Honore De Balzac
Part 9 out of 14
opinions have put that out of the question now, but _then_ it would not
have been so hard to manage, and a title would mean a fortune for you.
"You will look on these things as trifles and visionary ideas," she
continued; "but we know something of life, and we know, too, all the
solid advantages of a Count's title when it is borne by a fashionable
and extremely charming young man. Announce 'M. Chardon' and 'M. le
Comte de Rubempre' before heiresses or English girls with a million to
their fortune, and note the difference of the effect. The Count might
be in debt, but he would find open hearts; his good looks, brought
into relief by his title, would be like a diamond in a rich setting;
M. Chardon would not be so much as noticed. WE have not invented these
notions; they are everywhere in the world, even among the burgeois.
You are turning your back on fortune at this minute. Do you see that
good-looking young man? He is the Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse, one of
the King's private secretaries. The King is fond enough of young men
of talent, and Vandenesse came from the provinces with baggage nearly
as light as yours. You are a thousand times cleverer than he; but do
you belong to a great family, have you a name? You know des Lupeaulx;
his name is very much like yours, for he was born a Chardin; well, he
would not sell his little farm of Lupeaulx for a million, he will be
Comte des Lupeaulx some day, and perhaps his grandson may be a duke.
--You have made a false start; and if you continue in that way, it will
be all over with you. See how much wiser M. Emile Blondet has been! He
is engaged on a Government newspaper; he is well looked on by those in
authority; he can afford to mix with Liberals, for he holds sound
opinions; and soon or later he will succeed. But then he understood
how to choose his opinions and his protectors.
"Your charming neighbor" (Mme. d'Espard glanced at Mme. de Montcornet)
"was a Troisville; there are two peers of France in the family and two
deputies. She made a wealthy marriage with her name; she sees a great
deal of society at her house; she has influence, she will move the
political world for young M. Blondet. Where will a Coralie take you?
In a few years' time you will be hopelessly in debt and weary of
pleasure. You have chosen badly in love, and you are arranging your
life ill. The woman whom you delight to wound was at the Opera the
other night, and this was how she spoke of you. She deplored the way
in which you were throwing away your talent and the prime of youth;
she was thinking of you, and not of herself, all the while."
"Ah! if you were only telling me the truth, madame!" cried Lucien.
"What object should I have in telling lies?" returned the Marquise,
with a glance of cold disdain which annihilated him. He was so dashed
by it, that the conversation dropped, for the Marquise was offended,
and said no more.
Lucien was nettled by her silence, but he felt that it was due to his
own clumsiness, and promised himself that he would repair his error.
He turned to Mme. de Montcornet and talked to her of Blondet,
extolling that young writer for her benefit. The Countess was gracious
to him, and asked him (at a sign from Mme. d'Espard) to spend an
evening at her house. It was to be a small and quiet gathering to
which only friends were invited--Mme. de Bargeton would be there in
spite of her mourning; Lucien would be pleased, she was sure, to meet
Mme. de Bargeton.
"Mme. la Marquise says that all the wrong is on my side," said Lucien;
"so surely it rests with her cousin, does it not, to decide whether
she will meet me?"
"Put an end to those ridiculous attacks, which only couple her name
with the name of a man for whom she does not care at all, and you will
soon sign a treaty of peace. You thought that she had used you ill, I
am told, but I myself have seen her in sadness because you had
forsaken her. Is it true that she left the provinces on your account?"
Lucien smiled; he did not venture to make any other reply.
"Oh! how could you doubt the woman who made such sacrifices for you?
Beautiful and intellectual as she is, she deserves besides to be loved
for her own sake; and Mme. de Bargeton cared less for you than for
your talents. Believe me, women value intellect more than good looks,"
added the Countess, stealing a glance at Emile Blondet.
In the Minister's hotel Lucien could see the differences between the
great world and that other world beyond the pale in which he had
lately been living. There was no sort of resemblance between the two
kinds of splendor, no single point in common. The loftiness and
disposition of the rooms in one of the handsomest houses in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, the ancient gilding, the breadth of decorative
style, the subdued richness of the accessories, all this was strange
and new to him; but Lucien had learned very quickly to take luxury for
granted, and he showed no surprise. His behavior was as far removed
from assurance or fatuity on the one hand as from complacency and
servility upon the other. His manner was good; he found favor in the
eyes of all who were not prepared to be hostile, like the younger men,
who resented his sudden intrusion into the great world, and felt
jealous of his good looks and his success.
When they rose from table, he offered his arm to Mme. d'Espard, and
was not refused. Rastignac, watching him, saw that the Marquise was
gracious to Lucien, and came in the character of a fellow-countryman
to remind the poet that they had met once before at Mme. du
Val-Noble's. The young patrician seemed anxious to find an ally in
the great man from his own province, asked Lucien to breakfast with
him some morning, and offered to introduce him to some young men of
fashion. Lucien was nothing loath.
"The dear Blondet is coming," said Rastignac.
The two were standing near the Marquis de Ronquerolles, the Duc de
Rhetore, de Marsay, and General Montriveau. The Minister came across
to join the group.
"Well," said he, addressing Lucien with a bluff German heartiness that
concealed his dangerous subtlety; "well, so you have made your peace
with Mme. d'Espard; she is delighted with you, and we all know," he
added, looking round the group, "how difficult it is to please her."
"Yes, but she adores intellect," said Rastignac, "and my illustrious
fellow-countryman has wit enough to sell."
"He will soon find out that he is not doing well for himself," Blondet
put in briskly. "He will come over; he will soon be one of us."
Those who stood about Lucien rang the changes on this theme; the older
and responsible men laid down the law with one or two profound
remarks; the younger ones made merry at the expense of the Liberals.
"He simply tossed up head or tails for Right or Left, I am sure,"
remarked Blondet, "but now he will choose for himself."
Lucien burst out laughing; he thought of his talk with Lousteau that
evening in the Luxembourg Gardens.
"He has taken on a bear-leader," continued Blondet, "one Etienne
Lousteau, a newspaper hack who sees a five-franc piece in a column.
Lousteau's politics consist in a belief that Napoleon will return, and
(and this seems to me to be still more simple) in a confidence in the
gratitude and patriotism of their worships the gentlemen of the Left.
As a Rubempre, Lucien's sympathies should lean towards the
aristocracy; as a journalist, he ought to be for authority, or he will
never be either Rubempre or a secretary-general."
The Minister now asked Lucien to take a hand at whist; but, to the
great astonishment of those present, he declared that he did not know
"Come early to me on the day of that breakfast affair," Rastignac
whispered, "and I will teach you to play. You are a discredit to the
royal city of Angouleme; and, to repeat M. de Talleyrand's saying, you
are laying up an unhappy old age for yourself."
Des Lupeaulx was announced. He remembered Lucien, whom he had met at
Mme. du Val-Noble's, and bowed with a semblance of friendliness which
the poet could not doubt. Des Lupeaulx was in favor, he was a Master
of Requests, and did the Ministry secret services; he was, moreover,
cunning and ambitious, slipping himself in everywhere; he was
everybody's friend, for he never knew whom he might need. He saw
plainly that this was a young journalist whose social success would
probably equal his success in literature; saw, too, that the poet was
ambitious, and overwhelmed him with protestations and expressions of
friendship and interest, till Lucien felt as if they were old friends
already, and took his promises and speeches for more than their worth.
Des Lupeaulx made a point of knowing a man thoroughly well if he
wanted to get rid of him or feared him as a rival. So, to all
appearance, Lucien was well received. He knew that much of his success
was owing to the Duc de Rhetore, the Minister, Mme. d'Espard, and Mme.
de Montcornet, and went to spend a few moments with the two ladies
before taking leave, and talked his very best for them.
"What a coxcomb!" said des Lupeaulx, turning to the Marquise when he
"He will be rotten before he is ripe," de Marsay added, smiling. "You
must have private reasons of your own, madame, for turning his head in
When Lucien stepped into the carriage in the courtyard, he found
Coralie waiting for him. She had come to fetch him. The little
attention touched him; he told her the history of his evening; and, to
his no small astonishment, the new notions which even now were running
in his head met with Coralie's approval. She strongly advised him to
enlist under the ministerial banner.
"You have nothing to expect from the Liberals but hard knocks," she
said. "They plot and conspire; they murdered the Duc de Berri. Will
they upset the Government? Never! You will never come to anything
through them, while you will be Comte de Rubempre if you throw in your
lot with the other side. You might render services to the State, and
be a peer of France, and marry an heiress. Be an Ultra. It is the
proper thing besides," she added, this being the last word with her on
all subjects. "I dined with the Val-Noble; she told me that Theodore
Gaillard is really going to start his little Royalist _Revue_, so as to
reply to your witticisms and the jokes in the _Miroir_. To hear them
talk, M. Villele's party will be in office before the year is out. Try
to turn the change to account before they come to power; and say
nothing to Etienne and your friends, for they are quite equal to
playing you some ill turn."
A week later, Lucien went to Mme. de Montcornet's house, and saw the
woman whom he had so loved, whom later he had stabbed to the heart
with a jest. He felt the most violent agitation at the sight of her,
for Louise also had undergone a transformation. She was the Louise
that she would always have been but for her detention in the provinces
--she was a great lady. There was a grace and refinement in her
mourning dress which told that she was a happy widow; Lucien fancied
that this coquetry was aimed in some degree at him, and he was right;
but, like an ogre, he had tasted flesh, and all that evening he
vacillated between Coralie's warm, voluptuous beauty and the dried-up,
haughty, cruel Louise. He could not make up his mind to sacrifice the
actress to the great lady; and Mme. de Bargeton--all the old feeling
reviving in her at the sight of Lucien, Lucien's beauty, Lucien's
cleverness--was waiting and expecting that sacrifice all evening; and
after all her insinuating speeches and her fascinations, she had her
trouble for her pains. She left the room with a fixed determination to
"Well, dear Lucien," she had said, and in her kindness there was both
generosity and Parisian grace; "well, dear Lucien, so you, that were
to have been my pride, took me for your first victim; and I forgave
you, my dear, for I felt that in such a revenge there was a trace of
love still left."
With that speech, and the queenly way in which it was uttered, Mme. de
Bargeton recovered her position. Lucien, convinced that he was a
thousand times in the right, felt that he had been put in the wrong.
Not one word of the causes of the rupture! not one syllable of the
terrible farewell letter! A woman of the world has a wonderful genius
for diminishing her faults by laughing at them; she can obliterate
them all with a smile or a question of feigned surprise, and she knows
this. She remembers nothing, she can explain everything; she is
amazed, asks questions, comments, amplifies, and quarrels with you,
till in the end her sins disappear like stains on the application of a
little soap and water; black as ink you knew them to be; and lo! in a
moment, you behold immaculate white innocence, and lucky are you if
you do not find that you yourself have sinned in some way beyond
In a moment old illusions regained their power over Lucien and Louise;
they talked like friends, as before; but when the lady, with a
hesitating sigh, put the question, "Are you happy?" Lucien was not
ready with a prompt, decided answer; he was intoxicated with gratified
vanity; Coralie, who (let us admit it) had made life easy for him, had
turned his head. A melancholy "No" would have made his fortune, but he
must needs begin to explain his position with regard to Coralie. He
said that he was loved for his own sake; he said a good many foolish
things that a man will say when he is smitten with a tender passion,
and thought the while that he was doing a clever thing.
Mme. de Bargeton bit her lips. There was no more to be said. Mme.
d'Espard brought Mme. de Montcornet to her cousin, and Lucien became
the hero of the evening, so to speak. He was flattered, petted, and
made much of by the three women; he was entangled with art which no
words can describe. His social success in this fine and brilliant
circle was at least as great as his triumphs in journalism. Beautiful
Mlle. des Touches, so well known as "Camille Maupin," asked him to one
of her Wednesday dinners; his beauty, now so justly famous, seemed to
have made an impression upon her. Lucien exerted himself to show that
his wit equaled his good looks, and Mlle. des Touches expressed her
admiration with a playful outspokenness and a pretty fervor of
friendship which deceives those who do not know life in Paris to its
depths, nor suspect how continual enjoyment whets the appetite for
"If she should like me as much as I like her, we might abridge the
romance," said Lucien, addressing de Marsay and Rastignac.
"You both of you write romances too well to care to live them,"
returned Rastignac. "Can men and women who write ever fall in love
with each other? A time is sure to come when they begin to make little
"It would not be a bad dream for you," laughed de Marsay. "The
charming young lady is thirty years old, it is true, but she has an
income of eighty thousand livres. She is adorably capricious, and her
style of beauty wears well. Coralie is a silly little fool, my dear
boy, well enough for a start, for a young spark must have a mistress;
but unless you make some great conquest in the great world, an actress
will do you harm in the long run. Now, my boy, go and cut out Conti.
Here he is, just about to sing with Camille Maupin. Poetry has taken
precedence of music ever since time began."
But when Lucien heard Mlle. des Touches' voice blending with Conti's,
his hopes fled.
"Conti sings too well," he told des Lupeaulx; and he went back to Mme.
de Bargeton, who carried him off to Mme. d'Espard in another room.
"Well, will you not interest yourself in him?" asked Mme. de Bargeton.
The Marquise spoke with an air half kindly, half insolent. "Let M.
Chardon first put himself in such a position that he will not
compromise those who take an interest in him," she said. "If he wishes
to drop his patronymic and to bear his mother's name, he should at any
rate be on the right side, should he not?"
"In less than two months I will arrange everything," said Lucien.
"Very well," returned Mme. d'Espard. "I will speak to my father and
uncle; they are in waiting, they will speak to the Chancellor for
The diplomatist and the two women had very soon discovered Lucien's
weak side. The poet's head was turned by the glory of the aristocracy;
every man who entered the rooms bore a sounding name mounted in a
glittering title, and he himself was plain Chardon. Unspeakable
mortification filled him at the sound of it. Wherever he had been
during the last few days, that pang had been constantly present with
him. He felt, moreover, a sensation quite as unpleasant when he went
back to his desk after an evening spent in the great world, in which
he made a tolerable figure, thanks to Coralie's carriage and Coralie's
He learned to ride, in order to escort Mme. d'Espard, Mlle. des
Touches, and the Comtesse de Montcornet when they drove in the Bois, a
privilege which he had envied other young men so greatly when he first
came to Paris. Finot was delighted to give his right-hand man an order
for the Opera, so Lucien wasted many an evening there, and
thenceforward he was among the exquisites of the day.
The poet asked Rastignac and his new associates to a breakfast, and
made the blunder of giving it in Coralie's rooms in the Rue de
Vendome; he was too young, too much of a poet, too self-confident, to
discern certain shades and distinctions in conduct; and how should an
actress, a good-hearted but uneducated girl, teach him life? His
guests were anything but charitably disposed towards him; it was
clearly proven to their minds that Lucien the critic and the actress
were in collusion for their mutual interests, and all of the young men
were jealous of an arrangement which all of them stigmatized. The most
pitiless of those who laughed that evening at Lucien's expense was
Rastignac himself. Rastignac had made and held his position by very
similar means; but so careful had he been of appearances, that he
could afford to treat scandal as slander.
Lucien proved an apt pupil at whist. Play became a passion with him;
and so far from disapproving, Coralie encouraged his extravagance with
the peculiar short-sightedness of an all-absorbing love, which sees
nothing beyond the moment, and is ready to sacrifice anything, even
the future, to the present enjoyment. Coralie looked on cards as a
safe-guard against rivals. A great love has much in common with
childhood--a child's heedless, careless, spendthrift ways, a child's
laughter and tears.
In those days there lived and flourished a set of young men, some of
them rich, some poor, and all of them idle, called "free-livers"
(_viveurs_); and, indeed, they lived with incredible insolence
--unabashed and unproductive consumers, and yet more intrepid
drinkers. These spendthrifts mingled the roughest practical jokes with
a life not so much reckless as suicidal; they drew back from no
impossibility, and gloried in pranks which, nevertheless, were
confined within certain limits; and as they showed the most original
wit in their escapades, it was impossible not to pardon them.
No sign of the times more plainly discovered the helotism to which the
Restoration had condemned the young manhood of the epoch. The younger
men, being at a loss to know what to do with themselves, were
compelled to find other outlets for their superabundant energy besides
journalism, or conspiracy, or art, or letters. They squandered their
strength in the wildest excesses, such sap and luxuriant power was
there in young France. The hard workers among these gilded youths
wanted power and pleasure; the artists wished for money; the idle
sought to stimulate their appetites or wished for excitement; one and
all of them wanted a place, and one and all were shut out from
politics and public life. Nearly all the "free-livers" were men of
unusual mental powers; some held out against the enervating life,
others were ruined by it. The most celebrated and the cleverest among
them was Eugene Rastignac, who entered, with de Marsay's help, upon a
political career, in which he has since distinguished himself. The
practical jokes, in which the set indulged became so famous, that not
a few vaudevilles have been founded upon them.
Blondet introduced Lucien to this society of prodigals, of which he
became a brilliant ornament, ranking next to Bixiou, one of the most
mischievous and untiring scoffing wits of his time. All through that
winter Lucien's life was one long fit of intoxication, with intervals
of easy work. He continued his series of sketches of contemporary
life, and very occasionally made great efforts to write a few pages of
serious criticism, on which he brought his utmost power of thought to
bear. But study was the exception, not the rule, and only undertaken
at the bidding of necessity; dinners and breakfasts, parties of
pleasure and play, took up most of his time, and Coralie absorbed all
that was left. He would not think of the morrow. He saw besides that
his so-called friends were leading the same life, earning money easily
by writing publishers' prospectuses and articles paid for by
speculators; all of them lived beyond their incomes, none of them
thought seriously of the future.
Lucien had been admitted into the ranks of journalism and of
literature on terms of equality; he foresaw immense difficulties in
the way if he should try to rise above the rest. Every one was willing
to look upon him as an equal; no one would have him for a superior.
Unconsciously he gave up the idea of winning fame in literature, for
it seemed easier to gain success in politics.
"Intrigue raises less opposition than talent," du Chatelet had said
one day (for Lucien and the Baron had made up their quarrel); "a plot
below the surface rouses no one's attention. Intrigue, moreover, is
superior to talent, for it makes something out of nothing; while, for
the most part, the immense resources of talent only injure a man."
So Lucien never lost sight of his principal idea; and though
to-morrow, following close upon the heels of to-day in the midst of an
orgy, never found the promised work accomplished, Lucien was assiduous
in society. He paid court to Mme. de Bargeton, the Marquise d'Espard,
and the Comtesse de Montcornet; he never missed a single party given
by Mlle. des Touches, appearing in society after a dinner given by
authors or publishers, and leaving the salons for a supper given in
consequence of a bet. The demands of conversation and the excitement
of play absorbed all the ideas and energy left by excess. The poet had
lost the lucidity of judgment and coolness of head which must be
preserved if a man is to see all that is going on around him, and
never to lose the exquisite tact which the _parvenu_ needs at every
moment. How should he know how many a time Mme. de Bargeton left him
with wounded susceptibilities, how often she forgave him or added one
more condemnation to the rest?
Chatelet saw that his rival had still a chance left, so he became
Lucien's friend. He encouraged the poet in dissipation that wasted his
energies. Rastignac, jealous of his fellow-countryman, and thinking,
besides, that Chatelet would be a surer and more useful ally than
Lucien, had taken up the Baron's cause. So, some few days after the
meeting of the Petrarch and Laura of Angouleme, Rastignac brought
about the reconciliation between the poet and the elderly beau at a
sumptuous supper given at the _Rocher de Cancale_. Lucien never returned
home till morning, and rose in the middle of the day; Coralie was
always at his side, he could not forego a single pleasure. Sometimes
he saw his real position, and made good resolutions, but they came to
nothing in his idle, easy life; and the mainspring of will grew slack,
and only responded to the heaviest pressure of necessity.
Coralie had been glad that Lucien should amuse himself; she had
encouraged him in this reckless expenditure, because she thought that
the cravings which she fostered would bind her lover to her. But
tender-hearted and loving as she was, she found courage to advise
Lucien not to forget his work, and once or twice was obliged to remind
him that he had earned very little during the month. Their debts were
growing frightfully fast. The fifteen hundred francs which remained
from the purchase-money of the _Marguerites_ had been swallowed up at
once, together with Lucien's first five hundred livres. In three
months he had only made a thousand francs, yet he felt as though he
had been working tremendously hard. But by this time Lucien had
adopted the "free-livers" pleasant theory of debts.
Debts are becoming to a young man, but after the age of
five-and-twenty they are inexcusable. It should be observed that there
are certain natures in which a really poetic temper is united with a
weakened will; and these while absorbed in feeling, that they may
transmute personal experience, sensation, or impression into some
permanent form are essentially deficient in the moral sense which
should accompany all observation. Poets prefer rather to receive their
own impressions than to enter into the souls of others to study the
mechanism of their feelings and thoughts. So Lucien neither asked his
associates what became of those who disappeared from among them, nor
looked into the futures of his so-called friends. Some of them were
heirs to property, others had definite expectations; yet others either
possessed names that were known in the world, or a most robust belief
in their destiny and a fixed resolution to circumvent the law. Lucien,
too, believed in his future on the strength of various profound
axiomatic sayings of Blondet's: "Everything comes out all right at
last--If a man has nothing, his affairs cannot be embarrassed--We have
nothing to lose but the fortune that we seek--Swim with the stream; it
will take you somewhere--A clever man with a footing in society can
make a fortune whenever he pleases."
That winter, filled as it was with so many pleasures and dissipations,
was a necessary interval employed in finding capital for the new
Royalist paper; Theodore Gaillard and Hector Merlin only brought out
the first number of the _Reveil_ in March 1822. The affair had been
settled at Mme. du Val-Noble's house. Mme. du val-Noble exercised a
certain influence over the great personages, Royalist writers, and
bankers who met in her splendid rooms--"fit for a tale out of the
_Arabian Nights_," as the elegant and clever courtesan herself used to
say--to transact business which could not be arranged elsewhere. The
editorship had been promised to Hector Merlin. Lucien, Merlin's
intimate, was pretty certain to be his right-hand man, and a
_feuilleton_ in a Ministerial paper had been promised to him besides.
All through the dissipations of that winter Lucien had been secretly
making ready for this change of front. Child as he was, he fancied
that he was a deep politician because he concealed the preparation for
the approaching transformation-scene, while he was counting upon
Ministerial largesses to extricate himself from embarrassment and to
lighten Coralie's secret cares. Coralie said nothing of her distress;
she smiled now, as always; but Berenice was bolder, she kept Lucien
informed of their difficulties; and the budding great man, moved,
after the fashion of poets, by the tale of disasters, would vow that
he would begin to work in earnest, and then forget his resolution, and
drown his fleeting cares in excess. One day Coralie saw the poetic
brow overcast, and scolded Berenice, and told her lover that
everything would be settled.
Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton were waiting for Lucien's
profession of his new creed, so they said, before applying through
Chatelet for the patent which should permit Lucien to bear the so-much
desired name. Lucien had proposed to dedicate the _Marguerites_ to Mme.
d'Espard, and the Marquise seemed to be not a little flattered by a
compliment which authors have been somewhat chary of paying since they
became a power in the land; but when Lucien went to Dauriat and asked
after his book, that worthy publisher met him with excellent reasons
for the delay in its appearance. Dauriat had this and that in hand,
which took up all his time; a new volume by Canalis was coming out,
and he did not want the two books to clash; M. de Lamartine's second
series of _Meditations_ was in the press, and two important collections
of poetry ought not to appear together.
By this time, however, Lucien's needs were so pressing that he had
recourse to Finot, and received an advance on his work. When, at a
supper-party that evening, the poet journalist explained his position
to his friends in the fast set, they drowned his scruples in
champagne, iced with pleasantries. Debts! There was never yet a man of
any power without debts! Debts represented satisfied cravings,
clamorous vices. A man only succeeds under the pressure of the iron
hand of necessity. Debts forsooth!
"Why, the one pledge of which a great man can be sure, is given him by
his friend the pawnbroker," cried Blondet.
"If you want everything, you must owe for everything," called Bixiou.
"No," corrected des Lupeaulx, "if you owe for everything, you have had
The party contrived to convince the novice that his debts were a
golden spur to urge on the horses of the chariot of his fortunes.
There is always the stock example of Julius Caesar with his debt of
forty millions, and Friedrich II. on an allowance of one ducat a
month, and a host of other great men whose failings are held up for
the corruption of youth, while not a word is said of their
wide-reaching ideas, their courage equal to all odds.
Creditors seized Coralie's horses, carriage, and furniture at last,
for an amount of four thousand francs. Lucien went to Lousteau and
asked his friend to meet his bill for the thousand francs lent to pay
gaming debts; but Lousteau showed him certain pieces of stamped paper,
which proved that Florine was in much the same case. Lousteau was
grateful, however, and offered to take the necessary steps for the
sale of Lucien's _Archer of Charles IX._
"How came Florine to be in this plight?" asked Lucien.
"The Matifat took alarm," said Lousteau. "We have lost him; but if
Florine chooses, she can make him pay dear for his treachery. I will
tell you all about it."
Three days after this bootless errand, Lucien and Coralie were
breakfasting in melancholy spirits beside the fire in their pretty
bedroom. Berenice had cooked a dish of eggs for them over the grate;
for the cook had gone, and the coachman and servants had taken leave.
They could not sell the furniture, for it had been attached; there was
not a single object of any value in the house. A goodly collection of
pawntickets, forming a very instructive octavo volume, represented all
the gold, silver, and jewelry. Berenice had kept back a couple of
spoons and forks, that was all.
Lousteau's newspaper was of service now to Coralie and Lucien, little
as they suspected it; for the tailor, dressmaker, and milliner were
afraid to meddle with a journalist who was quite capable of writing
down their establishments.
Etienne Lousteau broke in upon their breakfast with a shout of
"Hurrah! Long live _The Archer of Charles IX._! And I have converted a
hundred francs worth of books into cash, children. We will go halves."
He handed fifty francs to Coralie, and sent Berenice out in quest of a
more substantial breakfast.
"Hector Merlin and I went to a booksellers' trade dinner yesterday,
and prepared the way for your romance with cunning insinuations.
Dauriat is in treaty, but Dauriat is haggling over it; he won't give
more than four thousand francs for two thousand copies, and you want
six thousand francs. We made you out twice as great as Sir Walter
Scott! Oh! you have such novels as never were in the inwards of you.
It is not a mere book for sale, it is a big business; you are not
simply the writer of one more or less ingenious novel, you are going
to write a whole series. The word 'series' did it! So, mind you, don't
forget that you have a great historical series on hand--_La Grande
Mademoiselle_, or _The France of Louis Quatorze_; _Cotillon I._, or _The
Early Days of Louis Quinze_; _The Queen and the Cardinal_, or _Paris and
the Fronde_; _The Son of the Concini_, or _Richelieu's Intrigue_. These
novels will be announced on the wrapper of the book. We call this
manoeuvre 'giving a success a toss in the coverlet,' for the titles
are all to appear on the cover, till you will be better known for the
books that you have not written than for the work you have done. And
'In the Press' is a way of gaining credit in advance for work that you
will do. Come, now, let us have a little fun! Here comes the
champagne. You can understand, Lucien, that our men opened eyes as big
as saucers. By the by, I see that you have saucers still left."
"They are attached," explained Coralie.
"I understand, and I resume. Show a publisher one manuscript volume
and he will believe in all the rest. A publisher asks to see your
manuscript, and gives you to understand that he is going to read it.
Why disturb his harmless vanity? They never read a manuscript; they
would not publish so many if they did. Well, Hector and I allowed it
to leak out that you might consider an offer of five thousand francs
for three thousand copies, in two editions. Let me have your _Archer_;
the day after to-morrow we are to breakfast with the publishers, and
we will get the upper hand of them."
"Who are they?" asked Lucien.
"Two partners named Fendant and Cavalier; they are two good fellows,
pretty straightforward in business. One of them used to be with Vidal
and Porchon, the other is the cleverest hand on the Quai des
Augustins. They only started in business last year, and have lost a
little on translations of English novels; so now my gentlemen have a
mind to exploit the native product. There is a rumor current that
those dealers in spoiled white paper are trading on other people's
capital; but I don't think it matters very much to you who finds the
money, so long as you are paid."
Two days later, the pair went to a breakfast in the Rue Serpente, in
Lucien's old quarter of Paris. Lousteau still kept his room in the Rue
de la Harpe; and it was in the same state as before, but this time
Lucien felt no surprise; he had been initiated into the life of
journalism; he knew all its ups and downs. Since that evening of his
introduction to the Wooden Galleries, he had been paid for many an
article, and gambled away the money along with the desire to write. He
had filled columns, not once but many times, in the ingenious ways
described by Lousteau on that memorable evening as they went to the
Palais Royal. He was dependent upon Barbet and Braulard; he trafficked
in books and theatre-tickets; he shrank no longer from any attack,
from writing any panegyric; and at this moment he was in some sort
rejoicing to make all he could out of Lousteau before turning his back
on the Liberals. His intimate knowledge of the party would stand him
in good stead in future. And Lousteau, on his side, was privately
receiving five hundred francs of purchase-money, under the name of
commission, from Fendant and Cavalier for introducing the future Sir
Walter Scott to two enterprising tradesmen in search of a French
Author of "Waverley."
The firm of Fendant and Cavalier had started in business without any
capital whatsoever. A great many publishing houses were established at
that time in the same way, and are likely to be established so long as
papermakers and printers will give credit for the time required to
play some seven or eight of the games of chance called "new
publications." At that time, as at present, the author's copyright was
paid for in bills at six, nine, and twelve months--a method of payment
determined by the custom of the trade, for booksellers settle accounts
between themselves by bills at even longer dates. Papermakers and
printers are paid in the same way, so that in practice the
publisher-bookseller has a dozen or a score of works on sale for a
twelvemonth before he pays for them. Even if only two or three of these
hit the public taste, the profitable speculations pay for the bad, and
the publisher pays his way by grafting, as it were, one book upon
another. But if all of them turn out badly; or if, for his misfortune,
the publisher-bookseller happens to bring out some really good literature
which stays on hand until the right public discovers and appreciates
it; or if it costs too much to discount the paper that he receives,
then, resignedly, he files his schedule, and becomes a bankrupt with
an untroubled mind. He was prepared all along for something of the
kind. So, all the chances being in favor of the publishers, they
staked other people's money, not their own upon the gaming-table of
This was the case with Fendant and Cavalier. Cavalier brought his
experience, Fendant his industry; the capital was a joint-stock
affair, and very accurately described by that word, for it consisted
in a few thousand francs scraped together with difficulty by the
mistresses of the pair. Out of this fund they allowed each other a
fairly handsome salary, and scrupulously spent it all in dinners to
journalists and authors, or at the theatre, where their business was
transacted, as they said. This questionably honest couple were both
supposed to be clever men of business, but Fendant was more slippery
than Cavalier. Cavalier, true to his name, traveled about, Fendant
looked after business in Paris. A partnership between two publishers
is always more or less of a duel, and so it was with Fendant and
They had brought out plenty of romances already, such as the _Tour du
Nord_, _Le Marchand de Benares_, _La Fontaine du Sepulcre_, and _Tekeli_,
translations of the works of Galt, an English novelist who never
attained much popularity in France. The success of translations of
Scott had called the attention of the trade to English novels. The
race of publishers, all agog for a second Norman conquest, were
seeking industriously for a second Scott, just as at a rather later
day every one must needs look for asphalt in stony soil, or bitumen in
marshes, and speculate in projected railways. The stupidity of the
Paris commercial world is conspicuous in these attempts to do the same
thing twice, for success lies in contraries; and in Paris, of all
places in the world, success spoils success. So beneath the title of
_Strelitz, or Russia a Hundred Years Ago_, Fendant and Cavalier rashly
added in big letters the words, "In the style of Scott."
Fendant and Cavalier were in great need of a success. A single good
book might float their sunken bales, they thought; and there was the
alluring prospect besides of articles in the newspapers, the great way
of promoting sales in those days. A book is very seldom bought and
sold for its just value, and purchases are determined by
considerations quite other than the merits of the work. So Fendant and
Cavalier thought of Lucien as a journalist, and of his book as a
salable article, which would help them to tide over their monthly
The partners occupied the ground floor of one of the great
old-fashioned houses in the Rue Serpente; their private office had
been contrived at the further end of a suite of large drawing-rooms,
now converted into warehouses for books. Lucien and Etienne found the
publishers in their office, the agreement drawn up, and the bills
ready. Lucien wondered at such prompt action.
Fendant was short and thin, and by no means reassuring of aspect. With
his low, narrow forehead, sunken nose, and hard mouth, he looked like
a Kalmuck Tartar; a pair of small, wide-awake black eyes, the crabbed
irregular outline of his countenance, a voice like a cracked bell--the
man's whole appearance, in fact, combined to give the impression that
this was a consummate rascal. A honeyed tongue compensated for these
disadvantages, and he gained his ends by talk. Cavalier, a stout,
thick-set young fellow, looked more like the driver of a mail coach
than a publisher; he had hair of a sandy color, a fiery red
countenance, and the heavy build and untiring tongue of a commercial
"There is no need to discuss this affair," said Fendant, addressing
Lucien and Lousteau. "I have read the work, it is very literary, and
so exactly the kind of thing we want, that I have sent it off as it is
to the printer. The agreement is drawn on the lines laid down, and
besides, we always make the same stipulations in all cases. The bills
fall due in six, nine, and twelve months respectively; you will meet
with no difficulty in discounting them, and we will refund you the
discount. We have reserved the right of giving a new title to the
book. We don't care for _The Archer of Charles IX._; it doesn't tickle
the reader's curiosity sufficiently; there were several kings of that
name, you see, and there were so many archers in the Middle Ages. If
you had only called it the _Soldier of Napoleon_, now! But _The Archer
of Charles IX._!--why, Cavalier would have to give a course of history
lessons before he could place a copy anywhere in the provinces."
"If you but knew the class of people that we have to do with!"
"_Saint Bartholomew_ would suit better," continued Fendant.
"_Catherine de' Medici, or France under Charles IX._, would sound more
like one of Scott's novels," added Cavalier.
"We will settle it when the work is printed," said Fendant.
"Do as you please, so long as I approve your title," said Lucien.
The agreement was read over, signed in duplicate, and each of the
contracting parties took their copy. Lucien put the bills in his
pocket with unequaled satisfaction, and the four repaired to Fendant's
abode, where they breakfasted on beefsteaks and oysters, kidneys in
champagne, and Brie cheese; but if the fare was something of the
homeliest, the wines were exquisite; Cavalier had an acquaintance a
traveler in the wine trade. Just as they sat down to table the printer
appeared, to Lucien's surprise, with the first two proof-sheets.
"We want to get on with it," Fendant said; "we are counting on your
book; we want a success confoundedly badly."
The breakfast, begun at noon, lasted till five o'clock.
"Where shall we get cash for these things?" asked Lucien as they came
away, somewhat heated and flushed with the wine.
"We might try Barbet," suggested Etienne, and they turned down to the
Quai des Augustins.
"Coralie is astonished to the highest degree over Florine's loss.
Florine only told her about it yesterday; she seemed to lay the blame
of it on you, and was so vexed, that she was ready to throw you over."
"That's true," said Lousteau. Wine had got the better of prudence, and
he unbosomed himself to Lucien, ending up with: "My friend--for you
are my friend, Lucien; you lent me a thousand francs, and you have
only once asked me for the money--shun play! If I had never touched a
card, I should be a happy man. I owe money all round. At this moment I
have the bailiffs at my heels; indeed, when I go to the Palais Royal,
I have dangerous capes to double."
In the language of the fast set, doubling a cape meant dodging a
creditor, or keeping out of his way. Lucien had not heard the
expression before, but he was familiar with the practice by this time.
"Are your debts so heavy?"
"A mere trifle," said Lousteau. "A thousand crowns would pull me
through. I have resolved to turn steady and give up play, and I have
done a little 'chantage' to pay my debts."
"What is 'chantage'?" asked Lucien.
"It is an English invention recently imported. A 'chanteur' is a man
who can manage to put a paragraph in the papers--never an editor nor a
responsible man, for they are not supposed to know anything about it,
and there is always a Giroudeau or a Philippe Bridau to be found. A
bravo of this stamp finds up somebody who has his own reasons for not
wanting to be talked about. Plenty of people have a few peccadilloes,
or some more or less original sin, upon their consciences; there are
plenty of fortunes made in ways that would not bear looking into;
sometimes a man has kept the letter of the law, and sometimes he has
not; and in either case, there is a tidbit of tattle for the inquirer,
as, for instance, that tale of Fouche's police surrounding the spies
of the Prefect of Police, who, not being in the secret of the
fabrication of forged English banknotes, were just about to pounce on
the clandestine printers employed by the Minister, or there is the
story of Prince Galathionne's diamonds, the Maubreuile affair, or the
Pombreton will case. The 'chanteur' gets possession of some
compromising letter, asks for an interview; and if the man that made
the money does not buy silence, the 'chanteur' draws a picture of the
press ready to take the matter up and unravel his private affairs. The
rich man is frightened, he comes down with the money, and the trick
"You are committed to some risky venture, which might easily be
written down in a series of articles; a 'chanteur' waits upon you, and
offers to withdraw the articles--for a consideration. 'Chanteurs' are
sent to men in office, who will bargain that their acts and not their
private characters are to be attacked, or they are heedless of their
characters, and anxious only to shield the woman they love. One of
your acquaintance, that charming Master of Requests des Lupeaulx, is a
kind of agent for affairs of this sort. The rascal has made a position
for himself in the most marvelous way in the very centre of power; he
is the middle-man of the press and the ambassador of the Ministers; he
works upon a man's self-love; he bribes newspapers to pass over a loan
in silence, or to make no comment on a contract which was never put up
for public tender, and the jackals of Liberal bankers get a share out
of it. That was a bit of 'chantage' that you did with Dauriat; he gave
you a thousand crowns to let Nathan alone. In the eighteenth century,
when journalism was still in its infancy, this kind of blackmail was
levied by pamphleteers in the pay of favorites and great lords. The
original inventor was Pietro Aretino, a great Italian. Kings went in
fear of him, as stage-players go in fear of a newspaper to-day."
"What did you do to the Matifat to make the thousand crowns?"
"I attacked Florine in half a dozen papers. Florine complained to
Matifat. Matifat went to Braulard to find out what the attacks meant.
I did my 'chantage' for Finot's benefit, and Finot put Braulard on the
wrong scent; Braulard told the man of drugs that _you_ were demolishing
Florine in Coralie's interest. Then Giroudeau went round to Matifat
and told him (in confidence) that the whole business could be
accommodated if he (Matifat) would consent to sell his sixth share in
Finot's review for ten thousand francs. Finot was to give me a
thousand crowns if the dodge succeeded. Well, Matifat was only too
glad to get back ten thousand francs out of the thirty thousand
invested in a risky speculation, as he thought, for Florine had been
telling him for several days past that Finot's review was doing badly;
and, instead of paying a dividend, something was said of calling up
more capital. So Matifat was just about to close with the offer, when
the manager of the Panorama-Dramatique comes to him with some
accommodation bills that he wanted to negotiate before filing his
schedule. To induce Matifat to take them of him, he let out a word of
Finot's trick. Matifat, being a shrewd man of business, took the hint,
held tight to his sixth, and is laughing in his sleeve at us. Finot
and I are howling with despair. We have been so misguided as to attack
a man who has no affection for his mistress, a heartless, soulless
wretch. Unluckily, too, for us, Matifat's business is not amenable to
the jurisdiction of the press, and he cannot be made to smart for it
through his interests. A druggist is not like a hatter or a milliner,
or a theatre or a work of art; he is above criticism; you can't run
down his opium and dyewoods, nor cocoa beans, paint, and pepper.
Florine is at her wits' end; the Panorama closes to-morrow, and what
will become of her she does not know."
"Coralie's engagement at the Gymnase begins in a few days," said
Lucien; "she might do something for Florine."
"Not she!" said Lousteau. "Coralie is not clever, but she is not quite
simple enough to help herself to a rival. We are in a mess with a
vengeance. And Finot is in such a hurry to buy back his sixth----"
"It is a capital bit of business, my dear fellow. There is a chance of
selling the paper for three hundred thousand francs; Finot would have
one-third, and his partners besides are going to pay him a commission,
which he will share with des Lupeaulx. So I propose to do another turn
"'Chantage' seems to mean your money or your life?"
"It is better than that," said Lousteau; "it is your money or your
character. A short time ago the proprietor of a minor newspaper was
refused credit. The day before yesterday it was announced in his
columns that a gold repeater set with diamonds belonging to a certain
notability had found its way in a curious fashion into the hands of a
private soldier in the Guards; the story promised to the readers might
have come from the _Arabian Nights_. The notability lost no time in
asking that editor to dine with him; the editor was distinctly a
gainer by the transaction, and contemporary history has lost an
anecdote. Whenever the press makes vehement onslaughts upon some one
in power, you may be sure that there is some refusal to do a service
behind it. Blackmailing with regard to private life is the terror of
the richest Englishman, and a great source of wealth to the press in
England, which is infinitely more corrupt than ours. We are children
in comparison! In England they will pay five or six thousand francs
for a compromising letter to sell again."
"Then how can you lay hold of Matifat?" asked Lucien.
"My dear boy, that low tradesman wrote the queerest letters to
Florine; the spelling, style, and matter of them is ludicrous to the
last degree. We can strike him in the very midst of his Lares and
Penates, where he feels himself safest, without so much as mentioning
his name; and he cannot complain, for he lives in fear and terror of
his wife. Imagine his wrath when he sees the first number of a little
serial entitled the _Amours of a Druggist_, and is given fair warning
that his love-letters have fallen into the hands of certain
journalists. He talks about the 'little god Cupid,' he tells Florine
that she enables him to cross the desert of life (which looks as if he
took her for a camel), and spells 'never' with two v's. There is
enough in that immensely funny correspondence to bring an influx of
subscribers for a fortnight. He will shake in his shoes lest an
anonymous letter should supply his wife with the key to the riddle.
The question is whether Florine will consent to appear to persecute
Matifat. She has some principles, which is to say, some hopes, still
left. Perhaps she means to keep the letters and make something for
herself out of them. She is cunning, as befits my pupil. But as soon
as she finds out that a bailiff is no laughing matter, or Finot gives
her a suitable present or hopes of an engagement, she will give me the
letters, and I will sell them to Finot. Finot will put the
correspondence in his uncle's hands, and Giroudeau will bring Matifat
These confidences sobered Lucien. His first thought was that he had
some extremely dangerous friends; his second, that it would be
impolitic to break with them; for if Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton,
and Chatelet should fail to keep their word with him, he might need
their terrible power yet. By this time Etienne and Lucien had reached
Barbet's miserable bookshop on the Quai. Etienne addressed Barbet:
"We have five thousand francs' worth of bills at six, nine, and twelve
months, given by Fendant and Cavalier. Are you willing to discount
them for us?"
"I will give you three thousand francs for them," said Barbet with
"Three thousand francs!" echoed Lucien.
"Nobody else will give you as much," rejoined the bookseller. "The
firm will go bankrupt before three months are out; but I happen to
know that they have some good books that are hanging on hand; they
cannot afford to wait, so I shall buy their stock for cash and pay
them with their own bills, and get the books at a reduction of two
thousand francs. That's how it is."
"Do you mind losing a couple of thousand francs, Lucien?" asked
"Yes!" Lucien answered vehemently. He was dismayed by this first
"You are making a mistake," said Etienne.
"You won't find any one that will take their paper," said Barbet.
"Your book is their last stake, sir. The printer will not trust them;
they are obliged to leave the copies in pawn with him. If they make a
hit now, it will only stave off bankruptcy for another six months,
sooner or later they will have to go. They are cleverer at tippling
than at bookselling. In my own case, their bills mean business; and
that being so, I can afford to give more than a professional
discounter who simply looks at the signatures. It is a
bill-discounter's business to know whether the three names on a bill
are each good for thirty per cent in case of bankruptcy. And here at
the outset you only offer two signatures, and neither of them worth
ten per cent."
The two journalists exchanged glances in surprise. Here was a little
scrub of a bookseller putting the essence of the art and mystery of
bill-discounting in these few words.
"That will do, Barbet," said Lousteau. "Can you tell us of a
bill-broker that will look at us?"
"There is Daddy Chaboisseau, on the Quai Saint-Michel, you know. He
tided Fendant over his last monthly settlement. If you won't listen to
my offer, you might go and see what he says to you; but you would only
come back to me, and then I shall offer you two thousand francs
instead of three."
Etienne and Lucien betook themselves to the Quai Saint-Michel, and
found Chaboisseau in a little house with a passage entry. Chaboisseau,
a bill-discounter, whose dealings were principally with the book
trade, lived in a second-floor lodging furnished in the most eccentric
manner. A brevet-rank banker and millionaire to boot, he had a taste
for the classical style. The cornice was in the classical style; the
bedstead, in the purest classical taste, dated from the time of the
Empire, when such things were in fashion; the purple hangings fell
over the wall like the classic draperies in the background of one of
David's pictures. Chairs and tables, lamps and sconces, and every
least detail had evidently been sought with patient care in furniture
warehouses. There was the elegance of antiquity about the classic
revival as well as its fragile and somewhat arid grace. The man
himself, like his manner of life, was in grotesque contrast with the
airy mythological look of his rooms; and it may be remarked that the
most eccentric characters are found among men who give their whole
energies to money-making.
Men of this stamp are, in a certain sense, intellectual libertines.
Everything is within their reach, consequently their fancy is jaded,
and they will make immense efforts to shake off their indifference.
The student of human nature can always discover some hobby, some
accessible weakness and sensitive spot in their heart. Chaboisseau
might have entrenched himself in antiquity as in an impregnable camp.
"The man will be an antique to match, no doubt," said Etienne,
Chaboisseau, a little old person with powdered hair, wore a greenish
coat and snuff-brown waistcoat; he was tricked out besides in black
small-clothes, ribbed stockings, and shoes that creaked as he came
forward to take the bills. After a short scrutiny, he returned them to
Lucien with a serious countenance.
"MM Fendant and Cavalier are delightful young fellows; they have
plenty of intelligence; but, I have no money," he said blandly.
"My friend here would be willing to meet you in the matter of
discount----" Etienne began.
"I would not take the bills on any consideration," returned the little
broker. The words slid down upon Lousteau's suggestion like the blade
of the guillotine on a man's neck.
The two friends withdrew; but as Chaboisseau went prudently out with
them across the ante-chamber, Lucien noticed a pile of second-hand
books. Chaboisseau had been in the trade, and this was a recent
purchase. Shining conspicuous among them, he noticed a copy of a work
by the architect Ducereau, which gives exceedingly accurate plans of
various royal palaces and chateaux in France.
"Could you let me have that book?" he asked.
"Yes," said Chaboisseau, transformed into a bookseller.
"It is dear, but I want it. And I can only pay you with one of the
bills which you refuse to take."
"You have a bill there for five hundred francs at six months; I will
take that one of you," said Chaboisseau.
Apparently at the last statement of accounts, there had been a balance
of five hundred francs in favor of Fendant and Cavalier.
They went back to the classical department. Chaboisseau made out a
little memorandum, interest so much and commission so much, total
deduction thirty francs, then he subtracted fifty francs for
Ducerceau's book; finally, from a cash-box full of coin, he took four
hundred and twenty francs.
"Look here, though, M. Chaboisseau, the bills are either all of them
good, or all bad alike; why don't you take the rest?"
"This is not discounting; I am paying myself for a sale," said the old
Etienne and Lucien were still laughing at Chaboisseau, without
understanding him, when they reached Dauriat's shop, and Etienne asked
Gabusson to give them the name of a bill-broker. Gabusson thus
appealed to gave them a letter of introduction to a broker in the
Boulevard Poissonniere, telling them at the same time that this was
the "oddest and queerest party" (to use his own expression) that he,
Gabusson, had come across. The friends took a cab by the hour, and
went to the address.
"If Samanon won't take your bills," Gabusson had said, "nobody else
will look at them."
A second-hand bookseller on the ground floor, a second-hand
clothes-dealer on the first story, and a seller of indecent prints on
the second, Samanon carried on a fourth business--he was a
money-lender into the bargain. No character in Hoffmann's romances, no
sinister-brooding miser of Scott's, can compare with this freak of
human and Parisian nature (always admitting that Samanon was human).
In spite of himself, Lucien shuddered at the sight of the dried-up
little old creature, whose bones seemed to be cutting a leather skin,
spotted with all sorts of little green and yellow patches, like a
portrait by Titian or Veronese when you look at it closely. One of
Samanon's eyes was fixed and glassy, the other lively and bright; he
seemed to keep that dead eye for the bill-discounting part of his
profession, and the other for the trade in the pornographic
curiosities upstairs. A few stray white hairs escaping from under a
small, sleek, rusty black wig, stood erect above a sallow forehead
with a suggestion of menace about it; a hollow trench in either cheek
defined the outline of the jaws; while a set of projecting teeth,
still white, seemed to stretch the skin of the lips with the effect
of an equine yawn. The contrast between the ill-assorted eyes and
grinning mouth gave Samanon a passably ferocious air; and the very
bristles on the man's chin looked stiff and sharp as pins.
Nor was there the slightest sign about him of any desire to redeem a
sinister appearance by attention to the toilet; his threadbare jacket
was all but dropping to pieces; a cravat, which had once been black,
was frayed by contact with a stubble chin, and left on exhibition a
throat as wrinkled as a turkey-gobbler's.
This was the individual whom Etienne and Lucien discovered in his
filthy counting-house, busily affixing tickets to the backs of a
parcel of books from a recent sale. In a glance, the friends exchanged
the innumerable questions raised by the existence of such a creature;
then they presented Gabusson's introduction and Fendant and Cavalier's
bills. Samanon was still reading the note when a third comer entered,
the wearer of a short jacket, which seemed in the dimly-lighted shop
to be cut out of a piece of zinc roofing, so solid was it by reason of
alloy with all kinds of foreign matter. Oddly attired as he was, the
man was an artist of no small intellectual power, and ten years later
he was destined to assist in the inauguration of the great but
ill-founded Saint-Simonian system.
"I want my coat, my black trousers, and satin waistcoat," said this
person, pressing a numbered ticket on Samanon's attention. Samanon
touched the brass button of a bell-pull, and a woman came down from
some upper region, a Normande apparently, to judge by her rich, fresh
"Let the gentleman have his clothes," said Samanon, holding out a hand
to the newcomer. "It's a pleasure to do business with you, sir; but
that youngster whom one of your friends introduced to me took me in
"Took _him_ in!" chuckled the newcomer, pointing out Samanon to the two
journalists with an extremely comical gesture. The great man dropped
thirty sous into the money-lender's yellow, wrinkled hand; like the
Neapolitan _lazzaroni_, he was taking his best clothes out of pawn for a
state occasion. The coins dropped jingling into the till.
"What queer business are you up to?" asked Lousteau of the artist, an
opium-eater who dwelt among visions of enchanted palaces till he
either could not or would not create.
"_He_ lends you a good deal more than an ordinary pawnbroker on anything
you pledge; and, besides, he is so awfully charitable, he allows you
to take your clothes out when you must have something to wear. I am
going to dine with the Kellers and my mistress to-night," he
continued; "and to me it is easier to find thirty sous than two
hundred francs, so I keep my wardrobe here. It has brought the
charitable usurer a hundred francs in the last six months. Samanon has
devoured my library already, volume by volume" (_livre a livre_).
"And sou by sou," Lousteau said with a laugh.
"I will let you have fifteen hundred francs," said Samanon, looking
Lucien started, as if the bill-broker had thrust a red-hot skewer
through his heart. Samanon was subjecting the bills and their dates to
a close scrutiny.
"And even then," he added, "I must see Fendant first. He ought to
deposit some books with me. You aren't worth much" (turning to
Lucien); "you are living with Coralie, and your furniture has been
Lousteau, watching Lucien, saw him take up his bills, and dash out
into the street. "He is the devil himself!" exclaimed the poet. For
several seconds he stood outside gazing at the shop front. The whole
place was so pitiful, that a passer-by could not see it without
smiling at the sight, and wondering what kind of business a man could
do among those mean, dirty shelves of ticketed books.
A very few moments later, the great man, in incognito, came out, very
well dressed, smiled at his friends, and turned to go with them in the
direction of the Passage des Panoramas, where he meant to complete his
toilet by the polishing of his boots.
"If you see Samanon in a bookseller's shop, or calling on a
paper-merchant or a printer, you may know that it is all over with
that man," said the artist. "Samanon is the undertaker come to take
the measurements for a coffin."
"You won't discount your bills now, Lucien," said Etienne.
"If Samanon will not take them, nobody else will; he is the _ultima
ratio_," said the stranger. "He is one of Gigonnet's lambs, a spy for
Palma, Werbrust, Gobseck, and the rest of those crocodiles who swim in
the Paris money-market. Every man with a fortune to make, or unmake,
is sure to come across one of them sooner or later."
"If you cannot discount your bills at fifty per cent," remarked
Lousteau, "you must exchange them for hard cash."
"Give them to Coralie; Camusot will cash them for her.--You are
disgusted," added Lousteau, as Lucien cut him short with a start.
"What nonsense! How can you allow such a silly scruple to turn the
scale, when your future is in the balance?"
"I shall take this money to Coralie in any case," began Lucien.
"Here is more folly!" cried Lousteau. "You will not keep your
creditors quiet with four hundred francs when you must have four
thousand. Let us keep a little and get drunk on it, if we lose the
rest at _rouge et noir_."
"That is sound advice," said the great man.
Those words, spoken not four paces from Frascati's, were magnetic in
their effect. The friends dismissed their cab and went up to the
At the outset they won three thousand francs, then they lost and fell
to five hundred; again they won three thousand seven hundred francs,
and again they lost all but a five-franc piece. After another turn of
luck they staked two thousand francs on an even number to double the
stake at a stroke; an even number had not turned up for five times in
succession, and this was the sixth time. They punted the whole sum,
and an odd number turned up once more.
After two hours of all-absorbing, frenzied excitement, the two dashed
down the staircase with the hundred francs kept back for the dinner.
Upon the steps, between two pillars which support the little
sheet-iron veranda to which so many eyes have been upturned in longing
or despair, Lousteau stopped and looked into Lucien's flushed, excited
"Let us just try fifty francs," he said.
And up the stairs again they went. An hour later they owned a thousand
crowns. Black had turned up for the fifth consecutive time; they
trusted that their previous luck would not repeat itself, and put the
whole sum on the red--black turned up for the sixth time. They had
lost. It was now six o'clock.
"Let us just try twenty-five francs," said Lucien.
The new venture was soon made--and lost. The twenty-five francs went
in five stakes. Then Lucien, in a frenzy, flung down his last
twenty-five francs on the number of his age, and won. No words can
describe how his hands trembled as he raked in the coins which the
bank paid him one by one. He handed ten louis to Lousteau.
"Fly!" he cried; "take it to Very's."
Lousteau took the hint and went to order dinner. Lucien, left alone,
laid his thirty louis on the red and won. Emboldened by the inner
voice which a gambler always hears, he staked the whole again on the
red, and again he won. He felt as if there were a furnace within him.
Without heeding the voice, he laid a hundred and twenty louis on the
black and lost. Then to the torturing excitement of suspense succeeded
the delicious feeling of relief known to the gambler who has nothing
left to lose, and must perforce leave the palace of fire in which his
dreams melt and vanish.
He found Lousteau at Very's, and flung himself upon the cookery (to
make use of Lafontaine's expression), and drowned his cares in wine.
By nine o'clock his ideas were so confused that he could not imagine
why the portress in the Rue de Vendome persisted in sending him to the
Rue de la Lune.
"Mlle. Coralie has gone," said the woman. "She has taken lodgings
elsewhere. She left her address with me on this scrap of paper."
Lucien was too far gone to be surprised at anything. He went back to
the cab which had brought him, and was driven to the Rue de la Lune,
making puns to himself on the name of the street as he went.
The news of the failure of the Panorama-Dramatique had come like a
thunder-clap. Coralie, taking alarm, made haste to sell her furniture
(with the consent of her creditors) to little old Cardot, who
installed Florentine in the rooms at once. The tradition of the house
remained unbroken. Coralie paid her creditors and satisfied the
landlord, proceeding with her "washing-day," as she called it, while
Berenice bought the absolutely indispensable necessaries to furnish a
fourth-floor lodging in the Rue de la Lune, a few doors from the
Gymnase. Here Coralie was waiting for Lucien's return. She had brought
her love unsullied out of the shipwreck and twelve hundred francs.
Lucien, more than half intoxicated, poured out his woes to Coralie and
"You did quite right, my angel," said Coralie, with her arms about his
neck. "Berenice can easily negotiate your bills with Braulard."
The next morning Lucien awoke to an enchanted world of happiness made
about him by Coralie. She was more loving and tender in those days
than she had ever been; perhaps she thought that the wealth of love in
her heart should make him amends for the poverty of their lodging. She
looked bewitchingly charming, with the loose hair straying from under
the crushed white silk handkerchief about her head; there was soft
laughter in her eyes; her words were as bright as the first rays of
sunrise that shone in through the windows, pouring a flood of gold
upon such charming poverty.
Not that the room was squalid. The walls were covered with a sea-green
paper, bordered with red; there was one mirror over the chimney-piece,
and a second above the chest of drawers. The bare boards were covered
with a cheap carpet, which Berenice had bought in spite of Coralie's
orders, and paid for out of her own little store. A wardrobe, with a
glass door and a chest, held the lovers' clothing, the mahogany chairs
were covered with blue cotton stuff, and Berenice had managed to save
a clock and a couple of china vases from the catastrophe, as well as
four spoons and forks and half-a-dozen little spoons. The bedroom was
entered from the dining-room, which might have belonged to a clerk
with an income of twelve hundred francs. The kitchen was next the
landing, and Berenice slept above in an attic. The rent was not more
than a hundred crowns.
The dismal house boasted a sham carriage entrance, the porter's box
being contrived behind one of the useless leaves of the gate, and
lighted by a peephole through which that personage watched the comings
and goings of seventeen families, for this hive was a "good-paying
property," in auctioneer's phrase.
Lucien, looking round the room, discovered a desk, an easy-chair,
paper, pens, and ink. The sight of Berenice in high spirits (she was
building hopes on Coralie's _debut_ at the Gymnase), and of Coralie
herself conning her part with a knot of blue ribbon tied about it,
drove all cares and anxieties from the sobered poet's mind.
"So long as nobody in society hears of this sudden comedown, we shall
pull through," he said. "After all, we have four thousand five hundred
francs before us. I will turn my new position in Royalist journalism
to account. To-morrow we shall start the _Reveil_; I am an old hand now,
and I will make something out."
And Coralie, seeing nothing but love in the words, kissed the lips
that uttered them. By this time Berenice had set the table near the
fire and served a modest breakfast of scrambled eggs, a couple of
cutlets, coffee, and cream. Just then there came a knock at the door,
and Lucien, to his astonishment, beheld three of his loyal friends of
old days--d'Arthez, Leon Giraud, and Michel Chrestien. He was deeply
touched, and asked them to share the breakfast.
"No; we have come on more serious business than condolence," said
d'Arthez; "we know the whole story, we have just come from the Rue de
Vendome. You know my opinions, Lucien. Under any other circumstances I
should be glad to hear that you had adopted my political convictions;
but situated as you are with regard to the Liberal Press, it is
impossible for you to go over to the Ultras. Your life will be
sullied, your character blighted for ever. We have come to entreat you
in the name of our friendship, weakened though it may be, not to soil
yourself in this way. You have been prominent in attacking the
Romantics, the Right, and the Government; you cannot now declare for
the Government; the Right, and the Romantics."
"My reasons for the change are based on lofty grounds; the end will
justify the means," said Lucien.
"Perhaps you do not fully comprehend our position on the side of the
Government," said Leon Giraud. "The Government, the Court, the
Bourbons, the Absolutist Party, or to sum up in the general
expression, the whole system opposed to the constitutional system, may
be divided upon the question of the best means of extinguishing the
Revolution, but is unanimous as to the advisability of extinguishing
the newspapers. The _Reveil_, the _Foudre_, and the _Drapeau Blanc_ have
all been founded for the express purpose of replying to the slander,
gibes, and railing of the Liberal press. I cannot approve them, for it
is precisely this failure to recognize the grandeur of our priesthood
that has led us to bring out a serious and self-respecting paper;
which perhaps," he added parenthetically, "may exercise a worthy
influence before very long, and win respect, and carry weight; but
this Royalist artillery is destined for a first attempt at reprisals,
the Liberals are to be paid back in their own coin--shaft for shaft,
wound for wound.
"What can come of it Lucien? The majority of newspaper readers incline
for the Left; and in the press, as in warfare, the victory is with the
big battalions. You will be blackguards, liars, enemies of the people;
the other side will be defenders of their country, martyrs, men to be
held in honor, though they may be even more hypocritical and slippery
than their opponents. In these ways the pernicious influence of the
press will be increased, while the most odious form of journalism will
receive sanction. Insult and personalities will become a recognized
privilege of the press; newspapers have taken this tone in the
subscribers' interests; and when both sides have recourse to the same
weapons, the standard is set and the general tone of journalism taken
for granted. When the evil is developed to its fullest extent,
restrictive laws will be followed by prohibitions; there will be a
return of the censorship of the press imposed after the assassination
of the Duc de Berri, and repealed since the opening of the Chambers.
And do you know what the nation will conclude from the debate? The
people will believe the insinuations of the Liberal press; they will
think that the Bourbons mean to attack the rights of property acquired
by the Revolution, and some fine day they will rise and shake off the
Bourbons. You are not only soiling your life, Lucien, you are going
over to the losing side. You are too young, too lately a journalist,
too little initiated into the secret springs of motive and the tricks
of the craft, you have aroused too much jealousy, not to fall a victim
to the general hue and cry that will be raised against you in the
Liberal newspapers. You will be drawn into the fray by party spirit
now still at fever-heat; though the fever, which spent itself in
violence in 1815 and 1816, now appears in debates in the Chamber and
polemics in the papers."
"I am not quite a featherhead, my friends," said Lucien, "though you
may choose to see a poet in me. Whatever may happen, I shall gain one
solid advantage which no Liberal victory can give me. By the time your
victory is won, I shall have gained my end."
"We will cut off--your hair," said Michel Chrestien, with a laugh.
"I shall have my children by that time," said Lucien; "and if you cut
off my head, it will not matter."
The three could make nothing of Lucien. Intercourse with the great
world had developed in him the pride of caste, the vanities of the
aristocrat. The poet thought, and not without reason, that there was a
fortune in his good looks and intellect, accompanied by the name and
title of Rubempre. Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton held him fast by
this clue, as a child holds a cockchafer by a string. Lucien's flight
was circumscribed. The words, "He is one of us, he is sound,"
accidentally overheard but three days ago in Mlle. de Touches' salon,
had turned his head. The Duc de Lenoncourt, the Duc de Navarreins, the
Duc de Grandlieu, Rastignac, Blondet, the lovely Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, the Comte d'Escrignon, and des Lupeaulx, all the most
influential people at Court in fact, had congratulated him on his
conversion, and completed his intoxication.
"Then there is no more to be said," d'Arthez rejoined. "You, of all
men, will find it hard to keep clean hands and self-respect. I know
you, Lucien; you will feel it acutely when you are despised by the
very men to whom you offer yourself."
The three took leave, and not one of them gave him a friendly
handshake. Lucien was thoughtful and sad for a few minutes.
"Oh! never mind those ninnies," cried Coralie, springing upon his knee
and putting her beautiful arms about his neck. "They take life
seriously, and life is a joke. Besides, you are going to be Count
Lucien de Rubempre. I will wheedle the _Chancellerie_ if there is no
other way. I know how to come round that rake of a des Lupeaulx, who
will sign your patent. Did I not tell you, Lucien, that at the last
you should have Coralie's dead body for a stepping stone?"
Next day Lucien allowed his name to appear in the list of contributors
to the _Reveil_. His name was announced in the prospectus with a
flourish of trumpets, and the Ministry took care that a hundred
thousand copies should be scattered abroad far and wide. There was a
dinner at Robert's, two doors away from Frascati's, to celebrate the
inauguration, and the whole band of Royalist writers for the press
were present. Martainville was there, and Auger and Destains, and a
host of others, still living, who "did Monarchy and religion," to use
the familiar expression coined for them. Nathan had also enlisted
under the banner, for he was thinking of starting a theatre, and not
unreasonably held that it was better to have the licensing authorities
for him than against him.
"We will pay the Liberals out," cried Merlin.
"Gentlemen," said Nathan, "if we are for war, let us have war in
earnest; we must not carry it on with pop-guns. Let us fall upon all
Classicals and Liberals without distinction of age or sex, and put
them all to the sword with ridicule. There must be no quarter."
"We must act honorably; there must be no bribing with copies of books
or presents; no taking money of publishers. We must inaugurate a
Restoration of Journalism."
"Good!" said Martainville. "_Justum et tenacem propositi virum_! Let us
be implacable and virulent. I will give out La Fayette for the prince
of harlequins that he is!"
"And I will undertake the heroes of the _Constitutionnel_," added
Lucien; "Sergeant Mercier, M. Jouy's Complete Works, and 'the
illustrious orators of the Left.'"
A war of extermination was unanimously resolved upon, and by one
o'clock in the morning all shades of opinion were merged and drowned,
together with every glimmer of sense, in a flaming bowl of punch.
"We have had a fine Monarchical and Religious jollification," remarked
an illustrious reveler in the doorway as he went.
That comment appeared in the next day's issue of the _Miroir_ through
the good offices of a publisher among the guests, and became historic.
Lucien was supposed to be the traitor who blabbed. His defection gave
the signal for a terrific hubbub in the Liberal camp; Lucien was the
butt of the Opposition newspapers, and ridiculed unmercifully. The
whole history of his sonnets was given to the public. Dauriat was said
to prefer a first loss of a thousand crowns to the risk of publishing
the verses; Lucien was called "the Poet sans Sonnets;" and one
morning, in that very paper in which he had so brilliant a beginning,
he read the following lines, significant enough for him, but barely
intelligible to other readers:
*** "If M. Dauriat persistently withholds the Sonnets of the
future Petrarch from publication, we will act like generous foes.
We will open our own columns to his poems, which must be piquant
indeed, to judge by the following specimen obligingly communicated
by a friend of the author."
And close upon that ominous preface followed a sonnet entitled "The
Thistle" (_le Chardon)_:
A chance-come seedling, springing up one day
Among the flowers in a garden fair,
Made boast that splendid colors bright and rare
Its claims to lofty lineage should display.
So for a while they suffered it to stay;
But with such insolence it flourished there,
That, out of patience with its braggart's air,
They bade it prove its claims without delay.
It bloomed forthwith; but ne'er was blundering clown
Upon the boards more promptly hooted down;
The sister flowers began to jeer and laugh.
The owner flung it out. At close of day
A solitary jackass came to bray--
A common Thistle's fitting epitaph.
Lucien read the words through scalding tears.
Vernou touched elsewhere on Lucien's gambling propensities, and spoke
of the forthcoming _Archer of Charles IX._ as "anti-national" in its
tendency, the writer siding with Catholic cut-throats against their
Another week found the quarrel embittered. Lucien had counted upon his
friend Etienne; Etienne owed him a thousand francs, and there had been
besides a private understanding between them; but Etienne Lousteau
during the interval became his sworn foe, and this was the manner of
For the past three months Nathan had been smitten with Florine's
charms, and much at a loss how to rid himself of Lousteau his rival,
who was in fact dependent upon the actress. And now came Nathan's
opportunity, when Florine was frantic with distress over the failure
of the Panorama-Dramatique, which left her without an engagement. He
went as Lucien's colleague to beg Coralie to ask for a part for
Florine in a play of his which was about to be produced at the
Gymnase. Then Nathan went to Florine and made capital with her out of
the service done by the promise of a conditional engagement. Ambition
turned Florine's head; she did not hesitate. She had had time to gauge
Lousteau pretty thoroughly. Lousteau's courses were weakening his
will, and here was Nathan with his ambitions in politics and
literature, and energies strong as his cravings. Florine proposed to
reappear on the stage with renewed eclat, so she handed over Matifat's
correspondence to Nathan. Nathan drove a bargain for them with
Matifat, and took the sixth share of Finot's review in exchange for
the compromising billets. After this, Florine was installed in
sumptuously furnished apartments in the Rue Hauteville, where she took
Nathan for her protector in the face of the theatrical and
Lousteau was terribly overcome. He wept (towards the close of a dinner
given by his friends to console him in his affliction). In the course
of that banquet it was decided that Nathan had not acted unfairly;
several writers present--Finot and Vernou, for instance,--knew of
Florine's fervid admiration for dramatic literature; but they all
agreed that Lucien had behaved very ill when he arranged that business
at the Gymnase; he had indeed broken the most sacred laws of
friendship. Party-spirit and zeal to serve his new friends had led the
Royalist poet on to sin beyond forgiveness.
"Nathan was carried away by passion," pronounced Bixiou, "while this
'distinguished provincial,' as Blondet calls him, is simply scheming
for his own selfish ends."
And so it came to pass that deep plots were laid by all parties alike
to rid themselves of this little upstart intruder of a poet who wanted
to eat everybody up. Vernou bore Lucien a personal grudge, and
undertook to keep a tight hand on him; and Finot declared that Lucien
had betrayed the secret of the combination against Matifat, and
thereby swindled him (Finot) out of fifty thousand francs. Nathan,
acting on Florine's advice, gained Finot's support by selling him the
sixth share for fifteen thousand francs, and Lousteau consequently
lost his commission. His thousand crowns had vanished away; he could
not forgive Lucien for this treacherous blow (as he supposed it) dealt
to his interests. The wounds of vanity refuse to heal if oxide of
silver gets into them.
No words, no amount of description, can depict the wrath of an author
in a paroxysm of mortified vanity, nor the energy which he discovers
when stung by the poisoned darts of sarcasm; but, on the other hand,
the man that is roused to fighting-fury by a personal attack usually
subsides very promptly. The more phlegmatic race, who take these
things quietly, lay their account with the oblivion which speedily
overtakes the spiteful article. These are the truly courageous men of
letters; and if the weaklings seem at first to be the strong men, they
cannot hold out for any length of time.
During that first fortnight, while the fury was upon him, Lucien
poured a perfect hailstorm of articles into the Royalist papers, in
which he shared the responsibilities of criticism with Hector Merlin.
He was always in the breach, pounding away with all his might in the
_Reveil_, backed up by Martainville, the only one among his associates
who stood by him without an afterthought. Martainville was not in the
secret of certain understandings made and ratified amid after-dinner
jokes, or at Dauriat's in the Wooden Galleries, or behind the scenes
at the Vaudeville, when journalists of either side met on neutral
When Lucien went to the greenroom of the Vaudeville, he met with no
welcome; the men of his own party held out a hand to shake, the others
cut him; and all the while Hector Merlin and Theodore Gaillard
fraternized unblushingly with Finot, Lousteau, and Vernou, and the
rest of the journalists who were known for "good fellows."
The greenroom of the Vaudeville in those days was a hotbed of gossip,
as well as a neutral ground where men of every shade of opinion could
meet; so much so that the President of a court of law, after reproving
a learned brother in a certain council chamber for "sweeping the
greenroom with his gown," met the subject of his strictures, gown to
gown, in the greenroom of the Vaudeville. Lousteau, in time, shook
hands again with Nathan; Finot came thither almost every evening; and
Lucien, whenever he could spare the time, went to the Vaudeville to
watch the enemies, who showed no sign of relenting towards the
In the time of the Restoration party hatred was far more bitter than
in our day. Intensity of feeling is diminished in our high-pressure
age. The critic cuts a book to pieces and shakes hands with the author
afterwards, and the victim must keep on good terms with his
slaughterer, or run the gantlet of innumerable jokes at his expense.
If he refuses, he is unsociable, eaten up with self-love, he is sulky
and rancorous, he bears malice, he is a bad bed-fellow. To-day let an
author receive a treacherous stab in the back, let him avoid the
snares set for him with base hypocrisy, and endure the most unhandsome
treatment, he must still exchange greetings with his assassin, who,
for that matter, claims the esteem and friendship of his victim.
Everything can be excused and justified in an age which has
transformed vice into virtue and virtue into vice. Good-fellowship has
come to be the most sacred of our liberties; the representatives of
the most opposite opinions courteously blunt the edge of their words,
and fence with buttoned foils. But in those almost forgotten days the
same theatre could scarcely hold certain Royalist and Liberal
journalists; the most malignant provocation was offered, glances were
like pistol-shots, the least spark produced an explosion of quarrel.
Who has not heard his neighbor's half-smothered oath on the entrance
of some man in the forefront of the battle on the opposing side? There
were but two parties--Royalists and Liberals, Classics and Romantics.
You found the same hatred masquerading in either form, and no longer
wondered at the scaffolds of the Convention.
Lucien had been a Liberal and a hot Voltairean; now he was a rabid
Royalist and a Romantic. Martainville, the only one among his
colleagues who really liked him and stood by him loyally, was more
hated by the Liberals than any man on the Royalist side, and this fact
drew down all the hate of the Liberals on Lucien's head.
Martainville's staunch friendship injured Lucien. Political parties
show scanty gratitude to outpost sentinels, and leave leaders of
forlorn hopes to their fate; 'tis a rule of warfare which holds
equally good in matters political, to keep with the main body of the
army if you mean to succeed. The spite of the small Liberal papers
fastened at once on the opportunity of coupling the two names, and
flung them into each other's arms. Their friendship, real or
imaginary, brought down upon them both a series of articles written by
pens dipped in gall. Felicien Vernou was furious with jealousy of
Lucien's social success; and believed, like all his old associates, in
the poet's approaching elevation.
The fiction of Lucien's treason was embellished with every kind of
aggravating circumstance; he was called Judas the Less, Martainville
being Judas the Great, for Martainville was supposed (rightly or
wrongly) to have given up the Bridge of Pecq to the foreign invaders.
Lucien said jestingly to des Lupeaulx that he himself, surely, had
given up the Asses' Bridge.
Lucien's luxurious life, hollow though it was, and founded on
expectations, had estranged his friends. They could not forgive him
for the carriage which he had put down--for them he was still rolling
about in it--nor yet for the splendors of the Rue de Vendome which he
had left. All of them felt instinctively that nothing was beyond the
reach of this young and handsome poet, with intellect enough and to
spare; they themselves had trained him in corruption; and, therefore,
they left no stone unturned to ruin him.
Some few days before Coralie's first appearance at the Gymnase, Lucien
and Hector Merlin went arm-in-arm to the Vaudeville. Merlin was
scolding his friend for giving a helping hand to Nathan in Florine's
"You then and there made two mortal enemies of Lousteau and Nathan,"
he said. "I gave you good advice, and you took no notice of it. You
gave praise, you did them a good turn--you will be well punished for
your kindness. Florine and Coralie will never live in peace on the
same stage; both will wish to be first. You can only defend Coralie in
our papers; and Nathan not only has a pull as a dramatic author, he
can control the dramatic criticism in the Liberal newspapers. He has
been a journalist a little longer than you!"
The words responded to Lucien's inward misgivings. Neither Nathan nor
Gaillard was treating him with the frankness which he had a right to
expect, but so new a convert could hardly complain. Gaillard utterly
confounded Lucien by saying roundly that newcomers must give proofs of
their sincerity for some time before their party could trust them.
There was more jealousy than he had imagined in the inner circles of
Royalist and Ministerial journalism. The jealousy of curs fighting for
a bone is apt to appear in the human species when there is a loaf to
divide; there is the same growling and showing of teeth, the same
characteristics come out.
In every possible way these writers of articles tried to injure each
other with those in power; they brought reciprocal accusations of
lukewarm zeal; they invented the most treacherous ways of getting rid
of a rival. There had been none of this internecine warfare among the
Liberals; they were too far from power, too hopelessly out of favor;
and Lucien, amid the inextricable tangle of ambitions, had neither the
courage to draw sword and cut the knot, or the patience to unravel it.
He could not be the Beaumarchais, the Aretino, the Freron of his
epoch; he was not made of such stuff; he thought of nothing but his
one desire, the patent of nobility; for he saw clearly that for him
such a restoration meant a wealthy marriage, and, the title once
secured, chance and his good looks would do the rest. This was all his
plan, and Etienne Lousteau, who had confided so much to him, knew his
secret, knew how to deal a deathblow to the poet of Angouleme. That
very night, as Lucien and Merlin went to the Vaudeville, Etienne had
laid a terrible trap, into which an inexperienced boy could not but
"Here is our handsome Lucien," said Finot, drawing des Lupeaulx in the
direction of the poet, and shaking hands with feline amiability. "I
cannot think of another example of such rapid success," continued
Finot, looking from des Lupeaulx to Lucien. "There are two sorts of
success in Paris: there is a fortune in solid cash, which any one can
amass, and there is the intangible fortune of connections, position,
or a footing in certain circles inaccessible for certain persons,
however rich they may be. Now my friend here----"
"Our friend," interposed des Lupeaulx, smiling blandly.
"Our friend," repeated Finot, patting Lucien's hand, "has made a
brilliant success from this point of view. Truth to tell, Lucien has
more in him, more gift, more wit than the rest of us that envy him,
and he is enchantingly handsome besides; his old friends cannot
forgive him for his success--they call it luck."
"Luck of that sort never comes to fools or incapables," said des
Lupeaulx. "Can you call Bonaparte's fortune luck, eh? There were a
score of applicants for the command of the army in Italy, just as
there are a hundred young men at this moment who would like to have an
entrance to Mlle. des Touches' house; people are coupling her name
with yours already in society, my dear boy," said des Lupeaulx,
clapping Lucien on the shoulder. "Ah! you are in high favor. Mme.
d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Mme. de Montcornet are wild about you.
You are going to Mme. Firmiani's party to-night, are you not, and to
the Duchesse de Grandlieu's rout to-morrow?"
"Yes," said Lucien.
"Allow me to introduce a young banker to you, a M. du Tillet; you
ought to be acquainted, he has contrived to make a great fortune in a
Lucien and du Tillet bowed, and entered into conversation, and the
banker asked Lucien to dinner. Finot and des Lupeaulx, a well-matched
pair, knew each other well enough to keep upon good terms; they turned
away to continue their chat on one of the sofas in the greenroom, and
left Lucien with du Tillet, Merlin, and Nathan.
"By the way, my friend," said Finot, "tell me how things stand. Is
there really somebody behind Lucien? For he is the _bete noire_ of my
staff; and before allowing them to plot against him, I thought I
should like to know whether, in your opinion, it would be better to
baffle them and keep well with him."
The Master of Requests and Finot looked at each other very closely for
a moment or two.
"My dear fellow," said des Lupeaulx, "how can you imagine that the
Marquise d'Espard, or Chatelet, or Mme. de Bargeton--who has procured
the Baron's nomination to the prefecture and the title of Count, so as
to return in triumph to Angouleme--how can you suppose that any of
them will forgive Lucien for his attacks on them? They dropped him
down in the Royalist ranks to crush him out of existence. At this
moment they are looking round for any excuse for not fulfilling the
promises they made to that boy. Help them to some; you will do the
greatest possible service to the two women, and some day or other they
will remember it. I am in their secrets; I was surprised to find how
much they hated the little fellow. This Lucien might have rid himself
of his bitterest enemy (Mme. de Bargeton) by desisting from his
attacks on terms which a woman loves to grant--do you take me? He is
young and handsome, he should have drowned her hate in torrents of
love, he would be Comte de Rubempre by this time; the Cuttlefish-bone
would have obtained some sinecure for him, some post in the Royal
Household. Lucien would have made a very pretty reader to Louis
XVIII.; he might have been librarian somewhere or other, Master of
Requests for a joke, Master of Revels, what you please. The young fool
has missed his chance. Perhaps that is his unpardonable sin. Instead
of imposing his conditions, he has accepted them. When Lucien was
caught with the bait of the patent of nobility, the Baron Chatelet
made a great step. Coralie has been the ruin of that boy. If he had
not had the actress for his mistress, he would have turned again to
the Cuttlefish-bone; and he would have had her too."
"Then we can knock him over?"
"How?" des Lupeaulx asked carelessly. He saw a way of gaining credit
with the Marquise d'Espard for this service.
"He is under contract to write for Lousteau's paper, and we can the
better hold him to his agreement because he has not a sou. If we
tickle up the Keeper of the Seals with a facetious article, and prove
that Lucien wrote it, he will consider that Lucien is unworthy of the
King's favor. We have a plot on hand besides. Coralie will be ruined,
and our distinguished provincial will lose his head when his mistress
is hissed off the stage and left without an engagement. When once the
patent is suspended, we will laugh at the victim's aristocratic
pretensions, and allude to his mother the nurse and his father the
apothecary. Lucien's courage is only skindeep, he will collapse; we
will send him back to his provinces. Nathan made Florine sell me
Matifat's sixth share of the review, I was able to buy; Dauriat and I
are the only proprietors now; we might come to an understanding, you
and I, and the review might be taken over for the benefit of the
Court. I stipulated for the restitution of my sixth before I undertook
to protect Nathan and Florine; they let me have it, and I must help
them; but I wished to know first how Lucien stood----"
"You deserve your name," said des Lupeaulx. "I like a man of your
"Very well. Then can you arrange a definite engagement for Florine?"
"Yes, but rid us of Lucien, for Rastignac and de Marsay never wish to
hear of him again."
"Sleep in peace," returned Finot. "Nathan and Merlin will always have
articles ready for Gaillard, who will promise to take them; Lucien
will never get a line into the paper. We will cut off his supplies.
There is only Martainville's paper left him in which to defend himself
and Coralie; what can a single paper do against so many?"
"I will let you know the weak points of the Ministry; but get Lucien
to write that article and hand over the manuscript," said des
Lupeaulx, who refrained carefully from informing Finot that Lucien's
promised patent was nothing but a joke.
When des Lupeaulx had gone, Finot went to Lucien, and taking the
good-natured tone which deceives so many victims, he explained that
he could not possibly afford to lose his contributor, and at the same
time he shrank from taking proceedings which might ruin him with his
friends of the other side. Finot himself liked a man who was strong
enough to change his opinions. They were pretty sure to come across
one another, he and Lucien, and might be mutually helpful in a
thousand little ways. Lucien, besides, needed a sure man in the
Liberal party to attack the Ultras and men in office who might refuse
to help him.
"Suppose that they play you false, what will you do?" Finot ended.
"Suppose that some Minister fancies that he has you fast by the halter
of your apostasy, and turns the cold shoulder on you? You will be glad
to set on a few dogs to snap at his legs, will you not? Very well. But
you have made a deadly enemy of Lousteau; he is thirsting for your
blood. You and Felicien are not on speaking terms. I only remain to
you. It is a rule of the craft to keep a good understanding with every
man of real ability. In the world which you are about to enter you can
do me services in return for mine with the press. But business first.
Let me have purely literary articles; they will not compromise you,
and we shall have executed our agreement."
Lucien saw nothing but good-fellowship and a shrewd eye to business in
Finot's offer; Finot and des Lupeaulx had flattered him, and he was in
a good humor. He actually thanked Finot!
Ambitious men, like all those who can only make their way by the help
of others and of circumstances, are bound to lay their plans very
carefully and to adhere very closely to the course of conduct on which
they determine; it is a cruel moment in the lives of such aspirants
when some unknown power brings the fabric of their fortunes to some
severe test and everything gives way at once; threads are snapped or
entangled, and misfortune appears on every side. Let a man lose his
head in the confusion, it is all over with him; but if he can resist
this first revolt of circumstances, if he can stand erect until the
tempest passes over, or make a supreme effort and reach the serene
sphere about the storm--then he is really strong. To every man, unless
he is born rich, there comes sooner or later "his fatal week," as it
must be called. For Napoleon, for instance, that week was the Retreat
from Moscow. It had begun now for Lucien.
Social and literary success had come to him too easily; he had had
such luck that he was bound to know reverses and to see men and
circumstances turn against him.
The first blow was the heaviest and the most keenly felt, for it
touched Lucien where he thought himself invulnerable--in his heart and
his love. Coralie might not be clever, but hers was a noble nature,
and she possessed the great actress' faculty of suddenly standing
aloof from self. This strange phenomenon is subject, until it
degenerates into a habit with long practice, to the caprices of
character, and not seldom to an admirable delicacy of feeling in
actresses who are still young. Coralie, to all appearance bold and
wanton, as the part required, was in reality girlish and timid, and
love had wrought in her a revulsion of her woman's heart against the
comedian's mask. Art, the supreme art of feigning passion and feeling,
had not yet triumphed over nature in her; she shrank before a great
audience from the utterance that belongs to Love alone; and Coralie
suffered besides from another true woman's weakness--she needed
success, born stage queen though she was. She could not confront an
audience with which she was out of sympathy; she was nervous when she
appeared on the stage, a cold reception paralyzed her. Each new part
gave her the terrible sensations of a first appearance. Applause
produced a sort of intoxication which gave her encouragement without
flattering her vanity; at a murmur of dissatisfaction or before a
silent house, she flagged; but a great audience following attentively,
admiringly, willing to be pleased, electrified Coralie. She felt at
once in communication with the nobler qualities of all those
listeners; she felt that she possessed the power of stirring their
souls and carrying them with her. But if this action and reaction of
the audience upon the actress reveals the nervous organization of
genius, it shows no less clearly the poor child's sensitiveness and
delicacy. Lucien had discovered the treasures of her nature; had
learned in the past months that this woman who loved him was still so
much of a girl. And Coralie was unskilled in the wiles of an actress
--she could not fight her own battles nor protect herself against the
machinations of jealousy behind the scenes. Florine was jealous of
her, and Florine was as dangerous and depraved as Coralie was simple
and generous. Roles must come to find Coralie; she was too proud to
implore authors or to submit to dishonoring conditions; she would not
give herself to the first journalist who persecuted her with his
advances and threatened her with his pen. Genius is rare enough in the
extraordinary art of the stage; but genius is only one condition of
success among many, and is positively hurtful unless it is accompanied
by a genius for intrigue in which Coralie was utterly lacking.
Lucien knew how much his friend would suffer on her first appearance
at the Gymnase, and was anxious at all costs to obtain a success for
her; but all the money remaining from the sale of the furniture and
all Lucien's earnings had been sunk in costumes, in the furniture of a
dressing-room, and the expenses of a first appearance.
A few days later, Lucien made up his mind to a humiliating step for
love's sake. He took Fendant and Cavalier's bills, and went to the
_Golden Cocoon_ in the Rue des Bourdonnais. He would ask Camusot to
discount them. The poet had not fallen so low that he could make this
attempt quite coolly. There had been many a sharp struggle first, and
the way to that decision had been paved with many dreadful thoughts.
Nevertheless, he arrived at last in the dark, cheerless little private
office that looked out upon a yard, and found Camusot seated gravely
there; this was not Coralie's infatuated adorer, not the easy-natured,
indolent, incredulous libertine whom he had known hitherto as Camusot,
but a heavy father of a family, a merchant grown old in shrewd
expedients of business and respectable virtues, wearing a magistrate's
mask of judicial prudery; this Camusot was the cool, business-like
head of the firm surrounded by clerks, green cardboard boxes,
pigeonholes, invoices, and samples, and fortified by the presence of a
wife and a plainly-dressed daughter. Lucien trembled from head to foot
as he approached; for the worthy merchant, like the money-lenders,
turned cool, indifferent eyes upon him.
"Here are two or three bills, monsieur," he said, standing beside the
merchant, who did not rise from his desk. "If you will take them of
me, you will oblige me extremely."
"You have taken something of _me_, monsieur," said Camusot; "I do not
On this, Lucien explained Coralie's predicament. He spoke in a low
voice, bending to murmur his explanation, so that Camusot could hear
the heavy throbbing of the humiliated poet's heart. It was no part of
Camusot's plans that Coralie should suffer a check. He listened,
smiling to himself over the signatures on the bills (for, as a judge
at the Tribunal of Commerce, he knew how the booksellers stood), but
in the end he gave Lucien four thousand five hundred francs for them,
stipulating that he should add the formula "For value received in
Lucien went straight to Braulard, and made arrangements for a good
reception. Braulard promised to come to the dress-rehearsal, to
determine on the points where his "Romans" should work their fleshy
clappers to bring down the house in applause. Lucien gave the rest of
the money to Coralie (he did not tell her how he had come by it), and
allayed her anxieties and the fears of Berenice, who was sorely
troubled over their daily expenses.
Martainville came several times to hear Coralie rehearse, and he knew
more of the stage than most men of his time; several Royalist writers
had promised favorable articles; Lucien had not a suspicion of the
A fatal event occurred on the evening before Coralie's _debut_.
D'Arthez's book had appeared; and the editor of Merlin's paper,
considering Lucien to be the best qualified man on the staff, gave him
the book to review. He owed his unlucky reputation to those articles
on Nathan's work. There were several men in the office at the time,
for all the staff had been summoned; Martainville was explaining that
the party warfare with the Liberals must be waged on certain lines.
Nathan, Merlin, all the contributors, in fact, were talking of Leon
Giraud's paper, and remarking that its influence was the more
pernicious because the language was guarded, cool, moderate. People
were beginning to speak of the circle in the Rue des Quatre-Vents as a
second Convention. It had been decided that the Royalist papers were
to wage a systematic war of extermination against these dangerous
opponents, who, indeed, at a later day, were destined to sow the
doctrines that drove the Bourbons into exile; but that was only after
the most brilliant of Royalist writers had joined them for the sake of
a mean revenge.
D'Arthez's absolutist opinions were not known; it was taken for
granted that he shared the views of his clique, he fell under the same
anathema, and he was to be the first victim. His book was to be
honored with "a slashing article," to use the consecrated formula.
Lucien refused to write the article. Great was the commotion among the
leading Royalist writers thus met in conclave. Lucien was told plainly
that a renegade could not do as he pleased; if it did not suit his
views to take the side of the Monarchy and Religion, he could go back
to the other camp. Merlin and Martainville took him aside and begged
him, as his friends, to remember that he would simply hand Coralie
over to the tender mercies of the Liberal papers, for she would find
no champions on the Royalist and Ministerial side. Her acting was
certain to provoke a hot battle, and the kind of discussion which
every actress longs to arouse.
"You don't understand it in the least," said Martainville; "if she
plays for three months amid a cross-fire of criticism, she will make
thirty thousand francs when she goes on tour in the provinces at the
end of the season; and here are you about to sacrifice Coralie and
your own future, and to quarrel with your own bread and butter, all
for a scruple that will always stand in your way, and ought to be got
rid of at once."
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