But another spectacle rendered them grave

On the following Monday, the 10th of October, a bright sun of victory
pierced through the grey clouds which had darkened Paris during the
previous week. There had even been a drizzle throughout the previous
night, a sort of watery mist whose moisture had dirtied the streets;
but in the early morning, thanks to the sharp breezes driving the
clouds away, the pavement had become drier; and now the blue sky
displayed a limpid, spring-like gaiety.
Thus, already at eight o’clock, The Ladies’ Paradise blazed forth
beneath the clear sun-rays in all the glory of its great sale of
winter novelties. Flags were flying at the door, pieces of woollens
were flapping about in the fresh morning air, animating the Place
Gaillon with the bustle of a country fair; whilst along both streets
the windows developed symphonious displays whose brilliant tones were
yet heightened by the clearness of the glass. It was like a debauch
of colour, a street pleasure bursting forth, a wealth of purchasable
articles publicly displayed, on which everybody could feast their eyes.
But at this early hour very few people entered, a few customers pressed
for time, housewives of the neighbourhood, women desirous of avoiding
the afternoon crush. Behind the stuffs which decorated the shop, one
could divine that it was empty, under arms and waiting for customers,
with its waxed floors and its counters overflowing with goods.
The busy morning crowd barely glanced at the windows, as it passed
without slackening its steps. In the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin and on
the Place Gaillon, where the vehicles were to take their stand, there
were at nine o’clock only two cabs. The inhabitants of the district,
and especially the small traders, stirred up by such a show of
streamers and decorations, alone formed little groups in the doorways
and at the street corners, gazing at the Paradise and venting bitter
remarks. What most filled them with indignation was the sight of one of
the four delivery vans just introduced by Mouret, which was standing
in the Rue de la Michodière, in front of the delivery office. These
vans were green, picked out with yellow and red, their brilliantly
varnished panels gleaming with gold and purple in the sunlight. This
particular one with its brand-new medley of colours, and the name of
the establishment painted on either side, whilst up above appeared an
announcement of the day’s sale, finished by going off at the fast trot
of a splendid horse, after being filled with parcels left over from
the previous night; and Baudu, who was standing on the threshold of
The Old Elbeuf, watched it rolling off towards the boulevard, where
it disappeared to spread amid a starry radiance the hated name of The
Ladies’ Paradise all over Paris.
Meantime, a few cabs were arriving and forming in line. Each time a
customer entered, there was a movement amongst the shop messengers,
who dressed in livery consisting of a light green coat and trousers,
and red and yellow striped waistcoat were drawn up under the lofty
doorway. Jouve, the inspector and retired captain, was also there,
in a frock-coat and white tie, wearing his decoration as a mark of
respectability and probity, and receiving the ladies with a gravely
polite air. He bent over them to point out the departments, and then
they vanished into the vestibule, which had been transformed into an
oriental saloon.
From the very threshold it was a marvel, a surprise, which enchanted
all of them. It was to Mouret that this idea had occurred. Before all
others, he had been the first to purchase at very advantageous rates
in the Levant a collection of old and new carpets, articles then
but seldom seen and only sold at curiosity shops, at high prices;
and he intended to flood the market with them, selling them at but
little more than cost price, and simply utilizing them as a splendid
decoration which would attract the best class of art customers to his
establishment. From the centre of the Place Gaillon you could see this
oriental saloon, composed solely of carpets and door-curtains hung up
under his direction. The ceiling was covered with a quantity of Smyrna
carpets, whose intricate designs stood out boldly on red grounds.
Then from each side there hung Syrian and Karamanian door-curtains,
streaked with green, yellow, and vermilion; Diarbekir hangings of a
commoner type, rough to the touch, like shepherds’ cloaks; and carpets
which could also be used as door-curtains–long Ispahan, Teheran, and
Kermancha rugs, broader ones from Schoumaka and Madras, a strange
florescence of peonies and palms, fantastic blooms in a garden of
dreamland. On the floor too were more carpets, a heap of greasy
fleeces: in the centre was an Agra carpet, an extraordinary article
with a white ground and a broad, delicate blue border, through which
ran a violet-coloured pattern of exquisite design. And then, here,
there and everywhere came a display of marvels; Mecca carpets with
velvety reflections, prayer carpets from Daghestan with the symbolic
points, Kurdistan carpets covered with blooming flowers; and finally,
in a corner a pile of cheap goods, Gherdes, Koula, and Kirchur rugs
from fifteen francs a-piece.
This seeming and sumptuous tent, fit for a caliph, was furnished with
divans and arm-chairs, made of camel sacks, some ornamented with
variegated lozenges, others with primitive roses. Turkey, Arabia,
Persia and the Indies were all there. They had emptied the palaces,
looted the mosques and bazaars. A tawny gold prevailed in the weft of
the old carpets, whose faded tints retained still a sombre warmth, like
that of an extinguished furnace, a beautiful mellow hue suggestive of
the old masters. Visions of the East floated before you at sight of all
the luxury of this barbarous art, amid the strong odour which the old
wool retained of the land of vermin and of the rising sun.
In the morning at eight o’clock, when Denise, who was to enter on her
duties that very Monday, crossed the oriental saloon, she stopped
short, lost in astonishment, unable to recognise the shop entrance,
and quite overcome by this harem-like decoration planted at the door.
A messenger having shown her to the top of the house, and handed her
over to Madame Cabin, who cleaned and looked after the rooms, this
person installed her in No. 7, where her box had already been placed.
It was a narrow cell, opening on the roof by a skylight, and furnished
with a small bed, a walnut-wood wardrobe, a toilet-table, and two
chairs. Twenty similar rooms ran along the yellow-painted convent-like
corridor; and, of the thirty-five young ladies in the house, the twenty
who had no relations in Paris slept there, whilst the remaining fifteen
lodged outside, a few with borrowed aunts and cousins. Denise at once
took off her shabby woollen dress, worn thin by brushing and mended at
the sleeves, the only gown that she had brought from Valognes; and then
donned the uniform of her department, a black silk dress which had been
altered for her and which she found ready on the bed. This dress was
still too large, too wide across the shoulders; but she was so flurried
by her emotion that she paid no heed to petty questions of coquetry.
She had never worn silk before; and when rigged out in this unwonted
finery she went downstairs again and looked at her shining skirt, she
felt quite ashamed of the noisy rustling of the silk.
Down below, as she was entering her department, a quarrel burst out and
she heard Clara exclaim in a shrill voice:
“Madame, I came in before her.”
“It isn’t true,” replied Marguerite. “She pushed past me at the door,
but I had already one foot in the room.”
The matter in dispute was their inscription on the list of turns, which
regulated the sales. The girls wrote their names on a slate in the
order of their arrival, and whenever one of them had served a customer,
she re-inscribed her name beneath the others. Madame Aurélie finished
by deciding in Marguerite’s favour.
“Always some injustice here!” muttered Clara, furiously.
However Denise’s entry reconciled these young ladies. They looked at
her, then smiled at each other. How could a person truss herself up in
that way! The young girl went and awkwardly wrote her name on the list,
where she found herself last. Meanwhile, Madame Aurélie examined her
with an anxious pout and could not help saying:
“My dear, two like you could get into your dress; you must have it
taken in. Besides, you don’t know how to dress yourself. Come here and
let me arrange you a bit.”
Then she placed her before one of the tall glasses alternating with the
massive doors of the cupboards containing the dresses. The spacious
apartment, surrounded by these mirrors and carved oak wood-work,
its floor covered with red carpet of a large pattern, resembled the
commonplace drawing-room of an hotel, traversed by a continual stream
of travellers. The young ladies dressed in regulation silk, and
promenading their charms about, without ever sitting down on the dozen
chairs reserved for the customers, completed the resemblance. Between
two button-holes of their dress bodies they all wore a long pencil,
with its point in the air; and protruding from their pockets, you could
see the white leaves of a book of debit-notes. Several ventured to
wear jewellery–rings, brooches and chains; but their great coquetry,
the point of display in which, given the forced uniformity of their
dress they all struggled for pre-eminence, was their hair, hair ever
overflowing, its volume augmented by plaits and chignons when their
own did not suffice, and combed, curled, and decked in every possible
“Pull the waist down in front,” said Madame Aurélie to Denise. “There,
you now have no hump on your back. And your hair, how can you massacre
it like that? It would be superb, if you only took a little trouble.”
This was, in fact, Denise’s only beauty. Of a beautiful flaxen hue, it
fell to her ankles: and when she did it up, it was so troublesome that
she simply rolled it in a knot, keeping it together with the strong
teeth of a bone comb. Clara, greatly annoyed by the sight of this
abundant hair, affected to laugh at it, so strange did it look, twisted
up anyhow with savage grace. She made a sign to a saleswoman in the
under-linen department, a girl with a broad face and agreeable manner.
The two departments, which adjoined one another, were ever at variance,
still the young ladies sometimes joined together in laughing at other
“Mademoiselle Cugnot, just look at that mane,” said Clara, whom
Marguerite was nudging, also feigning to be on the point of bursting
into laughter.
But Mademoiselle Cugnot was not in the humour for joking. She had
been looking at Denise for a moment and remembered what she had
suffered herself during the first few months after her arrival in the
“Well, what?” said she. “Everybody hasn’t got such a mane as that!”
And thereupon she returned to her place, leaving the two others
crestfallen. Denise, who had heard everything, followed her with
a glance of gratitude, while Madame Aurélie gave her a book of
debit-notes with her name on it, remarking:
“To-morrow you must get yourself up better; and now, try and pick up
the ways of the house, and wait your turn for selling. To-day’s work
will be very hard; we shall be able to judge of your capabilities.”
Despite her prophecies, the department still remained deserted; very
few customers came to buy mantles at this early hour. The young
ladies husbanded their strength, prudently preparing for the exertion
of the afternoon. Denise, intimidated by the thought that they were
watching her, sharpened her pencil, for the sake of something to do;
then, imitating the others, she stuck it in her bosom, between two
buttonholes, and summoned up all her courage, for it was necessary that
she should conquer a position. On the previous evening she had been
told that she was accepted as a probationer, that is to say, without
any fixed salary; she would simply have the commission and allowance on
what she sold. However, she fully hoped to earn twelve hundred francs
a year even in this way, knowing that the good saleswomen earned as
much as two thousand, when they liked to take the trouble. Her expenses
were regulated; a hundred francs a month would enable her to pay Pépé’s
board and lodging, assist Jean, who did not earn a sou, and procure
some clothes and linen for herself. Only, in order to attain to this
large amount, she would have to prove industrious and pushing, taking
no notice of the ill-will displayed by those around her but fighting
for her share and even snatching it from her comrades if necessary.
While she was thus working herself up for the struggle, a tall young
man, passing the department, smiled at her; and when she saw that
it was Deloche, who had been engaged in the lace department on the
previous day, she returned his smile, happy at the friendship which
thus presented itself and accepting his recognition as a good omen.
At half-past nine a bell rang for the first luncheon. Then a fresh peal
announced the second; and still no customers appeared. The second-hand,
Madame Frédéric, who, with the sulky harshness of widowhood, delighted
in prophesying disasters, declared curtly that the day was lost, that
they would not see a soul, that they might close the cupboards and go
away; predictions which clouded the flat face of Marguerite who was
eager to make money, whilst Clara, with her runaway-horse appearance,
already began dreaming of an excursion to the woods of Verrières should
the house really fail. As for Madame Aurélie, she remained silent
and serious, promenading her Cæsarian countenance about the empty
department, like a general who has responsibility whether in victory or
in defeat.
About eleven o’clock a few ladies appeared; and Denise’s turn for
serving had arrived when the approach of a customer was signalled.
“The fat old girl from the country–you know whom I mean,” murmured
Marguerite to Clara.
It was a woman of forty-five, who occasionally journeyed to Paris
from the depths of some out-of-the-way department where she saved
her money up for months together. Then, hardly out of the train, she
made straight for The Ladies’ Paradise, and spent all her savings.
She very rarely ordered anything by letter for she liked to see and
handle the goods, and would profit by her journeys to lay in a stock of
everything, even down to needles, which she said were extremely dear
in her small town. The whole staff knew her, was aware that her name
was Boutarel, and that she lived at Albi, but troubled no further about
her, neither about her position nor her mode of life.
“How do you do, madame?” graciously asked Madame Aurélie, who had come
forward. “And what can we show you? You shall be attended to at once.”
Then, turning round she added: “Now, young ladies!”
Denise approached; but Clara had sprung forward. As a rule, she was
very careless and idle, not caring about the money she earned in the
shop, as she could get plenty outside. However, the idea of doing the
newcomer out of a good customer spurred her on.
“I beg your pardon, it’s my turn,” said Denise, indignantly.
Madame Aurélie set her aside with a severe look, exclaiming: “There are
no turns. I alone am mistress here. Wait till you know, before serving
our regular customers.”
The young girl retired, and as tears were coming to her eyes, and she
wished to conceal her sensibility, she turned her back and stood up
before the window, pretending to gaze into the street. Were they going
to prevent her selling? Would they all conspire to deprive her of the
important sales, like that? Fear for the future came over her, she
felt herself crushed between so many contending interests. Yielding
to the bitterness of her abandonment, her forehead against the cold
glass, she gazed at The Old Elbeuf opposite, thinking that she ought
to have implored her uncle to keep her. Perhaps he himself regretted
his decision, for he had seemed to her greatly affected the previous
evening. And now she was quite alone in this vast house, where no one
cared for her, where she found herself hurtled, lost. Pépé and Jean,
who had never left her side, were living with strangers; she was parted
from everything, and the big tears which she strove to keep back made
the street dance before her in a sort of fog. All this time, the hum of
voices continued behind her.
“This one makes me look a fright,” Madame Boutarel was saying.
“You really make a mistake, madame,” said Clara; “the shoulders fit
perfectly–but perhaps you would prefer a pelisse to a mantle?”
Just then Denise started. A hand was laid on her arm. Madame Aurélie
addressed her severely:
“Well, you’re doing nothing now, eh? only looking at the people
passing? Things can’t go on like this, you know!”
“But since I’m not allowed to sell, madame?”
“Oh, there’s other work for you, mademoiselle! Begin at the beginning.
Do the folding-up.”
In order to please the few customers who had called, they had already
been obliged to ransack the cupboards, and on the two long oaken
tables, to the right and left, lay heaps of mantles, pelisses, and
capes, garments of all sizes and materials. Without replying, Denise
began to sort and fold them carefully and arrange them again in the
cupboards. This was the lowest work, generally performed by beginners.
She ceased to protest, however, knowing that they required the
strictest obedience, and prepared to wait until the first-hand should
be good enough to let her sell, as she seemed at first to have the
intention of doing. She was still folding, when Mouret appeared upon
the scene. To her his arrival came as a shock, she blushed without
knowing why, and again seized by a strange fear, thinking that he
was going to speak to her. But he did not even see her; he no longer
remembered the little girl whom a momentary impression had induced him
to support.
“Madame Aurélie,” he called curtly.
He was rather pale, but his eyes were clear and resolute. In making the
tour of the departments he had found them empty, and the possibility
of defeat had suddenly presented itself before him amidst all his
obstinate faith in fortune. True, it was only eleven o’clock; he knew
by experience that as a rule the crowd never arrived much before the
afternoon. But certain symptoms troubled him. On the inaugural days
of previous sales a general movement had manifested itself even in
the morning; besides, he did not see any of those bareheaded women,
customers living in the neighbourhood, who usually dropped into his
shop as into a neighbour’s. Despite his habitual resolution, like all
great captains, he felt at the moment of giving battle a superstitious
weakness growing on him. Things would not succeed, he was lost, and
he could not have explained why; yet he thought he could read his
defeat on the faces of the passing ladies. Just at that moment, Madame
Boutarel, she who always bought something, turned away, explaining,
“No, you have nothing that pleases me. I’ll see, I’ll decide later on.”
Mouret watched her depart. Then, as Madame Aurélie ran up at his call,
he took her aside, and they exchanged a few rapid words. She waved
her hands despairingly and was evidently admitting that things were
bad. For a moment they remained face to face, overcome by one of those
doubts which generals conceal from their soldiers. But at last, in his
brave way, he exclaimed aloud: “If you want any assistance, take a girl
from the workroom. She’ll be a little help to you.”
Then he continued his inspection, in despair. He had avoided Bourdoncle
all the morning, for his assistant’s anxious doubts irritated him.
However, on leaving the under-linen department, where business was
still worse than in the mantle gallery, he suddenly came upon him, and
was obliged to listen to the expression of his fears. Still he did not
hesitate to send him to the devil, with the brutality which he did not
spare even his principal employees when things were looking bad.
“Do keep quiet!” said he, “Everything is going on all right. I shall
end by pitching the tremblers out of doors.”
Then, alone and erect, he took his stand on the landing overlooking the
central hall, whence he commanded a view of almost the entire shop;
around him were the first-floor departments; beneath him those of the
ground-floor. Up above, the emptiness seemed heart-breaking; in the
lace department an old woman was having every box searched and yet
buying nothing; whilst three good-for-nothing minxes in the under-linen
department were slowly choosing some collars at eighteen sous a-piece.
Down below, in the covered galleries, in the rays of light which come
in from the street, he noticed that customers were gradually becoming
more numerous. There was a slow, intermittent procession wending its
way past the counters; in the mercery and the haberdashery departments
some women of the commoner class were pushing about, still there was
hardly a soul among the linens or the woollens. The shop messengers, in
their green swallow-tails with bright brass buttons, were waiting for
customers with dangling hands. Now and again there passed an inspector
with a ceremonious air, very stiff in his white choker. And Mouret was
especially grieved by the mortal silence which reigned in the hall,
where the light fell from a ground-glass roofing through which the
sunrays filtered in a white diffuse hovering dust, whilst down below
the silk department seemed to be asleep, in a quivering, church-like
quietude. A shopman’s footstep, a few whispered words, the rustling of
a passing skirt, were the only faint sounds; and these the warm air of
the heating apparatus almost stifled. However, carriages were beginning
to arrive, the sudden pulling up of the horses was heard, followed by
the banging of the doors of the vehicles. Outside, a distant tumult
was commencing to rise, inquisitive folks were jostling in front of
the windows, cabs were taking up their positions on the Place Gaillon,
there were all the appearances of a crowd’s approach. Still on seeing
the idle cashiers leaning back on their chairs behind their wickets,
and observing that the parcel-tables with their boxes of string and
reams of blue packing-paper remained unlittered, Mouret, though
indignant with himself for being afraid, thought he could feel his
immense machine ceasing to work and turning cold beneath him.
“I say, Favier,” murmured Hutin, “look at the governor up there. He
doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself.”
“Oh! this is a rotten shop!” replied Favier. “Just fancy, I’ve not sold
a thing yet.”
Both of them, on the look-out for customers, from time to time
whispered such short remarks as these, without looking at each other.
The other salesmen of the department were occupied in piling up pieces
of the Paris Delight under Robineau’s orders; whilst Bouthemont, in
full consultation with a thin young woman, seemed to be taking an
important order. Around them, on light and elegant shelves, were heaps
of plain silks, folded in long pieces of creamy paper, and looking
like pamphlets of an unusual size; whilst, encumbering the counters,
were fancy silks, moires, satins and velvets, resembling beds of cut
flowers, quite a harvest of delicate and precious tissues. This was the
most elegant of all the departments, a veritable drawing-room, where
the goods, so light and airy, seemed to be simply so much luxurious
“I must have a hundred francs by Sunday,” said Hutin. “If I don’t make
an average of twelve francs a day, I’m lost. I reckoned on this sale.”
“By Jove! a hundred francs; that’s rather stiff,” retorted Favier. “I
only want fifty or sixty. You must go in for swell jollifications,
“Oh, no, my dear fellow. It’s a stupid affair; I made a bet and lost.
So I have to stand a dinner for five persons, two fellows and three
girls. Hang me! I’ll let the first that passes in for twenty yards of
Paris Delight!”
They continued talking for a few minutes, relating what they had done
on the previous day, and what they intended to do on the ensuing
Sunday. Favier followed the races while Hutin did a little boating,
and patronized music-hall singers. But they were both possessed by the
same eager desire for money, fighting for it throughout the week, and
spending it all on Sunday. It was their sole thought in the shop, a
thought which urged them into an incessant and pitiless struggle. And
to think that cunning Bouthemont had just managed to get hold of Madame
Sauveur’s messenger, the skinny woman with whom he was talking! That
meant good business, three or four dozen pieces, at least, for the
celebrated dressmaker always gave large orders. A moment before too,
Robineau had taken it into his head to trick Favier out of a customer.
“Oh! as for that fellow, we must settle his hash,” said Hutin, who took
advantage of the slightest incidents to stir up the salesmen against
the man whose place he coveted. “Ought the first and second hands to
sell? ‘Pon my word! my dear fellow, if ever I become second you’ll see
how well I’ll act with the others.”
Thereupon, with his plump, amiable little Norman person he began
energetically playing the good-natured man. Favier could not help
casting a side glance at him; however he retained his phlegmatic air
and contented himself with replying:
“Yes, I know. For my part I should be only too pleased.” Then, as a
lady came up, he added in a lower tone: “Look out! Here’s one for you.”
It was a lady with a blotchy face, wearing a yellow bonnet, and a red
dress. Hutin immediately divined in her a woman who would buy nothing;
so in all haste he stooped behind the counter, pretending to be doing
up his boot-lace: and, thus concealed, he murmured: “No fear, let some
one else take her. I don’t want to lose my turn!”
However, Robineau was calling him: “Whose turn, gentlemen? Monsieur
Hutin’s? Where’s Monsieur Hutin?”
And as that gentleman still gave no reply, it was the next salesman who
served the lady with the blotches. Hutin was quite right, she simply
wanted some patterns with the prices; and she detained the salesman
more than ten minutes, overwhelming him with questions. However,
Robineau had seen Hutin get up from behind the counter; and so when
another customer arrived, he interfered with a stern air, and stopped
the young man just as he was rushing forward.
“Your turn has passed. I called you, and as you were there behind—-”
“But I didn’t hear you, sir.”
“That’ll do! write your name at the bottom. Now, Monsieur Favier, it’s
your turn.”
Favier, greatly amused at heart by this adventure, gave his friend a
glance, as if to excuse himself. Hutin, with pale lips, had turned his
head away. What particularly enraged him was that he knew the customer
very well, an adorable blonde who often came to their department, and
whom the salesmen called amongst themselves “the pretty lady,” knowing
nothing of her except her looks, not even her name. She always made
a good many purchases, instructed a messenger to take them to her
carriage, and then immediately disappeared. Tall, elegant, dressed with
exquisite taste, she appeared to be very rich, and to belong to the
best society.
“Well! and your hussy?” asked Hutin of Favier, when the latter returned
from the pay-desk, whither he had accompanied the lady.
“Oh! a hussy!” replied the other. “No, she looks far too lady-like. She
must be the wife of a stockbroker or a doctor, or something of that
“Don’t tell me! All the women get themselves up so much alike
now-a-days that it’s impossible to tell what they are!”
Favier glanced at his debit book. “I don’t care!” he resumed, “I’ve
stuck her for two hundred and ninety-three francs. That makes nearly
three francs for me.”
Hutin bit his lips, and vented his spleen on the debit books. Another
invention for cramming their pockets! There was a secret rivalry
between these two. Favier, as a rule, pretended to consider himself
of small account and to recognise Hutin’s superiority, but in reality
devoured him all the while behind his back. Thus, Hutin was wild at
the thought of the three francs pocketed so easily by a salesman whom
he considered his inferior in business-talent. A fine day’s work! If
it went on like this, he would not earn enough to pay for the seltzer
water for his Sunday guests. And in the midst of the battle, which was
now becoming fiercer, he walked along the counters with hungry eyes,
eager for his share, jealous even of his superior, who was just showing
the thin young woman out, and saying to her:
“Very well! it’s understood. Tell her I’ll do my best to obtain this
favour from Monsieur Mouret.”
Mouret had quitted his post up above some time before. Suddenly he
reappeared on the landing of the principal staircase which communicated
with the ground floor; and here again he commanded a view of the whole
establishment. His face was regaining its colour, his faith was coming
back and increasing at sight of the crowd which was gradually filling
the place. It was the expected rush at last, the afternoon crush, which
in his feverishness he had for a moment despaired of. All the shopmen
were at their posts, a last ring of the bell had announced the end
of the third lunch; the disasters of the morning, due no doubt to a
shower which had fallen about nine o’clock, could still be repaired,
for the blue sky of daybreak had come back with its victorious gaiety.
Now that the first-floor departments were growing animated, he was
obliged to stand back to make way for the women who were coming up to
the under-clothing and mantle departments; whilst, behind him, in the
lace and the shawl departments, he heard shopmen and customers talking
of large sums. But the sight of the galleries on the ground-floor
especially reassured him. There was a crowd among the haberdashery, and
even the linen and woollen departments were invaded. The procession of
buyers had closed up; and now nearly all of them wore hats or bonnets,
it was only here and there that you espied the white caps of a few
belated housewives. In the yellow light streaming down into the silk
hall, ladies had taken off their gloves to feel the Paris Delight on
which they commented in whispers. And there was no longer any mistaking
the noises which came from outside, the rolling of cabs, the banging of
carriage-doors, all the increasing tumult of a growing crowd. Mouret
felt that his machine was again setting to work beneath him, getting
up steam and reviving to activity, from the pay-desks where gold was
jingling, and the tables where messengers were hurriedly packing up
goods, to the delivery-room in the basement, which was quickly filling
with the parcels sent down to it, its subterraneous rumble seeming to
shake the whole house. And in the midst of the crowd was inspector
Jouve, walking about gravely, on the look-out for thieves.
“Hullo! is that you?” said Mouret, all at once recognising Paul de
Vallagnosc whom a messenger was conducting to him. “No, no, you are
not in my way. Besides, you’ve only to follow me if you want to see
everything, for to-day I stay in the breach.”
He still felt a little anxious. No doubt there were plenty of people,
but would the sale prove to be the triumph he hoped for? However, he
laughed with Paul and gaily carried him off.
“Things seem to be picking up a bit,” said Hutin to Favier. “But
somehow I’ve no luck; there are some days that are precious bad,
my word! I’ve just made another miss, that old frump hasn’t bought
As he spoke he glanced towards a lady who was walking off, casting
looks of disgust at all the goods. He was not likely to get fat on his
thousand francs a year, unless he sold something; as a rule he made
seven or eight francs a day in commission, which with his regular pay
gave him an average of ten francs a day. Favier never made much more
than eight, and yet now that animal was literally taking the bread out
of his mouth, for he had just sold another dress. To think of it, a
cold-natured fellow who had never known how to amuse a customer! It was
“Those chaps over there seem to be doing very well,” remarked Favier,
speaking of the salesmen in the hosiery and haberdashery departments.
But Hutin, who was looking all round the place, suddenly inquired:
“Do you know Madame Desforges, the governor’s sweetheart? Look! that
dark woman in the glove department, who is having some gloves tried on
by Mignot.” He paused, then resumed in a low tone, as if speaking to
Mignot, on whom he continued to direct his eyes: “Oh, go on, old man,
you may pull her fingers about as much as you like, that won’t do you
any good! We know your conquests!”
There was a rivalry between himself and the glove-man, the rivalry
of two handsome fellows, who both affected to flirt with the
lady-customers. As a matter of fact neither had any real conquests to
boast about, but they invented any number of mysterious adventures,
seeking to make people believe in all sorts of appointments given them
by titled ladies between two purchases.
“You ought to get hold of her,” said Favier, in his sly, artful way.
“That’s a good idea!” exclaimed Hutin. “If she comes here I’ll let her
in for something extensive; I want a five-franc piece!”
In the glove department there was quite a row of ladies seated before
the narrow counter covered with green velvet and edged with nickel
silver; and before them the smiling shopmen were heaping up flat boxes
of a bright pink, taken out of the counter itself, and resembling the
ticketed drawers of a secrétaire. Mignot, in particular, was bending
his pretty doll-like face forward, and striving to impart tender
inflections to his thick Parisian voice. He had already sold Madame
Desforges a dozen pairs of kid gloves, the Paradise gloves, one of the
specialties of the house. She had then asked for three pairs of Suèdes,
and was now trying on some Saxon gloves, for fear the size should not
be exact.
“Oh! the fit is perfect, madame,” repeated Mignot. “Six and a quarter
would be too large for a hand like yours.”
Half-lying on the counter, he held her hand, taking her fingers one
by one and slipping the glove on with a long, renewed, persistently
caressing touch, looking at her the while as if he expected to see in
her face some sign of pleasure. But she, with her elbow on the velvet
counter and her wrist raised, surrendered her fingers to him with the
same unconcerned air as that with which she gave her foot to her maid
so that she might button her boot. For her indeed he was not a man; she
utilized his services with the disdain she always showed for servants
and did not even look at him.
“I don’t hurt you, madame?” he inquired.
She replied “No,” with a shake of the head. The smell of the Saxon
gloves–a savage smell resembling sugared musk–troubled her as a rule,
but seated at this commonplace counter she did not notice it.
“And what next, madame?” asked Mignot.
“Nothing, thanks. Be good enough to carry the parcel to pay-desk No.
10, for Madame Desforges.”
Being a constant customer, she gave her name at a pay-desk, and had
each purchase sent there without requiring a shopman to follow her.
When she had gone away, Mignot turned towards his neighbour and winked,
and would have liked him to believe that some wonderful things had just
taken place.
Meanwhile, Madame Desforges continued her purchases. She turned to
the left, stopping in the linen department to procure some dusters;
then she walked round and went as far as the woollen department at the
further end of the gallery. As she was well pleased with her cook,
she wanted to make her a present of a dress. The woollen department
overflowed with a compact crowd; all the lower middle-class women were
there, feeling the stuffs and absorbed in mute calculations; and she
was obliged to sit down for a moment. The shelves were piled up with
great rolls of material which the salesmen took down one by one, with
a sudden pull. They were indeed getting confused with all the litter
on the counters, where stuffs were mingling and slipping down. It
was a sea of neutral tints, the dull hues of woollens–iron-greys,
yellow-greys and blue-greys, with here and there a Scotch tartan and a
blood-red flannel showing brightly. And the white tickets on the pieces
looked like a scanty shower of snow flakes, dotting a dark December
Behind a pile of poplin, Liénard was joking with a tall bare-headed
girl, a work-girl of the neigbourhood, sent by her mistress to match
some merino. He detested these big-sale days, which tired him to death,
and endeavoured to shirk his work, getting plenty of money from his
father and not caring a fig about the business but doing only just
enough to avoid being dismissed.
“Listen to me, Mademoiselle Fanny,” he was saying; “you are always in a
hurry. Did the striped vicuna suit the other day? I shall come and see
you, and ask for my commission, mind.”
But the girl ran off, laughing, and Liénard found himself before Madame
Desforges, whom he could not help asking: “What can I serve you with,
She wanted a dress, not too dear but yet of strong stuff. Liénard,
with the view of sparing his arms, which was his principal thought,
manœuvred so as to make her take one of the stuffs already unfolded on
the counter. There were cashmeres, serges and vicunas there, and he
declared that there was nothing better to be had, for you could never
wear them out. However, none of these seemed to satisfy her. On one of
the shelves she had observed a blue shalloon, which she wished to see.
So he made up his mind at last, and took down the roll, but she thought
the material too rough. Then he showed her a cheviot, some diagonals,
some greys, every sort of woollens, which she felt out of curiosity,
just for the pleasure of doing so, decided at heart to take no matter
what. The young man was thus obliged to empty the highest shelves; his
shoulders cracked and the counter vanished under the silky grain of the
cashmeres and poplins, the rough nap of the cheviots and the tufty down
of the vicunas; there were samples of every material and every tint.
Though she had not the least wish to buy any, she even asked to see
some grenadine and some Chambéry gauze. Then, when she had seen enough,
she remarked:
“Oh! after all, the first is the best; it’s for my cook. Yes, the
narrow ribbed serge, the one at two francs.” And when Liénard had
measured it, pale with suppressed anger, she added: “Have the goodness
to take that to pay-desk No. 10, for Madame Desforges.”
Just as she was going away, she recognised Madame Marty near her,
accompanied by her daughter Valentine, a tall girl of fourteen, thin
and bold, who already cast a woman’s covetous looks on the materials.
“Ah! it’s you, dear madame?”
“Yes, dear madame; what a crowd–is it not?”
“Oh! don’t speak of it, it’s stifling. And such a success! Have you
seen the oriental saloon?”
Thereupon, amidst all the jostling, pushed hither and thither by the
growing crowd of modest purses rushing upon the cheap woollen goods,
they went into ecstasies over the exhibition of Eastern carpets.
And afterwards Madame Marty explained that she was looking for some
material for a mantle; but she had not quite made up her mind and
wanted to see some woollen _matelassé_.
“Look, mamma,” murmured Valentine, “it’s too common.”
“Come to the silk department,” then said Madame Desforges, “you must
see their famous Paris Delight.”
Madame Marty hesitated for a moment. It would be very dear, and she had
faithfully promised her husband to be reasonable! She had been buying
for an hour, quite a pile of articles was following her already: a muff
and some quilling for herself and some stockings for her daughter. She
finished by saying to the shopman who was showing her the _matelassé_:
“Well–no; I’m going to the silk department; you’ve nothing to suit me.”
The shopman then took up the articles already purchased and walked off
before the ladies.
In the silk department there was also a crowd, the principal crush
being opposite the inside display arranged by Hutin, to which Mouret
had given the finishing touches. This was at the further end of the
hall, around one of the slender wrought-iron columns which supported
the glass roof. A perfect torrent of material, a billowy cascade
fell from above, spreading out more and more as it neared the floor.
The bright satins and soft-tinted silks–the Reine and Renaissance
satins with the pearly tones of spring water; the light silks,
Nile-green, Indian-azure, May-pink, and Danube-blue all of crystalline
transparency–flowed forth above. Then came the stronger fabrics:
warm-tinted Merveilleux satins, and Duchess silks, rolling in waves
of increasing volume; whilst at the bottom, as in a fountain-basin,
the heavy materials, the figured armures, the damasks, and brocades,
the beaded silks and the silk embroidered with gold and silver,
reposed amidst a deep bed of velvet of every sort–black, white,
and coloured–with patterns stamped on silk and satin grounds, and
spreading out with their medley of colours like a still lake in which
reflections of sky and scenery were seemingly dancing. The women, pale
with desire, bent over as if to look at themselves in a mirror. And
before this gushing cataract they all remained hesitating between a
secret fear of being carried away by such a flood of luxury, and an
irresistible desire to jump in and be lost in it.
“Here you are, then!” said Madame Desforges, on finding Madame
Bourdelais installed before a counter.
“Ah! good day!” replied the latter, shaking hands with the other
ladies. “Yes, I’ve come to have a look.”
“What a prodigious exhibition! It’s like a dream. And the oriental
saloon! Have you seen the oriental saloon?”
“Yes, yes; extraordinary!”
But beneath this enthusiasm, which was decidedly to be the fashionable
note of the day, Madame Bourdelais retained her practical housewifely
coolness. She was carefully examining a piece of Paris Delight, for
she had come on purpose to profit by the exceptional cheapness of this
silk, if she found it really advantageous. She was doubtless satisfied
with it, for she bought five-and-twenty yards, hoping that this
quantity would prove sufficient to make a dress for herself and a cloak
for her little girl.
“What! you are going already?” resumed Madame Desforges. “Take a walk
round with us.”
“No, thanks; they are waiting for me at home. I didn’t like to risk
bringing the children into this crowd.”
Thereupon she went away, preceded by the salesman carrying the
twenty-five yards of silk, who led her to pay-desk No. 10, where young
Albert was getting confused by all the demands for invoices with which
he was besieged. When the salesman was able to approach, after having
inscribed his sale on a debit-note, he called out the item, which
the cashier entered in a register; then it was checked, and the leaf
torn out of the salesman’s debit book was stuck on a file near the
receipting stamp.
“One hundred and forty francs,” said Albert.
Madame Bourdelais paid and gave her address, for having come on foot
she did not wish to be troubled with a parcel. Joseph had already
received the silk behind the pay-desk, and was tying it up; and then
the parcel, thrown into a basket on wheels, was sent down to the
delivery department, which seemed to swallow up all the goods in the
shop with a sluice-like roar.
Meanwhile, the block was becoming so great in the silk department
that Madame Desforges and Madame Marty could not find a salesman
disengaged. So they remained standing, mingling with the crowd of
ladies who were looking at the silks and feeling them, staying there
for hours without making up their minds. However the Paris Delight
proved the great success; around it pressed one of those crowds whose
feverish infatuation decrees a fashion in a day. A host of shopmen were
engaged in measuring off this silk; above the customers’ heads you
could see the pale glimmer of the unfolded pieces, as the fingers of
the employees came and went along the oak yard measures hanging from
brass rods; and you could hear the noise of scissors swiftly cutting
the silk, as fast as it was unwound, as if indeed there were not
shopmen enough to suffice for all the greedy outstretched hands of the

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“It really isn’t bad for five francs sixty centimes,” said Madame
Desforges, who had succeeded in getting hold of a piece at the edge of
the table.
Madame Marty and her daughter experienced some disappointment, however.
The newspapers had said so much about this silk, that they had expected
something stronger and more brilliant. However, Bouthemont had just
recognised Madame Desforges, and anxious to pay his court to such a
handsome lady, who was supposed to be all-powerful with the governor,
he came forward, with rather coarse amiability. What! no one was
serving her! it was unpardonable! He begged her to be indulgent, for
really they did not know which way to turn. And then he began to look
for some chairs amongst the neighbouring skirts, laughing the while
with his good-natured laugh, full of a brutal love for the sex, which
did not seem to displease Henriette.
“I say,” murmured Favier, as he went to take some velvet from a shelf
behind Hutin, “there’s Bouthemont making up to your mash.”
Beside himself with rage with an old lady, who, after keeping him a
quarter of an hour, had finished by buying a yard of black satin for
a pair of stays, Hutin had quite forgotten Madame Desforges. In busy
moments they took no notice of the turns, each salesman served the
customers as they arrived. And he was answering Madame Boutarel, who
was finishing her afternoon at The Ladies’ Paradise, where she had
already spent three hours in the morning, when Favier’s warning made
him start. What! was he going to miss the governor’s sweetheart, from
whom he had sworn to extract a five-franc piece for himself? That would
be the height of ill-luck, for he hadn’t made three francs as yet with
all those other chignons who were mooning about the place!
Bouthemont was just then calling out loudly: “Come gentlemen, some one
this way!”
Thereupon Hutin passed Madame Boutarel over to Robineau, who was doing
nothing. “Here’s the second-hand, madame. He will answer you better
than I can.”
And he rushed off to take Madame Marty’s purchases from the woollen
salesman who had accompanied the ladies. That day a nervous excitement
must have interfered with his usually keen scent. As a rule, the first
glance told him if a customer meant to buy, and how much. Then he
domineered over the customer, hastened to serve her so as to pass on to
another, imposing his choice upon her and persuading her that he knew
better than herself what material she required.
“What sort of silk, madame?” he asked, in his most gallant manner and
Madame Desforges had no sooner opened her mouth than he added: “I know,
I’ve got just what you want.”
When the piece of Paris Delight was unfolded on a corner of the
counter, between heaps of other silks, Madame Marty and her daughter
approached. Hutin, rather anxious, understood that it was at first a
question of serving these two. Whispered words were exchanged, Madame
Desforges was advising her friend. “Oh! certainly,” she murmured. “A
silk at five francs twelve sous will never equal one at fifteen, or
even ten.”
“It is very light,” repeated Madame Marty. “I’m afraid that it has not
sufficient body for a mantle.”
This remark induced the salesman to intervene. He smiled with the
exaggerated politeness of a man who cannot make a mistake. “But
flexibility, madame, is the chief quality of this silk. It will not
crimple. It’s exactly what you require.”
Impressed by such an assurance, the ladies said no more. They had taken
the silk up, and were again examining it, when they felt a touch on
their shoulders. It was Madame Guibal, who had been slowly walking
about the shop for an hour past, feasting her eyes on all the assembled
riches but not buying so much as a yard of calico. And now there was
another explosion of gossip.
“What! Is that you?”
“Yes, it’s I, rather knocked about though.”
“What a crowd–eh? One can’t get about. And the oriental saloon?”
“Good heavens! what a success! Stay a moment, we will go upstairs
“No, thanks, I’ve just come down.”
Hutin was waiting, concealing his impatience beneath a smile that did
not quit his lips. Were they going to keep him there long? Really the
women took things very coolly, it was like stealing money out of his
pocket. At last, however, Madame Guibal went off to resume her stroll,
turning round the large display of silks with an enraptured air.
“Well, if I were you I should buy the mantle ready-made,” said Madame
Desforges, suddenly returning to the Paris Delight. “It won’t cost you
so much.”
“It’s true that the trimmings and making-up—-” murmured Madame Marty.
“Besides, one has more choice.”
All three had risen; Madame Desforges, turning to Hutin, said to him:
“Have the goodness to show us to the mantle department.”
He remained dumbfounded, unaccustomed as he was to such defeats. What!
the dark lady bought nothing! Had he made a mistake then? Abandoning
Madame Marty he thereupon attacked Madame Desforges, exerting all his
ability as a salesman on her. “And you, madame, would you not like to
see our satins, our velvets? We have some extraordinary bargains.”
“Thanks, another time,” she coolly replied, looking at him no more than
she had looked at Mignot.
Hutin had to take up Madame Marty’s purchases and walk off before the
ladies to show them to the mantle department. But he also had the grief
of seeing that Robineau was selling Madame Boutarel a large quantity of
silk. Decidedly his scent was playing him false, he wouldn’t make four
sous! Beneath the amiable propriety of his manners his heart swelled
with the rage of a man robbed and devoured by others.
“On the first floor, ladies,” said he, without ceasing to smile.
It was no easy matter to reach the staircase. A compact crowd of heads
was surging under the galleries and expanding like an overflowing
river in the middle of the hall. Quite a battle of business was going
on, the salesmen had this population of women at their mercy, and
passed them on from one to another with feverish haste. The moment
of the formidable afternoon rush, when the over-heated machine led
its customers such a feverish dance, extracting money from their very
flesh, had at last arrived. In the silk department especially a gust
of folly seemed to reign, the Paris Delight had brought such a crowd
together that for several minutes Hutin could not advance a step; and
Henriette, half-suffocated, having raised her eyes to the summit of the
stairs there beheld Mouret, who ever returned thither as to a favourite
position, from which he could view victory. She smiled, hoping that he
would come down and extricate her. But he did not even recognise her in
the crowd; he was still with Vallagnosc, showing him the establishment,
his face beaming with triumph the while.
The trepidation within was now stifling all outside noise; you no
longer heard the rumbling of the vehicles, nor the banging of their
doors; apart from the loud buzzing of the sales nought remained but
a consciousness that the immensity of Paris stretched all around, an
immensity which would always furnish buyers. In the heavy still air,
in which the fumes of the heating apparatus heightened the odours
of the stuffs, there was an increasing hubbub compounded of all
sorts of noises, of continual tramping, of phrases a hundred times
repeated around the counters, of gold jingling on the brass tablets
of the pay-desks, which a legion of purses besieged, and of baskets
on wheels laden with parcels which were constantly disappearing into
the gaping cellars. And, amidst the fine dust, everything finished by
getting mixed, it became impossible to recognise the divisions of the
different departments; the haberdashery department over yonder seemed
submerged; further on, in the linen department, a ray of sunshine,
entering by a window facing the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin, looked like
a golden dart in a mass of snow; while, among the gloves and woollens,
a dense mass of bonnets and chignons hid the background of the shop
from view. Even the toilettes could no longer be distinctly seen, the
head-gear alone appeared, decked with feathers and ribbons, while a
few men’s hats here and there showed like black spots, and the woman’s
complexions, pale with fatigue and heat, assumed the transparency of
camelias. At last, Hutin–thanks to his vigorous elbows–was able to
open a way for the ladies, by keeping in front of them. But on reaching
the landing, Henriette no longer found Mouret there, for he had just
plunged Vallagnosc into the midst of the crowd in order to complete his
bewilderment, he himself, too, feeling the need of a dip into this bath
of success. He lost his breath with rapture, feeling the while a kind
of continuous caress from all his customers.
“To the left, ladies,” said Hutin, still attentive despite his
increasing exasperation.
Up above, however, there was the same block. People invaded even the
furnishing department, usually the quietest of all. The shawl, the fur,
and the under-clothing departments literally swarmed with customers;
and as the ladies crossed the lace gallery another meeting took place.
Madame de Boves was there with her daughter Blanche, both buried amidst
the articles which Deloche was showing them. And again Hutin had to
make a halt, parcel in hand.
“Good afternoon! I was just thinking of you.”
“I’ve been looking for you myself. But how can you expect to find any
one in this crowd?”
“It’s magnificent, isn’t it?”
“Dazzling, my dear. We can hardly stand.”
“And you’re buying?”
“Oh! no, we’re only looking round. It rests us a little to be seated.”
As a fact, Madame de Boves, with scarcely more than her cab-fare in
her purse, was having all sorts of laces handed down, simply for the
pleasure of seeing and handling them. She had guessed Deloche to be
a new salesman, slow and awkward, who dared not resist a customer’s
whims; and she had taken advantage of his bewildered good-nature, to
keep him there for half an hour, still asking for fresh articles. The
counter was covered, and she plunged her hands into an increasing
mountain of lace, Malines, Valenciennes, and Chantilly, her fingers
trembling with desire, her face gradually warming with a sensual
delight; whilst Blanche, close to her, agitated by the same passion,
was very pale, her flesh inflated and flabby. However, the conversation
continued; and Hutin, standing there waiting their good pleasure, could
have slapped their faces for all the time they were making him lose.
“Ah!” said Madame Marty, “you’re looking at some cravats and
handkerchiefs like those I showed you the other day.”
This was true; Madame de Boves, tormented by Madame Marty’s lace ever
since the previous Saturday, had been unable to resist the desire to at
least handle some like it, since the meagre allowance which her husband
made her did not permit her to carry any away. She blushed slightly,
explaining that Blanche had wished to see the Spanish-blonde cravats.
Then she added: “You’re going to the mantles. Well! we’ll see you
again. Shall we say in the oriental saloon?”
“That’s it, in the oriental saloon–Superb, isn’t it?”
Then they separated enraptured, amidst the obstruction which the sale
of insertions and small trimmings at low prices was causing. Deloche,
glad to be occupied, again began emptying the boxes before the mother
and daughter. And amidst the groups pressing close to the counters,
inspector Jouve slowly walked about with his military air, displaying
his decoration and watching over all the fine and precious goods, so
easy to conceal up a sleeve. When he passed behind Madame de Boves,
surprised to see her with her arms plunged in such a heap of lace he
cast a quick glance at her feverish hands.
“To the right, ladies,” said Hutin, resuming his march.
He was beside himself with rage. Was it not enough that he had missed
a sale down below? Now they kept on delaying him at each turn of the
shop! And with his annoyance was blended no little of the rancour that
existed between the textile and the ready-made departments, which
were in continual hostility, ever fighting for customers and stealing
each other’s percentages and commissions. Those of the silk hall were
yet more enraged than those of the woollen department whenever a lady
decided to take a mantle after looking at numerous taffetas and failles
and they were obliged to conduct her to Madame Aurélie’s gallery.
“Mademoiselle Vadon!” said Hutin, in an angry voice, when he at last
arrived in the department.
But Mademoiselle Vadon passed by without listening, absorbed in a sale
which she was conducting. The room was full, a stream of people were
crossing it, entering by the door of the lace department and leaving
by that of the under-clothing department, whilst on the right were
customers trying on garments, and posing before the mirrors. The red
carpet stifled all noise of footsteps here, and the distant roar from
the ground-floor died away, giving place to a discreet murmur and a
drawing-room warmth, increased by the presence of so many women.
“Mademoiselle Prunaire!” cried out Hutin. And as she also took no
notice of him, he added between his teeth, so as not to be heard: “A
set of jades!”
He was certainly not fond of them, tired to death as he was by climbing
the stairs to bring them customers and furious at the profits which
he accused them of taking out of his pocket. It was a secret warfare,
into which the young ladies themselves entered with equal fierceness;
and in their mutual weariness, always on foot and worked to death, all
difference of sex disappeared and nothing remained but their contending
interests, irritated by the fever of business.
“So there’s no one here to serve?” asked Hutin.
But he suddenly caught sight of Denise. She had been kept folding all
the morning, only allowed to serve a few doubtful customers, to whom
moreover she had not sold anything. When Hutin recognised her, occupied
in clearing an enormous heap of garments off the counters, he ran up to
“Look here, mademoiselle! serve these ladies who are waiting.”
Thereupon he quickly slipped Madame Marty’s purchases into her arms,
tired as he was of carrying them about. His smile returned to him
but it was instinct with the secret maliciousness of the experienced
salesman, who shrewdly guessed into what an awkward position he had
just thrown both the ladies and the young girl. The latter, however,
remained quite perturbed by the prospect of this unhoped-for sale which
suddenly presented itself. For the second time Hutin appeared to her as
an unknown friend, fraternal and tender-hearted, always ready to spring
out of the darkness to save her. Her eyes glistened with gratitude; she
followed him with a lingering look, whilst he began elbowing his way as
fast as possible towards his department.
“I want a mantle,” said Madame Marty.
Then Denise questioned her. What style of mantle? But the lady had no
idea, she wished to see what the house had got. And the young girl,
already very tired, bewildered by the crowd, quite lost her head; she
had never served any but the rare customers who came to Cornaille’s,
at Valognes; she did not even know the number of the models, nor
their places in the cupboards. And so she was hardly able to reply to
the ladies, who were beginning to lose patience, when Madame Aurélie
perceived Madame Desforges, of whose connection with Mouret she was no
doubt aware, for she hastened up and asked with a smile:
“Are these ladies being served?”
“Yes, that young person over there is attending to us,” replied
Henriette. “But she does not appear to be very well up to her work; she
can’t find anything.”
At this, the first-hand completely paralyzed Denise by stepping up
to her and saying in a whisper: “You see very well you know nothing.
Don’t interfere any more, please.” Then turning round she called out:
“Mademoiselle Vadon, these ladies require a mantle!”
She remained looking on whilst Marguerite showed the models. This girl
assumed a dry polite voice with customers, the disagreeable manner of
a young person robed in silk, accustomed to rub against elegance in
every form, and full, unknown to herself, of jealousy and rancour.
When she heard Madame Marty say that she did not wish to pay more
than two hundred francs, she made a grimace of pity. Oh! madame would
certainly give more, for it would be impossible to find anything at
all suitable for two hundred francs. Then she threw some of the common
mantles on a counter with a gesture which signified: “Just see, aren’t
they pitiful?” Madame Marty dared not think them nice after that; but
bent over to murmur in Madame Desforges’s ear: “Don’t you prefer to be
served by men? One feels more comfortable?”
At last Marguerite brought a silk mantle trimmed with jet, which she
treated with respect. And thereupon Madame Aurélie abruptly called
“Come, do something at all events. Just put that on your shoulders.”
Denise, wounded to the heart, despairing of ever succeeding, had
remained motionless, her hands dangling by her side. No doubt she would
be sent away, and the children would be without food. All the tumult
of the crowd buzzed in her head, her legs were tottering and her arms
bruised by the handling of so many garments, a porter’s work which
she had never done before. However, she was obliged to obey and allow
Marguerite to put the mantle on her, as on a dummy.
“Stand upright,” said Madame Aurélie.
But a moment afterwards Denise was forgotten. Mouret had just come
in with Vallagnosc and Bourdoncle; and he bowed to the ladies, who
complimented him on his magnificent exhibition of winter novelties. Of
course they went into raptures over the oriental saloon. Vallagnosc,
who was finishing his walk through the departments, displayed more
surprise than admiration; for, after all, thought he, with his
pessimist nonchalance, it was nothing more than an immense collection
of drapery. Bourdoncle, however, forgetting that he himself belonged to
the establishment, likewise congratulated the governor in order to make
him forget his anxious doubts and persecutions of the earlier part of
the day.
“Yes, yes; things are going on very well, I’m quite satisfied,”
repeated Mouret, radiant, replying with a smile to Madame Desforges’s
loving looks. “But I must not interrupt you, ladies.”
Then all eyes were again turned on Denise. She placed herself entirely
in the hands of Marguerite, who was making her turn round.
“What do you think of it–eh?” asked Madame Marty of Madame Desforges.
The latter gave her opinion, like a supreme umpire of fashion. “It
isn’t bad, the cut is original, but it doesn’t seem to me very graceful
about the waist.”
“Oh!” interrupted Madame Aurélie, “it must be seen on the lady herself.
You can understand, it does not have much effect on this young person,
who is so slim. Hold up your head, mademoiselle, give the mantle all
its importance.”
They smiled. Denise had turned very pale. She felt ashamed at being
thus turned into a machine, which they examined and joked about so
Madame Desforges, yielding to the natural antipathy of a contrary
nature, annoyed by the girl’s gentle face, maliciously added: “No
doubt it would set better if the young person’s gown were not so
Thereupon she cast at Mouret the mocking glance of a Parisienne amused
by the ridiculous rig of a country girl. He felt the amorous caress
of this glance, the triumph of a woman proud of her beauty and her
art. And so out of pure gratitude, the gratitude of a man who knew
himself to be adored, he felt obliged to joke in his turn, despite his
good-will towards Denise of whose secret charm he was conscious.
“Besides, her hair should be combed,” he murmured.
This was the last straw. The director deigned to laugh so all the young
ladies ventured to do the same. Marguerite risked a slight chuckle,
like a well-behaved girl who restrains herself; but Clara left a
customer so as to enjoy the fun at her ease; and even some saleswomen
of the under-clothing department came in, attracted by the talking.
As for the lady customers they took it more quietly, with an air of
well-bred enjoyment. Madame Aurélie was the only one who did not smile;
it was as if Denise’s splendid wild-looking hair and slender virginal
shoulders had dishonoured her, compromised the good reputation of her
department. Denise herself had turned paler still, amidst all these
people who were laughing at her. She felt herself violated, exposed to
all their hostile glances, without defence. What had she done that they
should thus attack her spare figure, and her too luxuriant hair? But
she was especially wounded by Madame Desforges’s and Mouret’s laughter,
instinctively divining their connection and her heart sinking with
an unknown grief. That lady was surely very ill-natured to attack a
poor girl who had said nothing; and as for Mouret, he most decidedly
filled her with a freezing fear, in which all her other sentiments
disappeared. And, totally abandoned, assailed in her most cherished
feelings of modesty, indignant at such injustice, she was obliged to
stifle the sobs which were rising in her throat.
“I should think so; let her comb her hair to-morrow,” said the terrible
Bourdoncle to Madame Aurélie. Full of scorn for Denise’s small limbs he
had condemned her the first time he had seen her.
At last the first-hand came and took the mantle off Denise’s shoulders,
saying to her in a low tone: “Well! mademoiselle, here’s a fine start.
Really, if this is the way you show your capabilities–It is impossible
to be more stupid!”
Fearing that her tears might gush from her eyes Denise hastened back
to the heap of garments, which she began sorting on the counter.
There at least she was lost in the crowd. Fatigue prevented her from
thinking. But all at once near by she perceived the saleswoman of the
under-clothing department, who had already defended her that morning.
The latter had followed the scene, and murmured in her ear:
“My poor child, you mustn’t be so sensitive. Keep that to yourself,
or they’ll go on worse and worse. I come from Chartres. Yes, Pauline
Cugnot is my name; and my parents are millers. Well! the girls here
would have devoured me during the first few days if I had not stood up
firm. Come, be brave! give me your hand, we’ll have a talk together
whenever you like.”
This outstretched hand redoubled Denise’s confusion; she shook it
furtively and hastened to take up a load of cloaks, fearing lest she
might again be accused of a transgression and receive a scolding if it
were known she had a friend.
However, Madame Aurélie herself, had just put the mantle on Madame
Marty, and they all exclaimed: “Oh! how nice! delightful!” It at
once looked quite different. Madame Desforges decided that it would
be impossible to improve on it. A good deal of bowing ensued, Mouret
took his leave, whilst Vallagnosc, who had perceived Madame de Boves
and her daughter in the lace department, hastened to offer his arm
to the former. Marguerite, standing before one of the pay-desks, was
already calling out the different purchases made by Madame Marty, who
settled for them and ordered the parcel to be taken to her cab. Madame
Desforges had found her articles at pay-desk No. 10. Then the ladies
met once more in the oriental saloon. They were leaving, but it was
amidst a loquacious outburst of admiration. Even Madame Guibal became
“Oh! delicious! it makes you think you are in the East; doesn’t it?”
“A real harem, and not at all dear!”
“And the Smyrnas! oh, the Smyrnas! what tones, what delicacy!”
“And that Kurdestan! Just look, a real Delacroix!”
The crowd was thinning. The bell, at an hour’s interval, had already
announced the first two dinners; the third was about to be served, and
in the departments there now only remained a few lingering customers,
whose fever for spending money had made them forget the time. Outside
nothing was heard but the rolling of the last cabs breaking upon the
husky voice of Paris, a snort like that of a satiated ogre digesting
all the linens and cloths, silks and laces with which he had been
gorged since the morning. Within, beneath the flaming gas-jets, which,
burning in the twilight, had illumined the last supreme efforts of the
sale, everything looked like a field of battle still warm with the
massacre of the materials. The salesmen, harassed and fatigued, camped
amidst the contents of their shelves and counters, which appeared to
have been thrown into confusion by the furious blast of a hurricane.
It was with difficulty that you traversed the galleries on the ground
floor, obstructed by straggling chairs. In the glove department it
was necessary to step over a pile of cases heaped up around Mignot;
through the woollens there was no means of passing at all, Liénard was
dozing on an ocean of bales, in which certain pieces standing on end,
though half destroyed, seemed like houses which an overflowing river
was carrying away; and, further on, the linen department appeared like
a heavy fall of snow, and you stumbled against icebergs of napkins, and
walked through flakes of handkerchiefs.
The same disorder prevailed upstairs, in the departments of the first
floor: the furs were scattered over the flooring, the mantles were
heaped up like the great-coats of soldiers _hors-de-combat_, the laces
and the under-linen, unfolded, crumpled, thrown about everywhere, made
you think of a nation of women who had disrobed themselves there;
whilst down below, in the depths of the establishment, the delivery
department, now in full activity, was still and ever disgorging the
parcels which filled it to suffocation and which were carried off by
the vans, in a last effort of the overheated machine. But it was on
the silk department especially that the customers had flung themselves
with the greatest ardour. There they had cleared off everything, there
was abundant room to pass, the hall was bare; the whole of the colossal
stock of Paris Delight had been cut up and carried away, as if by a
swarm of devouring locusts. And in the midst of this great void, Hutin
and Favier were running through the counterfoils of their debit-notes,
calculating their commission, and still short of breath from the
struggle. Favier, it turned out, had made fifteen francs while Hutin
had only managed to make thirteen; he had been thoroughly beaten that
day, and was enraged at his bad luck. The eyes of both sparkled with
the passion for gain. And all around them other shopmen were likewise
adding up figures, glowing with the same fever, in the brutal gaiety
which follows victorious carnage.
“Well, Bourdoncle!” cried out Mouret, “are you trembling still?”
He had returned to his favourite position against the balustrade, at
the top of the stairs, and, in presence of the massacre of stuffs
spread out below him, he indulged in a victorious laugh. His fears of
the morning, that moment of unpardonable weakness which nobody would
ever know of, inspired him with a greater desire to triumph. The battle
was definitely won, the small tradespeople of the neighbourhood were
done for, and Baron Hartmann was conquered, with his millions and his
building sites. Whilst Mouret gazed at the cashiers bending over their
ledgers, adding up long columns of figures, whilst he listened to the
sound of the gold, falling from their fingers into the metal bowls, he
already beheld The Ladies’ Paradise growing and growing, enlarging its
hall and prolonging its galleries as far as the Rue du Dix-Décembre.
“And now,” he resumed, “are you not convinced, Bourdoncle, that the
house is really too small? We could have sold twice as much.”
Bourdoncle humbled himself, enraptured, moreover, to find himself
in the wrong. But another spectacle rendered them grave. As was the
custom every evening, Lhomme, the chief sales’ cashier, had just
collected the receipts from each pay-desk; and after adding them up,
he wrote the total amount on a paper which he displayed by hanging it
on the iron claw with which the stump of his mutilated arm, severed
at the elbow, was provided. And then he took the receipts up to the
chief cash office, some in a leather case and some in bags, according
to the nature of the specie. On this occasion the gold and silver
predominated, and he slowly walked upstairs carrying three enormous
bags, which he clasped with his one arm against his breast, holding one
of them with his chin in order to prevent it from slipping. His heavy
breathing could be heard at a distance as he passed along, staggering
and superb, amidst the respectful shopmen.
“How much, Lhomme?” asked Mouret.
“Eighty thousand seven hundred and forty-two francs ten centimes,”
replied the cashier.
A joyous laugh stirred up The Ladies’ Paradise. The amount ran through
the establishment. It was the highest figure ever attained in one day’s
sales by a draper’s shop.
That evening, when Denise went up to bed, she felt so faint that she
was obliged to lean against the partition in the corridor under the
zinc roof. And when she was inside her room, with the door closed, she
fell down on the bed; her feet pained her so much. For a long time she
continued gazing with a stupid air at the dressing-table, the wardrobe,
all the lodginghouse-like bareness. This, then, was where she was
going to live; and her first day–an abominable, endless day–filled
her with sore distress. She would never have the courage to go through
such another. Then she perceived that she was dressed in silk; and
this uniform depressed her. She was childish enough, before unpacking
her box, to put on her old woollen gown, which hung over the back of a
chair. But when she had once more donned this poor garment a painful
emotion choked her; the sobs which she had kept back all day suddenly
found vent in a flood of hot tears. She fell back on the bed, weeping
at the thought of the two children, and she wept on and on, without
even the strength to take off her boots, so completely was she overcome
with fatigue and grief.

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