Chapter VIII.

The reader is not to infer that Désirée was unusually mercenary. That she was a little addicted to this weakness, is true — who ever knew a commissionaire that was not? But she had her moments of benevolence, as well as others, and had really made some sacrifice of her time, and consequently of her interests, in order to serve Adrienne in her distress. As for the purchase of myself, that was in the way of her commerce; and it is seldom, indeed, that philanthropy can overcome the habits of trade.

Désirée was not wholly without means, and she was in no hurry to reap the benefit of her purchase. I remained in her possession, according to my calculation, some two or three years before she ever took me out of the drawer in which I had been deposited for safe keeping. I was considered a species of corps de reserve. At the end of that period, however, her thoughts recurred to her treasure, and an occasion soon offered for turning me to account. I was put into the reticule, and carried about, in readiness for any suitable bargain that might turn up.

{ corps de reserve = reserve corps; reticule = a large pocketbook}

One day Désirée and I were on the Boulevards Italiens together, when a figure caught the commissionaire’s eye that sent her across the street in a great hurry. I scarcely know how to describe this person, who, to my simple eyes, had the appearance of a colonel of the late Royal Guards, or, at least, of an attache of one of the northern legations. He was dressed in the height of the latest fashion, as well as he knew how to be; wore terrible moustaches, and had a rare provision of rings, eye-glasses, watch-guards, chains, &c.

{Boulevards Italiens = a fashionable Paris street; attache = a diplomat — European diplomats at this period often wore uniforms}

Bon jour, monsieur,” exclaimed Désirée, in haste, “parole d’ honneur, I scarcely knew you! I have been waiting for your return from Lyons with the most lively impatience, for, to tell you the truth, I have the greatest bijou for your American ladies that ever came out of a bleaching ground — un mouchoir de poche.”

{ bijou = jewel; mouchoir de poche = pocket handkerchief}

Doucement — doucement, ma bonne,” interrupted the other, observing that the woman was about to exhibit me on the open Boulevards, an exposé for which he had no longings, “you can bring it to my lodgings — “

{ doucement ... = not so fast, my good woman; exposé = public display}

Rue de Clery, numéro cent vingt — “

{ Rue de Clery ... = Clery Street, number one twenty”

“Not at all, my good Désirée. You must know I have transacted all my ordinary business — made my purchases, and am off for New York in the next packet — “

{packet = ship sailing on a fixed schedule}

Mais, le malle, monsieur?

{ Mais, le malle ... = But, what about your trunk, sir?}

“Yes, the trunk will have a corner in it for any thing particular, as you say. I shall go to court this evening, to a great ball, Madame la Marquise de Dolomien and the Aide de Camp de Service having just notified me that I am invited. To be frank with you, Désirée, I am lodging in la Rue de la Paix, and appear, just now, as a mere traveler. You will inquire for le Colonel Silky, when you call.”

{Aide de Camp de Service = duty officer of the French royal court}

Le Colonel Silky!“ repeated Désirée with a look of admiration, a little mingled with contempt.

De la garde nationale Américaine,” answered Mr. Silky, smiling. He then gave the woman his new address, and appointed an hour to see her.

{ De la garde nationale Américaine = of the American national guard — Cooper is here satirizing the pretensions and gaudy uniforms of civilians holding nominal commissions as “Colonels” of American state militias}

Désirée was punctual to a minute. The porter, the garçons, the bourgeois, all knew le Colonel Silky, who was now a great man, wore moustaches, and went to court — as the court was. In a minute the commissionaire was in the colonel’s ante-chamber. This distinguished officer had a method in his madness. He was not accustomed to keeping a body servant, and, as his aim was to make a fortune, will ye nill ye, he managed, even now, in his hours of pride and self-indulgence, to get along without one. It was not many moments, therefore, before he came out and ushered Désirée himself into his salon; a room of ten feet by fourteen, with a carpet that covered just eight feet by six, in its centre. Now that they were alone, in this snuggery, which seemed barely large enough to contain so great a man’s moustaches, the parties understood each other without unnecessary phrases, and I was, at once, produced.

{as the court was = the Royal Court of King Louis Philippe prided itself on its simplicity and informality; garçons, bourgeois = waiters, neighbors; salon = living room}

Colonel Silky was evidently struck with my appearance. An officer of his readiness and practice saw at once that I might be made to diminish no small part of the ways and means of his present campaign, and precisely in proportion as he admired me, he began to look cold and indifferent. This management could not deceive me, my clairvoyance defying any such artifices; but it had a sensible effect on Désirée, who, happening very much to want money for a particular object just at that moment, determined, on the spot, to abate no less than fifty francs from the price she had intended to ask. This was deducting five francs more than poor Adrienne got for the money she had expended for her beautiful lace, and for all her toil, sleepless nights, and tears; a proof of the commissionaire’s scale of doing business. The bargain was now commenced in earnest, offering an instructive scene of French protestations, assertions, contradictions and volubility on one side, and of cold, seemingly phlegmatic, but wily Yankee calculation, on the other. Désirée had set her price at one hundred and fifty francs, after abating the fifty mentioned, and Colonel Silky had early made up his mind to give only one hundred. After making suitable allowances for my true value before I was embellished, the cost of the lace and of the work, Désirée was not far from the mark; but the Colonel saw that she wanted money, and he knew that two napoleons and a half, with his management, would carry him from Paris to Havre. It is true he had spent the difference that morning on an eye-glass that he never used, or when he did it was only to obscure his vision; but the money was not lost, as it aided in persuading the world he was a colonel and was afflicted with that genteel defect, an imperfect vision. These extremes of extravagance and meanness were not unusual in his practice. The one, in truth, being a consequence of the other.

{management = in Cooper’s time, a word suggesting conniving or unscrupulous manipulation; Havre = le Havre, an important French port}

“You forget the duty, Désirée,” observed the military trader; “this compromise law is a thousand times worse than any law we have ever had in America.”

{compromise law = the American Tariff Act of 1832, which reduced tariffs on some items, but retained the high customs duties on the import of textile products}

“The duty!” repeated the woman, with an incredulous smile; “monsieur, you are not so young as to pay any duty on a pocket-handkerchief! Ma foi, I will bring twenty — oui, a thousand from England itself, and the douaniers shall not stop one.”

{ douaniers = customs officials}

“Ay, but we don’t smuggle in America,” returned the colonel, with an àplomb that might have done credit to Vidocq himself; “in our republican country the laws are all in all.”

{ àplomb = should be “aplomb”; Vidocq = Francois Vidocq (1775-1857), a senior French police official who was secretly a burglar, and who “investigated” his own crimes for a long time before being exposed}

“Why do so many of your good republicans dress so that the rue de Clery don’t know them, and then go to the château?” demanded the commissionaire, very innocently, as to appearance at least.

{château = palace}

“Bah! there are the five napoleons — if you want them, take them — if not, I care little about it, my invoice being all closed.”

Désirée never accepted money more reluctantly. Instead of making one hundred and fifty-five francs out of the toil and privations, and self-denial of poor Adrienne, she found her own advantages unexpectedly lessened to fifty-five; or, only a trifle more than one hundred per cent. But the colonel was firm, and, for once, her cupidity was compelled to succumb. The money was paid, and I became the vassal of Colonel Silky; a titular soldier, but a traveling trader, who never lost sight of the main chance either in his campaigns, his journeys, or his pleasures.

To own the truth, Colonel Silky was delighted with me. No girl could be a better judge of the article, and all his cultivated taste ran into the admiration of goods. I was examined with the closest scrutiny; my merits were inwardly applauded, and my demerits pronounced to be absolutely none. In short, I was flattered; for, it must be confessed, the commendation of even a fool is grateful. So far from placing me in a trunk, or a drawer, the colonel actually put me in his pocket, though duly enveloped and with great care, and for some time I trembled in every delicate fibre, lest, in a moment of forgetfulness, he might use me. But my new master had no such intention. His object in taking me out was to consult a sort of court commissionaire, with whom he had established certain relations, and that, too, at some little cost, on the propriety of using me himself that evening at the chateau of the King of the French. Fortunately, his monitress, though by no means of the purest water, knew better than to suffer her élève to commit so gross a blunder, and I escaped the calamity of making my first appearance at court under the auspices of such a patron.

{ élève = pupil}

There was a moment, too, when the colonel thought of presenting me to Madame de Dolomien, by the way of assuring his favor in the royal circle, but when he came to count up the money he should lose in the way of profits, this idea became painful, and it was abandoned. As often happened with this gentleman, he reasoned so long in all his acts of liberality, that he supposed a sufficient sacrifice had been made in the mental discussions, and he never got beyond what surgeons call the “first intention” of his moral cures. The evening he went to court, therefore, I was carefully consigned to a carton in the colonel’s trunk, whence I did not again issue until my arrival in America. Of the voyage, therefore, I have little to say, not having had a sight of the ocean at all. I cannot affirm that I was absolutely sea-sick, but, on the other hand, I cannot add that I was perfectly well during any part of the passage. The pent air of the state-room, and a certain heaviness about the brain, quite incapacitated me from enjoying any thing that passed, and that was a happy moment when our trunk was taken on deck to be examined. The custom-house officers at New York were not men likely to pick out a pocket-handkerchief from a gentleman’s — I beg pardon, from a colonel’s — wardrobe, and I passed unnoticed among sundry other of my employer’s speculations. I call the colonel my employer, though this was not strictly true; for, Heaven be praised! he never did employ me; but ever since my arrival in America, my gorge has so risen against the word “master,” that I cannot make up my mind to write it. I know there is an ingenious substitute, as the following little dialogue will show, but my early education under the astronomer and the delicate minded Adrienne, has rendered me averse to false taste, and I find the substitute as disagreeable as the original. The conversation to which I allude, occurred between me and a very respectable looking shirt, that I happened to be hanging next to on a line, a few days after my arrival; the colonel having judged it prudent to get me washed and properly ironed, before he carried me into the “market.”

“Who is your boss, pocket-handkerchief?” demanded the shirt, a perfect stranger to me, by the way, for I had never seen him before the accidents of the wash-tub brought us in collision; “who is your boss, pocket-handkerchief, I say? — you are so very fine, I should like to know something of your history.”

From all I had heard and read, I was satisfied my neighbor was a Yankee shirt, both from his curiosity and from his abrupt manner of asking questions; still I was at a loss to know the meaning of the word boss, my clairvoyance being totally at fault. It belongs to no language known to the savans or academicians.

{savans = scholars}

“I am not certain, sir,” I answered, “that I understand your meaning. What is a boss?”

{boss = Cooper was annoyed by American euphemisms, such as using the Dutch word “boss” in place of “master” — a custom he blamed largely on New England “Yankees”}

“Oh! that’s only a republican word for ‘master.’ Now, Judge Latitat is my boss, and a very good one he is, with the exception of his sitting so late at night at his infernal circuits, by the light of miserable tallow candles. But all the judges are alike for that, keeping a poor shirt up sometimes until midnight, listening to cursed dull lawyers, and prosy, caviling witnesses.”

{circuits = American “circuit judges” travelled from town to town, holding court in each and sleeping at local inns and taverns}

“I beg you to recollect, sir, that I am a female pocket-handkerchief, and persons of your sex are bound to use temperate and proper language in the presence of ladies.

“Yes, I see you are feminine, by your ornaments — still, you might tell a fellow who is your boss?”

“I belong, at present, to Colonel Silky, if that is what you mean; but I presume some fair lady will soon do me the honor of transferring me to her own wardrobe. No doubt my future employer — is not that the word? — will be one of the most beautiful and distinguished ladies of New York.”

“No question of that, as money makes both beauty and distinction in this part of the world, and it’s not a dollar that will buy you. Colonel Silky? I don’t remember the name — which of our editors is he?”

{Cooper is ridiculing the habit of newspaper editors of seeking popularity by serving in the militia and thus receiving the title of “Colonel”}

“I don’t think he is an editor at all. At least, I never heard he was employed about any publication, and, to own the truth, he does not appear to me to be particularly qualified for such a duty, either by native capacity, or, its substitute, education.”

“Oh! that makes no great difference — half the corps is exactly in the same predicament. I’fegs! if we waited for colonels, or editors either, in this country, until we got such as were qualified, we should get no news, and be altogether without politics, and the militia would soon be in an awful state.”

{I’fegs! = an obsolete, essentially meaningless exclamation, like “I swear!”, deriving from “In faith!”}

“This is very extraordinary! So you do not wait, but take them as they come. And what state is your militia actually in?”

“Awful! It is what my boss, the judge, sometimes calls a ‘statu quo.’”

{’statu quo’ = in the same state as always (Latin)}

“And the newspapers — and the news — and the politics?”

“Why, they are not in ‘statu quo’ — but in a ‘ semper eadem’ — I beg pardon, do you understand Latin?”

“No, sir — ladies do not often study the dead languages.”

“If they did they would soon bring ‘em to life! ‘Semper eadem’ is Latin for ‘worse and worse.’ The militia is drilling into a ‘ statu quo,’ and the press is enlightening mankind with a ‘ semper eadem.’ “

{’ semper eadem’ = the usual meaning is “ever the same” (Latin) — presumably Cooper’s talking shirt is being ironical, suggesting that that “worse and worse” is the constant condition of the press}

After properly thanking my neighbor for these useful explanations, we naturally fell into discourse about matters and things in general, the weather in America being uniformly too fine to admit of discussion.

“Pray, sir,” said I, trembling lest my boss might be a colonel of the editorial corps, after all — “pray, sir,” said I, “is it expected in this country that the wardrobe should entertain the political sentiments of its boss?”

“I rather think not, unless it might be in high party times; or, in the case of editors, and such extreme patriots. I have several relatives that belong to the corps, and they all tell me that while their bosses very frequently change their coats, they are by no means so particular about changing their shirts. But you are of foreign birth, ma’am, I should think by your dress and appearance?”

{change their coats. ... = i.e., editors frequently change political sides, but they are not very careful about their personal hygiene}

“Yes, sir, I came quite recently from France; though, my employer being American, I suppose I am entitled to the rights of citizenship. Are you European, also?”

“No, ma’am; I am native and to the ‘ manor born,’ as the modern Shakspeare has it. Is Louis Philippe likely to maintain the throne, in France?”

{’ manor born’ = from “to the manner born” Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4, line 2 — frequently misquoted in popular speech as “to the manor born”}

“That is not so certain, sir, by what I learn, as that the throne is likely to maintain Louis Philippe. To own the truth to you, I am a Carlist, as all genteel articles are, and I enter but little into the subject of Louis Philippe’s reign.”

{Carlist = supporter of King Charles X of France, who was deposed in 1830 by King Louis Philippe}

This remark made me melancholy, by reviving the recollection of Adrienne, and the conversation ceased. An hour or two later, I was removed from the line, properly ironed, and returned to my boss. The same day I was placed in a shop in Broadway, belonging to a firm of which I now understood the colonel was a sleeping partner. A suitable entry was made against me, in a private memorandum book, which, as I once had an opportunity of seeing it, I will give here.

Super-extraordinary Pocket-Handkerchief, French cambric, trimmed and worked, in account with Bobbinet & Gull.

DR. To money paid first cost — francs 100, at 5.25, — $19.04 To interest on same for — 00.00 To portion of passage money, — 00.04 To porterage, — 00.00 1/4 To washing and making up, — 00.25 (Mem. — See if a deduction cannot be made from this charge.)

CR. By cash, for allowing Miss Thimble to copy pattern — not to be worked until our article is sold, — $1. 00 By cash for sale, &c. —

{in account with. ... = this and subsequent “accounts” are presented by Cooper in tabular form, generally without decimal points in the figures; we have inserted decimals and omitted zeros to make them more readable}

Thus the account stood the day I was first offered to the admiration of the fair of New York. Mr. Bobbinet, however, was in no hurry to exhibit me, having several articles of less beauty, that he was anxious to get off first. For my part, I was as desirous of being produced, as ever a young lady was to come out; and then my companions in the drawer were not of the most agreeable character. We were all pocket-handkerchiefs, together, and all of French birth. Of the whole party, I was the only one that had been worked by a real lady, and consequently my education was manifestly superior to those of my companions. They could scarcely be called comme il faut, at all; though, to own the truth, I am afraid there is tant soit peu de vulgarity about all worked pocket-handkerchiefs. I remember that, one day, when Madame de la Rocheaimard and Adrienne were discussing the expediency of buying our whole piece, with a view of offering us to their benefactress, the former, who had a fine tact in matters of this sort, expressed a doubt whether the dauphine would be pleased with such an offering.

{ comme il faut = proper; tant soit peu de = ever so little of; worked = embroidered}

“Her Royal Highness, like all cultivated minds, looks for fitness in her ornaments and tastes. What fitness is there, ma chere, in converting an article of real use, and which should not be paraded to one’s associates, into an article of senseless luxury. I know there are two doctrines on this important point — “

{ ma chere = should be ma chère — my dear}

But, as I shall have occasion, soon, to go into the whole philosophy of this matter, when I come to relate the manner of my next purchase, I will not stop here to relate all that Madame de la Rocheaimard said. It is sufficient that she, a woman of tact in such matters at least, had strong doubts concerning the taste and propriety of using worked pocket-handkerchiefs, at all.

My principal objection to my companions in the drawer was their incessant senseless repinings about France, and their abuse of the country in which they were to pass their lives. I could see enough in America to find fault with, through the creaks of the drawer, and if an American, I might have indulged a little in the same way myself, for I am not one of those who think fault-finding belongs properly to the stranger, and not to the native. It is the proper office of the latter, as it is his duty to amend these faults; the traveler being bound in justice to look at the good as well as the evil. But, according to my companions, there was nothing good in America — the climate, the people, the food, the morals, the laws, the dress, the manners, and the tastes, were all infinitely worse than those they had been accustomed to. Even the physical proportions of the population were condemned, without mercy. I confess I was surprised at hearing the size of the Americans sneered at by pocket-handkerchiefs, as I remember to have read that the noses of the New Yorkers, in particular, were materially larger than common. When the supercilious and vapid point out faults, they ever run into contradictions and folly; it is only under the lash of the discerning and the experienced, that we betray by our writhings the power of the blow we receive.

{creaks = probably a typographical error — Cooper’s manuscript read “cracks”}