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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 2/89 -
We usher the reader, at the clerks' breakfast-time, into the notary's gloomy office.
A thing unheard-of, stupendous, marvelous! instead of the meager and unattractive stew, brought every morning to these young people by the _departed_ housekeeper, Madame Séraphin, an enormous cold turkey, served up on an old paper box, ornamented the middle of one of the tables of the office, flanked by two loaves of bread, some Dutch cheese, and three bottles of sealed wine; an old leaden inkstand, filled with a mixture of salt and pepper, served as a salt-cellar; such was the bill of fare.
Each clerk, armed with his knife and a formidable appetite, awaited the hour of the feast with hungry impatience; some of them were raging over the absence of the head clerk, without whom they could not commence their breakfast pursuant to etiquette.
This radical change in the ordinary meals of the clerks of Jacques Ferrand announced an excessive domestic revolution.
The following conversation, eminently Boeotian (if we may be allowed to borrow this word from the witty writer who has made it popular), will throw some light upon this important question:
"Behold a turkey who never expected, when he entered into life, to appear at breakfast on the table of our governor's quill-drivers!"
"Just so; when the governor entered on the life of a notary, in like manner he never expected to give his clerks a turkey for breakfast."
"For this turkey is ours," cried Stump-in-the-Gutters, the office-boy, with greedy eyes.
"My friend you forget; this turkey must be a foreigner to you."
"And as a Frenchman, you should hate a foreigner."
"All that can be done is to give you the claws."
"Emblem of the velocity with which you run your errands."
"I think, at least, I have a right to the carcass," said the boy, murmuring.
"It might be granted; but you have no right to it, just as it was with the Charter of 1814, which was only another carcass of liberty," said the Mirabeau of the office.
"Apropos of carcass," said one of the party. "May the soul of Mother Séraphin rest in peace! for, since she was drowned, we are no longer condemned to eat her ever lasting hash!"
"And for a week past, the governor, instead of giving us a breakfast--"
"Allows us each forty sous a day."
"That is the reason I say: may her soul rest in peace."
"Exactly; for in her time, the old boy would never have given us the forty sous."
"It is enormous!"
"It is astonishing!"
"There is not an office in Paris--"
"In the universe, where they give forty sous to a famishing clerk for his breakfast."
"Apropos of Madame Séraphin, which of you fellows has seen the new servant that takes her place?"
"The Alsatian girl whom Madame Pipelet, the porter's wife of No. 17, Rue du Temple, the house where poor Louise lived, brought one evening?"
"I have not seen her yet."
"Of course not; it is altogether impossible to see her, for the governor is more savage than ever to prevent our entering the pavilion in the courtyard."
"And since the porter cleans the office now, how can one get a glimpse at his Mary?"
"Pooh! I have seen her."
"Where was that?"
"How does she look?"
"Large or small?"
"Young or old?"
"I am sure, beforehand, that she has not so good-looking a face as poor Louise--that good girl?"
"Come, since you have seen her, how does this new servant look?"
"When I say I saw her, I have seen her cap--a very funny cap."
"It was cherry color, and of velvet, I believe; something like those worn by the little broom girls."
"Like the Alsatians? it is very natural, since she is an Alsatian."
"You don't say so!"
"But I do! what is it that surprises you? The burnt child shuns the fire!"
"Chalamel! what relation between your proverb and this cap?"
"There is none."
"Why did you say it, then?"
"Because a benefit is never lost, and the dog is a friend of man!"
"Hold! If Chalamel opens his budget of proverbs, which mean nothing, we are in for it. Come, tell us what you know of this new servant."
"The day before yesterday I was out in the yard: she had her back toward one of the windows of the ground-floor."
"The yard's back?"
"What stupidity! No, the servant's. The glasses are so dirty that I could see nothing of her figure; but I could see her cherry-colored cap, and a profusion of curls, as black as jet; for she wears her hair in short curls."
"I am sure that the governor would not have seen through his spectacles as much as you did; for here you have one, as they say, who, if he remained alone with a woman on the earth, the world would soon come to an end."
"That is not astonishing. He laughs best who laughs last, and, moreover, punctuality is the politeness of kings."
"How wearisome Chalamel is when he lays himself out to it!"
"Tell me what company you keep, and I'll tell you what you are."
"Oh! how pretty!"
"As for me, I have an idea that it is superstition that stupefies the governor more and more."
"It is, perhaps, from penitence, that he gives us forty sous for our breakfast."
"The fact is, he must be crazy."
"I think for the last two or three days he has been quite wild."
"Not that we see him so much. He who was, for our torment, in his cabinet from morning till night, and always at our backs, now has not, for two days, put his nose into the office."
"That is the reason the head clerk has so much to do."
"And that we are obliged to die with hunger in waiting for him."
"What a change in the office."
"Poor Germain would be much astonished if any one should say to him, 'Only fancy, my boy, the governor gives us forty sous for our breakfast;' 'Pshaw! it is impossible,' he would say. 'It is so possible that he has announced it to me, Chalamel, in my own person.' 'You are jesting.' 'I jest! This is the way it occurred: during two or three days which followed the death of Madame Séraphin, we had no breakfast at all. We liked that well enough, for no breakfast at all was better than that she gave us; but, on the other hand, our luncheon cost us money. However, we were patient, and said: "The governor has got no servant, no housekeeper, and when he gets one, we shall have to live on hash again." It wasn't so, my poor Germain: the old fellow finally employed a servant, and our breakfast was still buried in the river of oblivion. I was appointed a sort of deputy, to present to the governor the complaints of the stomach; he was with the principal clerk." I do not want to feed you in the morning," said he, in a gruff, surly tone; "my servant has no time to prepare your breakfast." "But, sir, you are bound to give us our morning meal." "Well, you may send out for your breakfast, and I will pay for it. How much do you want?--forty sous each?" added he, with some other subject evidently upon his mind, and mentioning, "forty sous," in the same manner that he would have said twenty sous, or a hundred sous. "Yes, sir," I exclaimed, "forty sous, will do," catching the ball "on the fly." "Let it be so," answered the notary; "the head clerk will take charge of the expense, and I will settle with him." Thereupon the governor shut the door in my face.' You must confess, gentleman that Germain would be
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