When it happened that the distances between the bowls and the cochonnet had to be measured, the cane of this silent being was used as a measure, the players coming up and taking it from the icy hands of the old man and returning it without a word or even a sign of friendliness. The loan of his cane seemed a servitude to which he had negatively consented. When a shower fell, he stayed near the cochonnet, the slave of the bowls, and the guardian of the unfinished game. Rain affected him no more than the fine weather did; he was, like the players themselves, an intermediary species between a Parisian who has the lowest intellect of his kind and an animal which has the highest.
In other respects, pallid and shrunken, indifferent to his own person, vacant in mind, he often came bareheaded, showing his sparse white hair, and his square, yellow, bald skull, like the knee of a beggar seen through his tattered trousers. His mouth was half-open, no ideas were in his glance, no precise object appeared in his movements; he never smiled; he never raised his eyes to heaven, but kept them habitually on the ground, where he seemed to be looking for something. At four o’clock an old woman arrived, to take him Heaven knows where; which she did by towing him along by the arm, as a young girl drags a wilful goat which still wants to browse by the wayside. This old man was a horrible thing to see.
In the afternoon of the day when Jules Desmarets left Paris, his travelling-carriage, in which he was alone, passed rapidly through the rue de l’Est, and came out upon the esplanade of the Observatoire at the moment when the old man, leaning against a tree, had allowed his cane to be taken from his hand amid the noisy vociferations of the players, pacifically irritated. Jules, thinking that he recognized that face, felt an impulse to stop, and at the same instant the carriage came to a standstill; for the postilion, hemmed in by some handcarts, had too much respect for the game to call upon the players to make way for him.
“It is he!” said Jules, beholding in that human wreck, Ferragus XXIII., chief of the Devorants. Then, after a pause, he added, “How he loved her!—Go on, postilion.”
Note: Ferragus is the first part of a trilogy. Part two is entitled The Duchesse de Langeais and part three is The Girl with the Golden Eyes. In other addendum references all three stories are usually combined under the title The Thirteen.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
The Girl with the Golden Eyes
Desmartes, Madame Jules
The Atheist’s Mass
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor’s Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life