Guy de Maupassant Fullscreen Dear friend (1885)


It was said that two ministers had gained a score of millions over the business, and Laroche-Mathieu was almost openly named.

As to Walter, no one in Paris was ignorant of the fact that he had brought down two birds with one stone, and made thirty or forty millions out of the loan and eight to ten millions out of the copper and iron mines, as well as out of a large stretch of territory bought for almost nothing prior to the conquest, and sold after the French occupation to companies formed to promote colonization.

He had become in a few days one of the lords of creation, one of those omnipotent financiers more powerful than monarchs who cause heads to bow, mouths to stammer, and all that is base, cowardly, and envious, to well up from the depths of the human heart.

He was no longer the Jew Walter, head of a shady bank, manager of a fishy paper, deputy suspected of illicit jobbery.

He was Monsieur Walter, the wealthy Israelite.

He wished to show himself off.

Aware of the monetary embarrassments of the Prince de Carlsbourg, who owned one of the finest mansions in the Rue de Faubourg, Saint Honore, with a garden giving onto the Champs Elysees, he proposed to him to buy house and furniture, without shifting a stick, within twenty-four hours.

He offered three millions, and the prince, tempted by the amount, accepted.

The following day Walter installed himself in his new domicile.

Then he had another idea, the idea of a conqueror who wishes to conquer Paris, the idea of a Bonaparte.

The whole city was flocking at that moment to see a great painting by the Hungarian artist, Karl Marcowitch, exhibited at a dealer's named Jacques Lenoble, and representing Christ walking on the water.

The art critics, filled with enthusiasm, declared the picture the most superb masterpiece of the century.

Walter bought it for four hundred thousand francs, and took it away, thus cutting suddenly short a flow of public curiosity, and forcing the whole of Paris to speak of him in terms of envy, blame, or approbation.

Then he had it announced in the papers that he would invite everyone known in Parisian society to view at his house some evening this triumph of the foreign master, in order that it might not be said that he had hidden away a work of art.

His house would be open; let those who would, come.

It would be enough to show at the door the letter of invitation.

This ran as follows:

"Monsieur and Madame Walter beg of you to honor them with your company on December 30th, between 9 and 12 p. m., to view the picture by Karl Marcowitch, 'Jesus Walking on the Waters,' lit up by electric light."

Then, as a postscript, in small letters:

"Dancing after midnight."

So those who wished to stay could, and out of these the Walters would recruit their future acquaintances.

The others would view the picture, the mansion, and their owners with worldly curiosity, insolent and indifferent, and would then go away as they came.

But Daddy Walter knew very well that they would return later on, as they had come to his Israelite brethren grown rich like himself.

The first thing was that they should enter his house, all these titled paupers who were mentioned in the papers, and they would enter it to see the face of a man who had gained fifty millions in six weeks; they would enter it to see and note who else came there; they would also enter it because he had had the good taste and dexterity to summon them to admire a Christian picture at the home of a child of Israel.

He seemed to say to them:

"You see I have given five hundred thousand francs for the religious masterpiece of Marcowitch, 'Jesus Walking on the Waters.'

And this masterpiece will always remain before my eyes in the house of the Jew, Walter."

In society there had been a great deal of talk over these invitations, which, after all, did not pledge one in any way. One could go there as one went to see watercolors at Monsieur Petit's.

The Walters owned a masterpiece, and threw open their doors one evening so that everyone could admire it.

Nothing could be better.

The _Vie Francaise_ for a fortnight past had published every morning a note on this coming event of the 30th December, and had striven to kindle public curiosity.

Du Roy was furious at the governor's triumph.

He had thought himself rich with the five hundred thousand francs extorted from his wife, and now he held himself to be poor, fearfully poor, when comparing his modest fortune with the shower of millions that had fallen around him, without his being able to pick any of it up.

His envious hatred waxed daily.

He was angry with everyone--with the Walters, whom he had not been to see at their new home; with his wife, who, deceived by Laroche-Mathieu, had persuaded him not to invest in the Morocco loan; and, above all, with the minister who had tricked him, who had made use of him, and who dined at his table twice a week.

George was his agent, his secretary, his mouthpiece, and when he was writing from his dictation felt wild longings to strangle this triumphant foe.

As a minister, Laroche-Mathieu had shown modesty in mien, and in order to retain his portfolio, did not let it be seen that he was gorged with gold.

But Du Roy felt the presence of this gold in the haughtier tone of the parvenu barrister, in his more insolent gestures, his more daring affirmation, his perfect self-confidence.

Laroche-Mathieu now reigned in the Du Roy household, having taken the place and the days of the Count de Vaudrec, and spoke to the servants like a second master.

George tolerated him with a quiver running through him like a dog who wants to bite, and dares not.

But he was often harsh and brutal towards Madeleine, who shrugged her shoulders and treated him like a clumsy child.

She was, besides, astonished at his continual ill-humor, and repeated:

"I cannot make you out.

You are always grumbling, and yet your position is a splendid one."

He would turn his back without replying.

He had declared at first that he would not go to the governor's entertainment, and that he would never more set foot in the house of that dirty Jew.

For two months Madame Walter had been writing to him daily, begging him to come, to make an appointment with her whenever he liked, in order, she said, that she might hand over the seventy thousand francs she had gained for him.

He did not reply, and threw these despairing letters into the fire.

Not that he had renounced receiving his share of their profits, but he wanted to madden her, to treat her with contempt, to trample her under feet.

She was too rich.