Charles Monselet: Cursed Money (part three)
The Quai des Augustins
“And you are too indulgent. I’ve been watching you for some time, and it pains me to see how your carelessness in matters of trade increases by the day. I don’t speak of books, since despite all my efforts, it has been impossible for me to give you a sense of them. But your colognes! You barely respond when someone asks after them!”
“I don’t have any passion for sales work, true! I admire you all the more, Father, for knowing how to make yourself rich.”
Cried the bookseller, alarmed: “Make myself rich? Me? Rich? Who could have told you such a thing?”
“I just imagine it,” said Hortense, with a smile.
“Do you imagine reward in being caretaker to so many works I can’t be rid of? I have what I need to eke along, that’s all.”
“But then, you own that house in Montmartre.”
“Good! Good! I own that house. And I have to keep the concierge there!”
“You’re joking, Father.”
“No, truly, I don’t earn a sou from that fleabag. Ah! If someone would take it off my back!”
“And that farm, didn’t I see a contract for purchase, at eighty thousand francs?”
“Eighty thousand francs down the well! Who knows if the tenant will pay me?”
“You treat me like a child,” said Hortense. “I know you have a fortune.”
“Fortune!” repeated Jorry, with a start. “What a word!”
“Exactly the word to suit a balance of two hundred thousand francs.”
“Have you been turning the place upside-down, Hortense…have you been searching my drawers?”
“Father, I’m at that time of life when everything decides the future. I’m twenty-three years old…maybe you don’t think about this enough. You can’t blame me for wanting a glimpse of my destiny. In any case, I can do the math.”
“True enough. I taught you that.”
“And I’m convinced the sum I mentioned is accurate.”
“Two hundred thousand francs! My poor girl, it’s madness! I haven’t a third, not a quarter…”
“Permit me, Father, since we’ve arrived at this chapter, to tell you all my thoughts.”
“We’ll see,” murmured the bookseller, raising his hands to the sky.
“My happiness is, I’m sure, your greatest worry.”
“Your happiness, as I envision it.”
“Well, I wasn’t born to be a shopgirl.”
“Oh?” His eyes bulged.
“But don’t think it’s pride that makes me say so. I’m not embarrassed at our condition.”
“No, but you would rather be a duchess!”
A light blush mantled the girl’s brown cheeks. “Duchess! You exaggerate everything, Father.”
“And so, according to you, we ought to give up the shop?”
“Since the February Revolution, we’ve earned so little.”
“I know it, but the little we earn still serves us to live.”
“We could live at Passy, or Auteuil, one of those pretty houses with gardens…that you could buy. You wouldn’t need to go every day to the Salle Silvestre, run to the auctioneers’, keep an eye on your stall on the quay. You could take up horticulture, become a councilman, in time.”
“Me!” said Hortense, studying the effect of her words on her father’s face. “Gracious! It should be possible for a suitable party to present himself.”
Jorry threw his daughter a look. “Would your suitor have means?”
“He might at least have talents.”
“And perhaps also a name.”
“Is that right? He would have a name?” the bookseller mocked.
“I want to say a title.”
“I see. As M. René de Verdières, for example.”
“Father!” Hortense fell silent; she had been found out.
Then, after a moment in which he was pleased to prolong this embarrassment, M. Jorry said: “You are certainly ailing, otherwise you wouldn’t say such things. You must present yourself to Dr. Spruce, I can do nothing for you. Who the devil would believe you so romantic, my dear child? To speak against trade, which has sustained your father, and given you your life to this day—that is not only witless, it is ungrateful. Goodbye. I’m going to Bertholet, the mason. I will have him come tomorrow and create my reading room without delay. Everyone will pay, do you hear, everyone! Beginning with those who have titles and talents!”
On these words, the bookseller went out, striking his cane with a bang on the pavement. And this, as it would wear down the cane’s tip, revealed a great agitation.
(1863, Charles Monselet, 2022, translation, Stephanie Foster)
Art for these posts, John La Farge, 1861, public domain