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Title: The Ladies' Paradise
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
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From the original French:

Au bonheur des dames


[Illustration:  "Ah, it's you, mademoiselle!" he said.]


I certainly have no desire to frighten the female readers to whom this
free rendering of one of M. Zola's best books so largely appeals,--it
is indeed a book with a good sound moral, fit for every thoughtful
woman to peruse--but, in endeavouring to point out its scope and
purport, I must, in the first instance, refer to some matters in
which women, as nowadays educated, take as a rule but the scantiest
of interest. Still many of them may have heard that in the opinion of
various _fin-de-siècle_ seers and prophets the future of the human race
lies in collectivism, a prediction which I do not intend to discuss,
but respecting which I may remark that during the last half century
in this country there has certainly been a tendency in the direction
indicated, even amongst classes which profess to hold every form of
socialism in horror.

This tendency towards collectivism has manifested itself notably in
certain trades and industries by the introduction of various forms of
co-operation, by the amalgamation, too, of rival businesses, and even
by the formation of quasi-monopolies which, evil and unjust as they
may appear to some, nevertheless rejoice the heart of many Socialists
who consider that the fewer the individual interests to be overthrown,
the easier will be their task of conquest when the time shall come for
olden society to give up the ghost. And, further, a tendency towards
collectivism is also to be traced in the establishment of those great
"universal providing" concerns which we know by the name of "stores",
and which many a Socialist will tell you are but the forerunners of the
colossal "magazines of distribution" which will become necessary when
collectivism shall have attained its ends.

On all sides nowadays the small trader and the small manufacturer
are assailed, and in many instances can barely hold their own; for
cheapness is the god of the hour, and in cheapness they cannot hope
to compete with those who operate upon a colossal scale. Whether they
will ultimately be obliged to give up the contest, whether the passion
for individuality is destined to depart from the human race, these and
the many other questions which the problem suggests, I will leave to
the Collectivist prophets and to those who oppose their doctrines in
our reviews and newspapers. I have merely desired to call the reader's
attention to this problem and to the tendencies previously referred to,
because he--or she--will find that they constitute no small portion of
the subject of the present volume of M. Zola's works.

In "Au Bonheur des Dames" M. Zola has taken as his theme a particular
phase of the amalgamation and "universal providing" tendencies, as
they have presented themselves in France; and the phase in question is
certainly one of the most interesting, if only for the fact that it is
so closely connected with the desires and needs of women. In a word
the work deals with those huge drapery establishments, like the "Bon
Marché" and the "Louvre", which are renowned throughout the world.

We have no doubt several very large draper's emporiums in London,
but I do not think that any one of them can claim to rival either in
dimensions, extent of business, or completeness of organisation the
great French establishments to which I have referred above. I can
myself well remember the growth of the "Bon Marché" and the "Louvre".
Transferred, when my education was but half-completed, from the
solitude of the Sussex downs to the whirling vortex of Paris, I grew
up amongst those Haussmannite transformations which virtually made the
French capital a new city--a city which became my home for well nigh
twenty years. Even now I am but a stranger in my own land, among my own
kith and kin; and my memory ever dwells on those years when I saw Paris
develop, opening her streets to air and light and health, increasing
her wealth and her activity, on the one hand multiplying her workshops,
ever busy, thanks to the taste and dexterity of her craftsmen, and on
the other, by the attraction of a thousand pleasures, becoming the
caravanserai of Europe. And my fanatical admiration for M. Zola and for
all his works, the passion which has induced me to translate so many
of them, arises mainly from the fact that they deal so largely with
Paris and her life at a period which I so well remember, with scenes
and incidents which I can so readily recall and which carry me back to
the days when the heart was light and buoyant, and sorrow was a thing
unknown. And when, now and again sundry supercilious English critics,
qualified by a smattering of French and a few months' residence in
France, presume to sneer at M. Zola's pictures of French manners and
customs in the days of the Second Empire, I merely shrug my shoulders
at their ignorance. For my own part I believe, for like St. Thomas I
have seen.

Among the subjects dealt with by M. Zola in the Rougon-Macquart series,
that of the present work,--the development of the great _magasins de
nouveautés_--is to me one of the most familiar, for the reason that
I have always taken a keen interest in the attire and adornment of
women, and in my salad days wrote some hundreds of columns of fashion's
articles for English newspapers. And my duties in those days took me
not only to the _salons_ of M. Worth, M. Pingat and other _faiseurs à
la mode_, but also to the great drapers', for if, on the one hand, I
learned in the former establishments what would be worn by royalty,
aristocracy and fashionable depravity, on the other, in the huge
bazaars similar to "Au Bonheur des Dames", I ascertained what would
be the popular craze of the hour, the material which would be seen
on the back of every second woman one might meet, and the one or two
colours which for a few months would catch the eye at every street
corner. All this may seem to be frivolity, but it is on such frivolity
that a goodly portion of civilized humanity subsists. I find M.
André Cochut, a well informed writer, holding an official position,
stating in 1866--a year which comes within the period I am referring
to--that there were then 26,000 shops and work-shops in Paris which
sold or made (almost exclusively) articles of female attire; and these
26,000 establishments (many, of course, very small) gave employment
to nearly 140,000 persons of both sexes, among whom there were 1500
designers. Moreover, the trade of Paris in materials and made-up goods
was estimated at 570 millions of francs, or £22,800,000! Under these
circumstances that Paris should have claimed the sovereignty of fashion
is, I think, not surprising.

Nowadays the number of establishments selling or making goods for
feminine attire has undoubtedly decreased, but the trade is greater
than ever. Well nigh the only alteration one can trace, is that many
of the smaller houses have been swallowed up by their big rivals in
accordance with the usual conditions of the struggle for life. The
big establishments did not, however, step into the arena, huge like
Goliaths and armed _cap-à-pié_. As M. Zola relates in the following
pages, they likewise had humble beginnings, and would never have
expanded as they did, but for the commercial genius of their founders.
I remember the "Bon Marché" having but one entrance (in the Rue du
Bac, near the corner of the Rue de Sèvres) and ranking, in the opinion
of the women of the neighbourhood, far below the "Petit St. Thomas"
which it has since altogether outstripped. In the same way the huge
block of building now occupied by the "Magasins du Louvre" comprised
some forty different shops held by different tenants. Indeed the pile
had originally been erected for an hotel, the Grand Hôtel du Louvre,
and the shops, even those bearing the name of the Louvre, were at the
outset, only a secondary consideration. But gradually a transformation
was effected; the drapery emporium became larger and larger, secured
the adjoining shops, and ultimately invaded the hotel itself.

Certainly all this was not easily brought about. Many neighbouring
tenants refused to give way to the monster and clung stubbornly
to their leases, fighting the unequal battle with the utmost
obstinacy,--an obstinacy such as that which the Baudus, and old
Bourras, the umbrella maker, will be found displaying in M. Zola's
pages. In the case of the "Louvre", the last of these stubborn
antagonists was, if I recollect rightly, a stationer whose shop fronted
on the Place du Palais Royal, and I believe that he held out until his
lease fell in. At the "Bon Marché" too, the Boucicauts had to contend
against similar obstacles; and, there, the enlargement of the premises
was attended by difficulties akin to those which M. Zola describes;
for many of the adjoining houses were decrepit, tumble-down vestiges
of olden Paris; and each time the "Bon Marché" gained a few yards of
frontage expensive building operations had to be carried out.

In his present work M. Zola has, of course, not taken as his theme the
actual history of either of the great establishments to which I have
been referring. But from that history and from the history of other
important _magasins de nouveautés_ he has borrowed a multitude of
curious and interesting facts, which he has blended into a realistic
whole. Curiously enough the site which he has chosen for "Au Bonheur
des Dames" was really the site of a fairly large drapery emporium,
which became the "Grands Magasins du 4 Septembre"; but perhaps that
title, savouring as it did of revolution (the revolution of 1870),
brought the establishment bad luck with women caring little or nothing
for politics; for it failed to attain the success to which its central
situation seemed to entitle it. The "Place Clichy," to which M. Zola
will be found referring, still exists, and does a largely increasing
business with all the north of Paris; whilst as for the "Four Seasons",
which one of his characters, Bouthemont the silk-salesman, establishes
near the grand opera-house, this is really the "Printemps," that white
and blue and gilded palace which the Parisians owe to the commercial
enterprise of M. Jules Jaluzot, by some people unkindly nicknamed "the
man with the umbrella".

I have often thought that, from the commercial point of view there is
considerable resemblance between M. Jaluzot and M. Zola's hero, Octave
Mouret. The latter figures at an earlier stage of his life in another
of M. Zola's novels--"Pot-Bouille"--but he there appears as a graceless
Don Juan without a redeeming quality; whereas, in the present work, one
observes the development of his business capacities, and the gradual
progress of his reformation, till his career culminates in a marriage
which ought to prove a very happy one, if there be any truth in the old
saw that a reformed rake makes the best of husbands. I have, however,
no desire to institute the faintest comparison between the private life
of Octave Mouret and that of M. Jaluzot; but in describing the former's
commercial genius and boldness M. Zola has, I think, more than once
thought of the latter's hardihood and talent in carving for himself
a great industrial kingdom beside those of the "Bon Marché" and the

M. Jaluzot is famous in Paris for the rare ability he displays in
turning everything into advertisement, and this of course is an
extremely valuable gift, as advertisement is the very life of the
huge _magasins de nouveautés_. Some years ago the "Printemps" was
burnt down; and when the necessary rebuilding operations began M.
Jaluzot prevailed upon the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris to come and
bless the foundation stone of the new edifice. This inspiration--well
worthy of M. Zola's hero--secured to M. Jaluzot extensive patronage
among the devout; and it was important at the time that he should
reconcile himself with society, for on the occasion of the burning of
his establishment the entire Parisian press had reproached him with
showing greater eagerness to rush off and purchase an umbrella, for
protection against a shower, than to minister to the needs of the
numerous employees who had been cast on the pavement of Paris by the
catastrophe. Hence the nickname to which I have previously referred.

With the every-day life of the Parisian drapery employee the present
work is very largely concerned. From the personal investigations I
made at former times, the many conversations I had with employees
of this class, the numerous corroborative statements I have read in
the works of other French writers, I believe M. Zola's pictures of
the "counter jumper's" existence at the period dealt with, to be
scrupulously accurate. It will be noticed that these pictures slowly
change in certain respects as the story proceeds. Mouret at last begins
to take more interest in the material comforts of his staff, provides
it with better food, and treats it generally in a more reasonable
manner; whilst among the employees themselves, their depravity and
vulgarity, hidden beneath a surface elegance and politeness, is at
times altogether stamped out, at others thrust back far more deeply. To
the Boucicauts of the "Bon Marché" largely belongs the honour of having
improved the material well-being, and raised the moral tone of shopmen
of this class; and their example has been very generally followed.
Still, as every Paris "calicot" well knows, there is one great emporium
whose internal organization is still open to serious criticism.

"Calicot," I may mention, is the French equivalent of our term
"counter-jumper"; and in this introduction to a work which deals so
largely with the "calicot's" life it may not be out of place to explain
the origin of the nickname. It dates from 1817, when a vaudeville
called "_Le Combat des Montagnes, ou la Folie-Beaujon_" by Scribe
and Dupin was performed at the Paris Théâtre des Variétés. At that
period, with the wars of the Empire still fresh in their recollection,
the Parisians generally evinced a cordial respect for those who
had seen service; and the young men of the capital, promenading on
the boulevards, were fond of affecting a military appearance and
demeanour. Matters even came to such a pass that drapers'-assistants,
_commis-marchands_ as they were then called, cultivated huge moustaches
and wore spurs on their boots even when behind their counters. To
this ridiculous craze Scribe and Dupin alluded in their vaudeville,
into which they introduced a certain "counter-jumper" called Monsieur
Calicot, whom the other characters of the play at first mistook
for some survivor of the Old Guard. The result, as might have been
expected, was an explosion of rage among all the drapery employees of
Paris. They besieged the theatre, and desperate and sanguinary battles
ensued in the auditorium. The authorities, however, declined to place
the vaudeville under interdict; and after several interventions on the
part of the police, the irate employees were cowed by the presence of
a detachment of grenadiers, who, with loaded muskets, stood on either
side of the stage throughout each performance. And from that time to
the present day "calicot" has been French for "counter-jumper"[1] so
far as drapery is concerned.

However, the vaudeville did not cure the "calicot" of his partiality
for moustaches. These he still cultivates, as all who have been in
Paris well know; indeed he frequently grows a beard as well; but as
such hirsute appendages have long since ceased to be the exclusive
property of the military, nobody taunts him with affectation concerning
them. On the other hand he has wisely renounced the practice of wearing
spurs behind his counter, and if he sometimes evinces a little military
precision or even swagger it would be unwise to deem this assumed;
for in these days of the universal conscription it may well have been
acquired by real service in the ranks. Indeed, we must not sneer at the
"calicot"; he answers his country's call as readily as any other of her

It remains for me to say a few words concerning the moral of this book.
The story of Denise's struggles, hardships and temptations, her quiet
courage and gentle steadfastness is invested by M. Zola with that
simple pathos which adorns so many of his works. The young girl passes
through the fire and emerges from it unscathed, protected by her own
sense of rectitude and the purity of her love, whilst others, alas,
are devoured. No more beautiful example of feminine resistance to evil
could be imagined. We follow the heroine's fortunes with emotional
interest and take a kindly satisfaction in her reward. Possibly, we
might wish that she had loved a somewhat worthier man than Mouret, in
whom there are many moral blemishes; but the reflection imposes itself,
that under her caressing influence these blemishes will disappear, that
Mouret will throw off all that remains in him of the old Adam and prove
worthy of the love that he himself feels and has inspired. And surely
woman's love can have no holier mission than that of the reformation of
man. What, moreover, would become of humanity if a woman's heart were
to be given only to the immaculate, in accordance with the paradoxical
dictum of some latter day lady-novelists? Does not the woman who brings
an erring man back into the straight path that he may contribute to the
common weal, achieve more good than she who simply plights her troth
to one as blameless as herself? And thus a halo encircles M. Zola's
heroine, Denise, the personification of all that is best and truest in
the female heart.

One word more. The compass of the present introduction does not permit
me to establish a comparison between the relative positions of French
and English salesmen and women in the great drapery establishments.
I fear, however, from all I have heard, that several of M. Zola's
strictures on the treatment meted out to the employees of Octave
Mouret's bazaar, might be applied to English houses. And thus whilst I
recommend this book to women, whom its subject cannot fail to interest
and who will take a warning from the extravagance of Madame Marty and
find a bright example in the unswerving rectitude of Denise, I also
submit it to the attention of those who are seeking in this country to
improve the position of shop employees, for I feel certain that they
will find many a useful hint in its searching and accurate pages.


_Merton_, May 1895.

[1] I find that Brunet who played the part of M. Calicot wore the
following typical costume: high boots with spurs, white trousers,
a buff waistcoat and a frock coat made of a green and white
"mixture"--_chicorée à la crême_, as the tailors of those days termed



Denise had come on foot from the Saint-Lazare railway station, where
a Cherbourg train had landed her and her two brothers, after a night
spent on the hard seat of a third-class carriage. She was leading Pépé
by the hand, while Jean followed her; all three of them exhausted by
their journey, frightened and lost in that vast city of Paris, their
eyes raised to the house fronts and their tongues for ever inquiring
the way to the Rue de la Michodière, where their uncle Baudu lived.
However, as she at last emerged into the Place Gaillon, the girl
stopped short in astonishment.

"Oh! just look there, Jean," said she; and they remained stock still,
nestling close to one another, dressed from head to foot in black, the
old mourning bought at their father's death. Denise, rather puny for
her twenty years, was carrying a small parcel in one hand, while on the
other side, her little brother, five years old, clung to her arm, and
in the rear her big brother in the flower of his sixteen summers stood
erect with dangling arms.

"Well I never," 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, whose windows
displayed a wealth of bright colour in the soft, pale October light.
Eight o'clock was striking at the church of Saint-Roch; and only
the early birds of Paris were abroad, a few clerks on their way to
business, and housewives flitting about on their morning shopping.
Before the door of the drapery establishment, two shopmen, mounted on
a step-ladder, were hanging up some woollen goods, whilst in a window
facing 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, which was as yet void of customers, and whose employees
were only just beginning to arrive, there was a low buzz as in a bee
hive just awakening.

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

Denise shook her head. She had spent two years at Valognes, with
Cornaille, the principal draper in the town; and this Parisian shop
so suddenly encountered and to her so vast made her heart swell and
detained her there, interested, impressed, forgetful of everything
else. The lofty plate-glass door in a corner facing the Place Gaillon
reached the first storey amidst a medley of ornaments covered with
gilding. Two allegorical female figures, with laughing faces and
bare bosoms unrolled a scroll bearing the inscription "The Ladies'
Paradise"; then, on either side, along the Rue de la Michodière and the
Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, stretched the windows of the establishment,
not limited merely to the corner house but comprising four others--two
on the right and two on the left which had been recently purchased and
fitted up. It all appeared endless to Denise, thus seen in perspective,
with the display down below and the plate glass windows above, through
which a long line of counters was to be perceived. Upstairs a young
lady, dressed in silk, could be espied sharpening a pencil, while two
others, beside her, were unfolding some velvet mantles.

"The Ladies' Paradise," read Jean, with a soft laugh, like a handsome
youth who already has thoughts of women. "That's a pretty name--that
must draw customers--eh?"

But Denise was absorbed by the display at the principal entrance.
There, in the open street, on the very pavement, she beheld a mass of
cheap goods--doorway temptations, bargains to attract the passer-by.
Pieces of woollen and cloth goods, merinoes, cheviots, and tweeds,
hung from above like bunting, with their neutral, slate, navy-blue,
and olive-green tints relieved by large white price-tickets. Close by,
on either side of the doorway, dangled strips of fur, narrow bands
for dress trimmings, ashen-hued Siberian squirrel-skin, swansdown of
spotless snowiness, and rabbit-skin transformed into imitation ermine
and imitation sable. Below, in boxes and on tables, amidst piles of
remnants, appeared a quantity of hosiery which was virtually given
away; knitted woollen gloves, neckerchiefs, women's hoods, cardigan
waistcoats, a complete winter show with colours in mixtures, patterns
and stripes and here and there a flaming patch of red. Denise saw some
tartan at nine sous, some strips of American bison at a franc the
mètre, and some mittens at five sous a pair. An immense clearance sale
was apparently going on; the establishment seemed to be bursting with
goods, blocking up the pavement with the surplus of its contents. Uncle
Baudu was forgotten. Even Pépé, clinging tightly to his sister's hand,
opened his big eyes in wonder. However a vehicle in coming up forced
them to quit the roadway, and they mechanically turned into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, following the windows and stopping at each fresh
display. At first they were captivated by an intricate arrangement:
up above a number of umbrellas, placed obliquely, seemed to form a
rustic roof; upon rods beneath them hung a quantity of silk stockings
displaying neat ankles and well rounded calves, some of them dotted
with rosebuds, others of divers hues, the black ones open-worked and
the red ones elegantly clocked; whilst those which were of a flesh
tint, looked, with their satiny texture, as soft as skin itself. Then,
on the baize covering of the show-stage, came a symmetrical array of
gloves with extended fingers and narrow palms recalling the hands of
Byzantine Virgins, all the rigid and, as it were, adolescent grace
which characterises feminine frippery before it is worn. However, it
was especially the last window which detained their eyes. An exhibition
of silks, satins and velvets, in a supple, vibrating scale of colour,
here set, as in full bloom, the most delicate hues of the floral
world. At the top were the velvets, deeply black, or white as curds;
lower down came the satins, pinks and blues, bright at their folds,
then fading into paler and paler tints of infinite delicacy; and lower
still were silks, the rainbow's variegated scarf, the several pieces
cocked shell-wise, plaited as though round some female waist, endowed,
as it were, with life by the skilful manipulation of the employees;
and between each _motif_, each glowing phrase of the display ran a
discreet accompaniment, a light, puffy roll of creamy _foulard_. Here
too at either end of the window, were huge piles of the two silks which
were the exclusive property of the establishment, the "Paris Delight"
and the "Golden Grain"--articles of exceptional quality destined to
revolutionize the silk trade.

"Oh! look at that _faille_ at five francs sixty!" murmured Denise,
transported with astonishment at sight of the "Paris Delight".

Jean, however, was getting bored and 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 again attracted by a window in which ladies' mantles
were displayed. At Cornaille's the mantles had been her department,
but she had never seen anything like this, and remained rooted to the
spot with admiration. At the rear a large scarf of Bruges lace, of
considerable value, was spread out like an altar-veil, with its two
creamy wings extended; then there were flounces of Alençon, grouped in
garlands; and from the top to the bottom, like falling snow, fluttered
lace of every description--Malines, Valenciennes, Brussels, and
Venetian-point. On each side pieces of cloth rose up in dark columns
imparting distance to the background. And the mantles were here, in
this sort of chapel raised to the worship of woman's beauty and grace.
In the centre was a magnificent article, a velvet mantle trimmed
with silver fox; on one side of it appeared a silk cloak lined with
miniver, on the other a cloth cloak edged with cocks' plumes; and, last
of all, some opera cloaks in white cashmere and quilted silk trimmed
with swansdown or chenille. There was something for every taste, from
the opera cloaks at twenty-nine francs to the velvet mantle which was
marked eighteen hundred. The round busts of the dummies filled out
the stuff, the prominent hips exaggerating the slimness of the waists
and the absent heads being replaced by large price-tickets pinned on
the necks, whilst the mirrors, on each side of the window, reflected
and multiplied all these forms, peopling the street, as it were, with
beautiful women for sale, each bearing a price in big figures in lieu
of a head.

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

This time he himself had become motionless, and stood there gaping.
All this female luxury turned him rosy with pleasure. He had a girl's
beauty--a beauty which he seemed to have stolen from his sister--a
fair white skin, ruddy curly hair, lips and eyes overflowing with
tenderness. By his side Denise, with her rather long face, large mouth,
fading complexion and light hair, appeared thinner still. Pépé, who
was also fair, with the fairness of infancy, now clung closer to her,
as if anxious to be caressed, perturbed and delighted as he was by the
sight of the beautiful ladies in the window. And those three fair ones,
poorly clad in black, that sad-looking girl between the pretty child
and the handsome youth, looked so strange yet so charming standing
there on the pavement, that the passers-by glanced back smilingly.

For some minutes a stout man with grey hair and a large yellow face
had been looking at them from a shop-door on the other side of the
street. He had been 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 girl and her brothers had completed his
exasperation. What were those three simpletons doing there, gaping in
front of the cheap-jack's show booth?

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

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

They raised their heads and looked round; and just in front of them,
above the stout man, they perceived a green sign-board on which in
yellow letters, discoloured by the rain was the following inscription:
"THE OLD ELBEUF. Cloths and Flannels. BAUDU, late HAUCHECORNE." The
house, coated with ancient rusty paint, and quite flat and unadorned
amidst the surrounding mansions of the Louis XIV. period, had only
three front windows up above, square and shutterless windows simply
provided with handrails supported by two iron bars placed crosswise.
But what most struck Denise, whose eyes were full of the bright display
of The Ladies' Paradise, was the low ground-floor shop, surmounted
by an equally low storey with half-moon windows, of prison-like
appearance. Right and left, framed round by wood work of a bottle-green
hue, which time had tinted with ochre and bitumen, were two deep
windows, black and dusty, in which pieces of cloth heaped one on
another could vaguely be seen. The open doorway seemed to conduct into
the darkness and dampness of a cellar.

"That's the house," said Jean.

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

All three, however, grew somewhat troubled, as if seized with fear.
When their father had died, carried off by the same fever which a month
previously had killed their mother, their uncle Baudu, in the emotion
born of this double bereavement, had certainly written to Denise,
assuring her that there would always be a place for her in his house
whenever she might like to try fortune in Paris. But this had taken
place nearly a year ago, and the young girl was now sorry that she
should have so impulsively left Valognes without informing her uncle.
The latter did not know them, never having set foot in the little town
since the day when he had left it as a boy, to enter the service of the
draper Hauchecorne, whose daughter he had subsequently married.

"Monsieur Baudu?" asked Denise, at last making up her mind to speak to
the stout man who was still eyeing them, surprised by their appearance
and manners.

"That's me," he replied.

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

Baudu seemed lost in amazement. His big eyes rolled in his yellow face;
he spoke slowly and with difficulty. He had evidently been far from
thinking of this family which now suddenly dropped down upon him.

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

In her sweet but rather faltering voice she then explained that since
the death of her father, who had spent every penny he possessed in
his dye-works, she had acted as a mother to the two children; but the
little she had earned at Cornaille's did not suffice to keep the three
of them. Jean certainly worked at a cabinet-maker's, a repairer of
old furniture, but didn't earn a sou. Still, he had got to like the
business, and had even learned to carve. One day, having found a piece
of ivory, he had amused himself by carving it into a head, which a
gentleman staying in the town had seen and praised; and this gentleman
it was who had been the cause of their leaving Valognes, as he had
found Jean a place with an ivory-carver in Paris.

"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. And so I felt sure that Pépé and I would be
able to jog along. At all events we can't be worse off than we were at

She said nothing about a certain love affair of Jean's, of certain
letters which he had written to the daughter of a nobleman of the town,
of the kisses which the pair had exchanged over a wall--in fact, quite
a scandal which had strengthened her in her determination to leave. And
if she was so anxious to be in Paris herself it was that she might be
able to look after her brother, feeling, as she did, quite a mother's
tender anxiety for this gay and handsome youth, whom all the women
adored. Uncle Baudu, however, couldn't get over it, but continued his

"So your father 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 those dye-works! He was a good-hearted fellow certainly,
but he had no head for business And you were left with those two
youngsters to look after--you've had to keep them, eh?"

His bilious face had now become clearer, his eyes were not so bloodshot
as when he had stood glaring at The Ladies' Paradise. All at once he
noticed that he was blocking up the doorway. "Well," said he, "come in,
now you're here. Come in, that'll be better than gaping at a parcel of

And after addressing a last pout of anger to 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!"

Denise and the two boys, however, hesitated at sight of the darkness
of the shop. Blinded by the clear outdoor light, they blinked as on
the threshold of some unknown pit, and felt their way with their feet
with an instinctive fear of encountering some treacherous step. And
drawn yet closer together by this vague fear, the child still holding
the girl's skirts, and the big boy behind, they made their entry with
a smiling, anxious grace. The clear morning light outlined the dark
silhouettes of their mourning clothes; and an oblique ray of sunshine
gilded their fair hair.

"Come in, come in," repeated Baudu.

Then, in a few sentences he explained matters to his wife and
daughter. The former was a little woman, consumed by anæmia and quite
white--white hair, white eyes and white lips. Geneviève, the daughter,
in whom the maternal degeneracy appeared yet more marked, had the
sickly, colourless appearance of a plant reared in the shade. However,
a thick, heavy crop of magnificent black hair, marvellously vigorous
for such poor soil, gave her, as it were, a mournful charm.

"Come in," said both the women in their turn; "you are welcome." And
they at once made Denise sit down behind a counter.

Pépé then jumped upon his sister's lap, whilst Jean leant against the
panelling beside her. They were regaining their assurance and looking
round the shop where their eyes had grown used to the obscurity. They
could now distinctly see it all, with its low and smoky ceiling, its
oaken counters polished by use, and its old-fashioned nests of drawers
with strong iron fittings. Bales of dark goods reached to the beams
above; a smell of wool and dye--a sharp chemical smell--prevailed,
intensified it seemed by the humidity of the floor. At the further end
two young men and a young woman were putting away some pieces of white

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

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

She blushed as she spoke feeling that she ought not to have dropped
down on her friends in this way. Even in the train, just as she was
leaving Valognes, she had been assailed by regrets and fears; and this
was why she had left the box at the station and given the children
their breakfast immediately on arriving in Paris.

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

He stopped short, choked by an emotion he did not wish to show.
Madame Baudu and Geneviève, had cast down their eyes with an air of

"Oh," continued he, "it's a crisis which will pass, no doubt, I'm not
uneasy; 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 poor girl, I
cannot take you as I promised."

Denise listened, aghast and very pale. He repeated his words, adding:
"It would do no good to either of us."

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

The Baudus were not bad sort of people. But they complained of never
having had any luck. In the flourishing days of their business, 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
started for Mexico, as a captain. Geneviève was the only one now left
at home. From first to last, however, this large family had cost a 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

"You might have warned us," he resumed, gradually getting angry at
his own harshness. "You might have written and 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, as he thus relieved himself. His wife and
daughter still kept their eyes on the floor, like submissive persons
who would never think of interfering. Jean, however, had turned pale,
whilst Denise hugged the terrified Pépé to her bosom. Hot tears of
disappointment fell from her eyes.

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

At that he ceased speaking, and an awkward silence ensued. Then he
resumed in a surly tone: "I don't mean to turn you out. As you are here
you can sleep upstairs to-night; after that, we'll see."

Then, as he glanced at them, Madame Baudu and Geneviève understood that
they were free to arrange matters. And all was soon settled. There was
no need to trouble about Jean, as he was to enter on his apprenticeship
the next day. As for Pépé, he would be well looked after by Madame
Gras, an old lady who rented a large ground floor in the Rue des
Orties, where she boarded and lodged young children for forty francs a
month. Denise said that she had sufficient to pay for the first month,
and, so the only remaining question was to find a place for herself.
Surely they would be able to discover some situation for her in the

"Wasn't Vinçard in want of a saleswoman?" asked Geneviève.

"Of course, so he was!" cried Baudu; "we'll go and see him after lunch.
There's nothing like striking the iron while it's hot."

Not a customer had come in to interrupt this family discussion; the
shop remained dark and empty as before. At the far end, the two young
men and the young woman were still working, talking in low sibilant
whispers amongst themselves. At last, however, three ladies arrived,
and Denise was then 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 little head without saying a
word. When Madame Baudu and Geneviève returned, they remarked how quiet
he was, and Denise assured them that he never made any more noise than
that, but remained for days together without speaking, living solely
on kisses and caresses. Then until lunch-time the three women sat and
talked together about children, housekeeping, life in Paris and life in
the country, in curt, cautious sentences, like relations whom ignorance
of one another renders somewhat awkward. Jean meantime had gone to the
shop-door, and stood there watching all the outdoor life and smiling
at the pretty girls. At ten o'clock a servant appeared. As a rule the
cloth was then laid for Baudu, Geneviève, and the first-hand; a second
lunch being served at eleven o'clock for Madame Baudu, the other young
man, and the young woman.

"Come to lunch!" exclaimed the draper, turning towards his niece; and
when they sat ready in the narrow dining-room behind the shop, he
called the first-hand who had lingered behind: "Colomban lunch!"

The young man entered apologising; he had wished to finish arranging
the flannels, he said. He was a big fellow of twenty-five, heavy but
crafty, for although his face, with its large weak mouth, seemed at
first sight typical of honesty there was a veiled cunning in his eyes.

"There's a time for everything," rejoined Baudu, who sat before a
piece of cold veal, carving it with a master's skill and prudence,
calculating the weight of each thin slice to within a quarter of an

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 to which she had been accustomed in the country. A
single window overlooked a small back-yard, which communicated with the
street by a dark passage running along the side of the house. And this
yard, dripping wet and evil-smelling, was like the bottom of some well
into which fell a circular glimmer of light. In the winter they were
obliged to keep the gas burning all day, and when the weather enabled
them to do without it the room seemed more melancholy still. Several
seconds elapsed before Denise's 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 are not eating. And, I say, now
that we can talk a bit, tell us why you didn't get married at Valognes?"

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

She ended by laughing, it seemed to her such a strange idea. Besides,
what man would have cared to take 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 over there you wouldn't have dropped
on to the Paris pavement, you and your brothers, like a party of

He paused in order to apportion with a parsimony full of justice, a
dish of bacon and potatoes which the servant had just brought in. Then,
pointing to Geneviève and Colomban with his spoon, he added: "Those two
will get 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 first-hand, 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 in his turn he intended to hand over Geneviève and the
business to Colomban as soon as trade should improve. If he still
delayed the marriage which had been decided on three years previously,
it was because a scruple had come to him, a fixed resolve to act in all
honesty. He himself had received the business in a prosperous state,
and did not wish to pass it on to his son-in-law with fewer customers
or doubtful sales. And, continuing his talk, he formally introduced
Colomban, who came from Rambouillet, like Madame Baudu's father; in
fact they were distant cousins. A hard-working fellow was Colomban,
said he; for ten years he had slaved in the shop, fairly earning all
his promotions! Besides, he was far from being a nobody; his father was
that noted toper, Colomban, the veterinary surgeon so well known all
over the department of Seine-et-Oise, an artist in his line, but so
addicted to the flowing bowl that his money fast slipped through his

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

Whilst he was thus speaking Denise began to examine Geneviève and
Colomban. Though they sat close together at table, they remained
very quiet, without a blush or a smile. From the day of entering the
establishment the young man had counted on this marriage. He had passed
through the various stages of junior hand, salesman, etc., at last
gaining admittance into the confidence and pleasures of the family
circle, and all this patiently, whilst leading a clock-work style of
life and looking upon his marriage with Geneviève as a legitimate
stroke of business. The certainty of having her as his wife prevented
him from feeling any desire for her. On her side the girl had got to
love him with the gravity of her reserved nature, full of a real deep
passion of which she was not aware, in the regulated monotony of her
daily life.

"Oh! it's quite right, when folks like each other, and can do it," at
last said Denise, smiling, with a view to making herself agreeable.

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

Geneviève gave him a long look, and then in her turn remarked: "When
people understand each other, the rest comes naturally."

Their affection had sprung up in this gloomy nook of old Paris like a
flower in a cellar. For ten years past she had known no one but him,
living by his side, behind the same bales of cloth, amidst the darkness
of the shop; and morning and evening they had found themselves elbow to
elbow in the tiny dining-room, so damp and vault-like. They could not
have been more concealed, more utterly lost had they been far away in
the country, under the screening foliage of the trees. Only the advent
of doubt, of jealous fear, could make it plain to the girl, that she
had given herself, for ever, amidst this abetting solitude, through
sheer emptiness of heart and mental weariness.

As it was, Denise, fancied she could detect a growing anxiety in the
look Geneviève had cast at Colomban, so she good-naturedly replied:
"Oh! when people are in love they always understand each other."

Meantime Baudu kept a sharp eye on the table. He had distributed some
"fingers" of Brie cheese, and, as a treat for the visitors, called for
a second dessert, a pot of red-currant jam, a liberality which seemed
to surprise Colomban. Pépé, who so far had been very good, behaved
rather badly at the sight of the jam; whilst Jean, his attention
attracted by the conversation about his cousin Geneviève's marriage,
began to take stock of the girl, whom he thought too puny and too pale,
comparing her in his own mind to a little white rabbit with black ears
and pink eyes.

"Well, we've chatted enough, and must make room for the others," said
the draper, giving the signal to rise from table. "Just because we've
had a treat there 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 table. Denise, again left to herself, sat down
near the door waiting until her uncle should be able to take her to
Vinçard's. Pépé was playing at her feet, whilst Jean had resumed his
post of observation on the threshold. And Denise sat there for nearly
an hour, taking interest in what went on around her. Now and again
a few customers came in; a lady, then two others appeared, the shop
meanwhile retaining its musty odour and its half light, in which
old-fashioned commerce, simple and good natured, seemed to weep at
finding itself so deserted. What most interested Denise, however, was
The Ladies' Paradise opposite, whose windows she could see through the
open doorway. The sky remained cloudy, a sort of humid mildness warmed
the air, notwithstanding the season; and in the clear light, permeated,
as it were, by a hazy diffusion of sunshine, the great shop acquired
abundant life and activity.

To Denise it seemed as if she were watching a machine working at full
pressure, setting even the window-shows in motion. They were no longer
the cold windows she had seen in the early morning; they seemed to
have been warmed and to vibrate with all the activity within. There
were folks before them, groups of women pushing and squeezing against
the sheets of glass, a perfect crowd excited with covetousness. And in
this passionate atmosphere the stuffs themselves seemed endowed with
life; the laces quivered, drooped, and concealed the depths of the shop
with a disturbing air of mystery; even the thick square-cut lengths
of cloth breathed, exhaling a tempting odour, while the tailor-made
coats seemed to draw themselves up more erectly on the dummies, which
acquired souls, and the velvet mantle expanded, supple and warm, as if
falling from real shoulders, over a heaving bosom and quivering hips.
But the factory-like glow which pervaded the house came above all from
the sales, the crush at the counters, which could be divined behind
the walls. There was the continual roaring of a machine at work, an
engulfing of customers close-pressed against the counters, bewildered
amidst the piles of goods, and finally hurled towards the pay-desks.
And all went on in an orderly manner, with mechanical regularity, force
and logic carrying quite a nation of women through the gearing of this
commercial machine.

Denise had felt tempted ever since early morning. She was bewildered
and attracted by this shop, to her so vast, which she saw more people
enter in an hour than she had seen enter Cornaille's in six months; and
with her desire to enter it was mingled a vague sense of danger which
rendered her seduction complete. At the same time her uncle's shop
made her feel ill at ease; she felt unreasonable disdain, instinctive
repugnance for this cold, icy place, the home of old-fashioned trading.
All her sensations--her anxious entry, her relatives' cold reception,
the dull lunch partaken of in a prison-like atmosphere, her spell of
waiting amidst the sleepy solitude of this old establishment doomed
to speedy decay--all these became concentrated in mute protest, in a
passionate longing for life and light. And despite her good heart, her
eyes ceaselessly turned to The Ladies' Paradise, as if, saleswoman
as she was, she felt the need of warming herself in the glow of that
immense business.

"Plenty of customers over there at all events!" was the remark which at
last escaped her.

But she promptly regretted these words on seeing the Baudus near her.
Madame Baudu, who had finished her lunch, was standing there, quite
white, with her pale eyes fixed on the monster; and resigned though she
tried to be, she could never catch sight of that place across the road,
without mute despair filling her eyes with tears. As for Geneviève,
she was anxiously watching Colomban, who, unaware that he was being
observed, remained in ecstasy, looking at the young saleswomen in the
mantle department of the Paradise, whose counter was visible through
the first floor window. Baudu, for his part, though his anger was
written on his face, merely remarked: "All is not gold that glitters.

The members of the family evidently kept back the flood of rancour
rising in their throats. A feeling of self-esteem prevented them from
displaying their temper before these children, who had only that
morning arrived. At last the draper made an effort, and tore himself
away from the spectacle of The Paradise and its sales.

"Well!" he resumed, "we'll go and see Vinçard. Situations are soon
snatched up and it might be too late to-morrow."

However, before starting, he ordered his junior salesman to go to the
railway station to fetch Denise's box. On her side Madame Baudu, to
whom the girl had confided Pépé, decided to run over to see Madame Gras
in order to arrange about the child. Jean on the other hand promised
his sister not to stir from the shop.

"It's two minutes' walk," explained Baudu as he went down the Rue
Gaillon with his niece: "Vinçard has a silk business, and still does a
fair trade. Oh, of course he has his worries, 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."

Vinçard's 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. Baudu and Denise
found Vinçard in consultation with two gentlemen.

"Never mind us," called out the draper; "we are in no hurry; we can
wait." And discreetly returning to the door he whispered to Denise:
"That thin fellow is second in the silk department at The Paradise, 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. With a frank air, and open face, he was
giving his word of honour, with the facility of a man whom assurances
never troubled. According to him, his business was a golden one; and
albeit in the splendour of robust health he broke off to whine and
complain of those infernal pains of his which prevented him from
remaining in business and making his fortune. Robineau who seemed
nervous and uneasy interrupted him impatiently. He knew what a crisis
the trade was passing through, and named a silk warehouse which had
already been ruined by the vicinity of The Paradise. Then Vinçard,
inflamed, raised his voice.

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

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

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

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

"No," said he, "I haven't yet 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. "My interest, you know, is not to sell; and I
certainly shouldn't were it not for my rheumatics----"

Then stepping to the middle of the shop, he inquired: "What can I do
for you, Monsieur Baudu?"

The draper, who had been slily listening, thereupon introduced Denise,
telling Vinçard as much as he thought necessary of her story and adding
that she had two years' country experience. "And as I heard you are
wanting a good saleswoman----" he added.

But Vinçard, affecting extreme sorrow, cut him short: "How
unfortunate!" said he. "I had, indeed, been looking for a saleswoman
all this week; but I've just engaged one--not two hours ago."

A silence ensued. Denise seemed to be in consternation. Robineau,
who was looking at her with interest, probably inspired with pity by
her poverty-stricken appearance, ventured to remark: "I know they're
wanting a young person at our place, in the mantle department."

At this Baudu could not restrain a fervent outburst: "At your place
indeed! Never!"

Then he stopped short in embarrassment. Denise had turned very red;
she would never dare to enter that great shop, and yet the idea of
belonging to it 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 to be

The draper, to conceal his inward revolt, then began talking vaguely.
He knew Madame Aurélie, or, at least, her husband, Lhomme, the cashier,
a stout man, who had had his right arm crushed by an omnibus. Then
suddenly turning to Denise, he added: "However, it's her business, it
isn't mine. She can do as she likes."

And thereupon he went off, after wishing Gaujean and Robineau
"good-day". Vinçard accompanied him as far as the door, reiterating
his regrets. The girl meantime had remained in the middle of the shop,
intimidated yet desirous of asking Robineau for further particulars.
However she could not muster the courage to do so, but in her turn
bowed, and simply said: "Thank you, sir."

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

Denise stopped and waited.

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

Bourras was a tall old man, with a prophet's head, bearded and hairy,
with piercing eyes shining from under bushy brows. 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 windows of his shop where the sticks and umbrellas were
arranged in straight lines. But on raising her eyes she was astonished
by the appearance of the house--it was an old hovel squeezed in between
The Ladies' Paradise and a large Louis XIV. mansion; you could hardly
conceive how it had sprung up in the narrow slit where its two low
dumpy storeys displayed themselves. Had it not been for the support of
the buildings on either side it must have fallen; the slates of its
roof were old and rotten, and its two-windowed front was cracked and
covered with stains, running down in long rusty lines to the worm-eaten
sign-board over the shop.

"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.

"We must be prepared for anything," murmured Baudu at last.

Thereupon Bourras flew into a passion, shaking his hair and flowing
beard while he shouted: "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 shan't
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 was looking towards The Ladies'
Paradise, which neither of them had named. For a moment Baudu remained
shaking his head in silence, and then crossed the street to his shop,
his legs almost failing him as he repeated: "Ah! good Lord! ah! good

Denise, who had listened, followed her uncle. Madame Baudu had just
come back with Pépé, whom Madame Gras had agreed to receive at any
time. Jean, however, 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. Meantime their box had arrived, and it was arranged
that they should sleep in the attic.

"Ah! By the way, how did you get on at Vinçard's?" inquired Madame

The draper thereupon gave an account of his fruitless errand, adding
that Denise had heard of a situation; and, pointing to The Ladies'
Paradise with a scornful gesture, he exclaimed: "There--in there!"

The whole family felt hurt at the idea. The first dinner was at five
o'clock. Denise and the two children sat down to it with Baudu,
Geneviève, and Colomban. A single gas jet lighted and warmed the little
dining-room which reeked with the smell of food. The meal passed off in
silence, but at dessert Madame Baudu, who was restless, left the shop,
and came and sat down behind Denise. And then the storm, kept back
all day, broke out, one and all seeking to relieve their feelings by
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 in broken sentences he commenced to relate the story
of that Octave Mouret to whom The Paradise belonged. He had been
wonderfully lucky! A fellow who had come up from the South of France
with the smiling audacity of an adventurer, who had no sooner arrived
in Paris than he had begun to distinguish himself by all sorts of
disgraceful pranks, figuring most prominently in a matrimonial scandal,
which was still the talk of the neighbourhood; and who, to crown all,
had suddenly and mysteriously made the conquest of Madame Hédouin, who
had brought him The Ladies' Paradise as a marriage portion.

"That 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, with
that very building! One morning, when she was visiting the works,
she fell into 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 foundations of that house."

So speaking 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 morning, was due, perhaps, to the presence of that
woman's blood, which she fancied she could now detect 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, full of disdain for these old women's tales, shrugged
his shoulders and resumed his story, explaining the situation
commercially. The Ladies' Paradise had been founded in 1822 by two
brothers, named Deleuze. On the death of the elder, his daughter,
Caroline, had married the son of a linen manufacturer, Charles Hédouin;
and, later on, becoming a widow, she had married Mouret. She thus
brought him a half share in the business. Three months after the
marriage, however, the second brother Deleuze died childless; so that
when Caroline met her death, Mouret became sole heir, sole proprietor
of The Ladies' Paradise. Yes, he had been wonderfully lucky!

"He's what they call a man of ideas, a dangerous busybody, who will
overturn the whole neighbourhood if he's left to himself!" continued
Baudu. "I fancy that Caroline, who was rather romantic also, must have
been carried away by the gentleman's extravagant plans. 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 kept on growing and growing to such a point that
it now threatens to swallow us all up!"

He was addressing Denise, but was in reality speaking for himself,
feeling a feverish longing to recapitulate this story which continually
haunted him. At home he was always angry and full of bile, always
violent, with fists ever clenched. Madame Baudu, ceasing to interfere,
sat motionless on her chair; Geneviève and Colomban, with 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 that tiny room
that Pépé had fallen asleep with his head on the table, and even Jean's
eyes were closing.

"But 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
additional capital, he has induced most of his shop-people to invest
all they possess with him. And so he hasn't a sou to help himself with
now; and, unless a miracle be worked, and he manages to 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, I will, on
my word of honour!"

And he went on in a revengeful voice; to hear him you would have
thought that the fall of The Ladies' Paradise would restore the
dignity and prestige of commerce. Had any one ever seen such doings?
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 both goods
and customers as if they were so many parcels; taking themselves off
or getting the sack at a moment's notice. No affection, no morals,
no taste! And all at once he appealed to Colomban as a witness; he,
Colomban, brought up in the good old school, knew how long it took to
learn all the cunning and trickery of the trade. The art was not to
sell much, but to sell dear. And then too, Colomban could tell them how
he had been treated, carefully looked after, his washing and mending
done, nursed in illness, considered as one of the family--loved, in

"Of course, of course," repeated Colomban, after each statement made by
his governor.

"Ah, you're the last of the old stock, my dear fellow," Baudu ended by
declaring. "After you're gone there'll be none left. You are my sole
consolation, for if all that hurry and scurry is what they now call
business I understand nothing of it and would rather clear out."

Geneviève, with her head on one side as if her thick hair were weighing
down her pale brow, sat watching the smiling shopman; and in her
glance there was a gleam of suspicion, a wish to see whether Colomban,
stricken with remorse, would not blush at all this praise. But, like
a fellow well acquainted with every trick of the old style of trade,
he retained his sedateness, his good-natured air, with just a touch of
cunning about his lips. However, Baudu still went on, louder than ever,
accusing the people opposite--that pack of savages who murdered each
other in their struggle for existence--of even destroying all family
ties. And he mentioned his country neighbours, the Lhommes--mother,
father, and son--all employed in the infernal shop, people who
virtually had no home but were always out and about, leading a hotel,
_table d'hôte_ kind of existence, and never taking a meal at their
own place excepting on Sundays. Certainly his dining-room wasn't over
large or too well aired or lighted; but at least it spoke to him of his
life, for he had lived there amidst the affection of his kith and kin.
Whilst speaking, his eyes wandered about the room; and he shuddered
at the unavowed idea that if those savages should succeed in ruining
his trade they might some day turn him out of this hole where he was
so comfortable with his wife and child. Notwithstanding the seeming
assurance with which he predicted the utter downfall of his rivals, he
was in reality terrified, feeling at heart that the neighbourhood was
being gradually invaded and devoured.

"Well, I don't want to disgust you," he resumed, 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 in bewilderment, her desire
to enter The Ladies' Paradise, growing keener and keener amidst all
this display of passion.

Baudu had put his elbows on the table, and was wearying her with
his fixed stare. "But look here," he resumed; "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. But now they are doing their best to snap up every branch
of trade and ruin their neighbours. The whole neighbourhood complains
of it, every small tradesman is beginning to suffer terribly. This
man Mouret is ruining them. For instance, Bédoré and his sister, who
keep the hosiery shop in the Rue Gaillon, have already lost half their
customers; Mademoiselle Tatin, who sells under-linen 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 Messrs. Vanpouille
Brothers, the furriers, cannot hold out much longer. Ah! 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, when I passed down 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 is
convinced 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 let himself be butchered! We shall see some fun one of
these days."

Then Baudu went on to speak 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 make haste to leave a house when it threatens
ruin. Then, however, immediately afterwards, he contradicted himself,
and talked of an alliance, an understanding between the small tradesmen
to enable them to fight the colossus. For a moment, his hands shaking,
and his mouth twitching nervously, he hesitated as to whether he should
speak of himself. At last he made up his mind to do so.

"As for me," he said, "I can't complain as yet. Of course he has
done me harm, the scoundrel! But up to the present he has only kept
ladies' cloths, light stuffs for dresses and heavier goods for mantles.
People still come to me for men's goods, velvets and velveteens for
shooting suits, cloths for liveries, without speaking of flannels and
_molletons_, of which I defy him to show so complete an assortment as
my own. But he thinks he will annoy me by placing his cloth department
right in front of my door. You've seen his display, haven't you? He
always places his finest mantles there, surrounded by a framework of
cloth in pieces--a cheapjack parade to tempt the hussies. 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 of any such catchpenny
devices at its door. As long as I live, it shall remain as I took it,
with its four samples on each side, and nothing more!"

The whole family was becoming affected; and after a spell of silence
Geneviève ventured to make a remark:

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

"For my part," 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, 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 already such as you see it
now. Ah! all has greatly changed, greatly changed!"

She shook her head; the drama of her whole life was expressed in those
few words. Born in the old house, she loved each of its damp stones,
living only for it and by it; and, formerly so proud of that 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 her own and finally
towering above it, and threatening all. This was to her an ever-open
sore; she was slowly dying from sheer grief at seeing The Old Elbeuf
humiliated; if she still lived it was, as in the case of the shop
itself, solely by the effect of impulsion; but she well realised that
the death of the shop would be hers as well, and that she would pass
away on the day when it should close.

Silence fell. Baudu began 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 once more relieved his feelings in this way.
The whole family shared his despondency, and with dreamy eyes chewed
the cud of his bitter story. They never had had any luck. The children
had been brought up and fortune had seemed at hand, when suddenly this
competition had arisen and ruined all their hopes. And there was, also,
that house at Rambouillet, that country house to which the draper had
been dreaming of retiring for the last ten years--a bargain, he had
thought when he acquired it, but it had proved a sorry old building,
always in want of repairs, and he had let it to people who never
paid any rent. His last profits were swallowed up by this place--the
only folly he had been guilty of in his honest, upright career as a
tradesman stubbornly attached to the old ways.

"Come, come!" he suddenly exclaimed, "we must make room for the others.
That's enough of this useless talk!"

It was like an awakening. The gas was hissing in the lifeless, stifling
air of the tiny room. They all jumped up, breaking the melancholy
silence. Pépé, however, was sleeping so soundly that they decided to
lay 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 gave her an urgent glance, waiting for a decisive answer. But
Denise, whom these stories had inspired with a still greater longing to
enter The Ladies' Paradise, instead of turning her from it, retained
her quiet gentle demeanour beneath which lurked a genuine Norman
obstinacy. And she simply replied: "We'll see, uncle."

Then 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 now come on, and she
found the street quite dark, drenched by a fine close rain, which had
been falling since sunset. It came on her as a surprise. A few minutes
had sufficed to fill the roadway with puddles, a stream of dirty
water was running along the gutters, the pavement was sticky with a
thick black mud; and through the beating rain she saw nothing but a
confused stream of umbrellas, pushing along and swelling in the gloom
like great black wings. She started back at first, feeling very cold,
oppressed at heart by the badly-lighted shop, now so extremely dismal.
A moist breeze, the breath of that old quarter of Paris, came in from
the street; it seemed as if the rain, streaming from the umbrellas,
was running right up to the counters, as if the pavement with its mud
and its puddles was coming into the shop, putting the finishing touch
to the mouldiness of that ancient, cavernous ground-floor, white with
saltpetre. It was quite a vision of old Paris in the wet, and it made
her shiver with distressful astonishment at finding the great city so
cold and so ugly.

But across the road The Ladies' Paradise glowed with its deep, serried
lines of gas jets. She moved nearer, again attracted and, as it were,
warmed by that ardent blaze. The machine was still roaring, active as
ever, letting its steam escape with a last roar, whilst the salesmen
folded up the stuffs, and the cashiers counted the receipts. Seen
through the hazy windows, the lights swarmed vaguely, revealing a
confused factory-like interior. Behind the curtain of falling rain,
the vision, blurred and distant, assumed the appearance of a giant
furnace-house, where the shadows of firemen passed black against the
red glare of the furnaces. The displays in the windows likewise became
indistinct: you could only distinguish the snowy lace, its whiteness
heightened 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 setting amidst them all the
curved silhouette of a headless woman who seemed to be running through
the rain to some entertainment in the unknown shades of nocturnal Paris.

Denise, yielding to the fascination, had gone to the door, heedless of
the raindrops dripping upon her. At this hour, The Ladies' Paradise,
with its furnace-like brilliancy, completed its conquest of 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, with other things
besides--she hardly knew what--far-off things however, the desire and
fear of which made her tremble. The idea of that woman who had met her
death amidst the foundations came back to her; and she felt afraid,
fancying that the lights were tinged with blood; but the whiteness of
the lace quieted her, a hope, quite a certainty of happiness, sprang up
in her heart, whilst the fine rain, blowing on her, cooled her hands,
and calmed the feverishness within her, born of her journey.

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

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

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

Then, turning round, Denise again found the Baudus behind her. Though
they thought Bourras so stupid, they also, despite themselves, ever
and ever returned to the contemplation of that spectacle which rent
their hearts. It was, so to say, a rageful desire to suffer. 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 almost choked with suppressed rancour, Madame Baudu began
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."


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 as she was to early hours, she had come down too soon; the
employees were barely arriving and, afraid of looking ridiculous,
overcome by timidity, she remained for a moment walking up and down the
Place Gaillon.

The cold wind that blew had already dried the pavement. From all the
surrounding streets, illumined by a pale early light, falling from an
ashen sky, shopmen were hurriedly approaching with 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 vanished
into the warehouse, without addressing a word or look to their
colleagues marching along around them. Others however came up in twos
and threes, talking fast, and monopolising the whole of the pavement;
and all, with a similar gesture, flung away their cigarettes or cigars
before crossing the threshold.

Denise noticed that several of the gentlemen took stock of her in
passing. This increased her timidity; and she no longer had courage to
follow them, but resolved to wait till they had entered, blushing at
the mere idea of being elbowed at the door by all these men. However
the stream of salesmen still flowed on, and in order to escape their
looks, she took a walk round the Place. When she came back again, she
found a tall young man, pale and awkward, who appeared to be waiting
like herself.

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

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

"The fact is," he continued, getting more confused than ever, "I
thought of applying to see if I could get an engagement, 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 divined that she was trembling like himself.

"I would with pleasure, sir," she at last replied. "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.

Thereupon they both blushed deeply, and still all timidity remained for
a moment face to face, affected by the striking similarity of their
positions yet not daring to openly express a desire for each other's
success. Then, as nothing further fell from either and both became more
and more uncomfortable, they parted awkwardly, and renewed their wait,
one on either side at a distance of a few steps.

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 thus on exhibition, and she had decided
to take half an hour's walk in the neighbourhood, when the sight of a
young man approaching rapidly by way of the Rue Port-Mahon, detained
her for another moment. He was probably the manager of a department,
thought she, for all the others raised their hats to him. Tall, with a
clear skin and carefully trimmed beard, he had eyes the colour of old
gold and of a velvety softness, which he fixed on her for a moment as
he crossed the Place. He was already entering the shop with an air of
indifference, while she remained motionless, quite upset by that glance
of his, filled indeed with a singular emotion, in which there was more
uneasiness than pleasure. Without doubt, fear was gaining on her, and,
to give herself time to collect her courage, she began slowly walking
down the Rue Gaillon, and then along the Rue Saint-Roch.

The person who had so disturbed her was more than the manager of a
department, it was Octave Mouret in person. He had been making a night
of it, and his tightly buttoned overcoat concealed a dress suit and
white tie. In all haste he ran upstairs to his rooms, washed himself
and changed his clothes, and when he at last seated himself at his
table, in his private office on the first floor, he was at his ease
and full of strength, with bright eyes and cool skin, as ready for
work as if he had enjoyed ten hours' sleep. The spacious office,
furnished in old oak and hung with green rep, had but one ornament, the
portrait of that Madame Hédouin, who was still the talk of the whole
neighbourhood. Since her death Octave ever thought of her with tender
regret, grateful as he felt to her for the fortune she had bestowed on
him with her hand. And before commencing to sign the drafts laid upon
his blotting-pad he darted upon her portrait the contented smile of a
happy man. Was it not always before her that he returned to work, after
the escapades of his present single-blessedness?

There came a knock however, and before Mouret could answer, a young
man entered, a tall, bony fellow, very gentlemanly and correct in
his appearance, with thin lips, a sharp nose and smooth hair already
showing signs of turning grey. Mouret raised his eyes, then whilst
still signing the drafts, remarked:

"I hope you slept well, Bourdoncle?"

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

Bourdoncle, the son of a poor farmer near Limoges, had begun his career
at The Ladies' Paradise at the same time as Mouret, when it only
occupied the corner of the Place Gaillon. Very intelligent and very
active, it then seemed as if he would easily supplant his comrade, who
was much less steady, and far too fond of love-affairs; but he had
neither the instinctive genius of the impassioned Southerner, nor his
audacity, nor his winning grace. Besides, by a wise instinct, he had,
from the first bowed before him, obedient without a struggle. When
Mouret had advised his people to put their money into the business,
Bourdoncle had been one of the first to do so, even investing in the
establishment the proceeds of an unexpected legacy left him by an aunt;
and little by little, after passing through all the various stages,
such as salesman, second, and then first-hand in the silk department,
he had become one of Octave's most cherished and influential
lieutenants, one of the six intéressés[1] who assisted him to govern
The Ladies' Paradise--forming something like a privy council under
an absolute king. Each one watched over a department or province.
Bourdoncle, for his part, exercised a general surveillance.

[1] In the great Paris magasins de nouveautés such as the Louvre and
Bon Marché there have been at various stages numerous intéressés, that
is partners of a kind who whilst entitled to some share of the profits,
exercise but a strictly limited control in the management of the
establishment's affairs.--_Trans._

"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 who professed to
hate all women, contented himself with encouraging the extravagance
of the lady customers, feeling meantime the greatest disdain for
the frivolity which led them to ruin themselves in stupid gewgaws.
Mouret, on the contrary, affected to worship them, ever showed himself
delighted and cajoling in their presence and was ever embarking in
fresh love-affairs. This served, as it were, as an advertisement for
his business; and you might have said that he enveloped all women in
the same caress the better to bewilder them and keep them at his mercy.

"I saw Madame Desforges last night, she was looking delicious at that
ball," said he, beginning to relate his evening experiences. But then,
abruptly breaking off, he took up another bundle of drafts, which he
began to sign whilst Bourdoncle continued to walk about, stepping
towards the lofty plate-glass windows whence he glanced into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. Then, retracing his steps, he suddenly exclaimed:
"You know they'll have their revenge."

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

"Why, the women."

At this, Mouret became quite merry, displaying, beneath his 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, as soon as they should have finished helping him to make his
fortune. But Bourdoncle in his frigid way obstinately repeated: "They
will have their revenge; there will be one who will some day 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, why there----"

So saying he raised his penholder, brandishing it and pointing it in
the air, as if he were bent on stabbing some invisible heart with a
knife. Bourdoncle thereupon resumed his walk, bowing as usual before
the superiority of the governor, whose genius, with all its lapses,
disconcerted him. He, himself so clear-headed, logical and passionless,
incapable of falling into the toils of a syren, had yet to learn the
feminine character of success, all Paris yielding herself with a kiss
to her boldest assailant.

A silence fell, broken only by the sound of Mouret's pen. Then, in
reply to his brief questions, Bourdoncle gave him various information
respecting of the great sale of winter novelties, which was to commence
on the following Monday. This was an important affair, the house was
risking its fortune in it; for the rumours of the neighbourhood had
some foundation, Mouret was throwing himself into speculation like
a poet, with such ostentation, such desire to attain the colossal,
that everything seemed likely to give way under him. It was quite a
new style of doing business, a seeming commercial phantasy which had
formerly made Madame Hédouin anxious, and even now, notwithstanding
certain 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 available cash into one venture,
filling the departments with a pile of goods without leaving a copper
in the reserve fund. Thus, for this winter sale, after the heavy sums
recently paid to the builders, the whole capital was exhausted and
it once more became a question of victory or death. Yet Mouret in
the midst of all this excitement, preserved a triumphant gaiety, a
certainty of gaining millions, like a man so worshipped by women, that
there could be no question of betrayal. When Bourdoncle ventured to
express certain fears with reference to the excessive development given
to several departments of doubtful profit he gave vent to a laugh full
of confidence, and exclaimed:

"Pooh, pooh! my dear fellow, the place is still too small!"

The other appeared dumbfounded, seized with a fear which he no longer
attempted to conceal. The house too small! an establishment which
comprised nineteen departments, and numbered four hundred and three

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

Then having finished signing his drafts, he rose, and tapped his
lieutenant on the shoulder in a friendly manner, but the latter could
not get over his astonishment. The fright displayed by the prudent
people around him amused Mouret. In one of those fits of brusque
frankness with which he sometimes overwhelmed his familiars, he
declared that he was at heart a greater Jew than all the Jews in the
world; he took, said he, 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 dash of nervous fantasy which he displayed, it
was, perhaps, the principal element of his luck, for he felt that his
ability to dare everything was an invincible force.

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

Then, before going down into the shop to give their usual look round,
they settled certain other details. They examined a specimen of a
little book of account forms, which Mouret had just invented for the
use of his employees. Having remarked that the old-fashioned goods,
the dead stock, went off the more rapidly the higher the commission
allowed to the employees, he had based on this observation quite a
new system, that of interesting his people in the sale of all the
goods, giving them a commission on even the smallest piece of stuff,
the most trumpery article they sold. This innovation had caused quite
a revolution in the drapery trade, creating between the salespeople
a struggle for existence of which the masters reaped the benefits.
To foment this struggle was indeed Mouret's favourite method, the
principle which he constantly applied. He excited his employees'
passions, pitted one against the other, allowed the stronger to swallow
up the weaker ones, and for his own part battened on this struggle of
conflicting interests. The sample account book was duly approved of;
at the top of each leaf on both counterfoil and bill form, appeared
particulars of the department and the salesman's number; then also in
duplicate came columns for the measurement, the description of the
goods sold, and their price. The salesman simply signed the bill form
before handing it to the cashier; and in this way an easy account was
kept: it was only necessary to compare the bill-forms delivered by
the cashier's department to the clearing-house with the salesmen's
counterfoils. Every week the latter would receive their commission,
without any possibility of error.

"We shan't be robbed so much," remarked Bourdoncle, with satisfaction.
"This was a very good idea of yours."

"And I thought of something else last night," explained Mouret. "Yes,
my dear fellow, at supper. I have an idea of giving the clearing-house
clerks a little bonus for every error they detect while checking the
bills. You understand, eh? Like this we shall be sure that they won't
pass any, for rather than do that they'll be inventing mistakes!"

He began to laugh, whilst the other looked at him admiringly. This new
application of the struggle-for-existence theory delighted Mouret;
he had a real genius for administrative functions, and dreamed of so
organizing the establishment as to trade upon the selfish instincts of
his employees, for the greater satisfaction of his own appetites. He
often said that to make people do their best, and even to keep them
fairly honest, it was first of all necessary to excite their selfish

"Well, let's go downstairs," he resumed. "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 in the basement on
the side of the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. There, on a level with the
pavement, was a kind of glazed cage, into which the vans discharged the
goods. They were weighed, and then shot down a rapid slide, whose oak
and iron work was polished by the constant chaffing of bales and cases.
Everything entered by this yawning trap; it was a continuous swallowing
up, a niagara of goods, falling with a roar like that of a torrent.
At the approach of big sale times especially, the slide brought down
an endless stream of Lyons silks, English woollens, Flemish linens,
Alsatian calicoes, and Rouen prints. The vans were sometimes obliged to
wait their turn along the street; and as each bale rushed down to the
basement there arose a sound as of a stone thrown into deep water.

On his way Mouret stopped for a moment before the slide, which was in
full activity. Rows of cases were coming down of themselves, falling
like rain from some upper stream. Then bales appeared, toppling over in
their descent like rolling stones. Mouret looked on, without saying a
word. But this wealth of goods rushing in to his establishment at the
rate of thousands of francs each minute, made his clear eyes glisten.
He had never before had such a clear, definite idea of the struggle he
was engaged in. It was this falling mountain of goods which he must
cast to the four corners of Paris. He did not open his mouth, however,
but continued his inspection.

By the grey light which came in through the large vent-holes, a squad
of men were receiving the goods, whilst others removed the lids of the
cases and opened the bales in presence of the managers of different
departments. A dockyard kind of bustle filled this basement, whose
vaulted roofing was supported by wrought-iron pillars and whose bare
walls were simply cemented.

"Have you got everything there, Bouthemont?" asked Mouret, approaching
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."

Then the manager of the silk department ran down an invoice he held,
standing the while before a large counter on which one of his salesmen
deposited, one by one, the pieces of silk which he took from an open
case. Behind them ran other counters, also littered with goods which
a small army of shopmen was examining. It was a general unpacking, a
seeming confusion of stuffs, inspected, turned over, and marked, amidst
a continuous buzz of voices.

Bouthemont who was becoming a celebrity in the trade, had the round,
jovial face of a right good fellow, with a coal-black beard, and fine
hazel eyes. Born at Montpellier, noisy, and over fond of pleasure,
he was not of much good for the sales, but in 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 home when the old
fellow, thinking that he ought to know enough to succeed him in his
business, had summoned him to do so; and from that moment a rivalry
had sprung up between father and son, the former, absorbed in his
little country business and shocked to see a simple shopman earning
three times as much as he did himself, and the latter joking at the
old man's humdrum 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.

Meantime Bourdoncle had taken up one of the pieces of silk, and was
examining the texture with the eye of a connoisseur. It was a faille
with a blue and silver selvage, the famous Paris Delight, 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 every 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 at 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, its cheapness will
treble the sales and my only interest is to secure heavy receipts---"

But Bourdoncle remained grave, biting his lips. For his part he drew
his commission on the total profits, and it was not to his advantage
that the prices should be lowered. As it happened, a part of his
duties was to exercise a control over the prices fixed upon in order
to prevent Bouthemont from selling at too small a profit for the sole
purpose of increasing the sales. Moreover, all his former anxiety
reappeared in the presence of these advertising combinations which
he did not understand, and he ventured to display his repugnance by

"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. Striking the silk with his open hand he
exclaimed 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 that they'll fight together over 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. But what can that
matter, if in return we attract all the women here, and keep them at
our mercy, fascinated, maddened by the sight of our goods, emptying
their purses without thinking? The principal thing, my dear fellow, is
to inflame them, and for that purpose you must have an article which
will flatter them and cause a sensation. Afterwards, you can sell the
other articles as dear as they are sold anywhere else, they'll still
think yours the cheapest. For instance, our Golden Grain, that taffetas
at seven francs and a half, sold everywhere at the same price, will go
down as an extraordinary bargain, and suffice to make up for the loss
on the Paris Delight. You'll see, you'll see!"

He was becoming quite eloquent. "Don't you understand?" he resumed,
"In a week's time from to-day I want the Paris Delight to effect a
revolution in the market. It's our master-stroke, which will save us
and send our name everything. Nothing else will be talked of; that blue
and silver selvage will be known from one to the other end of France.
And you'll hear the furious complaints of our competitors. The small
traders will lose another wing by it. Yes, we shall have done for all
those slop-sellers who are dying of rheumatism in their cellars!"

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

"It's the manufacturers who are vexed," now 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 long credits to the little houses
rather than accept my prices."

Mouret shrugged his shoulders. "If Gaujean doesn't behave sensibly," he
replied, "Gaujean will be floored. What do they all 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 now began emptying the second case, whilst Bouthemont
checked the pieces by the invoice. Another employee at the end of
the counter then marked them in plain figures, and the checking
finished, the invoice, signed by the manager, had to be sent to the
chief cashier's office. For another minute Mouret continued looking
at the work, at all the activity around this unpacking of goods which
threatened to drown the basement; then, never adding a word but with
the air of a captain satisfied with his men, he went off, again
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 the reserves, large vaults closed with iron railings,
containing the surplus goods of each department. As he passed along
Mouret glanced at the heating apparatus which was to be lighted
on the following Monday for the first time, and at the 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 near the corner of the Place Gaillon. At last, right at
the other end of the basement, he arrived at the delivery office.
Here, all the purchases which customers did not take away with them,
were sent down, sorted on tables, and placed in compartments each of
which represented a particular district of Paris; then by a large
staircase opening just opposite The Old Elbeuf, they were sent up to
the vans standing alongside the pavement. In the mechanical working
of The Ladies' Paradise, this staircase in the Rue de la Michodière
was ever disgorging the goods devoured by the slide in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, after they had passed through the mill 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

At this early hour the sorting tables were yet bare and the
compartments only contained a few parcels left over night. Whilst
Campion was searching amongst these packets, after consulting a list,
Bourdoncle looked at Mouret, reflecting that this wonderful fellow knew
everything, thought of everything, even when he was supposed to be
amusing himself. At last Campion discovered the error; the cashiers'
department had given a wrong number, and the parcel had come back.

"What is the number of the pay-desk that debited the order?" 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

However, before starting on a 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 a dozen clerks, it now required more than thirty. Some
opened the letters and others read them, seated on either side of the
same table; others again classified 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 ordered, these articles were placed in the
pigeon-holes as they arrived, in accordance with running numbers.
Nothing then remained but to check and pack them, 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,

"Five hundred and thirty-four, sir," replied the chief clerk. "After
the new sale has begun on Monday, 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 arriving on a Tuesday.
Round the table, the clerks continued opening and reading the letters,
the paper rustling all the time, whilst before the pigeon-holes the
various articles ordered began to arrive. This was one of the most
complicated and important departments of the establishment, and the
rush was continual, for, strictly speaking, all the orders received in
the morning ought to be sent off the same evening.

"You shall have whatever more hands you want," replied Mouret, who had
seen at a glance that the work of the department was well done. "When
there's work," he added, "we never refuse the men."

Up above, under the roof, were the bedrooms occupied by the saleswomen.
However, Mouret went downstairs again and entered the chief cash
office, which was near his own. It was a room with a glazed partition
in which was a metal-work wicket, and it contained an enormous safe,
fixed in the wall. Two cashiers here centralised the receipts which
Lhomme, the chief cashier of the sales' service, brought in every
evening; and with these receipts they discharged the current expenses,
paid the manufacturers, the staff, all the people indeed who lived
by the house. Their office communicated with another, full of green
cardboard boxes, where some ten clerks checked the innumerable
invoices. Then came yet a third office, the clearing-house, so to say,
where six young men bending over black desks, with quite a collection
of registers behind them, made up the commission accounts of the
salesmen, by checking the debit notes. This department but recently
organized did not as yet work particularly well.

Mouret and Bourdoncle crossed the cashier's office and the invoice
room and when they passed into the third office the young men there,
who were laughing and joking together, started with surprise. Mouret,
without reprimanding them, thereupon explained his scheme of giving
them a little bonus for each error they might detect in the debit
notes; and when he went out the clerks, quite cured of all inclination
for idle laughter, set to work in earnest, hunting for errors.

On reaching the ground-floor, occupied by the shops, Mouret went
straight to pay-desk No. 10, where Albert Lhomme was polishing his
nails, pending the arrival of customers. People currently spoke of
"the Lhomme dynasty," since Madame Aurélie, first-hand in the mantle
department, after helping her husband to secure the post of chief
cashier, had further managed to get a pay desk for her son, a tall,
pale, vicious young man who had been unable to remain in any situation,
and had caused her an immense deal of anxiety. On reaching his desk,
Mouret, who never cared to render himself unpopular by performing
police duty, and from policy and taste preferred to play the part of a
benign Providence, retired into the back ground, after gently nudging
Bourdoncle with his elbow. It was Bourdoncle, the infallible and
impeccable, whom he generally charged with the duty of reprimanding.

"Monsieur Albert," said Bourdoncle, severely, "you have again taken an
address wrong; the parcel has come back. It is unbearable!"

The cashier, thinking it advisable to defend himself, called as a
witness the assistant who had tied up the packet. This assistant, named
Joseph, also belonged to the Lhomme dynasty, for he was Albert's foster
brother, and likewise owed his place to Madame Aurélie's influence.
Albert sought to make him say that the mistake had been made by the
customer herself, but all Joseph could do was to stutter and twist the
shaggy beard that ornamented his scarred face, struggling the while
between his conscience and his gratitude to his protectors.

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

However, at this moment Lhomme senior came running up. From his office
near the door he could see his son's pay-desk, which was in the
glove department, and doubtless the colloquy had alarmed him. Quite
white-haired already, deadened by his sedentary life, he had a flabby,
colourless face, blanched and worn, as it were, by the reflection of
the money he was continually handling. The circumstance that he had
lost an arm did not at all incommode him in this work, and indeed
people would go to his office out of curiosity to see him verify
the receipts, so rapidly did the notes and coins slip through his
left hand, the only one remaining to him. The son of a tax-collector
at Chablis, he had come to Paris as clerk to a merchant of the
Port-aux-Vins. Then, whilst lodging in the Rue Cuvier, he had married
the daughter of his doorkeeper, a petty Alsatian tailor, and from that
day onward he had bowed submissively before his wife, whose commercial
ability filled him with respect. She now earned more than twelve
thousand francs a year in the mantle department, whilst he only drew
a fixed salary of five thousand francs. And the deference he felt for
this wife who brought such large sums into the household was extended
to their son, whom he also owed to her.

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

Then, according to his custom, Mouret reappeared on the scene, to play
the part of an indulgent prince. When Bourdoncle had made himself
feared, he looked after his own popularity.

"Oh! nothing of consequence!" he answered. "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 by the way, how about that concert the other day--did
you get a good seat?"

A blush spread over the white cheeks of the old cashier. Music was his
only vice, a secret vice which he indulged in solitarily, frequenting
theatres, concerts and recitals. Moreover, despite the loss of his arm,
he played on the French horn, thanks to an ingenious system of claws;
and as Madame Lhomme detested noise, before playing his instrument of
an evening he would wrap it in cloth, and then draw from it all sorts
of weird muffled sounds which delighted him to the point of ecstasy.
In the forced irregularity of their domestic life he had made himself
an oasis of his passion for music--that, his cash receipts and his
admiration for his wife, summed up his whole existence.

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

Mouret, who took a personal pleasure in satisfying other people's
passions, sometimes gave Lhomme the tickets forced upon him by lady
patronesses and he put the finishing touch to the old man's delight
by remarking: "Ah, Beethoven! ah, Mozart! What music!" Then, without
waiting for a reply, he went off, rejoining Bourdoncle, who had already
started on his tour of inspection through the departments.

In the central hall--an inner courtyard with a glass roof--was the
silk department. At first Mouret and his companion turned into the
Rue-Saint-Augustin gallery occupied by the linen department, from one
end to the other. Nothing unusual striking them, they passed on slowly
through the crowd of respectful assistants. Next they turned into the
cotton and hosiery departments, where the same good order reigned. But
in the department devoted to woollens, occupying the gallery which
ran towards the Rue de la Michodière, Bourdoncle resumed the part of
executioner, on observing a young man seated on the counter, looking
quite knocked up by a sleepless night; and this young man, a certain
Liénard, son of a rich Angers draper, bowed his head beneath the
reprimand, for in the idle, careless life of pleasure which he led his
one great fear was that he might be recalled from Paris by his father.
And now reprimands began to shower down on all sides like hail, and
quite a storm burst in the gallery of the Rue de la Michodière. In the
drapery department a salesman, a fresh hand, who slept in the house,
had come in after eleven o'clock and in the haberdashery department,
the second counterman had allowed himself to be caught smoking a
cigarette downstairs. But the tempest attained its greatest violence
in the glove department, where it fell upon one of the few Parisians
in the house, handsome Mignot, as he was called, the illegitimate son
of a music-mistress. His crime was that of causing 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 as he did to the third
table, he always had the leavings, the worst of everything for his

"What! the food not good?" asked Mouret, with a naive air, opening his
mouth at last.

He only allowed the chief cook, a terrible Auvergnat, a franc and a
half a head per day, out of which small sum this man still contrived
to make a good profit; and indeed 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 and abundant food. I'll speak to the cook." And
thus Mignot's complaint was shelved.

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

Meantime, the shop was still without customers, that is, except a few
housewives of the neighbourhood who were passing 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 arrivals. The
salesmen on their side were taking possession of their departments,
which had been swept and brushed by the assistants before their
arrival. Each young man put away his hat and over-coat as he arrived,
stifling a yawn, still half asleep as he did so. Some exchanged a few
words, gazed about the shop and sought to pull themselves together for
another day's work; while others leisurely removed the green baize
with which they had covered the goods over night, after folding them
up. Then the piles of stuffs appeared symmetrically arranged, and the
whole shop looked clean and orderly, brilliant in the gay morning light
pending the rush of business which would once more obstruct it, and, as
it were, reduce its dimensions 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 of them, short but well set and
good looking, with a pinky skin, was endeavouring to blend the colours
of some silks for an indoor show. His name was Hutin, his father kept
a café at Yvetot, and after eighteen months' service he had managed to
become one of the principal salesmen, thanks to a natural flexibility
of character and a continual flow of caressing flattery, under which
were concealed furious appetites which prompted him to grasp at
everything and devour everybody just for the pleasure of the thing.

"Well, Favier, I should have struck him if I had been in your place,
honour bright!" said he to his companion, a tall bilious fellow with a
dry yellow skin, who had been born at Besançon of a family of weavers,
and concealed under a cold graceless exterior a disquieting force of

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

They were both speaking of Robineau, the "second" in the department,
who was looking after the shopmen during the manager's absence in
the basement. Hutin was secretly undermining Robineau, whose place
he coveted. To wound him and induce him to leave, he had already
introduced Bouthemont to fill the post of manager which had been
previously promised to Robineau. However, the latter stood firm,
and it was now an hourly battle. Hutin dreamed of setting the whole
department against him, of hounding him out by dint of ill-will and
vexation. Still he went to work craftily, ever preserving his amiable
air. And it was especially Favier whom he strove to excite against
the "second"--Favier, who stood next to himself as salesman, and who
appeared willing to be led, though he had certain brusque fits of
reserve by which one could divine that he was bent on some private
campaign of his own.

"Hush! seventeen!" he all at once hastily remarked to his colleague,
intending by this peculiar exclamation to warn him of the approach of
Mouret and Bourdoncle. These two, still continuing their inspection,
were now traversing the hall and stopped to ask Robineau for an
explanation respecting a stock of velvets, the boxes of which were
encumbering a table. And as Robineau replied that there wasn't enough
room to store things away, Mouret exclaimed with a smile:

"Ah! I told you so, Bourdoncle, 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."

Then, respecting the coming sale, for which they were preparing at
every counter, he asked further questions of Robineau and gave him
various orders. For some minutes however, whilst still talking, he had
been watching Hutin, who was slowly arranging his silks--placing blue,
grey, and yellow side by side and then stepping back to judge of the
harmony of the tints. And all at once Mouret interfered: "But why are
you endeavouring to please the eye?" he asked. "Don't be afraid; blind
the customers! This is the style. Look! red, green, yellow."

While speaking he had taken up some of the pieces of silk, throwing
them together, crumpling them and producing an extremely violent effect
of colour. Every one allowed the governor to be the best "dresser" in
Paris albeit one of a revolutionary stamp, an initiator of the brutal
and the colossal in the science of display. His fancy was a tumbling
of stuffs, heaped pell-mell as if they had fallen by chance from the
bursting boxes, and glowing with the most ardent contrasting colours,
which heightened each other's intensity. The customers, said he, ought
to feel their eyes aching by the time they left the shop. Hutin, who on
the contrary belonged to the classic school whose guiding principles
were symmetry and a melodious blending of shades, watched him lighting
this conflagration of silk on the table, without venturing to say a
word; but on his lips appeared the pout of an artist whose convictions
were sorely hurt by such a debauch of colour.

"There!" exclaimed Mouret, when he had finished.

"Leave it as it is; you'll see if it doesn't fetch the women on Monday."

Just then, as he rejoined Bourdoncle and Robineau, there arrived a
woman, who stopped short, breathless at sight of this show. It was
Denise, who, after waiting for nearly an hour in the street, a prey to
a violent attack of timidity, had at last decided to enter. But she
was so beside herself with bashfulness that she mistook the clearest
directions; and the shopmen, of whom in stammering accents she asked
for Madame Aurélie, in vain directed her to the staircase conducting
to the first floor; she thanked them, but 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 boorish indifference
of the salesmen. She longed to run away, but was at the same time
retained by a wish to stop and admire. She felt herself lost, so little
in this monstrous place, this machine which was still at rest, and
trembled with fear lest she should be caught in the movement with which
the walls already began to quiver. And in her mind the thought of The
Old Elbeuf, so black and narrow, increased the immensity of this vast
establishment, which seemed bathed in a golden light and similar to
a city with its monuments, squares, and streets, in which it seemed
impossible she should ever find her way.

However, she had previously not dared to venture into the silk hall
whose high glass roof, luxurious counters, and cathedral-like aspect
frightened her. Then when she did venture in, to escape the shopmen of
the linen department, who were grinning at her, she stumbled right on
Mouret's display; and, despite her bewilderment, the woman was aroused
within her, her cheeks suddenly flushed, and she forgot everything in
looking at the glow of this conflagration of silk.

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

Mouret, whilst affecting to listen to Bourdoncle and Robineau, was
at heart flattered by the startled look of this poor girl, just as a
marchioness might be by the brutal admiration 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 the manager of a department. She
thought he was looking at her severely. Then not knowing how to get
away, quite lost, she once more applied to the nearest shopman, who
happened to be Favier.

"Madame Aurélie, if you please?"

However Favier, who was disagreeable, contented himself with replying
sharply: "On the first floor."

Then, Denise, longing to escape the looks of all these men, thanked
him, and was again turning her back to the stairs she ought to have
ascended when Hutin, yielding naturally to his instinctive gallantry,
stopped her with his most amiable salesman's smile albeit he had just
spoken of her as a drab.

"No--this way, mademoiselle, if you please," said he.

And he even went with her a little way, as far indeed as the foot of
the staircase on the left-hand side of the hall. There he bowed, and
smiled at her, as he smiled at all women.

"When you get upstairs turn to the left," he added. "The mantle
department will then be in front of you."

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
smiling look which dissolved her fears, and his voice which seemed to
her of a consoling softness. Her heart swelled with gratitude, and she
gave him her friendship in the few disjointed words which 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 was already rejoining Favier, to whom he coarsely whispered:
"What a bag of bones--eh?"

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

"Madame Aurélie?" inquired Denise.

The saleswoman did not reply but looked at her, with an air of disdain
for her shabby dress; then turning to one of her companions, a short
girl with a sickly white skin and an innocent and disgusted expression
of countenance, she asked: "Mademoiselle Vadon, do you know where
Madame Aurélie is?"

The 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," she replied in a mincing tone.

Silence fell. 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?"

Thereupon, 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, board, 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," was the reply. "She said
nothing before going, so she can't be far off."

Denise, thus meagrely informed, remained standing. There were several
chairs for the customers; but as she had not been asked to sit down,
she did not dare to take one although her perturbation well nigh
deprived her legs of strength. All these young ladies had evidently
guessed that she was an applicant for the vacancy, and were taking
stock of her, ill-naturedly pulling her to pieces with the secret
hostility of people at table who do not like to close up to make room
for hungry outsiders. Then Denise's confusion increasing, she slowly
crossed the room and looked out of the window into the street, for the
purpose of keeping countenance. Over the way, The Old Elbeuf, with
its rusty front and lifeless windows, appeared to her so ugly and so
wretched, thus viewed 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 Mdlle. Prunaire to little Mdlle. Vadon, "have
you seen her boots?"

"And her dress!" murmured the other.

With her eyes still turned towards the street, Denise divined that
she was 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 curdled-milk
complexion, which gave her flat and, as it were, boneless face a flabby
appearance. Clara Prunaire, daughter of a clogmaker of the woods of
Vivet had begun to misconduct herself at the time when she was employed
as needlewoman at the Château de Mareuil. Later on she had come to
Paris from a shop at Langres, and was avenging herself in the capital
for all the kicks with which her father had regaled her when at home.
On the other hand Marguerite Vadon, born at Grenoble, where her parents
kept a linen shop, had been obliged to come to Paris, where she had
entered The Ladies' Paradise, in order to conceal a misfortune due to
her frailty. Since then, however, she had ever been 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.

"Ah! well," resumed Clara, in a low voice, "that girl won't be of much
account here even if she does get in."

But they all at once stopped talking, for a woman of about forty-five
was coming in. It was Madame Aurélie, very stout and 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. Under dark folds
of hair, she had big fixed eyes, a severe mouth, and broad and rather
drooping cheeks; and in the majesty of her position as manageress her
face seemed to swell with pride like the puffy countenance of a Cæsar.

"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 be made, madame," replied the saleswoman,
"so Madame Frédéric kept it."

The second-hand thereupon took the pattern out of a cupboard, and the
explanation continued. Every one gave way to Madame Aurélie, when she
thought it expedient to assert her authority. Very vain, even to the
point of objecting to be called by her husband's name, Lhomme, which
annoyed her, and of denying the humble position of her father to whom
she always referred as a regularly established tailor, she only proved
gracious towards those young ladies who showed themselves flexible and
caressing and bowed down in admiration before her. Formerly, whilst
trying to establish herself in a shop of her own, her temper had been
soured by continual bad luck; the feeling that she was born to fortune
and encountered nothing but a series of catastrophes had exasperated
her; and now, even after her success at The Ladies' Paradise, where
she earned twelve thousand francs a year, it seemed as if she still
nourished a secret spite against every one. She was in particular very
hard with beginners, even as life had shown itself hard for her at

"That will do!" said she, sharply; "You are not more reasonable than
the others, Madame Frédéric. Let the alteration be made immediately."

During this explanation, Denise had ceased looking into the street.
She had no doubt this was Madame Aurélie; but, frightened by 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 extricate the young girl from her
uncomfortable position. At last, Madame Aurélie herself perceived her,
and astonished to see her standing there motionless inquired what she

"Madame Aurélie, please."

"I am Madame Aurélie."

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

"How old are you?" she eventually inquired.

"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 and then coldly remarked:
"Well! I don't mind entering your name. We enter the names of all who
apply. Mademoiselle Prunaire, give me the book."

But the book could not be found; Jouve, the inspector, had probably got
it. And just as tall Clara was about to fetch it, Mouret arrived, still
followed by Bourdoncle. They had made the tour of the other departments
on the first floor--they had passed through the lace, the shawls, the
furs, the furniture and the under-linen, and were now winding up with
the mantles. Madame Aurélie left Denise for a moment to speak to them
about an order for some cloaks which 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 to consult
the chiefs of the house. Bourdoncle then told her of 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 the
Lhommes, of which she was the acknowledged head, very often caused her
a great deal of trouble. However, Mouret, surprised to come upon Denise
again, bent down to ask Madame Aurélie what that young person 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 by such pretension.

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

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

However, the book having been brought, Madame Aurélie returned to
Denise, who had certainly not made a favourable impression. She looked
very clean in her thin black woollen dress; still the question of
shabbiness was of no importance, as the house furnished a uniform,
the regulation silk dress; but she appeared weak and puny, and had a
melancholy face. Without insisting on handsome girls, the managers
of the house liked their assistants to be of agreeable appearance.
And beneath the gaze of all the men and women who were studying her,
estimating her like farmers would a horse at a fair, Denise lost what
little countenance had still remained to her.

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

"Denise Baudu, madame."

"Your age?"

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

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

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

"I've just arrived from Valognes, madame."

This was a fresh disaster. As a rule, The Ladies' Paradise only engaged
as saleswomen such girls as had had 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 brought this futile interrogatory to an end by leaving the

"Where were you at Valognes?" asked Madame Aurélie.

"At Cornaille's."

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

It was very seldom that he interfered in the engagement of the
employees, the manager of each department being responsible for his
or her staff. But with his fine appreciation of women, he divined in
this girl a hidden charm, a wealth of grace and tenderness of which she
herself was ignorant. The good reputation of the establishment in which
the candidate had started was of great importance, often deciding the
question in his or her favour. Thus even 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

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," she murmured, hesitating to name him for she feared
that they would never engage the niece of a competitor. "At my uncle
Baudu's, opposite."

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

"Oh! no, sir!" answered Denise; and she could not help laughing as she
spoke for the idea appeared to her so singular. That laugh was like a
transfiguration; she became quite rosy, and the smile playing round her
rather large mouth lighted up her whole face. Her grey eyes sparkled
with a soft 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 latter with a gesture of boredom refused to admit it. Clara on her
side bit her lips, and Marguerite turned away; Madame Aurélie alone
seemed won over, and encouraged Mouret with a nod when he resumed:
"Your uncle was wrong not to bring you here; his recommendation
sufficed. It is said 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 had to knock at our
door to be received. Just tell him I still like him very much, and
that if he has cause for complaint he must blame, not me, but the new
circumstances of commerce. 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 revealed himself, and she guessed who he was, and
understood why the sight of him had caused her such emotion in the
street, in the silk department, and again here. This emotion, which
she could not analyze, pressed more and more upon her heart like an
unbearable weight. All the stories related by her uncle came back to
her, increasing Mouret's importance in her eyes, surrounding him with
a sort of halo in his capacity as the master of the terrible machine
between whose wheels she had felt herself all the morning. And, behind
his handsome face, with its well-trimmed beard, and eyes 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 came upon her; and she thought she was merely
afraid of him.

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

"Very good, mademoiselle," said she majestically, as though 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 Mouret and Bourdoncle, she bowed. The
gentlemen, however, were examining the pattern of a mantle with Madame
Frédéric and took no further notice of her. 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 establishment. Denise doubtless felt
this indifference and rancour behind her, for she went downstairs with
the same troubled feeling that had possessed her on going up, asking
herself whether she ought to be sorry or glad at having come. Could she
count on having the situation? She doubted it, amidst the uneasiness
which had prevented her from clearly understanding what had been said.
Of her various sensations, two remained and gradually effaced all
others--the emotion, almost fear, with which Mouret had inspired her,
and the pleasure she had derived from the amiability of Hutin, the only
pleasure she had enjoyed the whole morning, a souvenir of charming
sweetness which filled her with gratitude. When she crossed the shop on
her way out she looked for the young man, happy in the idea of thanking
him again with her eyes, and she was very sorry not to see him.

"Well, mademoiselle, have you succeeded?" inquired a timid voice, as
she at last reached the pavement. 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, and seemed even more
frightened than herself, still bewildered by the examination through
which he had just passed.

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

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

They were once more standing face to face; and, not knowing how to take
leave, they again began to blush. Then the young man, by way of saying
something, timidly ventured to ask in his good-natured, awkward way:
"What is your name, mademoiselle?"

"Denise Baudu."

"My name is Henri Deloche."

Then they smiled, and, yielding to a fraternal feeling born of the
similarity of their positions, shook each other by the hand.

"Good luck!" said Deloche.

"Yes, good luck!" was Denise's reply.


Every Saturday, between four and six, Madame Desforges offered a cup
of tea and a few sweet biscuits 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 her two
drawing-rooms overlooked the gardens of the Tuileries.

That Saturday, just as a footman was about to introduce him into the
principal drawing-room, Mouret from the anteroom perceived, through
an open doorway, Madame Desforges crossing the smaller salon. 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
caught hold of the young woman's hand, and tenderly kissed it.

"Take care, I have company!" she remarked, in a low voice, glancing
towards the door of the larger room. "I've just come to fetch this fan
to show them," and so saying she playfully tapped him on the face with
the tip of the fan she held. She was dark and inclined to stoutness,
and had big jealous eyes.

However, he still held her hand and inquired: "Will he come?"

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

They both referred to Baron Hartmann, the director of the Crédit
Immobilier. Madame Desforges, daughter of a Councillor of State, was
the widow of a speculator, who had left her a fortune, underrated
to the point of nothingness by some and greatly over-estimated by
others. During her husband's lifetime she had already known Baron
Hartmann, whose financial tips had proved very useful to them; and
later on, after her husband's death, the connection had been kept up
in a discreet fashion; for she never courted notoriety in any way,
and was received everywhere in the upper-middle class to which she
belonged. Even now too when she had other lovers--the passion of the
banker, a sceptical, crafty man, having subsided into a mere paternal
affection--she displayed such delicate reserve and tact, such adroit
knowledge of the world that appearances were saved, and no one would
have ventured to openly express any doubt of her conduct. Having met
Mouret at a mutual friend's she had at first detested him; but had
been carried away by the violent love which he professed for her, and
since he had begun manœuvring to approach Baron Hartmann through her,
she had gradually got to love him with real and profound tenderness,
adoring him with all the violence of a woman of thirty-five, who only
acknowledged the age of twenty-nine, and distressed at feeling him
younger than herself, which made her tremble lest she should lose him.

"Does he know about it?" he resumed.

"No, you'll explain the affair to him yourself," was her reply.

Meantime she looked at him, reflecting that he couldn't know anything
or he would not employ her in this way with the baron, whom he appeared
to consider simply as an old friend of hers. However, Mouret still held
her hand and called her his good Henriette, at which she felt her heart
melting. Then silently she presented her lips, pressed them to his, and
whispered: "Remember they're waiting for me. Come in behind me."

A murmur of voices, deadened by the heavy hangings, came from the
principal drawing-room. Madame Desforges went in, leaving the folding
doors open behind her, 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 turning round 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
Louis XVI. furniture upholstered in flowered brocatel, its gilded
bronzes and large green plants, had a pleasant, cozy, feminine aspect,
albeit the ceiling was so lofty; and through the two windows could be
seen the chestnut trees of the Tuileries Gardens, whose leaves were
blowing about in the October wind.

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

She was a short fair woman of thirty, with a delicate nose and
sparkling eyes. A former school-fellow of Henriette's, married to
a chief clerk at the Ministry of Finances, and belonging to an old
middle-class family, she managed her household and three children with
rare activity, good grace, and exquisite knowledge of practical life.

"And you paid twenty-five francs for it?" she resumed, examining each
mesh of the lace. "At Luc, I think you said, to a country-woman? No, it
isn't dear; still 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 mere piece of Chantilly, over which she had perhaps
saved five francs. Similar fans could be had, ready mounted, for a
hundred and twenty francs, and she named a shop in the Rue Poissonnière
where she had seen them.

However, the fan was handed round to all the ladies. Madame Guibal
barely glanced at it. She was a tall, slim woman, with red hair, and
a face full of indifference, in which her grey eyes, belying her
unconcerned air, occasionally cast a hungry gleam 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 between his
briefs and his pleasures.

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

"You are fortunate, my dear, in having a gallant husband," answered the
countess in a tone of delicate irony. 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
of the mounting like that."

Madame de Boves had just turned forty. She was a superb woman, with the
neck and shoulders of a goddess, a large regular face, and big sleepy
eyes. Her husband, an Inspector-General of the State Studs, had married
her for her beauty. She appeared quite moved by the delicacy of the
monogram, seized indeed by a desire which so stirred her as to make her
turn pale; and suddenly turning she continued: "Give us your opinion,
Monsieur Mouret. Is it too dear--two hundred francs for this mount?"

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

"Madame Marty."

There then entered a thin, ugly woman, disfigured by small-pox but
dressed with elaborate elegance. She seemed of uncertain age, her
five-and-thirty years sometimes appearing equal to thirty, and
sometimes to forty, according to the intensity of the nervous fever
which so often agitated her. A red leather bag, which she had not been
willing to leave in the anteroom, hung from her right hand.

"Dear madame," said she to Henriette, "you will 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." Then, having perceived
Mouret, she resumed laughing: "Ah! sir, I didn't mean to give you an
advertisement, for I didn't know you were here. But you really have
some extraordinarily fine lace just now."

This turned the attention from the fan, which the young man laid on
the table. The ladies were now all anxious to see what Madame Marty
had bought. She was known to be very extravagant, totally unable to
resist certain temptations. Strict in her conduct, incapable of any
sexual transgression she proved weak and cowardly before the least
bit of finery. Daughter of a clerk of small means, she was ruining
her husband, the fifth-class professor at the Lycée Bonaparte, who in
order to meet the constantly increasing expenses of the household was
compelled to double his income of six thousand francs by giving private
lessons. However, she did not open her bag, but held it tightly on her
lap, and began to talk about her daughter Valentine, a girl of fourteen
whom she dressed like herself, in all the fashionable novelties to
whose irresistible fascination she succumbed.

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

Thereupon she at last decided to open her bag; and the ladies were
craning their necks, when, amidst the silence, the door-bell was heard.

"It's my husband," stammered Madame Marty, in great confusion. "He
promised to call for me on leaving the Lycée Bonaparte."

Forthwith she shut her bag again, and instinctively hid it away under
her chair. All the ladies set up a laugh. This made her blush for her
precipitation, and she took the bag on her knees again, explaining,
however, that men never understood matters 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
in the correct military fashion 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 then he made way so that his companion, a tall, pale
fellow, of an aristocratic poverty of blood, might in his turn make his
bow to the lady of the house. However, the conversation had hardly been
resumed when two exclamations rang out.

"What! Is that you, Paul?"

"Why, Octave!"

Mouret and Vallagnosc thereupon 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, jesting together and with their
hands still united they stepped 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 brass mounting. The ladies drew up and began talking in
louder tones, raising a cross-fire of endless chatter; whilst Monsieur
de Boves, standing behind them leant over every now and then to put
in a word or two with the gallantry of a handsome functionary. The
spacious room, so prettily and cheerfully furnished, became merrier
still with these gossiping voices interspersed with laughter.

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

He was seated near Vallagnosc, on a sofa. And alone in the little
drawing-room--which looked very coquettish with its hangings of
buttercup silk--out of hearing of the ladies, and not even seeing them,
except through the open doorway, the two old friends commenced grinning
whilst they scrutinized each other and exchanged slaps on the knees.
Their whole youthful career was recalled, the old college at Plassans,
with its two courtyards, its damp class-rooms, and the dining-hall in
which they had consumed so much cod-fish, and the dormitories where the
pillows flew from bed to bed as soon as the monitor began to snore.
Paul, who belonged to an old parliamentary family, noble, poor, and
proud, had proved a good scholar, always at the top of his class and
continually held up as an example by the master, who prophesied a
brilliant future for him; whereas Octave had remained at the bottom,
amongst the dunces, but nevertheless fat and jolly, indulging in all
sorts of pleasures outside. Notwithstanding the difference in their
characters, a fast friendship had rendered them inseparable until they
were examined for their bachelor's degrees, which they took, the one
with honours, the other in just a passable manner after two vexatious
rebuffs. Then they went out into the world, each on his own side, and
had now met again, after the lapse of ten years, already changed and
looking older.

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

"Nothing at all," replied the other.

Vallagnosc indeed, despite the pleasure of this meeting, retained a
tired and disenchanted air; and as his friend, somewhat astonished,
insisted, saying: "But you must do something. What do you do?" he
merely replied: "Nothing."

Octave began to laugh. Nothing! that wasn't enough. Little by little,
however, he succeeded in learning Paul's story. It was the usual story
of penniless young men, who think themselves obliged by their birth
to choose a liberal profession and bury themselves in a sort of vain
mediocrity, happy even when they escape starvation, notwithstanding
their numerous degrees. For his part he had studied law by a sort of
family tradition; and had then remained a burden on his widowed mother,
who already hardly knew how to dispose of her two daughters. Having at
last got quite ashamed of his position he had left the three women to
vegetate on the remnants of their fortune, and had accepted a petty
appointment at the Ministry of the Interior, where he buried himself
like a mole in his 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 paused and then thinking of his own
good fortune resumed: "As for me, I made them a humble bow long ago.
You know what I'm doing?"

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

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

Mouret raised his head, again slapped his friend on the knee, and
repeated, with the sterling gaiety of a man 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
nibble much at their baits, although at heart I never thought myself
a bigger fool 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,
for one sees so many chaps starving at them. So I just threw the ass's
skin away--oh! without the least regret and plunged head-first into

Vallagnosc smiled with an awkward air, and ultimately muttered: "It's
quite certain that your degree can't be of much use to you in selling

"Well!" replied Mouret, joyously, "all I ask is, that it shan't
stand in my way; and you know, when one has been stupid enough to
burden one's self with such a thing, 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 of arithmetic. The ordinary salesmen
in my place make from three to four thousand francs a year, more than
you can earn yourself; and their education did not cost anything like
what yours did, nor were they launched into the world with a written
promise to conquer it. Of course, it is not everything to make money;
only 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, I don't hesitate one
moment, I'm for the latter against the former, I think they thoroughly
understand the age they live in!"

His voice had become impassioned and 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 two other ladies 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 indolently threw himself back on the sofa, half-closing his
eyes and assuming an attitude of mingled fatigue and disdain in which a
dash 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, quite shocked, looked at him
with an air of surprise, he added: "Everything happens and nothing
happens; a man may as well remain with his 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 unlimited despair. He always
came to the conclusion that every effort was futile, every hour equally
weary and empty, and the world incurably stupid and dull. All enjoyment
was a failure, there was even no pleasure in wrong-doing.

"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. Still I have my
revenge, I assure you. But it is not so much the women, for to speak
truly, I don't care a hang for them; the great thing in life is to be
able to will and do--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
Mouret's 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 railed at the
despairing ones, the disgusted ones, the pessimists, all those weak,
sickly offsprings of our budding sciences, who assumed the lachrymose
airs of poets, or the affected countenances of sceptics, amidst the
immense activity of the present day. 'Twas a fine part to play, decent
and intelligent, that of yawning before other people's labour!

"But yawning in other people's faces is my only pleasure," said
Vallagnosc, smiling in his cold way.

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 man has his own ideas, fortunately. But
you must come and see my machine at work; you'll see it isn't a bad
idea. And now, 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 his friend had
glanced into the larger drawing-room with an anxious expression, he
also turned round, and noticed that Mademoiselle de Boves was closely
watching them. Blanche, tall and sturdy, resembled her mother; but her
face was already puffed out and her features seemed large--swollen,
as it were, by unhealthy fat. Then, in reply to a discreet question,
Paul 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 the previous winter, but
whither he now very rarely came, which explained why he had not met
Octave there before. In their turn, the Boves invited him, and he was
especially fond of the father, an ex-man about town who had retired
into an official position. On the other hand there was no money,
Madame de Boves having brought her husband nothing but her Juno-like
beauty as a marriage portion. So the family were living poorly on
their last mortgaged farm, to the little money derived from which were
fortunately added the nine thousand francs a year drawn by the count
as Inspector-General of the State Studs. Certain escapades, however,
continued to empty his purse; and the ladies, mother and daughter,
were kept very short of money, being at times 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 for the death of an aunt."

However, Mouret still kept his eye on Monsieur de Boves, who, seated
next to Madame Guibal, proved most attentive to her, laughing softly
the while, with an amorous air. Thereupon Octave 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 duties
call him to the four corners of France, to the breeding dépôts, so that
he has frequent pretexts for absenting himself. Last month, whilst his
wife supposed him to be at Perpignan, he was simply carrying on in
Paris, in an out-of-the-way neighbourhood."

There ensued a pause. Then the young man, who was also watching the
count's gallantry 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 people say be true. But just look at him! Isn't
he comical, trying to magnetize her with his eyes? The old-fashioned
gallantry, my dear fellow! I adore that man, and if I marry his
daughter, he may 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
had come from Madame Desforges, he thought the story better still. That
dear 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.

At that moment she appeared at the door of the little drawing-room,
followed by a gentleman apparently about sixty years old, whose arrival
had not been observed by the two friends, absorbed as they were in
the conversation they were carrying on, to the accompaniment of the
ladies' voices. These voices at times rang out in a shriller key above
the tinkling of the small spoons in the china cups; and from time to
time, during a brief silence you heard a saucer being harshly laid
down on the marble table. A sudden gleam of the setting sun, which
had just emerged from behind a thick cloud, gilded the crests of the
chestnut-trees in the gardens, and streamed through the windows in a
red, golden flame, whose glow lighted up the brocatel and brass-work of
the furniture.

"This way, my dear baron," said Madame Desforges. "Allow me to
introduce to you 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 short, and vigorous, 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 of Mouret, but because this was the third
friend Henriette had introduced to him, and he was afraid of becoming
ridiculous at last. And so on approaching Octave he put on the discreet
smile of one who, albeit willing to behave amiably, is not disposed to
be a dupe.

"Oh! sir," said Mouret, with his Provençal 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, robed in a lace dress, which revealed her delicate neck
and wrists, looked at them with her clear eyes without any sign of
embarrassment; standing between the two, raising her head, and going
from one to the other she indeed appeared delighted to see them so
friendly together.

"Gentlemen," said she at last, "I leave you to your conversation." And,
turning towards Paul, who had risen from the sofa, she resumed: "Will
you accept a cup of tea, Monsieur de Vallagnosc?"

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

Mouret resumed his seat on the sofa, when Baron Hartmann likewise
had sat down on it; and forthwith the young man broke into renewed
praise of the Crédit Immobilier's operations. From that he went on to
the subject so near his heart, speaking of the new thoroughfare, a
lengthening of the Rue Réaumur, a section of which running from the
Place de la Bourse to the Place de l'Opéra was about to be opened under
the name of the Rue du Dix-Décembre. It had been declared a work of
public utility eighteen months previously; the expropriation jury had
just been appointed; and the whole neighbourhood was excited about
this new street, anxiously awaiting the commencement of the works,
and taking a keen interest in the houses condemned to disappear. For
three years Mouret had been waiting for this work--first, in the
expectation of an increase of his own business; secondly, for the
furtherance of 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
pictured The Ladies' Paradise occupying the whole block of building
which these streets and the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin surrounded; and he
already imagined it with a princely frontage in the new thoroughfare,
dominating everything around like some lord and master of the conquered
city. Hence his strong desire to make Baron Hartmann's acquaintance,
as soon as he had learnt that the Crédit Immobilier had contracted
with the authorities to open and build this Rue du Dix-Décembre, on
condition that it should receive the frontage ground on each side of
the street.

"Really," he repeated, trying to assume a naive 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

At last he came to the delicate point. He was aware that the Crédit
Immobilier was secretly buying up the houses forming part of the same
block as The Ladies' Paradise, not only those which were to fall under
the demolishers' pickaxes, but the others as well, those which were
to remain standing; and he suspected the existence of a project for
founding some great establishment, which made him anxious about those
enlargements of his own premises of which he was ever dreaming, seized
with fear at the idea that he might one day come into collision with a
powerful company owning property which they certainly would not sell.
It was precisely this fear which had prompted him to seek an alliance
between himself and the Baron under Henriette's auspices. No doubt he
could have seen the financier at his office, and have there talked
the affair over at his ease; but he felt that he would be stronger in
Henriette's house. To be near her, within the beloved perfume of her
presence, to have her ready to convince them both with a smile, seemed
to him a certain guarantee of success.

"Haven't you bought the former Hôtel Duvillard, that old building next
to my place?" he suddenly inquired.

The baron hesitated for a moment, and then denied it. But Mouret looked
him straight in the face and smiled, from that moment beginning to play
the part of an open-hearted young man who was always straightforward in

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

He did make his confession, and related his debut in life, not even
concealing the financial crisis through which he was passing in the
midst of his triumph. Everything was brought up, the successive
enlargements of his premises, the continual reinvestments of all
profits in the business, the sums contributed by his employees, the
existence of the establishment risked 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; and he proposed to the baron
a partnership, in which the Crédit Immobilier should contribute the
colossal palace which he pictured in his dreams, whilst for his part
he would give his genius and the business he had already created.
Everything would be properly valued, nothing appeared to him easier to

"What are you going to do with your land and buildings?" he asked
persistently. "You have a plan, no doubt. But I'm quite certain
that your idea is not so good as mine. Think of it. We build fresh
galleries on the vacant ground, we pull the houses down or re-arrange
them and open the most extensive establishment in Paris--a bazaar
which will bring in millions." And then he let this fervent, heartfelt
exclamation escape him: "Ah! if I could only do without you! But you
hold 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

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

He shook his head, and continued to smile, resolved not to return
confidence for confidence. In point of fact the idea of the Crédit
Immobilier was to found in the Rue du Dix-Décembre a huge rival to the
Grand Hôtel, a luxurious hostelry whose central position would attract
foreigners. At the same time, however, as the hotel was only to occupy
a certain frontage, the baron might also have entertained Mouret's
idea, and have treated for the rest of the block of houses, which still
represented a vast surface. However, he had already advanced funds to
two of Henriette's friends, and he was getting tired of his lavishness.
Besides, despite his passion for activity, which prompted him to
open his purse to every fellow of intelligence and courage, Mouret's
commercial genius astonished rather than captivated him. Was not the
founding of such a gigantic shop a fanciful, imprudent scheme? Would he
not court certain failure by thus enlarging the drapery trade beyond
all reasonable bounds? In short, he didn't believe in the idea and
refused his support.

"No doubt the idea is attractive," said he, "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 in silence, as if stupefied by the
refusal which these words implied. Was it possible?--a man of such
foresight, who divined the presence of money at no matter what depth!
And suddenly, with an extremely eloquent gesture, he pointed to the
ladies in the drawing-room and exclaimed: "Customers?--why look there!"

The sun was paling and the golden-red flame was now but a yellowish
gleam, dying away on the silk of the hangings and the panels of the
furniture. At this approach of twilight, the large room was steeped in
warm cosy pleasantness. While Monsieur de Boves and Paul de Vallagnosc
stood chatting 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 small circle of skirts whence arose bursts of laughter,
whispered words, ardent questions and replies, all woman's passion for
expenditure and finery. They were talking about dress, and Madame de
Boves was describing a gown she had seen at a ball.

"First of all, a mauve silk skirt, covered with flounces of old Alençon
lace, twelve inches deep."

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

Baron Hartmann, who had followed Mouret's gesture, was looking at
the ladies through the doorway which was wide open. And he continued
listening to them with one ear, whilst the young man, inflamed by
his desire to convince him, went yet 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 capital, which it was necessary to convert into goods as often
as possible in the same year. For instance, 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, in certain departments, he certainly hoped to turn the
capital over fifteen or twenty times in the course of the twelvemonth.

"You understand, baron, the whole system lies in that. It is very
simple, but it had to be found out. We don't need an enormous working
capital; the sole effort we have to make is to get rid of the stock we
buy as quickly as possible so as to replace it by other stock which
each time will make our capital return interest. In this way we can
content ourselves with a very small profit; as our general expenses
amount to as much as sixteen per cent., and as we seldom make more than
twenty per cent. on our goods, there is only a net profit of four per
cent. at the utmost; only this will finish by representing millions
when we can operate on large quantities of goods incessantly renewed.
You follow me, don't you? nothing can be clearer."

The baron again shook his head doubtfully. He who had entertained the
boldest schemes and whose daring at the time of the introduction of
gas-lighting was still spoken of, remained in the present instance
uneasy and obstinate.

"I quite understand," said he; "you sell cheap in order to sell a
quantity, and you sell a quantity in order 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?"

A loud exclamation, coming from the drawing-room, interrupted Mouret
just as he began to reply. It was Madame Guibal declaring that she
would have preferred the flounces of old Alençon simply round the upper
skirt of the dress.

"But, my dear," said Madame de Boves, "the upper skirt 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."

Then the voices fell again, sinking into a murmur. Prices were quoted,
a feverish desire to buy and bargain stirred all the ladies; they were
purchasing lace by the mile.

"Why?" declared Mouret, when he could at last speak, "one can sell what
one likes when one knows how to sell! Therein lies our triumph."

And then with his southern enthusiasm, he pictured the new business
at work in warm, glowing phrases which brought everything vividly
before the eyes. First came the wonderful power resulting from the
assemblage of goods, all accumulated on one point and sustaining and
facilitating the sale of one another. There was never any stand-still,
the article of the season was always on hand; and from counter to
counter the customer found herself caught and subjugated, at one buying
the material for a gown; at another cotton and trimming, elsewhere a
mantle, in fact everything necessary to complete her costume; while in
addition there were all the unforeseen purchases, chases, a surrender
to a longing for the useless and the pretty. Next he began to sing
the praises of the plain figure system. The great revolution in the
business sprang from this fortunate inspiration. If the old-fashioned
small shops were dying out it was because they could not struggle
against the low prices which the tickets guaranteed. Competition now
went on under the very eyes of the public; a look in the windows
enabled people to contrast the prices of different establishments; and
each shop in turn was lowering its rates, contenting itself with the
smallest possible profit. There could be no deceit, no long prepared
stroke of fortune by selling an article at double its value; there were
simply current operations, a regular percentage levied on all goods,
and success depended solely on the skilful working of the sales which
became the larger from the very circumstance that they were carried on
openly and honestly. Was it not altogether an astonishing development?
And it was already revolutionizing the markets and 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!" exclaimed Mouret,
with a brutal frankness born of his passion.

At this cry Baron Hartmann appeared somewhat moved. His smile lost its
touch of irony and he glanced at the young man, gradually won over by
the confidence he displayed and feeling a growing friendship for him.

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

But the ladies were now all speaking at once, so excited that they
did not even listen to each other. Madame de Boves was finishing the
description of an evening-dress; a mauve silk tunic, draped and caught
up by bows of lace; the bodice cut very low, with similar bows of lace
on the shoulders.

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

"For my part," interrupted Madame Bourdelais, "I was bent on buying
some velvet. Oh! such a bargain!"

Then suddenly Madame Marty asked: "How much did the silk cost?"

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 seeking
satisfaction in toilettes envied and dreamed of--with such happiness
at finding themselves in an atmosphere of finery, that they buried
themselves in it, as in warm air necessary to their existence.

Mouret had glanced towards the larger drawing-room, and in a few
phrases, whispered in the baron's ear, as if he were confiding to him
one of those amorous secrets which men sometimes venture to reveal
among themselves, he finished explaining the mechanism of modern
commerce. And, above all that he had already spoken of, dominating
everything else, appeared the exploitation of woman to which everything
conduced, the capital incessantly renewed, the system of assembling
goods together, the attraction of cheapness and the tranquillizing
effect of the marking in plain figures. It was for woman that all the
establishments were struggling in wild competition; it was woman whom
they were continually catching in the snares of their bargains, after
bewildering her with their displays. They had awakened new desires
in her flesh; they constituted an immense temptation, before which
she fatally succumbed, yielding at first to reasonable purchases
of articles needed in the household, then tempted by her coquetry,
and finally subjugated and devoured. By increasing their business
tenfold and popularizing luxury, they--the drapers--became a terrible
instrument of prodigality, ravaging households, and preparing mad
freaks of fashion which proved ever more and more costly. And if woman
reigned in their shops like a queen, cajoled, flattered and overwhelmed
with attentions, she was one on whom her subjects traffic, and who pays
for each fresh caprice, with a drop of her blood. From beneath the
very gracefulness of his gallantry, Mouret thus allowed the baron to
divine the brutality of a Jew who sells woman by the pound weight. He
raised a temple to her, caused her to be steeped in incense by a legion
of shopmen, prepared the ritual of a new cultus, thinking of nothing
but woman and ever seeking to imagine more powerful fascinations.
But, behind her back, when he had emptied her purse and shattered her
nerves, he remained full of the secret scorn of a man to whom a woman
has been foolish enough to yield.

"Once have the women on your side," he whispered to the baron, laughing
boldly, "and 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 the
memories 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 female sex. It was really clever.
And then he made precisely the same remark as Bourdoncle, a remark
suggested to him by his long experience: "They'll make you suffer for
it, by and by, you know," said he.

But Mouret shrugged his shoulders with an air of overwhelming disdain.
They all belonged to him, they were his property, and he belonged to
none of them. After deriving his fortune and his pleasures from them 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," he asked in conclusion, "will you join me? Does
this affair appear possible to you?"

Albeit half conquered, the baron did not wish to enter into any
engagement yet. A doubt remained beneath the charm which was gradually
operating on him; and he was going to reply in an evasive manner, when
a pressing call from the ladies spared him the trouble. Amidst light
bursts of laughter voices were repeating "Monsieur Mouret! Monsieur

And as the latter, annoyed at being interrupted, pretended not to hear,
Madame de Boves, who had risen a moment previously, 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."

Thereupon he decided to join the ladies, with an apparent good grace, a
well-feigned air of rapture which quite astonished the baron. Both of
them rose and passed into the other room.

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

He was greeted with an acclamation of triumph and was obliged to step
forward; the ladies making room for him in their midst. The sun had
just set behind the trees in the gardens, the daylight was departing,
delicate shadows were gradually invading the spacious apartment. It
was the emotional hour of twilight, that quiet voluptuous moment which
reigns in Parisian flats between the dying brightness of the street
and the lighting of the lamps in the kitchen. Monsieur de Boves and
Vallagnosc, still standing before a window, cast shadows upon the
carpet: whilst, motionless in the last gleam of light which came in by
the other window, Monsieur Marty, who had quietly entered, shewed his
poverty-stricken silhouette, his worn-out, well-brushed frock coat, and
his pale face wan from constant teaching and the more haggard as what
he had heard of the ladies' conversation had quite upset him.

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

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

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

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

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

"Come, give us some particulars," 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. At this they were plunged into desolation and
four of them set about serving him, stipulating however that he must
answer them afterwards. Henriette poured the tea 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
began to drink his tea slowly, standing up in the midst of them, they
all drew nearer, imprisoning him in the circle of their skirts; and
with their heads raised and their eyes sparkling, they smiled upon him.

"And what about silk, your Paris Delight which all the papers are
talking of?" resumed Madame Marty, impatiently.

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

"Really! a fine silk at five francs sixty centimes!" said Madame
Bourdelais, enthusiastic. "One can hardly believe it."

Ever since the advertisements and puffs had appeared, this silk had
occupied a considerable place in their daily life. They talked of it,
promising themselves some of it, all agog with desire and doubt. And,
beneath the inquisitive chatter with which they overwhelmed the young
man, one could divine their different temperaments as purchasers.
Madame Marty, carried away by her rage for spending money, bought
everything at The Ladies' Paradise without selecting, just as things
chanced to be placed in the windows or on the counters. Madame Guibal
on the other hand walked about the shop for hours without ever buying
anything, happy and satisfied in simply feasting her eyes; Madame de
Boves, short of money and always tortured by some immoderate desire,
nourished a feeling of rancour against the goods she could not carry
away with her; Madame Bourdelais, with the sharp eyes of a careful
and practical housewife, made straight for the bargains, availing
herself of the big establishments with such skill that she saved a
lot of money; and lastly, Henriette, having very elegant tastes, only
purchased certain articles there, such as gloves, hosiery, and her
coarser linen.

"We have other stuffs of astonishing cheapness and richness," continued
Mouret, in 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 specially chosen from among thousands
by our buyer; and in velvets you will find an exceedingly rich
collection of shades. I warn you, however, that cloth will be greatly
worn this year; you'll see our _matelassés_ and our cheviots."

They had ceased to interrupt him, and drew yet closer, their lips
parted by vague smiles, their faces eagerly out-stretched as if their
whole beings were springing towards the tempter. Their eyes grew dim,
and slight quivers ran through them but he meantime 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 softened those sharper odours. At sight
of such a power of fascination, so well controlled, strong enough to
play with woman without being overcome by the intoxication which she
diffuses, Baron Hartmann, who had not ceased to look at Mouret, felt
his admiration increasing.

"So cloth will be worn?" resumed Madame Marty, whose rugged face
sparkled with coquettish passion. "I must have a look at it."

Madame Bourdelais, who kept a cool look-out, in her turn remarked:
"Your remnant sales take place on Thursdays, don't they? I shall wait.
I have all my little ones to clothe." And turning her delicate blonde
head towards the mistress of the house, she asked: "Sauveur is still
your dressmaker, I suppose?"

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

At first Mouret slightly smiled. 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 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 that
her buyers will snap up our Paris Delight. 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 natural greed of woman, whose
enjoyment in purchasing is doubled when she thinks that she is robbing
the tradesman. He knew the sex to be incapable of resisting anything

"But we sell everything for nothing!" he exclaimed gaily, taking
up Madame Desforges's fan, which lay behind him on the table. "For
instance, here's this fan. How much do you say it cost."

"The Chantilly cost twenty-five francs, and the mounting 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, over her large regular face and in her big, sleepy
eyes, spread an expression of suppressed and despairing longing
which she could not satisfy. The fan once more went the round of the
ladies, amidst various remarks and exclamations. Monsieur de Boves
and Vallagnosc, meantime, had left the window, and whilst the former
returned to his place behind Madame Guibal, whose charms he again began
to admire, with his correct and superior air, the young man leant over
Blanche, endeavouring to think of some agreeable remark.

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

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

Then Monsieur de Boves, who had doubtless observed the distressful
glances with which his wife was following the fan, at last added his
word to the conversation. "Those flimsy things soon break," said he.

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

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

"This is the Valenciennes for my daughter," said she. "It's an inch and
a half wide. Isn't it delicious? One franc ninety centimes the metre."

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

"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,
at each fresh article she took out. There was a Spanish blonde-lace
cravat, thirty francs: she hadn't wanted it, but the shopman had sworn
it was the last one in stock, 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!" she repeated with her nervous laugh. "Once
I'm inside I could buy everything."

"And this?" asked Madame de Boves, taking up and examining some guipure.

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

"But," asked Madame Bourdelais, in surprise, "What are you going to do
with it?"

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

At that moment however, she chanced to raise her eyes and perceived her
terrified husband in front of her. He had turned paler than ever, his
whole person expressive of the patient, resigned anguish of a powerless
man, witnessing the reckless expenditure of his dearly earned salary.
Every fresh bit of lace to him meant disaster; bitter days of teaching,
long journeys to pupils through the mud, the whole constant effort
of his life resulting in secret misery, the hell of a necessitous
household. And she, perceiving the increasing wildness of his look,
wanted to catch up the veil, cravat and handkerchief and put them out
of sight, moving her feverish hands about and 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 large lace flounce 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 that his wife was quite
free to buy what she liked. But at thought of the danger to which that
large flounce had exposed him, an icy shiver sped down his back; and as
Mouret was just at that moment affirming that the new shops increased
the comfort of middle-class households, he glared at him with a
terrible expression, the flash of hatred of a timid man who would like
to throttle the destroyer but dares not.

But the ladies had still retained possession of the lace. They were
intoxicating themselves with their prolonged contemplation of it. The
several pieces were unrolled and then passed from one to the other,
drawing them all still closer together, linking them, as it were, with
delicate meshes. On their laps there was a continual caress of this
wondrously delicate tissue amidst which their guilty fingers fondly
lingered. They still kept Mouret a close prisoner and overwhelmed him
with fresh questions. As the daylight continued to decline, he was now
and again obliged to bend his head, grazing their hair with his beard,
as he examined a mesh, or indicated a design. Nevertheless in this soft
voluptuousness of twilight, in this warm feminine atmosphere, Mouret
still remained the master whatever the rapture he affected. He seemed
to be a woman himself, they felt penetrated, overcome by the delicate
sense of their secret passions which he possessed, and surrendered
themselves to him quite captivated; whilst he, certain that he had them
at his mercy, appeared like the despotic monarch of finery, enthroned
above them all.

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

The last pale gleams of the heavens were dying away on the brass-work
of the furniture. The laces alone retained a snowy reflection against
the dark dresses of the ladies, who in a confused group around the
young man had a vague appearance of kneeling, worshipping women. A
final glow still shone on one side of the silver teapot, a gleam like
that of a night-light, burning in an alcove balmy with the perfume of
tea. But suddenly the servant entered with two lamps, and the charm was
destroyed. The drawing-room awoke, light and cheerful once more. Madame
Marty replaced her lace in her little bag and Madame de Boves ate
another sponge cake, whilst Henriette who had risen began talking in a
low tone to the baron, near one of the windows.

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

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

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

A flash of jealousy darted from Henriette's fine eyes. Doubtless she
understood that Mouret had simply made use of her to get at the baron;
but she vowed that she would render him mad with passion, he whose
hurried style of love-making was instinct with the facile charm of a
song thrown to the four winds of heaven. "Oh," said she, affecting to
joke in her turn, "the lamb always finishes by eating up the wolf."

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

When Mouret, after reminding 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 steeped in darkness. He was at
last yielding to the young man's power of fascination; confidence had
come to him on seeing him amidst those ladies. Both conversed for a
moment in a low tone, and then the banker exclaimed: "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 never
enjoyed his dinner unless before sitting down at table he had been to
glance at the day's receipts at The Ladies' Paradise.


On the following Monday, the 10th of October, a bright sun of victory
pierced through the grey clouds which had darkened Paris during the
previous week. There had even been a drizzle throughout the previous
night, a sort of watery mist whose moisture had dirtied the streets;
but in the early morning, thanks to the sharp breezes driving the
clouds away, the pavement had become drier; and now the blue sky
displayed a limpid, spring-like gaiety.

Thus, already at eight o'clock, The Ladies' Paradise blazed forth
beneath the clear sun-rays in all the glory of its great sale of
winter novelties. Flags were flying at the door, pieces of woollens
were flapping about in the fresh morning air, animating the Place
Gaillon with the bustle of a country fair; whilst along both streets
the windows developed symphonious displays whose brilliant tones were
yet heightened by the clearness of the glass. It was like a debauch
of colour, a street pleasure bursting forth, a wealth of purchasable
articles publicly displayed, on which everybody could feast their eyes.

But at this early hour very few people entered, a few customers pressed
for time, housewives of the neighbourhood, women desirous of avoiding
the afternoon crush. Behind the stuffs which decorated the shop, one
could divine that it was empty, under arms and waiting for customers,
with its waxed floors and its counters overflowing with goods.

The busy morning crowd barely glanced at the windows, as it passed
without slackening its steps. In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin and on
the Place Gaillon, where the vehicles were to take their stand, there
were at nine o'clock only two cabs. The inhabitants of the district,
and especially the small traders, stirred up by such a show of
streamers and decorations, alone formed little groups in the doorways
and at the street corners, gazing at the Paradise and venting 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. These
vans were green, picked out with yellow and red, their brilliantly
varnished panels gleaming with gold and purple in the sunlight. This
particular one with its brand-new medley of colours, and the name of
the establishment painted on either side, whilst up above appeared an
announcement of the day's sale, finished by going off at the fast trot
of a splendid horse, after being filled with parcels left over from
the previous night; and Baudu, who was standing on the threshold of
The Old Elbeuf, watched it rolling off towards the boulevard, where
it disappeared to spread amid a starry radiance the hated name of The
Ladies' Paradise all over Paris.

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

From the very threshold it was a marvel, a surprise, which enchanted
all of them. It was to Mouret that this idea had occurred. Before all
others, he had been the first to purchase at very advantageous rates
in the Levant a collection of old and new carpets, articles then
but seldom seen and only sold at curiosity shops, at high prices;
and he intended to flood the market with them, selling them at but
little more than cost price, and simply utilizing them as a splendid
decoration which would attract the best class of art customers to his
establishment. From the centre of the Place Gaillon you could see this
oriental saloon, composed solely of carpets and door-curtains hung up
under his direction. The ceiling was covered with a quantity of Smyrna
carpets, whose intricate designs stood out boldly on red grounds.
Then from each side there hung Syrian and Karamanian door-curtains,
streaked with green, yellow, and vermilion; Diarbekir hangings of a
commoner type, rough to the touch, like shepherds' cloaks; and carpets
which could also be used as door-curtains--long Ispahan, Teheran, and
Kermancha rugs, broader ones from Schoumaka and Madras, a strange
florescence of peonies and palms, fantastic blooms in a garden of
dreamland. On the floor too 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 a violet-coloured pattern of exquisite design. And then, here,
there and everywhere came a display of marvels; Mecca carpets with
velvety reflections, prayer carpets from Daghestan with the symbolic
points, Kurdistan carpets covered with blooming flowers; and finally,
in a corner a pile of cheap goods, Gherdes, Koula, and Kirchur rugs
from fifteen francs a-piece.

This seeming and sumptuous tent, fit for a caliph, was furnished with
divans and arm-chairs, made of camel sacks, some ornamented with
variegated lozenges, others with primitive roses. Turkey, Arabia,
Persia and the Indies were all there. They had emptied the palaces,
looted the mosques and bazaars. A tawny gold prevailed in the weft of
the old carpets, whose faded tints retained still a sombre warmth, like
that of an extinguished furnace, a beautiful mellow hue suggestive of
the old masters. Visions of the East floated before you at sight of all
the luxury of this barbarous art, amid the strong odour which the old
wool retained of the land of vermin and of the rising sun.

In the morning at eight o'clock, when Denise, who was to enter on her
duties that very Monday, crossed the oriental saloon, she stopped
short, lost in astonishment, unable to recognise the shop entrance,
and quite 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 placed.
It was a narrow cell, opening on the roof by a skylight, and furnished
with a small bed, a walnut-wood wardrobe, a toilet-table, and two
chairs. Twenty similar rooms ran along the yellow-painted convent-like
corridor; and, of the thirty-five young ladies in the house, the twenty
who had no relations 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 gown that she had brought from Valognes; and then
donned 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 flurried
by her emotion that she paid no heed to petty questions of coquetry.
She had never worn silk before; and when rigged out in this unwonted
finery she went downstairs again and looked at her shining skirt, she
felt quite ashamed of the noisy rustling of the silk.

Down below, as she was entering her department, a quarrel burst out and
she heard Clara exclaim 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."

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

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

However Denise's entry reconciled these young ladies. They looked at
her, then smiled at 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 examined her
with an anxious pout and 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."

Then she placed her before one of the tall glasses alternating with the
massive doors of the cupboards containing the dresses. The spacious
apartment, surrounded by these mirrors and carved oak wood-work,
its floor covered with red carpet of a large pattern, resembled the
commonplace drawing-room of an hotel, traversed by a continual stream
of travellers. The young ladies dressed in regulation silk, and
promenading their charms about, without ever sitting down on the dozen
chairs reserved for the customers, completed the resemblance. Between
two button-holes of their dress bodies they all wore a long pencil,
with its point in the air; and protruding from their pockets, you could
see the white leaves of a book of debit-notes. Several ventured to
wear jewellery--rings, brooches and chains; but their great coquetry,
the point of display in which, given the forced uniformity of their
dress they all struggled for pre-eminence, was their hair, hair ever
overflowing, its volume augmented by plaits and chignons when their
own did not suffice, and combed, curled, and decked in every possible

"Pull the waist down in front," said Madame Aurélie to Denise. "There,
you now have 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 to her ankles: and when she did it up, it was so troublesome that
she simply rolled it in a knot, keeping it together with the strong
teeth of a bone comb. Clara, greatly annoyed by the sight of this
abundant hair, affected to laugh at it, so strange did it look, twisted
up anyhow with savage grace. She made a sign to a saleswoman in the
under-linen department, a girl with a broad face and agreeable manner.
The two departments, which adjoined one another, were ever at variance,
still the young ladies sometimes joined together in laughing at other

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

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

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

And thereupon she returned to her place, leaving the two others
crestfallen. Denise, who had heard everything, followed her with
a glance of gratitude, while Madame Aurélie gave her a book of
debit-notes with her name on it, remarking:

"To-morrow you must get yourself up better; and now, try and pick up
the ways of the house, and wait your turn for selling. To-day's work
will be very hard; we shall be able to judge of your capabilities."

Despite her prophecies, the department still remained deserted; very
few customers came to buy mantles at this early hour. The young
ladies husbanded their strength, prudently preparing for the exertion
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 in her bosom, between two
buttonholes, and summoned up all her courage, for it was necessary that
she should conquer a position. On the previous evening she had been
told that she was accepted as a probationer, that is to say, without
any fixed salary; she would simply have the commission and allowance on
what she sold. However, she fully hoped to earn twelve hundred francs
a year even 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. Only, in order to attain to this
large amount, she would have to prove industrious and pushing, taking
no notice of the ill-will displayed by those around her but fighting
for her share and even snatching it from her comrades if necessary.
While she was thus working herself up for the struggle, a tall young
man, passing the department, smiled at her; and when she saw that
it was Deloche, who had been engaged in the lace department on the
previous day, she returned his smile, happy at the friendship which
thus presented itself and accepting his recognition 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, with the sulky harshness of widowhood, delighted
in prophesying disasters, declared curtly that the day was lost, that
they would not see a soul, that they might close the cupboards and go
away; predictions which clouded the flat face of Marguerite who was
eager to make money, whilst Clara, with her runaway-horse appearance,
already began dreaming of an excursion to the woods of Verrières should
the house really fail. As for Madame Aurélie, she remained silent
and serious, promenading her Cæsarian countenance about the empty
department, like a general who has responsibility whether in victory or
in defeat.

About eleven o'clock a few ladies appeared; and Denise's turn for
serving had arrived when the approach of a customer was signalled.

"The fat old girl from the country--you know whom I mean," murmured
Marguerite to Clara.

It was a woman of forty-five, who occasionally journeyed to Paris
from the depths of some out-of-the-way department where she saved
her money up for months together. 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 for she liked to see and
handle the goods, and would profit by her journeys to lay in a stock of
everything, even down to needles, which she said were extremely dear
in her small town. The whole staff knew her, was aware 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 she added: "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. However, the idea of doing the
newcomer 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, exclaiming: "There are
no turns. I alone am mistress here. Wait till you know, before serving
our regular customers."

The young girl retired, and as tears were coming to her eyes, and she
wished to conceal her sensibility, she turned her back and stood up
before the window, pretending to gaze into the street. Were they going
to prevent her selling? Would they all conspire to deprive her of the
important sales, like that? Fear for the future came over her, she
felt herself crushed between so many contending interests. Yielding
to the bitterness of her abandonment, her forehead against the cold
glass, she gazed at The Old Elbeuf opposite, thinking that she ought
to have implored her uncle to keep her. Perhaps he himself regretted
his decision, for he had seemed to her greatly affected the previous
evening. And now she was quite alone in this vast house, where no one
cared for her, where she found herself hurtled, lost. Pépé and Jean,
who had never left her side, were living with strangers; she was parted
from everything, and the big tears which she strove to keep back made
the street dance before her 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?"

Just then 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 like this, you know!"

"But since I'm not allowed to sell, 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 already
been obliged to ransack the cupboards, and on the two long oaken
tables, to the right and left, lay heaps of mantles, pelisses, and
capes, garments of all sizes and materials. Without replying, Denise
began to sort and fold them carefully and arrange them again in the
cupboards. This was the lowest work, generally performed by beginners.
She ceased to protest, however, knowing that they required the
strictest obedience, and prepared to wait until 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 upon
the scene. To her his arrival came as a shock, she blushed without
knowing why, and again seized by a strange fear, thinking that he
was going to speak to her. But he did not even see her; he no longer
remembered the little girl whom a momentary impression had induced him
to support.

"Madame Aurélie," he called curtly.

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 defeat had suddenly presented itself before him amidst all his
obstinate faith in fortune. True, it was only eleven o'clock; he knew
by experience that as a rule the crowd never arrived much before the
afternoon. But certain symptoms troubled him. On the inaugural days
of previous sales a general movement had manifested itself even in
the morning; 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. Despite his habitual resolution, like all
great captains, he felt at the moment of giving battle a superstitious
weakness growing on him. Things would not succeed, he was lost, and
he could not have explained why; yet he thought he could read his
defeat on the faces of the passing ladies. Just at that moment, Madame
Boutarel, she who always bought something, turned away, explaining,
"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 waved
her hands despairingly and was evidently admitting that things were
bad. For a moment they remained face to face, overcome by one of those
doubts which generals conceal from their soldiers. But at last, in his
brave way, he exclaimed aloud: "If you want any assistance, take a girl
from the workroom. She'll be a little help to you."

Then he continued his inspection, in despair. He had avoided Bourdoncle
all the morning, for his assistant's anxious doubts irritated him.
However, on leaving the under-linen department, where business was
still worse than in the mantle gallery, he suddenly came upon him, and
was obliged to listen to the expression of his fears. Still he did not
hesitate to send him to the devil, with the brutality which he did not
spare even his principal employees when things were looking bad.

"Do keep quiet!" said he, "Everything is going on all right. I shall
end by pitching the tremblers out of doors."

Then, alone and erect, he took his stand on the landing overlooking the
central hall, whence he commanded a view of almost the entire shop;
around him were the first-floor departments; beneath him those of the
ground-floor. Up above, the emptiness seemed heart-breaking; in the
lace department an old woman was having every box searched and yet
buying nothing; whilst three good-for-nothing minxes in the under-linen
department were slowly choosing some collars at eighteen sous a-piece.
Down below, in the covered galleries, in the rays of light which come
in from the street, he noticed that customers were gradually becoming
more numerous. There was a slow, intermittent procession wending its
way past the counters; in the mercery and the haberdashery departments
some women of the commoner class were pushing about, still there was
hardly a soul among the linens or the woollens. The shop messengers, in
their green swallow-tails with bright brass buttons, were waiting for
customers with dangling hands. Now and again there passed an inspector
with a ceremonious air, very stiff in his white choker. And Mouret was
especially grieved by the mortal silence which reigned in the hall,
where the light fell from a ground-glass roofing through which the
sunrays filtered in a white diffuse hovering dust, whilst down below
the silk department seemed to be asleep, in a quivering, church-like
quietude. A shopman's footstep, a few whispered words, the rustling of
a passing skirt, were the only faint sounds; and these the warm air of
the heating apparatus almost stifled. However, carriages were beginning
to arrive, the sudden pulling up of the horses was heard, followed by
the banging of the doors of the vehicles. Outside, a distant tumult
was commencing to rise, inquisitive folks were jostling in front of
the windows, cabs were taking up their positions on the Place Gaillon,
there were all the appearances of a crowd's approach. Still 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 unlittered, Mouret, though
indignant with himself for being afraid, thought he could feel his
immense machine ceasing to work and turning cold beneath him.

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

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

Both of them, on the look-out for customers, from time to time
whispered such short remarks as these, without looking at each other.
The other salesmen of the department were occupied in piling up pieces
of the Paris Delight under Robineau's orders; whilst Bouthemont, in
full consultation with a thin young woman, seemed to be taking an
important order. Around them, on light and elegant shelves, were heaps
of plain silks, folded in long pieces of creamy paper, and looking
like pamphlets of an unusual size; whilst, encumbering the counters,
were fancy silks, moires, satins and velvets, resembling beds of cut
flowers, quite a harvest of delicate and precious tissues. This was the
most elegant of all the departments, a veritable drawing-room, where
the goods, so light and airy, seemed to be simply so much luxurious

"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 reckoned on this sale."

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

"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! I'll let the first that passes in for twenty yards of
Paris Delight!"

They continued talking for a few minutes, relating what they had done
on the previous day, and what they intended to do on the ensuing
Sunday. Favier followed the races while Hutin did a little boating,
and patronized music-hall singers. But they were both possessed by the
same eager desire for money, fighting for it throughout the week, and
spending it all on Sunday. It was their sole thought in the shop, a
thought which urged them into an incessant and pitiless struggle. And
to think that cunning Bouthemont had just managed to get hold of Madame
Sauveur's messenger, the skinny woman with whom he was talking! That
meant good business, three or four dozen pieces, at least, for the
celebrated dressmaker always gave large orders. A moment before too,
Robineau had taken it into his head to trick Favier out of a customer.

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

Thereupon, with his plump, amiable little Norman person he began
energetically playing the good-natured man. Favier could not help
casting a side glance at him; however he retained his phlegmatic air
and contented himself with replying:

"Yes, I know. For my part 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, wearing a yellow bonnet, and a red
dress. Hutin immediately divined in her a woman who would buy nothing;
so in all haste he 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 was calling him: "Whose turn, gentlemen? Monsieur
Hutin's? Where's Monsieur Hutin?"

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

"Your turn has 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 by this adventure, gave his friend a
glance, as if to excuse himself. Hutin, with pale lips, had turned his
head away. What particularly 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 except her looks, not even her name. She always made
a good many purchases, instructed a messenger to take them to her
carriage, and then immediately disappeared. Tall, elegant, dressed with
exquisite taste, she appeared to be very rich, and to belong to the
best society.

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

"Oh! a hussy!" replied the other. "No, she looks far too lady-like. She
must be the wife of a stockbroker or a doctor, or something of that

"Don't tell me! All the women get themselves up so much alike
now-a-days that it's impossible to tell what they are!"

Favier glanced at his debit book. "I don't care!" he resumed, "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 books. Another
invention for cramming their pockets! There was a secret rivalry
between these two. Favier, as a rule, pretended to consider himself
of small account and to recognise Hutin's superiority, but in reality
devoured 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 his inferior in business-talent. A fine day's work! If
it went on like this, he would not earn enough to pay for the seltzer
water for his Sunday 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 up above some time before. Suddenly he
reappeared on the landing of the principal staircase which communicated
with the ground floor; and here again he commanded a view of the whole
establishment. His face was regaining its colour, his faith was coming
back and increasing at sight of the crowd which was gradually filling
the place. It was the expected rush at last, the afternoon crush, which
in his feverishness 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 disasters of the morning, due no doubt to a
shower which had fallen about nine o'clock, could still be repaired,
for the blue sky of daybreak had come back with its victorious gaiety.
Now that the first-floor departments were growing animated, he was
obliged to stand back to make way for the women who were coming up to
the under-clothing and mantle departments; whilst, behind him, in the
lace and the shawl departments, he heard shopmen and customers talking
of large sums. But the sight of the galleries on the ground-floor
especially reassured him. There was a crowd among the haberdashery, and
even the linen and woollen departments were invaded. The procession of
buyers had closed up; and now nearly all of them wore hats or bonnets,
it was only here and there that you espied the white caps of a few
belated housewives. In the yellow light streaming down into the silk
hall, ladies had taken off their gloves to feel the Paris Delight on
which they commented in whispers. And there was no longer any mistaking
the noises which came from outside, the rolling of cabs, the banging of
carriage-doors, all the increasing tumult of a growing crowd. Mouret
felt that his machine was again setting to work beneath him, getting
up steam and reviving to activity, from the pay-desks where gold was
jingling, and the tables where messengers were hurriedly packing up
goods, to the delivery-room in the basement, which was quickly filling
with the parcels sent down to it, its subterraneous rumble seeming to
shake the whole house. And in the midst of the crowd was inspector
Jouve, walking about gravely, on the look-out for thieves.

"Hullo! is that you?" said Mouret, all at once recognising Paul de
Vallagnosc whom a messenger was conducting 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 in the breach."

He still felt a little 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 and gaily carried him off.

"Things seem 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

As he spoke 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 in commission, which with his regular pay
gave him an average of ten francs a day. Favier never made much more
than eight, and yet now that animal was literally taking the bread out
of his mouth, for he had just sold another dress. To think of it, a
cold-natured fellow who had never known how to amuse a customer! It was

"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 inquired:
"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 paused, then resumed in a low tone, as if speaking to
Mignot, on whom he continued to direct 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 neither had any real conquests to
boast about, but they invented any number of mysterious adventures,
seeking to make people believe in all sorts of appointments given them
by titled ladies between two purchases.

"You ought to 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 there was quite a row of ladies seated before
the narrow counter covered with green velvet and edged with nickel
silver; and before them the smiling shopmen were heaping up flat boxes
of a bright pink, taken out of the counter itself, and resembling the
ticketed drawers of a secrétaire. Mignot, in particular, was bending
his pretty doll-like face forward, and striving to impart tender
inflections to his thick Parisian voice. He had already sold Madame
Desforges a dozen pairs of kid gloves, the Paradise gloves, one of the
specialties of the house. She had then asked for three pairs of Suèdes,
and was now trying on some Saxon gloves, for fear the size should not
be exact.

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

Half-lying on the counter, he held her hand, taking her fingers one
by one and slipping the glove on with a long, renewed, persistently
caressing touch, looking at her the while as if he expected to see in
her face some sign of pleasure. But she, with her elbow on the velvet
counter and her wrist raised, surrendered her fingers to him with the
same unconcerned air as that with which she gave her foot to her maid
so that she might button her boot. For her indeed he was not a man; she
utilized his services with the disdain she always showed for servants
and did not even look at him.

"I don't hurt you, madame?" he inquired.

She replied "No," with a shake of the head. The smell of the Saxon
gloves--a savage smell resembling sugared musk--troubled her as a rule,
but seated at this commonplace counter she did not notice it.

"And what next, madame?" asked Mignot.

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

Being a constant customer, she gave her name at a pay-desk, and had
each purchase sent there without requiring 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 some wonderful things had just
taken place.

Meanwhile, Madame Desforges continued her purchases. She turned to
the left, stopping in the linen department to procure some dusters;
then she walked round and went as far as the woollen department at the
further end of the gallery. As she was well pleased 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 stuffs and absorbed in mute calculations; and she
was obliged to sit down for a moment. The shelves were piled up with
great rolls of material which the salesmen took down one by one, with
a sudden pull. They were indeed getting confused with all the litter
on the counters, where stuffs were mingling and slipping down. It
was a sea of neutral tints, the dull hues of woollens--iron-greys,
yellow-greys and blue-greys, with here and there a Scotch tartan and a
blood-red flannel showing brightly. And the white tickets on the pieces
looked like a scanty shower of snow flakes, dotting a dark December

Behind a pile of poplin, Liénard was joking with a tall bare-headed
girl, a work-girl of the neigbourhood, sent by her mistress to match
some merino. He detested these big-sale days, which tired him to death,
and endeavoured to shirk his work, getting plenty of money from his
father and not caring a fig about the business but doing only just
enough to avoid being dismissed.

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

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

She wanted a dress, not too dear but yet of strong stuff. Liénard,
with the view of sparing his arms, which was his principal thought,
manœuvred so as to make her take one of the stuffs already unfolded on
the counter. There were cashmeres, serges and vicunas there, and he
declared that there was nothing better to be had, for you could never
wear them out. However, none of these seemed to satisfy her. On one of
the shelves she had observed a blue shalloon, which she wished to see.
So he made up his mind at last, and took down the roll, but she thought
the material too rough. Then he showed her a cheviot, some diagonals,
some greys, every sort of woollens, which she felt out of curiosity,
just 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 and the counter vanished under the silky grain of the
cashmeres and poplins, the rough nap of the cheviots and the tufty down
of the vicunas; there were samples of every material and every tint.
Though she had not the least wish to buy any, she even asked to see
some grenadine and some Chambéry gauze. Then, when she had seen enough,
she remarked:

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

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

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

"Yes, dear madame; what a crowd--is it not?"

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


Thereupon, amidst all the jostling, pushed hither and thither by the
growing crowd of modest purses rushing upon the cheap woollen goods,
they went into ecstasies over the exhibition of Eastern carpets.
And afterwards Madame Marty explained that she was looking for some
material for a mantle; but she had not quite made up her mind and
wanted to see some woollen _matelassé_.

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

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

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

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

The shopman then took up the articles already purchased and walked off
before the ladies.

In the silk department there was also a crowd, the principal crush
being opposite the inside display arranged by Hutin, to which Mouret
had given the finishing touches. This was at the further end of the
hall, around one of the slender wrought-iron columns which supported
the glass roof. A perfect torrent of material, a billowy cascade
fell from above, spreading out more and more as it neared the floor.
The bright satins and soft-tinted silks--the Reine and Renaissance
satins with the pearly tones of spring water; the light silks,
Nile-green, Indian-azure, May-pink, and Danube-blue all of crystalline
transparency--flowed forth above. Then came the stronger fabrics:
warm-tinted Merveilleux satins, and Duchess silks, rolling in waves
of increasing volume; whilst at the bottom, as in a fountain-basin,
the heavy materials, the figured armures, the damasks, and brocades,
the beaded silks and the silk embroidered with gold and silver,
reposed amidst a deep bed of velvet of every sort--black, white,
and coloured--with patterns stamped on silk and satin grounds, and
spreading out with their medley of colours like a still lake in which
reflections of sky and scenery were seemingly dancing. The women, pale
with desire, bent over as if to look at themselves in a mirror. And
before this gushing cataract they all remained hesitating between a
secret fear of being carried away by such a flood of luxury, and an
irresistible desire to jump in and be lost in it.

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

"Ah! good day!" replied the latter, shaking hands with the other
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 decidedly to be the fashionable
note of the day, Madame Bourdelais retained her practical housewifely
coolness. She was carefully examining a piece of Paris Delight, for
she had come on purpose to profit by the exceptional cheapness of this
silk, if she found it really advantageous. She was doubtless satisfied
with it, for she bought five-and-twenty yards, hoping that this
quantity would prove 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."

Thereupon she went away, preceded by the salesman carrying the
twenty-five yards of silk, who led her to pay-desk No. 10, where young
Albert was getting confused by all the demands for invoices with which
he was besieged. When the salesman was able to approach, after having
inscribed his sale on a debit-note, he called out the item, which
the cashier entered in a register; then it was checked, and the leaf
torn out of the salesman's debit book 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
received the silk behind the pay-desk, and was tying it up; and then
the parcel, thrown into a basket on wheels, was sent down to the
delivery department, which seemed to swallow up all the goods in the
shop with a sluice-like roar.

Meanwhile, the block was becoming so great in the silk department
that Madame Desforges and Madame Marty could not find a salesman
disengaged. So they remained standing, mingling with the crowd of
ladies who were looking at the silks and feeling them, staying there
for hours without making up their minds. However the Paris Delight
proved the great success; around it pressed one of those crowds whose
feverish infatuation decrees a fashion in a day. A host of shopmen were
engaged in measuring off this silk; above the customers' heads you
could see the pale glimmer of the unfolded pieces, as the fingers of
the employees came and went along the oak yard measures hanging from
brass rods; and you could hear the noise of scissors swiftly cutting
the silk, as fast as it was unwound, as if indeed there were not
shopmen enough to suffice for all the greedy outstretched hands of the

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

Madame Marty and her daughter experienced some disappointment, however.
The newspapers had said so much about this silk, that they had expected
something stronger and more brilliant. However, Bouthemont had just
recognised Madame Desforges, and anxious to pay his court to such a
handsome lady, who was supposed to be all-powerful with the governor,
he came forward, with 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 then he began to look
for some chairs amongst the neighbouring skirts, laughing the while
with his good-natured laugh, full of a brutal love for the sex, which
did not seem to displease Henriette.

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

Beside himself with rage with an old lady, who, after keeping him a
quarter of an hour, had finished by buying a yard of black satin for
a pair of stays, Hutin had quite forgotten Madame Desforges. In 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. What! was he going to miss the governor's sweetheart, from
whom he had sworn to extract a five-franc piece for himself? 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!"

Thereupon 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 interfered with his usually keen scent. As a rule, the first
glance told him if a customer meant to buy, and how much. Then he
domineered over the customer, hastened to serve her so as to pass on to
another, imposing his choice upon her and persuading her that he knew
better than herself what material she required.

"What sort of silk, madame?" he asked, in his most gallant manner and
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 Delight was unfolded on a 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," she murmured. "A
silk at five francs twelve sous will never equal 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 remark induced the salesman to intervene. He smiled with the
exaggerated politeness of a man who cannot make a mistake. "But
flexibility, madame, is the chief quality of this silk. It will not
crimple. It's exactly what you require."

Impressed by such an assurance, the ladies said no more. They had taken
the silk up, and were again examining it, 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 all the assembled
riches but not buying so much as a yard of calico. And now there was
another explosion of gossip.

"What! Is that you?"

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

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


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

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

Hutin was waiting, concealing his impatience beneath 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 stealing money out of his
pocket. At last, however, Madame Guibal went off to resume her stroll,
turning round the large display of silks with an enraptured air.

"Well, if I were you I should buy the mantle ready-made," said Madame
Desforges, suddenly returning to the Paris Delight. "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, turning to Hutin, said to him:
"Have the goodness to show us to the mantle department."

He remained dumbfounded, unaccustomed as he was to such defeats. What!
the dark lady bought nothing! Had he made a mistake then? Abandoning
Madame Marty he thereupon attacked Madame Desforges, exerting all his
ability as a salesman on her. "And you, madame, would you not like to
see our satins, our velvets? We have some extraordinary bargains."

"Thanks, another time," she coolly replied, looking at him no more than
she had looked at Mignot.

Hutin had to take up Madame Marty's purchases and walk off before the
ladies to show them to the mantle department. But he also had the grief
of seeing that Robineau was selling Madame Boutarel a large quantity of
silk. Decidedly his scent was playing him false, he wouldn't make four
sous! Beneath the amiable propriety of his manners his heart swelled
with the rage of a man robbed and devoured by others.

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

It was no easy matter to reach the staircase. A compact crowd of heads
was surging under the galleries and expanding like an overflowing
river in the middle of the hall. Quite a battle of business was going
on, the salesmen had this population of women at their mercy, and
passed them on from one to another with feverish haste. The moment
of the formidable afternoon rush, when the over-heated machine led
its customers such a feverish dance, extracting money from their very
flesh, had at last arrived. In the silk department especially a gust
of folly seemed to reign, the Paris Delight had brought such a crowd
together that for several minutes Hutin could not advance a step; and
Henriette, half-suffocated, having raised her eyes to the summit of the
stairs there beheld Mouret, who ever returned thither as to a favourite
position, from which he could view 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 establishment,
his face beaming with triumph the while.

The trepidation within was now stifling all outside noise; you no
longer heard the rumbling of the vehicles, nor the banging of their
doors; apart from the loud buzzing of the sales nought remained but
a consciousness that the immensity of Paris stretched all around, an
immensity which would always furnish buyers. In the heavy still air,
in which the fumes of the heating apparatus heightened the odours
of the stuffs, there was an increasing hubbub compounded of all
sorts of noises, of continual tramping, of phrases a hundred times
repeated around the counters, of gold jingling on the brass tablets
of the pay-desks, which a legion of purses besieged, and of baskets
on wheels laden with parcels which were constantly disappearing into
the gaping cellars. And, amidst the fine dust, everything finished by
getting mixed, it became impossible to recognise the divisions of the
different departments; the haberdashery department over yonder seemed
submerged; further on, in the linen department, a ray of sunshine,
entering by a window facing the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, looked like
a golden dart in a mass of snow; while, among the gloves and woollens,
a dense mass of bonnets and chignons hid the background of the shop
from view. Even the toilettes could no longer be distinctly seen, the
head-gear alone appeared, decked with feathers and ribbons, while a
few men's hats here and there showed like black spots, and the woman's
complexions, pale with fatigue and heat, assumed the transparency of
camelias. 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 reaching
the landing, Henriette no longer found Mouret there, for he had just
plunged Vallagnosc into the midst of the crowd in order to complete his
bewilderment, he himself, too, feeling the need of a dip into this bath
of success. He lost his breath with rapture, feeling the while a kind
of continuous caress from all his customers.

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

Up above, however, there was the same block. People invaded even the
furnishing department, usually the quietest of all. The shawl, the fur,
and the under-clothing departments literally swarmed with customers;
and as the ladies crossed the lace gallery another meeting took place.
Madame de Boves was there with her daughter Blanche, both buried amidst
the articles which Deloche was showing them. And again Hutin had to
make a halt, parcel 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, with scarcely 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 a customer's
whims; and she had taken advantage of his bewildered good-nature, to
keep him there for half an hour, still asking for fresh articles. The
counter was covered, and she plunged her hands into an increasing
mountain of lace, Malines, Valenciennes, and Chantilly, her fingers
trembling with desire, her face gradually warming with a sensual
delight; whilst Blanche, close to her, agitated by the same passion,
was very pale, her flesh inflated and flabby. However, the conversation
continued; and Hutin, standing there waiting their good pleasure, could
have slapped their faces for all the time they were making him lose.

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

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

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

Then they separated enraptured, amidst the obstruction which the sale
of insertions and small trimmings at low prices was causing. Deloche,
glad to be occupied, again began emptying the boxes before the mother
and daughter. And amidst the groups pressing close to the counters,
inspector Jouve slowly walked about with his military air, displaying
his decoration and watching over all the 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 on delaying him at each turn of the
shop! And with his annoyance was blended no little of the rancour that
existed between the textile and the ready-made departments, which
were in continual hostility, ever fighting for customers and stealing
each other's percentages and commissions. Those of the silk hall were
yet more enraged than those of the woollen department whenever a lady
decided to take a mantle after looking at numerous taffetas and failles
and they were obliged to conduct her to Madame Aurélie's gallery.

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

But Mademoiselle Vadon passed by without listening, absorbed in a sale
which she was conducting. The room was full, a stream of people were
crossing it, entering by the door of the lace department and leaving
by that of the under-clothing department, whilst on the right were
customers trying on garments, and posing before the mirrors. The red
carpet stifled all noise of footsteps here, and the distant roar from
the ground-floor died away, giving place to a discreet murmur and a
drawing-room warmth, increased by the presence of so many women.

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

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

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

But he suddenly caught sight of Denise. She had been kept folding all
the morning, only allowed to serve a few doubtful customers, to whom
moreover she had not sold anything. When Hutin recognised her, occupied
in clearing an enormous heap of garments off the counters, he ran up to

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

Thereupon he quickly slipped Madame Marty's purchases into her arms,
tired as he was of carrying them about. His smile returned to him
but it was instinct with the secret maliciousness 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 perturbed by the prospect of this unhoped-for sale which
suddenly presented itself. For the second time Hutin appeared to her as
an unknown friend, fraternal and tender-hearted, always ready to spring
out of the darkness to save her. Her eyes glistened with gratitude; she
followed him with a lingering look, whilst he began elbowing his way as
fast as possible 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, quite lost her head; she
had never served any but the rare customers who came to Cornaille's,
at Valognes; she did not even know the number of the models, nor
their places in the cupboards. And so she was hardly able 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 up 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 paralyzed Denise by stepping up
to her and saying in a whisper: "You see very well you know nothing.
Don't interfere any more, please." Then turning round she called out:
"Mademoiselle Vadon, these ladies require a mantle!"

She remained looking on whilst Marguerite showed the models. This girl
assumed a dry polite voice with customers, the disagreeable manner of
a young person robed in silk, accustomed to rub against elegance in
every form, and full, unknown to herself, of jealousy and rancour.
When she heard Madame Marty say that she did not wish to pay more
than two hundred francs, she made a grimace of pity. Oh! madame would
certainly give more, for it would be impossible to find anything at
all suitable for two hundred francs. Then 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 them nice after that; but
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 respect. And thereupon Madame Aurélie abruptly called

"Come, do something at all events. Just put that on your shoulders."

Denise, wounded to the heart, despairing of ever succeeding, had
remained motionless, her hands dangling by her side. No doubt she would
be sent away, and the children would be without food. All the tumult
of the crowd buzzed in her head, her legs were tottering and her arms
bruised by the handling of so many garments, a porter's 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 afterwards Denise was forgotten. 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 through the departments, displayed more
surprise than admiration; for, after all, thought he, with his
pessimist nonchalance, it was nothing more than an immense collection
of drapery. Bourdoncle, however, forgetting that he himself belonged to
the establishment, likewise congratulated the governor in order to make
him forget his anxious doubts and persecutions of the earlier 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
loving looks. "But I must not interrupt you, ladies."

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

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

The latter gave her opinion, 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 waist."

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

They smiled. Denise had turned very pale. She felt ashamed at being
thus turned into a machine, which they examined and joked about so

Madame Desforges, yielding to the natural antipathy of a contrary
nature, annoyed by the girl's gentle face, maliciously added: "No
doubt it would set better if the young person's gown were not so

Thereupon she cast at Mouret the mocking glance of a Parisienne amused
by the ridiculous rig of a country girl. He felt the amorous caress
of this glance, the triumph of a woman proud of her beauty and her
art. And so out of pure gratitude, the gratitude of a man who knew
himself to be adored, he felt obliged to joke in his turn, despite his
good-will towards Denise of whose secret charm he was conscious.

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

This was the last straw. The director deigned to laugh so all the young
ladies ventured to do the same. Marguerite risked a slight chuckle,
like a well-behaved girl who restrains herself; but Clara left a
customer so as to enjoy the fun at her ease; and even some saleswomen
of the under-clothing department came in, attracted by the talking.
As for the lady customers they took it more quietly, with an air of
well-bred enjoyment. Madame Aurélie was the only one who did not smile;
it was as if Denise's splendid wild-looking hair and slender virginal
shoulders had dishonoured her, compromised the good reputation of her
department. Denise herself had turned paler still, amidst all these
people who were laughing at her. She felt herself violated, exposed to
all their hostile glances, without defence. What had she done that they
should thus attack her spare figure, and her too luxuriant hair? But
she was especially wounded by Madame Desforges's and Mouret's laughter,
instinctively divining their connection and her heart sinking with
an unknown grief. That lady was surely very ill-natured to attack a
poor girl who had said nothing; and as for Mouret, he most decidedly
filled her with a freezing fear, in which all her other sentiments
disappeared. And, totally abandoned, assailed in her most cherished
feelings of modesty, indignant at such 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. Full of scorn for Denise's small limbs he
had condemned her the first time he had seen her.

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 your capabilities--It is impossible
to be more stupid!"

Fearing that her tears might gush from her eyes Denise hastened back
to the heap of garments, which she began sorting on the counter.
There at least she was lost in the crowd. Fatigue prevented her from
thinking. But all at once near by she perceived the saleswoman of the
under-clothing department, who had already defended her that morning.
The latter had followed the scene, and murmured in her ear:

"My poor child, you mustn't be so sensitive. Keep that to yourself,
or they'll go on worse and worse. I come from Chartres. Yes, Pauline
Cugnot is my name; and my parents are millers. Well! the girls here
would have devoured me during 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 outstretched hand redoubled Denise's confusion; she shook it
furtively and hastened to take up a load of cloaks, fearing lest she
might again be accused of a transgression and receive a scolding if it
were known 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 that it would
be impossible to improve on it. A good deal of bowing ensued, 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 former. Marguerite, standing before one of the pay-desks, 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 outburst of admiration. Even Madame Guibal became

"Oh! delicious! it 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 that Kurdestan! Just look, a real Delacroix!"

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

The same disorder prevailed upstairs, in the departments of the first
floor: the furs were scattered over the flooring, the mantles were
heaped up like the great-coats of soldiers _hors-de-combat_, the laces
and the under-linen, unfolded, crumpled, thrown about everywhere, made
you think of a nation of women who had disrobed themselves there;
whilst down below, in the depths of the establishment, the delivery
department, now in full activity, was still and ever disgorging the
parcels which filled it to suffocation and which were carried off by
the vans, in a last effort of the overheated machine. But it was on
the silk department especially that the customers had flung themselves
with the greatest ardour. There they had cleared off everything, there
was abundant room to pass, the hall was bare; the whole of the colossal
stock of Paris Delight had been cut up and carried away, as if by a
swarm of devouring locusts. And in the midst of this great void, Hutin
and Favier were running through the counterfoils of their debit-notes,
calculating their commission, and still short of breath from the
struggle. Favier, it turned out, had made fifteen francs while Hutin
had only managed to make thirteen; he had been thoroughly beaten that
day, and was enraged at his bad luck. The eyes of both sparkled with
the passion for gain. And all around them other shopmen were likewise
adding up figures, glowing with the same fever, in the brutal gaiety
which follows victorious carnage.

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

He had returned to his favourite position against the balustrade, at
the top of the stairs, and, in presence of the massacre of stuffs
spread out below 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
building sites. Whilst Mouret gazed at the cashiers bending over their
ledgers, adding up long columns of figures, whilst he listened to the
sound of the gold, falling from their fingers into the metal bowls, he
already beheld The Ladies' Paradise growing and growing, enlarging its
hall and prolonging its galleries as far as the Rue du Dix-Décembre.

"And now," he resumed, "are you not convinced, Bourdoncle, 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 another spectacle rendered them grave. As was the
custom every evening, Lhomme, the chief sales' cashier, had just
collected the receipts from each pay-desk; and after adding them up,
he wrote the total amount on a paper which he displayed by hanging it
on the iron claw with which the stump of his mutilated arm, severed
at the elbow, was provided. And then he took the receipts up to the
chief cash office, some in a leather case and some in bags, according
to the nature of the specie. On this occasion the gold and silver
predominated, and he slowly walked upstairs carrying three enormous
bags, which he clasped with his one arm against his breast, holding one
of them with his chin in order to prevent it from slipping. His heavy
breathing could be heard at a distance as he passed along, staggering
and superb, amidst the respectful shopmen.

"How much, Lhomme?" asked Mouret.

"Eighty thousand seven hundred and forty-two francs ten centimes,"
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's
sales by a draper's shop.

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


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
director's office, mademoiselle."

The girl found Mouret alone, in his spacious room hung with green rep.
He had suddenly remembered that "unkempt girl," as Bourdoncle called
her; and he, who usually detested the part of fault-finder, had thought
of sending for her and stirring her up a bit, if she were still dressed
in the style of a country wench. On the previous day, despite his
jocularity, he had experienced a feeling of wounded pride, on seeing
the elegance of one of his saleswomen questioned in Madame Desforges's
presence. He harboured a mixed sentiment with regard to Denise, a
commingling, as it were, of sympathy and anger.

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

But all at once he stopped. On the other side of his table stood
Denise, upright, serious, and pale. Her silk gown was no longer too
big for her, but fitted tightly to her pretty figure, displayed the
pure lines of her virgin shoulders; and if her hair, knotted in thick
tresses, still appeared somewhat wild, she had at least tried to keep
it in order. After falling asleep with her clothes on, her eyes red
with weeping, she had, on waking at about four o'clock, felt ashamed of
her nervous sensibility, and had immediately set about taking-in her
dress; besides spending an hour before the tiny looking-glass, combing
her hair, which she was unable to reduce as much as she would have
liked to.

"Ah! thank heavens!" said Mouret, "you look better this morning. But
there's still that dreadful hair!" With these words he rose from his
seat and stepped up to her to try and smooth her rebellious tresses in
the same familiar way as Madame Aurélie on the previous day. "There!
Just tuck that in behind your ear," he said, "The chignon is too high."

She did not speak, but let him arrange her hair. In spite of her vow
to be strong and brave she had reached the office full of misgivings,
feeling certain that she had been summoned to be informed of her
dismissal. And Mouret's evident kindliness did not reassure her; she
was still afraid of him, feeling whenever near him that uneasiness
which she attributed to natural anxiety in the presence of a powerful
man on whom her future depended. And when he saw her thus trembling
under his hands, which were grazing her neck, he began to regret his
good-natured impulse, for he feared above all to lose his authority.

"In short, mademoiselle," he resumed, once more placing the table
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 you admittance to our house, I at least
trust that you will seek to justify the good opinion I formed of you
from your appearance. Unfortunately, everybody here is not of the same
opinion as myself. Let this be a warning to you. Don't make me tell a

He treated her like a child, with more pity than kindness, his
curiosity simply awakened by the troublous, womanly charm which he
divined was springing up in this poor awkward girl. And she, whilst he
was lecturing her, having suddenly perceived the portrait of Madame
Hédouin, whose handsome regular face was smiling gravely in its gold
frame--felt herself shivering again, despite the encouraging words he
addressed to her. That was the dead lady, she whom people accused him
of having killed, in order to found the house with the blood of her

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

From that day onward, Denise put forth all her courage. Beneath her
attacks of sensitiveness, a strong sense of reason was constantly
working, quite a feeling of bravery at finding herself weak and alone,
with a cheerful determination to carry out her self-imposed task. She
made very little stir but went straight ahead to her goal, overcoming
all obstacles, and that simply and naturally, for her nature was one of
unconquerable sweetness.

At first she had to surmount the terrible fatigues of her work in the
department. The piles of garments strained her arms to such a degree
that during the first six weeks she cried with pain when she turned
over at night, her back aching and her shoulders bruised. But she
suffered still more from her shoes, heavy shoes which she had brought
from Valognes; lack of money preventing her from replacing them by
light boots. Always on her legs, trotting about from morning to night,
scolded if she were seen leaning for a moment against a partition,
her feet, small like those of a child, became swollen by prolonged
imprisonment in those torturing bluchers; the heels throbbed with fever
and the soles were covered with blisters, the skin of which chafed off
and stuck to her stockings. She experienced, too, a shattering of her
whole frame; the constant weariness of her legs painfully affected her
system and her face was ever pale. And yet she, so spare and frail,
resisted courageously, whilst a great many other saleswomen, attacked
by special maladies, were obliged to quit the business. Her readiness
to suffer, her valiant stubbornness sustained her, smiling and upright,
however, even when she felt ready to give way, thoroughly worn out by
labour to which many men would have succumbed.

Another torment was to have the whole department against her. To
physical martyrdom was added the secret persecutions of her comrades.
Two months of patience and gentleness had not disarmed them. She was
constantly exposed to offensive remarks, cruel inventions, a series of
slights which cut her to the heart, in her longing for affection. For
a long time the others joked over her unfortunate first appearance;
and such nicknames as "clogs" and "numbskull" were bestowed on her.
Then those who missed a sale were advised to go to Valognes; in
short, she passed for the fool of the place. And afterwards when she
revealed herself to be a remarkably clever saleswoman, well up in the
mechanism of the house, the others conspired to deprive her of all
good customers. Marguerite and Clara pursued her with instinctive
hatred, allying themselves together in order that they might not be
swallowed up by this new-comer, whom they really feared in spite of
their affected disdain. As for Madame Aurélie, she was hurt by the
proud reserve displayed by Denise, who did not hover round her skirts
with an air of caressing admiration; and she therefore abandoned her
to the rancour of her favourites, the preferred ones of her court, who
were always on their knees, feeding her with the continual flattery
which could alone impart any amiability to her proud domineering
nature. 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 directly 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 on in
an hourly struggle, only managing by dint of the greatest courage to
hold her own in the department.

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

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

"Hallo!" said Clara, "the 'unkempt girl' has got a follower then."

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

Meantime, 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 so bad. But she did not dare to scold him, so excited did he
appear, bareheaded, out of breath through running all the way from the
Faubourg du Temple.

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

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

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

Thereupon he blushed, and explained that he had met a friend's sister.
Denise stopped him, feeling embarrassed and not wishing to know any
more about it. Twice already had he rushed in to obtain similar loans,
but on the first occasion it had only been a matter of twenty-five
sous, and on the next of thirty. He was, however, always getting into
bad company.

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

"Well, I'm lost," he repeated, 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 would----"

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 of it!--But on my honour! never again! A fellow would have
to be a regular scamp."

And thereupon he ran off, after kissing his sister, like a madman. The
assistants in the shop seemed quite astonished.

That night Denise did not sleep much. Since her entry into The
Ladies' Paradise, money had been her cruel anxiety. She was still
a probationer, without a salary; the other girls in her department
frequently prevented her from selling, and she only 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 in repairing
her small stock of clothes, darning her linen, mending her chemises
as if they had been lace; without mentioning the patches that she put
on her shoes, 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 source 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 stain on it gave her quite a fever, the least rent
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 even 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, suddenly
swooped down and pillaged her purse. A franc-piece taken out of it left
an abyss 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. All that
night she was haunted by nightmare in which she saw Pépé thrown into
the street, whilst she turned the paving stones over with her bruised
fingers to see if there might not be some money underneath them.

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 summoned her several times in order that she might show off
the new styles. And whilst she was posing there, with the stereotyped
graces of a fashion-plate, she thought all the time of Pépé's board and
lodging, which she had promised to pay that evening. She would contrive
to do without any boots for another month; but even on adding the
thirty francs left her of Pépé's money to the four francs which she had
saved up sou by sou, there would never be more than thirty-four francs,
and where was she to find six francs to complete the sum she required?
It was an anguish in which her heart failed her.

"You will notice that the shoulders are quite 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 was now blaming herself for having gone to fetch Pépé from
Madame Gras' on the previous Sunday, to take him for a walk in the
Champs-Elysées. The poor child so seldom went out with her! But she had
been obliged to buy him some gingerbread and a little spade, and then
take him to see Punch and Judy, and all that had cost twenty-nine sous.
Really Jean could not think much about the little one, or he would not
be so foolish. Everything fell upon her shoulders.

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

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

And beneath her professional graces she continued worrying and worrying
until the evening, at a loss as to where she might find this money. The
young ladies, who were very busy, left her an important sale; but it
was only Tuesday, and she must wait four days before drawing any cash.
After dinner she decided to postpone her visit to Madame Gras till
the morrow. She would excuse herself, say she had been detained, and
before then she would perhaps have obtained the six francs. As Denise
avoided the slightest expense, she went to bed early. What could she do
out-of-doors, penniless and wild, and still frightened by the big city
in which she only knew the streets around the shop? After venturing
as far as the Palais-Royal for the sake of a little fresh air, she
would quickly return, lock herself in her room and set about sewing or

Along the corridor conducting to the bed-rooms reigned a barrack-like
promiscuity--the girls, who were often not very tidy, would gossip
there over dirty water and dirty linen, break into frequent quarrels
and patch up continual reconciliations. They were prohibited from
going up to their rooms in the day-time; they did not live there, but
merely slept there at night, climbing the stairs only at the last
minute, and coming down again in the morning when still half asleep,
hardly awakened by a rapid wash; and this hurry-skurry which night and
morning swept through the corridor, the fatigue of thirteen hours'
work which threw them all on their beds thoroughly worn out, made the
upper part of the house like an inn traversed by tired and illtempered
travellers. Denise had no friend. Of all the young ladies, one alone,
Pauline Cugnot, showed her a little affection; and the mantle 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 certainly 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 simply heard her get into bed, and never met her after business

That evening, Denise had made up her mind to play the part of bootmaker
once more. She was holding her shoes, turning them about and 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. Meantime a collar and a pair of cuffs were soaking in a
basinful of soapsuds.

Every evening she heard the same sounds, the girls coming up one by
one, brief whispered conversations, bursts of laughter and sometimes
disputes which they stifled as much as possible. Then the beds creaked,
the tired occupants yawned, and fell into heavy slumber. Denise's left
hand neighbour often talked in her sleep, which at first frightened
her very much. Perhaps others, like herself, stopped up to mend their
things, in spite of the regulations; but if so they probably took the
same precautions as she did, moving with prudent care, and avoiding the
least noise, for a quivering silence prevailed behind the closed doors.

It had struck eleven some ten minutes previously when a sound of
footsteps made Denise raise her head. Another young lady late, thought
she. And she realised that it was Pauline, by hearing the door next to
her own open.

But she was astonished when Pauline quietly came back into the passage
and knocked at her door.

"Make haste, it's me!"

The saleswomen were forbidden to visit each other in their rooms, and
Denise quickly unlocked her door, in order that her neighbour might
not be caught by Madame Cabin, who was supposed to see this regulation
strictly carried out.

"Was she there?" asked Denise, when the other had entered.

"Who? Madame Cabin?" replied Pauline. "Oh, I'm not afraid of her,
she's easily settled with a five-franc piece!" And 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, touched by her good-natured air invited her
to sit down. But in the bewilderment, caused by this unexpected visit
she had not laid down the shoe she was mending, and Pauline at once
perceived it. She shook her head, looked round and espied 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, my chemises! I had
only two, and there was always one in soak."

She sat down, still out of breath from running. Her broad face,
with small bright eyes, and big tender mouth, possessed a certain
grace, notwithstanding its rather coarse features. And, without any
transition, all of a sudden, she began to relate her story; her
childhood at the mill; old Cugnot ruined by a law-suit; she sent to
Paris to make her fortune with twenty francs in her pocket; then her
start as a saleswoman in a shop at Batignolles, then at The Ladies'
Paradise--a terrible start, every suffering and privation imaginable;
and at last her present life, the two hundred francs she earned each
month, the pleasures she indulged in, the carelessness in which
she allowed her days to glide away. Some jewellery, a brooch, and
watch-chain, glistened on her close-fitting gown of dark-blue cloth;
and she smiled from under a velvet toque ornamented with a large grey

Denise had turned very red, worried with reference to her shoe; and
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."

Thereupon Denise yielded to 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 were so fully taken up by their
conversation that they did not notice that their fingers were almost
frost-bitten. Little by little, Denise opened her heart entirely, spoke
of Jean and Pépé, and of how grievously the money question tortured
her; which led them both to abuse the young ladies in the mantle
department. Pauline relieved her mind. "Oh, the hussies!" said she, "if
they treated you in a proper way, you might make more than a hundred
francs a month."

"Everybody is down on me, and I'm sure I don't know why," answered
Denise, beginning to cry. "Look at Monsieur Bourdoncle, he's always
watching me, trying to find me in fault just as if I were in his way.
Old Jouve is about the only one----"

The other interrupted her. "What, that old ape of an inspector! Ah! my
dear, don't you trust him. He may display his decoration as much as
he likes, but 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."

Then carried away by her good heart she caught hold of Denise's hands
and kissed her. 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 stand treat for the big one's sweethearts with the
few paltry sous she 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 spy upon the others.
Pauline, who was still pressing her friend's hand, looked at her for
a moment in silence, listening. Then, with an air of affectionate
conviction, she began to whisper to her.

Denise did not understand at first, and when she did, she withdrew her
hands, looking very confused by what her friend had told her. "Oh! no,"
she replied 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 shoes
that make the other girls laugh at you; yes, really, your shoes do you
a deal of harm. It would be much better to do as I tell you."

"No, no," repeated Denise.

"Well! you are very foolish. It's inevitable, my dear, we all come to
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 and
shut oneself up in one's room, watching the flies. So you see girls
forcibly drift into it."

She then spoke of her first admirer, a lawyer's clerk whom she had
met at a party at Meudon. After him, had come a post-office clerk.
And, finally, ever since the autumn, she had been keeping company with
a salesman at the Bon Marché, a very nice tall fellow. However, her
advice had no effect whatever upon Denise.

"No," the latter replied in a tone of decision; and a fresh silence
fell. In the small cold room they were smiling at each other, greatly
affected by this whispered conversation. "Besides, one must have
affection for some one," she resumed, her cheeks quite scarlet.

Pauline was astonished. She set up a laugh, and embraced her a second
time exclaiming: "But, my darling, when you meet and like each other!
You are really droll! Look here, would you like Baugé to take us
somewhere in the country on Sunday? He'll bring one of his friends."

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

Then Pauline insisted no further. Each was free to act as she pleased.
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 to make up Pépé's board-money, begging
her not to trouble about the matter, but to repay her the amount
whenever she earned more.

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

The candle having been extinguished, they shook hands; and then Pauline
ran off to her room, giving no sign of her passage through the darkness
save the vague rustling of her petticoats amidst the deep slumber that
had fallen on the occupants of the other little rooms.

Before going to bed Denise wished to finish her boot and do her
washing. The cold became sharper still as the night advanced; but
she did not feel it, the conversation had stirred her heart's blood.
She was not shocked; it seemed to her that every woman had a right
to arrange her life as she liked, when she was alone and free in the
world. For her own part, however, she had never given way to such
ideas; her sense of right and her healthy nature naturally maintained
her in the respectability in which she had always lived. At last,
towards one o'clock she went to bed. No, she thought, she did not
love any one. So what was the use of upsetting her life, the maternal
devotion which she had vowed for her two brothers? However, she did not
sleep; insomnia gained upon her and a crowd of indistinct forms flitted
before her closed eyes, then vanished in the darkness.

From that time forward Denise took an interest in the love-stories of
the department. During slack times the girls were constantly occupied
with their amatory affairs. Gossiping tales flew about, stories of
adventures which amused them all for a week. Clara was a scandal and
merely remained at the shop under pretence of leading a respectable
life in order to shield herself from her family; for she was mortally
afraid of old Prunaire, who had 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; which caused
some surprise, for all knew of the circumstances which had led to her
arrival in Paris. The young women also joked about Madame Frédéric,
declaring that she was discreetly connected with certain great
personages; but the truth was they knew nothing of her love-affairs;
for she disappeared every evening, stiff as starch with her widow's
sulkiness, and apparently always in a great hurry, though nobody
knew whither she hastened so eagerly. As for the tittle-tattle about
Madame Aurélie this was certainly false; mere invention, spread abroad
by discontented saleswomen just for fun. Perhaps she had formerly
displayed rather more than a motherly feeling for one of her son's
friends, but she now occupied too high a position in the business to
indulge in such childishness. Then there was the flock, the crowd of
the girls going off in the evening, nine out of every ten having young
men waiting for them at the door. On the Place Gaillon, along the Rue
de la Michodière, and the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, there was always a
troop of motionless sentries watching for the girls' departure; and,
when the _défilé_ began, each gave his arm to his lady and walked
away. It was like the stage-door exit of some theatre where figurantes

What most troubled Denise, however, was that she had discovered
Colomban's secret. He was continually to be seen on the other side of
the street, on the threshold of The Old Elbeuf, his eyes raised and
never quitting the young ladies of the jacket and mantle department.
When he espied Denise watching him he blushed and turned away his head,
as if afraid that 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, on seeing his
despairing airs, she had fancied that he was in love with Marguerite,
for Marguerite, being very well-conducted, and sleeping in the house,
was not easy to approach. But great was her astonishment to find that
Colomban's ardent glances were intended for Clara. For months past he
had been devoured by passion in this way, remaining on the other side
of the street and lacking the courage to declare himself; and this for
a girl who was perfectly free, who lived in the Rue Louis-le-Grand,
and whom he could have spoken to any evening! Clara herself appeared
to have no idea of her conquest. Denise's discovery filled her with
painful emotion. Was love so idiotic then? What! this fellow, who had
real happiness within his reach, was ruining his life for the sake of
that good-for-nothing girl whom he adored as reverently as if she had
been a saint! From that day forward she felt a heart pang each time she
espied Geneviève's pale suffering face behind the greeny 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. She was sometimes
obliged to reply by a smile to a friendly nod from Pauline, for whom
Baugé waited regularly every evening at half-past eight, beside the
fountain on the Place Gaillon. Then, after going out the last and
taking a furtive walk, always alone, she was invariably the first
to return, going upstairs to work, or to sleep, her head full of
dreams, inquisitive as to the outdoor life of the others, of which she
knew nothing. She certainly did not envy them, she was happy in her
solitude, in the unsociableness in which she shut herself up, as in a
hiding-place; but all the same her imagination carried her away, she
would try to guess things, picture the pleasures constantly described
before her, the cafés, the restaurants, the theatres, the Sundays spent
on the river and in the country taverns. Quite a weariness of mind, a
desire mingled with lassitude resulted from these imaginings; and she
seemed to have already had her fill of amusements which she had never

However, there was but little room for dangerous dreams in her daily
working life. During the thirteen hours of hard toil in the shop,
there was no time for any display of affection between the salesmen
and the saleswomen. If the continual fight for money had not abolished
all sexual difference, the unceasing press of business which occupied
their minds and fatigued their bodies would have sufficed to stifle
desire. But very few love-affairs had been known in the establishment
amidst the various hostilities and friendships between the men and
the women, the constant elbowing from department to department. They
were all nothing but pieces of mechanism forced to contribute of the
working of the immense machine, abdicating all individuality and simply
contributing their strength to the total, commonplace, phalansterian
power. It was only outside the shop that they resumed their individual
lives, with a sudden flaming of awakened passion.

Denise, however, one day saw Albert Lhomme slip a note into the hand
of a young lady in the under-clothing department, after several times
passing by with an air of indifference. The dead season, which lasts
from December to February, was commencing; and she now had periods of
rest, hours spent on her feet with her eyes wandering all over the
shop whilst waiting for customers. The young ladies of her department
were especially friendly with the salesmen who served the lace, but
their intimacy never seemed to go any further than whispered banter.
In the lace department there was a second-hand, a gay young spark who
pursued Clara with all sorts of suggestive stories, simply by way of
a joke--for he really cared so little for her that he made no effort
to meet her out of doors; and thus it was from counter to counter, the
gentlemen and the young ladies would exchange winks, nods, and remarks,
which they alone understood. At times with their backs half turned and
a dreamy look on their faces in order to put the terrible Bourdoncle
off the scent, they would indulge in some sly gossip. As for Deloche,
he long contented himself with smiling at Denise when he met her; but,
getting bolder, he at last occasionally murmured a friendly word. On
the day she had noticed Madame Aurélie's son giving a note to the young
lady in the under-linen department, it precisely happened that Deloche
was asking her if she had enjoyed her lunch, feeling a desire to say
something, and unable to think of anything more amiable. He also saw
the billet pass; and as he glanced at the young girl, they both blushed
at thought of this intrigue carried on under their eyes.

But despite all these occurrences which gradually awoke the woman in
her, Denise still retained her infantile peace of mind. The one thing
that stirred her heart was to meet Hutin. But even this 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 making her feel quite confused. Several times, on returning
from a pay-desk, she found herself making a _détour_, and traversing
the silk hall though she had no business there, her bosom heaving the
while with emotion. One afternoon she met Mouret there and he seemed
to follow her with a smile. He paid scarcely any 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 a boy, whom he would never manage to transform
into a coquette, notwithstanding all his knowledge of women. Sometimes
indeed he even ventured to laugh at her and tease her, without caring
to acknowledge to himself the troublous feeling, the charm which this
little saleswoman, with such a comical head of hair, inspired in
him. And that afternoon at sight of his mute smile, Denise trembled,
as if she were in fault. Did he know why she was crossing the silk
department, when she could not herself have explained what had impelled
her to make such a _détour_?

Hutin, moreover, did not seem to be at all aware of the young girl's
grateful looks. The shop-girls were not his style, he affected to
despise them, boasting more than ever of his pretended adventures with
the lady customers.

One day a baroness had beamed on him, he would relate, and on another
occasion he had fascinated the wife of an eminent architect. But as
a matter of fact his only conquests were among girls at cafés and
music-halls. Like all young men in the drapery line, he had a mania for
spending, battling throughout the week with a miser's greediness, with
the sole object of squandering his money on Sundays on the race-courses
or in the restaurants and dancing-saloons. He never thought of saving
a penny, but spent his salary as soon as he drew it, absolutely
indifferent about the future. Favier did not join him in these pleasure
parties. Hutin and he, so friendly in the shop, bowed to each other
at the door, where all further intercourse between them ceased. A
great many of the shopmen, always side by side indoors, became perfect
strangers, ignorant of each other's lives, as soon as they set foot in
the streets. However, Hutin, had an intimate--Liénard of the woollen
department. 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 at the Paradise together; and
in the evening, the first who found himself free, after the folding
was done, waited for the other at the Café Saint-Roch, in the Rue
Saint-Roch, a little place where many employees of The Ladies' Paradise
met, brawling, drinking, and playing cards amidst the smoke of their
pipes. They often stopped there till one in the morning, until indeed
the tired landlord turned them out. For the last month, however,
they had been spending three evenings a week at a free-and-easy at
Montmartre; whither they would take their friends in order to fan the
success of Mademoiselle Laure, a music-hall singer, Hutin's latest
conquest, whose talent they applauded with such violent rapping of
their walking-sticks and such clamorous shouts that on two occasions
the police had been obliged to interfere.

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

"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?"

On the day when Denise came down wearing a pair of cloth boots,
which had cost her five francs, Marguerite and Clara expressed their
astonishment in a kind of half whisper, so as to be heard. "Hullo! the
unkempt one, has given up her goloshes," said the former.

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

In point of fact, there was a general uprising against Denise. The
girls of her department had discovered her friendship with Pauline, and
thought they detected a certain bravado in this display of affection
for a saleswoman of a rival counter. They spoke of treason, accused her
of going and repeating their slightest words to their enemies. The war
between the two departments became more violent than ever, it had never
waxed so warm; angry words were exchanged like cannon shots, and a slap
even was given one evening behind some boxes of chemises. Possibly this
long-standing quarrel arose from the fact that the young ladies in the
under-linen department wore woollen gowns, whilst those of the mantles
wore silk. In any case, the former spoke of their neighbours with the
shocked air of respectable women; and facts proved that they were
right, for it had been remarked that the silk dresses appeared to lead
to dissolute habits among the young ladies who wore them. Clara was
taunted with her troop of lovers; even Marguerite had her child thrown
in her teeth, as it were; whilst Madame Frédéric was accused of all
sorts of secret passions. And all this solely on account of 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
no better than another. 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 an inexperienced boy, after
finding it impossible to attack her department. Her only object however
in making such a noise was to complicate the business, for she was
well aware of her son's character and knew him to be capable of all
sorts of stupid things. For a time the matter threatened to assume a
serious aspect; Mignot, the glove salesman, was mixed up in it. He
was a great friend of Albert's, and the rumour circulated that he
favoured the girls whom Albert sent him and who rummaged in his boxes
for hours together. There was also a story about some Suède kid gloves
given to the saleswoman of the under-linen department, which was never
properly cleared up. At last the scandal was stifled out of regard for
Madame Aurélie, whom Mouret himself treated with deference. Bourdoncle
contented himself a week later with dismissing, for some slight
offence, the girl who had allowed herself to be kissed. At all events
if the managers closed their eyes to the terrible doings of their
employees out of doors, they did not tolerate the least nonsense in the

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; and seeing her laughing one evening with Pauline she also
took it for bravado, concluding that they were gossiping over her son's
love-affairs. And she thereupon sought to increase the girl's isolation
in the department. For some time she had been thinking of inviting the
young ladies to spend a Sunday at Les Rigolles near Rambouillet 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 pleasure party; the girls kept their eyes on the sky already
warmed by the May sunshine, and 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 like this, in going out with lady
friends; for she was so little accustomed to being at home, she always
felt so uncomfortable, so out of her element on the rare occasions
when she could dine with her husband and son, that she preferred
even not to avail herself of the opportunity but to go and dine at a
restaurant. Lhomme went his own way, enraptured to resume his bachelor
existence, and Albert, greatly relieved, hastened off to his beauties;
so that, unaccustomed to home-life, feeling they were in each other's
way, bored to death whenever they were together on a Sunday, they paid
nothing more than flying visits to the house, as to some common hotel
where people take a bed for the night. With respect to the excursion
to Rambouillet, Madame Aurélie simply declared that considerations of
propriety would not allow Albert to join them, and that the father
himself would display great tact by refusing to come; a declaration
which enchanted both men. However, the happy day was drawing near, and
the girls chattered away more than ever, relating their preparations
in the way of dress, just 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 girl with her quiet obstinacy.

"But why not? Are you still afraid of being made love to?"

And thereupon 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

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

Denise hesitated, tormented by such a strong desire to go that the
blood rushed 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 tall grass into which she might sink to the
neck, and of giant trees whose shadows would flow over her like so
much cooling water. Her childhood, spent amidst the rich verdure of Le
Cotentin, was awakening with a regret for sun and air.

"Well! yes," said she at last.

Then everything was soon arranged. Baugé was to come and fetch them at
eight o'clock, on the Place Gaillon; whence they would take a cab to
the Vincennes Station. Denise, whose twenty-five francs a month was
quickly exhausted by the children, had only been able to do up her old
black woollen dress by trimming it with some strips of check poplin;
but she had made herself a bonnet, by covering a shape with some silk
and ornamenting it with blue ribbon. In this quiet attire she looked
very young, like an overgrown girl, displaying all the cleanliness
of careful poverty, and somewhat shamefaced, and embarrassed by her
luxuriant hair, which waved round the bareness of her bonnet. Pauline,
on the contrary, displayed a pretty spring costume in silk, striped
white and violet, a feathered bonnet, with bows matching the dress,
and jewels about 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 gown which she was obliged to wear throughout
the week in the shop; whereas Denise, who wore her uniform silk from
Monday to Saturday, resumed, on Sundays, her thin woollen dress of
poverty-stricken aspect.

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

And thereupon she introduced her lover, and Denise felt at her ease
at once, he seemed such a nice fellow. Big, and strong as an ox, with
a long Flemish face, in which his expressionless eyes twinkled with
infantile puerility, Baugé was the younger son of a grocer of Dunkerque
and had come to Paris, almost driven from home by his father and
brother, who thought him a fearful dunce. However, he now made three
thousand five hundred francs a year at the Bon Marché. Certainly in
some things he was rather stupid, but he proved a very good hand in the
linen department.

"And the cab?" asked Pauline.

They had to go on foot as far as the Boulevard. The sun was already
warming the streets and the glorious May morning seemed to be smiling
on the pavements. There was not a cloud in the sky; all was gay in the
blue air, transparent as crystal. An involuntary smile played about
Denise's lips; she breathed freely; it seemed to her that her bosom
was throwing off a stifling fit of six months duration. At last she no
longer felt the stuffy air and the heavy stones of The Ladies' Paradise
weighing her down! She had the prospect of a long day in the country
before her! and it was like a new lease of life, an infinite delight,
into which she entered with all the glee of a little child. However,
when they were in the cab, she turned her eyes away, feeling ill at
ease 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
fool he is! One would think he was running off to meet his girl!"

Lhomme, with his nose in the air, and his instrument under his arm,
was spinning along past the Gymnase Theatre, laughing with delight at
the thought of the treat in store for him. He was about to spend the
day with a friend, a flautist at a petty theatre, in whose rooms 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 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 to-day."

Both then began talking of the Rambouillet excursion. They did not
wish it to be rainy for the others, because they themselves might
suffer as well; still, if a cloud could only burst over there without
a drop falling at Joinville, it would be funny all the same. Then they
attacked Clara, who hardly knew how to spend the money she made by her
vices. Hadn't she bought three pairs of boots all at the same time, and
thrown them away the next day, after slashing them with her scissors,
on account of her feet, which were covered with corns? In fact, the
young ladies were just as bad as the young men, they squandered
everything, never saving a sou, but wasting two or three hundred francs
a month on dress and dainties.

"But he's only got one arm," all of a sudden said Baugé, who had kept
his eyes on Lhomme. "How does he manage to play the French horn?"

Pauline, who sometimes amused herself by playing on her lover's
stupidity, thereupon told him that the cashier kept the instrument up
by leaning it against a wall. He thoroughly believed her, and thought
it very ingenious. And when, stricken with remorse, she explained to
him that Lhomme had adapted to his stump a system of claws which he
made use of as fingers, he shook his head, full of doubt and declaring
that they wouldn't make him swallow that.

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

They reached the station of the Vincennes line just in time for a
train. Baugé paid; but Denise had previously declared that she wished
to defray 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. Then, at last they arrived at Joinville, and
went straight to the island to order lunch; and afterwards lingered
there, strolling along, under the tall poplars beside the Marne.
It was rather cold in the shade, a sharp breeze was blowing in the
sunshine, gathering strength as it swept from the distance over a
plain dotted with cultivated fields, on the other side of the river.
Denise lingered behind Pauline and her lover, who walked along with
their arms round each other's waists. She had picked a handful of
buttercups, and was watching the flow of the river, happy, but her
heart beating and her head drooping, each time that Baugé leant over
to kiss his sweetheart. Her eyes filled with tears. And yet she was
not suffering. What could be the matter with her that she experienced
this feeling of suffocation? Why did this vast landscape, amidst which
she had looked forward to so much enjoyment, fill her with a vague
regret that she could not explain? However, at lunch, Pauline's noisy
laughter bewildered her. That young woman, who loved the suburbs
with the passion of an actress living in the gas-light, in the heavy
atmosphere of a crowd, wanted to lunch in an arbour, notwithstanding
the sharp wind. She made merry over the sudden gusts which blew up the
table-cloth, and thought the arbour very funny in its bareness, with
its freshly-painted trellis-work which cast a reflection on the cloth.
She ate ravenously, devouring everything with the voracity of one who,
being badly fed at the shop, made up for it out of doors by giving
herself an indigestion of all the things she liked. This was indeed her
vice, she spent most of her money on cakes and indigestible dainties,
tit-bits of all kinds, which she hastily nibbled in leisure moments.
Now, however, as Denise seemed to have had enough with the eggs, fried
fish, and stewed chicken, she restrained herself, not daring to order
any strawberries which were 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
outing in some theatre. But at Denise's request, they decided to
remain at Joinville all day: it would be droll, they would take a fill
of the country. So they wandered about the fields all the afternoon.
They spoke for a moment of going for a row, but abandoned the idea
as Baugé was not a good waterman. However, their strolls along the
pathways ended by bringing them back to the banks of the Marne, all
the same, and they became interested in all the river life, the
squadrons of yawls and skiffs, and the young men who formed the crews.
The sun was setting and they were returning towards Joinville, when
they saw two boats coming down stream at a racing speed, their crews
meantime exchanging volleys of insults, in which the repeated cries of
"Sawbones!" and "Counter-jumpers!" predominated.

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

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

Thereupon he explained the deadly hatred existing between the students
and the shopmen. Denise, on hearing Hutin's name mentioned, had
suddenly stopped, and with fixed eyes followed the frail skiff. 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. Then the voices of the disputants died away
amidst the loud 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 very chilly and they were obliged to dine in one of the
closed rooms, where the table-cloths were still damp from the humidity
of winter. At six o'clock the tables were already crowded, yet the
excursionists still hurried in, looking for vacant corners; and the
waiters continued bringing in more chairs and forms, putting the plates
closer and closer together and crowding the people up. Cold as it had
been before, the atmosphere now became stifling and they had to open
the windows. Out of doors, the day was waning, a greenish twilight fell
from the poplars so quickly that the landlord, unprepared for these
repasts under cover, and having no lamps, was obliged to put a candle
on each table. What with the laughter, the calls and the clatter of
plates and dishes the uproar became deafening; the candles flared and
guttered in the draught from the open windows, whilst moths fluttered
about in the air warmed by the odour of the food, and traversed by
sudden cold gusts of wind.

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

It was really young Lhomme, in the midst of three questionable women.
Already intoxicated, he was knocking his glass on the table, and
talking of drubbing the waiter if he did not bring some _liqueurs_

"Well!" resumed Pauline, "there's a family for you! the mother is at
Rambouillet, the father in Paris, and the son at Joinville; they won't
tread on one another's toes to-day!"

Denise, though she detested noise, was smiling and tasting the delight
of being unable to think, amid such uproar. But all at once they heard
a commotion in the other room, a burst of voices which drowned all
others. Men were yelling, and must have come to blows, for one could
hear a scuffle, chairs falling, quite a struggle indeed, amid which the
river-cries again resounded:

"Duck 'em, the counter-jumpers!"

"Pitch 'em in, the sawbones!"

And when the landlord's loud voice had calmed this tempest, Hutin,
wearing a red jersey, and with a little cap at the back of his head,
suddenly made his appearance, having on his arm the tall, fair girl,
who had been steering his boat and who by way of wearing the crew's
colours, had planted a bunch of poppies behind her ear. Clamorous
applause greeted their entry; and Hutin, his face beaming with pride
at thus being remarked, threw his chest forward and assumed a nautical
rolling gait, displaying the while a bruised cheek, quite blue from a
blow he had received. Behind him and his companion followed the crew.
They took a table by storm, and the uproar became deafening.

"It appears," explained Baugé, after listening to the conversation
behind him, "it appears that the students 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 about her."

"In any case," said Pauline, stiffly, "she's precious 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. Already, on seeing the boats
from the bank she had felt a shiver; but now she no longer had any
doubt at seeing that girl with Hutin. With trembling hands, and a
choking sensation in her throat, she suddenly ceased to eat.

"What's the matter?" asked her friend.

"Nothing," she stammered, "but it's rather warm here."

However Hutin's table was close to theirs, and when Hutin perceived
Baugé, whom he knew, he commenced a conversation in a shrill voice, in
order to attract further attention.

"I say," he cried, "are you as virtuous as ever at the Bon Marché?"

"Not so much as all that," replied Baugé, turning very red.

"That won't do! You know there's a confessional box at your place for
the salesmen who venture to look at the young ladies there. No, no! A
house where they insist on their employees marrying, that won't do for

The other fellows began to laugh, and Liénard who was one of Hutin's
crew added some jocular remark about the Louvre establishment at which
Pauline herself burst into a merry peal.

Baugé, however, was annoyed by the joke about the staid propriety and
innocence of his establishment, and all at once he retorted: "Oh, you
needn't talk, you are not so well off at The Ladies' Paradise. Sacked
for the slightest thing! And a governor too who is always smirking
round his lady customers."

Hutin no longer listened to him, but began to praise the Place Clichy
establishment. He knew a girl there who was so inexpressibly dignified
that 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 had been left
behind with merely fifty-two francs, in fact the whole lot had been
floored. And it could be seen that he was telling the truth. He was
squandering his cash as fast as possible and did not mean to go to bed
till he had rid himself of the hundred and fifteen francs. Then, as he
gradually became intoxicated, he fell foul of Robineau, that fool of a
second-hand who affected to keep himself apart, to such a point that he
refused to walk down the street with one of his salesmen.

"Shut up," said Liénard; "you talk too much, old man."

The heat had yet increased, the candles were guttering down on to the
wine-stained table-cloths; and through the open windows, whenever the
noise within ceased for an instant, there came a distant prolonged
murmur, the voice of the river, and of the lofty poplars falling asleep
in the calm night. Baugé had just called for the bill, seeing that
Denise was no better; indeed she was now quite white, choking from the
tears she withheld; however, the waiter did not appear, and she had to
submit to more of Hutin's loud talk. He was now boasting of being much
superior to Liénard, because Liénard simply squandered his father's
money, whereas he, Hutin, spent his own earnings, the fruit of his
intelligence. At last Baugé paid, and the two girls went out.

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 want of air. At present she could
breathe freely in the freshness of the starry night.

As the two young women 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 had been dining alone, after coming from Paris on foot,
for the pleasure of the walk. On recognising his friendly voice,
Denise, suffering as she was, yielded mechanically to the need of some

"Monsieur Deloche," said she, "are you coming back with us? Give me
your arm."

Pauline and Baugé had already gone on in front. They were astonished,
never thinking it would turn out like that, and with that 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 have they got to? Ah, there they are. It's rather funny, all the

At first Denise and Deloche remained silent. The uproar from the
restaurant was slowly dying away, changing into a musical sweetness
in the calmness of the night; and still feverish from that furnace,
whose lights were disappearing one by one behind the foliage, they
went further in amidst the coolness of the trees. Opposite them there
was a sort of shadowy wall, a mass of shadow so dense 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 hand the trunks of the poplar trees,
resembling sombre columns upholding the domes of their branches,
between which gleamed the stars; whilst the water occasionally shone
like a mirror. The wind was falling and they no longer heard anything
but the loud flow of the stream.

"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 that he loved her. He had long wanted to write to her and tell
her so; but perhaps she would never have known it had it not been for
that lovely night coming to his assistance, that water which murmured
so softly, and those trees which screened them with their shade.
However, she did not reply; she continued to walk by his side with the
same suffering air. And he was trying to gaze into her face, when all
at once 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 strove to keep back her tears, but could not do so. Even whilst she
was at table, she had thought that her heart was about to burst. And
now in the darkness she surrendered herself to her sensibility, stifled
by her sobs and thinking that if Hutin had been in Deloche's place and
had said such tender things to her, she would have been unable to say
nay. But this self-confession suddenly filled her with confusion, and a
burning flush of shame suffused her face.

"I didn't mean to offend you," continued Deloche, almost crying also.

"No, but listen," she replied, her voice still trembling; "I am not at
all angry with you. But never speak to me again as you have just done.
Oh! you're a good fellow, and I'm quite willing to be your friend, but
nothing more. You understand--your friend."

He quivered, and after a few steps taken in silence, he stammered: "In
fact, you don't love me?"

And then 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 a chap doesn't know
how to rob other fellows of their sweethearts, and is too awkward to
earn as much as the others, why the best thing he can do is to go into
some corner and die. Never fear, I shan't torment you any more. As for
loving you, you can't prevent me, can you? I shall love you like a dog.
There, everything escapes me, that's my luck in life."

And then he, too, burst into tears. She tried to console him, and in
their friendly effusion they found they belonged to the same part
of the country--she to Valognes, he to Briquebec, eight miles from
each other, and this proved a fresh tie. His father, a poor, needy
process-server, sickly jealous, had been wont to drub him, exasperated
by his long pale face and tow-like hair, which, said he, did not belong
to the family. Then they got to talking of the vast Cotentin pastures,
surrounded with quick-set hedges, of the shady paths and lanes winding
beneath elm trees, and of the grass grown roads, like alleys in a park.
Around them the night was yet paling and they could distinguish the
rushes on the banks, and the lacework of the foliage, black against the
twinkling stars; and a peacefulness came over them, they forgot their
troubles, brought closer together, to a cordial feeling of friendship,
by their ill-luck.

"Well?" asked Pauline of Denise, taking her aside when they reached the

The young girl, who understood her friend's meaning by her smile and
stare of tender curiosity, turned very red and answered: "Oh! no,
my dear. Remember what I told you. But 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 on the Place de la Bastille; like
all young probationers, he slept in the house, and had to be back by
eleven o'clock. Not wishing to go in with him, Denise, who had obtained
what was called "theatre leave" which allowed her to remain out till
past midnight, accepted Baugé's invitation to accompany Pauline to his
home in the Rue Saint-Roch. They took a cab, and on the way Denise was
stupefied to learn that her friend would not return to The Paradise
till the morrow, having squared matters with Madame Cabin by giving
her a five-franc piece. Baugé, who did the honours of his room, which
was furnished with some old Empire furniture, given him by his father,
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;
however, he insisted on making her a cup of tea, and after struggling
with a spirit-lamp and saucepan, 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 however felt uncomfortable in that bachelor's room and a quarter
of an hour later she contrived to slip away.

The private door which conducted to Mouret's apartments and to the
assistants' bedrooms was in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. Madame Cabin
opened it by pulling a string and then gave a glance in order to see
who was returning. A night-light was burning dimly in the hall, and
Denise on finding herself in this uncertain glimmer, hesitated, and
was seized with fear, for a moment previously, on turning the corner
of the street, she had seen the door close on the shadowy figure of a
man. It must have been the governor coming home from a party; and the
idea that he was there in the dark possibly waiting for her, caused
her one of those strange fears with which he still inspired her,
without any reasonable cause. Some one was certainly moving about on
the first-floor, for she heard a creaking of boots, whereupon quite
losing her head, she opened a door which led into the shop, and which
was always left unlocked for the night-watch to make his rounds. On
entering she found herself in the printed cotton department.

"Good heavens! what shall I do?" she stammered, in her emotion.

Then the idea occurred to her that there was another door upstairs
leading to the bedrooms; but to reach it she would have to go right
across the shop. She preferred this, however, notwithstanding the
darkness reigning in the galleries. Not a gas-jet was burning there;
only a few lighted oil-lamps hung here and there from the branches
of the chandeliers; and these scattered lights, like yellow specks
fading away in the gloom, resembled the lanterns hung up in mines. Big
shadows loomed before her; she could hardly distinguish the piles of
goods, which assumed all sorts of threatening aspects--now they looked
like fallen columns, now like squatting beasts, and now like lurking
thieves. The heavy silence, broken by distant breathing, moreover
increased the darkness. However, she found her way. From the linen
department on her left came a paler gleam, bluey, like a house front
under a summer sky at night; then she wished to cross the central hall,
but on running up against some piles of printed calico, she thought it
safer to traverse 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 mourning articles. She then quickly
ran into the hall where the skylight cast a sort of crepuscular light,
which made it appear larger, and, with its motionless shelves, and
the shadows of its yard-measures describing reversed crosses, lent it
the awe-inspiring aspect of a church at night. And she, indeed full
of fear, now fairly fled. In the mercery and glove departments she
nearly trod on some more assistants, and only felt safe when she at
last found herself on the staircase. But up above, just outside the
mantle department, she was again seized with terror on perceiving a
lantern twinkling in the darkness and moving forward. It was the patrol
of two firemen, marking their passage on the faces of the indicators.
She stood still for a moment failing to understand their business, and
watched them passing from among the shawls to the furniture, and then
on to the under-linen department, terrified the while by their strange
manœuvres, by the grating of their keys and the closing of the iron
doors which shut with a resounding clang. When they approached, she
took refuge in the lace department, but suddenly heard herself called
by name and thereupon ran off to the door conducting to the private
stairs. 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, but with open eyes was rememorating aloud the
pleasant hours he had spent that evening.

"What! it's you, mademoiselle?" said Mouret, whom Denise despite
all her manœuvring found before her on the staircase, a small
pocket-candleholder in his hand.

She stammered, and tried to explain that she had been to look for
something. But he was not angry. He gazed at her with his paternal, and
at the same time inquisitive, 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."

This made him laugh. Then laying a certain stress on his words, he
added: "All alone?"

"No, sir; with a lady friend," she replied, her cheeks burning, shocked
as she was by the suspicion which his words implied.

He said no more; but he was still looking at her in her simple black
dress and bonnet trimmed with a strip of 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, quite charming indeed with her splendid hair
waving 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 inform himself, to a wicked wish to know how a woman grew up
and became lost in Paris, no longer laughed, but experienced a feeling
of surprise and fear mingled with tenderness. No doubt it was a lover
who was improving her like this. At this thought he felt as if pecked
to the heart by a favourite bird, with which he had been playing.

"Good night, sir," murmured Denise, continuing on her way without

He did not answer, but remained watching her till she had disappeared.
And then he entered his own apartments.


When the dead summer season arrived, quite a hurricane of panic
swept through The Ladies' Paradise. The reign of terror--terror of
dismissal--commenced; many employees were sent away on leave, and
others were dismissed in dozens by the principals, bent on clearing the
shop, as no customers appeared there during the July and August heat.
Mouret, on making his daily round with Bourdoncle, would call aside
the managers, whom he had prompted during the winter to engage more
men than were really necessary, in order that the business might not
suffer; but it was now a question of reducing expenses and this was
effected by casting quite a third of the shop people--the weak ones who
allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the strong ones--on to the
pavements again.

"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 own arrangements, six salesmen must suffice;
you can take on others in October, there are always plenty to be had!"

Moreover Bourdoncle undertook the executions. He had a terrible way of
saying: "Go and be paid!" which fell on the poor devil he had singled
out 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 get
paid!" "You dare to answer me; go and get paid!" "Your shoes have not
been blackened; go and get paid!" And even the bravest trembled in
presence of the massacre which he left behind him. Then, this system
not working quickly enough, he invented a trap by which in a few days
and without fatigue, he got rid 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
who arrived were greeted with his implacable "Go and get paid!" This
was a quick and cleanly manner of doing the work.

"You've an ugly mug," he ended by saying one day to a poor devil whose
nose, all on one side, annoyed him, "go and get paid!"

The favoured ones obtained a fortnight's holiday without pay, which
was a more humane way of lessening the expenses. Moreover the salesmen
quietly 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 they themselves resigning all at once, just as
interest dictated. When business slackened the workmen lost their daily
bread; and this went on amidst the subdued working of the machine, the
useless gear was 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, in the
same way 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 quite a drama threw the under-linen
department into confusion: a customer, nearly fainting away, accused
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
had simply been finishing a collection of bread-crusts at the counter.
However, the authorities showed themselves pitiless at the least
complaint from customers; no excuse was admitted, the employee was
always wrong, and had to disappear like a defective instrument, which
interfered with the proper working of the business; and the others
bowed their heads, not even attempting any defence. In the panic which
was raging, each trembled for himself. Mignot, going out one day with
a parcel under his coat, notwithstanding the regulations, was nearly
caught, and really thought himself lost. Liénard, celebrated for his
idleness, was simply indebted to his father's position in the drapery
trade for not being turned away one afternoon when Bourdoncle found
him dozing between two piles of English velvets. But the Lhommes were
especially anxious, each day expecting to see their son Albert sent
away, as the principals were very dissatisfied with his conduct at his
pay-desk. He frequently had women there who diverted his attention from
his work; and twice already Madame Aurélie had been obliged to plead
for him.

Denise was so menaced amid this general clearance, that she lived in
constant expectation of a catastrophe. It was in vain that she summoned
up her courage, struggling with all her gaiety and all her reason in
the endeavour not to yield to the misgivings of her tender nature;
she burst into blinding tears as soon as she had closed the door of
her bedroom, in desolation at the thought of finding herself in the
street, on bad terms with her uncle, not knowing where to go, without a
copper saved, and with the two children to look after. The sensations
she had experienced during the first few weeks again returned, she
fancied herself a grain of seed under a powerful millstone; and utter
discouragement came over her at 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 dismissed
any one from her department it would certainly be herself. During the
Rambouillet excursion no doubt the other young ladies had incensed
Madame Aurélie against her, for since then that lady had treated her
with an air of severity into which entered a certain rancour. Besides,
they could not forgive her for going to Joinville, regarding it as a
sign of revolt, a means of setting the whole department at defiance, by
exhibiting herself out of doors 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 geese!"

But it was just these fine-lady airs which intimidated Denise. Nearly
all the saleswomen, by their daily contact with rich customers,
acquired 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 they had learnt
by rote, there was often only a false, superficial education, the fruit
of reading worthless papers, attending cheap theatres and music-halls,
and picking up all the current stupidities of Paris.

"You know the 'unkempt one' has got a child?" said Clara one morning,
on arriving in the department. And, as the others seemed astonished,
she continued: "Yes, I saw her yesterday myself taking the child out
for a walk! She's got it stowed away in the neighbourhood, somewhere."

Two days later, Marguerite came up after dinner with another piece of
news. "A nice thing, I've just seen the unkempt one's sweetheart--a
workman, just fancy! Yes, a dirty little workman, with yellow hair, who
was watching her through the windows."

From that moment it became an accepted fact: 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
them she turned quite pale at 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
she is here."

This curt defence was a condemnation. The poor girl, suffocating 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 rumours Deloche was so indignant that he
wanted to slap the faces of the young ladies in Denise's department;
and was only restrained from doing so by the fear of compromising her.
Since the evening at Joinville, he had harboured 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 him, still that did not prevent
him dreaming of the avenging blow he would deal if ever any one should
attack her in his presence.

Denise finished by not answering the insults. It was all too odious,
nobody would believe it. When any of her companions 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 badly 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
hummed snatches of some doubtful ditties. Then, after inventing some
pretext to enable her to go to the other end of the establishment
and read these letters, she became full of fear; poor Jean seemed to
be lost. All his fibs succeeded with her, she believed in all his
extraordinary love adventures, her complete ignorance of such things
making her exaggerate his dangers. Sometimes it was a two-franc piece
he wanted to enable him to escape some woman's jealousy, at other times
five francs, six francs, to get some poor girl out of a scrape as her
father would otherwise kill her. And so, as her salary and commission
did not suffice, Denise 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 first meeting at Vinçard's, and
he procured her the making of some neckties at five sous a dozen. At
night, between nine and one o'clock, she could sew six dozen of these
which represented thirty sous, out of which she had to deduct four sous
for a candle. And 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 upset her budgetary calculations. At the
end of the second fortnight, when she went to the necktie-dealer's,
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 relying for the last week. All the annoyances she
experienced in the department disappeared before this disaster.

"You seem worried," said Pauline, meeting her one day 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, and the panic caused by the dismissals
was at its height. Out of the four hundred employees, Bourdoncle had
already sacked fifty, and there were rumours of fresh executions. She,
however, thought but little of the menaces which were flying about,
entirely absorbed as she was by the anguish caused her by one of Jean's
adventures, an adventure yet more terrifying than any previous one.
That very day he wanted fifteen francs, which sum alone could save him
from somebody's vengeance. On the previous evening she had received
the first letter opening the drama; then, one after the other had come
two more; and in the last, the perusal of which she was finishing when
Pauline met her, Jean had announced his death for that evening, if she
did not send the money. She was in agony. She couldn't take the sum
out of Pépé's board money as this she had paid away 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 might perhaps be able
to find the necktie-dealer; but Robineau, having got a fortnight's
holiday, had not returned on the previous night though expected to do

However, Pauline still questioned her in a friendly way. Whenever they
met, in an out-of-the-way department, they would thus converse for a
few minutes, keeping a sharp look-out the while. And suddenly, Pauline
made a move as if to run off, having observed the white tie of an
inspector coming out of the shawl department.

"Ah! it's only old Jouve!" she murmured 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."

This was quite true; Jouve was detested by all the salespeople for his
severity. More than half the dismissals were the result of his reports;
and, rakish ex-captain that he was, with a big red nose, he only shewed
himself lenient in the departments served by women. Thus though he must
have perceived Denise and Pauline he went away, pretending not to see
them; and they heard him dropping on a salesman of 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."

At this Denise thought herself saved. "Thanks," said she, "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 thereupon they separated. The young girl, with a busy look, as if
she were running from pay-desk to pay-desk in search of something,
reached 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 in spite of the grey linen blinds, the heat penetrated the
stagnant air. Now and then a refreshing breath arose from the floor,
which some assistants were gently watering. A somnolence, a summer
siesta reigned in all the vacant spaces around the counters, you might
have thought yourself in a church wrapt in sleeping shadow after the
last mass. Some salesmen were standing about listlessly, and a few rare
customers crossed the galleries and the hall, with the indolent step of
women annoyed by the sun.

Just as Denise went down, Favier was measuring a dress length of light
silk, with pink spots, for Madame Boutarel, who had arrived in Paris
from the South on the previous day. Since the commencement of the
month, the provinces had been sending up their detachments; you saw
nothing but queerly-dressed dames in yellow shawls, green skirts, and
flaring bonnets. But the shopmen were even too indolent to laugh at
them. Favier accompanied Madame Boutarel to the mercery department, and
on returning, remarked to Hutin:

"Yesterday they were all Auvergnat women, to-day they're all
Provençales. I'm sick of them."

But just then Hutin rushed forward, for it was his turn, and he had
recognised "the pretty lady," the lovely blonde thus nicknamed by the
department which knew nothing about her, not even her name. They all
smiled at her, not a week passed without her coming to The Ladies'
Paradise, hitherto always alone. This time, however, she had a little
boy of four or five with her, and this gave rise to various comments.

"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 was awfully melancholy, and her eyes were 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 smacked her face."

"Possibly," repeated Hutin, "unless a lover has played her false." 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 steps
and looking around her, in search of 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 get
up to together. Oh! nothing wrong. But they say Robineau has procured
her a little work, some neckties. What a spec, eh?"

Hutin was meditating something spiteful; and when Denise passed near
him, he stopped her, saying: "Is it me you're looking for?"

She turned very red. Since the Joinville excursion, she had not dared
to 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 thereupon began to laugh at her uneasy manner. "Would you like us
to serve him to you? Favier, just serve Robineau to this young lady."

She looked at him fixedly, with the sad calm look with which she had
met the wounding remarks made by the girls, her companions. Ah! so 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, although not of a very tender nature,
came to her assistance.

"Monsieur Robineau has gone out to match some goods," 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 her head, thinking of this avalanche
of misfortunes. All would be over if Robineau should not come in.
However, she resolved to go down again, later on.

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 to the
establishment; 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 labour, the mine which he had been laying under the
second-hand's feet for months past, was about to explode. During
Robineau's holidays, he had temporarily taken his place and had done
his best to injure him in the minds of the principals, and secure
possession of his situation by excess of zeal; he discovered and
reported all sorts of trifling irregularities, suggested improvements,
and invented new designs. There was, however, nothing exceptional in
all this. Everybody in the department--from the unpaid probationer,
longing to become a salesman, to the first salesman who coveted the
situation of manager--had but one fixed idea, and that was to dislodge
the comrade above them, to ascend another rung of the ladder, by
knocking him over if necessary; and this battle of appetites, this
constant hurtling, even contributed to the better working of the
machine, inspiriting the sales and fanning the flame of success which
was astonishing Paris. Behind Hutin, there was Favier; and behind
Favier came the others, in a long line. You heard a loud noise as
of jaws working. Robineau was condemned, and each was grabbing for
one of his bones. So when the second-hand returned from his holiday
there was a general grumbling. The matter had to be settled at once,
the salesmen's attitude appearing so menacing that the head of the
department had sent Robineau out to match some goods at the dépôts of
manufacturers in order to give the authorities an opportunity to come
to a decision.

"We would sooner all leave, if he is to be kept," declared Hutin.

The affair greatly bothered Bouthemont, whose gaiety ill-accorded with
such worries. He was pained to see nothing but scowling faces around
him. Nevertheless he desired to be just.

"Come, leave him alone, he doesn't hurt you," he said.

But they protested energetically. "What! doesn't hurt us! An
insupportable being who is always irritable and so proud that he would
walk over one rather than not pass."

This was the great grievance of the department. Robineau, nervous as
a woman, was intolerably stiff and susceptible. They related scores
of stories about him; one poor little fellow had fallen ill through
his treatment, and even lady customers had been humiliated by his curt

"Well, gentlemen, I won't take anything on myself," said Bouthemont.
"I've notified the position to the directors, and am going to speak
about it shortly."

The second lunch was being rung; the clang of a bell came up from the
basement with a distant muffled sound in the close air of the shop.
Hutin and Favier went down. From all the counters, came salesmen one
by one, hastening, helter-skelter, through the narrow entrance to the
kitchen passage down below, a damp passage always lighted by gas. The
flock pushed forward, without a laugh or a word, amidst an increasing
clatter of crockery and a strong odour of food. Then at the far end
of the passage there was a sudden halt, before a wicket. Flanked by
piles of plates, and armed with forks and spoons, which he plunged into
copper-pans, a cook was distributing the portions. And when he stood
aside, the flaring kitchen could be seen beyond his white-covered belly.

"Of course!" muttered Hutin, consulting the bill of fare, written on a
black-board above the wicket. "Boiled beef and pungent sauce, or skate.
Never any roast meat in this rotten shop! Their boiled beef and fish
don't do a fellow a bit of good!"

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 sauce."

With a mechanical movement of his fork, the cook picked up a piece of
meat; then poured a spoonful of sauce over it, and Hutin, suffocated by
the hot air from the kitchen, had hardly secured 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 the sauce over it with the rapid rhythmical movement of a
well-regulated clock.

"But the skate's cold," declared Favier, whose hand felt no warmth from
the plate.

They were now all hurrying along, with arms extended and plates held
straight, for fear of running 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 and 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, however, grumbled between his teeth. "This is a fine dance, with
all this crockery!"

The table at which he and Favier sat, 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 windows, opening
on the street, on a level with the pavement, there fell a livid light,
incessantly traversed by the vague shadows of passers-by. In July as
in December, you stifled in the warm air, laden with nauseous smells,
which came from the kitchen near by.

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 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 rid himself of his bottle and laid
down his plate; then, after taking his napkin from the bottom of a set
of pigeon-holes, 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, seating himself 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
gormandizing of big fellows whom thirteen hours' daily work incessantly
rendered hungry. Formerly the employees had been allowed an hour for
meals, which had enabled them to go to a café and take their coffee;
and they would then despatch their dinner in twenty minutes, anxious
to get into the street. But this excited them too much, they came back
careless, their minds bent on other things than business; and so the
managers had decided that they should not go out, but pay an extra
three halfpence for a cup of coffee, if they wanted one. So now they
were in no hurry, but prolonged the meal, being in no wise anxious to
go back to work before time. Between their big mouthfuls a great many
read newspapers which they had folded and placed against their bottles.
Others, their first hunger satisfied, talked noisily, always returning
to the eternal grievance of the bad food, to the money they had earned,
to what they had done on the previous Sunday, and what they were going
to do on the next one.

"I say, what about your Robineau?" a salesman suddenly asked Hutin.

The struggle between the men 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." Then, suddenly getting angry, he resumed: "But
confound it! I really believe they've given me a slice of donkey! It's
become 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 and some joking. At a
corner of the table, against the wall, sat Deloche silently eating. He
was afflicted with a ravenous appetite, which he had never been able to
satisfy, and not earning enough to afford any extras, he cut himself
huge chunks of bread, and bolted even the least savoury platefuls, with
a gormandizing air. 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 all the same.

But a low whistle 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 the quality of the food
themselves. They gave thirty sous a head per day to the chief cook,
who had to pay for everything, provisions, coal, gas, and staff, and
they displayed a naive astonishment when the food was not good. That
very morning even, each department had deputed a spokesman. Mignot
and Liénard had undertaken to speak for their comrades. And so, in
the sudden silence which fell, all ears were cocked to catch the
conversation going on in the next room, which Mouret and Bourdoncle
had just entered. The latter declared the beef excellent; and Mignot,
astounded by this quiet assertion, was repeating, "But chew it, and
see;" whilst Liénard, attacking the skate, gently remarked, "But it
stinks, sir!" Mouret thereupon launched into a cordial speech; he would
do everything for his employees' welfare, he was their father, and
would rather eat dry bread himself than see them badly fed.

"I promise you to look into the matter," he said in conclusion, raising
his voice so that they might all 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. "Yes, reckon on that, and drink water!" Hutin muttered. "Ah,
they're not stingy of fine words. You want some promises, there you
are! But all the while they continue feeding you on old boot-leather,
and chuck you out like dogs!"

The salesman who had already questioned him thereupon repeated: "You
say that Robineau----"

But a clatter 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 but others thought it too sticky. Those who were plunged
in the fiction of their newspaper, not even knowing what they were
eating, remained silent. All, however, mopped their foreheads, and the
narrow cellar-like apartment filled with a ruddy vapour whilst the
shadows of the passers-by continually passed like black bars over the
littered tables.

"Pass Deloche the bread," cried one of the wags.

Each one cut a piece, and then again dug the knife into the loaf up to
the handle; and the bread still went round.

"Who'll take my rice for a dessert?" all at once asked Hutin; and
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 as 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 went on. "Oh! his affair
is serious. Just fancy, he has been leading the saleswomen astray! Yes,
and he gets them cravats to make!"

"Silence!" muttered Favier. "They're just judging him."

And with a wink he called attention to Bouthemont, who was walking up
and down 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. And
so on seeing Mouret pass, Bouthemont, having finished his meal, had
got up to relate the affair and explain 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
Bouthemont 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 dearly enough for the women's time; if they worked
on their own account at night they must work less during the daytime
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
intended for sleep; they must all sleep, or they would be sent to the

"Things are getting rather warm!" remarked Hutin.

Each time the three principals passed the dining-room, the shopmen
watched them, commenting on their slightest gestures. The baked rice,
in which a cashier had just found a brace-button, was momentarily

"I just heard the word 'cravat,'" said Favier. "And you saw how
Bourdoncle's face turned pale all 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 very
organization 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 had others dependent on her, it was said.
Bourdoncle interrupted him to declare they ought to send her packing
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. Thereupon Mouret, in embarrassment, 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 one 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, in
astonishment, 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 and then simply made a gesture of
disdain, to intimate that he saw how it was, and thought it idiotic.
Bouthemont meantime resumed his complaints; the salesmen threatened to
leave, and there were some very good men amongst them. However, what
appeared to have most effect on these gentlemen, 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 thought of showing fight, did
he! Mouret had become serious, though he affected a certain scorn, and
avoided coming to a decision, as if it were matter of no importance.
They would see, they would speak to him. And he immediately began to
joke with Bouthemont, whose father, arriving from his little shop at
Montpellier two days previously, had almost choked with stupefaction
and rage on seeing the immense hall in which his son reigned. Everyone
was still laughing about the old man, who, recovering his Southern
assurance, had immediately begun to run everything down, pretending
that the drapery business would soon go to the dogs.

"Ah! precisely, here's Robineau," said Bouthemont. "I sent him to
attend to some matching so as to avoid any unpleasant occurrence.
Excuse me if I insist, but things have come to such a pass that
something must really 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

Then all three went off. Hutin and Favier were still watching for
them, but on seeing that they did not return began to relieve their
feelings. Did the governor mean to come down like that at every meal,
to count their mouthfuls? A nice thing it would be 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 about 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 rising from table!" And yet he had eaten two portions of
jam, his own and the one which he had secured in exchange for his plate
of rice. All at once he cried out: "Hang it, I'm going in for an extra!
Victor, give me another jam!"

The waiter was finishing the serving of the desserts. He then brought
in the coffee, and those who took it gave him their three sous there
and then. A few had gone away, dawdling along the corridor and
looking for a dark corner where they might smoke a cigarette. The
others remained at table before the greasy plates, rolling pellets of
bread-crumbs and recounting the same old stories, amidst the sickly
odour of victuals, which they could no longer smell, and the sweltering
heat which was reddening their ears. The walls reeked with moisture,
a slow asphyxia fell from the mouldy vaulted ceiling. Leaning against
the wall was Deloche, stuffed with bread and digesting in silence, his
eyes on the window. His daily recreation, after luncheon was to watch
the feet of the passers-by spinning along the street, a continual
procession of living feet in big shoes, elegant boots, and ladies' tiny
boots, without either head or body. On rainy days all were very dirty.

"What! Already?" suddenly exclaimed Hutin.

A bell had begun to ring at the end of the passage and 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
emptied and the salesmen returned to their departments, loitering as
they went up the stairs. In the kitchen, the head cook had resumed his
place at the wicket, between the pans of skate, beef, and sauce, again
armed with his forks and spoons and 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 you are in a very
great hurry 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 that she would try to speak to him in the afternoon, and
continued her journey along the corridor to her own dining-room, which
was at the other end.

The women took their meals apart, in two special rooms. Denise
entered the first one. This also was 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 set
further apart and the wine was in decanters, a dish of skate and a dish
of beef with pungent sauce occupying the two ends of the table. Waiters
in white aprons moreover attended to the young ladies, and spared them
the trouble of fetching their portions from the wicket. The manager had
thought this arrangement more seemly.

"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 fib. Clara nudged her neighbour. What was the matter
with the unkempt girl? She was quite strange in her ways that day. One
after the other she had received two letters from her lover and then
went running all over the shop like a madwoman, pretending she was
going to the work-room, where she did not even put in an appearance.
There was something up, that was certain. Then Clara, eating her skate
without any show of disgust, with the indifference of a girl who had
been used to nothing better than rancid bacon, began speaking of a
frightful drama, accounts of which filled the newspapers.

"You've read 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, "she was unfaithful to him. Serve her right!"

But Pauline protested. What! just because you had ceased to love a man,
he was to 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."

Then to while away the time, she took out some chocolate which she
began eating with her bread, for she always had her pockets full of

"It certainly isn't very amusing," 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 that little prude was afraid of being
beaten by her lover, whom she no doubt deceived. It would be a lark if
he should come into the shop after her, as she seemed to fear he would.
But the conversation took another turn, for one of the girls was giving
a recipe for cleaning velvet. Then they went on to speak of a piece at
the Gaiety, in which some lovely little children danced better than any
grown-up persons. Pauline, saddened for a moment at the sight of her
omelet, which was overdone, recovered her spirits on finding that it
tasted fairly well.

"Pass the wine," said she to Denise. "You should take an omelet."

"Oh! the beef is enough for me," replied the young girl, who, in order
to avoid expense, contented herself with the food provided by the
house, no matter how repugnant it might be.

When the waiter brought in the baked rice, the other young ladies
protested. They had refused it the previous week, and had hoped it
would not appear again. Denise, inattentive, worrying the more about
Jean after Clara's stories, was the only one to eat it; and all the
others looked at her with disgust. There was a great demand for extras,
they gorged themselves with jam. Moreover this was a sort of elegance,
they considered it aristocratic to feed themselves at their own expense.

"You know that the gentlemen have complained," said the delicate
little girl from the under-linen department, "and the management has

But the others interrupted her with a burst of laughter, and began
to rail at the management. Coffee was taken by all excepting Denise,
who couldn't bear it, she said. And they lingered there before their
cups, the young ladies from the under-linen department all middle-class
simplicity in their woollen dresses, and the young ladies from the
mantle department arrayed in silk, their napkins tucked under their
chins, in order not to stain their gowns, like ladies who might have
come down to the servants' hall to dine with their chamber-maids.
Having opened the glazed sash of the air-hole to change the stifling
poisoned air, they were speedily obliged to close it for the cab-wheels
seemed to be passing over the table.

"Hush!" whispered Pauline; "here's that old beast!"

It was inspector Jouve, 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, and soon only Denise and Pauline remained. The
latter, after drinking her coffee, was finishing her chocolate drops.
But all at once she got up, saying: "I'm going to send a messenger for
some oranges. Are you coming?"

"Presently," replied Denise, who was nibbling at a crust, determined to
wait till the last, so that she might be able to see Robineau on her
way upstairs.

However, when she found herself alone with Jouve she felt uneasy and
annoyed, and quitted the table; but as she was going towards the door
he stopped her saying: "Mademoiselle Baudu----"

Erect before her, he was smiling 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, and
his huge nose seemed all aflame. "What makes you so fond of each other,

Denise had again been seized with an uneasy feeling. He was getting too
close, and was speaking 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 kind to me, and I'm very
much obliged to you."

"I ought not to be kind," said he. "Justice, and nothing more, is my
motto. But when it's a pretty girl----"

And thereupon he came closer still, and she felt really afraid.
Pauline's words returned to her memory and she recalled the stories
which were told of old Jouve's goings-on.

"Leave me alone," she murmured drawing back.

"Come," said he, "you are not going to play the savage with me, who
always treat you so 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!" she exclaimed.

The dining-room remained empty, the waiter had not come back. Jouve,
listening for the sound of any footsteps, cast a rapid glance around
him; and then, very excited, losing all control over himself, he
attempted to kiss her on the neck.

"What a spiteful, stupid little girl you are!" he said.

But she was quite shocked and terrified by the approach of his burning
face, and all at once she gave him so rough a push that he staggered
and nearly fell upon 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 remained there, without wiping
himself, choked with anger at such brutality.

"Ah, you will be sorry for this, on my word of honour!" he growled
between his teeth.

Denise ran away. Just at that moment the bell rang; but sorely
perturbed, still shuddering, she forgot Robineau, and went straight up
to her counter. And she did not dare to go down again. As the sun fell
on the frontage of the Place Gaillon of an afternoon, they were soon
all stifling in the first-floor rooms, notwithstanding the grey linen
blinds. A few customers came, put the young ladies into perspiration,
and went away without buying anything. Every one was yawning even
under Madame Aurélie's big sleepy eyes. At last towards three o'clock,
Denise, seeing the first-hand falling asleep, 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 that she wanted something
among the laces, she went up to Deloche, and asked him a question; and
then, on reaching the ground-floor, she passed through the printed
cottons department, and was just going into the cravat gallery, when
she stopped short, startled and surprised. Jean was before her.

"What! it's you?" she murmured, quite pale.

He was wearing his working blouse, and was bare-headed, with his hair
in disorder, its 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 all the same but haven't said anything to
anybody. You may be quite easy. Pretend not to know me, if you like."

Some salesmen were already looking at them in 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 then lost her head. The lookers-on were grinning, listening
to this adventure. And as behind the cravat department there was a
staircase leading to the basement, she hastily pushed her brother,
and made him go down. Once below he resumed his story, embarrassed,
inventing his facts as he went on, and fearing that he might not be

"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. No, it's for
a low fellow, one of her friends, who saw me kissing her, 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 steeped the
vast basement in a sort of torpor, in the pale light falling from the
air-holes. It was cool as well, and a silence fell from the ceiling.
However, there was a porter collecting from one of the compartments a
few parcels for the neighbourhood of the Madeleine; and, on the large
sorting-table, sat Campion, the chief clerk, his legs dangling, and his
eyes wandering.

Jean began again: "The husband, who has a big knife----"

"Get along!" repeated Denise, still pushing him forward.

They followed one of the narrow passages, where the gas was always kept
burning. In the dark vaults to the right and the left were the reserve
goods, shadowy behind the gratings. At last she stopped opposite one of
these. Nobody was likely to pass that way; but the assistants were not
allowed there, and she shuddered.

"If this rascal says anything," resumed Jean, "the husband, who has a
big knife----"

"But where do you expect me to 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 dramatized his pecuniary wants, but there
was always some immediate necessity behind his display. "By all that's
sacred, it's really true this time," said he.

She stopped him again, and lost her temper, tortured and completely at
a loss. "I don't want to know," she replied. "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, but you are taking the bread
out of your little brother's mouth."

Jean stood there with his mouth agape, and his face paling. What! it
was wicked? And he could not understand; from infancy he had always
treated his sister like a comrade, and thought it quite a natural thing
to open his heart to her. But what upset him above all else was to
learn that 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

"You're right; I'm a scamp," he exclaimed. "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 it 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 now
crying as well, he became 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, little sister. Good-bye, I'm off."

However, a sound of footsteps at the end of the passage suddenly
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 inspector Jouve, 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 fright that she quite lost her head; and, pushing
Jean out of the dark spot where they were concealed, drove him before
her, stammering out: "Be off! Be off!"

Both galloped along, hearing Jouve behind them, for he also had began
to run. And again they crossed the parcels office, and reached 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. For a moment Jouve remained
trying to get his breath back and resume his dignified demeanour. He
now wore a brand-new white necktie which he had purchased in the linen
department and the large bow of which glistened like snow.

"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 you're mistaken."

And with this remark he pursued her whilst she was returning to the
shop, overcome with emotion and unable to find a word of defence. She
was sorry now that she had run away. Why hadn't she explained the
matter, and brought her brother forward? They would now imagine all
sorts of villanies, and, say what she might, they would never believe
her. Once more she forgot Robineau, and went back to her counter,
while Jouve repaired to the manager's office to report the matter. But
the messenger on duty told him that 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 spent 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
silk 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 everything to him; and they slowly passed
through the shawl department, walking side by side, the one leaning
over and talking in a low tone, the other listening without a muscle of
his severe face betraying his impressions.

"All right," he said at last.

And as they had arrived at the mantle 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 that 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. All the girls were waiting in the
expectation of some catastrophe. At last, Madame Aurélie turned round
with a solemn air.

"Mademoiselle Baudu!" she called, and her puffy Cæsarian countenance
assumed the inexorable sternness of sovereign power: "Go and get paid!"

The terrible phrase rang out loudly 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 harshly replied that she knew very well, that she had better
not provoke any explanation; and he spoke of the cravats, and added
that it would be a fine thing if all the young ladies were to receive
men down in the basement.

"But it was my brother!" she cried with the grievous anger of an
outraged virgin.

Marguerite and Clara began 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: at
Bourdoncle, who had taken a dislike to her from the first; Jouve,
who had stopped to serve as a witness, and from whom she expected no
justice; and then at those girls whom she had not been able to soften
by nine months of smiling courage, who were happy, in fact, to help
in turning her out of doors. What was the use of struggling? what was
the use of trying to impose herself on them when none of them liked
her? And she went away without a word, not even casting another look
at the room where she had so long battled. But as soon as she was
alone, before the hall staircase, a deeper sense of suffering filled
her heart. No one cared for her, and the sudden thought of Mouret had
just deprived her of all resignation. No! no! she could not accept
such a dismissal. Perhaps he would believe that villanous story of a
rendezvous with a man down in the cellars. At this thought, a feeling
of shame tortured her, an anguish with which she had never before been
afflicted. She wished to go and see him to explain the matter to him,
simply in order to let him know the truth; for she was quite ready to
go away as soon as he should know it. And her old fear, the shiver
which chilled her whenever she was in his presence, suddenly developed
into an ardent desire to see him, not to leave the house in fact
without telling him that she had never belonged to another.

It was nearly five o'clock, and the shop was waking into life again
in the cool evening air. She quickly started off for Mouret's office.
But when she reached 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 thereupon, without informing either Pauline or
Deloche, she at once went for her money.

"You have twenty-two days, mademoiselle," said the clerk, "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 about to go off with her money, when she at last met
Robineau. He had already heard of her dismissal, and promised to find
the necktie-dealer. Then 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 on to the pavement at an hour's notice, without
even being able to claim a full month's salary. Denise went up to
inform Madame Cabin that she would endeavour to 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 vehicles.

That 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 internal arrangements they were obliged to deprive
themselves of his services. He had been at The Paradise for seven
years, and only that afternoon had been talking to the principals. Thus
it was a heavy blow for him. Hutin and Favier, however, were crowing
in the silk department, as loudly as Clara and Marguerite in the other
one. A jolly good riddance! Such clean sweeps made room for others!
Deloche and Pauline were the only ones who when they met amidst the
crush of the galleries exchanged distressful words, in their regret at
the departure of Denise, so virtuous and gentle.

"Ah," said the young man, "if ever she succeeds anywhere else, I
should like to see her come back here, and trample on all those
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 attributions, 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 again lost his temper.
The poor girl had not lied; it was really her brother. Campion had
fully recognised him. Why had she been sent away, then? He even spoke
of taking her back.

However, Bourdoncle, strong is his passive resistance, bent before the
storm. He studied Mouret, and one day when he saw him a little calmer
he 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!" he replied laughing, "perhaps you're right. Let's go and take a
turn downstairs. Things are looking better, the receipts rose to nearly
a hundred thousand francs yesterday."


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 that white chalky light of summer-time, whose
reverberations are so blinding. And the catastrophe had fallen on her
so suddenly, they had turned her out so roughly, that she stood there
turning her money over in her pocket in a mechanical way, while she
wondered where she could go, and what she could do.

A long line of cabs prevented her from quitting the pavement alongside
The Ladies' Paradise. When she at last ventured amongst the wheels
she crossed the Place Gaillon, as if intending to take the Rue
Louis-le-Grand; then altering her mind, she walked towards the Rue
Saint-Roch. But she still had no plan, for she stopped at the corner
of the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, into which she finally turned,
after looking around her with an undecided air. The Passage Choiseul
opening before her, she passed through it and found herself in the
Rue Monsigny, without knowing how, and ultimately came into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin again. Her head was full of a fearful buzzing, she
thought of her box on seeing a commissionaire; but where could she have
it sent and why all this trouble, when but an hour ago she had still
had a bed in which to sleep that night?

Then with her eyes fixed on the houses, she began examining the
windows. There were any number of bills announcing, "Apartments to
Let." But repeatedly overcome by the emotion which was agitating her
whole being she saw them confusedly. Was it possible? Thrown into
solitude so suddenly, lost in this immense city in which she was a
stranger, without support, without resources! She must contrive to
eat and sleep, however. The streets succeeded one another, after the
Rue des Moulins came the Rue Sainte-Anne. She wandered about the
neighbourhood, frequently retracing her steps, indeed always coming
back to the only spot she knew really well. And suddenly she felt quite
astonished for she was again standing before The Ladies' Paradise.
To escape this obsession she hurried into the Rue de la Michodière.
Fortunately Baudu was not at his door. The Old Elbeuf appeared
lifeless, behind its murky windows. She would never have dared to show
herself at her uncle's, for he now always pretended not to recognise
her, and she did not wish to become a burden to him, in the misfortune
which he had predicted to her. However, 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 was the aspect
of the house. She soon recognised it, with its two low storeys, and
rusty-coloured front, squeezed 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 spectacles on his nose,
stood studying the ivory handle of a walking-stick. Tenanting the whole
house, he under-let the two upper floors furnished, in order to lighten
the rent.

"You have a room to let, sir?" said Denise, approaching him in
obedience to an instinctive impulse.

He raised his big bushy eyes, surprised to see her, for he knew all the
young persons at The Ladies' Paradise. And after noticing her clean
little gown 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. Then on entering the narrow shop, and observing
that he still eyed her with an astonished air, she told him of her
departure from the Paradise and of her desire not to trouble her uncle.
The old man thereupon fetched a key from a shelf in the back-shop,
a small dark room, where he did his cooking and had his bed; beyond
it, through a dirty window, you could espy a back-yard about six feet

"I'll walk in front to prevent you from falling," said Bourras,
entering the damp corridor on one side of the shop.

He stumbled against a stair, and then commenced the ascent, reiterating
his warning to be careful. The rail, said he, was close against the
wall, there was a hole at the corner, sometimes the lodgers left their
dust-boxes there. So complete was the obscurity that Denise could
distinguish nothing, but simply felt how chilly the old damp plaster
was. On the first floor, however, a small window overlooking the yard
enabled her to obtain a vague glimpse of the rotten staircase, the
walls black with dirt and the cracked, discoloured doors.

"If only one of these rooms were vacant," resumed Bourras. "You would
be very comfortable there. But they are always occupied."

On the second floor the light increased, illumining with a raw pallor
the distressful aspect 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 remain on the
landing in order that Denise might enter with ease. The bed, placed
in the corner nearest the door, left just sufficient room 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. Such lodgers
as did any cooking were obliged to kneel before the fire-place, where
there was an earthenware stove.

"Oh! it's not luxurious," said the old man, "but the view from the
window is gay. You can see the people passing in the street." And, as
Denise gazed with surprise at the ceiling just above the bed, where
a chance lady-lodger had written her name--Ernestine--by drawing the
flame of a candle over the plaster, he added with a 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 and relieved to
know where she would sleep that night. An hour later 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 couch lent by Bourras. She could not do with less than thirty
sous a day, including the rent, even by living on dry bread herself,
in order to procure a bit of meat for the little one. During the first
fortnight she got on fairly well, having begun her housekeeping with
about ten francs; and then too she was fortunate enough to find the
cravat-dealer, who paid her the eighteen francs six sous which were due
to her. But after that she became completely destitute. In vain did she
apply to the various large shops, the Place Clichy, the Bon Marché, and
the Louvre: the dead season had stopped business everywhere and she
was told to apply again in the autumn. More than five thousand drapery
employees, dismissed like herself, were wandering about Paris in want
of situations. She then tried to obtain work elsewhere; but in her
ignorance of Paris she did not know where to apply, and often accepted
most ungrateful tasks, sometimes not even getting paid. On certain
evenings she merely gave Pépé his dinner, a plate of soup, telling him
that she had dined out; and she would go to bed with her head in a
whirl, nourished by the fever which was burning her hands. When Jean
suddenly dropped into the midst of this poverty, he called himself a
scoundrel with such despairing violence that she was obliged to tell
some falsehood to reassure him; and she even occasionally found the
means to slip a two-franc piece into his hand, by way of proving that
she still had money. She never wept before the children. On Sundays,
when she was able to cook a piece of veal in the stove, on her knees
before the fire, the tiny room re-echoed with the gaiety of children,
careless about existence. Then, when Jean had returned to his master's
and Pépé was asleep, she spent a frightful night, in anguish how to
provide for the coming day.

Other fears kept her awake. Two women lodging on the first floor
received visitors; and sometimes these visitors 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, too, her neighbour, the baker, who never came home till
morning, had shown a disposition to annoy her. But she suffered still
more from the annoyances of the street, the continual persecution of
passers-by. She could not go downstairs to buy a candle, in those
streets swarming with debauchees, without feeling a man's hot breath
behind her, and hearing crude, insulting remarks; and some individuals
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 herself could not have explained why
she resisted, menaced as she was by hunger, and perturbed by all the
sexuality in the air around her.

One evening when Denise had not even any bread for Pépé's soup, a
well-dressed man, wearing a decoration, commenced to follow her. On
reaching the passage he became brutal, and it was with loathing and
revolt that she banged the door in his face. Then, once more upstairs,
she sat down, with her hands trembling. The little one was sleeping.
What should she say if he woke up and asked her for bread? And yet had
she chosen her misery would have ceased, she could have had 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 protest, against 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 story of a sailor's betrothed whom her
love guarded from all perils. At Valognes she had often hummed this
sentimental ballad whilst gazing into the deserted street. Had she
likewise some tender affection in her heart that she proved 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, saluted with respect by the mere salesmen. He never raised his
head, and she thought she suffered from his vanity. Still she watched
him without fear of being discovered; whereas, 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. And then she would feel ashamed of the house, and suffer
at the idea of what he must think of her, although perhaps they would
never meet again.

Denise still lived amidst all the hubbub of The Ladies' Paradise.
A mere wall separated her room from her old department; and, from
early morning, she lived her old days afresh, divining and hearing
the arrival of the crowd and the increasing bustle of business. The
slightest noise shook the old hovel which clung to the side of the
colossus, and shared in its pulsations. Moreover, she could not
avoid certain meetings. She twice 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 for her to defend herself against Deloche's
desperate affection; aware of all her troubles, he watched her, 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, and continually brought her back to thoughts of the
life the others led there, as if she herself had not quitted it.

No one had ever called upon her till one afternoon when she was
surprised by a knock. It was Colomban. She received him standing. For
his part he seemed greatly embarrassed and began stammering, asking how
she was getting on, and speaking of The Old Elbeuf. Perhaps, thought
she, it was Uncle Baudu who had sent him, regretting his rigour; for
he continued to pass her without taking any notice of her, although he
was well aware of her miserable position. However, 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. Then little by
little he grew bolder, and asked Denise's advice, imagining no doubt
that she might be willing to play the part of a go-between. And it
was in vain that she tried to dishearten him, by reproaching him with
the pain he was causing Geneviève for such a heartless girl. He came
up another day, indeed got into the habit of coming to see her. This
seemed to suffice for his timid passion; he continually began the same
conversation afresh, unable to resist the impulse and trembling with
joy at finding himself with one who had approached Clara. And all this
caused Denise to live more than ever at The Ladies' Paradise.

Towards the end of September the poor girl experienced the blackest
misery. Pépé had fallen ill, having caught a severe cold. He ought to
have had plenty of good broth, and she had not even a piece of bread to
give him. One evening, completely conquered, she was sobbing, in one of
those despairing straits which drive women on to the streets, or into
the Seine, when old Bourras gently knocked at the door. He had brought
with him 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 with a fresh outburst of tears, he resumed: "Do keep quiet! Come
and see me to-morrow. I've some work for you."

Since the terrible blow which The Ladies' Paradise had dealt him by
opening an umbrella department, Bourras had ceased to employ any
workwomen. In order to save expenses he did everything himself,
cleaning, mending, and sewing. His trade moreover was diminishing
to such a point that he sometimes remained without work. And so he
was obliged to invent some occupation on the following day when he
installed Denise in a corner of his shop. He felt, however, that he
could not allow any one to 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 was
embarrassed to find her more. He had given her some silk to stitch,
some lace to repair. During the first few days she did not dare to
raise her head, uneasy at feeling him near her, with his lion-like
mane, hooked nose, and piercing eyes, shaded by bushy brows. His
voice was harsh, his gestures were 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, said he, 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 nowadays. 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, as light and as strong. He carved the
knobs with charming ingenuity, continually inventing fresh designs,
flowers, fruit, animals, and heads, all executed in a free and
life-like style. A little pocket-knife sufficed him and, with his
spectacles on his nose he would spend whole days in 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 ready-made. And they sell just what they like! I
tell you, art is done for!"

At last Denise began to feel easier. He had desired that Pépé should
come down into 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 sat in her corner doing the mending, he
near the window, carving away with his little knife. Every day now
brought round the same work and the same conversation. Whilst working,
he would continually assail The Ladies' Paradise; never weary of
explaining how affairs stood in the terrible duel between that bazaar
and himself. He had occupied his house since 1845, and had a thirty
years' lease of it 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 eventual triumph; he would certainly swallow up the
monster. Then suddenly he would break off to ask:

"Have they got any dog's heads like that?"

And he would blink his eyes behind his glasses, whilst judging the
dog's head which he was carving, with its lip turned up and its fangs
displayed, in a life-like growl. Pépé delighted with the dog, would
thereupon get up, resting 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 resumed, whilst 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 only a
trifle. And, you see, I'm ready to sacrifice everything rather than

Thereupon he would brandish his knife, and his white hair would blow
about in a storm of anger.

"But if they made you a reasonable offer," Denise would mildly observe,
without raising her eyes from her needle, "it would be wiser to accept

This suggestion, however, only produced an outburst of ferocious
obstinacy. "Never! If my head were under the knife I should still say
no, by heavens I would! I've another ten years' lease, and they shan't
have the house before then, even if I should have to die of hunger
within the four bare walls. Twice already they've 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. But no, no--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," thereupon resumed Denise.
"You could go and establish yourself elsewhere. And suppose they were
to buy the house?"

Bourras, now putting the finishing touches to his dog's tongue,
appeared absorbed for a moment, a childish laugh pervading his
venerable, prophet's face. Then he continued: "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. Besides, they
are suspicious about me; they know I should then be even less inclined
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 did not dare to say any more, but went on with her work, whilst
the old man continued to vent short sentences, between two cuts of his
knife; now muttering something to the effect that the game had hardly
begun; and then that they would see wonderful things later on, for he
had certain plans which would sweep their umbrella counter away; and,
deeply blended with his obstinacy, you detected the personal revolt of
the skilled manufacturer against the growing invasion of commonplace
rubbish. Pépé, however, at last climbed on his knees, and impatiently
stretched out his hands towards the dog's head.

"Give it me, sir."

"Presently, youngster," the old man replied in a voice that suddenly
became softer. "He hasn't any eyes as yet; we must make his eyes now."
And whilst carving the eyes he continued 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
like this 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 of
his own but amidst all the trepidation of the jostling multitude in The
Ladies' Paradise. From morning to night this was 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, not a sound came from behind the wall, a showery
day had killed the receipts. And the slightest stir, the faintest
vibration, thus furnished him with matter for endless comment.

"Did you hear? 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!--Ah! you hear
the parcels falling into the basement? What a row they make. It's

It did not do for Denise to discuss his remarks, for he bitterly
retorted by reminding her of the shameful way in which she had been
dismissed. For the hundredth time she was obliged to relate her life
in the jacket and mantle department, the hardships she had at first
endured, the small unhealthy bedrooms, the bad food, and the continual
battle between the salesmen; and thus they would talk about the shop
from morning to night, absorbing it hourly in the very air they

But with eager, outstretched hands Pépé repeated: "Give it me, sir,
give it me!"

The dog's head was finished and Bourras held it at a distance, then
examined it closely with noisy glee. "Take care, it will bite you!" he
said, "there, go and play, and don't break it, if you can help it."
Then speedily reverting to his fixed idea, he shook his fist at the
wall. "You may do all you can to knock the house down," he exclaimed.
"You shan't have it, even if you invade the whole street!"

Denise now had something to eat each day, and she was extremely
grateful to the old umbrella-dealer, realizing that he had a good heart
beneath his strange, violent ways. Nevertheless she felt a strong
desire to find some work elsewhere, for she often saw him inventing
some trifle for her to do and fully understood that he did not require
a workwoman in the present collapse of his business, and was merely
employing her out of charity. Six months had passed thus, and the dull
winter season having 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 call on Robineau; perhaps he might want some one?

During the previous September, Robineau, though fearing to jeopardize
his wife's sixty thousand francs, had made up his mind to buy Vinçard's
silk-business. 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.
Gaujean ever since his quarrel with The Ladies' Paradise had been
longing to stir up competitors against the colossus; and he thought
victory certain, by creating special shops in the neighbourhood, where
the public would find a large and varied choice of articles. Only the
very rich Lyons manufacturers, such as Dumonteil, could accept the
big shops' terms, satisfied to keep their looms going with them, and
seeking their profits in their sales to less important establishments.
But Gaujean was far from having the solidity and staying power
possessed by Dumonteil. For a long time a mere commission agent, it
was only during the last five or six years that he had possessed looms
of his own, and he still had a lot of his work done by piece-workers,
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 from competing with Dumonteil for the supply of the
Paris Delight. This had filled him with rancour, and he saw in Robineau
the instrument of a decisive battle with those drapery bazaars which he
accused of ruining French manufactures.

When Denise called she found Madame Robineau alone. Daughter of an
overseer in the Highways and Bridges Service, entirely ignorant
of business matters, the young wife still retained the charming
awkwardness of a girl educated in a convent. She was dark, very pretty,
with a gentle, cheerful manner, which made her extremely charming.
Moreover she adored her husband, living solely by his love. Just as
Denise was about to leave her name Robineau himself came in, and at
once engaged her, one of his two saleswomen having left him on the
previous day to go to The Ladies' Paradise.

"They don't leave us a single good hand," said he. "However, I shall
feel quite easy with you, 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. And when, with tears in her eyes, she tried to defend herself
by intimating that she could see through his charitable conduct, he
softened down, stammered that he had plenty of work, that she was
leaving him indeed just as he was about to bring out a new umbrella of
his invention.

"And Pépé?" he asked.

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." And then as she refused the
offer fearing that it might inconvenience him, he thundered out: "Great
heavens! have you no confidence in me? I shan't eat your child!"

Denise was much happier at Robineau's. He only paid her sixty francs
a month, with her board, without giving her any commission on the
sales, that not being the rule in the old-fashioned houses; but she
was treated with great kindness, especially by Madame Robineau who was
always smiling at her counter. He, nervous and worried, was sometimes
rather abrupt. At the expiration of the first month, Denise had
become quite one of the family, like the other saleswoman, a silent,
consumptive, little body. The Robineaus were not at all particular
before them, but freely talked of the business whilst at table in the
back-shop, which looked on to a large yard. And it was there they
decided one evening to start the campaign against The Ladies' Paradise.
Gaujean had come to dinner and, after the roast leg of mutton, had
broached the subject in his Lyonese voice, thickened by the Rhône fogs.

"It's getting unbearable," said he. "They go to Dumonteil, purchase the
sole right to a design, and take three hundred pieces straight off,
insisting on a reduction of half a franc a yard; and, as they pay ready
money, they also secure the profit of eighteen per cent. discount. Very
often Dumonteil barely makes four sous a yard out of it. He simply
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 our piece-workers, 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 too.
They can sell at a franc or two francs cheaper than we can. I have
calculated that their catalogued articles are offered at fifteen per
cent. less than our own prices. That's what kills the small Houses."

He was passing through a period of discouragement. His wife, full of
anxiety, looked at him with a loving air. She understood very little
about the business, all these figures confused her; she could not
understand why people worried over things so much, when it was so easy
to be gay and love one another. However, it sufficed that her husband
desired 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 chewing.
"Ah! why, why? The looms must be kept going, I tell you. When you have
weavers a little bit everywhere, in the neighbourhood of Lyons, in the
Gard, in the Isère, you can't stand still a day without an enormous
loss. Then we who sometimes employ piece-workers with ten or fifteen
looms of their own are better able to control our output, whereas the
big manufacturers are obliged to have continual outlets, the quickest
and most extensive possible. And so 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 establishments like yours. Yes, if they manage to
live through the big places, they make their profit out of you little
fellows. Heaven knows how the crisis will end!"

"It's odious!" exclaimed Robineau, relieved by this cry of anger.

Denise was quietly listening. With her instinctive love of logic and
life she was secretly in favour of the big shops.

They had relapsed into silence, and were eating some preserved French
beans, when at last she ventured to remark in a cheerful tone: "The
public does not complain."

At this Madame Robineau could not restrain a little laugh, which
annoyed both 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 all
be if, under the pretext of conducing to the general welfare, the
consumer was fattened at the expense of the producer? And then began
a long discussion. Denise affected to be joking, though all the
while producing solid arguments. By the new system the middle-men
disappeared, 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 from going on as they ought to, when
everybody was working towards that result, whether they liked it or not.

"So you are for those who turned you out into the street?" thereupon
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 risen
in her breast?

"Dear me, no!" she replied. "Perhaps I'm wrong, for you are more
competent to judge than I. I simply express my opinion. The prices,
instead of being settled by fifty houses as they formerly used to be,
are now fixed by four or five, which have lowered them, thanks to the
power of their capital, and the strength of their immense custom. So
much the better for the public, that's all!"

Robineau was not angry, but had become grave, and had fixed his eyes
on the table-cloth. He had often felt the force of the new style of
business, the evolution which the young girl spoke about; and in his
clear, quiet moments he would ask himself why he should try 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, and ate it with a spoon, with the unconscious greediness
of a big man very fond sweet things.

"This is it," he resumed, "you must attack their Paris Delight, 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, a faille which you can sell at five
francs fifty centimes a mêtre. They sell theirs at five francs sixty,
don't they? Well! this will be two sous cheaper, 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?" he asked. 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 Delight! At all events it produces
a better effect, the grain is coarser. You are right, we must make the
attempt. Ah! I'll bring them to my feet or give up for good!"

Madame Robineau, sharing the enthusiasm, declared the silk superb,
and even Denise herself thought they might succeed. The latter part
of the dinner thus proved very gay. They talked in a loud tone; it
seemed as if 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 an article of
such quality at so low a 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 still further increased by the arrival of Vinçard who
called, on his way past, just to see how his successor was getting on.

"Famous!" he cried, feeling the silk. "You'll floor them, I stake my
life! Ah! you owe me a rare good thing; I told you that this was a
golden affair!"

He had just taken a restaurant at Vincennes. It was an old, cherished
idea of his, slyly nurtured while he was struggling with his silk
business, trembling with fear lest he should not sell it before the
crash came, and vowing that he would afterwards put his money into
some undertaking where he could rob folks 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 tureen of dish water, in which floated
some Italian paste. And, in presence of the Robineaus, the joy he felt
at having saddled them with an unremunerative business, which he had
despaired of getting rid of, made his face with its round eyes and
large loyal-looking mouth, a face beaming with health, expand as it had
never done before.

"And your pains?" asked Madame Robineau, good-naturedly.

"My pains?" he murmured, in astonishment.

"Yes, those rheumatic pains which tormented you so much when you were

He then recollected the fibs he had told and slightly coloured. "Oh!
I suffer from them still!" said he. "But the country air, you know,
has done me a deal of good. Never mind, on your side 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. Yes, on my word of

A fortnight later, the battle between Robineau and The Ladies' Paradise
began. It became celebrated, and for a time occupied the whole Parisian
market. Robineau, using his adversary's weapons, had advertised
extensively in the newspapers. Besides that, he made a fine display,
piling huge bales of the famous silk in his windows and displaying
immense white tickets, on which the price, five francs and a half per
mêtre, appeared in gigantic figures. It was this price that caused a
revolution among the women; it was two sous less than that charged at
The Ladies' Paradise, and the silk appeared more substantial. From the
first day a crowd of customers flocked in. Madame Marty bought a dress
she did not need, pretending it to be a bargain; Madame Bourdelais
also thought the silk very fine, but preferred waiting, guessing
no doubt what would happen. And, indeed during the following week,
Mouret boldly reduced the price of The Paris Delight by four sous,
after a lively discussion with Bourdoncle and the other managers,
in which he had succeeded in convincing them that they must accept
the challenge, even at a sacrifice; for these four sous represented
a dead loss, the silk being already sold at strict cost price. It
was a heavy blow to Robineau, who had not imagined that his rival
would lower his price; for this suicidal style of competition, this
practice of selling at a loss, was then unknown. However, the tide
of customers, attracted by Mouret's cheapness, had immediately flown
back towards the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, whilst the shop in the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Champs gradually emptied.

Gaujean then hastened from Lyons; there were hurried confabulations,
and they finished by coming to a heroic resolution; the silk should
be lowered in price, they would sell it at five francs six sous, and
lower than that no one could go, without acting madly. But the next
day Mouret marked his material at five francs four sous. Then the
struggle became rageful. Robineau replied by five francs three sous,
whereupon Mouret at once ticketed The Paris Delight at five francs and
two sous. Neither lowered more than a sou at a time now, for both lost
considerable sums as often as they made this present to the public.
The customers laughed, delighted with this duel, quite stirred by the
terrible thrusts which the rivals dealt one another in order to please
them. At last Mouret ventured as low as five francs; and his staff
paled and shuddered at such a challenge to fortune. Robineau, utterly
beaten, out of breath, also stopped at five francs, not having the
courage to go any lower. And thus they rested on 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; whereas he,
sustained by Gaujean alone, unable to recoup his losses by gaining on
other articles, found himself nearing the end of his tether, slipping
further and further down the slope toward bankruptcy. He was dying from
his hardihood, despite the numerous customers whom the hazards of the
struggle had brought him. One of his secret worries was to see these
customers slowly quitting him, returning to The Ladies' Paradise, after
all the money he had lost in the efforts he had made to secure them.

One day he quite lost patience. A customer, Madame de Boves, had
called at his shop for some mantles, for he had added a ready-made
department to his business. She would not come to a decision, however,
but complained of the quality of the material, and at last exclaimed:
"Their Paris Delight is a great deal stronger."

Robineau restrained himself, assuring her that she was mistaken with a
tradesman's politeness, all the more respectful, moreover, as he feared
to reveal his inward revolt.

"But just look at the silk of this cloak!" she resumed, "one would
really take it for so much cobweb. You may say what you like, sir, but
their silk at five francs is like leather compared with this."

He did not reply; with the blood rushing to his face, he kept 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. And to conceal his practice he simply cut
off the selvage.

"Really," he murmured at last, "you think the Paris Delight thicker?"

"Oh! a hundred times!" said Madame de Boves. "There's no comparison."

This injustice on her part, this fixed determination to run down the
goods in spite of all evidence filled him with indignation. And, as she
was still turning the mantle over with a disgusted air, a little bit of
the blue and silver selvage, which through carelessness had not been
cut off, appeared under the lining. Thereupon he could not restrain
himself any longer; but confessed the truth at all hazards.

"Well, madame, this is Paris Delight. I bought it myself! Look at the

Madame de Boves went away greatly annoyed, and a number of customers
quitted him, for the affair became known. And he, amid this ruin, when
fear for the future came upon 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
should throw 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 embracing one another in the back shop. Then,
little by little, the affairs of the house got into a regular groove;
each month the losses increased, but with a slowness which postponed
the fatal issue. A tenacious hope sustained them, and they still
predicted the approaching 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?"
she resumed. "As long as you are satisfied, I am as well, darling."

Denise's affection for them increased on seeing their tenderness.
She trembled, divining their inevitable fall; however, she dared not
interfere. And it was here that she ended by fully understanding 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 being evolved from the wildness of a child freshly arrived
from Valognes. Her life too was a pretty pleasant one, notwithstanding
its 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 fortunately insisted on feeding; but there was still
a lot to do; a shirt to wash, a blouse 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: for
she then cleaned her room, and mended her own things, so busy that it
was often five o'clock before she could comb her hair. However, she
sometimes went out for health's sake, taking the little one for a long
walk, out towards Neuilly; and their treat over there was to drink a
cup of milk 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 and then disappeared, pretending he had other
visits to pay. He asked for no more money, but he arrived with such a
melancholy countenance, that his anxious sister 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----"

"Not another word," Denise would say; "I don't want to know."

Three months passed away, spring was coming back. However Denise
refused to return to Joinville with Pauline and Baugé. She sometimes
met them in the Rue Saint-Roch, on leaving the shop in the evening.
Pauline, on one occasion when she was alone, confided to her that she
was perhaps 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 and she did not dare to advise
her friend. Then one day, just as Colomban had stopped her near the
fountain to talk about Clara, the latter tripped across 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 anybody.

"You've heard the news?" the umbrella dealer said to her one evening on
her return 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 underhand affair,"
he resumed. "But it seems that the hotel belonged to the Crédit
Immobilier, whose president, Baron Hartmann, has just sold it to our
famous Mouret. And now they've got me on the right, on the left, and at
the back, just in the way that I'm holding the knob of this stick in my

It was true, the sale must have been concluded on the previous day.
Bourras's small house, hemmed in between The Ladies' Paradise and the
Hôtel Duvillard, clinging there like a swallow's nest in a crack of
a wall, seemed certain to be crushed, as soon as the shop galleries
should invade the hôtel. And the time had now arrived, the colossus had
outflanked the feeble obstacle, and was investing it with its piles of
goods, threatening to swallow it up, absorb it by the sole force of
its giant aspiratory powers. Bourras could well feel the close 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 off into kingdom come with his sticks and umbrellas, so loudly
was the terrible machine now roaring.

"Do you hear them?" he asked. "One would think they were eating the
very walls! And in my cellar and in the attic, everywhere, there's the
same noise--like that of a saw cutting through the plaster. But never
mind! They won't flatten me as easily as they might a sheet of paper. I
shall stick here, even if they blow up my roof, and the rain falls 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 of their offer,
they would give him fifty thousand francs for his good-will and the
remainder of his lease. But this offer redoubled the old man's anger;
he refused in an insulting manner. How those scoundrels must rob people
to be able to pay fifty thousand francs for a thing which wasn't worth
ten thousand! And he defended his shop as a young girl defends her
virtue, for honour's sake.

Denise noticed that 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. Customers, who had often reproached him for the darkness of
his shop, would certainly come back to it again, when they saw it
all 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. Moreover, the whole
neighbourhood was revolutionized by it all, people came to look at
him losing his head amid all these riches, and no longer able to find
the things he was accustomed to. He did not seem to be at home in
that bright frame, that tender setting; he looked quite scared, with
his long beard and white hair. On the opposite side of the street
passers-by lingered in astonishment at seeing him waving his arms
about while he carved his handles. And he was in a state of fever,
perpetually afraid of dirtying his shop, more and more at sea amidst
this luxury which he did not at all understand.

Meantime, as at Robineau's, so at Bourras's was the campaign against
The Ladies' Paradise carried on. Bourras 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 began. Bourras had an article at one franc
and nineteen sous, in zanella, with a steel mounting, an everlasting
article said the ticket. But he was especially anxious to vanquish his
competitors with his handles of bamboo, dogwood, olive, myrtle, rattan,
indeed every imaginable sort of handle. The Paradise people, less
artistic, paid more attention to the material, extolling their alpacas
and mohairs, 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 the pleasure of doing so, without
any hope of selling them.

"It's my fault!" he cried 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 those brigands;
so much the better if I'm ruined by it!"

The month of July proved very warm, and Denise suffered greatly in her
tiny room under the roof. So, after leaving the shop, she sometimes
went to fetch Pépé, and instead of going up-stairs at once, took a
stroll in the Tuileries Gardens until the gates closed. One evening
as she was walking towards the chestnut-trees she suddenly stopped
short with surprise: for a few yards off, coming straight towards her,
she fancied she recognised Hutin. But her heart commenced to beat
violently. It was Mouret, who had dined on the other side of the river
and was hurrying along on foot to call on Madame Desforges. At the
abrupt movement which she made to escape him, he caught sight of her.
The night was coming on, but still he recognised her clearly.

"Ah, it's you, mademoiselle!" he said.

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?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir," said she at last.

She was slowly drawing back, desirous of making a bow and continuing
her walk. But he abruptly turned and followed her under the dark
shadows of the chestnut-trees. The air was getting cooler, some
children were laughing in the distance, while trundling their hoops.

"This is your brother, is it not?" he resumed, looking at Pépé.

The little boy, frightened by the unusual presence of a gentleman, was
walking gravely by his sister's side, holding her tightly by the hand.

"Yes, sir," she replied once more; and as she did so she blushed,
thinking of the abominable inventions circulated by Marguerite and

No doubt Mouret understood why she was blushing, for he quickly added:
"Listen, mademoiselle, I have to apologize to you. Yes, I should
have been happy to have told you sooner how much I regret the error
that was made. You were accused too lightly of a fault. However, the
evil is done. I simply wanted to assure you that every one in our
establishment now knows of your affection for your brothers." Then he
went on speaking with a respectful politeness to which the saleswomen
of The Ladies' Paradise were little accustomed. Denise's confusion had
increased; but her heart was full of joy. He knew, then, that she had
ever remained virtuous! Both remained silent; he still lingered beside
her, regulating his walk to the child's short steps; and the distant
murmurs of the city died away under the black shadows of the spreading
chestnut-trees. "I have only one reparation to offer you," he resumed.
"Naturally, if you would like to come back to us----"

But she interrupted him, refusing his offer with a feverish haste.
"No, sir, I cannot. Thank you all the same, but I have found another

He knew it, they had informed him she was with Robineau; and leisurely,
putting himself on a footing of amiable equality, he spoke of the
latter, rendering him full justice. He was a very intelligent fellow,
no doubt, but too nervous. He would certainly come to grief: Gaujean
had burdened him with a very heavy business, in which they would both
suffer. Thereupon Denise, subjugated by this familiarity, opened her
mind further, and allowed it to be seen that she was on the side of
the big shops in the war between them and the small traders. She grew
animated, citing examples, showing herself well up in the question
and even expressing new and enlightened ideas. He, quite charmed,
listened to her in surprise; and turned round, trying to distinguish
her features in the growing darkness. She appeared to be still the
same with her simple dress and sweet face; but from amidst her modest
bashfulness, there seemed to ascend a penetrating perfume, of which he
felt the powerful influence. Doubtless this little girl had got used to
the atmosphere of Paris, she was becoming quite a woman, and was really
perturbing, with her sound common-sense and her beautiful sweet-scented

"As you are on our side," said he, laughing, "why do you stay with our
adversaries? I was told too that you lodged with Bourras."

"A very worthy man," she murmured. "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 realizing that the young girl was confused, he hastened to add:
"Oh! one can be respectable anywhere, and there's even more merit in
remaining so when one is so poor."

They took a few steps in silence. Pépé seemed to be listening with
the attentive air of a precocious 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. Will 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."

Then a fresh silence ensued, neither of them having anything more
to say. For a moment he attempted to talk of her uncle Baudu; but
had to give it up on seeing how uncomfortable this made the girl.
Nevertheless, they continued walking side by side, and at last found
themselves near the Rue de Rivoli, in a path where it was still light.
On emerging from the darkness of the trees this was like a sudden
awakening. He understood that he could not detain her any longer.

"Good night, mademoiselle," he said.

"Good night, sir."

Nevertheless he did not go away. On raising his eyes he had perceived
in front of him, at the corner of the Rue d'Alger, the lighted windows
of Madame Desforges's flat whither he was bound. And looking at Denise,
whom he could now see, in the pale twilight, she appeared to him very
puny compared to Henriette. Why was it then that she touched his heart
in this manner? It was a stupid caprice.

"This little man is getting tired," he resumed, by way of saying
something. "Remember, mind, that our house will always be open to you;
you've only to knock, and I'll give you every compensation possible.
Good night, mademoiselle."

"Good night, sir."

When Mouret had quitted her, Denise went back under the chestnut-trees,
into the black gloom. For a long time she walked on at random, between
the huge trunks, her face burning, her head in a whirl of confused
ideas. Pépé still held her hand and was stretching out his short legs
to keep pace with her. She had forgotten him. But 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, pressing him to her virgin bosom,
her eyes wandering far away into the darkness. When, an hour later,
they slowly returned 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 broke the windows. "Ah! the
scoundrel! It's the fruiterer who's written to tell me of it. And how
much do you think the rogue, 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 whitewash 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 in future live! Such a thought raised
his fury to the highest 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 as he banged it on the counter,
making the umbrellas and the parasols dance again.

Denise, bewildered, could not get in a word. She stood there,
motionless, waiting for the end of this fit; whilst Pépé, very tired,
fell asleep again, this time 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, as it were, in which he found himself, might determine an abrupt
acceptance on his part.

"I've just met some one," she commenced. "Yes, a person from The
Paradise, who is very well informed. It appears that they are going to
offer you eighty thousand francs to-morrow."

"Eighty thousand francs!" he interrupted, 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 caught his neighbour by the
buttonhole, and without allowing him to say a word, as if goaded on
by his presence, roared in his face: "What do you think they have the
cheek to offer me? Eighty thousand francs! They've got to that point,
the brigands! they think I'm going to sell myself like a prostitute.
Ah! they've bought the house, and think they've got me now! Well! it's
all over, they shan't have it! I might have given way, perhaps; but now
it belongs to them, let them try to 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 so indignant. Do
they think they can make me commit a knavish trick with their money!
They shan't have it, by heavens! Never, never, you hear me?"

Then Denise broke her silence to remark, 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 the old man to
accept. The struggle was becoming impossible, he was fighting against a
superior force; it would be madness 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," he resumed, "your niece is on their side,
it's she whom they have commissioned to corrupt me. She's with the
brigands, my word of honour!"

Baudu, who had so far appeared not to notice Denise, now raised his
head, with the surly 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," he replied in an undertone, and he continued looking at

Denise, affected almost to tears, thought him greatly changed by worry.
Perhaps too he was stricken with remorse at not having assisted her
during the time of misery through which she had lately passed. Then
the sight of Pépé sleeping on the chair, amidst the hubbub 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, went up to him and kissed him. And as he was going
away, Bourras, delighted at this reconciliation, again cried out to
him: "Just give her a lecture, 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 gloomy
air. "We shall all of us be crushed under them."


At this time the whole neighbourhood was talking of the great
thoroughfare which was to be opened between the Bourse and the
new Opera House, under the name of the Rue du Dix-Décembre.[1]
The expropriation judgments had been delivered, and two gangs of
demolishers were already beginning operations at either end, the first
pulling down the old mansions in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, and the
other destroying the thin walls of the old Vaudeville. You could hear
the picks getting closer, and the Rue de Choiseul and the Rue de la
Michodière waxing quite excited over their condemned houses. Before a
fortnight passed, the opening would leave in both these streets a great
gap full of sunlight and uproar.

[1] This is at the present day the Rue du Quatre Septembre. Napoleon
III. gave as the name of the new thoroughfare the date of his
coronation (Dec. 10); and after Sedan the Republican government
ironically retorted by altering the name to the date of his downfall
(Sept. 4).

But what stirred up the district still more, was the work undertaken
at The Ladies' Paradise. People talked of considerable enlargements,
of gigantic shops with frontages on the Rue de la Michodière, the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, and the Rue Monsigny. Mouret, it was said, had
made arrangements with Baron Hartmann, the chairman of the Crédit
Immobilier, and would occupy the whole block, excepting the future
frontage in the Rue du Dix-Décembre, where the baron wished to erect a
rival establishment to the Grand Hôtel. The Paradise people were buying
up leases on all sides, shops were closing, and tenants moving; and
in the empty buildings an army of workmen was commencing the various
alterations amidst a cloud of plaster. And alone in all this disorder,
old Bourras's narrow hovel remained intact, still obstinately clinging
between the high walls covered with masons.

When on the following day, Denise went with Pépé to her uncle Baudu's,
the street was blocked up by a line of carts discharging bricks outside
the Hôtel Duvillard. Baudu was standing at his shop door looking on
with a gloomy air. In proportion as The Ladies' Paradise became larger,
The Old Elbeuf seemed to grow smaller. The young girl thought that the
windows looked blacker than ever, lower and lower still beneath the
first storey, with its rounded prison-like windows. The damp, moreover,
had still further discoloured the old green sign-board; woefulness
appeared on the whole frontage, livid in hue, and, as it were, shrunken.

"Here you are, then!" said Baudu. "Take care! they would run right over

Inside the shop, Denise experienced the same heart pang; she found it
darker, steeped more deeply than ever in the somnolence of approaching
ruin. Empty corners formed dark cavities, dust was covering the
counters and filling the drawers, whilst a cellar-like odour of
saltpetre rose from the bales of cloth that were no longer moved about.
At the desk Madame Baudu and Geneviève stood 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 resting 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 with a sort of start, and returned her kisses but
without finding a word to say. Then the two women 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?"

"Well, he was to have come," murmured Denise, in embarrassment. "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." In reality she suspected
some extraordinary adventure, and wished to apologize for him in

"In that case, we will commence," said her uncle and turning towards
the dim depths of the shop, he added:

"You may as well dine with us, Colomban. No one will come."

Denise had not noticed the assistant. 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 asleep with his eyes open.

The gas was burning in the dining-room, although they were now in the
long days of summer. Denise shivered slightly as she went in, chilled
by the dampness oozing from the walls. She once more beheld the round
table, the places laid on the American cloth, the window deriving its
air and light from the dark and fetid back-yard. And all 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 himself smelt nothing, and seemed surprised. "Shut the window if you
like," he replied at last. "But we shan't get any air then."

And indeed they were almost stifled. It was a very simple family
dinner. After the soup, as soon as the servant had served the boiled
beef, the old man as usual began talking about the people opposite. At
first he showed himself very tolerant, allowing his niece to have a
different opinion.

"Dear me!" said he, "you are quite free to support those big tricky
shows. Each person 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.

Thereupon Denise quietly gave her reasons for her preference, just as
she had at Robineau's: explaining 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
dilated, and his mouth clammy, listened with a visible mental strain.
Then, when she had finished, he shook his head.

"That's all phantasmagoria, you know. Business is business, there's no
getting over that. Oh! 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 nowadays 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 to them!" 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,' said I 'you're going over to
the cheapjacks; your paint and your varnish are a disgrace to you.'"

"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
trembling hands; and no longer showed his accurate glance, his deft
skill in weighing the portions. The consciousness of his defeat
deprived him of the confidence he had formerly possessed as a respected
employer. Pépé had thought that 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 piercing of which would
certainly increase the business of the neighbourhood. But then he
again returned to The Ladies' Paradise; everything brought him back to
it, as to a chronic complaint. They were being covered with plaster,
and business had quite ceased since the builders' carts had commenced
to block up the street. Moreover the place would soon be really
ridiculous, in its immensity; the customers would lose themselves in
it. 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 some 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 swelling and growing; they now had a
thousand employees and twenty-eight departments. Those 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 those people had no pride whatever, they would even end by
selling fish. Then Baudu, though still affecting to respect Denise's
opinions, attempted to convert her.

"Frankly, you can't defend them. What would you say if I were to add an
ironmongery department to my cloth business? You would say I was mad,
eh? Confess, at least, that you don't esteem them."

And as the young girl simply smiled, feeling uncomfortable and
realizing how futile the best of reasons would be, 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. That would be the climax--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 previous violence fell 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 _sauté_ potatoes had appeared, and they helped themselves slowly,
without a word.

"Look at those two," began Baudu again, pointing with his knife to
Geneviève and Colomban. "Ask them if they like your Ladies' Paradise."

Side by side in the places where they had found themselves twice a-day
for the last twelve years, Colomban and Geneviève were eating slowly,
without uttering a word. He, exaggerating the coarse good-nature of
his face, seemed to be concealing, behind his drooping eyelashes, the
inward flame which was consuming him; whilst she, her head bowed lower
beneath her heavy hair, appeared to be giving way entirely, as if a
prey to some secret grief.

"Last year was very disastrous," explained Baudu, "and we have been
obliged to postpone the marriage. Just to please them, ask them what
they think of your friends."

In order to pacify him, Denise interrogated the young people.

"Naturally I can't be very fond of them, cousin," replied Geneviève.
"But never fear, every one doesn't detest them."

And so speaking she looked at Colomban, who was rolling up some
bread-crumbs with an absorbed air. But when he felt that the young
girl's gaze was turned upon him, he broke out into a series of violent
exclamations: "A rotten shop! A lot of rogues, every man-jack of them!
In fact a regular pest in the neighbourhood!"

"You hear him! You hear him!" exclaimed Baudu, delighted. "There's one
whom they'll never get hold of! Ah! my boy, you're the last of the old
stock, we shan't see any more!"

But Geneviève, with her severe and suffering look, did not take her
eyes off Colomban, but dived into the depths of his heart. And he felt
troubled, and again launched out into invective. Madame Baudu was
watching them in silence with an anxious air, as if she foresaw another
misfortune in this direction. For some time past her daughter's sadness
had frightened her, she felt her to be dying.

"The shop is left to take care of itself," she said at last, rising
from table, in order to put 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 lingering by the window, looking curiously into the little
back-yard, when on turning round she saw Geneviève still in her place,
her eyes fixed on the American cloth, which was still damp from the
sponge that had been passed over it.

"Are you suffering, cousin?" she asked.

The young girl did not reply but seemed to be obstinately studying
a rent in the cloth, though really absorbed in the reflections
passing through her mind. But after a while she raised her head with
difficulty, and looked at the sympathizing face bent over hers. The
others had gone, then? What was she doing on that chair? And suddenly
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?"

But Geneviève nervously caught her by the arm, and held her back,
stammering: "No, no, stay here. 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, I'm
not crying now."

Nevertheless sudden attacks kept on seizing her, sending shudders
through her frail body. It seemed as though her pile of hair was
weighing down her neck. While she was rolling her head on her folded
arms, a hair-pin slipped out, and then her hair fell over her neck,
burying it beneath gloomy tresses. Denise, as quietly as possible for
fear of attracting attention, sought to console her. She undid her
dress, and was heart-rent on seeing how fearfully thin she had become.
The poor girl's bosom was as hollow as a child's. Then Denise took
hold of her hair by the handful, that superb hair, which seemed to be
absorbing all her life, and twisted it up tightly to clear her neck,
and make her cooler.

"Thanks, you are very kind," said Geneviève. "Ah! I'm not 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 exhausted
and looking fixedly at her cousin. After a pause she abruptly inquired:
"Tell me the truth: does he love her?"

Denise felt a blush rising to her cheeks. 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 were that 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 before had Denise been in such an awkward position. She lowered
her eyes before this girl, who was ever silent and yet guessed all.
However, she had the strength to deceive her still. "But it's you he
loves!" she said.

Geneviève made a gesture of 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
and carried away by the desire to give her cousin at least that

Geneviève drew a long breath, and smiled feebly. Then in the weak voice
of a convalescent she said, "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 young saleswoman was afraid that
she might do herself harm.

"No, no," said she, "let me be; I'm always thirsty. In the night I get
up to drink."

Silence again fell. Then Geneviève once more began in a gentle voice.
"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 began courting me. I can hardly remember how things came
about. By always living together, 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, that was 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
never felt before. It hurts me in the bosom, and in the head; then it
spreads everywhere, it's killing me."

Her eyes filled with tears. Denise, whose eyelids were also moistening
with pity, asked her: "Does my aunt suspect anything?"

"Yes, mamma has her suspicions, I think. As for papa, he is too much
worried, and does not know the pain he is causing me by postponing the
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 to me: 'My poor child, you're like myself, by no means 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?"

Then with a trembling hand she again took up the water bottle. Her
cousin tried to prevent her from drinking.

"But I'm so thirsty," said she, "let me drink."

They could hear Baudu talking in a loud voice. Then suddenly yielding
to an inspiration of her heart, Denise knelt down before Geneviève and
throwing her sisterly arms round her neck, kissed her, and assured her
that everything would yet turn out all right, that she would marry
Colomban, would get well, and live happily. And then she got up quickly
for her uncle was calling her.

"Jean is here. Come along."

It was indeed Jean, who, looking rather scared, had just arrived for
dinner. When they told him it was striking eight, he seemed 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 all the fault of
a little laundry-girl. I've got a cab outside by the hour. Give me five

He went out for 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 returned to the shop in her usual silent and
retiring manner. Colomban was now half asleep behind the counter; and
the evening passed away, slow and melancholy, only animated by Baudu's
tramp, as he walked from one end of the empty shop to the other. A
single gas-burner was alight--the shadows 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 Baudus' home became more melancholy
than ever. The works opposite were a continual torment, which made them
feel their bad luck more and more keenly. Even when they had an hour
of hope--some unexpected joy--the uproar of a tumbrel-load of bricks,
the sound of a stone-cutter's saw or the simple call of a mason would
at once suffice to mar their pleasure. In fact, the whole neighbourhood
was stirred by it all. From behind the hoarding edging and obstructing
the three streets, there issued a movement of feverish activity.
Although the architect was utilizing the existing buildings, he was
opening them in various ways to adapt them to their new uses; and right
in the centre of the vacant space supplied by the court-yards, he was
building a central gallery as vast as a church, which would be reached
by a grand entrance in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin in the very middle
of the frontage. They had, at first, experienced great difficulty in
laying the foundations, for they had come upon sewer deposits and loose
earth, full of human bones; besides which the boring of the well--a
well three hundred feet deep--destined to yield two hundred gallons
a minute had made the neighbours very anxious. They had now got the
walls up to the first storey; and the entire block was surrounded by
scaffoldings, regular towers of timber. There was an incessant noise
from the grinding of the windlasses hoisting up the free-stone, the
abrupt unloading of iron bars, the clamour of the army of workmen,
accompanied by the noise of picks and hammers. But above all else, what
most deafened you was the sound of the machinery. Everything went by
steam, screeching whistles rent the air; and then too, at the slightest
gust of wind, clouds of plaster flew about and covered the neighbouring
roofs like a fall of snow. The despairing Baudus looked on at this
implacable dust penetrating everywhere--filtering 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
end 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 in time, decided
to carry on the work at night also. Powerful electric lamps were
established, and then the uproar became continuous. Gangs of men
relieved each other; the hammers never stopped, the engines whistled
night and day; and again the everlasting clamour seemed to raise and
scatter the white dust. The exasperated Baudus now had to give up the
idea of sleeping even; they were shaken in their alcove; the noises
changed into nightmare whenever they managed to doze off. Then, if they
got up to calm their fever, and went, with bare feet, to pull back
the curtains and 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,
pierced with empty bays, the electric lamps threw broad bluey rays,
of blinding intensity. Two o'clock struck--then three, then four; and
during the painful sleep of the neighbourhood, the works, expanding in
the lunar-like brightness, became colossal and fantastic, swarming with
black shadows, noisy workmen, whose silhouettes gesticulated against
the crude whiteness of the new walls.

Baudu had spoken correctly. The small traders of the adjacent 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 oldest houses
cracking. Mademoiselle Tatin, of 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, still kept on as hosiers, in the Rue Gaillon,
they were evidently living on the money they had formerly saved. And
now more smashes were on the point of being added to those long since
foreseen; the fancy goods department threatened a dealer in the Rue
Saint-Roch, Deslignières, a big, full-blooded man; whilst the furniture
department was injuring Messrs. Piot and Rivoire, whose shops slumbered
in the gloom of the Passage Sainte-Anne. It was even feared that an
attack of apoplexy would carry off Deslignières, who had been in a
terrible rage ever since The Ladies' Paradise had marked 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, and the success of Mouret's department threatened to be
a formidable one. It was all over, they must bow their heads. After
these, others would be swept off in their turn and there was no reason
why every business should not be driven away. Some day The Ladies'
Paradise alone would cover the neighbourhood with its roof.

At present, when the thousand employees went in and came out morning
and evening, they formed such a long procession on the Place Gaillon
that people stopped to look at them as they might at a passing
regiment. For ten minutes they blocked up all the streets; and the
shopkeepers standing at their doors thought bitterly of their one
assistant, whom they hardly knew how to find food for. The last
balance-sheet of the big bazaar, the turn-over of forty millions, had
also revolutionized 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.,
given the heavy general expenses, and the system of low prices; but
sixteen hundred thousand francs was still a handsome sum; one could
well 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, each year increased by the total profits of
the house--a capital which must at that moment have amounted to four
millions--had in one twelvemonth passed ten times over the counters
in the form of goods. Robineau, when he made this calculation in
Denise's presence one evening, after dinner, was quite overcome for
a moment, and remained staring at his empty plate. She was right, it
was this incessant renewal of capital that constituted the invincible
power of the new system of business. Bourras alone denied the facts,
refusing to understand, superb and stupid as a milestone. To him the
Paradise people were a pack of thieves and nothing more! A lying set!
Cheap-jacks who would be picked out of the gutter some fine morning!

The Baudus, however, despite their determination not to change anything
in the system of The Old Elbeuf, tried to sustain the competition.
Customers no longer coming to them, they sought to reach the customers
through the agency of travellers. There was at that time, in the
Paris market, a traveller connected with all the leading 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
was quite a personage; and Baudu, having haggled with him, had the
misfortune to see him come to terms with the Matignons, of the Rue
Croix-des-Petits-Champs. Then one after the other, two other travellers
robbed him; a third, an honest man, did no business. It was a slow
death, exempt from shocks, a continual decrease of business, customers
falling away one by one. A day came when the bills to be met fell
on the Baudus very heavily. Until that time they had lived on their
former savings; but now they began to contract debts. In December,
Baudu, terrified by the amount of his acceptances, 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 whose
tenants had not even paid the rent when he decided to get rid of it.
This sale killed the sole dream of his life, his heart bled as for the
loss of some dear one. And for seventy thousand francs he had to part
with what had cost him more than two hundred thousand, considering
himself fortunate even in meeting the Lhommes, his neighbours, who were
desirous of adding to their property. Those seventy thousand francs
would keep the business going a little longer; for in spite of all the
repulses the idea of struggling on ever sprang up again; perhaps with
great care they might conquer even now.

On the Sunday on which the Lhommes paid the money, they condescended
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 painful evening.
The Baudus, living without air in their tiny dining-room, suffered
from the breeze which the Lhommes, with their lack of family ties and
their taste for a free life, brought in with them. Geneviève, wounded
by Madame Aurélie's imperial airs, did not open her mouth; but Colomban
admired her with a shiver, on reflecting that she reigned over Clara.
Later on, when Madame Baudu was already in bed, her husband remained
for a long time walking about the room. It was a mild night--damp,
thawing weather--and in spite of the closed windows, and drawn
curtains, one could hear the engines snorting on the opposite side of
the way.

"Do you know what I'm thinking of, Elisabeth?" said Baudu at last.
"Well! those 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 had enabled her to take my poor house. Never mind! I've no
longer got 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

He was still keenly fretting over the sacrifice he had been compelled
to make, full of rancour against those people who had bought up his
darling dream. When ever he came near the bed, he leant over his wife
and gesticulated, then, returning to the window, he stood silent for
a minute, listening to the noise of the works. And again he vented
his old accusations, his despairing complaints about the new times;
nobody had ever seen such things, shop-assistants now earned more than
tradesmen, cashiers bought up employers' property. So no wonder that
everything was going to the dogs; family ties no longer existed, people
lived at hotels instead of eating their meals at home in a respectable
manner. At last he ended by prophesying that young Albert would swallow
up the Rambouillet property later on with a lot of actresses.

Madame Baudu listened to him, her head flat on the pillow, and so pale
that her face seemed the colour of the sheets. "They've paid you," she
at length said 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

A long silence ensued. The draper was full of vague projects. Suddenly,
without moving her head, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, his wife spoke
again: "Have you noticed your daughter lately?"

"No," he replied.

"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; but after a time, she declared,
with her meditative air: "I think it would be better to get this
marriage with Colomban over."

He looked at her and 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
circumstance 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 adding another word he continued his walk. Soon afterwards
his wife fell asleep still looking quite white, as if dead; while he
still kept on tramping about. Before getting into bed he drew aside
the curtains and glanced outside; across the street through the gaping
windows of the old Hôtel Duvillard the workmen could be seen stirring
in the dazzling glare of the electric light.

On the following morning Baudu took Colomban to the further end of the
store-room on the upper floor, having made up his mind over night as to
what he would say to him. "My boy," he began, "you know I've sold my
property at Rambouillet. That will enable us to show some fight. But I
should first of all like 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 broad face, and he stood
there with his mouth open--with him a sign 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 Finet in a satisfactory state. You know my ideas; I should
consider it wrong if I passed this family trust over 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 made to myself, the
very natural desire I had to prove that the house had not declined in
my hands. Otherwise it would seem to me that I was robbing you." His
voice became husky with emotion. He blew his nose to recover himself a
bit, and then asked, "You don't say anything?"

But Colomban had nothing to say. He shook his head, and waited, feeling
more and more perturbed, and fancying that 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 to do so. And yet
there was that other girl, of whom he dreamed at night, devoured by
insensate passion.

"Now," continued Baudu, "a sum of money has come in that may save us.
The situation becomes worse every day, but 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! Only, my poor boy, your marriage must again be 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 molleton.
His legs were still trembling. He was afraid of showing his delight, so
he held down his head whilst rolling his fingers on his knees.

"You don't say anything?" repeated Baudu.

No, he said nothing, he could find nothing to say. Thereupon the draper
slowly resumed: "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
about your neck? Instead of leaving you a good business, I should leave
you a bankruptcy perhaps. No, only scoundrels play such tricks as that!
No doubt, I desire nothing but your happiness, but nobody shall ever
make me go against my conscience."

And he went on for a long time in this way, meandering through a
maze of contradictory sentences, like a man who would have liked to
be understood at the first word but 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 weary, the burden seemed to be too much for him,
and entreaty almost pierced though his stammering accents. At last
he got more entangled than ever, awaiting some sudden impulse from
Colomban, some heartfelt cry, which did not come.

"I know," he murmured, "that old men are wanting in ardour. With young
ones, things light up. They are full of fire, it's only 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?" Then, at last, without venturing to look 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

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, however, he looked at him, and felt full of
shame, reproaching himself for having wished to dupe his children.
His deep-rooted maniacal commercial honesty was awakened in him; it
was this prudent fellow who was right, for there is no such thing as
sentiment in business, which is only a question of figures.

"Embrace me, my boy," he said 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 draper had regained his
obstinate resolve to fight on in person to the bitter end. He gave
Colomban high praise, calling him a solid fellow, firm in his ideas,
brought up in 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," he replied, "when I am able to keep my promises."

She made no gestures but simply remarked: "It will be our daughter's

Baudu restrained himself though hot 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. The deuce! Colomban would always be there, no one would
run away with him!

"It's incredible!" he repeated; "such a well-trained girl!"

Madame Baudu said no more. She had doubtless guessed Geneviève's
jealous agony; but she did not dare to inform her husband of it. A
singular womanly modesty always prevented her from approaching certain
tender, delicate subjects with him. When he saw her so silent, he
turned his anger against the people opposite, stretching out his fists
towards the works, where they were that night setting up some large
iron girders, with a great noise of hammers.

Denise had now decided to return to The Ladies' Paradise, having
understood that the Robineaus, obliged to cut down their staff, were
at a loss how to dismiss her. To maintain their position they were now
obliged to do everything themselves. Gaujean, still obstinate in his
rancour, renewed their bills and even promised to find them funds;
but they were frightened, they wanted to try the effect of economy
and order. During a whole fortnight Denise had felt that they were
embarrassed about her, and it was she who spoke the first, saying that
she had found a situation elsewhere. This came as a great relief.
Madame Robineau embraced her, deeply affected, and declaring that she
should always miss her. Then when, in answer to a question, the young
girl acknowledged that she was going back to Mouret's, Robineau turned

"You are right!" he exclaimed violently.

It was not so easy to tell the news to old Bourras however. Still,
Denise had to give him notice, and she trembled at the thought, for
she felt full of gratitude towards him. Bourras was at this time in
a rage from morn till night, for he more than any other suffered
from the uproar of the adjacent works. The builder's carts blocked
up his doorway; the picks tapped on his walls; umbrellas and sticks,
everything in his place, danced about to the noise of the hammers. It
seemed as if the hovel, obstinately remaining in the midst of these
demolitions, would suddenly split to pieces. But the worst 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 tunnelling
a passage under the little house that separated them. This house now
belonged to the firm of Mouret & Co., and as the lease stipulated
that the tenant should submit to all necessary repairs, the workmen
one morning appeared on the scene. At this Bourras nearly went into a
fit. Wasn't it enough that they should grip him on all sides, on the
right, the left, and behind, without attacking him underfoot as well,
taking the very ground from under him! And he drove the masons away,
and went to law. Repairs, yes! but this was a work of embellishment.
The neighbourhood thought he would win the day, without, however, being
sure of anything. The case, at any rate, threatened to be a long one,
and people became quite impassioned over this interminable duel.

On the day when Denise at last resolved to give him notice, Bourras had
just returned from his lawyer's. "Would you believe it!" he exclaimed,
"they now say that the house is not solid; they pretend that the
foundations must be strengthened. Confound it! they have shaken it up
so much with their infernal machines, that it isn't astonishing if it
gives way!"

Then, when the girl announced she was going to leave, and was returning
to The Ladies' Paradise at a salary of a thousand francs, he became so
amazed that he could only raise his trembling hands in the air. Emotion
made him drop upon a chair.

"You! you!" he stammered. "Ah, I'm the only one--I'm the only one
left!" And after a pause, he asked: "And the youngster?"

"He'll go back to Madame Gras's," replied Denise. "She was very fond of

They again became silent. She would have rather seen him furious,
swearing and banging the counter with his fist; the sight of this old
man, suffocating and crushed, made her heart bleed. But he gradually
recovered, and began shouting out once more. "A thousand francs! that
isn't to be refused. You'll all go. Go, then, leave me here alone. Yes,
alone--you understand! One at all events 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 and everything had been 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, said he. And he gaily
told her of all the gossip at the counters.

"The young ladies in the mantle department are pulling fearfully long
faces, you know." And then breaking off, he added: "By the way, you
remember Clara Prunaire? Well, it appears the governor has taken a
fancy to her."

He had turned quite red. She, very pale, exclaimed:

"What! Monsieur Mouret!"

"Funny taste--eh?" he resumed. "A woman who looks like a horse.
However, that's his business."

Once upstairs, Denise almost fainted away. It was surely through coming
up too quickly. Leaning out of the window she had a sudden vision of
Valognes, the deserted street and grassy pavement, which she had seen
from her room as a child; and she was seized with a desire to go and
live there once more--to seek refuge in the peace and forgetfulness of
the country. Paris irritated her, she hated The Ladies' Paradise, she
no longer knew why she had consented to go back. She would certainly
suffer there as much as formerly; she was already suffering from an
unknown uneasiness since Deloche's stories. And then all at once a
flood of tears forced her to leave the window. She continued weeping on
for some time, but at last found a little courage to live on still.

The next day at lunch time, as Robineau had sent her on an errand, and
she was passing The Old Elbeuf, she opened the door on seeing Colomban
alone in the shop. The Baudus were having their meal; she could hear
the clatter of the knives and forks in the little dining-room.

"You can come in," said the shopman. "They are at table."

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? Can't you see that Geneviève loves you, and that it's killing

She was trembling, her fever of the previous night had taken possession
of her again. He, frightened and surprised by 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 as she was that
the least insistence on the young man's part would have decided her
uncle. As for Colomban's surprise, however, 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 indeed?" resumed Denise. "For an utterly worthless girl!
You can't know whom you are loving! So far I have not wished to hurt
your feelings, I have often avoided answering your continual questions.
Well! she goes about with everybody, she laughs at you, and will never
marry you."

He listened to her, turning very pale; and at each of the sentences she
threw in his face, his lips quivered. She, in a cruel fit, yielded to a
transport of anger of which she had no consciousness. "In short," she
said, in a final cry, "she's Monsieur Mouret's mistress if you want to

As she spoke her voice died away in her throat and she turned even
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 fashion
to this young fellow? Why was she getting so excited? She stood there
mute, the simple reply which he had just given her resounded in her
heart like the distant but deafening clang of a bell. "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 substantial 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 also no longer came, being entirely subjugated
by the fascinations of the display opposite. And Geneviève was forced
to come forward, and inquire 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 stuff; and once again the young
people found themselves close together behind the counter. Meanwhile
Baudu came out of the dining-room, behind his wife, who went to seat
herself at the pay-desk. At first he did not meddle with the sale, but
after smiling at Denise stood there, looking at Madame Bourdelais.

"It is not good enough," said the latter. "Show me the thickest you

Colomban took down another bundle. There was a silence. Madame
Bourdelais examined the stuff.

"How much?" she asked.

"Six francs, madame," replied Geneviève.

The lady made an abrupt gesture. "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, indeed the stuff
ought to have been sold at six francs and a half; it was impossible
to sell it at five francs. It must be another quality that she was
referring to.

"No, no," she repeated, with the obstinacy of a house-wife who prided
herself on her knowledge of such matters. "The quality is the same. The
other may even be a little thicker."

And the discussion ended by becoming quite bitter. Baudu with his bile
rising to his face had to make an effort to continue smiling. His
rancour against The Ladies' Paradise was bursting in his throat.

"Really," said Madame Bourdelais at last, "you must treat me better for
otherwise I shall go opposite, like the others."

Thereupon he lost his head, and, shaking with all the passion he had
restrained, cried out: "Well! go opposite then!"

At this she got up, greatly wounded, and went off without turning
round, but saying: "That's just 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 him against his will in an explosion of long pent-up
rancour. And the Baudus now stood there motionless, their arms hanging
by their sides as they watched Madame Bourdelais cross the street. She
seemed to be carrying off their fortune. When with a tranquil step she
passed through the lofty portal of The Ladies' Paradise and 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. And
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've got 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 in a very low and heart-broken voice the girl replied: "Why do
you tell me a falsehood? Look! he can't help it, he's glancing up
there again. I know very well that they've stolen him from me, just as
they've robbed us of everything else."

Then she went to sit down at the desk beside her mother. The latter
had doubtless guessed the fresh blow which her daughter had received,
for her anxious eyes wandered from her to Colomban, and then to The
Paradise. It was true, they had stolen everything from them: from
the father, his fortune; from the mother, her dying child; from the
daughter, the husband, for whom she had waited ten long years. In
presence of this condemned family, Denise, whose heart was overflowing
with pity, felt for an instant afraid that she might be wicked. For
was she not going to assist that machine which was crushing the poor?
However, she was carried away, as it were, by an invisible force, and
felt that she could be doing no wrong.

"Bah!" resumed Baudu, to give himself courage; "we shan't die of
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 make your Mouret spend some sleepless nights. 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 remained with their eyes fixed on the
monster, attracted, possessed, glutting themselves with thoughts of
their misfortune. The work was now nearly finished, the scaffoldings
had been removed from the front, a whole side of the colossal edifice
appeared, with its white walls and large light windows. Beside the
footway, where traffic had at last been resumed, stood eight delivery
vans which the messengers were loading one after the other outside the
parcels-office. In the sunshine, a ray of which enfiladed the street,
the vehicles' green panels, picked out with red and yellow, sparkled
like so many mirrors, and cast blinding reflections even into the
depths of The Old Elbeuf. The drivers, clad in black and dignified in
manner, held the horses well in--superb horses they were, champing
silvered bits. And each time a van was loaded, there came a sonorous
roll over the paving stones which made all the little neighbouring
shops tremble. And then in presence of this triumphal procession,
the sight of which they must needs endure twice a day, the Baudus'
hearts broke. The father half fainted away, asking himself where this
continual stream of goods could go to; whilst the mother, sickening at
thought of her daughter's torture, continued gazing blankly into the
street, her eyes blurred by big tears.


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 north wind
was blowing and the passers-by, surprised by this return of winter,
hurried along buttoning up their overcoats. In the neighbouring
shops, however, all was fermentation; and against the windows one
could see the pale faces of the petty tradesmen, counting the first
carriages which stopped before the new grand entrance in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. This doorway, lofty and deep like a church porch,
and surmounted by an emblematical group of Industry and Commerce
hand-in-hand amidst a variety of symbols--was sheltered by a vast
glazed _marquise_, the fresh gilding of which seemed to light up the
pavement with a ray of sunshine. To the right and left the shop fronts,
of a blinding whiteness, stretched along the Rue Monsigny and the
Rue de la Michodière, occupying the whole block, except on the Rue
du Dix-Décembre side, where the Crédit Immobilier intended to build.
And along these barrack-like frontages, the petty tradesmen, whenever
they raised their heads, could see the piles of goods through the
large plate-glass windows which, from the ground floor to the second
storey, opened the house to the light of day. And this enormous cube,
this colossal bazaar which concealed the sky from them, seemed in some
degree the cause of the cold which made them shiver behind their frozen

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
ones, the Monsigny Gallery and the Michodière Gallery. Glass roofings
covered the court-yards turned into huge halls, iron staircases
ascended from the ground floor, on both upper floors iron bridges were
thrown from one end to the other of the establishment. The architect,
who happened to be a young man of talent, with modern ideas, had only
used stone for the basement and corner work, employing iron for all the
rest of the huge carcass--columns upholding all the assemblage of beams
and joists. The vaulting of the ceilings, like the partitions, was of
brick. 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 strong, the very thing for a nation of customers. Below, in
the central gallery, after the door bargains, came the cravat, glove,
and silk departments; the Monsigny Gallery was occupied by the linen
and Rouen goods; and the Michodière Gallery by the mercery, hosiery,
drapery, and woollens. Then, on the first floor came the mantle,
under-linen, shawl, lace, and various new departments, whilst the
bedding, the carpets, the furnishing materials, all the cumbersome
articles difficult to handle, had been relegated to the second floor.
In all there were now thirty-nine departments with eighteen hundred
employees, two hundred of whom were women. Quite a little world abode
there, amidst 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 had built this temple that he might there
hold her completely at his mercy. His sole aim was to intoxicate her
with gallant attentions, traffic on her desires, profit by her fever.
Night and day he racked his brain to invent fresh attractions. He
had already introduced two velvet-padded lifts, in order to spare
delicate ladies the trouble of climbing the stairs to the upper floors.
Then, too, he had just opened a bar where the customers could find
gratuitous light refreshments, 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 deepest scheme
was to conquer the mother through her child, when unable to do so
through her own coquetry; and to attain this object there was no
means that he neglected. He speculated on every sentiment, created
special departments for little boys and girls, and waylaid the passing
mothers with distributions of chromo-lithographs and air-balls for the
children. There was real genius in his idea of presenting each buyer
with a red air-ball made of fine gutta-percha and bearing in large
letters the name of the establishment. Held by a string it floated in
the air and sailed along every street like a living advertisement.

But the greatest power of all was the advertising. Mouret now spent
three hundred thousand francs a year in catalogues, advertisements,
and bills.[1] For his summer sale he had launched forth two hundred
thousand catalogues, fifty thousand of which went abroad, translated
into every language. He now had them illustrated with engravings,
and embellished with samples, gummed to the leaves. There was an
overflowing display; the name of The Ladies' Paradise met the eye all
over the world, it invaded the walls and hoardings, the newspapers,
and even the curtains of the theatres. He claimed that woman was
powerless against advertising, that she was bound to be attracted by
uproar. Analyzing her moreover like a great moralist he laid still
more enticing traps for her. Thus he had discovered that she could
not resist a bargain, that she bought without necessity whenever she
thought she saw a thing cheap, and on this observation he based his
system of reductions, progressively lowering the price of unsold
articles, and preferring to sell them at a loss rather than keep them
by him, given his principle of constantly renewing his goods. And he
had penetrated still further into the heart of woman, and had just
planned the system of "returns", a masterpiece of Jesuitical seduction.
"Take whatever you like, madame; you can return it if you find you
don't like it." And the woman who hesitated, herein found a last
excuse, the possibility of repairing an act of folly were it deemed
too extravagant: she took the article with an easy conscience. And now
the returns and reduction of prices system formed part of the everyday
working of the new style of business.

[1] After all, this is only £12,000 or about a quarter of the amount
which a single English firm of soap-manufacturers spends in advertising
every year.

But where Mouret revealed himself as an unrivalled master was in the
interior arrangement of his shops. He laid it down as a law that not a
corner of The Ladies' Paradise ought to remain deserted; he required
a noise, a crowd, evidence of life everywhere; for life, said he,
attracts life, increases and multiplies it. And this principle he
applied in a variety of ways. 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 low-priced
articles; and so the common people crowded there, stopping up the
doorway and making the shop look as if it were crammed with customers,
when it was often only half full. Then, in the galleries, he found a
means of concealing the departments where business occasionally became
slack; for instance, he surrounded the shawl department in summer, and
the printed calico department in winter, with other busy departments,
steeping them in continual uproar. It was he alone who had thought of
reserving the second-floor for the carpet and furniture galleries; for
customers were less numerous in such departments which if placed on the
ground floor would have often presented a chilly void. If he could only
have managed it, he would have let the street run through his shop.

Just at that moment, Mouret was absorbed in another wonderful
inspiration. On the Saturday evening, whilst giving a last look at
the preparations for the Monday's great sale, he had been struck with
the idea that the arrangement of the departments adopted by him was
idiotic; and yet it seemed a perfectly logical one: the stuffs on one
side, the made-up articles on the other, an intelligent order of things
which would enable customers to find their way about by themselves. He
had dreamt of some such orderly arrangement in the old days of Madame
Hédouin's narrow shop; but now, just as he had carried out his idea, he
felt his faith shaken. And he suddenly cried out that they would "have
to alter all that." They had forty-eight hours before them, and half of
what had been done had to be changed. The staff, utterly bewildered,
had been obliged to work two nights and all day on Sunday, amidst
frightful disorder. On the Monday morning even, an hour before the
opening, there were still some goods remaining to be placed. Decidedly
the governor was going mad, no one understood the meaning of it all,
and general consternation prevailed.

"Come, look sharp!" cried Mouret, with the quiet assurance of 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
the alterations any more than the others did and 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 inquired:
"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 wanted,
passed from the petticoat to the dress counter, from the dress to the
mantle gallery, and then have retired, without even losing herself for
a moment! Not one would have thoroughly seen the establishment!"

"But, now that you have disarranged everything, and thrown the goods
all over the place," remarked Bourdoncle, "the employees will wear out
their legs in guiding the customers from department to department."

Mouret made a gesture of superb contempt. "I don't care a fig 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
then deigned to explain his idea, lowering his voice: "Look here,
Bourdoncle, this is what the result will be. First, this continual
circulation of customers will disperse them all over the shop,
multiply them, and make them lose their heads; secondly, as they must
be conducted from one end of the establishment to the other, if,
for instance, they require a lining after purchasing a dress, these
journeys in every direction will triple the size of the house in their
eyes; thirdly, they will be forced to traverse departments where
they would never have set foot otherwise, temptations will present
themselves on their passage, and they will succumb; fourthly----"
But 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!"

However, on turning round he perceived Denise. He and Bourdoncle
were standing opposite the ready-made departments, which he had just
dismembered by sending the dresses and costumes up to 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?" she murmured; "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 proved very kind; Marguerite
and Clara seemed resigned; whilst old Jouve bowed his head, with an
awkward, embarrassed air, as if desirous of effacing all disagreeable
memories of the past. It had sufficed for Mouret to say a few words
and everybody was whispering and following her with their eyes. And in
this general amiability, the only things that hurt her were Deloche's
singularly melancholy glances and Pauline's inexplicable smiles.

However, Mouret was still looking at her in his delighted way.

"What is it you want, mademoiselle?" he asked at last.

Denise had not noticed him. She blushed slightly. Since her return
she had received various marks of kindness from him which had greatly
touched her. On the other hand Pauline--she knew not why--had given
her a full account of the governor's and Clara's love affairs; and
often returned to the subject, alluding at the same time to that Madame
Desforges, with whom the whole shop was well acquainted. Such stories
stirred Denise's heart; and now, in Mouret's presence, she again felt
all her former fears, an uneasiness in which her gratitude struggled
against her anger.

"It's all this confusion going on in the place," she murmured.

Thereupon Mouret 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 replying a word; and went
into the department where the other saleswomen were now arriving.
Bourdoncle, however, had overheard Mouret, and looked at him with a
smile. He even ventured to say when they were alone: "That girl again!
Be careful; it will end by becoming serious!"

But 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 then, as the shop was opening at last, he rushed off to give a
final look at the various departments. Bourdoncle shook his head.
That girl Denise, so simple and quiet, began to make him feel uneasy.
The first time, he had conquered by a brutal dismissal. But she had
returned, and he felt her power to be so much increased that he now
treated her as a redoubtable adversary, remaining mute before her and
again patiently waiting developments. When he overtook Mouret, he found
him downstairs, in the Saint-Augustin Hall, opposite the entrance door,
where he was shouting:

"Are you playing the fool 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. Then seeing that customers were
arriving, he even had the doors closed for a moment, declaring that
he would rather keep the place shut than have the blue parasols in
the centre. It ruined his composition. The renowned dressers of the
Paradise, Hutin, Mignot, and others, came to look at the change he was
carrying out, but they affected not to understand it, theirs being a
different school.

At last the doors were again opened, and the crowd flowed in. From
the outset, long before the shop was full, there was such a crush at
the doorway that they were obliged to call the police to regulate the
traffic on the foot pavement. Mouret had calculated correctly; all
the housewives, a compact troop of middle-class women and work women,
swarmed around the bargains and remnants displayed in the open street.
They felt the "hung" goods at the entrance; calico at seven sous the
mètre, wool and cotton grey stuff at nine sous, and, above all, some
Orleans at seven sous and a half, which was fast emptying the poorer
purses. Then there was feverish jostling and crushing around the
shelves and baskets where articles at reduced prices, lace at two sous,
ribbon at five, garters at three the pair, gloves, petticoats, cravats,
cotton socks, and stockings, were quickly disappearing, as if swallowed
up by the voracious crowd. In spite of the cold, the shopmen who were
selling in the street could not serve fast enough. One woman cried out
with pain in the crush and 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 stood hesitating on the pavement opposite, they were accosted
by Madame Marty, also accompanied by her daughter Valentine.

"What a crowd--eh?" said the countess. "They're killing themselves
inside. I ought not to have come, I was in bed, but got up to take a
little fresh air."

"It's 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 shan't spend another sou! in fact I don't want

However, seized, carried away as it were, by the force of the crowd,
they did not take their eyes off the door.

"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 her, she was gradually yielding to a desire to
follow the others; and her fears dissolved before the irresistible
attractions of the crush. Madame Marty likewise was giving way,
repeating the while: "Keep hold of my dress, Valentine. Ah, well! I've
never seen such a thing before. I'm lifted off my feet. What will it be

Caught by the current the ladies could not now go back. Just as rivers
attract the fugitive waters of a valley, so it seemed as if the stream
of customers, flowing into the vestibule, was absorbing the passers-by,
drinking in people from the four corners of Paris. They advanced
but slowly, squeezed almost to death, and maintained upright by the
shoulders around them; and their desires already derived enjoyment from
this painful entrance which heightened their curiosity. It was a medley
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 overflowing 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 cool from the open air, Madame Marty was standing
on tip-toe in her endeavour to catch a glimpse of the depths of the
shop before the others. The pupils of her grey eyes were as contracted
as those of a cat coming out of the broad daylight, and she had the
restful feeling, and 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 penetrated them, they seemed to be
entering into spring after emerging from the winter of the street.
Whilst the piercing wind, laden with rain and hail, was still blowing
out of doors, the fine season was already budding forth in The Paradise
galleries, with the light stuffs, soft flowery shades and rural gaiety
of summer dresses and parasols.

"Do look there!" exclaimed Madame de Boves, standing motionless, her
eyes in the air.

It was the exhibition of parasols. Wide-open and rounded like shields,
they covered the whole hall, from the glazed roofing to the varnished
oak mouldings below. They described festoons round the arches of the
upper storeys; they descended in garlands down the slender columns;
they ran in close lines along the balustrades of the galleries and the
staircases; and everywhere ranged symmetrically, speckling the walls
with red, green, and yellow, they looked like huge Venetian lanterns,
lighted up for some colossal entertainment. In the corners were more
complicated designs, stars composed of parasols at thirty-nine sous
whose light shades, pale blue, cream-white, and blush rose, had the
subdued glow of night-lights; whilst, up above, immense Japanese
parasols, on which golden-coloured cranes soared in purple skies,
blazed forth with fiery reflections.

Madame Marty endeavouring to find a phrase to express her rapture,
exclaimed: "It's like fairyland!" And 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 into the one devoted to collarettes, cuffs, trimmings,
etc. A hot-house heat, moist and close, laden with the insipid odour
of the materials, and muffling the tramping of the crowd, prevailed
in the galleries. Then they returned to the door, where an outward
current was already established, an interminable _défilé_ of women
and children, above whom hovered a multitude of red air-balls. Forty
thousand of these were ready; there were men specially placed for their
distribution; and to see the customers on their way out, one might have
imagined that a flight of enormous soap-bubbles, reflecting the fiery
glare of the parasols, was hovering in the air. 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, inspector Jouve came
to their assistance. He stood in the vestibule, grave and attentive,
eyeing each woman as she passed. Specially charged with the indoor
police service he was on the look-out for thieves and "lifters."

"The mercery department, ladies?" said he obligingly, "turn to the
left; you see! just there behind the hosiery department."

Madame de Boves thanked him. But Madame Marty, on 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 made use of every sort of
advertisement, laughing at the discretion of certain fellow-tradesmen
who thought their goods should be left to speak for themselves. Special
salesmen, idle and smooth-tongued Parisians, in this way got rid of
considerable quantities of small trashy things.

"Oh, mamma!" murmured Valentine, "just look at these cravats. They have
a bird embroidered at one corner."

The shopman cracked up the article, swore that 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 like her
daughter. "Well! I can take a couple, that won't ruin us."

Madame de Boves, however, disdained this style of thing; she detested
to have things offered to her. A shopman calling her made her run away.
Madame Marty, surprised, could not understand such nervous horror of
commercial quackery, for she was of another nature; she was one of
those women who delight in being thus caressed by a public offer, in
plunging their hands into everything, and wasting their time in useless

"Now," said she, "I'm going for my braid. I don't wish to see anything

However, as she crossed the scarf and glove departments, her heart once
more failed her. Here in the diffuse light was a display made up of
bright gay colours, of ravishing effect. The counters, symmetrically
arranged, seemed like so many flower-borders, changing the hall into
a French garden, where smiled a soft scale of blossoms. Lying now on
the bare wood, now in open boxes, and now protruding from overflowing
drawers was a quantity of silk handkerchiefs of every hue. You
found the bright scarlet of the geranium, the creamy white of the
petunia, the golden yellow of the chrysanthemum, the celestial azure
of the verbena; and higher up, on brass rods, another florescence
was entwined, a florescence of carelessly hung _fichus_ and unrolled
ribbons, quite a brilliant _cordon_, which extended on and on, climbing
the columns and constantly multiplying in the mirrors. But what most
attracted the throng was a Swiss chalet in the glove department, a
chalet made entirely of gloves, Mignot's _chef d'œuvre_ which it had
taken him two days to arrange. In the first place, the ground-floor
was composed of black gloves; and then in turn came straw-coloured,
mignonette, and tan-coloured gloves, distributed over the decoration,
bordering the windows, outlining 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 Suède gloves at one franc
seventy-five centimes the pair, first quality."

He offered his wares with furious energy, calling the passing customers
to his counter and dunning them with his politeness. And as she shook
her head in token of refusal he continued: "Tyrolian gloves, one franc
twenty-five. Turin gloves for children, embroidered gloves in all

"No, thanks; I don't want anything," declared Madame Marty.

But realising 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 a sudden meeting with Madame
Bourdelais and her three children diverted their attention. Madame
Bourdelais explained, with her quiet practical air, that she had
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 which they had long looked forward to.

"Those red parasols are really too comical; I must buy one," said
Madame Marty all at once, stamping with impatience at doing nothing.

She choose one at fourteen francs and a half; whereupon Madame
Bourdelais, after watching the purchase with a look of censure, said to
her amicably: "You are 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 thereupon she developed quite a theory of careful housekeeping.
Since 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
profit by their real bargains. She even showed some malice in the
struggle, boasting that she had never left them a sou of 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 thereupon the braid was forgotten. Madame Marty yielded at once,
whilst Madame de Boves declined, preferring to take a turn on the
ground-floor first of all. Besides, they were sure to meet again
upstairs. Madame Bourdelais was looking for a staircase when she
perceived one of the lifts; and thereupon she pushed her children into
it, in order to cap their pleasure. Madame Marty and Valentine also
entered the narrow cage, where they were very closely packed; however
the mirrors, the velvet seats, and the polished brasswork took up so
much of their attention that they reached the first floor 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 either end there were silvered filters from which trickled small
streams of water; whilst rows of bottles stood on small shelves
behind. Three waiters were continually engaged in wiping and filling
the glasses. To restrain the thirsty crowd, they had been obliged to
imitate the practice followed at theatres and railway-stations, by
erecting a barrier draped with velvet. The crush was terrific. Some
people, whom these gratuitous treats rendered altogether unscrupulous,
really made themselves ill.

"Well! where are they?" exclaimed Madame Bourdelais, when she
extricated herself from the crowd, after wiping 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. Buried beneath a heap of
petticoats, they were still buying. There was no more restraint, mother
and daughter vanished in the fever of expenditure which was carrying
them away. When Madame Bourdelais at last reached the reading-room she
installed Madeleine, Edmond, and Lucien before the large table; and
taking some photographic albums from one of the book-cases she brought
them to them. The ceiling of the long apartment was covered with
gilding; at either end was a monumental chimney-piece; some pictures of
no great merit but very richly framed, covered the walls; and between
the columns, before each of the arched bays opening into the shop,
were tall green plants in majolica vases. A silent throng surrounded
the table, which was littered with reviews and newspapers, with here
and there some ink-stands, boxes of stationery, and blotting-pads.
Ladies took off their gloves, and wrote letters on the paper stamped
with the name of the establishment, through which they ran their
pens. A few gentlemen, lolling back in armchairs, were reading the
newspapers. But a great many people sat there doing nothing: these
were husbands waiting for their wives, who were roaming through the
various departments, young women on the watch for their lovers, and old
relations left there as in a cloak-room, to be taken away when it was
time to leave. And all these people lounged and rested whilst glancing
through the open bays into the depths of the galleries and the halls,
whence a distant murmur ascended amidst the scratching of pens and the
rustling of newspapers.

"What! you here!" said Madame Bourdelais all at once. "I didn't
recognise you."

Near the children sat a lady, her face hidden by the open 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 in order to escape the crush. And as Madame Bourdelais asked her
if she was going to make any purchases, she replied with her languorous
air, veiling the egoistical greediness of her glance with her eyelids:

"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."

Then she went on talking, saying how convenient this system of returns
was; formerly she had never bought anything, but now she sometimes
allowed herself to be tempted. In fact, she returned four articles
out of every five, and was getting known at all the counters for the
strange trafficking she carried on--a trafficking easily divined by the
perpetual discontent which made her bring back her purchases one by
one, after she had kept them several days. However, 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 quick
glance with Madame Guibal; and she then plunged into her review again,
as if she had not seen him.

"Hallo, Paul!" suddenly exclaimed a voice behind the two gentlemen.

It was Mouret taking a glance round the various departments. They shook
hands, and he at once inquired:

"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, however!"

But he suddenly pretended to catch sight of Madame Guibal, and hastened
off, approaching 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
Boves, whom he had met in the Rue de 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 all the money she could from Boves, making
constant appointments with him in public places, churches, museums, and

"Just look at him," added the young man, "isn't he splendid, standing
there before her with his dignified air? It's 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,
he added: "There, did you see him? He stooped down, and slipped an
address into her hand. She's now accepting the rendezvous with the
most virtuous air. She's a terrible woman is that delicate red-haired
creature with her careless ways. Well! some fine things go on in your

"Oh!" replied Mouret, smiling, "these ladies are not in my house, they
are at home here."

Then, still continuing his gossip, he carried his old comrade along
to the threshold of the reading-room, opposite the grand central
gallery, whose successive halls spread out below them. In the rear,
the reading-room still retained its quietude, only disturbed by the
scratching of pens and the rustling of 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
loudly, 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

Just then Madame Desforges, after nearly having her mantle carried away
in the crowd, at last effected an entrance 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 stairways and crossed by flying bridges. The
iron staircases developed bold curves, which multiplied the landings;
the bridges suspended in space, ran straight along at a great height;
and in the white light from the windows all this iron work formed an
excessively delicate architecture, an intricate lace-work through which
the daylight penetrated, the modern realization of a dreamland palace,
of a Babel with storeys piled one above the other, and spacious halls
affording glimpses of other floors and other halls _ad infinitum_. In
fact, iron reigned everywhere: the young architect had been honest and
courageous enough 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 covered with sculptured work; and at last, up above, glistened
painting, green and red, amidst a prodigality of gold, floods of gold,
heaps of gold, even to the glazed-work, whose panes were enamelled and
inlaid with gold. In the galleries, the bare brick-work of the arches
was also decorated in bright colours. Mosaics and faience likewise
formed part of the decoration, enlivening the friezes, and lighting up
the severe _ensemble_ with their fresh tints; whilst the stairs, with
red-velvet covered hand-rails, were edged with bands of polished iron,
which shone like the steel of armour.

Although Madame Desforges was already acquainted with the new
establishment, she stopped short, struck by the ardent life which that
day animated the immense nave. Below and around her continued the
eddying of the crowd; the double current of those entering and those
leaving, making itself felt as far as the silk department. It was still
a crowd of very mixed elements, though the afternoon was bringing a
greater number of ladies amongst the shopkeepers and house-wives. There
were many women in mourning, with flowing veils; and there were always
some wet nurses straying about and protecting their infantile charges
with their outstretched arms. And this sea of faces, of many-coloured
hats and bare heads, both dark and fair, rolled from one to the
other end of the galleries, vague and discoloured amidst the glare
of the stuffs. On all sides Madame Desforges saw large price-tickets
bearing enormous figures and showing prominently against the bright
printed cottons, the shining silks, and the sombre woollens. Piles of
ribbons half hid the heads of the customers, a wall of flannel threw
out a promontory; on all sides mirrors multiplied the departments,
reflecting the displays and the groups of people, now showing faces
reversed, and now halves of shoulders and arms; whilst to the right and
to the left the lateral galleries opened up other vistas, the snowy
depths of the linen department and the speckled depths of the hosiery
counters--distant views which were illumined by rays of light from some
glazed bay, and in which the crowd seemed but so much human dust. Then,
when Madame Desforges raised her eyes, she beheld on the staircases
and the flying bridges and behind the balustrades of each successive
storey, a continual buzzing ascent, an entire population in the air,
passing along behind the open work of this huge carcass of metal and
showing blackly against the diffuse light from the enamelled glass.
Large gilded lustres were suspended from the ceiling; decorations of
rugs, embroidered silks and stuffs worked with gold, hung down, draping
the balustrades as with gorgeous banners; and, from one to the other
end were clouds of lace, palpitations of muslin, trophies of silks,
fairy-like groups of half-dressed dummies; and right at the top, above
all the confusion, the bedding department, hanging, as it were, in the
air, displayed its little iron bedsteads provided with mattresses, and
hung with curtains, the whole forming a sort of school dormitory asleep
amidst the tramping of the customers, who became fewer and fewer as the
departments ascended.

"Does madame require a cheap pair of garters?" asked a salesman
of Madame Desforges on seeing her standing still. "All silk, at
twenty-nine sous."

She did not condescend 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 showing the least hurry
amidst the heaps of bills by which he was besieged; though 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 reach it, so dense
was the crowd becoming. 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 whence they
continued scattering over Paris; and she had to bow her head beneath
their flight whenever very young children held them with 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, now occasionally called 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. Moreover some two days previously he had
boldly told her of the intrigue between Mouret and Clara, He had not
done this with any calculating motive but out of sheer stupidity,
like a fellow who loves a joke. She, however, stung with jealousy,
concealing her wounded feelings beneath an appearance of disdain, had
that afternoon come to try and discover her rival, a young lady in the
mantle department, so Bouthemont had told her, though declining to give
the name.

"Do you require anything to-day?" he inquired.

"Of course, or I should not have come. Have you any _foulard_ 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 then
went on chatting whilst waiting for the salesman, who was just serving
another customer. This 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. Whom could she have lost--her husband or her father?
Not her father, for she would have appeared more melancholy. What had
they all been saying then? She could not be a questionable character;
she must have had a real husband--that is unless she were in mourning
for her mother. For a few minutes, despite the press of business, the
department exchanged these various speculations.

"Make haste! it's intolerable!" cried Hutin to Favier, when he returned
from showing his customer to the pay-desk. "Whenever 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. The second-hand was becoming terrible,
of a morose severity ever since the department had conspired to get
him Robineau's place. He even showed himself so intolerable, after all
the promises of good-fellowship, with which he had formerly warmed his
colleagues' zeal, 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 _foulards_ of the lightest patterns."

In the middle of the department, an exhibition of summer silks
illumined the hall with an aurora-like brilliancy, like the rising
of a planet amidst the most delicate tints: pale rose, soft yellow,
limpid blue, indeed the whole scarf of Iris. There were _foulards_ of
a cloudy fineness, surahs lighter than the down falling from trees,
satined pekins as soft and supple as a Chinese beauty's skin. Then
came Japanese pongees, Indian tussores and corahs, without counting
the light French silks, the narrow stripes, the small checks and the
flowered patterns, all the most fanciful designs, which made one think
of ladies in furbelows, strolling in the sweet May mornings, under the
spreading 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 they have 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 passed by. She had just
come from the merinoes which were in the charge of Liénard to whom she
had escorted Madame Boutarel, that provincial lady who came to Paris
twice a year, to scatter the money she saved out of her housekeeping
all over the Ladies' Paradise. And thereupon, just as Favier was about
to take up Madame Desforges's silk, Hutin, thinking to annoy him,

"It's quite unnecessary, Mademoiselle 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 some former
fault; and yet she had only sinned in her dreams.

"But just tell me," said Madame Desforges, in a low tone, to
Bouthemont, "isn't it this awkward girl? He has taken her back, I see?
It must be she who is the heroine of the adventure!"

"Perhaps," replied the silk manager, still smiling, but fully decided
not to tell the truth.

Madame Desforges then slowly ascended the staircase, preceded by
Denise; but after every two or three steps she had to pause in order
to avoid being carried away by the descending crowd. In the living
vibration of the whole building, the iron supports seemed to sway under
your feet as if quivering beneath the breath of the multitude. On each
stair was a strongly fixed dummy, displaying some garment or other: a
costume, cloak, or dressing-gown; and the whole was like a double row
of soldiers at attention whilst some triumphal procession went past.

Madame Desforges was at last reaching the first storey, when a still
greater surging of the crowd forced her to stop once more. Beneath her
she now had the departments on the ground-floor, with the press of
customers through which she had just passed. This was a new spectacle,
a sea of fore-shortened heads, swarming with agitation like an
ant-hill. The white price-tickets now seemed but so many narrow lines,
the piles of ribbon became quite squat, the promontory of flannel
was but a thin partition barring the gallery; whilst the carpets and
the embroidered silks which decked the balustrades hung down like
processional banners suspended from the gallery of a church. In the
distance Madame Desforges could perceive some corners of the lateral
galleries, just as from the top of a steeple one perceives the corners
of neighbouring streets, with black specks of passers-by moving about.
But what surprised her above all, in the weariness of her eyes blinded
by the brilliant medley of colours, was, on lowering their lids,
to realize the presence of the crowd more keenly than ever, by its
dull roar like that of the rising tide, and the human warmth that it
exhaled. A fine dust rose from the floor, laden with _odore di femina_,
a penetrating perfume, which seemed like the incense of this temple
raised for the worship of woman.

Meanwhile Mouret, still standing before the reading-room with
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 letters. There's only one thing left me
to do, and that is, to find them beds."

This joke made Paul smile, he who, in his pessimistic boredom
considered the turbulence of this multitude running after a lot of
gew-gaws to be idiotic. Whenever he came to give his old comrade a
look-up, he went away almost vexed to find him so full of life amidst
his people of coquettes. Would not one of them, with shallow brain and
empty heart, some day make him realize the stupidity and uselessness of
life? That very day Octave seemed to have lost some of his equilibrium;
he who generally inspired his customers with a fever, with the tranquil
grace of an operator, was as though caught by the passion which was
gradually consuming the whole establishment. 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 though he
affected not to turn his face towards them, he grew more and more
animated as he felt them drawing nearer. His face became flushed and in
his eyes was a little of that bewildered rapture with which the eyes of
his customers at last quivered.

"You must be fearfully robbed," murmured Vallagnosc, who thought that
the crowd looked very criminal.

Mouret threw his arms out. "My dear fellow, it's beyond all
imagination," said he.

And, nervously, delighted at having something to talk about, he gave
a number of details, related cases, and classified the delinquents.
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 form
of nervous affection which a doctor had classed, showing it to be the
result of the temptations of the big shops. And finally came the women
who were _enceintes_ and whose thefts were invariably thefts of some
especially coveted article. For instance, at the house of one of them,
the district commissary of police had found two hundred and forty-eight
pairs of pink gloves stolen from well nigh every shop in Paris.

"That's what gives the women such funny eyes here, then," murmured
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 the goods away under their mantles. And sometimes
they are very respectable people. Last week we caught the sister of a
chemist, and the wife of a judge. Yes, the wife of a judge! However, we
always try to settle these matters."

He paused to point out Jouve, who was just then looking sharply after
a woman at the ribbon counter below. This woman, who appeared to be
suffering a great deal from the jostling of the crowd, was accompanied
by a friend, whose mission seemed to be to protect her against all
hurt, and each time she stopped in a department, Jouve kept his eyes on
her, whilst her friend near by ransacked the card-board boxes at her

"Oh! he'll catch her!" resumed Mouret; "he knows all their tricks."

But his voice trembled and 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 crush.
He turned round suddenly, and bowed to his customer with the discreet
air of a friend who does not desire to compromise a woman by stopping
her in a crowd of people. But Henriette, on the alert, had at once
perceived the look with which he had first enveloped Denise. It must be
this girl--thought she--yes, this was the rival she had been curious to
come and see.

In the mantle department, the young ladies were fast losing their
heads. Two of them had fallen ill, and Madame Frédéric, the
second-hand, had quietly given notice the previous day, and repaired to
the cashier's office to take her money, leaving The Ladies' Paradise
at a minute's notice, just 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 affair. Clara, still kept
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 Madame Frédéric had never confided in any one, she was
suspected of having relinquished her position to marry the proprietor
of some baths in the neighbourhood of the Halles.

"It's a travelling cloak that madame desires, I believe?" inquired
Denise of Madame Desforges, after offering her a chair.

"Yes," curtly replied the latter, who had made up her mind to be

The new decorations of the department were of a rich severity: on
all sides were high carved oak cupboards with mirrors filling the
whole space of their panels, while a red carpet muffled the continued
tramping of the customers. Whilst Denise went off to fetch the cloaks,
Madame Desforges, who was looking round, perceived her face in a glass;
and she continued contemplating herself. Was she getting old then that
she should be cast aside for the first-comer? The glass reflected the
entire department with all its commotion, but she only beheld her own
pale face; she did not hear Clara behind her, relating to Marguerite a
story of Madame Frédéric's mysterious goings-on, the manner in which
she went out of her way night and morning so as to pass through the
Passage Choiseul, and thus make people believe that she lived over the

"Here are our latest designs," said Denise. "We have them in several

She laid out four or five cloaks. Madame Desforges looked at them with
a scornful air, and became harsher at each fresh one that she examined.
What was the reason of those pleats which made the garment look so
scanty? And that other one, square across the shoulders, why, you might
have thought it had been cut out with a hatchet! Though people went
travelling they could not dress like sentry-boxes!

"Show me something else, mademoiselle."

Denise unfolded and refolded the garments without the slightest sign
of ill temper. And it was just this calm, serene patience which
exasperated Madame Desforges the more. Her glances continually returned
to the glass in front of her. Now that she saw herself there, close to
Denise she ventured on a comparison. Was it possible that he should
prefer that insignificant creature to herself? She now remembered that
this was the girl whom she had formerly seen cutting such a silly
figure at the time of her début--as clumsy as any peasant wench freshly
arrived from her village. No doubt she looked better now, stiff and
correct in her silk gown. But how puny, how common-place she was!

"I will show you some other patterns, madame," said Denise, quietly.

When she returned, the scene began again. Then it was the cloth that
was too heavy or of no good whatever. And Madame Desforges turned
round, raising her voice, and endeavouring to attract Madame Aurélie's
attention, in the hope of getting the 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 that she
possessed some rare and valuable qualities as a saleswoman--a stubborn
sweetness, a smiling force of conviction. And thus when Madame Aurélie
heard Madame Desforges she 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 short, surprised to feel a hand laid on her shoulder.
It was the hand of Madame Marty, who was being carried through the
establishment by her fever for spending. Since the cravats, the
embroidered gloves, and the red parasol, her purchases had increased to
such an extent that the last salesman had just decided to place them
all on a chair, as to have carried them on his arm, might have broken
it; and he walked in front of her, drawing along the chair, upon which
petticoats, napkins, curtains, a lamp, and three straw hats were heaped

"Ah!" said she, "you are buying a travelling cloak."

"Oh! dear, no," replied Madame Desforges; "they are frightful."

However 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
one of the previous year's patterns, and Marguerite, at a glance from
her comrade, presented it as an exceptional bargain. When she had sworn
that they had twice lowered the price, that they had reduced it from
a hundred and fifty francs, to a hundred and thirty, and that it was
now ticketed at a hundred and ten, Madame Marty could not withstand
the temptation of its cheapness. She bought it, and the salesman who
accompanied her thereupon went off, leaving the chair and the parcels
behind him with all the debit-notes attached to the goods.

Whilst Marguerite was debiting the cloak, Madame Marty turned her head,
and on catching sight of Clara made a slight sign to Madame Desforges,
then whispered to her: "Monsieur Mouret's caprice, you know!"

The other, in surprise, looked round at Clara; and then, after again
turning her eyes on Denise, replied: "But it isn't the tall one; it's
the little one!"

And as Madame Marty could not be sure which of the two it was, Madame
Desforges resumed aloud, with the scorn of a lady for chambermaids:
"Perhaps both!"

Denise had heard everything, and raised her large, pure eyes on this
lady who was thus wounding her, and whom she did not know. No doubt
it was the lady of whom people had spoken to her, the lady with whom
Mouret's name was so often associated. In the glances that were
exchanged between them, Denise displayed such melancholy dignity, such
frank innocence, that Henriette felt quite uncomfortable.

"As you have nothing presentable to show me here, conduct me to the
dress and costume department," she said all at once.

"I'll go with you as well," exclaimed Madame Marty, "I wanted to see a
costume for Valentine."

Marguerite thereupon took the chair by its back, and dragged it along
on its hind legs, which were getting rather worn by this species of
locomotion. Denise on her side only carried the few yards of silk,
bought by Madame Desforges. They had, however, quite a journey before
them now that the robes and costumes were installed on the second
floor, at the other end of the establishment.

And the long walk commenced along the crowded galleries. Marguerite
went in front, drawing the chair along, like some little vehicle,
and slowly opening a passage. As soon as she reached the under-linen
department, Madame Desforges began to complain: wasn't it ridiculous,
a shop where you were obliged to walk a couple of leagues to find the
least thing! Madame Marty also declared that she was tired to death,
yet she none the less enjoyed this fatigue, this slow exhaustion of
strength, amidst the inexhaustible wealth of merchandise displayed on
every side. Mouret's idea, full of genius, had absolutely subjugated
her and she paused in each fresh department. She made a first halt
before the trousseaux, tempted by some chemises which Pauline sold
her; and Marguerite then found herself relieved of the burden of
the chair, which Pauline had to take, with the debit-notes. Madame
Desforges might have gone on her way, and thus have liberated Denise
more speedily, but she seemed happy to feel her behind her, motionless
and patient, whilst she also lingered, advising her friend. In the
baby-linen department the ladies went into ecstasies, but, of course,
without buying anything. Then Madame Marty's weaknesses began 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 number of parcels still
increased, making the chair creak; and the salesmen who succeeded
one another, found it more and more difficult to drag the improvised
vehicle along as its load became heavier and 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 did they not put the dresses and costumes near the mantles
department? It _is_ a mess!"

Madame Marty, whose eyes were sparkling, intoxicated by the succession
of riches dancing before her, repeated in an undertone: "Oh, dear! What
will my husband say? You are right, there is no order in this place. A
person loses herself and commits all sorts of follies."

On the great central landing there was scarcely room for the chair to
pass, as Mouret had just blocked the open space with a lot of fancy
goods--cups mounted on gilt zinc, flash dressing-cases and liqueur
stands--being of opinion that the crowd there was not sufficiently
great, and that circulation was too easy. And he had also authorized
one of his shopmen to exhibit on a small table there some Chinese and
Japanese curiosities, low-priced knick-knacks which customers eagerly
snatched up. It was an unexpected success, and he already thought of
extending this branch of his business. Whilst two messengers carried
the chair up to the second floor, Madame Marty purchased six ivory
studs, some silk mice, and a lacquered match-box.

On the second floor the journey began afresh. Denise, who had been
showing customers about in this way ever since the morning, was sinking
with fatigue; but she still continued correct, gentle, and polite.
She again had to wait for the ladies in the furnishing materials
department, where a delightful cretonne had caught Madame Marty's eye.
Then, in the furniture department, a work-table took her fancy. Her
hands trembled, and with a laugh she was entreating Madame Desforges to
prevent her from spending any more money, when a meeting with Madame
Guibal furnished her with an excuse to continue her purchases. The
meeting took place in the carpet department, whither Madame Guibal had
gone to return some Oriental door-curtains which she had purchased five
days previously. And she was standing there, talking to the salesman,
a brawny fellow with sinewy arms, who from morning to night carried
loads heavy enough to break a bullock's back. Naturally he was in
consternation at this "return," which deprived him of his commission,
and so 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 the cost of hire at an
upholsterer's. He knew indeed that this was frequently done by the
economical middle-class people. 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, however, Madame Guibal with queenly assurance replied
quietly that the curtains did not suit her; and she did not deign 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 the goods back
even if they saw that they had been used.

As the three ladies went off together, and Madame Marty referred
remorsefully 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. Meantime let them send it to your house. You can put
it in your drawing-room, keep it for a time and 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 ceased calculating and went on buying, with the secret
wish, however, to keep everything, for she was not one of those women
who give things back.

At last they arrived in the dress and costume department. But as
Denise was about to deliver to another young lady the silk which
Madame Desforges had purchased 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 then had to wait
complacently till she was ready to return to the mantle department. The
girl felt that she was being treated like a servant by this imperious,
whimsical customer; but she had vowed to do her duty, and retained her
calm demeanour, notwithstanding the rising of her heart and rebellion
of her pride. Madame Desforges bought nothing in the dress and costume

"Oh! mamma," said Valentine, "if that little costume should only fit

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 a pattern of it, and then sent it back. And thereupon 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, beside the work-table, for its
weight had become too great, and its hind legs threatened to break
off. So it was arranged that all the purchases should be centralized
at one pay-desk, and thence sent down to the delivery department.
And then the ladies, still accompanied by Denise, began roaming all
over the establishment, making a second appearance in nearly every
department. They were ever on the stairs and in the galleries; and at
each 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: Madeleine had
a dress for herself under her arm, 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

"Pray, don't speak of it!" exclaimed Madame Bourdelais. "I'm furious.
They get hold of us by the little ones now! You know how little I spend
on myself! But how can you expect me to resist the entreaties of these
children, who want everything? I merely came to show them round, and
here am I plundering the whole establishment!"

Mouret, who still happened to be there, with Vallagnosc and Monsieur de
Boves, listened to her with a smile. She observed it, and complained
gaily, though with an undercurrent of real irritation, of these traps
laid for a mother's affection; the idea that she had just yielded to
the force of puffery raised her indignation, and he, still smiling,
bowed, fully enjoying his triumph. Monsieur de Boves meanwhile had
manœuvred so as to get near Madame Guibal, whom he ultimately followed,
for the second time trying to lose Vallagnosc; but the latter, weary of
the crush, hastened to rejoin him. And now once more Denise was brought
to a standstill, obliged to wait for the ladies. She turned her back,
and Mouret himself affected not to see her. But from that moment 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 became deeply absorbed in thought, wondering how she
could convict him of his treason.

Meanwhile Monsieur de Boves and Vallagnosc, who had gone on in front
with Madame Guibal, reached the lace department, a luxurious room,
surrounded by nests of carved oak drawers, which were constantly being
opened and shut. Around the columns, covered with red velvet, spirals
of white lace ascended; and from one to the other end of the department
hung festoons of guipure, whilst on the counters 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
_transparent_, on which Deloche was placing some pieces of Chantilly,
the ladies meantime looking on in silence and without making up their

"Hallo!" said Vallagnosc, quite surprised, "you said that Madame de
Boves was unwell. But 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! so she is," said he.

It was very warm in this room. The half stifled customers had pale
faces with glittering eyes. It seemed as if all the seductions of the
shop converged to this supreme temptation, this secluded corner of
perdition where the strongest must succumb. Women plunged their hands
into the overflowing heaps, quivering with intoxication at the contact.

"I fancy those ladies are ruining you," resumed Vallagnosc, amused by
the meeting.

Monsieur de Boves assumed the look of a husband who is perfectly sure
of his wife's discretion, from the simple fact that he does not give
her a copper to spend. The countess, after wandering through all the
departments with her daughter, without buying anything, had just
stranded in the lace department in a rage of unsated desire. Overcome
with fatigue, she was leaning against the counter while her clammy
hands dived into a heap of lace whence a warmth rose to her shoulders.
Then suddenly, just as her daughter turned her head and the salesman
went away, it occurred to her to slip a piece of point d'Alençon under
her mantle. But she shuddered, and dropped it, on hearing Vallagnosc
gaily saying: "Ah! we've caught you, madame."

For several seconds she stood there speechless and very pale. Then she
explained that, feeling much better, she had 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,
these gentlemen just met us."

As it happened the other ladies came up just at that moment,
accompanied by Mouret who again detained them to point out Jouve,
who was still following the suspicious woman and her lady friend. It
was very curious, said he, they could not form an idea of the number
of thieves arrested in the lace department. Madame de Boves, who was
listening, fancied herself between a couple of gendarmes, with her
forty-five years, her luxury, and her husband's high position; however,
she felt no remorse, but reflected that she ought to have slipped the
lace up her sleeve. Jouve, however, had just decided to lay hold of
the suspicious woman, despairing of catching her in the act, but fully
suspecting that she had filled her pockets, by means of some sleight
of hand which had escaped him. But when he had taken her aside and
searched her, he was wild with confusion at finding nothing on her--not
a cravat, not a button. Her friend had disappeared. All at once he
understood: the woman he had searched had only been there as a blind;
it was the friend who had done the trick.

This affair amused the ladies. Mouret, rather vexed, merely said: "Old
Jouve has been floored this time but he'll have his revenge."

"Oh!" replied 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 supreme note of the day,
in the growing fever that reigned in the establishment. The ladies
separated, crossing the crowded departments for the last time. It
was four o'clock, the rays of the setting sun were darting obliquely
through the large front windows and throwing a cross light on the
glazed roofs of the halls; and in this red, fiery glow arose, like a
golden vapour, the thick dust raised by the circulation of the crowd
since early morning. A broad sheet of light streamed along the grand
central gallery, showing up the staircases, the flying bridges, all
the network of suspended iron. The mosaics and faiences of the friezes
glittered, the green and red paint reflected the fire of the lavish
gilding. The Paradise seemed like a red-hot furnace, in which the
various displays--the palaces of gloves and cravats, the festoons of
ribbons and laces, the lofty piles of linen and calico, the variegated
parterres in which bloomed the light silks and foulards--were now
burning. The exhibition of parasols, of shield-like roundness, threw
forth metallic reflections. In the distance, beyond streaks of shadow,
were counters sparkling and swarming with a throng, ablaze with

And at this last moment, in this over-heated atmosphere, the women
reigned supreme. They had taken the whole place by storm, they were
camping there as in a conquered country, like an invading horde
installed amidst all the disorder of the goods. The salesmen, deafened
and exhausted, were now nothing but their slaves, of whom they disposed
with sovereign tyranny. Fat women elbowed their way along; even the
thinnest took up a deal of space, and became quite arrogant. They were
all there, with heads erect and gestures abrupt, quite at home, not
showing the slightest politeness to one another but making as much
use of the house as they could, even to the point of carrying away
the dust from its walls. Madame Bourdelais, desirous of making up for
her expenditure had again taken her children to the refreshment bar:
whither the crowd was now rushing with rageful thirst and appetite.
Even the mothers were gorging themselves with Malaga; since the morning
eighty quarts of syrup and seventy bottles of wine had been drunk.
After purchasing her travelling cloak, Madame Desforges had secured
some picture cards at the pay-desk; and she went away scheming how
she might get Denise into her house, so as to humiliate her before
Mouret himself, see their faces and arrive at a conclusion. And whilst
Monsieur de Boves succeeded at last in plunging into the crowd and
disappearing with Madame Guibal, Madame de Boves, followed by Blanche
and Vallagnosc, had the fancy to ask for a red air-ball, although she
had bought nothing. It would always be 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 starting on
the fortieth thousand: thirty nine thousand red air-balls had already
taken flight in the warm atmosphere of the shop, a perfect 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 throes of the day's sales.
Although ready to drop with fatigue she could not tear herself away,
being retained by so strong an attraction that although she needed
nothing she continually retraced her steps, scouring the departments
with insatiable curiosity. It was the moment in which the throng,
goaded on by puffery, completely lost its head; 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 emptying the women's purses, left their minds weakened by
intoxication; and they still remained shaken by Mouret's inventions,
the reduction of prices, the "returns," and the endless gallantries.
Madame Marty lingered before the various "proposal" stalls, amidst
the hoarse cries of the salesmen, the clink of the pay-desks, and the
rolling of the parcels sent down to the basement; she again traversed
the ground floor, the linen, silk, glove and woollen departments; she
again went upstairs, yielding to the metallic vibrations of the hanging
staircases and flying-bridges; she returned to the mantle, under-linen,
and lace departments; she even ascended to the second floor, to the
heights of the bedding and furniture galleries; and on all sides the
employees, Hutin and Favier, Mignot and Liénard, Deloche, Pauline and
Denise, nearly dead with fatigue, were making a final effort, snatching
victories from the last fever of the customers. This fever had
gradually increased since the morning, like the intoxication emanating
from all the tumbled stuffs. The crowd flared under the fiery glare of
the five o'clock sun. Madame Marty now had the animated nervous face of
a child after drinking pure wine. Arriving with clear eyes and fresh
skin from the cold of the street, she had slowly burnt both sight and
complexion, by the contemplation of all that luxury, those violent
colours, whose everlasting gallop irritated her passion. When she at
last went away, after saying that she would pay at home, terrified as
she was by the amount of her bill, her features were drawn, and her
eyes dilated like those of a sick person. She was obliged to fight her
way through the stubborn crush at the door, where people were almost
killing each other, amidst the struggle for bargains. Then, when she
got into the street, and again found her daughter, whom she had lost
for a moment, the fresh air made her shiver, and she remained quite
scared, her mind unhinged by the neurosis to which the great drapery
establishments give birth.

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 which Mouret had given her in the morning,
to go to his office when the sale was over. She found him 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

Denise listened to him motionless with surprise. Then she murmured in
a trembling voice: "But there are saleswomen in the department who are
much my seniors, sir."

"What does that matter?" he resumed. "You are the most capable, the
most trustworthy. I select you; it's quite natural. Are you not

She blushed, feeling a delicious happiness and embarrassment, in which
all her original fright vanished. Why had she, before aught else,
thought of the suppositions with which this unhoped-for favour would be
received? And she remained there full of confusion, despite her sudden
burst of gratitude. With a smile he looked at her in her simple silk
dress, without a single piece of jewellery, displaying only the luxury
of her royal, blonde hair. She had become more refined, her skin was
whiter, her manner delicate and grave. Her former puny insignificance
was developing into a penetrating, gentle charm.

"You are very kind, sir," she stammered. "I don't know how to tell

But she was cut short by the appearance of Lhomme on the threshold. In
his hand he held a large leather bag, and with his mutilated arm he
pressed an enormous note case to his chest; whilst, behind him came his
son Albert weighed down by the load of bags he was carrying.

"Five hundred and eighty-seven thousand two hundred and ten francs
thirty centimes!" exclaimed the cashier, whose flabby, worn face seemed
to light up with a ray of sunshine, in the reflection of such a huge
sum of money.

It was the day's receipts, the highest that The Ladies' Paradise had
ever attained. In the distance, in the depths of the shop through which
Lhomme had just slowly passed with the heavy gait of an overladen beast
of burden, you could hear the uproar, the ripple of surprise and joy
which this colossal sum had left behind it as it passed.

"Why, 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 the
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 rid
themselves of their burdens. The leather bag gave out a clear, golden
ring, two of the other bags in bursting let a torrent of silver and
copper escape, whilst from the note-case peeped the 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, dreamy, his eyes fixed on the money.
But on raising his head, he perceived Denise, who had drawn back. Then
he began to smile again, forced her to come forward, and finished by
saying that he would make her a present of all the money she could
take in her hand; and there was a sort of love bargain beneath his

"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
everything; she felt the growing flame of desire with which he had
enveloped her ever 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 the offer of all that money, when she was overflowing
with gratitude? He was stepping nearer to her still, continuing to
joke, when, to his great annoyance, Bourdoncle came in under the
pretence of informing him of the enormous number of entries--no fewer
than seventy thousand customers had entered The Ladies' Paradise that
day. And thereupon Denise hastened off, after again expressing her


On the first Sunday in August, the stock-taking, which had to be
finished by the evening, took place. Early in the morning all the
employees were at their posts, as on a week-day, and the work began
with closed doors, not a customer was admitted.

Denise, however, had not come down with the other young ladies at eight
o'clock. Confined to her room since the previous Thursday through
having sprained her ankle whilst on her way up to the work-rooms, she
was now much better; but, as Madame Aurélie treated her indulgently,
she did not hurry down. Still after a deal of trouble she managed to
put her boots on, having resolved that she would show herself in the
department. The young ladies' bed-rooms now occupied the entire fifth
storey of the new buildings in the Rue Monsigny; there were sixty of
them, on either side of a corridor, and they were much more comfortable
than formerly, although still furnished simply with an iron bedstead,
large wardrobe, and little mahogany toilet-table. The private life
of the saleswomen was now becoming more refined and elegant; 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
hotel-like gust that carried them away, morning and evening. Denise,
being second-hand in her department, had one of the largest rooms with
two attic windows looking into the street. Being now in much better
circumstances she indulged in sundry little luxuries, a red eider-down
bed quilt, covered with guipure, a small carpet in front of her
wardrobe, a couple of blue-glass vases containing a few fading roses on
her toilet table.

When she had succeeded in getting her boots on she tried to walk across
the room; but was obliged to lean against the furniture, being still
rather lame. However that would soon come right again, she thought.
At the same time, she had been quite right in refusing an 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 on the previous day, was also to dine at
his uncle's. She was still slowly trying to walk, resolving, however,
to go to bed early, in order to rest her ankle, when Madame Cabin, the
housekeeper, knocked and gave her a letter, with an air of mystery.

The door closed. Denise, astonished by the woman's discreet smile,
opened the letter. And at once she dropped on a chair; for it was a
letter from Mouret, in which he expressed himself delighted at her
recovery, and begged her to come down and dine with him that evening,
since 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. And thus her white cheeks slowly coloured with a

With the letter lying on her lap and her heart beating violently she
remained with her eyes fixed on the blinding light which came in by
one of the windows. There was a confession which she had been obliged
to make to herself in this very room, during her sleepless hours: if
she still trembled when he passed, she now knew that it was not from
fear; and her former uneasiness, her old terror, could have been only
the frightened ignorance of love, the perturbation of passion springing
up amidst her youthful wildness. She did not reason, she simply felt
that she had always loved him, from the hour when 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.
Yes, she had never loved any but this man, whose mere look terrified
her. And all her past life came back to her, unfolding itself in the
blinding light from the window: the hardships of her start, that sweet
walk under the dark foliage of the Tuileries Gardens, and, lastly, the
desires with which he had enveloped her ever since her return. The
letter dropped on the floor and Denise was still gazing at the window,
dazzled by the glare of the sun.

Suddenly there was a knock and she hastened to pick up the missive and
conceal it in her pocket. It was Pauline, who, having slipped away from
her department under some pretext or other, had come up for a little

"How are you, my dear? We never meet now----"

As it was against the rules, however, to go up into the bed-rooms, and,
above all, for two of the saleswomen to be shut in together, Denise
took her friend to the end of the passage, to a saloon which Mouret
had gallantly fitted up for the young ladies, who could spend their
evenings there, chatting or sewing, till eleven o'clock. The apartment,
decorated in white and gold, with the vulgar nudity of an hotel room,
was furnished with a piano, a central table, and some arm-chairs and
sofas protected by white covers. After spending a few evenings together
there in the first novelty of the thing, the saleswomen now never
entered the place without coming to high words at once. They required
educating to it; so far their little circle lacked harmony. Meanwhile,
almost the only girl that went there in the evening was the second-hand
of the corset department, Miss Powell, who strummed away at Chopin on
the piano, and whose envied talents were for much in driving the others

"You see my ankle's better now," said Denise, "I was just going down."

"Well!" exclaimed the other, "how zealous you are! I'd take it easy if
I had the chance!"

They had both sat down on a sofa. Pauline's manner had changed since
her friend had become second-hand in the mantle department. With her
good-natured cordiality there mingled a touch of respect, a sort of
surprise at realizing that the puny little saleswoman of former days
was on the road to fortune. Denise, however, liked her very much, and
amidst the continual gallop of the two hundred women that the firm now
employed, confided in her alone.

"What's the matter?" asked Pauline, quickly, when she remarked her
companion's troubled looks.

"Oh! nothing," replied Denise, 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 worries?"

Thereupon 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

Between themselves, they had never openly spoken of Mouret. But this
very silence was like a confession of their secret thoughts. 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 had all happened long ago. Don't be shocked; I assure you the whole
shop must think as I do. You see, he appointed you as second-hand so
quickly, and then he's always looking at you. It's obvious!" She kissed
her affectionately on the cheek and then asked her: "You will go this
evening, of course?"

Denise looked at her without replying and all at once burst into tears,
letting her head fall on Pauline's shoulder. The latter was quite
astonished. "Come, try and calm yourself; there's nothing to upset you
like this," she said.

"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, declaring that she must not worry, for it was quite certain that
M. Mouret had ceased to pay any attention to Clara; whilst as for that
other lady friend of his, Madame Desforges, it was probably all but so
much gossip. Denise listened, and had she been ignorant of her love,
she could no longer have doubted it after the suffering she felt at the
allusions to those two women. She could again hear Clara's disagreeable
voice, and see Madame Desforges dragging her about the different
departments with all the scorn of a rich lady for a poor shop-girl.

Then the two friends went on conversing; and at last Denise in a sudden
impulse exclaimed: "But when a man loves a girl he ought to marry her.
Baugé is going to marry you."

This was true, 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; however, they had
managed to get the necessary permission, and even hoped to obtain a
fortnight's holiday for their honeymoon.

On hearing Denise's remark Pauline laughed heartily. "But, my dear,"
said she. "Baugé is going to marry me because he is Baugé. He's my
equal, that's natural. Whereas Monsieur Mouret! Do you think that
Monsieur Mouret could marry one of his saleswomen?"

"Oh! no, oh! no," exclaimed Denise, shocked by the absurdity of the
question, "and that's why he ought never to have written to me."

This argument seemed to astonish Pauline. Her coarse face, with small
tender eyes, assumed quite an expression of maternal pity. Then she
got up, opened the piano, and with one finger softly played the air of
"King Dagobert," doubtless to enliven the situation. The noises of the
street, the distant melopœia of a woman crying out green peas, ascended
to the bare saloon, whose emptiness seemed increased by the white
coverings of the furniture. Denise had thrown herself back on the sofa,
her head against the woodwork and 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

She knelt down before her, and had begun lecturing her again, when a
sound of footsteps was heard in the passage. And thereupon she 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 rose, and forced back her tears; and, her
hands still trembling, fearful of being caught there weeping, she
closed the piano, which her friend had left open. However, on hearing
Madame Aurélie knocking at her door, she at once left the drawing-room.

"What! you are up!" exclaimed the first-hand. "It's very thoughtless of
you, my dear child. I just came up to see how you were, and to tell you
that we did not require you downstairs."

Denise assured her, however, that she felt much better and that it
would do her good to have some occupation.

"I shan't tire myself, madame. You can put me on a chair, and I'll do
some writing."

Both then went downstairs. Madame Aurélie, 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 much that was going on.

Denise had gained an unexpected victory: she had at last conquered the
department. Formerly she had struggled on for six months, amidst all
the torments of drudgery, without disarming her comrades' ill-will, but
now in a few weeks she had overcome them, and saw them submissive and
respectful around her. Madame Aurélie's sudden affection had greatly
assisted her in this ungrateful task of propitiating her companions.
Indeed the first-hand had taken the young girl under her protection
with such warmth that the latter must have been recommended to her
in a very special manner. However, Denise had also brought her own
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 forgiveness
for her appointment to the situation of second-hand. The other young
ladies spoke of this at first as an injustice, and even added a lot
of abominable accusations. But in spite of their revolt, the title of
second-hand influenced them, and Denise with her promotion assumed
a certain air of authority which astonished and overawed even the
most hostile spirits. Soon afterwards she actually found flatterers
amongst the new hands; and her sweetness and modesty completed the
conquest. Marguerite came over to her side; and Clara was the only
one to continue her ill-natured ways, still venturing to allude to
Denise as the "unkempt one," an insult in which nobody now saw any fun.
During the short time that she had engaged Mouret's attention Clara had
profited by the caprice to neglect her work, being of a wonderfully
idle, gossiping nature unfitted for any responsible duty. Nevertheless
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 that no attention had been paid to her claims.

Nine o'clock struck as Denise came down, leaning on Madame Aurélie's
arm. Out of doors an ardent blue sky was warming the streets, cabs
were rolling towards the railway stations, the whole population of
Paris rigged out in Sunday attire was streaming towards the suburban
woods. Inside the Paradise, which the large open bays flooded with
sunshine, the imprisoned staff had just commenced stock-taking. They
had closed the doors and people halted on the pavement, looking through
the windows in astonishment that the shop should be shut when such
extraordinary activity prevailed inside. From one end of the galleries
to the other, from the top to the bottom floor, there was a continual
tramping of employees; arms were ever being raised and parcels were
flying about above their heads; and all this amidst a tempest of shouts
and calling out of figures, ascending in confusion and becoming a
deafening roar. Each of the thirty-nine departments did its work apart,
without troubling about its neighbour. At this early hour the shelves
had hardly been touched, there were only a few bales of goods on the
floors. They must get up a good deal 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 numerous 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 even
interrupted for a time. They complimented her, listening with all sorts
of 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 all the employees who were capable
of holding a pen: the inspectors, the cashiers, the clerks, even the
shop messengers; and each department annexed some of these assistants
of a day in order to get the work over more quickly. It was thus that
Denise found herself installed near Lhomme the cashier and Joseph the
messenger, both of whom were bending over large sheets of paper.

"Five mantles, cloth, fur trimming, third size, at two hundred and
forty francs!" called 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, and giving them to
her in bundles; and, when she had called them out, she threw them on
the table, where they were gradually accumulating in huge piles. Lhomme
jotted down the articles whilst Joseph checked him by keeping another
list. Whilst this was going on, Madame Aurélie herself, assisted by
three other saleswomen, was counting out the silk garments, which
Denise entered on the sheets of paper given to her. Clara on her side
was looking after the heaps, arranging them in such a manner that they
should occupy the least possible space on the tables. But she was
not paying much attention to her work, for many things were already
tumbling down.

"I say," she asked of a little saleswoman who had joined that winter,
"are they going to give you a rise? You know that 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 on the day after the
stock-taking; it was also then, as the amount of business done during
the year became known, that the managers of the departments drew their
commission on the increase of this amount, as compared with that of the
preceding year. Thus, despite the bustle and uproar of the work, the
impassioned gossiping went on everywhere. Between every two articles
that were called out, they talked of nothing but money. The rumour ran
that Madame Aurélie's gains would exceed twenty-five thousand francs;
and this huge sum greatly excited the young ladies. Marguerite, the
best saleswoman after Denise, had for her part made four thousand five
hundred francs, that is fifteen hundred francs salary and about three
thousand francs commission; whilst Clara had not made two thousand five
hundred altogether.

"I don't care a button for their rises!" she resumed, still talking to
the little saleswoman. "If papa were dead I would jolly soon clear out
of this! Still it exasperates me to see seven thousand francs given to
that strip of a girl! What do you say?"

Madame Aurélie, turning round with her imperial air, violently
interrupted the conversation. "Be quiet, young ladies! We can't hear
ourselves speak, my word of honour!"

Then she again went on 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 upon the
tables. She pushed them about, and made some more room. But she soon
left them again to reply to a salesman, who was looking for her.
It was the glover, Mignot, who had escaped from his department. He
whispered a request for twenty francs; he already owed her thirty,
a loan effected on the day after some races when he had lost his
week's money on a horse; this time he had squandered his commission,
drawn overnight, and had not ten sous left him for his Sunday. Clara
had only ten francs about her, and she lent them with a fairly good
grace. And they then went on talking of a party of six, which they had
formed part of, at a restaurant at Bougival, where the women had paid
their shares. It was much better to do that, they all felt more at
ease. Next, 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 a ten-franc
piece in his purse, when Madame Aurélie, astonished at not hearing the
voice of Marguerite who had been obliged to pause, perceived Mignot,
and understood everything. She roughly sent him back to his department,
saying that she didn't want any one to come and distract her young
ladies' attention from their work. The truth was, she dreaded this
young man, a bosom friend of Albert's, and his accomplice in all sorts
of questionable pranks which she feared would some day turn out badly.
Accordingly, when Mignot had got his ten francs, and 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 couldn't 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 severely: "Now, Mademoiselle Vadon, don't let us 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, again began writing. They had
gradually raised his salary to nine thousand francs a year; but he was
very humble before Madame Aurélie, who still brought nearly three times
as much into the family.

For a while the work was pushed forward. Figures were bandied
about, garments rained thick and fast on the tables. But Clara had
invented another amusement: she was teasing the messenger, Joseph,
about a passion which he was said to nourish for a young lady in the
pattern-room. This young lady, already twenty-eight years old, and
thin and pale, was a _protégée_ of Madame Desforges, who had wanted
Mouret to engage her as a saleswoman, backing up her recommendation
with a touching story: An orphan, the last of the Fontenailles, an
old and noble family of Poitou, had been thrown on to the streets
of Paris with a drunken father; still she had remained virtuous
amidst this misfortune which was the greater as her education
was altogether too limited to enable her to secure employment as
governess or music-mistress. Mouret generally got angry when any one
recommended these broken-down gentlewomen to him; there were no more
incapable, more insupportable, more narrow-minded creatures than
these gentlewomen, said he; and, besides, a saleswoman could not be
improvised, she must serve an apprenticeship, it was an intricate and
delicate business. However, he took Madame Desforges's _protégée_
placing her in the pattern-room, in the same way as (to oblige friends)
he had already found places for two countesses and a baroness in the
advertising department, where they addressed wrappers and envelopes.
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 shabby attire, that Joseph's heart,
very tender despite his rough soldierly manner, had been touched. He
did not confess, but blushed, when the young ladies of the mantle
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
turning towards the under-linen department."

They had requisitioned Mademoiselle de Fontenailles there, and she
was assisting at the trousseau counter. As the messenger continually
glanced in that direction, the saleswomen began to laugh; whereupon he
became very confused, and plunged into his accounts, whilst Marguerite,
in order to arrest the burst 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 calling out some cloaks, could not
make herself heard. She interfered with a wounded air, and a majestic
slowness of manner. "A little softer, mademoiselle. We are not in
a market. And you are all of you very unreasonable, to be amusing
yourselves with such childish matters, when our time is so precious."

Just at that moment, as Clara was not paying any attention to the
packages, a catastrophe took place. Several mantles tumbled down, and
all the heaps on the tables, carried with them, toppled over one after
the other, so that the carpet was quite strewn with them.

"There! what did I say!" cried the first-hand, beside herself. "Pray be
more careful, Mademoiselle Prunaire; it's altogether intolerable."

But a hum ran along: Mouret and Bourdoncle, making their round of
inspection, had just appeared. The voices began calling again and
the pens sputtered, whilst Clara hastened to pick up the garments.
The governor did not interrupt the work. He stood there for several
minutes, mute and smiling, with the gay victorious face of stock-taking
days; and it was only on his lips that a slight feverish quiver
could be detected. 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, having recognised Mouret, she had immediately bent over her work
again. Since she had been writing in this mechanical way, amidst the
calling-out of the goods, a peaceful feeling had stolen over her. She
had always yielded thus to the first outburst of her sensitiveness:
tears suffocated her, and passion increased her torments: but then
she regained her self-command, a grand, calm courage, a quiet but
inexorable strength of will. And now, with her limpid eyes, and pale
complexion, she was free from all agitation, entirely absorbed in her
work, resolved to silence her heart and to do nothing but her will.

Ten o'clock struck, the uproar of the stock-taking was increasing; and
amidst the incessant shouts which rose and flew about on all sides the
same news circulated 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 greatly
excited, she had met Deloche in the lace department, and, without
noticing that Liénard was talking to the young man, had immediately
relieved her mind of the secret. "It's all over, my dear fellow. She's
just received a letter. He has invited her to dinner for this evening."

Deloche turned very pale. He had understood, for he often questioned
Pauline; each day they spoke of their common friend, and Mouret's
passion for her. Moreover, she frequently scolded him for his secret
love for Denise, with whom he would never succeed, and shrugged her
shoulders when he expressed his approval of the girl's conduct with
reference to their employer.

"Her foot's better, she's coming down," continued Pauline. "Pray don't
put on that funeral face. There's no reason to cry." And thereupon she
hastened back to her department.

"Ah! good!" murmured Liénard, who had heard everything, "you're talking
about the young girl with the sprain. You were quite right to make
haste in defending her last night at the café!"

Then 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 to Deloche referred to a scene which had occurred
on 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, on being appointed second-hand, had
hired a suite of three rooms; and the two salesmen 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 adjoined one
another, overlooked a black yard, a narrow well, the stench from which
pervaded the hotel. They got on very well together, notwithstanding
their difference of character, the one carelessly squandering the money
which he drew from his father, and the other penniless, perpetually
tormented by ideas of thrift; both having, however, one point in
common, their unskilfulness as salesmen, which kept them vegetating 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. Void
of customers during the day, this café filled at about half-past eight
with an overflowing crowd of employees, the stream of shopmen which
rolled into the street from the great doorway in the Place Gaillon.
Then a deafening uproar of dominoes, laughter and yelping voices burst
forth amidst dense tobacco smoke. Beer and coffee were in great demand.
Seated in the left-hand corner, Liénard would order the most expensive
beverages, whilst Deloche contented himself with a glass of beer, which
he would take four hours to drink. It was here that the latter had
heard Favier relating, at a neighbouring table, some abominable things
about the way in which Denise had "hooked" the governor. He had with
difficulty restrained himself from striking him. However, as the other
went on adding still viler and viler stories of the girl, he had at
last called him a liar, feeling mad with rage.

"What a blackguard!" he had shouted. "It's a lie, it's a lie, I tell
you!" And in the emotion agitating him, he had added a confession,
entirely opening his heart in a stammering voice. "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!"

The report of this quarrel, exaggerated and distorted, was already
affording amusement to the whole shop when the story of Mouret's letter
ran round. 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 and passing the pieces of stuff to Hutin who,
standing on a table, called out the figures, after consulting the
tickets; and he then dropped the pieces on to the floor over which
they spread, rising slowly like an autumn tide. Other employees were
writing, Albert Lhomme being among the helpers, his face pale and heavy
after a night spent in a low show at La Chapelle. A sheet of light
fell from the glazed roof of the hall, through which could be seen the
intense blue of the sky.

"Draw those blinds!" cried out Bouthemont who was very busy
superintending the work. "That sun is unbearable!"

Favier, on tiptoe, trying to reach a piece of silk, then grumbled under
his breath: "A nice thing to shut people up on a lovely day like this!
No fear of it raining on stock-taking day! And they keep us under lock
and key, like convicts, when all Paris is out of doors!"

He passed the silk 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 then the piece went to increase the heap already on the floor.
Whilst waiting for another he resumed a conversation previously begun,
by saying to Favier: "So he wanted to fight you?"

"Yes, I was quietly drinking my glass of beer. It was hardly worth his
while to contradict me, for she has just received a letter from the
governor inviting her to dinner. The whole shop is talking about it."

"What! hadn't she dined with him before!"

Favier handed him another piece of silk.

"No, it seems not; though my opinion was all the other way."

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 and the salesmen arched their backs and winked. Bouthemont
himself, who took a rare delight in all such stories, could not help
adding his joke. Just then, however, Mignot came down, with the twenty
francs which 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 spree, hampered by lack of money, but still possible,
notwithstanding the smallness of the sum secured. However, when Mignot
heard about the famous letter, he made such an abominable remark, that
Bouthemont was obliged to interfere. "That's enough, gentlemen. It
isn't any of 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 pieces fell; the flood of material
still increased, as if the water of a river had emptied itself there.
And there was no end to the calling out of the fancy silks. Favier,
in an undertone thereupon remarked that the stock in hand would form
a nice total; the governors would be enchanted; that big fool of a
Bouthemont might be the best buyer in Paris, but as a salesman he was
not worth his salt. Hutin smiled, delighted, and giving the other
a friendly look of approval; for after having himself introduced
Bouthemont to The Ladies' Paradise, in order to get rid of Robineau, he
was now undermining him also, with the firm intention of depriving him
of his berth. It was the same war as formerly--treacherous insinuations
whispered in the partners' ears, excessive zeal to push one's self
forward, a regular campaign carried on with affable cunning. Hutin was
again displaying some condescension towards Favier, but the latter,
thin and frigid with a bilious look, gave him a sly glance as if to
count how many mouthfuls this short, little fellow would make, and
to imply that he was waiting till he 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. And after that they
would see. Consumed by the fever which was raging from one to the other
end of the shop, both of them began talking of the probable increases
of salary, without however ceasing to call out the stock of fancy
silks; they felt sure that Bouthemont would secure thirty thousand
francs that year; Hutin for his part would exceed ten thousand whilst
Favier estimated his pay and commission at five thousand five hundred.
The amount of business in the department was increasing yearly, the
salesmen secured promotion and increase of pay, like officers in time
of war.

"Won't those fancy silks soon be finished?" asked Bouthemont suddenly,
with an expression of annoyance. "But it was a miserable spring, always
raining! People bought nothing but black silks."

His fat, jovial face became cloudy as he gazed at the growing heap
on the floor, whilst Hutin called out louder still, in a sonorous
voice tinged with an accent of triumph--"Fancy silks, small check,
twenty-eight yards, at six francs and a half."

There was still another shelf-full. Favier whose arms were getting
tired, was now progressing but 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 mantle department once had a regular fancy
for you?"

Hutin seemed greatly surprised. "What! How do you mean?"

"Yes, that great booby Deloche let it out to us. But 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. Flattered at heart by Favier's words he nevertheless replied
with a scornful air, "I don't care for such scraggy creatures." And
then he called out:

"White Poult, thirty-five yards, at eight francs seventy-five."

"Oh! at last!" murmured Bouthemont, greatly relieved.

But a bell rang, that for the second table, to which Favier belonged.
He jumped off the stool where another salesman took his place, and
he was obliged to climb over the mountain of materials with which
the floor was littered. Similar heaps were scattered about in every
department; the shelves, the boxes, the cupboards were being gradually
emptied, whilst the goods overflowed on all sides, under-foot, between
the counters and the tables, in ever rising piles. In the linen
department you heard heavy bales of calico falling; in the mercery
department there was a clicking of boxes; whilst distant rumbling
sounds came from amongst the furniture. Every sort of voice was heard
too, shrill, full, deep, and husky, figures whizzed through the air and
a rustling clamour reigned in the immense nave--the clamour of forests
in January when the wind whistles 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 of the new buildings. As he hurried up he
overtook Deloche and Liénard who had gone on before him, so he fell
back on Mignot who was following at his heels.

"The deuce!" said he, in the corridor leading to the kitchen, on
reaching the black-board 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, "Is there a poultry epidemic on, then?"

However, Deloche and Liénard had taken their portions and gone away.
Favier thereupon leant over 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, gazing into the kitchen with its giant
appliances. There was a central range, over which, by a system of
chains and pullies, a couple of rails fixed to the ceiling brought
colossal cauldrons which four men could not have lifted. Several
cooks, quite white in the ruddy glow of the cast-iron, were attending
to the evening soup mounted on metal ladders and armed with skimmers
fixed to long handles. Then against the wall were grills large enough
for the roasting of martyrs, saucepans big enough for the stewing of
entire sheep, a monumental plate-warmer, and a marble basin filled by
a continual stream of water. To the left could be seen a scullery with
stone sinks as large as ponds; whilst on the other side, to the right,
was a huge meat-safe, where a glimpse was caught of numerous joints of
red meat hanging from steel hooks. A machine for peeling potatoes was
working with the tic-tac of a mill; and two small trucks laden with
freshly-picked salad were being wheeled by some kitchen helps into a
cool spot under a gigantic filter.

"Chicken," repeated Favier, getting impatient. Then, turning round, he
added in a lower tone, "One fellow has cut himself. It's disgusting,
his blood's running over the food."

Mignot wanted to see. Quite a string of shopmen had now arrived; there
was a deal of laughing and pushing. The two young men, their heads at
the wicket, exchanged remarks about this phalansterian kitchen, in
which the least important 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 something like forty-five
bushels of potatoes, one hundred and twenty pounds of butter, and
sixteen hundred pounds of meat were cast every day; and at each meal
they had to broach three casks of wine, over a hundred and fifty
gallons being 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 taking their wine at the "bar;" whilst behind them the word
"Chicken" was repeated without cessation, and one could hear the cook
picking up the portions with his fork with a rapid rhythmical sound.

The men's dining-room was now an immense apartment, supplying ample
room for five hundred people at each repast. The places were laid at
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."
Right and left large windows admitted a white light to the gallery,
whose ceiling, although over twelve feet from the floor, seemed very
low, owing to the development of the other proportions. The sole
ornaments on the walls, painted a light yellow, were the napkin
cupboards. Beyond this first refectory came that of the messengers and
carmen, where the meals were served irregularly, according to the needs
of the moment.

"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 clattered on the bare mahogany, and in this particular corner
everybody was raising exclamations, for the number of legs distributed
was really prodigious.

"These chickens are all legs!" remarked Mignot.

"Yes, they're real centipedes," retorted another salesman.

Those who had merely secured pieces of carcase were greatly
discontented. However, the food had been of much better quality since
the late improvements. Mouret no longer treated with a contractor at
a fixed rate; 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 money he got on the other hand more
work out of the staff--a practical humanitarian calculation which had
long terrified Bourdoncle.

"Mine is pretty tender, all the same," said Mignot. "Pass 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, burst forth from one to the other end of the immense tables.
There was an increasing clatter of forks, a gurgling sound of bottles
being emptied, a noise of glasses laid down too violently amidst the
grinding rumble of five hundred pairs of powerful jaws chewing with
wondrous energy. And the talk, still infrequent, seemed to be hampered
by the fullness of the mouths.

Deloche, however, seated between Baugé and Liénard, found himself
nearly opposite Favier. They had glanced at each other with a rancorous
look. Some neighbours, aware of their quarrel on the previous day,
began whispering together. Then there was a laugh at poor Deloche's
ill-luck. Although always famished he invariably fell on the worst
piece at table, by a sort of cruel fatality. This time he had come in
for the neck of a chicken and some bits of carcase. Without saying
a word, however, he let them joke away, swallowing large mouthfuls
of bread, and picking the neck with the infinite art of a fellow who
entertains great respect for meat.

"Why don't you complain?" asked Baugé.

But he shrugged his shoulders. What would be the use of that? It was
always the same. When he did venture to complain things went worse than

"You know the Bobbinards have got their club now?" said Mignot, all at
once. "Yes, my boy, the 'Bobbin Club.' It's held at a wine shop 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 made some
remark, adding a detail; and only the obstinate readers remained mute,
with their noses buried in their newspapers. It could not be denied
that shopmen were gradually assuming a better style; nearly half of
them now spoke English or German. It was no longer considered good form
to go and kick up a row at Bullier or 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-men?" asked Liénard.

"I should rather think they had!" exclaimed Mignot. "And they play, my
boy, and sing! There's even one of them, little Bavoux, who recites

The gaiety redoubled and they chaffed little Bavoux; nevertheless
beneath their laughter lay a great respect. Then they spoke of a piece
at the Vaudeville, in which a counter-jumper played a nasty part,
which annoyed several of them, whilst others began anxiously wondering
at what time they would get away that evening, having invitations to
pass the evening at friends' houses. And from all points came similar
conversations amidst an increasing rattle of crockery. To drive
away the odour of the food--the warm steam which rose from the five
hundred plates--they had opened the windows, whose lowered blinds
were scorching in the heavy August sun. Burning gusts came in from
the street, golden reflections yellowed the ceiling, steeping the
perspiring eaters in a reddish light.

"A nice thing to shut people up on such a fine Sunday as this!"
repeated Favier.

This remark brought them back to the stock-taking. It had been
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 unbearable. When the waiters
brought the artichokes you could not hear yourself speak. However, the
inspector on duty had orders to be indulgent.

"By the way," cried Favier, "you've heard the news?"

But his voice was drowned by Mignot asking: "Who doesn't like
artichoke; I'll sell my dessert for an artichoke."

No one replied. Everybody liked artichoke. That 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 neighbour, finishing his story. "What! you didn't know it?"

The whole table knew it, they were tired of talking about it since
early morning. And the same poor jokes passed from mouth to mouth.
Deloche was quivering again, and his eyes at last rested on Favier,
who was persisting in his shameful remarks. But all at once the silk
salesman ducked his head, for Deloche, yielding to an irresistible
impulse, had thrown his last glass of wine into his face, stammering:
"Take that, you infernal liar! I ought to have drenched you yesterday!"

This caused quite a scandal. A few drops had spurted on Favier's
neighbours, whilst he himself only had his hair slightly wetted: the
wine, thrown by an awkward hand, had fallen on the other side of the
table. However, the others got angry, asking Deloche if the girl was
his property that he defended her in this way? What a brute he was!
he deserved a good drubbing to teach him better manners. However,
their voices fell, for an inspector was observed coming along, and it
was useless to let the management interfere in 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 by way of hiding his confusion, and mechanically caught
hold of his empty glass, they all burst out laughing. He laid his glass
down again awkwardly enough and commenced sucking the leaves of the
artichoke which he had already eaten.

"Pass Deloche the water bottle," said Mignot, quietly; "he's thirsty."

The laughter increased. The young men took clean plates from the piles
standing at equal distances on the table 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."

Deloche, however, sat motionless, with his head hanging down, as if
deaf to the joking going on around him: he was full of despairing
regret at thought of what he had just done. Those 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. Such 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 then tears came into his eyes. Was it not also 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, which Liénard alone had been informed of, and he reproached
himself, he ought never to have let Pauline speak before that fellow;
he was really responsible for the annoying indiscretion which had been

"Why did you go and relate that?" he murmured at last in a sorrowful
voice. "It's very wrong."

"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 everybody burst
out laughing again. They had finished their meal and were lolling back
on their chairs waiting for the bell to recall them to work. They had
not asked for many extras at the great central counter, especially as
on stock-taking day the firm treated them to coffee. The cups were
steaming, perspiring faces shone under the light vapour, floating
like bluey clouds from cigarettes. At the windows the blinds hung
motionless, without the slightest flapping. One of them, on being drawn
up, admitted a ray of sunshine which sped across the room and gilded
the ceiling. The uproar of the voices beat upon the walls with such
force that the bell was at first only heard by those at the tables
near the door. Then they got up and for some time the corridors were
full of the confusion of the departure. 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, taking a circuitous route so as to meet Pauline on he way to the
ladies' dining-room; a manœuvre they had arranged between them--the
only chance they had of seeing one another for a minute during business
hours. That day, however, 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 on account of her foot.

"Oh! my dear," stammered Pauline, very red, "don't say anything, will

Baugé, with his big limbs and giant stature, was trembling like a
little boy. He muttered, "They'd precious soon pitch us out. Although
our marriage may be announced, they don't allow any kissing, the

Denise, greatly agitated, affected not to have seen them: and Baugé
disappeared just as Deloche, also going the longest way round, in his
turn appeared. He wished 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 meaning of the whispers she had heard
around her all the morning. It was the story of the letter circulating.
And again was she shaken by the shiver with which this letter had
agitated her.

"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 sensible 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 off heart-broken, in the belief that the girl accepted the
situation and would keep the appointment that evening. When the two
saleswomen had lunched in a small room, adjoining the larger one where
the women were served much more comfortably, Pauline had to assist
Denise downstairs again as her sprain was getting more painful.

In the afternoon warmth below, the stock-taking was roaring more loudly
than ever. The moment for the supreme effort had arrived, when, as the
work had not made much progress during the morning, everybody put forth
their strength in order that all might be finished that night. The
voices grew louder still, you saw nothing but waving arms continually
emptying the shelves and throwing the goods down; and it was impossible
to get along for the tide of the bales and packages on the floor rose
as high as the counters. A sea of heads, brandished fists, and flying
limbs seemed to extend to the very depths of the departments, with
the confused aspect of a distant riot. It was the last fever of the
clearing, the machine seemed ready to burst; and past the plate-glass
windows all round the closed shop there still went a few pedestrians,
pale with the stifling boredom of a summer Sunday. On the pavement
in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin three tall girls, bareheaded and
sluttish-looking, were impudently pressing their faces against the
windows, trying to see the curious work going on inside.

When Denise returned to the mantle department Madame Aurélie told
Marguerite to finish calling out the garments. There was still the
checking to be done, and for this, being desirous of silence, she
retired into the pattern-room, taking Denise with her.

"Come with me, we'll do the checking;" she said, "and then you can add
up the figures."

However, as she wished to leave the door open, in order to keep an
eye on her young ladies, the noise came in, and they could not hear
themselves much better even in this pattern-room--a large, square
apartment furnished merely with some chairs and three long tables. In
one corner were the great machine knives, for cutting up the patterns.
Entire pieces of stuff were consumed; every year they sent away more
than sixty thousand francs' worth of material, cut up in strips. From
morning to night, the knives were cutting silk, wool, and linen, with
a scythe-like noise. Then, too, the books had to be got together,
gummed or sewn. And between the two windows, there was also a little
printing-press for the tickets.

"Not so loud, please!" cried Madame Aurélie every now and again, quite
unable as she was to hear Denise reading out the articles.

Then, the checking of the first lists being completed, she left the
young girl at one of the tables, absorbed in the adding-up; but came
back almost immediately, and placed Mademoiselle de Fontenailles
near her. The under-linen department not requiring Madame Desforges'
_protégée_ any longer, had placed her at her disposal. She could also
do some adding-up, it would save time. But the appearance of the
marchioness, as Clara ill-naturedly called the poor creature, had
disturbed the department. They laughed and joked at poor Joseph, and
their ferocious sallies were wafted into the pattern-room.

"Don't draw back, you are not at all in my way," said Denise, seized
with pity. "My inkstand will suffice, we'll dip together."

Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, brutified by her unfortunate position,
could not even find a word of gratitude. She looked like a woman who
drank, her meagre face had a livid hue, and her hands alone, white and
delicate, attested the distinction of her birth.

However, the laughter all at once ceased, and the work resumed its
regular roar. Mouret was once more going through the departments. But
he stopped and looked round for Denise, surprised at not seeing her
there. Then he made a sign to Madame Aurélie; and both drew aside, and
for a moment talked in a low tone. He must have been questioning her.
She nodded towards the pattern-room and 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
manœuvre, but Marguerite threw her the garments at a quicker rate,
in order to take up her attention and close her mouth. Wasn't the
second-hand a good comrade? Her affairs did not concern them. The
whole department was now aiding and abetting the intrigue, the young
ladies grew more agitated than ever, Lhomme and Joseph affected not
to see or hear anything. And inspector Jouve, who, in passing by, had
remarked Madame Aurélie's tactics, began 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 handed them over, and sat there with her eyes raised. She had
started slightly, but had promptly conquered herself, and retained a
fine calm look, although her cheeks were pale. For a moment, Mouret
appeared to be absorbed in the lists of articles, never giving the girl
a glance. A silence reigned, then Madame Aurélie all at once stepped up
to Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, who had not even turned her head, and,
apparently dissatisfied with her counting, said to her in an undertone:

"Go and help with the parcels. You are not used to figures."

Mademoiselle de Fontenailles got up, and returned to the department,
where she was greeted with whispering. Joseph, under the laughing eyes
of these young minxes, was writing anyhow. Clara though delighted to
have an assistant nevertheless treated her very roughly, hating her as
she hated all the women in the shop. What an idiotic thing to yield to
the love of a workman, when you were a marchioness! And yet she envied
the poor creature this love.

"Very good!" repeated Mouret, still pretending to read.

However, Madame Aurélie hardly knew how to get away in her turn in a
decent fashion. She turned about, went to look at the machine knives,
furious with her husband for not inventing a pretext for calling her.
But then he was never of any use in serious matters, he would have died
of thirst close to a pond. It was Marguerite who proved intelligent
enough to go and ask the first-hand a question.

"I'm coming," replied the latter.

And her dignity now being saved, having a pretext to join the young
ladies who were watching her, she at last left Denise and Mouret alone
together, coming out of the pattern-room with a majestic step and so
noble an air, that the saleswomen did not even dare to smile.

Mouret had slowly laid the lists on the table, and stood looking at
Denise, who had remained seated, pen in hand. She did not avert her
gaze, but she had merely turned paler.

"You will come this evening?" asked he.

"No, sir, I cannot. My brothers are to be at my uncle's to-night, 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."

In his turn he had turned pale on hearing this quiet refusal. A nervous
revolt made his lips quiver. However, he restrained himself, and with
the air of a good-natured master simply interesting himself in one of
his young ladies resumed: "Come now, if I begged of you--You know what
great esteem I have for you."

Denise retained her respectful attitude. "I am deeply touched, sir, by
your kindness to me, and thank you for this invitation. But I repeat, I
cannot; my brothers expect me this evening."

She persisted in not understanding. The door remained open, and she
felt that the whole shop was urging her on to ruin. 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, whom she could
espy, sitting motionless and discreet, all these people were wishing
for her fall. And the distant roar of the stock-taking, the millions of
goods enumerated on all sides and thrown about in every direction, were
like a warm breeze wafting the breath of passion towards her. There
was a silence. Now and again, Mouret's voice was drowned by the noisy
accompaniment, the formidable uproar of a kingly fortune gained in

"When will you come, then?" he asked again. "To-morrow?"

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?" he asked.

But she quickly raised her head, looked him straight in the face, and
smiling, with her sweet, brave look replied: "I am afraid of nothing,
sir. I can do as I like, can I not? I don't wish to, that's all!"

As she finished speaking, she was surprised to hear a creaking noise,
and on turning round saw the door slowly closing. It was inspector
Jouve, who had taken upon himself to pull it to. The doors were a part
of his duty, none ought ever to remain open. And he gravely resumed his
position as sentinel. No one appeared to have noticed that this door
was being closed in such a simple manner. Clara alone risked a strong
remark in the ear of Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, but the latter's
face remained expressionless.

Denise, however, had risen. 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. I love you, Denise!"
She was standing there very pale, listening to him and still looking
straight into his face. "Tell me," he went on. "Why do you refuse? Have
you no wants? Your brothers are a heavy burden. Anything you might ask
of me, anything you might require of me----"

But with a word, she stopped him: "Thanks, I now earn more than I need."

"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 made a wild gesture. This was the first one who did not yield. With
the others he had merely had to stoop. His passion, long restrained,
goaded on by resistance, became stronger than ever, and he pressed her
more and more urgently.

But without faltering she each time replied "No--no."

Then at last he let this heart-cry 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 the softened roar of the stock-taking behind the closed door. It
was like a dying note of triumph, the accompaniment subsided into a
lower key in presence of this defeat of the master.

"And yet if I liked----" he said 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 grasp, 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!

But in his passionate excitement he grew brutal. She set up a low
cry; the pain she felt at her wrists restored her courage. With an
angry shake she freed 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. I do not
accept half an affection!"

He remained motionless with surprise. What was she saying, and what did
she want? The other girls had never asked to be loved. He ought to have
laughed at such an idea; yet this attitude of tender pride completely
conquered his heart.

"Now, sir, please open the door," she resumed. "It is not proper that
we should 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 every one 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 pattern or any stale material.
At that moment, Bourdoncle, seeking Mouret, was waiting for him
outside, having been stopped before the closed door by Jouve, who had
whispered a word in his ear with a grave air. He got very impatient,
without however, summoning up sufficient courage to interrupt the
governor's _tête-à-tête_. Was it possible? on such a day too, and with
that 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
something enormous This was a relief for Mouret, as it gave him an
opportunity for shouting. What the devil was Bouthemont thinking about?
He went off declaring that he could not allow a buyer to display such
lack 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; while the young ladies looked at each other in

At six o'clock the stock-taking was finished. The sun was still
shining--a fair summer sun, whose golden reflections streamed through
the glazed roofs of the halls. In the heavy air of the streets, tired
families were already returning from the suburbs laden with bouquets
and dragging their children along. One by one, the departments had
become silent. In the depths of the galleries you now only heard the
lingering calls of a few men clearing a last shelf. Then even these
voices ceased, and of all the bustle of the day there only remained a
quivering vibration, 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 displayed but the carcase of its usual appearance, the
woodwork was absolutely bare, as on the day of taking possession. This
bareness was the visible proof of the complete, exact taking of the
stock. And on the floor was sixteen million francs' worth of goods, a
rising sea, which had finished by submerging the tables and counters.
However, the shopmen, surrounded to the shoulders, began to put each
article back into its place. They expected to finish by about ten

When Madame Aurélie, who went to the first dinner, came back from the
dining-room, she announced the amount of business done during the year,
which the totals of the various departments had just enabled one to
arrive at. The figure was eighty million francs, ten millions more than
the previous year. The only real decrease had been 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 fuming over there, at the
top of the grand staircase."

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 anything more 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 speaking in a sharp and disagreeable voice, seemed
inclined to forbid her going out; whilst Clara shrugged her shoulders,
full of incredulity. When Pauline learnt the news, she was in the
baby-linen department with Deloche, and the sudden joy exhibited by the
young man made her very angry. As for Bourdoncle, who did not dare to
approach Mouret in his savage isolation, he marched up and down amidst
these rumours, in despair also, and full of anxiety. However, Denise
went down. As she slowly reached the bottom of the left-hand staircase,
leaning on the banister, she came upon a group of grinning salesmen.
Her name was pronounced, and she realized that they were talking about
her adventure. They had not noticed her descent.

"Oh! all that's put on, you know," Favier was saying. "She's full of
vice! Yes, I know some one whom she set her eyes on."

And thereupon he glanced at Hutin, who, in order to preserve his
dignity as second-hand, was standing a short distance away without
joining in their conversation. However, he was so flattered by the
envious air with which the others contemplated him, that he deigned to
murmur: "She was a regular nuisance to me, was 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 reproached herself for her former ignorance, when
she had been wont to think of him. But what a coward he was, and how
she scorned him now! A great trouble had come upon her; was it not
strange that she should have found the strength just now to repulse
a man whom she adored, when she had felt herself so feeble in bygone
days before that worthless fellow, whom she had only dreamed of? Her
sense of reason and her bravery foundered in these contradictions of
her being, which she could not clearly read. Then she hastened to cross
the hall but a sort of instinct prompted her to raise her head, whilst
an inspector was opening the door, closed since the morning. And still
at the top of the stairs, on the great central landing dominating the
gallery, she perceived Mouret. He had quite forgotten the stock-taking,
he no longer beheld his empire, that building bursting with riches.
Everything had disappeared, his former uproarious victories, his future
colossal fortune. With a desponding look he was watching Denise and
when she had crossed the threshold everything disappeared, a darkness
came over the house.


That day, Bouthemont was the first to arrive at Madame Desforges's four
o'clock tea. Waiting alone in her large Louis XVI. drawing-room, the
brasses and brocatel of which shone with a clear gaiety, she rose with
an air of impatience, saying, "Well?"

"Well," replied the young man, "when I told him that I should no doubt
call on you he formally promised me to come."

"You made him thoroughly understand that I expected the baron to-day?"

"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 acquaintanceship of
which he was getting tired. It was thus that Bouthemont had ultimately
become the confidant of his employer and the handsome widow; he did
their little errands, talked of the one to the other, and sometimes
reconciled them. Henriette, in her jealous fits, displayed a
familiarity which sometimes surprised and embarrassed him, for she was
losing the prudence of a woman of the world who employed all her art to
save appearances.

"You ought to have brought him," she exclaimed violently. "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 had really been menaced since
the last stock-taking. It was in vain that he talked of the rainy
season, they could not overlook the considerable stock of fancy silks
left on hand; and as Hutin was improving the occasion--undermining him
with the governors with an increase of sly ferocity--he could feel the
ground giving way beneath him. Mouret had condemned him, weary already,
no doubt, of this witness who prevented him from breaking off with
Henriette and tired of an acquaintanceship which yielded no profit.
But, in accordance with his usual tactics, he was pushing Bourdoncle
forward: it was Bourdoncle and the other partners who insisted on
Bouthemont's dismissal at each board meeting; whilst he according to
his own account resisted then, defending his friend energetically, at
the risk even of getting into serious trouble with the others.

"Well, I shall wait," resumed Madame Desforges. "You know that the girl
is to be here at five o'clock. I want to see them face to face. I must
discover their secret."

And thereupon she reverted to her long-meditated plan, mentioning in
her agitation that she had requested Madame Aurélie to send her Denise
to look at a mantle which fitted badly. When she should once have got
the young girl in her room, she would find some reason for calling
Mouret, and would then act. Bouthemont, who had sat down opposite to
her, was gazing at her with his handsome laughing eyes, which he was
endeavouring to keep serious. This jovial fellow, with coal-black
beard, this dissipated blade whose warm Gascon blood empurpled his
cheeks, was thinking that fine ladies were not of much account after
all, and let out a nice lot of things when they ventured to open their

"Come," he made bold to say at last, "what can that matter to you since
I assure you that there is nothing whatever between them?"

"Just so!" she cried, "it's because he loves her! I don't care a fig
for the others, the chance acquaintances, the friends of a day!"

She spoke of Clara with disdain. She was well aware that Mouret, after
Denise's rejection, had fallen back on that tall, red-haired girl, with
the horse's head: and he had done this doubtless by calculation; for he
maintained her in the department, loading her with presents. Moreover
for the last three months he had been leading a terribly dissipated
life, squandering his money in costly and stupid caprices, with a
prodigality which caused many remarks.

"It's that creature's fault," repeated Henriette. "I feel sure he's
ruining himself with others because she repulses him. Besides, what's
his money to me? I should have preferred him poor. You know how fond I
am of him, you who have become our friend."

She stopped short, half choking, ready to burst into tears; and, in her
emotion, she held out her hands to him. It was true, she adored Mouret
for his youth and his triumphs, never before had any man thus conquered
her; but, at the thought of losing him, she also heard the knell of her
fortieth year, and asked herself with terror how she should replace
this great affection.

"I'll have my revenge," she murmured, "I'll have my revenge, if he
behaves badly!"

Bouthemont continued to hold her hands in his. She was still handsome.
But hers would be a troublesome acquaintance to keep up and he did not
care for that style of woman. The matter, however, deserved thinking
over; perhaps it would be worth his while to risk some annoyance.

"Why don't you set up on your own account?" she asked all at once,
drawing her hands away.

For a moment he was astonished. Then he replied: "But it would require
an immense sum. Last year I had such an idea in my head. I feel
convinced that there are enough customers in Paris for one or two
more big shops; but the district would have to be well chosen. The
Bon Marché holds the left side of the river; the Louvre occupies the
centre of the city; we monopolize, at The Paradise, the rich west-end
district. There remains the north, where one might start a rival
establishment to the Place Clichy. And I had discovered a splendid
position, near the Opera House----"

"Well, why not?" she asked.

He set up a noisy laugh. "Just fancy," he replied, "I was stupid enough
to go and talk to my father about it. Yes, I was simple enough to ask
him to find me some shareholders at Toulouse."

And he gaily described the anger of the old man who remained buried
in his little country shop, full of rage against the great Parisian
bazaars. Bursting at the thought of the thirty thousand francs a year
which his son earned, he had replied that he would sooner give his
money and that of his friends to the hospitals than contribute a copper
to one of those great establishments which were the pests of trade.

"Besides," the young man concluded, "it would require millions."

"Suppose they were found?" observed Madame Desforges, quietly.

He looked at her, becoming serious all at once. Was not this merely a
jealous woman's remark? However, she did not give him time to question
her, but added: "In short, you know what a great interest I take in
you. We'll talk about it again."

The outer bell had just rung. She got up, and he, himself, drew back
his chair with an instinctive movement, as if some one might have
surprised them. Silence reigned in the drawing-room with its gay
hangings, and decorated with such a profusion of green plants that
there was like a small wood between the two windows. Henriette stood
waiting, with her ear towards the door.

"It is he," 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 for his friend, fearful of a _tête-à-tête_
with her. However, she smiled and shook hands with both men.

"What a stranger you are becoming! I say the same for you, Monsieur de

Her great grief was that she was getting stout, and she now squeezed
herself into the tightest fitting black silk dresses, in order to
conceal her increasing corpulency. Yet her pretty head, with its dark
hair, preserved its pleasing shapeliness. And Mouret could familiarly
tell her, as he enveloped her with a look: "It's useless to ask after
your health. You are as fresh as a rose."

"Oh! I'm almost too well," she replied. "Besides, I might have died;
you would have known nothing about it."

She was examining him also, and thought that he looked tired and
nervous, his eyes heavy, his complexion livid.

"Well," she resumed, in a tone which she endeavoured to render
agreeable, "I cannot return your compliment; you don't look at all well
this evening."

"Overwork!" remarked Vallagnosc.

Mouret shrugged his shoulders, without replying. He had just caught
sight of Bouthemont, and nodded to him in a friendly way. During their
closer intimacy he himself had been wont to take him away from the
department, and bring him to Henriette's during the busiest moments
of the afternoon. But times had changed; and he now said to him in an

"You went away very 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, anxiously.

"Yes, I want to talk to you. Wait for me, we'll leave together."

Henriette had now sat down again; and, while listening to Vallagnosc,
who was announcing that Madame de Boves would probably pay her a
visit, she did not take her eyes off Mouret. The latter, again silent,
gazed at the furniture, and seemed to be looking for something on the
ceiling. Then, as she laughingly complained that she now only had
gentlemen at her four o'clock tea, he so far forgot himself as to blurt

"I expected to find Baron Hartmann here."

Henriette turned pale. No doubt she well knew that he merely came to
her house to meet the baron; still he might have avoided throwing his
indifference in her face like that. At that moment the door had opened
and the footman was standing behind her. When she had interrogated him
by a sign, the servant leant over and said in a very low tone:

"It's for that mantle. Madame wished me to let her know. The young
woman is there."

Henriette at once raised her voice, so as to be heard; and all her
jealous suffering found relief in these scornfully harsh words: "She
can wait!"

"Shall I show her into madame's dressing-room?" asked the servant.

"No, no. Let her stay in the ante-room!"

And, when the servant had gone, she quietly resumed her conversation
with Vallagnosc. Mouret, who had relapsed into his former lassitude,
had listened in an absent-minded way, without understanding, while
Bouthemont, worried by the adventure, remained buried in thought.
Almost at that moment, however, 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 along 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 inquired of Henriette: "So
you're engaging a new maid?"

"No," replied the other, astonished. "Why?"

"Because I've just seen a young woman in the ante-room."

Henriette interrupted her, laughing. "It's true; all those shop-girls
look like ladies' maids, don't they? Yes, it's a young person come to
alter a mantle."

Mouret gazed at her intently, a suspicion flashing across his mind. But
she went on with a forced gaiety, explaining that she had bought the
mantle in question at The Ladies' Paradise during the previous week.

"What!" asked Madame Marty, "have you deserted Sauveur, then?"

"No, my dear, but I wished to make an experiment. Besides, I was pretty
well satisfied with a first purchase I made--a travelling cloak. But
this time it has not succeeded at all. You may say what you like, one
is horribly rigged out in the big shops. I speak out plainly, even
before Monsieur Mouret. He will never know how to dress a woman who is
in the least degree stylish."

Mouret did not defend his establishment, but still kept his eyes on
her, consoling himself with the thought that she would never have dared
to do what he had suspected. And it was Bouthemont who had to plead the
cause of The Ladies' Paradise.

"If all the aristocratic ladies who patronize us were to proclaim
it," he retorted gaily, "you would be astonished by the names of our
customers. Order a garment to measure at our place, it will equal one
from Sauveur's and cost you but half the money. But there, just because
it's cheaper, it's not so good."

"So it doesn't fit, the mantle you speak of?" resumed Madame de
Boves. "Ah! now I remember the young person. It's rather dark in your

"Yes," added Madame Marty, "I was wondering where I had seen that
figure before. Well! go, my dear, don't stand on ceremony with us."

Henriette assumed a look of disdainful unconcern. "Oh, presently, there
is no hurry."

Then the ladies continued the discussion on the garments sold at the
large establishments; and afterwards Madame de Boves spoke of her
husband, who, said she, had gone to inspect the stud-farm at Saint-Lô;
while at the same time Henriette related that, owing to the illness of
an aunt, Madame Guibal had been suddenly called into Franche-Comté.
Moreover, she did not reckon that day on seeing Madame Bourdelais
either, for at the end of every month the latter shut herself up
with a needlewoman to look over her young people's clothes. Madame
Marty, meantime, seemed agitated by some secret trouble. Her husband's
position at the Lycée Bonaparte was menaced, in consequence of the
lessons which the poor man gave in certain private establishments where
a regular trade was carried on in B.A. diplomas; he now feverishly
earned money wherever he could, in order to meet the rage for spending
which was pillaging his household; and his wife, on seeing him weeping
one evening from fear of dismissal, had conceived the idea of asking
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. Monsieur Marty, however, was coming
himself that afternoon to learn his fate and thank her.

"You look unwell, Monsieur Mouret," all at once observed Madame de

"Overwork!" repeated Vallagnosc, with ironic apathy.

Mouret quickly rose as if ashamed of forgetting himself in this
fashion. He took his accustomed place in the midst of the ladies, and
recovered all his agreeable manners. He was now busy with the winter
novelties, and spoke of a considerable arrival of lace, whereupon
Madame de Boves questioned him as to the price of Alençon point: she
felt inclined to buy some. She was, however, now obliged to be sparing
of even thirty sous for a cab fare and would return home quite ill from
the effects of stopping before the displays in the shop windows. Draped
in a mantle which was already two years old, she tried, in imagination,
on her queenly shoulders all the most expensive garments she saw;
and it was as though they had been torn from off her when she awoke
and found herself still wearing her patched-up dresses, without the
slightest hope of ever satisfying her passion.

"Baron Hartmann," now announced the footman.

Henriette observed with what pleasure Mouret shook hands with the new
arrival. The latter bowed to the ladies, and glanced at the young man
with that subtle expression which sometimes illumined his big Alsatian

"Always plunged in dress!" he murmured, with a smile; and like a friend
of the house, he ventured to add: "There's a charming young person in
the ante-room. Who is she?"

"Oh! nobody," replied Madame Desforges, in her ill-natured voice. "Only
a shop-girl waiting to see me."

The door had remained half-open as the servant was bringing in the tea.
He went out, came in again, placed the china service on the table and
then brought some plates of sandwiches and biscuits. In the spacious
room, a bright light, softened by the green plants, illumined the
brass-work, and bathed the silk hangings in a tender glow; and each
time the door opened one could perceive a dim corner of the ante-room,
which was only lighted by two ground-glass windows. There, in the
gloom, appeared a sombre form, motionless and patient. Denise was
standing; there was indeed a leather-covered bench there, but a feeling
of pride prevented her from sitting down on it. She felt the insult
intended her. She had been there for the last half-hour, without a
sign, without a word. The ladies and the baron had taken stock of her
in passing; she could now just hear the voices from the drawing-room;
all the pleasant luxury wounded her with its indifference; and still
she did not move. Suddenly, however, through the half-open doorway, 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 distress of mind; still
his voice trembled somewhat with emotion: "No doubt; but I don't know

"It's the little fair girl from the mantle department," replied Madame
Marty, obligingly, "the second-hand, I believe."

Henriette looked at Mouret in her turn.

"Ah!" said he, simply.

And then he tried to change the conversation, speaking of the fêtes
that were being given to the King of Prussia who had arrived in Paris
the day before. But the baron maliciously reverted to the young ladies
in the big establishments. He pretended 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 conduct with a conviction which made Vallagnosc
smile. Bouthemont then interfered, to save his chief. Of course, there
were some of all sorts, bad and good, though they were all improving.
Formerly they had secured nothing but the refuse of the trade; a poor,
doubtful class of girls who had drifted into the drapery business;
whereas now respectable families in the Rue de Sèvres positively
brought up their daughters 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 given them, their existence, though an extremely hard
one, no doubt, was at all events provided for. The worst was their
neutral, ill-defined position, something between the shopwoman and
the lady. Thrown into the midst of luxury, often without any primary
instruction, they formed a nameless class apart from all others. Their
misfortunes and vices sprang from that.

"For myself," said Madame de Boves, "I don't know any creatures who are
more disagreeable. Really, one could slap them at times."

And then the ladies vented their spite. Quite a battle was waged at the
shop-counters, where woman was pitted against woman in a sharp rivalry
of wealth and beauty. There was the sullen jealousy of the saleswomen
towards the well-dressed customers, the ladies whose manners they tried
to imitate, and there was a still stronger feeling on the part of the
poorly-dressed customers, those of the lower middle-class, against the
saleswomen, those girls arrayed in silk, from whom they would have
liked to exact a servant's humility even in the serving of a half franc

"Don't speak of them," said Henriette, by way of conclusion, "they are
a wretched lot as worthless as the goods they sell!"

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 fêtes that were being given to the
King of Prussia: they would be superb, said he, the whole trade of
Paris would profit by them. Henriette meanwhile remained silent and
thoughtful, divided between the desire to let Denise remain forgotten
in the ante-room, and the fear that Mouret, now aware of her presence,
might go away. At last she rose from her chair.

"You will allow me?" said she.

"Certainly, my dear!" replied Madame Marty. "I will do the honours of
the house for you."

She got up, took the teapot, and filled the cups. Henriette turned
towards Baron Hartmann, saying: "You will stay a few minutes, won't

"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, in rustling against the door,
made a noise like that of a snake wriggling through brushwood. The
baron at once manœuvred to carry Mouret off, leaving the ladies to
Bouthemont and Vallagnosc. Then they stood talking before the window
of the other room in a low tone. A fresh affair was in question.
For a long time past Mouret had cherished a desire to realize his
former project, the invasion of the whole block of building from
the Rue Monsigny to the Rue de la Michodière and from the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin to the Rue du Dix-Décembre, by The Ladies'
Paradise. Of this enormous square there still remained a large plot
of ground fronting the last named street, which he had not acquired;
and this sufficed to spoil his triumph, he was tormented by a 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 olden Paris, his work
would be incomplete, deficient in logic. He wished to set it up face to
face with new Paris, in one of those modern avenues through which the
busy multitude of the end of the nineteenth century passed in the full
glare of the sunlight. He could imagine it dominating, imposing itself
as the giant palace of commerce, casting even a greater shadow over
the city than the old Louvre itself. But hitherto he had been baulked
by the obstinacy of the Crédit Immobilier, which still clung to its
first idea of building a rival establishment to the Grand Hôtel on the
site in question. The plans were ready, they were only waiting for the
clearing of the Rue du Dix-Décembre to begin digging the foundations.
At last, however, by a supreme effort, Mouret had almost convinced
Baron Hartmann.

"Well!" the latter began, "we had a board-meeting yesterday, and I came
to-day, thinking I should meet you, and wishing to keep you informed.
They still resist."

The young man allowed a nervous gesture to escape him. "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 increase the area of your establishment by about a tenth,
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 one would 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. How can ground be lost if it returns you an enormous
interest! You will see what crowds we shall have when our customers are
no longer obliged to struggle through the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin,
but can pass freely down a thoroughfare broad enough for six carriages

"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 for you to extend your business further. They want to be
prudent for you."

"How! prudent? I no longer understand. Don't the figures show the
constant increase in our sales? At first, with a capital of five
hundred thousand francs, I did business to the extent of two millions,
turning over the capital four times every year. It then became four
million francs, which, turned over ten times, produced business to the
extent of forty millions. In short, after successive increases, I have
just learnt, from the last stock-taking, that the business done now
amounts to a total of eighty millions; the capital, which has only been
slightly increased--for it does not exceed six millions--has passed
over our counters, in the form of goods sold, more than twelve times in
the year!"

He raised his voice and tapped the fingers of his right hand on the
palm of his left, knocking down those millions as he might have cracked
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 many as fifteen times,
I predicted as much long ago. In certain departments it can even be
turned over twenty-five or thirty times. And after? well! after, we'll
find a means of turning it over still more."

"So you'll finish by swallowing up all the money in Paris, as you'd
swallow 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 like you. There's
no resisting you. We'll go into the matter seriously, and I hope to
make them listen to reason. So far, 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 at once subsided and he thanked the baron, but
without any of his usual enthusiasm; and the other saw him turn his
eyes towards the door of the next room, again a prey to the secret
anxiety which he was concealing. Meanwhile Vallagnosc had come up, on
seeing that they had finished talking business. He stood close to them,
listening to the baron, who, with the air of an old man who had seen
life, was muttering: "I say, I fancy they're taking their revenge."

"Who?" asked Mouret in embarrassment.

"Why, the women. They're getting tired of belonging to you, and you now
belong to them, my dear fellow: it's only just!"

Then he joked him, well aware as he was of the young man's notorious
love affairs. The enormous sums squandered by Mouret in costly and
stupid caprices, amused him as an excuse for the follies which he had
formerly committed himself. His old experience rejoiced to think that
men had in no wise changed.

"Really, I don't understand you," repeated Mouret.

"Oh! you understand well enough," answered the baron. "They always get
the last word. In fact, I thought to myself: It isn't possible, he's
boasting, he can't be so strong as that! And now there you are! So
though you obtain all you can from woman and work her as you would a
coal mine, it's simply in order that she may work you afterwards, and
force you to refund! And take care, for she'll draw more money from you
than you have ever drawn from her."

He laughed louder still, and Vallagnosc standing by also began to grin,
without, however, saying a word.

"Dear me! one must have a taste of everything," confessed Mouret,
pretending to laugh as well. "Money is worthless, 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, or to tremble for
the great interests we have confided to your care. Every one 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 and his smile became sad; former sufferings doubtless
returned to his mind amid the irony of his scepticism. He had watched
the duel between Henriette and Mouret with the curiosity of a man who
still felt greatly interested in other people's love battles; and he
divined that the crisis had arrived, he guessed the pending drama,
being well acquainted with the story of that girl 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 have to pay."

The baron looked at him for a moment without speaking. And not wishing
to insist on the subject he added, slowly--"Don't make yourself out to
be worse than you are! You'll lose something else besides your money.
Yes, you'll lose a part of yourself, my dear fellow."

Then he broke off again, laughing, to ask: "That often happens, does it
not, Monsieur de Vallagnosc?"

"So they say, baron," the latter merely replied.

Just at this moment the door opened. Mouret, who was about to answer
in his turn, started slightly, and both he and his companions turned
round. It was Madame Desforges who, looking very gay, had put her head
through the doorway to call, in a hurried voice--"Monsieur Mouret!
Monsieur Mouret!" And then perceiving the others, 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 such
a frightful mantle, is to give me the benefit of his experience. This
girl is a stupid thing without an idea in her head. Come, come! I'm
waiting for you."

He hesitated, undecided, flinching from the scene he could foresee.
However, he had to obey.

"Go, my dear fellow, go, madame wants you," the baron said to him, with
his air at once paternal and mocking.

Thereupon Mouret followed her. The door closed, and he thought he could
hear Vallagnosc's laugh, muffled by the hangings. His courage was
entirely exhausted. Since Henriette had quitted the drawing-room, and
he had known Denise to be there 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
that woman invent to torture her? And all his love, that love which
surprised him even now, went forth to the girl like a support and a
consolation. Never before had he loved like this, found such a powerful
charm in suffering. His former affections, his love for Henriette
herself--so delicate, so handsome, so flattering to his pride--had
never been more than agreeable pastimes; whereas nowadays his heart
beat with anguish, his life was taken, he could no longer even enjoy
the forgetfulness of sleep. Denise was ever in his thoughts. 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 one he was following.

At first, they both crossed the bed-room, silent and empty. Then
Madame Desforges, pushing open a door, entered the dressing-room, with
Mouret behind her. It was a rather large room, hung with red silk and
furnished with a marble toilet table and a large wardrobe with three
compartments and great glass doors. As the window overlooked the
court-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, in the middle
of the bright light. She was very pale, modestly dressed in a cashmere
jacket, with a black hat on her head; and she was holding the mantle
purchased 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,

Then 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," said she.

"It really is a failure, madame," replied 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," she resumed 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 for you to stand 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. This
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, in order to pull the
mantle down in front. Above her, placing herself entirely in her hands,
was Madame Desforges, imparting to 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 curt orders, watching the
while 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 again did Mouret vainly attempt to interfere, in order 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 presence of her admirably silent and patient
demeanour. If the girl's hands still trembled somewhat, at being
treated in this way before his face, she nevertheless accepted the
necessities of her position with the proud resignation of one who was
courageous. When Madame Desforges found they were not likely to betray
themselves, she tried another device: she began to smile on Mouret,
treating him openly as a lover. The pins having run short, she said to

"Look, my dear, in the ivory box on the dressing-table. Really! it's
empty? Well, kindly look on the chimney-piece in the bed-room; you
know, just beside the looking-glass."

She spoke as if he were quite at home there, and knew where to find
everything. And when he came back with a few pins, she took them one by
one, and forced him to remain near her, looking at him the while and
speaking low: "I don't fancy I'm hump-backed, eh? 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 in silence set
about placing the pins. Mouret could only see her heavy blonde tresses,
twisted at the back of her delicate neck; but by the slight tremor
which was raising them, he could imagine the uneasiness and shame of
her face. Hereafter she would most certainly repulse him, and send
him back to this woman who did not conceal her affection even before
strangers. Brutal thoughts came into his head, he could have struck
Henriette. How was he to stop her talk? How 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 caprices of a day? The worst
of women would not have indulged in the equivocal familiarities of this
well-born lady. At last he withdrew his hand, saying:

"You are wrong in being so obstinate, madame, since I myself consider
the garment to be a failure."

One of the gas jets was hissing; and in the stuffy, moist air of the
room, nothing else was heard but that ardent sibilant breath. On the
red silk hangings the glass-doors of the wardrobe cast broad sheets
of vivid light in which the shadows of the two women played. A bottle
containing some essence of verbena, which had been left uncorked
inadvertently, emitted a vague expiring odour of fading flowers.

"There, madame, that is all I can do," at last said Denise, rising up.

She felt thoroughly worn out. Twice had she run the pins into her
fingers, as if blind, her eyes clouded. Was he in the plot? Had he
sent for her, to avenge himself for her refusal by showing her that
other women had affection for him? This thought chilled her; she could
not remember having ever stood in need of so much courage, not even
during the terrible hours of her life when she had lacked bread. It was
comparatively nothing to be humiliated in this way, but to see him so
unconstrained with that other woman was dreadful. Henriette looked at
herself in the glass, and once more burst into harsh words.

"What nonsense, mademoiselle! It fits worse than ever. Just see how
tight it is across the chest. I look like a wet nurse!"

Denise, losing all patience thereupon made a rather unfortunate remark:
"You are rather stout, madame. We cannot make you thinner than you are."

"Stout! stout!" exclaimed Henriette, turning pale in her turn. "You're
becoming insolent now, mademoiselle. Really, I should advise you to
criticize others!"

They both stood looking at one another, face to face, and trembling.
There was now neither lady nor shop-girl left. 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 on the
dressing-table the few pins still remaining 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 recovered her brave, calm manner. "If Monsieur Mouret
keeps me in his employ," she gently replied, "it's because he has no
fault to find. I am ready to apologize to you, if he desires it."

Mouret was listening, excited by this quarrel but unable to find a
word to put a stop to it. He had a great horror of these explanations
between women, whose asperity clashed with his perpetual desire for
grace and refinement. Henriette was seeking to compel him to say
something in condemnation of the girl; and, as he still remained mute
and 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 creature you've picked out of some

Two big tears gushed from Denise's eyes. She had been keeping them
back for some time past; but beneath this last insult her whole being
succumbed. And when he saw her weeping like that with a silent,
despairing dignity, never making the slightest attempt at retaliation,
Mouret no longer hesitated; his heart went forth to her full of immense
affection. He took her hands in his and stammered: "Go away quickly, my
child, and forget this house!"

Henriette, perfectly amazed, choking with anger, stood looking at them.

"Wait a minute," he continued, folding up the mantle himself, "take
this garment away. Madame will purchase another one elsewhere. And pray
don't cry any more. You know how greatly I esteem you."

He went with her to the door, which he closed behind her. She had not
said a word; but a pink flame had coloured her cheeks, whilst her eyes
moistened 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 overthrow of her calculations; she
herself had been caught in the trap she had laid. She was mortified
with herself for having carried matters too far, and bitterly tortured
by jealousy. To be abandoned for such a creature as that! To see
herself disdained before her! Her pride suffered even more than her

"So, it's that girl you love?" she said painfully, when they were alone.

Mouret did not at once reply; he was walking about from the window to
the door, seeking to stifle his violent emotion. At last, however, he
stopped, and very politely, in a voice which he tried to render frigid,
he replied in all simplicity: "Yes, madame."

The gas jet was still hissing in the stuffy air of the dressing-room.
But the reflections of the glass doors were no longer traversed by
dancing shadows, the room seemed bare and full of profound sadness.
And Henriette suddenly dropped upon a chair, twisting her handkerchief
between her febrile fingers, and, repeating amid her sobs: "Good
heavens! how wretched I am!"

He stood perfectly still, looking at her for several seconds, and then
went quietly away. She, left all alone, wept on in the silence, before
the pins scattered over the dressing-table and the floor.

When Mouret returned to the little drawing-room, he found Vallagnosc
alone, the baron having gone back to the ladies. As he still felt
very agitated, he sat down at the further end of the apartment, on a
sofa; and his friend on seeing him so faint charitably came and stood
before him, to conceal him from curious eyes. At first, they looked
at each other without saying a word. Then, Vallagnosc, who seemed to
be inwardly amused by Mouret's emotion, finished by asking in his
bantering voice: "Are you enjoying yourself?"

Mouret did not appear to understand him at first. But when he
remembered their former conversations on the empty stupidity and
useless torture of life, he replied: "Of course, I've never before
lived so much. Ah! my boy, don't you laugh, the hours that make one
die of grief are by far the shortest!" Then he lowered his voice and
continued gaily, beneath his half-dried tears: "Yes, you know all,
don't you? Between them they have rent my heart. But yet the wounds
they make are nice, almost as nice as kisses. I am thoroughly exhausted
but, no matter, you can't think how I love life! Oh! I shall win her at
last, that little girl who still says no!"

But Vallagnosc once more trotted out his pessimism. What was the good
of working so much if money could not procure everything? He would
precious soon have shut up shop and have given up work on the day he
found that his millions could not even win him the woman he loved!
Mouret, as he listened became grave. But all at once he protested
violently, believing as he did in the all-powerfulness of his will.

"I love her, and I'll win her!" said he. "But even if she escapes
me, you'll see what a place I shall build 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!"

"A mere way 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. Then Vallagnosc, in an effeminate voice, began to parade his
theories of the insipidity of things, making almost a boast of the
immobility and emptiness of his existence. Yes, he would be as bored at
the Ministry on the morrow as he had been on the day before. 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. Things
were getting worse than ever, and if he did not kill himself, it was
simply from idleness and a dislike of trouble. On Mouret speaking of
his marriage with Mademoiselle de Boves, he replied that despite the
obstinacy of the aunt in refusing to die, the matter was about to be
concluded; at least, he thought so, the parents were agreed, and he
affected to have no will of his own. What was the use of wishing or not
wishing, since things never turned out as one desired?

And as an example of this he mentioned his future father-in-law, who
had expected to find in Madame Guibal an indolent blonde, the caprice
of an hour, but was now led by her with a whip, like an old horse on
its last legs. Whilst they supposed him to be inspecting the stud at
Saint-Lô, he was squandering his last resources with her in a little
house at Versailles.

"He's happier than you," said Mouret, getting up.

"Oh! rather!" declared Vallagnosc. "Perhaps there's only wrong-doing
that's at all amusing."

Mouret was now himself again. He was thinking about getting away; but
not wishing his departure to resemble a flight he resolved to take
a cup of tea, and therefore went into the big drawing-room with his
friend, both of them in high spirits. When the ladies inquired if the
mantle had been made to fit, Mouret carelessly replied that he had
given it up as a bad job as far as he was concerned. At this the others
seemed astonished, and whilst Madame Marty hastened to serve him,
Madame de Boves accused the shops of never allowing enough material for
their garments.

At last, he managed to sit down near Bouthemont, who had not stirred.
The two were forgotten for a moment, and, in reply to the anxious
questions of Bouthemont, who wished to know what he had to expect,
Mouret did not hesitate any longer, but abruptly informed him that the
board of directors had decided to deprive themselves of his services.
He sipped his tea between each sentence he uttered, protesting all the
while that he was in despair. Oh! a quarrel that he had not even yet
got over, for he had left the meeting beside himself with rage. But
then what could he do? he could not break with those gentlemen about
a simple staff question. Bouthemont, very pale, had to thank him once

"What a terrible mantle," at last observed Madame Marty. "Henriette
can't get over it."

And really the prolonged absence of the mistress of the house had
begun to make every one feel awkward. But, at that very moment, Madame
Desforges appeared.

"So you've given it up as well?" exclaimed Madame de Boves, gaily.

"How do you mean?"

"Why, Monsieur Mouret told us that you could do nothing with it."

Henriette affected the greatest surprise. "Monsieur Mouret was joking,"
said she. "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 torment beneath a mask of smiling, well-bred elegance.
And she offered some sandwiches to Vallagnosc with her usual graceful
smile. Only the baron 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 the depths of her eyes. He guessed the whole scene.

"Dear me! each one to her taste," said Madame de Boves, also accepting
a sandwich. "I know some women who would never buy a ribbon except
at the Louvre. Others swear by the Bon Marché. 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 establishments. Mouret had to give
his opinion; he came up to them and affected to be very impartial.
The Bon Marché was an excellent house, solid and respectable; but the
Louvre certainly had a more showy 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 indeed just that; at
The Ladies' Paradise, they found themselves as at a sort of private
party, they felt a continual caress of flattery, an overflowing
adoration which made the most dignified of them linger there. The vast
success of the establishment sprang from that gallant fascination.

"By the way," asked Henriette, who wished to appear entirely at her
ease, "what have you done with my protégée, Monsieur Mouret? You
know--Mademoiselle de Fontenailles." And, turning towards Madame
Marty, she explained, "A marchioness, my dear, a poor girl fallen into

"Oh," said Mouret, "she earns three francs a day by stitching
pattern-books, and I fancy I shall be able to marry her to one of my

"Oh! fie! what a horror!" exclaimed Madame de Boves.

He looked at her, and replied in his calm voice: "Why so, 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-for-nothing fellow

Vallagnosc wished to interfere, for the sake of 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 honourable end for a
great many of them."

They set up a laugh, the paradox seemed far fetched. But he continued
to sing the praises of what he called the aristocracy of work. A slight
flush had coloured Madame de Boves's cheeks, she was wild at the shifts
to which she was put by her poverty; whilst Madame Marty, on the
contrary, approved what was said, stricken with remorse on thinking of
her poor husband. Just then the footman ushered in the professor, who
had called to take her home. In his thin, shiny frock-coat he looked
more shrivelled than ever by all his hard toil. When he had thanked
Madame Desforges for having spoken for him at the Ministry, he cast at
Mouret the timid glance of a man encountering the evil that is to kill
him. And he was quite confused when he heard the other ask him:

"Isn't it true, sir, that work leads to everything?"

"Work and thrift," replied he, with a slight shiver of his whole body.
"Add thrift, sir."

Meanwhile, Bouthemont had not moved from his chair, Mouret's words
were still ringing in his ears. But at last he got up, and approaching
Henriette said to her in a low tone: "Do you know, he's given me
notice; oh! in the kindest possible manner. But may I be hanged if he
shan'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," she said.

And forthwith she drew Baron Hartmann into the recess of a window, and
boldly recommended Bouthemont to him, as a fellow who would in his
turn revolutionize Paris, by setting up for himself. When she went
on to speak of an advance of funds for her new protégé, the baron,
though now never astonished at anything, could not restrain a gesture
of bewilderment. This was the fourth fellow of genius that she had
confided to him, and he was beginning to feel ridiculous. But he did
not directly refuse, the idea of starting a competitor to The Ladies'
Paradise even pleased him somewhat; for in banking matters he had
already invented 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 to-night," whispered Henriette on returning to
Bouthemont. "Don't fail to call about nine o'clock. The baron is with

At this moment the spacious room was full of chatter. Mouret, still
standing in the midst of the ladies, had recovered his elegant
gracefulness; he was gaily defending himself from the charge of ruining
them in dress and offering to prove by figures that he enabled them
to save thirty per cent on their purchases. Baron Hartmann watched
him, seized with a fraternal admiration. Come! the duel was finished,
Henriette was decidedly beaten, she certainly was not the woman who was
to avenge all the others. And he fancied he could again see the modest
profile of the girl whom he had observed when passing through the
ante-room. She stood there, waiting, alone redoubtable in her sweetness.


It was on the 25th of September that the building of the new façade
of The Ladies' Paradise commenced. Baron Hartmann, according to his
promise, had managed to settle the matter at the last general meeting
of the Crédit Immobilier. And Mouret was at length approaching the
realization of his dream: this façade, about to arise in the Rue du
Dix-Décembre, was like the very blossoming of his fortune. He therefore
desired to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone; and made it a
ceremony, besides distributing gratuities amongst his employees, and
giving them game and champagne for dinner in the evening. Every one
noticed his wonderful good humour during the ceremony, his victorious
gesture as he made the first stone fast with a flourish of the trowel.
For weeks he had been anxious, agitated by a nervous torment that he
did not always manage to conceal; and his triumph brought a respite,
a distraction to his suffering. During the afternoon he seemed to
have returned to his former healthy gaiety. But, at dinner-time, 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 by the unconfessed suffering which was consuming him. He
was once more mastered by it.

The next day, in the cloak and mantle department, Clara Prunaire
tried to be disagreeable with Denise. She had noticed Colomban's
lackadaisical 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 admirer opposite. It really grieves me to see him in that
dark shop which no one ever enters."

"He's not so badly off," replied Marguerite, "he's going to marry the
governor's daughter."

"Oh! oh!" resumed Clara, "it would be good fun to flirt with him then!
I'll try the game, on my word of honour!"

And she continued in the same strain, happy to feel that Denise was
shocked. The latter forgave her everything else; but the thought of her
dying cousin Geneviève being finished off by such cruelty, exasperated
her. As it happened, 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

Clara gave in, conquered. When Denise showed her authority, without
raising her voice, not one of them resisted. She had acquired this
absolute authority by her very moderation. For a moment she walked up
and down in silence, amidst the young ladies who had become serious
again. Marguerite had resumed sharpening her pencil, the point of which
was always breaking.

"What! you're getting angry?" all at once said a voice behind Denise.

It was Pauline, on her way across 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 replied. She was still unable to understand
her friend's refusal.

Since the end of August, Pauline had been married to Baugé; a most
stupid affair, she would sometimes gaily remark. That terrible
Bourdoncle treated her anyhow, now, considering her as lost for trade.
Her great fear was that they might some fine day send her to love her
husband elsewhere, for the managers had decreed love to be execrable
and fatal to business. So great was her dread, that when she met Baugé
in the galleries she often affected not to know him. She had just had
a fright--old Jouve having nearly caught her talking to her husband
behind a pile of dusters.

"See! he's followed me," she added, after hastily relating the
adventure to Denise. "Just look at him sniffing for me with his big

Jouve, in fact, was just then coming from the lace department,
correctly arrayed in a white tie, and with his nose on the scent for
some delinquent. But when he saw Denise, his face relaxed and he 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 thereupon she ran off to her counter. Denise had blushed, troubled
by these friendly allusions. It was true, however. She had a vague
sensation of her power from the flattery 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, and her amiability daily increased for
the young person who might some fine morning desire her situation as
first-hand. In a word Denise's reign was commencing.

Bourdoncle alone still stood out. In the secret warfare which he
carried on against the young girl, there was in the first place a
natural antipathy. He detested her for her gentleness and her charm.
Then too he fought against her as against a fatal influence which would
place the house in peril on the day when Mouret should succumb. The
governor's commercial genius seemed certain to founder in this stupid
affection: all that they had gained by women would be swallowed up by
this one. None of them touched Bourdoncle's heart, he treated them all
with the disdain of a passionless man whose business was to live by
them, and whose last illusions had been dispelled by seeing them so
closely amidst the worries of his trade. 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. In his opinion
she was playing a part, the most skilful of parts, rendering Mouret
absolutely mad, capable of any folly.

Thus Bourdoncle could never now catch sight of her, with her clear
eyes, sweet face, and simple attitude, without experiencing 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 possibly confound the tactics of this spurious 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 at
last; he would surprise her with one of her sweethearts, and she would
again be dismissed. The house would then resume its regular working
like a well-appointed machine.

"Keep a good look-out, Monsieur Jouve," Bourdoncle kept saying to the
inspector. "I'll take care that you shall be rewarded."

But Jouve was somewhat lukewarm for he knew something about women, and
asked himself whether he had not better take the part of this girl,
who might be the sovereign mistress of the morrow. 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 had
ravaged all hearts.

"I'm watching," he replied. "But, on my word, I cannot discover

And yet stories were circulating, there was quite a current of
abominable tittle-tattle running beneath the flattery and respect which
Denise felt arising around her. The whole house now declared that she
had formerly had Hutin for a sweetheart; and they were suspected of
still meeting from time to time. Deloche also was said to keep company
with her; they were continually meeting in dark corners and talking for
hours together. It was quite a scandal!

"So, there's nothing about the first-hand in the silk department, or
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, for 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, feeling that she was strong
enough to overthrow even himself notwithstanding his ten years'
service, should he lose the game.

"Keep your eye on the young man in the lace department," he concluded
each time. "They are always together. If you catch them, call me, and
I'll manage the rest."

Mouret, meanwhile, was living in anguish. Was it possible that such
a child could torture him in this manner? He could always recall her
arrival at The Ladies' Paradise, with her heavy shoes, thin black
dress, and wild look. 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 to his knees by a look, for 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 with
this experiment, not understanding that he was risking his heart. She,
little by little had grown and become redoubtable. Perhaps he had loved
her from the very first, even at the time when he had thought that he
felt nothing but pity for her. And yet, he had only really begun to
feel this love on the evening of their walk under the chestnut trees
of the Tuileries. His life dated from then; he could still hear the
laughter 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, had been given to her. And she,
such a child--was it possible? When she passed by now, the slight gust
from her dress seemed to him so powerful that he staggered.

For a long time he had struggled, and even now he frequently became
indignant and endeavoured to free himself from this idiotic possession.
What power was it she possessed that she should be able to bind him
in this way? Had he not seen her without boots to her feet? Had she
not been received almost out of charity? He could have understood
had it been a question of one of those superb creatures who charm
the multitude! 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 experienced a
relapse of passion, a kind of sacred terror at having insulted his
idol. She possessed everything a woman can have that is good--courage,
gaiety, simplicity; and from her gentleness a charm of penetrating,
perfume-like subtlety was exhaled. One might at first ignore her, or
elbow her like any other girl; but the charm soon began to act with
invincible force; and one belonged to her for ever, if she deigned to
smile. Everything then beamed in her white face, her soft eyes, her
cheeks and chin full of dimples; whilst her heavy blonde hair also
seemed to light up 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 in his eyes
the other saleswomen only possessed a superficial education, the
varnish which scales off from girls of that class, she, without any
false elegance, retained her native grace, the savour of her origin.
The broadest commercial ideas sprang up from her experience, behind her
narrow forehead, whose pure lines clearly announced the presence of a
firm will and love of order. And he could have clasped his hands to ask
her pardon for blaspheming in 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 that she must be ambitious, he had promised to appoint
her first-hand, as soon as there should be a vacancy. And she had
refused, and still refused! For him it was a stupor, a struggle in
which his desire became rageful.

All his days were now spent amidst the same grievous obsession.
Denise's image rose with him. After he had dreamed of her all night,
she followed him to the desk in his office, where he signed the 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, quite
a cabinet council composed 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 yet she was
still there, he heard her soft voice amidst the figures, he saw her
bright smile amidst the most complicated financial situations. After
the board-meeting, she accompanied him on the daily inspection of the
departments, and returning with him to his office in the afternoon,
she remained close to his chair from two till four o'clock, whilst he
received a crowd of important business men, the principal manufacturers
of France, bankers and inventors: a continual coming-and-going of the
wealth and intelligence of the land, a mad dance of millions, rapid
interviews during which the biggest affairs of the Paris market were
concluded. If he forgot her for a moment whilst he was deciding to
ruin or support an industry, he found her again at a sudden twitch of
his heart; his voice died away, and he asked himself what could be
the use of this princely fortune since she still refused. At last,
when five o'clock struck, he had to sign the day's correspondence,
and the mechanical working of his hand began again, whilst she rose
up before him more domineering than ever, seizing him entirely, to
hold possession of him throughout the solitary and ardent hours of the
night. And the morrows were the same days over again, days which were
so active, so full of colossal labour but which the slight shadow of a
child sufficed to ravage with anguish.

However, it was particularly 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 yet 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; from one end to the
other of the galleries he felt nothing but nausea. At other times he
would have wished to extend his empire, and make it so vast that she
would perhaps have yielded out of sheer admiration and fear.

He would begin by stopping in the basement opposite the shoot. This 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. There was a succession of arrivals from all parts of the world,
rows of waggons from every railway, a ceaseless unloading, a stream
of packing-cases and bales flowing underground and absorbed by the
insatiable establishment. He gazed at this torrent pouring into his
house, he felt that he was one of the masters of the public fortune,
that he held in his hands the fate of French manufactures, and yet 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 skirting the Rue Monsigny. Twenty tables were
ranged there, in the pale light from the air-holes; quite a crowd
of assistants was bustling about, emptying cases, checking goods,
and marking them in plain figures, amidst the neighbouring roar of
the shoot, which almost drowned their voices. Various managers of
departments stopped him, he had to solve difficulties and confirm
orders. The cellar filled with the soft glimmer of satin and the
whiteness of linen, a prodigious unpacking in which furs were mingled
with lace, French fancy goods with Eastern hangings. With a slow step
he wended his way amidst all these riches thrown about in disorder,
heaped up in their rough state. Up above, they would shine in the
window displays, set money galloping through the departments, no sooner
shown than carried off, in the furious rush of business which traversed
the place. But he kept on thinking that he had offered Denise silks and
velvets, anything she might like to take in no matter what quantity,
from among these enormous heaps, and that she had refused his offer by
a slight shake of her fair head.

After that, he went to the other end of the basement, to pay his usual
visit to the delivery department. Interminable corridors ran along,
lighted by gas; to the right and the left, the reserves, closed in
with gratings, seemed like so many subterranean stores, a complete
commercial district, with its haberdashery, underclothing, glove,
toy and other shops, all sleeping in the gloom. Further on stood one
of the three hot-air stoves; further still, was a post of firemen
guarding the main gas-meter, enclosed in its iron cage. He found, in
the delivery department, the sorting tables already littered with heaps
of parcels, band-boxes, and cases which were continually arriving in
large hampers; and Campion, the superintendent, gave him particulars
about the current work, whilst the twenty men placed under his orders
distributed the parcels among large compartments, each of which bore
the name of a district of Paris, and whence the messengers took them up
to the vans waiting beside the foot pavement. There was a succession
of cries, names of streets and other instructions were shouted out,
quite an uproar arose, all the bustle of a mail-boat about to leave
her moorings. And he stood there for a moment, motionless, watching
this emission of goods which he had just seen the house absorb at the
opposite end of the basement: the huge current ended here; it was here
that it discharged itself into the street again after filling the tills
with gold. But his eyes became dim, this colossal business no longer
had any importance for him; he had but one idea, that of going away to
some distant land, and abandoning everything, should she persist in
saying no.

Then he went upstairs, continuing his inspection, talking and
bestirring himself more and more, but without finding any respite.
On the second floor, he entered the forwarding department, seeking
quarrels and secretly exasperated with the perfect regularity of the
machine which he had himself built up. This department was the one that
was daily assuming a more considerable importance: it now occupied
two hundred employees--some of whom opened, read, and classified the
letters coming from the provinces and abroad, whilst others collected
in compartments the goods ordered by customers. 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 hundredweight a day. He
feverishly went through the three offices, questioning Levasseur, the
chief, as to the weight of the correspondence; now it was eighty, now
ninety, sometimes, on a Monday, a hundred pounds. The figure increased
daily, he ought to have been delighted. But he stood quivering amid
the noise made by a neighbouring squad of packers nailing down the
cases. It was in vain that he roamed about the building: his 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 deeply than ever the taunt 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 returned downstairs and visited the central cashier's office, where
four clerks guarded the two giant safes, through which eighty-eight
million francs had passed during the previous year. He glanced at the
clearing-house office which now occupied thirty-five clerks, chosen
from amongst the most trustworthy. He went into the checking office,
where twenty-five young men, junior clerks, checked the debit-notes
and calculated the salesmen's commissions. He returned to the chief
cashier's office, grew exasperated by the sight of the safes, wandered
about amidst these millions, the uselessness of which was driving him
mad. She said no, always no.

And it was always and ever no, in all the departments, in the
galleries, the saloons, in every part of the establishment! He went
from the silk to the drapery department, from the linen to the lace;
he ascended to the upper floors, pausing on the hanging bridges,
prolonging his inspection with a maniacal, grievous minuteness. The
house had grown and spread beyond all bounds, he had created this
department, then that other; he governed that fresh domain, he extended
his empire into that 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 service; there were three
hundred and fifty shop messengers, all wearing livery, and twenty-four
firemen living on the premises. And the stables, royal buildings
situated in the Rue Monsigny, opposite the warehouses, accommodated
one hundred and forty-five horses, a splendid set of animals already
celebrated. The first four conveyances which had stirred up the whole
neighbourhood formerly when the house occupied only the corner of the
Place Gaillon, had gradually increased to sixty-two: small hand-trucks,
one-horse vans, and heavy two-horse ones. They were continually
scouring Paris, skilfully driven by coachmen clad in black, and bearing
hither and thither the gold and purple sign of The Ladies' Paradise.
They even went beyond the fortifications, and sped through the
suburbs; they were to be met in the hollow roads of Bicêtre and along
the banks of the Marne, along even the shady drives of the Forest of
Saint-Germain. Sometimes one would emerge from the depths of some sunny
avenue, where all was silent and deserted, the superb animals which
drew it passing by at a trot, whilst it cast the glaring advertisement
of its varnished panels upon the mysterious peacefulness of nature.
Mouret was actually thinking of sending these vehicles further still,
even into the neighbouring 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 crossed the street 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?

Nowadays of an evening, when he arrived at Lhomme's desk, he still from
force of habit glanced at the amount of the takings written on a card,
which the cashier stuck up on an iron file beside him; this figure
rarely fell below a hundred thousand francs, sometimes on big sale days
it ran up to eight and nine hundred thousand; but the amount no longer
sounded in Mouret's ears like a trumpet-blast, he regretted having
looked at it, and bitterly went his way, full of hatred and scorn of

But his sufferings were destined to increase, for he became jealous.
One morning, in the office, before the board-meeting began, Bourdoncle
ventured to hint that the little girl in the mantle department was
playing with him.

"How so?" he asked, turning very pale.

"Why yes! she has sweethearts 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 they?"

"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 table
in order to conceal the trembling of his hands. At last, he observed,
without raising his head: "One must have proofs, try and bring me some
proofs. As for myself, 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."

"Never fear," replied Bouthemont, "you shall have proofs one of these
days. I'm keeping a good look-out."

This news deprived Mouret of all rest. He had not the courage to
revert to the conversation, but lived in continual expectation of a
catastrophe, in which his heart would be crushed. And this torment
rendered him terrible; he made the whole house tremble. He now
disdained to conceal himself behind Bourdoncle, and performed the
executions in person, feeling a nervous desire for revenge, solacing
himself by abuse of his power, that power which could do nothing for
the contentment of his sole desire. Each of his inspections became a
massacre; as soon as he was seen a shudder of panic sped from counter
to counter. The dead winter season was just then approaching, and he
made a clean sweep in each department, piling up victims and hustling
them into the street. His first idea had been to dismiss Hutin and
Deloche; but 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,
tears made his eyelids swell.

One day especially terror reigned supreme. An inspector had the idea
that Mignot was stealing. There was always a number of strange-looking
girls prowling around his counter; and one of them had lately been
arrested, her hips and bosom padded with sixty pairs of gloves. From
that moment a watch was kept, and the inspector caught Mignot in the
act of facilitating the sleight of hand of a tall fair girl who had
formerly been a saleswoman at the Louvre. His plan was very simple,
he pretended to be trying some gloves on her, waited till she had
padded herself, and then conducted her to the pay-desk, 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 in affairs of
this sort, which were fairly frequent; for notwithstanding the regular
machine-like working, great disorder reigned in certain departments
of The Ladies' Paradise, and scarcely a week passed by without some
employee being dismissed for theft. The management preferred to hush up
such matters as far as possible, considering it undesirable 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 venting his
anger on some one, and treated handsome Mignot with such violence, that
the latter stood there trembling with fear, his face pale and distorted.

"I ought to call a policeman," cried Mouret, before all the other
salesmen. "But answer me! who is this woman? I swear I'll send for the
police commissary, if you don't tell me the truth."

The woman had been taken away, and two saleswomen were searching her.
"I don't know her, sir," Mignot stammered out: "She's the one who

"Don't tell lies!" interrupted Mouret, more violently still. "And
there's nobody here to warn us! You are all in the plot, on my word!
We are robbed, pillaged, plundered. It's enough to make us have the
pockets of each one searched before he leaves!"

Murmurs were heard. The three or four customers buying gloves stood
looking on, frightened.

"Silence!" he resumed, furiously, "or I'll clear the whole place!"

However, Bourdoncle came running up, all anxiety at the idea of the
scandal. He whispered a few words in Mouret's ear, the affair was
assuming 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 things again. She had just mentioned Albert Lhomme's name. Mignot,
on again being questioned, lost his head, and began to sob; he wasn't
in fault, it was Albert who sent him these girls; he had at first
merely afforded them certain advantages, enabling them to profit by the
bargains; and at last when they 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 luxurious lavatories, situated near the refreshment bar
and surrounded by evergreen plants, to hide them under their skirts;
purchases which a salesman neglected to call out at a pay-desk, when
he accompanied a customer there and the price of which he divided with
the cashier; and even false "returns," articles which employees said
had been brought back in order that they might pocket the refunded
money; without mentioning the common robberies of things which the
salesmen took away under their coats in the evening, sometimes 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 trafficking in articles representing a large
amount of money which was never correctly ascertained.

Meanwhile the news had spread through the various departments, causing
guilty consciences to tremble, whilst the most honest quaked at thought
of the general sweep that seemed imminent. Albert had disappeared into
the inspector's office. Next his father had passed by, half choking,
his face red and showing signs of apoplexy. Then Madame Aurélie herself
was called; and came down bearing the affront with head erect, her fat
puffy countenance having the appearance of a wax mask. The explanation
lasted for some time; no one knew the exact details, but it was said
that the first-hand had slapped her son's face, whilst the worthy old
father wept, and the governor, contrary to all his elegant habits,
swore like a trooper, absolutely wanting to hand the offenders over
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; his mother had doubtless begged that the family might not be
dishonoured by an immediate execution. Still the panic lasted several
days longer, for after this scene Mouret 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 get paid!"

At last, the storm burst one day on the head of Hutin himself. Favier,
now appointed second, 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 opportunity
to have the first-hand caught doing something wrong. Thus, one morning,
as Mouret was going through the silk department, he stopped short quite
surprised to see Favier altering the price tickets of a stock of black

"Why are you lowering the prices?" he asked. "Who gave you the order to
do so?"

The second-hand, who was making a great fuss over this work, as if he
wished to attract the governor's attention and foresaw the result,
replied with an innocent, astonished air: "Why, Monsieur Hutin told me,

"Monsieur Hutin! Where is Monsieur Hutin?"

And when the latter came up from the receiving department where a
salesman had been sent to fetch him, an animated explanation ensued.
What! he undertook to lower the prices of his own accord now! What
did that mean? But in his turn he appeared greatly astonished, having
merely talked the matter over 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. Yet 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 went on speaking in a sharp voice, and with wounding intentions,
which surprised the salesmen, for as a rule these discussions were
carried on quietly, and the affair might really have been the result
of a misunderstanding. One could divine, however, that he had some
unavowed spite to satisfy. He had at last caught that Hutin in fault,
that Hutin who was said to be Denise's sweetheart. He could now relieve
himself, by making the other feel that he, Mouret, 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 there has been no demand for these velvets."

Mouret cut him short with a final harsh remark. "Very good, sir; we
will look into the matter. But don't do such a thing again, if you
value your situation."

And then he walked off. Hutin, bewildered, furious, finding no one but
Favier to confide in, swore that he would go and throw his resignation
at the brute's head. But he soon left off talking of leaving, and began
to stir up all the abominable accusations which were current amongst
the salesmen against their chiefs. And Favier, his eyes sparkling,
defended himself with a great show of sympathy. He was obliged to
reply, wasn't he? Besides, could any one have foreseen such a row over
so trifling a matter? What had come on 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 mantle department is turning his
head? My dear follow, you can see that the blow comes from there. He's
aware that she fancied me, and he doesn't like it; or perhaps it's she
herself who wants to get me dismissed because I'm in her way. But I
swear she shall hear from me, if ever she crosses my path."

Two days later, as Hutin was going into the work-rooms upstairs, under
the leads, to recommend a girl of his acquaintance, he started on
perceiving Denise and Deloche leaning against a window at the end of a
passage and plunged so deeply in private conversation that they did not
even turn round. The idea of having them caught there suddenly occurred
to him, when he perceived with astonishment that Deloche was weeping.
He at once went off without making any noise; and meeting Bourdoncle
and Jouve on the stairs, told them some story about one of the
fire-extinguishers, the door of which seemed to have been torn away;
in this manner 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, though greatly annoyed at being forced to mix himself up in
such a matter.

This was a lost corner of the vast world where the people of The
Ladies' Paradise bestirred themselves. You reached it by an intricate
network of stairs and passages. The work-rooms, situated in the
attics, were low sloping chambers, lighted by large windows cut in
the zinc roofing, and furnished solely with long tables and large
cast-iron stoves; and all along was a crowd of work-girls engaged on
the under-clothing, the lace, the upholstery and the dressmaking, and
living winter and summer in a stifling heat, amidst the odour peculiar
to the business. You had to skirt all these rooms, and turn to the
right after passing the dressmakers, before coming to the solitary
end of the corridor. The few customers, whom a salesman occasionally
brought here for an order, gasped for breath, tired out and frightened,
with the sensation of having turned round and round for hours, and of
being a hundred leagues above the street.

Denise had often found Deloche waiting for her. As second-hand she had
charge of the arrangements between her department and the work-room
where only the models and alterations were attended to, and was
always going up and down to give the necessary orders. The young man
would watch for her and invent any pretext to run after her; and then
affected to be surprised when he met her at the work-room door. She
got to laugh about the matter and it became quite an understood thing.
The corridor ran alongside one of the cisterns, an enormous iron tank
containing twelve thousand gallons of water; and on the roof there was
another one of equal size, reached by an iron ladder. For an instant,
Deloche would stand talking, leaning one shoulder against the cistern
in the continual abandonment of his long body, bent by fatigue. A
sing-song noise of water was heard, a mysterious noise, the musical
vibration of which the iron tank ever retained. Despite the solitude,
Denise would at times turn round anxiously, thinking, she had seen a
shadow pass on the bare, pale yellow walls. But the window would soon
attract them, they would lean against it, 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, as by a rocky coast. Beyond, they saw
nothing but the sky, a sheet of sky, which cast in the sleeping water
of the glass work a reflection of the flight of its clouds and its soft

It so happened that Deloche was that day speaking of Valognes. "I was
six years old; my mother used to take me to Valognes market in a cart,"
he said. "You know it's ten miles away; we had to leave Briquebec at
five o'clock. It's a fine country down our way. Do you know it?"

"Yes, yes," replied Denise, slowly, her glances wandering far away.
"I was there once, but was very little then. Roads with grass on each
side, eh? 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 for miles as straight as arrows between rows of trees
which afford some shade. We have meadows surrounded by hedges taller
than I am, where there are horses and cows grazing. We have a little
river too, and the water is very cold, under the brushwood, in a spot I
well know."

"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! how I've played in the
hollow road, on the left, coming down from the mill!"

Their voices died away, they remained with their eyes fixed, lost on
the sunny lake of the glass work. A mirage rose up before them from
that blinding water, they beheld an endless succession of meadows,
the Cotentin country steeped in the breath of the ocean, bathed in a
luminous vapour, which blurred the horizon with the delicate grey of a
water-colour. Below them, beneath the colossal iron framework, in the
silk hall, was the roar of business, the trepidation of the machine
at work; the entire house vibrated with the tramping of the crowd,
the bustle of the salesmen, the life of the thirty thousand persons
hurtling there; and they, carried away by their dreams, thought they
could hear the wind passing over the grass and shaking the tall trees,
as they detected this deep dull clamour with which the roofs were

"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
signed to him to stop, 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 part."

He was choking, and she was at last able to say kindly: "You're
not reasonable; you promised me never to speak of that again. It's
impossible. I have great friendship for you, because you're a nice
fellow; but I wish to remain free."

"Yes, yes. I know," he replied 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----"

But she again interrupted him. Her quick ear had just detected the
sound of Bourdoncle's and Jouve's steps at the end of the corridor.

"Hark, there's some one coming."

"No," said he, preventing her from leaving the window, "it's in the
cistern: all sorts of extraordinary noises come from it, as if there
were some one inside."

And then he continued his timid caressing complaints. She was no longer
listening to him, however. Rocked into a dreamy mood by his declaration
of love, her eyes wandering over the roofs of The Ladies' Paradise. To
the right and the left of the large glazed gallery, other galleries and
other halls were glistening in the sunshine, between the housetops,
pierced with garret windows and running along symmetrically, like the
wings of a barracks. Metal ladders and bridges rose on all sides,
describing a lacework of iron in the air; whilst the kitchen chimney
belched forth as much smoke as a factory, and the great square cistern,
supported aloft by cast-iron pillars, assumed the strange silhouette
of some barbarous structure erected at this height by the pride of one
man. In the distance, Paris roared.

When Denise awoke from this dreamy contemplation of space and the
summits of The Ladies' Paradise, where her thoughts floated as in a
vast solitude, she found that Deloche had caught hold of her hand. And
as he appeared so woe-begone she did not draw it away.

"Forgive me," he murmured. "It's all over now; I should be 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." Then his tears again
began to flow and 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 more. Try to be happy, love some one
else; yes, that would really be a pleasure for me. If you are happy, I
shall be happy too. 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 softened somewhat the pity of the words: "My poor lad!"

But they started, and turned round; Mouret was standing before them.

For the last ten minutes, Jouve had been searching all over the place
for the governor; the latter, however, was looking at the building of
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. There, amidst masons laying the huge corner-stones,
and engineers setting up the great iron framework, he found a refuge
against his torments. The façade already appeared above the level of
the street; and indications of the spacious porch, and the windows of
the first storey, a palace-like development in a crude state could be
seen. Mouret 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 cellars; and the
roar of the steam-engine, the tic-tac of the trowels, the loud noise
of the hammers and the clamour of the army of workmen in this immense
cage surrounded by sound-reëchoing planks, really diverted him for an
instant. He would come out white with plaster, black with iron-filings,
his feet splashed by the water from the pumps but nevertheless so far
from being cured that his anguish returned and his heart beat more
loudly than ever, as the uproar of the works died away behind him.
It so happened, on the day in question, that a slight diversion had
brought back his gaiety: he had become deeply interested in an album
of drawings of the mosaics and enamelled terra-cotta which were to
decorate the friezes, when Jouve, out of breath, annoyed at being
obliged to soil his frock coat amongst all the building materials came
up to fetch him. At first Mouret cried out that they must wait; but, at
a word spoken in an undertone by the inspector, he immediately followed
him, trembling and again mastered by his passion. Nothing else existed,
the façade crumbled away before being built: what was the use of that
supreme triumph of his pride, if the mere name of a woman whispered in
his ear tortured him to this extent!

Upstairs, Bourdoncle and Jouve thought it prudent to vanish. Deloche
had hastened away; Denise, paler than usual, alone remained face to
face with Mouret, looking straight into his eyes.

"Have the goodness to follow me, mademoiselle," he said in a harsh

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 table. The director's new office
was fitted up more luxuriously than the old one; the rep hangings had
been replaced by velvet ones, and a book-case, inlaid with ivory,
occupied one whole side; but on the walls there was still no other
picture than the portrait of Madame Hédouin, a young woman with a calm
handsome face, smiling in a gilded frame.

"Mademoiselle," he said 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 within him. What! it was that fellow she loved,
that wretched salesman, the laughing-stock of his counter! 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 that painted lady. As a rule she was
almost afraid of her, although she knew her to have been very good.
This time, however, she felt her to be a kind of protection.

"You are right, sir," she said, softly, "I was wrong to stop and talk,
and I beg your pardon for doing so. This young man comes from my own
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 of director
lecturing a saleswoman guilty of an infraction of the regulations,
he broke into a torrent of violent words. Had she no shame in her? a
young girl like her to fall in love with such a being! and he even made
most atrocious accusations, introducing Hutin's name and the names of
others into the affair, with 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 explanation he had resolved on, when following Jouve, had
degenerated into a violent 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 who did! I was the only one!"

Choking and bewildered, Denise stood listening to these frightful
charges, which she had not at first understood. Did he really suppose
her to be as bad as that? At another remark, harsher than all the rest,
she silently turned towards the door. And, as he made a movement to
stop her, she 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 he 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 seemed to be the artful
calculation of a woman learned in all the tactics of passion. Had she
desired it, which she did not, 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

And as she obstinately remained silent, as if still wishing to open
the door and go away, he completely lost his head, and gave way to 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 for me, that the
people I speak about only touch me through you, that 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 quarrelled with her in order 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
among 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 he spoke the truth, he had quite reformed; he had long since
given up Clara and had ceased to visit at Madame Desforges's house,
where Bouthemont now reigned supreme, pending the opening of the
new establishment, The Four Seasons, which was already filling the
newspapers with its advertisements.

"Tell me, must I go on my knees?" he repeated, almost choked by
suppressed tears.

She signed to him to cease speaking, herself quite unable to conceal
her emotion, deeply affected by his suffering passion. "You are wrong,
sir, to agitate yourself in this way," she at last replied. "I assure
you that all these wicked reports are untrue. That poor fellow you saw
just now 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," he murmured. "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 came upon the young girl.

"You love some one, do you not?" he resumed, in a trembling voice. "Oh!
you may speak out; I have no claim on your affections. Do you love any

She turned very red, her heart was in her mouth, and she felt all
falsehood impossible in the presence of the emotion which was betraying
her, the repugnance for lying 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, sir,
you are torturing me."

She was now suffering in her turn. Was it not enough to have to defend
herself against him? Must she even fight against herself, against the
gust of tenderness which sometimes took away all her courage? When
he spoke to her like this, when she saw him such a prey to emotion,
so overcome, she hardly knew why she still refused; and it was only
afterwards that, in the depths of her healthy, girlish nature, she
found the pride and prudence which maintained her intact in her
virtuous resolutions.

Mouret gave way to a gesture of gloomy discouragement. He could not
understand her. He turned towards his table, took up some papers and
then at once laid them down again, saying: "I will detain 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 had involuntarily raised her eyes towards Madame Hédouin's
portrait; that lady so sensible and so beautiful, whose blood, they
said, had brought good fortune to the house. Mouret followed the glance
with a start, for he thought he could hear his dead wife pronounce that
phrase, one of her own sayings which he recognised. And it was like
a resurrection, he discovered in Denise the good sense, the mental
equilibrium of her whom he had lost, even down to her gentle voice,
sparing of useless words. He was struck by the resemblance, and it
rendered him sadder still.

"You know I am yours," he murmured 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, you may be sure
I'll make nothing but a good man of you!"

She smiled, with that simple unassuming air which possessed such a
charm. He also smiled in a feeble way, and escorted her as far as the
door, as he might have done with a lady.

The next day Denise was appointed first-hand. The dress and costume
department was divided; the management creating especially for her
benefit a children's costume department, which was installed near that
of the cloaks and mantles. Ever since her son's dismissal, Madame
Aurélie had been trembling, for she found the directors cooling towards
her, and also observed the young woman's power increasing daily. Would
they not shortly take advantage of some pretext or other and sacrifice
her in favour of Denise? Her imperial countenance, puffed up with fat,
seemed to have grown thinner from the shame which now stained the
Lhomme dynasty; and she made a show of going away every evening on her
husband's arm, for they had been brought nearer together by misfortune,
and vaguely felt that the evil came from the disorder of their home;
whilst the poor old man, more affected than her, a prey as he was to a
sickly fear that he might himself be suspected of robbery, would count
the receipts twice over with a great deal of noise, performing miracles
the while with his injured arm. Accordingly when Madame Aurélie saw
Denise appointed first-hand of the children's costume department, she
experienced such delight that she paraded the most affectionate feeling
towards her, being indeed really grateful to her for not having taken
her own place. And so she overwhelmed her with attentions, treating her
as an equal, often going to talk to her in the neighbouring 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 infects every assemblage of men and
women, all nevertheless bowed very low before her face. Marguerite,
now second-hand, was full of praise for her. Clara, herself, inspired
with a secret respect for this good fortune, which she felt herself
incapable of achieving, bowed her head. But Denise's victory was still
more complete over the gentlemen; over Jouve, who now almost bent
double whenever he addressed her; over Hutin, seized with anxiety on
feeling his position giving way under him; and over Bourdoncle, at
last reduced to powerlessness. When the latter saw her come out of the
director's office, smiling, with her quiet air; and when on the morrow
Mouret had insisted on the board creating the new department, he had
yielded, vanquished by his terror of woman. He had always thus given
in to Mouret, recognising him to be the master, notwithstanding his
escapades and idiotic love affairs. This time the woman had proved the
stronger, and he was expecting to be swept away by the disaster.

Yet Denise bore her triumph in a quiet, charming manner, touched by
these marks of consideration, and desirous of interpreting them as
sympathy for the miseries of her _débuts_ and the final success of
her patient courage. Thus it was with laughing joy that she received
the slightest tokens 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, for she had learned that this girl had amused herself by leading
Colomban astray, even as she had said she would do, for a joke; and he,
carried away by his passion, was now becoming more dissipated every
day, whilst poor Geneviève was slowly dying. The affair was talked of
at The Ladies' Paradise, and thought very droll there.

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 could
not have been placed in a better position. Sometimes there were fully
fifty little girls and as many boys there, quite a turbulent school,
all agog with the desires of budding coquetry. The mothers completely
lost their heads. She, conciliatory and smiling, had the little ones
placed in a row, on chairs; and when among the number there happened
to be 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. Bursts of clear laughter rang out, faint cries of ecstasy
were raised amidst the scolding voices of the mothers. Sometimes a
little girl, nine or ten years old, already a grand lady in her own
estimation, would when trying on a cloth jacket stand studying it
before a glass, now and again turning round with an absorbed air,
while her eyes sparkled with the desire to please. The counters were
littered with unpacked goods, dresses in pink and blue Eastern cotton
for children of from one to five years old; sailor costumes in blue
"zephyr" with plaited skirts and blouses trimmed with cambric; Louis
XV. costumes, mantles, jackets; a medley of little garments, stiff in
their infantile grace, something like the contents of the cloak-room
of a band of big dolls, taken out of the wardrobes and given over to
pillage. Denise always had 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 breeches; and she lived there amongst these little ones as
in her own family, feeling quite young again herself from the contact
of all the innocence and freshness incessantly renewed around her

She now at times had long friendly talks with Mouret. Whenever she
went to the office to take orders or furnish information, he would
keep her chatting, enjoying the sound of her voice. It was what she
laughingly called "making a good man of him." In her prudent, cautious
Norman brain there sprang up all sorts of projects, ideas about the new
style of business at which she had already ventured to hint when at
Robineau's, and some of which she had expressed on the evening of their
charming walk in the Tuileries gardens. She could not be occupied in
any matter or see any work going on, without being moved by a desire to
introduce some improvement into the mechanism. Thus, since her entry
into The Ladies' Paradise, she had been particularly 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 the staff. Her former sufferings were still fresh in
her mind, and her heart filled with pity every time she saw a new-comer
with feet bruised and eyes dim with tears, dragging her misery along
in her silk dress, amidst the spiteful persecution of the older
hands. This dog's life made the best of them bad; and the sad work of
destruction commenced: they were all devoured by the business before
the age of forty, often disappearing, falling into unknown depths, a
great many dying in harness, some of consumption and exhaustion, others
of fatigue and bad air, whilst a few were thrown on the street, and
the happiest married and buried themselves in some little provincial
shop. Was this frightful consumption of human life for which the big
shops were responsible every year, right and just? And she pleaded the
cause of the colossal machine's gearing not from 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, a stoppage of work, repeated expenses of
restarting, quite a loss of power, ensue.

Sometimes she would become quite animated, and picture an immense
ideal bazaar, the phalansterium of modern commerce, in which each
would secure his exact share of profits, according to his merits,
with a certainty of the future, assured to him by contract. Mouret
would make merry over 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, whenever she perceived a
dangerous gap underlying her tender-hearted plans. Nevertheless he
was shaken, captivated by her young voice which still quivered at the
thought of the hardships she had undergone, and was so instinct with
earnestness as she pointed out reforms which would tend to consolidate
the house; and even while joking with her he listened. Thus the
salesmen's positions were gradually improved, the wholesale dismissals
were replaced by a system of holidays granted during the dead seasons,
and it was decided to found a sort of benefit club which would protect
the employees against slack times and ensure them a pension. It was the
embryo of the vast trades' unions of the twentieth century.

Moreover Denise did not confine her attention solely to the healing
of the wounds from which she had herself bled; she conceived various
delicate feminine ideas with which she prompted Mouret and which
delighted the customers. She also made Lhomme happy by supporting a
scheme he had long entertained, that of creating a band of musicians,
of which all the members should be chosen from amongst the staff.
Three months later Lhomme had a hundred and twenty musicians under his
direction, and the dream of his whole life was realized. And a grand
fête was then 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, though
staggered by these innovations, was obliged to bow before the immense
advertisement. Afterwards came the establishment of a recreation room
for the men, with two billiard tables and backgammon and chess boards.
Then classes were held in the house of an evening; lessons were given
in English and German, in grammar, arithmetic, and geography; at
last too there were even riding and fencing lessons. A library was
also formed, ten thousand volumes were placed at the disposal of the
employees. And afterwards came a resident doctor, giving consultations
gratis; together with baths, and hair-dressing and refreshment saloons.
Every want of life was provided for, everything--board, lodging,
clothing and education--was to be obtained without going out of doors.
There, in the very heart of Paris, now all agog with the clatter of
this working city which was springing up so vigorously amidst the ruins
of the olden streets, at last opened to the sunshine, The Ladies'
Paradise sufficed entirely for all its own wants and pleasures.

Then a further change of opinion took place in Denise's favour. As
Bourdoncle, vanquished, repeated with despair to his friends that
he would himself give a great deal to prevail upon Denise to accept
Mouret, it was concluded that she still refused to do so, and that her
all-powerfulness resulted from her refusal. From that moment she became
popular. They knew for what indulgences they were indebted to her, and
they admired her for the strength of her will. There, at all events,
was one who could master the governor, who avenged all the others, and
knew how to get something more than promises out of him! So she had
come at last, she who caused him to treat the poor and humble with a
little consideration! When she passed through the departments, with her
delicate, self-willed head, her gentle, invincible air, the salesmen
smiled at her, felt proud of her, and would willingly have exhibited
her to the crowd. She, in her happiness, allowed herself to be carried
along by this increasing sympathy. But was it all possible? She again
saw herself arriving in a shabby dress, frightened, lost amidst the
mechanism of the terrible machine; for a long time she had felt she was
nothing, barely a grain of millet beneath the millstones which were
crushing a whole world; and now to-day she was the very soul of this
world, she alone was of any 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, possessed of naught but the 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 naught but goodness and
prudence, a love of truth and logic which constituted all her strength.

One of Denise's greatest joys at this time was to be able to assist
Pauline. The latter, now about to become a mother, was trembling, for
she knew that two other saleswomen similarly circumstanced had been
sent away. The principals did not tolerate maternity; they occasionally
allowed marriage, but would admit of no children. Pauline, it was
true, had her husband in the house; but still she felt anxious, and in
order to postpone a probable dismissal, sought to conceal her state
as long as she could. But Bourdoncle had observed that her complexion
was getting very pale and one morning while he was standing near her,
in the under-linen department, a messenger, taking away a bundle, ran
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 was in need of country air. Mouret, who was not at the meeting,
could only give his opinion in the evening. But Denise having had time
to interpose, he closed Bourdoncle's mouth, in the interests of the
establishment itself. Did they wish to wound the feelings of all the
mothers and young married women amongst their customers? And so it was
decided, with great solemnity, that every married saleswoman should,
whenever necessary, be sent to a special midwife's at the Paradise's

The next day when Denise went up to 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 heartily 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 it's nothing."

Baugé, who had slipped away from his department, was also there, on the
other side of the bed. He likewise stammered his thanks, disturbed in
the presence of Denise, whom he now treated as an important person of a
superior class. Ah! if he heard any more unkind 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 dear, you're always saying something stupid. Leave us to talk

The infirmary was a long, light room, containing twelve beds with
white curtains. Those who did not wish to go home to their families
were nursed there. However, on the day in question, Pauline was the
only occupant. Her bed was near one of the large windows which looked
on to the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. And amidst the white hangings,
in the calm atmosphere perfumed with a faint odour of lavender, they
immediately began to exchange confidences in soft, affectionate

"So he does just what you wish him to, all the same," said Pauline.
"How cruel you are, to make him suffer so! Come, just explain it to me,
now that 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 resting on the bolster; and Denise was overcome by
sudden emotion. Her cheeks flushed red and, in a momentary weakness,
her secret escaped her at this direct and unexpected question.

"I love him!" she murmured, burying her head in the pillow.

Pauline was astonished. "What! you love him?" And, after a pause, she
asked: "So it's all to make him marry you?"

But at this, the young girl sprang 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 so
far as you are concerned. I must tell you that everybody here has the
same idea: yes, they are convinced that you are riding the high horse,
in order to make him take you to church. Dear me! what a funny girl you

And then she had to console Denise, who had again sunk down with her
head on the bolster, sobbing and declaring that she would certainly go
away, since they attributed to her all sorts of things that had never
even 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 that she might be allowed to live quietly, with her joys
and sorrows, like other people. Yes, she would go away.

At the same moment Mouret was crossing the premises below, seeking to
forget his thoughts by visiting the works once more. Several months
had elapsed, the façade now reared its monumental proportions behind
the vast hoarding which concealed it from the public. Quite an army of
decorators, marble-cutters, mosaic-workers, and others, were at work.
The central group above the door was being gilded, whilst the pedestals
destined to support statues of the manufacturing cities of France, were
being fixed on the acroteria. Along the Rue du Dix-Décembre, lately
opened to the public, a crowd of idlers now stood from morning till
night, looking up, seeing nothing, but nevertheless interested in the
marvels related of this façade, the inauguration of which was expected
to revolutionize Paris. And it was beside this new building full of the
fever of work, amidst the artists putting the finishing touches to the
realization of his dream as commenced by the masons, that Mouret more
bitterly than ever realized the vanity of his fortune. The thought of
Denise suddenly came upon him, that thought which incessantly pierced
him with a flame, like the shooting of an incurable pain. And then he
ran away, unable to find a word of satisfaction, fearful lest he should
display his tears, and leaving behind him the disgust of triumph. That
façade, which was at last erected, seemed but trifling in his eyes,
very much like one of those walls of sand that children build, and
it might have been prolonged from one end of the city to the other,
elevated to the starry sky and yet would not have filled the void of
his heart, which only the "yes" of a mere child could satisfy.

When Mouret returned to his office he was almost choking with sobs.
What did she want? He dared not offer her money now; but the confused
idea of marriage presented itself amidst his revolts. And, in the
debility of his powerlessness, his tears began to flow. He was indeed
very unhappy.


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
immediately. For some time the poor girl had been getting weaker and
weaker, and had been obliged to take to her bed two days before.

"Say I am coming at once," replied Denise, feeling very anxious.

The blow which was finishing Geneviève was Colomban's sudden
disappearance. At first, chaffed by Clara, he had grown very
dissipated; then, yielding to the wild desires which at times master
sly, chaste men, he had become her obedient slave; and one Monday
instead of returning to the shop had sent a farewell letter to Baudu,
written in the studied terms of one who is about to commit suicide.
Perhaps, at the bottom of this freak, there was also the calculating
craft of a man delighted at escaping from a disastrous marriage. The
business was in as bad a way as his betrothed, so the moment was
a propitious one for breaking with them both. And every one cited
Colomban as an unfortunate victim of love.

When Denise reached The Old Elbeuf, Madame Baudu, with her small white
face consumed by anæmia, was there alone, sitting motionless behind
the pay-desk, and watching over the silence and emptiness of the shop.
There was no assistant now. The servant dusted the shelves; and it was
even a question of replacing her by a charwoman. A dreary cold hung
about the ceiling; hours passed by without a customer coming to disturb
the gloom, and the goods, no longer handled, became more and more musty
every day.

"What's the matter?" asked Denise, anxiously. "Is Geneviève in danger?"

Madame Baudu did not at first reply. Her eyes filled with tears. Then
suddenly 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 dim glance round the dark shop, as if she felt that her
daughter and The Old Elbeuf were disappearing together. The seventy
thousand francs, produced by the sale of their Rambouillet property,
had in less than two years melted away in the abyss of competition.
In order to struggle against The Ladies' Paradise, which now kept
men's cloths, even materials for hunting, shooting, and livery suits,
the draper had made considerable sacrifices. But at last he had been
altogether crushed by the swan-skin cloths and the 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 nearly finished, the
very ceilings seemed to be falling and turning into dust, even an old
worm-eaten structure is carried away by the wind.

"Your uncle is upstairs," resumed Madame Baudu in her broken voice. "We
each stay with her in turn for a couple of hours. Some one must stay
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 kept them
erect in the presence of the neighbours.

"Well, I'll go up, aunt," said Denise, whose heart ached amidst the
resigned despair that even the pieces of cloth themselves exhaled.

"Yes, go upstairs quick, my girl. She's expecting you, she's been
asking for you all night. She had something to tell you."

But just at that moment Baudu came down. Bile had now given his yellow
face a greenish hue, and his eyes were bloodshot. He was still walking
with the muffled tread with which he had quitted the sick room, and
murmured, as though he might be overheard upstairs, "She's asleep."

Then, thoroughly worn out, he sat down on a chair, mopping his forehead
with a mechanical gesture and puffing like a man who has just finished
some hard work. A pause ensued, but at last he said to Denise: "You'll
see her presently. When she is sleeping, she seems to us to be all
right again."

Again did silence fall. Face to face, the father and mother stood
looking at one another. Then, in a low voice he went over his grief
again, though without naming any one or addressing any one directly:
"With 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 any one had come and said
to me, 'They'll take him away from you as well; you'll see him fall,'
I should have replied, 'It's impossible, that can't happen as long as
there's a God on high.' But he has fallen all the same! Ah! the poor
fellow, he who was so well up in the business, who had all my ideas!
And all through a young she-ape, a mere dummy fit for a window! No!
really, it's enough to drive one mad!"

He shook his head, with his half-closed eyes cast upon the damp floor
which the tread of generations of customers had worn. Then he continued
in a lower voice, "Shall I tell you? Well, 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 lying upstairs devoured by fever. Ought I not
to have married them at once, without yielding to my stupid pride, my
obstinacy in refusing to leave them the business in a less prosperous
state than it had been before? Had I done that she would now have the
man she loved, and perhaps their youthful strength united 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: he had such a gift
for business, and such probity, such simplicity of conduct, he was 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, however, could not bear to hear
him accuse himself, and carried away by her emotion, on seeing him so
humble, with his eyes full of tears, he who used formerly to reign
there as an absolute and scolding master, she told him everything.

"Uncle, pray don't excuse him," said she. "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
poor cousin was suffering on his account, and yet you see that did not
prevent him from leaving. Ask aunt."

Without opening her lips, Madame Baudu confirmed these words by a
nod. The draper turned paler still, blinded by his tears. And then he
stammered out: "It must have been in the blood, his father died last
year through having led a dissolute life."

And once more he looked round the dim shop, his eyes wandering from the
empty counters to the full shelves and then resting on Madame Baudu,
who was still sitting erect at the pay-desk, waiting in vain for the
customers who did not come.

"Well," 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 passing vehicles, which occasionally
shook the floor, seemed like a funereal beating of drums in the still
air, so stuffy under the low ceiling. But suddenly, amidst this gloomy
sadness peculiar to old expiring shops, several dull knocks were heard
proceeding from somewhere in the house. It was Geneviève, who had just
awoke, and was knocking with a stick they had left beside her.

"Let's go up at once," said Baudu, rising with a start. "And try to be
cheerful, she mustn't know."

He himself as he went upstairs rubbed his eyes, in order to remove the
traces of his tears. As soon as he opened the door, on the first floor,
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." However, 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 spectacle. The young woman's room, a little room into
which came a livid light, looked out on to the yard. At first her
parents had put her in their room, in the front part of the house; but
the sight of The Ladies' Paradise opposite affected her so deeply, 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 you could hardly divine
the form and existence of a human body. Her skinny arms, consumed by
the burning fever of consumption, were in a perpetual movement of
anxious, unconscious searching; whilst her black hair, heavy with
passion, seemed thicker still, and to be preying with its voracious
vitality upon her poor face, that face in which was fading the final
degenerateness of a long lineage, a family that had grown and lived in
the gloom of that 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. However, she at last 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 need anything. I only wanted to embrace you."

Tears filled her eyes. Denise quickly leant over and kissed her,
trembling at the flame which came from those hollow cheeks to her own
lips. But Geneviève, stretching out her arms caught hold of her 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."

"No, no." Geneviève's glance was still obstinately fixed on her father,
who remained standing there with a bewildered air, almost choking.
However, he at last understood her and went away, without saying a
word. They heard his heavy footsteps descending the stairs.

"Tell me, is he with that woman?" the sick girl then eagerly inquired
while catching hold of her cousin's hand, and making her sit down on
the edge of the bed. "Yes, I wanted to see you as you are the only one
who can tell me. They're together, aren't they?"

In the surprise which these questions gave her Denise began to stammer,
and was obliged to confess the truth, the rumours that were current at
the Paradise. Clara, it was said, had already grown tired of Colomban,
who was pursuing her everywhere, striving to obtain an occasional
appointment by a sort of canine humility. It was also said that he was
about to take a situation at the Grands Magasins du Louvre.

"If you love him so much, he may yet come back," added Denise seeking
to cheer the dying girl with this last hope. "Make haste and get well,
he will acknowledge his errors, and marry you."

But Geneviève interrupted her. She had listened with all her soul, with
an intense passion which had raised her in the bed. Now, however, she
fell back. "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 even happy
after all!"

Then as Denise remonstrated with her, assuring her that she was not
so bad as all that, she again cut her short by suddenly throwing back
the bed-clothes with the chaste gesture of a virgin who has nothing to
conceal in death. Her bosom bare, she murmured: "Look at me! Is it not
the end?"

Trembling with mingled horror and pity, Denise hastily rose from the
bed, as if she feared that her very breath might suffice to destroy
that puny emaciated form. Geneviève slowly covered her bosom again,
saying: "You see I am no longer a woman. It would be wrong to wish for
him still!"

Silence fell between them. They continued gazing at each other, unable
to find a word to say. At last 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 now am satisfied. If
you ever see him again, tell him I forgive him. Farewell, dear Denise.
Kiss me once more, for it's the last time."

The young woman kissed her, still protesting: "No, no, don't despair,
all you want is careful nursing, nothing more."

But the sick girl smiled, shaking her head in an obstinate way, like
one who will not be deceived. And as her cousin at last walked towards
the door, she exclaimed: "Wait a minute, knock on the floor with this
stick, so that papa may come up. I'm afraid to stay alone."

Then, when Baudu reached the little dismal room, where he spent long
hours seated on a chair, she assumed an air of gaiety, saying to
Denise--"Don't come to-morrow, 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 dark cloudy day,
with a sooty sky hanging low above the shivering city. The Old Elbeuf,
hung with white drapery, lighted up the street with a bright speck, and
the candles burning in the gloom seemed like so many stars enveloped in
twilight. Bead-work wreaths and a great bouquet of white roses covered
the coffin--a narrow child's coffin,--placed in the dark passage of the
house close to the pavement, so near indeed to the gutter that passing
vehicles had already splashed the drapery. With its continual rush of
pedestrians on the muddy footways the whole neighbourhood reeked of
dampness, exhaled a cellar-like mouldy odour.

At nine o'clock Denise came over to stay with her aunt. But when the
funeral was about to start, the latter--who had ceased weeping, her
eyes scorched by her hot tears--begged her to follow the body and look
after her uncle, whose mute affliction and almost idiotic grief filled
the family with anxiety. Downstairs, the young woman found the street
full of people, for the small traders of the neighbourhood were anxious
to give the Baudus a mark of sympathy, and in their eagerness there
was a desire for a demonstration against that Ladies' Paradise, which
they accused of having caused Geneviève's slow agony. All the victims
of the monster were there--Bédoré and Sister, the hosiers of the Rue
Gaillon, Vanpouille Brothers, the furriers, Deslignières the toyman,
and Piot and Rivoire the furniture dealers; even Mademoiselle Tatin,
the dealer in under-linen, and Quinette the glover, though 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. And whilst waiting for the hearse, which was late,
all these people, clad in black and tramping in the mud, cast glances
of hatred towards The Ladies' Paradise, whose bright windows and gay
displays seemed an insult in face of The Old Elbeuf, which, with its
funeral trappings and glimmering candles, lent an air of mourning to
the other side of the street. The faces of a few inquisitive salesmen
appeared at the plate-glass windows of the Paradise; but the colossus
itself preserved 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, and at last perceived him
standing before Bourras's shop; whereupon she crossed over and asked
him to walk with his uncle, and assist him should he be unable to get
along. For the last few weeks Jean had been very grave, as if tormented
by some worry. That morning, buttoned up in his black frock-coat, for
he was now a full-grown man, earning his twenty francs a day, he seemed
so dignified and sad that his sister was surprised, having had no idea
that he loved their cousin so much. Desirous of sparing Pépé a needless
grief, she had left him with Madame Gras, intending to fetch him in the
afternoon to see his uncle and aunt.

However, the hearse had still not arrived, and Denise, greatly
affected, stood watching the candles burn, when she was startled by a
well-known voice behind her. It was that of Bourras who had called a
chestnut-seller occupying a little box, against a wine shop opposite,
in order to say to him: "Here! Vigouroux, just keep a look-out on my
place, will you? You see I've taken the door handle away. If any one
comes, tell them to call again. But don't let that disturb you, no one
will come."

Then he also took his stand at the edge of the pavement, waiting like
the others. Denise, feeling rather awkward, glanced at his shop. He
now altogether neglected it; only a disorderly collection of umbrellas
eaten up by damp and canes blackened by gas-light now remained in the
window. The embellishments that he had made, the light green paint
work, the mirrors, the gilded sign, were all cracking, already getting
dirty, exhibiting the rapid lamentable decrepitude of false luxury
laid over ruins. But although the old crevices were re-appearing,
although the damp spots had sprung up through the gilding, the house
still obstinately held its ground, hanging to the flanks of The Ladies'
Paradise like some shameful wart, which, although cracked and rotten,
yet refused to fall.

"Ah! the scoundrels," growled Bourras, "they won't even let her be
carried away!"

The hearse, which was at last approaching, had just come into collision
with one of The Paradise vans, which at the rapid trot of two superb
horses went spinning along shedding in the mist the starry radiance of
its shining panels. And from under his bushy eyebrows the old man cast
a side glance at Denise.

The funeral procession started at a slow pace, splashing through
muddy puddles, amid the silence of the omnibuses and cabs which were
suddenly pulled up. When the coffin, draped with white, crossed the
Place Gaillon, the sombre looks of the followers once more plunged
into the windows of the big establishment where only two saleswomen
stood looking on, pleased with the diversion. Baudu followed the
hearse with a heavy mechanical step, refusing by a sign the arm
offered him by Jean, who walked alongside. Then, after a long string
of people, came three mourning coaches. As they crossed the Rue
Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, Robineau, looking very pale and much older,
ran up to join the procession.

At Saint-Roch, a great many women were waiting, small traders of the
neighbourhood, who had wished to escape the crowd at the house of
mourning. The demonstration was developing into quite a riot; and
when, after the funeral service, the procession started off again,
all continued to follow, although it was a long walk from the Rue
Saint-Honoré to the Montmartre Cemetery. They had to turn up the Rue
Saint-Roch again, and once more pass The Ladies' Paradise. It was a
sort of defiance; the poor girl's body was paraded round the big shop
like that of a 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 gory efflorescence of huge roses and
full-blown peonies. Denise had now got into one of the coaches, being
agitated by such poignant doubts, her heart oppressed by such cruel
grief, that she had not the strength to walk further. In the Rue du
Dix-Décembre just before the scaffolding of the new façade which still
obstructed the thoroughfare there was a stoppage, and on looking out
the girl observed old Bourras behind all the others, dragging himself
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.
However, he raised his head, looked at her, and all at once got into
the coach.

"It's my confounded knees," he exclaimed. "Don't draw back! It isn't
you we hate."

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 hard blows as he had received. The procession had
again started off at the same slow pace; and, on leaning out once
more, Denise saw her uncle walking behind the hearse with his heavy
step, which seemed to regulate the rumbling, painful march of the
cortège. Then she threw herself back into her corner and rocked by
the melancholy movement of the coach began listening to the endless
complaints of the old umbrella maker.

"The police ought to clear the public thoroughfares, my word!" said he,
"They've been blocking up our street for the last eighteen months with
the scaffolding of their façade--another man was killed on it the other
day. Never mind! When they want to enlarge any further they'll have to
throw bridges over the streets. People say there are now two thousand
seven hundred employees, and that the turnover 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. And Bourras went on, with a vague expression in his eyes,
as if he were now 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 looks like a drowning man," he resumed.
"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 had the jaundice. Ah! poor child! It must be comical for
those looking on to see such a string of bankrupts pass. Besides, it
appears that the clean sweep is to continue. Those scoundrels are
creating departments for flowers, bonnets, perfumery, boots and shoes,
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 boot-shop in the
Rue d'Antin. The cholera's even spread as far as the Rue Sainte-Anne.
Lacassagne, at the feather and flower shop, and Madame Chadeuil, whose
bonnets are so well-known, will be swept away in less than a couple
of years. And after those will come others and still others! All the
businesses in the neighbourhood will collapse. When counter-jumpers
start selling soap and goloshes, they are quite capable of dealing in
fried potatoes. 'Pon my word, the world is turning upside down!"

The hearse had just then crossed the Place de la Trinité, and from the
corner of the gloomy coach Denise, who lulled by the funereal march
of the procession still listened to the old man's endless complaints,
could see the coffin ascending the steep Rue Blanche as they emerged
from the Rue de la Chaussée d'Antin. Behind her uncle, who was plodding
along with the blind, mute face of an ox about to be poleaxed, she
seemed to hear the tramping of a flock of sheep likewise being led to
the slaughter-house. It was the downfall of the shops of an entire
district, all the small traders dragging their ruin, amidst the thud
of damp shoes, through the black mud of Paris. Bourras, however, still
continued, in a fainter voice, as if fatigued by the difficult ascent
of the Rue Blanche:

"As for me, I'm settled. But I still hold on all the same, and won't
let him go. He's just lost his appeal case. Ah! that's cost me
something: 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 work as that could not be considered legitimate
repairing. Just fancy, he talked of creating underneath my place a
saloon where his people might judge the colours of the stuffs by
gas-light, a subterranean room which would have joined the hosiery to
the drapery departments! And he can't get over it; he can't swallow the
fact that an old wreck like me should stop his progress, when all the
others are on their knees before his money. But never! I won't have
it! that's understood. Very likely I may be worsted. Since I have had
to fight against the process-servers, I know that the villain has been
buying up my bills in the hope of playing me some villainous trick. But
that doesn't matter; he says 'yes,' and I say 'no,' and I shall still
say 'no' even when I get between two boards like that poor child we are

When they reached the Boulevard de Clichy, the coach rolled on at a
quicker pace and one could hear the heavy breathing, the unconscious
haste of the followers, anxious to get the sad ceremony over. What
Bourras did not openly mention, was the frightful misery into which he
himself had fallen, bewildered by the worries which besiege the small
trader who is on the road to ruin and yet remains obstinate even under
a shower of protested bills. Denise, well acquainted with his position,
at last broke the silence by saying, in a voice of entreaty:

"Pray don't stand out any longer, Monsieur Bourras. 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, that man who thought you were for sale just like my house.
But what would you answer if I advised you to say 'yes?' You'd send me
about my business, eh? And so, when I say 'no,' don't you interfere in
the matter."

Then, the coach having stopped at the cemetery gate, he alighted from
it with the young girl. The Baudus' vault was reached by the first
path on the left. In a few minutes the ceremony was over. Jean drew
away his uncle, who was looking into the grave all agape. The mourners
spread about amongst the neighbouring tombs, and the faces of all these
shopkeepers, their blood impoverished by living in damp, unhealthy
shops, assumed an ugly, suffering look under the leaden sky. When the
coffin gently slipped down, their blotched and pimpled cheeks paled,
and their bleared eyes, blinded by the constant contemplation of
figures, turned away.

"We ought all to jump into that hole," said Bourras to Denise, who had
kept close to him. "In burying that poor girl they're burying the whole
district. Oh! I know what I say, the old style of business may go and
join the white roses they're throwing on her coffin."

Denise brought her uncle and brother back in a mourning coach. The day
was for her dark and melancholy. In the first place, she began to get
anxious at seeing Jean so pale; and when she understood that it was
on account of another sweetheart she tried to quiet him by opening
her purse; but he shook his head and refused, saying it was a serious
matter 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', the latter declared that
he was getting too big for her to keep any longer; and this was another
annoyance, for it would be necessary to find him a school, perhaps
send him away. And to crown all, on bringing Pépé to kiss his aunt and
uncle, Denise's heart was rent by the gloomy sadness of The Old Elbeuf.
The shop was closed, and the old couple were sitting in the little
dining-room, where they had forgotten to light the gas, notwithstanding
the complete obscurity in which it was plunged that winter's day. They
were now quite alone, face to face, in the house which ruin had slowly
emptied, and their daughter's death filled the dark corners with a
deeper gloom, and seemed like the beginning of that final dismemberment
which would break up the old rafters, preyed upon by damp. Beneath the
crushing blow, her uncle, unable to stop himself, still kept walking
round and round the table, with his funeral-like step, seeing nothing
and silent; whilst her aunt who said nothing either, remained huddled
together on a chair, with the white face of one who is wounded and
whose blood is running away drop by drop. They did not even weep when
Pépé covered their cold cheeks with kisses. For her part Denise was
choking with tears.

That same evening Mouret sent for the young woman to speak to her about
a child's garment which he wished to launch, a mixture of the Scotch
and Zouave costumes. And, still trembling with pity, shocked by so much
suffering, she could not contain herself; and, to begin with, ventured
to speak of Bourras, that poor old man who was down and whom they were
about to ruin. But, on hearing the umbrella maker's name, Mouret flew
into a rage. 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 had escaped
conquest. The matter was becoming a perfect nightmare; any one else
but Denise speaking in favour of Bourras would have run the risk of
immediate dismissal, so violently was Mouret tortured by the sickly
desire to kick the old hovel down. In short, what did they wish him to
do? Could he leave that heap of ruins sticking to The Ladies' Paradise?
It would have to go, the shop must pass along. 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
higgled, he gave whatever money was required; but in return he expected
people to be reasonable, and allow him to finish his work! Did any one
ever try to stop engines on a railway? To all this Denise listened with
drooping eyes, unable on her side to find any but purely sentimental
reasons. The poor fellow was so old, they might have waited till his
death; a bankruptcy would kill him. Then Mouret added that he was no
longer able to prevent things following their course. Bourdoncle had
taken the matter up, for the board had resolved to put an end to it. So
she could say nothing more, notwithstanding the grievous pity which she
felt for her old friend.

After a painful silence, Mouret himself began to speak of the Baudus,
by expressing his sorrow at the death of their daughter. They were very
worthy and very honest people but had been pursued by the worst of
luck. Then he resumed his arguments: at bottom, they had really brought
about their own misfortunes by obstinately clinging to the old customs
in their worm-eaten place. It was not astonishing that their house
should be falling about their heads. He had predicted it scores of
times; she must even remember that he had told her to warn her uncle of
a fatal disaster, if he should still cling to his stupid old-fashioned
ways. And the catastrophe had arrived; no one in the world could now
prevent it. People could not reasonably expect him to ruin himself to
save the neighbourhood. Besides, if he had been foolish enough to close
The Ladies' Paradise, another great establishment 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 trading
centres was sown by the spirit of the age, which was sweeping away
the falling edifices of ancient times. Little by little as he went on
speaking, Mouret warmed up, and with eloquent emotion defended himself
against the hatred of his involuntary victims, against the clamour
of the small moribund businesses that he could hear around him. They
could not keep their dead above ground, he continued, they must bury
them; and, with a gesture, he consigned the corpse of old-fashioned
trading to the grave, swept into the common hole all those putrifying
pestilential remains which were becoming a disgrace to the bright,
sun-lit 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 vast transactions settled in the full glare of publicity.
Reduced to silence, she listened to him for some time longer and then
went away, her soul full of trouble.

That night Denise slept but little. Insomnia, interspersed with
nightmare, kept her turning over and over in her bed. It seemed to
her that she was again quite a little girl and 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 that it
was necessary for the world to fatten on death, that it was necessary
there should be this struggle for existence whereby humanity drew
even increase of life from the ossuaries of eternal destruction? And
afterwards she again found herself before the grave into which they had
lowered Geneviève, and then she perceived her uncle and aunt alone in
their gloomy dining-room. A dull sound as of something toppling sped
through the still atmosphere; it was Bourras's house giving way, as
if undermined by a high tide. Then silence fell again, more sinister
than ever, and a fresh crash was heard, then another, and another; the
Robineaus, the Bédorés, the Vanpouilles, were cracking and falling
in their turn; all the small shops of the Saint-Roch quarter were
disappearing beneath an invisible pick, with the sudden, thundering
noise of bricks falling from a cart. Then intense grief awoke her with
a start. Heavens! what tortures! There were families weeping, old men
thrown into the street, all the poignant dramas of ruin! And she could
save nobody; and even felt that it was right, that all this compost of
misery was necessary for the health of the Paris of the future. When
day broke, she became calmer, but a feeling of resigned sadness still
kept her awake, turned towards the window whose panes were brightening.
Yes, it was the needful meed of blood, every revolution required
martyrs, each step forward is taken over the bodies of the dead. Her
fear of being a wicked girl, of having helped to effect the ruin of her
kindred, now melted into heartfelt pity, in face of these evils beyond
remedy, which are like the labour pangs of each generation's birth. She
finished by trying to devise some possible comfort, her kindly heart
dreaming of the means to be employed in order to save her relations at
least from the final crash.

And now Mouret appeared before her with his impassioned face and
caressing eyes. He would certainly refuse her nothing; she felt sure
that he would accord all reasonable compensations. And her thoughts
strayed, seeking to judge him. She knew his life and was aware of
the calculating nature of his former affections, his continual
"exploitation" of woman, his intimacy with Madame Desforges--the sole
object of which had been to get hold of Baron Hartmann--and with
all the others, such as Clara and the rest. But these Lothario-like
beginnings, which were the talk of the shop, gradually disappeared in
presence of the man's genius and victorious grace. He was seduction
itself. What she could never have forgiven was his former deception:
real coldness hidden beneath a gallant affectation of affection.
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 her to make amends for many of his faults.

That very morning Denise obtained from Mouret a promise of whatever
compensation she might consider reasonable on the day when the Baudus
and old Bourras should succumb. Weeks passed away, during which she
went to see her uncle nearly every afternoon, escaping from her
department for a few minutes and bringing her smiling face and girlish
courage to enliven the dark shop. She was especially anxious about her
aunt, who had fallen into a dull stupor ever since Geneviève's death;
it seemed as if her life was quitting her hourly; though, when people
questioned her, she would reply with an astonished air that she was not
suffering, but simply felt as if overcome by sleep. The neighbours,
however, shook their heads, saying she would not live long to regret
her daughter.

One day Denise was coming from the Baudus, when, on turning the corner
of the Place Gaillon, she heard a loud cry. A crowd rushed forward, a
panic arose: that breath of fear and pity which suddenly brings all the
people in a street together. It was a brown omnibus, belonging to the
Bastille-Batignolles line, which had run over a man, at the entrance
of the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, just opposite the fountain. Standing
up in his seat, the driver whilst furiously holding in his two black
horses which were rearing cried out, in a great passion:

"Confound it! Confound it! Why don't you look out, you idiot!"

The omnibus had now been brought to a standstill. The crowd had
surrounded the injured man, and a policeman happened to be on the
spot. Still standing up and invoking the testimony of the outside
passengers who had also risen, to look over and see the blood-stains,
the coachman, with exasperated gestures and choked by increasing anger,
was explaining the matter.

"It's something fearful," said he. "Who could have expected such a
thing? That fellow was walking along quite at home and when I called
out to him he at once threw himself under the wheels!"

Then a house-painter, who had run up, brush in hand, from a
neighbouring shop-front, exclaimed in a sharp voice, amidst the
clamour: "Don't excite yourself! I saw him, he threw himself under! He
jumped in, head first, like that. Another one tired of life, no doubt!"

Others spoke up, and all agreed that it was a case of suicide, whilst
the policeman pulled out his note-book and made an entry. Several
ladies, all very pale, quickly alighted and ran away without looking
back, filled with horror by the sudden shaking which had stirred them
when the omnibus passed over the body. Denise, however, drew nearer,
attracted by a practical pity, which prompted her to interest herself
in the victims of all sorts of street accidents, such as wounded
dogs, horses down, and tilers falling off roofs. And she immediately
recognised the unfortunate fellow who had fainted away there in the
road, his clothes covered with mud.

"It's Monsieur Robineau!" she exclaimed, in her grievous astonishment.

The policeman at once questioned the young woman, and she gave the
victim's name, profession, and address. Thanks to the driver's energy,
the omnibus had swerved, and thus only Robineau's legs had gone under
the wheels; however, it was to be feared that they were both broken.
Four men carried him 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, pending the
arrival of a doctor who was not to be found, declared that there was
no immediate danger, and that the injured man had better be taken
home, as he lived in the neighbourhood. A man then started off to the
police-station for a stretcher, and Denise had the happy thought of
going on in front so as to prepare Madame Robineau for this frightful
blow. But she had the greatest trouble in the world to get into the
street again through the crowd, which was struggling before the door of
the chemist's shop. This crowd, attracted by death, was every minute
increasing; men, women, and children stood on tip-toe, and held their
own amidst brutal pushing; and each new-comer had his version to give
of the accident, so that at last the victim was said to be a husband
who had been pitched out of window by his wife's lover.

In the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, Denise perceived, from a distance,
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 means of breaking the terrible news. The place wore the disorderly,
neglectful aspect of a shop in the last agony, one whose business is
fast dying. It was the inevitable end of the great battle of the rival
silks; the Paris Delight had destroyed competition by a fresh reduction
of a sou; it was now sold at four francs nineteen sous the mêtre,
and 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 avert a declaration of bankruptcy.

"I saw your husband crossing the Place Gaillon," murmured Denise, who
had ended by entering the shop.

Thereupon Madame Robineau, whom a secret anxiety seemed to be
continually attracting towards the street, said quickly: "Ah, a little
while ago, wasn't it? I'm waiting for him, he ought to be back by now.
Monsieur Gaujean came this morning, and they went out together."

She was still charming, delicate, and gay; but was in a delicate state
of health and seemed more frightened, more bewildered than ever by
those dreadful 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 lodging, and
be contented with modest fare?

"My dear child," she resumed with her pretty smile, which was becoming
sadder, "we have nothing to conceal from you. Things are not going
well, and my poor darling is worried to death. Again to-day this man
Gaujean has been tormenting him about some overdue bills. I was dying
with anxiety at being left here all alone."

And she was once more returning to the door when Denise stopped her,
having heard the noise of a crowd and guessing that it was the injured
man being brought along, surrounded by a mob of idlers anxious to see
the end of the affair. And thereupon with her throat parched, unable
to find the consoling words she would have liked to say, 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 young woman listened to her, white as a sheet, and as yet not
clearly understanding her. The street was full of people, and
cab-drivers, unable to get along, were swearing, while the bearers set
the stretcher before the shop in order to open both glass doors.

"It was an accident," continued Denise, determined to conceal the
attempt at suicide. "He was on the pavement and slipped under the
wheels of an omnibus. Only his feet are hurt. They've sent for a
doctor. Don't be frightened."

A great shudder shook Madame Robineau. She gave vent to a few
inarticulate cries; then said no more but sank down beside the
stretcher, drawing its covering aside with her trembling hands. The men
who had brought it were waiting to take it away as soon as the doctor
should arrive. They dared not touch Robineau, who had now regained
consciousness, and whose sufferings became frightful at the slightest
movement. When he saw his wife big tears ran down his cheeks. She
embraced him, and stood looking at him fixedly, and weeping. Out in
the street the tumult was increasing; the people pressed forward as
with glistening eyes at a theatre; some girls, fresh from a workshop,
were almost pushing through the windows in their eagerness to see what
was going on. Then Denise in order to avoid this feverish curiosity,
and thinking, moreover, that it was not right to leave the shop open,
decided to let the metal shutters down. She went and turned the winch,
whose wheels gave out a plaintive cry whilst the sheets of iron slowly
descended, like the heavy draperies of a curtain falling on the
catastrophe of a fifth act. And 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 vague half-light which came
from the two stars cut in the sheet-iron. The ruined shop seemed to
be gliding into nothingness, those 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, half choking, confessed himself, a
prey to keen remorse now that he saw her kneeling thus before him. When
he did not move he only felt the burning weight of his legs.

"Forgive me, I must have been mad. But when the lawyer told me before
Gaujean that the posters would be put up to-morrow, I saw flames
dancing before my eyes as if the walls were on fire. After that I
remember nothing. I was coming down the Rue de la Michodière--and I
fancied that The Paradise people were laughing at me--that big rascally
house seemed to crush me--so, when the omnibus came up, I thought of
Lhomme and his arm, and threw myself under the wheels."

Madame Robineau had slowly fallen on to the floor, horrified by this
confession. Heavens! he had tried to kill himself. She caught hold of
the hand of Denise who was leaning towards her, also quite overcome.
The injured man, exhausted by emotion, had just fainted away again.
The doctor had still not arrived. Two men had been scouring the
neighbourhood for him; and the doorkeeper belonging to the house had
now gone to seek him in his turn.

"Pray, don't be anxious," Denise kept on repeating mechanically,
herself also sobbing.

Then Madame Robineau, seated on the floor, with her head on a level
with the stretcher, her cheek resting against the sacking on which
her husband was lying, relieved her heart. "Oh! I must tell you.
It's all for me that he wanted to die. He's always saying, 'I've
robbed you; it was your money.' And at night he dreamed of those
sixty thousand francs, waking up covered with perspiration, calling
himself an incompetent fellow and saying that those who have no head
for business ought not to risk other people's money. You know that
he has always been nervous, and apt to worry himself. He finished by
conjuring up things that frightened me. He pictured me in the street
in tatters, begging--me whom he loved so dearly, whom he longed to see
rich and happy." The poor woman paused; on turning her head she saw
that her husband had opened his eyes; then she continued stammering:
"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 let her forehead fall near her husband's pale face, and both
remained speechless, in the emotion of their anguish. Silence fell.
The shop seemed to be sleeping, benumbed by the pale twilight which
enveloped it; whilst from behind the thin metal shutters came the
uproar of the street, the life of broad daylight passing along with
the rumbling of vehicles, and the hustling and pushing of the crowd.
At last Denise, who went every other minute to glance through the door
leading to the hall of the house came back: "Here's the doctor!"

It was a young fellow with bright eyes, whom the doorkeeper had found
and brought in. He preferred to examine the injured 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 moreover which
had failed; the declaration of bankruptcy was unavoidable.

"Dear me," murmured he, "what's the matter?"

In a few words, Denise informed him. Then he stopped, feeling 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
ourselves. You know I'm not in a much better position than you are."

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 for you and I, who are young, who had accepted the new style of
things, it was wrong! 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 at having at last got rid
of all those worrying business matters. And, as Gaujean went away with
the young girl, he confessed to her that Robineau, poor devil, was
right. It was idiotic to try to struggle against The Ladies' Paradise.
Personally he felt he would be lost, if he did not get back into its
good graces. The night before, 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
powerful influence.

"Upon my word," said he, "so much the worse for the manufacturers!
Every one would laugh at me if I ruined myself in fighting for
other people's benefit, when those fellows are struggling as to 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 is
sufficient that the public are satisfied."

Denise smiled and replied: "Go and tell 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 one bright sunny afternoon in January. For a
fortnight she had been unable to go down into the shop which a
charwoman now looked after. She sat in the centre of her bed, propped
up by some pillows. Nothing but her eyes seemed to be alive in her
white face; and with head erect, she obstinately gazed upon The Ladies'
Paradise opposite, through the small curtains of the windows. Baudu,
himself suffering from the same obsession, from the despairing fixity
of her gaze, sometimes wanted to draw the larger curtains. But she
stopped him with an imploring gesture, obstinately desirous of looking
and looking till the last moment should come. The monster had now
robbed her of everything, her business, her daughter; she herself had
gradually died away with The Old Elbeuf, losing some 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 strength to
insist on her husband opening both windows. It was very mild, a bright
ray of sunshine gilded The Ladies' Paradise, whilst the bed-room of
the old house shivered in the shade. Madame Baudu lay there with eyes
fixed, full of that vision of the triumphal monument, those clear,
limpid windows, behind which a gallop of millions was passing. But
slowly her eyes grew dim, invaded by darkness; and when their last
gleam had expired in death, they remained wide open, still gazing, and
wet with tears.

Once more all the ruined traders of the district followed the funeral
procession. There were the brothers Vanpouille, pale at the thought of
their December bills, met by a supreme effort which they would never
be able to repeat. Bédoré, accompanying 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. And
they dared not question each other about those who had disappeared,
Quinette, Mademoiselle Tatin, and others, who, in the space of a day,
sank, ruined, swept away by the flood of disasters: 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:
Grognet the perfumer, Madame Chadeuil the milliner, Lacassagne the
flower-maker, and Naud the boot-maker who were still on their legs, but
full of anxiety at thought of the evil which would doubtless sweep them
away in their turn. Baudu walked behind the hearse with the same heavy,
stolid step as when he had followed his daughter; whilst in the first
mourning coach could be seen Bourras's eyes sparkling under his bushy
eyebrows and hair of a snowy whiteness.

Denise was in great trouble. For the last fortnight she had been
worn out with fatigue and anxiety; she had been obliged to put Pépé
to school, and had been running about on account of 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, this fresh
catastrophe, had quite overwhelmed the young girl, though Mouret had
again offered his services, giving her leave to do what she liked for
her uncle and the others. One morning she had yet another interview
with him, at the news that Bourras had been turned into the street, and
that Baudu was going to shut up shop. Then, she went out after lunch in
the hope of at least comforting these two.

In the Rue de la Michodière, Bourras was standing on the foot pavement
opposite his house, whence he had been evicted on the previous day
by a fine trick, a discovery of the lawyers. As Mouret held several
bills, he had easily obtained an order in bankruptcy against the
umbrella-maker and then had given five hundred francs for the expiring
lease at the sale ordered by the court; so that the obstinate old man
had for five hundred francs allowed himself to be deprived of what he
had refused to surrender 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, the rooms cleared;
however, he still obstinately remained in the corner where he slept,
and from which out of pity they did not like to drive him. The workmen
even attacked the roofing over his head. They took off the rotten
slates, the ceilings fell in and the walls cracked, and yet he remained
there, under the bare old beams, amidst the ruins. At last when the
police came, he went away. But on the following morning he again
appeared on the opposite side of the street, after passing the night in
a lodging-house of the neighbourhood.

"Monsieur Bourras!" said Denise, kindly.

He did not hear her for his flaming eyes were devouring the workmen who
were attacking the front of the hovel with their picks. Through the
glassless windows you could see the inside of the house, the wretched
rooms, and the black staircase, to which the sun had not penetrated for
the last two hundred years.

"Ah! it's you," he replied at last, when he recognised her. "A nice bit
of work they're doing, eh? the robbers!"

She no longer dared to speak; her heart was stirred by the lamentable
wretchedness of the old place; she was unable to take her eyes off the
mouldy stones that were falling. Up above on a corner of the ceiling of
her old room, she once more perceived that name--Ernestine--written in
black and shaky letters with the flame of a candle; and the remembrance
of her days of misery came back to her, inspiring her with a tender
sympathy for all suffering. However, the workmen, in order to knock
one of the walls down at a blow, had attacked it at its base. It was
already tottering.

"If only it could crush them all," growled Bourras, in a savage voice.

There was a terrible cracking noise. The frightened workmen ran out
into the street. In falling, the wall shook and carried all the rest
with it. No doubt the hovel, with its flaws and cracks was ripe for
this downfall; a push had sufficed to cleave it from top to bottom. It
was a pitiful crumbling, the razing of a mud-house soddened by rain.
Not a partition remained standing; on the ground there was nothing but
a heap of rubbish, the dung of the past cast, as it were, at the street

"My God!" the old man had exclaimed as if the blow had resounded in his
very entrails.

He stood there gaping; he would never have imagined that it would have
been so quickly over. And he looked at the gap, the hollow at last
yawning beside The Ladies' Paradise, now freed of the wart which had
so long disgraced it. The gnat was crushed; this was the final triumph
over the galling obstinacy of the infinitely little; the whole block
was now invaded and conquered. Passers-by lingered to talk to the
workmen, who began crying out against those old buildings which were
only good for killing people.

"Monsieur Bourras," repeated Denise, trying to draw him on one side,
"you know that you will not be abandoned. All your wants will be
provided for."

He raised 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 use his hands
and that he can find work wherever he likes. Really, it would be a fine
thing to offer charity to those whom they assassinate!"

Then she implored him: "Pray accept, Monsieur Bourras; don't cause 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 from
sticking to their ideas."

He cast a last glance at the heap of rubbish, and then went painfully
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. Then she
went over to her uncle's. The draper was alone in the dark shop of
The Old Elbeuf. The charwoman only came in the morning and evening to
do a little cooking, and help him take down and put up the shutters.
He spent hours in this solitude, often without being disturbed during
the whole day, and bewildered and unable to find the goods when a
stray customer chanced to venture in. And there in the silence and the
half-light he walked about unceasingly, with the same heavy step as
at the two funerals; yielding to a sickly desire, to 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 and then 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," he murmured, with an astonished look, "that must have
been the house. I felt the ground shake. Seeing them on the roof this
morning, I closed my door."

Then he made a vague gesture, to intimate that such things no longer
interested him. Each time he arrived in front of 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 gloom-enveloped shelves,
on which a few pieces of cloth were growing more and more mouldy. 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 fallen pride, amidst all these catastrophes. He raised
his eyes to the black ceiling, he listened to the sepulchral silence
which reigned in the little dining-room, that family nook which he had
formerly loved so well, even to its stuffy odour. Not a breath was now
heard in the old house, his regular heavy tread made the ancient walls
resound, as if he were walking in the tomb of his affections.

At last Denise approached the subject which had brought her. "Uncle,"
said she, "you can't stay like this. You must come to a decision."

Without stopping he replied: "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 in presence of such a long
series of misfortunes. Everything paid, the old man would simply find
himself in the street, penniless.

"But what will you do, then?" she murmured, seeking some transition in
order to arrive at the offer which she dared not make.

"I don't know," he replied. "They'll pick me up all right." He had
now changed his route, going from the dining-room to the windows; and
every time he came to these windows he cast a mournful glance on the
wretchedness of the old show-goods forgotten there. His eyes did not
even turn towards the triumphal façade of The Ladies' Paradise, whose
architectural lines ran right and left, to both ends of the street. He
was thoroughly annihilated, and had not even the strength left him to
get angry.

"Listen, uncle," said Denise at last, greatly embarrassed; "perhaps
there might be a situation for you." And after a pause she stammered,
"Yes, I am charged to offer you a situation as inspector."

"Where?" asked Baudu.

"Why, over the road," she replied; "at our place. Six thousand francs a
year; a very easy berth."

He stopped suddenly 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.

"Over the road, over the road," he stammered several times. "You want
me to go there?"

Denise herself was affected by his emotion. She recalled the long
struggle of the two shops, again saw herself at the funerals of
Geneviève and Madame Baudu, and beheld The Old Elbeuf overthrown,
utterly ruined by The Ladies' Paradise. And the idea of her uncle
taking a situation over the road, and walking about there in a white
neck-tie, made her heart leap with pity and revolt.

"Come, Denise, my girl, is it possible?" he asked simply, crossing his
poor trembling hands.

"No, no, uncle!" she exclaimed, in a sudden outburst of her just and
excellent nature. "It would be wrong. Forgive me, I beg of you."

He resumed his walk and again his step resounded amidst the funereal
emptiness of the house. And, when she left him, he was still and ever
marching up and down, with the obstinate locomotion peculiar to great
despairs which turn and turn, unable to find an outlet.

That night also proved a sleepless one for Denise. She had discovered
she really was powerless. Even in favour of her own people she was
unable to find any consolation or relief. She must to the bitter end
remain a witness of the invincible work of life which requires death
as its continual seed. She no longer struggled, she accepted this
law of combat; still her womanly soul filled with tearful pity, with
fraternal tenderness at the idea of humanity's sufferings. For years
past she herself had been caught in the wheel-work of the machine. Had
she not bled in it? Had she not been bruised, dismissed, overwhelmed
with insults? Even now she was frightened, when she felt herself chosen
by the logic of facts. Why should it be she, who was so puny? Why
should her small hand suddenly become so powerful amidst the monster's
work? And the force which swept everything away, carried her along in
her turn, she, whose coming was to be revenge. It was Mouret who had
invented this world-crushing mechanism whose brutal working shocked
her; he had strewn the neighbourhood with ruins, despoiled some, killed
others; and yet despite everything she loved him for the grandeur
of his work, loved him still more at each fresh excess of power,
notwithstanding the flood of tears which overcame her in presence of
the hallowed wretchedness of the vanquished.


The Rue du Dix-Décembre, quite new with its chalk-white houses and the
last remaining scaffoldings of a few unfinished buildings, stretched
out beneath a clear February sun; a stream of vehicles was passing at a
conquering pace through this gap of light, intersecting the damp gloom
of the old Saint-Roch quarter; and, between the Rue de la Michodière
and the Rue de Choiseul, there was quite a tumult, the crush of a crowd
of people who had been excited by a month's advertising, and with their
eyes in the air, were gaping at the monumental façade of The Ladies'
Paradise, inaugurated that Monday, on the occasion of a grand display
of white goods.

There was a vast development of bright, fresh polychromatic
architecture enriched with gilding, symbolical of the tumult and
sparkle of the business inside, and attracting attention like a
gigantic window-display flaming with the liveliest colours. In order
not to bedim the show of goods, the ground-floor decoration was of a
sober description; the base of sea-green marble; the corner piers and
bearing pillars covered with black marble, the severity of which was
brightened by gilded modillions; and all the rest was plate-glass,
in iron sashes, nothing but glass, which seemed to throw the depths
of the halls and galleries open to the full light of day. However,
as the floors ascended, the hues became brighter. The frieze above
the ground-floor was formed of a series of mosaics, a garland of red
and blue flowers, alternating with marble slabs on which was cut an
infinity of names of goods, encircling the colossus. Then the base of
the first floor, of enamelled brickwork, supported large windows, above
which came another frieze formed of gilded escutcheons emblazoned with
the arms of the chief towns of France, and designs in terra-cotta, in
whose enamel one again found the light coloured tints of the base.
Then, right at the top, the entablature blossomed forth like an ardent
florescence of the entire façade, mosaics and faience reappeared with
yet warmer colourings, the zinc of the eaves was cut and gilded, while
along the acroteria ran a nation of statues, emblematical of the
great industrial and manufacturing cities, their delicate silhouettes
profiled against the sky. The spectators were especially astonished
by the central entrance which was also decorated with a profusion of
mosaics, faience, and terra-cotta, and surmounted by a freshly gilt
allegorical group, which glittered in the sun: Woman garmented and
kissed by a flight of laughing cupids.

About two o'clock a special squad of police was obliged to make the
crowd move on, and to regulate the waiting carriages. The palace was
built, the temple raised to the extravagant folly of fashion. It
dominated everything, covering a whole district with its shadows. The
scar left on its flank by the demolition of Bourras's hovel had already
been so skilfully cicatrized that it would now have been impossible to
find the former place of that old wart.

In their superb isolation the four frontages now ran along the four
streets, without a break. Since Baudu's retirement into a home, 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 cab-wheels had splashed them, while posters--a rising tide of
advertisements, which seemed like the last shovelful of earth thrown
over old-fashioned commerce--covered them up and pasted them together;
and, in the middle of this dead frontage, dirtied by the mud from the
street, and streaked with tatters of Parisian puffery, a huge clean
yellow poster, announcing in letters two feet high the great sale at
The Ladies' Paradise, was displayed like a flag planted on a conquered

It was as if the colossus, after each enlargement, full of shame and
repugnance for the dingy district in which it had modestly sprung
up, and which it had subsequently slaughtered, had just turned
its back to it, leaving the mud of the narrow streets behind, and
presenting its upstart face to the noisy, sunny thoroughfares of new
Paris. As now represented in the engravings of its 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 one engraving, were the Rue du Dix-Décembre, the
Rue de la Michodière, and the Rue Monsigny, filled with little black
figures, and endowed with wondrous breadth, as if to make room for
the customers of the whole world. Then came a bird's eye view of the
buildings themselves, of exaggerated immensity, with the roofs of the
covered galleries, the glazed courtyards in which the halls could be
divined, all the infinitude of that lake of glass and zinc shining in
the sun. Beyond, stretched Paris, but a Paris dwarfed, eaten away by
the monster: the houses, of cottage-like humbleness in the immediate
neighbourhood, faded into a cloud of indistinct chimneys; the public
buildings seemed to melt into nothingness, on the left two dashes
sufficed for Notre-Dame, to the right a circumflex accent represented
the Invalides, in the background the Panthéon looked no larger than
a lentil. The horizon crumbled into powder, became no more than a
contemptible frame-work extending past the heights of Châtillon,
out into the open country, whose blurred expanses indicated how far
extended the state of slavery.

Ever since the morning the crowd had been increasing. No establishment
had ever yet stirred up the city with such an uproarious profusion
of advertisements. The Ladies' Paradise now spent nearly six hundred
thousand francs a year in posters, advertisements, and appeals of all
sorts; four hundred thousand catalogues were sent away, more than a
hundred thousand francs' worth of material was cut up for patterns.
It was a complete invasion of the newspapers, the walls, and the ears
of the public, as if some monstrous brass trumpet were being blown
incessantly, carrying the tumult of the great sales to the four corners
of the earth. And, for the future, this façade, before which people
were now crowding, became a living advertisement with its motley,
gilded magnificence, its windows large enough for the display of the
entire poem of woman's dress and its profusion of inscriptions painted,
engraved and cut in stone, from the marble slabs of the ground-floor
to the sheets of iron rounded off in semicircles above the roofs and
unfolding gilded streamers on which the name of the house could be read
in letters bright as the sun, against the azure blue of the sky.

Trophies and flags had been added in honour of the inauguration; each
storey was gay with banners and standards bearing the arms of the
principal towns of France; and right at the top, the flags of foreign
nations, run up on masts, fluttered in the breeze. Down below the show
of white goods in the windows flashed with blinding intensity. There
was nothing but white; on the left a complete trousseau and a mountain
of sheets, on the right some curtains draped to imitate a chapel, and
numerous pyramids of handkerchiefs fatigued the eyes; while between the
hung goods at the door--pieces of cotton, calico, and muslin, falling
and spreading out like snow from a mountain summit--were placed some
dressed prints, sheets of bluish cardboard, on which a young bride
and a lady in ball costume, both life-size and attired in real lace
and silk, smiled with their coloured faces. A group of idlers was
constantly forming there, and desire arose from the admiration of the

Moreover the curiosity around The Ladies' Paradise was increased by a
catastrophe of which all Paris was talking, the burning down of The
Four Seasons, the big establishment which Bouthemont had opened near
the Opera-house, hardly three weeks before. The newspapers were full
of details--the fire breaking out through an explosion of gas during
the night, the hurried flight of the frightened saleswomen 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
by insurances and people had already begun to shrug their shoulders,
saying what a splendid advertisement it was. But for the time being
attention again flowed back to The Ladies' Paradise, excited by all
the stories which were flying about, occupied to a wonderful extent by
these colossal establishments which by their importance were taking up
such a large place in public life. How wonderfully lucky that Mouret
was! Paris saluted her star, and crowded to see him still standing
erect since the very flames now undertook to sweep all competition
from before him; and the profits of his season were already being
calculated, people had begun to estimate the increase of custom which
would be brought to his doors by the forced closing of the rival house.
For a moment he had been anxious, troubled at feeling a jealous woman
against him, that Madame Desforges to whom he owed some part of his
fortune. Baron Hartmann's financial dilettantism in putting money into
both concerns, annoyed him also. Then he was above all exasperated at
having missed a genial idea which had occurred to Bouthemont, who had
prevailed on the vicar of the Madeleine to bless his establishment,
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 building. True, this ceremony had not prevented
everything from being destroyed, but it 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
securing the services of the archbishop.

The clock over the door was striking three, and the afternoon crush
had commenced, nearly a hundred thousand customers struggling in the
various galleries and halls. Outside, the vehicles were stationed from
one to the other end of the Rue du Dix-Décembre, and over against
the Opera-house another compact mass of conveyances occupied the
_cul-de-sac_ where the future Avenue de l'Opéra was to commence. Public
cabs mixed with private broughams, the drivers waiting about the wheels
and the horses neighing and shaking their curb-chains which sparkled in
the sun. The lines were incessantly reforming amidst the calls of the
messengers and the pushing of the animals, which closed in of their own
accord, whilst fresh vehicles kept on arriving and taking their places
with the rest. The pedestrians flew on to the refuges in frightened
bands, the foot pavements appeared black with people in the receding
perspective of the broad straight thoroughfare. And a clamour rose up
between the white houses, a mighty caressing breath swept along, as
though Paris were opening her soul.

Madame de Boves, accompanied by her daughter Blanche and Madame Guibal,
was standing at a window, looking at a display of costumes composed of
made-up skirts with the necessary material for bodices.

"Oh! do look," said she, "at those print costumes at nineteen francs
fifteen sous!"

In their square pasteboard boxes lay the costumes, each tied round
with a favour, and folded so as to show the blue and red embroidered
trimmings; and, in a corner of each box, was an engraving depicting the
garment completed, as worn by a young person resembling some princess.

"But they are not worth more," murmured Madame Guibal. "They fall to
pieces as soon as you handle them."

The two women had become quite intimate since Monsieur de Boves had
been confined to his arm-chair by an attack of gout. His wife put up
with the acquaintance, since in this way she picked up a little pocket
money, sums that the husband allowed himself to be robbed of, being
also in 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, being absorbed in contemplation of the
string of carriages, whose doors one by one opened and gave egress to
more customers.

"Yes," said Blanche, at last, in her indolent voice. "Paul is to join
us at about four o'clock in the reading-room, on leaving the ministry."

They had been married about a month, and Vallagnosc, after a three
weeks' leave of absence spent in the South of France, had just
returned to his post. The young woman already had her mother's portly
appearance; her flesh seemed to be more puffy and coarse since her

"But there's Madame Desforges over there!" exclaimed the countess,
looking at a brougham that had just pulled up.

"Do you think so?" murmured Madame Guibal. "After all those stories!
She must still be weeping over the fire at The Four Seasons."

However, it was indeed 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 interested myself in
that rival establishment. Personally, there is only one thing I cannot
forgive him, and that is, to have urged on the marriage of my protégée,
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 crush at the entrance. Little by little, however,
they were caught by the stream and only had to yield to the current to
pass the door without being conscious of it, talking louder the while
in order to make themselves heard. They were now asking each other
about Madame Marty; it was said that poor Monsieur Marty, after some
violent scenes at home, had gone quite mad, believing himself endowed
with unexhaustible wealth. He was ever diving into the treasures of the
earth, exhausting mines of gold and loading tumbrils with diamonds and
precious stones.

"Poor old 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, since losing his wife. But she must be here,
we shall see her."

Surprise, however, made the ladies stop short. Before them extended
"the largest shops in the world," as the advertisements said. The grand
central gallery now ran from end to end, opening on to both the Rue du
Dix-Décembre and the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; whilst to the right and
the left, similar to the aisles of a church, the narrower Monsigny and
Michodière Galleries, extended along the two side streets without a
break. Here and there the halls formed open spaces amidst the metallic
framework of the spiral staircases and hanging 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 far end; and,
from the new grand vestibule, you beheld, on looking up, the bedding
department which had been moved from one to the other end of the second
floor. The number of departments now amounted to the enormous total
of fifty; several, quite fresh, were being inaugurated that very day;
others, which had become too important, had simply been divided, in
order to facilitate the sales; and, owing to the continual increase of
business, the staff had been increased to three thousand and forty-five
employees for the new season.

What caused the ladies to stop was the prodigious spectacle presented
by the grand exhibition of white goods. In the first place, there was
the vestibule, a hall with bright mirrors, and paved with mosaics,
where the low-priced goods detained the voracious crowd. Then the
galleries opened displaying a glittering blaze of white, a borealistic
vista, a country of snow, with endless steppes hung with ermine, and an
accumulation of glaciers shimmering in the sun. You here again found
the whiteness of the show windows, but vivified, and burning from one
end of the enormous building to the other with the white flame of a
fire in full swing. There was nothing but white goods, all the white
articles from each department, a riot of white, a white constellation
whose fixed radiance was at first blinding, so that details could
not be distinguished. However, the eye soon became accustomed to
this unique whiteness; to the left, in the Monsigny Gallery, white
promontories of cotton and calico jutted out, with 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 erections of mother of pearl buttons, a grand
decoration composed of white socks and one whole room covered with
white swanskin illumined by a stream of light from the distance. But
the greatest radiance of this nucleus of light came from the central
gallery, from amidst the ribbons and the neckerchiefs, the gloves and
the silks. The counters disappeared beneath the whiteness of the silks,
the ribbons, the gloves and the neckerchiefs.

Round the iron columns climbed "puffings" of white muslin, secured now
and again with white silk handkerchiefs. The staircases were decorated
with white draperies, quiltings and dimities alternating along the
balustrades and encircling the halls as high as the second storey; and
all this ascending whiteness assumed wings, hurried off and wandered
away, like a flight of swans. And more white hung from the arches, a
fall of down, a sheet of large snowy flakes; white counterpanes, white
coverlets hovered in the air, like banners in a church; long jets of
guipure lace hung across, suggestive of swarms of white motionless
butterflies; other laces fluttered on all sides, floating like gossamer
in a summer sky, filling the air with their white breath. And the
marvel, the altar of this religion of white was a tent formed of white
curtains, which hung from the glazed roof above the silk counter, in
the great hall. The muslin, the gauze, the art-guipures flowed in light
ripples, whilst very richly embroidered tulles, and pieces of oriental
silver-worked silk served as a background to this giant decoration,
which partook both of the tabernacle and the alcove. It was like a
broad white bed, awaiting with its virginal immensity, as in the
legend, the coming of the white princess, she who was to appear some
day, all powerful in her white bridal veil.

"Oh! extraordinary!" repeated the ladies. "Wonderful!"

They did not weary of this song in praise of whiteness which the goods
of the entire establishment were singing. Mouret had never conceived
anything more vast; it was the master stroke of his genius for display.
Beneath the flow of all this whiteness, amidst the seeming disorder
of the tissues, fallen as if by chance from the open drawers, there
was so to say a harmonious phrase,--white followed and developed in
all its tones: springing into existence, growing, and blossoming with
the complicated orchestration of some master's fugue, the continuous
development of which carries the mind away in an ever-soaring flight.
Nothing but white, and yet never the same white, each different
tinge showing against the other, contrasting with that next to it,
or perfecting it, and attaining to the very brilliancy of light
itself. It all began with the dead white of calico and linen, and the
dull white of flannel and cloth; then came the velvets, silks, and
satins--quite an ascending gamut, the white gradually lighting up and
finally emitting little flashes at its folds; and then it flew away in
the transparencies of the curtains, became diffuse brightness with the
muslins, the guipures, the laces and especially the tulles, so light
and airy that they formed the extreme final note; whilst the silver of
the oriental silk sounded higher than all else in the depths of the
giant alcove.

Meanwhile the place was full of life. The lifts were besieged
by people; there was a crush at the refreshment-bar and in the
reading-room; quite a nation was moving about in these snowy regions.
And the crowd seemed to be black, like skaters on a Polish lake in
December. On the ground-floor there was a heavy swell, ruffled by a
reflux, in which nothing but the delicate enraptured faces of women
could be distinguished. In the gaps of the iron framework, up the
staircases, on the hanging bridges, there was an endless ascent of
small figures which looked as if lost amidst the snowy peaks of
mountains. A suffocating, hot-house heat surprised one at sight of
these frozen heights. The buzz of all the voices made a great noise
like that of a river carrying ice along. Up above, the profusion of
gilding, the glass work and the golden roses seemed like a burst of
sunshine, glittering over the Alps of this grand exhibition of white

"Come," said Madame de Boves, "we must go forward. It's impossible to
stay here."

Since she had entered, inspector Jouve, 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 gain ground, but
followed her at a distance, without, however, appearing to take any
further notice of her.

"Ah!" said Madame Guibal again stopping amidst all the jostling as she
came to the first pay-desk, "that's a pretty idea, those 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 the thousand at Nice were
distributed to every lady customer who made the smallest purchase. Near
each pay-desk messengers in uniform stood delivering the bouquets under
the supervision of an inspector. And gradually all the customers were
decorated in this way, the building was filling with these white bridal
flowers, every woman diffusing as she passed a penetrating perfume of

"Yes," murmured Madame Desforges, in a jealous voice, "it's a good

But, just as they were moving away, they heard two salesmen joking
about these violets. A tall, thin fellow was expressing his
astonishment: was the marriage between the governor and the first-hand
in the costume department coming off, then? whilst a short, fat fellow
replied that he didn't know, but that the flowers were bought at any

"What!" exclaimed Madame de Boves, "is Monsieur Mouret going to marry?"

"That's the latest news," replied Madame Desforges, affecting the
greatest indifference. "However, one's bound to come to that."

The countess darted a quick glance at her new friend. They both now
understood why Madame Desforges had come to The Ladies' Paradise
notwithstanding the hostilities attending her rupture with Mouret. No
doubt she was yielding to an invincible desire to see and suffer.

"I shall stay with you," said Madame Guibal, whose curiosity was
awakened. "We can meet Madame de Boves again in the reading-room."

"Very good," replied the latter. "I want to go up to the first floor.
Come along, Blanche." And she went up followed by her daughter, whilst
inspector Jouve still on her track, ascended by another staircase,
in order not to attract her attention. The two other ladies soon
disappeared in the compact crowd on the ground-floor.

Amidst the press of business all the counters were again talking of
nothing but the governor's love matters. The affair which had for
months been occupying the employees, who were delighted at Denise's
long resistance, had all at once come to a crisis: since the previous
day it had been known that the girl intended to leave The Ladies'
Paradise, under the pretext of requiring rest, and this despite all
Mouret's entreaties. And opinions were divided. Would she leave? Would
she stay? Bets of five francs that she would leave on the following
Sunday circulated from department to department. The knowing ones
staked a lunch on it all ending in a marriage; yet, the others, those
who believed in her departure, did not risk their money without good
reasons. Certainly the girl had all the power of an adored woman who
refuses to yield; but the governor, on his side, was strong in his
wealth, his happy widowerhood, and his pride, which a last exaction
might exasperate. At all events they were all of opinion that this
little saleswoman had played her game with the science of a expert
woman of the world and was now venturing on the supreme stroke by
offering him this bargain: Marry me, or I go.

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 very judgment which, to her continual surprise, was
passed upon her conduct. Had she wished for all this? Had she shown
herself artful, coquettish, ambitious? No, she had simply presented
herself and had been the first to feel astonished at such a passion.
And again, at the present time, why did they ascribe her resolution to
quit The Ladies' Paradise to craftiness? It was after all so natural!
She had begun to experience a nervous uneasiness, an intolerable
anguish, amidst the continual gossip which went on in the house, and
Mouret's feverish pursuit of her, and the combats she was obliged to
wage against herself; and she preferred to go away, seized with fear
lest she might some day yield and regret it for ever afterwards. If in
all this there were any learned tactics, she was totally unaware of it,
and she asked herself in despair what she might do to avoid appearing
like one who is running after a husband. The idea of a marriage now
irritated her, and she resolved to say no, and still no should he push
his folly to that extent. She alone ought to suffer. The necessity for
the separation caused her tears to flow; but, with her great courage,
she repeated 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 curtly replied that he
granted her a week's reflection, before allowing her to commit such a
stupid action. At the expiration of the week, when she returned to the
subject, and expressed a determination to go away after the great sale,
he did not lose his temper, but affected to talk the language of reason
to her: she was playing with 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 when the young woman replied that she
had not looked for any other situation, but intended first of all to
take a rest at Valognes, thanks to the money she had already saved, he
asked her what would prevent her from returning to The Ladies' Paradise
if her health alone were the reason of her departure. She remained
silent, tortured by this cross-examination. And thereupon he imagined
that she was about to join a sweetheart, a future husband perhaps. Had
she not confessed to him one evening that she loved somebody? From
that moment he had been carrying deep in his heart, like the stab of
a knife, the confession wrung from her. And, if this man was to marry
her, she must be giving up all to follow him: that explained her
obstinacy. It was all over; and so he simply added in an icy tone that
he would detain her no longer, since she could not tell him the real
cause of her departure. These harsh words, free from anger, upset her
far more than a violent scene such as she had feared.

Throughout the remaining week which Denise was obliged to spend in
the house, Mouret preserved his rigid pallor. When he crossed the
departments, he affected not to see her; never had he seemed more
indifferent, more absorbed in his work; and the bets began again, only
the brave ones dared to risk a luncheon on the wedding. Yet, beneath
this coldness, so unusual with him, Mouret hid a frightful attack of
indecision and suffering. Fits of anger brought the blood seething 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 reflect, to
find some practical means of preventing her from going away; but
he constantly ran up against his powerlessness, the uselessness of
his power and money. An idea, however, was growing amidst his wild
projects, and gradually imposing itself on him notwithstanding his
revolt. After Madame Hédouin's death he had sworn never to marry
again; having derived 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 ought to remain single, if he wished to retain his
masculine sovereignty over the growing desires of his world of female
customers; for the introduction of a woman to the throne would change
the atmosphere, drive away all the others. Thus, he still resisted the
invincible logic of facts, preferring to die rather than yield, and
inflamed by sudden bursts of fury against Denise, feeling that she
was Revenge and fearing he should fall vanquished upon his millions,
broken like a mere straw by the Eternal Feminine on the day he should
marry her. Then, however, he would become cowardly again, and discuss
his repugnance: why should he tremble? she was so sweet-tempered, so
prudent, that he could abandon himself to her without fear. Twenty
times an hour the battle began afresh in his distracted mind. His pride
tended to irritate the wound, and he completely lost his reason when he
thought that, even after this last submission, she might yet say no,
ever no if she loved another. On the morning of the great sale, he had
still not decided on anything, and Denise was to leave on the morrow.

When Bourdoncle, on the day in question, entered Mouret's private room
at about three o'clock, according to custom, he found him sitting with
his elbows on his desk, his hands over his eyes, so greatly absorbed
that he had to touch him on the shoulder. Then Mouret glanced up,
his face bathed in tears. They looked at each other, held out their
hands, and a hearty grip was exchanged by these two men who had fought
so many commercial battles side by side. For the past month moreover
Bourdoncle's manner had completely changed; he now bent before Denise,
and even secretly urged the governor on to a marriage with her. No
doubt he was thus manœuvring to save himself from being swept away by
a power which he now recognised as superior. But beneath this change
there could also have been found the awakening of an old ambition,
a timid, gradually growing hope of in his turn swallowing up that
Mouret before whom he had so long bowed. This was in the atmosphere
of the house, in the struggle for existence whose continued massacres
helped on the sales around him. He was carried away by the working of
the machine, seized by the same appetite as the others, that voracity
which, from top to bottom, urged the lean ones to the extermination of
the fat ones. Only a sort of religious fear, the religion of chance,
had so far prevented him from showing his own teeth. But now the
governor was becoming childish, drifting into a ridiculous marriage,
ruining his luck, destroying his charm over the customers. Why should
he dissuade him from it, when he might afterwards so easily pick up the
business of this weakling who fell at the feet of a woman? Thus it was
with the emotion of a farewell, the pity of an old friendship, that he
shook his chief's hand, saying:

"Come, come, courage! Marry her, and finish the matter."

But Mouret already felt ashamed of his momentary weakness, and got up,
protesting: "No, no, it's too stupid. Come, let's take a turn round the
place. Things are looking well, aren't they? I fancy we shall have a
magnificent day."

They went out and began their afternoon inspection of the crowded
departments. Bourdoncle meanwhile cast side glances at his companion,
feeling anxious at this last display of energy and watching his lips
to catch the least sign of suffering. The business was now throwing
forth its fire, with an infernal roar, which made the building tremble
like a big steamer going at full speed. At Denise's counter was a crowd
of mothers with bands of 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 fit
for the garmenting of a troop of shivering cupids: white cloth cloaks,
white piqué, nainsook and cashmere dresses, white sailor costumes, and
even white Zouave ones. In the centre, for the sake of effect, for the
proper season had not yet arrived, there was a display of confirmation
costumes, white muslin dresses and veils and white satin shoes, a light
gushing florescence like an enormous bouquet of innocence and candid
delight. Madame Bourdelais, with her three children, Madeleine, Edmond
and Lucien, seated according to their size, was getting angry with the
smallest because he continued struggling whilst Denise tried to put a
muslin-de-laine jacket on him.

"Do keep still! Don't you think it's rather tight, mademoiselle?" she
said; and with the sharp look of a woman difficult to deceive, she
examined the stuff, studied the cut, and scrutinized the seams. "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 as the customers had
besieged her department in great force. 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 was standing before her, a parcel in his hand. He
had been 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: it was to be a regular honeymoon trip, a
month's holiday which would remind them of old times.

"Just fancy," he said, "Thérèse has forgotten a number 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 too! and his

"Well," said Jean, "after dinner on Sunday I had not the heart to
take him back. He will return this evening. The poor child is very
downhearted at the thought of being shut up in Paris whilst we shall be
enjoying ourselves."

Denise smiled at them, in spite of her suffering. She handed Madame
Bourdelais over to one of her saleswomen and came back to her brothers
in a corner of the department, which was, fortunately, getting clearer.
The youngsters, as she still called them, had now grown to be big
fellows. Pépé at twelve years old, was already taller and stouter than
herself but still taciturn and living on caresses, looking, too, very
gentle in his school-uniform; whilst broad-shouldered Jean, quite a
head taller than his sister, with blonde hair blowing about in the
wind, still retained his feminine good looks. And she, always slim, no
fatter than a skylark, as she said, still retained her anxious motherly
authority over them, treating them as children in need of all her
attention, buttoning up Jean's frock coat so that he should not look
like a rake, and seeing that Pépé had got a clean handkerchief. When
she perceived the latter's swollen eyes, she gently chided him. "You
must be reasonable, my boy. Your studies cannot be interrupted," said
she. "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. "And you, youngster, it's your fault, you get making him believe
that we are going to have wonderful fun! Just try to be a little more

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, indeed all her money went for them, as in former days. They
alone linked her to life and work, for she had again vowed that she
would never marry.

"Well, here are the things," resumed Jean. "In the first place, there's
a light brown cloak in this parcel that Thérèse----"

But he stopped, and Denise, on turning round to see what had frightened
him, perceived Mouret standing behind them. For a moment he had been
watching her acting the mother towards the two big boys, scolding
and embracing them and turning them round as mothers do babies when
changing their clothes. Bourdoncle had remained on one side, feigning
to be interested in the sales; but he did not lose sight of this little

"They are your brothers, are they not?" asked Mouret, after a silence.

He had the icy tone and rigid demeanour which he now assumed with her.
Denise herself made an effort to remain cold. 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 recognise him, I remember having seen
him in the Tuileries Gardens one evening with you."

Then his voice, which was coming more slowly, slightly trembled.
She, much moved, bent down, pretending to arrange Pépé's belt. Both
brothers, who had turned scarlet, stood smiling at their sister's

"They're very much like you," said the latter.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "they're much handsomer than I am!"

For a moment he seemed to be comparing their faces. But he could endure
it no longer. How she loved them! He walked on 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 just given
caused him a sort of irritation. To what idea had he yielded on seeing
her with her brothers? It was maddening to think that he could no
longer find the strength to assert his will. However, he could settle
it by saying a few words of farewell. Bourdoncle, who had rejoined him,
seemed less anxious, though he was still examining him with stealthy

Meanwhile, Denise had returned to Madame Bourdelais. "Does the mantle
suit you, madame?" she inquired.

"Oh yes, very well. That's quite enough for one day. These little ones
are ruining me!"

Denise, now being able to slip off, went to listen to Jean's
explanations, and then accompanied him to the various counters, where
he would certainly have lost his head without her. First came the brown
jacket, which Thérèse now wished to change for a white cloth one of the
same size and same shape. And the young woman, having taken the parcel,
went to the mantle department, followed by her two brothers.

The department had laid out all its light coloured garments, summer
jackets and capes, of light silk and fancy woollens. But there was
little doing there, the customers were but few and far between. Nearly
all the saleswomen were new-comers. Clara had disappeared a month
before, and some said that she had altogether gone to the bad. As for
Marguerite, she was at last about to assume the management of the
little shop at Grenoble, where her cousin was waiting for her. Madame
Aurélie alone remained there immutable, in the curved cuirass of her
silk dress and with her imperial face retaining the yellowish puffiness
of an antique marble. However, 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
the Rigolles property piece by piece. It was a sort of punishment on
them, for breaking up their home, 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 at Madame
Aurélie with a discontented air, surprised that she lacked the tact to
resign: too old for business, such was his opinion; the knell was about
to sound which would sweep away the Lhomme dynasty.

"Ah! it's you," said she to Denise, with 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 woman. In her department, as in the others, nothing
but Denise's departure was being talked of; 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 to say: "It's reported 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 more disdainful airs than ever on her
putty-looking face. And she came up saying: "You are quite right.
Self-respect above everything, I say. Allow me to bid you adieu, my

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 woman--the engagement of persons to carry the articles about,
thus relieving the saleswomen of much fatigue.

"Go with Mademoiselle," said the first-hand, giving the auxiliary the
cloak. Then, returning to Denise, she added: "Pray consider the matter
well. We are all heart-broken at your leaving."

Jean and Pépé, who were waiting, smiling amidst this overflowing
torrent of women, followed their sister. They now had to go to the
under-linen department, to get four chemises like the half-dozen which
Thérèse 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 along.

In the first place, at the corset counter a little scene was collecting
quite a crowd. Madame Boutarel, who had arrived in Paris from the
south, this time with her husband and daughter, had been wandering all
over the place since morning, collecting an outfit for the young lady,
who was about to be married. The father was consulted at every turn
so that it seemed they would never finish. At last they had stranded
here; and whilst the young lady was absorbed in a profound study of
some undergarments, the mother had disappeared, having cast her eyes
on some corsets she herself fancied. When Monsieur Boutarel, a big,
full-blooded man, quite bewildered, left his daughter to search for
his wife, he at last found her in a sitting-room, at the door of which
he was politely invited to take a seat. These rooms were like narrow
cells, glazed with ground glass, and not even husbands were allowed to
enter them. Saleswomen came out and went in quickly, closing the doors
behind them, while men waited outside, seated in rows on arm-chairs,
and looking very weary. Monsieur Boutarel, when he understood matters,
got really angry, crying out that he wanted his wife, and insisting on
knowing what they had done with her. It was in vain that they tried to
calm him. Madame Boutarel was obliged to come out, to the delight of
the crowd, which was discussing and laughing over the affair.

Denise and her brothers were at last able to get past. Every article
of ladies' underwear was here displayed in a suite of rooms classified
into various departments. The corsets and dress-improvers occupied one
counter, there were hand-sown corsets, Duchess, cuirass, and, above
all, white silk corsets, fan-pointed with divers colours, these latter
forming a special display, an army of dummies without heads or legs,
nothing indeed but busts; and close by were horse-hair and other dress
improvers, often of fantastic aspect. But afterwards came articles
of fine linen, white cuffs and cravats, white fichus and collars, an
infinite variety of light trifles, a white foam which escaped from the
boxes and was heaped up like so much snow. There were loose jackets,
little bodices, morning gowns and peignoirs in linen, nainsook, and
lace, long white roomy garments, which spoke of the morning lounge.
Then appeared white petticoats of every length, the petticoat that
clings to the knees, and the long petticoat which sweeps the pavement,
a rising sea of petticoats, in which one lost oneself.

At the trousseau department there was a wonderful display of pleating,
embroidery, valenciennes, percale and Cambric; and then followed
another room devoted to baby-linen, where the voluptuous whiteness of
woman's clothing developed into the chaste whiteness of infancy--an
innocence, a joy, the young wife become a mother, amidst flannel coifs,
chemises and caps like dolls' things, christening gowns, cashmere
pelisses, indeed all the white down of birth, like a fine shower of
white feathers.

"They are chemises with running-strings," said Jean, who was delighted
with the rising tide of feminine attire about him.

However, Pauline ran up as soon as she perceived Denise; and before
even asking what she wanted, began to talk in a low tone, stirred as
she was by the rumours circulating in the building. In her department,
two saleswomen had even got to quarrelling over it, one affirming and
the other denying the favourite's departure.

"You'll stay with us, I'll stake my life. What would become of me?"
said Pauline; and as Denise replied that she intended to leave the
next day: "No, no," the other added, "you think so, but I know better.
You must appoint me second-hand, now that I've got my baby. Baugé is
reckoning on it, my dear."

Pauline smiled with an air of conviction. Then she gave the six
chemises; and, Jean having said that he must next go to the
handkerchief counter, she called an auxiliary to carry both the
chemises and the jacket left by the auxiliary from the mantle
department. The woman who happened to answer was Mademoiselle de
Fontenailles, recently married to Joseph. She had just obtained this
menial situation as a great favour, and she wore a long black blouse,
marked on the shoulder with a number in yellow wool.

"Follow mademoiselle," said Pauline, and then returning to Denise and
again lowering her voice, she added: "It's understood that I am to be
appointed second-hand, eh?"

Denise promised, with a laugh, by way of joking in her turn. And she
went off, going down the stairs with Jean and Pépé, all three followed
by the auxiliary. On the ground-floor, they found themselves in the
woollen department, 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 who was now a traveller,
and 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 passed through the departments the
salesmen appeared full of emotion and bent their heads before her,
uncertain as they were what she might be the next day. They whispered
and thought she looked triumphant; and the betting was once more
altered; they again risked bottles of Argenteuil wine and fish dinners
over the event. She had entered the linen-gallery in order to get
to the handkerchief counter, which was at the further end. The show
of white goods continued: cottons, madapolams, dimities, quiltings,
calicoes, nainsooks, muslins, tarlatans; then came the linen, in
enormous piles, the pieces ranged alternately like blocks of stone:
stout linen, fine linen, of all widths, white and unbleached, some of
pure flax, whitened in the sun; next the same thing commenced once
more, there were departments for each sort of linen: house linen,
table linen, kitchen linen, a continual crush of white goods, sheets,
pillow-cases, innumerable styles of napkins, table-cloths, aprons, and
dusters. And the bowing continued, all made way for Denise to pass,
while Baugé rushed out to smile on her, as on 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 throng; everything here was
arranged in white columns, white pyramids, white castles, an intricate
architecture, solely composed of handkerchiefs, some of lawn, others
of cambric, Irish linen, or China silk, some marked, some embroidered
by hand, some trimmed with lace, some hemstitched, and some woven
with vignettes; the whole forming a city of white bricks of infinite
variety, standing out mirage-like against an Eastern sky, warmed to a
white heat.

"You say another dozen?" asked Denise of her brother. "Cholet
handkerchiefs, eh?"

"Yes, like this one," he replied, showing a handkerchief in his parcel.

Jean and Pépé had not quitted her side, but clung to her as they had
done formerly on arriving in Paris, knocked up by their journey. This
vast establishment, in which she was quite at home, ended by troubling
them; and they sheltered themselves in her shadow, placing themselves
again under the protection of this second mother of theirs as in an
instinctive re-awakening of their infancy. The employees watching
them as they passed, smiled at those two big fellows following in the
footsteps of that grave slim girl; Jean frightened in spite of his
beard, Pépé bewildered in his tunic, and all three of the same fair
complexion, a fairness which made a whisper run from one end of the
counters to the other: "They are her brothers! They are her brothers!"

But, whilst Denise was looking for a salesman, there occurred another
meeting. Mouret and Bourdoncle had entered the gallery; and as the
former again stopped in front of the young woman, without, however,
speaking to her, Madame Desforges and Madame Guibal passed by.
Henriette suppressed the quiver which had invaded her whole being;
she looked at Mouret and then at Denise. They also had looked at her,
and it was a sort of mute _dénouement_, the common end of many great
dramas of the heart,--a glance exchanged in the crush of a crowd.
Mouret had already moved off, whilst Denise strayed into the depths
of the department, accompanied by her brothers and still in search
of a disengaged salesman. But in the auxiliary following Denise,
with a yellow number on her shoulder, and a coarse, cadaverous,
servant's-looking face, Henriette had recognised Mademoiselle de
Fontenailles, and relieved herself by saying to Madame Guibal, in an
angry 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 he has picked up in the street!" Then 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 own
spotless whiteness. Pieces of velvet hung from the columns, forming
a creamy white background against which silk and satin draperies
showed with a metallic and porcelain-like whiteness; and there were
also festoons of poult and gros grain silks, light foulards and
surahs, which varied from the dull white of a Norwegian blonde to the
transparent white, warmed by the sun, of a fair Italian or Spanish

Favier was just then engaged in measuring some white silk for "the
pretty lady," that elegant blonde who was such a frequent customer
at the counter, and whom the salesmen never referred to except by
that name. She had dealt at the shop for years, and yet they knew
nothing about her--neither her condition of life, her address, nor
even her name. None of them, in fact, tried to find out, although
every time she made her appearance they all indulged in suppositions
just 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 evening; indeed every little incident of her unknown
life, outdoor events and domestic dramas alike, found an echo at the
Paradise, and was commented on. That day, she seemed very gay; and so,
on returning from the pay-desk whither 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 the time she was in mourning.
Perhaps she's made some money by speculating on the Bourse." A silence
ensued. At last he ended by saying: "However, that's her business. It
wouldn't do to take notice of all the women we see here."

But Hutin was looking very thoughtful, for two days before, he had had
a warm discussion with the managers, and felt 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
that he had not even transacted the amount of business fixed in
advance; and moreover he was threatened by the appetites of the others,
now slowly devouring him in his turn--by all the silent warfare which
was waged in the department, amidst the very motion of the machine.
Favier's secret undermining could be heard, like a muffled sound of
jaw-bones at work underground. He had already received the promise of
the first-hand's place, but Hutin, who was aware of it, instead of
attacking his old comrade looked upon him as a clever fellow. To think
of it! A chap who had always appeared so cold, so humble, whom he had
made such use of to turn out both Robineau and Bouthemont! He was full
of mingled surprise and respect.

"By the way," all at once 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, passing
from one counter to the other, through the constantly increasing crowd
of customers. The silk salesmen were especially excited, for they had
been indulging in heavy bets on the affair.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Hutin, waking up as if from a dream, "wasn't I a
flat not to pay court to her! I should be all right now!"

Then on seeing Favier laugh he blushed at this confession, and
pretended to laugh himself, adding, as though to recall his words, that
it was she who had ruined him with the management. Then a desire for
violence seizing hold of him, he finished by getting into a rage with
the salesmen whom the assault of the customers had disbanded. But all
at once he again smiled, having just perceived Madame Desforges and
Madame Guibal slowly crossing the department.

"What can we serve you with to-day, madame?"

"Nothing, thanks," replied Henriette. "You see I'm merely walking
round; I've only come out of curiosity."

However, he succeeded in stopping her, and lowered his voice. Quite a
plan was springing up in his head. He began to flatter her and run down
the house; he had had enough of it, and preferred to go away rather
than remain a witness of such disorder. She listened, delighted. It
was she herself who, thinking to deprive The Ladies' Paradise of his
services offered to get him engaged by Bouthemont as first-hand in the
silk department when The Four Seasons should start again. The matter
was settled in whispers, whilst Madame Guibal interested herself in the

"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 a pay-desk for personal presents.

"Ah, no, indeed!" exclaimed Henriette, recoiling. "I don't wish to take
any part in the wedding."

They understood each other, and separated with a laugh, exchanging
glances of intelligence. Then as Madame Desforges began 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 for the last two hours been carried through the place by one of
those spending fits whence she always emerged weary and bewildered.
She had roamed about the furniture department which a show of white
lacquered good had changed into a vast virginal chamber, the ribbon and
neckerchief departments which formed white colonnades, the mercery and
trimming departments with white fringes surrounding ingenious trophies
patiently built up of cards of buttons and packets of needles, and the
hosiery department in which there was a great crush that year to see
an immense piece of decoration--the resplendent name of "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 indeed never open a new department but she
must inaugurate it, she was bound to plunge in and buy something. And
so at the millinery counter installed in a new room on the first-floor
she had spent an hour in having the cupboards emptied, taking the
bonnets off the stands ranged on a couple of tables, and trying all
of them, white hats, white bonnets and white togues, on herself and
her daughter. Then she had gone down to the boot department, at the
further end of a gallery on the ground-floor, behind the cravats, a
counter which had been opened that day, and which she had turned topsy
turvy, seized with sickly desire in presence of the white silk slippers
trimmed with swansdown and the white satin boots and shoes with high
Louis XV. heels.

"Oh! my dear," she stammered, "you've no idea! They have a wonderful
assortment of bonnets. I've chosen one for myself and one for my
daughter. And the boots, eh? Valentine."

"They're marvellous!" added the latter, with the boldness of one who is
at last married. "There are some boots at twenty francs and a half the
pair which are delicious!"

A salesman was following them, dragging along the eternal chair, on
which a mountain of articles was already heaped.

"How is Monsieur Marty?" asked Madame Desforges.

"Very well, I believe," replied Madame Marty, scared by this abrupt
question, which fell ill-naturedly amidst her rage for spending. "He's
still shut up, you know; my uncle was to go to see him this morning."

Then she paused and exclaimed: "Oh, look! isn't it lovely?"

The ladies, who had gone on a few steps, found themselves before the
new flowers and feathers department, installed in the central gallery,
between the silks and the gloves. Under the bright light from the glass
roof there appeared 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 white blossoms 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
white lilac, a continual blossoming surmounted at the height of the
first storey by tufts of ostrich feathers, white plumes, which seemed
like the airy breath of this collection of white flowers. One corner
was devoted to the display of trimmings and orange-flower wreaths.
There were also metallic flowers, silver thistles and silver ears of
corn. And amidst the foliage and the petals, amidst all the muslin,
silk, and velvet, in which drops of gum set drops of dew, fluttered
birds of Paradise for the trimming of hats, purple Tanagers with black
tails, and Kingbirds with 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!"

However, Madame Guibal began to feel tired of standing still in the
eddying crowd, and at last exclaimed:

"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 upstairs, 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 were
so many people 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 outburst of appetite by only
allowing the gluttonous customers to enter in small groups. And from
this point the ladies already began to smell the perfumery department,
for its penetrating odour 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, phials 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 exclusively with white porcelain pots and white
glass bottles. But what delighted the customers above all was a silver
fountain in the centre, a shepherdess standing on a harvest of flowers,
whence flowed a continuous stream of violet water, which fell with a
musical plash into the metal basin. An exquisite odour was diffused
around and the ladies dipped their handkerchiefs in the scent as they

"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."

However, on the landing of the great central staircase they were again
stopped by the Japanese department. This counter had grown wonderfully
since the day when Mouret had amused himself by setting up, in the
same place, a little "proposition" table, covered with a few soiled
articles, without at all foreseeing its future success. Few departments
had had more modest beginnings and yet now it overflowed with old
bronzes, old ivories and old lacquer work; it did fifteen hundred
thousand francs' worth of business a year, ransacking the Far East,
where travellers pillaged the palaces and the temples for it. Besides,
fresh departments were always springing up, they had tried two new ones
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 expand and sweep away certain shops in the neighbourhood.
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 vow not to buy anything,
succumbed before some finely carved ivory.

"Send it to my house," said she rapidly, at a neighbouring pay-desk.
"Ninety francs, is it not?" And, seeing Madame Marty and her daughter
busy with a lot of trashy porcelains, she resumed, as she carried off
Madame Guibal, "You will find us in the reading-room, I really must sit
down a little while."

In the reading-room, however, they were obliged to remain standing. All
the chairs round the large table covered with newspapers were occupied.
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 almost 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 impatient when she perceived 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 the others two chairs before going off.

In the lace department the crush was increasing every minute. The
great show of white was there triumphing in its most delicate and
costly whiteness. Here was the supreme temptation, the goading of a
mad desire, which bewildered all the women. The department had been
turned into a white temple; tulles and guipures, falling from above,
formed a white sky, one of those cloudy veils whose fine network pales
the morning sun. Round the columns descended flounces of Malines and
Valenciennes, white dancers' skirts, unfolding in a snowy shiver to the
floor. Then on all sides, on every counter there were snowy masses of
white Spanish blonde as light as air, Brussels with large flowers on a
delicate mesh, hand-made point, and Venice point with heavier designs,
Alençon point, and Bruges of royal and almost sacred richness. It
seemed as if the god of finery had here set up his white tabernacle.

Madame de Boves, after wandering about before the counters for a long
time with her daughter, and feeling a sensual longing to plunge her
hands into the goods, had just made up her mind to request Deloche to
show her some Alençon point. At first he brought out some imitation
stuff; but she wished to see real Alençon, and was not satisfied
with narrow pieces at three hundred francs the yard, but insisted on
examining deep flounces at a thousand francs a yard and handkerchiefs
and fans at seven and eight hundred francs. The counter was soon
covered with a fortune. In a corner of the department inspector Jouve
who had not lost sight of Madame de Boves, notwithstanding the latter's
apparent dawdling, stood amidst the crowd, with an indifferent air, but
still keeping a sharp eye on her.

"Have you any capes in hand-made point?" she at last inquired; "show me
some, please."

The salesman, whom she had kept there for twenty minutes, dared not
resist, for she appeared so aristocratic, with her imposing air and
princess's voice. However, he hesitated, for the employees were
cautioned against heaping up these precious fabrics, and he had allowed
himself to be robbed of ten yards of Malines only the week before. But
she perturbed him, so he yielded, and abandoned the Alençon point for a
moment in order to take the lace she had 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

Madame de Boves did not reply and her daughter on turning her flabby
face saw her, with her hands plunged amidst the lace, slipping some
Alençon flounces up the sleeve of her mantle. Blanche did not appear
surprised, however, but 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."

For a moment she revolted: "But what for, sir?"

"Have the kindness to follow me, madame," repeated the inspector,
without raising his voice.

With her face full of anguish, she threw a rapid glance around her.
Then all at once she resigned herself, resumed her haughty bearing,
and walked away by his side like a queen who deigns to accept the
services of an aide-de-camp. Not one of the many customers had observed
the scene, and Deloche, on turning to the counter, looked at her as
she was walked off, his mouth wide open with astonishment. What! that
one as well! that 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, and hesitating
between the duty of not deserting her mother and the terror of being
detained with her. At last she saw her enter Bourdoncle's office, and
then contented herself with walking about near the door. Bourdoncle,
whom Mouret had just got rid of, happened to be there. As a rule,
he dealt with robberies of this sort when 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 woman to be capable of anything,
once the passion for finery had seized upon her. As he was aware of
Mouret's acquaintance with the thief, he treated her with the utmost

"We excuse these moments of weakness, madame," said he. "But pray
consider the consequences of such a thing. Suppose some one else had
seen you slip this lace----"

But she interrupted him in great indignation. She a thief! What
did he take her for? She was the Countess de Boves, her husband,
Inspector-General of the State Studs, was received at Court.

"I know it, I know it, madame," repeated Bourdoncle, quietly. "I have
the honour of knowing you. In the first place, will you kindly give up
the lace you have on you?"

But, not allowing him to say another word she again protested, handsome
in her violence, even shedding tears like some great lady vilely and
wrongfully accused. Any one else but he would have been shaken and have
feared some deplorable mistake, for she threatened to go to law to
avenge 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 with superb assurance, declared: "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 also should be
detained, although he had not seen her take anything. The manager,
however, who always did things in a fitting way, decided that she
should not be brought in, in order not to cause her mother to blush
before her. The two men retired into a neighbouring room, whilst the
saleswomen searched the countess. Besides the twelve yards of Alençon
point at a thousand francs the yard concealed in her sleeve, they found
upon her 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 them was 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
mere pleasure of stealing, goaded on by desire, urged on by the species
of kleptomania which her unsatisfied luxurious tastes had formerly
developed in her at sight of the vast brutal temptations of the big

[1] The manager of one of the great London drapery houses was telling
me, recently, that the same kind of thing is far less infrequent than
might be imagined among certain English women of fashion. And he added
that these affairs are as a rule hushed up, even as they are hushed up
in Paris. _Trans._

"It's a trap," cried she, when Bourdoncle and Jouve came in. "This lace
was placed on me, I swear it before Heaven."

She was now shedding tears of rage, and fell on a chair, suffocating.
Bourdoncle sent the saleswomen away 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
particulars of the lace, and the date. However, 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 again rose 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 person was distorted by vulgar rage. Then she
tried to soften him and Jouve, entreating them in the name of their
mothers, and speaking of dragging herself at their feet. And as they,
however, remained quite unmoved, hardened by custom, she all at once
sat down and began to write with a trembling hand. The pen sputtered;
the words "I have stolen," madly, wildly written, went almost through
the thin paper, whilst she repeated in a choking 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 these _billets
doux_ of theirs. However, I hold it at your disposal. You'll be able to
judge whether it's worth two thousand francs."

But now that she had paid the forfeit she became as arrogant as ever.
"I can go now?" she asked, in a sharp tone.

Bourdoncle was already occupied with other business. On Jouve's report,
he decided on the dismissal of Deloche, a stupid fellow, who was always
being robbed and who never had any authority over customers. Madame
de Boves repeated her question, and as they dismissed her with an
affirmative nod, she enveloped both of them in a murderous glance. Of
the flood of insulting words that she kept back, one melodramatic cry
escaped her lips. "Wretches!" said she, banging the door after her.

Meanwhile Blanche had not strayed far from the office. Her ignorance
of what was going on inside and the coming and going 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: for
Vallagnosc was before her, that husband whom she had married but a
month previously, and 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
mind, 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, livid
countenance, ravaged by fear, terrified him.

"Some lace, like that, up her sleeve," she continued stammering.

"You saw her, then? You were looking on?" he murmured, chilled to feel
that she had been a sort of accomplice.

They had to stop talking as several persons were already turning round.
Hesitation full of anguish kept Vallagnosc motionless for a moment.
What was to be done? He had made up his mind to go into Bourdoncle's
office, when he perceived Mouret crossing the gallery. Thereupon,
after telling his wife to wait for him, he caught hold of his old
friend's arm and informed 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 without appearing at all excited about this robbery,
as if he had foreseen it long ago, he explained in what way it would
all be arranged. Vallagnosc, however, even when he no longer feared
an immediate arrest, did not accept the affair 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 wife's father!
Surprised by his childish violence, Mouret watched him weeping,
thinking the while of his former pessimist boasting. Had he not scores
of times proclaimed the nothingness of life, in which wrong-doing alone
had any attraction? And by way of diversion Mouret amused himself for
a minute, by preaching indifference to his friend, in a friendly,
bantering tone. But at this Vallagnosc got angry: he was quite unable
to recover his philosophy, and with his middle-class breeding burst
into virtuously indignant cries against his mother-in-law. As soon
as trouble fell on himself, as soon as he was just touched by human
suffering, at which he had always coldly laughed, the boastful sceptic
collapsed and bled. It was abominable, they were dragging the honour of
his race into the gutter, 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 that you ought to go and
offer your arm to Madame de Boves--that would be more sensible than
causing a scandal. The deuce! to think of it, you who professed such
scorn for the universal rascality of the present day!"

"Of course," cried Vallagnosc, innocently, "when it is a question of
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

Blanche joined them, and they soon disappeared in the crowd. Then
Mouret, alone and pensive, crossed the shop once more. This scene,
which had diverted 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 perpetrated by that
unfortunate woman, that last folly of the conquered customer laid low
at the feet of the tempter, evoked the proud and avenging image of
Denise, whose victorious heel he could feel upon 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 was swarming.

Six o'clock was about to strike, the daylight decreasing out-of-doors
was gradually forsaking the covered galleries, already dim, and even
waning in the halls which gloom was slowly invading. And in this
uncertain glimmer, the electric lamps lighted up one by one, their
globes of an opaque whiteness studding with moons the distant depths
of the departments. It was a white brightness of a blinding fixity,
spreading like the radiance of a discoloured star and killing the
twilight. Then, when all were lighted, there came a delighted murmur
from the crowd, and the great show of white goods assumed a fairy
splendour. It seemed as if this colossal orgie of white was also
burning, itself becoming so much light. The song of the white seemed
to soar upward in the flaming whiteness of an aurora. A white glimmer
darted from the linen and calico department in the Monsigny Gallery,
like the first bright streak which lights up the eastern sky; whilst
along the Michodière Gallery, the mercery and the passementerie,
the fancy-goods and the ribbons threw out reflections of distant
hills--with the white flash of mother-of-pearl buttons, silvered
bronzes and sparkling beads. But the central nave especially was
filled with a blaze of white: the white muslin "puffings" round the
columns, the white dimities and piqués draping the staircases, the
white counterpanes drooping like banners, the white guipures and laces
flying in the air, opened up a firmament of dreamland, a vista of the
dazzling whiteness of some paradise, where the marriage of an unknown
queen was being celebrated. The tent of the silk-hall was this heaven's
giant alcove, with white curtains, white gauzes and white tulles, whose
shimmer screened the bride in her white nudity from the gaze of the
curious. There was now nothing but this blinding nucleus of white light
in which all other whites were merged, this snowy starry dust twinkling
in the clear radiance.

And Mouret still continued to watch his nation of women, amidst the
shimmering blaze. Their black shadows stood out vigorously against
the pale backgrounds. Long eddies would now and again part the crowd;
the fever of the day's great sale swept past like a frenzy through
the disorderly, billowy sea of heads. People were beginning to leave;
pillaged stuffs encumbered all the counters, and gold was chinking in
the tills whilst the customers went off, their purses emptied, and
their heads turned by the wealth of luxury amidst which they had been
wandering all day. It was he who possessed them thus, who held them at
his mercy by his continuous displays of novelties, his reductions of
prices, and his "returns," his gallantry, puffery, and advertisements.
He had conquered even the mothers, he reigned over all with the
brutality of a despot, whose caprices ruined many a household. His
creation was a sort of new religion; the churches, gradually deserted
by wavering faith, were replaced by his bazaar, in the minds of the
idle women of Paris. Woman now came and spent her leisure time in his
establishment, those shivering anxious hours which she had formerly
passed in churches: a necessary consumption of nervous passion, an
ever renewed struggle of the god of dress against the husband, an
ever renewed worship of the body with the promise of future divine
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 passion for luxury, he
saw them, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour yet obstinately
lingering in the huge iron building, on the suspended staircases and
flying bridges. Madame Marty and her daughter, carried away to the
highest point, were wandering amongst the furniture. Madame Bourdelais,
retained by her young people, could not get away from the fancy goods.
And then came another group, Madame de Boves, still on Vallagnosc's
arm, and followed by Blanche, stopping in each department and still
daring to examine the goods with her superb air. But amidst the crowded
sea of customers, that sea of bodies inflated with life and beating
with desire, one and all decorated with bunches of violets, as though
for the bridal of some sovereign, Mouret could now only distinguish the
figure of Madame Desforges, who had stopped in the glove department
with Madame Guibal. Despite her jealous rancour, she also was 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 which he had drawn his fortune.

With a mechanical step, Mouret went along the galleries, so absorbed
that he yielded to the pushing of the crowd. When he raised his head
again he found himself in the new millinery department, the windows
of which overlooked the Rue du Dix-Décembre. And there, his forehead
against the glass, he made another halt and watched the departure
of the throng. The setting sun was tinging the roofs of the white
houses with yellow, the blue sky was growing paler, refreshed by a
pure breeze; whilst in the twilight, which was already enveloping the
side-walks down below, the electric lamps of The Ladies' Paradise threw
forth the fixed glimmer of stars, lighted on the horizon at the decline
of day. Towards the Opera-house and the Bourse were rows of waiting
vehicles, the harness of the horses still presenting reflections of
bright light, the gleam of a lamp, the glitter of a silver chain. At
each minute the cry of a messenger was heard, and a cab drew near, or
a brougham came forth from the ranks, took up a customer and went off
at a rapid trot. The rows of conveyances were now diminishing, six
went off at a time, occupying the whole street from one side to the
other, amidst the banging of doors, the snapping of whips, and the
hum of the passers-by, who swarmed between the wheels. There was a
sort of continuous enlargement, a spreading of the customers, carried
off to the four corners of the city, as the building emptied with the
roaring clamour of a sluice. And the roof of The Ladies' Paradise, the
big golden letters of the sky signs, the banners fluttering in the
heavens, still flamed with the reflections of the setting sun, looking
so colossal in the oblique light that they evoked the thought of some
monster of advertising, some phalansterium whose buildings, incessantly
multiplied, in turn covered up every district, as far as the distant
woods of the suburbs. And the spreading soul of Paris, in a huge but
gentle breath, sank asleep in the serenity of the evening, hovering in
prolonged, languid caresses over the last vehicles which were spinning
through the streets, now slowly deserted by the crowd as it disappeared
into the darkness of the night.

Mouret, gazing around, had just felt something grand in himself;
but, amid the quiver of triumph with which his flesh trembled, in
face of Paris devoured and woman conquered, he experienced a sudden
weakness, a defection of his strong will, by which in his turn he was
overthrown beneath a superior force. It was an unreasonable longing to
be vanquished amidst 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, all at once yielded, seized by the vertigo which overcomes one
on mountain heights, happy to commit what he looked upon as folly. His
decision, so rapidly arrived at, acquired in a minute such energy that
he saw nothing else useful and necessary in the world.

In the evening, after the last dinner, he sat waiting in his office,
trembling like a young man about to stake his life's happiness, unable
to keep still but incessantly going towards the door to listen to the
hubbub in the shop, where the employees, submerged to the shoulders in
a sea of stuffs, were now doing the folding up. At each footstep his
heart beat. And all at once he experienced violent emotion, and 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, both bending beneath the
weight of the bags, enormous bags, thrown on their shoulders like sacks
of plaster, whilst he walked on in front with the notes and gold, a
note-book swollen with flimsies, and two bags hung round his neck, the
weight of which made him sway 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 had laughingly offered to relieve him of
his burden, the men in the drapery and woollen departments had longed
to see him make a false step, which would have scattered the gold all
over the place. Then he had been obliged to mount the stairs, and cross
a bridge and then go higher still, turning about amidst the longing
looks of the employees of the linen, hosiery, and mercery departments,
who gazed in ecstasy at this fortune travelling in the air. On the
first-floor the mantle, perfumery, lace, and shawl employees were
ranged devoutly as for the passage of the Blessed Sacrament. And from
counter to counter a tumult arose, like the clamour of a nation bowing
down before the Golden Calf.

Mouret had opened the door, and Lhomme appeared, followed by the two
messengers, who were staggering; and, out of breath though he was, the
cashier still had strength to cry out: "One million two hundred and
forty-seven francs, nineteen sous!"

At last the million had been attained, that million picked up in
a day, of which Mouret had so long dreamed. But he gave way to an
angry gesture, and with the disappointed air of a man disturbed by
some troublesome visitor, he impatiently exclaimed, "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 cash
office. The million covered the whole table, crushing the papers and
almost overturning the ink; and the gold and the silver and the copper
running out of the sacks and bursting the leather bags, formed a great
heap, the heap of the gross receipts, such as it came still warm and
palpitating from the customers' hands.

Just as the cashier was going away, heart-broken at the governor's
indifference, Bourdoncle arrived, gaily exclaiming: "Ah! we've got it
this time. We've hooked the million, eh?"

But on observing Mouret's febrile air he understood the situation and
calmed down. His face was beaming with delight; and after a short
silence he resumed: "You've made up your mind, haven't you? Well, I
approve your decision."

All at once, however, Mouret planted himself before him, and in his
terrible voice 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 much!"

"Don't tell lies!" replied Mouret, more violently than ever. "Just
listen, we were stupid to entertain the superstition that marriage
would ruin us. Why, 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 of doors at the slightest movement. Yes, you'll
go and get paid like the rest, Bourdoncle."

And with a gesture he dismissed him. Bourdoncle felt himself condemned,
swept away, in this victory gained by woman. He went off. Denise was
just coming in, and he bowed to her with profound respect, his head

"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 when she had tried
to retain him, offering to speak in his favour, he had obstinately
declined to struggle against his bad luck; he wanted to disappear, he
said, what was the use of staying? Why should he interfere with people
who were happy? Then Denise had bade him a sisterly farewell, her
eyes full of tears. Did she not herself long to sink into oblivion?
Everything was now about to finish, and she asked nothing more of her
exhausted strength than the courage to insist on the separation. In a
few minutes, if she could only be valiant enough to crush her heart,
she would be able to go away alone, and 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 table, and the
display of that 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

"Yes, sir. I must."

Then he took her hands, and, in an outburst of tenderness, after the
long coldness he had imposed on himself exclaimed: "And if I asked you
to marry me, Denise, would you still leave?"

But she rapidly drew her hands away, struggling as if under the
influence of a great grief. "Oh! Monsieur Mouret! Pray say no more.
Oh! don't cause me even greater pain than before! 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 the eyes of others and his own for a worthless woman? No,
no, she would be strong, she would certainly prevent him doing such a
foolish 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 was losing his strength; this last obstacle drove
him frantic. What! She still refused even at this price! In the
distance he heard the clamour of his three thousand employees building
up his immense fortune. And that idiotic million lying there! He
suffered from it as from a sort of irony, he could have kicked it into
the street.

"Go, then!" he cried at last 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 have tormented you any further."

She stood there thunderstruck by the violence of this despair. Her own
heart was bursting. And then, with the impetuosity of a child, she
threw herself on his neck, sobbing also, and stammering: "Oh! Monsieur
Mouret, it's you I love!"

A last murmur was rising from The Ladies' Paradise, the distant
acclamation of a multitude. Madame Hédouin's portrait was still
smiling, with its painted lips; Mouret had fallen on his table, on
the million which he could no longer see. He did not quit Denise, but
clasped her to his breast in a desperate embrace, telling her that she
might now go, that she could spend a month at Valognes which would
silence everybody, and that then he would go to fetch her himself, and
bring her back, all-powerful, as his wedded wife.


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Ladies' Paradise" ***

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