In my opinion, it is impossible to create characters until one has spent a long time
in studying men, as it is impossible to speak a language until it has been
seriously acquired. Not being old enough to invent, I content myself with
narrating, and I beg the reader to assure himself of the truth of a story in which all
the characters, with the exception of the heroine, are still alive. Eye-witnesses of
the greater part of the facts which I have collected are to be found in Paris, and I
might call upon them to confirm me if my testimony is not enough. And, thanks to
a particular circumstance, I alone can write these things, for I alone am able to
give the final details, without which it would have been impossible to make the
story at once interesting and complete.
This is how these details came to my knowledge. On the 12th of March, 1847, I
saw in the Rue Lafitte a great yellow placard announcing a sale of furniture and
curiosities. The sale was to take place on account of the death of the owner. The
owner's name was not mentioned, but the sale was to be held at 9, Rue d'Antin,
on the 16th, from 12 to 5. The placard further announced that the rooms and
furniture could be seen on the 13th and 14th.
I have always been very fond of curiosities, and I made up my mind not to miss
the occasion, if not of buying some, at all events of seeing them. Next day I
called at 9, Rue d'Antin.
It was early in the day, and yet there were already a number of visitors, both men
and women, and the women, though they were dressed in cashmere and velvet,
and had their carriages waiting for them at the door, gazed with astonishment
and admiration at the luxury which they saw before them.
I was not long in discovering the reason of this astonishment and admiration, for,
having begun to examine things a little carefully, I discovered without difficulty
that I was in the house of a kept woman. Now, if there is one thing which women
in society would like to see (and there were society women there), it is the home
of those women whose carriages splash their own carriages day by day, who,
like them, side by side with them, have their boxes at the Opera and at the
Italiens, and who parade in Paris the opulent insolence of their beauty, their
diamonds, and their scandal.
This one was dead, so the most virtuous of women could enter even her
bedroom. Death had purified the air of this abode of splendid foulness, and if
more excuse were needed, they had the excuse that they had merely come to a
sale, they knew not whose. They had read the placards, they wished to see what
the placards had announced, and to make their choice beforehand. What could
be more natural? Yet, all the same, in the midst of all these beautiful things, they