphal monument, the clear, limpid windows, behind which a gallop of
millions was passing. Slowly her eyes grew dim, invaded by darkness;
and when they at last sunk in death, they remained wide open, still
looking, drowned in tears.

Once more the ruined traders of the district followed the funeral
procession. There were the brothers Vanpouille, pale at the thought of
their December bills, paid by a supreme effort which they would never
be able to repeat. Bédoré, with his sister, leant on his cane, so full
of worry and anxiety that his liver complaint was getting worse every
day. Deslignières had had a fit, Piot and Rivoire walked on in silence,
with downcast looks, like men entirely played out. They dared not
question each other about those who had disappeared, Quinette,
Mademoiselle Tatin, and others, who were sinking, ruined, swept away
by this disastrous flood; without counting Robineau, still in bed,
with his broken leg. But they pointed with an especial air of interest
to the new tradesmen attacked by the plague; the perfumer Grognet,
the milliner Madame Chadeuil, Lacassagne, the flower maker, and Naud,
the bootmaker, still standing firm, but seized by the anxiety of the
evil, which would doubtless sweep them away in their turn. Baudu walked
along behind the hearse with the same heavy, stolid step as when he had
followed his daughter; whilst at the back of a mourning coach could be
seen Bourras's sparkling eyes under his bushy eyebrows, and his hair of
a snowy white.

Denise was in great trouble. For the last fifteen days she had been
worn out with fatigue and anxiety; she had been obliged to put Pépé
to school, and had been running about for Jean, who was so stricken
with the pastrycook's niece, that he had implored his sister to go
and ask her hand in marriage. Then her aunt's death, these repeated
catastrophes had quite overwhelmed the young girl. Mouret again offered
his services, giving her leave to do what she liked for her uncle and
the others. One morning she had an interview with him, at the news that
Bourras was turned into the street, and that Baudu was going to shut up
shop. Then she went out after breakfast in the hope of comforting these
two, at least.

In the Rue de la Michodière, Bourras was standing on the pavement
opposite his house, from which he had been expelled the previous day by
a fine trick, a discovery of the lawyers; as Mouret held some bills, he
had easily obtained an order in bankruptcy against the umbrella-maker;
then he had given five hundred francs for the expiring lease at the
sale ordered by the court; so that the obstinate old man had allowed
himself to be deprived of, for five hundred francs, what he had refused
to give up for a hundred thousand. The architect, who came with his
gang of workmen, had been obliged to employ the police to get him
out. The goods had been taken and sold; but he still kept himself
obstinately in the corner where he slept, and from which they did not
like to drive him, out of pity. The workmen even attacked the roofing
over his head. They had taken off the rotten slates, the ceilings fell
in, the walls cracked, and yet he stuck there, under the naked old
beams, amidst the ruins of the shop. At last the police came, and he
went away. But the following morning he again appeared on the opposite
side of the street, after having spent the night in a lodging-house in
the neighborhood.

"Monsieur Bourras!" said Denise, kindly.

He did not hear her, his flaming eyes were devouring the workmen
who were attacking the front of the hovel with their picks. Through
the empty window-frames could be seen the inside of the house, the
miserable rooms, and the black staircase, where the sun had not
penetrated for the last two hundred years.

"Ah! it's you," replied he, at last, when he recognized her. "A nice
bit of work they're doing, eh? the robbers!"

She did not now dare to speak, stirred up by the lamentable sadness
of the old place, herself unable to take her eyes off the moldy
stones that were falling. Above, in a corner of the ceiling of
her old room, she still perceived the name in black and shaky
lettersErnestine—written with the flame of a candle, and the
remembrance of those days of misery came back to her, inspiring her
with a tender sympathy for all suffering. But the workmen, in order to
knock one of the walls down at a blow, had attacked it at its base. It
was tottering.

"Should like to see it crush all of them," growled Bourras, in a savage
voice.

There was a terrible cracking noise. The frightened workmen ran out
into the street. In falling down, the wall tottered and carried all the
house with it. No doubt the hovel was ripe for the fall—it could no
longer stand, with its flaws and cracks; a push had sufficed to cleave
it from top to bottom. It was a pitiful crumbling away, the razing of a
mud-house soddened by the rains. Not a board remained standing; there
was nothing on the ground but a heap of rubbish, the dung of the past
thrown at the street corner.

"Oh, heavens!" exclaimed the old man, as if the blow had resounded in
his very entrails.

He stood there gaping, never supposing it would have been over so
quick. And he looked at the gap, the hollow space at last left free on
the flanks of The Ladies' Paradise. It was like the crushing of a gnat,
the final triumph over the annoying obstinacy of the infinitely small,
the whole isle invaded and conquered. The passers-by lingered to talk
to the workmen, who were crying out against these old buildings, only
good for killing people.

"Monsieur Bourras," repeated Denise, trying to get him on one side,
"you know that you will not be abandoned. All your wants will be
provided for."

He held up his head. "I have no wants. You've been sent by them,
haven't you? Well, tell them that old Bourras still knows how to work,
and that he can find work wherever he likes. Really, it would be a fine
thing to offer charity to those they are assassinating!"

Then she implored him: "Pray accept, Monsieur Bourras; don't give me
this grief."

But he shook his bushy head. "No, no, it's all over. Good-bye. Go and
live happily, you who are young, and don't prevent old people sticking
to their ideas."

He cast a last glance at the heap of rubbish, and then went away. She
watched him disappear, elbowed by the crowd on the pavement. He turned
the corner of the Place Gaillon, and all was over. For a moment, Denise
remained motionless, lost in thought. At last she went over to her
uncle's. The draper was alone in the dark shop of The Old Elbeuf. The
charwoman only came morning and evening to do a little cooking, and to
take down and put up the shutters. He spent hours in this solitude,
often without being disturbed once during the whole day, bewildered,
and unable to find the goods when a stray customer happened to venture
in. And there in the half-light he marched about unceasingly, with that
heavy step he had at the two funerals, yielding to a sickly desire,
regular fits of forced marching, as if he were trying to rock his grief
to sleep.

"Are you feeling better, uncle?" asked Denise. He only stopped for a
second to glance at her. Then he started off again, going from the
pay-desk to an obscure corner.

"Yes, yes. Very well, thanks."

She tried to find some consoling subject, some cheerful remark, but
could think of nothing. "Did you hear the noise? The house is down."

"Ah! it's true," murmured he, with an astonished look, "that must have
been the house. I felt the ground tremble. Seeing them on the roof this
morning, I closed my door." And he made a vague movement, to imitate
that such things no longer interested him. Every time he arrived before
the pay-desk, he looked at the empty seat, that well-known velvet
covered seat, where his wife and daughter had grown up. Then when his
perpetual walking brought him to the other end, he gazed at the shelves
drowned in shadow, in which a few pieces of cloth were gradually
growing moldy. It was a widowed house, those he loved had disappeared,
his business had come to a shameful end, and he was left alone to
commune with his dead heart, and his pride brought low amidst all these
catastrophes. He raised his eyes towards the black ceiling, overcome
by the sepulchral silence which reigned in the little dining room,
the family nook, of which he had formerly loved every part, even down
to the stuffy odor. Not a breath was now heard in the old house, his
regular heavy step made the ancient walls resound, as if he were
walking over the tombs of his affections.

At last Denise approached the subject which had brought her. "Uncle,
you can't stay like this. You must come to a decision."

He replied, without stopping his walk—"No doubt; but what would you
have me do? I've tried to sell, but no one has come. One of these
mornings I shall shut up shop and go off."

She was aware that a failure was no longer to be feared. The creditors
had preferred to come to an understanding before such a long series of
misfortunes. Everything paid, the old man would find himself in the
street, penniless.

"But what will you do, then?" murmured she, seeking some transition in
order to arrive at the offer she dared not make.

"I don't know," replied he. "They'll pick me up all right." He had
changed his route, going from the dining room to the windows with
their lamentable displays, looking at the latter, every time he came
to them, with a gloomy expression. His gaze did not even turn towards
the triumphal façade of The Ladies' Paradise, whose architectural lines
ran as far as the eye could see, to the right and to the left, at both
ends of the street. He was thoroughly annihilated, and had not even the
strength to get angry.

"Listen, uncle," said Denise, greatly embarrassed; "perhaps there might
be a situation for you." She stopped, and stammered. "Yes, I am charged
to offer you a situation as inspector."

"Where?" asked Baudu.

"Opposite," replied she; "in our shop. Six thousand francs a year; a
very easy place."

Suddenly he stopped in front of her. But instead of getting angry as
she feared he would, he turned very pale, succumbing to a grievous
emotion, a feeling of bitter resignation.

"Opposite, opposite," stammered he several times. "You want me to go
opposite?"

Denise herself was affected by this emotion. She recalled the long
struggle of the two shops, assisted at the funerals of Geneviève and
Madame Baudu, saw before her The Old Elbeuf overthrown, utterly ruined
by The Ladies' Paradise. And the idea of her uncle taking a situation
opposite, and walking about in a white neck-tie, made her heart leap
with pity and revolt.

"Come, Denise, is it possible?" said he, simply, wringing his poor
trembling hands. "No, no, uncle," exclaimed she, in a sudden burst of
her just and excellent being. "It would be wrong. Forgive me, I beg of
you."

He resumed his walk, his step once more broke the funereal silence
of the house. And when she left him, he was still going on in that
obstinate locomotion of great griefs, which turn round themselves
without ever being able to get beyond.

Denise passed another sleepless night. She had just touched the bottom
of her powerlessness. Even in favor of her own people she was unable to
find any consolation. She had been obliged to assist to the bitter end
at this invincible work of life which requires death as its continual
seed. She no longer struggled, she accepted this law of combat; but
her womanly soul was filled with a weeping pity, with a fraternal
tenderness at the idea of suffering humanity. For years, she herself
had been caught in the wheel-work of the machine. Had she not bled
there? Had they not bruised her, dismissed her, overwhelmed her with
insults? Even now she was frightened, when she felt herself chosen by
the logic of facts. Why her, a girl so puny? Why should her small hand
suddenly become so powerful amidst the monster's work? And the force
which was sweeping everything away, carried her away in her turn, she,
whose coming was to be a revenge. Mouret had invented this mechanism
for crushing the world, and its brutal working shocked her he had sown
ruin all over the neighborhood, despoiled some, killed others; and yet
she loved him for the grandeur of his work, she loved him still more
at every excess of his power, notwithstanding the flood of tears which
overcame her, before the sacred misery of the vanquished.

CHAPTER XIV.

The Rue du Dix-Décembre, looking quite new with its chalk-white houses
and the final scaffoldings of some nearly finished buildings, stretched
out beneath a clear February sun; a stream of carriages was passing
at a rattling pace through this gleam of light, which traversed the
damp shadow of the old Saint-Roch quarter; and, between the Rue de
la Michodière and the Rue de Choiseul, there was a great tumult, the
crushing of a crowd excited by a month's advertising, their eyes in
the air, gaping at the monumental façade of The Ladies' Paradise,
inaugurated that Monday, on the occasion of a grand show of white goods.

The bright new masonry displayed a vast development of polychromatic
architecture, relieved by gildings, announcing the tumult and sparkle
of the business inside, and attracting attention like a gigantic
window-display all aglow with the liveliest colors. In order not to
neutralize the show of goods, the decoration of the ground floor was
of a sober description; the base of sea-green marble; the corner
pillars and the supporting columns were covered with black marble, the
severity of which was relieved by gilded medallions; and the rest of
plate-glass, in iron sashes, nothing but glass, which seemed to open
up the depths of the halls and galleries to the full light of day. But
as the floors ascended, the tones became brighter. The frieze on the
ground floor was decorated with a series of mosaics, a garland of red
and blue flowers, alternating with marble slabs, on which were cut the
names of goods, running all round, encircling the colossus. Then the
base of the first floor, made of enamelled bricks, supported the large
windows, as high as the frieze, formed of gilded escutcheons, with the
arms of the towns of France, and designs in terra-cotta, the enamel of
which reproduced the bright colored flowers of the base. Then, right at
the top, the entablature blossomed forth like the ardent florescence of
the entire façade, the mosaics and the faience reappeared with warmer
colorings, the zinc gutters were carved and gilded, while along the
acroteria ran a nation of statues, representing the great industrial
and manufacturing cities, their delicate silhouettes standing out
against the sky. The spectators were especially astonished at the
sight of the central door, also decorated with a profusion of mosaics,
faience, and terra-cotta, and surmounted by an allegorical group, the
new gilding of which glittered in the sun: Woman dressed and kissed by
a flight of laughing cupids.

About two o'clock the police were obliged to make the crowd move on,
and to look after the carriages. The palace was built, the temple
raised to the extravagant folly of fashion. It dominated everything,
covering a whole district with its shadow. The scar left on its flank
by the demolition of Bourras's hovel had already been so skillfully
cicatrized that it would have been impossible to find the place
formerly occupied by this old wart—the four façades now ran along the
four streets, without a break in their superb isolation. Since Baudu's
retirement, The Old Elbeuf, on the other side of the way, had been
closed, walled up like a tomb, behind the shutters that were never
now taken down; little by little the cab-wheels had splashed them,
posters covered them up and pasted them together, a rising tide of
advertising, which seemed like the last shovelful of earth thrown over
the old-fashioned commerce; and, in the middle of this dead frontage,
dirtied by the mud from the street, discoloured by the refuse of Paris,
was displayed, like a flag planted over a conquered empire, an immense
yellow poster, quite wet, announcing in letters two feet high the
great sale at The Ladies' Paradise. It was as if the colossus, after
each enlargement, seized with shame and repugnance for the black old
quarter, where it had modestly sprung up, and that it had later on
slaughtered, had just turned its back to it, leaving the mud of the
narrow streets in its track, presenting its upstart face to the noisy,
sunny thoroughfare of new Paris.

As it was now represented in the engraving of the advertisements,
it had grown bigger and bigger, like the ogre of the legend, whose
shoulders threatened to pierce the clouds. In the first place, in
the foreground of the engraving, were the Rue du Dix-Décembre, the
Rue de la Michodière, and the Rue de Choiseul, filled with little
black figures, and spread out immoderately, as if to make room for
the customers of the whole world. Then came a bird's eye view of
the buildings themselves, of an exaggerated immensity, with their
roofings which described the covered galleries, the glazed courtyards
in which could be recognized the halls, the endless detail of this
lake of glass and zinc shining in the sun. Beyond, stretched forth
Paris, but Paris diminished, eaten up by the monster: the houses, of a
cottage-like humility in the neighborhood of the building, then dying
away in a cloud of indistinct chimneys; the monuments seemed to melt
into nothing, to the left two dashes for Notre-Dame, to the right a
circumflex accent for the Invalides, in the background the Panthéon,
ashamed and lost, no larger than a lentil. The horizon, crumbled into
powder, became no more than a contemptible frame-work, as far as the
heights of Châtillon, out into the open country, the vanishing expanse
of which indicated how far reached the state of slavery.

Ever since the morning the crowd had been increasing. No shop had ever
yet stirred up the city with such a profusion of advertisements. The
Ladies' Paradise now spent nearly six hundred thousand francs a year
in posters, advertisements, and appeals of all sorts; the number of
catalogues sent away amounted to four hundred thousand, more than a
hundred thousand francs' worth of stuff was cut up for patterns. It
was a complete invasion of the newspapers, the walls, and the ears of
the public, like a monstrous brass trumpet, which, blown incessantly,
spread to the four corners of the earth the tumult of the great
sales. And, for the future, this façade, before which people were now
crowding, became a living advertisement, with its bespangled, gilded
magnificence, its windows large enough to display the entire poem of
woman's clothing, its profusion of signs, painted, engraved, and cut
in stone, from the marble slabs on the ground floor to the sheets of
iron rounded off in semicircles above the roof, unfolding their gilded
streamers on which the name of the house could be read in letters
bright as the sun, standing out against the azure blue of the sky.

To celebrate the inauguration, there had been added trophies and flags;
each storey was gay with banners and standards bearing the arms of
the principal cities of France; and right at the top, the flags of
all nations, run up on masts, fluttered in the air, while the show of
cotton and linen goods downstairs assumed in the windows a tone of
blinding intensity. Nothing but white, a complete trousseau, and a
mountain of sheets to the left, a lot of curtains forming a chapel, and
pyramids of handkerchiefs to the right, fatigued the eyes; and, between
the hung goods at the door, whole pieces of cotton, calico, and muslin
in clusters, like snow-drifts, were planted some dressed engravings,
sheets of bluish cardboard, on which a young bride, or a lady in ball
costume, both life size and dressed in real lace and silk, smiled with
their painted faces. A circle of idlers was constantly forming, a
desire arose from the admiration of the crowd.

What caused an increase of curiosity around The Ladies' Paradise was
a catastrophe of which all Paris was talking, the burning down of The
Four Seasons, the big shop Bouthemont had opened near the Opera-house,
hardly three weeks before. The newspapers were full of details, of the
fire breaking out through an explosion of gas during the night, the
hurried flight of the young ladies in their night-dresses, and the
heroic conduct of Bouthemont, who had carried five of them out on his
shoulders. The enormous losses were covered, and the people commenced
to shrug their shoulders, saying what a splendid advertisement it was.
But for the moment attention again flowed back to The Ladies' Paradise,
excited by all these stories flying about, occupied to a wonderful
extent by these colossal establishments, which by their importance took
up such a large place in public life. Wonderfully lucky, this Mouret!
Paris saluted her star, and crowded to see him still standing, since
the very flames now undertook to sweep all competition from beneath
his feet; and the profits of the season were already being calculated,
people began to estimate the swollen flood of customers which would
be sent into his shop by the forced closing of the rival house. For a
moment he had felt anxious, troubled at feeling a jealous woman against
him, that Madame Desforges, to whom he owed in a manner his fortune.
Baron Hartmann's financial dilettantism, putting money into the two
affairs, annoyed him also. Then he was exasperated at having missed
a genial idea which had occurred to Bouthemont, who had artfully had
his shop blessed by the vicar of the Madeleine, followed by all his
clergy; an astonishing ceremony, a religious pomp paraded from the
silk department to the glove department, and so on throughout the
establishment. This imposing ceremony had not, it is true, prevented
everything being destroyed, but had done as much good as a million
francs' worth of advertisements, so great an impression had it produced
on the fashionable world. From that day, Mouret dreamed of having the
archbishop.

The clock over the door was striking three, and the afternoon crush had
commenced, nearly a hundred thousand customers were struggling in the
various galleries and halls. Outside, the carriages were stationed from
one end of the Rue du Dix-Décembre to the other, and over against the
Opera-house another compact mass occupied the _cul-de-sac,_ where
the future avenue was to commence. Common cabs were mingled with
private broughams, the drivers waiting amongst the wheels, the rows of
horses neighing and shaking their bits, which sparkled in the sun. The
lines were incessantly reformed, amidst the calls of the messengers,
the pushing of the animals which closed in of their own accord, whilst
fresh vehicles were continually arriving and taking their places with
the rest. The pedestrians flew on to the refuges in frightened bands,
the pavements were black with people, in the receding perspective of
the wide and straight thoroughfare. And a clamor arose from between
the white houses, this human stream rolled along under the soul of
overflowing Paris, a sweet and enormous breath, of which one could feel
the giant caress.

Madame de Boves, accompanied by her daughter Blanche and Madame Guibal,
was standing, at a window, looking at a display of half made up
costumes.

"Oh! do look," said she, "at those print costumes at nineteen francs
fifteen sous!"

In their square boxes, the costumes, tied round with a favor, were
folded so as to present the trimmings alone, embroidered with blue and
red; and, occupying the corner of each box, was an engraving showing
the garment made up, worn by a young person looking like some princess.

"But they are not worth more," murmured Madame Guibal. "They fall into
rags as soon as you handle them."

They had now become intimate since Monsieur de Boves had been confined
to his arm-chair by an attack of gout. The wife put up with the
mistress, preferring that things should take place in her own house,
for in this way she picked up a little pocket money, sums that the
husband allowed himself to be robbed of, having, himself, need of
forbearance.

"Well! let's go in," resumed Madame Guibal. "We must see their show.
Hasn't your son-in-law made an appointment with you inside?"

Madame de Boves did not reply, entirely absorbed by the string of
carriages, which, one by one, opened their doors and let out more
customers.

"Yes," said Blanche, at last, in her indolent voice. "Paul is to join
us about four o'clock in the reading-room, on leaving the ministry."

They had been married about a month, and De Vallagnosc, after a leave
of absence of three weeks, spent in the South of France, had just
returned to his post. The young woman had already her mother's portly
look, and her flesh appeared puffed up and coarser since her marriage.

"But there's Madame Desforges over there!" exclaimed the countess,
looking at a brougham that had just arrived.

"Do you think so?" murmured Madame Guibal. "After all those stories!
She must still be weeping over the fire at The Four Seasons."

It was really Henriette. On perceiving her friends, she came up with a
gay, smiling air, concealing her defeat beneath the fashionable ease of
her manner.

"Dear me! yes, I wanted to have a look round. It's better to see for
one's self, isn't it? Oh! we are still good friends with Monsieur
Mouret, though he is said to be furious since I have interested myself
in that rival house. Personally, there is only one thing I cannot
forgive him, and that is, to have pushed on the marriage of my protégé,
Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, with that Joseph—"

"What! it's done?" interrupted Madame de Boves. "What a horror!"

"Yes, my dear, and solely to annoy us. I know him; he wished to
intimate that the daughters of our great families are only fit to marry
his shop messengers."

She was getting quite animated. They had all four remained on the
pavement, amidst the pushing at the entrance. Little by little,
however, the stream carried them in; and they had only to abandon
themselves to the current, they passed the door as if lifted up,
without being conscious of it, talking louder to make themselves heard.
They were now asking each other about Madame Marty; it was said that
poor Monsieur Marty, after violent scenes at home, had gone quite mad;
he was diving into all the treasures of the earth, exhausting mines of
gold, loading tumbrels with diamonds and precious stones.

"Poor fellow!" said Madame Guibal, "he who was always so shabby, with
his teacher's humility! And the wife?"

"She's ruining an uncle, now," replied Henriette, "a worthy old man who
has gone to live with her, having lost his wife. But she must be here,
we shall see her."

A surprise made the ladies stop short. Before them extended the shop,
the largest drapery establishment in the world, as the advertisements
said. The grand central gallery now ran from end to end, extending from
the Rue du Dix-Décembre to the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; whilst to the
right and to the left, like the aisles of a church, ran the
Monsigny Gallery and the Michodière Gallery, right along the two
streets, without a break. Here and there the halls crossed and formed
open spaces amidst the metallic framework of the suspended stairs
and flying bridges. The inside arrangements had been all changed:
the bargains were now placed on the Rue du Dix-Décembre side, the
silk department was in the centre, the glove department occupied the
Saint-Augustin Hall at the back; and, from the new grand vestibule,
one beheld, on looking up, the bedding department, moved from one
end of the second floor to the other. The number of departments now
amounted to the enormous figure of fifty; several, quite fresh, were to
be inaugurated that very day; others, become too important, had been
simply divided, in order to facilitate the sales; and, owing to this
continual increase of business, the staff had been increased to three
thousand and forty-five employees.

What caused the ladies to stop was the prodigious spectacle of the
grand exhibition of white goods. In the first place, there was the
vestibule, a hall with bright mirrors, paved with mosaics, where the
low-priced goods detained the voracious crowd. Then there were the
galleries, plunged in a glittering blaze of light, a borealistic vista,
quite a country of snow, revealing the endless steppes hung with
ermine, the accumulation of icebergs shimmering in the sun. One found
there the whiteness of the outside windows, but vivified, colossal,
burning from one end of the enormous building to the other, with the
white flame of a fire in full swing. Nothing but white goods, all the
white articles from each department, a riot of white, a white star,
the twinkling of which was at first blinding, so that the details
could not be distinguished amidst this unique whiteness. But the eye
soon became accustomed to it; to the left, in the Monsigny Gallery,
jutted out the white promontories of cotton and calico, the white rocks
formed of sheets, napkins, and handkerchiefs; whilst to the right, in
the Michodière Gallery, occupied by the mercery, the hosiery, and the
woollen goods, were exposed constructions of mother of pearl buttons, a
pretty decoration composed of white socks, one whole room covered with
white swanskin, traversed in the distance by a stream of light. But
the brightness shone with especial brilliancy in the central gallery,
amidst the ribbons and the cravats, the gloves and the silks. The
counters disappeared beneath the whiteness of the silks, the ribbons,
and the gloves.

Round the iron columns were twined flounces of white muslin, looped
up now and again with white silk handkerchiefs. The staircases were
decorated with white drapings, quiltings and dimities alternating along
the balustrades, encircling the halls as high as the second storey; and
this tide of white assumed wings, hurried off and lost itself, like a
flight of swans. And the white hung from the arches, a fall of down,
a snowy sheet of large flakes; white counterpanes, white coverlets
floated about in the air, suspended like banners in a church; long
jets of Maltese lace hung across, seeming to suspend swarms of white
butterflies; other lace fluttered about on all sides, floating like
fleecy clouds in a summer sky, filling the air with their clear breath.
And the marvel, the altar of this religion of white was, above the silk
counter, in the great hall, a tent formed of white curtains, which
fell from the glazed roof. The muslin, the gauze, the lace flowed in
light ripples, whilst very richly embroidered tulles, and pieces of
oriental silk striped with silver, served as a background to this giant
decoration, which partook of the tabernacle and of the alcove. It made
one think of a broad white bed, awaiting in its virginal immensity the
white princess, as in the legend, she who was to come one day, all
powerful, with the bride's white veil.

"Oh! extraordinary!" repeated the ladies. "Wonderful!" They never
tired of this song in praise of white that the goods of the entire
establishment were singing. Mouret had never conceived anything more
extraordinary; it was the master stroke of his genius for display.
Beneath the flow of all this whiteness, in the apparent disorder of
the tissues, fallen as if by chance from the open drawers, there was
a harmonious phrase, the white followed up and developed in all its
tones, springing into existence, growing, and blossoming forth with
the complicated orchestration of a master's fugue, the continual
development of which carries away the mind in an ever-increasing
flight. Nothing but white, and never the same goods, all styles
outvying with, opposing, and completing one another, attaining the very
brilliancy of light itself. Starting from the dull shades of the calico
and linen, and the heavy shades of the flannel and cloth, there then
came the velvet, silk, and satin goods—quite an ascending gamut, the
white gradually lighted up, finishing in little flames at the breaks
of the folds; and the white flew away in the transparencies of the
curtains, becoming free and clear with the muslin, the lace, and above
all the tulle, so light and airy that it was like the extreme and last
note; whilst the silver of the oriental silk sung higher than all in
the depths of the giant alcove.

The place was full of life. The lifts were besieged with people, there
was a crush at the refreshment-bar and in the reading-room, quite
a nation was moving about in these regions covered with the snowy
fabrics. And the crowd seemed to be black, like skaters on a Polish
lake in December. On the ground floor there was a heavy swell, agitated
by a reflux, in which could be distinguished nothing but the delicate
and enraptured faces of the women. In the chisellings of the iron
framework, along the staircases, on the flying bridges, there was an
endless procession of small figures, as if lost amidst the snowy peaks
of a mountain. A suffocating hot-house heat surprised one on these
frozen heights. The buzz of voices made a great noise like a rushing
stream. Up above, the profusion of gildings, the glazed work picked out
with gold, and the golden roses seemed like a ray of the sun shining on
the Alps of the grand exhibition of white goods.

"Come," said Madame de Boves, "we must go forward. It's impossible to
stay here."

Since she came in, Jouve, the inspector, standing near the door, had
not taken his eyes off her; and when she turned round she encountered
his gaze. Then, as she resumed her walk, he let her get a little in
front, but followed her at a distance, without, however, appearing to
take any further notice of her.

"Ah!" said Madame Guibal, stopping again as she came to the first
pay-desk, "it's a pretty idea, these violets!"

She referred to the new present made by The Ladies' Paradise, one of
Mouret's ideas, which was making a great noise in the newspapers; small
bouquets of white violets, bought by thousands at Nice and distributed
to every customer buying the smallest article. Near each pay-desk were
messengers in uniform, delivering the bouquets under the supervision
of an inspector. And gradually all the customers were decorated in
this way, the shop was filling with these white flowers, every woman
becoming the bearer of a penetrating perfume of violets.

"Yes," murmured Madame Desforges, in a jealous voice, "it's not a bad
idea."

But, just as they were going away, they heard two shopmen joking about
these violets. A tall, thin fellow was expressing his astonishment:
the marriage between the governor and the first-hand in the costume
department was coming off, then? whilst a short, fat fellow replied
that he didn't know, but that the flowers were bought at any rate.

"What!" exclaimed Madame de Boves, "Monsieur Mouret is going to many?"

"That's the latest news," replied Madame Desforges, affecting the
greatest indifference. "Of course, he's sure to end like that."

The countess shot a quick glance at her new friend. They both now
understood why Madame Desforges had come to The Ladies' Paradise
notwithstanding her rupture with Mouret. No doubt she yielded to the
invincible desire to see and to suffer.

"I shall stay with you," said Madame Guibal, whose curiosity was
awakened. "We shall meet Madame de Boves again in the reading-room."

"Very good," replied the latter. "I want to go on the first floor.
Come along, Blanche." And she went up followed by her daughter,
whilst Jouve, the inspector, still on her track, ascended by another
staircase, in order not to attract attention. The two other ladies were
soon lost in the compact crowd on the ground floor.

All the counters were talking of nothing else but the governor's
love affairs, amidst the press of business. The adventure, which had
for months been occupying the employees, delighted at Denise's long
resistance, had all at once come to a crisis; it had become known that
the young girl intended to leave The Ladies' Paradise, notwithstanding
all Mouret's entreaties, under the pretext of requiring rest. And the
opinions were divided. Would she leave? Would she stay? Bets of five
francs circulated from department to department that she would leave
the following Sunday. The knowing ones staked a lunch on the final
marriage; however, the others, those who believed in her departure,
did not risk their money without good reasons. Certainly the little
girl had the strength of an adored woman who refuses, but the governor,
on his side, was strong in his wealth, his happy widowerhood, and his
pride which a last exaction might exasperate. Nevertheless, they were
all of opinion that this little saleswoman had carried on the business
with the science of a rouée, full of genius, and that she was playing
the supreme stake in thus offering him this bargain: Marry me or I go
away.

Denise, however, thought but little of these things. She had never
imposed any conditions or made any calculation. And the reason of her
departure was the result of this very judgment of her conduct, which
caused her continual surprise. Had she wished for all this? Had she
shown herself artful, coquettish, ambitious? No, she had come simply,
and was the first to feel astonished at inspiring this passion. And
again, now, why did they ascribe her resolution to quit The Ladies'
Paradise to craftiness? It was so natural! She began to feel a nervous
uneasiness, an intolerable anguish, amidst this continual gossip which
was going on in the house, Mouret's feverish pursuit of her, and the
combats she was obliged to engage in against herself; and she preferred
to go away, seized with fear lest she might one day yield and regret
it forever afterwards. If there were in this any learned tactics, she
was totally ignorant of it, and she asked herself in despair what was
to be done to avoid appearing to be running after a husband. The idea
of a marriage now irritated her, and she resolved to say no, and still
no, in case he should push his folly to that extent. She alone ought to
suffer. The necessity for the separation caused her tears to flow, but
she told herself, with her great courage, that it was necessary, that
she would have no rest or happiness if she acted in any other way.

When Mouret received her resignation, he remained mute and cold, in
the effort which he made to contain himself. Then he replied that he
granted her a week's reflection, before allowing her to commit such a
stupid act. At the expiration of the week, when she returned to the
subject, and expressed a strong wish to go away after the great sale,
he said nothing further, but affected to talk the language of reason
to her: she had little or no fortune, she would never find another
position equal to that she was leaving. Had she another situation in
view? If so, he was quite prepared to offer her the advantages she
expected to obtain elsewhere. And the young girl having replied that
she had not looked for any other situation, that she intended to take a
rest at Valognes, thanks to the money she had already saved, he asked
her what would prevent her returning to The Ladies' Paradise if her
health alone were the reason of her departure. She remained silent,
tortured by this cross-examination. He at once imagined that she was
about to join a lover, a future husband perhaps. Had she not confessed
to him one evening that she loved someone? From that moment he carried
deep in his heart, like the stab of a knife, this confession wrung from
her in an hour of trouble. And if this man was to marry her, she was
giving up all to follow him: that explained her obstinacy. It was all
over, and he simply added in his icy tones, that he would detain her
no longer, since she could not tell him the real cause of her leaving.
These harsh words, free from anger, affected her far more than the
anger she had feared.

Throughout the week that Denise was obliged to spend in the shop,
Mouret kept his rigid paleness. When he crossed the departments, he
affected not to see her, never had he seemed more indifferent, more
buried in his work; and the bets began again, only the brave ones dared
to back the marriage. However, beneath this coldness, so unusual with
him, Mouret concealed a frightful crisis of indecision and suffering.
Fits of anger brought the blood to his head: he saw red, he dreamed
of taking Denise in a close embrace, keeping her, and stifling her
cries. Then he tried to reason with himself, to find some practical
means of preventing her going away; but he constantly ran up against
his powerlessness, the uselessness of his power and money. An idea,
however, was growing amidst his mad projects, and gradually imposing
itself, notwithstanding his revolt. After Madame Hédouin's death he
had sworn never to marry again; deriving from a woman his first good
fortune, he resolved in future to draw his fortune from all women. It
was with him, as with Bourdoncle, a superstition that the head of a
great drapery establishment should be single, if he wished to retain
his masculine power over the growing desires of his world of customers;
the introduction of a woman changed the air, drove away the others, by
bringing her own odor. And he still resisted the invincible logic of
facts, preferring to die rather than yield, seized with sudden bursts
of fury against Denise, feeling that she was the revenge, fearing he
should fall vanquished over his millions, broken like a straw by the
eternal feminine force, the day he should marry her. Then he slowly
became cowardly again, dismissing his repugnance; why tremble? she
was so sweet-tempered, so prudent, that he could abandon himself to
her without fear. Twenty times an hour the battle recommenced in his
distracted mind. His pride tended to aggravate the wound, and he
completely lost his reason when he thought that, even after this last
submission, she might still say no, if she loved another. The morning
of the great sale, he had still not decided on anything, and Denise was
to leave the next day.

When Bourdoncle, on the day in question, entered Mouret's office about
three o'clock, according to custom, he surprised him sitting with his
elbows on the desk, his hands over his eyes, so greatly absorbed that
he had to touch him on the shoulder. Mouret glanced up, his face bathed
in tears; they both looked at each other, held out their hands, and
a hearty grip was exchanged between these two men who had fought so
many commercial battles side by side. For the past month Bourdoncle's
attitude had completely changed; he now bowed before Denise, and even
secretly pushed the governor on to a marriage with her. No doubt he
was thus manoeuvring to save himself being swept away by a force which
he now recognized as superior. But there could have been found at the
bottom of this change the awakening of an old ambition, the timid and
gradually growing hope to swallow up in his turn this Mouret, before
whom he had so long bowed. This was in the air of the house, in this
struggle for existence, of which the continued massacres warmed up the
business around him. He was, carried away by the working of the
machine, seized by the others' appetites, by that voracity which, from
top to bottom, drove the lean ones to the extermination of the fat
ones. But a sort of religious fear, the religion of chance, had up
to that time prevented him making the attempt. And the governor was
becoming childish, drifting into a ridiculous marriage, ruining his
luck, destroying his charm with the customers. Why should he dissuade
him from it, when he could so easily take up the business of this
played-out man, fallen into the arms of a woman? Thus it was with the
emotion of an adieu, the pity of an old friendship, that he shook his
chief's hand, saying:

"Come, come, courage! Marry her, and finish the matter."

Mouret already felt ashamed of his moment of cowardice, and got up,
protesting: "No, no, it's too stupid. Come, let's take our turn round
the shop. Things are looking well, aren't they? I fancy we shall have a
magnificent day."

They went out and commenced their afternoon inspection through the
crowded departments. Bourdoncle cast oblique glances at him, anxious
at this last display of energy, watching his lips to catch the least
sign of suffering. The business was in fact throwing forth its fire,
in an infernal roar, which made the house tremble with the violent
shaking of a big steamer going at full speed. At Denise's counter were
a crowd of mothers dragging along their little girls and boys, swamped
beneath the garments they were trying on. The department had brought
out all its white articles, and there, as everywhere else, was a riot
of white, enough to dress in white a troop of shivering cupids, white
cloth cloaks, white piques and cashmere dresses, sailor costumes, and
even white Zouave costumes. In the centre, for the sake of the effect,
and although the season had not arrived, was a display of communion
costumes, the white muslin dress and veil, the white satin shoes, a
light gushing florescence, which, planted there, produced the effect of
an enormous bouquet of innocence and candid delight. Madame Bourdelais
was there with her three children, Madeleine, Edmond, Lucien, seated
according to their size, and was getting angry with the latter, the
smallest, because he was struggling with Denise, who was trying to put
a woollen muslin jacket on him.

"Keep still, Lucien! Don't you think it's rather tight, mademoiselle?"
And with the sharp look of a woman difficult to deceive, she examined
the stuff, studied the cut, and scrutinized the stitching. "No, it fits
well," she resumed. "It's no trifle to dress all these little ones. Now
I want a mantle for this young lady."

Denise had been obliged to assist in serving during the busy moments of
the day. She was looking for the mantle required, when she set up a cry
of surprise.

"What! It's you; what's the matter?"

Her brother Jean, holding a parcel in his hand, was standing before
her. He had married a week before, and on the Saturday his wife, a dark
little woman, with a provoking, charming face, had paid a long visit
to The Ladies' Paradise to make some purchases. The young people were
to accompany Denise to Valognes, a regular marriage trip, a month's
holiday, which would remind them of old times.

"Just imagine," said he, "Therese has forgotten a lot of things. There
are some articles to be changed, and others to be bought. So, as she
was in a hurry, she sent me with this parcel. I'll explain—"

But she interrupted him on perceiving Pépé, "What; Pépé as well! and
his school?"

"Well," said Jean, "after dinner on Sunday I had not the heart to
take him back. He will go back this evening. The poor child is very
downhearted at being shut up in Paris whilst we are enjoying ourselves
at home."

Denise smiled on them, in spite of her suffering. She handed over
Madame Bourdelais to one of her young ladies, and came back to them in
a corner of the department, which was, fortunately, getting deserted.
The little ones, as she still called them, had now grown to be big
fellows. Pépé, twelve years old, was already taller and bigger than
her, still silent and living on caresses, of a charming, cajoling
sweetness; whilst Jean, broad-shouldered, was quite a head taller than
his sister, and still possessed his feminine beauty, with his blonde
hair blowing about in the wind. And she, always slim, no fatter than
a skylark, as she said, still retained her anxious motherly authority
over them, treating them as children wanting all her attention,
buttoning up Jean's coat so that he should not look like a rake,
and seeing that Pépé had got a clean handkerchief. When she saw the
latter's swollen eyes, she gently chided him.

"Be reasonable, my boy. Your studies cannot be interrupted. I'll take
you away at the holidays. Is there anything you want? But perhaps you
prefer to have the money." Then she turned towards the other. "You,
youngster, yet making him believe we are going to have wonderful fun.
Just try and be a little more careful."

She had given Jean four thousand francs, half of her savings, to enable
him to set up housekeeping. The younger one cost her a great deal for
schooling, all her money went for them, as in former days. They were
her sole reason for living and working, for she had again declared she
would never marry.

"Well, here are the things," resumed Jean. "In the first place, there's
a cloak in this parcel that Therese—"

But he stopped, and Denise, on turning round to see what had frightened
him, perceived Mouret behind them. For a moment he had stood looking
at her in her motherly attitude between the two big boys, scolding and
embracing them, turning them round as mothers do babies when changing
their clothes. Bourdoncle had remained on one side, appearing to be
interested in the business, but he did not lose sight of this little
scene.

"They are your brothers, are they not?" asked Mouret, after a silence.

He had the icy tone and rigid attitude, which he now assumed with her.
Denise herself made an effort to remain cold and unconcerned. Her smile
died away, and she replied: "Yes, sir. I've married off the eldest, and
his wife has sent him for some purchases."

Mouret continued looking at the three of them. At last he said: "The
youngest has grown very much. I recognize him, I remember having seen
him in the Tuileries Gardens one evening with you."

And his voice, which was becoming moderate, slightly trembled. She,
suffocating, bent down, pretending to arrange Pépé's belt. The two
brothers, who had turned scarlet, stood smiling on their sister's
master.

"They're very much like you," said the latter.

"Oh!" exclaimed she, "they're much handsomer than I am!"

For a moment he seemed to be comparing their faces. How she loved them!
And he walked a step or two; then returned and whispered in her ear:
"Come to my office after business, I want to speak to you before you go
away."

This time Mouret went off and continued his inspection. The battle was
once more raging within him, for the appointment he had given caused
him a sort of irritation. To what idea had he yielded on seeing her
with her brothers? It was maddening to think he could no longer find
the strength to assert his will. However, he could settle it by saying
a word of adieu. Bourdoncle, who had rejoined him, seemed less anxious,
though he was still examining him with stealthy glances.

Meanwhile, Denise had returned to Madame Bourdelais. "How are you
getting on with the mantle, madame?"

"Oh, very well. I've spent enough for one day. These little ones are
ruining me!"

Denise now being able to slip away, went and listened to Jean's
explanations, then accompanied him to the various counters, where he
would certainly have lost his head without her. First came the mantle,
which Therese wished to change for a white cloth cloak, same size, same
shape. And the young girl, having taken the parcel, went up to the
ready-made department, followed by her two brothers.

The department had laid out its light colored garments, summer jackets
and mantillas, of light silk and fancy woollens. But there was little
doing here, the customers were but few and far between. Nearly all the
young ladies were new-comers. Clara had disappeared a month before,
some said she had eloped with the husband of one of the saleswomen,
others that she had gone on the streets. As for Marguerite, she was at
last about to take the management of the little shop at Grenoble, where
her cousin was waiting for her. Madame Aurélie remained immutable,
in the round cuirass of her silk dress, with her imperial mask which
retained the yellowish puffiness of an antique marble. Her son Albert's
bad conduct was a source of great trouble to her, and she would have
retired into the country had it not been for the inroads made on
the family savings by this scapegrace, whose terrible extravagance
threatened to swallow up piece by piece their Rigolles property. It
was a sort of punishment for their home broken up, for the mother had
resumed her little excursions with her lady friends, and the father on
his side continued his musical performances. Bourdoncle was already
looking upon Madame Aurélie with a discontented air, surprised that she
had not the tact to resign; too old for business! the knell was about
to sound which would sweep away the Lhomme dynasty.

"Ah! it's you," said she to Denise, with an exaggerated amiability.
"You want this cloak changed, eh? Certainly, at once. Ah! there are
your brothers; getting quite men, I declare!"

In spite of her pride, she would have gone on her knees to pay
her court to the young girl. Nothing else was being talked of in
her department, as in the others, but Denise's departure; and the
first-hand was quite ill over it, for she had been reckoning on the
protection of her former saleswoman. She lowered her voice: "They say
you're going to leave us. Really, it isn't possible?"

"But it is, though," replied Denise.

Marguerite was listening. Since her marriage had been decided on, she
had marched about with her putty-looking face, assuming more disdainful
airs than ever. She came up saying: "Yon are quite right. Self-respect
above everything, I say. Allow me to bid you adieu, my dear."

Some customers arriving at that moment, Madame Aurélie requested her,
in a harsh voice, to attend to business. Then, as Denise was taking
the cloak to effect the "return" herself, she protested, and called an
auxiliary. This, again, was an innovation suggested to Mouret by the
young girl—persons charged with carrying the articles, which relieved
the saleswomen of a great burden.

"Go with Mademoiselle Denise," said the first-hand, giving her the
cloak. Then, returning to Denise: "Pray consider well. We are all
heart-broken at your leaving."

Jean and Pépé, who were waiting, smiling amidst this overflowing crowd
of women, followed their sister. They now had to go to the underlinen
department, to get four chemises like the half-dozen that Therese had
bought on the Saturday. But there, where the exhibition of white goods
was snowing down from every shelf, they were almost stifled, and found
it very difficult to get past.

In the first place, at the stay counter a little scene was causing a
crowd to collect. Madame Boutarel, who had arrived in Paris this time
with her husband and daughter, had been wandering all about the shop
since the morning collecting an outfit for the young lady, who was
about to be married. The father was consulted every moment, and they
never appeared likely to finish. At last the family had just stranded
here; and whilst the young lady was absorbed in a profound study of
some drawers, the mother had disappeared, having cast her coquettish
eyes on a delicious pair of stays. When Monsieur Boutarel, a big,
full-blooded man, left his daughter, bewildered, to go and look for
his wife, he at last found her in a fitting-room, at the door of which
he was politely invited to take a seat. These rooms were like narrow
cells, glazed with ground glass, where the men, and even the husbands,
were not allowed to enter, by an exaggerated sentiment of propriety
on the part of the directors. Saleswomen came out and went in again
quickly, allowing those outside to divine, by the rapid closing of
the door, visions of ladies in their petticoats, with bare arms and
shoulders—stout women with white flesh, and thin ones with flesh
the color of old ivory. A row of men were waiting outside, seated
on armchairs, and looking very weary. Monsieur Boutarel, when he
understood, got really angry, crying out that he wanted his wife, that
he insisted on knowing what was going on inside, that he certainly
would not allow her to undress without him. It was in vain that they
tried to calm him; he seemed to think there were some very queer things
going on inside. Madame Boutarel was obliged to come out, to the
delight of the crowd, who were discussing and laughing over the affair.

Denise and her brothers were at last able to get past. Every article
of female linen, all those white under-things that are usually
concealed, were here displayed, in a suite of rooms, classed in various
departments. The corsets and dress-improvers occupied one counter,
there were the stitched corsets, the Duchesse, the cuirass, and, above
all, the white silk corsets, dove-tailed with colors, forming for
this day a special display; an army of dummies without heads or legs,
nothing but the bust, dolls' breasts flattened under the silk, and
close by, on other dummies, were horse-hair and other dress improvers,
prolonging these broomsticks into enormous, distended croups, of
which the profile assumed a ludicrous unbecomingness. But afterwards
commenced the gallant dishabille, a dishabille which strewed the vast
rooms, as if an army of lovely girls had undressed themselves from
department to department, down to the very satin of their skin. Here
were articles of fine linen, white cuffs and cravats, white fichus
and collars, an infinite variety of light gewgaws, a white froth
which escaped from the drawers and ascended like so much snow. There
were jackets, little bodices, morning dresses and peignoirs, linen,
nansouck, lace, long white garments, roomy and thin, which spoke of
the lounging in a lazy morning after a night of tenderness. Then
appeared the under-garments, falling one by one; the white petticoats
of all lengths, the petticoat that clings to the knees, and the long
petticoat with which the gay ladies sweep the pavement, a rising sea of
petticoats, in which the legs were drowned; cotton, linen, and cambric
drawers, large white drawers in which a man could dance; lastly, the
chemises, buttoned at the neck for the night, or displaying the bosom
in the day, simply supported by narrow shoulder-straps; chemises in all
materials, common calico, Irish linen, cambric, the last white veil
slipping from the panting bosom and hips.

And, at the outfitting counter, there was an indiscreet unpacking,
women turned round and viewed on all sides, from the small housewife
with her common calicoes, to the rich lady drowned in laces, an
alcove publicly open, of which, the concealed luxury, the plaitings,
the embroideries, the Valenciennes lace, became a sort of sexual
depravation, as it developed into costly fantasies. Woman was dressing
herself again, the white wave of this fall of linen was returning again
to the shivering mystery of the petticoats, the chemise stiffened
by the fingers of the workwomen, the frigid drawers retaining the
creases of the box, all this cambric and muslin, dead, scattered over
the counters, thrown about, heaped up, was going to become living,
with the life of the flesh, odorous and warm with the odor of love,
a white cloud become sacred, bathed in night, and of which the least
flutter, the pink of a knee disclosed through the whiteness, ravaged
the world. Then there was another room devoted to the baby linen, where
the voluptuous snowy whiteness of woman's clothing developed into the
chaste whiteness of the infant: an innocence, a joy, the young wife
become a mother, flannel garments, chemises and caps large as doll's
things, baptismal dresses, cashmere pelisses, the white down of birth,
like a fine shower of white feathers.

"They are embroidered chemises," said Jean, who was delighted with this
display, this rising tide of feminine attire into which he was plunging.

Pauline ran up at once, when she perceived Denise; and before even
asking what she wanted, began to talk in a low tone, stirred up by the
rumors circulating in the shop. In her department, two saleswomen had
even got quarrelling, one affirming and the other denying her departure.

"You'll stay with us, I'll stake my life. What would become of me?" And
as Denise replied that she intended to leave the next day. "No, no, you
think so, but I know better. You must appoint me second-hand, now that
I've got a baby. Baugé is reckoning on it, my dear."

Pauline smiled with an air of conviction. She then gave the six
chemises; and, Jean having said that he was now going to the
handkerchief counter, she called an auxiliary to carry the chemises and
the jacket left by the auxiliary from the readymade department. The
girl who happened to answer was Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, recently
married to Joseph. She had just obtained this menial situation as a
great favor, and she wore a long black blouse, marked on the shoulder
with a number in yellow wool.

"Follow this young lady," said Pauline. Then returning, and again
lowering her voice: "It's understood that I am to be appointed
second-hand, eh?"

Denise, troubled, defended herself; but at last promised, with a
laugh, joking in her turn. And she went away, going down with Jean and
Pépé, and followed by the auxiliary. On the ground-floor, they fell
into the woollen department, a corner of a gallery entirely hung with
white swanskin cloth and white flannel. Liénard, whom his father had
vainly recalled to Angers, was talking to the handsome Mignot, now a
traveler, and who had boldly reappeared at The Ladies' Paradise. No
doubt they were speaking of Denise, for they both stopped talking to
bow to her with a ceremonious air. In fact, as she went along through
the departments the salesmen appeared full of emotion and bent their
heads before her, uncertain of what she might be the next day. They
whispered, thought she looked triumphant, and the betting was again
altered; they began to risk bottles of wine, etc., over the event. She
had gone through the linen gallery, in order to get to the handkerchief
counter, which was at the further end. They saw nothing but white
goods: cottons, madapolams, muslins, etc.; then came the linen, in
enormous piles, ranged in alternate pieces like blocks of stone, stout
linen, fine linen, of all sizes, white and unbleached, pure flax,
whitened in the sun; then the same thing commenced once more, there
were departments for each sort of linen: house linen, table linen,
kitchen linen, a continual fall of white goods, sheets, pillow-cases,
innumerable styles of napkins, aprons, and dusters. And the bowing
continued, they made way for Denise to pass, Baugé had rushed out
to smile on her, as the good fairy of the house. At last, after
crossing the counterpane department, a room hung with white banners,
she arrived at the handkerchief counter, the ingenious decoration of
which delighted the crowd; there were nothing but white columns, white
pyramids, white castles, a complicated architecture, solely composed of
handkerchiefs, cambric, Irish linen, China silk, marked, embroidered
by hand, trimmed with lace, hemstitched, and woven with vignettes, an
entire city, built of white bricks, of infinite variety, standing out
in a mirage against an Eastern sky, warmed to a white heat.

"You say another dozen?" asked Denise of her brother.

"Yes, like this one," replied he, showing a handkerchief in his parcel.

Jean and Pépé had not quitted her side, clinging to her, as they had
done formerly, on arriving in Paris, knocked up by the journey. This
vast shop, in which she was quite at home, seemed to trouble them,
and they sheltered themselves in her shadow, placing themselves under
the protection of their second mother by an instinctive awakening of
their infancy. People watched them as they passed, smiling at the two
big fellows following in the footsteps of this grave thin girl; Jean
frightened with his beard, Pépé bewildered in his tunic, all three of
the same fair complexion, a fairness which caused the whisper from one
end of the counters to the other: "They are her brothers! They are her
brothers!"

But whilst Denise was looking for a saleswoman there was a meeting.
Mouret and Bourdoncle entered the gallery; and as the former again
stopped in front of the young girl, without, however, speaking to her,
Madame Desforges and Madame Guibal passed by. Henriette suppressed
the shiver which had invaded her whole being; she looked at Mouret
and then at Denise. They had also looked at her, and it was a sort of
mute catastrophe, the common end of these great dramas of the heart,
a glance exchanged in the crush of a crowd. Mouret had already gone
off, whilst Denise lost herself in the depths of the department,
accompanied by her brothers, still in search of a disengaged salesman.
But Henriette having recognized Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, in the
auxiliary following Denise, with a yellow number on her shoulder, and
her coarse, cadaverous, servant's-looking face, relieved herself by
saying to Madame Guibal, in a trembling voice:

"Just see what he's doing with that unfortunate girl. Isn't it
shameful? A marchioness! And he makes her follow like a dog the
creatures picked up by him in the street!" She tried to calm herself,
adding, with an affected air of indifference: "Let's go and see their
display of silks."

The silk department was like a great chamber of love, hung with white
by the caprice of some snowy maiden wishing to show off her spotless
whiteness. All the milky tones of an adored person were there, from
the velvet of the hips, to the fine silk of the thighs and the shining
satin of the bosom. Pieces of velvet hung from the columns, silk and
satins stood out, on this white creamy ground, in draperies of a
metallic and porcelain-like whiteness: and falling in arches were also
poult and gros grain silks, light foulards, and surahs, which varied
from the heavy white of a Norwegian blonde to the transparent white,
warmed by the sun, of an Italian or a Spanish beauty.

Favier was just then engaged in measuring some white silk for "the
pretty lady," that elegant blonde, a frequent customer at the counter,
and whom the salesmen never referred to except by this name. She
had dealt at the shop for years, and yet they knew nothing about
her—neither her life, her address, and not even her name. None of them
tried to find out, although they all indulged in supposition every time
she made her appearance, but simply for something to talk about. She
was getting thinner, she was getting stouter, she had slept well, or
she must have been out late the previous night—such were the remarks
made about her: thus every little fact of her unknown life, outside
events, domestic dramas, were in this way reproduced and commented on.
That day she seemed very gay. So, on returning from the pay-desk where
he had conducted her, Favier remarked to Hutin:

"Perhaps she's going to marry again."

"What! is she a widow?" asked the other.

"I don't know; but you must remember that she was in mourning the last
time she came. Unless she's made some money by speculating on the
Bourse." A silence ensued. At last he ended by saying: "But that's her
business. It wouldn't do to take notice of all the women we see here."

But Hutin was looking very thoughtful, having had, two days ago, a warm
discussion with the direction, and feeling himself condemned. After
the great sale his dismissal was certain. For a long time he had felt
his position giving way; at the last stock-taking they had complained
of his being below the amount of business fixed on in advance; and it
was also, in fact chiefly, the slow working of the appetites that were
swallowing him up in his turn—the whole silent war of the department,
amidst the very motion of the machine. Favier's obscure mining could
be perceived—a deadened sound as of jawbones working under the earth.
The latter had already received the promise of the first-hand's place.
Hutin, who was aware of all this, instead of attacking his old comrade,
looked upon him as a clever fellow—a fellow who had always appeared
so cold, so obedient, whom he had made use of to turn out Robineau and
Bouthemont! He was full of a feeling of mingled surprise and respect.

"By the way," resumed Favier, "she's going to stay, you know. The
governor has just been seen casting sheep's eyes at her. I shall be let
in for a bottle of champagne over it."

He referred to Denise. The gossip was going on more than ever, from
one counter to the other, across the constantly increasing crowd of
customers. The silk sellers were especially excited, for they had been
taking heavy bets about it.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Hutin, waking up as if from a dream, "wasn't I a
flat not to have slept with her! I should be all right now!"

Then he blushed at this confession on seeing Favier laughing. He
pretended to laugh also, and added, to recall his words, that it was
this creature that had ruined him with the management. However, a
desire for violence seizing him, he finished by getting into a rage
with the salesmen disbanded under the assault of the customers. But all
at once he resumed his smile, having just perceived Madame Desforges
and Madame Guibal slowly crossing the department.

"What can we serve you with today, madame?"

"Nothing, thanks," replied Henriette. "You see I'm merely walking
round; I've only come out of curiosity."

When he had stopped her, he lowered his voice. Quite a plan was
springing up in his head. And he flattered her, running down the house;
he had had enough of it, and preferred going away to assisting at such
a scene of disorder. She listened to him, delighted. It was she herself
who, thinking to get him away from The Ladies' Paradise, offered to
have him engaged by Bouthemont as first-hand in the silk department,
when The Four Seasons started again. The matter was settled in whispers,
whilst Madame Guibal interested herself in the displays.

"May I offer you one of these bouquets of violets?" resumed Hutin,
aloud, pointing to a table where there were four or five bunches of the
flowers, which he had procured from the paydesk for personal presents.

"Ah, no!" exclaimed Henriette, with a backward movement. "I don't wish
to take any part in the wedding."

They understood each other, and separated, exchanging glances of
intelligence. As Madame Desforges was looking for Madame Guibal, she
set up an exclamation of surprise on seeing her with Madame Marty.
The latter, followed by her daughter Valentine, had been carried away
for the last two hours, right through the place, by one of those fits
of spending from which she always emerged tired and confused. She had
roamed about the furniture department that a show of white lacquered
suites of furniture had changed into a vast young girl's room, the
ribbon and neckerchief department forming white vellumy colonnades, the
mercery and lace department, with its white fringes which surrounded
ingenious trophies patiently composed of cards of buttons and packets
of needles, and the hosiery department, in which there was a great
crush this year to see an immense piece of decoration, the name "The
Ladies' Paradise" in letters three yards high, formed of white socks
on a groundwork of red ones. But Madame Marty was especially excited
by the new departments; they could not open a new department without
she must inaugurate it, she was bound to plunge in and buy something.
And she had passed an hour at the millinery counter, installed in a
new room on the ground-floor, having the cupboards emptied, taking the
bonnets off the stands which stood on two tables, trying all of them on
herself and her daughter, white hats, white bonnets, and white turbans.
Then she had gone down to the boot department, at the further end of a
gallery on the ground-floor, behind the cravat department, a counter
opened that day, and which she had turned topsy turvy, seized with
sickly desires in the presence of the white silk slippers trimmed with
swansdown, the white satin boots and shoes with their high Louis XV.
heels.

"Oh! my dear," she stammered, "you've no idea! They have a wonderful
assortment of hoods. I've chosen one for myself and one for my
daughter. And the boots, eh? Valentine."

"It's marvellous!" added the young girl, with her womanly boldness.
"There are some boots at twenty francs and a half which are delicious!"

A salesman was following them, dragging along the eternal chair, on
which was already heaped a mountain of articles.

"How is Monsieur Marty?" asked Madame Desforges.

"Very well, I believe," replied Madame Marty, bewildered by this
brusque question, which fell ill-naturedly amidst her fever for
spending. "He's still confined, my uncle had to go and see him this
morning."

"Oh, look! isn't it lovely?"

The ladies, who had gone on a few steps, found themselves before the
flowers and feathers department, installed in the central gallery,
between the silk and glove departments. It appeared beneath the bright
light of the glass roof as an enormous florescence, a white sheaf,
tall and broad as an oak. The base was formed of single flowers,
violets, lilies of the valley, hyacinths, daisies, all the delicate
hues of the garden. Then came bouquets, white roses, softened by a
fleshy tint, great white peonies, slightly shaded with carmine, white
chrysanthemums, with narrow petals and starred with yellow.

And the flowers still ascended, great mystical lilies, branches of
apple blossom, bunches of lilac, a continual blossoming, surmounted,
as high as the first storey, by ostrich feathers, white plumes, which
were like the airy breath of this collection of white flowers. One
whole corner was devoted to the display of trimmings and orange-flower
wreaths. There were also metallic flowers, silver thistles and silver
ears of corn. Amidst the foliage and the petals, amidst all this
muslin, silk, and velvet, where drops of gum shone like dew, flew
birds of Paradise for hats, purple Tangaras with black tails, and
Septicolores with their changing rainbow-like plumage.

"I'm going to buy a branch of apple-blossom," resumed Madame Marty.
"It's delicious, isn't it? And that little bird, do look, Valentine. I
must take it!"

Madame Guibal began to feel tired of standing still in the eddy of the
crowd, and at last said: "Well, we'll leave you to make your purchases.
We're going upstairs."

"No, no, wait for me!" cried the other. "I'm going up too. There's the
perfumery department, I must see that."

This department, created the day before, was next door to the
reading-room. Madame Desforges, to avoid the crush on the stairs,
spoke of going up in the lift, but they had to abandon the idea, there
was such a crowd waiting their turn. At last they arrived, passing
before the public refreshment bar, where the crowd was becoming so
great that an inspector had to restrain the people's appetites by only
allowing the gluttonous customers to enter in small groups. And the
ladies already began to smell the perfumery department, a penetrating
odor which scented the whole gallery. There was quite a struggle over
one article, The Paradise soap, a specialty of the house. In the show
cases, and on the crystal tablets of the shelves, were ranged pots of
pomade and paste, boxes of powder and paint, boxes of oil and toilet
vinegar; whilst the fine brushes, combs, scissors, and smelling-bottles
occupied a special place. The salesmen had managed to decorate the
shelves with white porcelain pots and white glass bottles. But what
delighted the customers above all was a silver fountain, a shepherdess
seated in the middle of a harvest of flowers, and from which flowed a
continual stream of violet water, which fell with a musical plash into
the metal basin. An exquisite odor was disseminated around, the ladies
dipping their handkerchiefs in the scent as they passed.

"There," said Madame Marty, when she had loaded herself with lotions,
dentrifices, and cosmetics. "Now I've done, I'm at your service. Let's
go and rejoin Madame de Boves."

But on the landing of the great central staircase they were again
stopped by the Japanese department. This counter had grown wonderfully
since the day Mouret had amused himself by setting up, in the same
place, a little proposition table, covered with a lot of soiled
articles, without at all foreseeing its future success. Few departments
had had a more modest commencement, and now it overflowed with old
bronzes, old ivories, old lacquer work. He did fifteen hundred thousand
francs' worth of business a year in this department, ransacking the
Far East, where his travellers pillaged the palaces and the temples.
Besides, fresh departments were always springing up, they had tried
two in December, in order to fill up the empty spaces caused by the
dead winter season—a book department and a toy department, which would
certainly grow also and sweep away certain shops in the neighborhood.
Four years had sufficed for the Japanese department to attract the
entire artistic custom of Paris. This time Madame Desforges herself,
notwithstanding the rancour which had made her swear not to buy
anything, succumbed before some finely carved ivory.

"Send it to my house," said she rapidly, at a neighboring pay-desk.
"Ninety francs, is it not?" And, seeing Madame Marty and her daughter
plunged in a lot of trashy porcelains, she resumed, as she carried
Madame Guibal off: "You will find us in the reading-room, I really must
sit down a little while."

In the reading-room they were obliged to remain standing. All the
chairs were occupied, round the large table covered with newspapers.
Great fat fellows were reading and lolling about without even thinking
of giving up their seats to the ladies. A few women were writing, their
faces on the paper, as if to conceal their letters under the flowers of
their hats. Madame de Boves was not there, and Henriette was getting
very impatient when she perceived De Vallagnosc, who was also looking
for his wife and mother-in-law. He bowed, and said:

"They must be in the lace department—impossible to drag them away.
I'll just see." And he was gallant enough to procure them two chairs
before going away.

In the lace department the crush was increasing every minute. The great
show of white was there triumphing in its most delicate and dearest
whiteness. It was an acute temptation, a mad desire, which bewildered
all the women. The department had been turned into a white temple,
tulles and Maltese lace, falling from above, formed a white sky, one
of those cloudy veils which pales the morning sun. Round the columns
descended flounces of Malines and Valenciennes, white dancers' skirts,
unfolding in a snowy shiver down to the ground. Then on all sides, on
every counter, was a stream of white Spanish blonde as light as air,
Brussels with its large flowers on a delicate mesh, hand-made point,
and Venice point with heavier designs, Alençon point, and Bruges of
royal and almost religious richness. It seemed that the god of dress
had there set up his white tabernacle.

Madame de Boves, after wandering about for a long time before the
counters with her daughter, and feeling a sensual desire to plunge her
hands into the goods, had just decided to make Deloche show her some
Alençon point. At first he brought out some imitation; but she wished
to see some real Alençon, and was not satisfied with the little pieces
at three hundred francs the yard, insisting on having deep flounces at
a thousand francs a yard, handkerchiefs and fans at seven and eight
hundred francs. The counter was soon covered with a fortune. In a
corner of the department Jouve, the inspector, who had not lost sight
of Madame de Boves, notwithstanding the latter's apparent dawdling,
stood there amidst the crowd, with an indifferent air, but still
keeping a sharp eye on her.

"Have you any in hand-made point?" she asked; "show me some, please."

The salesman, whom she had kept there for twenty minutes, dared
not resist, she appeared so aristocratic, with her imposing' air
and princess's voice. However, he hesitated, for the salesmen were
cautioned against heaping up these precious fabrics, and he had allowed
himself to be robbed of ten yards of Malines the week before. But she
troubled him, he yielded, and abandoned the Alençon point for a moment
to take the lace asked for from a drawer.

"Oh! look, mamma," said Blanche, who was ransacking a box close
by, full of cheap Valenciennes, "we might take some of this for
pillow-cases."

Madame de Boves not replying, her daughter on turning round saw her
with her hands plunged amidst the lace, about to slip some Alençon
up the sleeve of her mantle. She did not appear surprised, and moved
forward instinctively to conceal her mother, when Jouve suddenly stood
before them. He leant over, and politely murmured in the countess's ear:

"Have the kindness to follow me, madame."

She hesitated for a moment, shocked.

"But what for, sir?"

"Have the kindness to follow me, madame," repeated the inspector,
without raising his voice.

Her face was full of anguish, she threw a rapid glance around her.
Then she resigned herself all at once, resumed her haughty look, and
walked by his side like a queen who deigns to accept the services of
an aide-de-camp. Not one of the customers had observed the scene, and
Deloche, on returning to the counter, looked at her being walked off,
his mouth wide open with astonishment. What! this one as well! this
noble-looking lady! Really it was time to have them all searched!
And Blanche, who was left free, followed her mother at a distance,
lingering amidst the sea of faces, livid, divided between the duty of
not deserting her mother and the terror of being detained with her.
She saw her enter Bourdoncle's office, but she contented herself with
waiting near the door. Bourdoncle, whom Mouret had just got rid of,
happened to be there. As a rule, he dealt with these sorts of robberies
committed by persons of distinction. Jouve had long been watching
this lady, and had informed him of it, so that he was not astonished
when the inspector briefly explained the matter to him; in fact, such
extraordinary cases passed through his hands that he declared the women
capable of anything once the rage for dress had seized them. As he was
aware of Mouret's acquaintance with the thief, he treated her with the
utmost politeness.

"We excuse these moments of weakness, madame. But pray consider the
consequences of such a thing. Suppose someone else had seen you slip
this lace—"

But she interrupted him in great indignation. She a thief! Who
did he take her for? She was the Countess do Boves, her husband,
Inspector-General of the Stud, was received at Court.

"I know, I know, madame," repeated Bourdoncle, quietly. "I have the
honor of knowing you. In the first place, will you kindly give up the
lace you have on you?"

She again protested, not allowing him to say another word, handsome in
her violence, going as far as tears. Anyone else but he would have been
shaken and feared some deplorable mistake, for she threatened to go to
law to avenge herself for such an insult.

"Take care, sir, my husband will certainly appeal to the Minister."

"Come, you are not more reasonable than the others," declared
Bourdoncle, losing patience. "We must search you."

Still she did not yield, but said with her superb assurance, "Very
good, search me. But I warn you, you are risking your house."

Jouve went to fetch two saleswomen from the corset department. When
he returned, he informed Bourdoncle that the lady's daughter, left at
liberty, had not quitted the doorway, and asked if she should also be
detained, although he had not seen her take anything. The manager,
always correct, decided that she should not be brought in, for the
sake of morality, and in order not to force a mother to blush before
her daughter. The two men retired into a neighboring room, whilst the
saleswomen searched the countess, even taking off her dress to search
her bosom and hips. Besides the twelve yards of Alençon point at a
thousand francs the yard concealed in her sleeve, they found in her
bosom a handkerchief, a fan, and a cravat, making a total of about
fourteen thousand francs' worth of lace. She had been stealing like
this for the last year, ravaged by a furious, irresistible passion
for dress. These fits got worse, growing daily, sweeping away all the
reasonings of prudence, and the enjoyment she felt in the indulgence
of this passion was all the more violent from the fact that she was
risking before the eyes of a crowd her name, her pride, and her
husband's high position. Now that the latter allowed her to empty his
drawers, she stole although she had her pockets full of money, she
stole for the pleasure of stealing, as one loves for the pleasure of
loving, goaded on by desire, urged on by the species of kleptomania
that her unsatisfied luxurious tastes had developed in her formerly at
sight of the enormous and brutal temptation of the big shops.

"It's a trap," cried she, when Bourdoncle and Jouve came in. "This lace
has been placed on me, I swear before Heaven."

She was now weeping tears of rage, and fell on a chair, suffocated in
her dress. The partner sent away the saleswomen, and resumed, with
his quiet air: "We are quite willing, madame, to hush up this painful
affair for the sake of your family. But you must first sign a paper
thus worded: I have stolen some lace from The Ladies' Paradise,'
followed by the details of the lace, and the day of the month. Besides,
I shall be happy to return you this document whenever you like to bring
me a sum of two thousand francs for the poor."

She got up again, and declared in a fresh outburst: "I'll never sign
that, I'd rather die."

"You won't die, madame; but I warn you that I shall shortly send for
the police."

Then followed a frightful scene. She insulted him, she stammered that
it was cowardly for a man to torture a woman in that way. Her Juno-like
beauty, her tall majestic body was distorted by vulgar rage. Then she
tried to melt them, entreating them in the name of their mothers, and
spoke of dragging herself at their feet. And as they remained quite
unmoved, hardened by custom, she sat down all at once and began to
write with a trembling hand. The pen sputtered, the words: "I have
stolen," written madly, went almost through the thin paper, whilst she
repeated in a strangled voice: "There, sir, there. I yield to force."

Bourdoncle took the paper, carefully folded it, and put it in a drawer,
saying: "You see it's in company, for ladies, after talking of dying
rather than signing, generally forget to come and redeem their _billets
doux_. However, I hold it at your disposal. You'll be able to judge
whether it's worth two thousand francs."

She was buttoning up her dress, and became as arrogant as ever, now
that she had paid. "I can go now?" asked she, in a sharp tone.

Bourdoncle was already occupied with other business. On Jouve's report,
he decided on Deloche's dismissal, as a stupid fellow, who was always
being robbed, never having any authority over the customers. Madame
de Boves repeated her question, and as they dismissed her with an
affirmative nod, she enveloped both of them in a murderous look. In the
flood of insulting words that she kept back, a melodramatic cry escaped
from her lips.

"Wretches!" said she, banging the door after her.

Meanwhile Blanche had not gone far away from the office. Her ignorance
of what was going on inside, the passing backwards and forwards of
Jouve and the two saleswomen frightened her, she had visions of the
police, the assize court, and the prison. But all at once she stopped
short: De Vallagnosc was before her, this husband of a month, with whom
she still felt rather awkward; and he questioned her, astonished at her
bewildered appearance.

"Where's your mother? Have you lost each other? Come, tell me, you make
me feel anxious."

Nothing in the way of a colourable fiction presented itself to her,
and in great distress she told him everything in a low voice: "Mamma,
mamma—she has been stealing."

"What! stealing?" At last he understood. His wife's bloated face, the
pale mask, ravaged by fear, terrified him.

"Some lace, like that, up her sleeve," she continued stammering.

"You saw her, then? You were looking on?" murmured he, chilled to feel
her a sort of accomplice.

They had to stop talking, several persons were already turning round.
An hesitation full of anguish kept De Vallagnosc motionless for a
moment. What was to be done? He was about to go into Bourdoncle's
office, when he perceived Mouret crossing the gallery. He told his wife
to wait for him, and seized his old friend's arm, informing him of
the affair, in broken sentences. The latter hastily took him into his
office, where he soon put him at rest as to the possible consequences.
He assured him that he need not interfere, and explained in what way
the affair would be arranged, without appearing at all excited about
this robbery, as if he had foreseen it long ago. But De Vallagnosc,
when he no longer feared an immediate arrest, did not accept the
adventure with this admirable coolness. He had thrown himself into an
arm-chair, and now that he could discuss the matter, began to lament
his own unfortunate position. Was it possible that he had married into
a family of thieves? A stupid marriage that he had drifted into, just
to please his father! Surprised at this childish violence, Mouret
watched him weeping, thinking of his former pessimist boasting. Had
he not heard him announce scores of times the nothingness of life, in
which evil alone had any attraction? And by way of a joke he amused
himself for a minute or so, by preaching indifference to his friend, in
a friendly, bantering tone. But at this De Vallagnosc got angry: he was
quite unable to recover his compromised philosophy, his middle-class
education broke out in virtuously indignant cries against his
mother-in-law. As soon as trouble fell on him, at the least appearance
of human suffering, at which he had always coldly laughed, the boasted
skeptic was beaten and bleeding. It was abominable, they were dragging
the honor of his race into the mud, and the world seemed to be coming
to an end.

"Come, calm yourself," concluded Mouret, stricken with pity. "I won't
tell you that everything happens and nothing happens, because that
does not seem to comfort you just now. But I think you ought to go and
offer your arm to Madame de Boves, that would be wiser than causing a
scandal. The deuce! you who professed such scorn before the universal
rascality of the present day!"

"Of course," cried De Vallagnosc, innocently, "when it affects other
people!"

However, he got up, and followed his old school-fellow's advice.
Both were returning to the gallery when Madame de Boves came out of
Bourdoncle's office. She accepted her son-in-law's arm with a majestic
air, and as Mouret bowed to her with respectful gallantry, he heard
her saying: "They've apologized to me. Really, these mistakes are
abominable."

Blanche rejoined them, and they were soon lost in the crowd. Then
Mouret, alone and pensive, crossed the shop once more. This scene,
which had changed his thoughts from the struggle going on within him,
now increased his fever, and decided him to make a supreme effort. A
vague connection arose in his mind: the robbery by this unfortunate
woman, the last folly of the conquered customers, beaten at the feet
of the tempter, evoked the proud and avenging image of Denise, whose
victorious grip he could feel at his throat. He stopped at the top of
the central staircase, and gazed for a long time into the immense nave,
where his nation of women were swarming.

Six o'clock was about to strike, the daylight decreasing outside was
gradually forsaking the covered galleries, already dark and waning at
the further end of the halls, invaded by long shadows. And in this
daylight, barely extinct, was commenced the lighting of the electric
lamps, the globes of an opaque whiteness studding with bright moons
the distant depths of the departments. It was a white brightness of
a blinding fixity, extending like the reverberation of a discoloured
star, killing the twilight. Then, when all were lighted, there was a
delighted murmur in the crowd, the great show of white goods assumed
a fairy splendor beneath this new illumination. It seemed that this
colossal orgy of white was also burning, itself becoming a light. The
song of the white seemed to soar upward in the inflamed whiteness of
an aurora. A white glimmer gushed from the linen and calico department
in the Monsigny Gallery, like the first bright gleam which lights up
the eastern sky; whilst along the Michodière Gallery, the mercery and
the lace, the fancy-goods and the ribbon departments threw out the
reflection of distant hills—the white flash of the mother-of-pearl
buttons, the silvered bronzes and the pearls. But the central nave
especially was filled with a blaze of white: the puffs of white muslin
round the columns, the white dimities and other stuffs draping the
staircases, the white lace flying in the air, opened up a dreamy
firmament, the dazzling whiteness of a paradise, where was being
celebrated the marriage of the unknown queen. The tent of the silk hall
was like a giant alcove, with its white curtains, gauzes and tulles,
the dazzle of which protected the bride in her white nudity from the
gaze of the curious. There was now nothing but this blinding white
light in which all the whites blended, a multitude of stars twinkling
in the bright clear light.

And Mouret continued to watch his nation of women, amidst this
shimmering blaze. Their black shadows stood out vigorously on the pale
ground-work. Long eddies divided the crowd; the fever of this day's
great sale swept past like a frenzy, rolling along the disordered sea
of heads. People were commencing to leave, the pillage of the stuffs
had encumbered all the counters, the gold was chinking in the tills;
whilst the customers went away, their purses completely empty, and
their heads turned by the wealth of luxury amidst which they had been
wandering all day. It was he who possessed them thus, keeping them
at his mercy by his continued display of novelties, his reduction of
prices, and his "returns," his gallantry and his advertisements. He had
conquered the mothers themselves, reigning over them with the brutality
of a despot, whose caprices were ruining many a household. His creation
was a sort of new religion; the churches, gradually deserted by a
wavering faith, were replaced by this bazaar, in the minds of the idle
women of Paris. Women now came and spent their leisure time in his
establishment, the shivering and anxious hours they formerly passed
in churches: a necessary consumption of nervous passion, a growing
struggle of the god of dress against the husband, the incessantly
renewed religion of the body with the divine future of beauty. If he
had closed his doors, there would have been a rising in the street,
the despairing cry of worshippers deprived of their confessional and
altar. In their still growing luxury, he saw them, notwithstanding
the lateness of the hour, obstinately clinging to the enormous iron
building, along the suspended staircases and flying bridges. Madame
Marty and her daughter, carried away to the highest point, were
wandering amongst the furniture. Retained by her young people, Madame
Bourdelais could not get away from the fancy goods. Then came another
group, Madame de Boves, still on De Vallagnosc's arm, and followed
by Blanche, stopping in each department, still daring to examine the
articles with her superb air. But amidst the crowded sea of customers,
this sea of bodies swelling with life, beating with desire, all
decorated with bunches of violets, as though for the bridals of some
sovereign, Mouret could now distinguish nothing but the bare bust of
Madame Desforges, who had stopped in the glove department with Madame
Guibal.

Notwithstanding her jealous rancour, she was also buying, and he felt
himself to be the master once more, having them at his feet, beneath
the dazzle of the electric light, like a drove of cattle from whom he
had drawn his fortune.

With a mechanical step, Mouret went along the galleries, so absorbed
that he abandoned himself to the pushing of the crowd. When he raised
his head, he found himself in the new millinery department, the windows
of which looked on to the Rue du Dix-Décembre. And there, his forehead
against the glass, he made another halt, watching the departure of the
crowd. The setting sun was yellowing the roofs of the white houses, the
blue sky was growing paler, refreshed by a pure breath; whilst in the
twilight, which was already enveloping the streets, the electric lamps
of The Ladies' Paradise threw out that fixed glimmer of stars lighted
on the horizon at the decline of the day. Towards the Opera-house
and the Bourse were the rows of waiting carriages, the harness still
retaining the reflections of the bright light, the gleam of a lamp,
the glitter of a silvered bit. Every minute the cry of a footman was
heard, and a cab drew near, or a brougham issued from the ranks, took
up a customer, and went off at a rapid trot. The rows of carriages
were now diminishing, six went off at a time, occupying the whole
street, from the one side to the other, amidst the banging of doors,
snapping of whips, and the hum of the passers-by, who swarmed between
the wheels. There was a sort of continual enlargement, a spreading of
the customers, carried off to the four corners of the city, emptying
the building with the roaring clamor of a sluice. And the roof of The
Ladies' Paradise, the big golden letters of the ensigns, the banners
fluttering in the sky, still flamed forth with the reflections of the
setting sun, so colossal in this oblique light, that they evoked the
monster of advertising, the phalansterium whose wings, incessantly
multiplied, were swallowing up the whole neighborhood, as far as the
distant woods of the suburbs. And the soul of Paris, an enormous, sweet
breath, fell asleep in the serenity of the evening, running in long and
sweet caresses over the last carriages, spinning through the streets
now becoming deserted by the crowd, disappearing into the darkness of
the night.

Mouret, gazing about, had just felt something grand in himself; and,
in the shiver of triumph with which his flesh trembled, in the face of
Paris devoured and woman conquered, he experienced a sudden weakness, a
defection of his strong will which overthrew him in his turn, beneath
a superior force. It was an unreasonable necessity to be vanquished in
his victory, the nonsense of a warrior bending beneath the caprice of a
child, on the morrow of his conquests. He who had struggled for months,
who even that morning had sworn to stifle his passion, yielded all at
once, seized by the vertigo of high places, happy to commit what he
looked upon as a folly. His decision, so rapid, had assumed all at once
such energy that he saw nothing but her as being useful and necessary
in the world.

The evening, after the last dinner, he was waiting in his office,
trembling like a young man about to stake his life's happiness, unable
to keep still, incessantly going towards the door to listen to the
rumors in the shop, where the men were doing the folding, drowned up
to the shoulder in a sea of stuffs. At each footstep his heart beat.
He felt a violent emotion, he rushed forward, for he had heard in the
distance a deep murmur, which had gradually increased.

It was Lhomme slowly approaching with the day's receipts. That day they
were so heavy, there was such a quantity of silver and copper, that he
had been obliged to enlist the services of two messengers. Behind him
came Joseph and one of his colleagues, bending beneath the weight of
the bags, enormous bags, thrown on their shoulders like sacks of wheat,
whilst he walked on in front with the notes and gold, a note-book
swollen with paper, and two bags hung round his neck, the weight of
which swayed him to the right, the same side as his broken arm. Slowly,
perspiring and puffing, he had come from the other end of the shop,
amidst the growing emotion of the salesmen. The employees in the glove
and silk departments laughingly offered to relieve him of his burden,
the fellows in the drapery and woollen departments were longing to see
him make a false step, which would have scattered the gold through
the place. Then he had been obliged to mount the stairs, go across a
bridge, going still higher, turning about, amidst the longing looks of
the employees in the linen, the hosiery, and the mercery departments,
who followed him, gazing with ecstasy at this fortune travelling in the
air. On the first-floor the employees in the ready-made, the perfumery,
the lace, and the shawl departments were ranged with devotion, as on
the passage of a king. From counter to counter a tumult arose, like the
clamor of a nation bowing down before the golden calf.

Mouret opened the door, and Lhomme appeared, followed by the two
messengers, who were staggering; and, out of breath, he still had
strength to cry out: "One million two hundred and forty-seven francs,
nineteen sous!"

At last the million had been attained, the million picked up in a
day, and of which Mouret had so long dreamed. But he gave way to an
angry gesture, and said impatiently, with the disappointed air of a
man disturbed by some troublesome fellow: "A million! very good, put
it there." Lhomme knew that he was fond of seeing the heavy receipts
on his table before they were taken to the central cashier's office.
The million covered the whole table, crushing the papers, almost
overturning the ink, running out of the sacks, bursting the leather
bags, making a great heap, the heap of the gross receipts, such as it
had come from the customers' hands, still warm and living.

Just as the cashier was going away, heart-broken at the governor's
indifference, Bourdoncle arrived, gaily exclaiming: "Ah! we've done it
this time. We've hooked the million, eh?"

But observing Mouret's febrile pre-occupation, he understood at once
and calmed down. His face was beaming with joy. After a short silence
he resumed: "You've made up your mind, haven't you? Well, I approve
your decision."

Suddenly Mouret planted himself before him, and with his terrible voice
he thundered: "I say, my man, you're rather too lively. You think me
played out, don't you? and you feel hungry. But be careful, I'm not one
to be swallowed up, you know!"

Discountenanced by the sharp attack of this wonderful fellow, who
guessed everything, Bourdoncle stammered: "What now? Are you joking? I
who have always admired you so!"

"Don't tell lies!" replied Mouret, more violently than ever, "Just
listen, we were stupid to entertain the superstition that marriage
would ruin us. Is it not the necessary health, the very strength and
order of life? Well, my dear fellow, I'm going to marry her, and I'll
pitch you all out at the slightest movement. Yes, you'll go and be paid
like the rest, Bourdoncle."

And with a gesture he dismissed him. Bourdoncle felt himself condemned,
swept away, by this victory gained by woman. He went off. Denise was
just going in, and he bowed with a profound respect, his head swimming.

"Ah! you've come at last!" said Mouret gently.

Denise was pale with emotion. She had just experienced another grief,
Deloche had informed her of his dismissal, and as she tried to retain
him, offering to speak in his favor, he obstinately declined to
struggle against his bad luck, he wanted to disappear, what was the use
of staying? Why should he interfere with people who were happy?

Denise had bade him a sisterly adieu, her eyes full of tears. Did she
not herself long to sink into oblivion? Everything was now about to be
finished, and she asked nothing more of her exhausted strength than the
courage to support this separation. In a few minutes, if she could only
be valiant enough to crush her heart, she could go away alone, to weep
unseen.

"You wished to see me, sir," she said in her calm voice. "In fact, I
intended to come and thank you for all your kindness to me."

On entering, she had perceived the million on the desk, and the display
of this money wounded her. Above her, as if watching the scene, was the
portrait of Madame Hédouin, in its gilded frame, and with the eternal
smile of its painted lips.

"You are still resolved to leave us?" asked Mouret, in a trembling
voice. "Yes, sir. I must."

Then he took her hands, and said, in an explosion of tenderness, after
the long period of coldness he had imposed on himself: "And if I
married you, Denise, would you still leave?"

But she had drawn her hands away, struggling as if under the influence
of a great grief. "Oh! Monsieur Mouret. Pray say no more. Don't cause
me such pain again! I cannot! I cannot! Heaven is my witness that I was
going away to avoid such a misfortune!"

She continued to defend herself in broken sentences. Had she not
already suffered too much from the gossip of the house? Did he wish
her to pass in his eyes and her own for a worthless woman? No, no, she
would be strong, she would certainly prevent him doing such a thing.
He, tortured, listened to her, repeating in a passionate tone: "I wish
it. I wish it!"

"No, it's impossible. And my brothers? I have sworn not to marry. I
cannot bring you those children, can I?"

"They shall be my brothers, too. Say yes, Denise."

"No, no, leave me. You are torturing me!"

Little by little he gave way, this last obstacle drove him mad. What!
She still refused even at this price! In the distance he heard the
clamor of his three thousand employees building up his immense fortune.
And that stupid million lying there! He suffered from it as a sort of
irony, he could have thrown it into the street.

"Go, then!" he cried, in a flood of tears. "Go and join the man you
love. That's the reason, isn't it? You warned me, I ought to have known
it, and not tormented you any further."

She stood there dazed before the violence of this despair. Her heart
was bursting. Then, with the impetuosity of a child, she threw herself
on his neck, sobbing also, and stammered: "Oh! Monsieur Mouret, it's
you that I love!"

A last murmur was rising from The Ladies' Paradise, the distant
acclamation of a crowd. Madame Hédouin's portrait was still smiling,
with its painted lips; Mouret had fallen on his desk, on the million
that he could no longer see. He did not quit Denise, but clasped her in
a desperate embrace, telling her that she could now go, that she could
spend a month at Valognes, which would silence everybody, and that he
would then go and fetch her himself, and bring her back, all-powerful,
and his wedded wife.

THE END


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