Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 5
where rents are low, this humble supernumerary starts early from home.
For him the Eastern question relates only to the morning skies. To go
on foot and not get muddied, to save his clothes, and allow for the
time he may lose in standing under shelter during a shower, are the
preoccupations of his mind. The street pavements, the flaggings of the
quays and the boulevards, when first laid down, were a boon to him.
If, for some extraordinary reason, you happen to be in the streets of
Paris at half-past seven or eight o'clock of a winter's morning, and
see through piercing cold or fog or rain a timid, pale young man loom
up, cigarless, take notice of his pockets. You will be sure to see the
outline of a roll which his mother has given him to stay his stomach
between breakfast and dinner. The guilelessness of the supernumerary
does not last long. A youth enlightened by gleams by Parisian life
soon measures the frightful distance that separates him from the
head-clerkship, a distance which no mathematician, neither Archimedes, nor
Leibnitz, nor Laplace has ever reckoned, the distance that exists
between 0 and the figure 1. He begins to perceive the impossibilities
of his career; he hears talk of favoritism; he discovers the intrigues
of officials: he sees the questionable means by which his superiors
have pushed their way,--one has married a young woman who made a false
step; another, the natural daughter of a minister; this one shouldered
the responsibility of another's fault; that one, full of talent, risks
his health in doing, with the perseverance of a mole, prodigies of
work which the man of influence feels incapable of doing for himself,
though he takes the credit. Everything is known in a government
office. The incapable man has a wife with a clear head, who has pushed
him along and got him nominated for deputy; if he has not talent
enough for an office, he cabals in the Chamber. The wife of another
has a statesman at her feet. A third is the hidden informant of a
powerful journalist. Often the disgusted and hopeless supernumerary
sends in his resignation. About three fourths of his class leave the
government employ without ever obtaining an appointment, and their
number is winnowed down to either those young men who are foolish or
obstinate enough to say to themselves, "I have been here three years,
and I must end sooner or later by getting a place," or to those who
are conscious of a vocation for the work. Undoubtedly the position of
supernumerary in a government office is precisely what the novitiate
is in a religious order,--a trial. It is a rough trial. The State
discovers how many of them can bear hunger, thirst, and penury without
breaking down, how many can toil without revolting against it; it
learns which temperaments can bear up under the horrible experience
--or if you like, the disease--of government official life. From this
point of view the apprenticeship of the supernumerary, instead of
being an infamous device of the government to obtain labor gratis,
becomes a useful institution.
The young man with whom Rabourdin was talking was a poor supernumerary
named Sebastien de la Roche, who had picked his way on the points of
his toes, without incurring the least splash upon his boots, from the
rue du Roi-Dore in the Marais. He talked of his mamma, and dared not
raise his eyes to Madame Rabourdin, whose house appeared to him as
gorgeous as the Louvre. He was careful to show his gloves, well
cleaned with india-rubber, as little as he could. His poor mother had
put five francs in his pocket in case it became absolutely necessary
that he should play cards; but she enjoined him to take nothing, to
remain standing, and to be very careful not to knock over a lamp or
the bric-a-brac from an etagere. His dress was all of the strictest
black. His fair face, his eyes, of a fine shade of green with golden
reflections, were in keeping with a handsome head of auburn hair. The
poor lad looked furtively at Madame Rabourdin, whispering to himself,
"How beautiful!" and was likely to dream of that fairy when he went to
Rabourdin had noted a vocation for his work in the lad, and as he
himself took the whole service seriously, he felt a lively interest in
him. He guessed the poverty of his mother's home, kept together on a
widow's pension of seven hundred francs a year--for the education of
the son, who was just out of college, had absorbed all her savings. He
therefore treated the youth almost paternally; often endeavoured to
get him some fee from the Council, or paid it from his own pocket. He
overwhelmed Sebastien with work, trained him, and allowed him to do
the work of du Bruel's place, for which that vaudevillist, otherwise
known as Cursy, paid him three hundred francs out of his salary. In
the minds of Madame de la Roche and her son, Rabourdin was at once a
great man, a tyrant, and an angel. On him all the poor fellow's hopes
of getting an appointment depended, and the lad's devotion to his
chief was boundless. He dined once a fortnight in the rue Duphot; but
always at a family dinner, invited by Rabourdin himself; Madame asked
him to evening parties only when she wanted partners.
At that moment Rabourdin was scolding poor Sebastien, the only human
being who was in the secret of his immense labors. The youth copied
and recopied the famous "statement," written on a hundred and fifty
folio sheets, besides the corroborative documents, and the summing up
(contained in one page), with the estimates bracketed, the captions in
a running hand, and the sub-titles in a round one. Full of enthusiasm,
in spite of his merely mechanical participation in the great idea, the
lad of twenty would rewrite whole pages for a single blot, and made it
his glory to touch up the writing, regarding it as the element of a
noble undertaking. Sebastien had that afternoon committed the great
imprudence of carrying into the general office, for the purpose of
copying, a paper which contained the most dangerous facts to make
known prematurely, namely, a memorandum relating to the officials in
the central offices of all ministries, with facts concerning their
fortunes, actual and prospective, together with the individual
enterprises of each outside of his government employment.
All government clerks in Paris who are not endowed, like Rabourdin,
with patriotic ambition or other marked capacity, usually add the
profits of some industry to the salary of their office, in order to
eke out a living. A number do as Monsieur Saillard did,--put their
money into a business carried on by others, and spend their evenings
in keeping the books of their associates. Many clerks are married to
milliners, licensed tobacco dealers, women who have charge of the
public lotteries or reading-rooms. Some, like the husband of Madame
Colleville, Celestine's rival, play in the orchestra of a theatre;
others like du Bruel, write vaudeville, comic operas, melodramas, or
act as prompters behind the scenes. We may mention among them Messrs.
Planard, Sewrin, etc. Pigault-Lebrun, Piis, Duvicquet, in their day,
were in government employ. Monsieur Scribe's head-librarian was a
clerk in the Treasury.
Besides such information as this, Rabourdin's memorandum contained an
inquiry into the moral and physical capacities and faculties necessary
in those who were to examine the intelligence, aptitude for labor, and
sound health of the applicants for government service,--three
indispensable qualities in men who are to bear the burden of public
affairs and should do their business well and quickly. But this
careful study, the result of ten years' observation and experience,
and of a long acquaintance with men and things obtained by intercourse
with the various functionaries in the different ministries, would
assuredly have, to those who did not see its purport and connection,
an air of treachery and police espial. If a single page of these
papers were to fall under the eye of those concerned, Monsieur
Rabourdin was lost. Sebastien, who admired his chief without
reservation, and who was, as yet, wholly ignorant of the evils of
bureaucracy, had the follies of guilelessness as well as its grace.
Blamed on a former occasion for carrying away these papers, he now
bravely acknowledged his fault to its fullest extent; he related how
he had put away both the memorandum and the copy carefully in a box in
the office where no one would ever find them. Tears rolled from his
eyes as he realized the greatness of his offence.
"Come, come!" said Rabourdin, kindly. "Don't be so imprudent again,
but never mind now. Go to the office very early tomorrow morning; here
is the key of a small safe which is in my roller secretary; it shuts
with a combination lock. You can open it with the word 'sky'; put the
memorandum and your copy into it and shut it carefully."
This proof of confidence dried the poor fellow's tears. Rabourdin
advised him to take a cup of tea and some cakes.
"Mamma forbids me to drink tea, on account of my chest," said
"Well, then, my dear child," said the imposing Madame Rabourdin, who
wished to appear gracious, "here are some sandwiches and cream; come
and sit by me."
She made Sebastien sit down beside her, and the lad's heart rose in
his throat as he felt the robe of this divinity brush the sleeve of
his coat. Just then the beautiful woman caught sight of Monsieur des
Lupeaulx standing in the doorway. She smiled, and not waiting till he
came to her, she went to him.
"Why do you stay there as if you were sulking?" she asked.
"I am not sulking," he returned; "I came to announce some good news,
but the thought has overtaken me that it will only add to your
severity towards me. I fancy myself six months hence almost a stranger
to you. Yes, you are too clever, and I too experienced,--too blase, if
you like,--for either of us to deceive the other. Your end is attained
without its costing you more than a few smiles and gracious words."
"Deceive each other! what can you mean?" she cried, in a hurt tone.
"Yes; Monsieur de la Billardiere is dying, and from what the minister
told me this evening I judge that your husband will be appointed in
He thereupon related what he called his scene at the ministry and the
jealousy of the countess, repeating her remarks about the invitation
he had asked her to send to Madame Rabourdin.
"Monsieur des Lupeaulx," said Madame Rabourdin, with dignity, "permit
me to tell you that my husband is the oldest head-clerk as well as the
most capable man in the division; also that the appointment of La
Billardiere over his head made much talk in the service, and that my
husband has stayed on for the last year expecting this promotion, for
which he has really no competitor and no rival."
"That is true."
"Well, then," she resumed, smiling and showing her handsome teeth,
"how can you suppose that the friendship I feel for you is marred by a
thought of self-interest? Why should you think me capable of that?"
Des Lupeaulx made a gesture of admiring denial.
"Ah!" she continued, "the heart of woman will always remain a
secret for even the cleverest of men. Yes, I welcomed you to my
house with the greatest pleasure; and there was, I admit, a motive
of self-interest behind my pleasure--"
"You have a career before you," she whispered in his ear, "a future
without limit; you will be deputy, minister!" (What happiness for an
ambitious man when such things as these are warbled in his ear by the
sweet voice of a pretty woman!) "Oh, yes! I know you better than you
know yourself. Rabourdin is a man who could be of immense service to
you in such a career; he could do the steady work while you were in
the Chamber. Just as you dream of the ministry, so I dream of seeing
Rabourdin in the Council of State, and general director. It is
therefore my object to draw together two men who can never injure,
but, on the contrary, must greatly help each other. Isn't that a
woman's mission? If you are friends, you will both rise the faster,
and it is surely high time that each of you made hay. I have burned my
ships," she added, smiling. "But you are not as frank with me as I
have been with you."
"You would not listen to me if I were," he replied, with a melancholy
air, in spite of the deep inward satisfaction her remarks gave him.
"What would such future promotions avail me, if you dismiss me now?"
"Before I listen to you," she replied, with naive Parisian liveliness,
"we must be able to understand each other."
And she left the old fop to go and speak with Madame de Chessel, a
countess from the provinces, who seemed about to take leave.
"That is a very extraordinary woman," said des Lupeaulx to himself. "I
don't know my own self when I am with her."
Accordingly, this man of no principle, who six years earlier had kept
a ballet-girl, and who now, thanks to his position, made himself a
seraglio with the pretty wives of the under-clerks, and lived in the
world of journalists and actresses, became devotedly attentive all the
evening to Celestine, and was the last to leave the house.
"At last!" thought Madame Rabourdin, as she undressed that night, "we
have the place! Twelve thousand francs a year and perquisites, beside
the rents of our farms at Grajeux,--nearly twenty thousand francs a
year. It is not affluence, but at least it isn't poverty."
THREE-QUARTER LENGTH PORTRAITS OF CERTAIN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
If it were possible for literature to use the microscope of the
Leuwenhoeks, the Malpighis, and the Raspails (an attempt once made by
Hoffman, of Berlin), and if we could magnify and then picture the
teredos navalis, in other words, those ship-worms which brought
Holland within an inch of collapsing by honey-combing her dykes, we
might have been able to give a more distinct idea of Messieurs
Gigonnet, Baudoyer, Saillard, Gaudron, Falleix, Transon, Godard and
company, borers and burrowers, who proved their undermining power in
the thirtieth year of this century.
But now it is time to show another set of teredos, who burrowed and
swarmed in the government offices where the principal scenes of our
present study took place.
In Paris nearly all these government bureaus resemble each other. Into
whatever ministry you penetrate to ask some slight favor, or to get
redress for a trifling wrong, you will find the same dark corridors,
ill-lighted stairways, doors with oval panes of glass like eyes, as at
the theatre. In the first room as you enter you will find the office
servant; in the second, the under-clerks; the private office of the
second head-clerk is to the right or left, and further on is that of
the head of the bureau. As to the important personage called, under
the Empire, head of division, then, under the Restoration, director,
and now by the former name, head or chief of division, he lives either
above or below the offices of his three or four different bureaus.
Speaking in the administrative sense, a bureau consists of a
man-servant, several supernumeraries (who do the work gratis for a
certain number of years), various copying clerks, writers of bills and
deeds, order clerks, principal clerks, second or under head-clerk, and
head-clerk, otherwise called head or chief of the bureau. These
denominational titles vary under some administrations; for instance,
the order-clerks are sometimes called auditors, or again,
Paved like the corridor, and hung with a shabby paper, the first room,
where the servant is stationed, is furnished with a stove, a large
black table with inkstand, pens, and paper, and benches, but no mats
on which to wipe the public feet. The clerk's office beyond is a large
room, tolerably well lighted, but seldom floored with wood. Wooden
floors and fireplaces are commonly kept sacred to heads of bureaus and
divisions; and so are closets, wardrobes, mahogany tables, sofas and
armchairs covered with red or green morocco, silk curtains, and other
articles of administrative luxury. The clerk's office contents itself
with a stove, the pipe of which goes into the chimney, if there be a
chimney. The wall paper is plain and all of one color, usually green
or brown. The tables are of black wood. The private characteristics of
the several clerks often crop out in their method of settling
themselves at their desks,--the chilly one has a wooden footstool
under his feet; the man with a bilious temperament has a metal mat;
the lymphatic being who dreads draughts constructs a fortification of
boxes on a screen. The door of the under-head-clerk's office always
stands open so that he may keep an eye to some extent on his
Perhaps an exact description of Monsieur de la Billardiere's division
will suffice to give foreigners and provincials an idea of the
internal manners and customs of a government office; the chief
features of which are probably much the same in the civil service of
all European governments.
In the first place, picture to yourself the man who is thus described
in the Yearly Register:--
"Chief of Division.--Monsieur la baron Flamet de la Billardiere
(Athanase-Jean-Francois-Michel) formerly provost-marshal of
the department of the Correze, gentleman in ordinary of the
bed-chamber, president of the college of the department of the
Dordogne, officer of the Legion of honor, knight of Saint Louis
and of the foreign orders of Christ, Isabella, Saint Wladimir,
etc., member of the Academy of Gers, and other learned bodies,
vice-president of the Society of Belles-lettres, member of the
Association of Saint-Joseph and of the Society of Prisons, one of
the mayors of Paris, etc."
The person who requires so much typographic space was at this time
occupying an area five feet six in length by thirty-six inches in
width in a bed, his head adorned with a cotton night-cap tied on by
flame-colored ribbons; attended by Despleins, the King's surgeon, and
young doctor Bianchon, flanked by two old female relatives, surrounded
by phials of all kinds, bandages, appliances, and various mortuary
instruments, and watched over by the curate of Saint-Roch, who was
advising him to think of his salvation.
La Billardiere's division occupied the upper floor of a magnificent
mansion, in which the vast official ocean of a ministry was contained.
A wide landing separated its two bureaus, the doors of which were duly
labelled. The private offices and antechambers of the heads of the two
bureaus, Monsieur Rabourdin and Monsieur Baudoyer, were below on the
second floor, and beyond that of Monsieur Rabourdin were the
antechamber, salon, and two offices of Monsieur de la Billardiere.
On the first floor, divided in two by an entresol, were the living
rooms and office of Monsieur Ernest de la Briere, an occult and
powerful personage who must be described in a few words, for he well
deserves the parenthesis. This young man held, during the whole time
that this particular administration lasted, the position of private
secretary to the minister. His apartment was connected by a secret
door with the private office of his Excellency. A private secretary is
to the minister himself what des Lupeaulx was to the ministry at
large. The same difference existed between young La Briere and des
Lupeaulx that there is between an aide-de-camp and a chief of staff.
This ministerial apprentice decamps when his protector leaves office,
returning sometimes when he returns. If the minister enjoys the royal
favor when he falls, or still has parliamentary hopes, he takes his
secretary with him into retirement only to bring him back on his
return; otherwise he puts him to grass in some of the various
administrative pastures,--for instance, in the Court of Exchequer,
that wayside refuge where private secretaries wait for the storm to
blow over. The young man is not precisely a government official; he is
a political character, however; and sometimes his politics are limited
to those of one man. When we think of the number of letters it is the
private secretary's fate to open and read, besides all his other
avocations, it is very evident that under a monarchical government his
services would be well paid for. A drudge of this kind costs ten
or twenty thousand francs a year; and he enjoys, moreover, the
opera-boxes, the social invitations, and the carriages of the minister.
The Emperor of Russia would be thankful to be able to pay fifty thousand
a year to one of these amiable constitutional poodles, so gentle, so
nicely curled, so caressing, so docile, always spick and span,
--careful watch-dogs besides, and faithful to a degree! But the private
secretary is a product of the representative government hot-house; he
is propagated and developed there, and there only. Under a monarchy
you will find none but courtiers and vassals, whereas under a
constitutional government you may be flattered, served, and adulated
by free men. In France ministers are better off than kings or women;
they have some one who thoroughly understands them. Perhaps, indeed,
the private secretary is to be pitied as much as women and white
paper. They are nonentities who are made to bear all things. They are
allowed no talents except hidden ones, which must be employed in the
service of their ministers. A public show of talent would ruin them.
The private secretary is therefore an intimate friend in the gift of
government-- However, let us return to the bureaus.
Three men-servants lived in peace in the Billardiere division, to wit:
a footman for the two bureaus, another for the service of the two
chiefs, and a third for the director of the division himself. All
three were lodged, warmed, and clothed by the State, and wore the
well-known livery of the State, blue coat with red pipings for
undress, and broad red, white, and blue braid for great occasions. La
Billardiere's man had the air of a gentleman-usher, an innovation
which gave an aspect of dignity to the division.
Pillars of the ministry, experts in all manners and customs
bureaucratic, well-warmed and clothed at the State's expense, growing
rich by reason of their few wants, these lackeys saw completely
through the government officials, collectively and individually. They
had no better way of amusing their idle hours than by observing these
personages and studying their peculiarities. They knew how far to
trust the clerks with loans of money, doing their various commissions
with absolute discretion; they pawned and took out of pawn, bought up
bills when due, and lent money without interest, albeit no clerk ever
borrowed of them without returning a "gratification." These servants
without a master received a salary of nine hundred francs a year; new
years' gifts and "gratifications" brought their emoluments to twelve
hundred francs, and they made almost as much money by serving
breakfasts to the clerks at the office.
The elder of these men, who was also the richest, waited upon the main
body of the clerks. He was sixty years of age, with white hair cropped
short like a brush; stout, thickset, and apoplectic about the neck,
with a vulgar pimpled face, gray eyes, and a mouth like a furnace
door; such was the profile portrait of Antoine, the oldest attendant
in the ministry. He had brought his two nephews, Laurent and Gabriel,
from Echelles in Savoie,--one to serve the heads of the bureaus, the
other the director himself. All three came to open the offices and
clean them, between seven and eight o'clock in the morning; at which
time they read the newspapers and talked civil service politics from
their point of view with the servants of other divisions, exchanging
the bureaucratic gossip. In common with servants of modern houses who
know their masters' private affairs thoroughly, they lived at the
ministry like spiders at the centre of a web, where they felt the
slightest jar of the fabric.
On a Thursday evening, the day after the ministerial reception and
Madame Rabourdin's evening party, just as Antoine was trimming his
beard and his nephews were assisting him in the antechamber of the
division on the upper floor, they were surprised by the unexpected
arrival of one of the clerks.
"That's Monsieur Dutocq," said Antoine. "I know him by that pickpocket
step of his. He is always moving round on the sly, that man. He is on
your back before you know it. Yesterday, contrary to his usual ways,
he outstayed the last man in the office; such a thing hasn't happened
three times since he has been at the ministry."
Here follows the portrait of Monsieur Dutocq, order-clerk in the
Rabourdin bureau: Thirty-eight years old, oblong face and bilious
skin, grizzled hair always cut close, low forehead, heavy eyebrows
meeting together, a crooked nose and pinched lips; tall, the right
shoulder slightly higher than the left; brown coat, black waistcoat,
silk cravat, yellowish trousers, black woollen stockings, and shoes
with flapping bows; thus you behold him. Idle and incapable, he hated
Rabourdin,--naturally enough, for Rabourdin had no vice to flatter,
and no bad or weak side on which Dutocq could make himself useful. Far
too noble to injure a clerk, the chief was also too clear-sighted to
be deceived by any make-believe. Dutocq kept his place therefore
solely through Rabourdin's generosity, and was very certain that he
could never be promoted if the latter succeeded La Billardiere. Though
he knew himself incapable of important work, Dutocq was well aware
that in a government office incapacity was no hindrance to
advancement; La Billardiere's own appointment over the head of so
capable a man as Rabourdin had been a striking and fatal example of
this. Wickedness combined with self-interest works with a power
equivalent to that of intellect; evilly disposed and wholly
self-interested, Dutocq had endeavoured to strengthen his position by
becoming a spy in all the offices. After 1816 he assumed a marked
religious tone, foreseeing the favor which the fools of those days
would bestow on those they indiscriminately called Jesuits. Belonging
to that fraternity in spirit, though not admitted to its rites, Dutocq
went from bureau to bureau, sounded consciences by recounting immoral
jests, and then reported and paraphrased results to des Lupeaulx; the
latter thus learned all the trivial events of the ministry, and often
surprised the minister by his consummate knowledge of what was going
on. He tolerated Dutocq under the idea that circumstances might some
day make him useful, were it only to get him or some distinguished
friend of his out of a scrape by a disgraceful marriage. The two
understood each other well. Dutocq had succeeded Monsieur Poiret the
elder, who had retired in 1814, and now lived in the pension Vanquer
in the Latin quarter. Dutocq himself lived in a pension in the rue de
Beaune, and spent his evenings in the Palais-Royal, sometimes going to
the theatre, thanks to du Bruel, who gave him an author's ticket about
once a week. And now, a word on du Bruel.
Though Sebastien did his work at the office for the small compensation
we have mentioned, du Bruel was in the habit of coming there to
advertise the fact that he was the under-head-clerk and to draw his
salary. His real work was that of dramatic critic to a leading
ministerial journal, in which he also wrote articles inspired by the
ministers,--a very well understood, clearly defined, and quite
unassailable position. Du Bruel was not lacking in those diplomatic
little tricks which go so far to conciliate general good-will. He sent
Madame Rabourdin an opera-box for a first representation, took her
there in a carriage and brought her back,--an attention which
evidently pleased her. Rabourdin, who was never exacting with his
subordinates allowed du Bruel to go off to rehearsals, come to the
office at his own hours, and work at his vaudevilles when there.
Monsieur le Duc de Chaulieu, the minister, knew that du Bruel was
writing a novel which was to be dedicated to himself. Dressed with the
careless ease of a theatre man, du Bruel wore, in the morning,
trousers strapped under his feet, shoes with gaiters, a waistcoat
evidently vamped over, an olive surtout, and a black cravat. At night
he played the gentleman in elegant clothes. He lived, for good
reasons, in the same house as Florine, an actress for whom he wrote
plays. Du Bruel, or to give him his pen name, Cursy, was working just
now at a piece in five acts for the Francais. Sebastien was devoted to
the author,--who occasionally gave him tickets to the pit,--and
applauded his pieces at the parts which du Bruel told him were of
doubtful interest, with all the faith and enthusiasm of his years. In
fact, the youth looked upon the playwright as a great author, and it
was to Sebastien that du Bruel said, the day after a first
representation of a vaudeville produced, like all vaudevilles, by
three collaborators, "The audience preferred the scenes written by
"Why don't you write alone?" asked Sebastien naively.
There were good reasons why du Bruel did not write alone. He was the
third of an author. A dramatic writer, as few people know, is made up
of three individuals; first, the man with brains who invents the
subject and maps out the structure, or scenario, of the vaudeville;
second, the plodder, who works the piece into shape; and third, the
toucher-up, who sets the songs to music, arranges the chorus and
concerted pieces and fits them into their right place, and finally
writes the puffs and advertisements. Du Bruel was a plodder; at the
office he read the newest books, extracted their wit, and laid it by
for use in his dialogues. He was liked by his collaborators on account
of his carefulness; the man with brains, sure of being understood,
could cross his arms and feel that his ideas would be well rendered.
The clerks in the office liked their companion well enough to attend a
first performance of his plays in a body and applaud them, for he
really deserved the title of a good fellow. His hand went readily to
his pocket; ices and punch were bestowed without prodding, and he
loaned fifty francs without asking them back. He owned a country-house
at Aulnay, laid by his money, and had, besides the four thousand five
hundred francs of his salary under government, twelve hundred francs
pension from the civil list, and eight hundred from the three hundred
thousand francs fund voted by the Chambers for encouragement of the
Arts. Add to these diverse emoluments nine thousand francs earned by
his quarters, thirds, and halves of plays in three different theatres,
and you will readily understand that such a man must be physically
round, fat, and comfortable, with the face of a worthy capitalist. As
to morals, he was the lover and the beloved of Tullia and felt himself
preferred in heart to the brilliant Duc de Rhetore, the lover in
Dutocq had seen with great uneasiness what he called the liaison of
des Lupeaulx with Madame Rabourdin, and his silent wrath on the
subject was accumulating. He had too prying an eye not to have guessed
that Rabourdin was engaged in some great work outside of his official
labors, and he was provoked to feel that he knew nothing about it,
whereas that little Sebastien was, wholly or in part, in the secret.
Dutocq was intimate with Godard, under-head-clerk to Baudoyer, and the
high esteem in which Dutocq held Baudoyer was the original cause of
his acquaintance with Godard; not that Dutocq was sincere even in
this; but by praising Baudoyer and saying nothing of Rabourdin he
satisfied his hatred after the fashion of little minds.
Joseph Godard, a cousin of Mitral on the mother's side, made
pretension to the hand of Mademoiselle Baudoyer, not perceiving that
her mother was laying siege to Falliex as a son-in-law. He brought
little gifts to the young lady, artificial flowers, bonbons on
New-Year's day and pretty boxes for her birthday. Twenty-six years of
age, a worker working without purpose, steady as a girl, monotonous and
apathetic, holding cafes, cigars, and horsemanship in detestation,
going to bed regularly at ten o'clock and rising at seven, gifted with
some social talents, such as playing quadrille music on the flute,
which first brought him into favor with the Saillards and the
Baudoyers. He was moreover a fifer in the National Guard,--to escape
his turn of sitting up all night in a barrack-room. Godard was devoted
more especially to natural history. He made collections of shells and
minerals, knew how to stuff birds, kept a mass of curiosities bought
for nothing in his bedroom; took possession of phials and empty
perfume bottles for his specimens; pinned butterflies and beetles
under glass, hung Chinese parasols on the walls, together with dried
fishskins. He lived with his sister, an artificial-flower maker, in
the due de Richelieu. Though much admired by mammas this model young
man was looked down upon by his sister's shop-girls, who had tried to
inveigle him. Slim and lean, of medium height, with dark circles round
his eyes, Joseph Godard took little care of his person; his clothes
were ill-cut, his trousers bagged, he wore white stockings at all
seasons of the year, a hat with a narrow brim and laced shoes. He was
always complaining of his digestion. His principal vice was a mania
for proposing rural parties during the summer season, excursions to
Montmorency, picnics on the grass, and visits to creameries on the
boulevard du Mont-Parnasse. For the last six months Dutocq had taken
to visiting Mademoiselle Godard from time to time, with certain views
of his own, hoping to discover in her establishment some female
Thus Baudoyer had a pair of henchmen in Dutocq and Godard. Monsieur
Saillard, too innocent to judge rightly of Dutocq, was in the habit of
paying him frequent little visits at the office. Young La Billardiere,
the director's son, placed as supernumerary with Baudoyer, made
another member of the clique. The clever heads in the offices laughed
much at this alliance of incapables. Bixiou named Baudoyer, Godard,
and Dutocq a "Trinity without the Spirit," and little La Billardiere
the "Pascal Lamb."
"You are early this morning," said Antoine to Dutocq, laughing.
"So are you, Antoine," answered Dutocq; "you see, the newspapers do
come earlier than you let us have them at the office."
"They did to-day, by chance," replied Antoine, not disconcerted; "they
never come two days together at the same hour."
The two nephews looked at each other as if to say, in admiration of
their uncle, "What cheek he has!"
"Though I make two sous by all his breakfasts," muttered Antoine, as
he heard Monsieur Dutocq close the office door, "I'd give them up to
get that man out of our division."
"Ah, Monsieur Sebastien, you are not the first here to-day," said
Antoine, a quarter of an hour later, to the supernumerary.
"Who is here?" asked the poor lad, turning pale.
"Monsieur Dutocq," answered Laurent.
Virgin natures have, beyond all others, the inexplicable gift of
second-sight, the reason of which lies perhaps in the purity of their
nervous systems, which are, as it were, brand-new. Sebastien had long
guessed Dutocq's hatred to his revered Rabourdin. So that when Laurent
uttered his name a dreadful presentiment took possession of the lad's
mind, and crying out, "I feared it!" he flew like an arrow into the
"There is going to be a row in the division," said Antoine, shaking
his white head as he put on his livery. "It is very certain that
Monsieur le baron is off to his account. Yes, Madame Gruget, the
nurse, told me he couldn't live through the day. What a stir there'll
be! oh! won't there! Go along, you fellows, and see if the stoves are
drawing properly. Heavens and earth! our world is coming down about
"That poor young one," said Laurent, "had a sort of sunstroke when he
heard that Jesuit of a Dutocq had got here before him."
"I have told him a dozen times,--for after all one ought to tell the
truth to an honest clerk, and what I call an honest clerk is one like
that little fellow who gives us 'recta' his ten francs on New-Year's
day,--I have said to him again and again: The more you work the more
they'll make you work, and they won't promote you. He doesn't listen
to me; he tires himself out staying here till five o'clock, an hour
after all the others have gone. Folly! he'll never get on that way!
The proof is that not a word has been said about giving him an
appointment, though he has been here two years. It's a shame! it makes
my blood boil."
"Monsieur Rabourdin is very fond of Monsieur Sebastien," said Laurent.
"But Monsieur Rabourdin isn't a minister," retorted Antoine; "it will
be a hot day when that happens, and the hens will have teeth; he is
too--but mum! When I think that I carry salaries to those humbugs who
stay away and do as they please, while that poor little La Roche works
himself to death, I ask myself if God ever thinks of the civil
service. And what do they give you, these pets of Monsieur le marechal
and Monsieur le duc? 'Thank you, my dear Antoine, thank you,' with a
gracious nod! Pack of sluggards! go to work, or you'll bring another
revolution about your ears. Didn't see such goings-on under Monsieur
Robert Lindet. I know, for I served my apprenticeship under Robert
Lindet. The clerks had to work in his day! You ought to have seen how
they scratched paper here till midnight; why, the stoves went out and
nobody noticed it. It was all because the guillotine was there!
now-a-days they only mark 'em when they come in late!"
"Uncle Antoine," said Gabriel, "as you are so talkative this morning,
just tell us what you think a clerk really ought to be."
"A government clerk," replied Antoine, gravely, "is a man who sits in
a government office and writes. But there, there, what am I talking
about? Without the clerks, where should we be, I'd like to know? Go
along and look after your stoves and mind you never say harm of a
government clerk, you fellows. Gabriel, the stove in the large office
draws like the devil; you must turn the damper."
Antoine stationed himself at a corner of the landing whence he could
see all the officials as they entered the porte-cochere; he knew every
one at the ministry, and watched their behavior, observing narrowly
the contrasts in their dress and appearance.
The first to arrive after Sebastien was a clerk of deeds in
Rabourdin's office named Phellion, a respectable family-man. To the
influence of his chief he owed a half-scholarship for each of his two
sons in the College Henri IV.; while his daughter was being educated
gratis at a boarding school where his wife gave music lessons and he
himself a course of history and one of geography in the evenings. He
was about forty-five years of age, sergeant-major of his company in
the National Guard, very compassionate in feeling and words, but
wholly unable to give away a penny. Proud of his post, however, and
satisfied with his lot, he applied himself faithfully to serve the
government, believed he was useful to his country, and boasted of his
indifference to politics, knowing none but those of the men in power.
Monsieur Rabourdin pleased him highly whenever he asked him to stay
half an hour longer to finish a piece of work. On such occasions he
would say, when he reached home, "Public affairs detained me; when a
man belongs to the government he is no longer master of himself." He
compiled books of questions and answers on various studies for the use
of young ladies in boarding-schools. These little "solid treatises,"
as he called them, were sold at the University library under the name
of "Historical and Geographic Catechisms." Feeling himself in duty
bound to offer a copy of each volume, bound in red morocco, to
Monsieur Rabourdin, he always came in full dress to present them,
--breeches and silk stockings, and shoes with gold buckles. Monsieur
Phellion received his friends on Thursday evenings, on which occasions
the company played bouillote, at five sous a game, and were regaled
with cakes and beer. He had never yet dared to invite Monsieur
Rabourdin to honor him with his presence, though he would have
regarded such an event as the most distinguished of his life. He said
if he could leave one of his sons following in the steps of Monsieur
Rabourdin he should die the happiest father in the world.
One of his greatest pleasures was to explore the environs of Paris,
which he did with a map. He knew every inch of Arcueil, Bievre,
Fontenay-aux-Roses, and Aulnay, so famous as the resort of great
writers, and hoped in time to know the whole western side of the
country around Paris. He intended to put his eldest son into a
government office and his second into the Ecole Polytechnique. He
often said to the elder, "When you have the honor to be a government
clerk"; though he suspected him of a preference for the exact sciences
and did his best to repress it, mentally resolved to abandon the lad
to his own devices if he persisted. When Rabourdin sent for him to
come down and receive instructions about some particular piece of
work, Phellion gave all his mind to it,--listening to every word the
chief said, as a dilettante listens to an air at the Opera. Silent in
the office, with his feet in the air resting on a wooden desk, and
never moving them, he studied his task conscientiously. His official
letters were written with the utmost gravity, and transmitted the
commands of the minister in solemn phrases. Monsieur Phellion's face
was that of a pensive ram, with little color and pitted by the
small-pox; the lips were thick and the lower one pendent; the eyes
light-blue, and his figure above the common height. Neat and clean as a
master of history and geography in a young ladies' school ought to be,
he wore fine linen, a pleated shirt-frill, a black cashmere waistcoat,
left open and showing a pair of braces embroidered by his daughter, a
diamond in the bosom of his shirt, a black coat, and blue trousers. In
winter he added a nut-colored box-coat with three capes, and carried a
loaded stick, necessitated, he said, by the profound solitude of the
quarter in which he lived. He had given up taking snuff, and referred
to this reform as a striking example of the empire a man could
exercise over himself. Monsieur Phellion came slowly up the stairs,
for he was afraid of asthma, having what he called an "adipose chest."
He saluted Antoine with dignity.
The next to follow was a copying-clerk, who presented a strange
contrast to the virtuous Phellion. Vimeux was a young man of
twenty-five, with a salary of fifteen hundred francs, well-made and
graceful, with a romantic face, and eyes, hair, beard, and eyebrows as
black as jet, fine teeth, charming hands, and wearing a moustache so
carefully trimmed that he seemed to have made it the business and
occupation of his life. Vimeux had such aptitude for work that he
despatched it much quicker than any of the other clerks. "He has a gift,
that young man!" Phellion said of him when he saw him cross his legs and
have nothing to do for the rest of the day, having got through his
appointed task; "and see what a little dandy he is!" Vimeux breakfasted
on a roll and a glass of water, dined for twenty sous at Katcomb's, and
lodged in a furnished room, for which he paid twelve francs a month. His
happiness, his sole pleasure in life, was dress. He ruined himself in
miraculous waistcoats, in trousers that were tight, half-tight,
pleated, or embroidered; in superfine boots, well-made coats which
outlined his elegant figure; in bewitching collars, spotless gloves,
and immaculate hats. A ring with a coat of arms adorned his hand,
outside his glove, from which dangled a handsome cane; with these
accessories he endeavoured to assume the air and manner of a wealthy
young man. After the office closed he appeared in the great walk of
the Tuileries, with a tooth-pick in his mouth, as though he were a
millionaire who had just dined. Always on the lookout for a woman,--an
Englishwoman, a foreigner of some kind, or a widow,--who might fall in
love with him, he practised the art of twirling his cane and of
flinging the sort of glance which Bixiou told him was American. He
smiled to show his fine teeth; he wore no socks under his boots, but
he had his hair curled every day. Vimeux was prepared, in accordance
with fixed principles, to marry a hunch-back with six thousand a year,
or a woman of forty-five at eight thousand, or an Englishwoman for
half that sum. Phellion, who delighted in his neat hand-writing, and
was full of compassion for the fellow, read him lectures on the duty
of giving lessons in penmanship,--an honorable career, he said, which
would ameliorate existence and even render it agreeable; he promised
him a situation in a young ladies' boarding-school. But Vimeux's head
was so full of his own idea that no human being could prevent him from
having faith in his star. He continued to lay himself out, like a
salmon at a fishmonger's, in spite of his empty stomach and the fact
that he had fruitlessly exhibited his enormous moustache and his fine
clothes for over three years. As he owed Antoine more than thirty
francs for his breakfasts, he lowered his eyes every time he passed
him; and yet he never failed at midday to ask the man to buy him a
After trying to get a few reasonable ideas into this foolish head,
Rabourdin had finally given up the attempt as hopeless. Adolphe (his
family name was Adolphe) had lately economized on dinners and lived
entirely on bread and water, to buy a pair of spurs and a riding-whip.
Jokes at the expense of this starving Amadis were made only in the
spirit of mischievous fun which creates vaudevilles, for he was really
a kind-hearted fellow and a good comrade, who harmed no one but
himself. A standing joke in the two bureaus was the question whether
he wore corsets, and bets depended on it. Vimeux was originally
appointed to Baudoyer's bureau, but he manoeuvred to get himself
transferred to Rabourdin's, on account of Baudoyer's extreme severity
in relation to what were called "the English,"--a name given by the
government clerks to their creditors. "English day" means the day on
which the government offices are thrown open to the public. Certain
then of finding their delinquent debtors, the creditors swarm in and
torment them, asking when they intend to pay, and threatening to
attach their salaries. The implacable Baudoyer compelled the clerks to
remain at their desks and endure this torture. "It was their place not
to make debts," he said; and he considered his severity as a duty
which he owed to the public weal. Rabourdin, on the contrary,
protected the clerks against their creditors, and turned the latter
away, saying that the government bureaus were open for public
business, not private. Much ridicule pursued Vimeux in both bureaus
when the clank of his spurs resounded in the corridors and on the
staircases. The wag of the ministry, Bixiou, sent round a paper,
headed by a caricature of his victim on a pasteboard horse, asking for
subscriptions to buy him a live charger. Monsieur Baudoyer was down
for a bale of hay taken from his own forage allowance, and each of the
clerks wrote his little epigram; Vimeux himself, good-natured fellow
that he was, subscribed under the name of "Miss Fairfax."
Handsome clerks of the Vimeux style have their salaries on which to
live, and their good looks by which to make their fortune. Devoted to
masked balls during the carnival, they seek their luck there, though
it often escapes them. Many end the weary round by marrying milliners,
or old women,--sometimes, however, young ones who are charmed with
their handsome persons, and with whom they set up a romance
illustrated with stupid love letters, which, nevertheless, seem to
answer their purpose.
Bixiou (pronounce it Bisiou) was a draughtsman, who ridiculed Dutocq
as readily as he did Rabourdin, whom he nicknamed "the virtuous
woman." Without doubt the cleverest man in the division or even in the
ministry (but clever after the fashion of a monkey, without aim or
sequence), Bixiou was so essentially useful to Baudoyer and Godard
that they upheld and protected him in spite of his misconduct; for he
did their work when they were incapable of doing it for themselves.
Bixiou wanted either Godard's or du Bruel's place as under-head-clerk,
but his conduct interfered with his promotion. Sometimes he sneered at
the public service; this was usually after he had made some happy hit,
such as the publication of portraits in the famous Fualdes case (for
which he drew faces hap-hazard), or his sketch of the debate on the
Castaing affair. At other times, when possessed with a desire to get
on, he really applied himself to work, though he would soon leave off
to write a vaudeville, which was never finished. A thorough egoist, a
spendthrift and a miser in one,--that is to say, spending his money
solely on himself,--sharp, aggressive, and indiscreet, he did mischief
for mischief's sake; above all, he attacked the weak, respected
nothing and believed in nothing, neither in France, nor in God, nor
in art, nor in the Greeks, nor in the Turks, nor in the monarchy,
--insulting and disparaging everything that he could not comprehend.
He was the first to paint a black cap on Charles X.'s head on the
five-franc coins. He mimicked Dr. Gall when lecturing, till he made
the most starched of diplomatists burst their buttons. Famous for his
practical jokes, he varied them with such elaborate care that he
always obtained a victim. His great secret in this was the power of
guessing the inmost wishes of others; he knew the way to many a castle
in the air, to the dreams about which a man may be fooled because he
wants to be; and he made such men sit to him for hours.
Thus it happened that this close observer, who could display
unrivalled tact in developing a joke or driving home a sarcasm, was
unable to use the same power to make men further his fortunes and
promote him. The person he most liked to annoy was young La
Billardiere, his nightmare, his detestation, whom he was nevertheless
constantly wheedling so as the better to torment him on his weakest
side. He wrote him love letters signed "Comtesse de M----" or "Marquise
de B--"; took him to the Opera on gala days and presented him to some
grisette under the clock, after calling everybody's attention to the
young fool. He allied himself with Dutocq (whom he regarded as a
solemn juggler) in his hatred to Rabourdin and his praise of Baudoyer,
and did his best to support him. Jean-Jaques Bixiou was the grandson
of a Parisian grocer. His father, who died a colonel, left him to the
care of his grandmother, who married her head-clerk, named Descoings,
after the death of her first husband, and died in 1822. Finding
himself without prospects on leaving college, he attempted painting,
but in spite of his intimacy with Joseph Bridau, his life-long friend,
he abandoned art to take up caricature, vignette designing, and
drawing for books, which twenty years later went by the name of
"illustration." The influence of the Ducs de Maufrigneuse and de
Rhetore, whom he knew in the society of actresses, procured him his
employment under government in 1819. On good terms with des Lupeaulx,
with whom in society he stood on an equality, and intimate with du
Bruel, he was a living proof of Rabourdin's theory as to the steady
deterioration of the administrative hierarchy in Paris through the
personal importance which a government official may acquire outside of
a government office. Short in stature but well-formed, with a delicate
face remarkable for its vague likeness to Napoleon's, thin lips,
a straight chin, chestnut whiskers, twenty-seven years old,
fair-skinned, with a piercing voice and sparkling eye,--such was Bixiou;
a man, all sense and all wit, who abandoned himself to a mad pursuit of
pleasure of every description, which threw him into a constant round
of dissipation. Hunter of grisettes, smoker, jester, diner-out and
frequenter of supper-parties, always tuned to the highest pitch,
shining equally in the greenroom and at the balls given among the
grisettes of the Allee des Veuves, he was just as surprisingly
entertaining at table as at a picnic, as gay and lively at midnight on
the streets as in the morning when he jumped out of bed, and yet at
heart gloomy and melancholy, like most of the great comic players.
Launched into the world of actors and actresses, writers, artists, and
certain women of uncertain means, he lived well, went to the theatre
without paying, gambled at Frascati, and often won. Artist by nature
and really profound, though by flashes only, he swayed to and fro in
life like a swing, without thinking or caring of a time when the cord
would break. The liveliness of his wit and the prodigal flow of his
ideas made him acceptable to all persons who took pleasure in the
lights of intellect; but none of his friends liked him. Incapable of
checking a witty saying, he would scarify his two neighbors before a
dinner was half over. In spite of his skin-deep gayety, a secret
dissatisfaction with his social position could be detected in his
speech; he aspired to something better, but the fatal demon hiding in
his wit hindered him from acquiring the gravity which imposes on
fools. He lived on the second floor of a house in the rue de Ponthieu,
where he had three rooms delivered over to the untidiness of a
bachelor's establishment, in fact, a regular bivouac. He often talked
of leaving France and seeking his fortune in America. No wizard could
foretell the future of this young man in whom all talents were
incomplete; who was incapable of perseverance, intoxicated with
pleasure, and who acted on the belief that the world ended on the
In the matter of dress Bixiou had the merit of never being ridiculous;
he was perhaps the only official of the ministry whose dress did not
lead outsiders to say, "That man is a government clerk!" He wore
elegant boots with black trousers strapped under them, a fancy
waistcoat, a becoming blue coat, collars that were the never-ending
gift of grisettes, one of Bandoni's hats, and a pair of dark-colored
kid gloves. His walk and bearing, cavalier and simple both, were not
without grace. He knew all this, and when des Lupeaulx summoned him
for a piece of impertinence said and done about Monsieur de la
Billardiere and threatened him with dismissal, Bixiou replied, "You
will take me back because my clothes do credit to the ministry"; and
des Lupeaulx, unable to keep from laughing, let the matter pass. The
most harmless of Bixiou's jokes perpetrated among the clerks was the
one he played off upon Godard, presenting him with a butterfly just
brought from China, which the worthy man keeps in his collection and
exhibits to this day, blissfully unconscious that it is only painted
paper. Bixiou had the patience to work up the little masterpiece for
the sole purpose of hoaxing his superior.
The devil always puts a martyr near a Bixiou. Baudoyer's bureau held
the martyr, a poor copying-clerk twenty-two years of age, with a
salary of fifteen hundred francs, named Auguste-Jean-Francois
Minard. Minard had married for love the daughter of a porter, an
artificial-flower maker employed by Mademoiselle Godard. Zelie Lorrain,
a pupil, in the first place, of the Conservatoire, then by turns a
danseuse, a singer, and an actress, had thought of doing as so many of
the working-women do; but the fear of consequences kept her from vice.
She was floating undecidedly along, when Minard appeared upon the scene
with a definite proposal of marriage. Zelie earned five hundred francs
a year, Minard had fifteen hundred. Believing that they could live on
two thousand, they married without settlements, and started with the
utmost economy. They went to live, like dove-turtles, near the
barriere de Courcelles, in a little apartment at three hundred francs
a year, with white cotton curtains to the windows, a Scotch paper
costing fifteen sous a roll on the walls, brick floors well polished,
walnut furniture in the parlor, and a tiny kitchen that was very
clean. Zelie nursed her children herself when they came, cooked, made
her flowers, and kept the house. There was something very touching in
this happy and laborious mediocrity. Feeling that Minard truly loved
her, Zelie loved him. Love begets love,--it is the abyssus abyssum of
the Bible. The poor man left his bed in the morning before his wife
was up, that he might fetch provisions. He carried the flowers she had
finished, on his way to the bureau, and bought her materials on his
way back; then, while waiting for dinner, he stamped out her leaves,
trimmed the twigs, or rubbed her colors. Small, slim, and wiry, with
crisp red hair, eyes of a light yellow, a skin of dazzling fairness,
though blotched with red, the man had a sturdy courage that made no
show. He knew the science of writing quite as well as Vimeux. At the
office he kept in the background, doing his allotted task with the
collected air of a man who thinks and suffers. His white eyelashes and
lack of eyebrows induced the relentless Bixiou to name him "the white
rabbit." Minard--the Rabourdin of a lower sphere--was filled with the
desire of placing his Zelie in better circumstances, and his mind
searched the ocean of the wants of luxury in hopes of finding an idea,
of making some discovery or some improvement which would bring him a
rapid fortune. His apparent dulness was really caused by the continual
tension of his mind; he went over the history of Cephalic Oils and the
Paste of Sultans, lucifer matches and portable gas, jointed sockets
for hydrostatic lamps,--in short, all the infinitely little inventions
of material civilization which pay so well. He bore Bixiou's jests as
a busy man bears the buzzing of an insect; he was not even annoyed by
them. In spite of his cleverness, Bixiou never perceived the profound
contempt which Minard felt for him. Minard never dreamed of
quarrelling, however,--regarding it as a loss of time. After a while
his composure tired out his tormentor. He always breakfasted with his
wife, and ate nothing at the office. Once a month he took Zelie to the
theatre, with tickets bestowed by du Bruel or Bixiou; for Bixiou was
capable of anything, even of doing a kindness. Monsieur and Madame
Minard paid their visits in person on New-Year's day. Those who saw
them often asked how it was that a woman could keep her husband in
good clothes, wear a Leghorn bonnet with flowers, embroidered muslin
dresses, silk mantles, prunella boots, handsome fichus, a Chinese
parasol, and drive home in a hackney-coach, and yet be virtuous; while
Madame Colleville and other "ladies" of her kind could scarcely make
ends meet, though they had double Madame Minard's means.
In the two bureaus were two clerks so devoted to each other that their
friendship became the butt of all the rest. He of the bureau Baudoyer,
named Colleville, was chief-clerk, and would have been head of the
bureau long before if the Restoration had never happened. His wife was
as clever in her way as Madame Rabourdin in hers. Colleville, who was
son of a first violin at the opera, fell in love with the daughter of
a celebrated danseuse. Flavie Minoret, one of those capable and
charming Parisian women who know how to make their husbands happy and
yet preserve their own liberty, made the Colleville home a rendezvous
for all our best artists and orators. Colleville's humble position
under government was forgotten there. Flavie's conduct gave such food
for gossip, however, that Madame Rabourdin had declined all her
invitations. The friend in Rabourdin's bureau to whom Colleville was
so attached was named Thuillier. All who knew one knew the other.
Thuillier, called "the handsome Thuillier," an ex-Lothario, led as
idle a life as Colleville led a busy one. Colleville, government
official in the mornings and first clarionet at the Opera-Comique at
night, worked hard to maintain his family, though he was not without
influential friends. He was looked upon as a very shrewd man,--all the
more, perhaps, because he hid his ambitions under a show of
indifference. Apparently content with his lot and liking work, he
found every one, even the chiefs, ready to protect his brave career.
During the last few weeks Madame Colleville had made an evident change
in the household, and seemed to be taking to piety. This gave rise to
a vague report in the bureaus that she thought of securing some more
powerful influence than that of Francois Keller, the famous orator,
who had been one of her chief adorers, but who, so far, had failed to
obtain a better place for her husband. Flavie had, about this time
--and it was one of her mistakes--turned for help to des Lupeaulx.
Colleville had a passion for reading the horoscopes of famous men in
the anagram of their names. He passed whole months in decomposing and
recomposing words and fitting them to new meanings. "Un Corse la
finira," found within the words, "Revolution Francaise"; "Eh, c'est
large nez," in "Charles Genest," an abbe at the court of Louis XIV.,
whose huge nose is recorded by Saint-Simon as the delight of the Duc
de Bourgogne (the exigencies of this last anagram required the
substitution of a z for an s),--were a never-ending marvel to
Colleville. Raising the anagram to the height of a science, he
declared that the destiny of every man was written in the words or
phrase given by the transposition of the letters of his names and
titles; and his patriotism struggled hard to suppress the fact--signal
evidence for his theory--that in Horatio Nelson, "honor est a Nilo."
Ever since the accession of Charles X., he had bestowed much thought
on the king's anagram. Thuillier, who was fond of making puns,
declared that an anagram was nothing more than a pun on letters. The
sight of Colleville, a man of real feeling, bound almost indissolubly
to Thuillier, the model of an egoist, presented a difficult problem to
the mind of an observer. The clerks in the offices explained it by
saying, "Thuillier is rich, and the Colleville household costly." This
friendship, however, consolidated by time, was based on feelings and
on facts which naturally explained it; an account of which may be
found elsewhere (see "Les Petits Bourgeois"). We may remark in passing
that though Madame Colleville was well known in the bureaus, the
existence of Madame Thuillier was almost unknown there. Colleville, an
active man, burdened with a family of children, was fat, round, and
jolly, whereas Thuillier, "the beau of the Empire" without apparent
anxieties and always at leisure, was slender and thin, with a livid
face and a melancholy air. "We never know," said Rabourdin, speaking
of the two men, "whether our friendships are born of likeness or of
Unlike these Siamese twins, two other clerks, Chazelle and Paulmier,
were forever squabbling. One smoked, the other took snuff, and the
merits of their respective use of tobacco were the origin of ceaseless
disputes. Chazelle's home, which was tyrannized over by a wife,
furnished a subject of endless ridicule to Paulmier; whereas Paulmier,
a bachelor, often half-starved like Vimeux, with ragged clothes and
half-concealed penury was a fruitful source of ridicule to Chazelle.
Both were beginning to show a protuberant stomach; Chazelle's, which
was round and projecting, had the impertinence, so Bixiou said, to
enter the room first; Paulmier's corporation spread to right and left.
A favorite amusement with Bixiou was to measure them quarterly. The
two clerks, by dint of quarrelling over the details of their lives,
and washing much of their dirty linen at the office, had obtained the
disrepute which they merited. "Do you take me for a Chazelle?" was a
frequent saying that served to end many an annoying discussion.
Monsieur Poiret junior, called "junior" to distinguish him from his
brother Monsieur Poiret senior (now living in the Maison Vanquer,
where Poiret junior sometimes dined, intending to end his days in the
same retreat), had spent thirty years in the Civil Service. Nature
herself is not so fixed and unvarying in her evolutions as was Poiret
junior in all the acts of his daily life; he always laid his things in
precisely the same place, put his pen in the same rack, sat down in
his seat at the same hour, warmed himself at the stove at the same
moment of the day. His sole vanity consisted in wearing an infallible
watch, timed daily at the Hotel de Ville as he passed it on his way to
the office. From six to eight o'clock in the morning he kept the books
of a large shop in the rue Saint-Antoine, and from six to eight
o'clock in the evening those of the Maison Camusot, in the rue des
Bourdonnais. He thus earned three thousand francs a year, counting his
salary from the government. In a few months his term of service would
be up, when he would retire on a pension; he therefore showed the
utmost indifference to the political intrigues of the bureaus. Like
his elder brother, to whom retirement from active service had proved a
fatal blow, he would probably grow an old man when he could no longer
come from his home to the ministry, sit in the same chair and copy a
certain number of pages. Poiret's eyes were dim, his glance weak and
lifeless, his skin discolored and wrinkled, gray in tone and speckled
with bluish dots; his nose flat, his lips drawn inward to the mouth,
where a few defective teeth still lingered. His gray hair, flattened
to the head by the pressure of his hat, gave him the look of an
ecclesiastic,--a resemblance he would scarcely have liked, for he
hated priests and clergy, though he could give no reasons for his
anti-religious views. This antipathy, however, did not prevent him
from being extremely attached to whatever administration happened to
be in power. He never buttoned his old green coat, even on the coldest
days, and he always wore shoes with ties, and black trousers.
No human life was ever lived so thoroughly by rule. Poiret kept
all his receipted bills, even the most trifling, and all his
account-books, wrapped in old shirts and put away according to their
respective years from the time of his entrance at the ministry. Rough
copies of his letters were dated and put away in a box, ticketed "My
Correspondence." He dined at the same restaurant (the Sucking Calf in
the place du Chatelet), and sat in the same place, which the waiters
kept for him. He never gave five minutes more time to the shop in the
rue Saint Antoine than justly belonged to it, and at half-past eight
precisely he reached the Cafe David, where he breakfasted and remained
till eleven. There he listened to political discussions, his arms
crossed on his cane, his chin in his right hand, never saying a word.
The dame du comptoir, the only woman to whom he ever spoke with
pleasure, was the sole confidant of the little events of his life, for
his seat was close to her counter. He played dominoes, the only game
he was capable of understanding. When his partners did not happen to
be present, he usually went to sleep with his back against the
wainscot, holding a newspaper in his hand, the wooden file resting on
the marble of his table. He was interested in the buildings going up
in Paris, and spent his Sundays in walking about to examine them. He
was often heard to say, "I saw the Louvre emerge from its rubbish; I
saw the birth of the place du Chatelet, the quai aux Fleurs and the
Markets." He and his brother, both born at Troyes, were sent in youth
to serve their apprenticeship in a government office. Their mother
made herself notorious by misconduct, and the two brothers had the
grief of hearing of her death in the hospital at Troyes, although they
had frequently sent money for her support. This event led them both
not only to abjure marriage, but to feel a horror of children; ill at
ease with them, they feared them as others fear madmen, and watched
them with haggard eyes.
Since the day when he first came to Paris Poiret junior had never gone
outside the city. He began at that time to keep a journal of his life,
in which he noted down all the striking events of his day. Du Bruel
told him that Lord Byron did the same thing. This likeness filled
Poiret junior with delight, and led him to buy the works of Lord
Byron, translated by Chastopalli, of which he did not understand a
word. At the office he was often seen in a melancholy attitude, as
though absorbed in thought, when in fact he was thinking of nothing at
all. He did not know a single person in the house where he lived, and
always carried the keys of his apartment about with him. On New-Year's
day he went round and left his own cards on all the clerks of the
division. Bixiou took it into his head on one of the hottest of
dog-days to put a layer of lard under the lining of a certain old hat
which Poiret junior (he was, by the bye, fifty-two years old) had worn
for the last nine years. Bixiou, who had never seen any other hat on
Poiret's head, dreamed of it and declared he tasted it in his food; he
therefore resolved, in the interests of his digestion, to relieve the
bureau of the sight of that amorphous old hat. Poiret junior left the
office regularly at four o'clock. As he walked along, the sun's rays
reflected from the pavements and walls produced a tropical heat; he
felt that his head was inundated,--he, who never perspired! Feeling
that he was ill, or on the point of being so, instead of going as
usual to the Sucking Calf he went home, drew out from his desk the
journal of his life, and recorded the fact in the following manner:--
"To-day, July 3, 1823, overtaken by extraordinary perspiration, a
sign, perhaps, of the sweating-sickness, a malady which prevails
in Champagne. I am about to consult Doctor Haudry. The disease
first appeared as I reached the highest part of the quai des
Suddenly, having taken off his hat, he became aware that the
mysterious sweat had some cause independent of his own person. He
wiped his face, examined the hat, and could find nothing, for he did
not venture to take out the lining. All this he noted in his
"Carried my hat to the Sieur Tournan, hat-maker in the rue
Saint-Martin, for the reason that I suspect some unknown cause for
this perspiration, which, in that case, might not be perspiration,
but, possibly, the effect of something lately added, or formerly
done, to my hat."
Monsieur Tournan at once informed his customer of the presence of a
greasy substance, obtained by the trying-out of the fat of a pig or
sow. The next day Poiret appeared at the office with another hat, lent
by Monsieur Tournan while a new one was making; but he did not sleep
that night until he had added the following sentence to the preceding
entries in his journal: "It is asserted that my hat contained lard,
the fat of a pig."
This inexplicable fact occupied the intellect of Poiret junior for the
space of two weeks; and he never knew how the phenomenon was produced.
The clerks told him tales of showers of frogs, and other dog-day
wonders, also the startling fact that an imprint of the head of
Napoleon had been found in the root of a young elm, with other
eccentricities of natural history. Vimeux informed him that one day
his hat--his, Vimeux's--had stained his forehead black, and that
hat-makers were in the habit of using drugs. After that Poiret paid many
visits to Monsieur Tournan to inquire into his methods of manufacture.
In the Rabourdin bureau was a clerk who played the man of courage and
audacity, professed the opinions of the Left centre, and rebelled
against the tyrannies of Baudoyer as exercised upon what he called the
unhappy slaves of that office. His name was Fleury. He boldly
subscribed to an opposition newspaper, wore a gray hat with a broad
brim, red bands on his blue trousers, a blue waistcoat with gilt
buttons, and a surtout coat crossed over the breast like that of a
quartermaster of gendarmerie. Though unyielding in his opinions, he
continued to be employed in the service, all the while predicting a
fatal end to a government which persisted in upholding religion. He
openly avowed his sympathy for Napoleon, now that the death of that
great man put an end to the laws enacted against "the partisans of the
usurper." Fleury, ex-captain of a regiment of the line under the
Emperor, a tall, dark, handsome fellow, was now, in addition to his
civil-service post, box-keeper at the Cirque-Olympique. Bixiou never
ventured on tormenting Fleury, for the rough trooper, who was a good
shot and clever at fencing, seemed quite capable of extreme brutality
if provoked. An ardent subscriber to "Victoires et Conquetes," Fleury
nevertheless refused to pay his subscription, though he kept and read
the copies, alleging that they exceeded the number proposed in the
prospectus. He adored Monsieur Rabourdin, who had saved him from
dismissal, and was even heard to say that if any misfortune happened
to the chief through anybody's fault he would kill that person. Dutocq
meanly courted Fleury because he feared him. Fleury, crippled with
debt, played many a trick on his creditors. Expert in legal matters,
he never signed a promissory note; and had prudently attached his own
salary under the names of fictitious creditors, so that he was able to
draw nearly the whole of it himself. He played ecarte, was the life of
evening parties, tossed off glasses of champagne without wetting his
lips, and knew all the songs of Beranger by heart. He was proud of his
full, sonorous voice. His three great admirations were Napoleon,
Bolivar, and Beranger. Foy, Lafitte, and Casimir Delavigne he only
esteemed. Fleury, as you will have guessed already, was a Southerner,
destined, no doubt, to become the responsible editor of a liberal
Desroys, the mysterious clerk of the division, consorted with no one,
talked little, and hid his private life so carefully that no one knew
where he lived, nor who were his protectors, nor what were his means
of subsistence. Looking about them for the causes of this reserve,
some of his colleagues thought him a "carbonaro," others an Orleanist;
there were others again who doubted whether to call him a spy or a man
of solid merit. Desroys was, however, simple and solely the son of a
"Conventionel," who did not vote the king's death. Cold and prudent by
temperament, he had judged the world and ended by relying on no one
but himself. Republican in secret, an admirer of Paul-Louis Courier
and a friend of Michael Chrestien, he looked to time and public
intelligence to bring about the triumph of his opinions from end to
end of Europe. He dreamed of a new Germany and a new Italy. His heart
swelled with that dull, collective love which we must call
humanitarianism, the eldest son of deceased philanthropy, and which is
to the divine catholic charity what system is to art, or reasoning to
deed. This conscientious puritan of freedom, this apostle of an
impossible equality, regretted keenly that his poverty forced him to
serve the government, and he made various efforts to find a place
elsewhere. Tall, lean, lanky, and solemn in appearance, like a man who
expects to be called some day to lay down his life for a cause, he
lived on a page of Volney, studied Saint-Just, and employed himself on
a vindication of Robespierre, whom he regarded as the successor of
The last of the individuals belonging to these bureaus who merits a
sketch here is the little La Billardiere. Having, to his great
misfortune, lost his mother, and being under the protection of the
minister, safe therefore from the tyrannies of Baudoyer, and received
in all the ministerial salons, he was nevertheless detested by every
one because of his impertinence and conceit. The two chiefs were
polite to him, but the clerks held him at arm's length and prevented
all companionship by means of the extreme and grotesque politeness
which they bestowed upon him. A pretty youth of twenty-two, tall and
slender, with the manners of an Englishman, a dandy in dress, curled
and perfumed, gloved and booted in the latest fashion, and twirling an
eyeglass, Benjamin de la Billardiere thought himself a charming fellow
and possessed all the vices of the world with none of its graces. He
was now looking forward impatiently to the death of his father, that
he might succeed to the title of baron. His cards were printed "le
Chevalier de la Billardiere" and on the wall of his office hung, in a
frame, his coat of arms (sable, two swords in saltire, on a chief
azure three mullets argent; with the motto; "Toujours fidele").
Possessed with a mania for talking heraldry, he once asked the young
Vicomte de Portenduere why his arms were charged in a certain way, and
drew down upon himself the happy answer, "I did not make them." He
talked of his devotion to the monarchy and the attentions the Dauphine
paid him. He stood very well with des Lupeaulx, whom he thought his
friend, and they often breakfasted together. Bixiou posed as his
mentor, and hoped to rid the division and France of the young fool by
tempting him to excesses, and openly avowed that intention.
Such were the principal figures of La Billardiere's division of the
ministry, where also were other clerks of less account, who resembled
more or less those that are represented here. It is difficult even for
an observer to decide from the aspect of these strange personalities
whether the goose-quill tribe were becoming idiots from the effects of
their employment or whether they entered the service because they were
natural born fools. Possibly the making of them lies at the door of
Nature and of the government both. Nature, to a civil-service clerk
is, in fact, the sphere of the office; his horizon is bounded on all
sides by green boxes; to him, atmospheric changes are the air of the
corridors, the masculine exhalations contained in rooms without
ventilators, the odor of paper, pens, and ink; the soil he treads is a
tiled pavement or a wooden floor, strewn with a curious litter and
moistened by the attendant's watering-pot; his sky is the ceiling
toward which he yawns; his element is dust. Several distinguished
doctors have remonstrated against the influence of this second nature,
both savage and civilized, on the moral being vegetating in those
dreadful pens called bureaus, where the sun seldom penetrates, where
thoughts are tied down to occupations like that of horses who turn a
crank and who, poor beasts, yawn distressingly and die quickly.
Rabourdin was, therefore, fully justified in seeking to reform their
present condition, by lessening their numbers and giving to each a
larger salary and far heavier work. Men are neither wearied nor bored
when doing great things. Under the present system government loses
fully four hours out of the nine which the clerks owe to the service,
--hours wasted, as we shall see, in conversations, in gossip, in
disputes, and, above all, in underhand intriguing. The reader must
have haunted the bureaus of the ministerial departments before he can
realize how much their petty and belittling life resembles that of
seminaries. Wherever men live collectively this likeness is obvious;
in regiments, in law-courts, you will find the elements of the school
on a smaller or larger scale. The government clerks, forced to be
together for nine hours of the day, looked upon their office as a sort
of class-room where they had tasks to perform, where the head of the
bureau was no other than a schoolmaster, and where the gratuities
bestowed took the place of prizes given out to proteges,--a place,
moreover, where they teased and hated each other, and yet felt a
certain comradeship, colder than that of a regiment, which itself is
less hearty than that of seminaries. As a man advances in life he
grows more selfish; egoism develops, and relaxes all the secondary
bonds of affection. A government office is, in short, a microcosm of
society, with its oddities and hatreds, its envy and its cupidity, its
determination to push on, no matter who goes under, its frivolous
gossip which gives so many wounds, and its perpetual spying.
THE MACHINE IN MOTION
At this moment the division of Monsieur de la Billardiere was in a
state of unusual excitement, resulting very naturally from the event
which was about to happen; for heads of divisions do not die every
day, and there is no insurance office where the chances of life and
death are calculated with more sagacity than in a government bureau.
Self-interest stifles all compassion, as it does in children, but the
government service adds hypocrisy to boot.
The clerks of the bureau Baudoyer arrived at eight o'clock in the
morning, whereas those of the bureau Rabourdin seldom appeared till
nine,--a circumstance which did not prevent the work in the latter
office from being more rapidly dispatched than that of the former.
Dutocq had important reasons for coming early on this particular
morning. The previous evening he had furtively entered the study where
Sebastien was at work, and had seen him copying some papers for
Rabourdin; he concealed himself until he saw Sebastien leave the
premises without taking any papers away with him. Certain, therefore,
of finding the rather voluminous memorandum which he had seen,
together with its copy, in some corner of the study, he searched
through the boxes one after another until he finally came upon the
fatal list. He carried it in hot haste to an autograph-printing house,
where he obtained two pressed copies of the memorandum, showing, of
course, Rabourdin's own writing. Anxious not to arouse suspicion, he
had gone very early to the office and replaced both the memorandum and
Sebastien's copy in the box from which he had taken them. Sebastien,
who was kept up till after midnight at Madame Rabourdin's party, was,
in spite of his desire to get to the office early, preceded by the
spirit of hatred. Hatred lived in the rue Saint-Louis-Saint-Honore,
whereas love and devotion lived far-off in the rue du Roi-Dore in the
Marais. This slight delay was destined to affect Rabourdin's whole
Sebastien opened his box eagerly, found the memorandum and his own
unfinished copy all in order, and locked them at once into the desk as
Rabourdin had directed. The mornings are dark in these offices towards
the end of December, sometimes indeed the lamps are lit till after ten
o'clock; consequently Sebastien did not happen to notice the pressure
of the copying-machine upon the paper. But when, about half-past nine
o'clock, Rabourdin looked at his memorandum he saw at once the effects
of the copying process, and all the more readily because he was then
considering whether these autographic presses could not be made to do
the work of copying clerks.
"Did any one get to the office before you?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Sebastien,--"Monsieur Dutocq."
"Ah! well, he was punctual. Send Antoine to me."
Too noble to distress Sebastien uselessly by blaming him for a
misfortune now beyond remedy, Rabourdin said no more. Antoine came.
Rabourdin asked if any clerk had remained at the office after four
o'clock the previous evening. The man replied that Monsieur Dutocq had
worked there later than Monsieur de la Roche, who was usually the last
to leave. Rabourdin dismissed him with a nod, and resumed the thread
of his reflections.
"Twice I have prevented his dismissal," he said to himself, "and this
is my reward."
This morning was to Rabourdin like the solemn hour in which great
commanders decide upon a battle and weigh all chances. Knowing the
spirit of official life better than any one, he well knew that it
would never pardon, any more than a school or the galleys or the army
pardon, what looked like espionage or tale-bearing. A man capable of
informing against his comrades is disgraced, dishonored, despised; the
ministers in such a case would disavow their own agents. Nothing was
left to an official so placed but to send in his resignation and leave
Paris; his honor is permanently stained; explanations are of no avail;
no one will either ask for them or listen to them. A minister may well
do the same thing and be thought a great man, able to choose the right
instruments; but a mere subordinate will be judged as a spy, no matter
what may be his motives. While justly measuring the folly of such
judgment, Rabourdin knew that it was all-powerful; and he knew, too,
that he was crushed. More surprised than overwhelmed, he now sought
for the best course to follow under the circumstances; and with such
thoughts in his mind he was necessarily aloof from the excitement
caused in the division by the death of Monsieur de la Billardiere; in
fact he did not hear of it until young La Briere, who was able to
appreciate his sterling value, came to tell him. About ten o'clock, in
the bureau Baudoyer, Bixiou was relating the last moments of the life
of the director to Minard, Desroys, Monsieur Godard, whom he had
called from his private office, and Dutocq, who had rushed in with
private motives of his own. Colleville and Chazelle were absent.
Bixiou [standing with his back to the stove and holding up the sole
of each boot alternately to dry at the open door]. "This morning, at
half-past seven, I went to inquire after our most worthy and respectable
director, knight of the order of Christ, et caetera, et caetera. Yes,
gentlemen, last night he was a being with twenty et caeteras, to-day
he is nothing, not even a government clerk. I asked all particulars of
his nurse. She told me that this morning at five o'clock he became
uneasy about the royal family. He asked for the names of all the
clerks who had called to inquire after him; and then he said: 'Fill my
snuff-box, give me the newspaper, bring my spectacles, and change my
ribbon of the Legion of honor,--it is very dirty.' I suppose you know
he always wore his orders in bed. He was fully conscious, retained his
senses and all his usual ideas. But, presto! ten minutes later the
water rose, rose, rose and flooded his chest; he knew he was dying for
he felt the cysts break. At that fatal moment he gave evident proof of
his powerful mind and vast intellect. Ah, we never rightly appreciated
him! We used to laugh at him and call him a booby--didn't you,
Godard. "I? I always rated Monsieur de la Billardiere's talents higher
than the rest of you."
Bixiou. "You and he could understand each other!"
Godard. "He wasn't a bad man; he never harmed any one."
Bixiou. "To do harm you must do something, and he never did anything.
If it wasn't you who said he was a dolt, it must have been Minard."
Minard [shrugging his shoulders]. "I!"
Bixiou. "Well, then it was you, Dutocq!" [Dutocq made a vehement
gesture of denial.] "Oh! very good, then it was nobody. Every one in
this office knew his intellect was herculean. Well, you were right. He
ended, as I have said, like the great man that he was."
Desroys [impatiently]. "Pray what did he do that was so great? he had
the weakness to confess himself."
Bixiou. "Yes, monsieur, he received the holy sacraments. But do you
know what he did in order to receive them? He put on his uniform as
gentleman-in-ordinary of the Bedchamber, with all his orders, and had
himself powdered; they tied his queue (that poor queue!) with a fresh
ribbon. Now I say that none but a man of remarkable character would
have his queue tied with a fresh ribbon just as he was dying. There
are eight of us here, and I don't believe one among us is capable of
such an act. But that's not all; he said,--for you know all celebrated
men make a dying speech; he said,--stop now, what did he say? Ah! he
said, 'I must attire myself to meet the King of Heaven,--I, who have
so often dressed in my best for audience with the kings of earth.'
That's how Monsieur de la Billardiere departed this life. He took upon
himself to justify the saying of Pythagoras, 'No man is known until he
Colleville [rushing in]. "Gentlemen, great news!"
All. "We know it."
Colleville. "I defy you to know it! I have been hunting for it ever
since the accession of His Majesty to the thrones of France and of
Navarre. Last night I succeeded! but with what labor! Madame
Colleville asked me what was the matter."
Dutocq. "Do you think we have time to bother ourselves with your
intolerable anagrams when the worthy Monsieur de la Billardiere has
Colleville. "That's Bixiou's nonsense! I have just come from Monsieur
de la Billardiere's; he is still living, though they expect him to die
soon." [Godard, indignant at the hoax, goes off grumbling.]
"Gentlemen! you would never guess what extraordinary events are
revealed by the anagram of this sacramental sentence" [he pulls out a
piece of paper and reads], "Charles dix, par la grace de Dieu, roi de
France et de Navarre."
Godard [re-entering]. "Tell what it is at once, and don't keep people
Colleville [triumphantly unfolding the rest of the paper]. "Listen!
"A H. V. il cedera;
De S. C. l. d. partira;
Eh nauf errera,
Decide a Gorix.
"Every letter is there!" [He repeats it.] "A Henry cinq cedera (his
crown of course); de Saint-Cloud partira; en nauf (that's an old
French word for skiff, vessel, felucca, corvette, anything you like)
Dutocq. "What a tissue of absurdities! How can the King cede his crown
to Henry V., who, according to your nonsense, must be his grandson,
when Monseigneur le Dauphin is living. Are you prophesying the
Bixiou. "What's Gorix, pray?--the name of a cat?"
Colleville [provoked]. "It is the archaeological and lapidarial
abbreviation of the name of a town, my good friend; I looked it out in
Malte-Brun: Goritz, in Latin Gorixia, situated in Bohemia or Hungary,
or it may be Austria--"
Bixiou. "Tyrol, the Basque provinces, or South America. Why don't you
set it all to music and play it on the clarionet?"
Godard [shrugging his shoulders and departing]. "What utter nonsense!"
Colleville. "Nonsense! nonsense indeed! It is a pity you don't take
the trouble to study fatalism, the religion of the Emperor Napoleon."
Godard [irritated at Colleville's tone]. "Monsieur Colleville, let me
tell you that Bonaparte may perhaps be styled Emperor by historians,
but it is extremely out of place to refer to him as such in a
Bixiou [laughing]. "Get an anagram out of that, my dear fellow."
Colleville [angrily]. "Let me tell you that if Napoleon Bonaparte had
studied the letters of his name on the 14th of April, 1814, he might
perhaps be Emperor still."
Bixiou. "How do you make that out?"
Colleville [solemnly]. "Napoleon Bonaparte.--No, appear not at Elba!"
Dutocq. "You'll lose your place for talking such nonsense."
Colleville. "If my place is taken from me, Francois Keller will make
it hot for your minister." [Dead silence.] "I'd have you to know,
Master Dutocq, that all known anagrams have actually come to pass.
Look here,--you, yourself,--don't you marry, for there's 'coqu' in
Bixiou [interrupting]. "And d, t, for de-testable."
Dutocq [without seeming angry]. "I don't care, as long as it is only
in my name. Why don't you anagrammatize, or whatever you call it,
'Xavier Rabourdin, chef du bureau'?"
Colleville. "Bless you, so I have!"
Bixiou [mending his pen]. "And what did you make of it?"
Colleville. "It comes out as follows: D'abord reva bureaux, E-u,--(you
catch the meaning? et eut--and had) E-u fin riche; which signifies
that after first belonging to the administration, he gave it up and
got rich elsewhere." [Repeats.] "D'abord reva bureaux, E-u fin riche."
Dutocq. "That IS queer!"
Bixiou. "Try Isidore Baudoyer."
Colleville [mysteriously]. "I sha'n't tell the other anagrams to any
one but Thuillier."
Bixiou. "I'll bet you a breakfast that I can tell that one myself."
Colleville. "And I'll pay if you find it out."
Bixiou. "Then I shall breakfast at your expense; but you won't be
angry, will you? Two such geniuses as you and I need never conflict.
'Isidore Baudoyer' anagrams into 'Ris d'aboyeur d'oie.'"
Colleville [petrified with amazement]. "You stole it from me!"
Bixiou [with dignity]. "Monsieur Colleville, do me the honor to
believe that I am rich enough in absurdity not to steal my neighbor's
Baudoyer [entering with a bundle of papers in his hand]. "Gentlemen, I
request you to shout a little louder; you bring this office into such
high repute with the administration. My worthy coadjutor, Monsieur
Clergeot, did me the honor just now to come and ask a question, and he
heard the noise you are making" [passes into Monsieur Godard's room].
Bixiou [in a low voice]. "The watch-dog is very tame this morning;
there'll be a change of weather before night."
Dutocq [whispering to Bixiou]. "I have something I want to say to
Bixiou [fingering Dutocq's waistcoat]. "You've a pretty waistcoat,
that cost you nothing; is that what you want to say?"
Dutocq. "Nothing, indeed! I never paid so dear for anything in my
life. That stuff cost six francs a yard in the best shop in the rue de
la Paix,--a fine dead stuff, the very thing for deep mourning."
Bixiou. "You know about engravings and such things, my dear fellow,
but you are totally ignorant of the laws of etiquette. Well, no man
can be a universal genius! Silk is positively not admissible in deep
mourning. Don't you see I am wearing woollen? Monsieur Rabourdin,
Monsieur Baudoyer, and the minister are all in woollen; so is the
faubourg Saint-Germain. There's no one here but Minard who doesn't
wear woollen; he's afraid of being taken for a sheep. That's the
reason why he didn't put on mourning for Louis XVIII."
[During this conversation Baudoyer is sitting by the fire in Godard's
room, and the two are conversing in a low voice.]
Baudoyer. "Yes, the worthy man is dying. The two ministers are both
with him. My father-in-law has been notified of the event. If you want
to do me a signal service you will take a cab and go and let Madame
Baudoyer know what is happening; for Monsieur Saillard can't leave his
desk, nor I my office. Put yourself at my wife's orders; do whatever
she wishes. She has, I believe, some ideas of her own, and wants to
take certain steps simultaneously." [The two functionaries go out
Godard. "Monsieur Bixiou, I am obliged to leave the office for the
rest of the day. You will take my place."
Baudoyer [to Bixiou, benignly]. "Consult me, if there is any
Bixiou. "This time, La Billardiere is really dead."
Dutocq [in Bixiou's ear]. "Come outside a minute." [The two go into
the corridor and gaze at each other like birds of ill-omen.]
Dutocq [whispering]. "Listen. Now is the time for us to understand
each other and push our way. What would you say to your being made
head of the bureau, and I under you?"
Bixiou [shrugging his shoulders]. "Come, come, don't talk nonsense!"
Dutocq. "If Baudoyer gets La Billardiere's place Rabourdin won't stay
on where he is. Between ourselves, Baudoyer is so incapable that if du
Bruel and you don't help him he will certainly be dismissed in a
couple of months. If I know arithmetic that will give three empty
places for us to fill--"
Bixiou. "Three places right under our noses, which will certainly be
given to some bloated favorite, some spy, some pious fraud,--to
Colleville perhaps, whose wife has ended where all pretty women end
Dutocq. "No, to /you/, my dear fellow, if you will only, for once in
your life, use your wits logically." [He stopped as if to study the
effect of his adverb in Bixiou's face.] "Come, let us play fair."
Bixiou [stolidly]. "Let me see your game."
Dutocq. "I don't wish to be anything more than under-head-clerk. I
know myself perfectly well, and I know I haven't the ability, like
you, to be head of a bureau. Du Bruel can be director, and you the
head of this bureau; he will leave you his place as soon as he has
made his pile; and as for me, I shall swim with the tide comfortably,
under your protection, till I can retire on a pension."
Bixiou. "Sly dog! but how to you expect to carry out a plan which
means forcing the minister's hand and ejecting a man of talent?
Between ourselves, Rabourdin is the only man capable of taking charge
of the division, and I might say of the ministry. Do you know that
they talk of putting in over his head that solid lump of foolishness,
that cube of idiocy, Baudoyer?"
Dutocq [consequentially]. "My dear fellow, I am in a position to rouse
the whole division against Rabourdin. You know how devoted Fleury is
to him? Well, I can make Fleury despise him."
Bixiou. "Despised by Fleury!"
Dutocq. "Not a soul will stand by Rabourdin; the clerks will go in a
body and complain of him to the minister,--not only in our division,
but in all the divisions--"
Bixiou. "Forward, march! infantry, cavalry, artillery, and marines of
the guard! You rave, my good fellow! And I, what part am I to take in
Dutocq. "You are to make a cutting caricature,--sharp enough to kill a
Bixiou. "How much will you pay for it?"
Dutocq. "A hundred francs."
Bixiou [to himself]. "Then there is something in it."
Dutocq [continuing]. "You must represent Rabourdin dressed as a
butcher (make it a good likeness), find analogies between a kitchen
and a bureau, put a skewer in his hand, draw portraits of the
principal clerks and stick their heads on fowls, put them in a
monstrous coop labelled 'Civil Service executions'; make him cutting
the throat of one, and supposed to take the others in turn. You can
have geese and ducks with heads like ours,--you understand! Baudoyer,
for instance, he'll make an excellent turkey-buzzard."
Bixiou. "Ris d'aboyeur d'oie!" [He has watched Dutocq carefully for
some time.] "Did you think of that yourself?"
Dutocq. "Yes, I myself."
Bixiou [to himself]. "Do evil feelings bring men to the same result as
talents?" [Aloud] "Well, I'll do it" [Dutocq makes a motion of
delight] "--when" [full stop] "--I know where I am and what I can rely
on. If you don't succeed I shall lose my place, and I must make a
living. You are a curious kind of innocent still, my dear colleague."
Dutocq. "Well, you needn't make the lithograph till success is
Bixiou. "Why don't you come out and tell me the whole truth?"
Dutocq. "I must first see how the land lays in the bureau; we will
talk about it later" [goes off].
Bixiou [alone in the corridor]. "That fish, for he's more a fish than
a bird, that Dutocq has a good idea in his head--I'm sure I don't know
where he stole it. If Baudoyer should succeed La Billardiere it would
be fun, more than fun--profit!" [Returns to the office.] "Gentlemen, I
announce glorious changes; papa La Billardiere is dead, really dead,
--no nonsense, word of honor! Godard is off on business for our
excellent chief Baudoyer, successor presumptive to the deceased."
[Minard, Desroys, and Colleville raise their heads in amazement; they
all lay down their pens, and Colleville blows his nose.] "Every one of
us is to be promoted! Colleville will be under-head-clerk at the very
least. Minard may have my place as chief clerk--why not? he is quite
as dull as I am. Hey, Minard, if you should get twenty-five hundred
francs a-year your little wife would be uncommonly pleased, and you
could buy yourself a pair of boots now and then."
Colleville. "But you don't get twenty-five hundred francs."
Bixiou. "Monsieur Dutocq gets that in Rabourdin's office; why
shouldn't I get it this year? Monsieur Baudoyer gets it."
Colleville. "Only through the influence of Monsieur Saillard. No other
chief clerk gets that in any of the divisions."
Paulmier. "Bah! Hasn't Monsieur Cochin three thousand? He succeeded
Monsieur Vavasseur, who served ten years under the Empire at four
thousand. His salary was dropped to three when the King first
returned; then to two thousand five hundred before Vavasseur died. But
Monsieur Cochin, who succeeded him, had influence enough to get the
salary put back to three thousand."
Colleville. "Monsieur Cochin signs E. A. L. Cochin (he is named
Emile-Adolphe-Lucian), which, when anagrammed, gives Cochineal. Now
observe, he's a partner in a druggist's business in the rue des
Lombards, the Maison Matifat, which made its fortune by that identical
Baudoyer [entering]. "Monsieur Chazelle, I see, is not here; you will
be good enough to say I asked for him, gentlemen."
Bixiou [who had hastily stuck a hat on Chazelle's chair when he heard
Baudoyer's step]. "Excuse me, Monsieur, but Chazelle has gone to the
Rabourdins' to make an inquiry."
Chazelle [entering with his hat on his head, and not seeing Baudoyer].
"La Billardiere is done for, gentlemen! Rabourdin is head of the
division and Master of petitions; he hasn't stolen /his/ promotion,
that's very certain."
Baudoyer [to Chazelle]. "You found that appointment in your second
hat, I presume" [points to the hat on the chair]. "This is the third
time within a month that you have come after nine o'clock. If you
continue the practice you will get on--elsewhere." [To Bixiou, who is
reading the newspaper.] "My dear Monsieur Bixiou, do pray leave the
newspapers to these gentlemen who are going to breakfast, and come
into my office for your orders for the day. I don't know what Monsieur
Rabourdin wants with Gabriel; he keeps him to do his private errands,
I believe. I've rung three times and can't get him." [Baudoyer and
Bixiou retire into the private office.]
Chazelle. "Damned unlucky!"
Paulmier [delighted to annoy Chazelle]. "Why didn't you look about
when you came into the room? You might have seen the elephant, and the
hat too; they are big enough to be visible."
Chazelle [dismally]. "Disgusting business! I don't see why we should
be treated like slaves because the government gives us four francs and
sixty-five centimes a day."
Fleury [entering]. "Down with Baudoyer! hurrah for Rabourdin!--that's
the cry in the division."
Chazelle [getting more and more angry]. "Baudoyer can turn off me if
he likes, I sha'n't care. In Paris there are a thousand ways of
earning five francs a day; why, I could earn that at the Palais de
Justice, copying briefs for the lawyers."
Paulmier [still prodding him]. "It is very easy to say that; but a
government place is a government place, and that plucky Colleville,
who works like a galley-slave outside of this office, and who could
earn, if he lost his appointment, more than his salary, prefers to
keep his place. Who the devil is fool enough to give up his
Chazelle [continuing his philippic]. "You may not be, but I am! We
have no chances at all. Time was when nothing was more encouraging
than a civil-service career. So many men were in the army that there
were not enough for the government work; the maimed and the halt and
the sick ones, like Paulmier, and the near-sighted ones, all had their
chance of a rapid promotion. But now, ever since the Chamber invented
what they called special training, and the rules and regulations for
civil-service examiners, we are worse off than common soldiers. The
poorest places are at the mercy of a thousand mischances because we
are now ruled by a thousand sovereigns."
Bixiou [returning]. "Are you crazy, Chazelle? Where do you find a
thousand sovereigns?--not in your pocket, are they?"
Chazelle. "Count them up. There are four hundred over there at the end
of the pont de la Concorde (so called because it leads to the scene of
perpetual discord between the Right and Left of the Chamber); three
hundred more at the end of the rue de Tournon. The court, which ought
to count for the other three hundred, has seven hundred parts less
power to get a man appointed to a place under government than the
Emperor Napoleon had."
Fleury. "All of which signifies that in a country where there are
three powers you may bet a thousand to one that a government clerk who
has no influence but his own merits to advance him will remain in
Bixiou [looking alternately at Chazelle and Fleury]. "My sons, you
have yet to learn that in these days the worst state of life is the
state of belonging to the State."
Fleury. "Because it has a constitutional government."
Colleville. "Gentlemen, gentlemen! no politics!"
Bixiou. "Fleury is right. Serving the State in these days is no longer
serving a prince who knew how to punish and reward. The State now is
/everybody/. Everybody of course cares for nobody. Serve everybody, and
you serve nobody. Nobody is interested in nobody; the government clerk
lives between two negations. The world has neither pity nor respect,
neither heart nor head; everybody forgets to-morrow the service of
yesterday. Now each one of you may be, like Monsieur Baudoyer, an
administrative genius, a Chateaubriand of reports, a Bossouet of
circulars, the Canalis of memorials, the gifted son of diplomatic
despatches; but I tell you there is a fatal law which interferes with
all administrative genius,--I mean the law of promotion by average.
This average is based on the statistics of promotion and the
statistics of mortality combined. It is very certain that on entering
whichever section of the Civil Service you please at the age of
eighteen, you can't get eighteen hundred francs a year till you reach
the age of thirty. Now there's no free and independent career in
which, in the course of twelve years, a young man who has gone through
the grammar-school, been vaccinated, is exempt from military service,
and possesses all his faculties (I don't mean transcendent ones) can't
amass a capital of forty-five thousand francs in centimes, which
represents a permanent income equal to our salaries, which are, after
all, precarious. In twelve years a grocer can earn enough to give him
ten thousand francs a year; a painter can daub a mile of canvas and be
decorated with the Legion of honor, or pose as a neglected genius. A
literary man becomes professor of something or other, or a journalist
at a hundred francs for a thousand lines; he writes 'feuilletons,' or
he gets into Saint-Pelagie for a brilliant article that offends the
Jesuits,--which of course is an immense benefit to him and makes him a
politician at once. Even a lazy man, who does nothing but make debts,
has time to marry a widow who pays them; a priest finds time to become
a bishop 'in partibus.' A sober, intelligent young fellow, who begins
with a small capital as a money-changer, soon buys a share in a
broker's business; and, to go even lower, a petty clerk becomes a
notary, a rag-picker lays by two or three thousand francs a year, and
the poorest workmen often become manufacturers; whereas, in the
rotatory movement of this present civilization, which mistakes
perpetual division and redivision for progress, an unhappy civil
service clerk, like Chazelle for instance, is forced to dine for
twenty-two sous a meal, struggles with his tailor and bootmaker, gets
into debt, and is an absolute nothing; worse than that, he becomes an
idiot! Come, gentlemen, now's the time to make a stand! Let us all
give in our resignations! Fleury, Chazelle, fling yourselves into
other employments and become the great men you really are."
Chazelle [calmed down by Bixiou's allocution]. "No, I thank you"
Bixiou. "You are wrong; in your situation I should try to get ahead of
Chazelle [uneasily]. "What has he to do with me?"
Bixiou. "You'll find out; do you suppose Baudoyer will overlook what
happened just now?"
Fleury. "Another piece of Bixiou's spite! You've a queer fellow to
deal with in there. Now, Monsieur Rabourdin,--there's a man for you!
He put work on my table to-day that you couldn't get through within
this office in three days; well, he expects me to have it done by four
o'clock to-day. But he is not always at my heels to hinder me from
talking to my friends."
Baudoyer [appearing at the door]. "Gentlemen, you will admit that if
you have the legal right to find fault with the chamber and the
administration you must at least do so elsewhere than in this office."
[To Fleury.] "What are you doing here, monsieur?"
Fleury [insolently]. "I came to tell these gentlemen that there was to
be a general turn-out. Du Bruel is sent for to the ministry, and
Dutocq also. Everybody is asking who will be appointed."
Baudoyer [retiring]. "It is not your affair, sir; go back to your own
office, and do not disturb mine."
Fleury [in the doorway]. "It would be a shameful injustice if
Rabourdin lost the place; I swear I'd leave the service. Did you find
that anagram, papa Colleville?"
Colleville. "Yes, here it is."
Fleury [leaning over Colleville's desk]. "Capital! famous! This is
just what will happen if the administration continues to play the
hypocrite." [He makes a sign to the clerks that Baudoyer is
listening.] "If the government would frankly state its intentions
without concealments of any kind, the liberals would know what they
had to deal with. An administration which sets its best friends
against itself, such men as those of the 'Debats,' Chateaubriand, and
Royer-Collard, is only to be pitied!"
Colleville [after consulting his colleagues]. "Come, Fleury, you're a
good fellow, but don't talk politics here; you don't know what harm
you may do us."
Fleury [dryly]. "Well, adieu, gentlemen; I have my work to do by four
While this idle talk had been going on, des Lupeaulx was closeted in
his office with du Bruel, where, a little later, Dutocq joined them.
Des Lupeaulx had heard from his valet of La Billardiere's death, and
wishing to please the two ministers, he wanted an obituary article to
appear in the evening papers.
"Good morning, my dear du Bruel," said the semi-minister to the
head-clerk as he entered, and not inviting him to sit down. "You have
heard the news? La Billardiere is dead. The ministers were both present
when he received the last sacraments. The worthy man strongly recommended
Rabourdin, saying he should die with less regret if he could know that
his successor were the man who had so constantly done his work. Death
is a torture which makes a man confess everything. The minister agreed
the more readily because his intention and that of the Council was to
reward Monsieur Rabourdin's numerous services. In fact, the Council of
State needs his experience. They say that young La Billardiere is to
leave the division of his father and go to the Commission of Seals;
that's just the same as if the King had made him a present of a
hundred thousand francs,--the place can always be sold. But I know the
news will delight your division, which will thus get rid of him. Du
Bruel, we must get ten or a dozen lines about the worthy late director
into the papers; his Excellency will glance them over,--he reads the
papers. Do you know the particulars of old La Billardiere's life?"
Du Bruel made a sign in the negative.
"No?" continued des Lupeaulx. "Well then; he was mixed up in the
affairs of La Vendee, and he was one of the confidants of the late
King. Like Monsieur le Comte de Fontaine he always refused to hold
communication with the First Consul. He was a bit of a 'chouan'; born
in Brittany of a parliamentary family, and ennobled by Louis XVIII.
How old was he? never mind about that; just say his loyalty was
untarnished, his religion enlightened,--the poor old fellow hated
churches and never set foot in one, but you had better make him out a
'pious vassal.' Bring in, gracefully, that he sang the song of Simeon
at the accession of Charles X. The Comte d'Artois thought very highly
of La Billardiere, for he co-operated in the unfortunate affair of
Quiberon and took the whole responsibility on himself. You know about
that, don't you? La Billardiere defended the King in a printed
pamphlet in reply to an impudent history of the Revolution written by
a journalist; you can allude to his loyalty and devotion. But be very
careful what you say; weigh your words, so that the other newspapers
can't laugh at us; and bring me the article when you've written it.
Were you at Rabourdin's yesterday?"
"Yes, monseigneur," said du Bruel, "Ah! beg pardon."
"No harm done," answered des Lupeaulx, laughing.
"Madame Rabourdin looked delightfully handsome," added du Bruel.
"There are not two women like her in Paris. Some are as clever as she,
but there's not one so gracefully witty. Many women may even be
handsomer, but it would be hard to find one with such variety of
beauty. Madame Rabourdin is far superior to Madame Colleville," said
the vaudevillist, remembering des Lupeaulx's former affair. "Flavie
owes what she is to the men about her, whereas Madame Rabourdin is all
things in herself. It is wonderful too what she knows; you can't tell
secrets in Latin before /her/. If I had such a wife, I know I should
succeed in everything."
"You have more mind than an author ought to have," returned des
Lupeaulx, with a conceited air. Then he turned round and perceived
Dutocq. "Ah, good-morning, Dutocq," he said. "I sent for you to lend
me your Charlet--if you have the whole complete. Madame la comtesse
knows nothing of Charlet."
Du Bruel retired.
"Why do you come in without being summoned?" said des Lupeaulx,
harshly, when he and Dutocq were left alone. "Is the State in danger
that you must come here at ten o'clock in the morning, just as I am
going to breakfast with his Excellency?"
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