Honore De Balzac
Part 13 out of 14
"Alas! yes, _Madame la Comtesse_." (The son of the tailor in L'Houmeau
had never once had occasion to use those three words in his life
before, and his mouth was full of them.) "But it rests with you,
Madame la Comtesse, whether or no I shall act for the Crown. M. Milaud
is going to Nevers, it is said----"
"But a man is usually second deputy and then first deputy, is he not?"
broke in the Countess. "I should like to see you in the first deputy's
place at once. But I should like first to have some assurance of your
devotion to the cause of our legitimate sovereigns, to religion, and
more especially to M. de Villele, if I am to interest myself on your
behalf to obtain the favor."
Petit-Claud came nearer. "Madame," he said in her ear, "I am the man
to yield the King absolute obedience."
"That is just what _we_ want to-day," said the Countess, drawing back a
little to make him understand that she had no wish for promises given
under his breath. "So long as you satisfy Mme. de Senonches, you can
count upon me," she added, with a royal movement of her fan.
Petit-Claud looked toward the door of the boudoir, and saw Cointet
standing there. "Madame," he said, "Lucien is here, in Angouleme."
"Well, sir?" asked the Countess, in tones that would have put an end
to all power of speech in an ordinary man.
"Mme. la Comtesse does not understand," returned Petit-Claud, bringing
out that most respectful formula again. "How does Mme. la Comtesse
wish that the great man of her making should be received in Angouleme?
There is no middle course; he must be received or despised here."
This was a dilemma to which Louise de Negrepelisse had never given a
thought; it touched her closely, yet rather for the sake of the past
than of the future. And as for Petit-Claud, his plan for arresting
David Sechard depended upon the lady's actual feelings towards Lucien.
"M. Petit-Claud," said the Countess, with haughty dignity, "you mean
to be on the side of the Government. Learn that the first principle of
government is this--never to have been in the wrong, and that the
instinct of power and the sense of dignity is even stronger in women
than in governments."
"That is just what I thought, madame," he answered quickly, observing
the Countess meanwhile with attention the more profound because it was
scarcely visible. "Lucien came here in the depths of misery. But if he
must receive an ovation, I can compel him to leave Angouleme by the
means of the ovation itself. His sister and brother-in-law, David
Sechard, are hard pressed for debts."
In the Countess' haughty face there was a swift, barely perceptible
change; it was not satisfaction, but the repression of satisfaction.
Surprised that Petit-Claud should have guessed her wishes, she gave
him a glance as she opened her fan, and Francoise de la Haye's
entrance at that moment gave her time to find an answer.
"It will not be long before you are public prosecutor, monsieur," she
said, with a significant smile. That speech did not commit her in any
way, but it was explicit enough. Francoise had come in to thank the
"Oh! madame, then I shall owe the happiness of my life to you," she
exclaimed, bending girlishly to add in the Countess' ear, "To marry a
petty provincial attorney would be like being burned by slow fires."
It was Francis, with his knowledge of officialdom, who had prompted
Zephirine to make this set upon Louise.
"In the very earliest days after promotion," so the ex-consul-general
told his fair friend, "everybody, prefect, or monarch, or man of
business, is burning to exert his influence for his friends; but a
patron soon finds out the inconveniences of patronage, and then turns
from fire to ice. Louise will do more now for Petit-Claud than she
would do for her husband in three months' time."
"Madame la Comtesse is thinking of all that our poet's triumph
entails?" continued Petit-Claud. "She should receive Lucien before
there is an end of the nine-days' wonder."
The Countess terminated the audience with a bow, and rose to speak
with Mme. de Pimentel, who came to the boudoir. The news of old
Negrepelisse's elevation to a marquisate had greatly impressed the
Marquise; she judged it expedient to be amiable to a woman so clever
as to rise the higher for an apparent fall.
"Do tell me, dear, why you took the trouble to put your father in the
House of Peers?" said the Marquise, in the course of a little
confidential conversation, in which she bent the knee before the
superiority of "her dear Louise."
"They were all the more ready to grant the favor because my father has
no son to succeed him, dear, and his vote will always be at the
disposal of the Crown; but if we should have sons, I quite expect that
my oldest will succeed to his grandfather's name, title, and peerage."
Mme. de Pimentel saw, to her annoyance, that it was idle to expect a
mother ambitious for children not yet in existence to further her own
private designs of raising M. de Pimentel to a peerage.
"I have the Countess," Petit-Claud told Cointet when they came away.
"I can promise you your partnership. I shall be deputy prosecutor
before the month is out, and Sechard will be in your power. Try to
find a buyer for my connection; it has come to be the first in
Angouleme in my hands during the last five months----"
"Once put _you_ on the horse, and there is no need to do more," said
Cointet, half jealous of his own work.
The causes of Lucien's triumphant reception in his native town must
now be plain to everybody. Louise du Chatelet followed the example of
that King of France who left the Duke of Orleans unavenged; she chose
to forget the insults received in Paris by Mme. de Bargeton. She would
patronize Lucien, and overwhelming him with her patronage, would
completely crush him and get rid of him by fair means. Petit-Claud
knew the whole tale of the cabals in Paris through town gossip, and
shrewdly guessed how a woman must hate the man who would not love when
she was fain of his love.
The ovation justified the past of Louise de Negrepelisse. The next day
Petit-Claud appeared at Mme. Sechard's house, heading a deputation of
six young men of the town, all of them Lucien's schoolfellows. He
meant to finish his work, to intoxicate Lucien completely, and to have
him in his power. Lucien's old schoolfellows at the Angouleme
grammar-school wished to invite the author of the _Marguerites_ and
_The Archer of Charles IX._ to a banquet given in honor of the great
man arisen from their ranks.
"Come, this is your doing, Petit-Claud!" exclaimed Lucien.
"Your return has stirred our conceit," said Petit-Claud; "we made it a
point of honor to get up a subscription, and we will have a tremendous
affair for you. The masters and the headmaster will be there, and, at
the present rate, we shall, no doubt, have the authorities too."
"For what day?" asked Lucien.
"That is quite out of the question," said Lucien. "I cannot accept an
invitation for the next ten days, but then I will gladly----"
"Very well," said Petit-Claud, "so be it then, in ten days' time."
Lucien behaved charmingly to his old schoolfellows, and they regarded
him with almost respectful admiration. He talked away very wittily for
half an hour; he had been set upon a pedestal, and wished to justify
the opinion of his fellow-townsmen; so he stood with his hands thrust
into his pockets, and held forth from the height to which he had been
raised. He was modest and good-natured, as befitted genius in
dressing-gown and slippers; he was the athlete, wearied by a wrestling
bout with Paris, and disenchanted above all things; he congratulated
the comrades who had never left the dear old province, and so forth,
and so forth. They were delighted with him. He took Petit-Claud aside,
and asked him for the real truth about David's affairs, reproaching
him for allowing his brother-in-law to go into hiding, and tried to
match his wits against the little lawyer. Petit-Claud made an effort
over himself, and gave his acquaintance to understand that he
(Petit-Claud) was only an insignificant little country attorney, with
no sort of craft nor subtlety.
The whole machinery of modern society is so infinitely more complex
than in ancient times, that the subdivision of human faculty is the
result. The great men of the days of old were perforce universal
geniuses, appearing at rare intervals like lighted torches in an
antique world. In the course of ages the intellect began to work on
special lines, but the great man still could "take all knowledge for
his province." A man "full cautelous," as was said of Louis XI., for
instance, could apply that special faculty in every direction, but
to-day the single quality is subdivided, and every profession has its
special craft. A peasant or a pettifogging solicitor might very easily
overreach an astute diplomate over a bargain in some remote country
village; and the wiliest journalist may prove the veriest simpleton in
a piece of business. Lucien could but be a puppet in the hands of
That guileful practitioner, as might have been expected, had written
the article himself; Angouleme and L'Houmeau, thus put on their
mettle, thought it incumbent upon them to pay honor to Lucien. His
fellow-citizens, assembled in the Place du Murier, were Cointets'
workpeople from the papermills and printing-house, with a sprinkling
of Lucien's old schoolfellows and the clerks in the employ of
Messieurs Petit-Claud and Cachan. As for the attorney himself, he was
once more Lucien's chum of old days; and he thought, not without
reason, that before very long he should learn David's whereabouts in
some unguarded moment. And if David came to grief through Lucien's
fault, the poet would find Angouleme too hot to hold him. Petit-Claud
meant to secure his hold; he posed, therefore, as Lucien's inferior.
"What better could I have done?" he said accordingly. "My old chum's
sister was involved, it is true, but there are some positions that
simply cannot be maintained in a court of law. David asked me on the
first of June to ensure him a quiet life for three months; he had a
quiet life until September, and even so I have kept his property out
of his creditors' power, for I shall gain my case in the Court-Royal;
I contend that the wife is a privileged creditor, and her claim is
absolute, unless there is evidence of intent to defraud. As for you,
you have come back in misfortune, but you are a genius."--(Lucien
turned about as if the incense were burned too close to his face.)
--"Yes, my dear fellow, a _genius_. I have read your _Archer of
Charles IX._; it is more than a romance, it is literature. Only two
living men could have written the preface--Chateaubriand and Lucien."
Lucien accepted that d'Arthez had written the preface. Ninety-nine
writers out of a hundred would have done the same.
"Well, nobody here seemed to have heard of you!" Petit-Claud
continued, with apparent indignation. "When I saw the general
indifference, I made up my mind to change all that. I wrote that
article in the paper----"
"What? did you write it?" exclaimed Lucien.
"I myself. Angouleme and L'Houmeau were stirred to rivalry; I arranged
for a meeting of your old schoolfellows, and got up yesterday's
serenade; and when once the enthusiasm began to grow, we started a
committee for the dinner. 'If David is in hiding,' said I to myself,
'Lucien shall be crowned at any rate.' And I have done even better
than that," continued Petit-Claud; "I have seen the Comtesse du
Chatelet and made her understand that she owes it to herself to
extricate David from his position; she can do it, and she ought to do
it. If David had really discovered the secret of which he spoke to me,
the Government ought to lend him a hand, it would not ruin the
Government; and think what a fine thing for a prefect to have half the
credit of the great invention for the well-timed help. It would set
people talking about him as an enlightened administrator.--Your sister
has taken fright at our musketry practice; she was scared of the
smoke. A battle in the law-courts costs quite as much as a battle on
the field; but David has held his ground, he has his secret. They
cannot stop him, and they will not pull him up now."
"Thanks, my dear fellow; I see that I can take you into my confidence;
you shall help me to carry out my plan."
Petit-Claud looked at Lucien, and his gimlet face was a point of
"I intend to rescue Sechard," Lucien said, with a certain importance.
"I brought his misfortunes upon him; I mean to make full
reparation. . . . I have more influence over Louise----"
"Who is Louise?"
"The Comtesse du Chatelet!"
"I have more influence over her than she herself suspects," said
Lucien; "only, my dear fellow, if I can do something with your
authorities here, I have no decent clothes."--Petit-Claud made as
though he would offer his purse.
"Thank you," said Lucien, grasping Petit-Claud's hand. "In ten days'
time I will pay a visit to the Countess and return your call."
The shook hands like old comrades, and separated.
"He ought to be a poet" said Petit-Claud to himself; "he is quite
"There are no friends like one's school friends; it is a true saying,"
Lucien thought at he went to find his sister.
"What can Petit-Claud have promised to do that you should be so
friendly with him, my Lucien?" asked Eve. "Be on your guard with him."
"With _him_?" cried Lucien. "Listen, Eve," he continued, seeming to
bethink himself; "you have no faith in me now; you do not trust me, so
it is not likely you will trust Petit-Claud; but in ten or twelve days
you will change your mind," he added, with a touch of fatuity. And he
went to his room, and indited the following epistle to Lousteau:--
_Lucien to Lousteau._
"MY FRIEND,--Of the pair of us, I alone can remember that bill for
a thousand francs that I once lent you; and I know how things will
be with you when you open this letter too well, alas! not to add
immediately that I do not expect to be repaid in current coin of
the realm; no, I will take it in credit from you, just as one
would ask Florine for pleasure. We have the same tailor;
therefore, you can order a complete outfit for me on the shortest
possible notice. I am not precisely wearing Adam's costume, but I
cannot show myself here. To my astonishment, the honors paid by
the departments to a Parisian celebrity awaited me. I am the hero
of a banquet, for all the world as if I were a Deputy of the Left.
Now, after that, do you understand that I must have a black coat?
Promise to pay; have it put down to your account, try the
advertisement dodge, rehearse an unpublished scene between Don
Juan and M. Dimanche, for I must have a gala suit at all costs. I
have nothing, nothing but rags: start with that; it is August, the
weather is magnificent, ergo see that I receive by the end of the
week a charming morning suit, dark bronze-green jacket, and three
waistcoats, one a brimstone yellow, one a plaid, and the third
must be white; furthermore, let there be three pairs of trousers
of the most fetching kind--one pair of white English stuff, one
pair of nankeen, and a third of thin black kerseymere; lastly,
send a black dress-coat and a black satin waistcoat. If you have
picked up another Florine somewhere, I beg her good offices for
two cravats. So far this is nothing; I count upon you and your
skill in these matters; I am not much afraid of the tailor. But
the ingenuity of poverty, assuredly the most active of all poisons
at work in the system of man (_id est_ the Parisian), an ingenuity
that would catch Satan himself napping, has failed so far to
discover a way to obtain a hat on credit!--How many a time, my
dear friend, have we deplored this! When one of us shall bring a
hat that costs one thousand francs into fashion, then, and not
till then, can we afford to wear them; until that day comes we are
bound to have cash enough in our pockets to pay for a hat. Ah!
what an ill turn the Comedie-Francaise did us with, 'Lafleur, you
will put gold in my pockets!'
"I write with a profound sense of all the difficulties involved by
the demand. Enclose with the above a pair of boots, a pair of
pumps, a hat, half a dozen pairs of gloves. 'Tis asking the
impossible; I know it. But what is a literary life but a
periodical recurrence of the impossible? Work the miracle, write a
long article, or play some small scurvy trick, and I will hold
your debt as fully discharged--this is all I say to you. It is a
debt of honor after all, my dear fellow, and due these twelve
months; you ought to blush for yourself if you have any blushes
"Joking apart, my dear Lousteau, I am in serious difficulties, as
you may judge for yourself when I tell you that Mme. de Bargeton
has married Chatelet, and Chatelet is prefect of Angouleme. The
precious pair can do a good deal for my brother-in-law; he is in
hiding at this moment on account of that letter of exchange, and
the horrid business is all my doing. So it is a question of
appearing before Mme. la Prefete and regaining my influence at all
costs. It is shocking, is it not, that David Sechard's fate should
hang upon a neat pair of shoes, a pair of open-worked gray silk
stockings (mind you, remember them), and a new hat? I shall give
out that I am sick and ill, and take to my bed, like Duvicquet, to
save the trouble of replying to the pressing invitations of my
fellow-townsmen. My fellow-townsmen, dear boy, have treated me to
a fine serenade. _My fellow-townsmen_, forsooth! I begin to wonder
how many fools go to make up that word, since I learned that two
or three of my old schoolfellows worked up the capital of the
Angoumois to this pitch of enthusiasm.
"If you could contrive to slip a few lines as to my reception in
among the news items, I should be several inches taller for it
here; and besides, I should make Mme. la Prefete feel that, if I
have not friends, I have some credit, at any rate, with the
Parisian press. I give up none of my hopes, and I will return the
compliment. If you want a good, solid, substantial article for
some magazine or other, I have time enough now to think something
out. I only say the word, my dear friend; I count upon you as you
may count upon me, and I am yours sincerely.
"LUCIEN DE R.
"P. S.--Send the things to the coach office to wait until called
Lucien held up his head again. In this mood he wrote the letter, and
as he wrote his thoughts went back to Paris. He had spent six days in
the provinces, and the uneventful quietness of provincial life had
already entered into his soul; his mind returned to those dear old
miserable days with a vague sense of regret. The Comtesse du Chatelet
filled his thoughts for a whole week; and at last he came to attach so
much importance to his reappearance, that he hurried down to the coach
office in L'Houmeau after nightfall in a perfect agony of suspense,
like a woman who has set her last hopes upon a new dress, and waits in
despair until it arrives.
"Ah! Lousteau, all your treasons are forgiven," he said to himself, as
he eyed the packages, and knew from the shape of them that everything
had been sent. Inside the hatbox he found a note from Lousteau:--
"MY DEAR BOY,--The tailor behaved very well; but as thy profound
retrospective glance led thee to forbode, the cravats, the hats,
and the silk hosen perplexed our souls, for there was nothing in
our purse to be perplexed thereby. As said Blondet, so say we;
there is a fortune awaiting the establishment which will supply
young men with inexpensive articles on credit; for when we do not
pay in the beginning, we pay dear in the end. And by the by, did
not the great Napoleon, who missed a voyage to the Indies for want
of boots, say that, 'If a thing is easy, it is never done?' So
everything went well--except the boots. I beheld a vision of thee,
fully dressed, but without a hat! appareled in waistcoats, yet
shoeless! and bethought me of sending a pair of moccasins given to
Florine as a curiosity by an American. Florine offered the huge
sum of forty francs, that we might try our luck at play for you.
Nathan, Blondet, and I had such luck (as we were not playing for
ourselves) that we were rich enough to ask La Torpille, des
Lupeaulx's sometime 'rat,' to supper. Frascati certainly owed us
that much. Florine undertook the shopping, and added three fine
shirts to the purchases. Nathan sends you a cane. Blondet, who won
three hundred francs, is sending you a gold chain; and the gold
watch, the size of a forty-franc piece, is from La Torpille; some
idiot gave the thing to her, and it will not go. 'Trumpery
rubbish,' she says, 'like the man that owned it.' Bixiou, who came
to find us up at the _Rocher de Cancale_, wished to enclose a bottle
of Portugal water in the package. Said our first comic man, 'If
this can make him happy, let him have it!' growling it out in a
deep bass voice with the _bourgeois_ pomposity that he can act to
the life. Which things, my dear boy, ought to prove to you how
much we care for our friends in adversity. Florine, whom I have
had the weakness to forgive, begs you to send us an article on
Nathan's hat. Fare thee well, my son. I can only commiserate you
on finding yourself back in the same box from which you emerged
when you discovered your old comrade.
"Poor fellows! They have been gambling for me," said Lucien; he was
quite touched by the letter. A waft of the breeze from an unhealthy
country, from the land where one has suffered most, may seem to bring
the odors of Paradise; and in a dull life there is an indefinable
sweetness in memories of past pain.
Eve was struck dumb with amazement when her brother came down in his
new clothes. She did not recognize him.
"Now I can walk out in Beaulieu," he cried; "they shall not say it of
me that I came back in rags. Look, here is a watch which I shall
return to you, for it is mine; and, like its owner, it is erratic in
"What a child he is!" exclaimed Eve. "It is impossible to bear you any
"Then do you imagine, my dear girl, that I sent for all this with the
silly idea of shining in Angouleme? I don't care _that_ for Angouleme"
(twirling his cane with the engraved gold knob). "I intend to repair
the wrong I have done, and this is my battle array."
Lucien's success in this kind was his one real triumph; but the
triumph, be it said, was immense. If admiration freezes some people's
tongues, envy loosens at least as many more, and if women lost their
heads over Lucien, men slandered him. He might have cried, in the
words of the songwriter, "I thank thee, my coat!" He left two cards at
the prefecture, and another upon Petit-Claud. The next day, the day of
the banquet, the following paragraph appeared under the heading
"Angouleme" in the Paris newspapers:--
"The return of the author of _The Archer of Charles IX._ has been
the signal for an ovation which does equal honor to the town and
to M. Lucien de Rubempre, the young poet who has made so brilliant
a beginning; the writer of the one French historical novel not
written in the style of Scott, and of a preface which may be
called a literary event. The town hastened to offer him a
patriotic banquet on his return. The name of the
recently-appointed prefect is associated with the public
demonstration in honor of the author of the _Marguerites_, whose
talent received such warm encouragement from Mme. du Chatelet at
the outset of his career."
In France, when once the impulse is given, nobody can stop. The
colonel of the regiment offered to put his band at the disposal of the
committee. The landlord of the _Bell_ (renowned for truffled turkeys,
despatched in the most wonderful porcelain jars to the uttermost parts
of the earth), the famous innkeeper of L'Houmeau, would supply the
repast. At five o'clock some forty persons, all in state and festival
array, were assembled in his largest ball, decorated with hangings,
crowns of laurel, and bouquets. The effect was superb. A crowd of
onlookers, some hundred persons, attracted for the most part by the
military band in the yard, represented the citizens of Angouleme.
Petit-Claud went to the window. "All Angouleme is here," he said,
"I can make nothing of this," remarked little Postel to his wife (they
had come out to hear the band play). "Why, the prefect and the
receiver-general, and the colonel and the superintendent of the powder
factory, and our mayor and deputy, and the headmaster of the school,
and the manager of the foundry at Ruelle, and the public prosecutor,
M. Milaud, and all the authorities, have just gone in!"
The bank struck up as they sat down to table with variations on the
air _Vive le roy, vive la France_, a melody which has never found
popular favor. It was then five o'clock in the evening; it was eight
o'clock before dessert was served. Conspicuous among the sixty-five
dishes appeared an Olympus in confectionery, surmounted by a figure of
France modeled in chocolate, to give the signal for toasts and
"Gentlemen," called the prefect, rising to his feet, "the King! the
rightful ruler of France! To what do we owe the generation of poets
and thinkers who maintain the sceptre of letters in the hands of
France, if not to the peace which the Bourbons have restored----"
"Long live the King!" cried the assembled guests (ministerialists
The venerable headmaster rose.
"To the hero of the day," he said, "to the young poet who combines the
gift of the _prosateur_ with the charm and poetic faculty of Petrarch in
that sonnet-form which Boileau declares to be so difficult."
The colonel rose next. "Gentlemen, to the Royalist! for the hero of
this evening had the courage to fight for sound principles!"
"Bravo!" cried the prefect, leading the applause.
Then Petit-Claud called upon all Lucien's schoolfellows there present.
"To the pride of the grammar-school of Angouleme! to the venerable
headmaster so dear to us all, to whom the acknowledgment for some part
of our triumph is due!"
The old headmaster dried his eyes; he had not expected this toast.
Lucien rose to his feet, the whole room was suddenly silent, and the
poet's face grew white. In that pause the old headmaster, who sat on
his left, crowned him with a laurel wreath. A round of applause
followed, and when Lucien spoke it was with tears in his eyes and a
sob in his throat.
"He is drunk," remarked the attorney-general-designate to his
"My dear fellow-countrymen, my dear comrades," Lucien said at last, "I
could wish that all France might witness this scene; for thus men rise
to their full stature, and in such ways as these our land demands
great deeds and noble work of us. And when I think of the little that
I have done, and of this great honor shown to me to-day, I can only
feel confused and impose upon the future the task of justifying your
reception of me. The recollection of this moment will give me renewed
strength for efforts to come. Permit me to indicate for your homage my
earliest muse and protectress, and to associate her name with that of
my birthplace; so--to the Comtesse du Chatelet and the noble town of
"He came out of that pretty well!" said the public prosecutor, nodding
approval; "our speeches were all prepared, and his was improvised."
At ten o'clock the party began to break up, and little knots of guests
went home together. David Sechard heard the unwonted music.
"What is going on in L'Houmeau?" he asked of Basine.
"They are giving a dinner to your brother-in-law, Lucien----"
"I know that he would feel sorry to miss me there," he said.
At midnight Petit-Claud walked home with Lucien. As they reached the
Place du Murier, Lucien said, "Come life, come death, we are friends,
my dear fellow."
"My marriage contract," said the lawyer, "with Mlle. Francoise de la
Haye will be signed to-morrow at Mme. de Senonches' house; do me the
pleasure of coming. Mme. de Senonches implored me to bring you, and
you will meet Mme. du Chatelet; they are sure to tell her of your
speech, and she will feel flattered by it."
"I knew what I was about," said Lucien.
"Oh! you will save David."
"I am sure I shall," the poet replied.
Just at that moment David appeared as if by magic in the Place du
Murier. This was how it had come about. He felt that he was in a
rather difficult position; his wife insisted that Lucien must neither
go to David nor know of his hiding-place; and Lucien all the while was
writing the most affectionate letters, saying that in a few days' time
all should be set right; and even as Basine Clerget explained the
reason why the band played, she put two letters into his hands. The
first was from Eve.
"DEAREST," she wrote, "do as if Lucien were not here; do not
trouble yourself in the least; our whole security depends upon the
fact that your enemies cannot find you; get that idea firmly into
your head. I have more confidence in Kolb and Marion and Basine
than in my own brother; such is my misfortune. Alas! poor Lucien
is not the ingenuous and tender-hearted poet whom we used to know;
and it is simply because he is trying to interfere on your behalf,
and because he imagines that he can discharge our debts (and this
from pride, my David), that I am afraid of him. Some fine clothes
have been sent from Paris for him, and five gold pieces in a
pretty purse. He gave the money to me, and we are living on it.
"We have one enemy the less. Your father has gone, thanks to
Petit-Claud. Petit-Claud unraveled his designs, and put an end to
them at once by telling him that you would do nothing without
consulting him, and that he (Petit-Claud) would not allow you to
concede a single point in the matter of the invention until you
had been promised an indemnity of thirty thousand francs; fifteen
thousand to free you from embarrassment, and fifteen thousand more
to be yours in any case, whether your invention succeeds or no. I
cannot understand Petit-Claud. I embrace you, dear, a wife's kiss
for her husband in trouble. Our little Lucien is well. How strange
it is to watch him grow rosy and strong, like a flower, in these
stormy days! Mother prays God for you now, as always, and sends
love only less tender than mine.--Your
As a matter of fact, Petit-Claud and the Cointets had taken fright at
old Sechard's peasant shrewdness, and got rid of him so much the more
easily because it was now vintage time at Marsac. Eve's letter
enclosed another from Lucien:--
"MY DEAR DAVID,--Everything is going well. I am armed _cap-a-pie_;
to-day I open the campaign, and in forty-eight hours I shall have
made great progress. How glad I shall be to embrace you when you
are free again and my debts are all paid! My mother and sister
persist in mistrusting me; their suspicion wounds me to the quick.
As if I did not know already that you are hiding with Basine, for
every time that Basine comes to the house I hear news of you and
receive answers to my letters; and besides, it is plain that my
sister could not find any one else to trust. It hurts me cruelly
to think that I shall be so near you to-day, and yet that you will
not be present at this banquet in my honor. I owe my little
triumph to the vainglory of Angouleme; in a few days it will be
quite forgotten, and you alone would have taken a real pleasure in
it. But, after all, in a little while you will pardon everything
to one who counts it more than all the triumphs in the world to be
Two forces tugged sharply at David's heart; he adored his wife; and if
he held Lucien in somewhat less esteem, his friendship was scarcely
diminished. In solitude our feelings have unrestricted play; and a man
preoccupied like David, with all-absorbing thoughts, will give way to
impulses for which ordinary life would have provided a sufficient
counterpoise. As he read Lucien's letter to the sound of military
music, and heard of this unlooked-for recognition, he was deeply
touched by that expression of regret. He had known how it would be. A
very slight expression of feeling appeals irresistibly to a sensitive
soul, for they are apt to credit others with like depths. How should
the drop fall unless the cup were full to the brim?
So at midnight, in spite of all Basine's entreaties, David must go to
"Nobody will be out in the streets at this time of night," he said; "I
shall not be seen, and they cannot arrest me. Even if I should meet
people, I can make use of Kolb's way of going into hiding. And
besides, it is so intolerably long since I saw my wife and child."
The reasoning was plausible enough; Basine gave way, and David went.
Petit-Claud was just taking leave as he came up and at his cry of
_"Lucien!"_ the two brothers flung their arms about each other with
tears in their eyes.
Life holds not many moments such as these. Lucien's heart went out in
response to this friendship for its own sake. There was never question
of debtor and creditor between them, and the offender met with no
reproaches save his own. David, generous and noble that he was, was
longing to bestow pardon; he meant first of all to read Lucien a
lecture, and scatter the clouds that overspread the love of the
brother and sister; and with these ends in view, the lack of money and
its consequent dangers disappeared entirely from his mind.
"Go home," said Petit-Claud, addressing his client; "take advantage of
your imprudence to see your wife and child again, at any rate; and you
must not be seen, mind you!--How unlucky!" he added, when he was alone
in the Place du Murier. "If only Cerizet were here----"
The buildings magniloquently styled the Angouleme Law Courts were then
in process of construction. Petit-Claud muttered these words to
himself as he passed by the hoardings, and heard a tap upon the
boards, and a voice issuing from a crack between two planks.
"Here I am," said Cerizet; "I saw David coming out of L'Houmeau. I was
beginning to have my suspicions about his retreat, and now I am sure;
and I know where to have him. But I want to know something of Lucien's
plans before I set the snare for David; and here are you sending him
into the house! Find some excuse for stopping here, at least, and when
David and Lucien come out, send them round this way; they will think
they are quite alone, and I shall overhear their good-bye."
"You are a very devil," muttered Petit-Claud.
"Well, I'm blessed if a man wouldn't do anything for the thing you
Petit-Claud walked away from the hoarding, and paced up and down in
the Place du Murier; he watched the windows of the room where the
family sat together, and thought of his own prospects to keep up his
courage. Cerizet's cleverness had given him the chance of striking the
final blow. Petit-Claud was a double-dealer of the profoundly cautious
stamp that is never caught by the bait of a present satisfaction, nor
entangled by a personal attachment, after his first initiation into
the strategy of self-seeking and the instability of the human heart.
So, from the very first, he had put little trust in Cointet. He
foresaw that his marriage negotiations might very easily be broken
off, saw also that in that case he could not accuse Cointet of bad
faith, and he had taken his measures accordingly. But since his
success at the Hotel de Bargeton, Petit-Claud's game was above board.
A certain under-plot of his was useless now, and even dangerous to a
man with his political ambitions. He had laid the foundations of his
future importance in the following manner:--
Gannerac and a few of the wealthy men of business in L'Houmeau formed
a sort of Liberal clique in constant communication (through commercial
channels) with the leaders of the Opposition. The Villele ministry,
accepted by the dying Louis XVIII., gave the signal for a change of
tactics in the Opposition camp; for, since the death of Napoleon, the
liberals had ceased to resort to the dangerous expedient of
conspiracy. They were busy organizing resistance by lawful means
throughout the provinces, and aiming at securing control of the great
bulk of electors by convincing the masses. Petit-Claud, a rabid
Liberal, and a man of L'Houmeau, was the instigator, the secret
counselor, and the very life of this movement in the lower town, which
groaned under the tyranny of the aristocrats at the upper end. He was
the first to see the danger of leaving the whole press of the
department in the control of the Cointets; the Opposition must have
its organ; it would not do to be behind other cities.
"If each one of us gives Gannerac a bill for five hundred francs, he
would have some twenty thousand francs and more; we might buy up
Sechard's printing-office, and we could do as we liked with the
master-printer if we lent him the capital," Petit-Claud had said.
Others had taken up the idea, and in this way Petit-Claud strengthened
his position with regard to David on the one side and the Cointets on
the other. Casting about him for a tool for his party, he naturally
thought that a rogue of Cerizet's calibre was the very man for the
"If you can find Sechard's hiding-place and put him in our hands,
somebody will lend you twenty thousand francs to buy his business, and
very likely there will be a newspaper to print. So, set about it," he
Petit-Claud put more faith in Cerizet's activity than in all the
Doublons in existence; and then it was that he promised Cointet that
Sechard should be arrested. But now that the little lawyer cherished
hopes of office, he saw that he must turn his back upon the Liberals;
and, meanwhile, the amount for the printing-office had been subscribed
in L'Houmeau. Petit-Claud decided to allow things to take their
"Pooh!" he thought, "Cerizet will get into trouble with his paper, and
give me an opportunity of displaying my talents."
He walked up to the door of the printing-office and spoke to Kolb, the
sentinel. "Go up and warn David that he had better go now," he said,
"and take every precaution. I am going home; it is one o'clock."
Marion came to take Kolb's place. Lucien and David came down together
and went out, Kolb a hundred paces ahead of them, and Marion at the
same distance behind. The two friends walked past the hoarding, Lucien
talking eagerly the while.
"My plan is extremely simple, David; but how could I tell you about it
while Eve was there? She would never understand. I am quite sure that
at the bottom of Louise's heart there is a feeling that I can rouse,
and I should like to arouse it if it is only to avenge myself upon
that idiot the prefect. If our love affair only lasts for a week, I
will contrive to send an application through her for the subvention of
twenty thousand francs for you. I am going to see her again to-morrow
in the little boudoir where our old affair of the heart began;
Petit-Claud says that the room is the same as ever; I shall play my
part in the comedy; and I will send word by Basine to-morrow morning
to tell you whether the actor was hissed. You may be at liberty by
then, who knows?--Now do you understand how it was that I wanted
clothes from Paris? One cannot act the lover's part in rags."
At six o'clock that morning Cerizet went to Petit-Claud.
"Doublon can be ready to take his man to-morrow at noon, I will answer
for it," he said; "I know one of Mlle. Clerget's girls, do you
understand?" Cerizet unfolded his plan, and Petit-Claud hurried to
"If M. Francis du Hautoy will settle his property on Francoise, you
shall sign a deed of partnership with Sechard in two days. I shall not
be married for a week after the contract is signed, so we shall both
be within the terms of our little agreement, tit for tat. To-night,
however, we must keep a close watch over Lucien and Mme. la Comtesse
du Chatelet, for the whole business lies in that. . . . If Lucien
hopes to succeed through the Countess' influence, I have David
"You will be Keeper of the Seals yet, it is my belief," said Cointet.
"And why not? No one objects to M. de Peyronnet," said Petit-Claud. He
had not altogether sloughed his skin of Liberalism.
Mlle. de la Haye's ambiguous position brought most of the upper town
to the signing of the marriage contract. The comparative poverty of
the young couple and the absence of a _corbeille_ quickened the interest
that people love to exhibit; for it is with beneficence as with
ovations, we prefer the deeds of charity which gratify self-love. The
Marquise de Pimentel, the Comtesse du Chatelet, M. de Senonches, and
one or two frequenters of the house had given Francoise a few wedding
presents, which made great talk in the city. These pretty trifles,
together with the trousseau which Zephirine had been preparing for the
past twelve months, the godfather's jewels, and the usual wedding
gifts, consoled Francoise and roused the curiosity of some mothers of
Petit-Claud and Cointet had both remarked that their presence in the
Angouleme Olympus was endured rather than courted. Cointet was
Francoise's trustee and quasi-guardian; and if Petit-Claud was to sign
the contract, Petit-Claud's presence was as necessary as the
attendance of the man to be hanged at an execution; but though, once
married, Mme. Petit-Claud might keep her right of entry to her
godmother's house, Petit-Claud foresaw some difficulty on his own
account, and resolved to be beforehand with these haughty personages.
He felt ashamed of his parents. He had sent his mother to stay at
Mansle; now he begged her to say that she was out of health and to
give her consent in writing. So humiliating was it to be without
relations, protectors, or witnesses to his signature, that Petit-Claud
thought himself in luck that he could bring a presentable friend at
the Countess' request. He called to take up Lucien, and they drove to
the Hotel de Bargeton.
On that memorable evening the poet dressed to outshine every man
present. Mme. de Senonches had spoken of him as the hero of the hour,
and a first interview between two estranged lovers is the kind of
scene that provincials particularly love. Lucien had come to be the
lion of the evening; he was said to be so handsome, so much changed,
so wonderful, that every well-born woman in Angouleme was curious to
see him again. Following the fashion of the transition period between
the eighteenth century small clothes and the vulgar costume of the
present day, he wore tight-fitting black trousers. Men still showed
their figures in those days, to the utter despair of lean,
clumsily-made mortals; and Lucien was an Apollo. The open-work gray
silk stockings, the neat shoes, and the black satin waistcoat were
scrupulously drawn over his person, and seemed to cling to him. His
forehead looked the whiter by contrast with the thick, bright curls
that rose above it with studied grace. The proud eyes were radiant.
The hands, small as a woman's, never showed to better advantage than
when gloved. He had modeled himself upon de Marsay, the famous
Parisian dandy, holding his hat and cane in one hand, and keeping the
other free for the very occasional gestures which illustrated his
Lucien had quite intended to emulate the famous false modesty of those
who bend their heads to pass beneath the Porte Saint-Denis, and to
slip unobserved into the room; but Petit-Claud, having but one friend,
made him useful. He brought Lucien almost pompously through a crowded
room to Mme. de Senonches. The poet heard a murmur as he passed; not
so very long ago that hum of voices would have turned his head, to-day
he was quite different; he did not doubt that he himself was greater
than the whole Olympus put together.
"Madame," he said, addressing Mme. de Senonches, "I have already
congratulated my friend Petit-Claud (a man with the stuff in him of
which Keepers of the Seals are made) on the honor of his approaching
connection with you, slight as are the ties between godmother and
goddaughter----" (this with the air of a man uttering an epigram, by
no means lost upon any woman in the room, for every woman was
listening without appearing to do so.) "And as for myself," he
continued, "I am delighted to have the opportunity of paying my homage
He spoke easily and fluently, as some great lord might speak under the
roof of his inferiors; and as he listened to Zephirine's involved
reply, he cast a glance over the room to consider the effect that he
wished to make. The pause gave him time to discover Francis du Hautoy
and the prefect; to bow gracefully to each with the proper shade of
difference in his smile, and, finally, to approach Mme. du Chatelet as
if he had just caught sight of her. That meeting was the real event of
the evening. No one so much as thought of the marriage contract lying
in the adjoining bedroom, whither Francoise and the notary led guest
after guest to sign the document. Lucien made a step towards Louise de
Negrepelisse, and then spoke with that grace of manner now associated,
for her, with memories of Paris.
"Do I owe to you, madame, the pleasure of an invitation to dine at the
Prefecture the day after to-morrow?" he said.
"You owe it solely to your fame, monsieur," Louise answered drily,
somewhat taken aback by the turn of a phrase by which Lucien
deliberately tried to wound her pride.
"Ah! Madame la Comtesse, I cannot bring you the guest if the man is in
disgrace," said Lucien, and, without waiting for an answer, he turned
and greeted the Bishop with stately grace.
"Your lordship's prophecy has been partially fulfilled," he said, and
there was a winning charm in his tones; "I will endeavor to fulfil it
to the letter. I consider myself very fortunate since this evening
brings me an opportunity of paying my respects to you."
Lucien drew the Bishop into a conversation that lasted for ten
minutes. The women looked on Lucien as a phenomenon. His unexpected
insolence had struck Mme. du Chatelet dumb; she could not find an
answer. Looking round the room, she saw that every woman admired
Lucien; she watched group after group repeating the phrases by which
Lucien crushed her with seeming disdain, and her heart contracted with
a spasm of mortification.
"Suppose that he should not come to the Prefecture after this, what
talk there would be!" she thought. "Where did he learn this pride? Can
Mlle. des Touches have taken a fancy for him? . . . He is so handsome.
They say that she hurried to see him in Paris the day after that
actress died. . . . Perhaps he has come to the rescue of his
brother-in-law, and happened to be behind our caleche at Mansle by
accident. Lucien looked at us very strangely that morning."
A crowd of thoughts crossed Louise's brain, and unluckily for her, she
continued to ponder visibly as she watched Lucien. He was talking with
the Bishop as if he were the king of the room; making no effort to
find any one out, waiting till others came to him, looking round about
him with varying expression, and as much at his ease as his model de
Marsay. M. de Senonches appeared at no great distance, but Lucien
still stood beside the prelate.
At the end of ten minutes Louise could contain herself no longer. She
rose and went over to the Bishop and said:
"What is being said, my lord, that you smile so often?"
Lucien drew back discreetly, and left Mme. du Chatelet with his
"Ah! Mme. la Comtesse, what a clever young fellow he is! He was
explaining to me that he owed all he is to you----"
"_I_ am not ungrateful, madame," said Lucien, with a reproachful
glance that charmed the Countess.
"Let us have an understanding," she said, beckoning him with her fan.
"Come into the boudoir. My Lord Bishop, you shall judge between us."
"She has found a funny task for his lordship," said one of the
Chandour camp, sufficiently audibly.
"Judge between us!" repeated Lucien, looking from the prelate to the
lady; "then, is one of us in fault?"
Louise de Negrepelisse sat down on the sofa in the familiar boudoir.
She made the Bishop sit on one side and Lucien on the other, then she
began to speak. But Lucien, to the joy and surprise of his old love,
honored her with inattention; her words fell unheeded on his ears; he
sat like Pasta in _Tancredi_, with the words _O patria!_ upon her lips,
the music of the great cavatina _Dell Rizzo_ might have passed into his
face. Indeed, Coralie's pupil had contrived to bring the tears to his
"Oh! Louise, how I loved you!" he murmured, careless of the Bishop's
presence, heedless of the conversation, as soon as he knew that the
Countess had seen the tears.
"Dry your eyes, or you will ruin me here a second time," she said in
an aside that horrified the prelate.
"And once is enough," was Lucien's quick retort. "That speech from
Mme. d'Espard's cousin would dry the eyes of a weeping Magdalene. Oh
me! for a little moment old memories, and lost illusions, and my
twentieth year came back to me, and you have----"
His lordship hastily retreated to the drawing-room at this; it seemed
to him that his dignity was like to be compromised by this sentimental
pair. Every one ostentatiously refrained from interrupting them, and a
quarter of an hour went by; till at last Sixte du Chatelet, vexed by
the laughter and talk, and excursions to the boudoir door, went in
with a countenance distinctly overclouded, and found Louise and Lucien
"Madame," said Sixte in his wife's ear, "you know Angouleme better
than I do, and surely you should think of your position as Mme. la
Prefete and of the Government?"
"My dear," said Louise, scanning her responsible editor with a
haughtiness that made him quake, "I am talking with M. de Rubempre of
matters which interest you. It is a question of rescuing an inventor
about to fall a victim to the basest machinations; you will help us.
As to those ladies yonder, and their opinion of me, you shall see how
I will freeze the venom of their tongues."
She came out of the boudoir on Lucien's arm, and drew him across to
sign the contract with a great lady's audacity.
"Write your name after mine," she said, handing him the pen. And
Lucien submissively signed in the place indicated beneath her name.
"M. de Senonches, would you have recognized M. de Rubempre?" she
continued, and the insolent sportsman was compelled to greet Lucien.
She returned to the drawing-room on Lucien's arm, and seated him on
the awe-inspiring central sofa between herself and Zephirine. There,
enthroned like a queen, she began, at first in a low voice, a
conversation in which epigram evidently was not wanting. Some of her
old friends, and several women who paid court to her, came to join the
group, and Lucien soon became the hero of the circle. The Countess
drew him out on the subject of life in Paris; his satirical talk
flowed with spontaneous and incredible spirit; he told anecdotes of
celebrities, those conversational luxuries which the provincial
devours with such avidity. His wit was as much admired as his good
looks. And Mme. la Comtesse Sixte du Chatelet, preparing Lucien's
triumph so patiently, sat like a player enraptured with the sound of
his instrument; she gave him opportunities for a reply; she looked
round the circle for applause so openly, that not a few of the women
began to think that their return together was something more than a
coincidence, and that Lucien and Louise, loving with all their hearts,
had been separated by a double treason. Pique, very likely, had
brought about this ill-starred match with Chatelet. And a reaction set
in against the prefect.
Before the Countess rose to go at one o'clock in the morning, she
turned to Lucien and said in a low voice, "Do me the pleasure of
coming punctually to-morrow evening." Then, with the friendliest
little nod, she went, saying a few words to Chatelet, who was looking
for his hat.
"If Mme. du Chatelet has given me a correct idea of the state of
affairs, count on me, my dear Lucien," said the prefect, preparing to
hurry after his wife. She was going away without him, after the Paris
fashion. "Your brother-in-law may consider that his troubles are at an
end," he added as he went.
"M. le Comte surely owes me so much," smiled Lucien.
Cointet and Petit-Claud heard these farewell speeches.
"Well, well, we are done for now," Cointet muttered in his
confederate's ear. Petit-Claud, thunderstruck by Lucien's success,
amazed by his brilliant wit and varying charm, was gazing at Francoise
de la Haye; the girl's whole face was full of admiration for Lucien.
"Be like your friend," she seemed to say to her betrothed. A gleam of
joy flitted over Petit-Claud's countenance.
"We still have a whole day before the prefect's dinner; I will answer
An hour later, as Petit-Claud and Lucien walked home together, Lucien
talked of his success. "Well, my dear fellow, I came, I saw, I
conquered! Sechard will be very happy in a few hours' time."
"Just what I wanted to know," thought Petit-Claud. Aloud he said--"I
thought you were simply a poet, Lucien, but you are a Lauzun too, that
is to say--twice a poet," and they shook hands--for the last time, as
"Good news, dear Eve," said Lucien, waking his sister, "David will
have no debts in less than a month!"
"How is that?"
"Well, my Louise is still hidden by Mme. du Chatelet's petticoat. She
loves me more than ever; she will send a favorable report of our
discovery to the Minister of the Interior through her husband. So we
have only to endure our troubles for one month, while I avenge myself
on the prefect and complete the happiness of his married life."
Eve listened, and thought that she must be dreaming.
"I saw the little gray drawing-room where I trembled like a child two
years ago; it seemed as if scales fell from my eyes when I saw the
furniture and the pictures and the faces again. How Paris changes
"Is that a good thing?" asked Eve, at last beginning to understand.
"Come, come; you are still asleep. We will talk about it to-morrow
Cerizet's plot was exceedingly simple, a commonplace stratagem
familiar to the provincial bailiff. Its success entirely depends upon
circumstances, and in this case it was certain, so intimate was
Cerizet's knowledge of the characters and hopes of those concerned.
Cerizet had been a kind of Don Juan among the young work-girls, ruling
his victims by playing one off against another. Since he had been the
Cointet's extra foreman, he had singled out one of Basine Clerget's
assistants, a girl almost as handsome as Mme. Sechard. Henriette
Signol's parents owned a small vineyard two leagues out of Angouleme,
on the road to Saintes. The Signols, like everybody else in the
country, could not afford to keep their only child at home; so they
meant her to go out to service, in country phrase. The art of
clear-starching is a part of every country housemaid's training; and
so great was Mme. Prieur's reputation, that the Signols sent Henriette
to her as apprentice, and paid for their daughter's board and lodging.
Mme. Prieur was one of the old-fashioned mistresses, who consider that
they fill a parent's place towards their apprentices. They were part
of the family; she took them with her to church, and looked
scrupulously after them. Henriette Signol was a tall, fine-looking
girl, with bold eyes, and long, thick, dark hair, and the pale, very
fair complexion of girls in the South--white as a magnolia flower. For
which reasons Henriette was one of the first on whom Cerizet cast his
eyes; but Henriette came of "honest farmer folk," and only yielded at
last to jealousy, to bad example, and the treacherous promise of
subsequent marriage. By this time Cerizet was the Cointet's foreman.
When he learned that the Signols owned a vineyard worth some ten or
twelve thousand francs, and a tolerably comfortable cottage, he
hastened to make it impossible for Henriette to marry any one else.
Affairs had reached this point when Petit-Claud held out the prospect
of a printing office and twenty thousand francs of borrowed capital,
which was to prove a yoke upon the borrower's neck. Cerizet was
dazzled, the offer turned his head; Henriette Signol was now only an
obstacle in the way of his ambitions, and he neglected the poor girl.
Henriette, in her despair, clung more closely to her seducer as he
tried to shake her off. When Cerizet began to suspect that David was
hiding in Basine's house, his views with regard to Henriette underwent
another change, though he treated her as before. A kind of frenzy
works in a girl's brain when she must marry her seducer to conceal her
dishonor, and Cerizet was on the watch to turn this madness to his own
During the morning of the day when Lucien had set himself to reconquer
his Louise, Cerizet told Basine's secret to Henriette, giving her to
understand at the same time that their marriage and future prospects
depended upon the discovery of David's hiding-place. Thus instructed,
Henriette easily made certain of the fact that David was in Basine
Clerget's inner room. It never occurred to the girl that she was doing
wrong to act the spy, and Cerizet involved her in the guilt of
betrayal by this first step.
Lucien was still sleeping while Cerizet, closeted with Petit-Claud,
heard the history of the important trifles with which all Angouleme
presently would ring.
The Cointets' foreman gave a satisfied nod as Petit-Claud came to an
end. "Lucien surely has written you a line since he came back, has he
not?" he asked.
"This is all that I have," answered the lawyer, and he held out a note
on Mme. Sechard's writing-paper.
"Very well," said Cerizet, "let Doublon be in wait at the Palet Gate
about ten minutes before sunset; tell him to post his gendarmes, and
you shall have our man."
"Are you sure of _your_ part of the business?" asked Petit-Claud,
"I rely on chance," said the ex-street boy, "and she is a saucy huzzy;
she does not like honest folk.
"You must succeed," said Cerizet. "You have pushed me into this dirty
business; you may as well let me have a few banknotes to wipe off the
stains."--Then detecting a look that he did not like in the attorney's
face, he continued, with a deadly glance, "If you have cheated me,
sir, if you don't buy the printing-office for me within a week--you
will leave a young widow;" he lowered his voice.
"If we have David on the jail register at six o'clock, come round to
M. Gannerac's at nine, and we will settle your business," said
"Agreed. Your will shall be done, governor," said Cerizet.
Cerizet understood the art of washing paper, a dangerous art for the
Treasury. He washed out Lucien's four lines and replaced them,
imitating the handwriting with a dexterity which augured ill for his
"MY DEAR DAVID,--Your business is settled; you need not fear to go
to the prefect. You can go out at sunset. I will come to meet you
and tell you what to do at the prefecture.--Your brother,
At noon Lucien wrote to David, telling him of his evening's success.
The prefect would be sure to lend his influence, he said; he was full
of enthusiasm over the invention, and was drawing up a report that
very day to send to the Government. Marion carried the letter to
Basine, taking some of Lucien's linen to the laundry as a pretext for
Petit-Claud had told Cerizet that a letter would in all probability be
sent. Cerizet called for Mlle. Signol, and the two walked by the
Charente. Henriette's integrity must have held out for a long while,
for the walk lasted for two hours. A whole future of happiness and
ease and the interests of a child were at stake, and Cerizet asked a
mere trifle of her. He was very careful besides to say nothing of the
consequences of that trifle. She was only to carry a letter and a
message, that was all; but it was the greatness of the reward for the
trifling service that frightened Henriette. Nevertheless, Cerizet
gained her consent at last; she would help him in his stratagem.
At five o'clock Henriette must go out and come in again, telling
Basine Clerget that Mme. Sechard wanted to speak to her at once.
Fifteen minutes after Basine's departure she must go upstairs, knock
at the door of the inner room, and give David the forged note. That
was all. Cerizet looked to chance to manage the rest.
For the first time in twelve months, Eve felt the iron grasp of
necessity relax a little. She began at last to hope. She, too, would
enjoy her brother's visit; she would show herself abroad on the arm of
a man feted in his native town, adored by the women, beloved by the
proud Comtesse du Chatelet. She dressed herself prettily, and proposed
to walk out after dinner with her brother to Beaulieu. In September
all Angouleme comes out at that hour to breathe the fresh air.
"Oh! that is the beautiful Mme. Sechard," voices said here and there.
"I should never have believed it of her," said a woman.
"The husband is in hiding, and the wife walks abroad," said Mme.
Postel for young Mme. Sechard's benefit.
"Oh, let us go home," said poor Eve; "I have made a mistake."
A few minutes before sunset, the sound of a crowd rose from the steps
that lead down to L'Houmeau. Apparently some crime had been committed,
for persons coming from L'Houmeau were talking among themselves.
Curiosity drew Lucien and Eve towards the steps.
"A thief has just been arrested no doubt, the man looks as pale as
death," one of these passers-by said to the brother and sister. The
crowd grew larger.
Lucien and Eve watched a group of some thirty children, old women and
men, returning from work, clustering about the gendarmes, whose
gold-laced caps gleamed above the heads of the rest. About a hundred
persons followed the procession, the crowd gathering like a storm
"Oh! it is my husband!" Eve cried out.
_"David!"_ exclaimed Lucien.
"It is his wife," said voices, and the crowd made way.
"What made you come out?" asked Lucien.
"Your letter," said David, haggard and white.
"I knew it!" said Eve, and she fainted away. Lucien raised his sister,
and with the help of two strangers he carried her home; Marion laid
her in bed, and Kolb rushed off for a doctor. Eve was still insensible
when the doctor arrived; and Lucien was obliged to confess to his
mother that he was the cause of David's arrest; for he, of course,
knew nothing of the forged letter and Cerizet's stratagem. Then he
went up to his room and locked himself in, struck dumb by the
malediction in his mother's eyes.
In the dead of night he wrote one more letter amid constant
interruptions; the reader can divine the agony of the writer's mind
from those phrases, jerked out, as it were, one by one:--
"MY BELOVED SISTER,--We have seen each other for the last time. My
resolution is final, and for this reason. In many families there
is one unlucky member, a kind of disease in their midst. I am that
unlucky one in our family. The observation is not mine; it was
made at a friendly supper one evening at the _Rocher de Cancale_ by
a diplomate who has seen a great deal of the world. While we
laughed and joked, he explained the reason why some young lady or
some other remained unmarried, to the astonishment of the world
--it was 'a touch of her father,' he said, and with that he unfolded
his theory of inherited weaknesses. He told us how such and such a
family would have flourished but for the mother; how it was that a
son had ruined his father, or a father had stripped his children
of prospects and respectability. It was said laughingly, but we
thought of so many cases in point in ten minutes that I was struck
with the theory. The amount of truth in it furnished all sorts of
wild paradoxes, which journalists maintain cleverly enough for
their own amusement when there is nobody else at hand to mystify.
I bring bad luck to our family. My heart is full of love for you,
yet I behave like an enemy. The blow dealt unintentionally is the
cruelest blow of all. While I was leading a bohemian life in
Paris, a life made up of pleasure and misery; taking good
fellowship for friendship, forsaking my true friends for those who
wished to exploit me, and succeeded; forgetful of you, or
remembering you only to cause you trouble,--all that while you
were walking in the humble path of hard work, making your way
slowly but surely to the fortune which I tried so madly to snatch.
While you grew better, I grew worse; a fatal element entered into
my life through my own choice. Yes, unbounded ambition makes an
obscure existence simply impossible for me. I have tastes and
remembrances of past pleasures that poison the enjoyments within
my reach; once I should have been satisfied with them, now it is
too late. Oh, dear Eve, no one can think more hardly of me than I
do myself; my condemnation is absolute and pitiless. The struggle
in Paris demands steady effort; my will power is spasmodic, my
brain works intermittently. The future is so appalling that I do
not care to face it, and the present is intolerable.
"I wanted to see you again. I should have done better to stay in
exile all my days. But exile without means of subsistence would be
madness; I will not add another folly to the rest. Death is better
than a maimed life; I cannot think of myself in any position in
which my overweening vanity would not lead me into folly.
"Some human beings are like the figure 0, another must be put
before it, and they acquire ten times their value. I am nothing
unless a strong inexorable will is wedded to mine. Mme. de
Bargeton was in truth my wife; when I refused to leave Coralie for
her I spoiled my life. You and David might have been excellent
pilots for me, but you are not strong enough to tame my weakness,
which in some sort eludes control. I like an easy life, a life
without cares; to clear an obstacle out of my way I can descend to
baseness that sticks at nothing. I was born a prince. I have more
than the requisite intellectual dexterity for success, but only by
moments; and the prizes of a career so crowded by ambitious
competitors are to those who expend no more than the necessary
strength, and retain a sufficient reserve when they reach the
"I shall do harm again with the best intentions in the world. Some
men are like oaks, I am a delicate shrub it may be, and I
forsooth, must needs aspire to be a forest cedar.
"There you have my bankrupt's schedule. The disproportion between
my powers and my desires, my want of balance, in short, will bring
all my efforts to nothing. There are many such characters among
men of letters, many men whose intellectual powers and character
are always at variance, who will one thing and wish another. What
would become of me? I can see it all beforehand, as I think of
this and that great light that once shone on Paris, now utterly
forgotten. On the threshold of old age I shall be a man older than
my age, needy and without a name. My whole soul rises up against
the thought of such a close; I will not be a social rag. Ah, dear
sister, loved and worshiped at least as much for your severity at
the last as for your tenderness at the first--if we have paid so
dear for my joy at seeing you all once more, you and David may
perhaps some day think that you could grudge no price however high
for a little last happiness for an unhappy creature who loved you.
Do not try to find me, Eve; do not seek to know what becomes of
me. My intellect for once shall be backed by my will.
Renunciation, my angel, is daily death of self; my renunciation
will only last for one day; I will take advantage now of that
day. . . .
"Yes, I have quite made up my mind. Farewell for ever, dear Eve.
There is something sweet in the thought that I shall live only in
your hearts henceforth, and I wish no other burying place. Once
more, farewell. . . . That is the last word from your brother
Lucien read the letter over, crept noiselessly down stairs, and left
it in the child's cradle; amid falling tears he set a last kiss on the
forehead of his sleeping sister; then he went out. He put out his
candle in the gray dusk, took a last look at the old house, stole
softly along the passage, and opened the street door; but in spite of
his caution, he awakened Kolb, who slept on a mattress on the workshop
"Who goes there?" cried Kolb.
"It is I, Lucien; I am going away, Kolb."
"You vould haf done better gif you at nefer kom," Kolb muttered
"I should have done better still if I had never come into the world,"
Lucien answered. "Good-bye, Kolb; I don't bear you any grudge for
thinking as I think myself. Tell David that I was sorry I could not
bid him good-bye, and say that this was my last thought."
By the time the Alsacien was up and dressed, Lucien had shut the house
door, and was on his way towards the Charente by the Promenade de
Beaulieu. He might have been going to a festival, for he had put on
his new clothes from Paris and his dandy's trinkets for a drowning
shroud. Something in Lucien's tone had struck Kolb. At first the man
thought of going to ask his mistress whether she knew that her brother
had left the house; but as the deepest silence prevailed, he concluded
that the departure had been arranged beforehand, and lay down again
Little, considering the gravity of the question, has been written on
the subject of suicide; it has not been studied. Perhaps it is a
disease that cannot be observed. Suicide is one effect of a sentiment
which we will call self-esteem, if you will, to prevent confusion by
using the word "honor." When a man despises himself, and sees that
others despise him, when real life fails to fulfil his hopes, then
comes the moment when he takes his life, and thereby does homage to
society--shorn of his virtues or his splendor, he does not care to
face his fellows. Among atheists--Christians being without the
question of suicide--among atheists, whatever may be said to the
contrary, none but a base coward can take up a dishonored life.
There are three kinds of suicide--the first is only the last and acute
stage of a long illness, and this kind belongs distinctly to
pathology; the second is the suicide of despair; and the third the
suicide based on logical argument. Despair and deductive reasoning had
brought Lucien to this pass, but both varieties are curable; it is
only the pathological suicide that is inevitable. Not infrequently you
find all three causes combined, as in the case of Jean-Jacques
Lucien having made up his mind fell to considering methods. The poet
would fain die as became a poet. At first he thought of throwing
himself into the Charente and making an end then and there; but as he
came down the steps from Beaulieu for the last time, he heard the
whole town talking of his suicide; he saw the horrid sight of a
drowned dead body, and thought of the recognition and the inquest;
and, like some other suicides, felt that vanity reached beyond death.
He remembered the day spent at Courtois' mill, and his thoughts
returned to the round pool among the willows that he saw as he came
along by the little river, such a pool as you often find on small
streams, with a still, smooth surface that conceals great depths
beneath. The water is neither green nor blue nor white nor tawny; it
is like a polished steel mirror. No sword-grass grows about the
margin; there are no blue water forget-me-nots, nor broad lily leaves;
the grass at the brim is short and thick, and the weeping willows that
droop over the edge grow picturesquely enough. It is easy to imagine a
sheer precipice beneath filled with water to the brim. Any man who
should have the courage to fill his pockets with pebbles would not
fail to find death, and never be seen thereafter.
At the time while he admired the lovely miniature of a landscape, the
poet had thought to himself, "'Tis a spot to make your mouth water
for a _noyade_."
He thought of it now as he went down into L'Houmeau; and when he took
his way towards Marsac, with the last sombre thoughts gnawing at his
heart, it was with the firm resolve to hide his death. There should be
no inquest held over him, he would not be laid in earth; no one should
see him in the hideous condition of the corpse that floats on the
surface of the water. Before long he reached one of the slopes, common
enough on all French highroads, and commonest of all between Angouleme
and Poitiers. He saw the coach from Bordeaux to Paris coming up at
full speed behind him, and knew that the passengers would probably
alight to walk up the hill. He did not care to be seen just then.
Turning off sharply into a beaten track, he began to pick the flowers
in a vineyard hard by.
When Lucien came back to the road with a great bunch of the yellow
stone-crop which grows everywhere upon the stony soil of the
vineyards, he came out upon a traveler dressed in black from head to
foot. The stranger wore powder, there were silver buckles on his shoes
of Orleans leather, and his brown face was scarred and seamed as if he
had fallen into the fire in infancy. The traveler, so obviously
clerical in his dress, was walking slowly and smoking a cigar. He
turned as Lucien jumped down from the vineyard into the road. The deep
melancholy on the handsome young face, the poet's symbolical flowers,
and his elegant dress seemed to strike the stranger. He looked at
Lucien with something of the expression of a hunter that has found his
quarry at last after long and fruitless search. He allowed Lucien to
come alongside in nautical phrase; then he slackened his pace, and
appeared to look along the road up the hill; Lucien, following the
direction of his eyes, saw a light traveling carriage with two horses,
and a post-boy standing beside it.
"You have allowed the coach to pass you, monsieur; you will lose your
place unless you care to take a seat in my caleche and overtake the
mail, for it is rather quicker traveling post than by the public
conveyance." The traveler spoke with extreme politeness and a very
marked Spanish accent.
Without waiting for an answer, he drew a cigar-case from his pocket,
opened it, and held it out to Lucien.
"I am not on a journey," said Lucien, "and I am too near the end of my
stage to indulge in the pleasure of smoking----"
"You are very severe with yourself," returned the Spaniard. "Though I
am a canon of the cathedral of Toledo, I occasionally smoke a
cigarette. God gave us tobacco to allay our passions and our pains.
You seem to be downcast, or at any rate, you carry the symbolical
flower of sorrow in your hand, like the rueful god Hymen. Come! all
your troubles will vanish away with the smoke," and again the
ecclesiastic held out his little straw case; there was something
fascinating in his manner, and kindliness towards Lucien lighted up
"Forgive me, father" Lucien answered stiffly; "there is no cigar that
can scatter my troubles." Tears came to his eyes at the words.
"It must surely be Divine Providence that prompted me to take a little
exercise to shake off a traveler's morning drowsiness," said the
churchman. "A divine prompting to fulfil my mission here on earth by
consoling you.--What great trouble can you have at your age?"
"Your consolations, father, can do nothing for me. You are a Spaniard,
I am a Frenchman; you believe in the commandments of the Church, I am
"_Santa Virgen del Pilar_! you are an atheist!" cried the other, laying
a hand on Lucien's arm with maternal solicitude. "Ah! here is one of
the curious things I promised myself to see in Paris. We, in Spain, do
not believe in atheists. There is no country but France where one can
have such opinions at nineteen years."
"Oh! I am an atheist in the fullest sense of the word. I have no
belief in God, in society, in happiness. Take a good look at me,
father; for in a few hours' time life will be over for me. My last sun
has risen," said Lucien; with a sort of rhetorical effect he waved his
hand towards the sky.
"How so; what have you done that you must die? Who has condemned you
"A tribunal from which there is no appeal--I myself."
"You, child!" cried the priest. "Have you killed a man? Is the
scaffold waiting for you? Let us reason together a little. If you are
resolved, as you say, to return to nothingness, everything on earth is
indifferent to you, is it not?"
Lucien bowed assent.
"Very well, then; can you not tell me about your troubles? Some little
affair of the heart has taken a bad turn, no doubt?"
Lucien shrugged his shoulders very significantly.
"Are you resolved to kill yourself to escape dishonor, or do you
despair of life? Very good. You can kill yourself at Poitiers quite as
easily as at Angouleme, and at Tours it will be no harder than at
Poitiers. The quicksands of the Loire never give up their prey----"
"No, father," said Lucien; "I have settled it all. Not three weeks ago
I chanced upon the most charming raft that can ferry a man sick and
tired of this life into the other world----"
"The other world? You are not an atheist."
"Oh! by another world I mean my next transformation, animal or plant."
"Have you some incurable disease?"
"Ah! now we come to the point. What is it?"
The priest looked at Lucien. "The diamond does not know its own
value," he said, and there was an inexpressible charm, and a touch of
something like irony in his smile.
"None but a priest could flatter a poor man about to die," exclaimed
"You are not going to die," the Spaniard returned authoritatively.
"I have heard many times of men that were robbed on the highroad, but
I have never yet heard of one that found a fortune there," said
"You will hear of one now," said the priest, glancing towards the
carriage to measure the time still left for their walk together.
"Listen to me," he continued, with his cigar between his teeth; "if
you are poor, that is no reason why you should die. I need a
secretary, for mine has just died at Barcelona. I am in the same
position as the famous Baron Goertz, minister of Charles XII. He was
traveling toward Sweden (just as I am going to Paris), and in some
little town or other he chanced upon the son of a goldsmith, a young
man of remarkable good looks, though they could scarcely equal yours.
. . . Baron Goertz discerned intelligence in the young man (just as I
see poetry on your brow); he took him into his traveling carriage, as
I shall take you very shortly; and of a boy condemned to spend his
days in burnishing spoons and forks and making trinkets in some little
town like Angouleme, he made a favorite, as you shall be mine.
"Arrived at Stockholm, he installed his secretary and overwhelmed him
with work. The young man spent his nights in writing, and, like all
great workers, he contracted a bad habit, a trick--he took to chewing
paper. The late M. de Malesherbes use to rap people over the knuckles;
and he did this once, by the by, to somebody or other whose suit
depended upon him. The handsome young secretary began by chewing blank
paper, found it insipid for a while, and acquired a taste for
manuscript as having more flavor. People did not smoke as yet in those
days. At last, from flavor to flavor, he began to chew parchment and
swallow it. Now, at that time a treaty was being negotiated between
Russia and Sweden. The States-General insisted that Charles XII.
should make peace (much as they tried in France to make Napoleon treat
for peace in 1814) and the basis of these negotiations was the treaty
between the two powers with regard to Finland. Goertz gave the
original into his secretary's keeping; but when the time came for
laying the draft before the States-General, a trifling difficulty
arose; the treaty was not to be found. The States-General believed
that the Minister, pandering to the King's wishes, had taken it into
his head to get rid of the document. Baron Goertz was, in fact,
accused of this, and the secretary owned that he had eaten the treaty.
He was tried and convicted and condemned to death.--But you have not
come to that yet, so take a cigar and smoke till we reach the
Lucien took a cigar and lit it, Spanish fashion, at the priest's
cigar. "He is right," he thought; "I can take my life at any time."
"It often happens that a young man's fortunes take a turn when despair
is darkest," the Spaniard continued. "That is what I wished to tell
you, but I preferred to prove it by a case in point. Here was the
handsome young secretary lying under sentence of death, and his case
the more desperate because, as he had been condemned by the
States-General, the King could not pardon him, but he connived at his
escape. The secretary stole away in a fishing-boat with a few crowns
in his pocket, and reached the court of Courland with a letter of
introduction from Goertz, explaining his secretary's adventures and
his craze for paper. The Duke of Courland was a spendthrift; he had a
steward and a pretty wife--three several causes of ruin. He placed the
charming young stranger with his steward.
"If you can imagine that the sometime secretary had been cured of his
depraved taste by a sentence of death, you do not know the grip that a
man's failings have upon him; let a man discover some satisfaction for
himself, and the headsman will not keep him from it.--How is it that
the vice has this power? Is it inherent strength in the vice, or
inherent weakness in human nature? Are there certain tastes that
should be regarded as verging on insanity? For myself, I cannot help
laughing at the moralists who try to expel such diseases by fine
phrases.--Well, it so fell out that the steward refused a demand for
money; and the Duke taking fright at this, called for an audit. Sheer
imbecility! Nothing easier than to make out a balance-sheet; the
difficulty never lies there. The steward gave his secretary all the
necessary documents for compiling a schedule of the civil list of
Courland. He had nearly finished it when, in the dead of night, the
unhappy paper-eater discovered that he was chewing up one of the
Duke's discharges for a considerable sum. He had eaten half the
signature! Horror seized upon him; he fled to the Duchess, flung
himself at her feet, told her of his craze, and implored the aid of
his sovereign lady, implored her in the middle of the night. The
handsome young face made such an impression on the Duchess that she
married him as soon as she was left a widow. And so in the mid-
eighteenth century, in a land where the king-at-arms is king, the
goldsmith's son became a prince, and something more. On the death of
Catherine I. he was regent; he ruled the Empress Anne, and tried to be
the Richelieu of Russia. Very well, young man; now know this--if you
are handsomer than Biron, I, simple canon that I am, am worth more
than a Baron Goertz. So get in; we will find a duchy of Courland for
you in Paris, or failing the duchy, we shall certainly find the
The Spanish priest laid a hand on Lucien's arm, and literally forced
him into the traveling carriage. The postilion shut the door.
"Now speak; I am listening," said the canon of Toledo, to Lucien's
bewilderment. "I am an old priest; you can tell me everything, there
is nothing to fear. So far we have only run through our patrimony or
squandered mamma's money. We have made a flitting from our creditors,
and we are honor personified down to the tips of our elegant little
boots. . . . Come, confess, boldly; it will be just as if you were
talking to yourself."
Lucien felt like that hero of an Eastern tale, the fisher who tried to
drown himself in mid-ocean, and sank down to find himself a king of
countries under the sea. The Spanish priest seemed so really
affectionate, that the poet hesitated no longer; between Angouleme and
Ruffec he told the story of his whole life, omitting none of his
misdeeds, and ended with the final catastrophe which he had brought
about. The tale only gained in poetic charm because this was the third
time he had told it in the past fortnight. Just as he made an end they
passed the house of the Rastignac family.
"Young Rastignac left that place for Paris," said Lucien; "he is
certainly not my equal, but he has had better luck."
The Spaniard started at the name. "Oh!" he said.
"Yes. That shy little place belongs to his father. As I was telling
you just now, he was the lover of Mme. de Nucingen, the famous
banker's wife. I drifted into poetry; he was cleverer, he took the
The priest stopped the caleche; and was so far curious as to walk down
the little avenue that led to the house, showing more interest in the
place than Lucien expected from a Spanish ecclesiastic.
"Then, do you know the Rastignacs?" asked Lucien.
"I know every one in Paris," said the Spaniard, taking his place again
in the carriage. "And so for want of ten or twelve thousand francs,
you were about to take your life; you are a child, you know neither
men nor things. A man's future is worth the value that he chooses to
set upon it, and you value yours at twelve thousand francs! Well, I
will give more than that for you any time. As for your
brother-in-law's imprisonment, it is the merest trifle. If this dear
M. Sechard has made a discovery, he will be a rich man some day, and a
rich man has never been imprisoned for debt. You do not seem to me to
be strong in history. History is of two kinds--there is the official
history taught in schools, a lying compilation _ad usum delphini_; and
there is the secret history which deals with the real causes of events
--a scandalous chronicle. Let me tell you briefly a little story which
you have not heard. There was, once upon a time, a man, young and
ambitious, and a priest to boot. He wanted to enter upon a political
career, so he fawned on the Queen's favorite; the favorite took an
interest in him, gave him the rank of minister, and a seat at the
council board. One evening somebody wrote to the young aspirant,
thinking to do him a service (never do a service, by the by, unless
you are asked), and told him that his benefactor's life was in danger.
The King's wrath was kindled against his rival; to-morrow, if the
favorite went to the palace, he would certainly be stabbed; so said
the letter. Well, now, young man, what would you have done?"
"I should have gone at once to warn my benefactor," Lucien exclaimed
"You are indeed the child which your story reveals!" said the priest.
"Our man said to himself, 'If the King is resolved to go to such
lengths, it is all over with my benefactor; I must receive this letter
too late;' so he slept on till the favorite was stabbed----"
"He was a monster!" said Lucien, suspecting that the priest meant to
"So are all great men; this one was the Cardinal de Richelieu, and his
benefactor was the Marechal d'Ancre. You really do not know your
history of France, you see. Was I not right when I told you that
history as taught in schools is simply a collection of facts and
dates, more than doubtful in the first place, and with no bearing
whatever on the gist of the matter. You are told that such a person as
Jeanne Darc once existed; where is the use of that? Have you never
drawn your own conclusions from that fact? never seen that if France
had accepted the Angevin dynasty of the Plantagenets, the two peoples
thus reunited would be ruling the world to-day, and the islands that
now brew political storms for the continent would be French provinces?
. . . Why, have you so much as studied the means by which simple
merchants like the Medicis became Grand Dukes of Tuscany?"
"A poet in France is not bound to be 'as learned as a Benedictine,'"
"Well, they became Grand-Dukes as Richelieu became a minister. If you
had looked into history for the causes of events instead of getting
the headings by heart, you would have found precepts for your guidance
in this life. These real facts taken at random from among so many
supply you with the axiom--'Look upon men, and on women most of all,
as your instruments; but never let them see this.' If some one higher
in place can be useful to you, worship him as your god; and never
leave him until he has paid the price of your servility to the last
farthing. In your intercourse with men, in short, be grasping and mean
as a Jew; all that the Jew does for money, you must do for power. And
besides all this, when a man has fallen from power, care no more for
him than if he had ceased to exist. And do you ask why you must do
these things? You mean to rule the world, do you not? You must begin
by obeying and studying it. Scholars study books; politicians study
men, and their interests and the springs of action. Society and
mankind in masses are fatalists; they bow down and worship the
accomplished fact. Do you know why I am giving you this little history
lesson? It seems to me that your ambition is boundless----"
"I saw that myself," said the priest. "But at this moment you are
thinking, 'Here is this Spanish canon inventing anecdotes and
straining history to prove to me that I have too much virtue----'"
Lucien began to smile; his thoughts had been read so clearly.
"Very well, let us take facts that every schoolboy knows. One day
France is almost entirely overrun by the English; the King has only a
single province left. Two figures arise from among the people--a poor
herd girl, that very Jeanne Darc of whom we were speaking, and a
burgher named Jacques Coeur. The girl brings the power of virginity,
the strength of her arm; the burgher gives his gold, and the kingdom
is saved. The maid is taken prisoner, and the King, who could have
ransomed her, leaves her to be burned alive. The King allows his
courtier to accuse the great burgher of capital crime, and they rob
him and divide all his wealth among themselves. The spoils of an
innocent man, hunted down, brought to bay, and driven into exile by
the Law, went to enrich five noble houses; and the father of the
Archbishop of Bourges left the kingdom for ever without one sou of all
his possessions in France, and no resource but moneys remitted to
Arabs and Saracens in Egypt. It is open to you to say that these
examples are out of date, that three centuries of public education
have since elapsed, and that the outlines of those ages are more or
less dim figures. Well, young man, do you believe in the last demi-god
of France, in Napoleon? One of his generals was in disgrace all
through his career; Napoleon made him a marshal grudgingly, and never
sent him on service if he could help it. That marshal was Kellermann.
Do you know the reason of the grudge? . . . Kellermann saved France
and the First Consul at Marengo by a brilliant charge; the ranks
applauded under fire and in the thick of the carnage. That heroic
charge was not even mentioned in the bulletin. Napoleon's coolness
toward Kellermann, Fouche's fall, and Talleyrand's disgrace were all
attributable to the same cause; it is the ingratitude of a Charles
VII., or a Richelieu, or ----"
"But, father," said Lucien, "suppose that you should save my life and
make my fortune, you are making the ties of gratitude somewhat
"Little rogue," said the Abbe, smiling as he pinched Lucien's ear with
an almost royal familiarity. "If you are ungrateful to me, it will be
because you are a strong man, and I shall bend before you. But you are
not that just yet; as a simple 'prentice you have tried to be master
too soon, the common fault of Frenchmen of your generation. Napoleon's
example has spoiled them all. You send in your resignation because you
have not the pair of epaulettes that you fancied. But have you
attempted to bring the full force of your will and every action of
your life to bear upon your one idea?"
"You have been inconsistent, as the English say," smiled the canon.
"What I have been matters nothing now," said Lucien, "if I can be
nothing in the future."
"If at the back of all your good qualities there is power _semper
virens_," continued the priest, not averse to show that he had a little
Latin, "nothing in this world can resist you. I have taken enough of a
liking for you already----"
Lucien smiled incredulously.
"Yes," said the priest, in answer to the smile, "you interest me as
much as if you had been my son; and I am strong enough to afford to
talk to you as openly as you have just done to me. Do you know what it
is that I like about you?--This: you have made a sort of _tabula rasa_
within yourself, and are ready to hear a sermon on morality that you
will hear nowhere else; for mankind in the mass are even more
consummate hypocrites than any one individual can be when his
interests demand a piece of acting. Most of us spend a good part of
our lives in clearing our minds of the notions that sprang up
unchecked during our nonage. This is called 'getting our
Lucien, listening, thought within himself, "Here is some old intriguer
delighted with a chance of amusing himself on a journey. He is pleased
with the idea of bringing about a change of opinion in a poor wretch
on the brink of suicide; and when he is tired of his amusement, he
will drop me. Still he understands paradox, and seems to be quite a
match for Blondet or Lousteau."
But in spite of these sage reflections, the diplomate's poison had
sunk deeply into Lucien's soul; the ground was ready to receive it,
and the havoc wrought was the greater because such famous examples
were cited. Lucien fell under the charm of his companion's cynical
talk, and clung the more willingly to life because he felt that this
arm which drew him up from the depths was a strong one.
In this respect the ecclesiastic had evidently won the day; and,
indeed, from time to time a malicious smile bore his cynical anecdotes
"If your system of morality at all resembles your manner of regarding
history," said Lucien, "I should dearly like to know the motive of
your present act of charity, for such it seems to be."
"There, young man, I have come to the last head of my sermon; you will
permit me to reserve it, for in that case we shall not part company
to-day," said the canon, with the tact of the priest who sees that his
guile has succeeded.
"Very well, talk morality," said Lucien. To himself he said, "I will
draw him out."
"Morality begins with the law," said the priest. "If it were simply a
question of religion, laws would be superfluous; religious peoples
have few laws. The laws of statecraft are above civil law. Well, do
you care to know the inscription which a politician can read, written
at large over your nineteenth century? In 1793 the French invented the
idea of the sovereignty of the people--and the sovereignty of the
people came to an end under the absolute ruler in the Emperor. So much
for your history as a nation. Now for your private manners. Mme.
Tallien and Mme. Beauharnais both acted alike. Napoleon married the
one, and made her your Empress; the other he would never receive at
court, princess though she was. The sans-culotte of 1793 takes the
Iron Crown in 1804. The fanatical lovers of Equality or Death conspire
fourteen years afterwards with a Legitimist aristocracy to bring back
Louis XVIII. And that same aristocracy, lording it to-day in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, has done worse--has been merchant, usurer,
pastry-cook, farmer, and shepherd. So in France systems political and
moral have started from one point and reached another diametrically
opposed; and men have expressed one kind of opinion and acted on
another. There has been no consistency in national policy, nor in the
conduct of individuals. You cannot be said to have any morality left.
Success is the supreme justification of all actions whatsoever. The
fact in itself is nothing; the impression that it makes upon others is
everything. Hence, please observe a second precept: Present a fair
exterior to the world, keep the seamy side of life to yourself, and
turn a resplendent countenance upon others. Discretion, the motto of
every ambitious man, is the watchword of our Order; take it for your
own. Great men are guilty of almost as many base deeds as poor
outcasts; but they are careful to do these things in shadow and to
parade their virtues in the light, or they would not be great men.
Your insignificant man leaves his virtues in the shade; he publicly
displays his pitiable side, and is despised accordingly. You, for
instance, have hidden your titles to greatness and made a display of
your worst failings. You openly took an actress for your mistress,
lived with her and upon her; you were by no means to blame for this;
everybody admitted that both of you were perfectly free to do as you
liked; but you ran full tilt against the ideas of the world, and the
world has not shown you the consideration that is shown to those who
obey the rules of the game. If you had left Coralie to this M.
Camusot, if you had hidden your relations with her, you might have
married Mme. de Bargeton; you would now be prefect of Angouleme and
Marquis de Rubempre.
"Change your tactics, bring your good looks, your charm, your wit,
your poetry to the front. If you indulge in small discreditable
courses, let it be within four walls, and you will never again be
guilty of a blot on the decorations of this great theatrical scene
called society. Napoleon called this 'washing dirty linen at home.'
The corollary follows naturally on this second precept--Form is
everything. Be careful to grasp the meaning of that word 'form.' There
are people who, for want of knowing better, will help themselves to
money under pressure of want, and take it by force. These people are
called criminals; and, perforce, they square accounts with Justice. A
poor man of genius discovers some secret, some invention as good as a
treasure; you lend him three thousand francs (for that, practically,
the Cointets have done; they hold your bills, and they are about to
rob your brother-in-law); you torment him until he reveals or partly
reveals his secret; you settle your accounts with your own conscience,
and your conscience does not drag you into the assize court.
"The enemies of social order, beholding this contrast, take occasion
to yap at justice, and wax wroth in the name of the people, because,
forsooth, burglars and fowl-stealers are sent to the hulks, while a
man who brings whole families to ruin by a fraudulent bankruptcy is
let off with a few months' imprisonment. But these hypocrites know
quite well that the judge who passes sentence on the thief is
maintaining the barrier set between the poor and the rich, and that if
that barrier were overturned, social chaos would ensue; while, in the
case of the bankrupt, the man who steals an inheritance cleverly, and
the banker who slaughters a business for his own benefit, money merely
changes hands, that is all.
"Society, my son, is bound to draw those distinctions which I have
pointed out for your benefit. The one great point is this--you must be
a match for society. Napoleon, Richelieu, and the Medicis were a match
for their generations. And as for you, you value yourself at twelve
thousand francs! You of this generation in France worship the golden
calf; what else is the religion of your Charter that will not
recognize a man politically unless he owns property? What is this but
the command, 'Strive to be rich?' Some day, when you shall have made a
fortune without breaking the law, you will be rich; you will be the
Marquis de Rubempre, and you can indulge in the luxury of honor. You
will be so extremely sensitive on the point of honor that no one will
dare to accuse you of past shortcomings if in the process of making
your way you should happen to smirch it now and again, which I myself
should never advise," he added, patting Lucien's hand.
"So what must you put in that comely head of yours? Simply this and
nothing more--propose to yourself a brilliant and conspicuous goal,
and go towards it secretly; let no one see your methods or your
progress. You have behaved like a child; be a man, be a hunter, lie in
wait for your quarry in the world of Paris, wait for your chance and
your game; you need not be particular nor mindful of your dignity, as
it is called; we are all of us slaves to something, to some failing of
our own or to necessity; but keep that law of laws--secrecy."
"Father, you frighten me," said Lucien; "this seems to me to be a
"And you are right," said the canon, "but it is no invention of mine.
All _parvenus_ reason in this way--the house of Austria and the house of
France alike. You have nothing, you say? The Medicis, Richelieu, and
Napoleon started from precisely your standpoint; but _they_, my child,
considered that their prospects were worth ingratitude, treachery, and
the most glaring inconsistencies. You must dare all things to gain all
things. Let us discuss it. Suppose that you sit down to a game of
_bouillotte_, do you begin to argue over the rules of the game? There
they are, you accept them."
"Come, now," thought Lucien, "he can play _bouillotte_."
"And what do you do?" continued the priest; "do you practise openness,
that fairest of virtues? Not merely do you hide your tactics, but you
do your best to make others believe that you are on the brink of ruin
as soon as you are sure of winning the game. In short, you dissemble,
do you not? You lie to win four or five louis d'or. What would you
think of a player so generous as to proclaim that he held a hand full
of trumps? Very well; the ambitious man who carries virtue's precepts
into the arena when his antagonists have left them behind is behaving
like a child. Old men of the world might say to him, as card-players
would say to the man who declines to take advantage of his trumps,
'Monsieur, you ought not to play at _bouillotte_.'
"Did you make the rules of the game of ambition? Why did I tell you to
be a match for society?--Because, in these days, society by degrees
has usurped so many rights over the individual, that the individual is
compelled to act in self-defence. There is no question of laws now,
their place has been taken by custom, which is to say grimacings, and
forms must always be observed."
Lucien started with surprise.
"Ah, my child!" said the priest, afraid that he had shocked Lucien's
innocence; "did you expect to find the Angel Gabriel in an Abbe loaded
with all the iniquities of the diplomacy and counter-diplomacy of two
kings? I am an agent between Ferdinand VII. and Louis XVIII.,
two--kings who owe their crowns to profound--er--combinations, let us
say. I believe in God, but I have a still greater belief in our Order,
and our Order has no belief save in temporal power. In order to
strengthen and consolidate the temporal power, our Order upholds the
Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church, which is to say, the doctrines
which dispose the world at large to obedience. We are the Templars of
modern times; we have a doctrine of our own. Like the Templars, we have
been dispersed, and for the same reasons; we are almost a match for the
world. If you will enlist as a soldier, I will be your captain. Obey
me as a wife obeys her husband, as a child obeys his mother, and I
will guarantee that you shall be Marquis de Rubempre in less than six
months; you shall marry into one of the proudest houses in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, and some day you shall sit on a bench with
peers of France. What would you have been at this moment if I had not
amused you by my conversation?--An undiscovered corpse in a deep bed
of mud. Well and good, now for an effort of imagination----"
Lucien looked curiously at his protector.
"Here, in this caleche beside the Abbe Carlos Herrera, canon of
Toledo, secret envoy from His Majesty Ferdinand VII. to his Majesty
the King of France, bearer of a despatch thus worded it may be--'When
you have delivered me, hang all those whom I favor at this moment,
more especially the bearer of this despatch, for then he can tell no
tales'--well, beside this envoy sits a young man who has nothing in
common with that poet recently deceased. I have fished you out of the
water, I have brought you to life again, you belong to me as the
creature belongs to the creator, as the efrits of fairytales belong to
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