The Paris Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Painter’s Bargain

Simon Gambouge was the son of Solomon Gambouge; and as all the world knows, both father and son were astonishingly clever fellows at their profession. Solomon painted landscapes, which nobody bought; and Simon took a higher line, and painted portraits to admiration, only nobody came to sit to him.

As he was not gaining five pounds a year by his profession, and had arrived at the age of twenty, at least, Simon determined to better himself by taking a wife — a plan which a number of other wise men adopt, in similar years and circumstances. So Simon prevailed upon a butcher’s daughter (to whom he owed considerably for cutlets) to quit the meat-shop and follow him. Griskinissa — such was the fair creature’s name —“was as lovely a bit of mutton,” her father said, “as ever a man would wish to stick a knife into.” She had sat to the painter for all sorts of characters; and the curious who possess any of Gambouge’s pictures will see her as Venus, Minerva, Madonna, and in numberless other characters: Portrait of a lady — Griskinissa; Sleeping Nymph — Griskinissa, without a rag of clothes, lying in a forest; Maternal Solicitude — Griskinissa again, with young Master Gambouge, who was by this time the offspring of their affections.

The lady brought the painter a handsome little fortune of a couple of hundred pounds; and as long as this sum lasted no woman could be more lovely or loving. But want began speedily to attack their little household; bakers’ bills were unpaid; rent was due, and the reckless landlord gave no quarter; and, to crown the whole, her father, unnatural butcher! suddenly stopped the supplies of mutton-chops; and swore that his daughter, and the dauber; her husband, should have no more of his wares. At first they embraced tenderly, and, kissing and crying over their little infant, vowed to heaven that they would do without: but in the course of the evening Griskinissa grew peckish, and poor Simon pawned his best coat.

When this habit of pawning is discovered, it appears to the poor a kind of Eldorado. Gambouge and his wife were so delighted, that they, in the course of a month, made away with her gold chain, her great warming-pan, his best crimson plush inexpressibles, two wigs, a washhand basin and ewer, fire-irons, window-curtains, crockery, and arm-chairs. Griskinissa said, smiling, that she had found a second father in HER UNCLE — a base pun, which showed that her mind was corrupted, and that she was no longer the tender, simple Griskinissa of other days.

I am sorry to say that she had taken to drinking; she swallowed the warming-pan in the course of three days, and fuddled herself one whole evening with the crimson plush breeches.

Drinking is the devil — the father, that is to say, of all vices. Griskinissa’s face and her mind grew ugly together; her good humor changed to bilious, bitter discontent; her pretty, fond epithets, to foul abuse and swearing; her tender blue eyes grew watery and blear, and the peach-color on her cheeks fled from its old habitation, and crowded up into her nose, where, with a number of pimples, it stuck fast. Add to this a dirty, draggle-tailed chintz; long, matted hair, wandering into her eyes, and over her lean shoulders, which were once so snowy, and you have the picture of drunkenness and Mrs. Simon Gambouge.

Poor Simon, who had been a gay, lively fellow enough in the days of his better fortune, was completely cast down by his present ill luck, and cowed by the ferocity of his wife. From morning till night the neighbors could hear this woman’s tongue, and understand her doings; bellows went skimming across the room, chairs were flumped down on the floor, and poor Gambouge’s oil and varnish pots went clattering through the windows, or down the stairs. The baby roared all day; and Simon sat pale and idle in a corner, taking a small sup at the brandy-bottle, when Mrs. Gambouge was out of the way.

One day, as he sat disconsolately at his easel, furbishing up a picture of his wife, in the character of Peace, which he had commenced a year before, he was more than ordinarily desperate, and cursed and swore in the most pathetic manner. “O miserable fate of genius!” cried he, “was I, a man of such commanding talents, born for this? to be bullied by a fiend of a wife; to have my masterpieces neglected by the world, or sold only for a few pieces? Cursed be the love which has misled me; cursed, be the art which is unworthy of me! Let me dig or steal, let me sell myself as a soldier, or sell myself to the Devil, I should not be more wretched than I am now!”

“Quite the contrary,” cried a small, cheery voice.

“What!” exclaimed Gambouge, trembling and surprised. “Who’s there? — where are you? — who are you?”

“You were just speaking of me,” said the voice.

Gambouge held, in his left hand, his palette; in his right, a bladder of crimson lake, which he was about to squeeze out upon the mahogany. “Where are you?” cried he again.

“S-q-u-e-e-z-e!” exclaimed the little voice.

Gambouge picked out the nail from the bladder, and gave a squeeze; when, as sure as I am living, a little imp spurted out from the hole upon the palette, and began laughing in the most singular and oily manner.

When first born he was little bigger than a tadpole; then he grew to be as big as a mouse; then he arrived at the size of a cat; and then he jumped off the palette, and, turning head over heels, asked the poor painter what he wanted with him.

The strange little animal twisted head over heels, and fixed himself at last upon the top of Gambouge’s easel — smearing out, with his heels, all the white and vermilion which had just been laid on the allegoric portrait of Mrs. Gambouge.

“What!” exclaimed Simon, “is it the —”

“Exactly so; talk of me, you know, and I am always at hand: besides, I am not half so black as I am painted, as you will see when you know me a little better.”

“Upon my word,” said the painter, “it is a very singular surprise which you have given me. To tell truth, I did not even believe in your existence.”

The little imp put on a theatrical air, and, with one of Mr. Macready’s best looks, said —

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Gambogio,
Than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”

Gambouge, being a Frenchman, did not understand the quotation, but felt somehow strangely and singularly interested in the conversation of his new friend.

Diabolus continued: “You are a man of merit, and want money; you will starve on your merit; you can only get money from me. Come, my friend, how much is it? I ask the easiest interest in the world: old Mordecai, the usurer, has made you pay twice as heavily before now: nothing but the signature of a bond, which is a mere ceremony, and the transfer of an article which, in itself, is a supposition — a valueless, windy, uncertain property of yours, called, by some poet of your own, I think, an animula, vagula, blandula — bah! there is no use beating about the bush — I mean A SOUL. Come, let me have it; you know you will sell it some other way, and not get such good pay for your bargain!”— and, having made this speech, the Devil pulled out from his fob a sheet as big as a double Times, only there was a different STAMP in the corner.

It is useless and tedious to describe law documents: lawyers only love to read them; and they have as good in Chitty as any that are to be found in the Devil’s own; so nobly have the apprentices emulated the skill of the master. Suffice it to say, that poor Gambouge read over the paper, and signed it. He was to have all he wished for seven years, and at the end of that time was to become the property of the ———; PROVIDED that, during the course of the seven years, every single wish which he might form should be gratified by the other of the contracting parties; otherwise the deed became null and non-avenue, and Gambouge should be left “to go to the ——— his own way.”

“You will never see me again,” said Diabolus, in shaking hands with poor Simon, on whose fingers he left such a mark as is to be seen at this day —“never, at least, unless you want me; for everything you ask will be performed in the most quiet and every-day manner: believe me, it is best and most gentlemanlike, and avoids anything like scandal. But if you set me about anything which is extraordinary, and out of the course of nature, as it were, come I must, you know; and of this you are the best judge.” So saying, Diabolus disappeared; but whether up the chimney, through the keyhole, or by any other aperture or contrivance, nobody knows. Simon Gambouge was left in a fever of delight, as, heaven forgive me! I believe many a worthy man would be, if he were allowed an opportunity to make a similar bargain.

“Heigho!” said Simon. “I wonder whether this be a reality or a dream. — I am sober, I know; for who will give me credit for the means to be drunk? and as for sleeping, I’m too hungry for that. I wish I could see a capon and a bottle of white wine.”

“MONSIEUR SIMON!” cried a voice on the landing-place.

“C’est ici,” quoth Gambouge, hastening to open the door. He did so; and lo! there was a restaurateur’s boy at the door, supporting a tray, a tin-covered dish, and plates on the same; and, by its side, a tall amber-colored flask of Sauterne.

“I am the new boy, sir,” exclaimed this youth, on entering; “but I believe this is the right door, and you asked for these things.”

Simon grinned, and said, “Certainly, I did ASK FOR these things.” But such was the effect which his interview with the demon had had on his innocent mind, that he took them, although he knew that they were for old Simon, the Jew dandy, who was mad after an opera girl, and lived on the floor beneath.

“Go, my boy,” he said; “it is good: call in a couple of hours, and remove the plates and glasses.”

The little waiter trotted down stairs, and Simon sat greedily down to discuss the capon and the white wine. He bolted the legs, he devoured the wings, he cut every morsel of flesh from the breast; — seasoning his repast with pleasant draughts of wine, and caring nothing for the inevitable bill, which was to follow all.

“Ye gods!” said he, as he scraped away at the backbone, “what a dinner! what wine! — and how gayly served up too!” There were silver forks and spoons, and the remnants of the fowl were upon a silver dish. “Why, the money for this dish and these spoons,” cried Simon, “would keep me and Mrs. G. for a month! I WISH”— and here Simon whistled, and turned round to see that nobody was peeping —“I wish the plate were mine.”

Oh, the horrid progress of the Devil! “Here they are,” thought Simon to himself; “why should not I TAKE THEM?” And take them he did. “Detection,” said he, “is not so bad as starvation; and I would as soon live at the galleys as live with Madame Gambouge.”

So Gambouge shovelled dish and spoons into the flap of his surtout, and ran down stairs as if the Devil were behind him — as, indeed, he was.

He immediately made for the house of his old friend the pawnbroker — that establishment which is called in France the Mont de Piété. “I am obliged to come to you again, my old friend,” said Simon, “with some family plate, of which I beseech you to take care.”

The pawnbroker smiled as he examined the goods. “I can give you nothing upon them,” said he.

“What!” cried Simon; “not even the worth of the silver?”

“No; I could buy them at that price at the ‘Café Morisot,’ Rue de la Verrerie, where, I suppose, you got them a little cheaper.” And, so saying, he showed to the guilt-stricken Gambouge how the name of that coffee-house was inscribed upon every one of the articles which he had wished to pawn.

The effects of conscience are dreadful indeed. Oh! how fearful is retribution, how deep is despair, how bitter is remorse for crime — WHEN CRIME IS FOUND OUT! — otherwise, conscience takes matters much more easily. Gambouge cursed his fate, and swore henceforth to be virtuous.

“But, hark ye, my friend,” continued the honest broker, “there is no reason why, because I cannot lend upon these things, I should not buy them: they will do to melt, if for no other purpose. Will you have half the money? — speak, or I peach.”

Simon’s resolves about virtue were dissipated instantaneously. “Give me half,” he said, “and let me go. — What scoundrels are these pawnbrokers!” ejaculated he, as he passed out of the accursed shop, “seeking every wicked pretext to rob the poor man of his hard-won gain.”

When he had marched forwards for a street or two, Gambouge counted the money which he had received, and found that he was in possession of no less than a hundred francs. It was night, as he reckoned out his equivocal gains, and he counted them at the light of a lamp. He looked up at the lamp, in doubt as to the course he should next pursue: upon it was inscribed the simple number, 152. “A gambling-house,” thought Gambouge. “I wish I had half the money that is now on the table, up stairs.”

He mounted, as many a rogue has done before him, and found half a hundred persons busy at a table of rouge et noir. Gambouge’s five napoleons looked insignificant by the side of the heaps which were around him; but the effects of the wine, of the theft, and of the detection by the pawnbroker, were upon him, and he threw down his capital stoutly upon the 0 0.

It is a dangerous spot that 0 0, or double zero; but to Simon it was more lucky than to the rest of the world. The ball went spinning round — in “its predestined circle rolled,” as Shelley has it, after Goethe — and plumped down at last in the double zero. One hundred and thirty-five gold napoleons (louis they were then) were counted out to the delighted painter. “Oh, Diabolus!” cried he, “now it is that I begin to believe in thee! Don’t talk about merit,” he cried; “talk about fortune. Tell me not about heroes for the future — tell me of ZEROES.” And down went twenty napoleons more upon the 0.

The Devil was certainly in the ball: round it twirled, and dropped into zero as naturally as a duck pops its head into a pond. Our friend received five hundred pounds for his stake; and the croupiers and lookers-on began to stare at him.

There were twelve thousand pounds on the table. Suffice it to say, that Simon won half, and retired from the Palais Royal with a thick bundle of bank-notes crammed into his dirty three-cornered hat. He had been but half an hour in the place, and he had won the revenues of a prince for half a year!

Gambouge, as soon as he felt that he was a capitalist, and that he had a stake in the country, discovered that he was an altered man. He repented of his foul deed, and his base purloining of the restaurateur’s plate. “O honesty!” he cried, “how unworthy is an action like this of a man who has a property like mine!” So he went back to the pawnbroker with the gloomiest face imaginable. “My friend,” said he, “I have sinned against all that I hold most sacred: I have forgotten my family and my religion. Here is thy money. In the name of heaven, restore me the plate which I have wrongfully sold thee!”

But the pawnbroker grinned, and said, “Nay, Mr. Gambouge, I will sell that plate for a thousand francs to you, or I never will sell it at all.”

“Well,” cried Gambouge, “thou art an inexorable ruffian, Troisboules; but I will give thee all I am worth.” And here he produced a billet of five hundred francs. “Look,” said he, “this money is all I own; it is the payment of two years’ lodging. To raise it, I have toiled for many months; and, failing, I have been a criminal. O heaven! I STOLE that plate that I might pay my debt, and keep my dear wife from wandering houseless. But I cannot bear this load of ignominy — I cannot suffer the thought of this crime. I will go to the person to whom I did wrong, I will starve, I will confess; but I will, I WILL do right!”

The broker was alarmed. “Give me thy note,” he cried; “here is the plate.”

“Give me an acquittal first,” cried Simon, almost broken-hearted; “sign me a paper, and the money is yours.” So Troisboules wrote according to Gambouge’s dictation; “Received, for thirteen ounces of plate, twenty pounds.”

“Monster of iniquity!” cried the painter, “fiend of wickedness! thou art caught in thine own snares. Hast thou not sold me five pounds’ worth of plate for twenty? Have I it not in my pocket? Art thou not a convicted dealer in stolen goods? Yield, scoundrel, yield thy money, or I will bring thee to justice!”

The frightened pawnbroker bullied and battled for a while; but he gave up his money at last, and the dispute ended. Thus it will be seen that Diabolus had rather a hard bargain in the wily Gambouge. He had taken a victim prisoner, but he had assuredly caught a Tartar. Simon now returned home, and, to do him justice, paid the bill for his dinner, and restored the plate.

And now I may add (and the reader should ponder upon this, as a profound picture of human life), that Gambouge, since he had grown rich, grew likewise abundantly moral. He was a most exemplary father. He fed the poor, and was loved by them. He scorned a base action. And I have no doubt that Mr. Thurtell, or the late lamented Mr. Greenacre, in similar circumstances, would have acted like the worthy Simon Gambouge.

There was but one blot upon his character — he hated Mrs. Gam. worse than ever. As he grew more benevolent, she grew more virulent: when he went to plays, she went to Bible societies, and vice versâ: in fact, she led him such a life as Xantippe led Socrates, or as a dog leads a cat in the same kitchen. With all his fortune — for, as may be supposed, Simon prospered in all worldly things — he was the most miserable dog in the whole city of Paris. Only in the point of drinking did he and Mrs. Simon agree; and for many years, and during a considerable number of hours in each day, he thus dissipated, partially, his domestic chagrin. O philosophy! we may talk of thee: but, except at the bottom of the winecup, where thou liest like truth in a well, where shall we find thee?

He lived so long, and in his worldly matters prospered so much, there was so little sign of devilment in the accomplishment of his wishes, and the increase of his prosperity, that Simon, at the end of six years, began to doubt whether he had made any such bargain at all, as that which we have described at the commencement of this history. He had grown, as we said, very pious and moral. He went regularly to mass, and had a confessor into the bargain. He resolved, therefore, to consult that reverend gentleman, and to lay before him the whole matter.

“I am inclined to think, holy sir,” said Gambouge, after he had concluded his history, and shown how, in some miraculous way, all his desires were accomplished, “that, after all, this demon was no other than the creation of my own brain, heated by the effects of that bottle of wine, the cause of my crime and my prosperity.”

The confessor agreed with him, and they walked out of church comfortably together, and entered afterwards a café, where they sat down to refresh themselves after the fatigues of their devotion.

A respectable old gentleman, with a number of orders at his buttonhole, presently entered the room, and sauntered up to the marble table, before which reposed Simon and his clerical friend. “Excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, as he took a place opposite them, and began reading the papers of the day.

“Bah!” said he, at last — “sont-ils grands ces journaux Anglais? Look, sir,” he said, handing over an immense sheet of The Times to Mr. Gambouge, “was ever anything so monstrous?”

Gambouge smiled politely, and examined the proffered page. “It is enormous” he said; “but I do not read English.”

“Nay,” said the man with the orders, “look closer at it, Signor Gambouge; it is astonishing how easy the language is.”

Wondering, Simon took a sheet of paper. He turned pale as he looked at it, and began to curse the ices and the waiter. “Come, M. l’Abbé,” he said; “the heat and glare of this place are intolerable.”

The stranger rose with them. “Au plaisir de vous revoir, mon cher monsieur,” said he; “I do not mind speaking before the Abbé here, who will be my very good friend one of these days: but I thought it necessary to refresh your memory, concerning our little business transaction six years since; and could not exactly talk of it AT CHURCH, as you may fancy.”

Simon Gambouge had seen, in the double-sheeted Times, the paper signed by himself, which the little Devil had pulled out of his fob.

There was no doubt on the subject; and Simon, who had but a year to live, grew more pious, and more careful than ever. He had consultations with all the doctors of the Sorbonne and all the lawyers of the Palais. But his magnificence grew as wearisome to him as his poverty had been before; and not one of the doctors whom he consulted could give him a pennyworth of consolation.

Then he grew outrageous in his demands upon the Devil, and put him to all sorts of absurd and ridiculous tasks; but they were all punctually performed, until Simon could invent no new ones, and the Devil sat all day with his hands in his pockets doing nothing.

One day, Simon’s confessor came bounding into the room, with the greatest glee. “My friend,” said he, “I have it! Eureka! — I have found it. Send the Pope a hundred thousand crowns, build a new Jesuit college at Rome, give a hundred gold candlesticks to St. Peter’s; and tell his Holiness you will double all, if he will give you absolution!”

Gambouge caught at the notion, and hurried off a courier to Rome ventre à terre. His Holiness agreed to the request of the petition, and sent him an absolution, written out with his own fist, and all in due form.

“Now,” said he, “foul fiend, I defy you! arise, Diabolus! your contract is not worth a jot: the Pope has absolved me, and I am safe on the road to salvation.” In a fervor of gratitude he clasped the hand of his confessor, and embraced him: tears of joy ran down the cheeks of these good men.

They heard an inordinate roar of laughter, and there was Diabolus sitting opposite to them, holding his sides, and lashing his tail about, as if he would have gone mad with glee.

“Why,” said he, “what nonsense is this! do you suppose I care about THAT?” and he tossed the Pope’s missive into a corner. “M. l’Abbé knows,” he said, bowing and grinning, “that though the Pope’s paper may pass current HERE, it is not worth twopence in our country. What do I care about the Pope’s absolution? You might just as well be absolved by your under butler.”

“Egad,” said the Abbé, “the rogue is right — I quite forgot the fact, which he points out clearly enough.”

“No, no, Gambouge,” continued Diabolus, with horrid familiarity. “go thy ways, old fellow, that COCK WON’T FIGHT.” And he retired up the chimney, chuckling at his wit and his triumph. Gambouge heard his tail scuttling all the way up, as if he had been a sweeper by profession.

Simon was left in that condition of grief in which, according to the newspapers, cities and nations are found when a murder is committed, or a lord ill of the gout — a situation, we say, more easy to imagine than to describe.

To add to his woes, Mrs. Gambouge, who was now first made acquainted with his compact, and its probable consequences, raised such a storm about his ears, as made him wish almost that his seven years were expired. She screamed, she scolded, she swore, she wept, she went into such fits of hysterics, that poor Gambouge, who had completely knocked under to her, was worn out of his life. He was allowed no rest, night or day: he moped about his fine house, solitary and wretched, and cursed his stars that he ever had married the butcher’s daughter.

It wanted six months of the time.

A sudden and desperate resolution seemed all at once to have taken possession of Simon Gambouge. He called his family and his friends together — he gave one of the greatest feasts that ever was known in the city of Paris — he gayly presided at one end of his table, while Mrs. Gam., splendidly arrayed, gave herself airs at the other extremity.

After dinner, using the customary formula, he called upon Diabolus to appear. The old ladies screamed, and hoped he would not appear naked; the young ones tittered, and longed to see the monster: everybody was pale with expectation and affright.

A very quiet, gentlemanly man, neatly dressed in black, made his appearance, to the surprise of all present, and bowed all round to the company. “I will not show my CREDENTIALS,” he said, blushing, and pointing to his hoofs, which were cleverly hidden by his pumps and shoe-buckles, “unless the ladies absolutely wish it; but I am the person you want, Mr. Gambouge; pray tell me what is your will.”

“You know,” said that gentleman, in a stately and determined voice, “that you are bound to me, according to our agreement, for six months to come.”

“I am,” replied the new comer.

“You are to do all that I ask, whatsoever it may be, or you forfeit the bond which I gave you?”

“It is true.”

“You declare this before the present company?”

“Upon my honor, as a gentleman,” said Diabolus, bowing, and laying his hand upon his waistcoat.

A whisper of applause ran round the room: all were charmed with the bland manners of the fascinating stranger.

“My love,” continued Gambouge, mildly addressing his lady, “will you be so polite as to step this way? You know I must go soon, and I am anxious, before this noble company, to make a provision for one who, in sickness as in health, in poverty as in riches, has been my truest and fondest companion.”

Gambouge mopped his eyes with his handkerchief — all the company did likewise. Diabolus sobbed audibly, and Mrs. Gambouge sidled up to her husband’s side, and took him tenderly by the hand. “Simon!” said she, “is it true? and do you really love your Griskinissa?”

Simon continued solemnly: “Come hither, Diabolus; you are bound to obey me in all things for the six months during which our contract has to run; take, then, Griskinissa Gambouge, live alone with her for half a year, never leave her from morning till night, obey all her caprices, follow all her whims, and listen to all the abuse which falls from her infernal tongue. Do this, and I ask no more of you; I will deliver myself up at the appointed time.”

Not Lord G— — when flogged by lord B— — in the House — not Mr. Cartlitch, of Astley’s Amphitheatre, in his most pathetic passages, could look more crestfallen, and howl more hideously, than Diabolus did now. “Take another year, Gambouge,” screamed he; “two more — ten more — a century; roast me on Lawrence’s gridiron, boil me in holy water, but don’t ask that: don’t, don’t bid me live with Mrs. Gambouge!”

Simon smiled sternly. “I have said it,” he cried; “do this, or our contract is at an end.”

The Devil, at this, grinned so horribly that every drop of beer in the house turned sour: he gnashed his teeth so frightfully that every person in the company wellnigh fainted with the cholic. He slapped down the great parchment upon the floor, trampled upon it madly, and lashed it with his hoofs and his tail: at last, spreading out a mighty pair of wings as wide as from here to Regent Street, he slapped Gambouge with his tail over one eye, and vanished, abruptly, through the keyhole.

Gambouge screamed with pain and started up. “You drunken, lazy scoundrel!” cried a shrill and well-known voice, “you have been asleep these two hours:” and here he received another terrific box on the ear.

It was too true, he had fallen asleep at his work; and the beautiful vision had been dispelled by the thumps of the tipsy Griskinissa. Nothing remained to corroborate his story, except the bladder of lake, and this was spirted all over his waistcoat and breeches.

“I wish,” said the poor fellow, rubbing his tingling cheeks, “that dreams were true;” and he went to work again at his portrait.

My last accounts of Gambouge are, that he has left the arts, and is footman in a small family. Mrs. Gam. takes in washing; and it is said that, her continual dealings with soap-suds and hot water have been the only things in life which have kept her from spontaneous combustion.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00