“Ah, yes, he was clever. But you are the most clever of all,” he answered with his terrible Gascon intonation.
Hemerlingue made no protest.
“It is to my wife that I owe it. So I strongly recommend you to make your peace with her, because unless you do——”
“Oh, don’t be afraid. We shall come on Saturday. But you will take me to see Le Merquier.”
And while the two silhouettes, the one tall and square, the other massive and short, were passing out of sight among the twinings of the great labyrinth, while the voice of Jansoulet guiding his friend, “This way, old fellow—lean hard on my arm,” died away by insensible degrees, a stray beam of the setting sun fell upon and illuminated behind them in the little plateau, an expressive and colossal bust, with great brow beneath long swept-back hair, and powerful and ironic lip—the bust of Balzac watching them.
Just at the end of the long vault, under which were the offices of Hemerlingue and Sons, the black tunnel which Joyeuse had for ten years adorned and illuminated with his dreams, a monumental staircase with a wrought-iron balustrade, a staircase of mediaeval time, led towards the left to the reception rooms of the baroness, which looked out on the court-yard just above the cashier’s office, so that in summer, when the windows were open, the ring of the gold, the crash of the piles of money scattered on the counters, softened a little by the rich and lofty hangings at the windows, made a mercantile accompaniment to the buzzing conversation of fashionable Catholicism.
The entrance struck at once the note of this house, as of her who did the honours of it. A mixture of a vague scent of the sacristy, with the excitement of the Bourse, and the most refined fashion, these heterogeneous elements, met and crossed each other’s path there, but remained as much apart as the noble faubourg, under whose patronage the striking conversion of the Moslem had taken place, was from the financial quarters where Hemerlingue had his life and his friends. The Levantine colony—pretty numerous in Paris—was composed in great measure of German Jews, bankers or brokers who had made colossal fortunes in the East, and still did business here, not to lose the habit. The colony showed itself regularly on the baroness’s visiting day. Tunisians on a visit to Paris never failed to call on the wife of the great banker; and old Colonel Brahim, charge d’affaires of the Bey, with his flabby mouth and bloodshot eyes, had his nap every Saturday in the corner of the same divan.