The amount ran through the establishment

The following Monday, the 10th of October, a clear, victorious sun
pierced the grey clouds which had darkened Paris during the previous
week. It had drizzled all the previous night, a sort of watery mist, the
humidity of which dirtied the streets; but in the early morning, thanks
to the sharp wind which was driving the clouds away, the pavement had
become drier, and the blue sky had a limpid, spring-like gaiety.
Thus The Ladies’ Paradise, after eight o’clock, blazed forth beneath
the clear rays of the sun, in all the glory of its great sale of winter
novelties. Flags were flying at the door, and pieces of woollens were
flapping about in the fresh morning air, animating the Place Gaillon
with the bustle of a country fair; whilst in both streets the windows
developed symphonies of displays, the clearness of the glass showing up
still further the brilliant tones. It was like a debauch of colour,
a street pleasure which burst forth there, a wealth of goods publicly
displayed, where everybody could go and feast their eyes.
But at this hour very few people entered, only a few rare customers,
housewives of the neighbourhood, women desirous of avoiding the
afternoon crush. Behind the stuffs which decorated it, one could feel
the shop to be empty, under arms and waiting for customers, with its
waxed floors and counters overflowing with goods.
The busy morning crowd barely glanced at the windows, without lingering
a moment. In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin and in the Place Gaillon,
where the carriages were to take their stand, there were only two cabs
at nine o’clock. The inhabitants of the district, especially the small
traders, stirred up by such a show of streamers and decorations, formed
little groups in the doorways, at the corners of the streets, gazing at
the shop, making bitter remarks. What most filled them with indignation
was the sight of one of the four delivery vans just introduced by
Mouret, which was standing in the Rue de la Michodière, in front of the
delivery office. They were green, picked out with yellow and red, their
brilliantly varnished panels sparkling in the sun with the brightness
of purple and gold. This van, with its brand-new medley of colours,
the name of the house painted on each side, and surmounted with an
advertisement of the day’s sale, finished by going off at a trot, drawn
by a splendid horse, after being filled up with the previous night’s
parcels; and Baudu, who was standing on the threshold of The Old Elbeuf,
watched it as far as the boulevard, where it disappeared, to spread all
over Paris in a starry radiance the hated name of The Ladies’ Paradise.
However, a few cabs were arriving and forming a line.
Every time a customer entered, there was a movement amongst the shop
messengers, who were drawn up under the lofty doorway, dressed in livery
consisting of a light green coat and trousers, and striped red and
yellow waistcoat. Jouve, the inspector and retired captain, was also
there, in a frock-coat and white tie, wearing his decoration like a
sign of respectability and probity, receiving the ladies with a gravely
polite air, bending over them to point out the departments. Then they
disappeared in the vestibule, which was transformed into an oriental
From the very threshold it was a marvel, a surprise, which enchanted all
of them. It was Mouret who had been struck with this idea. He was the
first to buy, in the Levant, at very advantageous rates, a collection of
old and new carpets, articles which up to the present had only been sold
at curiosity shops, at high prices; and he intended to flood the market
with these goods, selling them at a little over cost price, simply
drawing from them a splendid decoration destined to attract the best
class of art customers to his establishment From the centre of the Place
Gaillon could be seen this oriental saloon, composed solely of carpets
and door curtains which had been hung under his orders. The ceiling was
covered with a quantity of Smyrna carpets, the complicated designs of
which stood out boldly on a red ground. Then from each side there hung
Syrian and Karamanian door-curtains, speckled with green, yellow, and
vermilion; Diarbekir door-curtains of a commoner type, rough to the
touch, like shepherds’ cloaks; besides these there were carpets which
could be used as door-curtains and hangings–long Ispahan, Teheran,
and Kermancha rugs, the larger Schoumaka and Madras carpets, a strange
florescence of peonies and palms, the fancy let loose in a garden of
dreams. On the floor were more carpets, a heap of greasy fleeces: in the
centre was an Agra carpet, an extraordinary article with a white ground
and a broad delicate blue border, through which ran violet-coloured
ornaments of exquisite design. Everywhere there was an immense display
of marvellous fabrics; Mecca carpets with a velvety reflection, prayer
carpets from Daghestan with a symbolic point, Kurdistan carpets covered
with blossoming flowers; and finally, piled up in a corner, a heap of
Gherdes, Koula, and Kirchur rugs from fifteen francs a piece.
This sumptuous pacha’s tent was furnished with divans and arm-chairs,
made with camel sacks, some ornamented with many-coloured lozenges,
others with primitive roses. Turkey, Arabia, and the Indies were all
there. They had emptied the palaces, plundered the mosques and bazaars.
A barbarous gold tone prevailed in the weft of the old carpets,
the faded tints of which still preserved a sombre warmth, as of an
extinguished furnace, a beautiful burnt hue suggestive of the old
masters. Visions of the East floated beneath the luxury of this
barbarous art, amid the strong odour which the old wools had retained of
the country of vermin and of the rising sun.
In the morning at eight o’clock, when Denise, who was to commence on
that very Monday, had crossed the oriental saloon, she stood there,
lost in astonishment, unable to recognise the shop entrance, entirely
overcome by this harem-like decoration planted at the door. A messenger
having shown her to the top of the house, and handed her over to Madame
Cabin, who cleaned and looked after the rooms, this person installed
her in No. 7, where her box had already been put. It was a narrow
cell, opening on the roof by a skylight, furnished with a small bed,
a walnut-wood wardrobe, a toilet-table, and two chairs. Twenty similar
rooms ran along the convent-like corridor, painted yellow; and, out of
the thirty-five young ladies in the house, the twenty who had no friends
in Paris slept there, whilst the remaining fifteen lodged outside, a
few with borrowed aunts and cousins. Denise at once took off her shabby
woollen dress, worn thin by brushing and mended at the sleeves, the only
one she had brought from Valognes; she then put on the uniform of her
department, a black silk dress which had been altered for her and which
she found ready on the bed. This dress was still too large, too wide
across the shoulders; but she was so hurried in her emotion that she
paid no heed to these details of coquetry. She had never worn silk
before. When she went downstairs again, dressed up, uncomfortable, she
looked at the shining skirt, feeling ashamed of the noisy rustling of
the silk.
Down below, as she was entering her department, a quarrel burst out. She
heard Clara say, in a shrill voice:
“Madame, I came in before her.”
“It isn’t true,” replied Marguerite. “She pushed past me at the door,
but I had already one foot in the room.”
It was for the inscription on the list of turns, which regulated the
sales. The saleswomen wrote their names on a slate in the order of their
arrival, and whenever one of them had served a customer, she re-wrote
her name beneath the others. Madame Aurélie finished by deciding in
Marguerite’s favour.
“Always some injustice here!” muttered Clara, furiously. But Denise’s
entry reconciled these young ladies. They looked at her, then smiled to
each other. How could a person truss herself up in that way! The young
girl went and awkwardly wrote her name on the list, where she found
herself last. Meanwhile, Madame Aurélie was examining her with an
anxious face. She could not help saying:
“My dear, two like you could get into your dress; you must have it taken
in. Besides, you don’t know how to dress yourself. Come here and let me
arrange you a bit.”
And she placed herself before one of the tall glasses alternating with
the doors of the cupboards containing the dresses. The vast apartment,
surrounded by these glasses and the wood-work in carved oak, the
floor covered with red Wilton carpet of a large pattern, resembled the
commonplace drawing-room of an hotel, traversed by a continual stream of
travellers. The young ladies completed the resemblance, dressed in the
regulation silk, promenading their commercial charms about, without ever
sitting down on the dozen chairs reserved for the customers. All wore
between two buttonholes of the body of their dresses, as if stuck in
their bosoms, a long pencil, with its point in the air; and half out of
their pockets, could be seen the white cover of the book of debit-notes.
Several risked wearing jewellery–rings, brooches, chains; but their
great coquetry, the luxury they all struggled for in the forced
uniformity of their dress, was their bare hair, quantities of it,
augmented by plaits and chignons when their own did not suffice, combed,
curled, and decked out in every way.
“Pull the waist down in front,” said Madame Aurélie. “There, you have
now no hump on your back. And your hair, how can you massacre it like
that? It would be superb, if you only took a little trouble.”
This was, in fact, Denise’s only beauty. Of a beautiful flaxen hue, it
fell down to her ankles; and when she did it up, it was so troublesome
that she simply rolled it in a knot, keeping it together under the
strong teeth of a bone comb. Clara, greatly annoyed by this head of
hair, affected to laugh at it, so strange did it look, twisted up anyhow
in its savage grace. She made a sign to a saleswoman in the under-linen
department, a girl with a large face and agreeable manner. The two
departments, which were close together, were in continual hostility; but
the young ladies sometimes joined together in laughing at other people.
“Mademoiselle Cugnot, just look at that mane,” said Clara, whom
Marguerite was nudging, feigning also to be on the point of bursting out
But Mademoiselle Cugnot was not in the humour for joking. She had been
looking at Denise for a moment, and she remembered what she had suffered
herself during the first few months of her arrival in the establishment.
“Well, what?” said she. “Everybody hasn’t got a mane like that!”
And she returned to her place, leaving the two others very crestfallen.
Denise, who had heard all, followed her with a look of thanks, while
Madame Aurélie gave our heroine a book of debit-notes with her name on
it, saying: “To-morrow you’ll get yourself up better; and, now, try and
pick up the ways of the house, wait your turn for selling. To-day’s
work will be very hard; we shall be able to judge of your capabilities.”
However, the department still remained deserted; very few customers came
up at this early hour. The young ladies reserved themselves, prudently
preparing for the fatigues of the afternoon. Denise, intimidated by the
thought that they were watching her, sharpened her pencil, for the sake
of something to do; then, imitating the others, she stuck it into
her bosom, between two buttonholes, and summoned up all her courage,
determined to conquer a position. The previous evening they had told her
she entered as a probationer, that is to say without any fixed salary;
she would simply have the commission and a certain allowance on
everything she sold. But she fully hoped to earn twelve hundred francs a
year in this way, knowing that the good saleswomen earned as much as
two thousand, when they liked to take the trouble. Her expenses were
regulated; a hundred francs a month would enable her to pay Pépé’s
board and lodging, assist Jean, who did not earn a sou, and procure some
clothes and linen for herself. But, in order to attain this large sum,
she would have to show herself industrious and pushing, taking no notice
of the ill-will displayed by those around her, fighting for her share,
even snatching it from her comrades if necessary. As she was thus
working herself up for the struggle, a tall young man, passing the
department, smiled at her; and when she saw it was Deloche, who had been
engaged in the lace department the previous day, she returned his smile,
happy at the friendship which thus presented itself, accepting this
smile as a good omen.
At half-past nine a bell rang for the first luncheon. Then a fresh peal
announced the second; and still no customers appeared. The second-hand,
Madame Frédéric, who, in her disagreeable widow’s harshness, delighted
in prophesying disasters, declared in short sentences that the day
was lost, that they would not see a soul, that they might close the
cupboards and go away; predictions which darkened Marguerite’s flat
face, she being a girl who looked sharp after her profits, whilst Clara,
with her runaway-horse appearance, was already dreaming of an excursion
to the Verrières woods, if the house failed. As for Madame Aurélie, she
was there, silent and serious, promenading her Cæsar-like mask about
the empty department, like a general who has a certain responsibility
in victory and in defeat. About eleven o’clock a few ladies appeared.
Denise’s turn for serving had arrived. Just at that moment a customer
came up.
“The fat old girl from the country,” murmured Marguerite.
It was a woman of forty-five, who occasionally journeyed to Paris from
the depths of some out-of-the-way place. There she saved up for months;
then, hardly out of the train, she made straight for The Ladies’
Paradise, and spent all her savings. She very rarely ordered anything
by letter, she liked to see and handle the goods, and laid in a stock of
everything, even down to needles, which she said were excessively dear
in her small town. The whole staff knew her, that her name was Boutarel,
and that she lived at Albi, but troubled no further about her, neither
about her position nor her mode of life.
“How do you do, madame?” graciously asked Madame Aurélie, who had come
forward. “And what can we show you? You shall be attended to at once.”
Then, turning round: “Now, young ladies!”
Denise approached; but Clara had sprung forward. As a rule, she was very
careless and idle, not caring about the money she earned in the shop, as
she could get plenty outside, without trouble. But the idea of doing the
new-comer out of a good customer spurred her on.
“I beg your pardon, it’s my turn,” said Denise, indignantly. Madame
Aurélie set her aside with a severe look, saying: “There are no turns.
I alone am mistress here. Wait till you know, before serving our regular
The young girl retired, and as the tears were coming in her eyes, and
she wished to conceal this excess of sensibility, she turned her back,
standing up before the window, pretending to be looking into the street.
Were they going to prevent her selling? Would they all arrange together
to deprive her of the important sales, like that? A fear for the future
seized her, she felt herself crushed between so many interests let
loose. Yielding to the bitterness of her abandonment, her forehead
against the cold glass, she gazed at The Old Elbeuf opposite, thinking
she ought to have implored her uncle to keep her. Perhaps he himself
regretted his decision, for he seemed to her greatly affected the
previous evening. Now she was quite alone in this vast house, where no
one liked her, where she found herself hurt, lost. Pépé and Jean, who
had never left her side, were living with strangers; it was a cruel
separation, and the big tears which she kept back made the street dance
in a sort of fog. All this time, the hum of voices continued behind her.
“This one makes me look a fright,” Madame Boutarel was saying.
“You really make a mistake, madame,” said Clara; “the shoulders fit
perfectly–but perhaps you would prefer a pelisse to a mantle?”
But Denise started. A hand was laid on her arm. Madame Aurélie addressed
her severely:
“Well, you’re doing nothing now–eh? only looking at the people passing.
Things can’t go on this way, you know!”
“But they prevent me selling, madame.”
“Oh, there’s other work for you, mademoiselle! Begin at the beginning.
Do the folding-up.”
In order to please the few customers who had called, they had been
obliged to ransack all the cupboards, and on the two long oaken tables,
to the right and the left, were heaps of mantles, pelisses, and capes,
garments of all sizes and all materials. Without replying, Denise set
about sorting them, folding them carefully and arranging them again
in the cupboards. This was the lowest work, generally performed by
beginners. She ceased to protest, knowing that they required the
strictest obedience, waiting till the first hand should be good enough
to let her sell, as she seemed at first to have the intention of doing.
She was still folding, when Mouret appeared on the scene. This was a
violent shock for her; she blushed without knowing why, she felt herself
invaded by a strange fear, thinking he was going to speak to her. But he
did not even see her; he no longer remembered this little girl whom the
charming impression of an instant had induced him to support.
“Madame Aurélie,” called he in a brief voice.
He was rather pale, but his eyes were clear and resolute. In making the
tour of the departments he had found them empty, and the possibility
of a defeat had suddenly presented itself in the midst of his obstinate
faith in fortune. True, it was only eleven o’clock; he knew by
experience that the crowd never arrived much before the afternoon. But
certain symptoms troubled him. At the previous sales, a general movement
had taken place from the morning even; besides he did not see any of
those bareheaded women, customers living in the neighbourhood, who
usually dropped into his shop as into a neighbour’s. Like all great
captains, he felt at the moment of giving battle a superstitious
weakness, notwithstanding his habitually resolute attitude. Things would
not go on well, he was lost, and he could not have explained why; he
thought he could read his defeat on the faces of the passing ladies
Just at that moment, Madame Boutarel, she who always bought something,
was going away, saying: “No, you have nothing that pleases me. I’ll see,
I’ll decide later on.”
Mouret watched her depart. Then, as Madame Aurélie ran up at his call,
he took her aside, and they exchanged a few rapid words. She wore a
despairing air, and was evidently admitting that things were looking
bad. For a moment they remained face to face, seized with one of those
doubts which generals conceal from their soldiers. Ultimately he said
out loud in his brave way: “If you want assistance, understand, take a
girl from the workroom. She’ll be a little help to you.”
He continued his inspection in despair. He had avoided Bourdoncle
all the morning, for his anxious doubts irritated him. On leaving the
under-linen department, where business was still worse, he dropped right
on to him, and was obliged to submit to the expression of his fears. He
did not hesitate to send him to the devil, with a brutality that even
his principal employees came in for when things were looking bad.
“Get out of my way!” said he. “Everything is going on all right. I shall
end by pitching out the tremblers.”
Mouret planted himself alone on the landing of the hall-staircase. From
there he commanded the whole shop; around him the departments on the
first-floor; beneath, those of the ground-floor. Above, the emptiness
seemed heart-breaking; in the lace department, an old woman was having
everything turned over and buying nothing; whilst three good-for-nothing
minxes in the under-linen department were slowly choosing some collars
at eighteen sous. Down below, under the covered galleries, in the ray of
light which came in from the street, he noticed that the customers were
commencing to get more numerous. It was a slow, broken procession,
a promenade before the counters; in the mercery and the haberdashery
departments some women of the commoner class were pushing about, but
there was hardly a customer in the linen or in the woollen departments.
The shop messengers, in their green coats, the buttons of which shone
brilliantly, were waiting for customers, their hands dangling about. Now
and again there passed an inspector with a ceremonious air, very stiff
in his white neck-tie. Mouret was especially grieved by the mortal
silence which reigned in the hall, where the light fell from above from
a ground glass window, showing a white dust, diffuse and suspended, as
it were, under which the silk department seemed to be sleeping, amid
a shivering religious silence. A shopman’s footstep, a few whispered
words, the rustling of a passing skirt, were the only noises heard,
and they were almost stifled by the hot air of the heating apparatus.
However, carriages began to arrive, the sudden piffling up of the horses
was heard, and immediately after the banging of the carriage doors.
Outside, a distant tumult was commencing to make itself heard, groups of
idlers were pushing in front of the windows, cabs were taking up their
positions in the Place Gaillon, there were all the appearances of an
approaching crowd. But on seeing the idle cashiers leaning back on their
chairs behind their wickets, and observing that the parcel-tables
with their boxes of string and reams of blue packing-paper remained
unoccupied, Mouret, though indignant with himself for being afraid,
thought he felt his immense machine stop and turn cold beneath him.
“I say, Favier,” murmured Hutin, “look at the governor up there. He
doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself.”
“This is a rotten shop!” replied Favier. “Just fancy, I’ve not sold a
thing yet.”
Both of them, waiting for customers, whispered such short remarks from
time to time without looking at each other. The other salesmen of the
department were occupied in arranging large bales of the Paris Paradise
under Robineau’s orders; whilst Bouthemont, in full consultation with a
thin young woman, seemed to be taking an important order. Around them,
on frail and elegant shelves, the silks, folded in long pieces of
creamy paper, were heaped up like pamphlets of an unusual size; and,
encumbering the counters, were fancy silks, moires, satins, velvets,
presenting the appearance of mown flowers, quite a harvest of delicate
precious tissues. This was the most elegant of all the departments, a
veritable drawingroom, where the goods, so light and airy, were nothing
but a luxurious furnishing.
“I must have a hundred francs by Sunday,” said Hutin. “If I don’t make
an average of twelve francs a day, I’m lost. I’d reckoned on this sale.”
“By Jovel a hundred francs; that’s rather stiff,” said Favier. “I only
want fifty or sixty. You must go in for swell women, then?”
“Oh, no, my dear fellow. It’s a stupid affair; I made a bet and lost. So
I have to stand a dinner for five persons, two fellows and three girls.
Hang me! the first one that passes I’ll let her in for twenty yards of
Paris Paradise!”
They continued talking for several minutes, relating what they had done
the previous day, and what they intended to do the next week. Favier
did a little betting, Hutin did a little boating, and kept music-hall
singers. But they were both possessed by the same desire for money,
struggling for it all the week, and spending it all on Sunday. It was
their sole preoccupation in the shop, an hourly and pitiless struggle.
And that cunning Bouthemont had just managed to get hold of Madame
Sauveur’s messenger, the skinny woman with whom he was talking! good
business, three or four dozen pieces, at least, for the celebrated
dressmaker always gave good orders. At that moment Robineau took it into
his head to do Favier out of a customer.
“Oh! as for that fellow, we must settle up with him,” said Hutin, who
took advantage of the slightest thing in order to stir up the salesmen
against the man whose place he coveted.
“Ought the first and second hands to sell? My word of honour! my dear
fellow, if ever I become second you’ll see how well I shall act with the
And all his little Norman person, so fat and jolly, played the
good-natured man energetically. Favier could not help casting a side
glance towards him, but he preserved his phlegmatical air, contenting
himself with replying: “Yes, I know. I should be only too pleased.”
Then, as a lady came up, he added in a lower tone: “Look out! Here’s one
for you.”
It was a lady with a blotchy face, a yellow bonnet, and a red dress.
Hutin immediately recognised in her a woman who would buy nothing.
He quickly stooped behind the counter, pretending to be doing up his
boot-lace; and, thus concealed, he murmured: “No fear, let some one else
take her. I don’t want to lose my turn!”
However, Robineau called out: “Whose turn, gentlemen? Monsieur Hutin’s?
Where’s Monsieur Hutin?”
And as this gentleman still gave no reply, it was the next salesman who
served the lady with the blotches. Hutin was right, she simply wanted
some samples with the prices; and she kept the salesman more than ten
minutes, overwhelming him with questions. However, Robineau had seen
Hutin get up from behind the counter; so that when another customer
arrived, he interfered with a stern air, stopping the young man, who was
rushing forward.
“Your turn is passed. I called you, and as you were there behind—-”
“But I didn’t hear you, sir.”
“That’ll do! Write your name at the bottom. Now, Monsieur Favier, it’s
your turn.”
Favier, greatly amused at heart at this adventure, threw a glance at his
friend, as if to excuse himself. Hutin, with pale lips, had turned his
head away. What enraged him was that he knew the customer very well,
an adorable blonde who often came to their department, and whom the
salesmen called amongst themselves “the pretty lady,” knowing nothing of
her, not even her name. She bought a great deal, had her purchases taken
to her carriage, and immediately disappeared. Tall, elegant, dressed
with exquisite taste, she appeared to be very rich, and to belong to the
best society.
“Well! and your courtesan?” asked Hutin of Favier, when the latter
returned from the pay-desk, where he had accompanied the lady.
“Oh! a courtesan!” replied the other. “I fancy she looks too lady-like
for that. She must be the wife of a stockbroker or a doctor, or
something of that sort.”
“Don’t tell me! it’s a courtesan. With their grand lady airs it’s
impossible to tell now-a-days!”
Favier looked at his book of debit-notes. “I don’t care!” said he, “I’ve
stuck her for two hundred and ninety-three francs. That makes nearly
three francs for me.”
Hutin bit his lips, and vented his spleen on the debit notebooks.
Another invention for cramming their pockets. There was a secret rivalry
between these two. Favier, as a rule, pretended to sing small, to
recognise Hutin’s superiority, but in reality devouring him all the
while behind his back. Thus Hutin was wild at the thought of the three
francs pocketed so easily by a salesman whom he considered to be his
inferior in business. A fine day’s work! If it went on like this, he
would not earn enough to pay for the seltzer water for his guests. And
in the midst of the battle, which was now becoming fiercer, he walked
along the counters with hungry eyes, eager for his share, jealous even
of his superior, who was just showing the thin young woman out, and
saying to her:
“Very well! it’s understood. Tell her I’ll do my best to obtain this
favour from Monsieur Mouret.”
Mouret had quitted his post on the stairs some time before. Suddenly he
reappeared on the landing of the principal staircase which communicated
with the ground floor; and from there he commanded a view of the whole
establishment. His face had regained its colour, his faith was restored
and increasing before the crowd which was gradually filling the place.
It was the expected rush at last, the afternoon crush, which he had for
a moment despaired of. All the shopmen were at their posts, a last ring
of the bell had announced the end of the third lunch; the disastrous
morning, due no doubt to a shower which fell about nine o’clock, could
still be repaired, for the blue sky of early morn had resumed its
victorious gaiety. Now that the first-floor departments were becoming
animated, he was obliged to stand back to make way for the women who
were going up to the under-clothing and dress departments; whilst,
behind him, in the lace and the shawl departments, he heard large
sums bandied about. But the sight of the galleries on the ground-floor
especially reassured him. There was a crowd at the haberdashery
department, and even the linen and woollen departments were invaded. The
procession of buyers closed up, nearly all of a higher class at present,
with a few lingering housewives. Under the pale light of the silk hall,
ladies had taken off their gloves to feel the Paris Paradise, talking in
half-whispers. And there was no longer any mistaking the noises arriving
from outside, rolling of cabs, banging of carriage-doors, an increasing
tumult in the crowd. He felt the machine commencing to work under him,
getting up steam and reviving, from the pay-desks where the money was
jingling, and the tables where the messengers were hurriedly packing up
the goods, down to the basement, in the delivery-room, which was quickly
filling up with the parcels sent down, and the underground rumbling of
which seemed to shake the whole house. In the midst of the crowd was the
inspector, Jouve, walking about gravely, watching for thieves.
“Hullo! is that you?” said Mouret, all at once, recognising Paul de
Vallagnosc whom a messenger had conducted to him. “No, no, you are
not in my way. Besides, you’ve only to follow me if you want to see
everything, for to-day I stay at the breach.”
He still felt anxious. No doubt there were plenty of people, but would
the sale prove to be the triumph he hoped for? However, he laughed with
Paul, carrying him off gaily.
“It seems to be picking up a bit,” said Hutin to Favier. “But somehow
I’ve no luck; there are some days that are precious bad, my word! I’ve
just made another miss, that old frump hasn’t bought anything.”
And he glanced towards a lady who was walking off, casting looks of
disgust at all the goods. He was not likely to get fat on his thousand
francs a year, unless he sold something; as a rule he made seven or
eight francs a day commission, which gave him with his regular pay an
average of ten francs a day. Favier never made much more than eight, and
there was this animal taking the bread out of his mouth, for he had just
sold another dress–a cold-natured fellow who had never known how to
amuse a customer! It was exasperating.
“Those chaps over there seem to be doing very well,” remarked Favier,
speaking of the salesmen in the hosiery and haberdashery departments.
But Hutin, who was looking all round the place, suddenly asked: “Do you
know Madame Desforges, the governor’s sweetheart? Look! that dark woman
in the glove department, who is having some gloves tried on by Mignot.”
He stopped, then resumed in a low tone, as if speaking to Mignot, on
whom he continued to keep his eyes: “Oh, go on, old man, you may pull
her fingers about as much as you like, that won’t do you any good! We
know your conquests!”
There was a rivalry between himself and the glove-man, the rivalry
of two handsome fellows, who both affected to flirt with the
lady-customers. As a matter of fact they had neither had any real
conquests to boast about. Mignot lived on the legend of a police
superintendent’s wife who had fallen in love with him, whilst Hutin had
really conquered a lace-maker who had got tired of wandering about in
the doubtful hotels in the neighbourhood; but they invented a lot
of mysterious adventures, leading people to believe in all sorts of
appointments made by titled ladies, between two purchases.
“You should get hold of her,” said Favier, in his sly, artful way.
“That’s a good idea!” exclaimed Hutin. “If she comes here I’ll let her
in for something extensive; I want a five-franc piece!”
In the glove department quite a row of ladies were seated before the
narrow counter covered with green velvet and edged with nickel silver;
and the smiling shopmen were heaping up before them the flat boxes of a
bright red, taken out of the counter itself, and resembling the ticketed
drawers of a secrétaire. Mignot especially was bending his pretty
doll-like face over his customer, his thick Parisian voice full of
tender inflections. He had already sold Madame Desforges a dozen pairs
of kid gloves, the Paradise gloves, one of the specialities of the
house. She then took three pairs of Swedish, and was now trying on some
Saxon gloves, for fear the size should not be exact.
“Oh! quite perfect, madame!” repeated Mignot. “Six and a quarter would
be too large for a hand like yours.”
Half lying on the counter, he was holding her hand, taking the fingers
one by one, slipping the glove on with a long, renewed, and persistently
caressing air, looking at her as if he expected to see in her face
the signs of a voluptuous joy. But she, with her elbow on the velvet
counter, her wrist raised, gave him her fingers with the unconcerned
air with which she gave her foot to her maid to allow her to button her
boot. For her he was not a man; she employed him for such private work
with the familiar disdain she showed for the people in her service,
without looking at him even.
“I don’t hurt you, madame?”
She replied “No,” with a shake of the head. The smell of the Saxon
gloves–that savage smell as of sugared musk–troubled her as a rule;
and she sometimes laughed about it, confessing her taste for this
equivocal perfume, in which there is a suspicion of the wild beast
fallen into some girl’s powder-box. But seated at this commonplace
counter she did not notice the smell of the gloves, it raised no sensual
feeling between her and this salesman doing his work.
“And what next, madame?”
“Nothing, thanks. Be good enough to carry the parcel to the pay-desk No.
10, for Madame Desforges.”
Being a constant customer, she gave her name at a pay-desk, and had each
purchase sent there without wanting a shopman to follow her. When she
had gone away, Mignot turned towards his neighbour and winked, and would
have liked him to believe that wonderful things had just taken place.
“By Jove! I’d like to dress her all over!” said he, coarsely. Meanwhile,
Madame Desforges continued her purchases. She turned to the left,
stopping in the linen department to procure some dusters; then she
walked round the shop, going as far as the woollen department at the
further end of the gallery. As she was satisfied with her cook,
she wanted to make her a present of a dress. The woollen department
overflowed with a compact crowd, all the lower middle-class women were
there, feeling the stuff, absorbed in mute calculations; and she was
obliged to sit down for a moment. The shelves were piled up with great
rolls of stuff which the salesmen were taking down one by one, with a
sudden pull. They were beginning to get confused with these encumbered
counters, on which the stuffs were mixing up and tumbling over each
other. It was a rising tide of neutral tints, heavy woollen tones,
iron-greys, and blue-greys, with here and there a Scotch tartan, and a
blood-red ground of flannel breaking out. And the white tickets on
the pieces were like a shower of rare white flakes falling on a black
December soil.
Behind a pile of poplin, Liénard was joking with a tall girl without hat
or bonnet, a work-girl, sent by her mistress to match some merino.
He detested these big-sale days, which tired him to death, and he
endeavoured to shirk his work, getting plenty of money from his father,
not caring a fig about the business, doing just enough to avoid being
“Listen to me, Mademoiselle Fanny,” he was saying; “you are always in
a hurry. Did the striped vicugna do the other day? I shall come and see
you, and ask for my commission.” But the girl escaped, laughing, and
Liénard found himself before Madame Desforges, whom he could not help
asking: “What can I serve you with, madame?”
She wanted a dress, not too dear but yet strong. Liénard, with the view
of sparing his arms, which was his principal care, manoeuvred to make
her take one of the stuffs already unfolded on the counter. There were
cashmeres, serges, vicugnas, and he declared that there was nothing
better to be had, they never wore out. But none of these seemed to
satisfy her. On one of the shelves she had observed a blue serge, which
she wished to see. He made up his mind at last, and took down the
roll, but she thought it too rough. Then he showed her a cheviot, some
diagonal, some greys, every sort of woollens, which she felt out of
curiosity, for the pleasure of doing so, decided at heart to take
no matter what. The young man was thus obliged to empty the highest
shelves; his shoulders cracked, the counter had disappeared under the
silky grain of the cashmeres and poplins, the rough nap of the cheviot,
and the tufty down of the vicugna; there were samples of every material
and every tint. Though she had not the least wish to buy any, she asked
to see some grenadine and some Chambéry gauze. Then, when she had seen
enough, she said:
“Oh! after all, the first is the best; it’s for my cook. Yes, the serge,
the one at two francs.” And when Liénard had measured it, pale with
suppressed anger, she added: “Have the goodness to carry that to
pay-desk No. 10, for Madame Desforges.” Just as she was going away,
she recognised Madame Marty close to her, accompanied by her daughter
Valentine, a tall girl of fourteen, thin and bold, who was already
casting a woman’s covetous looks on the goods.
“Ah! it’s you, dear madame?”
“Yes, dear madame; what a crowd–eh?”
“Oh! don’t speak of it, it’s stifling. And such a success! Have you seen
the oriental saloon?”
And amidst the pushing and crushing of the growing crowd of modest
purses eagerly seeking the cheap lines in the woollen goods, they
went into ecstasies over the exhibition of carpets. Then Madame Marty
explained she was looking for some material for a mantle; but she was
not quite decided; she wanted to see some check patterns.
“Look, mamma,” murmured Valentine, “it’s too common.”
“Come to the silk department,” said Madame Desforges, “you must see
their famous Paris Paradise.”
Madame Marty hesitated for a moment. It would be very dear, and she had
faithfully promised her husband to be careful! She had been buying for
an hour, quite a pile of articles were following her already: a muff and
some cuffs and collars for herself, some stockings for her daughter. She
finished by saying to the shopman who was showing her the checks:
“Well–no; I’m going to the silk department; you’ve nothing to suit me.”
The shopman took the articles and walked before the ladies. In the silk
department there was also a crowd, the principal crush being opposite
the inside display, arranged by Hutin, and to which Mouret had given the
finishing touches. It was at the further end of the hall, around one
of the small wrought-iron columns which supported the glass roof, a
veritable torrent of stuffs, a puffy sheet falling from, above and
spreading out? down to the floor. At first stood out the light satins
and tender silks, the satins _à la Reine_ and Renaissance, with
the pearly tones of spring water; light silks, transparent as
crystals–Nile-green, Indian-azure, May-rose, and Danube-blue. Then
came the stronger fabrics: marvellous satins, duchess silks, warm tints,
rolling in great waves; and right at the bottom, as in a fountain-basin,
reposed the heavy stuffs, the figured silks, the damasks, brocades,
and lovely silvered silks in the midst of a deep bed of velvet of every
sort–black, white, and coloured–skilfully disposed on silk and satin
grounds, hollowing out with their medley of colours a still lake in
which the reflex of the sky seemed to be dancing. The women, pale with
desire, bent over as if to look at themselves. And before this falling
cataract they all remained standing, with the secret fear of being
carried away by the irruption of such luxury, and with the irresistible
desire to jump in amidst it and be lost.
“Here you are, then!” said Madame Desforges, on finding Madame
Bourdelais installed before a counter.
“Ah! good-morning!” replied the latter, shaking hands with the ladies.
“Yes, I’ve come to have a look.”
“What a prodigious exhibition! It’s like a dream. And the oriental
saloon! Have you seen the oriental saloon?”
“Yes, yes; extraordinary!”
But beneath this enthusiasm, which was to be decidedly the fashionable
note of the day, Madame Bourdelais retained her practical housekeeper’s
coolness. She was carefully examining a piece of Paris Paradise, for
she had come on purpose to take advantage of the exceptional cheapness
of this silk, if she found it really advantageous. She was doubtless
satisfied with it, for she took twenty-five yards, hoping it would be
sufficient to make a dress for herself and a cloak for her little girl.
“What! you are going already?” resumed Madame Desforges. “Take a walk
round with us.”
“No, thanks; they are waiting for me at home. I didn’t like to risk
bringing the children into this crowd.”
And she went away, preceded by the salesman carrying * the twenty-five
yards of silk, and who led her to pay-desk No. 10, where young Albert
was getting confused with all the demands for bills with which he was
besieged. When the salesman was able to approach, after having inscribed
his sale on the debit-note, he called out the item, which the cashier
entered in a register; then it was checked over, and the leaf torn
off the salesman’s book of debit-notes was stuck on a file near the
receipting stamp.
“One hundred and forty francs,” said Albert.
Madame Bourdelais paid and gave her address, for having come on foot she
did not wish to be troubled with a parcel. Joseph had already got the
silk behind the pay-desk, and was tying it up; and the parcel, thrown
into a basket on wheels, was sent down to the delivery department, where
all the goods in the shop seemed to be swallowed up with a sluice-like
Meanwhile, the block was becoming so great in the silk department that
Madame Desforges and Madame Marty could not at first find a salesman
disengaged. They remained standing, mingling with the crowd of ladies
who were looking at the silks and feeling them, staying there hours
without making up their minds. But the Paris Paradise was a great
success; around it pressed one of those crowds which decides the fortune
of a fashion in a day. A host of shopmen were engaged in measuring off
this silk; one could see, above the customers’ heads, the pale glimmer
of the unfolded pieces, in the continual coming and going of the fingers
along the oak yard measures hanging from brass rods; one could hear the
noise of the scissors cutting the silk, without ceasing, as the sale
went on, as if there were not enough shopmen to suffice for all the
greedy outstretched hands of the customers.
“It really isn’t bad for five francs twelve sous,” said Madame
Desforges, who had succeeded in getting hold of a piece at the edge of
the table.
Madame Marty and her daughter experienced a disappointment. The
newspapers had said so much about it, that they had expected something
stronger and more brilliant. But Bouthemont had just recognised Madame
Desforges, and in order to get in the good graces of such a handsome
lady, who was supposed to be all-powerful with the governor, he came up,
with his rather coarse amiability. What! no one was serving her! it was
unpardonable! He begged her to be indulgent, for really they did not
know which way to turn. And he went to look for some chairs amongst the
neighbouring skirts, laughing with his good-natured laugh, full of a
brutal love for the sex, which did not seem to displease Henrietta.
“I say,” murmured Favier, on going to take some velvet from a shelf
behind Hutin, “there’s Bouthemont making up to your mash.”
Hutin had forgotten Madame Desforges, beside himself with rage with an
old lady, who, after having kept him a quarter of an hour, had finished
by buying a yard of black satin for a pair of stays. In the busy moments
they took no notice of the turns, each salesman served the customers as
they arrived. And he was answering Madame Boutarel, who was finishing
her afternoon at The Ladies’ Paradise, where she had already spent three
hours in the morning, when Favier’s warning made him start. Was he going
to miss the governor’s friend, from whom he had sworn to draw a five
franc piece? That would be the height of ill-luck, for he hadn’t made
three francs as yet with all those other chignons who were mooning about
the place! Bouthemont was just then calling out loudly:
“Come, gentlemen, some one this way!”
Hutin passed Madame Boutarel over to Robineau, who was doing nothing.
“Here’s the second-hand, madame. He will answer you better than I can.”
And he rushed off to take Madame Marty’s purchases from the woollen
salesman who had accompanied the ladies. That day a nervous excitement
must have troubled his delicate scent. As a rule, the first glance told
him if a customer would buy, and how much. Then he domineered over the
customer, he hastened to serve her to pass on to another, imposing
his choice on her, persuading her that he knew best what material she
“What sort of silk, madame?” asked he in his most gallant manner. Madame
Desforges had no sooner opened her mouth than he added: “I know, I’ve
got just what you want.”
When the piece of Paris Paradise was unfolded on a narrow corner of the
counter, between heaps of other silks, Madame Marty and her daughter
approached. Hutin, rather anxious, understood that it was at first a
question of serving these two. Whispered words were exchanged, Madame
Desforges was advising her friend.
“Oh! certainly,” murmured she. “A silk at five francs twelve sous will
never be equal to one at fifteen, or even ten.”
“It is very light,” repeated Madame Marty. “I’m afraid that it has not
sufficient body for a mantle.”
This remarked induced the salesman to intervene. He smiled with the
exaggerated politeness of a man who cannot make a mistake.
“But, madame, flexibility is the chief quality of this silk. It will not
crumple. It’s exactly what you want.”
Impressed by such an assurance, the ladies said no more. They had taken
the silk up, and were examining it again, when they felt a touch on
their shoulders. It was Madame Guibal, who had been slowly walking about
the shop for an hour past, feasting her eyes on the heaped-up riches,
without buying even a yard of calico. And there was another explosion of
“What! Is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me, rather knocked about though.”
“What a crowd–eh? One can’t get about. And the oriental saloon?”
“Good heavens! what a success! Stay a moment, we will go upstairs
“No, thanks, I’ve just come down.”
Hutin was waiting, concealing his impatience with a smile that did not
quit his lips. Were they going to keep him there long? Really the women
took things very coolly, it was like taking his money out of his pocket.
At last Madame Guibal went away and continued her stroll, turning round
the splendid display of silks with an enraptured air.
“If I were you I should buy the mantle ready-made,” said Madame
Desforges, suddenly returning to the Paris Paradise. “It won’t cost you
so much.”
“It’s true that the trimmings and making-up—-” murmured Madame Marty.
“Besides, one has more choice.”
All three had risen. Madame Desforges turned to Hutin, saying: “Have the
goodness to show us to the ready-made department.”
He remained dumbfoundered, not being used to such defeats. What! the
dark lady bought nothing! Had he then made a mistake? He abandoned
Madame Marty and attacked Madame Desforges, trying his powerful
abilities as salesman on her.
“And you, madame, would you not like to see our satins, our velvets? We
have some extraordinary bargains.”
“Thanks, another time,” replied she coolly, not looking at him any more
than she had at Mignot.

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Hutin had to take up Madame Marty’s purchases and walk before the ladies
to show them to the ready-made department But he had also the grief
of seeing that Robineau was selling Madame Boutarel a good quantity of
silk. Decidedly his scent was playing him false, he wouldn’t make four
sous. Beneath the amiable correctness of his manners there was the rage
of a man being robbed and swallowed up by the others.
“On the first floor, ladies,” said he, without ceasing to smile.
It was no easy matter to get to the staircase. A compact crowd of heads
was surging under the galleries, expanding like an overflowing river
into the middle of the hall. Quite a battle of business was going on,
the salesmen had this population of women at their mercy, passing them
from one to the other with feverish haste. The moment of the formidable
afternoon rush had arrived, when the over-heated machine led the dance
of customers, drawing the money from their very flesh. In the silk
department especially a breath of folly seemed to pervade all, the Paris
Paradise collected such a crowd that for several minutes Hutin could not
advance a step; and Henriette, half-suffocated, having raised her eyes,
beheld Mouret at the top of the stairs, his favourite position, from
which he could see the victory. She smiled, hoping that he would come
down and extricate her. But he did not even recognise her in the crowd;
he was still with Vallagnosc, showing him the house, his face beaming
with triumph.
The trepidation within was now stifling all outside noise; one no
longer heard the rumbling of the vehicles, nor the banging of the
carriage-doors; nothing remained above the vast murmur of business but
the sentiment of this enormous Paris, of such immensity that it would
always furnish buyers. In the heavy still air, in which the fumes of the
heating apparatus warmed the odour of the stuffs, the hubbub increased,
made up of all sorts of noises, of the continual walking about, of the
same phrases, a hundred times repeated around the counters, of the gold
jingling on the brass of the pay-desks, besieged by a legion of purses,
and of the baskets on wheels loaded with parcels which were constantly
disappearing into the gaping cellars. And, amidst the fine dust,
everything finished by getting mixed up, it became impossible to
recognise the divisions of the different departments; the haberdashery
department over there seemed drowned; further on, in the linen
department, a ray of sunshine, entering by the window in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, was like a golden dart in a heap of snow; close
by, in the glove and woollen departments, a dense mass of bonnets and
chignons hid the background of the shop from view. The toilettes were
no longer visible, the head-dresses alone appeared, decked with feathers
and ribbons.
A few men’s hats introduced here and there a black spot, whilst
the women’s pale complexions assumed in the fatigue and heat the
transparencies of the camellia. At last, Hutin–thanks to his vigorous
elbows–was able to open a way for the ladies, by keeping in front of
them. But on ascending the stairs, Henriette could not find Mouret,
who had just plunged Vallagnosc right into the crowd to complete his
bewilderment, himself feeling the physical want of a dip into this bath
of success. He lost his breath deliciously, he felt against his limbs a
sort of caress from all his customers.
“To the left, ladies,” said Hutin, still attentive, notwithstanding his
increasing exasperation.
Up above there was the same block. It invaded even the furnishing
department, usually the quietest. The shawl, the fur, and the
under-clothing departments swarmed with people. As the ladies were
crossing the lace department another meeting took place. Madame de Boves
was there with her daughter Blanche, both buried in the articles Deloche
was showing them. And Hutin had to make another halt, bundle in hand.
“Good afternoon! I was just thinking of you.”
“I’ve been looking for you myself. But how can you expect to find any
one in this crowd?”
“It’s magnificent, isn’t it?”
“Dazzling, my dear. We can hardly stand.”
“And you’re buying?”
“Oh! no, we’re only looking round. It rests us a little to be seated.”
As a fact, Madame de Boves, scarcely possessing more than her cab-fare
in her purse, was having all sorts of laces handed down, simply for the
pleasure of seeing and handling them. She had guessed Deloche to be
a new salesman, slow and awkward, who dared not resist the customers’
whims; and she took advantage of his bewildered good-nature, and kept
him there half an hour, still asking for fresh articles. The counter
was covered, she dived her hands into this increasing mountain of lace,
Malines, Valenciennes, and Chantilly, her fingers trembling with desire,
her face gradually warming with a sensual joy; whilst Blanche, close to
her, agitated by the same passion, was very pale, her flesh inflated and
soft. The conversation continued; Hutin, standing there waiting their
good pleasure, could have slapped their faces.
“Ah!” said Madame Marty, “you’re looking at some cravats and
handkerchiefs like those I showed you the other day.”
It was true, Madame de Boves, tormented by Madame Marty’s lace since
the previous Saturday, had been unable to resist the desire to at least
handle some like it, as the allowance her husband made her did not
permit her to carry any away. She blushed slightly, explaining that
Blanche wanted to see the Spanish-blonde cravats. Then she added:
“You’re going to the ready-made department–Well! we’ll see you again.
Shall we say in the oriental saloon?”
“That’s it, in the oriental saloon–Superb, isn’t it?”
And they separated enraptured, amidst the obstruction produced by the
sale of the insertions and small trimmings at low prices. Deloche, glad
to be occupied, recommenced emptying the boxes before the mother and
daughter. And amidst the groups pressed along the counters, Jouve, the
inspector, was slowly walking about with his military air, displaying
his decoration, watching over these fine and precious goods, so easy to
conceal up a sleeve. When he passed behind Madame de Boves, surprised
to see her with her arms plunged in such a heap of lace he cast a quick
glance at her feverish hands.
“To the right, ladies,” said Hutin, resuming his march.
He was beside himself with rage. Was it not enough that he had missed a
sale down below? Now they kept him waiting at each turning of the shop!
And in his annoyance there was a strong feeling of the rancour existing
between the textile departments and the ready-made departments, which
were in continual hostility, fighting over the customers, stealing each
other’s percentage and commission. Those of the silk department were
more enraged than those of the woollen, whenever they were obliged to
show a lady to where the ready-made articles were kept, when she decided
to take a mantle after looking at various sorts of silk.
“Mademoiselle Vadon!” said Hutin, in an angry voice, when he at last
arrived in the department.
But she passed by without listening, absorbed in a sale which she was
conducting. The room was full, a stream of people were crossing it,
coming in by the door of the lace department and going out by the door
of the under-clothing department, whilst to the right customers were
trying on garments, and posing before the glasses. The red carpet
stifled the noise of the footsteps, the distant roar from the
ground-floor died away, giving place to a discreet murmur, a
drawing-room warmth deadened by the crowd of women.
“Mademoiselle Prunaire!” cried out Hutin. And as she took no notice
either, he added between his teeth, so as not to be heard: “A set of
He certainly was not fond of them, tired to death as he was by climbing
the stairs to bring them customers, furious at the profits which he
accused them of taking out of his pocket It was a secret war, in which
the young ladies themselves entered with equal fierceness; and in their
mutual fatigue, always on foot, worked to death, all difference of sex
disappeared, nothing remained but these contrary interests, irritated by
the fever of business.
“So there’s no one here to serve?” asked Hutin.
But he suddenly caught sight of Denise. They had kept her folding all
the morning, only giving her a few doubtful customers to whom she had
not sold anything. When he recognised her, occupied in clearing off the
counter an enormous heap of garments, he ran up to her.
“Look here, mademoiselle! serve these ladies who are waiting.”
And he quickly slipped Madame Marty’s purchases into her arms, tired
of carrying them about the place. His smile returned, and in this smile
there was the ill-natured expression of the experienced salesman, who
shrewdly guessed into what an awkward position he had just thrown both
the ladies and the young girl. The latter, however, remained quite
troubled before this unhoped-for sale which suddenly presented itself.
For the second time Hutin appeared to her like an unknown friend,
fraternal and tender, always ready to spring out of darkness and
save her. Her eyes glistened with gratitude; she followed him with a
lingering look, whilst he was elbowing his way towards his department.
“I want a mantle,” said Madame Marty.
Then Denise questioned her. What style of mantle? But the lady had no
idea, she wished to see what the house had got. And the young girl,
already very tired, bewildered by the crowd, lost her head; she had
never served any but the rare customers who came to Cornaille’s, at
Valognes; she didn’t even know the number of the models, nor their
places in the cupboards. She hardly knew how to reply to the ladies, who
were beginning to lose patience, when Madame Aurélie perceived Madame
Desforges, of whose connection with Mouret she was no doubt aware, for
she hastened over and asked with a smile:
“Are these ladies being served?”
“Yes, that young person over there is attending to us,” replied
Henriette. “But she does not appear to be very well up to her work; she
can’t find anything.”
At this, the first-hand completely paralysed Denise by saying to her
in a whisper: “You see very well you know nothing. Don’t interfere any
more, please.” And turning round she called out: “Mademoiselle Vadon,
these ladies require a mantle!”
She remained there whilst Marguerite showed the models. The girl assumed
with the customers a dry polite voice, the disagreeable attitude of a
young person dressed up in silk, with a sort of varnish of elegance, of
which she retained, unknown to herself, the jealousy and rancour.
When she heard Madame Marty say she did not wish to exceed two hundred
francs, she made a grimace of pity. Oh! madame would give more, it would
be impossible to find anything respectable for two hundred francs. And
she threw some of the common mantles on a counter with a gesture which
signified: “Just see, aren’t they pitiful?” Madame Marty dared not think
of them after that; she bent over to murmur in Madame Desforges’s ear:
“Don’t you prefer to be served by men? One feels more comfortable?”
At last Marguerite brought a silk mantle trimmed with jet, which she
treated with more respect And Madame Aurélie abruptly called Denise.
“Come, do something for your living. Just put that on your shoulders.”
Denise, wounded to the heart, despairing of ever succeeding in the
house, had remained motionless, her hands hanging by her side. No doubt
she would be sent away, and the children would be without food. The
tumult of the crowd buzzed in her head, she felt herself tottering, her
arms bruised by the handling of so many armfuls of garments, hard work
which she had never done before. However, she was obliged to obey and
allow Marguerite to put the mantle on her, as on a dummy.
“Stand upright,” said Madame Aurélie.
But a moment after they forgot Denise. Mouret had just come in with
Vallagnosc and Bourdoncle; and he bowed to the ladies, who complimented
him on his magnificent exhibition of winter novelties. Of course
they went into raptures over the oriental saloon. Vallagnosc, who was
finishing his walk round the counters, displayed more surprise than
admiration; for, after all, thought he, in his pessimist supineness,
it was nothing more than an immense collection of calico. Bourdoncle,
forgetting that he belonged to the establishment, also congratulated the
governor, to make him forget his anxious doubts and persecutions of the
early part of the day.
“Yes, yes; things are going on very well, I’m quite satisfied,” repeated
Mouret, radiant, replying with a smile to Madame Desforges’s tender
looks. “But I must not interrupt you, ladies.”
Then all eyes were again fixed on Denise. She placed herself entirely in
the hands of Marguerite, who was making her turn round slowly.
“What do you think of it–eh?” asked Madame Marty of Madame Desforges.
The latter gave her advice, like a supreme umpire of fashion. “It isn’t
bad, the cut is original, but it doesn’t seem to me very graceful about
the figure.”
“Oh!” interrupted Madame Aurélie, “it must be seen on the lady herself.
You can understand it does not look much on this young person, who
is not very stout. Hold up your head, mademoiselle, give it all its
They smiled. Denise had turned very pale. She felt ashamed at being thus
turned into a machine, which they were examining and joking about so
Madame Desforges, yielding to the antipathy of a contrary nature, and
annoyed by the young girl’s sweet face, maliciously added: “No doubt it
would set better if the young person’s dress were not so loose-fitting.”
And she cast at Mouret the mocking look of a Parisian beauty, greatly
amused by the absurd ridiculous dress of a country girl. He felt the
amorous caress of this glance, the triumph of a woman proud of her
beauty and of her art. Therefore, out of pure gratitude, the gratitude
of a man who felt himself adored, he thought himself obliged to joke
in his turn, notwithstanding his good-will towards Denise, whose secret
charm had conquered his gallant nature.
“Besides, her hair should be combed,” murmured he.
This was the last straw. The director deigned to laugh, all the young
ladies were bursting. Marguerite risked a slight chuckle, like a
well-behaved girl who restrains herself; Clara had left a customer to
enjoy the fun at her ease; even the saleswomen from another department
had come, attracted by the talking. As for the ladies they took it more
quietly, with an air of well-bred enjoyment. Madame Aurélie was the only
one who did not laugh, as if Denise’s splendid wild-looking head of
hair and elegant virginal shoulders had dishonoured her, in the orderly
well-kept department. The young girl had turned paler still, in the
midst of all these people who were laughing at her. She felt herself
violated, exposed to all their looks, without defence. What had she
done that they should thus attack her thin figure, and her too luxuriant
hair? But she was especially wounded by Madame Desforges’s and Mouret’s
laughter, instinctively divining their connection, her heart sinking
with an unknown grief. This lady was very ill-natured to attack a poor
girl who had said nothing; and as for Mouret, he most decidedly froze
her up with a sort of fear, before which all her other sentiments
disappeared, without her being able to analyse them. And, totally
abandoned, attacked in her most cherished womanly feelings of modesty,
and shocked at their injustice, she was obliged to stifle the sobs which
were rising in her throat.
“I should think so; let her comb her hair to-morrow,” said the terrible
Bourdoncle to Madame Aurélie. He had condemned Denise the first day she
came, full of scorn for her small limbs.
At last the first-hand came and took the mantle off Denise’s shoulders,
saying to her in a low tone: “Well! mademoiselle, here’s a fine start.
Really, if this is the way you show off your capabilities—-Impossible
to be more stupid!”
Denise, fearing the tears might gush from her, hastened back to the heap
of garments, which she began to sort out on the counter. There at least
she was lost in the crowd. Fatigue prevented her thinking. But she
suddenly felt Pauline near her, a saleswoman in the under-clothing
department, who had already defended her that morning. The latter had
followed the scene, and murmured in Denise’s ear:
“My poor child, don’t be so sensitive. Keep that to yourself, or they’ll
go on worse and worse. I come from Chartres. Yes, exactly, Pauline
Cugnot is my name; and my parents are millers. Well! they would have
devoured me the first few days if I had not stood up firm. Come, be
brave! give me your hand, we’ll have a talk together whenever you like.”
This hand held out redoubled Denise’s confusion; she shook it furtively,
hastening to take up a load of cloaks, fearing to be doing wrong and to
get a scolding if they knew she had a friend.
However, Madame Aurélie herself, had just put the mantle on Madame
Marty, and they all exclaimed: “Oh! how nice! delightful!” It at once
looked quite different. Madame Desforges decided it would be impossible
to improve on it.
There was a good deal of bowing. Mouret took his leave, whilst
Vallognosc, who had perceived Madame de Boves and her daughter in the
lace department, hastened to offer his arm to the mother. Marguerite,
standing before one of the pay-desks, was already calling out the
different purchases made by Madame Marty, who settled for them and
ordered the parcel to be taken to her cab. Madame Desforges had found
her articles at pay-desk No. 10. Then the ladies met once more in the
oriental saloon. They were leaving, but it was amidst a loquacious
feeling of admiration. Even Madame Guibal became enthusiastic.
“Oh! delicious! makes you think you are in the East; doesn’t it?”
“A real harem, and not at all dear!”
“And the Smyrnas! oh, the Smyrnas! what tones, what delicacy!”
“And this Kurdestan! Just look, a Delacroix!”
The crowd was slowly diminishing. The bell, at an hour’s interval,
had already announced the two first dinners; the third was about to
be served, and in the departments there were now only a few lingering
customers, whose fever for spending had made them forget the time.
Outside nothing was heard but the rolling of the last carriages amidst
the husky voice of Paris, the snort of a satiated ogre digesting the
linens and cloths, silks and lace, with which he had been gorged since
the morning. Inside, beneath the flaming gas-jets, which, burning in
the twilight, had lighted up the supreme efforts of the sale, everything
appeared like a field of battle still warm with the massacre of the
various goods. The salesmen, harassed and fatigued, camped amidst the
contents of their shelves and counters, which appeared to have been
thrown into the greatest confusion by the furious blast of a hurricane.
It was with difficulty that one traversed the galleries on the ground
floor, blocked up with a crowd of chairs, and in the glove department it
was necessary to step over a pile of cases heaped up around Mignot; in
the woollen department there was no means of passing at all, Liénard was
dozing on a sea of bales, in which certain piles, still standing,
though half destroyed, seemed to be houses that an overflowing river was
carrying away; and, further on, the linen department was like a heavy
fall of snow, one ran up against icebergs of napkins, and walked on
light flakes of handkerchiefs.
The same disorder prevailed upstairs in the departments; the furs were
scattered over the flooring, the readymade clothes were heaped up
like the great-coats of wounded soldiers, the lace and the underlinen,
unfolded, crumpled, thrown about everywhere, made one think of an army
of women who had disrobed there in the disorder of some sudden
desire; whilst downstairs, at the other end of the house, the delivery
department in full activity was still disgorging the parcels with which
it was bursting, and which were carried off by the vans–last vibration
of the overheated machine. But it was in the silk department especially
that the customers had flung themselves with the greatest ardour. There
they had cleared off everything, there was plenty of room to pass, the
hall was bare; the whole of the colossal stock of Paris Paradise had
been cut up and carried away, as if by a swarm of devouring locusts. And
in the midst of this emptiness, Hutin and Favier were running through
the counterfoils of their debit-notes, calculating their commission,
still out of breath after the struggle. Favier had made fifteen francs,
Hutin had only managed to make thirteen, thoroughly beaten that day,
enraged at his bad luck. Their eyes sparkled with the passion for money.
The whole shop around them was also adding up figures, glowing with the
same fever, in the brutal gaiety of the evening of the battle.
“Well, Bourdoncle!” cried out Mouret, “are you trembling still?”
He had returned to his favourite position at the top of the stairs of
the first floor, against the balustrade; and, in the presence of the
massacre of stuffs which was spread out under him, he indulged in a
victorious laugh. His fears of the morning, that moment of unpardonable
weakness which nobody would ever know of, inspired him with a greater
desire to triumph. The battle was definitely won, the small tradespeople
of the neighbourhood were done for, and Baron Hartmann was conquered,
with his millions and his land. Whilst he was looking at the cashiers
bending over their ledgers, adding up long columns of figures, whilst he
was listening to the sound of the gold, falling from their fingers into
the metal bowls, he already saw The Ladies’ Paradise growing beyond all
bounds, enlarging its hall and prolonging its galleries as far as the
Rue du Dix-Décembre.
“And now are you convinced, Bourdoncle,” he resumed, “that the house is
really too small? We could have sold twice as much.”
Bourdoncle humbled himself, enraptured, moreover, to find himself in the
wrong. But a new spectacle rendered them grave. As was the custom every
evening, Lhomme, the chief cashier, had just collected the receipts
from each pay-desk; after having added them up, he usually posted up
the total amount after placing the paper on which it was written on his
file. He then took the receipts up to the chief cashier’s office, in a
leather case and in bags, according to the nature of the cash. On this
occasion the gold and silver predominated, and he was slowly walking
upstairs, carrying three enormous bags. Deprived of his right arm, cut
off at the elbow, he clasped them in his left arm against his breast,
holding one up with his chin to prevent it slipping. His heavy breathing
could be heard at a distance, he passed along, staggering and superb,
amidst the respectful shopmen.
“How much, Lhomme?” asked Mouret.
“Eighty thousand seven hundred and forty-two francs two sous,” replied
the cashier.
A joyous laugh stirred up The Ladies’ Paradise. The amount ran through
the establishment. It was the highest figure ever attained in one day by
a draper’s shop.
That evening, when Denise went up to bed, she was obliged to lean
against the partition in the corridor under the zinc roof. When in
her room, and with the door closed, she fell down on the bed; her feet
pained her so much. For a long time she continued to look with a stupid
air at the dressing-table, the wardrobe, all the hotel-like nudity.
This, then, was where she was going to live; and her first day tormented
her–an abominable, endless day. She would never have the courage to go
through another. Then she perceived she was dressed in silk; and this
uniform depressed her. She was childish enough, before unpacking her
box, to put on her old woollen dress, which hung on the back of a chair.
But when she was once more dressed in this poor garment of hers, a
painful emotion choked her; the sobs which she had kept back all day
burst forth suddenly in a flood of hot tears. She fell back on the bed,
weeping at the thought of the two children, and she wept on, without
feeling to have the strength to take off her boots, completely overcome
with fatigue and grief.