Charles Monselet: Cursed Money (part four)
The Last of the Plougastel
Nothing prevents our following the representative of Pomard, Issakof and Co., Constantinople, the man in the royal blue hat. Leaving the bookseller Jorry’s, he directed his long strides towards the gates of the Louvre, where his deputy awaited him with the crate and its fifty bottles of eau de cologne.
“After me,” he ordered, sailing ahead.
They walked to the rue du Musée, then through the demolitions of the place du Carousel. The errand boy was sent packing, and Pomard’s agent, the box under his arm, proudly entered a house of abject appearance.
He climbed to the last step and knocked at a little door, in a particular way.
A woman of some youth opened. “You, at last!”
“What have you got there?”
“Guess!” he said, laying aside his burden.
“Come on, Magloire, don’t make me sweat! What have you got?”
“Fifty samples of excellent eau de cologne.”
“About how much cologne is that?”
“A quantity that will no longer be enough for the mistresses. With this essence, I shall begin making my perfumes for exotic dancers. My distilleries are at the ready. I have the herbs I have myself selected, along the paths of the Batignolles. Tomorrow, at first light of day, my invention comes into its own.”
“Finally,” murmured the woman.
“Why this sigh, Columba? Does the horizon, to you, not seem draped in cashmere and pou de soie?”
“No, Magloire,” she said sadly.
“It is that mind of yours, that allows itself to be influenced by the demeanor of a morning spider.”
“I didn’t see a spider this morning. I only saw our creditors.”
Perturbed, he said, “Again?”
“The fruit seller, the wine merchant, the baker…”
“Strange insistence!” he murmured, thrusting fingers into his thick hair.
“And if you knew how they tormented me over their pay!”
“They even went as far as threatening the justice of the peace.”
“Ah! That is a blow. But you won’t have known how to talk to them, I’m sure.”
“But what do you want me to say?”
“A thousand things! Creditors adore chitchat.”
“I cried…that’s all.”
“That’s not bad, though. I see in your gambit the exquisite superiority of the feminine wiles.”
“It is as well I cried, Magloire.”
“Hardly worth the effort. At least, I don’t suppose you’ve given them any hope?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you haven’t got the smallest sum to extend to such gentlemen, you must show yourself so poor, so much to be pitied, that they flee and never return, for fear of being obliged to give charity.”
“I did, however, provide you my instructions on this subject.”
“My heart failed me,” said Columba.
“Shall I wager you forgot to speak to them of the children?”
“What! What children? Unnatural mother, can you express yourself so? What children? Our little children, by heaven! Those twin angels there in the next room!”
“Ah, the mannequins…”
Such a word calls for an explanation. And here it is, in a few lines.
Magloire de Plougastel (which was his name) gave no thought to sensitivities, but as means against those to whom he owed money. He had had two rubber puppets crafted, to be inflated or deflated according to circumstance. These, he had the habit of calling his gibus-babies.
Columba gave a gentle shrug.
“You are at fault,” Magloire said. “Nothing has a better effect than these words: Ah, monsieur or madame, if you could only see them both reaching to me with their tiny arms! By this, one shoos off creditors as a hanky shoos off flies!”
“If I were a woman, such simple phrases would profit me like a sawmill in the Ardennes!”
But Columba did not have the soul of an actor as did Magloire; she turned from him, wiping away a tear.
Poor creature! She had been winsome. Suffering and misery had faded her looks before the age of thirty. The giant Magloire, no doubt following the law of contrasts, adored her. “Columba,” he said tenderly, “stop making me sad.”
“I can’t help it.”
The Batignolles is a public garden; Magloire was helping himself to plants that belonged to the city. A gibus is a collapsible opera hat. And the reference to pou de soie I decided to leave with the joke intact in French, not having a good English equivalent. It would be a malapropism that renders silk skin, a luxurious fabric, into “louse of silk”.
Once, doing newspaper research, I came across an American emporium selling poult de soie (a poult is a young turkey). That was a typesetter’s best effort, not intentional humor.
(1863, Charles Monselet, 2022, translation, Stephanie Foster)
Art for these posts, John La Farge, 1861, public domain