IN WHICH MAGNON AND HER TWO CHILDREN ARE SEEN
With M. Gillenormand, sorrow was converted into wrath; he was furious
at being in despair. He had all sorts of prejudices and took
all sorts of liberties. One of the facts of which his exterior
relief and his internal satisfaction was composed, was, as we have
just hinted, that he had remained a brisk spark, and that he passed
energetically for such. This he called having "royal renown."
This royal renown sometimes drew down upon him singular windfalls.
One day, there was brought to him in a basket, as though it had
been a basket of oysters, a stout, newly born boy, who was yelling
like the deuce, and duly wrapped in swaddling-clothes, which a
servant-maid, dismissed six months previously, attributed to him.
M. Gillenormand had, at that time, fully completed his
eighty-fourth year. Indignation and uproar in the establishment.
And whom did that bold hussy think she could persuade to believe that?
What audacity! What an abominable calumny! M. Gillenormand himself
was not at all enraged. He gazed at the brat with the amiable smile
of a good man who is flattered by the calumny, and said in an aside:
"Well, what now? What's the matter? You are finely taken aback,
and really, you are excessively ignorant. M. le Duc d'Angouleme,
the bastard of his Majesty Charles IX., married a silly jade of fifteen
when he was eighty-five; M. Virginal, Marquis d'Alluye, brother
to the Cardinal de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, had, at the age
of eighty-three, by the maid of Madame la Presidente Jacquin,
a son, a real child of love, who became a Chevalier of Malta
and a counsellor of state; one of the great men of this century,
the Abbe Tabaraud, is the son of a man of eighty-seven. There is
nothing out of the ordinary in these things. And then, the Bible!
Upon that I declare that this little gentleman is none of mine.
Let him be taken care of. It is not his fault." This manner
of procedure was good-tempered. The woman, whose name was Magnon,
sent him another parcel in the following year. It was a boy again.
Thereupon, M. Gillenormand capitulated. He sent the two brats
back to their mother, promising to pay eighty francs a month
for their maintenance, on the condition that the said mother would
not do so any more. He added: "I insist upon it that the mother
shall treat them well. I shall go to see them from time to time."
And this he did. He had had a brother who was a priest, and who had
been rector of the Academy of Poitiers for three and thirty years,
and had died at seventy-nine. "I lost him young," said he.
This brother, of whom but little memory remains, was a peaceable
miser, who, being a priest, thought himself bound to bestow alms
on the poor whom he met, but he never gave them anything except
bad or demonetized sous, thereby discovering a means of going
to hell by way of paradise. As for M. Gillenormand the elder,
he never haggled over his alms-giving, but gave gladly and nobly.
He was kindly, abrupt, charitable, and if he had been rich,
his turn of mind would have been magnificent. He desired
that all which concerned him should be done in a grand manner,
even his rogueries. One day, having been cheated by a business
man in a matter of inheritance, in a gross and apparent manner,
he uttered this solemn exclamation: "That was indecently done!
I am really ashamed of this pilfering. Everything has degenerated
in this century, even the rascals. Morbleu! this is not the way
to rob a man of my standing. I am robbed as though in a forest,
but badly robbed. Silva, sint consule dignae!" He had had two wives,
as we have already mentioned; by the first he had had a daughter,
who had remained unmarried, and by the second another daughter,
who had died at about the age of thirty, who had wedded, through love,
or chance, or otherwise, a soldier of fortune who had served
in the armies of the Republic and of the Empire, who had won
the cross at Austerlitz and had been made colonel at Waterloo.
"He is the disgrace of my family," said the old bourgeois.
He took an immense amount of snuff, and had a particularly graceful
manner of plucking at his lace ruffle with the back of one hand.
He believed very little in God.