Honore De Balzac
Part 2 out of 14
No one except his sister was in the secret. Eve, like the thrifty
housekeeper and divine magician that she was, conjured up a few louis
d'or from her savings to buy thin shoes for Lucien of the best
shoemaker in Angouleme, and an entirely new suit of clothes from the
most renowned tailor. She made a frill for his best shirt, and washed
and pleated it with her own hands. And how pleased she was to see him
so dressed! How proud she felt of her brother, and what quantities of
advice she gave him! Her intuition foresaw countless foolish fears.
Lucien had a habit of resting his elbows on the table when he was in
deep thought; he would even go so far as to draw a table nearer to
lean upon it; Eve told him that he must not forget himself in those
She went with him as far as St. Peter's Gate, and when they were
almost opposite the cathedral she stopped, and watched him pass down
the Rue de Beaulieu to the Promenade, where M. du Chatelet was waiting
for him. And after he was out of sight, she still stood there, poor
girl! in a great tremor of emotion, as though some great thing had
happened to them. Lucien in Mme. de Bargeton's house!--for Eve it
meant the dawn of success. The innocent creature did not suspect that
where ambition begins, ingenuous feeling ends.
Externals in the Rue du Minage gave Lucien no sense of surprise. This
palace, that loomed so large in his imagination, was a house built of
the soft stone of the country, mellowed by time. It looked dismal
enough from the street, and inside it was extremely plain; there was
the usual provincial courtyard--chilly, prim, and neat; and the house
itself was sober, almost convent-like, but in good repair.
Lucien went up the old staircase with the balustrade of chestnut wood
(the stone steps ceased after the second floor), crossed a shabby
antechamber, and came into the presence in a little wainscoted
drawing-room, beyond a dimly-lit salon. The carved woodwork, in the
taste of the eighteenth century, had been painted gray. There were
monochrome paintings on the frieze panels, and the walls were adorned
with crimson damask with a meagre border. The old-fashioned furniture
shrank piteously from sight under covers of a red-and-white check
pattern. On the sofa, covered with thin mattressed cushions, sat Mme.
de Bargeton; the poet beheld her by the light of two wax candles on a
sconce with a screen fitted to it, that stood before her on a round
table with a green cloth.
The queen did not attempt to rise, but she twisted very gracefully on
her seat, smiling on the poet, who was not a little fluttered by the
serpentine quiverings; her manner was distinguished, he thought. For
Mme. de Bargeton, she was impressed with Lucien's extreme beauty, with
his diffidence, with everything about him; for her the poet already
was poetry incarnate. Lucien scrutinized his hostess with discreet
side glances; she disappointed none of his expectations of a great
Mme. de Bargeton, following a new fashion, wore a coif of slashed
black velvet, a head-dress that recalls memories of mediaeval legend
to a young imagination, to amplify, as it were, the dignity of
womanhood. Her red-gold hair, escaping from under her cap, hung loose;
bright golden color in the light, red in the rounded shadow of the
curls that only partially hid her neck. Beneath a massive white brow,
clean cut and strongly outlined, shone a pair of bright gray eyes
encircled by a margin of mother-of-pearl, two blue veins on each side
of the nose bringing out the whiteness of that delicate setting. The
Bourbon curve of the nose added to the ardent expression of an oval
face; it was as if the royal temper of the House of Conde shone
conspicuous in this feature. The careless cross-folds of the bodice
left a white throat bare, and half revealed the outlines of a still
youthful figure and shapely, well placed contours beneath.
With fingers tapering and well-kept, though somewhat too thin, Mme. de
Bargeton amiably pointed to a seat by her side, M. du Chatelet
ensconced himself in an easy-chair, and Lucien then became aware that
there was no one else in the room.
Mme. de Bargeton's words intoxicated the young poet from L'Houmeau.
For Lucien those three hours spent in her presence went by like a
dream that we would fain have last forever. She was not thin, he
thought; she was slender; in love with love, and loverless; and
delicate in spite of her strength. Her foibles, exaggerated by her
manner, took his fancy; for youth sets out with a love of hyperbole,
that infirmity of noble souls. He did not so much as see that her
cheeks were faded, that the patches of color on the cheek-bone were
faded and hardened to a brick-red by listless days and a certain
amount of ailing health. His imagination fastened at once on the
glowing eyes, on the dainty curls rippling with light, on the dazzling
fairness of her skin, and hovered about those bright points as the
moth hovers about the candle flame. For her spirit made such appeal to
his that he could no longer see the woman as she was. Her feminine
exaltation had carried him away, the energy of her expressions, a
little staled in truth by pretty hard and constant wear, but new to
Lucien, fascinated him so much the more easily because he was
determined to be pleased. He had brought none of his own verses to
read, but nothing was said of them; he had purposely left them behind
because he meant to return; and Mme. de Bargeton did not ask for them,
because she meant that he should come back some future day to read
them to her. Was not this a beginning of an understanding?
As for M. Sixte du Chatelet, he was not over well pleased with all
this. He perceived rather too late in the day that he had a rival in
this handsome young fellow. He went with him as far as the first
flight of steps below Beaulieu to try the effect of a little
diplomacy; and Lucien was not a little astonished when he heard the
controller of excise pluming himself on having effected the
introduction, and proceeding in this character to give him (Lucien)
the benefit of his advice.
"Heaven send that Lucien might meet with better treatment than he had
done," such was the matter of M. du Chatelet's discourse. "The Court
was less insolent that this pack of dolts in Angouleme. You were
expected to endure deadly insults; the superciliousness you had to put
up with was something abominable. If this kind of folk did not alter
their behavior, there would be another Revolution of '89. As for
himself, if he continued to go to the house, it was because he had
found Mme. de Bargeton to his taste; she was the only woman worth
troubling about in Angouleme; he had been paying court to her for want
of anything better to do, and now he was desperately in love with her.
She would be his before very long, she loved him, everything pointed
that way. The conquest of this haughty queen of the society would be
his one revenge on the whole houseful of booby clodpates."
Chatelet talked of his passion in the tone of a man who would have a
rival's life if he crossed his path. The elderly butterfly of the
Empire came down with his whole weight on the poor poet, and tried to
frighten and crush him by his self-importance. He grew taller as he
gave an embellished account of his perilous wanderings; but while he
impressed the poet's imagination, the lover was by no means afraid of
In spite of the elderly coxcomb, and regardless of his threats and
airs of a _bourgeois_ bravo, Lucien went back again and again to the
house--not too often at first, as became a man of L'Houmeau; but
before very long he grew accustomed to the vast condescension, as it
had seemed to him at the outset, and came more and more frequently.
The druggist's son was a completely insignificant being. If any of the
_noblesse_, men or women, calling upon Nais, found Lucien in the room,
they met him with the overwhelming graciousness that well-bred people
use towards their inferiors. Lucien thought them very kind for a time,
and later found out the real reason for their specious amiability. It
was not long before he detected a patronizing tone that stirred his
gall and confirmed him in his bitter Republicanism, a phase of opinion
through which many a would-be patrician passes by way of prelude to
his introduction to polite society.
But was there anything that he would not have endured for Nais?--for
so he heard her named by the clan. Like Spanish grandees and the old
Austrian nobility at Vienna, these folk, men and women alike, called
each other by their Christian names, a final shade of distinction in
the inmost ring of Angoumoisin aristocracy.
Lucien loved Nais as a young man loves the first woman who flatters
him, for Nais prophesied great things and boundless fame for Lucien.
She used all her skill to secure her hold upon her poet; not merely
did she exalt him beyond measure, but she represented him to himself
as a child without fortune whom she meant to start in life; she
treated him like a child, to keep him near her; she made him her
reader, her secretary, and cared more for him than she would have
thought possible after the dreadful calamity that had befallen her.
She was very cruel to herself in those days, telling herself that it
would be folly to love a young man of twenty, so far apart from her
socially in the first place; and her behavior to him was a bewildering
mixture of familiarity and capricious fits of pride arising from her
fears and scruples. She was sometimes a lofty patroness, sometimes she
was tender and flattered him. At first, while he was overawed by her
rank, Lucien experienced the extremes of dread, hope, and despair, the
torture of a first love, that is beaten deep into the heart with the
hammer strokes of alternate bliss and anguish. For two months Mme. de
Bargeton was for him a benefactress who would take a mother's interest
in him; but confidences came next. Mme. de Bargeton began to address
her poet as "dear Lucien," and then as "dear," without more ado. The
poet grew bolder, and addressed the great lady as Nais, and there
followed a flash of anger that captivates a boy; she reproached him
for calling her by a name in everybody's mouth. The haughty and
high-born Negrepelisse offered the fair angel youth that one of her
appellations which was unsoiled by use; for him she would be "Louise."
Lucien was in the third heaven.
One evening when Lucien came in, he found Mme. de Bargeton looking at
a portrait, which she promptly put away. He wished to see it, and to
quiet the despair of a first fit of jealousy Louise showed him
Cante-Croix's picture, and told with tears the piteous story of a love
so stainless, so cruelly cut short. Was she experimenting with herself?
Was she trying a first unfaithfulness to the memory of the dead? Or
had she taken it into her head to raise up a rival to Lucien in the
portrait? Lucien was too much of a boy to analyze his lady-love; he
gave way to unfeigned despair when she opened the campaign by
entrenching herself behind the more or less skilfully devised scruples
which women raise to have them battered down. When a woman begins to
talk about her duty, regard for appearances or religion, the
objections she raises are so many redoubts which she loves to have
carried by storm. But on the guileless Lucien these coquetries were
thrown away; he would have advanced of his own accord.
"_I_ shall not die for you, I will live for you," he cried audaciously
one evening; he meant to have no more of M. de Cante-Croix, and gave
Louise a glance which told plainly that a crisis was at hand.
Startled at the progress of this new love in herself and her poet,
Louise demanded some verses promised for the first page of her album,
looking for a pretext for a quarrel in his tardiness. But what became
of her when she read the following stanzas, which, naturally, she
considered finer than the finest work of Canalis, the poet of the
The magic brush, light flying flights of song--
To these, but not to these alone, belong
My pages fair;
Often to me, my mistress' pencil steals
To tell the secret gladness that she feels,
The hidden care.
And when her fingers, slowlier at the last,
Of a rich Future, now become the Past,
Seek count of me,
Oh Love, when swift, thick-coming memories rise,
I pray of Thee.
May they bring visions fair as cloudless skies
Of happy voyage o'er a summer sea!
"Was it really I who inspired those lines?" she asked.
The doubt suggested by coquetry to a woman who amused herself by
playing with fire brought tears to Lucien's eyes; but her first kiss
upon his forehead calmed the storm. Decidedly Lucien was a great man,
and she meant to form him; she thought of teaching him Italian and
German and perfecting his manners. That would be pretext sufficient
for having him constantly with her under the very eyes of her tiresome
courtiers. What an interest in her life! She took up music again for
her poet's sake, and revealed the world of sound to him, playing grand
fragments of Beethoven till she sent him into ecstasy; and, happy in
his delight, turned to the half-swooning poet.
"Is not such happiness as this enough?" she asked hypocritically; and
poor Lucien was stupid enough to answer, "Yes."
In the previous week things had reached such a point, that Louise had
judged it expedient to ask Lucien to dine with M. de Bargeton as a
third. But in spite of this precaution, the whole town knew the state
of affairs; and so extraordinary did it appear, that no one would
believe the truth. The outcry was terrific. Some were of the opinion
that society was on the eve of cataclysm. "See what comes of Liberal
doctrines!" cried others.
Then it was that the jealous du Chatelet discovered that Madame
Charlotte, the monthly nurse, was no other than Mme. Chardon, "the
mother of the Chateaubriand of L'Houmeau," as he put it. The remark
passed muster as a joke. Mme. de Chandour was the first to hurry to
Mme. de Bargeton.
"Nais, dear," she said, "do you know what everybody is talking about
in Angouleme? This little rhymster's mother is the Madame Charlotte
who nursed my sister-in-law through her confinement two months ago."
"What is there extraordinary in that, my dear?" asked Mme. de Bargeton
with her most regal air. "She is a druggist's widow, is she not? A
poor fate for a Rubempre. Suppose that you and I had not a penny in
the world, what should either of us do for a living? How would you
support your children?"
Mme. de Bargeton's presence of mind put an end to the jeremiads of the
_noblesse_. Great natures are prone to make a virtue of misfortune; and
there is something irresistibly attractive about well-doing when
persisted in through evil report; innocence has the piquancy of the
Mme. de Bargeton's rooms were crowded that evening with friends who
came to remonstrate with her. She brought her most caustic wit into
play. She said that as noble families could not produce a Moliere, a
Racine, a Rousseau, a Voltaire, a Massillon, a Beaumarchais, or a
Diderot, people must make up their minds to it, and accept the fact
that great men had upholsterers and clockmakers and cutlers for their
fathers. She said that genius was always noble. She railed at boorish
squires for understanding their real interests so imperfectly. In
short, she talked a good deal of nonsense, which would have let the
light into heads less dense, but left her audience agape at her
eccentricity. And in these ways she conjured away the storm with her
When Lucien, obedient to her request, appeared for the first time in
the faded great drawing-room, where the whist-tables were set out, she
welcomed him graciously, and brought him forward, like a queen who
means to be obeyed. She addressed the controller of excise as "M.
Chatelet," and left that gentleman thunderstruck by the discovery that
she knew about the illegal superfetation of the particle. Lucien was
forced upon her circle, and was received as a poisonous element, which
every person in it vowed to expel with the antidote of insolence.
Nais had won a victory, but she had lost her supremacy of empire.
There was a rumor of insurrection. Amelie, otherwise Mme. de Chandour,
harkening to "M. Chatelet's" counsels, determined to erect a rival
altar by receiving on Wednesdays. Now Mme. de Bargeton's salon was
open every evening; and those who frequented it were so wedded to
their ways, so accustomed to meet about the same tables, to play the
familiar game of backgammon, to see the same faces and the same candle
sconces night after night; and afterwards to cloak and shawl, and put
on overshoes and hats in the old corridor, that they were quite as
much attached to the steps of the staircase as to the mistress of the
"All resigned themselves to endure the songster" (_chardonneret_) "of
the sacred grove," said Alexandre de Brebian, which was witticism
number two. Finally, the president of the agricultural society put an
end to the sedition by remarking judicially that "before the
Revolution the greatest nobles admitted men like Dulcos and Grimm and
Crebillon to their society--men who were nobodies, like this little
poet of L'Houmeau; but one thing they never did, they never received
tax-collectors, and, after all, Chatelet is only a tax-collector."
Du Chatelet suffered for Chardon. Every one turned the cold shoulder
upon him; and Chatelet was conscious that he was attacked. When Mme.
de Bargeton called him "M. Chatelet," he swore to himself that he
would possess her; and now he entered into the views of the mistress
of the house, came to the support of the young poet, and declared
himself Lucien's friend. The great diplomatist, overlooked by the
shortsighted Emperor, made much of Lucien, and declared himself his
friend! To launch the poet into society, he gave a dinner, and asked
all the authorities to meet him--the prefect, the receiver-general,
the colonel in command of the garrison, the head of the Naval School,
the president of the Court, and so forth. The poet, poor fellow, was
feted so magnificently, and so belauded, that anybody but a young man
of two-and-twenty would have shrewdly suspected a hoax. After dinner,
Chatelet drew his rival on to recite _The Dying Sardanapalus_, the
masterpiece of the hour; and the headmaster of the school, a man of a
phlegmatic temperament, applauded with both hands, and vowed that
Jean-Baptiste Rousseau had done nothing finer. Sixte, Baron du
Chatelet, thought in his heart that this slip of a rhymster would
wither incontinently in a hothouse of adulation; perhaps he hoped that
when the poet's head was turned with brilliant dreams, he would
indulge in some impertinence that would promptly consign him to the
obscurity from which he had emerged. Pending the decease of genius,
Chatelet appeared to offer up his hopes as a sacrifice at Mme. de
Bargeton's feet; but with the ingenuity of a rake, he kept his own
plan in abeyance, watching the lovers' movements with keenly critical
eyes, and waiting for the opportunity of ruining Lucien.
From this time forward, vague rumors reported the existence of a great
man in Angoumois. Mme. de Bargeton was praised on all sides for the
interest which she took in this young eagle. No sooner was her conduct
approved than she tried to win a general sanction. She announced a
soiree, with ices, tea, and cakes, a great innovation in a city where
tea, as yet, was sold only by druggists as a remedy for indigestion.
The flower of Angoumoisin aristocracy was summoned to hear Lucien read
his great work. Louise had hidden all the difficulties from her
friend, but she let fall a few words touching the social cabal formed
against him; she would not have him ignorant of the perils besetting
his career as a man of genius, nor of the obstacles insurmountable to
weaklings. She drew a lesson from the recent victory. Her white hands
pointed him to glory that lay beyond a prolonged martyrdom; she spoke
of stakes and flaming pyres; she spread the adjectives thickly on her
finest _tartines_, and decorated them with a variety of her most pompous
epithets. It was an infringement of the copyright of the passages of
declamation that disfigure _Corinne_; but Louise grew so much the
greater in her own eyes as she talked, that she loved the Benjamin who
inspired her eloquence the more for it. She counseled him to take a
bold step and renounce his patronymic for the noble name of Rubempre;
he need not mind the little tittle-tattle over a change which the
King, for that matter, would authorize. Mme. de Bargeton undertook to
procure this favor; she was related to the Marquise d'Espard, who was
a Blamont-Chauvry before her marriage, and a _persona grata_ at Court.
The words "King," "Marquise d'Espard," and "the Court" dazzled Lucien
like a blaze of fireworks, and the necessity of the baptism was plain
"Dear child," said Louise, with tender mockery in her tones, "the
sooner it is done, the sooner it will be sanctioned."
She went through social strata and showed the poet that this step
would raise him many rungs higher in the ladder. Seizing the moment,
she persuaded Lucien to forswear the chimerical notions of '89 as to
equality; she roused a thirst for social distinction allayed by
David's cool commonsense; she pointed out fashionable society as the
goal and the only stage for such a talent as his. The rabid Liberal
became a Monarchist _in petto_; Lucien set his teeth in the apple of
desire of rank, luxury, and fame. He swore to win a crown to lay at
his lady's feet, even if there should be blood-stains on the bays. He
would conquer at any cost, _quibuscumque viis_. To prove his courage, he
told her of his present way of life; Louise had known nothing of its
hardships, for there is an indefinable pudency inseparable from strong
feeling in youth, a delicacy which shrinks from a display of great
qualities; and a young man loves to have the real quality of his
nature discerned through the incognito. He described that life, the
shackles of poverty borne with pride, his days of work for David, his
nights of study. His young ardor recalled memories of the colonel of
six-and-twenty; Mme. de Bargeton's eyes grew soft; and Lucien, seeing
this weakness in his awe-inspiring mistress, seized a hand that she
had abandoned to him, and kissed it with the frenzy of a lover and a
poet in his youth. Louise even allowed him to set his eager, quivering
lips upon her forehead.
"Oh, child! child! if any one should see us, I should look very
ridiculous," she said, shaking off the ecstatic torpor.
In the course of that evening, Mme. de Bargeton's wit made havoc of
Lucien's prejudices, as she styled them. Men of genius, according to
her doctrine, had neither brothers nor sisters nor father nor mother;
the great tasks laid upon them required that they should sacrifice
everything that they might grow to their full stature. Perhaps their
families might suffer at first from the all-absorbing exactions of a
giant brain, but at a later day they were repaid a hundredfold for
self-denial of every kind during the early struggles of the kingly
intellect with adverse fate; they shared the spoils of victory. Genius
was answerable to no man. Genius alone could judge of the means used
to an end which no one else could know. It was the duty of a man of
genius, therefore, to set himself above law; it was his mission to
reconstruct law; the man who is master of his age may take all that he
needs, run any risks, for all is his. She quoted instances. Bernard
Palissy, Louis XI., Fox, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, and Julius
Caesar,--all these world-famous gamblers had begun life hampered with
debt, or as poor men; all of them had been misunderstood, taken for
madmen, reviled for bad sons, bad brothers, bad fathers; and yet in
after life each one had come to be the pride of his family, of his
country, of the civilized world.
Her arguments fell upon fertile soil in the worst of Lucien's nature,
and spread corruption in his heart; for him, when his desires were
hot, all means were admissible. But--failure is high treason against
society; and when the fallen conqueror has run amuck through _bourgeois_
virtues, and pulled down the pillars of society, small wonder that
society, finding Marius seated among the ruins, should drive him forth
in abhorrence. All unconsciously Lucien stood with the palm of genius
on the one hand and a shameful ending in the hulks upon the other;
and, on high upon the Sinai of the prophets, beheld no Dead Sea
covering the cities of the plain--the hideous winding-sheet of
So well did Louise loosen the swaddling-bands of provincial life that
confined the heart and brain of her poet that the said poet determined
to try an experiment upon her. He wished to feel certain that this
proud conquest was his without laying himself open to the
mortification of a rebuff. The forthcoming soiree gave him his
opportunity. Ambition blended with his love. He loved, and he meant to
rise, a double desire not unnatural in young men with a heart to
satisfy and the battle of life to fight. Society, summoning all her
children to one banquet, arouses ambition in the very morning of life.
Youth is robbed of its charm, and generous thoughts are corrupted by
mercenary scheming. The idealist would fain have it otherwise, but
intrusive fact too often gives the lie to the fiction which we should
like to believe, making it impossible to paint the young man of the
nineteenth century other than he is. Lucien imagined that his scheming
was entirely prompted by good feeling, and persuaded himself that it
was done solely for his friend David's sake.
He wrote a long letter to his Louise; he felt bolder, pen in hand,
than face to face. In a dozen sheets, copied out three several times,
he told her of his father's genius and blighted hopes and of his
grinding poverty. He described his beloved sister as an angel, and
David as another Cuvier, a great man of the future, and a father,
friend, and brother to him in the present. He should feel himself
unworthy of his Louise's love (his proudest distinction) if he did not
ask her to do for David all that she had done for him. He would give
up everything rather than desert David Sechard; David must witness his
success. It was one of those wild letters in which a young man points
a pistol at a refusal, letters full of boyish casuistry and the
incoherent reasoning of an idealist; a delicious tissue of words
embroidered here and there by the naive utterances that women love so
well--unconscious revelations of the writer's heart.
Lucien left the letter with the housemaid, went to the office, and
spent the day in reading proofs, superintending the execution of
orders, and looking after the affairs of the printing-house. He said
not a word to David. While youth bears a child's heart, it is capable
of sublime reticence. Perhaps, too, Lucien began to dread the
Phocion's axe which David could wield when he chose, perhaps he was
afraid to meet those clear-sighted eyes that read the depths of his
soul. But when he read Chenier's poems with David, his secret rose
from his heart to his lips at the sting of a reproach that he felt as
the patient feels the probing of a wound.
And now try to understand the thoughts that troubled Lucien's mind as
he went down from Angouleme. Was the great lady angry with him? Would
she receive David? Had he, Lucien, in his ambition, flung himself
headlong back into the depths of L'Houmeau? Before he set that kiss on
Louise's forehead, he had had time to measure the distance between a
queen and her favorite, so far had he come in five months, and he did
not tell himself that David could cross over the same ground in a
moment. Yet he did not know how completely the lower orders were
excluded from this upper world; he did not so much as suspect that a
second experiment of this kind meant ruin for Mme. de Bargeton. Once
accused and fairly convicted of a liking for _canaille_, Louise would be
driven from the place, her caste would shun her as men shunned a leper
in the Middle Ages. Nais might have broken the moral law, and her
whole circle, the clergy and the flower of the aristocracy, would have
defended her against the world through thick and then; but a breach of
another law, the offence of admitting all sorts of people to her house
--this was sin without remission. The sins of those in power are
always overlooked--once let them abdicate, and they shall pay the
penalty. And what was it but abdication to receive David?
But if Lucien did not see these aspects of the question, his
aristocratic instinct discerned plenty of difficulties of another
kind, and he took alarm. A fine manner is not the invariable outcome
of noble feeling; and while no man at court had a nobler air than
Racine, Corneille looked very much like a cattle-dealer, and Descartes
might have been taken for an honest Dutch merchant; and visitors to La
Brede, meeting Montesquieu in a cotton nightcap, carrying a rake over
his shoulder, mistook him for a gardener. A knowledge of the world,
when it is not sucked in with mother's milk and part of the
inheritance of descent, is only acquired by education, supplemented by
certain gifts of chance--a graceful figure, distinction of feature, a
certain ring in the voice. All these, so important trifles, David
lacked, while Nature had bestowed them upon his friend. Of gentle
blood on the mother's side, Lucien was a Frank, even down to the
high-arched instep. David had inherited the physique of his father the
pressman and the flat foot of the Gael. Lucien could hear the shower
of jokes at David's expense; he could see Mme. de Bargeton's repressed
smile; and at length, without being exactly ashamed of his brother, he
made up his mind to disregard his first impulse and to think twice
before yielding to it in future.
So, after the hour of poetry and self-sacrifice, after the reading of
verse that opened out before the friends the fields of literature in
the light of a newly-risen sun, the hour of worldly wisdom and of
scheming struck for Lucien.
Down once more in L'Houmeau he wished that he had not written that
letter; he wished he could have it back again; for down the vista of
the future he caught a glimpse of the inexorable laws of the world. He
guessed that nothing succeeds like success, and it cost him something
to step down from the first rung of the scaling ladder by which he
meant to reach and storm the heights above. Pictures of his quiet and
simple life rose before him, pictures fair with the brightest colors
of blossoming love. There was David; what a genius David had--David
who had helped him so generously, and would die for him at need; he
thought of his mother, of how great a lady she was in her lowly lot,
and how she thought that he was as good as he was clever; then of his
sister so gracious in submission to her fate, of his own innocent
childhood and conscience as yet unstained, of budding hopes
undespoiled by rough winds, and at these thoughts the past broke into
flowers once more for his memory.
Then he told himself that it was a far finer thing to hew his own way
through serried hostile mobs of aristocrats or philistines by repeated
successful strokes, than to reach the goal through a woman's favor.
Sooner or later his genius should shine out; it had been so with the
others, his predecessors; they had tamed society. Women would love him
when that day came! The example of Napoleon, which, unluckily for this
nineteenth century of ours, has filled a great many ordinary persons
with aspirations after extraordinary destinies,--the example of
Napoleon occurred to Lucien's mind. He flung his schemes to the winds
and blamed himself for thinking of them. For Lucien was so made that
he went from evil to good, or from good to evil, with the same
Lucien had none of the scholar's love for his retreat; for the past
month indeed he had felt something like shame at the sight of the shop
front, where you could read--
POSTEL (LATE CHARDON), PHARMACEUTICAL CHEMIST,
in yellow letters on a green ground. It was an offence to him that his
father's name should be thus posted up in a place where every carriage
Every evening, when he closed the ugly iron gate and went up to
Beaulieu to give his arm to Mme. de Bargeton among the dandies of the
upper town, he chafed beyond all reason at the disparity between his
lodging and his fortune.
"I love Mme. de Bargeton; perhaps in a few days she will be mine, yet
here I live in this rat-hole!" he said to himself this evening, as he
went down the narrow passage into the little yard behind the shop.
This evening bundles of boiled herbs were spread out along the wall,
the apprentice was scouring a caldron, and M. Postel himself, girded
about with his laboratory apron, was standing with a retort in his
hand, inspecting some chemical product while keeping an eye upon the
shop door, or if the eye happened to be engaged, he had at any rate an
ear for the bell.
A strong scent of camomile and peppermint pervaded the yard and the
poor little dwelling at the side, which you reached by a short ladder,
with a rope on either side by way of hand-rail. Lucien's room was an
attic just under the roof.
"Good-day, sonny," said M. Postel, that typical, provincial tradesman.
"Are you pretty middling? I have just been experimenting on treacle,
but it would take a man like your father to find what I am looking
for. Ah! he was a famous chemist, he was! If I had only known his gout
specific, you and I should be rolling along in our carriage this day."
The little druggist, whose head was as thick as his heart was kind,
never let a week pass without some allusion to Chardon senior's
unlucky secretiveness as to that discovery, words that Lucien felt
like a stab.
"It is a great pity," Lucien answered curtly. He was beginning to
think his father's apprentice prodigiously vulgar, though he had
blessed the man for his kindness, for honest Postel had helped his
master's widow and children more than once.
"Why, what is the matter with you?" M. Postel inquired, putting down
his test tube on the laboratory table.
"Is there a letter for me?"
"Yes, a letter that smells like balm! it is lying on the corner near
Mme. de Bargeton's letter lying among the physic bottles in a
druggist's shop! Lucien sprang in to rescue it.
"Be quick, Lucien! your dinner has been waiting an hour for you, it
will be cold!" a sweet voice called gently through a half-opened
window; but Lucien did not hear.
"That brother of yours has gone crazy, mademoiselle," said Postel,
lifting his face.
The old bachelor looked rather like a miniature brandy cask,
embellished by a painter's fancy, with a fat, ruddy countenance much
pitted with the smallpox; at the sight of Eve his face took a
ceremonious and amiable expression, which said plainly that he had
thoughts of espousing the daughter of his predecessor, but could not
put an end to the strife between love and interest in his heart. He
often said to Lucien, with a smile, "Your sister is uncommonly pretty,
and you are not so bad looking neither! Your father did everything
Eve was tall, dark-haired, dark of complexion, and blue-eyed; but
notwithstanding these signs of virile character, she was gentle,
tender-hearted, and devoted to those she loved. Her frank innocence,
her simplicity, her quiet acceptance of a hard-working life, her
character--for her life was above reproach--could not fail to win
David Sechard's heart. So, since the first time that these two had
met, a repressed and single-hearted love had grown up between them in
the German fashion, quietly, with no fervid protestations. In their
secret souls they thought of each other as if there were a bar between
that kept them apart; as if the thought were an offence against some
jealous husband; and hid their feelings from Lucien as though their
love in some way did him a wrong. David, moreover, had no confidence
in himself, and could not believe that Eve could care for him; Eve was
a penniless girl, and therefore shy. A real work-girl would have been
bolder; but Eve, gently bred, and fallen into poverty, resigned
herself to her dreary lot. Diffident as she seemed, she was in reality
proud, and would not make a single advance towards the son of a father
said to be rich. People who knew the value of a growing property, said
that the vineyard at Marsac was worth more than eighty thousand
francs, to say nothing of the traditional bits of land which old
Sechard used to buy as they came into the market, for old Sechard had
savings--he was lucky with his vintages, and a clever salesman.
Perhaps David was the only man in Angouleme who knew nothing of his
father's wealth. In David's eyes Marsac was a hovel bought in 1810 for
fifteen or sixteen thousand francs, a place that he saw once a year at
vintage time when his father walked him up and down among the vines
and boasted of an output of wine which the young printer never saw,
and he cared nothing about it.
David was a student leading a solitary life; and the love that gained
even greater force in solitude, as he dwelt upon the difficulties in
the way, was timid, and looked for encouragement; for David stood more
in awe of Eve than a simple clerk of some high-born lady. He was
awkward and ill at ease in the presence of his idol, and as eager to
hurry away as he had been to come. He repressed his passion, and was
silent. Often of an evening, on some pretext of consulting Lucien, he
would leave the Place du Murier and go down through the Palet Gate as
far as L'Houmeau, but at the sight of the green iron railings his
heart failed. Perhaps he had come too late, Eve might think him a
nuisance; she would be in bed by this time no doubt; and so he turned
back. But though his great love had only appeared in trifles, Eve read
it clearly; she was proud, without a touch of vanity in her pride, of
the deep reverence in David's looks and words and manner towards her,
but it was the young printer's enthusiastic belief in Lucien that drew
her to him most of all. He had divined the way to win Eve. The mute
delights of this love of theirs differed from the transports of stormy
passion, as wildflowers in the fields from the brilliant flowers in
garden beds. Interchange of glances, delicate and sweet as blue
water-flowers on the surface of the stream; a look in either face,
vanishing as swiftly as the scent of briar-rose; melancholy, tender as
the velvet of moss--these were the blossoms of two rare natures,
springing up out of a rich and fruitful soil on foundations of rock.
Many a time Eve had seen revelations of the strength that lay below
the appearance of weakness, and made such full allowance for all that
David left undone, that the slightest word now might bring about a
closer union of soul and soul.
Eve opened the door, and Lucien sat down without a word at the little
table on an X-shaped trestle. There was no tablecloth; the poor little
household boasted but three silver spoons and forks, and Eve had laid
them all for the dearly loved brother.
"What have you there?" she asked, when she had set a dish on the
table, and put the extinguisher on the portable stove, where it had
been kept hot for him.
Lucien did not answer. Eve took up a little plate, daintily garnished
with vine-leaves, and set it on the table with a jug full of cream.
"There, Lucien, I have had strawberries for you."
But Lucien was so absorbed in his letter that he did not hear a word.
Eve came to sit beside him without a murmur; for in a sister's love
for a brother it is an element of great pleasure to be treated without
"Oh! what is it?" she cried as she saw tears shining in her brother's
"Nothing, nothing, Eve," he said, and putting his arm about her waist,
he drew her towards him and kissed her forehead, her hair, her throat,
with warmth that surprised her.
"You are keeping something from me."
"Well, then--she loves me."
"I knew very well that you kissed me for somebody else," the poor
sister pouted, flushing red.
"We shall all be happy," cried Lucien, swallowing great spoonfuls of
"_We_?" echoed Eve. The same presentiment that had crossed David's mind
prompted her to add, "You will not care so much about us now."
"How can you think that, if you know me?"
Eve put out her hand and grasped his tightly; then she carried off the
empty plate and the brown earthen soup-tureen, and brought the dish
that she had made for him. But instead of eating his dinner, Lucien
read his letter over again; and Eve, discreet maiden, did not ask
another question, respecting her brother's silence. If he wished to
tell her about it, she could wait; if he did not, how could she ask
him to tell her? She waited. Here is the letter:--
"MY FRIEND,--Why should I refuse to your brother in science the
help that I have lent you? All merits have equal rights in my
eyes; but you do not know the prejudices of those among whom I
live. We shall never make an aristocracy of ignorance understand
that intellect ennobles. If I have not sufficient influence to
compel them to accept M. David Sechard, I am quite willing to
sacrifice the worthless creatures to you. It would be a perfect
hecatomb in the antique manner. But, dear friend, you would not,
of course, ask me to leave them all in exchange for the society of
a person whose character and manner might not please me. I know
from your flatteries how easily friendship can be blinded. Will
you think the worse of me if I attach a condition to my consent?
In the interests of your future I should like to see your friend,
and know and decide for myself whether you are not mistaken. What
is this but the mother's anxious care of my dear poet, which I am
in duty bound to take?
"LOUISE DE NEGREPELISSE."
Lucien had no suspicion of the art with which polite society puts
forward a "Yes" on the way to a "No," and a "No" that leads to a
"Yes." He took this note for a victory. David should go to Mme. de
Bargeton's house! David would shine there in all the majesty of his
genius! He raised his head so proudly in the intoxication of a victory
which increased his belief in himself and his ascendency over others,
his face was so radiant with the brightness of many hopes, that his
sister could not help telling him that he looked handsome.
"If that woman has any sense, she must love you! And if so, to-night
she will be vexed, for all the ladies will try all sorts of coquetries
on you. How handsome you will look when you read your _Saint John in
Patmos_! If only I were a mouse, and could just slip in and see it!
Come, I have put your clothes out in mother's room."
The mother's room bore witness to self-respecting poverty. There were
white curtains to the walnut wood bedstead, and a strip of cheap green
carpet at the foot. A chest of drawers with a wooden top, a
looking-glass, and a few walnut wood chairs completed the furniture.
The clock on the chimney-piece told of the old vanished days of
prosperity. White curtains hung in the windows, a gray flowered paper
covered the walls, and the tiled floor, colored and waxed by Eve
herself, shone with cleanliness. On the little round table in the
middle of the room stood a red tray with a pattern of gilt roses, and
three cups and a sugar-basin of Limoges porcelain. Eve slept in the
little adjoining closet, where there was just room for a narrow bed,
an old-fashioned low chair, and a work-table by the window; there was
about as much space as there is in a ship's cabin, and the door always
stood open for the sake of air. But if all these things spoke of great
poverty, the atmosphere was sedate and studious; and for those who knew
the mother and children, there was something touchingly appropriate in
Lucien was tying his cravat when David's step sounded outside in the
little yard, and in another moment the young printer appeared. From
his manner and looks he seemed to have come down in a hurry.
"Well, David!" cried the ambitious poet, "we have gained the day! She
loves me! You shall come too."
"No," David said with some confusion, "I came down to thank you for
this proof of friendship, but I have been thinking things over
seriously. My own life is cut out for me, Lucien. I am David Sechard,
printer to His Majesty in Angouleme, with my name at the bottom of the
bills posted on every wall. For people of that class, I am an artisan,
or I am in business, if you like it better, but I am a craftsman who
lives over a shop in the Rue de Beaulieu at the corner of the Place du
Murier. I have not the wealth of a Keller just yet, nor the name of a
Desplein, two sorts of power that the nobles still try to ignore, and
--I am so far agreed with them--this power is nothing without a
knowledge of the world and the manners of a gentleman. How am I to
prove my claim to this sudden elevation? I should only make myself a
laughing-stock for nobles and _bourgeoisie_ to boot. As for you, your
position is different. A foreman is not committed to anything. You are
busy gaining knowledge that will be indispensable by and by; you can
explain your present work by your future. And, in any case, you can
leave your place to-morrow and begin something else; you might study
law or diplomacy, or go into civil service. Nobody had docketed and
pigeon-holed _you_, in fact. Take advantage of your social maiden fame
to walk alone and grasp honors. Enjoy all pleasures gladly, even
frivolous pleasures. I wish you luck, Lucien; I shall enjoy your
success; you will be like a second self for me. Yes, in my own
thoughts I shall live your life. You shall have the holiday life, in
the glare of the world and among the swift working springs of
intrigue. I will lead the work-a-day life, the tradesman's life of
sober toil, and the patient labor of scientific research.
"You shall be our aristocracy," he went on, looking at Eve as he
spoke. "If you totter, you shall have my arm to steady you. If you
have reason to complain of the treachery of others, you will find a
refuge in our hearts, the love there will never change. And influence
and favor and the goodwill of others might fail us if we were two; we
should stand in each other's way; go forward, you can tow me after you
if it comes to that. So far from envying you, I will dedicate my life
to yours. The thing that you have just done for me, when you risked
the loss of your benefactress, your love it may be, rather than
forsake or disown me, that little thing, so great as it was--ah, well,
Lucien, that in itself would bind me to you forever if we were not
brothers already. Have no remorse, no concern over seeming to take the
larger share. This one-sided bargain is exactly to my taste. And,
after all, suppose that you should give me a pang now and again, who
knows that I shall not still be your debtor all my life long?"
He looked timidly towards Eve as he spoke; her eyes were full of
tears, she saw all that lay below the surface.
"In fact," he went on, turning to Lucien, who stood amazed at this,
"you are well made, you have a graceful figure, you wear your clothes
with an air, you look like a gentleman in that blue coat of yours with
the yellow buttons and the plain nankeen trousers; now I should look
like a workingman among those people, I should be awkward and out of
my element, I should say foolish things, or say nothing at all; but as
for you, you can overcome any prejudice as to names by taking your
mother's; you can call yourself Lucien de Rubempre; I am and always
shall be David Sechard. In this society that you frequent, everything
tells for you, everything would tell against me. You were born to
shine in it. Women will worship that angel face of yours; won't they,
Lucien sprang up and flung his arms about David. David's humility had
made short work of many doubts and plenty of difficulties. Was it
possible not to feel twice tenderly towards this friend, who by the
way of friendship had come to think the very thoughts that he, Lucien,
had reached through ambition? The aspirant for love and honors felt
that the way had been made smooth for him; the young man and the
comrade felt all his heart go out towards his friend.
It was one of those moments that come very seldom in our lives, when
all the forces in us are sweetly strung, and every chord vibrating
gives out full resonance.
And yet, this goodness of a noble nature increased Lucien's human
tendency to take himself as the centre of things. Do not all of us say
more or less, "_L'Etat, c'est moi!_" with Louis Quatorze? Lucien's
mother and sister had concentrated all their tenderness on him, David
was his devoted friend; he was accustomed to see the three making
every effort for him in secret, and consequently he had all the faults
of a spoiled eldest son. The noble is eaten up with the egoism which
their unselfishness was fostering in Lucien; and Mme. de Bargeton was
doing her best to develop the same fault by inciting him to forget all
that he owed to his sister, and mother, and David. He was far from
doing so as yet; but was there not ground for the fear that as his
sphere of ambition widened, his whole thought perforce would be how he
might maintain himself in it?
When emotion had subsided, David had a suggestion to make. He thought
that Lucien's poem, _Saint John in Patmos_, was possibly too biblical to
be read before an audience but little familiar with apocalyptic
poetry. Lucien, making his first appearance before the most exacting
public in the Charente, seemed to be nervous. David advised him to
take Andre de Chenier and substitute certain pleasure for a dubious
delight. Lucien was a perfect reader, the listeners would enjoy
listening to him, and his modesty would doubtless serve him well. Like
most young people, the pair were endowing the rest of the world with
their own intelligence and virtues; for if youth that has not yet gone
astray is pitiless for the sins of others, it is ready, on the other
hand, to put a magnificent faith in them. It is only, in fact, after a
good deal of experience of life that we recognize the truth of
Raphael's great saying--"To comprehend is to equal."
The power of appreciating poetry is rare, generally speaking, in
France; _esprit_ soon dries up the source of the sacred tears of
ecstasy; nobody cares to be at the trouble of deciphering the sublime,
of plumbing the depths to discover the infinite. Lucien was about to
have his first experience of the ignorance and indifference of
worldlings. He went round by way of the printing office for David's
volume of poetry.
The two lovers were left alone, and David had never felt more
embarrassed in his life. Countless terrors seized upon him; he half
wished, half feared that Eve would praise him; he longed to run away,
for even modesty is not exempt from coquetry. David was afraid to
utter a word that might seem to beg for thanks; everything that he
could think of put him in some false position, so he held his tongue
and looked guilty. Eve, guessing the agony of modesty, was enjoying
the pause; but when David twisted his hat as if he meant to go, she
looked at him and smiled.
"Monsieur David," she said, "if you are not going to pass the evening
at Mme. de Bargeton's, we can spend the time together. It is fine;
shall we take a walk along the Charente? We will have a talk about
David longed to fling himself at the feet of this delicious girl. Eve
had rewarded him beyond his hopes by that tone in her voice; the
kindness of her accent had solved the difficulties of the position,
her suggestion was something better than praise; it was the first
grace given by love.
"But give me time to dress!" she said, as David made as if to go at
David went out; he who all his life long had not known one tune from
another, was humming to himself; honest Postel hearing him with
surprise, conceived a vehement suspicion of Eve's feelings towards the
The most trifling things that happened that evening made a great
impression on Lucien, and his character was peculiarly susceptible to
first impressions. Like all inexperienced lovers he arrived so early
that Louise was not in the drawing-room; but M. de Bargeton was there,
alone. Lucien had already begun to serve his apprenticeship in the
practice of the small deceits with which the lover of a married woman
pays for his happiness--deceits through which, moreover, she learns
the extent of her power; but so far Lucien had not met the lady's
husband face to face.
M. de Bargeton's intellect was of the limited kind, exactly poised on
the border line between harmless vacancy, with some glimmerings of
sense, and the excessive stupidity that can neither take in nor give
out any idea. He was thoroughly impressed with the idea of doing his
duty in society; and, doing his utmost to be agreeable, had adopted
the smile of an opera dancer as his sole method of expression.
Satisfied, he smiled; dissatisfied, he smiled again. He smiled at good
news and evil tidings; with slight modifications the smile did duty on
all occasions. If he was positively obliged to express his personal
approval, a complacent laugh reinforced the smile; but he never
vouchsafed a word until driven to the last extremity. A _tete-a-tete_
put him in the one embarrassment of his vegetative existence, for then
he was obliged to look for something to say in the vast blank of his
vacant interior. He usually got out of the difficulty by a return to
the artless ways of childhood; he thought aloud, took you into his
confidence concerning the smallest details of his existence, his
physical wants, the small sensations which did duty for ideas with
him. He never talked about the weather, nor did he indulge in the
ordinary commonplaces of conversation--the way of escape provided for
weak intellects; he plunged you into the most intimate and personal
"I took veal this morning to please Mme. de Bargeton, who is very fond
of veal, and my stomach has been very uneasy since," he would tell
you. "I knew how it would be; it never suits me. How do you explain
it?" Or, very likely--
"I am just about to ring for a glass of _eau sucree_; will you have some
at the same time?"
Or, "I am going to take a ride to-morrow; I am going over to see my
These short observations did not permit of discussion; a "Yes" or
"No," extracted from his interlocutor, the conversation dropped dead.
Then M. de Bargeton mutely implored his visitor to come to his
assistance. Turning westward his old asthmatic pug-dog countenance, he
gazed at you with big, lustreless eyes, in a way that said, "You were
The people whom he loved best were bores anxious to talk about
themselves; he listened to them with an unfeigned and delicate
interest which so endeared him to the species that all the twaddlers
of Angouleme credited M. de Bargeton with more understanding than he
chose to show, and were of the opinion that he was underrated. So it
happened that when these persons could find nobody else to listen to
them, they went off to give M. de Bargeton the benefit of the rest of
the story, argument, or what not, sure beforehand of his eulogistic
smile. Madame de Bargeton's rooms were always crowded, and generally
her husband felt quite at ease. He interested himself in the smallest
details; he watched those who came in and bowed and smiled, and
brought the new arrivals to his wife; he lay in wait for departing
visitors, and went with them to the door, taking leave of them with
that eternal smile. When conversation grew lively, and he saw that
every one was interested in one thing or another, he stood, happy and
mute, planted like a swan on both feet, listening, to all appearance,
to a political discussion; or he looked over the card-players' hands
without a notion of what it was all about, for he could not play at
any game; or he walked about and took snuff to promote digestion.
Anais was the bright side of his life; she made it unspeakably
pleasant for him. Stretched out at full length in his armchair, he
watched admiringly while she did her part as hostess, for she talked
for him. It was a pleasure, too, to him to try to see the point in her
remarks; and as it was often a good while before he succeeded, his
smiles appeared after a delay, like the explosion of a shell which has
entered the earth and worked up again. His respect for his wife,
moreover, almost amounted to adoration. And so long as we can adore,
is there not happiness enough in life? Anais' husband was as docile as
a child who asks nothing better than to be told what to do; and,
generous and clever woman as she was, she had taken no undue advantage
of his weaknesses. She had taken care of him as you take care of a
cloak; she kept him brushed, neat, and tidy, looked closely after him,
and humored him; and humored, looked after, brushed, kept tidy, and
cared for, M. de Bargeton had come to feel an almost dog-like
affection for his wife. It is so easy to give happiness that costs
nothing! Mme. de Bargeton, knowing that her husband had no pleasure
but in good cheer, saw that he had good dinners; she had pity upon
him, she had never uttered a word of complaint; indeed, there were
people who could not understand that a woman might keep silence
through pride, and argued that M. de Bargeton must possess good
qualities hidden from public view. Mme. de Bargeton had drilled him
into military subordination; he yielded a passive obedience to his
wife. "Go and call on Monsieur So-and-So or Madame Such-an-One," she
would say, and he went forthwith, like a soldier at the word of
command. He stood at attention in her presence, and waited motionless
for his orders.
There was some talk about this time of nominating the mute gentleman
for a deputy. Lucien as yet had not lifted the veil which hid such an
unimaginable character; indeed, he had scarcely frequented the house
long enough. M. de Bargeton, spread at full length in his great chair,
appeared to see and understand all that was going on; his silence
added to his dignity, and his figure inspired Lucien with a prodigious
awe. It is the wont of imaginative natures to magnify everything, or
to find a soul to inhabit every shape; and Lucien took this gentleman,
not for a granite guard-post, but for a formidable sphinx, and thought
it necessary to conciliate him.
"I am the first comer," he said, bowing with more respect than people
usually showed the worthy man.
"That is natural enough," said M. de Bargeton.
Lucien took the remark for an epigram; the lady's husband was jealous,
he thought; he reddened under it, looked in the glass and tried to
give himself a countenance.
"You live in L'Houmeau," said M. de Bargeton, "and people who live a
long way off always come earlier than those who live near by."
"What is the reason of that?" asked Lucien politely.
"I don't know," answered M. de Bargeton, relapsing into immobility.
"You have not cared to find out," Lucien began again; "any one who
could make an observation could discover the cause."
"Ah!" said M. de Bargeton, "final causes! Eh! eh! . . ."
The conversation came to a dead stop; Lucien racked his brains to
"Mme. de Bargeton is dressing, no doubt," he began, shuddering at the
silliness of the question.
"Yes, she is dressing," her husband naturally answered.
Lucien looked up at the ceiling and vainly tried to think of something
else to say. As his eyes wandered over the gray painted joists and the
spaces of plaster between, he saw, not without qualms, that the little
chandelier with the old-fashioned cut-glass pendants had been stripped
of its gauze covering and filled with wax candles. All the covers had
been removed from the furniture, and the faded flowered silk damask
had come to light. These preparations meant something extraordinary.
The poet looked at his boots, and misgivings about his costume arose
in his mind. Grown stupid with dismay, he turned and fixed his eyes on
a Japanese jar standing on a begarlanded console table of the time of
Louis Quinze; then, recollecting that he must conciliate Mme. de
Bargeton's husband, he tried to find out if the good gentleman had a
hobby of any sort in which he might be humored.
"You seldom leave the city, monsieur?" he began, returning to M. de
Silence again. M. de Bargeton watched Lucien's slightest movements
like a suspicious cat; the young man's presence disturbed him. Each
was afraid of the other.
"Can he feel suspicious of my attentions?" thought Lucien; "he seems
to be anything but friendly."
Lucien was not a little embarrassed by the uneasy glances that the
other gave him as he went to and fro, when luckily for him, the old
man-servant (who wore livery for the occasion) announced "M. du
Chatelet." The Baron came in, very much at ease, greeted his friend
Bargeton, and favored Lucien with the little nod then in vogue, which
the poet in his mind called purse-proud impertinence.
Sixte du Chatelet appeared in a pair of dazzling white trousers with
invisible straps that kept them in shape. He wore pumps and thread
stockings; the black ribbon of his eyeglass meandered over a white
waistcoat, and the fashion and elegance of Paris was strikingly
apparent in his black coat. He was indeed just the faded beau who
might be expected from his antecedents, though advancing years had
already endowed him with a certain waist-girth which somewhat exceeded
the limits of elegance. He had dyed the hair and whiskers grizzled by
his sufferings during his travels, and this gave a hard look to his
face. The skin which had once been so delicate had been tanned to the
copper-red color of Europeans from India; but in spite of his absurd
pretensions to youth, you could still discern traces of the Imperial
Highness' charming private secretary in du Chatelet's general
appearance. He put up his eyeglass and stared at his rival's nankeen
trousers, at his boots, at his waistcoat, at the blue coat made by the
Angouleme tailor, he looked him over from head to foot, in short, then
he coolly returned his eyeglass to his waistcoat pocket with a gesture
that said, "I am satisfied." And Lucien, eclipsed at this moment by
the elegance of the inland revenue department, thought that it would
be his turn by and by, when he should turn a face lighted up with
poetry upon the assembly; but this prospect did not prevent him from
feeling the sharp pang that succeeded to the uncomfortable sense of M.
de Bargeton's imagined hostility. The Baron seemed to bring all the
weight of his fortune to bear upon him, the better to humiliate him in
his poverty. M. de Bargeton had counted on having no more to say, and
his soul was dismayed by the pause spent by the rivals in mutual
survey; he had a question which he kept for desperate emergencies,
laid up in his mind, as it were, against a rainy day. Now was the
proper time to bring it out.
"Well, monsieur," he said, looking at Chatelet with an important air,
"is there anything fresh? anything that people are talking about?"
"Why, the latest thing is M. Chardon," Chatelet said maliciously. "Ask
him. Have you brought some charming poet for us?" inquired the
vivacious Baron, adjusting the side curl that had gone astray on his
"I should have asked you whether I had succeeded," Lucien answered;
"you have been before me in the field of verse."
"Pshaw!" said the other, "a few vaudevilles, well enough in their way,
written to oblige, a song now and again to suit some occasion, lines
for music, no good without the music, and my long Epistle to a Sister
of Bonaparte (ungrateful that he was), will not hand down my name to
At this moment Mme. de Bargeton appeared in all the glory of an
elaborate toilette. She wore a Jewess' turban, enriched with an
Eastern clasp. The cameos on her neck gleamed through the gauze scarf
gracefully wound about her shoulders; the sleeves of her printed
muslin dress were short so as to display a series of bracelets on her
shapely white arms. Lucien was charmed with this theatrical style of
dress. M. du Chatelet gallantly plied the queen with fulsome
compliments, that made her smile with pleasure; she was so glad to be
praised in Lucien's hearing. But she scarcely gave her dear poet a
glance, and met Chatelet with a mortifying civility that kept him at a
By this time the guests began to arrive. First and foremost appeared
the Bishop and his Vicar-General, dignified and reverend figures both,
though no two men could well be more unlike, his lordship being tall
and attenuated, and his acolyte short and fat. Both churchmen's eyes
were bright; but while the Bishop was pallid, his Vicar-General's
countenance glowed with high health. Both were impassive, and
gesticulated but little; both appeared to be prudent men, and their
silence and reserve were supposed to hide great intellectual powers.
Close upon the two ecclesiastics followed Mme. de Chandour and her
husband, a couple so extraordinary that those who are unfamiliar with
provincial life might be tempted to think that such persons are purely
imaginary. Amelie de Chandour posed as the rival queen of Angouleme;
her husband, M. de Chandour, known in the circle as Stanislas, was a
_ci-devant_ young man, slim still at five-and-forty, with a countenance
like a sieve. His cravat was always tied so as to present two menacing
points--one spike reached the height of his right ear, the other
pointed downwards to the red ribbon of his cross. His coat-tails were
violently at strife. A cut-away waistcoat displayed the ample,
swelling curves of a stiffly-starched shirt fastened by massive gold
studs. His dress, in fact, was exaggerated, till he looked almost like
a living caricature, which no one could behold for the first time with
Stanislas looked himself over from top to toe with a kind of
satisfaction; he verified the number of his waistcoat buttons, and
followed the curving outlines of his tight-fitting trousers with fond
glances that came to a standstill at last on the pointed tips of his
shoes. When he ceased to contemplate himself in this way, he looked
towards the nearest mirror to see if his hair still kept in curl;
then, sticking a finger in his waistcoat pocket, he looked about him
at the women with happy eyes, flinging his head back in three-quarters
profile with all the airs of a king of the poultry-yard, airs which
were prodigiously admired by the aristocratic circle of which he was
the beau. There was a strain of eighteenth century grossness, as a
rule, in his talk; a detestable kind of conversation which procured
him some success with women--he made them laugh. M. du Chatelet was
beginning to give this gentleman some uneasiness; and, as a matter of
fact, since Mme. de Bargeton had taken him up, the lively interest
taken by the women in the Byron of Angouleme was distinctly on the
increase. His coxcomb superciliousness tickled their curiosity; he
posed as the man whom nothing can arouse from his apathy, and his
jaded Sultan airs were like a challenge.
Amelie de Chandour, short, plump, fair-complexioned, and dark-haired,
was a poor actress; her voice was loud, like everything else about
her; her head, with its load of feathers in winter and flowers in
summer, was never still for a moment. She had a fine flow of
conversation, though she could never bring a sentence to an end
without a wheezing accompaniment from an asthma, to which she would
M. de Saintot, otherwise Astolphe, President of the Agricultural
Society, a tall, stout, high-colored personage, usually appeared in
the wake of his wife, Elisa, a lady with a countenance like a withered
fern, called Lili by her friends--a baby name singularly at variance
with its owner's character and demeanor. Mme. de Saintot was a solemn
and extremely pious woman, and a very trying partner at a game of
cards. Astolphe was supposed to be a scientific man of the first rank.
He was as ignorant as a carp, but he had compiled the articles on
Sugar and Brandy for a Dictionary of Agriculture by wholesale plunder
of newspaper articles and pillage of previous writers. It was believed
all over the department that M. Saintot was engaged upon a treatise on
modern husbandry; but though he locked himself into his study every
morning, he had not written a couple of pages in a dozen years. If
anybody called to see him, he always contrived to be discovered
rummaging among his papers, hunting for a stray note or mending a pen;
but he spent the whole time in his study on puerilities, reading the
newspaper through from end to end, cutting figures out of corks with
his penknife, and drawing patterns on his blotting-paper. He would
turn over the leaves of his Cicero to see if anything applicable to
the events of the day might catch his eye, and drag his quotation by
the heels into the conversation that evening saying, "There is a
passage in Cicero which might have been written to suit modern times,"
and out came his phrase, to the astonishment of his audience.
"Really," they said among themselves, "Astolphe is a well of
learning." The interesting fact circulated all over the town, and
sustained the general belief in M. de Saintot's abilities.
After this pair came M. de Bartas, known as Adrien among the circle.
It was M. de Bartas who boomed out his song in a bass voice, and made
prodigious claims to musical knowledge. His self-conceit had taken a
stand upon solfeggi; he began by admiring his appearance while he
sang, passed thence to talking about music, and finally to talking of
nothing else. His musical tastes had become a monomania; he grew
animated only on the one subject of music; he was miserable all
evening until somebody begged him to sing. When he had bellowed one of
his airs, he revived again; strutted about, raised himself on his
heels, and received compliments with a deprecating air; but modesty
did not prevent him from going from group to group for his meed of
praise; and when there was no more to be said about the singer, he
returned to the subject of the song, discussing its difficulties or
extolling the composer.
M. Alexandre de Brebian performed heroic exploits in sepia; he
disfigured the walls of his friends' rooms with a swarm of crude
productions, and spoiled all the albums in the department. M.
Alexandre de Brebian and M. de Bartas came together, each with his
friend's wife on his arm, a cross-cornered arrangement which gossip
declared to be carried out to the fullest extent. As for the two
women, Mesdames Charlotte de Brebian and Josephine de Bartas, or
Lolotte and Fifine, as they were called, both took an equal interest
in a scarf, or the trimming of a dress, or the reconciliation of
several irreconcilable colors; both were eaten up with a desire to
look like Parisiennes, and neglected their homes, where everything
went wrong. But if they dressed like dolls in tightly-fitting gowns of
home manufacture, and exhibited outrageous combinations of crude
colors upon their persons, their husbands availed themselves of the
artist's privilege and dressed as they pleased, and curious it was to
see the provincial dowdiness of the pair. In their threadbare clothes
they looked like the supernumeraries that represent rank and fashion
at stage weddings in third-rate theatres.
One of the queerest figures in the rooms was M. le Comte de Senonches,
known by the aristocratic name of Jacques, a mighty hunter, lean and
sunburned, a haughty gentleman, about as amiable as a wild boar, as
suspicious as a Venetian, and jealous as a Moor, who lived on terms of
the friendliest and most perfect intimacy with M. du Hautoy, otherwise
Francis, the friend of the house.
Madame de Senonches (Zephirine) was a tall, fine-looking woman, though
her complexion was spoiled already by pimples due to liver complaint,
on which grounds she was said to be exacting. With a slender figure
and delicate proportions, she could afford to indulge in languid
manners, savoring somewhat of affectation, but revealing passion and
the consciousness that every least caprice will be gratified by love.
Francis, the house friend, was rather distinguished-looking. He had
given up his consulship in Valence, and sacrificed his diplomatic
prospects to live near Zephirine (also known as Zizine) in Angouleme.
He had taken the household in charge, he superintended the children's
education, taught them foreign languages, and looked after the
fortunes of M. and Mme. de Senonches with the most complete devotion.
Noble Angouleme, administrative Angouleme, and _bourgeois_ Angouleme
alike had looked askance for a long while at this phenomenon of the
perfect union of three persons; but finally the mysterious conjugal
trinity appeared to them so rare and pleasing a spectacle, that if M.
du Hautoy had shown any intention of marrying, he would have been
thought monstrously immoral. Mme. de Senonches, however, had a lady
companion, a goddaughter, and her excessive attachment to this Mlle.
de la Haye was beginning to raise surmises of disquieting mysteries;
it was thought, in spite of some impossible discrepancies in dates,
that Francoise de la Haye bore a striking likeness to Francis du
When "Jacques" was shooting in the neighborhood, people used to
inquire after Francis, and Jacques would discourse on his steward's
little ailments, and talk of his wife in the second place. So curious
did this blindness seem in a man of jealous temper, that his greatest
friends used to draw him out on the topic for the amusement of others
who did not know of the mystery. M. du Hautoy was a finical dandy
whose minute care of himself had degenerated into mincing affectation
and childishness. He took an interest in his cough, his appetite, his
digestion, his night's rest. Zephirine had succeeded in making a
valetudinarian of her factotum; she coddled him and doctored him; she
crammed him with delicate fare, as if he had been a fine lady's
lap-dog; she embroidered waistcoats for him, and pocket-handkerchiefs
and cravats until he became so used to wearing finery that she
transformed him into a kind of Japanese idol. Their understanding was
perfect. In season and out of season Zizine consulted Francis with a
look, and Francis seemed to take his ideas from Zizine's eyes. They
frowned and smiled together, and seemingly took counsel of each other
before making the simplest commonplace remark.
The largest landowner in the neighborhood, a man whom every one
envied, was the Marquis de Pimentel; he and his wife, between them,
had an income of forty thousand livres, and spent their winters in
Paris. This evening they had driven into Angouleme in their caleche,
and had brought their neighbors, the Baron and Baroness de Rastignac
and their party, the Baroness' aunt and daughters, two charming young
ladies, penniless girls who had been carefully brought up, and were
dressed in the simple way that sets off natural loveliness.
These personages, beyond question the first in the company, met with a
reception of chilling silence; the respect paid to them was full of
jealousy, especially as everybody saw that Mme. de Bargeton paid
marked attention to the guests. The two families belonged to the very
small minority who hold themselves aloof from provincial gossip,
belong to no clique, live quietly in retirement, and maintain a
dignified reserve. M. de Pimentel and M. de Rastignac, for instance,
were addressed by their names in full, and no length of acquaintance
had brought their wives and daughters into the select coterie of
Angouleme; both families were too nearly connected with the Court to
compromise themselves through provincial follies.
The Prefect and the General in command of the garrison were the last
comers, and with them came the country gentleman who had brought the
treatise on silkworms to David that very morning. Evidently he was the
mayor of some canton or other, and a fine estate was his sufficient
title to gentility; but from his appearance, it was plain that he was
quite unused to polite society. He looked uneasy in his clothes, he
was at a loss to know what to do with his hands, he shifted about from
one foot to another as he spoke, and half rose and sat down again when
anybody spoke to him. He seemed ready to do some menial service; he
was obsequious, nervous, and grave by turns, laughing eagerly at every
joke, listening with servility; and occasionally, imagining that
people were laughing at him, he assumed a knowing air. His treatise
weighed upon his mind; again and again he tried to talk about
silkworms; but the luckless wight happened first upon M. de Bartas,
who talked music in reply, and next on M. de Saintot, who quoted
Cicero to him; and not until the evening was half over did the mayor
meet with sympathetic listeners in Mme. and Mlle. du Brossard, a
widowed gentlewoman and her daughter.
Mme. and Mlle. du Brossard were not the least interesting persons in
the clique, but their story may be told in a single phrase--they were
as poor as they were noble. In their dress there was just that tinge
of pretension which betrayed carefully hidden penury. The daughter, a
big, heavy young woman of seven-and-twenty, was supposed to be a good
performer on the piano, and her mother praised her in season and out
of season in the clumsiest way. No eligible man had any taste which
Camille did not share on her mother's authoritative statement. Mme. du
Brossard, in her anxiety to establish her child, was capable of saying
that her dear Camille liked nothing so much as a roving life from one
garrison to another; and before the evening was out, that she was sure
her dear Camille liked a quiet country farmhouse existence of all
things. Mother and daughter had the pinched sub-acid dignity
characteristic of those who have learned by experience the exact value
of expressions of sympathy; they belonged to a class which the world
delights to pity; they had been the objects of the benevolent interest
of egoism; they had sounded the empty void beneath the consoling
formulas with which the world ministers to the necessities of the
M. de Severac was fifty-nine years old, and a childless widower.
Mother and daughter listened, therefore, with devout admiration to all
that he told them about his silkworm nurseries.
"My daughter has always been fond of animals," said the mother. "And
as women are especially interested in the silk which the little
creatures produce, I shall ask permission to go over to Severac, so
that my Camille may see how the silk is spun. My Camille is so
intelligent, she will grasp anything that you tell her in a moment.
Did she not understand one day the inverse ratio of the squares of
This was the remark that brought the conversation between Mme. du
Brossard and M. de Severac to a glorious close after Lucien's reading
A few habitues slipped in familiarly among the rest, so did one or two
eldest sons; shy, mute young men tricked out in gorgeous jewelry, and
highly honored by an invitation to this literary solemnity, the
boldest men among them so far shook off the weight of awe as to
chatter a good deal with Mlle. de la Haye. The women solemnly arranged
themselves in a circle, and the men stood behind them. It was a quaint
assemblage of wrinkled countenances and heterogeneous costumes, but
none the less it seemed very alarming to Lucien, and his heart beat
fast when he felt that every one was looking at him. His assurance
bore the ordeal with some difficulty in spite of the encouraging
example of Mme. de Bargeton, who welcomed the most illustrious
personages of Angouleme with ostentatious courtesy and elaborate
graciousness; and the uncomfortable feeling that oppressed him was
aggravated by a trifling matter which any one might have foreseen,
though it was bound to come as an unpleasant shock to a young man with
so little experience of the world. Lucien, all eyes and ears, noticed
that no one except Louise, M. de Bargeton, the Bishop, and some few
who wished to please the mistress of the house, spoke of him as M. de
Rubempre; for his formidable audience he was M. Chardon. Lucien's
courage sank under their inquisitive eyes. He could read his plebeian
name in the mere movements of their lips, and hear the anticipatory
criticisms made in the blunt, provincial fashion that too often
borders on rudeness. He had not expected this prolonged ordeal of
pin-pricks; it put him still more out of humor with himself. He grew
impatient to begin the reading, for then he could assume an attitude
which should put an end to his mental torments; but Jacques was giving
Mme. de Pimentel the history of his last day's sport; Adrien was
holding forth to Mlle. Laure de Rastignac on Rossini, the newly-risen
music star, and Astolphe, who had got by heart a newspaper paragraph
on a patent plow, was giving the Baron the benefit of the description.
Lucien, luckless poet that he was, did not know that there was scarce
a soul in the room besides Mme. de Bargeton who could understand
poetry. The whole matter-of-fact assembly was there by a
misapprehension, nor did they, for the most part, know what they had
come out for to see. There are some words that draw a public as
unfailingly as the clash of cymbals, the trumpet, or the mountebank's
big drum; "beauty," "glory," "poetry," are words that bewitch the
When every one had arrived; when the buzz of talk ceased after
repeated efforts on the part of M. de Bargeton, who, obedient to his
wife, went round the room much as the beadle makes the circle of the
church, tapping the pavement with his wand; when silence, in fact, was
at last secured, Lucien went to the round table near Mme. de Bargeton.
A fierce thrill of excitement ran through him as he did so. He
announced in an uncertain voice that, to prevent disappointment, he
was about to read the masterpieces of a great poet, discovered only
recently (for although Andre de Chenier's poems appeared in 1819, no
one in Angouleme had so much as heard of him). Everybody interpreted
this announcement in one way--it was a shift of Mme. de Bargeton's,
meant to save the poet's self-love and to put the audience at ease.
Lucien began with _Le Malade_, and the poem was received with a murmur
of applause; but he followed it with _L'Aveugle_, which proved too great
a strain upon the average intellect. None but artists or those endowed
with the artistic temperament can understand and sympathize with him
in the diabolical torture of that reading. If poetry is to be rendered
by the voice, and if the listener is to grasp all that it means, the
most devout attention is essential; there should be an intimate
alliance between the reader and his audience, or swift and subtle
communication of the poet's thought and feeling becomes impossible.
Here this close sympathy was lacking, and Lucien in consequence was in
the position of an angel who should endeavor to sing of heaven amid
the chucklings of hell. An intelligent man in the sphere most
stimulating to his faculties can see in every direction, like a snail;
he has the keen scent of a dog, the ears of a mole; he can hear, and
feel, and see all that is going on around him. A musician or a poet
knows at once whether his audience is listening in admiration or fails
to follow him, and feels it as the plant that revives or droops under
favorable or unfavorable conditions. The men who had come with their
wives had fallen to discussing their own affairs; by the acoustic law
before mentioned, every murmur rang in Lucien's ear; he saw all the
gaps caused by the spasmodic workings of jaws sympathetically
affected, the teeth that seemed to grin defiance at him.
When, like the dove in the deluge, he looked round for any spot on
which his eyes might rest, he saw nothing but rows of impatient faces.
Their owners clearly were waiting for him to make an end; they had
come together to discuss questions of practical interest. With the
exceptions of Laure de Rastignac, the Bishop, and two or three of the
young men, they one and all looked bored. As a matter of fact, those
who understand poetry strive to develop the germs of another poetry,
quickened within them by the poet's poetry; but this glacial audience,
so far from attaining to the spirit of the poet, did not even listen
to the letter.
Lucien felt profoundly discouraged; he was damp with chilly
perspiration; a glowing glance from Louise, to whom he turned, gave
him courage to persevere to the end, but this poet's heart was
bleeding from countless wounds.
"Do you find this very amusing, Fifine?" inquired the wizened Lili,
who perhaps had expected some kind of gymnastics.
"Don't ask me what I think, dear; I cannot keep my eyes open when any
one begins to read aloud."
"I hope that Nais will not give us poetry often in the evenings," said
Francis. "If I am obliged to attend while somebody reads aloud after
dinner, it upsets my digestion."
"Poor dearie," whispered Zephirine, "take a glass of eau _sucree_."
"It was very well declaimed," said Alexandre, "but I like whist better
After this dictum, which passed muster as a joke from the play on the
word "whist," several card-players were of the opinion that the
reader's voice needed a rest, and on this pretext one or two couples
slipped away into the card-room. But Louise, and the Bishop, and
pretty Laure de Rastignac besought Lucien to continue, and this time
he caught the attention of his audience with Chenier's spirited
reactionary _Iambes_. Several persons, carried away by his impassioned
delivery, applauded the reading without understanding the sense.
People of this sort are impressed by vociferation, as a coarse palate
is ticked by strong spirits.
During the interval, as they partook of ices, Zephirine despatched
Francis to examine the volume, and informed her neighbor Amelie that
the poetry was in print.
Amelie brightened visibly.
"Why, that is easily explained," said she. "M. de Rubempre works for a
printer. It is as if a pretty woman should make her own dresses," she
added, looking at Lolotte.
"He printed his poetry himself!" said the women among themselves.
"Then, why does he call himself M. de Rubempre?" inquired Jacques. "If
a noble takes a handicraft, he ought to lay his name aside."
"So he did as a matter of fact," said Zizine, "but his name was
plebeian, and he took his mother's name, which is noble."
"Well, if his verses are printed, we can read them for ourselves,"
This piece of stupidity complicated the question, until Sixte du
Chatelet condescended to inform these unlettered folk that the
prefatory announcement was no oratorical flourish, but a statement of
fact, and added that the poems had been written by a Royalist brother
of Marie-Joseph Chenier, the Revolutionary leader. All Angouleme,
except Mme. de Rastignac and her two daughters and the Bishop, who had
really felt the grandeur of the poetry, were mystified, and took
offence at the hoax. There was a smothered murmur, but Lucien did not
heed it. The intoxication of the poetry was upon him; he was far away
from the hateful world, striving to render in speech the music that
filled his soul, seeing the faces about him through a cloudy haze. He
read the sombre Elegy on the Suicide, lines in the taste of a by-gone
day, pervaded by sublime melancholy; then he turned to the page where
the line occurs, "Thy songs are sweet, I love to say them over," and
ended with the delicate idyll _Neere_.
Mme. de Bargeton sat with one hand buried in her curls, heedless of
the havoc she wrought among them, gazing before her with unseeing
eyes, alone in her drawing-room, lost in delicious dreaming; for the
first time in her life she had been transported to the sphere which
was hers by right of nature. Judge, therefore, how unpleasantly she
was disturbed by Amelie, who took it upon herself to express the
"Nais," this voice broke in, "we came to hear M. Chardon's poetry, and
you are giving us poetry out of a book. The extracts are very nice,
but the ladies feel a patriotic preference for the wine of the
country; they would rather have it."
"The French language does not lend itself very readily to poetry, does
it?" Astolphe remarked to Chatelet. "Cicero's prose is a thousand
times more poetical to my way of thinking."
"The true poetry of France is song, lyric verse," Chatelet answered.
"Which proves that our language is eminently adapted for music," said
"I should like very much to hear the poetry that has cost Nais her
reputation," said Zephirine; "but after receiving Amelie's request in
such a way, it is not very likely that she will give us a specimen."
"She ought to have them recited in justice to herself," said Francis.
"The little fellow's genius is his sole justification."
"You have been in the diplomatic service," said Amelie to M. du
Chatelet, "go and manage it somehow."
"Nothing easier," said the Baron.
The Princess' private secretary, being accustomed to petty manoeuvres
of this kind, went to the Bishop and contrived to bring him to the
fore. At the Bishop's entreaty, Nais had no choice but to ask Lucien
to recite his own verses for them, and the Baron received a
languishing smile from Amelie as the reward of his prompt success.
"Decidedly, the Baron is a very clever man," she observed to Lolotte.
But Amelie's previous acidulous remark about women who made their own
dresses rankled in Lolotte's mind.
"Since when have you begun to recognize the Emperor's barons?" she
Lucien had essayed to deify his beloved in an ode, dedicated to her
under a title in favor with all lads who write verse after leaving
school. This ode, so fondly cherished, so beautiful--since it was the
outpouring of all the love in his heart, seemed to him to be the one
piece of his own work that could hold its own with Chenier's verse;
and with a tolerably fatuous glance at Mme. de Bargeton, he announced
"TO HER!" He struck an attitude proudly for the delivery of the
ambitious piece, for his author's self-love felt safe and at ease
behind Mme. de Bargeton's petticoat. And at the selfsame moment Mme.
de Bargeton betrayed her own secret to the women's curious eyes.
Although she had always looked down upon this audience from her own
loftier intellectual heights, she could not help trembling for Lucien.
Her face was troubled, there was a sort of mute appeal for indulgence
in her glances, and while the verses were recited she was obliged to
lower her eyes and dissemble her pleasure as stanza followed stanza.
Out of the glowing heart of the torrent of glory and light,
At the foot of Jehovah's throne where the angels stand afar,
Each on a seistron of gold repeating the prayers of the night,
Put up for each by his star.
Out from the cherubim choir a bright-haired Angel springs,
Veiling the glory of God that dwells on a dazzling brow,
Leaving the courts of heaven to sink upon silver wings
Down to our world below.
God looked in pity on earth, and the Angel, reading His thought,
Came down to lull the pain of the mighty spirit at strife,
Reverent bent o'er the maid, and for age left desolate brought
Flowers of the springtime of life.
Bringing a dream of hope to solace the mother's fears,
Hearkening unto the voice of the tardy repentant cry,
Glad as angels are glad, to reckon Earth's pitying tears,
Given with alms of a sigh.
One there is, and but one, bright messenger sent from the skies
Whom earth like a lover fain would hold from the hea'nward flight;
But the angel, weeping, turns and gazes with sad, sweet eyes
Up to the heaven of light.
Not by the radiant eyes, not by the kindling glow
Of virtue sent from God, did I know the secret sign,
Nor read the token sent on a white and dazzling brow
Of an origin divine.
Nay, it was Love grown blind and dazed with excess of light,
Striving and striving in vain to mingle Earth and Heaven,
Helpless and powerless against the invincible armor bright
By the dread archangel given.
Ah! be wary, take heed, lest aught should be seen or heard
Of the shining seraph band, as they take the heavenward way;
Too soon the Angel on Earth will learn the magical word
Sung at the close of the day.
Then you shall see afar, rifting the darkness of night,
A gleam as of dawn that spread across the starry floor,
And the seaman that watch for a sign shall mark the track of their flight,
A luminous pathway in Heaven and a beacon for evermore.
"Do you read the riddle?" said Amelie, giving M. du Chatelet a
"It is the sort of stuff that we all of us wrote more or less after we
left school," said the Baron with a bored expression--he was acting
his part of arbiter of taste who has seen everything. "We used to deal
in Ossianic mists, Malvinas and Fingals and cloudy shapes, and
warriors who got out of their tombs with stars above their heads.
Nowadays this poetical frippery has been replaced by Jehovah, angels,
seistrons, the plumes of seraphim, and all the paraphernalia of
paradise freshened up with a few new words such as 'immense, infinite,
solitude, intelligence'; you have lakes, and the words of the
Almighty, a kind of Christianized Pantheism, enriched with the most
extraordinary and unheard-of rhymes. We are in quite another latitude,
in fact; we have left the North for the East, but the darkness is just
as thick as before."
"If the ode is obscure, the declaration is very clear, it seems to
me," said Zephirine.
"And the archangel's armor is a tolerably thin gauze robe," said
Politeness demanded that the audience should profess to be enchanted
with the poem; and the women, furious because they had no poets in
their train to extol them as angels, rose, looked bored by the
reading, murmuring, "Very nice!" "Charming!" "Perfect!" with frigid
"If you love me, do not congratulate the poet or his angel," Lolotte
laid her commands on her dear Adrien in imperious tones, and Adrien
was fain to obey.
"Empty words, after all," Zephirine remarked to Francis, "and love is
a poem that we live."
"You have just expressed the very thing that I was thinking, Zizine,
but I should not have put it so neatly," said Stanislas, scanning
himself from top to toe with loving attention.
"I would give, I don't know how much, to see Nais' pride brought down
a bit," said Amelie, addressing Chatelet. "Nais sets up to be an
archangel, as if she were better than the rest of us, and mixes us up
with low people; his father was an apothecary, and his mother is a
nurse; his sister works in a laundry, and he himself is a printer's
"If his father sold biscuits for worms" (_vers_), said Jacques, "he
ought to have made his son take them."
"He is continuing in his father's line of business, for the stuff that
he has just been reading to us is a drug in the market, it seems,"
said Stanislas, striking one of his most killing attitudes. "Drug for
drug, I would rather have something else."
Every one apparently combined to humiliate Lucien by various
aristocrats' sarcasms. Lili the religious thought it a charitable deed
to use any means of enlightening Nais, and Nais was on the brink of a
piece of folly. Francis the diplomatist undertook the direction of the
silly conspiracy; every one was interested in the progress of the
drama; it would be something to talk about to-morrow. The ex-consul,
being far from anxious to engage in a duel with a young poet who would
fly into a rage at the first hint of insult under his lady's eyes, was
wise enough to see that the only way of dealing Lucien his deathblow
was by the spiritual arm which was safe from vengeance. He therefore
followed the example set by Chatelet the astute, and went to the
Bishop. Him he proceeded to mystify.
He told the Bishop that Lucien's mother was a woman of uncommon powers
and great modesty, and that it was she who found the subjects for her
son's verses. Nothing pleased Lucien so much, according to the
guileful Francis, as any recognition of her talents--he worshiped his
mother. Then, having inculcated these notions, he left the rest to
time. His lordship was sure to bring out the insulting allusion, for
which he had been so carefully prepared, in the course of
When Francis and the Bishop joined the little group where Lucien
stood, the circle who gave him the cup of hemlock to drain by little
sips watched him with redoubled interest. The poet, luckless young
man, being a total stranger, and unaware of the manners and customs of
the house, could only look at Mme. de Bargeton and give embarrassed
answers to embarrassing questions. He knew neither the names nor
condition of the people about him; the women's silly speeches made him
blush for them, and he was at his wits' end for a reply. He felt,
moreover, how very far removed he was from these divinities of
Angouleme when he heard himself addressed sometimes as M. Chardon,
sometimes as M. de Rubempre, while they addressed each other as
Lolotte, Adrien, Astolphe, Lili and Fifine. His confusion rose to a
height when, taking Lili for a man's surname, he addressed the coarse
M. de Senonches as M. Lili; that Nimrod broke in upon him with a
"_MONSIEUR LULU?_" and Mme. de Bargeton flushed red to the eyes.
"A woman must be blind indeed to bring this little fellow among us!"
Zephirine turned to speak to the Marquise de Pimentel--"Do you not see
a strong likeness between M. Chardon and M. de Cante-Croix, madame?"
she asked in a low but quite audible voice.
"The likeness is ideal," smiled Mme. de Pimentel.
"Glory has a power of attraction to which we can confess," said Mme.
de Bargeton, addressing the Marquise. "Some women are as much
attracted by greatness as others by littleness," she added, looking at
The was beyond Zephirine's comprehension; she thought her consul a
very great man; but the Marquise laughed, and her laughter ranged her
on Nais' side.
"You are very fortunate, monsieur," said the Marquis de Pimentel,
addressing Lucien for the purpose of calling him M. de Rubempre, and
not M. Chardon, as before; "you should never find time heavy on your
"Do you work quickly?" asked Lolotte, much in the way that she would
have asked a joiner "if it took long to make a box."
The bludgeon stroke stunned Lucien, but he raised his head at Mme. de
"My dear, poetry does not grow in M. de Rubempre's head like grass in
"Madame, we cannot feel too reverently towards the noble spirits in
whom God has set some ray of this light," said the Bishop, addressing
Lolotte. "Yes, poetry is something holy. Poetry implies suffering. How
many silent nights those verses that you admire have cost! We should
bow in love and reverence before the poet; his life here is almost
always a life of sorrow; but God doubtless reserves a place in heaven
for him among His prophets. This young man is a poet," he added laying
a hand on Lucien's head; "do you not see the sign of Fate set on that
high forehead of his?"
Glad to be so generously championed, Lucien made his acknowledgments
in a grateful look, not knowing that the worthy prelate was to deal
Mme. de Bargeton's eyes traveled round the hostile circle. Her glances
went like arrows to the depths of her rivals' hearts, and left them
twice as furious as before.
"Ah, monseigneur," cried Lucien, hoping to break thick heads with his
golden sceptre, "but ordinary people have neither your intellect nor
your charity. No one heeds our sorrows, our toil is unrecognized. The
gold-digger working in the mine does not labor as we to wrest
metaphors from the heart of the most ungrateful of all languages. If
this is poetry--to give ideas such definite and clear expressions that
all the world can see and understand--the poet must continually range
through the entire scale of human intellects, so that he can satisfy
the demands of all; he must conceal hard thinking and emotion, two
antagonistic powers, beneath the most vivid color; he must know how to
make one word cover a whole world of thought; he must give the results
of whole systems of philosophy in a few picturesque lines; indeed, his
songs are like seeds that must break into blossom in other hearts
wherever they find the soil prepared by personal experience. How can
you express unless you first have felt? And is not passion suffering.
Poetry is only brought forth after painful wanderings in the vast
regions of thought and life. There are men and women in books, who
seem more really alive to us than men and women who have lived and
died--Richardson's Clarissa, Chenier's Camille, the Delia of Tibullus,
Ariosto's Angelica, Dante's Francesca, Moliere's Alceste,
Beaumarchais' Figaro, Scott's Rebecca the Jewess, the Don Quixote of
Cervantes,--do we not owe these deathless creations to immortal
"And what are you going to create for us?" asked Chatelet.
"If I were to announce such conceptions, I should give myself out for
a man of genius, should I not?" answered Lucien. "And besides, such
sublime creations demand a long experience of the world and a study of
human passion and interests which I could not possibly have made; but
I have made a beginning," he added, with bitterness in his tone, as he
took a vengeful glance round the circle; "the time of gestation is
"Then it will be a case of difficult labor," interrupted M. du Hautoy.
"Your excellent mother might assist you," suggested the Bishop.
The epigram, innocently made by the good prelate, the long-looked-for
revenge, kindled a gleam of delight in all eyes. The smile of
satisfied caste that traveled from mouth to mouth was aggravated by M.
de Bargeton's imbecility; he burst into a laugh, as usual, some
"Monseigneur, you are talking a little above our heads; these ladies
do not understand your meaning," said Mme. de Bargeton, and the words
paralyzed the laughter, and drew astonished eyes upon her. "A poet who
looks to the Bible for his inspiration has a mother indeed in the
Church.--M. de Rubempre, will you recite _Saint John in Patmos_ for us,
or _Belshazzar's Feast_, so that his lordship may see that Rome is still
the _Magna Parens_ of Virgil?"
The women exchanged smiles at the Latin words.
The bravest and highest spirits know times of prostration at the
outset of life. Lucien had sunk to the depths at the blow, but he
struck the bottom with his feet, and rose to the surface again, vowing
to subjugate this little world. He rose like a bull, stung to fury by
a shower of darts, and prepared to obey Louise by declaiming _Saint
John in Patmos_; but by this time the card-tables had claimed their
complement of players, who returned to the accustomed groove to find
amusement there which poetry had not afforded them. They felt besides
that the revenge of so many outraged vanities would be incomplete
unless it were followed up by contemptuous indifference; so they
showed their tacit disdain for the native product by leaving Lucien
and Mme. de Bargeton to themselves. Every one appeared to be absorbed
in his own affairs; one chattered with the prefect about a new
crossroad, another proposed to vary the pleasures of the evening with
a little music. The great world of Angouleme, feeling that it was no
judge of poetry, was very anxious, in the first place, to hear the
verdict of the Pimentels and the Rastignacs, and formed a little group
about them. The great influence wielded in the department by these two
families was always felt on every important occasion; every one was
jealous of them, every one paid court to them, foreseeing that they
might some day need that influence.
"What do you think of our poet and his poetry?" Jacques asked of the
Marquise. Jacques used to shoot over the lands belonging to the
"Why, it is not bad for provincial poetry," she said, smiling; "and
besides, such a beautiful poet cannot do anything amiss."
Every one thought the decision admirable; it traveled from lip to lip,
gaining malignance by the way. Then Chatelet was called upon to
accompany M. du Bartas on the piano while he mangled the great solo
from _Figaro_; and the way being opened to music, the audience, as in
duty bound listened while Chatelet in turn sang one of Chateaubriand's
ballads, a chivalrous ditty made in the time of the Empire. Duets
followed, of the kind usually left to boarding-school misses, and
rescued from the schoolroom by Mme. du Brossard, who meant to make a
brilliant display of her dear Camille's talents for M. de Severac's
Mme. du Bargeton, hurt by the contempt which every one showed her
poet, paid back scorn for scorn by going to her boudoir during these
performances. She was followed by the prelate. His Vicar-General had
just been explaining the profound irony of the epigram into which he
had been entrapped, and the Bishop wished to make amends. Mlle. de
Rastignac, fascinated by the poetry, also slipped into the boudoir
without her mother's knowledge.
Louise drew Lucien to her mattress-cushioned sofa; and with no one to
see or hear, she murmured in his ear, "Dear angel, they did not
understand you; but, 'Thy songs are sweet, I love to say them over.'"
And Lucien took comfort from the pretty speech, and forgot his woes
for a little.
"Glory is not to be had cheaply," Mme. de Bargeton continued, taking
his hand and holding it tightly in her own. "Endure your woes, my
friend, you will be great one day; your pain is the price of your
immortality. If only I had a hard struggle before me! God preserve you
from the enervating life without battles, in which the eagle's wings
have no room to spread themselves. I envy you; for if you suffer, at
least you live. You will put out your strength, you will feel the hope
of victory; your strife will be glorious. And when you shall come to
your kingdom, and reach the imperial sphere where great minds are
enthroned, then remember the poor creatures disinherited by fate,
whose intellects pine in an oppressive moral atmosphere, who die and
have never lived, knowing all the while what life might be; think of
the piercing eyes that have seen nothing, the delicate senses that
have only known the scent of poison flowers. Then tell in your song of
plants that wither in the depths of the forest, choked by twining
growths and rank, greedy vegetation, plants that have never been
kissed by the sunlight, and die, never having put forth a blossom. It
would be a terribly gloomy poem, would it not, a fanciful subject?
What a sublime poem might be made of the story of some daughter of the
desert transported to some cold, western clime, calling for her
beloved sun, dying of a grief that none can understand, overcome with
cold and longing. It would be an allegory; many lives are like that."
"You would picture the spirit which remembers Heaven," said the
Bishop; "some one surely must have written such a poem in the days of
old; I like to think that I see a fragment of it in the Song of
"Take that as your subject," said Laure de Rastignac, expressing her
artless belief in Lucien's powers.
"The great sacred poem of France is still unwritten," remarked the
Bishop. "Believe me, glory and success await the man of talent who
shall work for religion."
"That task will be his," said Mme. de Bargeton rhetorically. "Do you
not see the first beginnings of the vision of the poem, like the flame
of dawn, in his eyes?"
"Nais is treating us very badly," said Fifine; "what can she be
"Don't you hear?" said Stanislas. "She is flourishing away, using big
words that you cannot make head or tail of."
Amelie, Fifine, Adrien, and Francis appeared in the doorway with Mme.
de Rastignac, who came to look for her daughter.
"Nais," cried the two ladies, both delighted to break in upon the
quiet chat in the boudoir, "it would be very nice of you to come and
play something for us."
"My dear child, M. de Rubempre is just about to recite his _Saint John
in Patmos_, a magnificent biblical poem."
"Biblical!" echoed Fifine in amazement.
Amelie and Fifine went back to the drawing-room, taking the word back
with them as food for laughter. Lucien pleaded a defective memory and
excused himself. When he reappeared, nobody took the slightest notice
of him; every one was chatting or busy at the card-tables; the poet's
aureole had been plucked away, the landowners had no use for him, the
more pretentious sort looked upon him as an enemy to their ignorance,
while the women were jealous of Mme. de Bargeton, the Beatrice of this
modern Dante, to use the Vicar-General's phrase, and looked at him
with cold, scornful eyes.
"So this is society!" Lucien said to himself as he went down to
L'Houmeau by the steps of Beaulieu; for there are times when we choose
to take the longest way, that the physical exercise of walking may
promote the flow of ideas.
So far from being disheartened, the fury of repulsed ambition gave
Lucien new strength. Like all those whose instincts bring them to a
higher social sphere which they reach before they can hold their own
in it, Lucien vowed to make any sacrifice to the end that he might
remain on that higher social level. One by one he drew out the
poisoned shafts on his way home, talking aloud to himself, scoffing at
the fools with whom he had to do, inventing neat answers to their
idiotic questions, desperately vexed that the witty responses occurred
to him so late in the day. By the time that he reached the Bordeaux
road, between the river and the foot of the hill, he thought that he
could see Eve and David sitting on a baulk of timber by the river in
the moonlight, and went down the footpath towards them.
While Lucien was hastening to the torture in Mme. de Bargeton's rooms,
his sister had changed her dress for a gown of pink cambric covered
with narrow stripes, a straw hat, and a little silk shawl. The simple
costume seemed like a rich toilette on Eve, for she was one of those
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