Next, the inspection at an end, see them all gathered in the salon on the ground floor, where Mme. Polge has prepared a little luncheon. The cellar of Bethlehem is well stocked. The keen air of the table-land, these climbs up and downstairs have given the old gentleman from the Tuileries an appetite such as he has not known for a long time, so that he chats and laughs as if he were at a picnic, and at the moment of departure, as they are all standing, raises his glass, nodding his head, to drink, “To Be-Be-Bethlehem!” Those present are moved, glasses are touched, then, at a quick trot, the carriage bears the party away down the long avenue of limes, over which a red and cold sun is just setting. Behind them the park resumes its dismal silence. Great dark masses gather in the depths of the copses, surround the house, gain little by little the paths and open spaces. Soon all is lost in gloom save the ironical letters embossed above the entrance-gate, and, away over yonder, at a first-floor window, one red and wavering spot, the light of a candle burning by the pillow of the dead child.
“By a decree dated the 12th March, 1865, issued upon the proposal of the Minister of the Interior, Monsieur the Doctor Jenkins, President and Founder of the Bethlehem Society is named a Chevalier of the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honour. Great devotion to the cause of humanity.”
As he read these words on the front page of the Official Journal, on the morning of the 16th, the poor Nabob felt dazed.
Was it possible?
Jenkins decorated, and not he!
He read the paragraph twice over, distrusting his own eyes. His ears buzzed. The letters danced double before his eyes with those great red rings round them which they have in strong sunlight. He had been so confident of seeing his name in this place; Jenkins, only the evening before, had repeated to him with so much assurance, “It is already done!” that he still thought his eyes must have deceived him. But no, it was indeed Jenkins. The blow was heavy, deep, prophetic, as it were a first warning from destiny, and one that was felt all the more intensely because for years this man had been unaccustomed to failure. Everything good in him learned mistrust at the same time.
“Well,” said he to de Gery as he came as usual every morning into his room, and found him visibly affected, holding the newspaper in his hand, “have you seen? I am not in the Official.”
He tried to smile, his features puckered like those of a child restraining his tears. Then, suddenly, with that frankness which was such a pleasing quality in him: “It is a great disappointment to me. I was looking forward to it too confidently.”
The door opened upon these words, and Jenkins rushed in, out of breath, stammering, extraordinarily agitated.
“It is an infamy, a frightful infamy! The thing cannot be, it shall not be!”