“My son, where is my son?”
“Below, madame, in his carriage. It was he who sent me to look for you.”
She ran before the attendant, walking quickly, talking aloud, pushing aside out of her way the little black and bearded men who were gesticulating in the passages. After the waiting-hall she crossed a great round antechamber where servants in respectful rows made a living wainscotting to the high, blank wall. From there she could see through the glass doors, the outside railing, the crowd in waiting, and among the other vehicles, the Nabob’s carriage waiting. As she passed, the peasant recognised in one of the groups her enormous neighbour of the gallery, with the pale man in spectacles who had attacked her son, who was receiving all sorts of felicitation for his discourse. At the name of Jansoulet, pronounced among mocking and satisfied sneers, she stopped.
“At any rate,” said a handsome man with a bad feminine face, “he has not proved where our accusations were false.”
The old woman, hearing that, wrenched herself through the crowd, and facing Moessard said:
“What he did not say I will. I am his mother, and it is my duty to speak.”
She stopped to seize Le Merquier by the sleeve, who was escaping:
“Wicked man, you must listen, first of all. What have you got against my child? Don’t you know who he is? Wait a little till I tell you.”
And turning to the journalist:
“I had two sons, sir.”
Moessard was no longer there. She returned to Le Merquier: “Two sons, sir.” Le Merquier had disappeared.
“Oh, listen to me, some one, I beg,” said the poor mother, throwing her hands and her voice round her to assemble and retain her hearers; but all fled, melted away, disappeared—deputies, reporters, unknown and mocking faces to whom she wished at any cost to tell her story, careless of the indifference where her sorrows and her joys fell, her pride and maternal tenderness expressed in a tornado of feeling. And while she was thus exciting herself and struggling—distracted, her bonnet awry—at once grotesque and sublime, as are all the children of nature when brought into civilization, taking to witness the honesty of her son and the injustice of men, even the liveried servants, whose disdainful impassibility was more cruel than all, Jansoulet appeared suddenly beside her.
“Take my arm, mother. You must not stop there.”
He said it in a tone so firm and calm that all the laughter ceased, and the old woman, suddenly quieted, sustained by this solid hold, still trembling a little with anger, left the palace between two respectful rows. A dignified and rustic couple, the millions of the son gilding the countrified air of the mother, like the rags of a saint enshrined in a golden chasse—they disappeared in the bright sunlight outside, in the splendour of their glittering carriage—a ferocious irony in their deep distress, a striking symbol of the terrible misery of the rich.