“Yaia, bring me down my portfolio, please.”
“There you are, you see! He has forgotten his portfolio.”
And there would be a glad scurry from top to bottom of the house, a running of all those pretty faces confused by sleep, of all those heads with disordered hair which the owners made tidy as they ran, until the moment when, leaning over the baluster, half a dozen girls bade loud good-bye to a little, old gentleman, neat and well-groomed, whose reddish face and short profile disappeared at length in the spiral perspective of the stairs. M. Joyeuse had departed for his office. At once the whole band, escaped from their cage, would rush quickly upstairs again to the fourth floor, and, the door having been opened, group themselves at an open casement to gain one last glimpse of their father. The little man used to turn round, kisses were exchanged across the distance, then the windows were closed, the new and tenantless house became quiet again, except for the posters dancing their wild saraband in the wind of the unfinished street, as if made gay, they also, by all these proceedings. A moment later the photographer on the fifth floor would descend to hang at the door his showcase, always the same, in which was to be seen the old gentleman in a white tie surrounded by his daughters in various groups; he went upstairs again in his turn, and the calm which succeeded immediately upon this little morning uproar left one to imagine that the “father” and his young ladies had re-entered the case of photographs, where they remained smiling and motionless until evening.
From the Rue Saint-Ferdinand to the establishment of Hemerlingue & Son, his employers, M. Joyeuse had a good three-quarters of an hour’s journey. He walked with head erect and straight, as though he had feared to disarrange the smart knot of the cravat tied by his daughters, or his hat put on by them, and when the eldest, ever anxious and prudent, just as he went out raised his coat-collar to protect him against the harsh gusts of the wind that blew round the street corner, even if the temperature were that of a hothouse M. Joyeuse would not lower it again until he reached the office, like the lover who, quitting his mistress’s arms, dares not to move for fear of losing the intoxicating perfume.
A widower for some years, this worthy man lived only for his children, thought only of them, went through life surrounded by those fair little heads that fluttered around him confusedly as in a picture of the Assumption. All his desires, all his projects, bore reference to “those young ladies,” returned to them without ceasing, sometimes after long circuits, for M. Joyeuse—this was connected no doubt with the fact that he possessed a short neck and a small figure whereof his turbulent blood made the circuit in a moment—was a man of fecund and astonishing imagination. In his brain the ideas performed their evolutions with the rapidity of hollow straws