BASQUE AND NICOLETTE
He had theories. Here is one of them: "When a man is passionately
fond of women, and when he has himself a wife for whom he cares
but little, who is homely, cross, legitimate, with plenty of rights,
perched on the code, and jealous at need, there is but one way
of extricating himself from the quandry and of procuring peace,
and that is to let his wife control the purse-strings. This
abdication sets him free. Then his wife busies herself,
grows passionately fond of handling coin, gets her fingers
covered with verdigris in the process, undertakes the education
of half-share tenants and the training of farmers, convokes lawyers,
presides over notaries, harangues scriveners, visits limbs of the law,
follows lawsuits, draws up leases, dictates contracts, feels herself
the sovereign, sells, buys, regulates, promises and compromises,
binds fast and annuls, yields, concedes and retrocedes, arranges,
disarranges, hoards, lavishes; she commits follies, a supreme
and personal delight, and that consoles her. While her husband
disdains her, she has the satisfaction of ruining her husband."
This theory M. Gillenormand had himself applied, and it had become
his history. His wife--the second one--had administered his fortune
in such a manner that, one fine day, when M. Gillenormand found
himself a widower, there remained to him just sufficient to live on,
by sinking nearly the whole of it in an annuity of fifteen
thousand francs, three-quarters of which would expire with him.
He had not hesitated on this point, not being anxious to leave
a property behind him. Besides, he had noticed that patrimonies are
subject to adventures, and, for instance, become national property;
he had been present at the avatars of consolidated three per cents,
and he had no great faith in the Great Book of the Public Debt.
"All that's the Rue Quincampois!" he said. His house in the Rue
Filles-du-Clavaire belonged to him, as we have already stated.
He had two servants, "a male and a female." When a servant entered
his establishment, M. Gillenormand re-baptized him. He bestowed on
the men the name of their province: Nimois, Comtois, Poitevin, Picard.
His last valet was a big, foundered, short-winded fellow of fifty-five,
who was incapable of running twenty paces; but, as he had been born
at Bayonne, M. Gillenormand called him Basque. All the female
servants in his house were called Nicolette (even the Magnon,
of whom we shall hear more farther on). One day, a haughty cook,
a cordon bleu, of the lofty race of porters, presented herself.
"How much wages do you want a month?" asked M. Gillenormand.
"Thirty francs." "What is your name?" "Olympie." "You shall
have fifty francs, and you shall be called Nicolette."