Camille HTML version

Chapter 3
At one o'clock on the 16th I went to the Rue d'Antin. The voice of the auctioneer
could be heard from the outer door. The rooms were crowded with people. There
were all the celebrities of the most elegant impropriety, furtively examined by
certain great ladies who had again seized the opportunity of the sale in order to
be able to see, close at hand, women whom they might never have another
occasion of meeting, and whom they envied perhaps in secret for their easy
pleasures. The Duchess of F. elbowed Mlle. A., one of the most melancholy
examples of our modern courtesan; the Marquis de T. hesitated over a piece of
furniture the price of which was being run high by Mme. D., the most elegant and
famous adulteress of our time; the Duke of Y., who in Madrid is supposed to be
ruining himself in Paris, and in Paris to be ruining himself in Madrid, and who, as
a matter of fact, never even reaches the limit of his income, talked with Mme. M.,
one of our wittiest story-tellers, who from time to time writes what she says and
signs what she writes, while at the same time he exchanged confidential glances
with Mme. de N., a fair ornament of the Champs-Elysees, almost always dressed
in pink or blue, and driving two big black horses which Tony had sold her for
10,000 francs, and for which she had paid, after her fashion; finally, Mlle. R., who
makes by her mere talent twice what the women of the world make by their dot
and three times as much as the others make by their amours, had come, in spite
of the cold, to make some purchases, and was not the least looked at among the
We might cite the initials of many more of those who found themselves, not
without some mutual surprise, side by side in one room. But we fear to weary the
reader. We will only add that everyone was in the highest spirits, and that many
of those present had known the dead woman, and seemed quite oblivious of the
fact. There was a sound of loud laughter; the auctioneers shouted at the top of
their voices; the dealers who had filled the benches in front of the auction table
tried in vain to obtain silence, in order to transact their business in peace. Never
was there a noisier or a more varied gathering.
I slipped quietly into the midst of this tumult, sad to think of when one
remembered that the poor creature whose goods were being sold to pay her
debts had died in the next room. Having come rather to examine than to buy, I
watched the faces of the auctioneers, noticing how they beamed with delight
whenever anything reached a price beyond their expectations. Honest creatures,
who had speculated upon this woman's prostitution, who had gained their
hundred per cent out of her, who had plagued with their writs the last moments of
her life, and who came now after her death to gather in at once the fruits of their
dishonourable calculations and the interest on their shameful credit, How wise
were the ancients in having only one God for traders and robbers!