They were once more standing face to face

The next morning, at half-past seven, Denise was outside The Ladies’
Paradise, wishing to call there before taking Jean to his new place,
which was a long way off, at the top of the Faubourg du Temple. But,
accustomed as she was to early hours, she had come down too soon; the
employees were barely arriving and, afraid of looking ridiculous,
overcome by timidity, she remained for a moment walking up and down the
Place Gaillon.
The cold wind that blew had already dried the pavement. From all the
surrounding streets, illumined by a pale early light, falling from an
ashen sky, shopmen were hurriedly approaching with their coat-collars
turned up, and their hands in their pockets, taken unawares by this
first chill of winter. Most of them hurried along alone, and vanished
into the warehouse, without addressing a word or look to their
colleagues marching along around them. Others however came up in twos
and threes, talking fast, and monopolising the whole of the pavement;
and all, with a similar gesture, flung away their cigarettes or cigars
before crossing the threshold.
Denise noticed that several of the gentlemen took stock of her in
passing. This increased her timidity; and she no longer had courage to
follow them, but resolved to wait till they had entered, blushing at
the mere idea of being elbowed at the door by all these men. However
the stream of salesmen still flowed on, and in order to escape their
looks, she took a walk round the Place. When she came back again, she
found a tall young man, pale and awkward, who appeared to be waiting
like herself.
“I beg your pardon, mademoiselle,” he finished by stammering, “but
perhaps you belong to the establishment?”
She was so troubled at hearing a stranger address her that she did not
at first reply.
“The fact is,” he continued, getting more confused than ever, “I
thought of applying to see if I could get an engagement, and you might
have given me a little information.”
He was as timid as she was, and had probably risked speaking to her
because he divined that she was trembling like himself.
“I would with pleasure, sir,” she at last replied. “But I’m no better
off than you are; I’m just going to apply myself.”
“Ah, very good,” said he, quite out of countenance.
Thereupon they both blushed deeply, and still all timidity remained for
a moment face to face, affected by the striking similarity of their
positions yet not daring to openly express a desire for each other’s
success. Then, as nothing further fell from either and both became more
and more uncomfortable, they parted awkwardly, and renewed their wait,
one on either side at a distance of a few steps.
The shopmen continued to arrive, and Denise could now hear them joking
as they passed, casting side glances towards her. Her confusion
increased at finding herself thus on exhibition, and she had decided
to take half an hour’s walk in the neighbourhood, when the sight of a
young man approaching rapidly by way of the Rue Port-Mahon, detained
her for another moment. He was probably the manager of a department,
thought she, for all the others raised their hats to him. Tall, with a
clear skin and carefully trimmed beard, he had eyes the colour of old
gold and of a velvety softness, which he fixed on her for a moment as
he crossed the Place. He was already entering the shop with an air of
indifference, while she remained motionless, quite upset by that glance
of his, filled indeed with a singular emotion, in which there was more
uneasiness than pleasure. Without doubt, fear was gaining on her, and,
to give herself time to collect her courage, she began slowly walking
down the Rue Gaillon, and then along the Rue Saint-Roch.
The person who had so disturbed her was more than the manager of a
department, it was Octave Mouret in person. He had been making a night
of it, and his tightly buttoned overcoat concealed a dress suit and
white tie. In all haste he ran upstairs to his rooms, washed himself
and changed his clothes, and when he at last seated himself at his
table, in his private office on the first floor, he was at his ease
and full of strength, with bright eyes and cool skin, as ready for
work as if he had enjoyed ten hours’ sleep. The spacious office,
furnished in old oak and hung with green rep, had but one ornament, the
portrait of that Madame Hédouin, who was still the talk of the whole
neighbourhood. Since her death Octave ever thought of her with tender
regret, grateful as he felt to her for the fortune she had bestowed on
him with her hand. And before commencing to sign the drafts laid upon
his blotting-pad he darted upon her portrait the contented smile of a
happy man. Was it not always before her that he returned to work, after
the escapades of his present single-blessedness?
There came a knock however, and before Mouret could answer, a young
man entered, a tall, bony fellow, very gentlemanly and correct in
his appearance, with thin lips, a sharp nose and smooth hair already
showing signs of turning grey. Mouret raised his eyes, then whilst
still signing the drafts, remarked:
“I hope you slept well, Bourdoncle?”
“Very well, thanks,” replied the young man, walking about as if he were
quite at home.
Bourdoncle, the son of a poor farmer near Limoges, had begun his career
at The Ladies’ Paradise at the same time as Mouret, when it only
occupied the corner of the Place Gaillon. Very intelligent and very
active, it then seemed as if he would easily supplant his comrade, who
was much less steady, and far too fond of love-affairs; but he had
neither the instinctive genius of the impassioned Southerner, nor his
audacity, nor his winning grace. Besides, by a wise instinct, he had,
from the first bowed before him, obedient without a struggle. When
Mouret had advised his people to put their money into the business,
Bourdoncle had been one of the first to do so, even investing in the
establishment the proceeds of an unexpected legacy left him by an aunt;
and little by little, after passing through all the various stages,
such as salesman, second, and then first-hand in the silk department,
he had become one of Octave’s most cherished and influential
lieutenants, one of the six intéressés[1] who assisted him to govern
The Ladies’ Paradise–forming something like a privy council under
an absolute king. Each one watched over a department or province.
Bourdoncle, for his part, exercised a general surveillance.
[1] In the great Paris magasins de nouveautés such as the Louvre and
Bon Marché there have been at various stages numerous intéressés, that
is partners of a kind who whilst entitled to some share of the profits,
exercise but a strictly limited control in the management of the
establishment’s affairs.–_Trans._
“And you,” resumed he, familiarly, “have you slept Well?”
When Mouret replied that he had not been to bed, he shook his head,
murmuring: “Bad habits.”
“Why?” replied the other, gaily. “I’m not so tired as you are, my dear
fellow. You are half asleep now, you lead too quiet a life. Take a
little amusement, that’ll wake you up a bit.”
This was their constant friendly dispute. Bourdoncle who professed to
hate all women, contented himself with encouraging the extravagance
of the lady customers, feeling meantime the greatest disdain for
the frivolity which led them to ruin themselves in stupid gewgaws.
Mouret, on the contrary, affected to worship them, ever showed himself
delighted and cajoling in their presence and was ever embarking in
fresh love-affairs. This served, as it were, as an advertisement for
his business; and you might have said that he enveloped all women in
the same caress the better to bewilder them and keep them at his mercy.
“I saw Madame Desforges last night, she was looking delicious at that
ball,” said he, beginning to relate his evening experiences. But then,
abruptly breaking off, he took up another bundle of drafts, which he
began to sign whilst Bourdoncle continued to walk about, stepping
towards the lofty plate-glass windows whence he glanced into the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. Then, retracing his steps, he suddenly exclaimed:
“You know they’ll have their revenge.”
“Who will?” asked Mouret, who had lost the thread of the conversation.
“Why, the women.”
At this, Mouret became quite merry, displaying, beneath his adorative
manner, his really brutal character. With a shrug of the shoulders he
seemed to declare he would throw them all over, like so many empty
sacks, as soon as they should have finished helping him to make his
fortune. But Bourdoncle in his frigid way obstinately repeated: “They
will have their revenge; there will be one who will some day avenge all
the others. It’s bound to be.”
“No fear,” cried Mouret, exaggerating his Southern accent. “That one
isn’t born yet, my boy. And if she comes, you know, why there—-”
So saying he raised his penholder, brandishing it and pointing it in
the air, as if he were bent on stabbing some invisible heart with a
knife. Bourdoncle thereupon resumed his walk, bowing as usual before
the superiority of the governor, whose genius, with all its lapses,
disconcerted him. He, himself so clear-headed, logical and passionless,
incapable of falling into the toils of a syren, had yet to learn the
feminine character of success, all Paris yielding herself with a kiss
to her boldest assailant.
A silence fell, broken only by the sound of Mouret’s pen. Then, in
reply to his brief questions, Bourdoncle gave him various information
respecting of the great sale of winter novelties, which was to commence
on the following Monday. This was an important affair, the house was
risking its fortune in it; for the rumours of the neighbourhood had
some foundation, Mouret was throwing himself into speculation like
a poet, with such ostentation, such desire to attain the colossal,
that everything seemed likely to give way under him. It was quite a
new style of doing business, a seeming commercial phantasy which had
formerly made Madame Hédouin anxious, and even now, notwithstanding
certain successes, quite dismayed those who had capital in the
business. They blamed the governor in secret for going too quick;
accused him of having enlarged the establishment to a dangerous extent,
before making sure of a sufficient increase of custom; above all, they
trembled on seeing him put all the available cash into one venture,
filling the departments with a pile of goods without leaving a copper
in the reserve fund. Thus, for this winter sale, after the heavy sums
recently paid to the builders, the whole capital was exhausted and
it once more became a question of victory or death. Yet Mouret in
the midst of all this excitement, preserved a triumphant gaiety, a
certainty of gaining millions, like a man so worshipped by women, that
there could be no question of betrayal. When Bourdoncle ventured to
express certain fears with reference to the excessive development given
to several departments of doubtful profit he gave vent to a laugh full
of confidence, and exclaimed:
“Pooh, pooh! my dear fellow, the place is still too small!”
The other appeared dumbfounded, seized with a fear which he no longer
attempted to conceal. The house too small! an establishment which
comprised nineteen departments, and numbered four hundred and three
“Of course,” resumed Mouret, “we shall be obliged to enlarge our
premises again before another eighteen months are over. I’m seriously
thinking about the matter. Last night Madame Desforges promised to
introduce me to some one who may be useful. In short, we’ll talk it
over when the idea is ripe.”
Then having finished signing his drafts, he rose, and tapped his
lieutenant on the shoulder in a friendly manner, but the latter could
not get over his astonishment. The fright displayed by the prudent
people around him amused Mouret. In one of those fits of brusque
frankness with which he sometimes overwhelmed his familiars, he
declared that he was at heart a greater Jew than all the Jews in the
world; he took, said he, after his father, whom he resembled physically
and morally, a fellow who knew the value of money; and, if his mother
had given him that dash of nervous fantasy which he displayed, it
was, perhaps, the principal element of his luck, for he felt that his
ability to dare everything was an invincible force.
“Oh! You know very well that we’ll stand by you to the last,”
Bourdoncle finished by saying.
Then, before going down into the shop to give their usual look round,
they settled certain other details. They examined a specimen of a
little book of account forms, which Mouret had just invented for the
use of his employees. Having remarked that the old-fashioned goods,
the dead stock, went off the more rapidly the higher the commission
allowed to the employees, he had based on this observation quite a
new system, that of interesting his people in the sale of all the
goods, giving them a commission on even the smallest piece of stuff,
the most trumpery article they sold. This innovation had caused quite
a revolution in the drapery trade, creating between the salespeople
a struggle for existence of which the masters reaped the benefits.
To foment this struggle was indeed Mouret’s favourite method, the
principle which he constantly applied. He excited his employees’
passions, pitted one against the other, allowed the stronger to swallow
up the weaker ones, and for his own part battened on this struggle of
conflicting interests. The sample account book was duly approved of;
at the top of each leaf on both counterfoil and bill form, appeared
particulars of the department and the salesman’s number; then also in
duplicate came columns for the measurement, the description of the
goods sold, and their price. The salesman simply signed the bill form
before handing it to the cashier; and in this way an easy account was
kept: it was only necessary to compare the bill-forms delivered by
the cashier’s department to the clearing-house with the salesmen’s
counterfoils. Every week the latter would receive their commission,
without any possibility of error.
“We shan’t be robbed so much,” remarked Bourdoncle, with satisfaction.
“This was a very good idea of yours.”
“And I thought of something else last night,” explained Mouret. “Yes,
my dear fellow, at supper. I have an idea of giving the clearing-house
clerks a little bonus for every error they detect while checking the
bills. You understand, eh? Like this we shall be sure that they won’t
pass any, for rather than do that they’ll be inventing mistakes!”
He began to laugh, whilst the other looked at him admiringly. This new
application of the struggle-for-existence theory delighted Mouret;
he had a real genius for administrative functions, and dreamed of so
organizing the establishment as to trade upon the selfish instincts of
his employees, for the greater satisfaction of his own appetites. He
often said that to make people do their best, and even to keep them
fairly honest, it was first of all necessary to excite their selfish
“Well, let’s go downstairs,” he resumed. “We must look after this sale.
The silk arrived yesterday, I believe, and Bouthemont must be getting
it in now.”
Bourdoncle followed him. The receiving office was in the basement on
the side of the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. There, on a level with the
pavement, was a kind of glazed cage, into which the vans discharged the
goods. They were weighed, and then shot down a rapid slide, whose oak
and iron work was polished by the constant chaffing of bales and cases.
Everything entered by this yawning trap; it was a continuous swallowing
up, a niagara of goods, falling with a roar like that of a torrent.
At the approach of big sale times especially, the slide brought down
an endless stream of Lyons silks, English woollens, Flemish linens,
Alsatian calicoes, and Rouen prints. The vans were sometimes obliged to
wait their turn along the street; and as each bale rushed down to the
basement there arose a sound as of a stone thrown into deep water.
On his way Mouret stopped for a moment before the slide, which was in
full activity. Rows of cases were coming down of themselves, falling
like rain from some upper stream. Then bales appeared, toppling over in
their descent like rolling stones. Mouret looked on, without saying a
word. But this wealth of goods rushing in to his establishment at the
rate of thousands of francs each minute, made his clear eyes glisten.
He had never before had such a clear, definite idea of the struggle he
was engaged in. It was this falling mountain of goods which he must
cast to the four corners of Paris. He did not open his mouth, however,
but continued his inspection.
By the grey light which came in through the large vent-holes, a squad
of men were receiving the goods, whilst others removed the lids of the
cases and opened the bales in presence of the managers of different
departments. A dockyard kind of bustle filled this basement, whose
vaulted roofing was supported by wrought-iron pillars and whose bare
walls were simply cemented.
“Have you got everything there, Bouthemont?” asked Mouret, approaching
a broad-shouldered young fellow who was checking the contents of a case.
“Yes, everything seems all right,” replied he, “but the counting will
take me all the morning.”
Then the manager of the silk department ran down an invoice he held,
standing the while before a large counter on which one of his salesmen
deposited, one by one, the pieces of silk which he took from an open
case. Behind them ran other counters, also littered with goods which
a small army of shopmen was examining. It was a general unpacking, a
seeming confusion of stuffs, inspected, turned over, and marked, amidst
a continuous buzz of voices.
Bouthemont who was becoming a celebrity in the trade, had the round,
jovial face of a right good fellow, with a coal-black beard, and fine
hazel eyes. Born at Montpellier, noisy, and over fond of pleasure,
he was not of much good for the sales, but in buying he had not his
equal. Sent to Paris by his father, who kept a draper’s shop in his
native town, he had absolutely refused to return home when the old
fellow, thinking that he ought to know enough to succeed him in his
business, had summoned him to do so; and from that moment a rivalry
had sprung up between father and son, the former, absorbed in his
little country business and shocked to see a simple shopman earning
three times as much as he did himself, and the latter joking at the
old man’s humdrum routine, chinking his money, and throwing the whole
house into confusion at every flying visit he paid. Like the other
managers, Bouthemont drew, besides his three thousand francs regular
pay, a commission on the sales. Montpellier, surprised and respectful,
whispered that young Bouthemont had made fifteen thousand francs the
year before, and that that was only a beginning–people prophesied to
the exasperated father that this figure would certainly increase.
Meantime Bourdoncle had taken up one of the pieces of silk, and was
examining the texture with the eye of a connoisseur. It was a faille
with a blue and silver selvage, the famous Paris Delight, with which
Mouret hoped to strike a decisive blow.
“It is really very good,” observed Bourdoncle.
“And the effect it produces is better than its real quality,” said
Bouthemont. “Dumonteil is the only one capable of manufacturing such
stuff. Last journey when I fell out with Gaujean, the latter was
willing to set a hundred looms to work on this pattern, but he asked
five sous a yard more.”
Nearly every month Bouthemont went to Lyons, staying there days
together, living at the best hôtels, with orders to treat the
manufacturers with open purse. He enjoyed, moreover, a perfect liberty,
and bought what he liked, provided that he increased the yearly
business of his department in a certain proportion, settled beforehand;
and it was on this proportion that his commission was based. In short,
his position at The Ladies’ Paradise, like that of all the managers,
was that of a special tradesman, in a grouping of various businesses, a
sort of vast trading city.
“So,” resumed he, “it’s decided we mark it at five francs twelve sous?
It’s barely the cost price, you know.”
“Yes, yes, five francs twelve sous,” said Mouret, quickly; “and if I
were alone, I’d sell it at a loss.”
The manager laughed heartily. “Oh! I don’t mind, its cheapness will
treble the sales and my only interest is to secure heavy receipts—”
But Bourdoncle remained grave, biting his lips. For his part he drew
his commission on the total profits, and it was not to his advantage
that the prices should be lowered. As it happened, a part of his
duties was to exercise a control over the prices fixed upon in order
to prevent Bouthemont from selling at too small a profit for the sole
purpose of increasing the sales. Moreover, all his former anxiety
reappeared in the presence of these advertising combinations which
he did not understand, and he ventured to display his repugnance by
“If we sell it at five francs twelve sous, it will be like selling it
at a loss, as we must allow for our expenses, which are considerable.
It would fetch seven francs anywhere.”
At this Mouret got angry. Striking the silk with his open hand he
exclaimed excitedly: “I know that, that’s why I want to give it to our
customers. Really, my dear fellow, you’ll never understand women’s
ways. Don’t you see that they’ll fight together over this silk?”
“No doubt,” interrupted the other, obstinately, “and the more they buy,
the more we shall lose.”
“We shall lose a few sous on the stuff, very likely. But what can that
matter, if in return we attract all the women here, and keep them at
our mercy, fascinated, maddened by the sight of our goods, emptying
their purses without thinking? The principal thing, my dear fellow, is
to inflame them, and for that purpose you must have an article which
will flatter them and cause a sensation. Afterwards, you can sell the
other articles as dear as they are sold anywhere else, they’ll still
think yours the cheapest. For instance, our Golden Grain, that taffetas
at seven francs and a half, sold everywhere at the same price, will go
down as an extraordinary bargain, and suffice to make up for the loss
on the Paris Delight. You’ll see, you’ll see!”
He was becoming quite eloquent. “Don’t you understand?” he resumed,
“In a week’s time from to-day I want the Paris Delight to effect a
revolution in the market. It’s our master-stroke, which will save us
and send our name everything. Nothing else will be talked of; that blue
and silver selvage will be known from one to the other end of France.
And you’ll hear the furious complaints of our competitors. The small
traders will lose another wing by it. Yes, we shall have done for all
those slop-sellers who are dying of rheumatism in their cellars!”
The shopmen checking the goods round-about were listening and smiling.
Mouret liked to talk in this way without contradiction. Bourdoncle
yielded once more. However, the case of silk was now empty and two men
were opening another.
“It’s the manufacturers who are vexed,” now said Bouthemont. “At Lyons
they are all furious with you, they pretend that your cheap trading is
ruining them. You are aware that Gaujean has positively declared war
against me. Yes, he has sworn to give long credits to the little houses
rather than accept my prices.”
Mouret shrugged his shoulders. “If Gaujean doesn’t behave sensibly,” he
replied, “Gaujean will be floored. What do they all complain of? We pay
ready money and we take all they can make; it’s strange if they can’t
work cheaper at that rate. Besides, the public gets the benefit, and
that’s everything.”
The shopman now began emptying the second case, whilst Bouthemont
checked the pieces by the invoice. Another employee at the end of
the counter then marked them in plain figures, and the checking
finished, the invoice, signed by the manager, had to be sent to the
chief cashier’s office. For another minute Mouret continued looking
at the work, at all the activity around this unpacking of goods which
threatened to drown the basement; then, never adding a word but with
the air of a captain satisfied with his men, he went off, again
followed by Bourdoncle.
They slowly crossed the basement floor. The air-holes placed at
intervals admitted a pale light; while in the dark corners, and
along the narrow corridors, gas was constantly burning. In these
corridors were the reserves, large vaults closed with iron railings,
containing the surplus goods of each department. As he passed along
Mouret glanced at the heating apparatus which was to be lighted
on the following Monday for the first time, and at the firemen
guarding a giant gas-meter enclosed in an iron cage. The kitchen and
dining-rooms, old cellars turned into habitable apartments, were on
the left near the corner of the Place Gaillon. At last, right at
the other end of the basement, he arrived at the delivery office.
Here, all the purchases which customers did not take away with them,
were sent down, sorted on tables, and placed in compartments each of
which represented a particular district of Paris; then by a large
staircase opening just opposite The Old Elbeuf, they were sent up to
the vans standing alongside the pavement. In the mechanical working
of The Ladies’ Paradise, this staircase in the Rue de la Michodière
was ever disgorging the goods devoured by the slide in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin, after they had passed through the mill of the
counters up above.
“Campion,” said Mouret to the delivery manager, a retired sergeant
with a thin face, “why weren’t six pairs of sheets, bought by a lady
yesterday about two o’clock, delivered in the evening?”
“Where does the lady live?” asked the employee.
“In the Rue de Rivoli, at the corner of the Rue d’Alger–Madame
At this early hour the sorting tables were yet bare and the
compartments only contained a few parcels left over night. Whilst
Campion was searching amongst these packets, after consulting a list,
Bourdoncle looked at Mouret, reflecting that this wonderful fellow knew
everything, thought of everything, even when he was supposed to be
amusing himself. At last Campion discovered the error; the cashiers’
department had given a wrong number, and the parcel had come back.
“What is the number of the pay-desk that debited the order?” asked
Mouret: “No. 10, you say?” And turning towards his lieutenant, he
added: “No. 10; that’s Albert, isn’t it? We’ll just say two words to
However, before starting on a tour round the shops, he wanted to go up
to the postal order department, which occupied several rooms on the
second floor. It was there that all the provincial and foreign orders
arrived; and he went up every morning to see the correspondence. For
two years this correspondence had been increasing daily. At first
occupying only a dozen clerks, it now required more than thirty. Some
opened the letters and others read them, seated on either side of the
same table; others again classified them, giving each one a running
number, which was repeated on a pigeon-hole. Then when the letters
had been distributed to the different departments and the latter had
delivered the articles ordered, these articles were placed in the
pigeon-holes as they arrived, in accordance with running numbers.
Nothing then remained but to check and pack them, which was done in a
neighbouring room by a squad of workmen who were nailing and tying up
from morning to night.
Mouret put his usual question: “How many letters this morning,
“Five hundred and thirty-four, sir,” replied the chief clerk. “After
the new sale has begun on Monday, I’m afraid we sha’n’t have enough
hands. Yesterday we were driven very hard.”
Bourdoncle expressed his satisfaction by a nod of the head. He had not
reckoned on five hundred and thirty-four letters arriving on a Tuesday.
Round the table, the clerks continued opening and reading the letters,
the paper rustling all the time, whilst before the pigeon-holes the
various articles ordered began to arrive. This was one of the most
complicated and important departments of the establishment, and the
rush was continual, for, strictly speaking, all the orders received in
the morning ought to be sent off the same evening.
“You shall have whatever more hands you want,” replied Mouret, who had
seen at a glance that the work of the department was well done. “When
there’s work,” he added, “we never refuse the men.”
Up above, under the roof, were the bedrooms occupied by the saleswomen.
However, Mouret went downstairs again and entered the chief cash
office, which was near his own. It was a room with a glazed partition
in which was a metal-work wicket, and it contained an enormous safe,
fixed in the wall. Two cashiers here centralised the receipts which
Lhomme, the chief cashier of the sales’ service, brought in every
evening; and with these receipts they discharged the current expenses,
paid the manufacturers, the staff, all the people indeed who lived
by the house. Their office communicated with another, full of green
cardboard boxes, where some ten clerks checked the innumerable
invoices. Then came yet a third office, the clearing-house, so to say,
where six young men bending over black desks, with quite a collection
of registers behind them, made up the commission accounts of the
salesmen, by checking the debit notes. This department but recently
organized did not as yet work particularly well.
Mouret and Bourdoncle crossed the cashier’s office and the invoice
room and when they passed into the third office the young men there,
who were laughing and joking together, started with surprise. Mouret,
without reprimanding them, thereupon explained his scheme of giving
them a little bonus for each error they might detect in the debit
notes; and when he went out the clerks, quite cured of all inclination
for idle laughter, set to work in earnest, hunting for errors.
On reaching the ground-floor, occupied by the shops, Mouret went
straight to pay-desk No. 10, where Albert Lhomme was polishing his
nails, pending the arrival of customers. People currently spoke of
“the Lhomme dynasty,” since Madame Aurélie, first-hand in the mantle
department, after helping her husband to secure the post of chief
cashier, had further managed to get a pay desk for her son, a tall,
pale, vicious young man who had been unable to remain in any situation,
and had caused her an immense deal of anxiety. On reaching his desk,
Mouret, who never cared to render himself unpopular by performing
police duty, and from policy and taste preferred to play the part of a
benign Providence, retired into the back ground, after gently nudging
Bourdoncle with his elbow. It was Bourdoncle, the infallible and
impeccable, whom he generally charged with the duty of reprimanding.
“Monsieur Albert,” said Bourdoncle, severely, “you have again taken an
address wrong; the parcel has come back. It is unbearable!”
The cashier, thinking it advisable to defend himself, called as a
witness the assistant who had tied up the packet. This assistant, named
Joseph, also belonged to the Lhomme dynasty, for he was Albert’s foster
brother, and likewise owed his place to Madame Aurélie’s influence.
Albert sought to make him say that the mistake had been made by the
customer herself, but all Joseph could do was to stutter and twist the
shaggy beard that ornamented his scarred face, struggling the while
between his conscience and his gratitude to his protectors.
“Let Joseph alone,” Bourdoncle exclaimed at last, “and don’t say any
more. It’s a lucky thing for you that we are mindful of your mother’s
good services!”
However, at this moment Lhomme senior came running up. From his office
near the door he could see his son’s pay-desk, which was in the
glove department, and doubtless the colloquy had alarmed him. Quite
white-haired already, deadened by his sedentary life, he had a flabby,
colourless face, blanched and worn, as it were, by the reflection of
the money he was continually handling. The circumstance that he had
lost an arm did not at all incommode him in this work, and indeed
people would go to his office out of curiosity to see him verify
the receipts, so rapidly did the notes and coins slip through his
left hand, the only one remaining to him. The son of a tax-collector
at Chablis, he had come to Paris as clerk to a merchant of the
Port-aux-Vins. Then, whilst lodging in the Rue Cuvier, he had married
the daughter of his doorkeeper, a petty Alsatian tailor, and from that
day onward he had bowed submissively before his wife, whose commercial
ability filled him with respect. She now earned more than twelve
thousand francs a year in the mantle department, whilst he only drew
a fixed salary of five thousand francs. And the deference he felt for
this wife who brought such large sums into the household was extended
to their son, whom he also owed to her.
“What’s the matter?” he murmured; “is Albert in fault?”
Then, according to his custom, Mouret reappeared on the scene, to play
the part of an indulgent prince. When Bourdoncle had made himself
feared, he looked after his own popularity.
“Oh! nothing of consequence!” he answered. “My dear Lhomme, your son
Albert is a careless fellow, who should take an example from you.”
Then, changing the subject, showing himself more amiable than ever, he
continued: “And by the way, how about that concert the other day–did
you get a good seat?”
A blush spread over the white cheeks of the old cashier. Music was his
only vice, a secret vice which he indulged in solitarily, frequenting
theatres, concerts and recitals. Moreover, despite the loss of his arm,
he played on the French horn, thanks to an ingenious system of claws;
and as Madame Lhomme detested noise, before playing his instrument of
an evening he would wrap it in cloth, and then draw from it all sorts
of weird muffled sounds which delighted him to the point of ecstasy.
In the forced irregularity of their domestic life he had made himself
an oasis of his passion for music–that, his cash receipts and his
admiration for his wife, summed up his whole existence.
“A very good seat,” he replied with sparkling eyes. “You are really too
kind, sir.”
Mouret, who took a personal pleasure in satisfying other people’s
passions, sometimes gave Lhomme the tickets forced upon him by lady
patronesses and he put the finishing touch to the old man’s delight
by remarking: “Ah, Beethoven! ah, Mozart! What music!” Then, without
waiting for a reply, he went off, rejoining Bourdoncle, who had already
started on his tour of inspection through the departments.
In the central hall–an inner courtyard with a glass roof–was the
silk department. At first Mouret and his companion turned into the
Rue-Saint-Augustin gallery occupied by the linen department, from one
end to the other. Nothing unusual striking them, they passed on slowly
through the crowd of respectful assistants. Next they turned into the
cotton and hosiery departments, where the same good order reigned. But
in the department devoted to woollens, occupying the gallery which
ran towards the Rue de la Michodière, Bourdoncle resumed the part of
executioner, on observing a young man seated on the counter, looking
quite knocked up by a sleepless night; and this young man, a certain
Liénard, son of a rich Angers draper, bowed his head beneath the
reprimand, for in the idle, careless life of pleasure which he led his
one great fear was that he might be recalled from Paris by his father.
And now reprimands began to shower down on all sides like hail, and
quite a storm burst in the gallery of the Rue de la Michodière. In the
drapery department a salesman, a fresh hand, who slept in the house,
had come in after eleven o’clock and in the haberdashery department,
the second counterman had allowed himself to be caught smoking a
cigarette downstairs. But the tempest attained its greatest violence
in the glove department, where it fell upon one of the few Parisians
in the house, handsome Mignot, as he was called, the illegitimate son
of a music-mistress. His crime was that of causing a scandal in the
dining-room by complaining of the food. As there were three tables,
one at half-past nine, one at half-past ten, and another at half-past
eleven, he wished to explain that, belonging as he did to the third
table, he always had the leavings, the worst of everything for his
“What! the food not good?” asked Mouret, with a naive air, opening his
mouth at last.
He only allowed the chief cook, a terrible Auvergnat, a franc and a
half a head per day, out of which small sum this man still contrived
to make a good profit; and indeed the food was really execrable.
But Bourdoncle shrugged his shoulders: a cook who had four hundred
luncheons and four hundred dinners to serve, even in three series, had
no time to waste on the refinements of his art.
“Never mind,” said the governor, good-naturedly, “I wish all our
employees to have good and abundant food. I’ll speak to the cook.” And
thus Mignot’s complaint was shelved.
Then returning to their point of departure, standing near the door,
amidst the umbrellas and neckties, Mouret and Bourdoncle received the
report of one of the four inspectors, who were charged with the police
service of the establishment. The inspector in question, old Jouve, a
retired captain, decorated for his bravery at Constantine and still a
fine-looking man with his big sensual nose and majestic baldness, drew
their attention to a salesman, who, in reply to a simple remonstrance
on his part, had called him “an old humbug,” and the salesman was
immediately discharged.
Meantime, the shop was still without customers, that is, except a few
housewives of the neighbourhood who were passing through the almost
deserted galleries. At the door the time-keeper had just closed his
book, and was making out a separate list of the late arrivals. The
salesmen on their side were taking possession of their departments,
which had been swept and brushed by the assistants before their
arrival. Each young man put away his hat and over-coat as he arrived,
stifling a yawn, still half asleep as he did so. Some exchanged a few
words, gazed about the shop and sought to pull themselves together for
another day’s work; while others leisurely removed the green baize
with which they had covered the goods over night, after folding them
up. Then the piles of stuffs appeared symmetrically arranged, and the
whole shop looked clean and orderly, brilliant in the gay morning light
pending the rush of business which would once more obstruct it, and, as
it were, reduce its dimensions by the unpacking and display of linen,
cloth, silk, and lace.
In the bright light of the central hall, two young men were talking in
a low voice at the silk counter. One of them, short but well set and
good looking, with a pinky skin, was endeavouring to blend the colours
of some silks for an indoor show. His name was Hutin, his father kept
a café at Yvetot, and after eighteen months’ service he had managed to
become one of the principal salesmen, thanks to a natural flexibility
of character and a continual flow of caressing flattery, under which
were concealed furious appetites which prompted him to grasp at
everything and devour everybody just for the pleasure of the thing.
“Well, Favier, I should have struck him if I had been in your place,
honour bright!” said he to his companion, a tall bilious fellow with a
dry yellow skin, who had been born at Besançon of a family of weavers,
and concealed under a cold graceless exterior a disquieting force of
“It does no good to strike people,” he murmured, phlegmatically;
“better wait.”
They were both speaking of Robineau, the “second” in the department,
who was looking after the shopmen during the manager’s absence in
the basement. Hutin was secretly undermining Robineau, whose place
he coveted. To wound him and induce him to leave, he had already
introduced Bouthemont to fill the post of manager which had been
previously promised to Robineau. However, the latter stood firm,
and it was now an hourly battle. Hutin dreamed of setting the whole
department against him, of hounding him out by dint of ill-will and
vexation. Still he went to work craftily, ever preserving his amiable
air. And it was especially Favier whom he strove to excite against
the “second”–Favier, who stood next to himself as salesman, and who
appeared willing to be led, though he had certain brusque fits of
reserve by which one could divine that he was bent on some private
campaign of his own.
“Hush! seventeen!” he all at once hastily remarked to his colleague,
intending by this peculiar exclamation to warn him of the approach of
Mouret and Bourdoncle. These two, still continuing their inspection,
were now traversing the hall and stopped to ask Robineau for an
explanation respecting a stock of velvets, the boxes of which were
encumbering a table. And as Robineau replied that there wasn’t enough
room to store things away, Mouret exclaimed with a smile:
“Ah! I told you so, Bourdoncle, the place is already too small. We
shall soon have to knock down the walls as far as the Rue de Choiseul.
You’ll see what a crush there’ll be next Monday.”
Then, respecting the coming sale, for which they were preparing at
every counter, he asked further questions of Robineau and gave him
various orders. For some minutes however, whilst still talking, he had
been watching Hutin, who was slowly arranging his silks–placing blue,
grey, and yellow side by side and then stepping back to judge of the
harmony of the tints. And all at once Mouret interfered: “But why are
you endeavouring to please the eye?” he asked. “Don’t be afraid; blind
the customers! This is the style. Look! red, green, yellow.”
While speaking he had taken up some of the pieces of silk, throwing
them together, crumpling them and producing an extremely violent effect
of colour. Every one allowed the governor to be the best “dresser” in
Paris albeit one of a revolutionary stamp, an initiator of the brutal
and the colossal in the science of display. His fancy was a tumbling
of stuffs, heaped pell-mell as if they had fallen by chance from the
bursting boxes, and glowing with the most ardent contrasting colours,
which heightened each other’s intensity. The customers, said he, ought
to feel their eyes aching by the time they left the shop. Hutin, who on
the contrary belonged to the classic school whose guiding principles
were symmetry and a melodious blending of shades, watched him lighting
this conflagration of silk on the table, without venturing to say a
word; but on his lips appeared the pout of an artist whose convictions
were sorely hurt by such a debauch of colour.
“There!” exclaimed Mouret, when he had finished.
“Leave it as it is; you’ll see if it doesn’t fetch the women on Monday.”
Just then, as he rejoined Bourdoncle and Robineau, there arrived a
woman, who stopped short, breathless at sight of this show. It was
Denise, who, after waiting for nearly an hour in the street, a prey to
a violent attack of timidity, had at last decided to enter. But she
was so beside herself with bashfulness that she mistook the clearest
directions; and the shopmen, of whom in stammering accents she asked
for Madame Aurélie, in vain directed her to the staircase conducting
to the first floor; she thanked them, but turned to the left if they
told her to turn to the right; so that for the last ten minutes she
had been wandering about the ground-floor, going from department to
department, amidst the ill-natured curiosity and boorish indifference
of the salesmen. She longed to run away, but was at the same time
retained by a wish to stop and admire. She felt herself lost, so little
in this monstrous place, this machine which was still at rest, and
trembled with fear lest she should be caught in the movement with which
the walls already began to quiver. And in her mind the thought of The
Old Elbeuf, so black and narrow, increased the immensity of this vast
establishment, which seemed bathed in a golden light and similar to
a city with its monuments, squares, and streets, in which it seemed
impossible she should ever find her way.
However, she had previously not dared to venture into the silk hall
whose high glass roof, luxurious counters, and cathedral-like aspect
frightened her. Then when she did venture in, to escape the shopmen of
the linen department, who were grinning at her, she stumbled right on
Mouret’s display; and, despite her bewilderment, the woman was aroused
within her, her cheeks suddenly flushed, and she forgot everything in
looking at the glow of this conflagration of silk.
“Hullo!” said Hutin in Favier’s ear; “there’s the drab we saw on the
Place Gaillon.”
Mouret, whilst affecting to listen to Bourdoncle and Robineau, was
at heart flattered by the startled look of this poor girl, just as a
marchioness might be by the brutal admiration of a passing drayman. But
Denise had raised her eyes, and her confusion increased at the sight
of this young man, whom she took for the manager of a department. She
thought he was looking at her severely. Then not knowing how to get
away, quite lost, she once more applied to the nearest shopman, who
happened to be Favier.
“Madame Aurélie, if you please?”
However Favier, who was disagreeable, contented himself with replying
sharply: “On the first floor.”
Then, Denise, longing to escape the looks of all these men, thanked
him, and was again turning her back to the stairs she ought to have
ascended when Hutin, yielding naturally to his instinctive gallantry,
stopped her with his most amiable salesman’s smile albeit he had just
spoken of her as a drab.
“No–this way, mademoiselle, if you please,” said he.
And he even went with her a little way, as far indeed as the foot of
the staircase on the left-hand side of the hall. There he bowed, and
smiled at her, as he smiled at all women.
“When you get upstairs turn to the left,” he added. “The mantle
department will then be in front of you.”
This caressing politeness affected Denise deeply. It was like a
brotherly hand extended to her; she raised her eyes and looked at
Hutin, and everything in him touched her–his handsome face, his
smiling look which dissolved her fears, and his voice which seemed to
her of a consoling softness. Her heart swelled with gratitude, and she
gave him her friendship in the few disjointed words which her emotion
allowed her to utter.
“Really, sir, you are too kind. Pray don’t trouble to come any further.
Thank you very much.”
Hutin was already rejoining Favier, to whom he coarsely whispered:
“What a bag of bones–eh?”
Upstairs the young girl suddenly found herself in the midst of the
mantle department. It was a vast room, with high carved oak cupboards
all round it and clear glass windows overlooking the Rue de la
Michodière. Five or six women in silk dresses, looking very coquettish
with their frizzy chignons and crinolines drawn back, were moving
about and talking. One of them, tall and thin, with a long head, and
a run-away-horse appearance, was leaning against a cupboard, as if
already knocked up with fatigue.
“Madame Aurélie?” inquired Denise.
The saleswoman did not reply but looked at her, with an air of disdain
for her shabby dress; then turning to one of her companions, a short
girl with a sickly white skin and an innocent and disgusted expression
of countenance, she asked: “Mademoiselle Vadon, do you know where
Madame Aurélie is?”
The girl, who was arranging some mantles according to their sizes,
did not even take the trouble to raise her head. “No, Mademoiselle
Prunaire, I don’t know at all,” she replied in a mincing tone.
Silence fell. Denise stood still, and no one took any further notice
of her. However, after waiting a moment, she ventured to put another
question: “Do you think Madame Aurélie will be back soon?”
Thereupon, the second-hand, a thin, ugly woman, whom she had not
noticed before, a widow with a projecting jaw-bone and coarse hair,
cried out from a cupboard, board, where she was checking some tickets:
“You’d better wait if you want to speak to Madame Aurélie herself.”
And, addressing another saleswoman, she added: “Isn’t she downstairs?”
“No, Madame Frédéric, I don’t think so,” was the reply. “She said
nothing before going, so she can’t be far off.”
Denise, thus meagrely informed, remained standing. There were several
chairs for the customers; but as she had not been asked to sit down,
she did not dare to take one although her perturbation well nigh
deprived her legs of strength. All these young ladies had evidently
guessed that she was an applicant for the vacancy, and were taking
stock of her, ill-naturedly pulling her to pieces with the secret
hostility of people at table who do not like to close up to make room
for hungry outsiders. Then Denise’s confusion increasing, she slowly
crossed the room and looked out of the window into the street, for the
purpose of keeping countenance. Over the way, The Old Elbeuf, with
its rusty front and lifeless windows, appeared to her so ugly and so
wretched, thus viewed from amidst the luxury and life of her present
standpoint, that a sort of remorse filled her already swollen heart
with grief.
“I say,” whispered tall Mdlle. Prunaire to little Mdlle. Vadon, “have
you seen her boots?”
“And her dress!” murmured the other.
With her eyes still turned towards the street, Denise divined that
she was being devoured. But she was not angry; she did not think
them handsome, neither the tall one with her carroty chignon falling
over her horse-like neck, nor the little one with her curdled-milk
complexion, which gave her flat and, as it were, boneless face a flabby
appearance. Clara Prunaire, daughter of a clogmaker of the woods of
Vivet had begun to misconduct herself at the time when she was employed
as needlewoman at the Château de Mareuil. Later on she had come to
Paris from a shop at Langres, and was avenging herself in the capital
for all the kicks with which her father had regaled her when at home.
On the other hand Marguerite Vadon, born at Grenoble, where her parents
kept a linen shop, had been obliged to come to Paris, where she had
entered The Ladies’ Paradise, in order to conceal a misfortune due to
her frailty. Since then, however, she had ever been a well-conducted
girl, and intended to return to Grenoble to take charge of her parents’
shop, and marry a cousin who was waiting for her.

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“Ah! well,” resumed Clara, in a low voice, “that girl won’t be of much
account here even if she does get in.”
But they all at once stopped talking, for a woman of about forty-five
was coming in. It was Madame Aurélie, very stout and tightly laced in
her black silk dress, the body of which, strained over her massive
shoulders and full bust, shone like a piece of armour. Under dark folds
of hair, she had big fixed eyes, a severe mouth, and broad and rather
drooping cheeks; and in the majesty of her position as manageress her
face seemed to swell with pride like the puffy countenance of a Cæsar.
“Mademoiselle Vadon,” said she, in an irritated voice, “you didn’t
return the pattern of that mantle to the workroom yesterday, it seems?”
“There was an alteration to be made, madame,” replied the saleswoman,
“so Madame Frédéric kept it.”
The second-hand thereupon took the pattern out of a cupboard, and the
explanation continued. Every one gave way to Madame Aurélie, when she
thought it expedient to assert her authority. Very vain, even to the
point of objecting to be called by her husband’s name, Lhomme, which
annoyed her, and of denying the humble position of her father to whom
she always referred as a regularly established tailor, she only proved
gracious towards those young ladies who showed themselves flexible and
caressing and bowed down in admiration before her. Formerly, whilst
trying to establish herself in a shop of her own, her temper had been
soured by continual bad luck; the feeling that she was born to fortune
and encountered nothing but a series of catastrophes had exasperated
her; and now, even after her success at The Ladies’ Paradise, where
she earned twelve thousand francs a year, it seemed as if she still
nourished a secret spite against every one. She was in particular very
hard with beginners, even as life had shown itself hard for her at
“That will do!” said she, sharply; “You are not more reasonable than
the others, Madame Frédéric. Let the alteration be made immediately.”
During this explanation, Denise had ceased looking into the street.
She had no doubt this was Madame Aurélie; but, frightened by her sharp
voice, she remained standing, still waiting. The two saleswomen,
delighted to have set their two superiors at variance, had returned to
their work with an air of profound indifference. A few minutes elapsed,
nobody being charitable enough to extricate the young girl from her
uncomfortable position. At last, Madame Aurélie herself perceived her,
and astonished to see her standing there motionless inquired what she
“Madame Aurélie, please.”
“I am Madame Aurélie.”
Denise’s mouth was dry and parched, her hands were cold; she felt
some such fear as when she was a child and trembled at the thought of
being whipped. At last she stammered out her request, but was obliged
to repeat it to make herself understood. Madame Aurélie gazed upon
her with her large fixed eyes, not a line of her imperial countenance
deigning to relax.
“How old are you?” she eventually inquired.
“Twenty, madame.”
“What, twenty years old? you don’t look sixteen!”
The saleswomen again raised their heads. Denise hastened to add: “Oh,
I’m very strong!”
Madame Aurélie shrugged her broad shoulders and then coldly remarked:
“Well! I don’t mind entering your name. We enter the names of all who
apply. Mademoiselle Prunaire, give me the book.”
But the book could not be found; Jouve, the inspector, had probably got
it. And just as tall Clara was about to fetch it, Mouret arrived, still
followed by Bourdoncle. They had made the tour of the other departments
on the first floor–they had passed through the lace, the shawls, the
furs, the furniture and the under-linen, and were now winding up with
the mantles. Madame Aurélie left Denise for a moment to speak to them
about an order for some cloaks which she thought of giving to one of
the large Paris houses. As a rule, she bought direct, and on her own
responsibility; but, for important purchases, she preferred to consult
the chiefs of the house. Bourdoncle then told her of her son Albert’s
latest act of carelessness, which seemed to fill her with despair.
That boy would kill her; his father, although not a man of talent, was
at least well-conducted, careful, and honest. All this dynasty of the
Lhommes, of which she was the acknowledged head, very often caused her
a great deal of trouble. However, Mouret, surprised to come upon Denise
again, bent down to ask Madame Aurélie what that young person was doing
there; and, when the first-hand replied that she was applying for a
saleswoman’s situation, Bourdoncle, with his disdain for women, seemed
suffocated by such pretension.
“You don’t mean it,” he murmured; “it must be a joke, she’s too ugly!”
“The fact is, there’s nothing handsome about her,” replied Mouret, not
daring to defend her, although he was still moved by the rapture she
had displayed downstairs before his arrangement of the silks.
However, the book having been brought, Madame Aurélie returned to
Denise, who had certainly not made a favourable impression. She looked
very clean in her thin black woollen dress; still the question of
shabbiness was of no importance, as the house furnished a uniform,
the regulation silk dress; but she appeared weak and puny, and had a
melancholy face. Without insisting on handsome girls, the managers
of the house liked their assistants to be of agreeable appearance.
And beneath the gaze of all the men and women who were studying her,
estimating her like farmers would a horse at a fair, Denise lost what
little countenance had still remained to her.
“Your name?” asked Madame Aurélie, standing at the end of a counter,
pen in hand, ready to write.
“Denise Baudu, madame.”
“Your age?”
“Twenty years and four months.” And risking a glance at Mouret, at this
supposed manager, whom she met everywhere and whose presence troubled
her so much, she repeated: “I don’t look like it, but I am really very
They smiled. Bourdoncle showed evident signs of impatience; her remark
fell, moreover, amidst a most discouraging silence.
“What establishment have you been at, in Paris?” resumed Madame Aurélie.
“I’ve just arrived from Valognes, madame.”
This was a fresh disaster. As a rule, The Ladies’ Paradise only engaged
as saleswomen such girls as had had a year’s experience in one of the
small houses in Paris. Denise thought all was lost; and, had it not
been for the children, had she not been obliged to work for them, she
would have brought this futile interrogatory to an end by leaving the
“Where were you at Valognes?” asked Madame Aurélie.
“At Cornaille’s.”
“I know him–good house,” remarked Mouret.
It was very seldom that he interfered in the engagement of the
employees, the manager of each department being responsible for his
or her staff. But with his fine appreciation of women, he divined in
this girl a hidden charm, a wealth of grace and tenderness of which she
herself was ignorant. The good reputation of the establishment in which
the candidate had started was of great importance, often deciding the
question in his or her favour. Thus even Madame Aurélie continued in a
kinder tone: “And why did you leave Cornaille’s?”
“For family reasons,” replied Denise, turning scarlet. “We have lost
our parents, I have been obliged to follow my brothers. Here is a
It was excellent. Her hopes were reviving, when another question
troubled her.
“Have you any other references in Paris? Where do you live?”
“At my uncle’s,” she murmured, hesitating to name him for she feared
that they would never engage the niece of a competitor. “At my uncle
Baudu’s, opposite.”
At this, Mouret interfered a second time. “What! are you Baudu’s
niece?” said he, “is it Baudu who sent you here?”
“Oh! no, sir!” answered Denise; and she could not help laughing as she
spoke for the idea appeared to her so singular. That laugh was like a
transfiguration; she became quite rosy, and the smile playing round her
rather large mouth lighted up her whole face. Her grey eyes sparkled
with a soft flame, her cheeks filled with delicious dimples, and even
her light hair seemed to partake of the frank and courageous gaiety
that pervaded her whole being.
“Why, she’s really pretty,” whispered Mouret to Bourdoncle.
The latter with a gesture of boredom refused to admit it. Clara on her
side bit her lips, and Marguerite turned away; Madame Aurélie alone
seemed won over, and encouraged Mouret with a nod when he resumed:
“Your uncle was wrong not to bring you here; his recommendation
sufficed. It is said he has a grudge against us. We are people of
more liberal minds, and if he can’t find employment for his niece in
his house, why we will show him that she has only had to knock at our
door to be received. Just tell him I still like him very much, and
that if he has cause for complaint he must blame, not me, but the new
circumstances of commerce. Tell him, too, that he will ruin himself if
he insists on keeping to his ridiculous old-fashioned ways.”
Denise turned quite white again. It was Mouret; no one had mentioned
his name, but he revealed himself, and she guessed who he was, and
understood why the sight of him had caused her such emotion in the
street, in the silk department, and again here. This emotion, which
she could not analyze, pressed more and more upon her heart like an
unbearable weight. All the stories related by her uncle came back to
her, increasing Mouret’s importance in her eyes, surrounding him with
a sort of halo in his capacity as the master of the terrible machine
between whose wheels she had felt herself all the morning. And, behind
his handsome face, with its well-trimmed beard, and eyes the colour of
old gold, she beheld the dead woman, that Madame Hédouin, whose blood
had helped to cement the stones of the house. The shiver she had felt
the previous night again came upon her; and she thought she was merely
afraid of him.
However, Madame Aurélie had closed the book. She only wanted one
saleswoman, and she already had ten applications. True, she was too
anxious to please the governor to hesitate for a moment, still the
application would follow its course, inspector Jouve would go and make
inquiries, send in his report, and then she would come to a decision.
“Very good, mademoiselle,” said she majestically, as though to preserve
her authority; “we will write to you.”
Denise stood there, unable to move for a moment, hardly knowing how to
take her leave in the midst of all these people. At last she thanked
Madame Aurélie, and on passing Mouret and Bourdoncle, she bowed. The
gentlemen, however, were examining the pattern of a mantle with Madame
Frédéric and took no further notice of her. Clara looked in a vexed way
towards Marguerite, as if to predict that the new-comer would not have
a very pleasant time of it in the establishment. Denise doubtless felt
this indifference and rancour behind her, for she went downstairs with
the same troubled feeling that had possessed her on going up, asking
herself whether she ought to be sorry or glad at having come. Could she
count on having the situation? She doubted it, amidst the uneasiness
which had prevented her from clearly understanding what had been said.
Of her various sensations, two remained and gradually effaced all
others–the emotion, almost fear, with which Mouret had inspired her,
and the pleasure she had derived from the amiability of Hutin, the only
pleasure she had enjoyed the whole morning, a souvenir of charming
sweetness which filled her with gratitude. When she crossed the shop on
her way out she looked for the young man, happy in the idea of thanking
him again with her eyes, and she was very sorry not to see him.
“Well, mademoiselle, have you succeeded?” inquired a timid voice, as
she at last reached the pavement. She turned round and recognised the
tall, awkward young fellow who had spoken to her in the morning. He
also had just come out of The Ladies’ Paradise, and seemed even more
frightened than herself, still bewildered by the examination through
which he had just passed.
“I really don’t know as yet, sir,” she replied.
“You’re like me, then. What a way they have of looking at you and
talking to you in there–eh? I’m applying for a place in the lace
department. I was at Crevecœur’s in the Rue du Mail.”
They were once more standing face to face; and, not knowing how to take
leave, they again began to blush. Then the young man, by way of saying
something, timidly ventured to ask in his good-natured, awkward way:
“What is your name, mademoiselle?”
“Denise Baudu.”
“My name is Henri Deloche.”
Then they smiled, and, yielding to a fraternal feeling born of the
similarity of their positions, shook each other by the hand.
“Good luck!” said Deloche.
“Yes, good luck!” was Denise’s reply.