Go and join the man you love

The Rue du Dix-Décembre, looking quite new with its chalk-white houses
and the final scaffoldings of some nearly finished buildings, stretched
out beneath a clear February sun; a stream of carriages was passing at
a rattling pace through this gleam of light, which traversed the
damp shadow of the old Saint-Roch quarter; and, between the Rue de
la Michodière and the Rue de Choiseul, there was a great tumult, the
crushing of a crowd excited by a month’s advertising, their eyes in
the air, gaping at the monumental façade of The Ladies’ Paradise,
inaugurated that Monday, on the occasion of a grand show of white goods.
The bright new masonry displayed a vast development of polychromatic
architecture, relieved by gildings, announcing the tumult and sparkle
of the business inside, and attracting attention like a gigantic
window-display all aglow with the liveliest colours. In order not to
neutralise the show of goods, the decoration of the ground floor was of
a sober description; the base of sea-green marble; the corner pillars
and the supporting columns were covered with black marble, the severity
of which was relieved by gilded medallions; and the rest of plate-glass,
in iron sashes, nothing but glass, which seemed to open up the depths
of the halls and galleries to the full light of day. But as the floors
ascended, the tones became brighter. The frieze on the ground floor was
decorated with a series of mosaics, a garland of red and blue flowers,
alternating with marble slabs, on which were cut the names of goods,
running all round, encircling the colossus. Then the base of the first
floor, made of enamelled bricks, supported the large windows, as high as
the frieze, formed of gilded escutcheons, with the arms of the towns of
France, and designs in terra-cotta, the enamel of which reproduced
the bright coloured flowers of the base. Then, right at the top, the
entablature blossomed forth like the ardent florescence of the entire
façade, the mosaics and the faience reappeared with warmer colourings,
the zinc gutters were carved and gilded, while along the acroteria ran
a nation of statues, representing the great industrial and manufacturing
cities, their delicate silhouettes standing out against the sky. The
spectators were especially astonished at the sight of the central door,
also decorated with a profusion of mosaics, faience, and terra-cotta,
and surmounted by an allegorical group, the new gilding of which
glittered in the sun: Woman dressed and kissed by a flight of laughing
About two o’clock the police were obliged to make the crowd move on, and
to look after the carriages. The palace was built, the temple raised to
the extravagant folly of fashion. It dominated everything, covering
a whole district with its shadow. The scar left on its flank by the
demolition of Bourras’s hovel had already been so skilfully cicatrised
that it would have been impossible to find the place formerly occupied
by this old wart–the four façades now ran along the four streets,
without a break in their superb isolation. Since Baudu’s retirement, The
Old Elbeuf, on the other side of the way, had been closed, walled up like
a tomb, behind the shutters that were never now taken down; little by
little the cab-wheels had splashed them, posters covered them up and
pasted them together, a rising tide of advertising, which seemed like
the last shovelful of earth thrown over the old-fashioned commerce; and,
in the middle of this dead frontage, dirtied by the mud from the street,
discoloured by the refuse of Paris, was displayed, like a flag planted
over a conquered empire, an immense yellow poster, quite wet, announcing
in letters two feet high the great sale at The Ladies’ Paradise. It
was as if the colossus, after each enlargement, seized with shame and
repugnance for the black old quarter, where it had modestly sprung up,
and that it had later on slaughtered, had just turned its back to it,
leaving the mud of the narrow streets in its track, presenting its
upstart face to the noisy, sunny thoroughfare of new Paris.
As it was now represented in the engraving of the advertisements, it had
grown bigger and bigger, like the ogre of the legend, whose shoulders
threatened to pierce the clouds. In the first place, in the foreground
of the engraving, were the Rue du Dix-Décembre, the Rue de la
Michodière, and the Rue de Choiseul, filled with little black figures,
and spread out immoderately, as if to make room for the customers of the
whole world. Then came a bird’s eye view of the buildings themselves,
of an exaggerated immensity, with their roofings which described the
covered galleries, the glazed courtyards in which could be recognised
the halls, the endless detail of this lake of glass and zinc shining in
the sun. Beyond, stretched forth Paris, but Paris diminished, eaten
up by the monster: the houses, of a cottage-like humility in the
neighbourhood of the building, then dying away in a cloud of indistinct
chimneys; the monuments seemed to melt into nothing, to the left
two dashes for Notre-Dame, to the right a circumflex accent for the
Invalides, in the background the Pantheon, ashamed and lost, no larger
than a lentil. The horizon, crumbled into powder, became no more than
a contemptible frame-work, as far as the heights of Châtillon, out
into the open country, the vanishing expanse of which indicated how far
reached the state of slavery.
Ever since the morning the crowd had been increasing. No shop had ever
yet stirred up the city with such a profusion of advertisements. The
Ladies’ Paradise now spent nearly six hundred thousand francs a year
in posters, advertisements, and appeals of all sorts; the number of
catalogues sent away amounted to four hundred thousand, more than a
hundred thousand francs’ worth of stuff was cut up for patterns. It was
a complete invasion of the newspapers, the walls, and the ears of the
public, like a monstrous brass trumpet, which, blown incessantly, spread
to the four corners of the earth the tumult of the great sales. And, for
the future, this façade, before which people were now crowding, became
a living advertisement, with its bespangled, gilded magnificence, its
windows large enough to display the entire poem of woman’s clothing, its
profusion of signs, painted, engraved, and cut in stone, from the
marble slabs on the ground floor to the sheets of iron rounded off in
semicircles above the roof, unfolding their gilded streamers on which
the name of the house could be read in letters bright as the sun,
standing out against the azure blue of the sky.
To celebrate the inauguration, there had been added trophies and flags;
each storey was gay with banners and standards bearing the arms of
the principal cities of France; and right at the top, the flags of all
nations, run up on masts, fluttered in the air, while the show of cotton
and linen goods downstairs assumed in the windows a tone of blinding
intensity. Nothing but white, a complete trousseau, and a mountain of
sheets to the left, a lot of curtains forming a chapel, and pyramids
of handkerchiefs to the right, fatigued the eyes; and, between the
hung goods at the door, whole pieces of cotton, calico, and muslin in
clusters, like snow-drifts, were planted some dressed engravings, sheets
of bluish cardboard, on which a young bride, or a lady in ball costume,
both life size and dressed in real lace and silk, smiled with their
painted faces. A circle of idlers was constantly forming, a desire arose
from the admiration of the crowd.
What caused an increase of curiosity around The Ladies’ Paradise was a
catastrophe of which all Paris was talking, the burning down of The Four
Seasons, the big shop Bouthemont had opened near the Opera-house, hardly
three weeks before. The newspapers were full of details, of the fire
breaking out through an explosion of gas during the night, the hurried
flight of the young ladies in their night-dresses, and the heroic
conduct of Bouthemont, who had carried five of them out on his
shoulders. The enormous losses were covered, and the people commenced to
shrug their shoulders, saying what a splendid advertisement it was.
But for the moment attention again flowed back to The Ladies’ Paradise,
excited by all these stories flying about, occupied to a wonderful
extent by these colossal establishments, which by their importance took
up such a large place in public life. Wonderfully lucky, this Mouret!
Paris saluted her star, and crowded to see him still standing, since
the very flames now undertook to sweep all competition from beneath
his feet; and the profits of the season were already being calculated,
people began to estimate the swollen flood of customers which would
be sent into his shop by the forced closing of the rival house. For a
moment he had felt anxious, troubled at feeling a jealous woman against
him, that Madame Desforges, to whom he owed in a manner his fortune.
Baron Hartmann’s financial dilettantism, putting money into the two
affairs, annoyed him also. Then he was exasperated at having missed a
genial idea which had occurred to Bouthemont, who had artfully had his
shop blessed by the vicar of the Madeleine, followed by all his
clergy; an astonishing ceremony, a religious pomp paraded from the
silk department to the glove department, and so on throughout the
establishment. This imposing ceremony had not, it is true, prevented
everything being destroyed, but had done as much good as a million
francs’ worth of advertisements, so great an impression had it produced
on the fashionable world. From that day, Mouret dreamed of having the
The clock over the door was striking three, and the afternoon crush had
commenced, nearly a hundred thousand customers were struggling in the
various galleries and halls. Outside, the carriages were stationed from
one end of the Rue du Dix-Décembre to the other, and over against the
Opera-house another compact mass occupied the _cul-de-sac_, where the
future avenue was to commence. Common cabs were mingled with private
broughams, the drivers waiting amongst the wheels, the rows of horses
neighing and shaking their bits, which sparkled in the sun. The lines
were incessantly reformed, amidst the calls of the messengers, the
poshing of the animals which closed in of their own accord, whilst fresh
vehicles were continually arriving and taking their places with the
rest. The pedestrians flew on to the refuges in frightened bands, the
pavements were black with people, in the receding perspective of the
wide and straight thoroughfare. And a clamour arose from between
the white houses, this human stream rolled along under the soul of
overflowing Paris, a sweet and enormous breath, of which one could feel
the giant caress.
Madame de Boves, accompanied by her daughter Blanche and Madame
Guibal, was standing, at a window, looking at a display of half made up
“Oh! do look,” said she, “at those print costumes at nineteen francs
fifteen sous!”
In their square boxes, the costumes, tied round with a favour, were
folded so as to present the trimmings alone, embroidered with blue and
red; and, occupying the corner of each box, was an engraving showing the
garment made up, worn by a young person looking like some princess.
“But they are not worth more,” murmured Madame Guibal. “They fall into
rags as soon as you handle them.”
They had now become intimate since Monsieur de Boves had been confined
to his arm-chair by an attack of gout. The wife put up with the
mistress, preferring that things should take place in her own house, for
in this way she picked up a little pocket money, sums that the husband
allowed himself to be robbed of, having, himself, need of forbearance.
“Well! let’s go in,” resumed Madame Guibal “We must see their show.
Hasn’t your son-in-law made an appointment with you inside?”
Madame de Boves did not reply, entirely absorbed by the string of
carriages, which, one by one, opened their doors and let out more
“Yes,” said Blanche, at last, in her indolent voice. “Paul is to join us
about four o’clock in the reading-room, on leaving the ministry.”
They had been married about a month, and De Vallagnosc, after a leave of
absence of three weeks, spent in the South of France, had just returned
to his post. The young woman had already her mother’s portly look, and
her flesh appeared puffed up and coarser since her marriage.
“But there’s Madame Desforges over there!” exclaimed the countess,
looking at a brougham that had just arrived.
“Do you think so?” murmured Madame Guibal. “After all those stories! She
must still be weeping over the fire at The Four Seasons.”
It was really Henriette. On perceiving her friends, she came up with a
gay, smiling air, concealing her defeat beneath the fashionable ease of
her manner.
“Dear me! yes, I wanted to have a look round. It’s better to see for
one’s self, isn’t it? Oh! we are still good friends with Monsieur
Mouret, though he is said to be furious since I have interested myself
in that rival house. Personally, there is only one thing I cannot
forgive him, and that is, to have pushed on the marriage of my protege,
Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, with that Joseph—-”
“What! it’s done?” interrupted Madame de Boves. “What a horror!”
“Yes, my dear, and solely to annoy us. I know him; he wished to intimate
that the daughters of our great families are only fit to marry his shop
She was getting quite animated. They had all four remained on the
pavement, amidst the pushing at the entrance. Little by little, however,
the stream carried them in; and they had only to abandon themselves
to the current, they passed the door as if lifted up, without being
conscious of it, talking louder to make themselves heard. They were now
asking each other about Madame Marty; it was said that poor Monsieur
Marty, after violent scenes at home, had gone quite mad; he was diving
into all the treasures of the earth, exhausting mines of gold, loading
tumbrils with diamonds and precious stones.
“Poor fellow!” said Madame Guibal, “he who was always so shabby, with
his teacher’s humility! And the wife?”
“She’s ruining an uncle, now,” replied Henriette, “a worthy old man who
has gone to live with her, having lost his wife. But she must be here,
we shall see her.”
A surprise made the ladies stop short. Before them extended the shop,
the largest drapery establishment in the world, as the advertisements
said. The grand central gallery now ran from end to end, extending from
the Rue du Dix-Décembre to the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; whilst to the
right and to the left, like the aisles of a church, ran the Monsigny
Gallery and the Michodière Gallery, right along the two streets, without
a break. Here and there the halls crossed and formed open spaces amidst
the metallic framework of the suspended stairs and flying bridges. The
inside arrangements had been all changed: the bargains were now placed
on the Rue du Dix-Décembre side, the silk department was in the centre,
the glove department occupied the Saint-Augustin Hall at the back; and,
from the new grand vestibule, one beheld, on looking up, the bedding
department, moved from one end of the second floor to the other. The
number of departments now amounted to the enormous figure of fifty;
several, quite fresh, were to be inaugurated that very day; others,
become too important, had been simply divided, in order to facilitate
the sales; and, owing to this continual increase of business, the staff
had been increased to three thousand and forty-five employees.
What caused the ladies to stop was the prodigious spectacle of the grand
exhibition of white goods. In the first place, there was the vestibule,
a hall with bright mirrors, paved with mosaics, where the low-priced
goods detained the voracious crowd. Then there were the galleries,
plunged in a glittering blaze of light, a borealistic vista, quite a
country of snow, revealing the endless steppes hung with ermine, the
accumulation of icebergs shimmering in the sun. One found there the
whiteness of the outside windows, but vivified, colossal, burning from
one end of the enormous building to the other, with the white flame of a
fire in full swing. Nothing but white goods, all the white articles from
each department, a riot of white, a white star, the twinkling of which
was at first blinding, so that the details could not be distinguished
amidst this unique whiteness. But the eye soon became accustomed to it;
to the left, in the Monsigny Gallery, jutted out the white promontories
of cotton and calico, the white rocks formed of sheets, napkins, and
handkerchiefs; whilst to the right, in the Michodière Gallery, occupied
by the mercery, the hosiery, and the woollen goods, were exposed
constructions of mother of pearl buttons, a pretty decoration composed
of white socks, one whole room covered with white swanskin, traversed
in the distance by a stream of light. But the brightness shone with
especial brilliancy in the central gallery, amidst the ribbons and the
cravats, the gloves and the silks. The counters disappeared beneath the
whiteness of the silks, the ribbons, and the gloves.
Round the iron columns were twined flounces of white muslin, looped
up now and again with white silk handkerchiefs. The staircases were
decorated with white drapings, quiltings and dimities alternating along
the balustrades, encircling the halls as high as the second storey; and
this tide of white assumed wings, hurried off and lost itself, like a
flight of swans. And the white hung from the arches, a fall of down, a
snowy sheet of large flakes; white counterpanes, white coverlets floated
about in the air, suspended like banners in a church; long jets
of Maltese lace hung across, seeming to suspend swarms of white
butterflies; other lace fluttered about on all sides, floating like
fleecy clouds in a summer sky, filling the air with their clear breath.
And the marvel, the altar of this religion of white was, above the silk
counter, in the great hall, a tent formed of white curtains, which fell
from the glazed roof. The muslin, the gauze, the lace flowed in light
ripples, whilst very richly embroidered tulles, and pieces of oriental
silk striped with silver, served as a background to this giant
decoration, which partook of the tabernacle and of the alcove. It made
one think of a broad white bed, awaiting in its virginal immensity
the white princess, as in the legend, she who was to come one day, all
powerful, with the bride’s white veil.
“Oh! extraordinary!” repeated the ladies. “Wonderful!”
They never tired of this song in praise of white that the goods of the
entire establishment were singing. Mouret had never conceived anything
more extraordinary; it was the master stroke of his genius for display.
Beneath the flow of all this whiteness, in the apparent disorder of
the tissues, fallen as if by chance from the open drawers, there was a
harmonious phrase, the white followed up and developed in all its
tones, springing into existence, growing, and blossoming forth with the
complicated orchestration of a master’s fugue, the continual development
of which carries away the mind in an ever-increasing flight. Nothing but
white, and never the same goods, all styles outvying with, opposing, and
completing one another, attaining the very brilliancy of light itself.
Starting from the dull shades of the calico and linen, and the heavy
shades of the flannel and cloth, there then came the velvet, silk, and
satin goods–quite an ascending gamut, the white gradually lighted up,
finishing in little flames at the breaks of the folds; and the white
flew away in the transparencies of the curtains, becoming free and clear
with the muslin, the lace, and above all the tulle, so light and airy
that it was like the extreme and last note; whilst the silver of the
oriental silk sung higher than all in the depths of the giant alcove.
The place was full of life. The lifts were besieged with people, there
was a crush at the refreshment-bar and in the reading-room, quite a
nation was moving about in these regions covered with the snowy fabrics.
And the crowd seemed to be black, like skaters on a Polish lake in
December. On the ground floor there was a heavy swell, agitated by a
reflux, in which could be distinguished nothing but the delicate and
enraptured faces of the women. In the chisellings of the iron framework,
along the staircases, on the flying bridges, there was an endless
procession of small figures, as if lost amidst the snowy peaks of a
mountain. A suffocating hot-house heat surprised one on these frozen
heights. The buzz of voices made a great noise like a rushing stream. Up
above, the profusion of gildings, the glazed work picked out with gold,
and the golden roses seemed like a ray of the sun shining on the Alps of
the grand exhibition of white goods.
“Come,” said Madame de Boves, “we must go forward. It’s impossible to
stay here.”
Since she came in, Jouve, the inspector, standing near the door, had not
taken his eyes off her; and when she turned round she encountered his
gaze. Then, as she resumed her walk, he let her get a little in front,
but followed her at a distance, without, however, appearing to take any
further notice of her.
“Ah!” said Madame Guibal, stopping again as she came to the first
pay-desk, “it’s a pretty idea, these violets!”
She referred to the new present made by The Ladies’ Paradise, one of
Mouret’s ideas, which was making a great noise in the newspapers; small
bouquets of white violets, bought by thousands at Nice and distributed
to every customer buying the smallest article. Near each pay-desk were
messengers in uniform, delivering the bouquets under the supervision
of an inspector. And gradually all the customers were decorated in this
way, the shop was filling with these white flowers, every woman becoming
the bearer of a penetrating perfume of violets.
“Yes,” murmured Madame Desforges, in a jealous voice, “it’s not a bad
But, just as they were going away, they heard two shopmen joking about
these violets. A tall, thin fellow was expressing his astonishment:
the marriage between the governor and the first-hand in the costume
department was coming off, then? whilst a short, fat fellow replied that
he didn’t know, but that the flowers were bought at any rate.
“What!” exclaimed Madame de Boves, “Monsieur Mouret is going to marry?”
“That’s the latest news,” replied Madame Desforges, affecting the
greatest indifference. “Of course, he’s sure to end like that.”
The countess shot a quick glance at her new friend. They both now
understood why Madame Desforges had come to The Ladies’ Paradise
notwithstanding her rupture with Mouret. No doubt she yielded to the
invincible desire to see and to suffer.
“I shall stay with you,” said Madame Guibal, whose curiosity was
awakened. “We shall meet Madame de Boves again in the reading-room.”
“Very good,” replied the latter. “I want to go on the first floor. Come
along, Blanche.” And she went up followed by her daughter, whilst Jouve,
the inspector, still on her track, ascended by another staircase, in
order not to attract attention. The two other ladies were soon lost in
the compact crowd on the ground floor.
All the counters were talking of nothing else but the governor’s love
affairs, amidst the press of business. The adventure, which had
for months been occupying the employees, delighted at Denise’s long
resistance, had all at once come to a crisis; it had become known that
the young girl intended to leave The Ladies’ Paradise, notwithstanding
all Mouret’s entreaties, under the pretext of requiring rest. And the
opinions were divided. Would she leave? Would she stay? Bets of five
francs circulated from department to department that she would leave the
following Sunday. The knowing ones staked a lunch on the final marriage;
however, the others, those who believed in her departure, did not risk
their money without good reasons. Certainly the little girl had the
strength of an adored woman who refuses, but the governor, on his side,
was strong in his wealth, his happy widowerhood, and his pride which a
last exaction might exasperate. Nevertheless, they were all of opinion
that this little saleswoman had carried on the business with the science
of a _rouée_, full of genius, and that she was playing the supreme stake
in thus offering him this bargain: Marry me or I go away.
Denise, however, thought but little of these things. She had never
imposed any conditions or made any calculation. And the reason of her
departure was the result of this very judgment of her conduct, which
caused her continual surprise. Had she wished for all this? Had she
shown herself artful, coquettish, ambitious? No, she had come simply,
and was the first to feel astonished at inspiring this passion. And
again, now, why did they ascribe her resolution to quit The Ladies’
Paradise to craftiness? It was so natural! She began to feel a nervous
uneasiness, an intolerable anguish, amidst this continual gossip which
was going on in the house, Mouret’s feverish pursuit of her, and the
combats she was obliged to engage in against herself; and she preferred
to go away, seized with fear lest she might one day yield and regret it
for ever afterwards. If there were in this any learned tactics, she was
totally ignorant of it, and she asked herself in despair what was to
be done to avoid appearing to be running after a husband. The idea of a
marriage now irritated her, and she resolved to say no, and still no, in
case he should push his folly to that extent. She alone ought to suffer.
The necessity for the separation caused her tears to flow, but she told
herself, with her great courage, that it was necessary, that she would
have no rest or happiness if she acted in any other way.
When Mouret received her resignation, he remained mute and cold, in the
effort which he made to contain himself. Then he replied that he granted
her a week’s reflection, before allowing her to commit such a stupid
act. At the expiration of the week, when she returned to the subject,
and expressed a strong wish to go away after the great sale, he said
nothing further, but affected to talk the language of reason to her: she
had little or no fortune, she would never find another position equal to
that she was leaving. Had she another situation in view? If so, he
was quite prepared to offer her the advantages she expected to obtain
elsewhere. And the young girl having replied that she had not looked
for any other situation, that she intended to take a rest at Valognes,
thanks to the money she had already saved, he asked her what would
prevent her returning to The Ladies’ Paradise if her health alone were
the reason of her departure. She remained silent, tortured by this
cross-examination. He at once imagined that she was about to join
a lover, a future husband perhaps. Had she not confessed to him one
evening that she loved some one? From that moment he carried deep in his
heart, like the stab of a knife, this confession wrung from her in an
hour of trouble. And if this man was to marry her, she was giving up
all to follow him: that explained her obstinacy. It was all over, and he
simply added in his icy tones, that he would detain her no longer, since
she could not tell him the real cause of her leaving. These harsh words,
free from anger, affected her far more than the anger she had feared.
Throughout the week that Denise was obliged to spend in the shop, Mouret
kept his rigid paleness. When he crossed the departments, he affected
not to see her, never had he seemed more indifferent, more buried in his
work; and the bets began again, only the brave ones dared to back the
marriage. However, beneath this coldness, so unusual with him, Mouret
concealed a frightful crisis of indecision and suffering. Fits of anger
brought the blood to his head: he saw red, he dreamed of taking Denise
in a close embrace, keeping her, and stifling her cries. Then he tried
to reason with himself, to find some practical means of preventing her
going away; but he constantly ran up against his powerlessness, the
uselessness of his power and money. An idea, however, was growing amidst
his mad projects, and gradually imposing itself, notwithstanding his
revolt. After Madame Hédouin’s death he had sworn never to marry again;
deriving from a woman his first good fortune, he resolved in future to
draw his fortune from all women. It was with him, as with Bourdoncle,
a superstition that the head of a great drapery establishment should
be single, if he wished to retain his masculine power over the growing
desires of his world of customers; the introduction of a woman changed
the air, drove away the others, by bringing her own odour. And he still
resisted the invincible logic of facts, preferring to die rather than
yield, seized with sudden bursts of fury against Denise, feeling
that she was the revenge, fearing he should fall vanquished over his
millions, broken like a straw by the eternal feminine force, the day he
should marry her. Then he slowly became cowardly again, dismissing his
repugnance; why tremble? she was so sweet-tempered, so prudent, that
he could abandon himself to her without fear. Twenty times an hour the
battle recommenced in his distracted mind. His pride tended to aggravate
the wound, and he completely lost his reason when he thought that,
even after this last submission, she might still say no, if she loved
another. The morning of the great sale, he had still not decided on
anything, and Denise was to leave the next day.
When Bourdoncle, on the day in question, entered Mouret’s office about
three o’clock, according to custom, he surprised him sitting with his
elbows on the desk, his hands over his eyes, so greatly absorbed that he
had to touch him on the shoulder. Mouret glanced up, his face bathed
in tears; they both looked at each other, held out their hands, and a
hearty grip was exchanged between these two men who had fought so
many commercial battles side by side. For the past month Bourdoncle’s
attitude had completely changed; he now bowed before Denise, and even
secretly pushed the governor on to a marriage with her. No doubt he was
thus manoeuvring to save himself being swept away by a force which
he now recognised as superior. But there could have been found at the
bottom of this change the awakening of an old ambition, the timid and
gradually growing hope to swallow up in his turn this Mouret, before
whom he had so long bowed. This was in the air of the house, in this
struggle for existence, of which the continued massacres warmed up the
business around him. He was carried away by the working of the machine,
seized by the others’ appetites, by that voracity which, from top to
bottom, drove the lean ones to the extermination of the fat ones. But
a sort of religions fear, the religion of chance, had up to that
time prevented him making the attempt. And the governor was becoming
childish, drifting into a ridiculous marriage, ruining his luck,
destroying his charm with the customers. Why should he dissuade him from
it, when he could so easily take up the business of this played-out
man, fallen into the arms of a woman? Thus it was with the emotion of
an adieu, the pity of an old friendship, that he shook his chiefs hand,
“Come, come, courage! Marry her, and finish the matter.”
Mouret already felt ashamed of his moment of cowardice, and got up,
protesting: “No, no, it’s too stupid. Come, let’s take our turn round
the shop. Things are looking well, aren’t they? I fancy we shall have a
magnificent day.”
They went out and commenced their afternoon inspection through the
crowded departments. Bourdoncle cast oblique glances at him, anxious at
this last display of energy, watching his lips to catch the least sign
of suffering. The business was in fact throwing forth its fire, in an
infernal roar, which made the house tremble with the violent shaking of
a big steamer going at full speed. At Denise’s counter were a crowd of
mothers dragging along their little girls and boys, swamped beneath the
garments they were trying on. The department had brought out all its
white articles, and there, as everywhere else, was a riot of white,
enough to dress in white a troop of shivering cupids, white cloth
cloaks, white piques and cashmere dresses, sailor costumes, and even
white Zouave costumes. In the centre, for the sake of the effect,
and although the season had not arrived, was a display of communion
costumes, the white muslin dress and veil, the white satin shoes, a
light gushing florescence, which, planted there, produced the effect of
an enormous bouquet of innocence and candid delight. Madame Bourdelais
was there with her three children, Madeleine, Edmond, Lucien, seated
according to their size, and was getting angry with the latter, the
smallest, because he was struggling with Denise, who was trying to put a
woollen muslin jacket on him.
“Keep still, Lucien! Don’t you think it’s rather tight, mademoiselle?”
And with the sharp look of a woman difficult to deceive, she examined
the stuff, studied the cut, and scrutinized the stitching. “No, it fits
well,” she resumed. “It’s no trifle to dress all these little ones. Now
I want a mantle for this young lady.”
Denise had been obliged to assist in serving during the busy moments of
the day. She was looking for the mantle required, when she set up a cry
of surprise.
“What! It’s you; what’s the matter?”
Her brother Jean, holding a parcel in his hand, was standing before
her. He had married a week before, and on the Saturday his wife, a dark
little woman, with a provoking, charming face, had paid a long visit to
The Ladies’ Paradise to make some purchases. The young people were
to accompany Denise to Valognes, a regular marriage trip, a month’s
holiday, which would remind them of old times.
“Just imagine,” said he, “Thérèse has forgotten a lot of things. There
are some articles to be changed, and others to be bought. So, as she was
in a hurry, she sent me with this parcel. I’ll explain—-”
But she interrupted him on perceiving Pépé, “What; Pépé as well! and his
“Well,” said Jean, “after dinner on Sunday I had not the heart to
take him back. He will go back this evening. The poor child is very
downhearted at being shut up in Paris whilst we are enjoying ourselves
at home.”
Denise smiled on them, in spite of her suffering. She handed over Madame
Bourdelais to one of her young ladies, and came back to them in a corner
of the department, which was, fortunately, getting deserted. The little
ones, as she still called them, had now grown to be big fellows. Pépé,
twelve years old, was already taller and bigger than her, still silent
and living on caresses, of a charming, cajolling sweetness; whilst Jean,
broad-shouldered, was quite a head taller than his sister, and still
possessed his feminine beauty, with his blonde hair blowing about in the
wind. And she, always slim, no fatter than a skylark, as she said, still
retained her anxious motherly authority over them, treating them as
children wanting all her attention, buttoning up Jean’s coat so that
he should not look like a rake, and seeing that Pépé had got a clean
handkerchief. When she saw the latter’s swollen eyes, she gently chided
“Be reasonable, my boy. Your studies cannot be interrupted. I’ll take
you away at the holidays. Is there anything you want? But perhaps you
prefer to have the money.” Then she turned towards the other. “You,
youngster, yet making him believe we are going to have wonderful fun!
Just try and be a little more careful.”
She had given Jean four thousand francs, half of her savings, to enable
him to set up housekeeping. The younger one cost her a great deal for
schooling, all her money went for them, as in former days. They were her
sole reason for living and working, for she had again declared she would
never marry.
“Well, here are the things,” resumed Jean. “In the first place, there’s
a cloak in this parcel that Thérèse—-”
But he stopped, and Denise, on turning round to see what had frightened
him, perceived Mouret behind them. For a moment he had stood looking
at her in her motherly attitude between the two big boys, scolding and
embracing them, turning them round as mothers do babies when changing
their clothes. Bourdoncle had remained on one side, appearing to be
interested in the business, but he did not lose sight of this little
“They are your brothers, are they not?” asked Mouret, after a silence.
He had the icy tone and rigid attitude, which he now assumed with her.
Denise herself made an effort to remain cold and unconcerned. Her smile
died away, and she replied: “Yes, sir. I’ve married off the eldest, and
his wife has sent him for some purchases.”
Mouret continued looking at the three of them. At last he said: “The
youngest has grown very much. I recognise him, I remember having seen
him in the Tuileries Gardens one evening with you.”
And his voice, which was becoming moderate, slightly trembled. She,
suffocating, bent down, pretending to arrange Pépé’s belt. The two
brothers, who had turned scarlet, stood smiling on their sister’s
“They’re very much like you,” said the latter.
“Oh!” exclaimed she, “they’re much handsomer than I am!”
For a moment he seemed to be comparing their faces. How she loved them!
And he walked a step or two; then returned and whispered in her ear:
“Come to my office after business, I want to speak to you before you go
This time Mouret went off and continued his inspection. The battle was
once more raging within him, for the appointment he had given caused him
a sort of irritation. To what idea had he yielded on seeing her with her
brothers? It was maddening to think he could no longer find the strength
to assert his will. However, he could settle it by saying a word of
adieu. Bourdoncle, who had rejoined him, seemed less anxious, though he
was still examining him with stealthy glances.
Meanwhile Denise had returned to Madame Bourdelais. “How are you getting
on with the mantle, madame?”
“Oh, very well. I’ve spent enough for one day. These little ones are
ruining me!”
Denise now being able to slip away, went and listened to Jean’s
explanations, then accompanied him to the various counters, where he
would certainly have lost his head without her. First came the mantle,
which Thérèse wished to change for a white cloth cloak, same size,
same shape. And the young girl, having taken the parcel, went up to the
ready-made department, followed by her two brothers.
The department had laid out its light coloured garments, summer jackets
and mantillas, of light silk and fancy woollens. But there was little
doing here, the customers were but few and far between. Nearly all the
young ladies were new-comers. Clara had disappeared a month before, some
said she had eloped with the husband of one of the saleswomen, others
that she had gone on the streets. As for Marguerite, she was at last
about to take the management of the little shop at Grenoble, where her
cousin was waiting for her. Madame Aurélie remained immutable, in the
round cuirass of her silk dress, with her imperial mask which retained
the yellowish puffiness of an antique marble. Her son Albert’s bad
conduct was a source of great trouble to her, and she would have retired
into the country had it not been for the inroads made on the family
savings by this scapegrace, whose terrible extravagance threatened to
swallow up piece by piece their Rigolles property. It was a sort of
punishment for their home broken up, for the mother had resumed her
little excursions with her lady friends, and the father on his side
continued his musical performances. Bourdoncle was already looking upon
Madame Aurélie with a discontented air, surprised that she had not the
tact to resign; too old for business! the knell was about to sound which
would sweep away the Lhomme dynasty.
“Ah! it’s you,” said she to Denise, with an exaggerated amiability.
“You want this cloak changed, eh? Certainly, at once. Ah! there are your
brothers; getting quite men, I declare!”
In spite of her pride, she would have gone on her knees to pay her court
to the young girl. Nothing else was being talked of in her department,
as in the others, but Denise’s departure; and the first-hand was quite
ill over it, for she had been reckoning on the protection of her former
saleswoman. She lowered her voice: “They say you’re going to leave us.
Really, it isn’t possible?”
“But it is, though,” replied Denise.
Marguerite was listening. Since her marriage had been decided on, she
had marched about with her putty-looking face, assuming more disdainful
airs than ever. She came up saying: “You are quite right. Self-respect
above everything, I say. Allow me to bid you adieu, my dear.”
Some customers arriving at that moment, Madame Aurélie requested her,
in a harsh voice, to attend to business. Then, as Denise was taking
the cloak to effect the “return” herself, she protested, and called an
auxiliary. This, again, was an innovation suggested to Mouret by the
young girl–persons charged with carrying the articles, which relieved
the saleswomen of a great burden.
“Go with Mademoiselle Denise,” said the first-hand, giving her the
cloak. Then, returning to Denise: “Pray consider well. We are all
heart-broken at your leaving.”
Jean and Pépé, who were waiting, smiling amidst this overflowing crowd
of women, followed their sister. They now had to go to the underlinen
department, to get four chemises like the half-dozen that Thérèse had
bought on the Saturday. But there, where the exhibition of white goods
was snowing down from every shelf, they were almost stifled, and found
it very difficult to get past.
In the first place, at the stay counter a little scene was causing a
crowd to collect. Madame Boutarel, who had arrived in Paris this time
with her husband and daughter, had been wandering all about the shop
since the morning collecting an outfit for the young lady, who was about
to be married. The father was consulted every moment, and they never
appeared likely to finish. At last the family had just stranded here;
and whilst the young lady was absorbed in a profound study of some
drawers, the mother had disappeared, having cast her coquettish eyes on
a delicious pair of stays. When Monsieur Boutarel, a big, full-blooded
man, left his daughter, bewildered, to go and look for his wife, he at
last found her in a fitting-room, at the door of which he was politely
invited to take a seat. These rooms were like narrow cells, glazed with
ground glass, where the men, and even the husbands, were not allowed
to enter, by an exaggerated sentiment of propriety on the part of the
directors. Saleswomen came out and went in again quickly, allowing those
outside to divine, by the rapid closing of the door, visions of ladies
in their petticoats, with bare arms and shoulders–stout women with
white flesh, and thin ones with flesh the colour of old ivory. A row of
men were waiting outside, seated on arm-chairs, and looking very weary.
Monsieur Boutarel, when he understood, got really angry, crying out
that he wanted his wife, that he insisted on knowing what was going on
inside, that he certainly would not allow her to undress without him. It
was in vain that they tried to calm him; he seemed to think there were
some very queer things going on inside. Madame Boutarel was obliged to
come out, to the delight of the crowd, who were discussing and laughing
over the affair.
Denise and her brothers were at last able to get past. Every article of
female linen, all those white under-things that are usually concealed,
were here displayed, in a suite of rooms, classed in various
departments. The corsets and dress-improvers occupied one counter, there
were the stitched corsets, the Duchesse, the cuirass, and, above all,
the white silk corsets, dove-tailed with colours, forming for this day
a special display; an army of dummies without heads or legs, nothing
but the bust, dolls’ breasts flattened under the silk, and close by,
on other dummies, were horse-hair and other dress improvers, prolonging
these broomsticks into enormous, distended croups, of which the profile
assumed a ludicrous unbecomingness. But afterwards commenced the gallant
dishabille, a dishabille which strewed the vast rooms, as if an army
of lovely girls had undressed themselves from department to department,
down to the very satin of their skin. Here were articles of fine linen,
white cuffs and cravats, white fichus and collars, an infinite variety
of light gewgaws, a white froth which escaped from the drawers and
ascended like so much snow. There were jackets, little bodices, morning
dresses and peignoirs, linen, nansouck, long white garments, roomy
and thin, which spoke of the lounging in a lazy morning after a night
of tenderness. Then appeared the under-garments, falling one by one; the
white petticoats of all lengths, the petticoat that clings to the knees,
and the long petticoat with which the gay ladies sweep the pavement, a
rising sea of petticoats, in which the legs were drowned; cotton, linen,
and cambric drawers, large white drawers in which a man could dance;
lastly, the chemises, buttoned at the neck for the night, or displaying
the bosom in the day, simply supported by narrow shoulder-straps;
chemises in all materials, common calico, Irish linen, cambric, the last
white veil slipping from the panting bosom and hips.
And, at the outfitting counter, there was an indiscreet unpacking, women
turned round and viewed on all sides, from the small housewife with her
common calicoes, to the rich lady drowned in laces, an alcove publicly
open, of which the concealed luxury, the plaitings, the embroideries,
the Valenciennes lace, became a sort of sexual depravation, as it
developed into costly fantasies. Woman was dressing herself again, the
white wave of this fall of linen was returning again to the shivering
mystery of the petticoats, the chemise stiffened by the fingers of the
workwomen, the frigid drawers retaining the creases of the box, all this
cambric and muslin, dead, scattered over the counters, thrown about,
heaped up, was going to become living, with the life of the flesh,
odorous and warm with the odour of love, a white cloud become sacred,
bathed in night, and of which the least flutter, the pink of a knee
disclosed through the whiteness, ravaged the world. Then there was
another room devoted to the baby linen, where the voluptuous snowy
whiteness of woman’s clothing developed into the chaste whiteness of
the infant: an innocence, a joy, the young wife become a mother, flannel
garments, chemises and caps large as doll’s things, baptismal dresses,
cashmere pelisses, the white down of birth, like a fine shower of white
“They are embroidered chemises,” said Jean, who was delighted with this
display, this rising tide of feminine attire into which he was plunging.
Pauline ran up at once, when she perceived Denise; and before even
asking what she wanted, began to talk in a low tone, stirred up by the
rumours circulating in the shop. In her department, two saleswomen had
even got quarrelling, one affirming and the other denying her departure.
“You’ll stay with us, I’ll stake my life. What would become of me?” And
as Denise replied that she intended to leave the next day. “No, no, you
think so, but I know better. You must appoint me second-hand, now that
I’ve got a baby. Baugé is reckoning on it, my dear.”
Pauline smiled with an air of conviction. She then gave the six
chemises; and, Jean having said that he was now going to the
handkerchief counter, she called an auxiliary to carry the chemises and
the jacket left by the auxiliary from the readymade department The
girl who happened to answer was Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, recently
married to Joseph. She had just obtained this menial situation as a
great favour, and she wore a long black blouse, marked on the shoulder
with a number in yellow wool.
“Follow this young lady,” said Pauline. Then returning, and again
lowering her voice: “It’s understood that I am to be appointed
second-hand, eh?”
Denise, troubled, defended herself; but at last promised, with a laugh,
joking in her turn. And she went away, going down with Jean and Pépé,
and followed by the auxiliary. On the ground-floor, they fell into
the woollen department, a corner of a gallery entirely hung with white
swanskin cloth and white flannel. Liénard, whom his father had vainly
recalled to Angers, was talking to the handsome Mignot, now a traveller,
and who had boldly reappeared at The Ladies’ Paradise. No doubt they
were speaking of Denise, for they both stopped talking to bow to
her with a ceremonious air. In fact, as she went along through the
departments the salesmen appeared full of emotion and bent their heads
before her, uncertain of what she might be the next day. They whispered,
thought she looked triumphant, and the betting was again altered;
they began to risk bottles of wine, etc., over the event. She had gone
through the linen-gallery, in order to get to the handkerchief counter,
which was at the further end. They saw nothing but white goods: cottons,
madapolams, muslins, etc.; then came the linen, in enormous piles,
ranged in alternate pieces like blocks of stone, stout linen, fine
linen, of all sizes, white and unbleached, pure flax, whitened in the
sun; then the same thing commenced once more, there were departments for
each sort of linen: house linen, table linen, kitchen linen, a continual
fall of white goods, sheets, pillow-cases, innumerable styles of
napkins, aprons, and dusters. And the bowing continued, they made way
for Denise to pass, Baugé had rushed out to smile on her, as the good
fairy of the house. At last, after crossing the counterpane department,
a room hung with white banners, she arrived at the handkerchief counter,
the ingenious decoration of which delighted the crowd; there were
nothing but white columns, white pyramids, white castles, a complicated
architecture, solely composed of handkerchiefs, cambric, Irish linen,
China silk, marked, embroidered by hand, trimmed with lace, hemstitched,
and woven with vignettes, an entire city, built of white bricks, of
infinite variety, standing out in a mirage against an Eastern sky,
warmed to a white heat.
“You say another dozen?” asked Denise of her brother.
“Yes, like this one,” replied he, showing a handkerchief in his parcel.
Jean and Pépé had not quitted her side, clinging to her, as they had
done formerly, on arriving in Paris, knocked up by the journey. This
vast shop, in which she was quite at home, seemed to trouble them, and
they sheltered themselves in her shadow, placing themselves under the
protection of their second mother by an instinctive awakening of their
infancy. People watched them as they passed, smiling at the two big
fellows following in the footsteps of this grave thin girl; Jean
frightened with his beard, Pépé bewildered in his tunic, all three of
the same fair complexion, a fairness which caused the whisper from one
end of the counters to the other: “They are her brothers! They are her
But whilst Denise was looking for a saleswoman there was a meeting.
Mouret and Bourdoncle entered the gallery; and as the former again
stopped in front of the young girl, without, however, speaking to her,
Madame Desforges and Madame Guibal passed by. Henriette suppressed the
shiver which had invaded her whole being; she looked at Mouret and
then at Denise. They had also looked at her, and it was a sort of mute
catastrophe, the common end of these great dramas of the heart, a glance
exchanged in the crush of a crowd. Mouret had already gone off, whilst
Denise lost herself in the depths of the department, accompanied by her
brothers, still in search of a disengaged salesman. But Henriette having
recognised Mademoiselle de Fontenailles, in the auxiliary following
Denise, with a yellow number on her shoulder, and her coarse,
cadaverous, servant’s-looking face, relieved herself by saying to Madame
Guibal, in a trembling voice:

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“Just see what he’s doing with that unfortunate girl. Isn’t it shameful?
A marchioness! And he makes her follow like a dog the creatures picked
up by him in the street!” She tried to calm herself, adding, with an
affected air of indifference: “Let’s go and see their display of silks.”
The silk department was like a great chamber of love, hung with white
by the caprice of some snowy maiden wishing to show off her spotless
whiteness. All the milky tones of an adored person were there, from the
velvet of the hips, to the fine silk of the thighs and the shining satin
of the bosom. Pieces of velvet hung from the columns, silk and satins
stood out, on this white creamy ground, in draperies of a metallic and
porcelain-like whiteness: and falling in arches were also poult and gros
grain silks, light foulards, and surahs, which varied from the heavy
white of a Norwegian blonde to the transparent white, warmed by the sun,
of an Italian or a Spanish beauty.
Favier was just then engaged in measuring some white silk for “the
pretty lady,” that elegant blonde, a frequent customer at the counter,
and whom the salesmen never referred to except by this name. She
had dealt at the shop for years, and yet they knew nothing about
her–neither her life, her address, and not even her name. None of them
tried to find out, although they all indulged in supposition every time
she made her appearance, but simply for something to talk about. She
was getting thinner, she was getting stouter, she had slept well, or she
must have been out late the previous night–such were the remarks made
about her: thus every little fact of her unknown life, outside events,
domestic dramas, were in this way reproduced and commented on. That day
she seemed very gay. So, on returning from the pay-desk where he had
conducted her, Favier remarked to Hutin:
“Perhaps she’s going to marry again.”
“What! is she a widow?” asked the other.
“I don’t know; but you must remember that she was in mourning the
last time she came. Unless she’s made some money by speculating on the
Bourse.” A silence ensued. At last he ended by saying: “But that’s her
business. It wouldn’t do to take notice of all the women we see here.”
But Hutin was looking very thoughtful, having had, two days ago, a warm
discussion with the direction, and feeling himself condemned. After the
great sale his dismissal was certain. For a long time he had felt his
position giving way; at the last stock-taking they had complained of his
being below the amount of business fixed on in advance; and it was also,
in fact chiefly, the slow working of the appetites that were swallowing
him up in his turn–the whole silent war of the department, amidst
the very motion of the machine. Favier’s obscure mining could be
perceived–a deadened sound as of jaw-bones working under the earth.
The latter had already received the promise of the first-hand’s place.
Hutin, who was aware of all this, instead of attacking his old comrade,
looked upon him as a clever fellow–a fellow who had always appeared
so cold, so obedient, whom he had made use of to turn out Robineau and
Bouthemont! He was full of a feeling of mingled surprise and respect.
“By the way,” resumed Favier, “she’s going to stay, you know. The
governor has just been seen casting sheep’s eyes at her. I shall be let
in for a bottle of champagne over it.”
He referred to Denise. The gossip was going on more than ever, from
one counter to the other, across the constantly increasing crowd of
customers. The silk sellers were especially excited, for they had been
taking heavy bets about it.
“By Jove!” exclaimed Hutin, waking up as if from a dream, “wasn’t I a
flat not to have slept with her! I should be all right now!”

Then he blushed at this confession on seeing Favier laughing. He
pretended to laugh also, and added, to recall his words, that it was
this creature that had ruined him with the management However, a desire
for violence seizing him, he finished by getting into a rage with the
salesmen disbanded under the assault of the customers. But all at once
he resumed his smile, having just perceived Madame Desforges and Madame
Guibal slowly crossing the department.
“What can we serve you with to-day, madame?”
“Nothing, thanks,” replied Henriette. “You see I’m merely walking round;
I’ve only come out of curiosity.”
When he had stopped her, he lowered his voice. Quite a plan was
springing up in his head. And he flattered her, running down the house;
he had had enough of it, and preferred going away to assisting at such
a scene of disorder. She listened to him, delighted. It was she herself
who, thinking to get him away from The Ladies’ Paradise, offered to have
him engaged by Bouthemont as first-hand in the silk department, when The
Four Seasons started again. The matter was settled in whispers, whilst
Madame Guibal interested herself in the displays.
“May I offer you one of these bouquets of violets?” resumed Hutin,
aloud, pointing to a table where there were four or five bunches of the
flowers, which he had procured from the pay-desk for personal presents.
“Ah, no!” exclaimed Henriette, with a backward movement. “I don’t wish
to take any part in the wedding.”
They understood each other, and separated, exchanging glances of
intelligence. As Madame Desforges was looking for Madame Guibal, she
set up an exclamation of surprise on seeing her with Madame Marty. The
latter, followed by her daughter Valentine, had been carried away for
the last two hours, right through the place, by one of those fits of
spending from which she always emerged tired and confused. She had
roamed about the furniture department that a show of white lacquered
suites of furniture had changed into a vast young girl’s room, the
ribbon and neckerchief department forming white vellumy colonnades, the
mercery and lace department, with its white fringes which surrounded
ingenious trophies patiently composed of cards of buttons and packets
of needles, and the hosiery department, in which there was a great crush
this year to see an immense piece of decoration, the name “The Ladies’
Paradise” in letters three yards high, formed of white socks on a
groundwork of red ones. But Madame Marty was especially excited by the
new departments; they could not open a new department without she must
inaugurate it, she was bound to plunge in and buy something. And she had
passed an hour at the millinery counter, installed in a new room on the
ground-floor, having the cupboards emptied, taking the bonnets off the
stands which stood on two tables, trying all of them on herself and her
daughter, white hats, white bonnets, and white turbans. Then she had
gone down to the boot department, at the further end of a gallery on the
ground-floor, behind the cravat department, a counter opened that day,
and which she had turned topsy turvy, seized with sickly desires in the
presence of the white silk slippers trimmed with swansdown, the white
satin boots and shoes with their high Louis XV. heels.
“Oh! my dear,” she stammered, “you’ve no idea! They have a wonderful
assortment of hoods. I’ve chosen one for myself and one for my daughter.
And the boots, eh? Valentine.”
“It’s marvellous!” added the young girl, with her womanly boldness.
“There are some boots at twenty francs and a half which are delicious!”
A salesman was following them, dragging along the eternal chair, on
which was already heaped a mountain of articles.
“How is Monsieur Marty?” asked Madame Desforges.
“Very well, I believe,” replied Madame Marty, bewildered by this brusque
question, which fell ill-naturedly amidst her fever for spending. “He’s
still confined, my uncle had to go and see him this morning.”
“Oh, look! isn’t it lovely?”
The ladies, who had gone on a few steps, found themselves before the
flowers and feathers department, installed in the central gallery,
between the silk and glove departments. It appeared beneath the bright
light of the glass roof as an enormous florescence, a white sheaf, tall
and broad as an oak. The base was formed of single flowers, violets,
lilies of the valley, hyacinths, daisies, all the delicate hues of the
garden. Then came bouquets, white roses, softened by a fleshy tint,
great white pæonies, slightly shaded with carmine, white chrysanthemums,
with narrow petals and starred with yellow. And the flowers still
ascended, great mystical lilies, branches of apple blossom, bunches of
lilac, a continual blossoming, surmounted, as high as the first storey,
by ostrich feathers, white plumes, which were like the airy breath of
this collection of white flowers. One whole corner was devoted to the
display of trimmings and orange-flower wreaths. There were also metallic
flowers, silver thistles and silver ears of com. Amidst the foliage and
the petals, amidst all this muslin, silk, and velvet, where drops of gum
shone like dew, flew birds of Paradise for hats, purple Tangaras with
black tails, and Septicolores with their changing rainbow-like plumage.
“I’m going to buy a branch of apple-blossom,” resumed Madame Marty.
“It’s delicious, isn’t it? And that little bird, do look, Valentine. I
must take it!”
Madame Guibal began to feel tired of standing still in the eddy of the
crowd, and at last said: “Well, we’ll leave you to make your purchases.
We’re going upstairs.”
“No, no, wait for me!” cried the other. “I’m going up too. There’s the
perfumery department, I must see that.”
This department, created the day before, was next door to the
reading-room. Madame Desforges, to avoid the crush on the stairs, spoke
of going up in the lift, but they had to abandon the idea, there was
such a crowd waiting their turn. At last they arrived, passing before
the public Refreshment bar, where the crowd was becoming so great that
an inspector had to restrain the people’s appetites by only allowing the
gluttonous customers to enter in small groups. And the ladies already
began to smell the perfumery department, a penetrating odour which
scented the whole gallery. There was quite a struggle over one article,
The Paradise soap, a specialty of the house. In the show cases, and
on the crystal tablets of the shelves, were ranged pots of pomade and
paste, boxes of powder and paint, boxes of toilet vinegar; whilst
the fine brushes, combs, scissors, and smelling-bottles occupied a
special place. The salesmen had managed to decorate the shelves with
white porcelain pots and white glass bottles. But what delighted the
customers above all was a silver fountain, a shepherdess seated in the
middle of a harvest of flowers, and from which flowed a continual stream
of violet water, which fell with a musical plash into the metal basin.
An exquisite odour was disseminated around, the ladies dipping their
handkerchiefs in the scent as they passed.
“There,” said Madame Marty, when she had loaded herself with lotions,
dentrifices, and cosmetics. “Now I’ve done, I’m at your service. Let’s
go and rejoin Madame de Boves.”
But on the landing of the great central staircase they were again
stopped by the Japanese department. This counter had grown wonderfully
since the day Mouret had amused himself by setting up, in the same
place, a little proposition table, covered with a lot of soiled
articles, without at all foreseeing its future success. Few departments
had had a more modest commencement, and now it overflowed with old
bronzes, old ivories, old lacquer work. He did fifteen hundred thousand
francs’ worth of business a year in this department, ransacking the
Far East, where his travellers pillaged the palaces and the temples.
Besides, fresh departments were always springing up, they had tried two
in December, in order to fill up the empty spaces caused by the dead
winter season–a book department and a toy department, which would
certainly grow also and sweep away certain shops in the neighbourhood.
Four years had sufficed for the Japanese department to attract the
entire artistic custom of Paris. This time Madame Desforges herself,
notwithstanding the rancour which had made her swear not to buy
anything, succumbed before some finely carved ivory.
“Send it to my house,” said she rapidly, at a neighbouring pay-desk.
“Ninety francs, is it not?” And, seeing Madame Marty and her daughter
plunged in a lot of trashy porcelains, she resumed, as she carried
Madame Guibal off: “You will find us in the reading-room, I really must
sit down a little while.”
In the reading-room they were obliged to remain standing. All the chairs
were occupied, round the large table covered with newspapers. Great fat
fellows were reading and lolling about without even thinking of giving
up their seats to the ladies. A few women were writing, their faces on
the paper, as if to conceal their letters under the flowers of their
hats. Madame de Boves was not there, and Henriette was getting very
impatient when she perceived De Vallagnosc, who was also looking for his
wife and mother-in-law. He bowed, and said:
“They must be in the lace department–impossible to drag them away. I’ll
just see.” And he was gallant enough to procure them two chairs before
going away.
In the lace department the crush was increasing every minute. The great
show of white was there triumphing in its most delicate and dearest
whiteness. It was an acute temptation, a mad desire, which bewildered
all the women. The department had been turned into a white temple,
tulles and Maltese lace, falling from above, formed a white sky, one
of those cloudy veils which pales the morning sun. Bound the columns
descended flounces of Malines and Valenciennes, white dancers’ skirts,
unfolding in a snowy shiver down to the ground. Then on all sides, on
every counter, was a stream of white Spanish blonde as light as air,
Brussels with its large flowers on a delicate mesh, hand-made point, and
Venice point with heavier designs, Alençon point, and Bruges of royal
and almost religious richness. It seemed that the god of dress had there
set up his white tabernacle.
Madame de Boves, after wandering about for a long time before the
counters with her daughter, and feeling a sensual desire to plunge her
hands into the goods, had just decided to make Deloche show her some
Alençon point. At first he brought out some imitation; but she wished to
see some real Alençon, and was not satisfied with the little pieces at
three hundred francs the yard, insisting on having deep flounces at
a thousand francs a yard, handkerchiefs and fans at seven and eight
hundred francs. The counter was soon covered with a fortune. In a corner
of the department Jouve, the inspector, who had not lost sight of Madame
de Boves, notwithstanding the latter’s apparent dawdling, stood there
amidst the crowd, with an indifferent air, but still keeping a sharp eye
on her.
“Have you any in hand-made point?” she asked; “show me some, please.”
The salesman, whom she had kept there for twenty minutes, dared
not resist, she appeared so aristocratic, with her imposing air and
princess’s voice. However, he hesitated, for the salesmen were cautioned
against heaping up these precious fabrics, and he had allowed himself to
be robbed of ten yards of Malines the week before. But she troubled him,
he yielded, and abandoned the Alençon point for a moment to take the
lace asked for from a drawer.
“Oh! look, mamma,” said Blanche, who was ransacking a box close by, full
of cheap Valenciennes, “we might take some of this for pillow-cases.”
Madame de Boves not replying, her daughter on turning round saw her with
her hands plunged amidst the lace, about to slip some Alençon up the
sleeve of her mantle. She did not appear surprised, and moved forward
instinctively to conceal her mother, when Jouve suddenly stood before
them. He leant over, and politely murmured in the countess’s ear:
“Have the kindness to follow me, madame.”
She hesitated for a moment, shocked.
“But what for, sir?”
“Have the kindness to follow me, madame,” repeated the inspector,
without raising his voice.
Her face was full of anguish, she threw a rapid glance around her. Then
she resigned herself all at once, resumed her haughty look, and walked
by his side like a queen who deigns to accept the services of an
aide-de-camp. Not one of the customers had observed the scene, and
Deloche, on returning to the counter, looked at her being walked off,
his mouth wide open with astonishment What! this one as well! this
noble-looking lady! Really it was time to have them all searched! And
Blanche, who was left free, followed her mother at a distance, lingering
amidst the sea of faces, livid, divided between the duty of not
deserting her mother and the terror of being detained with her. She saw
her enter Bourdoncle’s office, but she contented herself with waiting
near the door. Bourdoncle, whom Mouret had just got rid of, happened to
be there. As a rule, he dealt with these sorts of robberies committed by
persons of distinction. Jouve had long been watching this lady, and had
informed him of it, so that he was not astonished when the inspector
briefly explained the matter to him; in fact, such extraordinary cases
passed through his hands that he declared the women capable of anything
once the rage for dress had seized them. As he was aware of Mouret’s
acquaintance with the thief, he treated her with the utmost politeness.
“We excuse these moments of weakness, madame. But pray consider the
consequences of such a thing. Suppose some one else had seen you slip
this lace—-”
But she interrupted him in great indignation. She a thief! Who did
he take her for? She was the Countess de Boves, her husband,
Inspector-General of the Stud, was received at Court.
“I know, I know, madame,” repeated Bourdoncle, quietly. “I have the
honour of knowing you. In the first place, will you kindly give up the
lace you have on you?”
She again protested, not allowing him to say another word, handsome in
her violence, going as far as tears. Any one else but he would have been
shaken and feared some deplorable mistake, for she threatened to go to
law to avenge herself for such an insult.
“Take care, sir, my husband will certainly appeal to the Minister.”
“Come, you are not more reasonable than the others,” declared
Bourdoncle, losing patience. “We must search you.”
Still she did not yield, but said with her superb assurance, “Very good,
search me. But I warn you, you are risking your house.”
Jouve went to fetch two saleswomen from the corset department. When
he returned, he informed Bourdoncle that the lady’s daughter, left at
liberty, had not quitted the doorway, and asked if she should also
be detained, although he had not seen her take anything. The manager,
always correct, decided that she should not be brought in, for the sake
of morality, and in order not to force a mother to blush before her
daughter. The two men retired into a neighbouring room, whilst the
saleswomen searched the countess, even taking off her dress to search
her bosom and hips. Besides the twelve yards of Alençon point at a
thousand francs the yard concealed in her sleeve, they found in her
bosom a handkerchief, a fan, and a cravat, making a total of about
fourteen thousand francs’ worth of lace. She had been stealing like this
for the last year, ravaged by a furious, irresistible passion for dress.
These fits got worse, growing daily, sweeping away all the reasonings of
prudence, and the enjoyment she felt in the indulgence of this passion
was all the more violent from the fact that she was risking before the
eyes of a crowd her name, her pride, and her husband’s high position.
Now that the latter allowed her to empty his drawers, she stole although
she had her pockets full of money, she stole for the pleasure of
stealing, as one loves for the pleasure of loving, goaded on by desire,
urged on by the species of kleptomania that her unsatisfied luxurious
tastes had developed in her formerly at sight of the enormous and brutal
temptation of the big shops.
“It’s a trap,” cried she, when Bourdoncle and Jouve came in. “This lace
has been placed on me, I swear before Heaven.”
She was now weeping tears of rage, and fell on a chair, suffocated in
her dress. The partner sent away the saleswomen, and resumed, with his
quiet air: “We are quite willing, madame, to hush up this painful
affair for the sake of your family. But you must first sign a paper thus
worded: ‘I have stolen some lace from The Ladies’ Paradise,’ followed by
the details of the lace, and the day of the month. Besides, I shall be
happy to return you this document whenever you like to bring me a sum of
two thousand francs for the poor.”
She got up again, and declared in a fresh outburst: “I’ll never sign
that, I’d rather die.”
“You won’t die, madame; but I warn you that I shall shortly send for the
Then followed a frightful scene. She insulted him, she stammered that
it was cowardly for a man to torture a woman in that way. Her Juno-like
beauty, her tall majestic body was distorted by vulgar rage. Then she
tried to melt them, entreating them in the name of their mothers, and
spoke of dragging herself at their feet. And as they remained quite
unmoved, hardened by custom, she sat down all at once and began to write
with a trembling hand. The pen sputtered, the words: “I have stolen,”
written madly, went almost through the thin paper, whilst she repeated
in a strangled voice: “There, sir, there. I yield to force.”
Bourdoncle took the paper, carefully folded it, and put it in a drawer,
saying: “You see it’s in company, for ladies, after talking of dying
rather than signing, generally forget to come and redeem their _billets
doux_. However, I hold it at your disposal. You’ll be able to judge
whether it’s worth two thousand francs.”
She was buttoning up her dress, and became as arrogant as ever, now that
she had paid. “I can go now?” asked she, in a sharp tone.
Bourdoncle was already occupied with other business. On Jouve’s report,
he decided on Deloche’s dismissal, as a stupid fellow, who was always
being robbed, never having any authority over the customers. Madame
de Boves repeated her question, and as they dismissed her with an
affirmative nod, she enveloped both of them in a murderous look. In the
flood of insulting words that she kept back, a melodramatic cry escaped
from her lips.
“Wretches!” said she, banging the door after her.
Meanwhile Blanche had not gone far away from the office. Her ignorance
of what was going on inside, the passing backwards and forwards of Jouve
and the two saleswomen frightened her, she had visions of the police,
the assize court, and the prison. But all at once she stopped short: De
Vallagnosc was before her, this husband of a month, with whom she still
felt rather awkward; and he questioned her, astonished at her bewildered
“Where’s your mother? Have you lost each other? Come, tell me, you make
me feel anxious.”
Nothing in the way of a colourable fiction presented itself to her,
and in great distress she told him everything in a low voice: “Mamma,
mamma–she has been stealing.”
“What! stealing?” At last he understood. His wife’s bloated face, the
pale mask, ravaged by fear, terrified him.
“Some lace, like that, up her sleeve,” she continued stammering.
“You saw her, then? You were looking on?” murmured he, chilled to feel
her a sort of accomplice.
They had to stop talking, several persons were already turning round. An
hesitation full of anguish kept De Vallagnosc motionless for a moment.
What was to be done? He was about to go into Bourdoncle’s office, when
he perceived Mouret crossing the gallery. He told his wife to wait for
him, and seized his old friend’s arm, informing him of the affair, in
broken sentences. The latter hastily took him into his office, where
he soon put him at rest as to the possible consequences. He assured him
that he need not interfere, and explained in what way the affair would
be arranged, without appearing at all excited about this robbery, as if
he had foreseen it long ago. But De Vallagnosc, when he no longer feared
an immediate arrest, did not accept the adventure with this admirable
coolness. He had thrown himself into an arm-chair, and now that he could
discuss the matter, began to lament his own unfortunate position. Was it
possible that he had married into a family of thieves? A stupid marriage
that he had drifted into, just to please his father! Surprised at this
childish violence, Mouret watched him weeping, thinking of his former
pessimist boasting. Had he not heard him announce scores of times the
nothingness of life, in which evil alone had any attraction? And by
way of a joke he amused himself for a minute or so, by preaching
indifference to his friend, in a friendly, bantering tone. But at this
De Vallognosc got angry: he was quite unable to recover his compromised
philosophy, his middle-class education broke out in virtuously indignant
cries against his mother-in-law. As soon as trouble fell on him, at
the least appearance of human suffering, at which he had always coldly
laughed, the boasted sceptic was beaten and bleeding. It was abominable,
they were dragging the honour of his race into the mud, and the world
seemed to be coming to an end.
“Come, calm yourself,” concluded Mouret, stricken with pity. “I won’t
tell you that everything happens and nothing happens, because that does
not seem to comfort you just now. But I think you ought to go and offer
your arm to Madame de Boves, that would be wiser than causing a scandal.
The deuce! you who professed such scorn before the universal rascality
of the present day!”
“Of course,” cried De Vallagnosc, innocently, “when it affects other
However, he got up, and followed his old school-fellow’s advice.
Both were returning to the gallery when Madame de Boves came out of
Bourdoncle’s office. She accepted her son-in-law’s arm with a majestic
air, and as Mouret bowed to her with respectful gallantry, he heard
her saying: “They’ve apologised to me. Really, these mistakes are
Blanche rejoined them, and they were soon lost in the crowd. Then
Mouret, alone and pensive, crossed the shop once more. This scene, which
had changed his thoughts from the struggle going on within him, now
increased his fever, and decided him to make a supreme effort. A vague
connection arose in his mind: the robbery by this unfortunate woman,
the last folly of the conquered customers, beaten at the feet of the
tempter, evoked the proud and avenging image of Denise, whose victorious
grip he could feel at his throat. He stopped at the top of the central
staircase, and gazed for a long time into the immense nave, where his
nation of women were swarming.
Six o’clock was about to strike, the daylight decreasing outside was
gradually forsaking the covered galleries, already dark and waning
at the further end of the halls, invaded by long shadows. And in this
daylight, barely extinct, was commenced the lighting of the electric
lamps, the globes of an opaque whiteness studding with bright moons
the distant depths of the departments. It was a white brightness of a
blinding fixity, extending like the reverberation of a discoloured star,
killing the twilight Then, when all were lighted, there was a delighted
murmur in the crowd, the great show of white goods assumed a fairy
splendour beneath this new illumination. It seemed that this colossal
orgie of white was also burning, itself becoming a light. The song of
the white seemed to soar upward in the inflamed whiteness of an aurora.
A white glimmer gushed from the linen and calico department in the
Monsigny Gallery, like the first bright gleam which lights up the
eastern sky; whilst along the Michodière Gallery, the mercery and
the lace, the fancy-goods and the ribbon departments threw out the
reflection of distant hills–the white flash of the mother-of-pearl
buttons, the silvered bronzes and the pearls. But the central nave
especially was filled with a blaze of white: the puffs of white muslin
round the columns, the white dimities and other stuffs draping the
staircases, the white lace flying in the air, opened up a dreamy
firmament, the dazzling whiteness of a paradise, where was being
celebrated the marriage of the unknown queen. The tent of the silk hall
was like a giant alcove, with its white curtains, gauzes and tulles, the
dazzle of which protected the bride in her white nudity from the gaze
of the curious. There was now nothing but this blinding white light
in which all the whites blended, a multitude of stars twinkling in the
bright clear light.
And Mouret continued to watch his nation of women, amidst this
shimmering blaze. Their black shadows stood out vigorously on the pale
ground-work. Long eddies divided the crowd; the fever of this day’s
great sale swept past like a frenzy, rolling along the disordered sea
of heads. People were commencing to leave, the pillage of the stuffs had
encumbered all the counters, the gold was chinking in the tills; whilst
the customers went away, their purses completely empty, and their heads
turned by the wealth of luxury amidst which they had been wandering all
day. It was he who possessed them thus, keeping them at his mercy by
his continued display of novelties, his reduction of prices, and his
“returns,” his gallantry and his advertisements. He had conquered the
mothers themselves, reigning over them with the brutality of a despot,
whose caprices were ruining many a household. His creation was a sort of
new religion; the churches, gradually deserted by a wavering faith, were
replaced by this bazaar, in the minds of the idle women of Paris.
Women now came and spent their leisure time in his establishment,
the shivering and anxious hours they formerly passed in churches: a
necessary consumption of nervous passion, a growing struggle of the god
of dress against the husband, the incessantly renewed religion of the
body with the divine future of beauty. If he had closed his doors,
there would have been a rising in the street, the despairing cry of
worshippers deprived of their confessional and altar. In their still
growing luxury, he saw them, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour,
obstinately clinging to the enormous iron building, along the suspended
staircases and flying bridges. Madame Marty and her daughter, carried
away to the highest point, were wandering amongst the furniture.
Retained by her young people, Madame Bourdelais could not get away from
the fancy goods. Then came another group, Madame de Boves, still on De
Vallagnosc’s arm, and followed by Blanche, stopping in each department,
still daring to examine the articles with her superb air. But amidst the
crowded sea of customers, this sea of bodies swelling with life, beating
with desire, all decorated with bunches of violets, as though for the
bridals of some sovereign, Mouret could now distinguish nothing but the
bare bust of Madame Desforges, who had stopped in the glove department
with Madame Guibal. Notwithstanding her jealous rancour, she was also
buying, and he felt himself to be the master once more, having them
at his feet, beneath the dazzle of the electric light, like a drove of
cattle from whom he had drawn his fortune.
With a mechanical step, Mouret went along the galleries, so absorbed
that he abandoned himself to the pushing of the crowd. When he raised
his head, he found himself in the new millinery department, the windows
of which looked on to the Rue du Dix-Décembre. And there, his forehead
against the glass, he made another halt, watching the departure of the
crowd. The setting sun was yellowing the roofs of the white houses, the
blue sky was growing paler, refreshed by a pure breath; whilst in the
twilight, which was already enveloping the streets, the electric lamps
of The Ladies’ Paradise threw out that fixed glimmer of stars lighted on
the horizon at the decline of the day. Towards the Opera-house and the
Bourse were the rows of waiting carriages, the harness still retaining
the reflections of the bright light, the gleam of a lamp, the glitter
of a silvered bit Every minute the cry of a footman was heard, and a cab
drew near, or a brougham issued from the ranks, took up a customer, and
went off at a rapid trot. The rows of carriages were now diminishing,
six went off at a time, occupying the whole street, from the one side to
the other, amidst the banging of doors, snapping of whips, and the hum
of the passers-by, who swarmed between the wheels. There was a sort of
continual enlargement, a spreading of the customers, carried off to the
four corners of the city, emptying the building with the roaring clamour
of a sluice. And the roof of The Ladies’ Paradise, the big golden
letters of the ensigns, the banners fluttering in the sky, still flamed
forth with the reflections of the setting sun, so colossal in this
oblique light, that they evoked the monster of advertising, the
phalansterium whose wings, incessantly multiplied, were swallowing up
the whole neighbourhood, as far as the distant woods of the suburbs.
And the soul of Paris, an enormous, sweet breath, fell asleep in the
serenity of the evening, running in long and sweet caresses over the
last carriages, spinning through the streets now becoming deserted by
the crowd, disappearing into the darkness of the night.
Mouret, gazing about, had just felt something grand in himself; and,
in the shiver of triumph with which his flesh trembled, in the face of
Paris devoured and woman conquered, he experienced a sudden weakness, a
defection of his strong will which overthrew him in his turn, beneath a
superior force It was an unreasonable necessity to be vanquished in
his victory, the nonsense of a warrior bending beneath the caprice of a
child, on the morrow of his conquests. He who had struggled for months,
who even that morning had sworn to stifle his passion, yielded all at
once, seized by the vertigo of high places, happy to commit what he
looked upon as a folly. His decision, so rapid, had assumed all at once
such energy that he saw nothing but her as being useful and necessary in
the world.
The evening, after the last dinner, he was waiting in his office,
trembling like a young man about to stake his life’s happiness, unable
to keep still, incessantly going towards the door to listen to the
rumours in the shop, where the men were doing the folding, drowned up
to the shoulder in a sea of stuffs. At each footstep his heart beat.
He felt a violent emotion, he rushed forward, for he had heard in the
distance a deep murmur, which had gradually increased.
It was Lhomme slowly approaching with the day’s receipts. That day they
were so heavy, there was such a quantity of silver and copper, that he
had been obliged to enlist the services of two messengers. Behind him
came Joseph and one of his colleagues, bending beneath the weight of
the bags, enormous bags, thrown on their shoulders like sacks of wheat,
whilst he walked on in front with the notes and gold, a note-book
swollen with paper, and two bags hung round his neck, the weight of
which swayed him to the right, the same side as his broken arm. Slowly,
perspiring and puffing, he had come from the other end of the shop,
amidst the growing emotion of the salesmen. The employees in the glove
and silk departments laughingly offered to relieve him of his burden,
the fellows in the drapery and woollen departments were longing to see
him make a false step, which would have scattered the gold through the
place. Then he had been obliged to mount the stairs, go across a bridge,
going still higher, turning about, amidst the longing looks of the
employees in the linen, the hosiery, and the mercery departments, who
followed him, gazing with ecstasy at this fortune travelling in the air.
On the first-floor the employees in the ready-made, the perfumery, the
lace, and the shawl departments were ranged with devotion, as on the
passage of a king. From counter to counter a tumult arose, like the
clamour of a nation bowing down before the golden calf.
Mouret opened the door, and Lhomme appeared, followed by the two
messengers, who were staggering; and, out of breath, he still had
strength to cry out: “One million two hundred and forty-seven francs,
nineteen sous!”
At last the million had been attained, the million picked up in a day,
and of which Mouret had so long dreamed. But he gave way to an angry
gesture, and said impatiently, with the disappointed air of a man
disturbed by some troublesome fellow: “A million! very good, put it
there.” Lhomme knew that he was fond of seeing the heavy receipts on
his table before they were taken to the central cashier’s office. The
million covered the whole table, crushing the papers, almost overturning
the ink, running out of the sacks, bursting the leather bags, making a
great heap, the heap of the gross receipts, such as it had come from the
customers’ hands, still warm and living.
Just as the cashier was going away, heart-broken at the governor’s
indifference, Bourdoncle arrived, gaily exclaiming: “Ah! we’ve done it
this time. We’ve hooked the million, eh?”
But observing Mouret’s febrile pre-occupation, he understood at once
and calmed down. His face was beaming with joy. After a short silence
he resumed: “You’ve made up your mind, haven’t you? Well, I approve your
Suddenly Mouret planted himself before him, and with his terrible voice
he thundered: “I say, my man, you’re rather too lively. You think me
played out, don’t you? and you feel hungry. But be careful, I’m not one
to be swallowed up, you know!”
Discountenanced by the sharp attack of this wonderful fellow, who
guessed everything, Bourdoncle stammered: “What now? Are you joking? I
who have always admired you so!”
“Don’t tell lies!” replied Mouret, more violently than ever “Just
listen, we were stupid to entertain the superstition that marriage would
ruin us. Is it not the necessary health, the very strength and order of
life? Well, my dear fellow, I’m going to marry her, and I’ll pitch you
all out at the slightest movement. Yes, you’ll go and be paid like the
rest, Bourdoncle.”
And with a gesture he dismissed him. Bourdoncle felt himself condemned,
swept away, by this victory gained by woman. He went off. Denise was
just going in, and he bowed with a profound respect, his head swimming..
“Ah! you’ve come at last!” said Mouret gently.
Denise was pale with emotion. She had just experienced another grief,
Deloche had informed her of his dismissal, and as she tried to retain
him, offering to speak in his favour, he obstinately declined to
struggle against his bad luck, he wanted to disappear, what was the use
of staying? Why should he interfere with people who were happy? Denise
had bade him a sisterly adieu, her eyes full of tears. Did she not
herself long to sink into oblivion? Everything was now about to be
finished, and she asked nothing more of her exhausted strength than the
courage to support this separation. In a few minutes, if she could only
be valiant enough to crush her heart, she could go away alone, to weep
“You wished to see me, sir,” she said in her calm voice. “In fact, I
intended to come and thank you for all your kindness to me.”
On entering, she had perceived the million on the desk, and the display
of this money wounded her. Above her, as if watching the scene, was the
portrait of Madame Hédouin, in its gilded frame, and with the eternal
smile of its painted lips.
“You are still resolved to leave us?” asked Mouret, in a trembling
“Yes, sir. I must!”
Then he took her hands, and said, in an explosion of tenderness, after
the long period of coldness he had imposed on himself: “And if I married
you, Denise, would you still leave?” But she had drawn her hands away,
struggling as if under the influence of a great grief. “Oh! Monsieur
Mouret. Pray say no more. Don’t cause me such pain again! I cannot!
I cannot! Heaven is my witness that I was going away to avoid such a
She continued to defend herself in broken sentences. Had she not already
suffered too much from the gossip of the house? Did he wish her to pass
in his eyes and her own for a worthless woman? No, no, she would
be strong, she would certainly prevent him doing such a thing. He,
tortured, listened to her, repeating in a passionate tone: “I wish it. I
wish it!”
“No, it’s impossible. And my brothers? I have sworn not to marry. I
cannot bring you those children, can I?”
“They shall be my brothers, too. Say yes, Denise.”
“No, no, leave me. You are torturing me!”
Little by little he gave way, this last obstacle drove him mad. What!
She still refused even at this price! In the distance he heard the
clamour of his three thousand employees building up his immense fortune.
And that stupid million lying there! He suffered from it as a sort of
irony, he could have thrown it into the street.
“Go, then!” he cried, in a flood of tears. “Go and join the man you
love. That’s the reason, isn’t it? You warned me, I ought to have known
it, and not tormented you any further.” She stood there dazed before
the violence of this despair. Her heart was bursting. Then, with the
impetuosity of a child, she threw herself on his neck, sobbing also, and
stammered: “Oh! Monsieur Mouret, it’s you that I love!”
A last murmur was rising from The Ladies’ Paradise, the distant
acclamation of a crowd. Madame Hédouin’s portrait was still smiling,
with its painted lips; Mouret had fallen on his desk, on the million
that he could no longer see. He did not quit Denise, but clasped her in
a desperate embrace, telling her that she could now go, that she could
spend a month at Valognes, which would silence everybody, and that he
would then go and fetch her himself, and bring her back, all-powerful,
and his wedded wife.