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THE LOST CHILD

By François Edouard Joachim Coppée

Translated by J. Matthewman

Copyright, 1894, by The Current Literature Publishing Company.


On that morning, which was the morning before Christmas, two
important events happened simultaneously--the sun rose, and so did M.
Jean-Baptiste Godefroy.

Unquestionably the sun, illuminating suddenly the whole of Paris with
its morning rays, is an old friend regarded with affection by everybody,
It is particularly welcome after a fortnight of misty atmosphere and
gray skies, when the wind has cleared the air and allowed the sun's rays
to reach the earth again. Besides all of which the sun is a person of
importance. Formerly, he was regarded as a god, and was called Osiris,
Apollyon, and I don't know what else. But do not imagine that because
the sun is so important he is of greater influence than M. Jean-Baptiste
Godefroy, millionaire banker, director of the _Comptoir Général de
Crédit_, administrator of several big companies, deputy and member of
the General Counsel of the Eure, officer of the Legion of Honor, etc.,
etc. And whatever opinion the sun may have about himself, he certainly
has not a higher opinion than M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy has of
_him_self. So we are authorized to state, and we consider ourselves
justified in stating, that on the morning in question, at about a
quarter to eight, the sun and M. Jean-Baptiste Godefroy rose.

Certainly the manner of rising of these two great powers mentioned
was not the same. The good old sun began by doing a great many pretty
actions. As the sleet had, during the night, covered the bare branches
of the trees in the boulevard Malesherbes, where the _hôtel_ Godefroy is
situated, with a powdered coating, the great magician sun amused himself
by transforming the branches into great bouquets of red coral. At the
same time he scattered his rays impartially on those poor passers-by
whom necessity sent out, so early in the morning, to gain their daily
bread, He even had a smile for the poor clerk, who, in a thin overcoat,
was hurrying to his office, as well as for the _grisette_, shivering
under her thin, insufficient clothing; for the workman carrying half a
loaf under his arm, for the car-conductor as he punched the tickets, and
for the dealer in roast chestnuts, who was roasting his first panful. In
short, the sun gave pleasure to everybody in the world. M. Jean-Baptiste
Godefroy, on the contrary, rose in quite a different frame of mind. On
the previous evening he had dined with the Minister for Agriculture.
The dinner, from the removal of the _potage_ to the salad, bristled with
truffles, and the banker's stomach, aged forty-seven years, experienced
the burning and biting of pyrosis. So the manner in which M.
Jean-Baptiste Godefroy rang for his valet-de-chambre was so expressive
that, as he got some warm water for his master's shaving, Charles said
to the kitchen-maid:

"There he goes! The monkey is barbarously ill-tempered again this
morning. My poor Gertrude, we're going to have a miserable day."

Whereupon, walking on tiptoe, with eyes modestly cast down, he entered
the chamber of his master, opened the curtains, lit the fire, and made
all the necessary preparations for the toilet with the discreet demeanor
and respectful gestures of a sacristan placing the sacred vessels on the
altar for the priest.

"What sort of weather this morning?" demanded M. Godefroy curtly, as he
buttoned his undervest of gray swandown upon a stomach that was already
a little too prominent.

"Very cold, sir," replied Charles meekly. "At six o'clock the
thermometer marked seven degrees above zero. But, as you will see,
sir, the sky is quite clear, and I think we are going to have a fine
morning."

In stropping his razor, M. Godefroy approached the window, drew aside
one of the hangings, looked on the boulevard, which was bathed in
brightness, and made a slight grimace which bore some resemblance to a
smile.

It is all very well to be perfectly stiff and correct, and to know
that it is bad taste to show feeling of any kind in the presence of
domestics, but the appearance of the roguish sun in the middle of
December sends such a glow of warmth to the heart that it is impossible
to disguise the fact. So M. Godefroy deigned, as before observed, to
smile. If some one had whispered to the opulent banker that his smile
had anything in common with that of the printer's boy, who was enjoying
himself by making a slide on the pavement, M. Godefroy would have been
highly incensed. But it really was so all the same; and during the space
of one minute this man who was so occupied by business matters, this
leading light in the financial and political worlds, indulged in the
childish pastime of watching the passers-by, and following with his eyes
the files of conveyances as they gaily rolled in the sunshine.

But pray do not be alarmed. Such a weakness could not last long. People
of no account, and those who have nothing to do, may be able to
let their time slip by in doing nothing. It is very well for women,
children, poets, and riffraff. M. Godefroy had other fish to fry; and
the work of the day which was commencing promised to be exceptionally
heavy. From half-past eight to ten o'clock he had a meeting at his
office with a certain number of gentlemen, all of whom bore a striking
resemblance to M. Godefroy. Like him, they were very nervous; they had
risen with the sun, they were all _blasés_, and they all had the same
object in view--to gain money. After breakfast (which he took after
the meeting), M. Godefroy had to leap into his carriage and rush to the
Bourse, to exchange a few words with other gentlemen who had also risen
at dawn, but who had not the least spark of imagination among them.
(The conversations were always on the same subject--money.) From there,
without losing an instant, M. Godefroy went to preside over another
meeting of acquaintances entirely void of compassion and tenderness.
The meeting was held round a baize-covered table, which was strewn with
heaps of papers and well provided with ink-wells. The conversation again
turned on money, and various methods of gaining it. After the aforesaid
meeting he, in his capacity of deputy, had to appear before several
commissions (always held in rooms where there were baize-covered tables
and ink-wells and heaps of papers). There he found men as devoid of
sentiment as he was, all utterly incapable of neglecting any occasion
of gaining money, but who, nevertheless, had the extreme goodness to
sacrifice several hours of the afternoon to the glory of France.

After having quickly shaved he donned a morning suit, the elegant cut
and finish of which showed that the old beau of nearly fifty had not
ceased trying to please. When he shaved he spared the narrow strip
of pepper-and-salt beard round his chin, as it gave him the air of a
trust-worthy family man in the eyes of the Arrogants and of fools in
general. Then he descended to his cabinet, where he received the file of
men who were entirely occupied by one thought--that of augmenting their
capital. These gentlemen discussed several projected enterprises, all
of them of considerable importance, notably that of a new railroad to
be laid across a wild desert. Another scheme was for the founding of
monster works in the environs of Paris, another of a mine to be worked
in one of the South American republics. It goes without saying that no
one asked if the railway would have passengers or goods to carry, or if
the proposed works should manufacture cotton nightcaps or distil whisky;
whether the mine was to be of virgin gold or of second-rate copper:
certainly not. The conversation of M. Godefroy's morning callers turned
exclusively upon the profits which it would be possible to realize
during the week which should follow the issue of the shares. They
discussed particularly the values of the shares, which they knew would
be destined before long to be worth less than the paper on which they
were printed in fine style.

These conversations, bristling with figures, lasted till ten o'clock
precisely, and then the director of the _Comptoir Général de Crédit_,
who, by the way, was an honest man--at least, as honest as is to be
found in business--courteously conducted his last visitor to the head of
the stairway. The visitor named was an old villain, as rich as Croesus,
who, by a not uncommon chance, enjoyed the general esteem of the public;
whereas, had justice been done to him, he would have been lodging at the
expense of the State in one of those large establishments provided by a
thoughtful government for smaller delinquents; and there he would have
pursued a useful and healthy calling for a lengthy period, the exact
length having been fixed by the judges of the supreme court. But M.
Godefroy showed him out relentlessly, notwithstanding his importance--it
was absolutely necessary to be at the Bourse at 11 o'clock--and went
into the dining-room.

It was a luxuriously furnished room. The furniture and plate would
have served to endow a cathedral. Nevertheless, notwithstanding that M.
Godefroy took a gulp of bicarbonate of soda, his indigestion refused
to subside, consequently the banker could only take the scantiest
breakfast--that of a dyspeptic. In the midst of such luxury, and under
the eye of a well-paid butler, M. Godefroy could only eat a couple of
boiled eggs and nibble a little mutton chop. The man of money trifled
with dessert--took only a crumb of Roquefort--not more than two cents'
worth. Then the door opened and an overdressed but charming little
child--young Raoul, four years old--the son of the company director,
entered the room, accompanied by his German nursery governess.

This event occurred every day at the same hour--a quarter to eleven,
precisely, while the carriage which was to take the banker to the Bourse
was awaiting the gentleman who had only a quarter of an hour to give to
paternal sentiment. It was not that he did not love his son. He did love
him--nay, he adored him, in his own particular way.



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