Frederick passed the whole of the next day in brooding over his anger and humiliation. He reproached himself for not having given a slap in the face to Cisy. As for the Maréchale, he swore not to see her again. Others as good-looking could be easily found; and, as money would be required in order to possess these women, he would speculate on the Bourse with the purchase-money of his farm. He would get rich; he would crush the Maréchale and everyone else with his luxury. When the evening had come, he was surprised at not having thought of Madame Arnoux.
“So much the better. What’s the good of it?”
Two days after, at eight o’clock, Pellerin came to pay him a visit. He began by expressing his admiration of the furniture and talking in a wheedling tone. Then, abruptly:
“You were at the races on Sunday?
Thereupon the painter decried the anatomy of English horses, and praised the horses of Gericourt and the horses of the Parthenon.
“Rosanette was with you?”
And he artfully proceeded to speak in flattering terms about her.
Frederick’s freezing manner put him a little out of countenance.
He did not know how to bring about the question of her portrait. His first idea had been to do a portrait in the style of Titian. But gradually the varied colouring of his model had bewitched him; he had gone on boldly with the work, heaping up paste on paste and light on light. Rosanette, in the beginning, was enchanted. Her appointments with Delmar had interrupted the sittings, and left Pellerin all the time to get bedazzled. Then, as his admiration began to subside, he asked himself whether the picture might not be on a larger scale. He had gone to have another look at the Titians, realised how the great artist had filled in his portraits with such finish, and saw wherein his own shortcomings lay; and then he began to go over the outlines again in the most simple fashion. After that, he sought, by scraping them off, to lose there, to mingle there, all the tones of the head and those of the background; and the face had assumed consistency and the shades vigour — the whole work had a look of greater firmness. At length the Maréchale came back again. She even indulged in some hostile criticisms. The painter naturally persevered in his own course. After getting into a violent passion at her silliness, he said to himself that, after all, perhaps she was right. Then began the era of doubts, twinges of reflection which brought about cramps in the stomach, insomnia, feverishness and disgust with himself. He had the courage to make some retouchings, but without much heart, and with a feeling that his work was bad.
He complained merely of having been refused a place in the Salon; then he reproached Frederick for not having come to see the Maréchale’s portrait.
“What do I care about the Maréchale?”
Such an expression of unconcern emboldened the artist.
“Would you believe that this brute has no interest in the thing any longer?”
What he did not mention was that he had asked her for a thousand crowns. Now the Maréchale did not give herself much bother about ascertaining who was going to pay, and, preferring to screw money out of Arnoux for things of a more urgent character, had not even spoken to him on the subject.
“Well, and Arnoux?”
She had thrown it over on him. The ex-picture-dealer wished to have nothing to do with the portrait.
“He maintains that it belongs to Rosanette.”
“In fact, it is hers.”
“How is that? ‘Tis she that sent me to you,” was Pellerin’s answer.
If he had been thinking of the excellence of his work, he would not have dreamed perhaps of making capital out of it. But a sum — and a big sum — would be an effective reply to the critics, and would strengthen his own position. Finally, to get rid of his importunities, Frederick courteously enquired his terms.
The extravagant figure named by Pellerin quite took away his breath, and he replied:
“Oh! no — no!”
“You, however, are her lover — ’tis you gave me the order!”
“Excuse me, I was only an intermediate agent.”
“But I can’t remain with this on my hands!”
The artist lost his temper.
“Ha! I didn’t imagine you were so covetous!”
“Nor I that you were so stingy! I wish you good morning!”
He had just gone out when Sénécal made his appearance.
Frederick was moving about restlessly, in a state of great agitation.
“What’s the matter?”
Sénécal told his story.
“On Saturday, at nine o’clock, Madame Arnoux got a letter which summoned her back to Paris. As there happened to be nobody in the place at the time to go to Creil for a vehicle, she asked me to go there myself. I refused, for this was no part of my duties. She left, and came back on Sunday evening. Yesterday morning, Arnoux came down to the works. The girl from Bordeaux made a complaint to him. I don’t know what passed between them; but he took off before everyone the fine I had imposed on her. Some sharp words passed between us. In short, he closed accounts with me, and here I am!”
Then, with a pause between every word:
“Furthermore, I am not sorry. I have done my duty. No matter — you were the cause of it.”
“How?” exclaimed Frederick, alarmed lest Sénécal might have guessed his secret.
Sénécal had not, however, guessed anything about it, for he replied:
“That is to say, but for you I might have done better.”
Frederick was seized with a kind of remorse.
“In what way can I be of service to you now?”
Sénécal wanted some employment, a situation.
“That is an easy thing for you to manage. You know many people of good position, Monsieur Dambreuse amongst others; at least, so Deslauriers told me.”
This allusion to Deslauriers was by no means agreeable to his friend. He scarcely cared to call on the Dambreuses again after his undesirable meeting with them in the Champ de Mars.
“I am not on sufficiently intimate terms with them to recommend anyone.”
The democrat endured this refusal stoically, and after a minute’s silence:
“All this, I am sure, is due to the girl from Bordeaux, and to your Madame Arnoux.”
This “your” had the effect of wiping out of Frederick’s heart the slight modicum of regard he entertained for Sénécal. Nevertheless, he stretched out his hand towards the key of his escritoire through delicacy.
Sénécal anticipated him:
Then, forgetting his own troubles, he talked about the affairs of the nation, the crosses of the Legion of Honour wasted at the Royal Fête, the question of a change of ministry, the Drouillard case and the Bénier case — scandals of the day — declaimed against the middle class, and predicted a revolution.
His eyes were attracted by a Japanese dagger hanging on the wall. He took hold of it; then he flung it on the sofa with an air of disgust.
“Come, then! good-bye! I must go to Nôtre Dame de Lorette.”
“Hold on! Why?”