A Start in Life, by Honoré de Balzac

CHAPTER IX

LA MARQUISE DE LAS FLORENTINAS Y CABIROLOS

The following day, at two o’clock, a young man entered the office, whom Oscar recognized as Georges Marest, now head-clerk of the notary Hannequin.

“Ha! here’s the friend of Ali pacha!” he exclaimed in a flippant way.

“Hey! you here, Monsieur l’ambassadeur!” returned Georges, recollecting Oscar.

“So you know each other?” said Godeschal, addressing Georges.

“I should think so! We got into a scrape together,” replied Georges, “about two years ago. Yes, I had to leave Crottat and go to Hannequin in consequence of that affair.”

“What was it?” asked Godeschal.

“Oh, nothing!” replied Georges, at a sign from Oscar. “We tried to hoax a peer of France, and he bowled us over. Ah ca! so you want to jockey my cousin, do you?”

“We jockey no one,” replied Oscar, with dignity; “there’s our charter.”

And he presented the famous register, pointing to a place where sentence of banishment was passed on a refractory who was stated to have been forced, for acts of dishonesty, to leave the office in 1788.

Georges laughed as he looked through the archives.

“Well, well,” he said, “my cousin and I are rich, and we’ll give you a fete such as you never had before — something to stimulate your imaginations for that register. To-morrow (Sunday) you are bidden to the Rocher de Cancale at two o’clock. Afterwards, I’ll take you to spend the evening with Madame la Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos, where we shall play cards, and you’ll see the elite of the women of fashion. Therefore, gentleman of the lower courts,” he added, with notarial assumption, “you will have to behave yourselves, and carry your wine like the seigneurs of the Regency.”

“Hurrah!” cried the office like one man. “Bravo! very well! vivat! Long live the Marests!”

“What’s all this about?” asked Desroches, coming out from his private office. “Ah! is that you, Georges? I know what you are after; you want to demoralize my clerks.”

So saying, he withdrew into his own room, calling Oscar after him.

“Here,” he said, opening his cash-box, “are five hundred francs. Go to the Palais, and get from the registrar a copy of the decision in Vandernesse against Vandernesse; it must be served to-night if possible. I have promised a PROD of twenty francs to Simon. Wait for the copy if it is not ready. Above all, don’t let yourself be fooled; for Derville is capable, in the interest of his clients, to stick a spoke in our wheel. Count Felix de Vandernesse is more powerful than his brother, our client, the ambassador. Therefore keep your eyes open, and if there’s the slightest hitch come back to me at once.”

Oscar departed with the full intention of distinguishing himself in this little skirmish — the first affair entrusted to him since his installation as second clerk.

After the departure of Georges and Oscar, Godeschal sounded the new clerk to discover the joke which, as he thought, lay behind this Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos. But Frederic, with the coolness and gravity of a king’s attorney, continued his cousin’s hoax, and by his way of answering, and his manner generally, he succeeded in making the office believe that the marquise might really be the widow of a Spanish grandee, to whom his cousin Georges was paying his addresses. Born in Mexico, and the daughter of Creole parents, this young and wealthy widow was noted for the easy manners and habits of the women of those climates.

“She loves to laugh, she loves to sing, she loves to drink like me!” he said in a low voice, quoting the well-known song of Beranger. “Georges,” he added, “is very rich; he has inherited from his father (who was a widower) eighteen thousand francs a year, and with the twelve thousand which an uncle has just left to each of us, he has an income of thirty thousand. So he pays his debts, and gives up the law. He hopes to be Marquis de las Florentinas, for the young widow is marquise in her own right, and has the privilege of giving her titles to her husband.”

Though the clerks were still a good deal undecided in mind as to the marquise, the double perspective of a breakfast at the Rocher de Cancale and a fashionable festivity put them into a state of joyous expectation. They reserved all points as to the Spanish lady, intending to judge her without appeal after the meeting.

The Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos was neither more nor less than Mademoiselle Agathe–Florentine Cabirolle, first danseuse at the Gaiete, with whom uncle Cardot was in the habit of singing “Mere Godichon.” A year after the very reparable loss of Madame Cardot, the successful merchant encountered Florentine as she was leaving Coulon’s dancing-class. Attracted by the beauty of that choregraphic flower (Florentine was then about thirteen years of age), he followed her to the rue Pastourel, where he found that the future star of the ballet was the daughter of a portress. Two weeks later, the mother and daughter, established in the rue de Crussol, were enjoying a modest competence. It was to this protector of the arts — to use the consecrated phrase — that the theatre owed the brilliant danseuse. The generous Maecenas made two beings almost beside themselves with joy in the possession of mahogany furniture, hangings, carpets, and a regular kitchen; he allowed them a woman-of-all-work, and gave them two hundred and fifty francs a month for their living. Pere Cardot, with his hair in “pigeon-wings,” seemed like an angel, and was treated with the attention due to a benefactor. To him this was the age of gold.

For three years the warbler of “Mere Godichon” had the wise policy to keep Mademoiselle Cabirolle and her mother in this little apartment, which was only ten steps from the theatre; but he gave the girl, out of love for the choregraphic art, the great Vestris for a master. In 1820 he had the pleasure of seeing Florentine dance her first “pas” in the ballet of a melodrama entitled “The Ruins of Babylon.” Florentine was then about sixteen. Shortly after this debut Pere Cardot became an “old screw” in the eyes of his protegee; but as he had the sense to see that a danseuse at the Gaiete had a certain rank to maintain, he raised the monthly stipend to five hundred francs, for which, although he did not again become an angel, he was, at least, a “friend for life,” a second father. This was his silver age.

From 1820 to 1823, Florentine had the experience of every danseuse of nineteen to twenty years of age. Her friends were the illustrious Mariette and Tullia, leading ladies of the Opera, Florine, and also poor Coralie, torn too early from the arts, and love, and Camusot. As old Cardot had by this time acquired five additional years, he had fallen into the indulgence of a semi-paternity, which is the way with old men towards the young talents they have trained, and which owe their success to them. Besides, where could he have found another Florentine who knew all his habits and likings, and with whom he and his friends could sing “Mere Godichon”? So the little old man remained under a yoke that was semi-conjugal and also irresistibly strong. This was the brass age for the old fellow.

During the five years of silver and gold Pere Cardot had laid by eighty thousand francs. The old gentleman, wise from experience, foresaw that by the time he was seventy Florentine would be of age, probably engaged at the Opera, and, consequently, wanting all the luxury of a theatrical star. Some days before the party mentioned by Georges, Pere Cardot had spent the sum of forty-five thousand francs in fitting up for his Florentine the former apartment of the late Coralie. In Paris there are suites of rooms as well as houses and streets that have their predestinations. Enriched with a magnificent service of plate, the “prima danseuse” of the Gaiete began to give dinners, spent three hundred francs a month on her dress, never went out except in a hired carriage, and had a maid for herself, a cook, and a little footman.

In fact, an engagement at the Opera was already in the wind. The Cocon d’Or did homage to its first master by sending its most splendid products for the gratification of Mademoiselle Cabirolle, now called Florentine. The magnificence which suddenly burst upon her apartment in the rue de Vendome would have satisfied the most ambitious supernumerary. After being the master of the ship for seven years, Cardot now found himself towed along by a force of unlimited caprice. But the luckless old gentleman was fond of his tyrant. Florentine was to close his eyes; he meant to leave her a hundred thousand francs. The iron age had now begun.

Georges Marest, with thirty thousand francs a year, and a handsome face, courted Florentine. Every danseuse makes a point of having some young man who will take her to drive, and arrange the gay excursions into the country which all such women delight in. However disinterested she may be, the courtship of such a star is a passion which costs some trifles to the favored mortal. There are dinners at restaurants, boxes at the theatres, carriages to go to the environs and return, choice wines consumed in profusion — for an opera danseuse eats and drinks like an athlete. Georges amused himself like other young men who pass at a jump from paternal discipline to a rich independence, and the death of his uncle, nearly doubling his means, had still further enlarged his ideas. As long as he had only his patrimony of eighteen thousand francs a year, his intention was to become a notary, but (as his cousin remarked to the clerks of Desroches) a man must be stupid who begins a profession with the fortune most men hope to acquire in order to leave it. Wiser then Georges, Frederic persisted in following the career of public office, and of putting himself, as we have seen, in training for it.

A young man as handsome and attractive as Georges might very well aspire to the hand of a rich creole; and the clerks in Desroches’ office, all of them the sons of poor parents, having never frequented the great world, or, indeed, known anything about it, put themselves into their best clothes on the following day, impatient enough to behold, and be presented to the Mexican Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos.

“What luck,” said Oscar to Godeschal, as they were getting up in the morning, “that I had just ordered a new coat and trousers and waistcoat, and that my dear mother had made me that fine outfit! I have six frilled shirts of fine linen in the dozen she made for me. We shall make an appearance! Ha! ha! suppose one of us were to carry off the Creole marchioness from that Georges Marest!”

“Fine occupation that, for a clerk in our office!” cried Godeschal. “Will you never control your vanity, popinjay?”

“Ah! monsieur,” said Madame Clapart, who entered the room at that moment to bring her son some cravats, and overhead the last words of the head-clerk, “would to God that my Oscar might always follow your advice. It is what I tell him all the time: ‘Imitate Monsieur Godeschal; listen to what he tells you.’”

“He’ll go all right, madame,” interposed Godeschal, “but he mustn’t commit any more blunders like one he was guilty of last night, or he’ll lose the confidence of the master. Monsieur Desroches won’t stand any one not succeeding in what he tells them to do. He ordered your son, for a first employment in his new clerkship, to get a copy of a judgment which ought to have been served last evening, and Oscar, instead of doing so, allowed himself to be fooled. The master was furious. It’s a chance if I have been able to repair the mischief by going this morning, at six o’clock, to see the head-clerk at the Palais, who has promised me to have a copy ready by seven o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“Ah, Godeschal!” cried Oscar, going up to him and pressing his hand. “You are, indeed, a true friend.”

“Ah, monsieur!” said Madame Clapart, “a mother is happy, indeed, in knowing that her son has a friend like you; you may rely upon a gratitude which can end only with my life. Oscar, one thing I want to say to you now. Distrust that Georges Marest. I wish you had never met him again, for he was the cause of your first great misfortune in life.”

“Was he? How so?” asked Godeschal.

The too devoted mother explained succinctly the adventure of her poor Oscar in Pierrotin’s coucou.

“I am certain,” said Godeschal, “that that blagueur is preparing some trick against us for this evening. As for me, I can’t go to the Marquise de las Florentinas’ party, for my sister wants me to draw up the terms of her new engagement; I shall have to leave after the dessert. But, Oscar, be on your guard. They will ask you to play, and, of course, the Desroches office mustn’t draw back; but be careful. You shall play for both of us; here’s a hundred francs,” said the good fellow, knowing that Oscar’s purse was dry from the demands of his tailor and bootmaker. “Be prudent; remember not to play beyond that sum; and don’t let yourself get tipsy, either with play or libations. Saperlotte! a second clerk is already a man of weight, and shouldn’t gamble on notes, or go beyond a certain limit in anything. His business is to get himself admitted to the bar. Therefore don’t drink too much, don’t play too long, and maintain a proper dignity — that’s your rule of conduct. Above all, get home by midnight; for, remember, you must be at the Palais tomorrow morning by seven to get that judgment. A man is not forbidden to amuse himself, but business first, my boy.”

“Do you hear that, Oscar?” said Madame Clapart. “Monsieur Godeschal is indulgent; see how well he knows how to combine the pleasures of youth and the duties of his calling.”

Madame Clapart, on the arrival of the tailor and the bootmaker with Oscar’s new clothes, remained alone with Godeschal, in order to return him the hundred francs he had just given her son.

“Ah, monsieur!” she said, “the blessings of a mother will follow you wherever you go, and in all your enterprises.”

Poor woman! she now had the supreme delight of seeing her son well-dressed, and she gave him a gold watch, the price of which she had saved by economy, as the reward of his good conduct.

“You draw for the conscription next week,” she said, “and to prepare, in case you get a bad number, I have been to see your uncle Cardot. He is very much pleased with you; and so delighted to know you are a second clerk at twenty, and to hear of your successful examination at the law-school, that he promised me the money for a substitute. Are not you glad to think that your own good conduct has brought such reward? Though you have some privations to bear, remember the happiness of being able, five years from now, to buy a practice. And think, too, my dear little kitten, how happy you make your mother.”

Oscar’s face, somewhat thinned by study, had acquired, through habits of business, a serious expression. He had reached his full growth, his beard was thriving; adolescence had given place to virility. The mother could not refrain from admiring her son and kissing him, as she said:—

“Amuse yourself, my dear boy, but remember the advice of our good Monsieur Godeschal. Ah! by the bye, I was nearly forgetting! Here’s a present our friend Moreau sends you. See! what a pretty pocket-book.”

“And I want it, too; for the master gave me five hundred francs to get that cursed judgment of Vandernesse versus Vandernesse, and I don’t want to leave that sum of money in my room.”

“But, surely, you are not going to carry it with you!” exclaimed his mother, in alarm. “Suppose you should lose a sum like that! Hadn’t you better give it to Monsieur Godeschal for safe keeping?”

“Godeschal!” cried Oscar, who thought his mother’s suggestion excellent.

But Godeschal, who, like all clerks, has his time to himself on Sundays, from ten to two o’clock, had already departed.

When his mother left him, Oscar went to lounge upon the boulevards until it was time to go to Georges Marest’s breakfast. Why not display those beautiful clothes which he wore with a pride and joy which all young fellows who have been pinched for means in their youth will remember. A pretty waistcoat with a blue ground and a palm-leaf pattern, a pair of black cashmere trousers pleated, a black coat very well fitting, and a cane with a gilt top, the cost of which he had saved himself, caused a natural joy to the poor lad, who thought of his manner of dress on the day of that journey to Presles, as the effect that Georges had then produced upon him came back to his mind.

Oscar had before him the perspective of a day of happiness; he was to see the gay world at last! Let us admit that a clerk deprived of enjoyments, though longing for dissipation, was likely to let his unchained senses drive the wise counsels of his mother and Godeschal completely out of his mind. To the shame of youth let it be added that good advice is never lacking to it. In the matter of Georges, Oscar himself had a feeling of aversion for him; he felt humiliated before a witness of that scene in the salon at Presles when Moreau had flung him at the count’s feet. The moral senses have their laws, which are implacable, and we are always punished for disregarding them. There is one in particular, which the animals themselves obey without discussion, and invariably; it is that which tells us to avoid those who have once injured us, with or without intention, voluntarily or involuntarily. The creature from whom we receive either damage or annoyance will always be displeasing to us. Whatever may be his rank or the degree of affection in which he stands to us, it is best to break away from him; for our evil genius has sent him to us. Though the Christian sentiment is opposed to it, obedience to this terrible law is essentially social and conservative. The daughter of James II., who seated herself upon her father’s throne, must have caused him many a wound before that usurpation. Judas had certainly given some murderous blow to Jesus before he betrayed him. We have within us an inward power of sight, an eye of the soul which foresees catastrophes; and the repugnance that comes over us against the fateful being is the result of that foresight. Though religion orders us to conquer it, distrust remains, and its voice is forever heard. Would Oscar, at twenty years of age, have the wisdom to listen to it?

Alas! when, at half-past two o’clock, Oscar entered the salon of the Rocher de Cancale — where were three invited persons besides the clerks, to wit: an old captain of dragoons, named Giroudeau; Finot, a journalist who might procure an engagement for Florentine at the Opera, and du Bruel, an author, the friend of Tullia, one of Mariette’s rivals — the second clerk felt his secret hostility vanish at the first handshaking, the first dashes of conversation as they sat around a table luxuriously served. Georges, moreover, made himself charming to Oscar.

“You’ve taken to private diplomacy,” he said; “for what difference is there between a lawyer and an ambassador? only that between a nation and an individual. Ambassadors are the attorneys of Peoples. If I can ever be useful to you, let me know.”

“Well,” said Oscar, “I’ll admit to you now that you once did me a very great harm.”

“Pooh!” said Georges, after listening to the explanation for which he asked; “it was Monsieur de Serizy who behaved badly. His wife! I wouldn’t have her at any price; neither would I like to be in the count’s red skin, minister of State and peer of France as he is. He has a small mind, and I don’t care a fig for him now.”

Oscar listened with true pleasure to these slurs on the count, for they diminished, in a way, the importance of his fault; and he echoed the spiteful language of the ex-notary, who amused himself by predicting the blows to the nobility of which the bourgeoisie were already dreaming — blows which were destined to become a reality in 1830.

At half-past three the solid eating of the feast began; the dessert did not appear till eight o’clock — each course having taken two hours to serve. None but clerks can eat like that! The stomachs of eighteen and twenty are inexplicable to the medical art. The wines were worthy of Borrel, who in those days had superseded the illustrious Balaine, the creator of the first restaurant for delicate and perfectly prepared food in Paris — that is to say, the whole world.

The report of this Belshazzar’s feast for the architriclino-basochien register was duly drawn up, beginning, “Inter pocula aurea restauranti, qui vulgo dicitur Rupes Cancali.” Every one can imagine the fine page now added to the Golden Book of jurisprudential festivals.

Godeschal disappeared after signing the report, leaving the eleven guests, stimulated by the old captain of the Imperial Guard, to the wines, toasts, and liqueurs of a dessert composed of choice and early fruits, in pyramids that rivalled the obelisk of Thebes. By half-past ten the little sub-clerk was in such a state that Georges packed him into a coach, paid his fare, and gave the address of his mother to the driver. The remaining ten, all as drunk as Pitt and Dundas, talked of going on foot along the boulevards, considering the fine evening, to the house of the Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos, where, about midnight, they might expect to find the most brilliant society of Paris. They felt the need of breathing the pure air into their lungs; but, with the exception of Georges, Giroudeau, du Bruel, and Finot, all four accustomed to Parisian orgies, not one of the party could walk. Consequently, Georges sent to a livery-stable for three open carriages, in which he drove his company for an hour round the exterior boulevards from Monmartre to the Barriere du Trone. They returned by Bercy, the quays, and the boulevards to the rue de Vendome.

The clerks were fluttering still in the skies of fancy to which youth is lifted by intoxication, when their amphitryon introduced them into Florentine’s salon. There sparkled a bevy of stage princesses, who, having been informed, no doubt, of Frederic’s joke, were amusing themselves by imitating the women of good society. They were then engaged in eating ices. The wax-candles flamed in the candelabra. Tullia’s footmen and those of Madame du Val–Noble and Florine, all in full livery, where serving the dainties on silver salvers. The hangings, a marvel of Lyonnaise workmanship, fastened by gold cords, dazzled all eyes. The flowers of the carpet were like a garden. The richest “bibelots” and curiosities danced before the eyes of the new-comers.

At first, and in the state to which Georges had brought them, the clerks, and more particularly Oscar, believed in the Marquise de las Florentinas y Cabirolos. Gold glittered on four card-tables in the bed-chamber. In the salon, the women were playing at vingt-et-un, kept by Nathan, the celebrated author.

After wandering, tipsy and half asleep, through the dark exterior boulevards, the clerks now felt that they had wakened in the palace of Armida. Oscar, presented to the marquise by Georges, was quite stupefied, and did not recognize the danseuse he had seen at the Gaiete, in this lady, aristocratically decolletee and swathed in laces, till she looked like the vignette of a keepsake, who received him with manners and graces the like of which was neither in the memory nor the imagination of a young clerk rigidly brought up. After admiring the splendors of the apartment and the beautiful women there displayed, who had all outdone each other in their dress for this occasion, Oscar was taken by the hand and led by Florentine to a vingt-et-un table.

“Let me present you,” she said, “to the beautiful Marquise d’Anglade, one of my nearest friends.”

And she took Oscar to the pretty Fanny Beaupre, who had just made herself a reputation at the Porte–Saint-Martin, in a melodrama entitled “La Famille d’Anglade.”

“My dear,” said Florentine, “allow me to present to you a charming youth, whom you can take as a partner in the game.”

“Ah! that will be delightful,” replied the actress, smiling, as she looked at Oscar. “I am losing. Shall we go shares, monsieur?”

“Madame la marquise, I am at your orders,” said Oscar, sitting down beside her.

“Put down the money; I’ll play; you shall being me luck! See, here are my last hundred francs.”

And the “marquise” took out from her purse, the rings of which were adorned with diamonds, five gold pieces. Oscar pulled out his hundred in silver five-franc pieces, much ashamed at having to mingle such ignoble coins with gold. In ten throws the actress lost the two hundred francs.

“Oh! how stupid!” she cried. “I’m banker now. But we’ll play together still, won’t we?”

Fanny Beaupre rose to take her place as banker, and Oscar, finding himself observed by the whole table, dared not retire on the ground that he had no money. Speech failed him, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth.

“Lend me five hundred francs,” said the actress to the danseuse.

Florentine brought the money, which she obtained from Georges, who had just passed eight times at ecarte.

“Nathan has won twelve hundred francs,” said the actress to Oscar. “Bankers always win; we won’t let them fool us, will we?” she whispered in his ear.

Persons of nerve, imagination, and dash will understand how it was that poor Oscar opened his pocket-book and took out the note of five hundred francs which Desroches had given him. He looked at Nathan, the distinguished author, who now began, with Florine, to play a heavy game against the bank.

“Come, my little man, take ’em up,” cried Fanny Beaupre, signing to Oscar to rake in the two hundred francs which Nathan and Florine had punted.

The actress did not spare taunts or jests on those who lost. She enlivened the game with jokes which Oscar thought singular; but reflection was stifled by joy; for the first two throws produced a gain of two thousand francs. Oscar then thought of feigning illness and making his escape, leaving his partner behind him; but “honor” kept him there. Three more turns and the gains were lost. Oscar felt a cold sweat running down his back, and he was sobered completely.

The next two throws carried off the thousand francs of their mutual stake. Oscar was consumed with thirst, and drank three glasses of iced punch one after the other. The actress now led him into the bed-chamber, where the rest of the company were playing, talking frivolities with an easy air. But by this time the sense of his wrong-doing overcame him; the figure of Desroches appeared to him like a vision. He turned aside to a dark corner and sat down, putting his handkerchief to his eyes, and wept. Florentine noticed the attitude of true grief, which, because it is sincere, is certain to strike the eye of one who acts. She ran to him, took the handkerchief from his hand, and saw his tears; then she led him into a boudoir alone.

“What is it, my child?” she said.

At the tone and accent of that voice Oscar recognized a motherly kindness which is often found in women of her kind, and he answered openly:—

“I have lost five hundred francs which my employer gave me to obtain a document tomorrow morning; there’s nothing for me but to fling myself into the river; I am dishonored.”

“How silly you are!” she said. “Stay where you are; I’ll get you a thousand francs and you can win back what you’ve lost; but don’t risk more than five hundred, so that you may be sure of your master’s money. Georges plays a fine game at ecarte; bet on him.”

Oscar, frightened by his position, accepted the offer of the mistress of the house.

“Ah!” he thought, “it is only women of rank who are capable of such kindness. Beautiful, noble, rich! how lucky Georges is!”

He received the thousand francs from Florentine and returned to bet on his hoaxer. Georges had just passed for the fourth time when Oscar sat down beside him. The other players saw with satisfaction the arrival of a new better; for all, with the instinct of gamblers, took the side of Giroudeau, the old officer of the Empire.

“Messieurs,” said Georges, “you’ll be punished for deserting me; I feel in the vein. Come, Oscar, we’ll make an end of them!”

Georges and his partner lost five games running. After losing the thousand francs Oscar was seized with the fury of play and insisted on taking the cards himself. By the result of a chance not at all uncommon with those who play for the first time, he won. But Georges bewildered him with advice; told him when to throw the cards, and even snatched them from his hand; so that this conflict of wills and intuitions injured his vein. By three o’clock in the morning, after various changes of fortune, and still drinking punch, Oscar came down to his last hundred francs. He rose with a heavy head, completely stupefied, took a few steps forward, and fell upon a sofa in the boudoir, his eyes closing in a leaden sleep.

“Mariette,” said Fanny Beaupre to Godeschal’s sister, who had come in about two o’clock, “do you dine here tomorrow? Camusot and Pere Cardot are coming, and we’ll have some fun.”

“What!” cried Florentine, “and my old fellow never told me!”

“He said he’d tell you tomorrow morning,” remarked Fanny Beaupre.

“The devil take him and his orgies!” exclaimed Florentine. “He and Camusot are worse than magistrates or stage-managers. But we have very good dinners here, Mariette,” she continued. “Cardot always orders them from Chevet’s; bring your Duc de Maufrigneuse and we’ll make them dance like Tritons.”

Hearing the names of Cardot and Camusot, Oscar made an effort to throw off his sleep; but he could only mutter a few words which were not understood, and then he fell back upon the silken cushions.

“You’ll have to keep him here all night,” said Fanny Beaupre, laughing, to Florentine.

“Oh! poor boy! he is drunk with punch and despair both. It is the second clerk in your brother’s office,” she said to Mariette. “He has lost the money his master gave him for some legal affair. He wanted to drown himself; so I lent him a thousand francs, but those brigands Finot and Giroudeau won them from him. Poor innocent!”

“But we ought to wake him,” said Mariette. “My brother won’t make light of it, nor his master either.”

“Oh, wake him if you can, and carry him off with you!” said Florentine, returning to the salon to receive the adieux of some departing guests.

Presently those who remained began what was called “character dancing,” and by the time it was broad daylight, Florentine, tired out, went to bed, oblivious to Oscar, who was still in the boudoir sound asleep.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/balzac/start/chapter9.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31