Honore De Balzac
Part 12 out of 14
Eve went to see her mother. Fortunately, it so happened that Mme.
Chardon was nursing the deputy-magistrate's wife, who had just given
the Milauds of Nevers an heir presumptive; and Eve, in her distrust of
all attorneys and notaries, took into her head to apply for advice to
the legal guardian of widows and orphans. She wanted to know if she
could relieve David from his embarrassments by taking them upon
herself and selling her claims upon the estate, and besides, she had
some hope of discovering the truth as to Petit-Claud's unaccountable
conduct. The official, struck with Mme. Sechard's beauty, received her
not only with the respect due to a woman but with a sort of courtesy
to which Eve was not accustomed. She saw in the magistrate's face an
expression which, since her marriage, she had seen in no eyes but
Kolb's; and for a beautiful woman like Eve, this expression is the
criterion by which men are judged. When passion, or self-interest, or
age dims that spark of unquestioning fealty that gleams in a young
man's eyes, a woman feels a certain mistrust of him, and begins to
observe him critically. The Cointets, Cerizet, and Petit-Claud--all
the men whom Eve felt instinctively to be her enemies--had turned
hard, indifferent eyes on her; with the deputy-magistrate, therefore,
she felt at ease, although, in spite of his kindly courtesy, he swept
all her hopes away by his first words.
"It is not certain, madame, that the Court-Royal will reverse the
judgment of the court restricting your lien on your husband's
property, for payment of moneys due to you by the terms of your
marriage-contract, to household goods and chattels. Your privilege
ought not to be used to defraud the other creditors. But in any case,
you will be allowed to take your share of the proceeds with the other
creditors, and your father-in-law likewise, as a privileged creditor,
for arrears of rent. When the court has given the order, other points
may be raised as to the 'contribution,' as we call it, when a schedule
of the debts is drawn up, and the creditors are paid a dividend in
proportion to their claims.
"Then M. Petit-Claud is bringing us to bankruptcy," she cried.
"Petit-Claud is carrying out your husband's instructions," said the
magistrate; "he is anxious to gain time, so his attorney says. In my
opinion, you would perhaps do better to waive the appeal and buy in at
the sale the indispensable implements for carrying on the business;
you and your father-in-law together might do this, you to the extent
of your claim through your marriage contract, and he for his arrears
of rent. But that would be bringing the matter to an end too soon
perhaps. The lawyers are making a good thing out of your case."
"But then I should be entirely in M. Sechard's father's hands. I
should owe him the hire of the machinery as well as the house-rent;
and my husband would still be open to further proceedings from M.
Metivier, for M. Metivier would have had almost nothing."
"That is true, madame."
"Very well, then we should be even worse off than we are."
"The arm of the law, madame, is at the creditor's disposal. You have
received three thousand francs, and you must of necessity repay the
"Oh, sir, can you think that we are capable----" Eve suddenly came to
a stop. She saw that her justification might injure her brother.
"Oh! I know quite well that it is an obscure affair, that the debtors
on the one side are honest, scrupulous, and even behaving handsomely;
and the creditor, on the other, is only a cat's-paw----"
Eve, aghast, looked at him with bewildered eyes.
"You can understand," he continued, with a look full of homely
shrewdness, "that we on the bench have plenty of time to think over
all that goes on under our eyes, while the gentlemen in court are
arguing with each other."
Eve went home in despair over her useless effort. That evening at
seven o'clock, Doublon came with the notification of imprisonment for
debt. The proceedings had reached the acute stage.
"After this, I can only go out after nightfall," said David.
Eve and Mme. Chardon burst into tears. To be in hiding was for them a
shameful thing. As for Kolb and Marion, they were more alarmed for
David because they had long since made up their minds that there was
no guile in their master's nature; so frightened were they on his
account, that they came upstairs under pretence of asking whether they
could do anything, and found Eve and Mme. Chardon in tears; the three
whose life had been so straightforward hitherto were overcome by the
thought that David must go into hiding. And how, moreover, could they
hope to escape the invisible spies who henceforth would dog every
least movement of a man, unluckily so absent-minded?
"Gif montame vill vait ein liddle kvarter hour, she can regonnoitre
der enemy's camp," put in Kolb. "You shall see dot I oonderstand mein
pizness; for gif I look like ein German, I am ein drue Vrenchman, and
vat is more, I am ver' conning."
"Oh! madame, do let him go," begged Marion. "He is only thinking of
saving his master; he hasn't another thought in his head. Kolb is not
an Alsacien, he is--eh! well--a regular Newfoundland dog for rescuing
"Go, my good Kolb," said David; "we have still time to do something."
Kolb hurried off to pay a visit to the bailiff; and it so fell out
that David's enemies were in Doublon's office, holding a council as to
the best way of securing him.
The arrest of a debtor is an unheard-of thing in the country, an
abnormal proceeding if ever there was one. Everybody, in the first
place, knows everybody else, and creditor and debtor being bound to
meet each other daily all their lives long, nobody likes to take this
odious course. When a defaulter--to use the provincial term for a
debtor, for they do not mince their words in the provinces when
speaking of this legalized method of helping yourself to another man's
goods--when a defaulter plans a failure on a large scale, he takes
sanctuary in Paris. Paris is a kind of City of Refuge for provincial
bankrupts, an almost impenetrable retreat; the writ of the pursuing
bailiff has no force beyond the limits of his jurisdiction, and there
are other obstacles rendering it almost invalid. Wherefore the Paris
bailiff is empowered to enter the house of a third party to seize the
person of the debtor, while for the bailiff of the provinces the
domicile is absolutely inviolable. The law probably makes this
exception as to Paris, because there it is the rule for two or more
families to live under the same roof; but in the provinces the bailiff
who wishes to make forcible entry must have an order from the Justice
of the Peace; and so wide a discretion is allowed the Justice of the
Peace, that he is practically able to give or withhold assistance to
the bailiffs. To the honor of the Justices, it should be said, that
they dislike the office, and are by no means anxious to assist blind
passions or revenge.
There are, besides, other and no less serious difficulties in the way
of arrest for debt--difficulties which tend to temper the severity of
legislation, and public opinion not infrequently makes a dead letter
of the law. In great cities there are poor or degraded wretches
enough; poverty and vice know no scruples, and consent to play the
spy, but in a little country town, people know each other too well to
earn wages of the bailiff; the meanest creature who should lend
himself to dirty work of this kind would be forced to leave the place.
In the absence of recognized machinery, therefore, the arrest of a
debtor is a problem presenting no small difficulty; it becomes a kind
of strife of ingenuity between the bailiff and the debtor, and matter
for many pleasant stories in the newspapers.
Cointet the elder did not choose to appear in the affair; but the fat
Cointet openly said that he was acting for Metivier, and went to
Doublon, taking Cerizet with him. Cerizet was his foreman now, and had
promised his co-operation in return for a thousand-franc note. Doublon
could reckon upon two of his understrappers, and thus the Cointets had
four bloodhounds already on the victim's track. At the actual time of
arrest, Doublon could furthermore count upon the police force, who are
bound, if required, to assist a bailiff in the performance of his
duty. The two men, Doublon himself, and the visitors were all closeted
together in the private office, beyond the public office, on the
A tolerably wide-paved lobby, a kind of passage-way, led to the public
office. The gilded scutcheons of the court, with the word "Bailiff"
printed thereon in large black letters, hung outside on the house wall
on either side the door. Both office windows gave upon the street, and
were protected by heavy iron bars; but the private office looked into
the garden at the back, wherein Doublon, an adorer of Pomona, grew
espaliers with marked success. Opposite the office door you beheld the
door of the kitchen, and, beyond the kitchen, the staircase that
ascended to the first story. The house was situated in a narrow street
at the back of the new Law Courts, then in process of construction,
and only finished after 1830.--These details are necessary if Kolb's
adventures are to be intelligible to the reader.
It was Kolb's idea to go to the bailiff, to pretend to be willing to
betray his master, and in this way to discover the traps which would
be laid for David. Kolb told the servant who opened the door that he
wanted to speak to M. Doublon on business. The servant was busy
washing up her plates and dishes, and not very well pleased at Kolb's
interruption; she pushed open the door of the outer office, and bade
him wait there till her master was at liberty; then, as he was a
stranger to her, she told the master in the private office that "a
man" wanted to speak to him. Now, "a man" so invariably means "a
peasant," that Doublon said, "Tell him to wait," and Kolb took a seat
close to the door of the private office. There were voices talking
"Ah, by the by, how do you mean to set about it? For, if we can catch
him to-morrow, it will be so much time saved." It was the fat Cointet
"Nothing easier; the gaffer has come fairly by his nickname," said
At the sound of the fat Cointet's voice, Kolb guessed at once that
they were talking about his master, especially as the sense of the
words began to dawn upon him; but, when he recognized Cerizet's tones,
his astonishment grew more and more.
"Und dat fellow haf eaten his pread!" he thought, horror-stricken.
"We must do it in this way, boys," said Doublon. "We will post our
men, at good long intervals, about the Rue de Beaulieu and the Place
du Murier in every direction, so that we can follow the gaffer (I like
that word) without his knowledge. We will not lose sight of him until
he is safe inside the house where he means to lie in hiding (as he
thinks); there we will leave him in peace for awhile; then some fine
day we will come across him before sunrise or sunset."
"But what is he doing now, at this moment? He may be slipping through
our fingers," said the fat Cointet.
"He is in his house," answered Doublon; "if he left it, I should know.
I have one witness posted in the Place du Murier, another at the
corner of the Law Courts, and another thirty paces from the house. If
our man came out, they would whistle; he could not make three paces
from his door but I should know of it at once from the signal."
(Bailiffs speak of their understrappers by the polite title of
Here was better hap than Kolb had expected! He went noiselessly out of
the office, and spoke to the maid in the kitchen.
"Meestair Touplon ees encaged for som time to kom," he said; "I vill
kom back early to-morrow morning."
A sudden idea had struck the Alsacien, and he proceeded to put it into
execution. Kolb had served in a cavalry regiment; he hurried off to
see a livery stable-keeper, an acquaintance of his, picked out a
horse, had it saddled, and rushed back to the Place du Murier. He
found Madame Eve in the lowest depths of despondency.
"What is it, Kolb?" asked David, when the Alsacien's face looked in
upon them, scared but radiant.
"You have scountrels all arount you. De safest way ees to hide de
master. Haf montame thought of hiding the master anywheres?"
When Kolb, honest fellow, had explained the whole history of Cerizet's
treachery, of the circle traced about the house, and of the fat
Cointet's interest in the affair, and given the family some inkling of
the schemes set on foot by the Cointets against the master,--then
David's real position gradually became fatally clear.
"It is the Cointet's doing!" cried poor Eve, aghast at the news;
"_they_ are proceeding against you! that accounts for Metivier's
hardness. . . . They are paper-makers--David! they want your secret!"
"But what can we do to escape them?" exclaimed Mme. Chardon.
"If de misdress had some liddle blace vere the master could pe
hidden," said Kolb; "I bromise to take him dere so dot nopody shall
"Wait till nightfall, and go to Basine Clerget," said Eve. "I will go
now and arrange it all with her. In this case, Basine will be like
another self to me."
"Spies will follow you," David said at last, recovering some presence
of mind. "How can we find a way of communicating with Basine if none
of us can go to her?"
"Montame kan go," said Kolb. "Here ees my scheme--I go out mit der
master, ve draws der vischtlers on our drack. Montame kan go to
Montemoiselle Clerchet; nopody vill vollow her. I haf a horse; I take
de master oop behint; und der teufel is in it if they katches us."
"Very well; good-bye, dear," said poor Eve, springing to her husband's
arms; "none of us can go to see you, the risk is too great. We must
say good-bye for the whole time that your imprisonment lasts. We will
write to each other; Basine will post your letters, and I will write
under cover to her."
No sooner did David and Kolb come out of the house than they heard a
sharp whistle, and were followed to the livery stable. Once there,
Kolb took his master up behind him, with a caution to keep tight hold.
"Veestle avay, mind goot vriends! I care not von rap," cried Kolb.
"You vill not datch an old trooper," and the old cavalry man clapped
both spurs to his horse, and was out into the country and the darkness
not merely before the spies could follow, but before they had time to
discover the direction that he took.
Eve meanwhile went out on the tolerably ingenious pretext of asking
advise of Postel, sat awhile enduring the insulting pity that spends
itself in words, left the Postel family, and stole away unseen to
Basine Clerget, told her troubles, and asked for help and shelter.
Basine, for greater safety, had brought Eve into her bedroom, and now
she opened the door of a little closet, lighted only by a skylight in
such a way that prying eyes could not see into it. The two friends
unstopped the flue which opened into the chimney of the stove in the
workroom, where the girls heated their irons. Eve and Basine spread
ragged coverlets over the brick floor to deaden any sound that David
might make, put in a truckle bed, a stove for his experiments, and a
table and a chair. Basine promised to bring food in the night; and as
no one had occasion to enter her room, David might defy his enemies
one and all, or even detectives.
"At last!" Eve said, with her arms about her friend, "at last he is in
Eve went back to Postel to submit a fresh doubt that had occurred to
her, she said. She would like the opinion of such an experienced
member of the Chamber of Commerce; she so managed that he escorted her
home, and listened patiently to his commiseration.
"Would this have happened if you had married me?"--all the little
druggist's remarks were pitched in this key.
Then he went home again to find Mme. Postel jealous of Mme. Sechard,
and furious with her spouse for his polite attention to that beautiful
woman. The apothecary advanced the opinion that little red-haired
women were preferable to tall, dark women, who, like fine horses, were
always in the stable, he said. He gave proofs of his sincerity, no
doubt, for Mme. Postel was very sweet to him next day.
"We may be easy," Eve said to her mother and Marion, whom she found
still "in a taking," in the latter's phrase.
"Oh! they are gone," said Marion, when Eve looked unthinkingly round
One league out of Angouleme on the main road to Paris, Kolb stopped.
"Vere shall we go?"
"To Marsac," said David; "since we are on the way already, I will try
once more to soften my father's heart."
"I would rader mount to der assault of a pattery," said Kolb, "your
resbected fader haf no heart whatefer."
The ex-pressman had no belief in his son; he judged him from the
outside point of view, and waited for results. He had no idea, to
begin with, that he had plundered David, nor did he make allowance for
the very different circumstances under which they had begun life; he
said to himself, "I set him up with a printing-house, just as I found
it myself; and he, knowing a thousand times more than I did, cannot
keep it going." He was mentally incapable of understanding his son; he
laid the blame of failure upon him, and even prided himself, as it
were on his superiority to a far greater intellect than his own, with
the thought, "I am securing his bread for him."
Moralists will never succeed in making us comprehend the full extent
of the influence of sentiment upon self-interest, an influence every
whit as strong as the action of interest upon our sentiments; for
every law of our nature works in two ways, and acts and reacts upon
David, on his side, understood his father, and in his sublime charity
forgave him. Kolb and David reached Marsac at eight o'clock, and
suddenly came in upon the old man as he was finishing his dinner,
which, by force of circumstances, came very near bedtime.
"I see you because there is no help for it," said old Sechard with a
"Und how should you and mein master meet? He soars in der shkies, and
you are always mit your vines! You bay for him, that's vot you are a
"Come, Kolb, off with you. Put up the horse at Mme. Courtois' so as to
save inconvenience here; fathers are always in the right, remember
Kolb went off, growling like a chidden dog, obedient but protesting;
and David proposed to give his father indisputable proof of his
discovery, while reserving his secret. He offered to give him an
interest in the affair in return for money paid down; a sufficient sum
to release him from his present difficulties, with or without a
further amount of capital to be employed in developing the invention.
"And how are you going to prove to me that you can make good paper
that costs nothing out of nothing, eh?" asked the ex-printer, giving
his son a glance, vinous, it may be, but keen, inquisitive, and
covetous; a look like a flash of lightning from a sodden cloud; for
the old "bear," faithful to his traditions, never went to bed without
a nightcap, consisting of a couple of bottles of excellent old wine,
which he "tippled down" of an evening, to use his own expression.
"Nothing simpler," said David; "I have none of the paper about me, for
I came here to be out of Doublon's way; and having come so far, I
thought I might as well come to you at Marsac as borrow of a
money-lender. I have nothing on me but my clothes. Shut me up somewhere
on the premises, so that nobody can come in and see me at work, and----"
"What? you will not let me see you at your work then?" asked the old
man, with an ugly look at his son.
"You have given me to understand plainly, father, that in matters of
business there is no question of father and son----"
"Ah! you distrust the father that gave you life!"
"No; the other father who took away the means of earning a
"Each for himself, you are right!" said the old man. "Very good, I
will put you in the cellar."
"I will go down there with Kolb. You must let me have a large pot for
my pulp," said David; then he continued, without noticing the quick
look his father gave him,--"and you must find artichoke and asparagus
stalks for me, and nettles, and the reeds that you cut by the stream
side, and to-morrow morning I will come out of your cellar with some
"If you can do that," hiccoughed the "bear," "I will let you have,
perhaps--I will see, that is, if I can let you have--pshaw!
twenty-five thousand francs. On condition, mind, that you make as
much for me every year."
"Put me to the proof, I am quite willing," cried David. "Kolb! take
the horse and go to Mansle, quick, buy a large hair sieve for me of a
cooper, and some glue of the grocer, and come back again as soon as
"There! drink," said old Sechard, putting down a bottle of wine, a
loaf, and the cold remains of the dinner. "You will need your
strength. I will go and look for your bits of green stuff; green rags
you use for your pulp, and a trifle too green, I am afraid."
Two hours later, towards eleven o'clock that night, David and Kolb
took up their quarters in a little out-house against the cellar wall;
they found the floor paved with runnel tiles, and all the apparatus
used in Angoumois for the manufacture of Cognac brandy.
"Pans and firewood! Why, it is as good as a factory made on purpose!"
"Very well, good-night," said old Sechard; "I shall lock you in, and
let both the dogs loose; nobody will bring you any paper, I am sure.
You show me those sheets to-morrow, and I give you my word I will be
your partner and the business will be straightforward and properly
David and Kolb, locked into the distillery, spent nearly two hours in
macerating the stems, using a couple of logs for mallets. The fire
blazed up, the water boiled. About two o'clock in the morning, Kolb
heard a sound which David was too busy to notice, a kind of deep
breath like a suppressed hiccough. Snatching up one of the two lighted
dips, he looked round the walls, and beheld old Sechard's empurpled
countenance filling up a square opening above a door hitherto hidden
by a pile of empty casks in the cellar itself. The cunning old man had
brought David and Kolb into his underground distillery by the outer
door, through which the casks were rolled when full. The inner door
had been made so that he could roll his puncheons straight from the
cellar into the distillery, instead of taking them round through the
"Aha! thees eies not fair blay, you vant to shvindle your son!" cried
the Alsacien. "Do you kow vot you do ven you trink ein pottle of vine?
You gif goot trink to ein bad scountrel."
"Oh, father!" cried David.
"I came to see if you wanted anything," said old Sechard, half sobered
by this time.
"Und it was for de inderest vot you take in us dot you brought der
liddle ladder!" commented Kolb, as he pushed the casks aside and flung
open the door; and there, in fact, on a short step-ladder, the old man
stood in his shirt.
"Risking your health!" said David.
"I think I must be walking in my sleep," said old Sechard, coming down
in confusion. "Your want of confidence in your father set me dreaming;
I dreamed you were making a pact with the Devil to do impossible
"Der teufel," said Kolb; "dot is your own bassion for de liddle
"Go back to bed again, father," said David; "lock us in if you will,
but you may save yourself the trouble of coming down again. Kolb will
At four o'clock in the morning David came out of the distillery; he
had been careful to leave no sign of his occupation behind him; but he
brought out some thirty sheets of paper that left nothing to be
desired in fineness, whiteness, toughness, and strength, all of them
bearing by way of water-mark the impress of the uneven hairs of the
sieve. The old man took up the samples and put his tongue to them, the
lifelong habit of the pressman, who tests papers in this way. He felt
it between his thumb and finger, crumpled and creased it, put it
through all the trials by which a printer assays the quality of a
sample submitted to him, and when it was found wanting in no respect,
he still would not allow that he was beaten.
"We have yet to know how it takes an impression," he said, to avoid
praising his son.
"Funny man!" exclaimed Kolb.
The old man was cool enough now. He cloaked his feigned hesitation
with paternal dignity.
"I wish to tell you in fairness, father, that even now it seems to me
that paper costs more than it ought to do; I want to solve the problem
of sizing it in the pulping-trough. I have just that one improvement
"Oho! so you are trying to trick me!"
"Well, shall I tell you? I can size the pulp as it is, but so far I
cannot do it evenly, and the surface is as rough as a burr!"
"Very good, size your pulp in the trough, and you shall have my
"Mein master will nefer see de golor of your money," declared Kolb.
"Father," he began, "I have never borne you any grudge for making over
the business to me at such an exorbitant valuation; I have seen the
father through it all. I have said to myself--'The old man has worked
very hard, and he certainly gave me a better bringing up than I had a
right to expect; let him enjoy the fruits of his toil in peace, and in
his own way.--I even gave up my mother's money to you. I began
encumbered with debt, and bore all the burdens that you put upon me
without a murmur. Well, harassed for debts that were not of my making,
with no bread in the house, and my feet held to the flames, I have
found out the secret. I have struggled on patiently till my strength
is exhausted. It is perhaps your duty to help me, but do not give _me_
a thought; think of a woman and a little one" (David could not keep
back the tears at this); "think of them, and give them help and
protection.--Kolb and Marion have given me their savings; will you do
less?" he cried at last, seeing that his father was as cold as the
"And that was not enough for you," said the old man, without the
slightest sense of shame; "why, you would waste the wealth of the
Indies! Good-night! I am too ignorant to lend a hand in schemes got up
on purpose to exploit me. A monkey will never gobble down a bear"
(alluding to the workshop nicknames); "I am a vinegrower, I am not a
banker. And what is more, look you, business between father and son
never turns out well. Stay and eat your dinner here; you shan't say
that you came for nothing."
There are some deep-hearted natures that can force their own pain down
into inner depths unsuspected by those dearest to them; and with them,
when anguish forces its way to the surface and is visible, it is only
after a mighty upheaval. David's nature was one of these. Eve had
thoroughly understood the noble character of the man. But now that the
depths had been stirred, David's father took the wave of anguish that
passed over his son's features for a child's trick, an attempt to "get
round" his father, and his bitter grief for mortification over the
failure of the attempt. Father and son parted in anger.
David and Kolb reached Angouleme on the stroke of midnight. They came
back on foot, and steathily, like burglars. Before one o'clock in the
morning David was installed in the impenetrable hiding-place prepared
by his wife in Basine Clerget's house. No one saw him enter it, and
the pity that henceforth should shelter David was the most resourceful
pity of all--the pity of a work-girl.
Kolb bragged that day that he had saved his master on horseback, and
only left him in a carrier's van well on the way to Limoges. A
sufficient provision of raw material had been laid up in Basine's
cellar, and Kolb, Marion, Mme. Sechard, and her mother had no
communication with the house.
Two days after the scene at Marsac, old Sechard came hurrying to
Angouleme and his daughter-in-law. Covetousness had brought him. There
were three clear weeks ahead before the vintage began, and he thought
he would be on the look-out for squalls, to use his own expression. To
this end he took up his quarters in one of the attics which he had
reserved by the terms of the lease, wilfully shutting his eyes to the
bareness and want that made his son's home desolate. If they owed him
rent, they could well afford to keep him. He ate his food from a
tinned iron plate, and made no marvel at it. "I began in the same
way," he told his daughter-in-law, when she apologized for the absence
of silver spoons.
Marion was obliged to run into debt for necessaries for them all. Kolb
was earning a franc for daily wage as a brick-layer's laborer; and at
last poor Eve, who, for the sake of her husband and child, had
sacrificed her last resources to entertain David's father, saw that
she had only ten francs left. She had hoped to the last to soften the
old miser's heart by her affectionate respect, and patience, and
pretty attentions; but old Sechard was obdurate as ever. When she saw
him turn the same cold eyes on her, the same look that the Cointets
had given her, and Petit-Claud and Cerizet, she tried to watch and
guess old Sechard's intentions. Trouble thrown away! Old Sechard,
never sober, never drunk, was inscrutable; intoxication is a double
veil. If the old man's tipsiness was sometimes real, it was quite
often feigned for the purpose of extracting David's secret from his
wife. Sometimes he coaxed, sometimes he frightened his
"I will drink up my property; _I will buy an annuity_," he would
threaten when Eve told him that she knew nothing.
The humiliating struggle was wearing her out; she kept silence at
last, lest she should show disrespect to her husband's father.
"But, father," she said one day when driven to extremity, "there is a
very simple way of finding out everything. Pay David's debts; he will
come home, and you can settle it between you."
"Ha! that is what you want to get out of me, is it?" he cried. "It is
as well to know!"
But if Sechard had no belief in his son, he had plenty of faith in the
Cointets. He went to consult them, and the Cointets dazzled him of set
purpose, telling him that his son's experiments might mean millions of
"If David can prove that he has succeeded, I shall not hesitate to go
into partnership with him, and reckon his discovery as half the
capital," the tall Cointet told him.
The suspicious old man learned a good deal over nips of brandy with
the work-people, and something more by questioning Petit-Claud and
feigning stupidity; and at length he felt convinced that the Cointets
were the real movers behind Metivier; they were plotting to ruin
Sechard's printing establishment, and to lure him (Sechard) on to pay
his son's debts by holding out the discovery as a bait. The old man of
the people did not suspect that Petit-Claud was in the plot, nor had
he any idea of the toils woven to ensnare the great secret. A day came
at last when he grew angry and out of patience with the
daughter-in-law who would not so much as tell him where David was
hiding; he determined to force the laboratory door, for he had
discovered that David was wont to make his experiments in the workshop
where the rollers were melted down.
He came downstairs very early one morning and set to work upon the
"Hey! Papa Sechard, what are you doing there?" Marion called out. (She
had risen at daybreak to go to her papermill, and now she sprang
across to the workshop.)
"I am in my own house, am I not?" said the old man, in some confusion.
"Oh, indeed, are you turning thief in your old age? You are not drunk
this time either----I shall go straight to the mistress and tell her."
"Hold your tongue, Marion," said Sechard, drawing two crowns of six
francs each from his pocket. "There----"
"I will hold my tongue, but don't you do it again," said Marion,
shaking her finger at him, "or all Angouleme shall hear of it."
The old man had scarcely gone out, however, when Marion went up to her
"Look, madame," she said, "I have had twelve francs out of your
father-in-law, and here they are----"
"How did you do it?"
"What was he wanting to do but to take a look at the master's pots and
pans and stuff, to find out the secret, forsooth. I knew quite well
that there was nothing in the little place, but I frightened him and
talked as if he were setting about robbing his son, and he gave me
twelve francs to say nothing about it."
Just at that moment Basine came in radiant, and with a letter for her
friend, a letter from David written on magnificent paper, which she
handed over when they were alone.
"MY ADORED EVE,--I am writing to you the first letter on my first
sheet of paper made by the new process. I have solved the problem
of sizing the pulp in the trough at last. A pound of pulp costs
five sous, even supposing that the raw material is grown on good
soil with special culture; three francs' worth of sized pulp will
make a ream of paper, at twelve pounds to the ream. I am quite
sure that I can lessen the weight of books by one-half. The
envelope, the letter, and samples enclosed are all manufactured in
different ways. I kiss you; you shall have wealth now to add to
our happiness, everything else we had before."
"There!" said Eve, handing the samples to her father-in-law, "when the
vintage is over let your son have the money, give him a chance to make
his fortune, and you shall be repaid ten times over; he has succeeded
Old Sechard hurried at once to the Cointets. Every sample was tested
and minutely examined; the prices, from three to ten francs per ream,
were noted on each separate slip; some were sized, others unsized;
some were of almost metallic purity, others soft as Japanese paper; in
color there was every possible shade of white. If old Sechard and the
two Cointets had been Jews examining diamonds, their eyes could not
have glistened more eagerly.
"Your son is on the right track," the fat Cointet said at length.
"Very well, pay his debts," returned old Sechard.
"By all means, if he will take us into partnership," said the tall
"You are extortioners!" cried old Sechard. "You have been suing him
under Metivier's name, and you mean me to buy you off; that is the
long and the short of it. Not such a fool, gentlemen----"
The brothers looked at one another, but they contrived to hide their
surprise at the old miser's shrewdness.
"We are not millionaires," said fat Cointet; "we do not discount bills
for amusement. We should think ourselves well off if we could pay
ready money for our bits of accounts for rags, and we still give bills
to our dealer."
"The experiment ought to be tried first on a much larger scale," the
tall Cointet said coldly; "sometimes you try a thing with a saucepan
and succeed, and fail utterly when you experiment with bulk. You
should help your son out of difficulties."
"Yes; but when my son is at liberty, would he take me as his partner?"
"That is no business of ours," said the fat Cointet. "My good man, do
you suppose that when you have paid some ten thousand francs for your
son, that there is an end of it? It will cost two thousand francs to
take out a patent; there will be journeys to Paris; and before going
to any expense, it would be prudent to do as my brother suggests, and
make a thousand reams or so; to try several whole batches to make
sure. You see, there is nothing you must be so much on your guard
against as an inventor."
"I have a liking for bread ready buttered myself," added the tall
All through that night the old man ruminated over this dilemma--"If I
pay David's debts, he will be set at liberty, and once set at liberty,
he need not share his fortune with me unless he chooses. He knows very
well that I cheated him over the first partnership, and he will not
care to try a second; so it is to my interest to keep him shut up, the
The Cointets knew enough of Sechard senior to see that they should
hunt in couples. All three said to themselves--"Experiments must be
tried before the discovery can take any practical shape. David Sechard
must be set at liberty before those experiments can be made; and David
Sechard, set at liberty, will slip through our fingers."
Everybody involved, moreover, had his own little afterthought.
Petit-Claud, for instance, said, "As soon as I am married, I will slip
my neck out of the Cointets' yoke; but till then I shall hold on."
The tall Cointet thought, "I would rather have David under lock and
key, and then I should be master of the situation."
Old Sechard, too, thought, "If I pay my son's debts, he will repay me
with a 'Thank you!'"
Eve, hard pressed (for the old man threatened now to turn her out of
the house), would neither reveal her husband's hiding-place, nor even
send proposals of a safe-conduct. She could not feel sure of finding
so safe a refuge a second time.
"Set your son at liberty," she told her father-in-law, "and then you
shall know everything."
The four interested persons sat, as it were, with a banquet spread
before them, none of them daring to begin, each one suspicious and
watchful of his neighbor. A few days after David went into hiding,
Petit-Claud went to the mill to see the tall Cointet.
"I have done my best," he said; "David has gone into prison of his own
accord somewhere or other; he is working out some improvement there in
peace. It is no fault of mine if you have not gained your end; are you
going to keep your promise?"
"Yes, if we succeed," said the tall Cointet. "Old Sechard was here
only a day or two ago; he came to ask us some questions as to
paper-making. The old miser has got wind of his son's invention; he
wants to turn it to his own account, so there is some hope of a
partnership. You are with the father and the son----"
"Be the third person in the trinity and give them up," smiled
"Yes," said Cointet. "When you have David in prison, or bound to us by
a deed of partnership, you shall marry Mlle. de la Haye."
"Is that your _ultimatum_?"
"My _sine qua non_," said Cointet, "since we are speaking in foreign
"Then here is mine in plain language," Petit-Claud said drily.
"Ah! let us have it," answered Cointet, with some curiosity.
"You will present me to-morrow to Mme. de Sononches, and do something
definite for me; you will keep your word, in short; or I will clear
off Sechard's debts myself, sell my practice, and go into partnership
with him. I will not be duped. You have spoken out, and I am doing the
same. I have given proof, give me proof of your sincerity. You have
all, and I have nothing. If you won't do fairly by me, I know your
cards, and I shall play for my own hand."
The tall Cointet took his hat and umbrella, his face at the same time
taking its Jesuitical expression, and out he went, bidding Petit-Claud
come with him.
"You shall see, my friend, whether I have prepared your way for you,"
The shrewd paper-manufacturer saw his danger at a glance; and saw,
too, that with a man like Petit-Claud it was better to play above
board. Partly to be prepared for contingencies, partly to satisfy his
conscience, he had dropped a word or two to the point in the ear of
the ex-consul-general, under the pretext of putting Mlle. de la Haye's
financial position before that gentleman.
"I have the man for Francoise," he had said; "for with thirty thousand
francs of _dot_, a girl must not expect too much nowadays."
"We will talk it over later on," answered Francis du Hautoy,
ex-consul-general. "Mme. de Senonches' positon has altered very much
since Mme. de Bargeton went away; we very likely might marry Francoise
to some elderly country gentleman."
"She would disgrace herself if you did," Cointet returned in his dry
way. "Better marry her to some capable, ambitious young man; you could
help him with your influence, and he would make a good position for
"We shall see," said Francis du Hautoy; "her godmother ought to be
consulted first, in any case."
When M. de Bargeton died, his wife sold the great house in the Rue du
Minage. Mme. de Senonches, finding her own house scarcely large
enough, persuaded M. de Senonches to buy the Hotel de Bargeton, the
cradle of Lucien Chardon's ambitions, the scene of the earliest events
in his career. Zephirine de Senonches had it in mind to succeed to
Mme. de Bargeton; she, too, would be a kind of queen in Angouleme; she
would have "a salon," and be a great lady, in short. There was a
schism in Angouleme, a strife dating from the late M. de Bargeton's
duel with M. de Chandour. Some maintained that Louise de Negrepelisse
was blameless, others believed in Stanislas de Chandour's scandals.
Mme. de Senonches declared for the Bargetons, and began by winning
over that faction. Many frequenters of the Hotel de Bargeton had been
so accustomed for years to their nightly game of cards in the house
that they could not leave it, and Mme. de Senonches turned this fact
to account. She received every evening, and certainly gained all the
ground lost by Amelie de Chandour, who set up for a rival.
Francis du Hautoy, living in the inmost circle of nobility in
Angouleme, went so far as to think of marrying Francoise to old M. de
Severac, Mme. du Brossard having totally failed to capture that
gentleman for her daughter; and when Mme. de Bargeton reappeared as
the prefect's wife, Zephirine's hopes for her dear goddaughter waxed
high, indeed. The Comtesse du Chatelet, so she argued, would be sure
to use her influence for her champion.
Boniface Cointet had Angouleme at his fingers' ends; he saw all the
difficulties at a glance, and resolved to sweep them out of the way by
a bold stroke that only a Tartuffe's brain could invent. The puny
lawyer was not a little amused to find his fellow-conspirator keeping
his word with him; not a word did Petit-Claud utter; he respected the
musings of his companion, and they walked the whole way from the
paper-mill to the Rue du Minage in silence.
"Monsieur and madame are at breakfast"--this announcement met the
ill-timed visitors on the steps.
"Take in our names, all the same," said the tall Cointet; and feeling
sure of his position, he followed immediately behind the servant and
introduced his companion to the elaborately-affected Zephirine, who
was breakfasting in company with M. Francis du Hautoy and Mlle. de la
Haye. M. de Senonches had gone, as usual, for a day's shooting over M.
de Pimentel's land.
"M. Petit-Claud is the young lawyer of whom I spoke to you, madame; he
will go through the trust accounts when your fair ward comes of age."
The ex-diplomatist made a quick scrutiny of Petit-Claud, who, for his
part, was looking furtively at the "fair ward." As for Zephirine, who
heard of the matter for the first time, her surprise was so great that
she dropped her fork.
Mlle. de la Haye, a shrewish young woman with an ill-tempered face, a
waist that could scarcely be called slender, a thin figure, and
colorless, fair hair, in spite of a certain little air that she had,
was by no means easy to marry. The "parentage unknown" on her birth
certificate was the real bar to her entrance into the sphere where her
godmother's affection stove to establish her. Mlle. de la Haye,
ignorant of her real position, was very hard to please; the richest
merchant in L'Houmeau had found no favor in her sight. Cointet saw the
sufficiently significant expression of the young lady's face at the
sight of the little lawyer, and turning, beheld a precisely similar
grimace on Petit-Claud's countenance. Mme. de Senonches and Francis
looked at each other, as if in search of an excuse for getting rid of
the visitors. All this Cointet saw. He asked M. du Hautoy for the
favor of a few minutes' speech with him, and the pair went together
into the drawing-room.
"Fatherly affection is blinding you, sir," he said bluntly. "You will
not find it an easy thing to marry your daughter; and, acting in your
interest throughout, I have put you in a position from which you
cannot draw back; for I am fond of Francoise, she is my ward. Now
--Petit-Claud knows _everything_! His overweening ambition is a
guarantee for our dear child's happiness; for, in the first place,
Francoise will do as she likes with her husband; and, in the second,
he wants your influence. You can ask the new prefect for the post of
crown attorney for him in the court here. M. Milaud is definitely
appointed to Nevers, Petit-Claud will sell his practice, you will have
no difficulty in obtaining a deputy public prosecutor's place for him;
and it will not be long before he becomes attorney for the crown,
president of the court, deputy, what you will."
Francis went back to the dining-room and behaved charmingly to his
daughter's suitor. He gave Mme. de Senonches a look, and brought the
scene to a close with an invitation to dine with them on the morrow;
Petit-Claud must come and discuss the business in hand. He even went
downstairs and as far as the corner with the visitors, telling
Petit-Claud that after Cointet's recommendation, both he and Mme. de
Senonches were disposed to approve all that Mlle. de la Haye's trustee
had arranged for the welfare of that little angel.
"Oh!" cried Petit-Claud, as they came away, "what a plain girl! I have
been taken in----"
"She looks a lady-like girl," returned Cointet, "and besides, if she
were a beauty, would they give her to you? Eh! my dear fellow, thirty
thousand francs and the influence of Mme. de Senonches and the
Comtesse du Chatelet! Many a small landowner would be wonderfully glad
of the chance, and all the more so since M. Francis du Hautoy is never
likely to marry, and all that he has will go to the girl. Your
marriage is as good as settled."
"That is what I am just going to tell you," returned Cointet, and he
gave his companion an account of his recent bold stroke. "M. Milaud is
just about to be appointed attorney for the crown at Nevers, my dear
fellow," he continued; "sell your practice, and in ten years' time you
will be Keeper of the Seals. You are not the kind of a man to draw
back from any service required of you by the Court."
"Very well," said Petit-Claud, his zeal stirred by the prospect of
such a career, "very well, be in the Place du Murier to-morrow at
half-past four; I will see old Sechard in the meantime; we will have a
deed of partnership drawn up, and the father and the son shall be
bound thereby, and delivered to the third person of the trinity
--Cointet, to wit."
To return to Lucien in Paris. On the morrow of the loss announced in
his letter, he obtained a _visa_ for his passport, bought a stout holly
stick, and went to the Rue d'Enfer to take a place in the little
market van, which took him as far as Longjumeau for half a franc. He
was going home to Angouleme. At the end of the first day's tramp he
slept in a cowshed, two leagues from Arpajon. He had come no farther
than Orleans before he was very weary, and almost ready to break down,
but there he found a boatman willing to bring him as far as Tours for
three francs, and food during the journey cost him but forty sous.
Five days of walking brought him from Tours to Poitiers, and left him
with but five francs in his pockets, but he summoned up all his
remaining strength for the journey before him.
He was overtaken by night in the open country, and had made up his
mind to sleep out of doors, when a traveling carriage passed by,
slowly climbing the hillside, and, all unknown to the postilion, the
occupants, and the servant, he managed to slip in among the luggage,
crouching in between two trunks lest he should be shaken off by the
jolting of the carriage--and so he slept.
He awoke with the sun shining into his eyes, and the sound of voices
in his ears. The carriage had come to a standstill. Looking about him,
he knew that he was at Mansle, the little town where he had waited for
Mme. de Bargeton eighteen months before, when his heart was full of
hope and love and joy. A group of post-boys eyed him curiously and
suspiciously, covered with dust as he was, wedged in among the
luggage. Lucien jumped down, but before he could speak two travelers
stepped out of the caleche, and the words died away on his lips; for
there stood the new Prefect of the Charente, Sixte du Chatelet, and
his wife, Louise de Negrepelisse.
"Chance gave us a traveling-companion, if we had but known!" said the
Countess. "Come in with us, monsieur."
Lucien gave the couple a distant bow and a half-humbled half-defiant
glance; then he turned away into a cross-country road in search of
some farmhouse, where he might make a breakfast on milk and bread, and
rest awhile, and think quietly over the future. He still had three
francs left. On and on he walked with the hurrying pace of fever,
noticing as he went, down by the riverside, that the country grew more
and more picturesque. It was near mid-day when he came upon a sheet of
water with willows growing about the margin, and stopped for awhile to
rest his eyes on the cool, thick-growing leaves; and something of the
grace of the fields entered into his soul.
In among the crests of the willows, he caught a glimpse of a mill
near-by on a branch stream, and of the thatched roof of the mill-house
where the house-leeks were growing. For all ornament, the quaint
cottage was covered with jessamine and honeysuckle and climbing hops,
and the garden about it was gay with phloxes and tall, juicy-leaved
plants. Nets lay drying in the sun along a paved causeway raised above
the highest flood level, and secured by massive piles. Ducks were
swimming in the clear mill-pond below the currents of water roaring
over the wheel. As the poet came nearer he heard the clack of the
mill, and saw the good-natured, homely woman of the house knitting on
a garden bench, and keeping an eye upon a little one who was chasing
the hens about.
Lucien came forward. "My good woman," he said, "I am tired out; I have
a fever on me, and I have only three francs; will you undertake to
give me brown bread and milk, and let me sleep in the barn for a week?
I shall have time to write to my people, and they will either come to
fetch me or send me money."
"I am quite willing, always supposing that my husband has no
objection.--Hey! little man!"
The miller came up, gave Lucien a look over, and took his pipe out of
his mouth to remark, "Three francs for a weeks board? You might as
well pay nothing at all."
"Perhaps I shall end as a miller's man," thought the poet, as his eyes
wandered over the lovely country. Then the miller's wife made a bed
ready for him, and Lucien lay down and slept so long that his hostess
"Courtois," she said, next day at noon, "just go in and see whether
that young man is dead or alive; he has been lying there these
The miller was busy spreading out his fishing-nets and lines. "It is
my belief," he said, "that the pretty fellow yonder is some starveling
play-actor without a brass farthing to bless himself with."
"What makes you think that, little man?" asked the mistress of the
"Lord, he is not a prince, nor a lord, nor a member of parliament, nor
a bishop; why are his hands as white as if he did nothing?"
"Then it is very strange that he does not feel hungry and wake up,"
retorted the miller's wife; she had just prepared breakfast for
yesterday's chance guest. "A play-actor, is he?" she continued. "Where
will he be going? It is too early yet for the fair at Angouleme."
But neither the miller nor his wife suspected that (actors, princes,
and bishops apart) there is a kind of being who is both prince and
actor, and invested besides with a magnificent order of priesthood
--that the Poet seems to do nothing, yet reigns over all humanity when
he can paint humanity.
"What can he be?" Courtois asked of his wife.
"Suppose it should be dangerous to take him in?" queried she.
"Pooh! thieves look more alive than that; we should have been robbed
by this time," returned her spouse.
"I am neither a prince nor a thief, nor a bishop nor an actor," Lucien
said wearily; he must have overheard the colloquy through the window,
and now he suddenly appeared. "I am poor, I am tired out, I have come
on foot from Paris. My name is Lucien de Rubempre, and my father was
M. Chardon, who used to have Postel's business in L'Houmeau. My sister
married David Sechard, the printer in the Place du Murier at
"Stop a bit," said the miller, "that printer is the son of the old
skinflint who farms his own land at Marsac, isn't he?"
"The very same," said Lucien.
"He is a queer kind of father, he is!" Courtois continued. "He is
worth two hundred thousand francs and more, without counting his
money-box, and he has sold his son up, they say."
When body and soul have been broken by a prolonged painful struggle,
there comes a crisis when a strong nature braces itself for greater
effort; but those who give way under the strain either die or sink
into unconsciousness like death. That hour of crisis had struck for
Lucien; at the vague rumor of the catastrophe that had befallen David
he seemed almost ready to succumb. "Oh! my sister!" he cried. "Oh,
God! what have I done? Base wretch that I am!"
He dropped down on the wooden bench, looking white and powerless as a
dying man; the miller's wife brought out a bowl of milk and made him
drink, but he begged the miller to help him back to his bed, and asked
to be forgiven for bringing a dying man into their house. He thought
his last hour had come. With the shadow of death, thoughts of religion
crossed a brain so quick to conceive picturesque fancies; he would see
the cure, he would confess and receive the last sacraments. The moan,
uttered in the faint voice by a young man with such a comely face and
figure, went to Mme. Courtois' heart.
"I say, little man, just take the horse and go to Marsac and ask Dr.
Marron to come and see this young man; he is in a very bad way, it
seems to me, and you might bring the cure as well. Perhaps they may
know more about that printer in the Place du Murier than you do, for
Postel married M. Marron's daughter."
Courtois departed. The miller's wife tried to make Lucien take food;
like all country-bred folk, she was full of the idea that sick folk
must be made to eat. He took no notice of her, but gave way to a
violent storm of remorseful grief, a kind of mental process of
counter-irritation, which relieved him.
The Courtois' mill lies a league away from Marsac, the town of the
district, and the half-way between Mansle and Angouleme; so it was not
long before the good miller came back with the doctor and the cure.
Both functionaries had heard rumors coupling Lucien's name with the
name of Mme. de Bargeton; and now when the whole department was
talking of the lady's marriage to the new Prefect and her return to
Angouleme as the Comtesse du Chatelet, both cure and doctor were
consumed with a violent curiosity to know why M. de Bargeton's widow
had not married the young poet with whom she had left Angouleme. And
when they heard, furthermore, that Lucien was at the mill, they were
eager to know whether the poet had come to the rescue of his
brother-in-law. Curiosity and humanity alike prompted them to go at
once to the dying man. Two hours after Courtois set out, Lucien heard
the rattle of old iron over the stony causeway, the country doctor's
ramshackle chaise came up to the door, and out stepped MM. Marron, for
the cure was the doctor's uncle. Lucien's bedside visitors were as
intimate with David's father as country neighbors usually are in a
small vine-growing township. The doctor looked at the dying man, felt
his pulse, and examined his tongue; then he looked at the miller's
wife, and smiled reassuringly.
"Mme. Courtois," said he, "if, as I do not doubt, you have a bottle of
good wine somewhere in the cellar, and a fat eel in your fish-pond,
put them before your patient, it is only exhaustion; there is nothing
the matter with him. Our great man will be on his feet again
"Ah! monsieur," said Lucien, "it is not the body, it is the mind that
ails. These good people have told me tidings that nearly killed me; I
have just heard the bad news of my sister, Mme. Sechard. Mme. Courtois
says that your daughter is married to Postel, monsieur, so you must
know something of David Sechard's affairs; oh, for heaven's sake,
monsieur, tell me what you know!"
"Why, he must be in prison," began the doctor; "his father would not
"_In prison_!" repeated Lucien, "and why?"
"Because some bills came from Paris; he had overlooked them, no doubt,
for he does not pay much attention to his business, they say," said
"Pray leave me with M. le Cure," said the poet, with a visible change
of countenance. The doctor and the miller and his wife went out of the
room, and Lucien was left alone with the old priest.
"Sir," he said, "I feel that death is near, and I deserve to die. I am
a very miserable wretch; I can only cast myself into the arms of
religion. I, sir, _I_ have brought all these troubles on my sister and
brother, for David Sechard has been a brother to me. I drew those
bills that David could not meet! . . . I have ruined him. In my
terrible misery, I forgot the crime. A millionaire put an end to the
proceedings, and I quite believed that he had met the bills; but
nothing of the kind has been done, it seems." And Lucien told the tale
of his sorrows. The story, as he told it in his feverish excitement,
was worthy of the poet. He besought the cure to go to Angouleme and to
ask for news of Eve and his mother, Mme. Chardon, and to let him know
the truth, and whether it was still possible to repair the evil.
"I shall live till you come back, sir," he added, as the hot tears
fell. "If my mother, and sister, and David do not cast me off, I shall
Lucien's remorse was terrible to see, the tears, the eloquence, the
young white face with the heartbroken, despairing look, the tales of
sorrow upon sorrow till human strength could no more endure, all these
things aroused the cure's pity and interest.
"In the provinces, as in Paris," he said, "you must believe only half
of all that you hear. Do not alarm yourself; a piece of hearsay, three
leagues away from Angouleme, is sure to be far from the truth. Old
Sechard, our neighbor, left Marsac some days ago; very likely he is
busy settling his son's difficulties. I am going to Angouleme; I will
come back and tell you whether you can return home; your confessions
and repentance will help to plead your cause."
The cure did not know that Lucien had repented so many times during
the last eighteen months, that penitence, however impassioned, had
come to be a kind of drama with him, played to perfection, played so
far in all good faith, but none the less a drama. To the cure
succeeded the doctor. He saw that the patient was passing through a
nervous crisis, and the danger was beginning to subside. The
doctor-nephew spoke as comfortably as the cure-uncle, and at length
the patient was persuaded to take nourishment.
Meanwhile the cure, knowing the manners and customs of the
countryside, had gone to Mansle; the coach from Ruffec to Angouleme
was due to pass about that time, and he found a vacant place in it. He
would go to his grand-nephew Postel in L'Houmeau (David's former
rival) and make inquiries of him. From the assiduity with which the
little druggist assisted his venerable relative to alight from the
abominable cage which did duty as a coach between Ruffec and
Angouleme, it was apparent to the meanest understanding that M. and
Mme. Postel founded their hopes of future ease upon the old cure's
"Have you breakfasted? Will you take something? We did not in the
least expect you! This is a pleasant surprise!" Out came questions
innumerable in a breath.
Mme. Postel might have been born to be the wife of an apothecary in
L'Houmeau. She was a common-looking woman, about the same height as
little Postel himself, such good looks as she possessed being entirely
due to youth and health. Her florid auburn hair grew very low upon her
forehead. Her demeanor and language were in keeping with homely
features, a round countenance, the red cheeks of a country damsel, and
eyes that might almost be described as yellow. Everything about her
said plainly enough that she had been married for expectations of
money. After a year of married life, therefore, she ruled the house;
and Postel, only too happy to have discovered the heiress, meekly
submitted to his wife. Mme. Leonie Postel, _nee_ Marron, was nursing her
first child, the darling of the old cure, the doctor, and Postel, a
repulsive infant, with a strong likeness to both parents.
"Well, uncle," said Leonie, "what has brought you to Angouleme, since
you will not take anything, and no sooner come in than you talk of
But when the venerable ecclesiastic brought out the names of David
Sechard and Eve, little Postel grew very red, and Leonie, his wife,
felt it incumbent upon her to give him a jealous glance--the glance
that a wife never fails to give when she is perfectly sure of her
husband, and gives a look into the past by way of a caution for the
"What have yonder folk done to you, uncle, that you should mix
yourself up in their affairs?" inquired Leonie, with very perceptible
"They are in trouble, my girl," said the cure, and he told the Postels
about Lucien at the Courtois' mill.
"Oh! so that is the way he came back from Paris, is it?" exclaimed
Postel. "Yet he had some brains, poor fellow, and he was ambitious,
too. He went out to look for wool, and comes home shorn. But what does
he want here? His sister is frightfully poor; for all these geniuses,
David and Lucien alike, know very little about business. There was
some talk of him at the Tribunal, and, as judge, I was obliged to sign
the warrant of execution. It was a painful duty. I do not know whether
the sister's circumstances are such that Lucien can go to her; but in
any case the little room that he used to occupy here is at liberty,
and I shall be pleased to offer it to him."
"That is right, Postel," said the priest; he bestowed a kiss on the
infant slumbering in Leonie's arms, and, adjusting his cocked hat,
prepared to walk out of the shop.
"You will dine with us, uncle, of course," said Mme. Postel; "if once
you meddle in these people's affairs, it will be some time before you
have done. My husband will drive you back again in his little
Husband and wife stood watching their valued, aged relative on his way
into Angouleme. "He carries himself well for his age, all the same,"
remarked the druggist.
By this time David had been in hiding for eleven days in a house only
two doors away from the druggist's shop, which the worthy ecclesiastic
had just quitted to climb the steep path into Angouleme with the news
of Lucien's present condition.
When the Abbe Marron debouched upon the Place du Murier he found three
men, each one remarkable in his own way, and all of them bearing with
their whole weight upon the present and future of the hapless
voluntary prisoner. There stood old Sechard, the tall Cointet, and his
confederate, the puny limb of the law, three men representing three
phases of greed as widely different as the outward forms of the
speakers. The first had it in his mind to sell his own son; the
second, to betray his client; and the third, while bargaining for both
iniquities, was inwardly resolved to pay for neither. It was nearly
five o'clock. Passers-by on their way home to dinner stopped a moment
to look at the group.
"What the devil can old Sechard and the tall Cointet have to say to
each other?" asked the more curious.
"There was something on foot concerning that miserable wretch that
leaves his wife and child and mother-in-law to starve," suggested
"Talk of sending a boy to Paris to learn his trade!" said a provincial
"M. le Cure, what brings you here, eh?" exclaimed old Sechard,
catching sight of the Abbe as soon as he appeared.
"I have come on account of your family," answered the old man.
"Here is another of my son's notions!" exclaimed old Sechard.
"It would not cost you much to make everybody happy all round," said
the priest, looking at the windows of the printing-house. Mme.
Sechard's beautiful face appeared at that moment between the curtains;
she was hushing her child's cries by tossing him in her arms and
singing to him.
"Are you bringing news of my son?" asked old Sechard, "or what is more
to the purpose--money?"
"No," answered M. Marron, "I am bringing the sister news of her
"Of Lucien?" cried Petit-Claud.
"Yes. He walked all the way from Paris, poor young man. I found him at
the Courtois' house; he was worn out with misery and fatigue. Oh! he
is very much to be pitied."
Petit-Claud took the tall Cointet by the arm, saying aloud, "If we are
going to dine with Mme. de Senonches, it is time to dress." When they
had come away a few paces, he added, for his companion's benefit,
"Catch the cub, and you will soon have the dam; we have David now----"
"I have found you a wife, find me a partner," said the tall Cointet
with a treacherous smile.
"Lucien is an old school-fellow of mine; we used to be chums. I shall
be sure to hear something from him in a week's time. Have the banns
put up, and I will engage to put David in prison. When he is on the
jailer's register I shall have done my part."
"Ah!" exclaimed the tall Cointet under his breath, "we might have the
patent taken out in our name; that would be the thing!"
A shiver ran through the meagre little attorney when he heard those
Meanwhile Eve beheld her father-in-law enter with the Abbe Marron, who
had let fall a word which unfolded the whole tragedy.
"Here is our cure, Mme. Sechard," the old man said, addressing his
daughter-in-law, "and pretty tales about your brother he has to tell
us, no doubt!"
"Oh!" cried poor Eve, cut to the heart; "what can have happened now?"
The cry told so unmistakably of many sorrows, of great dread on so
many grounds, that the Abbe Marron made haste to say, "Reassure
yourself, madame; he is living."
Eve turned to the vinegrower.
"Father," she said, "perhaps you will be good enough to go to my
mother; she must hear all that this gentleman has to tell us of
The old man went in search of Mme. Chardon, and addressed her in this
"Go and have it out with the Abbe Marron; he is a good sort, priest
though he is. Dinner will be late, no doubt. I shall come back again
in an hour," and the old man went out. Insensible as he was to
everything but the clink of money and the glitter of gold, he left
Mme. Chardon without caring to notice the effect of the shock that he
had given her.
Mme. Chardon had changed so greatly during the last eighteen months,
that in that short time she no longer looked like the same woman. The
troubles hanging over both of her children, her abortive hopes for
Lucien, the unexpected deterioration in one in whose powers and
honesty she had for so long believed,--all these things had told
heavily upon her. Mme. Chardon was not only noble by birth, she was
noble by nature; she idolized her children; consequently, during the
last six months she had suffered as never before since her widowhood.
Lucien might have borne the name of Lucien de Rubempre by royal
letters patent; he might have founded the family anew, revived the
title, and borne the arms; he might have made a great name--he had
thrown the chance away; nay, he had fallen into the mire!
For Mme. Chardon the mother was a harder judge than Eve the sister.
When she heard of the bills, she looked upon Lucien as lost. A mother
is often fain to shut her eyes, but she always knows the child that
she held at her breast, the child that has been always with her in the
house; and so when Eve and David discussed Lucien's chances of success
in Paris, and Lucien's mother to all appearance shared Eve's
illusions, in her inmost heart there was a tremor of fear lest David
should be right, for a mother's consciousness bore a witness to the
truth of his words. So well did she know Eve's sensitive nature, that
she could not bring herself to speak of her fears; she was obliged to
choke them down and keep such silence as mothers alone can keep when
they know how to love their children.
And Eve, on her side, had watched her mother, and saw the ravages of
hidden grief with a feeling of dread; her mother was not growing old,
she was failing from day to day. Mother and daughter lived a live of
generous deception, and neither was deceived. The brutal old
vinegrower's speech was the last drop that filled the cup of
affliction to overflowing. The words struck a chill to Mme. Chardon's
"Here is my mother, monsieur," said Eve, and the Abbe, looking up, saw
a white-haired woman with a face as thin and worn as the features of
some aged nun, and yet grown beautiful with the calm and sweet
expression that devout submission gives to the faces of women who walk
by the will of God, as the saying is. Then the Abbe understood the
lives of the mother and daughter, and had no more sympathy left for
Lucien; he shuddered to think of all that the victims had endured.
"Mother," said Eve, drying her eyes as she spoke, "poor Lucien is not
very far away, he is at Marsac."
"And why is he not here?" asked Mme. Chardon.
Then the Abbe told the whole story as Lucien had told it to him--the
misery of the journey, the troubles of the last days in Paris. He
described the poet's agony of mind when he heard of the havoc wrought
at home by his imprudence, and his apprehension as to the reception
awaiting him at Angouleme.
"He has doubts of us; has it come to this?" said Mme. Chardon.
"The unhappy young man has come back to you on foot, enduring the most
terrible hardships by the way; he is prepared to enter the humblest
walks in life--if so he may make reparation."
"Monsieur," Lucien's sister said, "in spite of the wrong he has done
us, I love my brother still, as we love the dead body when the soul
has left it; and even so, I love him more than many sisters love their
brothers. He has made us poor indeed; but let him come to us, he shall
share the last crust of bread, anything indeed that he has left us.
Oh, if he had never left us, monsieur, we should not have lost our
"And the woman who took him from us brought him back on her carriage!"
exclaimed Mme. Chardon. "He went away sitting by Mme. de Bargeton's
side in her caleche, and he came back behind it."
"Can I do anything for you?" asked the good cure, seeking an
opportunity to take leave.
"A wound in the purse is not fatal, they say, monsieur," said Mme.
Chardon, "but the patient must be his own doctor."
"If you have sufficient influence with my father-in-law to induce him
to help his son, you would save a whole family," said Eve.
"He has no belief in you, and he seemed to me to be very much
exasperated against your husband," answered the old cure. He retained
an impression, from the ex-pressman's rambling talk, that the
Sechards' affairs were a kind of wasps' nest with which it was
imprudent to meddle, and his mission being fulfilled, he went to dine
with his nephew Postel. That worthy, like the rest of Angouleme,
maintained that the father was in the right, and soon dissipated any
little benevolence that the old gentleman was disposed to feel towards
the son and his family.
"With those that squander money something may be done," concluded
little Postel, "but those that make experiments are the ruin of you."
The cure went home; his curiosity was thoroughly satisfied, and this
is the end and object of the exceeding interest taken in other
people's business in the provinces. In the course of the evening the
poet was duly informed of all that had passed in the Sechard family,
and the journey was represented as a pilgrimage undertaken from
motives of the purest charity.
"You have run your brother-in-law and sister into debt to the amount
of ten or twelve thousand francs," said the Abbe as he drew to an end,
"and nobody hereabouts has that trifling amount to lend a neighbor, my
dear sir. We are not rich in Angoumois. When you spoke to me of your
bills, I thought that a much smaller amount was involved."
Lucien thanked the old man for his good offices. "The promise of
forgiveness which you have brought is for me a priceless gift."
Very early the next morning Lucien set out from Marsac, and reached
Angouleme towards nine o'clock. He carried nothing but his
walking-stick; the short jacket that he wore was considerably the worst
for his journey, his black trousers were whitened with dust, and a pair
of worn boots told sufficiently plainly that their owner belonged to the
hapless tribe of tramps. He knew well enough that the contrast between
his departure and return was bound to strike his fellow-townsmen; he
did not try to hide the fact from himself. But just then, with his
heart swelling beneath the oppression of remorse awakened in him by
the old cure's story, he accepted his punishment for the moment, and
made up his mind to brave the eyes of his acquaintances. Within
himself he said, "I am behaving heroically."
Poetic temperaments of this stamp begin as their own dupes. He walked
up through L'Houmeau, shame at the manner of his return struggling
with the charm of old associations as he went. His heart beat quickly
as he passed Postel's shop; but, very luckily for him, the only
persons inside it were Leonie and her child. And yet, vanity was still
so strong in him, that he could feel glad that his father's name had
been painted out on the shop-front; for Postel, since his marriage,
had redecorated his abode, and the word "Pharmacy" now alone appeared
there, in the Paris fashion, in big letters.
When Lucien reached the steps by the Palet Gate, he felt the influence
of his native air, his misfortunes no longer weighed upon him. "I
shall see them again!" he said to himself, with a thrill of delight.
He reached the Place du Murier, and had not met a soul, a piece of
luck that he scarcely hoped for, he who once had gone about his native
place with a conqueror's air. Marion and Kolb, on guard at the door,
flew out upon the steps, crying out, "Here he is!"
Lucien saw the familiar workshop and courtyard, and on the staircase
met his mother and sister, and for a moment, while their arms were
about him, all three almost forgot their troubles. In family life we
almost always compound with our misfortunes; we make a sort of bed to
rest upon; and, if it is hard, hope to make it tolerable. If Lucien
looked the picture of despair, poetic charm was not wanting to the
picture. His face had been tanned by the sunlight of the open road,
and the deep sadness visible in his features overshadowed his poet's
brow. The change in him told so plainly of sufferings endured, his
face was so worn by sharp misery, that no one could help pitying him.
Imagination had fared forth into the world and found sad reality at
the home-coming. Eve was smiling in the midst of her joy, as the
saints smile upon martyrdom. The face of a young and very fair woman
grows sublimely beautiful at the touch of grief; Lucien remembered the
innocent girlish face that he saw last before he went to Paris, and
the look of gravity that had come over it spoke so eloquently that he
could not but feel a painful impression. The first quick, natural
outpouring of affection was followed at once by a reaction on either
side; they were afraid to speak; and when Lucien almost involuntarily
looked round for another who should have been there, Eve burst into
tears, and Lucien did the same, but Mme. Chardon's haggard face showed
no sign of emotion. Eve rose to her feet and went downstairs, partly
to spare her brother a word of reproach, partly to speak to Marion.
"Lucien is so fond of strawberries, child, we must find some
strawberries for him."
"Oh, I was sure that you would want to welcome M. Lucien; you shall
have a nice little breakfast and a good dinner, too."
"Lucien," said Mme. Chardon when the mother and son were left alone,
"you have a great deal to repair here. You went away that we all might
be proud of you; you have plunged us into want. You have all but
destroyed your brother's opportunity of making a fortune that he only
cared to win for the sake of his new family. Nor is this all that you
have destroyed----" said the mother.
There was a dreadful pause; Lucien took his mother's reproaches in
"Now begin to work," Mme. Chardon went on more gently. "You tried to
revive the noble family of whom I come; I do not blame you for it. But
the man who undertakes such a task needs money above all things, and
must bear a high heart in him; both were wanting in your case. We
believed in you once, our belief has been shaken. This was a
hard-working, contented household, making its way with difficulty; you
have troubled their peace. The first offence may be forgiven, but it
must be the last. We are in a very difficult position here; you must be
careful, and take your sister's advice, Lucien. The school of trouble
is a very hard one, but Eve has learned much by her lessons; she has
grown grave and thoughtful, she is a mother. In her devotion to our
dear David she has taken all the family burdens upon herself; indeed,
through your wrongdoing she has come to be my only comfort."
"You might be still more severe, my mother," Lucien said, as he kissed
her. "I accept your forgiveness, for I will not need it a second
Eve came into the room, saw her brother's humble attitude, and knew
that he had been forgiven. Her kindness brought a smile for him to her
lips, and Lucien answered with tear-filled eyes. A living presence
acts like a charm, changing the most hostile positions of lovers or of
families, no matter how just the resentment. Is it that affection
finds out the ways of the heart, and we love to fall into them again?
Does the phenomenon come within the province of the science of
magnetism? Or is it reason that tells us that we must either forgive
or never see each other again? Whether the cause be referred to
mental, physical, or spiritual conditions, everyone knows the effect;
every one has felt that the looks, the actions or gestures of the
beloved awaken some vestige of tenderness in those most deeply sinned
against and grievously wronged. Though it is hard for the mind to
forget, though we still smart under the injury, the heart returns to
its allegiance in spite of all. Poor Eve listened to her brother's
confidences until breakfast-time; and whenever she looked at him she
was no longer mistress of her eyes; in that intimate talk she could
not control her voice. And with the comprehension of the conditions of
literary life in Paris, she understood that the struggle had been too
much for Lucien's strength. The poet's delight as he caressed his
sister's child, his deep grief over David's absence, mingled with joy
at seeing his country and his own folk again, the melancholy words
that he let fall,--all these things combined to make that day a
festival. When Marion brought in the strawberries, he was touched to
see that Eve had remembered his taste in spite of her distress, and
she, his sister, must make ready a room for the prodigal brother and
busy herself for Lucien. It was a truce, as it were, to misery. Old
Sechard himself assisted to bring about this revulsion of feeling in
the two women--"You are making as much of him as if he were bringing
you any amount of money!"
"And what has my brother done that we should not make much of him?"
cried Eve, jealously screening Lucien.
Nevertheless, when the first expansion was over, shades of truth came
out. It was not long before Lucien felt the difference between the old
affection and the new. Eve respected David from the depths of her
heart; Lucien was beloved for his own sake, as we love a mistress
still in spite of the disasters she causes. Esteem, the very
foundation on which affection is based, is the solid stuff to which
affection owes I know not what of certainty and security by which we
live; and this was lacking between Mme. Chardon and her son, between
the sister and the brother. Mother and daughter did not put entire
confidence in him, as they would have done if he had not lost his
honor; and he felt this. The opinion expressed in d'Arthez's letter
was Eve's own estimate of her brother; unconsciously she revealed it
by her manner, tones, and gestures. Oh! Lucien was pitied, that was
true; but as for all that he had been, the pride of the household, the
great man of the family, the hero of the fireside,--all this, like
their fair hopes of him, was gone, never to return. They were so
afraid of his heedlessness that he was not told where David was
hidden. Lucien wanted to see his brother; but this Eve, insensible to
the caresses which accompanied his curious questionings, was not the
Eve of L'Houmeau, for whom a glance from him had been an order that
must be obeyed. When Lucien spoke of making reparation, and talked as
though he could rescue David, Eve only answered:
"Do not interfere; we have enemies of the most treacherous and
Lucien tossed his head, as one who should say, "I have measured myself
against Parisians," and the look in his sister's eyes said
unmistakably, "Yes, but you were defeated."
"Nobody cares for me now," Lucien thought. "In the home circle, as in
the world without, success is a necessity."
The poet tried to explain their lack of confidence in him; he had not
been at home two days before a feeling of vexation rather than of
angry bitterness gained hold on him. He applied Parisian standards to
the quiet, temperate existence of the provinces, quite forgetting that
the narrow, patient life of the household was the result of his own
"They are _bourgeoises_, they cannot understand me," he said, setting
himself apart from his sister and mother and David, now that they
could no longer be deceived as to his real character and his future.
Many troubles and shocks of fortune had quickened the intuitive sense
in both the women. Eve and Mme. Chardon guessed the thoughts in
Lucien's inmost soul; they felt that he misjudged them; they saw him
mentally isolating himself.
"Paris has changed him very much," they said between themselves. They
were indeed reaping the harvest of egoism which they themselves had
It was inevitable but that the leaven should work in all three; and
this most of all in Lucien, because he felt that he was so heavily to
blame. As for Eve, she was just the kind of sister to beg an erring
brother to "Forgive me for your trespasses;" but when the union of two
souls had been as perfect since life's very beginnings, as it had been
with Eve and Lucien, any blow dealt to that fair ideal is fatal.
Scoundrels can draw knives on each other and make it up again
afterwards, while a look or a word is enough to sunder two lovers for
ever. In the recollection of an almost perfect life of heart and heart
lies the secret of many an estrangement that none can explain. Two may
live together without full trust in their hearts if only their past
holds no memories of complete and unclouded love; but for those who
once have known that intimate life, it becomes intolerable to keep
perpetual watch over looks and words. Great poets know this; Paul and
Virginie die before youth is over; can we think of Paul and Virginie
estranged? Let us know that, to the honor of Lucien and Eve, the grave
injury done was not the source of the pain; it was entirely a matter
of feeling upon either side, for the poet in fault, as for the sister
who was in no way to blame. Things had reached the point when the
slightest misunderstanding, or little quarrel, or a fresh
disappointment in Lucien would end in final estrangement. Money
difficulties may be arranged, but feelings are inexorable.
Next day Lucien received a copy of the local paper. He turned pale
with pleasure when he saw his name at the head of one of the first
"leaders" in that highly respectable sheet, which like the provincial
academies that Voltaire compared to a well-bred miss, was never talked
"Let Franche-Comte boast of giving the light to Victor Hugo, to
Charles Nodier, and Cuvier," ran the article, "Brittany of
producing a Chateaubriand and a Lammenais, Normandy of Casimir
Delavigne, and Touraine of the author of _Eloa_; Angoumois that
gave birth, in the days of Louis XIII., to our illustrious
fellow-countryman Guez, better known under the name of Balzac,
our Angoumois need no longer envy Limousin her Dupuytren, nor
Auvergne, the country of Montlosier, nor Bordeaux, birthplace of
so many great men; for we too have our poet!--The writer of the
beautiful sonnets entitled the _Marguerites_ unites his poet's fame
to the distinction of a prose writer, for to him we also owe the
magnificent romance of _The Archer of Charles IX._ Some day our
nephews will be proud to be the fellow-townsmen of Lucien Chardon,
a rival of Petrarch!!!"
(The country newspapers of those days were sown with notes of
admiration, as reports of English election speeches are studded with
"cheers" in brackets.)
"In spite of his brilliant success in Paris, our young poet has
not forgotten the Hotel de Bargeton, the cradle of his triumphs;
nor the fact that the wife of M. le Comte du Chatelet, our
Prefect, encouraged his early footsteps in the pathway of the
Muses. He has come back among us once more! All L'Houmeau was
thrown into excitement yesterday by the appearance of our Lucien
de Rubempre. The news of his return produced a profound sensation
throughout the town. Angouleme certainly will not allow L'Houmeau
to be beforehand in doing honor to the poet who in journalism and
literature has so gloriously represented our town in Paris. Lucien
de Rubempre, a religious and Royalist poet, has braved the fury of
parties; he has come home, it is said, for repose after the
fatigue of a struggle which would try the strength of an even
greater intellectual athlete than a poet and a dreamer.
"There is some talk of restoring our great poet to the title of
the illustrious house of de Rubempre, of which his mother, Madame
Chardon, is the last survivor, and it is added that Mme. la
Comtesse du Chatelet was the first to think of this eminently
politic idea. The revival of an ancient and almost extinct family
by young talent and newly won fame is another proof that the
immortal author of the Charter still cherishes the desire
expressed by the words 'Union and oblivion.'
"Our poet is staying with his sister, Mme. Sechard."
Under the heading "Angouleme" followed some items of news:--
"Our Prefect, M. le Comte du Chatelet, Gentleman in Ordinary to
His Majesty, has just been appointed Extraordinary Councillor of
"All the authorities called yesterday on M. le Prefet.
"Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet will receive on Thursdays.
"The Mayor of Escarbas, M. de Negrepelisse, the representative of
the younger branch of the d'Espard family, and father of Mme. du
Chatelet, recently raised to the rank of a Count and Peer of
France and a Commander of the Royal Order of St. Louis, has been
nominated for the presidency of the electoral college of Angouleme
at the forthcoming elections."
"There!" said Lucien, taking the paper to his sister. Eve read the
article with attention, and returned with the sheet with a thoughtful
"What do you say to that?" asked he, surprised at a reserve that
seemed so like indifference.
"The Cointets are proprietors of that paper, dear," she said; "they
put in exactly what they please, and it is not at all likely that the
prefecture or the palace have forced their hands. Can you imagine that
your old rival the prefect would be generous enough to sing your
praises? Have you forgotten that the Cointets are suing us under
Metivier's name? and that they are trying to turn David's discovery to
their own advantage? I do not know the source of this paragraph, but
it makes me uneasy. You used to rouse nothing but envious feeling and
hatred here; a prophet has no honor in his own country, and they
slandered you, and now in a moment it is all changed----"
"You do not know the vanity of country towns," said Lucien. "A whole
little town in the south turned out not so long ago to welcome a young
man that had won the first prize in some competition; they looked on
him as a budding great man."
"Listen, dear Lucien; I do not want to preach to you, I will say
everything in a very few words--you must suspect every little thing
"You are right," said Lucien, but he was surprised at his sister's
lack of enthusiasm. He himself was full of delight to find his
humiliating and shame-stricken return to Angouleme changed into a
triumph in this way.
"You have no belief in the little fame that has cost so dear!" he said
again after a long silence. Something like a storm had been gathering
in his heart during the past hour. For all answer Eve gave him a look,
and Lucien felt ashamed of his accusation.
Dinner was scarcely over when a messenger came from the prefecture
with a note addressed to M. Chardon. That note appeared to decide the
day for the poet's vanity; the world contending against the family for
him had won.
"M. le Comte Sixte du Chatelet and Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet
request the honor of M. Lucien Chardon's company at dinner on the
fifteenth of September. R. S. V. P."
Enclosed with the invitation there was a card--
LE COMTE SIXTE DU CHATELET,
Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Prefect of the Charente,
Councillor of State.
"You are in favor," said old Sechard; "they are talking about you in
the town as if you were somebody! Angouleme and L'Houmeau are
disputing as to which shall twist wreaths for you."
"Eve, dear," Lucien whispered to his sister, "I am exactly in the same
condition as I was before in L'Houmeau when Mme. de Bargeton sent me
the first invitation--I have not a dress suit for the prefect's
"Do you really mean to accept the invitation?" Eve asked in alarm, and
a dispute sprang up between the brother and sister. Eve's provincial
good sense told her that if you appear in society, it must be with a
smiling face and faultless costume. "What will come of the prefect's
dinner?" she wondered. "What has Lucien to do with the great people of
Angouleme? Are they plotting something against him?" but she kept
these thoughts to herself.
Lucien spoke the last word at bedtime: "You do not know my influence.
The prefect's wife stands in fear of a journalist; and besides, Louise
de Negrepelisse lives on in the Comtesse du Chatelet, and a woman with
her influence can rescue David. I am going to tell her about my
brother's invention, and it would be a mere nothing to her to obtain a
subsidy of ten thousand francs from the Government for him."
At eleven o'clock that night the whole household was awakened by the
town band, reinforced by the military band from the barracks. The
Place du Murier was full of people. The young men of Angouleme were
giving Lucien Chardon de Rubempre a serenade. Lucien went to his
sister's window and made a speech after the last performance.
"I thank my fellow-townsmen for the honor that they do me," he said in
the midst of a great silence; "I will strive to be worthy of it; they
will pardon me if I say no more; I am so much moved by this incident
that I cannot speak."
"Hurrah for the writer of _The Archer of Charles IX._! . . . Hurrah for
the poet of the _Marguerites_! . . . Long live Lucien de Rubempre!"
After these three salvos, taken up by some few voices, three crowns
and a quantity of bouquets were adroitly flung into the room through
the open window. Ten minutes later the Place du Murier was empty, and
silence prevailed in the streets.
"I would rather have ten thousand francs," said old Sechard, fingering
the bouquets and garlands with a satirical expression. "You gave them
daisies, and they give you posies in return; you deal in flowers."
"So that is your opinion of the honors shown me by my fellow-townsmen,
is it?" asked Lucien. All his melancholy had left him, his face was
radiant with good humor. "If you knew mankind, Papa Sechard, you would
see that no moment in one's life comes twice. Such a triumph as this
can only be due to genuine enthusiasm! . . . My dear mother, my good
sister, this wipes out many mortifications."
Lucien kissed them; for when joy overflows like a torrent flood, we
are fain to pour it out into a friend's heart. "When an author is
intoxicated with success, he will hug his porter if there is nobody
else on hand," according to Bixiou.
"Why, darling, why are you crying?" he said, looking into Eve's face.
"Ah! I know, you are crying for joy!"
"Oh me!" said her mother, shaking her head as she spoke. "Lucien has
forgotten everything already; not merely his own troubles, but ours as
Mother and daughter separated, and neither dared to utter all her
In a country eaten up with the kind of social insubordination
disguised by the word Equality, a triumph of any kind whatsoever is a
sort of miracle which requires, like some other miracles for that
matter, the co-operation of skilled labor. Out of ten ovations offered
to ten living men, selected for this distinction by a grateful
country, you may be quite sure that nine are given from considerations
connected as remotely as possible with the conspicuous merits of the
renowned recipient. What was Voltaire's apotheosis at the
Theatre-Francais but the triumph of eighteenth century philosophy? A
triumph in France means that everybody else feels that he is adorning
his own temples with the crown that he sets on the idol's head.
The women's presentiments proved correct. The distinguished
provincial's reception was antipathetic to Angoumoisin immobility; it
was too evidently got up by some interested persons or by enthusiastic
stage mechanics, a suspicious combination. Eve, moreover, like most of
her sex, was distrustful by instinct, even when reason failed to
justify her suspicions to herself. "Who can be so fond of Lucien that
he could rouse the town for him?" she wondered as she fell asleep.
"The _Marguerites_ are not published yet; how can they compliment him on
a future success?"
The ovation was, in fact, the work of Petit-Claud.
Petit-Claud had dined with Mme. de Senonches, for the first time, on
the evening of the day that brought the cure of Marsac to Angouleme
with the news of Lucien's return. That same evening he made formal
application for the hand of Mlle. de la Haye. It was a family dinner,
one of the solemn occasions marked not so much by the number of the
guests as by the splendor of their toilettes. Consciousness of the
performance weighs upon the family party, and every countenance looks
significant. Francoise was on exhibition. Mme. de Senonches had
sported her most elaborate costume for the occasion; M. du Hautoy wore
a black coat; M. de Senonches had returned from his visit to the
Pimentels on the receipt of a note from his wife, informing him that
Mme. du Chatelet was to appear at their house for the first time since
her arrival, and that a suitor in form for Francoise would appear on
the scenes. Boniface Cointet also was there, in his best maroon coat
of clerical cut, with a diamond pin worth six thousand francs
displayed in his shirt frill--the revenge of the rich merchant upon a
Petit-Claud himself, scoured and combed, had carefully removed his
gray hairs, but he could not rid himself of his wizened air. The puny
little man of law, tightly buttoned into his clothes, reminded you of
a torpid viper; for if hope had brought a spark of life into his
magpie eyes, his face was icily rigid, and so well did he assume an
air of gravity, that an ambitious public prosecutor could not have
been more dignified.
Mme. de Senonches had told her intimate friends that her ward would
meet her betrothed that evening, and that Mme. du Chatelet would
appear at the Hotel de Senonches for the first time; and having
particularly requested them to keep these matters secret, she expected
to find her rooms crowded. The Comte and Comtesse du Chatelet had left
cards everywhere officially, but they meant the honor of a personal
visit to play a part in their policy. So aristocratic Angouleme was in
such a prodigious ferment of curiosity, that certain of the Chandour
camp proposed to go to the Hotel de Bargeton that evening. (They
persistently declined to call the house by its new name.)
Proofs of the Countess' influence had stirred up ambition in many
quarters; and not only so, it was said that the lady had changed so
much for the better that everybody wished to see and judge for
himself. Petit-Claud learned great news on the way to the house;
Cointet told him that Zephirine had asked leave to present her dear
Francoise's betrothed to the Countess, and that the Countess had
granted the favor. Petit-Claud had seen at once that Lucien's return
put Louise de Negrepelisse in a false position; and now, in a moment,
he flattered himself that he saw a way to take advantage of it.
M. and Mme. de Senonches had undertaken such heavy engagements when
they bought the house, that, in provincial fashion, they thought it
imprudent to make any changes in it. So when Madame du Chatelet was
announced, Zephirine went up to her with--"Look, dear Louise, you are
still in your old home!" indicating, as she spoke, the little
chandelier, the paneled wainscot, and the furniture, which once had
"I wish least of all to remember it, dear," Madame la Prefete answered
graciously, looking round on the assemblage.
Every one admitted that Louise de Negrepelisse was not like the same
woman. If the provincial had undergone a change, the woman herself had
been transformed by those eighteen months in Paris, by the first
happiness of a still recent second marriage, and the kind of dignity
that power confers. The Comtesse du Chatelet bore the same resemblance
to Mme. de Bargeton that a girl of twenty bears to her mother.
She wore a charming cap of lace and flowers, fastened by a
diamond-headed pin; the ringlets that half hid the contours of her face
added to her look of youth, and suited her style of beauty. Her foulard
gown, designed by the celebrated Victorine, with a pointed bodice,
exquisitely fringed, set off her figure to advantage; and a silken
lace scarf, adroitly thrown about a too long neck, partly concealed
her shoulders. She played with the dainty scent-bottle, hung by a
chain from her bracelet; she carried her fan and her handkerchief with
ease--pretty trifles, as dangerous as a sunken reef for the provincial
dame. The refined taste shown in the least details, the carriage and
manner modeled upon Mme. d'Espard, revealed a profound study of the
As for the elderly beau of the Empire, he seemed since his marriage to
have followed the example of the species of melon that turns from
green to yellow in a night. All the youth that Sixte had lost seemed
to appear in his wife's radiant countenance; provincial pleasantries
passed from ear to ear, circulating the more readily because the women
were furious at the new superiority of the sometime queen of
Angouleme; and the persistent intruder paid the penalty of his wife's
The rooms were almost as full as on that memorable evening of Lucien's
readings from Chenier. Some faces were missing: M. de Chandour and
Amelie, M. de Pimental and the Rastignacs--and M. de Bargeton was no
longer there; but the Bishop came, as before, with his vicars-general
in his train. Petit-Claud was much impressed by the sight of the great
world of Angouleme. Four months ago he had no hope of entering the
circle, to-day he felt his detestation of "the classes" sensibly
diminished. He thought the Comtesse du Chatelet a most fascinating
woman. "It is she who can procure me the appointment of deputy public
prosecutor," he said to himself.
Louise chatted for an equal length of time with each of the women; her
tone varied with the importance of the person addressed and the
position taken up by the latter with regard to her journey to Paris
with Lucien. The evening was half over when she withdrew to the
boudoir with the Bishop. Zephirine came over to Petit-Claud, and laid
her hand on his arm. His heart beat fast as his hostess brought him to
the room where Lucien's troubles first began, and were now about to
come to a crisis.
"This is M. Petit-Claud, dear; I recommend him to you the more warmly
because anything that you may do for him will doubtless benefit my
"You are an attorney, are you not, monsieur?" said the august
Negrepelisse, scanning Petit-Claud.
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