The Nabob

Author: Alphonse Daudet

A Luncheon in the Place Vendome

There were scarcely more than a score of persons that morning in the Nabob’s dining-room, a dining-room in carved oak, supplied the previous evening as it were by some great upholsterer, who at the same stroke had furnished these suites of four drawing-rooms of which you caught sight through an open doorway, the hangings on the ceiling, the objects of art, the chandeliers, even the very plate on the sideboards and the servants who were in attendance. It was obviously the kind of interior improvised the moment he was out of the railway-train by a gigantic /parvenu/ in haste to enjoy. Although around the table there was no trace of any feminine presence, no bright frock to enliven it, its aspect was yet not monotonous, thanks to the dissimilarity, the oddness of the guests, people belonging to every section of society, specimens of humanity detached from all races, in France, in Europe, in the entire globe, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. To begin with, the master of the house—a kind of giant, tanned, burned by the sun, saffron-coloured, with head in his shoulders. His nose, which was short and lost in the puffiness of his face, his woolly hair massed like a cap of astrakhan above a low and obstinate forehead, and his bristly eyebrows with eyes like those of an ambushed chapard gave him the ferocious aspect of a Kalmuck, of some frontier savage living by war and rapine. Fortunately the lower part of the face, the fleshy and strong lip which was lightened now and then by a smile adorable in its kindness, quite redeemed, by an expression like that of a St. Vincent de Paul, this fierce ugliness, this physiognomy so original that it was no longer vulgar. An inferior extraction, however, betrayed itself yet again by the voice, the voice of a Rhone waterman, raucous and thick, in which the southern accent became rather uncouth than hard, and by two broad and short hands, hairy at the back, square and nailless fingers which, laid on the whiteness of the table-cloth, spoke of their past with an embarrassing eloquence. Opposite him, on the other side of the table at which he was one of the habitual guests, was seated the Marquis de Monpavon, but a Monpavon presenting no resemblance to the painted spectre of whom we had a glimpse in the last chapter. He was now a haughty man of no particular age, fine majestic nose, a lordly bearing, displaying a large shirt-front of immaculate linen crackling beneath the continual effort of the chest to throw itself forward, and bulging itself out each time with a noise like that made by a white turkey when it struts in anger, or by a peacock when he spreads his tail. His name of Monpavon suited him well.

Of great family and of a wealthy stock, but ruined by gambling and speculation, the friendship of the Duc de Mora had secured him an appointment as receiver-general in the first class. Unfortunately his health had not permitted him to retain this handsome position—wellinformed people said his health had nothing to do with it—and for the last year he had been living in Paris, awaiting his restoration to health, according to his own account of the matter, before resuming his post. The same people were confident that he would never regain it, and that even were it not for certain exalted influences—However, he was the important personage of the luncheon; that was clear from the manner in which the servants waited upon him, and the Nabob consulted him, calling him "Monsieur le Marquis," as at the Comedie- Francaise, less almost out of deference than from pride, by reason of the honour which it reflected upon himself. Full of disdain for the people around him, M. le Marquis spoke little, in a very high voice, and as though he were stooping towards those whom he was honouring with his conversation. From time to time he would throw to the Nabob across the table a few words enigmatical for all.

"I saw the duke yesterday. He was talking a great deal about you in connection with that matter. You know, that thing—that business. What was the name of it?"

"You really mean it? He spoke of me to you?" And the good Nabob, quite proud, would look around him with movements of the head that were supremely laughable, or perhaps assume the contemplative air of a devotee who should hear the name of Our Lord pronounced.

"His excellency would have pleasure in seeing you take up the—ps, ps, ps—the thing."

"He told you so?"

"Ask the governor if he did not—heard it like myself."

The person who was called the governor—Paganetti, to give him his real name—was a little, expressive man, constantly gesticulating and fatiguing to behold, so many were the different expressions which his face would assume in the course of a single minute. He was managing director of the Territorial Bank of Corsica, a vast financial enterprise, and had now come to the house for the first time, introduced by Monpavon; he occupied accordingly a place of honour. On the other side of the Nabob was an old gentleman, buttoned up to the chin in a frock-coat having a straight collar without lapels, like an Oriental tunic, his face slashed by a thousand little bloodshot veins and wearing a white moustache of military cut. It was Brahim Bey, the most valiant colonel of the Regency of Tunis, aide-de-camp of the former Bey who had made the fortune of Jansoulet. The glorious exploits of this warrior showed themselves written in wrinkles, in blemishes wrought by debauchery upon the nerveless under-lip that hung as it were relaxed, and upon his eyes without lashes, inflamed and red. It was a head such as one may see in the dock at certain criminal trials that are held with closed doors. The other guests were seated pell-mell, just as they had happened to arrive or to find themselves, for the house was open to everybody, and the table was laid every morning for thirty persons.

There were present the manager of the theatre financed by the Nabob, Cardailhac, renowned for his wit almost as much as for his insolvencies, a marvellous carver who, while he was engaged in severing the limbs of a partridge, would prepare one of his witticisms and deposit it with a wing upon the plate which was presented to him. He worked up his witticisms instead of improvising them, and the new fashion of serving meats, /a la Russe/ and carved beforehand, had been fatal to him by its removal of all excuse for a preparatory silence. Consequently it was the general remark that his vogue was on the decline. Parisian, moreover, a dandy to the finger tips, and, as he himself was wont to boast, "with not one particle of superstition in his whole body," a characteristic which permitted him to give very piquant details concerning the ladies of his theatre to Brahim Bey— who listened to him as one turns over the pages of a naughty book—and to talk theology to the young priest who was his nearest neighbour, a curate of some little southern village, lean and with a complexion sunburnt till it matched the cloth of his cassock in colour, with fiery patches above the cheek-bones, and the pointed, forward-pushing nose of the ambitious man, who would remark to Cardailhac very loudly, in a tone of protection and sacerdotal authority:

"We are quite pleased with M. Guizot. He is doing very well—very well. It is a conquest for the Church."

Seated next this pontiff, with a black neck-band, old Schwalbach, the famous picture-dealer, displayed his prophet’s beard, tawny in places like a dirty fleece, his three overcoats tinged by mildew, all that loose and negligent attire for which he was excused in the name of art, and because, in a time when the mania for picture galleries had already begun to cause millions to change hands, it was the proper thing to entertain the man who was the best placed for the conduct of these absurdly vain transactions. Schwalbach did not speak, contenting himself with gazing around him through his enormous monocle, shaped like a hand magnifying-glass, and with smiling in his beard over the singular neighbours made by this unique assembly. Thus it happened that M. de Monpavon had quite close to him—and it was a sight to watch how the disdainful curve of his nose was accentuated at each glance in that direction—the singer Garrigou, a fellow-countryman of Jansoulet, a distinguished ventriloquist who sang Figaro in the dialect of the south, and had no equal in his imitations of animals. Just beyond, Cabassu, another compatriot, a little short and dumpy man, with the neck of a bull and the biceps of a statue by Michel Angelo, who suggested at once a Marseilles hairdresser and the strong man at a fair, a masseur, pedicure, manicure, and something of a dentist, sat with elbows on the table with the coolness of a charlatan whom one receives in the morning and knows the little infirmities, the intimate distresses of the abode in which he chances to find himself. M. Bompain completed this array of subordinates, all alike in one respect at any rate, Bompain, the secretary, the steward, the confidential agent, through whose hands the entire business of the house passed; and it sufficed to observe that solemnly stupid attitude, that indefinite manner, the Turkish fez placed awkwardly on a head suggestive of a village school-master, in order to understand to what manner of people interests like those of the Nabob had been abandoned.

Finally, to fill the gaps among these figures I have sketched, the Turkish crowd—Tunisians, Moors, Egyptians, Levantines; and, mingled with this exotic element, a whole variegated Parisian Bohemia of ruined nobleman, doubtful traders, penniless journalists, inventors of strange products, people arrived from the south without a farthing, all the lost ships needing revictualling, or flocks of birds wandering aimlessly in the night, which were drawn by this great fortune as by the light of a beacon. The Nabob admitted this miscellaneous collection of individuals to his table out of kindness, out of generosity, out of weakness, by reason of his easy-going manners, joined to an absolute ignorance and a survival of that loneliness of the exile, of that need for expansion which, down yonder in Tunis, in his splendid palace of the Bardo, had caused him to welcome everybody who hailed from France, from the small tradesman exporting Parisian wares to the famous pianist on tour and the consul-general himself.

As one listened to those various accents, those foreign intonations, gruff or faltering, as one gazed upon those widely different physiognomies, some violent, barbarous, vulgar, others hypercivilized, worn, suggestive only of the Boulevard and as it were flaccid, one noted that the same diversity was evident also among the servants who, some apparently lads just out of an office, insolent in manner, with heads of hair like a dentist’s or a bath-attendant’s, busied themselves among Ethiopians standing motionless and shining like candelabra of black marble, and it was impossible to say exactly where one was; in any case, you would never have imagined yourself to be in the Place Vendome, right in the beating heart and very centre of the life of our modern Paris. Upon the table there was a like importation of exotic dishes, saffron or anchovy sauces, spices mixed up with Turkish delicacies, chickens with fried almonds, and all this taken together with the banality of the interior, the gilding of the panels, the shrill ringing of the new bells, gave the impression of a /table d’hote/ in some big hotel in Smyrna or Calcutta, or of a luxurious dining-saloon on board a transatlantic liner, the "Pereire" or the "Sinai."

It might seem that this diversity among the guests—I was about to say among the passengers—ought to have caused the meal to be animated and noisy. Far otherwise. They all ate nervously, watching each other out of eye-corners, and even those most accustomed to society, those who appeared the most at their ease, had in their glance the wandering look and the distraction of a fixed idea, a feverish anxiety which caused them to speak without relevance and to listen without understanding a word of what was being said to them.

Suddenly the door of the dining-room opened.

"Ah, here comes Jenkins!" exclaimed the Nabob delightedly. "Welcome, welcome, doctor. How are you, my friend?"

A smile to those around, a hearty shake of his host’s hand, and Jenkins sat down opposite him, next to Monpavon, before a place at the table which a servant had just prepared in all haste and without having received any order, exactly as at a /table d’hote/. Among those preoccupied and feverish faces, this one at any rate stood out in contrast by its good humour, its cheerfulness, and that loquacious and flattering benevolence which makes the Irish in a way the Gascons of England. And what a splendid appetite! With what heartiness, what ease of conscience he used his white teeth as he talked!

"Well, Jansoulet, you have read it?"


"How, then! you do not know? You have not read what the /Messenger/ says about you this morning?"

Beneath the dark tan of his cheeks the Nabob blushed like a child, and, his eyes shining with pleasure:

"Is it possible—the /Messenger/ has spoken of me?"

"Through two columns. How is it that Moessard has not shown it to you?"

"Oh," put in Moessard modestly, "it was not worth the trouble."

He was a little journalist, with a fair complexion and smart in his dress, sufficiently good-looking, but with a face which presented that worn appearance noticeable as the special mark of waiters in nightrestaurants, actors, and light women, and produced by conventional grimacing and the wan reflection of gaslight. He was reputed to be the paid lover of an exiled and profligate queen. The rumour was whispered around him, and, in his own world, secured him an envied and despicable position.

Jansoulet insisted on reading the article, impatient to know what had been said of him. Unfortunately Jenkins had left his copy at the duke’s.

"Let some one go fetch me a /Messenger/ quickly," said the Nabob to the servant behind him.

Moessard intervened.

"It is needless. I must have the thing on me somewhere."

And with the absence of ceremony of the tavern /habitue/, of the reporter who scribbles his paragraph with his glass beside him, the journalist drew out a pocket-book, crammed full of notes, stamped papers, newspaper cuttings, notes written on glazed paper with crests, which he proceeded to litter over the table, pushing away his plate in order to search for the proof of his article.

"There you are." He passed it over to Jansoulet; but Jenkins besought him:

"No, no; read it aloud."

The company having echoed the request in chorus, Moessard took back his proof and commenced to read in a loud voice, "The Bethlehem Society and Mr. Bernard Jansoulet," a long dithyramb in favour of artificial lactation, written from notes made by Jenkins, which were recognisable through certain fine phrases much affected by the Irishman, such as "the long martyrology of childhood," "the sordid traffic in the breast," "the beneficent nanny-goat as foster-mother," and finishing, after a pompous description of the splendid establishment at Nanterre, with a eulogy of Jenkins and a glorification of Jansoulet: "O Bernard Jansoulet, benefactor of childhood!" It was a sight to see the vexed, scandalized faces of the guests. What an intriguer was this Moessard! What an impudent piece of sycophantry! And the same envious, disdainful smile quivered on every mouth. And the deuce of it was that a man had to applaud, to appear charmed, the master of the house not being weary as yet of incense, and taking everything very seriously, both the article and the applause it provoked. His big face shone during the reading. Often, down yonder, far away, had he dreamed a dream of having his praises sung like this in the newspapers of Paris, of being somebody in that society, the first among all, on which the entire world has its eyes fixed as on the bearer of a torch. Now, that dream was becoming a reality. He gazed upon all these people seated at his board, the sumptuous dessert, this panelled dining-room as high, certainly, as the church of his native village; he listened to the dull murmur of Paris rolling along in its carriages and treading the pavements beneath his windows, with the intimate conviction that he was about to become an important piece in that active and complicated machine. And then, through the atmosphere of physical well-being produced by the meal, between the lines of that triumphant vindication, by an effect of contrast, he beheld unfold itself his own existence, his youth, adventurous as it was sad, the days without bread, the nights without shelter. Then suddenly, the reading having come to an end, his joy overflowing in one of those southern effusions which force thought into speech, he cried, beaming upon his guests with that frank and thick-lipped smile of his:

"Ah, my friends, my dear friends, if you could know how happy I am! What pride I feel!"

Scarce six weeks had passed since he had landed in France. Excepting two or three compatriots, those whom he thus addressed as his friends were but the acquaintances of a day, and that through his having lent them money. This sudden expansion, therefore, appeared sufficiently extraordinary; but Jansoulet, too much under the sway of emotion to notice anything, continued:

"After what I have just heard, when I behold myself here in this great Paris, surrounded by all its wealth of illustrious names, of distinguished intellects, and then call up the remembrance of my father’s booth! For I was born in a booth. My father used to sell old nails at the corner of a boundary stone in the Bourg-Saint-Andeol. If we had bread in the house every day and stew every Sunday it was the most we had to expect. Ask Cabassu whether it was not so. He knew me in those days. He can tell you whether I am not speaking the truth. Oh, yes, I have known what poverty is." He threw back his head with an impulse of pride as he savoured the odour of truffles diffused through the suffocating atmosphere. "I have known it, and the real thing too, and for a long time. I have been cold. I have known hunger—genuine hunger, remember—the hunger that intoxicates, that wrings the stomach, sets circles dancing in your head, deprives you of sight as if the inside of your eyes was being gouged out with an oyster-knife. I have passed days in bed for want of an overcoat to go out in; fortunate at that when I had a bed, which was not always. I have sought my bread from every trade, and that bread cost me such bitter toil, it was so black, so tough, that in my mouth I keep still the flavour of its acrid and mouldy taste. And thus until I was thirty. Yes, my friends, at thirty years of age—and I am not yet fifty—I was still a beggar, without a sou, without a future, with the remorseful thought of the poor old mother, become a widow, who was half-dying of hunger away yonder in her booth, and to whom I had nothing to give."

Around this Amphitryon recounting the story of his evil days the faces of his hearers expressed curiosity. Some appeared shocked, Monpavon especially. For him, this exposure of rags was in execrable taste, an absolute breach of good manners. Cardailhac, sceptical and dainty, an enemy to scenes of emotion, with face set as if it were hypnotized, sliced a fruit on the end of his fork into wafers as thin as cigarette papers.

The governor exhibited, on the contrary, a flatly admiring demeanour, uttering exclamations of amazement and compassion; while, not far away, in singular contrast, Brahmin Bey, the thunderbolt of war, upon whom this reading followed by a lecture after a heavy meal had had the effect of inducing a restorative slumber, slept with his mouth open beneath his white moustache, his face congested by his collar, which had slipped up. But the most general expression was one of indifference and boredom. What could it matter to them, I ask you; what had they to do with Jansoulet’s childhood in the Bourg-Saint- Andeol, the trials he had endured, the way in which he had trudged his path? They had not come to listen to idle nonsense of that kind. Airs of interest falsely affected, glances that counted the ovals of the ceiling or the bread-crumbs on the table-cloth, mouths compressed to stifle a yawn, betrayed, accordingly, the general impatience provoked by this untimely story. Yet he himself seemed not to weary of it. He found pleasure in the recital of his sufferings past, even as the mariner safe in port, remembering his voyagings over distant seas, and the perils and the great shipwrecks. There followed the story of his good luck, the prodigious chance that had placed him suddenly upon the road to fortune. "I was wandering about the quays of Marseilles with a comrade as poverty-stricken as myself, who is become rich, he also, in the service of the Bey, and, after having been my chum, my partner, is now my most cruel enemy. I may mention his name, /pardi/! It is sufficiently well known—Hemerlingue. Yes, gentlemen, the head of the great banking house. ’Hemerlingue & Co.’ had not in those days even the wherewithal to buy a pennyworth of /clauvisses/ on the quay. Intoxicated by the atmosphere of travel that one breathes down there, the idea came into our minds of starting out, of going to seek our livelihood in some country where the sun shines, since the lands of mist were so inhospitable to us. But where to go? We did what sailors sometimes do in order to decide in what low hole they will squander their pay. You fix a scrap of paper on the brim of your hat. You make the hat spin on a walking-stick; when it stops spinning you follow the pointer. In our case the paper needle pointed towards Tunis. A week later I landed at Tunis with half a louis in my pocket, and I came back to-day with twenty-five millions!"

An electric shock passed round the table; there was a gleam in every eye, even in those of the servants. Cardailhac said, "Phew!" Monpavon’s nose descended to common humanity.

"Yes, my boys, twenty-five millions in liquidated cash, without speaking of all that I have left in Tunis, of my two palaces at the Bardo, of my vessels in the harbour of La Goulette, of my diamonds, of my precious stones, which are worth certainly more than the double. And you know," he added, with his kindly smile and in his hoarse, plebeian voice, "when that is done there will still be more."

The whole company rose to its feet, galvanized.

"Bravo! Ah, bravo!"


"Deuced clever—deuced clever!"

"Now, that is something worth talking about."

"A man like him ought to be in the Chamber."

"He will be, /per Bacco/! I answer for it," said the governor in a piercing voice; and in the transport of admiration, not knowing how to express his enthusiasm, he seized the fat, hairy hand of the Nabob and on an unreflective impulse raised it to his lips. They are demonstrative in his country. Everybody was standing up; no one sat down again.

Jansoulet, beaming, had risen in his turn, and, throwing down his serviette: "Let us go and have some coffee," he said.

A glad tumult immediately spread through the salons, vast apartments in which light, decoration, sumptuousness, were represented by gold alone. It seemed to fall from the ceiling in blinding rays, it oozed from the walls in mouldings, sashes, framings of every kind. A little of it remained on your hands if you moved a piece of furniture or opened a window; and the very hangings, dipped in this Pactolus, kept on their straight folds the rigidity, the sparkle of a metal. But nothing bearing the least personal stamp, nothing intimate, nothing thought out. The monotonous luxury of the furnished flat. And there was a re-enforcement of this impression of a moving camp, of a merely provisory home, in the suggestion of travel which hovered like an uncertainty or a menace over this fortune derived from far-off sources.

Coffee having been served, in the Eastern manner, with all its grounds, in little cups filigreed with silver, the guests grouped themselves round, making haste to drink, scalding themselves, keeping watchful eyes on each other and especially on the Nabob as they looked out for the favourable moment to spring upon him, draw him into some corner of those immense rooms, and at length negotiate their loan. For this it was that they had been awaiting for two hours; this was the object of their visit and the fixed idea which gave them during the meal that absent, falsely attentive manner. But here no more constraint, no more pretence. In that peculiar social world of theirs it is of common knowledge that in the Nabob’s busy life the hour of coffee remains the only time free for private audiences, and each desiring to profit by it, all having come there in order to snatch a handful of wool from the golden fleece offered them with so much good nature, people no longer talk, they no longer listen, every man is absorbed in his own errand of business.

It is the good Jenkins who begins. Having drawn his friend Jansoulet aside into a recess, he submits to him the estimates for the house at Nanterre. A big purchase, indeed! A cash price of a hundred and fifty thousand francs, then considerable expenses in connection with getting the place into proper order, the personal staff, the bedding, the nanny-goats for milking purposes, the manager’s carriage, the omnibuses going to meet the children coming by every train. A great deal of money. But how well off and comfortable they will be there, those dear little things! what a service rendered to Paris, to humanity! The Government cannot fail to reward with a bit of red ribbon so disinterested, so philanthropic a devotion. "The Cross, on the 15th of August." With these magic words Jenkins will obtain everything he desires. In his merry, guttural voice, which seems always as though it were hailing a boat in a fog, the Nabob calls, "Bompain!"

The man in the fez, quickly leaving the liqueur-stand, walks majestically across the room, whispers, moves away, and returns with an inkstand and a counterfoil check-book from which the slips detach themselves and fly away of their own accord. A fine thing, wealth! To sign a check on his knee for two hundred thousand francs troubles Jansoulet no more than to draw a louis from his pocket.

Furious, with noses in their cups, the others watch this little scene from a distance. Then, as Jenkins takes his departure, bright, smiling, with a nod to the various groups, Monpavon seizes the governor: "Now is our chance." And both, springing on the Nabob, drag him off towards a couch, oblige him almost forcibly to sit down, press upon each side of him with a ferocious little laugh that seems to signify, "What shall we do with him now?" Get the money out of him, the largest amount possible. It is needed, to set afloat once more the Territorial Bank, for years lain aground on a sand-bank, buried to the very top of its masts. A superb operation, this re-flotation, if these two gentlemen are to be believed, for the submerged bank is full of ingots, of precious things, of the thousand various forms of wealth of a new country discussed by everybody and known by none.

In founding this unique establishment, Paganetti of Porto-Vecchio had as his aim to monopolize the commercial development of the whole of Corsica: iron mines, sulphur mines, copper mines, marble quarries, coral fisheries, oyster beds, water ferruginous and sulphurous, immense forests of thuya, of cork-oak, and to establish for the facilitation of this development a network of railways over the island, with a service of packet-boats in addition. Such is the gigantic undertaking to which he has devoted himself. He has sunk considerable capital in it, and it is the new-comer, the workman of the last hour, who will gain the whole profit.

While with his Italian accent and violent gestures the Corsican enumerates the "splendours" of the affair, Monpavon, haughty, and with an air calculated to command confidence, nods his head approvingly with conviction, and from time to time, when he judges the moment propitious, throws into the conversation the name of the Duc de Mora, which never fails in its effect on the Nabob.

"Well, in short, how much would be required?"

"Millions," says Monpavon boldly, in the tone of a man who would have no difficulty in addressing himself elsewhere. "Yes, millions; but the enterprise is magnificent. And, as his excellency was saying, it would provide even a political position. Just think! In that district without a metallic currency, you might become counsellor-general, deputy." The Nabob gives a start. And the little Paganetti, who feels the bait quiver on his hook: "Yes, deputy. You will be that whenever I choose. At a sign from me all Corsica is at your disposal." Then he launches out into an astonishing improvisation, counting the votes which he controls, the cantons which will obey his call. "You bring me your capital. I—I give you an entire people." The cause is gained.

"Bompain, Bompain!" calls the Nabob, roused to enthusiasm. He has now but one fear, that is lest the thing escape him; and in order to bind Paganetti, who has not concealed his need of money, he hastens to effect the payment of a first instalment to the Territorial bank. New appearance of the man in red breeches with the check-book which he carries clasped gravely to his chest, like a choir-boy moving the Gospel from one side to the other. New inscription of Jansoulet’s signature upon a slip, which the governor pockets with a negligent air and which operates on his person a sudden transformation. The Paganetti who was so humble and spiritless just now, goes away with the assurance of a man worth four hundred thousand francs, while Monpavon, carrying it even higher than usual, follows after him in his steps, and watches over him with a more than paternal solicitude.

"That’s a good piece of business done," says the Nabob to himself. "I can drink my coffee now."

But the borrowers are waiting for him to pass. The most prompt, the most adroit, is Cardailhac, the manager, who lays hold of him and bears him off into a side-room.

"Let us have a little talk, old friend. I must explain to you the situation of affairs in connection with our theatre." Very complicated, doubtless, the situation; for here is M. Bompain who advances once more, and there are the slips of blue paper flying away from the check-book. Whose turn now? There is the journalist Moessard coming to draw his pay for the article in the /Messenger/; the Nabob will find out what it costs to have one’s self called "benefactor of childhood" in the morning papers. There is the parish priest from the country who demands funds for the restoration of his church, and takes checks by assault with the brutality of a Peter the Hermit. There is old Schwalbach coming up with nose in his beard and winking mysteriously.

"Sh! He had found a pearl for monsieur’s gallery, an Hobbema from the collection of the Duc de Mora. But several people are after it. It will be difficult—"

"I must have it at any price," says the Nabob, hooked by the name of Mora. "You understand, Schwalbach. I must have this Hobbema. Twenty thousand francs for you if you secure it."

"I shall do my utmost, M. Jansoulet."

And the old rascal calculates, as he goes away, that the twenty thousand of the Nabob added to the ten thousand promised him by the duke if he gets rid of his picture for him, will make a nice little profit for himself.

While these fortunate ones follow each other, others look on around, wild with impatience, biting their nails to the quick, for all are come on the same errand. From the good Jenkins, who opened the advance, to the masseur Cabassu, who closes it, all draw the Nabob away to some room apart. But, however far they lead him down this gallery of reception-rooms, there is always some indiscreet mirror to reflect the profile of the host and the gestures of his broad back. That back has eloquence. Now and then it straightens itself up in indignation. "Oh, no; that is too much." Or again it sinks forward with a comical resignation. "Well, since it must be so." And always Bompain’s fez in some corner of the view.

When those are finished, others arrive. They are the small fry who follow in the wake of the big eaters in the ferocious hunts of the rivers. There is a continual coming and going through these handsome white-and-gold drawing rooms, a noise of doors, an established current of bare-faced and vulgar exploitation attracted from the four corners of Paris and the suburbs by this gigantic fortune and incredible facility.

For these small sums, these regular distributions, recourse was not had to the check-book. For such purposes the Nabob kept in one of his rooms a mahogany chest of drawers, a horrible little piece of furniture representing the savings of a house porter, the first that Jansoulet had bought when he had been able to give up living in furnished apartments; which he had preserved since, like a gambler’s fetish; and the three drawers of which contained always two hundred thousand francs in cash. It was to this constant supply that he had recourse on the days of his large receptions, displaying a certain ostentation in the way in which he would handle the gold and silver, by great handfuls, thrusting it to the bottom of his pockets to draw it out thence with the gesture of a cattle dealer; a certain vulgar way of raising the skirts of his frock-coat and of sending his hand "to the bottom and into the pile." To-day there must be a terrible void in the drawers of the little chest.

After so many mysterious whispered confabulations, demands more or less clearly formulated, chance entries and triumphant departures, the last client having been dismissed, the chest of drawers closed and locked, the flat in the Place Vendome began to empty in the uncertain light of the afternoon towards four o’clock, that close of the November days so exceedingly prolonged afterward by artificial light. The servants were clearing away the coffee and the raki, and bearing off the open and half-emptied cigar-boxes. The Nabob, thinking himself alone, gave a sigh of relief. "Ouf! that’s over." But no. Opposite him, some one comes out from a corner that is already dark, and approaches with a letter in his hand.


And at once, mechanically, the poor man made that eloquent, horsedealer’s gesture of his. Instinctively, also, the visitor showed a movement of recoil so prompt, so hurt, that the Nabob understood that he was making a mistake, and took the trouble to examine the young man who stood before him, simply but correctly dressed, of a dull complexion, without the least sign of a beard, with regular features, perhaps a little too serious and fixed for his age, which, aided by his hair of pale blond colour, curled in little ringlets like a powdered wig, gave him the appearance of a young deputy of the Commons under Louis XVI, the head of a Barnave at twenty! This face, although the Nabob beheld it for the first time, was not absolutely unknown to him.

"What do you desire, monsieur?"

Taking the letter which the young man held out to him, he went to a window in order to see to read it.

"Te! It is from mamma."

He said it with so happy an air; that word "mamma" lit up all his face with so young, so kind a smile, that the visitor, who had been at first repulsed by the vulgar aspect of this /parvenu/, felt himself filled with sympathy for him.

In an undertone the Nabob read these few lines written in an awkward hand, incorrect and shaky, which contrasted with the large glazed note-paper, with its heading "Chateau de Saint-Romans."

"My dear son, this letter will be delivered to you by the eldest son of M. de Gery, the former justice of the peace for Bourg-Saint-Andeol, who has shown us so much kindness."

The Nabob broke off his reading.

"I ought to have recognised you, M. de Gery. You resemble your father. Sit down, I beg of you."

Then he finished running through the letter. His mother asked him nothing precise, but, in the name of the services which the de Gery family had rendered them in former years, she recommended M. Paul to him. An orphan, burdened with the care of his two young brothers, he had been called to the bar in the south, and was now coming to Paris to seek his fortune. She implored Jansoulet to aid him, "for he needed it badly, poor fellow," and she signed herself, "Thy mother who pines for thee, Francoise."

This letter from his mother, whom he had not seen for six years, those expressions of the south country of which he could hear the intonations that he knew so well, that coarse handwriting which sketched for him an adored face, all wrinkled, scored, and cracked, but smiling beneath its peasant’s head-dress, had affected the Nabob. During the six weeks that he had been in France, lost in the whirl of Paris, the business of getting settled in his new habitation, he had not yet given a thought to his dear old lady at home; and now he saw all of her again in these lines. He remained a moment looking at the letter, which trembled in his heavy fingers.

Then, this emotion having passed:

"M. de Gery," said he, "I am glad of the opportunity which is about to permit me to repay to you a little of the kindness which your family has shown to mine. From to-day, if you consent, I take you into my house. You are educated, you seem intelligent, you can be of great service to me. I have a thousand plans, a thousand affairs in hand. I am being drawn into a crowd of large industrial enterprises. I want some one who will aid me; represent me at need. I have indeed a secretary, a steward, that excellent Bompain, but the unfortunate fellow knows nothing of Paris; he has been, as it were, bewildered ever since his arrival. You will tell me that you also come straight from the country, but that does not matter. Well brought up as you are, a southerner, alert and adaptable, you will quickly pick up the routine of the Boulevard. For the rest, I myself undertake your education from that point of view. In a few weeks you will find yourself, I answer for it, as much at home in Paris as I am."

Poor man! It was touching to hear him speak of his Parisian habits, and of his experience; he whose destiny it was to be always a beginner.

"Now, that is understood, is it not? I engage you as secretary. You will have a fixed salary which we will settle directly, and I shall provide you with the opportunity to make your fortune rapidly."

And while de Gery, raised suddenly above all the anxieties of a newcomer, of one who solicits a favour, of a neophyte, did not move for fear of awaking from a dream:

"Now," said the Nabob to him in a gentle voice, "sit down there, next me, and let us talk a little about mamma."


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Chicago: Alphonse Daudet, "A Luncheon in the Place Vendome," The Nabob, ed. Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896 and trans. W. Blaydes in The Nabob Original Sources, accessed February 6, 2023,

MLA: Daudet, Alphonse. "A Luncheon in the Place Vendome." The Nabob, edited by Burton, Isabel, Lady, 1831-1896, and translated by W. Blaydes, in The Nabob, Original Sources. 6 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Daudet, A, 'A Luncheon in the Place Vendome' in The Nabob, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Nabob. Original Sources, retrieved 6 February 2023, from