Works, by Guy de Maupassant

A Useful House

Royamount’s fat sides shook with laughter at the mere recollection of the funny story that he had promised to his friends, and throwing himself back in the great arm-chair, which he completely filled, that picker up of bits of pinchbeck, as they called him at the club, at last said:

“It is perfectly true, Bordenave does not owe anyone a penny and can go through any street he likes and publish those famous memoirs of sheriff’s officers, which he has been writing for the last ten years, when he did not dare to go out, and in which he carefully brought out the characters and peculiarities of all those generous distributors of stamped paper with whom he had had dealings, their tricks and wiles, their weaknesses, their jokes, their manner of performing their duties, sometimes with brutal rudeness and at others with cunning good nature, now embarrassed and almost ashamed of their work, and again ironically jovial, as well the artifices of their clerks to get a few crumbs from their employer’s cake. The book will soon be published and Machin, the Vaudeville writer, has promised him a preface, so that it will be a most amusing work. You are surprised, eh? Confess that you are absolutely surprised, and I will lay you any bet you like that you will not guess how our excellent friend, whose existence is an inexplicable problem, has been able to settle with his creditors, and suddenly produce the requisite amount.”

“Do get to the facts, confound it,” Captain Hardeur said, who was growing tired of all this verbiage.

“All right, I will get to them as quickly as possible,” Royaumont replied, throwing the stump of his cigar into the fire. “I will clear my throat and begin. I suppose all of you know that two better friends than Bordenave and Quillanet do not exist; neither of them could do without the other, and they have ended by dressing alike, by having the same gestures, the same laugh, the same walk and the same inflections of voice, so that one would think that some close bond united them, and that they had been brought up together from childhood. There is, however, this great difference between them, that Bordenave is completely ruined and that all that he possesses are bundles of mortgages, laughable parchments which attest his ancient race, and chimerical hopes of inheriting money some day, though these expectations are already heavily hypothecated. Consequently, he is always on the look-out for some fresh expedients for raising money, though he is superbly indifferent about everything, while Sebastien Quillanet, of the banking house of Quillanet Brothers, must have an income of eight thousand francs a year, but is descended from an obscure laborer who managed to secure some of the national property, then he became an army contractor, speculated on defeat as well as victory, and does not know now what to do with his money. But the millionaire is timid, dull and always bored, the ruined spendthrift amuses him by his impertinent ways, and his libertine jokes; he prompts him when he is at a loss for an answer, extricates him out of his difficulties, serves as his guide in the great forests of Paris which is strewn with so many pit-falls, and helps him to avoid those vulgar adventures which socially ruins a man, no matter how well ballasted he may be. Then he points out to him what women would make suitable mistresses for him, who make a man noted, and have the effect of some rare and beautiful flower pinned into his buttonhole. He is the confidant of his intrigues, his guest when he gives small, special entertainments, his daily familiar table companion, and the buffoon whose sly humor one stimulates, and whose worst witticisms one tolerates.”

“Really, really,” the captain interrupted him, “you have been going on for more than a quarter of an hour without saying anything.”

So Royaumont shrugged his shoulders and continued: “Oh you can be very tiresome when you please, my dear fellow! . . . Last year, when he was at daggers drawn with his people, who were deafening him with their recriminations, were worrying him and threatening him with a lot of annoyance, Quillanet got married. A marriage of reason, and which apparently changed his habits and his tastes, more especially as the banker was at that time keeping a perfect little marvel of a woman, a Parisian jewel of unspeakable attractions and of bewitching delicacy, that adorable Suzette Marly who is just like a pocket Venus, and who in some prior stage of her existence must have been Phryne or Lesbia. Of course he did not get rid of her, but as he was bound to take some judicious precautions, which are necessary for a man who is deceiving his wife, he rented a furnished house with a courtyard in front, and a garden at the back, which one might think had been built to shelter some amorous folly. It was the nest that he had dreamt of, warm, snug, elegant, the walls covered with silk hangings of subdued tints, large pier-glasses, allegorical pictures, and filled with luxurious, low furniture that seemed to invite caresses and embraces. Bordenave occupied the ground floor, and the first floor served as a shrine for the banker and his mistress. Well, just a week ago, in order to hide the situation better, Bordenave asked Quillanet and some other friends to one of those luncheons which he understands so well how to order, such a delicious luncheon, that before it was quite over, every man had a woman on his knees already, and was asking himself whether a kiss from coaxing and naughty lips, was not a thousand times more intoxicating than the finest old brandy or the choicest vintage wines, and was looking at the bedroom door wishing to escape to it, although the Faculty altogether forbids that fashion of digesting a dainty repast, when the butler came in with an embarrassed look, and whispered something to him.

“Tell the gentleman that he has made a mistake, and ask him to leave me in peace,” Bordenave replied to him in an angry voice. The servant went out and returned immediately to say that the intruder was using threats, that he refused to leave the house, and even spoke of having recourse to the commissary of police. Bordenave frowned, threw his table napkin down, upset two glasses and staggered out with a red face, swearing and stammering out:

“This is rather too much, and the fellow shall find out what going out of the window means, if he will not leave by the door.” But in the ante-room he found himself face to face with a very cool, polite, impassive gentleman, who said very quietly to him:

“You are Count Robert de Bordenave, I believe. Monsieur?”

“Yes, Monsieur.”

“And the lease that you signed at the lawyer’s, Monsieur Albin Calvert, in the Rue du Faubourg–Poissonnière, is in your name, I believe?”

“Certainly, Monsieur.”

“Then I regret extremely to have to tell you that if you are not in a position to pay the various accounts which different people have intrusted to me for collection here, I shall be obliged to seize all the furniture, pictures, plate, clothes etc., which are here, in the presence of two witnesses who are waiting for me downstairs in the street.”

“I suppose this is some joke, Monsieur?”

“It would be a very poor joke, Monsieur le Comte, and one which I should certainly not allow myself towards you!”

The situation was absolutely critical and ridiculous, the more so, that in the dining-room the women who were slightly elevated, were tapping the wine glasses with their spoons, and calling for him. What could he do except to explain his misadventure to Quillanet, who became sobered immediately, and rather than see his shrine of love violated, his secret sin disclosed and his pictures, ornaments and furniture sold, gave a check in due form for the claim there and then, though with a very wry face. And in spite of this, some people will deny that men who are utterly cleared out, often have a stroke of luck.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09