Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 5
"Perhaps it is, monsieur," said Dutocq, dryly. "If I had had the honor
to see you earlier, you would probably have not been so willing to
support Monsieur Rabourdin, after reading his opinion of you."
Dutocq opened his coat, took a paper from the left-hand breast-pocket
and laid it on des Lupeaulx's desk, pointing to a marked passage. Then
he went to the door and slipped the bolt, fearing interruption. While
he was thus employed, the secretary-general read the opening sentence
of the article, which was as follows:
"Monsieur des Lupeaulx. A government degrades itself by openly
employing such a man, whose real vocation is for police diplomacy.
He is fitted to deal with the political filibusters of other
cabinets, and it would be a pity therefore to employ him on our
internal detective police. He is above a common spy, for he is
able to understand a plan; he could skilfully carry through a dark
piece of work and cover his retreat safely."
Des Lupeaulx was succinctly analyzed in five or six such paragraphs,
--the essence, in fact, of the biographical portrait which we gave at
the beginning of this history. As he read the words the secretary felt
that a man stronger than himself sat in judgment on him; and he at
once resolved to examine the memorandum, which evidently reached far
and high, without allowing Dutocq to know his secret thoughts. He
therefore showed a calm, grave face when the spy returned to him. Des
Lupeaulx, like lawyers, magistrates, diplomatists, and all whose work
obliges them to pry into the human heart, was past being surprised at
anything. Hardened in treachery and in all the tricks and wiles of
hatred, he could take a stab in the back and not let his face tell of
"How did you get hold of this paper?"
Dutocq related his good luck; des Lupeaulx's face as he listened
expressed no approbation; and the spy ended in terror an account which
"Dutocq, you have put your finger between the bark and the tree," said
the secretary, coldly. "If you don't want to make powerful enemies I
advise you to keep this paper a profound secret; it is a work of the
utmost importance and already well known to me."
So saying, des Lupeaulx dismissed Dutocq by one of those glances that
are more expressive than words.
"Ha! that scoundrel of a Rabourdin has put his finger in this!"
thought Dutocq, alarmed on finding himself anticipated; "he has
reached the ear of the administration, while I am left out in the
cold. I shouldn't have thought it!"
To all his other motives of aversion to Rabourdin he now added the
jealousy of one man to another man of the same calling,--a most
powerful ingredient in hatred.
When des Lupeaulx was left alone, he dropped into a strange
meditation. What power was it of which Rabourdin was the instrument?
Should he, des Lupeaulx, use this singular document to destroy him, or
should he keep it as a weapon to succeed with the wife? The mystery
that lay behind this paper was all darkness to des Lupeaulx, who read
with something akin to terror page after page, in which the men of his
acquaintance were judged with unerring wisdom. He admired Rabourdin,
though stabbed to his vitals by what he said of him. The
breakfast-hour suddenly cut short his meditation.
"His Excellency is waiting for you to come down," announced the
The minister always breakfasted with his wife and children and des
Lupeaulx, without the presence of servants. The morning meal affords
the only moment of privacy which public men can snatch from the
current of overwhelming business. Yet in spite of the precautions they
take to keep this hour for private intimacies and affections, a good
many great and little people manage to infringe upon it. Business
itself will, as at this moment, thrust itself in the way of their
"I thought Rabourdin was a man above all ordinary petty manoeuvres,"
began the minister; "and yet here, not ten minutes after La
Billardiere's death, he sends me this note by La Briere,--it is like a
stage missive. Look," said his Excellency, giving des Lupeaulx a paper
which he was twirling in his fingers.
Too noble in mind to think for a moment of the shameful meaning La
Billardiere's death might lend to his letter, Rabourdin had not
withdrawn it from La Briere's hands after the news reached him. Des
Lupeaulx read as follows:--
"Monseigneur,--If twenty-three years of irreproachable services
may claim a favor, I entreat your Excellency to grant me an
audience this very day. My honor is involved in the matter of
which I desire to speak."
"Poor man!" said des Lupeaulx, in a tone of compassion which confirmed
the minister in his error. "We are alone; I advise you to see him now.
You have a meeting of the Council when the Chamber rises; moreover,
your Excellency has to reply to-day to the opposition; this is really
the only hour when you can receive him."
Des Lupeaulx rose, called the servant, said a few words, and returned
to his seat. "I have told them to bring him in at dessert," he said.
Like all other ministers under the Restoration, this particular
minister was a man without youth. The charter granted by Louis XVIII.
had the defect of tying the hands of the kings by compelling them
to deliver the destinies of the nation into the control of the
middle-aged men of the Chamber and the septuagenarians of the peerage;
it robbed them of the right to lay hands on a man of statesmanlike
talent wherever they could find him, no matter how young he was or how
poverty-stricken his condition might be. Napoleon alone was able to
employ young men as he chose, without being restrained by any
consideration. After the overthrow of that mighty will, vigor deserted
power. Now the period when effeminacy succeeds to vigor presents a
contrast that is far more dangerous in France than in other countries.
As a general thing, ministers who were old before they entered office
have proved second or third rate, while those who were taken young
have been an honor to European monarchies and to the republics whose
affairs they have directed. The world still rings with the struggle
between Pitt and Napoleon, two men who conducted the politics of their
respective countries at an age when Henri de Navarre, Richelieu,
Mazarin, Colbert, Louvois, the Prince of Orange, the Guises,
Machiavelli, in short, all the best known of our great men, coming
from the ranks or born to a throne, began to rule the State. The
Convention--that model of energy--was made up in a great measure of
young heads; no sovereign can ever forget that it was able to put
fourteen armies into the field against Europe. Its policy, fatal in
the eyes of those who cling to what is called absolute power, was
nevertheless dictated by strictly monarchical principles, and it
behaved itself like any of the great kings.
After ten or a dozen years of parliamentary struggle, having studied
the science of politics until he was worn down by it, this particular
minister had come to be enthroned by his party, who considered him in
the light of their business man. Happily for him he was now nearer
sixty than fifty years of age; had he retained even a vestige of
juvenile vigor he would quickly have quenched it. But, accustomed to
back and fill, retreat and return to the charge, he was able to endure
being struck at, turn and turn about, by his own party, by the
opposition, by the court, by the clergy, because to all such attacks
he opposed the inert force of a substance which was equally soft and
consistent; thus he reaped the benefits of what was really his
misfortune. Harassed by a thousand questions of government, his mind,
like that of an old lawyer who has tried every species of case, no
longer possessed the spring which solitary minds are able to retain,
nor that power of prompt decision which distinguishes men who are
early accustomed to action, and young soldiers. How could it be
otherwise? He had practised sophistries and quibbled instead of
judging; he had criticised effects and done nothing for causes; his
head was full of plans such as a political party lays upon the
shoulders of a leader,--matters of private interest brought to an
orator supposed to have a future, a jumble of schemes and impractical
requests. Far from coming fresh to his work, he was wearied out with
marching and counter-marching, and when he finally reached the much
desired height of his present position, he found himself in a thicket
of thorny bushes with a thousand conflicting wills to conciliate. If
the statesmen of the Restoration had been allowed to follow out their
own ideas, their capacity would doubtless have been criticised; but
though their wills were often forced, their age saved them from
attempting the resistance which youth opposes to intrigues, both high
and low,--intrigues which vanquished Richelieu, and to which, in a
lower sphere, Rabourdin was to succumb.
After the rough and tumble of their first struggles in political life
these men, less old than aged, have to endure the additional wear and
tear of a ministry. Thus it is that their eyes begin to weaken just as
they need to have the clear-sightedness of eagles; their mind is weary
when its youth and fire need to be redoubled. The minister in whom
Rabourdin sought to confide was in the habit of listening to men of
undoubted superiority as they explained ingenious theories of
government, applicable or inapplicable to the affairs of France. Such
men, by whom the difficulties of national policy were never
apprehended, were in the habit of attacking this minister personally
whenever a parliamentary battle or a contest with the secret follies
of the court took place,--on the eve of a struggle with the popular
mind, or on the morrow of a diplomatic discussion which divided the
Council into three separate parties. Caught in such a predicament, a
statesman naturally keeps a yawn ready for the first sentence designed
to show him how the public service could be better managed. At such
periods not a dinner took place among bold schemers or financial and
political lobbyists where the opinions of the Bourse and the Bank, the
secrets of diplomacy, and the policy necessitated by the state of
affairs in Europe were not canvassed and discussed. The minister has
his own private councillors in des Lupeaulx and his secretary, who
collected and pondered all opinions and discussions for the purpose of
analyzing and controlling the various interests proclaimed and
supported by so many clever men. In fact, his misfortune was that of
most other ministers who have passed the prime of life; he trimmed and
shuffled under all his difficulties,--with journalism, which at this
period it was thought advisable to repress in an underhand way rather
than fight openly; with financial as well as labor questions; with the
clergy as well as with that other question of the public lands; with
liberalism as with the Chamber. After manoeuvering his way to power in
the course of seven years, the minister believed that he could manage
all questions of administration in the same way. It is so natural to
think we can maintain a position by the same methods which served us
to reach it that no one ventured to blame a system invented by
mediocrity to please minds of its own calibre. The Restoration, like
the Polish revolution, proved to nations as to princes the true value
of a Man, and what will happen if that necessary man is wanting. The
last and the greatest weakness of the public men of the Restoration
was their honesty, in a struggle in which their adversaries employed
the resources of political dishonesty, lies, and calumnies, and let
loose upon them, by all subversive means, the clamor of the
unintelligent masses, able only to understand revolt.
Rabourdin told himself all these things. But he had made up his mind
to win or lose, like a man weary of gambling who allows himself a last
stake; ill-luck had given him as adversary in the game a sharper like
des Lupeaulx. With all his sagacity, Rabourdin was better versed in
matters of administration than in parliamentary optics, and he was far
indeed from imagining how his confidence would be received; he little
thought that the great work that filled his mind would seem to the
minister nothing more than a theory, and that a man who held the
position of a statesman would confound his reform with the schemes of
political and self-interested talkers.
As the minister rose from table, thinking of Francois Keller, his wife
detained him with the offer of a bunch of grapes, and at that moment
Rabourdin was announced. Des Lupeaulx had counted on the minister's
preoccupation and his desire to get away; seeing him for the moment
occupied with his wife, the general-secretary went forward to meet
Rabourdin; whom he petrified with his first words, said in a low tone
"His Excellency and I know what the subject is that occupies your
mind; you have nothing to fear"; then, raising his voice, he added,
"neither from Dutocq nor from any one else."
"Don't feel uneasy, Rabourdin," said his Excellency, kindly, but
making a movement to get away.
Rabourdin came forward respectfully, and the minister could not evade
"Will your Excellency permit me to see you for a moment in private?"
he said, with a mysterious glance.
The minister looked at the clock and went towards the window, whither
the poor man followed him.
"When may I have the honor of submitting the matter of which I spoke
to your Excellency? I desire to fully explain the plan of
administration to which the paper that was taken belongs--"
"Plan of administration!" exclaimed the minister, frowning, and
hurriedly interrupting him. "If you have anything of that kind to
communicate you must wait for the regular day when we do business
together. I ought to be at the Council now; and I have an answer to
make to the Chamber on that point which the opposition raised before
the session ended yesterday. Your day is Wednesday next; I could not
work yesterday, for I had other things to attend to; political matters
are apt to interfere with purely administrative ones."
"I place my honor with all confidence in your Excellency's hands,"
said Rabourdin gravely, "and I entreat you to remember that you have
not allowed me time to give you an immediate explanation of the stolen
"Don't be uneasy," said des Lupeaulx, interposing between the minister
and Rabourdin, whom he thus interrupted; "in another week you will
probably be appointed--"
The minister smiled as he thought of des Lupeaulx's enthusiasm for
Madame Rabourdin, and he glanced knowingly at his wife. Rabourdin saw
the look, and tried to imagine its meaning; his attention was diverted
for a moment, and his Excellency took advantage of the fact to make
"We will talk of all this, you and I," said des Lupeaulx, with whom
Rabourdin, much to his surprise, now found himself alone. "Don't be
angry with Dutocq; I'll answer for his discretion."
"Madame Rabourdin is charming," said the minister's wife, wishing to
say the civil thing to the head of a bureau.
The children all gazed at Rabourdin with curiosity. The poor man had
come there expecting some serious, even solemn, result, and he was
like a great fish caught in the threads of a flimsy net; he struggled
"Madame la comtesse is very good," he said.
"Shall I not have the pleasure of seeing Madame here some Wednesday?"
said the countess. "Pray bring her; it will give me pleasure."
"Madame Rabourdin herself receives on Wednesdays," interrupted des
Lupeaulx, who knew the empty civility of an invitation to the official
Wednesdays; "but since you are so kind as to wish for her, you will
soon give one of your private parties, and--"
The countess rose with some irritation.
"You are the master of my ceremonies," she said to des Lupeaulx,
--ambiguous words, by which she expressed the annoyance she felt with
the secretary for presuming to interfere with her private parties, to
which she admitted only a select few. She left the room without bowing
to Rabourdin, who remained alone with des Lupeaulx; the latter was
twisting in his fingers the confidential letter to the minister which
Rabourdin had intrusted to La Briere. Rabourdin recognized it.
"You have never really known me," said des Lupeaulx. "Friday evening
we will come to a full understanding. Just now I must go and receive
callers; his Excellency saddles me with that burden when he has other
matters to attend to. But I repeat, Rabourdin, don't worry yourself;
you have nothing to fear."
Rabourdin walked slowly through the corridors, amazed and confounded
by this singular turn of events. He had expected Dutocq to denounce
him, and found he had not been mistaken; des Lupeaulx had certainly
seen the document which judged him so severely, and yet des Lupeaulx
was fawning on his judge! It was all incomprehensible. Men of upright
minds are often at a loss to understand complicated intrigues, and
Rabourdin was lost in a maze of conjecture without being able to
discover the object of the game which the secretary was playing.
"Either he has not read the part about himself, or he loves my wife."
Such were the two thoughts to which his mind arrived as he crossed the
courtyard; for the glance he had intercepted the night before between
des Lupeaulx and Celestine came back to his memory like a flash of
THE WORMS AT WORK
Rabourdin's bureau was during his absence a prey to the keenest
excitement; for the relation between the head officials and the clerks
in a government office is so regulated that, when a minister's
messenger summons the head of a bureau to his Excellency's presence
(above all at the latter's breakfast hour), there is no end to the
comments that are made. The fact that the present unusual summons
followed so closely on the death of Monsieur de la Billardiere seemed
to give special importance to the circumstance, which was made known
to Monsieur Saillard, who came at once to confer with Baudoyer.
Bixiou, who happened at the moment to be at work with the latter, left
him to converse with his father-in-law and betook himself to the
bureau Rabourdin, where the usual routine was of course interrupted.
Bixiou [entering]. "I thought I should find you at a white heat! Don't
you know what's going on down below? The virtuous woman is done for!
yes, done for, crushed! Terrible scene at the ministry!"
Dutocq [looking fixedly at him]. "Are you telling the truth?"
Bixiou. "Pray, who would regret it? Not you, certainly, for you will
be made under-head-clerk and du Bruel head of the bureau. Monsieur
Baudoyer gets the division."
Fleury. "I'll bet a hundred francs that Baudoyer will never be head of
Vimeux. "I'll join in the bet; will you, Monsieur Poiret?"
Poiret. "I retire in January."
Bixiou. "Is it possible? are we to lose the sight of those shoe-ties?
What will the ministry be without you? Will nobody take up the bet on
Dutocq. "I can't, for I know the facts. Monsieur Rabourdin is
appointed. Monsieur de la Billardiere requested it of the two
ministers on his death-bed, blaming himself for having taken the
emoluments of an office of which Rabourdin did all the work; he felt
remorse of conscience, and the ministers, to quiet him, promised to
appoint Rabourdin unless higher powers intervened."
Bixiou. "Gentlemen, are you all against me? seven to one,--for I know
which side you'll take, Monsieur Phellion. Well, I'll bet a dinner
costing five hundred francs at the Rocher de Cancale that Rabourdin
does not get La Billardiere's place. That will cost you only a hundred
francs each, and I'm risking five hundred,--five to one against me! Do
you take it up?" [Shouting into the next room.] "Du Bruel, what say
Phellion [laying down his pen]. "Monsieur, may I ask on what you base
that contingent proposal?--for contingent it is. But stay, I am wrong
to call it a proposal; I should say contract. A wager constitutes a
Fleury. "No, no; you can only apply the word 'contract' to agreements
that are recognized in the Code. Now the Code allows of no action for
the recovery of a bet."
Dutocq. "Proscribe a thing and you recognize it."
Bixiou. "Good! my little man."
Poiret. "Dear me!"
Fleury. "True! when one refuses to pay one's debts, that's recognizing
Thuillier. "You would make famous lawyers."
Poiret. "I am as curious as Monsieur Phellion to know what grounds
Monsieur Bixiou has for--"
Bixiou [shouting across the office]. "Du Bruel! Will you bet?"
Du Bruel [appearing at the door]. "Heavens and earth, gentlemen, I'm
very busy; I have something very difficult to do; I've got to write an
obituary notice of Monsieur de la Billardiere. I do beg you to be
quiet; you can laugh and bet afterwards."
Bixiou. "That's true, du Bruel; the praise of an honest man is a very
difficult thing to write. I'd rather any day draw a caricature of
Du Bruel. "Do come and help me, Bixiou."
Bixiou [following him]. "I'm willing; though I can do such things much
better when eating."
Du Bruel. "Well, we will go and dine together afterwards. But listen,
this is what I have written" [reads] "'The Church and the Monarchy are
daily losing many of those who fought for them in Revolutionary
Bixiou. "Bad, very bad; why don't you say, 'Death carries on its
ravages amongst the few surviving defenders of the monarchy and the
old and faithful servants of the King, whose heart bleeds under these
reiterated blows?'" [Du Bruel writes rapidly.] "'Monsieur le Baron
Flamet de la Billardiere died this morning of dropsy, caused by heart
disease.' You see, it is just as well to show there are hearts in
government offices; and you ought to slip in a little flummery about
the emotions of the Royalists during the Terror,--might be useful,
hey! But stay,--no! the petty papers would be sure to say the emotions
came more from the stomach than the heart. Better leave that out. What
are you writing now?"
Du Bruel [reading]. "'Issuing from an old parliamentary stock in which
devotion to the throne was hereditary, as was also attachment to the
faith of our fathers, Monsieur de la Billardiere--'"
Bixiou. "Better say Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere."
Du Bruel. "But he wasn't baron in 1793."
Bixiou. "No matter. Don't you remember that under the Empire Fouche
was telling an anecdote about the Convention, in which he had to quote
Robespierre, and he said, 'Robespierre called out to me, "Duc
d'Otrante, go to the Hotel de Ville."' There's a precedent for you!"
Du Bruel. "Let me just write that down; I can use it in a vaudeville.
--But to go back to what we were saying. I don't want to put 'Monsieur
le baron,' because I am reserving his honors till the last, when they
rained upon him."
Bixiou. "Oh! very good; that's theatrical,--the finale of the
Du Bruel [continuing]. "'In appointing Monsieur de la Billardiere
Bixiou. "Very ordinary!"
Du Bruel. "'--of the Bedchamber, the King rewarded not only the
services rendered by the Provost, who knew how to harmonize the
severity of his functions with the customary urbanity of the Bourbons,
but the bravery of the Vendean hero, who never bent the knee to the
imperial idol. He leaves a son, who inherits his loyalty and his
Bixiou. "Don't you think all that is a little too florid? I should
tone down the poetry. 'Imperial idol!' 'bent the knee!' damn it, my
dear fellow, writing vaudevilles has ruined your style; you can't come
down to pedestrial prose. I should say, 'He belonged to the small
number of those who.' Simplify, simplify! the man himself was a
Du Bruel. "That's vaudeville, if you like! You would make your fortune
at the theatre, Bixiou."
Bixiou. "What have you said about Quiberon?" [Reads over du Bruel's
shoulder.] "Oh, that won't do! Here, this is what you must say: 'He
took upon himself, in a book recently published, the responsibility
for all the blunders of the expedition to Quiberon,--thus proving the
nature of his loyalty, which did not shrink from any sacrifice.'
That's clever and witty, and exalts La Billardiere."
Du Bruel. "At whose expense?"
Bixiou [solemn as a priest in a pulpit]. "Why, Hoche and Tallien, of
course; don't you read history?"
Du Bruel. "No. I subscribed to the Baudouin series, but I've never had
time to open a volume; one can't find matter for vaudevilles there."
Phellion [at the door]. "We all want to know, Monsieur Bixiou, what
made you think that the worthy and honorable Monsieur Rabourdin, who
has so long done the work of this division for Monsieur de la
Billardiere,--he, who is the senior head of all the bureaus, and whom,
moreover, the minister summoned as soon as he heard of the departure
of the late Monsieur de la Billardiere,--will not be appointed head of
Bixiou. "Papa Phellion, you know geography?"
Phellion [bridling up]. "I should say so!"
Bixiou. "And history?"
Phellion [affecting modesty]. "Possibly."
Bixiou [looking fixedly at him]. "Your diamond pin is loose, it is
coming out. Well, you may know all that, but you don't know the human
heart; you have gone no further in the geography and history of that
organ than you have in the environs of the city of Paris."
Poiret [to Vimeux]. "Environs of Paris? I thought they were talking of
Bixiou. "About that bet? Does the entire bureau Rabourdin bet against
Bixiou. "Du Bruel, do you count in?"
Du Bruel. "Of course I do. We want Rabourdin to go up a step and make
room for others."
Bixiou. "Well, I accept the bet,--for this reason; you can hardly
understand it, but I'll tell it to you all the same. It would be right
and just to appoint Monsieur Rabourdin" [looking full at Dutocq],
"because, in that case, long and faithful service, honor, and talent
would be recognized, appreciated, and properly rewarded. Such an
appointment is in the best interests of the administration."
[Phellion, Poiret, and Thuillier listen stupidly, with the look of
those who try to peer before them in the darkness.] "Well, it is just
because the promotion would be so fitting, and because the man has
such merit, and because the measure is so eminently wise and equitable
that I bet Rabourdin will not be appointed. Yes, you'll see, that
appointment will slip up, just like the invasion from Boulogne, and
the march to Russia, for the success of which a great genius has
gathered together all the chances. It will fail as all good and just
things do fail in this low world. I am only backing the devil's game."
Du Bruel. "Who do you think will be appointed?"
Bixiou. "The more I think about Baudoyer, the more sure I feel that he
unites all the opposite qualities; therefore I think he will be the
next head of this division."
Dutocq. "But Monsieur des Lupeaulx, who sent for me to borrow my
Charlet, told me positively that Monsieur Rabourdin was appointed, and
that the little La Billardiere would be made Clerk of the Seals."
Bixiou. "Appointed, indeed! The appointment can't be made and signed
under ten days. It will certainly not be known before New-Year's day.
There he goes now across the courtyard; look at him, and say if the
virtuous Rabourdin looks like a man in the sunshine of favor. I should
say he knows he's dismissed." [Fleury rushes to the window.]
"Gentlemen, adieu; I'll go and tell Monsieur Baudoyer that I hear from
you that Rabourdin is appointed; it will make him furious, the pious
creature! Then I'll tell him of our wager, to cool him down,--a
process we call at the theatre turning the Wheel of Fortune, don't we,
du Bruel? Why do I care who gets the place? simply because if Baudoyer
does he will make me under-head-clerk" [goes out].
Poiret. "Everybody says that man is clever, but as for me, I can never
understand a word he says" [goes on copying]. "I listen and listen; I
hear words, but I never get at any meaning; he talks about the
environs of Paris when he discusses the human heart and" [lays down
his pen and goes to the stove] "declares he backs the devil's game
when it is a question of Russia and Boulogne; now what is there so
clever in that, I'd like to know? We must first admit that the devil
plays any game at all, and then find out what game; possibly dominoes"
[blows his nose].
Fleury [interrupting]. "Pere Poiret is blowing his nose; it must be
Du Bruel. "So it is! Goodness! I'm off to the secretary; he wants to
read the obituary."
Poiret. "What was I saying?"
Thuillier. "Dominoes,--perhaps the devil plays dominoes." [Sebastien
enters to gather up the different papers and circulars for signature.]
Vimeux. "Ah! there you are, my fine young man. Your days of hardship
are nearly over; you'll get a post. Monsieur Rabourdin will be
appointed. Weren't you at Madame Rabourdin's last night? Lucky fellow!
they say that really superb women go there."
Sebastien. "Do they? I didn't know."
Fleury. "Are you blind?"
Sebastien. "I don't like to look at what I ought not to see."
Phellion [delighted]. "Well said, young man!"
Vimeux. "The devil! well, you looked at Madame Rabourdin enough, any
how; a charming woman."
Fleury. "Pooh! thin as a rail. I saw her in the Tuileries, and I much
prefer Percilliee, the ballet-mistress, Castaing's victim."
Phellion. "What has an actress to do with the wife of a government
Dutocq. "They both play comedy."
Fleury [looking askance at Dutocq]. "The physical has nothing to do
with the moral, and if you mean--"
Dutocq. "I mean nothing."
Fleury. "Do you all want to know which of us will really be made head
of this bureau?"
All. "Yes, tell us."
Fleury. "Because Madame Colleville has taken the shortest way to it
--through the sacristy."
Thuillier. "I am too much Colleville's friend not to beg you, Monsieur
Fleury, to speak respectfully of his wife."
Phellion. "A defenceless woman should never be made the subject of
Vimeux. "All the more because the charming Madame Colleville won't
invite Fleury to her house. He backbites her in revenge."
Fleury. "She may not receive me on the same footing that she does
Thuillier, but I go there--"
Thuillier. "When? how?--under her windows?"
Though Fleury was dreaded as a bully in all the offices, he received
Thuillier's speech in silence. This meekness, which surprised the
other clerks, was owing to a certain note for two hundred francs, of
doubtful value, which Thuillier agreed to pass over to his sister.
After this skirmish dead silence prevailed. They all wrote steadily
from one to three o'clock. Du Bruel did not return.
About half-past three the usual preparations for departure, the
brushing of hats, the changing of coats, went on in all the
ministerial offices. That precious thirty minutes thus employed
served to shorten by just so much the day's labor. At this hour the
over-heated rooms cool off; the peculiar odor that hangs about the
bureaus evaporates; silence is restored. By four o'clock none but a few
clerks who do their duty conscientiously remain. A minister may know who
are the real workers under him if he will take the trouble to walk
through the divisions after four o'clock,--a species of prying, however,
that no one of his dignity would condescend to.
The various heads of divisions and bureaus usually encountered each
other in the courtyards at this hour and exchanged opinions on the
events of the day. On this occasion they departed by twos and threes,
most of them agreeing in favor of Rabourdin; while the old stagers,
like Monsieur Clergeot, shook their heads and said, "Habent sua sidera
lites." Saillard and Baudoyer were politely avoided, for nobody knew
what to say to them about La Billardiere's death, it being fully
understood that Baudoyer wanted the place, though it was certainly not
due to him.
When Saillard and his son-in-law had gone a certain distance from the
ministry the former broke silence and said: "Things look badly for
you, my poor Baudoyer."
"I can't understand," replied the other, "what Elisabeth was dreaming
of when she sent Godard in such a hurry to get a passport for Falleix;
Godard tells me she hired a post-chaise by the advice of my uncle
Mitral, and that Falleix has already started for his own part of the
"Some matter connected with our business," suggested Saillard.
"Our most pressing business just now is to look after Monsieur La
Billardiere's place," returned Baudoyer, crossly.
They were just then near the entrance of the Palais-Royal on the rue
Saint-Honore. Dutocq came up, bowing, and joined them.
"Monsieur," he said to Baudoyer, "if I can be useful to you in any way
under the circumstances in which you find yourself, pray command me,
for I am not less devoted to your interests than Monsieur Godard."
"Such an assurance is at least consoling," replied Baudoyer; "it makes
me aware that I have the confidence of honest men."
"If you would kindly employ your influence to get me placed in
your division, taking Bixiou as head of the bureau and me as
under-head-clerk, you will secure the future of two men who are
ready to do anything for your advancement."
"Are you making fun of us, monsieur?" asked Saillard, staring at him
"Far be it from me to do that," said Dutocq. "I have just come from
the printing-office of the ministerial journal (where I carried from
the general-secretary an obituary notice of Monsieur de la
Billardiere), and I there read an article which will appear to-night
about you, which has given me the highest opinion of your character
and talents. If it is necessary to crush Rabourdin, I'm in a position
to give him the final blow; please to remember that."
"May I be shot if I understand a single word of it," said Saillard,
looking at Baudoyer, whose little eyes were expressive of stupid
bewilderment. "I must buy the newspaper to-night."
When the two reached home and entered the salon on the ground-floor,
they found a large fire lighted, and Madame Saillard, Elisabeth,
Monsieur Gaudron and the curate of Saint-Paul's sitting by it. The
curate turned at once to Monsieur Baudoyer, to whom Elisabeth made a
sign which he failed to understand.
"Monsieur," said the curate, "I have lost no time in coming in person
to thank you for the magnificent gift with which you have adorned my
poor church. I dared not run in debt to buy that beautiful monstrance,
worthy of a cathedral. You, who are one of our most pious and faithful
parishioners, must have keenly felt the bareness of the high altar. I
am on my way to see Monseigneur the coadjutor, and he will, I am sure,
send you his own thanks later."
"I have done nothing as yet--" began Baudoyer.
"Monsieur le cure," interposed his wife, cutting him short. "I see I
am forced to betray the whole secret. Monsieur Baudoyer hopes to
complete the gift by sending you a dais for the coming Fete-Dieu. But
the purchase must depend on the state of our finances, and our
finances depend on my husband's promotion."
"God will reward those who honor him," said Monsieur Gaudron,
preparing, with the curate, to take leave.
"But will you not," said Saillard to the two ecclesiastics, "do us the
honor to take pot luck with us?"
"You can stay, my dear vicar," said the curate to Gaudron; "you know I
am engaged to dine with the curate of Saint-Roch, who, by the bye, is
to bury Monsieur de la Billardiere to-morrow."
"Monsieur le cure de Saint-Roch might say a word for us," began
Baudoyer. His wife pulled the skirt of his coat violently.
"Do hold your tongue, Baudoyer," she said, leading him aside and
whispering in his ear. "You have given a monstrance to the church,
that cost five thousand francs. I'll explain it all later."
The miserly Baudoyer make a sulky grimace, and continued gloomy and
cross for the rest of the day.
"What did you busy yourself about Falleix's passport for? Why do you
meddle in other people's affairs?" he presently asked her.
"I must say, I think Falleix's affairs are as much ours as his,"
returned Elisabeth, dryly, glancing at her husband to make him notice
Monsieur Gaudron, before whom he ought to be silent.
"Certainly, certainly," said old Saillard, thinking of his
"I hope you reached the newspaper office in time?" remarked Elisabeth
to Monsieur Gaudron, as she helped him to soup.
"Yes, my dear lady," answered the vicar; "when the editor read the
little article I gave him, written by the secretary of the Grand
Almoner, he made no difficulty. He took pains to insert it in a
conspicuous place. I should never have thought of that; but this young
journalist has a wide-awake mind. The defenders of religion can enter
the lists against impiety without disadvantage at the present moment,
for there is a great deal of talent in the royalist press. I have
every reason to believe that success will crown your hopes. But you
must remember, my dear Baudoyer, to promote Monsieur Colleville; he is
an object of great interest to his Eminence; in fact, I am desired to
mention him to you."
"If I am head of the division, I will make him head of one of my
bureaus, if you want me to," said Baudoyer.
The matter thus referred to was explained after dinner, when the
ministerial organ (bought and sent up by the porter) proved to contain
among its Paris news the following articles, called items:--
"Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere died this morning, after a
long and painful illness. The king loses a devoted servant, the
Church a most pious son. Monsieur de la Billardiere's end has
fitly crowned a noble life, consecrated in dark and troublesome
times to perilous missions, and of late years to arduous civic
duties. Monsieur de la Billardiere was provost of a department,
where his force of character triumphed over all the obstacles that
rebellion arrayed against him. He subsequently accepted the
difficult post of director of a division (in which his great
acquirements were not less useful than the truly French affability
of his manners) for the express purpose of conciliating the
serious interests that arise under its administration. No rewards
have ever been more truly deserved than those by which the King,
Louis XVIII., and his present Majesty took pleasure in crowning a
loyalty which never faltered under the usurper. This old family
still survives in the person of a single heir to the excellent man
whose death now afflicts so many warm friends. His Majesty has
already graciously made known that Monsieur Benjamin de la
Billardiere will be included among the gentlemen-in-ordinary of
"The numerous friends who have not already received their
notification of this sad event are hereby informed that the
funeral will take place to-morrow at four o'clock, in the church
of Saint-Roch. The memorial address will be delivered by Monsieur
"Monsieur Isidore-Charles-Thomas Baudoyer, representing one of the
oldest bourgeois families of Paris, and head of a bureau in the
late Monsieur de la Billardiere's division, has lately recalled
the old traditions of piety and devotion which formerly
distinguished these great families, so jealous for the honor and
glory of religion, and so faithful in preserving its monuments.
The church of Saint-Paul has long needed a monstrance in keeping
with the magnificence of that basilica, itself due to the Company
of Jesus. Neither the vestry nor the curate were rich enough to
decorate the altar. Monsieur Baudoyer has bestowed upon the parish
a monstrance that many persons have seen and admired at Monsieur
Gohier's, the king's jeweller. Thanks to the piety of this
gentleman, who did not shrink from the immensity of the price, the
church of Saint-Paul possesses to-day a masterpiece of the
jeweller's art designed by Monsieur de Sommervieux. It gives us
pleasure to make known this fact, which proves how powerless the
declamations of liberals have been on the mind of the Parisian
bourgeoisie. The upper ranks of that body have at all times been
royalist and they prove it when occasion offers."
"The price was five thousand francs," said the Abbe Gaudron; "but as
the payment was in cash, the court jeweller reduced the amount."
"Representing one of the oldest bourgeois families in Paris!" Saillard
was saying to himself; "there it is printed,--in the official paper,
"Dear Monsieur Gaudron," said Madame Baudoyer, "please help my father
to compose a little speech that he could slip into the countess's ear
when he takes her the monthly stipend,--a single sentence that would
cover all! I must leave you. I am obliged to go out with my uncle
Mitral. Would you believe it? I was unable to find my uncle Bidault at
home this afternoon. Oh, what a dog-kennel he lives in! But Monsieur
Mitral, who knows his ways, says he does all his business between
eight o'clock in the morning and midday, and that after that hour he
can be found only at a certain cafe called the Cafe Themis,--a
"Is justice done there?" said the abbe, laughing.
"Do you ask why he goes to a cafe at the corner of the rue Dauphine
and the quai des Augustins? They say he plays dominoes there every
night with his friend Monsieur Gobseck. I don't wish to go to such a
place alone; my uncle Mitral will take me there and bring me back."
At this instant Mitral showed his yellow face, surmounted by a wig
which looked as though it might be made of hay, and made a sign to his
niece to come at once, and not keep a carriage waiting at two francs
an hour. Madame Baudoyer rose and went away without giving any
explanation to her husband or father.
"Heaven has given you in that woman," said Monsieur Gaudron to
Baudoyer when Elisabeth had disappeared, "a perfect treasure of
prudence and virtue, a model of wisdom, a Christian who gives sure
signs of possessing the Divine spirit. Religion alone is able to form
such perfect characters. To-morrow I shall say a mass for the success
of your good cause. It is all-important, for the sake of the monarchy
and of religion itself that you should receive this appointment.
Monsieur Rabourdin is a liberal; he subscribes to the 'Journal des
Debats,' a dangerous newspaper, which made war on Monsieur le Comte de
Villele to please the wounded vanity of Monsieur de Chateaubriand. His
Eminence will read the newspaper to-night, if only to see what is said
of his poor friend Monsieur de la Billardiere; and Monseigneur the
coadjutor will speak of you to the King. When I think of what you have
now done for his dear church, I feel sure he will not forget you in
his prayers; more than that, he is dining at this moment with the
coadjutor at the house of the curate of Saint-Roch."
These words made Saillard and Baudoyer begin to perceive that
Elisabeth had not been idle ever since Godard had informed her of
Monsieur de la Billardiere's decease.
"Isn't she clever, that Elisabeth of mine?" cried Saillard,
comprehending more clearly than Monsieur l'abbe the rapid undermining,
like the path of a mole, which his daughter had undertaken.
"She sent Godard to Rabourdin's door to find out what newspaper he
takes," said Gaudron; "and I mentioned the name to the secretary of
his Eminence,--for we live at a crisis when the Church and Throne must
keep themselves informed as to who are their friends and who their
"For the last five days I have been trying to find the right thing to
say to his Excellency's wife," said Saillard.
"All Paris will read that," cried Baudoyer, whose eyes were still
riveted on the paper.
"Your eulogy costs us four thousand eight hundred francs, son-in-law!"
exclaimed Madame Saillard.
"You have adorned the house of God," said the Abbe Gaudron.
"We might have got salvation without doing that," she returned. "But
if Baudoyer gets the place, which is worth eight thousand more, the
sacrifice is not so great. If he doesn't get it! hey, papa," she
added, looking at her husband, "how we shall have bled!--"
"Well, never mind," said Saillard, enthusiastically, "we can always
make it up through Falleix, who is going to extend his business and
use his brother, whom he has made a stockbroker on purpose. Elisabeth
might have told us, I think, why Falleix went off in such a hurry. But
let's invent my little speech. This is what I thought of: 'Madame, if
you would say a word to his Excellency--'"
"'If you would deign,'" said Gaudron; "add the word 'deign,' it is
more respectful. But you ought to know, first of all, whether Madame
la Dauphine will grant you her protection, and then you could suggest
to Madame la comtesse the idea of co-operating with the wishes of her
"You ought to designate the vacant post," said Baudoyer.
"'Madame la comtesse,'" began Saillard, rising, and bowing to his
wife, with an agreeable smile.
"Goodness! Saillard; how ridiculous you look. Take care, my man,
you'll make the woman laugh."
"'Madame la comtesse,'" resumed Saillard. "Is that better, wife?"
"Yes, my duck."
"'The place of the worthy Monsieur de la Billardiere is vacant; my
son-in-law, Monsieur Baudoyer--'"
"'Man of talent and extreme piety,'" prompted Gaudron.
"Write it down, Baudoyer," cried old Saillard, "write that sentence
Baudoyer proceeded to take a pen and wrote, without a blush, his own
praises, precisely as Nathan or Canalis might have reviewed one of
their own books.
"'Madame la comtesse'-- Don't you see, mother?" said Saillard to his
wife; "I am supposing you to be the minister's wife."
"Do you take me for a fool?" she answered sharply. "I know that."
"'The place of the late worthy de la Billardiere is vacant; my
son-in-law, Monsieur Baudoyer, a man of consummate talent and extreme
piety--'" After looking at Monsieur Gaudron, who was reflecting, he
added, "'will be very glad if he gets it.' That's not bad; it's brief
and it says the whole thing."
"But do wait, Saillard; don't you see that Monsieur l'abbe is turning
it over in his mind?" said Madame Saillard; "don't disturb him."
"'Will be very thankful if you would deign to interest yourself in his
behalf,'" resumed Gaudron. "'And in saying a word to his Excellency
you will particularly please Madame la Dauphine, by whom he has the
honor and the happiness to be protected.'"
"Ah! Monsieur Gaudron, that sentence is worth more than the
monstrance; I don't regret the four thousand eight hundred-- Besides,
Baudoyer, my lad, you'll pay them, won't you? Have you written it all
"I shall make you repeat it, father, morning and evening," said Madame
Saillard. "Yes, that's a good speech. How lucky you are, Monsieur
Gaudron, to know so much. That's what it is to be brought up in a
seminary; they learn there how to speak to God and his saints."
"He is as good as he is learned," said Baudoyer, pressing the priest's
hand. "Did you write that article?" he added, pointing to the
"No, it was written by the secretary of his Eminence, a young abbe who
is under obligations to me, and who takes an interest in Monsieur
Colleville; he was educated at my expense."
"A good deed is always rewarded," said Baudoyer.
While these four personages were sitting down to their game of boston,
Elisabeth and her uncle Mitral reached the cafe Themis, with much
discourse as they drove along about a matter which Elisabeth's keen
perceptions told her was the most powerful lever that could be used to
force the minister's hand in the affair of her husband's appointment.
Uncle Mitral, a former sheriff's officer, crafty, clever at sharp
practice, and full of expedients and judicial precautions, believed
the honor of his family to be involved in the appointment of his
nephew. His avarice had long led him to estimate the contents of old
Gigonnet's strong-box, for he knew very well they would go in the end
to benefit his nephew Baudoyer; and it was therefore important that
the latter should obtain a position which would be in keeping with the
combined fortunes of the Saillards and the old Gigonnet, which would
finally devolve on the Baudoyer's little daughter; and what an heiress
she would be with an income of a hundred thousand francs! to what
social position might she not aspire with that fortune? He adopted all
the ideas of his niece Elisabeth and thoroughly understood them. He
had helped in sending off Falleix expeditiously, explaining to him the
advantage of taking post horses. After which, while eating his dinner,
he reflected that it be as well to give a twist of his own to the
clever plan invented by Elisabeth.
When they reached the Cafe Themis he told his niece that he alone
could manage Gigonnet in the matter they both had in view, and he made
her wait in the hackney-coach and bide her time to come forward at the
right moment. Elisabeth saw through the window-panes the two faces of
Gobseck and Gigonnet (her uncle Bidault), which stood out in relief
against the yellow wood-work of the old cafe, like two cameo heads,
cold and impassible, in the rigid attitude that their gravity gave
them. The two Parisian misers were surrounded by a number of other old
faces, on which "thirty per cent discount" was written in circular
wrinkles that started from the nose and turned round the glacial
cheek-bones. These remarkable physiognomies brightened up on seeing
Mitral, and their eyes gleamed with tigerish curiosity.
"Hey, hey! it is papa Mitral!" cried one of them, named Chaboisseau, a
little old man who discounted for a publisher.
"Bless me, so it is!" said another, a broker named Metivier, "ha,
that's an old monkey well up in his tricks."
"And you," retorted Mitral, "you are an old crow who knows all about
"True," said the stern Gobseck.
"What are you here for? Have you come to seize friend Metivier?" asked
Gigonnet, pointing to the broker, who had the bluff face of a porter.
"Your great-niece Elisabeth is out there, papa Gigonnet," whispered
"What! some misfortune?" said Bidault. The old man drew his eyebrows
together and assumed a tender look like that of an executioner when
about to go to work officially. In spite of his Roman virtue he must
have been touched, for his red nose lost somewhat of its color.
"Well, suppose it is misfortune, won't you help Saillard's daughter?
--a girl who has knitted your stockings for the last thirty years!"
"If there's good security I don't say I won't," replied Gigonnet.
"Falleix is in with them. Falleix has just set up his brother as a
broker, and he is doing as much business as the Brezacs; and what
with? his mind, perhaps! Saillard is no simpleton."
"He knows the value of money," put in Chaboisseau.
That remark, uttered among those old men, would have made an artist
and thinker shudder as they all nodded their heads.
"But it is none of my business," resumed Bidault-Gigonnet. "I'm not
bound to care for my neighbors' misfortunes. My principle is never to
be off my guard with friends or relatives; you can't perish except
through weakness. Apply to Gobseck; he is softer."
The usurers all applauded these doctrines with a shake of their
metallic heads. An onlooker would have fancied he heard the creaking
of ill-oiled machinery.
"Come, Gigonnet, show a little feeling," said Chaboisseau, "they've
knit your stockings for thirty years."
"That counts for something," remarked Gobseck.
"Are you all alone? Is it safe to speak?" said Mitral, looking
carefully about him. "I come about a good piece of business."
"If it is good, why do you come to us?" said Gigonnet, sharply,
"A fellow who was a gentleman of the Bedchamber," went on Mitral, "a
former 'chouan,'--what's his name?--La Billardiere is dead."
"True," said Gobseck.
"And our nephew is giving monstrances to the church," snarled
"He is not such a fool as to give them, he sells them, old man," said
Mitral, proudly. "He wants La Billardiere's place, and in order to get
it, we must seize--"
"Seize! You'll never be anything but a sheriff's officer," put in
Metivier, striking Mitral amicably on the shoulder; "I like that, I
"Seize Monsieur Clement des Lupeaulx in our clutches," continued
Mitral; "Elisabeth has discovered how to do it, and he is--"
"Elisabeth"; cried Gigonnet, interrupting again; "dear little
creature! she takes after her grandfather, my poor brother! he never
had his equal! Ah, you should have seen him buying up old furniture;
what tact! what shrewdness! What does Elisabeth want?"
"Hey! hey!" cried Mitral, "you've got back your bowels of compassion,
papa Gigonnet! That phenomenon has a cause."
"Always a child," said Gobseck to Gigonnet, "you are too quick on the
"Come, Gobseck and Gigonnet, listen to me; you want to keep well with
des Lupeaulx, don't you? You've not forgotten how you plucked him in
that affair about the king's debts, and you are afraid he'll ask you
to return some of his feathers," said Mitral.
"Shall we tell him the whole thing?" asked Gobseck, whispering to
"Mitral is one of us; he wouldn't play a shabby trick on his former
customers," replied Gigonnet. "You see, Mitral," he went on, speaking
to the ex-sheriff in a low voice, "we three have just bought up all
those debts, the payment of which depends on the decision of the
"How much will you lose?" asked Mitral.
"Nothing," said Gobseck.
"Nobody knows we are in it," added Gigonnet; "Samanon screens us."
"Come, listen to me, Gigonnet; it is cold, and your niece is waiting
outside. You'll understand what I want in two words. You must at once,
between you, send two hundred and fifty thousand francs (without
interest) into the country after Falleix, who has gone post-haste,
with a courier in advance of him."
"Is it possible!" said Gobseck.
"What for?" cried Gigonnet, "and where to?"
"To des Lupeaulx's magnificent country-seat," replied Mitral. "Falleix
knows the country, for he was born there; and he is going to buy up
land all round the secretary's miserable hovel, with the two hundred
and fifty thousand francs I speak of,--good land, well worth the
price. There are only nine days before us for drawing up and recording
the notarial deeds (bear that in mind). With the addition of this
land, des Lupeaulx's present miserable property would pay taxes to the
amount of one thousand francs, the sum necessary to make a man
eligible to the Chamber. Ergo, with it des Lupeaulx goes into the
electoral college, becomes eligible, count, and whatever he pleases.
You know the deputy who has slipped out and left a vacancy, don't
The two misers nodded.
"Des Lupeaulx would cut off a leg to get elected in his place,"
continued Mitral; "but he must have the title-deeds of the property in
his own name, and then mortgage them back to us for the amount of the
purchase-money. Ah! now you begin to see what I am after! First of
all, we must make sure of Baudoyer's appointment, and des Lupeaulx
will get it for us on these terms; after that is settled we will hand
him back to you. Falleix is now canvassing the electoral vote. Don't
you perceive that you have Lupeaulx completely in your power until
after the election?--for Falleix's friends are a large majority. Now
do you see what I mean, papa Gigonnet?"
"It's a clever game," said Metivier.
"We'll do it," said Gigonnet; "you agree, don't you, Gobseck? Falleix
can give us security and put mortgages on the property in my name;
we'll go and see des Lupeaulx when all is ready."
"We're robbed," said Gobseck.
"Ha, ha!" laughed Mitral, "I'd like to know the robber!"
"Nobody can rob us but ourselves," answered Gigonnet. "I told you we
were doing a good thing in buying up all des Lupeaulx's paper from his
creditors at sixty per cent discount."
"Take this mortgage on his estate and you'll hold him tighter still
through the interest," answered Mitral.
"Possibly," said Gobseck.
After exchanging a shrewd look with Gobseck, Gigonnet went to the door
of the cafe.
"Elisabeth! follow it up, my dear," he said to his niece. "We hold
your man securely; but don't neglect accessories. You have begun well,
clever woman! go on as you began and you'll have your uncle's esteem,"
and he grasped her hand, gayly.
"But," said Mitral, "Metivier and Chaboisseau heard it all, and they
may play us a trick and tell the matter to some opposition journal
which would catch the ball on its way and counteract the effect of the
ministerial article. You must go alone, my dear; I dare not let those
two cormorants out of my sight." So saying he re-entered the cafe.
The next day the numerous subscribers to a certain liberal journal
read, among the Paris items, the following article, inserted
authoritatively by Chaboisseau and Metivier, share-holders in the said
journal, brokers for publishers, printers, and paper-makers, whose
behests no editor dared refuse:--
"Yesterday a ministerial journal plainly indicated as the probable
successor of Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere, Monsieur
Baudoyer, one of the worthiest citizens of a populous quarter,
where his benevolence is scarcely less known than the piety on
which the ministerial organ laid so much stress. Why was that
sheet silent as to his talents? Did it reflect that in boasting of
the bourgeoise nobility of Monsieur Baudoyer--which, certainly, is
a nobility as good as any other--it was pointing out a reason for
the exclusion of the candidate? A gratuitous piece of perfidy! an
attempt to kill with a caress! To appoint Monsieur Baudoyer is to
do honor to the virtues, the talents of the middle classes, of
whom we shall ever be the supporters, though their cause seems at
times a lost one. This appointment, we repeat, will be an act of
justice and good policy; consequently we may be sure it will not
On the morrow, Friday, the usual day for the dinner given by Madame
Rabourdin, whom des Lupeaulx had left at midnight, radiant in beauty,
on the staircase of the Bouffons, arm in arm with Madame de Camps
(Madame Firmiani had lately married), the old roue awoke with his
thoughts of vengeance calmed, or rather refreshed, and his mind full
of a last glance exchanged with Celestine.
"I'll make sure of Rabourdin's support by forgiving him now,--I'll get
even with him later. If he hasn't this place for the time being I
should have to give up a woman who is capable of becoming a most
precious instrument in the pursuit of high political fortune. She
understands everything; shrinks from nothing, from no idea whatever!
--and besides, I can't know before his Excellency what new scheme of
administration Rabourdin has invented. No, my dear des Lupeaulx, the
thing in hand is to win all now for your Celestine. You may make as
many faces as you please, Madame la comtesse, but you will invite
Madame Rabourdin to your next select party."
Des Lupeaulx was one of those men who to satisfy a passion are quite
able to put away revenge in some dark corner of their minds. His
course was taken; he was resolved to get Rabourdin appointed.
"I will prove to you, my dear fellow, that I deserve a good place in
your galley," thought he as he seated himself in his study and began
to unfold a newspaper.
He knew so well what the ministerial organ would contain that he
rarely took the trouble to read it, but on this occasion he did open
it to look at the article on La Billardiere, recollecting with
amusement the dilemma in which du Bruel had put him by bringing him
the night before Bixiou's amendments to the obituary. He was laughing
to himself as he reread the biography of the late Comte da Fontaine,
dead a few months earlier, which he had hastily substituted for that
of La Billardiere, when his eyes were dazzled by the name of Baudoyer.
He read with fury the article which pledged the minister, and then he
rang violently for Dutocq, to send him at once to the editor. But what
was his astonishment on reading the reply of the opposition paper! The
situation was evidently serious. He knew the game, and he saw that the
man who was shuffling his cards for him was a Greek of the first
order. To dictate in this way through two opposing newspapers in one
evening, and to begin the fight by forestalling the intentions of the
minister was a daring game! He recognized the pen of a liberal editor,
and resolved to question him that night at the opera. Dutocq appeared.
"Read that," said des Lupeaulx, handing him over the two journals, and
continuing to run his eye over others to see if Baudoyer had pulled
any further wires. "Go to the office and ask who has dared to thus
compromise the minister."
"It was not Monsieur Baudoyer himself," answered Dutocq, "for he never
left the ministry yesterday. I need not go and inquire; for when I
took your article to the newspaper office I met a young abbe who
brought in a letter from the Grand Almoner, before which you yourself
would have had to bow."
"Dutocq, you have a grudge against Monsieur Rabourdin, and it isn't
right; for he has twice saved you from being turned out. However, we
are not masters of our own feelings; we sometimes hate our
benefactors. Only, remember this; if you show the slightest treachery
to Rabourdin, without my permission, it will be your ruin. As to that
newspaper, let the Grand Almoner subscribe as largely as we do, if he
wants its services. Here we are at the end of the year; the matter of
subscriptions will come up for discussion, and I shall have something
to say on that head. As to La Billardiere's place, there is only one
way to settle the matter; and that is to appoint Rabourdin this very
"Gentlemen," said Dutocq, returning to the clerks' office and
addressing his colleagues. "I don't know if Bixiou has the art of
looking into futurity, but if you have not read the ministerial
journal I advise you to study the article about Baudoyer; then, as
Monsieur Fleury takes the opposition sheet, you can see the reply.
Monsieur Rabourdin certainly has talent, but a man who in these days
gives a six-thousand-franc monstrance to the Church has a devilish
deal more talent than he."
Bixiou [entering]. "What say you, gentlemen, to the First Epistle to
the Corinthians in our pious ministerial journal, and the reply
Epistle to the Ministers in the opposition sheet? How does Monsieur
Rabourdin feel now, du Bruel?"
Du Bruel [rushing in]. "I don't know." [He drags Bixiou back into his
cabinet, and says in a low voice] "My good fellow, your way of helping
people is like that of the hangman who jumps upon a victim's shoulders
to break his neck. You got me into a scrape with des Lupeaulx, which
my folly in ever trusting you richly deserved. A fine thing indeed,
that article on La Billardiere. I sha'n't forget the trick! Why, the
very first sentence was as good as telling the King he was
superannuated and it was time for him to die. And as to that Quiberon
bit, it said plainly that the King was a-- What a fool I was!"
Bixiou [laughing]. "Bless my heart! are you getting angry? Can't a
fellow joke any more?"
Du Bruel. "Joke! joke indeed. When you want to be made head-clerk
somebody shall joke with you, my dear fellow."
Bixiou [in a bullying tone]. "Angry, are we?"
Du Bruel. "Yes!"
Bixiou [dryly]. "So much the worse for you."
Du Bruel [uneasy]. "You wouldn't pardon such a thing yourself, I
Bixiou [in a wheedling tone]. "To a friend? indeed I would." [They
hear Fleury's voice.] "There's Fleury cursing Baudoyer. Hey, how well
the thing has been managed! Baudoyer will get the appointment."
[Confidentially] "After all, so much the better. Du Bruel, just keep
your eye on the consequences. Rabourdin would be a mean-spirited
creature to stay under Baudoyer; he will send in his registration, and
that will give us two places. You can be head of the bureau and take
me for under-head-clerk. We will make vaudevilles together, and I'll
fag at your work in the office."
Du Bruel [smiling]. "Dear me, I never thought of that. Poor Rabourdin!
I shall be sorry for him, though."
Bixiou. "That shows how much you love him!" [Changing his tone] "Ah,
well, I don't pity him any longer. He's rich; his wife gives parties
and doesn't ask me,--me, who go everywhere! Well, good-bye, my dear
fellow, good-bye, and don't owe me a grudge!" [He goes out through the
clerks' office.] "Adieu, gentlemen; didn't I tell you yesterday that a
man who has nothing but virtues and talents will always be poor, even
though he has a pretty wife?"
Henry. "You are so rich, you!"
Bixiou. "Not bad, my Cincinnatus! But you'll give me that dinner at
the Rocher de Cancale."
Poiret. "It is absolutely impossible for me to understand Monsieur
Phellion [with an elegaic air]. "Monsieur Rabourdin so seldom reads
the newspapers that it might perhaps be serviceable to deprive
ourselves momentarily by taking them in to him." [Fleury hands over
his paper, Vimeux the office sheet, and Phellion departs with them.]
At that moment des Lupeaulx, coming leisurely downstairs to breakfast
with the minister, was asking himself whether, before playing a trump
card for the husband, it might not be prudent to probe the wife's
heart and make sure of a reward for his devotion. He was feeling about
for the small amount of heart that he possessed, when, at a turn of
the staircase, he encountered his lawyer, who said to him, smiling,
"Just a word, Monseigneur," in the tone of familiarity assumed by men
who know they are indispensable.
"What is it, my dear Desroches?" exclaimed the politician. "Has
"I have come to tell you that all your notes and debts have been
brought up by Gobseck and Gigonnet, under the name of a certain
"Men whom I helped to make their millions!"
"Listen," whispered the lawyer. "Gigonnet (really named Bidault) is
the uncle of Saillard, your cashier; and Saillard is father-in-law to
a certain Baudoyer, who thinks he has a right to the vacant place in
your ministry. Don't you think I have done right to come and tell
"Thank you," said des Lupeaulx, nodding to the lawyer with a shrewd
"One stroke of your pen will buy them off," said Desroches, leaving
"What an immense sacrifice!" muttered des Lupeaulx. "It would be
impossible to explain it to a woman," thought he. "Is Celestine worth
more than the clearing off of my debts?--that is the question. I'll go
and see her this morning."
So the beautiful Madame Rabourdin was to be, within an hour, the
arbiter of her husband's fate, and no power on earth could warn her of
the importance of her replies, or give her the least hint to guard her
conduct and compose her voice. Moreover, in addition to her
mischances, she believed herself certain of success, never dreaming
that Rabourdin was undermined in all directions by the secret sapping
of the mollusks.
"Well, Monseigneur," said des Lupeaulx, entering the little salon
where they breakfasted, "have you seen the articles on Baudoyer?"
"For God's sake, my dear friend," replied the minister, "don't talk of
those appointments just now; let me have an hour's peace! They cracked
my ears last night with that monstrance. The only way to save
Rabourdin is to bring his appointment before the Council, unless I
submit to having my hand forced. It is enough to disgust a man with
the public service. I must purchase the right to keep that excellent
Rabourdin by promoting a certain Colleville!"
"Why not make over the management of this pretty little comedy to me,
and rid yourself of the worry of it? I'll amuse you every morning with
an account of the game of chess I should play with the Grand Almoner,"
said des Lupeaulx.
"Very good," said the minister, "settle it with the head examiner. But
you know perfectly well that nothing is more likely to strike the
king's mind than just those reasons the opposition journal has chosen
to put forth. Good heavens! fancy managing a ministry with such men as
Baudoyer under me!"
"An imbecile bigot," said des Lupeaulx, "and as utterly incapable
"--as La Billardiere," added the minister.
"But La Billardiere had the manners of a gentleman-in-ordinary,"
replied des Lupeaulx. "Madame," he continued, addressing the countess,
"it is now an absolute necessity to invite Madame Rabourdin to your
next private party. I must assure you she is the intimate friend of
Madame de Camps; they were at the Opera together last night. I first
met her at the hotel Firmiani. Besides, you will see that she is not
of a kind to compromise a salon."
"Invite Madame Rabourdin, my dear," said the minister, "and pray let
us talk of something else."
SCENES FROM DOMESTIC LIFE
Parisian households are literally eaten up with the desire to be in
keeping with the luxury that surrounds them on all sides, and few
there are who have the wisdom to let their external situation conform
to their internal revenue. But this vice may perhaps denote a truly
French patriotism, which seeks to maintain the supremacy of the nation
in the matter of dress. France reigns through clothes over the whole
of Europe; and every one must feel the importance of retaining a
commercial sceptre that makes fashion in France what the navy is to
England. This patriotic ardor which leads a nation to sacrifice
everything to appearances--to the "paroistre," as d'Aubigne said in
the days of Henri IV.--is the cause of those vast secret labors which
employ the whole of a Parisian woman's morning, when she wishes, as
Madame Rabourdin wished, to keep up on twelve thousand francs a year
the style that many a family with thirty thousand does not indulge in.
Consequently, every Friday,--the day of her dinner parties,--Madame
Rabourdin helped the chambermaid to do the rooms; for the cook went
early to market, and the man-servant was cleaning the silver, folding
the napkins, and polishing the glasses. The ill-advised individual who
might happen, through an oversight of the porter, to enter Madame
Rabourdin's establishment about eleven o'clock in the morning would
have found her in the midst of a disorder the reverse of picturesque,
wrapped in a dressing-gown, her hair ill-dressed, and her feet in old
slippers, attending to the lamps, arranging the flowers, or cooking in
haste an extremely unpoetic breakfast. The visitor to whom the
mysteries of Parisian life were unknown would certainly have learned
for the rest of his life not to set foot in these greenrooms at the
wrong moment; a woman caught in her matin mysteries would ever after
point him out as a man capable of the blackest crimes; or she would
talk of his stupidity and indiscretion in a manner to ruin him. The
true Parisian woman, indulgent to all curiosity that she can put to
profit, is implacable to that which makes her lose her prestige. Such
a domiciliary invasion may be called, not only (as they say in police
reports) an attack on privacy, but a burglary, a robbery of all that
is most precious, namely, CREDIT. A woman is quite willing to let
herself be surprised half-dressed, with her hair about her shoulders.
If her hair is all her own she scores one; but she will never allow
herself to be seen "doing" her own rooms, or she loses her pariostre,
--that precious /seeming-to-be/!
Madame Rabourdin was in full tide of preparation for her Friday
dinner, standing in the midst of provisions the cook had just fished
from the vast ocean of the markets, when Monsieur des Lupeaulx made
his way stealthily in. The general-secretary was certainly the last
man Madame Rabourdin expected to see, and so, when she heard his
boots creaking in the ante-chamber, she exclaimed, impatiently, "The
hair-dresser already!"--an exclamation as little agreeable to des
Lupeaulx as the sight of des Lupeaulx was agreeable to her. She
immediately escaped into her bedroom, where chaos reigned; a jumble of
furniture to be put out of sight, with other heterogeneous articles of
more or rather less elegance,--a domestic carnival, in short. The bold
des Lupeaulx followed the handsome figure, so piquant did she seem to
him in her dishabille. There is something indescribably alluring to the
eye in a portion of flesh seen through an hiatus in the undergarment,
more attractive far than when it rises gracefully above the circular
curve of the velvet bodice, to the vanishing line of the prettiest
swan's-neck that ever lover kissed before a ball. When the eye dwells
on a woman in full dress making exhibition of her magnificent white
shoulders, do we not fancy that we see the elegant dessert of a grand
dinner? But the glance that glides through the disarray of muslins
rumpled in sleep enjoys, as it were, a feast of stolen fruit glowing
between the leaves on a garden wall.
"Stop! wait!" cried the pretty Parisian, bolting the door of the
She rang for Therese, called for her daughter, the cook, and the
man-servant, wishing she possessed the whistle of the machinist at
the Opera. Her call, however, answered the same purpose. In a moment,
another phenomenon! the salon assumed a piquant morning look, quite in
keeping with the becoming toilet hastily got together by the fugitive;
we say it to her glory, for she was evidently a clever woman, in this
"You!" she said, coming forward, "at this hour? What has happened?"
"Very serious things," answered des Lupeaulx. "You and I must
understand each other now."
Celestine looked at the man behind his glasses, and understood the
"My principle vice," she said, "is oddity. For instance, I do not mix
up affections with politics; let us talk politics,--business, if you
will,--the rest can come later. However, it is not really oddity nor a
whim that forbids me to mingle ill-assorted colors and put together
things that have no affinity, and compels me to avoid discords; it is
my natural instinct as an artist. We women have politics of our own."
Already the tones of her voice and the charm of her manners were
producing their effect on the secretary and metamorphosing his
roughness into sentimental courtesy; she had recalled him to his
obligations as a lover. A clever pretty woman makes an atmosphere
about her in which the nerves relax and the feelings soften.
"You are ignorant of what is happening," said des Lupeaulx, harshly,
for he still thought it best to make a show of harshness. "Read that."
He gave the two newspapers to the graceful woman, having drawn a line
in red ink round each of the famous articles.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "but this is dreadful! Who is this
"A donkey," answered des Lupeaulx; "but, as you see, he uses means,
--he gives monstrances; he succeeds, thanks to some clever hand that
pulls the wires."
The thought of her debts crossed Madame Rabourdin's mind and blurred
her sight, as if two lightning flashes had blinded her eyes at the
same moment; her ears hummed under the pressure of the blood that
began to beat in her arteries; she remained for a moment quite
bewildered, gazing at a window which she did not see.
"But are you faithful to us?" she said at last, with a winning glance
at des Lupeaulx, as if to attach him to her.
"That is as it may be," he replied, answering her glance with an
interrogative look which made the poor woman blush.
"If you demand caution-money you may lose all," she said, laughing; "I
thought you more magnanimous than you are. And you, you thought me
less a person than I am,--a sort of school-girl."
"You have misunderstood me," he said, with a covert smile; "I meant
that I could not assist a man who plays against me just as l'Etourdi
played against Mascarille."
"What can you mean?"
"This will prove to you whether I am magnanimous or not."
He gave Madame Rabourdin the memorandum stolen by Dutocq, pointing out
to her the passage in which her husband had so ably analyzed him.
Celestine recognized the handwriting, read the paper, and turned pale
under the blow.
"All the ministries, the whole service is treated in the same way,"
said des Lupeaulx.
"Happily," she said, "you alone possess this document. I cannot
explain it, even to myself."
"The man who stole it is not such a fool as to let me have it without
keeping a copy for himself; he is too great a liar to admit it, and
too clever in his business to give it up. I did not even ask him for
"Who is he?"
"Your chief clerk."
"Dutocq! People are always punished through their kindnesses! But,"
she added, "he is only a dog who wants a bone."
"Do you know what the other side offer me, poor devil of a
"I owe thirty-thousand and odd miserable francs,--you will despise me
because it isn't more, but here, I grant you, I am significant. Well,
Baudoyer's uncle has bought up my debts, and is, doubtless, ready to
give me a receipt for them if Baudoyer is appointed."
"But all that is monstrous."
"Not at all; it is monarchical and religious, for the Grand Almoner is
concerned in it. Baudoyer himself must appoint Colleville in return
for ecclesiastical assistance."
"What shall you do?"
"What will you bid me do?" he said, with charming grace, holding out
Celestine no longer thought him ugly, nor old, nor white and chilling
as a hoar-frost, nor indeed anything that was odious and offensive,
but she did not give him her hand. At night, in her salon, she would
have let him take it a hundred times, but here, alone and in the
morning, the action seemed too like a promise that might lead her far.
"And they say that statesmen have no hearts!" she cried
enthusiastically, trying to hide the harshness of her refusal under
the grace of her words. "The thought used to terrify me," she added,
assuming an innocent, ingenuous air.
"What a calumny!" cried des Lupeaulx. "Only this week one of the
stiffest of diplomatists, a man who has been in the service ever since
he came to manhood, has married the daughter of an actress, and has
introduced her at the most iron-bound court in Europe as to
quarterings of nobility."
"You will continue to support us?"
"I am to draw up your husband's appointment-- But no cheating,
She gave him her hand to kiss, and tapped him on the cheek as she did
so. "You are mine!" she said.
Des Lupeaulx admired the expression.
[That night, at the Opera, the old coxcomb related the incident as
follows: "A woman who did not want to tell a man she would be his,
--an acknowledgment a well-bred woman never allows herself to make,
--changed the words into 'You are mine.' Don't you think the evasion
"But you must be my ally," he answered. "Now listen, your husband has
spoken to the minister of a plan for the reform of the administration;
the paper I have shown you is a part of that plan. I want to know what
it is. Find out, and tell me to-night."
"I will," she answered, wholly unaware of the important nature of the
errand which brought des Lupeaulx to the house that morning.
"Madame, the hair-dresser."
"At last!" thought Celestine. "I don't see how I should have got out
of it if he had delayed much longer."
"You do not know to what lengths my devotion can go," said des
Lupeaulx, rising. "You shall be invited to the first select party
given by his Excellency's wife."
"Ah, you are an angel!" she cried. "And I see now how much you love
me; you love me intelligently."
"To-night, dear child," he said, "I shall find out at the Opera what
journalists are conspiring for Baudoyer, and we will measure swords
"Yes, but you must dine with us, will you not? I have taken pains to
get the things you like best--"
"All that is so like love," said des Lupeaulx to himself as he went
downstairs, "that I am willing to be deceived in that way for a long
time. Well, if she IS tricking me I shall know it. I'll set the
cleverest of all traps before the appointment is fairly signed, and
I'll read her heart. Ah! my little cats, I know you! for, after all,
women are just what we men are. Twenty-eight years old, virtuous, and
living here in the rue Duphot!--a rare piece of luck and worth
cultivating," thought the elderly butterfly as he fluttered down the
"Good heavens! that man, without his glasses, must look funny enough
in a dressing-gown!" thought Celestine, "but the harpoon is in his
back and he'll tow me where I want to go; I am sure now of that
invitation. He has played his part in my comedy."
When, at five o'clock in the afternoon, Rabourdin came home to dress
for dinner, his wife presided at his toilet and presently laid before
him the fatal memorandum which, like the slipper in the Arabian
Nights, the luckless man was fated to meet at every turn.
"Who gave you that?" he asked, thunderstruck.
"Monsieur des Lupeaulx."
"So he has been here!" cried Rabourdin, with a look which would
certainly have made a guilty woman turn pale, but which Celestine
received with unruffled brow and a laughing eye.
"And he is coming back to dinner," she said. "Why that startled air?"
"My dear," replied Rabourdin, "I have mortally offended des Lupeaulx;
such men never forgive, and yet he fawns upon me! Do you think I don't
"The man seems to me," she said, "to have good taste; you can't expect
me to blame him. I really don't know anything more flattering to a
woman than to please a worn-out palate. After--"
"A truce to nonsense, Celestine. Spare a much-tried man. I cannot get
an audience of the minister, and my honor is at stake."
"Good heavens, no! Dutocq can have the promise of a good place as soon
as you are named head of the division."
"Ah! I see what you are about, dear child," said Rabourdin; "but the
game you are playing is just as dishonorable as the real thing that is
going on around us. A lie is a lie, and an honest woman--"
"Let me use the weapons employed against us."
"Celestine, the more that man des Lupeaulx feels he is foolishly
caught in a trap, the more bitter he will be against me."
"What if I get him dismissed altogether?"
Rabourdin looked at his wife in amazement.
"I am thinking only of your advancement; it was high time, my poor
husband," continued Celestine. "But you are mistaking the dog for the
game," she added, after a pause. "In a few days des Lupeaulx will have
accomplished all that I want of him. While you are trying to speak to
the minister, and before you can even see him on business, I shall
have seen him and spoken with him. You are worn out in trying to bring
that plan of your brain to birth,--a plan which you have been hiding
from me; but you will find that in three months your wife has
accomplished more than you have done in six years. Come, tell me this
fine scheme of yours."
Rabourdin, continuing to shave, cautioned his wife not to say a word
about his work, and after assuring her that to confide a single idea
to des Lupeaulx would be to put the cat near the milk-jug, he began an
explanation of his labors.
"Why didn't you tell me this before, Rabourdin?" said Celestine,
cutting her husband short at his fifth sentence. "You might have saved
yourself a world of trouble. I can understand that a man should be
blinded by an idea for a moment, but to nurse it up for six or seven
years, that's a thing I cannot comprehend! You want to reduce the
budget,--a vulgar and commonplace idea! The budget ought, on the
contrary, to reach two hundred millions. Then, indeed, France would be
great. If you want a new system let it be one of loans, as Monsieur de
Nucingen keeps saying. The poorest of all treasuries is the one with a
surplus that it never uses; the mission of a minister of finance is to
fling gold out of the windows. It will come back to him through the
cellars; and you, you want to hoard it! The thing to do is to increase
the offices and all government employments, instead of reducing them!
So far from lessening the public debt, you ought to increase the
creditors. If the Bourbons want to reign in peace, let them seek
creditors in the towns and villages, and place their loans there;
above all, they ought not to let foreigners draw interest away from
France; some day an alien nation might ask us for the capital. Whereas
if capital and interest are held only in France, neither France nor
credit can perish. That's what saved England. Your plan is the
tradesman's plan. An ambitious public man should produce some bold
scheme,--he should make himself another Law, without Law's fatal
ill-luck; he ought to exhibit the power of credit, and show that we
should reduce, not principal, but interest, as they do in England."
"Come, come, Celestine," said Rabourdin; "mix up ideas as much as you
please, and make fun of them,--I'm accustomed to that; but don't
criticise a work of which you know nothing as yet."
"Do I need," she asked, "to know a scheme the essence of which is to
govern France with a civil service of six thousand men instead of
twenty thousand? My dear friend, even allowing it were the plan of a
man of genius, a king of France who attempted to carry it out would
get himself dethroned. You can keep down a feudal aristocracy by
levelling a few heads, but you can't subdue a hydra with thousands.
And is it with the present ministers--between ourselves, a wretched
crew--that you expect to carry out your reform? No, no; change the
monetary system if you will, but do not meddle with men, with little
men; they cry out too much, whereas gold is dumb."
"But, Celestine, if you will talk, and put wit before argument, we
shall never understand each other."
"Understand! I understand what that paper, in which you have analyzed
the capacities of the men in office, will lead to," she replied,
paying no attention to what her husband said. "Good heavens! you have
sharpened the axe to cut off your own head. Holy Virgin! why didn't
you consult me? I could have at least prevented you from committing
anything to writing, or, at any rate, if you insisted on putting it to
paper, I would have written it down myself, and it should never have
left this house. Good God! to think that he never told me! That's what
men are! capable of sleeping with the wife of their bosom for seven
years, and keeping a secret from her! Hiding their thoughts from a
poor woman for seven years!--doubting her devotion!"
"But," cried Rabourdin, provoked, "for eleven years and more I have
been unable to discuss anything with you because you insist on cutting
me short and substituting your ideas for mine. You know nothing at all
about my scheme."
"Nothing! I know all."
"Then tell it to me!" cried Rabourdin, angry for the first time since
"There! it is half-past six o'clock; finish shaving and dress at
once," she cried hastily, after the fashion of women when pressed on a
point they are not ready to talk of. "I must go; we'll adjourn the
discussion, for I don't want to be nervous on a reception-day. Good
heavens! the poor soul!" she thought, as she left the room, "it /is/
hard to be in labor for seven years and bring forth a dead child! And
not trust his wife!"
She went back into the room.
"If you had listened to me you would never had interceded to keep your
chief clerk; he stole that abominable paper, and has, no doubt, kept a
fac-simile of it. Adieu, man of genius!"
Then she noticed the almost tragic expression of her husband's grief;
she felt she had gone too far, and ran to him, seized him just as he
was, all lathered with soap-suds, and kissed him tenderly.
"Dear Xavier, don't be vexed," she said. "To-night, after the people
are gone, we will study your plan; you shall speak at your ease,--I
will listen just as long as you wish me to. Isn't that nice of me?
What do I want better than to be the wife of Mohammed?"
She began to laugh; and Rabourdin laughed too, for the soapsuds were
clinging to Celestine's lips, and her voice had the tones of the
purest and most steadfast affection.
"Go and dress, dear child; and above all, don't say a word of this to
des Lupeaulx. Swear you will not. That is the only punishment that I
"/Impose/!" she cried. "Then I won't swear anything."
"Come, come, Celestine, I said in jest a really serious thing."
"To-night," she said, "I mean your general-secretary to know whom I am
really intending to attack; he has given me the means."
"The minister," she answered, drawing himself up. "We are to be
invited to his wife's private parties."
In spite of his Celestine's loving caresses, Rabourdin, as he finished
dressing, could not prevent certain painful thoughts from clouding his
"Will she ever appreciate me?" he said to himself. "She does not
even understand that she is the sole incentive of my whole work. How
wrong-headed, and yet how excellent a mind!--If I had not married I
might now have been high in office and rich. I could have saved half
my salary; my savings well-invested would have given me to-day ten
thousand francs a year outside of my office, and I might then have
become, through a good marriage-- Yes, that is all true," he
exclaimed, interrupting himself, "but I have Celestine and my two
children." The man flung himself back on his happiness. To the best of
married lives there come moments of regret. He entered the salon and
looked around him. "There are not two women in Paris who understand
making life pleasant as she does. To keep such a home as this on
twelve thousand francs a year!" he thought, looking at the
flower-stands bright with bloom, and thinking of the social enjoyments
that were about to gratify his vanity. "She was made to be the wife of
a minister. When I think of his Excellency's wife, and how little she
helps him! the good woman is a comfortable middle-class dowdy, and
when she goes to the palace or into society--" He pinched his lips
together. Very busy men are apt to have very ignorant notions about
household matters, and you can make them believe that a hundred
thousand francs afford little or that twelve thousand afford all.
Though impatiently expected, and in spite of the flattering dishes
prepared for the palate of the gourmet-emeritus, des Lupeaulx did not
come to dinner; in fact he came in very late, about midnight, an hour
when company dwindles and conversations become intimate and
confidential. Andoche Finot, the journalist, was one of the few
"I now know all," said des Lupeaulx, when he was comfortably seated on
a sofa at the corner of the fireplace, a cup of tea in his hand and
Madame Rabourdin standing before him with a plate of sandwiches and
some slices of cake very appropriately called "leaden cake." "Finot,
my dear and witty friend, you can render a great service to our
gracious queen by letting loose a few dogs upon the men we were
talking of. You have against you," he said to Rabourdin, lowering his
voice so as to be heard only by the three persons whom he addressed,
"a set of usurers and priests--money and the church. The article in
the liberal journal was instituted by an old money-lender to whom the
paper was under obligations; but the young fellow who wrote it cares
nothing about it. The paper is about to change hands, and in three
days more will be on our side. The royalist opposition,--for we have,
thanks to Monsieur de Chateaubriand, a royalist opposition, that is to
say, royalists who have gone over to the liberals,--however, there's
no need to discuss political matters now,--these assassins of Charles
X. have promised me to support your appointment at the price of our
acquiescence in one of their amendments. All my batteries are manned.
If they threaten us with Baudoyer we shall say to the clerical
phalanx, 'Such and such a paper and such and such men will attack your
measures and the whole press will be against you' (for even the
ministerial journals which I influence will be deaf and dumb, won't
they, Finot?). 'Appoint Rabourdin, a faithful servant, and public
opinion is with you--'"
"Hi, hi!" laughed Finot.
"So, there's no need to be uneasy," said des Lupeaulx. "I have
arranged it all to-night; the Grand Almoner must yield."
"I would rather have had less hope, and you to dinner," whispered
Celestine, looking at him with a vexed air which might very well pass
for an expression of wounded love.
"This must win my pardon," he returned, giving her an invitation to
the ministry for the following Tuesday.
Celestine opened the letter, and a flush of pleasure came into her
face. No enjoyment can be compared to that of gratified vanity.
"You know what the countess's Tuesdays are," said des Lupeaulx, with a
confidential air. "To the usual ministerial parties they are what the
'Petit-Chateau' is to a court ball. You will be at the heart of power!
You will see there the Comtesse Feraud, who is still in favor
notwithstanding Louis XVIII.'s death, Delphine de Nucingen, Madame de
Listomere, the Marquise d'Espard, and your dear Firmiani; I have had
her invited to give you her support in case the other women attempt to
black-ball you. I long to see you in the midst of them."
Celestine threw up her head like a thoroughbred before the race, and
re-read the invitation just as Baudoyer and Saillard had re-read the
articles about themselves in the newspapers, without being able to
quaff enough of it.
"/There/ first, and /next/ at the Tuileries," she said to des Lupeaulx,
who was startled by the words and by the attitude of the speaker, so
expressive were they of ambition and security.
"Can it be that I am only a stepping-stone?" he asked himself. He
rose, and went into Madame Rabourdin's bedroom, where she followed
him, understanding from a motion of his head that he wished to speak
to her privately.
"Well, your husband's plan," he said; "what of it?"
"Bah! the useless nonsense of an honest man!" she replied. "He wants
to suppress fifteen thousand offices and do the work with five or six
thousand. You never heard of such nonsense; I will let you read the
whole document when copied; it is written in perfect good faith. His
analysis of the officials was prompted only by his honesty and
rectitude,--poor dear man!"
Des Lupeaulx was all the more reassured by the genuine laugh which
accompanied these jesting and contemptuous words, because he was a
judge of lying and knew that Celestine spoke in good faith.
"But still, what is at the bottom of it all?" he asked.
"Well, he wants to do away with the land-tax and substitute taxes on
"Why it is over a year since Francois Keller and Nucingen proposed
some such plan, and the minister himself is thinking of a reduction of
"There!" exclaimed Celestine, "I told him there was nothing new in his
"No; but he is on the same ground with the best financier of the
epoch,--the Napoleon of finance. Something may come of it. Your
husband must surely have some special ideas in his method of putting
the scheme into practice."
"No, it is all commonplace," she said, with a disdainful curl of her
lip. "Just think of governing France with five or six thousand
offices, when what is really needed is that everybody in France should
be personally enlisted in the support of the government."
Back to Full Books