The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Part 5 out of 8
project. We even know what you, madame, seem not to know,--that this
able ministerial agent has found means to combine with the cares of
electoral politics those of his own private policy. Monsieur Maxime de
Trailles, if we are rightly informed, was on the point of succumbing
to the chronic malady with which he has been so long afflicted; I mean
_debt_. Not debts, for we say "the debt of Monsieur de Trailles," as
we say "the debt of England." In this extremity the patient, resolved
on heroic remedies, adopted that of marriage, which might perhaps be
called marriage _in extremis_.
To cut a long story short, Monsieur de Trailles was sent to Arcis to
put an end to the candidacy of an upstart of the Left centre, a
certain Simon Giguet; and having brought forward the mayor of the town
as the ministerial candidate, he finds the said mayor, named
Beauvisage, possessed of an only daughter, rather pretty, and able to
bring her husband five hundred thousand francs amassed in the
honorable manufacture of cotton night-caps. Now you see, I am sure,
the mechanism of the affair.
As for our own claims, we certainly do not make cotton night-caps, but
we make statues,--statues for which we are decorated with the Legion
of honor; religious statues, inaugurated with great pomp by
Monseigneur the bishop of the diocese and all the constituted
authorities; statues, or rather _a_ statue, which the whole population
of the town has flocked to the Ursuline convent to behold, where
Mesdames the nuns, not a little puffed up with this magnificent
addition to their bijou of a chapel, have kept their house and their
oratory open to all comers for this whole day. Is not that likely to
popularize our candidacy?
This evening, to crown the ceremony of inaugurating our Saint-Ursula,
we give in our chateau of Arcis a banquet to fifty guests, among whom
we have had the malice to invite (with the chief inhabitants of the
place) all the ministerial functionaries and, above all, the
ministerial candidate. But, in view of our own declared candidacy, we
feel pretty well assured that the latter will not respond to the
invitation. So much the better! more room for others; and the missing
guests, whose names will be made known on the morrow, will be
convicted of a _servilism_ which will, we think, injure their
influence with the population.
Yesterday we paid a visit at the chateau de Cinq-Cygne, where d'Arthez
presented us, in the first place, to the Princesse de Cadignan, who is
wonderfully well preserved. Both she and the old Marquise de
Cinq-Cygne received Dorlange--I should say, Sallenauve--in the warmest
manner. It was from them that we learned the history of Monsieur
Maxime de Trailles' mission and its present results. It seems that on
his arrival the ministerial agent received some attentions at
Cinq-Cygne,--mere floating sticks, to discover the set of his current.
He evidently flattered himself that he should find support at Cinq-Cygne
for his electioneering intrigue; which is so far from being the case
that Duc Georges de Maufrigneuse, to whom, as a Jockey Club comrade,
he told all his projects, gave us the information about them which I
have now given to you, and which, if you will be so kind, I should
like you to make over to Monsieur de l'Estorade.
The dinner has taken place, madame; it was magnificently served, and
Arcis will talk about it for some time to come. Sallenauve has in that
great organist (who, by the bye, showed his talent on the organ
admirably during the ceremony of inauguration) a sort of steward and
factotum who leaves all the Vatels of the world far behind him; he
would never have fallen on his sword for lack of a fish! Colored
lamps, garlands, draperies, decorated the dining-room; even fireworks
were provided; nothing was wanting to the fete, which lasted to a late
hour in the gardens of the chateau, where the populace danced and
drank to its heart's content.
Nearly all the invited guests came except those we desired to
compromise. The invitations having been sent at short notice, it was
amusing to read the notes and letters of excuse, which Sallenauve
ordered to be brought to him in the salon as they arrived. As he
opened each he took care to say: "This is from Monsieur the
sub-prefect; this from the _procureur-du-roi_; this from Monsieur
Vinet the substitute, expressing regret that they cannot accept the
invitation." All these concerted refusals were received with smiles
and whispers by the company; but when a letter arrived from
Beauvisage, and Sallenauve read aloud the "impossibility in which he
found himself to _correspond_ to his politeness," the hilarity grew
noisy and general, and was only stopped by the entrance of Monsieur
Martener, examining judge, who performed an act of courage in coming
to the dinner which his colleagues declined. We must remark, however,
than an examining-judge has two sides to him. On that of the judge he
is irremovable; he can only be deprived of the slight increase of
salary he receives as an examiner and of the privilege of signing
warrants and questioning thieves,--splendid rights of which the
chancellor can mulct him by a stroke of his pen. But allowing that
Monsieur Martener was only semi-brave, he was greeted on this occasion
as a full moon.
The Duc de Maufrigneuse, d'Arthez, and Monseigneur the bishop, who was
staying at Cinq-Cygne for a few days, were all present, and this made
more noticeable the absence of one man, namely, Grevin, whose excuse,
sent earlier in the day, was not read to the company. The
non-appearance of the Comte de Gondreville was explained by the recent
death of his grandson, Charles Keller; and in sending the invitation
Sallenauve had been careful to let him know he should understand a
refusal. But that Grevin, the count's right arm, should absent
himself, seemed to show that he and his patron were convinced of the
probable election of Beauvisage, and would have no intercourse with
the new candidate.
The dinner being given in honor of Saint-Ursula's installation, which
could not be celebrated by a banquet in the convent, Sallenauve had a
fine opportunity for the following toast:--
"To the Mother of the poor; the noble and saintly spirit which, for
fifty years, has shone on Champagne, and to which we owe the vast
number of distinguished and accomplished women who adorn this
beautiful region of our country."
If you know, as I do, madame, what a forlorn, beggarly region
Champagne is, you would say, or something like it, that Sallenauve is
a rascally fellow, and that the passion to enter the legislature makes
a man capable of shocking deceit. Was it worth while, in fact, for a
man who usually respects himself to boldly tell a lie of criminal
dimensions, when a moment later a little unforeseen circumstance
occurred which did more than all the speeches ever uttered to commend
him to the sympathy of the electors?
You told me, madame, that your son Armand found a strong likeness to
the portraits of Danton in our friend Sallenauve; and it seems that
the boy's remark was true, for several persons present who had known
the great revolutionist during his lifetime made the same observation.
Laurent Goussard, who, as I told you in a former letter, was Danton's
friend, was also, in a way, his brother-in-law; for Danton, who was
something of a gallant, had been on close terms for several years with
the miller's sister. Well, the likeness must be striking, for after
dinner, while we were taking our coffee, the worthy Goussard, whose
head was a little warmed by the fumes of wine, came up to Sallenauve
and asked him whether he was certain he had made no mistake about his
father, and could honestly declare that Danton had nothing to do with
Sallenauve took the matter gaily, and answered arithmetically,--
"Danton died April 5, 1794. To be his son, I must have been born no
later than January, 1795, which would make me forty-four years old
to-day. But the register of my birth, and I somewhat hope my face,
make me out exactly thirty."
"Yes, you are right," said Laurent Goussard; "figures demolish my
idea; but no matter,--we'll vote for you all the same."
I think the man is right; this chance resemblance is likely to have
great weight in the election. You must remember, madame, that, in
spite of the fatal facts which cling about his memory, Danton is not
an object of horror and execration in Arcis, where he was born and
brought up. In the first place time has purged him; his grand
character and powerful intellect remain, and the people are proud of
their compatriot. In Arcis they talk of Danton as in Marseilles they
talk of Cannebiere. Fortunate, therefore, is our candidate's likeness
to this demigod, the worship of whom is not confined to the town, but
extends to the surrounding country.
These voters _extra muros_ are sometimes curiously simple-minded, and
obvious contradictions trouble them not at all. Some agents sent into
the adjacent districts have used this fancied resemblance; and as in a
rural propaganda the object is less to strike fair than to strike
hard, Laurent Goussard's version, apocryphal as it is, is hawked about
the country villages with a coolness that admits of no contradiction.
While this pretended revolutionary origin is advancing our friend's
prospects in one direction, in another the tale put forth to the
worthy voters whom it is desirable to entice is different, but truer
and not less striking to the minds of the country-people. This is the
gentlemen, they are told, who has bought the chateau of Arcis; and as
the chateau of Arcis stands high above the town and is known to all
the country round, it is to these simple folk a species of symbol.
They are always ready to return to memories of the past, which is much
less dead and buried than people suppose; "Ah! he's the _seigneur_ of
the chateau," they say.
This, madame, is how the electoral kitchen is carried on and the way
in which a deputy is cooked.
MARIE-GASTON TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 15, 1839.
Madame,--You do me the honor to say that my letters amuse you, and you
tell me not to fear that I send too many.
We are no longer at the Hotel de la Poste, having left it for the
chateau; but thanks to the rivalry existing between the two inns, the
Poste and the Mulet, in the latter of which Monsieur de Trailles has
established his headquarters, we are kept informed of what is going on
in the town and among our enemies. Since our departure, as our late
landlord informs us, a Parisian journalist has arrived at his hotel.
This individual, whose name I do not know, at once announced himself
as Jack-the-giant-killer, sent down to reinforce with his Parisian vim
and vigor the polemic which the local press, subsidized by the "bureau
of public spirit," has directed against us.
In that there is nothing very grave or very gay; since the world was a
world, governments have always found pens for sale, and never have
they failed to buy them; but the comedy of this affair begins with the
co-arrival and the co-presence in the hotel of a young lady of very
problematical virtue. The name of this young lady as it appears on her
passport is Mademoiselle Chocardelle; but the journalist in speaking
of her calls her Antonia, or, when he wants to treat her with more
respect, Mademoiselle Antonia.
Now, what can bring Mademoiselle Chocardelle to Arcis? A pleasure
trip, you will say, offered to her by the journalist, who combines
with that object our daily defamation and his consequent earnings from
the secret-service fund of the government. Not at all; Mademoiselle
Chocardelle has come to Arcis on business of her own,--namely, to
enforce a claim.
It seems that Charles Keller before his departure for Africa, where he
met a glorious death, drew a note of hand, payable to Mademoiselle
Antonia on order, for ten thousand francs, "value received in
furniture," a charming ambiguity, the furniture having been received
by, and not from, Mademoiselle Chocardelle, who estimated at ten
thousand francs the sacrifice she made in accepting it.
A few days after Charles Keller's death, the note being almost due,
Mademoiselle Antonia went to the counting-room of the Keller Brothers
to inquire about its payment. The cashier, who is crabbed, like all
cashiers, replied that he did not see how Mademoiselle Antonia had the
face to present such a note; at any rate, the heads of the house were
at Gondreville, where the whole family had met after receiving the
fatal news, and he should pay no such note without referring the
matter to them.
"Very good, then I'll refer it to them myself," replied Mademoiselle
Antonia. Thereupon she was meditating a departure alone to Arcis, when
the government felt the need of insulting us with more wit and point
than provincial journalism can muster, and so confided that employment
to a middle-aged journalist to whom Mademoiselle Antonia had, during
the absence of Charles Keller, shown some kindness. "I am going to
Arcis," seems to have been said at the same instant by writer and
lady. The most commonplace lives encounter similar coincidences.
Now, madame, admire the manner in which things link together. Setting
forth on a purely selfish financial enterprise, behold Mademoiselle
Chocardelle suddenly brought to the point of wielding an immense
electoral influence! And observe also that her influence is of a
nature to compensate for all the witty pin-pricks of her gallant
Mademoiselle's affair, it appears, hung fire. Twice she went to
Gondreville, and was not admitted. The journalist was busy,--partly
with his articles, and partly with certain commissions given to him by
Monsieur de Trailles, under whose orders he was told to place himself.
Mademoiselle Antonia was therefore much alone; and in the ennui of
such solitude, she was led to create for herself a really desperate
A few steps from the Hotel de la Poste is a bridge across the Aube; a
path leads down beside it, by a steep incline, to the water's edge,
which, being hidden from the roadway above and little frequented,
offers peace and solitude to whoever may like to dream there to the
sound of the rippling current. Mademoiselle Antonia at first took a
book with her; but books not being, as she says, in her line, she
looked about for other ways of killing her time, and bethought herself
of fishing, for which amusement the landlord of the inn supplied her
with a rod. Much pleased with her first successes, the pretty exile
devoted herself to an occupation which must be attractive,--witness
the fanatics that it makes; and the few persons who crossed the bridge
could admire at all hours a charming naiad in a flounced gown and a
broad-brimmed straw hat, engaged in fishing with the conscientious
gravity of a _gamin de Paris_.
Up to this time Mademoiselle Antonia and her fishing have had nothing
to do with our election; but if you will recall, madame, in the
history of Don Quixote (which I have heard you admire for its
common-sense and jovial reasoning) the rather disagreeable adventures
of Rosinante and the muleteers, you will have a foretaste of the good
luck which the development of Mademoiselle Antonia's new passion
brought to us.
Our rival, Beauvisage, is not only a successful stocking-maker and an
exemplary mayor, but he is also a model husband, having never tripped
in loyalty to his wife, whom he respects and admires. Every evening,
by her orders, he goes to bed before ten o'clock, while Madame
Beauvisage and her daughter go into what Arcis is pleased to call
society. But there is no more treacherous water, they say, than still
water, just as there was nothing less proper and well-behaved than the
calm and peaceable Rosinante on the occasion referred to.
At any rate, while making the tour of his town according to his
laudable official habit, Beauvisage from the top of the bridge chanced
to catch sight of the fair Parisian who with outstretched arms and
gracefully bent body was pursuing her favorite pastime. A slight
movement, the charming impatience with which the pretty fisher
twitched her line from the water when the fish had not bitten, was
perhaps the electric shock which struck upon the heart of the
magistrate, hitherto irreproachable. No one can say, perhaps, how the
thing really came about. But I ought to remark that during the
interregnum that occurred between the making of socks and night-caps
and the assumption of municipal duties, Beauvisage himself had
practised the art of fishing with a line with distinguished success.
Probably it occurred to him that the poor young lady, having more
ardor than science, was not going the right way to work, and the
thought of improving her method may have been the real cause of his
apparent degeneracy. However that may be, it is certain that, crossing
the bridge in company with her mother, Mademoiselle Beauvisage
suddenly cried out, like a true _enfant terrible_,--
"Goodness! there's papa talking with that Parisian woman!"
To assure herself at a glance of the monstrous fact, to rush down the
bank and reach her husband (whom she found with laughing lips and the
happy air of a browsing sheep), to blast him with a stern "What are
you doing here?" to order his retreat to Arcis with the air of a
queen, while Mademoiselle Chocardelle, first astonished and then
enlightened as to what it all meant, went off into fits of laughter,
took scarcely the time I have taken to tell it. Such, madame, was the
proceeding by which Madame Beauvisage, _nee_ Grevin, rescued her
husband; and though that proceeding may be called justifiable, it was
certainly injudicious, for before night the whole town had heard of
the catastrophe, and Beauvisage, arraigned and convicted by common
consent of deplorable immorality, saw fresh desertions taking place in
the already winnowed phalanx of his partisans.
However, the Gondreville and Grevin side still held firm, and--would
you believe it, madame?--it was again Mademoiselle Antonia to whom we
owe the overthrow of their last rampart.
Here is the tale of that phenomenon: Mother Marie-des-Anges wanted an
interview with the Comte de Gondreville; but how to get it she did not
know, because to ask for it was not, as she thought, proper. Having,
it appears, unpleasant things to say to him, she did not wish to bring
the old man to the convent expressly to hear them; such a proceeding
seemed to her uncharitable. Besides, things comminatory delivered
point-blank will often provoke their recipient instead of alarming
him; whereas the same things slipped in sweetly never fail of their
effect. Still, time was passing; the election, as you know, takes
place to-morrow, Sunday, and the preparatory meeting of all the
candidates and the electors, to-night. The poor dear saintly woman did
not know what course to take, when a little matter occurred, most
flattering to her vanity, which solved her doubts. A pretty sinner,
she was told, who had come to Arcis to "do" Monsieur Keller the
financier, then at Gondreville, out of some money, had heard of the
virtues and the inexhaustible kindness of Mother Marie-des-Anges--in
short, she regarded her, after Danton, as the most interesting object
of the place, and deeply regretted that she dared not ask to be
admitted to her presence.
An hour later the following note was left at the Hotel de la Poste:--
Mademoiselle,--I am told that you desire to see me, but that you
do not know how to accomplish it. Nothing is easier. Ring the
door-bell of my quiet house, ask to see me, and do not be alarmed
at my black robe and aged face. I am not one of those who force
their advice upon pretty young women who do not ask for it, and
who may become in time greater saints than I. That is the whole
mystery of obtaining an interview with Mother Marie-des-Anges, who
salutes you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Picture of
An invitation so graciously given was not to be resisted; and
Mademoiselle Antonia, after putting on the soberest costume she could
get together, went to the convent.
I wish I could give you the details of that interview, which must have
been curious; but no one was present, and nothing was known except
what the lost sheep, who returned in tears, told of it. When the
journalist tried to joke her on this conversion, Mademoiselle Antonia
turned upon him.
"Hold your tongue," she said; "you never in your life wrote a sentence
like what she said to me."
"What did she say to you?"
"'Go, my child,' said that old woman, 'the ways of God are beautiful,
and little known; there is often more of a saint in a Magdalen than in
The journalist laughed, but scenting danger he said,--
"When are you going again to Gondreville to see that Keller? If he
doesn't pay the money soon, I'll hit him a blow in some article, in
spite of all Maxime may say."
"I don't play dirty tricks myself," replied Antonia, with dignity.
"Don't you? Do you mean you are not going to present that note again?"
"Not now," replied the admirer and probably the echo of Mother
Marie-des-Anges, but using her own language; "I don't blackmail a
family in affliction. I should remember it on my death-bed, and doubt
"Why don't you make yourself an Ursuline, now that we are here?"
"Ha, if I only had the courage! I might be happier if I did. But, in
any case, I am not going to Gondreville; Mother Marie-des-Anges has
undertaken to arrange that matter for me."
"Foolish girl! Have you given her that note?"
"I wanted to tear it up, but she prevented me, and told me to give it
to her and she would arrange it honestly for my interests."
"Very fine! You were a creditor, and now you are a beggar."
"No, for I have given the money in alms. I told madame to keep it for
"Oh! if you add the vice of patronizing convents to your other vice of
fishing in rivers, you will be a pleasant girl to frequent."
"You won't frequent me much longer, for I go to-night, and leave you
to your dirty work."
"Bless me! so you retire to the Carmelites?"
"The Carmelites!" replied Antonia, wittily; "no, my old fellow, we
don't retire to the Carmelites unless we leave a king."
Such women, even the most ignorant, all know the story of La Valliere,
whom they would assuredly have made their patroness if Sister
Louise-of-the-Sacred-Mercy had been canonized.
I don't know how Mother Marie-des-Anges managed it, but early this
morning the carriage of the old Comte de Gondreville stopped before
the gate of the convent; and when the count again entered it he was
driven to the office of his friend Grevin; and later in the day the
latter said to several friends that certainly his son-in-law was too
much of a fool, he had compromised himself with that Parisian woman,
and would undoubtedly lose his election.
I am told that the rectors of the two parishes in Arcis have each
received a thousand crowns for their poor from Mother Marie-des-Anges,
who informed them that it came from a benefactor who did not wish his
name known. Sallenauve is furious because our partisans are going
about saying that the money came from him. But when you are running
before the wind you can't mathematically measure each sail, and you
sometimes get more of a breeze than you really want.
Monsieur Maxime de Trailles makes no sign, but there is every reason
to suppose that this failure of his candidate, which he must see is
now inevitable, will bury both him and his marriage. But, at any rate,
he is a clever fellow, who will manage to get his revenge.
What a curious man, madame, this organist is! His name is that of one
of our greatest physicians,--though they are not related to each
other,--Bricheteau. No one ever showed more activity, more presence of
mind, more devotion, more intelligence; and there are not two men in
all Europe who can play the organ as he does. You say you do not want
Nais to be a mere piano _strummer_; then I advise you to let this
Bricheteau teach her. He is a man who would show her what music really
is; he will not give himself airs, for I assure you he is as modest as
he is gifted. To Sallenauve he is like a little terrier; as watchful,
as faithful, and I may add as ugly,--if so good and frank a
countenance as his can ever be thought anything but handsome!
MARIE-GASTON TO MADAME LA COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 16, 1839.
Madame,--Last evening the preparatory meeting took place,--a
ridiculous ceremony, very annoying to the candidates, which cannot,
however, be avoided.
Perhaps it is natural that before pledging themselves to a man who is
to represent them for four or five years, voters should want to
question him, and discover, if possible, what he really is. Is he a
man of intelligence? Does he really sustain the ideas put forth about
him? Will he be cordial and affable to the various interests which may
claim his support? Is he firm in character? Can he defend his ideas
--if he has any? In a word, will the constituency be worthily,
faithfully, and honestly represented? That is the serious and
respectable aspect of this institution, which, not being a part of the
law, must, in order to be so firmly fixed in our customs, have a sound
reason for its existence.
But every medal has its reverse; as may be seen in these meetings of
candidates with electors puffed up by their own self-importance, eager
to exercise for a moment the sovereignty they are about to delegate to
their deputy, and selling it as dearly as they can to him. Considering
the impertinence of certain questions addressed to a candidate, it
would really seem as if the latter were a serf over whom each elector
had rights of life and death. Not a corner of his private life where
the unhappy man is safe from prying curiosity. All things are possible
in the line of preposterous questioning; for instance: Why does the
candidate prefer the wine of Champagne to the wine of Bordeaux? At
Bordeaux, where wine is a religion, this preference implies an idea of
non-patriotism and may seriously affect the election. Many voters go
to these meetings solely to enjoy the embarrassment of the candidates.
Holding them as it were in the pillory, they play with them like a
child with a beetle, an old judge with the criminal he examines, or a
young surgeon at an autopsy.
Others have not such elevated tastes; they come merely to enjoy the
racket, the confusion of tongues which is certain to take place on
such occasions. Some see their opportunity to exhibit a choice talent;
for (as they say in the reports of the Chamber) when "the tumult is at
its height," a cock is heard to crow or a dog to howl as if his paw
were trodden upon,--noises that are imitated with marvellous accuracy.
But truly, are not fools and stupid beings a majority in the world,
and ought they not to have their representative?
The meeting took place in a large dance-hall, the loft for the
orchestra forming a sort of private box to which non-voters were
admitted, I among the number. Some ladies had already taken the front
seats; Madame Marion, aunt of Simon Giguet, the Left centre candidate;
Madame and Mademoiselle Mollot, wife and daughter of the clerk of the
court, and some others whose names and position I did not catch.
Madame and Mademoiselle Beauvisage shone conspicuously, like Brutus
and Cassius, by their absence.
Before the candidacy of Monsieur Beauvisage was brought forward on the
ministerial side after the death of Charles Keller, that of Monsieur
Simon Giguet was thought to be certain of success. Now, in consequence
of that of our friend Sallenauve, who has in turn distanced
Beauvisage, Giguet has fallen a step lower still. His father, a former
colonel of the Empire, is greatly respected throughout this region. As
an expression of regret for not electing his son (according to all
probabilities), the electors made him, by acclamation, chairman of the
The first candidate who was called upon to speak was Simon Giguet; he
made a long-winded address, full of commonplaces. Few questions were
asked him which deserve a place in the present report. The audience
felt that the tug of war was elsewhere.
Monsieur Beauvisage was then summoned; whereupon Maitre Achille
Pigoult the notary rose, and asked leave to make a statement.
"Monsieur le maire," he said, "has, since yesterday, been attacked
"Ha! ha!" derisive laughter on the part of the electors.
Colonel Giguet rang his bell repeatedly, without being able to enforce
silence. At the first lull Maitre Pigoult resumed,--
"I have the honor to inform you, gentlemen, that, attacked by an
indisposition which, not serious in itself--"
Fresh interruption, noisier than the first.
Like all military men, Colonel Giguet is not patient nor
parliamentary; he therefore rose and called out vehemently,--
"Messieurs, we are not at a circus. I request you to behave in a more
seemly manner; if not, I leave the chair."
It is to be supposed that men in masses like to be handled roughly;
for this lesson was greeted with merry applause, after which silence
appeared to be firmly re-established.
"I regret to inform you," began Maitre Achille Pigoult, varying his
formula for the third time, "that, attacked by an indisposition
happily not serious, which may confine him to his chamber--"
"Throat trouble," suggested a voice.
"--our venerable and excellent mayor," continued Achille Pigoult,
taking no notice of the interruption, "is unable to be present at this
meeting. Madame Beauvisage, with whom I have just had the honor of an
interview, requests me to inform you that, _for the present_, Monsieur
Beauvisage renounces the honor of receiving your suffrages, and
requests those of you who have given him your intelligent sympathy to
transfer your votes to Monsieur Simon Giguet."
This Achille Pigoult is a malicious fellow, who intentionally brought
in the name of Madame Beauvisage to exhibit her conjugal sovereignty.
But the assembly was really too provincial to catch the meaning of
that little bit of treachery. Besides, in the provinces, women take
part in the most virile affairs of the men. The well-known saying of
the vicar's old housekeeper, "We don't say masses at that price,"
would pass without comment in Champagne.
At last came Sallenauve. I was struck with the ease and quiet dignity
of his manner. That is a very reassuring pledge, madame, of his
conduct under more trying circumstances; for when a man rises to speak
it makes but little difference who and what his audience are. To an
orator goaded by fear, great lords and porters are precisely the same
thing. They are eyes that look at you, ears that hear you. Individuals
are not there, only one huge being,--an assembly, felt as a mass,
without analyzing the elements.
After enumerating briefly the ties which connected him with this
region, slipping in as he did so an adroit and dignified allusion to
his birth which "was not like that of others," Sallenauve stated
clearly his political ideas. A Republic he thought the finest of all
governments; but he did not believe it possible to establish one in
France; consequently, he did not desire it. He thought that a truly
parliamentary government, in which court influence should be so
vigorously muzzled that nothing need be feared from its tendency to
interference and caballing would best conduce to the dignity and the
welfare of the nation. Liberty and equality, the two great principles
that triumphed in '89, would obtain from such a government the
strongest guarantees. As to the manoeuvring of the royal power against
those principles, it was not for institutions to check it, but for
men,--customs, public opinion, rather than laws; and for himself,
Sallenauve, he should ever stand in the breach as a living obstacle.
He declared himself a warm partisan of free education; believed that
greater economy might be exercised in the budget; that too many
functionaries were attached to the government; and, above all, that
the court was too largely represented in the Chamber. To maintain his
independence he was firmly resolved to accept no post and no favors
from the government. Neither ought those who might elect him to expect
that he would ever take steps on their behalf which were not warranted
by reason and by justice. It was said that the word _impossible_ was
not French. Yet there was an impossibility by which he took pride in
being stopped--that of injustice, and that of disloyalty, even the
faintest, to the Right. [Loud applause.]
Silence being once more restored,--
"Monsieur," said one of the electors, after obtaining the floor from
the chairman, "you say that you will accept no post under government.
Does not that imply reproach to public functionaries? My name is
Godivet; I am registrar of the archives, but I do not consider that a
reason why I should incur the contempt of my fellow-citizens."
"I am happy, monsieur, to learn that the government has invested a man
like you with functions which you fulfil, I am sure, with perfect
uprightness and great ability; but I venture to ask if you rose to
your present position at one jump?"
"Certainly not, monsieur; I began by being a supernumerary for three
years; after that I passed through all the grades; and I can show that
favor had nothing to do with my promotion."
"Then, monsieur, what would you say if with my rank as deputy
(supposing that I obtain the suffrages of this arrondissement) I, who
have never been a supernumerary and never passed through any grades,
and whose only claim upon the administration is that of having voted
for it,--what would you say if I were suddenly appointed over your
head as the director-general of your department?"
"I should say--I should say, monsieur, that the choice was a good one,
because the king himself would have made it."
"No, monsieur, you would not say it, or if you said it aloud, which I
scarcely think possible, you would think in your heart that the choice
was ridiculous and unjust. 'How the devil,' you would say to yourself,
'could this man, this sculptor, know anything about the intricate
business of registering archives?' And you would be right in
condemning such royal caprice; for what becomes of long and honorable
services, justly acquired rights, and steady promotion under such a
system of arbitrary choice? It is that I may not be the accomplice of
this crying abuse, because I think it neither just nor honest nor
useful to obtain in this way important public functions, that I
denounce the system and bind myself to accept no office. Is this,
monsieur, pouring contempt on public functions? Is it not rather
lifting them to higher honor?"
Monsieur Godivet declared himself satisfied, and said no more.
"_Ah ca_! monsieur," cried another elector, after demanding the floor
in the rather tipsy voice, "you say you will ask no favors for your
constituents; then what good will you be to us?"
"My friend, I did not say I would ask nothing for my constituents. I
said I would ask nothing but what was just; but that, I may add, I
shall ask with energy and perseverance, for that is how justice should
be followed up."
"But," persisted the voter, "there are various ways of doing justice;
witness the suit I was made to lose against Jean Remy, with whom I had
trouble about a boundary--"
Colonel Giguet, interrupting,--
"Come, come, you are not going, I hope to talk about your private
affairs, and speak disrespectfully of magistrates?"
The voter resumed,--
"Magistrates, colonel, I respect, for I was one myself for six months
in '93, and I know the law. But, returning to my point, I ask
monsieur, who is here to answer questions, to me as well as to others,
what he thinks about tobacco licenses."
"My opinion on tobacco licenses! That is rather difficult to
formulate; I can, however, say that, if my information is correct,
they are usually very well distributed."
"Hey! hey! you're a man, you!" cried the inebriate elector, "and I'll
vote for you, for they can't fool you,--no! But they do give those
licenses all wrong! Look at that daughter of Jean Remy. Bad neighbor.
Never owned anything but his cart, and fights every day with his
"But, my good fellow," said the chairman, interposing, "you are
abusing the patience of this assembly."
"No, no! let him talk!" cried voices from all parts of the room.
The voter was amusing, and Sallenauve himself seemed to let the
chairman know he would like to see what the man was driving at.
The elector, being allowed to continue, went on:--
"I was going to say, with due respect to you, colonel, about that
daughter of Jean Remy's,--a man I'll pursue to hell, for my bounds
were in their right place, and them experts was all wrong. Well! what
did that slut do? Left her father and mother and went to Paris! What
did she do there? I didn't go to see, but I'm told she made
acquaintance with a deputy, and has got the tobacco license for the
rue Mouffetard, the longest street in Paris. But I'd like to see my
wife, widow of an honest man, doubled up with rheumatism for having
slept in the woods during that terror in 1815,--I'd like to see my
poor widow get a license!"
"But you are not dead yet," they shouted to him from all parts of the
room. The colonel, meantime, to put an end to the burlesque scene,
nodded to a little confectioner who was waiting for the floor, a
well-known Republican. The new questioner, in a falsetto voice, put
the following insidious question to the candidate,--a question which
might, by the way, be called national in Arcis,--
"What does Monsieur think of Danton?"
"Monsieur Dauphin," said the chairman, "I have the honor to remind you
that Danton belongs to history."
"To the Pantheon of history, monsieur; that is the proper expression."
"Well, history, or the Pantheon of history, as you please; but Danton
is irrelevant here."
"Permit me, Mr. Chairman," said Sallenauve, "though the question does
not seem to have much purpose on the bearing of this meeting, I cannot
forego the opportunity thus given me to give proof of the impartiality
and independence with which I can judge that great memory, the fame of
which still echoes in this town."
"Hear! hear!" cried the assembly, almost unanimously.
"I am firmly convinced," resumed Sallenauve, "that if Danton had been
born in a calm and peaceful epoch like our own, he would have shown
himself, what in fact he was, a good father, a good husband, a warm
and faithful friend, a man of kindly temper, who, by the force of his
great talents, would have risen to some eminent place in the State and
"Yes, yes! bravo! very good!"
"Born, on the contrary, in troublesome times, and amid the storm of
unchained passions, Danton was better constituted than others to
kindle the flame of that atmosphere of fire. Danton was the torch that
fired; his scarlet glare lent itself only too readily to scenes of
blood and horror which I must not recall. But, they said, the national
independence was at stake, traitors and dissemblers must be awed,--in
a word, a cruel and awful sacrifice was necessary for the public weal.
Messieurs, I do not accept that theory. To kill, without the necessity
demonstrated a score of times of legitimate defence, to kill women,
children, prisoners, unarmed men, was a crime,--a crime, look at it
how you will, that was execrable; those who ordered it, those who
consented to it, those who executed it are, to my mind, deserving of
the same reprobation."
I wish I could give you an idea, madame, of the tone and expression of
Sallenauve as he uttered this anathema. You know how his face is
transfigured when an ardent thought comes into his mind. The
assemblage was mute and gloomy. Evidently he had wounded their
sensibilities; but, under the curb of his powerful hand, it dared not
throw up its head.
"But," he continued, "to all consummated and irreparable crimes there
are two issues,--repentance and expiation. His repentance Danton did
not utter,--he was too proud a man,--but he _acted_ it. He was the
first, to the sound of that axe falling without pity and without
respite,--the first, at the risk of his own head being the next
victim,--to call for a 'committee of mercy.' It was the sure, the
infallible means of bringing him to expiation; and you all know
whether, when that day of expiation came, he quailed before it.
Passing through death,--won by his courageous effort to stop the
effusion of blood,--it may be truly said that the face and the memory
of Danton have washed off the bloody stain which September put upon
them. Committed, at the age of thirty-five, to the judgment of
posterity, Danton has left us the memory of a great intellect, a
strong and powerful character, noble private qualities, more than one
generous action,--all derived from his own being; whereas the bloody
errors he committed were the contagion of his epoch. In a word, with
men of his quality, unjust would be the justice which does not temper
itself with mercy. And here, messieurs, you have in your midst--better
than you, better than I, better than all orators and historians--a
woman who has weighed and understood Danton, and who says to the
pitiless, with the impulse of her charity, 'He has gone to God; let us
pray for him.'"
The trap thus avoided by this happy allusion to Mother
Marie-des-Anges, and the assembly evidently satisfied, it might be
supposed that the candidate had come to the end of his baiting. The
colonel was even preparing to pass to the vote, when several electors
sprang up, declaring that two important explanations were still
required from the candidate. He had said that he should ever be found
an obstacle to all attempts of the royal power to subvert our
institutions. What did he mean by such resistance? Was it armed
resistance, the resistance of riots and barricades?
"Barricades," replied Sallenauve, "have nearly always seemed to me
machines which turned of themselves and crushed the men who raised
them. We must believe that in the nature of riots there is something
which serves the interests of the government, for I have invariably
heard the police accused of inciting them. My resistance, that which I
spoke of, will ever be a legal resistance, pursued by legal means, by
the press, by the tribune, and with patience,--that great force
granted to the oppressed and to the vanquished."
If you knew Latin, madame, I should say to you, _In cauda venenum_;
which means, "In the tail of the serpent is its venom,"--a remark of
antiquity which modern science does not admit. Monsieur de l'Estorade
was not mistaken; Sallenauve's private life was destined to be
ransacked, and, no doubt under the inspiration of the virtuous Maxime
de Trailles, the second question put to our friend was about the
handsome Italian woman said to be _hidden_ by him in his house in
Sallenauve showed no embarrassment at being thus interpellated. He
merely asked whether the assembly would think proper to spend its time
in listening to a romantic story in which there was no scandal.
But here comes Sallenauve himself; he tells me that the electoral
college is formed in a manner that leaves little doubt of his
election. I leave my pen to him, to tell you the romantic tale,
already, I believe, interrupted on several occasions. He will close
CHARLES DE SALLENAUVE TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Madame,--The rather abrupt manner in which I parted from you and
Monsieur de l'Estorade the evening of our visit to Armand's school,
has been explained to you by the preoccupations of all sorts to which
at that moment I was a victim. Marie-Gaston tells me that he has kept
you informed of the subsequent events.
I acknowledge that in the restless and agitated state of mind in which
I then was, the sort of belief which Monsieur de l'Estorade appeared
to give to the scandal which he mentioned caused me great displeasure
and some surprise. How, thought I, is it possible that a man of
Monsieur de l'Estorade's morality and intellect can _a priori_ suppose
me capable of such disorder, when he sees me anxious to give to my
life all the weight and consideration which the respect of others
alone can bestow? Only a few moments before this painful conversation
I had been on the point of making you a confidence which would, I
presume, have protected me against the unfortunate impression which
Monsieur de l'Estorade conveyed to your mind. As for Monsieur de
l'Estorade himself, I was, I confess, so annoyed at seeing the
careless manner in which he made himself the echo of a calumny against
which I felt he ought rather to have defended me that I did not
_deign_ to make any explanation to him. I now withdraw that word, but
it was then the true expression of a displeasure keenly felt.
In the course of my electoral contest, I have been obliged to make
public the justification I did not make to you; and I have had the
satisfaction of finding that men in masses are more capable than
individuals of understanding generous impulses and of distinguishing
the honest language of truth. Here are the facts which I related, but
more briefly and with less detail, to my electors.
A few months before my departure from Rome, I was in a cafe frequented
by the pupils of the Academy, when an Italian musician, named
Benedetto, came in, as he usually did every evening. Nominally he was
a musician and a tolerable one; but we had been warned that he was
also a spy of the Roman police. However that might be, he was very
amusing; and as we cared nothing for the police, we not only endured
but we encouraged his visits,--which was not hard to do in view of his
passion for _poncio spongato_ and _spuma di latte_.
On his entrance one evening, a member of our party asked him who was
the woman with whom he had met him that morning.
"My wife, signore," answered the Italian.
"Yours, Benedetto!--you the husband of such a beauty!"
"Nonsense! you are ugly and drunken, and people say you are police
spy; but she, on the contrary, is as handsome as Diana the huntress."
"I charmed her with my talent; she adores me."
"Well, if she is your wife, make her pose to our friend here,
Dorlange, who wants a model for his Pandora. He can't get a finer
"That can be managed," replied the Italian.
The next day I was in my studio in company with several young painters
and sculptors when Benedetto came in accompanied by a woman of rare
beauty, whom I need not describe, for you have seen her, madame, at my
house. A joyous hurrah greeted the Italian, who said to me,--
"_Ecco la Pandora_! Hey! what do you think of her?"
"Marvellously beautiful; but would she pose?"
"Pooh!" exclaimed Benedetto, with an air which seemed to say: "I'd
like to see her refuse."
"But," I remarked, "she would cost too much, a model of her beauty."
"No; you need only make my bust--just a plaster cast--and give it to
"Very good," I said. Then I told my friends to go and leave us alone
Nobody minded me. Judging the wife by the husband, the eager young
fellows pressed round her; while she, wounded and angered by the
audacity of their eyes, looked like a caged panther irritated by
peasants at a fair.
Going up to her and pulling her aside, Benedetto told her in Italian
that I wanted to copy her from head to foot, and she must then and
there take off her clothes. The woman gave him one withering look, and
made for the door. Benedetto rushed forward to prevent her; while my
comrades, for the honor of the studio, endeavored to bar his way.
Then began an argument between the wife and the husband; but, as I saw
that Benedetto sustained his part of it with great brutality, I was
angry, and, having a pretty vigorous arm, I pushed him aside, and took
the wife, who was trembling all over, to the door. She said, in
Italian, a few words of thanks, and disappeared instantly.
Returning to Benedetto, who was gesticulating furiously, I told him to
leave the studio, that his conduct was infamous, and if I heard of his
ill-treating his wife I would have him punished.
"_Debole_!" (idiot!) he replied, shrugging his shoulders, and
departing amid derisive cheers.
Several days passed, and no signs of Benedetto. By the end of a week
he was forgotten. Three days before my departure from Rome his wife
entered my studio.
"You are leaving Rome," she said, "and I want you to take me with
"Take you with me!--but your husband?"
"Dead," she answered tranquilly.
A thought crossed my mind.
"Did you kill him?" I said.
She made an affirmative sign, adding, "But I meant to die too."
"How was it?" I asked.
"After he offered me that affront," she replied, "he came home and
beat me, as he often did; then he went out and was gone all day. At
night he returned with a pistol and threatened to shoot me; but I got
the pistol away from him, for he was drunk. I threw him--the
_briccone_!--on his bed, and he fell asleep. Then I stuffed up the
doors and windows, and lighted the charcoal brazier. My head ached
horribly, and I knew nothing more till the next day, when I woke up in
the hands of my neighbors. They had smelt the charcoal, and burst in
the door,--but he was dead."
"And the law?"
"I told the judge everything. Besides, _he_ had tried to sell me to an
Englishman,--that's why he wanted to disgrace me here with you; he
thought I would resist less. The judge told me I might go, I had done
right; then I confessed to a priest, and he gave me absolution."
"But, _cara mia_, what can you do in France? Better stay in Italy;
besides, I am not rich."
She smiled disdainfully.
"I shall not cost you much," she said; "on the contrary, I can save
"I can be the model for your statues if I choose. Besides which, I am
a capital housekeeper. If Benedetto had behaved properly, we should
have had a good home,--_per che_, I know how to make one; and I've
another great talent too!"
She ran to a guitar, which was hanging on the wall, and began to sing
a bravura air, accompanying herself with singular energy.
"In France," she said, when she had finished, "I could take lessons
and go upon the stage, where I know I should succeed; that was
"But why not do that in Italy?"
"I am hiding from that Englishman," she replied; "he wants to carry me
off. I am determined to go to France; I have learned to speak French.
If I stay here, I shall throw myself into the Tiber."
By abandoning such a nature, more terrible than seductive, to itself,
Monsieur de l'Estorade will, I think, agree that I was likely to cause
some misfortune. I consented, therefore, that Signora Luigia should
accompany me to Paris. Since then she has managed my household with
discretion and economy. She even offered to pose for my Pandora; but
the memory of that scene with her husband has, as you may well
believe, kept me from accepting her offer. I have given her a
singing-master, and she is now almost prepared to make her appearance
on the stage. But in spite of her theatrical projects, she, pious like
all Italians, has joined the sisterhood of the Virgin in Saint-Sulpice,
my parish church, and during the month of May, which began a few days
ago, the letter of chairs counts on her beautiful voice for part of
her receipts. She is assiduous at the services, confesses, and takes
the sacrament regularly. Her confessor, a most respectable old man,
came to see me lately to request that she might not be required to
pose for any more of my statues, saying that she would not listen to
him on that point, believing herself bound in honor to me.
My own intention, if I am elected, which now seems probable, is to
separate from this woman. In a position which will place me more
before the public, she would become an object of remark as injurious
to her reputation and future prospects as to mine. I have talked with
Marie-Gaston about the difficulty I foresee in making this separation.
Until now, my house has been the whole of Paris to this poor woman;
and the thought of flinging her alone into the gulf, of which she
knows nothing, horrifies me.
Marie-Gaston thinks that the help and advice of a person of her own
sex, with a high reputation for virtue and good judgment, would be in
such a case most efficacious; and he declares that he and I both know
a lady who, at our earnest entreaty, might take this duty upon
herself. The person to whom Marie-Gaston makes allusion is but a
recent acquaintance of mine, and I could hardly ask even an old friend
to take such a care upon her shoulders. I know, however, that you once
did me the honor to say that "certain relations ripen rapidly."
Marie-Gaston insists that this lady, being kind and pious and most
charitable, will be attracted by the idea of helping and advising a
poor lonely woman. On our return to Paris, madame, we shall venture to
consult you, and you will tell us whether we may ask for this precious
In any case, I will ask you to be my intermediary with Monsieur de
l'Estorade; tell him the facts I have now told you, and say that I
hope the little cloud between us may be effectually removed. If I am
elected, we shall be, I know, in opposite camps; but as my intention
is not to take a tone of systematic opposition in all the questions
which may arise between our parties, I do not think there _need_ be
any break between us.
By this time to-morrow, madame, I may have received a checkmate which
will send me back forever to my studio, or I shall have a foot in a
new career. Shall I tell you that the thought of the latter result
distresses me?--doubtless from a fear of the Unknown.
I was almost forgetting to give you another piece of news. I have
consulted Mother Marie-des-Anges (whose history Marie-Gaston tells me
he has related to you) on the subject of my doubts and fears as to the
violence done to Mademoiselle de Lanty, and she has promised that in
course of time she will discover the convent in which Marianina is a
prisoner. The worthy Mother, if she takes this into her head, is
almost certain to succeed in finding the original of her Saint-Ursula.
I am not feeling at all easy in mind about Marie-Gaston. He seems to
me in a state of feverish agitation, partly created by the immense
interest he takes in my success. But I greatly fear that his efforts
will result in a serious reaction. His own grief, which at this moment
he is repressing, has not in reality lost its sting. Have you not been
struck by the rather flighty and mocking tone of his letters, some of
which he has shown to me? That is not in his nature, for in his
happiest days he was never turbulently gay; and I am sadly afraid that
when this fictitious excitement about my election is over he may fall
into utter prostration. He has, however, consented to come and live
with me, and not to go to Ville d'Avray unless I am with him. Even
this act of prudence, which I asked without hoping to obtain it, makes
me uneasy. Evidently he is afraid of the memories that await him
there. Have I the power to lessen the shock? Old Philippe, who was
left in charge of the place when he went to Italy, had orders not to
move or change anything whatever in the house. Our friend is therefore
likely to find himself, in presence of those speaking objects, on the
morrow as it were of his wife's death. Another alarming thing! he has
only spoken of her once, and will not suffer me to approach the
subject. I hope, however, that this may be a crisis; once passed, I
trust we may, by all uniting, succeed in composing his mind.
Victor or vanquished, I trust to meet you soon, madame, and always as
your most respectful and devoted servant,
Charles de Sallenauve.
MARIE-GASTON TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 17, 1839.
That stupid riot in Paris, the incredible particulars of which we
heard this morning by telegraph, came near causing us to lose the
The sub-prefect instantly placarded all over the town the news of this
attempt at insurrection--no doubt instigated by the government to
affect the elections. "What! elect a democrat!" was repeated
everywhere in Arcis, and doubtless elsewhere, "so that his speeches in
the Chamber may be made the ammunition of insurgents!"
That argument threw our phalanx into disorder and hesitation. But the
idea occurred to Jacques Bricheteau to turn the danger itself to good
account, and he hastily printed on a sheet of paper and distributed
all over the town in enormous quantities the following notice:--
A bloody riot took place yesterday in Paris. Questioned as to the
employment of such guilty and desperate means of opposition, one
of our candidates, Monsieur de Sallenauve, answered thus: "Riots
will always be found to serve the interests of the government; for
this reason the police are invariably accused of inciting them.
True resistance, that which I stand for, will always be legal
resistance, pursued by legal means, by the press, by the tribune,
and with Patience--that great force granted to the oppressed and
to the vanquished."
These words, you will remember, madame, were those in which Sallenauve
answered his questioners at the preparatory meeting. Then followed in
THE RIOT HAS BEEN SUPPRESSED. WHO WILL PROFIT BY IT?
That sheet of paper did marvels; it completely foiled the efforts of
Monsieur de Trailles, who, throwing off the mask, had spent his day in
perorating, in white gloves, on the market-place and from the steps of
the electoral college.
This evening the result is known; namely, two hundred and one votes
cast: two for Beauvisage; twenty-nine for Simon Giguet; one hundred
and seventy for Sallenauve.
Consequently, Monsieur Charles de Sallenauve is proclaimed Deputy.
MONSIEUR DE SALLENAUVE
THE SORROWS OF MONSIEUR DE TRAILLES
During the evening which followed the election in which he had played
a part so humiliating to his vanity, Maxime de Trailles returned to
Paris. It might be supposed that in making, on his arrival, a rapid
toilet and ordering his carriage to be instantly brought round, he was
hastening to pay a visit to the Comte de Rastignac, minister of Public
Works, to whom he must have desired to render an account of his
mission, and explain as best he could the reasons of its ill-success.
But another and more pressing interest seemed to claim him.
"To Colonel Franchessini's," he said to his coachman.
Arriving at the gate of one of the prettiest hotels in the _quartier_
Breda, and nodding to the concierge, he received an affirmative sign,
which meant, "Monsieur is at home"; and at the same time a valet
appeared on the portico to receive him.
"Is the colonel visible?" he asked.
"He has just gone into madame's room. Does monsieur wish me to call
"No, I'll wait for him in the study."
Then, like one familiar with the house, and without waiting for the
servant to usher him, he entered a large room on the ground-floor,
which looked into a garden, and was filled with a miscellaneous
collection of articles testifying to the colonel's habits and tastes.
Books, charts, and maps certainly justified the word "study"; but, as
a frantic sportsman and member of the Jockey Club, the colonel had
allowed this sanctum of mental labor and knowledge to become, by
degrees, his smoking, fencing, and harness room. Pipes and weapons of
all shapes and all lands, saddles, hunting-whips, spurs, bits of many
patterns, foils and boxing-gloves formed a queer and heterogenous
collection. However, by thus surrounding his daily life with the
objects of his favorite _studies_, the colonel proved himself a man
who possessed the courage of his opinions. In fact, he openly said
that, beyond a passing notice, there was no reading worth a man's
attention except the "Stud Journal."
It is to be supposed, however, that politics had managed in some way
to slip into this existence devoted to muscular exercise and the
hippic science, for, from a heap of the morning journals disdainfully
flung upon the floor by the worthy colonel, Monsieur de Trailles
picked up a copy of the legitimist organ, in which he read, under the
heading of ELECTIONS, the following article:
The staff of the National Guard and the Jockey Club, which had
various representatives in the last Chamber, have just sent one of
their shining notabilities to the one about to open. Colonel
Franchessini, so well known for his ardor in punishing the
refractories of the National Guard, has been elected almost
unanimously in one of the rotten boroughs of the civil list. It is
supposed that he will take his seat beside the phalanx of other
henchmen, and show himself in the Chamber, as he has elsewhere,
one of the firmest supporters of the policy of the _present order
As Maxime finished reading the article, the colonel entered.
After serving the Empire for a very short time, Colonel Franchessini
had become one of the most brilliant colonels of the Restoration; but
in consequence of certain mists which had risen about the perfect
honorableness of his character he had found himself obliged to send in
his resignation, so that in 1830 he was fully prepared to devote
himself in the most ardent manner to the dynasty of July. He did not
re-enter military service, because, shortly after his misadventure he
had met with an Englishwoman, enormously rich, who being taken with
his beauty, worthy at that time of the Antinous, had made him her
husband, and the colonel henceforth contented himself with the
epaulets of the staff of the National Guard. He became, in that
position, one of the most exacting and turbulent of blusterers, and
through the influence of that quality combined with the fortune his
wife had given him, he had just been elected, as the paper stated, to
the Chamber of deputies. Approaching the fifties, like his friend de
Trailles, Colonel Franchessini had still some pretensions to the
after-glow of youth, which his slim figure and agile military bearing
seemed likely to preserve to him for some time longer. Although he had
conquered the difficulty of his gray hair, reducing its silvery
reflections by keeping it cut very close, he was less resigned to the
scantiness of his moustache, which he wore in youthful style, twirled
to a sharp point by means of a Hungarian cosmetic, which also
preserved to a certain degree its primitive color. But whoso wants to
prove too much proves nothing, and in the black which the colonel used
there was noticeably a raw tone, and an equality of shade too perfect
for truth of nature. Hence his countenance, swarthy and strongly
marked with the Italian origin indicated by his name, had an
expression of singular rigidity, to which his features, now become
angular, his piercing glance, and his nose like the beak of a bird of
prey, did not afford the requisite corrective.
"Hey, Maxime!" he cried, shaking hands with his visitor, "where the
devil do you come from? It is more than a fortnight since I have seen
you at the club."
"Where do I come from?" replied Monsieur de Trailles. "I'll tell you
presently; but first let me congratulate you on your election."
"Yes," said the colonel, with apparent indifference, "_they_ would put
me up; but I assure you, upon my honor, I was very innocent of it all,
and if no one had done more than I--"
"But, my dear fellow, you are a blessed choice for that
arrondissement; I only wish that the electors I have had to do with
were equally intelligent."
"What! have you been standing for election? I didn't suppose, taking
into consideration the--rather troubled state of your finances, that
you could manage it."
"True, and I was not electioneering on my own account. Rastignac was
uneasy about the arrondissement of Arcis-sur-Aube, and he asked me to
go down there for a few days."
"Arcis-sur-Aube? Seems to me I read an article about that this morning
in one of those cabbage-leaves. Horrid choice, isn't it?--some
plasterer or image-maker they propose to send us?"
"Precisely; and it is about that very thing I have come to see you
before I see the others. I have just arrived, and I don't want to go
to Rastignac until after I have talked with you."
"How is he getting on, that little minister?" said the colonel, taking
no notice of the clever steps by which Maxime was gravitating toward
the object of his visit. "They seem to be satisfied with him at the
palace. Do you know that little Nucingen whom he married?"
"Yes, I often see Rastignac; he is a very old acquaintance of mine."
"She is pretty, that little thing," continued the colonel, "very
pretty; and I think, the first year of marriage well buried, one might
risk one's self in that direction with some success."
"Come, come," said Maxime, "you are a serious man now, a legislator!
As for me, the mere meddling in electoral matters in the interests of
other people has sobered me."
"Did you say you went to Arcis-sur-Aube to hinder the election of that
"Not at all; I went there to throw myself in the way of the election
of a Left-centre candidate."
"Pah! the Left, pure and simple, is hardly worse. But take a cigar;
these are excellent. The princes smoke them."
The colonel rose and rang the bell, saying to the servant when he
came, "A light!"
The cigars lighted, Monsieur de Trailles endeavored to prevent another
interruption by declaring before he was questioned that he had never
smoked anything more exquisite. Comfortably ensconced in his
arm-chair, the colonel seemed to offer the hope of a less fugacious
attention, and Monsieur de Trailles resumed:--
"All went well at first. To crush the candidate the ministry wanted to
be rid of,--a lawyer, and the worst sort of cad,--I unearthed a
stocking-maker, a fearful fool, whom I persuaded to offer himself as
candidate. The worthy man was convinced that he belonged to the
dynastic opposition. That is the opinion which, for the time being,
prevails in that region. The election, thanks to me, was as good as
made; and, our man once in Paris, the great Seducer in the Tuileries
had only to say five words to him, and this dynastic opposer could
have been turned inside out like one of this own stockings, and made
to do whatever was wanted of him."
"Pretty well played that!" said the colonel. "I recognize my Maxime."
"You will recognize him still farther when he tells you that he was
able, without recourse to perquisites, to make his own little profit
out of the affair. In order to graft a little parliamentary ambition
upon my vegetable, I addressed myself to his wife,--a rather
appetizing provincial, though past her prime."
"Yes, yes, I see; very good!" said Franchessini; "husband made deputy
--satisfied--shut his mouth."
"You are all wrong, my dear fellow; the pair have an only daughter, a
spoilt child, nineteen years old, very agreeable face, and something
like a million in her pocket."
"But, my dear Maxime, I passed your tailor's house last night, and it
was not illuminated."
"No; that would have been premature. However, here was the situation:
two women frantic to get to Paris; gratitude to the skies for the man
who would get them an introduction to the Palais-Bourbon; the little
one crazy for the title of countess; the mother transported at the
idea, carefully insinuated by me, of holding a political salon,--you
must see all that such a situation offers, and you know me too well, I
fancy, to suppose that I should fall below any of its opportunities."
"Quite easy in mind as to that," said the colonel, getting up to open
a window and let out the smoke of their two cigars.
"I was on the point," continued Maxime, "of pocketing both daughter
and _dot_, when there fell from the skies, or rather there rose from
the nether regions, a Left candidate, the stone-cutter, as you call
him, a man with two names,--in short, a natural son--"
"Ha!" said the colonel, "those fellows do have lucky stars, to be
sure. I am not surprised if one of them mowed the grass from under
"My dear friend," said Maxime, "if we were in the middle ages, I
should explain by magic and sorcery the utter discomfiture of my
candidate, and the election of the stone-man, whom you are fated to
have for your colleague. How is it possible to believe, what is
however the fact, that an old _tricoteuse_, a former friend of Danton,
and now the abbess of a convent of Ursulines, should actually, by the
help of her nephew, an obscure organist in Paris, have so bewitched
the whole electoral college that this upstart has been elected by a
"But I suppose he had some friends and acquaintances in the town?"
"Not the ghost of one,--unless it might be that nun. Fortune,
relations, father, even a name, he never had until the day of his
arrival at Arcis two weeks ago; and now, if you please, the Comte
Charles de Sallenauve, seigneur of the chateau of Arcis, is elected to
the Chamber of deputies! God only knows how it was done! The pretended
head of a former great family, representing himself as absent in
foreign lands for many years, suddenly appears with this schemer
before a notary in Arcis, recognizes him at a gallop as his son, buys
the chateau of Arcis and presents it to him, and is off during the
night before any one could even know what road he took. The trick thus
played, the abbess and her aide-de-camp, the organist, launched the
candidate, and at once republicans, legitimists, conservatives,
clergy, nobility, bourgeoisie, in fact everybody, as if by some spell
cast upon that region, all did the bidding of that old witch of a nun,
and without the stalwart battalion of the functionaries (who under my
eye stood firm and did not flinch), his election would have been, like
"Then, my poor friend, good-bye to the _dot_."
"Not precisely; though it must certainly be adjourned. The father
grumbles because the blessed tranquillity of his life was disturbed
and he himself covered with ridicule, though the poor dear man had
already enough of that! The daughter still wants to be a countess, but
the mother takes it hard that her political salon should be floating
away from her, and God knows how far I shall be led in order to
comfort her. Besides all this, I myself am goaded by the necessity of
having to find the solution of my own problem pretty soon. I _had_
found it there: I intended to marry, and take a year to settle my
affairs; at the next session I should have made my father-in-law
resign and stepped into his seat in the Chamber; then, you understand,
what an horizon before me!"
"But, my dear fellow, political horizon apart, don't let that million
slip through your fingers."
"Oh, heavens! as for that, except for the delay, I feel safe enough.
My future family is about to remove to Paris. After this mortifying
defeat, life in Arcis will not be endurable. Beauvisage (forgive the
name, it is that of my adopted family)--Beauvisage is like Coriolanus,
ready if he can to bring fire and slaughter on his ungrateful
birthplace. Besides, in transplanting themselves hither, these
unfortunate exiles know where to lay their heads, being the owners of
the hotel Beauseant."
"Owners of the hotel Beauseant!" cried the colonel, in amazement.
"Yes; Beauseant--Beauvisage; only a termination to change. Ah! my dear
fellow, you don't know what these provincial fortunes are, accumulated
penny by penny, especially when to the passion for saving is added the
incessant aspiration of that leech called commerce. We must make up
our minds to some course; the bourgeoisie are rising round us like a
flood; it is almost affable in them to buy our chateaus and estates
when they might guillotine us as in 1793, and get them for nothing."
"Happily for you, my dear Maxime, you have reduced the number of your
chateaus and estates."
"You see yourself that is not so," replied Maxime, "inasmuch as I am
now engaged in providing myself with one. The Beauseant house is to be
repaired and refurnished immediately, and I am charged with the
ordering of the work. But I have made my future mother-in-law another
promise, and I want your help, my dear fellow, in fulfilling it."
"It isn't a tobacco license, or a stamped-paper office, is it?"
"No, something less difficult. These damned women, when hatred or a
desire for vengeance takes possession of them, are marvels of
instinct; and Madame Beauvisage, who roars like a lioness at the very
name of Sallenauve, has taken it into her head that beneath his
incomprehensible success there is some foul intrigue or mystery. It is
certain that the appearance and disappearance of this mysterious
father have given rise to very singular conjectures; and probably if
the thumb-screws were put upon the organist, who was, they say,
entrusted with the education of the interesting bastard, we might get
the secret of his birth and possibly other unexpected revelations. Now
I have thought of a man on whom you have, I believe, great influence,
who might in this hunt for facts assist us immensely. Don't you
remember the robbery of those jewels from Jenny Cardine, about which
she was so unhappy one night at Very's? You asked the waiter for pens
and paper, and on a simple note which you sent at three o'clock in the
morning to a Monsieur Saint-Esteve the police went to work, and before
the evening of the next day the thieves were captured and the jewels
"Yes," said the colonel, "I remember all that; my interference was
lucky. But I must tell you that had I paused to reflect I should not
have treated Monsieur de Saint-Esteve so cavalierly. He is a man to be
approached with greater ceremony."
"_Ah ca_! but isn't he a former galley-slave, whose pardon you helped
to obtain, and who feels for you the veneration they say Fieschi felt
for one of his protectors?"
"Yes, that is true. Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, like his predecessor,
Bibi-Lupin, has had _misfortunes_; but he is to-day the head of the
detective police, the important functions of which office he fulfils
with rare capacity. If the matter concerned anything that comes within
his department, I should not hesitate to give you a letter to him; but
the affair you speak of is delicate; and in any case I must first
sound him and see if he is willing to talk with you."
"I thought you managed him despotically. Let us say no more about it,
if you think it so very difficult."
"The greatest difficulty is that I never see him; and I naturally
cannot write to him for such an object. I should have to watch for an
occasion, a chance meeting. But why don't you speak of this to
Rastignac? He could give him an order to act at once."
"Don't you understand that Rastignac will receive me very ill indeed?
I had assured him, by letter, of success, and now I am forced to
report in person our defeat. Besides, on every account, I would rather
owe this service to your friendship."
"Well, it sha'n't fail you," said the colonel, rising. "I'll do my
best to satisfy you; only, there must be a delay."
The visit had lasted long, and Maxime felt that a hint was given him
to abridge it. He therefore took leave, putting into his manner a
certain coldness which the colonel appeared not to notice.
No sooner had Monsieur de Trailles departed than Franchessini opened a
pack of cards and took out the knave of spades. This he cut up in a
curious manner, leaving the figure untouched. Placing this species of
hieroglyphic between two sheets of paper, he consigned it to an
envelope. On this envelope and disguising his hand the colonel wrote
Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, rue Saint-Anne, near the Quai des
That done, he rang the bell and gave orders to put up his carriage,
which he had ordered before Maxime's arrival; after which he went out
alone on foot, and threw his singular missive into the first street
letter-box that he passed. He had taken care, before he left the
house, to see if it were properly sealed.
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ELEVEN O'CLOCK AND MIDNIGHT
As a result of the elections which had just taken place, the ministry,
contrary to expectation, maintained a majority in the Chamber,--a
doubtful and provisional majority which would give it an uncertain and
struggling existence. But, at any rate, it had obtained that merely
numerical success which parties seek at any price to prolong their
power. The Te Deum was sung in all its camps,--a paean which serves as
well to celebrate victorious defeats as honest victories.
On the evening of the day when Colonel Franchessini received the visit
from Maxime de Trailles, the general result of the elections was made
known. The ministers of the left bank, whose wives received on that
day, found their salons crowded, particularly the Comte de Rastignac,
the minister of Public Works.
Madame de l'Estorade, too much absorbed in her children to be very
exact in the fulfilment of her social duties, had owed a visit to
Madame de Rastignac ever since the evening when the minister's wife
had interrupted her conversation with the sculptor apropos of the
famous statue. Monsieur de l'Estorade, zealous conservative as we know
already, had insisted that politics and politeness now combined to
oblige them both to pay this social debt. Arriving early, in order to
be rid the sooner of such a bore, Madame de l'Estorade found herself
seated at the upper end of a circle of women, while the men stood
about them conversing. Her chair was side by side with that of Madame
In hoping to make her visit short, Madame de l'Estorade had not
counted on the allurements of conversation which, under the
circumstances of this so-called political victory, laid hold of her
husband. A man of more influence by his judgment than by his oratory
in the Chamber of Peers, Monsieur de l'Estorade, as he circulated
through the salons, was stopped at every turn by the various
notabilities of politics, finance, and diplomacy, and requested to
give his opinion on the future of the session now about to begin. To
all such questions he replied with more or less extended observations,
and sometimes he had the pleasure of finding himself the centre of a
group respectfully receptive of his opinions. This success rendered
him very inattentive to the telegraphy of his wife, who, watching his
various evolutions, made him signs whenever she could catch his eye
that she wished to go away.
The years that had elapsed since Monsieur de l'Estorade had obtained
the hand of the beautiful Renee de Maucombe, while they had scarcely
dimmed the splendor of her beauty, had considerably aged her husband.
The twenty years' difference in their ages--he being now fifty-two,
she thirty-two--was growing all the more apparent because even at the
time of the marriage he was turning gray and his health was failing.
An affection of the liver, latent for several years, was now
developing, and at the same time the wilful disposition which is
noticeable in statesmen and men of ambition made his mouth less
sensitive to the conjugal bit. Monsieur de l'Estorade talked so long
and so well that after a time the salons thinned, leaving a group of
the intimates of the house around his wife and their hostess. At this
moment the minister himself slipped an arm through his, and, leading
him up to the group surrounding their two wives, Rastignac said to
Madame de l'Estorade,--
"I bring you back your husband; I have just found him in criminal
conversation with a member of the Zollverin, who would probably have
clung to him all night if it had not been for me."
"I was myself on the point of asking Madame de Rastignac for a bed,
that I might release her from the burden of my company, which Monsieur
de l'Estorade's interminable conversations have put upon her."
Madame de Rastignac protested that, on the contrary, she desired to
enjoy as long as possible Madame de l'Estorade's company, only
regretting that she had been so often obliged to interrupt their
conversation to receive those strange objects, the newly fledged
deputies, who had come in relays to make their bow to her.
"Oh! my dear," cried Rastignac, "here's the session about to open, and
we really must not take these disdainful airs toward the elect of the
nation. Besides which, you will get into difficulties with madame,
who, I am told, is the protectress of one of these sovereigns of late
"I?" said Madame de l'Estorade, rather surprised, and blushing a
little. She had one of those complexions, still fresh and dazzling,
which are predisposed to these flushes of color.
"Ah! true," said Madame de Rastignac; "I had forgotten that artist who
cut out the pretty figures for your children the last time I had the
pleasure of paying you a visit. I own I was far from thinking then
that he would be one of our masters."
"And yet, ever since then," replied Madame de l'Estorade, "his
election has been talked about; though it must be owned that until now
no one thought seriously of it."
"I did," said Monsieur de l'Estorade, rather eagerly, seizing the
occasion to put another star to his reputation for prophecy; "from the
first political conversation that I had with him I said--and Monsieur
de Ronquerolles is here to bear me out--that I was surprised at the
ability and the breadth of aim he manifested."
"Certainly," said the personage thus interpellated, "he is not an
ordinary fellow; but I do not believe in his future. He is a man who
goes by the first impulsion, and, as Monsieur de Talleyrand has wisely
remarked, the first impulse is the good impulse."
"Well, monsieur?" inquired Madame de l'Estorade, ingenuously.
"Well, madame," replied Monsieur de Ronquerolles, who was vain of his
scepticism, "heroism is not of our day; it is heavy baggage, horribly
embarrassing, which gets us into mud-holes continually."
"Nevertheless, I believe that great qualities of heart and mind have
some share in the composition of a distinguished man."
"Qualities of mind? Yes, you are right there, provided always they
work in a certain direction. But as for qualities of the heart in
political life, what good are they?--to hoist you on stilts with which
you can't walk as well as you can on the ground, and from which you
are liable to fall and break your neck at the first push."
"At that rate," said Madame de Rastignac, laughing, while Madame de
l'Estorade was silent, disdaining to reply, "the political world must
be peopled by none but scoundrels."
"That is so, madame,--ask Lazarille"; and as he made this allusion to
a famous stage joke, he laid his hand on the minister's shoulder.
"My dear fellow," said Rastignac, "I think your generalities are a
little too particular."
"No, no; but come," returned Monsieur de Ronquerolles, "let us talk
seriously. To my knowledge, this Monsieur de Sallenauve--that is the
name I think he has taken in exchange for Dorlange, which he himself
called theatrical--has done, within a short time, two fine actions. I,
being present and assisting, saw him stand up to be killed by the Duc
de Rhetore, on account of certain ill-sounding words said about a
friend. Those words, in the first place, he could not help hearing;
and having heard them it was, I will not say his duty, but his _right_
to resent them."
"Ah!" said Madame de Rastignac, "then it was he who fought that duel
people said so much about?"
"Yes, madame, and I ought to say--for I understand such matters--that
at the meeting he behaved with consummate bravery."
To avoid the recital of the second fine action, Madame de l'Estorade,
at the risk of impolitely cutting short a topic thus begun, rose, and
made an almost imperceptible sign to her husband that she wished to
go. But Monsieur de l'Estorade took advantage of its faintness to stay
where he was.
Monsieur de Ronquerolles continued:--
"His other fine action was to throw himself in front of some runaway
horses to save madame's daughter from imminent death."
All eyes turned on Madame de l'Estorade, who, this time, blushed
deeply; but recovering speech, if only in order to seem composed, she
said with feeling,--
"According to your theory of heroism you must think Monsieur de
Sallenauve very foolish to have thus risked his life and his future;
but I assure you that there is one woman who will never agree with
you, and that is--the mother of my child."
As she said the words, tears were in Madame de l'Estorade's voice; she
pressed Madame de Rastignac's hand affectionately, and made so decided
a movement to leave the room that she finally put in motion her
"Thank you," said Madame de Rastignac, as she accompanied her to the
door, "for having broken a lance with that cynic; Monsieur de
Rastignac's past life has left him with odious acquaintances."
As she resumed her place, Monsieur de Ronquerolles was saying,--
"Ha! saved her child's life indeed! The fact is that poor l'Estorade
is turning as yellow as a lemon."
"Ah, monsieur, but that is shocking," cried Madame de Rastignac. "A
woman whom no breath of slander has ever touched; who lives only for
her husband and children; whose eyes were full of tears at the mere
thought of the danger the child had run!--"
"Heavens! madame," retorted Monsieur de Ronquerolles, paying no heed
to the rebuke, "all I can say is that newfoundlands are always
dangerous. If Madame de l'Estorade becomes too much compromised, she
has one resource,--she can marry him to the girl he saved."
Monsieur de Ronquerolles had no sooner said the words than he
perceived the horrible blunder he had committed in making such a
speech before Mademoiselle de Nucingen. He colored high,--a most
unusual sign in him,--and the solemn silence which seemed to wrap all
present completed his discomfiture.
"This clock must be slow," said the minister, catching at any words
that would make a sound and break up an evening that was ending
"True," said de Ronquerolles, looking at his watch; "it is a quarter
He bowed to Madame de Rastignac ceremoniously, and went away, followed
by the rest of the company.
"You saw his embarrassment," said Rastignac to his wife; "he had no
malicious intention in what he said."
"It is of no consequence. I was saying just now to Madame de
l'Estorade's that your past life had given you a number of detestable
"But, my dear, the King himself is compelled to smile graciously on
men he would fain put in the Bastille,--if we still had a Bastille and
the Charter permitted him."
Madame de Rastignac made no reply, and without bidding her husband
good-night, she went up to her room. A few moments later the minister
went to the private door which led into it, and not finding the key in
the lock, he said, "Augusta!" in the tone of voice a simple bourgeois
might have used in such a case.
For all answer, he heard a bolt run hastily on the other side of the
"Ah!" he thought to himself with a gesture of vexation, "there are
some pasts very different from that door,--they are always wide open
to the present."
Then, after a moment's silence, he added, to cover his retreat,
"Augusta, I wanted to ask you what hour Madame de l'Estorade receives.
I ought to call upon her to-morrow, after what happened here
"At four o'clock," said the young wife through the door,--"on her
return from the Tuileries, where she takes the children to walk every
One of the questions that were frequently put by Parisian society
after the marriage of Madame de Rastignac was: "Does she love her
The doubt was permissible. The marriage of Mademoiselle de Nucingen
was the unpleasant and scarcely moral product of one of those immoral
unions which find their issue in the life of a daughter, after years
and satiety have brought them to a condition of dry-rot and paralysis.
In such marriages of _convenience_ the husband is satisfied, for he
escapes a happiness which has turned rancid to him, and he profits by
a speculation like that of the magician in the "Arabian Nights" who
exchanges old lamps for new. But the wife, on the contrary, must ever
feel a living memory between herself and her husband; a memory which
may revive, and while wholly outside of the empire of the senses, has
the force of an old authority antagonistic to her young influence. In
such a position the wife is a victim.
During the short time we have taken to give this brief analysis of a
situation too frequently existing, Rastignac lingered at the door.
"Well," he said at last, deciding to retire, "good-night, Augusta."
As he said the words, rather piteously, the door opened suddenly, and
his wife, throwing herself into his arms, laid her head upon his
The question was answered: Madame de Rastignac loved her husband; but
for all that, the distant muttering of a subterranean fire might be
heard beneath the flowers of their garden.
A MINISTER'S MORNING
The next day, when Rastignac entered his office, the adjoining
waiting-room was already occupied by eleven persons waiting with
letters of introduction to solicit favors, also two peers of France
and several deputies.
Presently a bell rang. The usher, with an eagerness which communicated
itself to all present, entered the sanctum; an instant later he came
out, bearing this stereotyped message:--
"The minister is obliged to attend a Council. He will, however, have
the honor to receive the gentlemen of the two Chambers. As for the
others, they can call again at another time."
"What other time?" asked one of the postponed; "this is the third time
in three days that I have come here uselessly."
The usher made a gesture which meant, "It is not my affair; I follow
my orders." But hearing certain murmurs as to the _privilege_ granted
to honorable members, he said, with a certain solemnity,--
"The honorable gentlemen came to discuss affairs of public interest
with his Excellency."
The office-seekers, being compelled to accept this fib, departed.
After which the bell rang again. The usher then assumed his most
gracious expression of face. By natural affinity, the lucky ones had
gathered in a group at one end of the room. Though they had never seen
one another before, most of them being the offspring of the late
national lying-in, they seemed to recognize a certain representative
air which is very difficult to define, though it can never be
mistaken. The usher, not venturing to choose among so many eminent
personages, turned a mute, caressing glance on all, as if to say,--
"Whom shall I have the honor of first announcing?"
"Gentlemen," said Colonel Franchessini, "I believe I have seen you all
And he walked to the closed door, which the usher threw open,
announcing in a loud, clear voice,--
"Monsieur le Colonel Franchessini!"
"Ha! so you are the first this morning," said the minister, making a
few steps towards the colonel, and giving him his hand. "What have you
come for, my dear fellow?--a railroad, a canal, a suspension bridge?"
"I have come, my good-natured minister, on private business in which
you are more interested than I."
"That is not a judicious way of urging it, for I warn you I pay little
or no attention to my own business."
"I had a visit from Maxime this morning, on his return from
Arcis-sur-Aube," said the colonel, coming to the point. "He gave me all
the particulars of that election. He thinks a spoke might be put in the
wheel of it. Now, if you have time to let me make a few
The minister, who was sitting before his desk with his back to the
fireplace, turned round to look at the clock.
"Look here, my dear fellow," he said, "I'm afraid you will be long,
and I have a hungry pack outside there waiting for me. I shouldn't
listen to you comfortably. Do me the favor to go and take a walk and
come back at twelve o'clock to breakfast. I'll present you to Madame
de Rastignac, whom you don't know, I think, and after breakfast we
will take a few turns in the garden; then I can listen to you in
"Very good, I accept that arrangement," said the colonel, rising.
As he crossed the waiting-room, he said,--
"Messieurs, I have not delayed you long, I hope."
Then, after distributing a few grasps of the hand, he departed.
Three hours later, when the colonel entered the salon where he was
presented to Madame de Rastignac, he found there the Baron de
Nucingen, who came nearly every day to breakfast with his son-in-law
before the Bourse hour, Emile Blondet of the "Debats," Messieurs
Moreau (de l'Oise), Dionis, and Camusot, three deputies madly
loquacious, and two newly elected deputies whose names it is doubtful
if Rastignac knew himself. Franchessini also recognized Martial de la
Roche-Hugon, the minister's brother-in-law, and the inevitable des
Lupeaulx, peer of France. As for another figure, who stood talking
with the minister for some time in the recess of a window, the colonel
learned, after inquiring of Emile Blondet, that it was that of a
former functionary of the upper police, who continued, as an amateur,
to do part of his former business, going daily to each minister under
all administrations with as much zeal and regularity as if he were
still charged with his official duties.
Madame de Rastignac seen at close quarters seemed to the colonel a
handsome blonde, not at all languishing. She was strikingly like her
mother, but with that shade of greater distinction which in the
descendants of parvenus increases from generation to generation as
they advance from their source. The last drop of the primitive Goriot
blood had evaporated in this charming young woman, who was
particularly remarkable for the high-bred delicacy of all her
extremities, the absence of which in Madame de Nucingen had shown the
daughter of Pere Goriot.
As the colonel wished to retain a footing in the house he now entered
for the first time, he talked about his wife.
"She lived," he said, "in the old English fashion, in her _home_; but
he should be most glad to bring her out of her retreat in order to
present her to Madame de Rastignac if the latter would graciously
"Now," said the minister, dropping the arm of Emile Blondet, with whom
he had been conversing, "let us go into the garden,"--adding, as soon
as they were alone, "We want no ears about us in this matter."
"Maxime came to see me, as I told you," said the colonel, "on his
return from Arcis-sur-Aube, and he is full of an idea of discovering
something about the pretended parentage of this sculptor by which to
"I know," interrupted Rastignac; "he spoke to me about that idea, and
there's neither rhyme nor reason in it. Either this Sallenauve has
some value, or he is a mere cipher. If the latter, it is useless to
employ such a dangerous instrument as the man Maxime proposes to
neutralize a power that does not exist. If, on the other hand, this
new deputy proves really an orator, we can deal with him in the
tribune and in the newspapers without the help of such underground
measures. General rule: in a land of unbridled publicity like ours,
wherever the hand of the police appears, if even to lay bare the most
shameful villany, there's always a hue and cry against the government.
Public opinion behaves like the man to whom another man sang an air of
Mozart to prove that Mozart was a great musician. Was he vanquished by
evidence? 'Mozart,' he replied to the singer, 'may have been a great
musician, but you, my dear fellow, have a cold in your head.'"
"There's a great deal of truth in what you say," replied Franchessini;
"but the man whom Maxime wants to unmask may be one of those honest
mediocrities who make themselves a thorn in the side of all
administrations; your most dangerous adversaries are not the giants of
"I expect to find out the real weight of the man before long," replied
Rastignac, "from a source I have more confidence in than I have in
Monsieur de Trailles. On this very occasion he has allowed himself to
be tripped up, and now wants to compensate by heroic measures for his
own lack of ability. As for your other man, I shall not employ him for
the purpose Maxime suggests, but you may tell him from me--"
"Yes!" said Franchessini, with redoubled attention.
"--that if he meddles in politics, as he shows an inclination to do,
there are certain deplorable memories in his life--"
"But they are only memories now; he has made himself a new skin."
"I know all about him," replied Rastignac; "do you suppose there are
no other detectives in Paris? I know that since 1830, when he took
Bibi-Lupin's place as chief of the detective police, he has given his
life a most respectable bourgeois character; the only fault I find is
that he overdoes it."
"And yet--" said the colonel.
"He is rich," continued Rastignac, not heeding the interruption. "His
salary is twelve thousand francs, and he has the three hundred
thousand Lucien de Rubempre left him,--also the proceeds of a
manufactory of varnished leather which he started at Gentilly; it pays
him a large profit. His aunt, Jacqueline Collin, who lives with him,
still does a shady business secretly, which of course brings in large
fees, and I have the best of reasons for believing that they both
gamble at the Bourse. He is so anxious to keep out of the mud that he
has gone to the other extreme. Every evening he plays dominoes, like
any bourgeois, in a cafe near the Prefecture, and Sundays he goes out
to a little box of a place he has bought near the forest of
Romainville, in the Saint-Gervais meadows; there he cultivates blue
dahlias, and talked, last year, of crowning a Rosiere. All that, my
dear colonel, is too bucolic to allow of my employing him on any
"I think myself," said Franchessini, "that in order not to attract
attention, he rolls himself too much into a ball."
"Make him unwind, and then, if he wants to return to active life and
take a hand in politics, he may find some honest way of doing so.
He'll never make a Saint Vincent de Paul,--though the saint was at the
galleys once upon a time; but there are plenty of ways in which he
could get a third or fourth class reputation. If Monsieur de
Saint-Esteve, as he now calls himself, takes that course, and I am
still in power, tell him to come and see me; I might employ him then."
"That is something, certainly," said Franchessini, aloud; but he
thought to himself that since the days of the pension Vauquer the
minister had taken long strides and that roles had changed between
himself and Vautrin.
"You can tell him what I say," continued Rastignac, going up the steps
of the portico, "but be cautious how you word it."
"Don't be uneasy," replied the colonel. "I will speak to him
judiciously, for he's a man who must not be pushed too far; there are
some old scores in life one can't wipe out."
The minister, by making no reply to this remark, seemed to admit the
truth of it.
"You must be in the Chamber when the king opens it; we shall want all
the enthusiasm we can muster," said Rastignac to the colonel, as they
Back to Full Books