Honoré de Balzac
inside of him. One singularity of that pale and sour visage confirmed the impression of an invisible gobbosity; the nose, crooked and out of shape like those of many deformed persons, turned from right to left of the face instead of dividing it down the middle. The mouth, contracted at the corners, like that of a Sardinian, was always on the qui vive of irony. His hair, thin and reddish, fell straight, and showed the skull in many places. His hands, coarse and ill-joined at the wrists to arms that were far too long, were quick-fingered and seldom clean. Goupil wore boots only fit for the dust-heap, and raw silk stockings now of a russet black; his coat and trousers, all black, and threadbare and greasy with dirt, his pitiful waistcoat with half the button-moulds gone, an old silk handkerchief which served as a cravat—in short, all his clothing revealed the cynical poverty to which his passions had reduced him. This combination of disreputable signs was guarded by a pair of eyes with yellow circles round the pupils, like those of a goat, both lascivious and cowardly. No one in Nemours was more feared nor, in a way, more deferred to than Goupil. Strong in the claims made for him by his very ugliness, he had the odious style of wit peculiar to men who allow themselves all license, and he used it to gratify the bitterness of his life-long envy. He wrote the satirical couplets sung during the carnival, organized charivaris, and was himself a "little journal" of the gossip of the town. Dionis, who was clever and insincere, and for that reason timid, kept Goupil as much through fear as for his keen mind and thorough knowledge of all the interests of the town. But the master so distrusted his clerk that he himself kept the accounts, refused to let him live in his house, held him at arm's length, and never confided any secret or delicate affair to his keeping. In return the clerk fawned upon the notary, hiding his resentment at this conduct, and watching Madame Dionis in the hope that he might get his revenge there. Gifted with a ready mind and quick comprehension he found work easy.
"You!" exclaimed the post master to the clerk, who stood rubbing his hands, "making game of our misfortunes already?"
As Goupil was known to have pandered to Dionis' passions for the last five years, the post master treated him cavalierly, without suspecting the hoard of ill-feeling he was piling up in Goupil's heart with every fresh insult. The clerk, convinced that money was more necessary to him than it was to others, and knowing himself superior in mind to the whole bourgeoisie of Nemours, was now counting on his intimacy with Minoret's son Desire to obtain the means of buying one or the other of three town offices,—that of clerk of the court, or the legal practice of one of the sheriffs, or that of Dionis himself. For this reason he put up with the affronts of the post master and the contempt of Madame Minoret-Levrault, and played a contemptible part towards Desire, consoling the fair victims whom that youth left behind him after each vacation,—devouring the crumbs of the loaves he had kneaded.
"If I were the nephew of a rich old fellow, he never would have given God to ME for a co-heir," retorted Goupil, with a hideous grin which exhibited his teeth—few, black, and menacing.
Just then Massin-Levrault, junior, the clerk of the court, joined his wife, bringing with him Madame Cremiere, the wife of the tax-collector of Nemours. This man, one of the hardest natures of the little town, had the physical characteristics of a Tartar: eyes small and round as sloes beneath a retreating brow, crimped hair, an oily skin, huge ears without any rim, a mouth almost without lips, and a scanty beard. He spoke like a man who was losing his voice. To exhibit him thoroughly it is enough to say that he employed his wife and eldest daughter to serve his legal notices.
Madame Cremiere was a stout woman, with a fair complexion injured by red blotches, always too tightly laced, intimate with Madame Dionis, and supposed to be educated because she read novels. Full of pretensions to wit and elegance, she was awaiting her uncle's money to "take a certain stand," decorate her salon, and receive the bourgeoisie. At present her husband denied her Carcel lamps, lithographs, and all the other trifles the notary's wife possessed. She was excessively afraid of Goupil, who caught up and retailed her "slapsus-linquies" as she called them. One day Madame Dionis
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