Suddenly she understood everything

It was on a Monday, the 14th of March, that The Ladies’ Paradise
inaugurated its new buildings by a great exhibition of summer
novelties, which was to last three days. Outside, a sharp north wind
was blowing and the passers-by, surprised by this return of winter,
hurried along buttoning up their overcoats. In the neighbouring
shops, however, all was fermentation; and against the windows one
could see the pale faces of the petty tradesmen, counting the first
carriages which stopped before the new grand entrance in the Rue
Neuve-Saint-Augustin. This doorway, lofty and deep like a church porch,
and surmounted by an emblematical group of Industry and Commerce
hand-in-hand amidst a variety of symbols–was sheltered by a vast
glazed _marquise_, the fresh gilding of which seemed to light up the
pavement with a ray of sunshine. To the right and left the shop fronts,
of a blinding whiteness, stretched along the Rue Monsigny and the
Rue de la Michodière, occupying the whole block, except on the Rue
du Dix-Décembre side, where the Crédit Immobilier intended to build.
And along these barrack-like frontages, the petty tradesmen, whenever
they raised their heads, could see the piles of goods through the
large plate-glass windows which, from the ground floor to the second
storey, opened the house to the light of day. And this enormous cube,
this colossal bazaar which concealed the sky from them, seemed in some
degree the cause of the cold which made them shiver behind their frozen
counters.

As early as six o’clock, Mouret was on the spot, giving his final
orders. In the centre, starting from the grand entrance, a large
gallery ran from end to end, flanked right and left by two narrower
ones, the Monsigny Gallery and the Michodière Gallery. Glass roofings
covered the court-yards turned into huge halls, iron staircases
ascended from the ground floor, on both upper floors iron bridges were
thrown from one end to the other of the establishment. The architect,
who happened to be a young man of talent, with modern ideas, had only
used stone for the basement and corner work, employing iron for all the
rest of the huge carcass–columns upholding all the assemblage of beams
and joists. The vaulting of the ceilings, like the partitions, was of
brick. Space had been gained everywhere; light and air entered freely,
and the public circulated with the greatest ease under the bold flights
of the far-stretching girders. It was the cathedral of modern commerce,
light but strong, the very thing for a nation of customers. Below, in
the central gallery, after the door bargains, came the cravat, glove,
and silk departments; the Monsigny Gallery was occupied by the linen
and Rouen goods; and the Michodière Gallery by the mercery, hosiery,
drapery, and woollens. Then, on the first floor came the mantle,
under-linen, shawl, lace, and various new departments, whilst the
bedding, the carpets, the furnishing materials, all the cumbersome
articles difficult to handle, had been relegated to the second floor.
In all there were now thirty-nine departments with eighteen hundred
employees, two hundred of whom were women. Quite a little world abode
there, amidst the sonorous life of the high metallic naves.

Mouret’s unique passion was to conquer woman. He wished her to be
queen in his house, and had built this temple that he might there
hold her completely at his mercy. His sole aim was to intoxicate her
with gallant attentions, traffic on her desires, profit by her fever.
Night and day he racked his brain to invent fresh attractions. He
had already introduced two velvet-padded lifts, in order to spare
delicate ladies the trouble of climbing the stairs to the upper floors.
Then, too, he had just opened a bar where the customers could find
gratuitous light refreshments, syrups and biscuits, and a reading-room,
a monumental gallery decorated with excessive luxury, in which he had
even ventured on an exhibition of pictures. But his deepest scheme
was to conquer the mother through her child, when unable to do so
through her own coquetry; and to attain this object there was no
means that he neglected. He speculated on every sentiment, created
special departments for little boys and girls, and waylaid the passing
mothers with distributions of chromo-lithographs and air-balls for the
children. There was real genius in his idea of presenting each buyer
with a red air-ball made of fine gutta-percha and bearing in large
letters the name of the establishment. Held by a string it floated in
the air and sailed along every street like a living advertisement.

But the greatest power of all was the advertising. Mouret now spent
three hundred thousand francs a year in catalogues, advertisements,
and bills.[1] For his summer sale he had launched forth two hundred
thousand catalogues, fifty thousand of which went abroad, translated
into every language. He now had them illustrated with engravings,
and embellished with samples, gummed to the leaves. There was an
overflowing display; the name of The Ladies’ Paradise met the eye all
over the world, it invaded the walls and hoardings, the newspapers,
and even the curtains of the theatres. He claimed that woman was
powerless against advertising, that she was bound to be attracted by
uproar. Analyzing her moreover like a great moralist he laid still
more enticing traps for her. Thus he had discovered that she could
not resist a bargain, that she bought without necessity whenever she
thought she saw a thing cheap, and on this observation he based his
system of reductions, progressively lowering the price of unsold
articles, and preferring to sell them at a loss rather than keep them
by him, given his principle of constantly renewing his goods. And he
had penetrated still further into the heart of woman, and had just
planned the system of “returns”, a masterpiece of Jesuitical seduction.
“Take whatever you like, madame; you can return it if you find you
don’t like it.” And the woman who hesitated, herein found a last
excuse, the possibility of repairing an act of folly were it deemed
too extravagant: she took the article with an easy conscience. And now
the returns and reduction of prices system formed part of the everyday
working of the new style of business.

[1] After all, this is only £12,000 or about a quarter of the amount
which a single English firm of soap-manufacturers spends in advertising
every year.

But where Mouret revealed himself as an unrivalled master was in the
interior arrangement of his shops. He laid it down as a law that not a
corner of The Ladies’ Paradise ought to remain deserted; he required
a noise, a crowd, evidence of life everywhere; for life, said he,
attracts life, increases and multiplies it. And this principle he
applied in a variety of ways. In the first place, there ought always
to be a crush at the entrance, so that the people in the street should
mistake it for a riot; and he obtained this crush by placing a lot of
bargains at the doors, shelves and baskets overflowing with low-priced
articles; and so the common people crowded there, stopping up the
doorway and making the shop look as if it were crammed with customers,
when it was often only half full. Then, in the galleries, he found a
means of concealing the departments where business occasionally became
slack; for instance, he surrounded the shawl department in summer, and
the printed calico department in winter, with other busy departments,
steeping them in continual uproar. It was he alone who had thought of
reserving the second-floor for the carpet and furniture galleries; for
customers were less numerous in such departments which if placed on the
ground floor would have often presented a chilly void. If he could only
have managed it, he would have let the street run through his shop.

Just at that moment, Mouret was absorbed in another wonderful
inspiration. On the Saturday evening, whilst giving a last look at
the preparations for the Monday’s great sale, he had been struck with
the idea that the arrangement of the departments adopted by him was
idiotic; and yet it seemed a perfectly logical one: the stuffs on one
side, the made-up articles on the other, an intelligent order of things
which would enable customers to find their way about by themselves. He
had dreamt of some such orderly arrangement in the old days of Madame
Hédouin’s narrow shop; but now, just as he had carried out his idea, he
felt his faith shaken. And he suddenly cried out that they would “have
to alter all that.” They had forty-eight hours before them, and half of
what had been done had to be changed. The staff, utterly bewildered,
had been obliged to work two nights and all day on Sunday, amidst
frightful disorder. On the Monday morning even, an hour before the
opening, there were still some goods remaining to be placed. Decidedly
the governor was going mad, no one understood the meaning of it all,
and general consternation prevailed.

“Come, look sharp!” cried Mouret, with the quiet assurance of genius.
“There are some more costumes to be taken upstairs. And the Japan
goods, are they placed on the central landing? A last effort, my boys,
you’ll see the sale by-and-by.”

Bourdoncle had also been there since daybreak. He did not understand
the alterations any more than the others did and followed the
governor’s movements with an anxious eye. He hardly dared to ask him
any questions, knowing how Mouret received people in these critical
moments. However, he at last made up his mind, and gently inquired:
“Was it really necessary to upset everything like that, on the eve of
our sale?”

At first Mouret shrugged his shoulders without replying. Then as the
other persisted, he burst out: “So that all the customers should heap
themselves into one corner–eh? A nice idea of mine! I should never
have got over it! Don’t you see that it would have localised the crowd.
A woman would have come in, gone straight to the department she wanted,
passed from the petticoat to the dress counter, from the dress to the
mantle gallery, and then have retired, without even losing herself for
a moment! Not one would have thoroughly seen the establishment!”

“But, now that you have disarranged everything, and thrown the goods
all over the place,” remarked Bourdoncle, “the employees will wear out
their legs in guiding the customers from department to department.”

Mouret made a gesture of superb contempt. “I don’t care a fig for
that! They’re young, it’ll make them grow! So much the better if they
do walk about! They’ll appear more numerous, and increase the crowd.
The greater the crush the better; all will go well!” He laughed, and
then deigned to explain his idea, lowering his voice: “Look here,
Bourdoncle, this is what the result will be. First, this continual
circulation of customers will disperse them all over the shop,
multiply them, and make them lose their heads; secondly, as they must
be conducted from one end of the establishment to the other, if,
for instance, they require a lining after purchasing a dress, these
journeys in every direction will triple the size of the house in their
eyes; thirdly, they will be forced to traverse departments where
they would never have set foot otherwise, temptations will present
themselves on their passage, and they will succumb; fourthly—-”
But Bourdoncle was now laughing with him. At this Mouret, delighted,
stopped to call out to the messengers: “Very good, my boys! now for a
sweep, and it’ll be splendid!”

However, on turning round he perceived Denise. He and Bourdoncle
were standing opposite the ready-made departments, which he had just
dismembered by sending the dresses and costumes up to the second-floor
at the other end of the building. Denise, the first down, was opening
her eyes with astonishment, quite bewildered by the new arrangements.

“What is it?” she murmured; “are we going to move?”

This surprise appeared to amuse Mouret, who adored these sensational
effects. Early in February Denise had returned to The Ladies’ Paradise,
where she had been agreeably surprised to find the staff polite, almost
respectful. Madame Aurélie especially proved very kind; Marguerite
and Clara seemed resigned; whilst old Jouve bowed his head, with an
awkward, embarrassed air, as if desirous of effacing all disagreeable
memories of the past. It had sufficed for Mouret to say a few words
and everybody was whispering and following her with their eyes. And in
this general amiability, the only things that hurt her were Deloche’s
singularly melancholy glances and Pauline’s inexplicable smiles.

However, Mouret was still looking at her in his delighted way.

“What is it you want, mademoiselle?” he asked at last.

Denise had not noticed him. She blushed slightly. Since her return
she had received various marks of kindness from him which had greatly
touched her. On the other hand Pauline–she knew not why–had given
her a full account of the governor’s and Clara’s love affairs; and
often returned to the subject, alluding at the same time to that Madame
Desforges, with whom the whole shop was well acquainted. Such stories
stirred Denise’s heart; and now, in Mouret’s presence, she again felt
all her former fears, an uneasiness in which her gratitude struggled
against her anger.

“It’s all this confusion going on in the place,” she murmured.

Thereupon Mouret approached her and said in a lower voice: “Have the
goodness to come to my office this evening after business. I wish to
speak to you.”

Greatly agitated, she bowed her head without replying a word; and went
into the department where the other saleswomen were now arriving.
Bourdoncle, however, had overheard Mouret, and looked at him with a
smile. He even ventured to say when they were alone: “That girl again!
Be careful; it will end by becoming serious!”

But Mouret hastily defended himself, concealing his emotion beneath an
air of superior indifference. “Never fear, it’s only a joke! The woman
who’ll catch me isn’t born, my dear fellow!”

And then, as the shop was opening at last, he rushed off to give a
final look at the various departments. Bourdoncle shook his head.
That girl Denise, so simple and quiet, began to make him feel uneasy.
The first time, he had conquered by a brutal dismissal. But she had
returned, and he felt her power to be so much increased that he now
treated her as a redoubtable adversary, remaining mute before her and
again patiently waiting developments. When he overtook Mouret, he found
him downstairs, in the Saint-Augustin Hall, opposite the entrance door,
where he was shouting:

“Are you playing the fool with me? I ordered the blue parasols to be
put as a border. Just pull all that down, and be quick about it!”

He would listen to nothing; a gang of messengers had to come and
re-arrange the exhibition of parasols. Then seeing that customers were
arriving, he even had the doors closed for a moment, declaring that
he would rather keep the place shut than have the blue parasols in
the centre. It ruined his composition. The renowned dressers of the
Paradise, Hutin, Mignot, and others, came to look at the change he was
carrying out, but they affected not to understand it, theirs being a
different school.

At last the doors were again opened, and the crowd flowed in. From
the outset, long before the shop was full, there was such a crush at
the doorway that they were obliged to call the police to regulate the
traffic on the foot pavement. Mouret had calculated correctly; all
the housewives, a compact troop of middle-class women and work women,
swarmed around the bargains and remnants displayed in the open street.
They felt the “hung” goods at the entrance; calico at seven sous the
mètre, wool and cotton grey stuff at nine sous, and, above all, some
Orleans at seven sous and a half, which was fast emptying the poorer
purses. Then there was feverish jostling and crushing around the
shelves and baskets where articles at reduced prices, lace at two sous,
ribbon at five, garters at three the pair, gloves, petticoats, cravats,
cotton socks, and stockings, were quickly disappearing, as if swallowed
up by the voracious crowd. In spite of the cold, the shopmen who were
selling in the street could not serve fast enough. One woman cried out
with pain in the crush and two little girls were nearly stifled.

All the morning this crush went on increasing. Towards one o’clock
there was a crowd waiting to enter; the street was blocked as in a
time of riot. Just at that moment, as Madame de Boves and her daughter
Blanche stood hesitating on the pavement opposite, they were accosted
by Madame Marty, also accompanied by her daughter Valentine.

“What a crowd–eh?” said the countess. “They’re killing themselves
inside. I ought not to have come, I was in bed, but got up to take a
little fresh air.”

“It’s just like me,” said the other. “I promised my husband to go and
see his sister at Montmartre. Then just as I was passing, I thought
of a piece of braid I wanted. I may as well buy it here as anywhere
else, mayn’t I? Oh, I shan’t spend another sou! in fact I don’t want
anything.”

However, seized, carried away as it were, by the force of the crowd,
they did not take their eyes off the door.

“No, no, I’m not going in, I’m afraid,” murmured Madame de Boves.
“Blanche, let’s go away, we should be crushed.”

But her voice failed her, she was gradually yielding to a desire to
follow the others; and her fears dissolved before the irresistible
attractions of the crush. Madame Marty likewise was giving way,
repeating the while: “Keep hold of my dress, Valentine. Ah, well! I’ve
never seen such a thing before. I’m lifted off my feet. What will it be
inside?”

Caught by the current the ladies could not now go back. Just as rivers
attract the fugitive waters of a valley, so it seemed as if the stream
of customers, flowing into the vestibule, was absorbing the passers-by,
drinking in people from the four corners of Paris. They advanced
but slowly, squeezed almost to death, and maintained upright by the
shoulders around them; and their desires already derived enjoyment from
this painful entrance which heightened their curiosity. It was a medley
of ladies arrayed in silk, of poorly dressed middle-class women, and of
bare-headed girls, all excited and carried away by the same passion. A
few men, buried beneath the overflowing bosoms, were casting anxious
glances around them. A nurse, in the thickest of the crowd, held her
baby above her head, the youngster crowing with delight. The only one
to get angry was a skinny woman who broke out into bad words, accusing
her neighbour of digging right into her.

“I really think I shall lose my skirts in this crowd,” remarked Madame
de Boves.

Mute, her face still cool from the open air, Madame Marty was standing
on tip-toe in her endeavour to catch a glimpse of the depths of the
shop before the others. The pupils of her grey eyes were as contracted
as those of a cat coming out of the broad daylight, and she had the
restful feeling, and clear expression of a person just waking up.

“Ah, at last!” said she, heaving a sigh.

The ladies had just extricated themselves. They were in the
Saint-Augustin Hall, which they were greatly surprised to find almost
empty. But a feeling of comfort penetrated them, they seemed to be
entering into spring after emerging from the winter of the street.
Whilst the piercing wind, laden with rain and hail, was still blowing
out of doors, the fine season was already budding forth in The Paradise
galleries, with the light stuffs, soft flowery shades and rural gaiety
of summer dresses and parasols.

“Do look there!” exclaimed Madame de Boves, standing motionless, her
eyes in the air.

It was the exhibition of parasols. Wide-open and rounded like shields,
they covered the whole hall, from the glazed roofing to the varnished
oak mouldings below. They described festoons round the arches of the
upper storeys; they descended in garlands down the slender columns;
they ran in close lines along the balustrades of the galleries and the
staircases; and everywhere ranged symmetrically, speckling the walls
with red, green, and yellow, they looked like huge Venetian lanterns,
lighted up for some colossal entertainment. In the corners were more
complicated designs, stars composed of parasols at thirty-nine sous
whose light shades, pale blue, cream-white, and blush rose, had the
subdued glow of night-lights; whilst, up above, immense Japanese
parasols, on which golden-coloured cranes soared in purple skies,
blazed forth with fiery reflections.

Madame Marty endeavouring to find a phrase to express her rapture,
exclaimed: “It’s like fairyland!” And then trying to find out where she
was she continued: “Let’s see, the braid is in the mercery department.
I shall buy my braid and be off.”

“I will go with you,” said Madame de Boves. “Eh? Blanche, we’ll just go
through the shop, nothing more.”

But they had hardly left the door before they lost themselves. They
turned to the left, and as the mercery department had been moved,
they dropped into the one devoted to collarettes, cuffs, trimmings,
etc. A hot-house heat, moist and close, laden with the insipid odour
of the materials, and muffling the tramping of the crowd, prevailed
in the galleries. Then they returned to the door, where an outward
current was already established, an interminable _défilé_ of women
and children, above whom hovered a multitude of red air-balls. Forty
thousand of these were ready; there were men specially placed for their
distribution; and to see the customers on their way out, one might have
imagined that a flight of enormous soap-bubbles, reflecting the fiery
glare of the parasols, was hovering in the air. The whole place was
illuminated by them.

“There’s quite a world here!” declared Madame de Boves. “You hardly
know where you are.”

However, the ladies could not remain in the eddy of the door, right in
the crush of the entrance and exit. Fortunately, inspector Jouve came
to their assistance. He stood in the vestibule, grave and attentive,
eyeing each woman as she passed. Specially charged with the indoor
police service he was on the look-out for thieves and “lifters.”

“The mercery department, ladies?” said he obligingly, “turn to the
left; you see! just there behind the hosiery department.”

Madame de Boves thanked him. But Madame Marty, on turning round, no
longer saw her daughter Valentine beside her. She was beginning to
feel frightened, when she caught sight of her, already a long way
off, at the end of the Saint-Augustin Hall, deeply absorbed before a
table covered with a heap of women’s cravats at nineteen sous. Mouret
practised the system of offering articles to the customers, hooking
and plundering them as they passed; for he made use of every sort of
advertisement, laughing at the discretion of certain fellow-tradesmen
who thought their goods should be left to speak for themselves. Special
salesmen, idle and smooth-tongued Parisians, in this way got rid of
considerable quantities of small trashy things.

“Oh, mamma!” murmured Valentine, “just look at these cravats. They have
a bird embroidered at one corner.”

The shopman cracked up the article, swore that it was all silk, that
the manufacturer had become bankrupt, and that they would never have
such a bargain again.

“Nineteen sous–is it possible?” said Madame Marty, tempted like her
daughter. “Well! I can take a couple, that won’t ruin us.”

Madame de Boves, however, disdained this style of thing; she detested
to have things offered to her. A shopman calling her made her run away.
Madame Marty, surprised, could not understand such nervous horror of
commercial quackery, for she was of another nature; she was one of
those women who delight in being thus caressed by a public offer, in
plunging their hands into everything, and wasting their time in useless
talk.

“Now,” said she, “I’m going for my braid. I don’t wish to see anything
else.”

However, as she crossed the scarf and glove departments, her heart once
more failed her. Here in the diffuse light was a display made up of
bright gay colours, of ravishing effect. The counters, symmetrically
arranged, seemed like so many flower-borders, changing the hall into
a French garden, where smiled a soft scale of blossoms. Lying now on
the bare wood, now in open boxes, and now protruding from overflowing
drawers was a quantity of silk handkerchiefs of every hue. You
found the bright scarlet of the geranium, the creamy white of the
petunia, the golden yellow of the chrysanthemum, the celestial azure
of the verbena; and higher up, on brass rods, another florescence
was entwined, a florescence of carelessly hung _fichus_ and unrolled
ribbons, quite a brilliant _cordon_, which extended on and on, climbing
the columns and constantly multiplying in the mirrors. But what most
attracted the throng was a Swiss chalet in the glove department, a
chalet made entirely of gloves, Mignot’s _chef d’œuvre_ which it had
taken him two days to arrange. In the first place, the ground-floor
was composed of black gloves; and then in turn came straw-coloured,
mignonette, and tan-coloured gloves, distributed over the decoration,
bordering the windows, outlining the balconies, and taking the place of
the tiles.

“What do you desire, madame?” asked Mignot, on seeing Madame Marty
planted before the cottage. “Here are some Suède gloves at one franc
seventy-five centimes the pair, first quality.”

He offered his wares with furious energy, calling the passing customers
to his counter and dunning them with his politeness. And as she shook
her head in token of refusal he continued: “Tyrolian gloves, one franc
twenty-five. Turin gloves for children, embroidered gloves in all
colours.”

“No, thanks; I don’t want anything,” declared Madame Marty.

But realising that her voice was softening, he attacked her with
greater energy than ever, holding the embroidered gloves before her
eyes; and she could not resist, she bought a pair. Then, as Madame de
Boves looked at her with a smile, she blushed.

“Don’t you think me childish–eh? If I don’t make haste and get my
braid and be off, I shall be done for.”

Unfortunately, there was such a crush in the mercery department that
she could not get served. They had both been waiting for over ten
minutes, and were getting annoyed, when a sudden meeting with Madame
Bourdelais and her three children diverted their attention. Madame
Bourdelais explained, with her quiet practical air, that she had
brought the little ones to see the show. Madeleine was ten, Edmond
eight, and Lucien four years old; and they were laughing with joy, it
was a cheap treat which they had long looked forward to.

“Those red parasols are really too comical; I must buy one,” said
Madame Marty all at once, stamping with impatience at doing nothing.

She choose one at fourteen francs and a half; whereupon Madame
Bourdelais, after watching the purchase with a look of censure, said to
her amicably: “You are wrong to be in such a hurry. In a month’s time
you could have had it for ten francs. They won’t catch me like that.”

And thereupon she developed quite a theory of careful housekeeping.
Since the shops lowered their prices, it was simply a question of
waiting. She did not wish to be taken in by them, she preferred to
profit by their real bargains. She even showed some malice in the
struggle, boasting that she had never left them a sou of profit.

“Come,” said she at last, “I’ve promised my little ones to show them
the pictures upstairs in the reading-room. Come up with us, you have
plenty of time.”

And thereupon the braid was forgotten. Madame Marty yielded at once,
whilst Madame de Boves declined, preferring to take a turn on the
ground-floor first of all. Besides, they were sure to meet again
upstairs. Madame Bourdelais was looking for a staircase when she
perceived one of the lifts; and thereupon she pushed her children into
it, in order to cap their pleasure. Madame Marty and Valentine also
entered the narrow cage, where they were very closely packed; however
the mirrors, the velvet seats, and the polished brasswork took up so
much of their attention that they reached the first floor without
having felt the gentle ascent of the machine. Another pleasure was
in store for them, in the first gallery. As they passed before the
refreshment bar, Madame Bourdelais did not fail to gorge her little
family with syrup. It was a square room with a large marble counter;
at either end there were silvered filters from which trickled small
streams of water; whilst rows of bottles stood on small shelves
behind. Three waiters were continually engaged in wiping and filling
the glasses. To restrain the thirsty crowd, they had been obliged to
imitate the practice followed at theatres and railway-stations, by
erecting a barrier draped with velvet. The crush was terrific. Some
people, whom these gratuitous treats rendered altogether unscrupulous,
really made themselves ill.

“Well! where are they?” exclaimed Madame Bourdelais, when she
extricated herself from the crowd, after wiping the children’s faces
with her handkerchief.

But she caught sight of Madame Marty and Valentine at the further
end of another gallery, a long way off. Buried beneath a heap of
petticoats, they were still buying. There was no more restraint, mother
and daughter vanished in the fever of expenditure which was carrying
them away. When Madame Bourdelais at last reached the reading-room she
installed Madeleine, Edmond, and Lucien before the large table; and
taking some photographic albums from one of the book-cases she brought
them to them. The ceiling of the long apartment was covered with
gilding; at either end was a monumental chimney-piece; some pictures of
no great merit but very richly framed, covered the walls; and between
the columns, before each of the arched bays opening into the shop,
were tall green plants in majolica vases. A silent throng surrounded
the table, which was littered with reviews and newspapers, with here
and there some ink-stands, boxes of stationery, and blotting-pads.
Ladies took off their gloves, and wrote letters on the paper stamped
with the name of the establishment, through which they ran their
pens. A few gentlemen, lolling back in armchairs, were reading the
newspapers. But a great many people sat there doing nothing: these
were husbands waiting for their wives, who were roaming through the
various departments, young women on the watch for their lovers, and old
relations left there as in a cloak-room, to be taken away when it was
time to leave. And all these people lounged and rested whilst glancing
through the open bays into the depths of the galleries and the halls,
whence a distant murmur ascended amidst the scratching of pens and the
rustling of newspapers.

“What! you here!” said Madame Bourdelais all at once. “I didn’t
recognise you.”

Near the children sat a lady, her face hidden by the open pages of a
review. It was Madame Guibal. She seemed annoyed at the meeting; but
quickly recovering herself, related that she had come to sit down for a
moment in order to escape the crush. And as Madame Bourdelais asked her
if she was going to make any purchases, she replied with her languorous
air, veiling the egoistical greediness of her glance with her eyelids:

“Oh! no. On the contrary, I have come to return some goods. Yes, some
door-curtains which I don’t like. But there is such a crowd that I am
waiting to get near the department.”

Then she went on talking, saying how convenient this system of returns
was; formerly she had never bought anything, but now she sometimes
allowed herself to be tempted. In fact, she returned four articles
out of every five, and was getting known at all the counters for the
strange trafficking she carried on–a trafficking easily divined by the
perpetual discontent which made her bring back her purchases one by
one, after she had kept them several days. However, whilst speaking,
she did not take her eyes off the doors of the reading-room; and she
appeared greatly relieved when Madame Bourdelais rejoined her children,
to explain the photographs to them. Almost at the same moment Monsieur
de Boves and Paul de Vallagnosc came in. The count, who affected to
be showing the young man through the new buildings, exchanged a quick
glance with Madame Guibal; and she then plunged into her review again,
as if she had not seen him.

“Hallo, Paul!” suddenly exclaimed a voice behind the two gentlemen.

It was Mouret taking a glance round the various departments. They shook
hands, and he at once inquired:

“Has Madame de Boves done us the honour of coming?”

“Well, no,” replied the husband, “and she very much regrets it. She’s
not very well. Oh! nothing dangerous, however!”

But he suddenly pretended to catch sight of Madame Guibal, and hastened
off, approaching her bareheaded, whilst the others merely bowed to her
from a distance. She also pretended to be surprised. Paul smiled; he
now understood the affair, and he related to Mouret in a low voice how
Boves, whom he had met in the Rue de Richelieu, had tried to get away
from him, and had finished by dragging him into The Ladies’ Paradise,
under the pretext that he must show him the new buildings. For the last
year the lady had drawn all the money she could from Boves, making
constant appointments with him in public places, churches, museums, and
shops.

“Just look at him,” added the young man, “isn’t he splendid, standing
there before her with his dignified air? It’s the old French gallantry,
my dear fellow, the old French gallantry!”

“And your marriage?” asked Mouret.

Paul, without taking his eyes off the count, replied that they were
still waiting for the death of the aunt. Then, with a triumphant air,
he added: “There, did you see him? He stooped down, and slipped an
address into her hand. She’s now accepting the rendezvous with the
most virtuous air. She’s a terrible woman is that delicate red-haired
creature with her careless ways. Well! some fine things go on in your
place!”

“Oh!” replied Mouret, smiling, “these ladies are not in my house, they
are at home here.”

Then, still continuing his gossip, he carried his old comrade along
to the threshold of the reading-room, opposite the grand central
gallery, whose successive halls spread out below them. In the rear,
the reading-room still retained its quietude, only disturbed by the
scratching of pens and the rustling of newspapers. One old gentleman
had gone to sleep over the _Moniteur_. Monsieur de Boves was looking
at the pictures, with the evident intention of losing his future
son-in-law in the crowd as soon as possible. And, alone, amid this
calmness, Madame Bourdelais was amusing her children, talking very
loudly, as in a conquered place.

“You see, they are quite at home,” said Mouret, who pointed with a
broad gesture to the multitude of women with which the departments were
overflowing.

Just then Madame Desforges, after nearly having her mantle carried away
in the crowd, at last effected an entrance and crossed the first hall.
Then, on reaching the principal gallery, she raised her eyes. It was
like a railway span, surrounded by the balustrades of the two storeys,
intersected by hanging stairways and crossed by flying bridges. The
iron staircases developed bold curves, which multiplied the landings;
the bridges suspended in space, ran straight along at a great height;
and in the white light from the windows all this iron work formed an
excessively delicate architecture, an intricate lace-work through which
the daylight penetrated, the modern realization of a dreamland palace,
of a Babel with storeys piled one above the other, and spacious halls
affording glimpses of other floors and other halls _ad infinitum_. In
fact, iron reigned everywhere: the young architect had been honest and
courageous enough not to disguise it under a coating of paint imitating
stone or wood. Down below, in order not to outshine the goods, the
decoration was sober, with large regular spaces in neutral tints; then
as the metallic work ascended, the capitals of the columns became
richer, the rivets formed ornaments, the shoulder-pieces and corbels
were covered with sculptured work; and at last, up above, glistened
painting, green and red, amidst a prodigality of gold, floods of gold,
heaps of gold, even to the glazed-work, whose panes were enamelled and
inlaid with gold. In the galleries, the bare brick-work of the arches
was also decorated in bright colours. Mosaics and faience likewise
formed part of the decoration, enlivening the friezes, and lighting up
the severe _ensemble_ with their fresh tints; whilst the stairs, with
red-velvet covered hand-rails, were edged with bands of polished iron,
which shone like the steel of armour.

Although Madame Desforges was already acquainted with the new
establishment, she stopped short, struck by the ardent life which that
day animated the immense nave. Below and around her continued the
eddying of the crowd; the double current of those entering and those
leaving, making itself felt as far as the silk department. It was still
a crowd of very mixed elements, though the afternoon was bringing a
greater number of ladies amongst the shopkeepers and house-wives. There
were many women in mourning, with flowing veils; and there were always
some wet nurses straying about and protecting their infantile charges
with their outstretched arms. And this sea of faces, of many-coloured
hats and bare heads, both dark and fair, rolled from one to the
other end of the galleries, vague and discoloured amidst the glare
of the stuffs. On all sides Madame Desforges saw large price-tickets
bearing enormous figures and showing prominently against the bright
printed cottons, the shining silks, and the sombre woollens. Piles of
ribbons half hid the heads of the customers, a wall of flannel threw
out a promontory; on all sides mirrors multiplied the departments,
reflecting the displays and the groups of people, now showing faces
reversed, and now halves of shoulders and arms; whilst to the right and
to the left the lateral galleries opened up other vistas, the snowy
depths of the linen department and the speckled depths of the hosiery
counters–distant views which were illumined by rays of light from some
glazed bay, and in which the crowd seemed but so much human dust. Then,
when Madame Desforges raised her eyes, she beheld on the staircases
and the flying bridges and behind the balustrades of each successive
storey, a continual buzzing ascent, an entire population in the air,
passing along behind the open work of this huge carcass of metal and
showing blackly against the diffuse light from the enamelled glass.
Large gilded lustres were suspended from the ceiling; decorations of
rugs, embroidered silks and stuffs worked with gold, hung down, draping
the balustrades as with gorgeous banners; and, from one to the other
end were clouds of lace, palpitations of muslin, trophies of silks,
fairy-like groups of half-dressed dummies; and right at the top, above
all the confusion, the bedding department, hanging, as it were, in the
air, displayed its little iron bedsteads provided with mattresses, and
hung with curtains, the whole forming a sort of school dormitory asleep
amidst the tramping of the customers, who became fewer and fewer as the
departments ascended.

“Does madame require a cheap pair of garters?” asked a salesman
of Madame Desforges on seeing her standing still. “All silk, at
twenty-nine sous.”

She did not condescend to answer. Things were being offered around her
more feverishly than ever. She wanted, however, to find out where she
was. Albert Lhomme’s pay-desk was on her left; he knew her by sight
and ventured to give her an amiable smile, not showing the least hurry
amidst the heaps of bills by which he was besieged; though behind him,
Joseph, struggling with the string-box, could not pack up the articles
fast enough. She then saw where she was; the silk department must be
in front of her. But it took her ten minutes to reach it, so dense
was the crowd becoming. Up in the air, at the end of their invisible
strings, the red air-balls had become more numerous than ever; they now
formed clouds of purple, gently blowing towards the doors whence they
continued scattering over Paris; and she had to bow her head beneath
their flight whenever very young children held them with the string
rolled round their little fingers.

“What! you have ventured here, madame?” exclaimed Bouthemont gaily, as
soon as he caught sight of Madame Desforges.

The manager of the silk department, introduced to her by Mouret
himself, now occasionally called on her at her five o’clock tea. She
thought him common, but very amiable, of a fine sanguine temper, which
surprised and amused her. Moreover some two days previously he had
boldly told her of the intrigue between Mouret and Clara, He had not
done this with any calculating motive but out of sheer stupidity,
like a fellow who loves a joke. She, however, stung with jealousy,
concealing her wounded feelings beneath an appearance of disdain, had
that afternoon come to try and discover her rival, a young lady in the
mantle department, so Bouthemont had told her, though declining to give
the name.

“Do you require anything to-day?” he inquired.

“Of course, or I should not have come. Have you any _foulard_ for
morning gowns?”

She hoped to obtain the name of the young lady from him, for she was
full of a desire to see her. He immediately called Favier; and then
went on chatting whilst waiting for the salesman, who was just serving
another customer. This happened to be “the pretty lady,” that beautiful
blonde of whom the whole department occasionally spoke, without knowing
anything of her life or even her name. This time the pretty lady was
in deep mourning. Whom could she have lost–her husband or her father?
Not her father, for she would have appeared more melancholy. What had
they all been saying then? She could not be a questionable character;
she must have had a real husband–that is unless she were in mourning
for her mother. For a few minutes, despite the press of business, the
department exchanged these various speculations.

“Make haste! it’s intolerable!” cried Hutin to Favier, when he returned
from showing his customer to the pay-desk. “Whenever that lady is here
you never seem to finish. She doesn’t care a fig for you!”

“She cares a deuced sight more for me than I do for her!” replied the
vexed salesman.

But Hutin threatened to report him to the directors if he did not show
more respect for the customers. The second-hand was becoming terrible,
of a morose severity ever since the department had conspired to get
him Robineau’s place. He even showed himself so intolerable, after all
the promises of good-fellowship, with which he had formerly warmed his
colleagues’ zeal, that the latter were now secretly supporting Favier
against him.

“Now, then, no back answers,” replied Hutin sharply. “Monsieur
Bouthemont wishes you to show some _foulards_ of the lightest patterns.”

In the middle of the department, an exhibition of summer silks
illumined the hall with an aurora-like brilliancy, like the rising
of a planet amidst the most delicate tints: pale rose, soft yellow,
limpid blue, indeed the whole scarf of Iris. There were _foulards_ of
a cloudy fineness, surahs lighter than the down falling from trees,
satined pekins as soft and supple as a Chinese beauty’s skin. Then
came Japanese pongees, Indian tussores and corahs, without counting
the light French silks, the narrow stripes, the small checks and the
flowered patterns, all the most fanciful designs, which made one think
of ladies in furbelows, strolling in the sweet May mornings, under the
spreading trees of some park.

“I’ll take this, the Louis XIV, with figured roses,” said Madame
Desforges at last.

And whilst Favier was measuring it, she made a last attempt with
Bouthemont, who had remained near her.

“I’m going up to the ready-made department to see if they have any
travelling cloaks. Is she fair, the young lady you were talking about?”

The manager, who felt rather anxious on finding her so persistent,
merely smiled. But, just at that moment, Denise passed by. She had just
come from the merinoes which were in the charge of Liénard to whom she
had escorted Madame Boutarel, that provincial lady who came to Paris
twice a year, to scatter the money she saved out of her housekeeping
all over the Ladies’ Paradise. And thereupon, just as Favier was about
to take up Madame Desforges’s silk, Hutin, thinking to annoy him,
interfered.

“It’s quite unnecessary, Mademoiselle will have the kindness to conduct
this lady.”




Denise, quite confused, at once took charge of the parcel and the
debit-note. She could never meet this young man face to face without
experiencing a feeling of shame, as if he reminded her of some former
fault; and yet she had only sinned in her dreams.

“But just tell me,” said Madame Desforges, in a low tone, to
Bouthemont, “isn’t it this awkward girl? He has taken her back, I see?
It must be she who is the heroine of the adventure!”

“Perhaps,” replied the silk manager, still smiling, but fully decided
not to tell the truth.

Madame Desforges then slowly ascended the staircase, preceded by
Denise; but after every two or three steps she had to pause in order
to avoid being carried away by the descending crowd. In the living
vibration of the whole building, the iron supports seemed to sway under
your feet as if quivering beneath the breath of the multitude. On each
stair was a strongly fixed dummy, displaying some garment or other: a
costume, cloak, or dressing-gown; and the whole was like a double row
of soldiers at attention whilst some triumphal procession went past.

Madame Desforges was at last reaching the first storey, when a still
greater surging of the crowd forced her to stop once more. Beneath her
she now had the departments on the ground-floor, with the press of
customers through which she had just passed. This was a new spectacle,
a sea of fore-shortened heads, swarming with agitation like an
ant-hill. The white price-tickets now seemed but so many narrow lines,
the piles of ribbon became quite squat, the promontory of flannel
was but a thin partition barring the gallery; whilst the carpets and
the embroidered silks which decked the balustrades hung down like
processional banners suspended from the gallery of a church. In the
distance Madame Desforges could perceive some corners of the lateral
galleries, just as from the top of a steeple one perceives the corners
of neighbouring streets, with black specks of passers-by moving about.
But what surprised her above all, in the weariness of her eyes blinded
by the brilliant medley of colours, was, on lowering their lids,
to realize the presence of the crowd more keenly than ever, by its
dull roar like that of the rising tide, and the human warmth that it
exhaled. A fine dust rose from the floor, laden with _odore di femina_,
a penetrating perfume, which seemed like the incense of this temple
raised for the worship of woman.

Meanwhile Mouret, still standing before the reading-room with
Vallagnosc, was inhaling this odour, intoxicating himself with it, and
repeating: “They are quite at home. I know some who spend the whole day
here, eating cakes and writing letters. There’s only one thing left me
to do, and that is, to find them beds.”

This joke made Paul smile, he who, in his pessimistic boredom
considered the turbulence of this multitude running after a lot of
gew-gaws to be idiotic. Whenever he came to give his old comrade a
look-up, he went away almost vexed to find him so full of life amidst
his people of coquettes. Would not one of them, with shallow brain and
empty heart, some day make him realize the stupidity and uselessness of
life? That very day Octave seemed to have lost some of his equilibrium;
he who generally inspired his customers with a fever, with the tranquil
grace of an operator, was as though caught by the passion which was
gradually consuming the whole establishment. Since he had caught sight
of Denise and Madame Desforges coming up the grand staircase, he had
been talking louder, gesticulating against his will; and though he
affected not to turn his face towards them, he grew more and more
animated as he felt them drawing nearer. His face became flushed and in
his eyes was a little of that bewildered rapture with which the eyes of
his customers at last quivered.

“You must be fearfully robbed,” murmured Vallagnosc, who thought that
the crowd looked very criminal.

Mouret threw his arms out. “My dear fellow, it’s beyond all
imagination,” said he.

And, nervously, delighted at having something to talk about, he gave
a number of details, related cases, and classified the delinquents.
In the first place, there were the professional thieves; these women
did the least harm of all, for the police knew every one of them. Then
came the kleptomaniacs, who stole from a perverse desire, a new form
of nervous affection which a doctor had classed, showing it to be the
result of the temptations of the big shops. And finally came the women
who were _enceintes_ and whose thefts were invariably thefts of some
especially coveted article. For instance, at the house of one of them,
the district commissary of police had found two hundred and forty-eight
pairs of pink gloves stolen from well nigh every shop in Paris.

“That’s what gives the women such funny eyes here, then,” murmured
Vallagnosc, “I’ve been watching them with their greedy, shameful looks,
like mad creatures. A fine school for honesty!”

“Hang it!” replied Mouret, “though we make them quite at home, we
can’t let them take the goods away under their mantles. And sometimes
they are very respectable people. Last week we caught the sister of a
chemist, and the wife of a judge. Yes, the wife of a judge! However, we
always try to settle these matters.”

He paused to point out Jouve, who was just then looking sharply after
a woman at the ribbon counter below. This woman, who appeared to be
suffering a great deal from the jostling of the crowd, was accompanied
by a friend, whose mission seemed to be to protect her against all
hurt, and each time she stopped in a department, Jouve kept his eyes on
her, whilst her friend near by ransacked the card-board boxes at her
ease.

“Oh! he’ll catch her!” resumed Mouret; “he knows all their tricks.”

But his voice trembled and he laughed in an awkward manner. Denise and
Henriette, whom he had ceased to watch, were at last passing behind
him, after having had a great deal of trouble to get out of the crush.
He turned round suddenly, and bowed to his customer with the discreet
air of a friend who does not desire to compromise a woman by stopping
her in a crowd of people. But Henriette, on the alert, had at once
perceived the look with which he had first enveloped Denise. It must be
this girl–thought she–yes, this was the rival she had been curious to
come and see.

In the mantle department, the young ladies were fast losing their
heads. Two of them had fallen ill, and Madame Frédéric, the
second-hand, had quietly given notice the previous day, and repaired to
the cashier’s office to take her money, leaving The Ladies’ Paradise
at a minute’s notice, just as The Ladies’ Paradise itself discharged
its employees. Ever since the morning, in spite of the feverish rush of
business, every one had been talking of this affair. Clara, still kept
in the department by Mouret’s caprice, thought it grand. Marguerite
related how exasperated Bourdoncle was; whilst Madame Aurélie, greatly
vexed, declared that Madame Frédéric ought at least to have informed
her, for such hypocrisy had never before been heard of.

Although Madame Frédéric had never confided in any one, she was
suspected of having relinquished her position to marry the proprietor
of some baths in the neighbourhood of the Halles.

“It’s a travelling cloak that madame desires, I believe?” inquired
Denise of Madame Desforges, after offering her a chair.

“Yes,” curtly replied the latter, who had made up her mind to be
impolite.

The new decorations of the department were of a rich severity: on
all sides were high carved oak cupboards with mirrors filling the
whole space of their panels, while a red carpet muffled the continued
tramping of the customers. Whilst Denise went off to fetch the cloaks,
Madame Desforges, who was looking round, perceived her face in a glass;
and she continued contemplating herself. Was she getting old then that
she should be cast aside for the first-comer? The glass reflected the
entire department with all its commotion, but she only beheld her own
pale face; she did not hear Clara behind her, relating to Marguerite a
story of Madame Frédéric’s mysterious goings-on, the manner in which
she went out of her way night and morning so as to pass through the
Passage Choiseul, and thus make people believe that she lived over the
water.

“Here are our latest designs,” said Denise. “We have them in several
colours.”

She laid out four or five cloaks. Madame Desforges looked at them with
a scornful air, and became harsher at each fresh one that she examined.
What was the reason of those pleats which made the garment look so
scanty? And that other one, square across the shoulders, why, you might
have thought it had been cut out with a hatchet! Though people went
travelling they could not dress like sentry-boxes!

“Show me something else, mademoiselle.”

Denise unfolded and refolded the garments without the slightest sign
of ill temper. And it was just this calm, serene patience which
exasperated Madame Desforges the more. Her glances continually returned
to the glass in front of her. Now that she saw herself there, close to
Denise she ventured on a comparison. Was it possible that he should
prefer that insignificant creature to herself? She now remembered that
this was the girl whom she had formerly seen cutting such a silly
figure at the time of her début–as clumsy as any peasant wench freshly
arrived from her village. No doubt she looked better now, stiff and
correct in her silk gown. But how puny, how common-place she was!

“I will show you some other patterns, madame,” said Denise, quietly.

When she returned, the scene began again. Then it was the cloth that
was too heavy or of no good whatever. And Madame Desforges turned
round, raising her voice, and endeavouring to attract Madame Aurélie’s
attention, in the hope of getting the girl a scolding. But Denise,
since her return, had gradually conquered the department, and now
felt quite at home in it; the first-hand had even recognised that she
possessed some rare and valuable qualities as a saleswoman–a stubborn
sweetness, a smiling force of conviction. And thus when Madame Aurélie
heard Madame Desforges she simply shrugged her shoulders, taking care
not to interfere.

“Would you kindly tell me the kind of garment you require, madame?”
asked Denise, once more, with her polite persistence, which nothing
could discourage.

“But you’ve got nothing!” exclaimed Madame Desforges.

She stopped short, surprised to feel a hand laid on her shoulder.
It was the hand of Madame Marty, who was being carried through the
establishment by her fever for spending. Since the cravats, the
embroidered gloves, and the red parasol, her purchases had increased to
such an extent that the last salesman had just decided to place them
all on a chair, as to have carried them on his arm, might have broken
it; and he walked in front of her, drawing along the chair, upon which
petticoats, napkins, curtains, a lamp, and three straw hats were heaped
together.

“Ah!” said she, “you are buying a travelling cloak.”

“Oh! dear, no,” replied Madame Desforges; “they are frightful.”

However Madame Marty had just noticed a striped cloak which she rather
liked. Her daughter Valentine was already examining it. So Denise
called Marguerite to clear the article out of the department, it being
one of the previous year’s patterns, and Marguerite, at a glance from
her comrade, presented it as an exceptional bargain. When she had sworn
that they had twice lowered the price, that they had reduced it from
a hundred and fifty francs, to a hundred and thirty, and that it was
now ticketed at a hundred and ten, Madame Marty could not withstand
the temptation of its cheapness. She bought it, and the salesman who
accompanied her thereupon went off, leaving the chair and the parcels
behind him with all the debit-notes attached to the goods.

Whilst Marguerite was debiting the cloak, Madame Marty turned her head,
and on catching sight of Clara made a slight sign to Madame Desforges,
then whispered to her: “Monsieur Mouret’s caprice, you know!”

The other, in surprise, looked round at Clara; and then, after again
turning her eyes on Denise, replied: “But it isn’t the tall one; it’s
the little one!”

And as Madame Marty could not be sure which of the two it was, Madame
Desforges resumed aloud, with the scorn of a lady for chambermaids:
“Perhaps both!”

Denise had heard everything, and raised her large, pure eyes on this
lady who was thus wounding her, and whom she did not know. No doubt
it was the lady of whom people had spoken to her, the lady with whom
Mouret’s name was so often associated. In the glances that were
exchanged between them, Denise displayed such melancholy dignity, such
frank innocence, that Henriette felt quite uncomfortable.

“As you have nothing presentable to show me here, conduct me to the
dress and costume department,” she said all at once.

“I’ll go with you as well,” exclaimed Madame Marty, “I wanted to see a
costume for Valentine.”

Marguerite thereupon took the chair by its back, and dragged it along
on its hind legs, which were getting rather worn by this species of
locomotion. Denise on her side only carried the few yards of silk,
bought by Madame Desforges. They had, however, quite a journey before
them now that the robes and costumes were installed on the second
floor, at the other end of the establishment.

And the long walk commenced along the crowded galleries. Marguerite
went in front, drawing the chair along, like some little vehicle,
and slowly opening a passage. As soon as she reached the under-linen
department, Madame Desforges began to complain: wasn’t it ridiculous,
a shop where you were obliged to walk a couple of leagues to find the
least thing! Madame Marty also declared that she was tired to death,
yet she none the less enjoyed this fatigue, this slow exhaustion of
strength, amidst the inexhaustible wealth of merchandise displayed on
every side. Mouret’s idea, full of genius, had absolutely subjugated
her and she paused in each fresh department. She made a first halt
before the trousseaux, tempted by some chemises which Pauline sold
her; and Marguerite then found herself relieved of the burden of
the chair, which Pauline had to take, with the debit-notes. Madame
Desforges might have gone on her way, and thus have liberated Denise
more speedily, but she seemed happy to feel her behind her, motionless
and patient, whilst she also lingered, advising her friend. In the
baby-linen department the ladies went into ecstasies, but, of course,
without buying anything. Then Madame Marty’s weaknesses began anew; she
succumbed successively before a black silk corset, a pair of fur cuffs,
sold at a reduction on account of the lateness of the season, and some
Russian lace much in vogue at that time for trimming table-linen. All
these things were heaped up on the chair, the number of parcels still
increased, making the chair creak; and the salesmen who succeeded
one another, found it more and more difficult to drag the improvised
vehicle along as its load became heavier and heavier.

“This way, madame,” said Denise without a murmur, after each halt.

“But it’s absurd!” exclaimed Madame Desforges. “We shall never get
there. Why did they not put the dresses and costumes near the mantles
department? It _is_ a mess!”

Madame Marty, whose eyes were sparkling, intoxicated by the succession
of riches dancing before her, repeated in an undertone: “Oh, dear! What
will my husband say? You are right, there is no order in this place. A
person loses herself and commits all sorts of follies.”

On the great central landing there was scarcely room for the chair to
pass, as Mouret had just blocked the open space with a lot of fancy
goods–cups mounted on gilt zinc, flash dressing-cases and liqueur
stands–being of opinion that the crowd there was not sufficiently
great, and that circulation was too easy. And he had also authorized
one of his shopmen to exhibit on a small table there some Chinese and
Japanese curiosities, low-priced knick-knacks which customers eagerly
snatched up. It was an unexpected success, and he already thought of
extending this branch of his business. Whilst two messengers carried
the chair up to the second floor, Madame Marty purchased six ivory
studs, some silk mice, and a lacquered match-box.

On the second floor the journey began afresh. Denise, who had been
showing customers about in this way ever since the morning, was sinking
with fatigue; but she still continued correct, gentle, and polite.
She again had to wait for the ladies in the furnishing materials
department, where a delightful cretonne had caught Madame Marty’s eye.
Then, in the furniture department, a work-table took her fancy. Her
hands trembled, and with a laugh she was entreating Madame Desforges to
prevent her from spending any more money, when a meeting with Madame
Guibal furnished her with an excuse to continue her purchases. The
meeting took place in the carpet department, whither Madame Guibal had
gone to return some Oriental door-curtains which she had purchased five
days previously. And she was standing there, talking to the salesman,
a brawny fellow with sinewy arms, who from morning to night carried
loads heavy enough to break a bullock’s back. Naturally he was in
consternation at this “return,” which deprived him of his commission,
and so did his best to embarrass his customer, suspecting some queer
adventure, no doubt a ball given with these curtains, bought at The
Ladies’ Paradise, and then returned, to avoid the cost of hire at an
upholsterer’s. He knew indeed that this was frequently done by the
economical middle-class people. In short, she must have some reason
for returning them; if she did not like the designs or the colours, he
would show her others, he had a most complete assortment. To all these
insinuations, however, Madame Guibal with queenly assurance replied
quietly that the curtains did not suit her; and she did not deign to
add any explanation. She refused to look at any others, and he was
obliged to give way, for the salesmen had orders to take the goods back
even if they saw that they had been used.

As the three ladies went off together, and Madame Marty referred
remorsefully to the work-table for which she had no earthly need,
Madame Guibal said in her calm voice: “Well! you can return it. You saw
it was quite easy. Meantime let them send it to your house. You can put
it in your drawing-room, keep it for a time and then if you don’t like
it, return it.”

“Ah! that’s a good idea!” exclaimed Madame Marty. “If my husband makes
too much fuss, I’ll send everything back.” This was for her the supreme
excuse, she ceased calculating and went on buying, with the secret
wish, however, to keep everything, for she was not one of those women
who give things back.

At last they arrived in the dress and costume department. But as
Denise was about to deliver to another young lady the silk which
Madame Desforges had purchased the latter seemed to change her mind,
and declared that she would decidedly take one of the travelling
cloaks, the light grey one with the hood; and Denise then had to wait
complacently till she was ready to return to the mantle department. The
girl felt that she was being treated like a servant by this imperious,
whimsical customer; but she had vowed to do her duty, and retained her
calm demeanour, notwithstanding the rising of her heart and rebellion
of her pride. Madame Desforges bought nothing in the dress and costume
department.

“Oh! mamma,” said Valentine, “if that little costume should only fit
me!”

In a low tone, Madame Guibal was explaining her tactics to Madame
Marty. When she saw a dress she liked in a shop, she had it sent home,
took a pattern of it, and then sent it back. And thereupon Madame Marty
bought the costume for her daughter remarking: “A good idea! You are
very practical, my dear madame.”

They had been obliged to abandon the chair. It had been left in
distress, in the furniture department, beside the work-table, for its
weight had become too great, and its hind legs threatened to break
off. So it was arranged that all the purchases should be centralized
at one pay-desk, and thence sent down to the delivery department.
And then the ladies, still accompanied by Denise, began roaming all
over the establishment, making a second appearance in nearly every
department. They were ever on the stairs and in the galleries; and at
each moment some fresh meeting brought them to a standstill. Thus, near
the reading-room, they once more came across Madame Bourdelais and her
three children. The youngsters were loaded with parcels: Madeleine had
a dress for herself under her arm, Edmond was carrying a collection of
little shoes, whilst the youngest, Lucien, was wearing a new cap.

“You as well!” said Madame Desforges, laughingly, to her old
school-friend.

“Pray, don’t speak of it!” exclaimed Madame Bourdelais. “I’m furious.
They get hold of us by the little ones now! You know how little I spend
on myself! But how can you expect me to resist the entreaties of these
children, who want everything? I merely came to show them round, and
here am I plundering the whole establishment!”

Mouret, who still happened to be there, with Vallagnosc and Monsieur de
Boves, listened to her with a smile. She observed it, and complained
gaily, though with an undercurrent of real irritation, of these traps
laid for a mother’s affection; the idea that she had just yielded to
the force of puffery raised her indignation, and he, still smiling,
bowed, fully enjoying his triumph. Monsieur de Boves meanwhile had
manœuvred so as to get near Madame Guibal, whom he ultimately followed,
for the second time trying to lose Vallagnosc; but the latter, weary of
the crush, hastened to rejoin him. And now once more Denise was brought
to a standstill, obliged to wait for the ladies. She turned her back,
and Mouret himself affected not to see her. But from that moment Madame
Desforges, with the delicate scent of a jealous woman, had no further
doubt. Whilst he was complimenting her and walking beside her, like a
gallant host, she became deeply absorbed in thought, wondering how she
could convict him of his treason.

Meanwhile Monsieur de Boves and Vallagnosc, who had gone on in front
with Madame Guibal, reached the lace department, a luxurious room,
surrounded by nests of carved oak drawers, which were constantly being
opened and shut. Around the columns, covered with red velvet, spirals
of white lace ascended; and from one to the other end of the department
hung festoons of guipure, whilst on the counters were quantities of
large cards, wound round with Valenciennes, Malines, and hand-made
point. At the further end two ladies were seated before a mauve silk
_transparent_, on which Deloche was placing some pieces of Chantilly,
the ladies meantime looking on in silence and without making up their
minds.

“Hallo!” said Vallagnosc, quite surprised, “you said that Madame de
Boves was unwell. But she is standing over there, near that counter,
with Mademoiselle Blanche.”

The count could not help starting back, and casting a side glance at
Madame Guibal. “Dear me! so she is,” said he.

It was very warm in this room. The half stifled customers had pale
faces with glittering eyes. It seemed as if all the seductions of the
shop converged to this supreme temptation, this secluded corner of
perdition where the strongest must succumb. Women plunged their hands
into the overflowing heaps, quivering with intoxication at the contact.

“I fancy those ladies are ruining you,” resumed Vallagnosc, amused by
the meeting.

Monsieur de Boves assumed the look of a husband who is perfectly sure
of his wife’s discretion, from the simple fact that he does not give
her a copper to spend. The countess, after wandering through all the
departments with her daughter, without buying anything, had just
stranded in the lace department in a rage of unsated desire. Overcome
with fatigue, she was leaning against the counter while her clammy
hands dived into a heap of lace whence a warmth rose to her shoulders.
Then suddenly, just as her daughter turned her head and the salesman
went away, it occurred to her to slip a piece of point d’Alençon under
her mantle. But she shuddered, and dropped it, on hearing Vallagnosc
gaily saying: “Ah! we’ve caught you, madame.”

For several seconds she stood there speechless and very pale. Then she
explained that, feeling much better, she had thought she would take a
stroll. And on noticing that her husband was with Madame Guibal, she
quite recovered herself, and looked at them with such a dignified air
that the other lady felt obliged to say: “I was with Madame Desforges,
these gentlemen just met us.”

As it happened the other ladies came up just at that moment,
accompanied by Mouret who again detained them to point out Jouve,
who was still following the suspicious woman and her lady friend. It
was very curious, said he, they could not form an idea of the number
of thieves arrested in the lace department. Madame de Boves, who was
listening, fancied herself between a couple of gendarmes, with her
forty-five years, her luxury, and her husband’s high position; however,
she felt no remorse, but reflected that she ought to have slipped the
lace up her sleeve. Jouve, however, had just decided to lay hold of
the suspicious woman, despairing of catching her in the act, but fully
suspecting that she had filled her pockets, by means of some sleight
of hand which had escaped him. But when he had taken her aside and
searched her, he was wild with confusion at finding nothing on her–not
a cravat, not a button. Her friend had disappeared. All at once he
understood: the woman he had searched had only been there as a blind;
it was the friend who had done the trick.

This affair amused the ladies. Mouret, rather vexed, merely said: “Old
Jouve has been floored this time but he’ll have his revenge.”

“Oh!” replied Vallagnosc, “I don’t think he’s equal to it. Besides, why
do you display such a quantity of goods? It serves you right, if you
are robbed. You ought not to tempt these poor, defenceless women so.”

This was the last word, which sounded like the supreme note of the day,
in the growing fever that reigned in the establishment. The ladies
separated, crossing the crowded departments for the last time. It
was four o’clock, the rays of the setting sun were darting obliquely
through the large front windows and throwing a cross light on the
glazed roofs of the halls; and in this red, fiery glow arose, like a
golden vapour, the thick dust raised by the circulation of the crowd
since early morning. A broad sheet of light streamed along the grand
central gallery, showing up the staircases, the flying bridges, all
the network of suspended iron. The mosaics and faiences of the friezes
glittered, the green and red paint reflected the fire of the lavish
gilding. The Paradise seemed like a red-hot furnace, in which the
various displays–the palaces of gloves and cravats, the festoons of
ribbons and laces, the lofty piles of linen and calico, the variegated
parterres in which bloomed the light silks and foulards–were now
burning. The exhibition of parasols, of shield-like roundness, threw
forth metallic reflections. In the distance, beyond streaks of shadow,
were counters sparkling and swarming with a throng, ablaze with
sunshine.

And at this last moment, in this over-heated atmosphere, the women
reigned supreme. They had taken the whole place by storm, they were
camping there as in a conquered country, like an invading horde
installed amidst all the disorder of the goods. The salesmen, deafened
and exhausted, were now nothing but their slaves, of whom they disposed
with sovereign tyranny. Fat women elbowed their way along; even the
thinnest took up a deal of space, and became quite arrogant. They were
all there, with heads erect and gestures abrupt, quite at home, not
showing the slightest politeness to one another but making as much
use of the house as they could, even to the point of carrying away
the dust from its walls. Madame Bourdelais, desirous of making up for
her expenditure had again taken her children to the refreshment bar:
whither the crowd was now rushing with rageful thirst and appetite.
Even the mothers were gorging themselves with Malaga; since the morning
eighty quarts of syrup and seventy bottles of wine had been drunk.
After purchasing her travelling cloak, Madame Desforges had secured
some picture cards at the pay-desk; and she went away scheming how
she might get Denise into her house, so as to humiliate her before
Mouret himself, see their faces and arrive at a conclusion. And whilst
Monsieur de Boves succeeded at last in plunging into the crowd and
disappearing with Madame Guibal, Madame de Boves, followed by Blanche
and Vallagnosc, had the fancy to ask for a red air-ball, although she
had bought nothing. It would always be something, she would not go
away empty-handed, she would make a friend of her doorkeeper’s little
girl with it. At the distributing counter they were just starting on
the fortieth thousand: thirty nine thousand red air-balls had already
taken flight in the warm atmosphere of the shop, a perfect cloud of red
air-balls which were now floating from one end of Paris to the other,
bearing upwards to the sky the name of The Ladies’ Paradise!

Five o’clock struck. Of all the ladies, Madame Marty and her daughter
were the only ones to remain, in the final throes of the day’s sales.
Although ready to drop with fatigue she could not tear herself away,
being retained by so strong an attraction that although she needed
nothing she continually retraced her steps, scouring the departments
with insatiable curiosity. It was the moment in which the throng,
goaded on by puffery, completely lost its head; the sixty thousand
francs paid to the newspapers, the ten thousand bills posted on the
walls, the two hundred thousand catalogues distributed all over the
world, after emptying the women’s purses, left their minds weakened by
intoxication; and they still remained shaken by Mouret’s inventions,
the reduction of prices, the “returns,” and the endless gallantries.
Madame Marty lingered before the various “proposal” stalls, amidst
the hoarse cries of the salesmen, the clink of the pay-desks, and the
rolling of the parcels sent down to the basement; she again traversed
the ground floor, the linen, silk, glove and woollen departments; she
again went upstairs, yielding to the metallic vibrations of the hanging
staircases and flying-bridges; she returned to the mantle, under-linen,
and lace departments; she even ascended to the second floor, to the
heights of the bedding and furniture galleries; and on all sides the
employees, Hutin and Favier, Mignot and Liénard, Deloche, Pauline and
Denise, nearly dead with fatigue, were making a final effort, snatching
victories from the last fever of the customers. This fever had
gradually increased since the morning, like the intoxication emanating
from all the tumbled stuffs. The crowd flared under the fiery glare of
the five o’clock sun. Madame Marty now had the animated nervous face of
a child after drinking pure wine. Arriving with clear eyes and fresh
skin from the cold of the street, she had slowly burnt both sight and
complexion, by the contemplation of all that luxury, those violent
colours, whose everlasting gallop irritated her passion. When she at
last went away, after saying that she would pay at home, terrified as
she was by the amount of her bill, her features were drawn, and her
eyes dilated like those of a sick person. She was obliged to fight her
way through the stubborn crush at the door, where people were almost
killing each other, amidst the struggle for bargains. Then, when she
got into the street, and again found her daughter, whom she had lost
for a moment, the fresh air made her shiver, and she remained quite
scared, her mind unhinged by the neurosis to which the great drapery
establishments give birth.

In the evening, as Denise was returning from dinner, a messenger called
her: “You are wanted at the director’s office, mademoiselle.”

She had forgotten the order which Mouret had given her in the morning,
to go to his office when the sale was over. She found him standing,
waiting for her. On going in she did not close the door, which remained
wide open.

“We are very pleased with you, mademoiselle,” said he, “and we have
thought of proving our satisfaction. You know in what a shameful manner
Madame Frédéric has left us. From to-morrow you will take her place as
second-hand.”

Denise listened to him motionless with surprise. Then she murmured in
a trembling voice: “But there are saleswomen in the department who are
much my seniors, sir.”

“What does that matter?” he resumed. “You are the most capable, the
most trustworthy. I select you; it’s quite natural. Are you not
satisfied?”

She blushed, feeling a delicious happiness and embarrassment, in which
all her original fright vanished. Why had she, before aught else,
thought of the suppositions with which this unhoped-for favour would be
received? And she remained there full of confusion, despite her sudden
burst of gratitude. With a smile he looked at her in her simple silk
dress, without a single piece of jewellery, displaying only the luxury
of her royal, blonde hair. She had become more refined, her skin was
whiter, her manner delicate and grave. Her former puny insignificance
was developing into a penetrating, gentle charm.

“You are very kind, sir,” she stammered. “I don’t know how to tell
you—-”

But she was cut short by the appearance of Lhomme on the threshold. In
his hand he held a large leather bag, and with his mutilated arm he
pressed an enormous note case to his chest; whilst, behind him came his
son Albert weighed down by the load of bags he was carrying.

“Five hundred and eighty-seven thousand two hundred and ten francs
thirty centimes!” exclaimed the cashier, whose flabby, worn face seemed
to light up with a ray of sunshine, in the reflection of such a huge
sum of money.

It was the day’s receipts, the highest that The Ladies’ Paradise had
ever attained. In the distance, in the depths of the shop through which
Lhomme had just slowly passed with the heavy gait of an overladen beast
of burden, you could hear the uproar, the ripple of surprise and joy
which this colossal sum had left behind it as it passed.

“Why, it’s superb!” said Mouret, enchanted. “My good Lhomme, put it
down there, and take a rest, for you look quite done up. I’ll have the
money taken to the central cashier’s office. Yes, yes, put it all on my
table, I want to see the heap.”

He was full of a childish gaiety. The cashier and his son rid
themselves of their burdens. The leather bag gave out a clear, golden
ring, two of the other bags in bursting let a torrent of silver and
copper escape, whilst from the note-case peeped the corners of bank
notes. One end of the large table was entirely covered; it was like the
tumbling of a fortune picked up in ten hours.

When Lhomme and Albert had retired, mopping their faces, Mouret
remained for a moment motionless, dreamy, his eyes fixed on the money.
But on raising his head, he perceived Denise, who had drawn back. Then
he began to smile again, forced her to come forward, and finished by
saying that he would make her a present of all the money she could
take in her hand; and there was a sort of love bargain beneath his
playfulness.

“Look! out of the bag. I bet it would be less than a thousand francs,
your hand is so small!”

But she drew back again. He loved her, then? Suddenly she understood
everything; she felt the growing flame of desire with which he had
enveloped her ever since her return to the shop. What overcame her more
than anything else was to feel her heart beating violently. Why did he
wound her with the offer of all that money, when she was overflowing
with gratitude? He was stepping nearer to her still, continuing to
joke, when, to his great annoyance, Bourdoncle came in under the
pretence of informing him of the enormous number of entries–no fewer
than seventy thousand customers had entered The Ladies’ Paradise that
day. And thereupon Denise hastened off, after again expressing her
thanks.