The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 8
Arcis very much as a man of elegance is considered in Paris.
Externally this worthy seller of cotton hose seemed to be a personage;
for his wife had sense enough never to utter a word which could put
the public of Arcis on the scent of her disappointment and the utter
nullity of her husband, who, thanks to his smiles, his handsome dress,
and his manners, passed for a man of importance. People said that
Severine was so jealous of him that she prevented him from going out
in the evening, while in point of fact Phileas was bathing the roses
and lilies of his skin in happy slumber.
Beauvisage, who lived according to his tastes, pampered by his wife,
well served by his two servants, cajoled by his daughter, called
himself the happiest man in Arcis, and really was so. The feeling of
Severine for this nullity of a man never went beyond the protecting
pity of a mother for her child. She disguised the harshness of the
words she was frequently obliged to say to him by a joking manner. No
household was ever more tranquil; and the aversion Phileas felt for
society, where he went to sleep, and where he could not play cards
(being incapable of learning a game), had made Severine sole mistress
of her evenings.
Cecile's entrance now put an end to her father's embarrassment, and he
cried out heartily:--
"Hey! how fine we are!"
Madame Beauvisage turned round abruptly and cast a look upon her
daughter which made the girl blush.
"Cecile, who told you to dress yourself in that way?" she demanded.
"Are we not going to-night to Madame Marion's? I dressed myself now to
see if my new gown fitted me."
"Cecile! Cecile!" exclaimed Severine, "why do you try to deceive your
mother? It is not right; and I am not pleased with you--you are hiding
something from me."
"What has she done?" asked Beauvisage, delighted to see his daughter
so prettily dressed.
"What has she done? I shall tell her," said Madame Beauvisage, shaking
her finger at her only child.
Cecile flung herself on her mother's neck, kissing and coaxing her,
which is a means by which only daughters get their own way.
Cecile Beauvisage, a girl of nineteen, had put on a gown of gray silk
trimmed with gimp and tassels of a deeper shade of gray, making the
front of the gown look like a pelisse. The corsage, ornamented with
buttons and caps to the sleeves, ended in a point in front, and was
laced up behind like a corset. This species of corset defined the
back, the hips, and the bust perfectly. The skirt, trimmed with three
rows of fringe, fell in charming folds, showing by its cut and its
make the hand of a Parisian dressmaker. A pretty fichu edged with lace
covered her shoulders; around her throat was a pink silk neckerchief,
charmingly tied, and on her head was a straw hat ornamented with one
moss rose. Her hands were covered with black silk mittens, and her
feet were in bronze kid boots. This gala air, which gave her somewhat
the appearance of the pictures in a fashion-book, delighted her
Cecile was well made, of medium height, and perfectly
well-proportioned. She had braided her chestnut hair, according to
the fashion of 1839, in two thick plaits which followed the line of
the face and were fastened by their ends to the back of her head. Her
face, a fine oval, and beaming with health, was remarkable for an
aristocratic air which she certainly did not derive from either her
father or her mother. Her eyes, of a light brown, were totally devoid
of that gentle, calm, and almost timid expression natural to the eyes
of young girls. Lively, animated, and always well in health, Cecile
spoiled, by a sort of bourgeois matter-of-factness, and the manners of
a petted child, all that her person presented of romantic charm.
Still, a husband capable of reforming her education and effacing the
traces of provincial life, might still evolve from that living block a
charming woman of the world.
Madame Beauvisage had had the courage to bring up her daughter to good
principles; she had made herself employ a false severity which enabled
her to compel obedience and repress the little evil that existed in
the girl's soul. Mother and daughter had never been parted; thus
Cecile had, what is more rare in young girls than is generally
supposed, a purity of thought, a freshness of heart, and a naivete of
nature, real, complete, and flawless.
"Your dress is enough to make me reflect," said Madame Beauvisage.
"Did Simon Giguet say anything to you yesterday that you are hiding
"Dear mamma," said Cecile in her mother's ear, "he bores me; but there
is no one else for me in Arcis."
"You judge him rightly; but wait till your grandfather has given an
opinion," said Madame Beauvisage, kissing her daughter, whose reply
proved her good-sense, though it also revealed the breach made in her
innocence by the idea of marriage.
Severine was devoted to her father; she and her daughter allowed no
one but themselves to take charge of his linen; they knitted his socks
for him, and gave the most minute care to his comfort. Grevin knew
that no thought of self-interest had entered their affection; the
million they would probably inherit could not dry their tears at his
death; old men are very sensible to disinterested tenderness. Every
morning before going to see him, Madame Beauvisage and Cecile attended
to his dinner for the next day, sending him the best that the market
Madame Beauvisage had always desired that her father would present her
at the Chateau de Gondreville and connect her with the count's
daughters; but the wise old man explained, again and again, how
difficult it would be to have permanent relations with the Duchesse de
Carigliano, who lived in Paris and seldom came to Gondreville, or with
the brilliant Madame Keller, after doing a business in hosiery.
"Your life is lived," he said to his daughter; "find all your
enjoyments henceforth in Cecile, who will certainly be rich enough to
give you an existence as broad and high as you deserve. Choose a
son-in-law with ambition and means, and you can follow her to Paris and
leave that jackass Beauvisage behind you. If I live long enough to see
Cecile's husband I'll pilot you all on the sea of political interests,
as I once piloted others, and you will reach a position equal to that
of the Kellers."
These few words were said before the revolution of July, 1830. Grevin
desired to live that he might get under way the future grandeur of his
daughter, his grand-daughter, and his great-grandchildren. His
ambition extended to the third generation.
When he talked thus, the old man's idea was to marry Cecile to Charles
Keller; he was now grieving over that lost hope, uncertain where to
look in the future. Having no relations with Parisian society, and
seeing in the department of the Aube no other husband for Cecile than
the youthful Marquis de Cinq-Cygne, he was asking himself whether by
the power of gold he could surmount the animosities which the
revolution of July had roused between the royalists who were faithful
to their principles, and their conquerors. The happiness of his
grand-daughter seemed to him so doubtful if he delivered her into the
hands of the proud and haughty Marquise de Cinq-Cygne that he decided
in his own mind to trust to the friend of old age, Time. He hoped that
his bitter enemy the marquise might die, and, in that case, he thought
he could win the son through his grandfather, old d'Hauteserre, who was
then living at Cinq-Cygne and whom he knew to be accessible to the
persuasions of money.
If this plan failed, and Cecile Beauvisage remained unmarried, he
resolved as a last resort to consult his friend Gondreville, who
would, he believed, find his Cecile a husband, after his heart and his
ambition, among the dukes of the Empire.
Severine found her father seated on a wooden bench at the end of his
terrace, under a bower of lilacs then in bloom, and taking his coffee;
for it was half-past five in the afternoon. She saw, by the pain on
her father's face, that he had already heard the news. In fact, the
old count had sent a valet to his friend, begging him to come to him.
Up to the present time, old Grevin had endeavored not to encourage his
daughter's ambition too far; but now, in the midst of the
contradictory reflections which the melancholy death of Charles Keller
caused him, his secret escaped his lips.
"My dear child," he said to her, "I had formed the finest plans for
your future. Cecile was to have been Vicomtesse Keller, for Charles,
by my influence, would now have been selected deputy. Neither
Gondreville nor his daughter Madame Keller would have refused Cecile's
_dot_ of sixty thousand francs a year, especially with the prospect of
a hundred thousand more which she will some day have from you. You
would have lived in Paris with your daughter, and played your part of
mother-in-law in the upper regions of power."
Madame Beauvisage made a sign of satisfaction.
"But we are knocked down by the death of this charming young man, to
whom the prince royal had already given his friendship. Now this Simon
Giguet, who has thrust himself upon the scene, is a fool, and the
worst of all fools, for he thinks himself an eagle. You are, however,
too intimate with the Giguets and the Marion household not to put the
utmost politeness into your refusal--but you must refuse him."
"As usual, you and I are of the same opinion, father."
"You can say that I have otherwise disposed of Cecile's hand, and that
will cut short all preposterous pretensions like that of Antonin
Goulard. Little Vinet may offer himself, and he is preferable to the
others who are smelling after the _dot_; he has talent, and
shrewdness, and he belongs to the Chargeboeufs by his mother; but he
has too much character not to rule his wife, and he is young enough to
make himself loved. You would perish between two sentiments--for I
know you by heart, my child."
"I shall be much embarrassed this evening at the Marions' to know what
to say," remarked Severine.
"Well, then, my dear," said her father, "send Madame Marion to me;
I'll talk to her."
"I knew, father, that you were thinking of our future, but I had no
idea you expected it to be so brilliant," said Madame Beauvisage,
taking the hands of the old man and kissing them.
"I have pondered the matter so deeply," said Grevin, "that in 1831 I
bought the Beauseant mansion in Paris, which you have probably seen."
Madame de Beauvisage made a movement of surprise on hearing this
secret, until then so carefully kept, but she did not interrupt her
"It will be my wedding present," he went on. "In 1832 I let it for
seven years to an Englishman for twenty-four thousand francs a year,
--a pretty stroke of business; for it only cost me three hundred and
twenty-five thousand francs, of which I thus recover nearly two
hundred thousand. The lease ends in July of this year."
Severine kissed her father on the forehead and on both cheeks. This
last revelation so magnified her future that she was well-nigh
"I shall advise my father," she said to herself, as she recrossed the
bridge, "to give only the reversion of that property to his
grandchildren, and let me have the life-interest in it. I have no idea
of letting my daughter and son-in-law turn me out of doors; they must
live with me."
At dessert, when the two women-servants were safely at their own
dinner in the kitchen, and Madame Beauvisage was certain of not being
overheard, she thought it advisable to give Cecile a little lecture.
"My daughter," she said, "behave this evening with propriety, like a
well-bred girl; and from this day forth be more sedate. Do not chatter
heedlessly, and never walk alone with Monsieur Giguet, or Monsieur
Olivier Vinet, or the sub-prefect, or Monsieur Martener,--in fact,
with any one, not even Achille Pigoult. You will not marry any of the
young men of Arcis, or of the department. Your fate is to shine in
Paris. Therefore I shall now give you charming dresses, to accustom
you to elegance. We can easily find out where the Princesse de
Cadignan and the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne get their things. I mean that
you shall cease to look provincial. You must practise the piano for
three hours every day. I shall send for Monsieur Moise from Troyes
until I know what master I ought to get from Paris. Your talents must
all be developed, for you have only one year more of girlhood before
you. Now I have warned you, and I shall see how you behave this
evening. You must manage to keep Simon at a distance, but without
coquetting with him."
"Don't be uneasy, mamma; I intend to adore the _stranger_."
These words, which made Madame Beauvisage laugh, need some
"Ha! I haven't seen him yet," said Phileas, "but everybody is talking
about him. When I want to know who he is, I shall send the corporal or
Monsieur Groslier to ask him for his passport."
There is no little town in France where, at a given time, the drama or
the comedy of the _stranger_ is not played. Often the stranger is an
adventurer who makes dupes and departs, carrying with him the
reputation of a woman, or the money of a family. Oftener the stranger
is a real stranger, whose life remains mysterious long enough for the
town to busy itself curiously about his words and deeds.
Now the probable accession to power of Simon Giguet was not the only
serious event that was happening in Arcis. For the last two days the
attention of the little town had been focussed on a personage just
arrived, who proved to be the first Unknown of the present generation.
The _stranger_ was at this moment the subject of conversation in every
household in the place. He was the beam fallen from heaven into the
city of the frogs.
The situation of Arcis-sur-Aube explains the effect which the arrival
of a stranger was certain to produce. About eighteen miles from
Troyes, on the high-road to Paris, opposite to a farm called "La Belle
Etoile," a county road branches off from the main road, and leads to
Arcis, crossing the vast plains where the Seine cuts a narrow green
valley bordered with poplars, which stand out upon the whiteness of
the chalk soil of Champagne. The main road from Arcis to Troyes is
eighteen miles in length, and makes the arch of a bow, the extremities
of which are Troyes and Arcis, so that the shortest route from Paris
to Arcis is by the county road which turns off, as we have said, near
the Belle Etoile. The Aube is navigable only from Arcis to its mouth.
Therefore this town, standing eighteen miles from a high-road, and
separated from Troyes by monotonous plains, is isolated more or less,
and has but little commerce or transportation either by land or water.
Arcis is, in fact, a town completely isolated, where no travellers
pass, and is attached to Troyes and La Belle Etoile by stage-coaches
only. All the inhabitants know each other; they even know the
commercial travellers who come, now and then, on business from the
large Parisian houses. Thus, as in all provincial towns in a like
position, a stranger, if he stayed two days, would wag the tongues and
excite the imaginations of the whole community without his name or his
business being known.
Now, Arcis being still in a state of tranquillity three days before
the morning when, by the will of the creator of so many histories, the
present tale begins, there was seen to arrive by the county road a
stranger, driving a handsome tilbury drawn by a valuable horse, and
accompanied by a tiny groom, no bigger than my fist, mounted on a
saddle-horse. The coach, connecting with the diligences to Troyes, had
brought from La Belle Etoile three trunks coming from Paris, marked
with no name, but belonging to this stranger, who took up his quarters
at the Mulet inn. Every one in Arcis supposed, on the first evening,
that this personage had come with the intention of buying the estate
of Arcis; and much was said in all households about the future owner
of the chateau. The tilbury, the traveller, his horses, his servant,
one and all appeared to belong to a man who had dropped upon Arcis
from the highest social sphere.
The stranger, no doubt fatigued, did not show himself for a time;
perhaps he spent part of the day in arranging himself in the rooms he
had chosen, announcing his intention of staying a certain time. He
requested to see the stable where his horses were to be kept, showed
himself very exacting, and insisted that they should be placed in
stalls apart from those of the innkeeper's horses, and from those of
guests who might come later. In consequence of such singular demands,
the landlord of the hotel du Mulet considered his guest to be an
On the evening of the first day several attempts were made at the
Mulet by inquisitive persons to satisfy their curiosity; but no light
whatever could be obtained from the little groom, who evaded all
inquiries, not by refusals or by silence, but by sarcasms which seemed
to be beyond his years and to prove him a corrupt little mortal.
After making a careful toilet and dining at six o'clock, the stranger
mounted a horse, and, followed by his groom, rode off along the road
to Brienne, not returning till a very late hour to the Mulet. The
landlord, his wife, and her maids had meantime gained no information
from a careful examination of his trunks, and the articles about his
rooms, as to the projects or the condition of their mysterious inmate.
On the stranger's return the mistress of the house carried up to him
the book in which, according to police regulations, he was required to
inscribe his name, rank, the object of his journey, and the place from
which he came.
"I shall write nothing," he said to the mistress of the inn. "If any
one questions you, you can say I refused; and you may send the
sub-prefect to see me, for I have no passport. I dare say that many
persons will make inquiries about me, madame, and you can tell them
just what you like. I wish you to know nothing about me. If you worry
me on this point, I shall go to the Hotel de la Poste on the Place du
Pont and remain there for the fortnight I propose to spend here. I
should be sorry for that, because I know that you are the sister of
Gothard, one of the heroes of the Simeuse affair."
"Enough, monsieur," said the sister of the steward of Cinq-Cygne.
After such a beginning, the stranger kept the mistress of the house a
whole hour and made her tell him all she knew of Arcis, of its
fortunes, its interests, and its functionaries. The next day he
disappeared on horseback, followed by his tiger, returning at
We can now understand Mademoiselle Cecile's little joke, which Madame
Beauvisage thought to be without foundation. Beauvisage and Cecile,
surprised by the order of the day promulgated by Severine, were
enchanted. While his wife went to dress for Madame Marion's reception,
the father listened to the many conjectures it was natural a girl
should make in such a case. Then, fatigued with his day, he went to
bed as soon as his wife and daughter had departed.
As may readily be supposed by those who know anything of country
towns, a crowd of persons flocked to Madame Marion's that evening. The
triumph of Giguet junior was thought to be a victory won against the
Comte de Gondreville, and to insure forever the independence of Arcis
in the matter of elections. The news of the death of poor Charles
Keller was regarded as a judgment from heaven, intended to silence all
Antonin Goulard, Frederic Marest, Olivier Vinet, and Monsieur
Martener, the authorities who, until then, had frequented this salon
(the prevailing opinions of which did not seem to them contrary to the
government created by the popular will in July, 1830), came as usual,
possessed by curiosity to see what attitude the Beauvisage family
would take under the circumstances.
The salon, restored to its usual condition, showed no signs of the
meeting which appeared to have settled the destiny of Simon Giguet. By
eight o'clock four card-tables, each with four players, were under
way. The smaller salon and the dining-room were full of people. Never,
except on grand occasions, such as balls and fete-days, had Madame
Marion seen such an influx at the door of her salon, forming as it
were the tail of a comet.
"It is the dawn of power," said Olivier Vinet to the mistress of the
house, showing her this spectacle, so gratifying to the heart of a
person who delighted in receiving company.
"No one knows what there is in Simon," replied the mother. "We live in
times when young men who persevere and are moral and upright can
aspire to everything."
This answer was made, not so much to Vinet as to Madame Beauvisage,
who had entered the room with her daughter and was now beginning to
offer her congratulations on the event. In order to escape indirect
appeals and pointed interpretations of careless words, Madame
Beauvisage took a vacant place at a whist-table and devoted her mind
to the winning of one hundred fishes. One hundred fishes, or counters,
made fifty sous! When a player had lost that sum it was talked of in
Arcis for a couple of days.
Cecile went to talk with Mademoiselle Mollot, one of her good friends,
appearing to be seized with redoubled affection for her. Mademoiselle
Mollot was the beauty of Arcis, just as Cecile was the heiress.
Monsieur Mollot, clerk of the court, lived on the Grande-Place in a
house constructed in the same manner as that of Beauvisage on the
Place du Pont. Madame Mollot, forever seated at the window of her
salon on the ground-floor, was attacked (as the result of that
situation) by intense, acute, insatiable curiosity, now become a
chronic and inveterate disease. The moment a peasant entered the
square from the road to Brienne she saw him, and watched to see what
business could have brought him to Arcis; she had no peace of mind
until that peasant was explained. She spent her life in judging the
events, men, things, and households of Arcis.
The ambition of the house of Mollot, father, mother, and daughter, was
to marry Ernestine (an only daughter) to Antonin Goulard. Consequently
the refusal of the Beauvisage parents to entertain the proposals of
the sub-prefect had tightened the bonds of friendship between the two
"There's an impatient man!" said Ernestine to Cecile, indicating Simon
Giguet. "He wants to come and talk with us; but every one who comes in
feels bound to congratulate him. I've heard him say fifty times
already: 'It is, I think, less to me than to my father that this
compliment of my fellow-citizens has been paid; but, in any case, pray
believe that I shall be devoted not only to our general interests but
to yours individually.' I can guess those words by the motion of his
lips, and all the while he is looking at you with an air of
"Ernestine," replied Cecile, "don't leave me the whole evening; I
don't want to listen to his proposals made under cover of 'alases!'
and mingled with sighs."
"Don't you want to be the wife of a Keeper of the Seals?"
"Ah! that's all nonsense," said Cecile, laughing.
"But I assure you," persisted Ernestine, "that just before you came in
Monsieur Godivet, the registrar, was declaring with enthusiasm that
Simon would be Keeper of the Seals in three years."
"Do they count on the influence of the Comte de Gondreville?" asked
the sub-prefect, coming up to the two girls and guessing that they
were making fun of his friend Giguet.
"Ah! Monsieur Antonin," said the handsome Ernestine, "you who promised
my mother to find out all about the _stranger_, what have you heard
"The events of to-day, Mademoiselle, are so much more important," said
Antonin, taking a seat beside Cecile, like a diplomat delighted to
escape general attention by conversing with two girls. "All my career
as sub-prefect or prefect is at stake."
"What! I thought you allowed your friend Simon to be nominated
"Simon is my friend, but the government is my master, and I expect to
do my best to prevent Simon from being elected. And here comes Madame
Mollot, who owes me her concurrence as the wife of a man whose
functions attach him to the government."
"I am sure we ask nothing better than to be on your side," replied the
sheriff's wife. "Mollot has told me," she continued in a low voice,
"what took place here to-day--it is pitiable! Only one man showed
talent, and that was Achille Pigoult. Everybody agrees that he would
make a fine orator in the Chamber; and therefore, though he has
nothing, and my daughter has a _dot_ of sixty thousand francs, not to
speak of what, as an only child, she will inherit from us and also
from her uncle at Mollot and from my aunt Lambert at Troyes,--well, I
declare to you that if Monsieur Achille Pigoult did us the honor to
ask her to wife, I should give her to him; yes, I should--provided
always she liked him. But the silly little goose wants to marry as she
pleases; it is Mademoiselle Beauvisage who puts such notions into her
The sub-prefect received this double broadside like a man who knows he
has thirty thousand francs a year, and expects a prefecture.
"Mademoiselle is right," he said, looking at Cecile; "she is rich
enough to make a marriage of love."
"Don't let us talk about marriage," said Ernestine; "it saddens my
poor dear Cecile, who was owning to me just now that in order not to
be married for her money, but for herself, she should like an affair
with some stranger who knew nothing of Arcis and her future
expectations as Lady Croesus, and would spin her a romance to end in
true love and a marriage."
"That's a very pretty idea!" cried Olivier Vinet, joining the group of
young ladies in order to get away from the partisans of Simon, the
idol of the day. "I always knew that Mademoiselle had as much sense as
"And," continued Ernestine, "she has selected for the hero of her
"Oh!" interrupted Madame Mollot, "an old man of fifty!--fie!"
"How do you know he is fifty?" asked Olivier Vinet, laughing.
"How?" replied Madame Mollot. "Why, this morning I was so puzzled that
I got out my opera-glass--"
"Bravo!" cried the superintendent of _ponts et chaussees_, who was
paying court to the mother to obtain the daughter.
"And so," continued Madame Mollot, "I was able to see him shaving;
with such elegant razors!--mounted in gold, or silver-gilt!"
"Gold! gold, of course!" said Vinet. "When things are unknown they
should always be imagined of the finest quality. Consequently I, not
having seen this gentleman, am perfectly sure that he is at least a
This speech created a laugh; and the laughing group excited the
jealousy of a group of dowagers and the attention of a troop of men in
black who surrounded Simon Giguet. As for the latter, he was chafing
in despair at not being able to lay his fortune and his future at the
feet of the rich Cecile.
"Yes," continued Vinet, "a man distinguished for his birth, for his
manners, his fortune, his equipages,--a lion, a dandy, a
"Monsieur Olivier," said Ernestine, "he drives the prettiest tilbury
you ever saw."
"What? Antonin, you never told me he had a tilbury when we were
talking about that conspirator this morning. A tilbury! Why, that's an
extenuating circumstance; he can't be a republican."
"Mesdemoiselles, there is nothing that I will not do in the interests
of your amusement," said Antonin Goulard. "I will instantly proceed to
ascertain if this individual is a count, and if he is, what kind of
"You can make a report upon him," said the superintendent of bridges.
"For the use of all future sub-prefects," added Olivier Vinet.
"How can you do it?" asked Madame Mollot.
"Oh!" replied the sub-prefect, "ask Mademoiselle Beauvisage whom she
would accept as her husband among all of us here present; she will not
answer. Allow me the same discretion. Mesdemoiselles, restrain your
anxiety; in ten minutes you shall know whether the Unknown is a count
or a commercial traveller."
THE REVELATIONS OF AN OPERA-GLASS
Antonin Goulard left the little group of young ladies, in which,
besides Cecile and Ernestine, were Mademoiselle Berton, daughter of
the tax-collector,--an insignificant young person who played the part
of satellite to Cecile,--and Mademoiselle Herbelot, sister of the
second notary of Arcis, an old maid of thirty, soured, affected, and
dressed like all old maids; for she wore, over a bombazine gown, an
embroidered fichu, the corners of which, gathered to the front of the
bodice, were knotted together after the well-known fashion under the
"Julien," said the sub-prefect to his valet, who was waiting in the
antechamber, "you who served six years at Gondreville ought to know
how a count's coronet is made."
"Yes, monsieur; it has pearls on its nine points."
"Very good. Go to the Mulet, and try to clap your eye on the tilbury
of the gentleman who is stopping there, and then come and tell me what
is painted on it. Do your business thoroughly, and bring me all the
gossip of the inn. If you see the little groom, ask him at what hour
to-morrow his master can receive the sub-prefect--in case you find the
nine pearls. Don't drink, don't gossip yourself, and come back
quickly; and as soon as you get back let me know it by coming to the
door of the salon."
The Mulet inn, as we have already said, stands on the square, at the
opposite corner to the garden wall of the Marion estate on the other
side of the road leading to Brienne. Therefore the solution of the
problem could be rapid. Antonin Goulard returned to his place by
Cecile to await results.
"We talked so much about the stranger yesterday that I dreamed of him
all night," said Madame Mollot.
"Ha! ha! do you still dream of unknown heroes, fair lady?" said Vinet.
"You are very impertinent; if I chose I could make you dream of me,"
she retorted. "So this morning when I rose--"
It may not be useless to say that Madame Mollot was considered a
clever woman in Arcis; that is, she expressed herself fluently and
abused that advantage. A Parisian, wandering by chance into these
regions, like the Unknown, would have thought her excessively
"--I was, naturally, making my toilet, and as I looked mechanically
"Through the window?" asked Antonin.
"Certainly; my dressing-room opens on the street. Now you know, of
course, that Poupart has put the stranger into one of the rooms
exactly opposite to mine--"
"One room, mamma!" interrupted Ernestine. "The count occupies three
rooms! The little groom, dressed all in black, is in the first. They
have made a salon of the next, and the Unknown sleeps in the third."
"Then he has half the rooms in the inn," remarked Mademoiselle
"Well, young ladies, and what has that to do with his person?" said
Madame Mollot, sharply, not pleased at the interruption. "I am talking
of the man himself--"
"Don't interrupt the orator," put in Vinet.
"As I was stooping--"
"Seated?" asked Antonin.
"Madame was of course as she naturally would be,--making her toilet
and looking at the Mulet," said Vinet.
In the provinces such jokes are prized, for people have so long said
everything to each other that they have recourse at last to the sort
of nonsense our fathers indulged in before the introduction of English
hypocrisy,--one of those products against which custom-houses are
"Don't interrupt the orator," repeated Cecile Beauvisage to Vinet,
with whom she exchanged a smile.
"My eyes involuntarily fell on the window of the room in which the
stranger had slept the night before. I don't know what time he went to
bed, although I was awake till past midnight; but I have the
misfortune to be married to a man who snores fit to crack the planks
and the rafters. If I fall asleep first, oh! I sleep so sound nothing
can wake me; but if Mollot drops off first my night is ruined--"
"Don't you ever go off together?" said Achille Pigoult, joining the
group. "I see you are talking of sleep."
"Hush, naughty boy!" replied Madame Mollot, graciously.
"Do you know what they mean?" whispered Cecile to Ernestine.
"At any rate, he was not in at one o'clock in the morning," continued
"Then he defrauded you!--came home without your knowing it!" said
Achille Pigoult. "Ha! that man is sly indeed; he'll put us all in his
pouch and sell us in the market-place."
"To whom?" asked Vinet.
"Oh! to a project! to an idea! to a system!" replied the notary, to
whom Olivier smiled with a knowing air.
"Imagine my surprise," continued Madame Mollot, "when I saw a stuff, a
material, of splendid magnificence, most beautiful! dazzling! I said
to myself, 'That must be a dressing-gown of the spun-glass material I
have sometimes seen in exhibitions of industrial products.' So I
fetched my opera-glass to examine it. But, good gracious! what do you
think I saw? Above the dressing-gown, where the head ought to have
been, I saw an enormous mass, something like a knee--I can't tell you
how my curiosity was excited."
"I can conceive it," said Antonin.
"No, you can _not_ conceive it," said Madame Mollot; "for this knee--"
"Ah! I understand," cried Olivier Vinet, laughing; "the Unknown was
also making his toilet, and you saw his two knees."
"No, no!" cried Madame Mollot; "you are putting incongruities into my
mouth. The stranger was standing up; he held a sponge in his hand
above an immense basin, and--none of your jokes, Monsieur Olivier!--it
wasn't his knee, it was his head! He was washing his bald head; he
hasn't a spear of hair upon it."
"Impudent man!" said Antonin. "He certainly can't have come with ideas
of marriage in that head. Here we must have hair in order to be
married. That's essential."
"I am therefore right in saying that our Unknown visitor must be fifty
years old. Nobody ever takes to a wig before that time of life. After
a time, when his toilet was finished, he opened his window and looked
out; and _then_ he wore a splendid head of black hair. He turned his
eyeglass full on me,--for by that time, I was in my balcony.
Therefore, my dear Cecile, you see for yourself that you can't take
that man for the hero of your romance."
"Why not? Men of fifty are not to be despised, if they are counts,"
"Heavens! what has age to do with it?" said Mademoiselle Herbelot.
"Provided one gets a husband," added Vinet, whose cold maliciousness
made him feared.
"Yes," replied the old maid, feeling the cut, "I should prefer a man
of fifty, indulgent, kind, and considerate, to a young man without a
heart, whose wit would bite every one, even his wife."
"This is all very well for conversation," retorted Vinet, "but in
order to love the man of fifty and reject the other, it is necessary
to have the opportunity to choose."
"Oh!" said Madame Mollot, in order to stop this passage at arms
between the old maid and Vinet, who always went to far, "when a woman
has had experience of life she knows that a husband of fifty or one of
twenty-five is absolutely the same thing if she merely respects him.
The important things in marriage are the benefits to be derived from
it. If Mademoiselle Beauvisage wants to go to Paris and shine there
--and in her place I should certainly feel so--she ought not to take a
husband in Arcis. If I had the fortune she will have, I should give my
hand to a count, to a man who would put me in a high social position,
and I shouldn't ask to see the certificate of his birth."
"It would satisfy you to see his toilet," whispered Vinet in her ear.
"But the king makes counts," said Madame Marion, who had now joined
the group and was surveying the bevy of young ladies.
"Ah! madame," remarked Vinet, "but some young girls prefer their
counts already made."
"Well, Monsieur Antonin," said Cecile, laughing at Vinet's sarcasm.
"Your ten minutes have expired, and you haven't told us whether the
Unknown is a count or not."
"I shall keep my promise," replied the sub-prefect, perceiving at that
moment the head of his valet in the doorway; and again he left his
place beside Cecile.
"You are talking of the stranger," said Madame Marion. "Is anything
really known about him?"
"No, madame," replied Achille Pigoult; "but he is, without knowing it,
like the clown of a circus, the centre of the eyes of the two thousand
inhabitants of this town. I know one thing about him," added the
"Oh, tell us, Monsieur Achille!" cried Ernestine, eagerly.
"His tiger's name is Paradise!"
"Paradise!" echoed every one included in the little circle.
"Can a man be called Paradise?" asked Madame Herbelot, who had joined
"It tends to prove," continued the notary, "that the master is an
angel; for when his tiger follows him--you understand."
"It is the road of Paradise! very good, that," said Madame Marion,
anxious to flatter Achille Pigoult in the interests of her nephew.
"Monsieur," said Antonin's valet in the dining-room, "the tilbury has
a coat of arms--"
"Coat of arms!"
"Yes, and droll enough they are! There's a coronet with nine points
"Then he's a count!"
"And a monster with wings, flying like a postilion who has dropped
something. And here is what is written on the belt," added the man,
taking a paper from his pocket. "Mademoiselle Anicette, the Princesse
de Cadignan's lady's maid, who came in a carriage" (the Cinq-Cygne
carriage before the door of the Mulet!) "to bring a letter to the
gentleman, wrote it down for me."
"Give it to me."
The sub-prefect read the words: _Quo me trahit fortuna_.
Though he was not strong enough in French blazon to know the house
that bore that device, Antonin felt sure that the Cinq-Cygnes would
not send their chariot, nor the Princess de Cadignan a missive by her
maid, except to a person of the highest nobility.
"Ha! so you know the maid of the Princess de Cadignan! happy man!"
Julien, a young countryman, after serving six months in the household
of the Comte de Gondreville, had entered the service of the
sub-prefect, who wanted a servant of the _right style_.
"But, monsieur, Anicette is my father's god-daughter. Papa, who wanted
to do well by the girl, whose father was dead, sent her to a
dressmaker in Paris because my mother could not endure her."
"Is she pretty?"
"Rather; the proof is that she got into trouble in Paris; but finally,
as she has talent and can make gowns and dress hair, she got a place
with the princess."
"What did she tell you about Cinq-Cygne? Is there much company?"
"A great deal, monsieur. There's the princess and Monsieur d'Arthez,
the Duc de Maufrigneuse and the duchess and the young marquis. In fact
the chateau is full. They expect Monseigneur the Bishop of Troyes
"Monsieur Troubert! I should like to know how long he is going to
"Anicette thinks for some time; and she believes he is coming to meet
the gentleman who is now at the Mulet. They expect more company. The
coachman told me they were talking a great deal about the election.
Monsieur le president Michu is expected in a few days."
"Try to bring that lady's maid into town on pretence of shopping. Have
you any designs upon her?"
"If she has any savings I don't know but what I might. She is a sly
"Tell her to come and see you at the sub-prefecture."
"Yes, monsieur. I'll go and tell her now."
"Don't say anything about me, or she might not come."
"Ah! monsieur; haven't I served at Gondreville?"
"You don't know why they sent that message from Cinq-Cygne at this
hour, do you? It is half-past nine o'clock."
"It must have been something pressing. The gentleman had only just
returned from Gondreville."
"Gondreville!--has he been to Gondreville?"
"He dined there, monsieur. If you went to the Mulet you'd laugh! The
little tiger is, saving your presence, as drunk as a fiddler. He drank
such a lot of champagne in the servants' hall that he can't stand on
his legs; they have been filling him for fun."
"And the count?"
"The count had gone to bed; but as soon as he received the letter he
got up. He is now dressing himself; and they are putting the horse in
the tilbury. The count is to spend the night at Cinq-Cygne."
"He must be some great personage."
"Oh, yes, monsieur; for Gothard, the steward of Cinq-Cygne, came this
morning to see his brother-in-law Poupart, and warned him to be very
discreet about the gentleman and to serve him like a king."
"Vinet must be right," thought the sub-prefect. "Can there be some
cabal on foot?"
"It was Duc Georges de Maufrigneuse who sent Gothard to the Mulet.
Poupart came to the meeting here this morning only because the
gentleman wished him to do so; if he had sent him to Paris, he'd go.
Gothard told Poupart to keep silent about the gentleman, and to fool
all inquisitive people."
"If you can get Anicette here, don't fail to let me know," said
"But I could see her at Cinq-Cygne if monsieur would send me to his
house at Val-Preux."
"That's an idea. You might profit by the chariot to get there. But
what reason could you give to the little groom?"
"He's a madcap, that boy, monsieur. Would you believe it, drunk as he
is, he has just mounted his master's thoroughbred, a horse that can do
twenty miles an hour, and started for Troyes with a letter in order
that it may reach Paris to-morrow! And only nine years and a half old!
What will he be at twenty?"
The sub-prefect listened mechanically to these remarks. Julien
gossiped on, his master listening, absorbed in thought about the
"Wait here," he said to the man as he turned with slow steps to
re-enter the salon. "What a mess!" he thought to himself,--"a man who
dines at Gondreville and spends the night at Cinq-Cygnes! Mysteries
"Well?" cried the circle around Mademoiselle Beauvisage as soon as he
"He is a count, and _vieille roche_, I answer for it."
"Oh! how I should like to see him!" cried Cecile.
"Mademoiselle," said Antonin, smiling and looking maliciously at
Madame Mollot, "he is tall and well-made and does not wear a wig. His
little groom was as drunk as the twenty-four cantons; they filled him
with champagne at Gondreville and that little scamp, only nine years
old, answered my man Julien, who asked him about his master's wig,
with all the assumption of an old valet: 'My master! wear a wig!--if
he did I'd leave him. He dyes his hair and that's bad enough.'"
"Your opera-glass magnifies," said Achille Pigoult to Madame Mollot,
"Well, the tiger of the handsome count, drunk as he is, is now riding
to Troyes to post a letter, and he'll get there, as they say, in
five-quarters of an hour."
"I'd like to have that tiger," said Vinet.
"If the count dined at Gondreville we shall soon know all about him,"
remarked Cecile; "for my grandpapa is going there to-morrow morning."
"What will strike you as very strange," said Antonin Goulard, "is that
the party at Cinq-Cygne have just sent Mademoiselle Anicette, the maid
of the Princesse de Cadignan, in the Cinq-Cygne carriage, with a note
to the stranger, and he is going now to pass the night there."
"_Ah ca_!" said Olivier Vinet, "then he is not a man; he's a devil, a
phoenix, he will poculate--"
"Ah, fie! monsieur," said Madame Mollot, "you use words that are
"'Poculate' is a word of the highest latinity, madame," replied Vinet,
gravely. "So, as I said, he will poculate with Louis Philippe in the
morning, and banquet at the Holy-Rood with Charles the Tenth at night.
There is but one reason that allows a decent man to go to both camps
--from Montague to Capulet! Ha, ha! I know who that stranger is.
"The president of a railway from Paris to Lyons, or Paris to Dijon, or
from Montereau to Troyes."
"That's true," said Antonin. "You have it. There's nothing but
speculation that is welcomed everywhere."
"Yes, just see how great names, great families, the old and the new
peerage are rushing hot-foot into enterprises and partnerships," said
"Francs attract the Franks," remarked Olivier Vinet, without a smile.
"You are not an _olive_-branch of peace," said Madame Mollot,
"But is it not demoralizing to see such names as Verneuil,
Maufrigneuse, and Herouville side by side with those of du Tillet and
Nucingen in the Bourse speculations?"
"Our great Unknown is undoubtedly an embryo railway," said Olivier
"Well, to-morrow all Arcis will be upside-down about it," said Achille
Pigoult. "I shall call upon the Unknown and ask him to make me notary
of the affair. There'll be two thousand deeds to draw, at the least."
"Our romance is turning into a locomotive," said Ernestine to Cecile.
"A count with a railway is all the more marriageable," remarked
Achille Pigoult. "But who knows whether he is a bachelor?"
"Oh! I shall know that to-morrow from grandpapa," cried Cecile, with
"What a jest!" said Madame Mollot. "You can't really mean, my little
Cecile, that you are thinking of that stranger?"
"But the husband is always the stranger," interposed Olivier Vinet,
making a sign to Mademoiselle Beauvisage which she fully understood.
"Why shouldn't I think of him?" asked Cecile; "that isn't
compromising. Besides, he is, so these gentlemen say, either some
great speculator, or some great seigneur, and either would suit me. I
love Paris; and I want a house, a carriage, an opera-box, etc., in
"That's right," said Vinet. "When people dream, they needn't refuse
themselves anything. If I had the pleasure of being your brother I
should marry you to the young Marquis de Cinq-Cygne, who seems to me a
lively young scamp who will make the money dance, and will laugh at
his mother's prejudices against the actors in the famous Simeuse
"It would be easier for you to make yourself prime-minister," said
Madame Marion. "There will never be any alliance between the
granddaughter of Grevin and the Cinq-Cygnes."
"Romeo came within an ace of marrying Juliet," remarked Achille
Pigoult, "and Mademoiselle is more beautiful than--"
"Oh! if you are going to quote operas and opera beauties!" said
Herbelot the notary, naively, having finished his game of whist.
"My legal brother," said Achille Pigoult, "is not very strong on the
history of the middle ages."
"Come, Malvina!" said the stout notary to his wife, making no reply to
his young associate.
"Tell me, Monsieur Antonin," said Cecile to the sub-prefect, "you
spoke of Anicette, the maid of the Princesse de Cadignan; do you know
"No, but Julien does; she is the goddaughter of his father, and they
are good friends together."
"Then try, through Julien, to get her to live with us. Mamma wouldn't
"Mademoiselle, to hear is to obey, as they say to despots in Asia,"
replied the sub-prefect. "Just see to what lengths I will go in order
to serve you."
And he left the room to give Julien orders to go with Anicette in the
chariot and coax her away from the princess at any price.
IN WHICH THE CANDIDATE BEGINS TO LOSE VOTES
At this moment Simon Giguet, who had got through his bowing and
scraping to all the influential men of Arcis, and who regarded himself
as sure of his election, joined the circle around Cecile and
Mademoiselle Mollot. The evening was far advanced. Ten o'clock had
struck. After an enormous consumption of cakes, orgeat, punch,
lemonade, and various syrups, those who had come that evening solely
for political reasons and who were not accustomed to Madame Marion's
floors, to them aristocratic, departed,--all the more willingly,
because they were unaccustomed to sitting up so late. The evening then
began to take on its usual air of intimacy. Simon Giguet hoped that he
could now exchange a few words with Cecile, and he looked at her like
a conqueror. The look displeased her.
"My dear fellow," said Antonin to Simon, observing on his friend's
face the glory of success, "you come at a moment when the noses of all
the young men in Arcis are put out of joint."
"Very much so," said Ernestine, whom Cecile had nudged with her elbow.
"We are distracted, Cecile and I, about the great Unknown, and we are
quarrelling for him."
"But," said Cecile, "he is no longer unknown; he is a count."
"Some adventurer!" replied Simon Giguet, with an air of contempt.
"Will you say that, Monsieur Simon," answered Cecile, feeling piqued,
"of a man to whom the Princesse de Cadignan has just sent her
servants, who dined at Gondreville to-day, and is to spend this
evening with the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne?"
This was said sharply, and in so hard a tone that Simon was
"Ah, mademoiselle," said Olivier Vinet, "if we said to each other's
faces what we all say behind our backs, social life wouldn't be
possible. The pleasures of society, especially in the provinces, are
to slander and backbite our neighbors."
"Monsieur Simon is jealous of your enthusiasm for the mysterious
count," said Ernestine.
"It seems to me," said Cecile, "that Monsieur Simon has no right to be
jealous of my affections."
After which remark, uttered in a way to dumfound Simon, Cecile rose;
the others made way for her and she went to her mother, who was just
finishing her rubber of whist.
"My dearest!" cried Madame Marion, hurrying after the heiress, "I
think you are rather hard on my poor Simon."
"What has she done, my dear little kitten?" asked Madame Beauvisage.
"Mamma, Monsieur Simon called my great Unknown an adventurer!"
Simon had followed his aunt and was now beside the card-table. The
four persons whose interests were concerned were thus in the middle of
the salon,--Cecile and her mother on one side of the table, Madame
Marion and her nephew on the other.
"Really, madame," said Simon Giguet, "there must be a strong desire to
find fault and to quarrel with me simply because I happened to say
that a gentleman whom all Arcis is talking about and who stops at the
"Do you think he has come here to put himself in competition with
you?" said Madame Beauvisage jestingly.
"I should be very indignant with him certainly if he were to cause the
slightest misunderstanding between Mademoiselle Cecile and myself,"
said the candidate, with a supplicating look at the young girl.
"You gave your opinion, monsieur, in a decisive manner which proves
that you are very despotic," she replied; "but you are right; if you
wish to be minister you ought to be decisive."
Here Madame Marion took Madame Beauvisage by the arm and led her to a
sofa. Cecile, finding herself alone, returned to her former seat to
avoid hearing Simon's answer to her speech, and the candidate was left
standing rather foolishly before the table, where he mechanically
played with the counters.
"My dear friend," said Madame Marion in a low voice to Madame
Beauvisage, "you see that nothing can now hinder my nephew's
"I am delighted both for your sake and for the Chamber of Deputies,"
"My nephew is certain to go far, my dear; and I'll tell you why: his
own fortune, that which his father will leave him and mine, will
amount altogether to some thirty thousand francs a year. When a man is
a deputy and has a fortune like that, he can aspire to anything."
"Madame, he has our utmost admiration and our most earnest wishes for
the success of his political career; but--"
"I am not asking for an answer," said Madame Marion, hastily
interrupting her friend. "I only beg you to reflect on the following
suggestions: Do our children suit each other? Can we marry them? We
should then live in Paris during the sessions; and who knows if the
deputy of Arcis may not be settled there permanently in some fine
place in the magistracy? Look at Monsieur Vinet of Provins, how he has
made his way. People blamed Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf for marrying
him; yet she will soon be wife of the Keeper of the Seals; Monsieur
Vinet can be peer of France whenever he pleases."
"Madame, I have not the power to marry my daughter according to my own
tastes. In the first place, her father and I leave her absolutely free
to choose for herself. If she wanted to marry the 'great Unknown' and
we found that the match was suitable, we should give our consent.
Besides this, Cecile is wholly dependent on her grandfather, who
intends to give her on her marriage the Hotel de Beauseant in Paris,
which he purchased for us six years ago; the value of which is now
rated at eight hundred thousand francs. It is one of the finest houses
in the faubourg Saint-Germain. Moreover, he intends to add two hundred
thousand francs for the cost of fitting it up. A grandfather who
behaves in this way, and who can influence my mother-in-law to make a
few sacrifices for her granddaughter in expectation of a suitable
marriage, has a right to advise--"
"Certainly," said Madame Marion, stupefied by this confidence, which
made the marriage of her nephew and Cecile extremely difficult.
"Even if Cecile had nothing to expect from her grandfather Grevin,"
continued Madame Beauvisage, "she would not marry without first
consulting him. If you have any proposals to make, go and see my
"Very good; I will go," said Madame Marion.
Madame Beauvisage made a sign to Cecile, and together they left the
The next day Antonin and Frederic Marest found themselves, according
to their usual custom, with Monsieur Martener and Olivier, beneath the
lindens of the Avenue of Sighs, smoking their cigars and walking up
and down. This daily promenade is one of the petty pleasures of
government officials in the provinces when they happen to be on good
terms with one another.
After they had made a few turns, Simon Giguet came up and joined them
saying to the sub-prefect with a mysterious air:--
"You ought to be faithful to an old comrade who wishes to get you the
rosette of an officer and a prefecture."
"You are beginning your political career betimes," said Antonin,
laughing. "You are trying to corrupt me, rapid puritan!"
"Will you support me?"
"My dear fellow, you know very well that Bar-sur-Aube votes here. Who
can guarantee a majority under such circumstances? My colleague of
Bar-sur-Aube would complain of me if I did not unite my efforts with
his in support of the government. Your promise is conditional; whereas
my dismissal would be certain."
"But I have no competitors."
"You think so," said Antonin, "but some one is sure to turn up; you
may rely on that."
"Why doesn't my aunt come, when she knows I am on a gridiron!"
exclaimed Giguet, suddenly. "These three hours are like three years!"
His secret had escaped him and he now admitted to his friend that
Madame Marion had gone on his behalf to old Grevin with a formal
proposal for Cecile's hand.
The pair had now reached the Brienne road opposite to the Mulet
hostelry. While the lawyer looked down the street towards the bridge
his aunt would have to cross, the sub-prefect examined the gullies
made by the rain in the open square. Arcis is not paved. The plains of
Champagne furnish no material fit for building, nor even pebbles large
enough for cobble-stone pavements. One or two streets and a few
detached places are imperfectly macadamized and that is saying enough
to describe their condition after a rain. The sub-prefect gave himself
an appearance of occupation by apparently exercising his thoughts on
this important object; but he lost not a single expression of
suffering on the anxious face of his companion.
At this moment, the stranger was returning from the Chateau de
Cinq-Cygne, where he had apparently passed the night. Goulard resolved
to clear up, himself, the mystery wrapped about the Unknown, who was
physically enveloped in an overcoat of thick cloth called a _paletot_,
then the fashion. A mantle, thrown across his knees for a covering,
hid the lower half of his body, while an enormous muffler of red
cashmere covered his neck and head to the eyes. His hat, jauntily
tipped to one side, was, nevertheless, not ridiculous. Never was a
mystery more mysteriously bundled up and swathed.
"Look out!" cried the tiger, who preceded the tilbury on horseback.
"Open, papa Poupart, open!" he screamed in his shrill little voice.
The three servants of the inn ran out, and the tilbury drove in
without any one being able to see a single feature of the stranger's
face. The sub-prefect followed the tilbury into the courtyard, and
went to the door of the inn.
"Madame Poupart," said Antonin, "will you ask Monsieur--Monsieur--"
"I don't know his name," said Gothard's sister.
"You do wrong! The rules of the police are strict, and Monsieur
Groslier doesn't trifle, like some commissaries of police."
"Innkeepers are never to blame about election-time," remarked the
little tiger, getting off his horse.
"I'll repeat that to Vinet," thought the sub-prefect. "Go and ask your
master if he can receive the sub-prefect of Arcis."
Presently Paradise returned.
"Monsieur begs Monsieur the sub-prefect to come up; he will be
delighted to see him."
"My lad," said Olivier Vinet, who with the two other functionaries had
joined the sub-prefect before the inn, "how much does your master give
a year for a boy of your cut and wits?"
"Give, monsieur! What do you take me for? Monsieur le comte lets
himself be milked, and I'm content."
"That boy was raised in a good school!" said Frederic Marest.
"The highest school, monsieur," said the urchin, amazing the four
friends with his perfect self-possession.
"What a Figaro!" cried Vinet.
"Mustn't lower one's price," said the infant. "My master calls me a
little Robert-Macaire, and since we have learned how to invest our
money we are Figaro, plus a savings bank."
"How much do you earn?"
"Oh! some races I make two or three thousand francs--and without
selling my master, monsieur."
"Sublime infant!" said Vinet; "he knows the turf."
"Yes, and all gentlemen riders," said the child, sticking out his
tongue at Vinet.
Antonin Goulard, ushered by the landlord into a room which had been
turned into a salon, felt himself instantly under the focus of an
eyeglass held in the most impertinent manner by the stranger.
"Monsieur," said the sub-prefect with a certain official hauteur, "I
have just learned from the wife of the innkeeper that you refuse to
conform to the ordinances of the police, and as I do not doubt that
you are a person of distinction, I have come myself--"
"Is your name Goulard?" demanded the stranger in a high voice.
"I am the sub-prefect, monsieur," replied Antonin Goulard.
"Your father belonged to the Simeuse family?"
"And I, monsieur, belong to the government; that is how times differ."
"You have a servant named Julien, who has tried to entice the
Princesse de Cadignan's maid away from her?"
"Monsieur, I do not allow any one to speak to me in this manner," said
Goulard; "you misunderstand my character."
"And you want to know about mine!" returned the Unknown. "Well, I will
now make myself known. You can write in the landlord's book:
'Impertinent fellow. Direct from Paris. Age doubtful. Travelling for
pleasure.' It would be rather a novelty in France to imitate England
and let people come and go as they please, without tormenting them at
every turn for 'papers.' I have no passport; now, what will you do to
"The _procureur-du-roi_ is walking up and down there under the
lindens," said the sub-prefect.
"Monsieur Marest! Wish him good-morning from me."
"But who are you?"
"Whatever you wish me to be, my dear Monsieur Goulard," said the
stranger. "You alone shall decide _what_ I am to be in this
department. Give me some advice on that head. Here, read that."
And the stranger handed the sub-prefect the following letter:--
(Confidential.) Prefecture of the Aube.
Monsieur the Sub-prefect,--You will consult with the bearer of
this letter as to the election at Arcis, and you will conform to
all the suggestions and requests he may make to you. I request you
to conduct this matter with the utmost discretion, and to treat
the bearer with all the respect that is due to his station.
The letter was written and signed by the prefect of the Aube.
"You have been talking prose without knowing it," said the Unknown,
taking back the letter.
Antonin Goulard, already struck with the aristocratic tone and manners
of this personage, became respectful.
"How was that, monsieur?" he asked.
"By endeavoring to entice Anicette. She told us of the attempts of
your man Julien to corrupt her. But my little tiger, Paradise, got the
better of him, and he ended by admitting that you wanted to put
Anicette into the service of one of the richest families in Arcis.
Now, as the richest family in Arcis is the Beauvisage family I make no
doubt it is Mademoiselle Cecile who covets this treasure."
"Very good; then Anicette shall enter the Beauvisage household at
He whistled. Paradise presented himself so rapidly that his master
said: "You were listening!"
"In spite of myself, Monsieur le comte; these partitions are nothing
but paper. But if Monsieur le comte prefers, I will move upstairs."
"No, you can listen; it is your perquisite. It is for me to speak low
when I don't want you to know my affairs. Go back to Cinq-Cygne, and
give this gold piece to that little Anicette from me. Julien shall
have the credit of enticing her away," he continued, addressing
Goulard. "That bit of gold will inform her that she is to follow him.
Anicette may be useful to the success of our candidate."
"Monsieur, it is now thirty-two years since lady's-maids have served
my purposes. I had my first adventure at the age of thirteen, like the
regent, the great-great-grandfather of our present King. Do you know
the fortune of this Mademoiselle Beauvisage?"
"I can't help knowing it, monsieur, for yesterday at Madame Marion's,
Madame Beauvisage said openly that Monsieur Grevin, Cecile's
grandfather, would give his granddaughter the hotel de Beauseant in
Paris and two hundred thousand francs for a wedding present."
The stranger's eyes expressed no surprise. He seemed to consider the
fortune rather paltry.
"Do you know Arcis well?" he asked of Goulard.
"I am the sub-prefect and I was born here."
"What is the best way to balk curiosity?"
"By satisfying it. For instance, Monsieur le Comte has a baptismal
name; let him register that with the title of count."
"Very good; Comte Maxime."
"And if monsieur will assume the position of a railway official, Arcis
will be content; it will amuse itself by floating that stick at least
for a fortnight."
"No, I prefer to be concerned in irrigation; it is less common. I have
come down to survey the wastelands of Champagne in order to reclaim
them. That will be, my good Monsieur Goulard, a reason for inviting me
to dine with you to-morrow to meet the mayor and his family; I wish to
see them, and study them."
"I shall be only to happy to receive you," said the sub-prefect; "but
I must ask your indulgence for the deficiencies of my little
"If I succeed in managing the election of Arcis according to the
wishes of those who have sent me here, you, my dear friend, will be
made a prefect. Here, read these"; and he held out two letters to his
"Very good, Monsieur le comte," said Antonin, returning them.
"Make a list of all the votes on which the ministry may count. Above
all, let no one suspect that you and I understand each other. I am a
speculator in land, and I don't care a fig for elections."
"I will send the commissary of police to force you to inscribe your
name on Poupart's register."
"So do. Adieu, monsieur. Heavens! what a region this is," said the
count, in a loud voice; "one can't take a step without having the
community, sub-prefect and all, on one's back."
"You will have to answer to the commissary of police, monsieur," said
Antonin, in an equally loud tone.
And for the next twenty minutes Madame Mollot talked of the
altercation that took place between the sub-prefect and the stranger.
"Well, what wood is the beam that has plumped into our bog made of?"
said Olivier Vinet when Antonin Goulard rejoined them on leaving the
"He is a Comte Maxime who is here to study the geological system of
Champagne, with a view to finding mineral waters," replied the
sub-prefect, with an easy manner.
"Say a speculator," said Oliver.
"Does he expect to get the natives to lay out capital?" asked Monsieur
"I doubt if our royalists will go into that kind of mining," remarked
"What should you think from the air and gestures of Madame Marion?"
said the sub-prefect turning off the subject by pointing to Madame
Marion and Simon, who were deep in conversation.
Simon had gone toward the bridge to meet his aunt, and was now walking
with her up the square.
"If he was accepted one word would suffice," said the shrewd Olivier.
"Well?" said all the officials when Simon came to them under the
"My aunt thinks the matter very hopeful," replied Simon. "Madame
Beauvisage and old Grevin, who has just gone to Gondreville, were not
at all surprised at my proposals; they talked of our respective
fortunes, and said they wished to leave Cecile perfectly free to make
her choice. Besides which, Madame Beauvisage said that, as for
herself, she saw no objection to an alliance by which she should feel
herself honored; although she postponed all answer until after my
election, and possibly my first appearance in the Chamber. Old Grevin
said he should consult the Comte de Gondreville, without whose advice
he never took any important step."
"All of which means," said Goulard, point-blank, "that you will never
marry Cecile, my old fellow."
"Why not?" said Giguet, ironically.
"My dear friend, Madame Beauvisage and her daughter spend four
evenings every week in the salon of your aunt; your aunt is the most
distinguished woman in Arcis; and she is, though twenty years the
elder, an object of envy to Madame Beauvisage; don't you see,
therefore, that they wished to wrap up their refusal in certain
"Not to say entire yes or no in such cases," said Vinet, "is to say
_no_, with due regard to the intimacy of the two families. Though
Madame Beauvisage has the largest fortune in Arcis, Madame Marion is
the most esteemed woman in the place; for, with the exception of our
chief-justice's wife, who sees no one now, she is the only woman who
knows how to hold a salon; she is the queen of Arcis. Madame
Beauvisage has tried to make her refusal polite, that's all."
"I think that old Grevin was fooling your mother," said Frederic
"Yesterday you attacked the Comte de Gondreville, you insulted and
grievously affronted him, and he is to be consulted about your
marriage to Cecile!"
"Pere Grevin is a sly old dog," said Vinet.
"Madame Beauvisage is very ambitious," pursued Antonin Goulard. "She
knows very well her daughter is to have two millions; she means to be
mother-in-law of a minister, or an ambassador, in order to play the
great lady in Paris."
"Well, why not?" said Simon Giguet.
"I wish you may get it!" replied the sub-prefect looking at Vinet,
with whom he went off into a hearty laugh as soon as they were out of
hearing. "He won't even be deputy," added Antonin, addressing Vinet;
"the ministry have other views. You will find a letter from your
father when you get home, enjoining you to make sure of the votes of
all the persons in your department, and see that they go for the
ministerial candidate. Your own promotion depends on this; and he
requests you to be very discreet."
"But who is the candidate for whom our ushers and sheriffs and clerks,
and solicitors and notaries are to vote?" asked Vinet.
"The one I shall name to you."
"How do you know my father has written to me, and what he wrote?"
"The stranger told me--"
"The man after water?"
"My dear Vinet, you and I are not to know; we must treat him as a
stranger. He saw your father at Provins as he came through. Just now
this same man gave me a note from the prefect instructing me to follow
in every particular the instructions of Comte Maxime about this
election. I knew very well I should have a battle to fight! Come and
dine somewhere and we will get out our batteries. You are to be
_procureur-du-roi_ at Mantes, and I am to be prefect; but we must
_seem_ to have nothing to do with the election, for don't you see, we
are between the hammer and the anvil. Simon is the candidate of a
party which wants to overturn the present ministry and may succeed;
but for men as intelligent as you and I there is but one course to
"What is that?"
"To serve those who make and unmake ministers. A letter was shown to
me from one of those personages who represent the stable and immovable
thought of the State."
Before going farther, it is necessary to explain who this Unknown
person was, and what his purpose was in coming to Champagne.
THE SALON OF MADAME D'ESPARD
About two months before the nomination of Simon Giguet, at eleven
o'clock one evening, in a mansion of the faubourg Saint-Honore
belonging to the Marquise d'Espard, while tea was being served the
Chevalier d'Espard, brother-in-law to the marquise, put down his
tea-cup, and, looking round the circle, remarked:--
"Maxime was very melancholy to-night,--didn't you think so?"
"Yes," replied Rastignac, "but his sadness is easily accounted for. He
is forty-eight years old; at that age a man makes no new friends, and
now that we have buried de Marsay, Maxime has lost the only man
capable of understanding him, of being useful to him, and of using
"He probably has pressing debts. Couldn't you put him in the way of
paying them?" said the marquise to Rastignac.
At this period Rastignac was, for the second time, in the ministry; he
had just been made count almost against his will. His father-in-law,
the Baron de Nucingen, was peer of France, his younger brother a
bishop, the Comte de Roche-Hugon, his brother-in-law, was an
ambassador, and he himself was thought to be indispensable in all
future combinations of the ministry.
"You always forget, my dear marquise," replied Rastignac, "that our
government exchanges its silver for gold only; it pays no heed to
"Is Maxime a man who would blow out his brains?" inquired the banker
"Ha! you wish I were; we should be quits then," said Comte Maxime de
Trailles, whom everybody supposed to have left the house.
The count rose suddenly, like an apparition, from the depths of an
arm-chair placed exactly behind that of the Chevalier d'Espard.
Every one present laughed.
"Will you have a cup of tea?" said the young Comtesse de Rastignac,
whom the marquise had asked to do the honors in her place.
"Gladly," replied the count, standing before the fireplace.
This man, the prince of fashionable scoundrels, had managed to
maintain himself until now in the high and mighty position of a dandy
in Paris, then called _Gants Jaunes_ (lemon-kid-glovers), and since,
"lions." It is useless to relate the history of his youth, full of
questionable adventures, with now and then some horrible drama, in
which he had always known how to save appearances. To this man women
were never anything else than a means; he believed no more in their
griefs than he did in their joys; he regarded them, like the late de
Marsay, as naughty children. After squandering his own fortune, he had
spent that of a famous courtesan, La Belle Hollandaise, the mother of
Esther Gobseck. He had caused the misery of Madame Restaud, sister of
Madame Delphine de Nucingen, the mother of the young Comtesse de
The world of Paris offers many unimaginable situations. The Baronne de
Nucingen was at this moment in Madame d'Espard's salon in presence of
the author of all her sister's misery, in presence of a murderer who
killed only the happiness of women. That, perhaps, was the reason why
he was there. Madame de Nucingen had dined at Madame d'Espard's with
her daughter, married a few months earlier to the Comte de Rastignac,
who had begun his political career by occupying the post of
under-secretary of state in the famous ministry of the late de Marsay,
the only real statesman produced by the Revolution of July.
Comte Maxime de Trailles alone knew how many disasters he had caused;
but he had always taken care to shelter himself from blame by
scrupulously obeying the laws of the Man-Code. Though he had
squandered in the course of his life more money than the four galleys
of France could have stolen in the same time, he had kept clear of
justice. Never had he lacked in honor; his gambling debts were paid
scrupulously. An admirable player, his partners were chiefly the great
seigneurs, ministers, and ambassadors. He dined habitually with all
the members of the diplomatic body. He fought duels, and had killed
two or three men in his life; in fact, he had half murdered them, for
his coolness and self-possession were unparalleled. No young man could
compare with him in dress, in the distinction of his manners, the
elegance of his witty speech, the grace of his easy carriage,--in
short, what was called in those days "the grand air." In his capacity
of page to the Emperor, trained from the age of twelve in the art of
riding, he was held to be the skilfulest of horsemen. Having always
fine horses in his stable, he raised some, and ruled the fashion in
equestrianism. No man could stand a supper of young bloods better than
he; he drank more than the best-trained toper, but he came out fresh
and cool, and ready to begin again as if orgy were his element.
Maxime, one of those despised men who know how to repress the contempt
they inspire by the insolence of their attitude and the fear they
cause, never deceived himself as to his actual position. Hence his
real strength. Strong men are always their own critics.
Under the Restoration he had made the most of his former condition of
page to the Emperor. He attributed to his pretended Bonapartist
opinions the rebuffs he met with from the different ministers when he
asked for an office under the Bourbons; for, in spite of his
connections, his birth, and his dangerous aptitudes, he never obtained
anything. After the failure of these attempts he entered the secret
cabal which led in time to the fall of the Elder branch.
When the Younger branch, preceded by the Parisian populace, had
trodden down the Elder branch and was seated on the throne, Maxime
reproduced his attachment to Napoleon, for whom he cared as much as
for his first love. He then did great services to the newcomers, who
soon found the payment for them onerous; for Maxime too often demanded
payment of men who knew how to reckon those services. At the first
refusal, Maxime assumed at once an attitude of hostility, threatening
to reveal unpleasant details; for budding dynasties, like infants,
have much soiled linen. De Marsay, during his ministry, repaired the
mistake of his predecessors, who had ignored the utility of this man.
He gave him those secret missions which require a conscience made
malleable by the hammer of necessity, an adroitness which recoils
before no methods, impudence, and, above all, the self-possession, the
coolness, the embracing glance which constitute the hired _bravi_ of
thought and statesmanship. Such instruments are both rare and
As a matter of calculation, de Marsay maintained Comte Maxime de
Trailles in the highest society; he described him as a man ripened by
passions, taught by experience, who knew men and things, to whom
travel and a certain faculty for observation had imparted an
understanding of European interests, of foreign cabinets, and of all
the ramifications of the great continental families. De Marsay
convinced Maxime of the necessity of doing himself credit; he taught
him discretion, less as a virtue than a speculation; he proved to him
that the governing powers would never abandon a solid, safe, elegant,
and polished instrument.
"In politics," he said, blaming Maxime for having uttered a threat,
"we should never _blackmail_ but once."
Maxime was a man who could sound the depths of that saying.
De Marsay dead, Comte Maxime de Trailles had fallen back into his
former state of existence. He went to the baths every year and
gambled; he returned to Paris for the winter; but, though he received
some large sums from the depths of certain niggardly coffers, that
sort of half-pay to a daring man kept for use at any moment and
possessing many secrets of the art of diplomacy, was insufficient for
the dissipations of a life as splendid as that of the king of dandies,
the tyrant of several Parisian clubs. Consequently Comte Maxime was
often uneasy about matters financial. Possessing no property, he had
never been able to consolidate his position by being made a deputy;
also, having no ostensible functions, it was impossible for him to
hold a knife at the throat of any minister to compel his nomination as
peer of France. At the present moment he saw that Time was getting the
better of him; for his lavish dissipations were beginning to wear upon
his person, as they had already worn out his divers fortunes. In spite
of his splendid exterior, he knew himself, and could not be deceived
about that self. He intended to "make an end"--to marry.
A man of acute mind, he was under no illusion as to the apparent
consideration in which he was held; he well knew it was false. No
women were truly on his side, either in the great world of Paris
or among the bourgeoisie. Much secret malignity, much apparent
good-humor, and many services rendered were necessary to maintain him
in his present position; for every one desired his fall, and a run of
ill-luck might at any time ruin him. Once sent to Clichy or forced to
leave the country by notes no longer renewable, he would sink into the
gulf where so many political carcasses may be seen,--carcasses of men
who find no consolation in one another's company. Even this very
evening he was in dread of a collapse of that threatening arch which
debt erects over the head of many a Parisian. He had allowed his
anxieties to appear upon his face; he had refused to play cards at
Madame d'Espard's; he had talked with the women in an absent-minded
manner, and finally he had sunk down silent and absorbed in the
arm-chair from which he had just risen like Banquo's ghost.
Comte Maxime de Trailles now found himself the object of all glances,
direct and indirect, standing as he did before the fireplace and
illumined by the cross-lights of two candelabra. The few words said
about him compelled him, in a way, to bear himself proudly; and he did
so, like a man of sense, without arrogance, and yet with the intention
of showing himself to be above suspicion. A painter could scarcely
have found a better moment in which to seize the portrait of a man
who, in his way, was truly extraordinary. Does it not require rare
faculties to play such a part,--to enable one through thirty years to
seduce women; to constrain one to employ great gifts in an underhand
sphere only,--inciting a people to rebel, tracking the secrets of
austere politicians, and triumphing nowhere but in boudoirs and on the
back-stairs of cabinets?
Is there not something, difficult to say what, of greatness in being
able to rise to the highest calculations of statesmen and then to fall
coldly back into the void of a frivolous life? Where is the man of
iron who can withstand the alternating luck of gambling, the rapid
missions of diplomacy, the warfare of fashion and society, the
dissipations of gallantry,--the man who makes his memory a library of
lies and craft, who envelops such diverse thoughts, such conflicting
manoeuvres, in one impenetrable cloak of perfect manners? If the wind
of favor had blown steadily upon those sails forever set, if the luck
of circumstances had attended Maxime, he could have been Mazarin, the
Marechal de Richelieu, Potemkin, or--perhaps more truly--Lauzun,
The count, though rather tall and constitutionally slender, had of
late acquired some protuberance of stomach, but he "restrained it to
the majestic," as Brillat-Savarin once said. His clothes were always
so well made, that he kept about his whole person an air of youth,
something active and agile, due no doubt to his habits of exercise,
--fencing, riding, and hunting. Maxime possessed all the physical
graces and elegances of aristocracy, still further increased by his
personally superior bearing. His long, Bourbonine face was framed by
whiskers and a beard, carefully kept, elegantly cut, and black as jet.
This color, the same as that of his abundant hair, he now obtained by
an Indian cosmetic, very costly and used in Persia, the secret of
which he kept to himself. He deceived the most practised eye as to the
white threads which for some time past had invaded his hair. The
remarkable property of this dye, used by Persians for their beards
only, is that it does not render the features hard; it can be shaded
by indigo to harmonize well with the individual character of the skin.
It was this operation that Madame Mollot may have seen,--though people
in Arcis, by way of a jest, still ask themselves what it was that
Madame Mollot saw.
Maxime had a very handsome forehead, blue eyes, a Greek nose, a
pleasant mouth, and a well-cut chin; but the circle of his eyes was
now marked with numberless lines, so fine that they might have been
traced by a razor and not visible at a little distance. His temples
had similar lines. The face was also slightly wrinkled. His eyes, like
those of gamblers who have sat up innumerable nights, were covered
with a glaze, but the glance, though it was thus weakened, was none
the less terrible,--in fact, it terrified; a hidden heat was felt
beneath it, a lava of passions not yet extinct. The mouth, once so
fresh and rosy, now had colder tints; it was straight no longer, but
inclined to the right,--a sinuosity that seemed to indicate falsehood.
Vice had twisted the lips, but the teeth were white and handsome.
These blemishes disappeared on a general view of his face and person.
His figure was so attractive that no young man could compete with
Maxime when on horseback in the Bois, where he seemed younger and more
graceful than the youngest and most graceful among them. The privilege
of eternal youth has been possessed by several men in our day.
The count was all the more dangerous because he seemed to be easy and
indolent, never showing the iron determination which he had about all
things. This apparent indifference, which enabled him to abet a
popular sedition for the purpose of strengthening the authority of a
prince with as much ability as he would have bestowed upon a court
intrigue, had a certain grace. People never distrust calmness and
uniformity of manner, especially in France, where we are accustomed to
a great deal of movement and stir about the smallest things.
The count, who was dressed in the fashion of 1839, wore a black coat,
a cashmere waistcoat of dark blue embroidered with tiny flowers of a
lighter blue, black trousers, gray silk stockings, and varnished
leather shoes. His watch, placed in one of his waistcoat pockets, was
fastened by an elegant chain to a button-hole.
"Rastignac," he said, accepting the cup of tea which the pretty Madame
de Rastignac offered him, "will you come with me to the Austrian
"My dear fellow, I am too recently married not to go home with my
"That means that _later_--" said the young countess, turning round and
looking at her husband.
"Later is the end of the world," replied Maxime. "But I shall
certainly win my cause if I take Madame for a judge."
With a charming gesture, the count invited the pretty countess to come
nearer to him. After listening a few moments and looking at her
mother, she said to Rastignac:--
"If you want to go to the embassy with Monsieur de Trailles, mamma
will take me home."
A few moments later the Baronne de Nucingen and the Comtesse de
Rastignac went away together. Maxime and Rastignac followed a little
later, and when they were both seated in the count's carriage, the
"What do you want of me, Maxime? Why do you take me by the throat in
this way? What did you say to my wife?"
"I told her I had something to say to you. You are a lucky fellow, you
are! You have ended by marrying the only heiress of the Nucingen
millions--after twenty years at hard labor."
"But I! here am I, exposed to the doubts of everybody. A miserable
coward like du Tillet dares to ask if I have the courage to kill
myself! It is high time for me to settle down. Does the ministry want
to get rid of me, or does it not? You ought to know. At any rate, you
must find out," continued Maxime, making a gesture with his hand to
silence Rastignac. "Here is my plan: listen to it. You ought to serve
me, for I have served you, and can serve you again. The life I live
now is intolerable; I want an escape from it. Help me to a marriage
which shall bring me half a million. Once married, appoint me minister
to some wretched little republic in America. I'll stay there long
enough to make my promotion to the same post in Germany legitimate. If
I am worth anything, they will soon take me out of it; if I am not
worth anything, they can dismiss me. Perhaps I may have a child. If
so, I shall be stern with him; his mother will be rich; I'll make him
a minister, perhaps an ambassador."
"Here is my answer," said Rastignac. "An incessant battle is going on
--greater than common people who are not in it have any idea of
--between power in its swaddling-clothes and power in its childhood.
Power in swaddling-clothes is the Chamber of Deputies which, not being
restrained by an hereditary chamber--"
"Ha! ha!" said Maxime, "you are now a peer of France."
"I should say the same if I were not," said the new peer. "But don't
interrupt me; you are concerned in all this. The Chamber of Deputies
is fated to become the whole government, as de Marsay used to tell us
(the only man by whom France could have been saved), for peoples don't
die; they are slaves or free men, and that's all. Child-power is the
royalty that was crowned in August, 1830. The present ministry is
beaten; it dissolves the Chamber and brings on a general election in
order to prevent the coming ministry from calling one; but it does not
expect a victory. If it were victorious in these elections, the
dynasty would be in danger; whereas, if the ministry is beaten, the
dynastic party can fight to advantage for a long time. The mistakes of
the Chamber will turn to the profit of a will which wants,
unfortunately, to be the whole political power. When a ruler is that
whole, as Napoleon was, there comes a moment when he must supplement
himself; and having by that time alienated superior men, he, the great
single will, can find no assistant. That assistant ought to be what is
called a cabinet; but there is no cabinet in France, there is only a
Will with a life lease. In France it is the government that is blamed,
the opposition never; it may lose as many battles as it fights, but,
like the allies in 1814, one victory suffices. With 'three glorious
days' it overturned and destroyed everything. Therefore, if we are
heirs of power, we must cease to govern, and wait. I belong by my
personal opinions to the aristocracy, and by my public opinions to the
royalty of July. The house of Orleans served me to raise the fortunes
of my family, and I shall ever remain attached to it."
"The 'ever' of Monsieur de Talleyrand, be it understood," put in
"At this moment I can't do anything for you," continued Rastignac. "We
shall not be in power more than six months longer. Yes, those six
months will be our last dying agony, I know that; but we know what we
were when we formed ourselves, a stop-gap ministry and that was all.
But you can distinguish yourself in the electoral battle that is soon
to be fought. If you can bring one vote to the Chamber, a deputy
faithful to the dynastic cause, you will find your wishes gratified. I
will speak of your good services, and I will keep my eye on the
reports of our confidential agents; I may find you some difficult task
in which you can distinguish yourself. If you succeed, I can insist
upon your talents, your devotion, and claim your reward. Your
marriage, my dear fellow, can be made only in some ambitious
provincial family of tradespeople or manufacturers. In Paris you are
too well known. We must therefore look out for a millionaire parvenu,
endowed with a daughter, and possessed with a desire to parade himself
and his family at the Chateau des Tuileries."
"Make your father-in-law lend me twenty-five thousand francs to enable
me to wait as long as that; he will then have an interest in seeing
that I am not paid in holy-water if I succeed; he will further a rich
marriage for his own sake."
"You are wily, Maxime, and you distrust me. But I like able men, and I
will attend to your affair."
They reached the Austrian embassy. The Comte de Rastignac saw the
minister of the interior in one of the salons and went to talk with
him in a corner. Comte Maxime de Trailles, meantime, was apparently
engrossed by the old Comtesse de Listomere, but he was, in reality,
following the course of the conversation between the two peers of
France; he watched their gestures, interpreted their looks, and ended
by catching a favorable glance cast upon him by the minister.
Maxime and Rastignac left the embassy together about one in the
morning, and before getting into their respective carriages, Rastignac
said to Maxime on the steps of the portico: "Come and see me just
before the elections. Between now and then I shall know in what
locality the chances of the ministry are worst, and what resources two
heads like yours and mine can find there."
"But my twenty-five thousand francs are needed," replied de Trailles.
"Well, you must hide yourself, that's all."
Fifty days later, one morning before dawn, the Comte de Trailles went
to the rue de Varennes, mysteriously in a hired cab. At the gate of
the ministry of Public Works, he sent the cab away, looked about him
to see that he was not watched, and then waited in a little salon on
the first floor until Rastignac should awake. A few moments later the
valet who had taken in his card ushered Maxime into the minister's
bed-chamber, where that statesman was making his morning toilet.
"My dear Maxime," said the latter, "I can tell you a secret which will
be in the newspapers two days hence, and which, meantime, you can turn
to your own profit. That poor Charles Keller, who danced the mazurka
so well, as been killed in Africa. His death leaves a vacancy; he was
our candidate in the arrondissement of Arcis. Here is a copy of two
reports, one from the sub-prefect, the other from the commissary of
police, informing the ministry that the election of the poor fellow
would meet with opposition. In that of the commissary of police you
will find some information about the state of the town which ought to
be useful to a man of your shrewdness; it seems that the ambition of
the rival candidate comes chiefly from his desire to marry a certain
heiress. To one of your calibre that word is enough. The Cinq-Cygnes,
the Princesse de Cadignan, and Georges de Maufrigneuse are living at
Cinq-Cygne, close to Arcis; you can certainly obtain through them all
the Legitimist votes, therefore--"
"Don't waste your breath," said Maxime. "Is the commissary still
"Give me a letter to him."
"My dear fellow," replied Rastignac, giving Maxime quite a bundle of
papers, "you will find there two letters written to Gondreville for
you. You have been a page and he has been a senator; you can't fail
therefore to understand each other. Madame Francois Keller is pious;
here is a letter introducing you to her from the Marechale de
Carigliano. The marechale has become dynastic; she recommends you
warmly, and may go down herself. I will only add one word: Distrust
the sub-prefect, whom I think capable of working this candidate, this
Simon Giguet, into a support for himself with the president of the
council. If you want letters, powers, credentials, write to me."
"And those twenty-five thousand francs?" said Maxime.
"Sign this note to the order of du Tillet, and here's the money."
"I shall succeed," said the count, "and you may tell the king that the
deputy of Arcis shall belong to him body and soul. If I fail, I give
you leave to abandon me."
An hour later Maxime de Trailles was in his tilbury on the road to
PREFACE BEFORE LETTERING
Once in possession of the information furnished by the landlady of the
Back to Full Books