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
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
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
"'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.
"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
"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
"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
"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'
"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."
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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.