The Wandering Jew— Volume 6

Contents:
Author: Eugène Sue

Chapter XXVIII. The Stranger.

The following scene took place on the morrow of the day in which Father d’Aigrigny had been so rudely degraded by Rodin to the subaltern position formerly occupied by the socius.

It is well known that the Rue Clovis is one of the most solitary streets in the Montagne St. Genevieve district. At the epoch of this narrative, the house No. 4, in this street, was composed of one principal building, through which ran a dark passage, leading to a little, gloomy court, at the end of which was a second building, in a singularly miserable and dilapidated condition. On the ground-floor, in front of the house, was a half-subterraneous shop, in which was sold charcoal, fagots, vegetables, and milk. Nine o’clock in the morning had just struck. The mistress of the shop, one Mother Arsene, an old woman of a mild, sickly countenance, clad in a brown stuff dress, with a red bandanna round her head, was mounted on the top step of the stairs which led down to her door, and was employed in setting out her goods—that is, on one side of her door she placed a tin milk-can, and on the other some bunches of stale vegetables, flanked with yellowed cabbages. At the bottom of the steps, in the shadowy depths of the cellar, one could see the light of the burning charcoal in a little stove. This shop situated at the side of the passage, served as a porter’s lodge, and the old woman acted as portress. On a sudden, a pretty little creature, coming from the house, entered lightly and merrily the shop. This young girl was Rose-Pompon, the intimate friend of the Bacchanal Queen.—Rose-Pompon, a widow for the moment, whose bacchanalian cicisbeo was Ninny Moulin, the orthodox scapegrace, who, on occasion, after drinking his fill, could transform himself into Jacques Dumoulin, the religious writer, and pass gayly from dishevelled dances to ultramontane polemics, from Storm-blown Tulips to Catholic pamphlets.

Rose-Pompon had just quitted her bed, as appeared by the negligence of her strange morning costume; no doubt, for want of any other head-dress, on her beautiful light hair, smooth and well-combed, was stuck jauntily a foraging-cap, borrowed from her masquerading costume. Nothing could be more sprightly than that face, seventeen years old, rosy, fresh, dimpled, and brilliantly lighted up by a pair of gay, sparkling blue eyes. Rose- Pompon was so closely enveloped from the neck to the feet in a red and green plaid cloak, rather faded, that one could guess the cause of her modest embarrassment. Her naked feet, so white that one could not tell if she wore stockings or not, were slipped into little morocco shoes, with plated buckles. It was easy to perceive that her cloak concealed some article which she held in her hand.

"Good-day, Rose-Pompon," said Mother Arsene with a kindly air; "you are early this morning. Had you no dance last night?"

"Don’t talk of it, Mother Arsene; I had no heart to dance. Poor Cephyse- -the Bacchanal Queen—has done nothing but cry all night. She cannot console herself, that her lover should be in prison."

"Now, look here, my girl," said the old woman, "I must speak to you about your friend Cephyse. You won’t be angry?"

"Am I ever angry?" said Rose-Pompon, shrugging her shoulders.

"Don’t you think that M. Philemon will scold me on his return?"

"Scold you! what for?"

"Because of his rooms, that you occupy."

"Why, Mother Arsene, did not Philemon tell you, that, in his absence, I was to be as much mistress of his two rooms as I am of himself?"

"I do not speak of you, but of your friend Cephyse, whom you have also brought to occupy M. Philemon’s lodgings."

"And where would she have gone without me, my good Mother Arsene? Since her lover was arrested, she has not dared to return home, because she owes ever so many quarters. Seeing her troubles. I said to her: `Come, lodge at Philemon’s. When he returns, we must find another place for you.’"

"Well, little lovey—if you only assure me that M. Philemon will not be angry—"

"Angry! for what? That we spoil his things? A fine set of things he has to spoil! I broke his last cup yesterday—and am forced to fetch the milk in this comic concern."

So saying, laughing with all her might, Rose-Pompon drew her pretty little white arm from under her cloak, and presented to Mother Arsene one of those champagne glasses of colossal capacity, which hold about a bottle.

"Oh, dear!" said the greengrocer in amazement; "it is like a glass trumpet."

"It is Philemon’s grand gala-glass, which they gave him when he took his degrees in boating," said Rose-Pompon, gravely.

"And to think you must put your milk in it—I am really ashamed," said Mother Arsene.

"So am I! If I were to meet any one on the stairs, holding this glass in my hand like a Roman candlestick, I should burst out laughing, and break the last remnant of Philemon’s bazaar, and he would give me his malediction."

"There is no danger that you will meet any one. The first-floor is gone out, and the second gets up very late."

"Talking of lodgers," said Rose-Pompon, "is there not a room to let on the second-floor in the rear house? It might do for Cephyse, when Philemon comes back."

"Yes, there is a little closet in the roof—just over the two rooms of the mysterious old fellow," said Mother Arsene.

"Oh, yes! Father Charlemagne. Have you found out anything more about him?"

Dear me, no, my girl! only that he came this morning at break of day, and knocked at my shutters. `Have you received a letter for me, my good lady?’ said he—for he is always so polite, the dear man!—’No, sir,’ said I.—`Well, then, pray don’t disturb yourself, my good lady!’ said he; `I will call again.’ And so he went away."

"Does he never sleep in the house?"

"Never. No doubt, he lodges somewhere else—but he passes some hours here, once every four or five days."

"And always comes alone?"

"Always."

"Are you quite sure? Does he never manage to slip in some little puss of a woman? Take care, or Philemon will give you notice to quit," said Rose-Pompon, with an air of mock-modesty.

"M. Charlemagne with a woman! Oh, poor dear man!" said the greengrocer, raising her hands to heaven; "if you saw him, with his greasy hat, his old gray coat, his patched umbrella, and his simple face, he looks more like a saint than anything else."

"But then, Mother Arsene, what does the saint do here, all alone for hours, in that hole at the bottom of the court, where one can hardly see at noon-day?"

"That’s what I ask myself, my dovey, what can he be doing? It can’t be that he comes to look at his furniture, for he has nothing but a flockbed, a table, a stove, a chair, and an old trunk."

"Somewhat in the style of Philemon’s establishment," said Rose-Pompon.

"Well, notwithstanding that, Rosey, he is as much afraid that any one should come into his room, as if we were all thieves, and his furniture was made of massy gold. He has had a patent lock put on the door, at his own expense; he never leaves me his key; and he lights his fire himself, rather than let anybody into his room."

"And you say he is old?"

"Yes, fifty or sixty."

"And ugly?"

"Just fancy, little viper’s eyes, looking as if they had been bored with a gimlet, in a face as pale as death—so pale, that the lips are white. That’s for his appearance. As for his character, the good old man’s so polite!—he pulls off his hat so often, and makes you such low bows, that it is quite embarrassing."

"But, to come back to the point," resumed Rose-Pompon, "what can he do all alone in those two rooms? If Cephyse should take the closet, on Philemon’s return, we may amuse ourselves by finding out something about it. How much do they want for the little room?"

"Why, it is in such bad condition, that I think the landlord would let it go for fifty or fifty-five francs a-year, for there is no room for a stove, and the only light comes through a small pane in the roof."

"Poor Cephyse!" said Rose, sighing, and shaking her head sorrowfully. "After having amused herself so well, and flung away so much money with Jacques Rennepont, to live in such a place, and support herself by hard work! She must have courage!"

"Why, indeed, there is a great difference between that closet and the coach-and-four in which Cephyse came to fetch you the other day, with all the fine masks, that looked so gay—particularly the fat man in the silver paper helmet, with the plume and the top boots. What a jolly fellow!"

"Yes, Ninny Moulin. There is no one like him to dance the forbidden fruit. You should see him with Cephyse, the Bacchanal Queen. Poor laughing, noisy thing!—the only noise she makes now is crying."

"Oh! these young people—these young people!" said the greengrocer.

"Easy, Mother Arsene; you were young once."

"I hardly know. I have always thought myself much the same as I am now."

"And your lovers, Mother Arsene?"

"Lovers! Oh, yes! I was too ugly for that—and too well taken care of."

"Your mother looked after you, then?"

"No, my girl; but I was harnessed."

"Harnessed!" cried Rose-Pompon, in amazement, interrupting the dealer.

"Yes,—harnessed to a water-cart, along with my brother. So, you see, when we had drawn like a pair of horses for eight or ten hours a day, I had no heart to think of nonsense."

"Poor Mother Arsene, what a hard life," said Rose-Pompon with interest.

"In the winter, when it froze, it was hard enough. I and my brother were obliged to be rough-shod, for fear of slipping."

"What a trade for a woman! It breaks one’s heart. And they forbid people to harness dogs!" added Rose-Pompon, sententiously.[21]

"Why, ’tis true," resumed Mother Arsene. "Animals are sometimes better off than people. But what would you have? One must live, you know. As you make your bed, you must lie. It was hard enough, and I got a disease of the lungs by it—which was not my fault. The strap, with which I was harnessed, pressed so hard against my chest, that I could scarcely breathe: so I left the trade, and took to a shop, which is just to tell you, that if I had had a pretty face and opportunity, I might have done like so many other young people, who begin with laughter and finish—"

"With a laugh t’other side of the mouth—you would say; it is true, Mother Arsene. But, you see, every one has not the courage to go into harness, in order to remain virtuous. A body says to herself, you must have some amusement while you are young and pretty—you will not always be seventeen years old—and then—and then—the world will end, or you will get married."

"But, perhaps, it would have been better to begin by that."

"Yes, but one is too stupid; one does not know how to catch the men, or to frighten them. One is simple, confiding, and they only laugh at us. Why, Mother Arsene, I am myself an example that would make you shudder; but ’tis quite enough to have had one’s sorrows, without fretting one’s self at the remembrance."

"What, my beauty! you, so young and gay, have had sorrows?"

"Ah, Mother Arsene! I believe you. At fifteen and a half I began to cry, and never left off till I was sixteen. That was enough, I think."

"They deceived you, mademoiselle?"

"They did worse. They treated me as they have treated many a poor girl, who had no more wish to go wrong than I had. My story is not a three volume one. My father and mother are peasants near Saint-Valery, but so poor—so poor, that having five children to provide for, they were obliged to send me, at eight years old, to my aunt, who was a charwoman here in Paris. The good woman took me out of charity, and very kind it was of her, for I earned but little. At eleven years of age she sent me to work in one of the factories of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. I don’t wish to speak, ill of the masters of these factories; but what do they care, if little boys and girls are mixed up pell-mell with young men and women of eighteen to twenty? Now you see, there, as everywhere, some are no better than they should be; they are not particular in word or deed, and I ask you, what art example for the children, who hear and see more than you think for. Then, what happens? They get accustomed as they grow older, to hear and see things, that afterwards will not shock them at all."

"What you say there is true, Rose-Pompon. Poor children! who takes any trouble about them?—not their father or mother, for they are at their daily work."

"Yes, yes, Mother Arsene, it is all very well; it is easy to cry down a young girl that has gone wrong; but if they knew all the ins and outs, they would perhaps pity rather than blame her. To come back to myself— at fifteen years old I was tolerably pretty. One day I had something to ask of the head clerk. I went to him in his private room. He told me he would grant what I wanted, and even take me under his patronage, if I would listen to him; and he began by trying to kiss me. I resisted. Then he said to me:—’You refuse my offer? You shall have no more work; I discharge you from the factory.’"

"Oh, the wicked man!" said Mother Arsene.

"I went home all in tears, and my poor aunt encouraged me not to yield, and she would try to place me elsewhere. Yes—but it was impossible; the factories were all full. Misfortunes never come single; my aunt fell ill, and there was not a sou in the house; I plucked up my courage, and returned to entreat the mercy of the clerk at the factory. Nothing would do. `So much the worse,’ said he; `you are throwing away your luck. If you had been more complying, I should perhaps have married you.’ What could I do, Mother Arsene?—misery was staring me in the face; I had no work; my aunt was ill; the clerk said he would marry me—I did like so many others."

"And when, afterwards, you spoke to him about marriage?"

"Of course he laughed at me, and in six months left me. Then I wept all the tears in my body, till none remained—then I was very ill—and then— I console myself, as one may console one’s self for anything. After some changes, I met with Philemon. It is upon him that I revenge myself for what others have done to me. I am his tyrant," added Rose-Pompon, with a tragic air, as the cloud passed away which had darkened her pretty face during her recital to Mother Arsene.

"It is true," said the latter thoughtfully. "They deceive a poor girl— who is there to protect or defend her? Oh! the evil we do does not always come from ourselves, and then—"

"I spy Ninny Moulin!" cried Rose-Pompon, interrupting the greengrocer, and pointing to the other side of the street. "How early abroad! What can he want with me?" and Rose wrapped herself still more closely and modestly in her cloak.

It was indeed Jacques Dumoulin, who advanced with his hat stuck on one side, with rubicund nose and sparkling eye, dressed in a loose coat, which displayed the rotundity of his abdomen. His hands, one of which held a huge cane shouldered like a musket, were plunged into the vast pockets of his outer garment.

Just as he reached the threshold of the door, no doubt with the intention of speaking to the portress, he perceived Rose-Pompon. "What!" he exclaimed, "my pupil already stirring? That is fortunate. I came on purpose to bless her at the rise of morn!"

So saying, Ninny Moulin advanced with open arms towards Rose-Pompon who drew back a step.

"What, ungrateful child!" resumed the writer on divinity. "Will you refuse me the morning’s paternal kiss?"

"I accept paternal kisses from none but Philemon. I had a letter from him yesterday, with a jar of preserves, two geese, a bottle of home-made brandy, and an eel. What ridiculous presents! I kept the drink, and changed the rest for two darling live pigeons, which I have installed in Philemon’s cabinet, and a very pretty dove-cote it makes me. For the rest, my husband is coming back with seven hundred francs, which he got from his respectable family, under pretence of learning the bass viol, the cornet-a-piston, and the speaking trumpet, so as to make his way in society, and a slap-up marriage—to use your expression—my good child."

"Well, my dear pupil, we will taste the family brandy, and enjoy ourselves in expectation of Philemon and his seven hundred francs."

So saying, Ninny Moulin slapped the pockets of his waistcoat, which gave forth a metallic sound, and added: "I come to propose to you to embellish my life, to-day and to-morrow, and even the day after, if your heart is willing."

"If the announcements are decent and fraternal, my heart does not say no."

"Be satisfied; I will act by you as your grandfather, your greatgrandfather, your family portrait. We will have a ride, a dinner, the play, a fancy dress ball, and a supper afterwards. Will that suit you?"

"On condition that poor Cephyse is to go with us. It will raise her spirits."

"Well, Cephyse shall be of the party."

"Have you come into a fortune, great apostle?"

"Better than that, most rosy and pompous of all Rose-Pom, pons! I am head editor of a religious journal; and as I must make some appearance in so respectable a concern, I ask every month for four weeks in advance, and three days of liberty. On this condition, I consent to play the saint for twenty-seven days out of thirty, and to be always as grave and heavy as the paper itself."

"A journal! that will be something droll, and dance forbidden steps all alone on the tables of the cafes."

"Yes, it will be droll enough; but not for everybody. They are rich sacristans, who pay the expenses. They don’t look to money, provided the journal bites, tears, burns, pounds, exterminates and destroys. On my word of honor, I shall never have been in such a fury!" added Ninny Moulin, with a loud, hoarse laugh. "I shall wash the wounds of my adversaries with venom of the finest vintage, and gall of the first quality."

For his peroration, Ninny Moulin imitated the pop of uncorking a bottle of champagne—which made Rose-Pompon laugh heartily.

"And what," resumed she, "will be the name of your journal of sacristans?"

"It will be called `Neighborly Love.’"

"Come! that is a very pretty name."

"Wait a little! there is a second title."

"Let us hear it."

"`Neighborly Love; or, the Exterminator of the Incredulous, the Indifferent, the Lukewarm, and Others,’ with this motto from the great Bossuet: `Those who are not for us are against us.’"

"That is what Philemon says in the battles at the Chaumiere, when he shakes his cane."

"Which proves, that the genius of the Eagle of Meaux is universal. I only reproach him for having been jealous of Moliere."

"Bah! actor’s jealousy," said Rose-Pompon.

"Naughty girl!" cried Ninny Moulin, threatening her with his finger.

"But if you are going to exterminate Madame de la Sainte-Colombo, who is somewhat lukewarm—how about your marriage?"

"My journal will advance it, on the contrary. Only think! editor-Inchief is a superb position; the sacristans will praise, and push, and support, and bless me; I shall get La-Sainte-Colombe—and then, what a life I’ll lead!"

At this moment, a postman entered the shop, and delivered a letter to the greengrocer, saying: "For M. Charlemagne, post-paid!"

"My!" said Rose-Pompon; "it is for the little mysterious old man, who has such extraordinary ways. Does it come from far?"

"I believe you; it comes from Italy, from Rome," said Ninny Moulin, looking in his turn at the letter, which the greengrocer held in her hand. "Who is the astonishing little old man of whom you speak?"

"Just imagine to yourself, my great apostle," said Rose-Pompon, "a little old man, who has two rooms at the bottom of that court. He never sleeps there, but comes from time to time, and shuts himself up for hours, without ever allowing any one to enter his lodging, and without any one knowing what he does there."

"He is a conspirator," said Ninny Moulin, laughing, "or else a comer."

"Poor dear man," said Mother Arsene, "what has he done with his false money? He pays me always in sous for the bit of bread and the radish I furnish him for his breakfast."

"And what is the name of this mysterious chap?" asked Dumoulin.

"M. Charlemagne," said the greengrocer. "But look, surely one speaks of the devil, one is sure to see his horns."

"Where’s the horns?"

"There, by the side of the house—that little old man, who walks with his neck awry, and his umbrella under his arm."

"M. Rodin!" ejaculated Ninny Moulin, retreating hastily, and descending three steps into the shop, in order not to be seen. Then he added. "You say, that this gentleman calls himself—"

"M. Charlemagne—do you know him?" asked the greengrocer.

"What the devil does he do here, under a false name?" said Jacques Dumoulin to himself.

"You know him?" said Rose-Pompon, with impatience. "You are quite confused."

"And this gentleman has two rooms in this house, and comes here mysteriously," said Jacques Dumoulin, more and more surprised.

"Yes," resumed Rose-Pompon; "you can see his windows from Philemon’s dove-cote."

"Quick! quick! let me go into the passage, that I may not meet him," said Dumoulin.

And, without having been perceived by Rodin, he glided from the shop into the passage, and thence mounted to the stairs, which led to the apartment occupied by Rose-Pompon.

"Good-morning, M. Charlemagne," said Mother Arsene to Rodin, who made his appearance on the threshold. "You come twice in a day; that is right, for your visits are extremely rare."

"You are too polite, my good lady," said Rodin, with a very courteous bow; and he entered the shop of the greengrocer.

[21] There are, really, ordinances, full of a touching interest for the canine race, which forbid the harnessing of dogs.

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Chicago: Eugène Sue, "Chapter XXVIII. The Stranger.," The Wandering Jew— Volume 6, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Stanley Young in The Wandering Jew—Volume 6 (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed April 26, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQUCJNA61HA1QA1.

MLA: Sue, Eugène. "Chapter XXVIII. The Stranger." The Wandering Jew— Volume 6, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Stanley Young, in The Wandering Jew—Volume 6, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 26 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQUCJNA61HA1QA1.

Harvard: Sue, E, 'Chapter XXVIII. The Stranger.' in The Wandering Jew— Volume 6, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, The Wandering Jew—Volume 6, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 26 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQUCJNA61HA1QA1.