“It is too complicated for me. It frightens me,” answered Paul de Gery in a hollow voice.
“Yes, yes, I understand,” replied the other with an adorable fatuity. “You are not yet accustomed to it; but, never mind, one quickly becomes so. See how after a single month I find myself at my ease.”
“That is because it is not your first visit to Paris. You have lived here.”
“I? Never in my life. Who told you that?”
“Indeed! I thought—” answered the young man; and immediately, a host of reflections crowding into his mind:
“What, then, have you done to this Baron Hemerlingue? It is a hatred to the death between you.”
For a moment the Nabob was taken aback. That name of Hemerlingue, thrown suddenly into his glee, recalled to him the one annoying episode of the evening.
“To him as to the others,” said he in a saddened voice, “I have never done anything save good. We began together in poverty. We made progress and prospered side by side. Whenever he wished to try a flight on his own wings, I always aided and supported him to the best of my ability. It was I who during ten consecutive years secured for him the contracts for the fleet and the army; almost his whole fortune came from that source. Then one fine morning this slow-blooded imbecile of a Bernese goes crazy over an odalisk whom the mother of the Bey had caused to be expelled from the harem. The hussy was beautiful and ambitious, she made him marry her, and naturally, after this brilliant match, Hemerlingue was obliged to leave Tunis. Somebody had persuaded him to believe that I was urging the Bey to close the principality to him. It was not true. On the contrary, I obtained from his Highness permission for Hemerlingue’s son—a child by his first wife—to remain in Tunis in order to look after their suspended interests, while the father came to Paris to found his banking-house. Moreover, I have been well rewarded for my kindness. When, at the death of my poor Ahmed, the Mouchir, his brother, ascended the throne, the Hemerlingues, restored to favour, never ceased to work for my undoing with the new master. The Bey still keeps on good terms with me; but my credit is shaken. Well, in spite of that, in spite of all the shabby tricks that Hemerlingue has played me, that he plays me still, I was ready this evening to hold out my hand to him. Not only does the blackguard refuse it, but he causes me to be insulted by his wife, a savage and evil-disposed creature, who does not pardon me for always having declined to receive her in Tunis. Do you know what she called me just now as she passed me? ‘Thief and son of a dog.’ As free in her language as that, the odalisk—That is to say, that if I did not know my Hemerlingue to be as cowardly as he is fat—After all, bah! let them say what they like. I snap my fingers at them. What can they do against me? Ruin me with the Bey? That is a matter of indifference to me.