Adventures in Paris by Toby Allspy

THE FIVE FLOORS.

The Boulevards may be said to perform for Paris the functions fulfilled by the cestus of Venus towards that amphibious goddess, by surrounding it with a magic girdle of fascinations. Every sort and variety of entertainment is to be found comprised in their cincture of the city,—from the stately Académie de Musique and Italian Opera (full of dandies and dowagers), to the trestles of rope-dancers, amphitheatres of dancing-dogs, and galleries of wax-work, (full of ploughboys and pickpockets,)—and every species of domicile, from the gorgeous hôtel to the humble stalls of the vendors of liquorice-water and galette. At one extremity we have the costly menu of the Café de Paris, with its ortolans and poudings à la Nessebrode; at the other, the greasy fricots of La Courtille. The Café Turc brays forth with Tolbecque, and an orchestra of trumpets and bassoons; the guinguettes of the Faubourg St. Antoine scrape away with their solitary fiddle. Every species of shop and merchandize, from the sumptuous magazin of Le Revenant to the boutique à vingt-cinq sous; every species of temple, from the Parthenonic Madeleine, to that aërial shrine of liberty, the site of the Bastille. Every gradation of display between splendour and misery is epitomized in the circuit of the Boulevards.

Play, opera, farce, feats of equestrianism, funambulism, somnambulism, and humbugism of every colour, industrious fleas, and idle vendors of magic eye-salve, successively arrest the attention; while in the vicinity of the Café Tortoni, famous for the coldness of its ices and heat of its quarrels, the courtier marron plies his trade of trickery; stock-jobbing has full possession of the pavé; and almost within hearing of the knowing ears of the Jockey-Club, and the ears polite of the Club Anglais, bulls and bears outbellow the fashionable jabber of the Boulevards.

On emerging from the head-quarters of English Paris,—the Rue de la Paix,—to the Boulevards des Capucines and des Italiens, the eye is dazzled by gilding, gas-light, plate-glass, scagliola, or moulu, varnished counters, and panelling in grotesque and arabesque, interspersed with glittering mirrors, as appliances and means of getting off the lowest goods at the highest rate. A little further, and by an imperceptible gradation, vice succeeds to frivolity. Instead of milliners and jewellers, we find billiard-tables and gambling-houses, deepening at length, into the more tremendous hazards of the Stock Exchange. After passing the vicinity of the Bourse, we come, naturally enough, to the quarter of the Jews; passing through the speculative neighbourhood of Le Passage des Panoramas, which is but a splendid game of chance materialised into stone and marble.

Next to this gaudy section of the modern Babylon dwells solid trade,—the streets of St. Denis and St. Martin,—accompanied by such theatres and such coffee-houses as might be expected to minister to the sensual and intellectual delights of the marchand en gros; melo-drama, and the Porte St. Martin,—the Cadran Bleu, and its unctuous cuisine. The vicinage of Rag Fair (the marché aux vieux linges) succeeds; then the Boulevard still bearing the name of Beaumarchais (the mansion formerly inhabited by the creator of Figaro being appropriately occupied by a refinery of salt); and lastly, in the wake of rags and wits, the site of the Bastille,—the rallying-point of the most seditious parish of Paris, the republican quarter of the manufacturers, the tremendous Faubourg St. Antoine.

It was precisely at the boundary limit between the pleasure and business sections of the Boulevards, at the corner of the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, on an airy second-floor with a projecting balcony, commanding a view of the sporting world to the right, and the trading world to the left,—the idle west, and active east,—that there lived a certain Monsieur Georges,—a little wizened man, of doubtful age, doubtful fortune, doubtful reputation. Everything about him was equivocal. In Paris people occupy themselves far less than in London with the affairs of their neighbours: the great have something better to do, the little something worse; the rich being too busy with play, the poor too busy with work, to have leisure for the dirty scandals which spring up like fungi in that region of lords and lackeys, Grosvenor Square. Nevertheless, the porter's lodge of every Parisian house is a chartered temple of echo, having a gossipry and a jargon of its own. The porter's lodge knits stockings, reads novels, and composes romances; peeps into letters, interrogates chambermaids, and confederates with duns. A man loose in his habits had need be very close in his domestics, in order to escape the detection of his porter's lodge.

Yet, in spite of fifteen years' domiciliation in that polished corner of the Boulevards, Monsieur Georges, though far from a beauty, was still a mystery. Madame la portière had never been able to discover whether "Georges" was a surname given by father to son, or a Christian name given by godfather to godson. She sometimes thought him a single man, sometimes a double, nay, sometimes a treble. Curious varieties of the fair sex occasionally visited the balconied saloon,—young, old, and middle-aged,—shabby-genteels who passed for poor relations, and glaring tawdry who passed for worse. There was no roost in his abode, however, either for the birds with fine feathers, or the birds without. Monsieur Georges's foible was not that of hospitality. His interests were too intimately cared for by a ferocious femme de confiance, who set himself and his house in order, and caused his establishment to be designated in the neighbourhood as that of Georges and the Dragon.

If not generous, however, the little man was strictly just; he gave nothing, but he kept nothing back. He paid his way with the praiseworthy punctuality remarkable in those who never pay an inch of the way for other people.

It is a hard thing, by-the-bye, that while male designations leave the facts of the man's bachelorhood uncertain, a spinster is specially pointed out by the malice of conventional phraseology. Mr. or Monsieur may be married or single, as he pleases; but Mrs. and Madame assume, even on the direction of a letter, their airs of matronly superiority over Miss or Mademoiselle. While her master rejoiced in his ambiguity as Monsieur Georges, Mademoiselle Berthe was designated to mankind and womankind in all the odium of spinsterhood; and exclamations of "old maid" and "chissie" followed her daily passage past the porter's lodge, the moment the "grim white woman" reached the first floor.

Among those who indulged in the acrimonious apostrophe, the most persevering, if not the loudest, was an urchin of some fourteen years old, whom Monsieur Georges had added to his establishment two years before, by way of Jack Nasty, foot-page, or errand-boy, under an engagement to clean Monsieur Georges and the housekeeper's shoes, without dirtying the ante-room with his own; to work much, eat little, sleep less; to keep his ears open, and his mouth shut; his hands full, and his stomach empty; his legs were to be evermore running, his tongue never. Now, little Auguste, (Auguste in the parlour, and Guguste in the porter's lodge,) though reared in a provincial foundling hospital, where infants are fed, like sheep, on a common, by the score, and washed, like pocket-handkerchiefs, by the dozen, had unluckily both a will and an appetite of his own. Cleaning Mademoiselle Berthe's shoes inspired him with a fancy for standing in them; and, on more than one occasion, he was found to have encroached upon the housekeeper's breakfast of coffee and cream, instead of contenting himself with wholesome filtred water. He was forthwith accused of being a greedy pig, as well as of making a litter in the apartments; till, after six months of faultiness and fault-finding, Monsieur Georges pronounced him to be an incorrigible gamin, sentenced him to "bring firing at requiring," and blacken shoes as usual, but to have his bed in an attic under the roof, (Parisianly called, after the famous Parisian architect, a mansarde,) and his board in the porter's lodge, where the board was exceedingly hard; Madame Grégoire,—the knitter of stockings, reader of novels, and coiner of romances for the corner-house of the Rue Montmartre,—having consented to feed and cherish him at the rate of twenty-five francs per month, id est, five weekly shillings lawful coin of her Majesty's realm. Monsieur Georges perhaps intended to starve the saucy gamin into submission; he did almost succeed in starving him into an atrophy.

Guguste, however, was a lad of spirit, and could hunger cheerfully under the housekeeping of the kind-hearted Madame Grégoire, who made up for the scantiness of her cheer by the abundance of her cheerfulness, buttered her parsnips with fine words, and gave the poor half-clothed gamin the place nearest the chauffrette, (fire she had none,) while Mademoiselle Berthe made the apartment on the second floor too hot to hold him. Madame Grégoire,—whose only daughter was the wife of a puppet-showman, and whose only grandson, a seller of sparrows rouged et noired into bullfinches, or white-washed into canaries, on the Pont Neuf,—transferred a considerable portion of her unclaimed dividends of maternal tenderness to the little orphan. Her son was a soldier, serving (as she said) at Algiers in the Indies, and by no means likely to enter into rivalship with the slave of Monsieur Georges and Mademoiselle Berthe's household.

"'Tis a strange thing, my dear child," mumbled the old woman to Guguste, as they sat down together one day to their six o'clock soup, (a composition of hot water, cabbage-stalks, half an ounce of bacon, and a peck of salt,) "that so long as I have held the string in this house, not a drop of wine, either in piece or bottle, has ever gone through the gateway to the address of Monsieur Georges! Every month comes the supply of chocolate from Marquise's for Monsieur, and from the Golden Bee a cargo of Bourbon coffee and beetroot sugar for the housekeeper; but of wine not a pint."

"Neither Georges nor the Dragon are honest souls enough to trust themselves with their cups," said the knowing gamin. "Wine tells truth, they say. None but an ass talks now-a-days of truth lying at the bottom of a well;—'tis in the bottom of a hogshead of claret. Ma'mselle Berthe, who can do nothing but lie, is the liar in the well. She can't keep her head above water."

"But Monsieur Georges, who need entertain no fear of making too free with his own secrets after a glass or two, inasmuch as no living mortal ever dips with him in the dish;—surely Monsieur might indulge on Sundays, and fête days, and the like?"

"And so he does indulge, Maman Grégoire,—so he does! Some folks like their champagne, some their burgundy. Master loves to take an internal hot-bath after the English fashion."

"A tea-drinker? sacristie! what effeminacy!" exclaimed the old woman, bravely swallowing, out of a spoon of métal d'Alger, a large mouthful of tepid cabbage water. "I recollect seeing tea made upon the stage, in the farce of 'Madame Pochet et Madame Gibou.' Jésu! what nastiness! I really wonder at Monsieur Georges! So spruce and so cleanly a gentleman as he looks, when, every evening just as St. Philip's church chimes the half-hour after seven, 'Le cordon, s'il vous plait,' gives me notice of his exit! His superfine blue coat and garnet-coloured velvet waistcoat without a speck of dust upon them!"

"Thanks to me!" interposed Guguste.

"His toupet shining with huile antique."

"Thanks to me!" continued Guguste.

"His boots varnished like looking-glasses."

"Thanks to me!" pursued Guguste.

"His hat smoothed as with an iron."

"Thanks to me,—thanks to me!"

"His jabot plaited as if by machinery, and white as snow; while his great diamond studs look out like eyes of fire from the frilling,—"

"Thank to—no, not thanks to me!" cried Guguste. "I must own that Ma'mselle Berthe, who is so much in the starch line, still presides in the washing and ironing department; and, as to the brilliants, which you say shine in the dark like cats' eyes, master keeps them like the apple of his own."

"I wonder what makes him so wonderful particular about his dress after nightfall?" said Madame Grégoire, peering through her spectacles into the face which she was preparing to cross-examine. "Humph?"

"Can't say," replied Guguste, tilting the soup-tureen to transfer the last drop of warm salt-water to his own plate.

"You mean won't; you could fast enough if you would, child!" said Madame Grégoire pettishly.

"Bah!" cried the gamin, (who was perhaps of opinion that the kicks, which, more than half-pence, constituted his salary in Monsieur Georges's service, formed a tie upon his discretions,)—"how can you, Ma'me Grégoire, who are such a very sensible woman, imagine it possible, that while I am clearing away the dinner things down stairs in the porter's lodge, or up stairs in Ma'mselle Berthe's chamber, I can have an eye to master's proceedings after he has crossed his threshold! Maybe he goes to the opera."

"Three nights in the week. But the other four?"

"There are fifteen theatres open, as I've heard tell, in the city and the suburbs," quoth Guguste drily.

"But, gentlemen as is gentlemen (which is what Monsieur Georges calls himself, however he may be called by others,) don't put on diamond studs and embroidered waistcoats, to go to the playhouses!"

"Don't they? How should I know?" demanded Guguste, polishing the pewter spoon on his sleeve as he was accustomed to do those of his master's double-threaded silver. "What do I see of playhouses?"

"Why, you ungrateful child! didn't I give you a ticket for the pit of the Porte St. Martin, for that moving piece, 'The Spectre Abbot,' on the night of Ma'mselle Isoline's benefit, the deputy-double of the general-utility jeune prémière, who lodges up stairs in the back attic, next but one to your own?"

"Yes; I saw 'The Spectre Abbot,' and Ma'mselle Isoline into the bargain, with three-quarters of a yard of red calico hanging to her waist, to represent the 'Bleeding Nun;' but I didn't take any notice whether the gentleman whose elbows were jammed into my sides wore diamond studs or velvet waistcoats."

"At all events you must perceive that the highly-respectable gentleman who occupies our splendid first-floor apartment, (Monsieur Boncoeur, the deputy,) goes out every evening in his carriage in a very different costume?"

"Monsieur Boncoeur, in his carriage, need not hoist a flag of gentility. Monsieur Georges, on foot, might be hustled off the pavement but for his brilliants."

"More likely for them," said the porteress.

"Besides, Monsieur Boncoeur is, as you say, such a very respectable-looking gentleman! His dark, square-cut coat, and pepper-and-salts; his broad-brimmed hat, and sad-coloured gloves; his whole outward man seems to have been taken measure of as the picture of respectability! And see what that very respectability has brought him to! Partner in one of the first houses in the Rue Bergère; deputy in the chamber; marguillier of the parish; a ribbon in his button-hole; and the picture of himself and his ribbon face to face with the portrait of Louis Philippe, at the gallery of the Exposition, for all the world as if they'd a little word to say to each other in public. Lord bless you! Monsieur Boncoeur's respectable grey whiskers, respectable speckled stockings, respectable great-coat and umbrella, are worth a couple of hundred thousand francs a year to the banking-house in the Rue Bergère, as vouchers for the square-toeishness of the firm!"

"Lord love thee, child! at thy years how shouldst thou know so much of the world!" cried Madame Grégoire, removing her spectacles after this tirade, as if all further perspicacity were superfluous.

"By being thrown upon it from the moment I had years to count," cried the urchin. "A foundling hospital, Ma'me Grég. is a famous whetstone, against which no one can rub without sharpening his wits!"

"But, since thine are so sharp, boy, how comes it thou hast never discovered whither Monsieur Georges directs his steps every evening, winter and summer, at half-past seven."

"Because 'tis my business to know, and I prefer my pleasure. I've some sort of right, you see, to interest myself in master's proceedings; but in those of Monsieur Boncoeur of the first floor, Ma'mselle Isoline of the attic, Madame la Baronne de Gimbecque, the pretty lady with the handsome cachemires, coupé, and black eyes, who lodges in the entrésol, and Madame Courson, the widow lady, on the troisième, I've nothing but wrong; and, accordingly, not a step do they take with which I am not conversant. I could tell you, if you wanted to know, where Madame Courson's poor, little, pale, patient daughter, Demoiselle Claire——"

"Thank ye,—thank ye! I fancy I know more of my lodgers than you do! All I ask you, is, concerning your master. Monsieur Georges is the only inmate of this house for whom it has ever been my fortune to pull the string without discovering, before the end of the first term, the source of his income, where he came from, whither he was going, and——"

"Good evening, grandmamma!" squeaked a voice at the moveable pane of the glass-door,—the arrow-slit, or meurtrière, through which every porteress is privileged to parley with visitors at meal-times or in windy weather.

"'Tis Dodo!" exclaimed Guguste, rising to open the latch for the lean and impish-looking grandson of Madame Grégoire, whose wistful glances in eyeing the empty tureen plainly indicated that his visit had been miscalculated by a quarter of an hour.

"Mother desired me to call and inquire after the rheumatic pain in your right shoulder," continued Dodo, (the short for Dodore,—which is short for Theodore, in cockney Parisian.)

"'Twas in my left, and it has left me," said the old woman peevishly; "and don't sit on that chair, child. The knitting-needles in the stocking may do you a mischief. How's your mother?"

"Mamma's got a cold, sitting out in the showers yesterday afternoon, to finish shaving a poodle which a customer was werry particular to get done in time to go out to dinner."

"Humph! I fancied, Dodo, you had taken that part of the business off her hands. I thought she made over the scissors to you at Michaelmas last?"

"And so she did for anything of plain work," replied the brat; "but this was a choice customer, and a bit of fancy work; a great big grey barbet, which stands as high as a rocking-horse, whose master is curious in his shaving. The gentleman's a poet, what does the off-rights romantique for Victor Hugo's plaything playhouse at the Porte St. Antoine; and, as the vulgars is apt to have their poodles lion-fashion, Monsieur Eugène gives hisn a mane and forelock; which, with cropped ears, looks for all the world like a unicorn!"

"What an ass!" cried Madame Grégoire contemptuously, tapping her snuff-box. "These poet and player folk makes themselves notorious, and fancies themselves famous!"

"And how goes on your own business, Dodo?" demanded Guguste, assuming in the presence of the starveling of nine years old the airs of a man of the world.

"Pretty smart, thank ye. I've just set up two new sparrow-traps in a ditch under the barrack-wall at Montrouge; and last week I sold a pair of as fine canaries as a coating of plaster of Paris and gamboge could make 'em, to a fine English lady in a carriage, as was crossing the bridge to the flower-market. Gave the brace of birds for nine francs, one of which I slipped into the hand of her laquais de place. But then I was out of business, you see, for three days a'twards, for fear of the police."

"Dodo, you'll be disgracing your family one of these days by being took up!" said Madame Grégoire impressively. "I remember my respectable first-floor, Monsieur Boncoeur, bringing home a piping bullfinch last year he'd bought on the Boulevards, whose red breast washed off the first showery day, all as one as Ma'mselle Isoline's rouge after a flood of tears in a melodrame! The poor dear gentleman had half a mind to have up the seller of the impositious bird before the commissary of the district; only, as he'd paid for it with an old coat unbeknownst to his valet, and an old coat not being lawful coin of the realm, there was a doubt in his mind about his power of bringing the vagabond to justice."

"Which? Himself, or the impositious bird, or the industrious fowler as was arning a living for his family?" inquired Guguste.

"Hush!" cried Madame Grégoire, laying her hand on the cord as Monsieur Georges' thin voice was heard giving utterance to his usual evening cry of "Le cordon!" Guguste slunk behind her high-backed chair as his tyrant passed the window,—his withered, sallow face enlivened by his gold-mounted spectacles, and his mean person coquetted into consequence, perforce of velvet and trinkets. Burnished from top to toe, he was the very moral of one of Giroux's toys, the very immoral of a chevalier d'industrie.

Certain that his master's exit would be the signal for his being fetched out of that, by the shrill summons of Ma'mselle Berthe to set the place in order, and make up the fire, (against the arrival of her cousin, Madame Dosne, an ex-box-opener of the Ambigu Comique, who occupied a chamber in the story above, and was admitted to the honour of seeing her prim relative play patience, and of sipping a glass of sugar and water with her on a long winter's evening,) Guguste flitted upward to the discharge of his duties, leaving the skinny imp of the Pont Neuf and his grandam to commune of domestic matters. While waiting the summons of Monsieur Boncoeur's demure-looking footman to open the gate for the demure-looking chariot of that highly demure and respectable individual, Madame Grégoire accordingly interrogated the boy concerning his father's absence from the sweets of his domestic hearth.

"Papa is making a tour in the south," replied the imp. "He passed the summer in the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees are quite in fashion in papa's line of business!"

"Ay, 'tis well for him that Gothon likes him to lead such a rambling life!" said Madame Grégoire in a moralizing tone. "When my poor daughter thought proper to marry a showman, I told her how it would be! To think, now, of a child of mine, a respectable portière in the same house, of the same parish, for forty years' standing."

"The house?"

"The house, ignoramus!—The house is a century old, built by the Regent Duke of Orleans, father of his unfortunate majesty, Louis XIV, as you might read in history,—if you knew how to read.—To think of a child of mine, I say, squatting on a wooden stool, like a wild Indian, winter and summer, with nothing but a cold river under her feet, and cold oil-cloth over her head, on the look-out for a poodle in want of clipping, or some mouse-eaten-out-of-house-and-home baker in want of a tabby kitten! I protest I never think of my poor Gothon and her stock-in-trade,—her cage of cats on one side, and her string of puppies on the other,—without bitter anguish of soul. Why can't your father stay at home, Dodore, and set up in the Champs Elysées, or at the barrières, like other respectable men of his profession, to be nearer home?"

"Bless your heart!" remonstrated Dodo, "papa took up his station three years ago, on the way along the Allée d'Antin, to the Suspension Bridge. But it all but made a bankrupt of him! There was too much competition. Pierre the Savoyard, who had his show-box within fifty yards, has such a winning way with him that not a nurse-maid, or English lord coming out of Lepage's shooting-gallery, but used to throw silver to Pierre, where papa took only the brownest of copper. At last, a nasty, good-for-nothing, designing Jesuit of a fellow set up in opposition to both on 'em; Scripture pieces, with Jepfa's daughters, and Dalily and Goliar, a hand-organ, and Dutch pug as held an old hat, and what not. Papa bore it as long as he was able; but what was the good of opposition atween friends? He'd nothing in his box but worn-out things, as old as Methusalem or Jerusalem, or whatever it is, such as the battle of Marengo, and the Pyramids, and the landing of Xerxes in the Hellyspunt and a pack of low-lived fancies. So mamma persuaded him to try the provinces (where, as all the world knows, the stalest bread goes down); and so, from fair to fair, he's been touring it this twelvemonth."

"Poor Gothon!"

"Mamma doesn't fret. She says I shall soon be old enough to take papa's business off his shoulders, and then he'll be able to retire comfortable; and she'll give up her stall on the Pont Neuf, and the kitten and canary line, to sister Mary."

Madame Grégoire was about to remonstrate against this perpetuation of open-air commerce in her posterity, when Monsieur Boncoeur's signal was given; and, lo, the well-varnished, well-stuffed, but plain chariot of the thriving banker, rolled after his fat and bean-fed horses out of the court-yard.

Some minutes afterwards, his portly femme de ménage, Madame Alexandre, stepped into the lodge for a few minutes' gossip with the porteress previous to proceeding to her evening's Boston with the grocer's lady at the opposite corner. The comely housekeeper, in her silk-cloak and bonnet, was naturally an object of dislike and envy to the withered portière, in her ragged merino gown and dingy calico cap. But Christmas was approaching. Her étrennes for New Year's Day (to the sum total of which, the first-floor contributed three-fourths) were seldom absent from Madame Grégoire's calculations. Besides, Monsieur Boncoeur's housekeeper was to be conciliated as a connecting link in her chain of domestic investigation; for Madame Alexandre not only afforded her quota of information concerning her own and her master's affairs, but, in pure pryingness of spirit, contrived to see through stone-walls, and hear down chimneys, while striving to put this and that together concerning those of her fellow-lodgers.

"Well, Madame Grégoire, what is the best news with us this evening?" demanded the jolly dame, as soon as the porteress had despatched her hungry grandson home to his mamma, the kittens and canaries. "I'm just stepping out, you see, for my little game with the Pruins. Poor people, they can't do without me! If I warn't with them before the clock struck eight, I should be having them here after me; and, to be filling the house with visitors during master's absence, is a thing I'm not in the habit of doing, as nobody knows, better than yourself. Indeed, it's a matter of conscience that takes me out the moment his back is turned. As a femme de confiance, I'm bound to see there's no waste; and where there's visitors there must be tippling and stuffing; so, out of regard to Monsieur Boncoeur's property, I'm seldom in the house ten minutes after him. I hope I know my duty by so respectable a master better than to make away with his goods like Ma'mselle Berthe up yonder, who keeps open house like a lady, with as many rings at her bells of an evening as e'er a duchess in the land! But, as I was saying, Madame Grégoire,—(Dearie me, I thought I wasn't by no means comfortable! I've been sitting on the knitting-needles! lucky my cloak was wadded!)—as I was saying, have you made out anything further about them Coursons?"

"Scarce a syllable more than the first day they took possession! One knowed they was respectable, 'cause our proprietor is exceeding particular about references,—(there isn't a partic'larer landlord from one end of the Boulevards to t'other!)—and one knowed they was poor, 'cause their moveables came on a porter's truck, instead of occupying a cart and horse, as becomes a creditable lodger, or instead of occupying three vans of the administration des déménagemens, as was the case, I remember, when our respectable first-floor moved in."

Madame Alexandre smiled a neat and appropriate smile of acknowledgment for her master; while the porteress took breath, a pinch of snuff, and proceeded.

"But as to their origin, and sitch, I know no more than Adam! Not an acquaintance in the parish! I even put the water-carrier upon asking about the neighbourhood; but no such name as Courson was ever heard of! How do we know, pray, who we've got among us? Courson may be a sham name, such as we reads of in Monsieur Jules Janin's novels!"

"Such rubbish, indeed!" said Madame Alexandre, with a sneer, intended, like the epithet, to apply to the lodgers on the third-floor, ignored by the water-carrier and public-houses in the neighbourhood, not to Monsieur Janin's novels, which were probably familiar to them all.

"Would you believe it, ma'am? there's the saucy minx of a daughter (Ma'mselle Claire, I think, you told me was her name,) has the owdacity to bid me good morning or good evening if I haps to meet her on the stairs, affable-like, as if she felt me her inferiorer! Me! Now I don't know, Ma'me Grégoire, what your opinion may be, but I holds (and so does my friends, the Pruins,) that the upper domestics of the first-floor is on a 'quality with the lodgers of the third, that keeps no domestics at all."

"Certainly, ma'am, certainly," replied the porteress, still harping on the amount of her New Year's gift. "But have you made out nothing of these people's occupations? You're two floors nigher to 'em than me. If I was in your place——"

"If you was in that of the housekeeper of Monsieur Georges, you mean! Ma'mselle Berthe's store-closet looks clean into Ma'mselle Claire's room."

"Looks dirty in," emended the prying porteress.

"And, if Ma'mselle Berthe wasn't as dry as a handful of deal shavings, maybe I might have demeaned myself to ask her in a friendly way how the young lady passed her mornings. But Ma'mselle Berthe (the chissie!) condescends to hold just about as much communication with me as one of the chayney mandarins on the top of master's cabinet,—shakes her head by way of salutation, and not a word!"

"But, Guguste (Monsieur Georges's little lad of all work and no play) assured me he saw Ma'mselle Courson ring at Monsieur Boncoeur's bell the other day, and deliver a letter to the footman."

"Oho! that dirty little gamin plays the spy upon those who rings at Monsieur Boncoeur's bell, do he?" cried the housekeeper, reddening. "Very dirty behaviour, I must confess!"

"But, my dear madam, my dear friend," whined the porteress in a tone of deprecation, "did not you yourself inform me that Monsieur Boncoeur's footman carried up on Sunday se'nnight, by Monsieur Boncoeur's desire, to Ma'mselle Claire, a box of apricot marmalade, and the last number of the 'Follet'?"

"I said no such thing, ma'am, as I remember. The marmalade and the journal was both lawfully directed to Madame Courson. I never so much as insinnivated a word of an intention of attention to Mademoiselle!"

"Then I miscomprehended, ma'am; in which I'm the more to blame, because, from the highly-respectable character of the mansion for which I have the honour to pull the string, (there isn't, as I said before, a more partic'larer landlord than the proprietor from one end of the Boulevarts to t'other,) I might have known that even the letters of a gentleman so distinguished as my first-floor would never have been received by Ma'mselle, the daughter of Madame Courson."

"That's all you know about it,—is it?" cried the lusty housekeeper, crimsoning with pique. "Then be so good as to tell me what makes such a young lady as Ma'mselle, Madame Courson's daughter, write written letters to so distinguished a gentleman as your first-floor? Answer me that!"

"She couldn't be guilty of anything so heinous!" cried the porteress, aghast.

"I tell you she was!"

"You must be mistaken!"

"Seeing is believing, Madame Grégoire!"

"Ay! you may have seen her deliver a written letter, poor dear, from her mamma, in all probability?"

"No such thing!—from herself."

"Now, how can you possibly know! Did you see her write it? Do you even know her handwriting?"

"I know her signature,—'Claire de Courson;' and you told me your werry self, that the agreement for the lodgings was signed by her mother as 'Emilie de Courson.'"

"But the signature was inside the written letter. How could you see that?"

"No matter; I did see it with my two eyes as plain as I see you."

"And that's plain enough," muttered Guguste, who, having crept back unobserved into the room, was skulking in a corner.

"Why, sure you didn't go to peep?" said the porteress, with a knowing look of inquiry and accusation.

"What a one you are!" cried Madame Alexandre, trying to turn off jocularly her self-betrayal. "But, not to haggle with partic'lars of how the letter came into my hands, into my hands it came; and what should it be, but a private confidential tête-à-tête epistle from the young lady, saying how Monsieur Boncoeur's reputation for benevolence was up in the neighbourhood, and how he seemed inclined to befriend her poor mother, (the apricot marmalade, you know!) and how it would be a great charity (no, not charity,—act of humanity the shabby-genteels calls it,) if he would exert his interest to procure for her mamma a privilege to sell stamps, a bureau de papier timbré; for which, of course, his petitioner was ever bound to pray, and so forth."

"I hope they don't think of setting up anything in the shop or office line in a house like ourn?" cried Madame Grégoire, with dignity. "They'll find theirself plaguily out of their reckoning!—for I must say it, who shouldn't say it, that there isn't a more partic'larer landlord."

"I'll just tell you what," ruthlessly interrupted Madame Alexandre, twitching her silk cloak, as if meditating departure. "Tonight's Monday, you know."

"Yes, I do know."

"And that's the reception-night, you know, of the Minister of the Home Department."

"No, I didn't know."

"And, as sure as life,——"

"Lord lovee, Ma'me Alexandre, don't use that profane expression! There's nothing less sure than life!" cried Madame G. while Auguste groaned in the background.

"As sure as a gun, then——"

Again Auguste groaned.

"—Master's gone this evening to the hotel of the Ministre de l'Interieur, to present Ma'mselle Claire's petition for a stamp-office."

"Do you really think things of that sort are done in that sort of straight-for'ard way?" demanded the porteress. "I fancied that, when you wanted anything of government, you got a word said for you to the cousin of some clerk-of-a-deputy-to-an-under-commissioner, with, maybe, a genteel little offering, to make it go down,—such as a Savoy cake, or a China rose-tree in a flower-pot."

"Nonsense! You're thinking of folks of your own species," said the housekeeper disdainfully.

"You forget that my master, Monsieur Boncoeur,'s a representative of the nation, a governor of the Bank of France, and a marguillier of the parish. Master's a right to go straight an end to the king, and tell his majesty any little wish he may have ungratified. And, if he should think proper to mention to Louis Philippe Ma'mselle Claire's desire that her mamma should set up a bureau for stamps, her business is done!"

They were interrupted by the starting up of Guguste, who was crouching behind them, and placed an admonitory finger on his lip to impose silence upon Madame Grégoire's meditated rejoinder, just as a very white hand, holding a very black key, was intruded into the room through the porter's window; and the silvery accents of Mademoiselle Courson were heard, announcing to the porteress that she was going out for half an hour; and that, though her mother remained at home, she was indisposed, and could receive no visitors."

"Visitors, indeed! Who ever comes to visit them, I should like to know!" muttered Madame Grégoire, after pulling the cordon to admit of the young lady's egress.

"She certainly had a bundle under her arm!" cried Madame Alexandre, who had been watching the young lady through the window. "Now, how I should like to know where she's going."

"To the pharmacy, for medicine for her mother, or to the herborist for lime-blossoms, to make tisanne," said Guguste, who shrewdly anticipated a request on the part of the elderly ladies that he would arise and play the spy upon the movements of Mademoiselle Claire.

"Pho! pho! The old lady's only trouble-sick, which would be a deal worse than body-sick, only that it don't require no physic," observed the porteress.

"Then she's gone to the laundress."

"Laundress, indeed!" cried the fat housekeeper; "as if low-lived people like the third-floor wasn't their own laundress!"

"Pardon me, my dear Ma'me Alexandre," cried the porteress. "You know we don't allow no hanging out in this house. There's not a more partic'larer landlord in——"

"'Tis my true and honest belief," interrupted the lady in the silk-cloak, "that the girl is gone to the Mont de Piété! I said to Robert, our footman, when he was taking up master's apricot marmalade, that 'twould be a deal more to the purpose if he took up a good dish of cutlets, or a fricandeau; for, as you and I was agreeing t'other day, my dear Ma'me Grégoire, not an ounce of anything eatable beyond daily bread ever goes up these blessed stairs to the third-floor. And, what's more, I've noticed strange changes in Miss and Madam since they took up in the house; I don't mean in point of growing thin and meagre, 'cause care alone, without starving, will bring the poor body of a poor soul down to nothing. But, the day as their goods came in, Ma'mselle Courson had as good a cloak over her shoulders as the one on mine (which cost me a good hundred and thirty livres in the Passage de l'Orme,) and Ma'mselle Claire's having a velvet collar doubtless might be counted at twenty more. What's become of it, I should like to know?"

"Ay, what's become of it, eh?" added the porteress, tapping her box.

"Certes! people that has a comfortable cloak is apt to put it on such nights as this!" rejoined the housekeeper; "but I say nothing."

"The young lady may have lent it to her mamma, who is indisposed," pleaded Guguste. "Fuel is ris' within the week. I don't suppose they've too much fire."

"Lent it to her mamma, indeed!" cried Madame Alexandre. "Why, Madame Courson has as handsome a Thibet shawl as ever came out of Ternaux's factory."

"Had," emended the porteress. "I haven't seen the red shawl on her shoulders these three weeks. On that point I has my suspicions."

A single rap, Parisian-wise, at the porte cochère, produced the usual professional tug at the cordon. The gate flew open; and, peeping in at the window-pane, was seen the rubicund face of Monsieur Paul Emile Pruin, the grocer, come in search of his loitering guest.

"So, so, so!" cried he, on detecting her in the thick of gossip with the grandmamma of Dodore. "This is the way you keep your appointments, ma belle voisine? Haven't we had the hearth made up these three quarters of an hour, candles snuffed, (bougies de l'étoile, always a-snuffing!) a fresh bottle of groseille frambroisée ready to be uncorked, and a batch of biscuits de Rheims ready to be opened?—Saw Monsieur le Député's carriage bowl out, and been hoping ever since to see you bowl in. Poor Madame Paul in the fidgets, as if she'd swallowed a flight of swallows,—up and down,—in and out. Sent me over with the umbrella to look after you."

"Thank you,—thank you!" cried Madame Alexandre. "'Tis the first of the month, you see," she continued, winking at the blind old porteress (to whom a nod and wink were much alike) to back her apologies. "I'd my little postage account to settle with my good friend here. But now I'm at your service. Allons!"

"Guguste, my dear, show the lantern to Madame Alexandre over the ruisseau," said the porteress, turning round to look for her boarder. But Guguste had disappeared. He had perhaps sneaked away to track the mysterious footsteps of Mademoiselle de Courson.