Several months had elapsed

It was on the 25th of September that the building of the new façade
of The Ladies’ Paradise commenced. Baron Hartmann, according to his
promise, had managed to settle the matter at the last general meeting
of the Crédit Immobilier. And Mouret was at length approaching the
realization of his dream: this façade, about to arise in the Rue du
Dix-Décembre, was like the very blossoming of his fortune. He therefore
desired to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone; and made it a
ceremony, besides distributing gratuities amongst his employees, and
giving them game and champagne for dinner in the evening. Every one
noticed his wonderful good humour during the ceremony, his victorious
gesture as he made the first stone fast with a flourish of the trowel.
For weeks he had been anxious, agitated by a nervous torment that he
did not always manage to conceal; and his triumph brought a respite,
a distraction to his suffering. During the afternoon he seemed to
have returned to his former healthy gaiety. But, at dinner-time, when
he went through the refectory to drink a glass of champagne with his
staff, he appeared feverish again, smiling with a painful look, his
features drawn by the unconfessed suffering which was consuming him. He
was once more mastered by it.
The next day, in the cloak and mantle department, Clara Prunaire
tried to be disagreeable with Denise. She had noticed Colomban’s
lackadaisical passion, and took it into her head to joke about the
Baudus. As Marguerite was sharpening her pencil while waiting for
customers, she said to her, in a loud voice:
“You know my admirer opposite. It really grieves me to see him in that
dark shop which no one ever enters.”
“He’s not so badly off,” replied Marguerite, “he’s going to marry the
governor’s daughter.”
“Oh! oh!” resumed Clara, “it would be good fun to flirt with him then!
I’ll try the game, on my word of honour!”
And she continued in the same strain, happy to feel that Denise was
shocked. The latter forgave her everything else; but the thought of her
dying cousin Geneviève being finished off by such cruelty, exasperated
her. As it happened, at that moment a customer came in, and as Madame
Aurélie had just gone downstairs, she took the direction of the
counter, and called Clara.
“Mademoiselle Prunaire, you had better attend to this lady instead of
gossiping there.”
“I wasn’t gossiping.”
“Have the kindness to hold your tongue, and attend to this lady
Clara gave in, conquered. When Denise showed her authority, without
raising her voice, not one of them resisted. She had acquired this
absolute authority by her very moderation. For a moment she walked up
and down in silence, amidst the young ladies who had become serious
again. Marguerite had resumed sharpening her pencil, the point of which
was always breaking.
“What! you’re getting angry?” all at once said a voice behind Denise.
It was Pauline, on her way across the department. She had noticed the
scene, and spoke in a low tone, smiling.
“But I’m obliged to,” replied Denise in the same tone, “I can’t manage
them otherwise.”
Pauline shrugged her shoulders. “Nonsense, you can be queen over all of
us whenever you like,” she replied. She was still unable to understand
her friend’s refusal.
Since the end of August, Pauline had been married to Baugé; a most
stupid affair, she would sometimes gaily remark. That terrible
Bourdoncle treated her anyhow, now, considering her as lost for trade.
Her great fear was that they might some fine day send her to love her
husband elsewhere, for the managers had decreed love to be execrable
and fatal to business. So great was her dread, that when she met Baugé
in the galleries she often affected not to know him. She had just had
a fright–old Jouve having nearly caught her talking to her husband
behind a pile of dusters.
“See! he’s followed me,” she added, after hastily relating the
adventure to Denise. “Just look at him sniffing for me with his big
Jouve, in fact, was just then coming from the lace department,
correctly arrayed in a white tie, and with his nose on the scent for
some delinquent. But when he saw Denise, his face relaxed and he passed
by with an amiable smile.
“Saved!” murmured Pauline. “My dear, you made him swallow that! I say,
if anything should happen to me, you would speak for me, wouldn’t you?
Yes, yes, don’t put on that astonished air, we know that a word from
you would revolutionize the house.”
And thereupon she ran off to her counter. Denise had blushed, troubled
by these friendly allusions. It was true, however. She had a vague
sensation of her power from the flattery with which she was surrounded.
When Madame Aurélie returned, and found the department quiet and busy
under the surveillance of the second-hand, she smiled at her amicably.
She threw over Mouret himself, and her amiability daily increased for
the young person who might some fine morning desire her situation as
first-hand. In a word Denise’s reign was commencing.
Bourdoncle alone still stood out. In the secret warfare which he
carried on against the young girl, there was in the first place a
natural antipathy. He detested her for her gentleness and her charm.
Then too he fought against her as against a fatal influence which would
place the house in peril on the day when Mouret should succumb. The
governor’s commercial genius seemed certain to founder in this stupid
affection: all that they had gained by women would be swallowed up by
this one. None of them touched Bourdoncle’s heart, he treated them all
with the disdain of a passionless man whose business was to live by
them, and whose last illusions had been dispelled by seeing them so
closely amidst the worries of his trade. And what made him especially
anxious in the presence of this little saleswoman, who had gradually
become so redoubtable, was that he did not in the least believe in her
disinterestedness, in the genuineness of her refusals. In his opinion
she was playing a part, the most skilful of parts, rendering Mouret
absolutely mad, capable of any folly.
Thus Bourdoncle could never now catch sight of her, with her clear
eyes, sweet face, and simple attitude, without experiencing a real
fear, as if he had before him some disguised female flesh-eater, the
sombre enigma of woman, Death in the guise of a virgin. In what way
could he possibly confound the tactics of this spurious novice? He was
now only anxious to penetrate her artful ways, in the hope of exposing
them to the light of day. She would certainly commit some fault at
last; he would surprise her with one of her sweethearts, and she would
again be dismissed. The house would then resume its regular working
like a well-appointed machine.
“Keep a good look-out, Monsieur Jouve,” Bourdoncle kept saying to the
inspector. “I’ll take care that you shall be rewarded.”
But Jouve was somewhat lukewarm for he knew something about women, and
asked himself whether he had not better take the part of this girl,
who might be the sovereign mistress of the morrow. Though he did not
now dare to touch her, he still thought her bewitchingly pretty. His
colonel in bygone days had killed himself for a similar little thing,
with an insignificant face, delicate and modest, one look from whom had
ravaged all hearts.
“I’m watching,” he replied. “But, on my word, I cannot discover
And yet stories were circulating, there was quite a current of
abominable tittle-tattle running beneath the flattery and respect which
Denise felt arising around her. The whole house now declared that she
had formerly had Hutin for a sweetheart; and they were suspected of
still meeting from time to time. Deloche also was said to keep company
with her; they were continually meeting in dark corners and talking for
hours together. It was quite a scandal!
“So, there’s nothing about the first-hand in the silk department, or
about the young man in the lace one?” asked Bourdoncle.
“No, sir, nothing yet,” replied the inspector.
It was with Deloche especially that Bourdoncle expected to surprise
Denise, for one morning he himself had caught them laughing together
downstairs. In the meantime, he treated her on a footing of perfect
equality, for he no longer disdained her, feeling that she was strong
enough to overthrow even himself notwithstanding his ten years’
service, should he lose the game.
“Keep your eye on the young man in the lace department,” he concluded
each time. “They are always together. If you catch them, call me, and
I’ll manage the rest.”
Mouret, meanwhile, was living in anguish. Was it possible that such
a child could torture him in this manner? He could always recall her
arrival at The Ladies’ Paradise, with her heavy shoes, thin black
dress, and wild look. She stammered, they all used to laugh at her, he
himself had thought her ugly at first. Ugly! and now she could have
brought him to his knees by a look, for he thought her nothing less
than an angel! Then she had remained the last in the house, repulsed,
joked at, treated by him as a curious specimen of humanity. For months
he had wanted to see how a girl sprung up, and had amused himself with
this experiment, not understanding that he was risking his heart. She,
little by little had grown and become redoubtable. Perhaps he had loved
her from the very first, even at the time when he had thought that he
felt nothing but pity for her. And yet, he had only really begun to
feel this love on the evening of their walk under the chestnut trees
of the Tuileries. His life dated from then; he could still hear the
laughter of a group of little girls, the distant fall of a jet of
water, whilst in the warm shade she walked on beside him in silence.
After that, he knew no more, his fever had increased hour by hour; all
his blood, his whole being, in fact, had been given to her. And she,
such a child–was it possible? When she passed by now, the slight gust
from her dress seemed to him so powerful that he staggered.
For a long time he had struggled, and even now he frequently became
indignant and endeavoured to free himself from this idiotic possession.
What power was it she possessed that she should be able to bind him
in this way? Had he not seen her without boots to her feet? Had she
not been received almost out of charity? He could have understood
had it been a question of one of those superb creatures who charm
the multitude! but this little girl; this nobody! She had, in short,
one of those insignificant faces which excite no remark. She could
not even be very intelligent, for he remembered her bad beginning as
a saleswoman. But, after every explosion of anger, he experienced a
relapse of passion, a kind of sacred terror at having insulted his
idol. She possessed everything a woman can have that is good–courage,
gaiety, simplicity; and from her gentleness a charm of penetrating,
perfume-like subtlety was exhaled. One might at first ignore her, or
elbow her like any other girl; but the charm soon began to act with
invincible force; and one belonged to her for ever, if she deigned to
smile. Everything then beamed in her white face, her soft eyes, her
cheeks and chin full of dimples; whilst her heavy blonde hair also
seemed to light up with a royal and conquering beauty. He acknowledged
himself vanquished; she was as intelligent as she was beautiful, her
intelligence came from the best part of her being. Whilst in his eyes
the other saleswomen only possessed a superficial education, the
varnish which scales off from girls of that class, she, without any
false elegance, retained her native grace, the savour of her origin.
The broadest commercial ideas sprang up from her experience, behind her
narrow forehead, whose pure lines clearly announced the presence of a
firm will and love of order. And he could have clasped his hands to ask
her pardon for blaspheming in his hours of revolt.
Why did she still refuse with such obstinacy? Twenty times had he
entreated her, increasing his offers, offering money and more money.
Then, thinking that she must be ambitious, he had promised to appoint
her first-hand, as soon as there should be a vacancy. And she had
refused, and still refused! For him it was a stupor, a struggle in
which his desire became rageful.
All his days were now spent amidst the same grievous obsession.
Denise’s image rose with him. After he had dreamed of her all night,
she followed him to the desk in his office, where he signed the bills
and orders from nine to ten o’clock: a work which he accomplished
mechanically, never ceasing to feel her present, still saying “no,”
with her quiet air. Then, at ten o’clock, came the board-meeting, quite
a cabinet council composed of the twelve directors, at which he had to
preside; they discussed matters affecting the in-door arrangements,
examined the purchases, settled the window displays; and yet she was
still there, he heard her soft voice amidst the figures, he saw her
bright smile amidst the most complicated financial situations. After
the board-meeting, she accompanied him on the daily inspection of the
departments, and returning with him to his office in the afternoon,
she remained close to his chair from two till four o’clock, whilst he
received a crowd of important business men, the principal manufacturers
of France, bankers and inventors: a continual coming-and-going of the
wealth and intelligence of the land, a mad dance of millions, rapid
interviews during which the biggest affairs of the Paris market were
concluded. If he forgot her for a moment whilst he was deciding to
ruin or support an industry, he found her again at a sudden twitch of
his heart; his voice died away, and he asked himself what could be
the use of this princely fortune since she still refused. At last,
when five o’clock struck, he had to sign the day’s correspondence,
and the mechanical working of his hand began again, whilst she rose
up before him more domineering than ever, seizing him entirely, to
hold possession of him throughout the solitary and ardent hours of the
night. And the morrows were the same days over again, days which were
so active, so full of colossal labour but which the slight shadow of a
child sufficed to ravage with anguish.
However, it was particularly during his daily inspection of the
departments that he felt his misery. To have built up this giant
machine, to reign over such a world of people, and yet to be dying of
grief because a little girl would not accept him! He scorned himself,
dragging the fever and shame of his pain about with him everywhere. On
certain days he became disgusted with his power; from one end to the
other of the galleries he felt nothing but nausea. At other times he
would have wished to extend his empire, and make it so vast that she
would perhaps have yielded out of sheer admiration and fear.
He would begin by stopping in the basement opposite the shoot. This was
still in the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin; but it had been necessary to
enlarge it, and it was now as wide as the bed of a river, down which
the continual flood of goods rolled with the loud noise of rushing
water. There was a succession of arrivals from all parts of the world,
rows of waggons from every railway, a ceaseless unloading, a stream
of packing-cases and bales flowing underground and absorbed by the
insatiable establishment. He gazed at this torrent pouring into his
house, he felt that he was one of the masters of the public fortune,
that he held in his hands the fate of French manufactures, and yet was
unable to buy a kiss from one of his saleswomen.
Then he passed on to the receiving department, which now occupied that
part of the basement skirting the Rue Monsigny. Twenty tables were
ranged there, in the pale light from the air-holes; quite a crowd
of assistants was bustling about, emptying cases, checking goods,
and marking them in plain figures, amidst the neighbouring roar of
the shoot, which almost drowned their voices. Various managers of
departments stopped him, he had to solve difficulties and confirm
orders. The cellar filled with the soft glimmer of satin and the
whiteness of linen, a prodigious unpacking in which furs were mingled
with lace, French fancy goods with Eastern hangings. With a slow step
he wended his way amidst all these riches thrown about in disorder,
heaped up in their rough state. Up above, they would shine in the
window displays, set money galloping through the departments, no sooner
shown than carried off, in the furious rush of business which traversed
the place. But he kept on thinking that he had offered Denise silks and
velvets, anything she might like to take in no matter what quantity,
from among these enormous heaps, and that she had refused his offer by
a slight shake of her fair head.
After that, he went to the other end of the basement, to pay his usual
visit to the delivery department. Interminable corridors ran along,
lighted by gas; to the right and the left, the reserves, closed in
with gratings, seemed like so many subterranean stores, a complete
commercial district, with its haberdashery, underclothing, glove,
toy and other shops, all sleeping in the gloom. Further on stood one
of the three hot-air stoves; further still, was a post of firemen
guarding the main gas-meter, enclosed in its iron cage. He found, in
the delivery department, the sorting tables already littered with heaps
of parcels, band-boxes, and cases which were continually arriving in
large hampers; and Campion, the superintendent, gave him particulars
about the current work, whilst the twenty men placed under his orders
distributed the parcels among large compartments, each of which bore
the name of a district of Paris, and whence the messengers took them up
to the vans waiting beside the foot pavement. There was a succession
of cries, names of streets and other instructions were shouted out,
quite an uproar arose, all the bustle of a mail-boat about to leave
her moorings. And he stood there for a moment, motionless, watching
this emission of goods which he had just seen the house absorb at the
opposite end of the basement: the huge current ended here; it was here
that it discharged itself into the street again after filling the tills
with gold. But his eyes became dim, this colossal business no longer
had any importance for him; he had but one idea, that of going away to
some distant land, and abandoning everything, should she persist in
saying no.
Then he went upstairs, continuing his inspection, talking and
bestirring himself more and more, but without finding any respite.
On the second floor, he entered the forwarding department, seeking
quarrels and secretly exasperated with the perfect regularity of the
machine which he had himself built up. This department was the one that
was daily assuming a more considerable importance: it now occupied
two hundred employees–some of whom opened, read, and classified the
letters coming from the provinces and abroad, whilst others collected
in compartments the goods ordered by customers. And the number of
letters was increasing to such an extent that they no longer counted
them; they weighed them, receiving as much as a hundredweight a day. He
feverishly went through the three offices, questioning Levasseur, the
chief, as to the weight of the correspondence; now it was eighty, now
ninety, sometimes, on a Monday, a hundred pounds. The figure increased
daily, he ought to have been delighted. But he stood quivering amid
the noise made by a neighbouring squad of packers nailing down the
cases. It was in vain that he roamed about the building: his fixed
idea remained fast in his mind, and as his power unfolded itself
before him, as the mechanism of the business and the army of employees
passed before his gaze, he felt more deeply than ever the taunt of
his powerlessness. Orders from all Europe were flowing in, a special
post-office van was required for his correspondence; and yet she said
no, always no.
He returned downstairs and visited the central cashier’s office, where
four clerks guarded the two giant safes, through which eighty-eight
million francs had passed during the previous year. He glanced at the
clearing-house office which now occupied thirty-five clerks, chosen
from amongst the most trustworthy. He went into the checking office,
where twenty-five young men, junior clerks, checked the debit-notes
and calculated the salesmen’s commissions. He returned to the chief
cashier’s office, grew exasperated by the sight of the safes, wandered
about amidst these millions, the uselessness of which was driving him
mad. She said no, always no.
And it was always and ever no, in all the departments, in the
galleries, the saloons, in every part of the establishment! He went
from the silk to the drapery department, from the linen to the lace;
he ascended to the upper floors, pausing on the hanging bridges,
prolonging his inspection with a maniacal, grievous minuteness. The
house had grown and spread beyond all bounds, he had created this
department, then that other; he governed that fresh domain, he extended
his empire into that industry, the last one conquered; and it was no,
always no, in spite of everything. His staff would now have sufficed
to people a small town: there were fifteen hundred salesmen, and a
thousand other employees of every sort, including forty inspectors and
seventy cashiers; the kitchens alone gave occupation to thirty-two men;
ten clerks were set apart for the advertising service; there were three
hundred and fifty shop messengers, all wearing livery, and twenty-four
firemen living on the premises. And the stables, royal buildings
situated in the Rue Monsigny, opposite the warehouses, accommodated
one hundred and forty-five horses, a splendid set of animals already
celebrated. The first four conveyances which had stirred up the whole
neighbourhood formerly when the house occupied only the corner of the
Place Gaillon, had gradually increased to sixty-two: small hand-trucks,
one-horse vans, and heavy two-horse ones. They were continually
scouring Paris, skilfully driven by coachmen clad in black, and bearing
hither and thither the gold and purple sign of The Ladies’ Paradise.
They even went beyond the fortifications, and sped through the
suburbs; they were to be met in the hollow roads of Bicêtre and along
the banks of the Marne, along even the shady drives of the Forest of
Saint-Germain. Sometimes one would emerge from the depths of some sunny
avenue, where all was silent and deserted, the superb animals which
drew it passing by at a trot, whilst it cast the glaring advertisement
of its varnished panels upon the mysterious peacefulness of nature.
Mouret was actually thinking of sending these vehicles further still,
even into the neighbouring departments; he would have liked to hear
them rolling along every road in France, from one frontier to the
other. But he no longer even crossed the street to visit his horses,
though he was passionately fond of them. Of what good was this conquest
of the world, since it was no, always no?
Nowadays of an evening, when he arrived at Lhomme’s desk, he still from
force of habit glanced at the amount of the takings written on a card,
which the cashier stuck up on an iron file beside him; this figure
rarely fell below a hundred thousand francs, sometimes on big sale days
it ran up to eight and nine hundred thousand; but the amount no longer
sounded in Mouret’s ears like a trumpet-blast, he regretted having
looked at it, and bitterly went his way, full of hatred and scorn of
But his sufferings were destined to increase, for he became jealous.
One morning, in the office, before the board-meeting began, Bourdoncle
ventured to hint that the little girl in the mantle department was
playing with him.
“How so?” he asked, turning very pale.
“Why yes! she has sweethearts in this very building.”
Mouret found strength to smile. “I don’t think any more about her, my
dear fellow. You can speak freely. Who are they?”
“Hutin, they say, and then a salesman in the lace department–Deloche,
that tall awkward fellow. I can’t speak with certainty, never having
seen them together. But it appears that it’s notorious.”
There was a silence. Mouret affected to arrange the papers on his table
in order to conceal the trembling of his hands. At last, he observed,
without raising his head: “One must have proofs, try and bring me some
proofs. As for myself, I assure you I don’t care in the least, for I’m
quite sick of her. But we can’t allow such things to go on here.”
“Never fear,” replied Bouthemont, “you shall have proofs one of these
days. I’m keeping a good look-out.”
This news deprived Mouret of all rest. He had not the courage to
revert to the conversation, but lived in continual expectation of a
catastrophe, in which his heart would be crushed. And this torment
rendered him terrible; he made the whole house tremble. He now
disdained to conceal himself behind Bourdoncle, and performed the
executions in person, feeling a nervous desire for revenge, solacing
himself by abuse of his power, that power which could do nothing for
the contentment of his sole desire. Each of his inspections became a
massacre; as soon as he was seen a shudder of panic sped from counter
to counter. The dead winter season was just then approaching, and he
made a clean sweep in each department, piling up victims and hustling
them into the street. His first idea had been to dismiss Hutin and
Deloche; but he had reflected that if he did not keep them, he would
never discover anything; and the others suffered for them: the whole
staff trembled. In the evening, when he found himself alone again,
tears made his eyelids swell.
One day especially terror reigned supreme. An inspector had the idea
that Mignot was stealing. There was always a number of strange-looking
girls prowling around his counter; and one of them had lately been
arrested, her hips and bosom padded with sixty pairs of gloves. From
that moment a watch was kept, and the inspector caught Mignot in the
act of facilitating the sleight of hand of a tall fair girl who had
formerly been a saleswoman at the Louvre. His plan was very simple,
he pretended to be trying some gloves on her, waited till she had
padded herself, and then conducted her to the pay-desk, where she paid
for a single pair only. Mouret happened to be there, just at that
moment. As a rule, he preferred not to mix himself up in affairs of
this sort, which were fairly frequent; for notwithstanding the regular
machine-like working, great disorder reigned in certain departments
of The Ladies’ Paradise, and scarcely a week passed by without some
employee being dismissed for theft. The management preferred to hush up
such matters as far as possible, considering it undesirable to set the
police at work, and thus expose one of the fatal plague-spots of these
great bazaars. But, that day, Mouret felt a real need of venting his
anger on some one, and treated handsome Mignot with such violence, that
the latter stood there trembling with fear, his face pale and distorted.
“I ought to call a policeman,” cried Mouret, before all the other
salesmen. “But answer me! who is this woman? I swear I’ll send for the
police commissary, if you don’t tell me the truth.”
The woman had been taken away, and two saleswomen were searching her.
“I don’t know her, sir,” Mignot stammered out: “She’s the one who
“Don’t tell lies!” interrupted Mouret, more violently still. “And
there’s nobody here to warn us! You are all in the plot, on my word!
We are robbed, pillaged, plundered. It’s enough to make us have the
pockets of each one searched before he leaves!”
Murmurs were heard. The three or four customers buying gloves stood
looking on, frightened.
“Silence!” he resumed, furiously, “or I’ll clear the whole place!”
However, Bourdoncle came running up, all anxiety at the idea of the
scandal. He whispered a few words in Mouret’s ear, the affair was
assuming exceptional gravity; and he prevailed on him to take Mignot
into the inspectors office, a room on the ground-floor near the
entrance in the Rue Gaillon. The woman was there, quietly putting on
her things again. She had just mentioned Albert Lhomme’s name. Mignot,
on again being questioned, lost his head, and began to sob; he wasn’t
in fault, it was Albert who sent him these girls; he had at first
merely afforded them certain advantages, enabling them to profit by the
bargains; and at last when they took to stealing, he was already too
far compromised to report the matter. The principals now discovered
a series of extraordinary robberies; goods taken away by girls who
went into the luxurious lavatories, situated near the refreshment bar
and surrounded by evergreen plants, to hide them under their skirts;
purchases which a salesman neglected to call out at a pay-desk, when
he accompanied a customer there and the price of which he divided with
the cashier; and even false “returns,” articles which employees said
had been brought back in order that they might pocket the refunded
money; without mentioning the common robberies of things which the
salesmen took away under their coats in the evening, sometimes rolled
round their bodies, and sometimes even hung down their legs. For the
last fourteen months, thanks to Mignot and other salesmen, no doubt,
whom they refused to name, this pilfering had been going on at Albert’s
desk–quite an impudent trafficking in articles representing a large
amount of money which was never correctly ascertained.
Meanwhile the news had spread through the various departments, causing
guilty consciences to tremble, whilst the most honest quaked at thought
of the general sweep that seemed imminent. Albert had disappeared into
the inspector’s office. Next his father had passed by, half choking,
his face red and showing signs of apoplexy. Then Madame Aurélie herself
was called; and came down bearing the affront with head erect, her fat
puffy countenance having the appearance of a wax mask. The explanation
lasted for some time; no one knew the exact details, but it was said
that the first-hand had slapped her son’s face, whilst the worthy old
father wept, and the governor, contrary to all his elegant habits,
swore like a trooper, absolutely wanting to hand the offenders over
to justice. However, the scandal was hushed up. Mignot was the only
one dismissed there and then. Albert did not disappear till two days
later; his mother had doubtless begged that the family might not be
dishonoured by an immediate execution. Still the panic lasted several
days longer, for after this scene Mouret wandered from one end of the
establishment to the other, with a terrible expression, venting his
anger on all those who dared even to raise their eyes.
“What are you doing there, sir, looking at the flies? Go and get paid!”
At last, the storm burst one day on the head of Hutin himself. Favier,
now appointed second, was undermining the first-hand, in order to
dislodge him from his position. This was always the way; he addressed
crafty reports to the directors, taking advantage of every opportunity
to have the first-hand caught doing something wrong. Thus, one morning,
as Mouret was going through the silk department, he stopped short quite
surprised to see Favier altering the price tickets of a stock of black
“Why are you lowering the prices?” he asked. “Who gave you the order to
do so?”
The second-hand, who was making a great fuss over this work, as if he
wished to attract the governor’s attention and foresaw the result,
replied with an innocent, astonished air: “Why, Monsieur Hutin told me,
“Monsieur Hutin! Where is Monsieur Hutin?”
And when the latter came up from the receiving department where a
salesman had been sent to fetch him, an animated explanation ensued.
What! he undertook to lower the prices of his own accord now! What
did that mean? But in his turn he appeared greatly astonished, having
merely talked the matter over with Favier, without giving any positive
orders. The latter then assumed the sorrowful air of an employee who
finds himself obliged to contradict his superior. Yet he was quite
willing to accept the blame, if it would get the latter out of a
scrape. Things began to look very bad.
“Understand, Monsieur Hutin!” cried Mouret, “I have never tolerated
these attempts at independence. We alone decide about the prices.”
He went on speaking in a sharp voice, and with wounding intentions,
which surprised the salesmen, for as a rule these discussions were
carried on quietly, and the affair might really have been the result
of a misunderstanding. One could divine, however, that he had some
unavowed spite to satisfy. He had at last caught that Hutin in fault,
that Hutin who was said to be Denise’s sweetheart. He could now relieve
himself, by making the other feel that he, Mouret, was the master! And
he exaggerated matters, even insinuating that this reduction of price
appeared to conceal very questionable intentions.
“Sir,” repeated Hutin, “I meant to consult you about it. It is really
necessary, as you know, for there has been no demand for these velvets.”
Mouret cut him short with a final harsh remark. “Very good, sir; we
will look into the matter. But don’t do such a thing again, if you
value your situation.”
And then he walked off. Hutin, bewildered, furious, finding no one but
Favier to confide in, swore that he would go and throw his resignation
at the brute’s head. But he soon left off talking of leaving, and began
to stir up all the abominable accusations which were current amongst
the salesmen against their chiefs. And Favier, his eyes sparkling,
defended himself with a great show of sympathy. He was obliged to
reply, wasn’t he? Besides, could any one have foreseen such a row over
so trifling a matter? What had come on the governor lately, that he
should be so unbearable?
“We all know what’s the matter with him,” replied Hutin. “Is it my
fault if that little jade in the mantle department is turning his
head? My dear follow, you can see that the blow comes from there. He’s
aware that she fancied me, and he doesn’t like it; or perhaps it’s she
herself who wants to get me dismissed because I’m in her way. But I
swear she shall hear from me, if ever she crosses my path.”
Two days later, as Hutin was going into the work-rooms upstairs, under
the leads, to recommend a girl of his acquaintance, he started on
perceiving Denise and Deloche leaning against a window at the end of a
passage and plunged so deeply in private conversation that they did not
even turn round. The idea of having them caught there suddenly occurred
to him, when he perceived with astonishment that Deloche was weeping.
He at once went off without making any noise; and meeting Bourdoncle
and Jouve on the stairs, told them some story about one of the
fire-extinguishers, the door of which seemed to have been torn away;
in this manner they would go upstairs and drop on to the two others.
Bourdoncle discovered them first. He stopped short, and told Jouve to
go and fetch the governor, whilst he remained there. The inspector had
to obey, though greatly annoyed at being forced to mix himself up in
such a matter.
This was a lost corner of the vast world where the people of The
Ladies’ Paradise bestirred themselves. You reached it by an intricate
network of stairs and passages. The work-rooms, situated in the
attics, were low sloping chambers, lighted by large windows cut in
the zinc roofing, and furnished solely with long tables and large
cast-iron stoves; and all along was a crowd of work-girls engaged on
the under-clothing, the lace, the upholstery and the dressmaking, and
living winter and summer in a stifling heat, amidst the odour peculiar
to the business. You had to skirt all these rooms, and turn to the
right after passing the dressmakers, before coming to the solitary
end of the corridor. The few customers, whom a salesman occasionally
brought here for an order, gasped for breath, tired out and frightened,
with the sensation of having turned round and round for hours, and of
being a hundred leagues above the street.
Denise had often found Deloche waiting for her. As second-hand she had
charge of the arrangements between her department and the work-room
where only the models and alterations were attended to, and was
always going up and down to give the necessary orders. The young man
would watch for her and invent any pretext to run after her; and then
affected to be surprised when he met her at the work-room door. She
got to laugh about the matter and it became quite an understood thing.
The corridor ran alongside one of the cisterns, an enormous iron tank
containing twelve thousand gallons of water; and on the roof there was
another one of equal size, reached by an iron ladder. For an instant,
Deloche would stand talking, leaning one shoulder against the cistern
in the continual abandonment of his long body, bent by fatigue. A
sing-song noise of water was heard, a mysterious noise, the musical
vibration of which the iron tank ever retained. Despite the solitude,
Denise would at times turn round anxiously, thinking, she had seen a
shadow pass on the bare, pale yellow walls. But the window would soon
attract them, they would lean against it, and forget themselves in a
pleasant gossip, in endless souvenirs of their native place. Below them
extended the immense glass roof of the central gallery, a lake of glass
bounded by the distant housetops, as by a rocky coast. Beyond, they saw
nothing but the sky, a sheet of sky, which cast in the sleeping water
of the glass work a reflection of the flight of its clouds and its soft
It so happened that Deloche was that day speaking of Valognes. “I was
six years old; my mother used to take me to Valognes market in a cart,”
he said. “You know it’s ten miles away; we had to leave Briquebec at
five o’clock. It’s a fine country down our way. Do you know it?”
“Yes, yes,” replied Denise, slowly, her glances wandering far away.
“I was there once, but was very little then. Roads with grass on each
side, eh? and now and again sheep browsing in couples, dragging their
clog along by the rope.” She stopped, then resumed with a vague smile:
“Our roads run for miles as straight as arrows between rows of trees
which afford some shade. We have meadows surrounded by hedges taller
than I am, where there are horses and cows grazing. We have a little
river too, and the water is very cold, under the brushwood, in a spot I
well know.”
“It is the same with us, exactly!” cried Deloche, delighted.
“There’s grass everywhere, each one encloses his plot with thorns
and elms, and is at once at home; and it’s quite green, a green far
different to what we see in Paris. Dear me! how I’ve played in the
hollow road, on the left, coming down from the mill!”
Their voices died away, they remained with their eyes fixed, lost on
the sunny lake of the glass work. A mirage rose up before them from
that blinding water, they beheld an endless succession of meadows,
the Cotentin country steeped in the breath of the ocean, bathed in a
luminous vapour, which blurred the horizon with the delicate grey of a
water-colour. Below them, beneath the colossal iron framework, in the
silk hall, was the roar of business, the trepidation of the machine
at work; the entire house vibrated with the tramping of the crowd,
the bustle of the salesmen, the life of the thirty thousand persons
hurtling there; and they, carried away by their dreams, thought they
could hear the wind passing over the grass and shaking the tall trees,
as they detected this deep dull clamour with which the roofs were
“Ah! Mademoiselle Denise,” stammered Deloche, “why aren’t you kinder
to me? I love you so much!” Tears had come into his eyes, and as she
signed to him to stop, he continued quickly: “No–let me tell you these
things once more. We should get on so well together! People always find
something to talk about when they come from the same part.”
He was choking, and she was at last able to say kindly: “You’re
not reasonable; you promised me never to speak of that again. It’s
impossible. I have great friendship for you, because you’re a nice
fellow; but I wish to remain free.”
“Yes, yes. I know,” he replied in a broken voice, “you don’t love
me. Oh! you may say so, I quite understand it. There’s nothing in me
to make you love me. Listen, I’ve only had one sweet moment in my
life, and that was when I met you at Joinville, do you remember? For
a moment, under the trees, when it was so dark, I thought your arm
trembled, and was stupid enough to imagine—-”
But she again interrupted him. Her quick ear had just detected the
sound of Bourdoncle’s and Jouve’s steps at the end of the corridor.
“Hark, there’s some one coming.”
“No,” said he, preventing her from leaving the window, “it’s in the
cistern: all sorts of extraordinary noises come from it, as if there
were some one inside.”
And then he continued his timid caressing complaints. She was no longer
listening to him, however. Rocked into a dreamy mood by his declaration
of love, her eyes wandering over the roofs of The Ladies’ Paradise. To
the right and the left of the large glazed gallery, other galleries and
other halls were glistening in the sunshine, between the housetops,
pierced with garret windows and running along symmetrically, like the
wings of a barracks. Metal ladders and bridges rose on all sides,
describing a lacework of iron in the air; whilst the kitchen chimney
belched forth as much smoke as a factory, and the great square cistern,
supported aloft by cast-iron pillars, assumed the strange silhouette
of some barbarous structure erected at this height by the pride of one
man. In the distance, Paris roared.
When Denise awoke from this dreamy contemplation of space and the
summits of The Ladies’ Paradise, where her thoughts floated as in a
vast solitude, she found that Deloche had caught hold of her hand. And
as he appeared so woe-begone she did not draw it away.
“Forgive me,” he murmured. “It’s all over now; I should be too
miserable if you punished me by withdrawing your friendship. I
assure you I intended to say something else. Yes, I had determined
to understand the situation and be very good.” Then his tears again
began to flow and he tried to steady his voice. “For I know my lot in
life. It is too late for my luck to turn. Beaten at home, beaten in
Paris, beaten everywhere! I’ve now been here four years and am still
the last in the department. So I wanted to tell you not to trouble on
my account. I won’t annoy you any more. Try to be happy, love some one
else; yes, that would really be a pleasure for me. If you are happy, I
shall be happy too. That will be my happiness.”
He could say no more. As if to seal his promise he raised the young
girl’s hand to his lips–kissing it with the humble kiss of a slave.
She was deeply affected, and said simply, in a tender, sisterly tone,
which softened somewhat the pity of the words: “My poor lad!”
But they started, and turned round; Mouret was standing before them.
For the last ten minutes, Jouve had been searching all over the place
for the governor; the latter, however, was looking at the building of
the new façade in the Rue du Dix-Décembre. He spent long hours there
every day, trying to interest himself in this work, of which he had
so long dreamed. There, amidst masons laying the huge corner-stones,
and engineers setting up the great iron framework, he found a refuge
against his torments. The façade already appeared above the level of
the street; and indications of the spacious porch, and the windows of
the first storey, a palace-like development in a crude state could be
seen. Mouret scaled the ladders, discussing with the architect the
ornamentation which was to be something quite new, scrambled over the
heaps of brick and iron, and even went down into the cellars; and the
roar of the steam-engine, the tic-tac of the trowels, the loud noise
of the hammers and the clamour of the army of workmen in this immense
cage surrounded by sound-reëchoing planks, really diverted him for an
instant. He would come out white with plaster, black with iron-filings,
his feet splashed by the water from the pumps but nevertheless so far
from being cured that his anguish returned and his heart beat more
loudly than ever, as the uproar of the works died away behind him.
It so happened, on the day in question, that a slight diversion had
brought back his gaiety: he had become deeply interested in an album
of drawings of the mosaics and enamelled terra-cotta which were to
decorate the friezes, when Jouve, out of breath, annoyed at being
obliged to soil his frock coat amongst all the building materials came
up to fetch him. At first Mouret cried out that they must wait; but, at
a word spoken in an undertone by the inspector, he immediately followed
him, trembling and again mastered by his passion. Nothing else existed,
the façade crumbled away before being built: what was the use of that
supreme triumph of his pride, if the mere name of a woman whispered in
his ear tortured him to this extent!
Upstairs, Bourdoncle and Jouve thought it prudent to vanish. Deloche
had hastened away; Denise, paler than usual, alone remained face to
face with Mouret, looking straight into his eyes.
“Have the goodness to follow me, mademoiselle,” he said in a harsh
She followed him, they descended the two storeys, and crossed the
furniture and carpet departments without saying a word. When he arrived
at his office, he opened the door wide, saying, “Walk in, mademoiselle.”
And, closing the door, he went to his table. The director’s new office
was fitted up more luxuriously than the old one; the rep hangings had
been replaced by velvet ones, and a book-case, inlaid with ivory,
occupied one whole side; but on the walls there was still no other
picture than the portrait of Madame Hédouin, a young woman with a calm
handsome face, smiling in a gilded frame.
“Mademoiselle,” he said at last, trying to maintain a cold severe air,
“there are certain things that we cannot tolerate. Good conduct is
absolutely necessary here.”
He stopped, choosing his words, in order not to yield to the furious
anger which was rising within him. What! it was that fellow she loved,
that wretched salesman, the laughing-stock of his counter! It was
the humblest, the most awkward of all that she preferred to him, the
master! for he had seen them, she leaving her hand in his, and he
covering that hand with kisses.
“I’ve been very good to you, mademoiselle,” continued he, making a
fresh effort. “I little expected to be rewarded in this way.”

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Denise, immediately on entering, had been attracted by Madame
Hédouin’s portrait; and, notwithstanding her great trouble, was still
pre-occupied by it. Every time she came into the director’s office her
eyes were sure to meet those of that painted lady. As a rule she was
almost afraid of her, although she knew her to have been very good.
This time, however, she felt her to be a kind of protection.
“You are right, sir,” she said, softly, “I was wrong to stop and talk,
and I beg your pardon for doing so. This young man comes from my own
part of the country.”
“I’ll dismiss him!” cried Mouret, putting all his suffering into this
furious cry.
And, completely overcome, entirely forgetting his position of director
lecturing a saleswoman guilty of an infraction of the regulations,
he broke into a torrent of violent words. Had she no shame in her? a
young girl like her to fall in love with such a being! and he even made
most atrocious accusations, introducing Hutin’s name and the names of
others into the affair, with such a flood of words, that she could not
even defend herself. But he would make a clean sweep, and kick them
all out! The explanation he had resolved on, when following Jouve, had
degenerated into a violent scene of jealousy.
“Yes, your lovers! They told me about it, and I was stupid enough to
doubt it. But I was the only one who did! I was the only one!”
Choking and bewildered, Denise stood listening to these frightful
charges, which she had not at first understood. Did he really suppose
her to be as bad as that? At another remark, harsher than all the rest,
she silently turned towards the door. And, as he made a movement to
stop her, she said:
“Let me alone, sir, I’m going away. If you think me what you say, I
will not remain in the house another second.”
But he rushed in front of the door, exclaiming: “Why don’t you defend
yourself? Say something!”
She stood there very stiff, maintaining an icy silence. For a long
time he pressed her with questions, with a growing anxiety; and the
mute dignity of this innocent girl once more seemed to be the artful
calculation of a woman learned in all the tactics of passion. Had she
desired it, which she did not, she could not have played a game better
calculated to bring him to her feet, tortured by doubt, desirous of
being convinced.
“Come, you say he is from your part of the country? Perhaps you’ve met
there formerly. Swear that there has been nothing between you and this
And as she obstinately remained silent, as if still wishing to open
the door and go away, he completely lost his head, and gave way to a
supreme explosion of grief.
“Good heavens! I love you! I love you! Why do you delight in tormenting
me like this? You can see that nothing else exists for me, that the
people I speak about only touch me through you, that you alone can
occupy my thoughts. Thinking you were jealous, I gave up all my
pleasures. You were told I had mistresses; well! I have them no longer;
I hardly set foot outside. Did I not prefer you at that lady’s house?
have I not quarrelled with her in order to belong solely to you? And
I am still waiting for a word of thanks, a little gratitude. And if
you fear that I should return to her, you may feel quite easy: she is
avenging herself by helping one of our former salesmen to found a rival
establishment. Tell me, must I go on my knees to touch your heart?”
He had come to this. He, who did not tolerate the slightest peccadillo
among the shopwomen, who turned them out for the least caprice,
found himself reduced to imploring one of them not to go away, not
to abandon him in his misery! He held the door against her, ready to
forgive her everything, to shut his eyes, if she merely deigned to
lie. And he spoke the truth, he had quite reformed; he had long since
given up Clara and had ceased to visit at Madame Desforges’s house,
where Bouthemont now reigned supreme, pending the opening of the
new establishment, The Four Seasons, which was already filling the
newspapers with its advertisements.
“Tell me, must I go on my knees?” he repeated, almost choked by
suppressed tears.
She signed to him to cease speaking, herself quite unable to conceal
her emotion, deeply affected by his suffering passion. “You are wrong,
sir, to agitate yourself in this way,” she at last replied. “I assure
you that all these wicked reports are untrue. That poor fellow you saw
just now is no more guilty than I am.”
She said this with her brave, frank air, looking with her bright eyes
straight into his face.
“Very good, I believe you,” he murmured. “I’ll not dismiss any of your
comrades, since you take all these people under your protection. But
why, then, do you repulse me, if you love no one else?”
A sudden constraint, an anxious bashfulness came upon the young girl.
“You love some one, do you not?” he resumed, in a trembling voice. “Oh!
you may speak out; I have no claim on your affections. Do you love any
She turned very red, her heart was in her mouth, and she felt all
falsehood impossible in the presence of the emotion which was betraying
her, the repugnance for lying which made the truth appear in her face
in spite of all.
“Yes,” she at last confessed, feebly. “But I beg you to let me go, sir,
you are torturing me.”
She was now suffering in her turn. Was it not enough to have to defend
herself against him? Must she even fight against herself, against the
gust of tenderness which sometimes took away all her courage? When
he spoke to her like this, when she saw him such a prey to emotion,
so overcome, she hardly knew why she still refused; and it was only
afterwards that, in the depths of her healthy, girlish nature, she
found the pride and prudence which maintained her intact in her
virtuous resolutions.
Mouret gave way to a gesture of gloomy discouragement. He could not
understand her. He turned towards his table, took up some papers and
then at once laid them down again, saying: “I will detain you no
longer, mademoiselle; I cannot keep you against your will.”
“But I don’t wish to go away,” replied she, smiling. “If you believe me
to be innocent, I will remain. One ought always to believe a woman to
be virtuous, sir. There are numbers who are so, I assure you.”
Denise had involuntarily raised her eyes towards Madame Hédouin’s
portrait; that lady so sensible and so beautiful, whose blood, they
said, had brought good fortune to the house. Mouret followed the glance
with a start, for he thought he could hear his dead wife pronounce that
phrase, one of her own sayings which he recognised. And it was like
a resurrection, he discovered in Denise the good sense, the mental
equilibrium of her whom he had lost, even down to her gentle voice,
sparing of useless words. He was struck by the resemblance, and it
rendered him sadder still.
“You know I am yours,” he murmured in conclusion. “Do what you like
with me.”
Then she resumed gaily: “That is right, sir. The advice of a woman,
however humble she may be, is always worth listening to when she has a
little intelligence. If you put yourself in my hands, you may be sure
I’ll make nothing but a good man of you!”
She smiled, with that simple unassuming air which possessed such a
charm. He also smiled in a feeble way, and escorted her as far as the
door, as he might have done with a lady.
The next day Denise was appointed first-hand. The dress and costume
department was divided; the management creating especially for her
benefit a children’s costume department, which was installed near that
of the cloaks and mantles. Ever since her son’s dismissal, Madame
Aurélie had been trembling, for she found the directors cooling towards
her, and also observed the young woman’s power increasing daily. Would
they not shortly take advantage of some pretext or other and sacrifice
her in favour of Denise? Her imperial countenance, puffed up with fat,
seemed to have grown thinner from the shame which now stained the
Lhomme dynasty; and she made a show of going away every evening on her
husband’s arm, for they had been brought nearer together by misfortune,
and vaguely felt that the evil came from the disorder of their home;
whilst the poor old man, more affected than her, a prey as he was to a
sickly fear that he might himself be suspected of robbery, would count
the receipts twice over with a great deal of noise, performing miracles
the while with his injured arm. Accordingly when Madame Aurélie saw
Denise appointed first-hand of the children’s costume department, she
experienced such delight that she paraded the most affectionate feeling
towards her, being indeed really grateful to her for not having taken
her own place. And so she overwhelmed her with attentions, treating her
as an equal, often going to talk to her in the neighbouring department,
with a stately air, like a queen-mother paying a visit to a young queen.
In fact, Denise was now at the summit. Her appointment as first-hand
had destroyed the last resistance. If some still babbled, from that
itching of the tongue which infects every assemblage of men and
women, all nevertheless bowed very low before her face. Marguerite,
now second-hand, was full of praise for her. Clara, herself, inspired
with a secret respect for this good fortune, which she felt herself
incapable of achieving, bowed her head. But Denise’s victory was still
more complete over the gentlemen; over Jouve, who now almost bent
double whenever he addressed her; over Hutin, seized with anxiety on
feeling his position giving way under him; and over Bourdoncle, at
last reduced to powerlessness. When the latter saw her come out of the
director’s office, smiling, with her quiet air; and when on the morrow
Mouret had insisted on the board creating the new department, he had
yielded, vanquished by his terror of woman. He had always thus given
in to Mouret, recognising him to be the master, notwithstanding his
escapades and idiotic love affairs. This time the woman had proved the
stronger, and he was expecting to be swept away by the disaster.
Yet Denise bore her triumph in a quiet, charming manner, touched by
these marks of consideration, and desirous of interpreting them as
sympathy for the miseries of her _débuts_ and the final success of
her patient courage. Thus it was with laughing joy that she received
the slightest tokens of friendship, and this caused her to be really
loved by some: she was so kind, sympathetic, and full of affection.
The only person for whom she still showed an invincible repugnance was
Clara, for she had learned that this girl had amused herself by leading
Colomban astray, even as she had said she would do, for a joke; and he,
carried away by his passion, was now becoming more dissipated every
day, whilst poor Geneviève was slowly dying. The affair was talked of
at The Ladies’ Paradise, and thought very droll there.
But this trouble, the only one she had outside, did not in any way
change Denise’s equable temper. It was especially in her department
that she was seen at her best, in the midst of her little world of
babies of all ages. She was passionately fond of children, and could
not have been placed in a better position. Sometimes there were fully
fifty little girls and as many boys there, quite a turbulent school,
all agog with the desires of budding coquetry. The mothers completely
lost their heads. She, conciliatory and smiling, had the little ones
placed in a row, on chairs; and when among the number there happened
to be a rosy-cheeked little angel, whose pretty face tempted her, she
would insist on serving her herself, bringing the dress and trying it
on the child’s dimpled shoulders, with the tender precaution of an
elder sister. Bursts of clear laughter rang out, faint cries of ecstasy
were raised amidst the scolding voices of the mothers. Sometimes a
little girl, nine or ten years old, already a grand lady in her own
estimation, would when trying on a cloth jacket stand studying it
before a glass, now and again turning round with an absorbed air,
while her eyes sparkled with the desire to please. The counters were
littered with unpacked goods, dresses in pink and blue Eastern cotton
for children of from one to five years old; sailor costumes in blue
“zephyr” with plaited skirts and blouses trimmed with cambric; Louis
XV. costumes, mantles, jackets; a medley of little garments, stiff in
their infantile grace, something like the contents of the cloak-room
of a band of big dolls, taken out of the wardrobes and given over to
pillage. Denise always had a few sweets in her pockets to appease the
tears of some youngster in despair at not being able to carry off a
pair of red breeches; and she lived there amongst these little ones as
in her own family, feeling quite young again herself from the contact
of all the innocence and freshness incessantly renewed around her
She now at times had long friendly talks with Mouret. Whenever she
went to the office to take orders or furnish information, he would
keep her chatting, enjoying the sound of her voice. It was what she
laughingly called “making a good man of him.” In her prudent, cautious
Norman brain there sprang up all sorts of projects, ideas about the new
style of business at which she had already ventured to hint when at
Robineau’s, and some of which she had expressed on the evening of their
charming walk in the Tuileries gardens. She could not be occupied in
any matter or see any work going on, without being moved by a desire to
introduce some improvement into the mechanism. Thus, since her entry
into The Ladies’ Paradise, she had been particularly pained by the
precarious position of the employees; the sudden dismissals shocked
her, she thought them iniquitous and stupid, hurtful to all, to the
house as much as the staff. Her former sufferings were still fresh in
her mind, and her heart filled with pity every time she saw a new-comer
with feet bruised and eyes dim with tears, dragging her misery along
in her silk dress, amidst the spiteful persecution of the older
hands. This dog’s life made the best of them bad; and the sad work of
destruction commenced: they were all devoured by the business before
the age of forty, often disappearing, falling into unknown depths, a
great many dying in harness, some of consumption and exhaustion, others
of fatigue and bad air, whilst a few were thrown on the street, and
the happiest married and buried themselves in some little provincial
shop. Was this frightful consumption of human life for which the big
shops were responsible every year, right and just? And she pleaded the
cause of the colossal machine’s gearing not from sentimental reasons,
but by arguments appealing to the very interests of the employers. To
make a machine solid and strong, it is necessary to use good iron; if
the iron breaks or is broken, a stoppage of work, repeated expenses of
restarting, quite a loss of power, ensue.
Sometimes she would become quite animated, and picture an immense
ideal bazaar, the phalansterium of modern commerce, in which each
would secure his exact share of profits, according to his merits,
with a certainty of the future, assured to him by contract. Mouret
would make merry over this, notwithstanding his fever. He accused
her of socialism, embarrassed her by pointing out the difficulties
of carrying out these schemes; for she spoke in the simplicity of
her soul, bravely trusting in the future, whenever she perceived a
dangerous gap underlying her tender-hearted plans. Nevertheless he
was shaken, captivated by her young voice which still quivered at the
thought of the hardships she had undergone, and was so instinct with
earnestness as she pointed out reforms which would tend to consolidate
the house; and even while joking with her he listened. Thus the
salesmen’s positions were gradually improved, the wholesale dismissals
were replaced by a system of holidays granted during the dead seasons,
and it was decided to found a sort of benefit club which would protect
the employees against slack times and ensure them a pension. It was the
embryo of the vast trades’ unions of the twentieth century.
Moreover Denise did not confine her attention solely to the healing
of the wounds from which she had herself bled; she conceived various
delicate feminine ideas with which she prompted Mouret and which
delighted the customers. She also made Lhomme happy by supporting a
scheme he had long entertained, that of creating a band of musicians,
of which all the members should be chosen from amongst the staff.
Three months later Lhomme had a hundred and twenty musicians under his
direction, and the dream of his whole life was realized. And a grand
fête was then given on the premises, a concert and a ball, to introduce
the band of The Ladies’ Paradise to the customers and the whole
world. The newspapers took the matter up, Bourdoncle himself, though
staggered by these innovations, was obliged to bow before the immense
advertisement. Afterwards came the establishment of a recreation room
for the men, with two billiard tables and backgammon and chess boards.
Then classes were held in the house of an evening; lessons were given
in English and German, in grammar, arithmetic, and geography; at
last too there were even riding and fencing lessons. A library was
also formed, ten thousand volumes were placed at the disposal of the
employees. And afterwards came a resident doctor, giving consultations
gratis; together with baths, and hair-dressing and refreshment saloons.
Every want of life was provided for, everything–board, lodging,
clothing and education–was to be obtained without going out of doors.
There, in the very heart of Paris, now all agog with the clatter of
this working city which was springing up so vigorously amidst the ruins
of the olden streets, at last opened to the sunshine, The Ladies’
Paradise sufficed entirely for all its own wants and pleasures.
Then a further change of opinion took place in Denise’s favour. As
Bourdoncle, vanquished, repeated with despair to his friends that
he would himself give a great deal to prevail upon Denise to accept
Mouret, it was concluded that she still refused to do so, and that her
all-powerfulness resulted from her refusal. From that moment she became
popular. They knew for what indulgences they were indebted to her, and
they admired her for the strength of her will. There, at all events,
was one who could master the governor, who avenged all the others, and
knew how to get something more than promises out of him! So she had
come at last, she who caused him to treat the poor and humble with a
little consideration! When she passed through the departments, with her
delicate, self-willed head, her gentle, invincible air, the salesmen
smiled at her, felt proud of her, and would willingly have exhibited
her to the crowd. She, in her happiness, allowed herself to be carried
along by this increasing sympathy. But was it all possible? She again
saw herself arriving in a shabby dress, frightened, lost amidst the
mechanism of the terrible machine; for a long time she had felt she was
nothing, barely a grain of millet beneath the millstones which were
crushing a whole world; and now to-day she was the very soul of this
world, she alone was of any consequence, able at a word to increase or
slacken the pace of the colossus lying at her feet. And yet she had
not wished for these things, she had simply presented herself, without
calculation, possessed of naught but the charm of her sweetness. Her
sovereignty sometimes caused her an uneasy surprise: why did they all
obey her? she was not pretty, she did nothing wrong. Then she smiled,
her heart at rest, feeling within herself naught but goodness and
prudence, a love of truth and logic which constituted all her strength.
One of Denise’s greatest joys at this time was to be able to assist
Pauline. The latter, now about to become a mother, was trembling, for
she knew that two other saleswomen similarly circumstanced had been
sent away. The principals did not tolerate maternity; they occasionally
allowed marriage, but would admit of no children. Pauline, it was
true, had her husband in the house; but still she felt anxious, and in
order to postpone a probable dismissal, sought to conceal her state
as long as she could. But Bourdoncle had observed that her complexion
was getting very pale and one morning while he was standing near her,
in the under-linen department, a messenger, taking away a bundle, ran
against her with such force that she cried out with pain. Bourdoncle
immediately took her on one side, made her confess, and submitted
the question of her dismissal to the board, under the pretext that
she was in need of country air. Mouret, who was not at the meeting,
could only give his opinion in the evening. But Denise having had time
to interpose, he closed Bourdoncle’s mouth, in the interests of the
establishment itself. Did they wish to wound the feelings of all the
mothers and young married women amongst their customers? And so it was
decided, with great solemnity, that every married saleswoman should,
whenever necessary, be sent to a special midwife’s at the Paradise’s
The next day when Denise went up to the infirmary to see Pauline, who
had been obliged to take to her bed on account of the blow she had
received, the latter kissed her heartily on both cheeks. “How kind you
are! Had it not been for you I should have been turned away. Pray don’t
be anxious about me, the doctor says it’s nothing.”
Baugé, who had slipped away from his department, was also there, on the
other side of the bed. He likewise stammered his thanks, disturbed in
the presence of Denise, whom he now treated as an important person of a
superior class. Ah! if he heard any more unkind remarks about her, he
would soon close the mouths of the jealous ones! But Pauline sent him
away with a good-natured shrug of the shoulders.
“My poor dear, you’re always saying something stupid. Leave us to talk
The infirmary was a long, light room, containing twelve beds with
white curtains. Those who did not wish to go home to their families
were nursed there. However, on the day in question, Pauline was the
only occupant. Her bed was near one of the large windows which looked
on to the Rue Neuve-Saint-Augustin. And amidst the white hangings,
in the calm atmosphere perfumed with a faint odour of lavender, they
immediately began to exchange confidences in soft, affectionate
“So he does just what you wish him to, all the same,” said Pauline.
“How cruel you are, to make him suffer so! Come, just explain it to me,
now that I’ve ventured to approach the subject. Do you detest him?”
Pauline had retained hold of Denise’s hand, as the latter sat near the
bed, with her elbow resting on the bolster; and Denise was overcome by
sudden emotion. Her cheeks flushed red and, in a momentary weakness,
her secret escaped her at this direct and unexpected question.
“I love him!” she murmured, burying her head in the pillow.
Pauline was astonished. “What! you love him?” And, after a pause, she
asked: “So it’s all to make him marry you?”
But at this, the young girl sprang up, quite confused: “Marry me! Oh,
no! Oh! I assure you that I have never wished for anything of the kind!
No, never has such an idea entered my head; and you know what a horror
I have of all falsehood!”
“Well, dear,” resumed Pauline, kindly, “you couldn’t have acted
otherwise, if such had been your intention. All this must come to an
end, and it is very certain that it can only finish by a marriage so
far as you are concerned. I must tell you that everybody here has the
same idea: yes, they are convinced that you are riding the high horse,
in order to make him take you to church. Dear me! what a funny girl you
And then she had to console Denise, who had again sunk down with her
head on the bolster, sobbing and declaring that she would certainly go
away, since they attributed to her all sorts of things that had never
even crossed her mind. No doubt, when a man loved a woman he ought to
marry her. But she asked for nothing, she had made no calculations, she
simply begged that she might be allowed to live quietly, with her joys
and sorrows, like other people. Yes, she would go away.
At the same moment Mouret was crossing the premises below, seeking to
forget his thoughts by visiting the works once more. Several months
had elapsed, the façade now reared its monumental proportions behind
the vast hoarding which concealed it from the public. Quite an army of
decorators, marble-cutters, mosaic-workers, and others, were at work.
The central group above the door was being gilded, whilst the pedestals
destined to support statues of the manufacturing cities of France, were
being fixed on the acroteria. Along the Rue du Dix-Décembre, lately
opened to the public, a crowd of idlers now stood from morning till
night, looking up, seeing nothing, but nevertheless interested in the
marvels related of this façade, the inauguration of which was expected
to revolutionize Paris. And it was beside this new building full of the
fever of work, amidst the artists putting the finishing touches to the
realization of his dream as commenced by the masons, that Mouret more
bitterly than ever realized the vanity of his fortune. The thought of
Denise suddenly came upon him, that thought which incessantly pierced
him with a flame, like the shooting of an incurable pain. And then he
ran away, unable to find a word of satisfaction, fearful lest he should
display his tears, and leaving behind him the disgust of triumph. That
façade, which was at last erected, seemed but trifling in his eyes,
very much like one of those walls of sand that children build, and
it might have been prolonged from one end of the city to the other,
elevated to the starry sky and yet would not have filled the void of
his heart, which only the “yes” of a mere child could satisfy.
When Mouret returned to his office he was almost choking with sobs.
What did she want? He dared not offer her money now; but the confused
idea of marriage presented itself amidst his revolts. And, in the
debility of his powerlessness, his tears began to flow. He was indeed
very unhappy.