Suddenly she understood

It was on a Monday, the 14th of March, that The Ladies’ Paradise
inaugurated its new buildings by a great exhibition of summer novelties,
which was to last three days. Outside, a sharp wind was blowing, the
passers-by, surprised by this return of winter, spun along, buttoned up
in their overcoats. However, behind the closed doors of the neighbouring
shops, quite an agitation was fermenting; and one could see, against the
windows, the pale faces of the small tradesmen, occupied in counting the
first carriages which stopped before the new grand entrance in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. This door, lofty and deep like a church porch,
surmounted by a group–Industry and Commerce hand-in-hand amidst a
complication of symbols–was sheltered by a vast awning, the fresh
gilding of which seemed to light up the pavement with a ray of sunshine.
To the right and left stretched the shop fronts, barely dry and of a
blinding whiteness, running along the Rue Monsigny and the Rue de
la Michodière, occupying the whole island, except on the Rue du
Dix-Décembre side, where the Crédit Immobilier intended to build.
Along this barrack-like development, the small tradesmen, when they
raised their heads, perceived the piles of goods through the large
plate-glass windows which, from the ground floor up to the second
storey, opened the house to the light of day. And this enormous cube,
this colossal bazaar, shut out the sky from them, seeming to cause the
cold which was making them shiver behind their frozen counters.
As early as six o’clock, Mouret was on the spot, giving his final
orders. In the centre, starting from the grand entrance, a large gallery
ran from end to end, flanked right and left by two narrower galleries,
the Monsigny Gallery and the Michodière Gallery. The court-yards had
been glazed and turned into halls, iron staircases rose from the ground
floor, iron bridges were thrown from one end to the other on the two
storeys. The architect, who happened to be a young man of talent with
modern ideas, had only used stone for the under-ground floor and the
corner pillars, constructing the whole ground with the corner pillars,
constructing the whole carcase of iron, the assemblage of beams and
rafters being supported by columns. The arches of the flooring and the
partitions were of brickwork. Space had been gained everywhere, light
and air entered freely, and the public circulated with the greatest
ease under the bold flights of the far-stretching girders. It was the
cathedral of modern commerce, light but solid, made for a nation of
customers. Below, in the central gallery, after the door bargains, came
the cravat, the glove, and the silk departments; the Monsigny Gallery
was occupied by the linen and the Rouen goods; the Michodière Gallery
by the mercery, the hosiery, the drapery, and the woollen departments.
Then, on the first floor were installed the ready-made, the under-linen,
the shawl, the lace, and other new departments, whilst the bedding, the
carpets, the furnishing materials, all the cumbersome articles difficult
to handle, had been relegated to the second floor. The number of
departments was now thirty-nine, with eighteen hundred employees, of
whom two hundred were women. Quite a little world operated there, in the
sonorous life of the high metallic naves.
Mouret’s unique passion was to conquer woman. He wished her to be queen
in his house, and he had built this temple to get her completely at his
mercy. His sole aim was to intoxicate her with gallant attentions, and
traffic on her desires, work on her fever. Night and day he racked his
brain to invent fresh attractions. He had already introduced two lifts
lined with velvet for the upper storeys, in order to spare delicate
ladies the trouble of mounting the stairs. Then he had just opened a bar
where the customers could find, gratis, some light refreshment, syrups
and biscuits, and a reading-room, a monumental gallery, decorated with
excessive luxury, in which he had even ventured on an exhibition of
pictures. But his most profound idea was to conquer the mother through
the child, when unable to do so through her coquetry; he neglected no
means, speculated on every sentiment, created departments for little
boys and girls, arresting the passing mothers by distributing pictures
and air-balls to the children. A stroke of genius this idea of
distributing to each buyer a red air-ball made of fine gutta-percha,
bearing in large letters the name of the shop, and which, held by
a string, floated in the air, parading in the streets a living
But the greatest power of all was the advertising. Mouret spent three
hundred thousand francs a year in catalogues, advertisements, and
bills. For his summer sale he had launched forth two hundred thousand
catalogues, of which fifty thousand went abroad, translated into every
language. He now had them illustrated with engravings, even accompanying
them with samples, gummed between the leaves. It was an overflowing
display; The Ladies’ Paradise became a household word all over the
world, invading the walls, the newspapers, and even the curtains at the
theatres. He declared that woman was powerless against advertising, that
she was bound to follow the crowd. Not only that, he laid still more
seductive traps for her, analysing her like a great moralist. Thus he
had discovered that she could not resist a bargain, that she bought
without necessity when she thought she saw a cheap line, and on this
observation he based his system of reductions in price, progressively
lowering the price of unsold articles, preferring to sell them at a
loss, faithful to his principle of the continual renewal of the goods.
He had penetrated still further into the heart of woman, and had just
thought of the “returns,” a masterpiece of Jesuitical seduction. “Take
whatever you like, madame; you can return the article if you don’t like
it.” And the woman who hesitated was provided with the last excuse, the
possibility of repairing an extravagant folly, she took the article with
an easy conscience. The returns and the reduction of prices now formed
part of the classical working of the new style of business.
But where Mouret revealed himself as an unrivalled master was in the
interior arrangement of the shops. He laid down as a law that not a
corner of The Ladies’ Paradise ought to remain deserted, requiring
everywhere a noise, a crowd, evidence of life; for life, said he,
attracts life, increases and multiplies. From this law he drew all sorts
of applications. In the first place, there ought always to be a crush at
the entrance, so that the people in the street should mistake it for
a riot; and he obtained this crush by placing a lot of bargains at the
doors, shelves and baskets overflowing with very low-priced articles;
so that the common people crowded there, stopping up the doorway, making
the shop look as if it were crammed with customers, when it was often
only half full. Then, in the galleries, he had the art of concealing
the departments in which business was slack; for instance, the shawl
department in summer, and the printed calico department in winter, he
surrounded them with busy departments, drowning them with a continual
uproar. It was he alone who had been inspired with the idea of placing
on the second-floor the carpet and furniture counters, counters where
the customers were less frequent, and which if placed on the ground
floor would have caused empty, cold spaces. If he could have managed it,
he would have had the street running through his shop.
Just at that moment, Mouret was a prey to an attack of inspiration. On
the Saturday evening, as he was giving a last look at the preparations
for the Monday’s great sale, he was suddenly struck with the idea that
the arrangement of the departments adopted by him was wrong and stupid;
and yet It seemed a perfectly logical arrangement: the stuffs on one
side, the made-up articles on the other, an intelligent order of things
which would enable the customers to find their way themselves. He had
thought of this orderly arrangement formerly, in Madame Hédouin’s narrow
shop; and now he felt his faith shaken, just as he carried out his idea.
Suddenly he cried out that they would “have to alter all that.” They had
forty-eight hours, and half what had been done had to be changed. The
staff, frightened, bewildered, had been obliged to work two nights and
the entire Sunday, amidst a frightful disorder. On the Monday morning
even, an hour before the opening, there was still some goods to be
placed. Decidedly the governor was going mad, no one understood, a
general consternation prevailed.
[Illustration: 0355]
“Come, look sharp!” cried Mouret, with the quiet assurance of his
genius. “There are some more costumes to be taken upstairs. And the
Japan goods, are they placed on the central landing? A last effort, my
boys, you’ll see the sale by-and-by.”
Bourdoncle had also been there since daybreak. He did not understand any
more than the others, and he followed the governor’s movements with
an anxious eye. He hardly dared to ask him any questions, knowing how
Mouret received people in these critical moments. However, he at last
made up his mind, and gently asked: “Was it really necessary to upset
everything like that, on the eve of our sale?”
At first Mouret shrugged his shoulders without replying. Then as the
other persisted, he burst out: “So that all the customers should heap
themselves into one corner–eh? A nice idea of mine! I should never have
got over it! Don’t you see that it would have localised the crowd. A
woman would have come in, gone straight to the department she wished,
passed from the petticoat counter to the dress one, from the dress to
the mantle, then retired, without having even lost herself for a moment?
Not one would have thoroughly seen the establishment!”
“But,” remarked Bourdoncle, “now that you have disarranged everything,
and thrown the goods all over the place, the employees will wear out
their legs in guiding the customers from department to department.”
Mouret gave a look of superb contempt. “I don’t care a hang for that!
They’re young, it’ll make them grow! So much the better if they do walk
about! They’ll appear more numerous, and increase the crowd. The greater
the crush the better; all will go well!” He laughed, and deigned to
explain his idea, lowering his voice: “Look here, Bourdoncle, listen to
the result. Firstly, this continual circulation of customers disperses
them all over the shop, multiplies them, and makes them lose their
heads; secondly, as they must be conducted from one end of the
establishment to the other, if they want, for instance, a lining after
having bought a dress, these journeys in every direction triple the
size of the house in their eyes; thirdly, they are forced to traverse
departments where they would never have set foot otherwise, temptations
present themselves on their passage, and they succumb; fourthly—-”
Bourdoncle was now laughing with him. At this Mouret, delighted, stopped
to call out to the messengers: “Very good, my boys! now for a sweep, and
it’ll be splendid!”
But on turning round he perceived Denise. He and Bourdoncle were
opposite the ready-made department, which he had just dismembered by
sending the dresses and costumes up on the second-floor at the other
end of the building. Denise, the first down, was opening her eyes with
astonishment, quite bewildered by the new arrangements.
“What is it?” murmured she; “are we going to move?” This surprise
appeared to amuse Mouret, who adored these sensational effects. Early in
February Denise had returned to The Ladies’ Paradise, where she had been
agreeably surprised to find the staff polite, almost respectful. Madame
Aurélie especially was very kind; Marguerite and Clara seemed resigned;
even down to old Jouve, who also bowed his head, with an awkward
embarrassed air, as if desirous of effacing the disagreeable memory of
the past. It sufficed that Mouret had said a few words, everybody
was whispering, following her with their eyes. And in this general
amiability, the only things that wounded her were Deloche’s singularly
melancholy looks, and Paulines inexplicable smiles. However, Mouret was
still looking at her in his delighted way.
“What is it you want, mademoiselle?” asked he at last.
Denise had noticed him. She blushed slightly. Since her return she had
received marks of kindness from him which greatly touched her. Pauline,
without her knowing why, had given her a full account of the governor’s
and Clara’s love affairs: where he saw her, and what he paid her; and
she often returned to the subject, even adding that he had another
mistress, that Madame Desforges, well known by all the shop. Such
stories stirred up Denise, she felt in his presence all her former
fears, an uneasiness in which her gratitude was struggling against her
“It’s all this confusion going on in the place,” she murmured.
Mouret then approached her and said in a lower voice:
“Have the goodness to come to my office this evening after business. I
wish to speak to you.”
Greatly agitated, she bowed her head without saying a word. And she went
into the department where the other saleswomen were now arriving. But
Bourdoncle had overheard Mouret, and he looked at him with a smile. He
even ventured to say when they were alone:
“That girl again! Be careful; it will end by being serious!”
Mouret hastily defended himself, concealing his emotion beneath an
air of superior indifference. “Never fear, it’s only a joke! The woman
who’ll catch me isn’t born, my dear fellow!”
And as the shop was opening at last, he rushed off to give a final look
at the various counters. Bourdoncle shook his head. This Denise, so
simple and quiet, began to make him uneasy. The first time, he had
conquered by a brutal dismissal. But she had reappeared, and he felt she
had become so strong that he now treated her as a redoubtable adversary,
remaining mute before her, patiently waiting. Mouret, whom he caught up,
was shouting out downstairs, in the Saint-Augustin Hall, opposite the
entrance door:
“Are you playing with me? I ordered the blue parasols to be put as a
border. Just pull all that down, and be quick about it!”
He would listen to nothing; a gang of messengers had to come and
re-arrange the exhibition of parasols. Seeing the customers arriving, he
even had the doors closed for a moment, declaring that he would not open
them, rather than have the blue parasols in the centre. It ruined his
composition. The renowned dressers, Hutin, Mignot, and others, came to
look, and opened their eyes; but they affected not to understand, being
of a different school.
At last the doors were opened again, and the crowd flowed in. From the
first, before the shop was full, there was such a crush at the
doorway that they were obliged to call the police to re-establish the
circulation on the pavement. Mouret had calculated correctly; all the
housekeepers, a compact troop of middle-class women and workmen’s wives,
swarmed around the bargains and remnants displayed in the open street.
They felt the “hung” goods at the entrance; a calico at seven sous,
a wool and cotton grey stuff at nine sous, and, above all, an Orleans
cloth at seven sous and half, which was emptying the poorer purses.
There was an elbowing, a feverish crushing around the shelves and
baskets containing the articles at reduced prices, lace at two sous,
ribbon at five, garters at three the pair, gloves, petticoats, cravats,
cotton socks, and stockings, were all tumbled about, and disappearing,
as if swallowed up by the voracious crowd. Notwithstanding the cold, the
shopmen who were selling in the open street could not serve fast enough.
A woman in the family way cried out with pain; two little girls were
nearly stifled.
All the morning this crush went on increasing. Towards one o’clock there
was a crowd waiting to enter; the street was blocked as in a time of
riot. Just at that moment, as Madame de Boves and her daughter Blanche
were standing on the pavement opposite, hesitating, they were accosted
by Madame Marty, also accompanied by her daughter Valentine.
“What a crowd–eh?” said the former. “They’re killing themselves inside.
I ought not to have come, I was in bed, but got up to get a little fresh
“Just like me,” said the other. “I promised my husband to go and see his
sister at Montmartre. Then just as I was passing, I thought of a piece
of braid I wanted. I may as well buy it here as anywhere else, mayn’t I?
Oh, I sha’n’t spend a sou! in fact I don’t want anything.”
However, they did not take their eyes off the door, seized and carried
away as it were by the force of the crowd.
“No, no, I’m not going in, I’m afraid,” murmured Madame de Boves.
“Blanche, let’s go away, we should be crushed.” But her voice failed,
she was gradually yielding to the desire to follow the others; and her
fear dissolved in the irresistible attraction of the crush. Madame Marty
was also giving way, repeating:
“Keep hold of my dress, Valentine. Ah, well! I’ve never seen such a
thing before. You are lifted off your feet. What will it be like inside?”
The ladies, seized by the current, could not now go back. As streams
attract to themselves the fugitive waters of a valley, so it seemed that
the wave of customers, flowing into the vestibule, was absorbing the
passers-by, drinking in the population from the four corners of Paris.
They advanced but slowly, squeezed almost to death, kept upright by the
shoulders and bellies around them, of which they felt the close heat;
and their satisfied desire enjoyed the painful entrance which incited
still further their curiosity. There was a pell-mell of ladies arrayed
in silk, of poorly dressed middle-class women, and of bare-headed girls,
all excited and carried away by the same passion. A few men buried
beneath the overflow of bosoms were casting anxious glances around them.
A nurse, in the thickest of the crowd, held her baby above her head, the
youngster crowing with delight. The only one to get angry was a skinny
woman, who broke out into bad words, accusing her neighbour of digging
right into her.
“I really think I shall lose my skirts in this crowd,” remarked Madame
de Boves.
Mute, her face still fresh from the open air, Madame Marty was standing
on tip-toe to see above the others’ heads into the depths of the shop.
The pupils of her grey eyes were as contracted as those of a cat coming
out of the broad daylight; she had the reposed flesh, and the clear
expression of a person just waking up.
“Ah, at last!” said she, heaving a sigh.
The ladies had just extricated themselves. They were in the
Saint-Augustin Hall, which they were greatly surprised to find almost
empty. But a feeling of comfort invaded them, they seemed to be entering
into spring-time after emerging from the winter of the street. Whilst
outside, the frozen wind, laden with rain and hail, was still blowing,
the fine season, in The Paradise galleries, was already budding forth
with the light stuffs, the flowery brilliancy of the tender shades, the
rural gaiety of the summer dresses and the parasols.
“Do look there!” exclaimed Madame de Boves, standing motionless, her
eyes in the air.
It was the exhibition of parasols. Wide-open, rounded off like shields,
they covered the whole hall, from the glazed roof to the varnished oak
mouldings below. They described festoons round the semi-circular arches
of the upper storeys; they descended in garlands along the slender
columns; they ran along in close lines on the balustrades of the
galleries and the staircases; and everywhere, ranged symmetrically,
speckling the walls with red, green, and yellow, they looked like great
Venetian lanterns, lighted up for some colossal entertainment. In the
corners were more complicated patterns, stars composed of parasols at
thirty-nine sous, the light shades of which, pale-blue, cream-white, and
blush rose, seemed to burn with the sweetness of a night-light; whilst
up above, immense Japanese parasols, on which golden-coloured cranes
soared in a purple sky, blazed forth with the reflections of a great
Madame Marty endeavoured to find a phrase to express her rapture, but
could only exclaim, “It’s like fairyland!” Then trying to find out
where she was she continued: “Let’s see, the braid is in the mercery
department. I shall buy my braid and be off.”
“I will go with you,” said Madame de Boves. “Eh? Blanche, we’ll just go
through the shop, nothing more.”
But they had hardly left the door before they lost themselves. They
turned to the left, and as the mercery department had been moved, they
dropped right into the middle of the one devoted to collarettes, cuffs,
trimmings, &c. It was very warm under the galleries, a hot-house heat,
moist and close, laden with the insipid odour of the stuffs, and in
which the stamping of the crowd was stifled. They then returned to the
door, where an outward current was already established, an interminable
line of women and children, over whom floated a multitude of red
air-balls. Forty thousand of these were ready; there were men specially
placed for their distribution. To see the customers who were going out,
one would have thought there was a flight of enormous soap-bubbles above
them, at the end of the almost invisible strings, reflecting the fiery
glare of the parasols. The whole place was illuminated by them.
“There’s quite a world here!” declared Madame de Boves. “You hardly know
where you are.”
However, the ladies could not remain in the eddy of the door, right in
the crush of the entrance and exit. Fortunately, Jouve, the inspector,
came to their assistance. He stood in the vestibule, grave, attentive,
eyeing each woman as she passed. Specially charged with the inside
police, he was on the lookout for thieves, and especially followed women
in the family way, when the fever of their eyes became too alarming.
“The mercery department, ladies?” said he obligingly, “turn to the left;
look! just there behind the hosiery department.”
Madame de Boves thanked him. But Madame Marty, turning round, no
longer saw her daughter Valentine beside her. She was beginning to feel
frightened, when she caught sight of her, already a long way off, at the
end of the Saint-Augustin Hall, deeply absorbed before a table covered
with a heap of women’s cravats at nineteen sous. Mouret practised the
system of offering articles to the customers, hooking and plundering
them as they passed; for he used every sort of advertisement, laughing
at the discretion of certain fellow-tradesmen who thought the articles
should be left to speak for themselves. Special salesmen, idle and
smooth-tongued Parisians, thus got rid of considerable quantities of
small trashy things.
“Oh, mamma!” murmured Valentine, “just look at these cravats. They have
a bird embroidered at the corners.”
The shopman cracked up the article, swore it was all silk, that the
manufacturer had become bankrupt, and that they would never have such a
bargain again.
“Nineteen sous–is it possible?” said Madame Marty, tempted as well as
her daughter. “Well! I can take a couple, that won’t ruin us.”
Madame de Boves disdained this style of thing, she detested things
being offered. A shopman calling her made her run away. Madame Marty,
surprised, could not understand this nervous horror of commercial
quackery, for she was of another nature; she was one of those fortunate
women who delight in being thus violated, in bathing in the caress of
this public offering, with the enjoyment of plunging one’s hands in
everything, and wasting one’s time in useless talk.
“Now,” she said, “I’m going for my braid. I don’t wish to see anything
However, as she crossed the cravat and glove departments, her heart once
more failed her. There was, under the diffuse light, a display made
up of bright and gay colours, which produced a ravishing effect The
counters, symmetrically arranged, seemed like so many flower-borders,
changing the hall into a French garden, in which smiled a tender gamut
of blossoms. Lying on the bare wood, in open boxes, and protruding from
the overflowing drawers, a quantity of silk hand-kerchiefs displayed
the bright scarlet of the geranium, the creamy white of the petunia,
the golden yellow of the chrysanthemum, the sky-blue of the verbena; and
higher up, on brass stems, twined another florescence, fichus carelessly
hung, ribbons unrolled, quite a brilliant cordon, which extended along,
climbed up the columns, and were multiplied indefinitely by the mirrors.
But what most attracted the crowd was a Swiss cottage in the glove
department, made entirely of gloves, a chef d’ouvre of Mignot’s, which
had taken him two days to arrange. In the first place, the ground-floor
was composed of black gloves; then came straw-coloured, mignonette,
and red gloves, distributed in the decoration, bordering the windows,
forming the balconies, and taking the place of the tiles.
“What do you desire, madame?” asked Mignot, on seeing Madame Marty
planted before the cottage. “Here are some Swedish kid gloves at one
franc fifteen sous, first quality.”
He offered his wares with furious energy, calling the passing customers
from the end of his counter, dunning them with his politeness. As she
shook her head in refusal he confined: “Tyrolian gloves, one franc five
sous. Turin gloves for children, embroidered gloves in all colours.”
“No, thanks; I don’t want anything,” declared Madame Marty.
But feeling that her voice was softening, he attacked her with greater
energy than ever, holding the embroidered gloves before her eyes; and
she could not resist, she bought a pair. Then, as Madame de Boves looked
at her with a smile, she blushed.
“Don’t you think me childish–eh? If I don’t make haste and get my braid
and be off, I shall be done for.”
Unfortunately, there was such a crush in the mercery department that she
could not get served. They had both been waiting for over ten minutes,
and were getting annoyed, when the sudden meeting with Madame Bourdelais
occupied their attention. The latter explained, with her quiet practical
air, that she had just brought the little ones to see the show.
Madeleine was ten, Edmond eight, and Lucien four years old; and they
were laughing with joy, it was a cheap treat long promised.
“They are really too comical; I shall buy a red parasol,” said Madame
Marty all at once, stamping with impatience at being there doing
She choose one at fourteen francs and a-half. Madame Bourdelais, after
having watched the purchase with a look of blame, said to her amicably:
“You are very wrong to be in such a hurry. In a month’s time you could
have had it for ten francs. They won’t catch me like that.”
And she developed quite a theory of careful housekeeping. As the shops
lowered their prices, it was simply a question of waiting. She did not
wish to be taken in by them, so she preferred to take advantage of their
real bargains. She even showed a feeling of malice in the struggle,
boasting that she had never left them a sou profit.
“Come,” said she at last, “I’ve promised my little ones to show them the
pictures upstairs in the reading-room. Come up with us, you have plenty
of time.”
And the braid was forgotten. Madame Marty yielded at once, whilst Madame
de Boves refused, preferring to take a turn on the ground-floor first.
Besides, they were sure to meet again upstairs. Madame Bourdelais was
looking for a staircase when she perceived one of the lifts; and she
pushed her children in to complete their pleasure. Madame Marty and
Valentine also entered the narrow cage, where they were closely packed;
but the mirrors, the velvet seats, and the polished brasswork took up
their attention so much that they arrived at the first storey without
having felt the gentle ascent of the machine. Another pleasure was
in store for them, in the first gallery. As they passed before the
refreshment bar, Madame Bourdelais did not fail to gorge her little
family with syrup. It was a square room with a large marble counter;
at the two ends there were silvered fountains from which flowed a small
stream of water; whilst rows of bottles stood on small shelves behind.
Three waiters were continually engaged wiping and filling the glasses.
To restrain the thirsty crowd, they had been obliged to establish a
system of turns, as at theatres and railway-stations, by erecting a
barrier covered with velvet. The crush was terrific. Some people, losing
all shame before these gratuitous treats, made themselves ill.
“Well! where are they?” exclaimed Madame Bourdelais when she extricated
herself from the crowd, after having wiped the children’s faces with her
But she caught sight of Madame Marty and Valentine at the further end
of another gallery, a long way off. Both buried beneath a heap of
petticoats, were still buying. They were conquered, the mother and
daughter were rapidly disappearing in the fever of spending which was
carrying them away. When she at last arrived in the reading-room Madame
Bourdelais installed Madeleine, Edmond, and Lucien before the large
table; then taking from one of the shelves some photographic albums she
brought them to them. The ceiling of the long apartment was covered
with gold; at the two extremities, monumental chimney-pieces faced each
other; some rather poor pictures, very richly framed, covered the walls;
and between the columns before each of the arched bays opening into the
various shops, were tall green plants in majolica vases. Quite a
silent crowd surrounded the table, which was littered with reviews and
newspapers, with here and there some ink-stands and boxes of stationery.
Ladies took off their gloves, and wrote their letters on the paper
stamped with the name of the house, which they crossed out with a dash
of the pen. A few men, lolling back in the armchairs, were reading the
newspapers. But a great many people sat there doing nothing: husbands
waiting for their wives, let loose in the various departments, discreet
young women looking out for their lovers, old relations left there as
in a cloak-room, to be taken away when time to leave. And this little
society, comfortably installed, quietly reposed itself there, glancing
through the open bays into the depths of the galleries and the halls,
from which a distant murmur ascended above the grating of the pens and
the rustling of the newspapers.
“What! you here!” said Madame Bourdelais. “I didn’t know you.”
Near the children was a lady concealed behind the pages of a review.
It was Madame Guibal She seemed annoyed at the meeting; but quickly
recovering herself, related that she had come to sit down for a moment
to escape the crush. And as Madame Bourdelais asked her if she was
going to make any purchases, she replied with her languorous air, hiding
behind her eyelashes the egoistical greediness of her looks:
“Oh! no. On the contrary, I have come to return some goods. Yes, some
door-curtains which I don’t like. But there is such a crowd that I am
waiting to get near the department.”
She went on talking, saying how convenient this system of returns
was; formerly she never bought anything, but now she sometimes allowed
herself to be tempted. In fact, she returned four articles out of five,
and was getting known at all the counters for her strange system
of buying, and her eternal discontent which made her bring back the
articles one by one, after having kept them several days. But, whilst
speaking, she did not take her eyes off the doors of the reading-room;
and she appeared greatly relieved when Madame Bourdelais rejoined her
children, to explain the photographs to them. Almost at the same
moment Monsieur de Boves and Paul de Vallagnosc came in. The count,
who affected to be showing the young man through the new buildings,
exchanged a rapid glance with Madame Guibal; and she then plunged into
her review again, as if she had not seen him.
“Hullo, Paul!” suddenly exclaimed a voice behind these gentlemen.
It was Mouret, on his way round to give a look at the various
departments. They shook hands, and he at once asked: “Has Madame de
Boves done us the honour of coming?”
“Well, no,” replied the husband, “and she very much regrets it. She’s
not very well. Oh! nothing dangerous!” But suddenly he pretended to
catch sight of Madame Guibal, and ran off, going up to her bareheaded,
whilst the others merely bowed to her from a distance. She also
pretended to be surprised. Paul smiled; he now understood the affair,
and he related to Mouret in a low voice how De Boves, whom he had met in
the Rue Richelieu, had tried to get away from him, and had finished by
dragging him into The Ladies’ Paradise, under the pretext that he must
show him the new buildings. For the last year the lady had drawn from De
Boves all the money and pleasure she could, never writing to him, making
appointments with him in public places, churches, museums, and shops, to
arrange their affairs.
“I fancy that at each meeting they change their hôtel,” murmured the
young man. “Not long ago, he was on a tour of inspection; he wrote to
his wife every day from Blois, Libourne, and Tarbes; and yet I feel
convinced I saw them going into a family boarding-house at Batignolles.
But look at him, isn’t he splendid before her with his military
correctness! The old French gallantry, my dear fellow, the old French
“And your marriage?” asked Mouret Paul, without taking his eyes off the
count, replied that they were still waiting for the death of the aunt.
Then, with a triumphant air: “There, did you see him? He stooped down,
and slipped an address into her hand. She’s now accepting with the most
virtuous air. She’s a terrible woman, that delicate red-haired creature
with her careless ways. Well! there are some fine things going on in
your place!”
“Oh!” said Mouret, smiling, “these ladies are not in my house, they are
at home here.”
He then began to joke. Love, like the swallows, always brought good luck
to a house. No doubt he knew the girls who wandered about from counter
to counter, the ladies who accidentally met a friend in the shop; but
if they bought nothing, they filled up a place, and helped to crowd and
warm the shop. Still continuing his gossip, he carried his old comrade
off, and planted him on the threshold of the reading-room, opposite the
grand central gallery, the successive halls of which ran along at their
feet. Behind them, the reading-room still retained its quiet air,
only disturbed by the scratching of the pens and the rustling of the
newspapers. One old gentleman had gone to sleep over the _Moniteur_.
Monsieur de Boves was looking at the pictures, with the evident
intention of losing his future son-in-law in the crowd as soon as
possible. And, alone, amid this calmness, Madame Bourdelais was amusing
her children, talking very loud, as in a conquered place.
“You see they are quite at home,” said Mouret, who pointed with a
broad gesture to the multitude of women with which the departments were
Just at that moment Madame Desforges, after having nearly had her mantle
carried away in the crowd, at last came in and crossed the first hall.
Then, on reaching the principal gallery, she raised her eyes. It was
like a railway span, surrounded by the balustrades of the two storeys,
intersected by hanging staircases, crossed by flying bridges. The iron
staircases developed bold curves, multiplying the landings; the iron
bridges suspended in space, ran straight along, very high up; and all
this iron formed, beneath the white light of the windows, an excessively
light architecture, a complicated lace-work through which the daylight
penetrated, the modern realisation of a dreamed-of palace, of a
Babel-like heaping up of the storeys, enlarging the rooms, opening up
glimpses on to other floors and into other rooms without end. In fact,
iron reigned everywhere; the young architect had had the honesty and
courage not to disguise it under a coating of paint imitating stone or
wood. Down below, in order not to outshine the goods, the decoration was
sober, with large regular spaces in neutral tints; then as the metallic
work ascended, the capitals of the columns became richer, the rivets
formed ornaments, the shoulder-pieces and corbels were loaded with
sculptured work; up above, there was a mass of painting, green and red,
amidst a prodigality of gold, floods of gold, heaps of gold, even to
the glazed-work, the glass of which was enamelled and inlaid with gold.
Under the covered galleries, the bare brick-work of the arches was also
decorated in bright colours. Mosaics and earthenware also formed part
of the decoration, enlivening the friezes, lighting up with their fresh
notes the severity of the whole; whilst the stairs, with their red
velvet covered hand-rails, were edged with a band of curved polished
iron, which shone like the steel of a piece of armour.
Although she had already seen the new establishment
Madame Desforges stood still, struck by the ardent life which was this
day animating the immense nave. Below, around her, continued the eddying
of the crowd, of which the double current of those entering and those
going out made itself felt as far as the silk department; a crowd still
very mixed in its elements, though the afternoon was bringing a greater
number of ladies amongst the shopkeepers and house-wives; a great many
women in mourning, with their flowing veils, and the inevitable wet
nurses straying about, protecting their babies with their outstretched
arms. And this sea of faces, these many-coloured hats, these bare heads,
both dark and light, rolled from one end of the gallery to the other,
confused and discoloured amidst the loud glare of the stuffs. Madame
Desforges could see nothing but large price tickets bearing enormous
figures everywhere, their white patches standing out on the bright
printed cottons, the shining silks, and the sombre woollens. Piles of
ribbons curtailed the heads, a wall of flannel threw out a promontory;
on all sides the mirrors carried the departments back into infinite
space, reflecting the displays with portions of the public, faces
reversed, and halves of shoulders and arms; whilst to the right and
to the left the lateral galleries opened up other vistas, the snowy
background of the linen department, the speckled depth of the hosiery
one, distant views illuminated by the rays of light from some glazed
bay, and in which the crowd appeared nothing but a mass of human
dust. Then, when Madame Desforges raised her eyes, she saw, along the
staircases, on the flying bridges, around the balustrade of each storey,
a continual humming ascent, an entire population in the air, travelling
in the cuttings of the enormous ironwork construction, casting black
shadows on the diffused light of the enamelled windows. Large gilded
lustres hung from the ceiling; a decoration of rugs, embroidered silks,
stuffs worked with gold, hung down, draping the balustrade with gorgeous
banners; and, from one end to the other, there were clouds of lace,
palpitations of muslin, trophies of silks, apotheoses of half-dressed
dummies; and right at the top, above all this confusion, the bedding
department, suspended as it were, displayed little iron bedsteads with
their mattresses, hung with their white curtains, a sort of school
dormitory sleeping amidst the stamping of the customers, rarer and rarer
as the departments ascended.
“Does madame require a cheap pair of garters?” asked a salesman of
Madame Desforges, seeing her standing still “All silk, twenty-nine
She did not deign to answer. Things were being offered around her more
feverishly than ever. She wanted, however, to find out where she was.
Albert Lhomme’s pay-desk was on her left; he knew her by sight and
ventured to give her an amiable smile, not in the least hurry in the
midst of the heaps of bills by which he was besieged; whilst, behind
him, Joseph, struggling with the string-box, could not pack up the
articles fast enough. She then saw where she was; the silk department
must be in front of her. But it took her ten minutes to get there,
the crowd was becoming so immense. Up in the air, at the end of their
invisible strings, the red air-balls had become more numerous than ever;
they now formed clouds of purple, gently blowing towards the doors,
continuing to scatter themselves over Paris; and she had to bow her head
beneath the flight of air-balls, when very young children held them, the
string rolled round their little fingers.
“What! you have ventured here, madame?” exclaimed Bouthemont gaily, as
soon as he caught sight of Madame Desforges.
The manager of the silk department, introduced to her by Mouret himself,
was now in the habit of sometimes calling on her at her five o’clock
tea. She thought him common, but very amiable, of a fine sanguine
temper, which surprised and amused her. Besides, about two days before
he had openly related to her the affair between Mouret and Clara,
without any calculation, out of stupidity, like a fellow who loves a
joke; and, stung with jealousy, concealing her wounded feelings beneath
an appearance of disdain, she had come to try and discover her rival, a
young lady in the dress department he had merely said, refusing to name
“Do you require anything to-day?” he asked her.
“Of course, or else I should not have come. Have you any silk for
morning gowns?”
She hoped to obtain the name of the young lady from him, for she was
full of a desire to see her. He immediately called Favier; and resumed
talking to her, whilst waiting for the salesman, who was just finishing
serving a customer who happened to be “the pretty lady,” that beautiful
blonde of whom the whole department occasionally spoke, without knowing
anything of her life or even her name. This time the pretty lady was in
deep mourning. Ah, who had she lost–her husband or her father? Not her
father, or she would have appeared more melancholy. What had they been
saying? She was not a gay woman then; she had a real husband. Unless,
however, she should be in mourning for her mother. For a few minutes,
notwithstanding the press of business, the department exchanged these
various speculations.
“Make haste! it’s intolerable!” cried Hutin to Favier, who had just
returned from showing his customer to the pay-desk. “When that lady is
here you never seem to finish. She doesn’t care a fig for you!”
“She cares a deuced sight more for me than I do for her!” replied the
vexed salesman.
But Hutin threatened to report him to the directors if he did not show
more respect for the customers. He was getting terrible, of a morose
severity, since the department had conspired together to get him into
Robineau’s place. He even showed himself so intolerable, after the
promises of good-fellowship, with which he had formerly warmed his
colleagues, that the latter were now secretly supporting Favier against
“Now, then, no back answers,” replied Hutin sharply. “Monsieur
Bouthemont wishes you to show some light designs in silks.”
In the middle of the department, an exhibition of summer silks lighted
up the hall with an aurora-like brilliancy, like the rising of a star,
in the most delicate tints possible: pale rose, tender yellow, limpid
blue, the entire gamut of Iris. There were silks of a cloudy fineness,
surahs lighter than the down falling from the trees, satined pekins soft
and supple as a Chinese virgin’s skin. There were, moreover, Japanese
pongees, Indian tussores and corahs, without counting the light French
silks, the thousand stripes, the small checks, the flowered patterns,
all the most fanciful designs, which made one think of ladies in
furbelows, walking about, in the sweet May mornings, under the immense
trees of some park.
“I’ll take this, the Louis XIV. with figured roses,” said Madame
Desforges at last.
And whilst Favier was measuring it, she made a last attempt with
Bouthemont, who had remained near her.
“I’m going up to the ready-made department to see if there are any
travelling cloaks. Is she fair, the young lady you were talking about?”
The manager, who felt rather anxious on finding her so persistent,
merely smiled. But, just at that moment, Denise went by. She had just
passed on to Liénard, who had charge of the merinoes, Madame Boutarel,
that provincial lady who came up to Paris twice a year, to scatter all
over The Ladies’ Paradise the money she scraped together out of her
housekeeping. And as Favier was about to take up Madame Desforges’s
silk, Hutin, thinking to annoy him, interfered.
“It’s quite unnecessary, Mademoiselle Denise will have the kindness to
conduct this lady.”
Denise, quite confused, at once took charge of the parcel and the
debit-note. She could never meet this young man face to face without
experiencing a feeling of shame, as if he reminded her of a former
fault; and yet she had only sinned in her dreams.
“But, tell me,” said Madame Desforges, in a low tone, to Bouthemont,
“isn’t it this awkward girl? He has taken her back, then? But it is she,
the heroine of the adventure!”
“Perhaps,” replied the head of department, still smiling, and fully
decided not to tell the truth.
Madame Desforges then slowly ascended the staircase, preceded by Denise;
but she had to stop every two or three steps to avoid being carried away
by the descending crowd. In the living vibration of the whole
building, the iron supports seemed to stagger beneath the weight, as if
continually trembling from the breath of the crowd On each stair was
a dummy, strongly fixed, displaying some garment: a costume, cloak,
or dressing-gown; and it was like a double row of soldiers for some
triumphal march-past, with the little wooden arm like the handle of a
poniard, stuck into the red swan-skin, which gave a bloody appearance to
the stump of a neck crowning the whole.
Madame Desforges was at last reaching the first storey, when a still
greater surging of the crowd forced her to stop once more. She had now,
beneath her, the departments on the ground-floor, with the press of
customers she had just passed through. It was a new spectacle, a sea
of heads fore-shortened, concealing the bodices, swarming with a busy
agitation. The white price tickets now appeared but so many thin lines,
the promontory of flannels cut through the gallery like a narrow
wall; whilst the carpets and the embroidered silks which decked the
balustrades hung at her feet like processional banners suspended from
the gallery of a church. In the distance, she could perceive the angles
of the lateral galleries, as from the top of a steeple one perceives
the corners of the neighbouring streets, with the black spots of the
passers-by moving about. But what surprised her above all, in the
fatigue of her eyes blinded by the brilliant pell mell of colours, was,
when she lowered her lids, to feel the crowe more than its dull noise
like the rising tide, and the human warmth that it exhaled. A fine dust
rose from the floor, laden with the odour of woman, the odour of her
linen and her bust, of her skirts and her hair, an invading, penetrating
odour, which seemed to be the incense of this temple raised for the
worship of her body.
Meanwhile Mouret, still standing up before the reading-room with De
Vallagnosc, was inhaling this odour, intoxicating himself with it, and
repeating: “They are quite at home. I know some who spend the whole day
here, eating cakes and writing their letters. There’s only one thing
more to do, and that is, to find them beds.”
This joke made Paul smile, he who, in the _ennui_ of his pessimism,
continued to think the crowd stupid in thus running after a lot of
gew-gaws. Whenever he came to give his old comrade a look up, he went
away almost vexed to see him so full of life amidst his people of
coquettes. Would not one of them, with shallow brain and empty heart,
teach him one day the stupidity and uselessness of existence? That very
day Octave seemed to lose some of his admirable equilibrium; he who
generally inspired his customers with a fever, with the tranquil grace
of an operator, was as though seized by the passion with which the
establishment was gradually burning. Since he had caught sight of Denise
and Madame Desforges coming up the grand staircase, he had been talking
louder, gesticulating against his will; and, whilst affecting not to
turn his face towards them, he became more and more animated as he felt
them drawing nearer. His face got redder, his eyes had a little of that
rapture with which the eyes of his customers ultimately vacillated.
“You must be robbed fearfully,” murmured De Vallagnosc, who thought the
crowd looked very criminal.
Mouret threw his arms out “My dear fellow, it’s beyond all imagination.”
And, nervously, delighted at having something to talk about, he gave a
number of details, related cases, and classified the subjects. In the
first place, there were the professional thieves; these women did the
least harm of all, for the police knew every one of them. Then came the
kleptomaniacs, who stole from a perverse desire, a new sort of nervous
affection which a mad doctor had classed, proving the results of the
temptation provided by the big shops. In the last place must be counted
the women in an interesting condition, whose robberies were of a special
order. For instance, at the house of one of them, the superintendent of
police had found two hundred and forty-eight pairs of pink gloves stolen
from every shop in Paris.
“That’s what makes the women have such funny eyes here, then,” murmured
De Vallagnosc; “I’ve been watching them with their greedy, shameful
looks, like mad creatures. A fine school for honesty!”
“Hang it!” replied Mouret, “though we make them quite at home, we can’t
let them take away the goods under their mantles. And sometimes they are
very respectable people. Last week we had the sister of a chemist, and
the wife of a councillor. We try and settle these matters.”
He stopped to point out Jouve, the inspector, who was just then looking
sharp after a woman in the family way, down below at the ribbon counter.
This woman, whose enormous belly suffered a great deal from the pushing
of the crowd, was accompanied by a friend, whose mission appeared to be
to defend her against the heavy shocks, and each time she stopped in a
department, Jouve did not take his eyes off her, whilst her friend near
her ransacked the card-board boxes at her ease.
“Oh! he’ll catch her!” resumed Mouret; “he knows all their tricks.”
But his voice trembled, he laughed in an awkward manner. Denise and
Henriette, whom he had ceased to watch, were at last passing behind him,
after having had a great deal of trouble to get out of the crowd. He
turned round suddenly, and bowed to his customer with the discreet air
of a friend who does not wish to compromise a woman by stopping her in
the middle of a crowd of people. But the latter, on the alert, had at
once perceived the look with which he had first enveloped Denise. It
must be this girl, this was the rival she had had the curiosity to come
and see.
In the ready-made department, the young ladies were losing their heads.
Two of them had fallen ill, and Madame Frédéric, the second-hand, had
quietly given notice the previous day, and gone to the cashier’s office
to take her money, leaving The Ladies’ Paradise all in a minute, as
The Ladies’ Paradise itself discharged its employees. Ever since the
morning, in spite of the feverish rush of business, every one had
been talking of this adventure. Clara, maintained in the department by
Mouret’s caprice, thought it grand. Marguerite related how exasperated
Bourdoncle was; whilst Madame Aurélie, greatly vexed, declared that
Madame Frédéric ought at least to have informed her, for such hypocrisy
had never before been heard of.
Although the latter had never confided in any one, she was suspected of
having given up drapery business to marry the proprietor of some of the
baths in the neighbourhood of the Halles.
“It’s a travelling cloak that madame desires, I believe?” asked Denise
of Madame Desforges, after having offered her a chair.
“Yes,” replied the latter, curtly, decided on being rude.
The new decorations of the department were of a rich severity: high
carved oak cupboards, mirrors filling the whole space of the panels,
and a red Wilton carpet, which stifled the continued movement of the
customers. Whilst Denise was gone for the cloaks, Madame Desforges,
who was looking round, perceived herself in a glass; and she continued
contemplating herself. She must be getting old to be cast aside for
the first-comer. The glass reflected the entire department with its
commotion, but she only beheld her own pale face; she did not hear
Clara behind her relating to Marguerite instances of Madame Frederic’s
mysterious ways, the manner in which she went out of her way night and
morning to go through the Passage Choiseul, in order to make believe
that she perhaps lived over the water.
“Here are our latest designs,” said Denise. “We have them in several
She laid out four or five cloaks. Madame Desforges looked at them with
a scornful air, and became harsher at each fresh one she examined. Why
those frillings which made the garment look so scanty? and the other
one, square across the shoulders, one would have thought it had been
cut out with a hatchet. Though it was for travelling she could not dress
like a sentry-box.
“Show me something else, mademoiselle.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Denise unfolded and folded the garments without the slightest sign of
ill temper. And it was just this calm, serene patience which exasperated
Madame Desforges still further. Her looks continually returned to the
glass in front of her. Now that she saw herself there, close to Denise,
she made a comparison. Was it possible that he should prefer this
insignificant creature to herself? She now remembered that this was the
girl she had formerly seen making her début with such a silly figure,
awkward as a peasant girl just arrived from her village. No doubt she
looked better now, stiff and correct in her silk dress. But how puny,
how common-place!
“I will show you some other models, madame,” said Denise, quietly.
When she returned, the scene began again. Then it was the cloth that was
heavy and no good whatever. Madame Desforges turned round, raised her
voice, endeavouring to attract Madame Aurélie’s attention, in the hope
of getting the young girl a scolding. But Denise, since her return, had
gradually conquered the department, and now felt quite at home in
it; the first-hand had even recognised in her some rare and valuable
qualities as a saleswoman–an obstinate sweetness, a smiling conviction.
Therefore Madame Aurélie simply shrugged her shoulders, taking care not
to interfere.
“Would you kindly tell me the kind of garment you require, madame?”
asked Denise, once more, with her polite persistence, which nothing
could discourage.
“But you’ve got nothing!” exclaimed Madame Desforges.
She stopped, surprised to feel a hand laid on her shoulder. It was
Madame Marty, carried right through the establishment by her fever
for spending. Her purchases had increased to such an extent, since the
cravats, the embroidered gloves, and the red parasol, that the last
salesman had just decided to place the whole on a chair, for it would
have broken his arm; and he walked in front of her, drawing the chair
along, on which was heaped up a pile of petticoats, napkins, curtains, a
lamp, and three straw hats.
“Ah!” said she, “you are buying a travelling cloak.”
“Oh! dear, no,” replied Madame Desforges; “they are frightful.”
But Madame Marty had just noticed a striped cloak which she rather
liked. Her daughter Valentine was already examining it. So Denise called
Marguerite to clear the article out of the department, it being a model
of the previous year, and the latter, at a glance from her comrade,
presented it as an exceptional bargain. When she had sworn that they had
lowered the price twice, that from a hundred and fifty francs, they had
reduced it to a hundred and thirty, and that it was now at a hundred and
ten, Madame Marty could not withstand the temptation of its cheapness.
She bought it, and the salesman who accompanied her left the chair and
the parcel, with the debit-notes attached to the goods.
Meanwhile, behind the ladies’ backs, and amidst the jostlings of the
sale, the gossip of the department about Madame Frédéric still went on.
“Really! she had some one?” asked a little saleswoman, fresh in the
“The bath-man of course!” replied Clara. “Mustn’t trust those sly, quiet
Then while Marguerite was debiting, Madam Marty turned her head and
desired Clara by a slight movement of the eyebrows, she whispered to
Madame Desforges: “Monsieur Mouret’s caprice, you know!”
The other, surprised, looked at Clara; then, turning her eyes towards
Denise, replied: “But it isn’t the tall one; the little one!”
And as Madame Marty could not be sure which, Madame Desforges resumed
aloud, with the scorn of a lady for chambermaids: “Perhaps the tall one
and the little one; all those who like!”
Denise had heard everything. She turned pale, and raised her big, pure
eyes on this lady who was thus wounding her, and whom she did not know.
No doubt it was the lady of whom they had spoken to her, the lady whom
the governor saw outside. In the look that was exchanged between them,
Denise displayed such a melancholy dignity, such a frank innocence, that
Henriette felt quite awkward.
“As you have nothing presentable to show me here, conduct me to the
dress and costume department,” said she, abruptly.
“I’ll go with you as well,” exclaimed Madame Marty, “I wanted to see a
costume for Valentine.”
Marguerite took the chair by its back, and dragged it along on its hind
feet, that were getting worn by this species of cartage. Denise only
carried a few yards of silk, bought by Madame Desforges. It was quite
a journey, now that the robes and costumes were on the second floor, at
the other end of the establishment.
And the long journey commenced along the crowded galleries. Marguerite
walked in front, drawing the chair along, like a little carriage,
slowly opening herself a passage. As soon as she reached the under-linen
department, Madame Desforges began to complain: wasn’t it ridiculous, a
shop where one was obliged to walk a couple of leagues to find the least
thing! Madame Marty also said she was tired to death, yet she did not
the less enjoy this fatigue, this slow exhaustion of her strength,
amidst the inexhaustible treasures displayed on every side. Mouret’s
idea, full of genius, seized upon her, stopping her at each department.
She made a first halt before the trousseaux, tempted by some chemises
that Pauline sold her; and Marguerite found herself relieved from the
burden of the chair, which Pauline had to take, with the debit-notes.
Madame Desforges could have gone on her road, and thus have liberated
Denise quicker, but she seemed happy to feel her behind her, motionless
and patient, whilst she was lingering there, advising her friend. In
the baby-linen department the ladies went into ecstasies, without buying
anything. Then Madame Marty’s weakness commenced anew; she succumbed
successively before a black silk corset, a pair of fur cuffs, sold at
a reduction on account of the lateness of the season, and some Russian
lace much in vogue at that time for trimming table-linen. All these
things were heaped up on the chair, the parcels still increased, making
the chair creak; and the salesmen who succeeded each other, found it
more and more difficult to drag along as the load became heavier.
“This way, madame,” said Denise without a murmur, after each halt.
“But it’s absurd!” exclaimed Madame Desforges. “We shall never get
there. Why not have put the dresses and costumes near the ready-made
department? It is a jumble!”
Madame Marty, whose eyes were sparkling, intoxicated by this succession
of riches dancing before her, repeated in a half whisper:
“Oh, dear! What will my husband say? You are right, there is no order in
this place. You lose yourself, and commit all sorts of follies.”
On the great central landing, the chair, could barely pass. Mouret had
just blocked the space with a lot of fancy goods, drinking-cups mounted
on gilded zinc, trashy dressing-cases and liqueur stands, being of
opinion that the crowd was not sufficiently great, and that circulation
was too easy. He had authorised one of his shopmen to exhibit there on
a small table Chinese and Japanese curiosities, knick-knacks at a low
price, which the customers eagerly snatched up. It was an unexpected
success, and he already thought of extending this business. Whilst
two messengers carried the chair up to the second storey, Madame Marty
bought six ivory studs, some silk mice, and an enamelled match-box.
On the second floor the journey was continued. Denise, who had been
showing customers about in this way since the morning, was dropping with
fatigue; but she still continued correct, amiable, and polite. She had
to wait for the ladies again in the furnishing materials department,
where a ravishing cretonne had tempted Madame Marty. Then, in the
furniture department, it was a work-table that took her fancy. Her
hands trembled, she jokingly entreated Madame Desforges to prevent her
spending any more, when a meeting with Madame Guibal furnished her with
an excuse. It was in the carpet department, where the latter had gone to
return a lot of Oriental door-curtains bought by her five days before.
And she was standing, talking to the salesman, a brawny fellow, who,
with his sinewy arms handled from morning to night loads heavy enough to
kill a bullock. Naturally he was quite astounded at this “return,”
which deprived him of his commission. He did his best to embarrass his
customer, suspecting some queer adventure, no doubt a ball given with
these curtains, bought at The Ladies’ Paradise, and then returned, to
avoid hiring at an upholsterer’s: he knew this was frequently done by
the needy portion of society. In short, she must have some reason for
returning them; if she did not like the designs or the colours, he
would show her others, he had a most complete assortment. To all these
insinuations Madame Guibal replied in the quietest, most unconcerned
manner possible, with a queenly assurance that the curtains did not suit
her, without deigning to add any explanation. She refused to look at any
others, and he was obliged to give way, for the salesmen had orders to
take back the goods, even if they saw they had been used.
As the three ladies went off together, and Madame Marty referred with
remorse to the work-table for which she had no earthly need, Madame
Guibal said in her calm voice: “Well! you can return it. You saw it was
quite easy. Let them send it home. You can put it in your drawing-room,
keep it for a time, then if you don’t like it, return it!”
“Ah! that’s a good idea!” exclaimed Madame Marty. “If my husband makes
too much fuss, I’ll send everything back.” This was for her the supreme
excuse, she calculated no longer, but went on buying, with the secret
wish to keep everything, for she was not a woman to give anything back.
At last they arrived in the dress and costume department. But as Denise
was about to deliver to another young lady the silk bought by Madame
Desforges, the latter seemed to change her mind, and declared that she
would decidedly take one of the travelling cloaks, the light grey one
with the hood; and Denise had to wait complacently to bring her back
to the ready-made department. The young girl felt herself being treated
like a servant by this imperious, whimsical customer; but she had
sworn to herself to do her duty, and retained her calm attitude,
notwithstanding the rising of her heart and the shock to her pride.
Madame Desforges bought nothing in the dress and costume department.
“Oh! mamma,” said Valentine, “if that little costume should fit me!”
In a low tone, Madame Guibal was explaining her tactics to Madame Marty.
When she saw a dress she liked in a shop, she had it sent home, took
the pattern of it, and then sent it back. And Madame Marty bought
the costume for her daughter remarking: “A good idea! You are very
practical, my dear madame.”
They had been obliged to abandon the chair. It had been left in
distress, in the furniture department, with the work-table. The weight
was too much, the hind legs threatened to break off; and it was arranged
that all the purchases should be centralised at one pay-desk, and
from there sent down to the delivery department. The ladies, still
accompanied by Denise, then began wandering all about the establishment,
making a second appearance in nearly every department. They seemed to
take up all the space on the stairs and in the galleries. Every
moment some fresh meeting brought them to a standstill. Thus, near the
reading-room, they once more came across Madame Bourdelais and her three
children. The youngsters were loaded with parcels: Madeline had a dress
for herself, Edmond was carrying a collection of little shoes, whilst
the youngest, Lucien, was wearing a new cap.
“You as well!” said Madame Desforges, laughingly, to her old
“Pray, don’t speak of it!” cried out Madame Bourdelais. “I’m furious.
They get hold of us by the little ones now! You know what a little I
spend on myself! But how can you expect me to resist the voices of these
young children, who want everything? I had come just to show them round,
and here am I plundering the whole establishment!”
Mouret, who happened to be there still, with De Vallagnosc and Monsieur
de Boves, was listening to her with a smile. She observed it, and gaily
complained, with a certain amount of real irritation, of these traps
laid for a mother’s tenderness; the idea that she had just yielded to
the fevers of advertising raised her indignation, and he, still smiling,
bowed, fully enjoying this triumph. Monsieur de Boves had manoeuvred so
as to get near Madame Guibal, whom he ultimately followed, trying for
the second time to lose De Vallagnosc; but the latter, tired of the
crush, hastened to rejoin him. Denise was again brought to a standstill,
obliged to wait for the ladies. She turned her back, and Mouret himself
affected not to see her. Madame Desforges, with the delicate scent of a
jealous woman, had no further doubt. Whilst he was complimenting her and
walking beside her, like a gallant host, she was deep in thought, asking
herself how she could convince him of his treason.
Meanwhile Monsieur de Boves and De Vallagnosc, who were on in front with
Madame Guibal, had reached the lace department, a luxurious room, near
the ready-made department, surrounded with stocks of carved oak drawers,
which were constantly being opened and shut. Around the columns, covered
with red velvet, were spirals of white lace; and from one end of the
department to the other, hung lengths of Maltese; whilst on the counters
there were quantities of large cards, wound round with Valenciennes,
Malines, and hand-made point At the further end two ladies were seated
before a mauve silk skirt, on which Deloche was placing pieces of
Chantilly, the ladies looking on silently, without making up their
“Hallo!” said De Vallagnosc, quite surprised, “you said Madame de Boves
was unwell. But there she is standing over there near that counter, with
Mademoiselle Blanche.”
The count could not help starting back, and casting a side glance at
Madame Guibal.
“Dear me! so she is,” said he.
It was very warm in this room. The customers, half stifled, had pale
faces with flaming eyes. It seemed as if all the seductions of the shop
had converged into this supreme temptation, that it was the secluded
alcove where the customers were doomed to fall, the corner of
perdition where the strongest must succumb. Hands were plunged into the
overflowing heaps, retaining an intoxicating trembling from the contact.
“I fancy those ladies are ruining you,” resumed De Vallagnosc, amused at
the meeting.
Monsieur de Boves assumed the look of a husband perfectly sure of his
wife’s discretion, from the simple fact that he did not give her a sou
to spend. The latter, after having wandered through all the departments
with her daughter, without buying anything, had just stranded in the
lace department in a rage of unsated desire. Half dead with fatigue, she
was leaning up against the counter. She dived about in a heap of lace,
her hands became soft, a warmth penetrated as far as her shoulders. Then
suddenly, just as her daughter turned her head and the salesman went
away, she was thinking of slipping a piece of point d’Alençon under her
mantle. But she shuddered, and dropped it, on hearing De Vallagnosc’s
voice saying gaily:
“Ah! we’ve caught you, madame.”
For several seconds she stood there speechless and pale. Then she
explained that, feeling much better, she thought she would take a
stroll. And on noticing that her husband was with Madame Guibal, she
quite recovered herself, and looked at them with such a dignified air
that the other lady felt obliged to say:
“I was with Madame Desforges when these gentlemen met us.”
The other ladies came up just at that moment, accompanied by Mouret,
who again detained them to point out Jouve the inspector, who was still
following the woman in the family way and her lady friend. It was very
curious, they could not form any idea of the number of thieves that were
arrested in the lace department. Madame de Boves, who was listening,
fancied herself between two gendarmes, with her forty-six years, her
luxury, and her husband’s fine position; but yet she felt no remorse,
thinking she ought to have slipped the lace up her sleeve. Jouve,
however, had just decided to lay hold of the woman in the family way,
despairing of catching her in the act, but fully suspecting her of
having filled her pockets, with a sleight of hand which had escaped him.
But when he had taken her aside and searched her, he was wild to find
nothing on her–not a cravat, not a button. Her friend had disappeared.
All at once he understood: the woman in the family way was only there as
a blind; it was the friend who did the trick.
This affair amused the ladies. Mouret, rather vexed, merely said: “Old
Jouve has been floored this time. He’ll have his revenge.”
“Oh!” replied De Vallognosc, “I don’t think he’s equal to it. Besides,
why do you display such a quantity of goods? It serves you right, if you
are robbed. You ought not to tempt these poor, defenceless women so.”
This was the last word, which sounded like the sharp note of the day,
in the growing fever of the establishment. The ladies then separated,
crossing the crowded departments for the last time. It was four o’clock,
the rays of the setting sun were darting through the large windows in
the front, lighting up crossways the glazed roofs of the halls, and in
this red, fiery light sprung up, like a golden vapour, the thick dust
raised by the circulation of the crowd. A broad ray ran along the grand
central gallery, showing up on a flaming ground the staircases, the
flying bridges, all the network of suspended iron. The mosaics and the
terra-cotta of the friezes sparkled, the green andred paint were lighted
up by the fire of the masses of gold scattered everywhere. It was like a
red-hot furnace, in which the displays were now burning, the palaces of
gloves and cravats, the clusters of ribbons and lace, the lofty piles of
linen and calico, the diapered parterres in which flourished the light
silks and foulards. The exhibition of parasols, with their shield-like
roundness, threw out a sort of metallic reflection. In the distance were
a lot of lost counters, sparkling, swarming with a moving crowd, ablaze
with sunshine.
And at this last moment, amidst this over-warmed air, the women reigned
supreme. They had taken the whole place by storm, camping there as in
a conquered country, like an invading horde installed amongst the
overhauling of the goods. The salesmen, deafened, knocked up, were
now nothing but their slaves, of whom they disposed with a sovereign’s
tyranny. Fat women elbowed their way through the crowd. The thinnest
ones took up a lot of space, and became quite arrogant. They were all
there, with heads high and abrupt gestures, quite at home, without the
slightest politeness one for the other, using the house as much as they
could, even carrying away the dust from the walls. Madame Bourdelais,
desirous of making up for her expenditure, had again taken her children
to the refreshment bar; the crowd was now pushing about there in a
furious way, even the mothers were gorging themselves with Malaga; they
had drunk since the opening eighty quarts of syrup and seventy bottles
of wine. After having bought her travelling cloak, Madame Desforges
had managed to secure some pictures at the pay-desk; and she went away
scheming to get Denise into her house, where she could humiliate
her before Mouret himself, so as to see their faces and arrive at a
conclusion. Whilst Monsieur de Boves succeeded in losing himself in the
crowd and disappearing with Madame Guibal, Madame de Boves, followed by
Blanche and De Vallagnosc, had had the fancy to ask for a red air-ball,
although she had bought nothing. It was always something, she would not
go away empty-handed, she would make a friend of her doorkeeper’s little
girl with it. At the distributing counter they were just commencing the
fortieth thousand: forty thousand red air-balls which had taken flight
in the warm air of the shop, quite a cloud of red air-balls which were
now floating from one end of Paris to the other, bearing upwards to the
sky the name of The Ladies’ Paradise!
Five o’clock struck. Of all the ladies, Madame Marty and her daughter
were the only ones to remain, in the final crisis of the sale. She could
not tear herself away, although ready to drop with fatigue, retained by
an attraction so strong that she was continually retracing her steps,
though wanting nothing, wandering about the departments out of a
curiosity that knew no bounds. It was the moment in which the crowd,
goaded on by the advertisements, completely lost itself; the sixty
thousand francs paid to the newspapers, the ten thousand bills posted on
the walls, the two hundred thousand catalogues distributed all over the
world, after having emptied their purses, left in the women’s minds the
shock of their intoxication; and the customers still remained, shaken by
Mouret’s other inventions, the reduction of prices, the “returns,” the
endless gallantries. Madame Marty lingered before the various stalls,
amidst the hoarse cries of the salesmen, the chinking of the gold at the
pay-desks, and the rolling of the parcels down into the basement; she
again traversed the ground floor, the linen, the silk, the glove,
and the woollen departments; then she went upstairs again, abandoning
herself to the metallic vibrations of the suspended staircases and the
flying-bridges, returning to the ready-made, the under-linen, and
the lace departments; she even ascended to the second floor, into the
heights of the bedding and furniture department; and everywhere the
employees, Hutin and Favier, Mignot and Liénard, Deloche, Pauline and
Denise, nearly dead with fatigue, were making a last effort, snatching
victories from the expiring fever of the customers. This fever had
gradually increased since the morning, like the intoxication arising
from the tumbling of the stuffs. The crowd shone forth under the fiery
glare of the five o’clock sun. Madame Marty’s face was now animated and
nervous, like that of an infant after drinking pure wine. Arrived with
clear eyes and fresh skin from the cold of the street, she had slowly
burnt her sight and complexion, at the spectacle of this luxury, of
these violent colours, the continued gallop of which irritated her
passion. When she at last went away, after saying she would pay at home,
terrified by the amount of her bill, her features were drawn up, her
eyes were like those of a sick person. She was obliged to fight her way
through the crowd at the door, where the people were almost killing each
other, amidst the struggle for the bargains. Then, when she got into
the street, and found her daughter, whom she had lost for a moment, the
fresh air made her shiver, she stood there frightened in the disorder of
this neurosis of the immense establishments.
In the evening, as Denise was returning from dinner, a messenger called
her: “You are wanted at the director’s office, mademoiselle.”
She had forgotten the order Mouret had given her in the morning, to go
to his office after the sale. He was standing waiting for her. On going
in she did not close the door, which remained, wide open.
“We are very pleased with you, mademoiselle,” said he, “and we have
thought of proving our satisfaction. You know in what a shameful manner
Madame Frédéric has left us. From to-morrow you will take her place as
Denise listened to him immovable with surprise. She murmured in a
trembling voice: “But, sir, there are saleswomen in the department who
are much my seniors.”
“What does that matter?” resumed he. “You are the most capable, the most
trustworthy. I choose you; it’s quite natural. Are you not satisfied?”
She blushed, feeling a delicious happiness and embarrassment, in
which her first fright vanished. Why had she at once thought of the
suppositions with which this unhoped for favour would be received? And
she stood filled with her confusion, notwithstanding her sudden burst of
gratitude. He was looking at her with a smile, in her simple silk dress,
without a single piece of jewellery, nothing but the luxury of her
royal, blonde head of hair. She had become more refined, her skin was
whiter, her manner delicate and grave. Her former puny insignificance
was developing into a charm of a penetrating discretion.
“You are very kind, sir,” she stammered. “I don’t know how to tell
But she was cut short by the appearance of Lhomme in the doorway. In his
hand he was holding a large leather bag, and with his mutilated arm he
was pressing an enormous notecase to his chest; whilst, behind him, his
son Albert was carrying a load of bags, which were weighing him down.
“Five hundred and eighty-seven thousand two hundred and ten francs
thirty centimes!” cried out the cashier, whose flabby, used-up face
seemed to be lighted up with a ray of sunshine, in the reflection of
such a sum.
It was the day’s receipts, the highest The Ladies’ Paradise had ever
done. In the distance, in the depths of the shop that Lhomme had just
passed through slowly, with the heavy gait of an overloaded beast of
burden, one could hear the uproar, the ripple of surprise and joy, left
by this colossal sum which passed.
“But it’s superb!” said Mouret, enchanted. “My good Lhomme, put it down
there, and take a rest, for you look quite done up. I’ll have this money
taken to the central cashier’s office. Yes, yes, put it all on my table,
I want to see the heap.”
He was full of a childish gaiety. The cashier and his son laid down
their burdens. The leather bag gave out a clear, golden ring, two of the
other bags bursting let out a stream of silver and copper, whilst from
the note-case peeped forth corners of bank notes. One end of the large
table was entirely covered; it was like the tumbling of a fortune picked
up in ten hours.
When Lhomme and Albert had retired, mopping their faces, Mouret remained
for a moment motionless, lost, his eyes fixed on the money. Then,
raising his head, he perceived Denise, who had drawn back. He began to
smile again, forced her to come forward, and finished by saying he
would give her all she could take in her hand; and there was a sort of
love-bargain beneath his playfulness.
“Look! out of the bag. I bet it would be less than a thousand francs,
your hand is so small!”
But she drew back again. He loved her, then? Suddenly she understood,
she felt the growing flame of desire with which he had enveloped her
since, her return to the shop. What overcame her more than anything else
was to feel her heart beating violently. Why did he wound her with all
this money, when she was overflowing with gratitude, and he could have
done anything with her by a friendly word? He was coming closer to her,
continuing to joke, when, to his great annoyance, Bourdoncle appeared,
under the pretence of informing him of the number of entries–the
enormous number of seventy thousand customers had entered The Ladies’
Paradise that day. And she hastened away, after having again thanked