The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 10
Old Phellion, nonplussed by that remark, nodded to his wife:--
"It is getting late, my dear," and he pointed to the clock.
"Oh, Monsieur Felix," said Celeste in a whisper to the candid
mathematician, "Couldn't you be, like Pascal and Bossuet, learned and
The Phellions, on departing, carried the Collevilles with them. Soon
no one remained in the salon but Dutocq, Theodose, and the Thuilliers.
The flattery administered by Theodose to Flavie seems at the first
sight coarsely commonplace, but we must here remark, in the interests
of this history, that the barrister was keeping himself as close as
possible to these vulgar minds; he was navigating their waters; he
spoke their language. His painter was Pierre Grassou, and not Joseph
Bridau; his book was "Paul and Virginia." The greatest living poet for
him was Casimire de la Vigne; to his eyes the mission of art was,
above all things, utility. Parmentier, the discoverer of the potato,
was greater to him that thirty Raffaelles; the man in the blue cloak
seemed to him a sister of charity. These were Thuillier's expressions,
and Theodose remembered them all--on occasion.
"That young Felix Phellion," he now remarked, "is precisely the
academical man of our day; the product of knowledge which sends God to
the rear. Heavens, what are we coming to? Religion alone can save
France; nothing but the fear of hell will preserve us from domestic
robbery, which is going on at all hours in the bosom of families, and
eating into the surest fortunes. All of you have a secret warfare in
After this shrewd tirade, which made a great impression upon Brigitte,
he retired, followed by Dutocq, after wishing good evening to the
"That young man has great capacity," said Thuillier, sententiously.
"Yes, that he has," replied Brigitte, extinguishing the lamps.
"He has religion," said Madame Thuillier, as she left the room.
"Monsieur," Phellion was saying to Colleville as they came abreast of
the Ecole de Mines, looking about him to see that no one was near, "it
is usually my custom to submit my insight to that of others, but it is
impossible for me not to think that that young lawyer plays the master
at our friend Thuillier's."
"My own opinion," said Colleville, who was walking with Phellion
behind his wife, Madame Phellion, and Celeste, "is that he's a Jesuit;
and I don't like Jesuits; the best of them are no good. To my mind a
Jesuit means knavery, and knavery for knavery's sake; they deceive for
the pleasure of deceiving, and, as the saying is, to keep their hand
in. That's my opinion, and I don't mince it."
"I understand you, monsieur," said Phellion, who was arm-in-arm with
"No, Monsieur Phellion," remarked Flavie in a shrill voice, "you don't
understand Colleville; but I know what he means, and I think he had
better stop saying it. Such subjects are not to be talked of in the
street, at eleven o'clock at night, and before a young lady."
"You are right, wife," said Colleville.
When they reached the rue des Deux-Eglises, which Phellion was to
take, they all stopped to say good-night, and Felix Phellion, who was
bring up the rear, said to Colleville:--
"Monsieur, your son Francois could enter the Ecole Polytechnique if he
were well-coached; I propose to you to fit him to pass the
examinations this year."
"That's an offer not to be refused! Thank you, my friend," said
Colleville. "We'll see about it."
"Good!" said Phellion to his son, as they walked on.
"Not a bad stroke!" said the mother.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Felix.
"You are very cleverly paying court to Celeste's parents."
"May I never find the solution of my problem if I even thought of it!"
cried the young professor. "I discovered, when talking with the little
Collevilles, that Francois has a strong turn for mathematics, and I
thought I ought to enlighten his father."
"Good, my son!" repeated Phellion. "I wouldn't have you otherwise. My
prayers are granted! I have a son whose honor, probity, and private
and civic virtues are all that I could wish."
Madame Colleville, as soon as Celeste had gone to bed, said to her
"Colleville, don't utter those blunt opinions about people without
knowing something about them. When you talk of Jesuits I know you mean
priests; and I wish you would do me the kindness to keep your opinions
on religion to yourself when you are in company with your daughter. We
may sacrifice our own souls, but not the souls of our children. You
don't want Celeste to be a creature without religion? And remember, my
dear, that we are at the mercy of others; we have four children to
provide for; and how do you know that, some day or other, you may not
need the services of this one or that one? Therefore don't make
enemies. You haven't any now, for you are a good-natured fellow; and,
thanks to that quality, which amounts in you to a charm, we have got
along pretty well in life, so far."
"That's enough!" said Colleville, flinging his coat on a chair and
pulling off his cravat. "I'm wrong, and you are right, my beautiful
"And on the next occasion, my dear old sheep," said the sly creature,
tapping her husband's cheek, "you must try to be polite to that young
lawyer; he is a schemer and we had better have him on our side. He is
playing comedy--well! play comedy with him; be his dupe apparently; if
he proves to have talent, if he has a future before him, make a friend
of him. Do you think I want to see you forever in the mayor's office?"
"Come, wife Colleville," said the former clarionet, tapping his knee
to indicate the place he wished his wife to take. "Let us warm our
toes and talk.--When I look at you I am more than ever convinced that
the youth of women is in their figure."
"And in their heart."
"Well, both," assented Colleville; "waist slender, heart solid--"
"No, you old stupid, deep."
"What is good about you is that you have kept your fairness without
growing fat. But the fact is, you have such tiny bones. Flavie, it is
a fact that if I had life to live over again I shouldn't wish for any
other wife than you."
"You know very well I have always preferred you to OTHERS. How unlucky
that monseigneur is dead! Do you know what I covet for you?"
"Some office at the Hotel de Ville,--an office worth twelve thousand
francs a year; cashier, or something of that kind; either there, or at
Poissy, in the municipal department; or else as manufacturer of
"Any one of them would suit me."
"Well, then! if that queer barrister has power, and he certainly has
plenty of intrigue, let us manage him. I'll sound him; leave me to do
the thing--and, above all, don't thwart his game at the Thuilliers'."
Theodose had laid a finger on a sore sport in Flavie Colleville's
heart; and this requires an explanation, which may, perhaps, have the
value of a synthetic glance at women's life.
At forty years of age a woman, above all, if she has tasted the
poisoned apple of passion, undergoes a solemn shock; she sees two
deaths before her: that of the body and that of the heart. Dividing
women into two great categories which respond to the common ideas, and
calling them either virtuous or guilty, it is allowable to say that
after that fatal period they both suffer pangs of terrible intensity.
If virtuous, and disappointed in the deepest hopes of their nature--
whether they have had the courage to submit, whether they have buried
their revolt in their hearts or at the foot of the altar--they never
admit to themselves that all is over for them without horror. That
thought has such strange and diabolical depths that in it lies the
reason of some of those apostasies which have, at times, amazed the
world and horrified it. If guilty, women of that age fall into one of
several delirious conditions which often turn, alas! to madness, or
end in suicide, or terminate in some with passion greater than the
The following is the "dilemmatic" meaning of this crisis. Either they
have known happiness, known it in a virtuous life, and are unable to
breathe in any air but that surcharged with incense, or act in any but
a balmy atmosphere of flattery and worship,--if so, how is it possible
to renounce it?--or, by a phenomenon less rare than singular, they
have found only wearying pleasures while seeking for the happiness
that escaped them--sustained in that eager chase by the irritating
satisfactions of vanity, clinging to the game like a gambler to his
double or quits; for to them these last days of beauty are their last
stake against despair.
"You have been loved, but never adored."
That speech of Theodose, accompanied by a look which read, not into
her heart, but into her life, was the key-note to her enigma, and
Flavie felt herself divined.
The lawyer had merely repeated ideas which literature has rendered
trivial; but what matter where the whip comes from, or how it is made,
if it touches the sensitive spot of a horse's hide? The emotion was in
Flavie, not in the speech, just as the noise is not in the avalanche,
though it produces it.
A young officer, two fops, a banker, a clumsy youth, and Colleville,
were poor attempts at happiness. Once in her life Madame Colleville
had dreamed of it, but never attained it. Death had hastened to put an
end to the only passion in which she had found a charm. For the last
two years she had listened to the voice of religion, which told her
that neither the Church, nor its votaries, should talk of love or
happiness, but of duty and resignation; that the only happiness lay in
the satisfaction of fulfilling painful and costly duties, the rewards
for which were not in this world. All the same, however, she was
conscious of another clamoring voice; but, inasmuch as her religion
was only a mask which it suited her to wear, and not a conversion, she
did not lay it aside, thinking it a resource. Believing also that
piety, false or true, was a becoming manner in which to meet her
future, she continued in the Church, as though it were the cross-roads
of a forest, where, seated on a bench, she read the sign-posts, and
waited for some lucky chance; feeling all the while that night was
Thus it happened that her interest was keenly excited when Theodose
put her secret condition of mind into words, seeming to promise her
the realization of her castle in the air, already built and overthrown
some six or eight times.
From the beginning of the winter she had noticed that Theodose was
examining and studying her, though cautiously and secretly. More than
once, she had put on her gray moire silk with its black lace, and her
headdress of Mechlin with a few flowers, in order to appear to her
best advantage; and men know very well when a toilet has been made to
please them. The old beau of the Empire, that handsome Thuillier,
overwhelmed her with compliments, assuring her she was queen of the
salon, but la Peyrade said infinitely more to the purpose by a look.
Flavie had expected, Sunday after Sunday, a declaration, saying to
herself at times:--
"He knows I am ruined and haven't a sou. Perhaps he is really pious."
Theodose did nothing rashly; like a wise musician, he had marked the
place in his symphony where he intended to tap his drum. When he saw
Colleville attempting to warn Thuillier against him, he fired his
broadside, cleverly prepared during the three or four months in which
he had been studying Flavie; he now succeeded with her as he had,
earlier in the day, succeeded with Thuillier.
While getting into bed, Theodose said to himself:--
"The wife is on my side; the husband can't endure me; they are now
quarrelling; and I shall get the better of it, for she does what she
likes with that man."
The lawyer was mistaken in one thing: there was no dispute whatever,
and Colleville was sleeping peacefully beside his dear little Flavie,
while she was saying to herself:--
"Certainly Theodose must be a superior man."
Many men, like la Peyrade, derive their superiority from the audacity,
or the difficulty, of an enterprise; the strength they display
increases their muscular power, and they spend it freely. Then when
success is won, or defeat is met, the public is astonished to find how
small, exhausted, and puny those men really are. After casting into
the minds of the two persons on whom Celeste's fate chiefly depended,
an interest and curiosity that were almost feverish, Theodose
pretended to be a very busy man; for five or six days he was out of
the house from morning till night, in order not to meet Flavie until
the time when her interest should increase to the point of
overstepping conventionality, and also in order to force the handsome
Thuillier to come and fetch him.
The following Sunday he felt certain he should find Madame Colleville
at church; he was not mistaken, for they came out, each of them, at
the same moment, and met at the corner of the rue des Deux-Eglises.
Theodose offered his arm, which Flavie accepted, leaving her daughter
to walk in front with her brother Anatole. This youngest child, then
about twelve years old, being destined for the seminary, was now at
the Barniol institute, where he obtained an elementary education;
Barniol, the son-in-law of the Phellions, was naturally making the
tuition fees light, with a view to the hoped-for alliance between
Felix and Celeste.
"Have you done me the honor and favor of thinking over what I said to
you so badly the other day?" asked the lawyer, in a caressing tone,
pressing the lady's arm to his heart with a movement both soft and
strong; for he seemed to wish to restrain himself and appear
respectful, in spite of his evident eagerness. "Do not misunderstand
my intentions," he continued, after receiving from Madame Colleville
one of those looks which women trained to the management of passion
know how to give,--a look that, by mere expression, can convey both
severe rebuke and secret community of sentiment. "I love you as we
love a noble nature struggling against misfortune; Christian charity
enfolds both the strong and the weak; its treasure belongs to both.
Refined, graceful, elegant as you are, made to be an ornament of the
highest society, what man could see you without feeling an immense
compassion in his heart--buried here among these odious bourgeois, who
know nothing of you, not even the aristocratic value of a single one
of your attitudes, or those enchanting inflections of your voice! Ah!
if I were only rich! if I had power! your husband, who is certainly a
good fellow, should be made receiver-general, and you yourself could
get him elected deputy. But, alas! poor ambitious man, my first duty
is to silence my ambition. Knowing myself at the bottom of the bag
like the last number in a family lottery, I can only offer you my arm
and not my heart. I hope all from a good marriage, and, believe me, I
shall make my wife not only happy, but I shall make her one of the
first in the land, receiving from her the means of success. It is so
fine a day, will you not take a turn in the Luxembourg?" he added, as
they reached the rue d'Enfer at the corner of Colleville's house,
opposite to which was a passage leading to the gardens by the stairway
of a little building, the last remains of the famous convent of the
The soft yielding of the arm within his own, indicated a tacit consent
to this proposal, and as Flavie deserved the honor of a sort of
enthusiasm, he drew her vehemently along, exclaiming:--
"Come! we may never have so good a moment--But see!" he added, "there
is your husband at the window looking at us; let us walk slowly."
"You have nothing to fear from Monsieur Colleville," said Flavie,
smiling; "he leaves me mistress of my own actions."
"Ah! here, indeed, is the woman I have dreamed of," cried the
Provencal, with that ecstasy that inflames the soul only, and in tones
that issue only from Southern lips. "Pardon me, madame," he said,
recovering himself, and returning from an upper sphere to the exiled
angel whom he looked at piously,--"pardon me, I abandon what I was
saying; but how can a man help feeling for the sorrows he has known
himself when he sees them the lot of a being to whom life should bring
only joy and happiness? Your sufferings are mine; I am no more in my
right place than you are in yours; the same misfortune has made us
brother and sister. Ah! dear Flavie, the first day it was granted to
me to see you--the last Sunday in September, 1838--you were very
beautiful; I shall often recall you to memory in that pretty little
gown of mousseline-de-laine of the color of some Scottish tartan! That
day I said to myself: 'Why is that woman so often at the Thuilliers';
above all, why did she ever have intimate relations with Thuillier
"Monsieur!" said Flavie, alarmed at the singular course la Peyrade was
giving to the conversation.
"Eh! I know all," he cried, accompanying the words with a shrug of his
shoulders. "I explain it all to my own mind, and I do not respect you
less. You now have to gather the fruits of your sin, and I will help
you. Celeste will be very rich, and in that lies your own future. You
can have only one son-in-law; chose him wisely. An ambitious man might
become a minister, but you would humble your daughter and make her
miserable; and if such a man lost his place and fortune he could never
recover it. Yes, I love you," he continued. "I love you with an
unlimited affection; you are far above the mass of petty
considerations in which silly women entangle themselves. Let us
understand each other."
Flavie was bewildered; she was, however, awake to the extreme
frankness of such language, and she said to herself, "He is not a
secret manoeuvrer, certainly." Moreover, she admitted to her own mind
that no one had ever so deeply stirred and excited her as this young
"Monsieur," she said, "I do not know who could have put into your mind
so great an error as to my life, nor by what right you--"
"Ah! pardon me, madame," interrupted the Provencal with a coolness
that smacked of contempt. "I must have dreamed it. I said to myself,
'She is all that!' But I see I was judging from the outside. I know
now why you are living and will always live on a fourth floor in the
And he pointed his speech with an energetic gesture toward the
Colleville windows, which could be seen through the passage from the
alley of the Luxembourg, where they were walking alone, in that
immense tract trodden by so many and various young ambitions.
"I have been frank, and I expected reciprocity," resumed Theodose. "I
myself have had days without food, madame; I have managed to live,
pursue my studies, obtain my degree, with two thousand francs for my
sole dependence; and I entered Paris through the Barriere d'Italie,
with five hundred francs in my pocket, firmly resolved, like one of my
compatriots, to become, some day, one of the foremost men of our
country. The man who has often picked his food from baskets of scraps
where the restaurateurs put their refuse, which are emptied at six
o'clock every morning--that man is not likely to recoil before any
means,--avowable, of course. Well, do you think me the friend of the
people?" he said, smiling. "One has to have a speaking-trumpet to
reach the ear of Fame; she doesn't listen if you speak with your lips;
and without fame of what use is talent? The poor man's advocate means
to be some day the advocate of the rich. Is that plain speaking? Don't
I open my inmost being to you? Then open your heart to me. Say to me,
'Let us be friends,' and the day will come when we shall both be
"Good heavens! why did I ever come here? Why did I ever take your
arm?" cried Flavie.
"Because it is in your destiny," he replied. "Ah! my dear, beloved
Flavie," he added, again pressing her arm upon his heart, "did you
expect to hear the vulgarities of love from me? We are brother and
sister; that is all."
And he led her towards the passage to return to the rue d'Enfer.
Flavie felt a sort of terror in the depths of the contentment which
all women find in violent emotions; and she took that terror for the
sort of fear which a new passion always excites; but for all that, she
felt she was fascinated, and she walked along in absolute silence.
"What are you thinking of?" asked Theodose, when they reached the
middle of the passage.
"Of what you have just said to me," she answered.
"At our age," he said, "it is best to suppress preliminaries; we are
not children; we both belong to a sphere in which we should understand
each other. Remember this," he added, as they reached the rue d'Enfer.
--"I am wholly yours."
So saying, he bowed low to her.
"The iron's in the fire now!" he thought to himself as he watched his
giddy prey on her way home.
When Theodose reached home he found, waiting for him on the landing, a
personage who is, as it were, the submarine current of this history;
he will be found within it like some buried church on which has risen
the facade of a palace. The sight of this man, who, after vainly
ringing at la Peyrade's door, was now trying that of Dutocq, made the
Provencal barrister tremble--but secretly, within himself, not
betraying externally his inward emotion. This man was Cerizet, whom
Dutocq had mentioned to Thuillier as his copying-clerk.
Cerizet was only thirty-eight years old, but he looked a man of fifty,
so aged had he become from causes which age all men. His hairless head
had a yellow skull, ill-covered by a rusty, discolored wig; the mask
of his face, pale, flabby, and unnaturally rough, seemed the more
horrible because the nose was eaten away, though not sufficiently to
admit of its being replaced by a false one. From the spring of this
nose at the forehead, down to the nostrils, it remained as nature had
made it; but disease, after gnawing away the sides near the
extremities, had left two holes of fantastic shape, which vitiated
pronunciation and hampered speech. The eyes, originally handsome, but
weakened by misery of all kinds and by sleepless nights, were red
around the edges, and deeply sunken; the glance of those eyes, when
the soul sent into them an expression of malignancy, would have
frightened both judges and criminals, or any others whom nothing
The mouth, toothless except for a few black fangs, was threatening;
the saliva made a foam within it, which did not, however, pass the
pale thin lips. Cerizet, a short man, less spare than shrunken,
endeavored to remedy the defects of his person by his clothes, and
although his garments were not those of opulence, he kept them in a
condition of neatness which may even have increased his forlorn
appearance. Everything about him seemed dubious; his age, his nose,
his glance inspired doubt. It was impossible to know if he were
thirty-eight or sixty; if his faded blue trousers, which fitted him
well, were of a coming or a past fashion. His boots, worn at the
heels, but scrupulously blacked, resoled for the third time, and very
choice, originally, may have trodden in their day a ministerial
carpet. The frock coat, soaked by many a down-pour, with its
brandebourgs, the frogs of which were indiscreet enough to show their
skeletons, testified by its cut to departed elegance. The satin stock-
cravat fortunately concealed the shirt, but the tongue of the buckle
behind the neck had frayed the satin, which was re-satined, that is,
re-polished, by a species of oil distilled from the wig. In the days
of its youth the waistcoat was not, of course, without freshness, but
it was one of those waistcoats, bought for four francs, which come
from the hooks of the ready-made clothing dealer. All these things
were carefully brushed, and so was the shiny and misshapen hat. They
harmonized with each other, even to the black gloves which covered the
hands of this subaltern Mephistopheles, whose whole anterior life may
be summed up in a single phrase:--
He was an artist in evil, with whom, from the first, evil had
succeeded; a man misled by these early successes to continue the
plotting of infamous deeds within the lines of strict legality.
Becoming the head of a printing-office by betraying his master [see
"Lost Illusions"], he had afterwards been condemned to imprisonment as
editor of a liberal newspaper. In the provinces, under the
Restoration, he became the bete noire of the government, and was
called "that unfortunate Cerizet" by some, as people spoke of "the
unfortunate Chauvet" and "the heroic Mercier." He owed to this
reputation of persecuted patriotism a place as sub-prefect in 1830.
Six months later he was dismissed; but he insisted that he was judged
without being heard; and he made so much talk about it that, under the
ministry of Casimir Perier, he became the editor of an anti-republican
newspaper in the pay of the government. He left that position to go
into business, one phase of which was the most nefarious stock-company
that ever fell into the hands of the correctional police. Cerizet
proudly accepted the severe sentence he received; declaring it to be a
revengeful plot on the part of the republicans, who, he said, would
never forgive him for the hard blows he had dealt them in his journal.
He spent the time of his imprisonment in a hospital. The government by
this time were ashamed of a man whose almost infamous habits and
shameful business transactions, carried on in company with a former
banker, named Claparon, led him at last into well-deserved public
Cerizet, thus fallen, step by step, to the lowest rung of the social
ladder, had recourse to pity in order to obtain the place of copying
clerk in Dutocq's office. In the depths of his wretchedness the man
still dreamed of revenge, and, as he had nothing to lose, he employed
all means to that end. Dutocq and himself were bound together in
depravity. Cerizet was to Dutocq what the hound is the huntsman.
Knowing himself the necessities of poverty and wretchedness, he set up
that business of gutter usury called, in popular parlance, "the loan
by the little week." He began this at first by help of Dutocq, who
shared the profits; but, at the present moment this man of many legal
crimes, now the banker of fishwives, the money-lender of
costermongers, was the gnawing rodent of the whole faubourg.
"Well," said Cerizet as Dutocq opened his door, "Theodose has just
come in; let us go to his room."
The advocate of the poor was fain to allow the two men to pass before
All three crossed a little room, the tiled floor of which, covered
with a coating of red encaustic, shone in the light; thence into a
little salon with crimson curtains and mahogany furniture, covered
with red Utrecht velvet; the wall opposite the window being occupied
by book-shelves containing a legal library. The chimney-piece was
covered with vulgar ornaments, a clock with four columns in mahogany,
and candelabra under glass shades. The study, where the three men
seated themselves before a soft-coal fire, was the study of a lawyer
just beginning to practise. The furniture consisted of a desk, an
armchair, little curtains of green silk at the windows, a green
carpet, shelves for lawyer's boxes, and a couch, above which hung an
ivory Christ on a velvet background. The bedroom, kitchen, and rest of
the apartment looked out upon the courtyard.
"Well," said Cerizet, "how are things going? Are we getting on?"
"Yes," replied Theodose.
"You must admit," cried Dutocq, "that my idea was a famous one, in
laying hold of that imbecile of a Thuillier?"
"Yes, but I'm not behindhand either," exclaimed Cerizet. "I have come
now to show you a way to put the thumbscrews on the old maid and make
her spin like a teetotum. We mustn't deceive ourselves; Mademoiselle
Thuillier is the head and front of everything in this affair; if we
get her on our side the town is won. Let us say little, but that
little to the point, as becomes strong men with each other. Claparon,
you know, is a fool; he'll be all his life what he always was,--a
cat's-paw. Just now he is lending his name to a notary in Paris, who
is concerned with a lot of contractors, and they are all--notary and
masons--on the point of ruin. Claparon is going headlong into it. He
never yet was bankrupt; but there's a first time for everything. He is
hidden now in my hovel in the rue des Poules, where no one will ever
find him. He is desperate, and he hasn't a penny. Now, among the five
or six houses built by these contractors, which have to be sold,
there's a jewel of a house, built of freestone, in the neighborhood of
the Madeleine,--a frontage laced like a melon, with beautiful
carvings,--but not being finished, it will have to be sold for what it
will bring; certainly not more than a hundred thousand francs. By
spending twenty-five thousand francs upon it it could be let,
undoubtedly, for ten thousand. Make Mademoiselle Thuillier the
proprietor of that house and you'll win her love; she'll believe that
you can put such chances in her way every year. There are two ways of
getting hold of vain people: flatter their vanity, OR threaten them;
and there are also two ways of managing misers: fill their purse, or
else attack it. Now, this stroke of business, while it does good to
Mademoiselle Thuillier, does good to us as well, and it would be a
pity not to profit by the chance."
"But why does the notary let it slip through his fingers?" asked
"The notary, my dear fellow! Why, he's the very one who saves us.
Forced to sell his practice, and utterly ruined besides, he reserved
for himself this crumb of the cake. Believing in the honesty of that
idiot Claparon, he has asked him to find a dummy purchaser. We'll let
him suppose that Mademoiselle Thuillier is a worthy soul who allows
Claparon to use her name; they'll both be fooled, Claparon and the
notary too. I owe this little trick to my friend Claparon, who left me
to bear the whole weight of the trouble about his stock-company, in
which we were tricked by Conture, and I hope you may never be in that
man's skin!" he added, infernal hatred flashing from his worn and
withered eyes. "Now, I've said my say, gentlemen," he continued,
sending out his voice through his nasal holes, and taking a dramatic
attitude; for once, at a moment of extreme penury, he had gone upon
As he finished making his proposition some one rang at the outer door,
and la Peyrade rose to go and open it. As soon as his back was turned,
Cerizet said, hastily, to Dutocq:--
"Are you sure of him? I see a sort of air about him--And I'm a good
judge of treachery."
"He is so completely in our power," said Dutocq, "that I don't trouble
myself to watch; but, between ourselves, I didn't think him as strong
as he proves to be. The fact is, we thought we were putting a barb
between the legs of a man who didn't know how to ride, and the rogue
is an old jockey!"
"Let him take care," growled Cerizet. "I can blow him down like a
house of cards any day. As for you, papa Dutocq, you are able to see
him at work all the time; watch him carefully. Besides, I'll feel his
pulse by getting Claparon to propose to him to get rid of us; that
will help us to judge him."
"Pretty good, that!" said Dutocq. "You are daring, anyhow."
"I've got my hand in, that's all," replied Cerizet.
These words were exchanged in a low voice during the time that it took
Theodose to go to the outer door and return. Cerizet was looking at
the books when the lawyer re-entered the room.
"It is Thuillier," said Theodose. "I thought he'd come; he is in the
salon. He mustn't see Cerizet's frock-coat; those frogs would frighten
"Pooh! you receive the poor in your office, don't you? That's in your
role. Do you want any money?" added Cerizet, pulling a hundred francs
out of his trousers' pocket. "There it is; it won't look amiss."
And he laid the pile on the chimney-piece.
"And now," said Dutocq, "we had better get out through the bedroom."
"Well, good-bye," said Theodose, opening a hidden door which
communicated from the study to the bedroom. "Come in, Monsieur
Thuillier," he called out to the beau of the Empire.
When he saw him safely in the study he went to let out his two
associates through the bedroom and kitchen into the courtyard.
"In six months," said Cerizet, "you'll have married Celeste and got
your foot into the stirrup. You are lucky, you are, not to have sat,
like me, in the prisoners' dock. I've been there twice: once in 1825,
for 'subversive articles' which I never wrote, and the second time for
receiving the profits of a joint-stock company which had slipped
through my fingers! Come, let's warm this thing up! Sac-a-papier!
Dutocq and I are sorely in need of that twenty-five thousand francs.
Good courage, old fellow!" he added, holding out his hand to Theodose,
and making the grasp a test of faithfulness.
The Provencal gave Cerizet his right hand, pressing the other's hand
"My good fellow," he said, "be very sure that in whatever position I
may find myself I shall never forget that from which you have drawn me
by putting me in the saddle here. I'm simply your bait; but you are
giving me the best part of the catch, and I should be more infamous
than a galley-slave who turns policeman if I didn't play fair."
As soon as the door was closed, Cerizet peeped through the key-hole,
trying to catch sight of la Peyrade's face. But the Provencal had
turned back to meet Thuillier, and his distrustful associate could not
detect the expression of his countenance.
That expression was neither disgust nor annoyance, it was simply joy,
appearing on a face that now seemed freed. Theodose saw the means of
success approaching him, and he flattered himself that the day would
come when he might get rid of his ignoble associates, to whom he owed
everything. Poverty has unfathomable depths, especially in Paris,
slimy bottoms, from which, when a drowned man rises to the surface of
the water, he brings with him filth and impurity clinging to his
clothes, or to his person. Cerizet, the once opulent friend and
protector of Theodose, was the muddy mire still clinging to the
Provencal, and the former manager of the joint-stock company saw very
plainly that his tool wanted to brush himself on entering a sphere
where decent clothing was a necessity.
"Well, my dear Theodose," began Thuillier, "we have hoped to see you
every day this week, and every evening we find our hopes deceived. As
this is our Sunday for a dinner, my sister and my wife have sent me
here to beg you to come to us."
"I have been so busy," said Theodose, "that I have not had two minutes
to give to any one, not even to you, whom I count among my friends,
and with whom I have wished to talk about--"
"What? have you really been thinking seriously over what you said to
me?" cried Thuillier, interrupting him.
"If you had not come here now for a full understanding, I shouldn't
respect you as I do," replied la Peyrade, smiling. "You have been a
sub-director, and therefore you must have the remains of ambition--
which is deucedly legitimate in your case! Come, now, between
ourselves, when one sees a Minard, that gilded pot, displaying himself
at the Tuileries, and complimenting the king, and a Popinot about to
become a minister of State, and then look at you! a man trained to
administrative work, a man with thirty years' experience, who has seen
six governments, left to plant balsams in a little garden! Heavens and
earth!--I am frank, my dear Thuillier, and I'll say, honestly, that I
want to advance you, because you'll draw me after you. Well, here's my
plan. We are soon to elect a member of the council-general from this
arrondissement; and that member must be you. And," he added, dwelling
on the word, "it WILL be you! After that, you will certainly be deputy
from the arrondissement when the Chamber is re-elected, which must
surely be before long. The votes that elect you to the municipal
council will stand by you in the election for deputy, trust me for
"But how will you manage all this?" cried Thuillier, fascinated.
"You shall know in good time; but you must let me conduct this long
and difficult affair; if you commit the slightest indiscretion as to
what is said, or planned, or agreed between us, I shall have to drop
the whole matter, and good-bye to you!"
"Oh! you can rely on the absolute dumbness of a former sub-director;
I've had secrets to keep."
"That's all very well; but these are secrets to keep from your wife
and sister, and from Monsieur and Madame Colleville."
"Not a muscle of my face shall reveal them," said Thuillier, assuming
a stolid air.
"Very good," continued Theodose. "I shall test you. In order to make
yourself eligible, you must pay taxes on a certain amount of property,
and you are not paying them."
"I beg your pardon; I'm all right for the municipal council at any
rate; I pay two francs ninety-six centimes."
"Yes, but the tax on property necessary for election to the chamber is
five hundred francs, and there is no time to lose in acquiring that
property, because you must prove possession for one year."
"The devil!" cried Thuillier; "between now and a year hence to be
taxed five hundred francs on property which--"
"Between now and the end of July, at the latest, you must pay that
tax. Well, I feel enough interest in you to tell you the secret of an
affair by which you might make from thirty to forty thousand francs a
year, by employing a capital of one hundred and fifty thousand at
most. I know that in your family it is your sister who does your
business; I am far from thinking that a mistake; she has, they tell
me, excellent judgment; and you must let me begin by obtaining her
good-will and friendship, and proposing this investment to her. And
this is why: If Mademoiselle Thuillier is not induced to put faith in
my plan, we shall certainly have difficulty with her. Besides, it
won't do for YOU to propose to her that she should put the investment
of her money in your name. The idea had better come from me. As to my
means of getting you elected to the municipal council, they are these:
Phellion controls one quarter of the arrondissement; he and Laudigeois
have lived in it these thirty years, and they are listened to like
oracles. I have a friend who controls another quarter; and the rector
of Saint-Jacques, who is not without influence, thanks to his virtues,
disposes of certain votes. Dutocq, in his close relation to the
people, and also the justice of peace, will help me, above all, as I'm
not acting for myself; and Colleville, as secretary of the mayor's
office, can certainly manage to obtain another fourth of the votes."
"You are right!" cried Thuillier. "I'm elected!"
"Do you think so?" said la Peyrade, in a voice of the deepest sarcasm.
"Very good! then go and ask your friend Colleville to help you, and
see what he'll say. No triumph in election cases is ever brought about
by the candidate himself, but by his friends. He should never ask
anything himself for himself; he must be invited to accept, and appear
to be without ambition."
"La Peyrade!" cried Thuillier, rising, and taking the hand of the
young lawyer, "you are a very capable man."
"Not as capable as you, but I have my merits," said the Provencal,
"If we succeed how shall I ever repay you?" asked Thuillier, naively.
"Ah! that, indeed! I am afraid you will think me impertinent, but
remember, there is a true feeling in my heart which offers some excuse
for me; in fact, it has given me the spirit to undertake this affair.
I love--and I take you for my confidant."
"But who is it?" said Thuillier.
"Your dear little Celeste," replied la Peyrade. "My love for her will
be a pledge to you of my devotion. What would I not do for a FATHER-
IN-LAW! This is pure selfishness; I shall be working for myself."
"Hush!" cried Thuillier.
"Eh, my friend!" said la Peyrade, catching Thuillier round the body;
"if I hadn't Flavie on my side, and if I didn't know ALL, should I
venture to be talking to you thus? But please say nothing to Flavie
about this; wait till she speaks to you. Listen to me; I'm of the
metal that makes ministers; I do not seek to obtain Celeste until I
deserve her. You shall not be asked to give her to me until the day
when your election as a deputy of Paris is assured. In order to be
deputy of Paris, we must get the better of Minard; and in order to
crush Minard you must keep in your own hands all your means of
influence; for that reason use Celeste as a hope; we'll play them off,
these people, against each other and fool them all--Madame Colleville
and you and I will be persons of importance one of these days. Don't
think me mercenary. I want Celeste without a "dot," with nothing more
than her future expectations. To live in your family with you, to keep
my wife in your midst, that is my desire. You see now that I have no
hidden thoughts. As for you, my dear friend, six months after your
election to the municipal council, you will have the cross of the
Legion of honor, and when you are deputy you will be made an officer
of it. As for your speeches in the Chamber--well! we'll write them
together. Perhaps it would be desirable for you to write a book,--a
serious book on matters half moral and philanthropic, half political;
such, for instance, as charitable institutions considered from the
highest stand-point; or reforms in the pawning system, the abuses of
which are really frightful. Let us fasten some slight distinction to
your name; it will help you,--especially in the arrondissement. Now, I
say again, trust me, believe in me; do not think of taking me into
your family until you have the ribbon in your buttonhole on the morrow
of the day when you take your seat in the Chamber. I'll do more than
that, however; I'll put you in the way of making forty thousand francs
"For any one of those three things you shall have our Celeste," said
"Ah! what a pearl she is!" exclaimed la Peyrade, raising his eyes to
heaven. "I have the weakness to pray to God for her every day. She is
charming; she is exactly like you--oh! nonsense; surely you needn't
caution me! Dutocq told me all. Well, I'll be with you to-night. I
must go to the Phellions' now, and begin to work our plan. You don't
need me to caution you not to let it be known that you are thinking of
me for Celeste; if you do, you'll cut off my arms and legs. Therefore,
silence! even to Flavie. Wait till she speaks to you herself. Phellion
shall to-night broach the matter of proposing you as candidate for the
"To-night?" said Thuillier.
"Yes, to-night," replied la Peyrade, "unless I don't find him at home
Thuillier departed, saying to himself:--
"That's a very superior man; we shall always understand each other.
Faith! it might be hard to do better for Celeste. They will live with
us, as in our own family, and that's a good deal! Yes, he's a fine
fellow, a sound man."
To minds of Thuillier's calibre, a secondary consideration often
assumes the importance of a principal reason. Theodose had behaved to
him with charming bonhomie.
THE WORTHY PHELLIONS
The house to which Theodose de la Peyrade now bent his steps had been
the "hoc erat in votis" of Monsieur Phellion for twenty years; it was
the house of the Phellions, just as much as Cerizet's frogged coat was
the necessary complement of his personality.
This dwelling was stuck against the side of a large house, but only to
the depth of one room (about twenty feet or so), and terminated at
each end in a sort of pavilion with one window. Its chief charm was a
garden, one hundred and eighty feet square, longer than the facade of
the house by the width of a courtyard which opened on the street, and
a little clump of lindens. Beyond the second pavilion, the courtyard
had, between itself and the street, an iron railing, in the centre of
which was a little gate opening in the middle.
This building, of rouge stone covered with stucco, and two storeys in
height, had received a coat of yellow-wash; the blinds were painted
green, and so were the shutters on the lower storey. The kitchen
occupied the ground-floor of the pavilion on the courtyard, and the
cook, a stout, strong girl, protected by two enormous dogs, performed
the functions of portress. The facade, composed of five windows, and
the two pavilions, which projected nine feet, were in the style
Phellion. Above the door the master of the house had inserted a tablet
of white marble, on which, in letters of gold, were read the words,
"Aurea mediocritas." Above the sun-dial, affixed to one panel of the
facade, he had also caused to be inscribed this sapient maxim: "Umbra
mea vita, sic!"
The former window-sills had recently been superceded by sills of red
Languedoc marble, found in a marble shop. At the bottom of the garden
could be seen a colored statue, intended to lead casual observers to
imagine that a nurse was carrying a child. The ground-floor of the
house contained only the salon and the dining-room, separated from
each other by the well of the staircase and the landing, which formed
a sort of antechamber. At the end of the salon, in the other pavilion,
was a little study occupied by Phellion.
On the first upper floor were the rooms of the father and mother and
that of the young professor. Above were the chambers of the children
and the servants; for Phellion, on consideration of his own age and
that of his wife, had set up a male domestic, aged fifteen, his son
having by that time entered upon his duties of tuition. To right, on
entering the courtyard, were little offices where wood was stored, and
where the former proprietor had lodged a porter. The Phellions were no
doubt awaiting the marriage of their son to allow themselves that
This property, on which the Phellions had long had their eye, cost
them eighteen thousand francs in 1831. The house was separated from
the courtyard by a balustrade with a base of freestone and a coping of
tiles; this little wall, which was breast-high, was lined with a hedge
of Bengal roses, in the middle of which opened a wooden gate opposite
and leading to the large gates on the street. Those who know the cul-
de-sac of the Feuillantines, will understand that the Phellion house,
standing at right angles to the street, had a southern exposure, and
was protected on the north by the immense wall of the adjoining house,
against which the smaller structure was built. The cupola of the
Pantheon and that of the Val-de-Grace looked from there like two
giants, and so diminished the sky space that, walking in the garden,
one felt cramped and oppressed. No place could be more silent than
this blind street.
Such was the retreat of the great unknown citizen who was now tasting
the sweets of repose, after discharging his duty to the nation in the
ministry of finance, from which he had retired as registration clerk
after a service of thirty-six years. In 1832 he had led his battalion
of the National Guard to the attack on Saint-Merri, but his neighbors
had previously seen tears in his eyes at the thought of being obliged
to fire on misguided Frenchmen. The affair was already decided by the
time his legion crossed the pont Notre-Dame at a quick step, after
debouching by the flower-market. This noble hesitation won him the
respect of his whole quarter, but he lost the decoration of the Legion
of honor; his colonel told him in a loud voice that, under arms, there
was no such thing as deliberation,--a saying of Louis-Philippe to the
National Guard of Metz. Nevertheless, the bourgeois virtues of
Phellion, and the great respect in which he was held in his own
quarter had kept him major of the battalion for eight years. He was
now nearly sixty, and seeing the moment coming when he must lay off
the sword and stock, he hoped that the king would deign to reward his
services by granting him at last the Legion of honor.
Truth compels us to say, in spite of the stain this pettiness will put
upon so fine a character, that Commander Phellion rose upon the tips
of his toes at the receptions in the Tuileries, and did all that he
could to put himself forward, even eyeing the citizen-king perpetually
when he dined at his table. In short, he intrigued in a dumb sort of
way; but had never yet obtained a look in return from the king of his
choice. The worthy man had more than once thought, but was not yet
decided, to beg Monsieur Minard to assist him in obtaining his secret
Phellion, a man of passive obedience, was stoical in the matter of
duty, and iron in all that touched his conscience. To complete this
picture by a sketch of his person, we must add that at fifty-nine
years of age Phellion had "thickened," to use a term of the bourgeois
vocabulary. His face, of one monotonous tone and pitted with the
small-pox, had grown to resemble a full moon; so that his lips,
formerly large, now seemed of ordinary size. His eyes, much weakened,
and protected by glasses, no longer showed the innocence of their
light-blue orbs, which in former days had often excited a smile; his
white hair now gave gravity to much that twelve years earlier had
looked like silliness, and lent itself to ridicule. Time, which does
such damage to faces with refined and delicate features, only improves
those which, in their youth, have been course and massive. This was
the case with Phellion. He occupied the leisure of his old age in
making an abridgment of the History of France; for Phellion was the
author of several works adopted by the University.
When la Peyrade presented himself, the family were all together.
Madame Barniol was just telling her mother about one of her babies,
which was slightly indisposed. They were dressed in their Sunday
clothes, and were sitting before the fireplace of the wainscoted salon
on chairs bought at a bargain; and they all felt an emotion when
Genevieve, the cook and portress, announced the personage of whom they
were just then speaking in connection with Celeste, whom, we must here
state, Felix Phellion loved, to the extent of going to mass to behold
her. The learned mathematician had made that effort in the morning,
and the family were joking him about it in a pleasant way, hoping in
their hearts that Celeste and her parents might understand the
treasure that was thus offered to them.
"Alas! the Thuilliers seem to me infatuated with a very dangerous
man," said Madame Phellion. "He took Madame Colleville by the arm this
morning after church, and they went together to the Luxembourg."
"There is something about that lawyer," remarked Felix Phellion, "that
strikes me as sinister. He might be found to have committed some crime
and I shouldn't be surprised."
"That's going too far," said old Phellion. "He is cousin-germain to
Tartuffe, that immortal figure cast in bronze by our honest Moliere;
for Moliere, my children, had honesty and patriotism for the basis of
It was at that instant that Genevieve came in to say, "There's a
Monsieur de la Peyrade out there, who wants to see monsieur."
"To see me!" exclaimed Phellion. "Ask him to come in," he added, with
that solemnity in little things which gave him even now a touch of
absurdity, though it always impressed his family, which accepted him
Phellion, his two sons, and his wife and daughter, rose and received
the circular bow made by the lawyer.
"To what do we owe the honor of your visit, monsieur?" asked Phellion,
"To your importance in this arrondissement, my dear Monsieur Phellion,
and to public interests," replied Theodose.
"Then let us go into my study," said Phellion.
"No, no, my friend," said the rigid Madame Phellion, a small woman,
flat as a flounder, who retained upon her features the grim severity
with which she taught music in boarding-schools for young ladies; "we
will leave you."
An upright Erard piano, placed between the two windows and opposite to
the fireplace, showed the constant occupation of a proficient.
"Am I so unfortunate as to put you to flight?" said Theodose, smiling
in a kindly way at the mother and daughter. "You have a delightful
retreat here," he continued. "You only lack a pretty daughter-in-law
to pass the rest of your days in this 'aurea mediocritas,' the wish of
the Latin poet, surrounded by family joys. Your antecedents, my dear
Monsieur Phellion, ought surely to win you such rewards, for I am told
that you are not only a patriot but a good citizen."
"Monsieur," said Phellion, embarrassed, "monsieur, I have only done my
duty." At the word "daughter-in-law," uttered by Theodose, Madame
Barniol, who resembled her mother as much as one drop of water is like
another, looked at Madame Phellion and at Felix as if she would say,
"Were we mistaken?"
The desire to talk this incident over carried all four personages into
the garden, for, in March, 1840, the weather was spring-like, at least
"Commander," said Theodose, as soon as he was alone with Phellion, who
was always flattered by that title, "I have come to speak to you about
"Yes, true; we are about to nominate a municipal councillor," said
Phellion, interrupting him.
"And it is apropos of that candidacy that I have come to disturb your
Sunday joys; but perhaps in so doing we shall not go beyond the limits
of the family circle."
It would be impossible for Phellion to be more Phellion than Theodose
was Phellion at that moment.
"I shall not let you say another word," replied the commander,
profiting by the pause made by Theodose, who watched for the effect of
his speech. "My choice is made."
"We have had the same idea!" exclaimed Theodose; "men of the same
character agree as well as men of the same mind."
"In this case I do not believe in that phenomenon," replied Phellion.
"This arrondissement had for its representative in the municipal
council the most virtuous of men, as he was the noblest of
magistrates. I allude to the late Monsieur Popinot, the deceased judge
of the Royal courts. When the question of replacing him came up, his
nephew, the heir to his benevolence, did not reside in this quarter.
He has since, however, purchased, and now occupies, the house where
his uncle lived in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve; he is the
physician of the Ecole Polytechnique and that of our hospitals; he
does honor to this quarter; for these reasons, and to pay homage in
the person of the nephew to the memory of the uncle, we have decided
to nominate Doctor Horace Bianchon, member of the Academy of Sciences,
as you are aware, and one of the most distinguished young men in the
illustrious faculty of Paris. A man is not great in our eyes solely
because he is celebrated; to my mind the late Councillor Popinot was
almost another Saint Vincent de Paul."
"But a doctor is not an administrator," replied Theodose; "and,
besides, I have come to ask your vote for a man to whom your dearest
interests require that you should sacrifice a predilection, which,
after all, is quite unimportant to the public welfare."
"Monsieur!" cried Phellion, rising and striking an attitude like that
of Lafon in "Le Glorieux," "Do you despise me sufficiently to suppose
that my personal interests could ever influence my political
conscience? When a matter concerns the public welfare, I am a citizen
--nothing more, and nothing less."
Theodose smiled to himself at the thought of the battle which was now
to take place between the father and the citizen.
"Do not bind yourself to your present ideas, I entreat you," he said,
"for this matter concerns the happiness of your dear Felix."
"What do you mean by those words?" asked Phellion, stopping short in
the middle of the salon and posing, with his hand thrust through the
bosom of his waistcoat from right to left, in the well-known attitude
of Odilon Barrot.
"I have come in behalf of our mutual friend, the worthy and excellent
Monsieur Thuillier, whose influence on the destiny of that beautiful
Celeste Colleville must be well known to you. If, as I think, your
son, whose merits are incontestable, and of whom both families may
well be proud, if, I say, he is courting Celeste with a view to a
marriage in which all expediencies may be combined, you cannot do more
to promote that end than to obtain Thuillier's eternal gratitude by
proposing your worthy friend to the suffrages of your fellow-citizens.
As for me, though I have lately come into the quarter, I can, thanks
to the influence I enjoy through certain legal benefits done to the
poor, materially advance his interests. I might, perhaps, have put
myself forward for this position; but serving the poor brings in but
little money; and, besides, the modesty of my life is out of keeping
with such distinctions. I have devoted myself, monsieur, to the
service of the weak, like the late Councillor Popinot,--a sublime man,
as you justly remarked. If I had not already chosen a career which is
in some sort monastic, and precludes all idea of marriage and public
office, my taste, my second vocation, would lead me to the service of
God, to the Church. I do not trumpet what I do, like the
philanthropists; I do not write about it; I simply act; I am pledged
to Christian charity. The ambition of our friend Thuillier becoming
known to me, I have wished to contribute to the happiness of two young
people who seem to me made for each other, by suggesting to you the
means of winning the rather cold heart of Monsieur Thuillier."
Phellion was bewildered by this tirade, admirably delivered; he was
dazzled, attracted; but he remained Phellion; he walked up to the
lawyer and held out his hand, which la Peyrade took.
"Monsieur," said the commander, with emotion, "I have misjudged you.
What you have done me the honor to confide to me will die THERE,"
laying his hand on his heart. "You are one of the men of whom we have
too few,--men who console us for many evils inherent in our social
state. Righteousness is seen so seldom that our too feeble natures
distrust appearances. You have in me a friend, if you will allow me
the honor of assuming that title. But you must learn to know me,
monsieur. I should lose my own esteem if I nominated Thuillier. No, my
son shall never own his happiness to an evil action on his father's
part. I shall not change my candidate because my son's interests
demand it. That is civic virtue, monsieur."
La Peyrade pulled out his handkerchief and rubbed it in his eye so
that it drew a tear, as he said, holding out his hand to Phellion, and
turning aside his head:--
"Ah! monsieur, how sublime a struggle between public and private duty!
Had I come here only to see this sight, my visit would not have been
wasted. You cannot do otherwise! In your place, I should do the same.
You are that noblest thing that God has made--a righteous man! a
citizen of the Jean-Jacques type! With many such citizens, oh France!
my country! what mightest thou become! It is I, monsieur, who solicit,
humbly, the honor to be your friend."
"What can be happening?" said Madame Phellion, watching the scene
through the window. "Do see your father and that horrid man embracing
Phellion and la Peyrade now came out and joined the family in the
"My dear Felix," said the old man, pointing to la Peyrade, who was
bowing to Madame Phellion, "be very grateful to that admirable young
man; he will prove most useful to you."
The lawyer walked for about five minutes with Madame Barniol and
Madame Phellion beneath the leafless lindens, and gave them (in
consequence of the embarrassing circumstances created by Phellion's
political obstinacy) a piece of advice, the effects of which were to
bear fruit that evening, while its first result was to make both
ladies admire his talents, his frankness, and his inappreciable good
qualities. When the lawyer departed the whole family conducted him to
the street gate, and all eyes followed him until he had turned the
corner of the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Jacques. Madame Phellion then took
the arm of her husband to return to the salon, saying:--
"Hey! my friend! what does this mean? You, such a good father, how can
you, from excessive delicacy, stand in the way of such a fine marriage
for our Felix?"
"My dear," replied Phellion, "the great men of antiquity, Brutus and
others, were never fathers when called upon to be citizens. The
bourgeoisie has, even more than the aristocracy whose place it has
been called upon to take, the obligations of the highest virtues.
Monsieur de Saint-Hilaire did not think of his lost arm in presence of
the dead Turenne. We must give proof of our worthiness; let us give it
at every state of the social hierarchy. Shall I instruct my family in
the highest civic principles only to ignore them myself at the moment
for applying them? No, my dear; weep, if you must, to-day, but
to-morrow you will respect me," he added, seeing tears in the eyes of
his starched better half.
These noble words were said on the sill of the door, above which was
written, "Aurea mediocritas."
"I ought to have put, 'et digna,'" added Phellion, pointing to the
tablet, "but those two words would imply self-praise."
"Father," said Marie-Theodore Phellion, the future engineer of "ponts
et chaussees," when the family were once more seated in the salon, "it
seems to me that there is nothing dishonorable in changing one's
determination about a choice which is of no real consequence to public
"No consequence, my son!" cried Phellion. "Between ourselves I will
say, and Felix shares my opinion, Monsieur Thuillier is absolutely
without capacity; he knows nothing. Monsieur Horace Bianchon is an
able man; he will obtain a thousand things for our arrondissement, and
Thuillier will obtain none! Remember this, my son; to change a good
determination for a bad one from motives of self-interest is one of
those infamous actions which escape the control of men but are
punished by God. I am, or I think I am, void of all blame before my
conscience, and I owe it to you, my children, to leave my memory
unstained among you. Nothing, therefore, can make me change my
"Oh, my good father!" cried the little Barniol woman, flinging herself
on a cushion at Phellion's knees, "don't ride your high horse! There
are many fools and idiots in the municipal council, and France gets
along all the same. That old Thuillier will adopt the opinions of
those about him. Do reflect that Celeste will probably have five
hundred thousand francs."
"She might have millions," said Phellion, "and I might see them there
at my feet before I would propose Thuillier, when I owe to the memory
of the best of men to nominate, if possible, Horace Bianchon, his
nephew. From the heaven above us Popinot is contemplating and
applauding me!" cried Phellion, with exaltation. "It is by such
considerations as you suggest that France is being lowered, and the
bourgeoisie are bringing themselves into contempt."
"My father is right," said Felix, coming out of a deep reverie. "He
deserves our respect and love; as he has throughout the whole course
of his modest and honored life. I would not owe my happiness either to
remorse in his noble soul, or to a low political bargain. I love
Celeste as I love my own family; but, above all that, I place my
father's honor, and since this question is a matter of conscience with
him it must not be spoken of again."
Phellion, with his eyes full of tears, went up to his eldest son and
took him in his arms, saying, "My son! my son!" in a choking voice.
"All that is nonsense," whispered Madame Phellion in Madame Barniol's
ear. "Come and dress me; I shall make an end of this; I know your
father; he has put his foot down now. To carry out the plan that pious
young man, Theodose, suggested, I want your help; hold yourself ready
to give it, my daughter."
At this moment, Genevieve came in and gave a letter to Monsieur
"An invitation for dinner to-day, for Madame Phellion and Felix and
myself, at the Thuilliers'," he said.
The magnificent and surprising idea of Thuillier's municipal
advancement, put forth by the "advocate of the poor" was not less
upsetting in the Thuillier household than it was in the Phellion
salon. Jerome Thuillier, without actually confiding anything to his
sister, for he made it a point of honor to obey his Mephistopheles,
had rushed to her in great excitement to say:--
"My dearest girl" (he always touched her heart with those caressing
words), "we shall have some big-wigs at dinner to-day. I'm going to
ask the Minards; therefore take pains about your dinner. I have
written to Monsieur and Madame Phellion; it is rather late; but
there's no need of ceremony with them. As for the Minards, I must
throw a little dust in their eyes; I have a particular need of them."
"Four Minards, three Phellions, four Collevilles, and ourselves; that
"La Peyrade, fourteen; and it is worth while to invite Dutocq; he may
be useful to us. I'll go up and see him."
"What are you scheming?" cried his sister. "Fifteen to dinner! There's
forty francs, at the very least, waltzing off."
"You won't regret them, my dearest. I want you to be particularly
agreeable to our young friend, la Peyrade. There's a friend, indeed!
you'll soon have proofs of that! If you love me, cosset him well."
So saying, he departed, leaving Brigitte bewildered.
"Proofs, indeed! yes, I'll look out for proofs," she said. "I'm not to
be caught with fine words, not I! He is an amiable fellow; but before
I take him into my heart I shall study him a little closer."
After inviting Dutocq, Thuillier, having bedizened himself, went to
the hotel Minard, rue des Macons-Sorbonne, to capture the stout Zelie,
and gloss over the shortness of the invitation.
Minard had purchased one of those large and sumptuous habitations
which the old religious orders built about the Sorbonne, and as
Thuillier mounted the broad stone steps with an iron balustrade, that
proved how arts of the second class flourished under Louis XIII., he
envied both the mansion and its occupant,--the mayor.
This vast building, standing between a courtyard and garden, is
noticeable as a specimen of the style, both noble and elegant, of the
reign of Louis XIII., coming singularly, as it did, between the bad
taste of the expiring renaissance and the heavy grandeur of Louis
XIV., at its dawn. This transition period is shown in many public
buildings. The massive scroll-work of several facades--that of the
Sorbonne, for instance,--and columns rectified according to the rules
of Grecian art, were beginning to appear in this architecture.
A grocer, a lucky adulterator, now took the place of the former
ecclesiastical governor of an institution called in former times
L'Economat; an establishment connected with the general agency of the
old French clergy, and founded by the long-sighted genius of
Richelieu. Thuillier's name opened for him the doors of the salon,
where sat enthroned in velvet and gold, amid the most magnificent
"Chineseries," the poor woman who weighed with all her avoirdupois on
the hearts and minds of princes and princesses at the "popular balls"
of the palace.
"Isn't she a good subject for 'La Caricature'?" said a so-called lady
of the bedchamber to a duchess, who could hardly help laughing at the
aspect of Zelie, glittering with diamonds, red as a poppy, squeezed
into a gold brocade, and rolling along like the casts of her former
"Will you pardon me, fair lady," began Thuillier, twisting his body,
and pausing in pose number two of his imperial repertory, "for having
allowed this invitation to remain in my desk, thinking, all the while,
that it was sent? It is for to-day, but perhaps I am too late?"
Zelie examined her husband's face as he approached them to receive
Thuillier; then she said:--
"We intended to drive into the country and dine at some chance
restaurant; but we'll give up that idea and all the more readily
because, in my opinion, it is getting devilishly vulgar to drive out
of Paris on Sundays."
"We will have a little dance to the piano for the young people, if
enough come, as I hope they will. I have sent a line to Phellion,
whose wife is intimate with Madame Pron, the successor--"
"SuccessorESS," interrupted Madame Minard.
"No," said Thuillier, "it ought to be success'ress; just as we say
may'ress, dropping the O, you know."
"Is it full dress?" asked Madame Minard.
"Heavens! no," replied Thuillier; "you would get me finely scolded by
my sister. No, it is only a family party. Under the Empire, madame, we
all devoted ourselves to dancing. At that great epoch of our national
life they thought as much of a fine dancer as they did of a good
soldier. Nowadays the country is so matter-of-fact."
"Well, we won't talk politics," said the mayor, smiling. "The King is
grand; he is very able. I have a deep admiration for my own time, and
for the institutions which we have given to ourselves. The King, you
may be sure, knows very well what he is doing by the development of
industries. He is struggling hand to hand against England; and we are
doing him more harm during this fruitful peace than all the wars of
the Empire would have done."
"What a deputy Minard would make!" cried Zelie, naively. "He practises
speechifying at home. You'll help us to get him elected, won't you,
"We won't talk politics now," replied Thuillier. "Come at five."
"Will that little Vinet be there?" asked Minard; "he comes, no doubt,
"Then he may go into mourning," replied Thuillier. "Brigitte won't
hear of him."
Zelie and Minard exchanged a smile of satisfaction.
"To think that we must hob-nob with such common people, all for the
sake of our son!" cried Zelie, when Thuillier was safely down the
staircase, to which the mayor had accompanied him.
"Ha! he thinks to be deputy!" thought Thuillier, as he walked away.
"These grocers! nothing satisfies them. Heavens! what would Napoleon
say if he could see the government in the hands of such people! I'm a
trained administrator, at any rate. What a competitor, to be sure! I
wonder what la Peyrade will say?"
The ambitious ex-beau now went to invite the whole Laudigeois family
for the evening, after which he went to the Collevilles', to make sure
that Celeste should wear a becoming gown. He found Flavie rather
pensive. She hesitated about coming, but Thuillier overcame her
"My old and ever young friend," he said, taking her round the waist,
for she was alone in her little salon, "I won't have any secret from
you. A great affair is in the wind for me. I can't tell you more than
that, but I can ask you to be particularly charming to a certain young
"Who is it?"
"He holds my future in his hands. Besides, he's a man of genius. I
know what that is. He's got this sort of thing,"--and Thuillier made
the gesture of a dentist pulling out a back tooth. "We must bind him
to us, Flavie. But, above all, don't let him see his power. As for me,
I shall just give and take with him."
"Do you want me to be coquettish?"
"Not too much so, my angel," replied Thuillier, with a foppish air.
And he departed, not observing the stupor which overcame Flavie.
"That young man is a power," she said to herself. "Well, we shall
For these reasons she dressed her hair with marabouts, put on her
prettiest gown of gray and pink, which allowed her fine shoulders to
be seen beneath a pelerine of black lace, and took care to keep
Celeste in a little silk frock made with a yoke and a large plaited
collarette, telling her to dress her hair plainly, a la Berthe.
AD MAJOREM THEODOSIS GLORIAM
At half-past four o'clock Theodose was at his post. He had put on his
vacant, half-servile manner and soft voice, and he drew Thuillier at
once into the garden.
"My friend," he said, "I don't doubt your triumph, but I feel the
necessity of again warning you to be absolutely silent. If you are
questioned about anything, especially about Celeste, make evasive
answers which will keep your questioners in suspense. You must have
learned how to do that in a government office."
"I understand!" said Thuillier. "But what certainty have you?"
"You'll see what a fine dessert I have prepared for you. But please be
modest. There come the Minards; let me pipe to them. Bring them out
here, and then disappear yourself."
After the first salutations, la Peyrade was careful to keep close to
the mayor, and presently at an opportune moment he drew him aside to
"Monsieur le maire, a man of your political importance doesn't come to
bore himself in a house of this kind without an object. I don't want
to fathom your motives--which, indeed, I have no right to do--and my
part in this world is certainly not to mingle with earthly powers; but
please pardon my apparent presumption, and deign to listen to a piece
of advice which I shall venture to give you. If I do you a service
to-day you are in a position to return it to me to-morrow; therefore,
in case I should be so fortunate as to do you a good turn, I am really
only obeying the law of self-interest. Our friend Thuillier is in
despair at being a nobody; he has taken it into his head that he wants
to become a personage in this arrondissement--"
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed Minard.
"Oh! nothing very exalted; he wants to be elected to the municipal
council. Now, I know that Phellion, seeing the influence such a
service would have on his family interests, intends to propose your
poor friend as candidate. Well, perhaps you might think it wise, in
your own interests, to be beforehand with him. Thuillier's nomination
could only be favorable for you--I mean agreeable; and he'll fill his
place in the council very well; there are some there who are not as
strong as he. Besides, owing to his place to your support, he will see
with your eyes; he already looks to you as one of the lights of the
"My dear fellow, I thank you very much," replied Minard. "You are
doing me a service I cannot sufficiently acknowledge, and which proves
"That I don't like those Phellions," said la Peyrade, taking advantage
of a slight hesitation on the part of the mayor, who feared to express
an idea in which the lawyer might see contempt. "I hate people who
make capital out of their honesty and coin money from fine
"You know them well," said Minard; "they are sycophants. That man's
whole life for the last ten years is explained by this bit of red
ribbon," added the mayor, pointing to his own buttonhole.
"Take care!" said the lawyer, "his son is in love with Celeste, and
he's fairly in the heart of the family."
"Yes, but my son has twelve thousand a year in his own right."
"Oh!" said Theodose, with a start, "Mademoiselle Brigitte was saying
the other day that she wanted at least as much as that in Celeste's
suitor. Moreover, six months hence you'll probably hear that Thuillier
has a property worth forty thousand francs a year."
"The devil! well, I thought as much. Yes, certainly, he shall be made
a member of the municipal council."
"In any case, don't say anything about me to him," said the advocate
of the poor, who now hastened away to speak to Madame Phellion. "Well,
my fair lady," he said, when he reached her, "have you succeeded?"
"I waited till four o'clock, and then that worthy and excellent man
would not let me finish what I had to say. He is much to busy to
accept such an office, and he sent a letter which Monsieur Phellion
has read, saying that he, Doctor Bianchon, thanked him for his good
intentions, and assured him that his own candidate was Monsieur
Thuillier. He said that he should use all his influence in his favor,
and begged my husband to do the same."
"And what did your excellent husband say?"
"'I have done my duty,' he said. 'I have not been false to my
conscience, and now I am all for Thuillier.'"
"Well, then, the thing is settled," said la Peyrade. "Ignore my visit,
and take all the credit of the idea to yourselves."
Then he went to Madame Colleville, composing himself in the attitude
and manner of the deepest respect.
"Madame," he said, "have the goodness to send out to me here that
kindly papa Colleville. A surprise is to be given to Monsieur
Thuillier, and I want Monsieur Colleville to be in the secret."
While la Peyrade played the part of man of the world with Colleville,
and allowed himself various witty sarcasms when explaining to him
Thuillier's candidacy, telling him he ought to support it, if only to
exhibit his incapacity, Flavie was listening in the salon to the
following conversation, which bewildered her for the moment and made
her ears ring.
"I should like to know what Monsieur Colleville and Monsieur de la
Peyrade can be saying to each other to make them laugh like that,"
said Madame Thuillier, foolishly, looking out of the window.
"A lot of improper things, as men always do when they talk together,"
replied Mademoiselle Thuillier, who often attacked men with the sort
of instinct natural to old maids.
"No, they are incapable of that," said Phellion, gravely. "Monsieur de
la Peyrade is one of the most virtuous young men I have ever met.
People know what I think of Felix; well, I put the two on the same
line; indeed, I wish my son had a little more of Monsieur de la
Peyrade's beautiful piety."
"You are right; he is a man of great merit, who is sure to succeed,"
said Minard. "As for me, my suffrages--for I really ought not to say
"He pays more for oil than for bread," said Dutocq. "I know that."
"His mother, if he has the happiness to still possess her, must be
proud of him," remarked Madame Thuillier, sententiously.
"He is a real treasure for us," said Thuillier. "If you only knew how
modest he is! He doesn't do himself justice."
"I can answer for one thing," added Dutocq; "no young man ever
maintained a nobler attitude in poverty; he triumphed over it; but he
suffered--it is easy to see that."
"Poor young man!" cried Zelie. "Such things make my heart ache!"
"Any one could safely trust both secrets and fortune to him," said
Thuillier; "and in these days that is the finest thing that can be
said of a man."
"It is Colleville who is making him laugh," cried Dutocq.
Just then Colleville and la Peyrade returned from the garden the very
best friends in the world.
"Messieurs," said Brigitte, "the soup and the King must never be kept
waiting; give your hand to the ladies."
Five minutes after this little pleasantry (issuing from the lodge of
her father the porter) Brigitte had the satisfaction of seeing her
table surrounded by the principal personages of this drama; the rest,
with the one exception of the odious Cerizet, arrived later.
The portrait of the former maker of canvas money-bags would be
incomplete if we omitted to give a description of one of her best
dinners. The physiognomy of the bourgeois cook of 1840 is, moreover,
one of those details essentially necessary to a history of manners and
customs, and clever housewives may find some lessons in it. A woman
doesn't make empty bags for twenty years without looking out for the
means to fill a few of them. Now Brigitte had one peculiar
characteristic. She united the economy to which she owed her fortune
with a full understanding of necessary expenses. Her relative
prodigality, when it concerned her brother or Celeste, was the
antipodes of avarice. In fact, she often bemoaned herself that she
couldn't be miserly. At her last dinner she had related how, after
struggling ten minute and enduring martyrdom, she had ended by giving
ten francs to a poor workwoman whom she knew, positively, had been
without food for two days.
"Nature," she said naively, "is stronger than reason."
The soup was a rather pale bouillon; for, even on an occasion like
this, the cook had been enjoined to make a great deal of bouillon out
of the beef supplied. Then, as the said beef was to feed the family on
the next day and the day after that, the less juice it expended in the
bouillon, the more substantial were the subsequent dinners. The beef,
little cooked, was always taken away at the following speech from
Brigitte, uttered as soon as Thuillier put his knife into it:--
"I think it is rather tough; send it away, Thuillier, nobody will eat
it; we have other things."
The soup was, in fact, flanked by four viands mounted on old hot-water
chafing-dishes, with the plating worn off. At this particular dinner
(afterwards called that of the candidacy) the first course consisted
of a pair of ducks with olives, opposite to which was a large pie with
forcemeat balls, while a dish of eels "a la tartare" corresponded in
like manner with a fricandeau on chicory. The second course had for
its central dish a most dignified goose stuffed with chestnuts, a
salad of vegetables garnished with rounds of beetroot opposite to
custards in cups, while lower down a dish of turnips "au sucre" faced
a timbale of macaroni. This gala dinner of the concierge type cost, at
the utmost, twenty francs, and the remains of the feast provided the
household for a couple of days; nevertheless, Brigitte would say:--
"Pest! when one has to have company how the money goes! It is
The table was lighted by two hideous candlesticks of plated silver
with four branches each, in which shone eight of those thrifty wax-
candles that go by the name of Aurora. The linen was dazzling in
whiteness, and the silver, with beaded edges, was the fruit,
evidently, of some purchase made during the Revolution by Thuillier's
father. Thus the fare and the service were in keeping with the house,
the dining-room, and the Thuilliers themselves, who could never, under
any circumstances, get themselves above this style of living. The
Minards, Collevilles, and la Peyrade exchanged now and then a smile
which betrayed their mutually satirical but repressed thoughts. La
Peyrade, seated beside Flavie, whispered in her ear:--
"You must admit that they ought to be taught how to live. But those
Minards are no better in their way. What cupidity! they've come here
solely after Celeste. Your daughter will be lost to you if you let
them have her. These parvenus have all the vices of the great lords of
other days without their elegance. Minard's son, who has twelve
thousand francs a year of his own, could very well find a wife
elsewhere, instead of pushing his speculating rake in here. What fun
it would be to play upon those people as one would on a bass-viol or a
While the dishes of the second course were being removed, Minard,
afraid that Phellion would precede him, said to Thuillier with a grave
"My dear Thuillier, in accepting your dinner, I did so for the purpose
of making an important communication, which does you so much honor
that all here present ought to be made participants in it."
Thuillier turned pale.
"Have you obtained the cross for me?" he cried, on receiving a glance
from Theodose, and wishing to prove that he was not without craft.
"You will doubtless receive it ere long," replied the mayor. "But the
matter now relates to something better than that. The cross is a favor
due to the good opinion of a minister, whereas the present question
concerns an election due to the consent of your fellow citizens. In a
word, a sufficiently large number of electors in your arrondissement
have cast their eyes upon you, and wish to honor you with their
confidence by making you the representative of this arrondissement in
the municipal council of Paris; which, as everybody knows, is the
Council-general of the Seine."
"Bravo!" cried Dutocq.
"Monsieur le maire has forestalled me," he said in an agitated voice,
"but it is so flattering for our friend to be the object of eagerness
on the part of all good citizens, and to obtain the public vote of
high and low, that I cannot complain of being obliged to come second
only; therefore, all honor to the initiatory authority!" (Here he
bowed respectfully to Minard.) "Yes, Monsieur Thuillier, many electors
think of giving you their votes in that portion of the arrondissement
where I keep my humble penates; and you have the special advantage of
being suggested to their minds by a distinguished man." (Sensation.)
"By a man in whose person we desired to honor one of the most virtuous
inhabitants of the arrondissement, who for twenty years, I may say,
was the father of it. I allude to the late Monsieur Popinot,
counsellor, during his lifetime, to the Royal court, and our delegate
in the municipal council of Paris. But his nephew, of whom I speak,
Doctor Bianchon, one of our glories, has, in view of his absorbing
duties, declined the responsibility with which we sought to invest
him. While thanking us for our compliment he has--take note of
this--indicated for our suffrages the candidate of Monsieur le maire
as being, in his opinion, capable, owing to the position he formerly
occupied, of exercising the magisterial functions of the aedileship."
And Phellion sat down amid approving murmurs.
"Thuillier, you can count on me, your old friend," said Colleville.
At this moment the guests were sincerely touched by the sight
presented of old Mademoiselle Brigitte and Madame Thuillier. Brigitte,
pale as though she were fainting, was letting the slow tears run,
unheeded, down her cheeks, tears of deepest joy; while Madame
Thuillier sat, as if struck by lightning, with her eyes fixed.
Suddenly the old maid darted into the kitchen, crying out to Josephine
"Come into the cellar my girl, we must get out the wine behind the
"My friends," said Thuillier, in a shaking voice, "this is the finest
moment of my life, finer than even the day of my election, should I
consent to allow myself to be presented to the suffrages of my fellow-
citizens" ("You must! you must!"); "for I feel myself much worn down
by thirty years of public service, and, as you may well believe, a man
of honor has need to consult his strength and his capacities before he
takes upon himself the functions of the aedileship."
"I expected nothing less of you, Monsieur Thuillier," cried Phellion.
"Pardon me; this is the first time in my life that I have ever
interrupted a superior; but there are circumstances--"
"Accept! accept!" cried Zelie. "Bless my soul! what we want are men
like you to govern us."
"Resign yourself, my chief!" cried Dutocq, and, "Long live the future
municipal councillor! but we haven't anything to drink--"
"Well, the thing is settled," said Minard; "you are to be our
"You think too much of me," replied Thuillier.
"Come, come!" cried Colleville. "A man who has done thirty years in
the galleys of the ministry of finance is a treasure to the town."
"You are much too modest," said the younger Minard; "your capacity is
well known to us; it remains a tradition at the ministry of finance."
"As you all insist--" began Thuillier.
"The King will be pleased with our choice; I can assure you of that,"
said Minard, pompously.
"Gentlemen," said la Peyrade, "will you permit a recent dweller in the
faubourg Saint-Jacques to make one little remark, which is not without
The consciousness that everybody had of the sterling merits of the
advocate of the poor produced the deepest silence.
"The influence of Monsieur le maire of an adjoining arrondissement,
which is immense in ours where he has left such excellent memories;
that of Monsieur Phellion, the oracle--yes, let the truth be spoken,"
he exclaimed, noticing a gesture made by Phellion--"the ORACLE of his
battalion; the influence, no less powerful, which Monsieur Colleville
owes to the frank heartiness of his manner, and to his urbanity; that
of Monsieur Dutocq, the clerk of the justice court, which will not be
less efficacious, I am sure; and the poor efforts which I can offer in
my humble sphere of activity,--are pledges of success, but they are
not success itself. To obtain a rapid triumph we should pledge
ourselves, now and here, to keep the deepest secrecy on the
manifestation of sentiments which has just taken place. Otherwise, we
should excite, without knowing or willing it, envy and all the other
secondary passions, which would create for us later various obstacles
to overcome. The political meaning of the new social organization, its
very basis, its token, and the guarantee for its continuance, are in a
certain sharing of the governing power with the middle classes,
classes who are the true strength of modern societies, the centre of
morality, of all good sentiments and intelligent work. But we cannot
conceal from ourselves that the principle of election, extended now to
almost every function, has brought the interests of ambition, and the
passion for being SOMETHING, excuse the word, into social depths where
they ought never to have penetrated. Some see good in this; others see
evil; it is not my place to judge between them in presence of minds
before whose eminence I bow. I content myself by simply suggesting
this question in order to show the dangers which the banner of our
friend must meet. See for yourselves! the decease of our late
honorable representative in the municipal council dates back scarcely
one week, and already the arrondissement is being canvassed by
inferior ambitions. Such men put themselves forward to be seen at any
price. The writ of convocation will, probably, not take effect for a
month to come. Between now and then, imagine the intrigues! I entreat
you not to expose our friend Thuillier to the blows of his
competitors; let us not deliver him over to public discussion, that
modern harpy which is but the trumpet of envy and calumny, the pretext
seized by malevolence to belittle all that is great, soil all that is
immaculate and dishonor whatever is sacred. Let us, rather, do as the
Third Party is now doing in the Chamber,--keep silence and vote!"
"He speaks well," said Phellion to his neighbor Dutocq.
"And how strong the statement is!"
Envy had turned Minard and his son green and yellow.
"That is well said and very true," remarked Minard.
"Unanimously adopted!" cried Colleville. "Messieurs, we are men of
honor; it suffices to understand each other on this point."
"Whoso desires the end accepts the means," said Phellion,
At this moment, Mademoiselle Thuillier reappeared, followed by her two
servants; the key of the cellar was hanging from her belt, and three
bottles of champagne, three of hermitage, and one bottle of malaga
were placed upon the table. She herself was carrying, with almost
respectful care, a smaller bottle, like a fairy Carabosse, which she
placed before her. In the midst of the hilarity caused by this
abundance of excellent things--a fruit of gratitude, which the poor
spinster in the delirium of her joy poured out with a profusion which
put to shame the sparing hospitality of her usual fortnightly dinners
--numerous dessert dishes made their appearance: mounds of almonds,
raisins, figs, and nuts (popularly known as the "four beggars"),
pyramids of oranges, confections, crystallized fruits, brought from
the hidden depths of her cupboards, which would never have figured on
the table-cloth had it not been for the "candidacy."
"Celeste, they will bring you a bottle of brandy which my father
obtained in 1802; make an orange-salad!" cried Brigitte to her sister-
in-law. "Monsieur Phellion, open the champagne; that bottle is for you
three. Monsieur Dutocq, take this one. Monsieur Colleville, you know
how to pop corks!"
The two maids distributed champagne glasses, also claret glasses, and
wine glasses. Josephine also brought three more bottles of Bordeaux.
"The year of the comet!" cried Thuillier, laughing, "Messieurs, you
have turned my sister's head."
"And this evening you shall have punch and cakes," she said. "I have
sent to the chemists for some tea. Heavens! if I had only known the
affair concerned an election," she cried, looking at her sister-in-
law, "I'd have served the turkey."
A general laugh welcomed this speech.
"We have a goose!" said Minard junior.
"The carts are unloading!" cried Madame Thuillier, as "marrons glaces"
and "meringues" were placed upon the table.
Mademoiselle Thuillier's face was blazing. She was really superb to
behold. Never did sisterly love assume such a frenzied expression.
"To those who know her, it is really touching," remarked Madame
The glasses were filled. The guests all looked at one another,
evidently expecting a toast, whereupon la Peyrade said:--
"Messieurs, let us drink to something sublime."
Everybody looked curious.
"To Mademoiselle Brigitte!"
They all rose, clinked glasses, and cried with one voice,
"Mademoiselle Brigitte!" so much enthusiasm did the exhibition of a
true feeling excite.
"Messieurs," said Phellion, reading from a paper written in pencil,
"To work and its splendors, in the person of our former comrade, now
become one of the mayors of Paris,--to Monsieur Minard and his wife!"
After five minutes' general conversation Thuillier rose and said:--
"Messieurs, To the King and the royal family! I add nothing; the toast
"To the election of my brother!" said Mademoiselle Thuillier a moment
"Now I'll make you laugh," whispered la Peyrade in Flavie's ear.
And he rose.
"To Woman!" he said; "that enchanting sex to whom we owe our
happiness,--not to speak of our mothers, our sisters, and our wives!"
This toast excited general hilarity, and Colleville, already somewhat
"Rascal! you have stolen my speech!"
The mayor then rose; profound silence reigned.
"Messieurs, our institutions! from which come the strength and
grandeur of dynastic France!"
The bottles disappeared amid a chorus of admiration as to the
marvellous goodness and delicacy of their contents.
Celeste Colleville here said timidly:--
"Mamma, will you permit me to give a toast?"
The good girl had noticed the dull, bewildered look of her godmother,
neglected and forgotten,--she, the mistress of that house, wearing
almost the expression of a dog that is doubtful which master to obey,
looking from the face of her terrible sister-in-law to that of
Thuillier, consulting each countenance, and oblivious of herself; but
joy on the face of that poor helot, accustomed to be nothing, to
repress her ideas, her feelings, had the effect of a pale wintry sun
behind a mist; it barely lighted her faded, flabby flesh. The gauze
cap trimmed with dingy flowers, the hair ill-dressed, the gloomy brown
gown, with no ornament but a thick gold chain--all, combined with the
expression of her countenance, stimulated the affection of the young
Celeste, who--alone in the world--knew the value of that woman
condemned to silence but aware of all about her, suffering from all
yet consoling herself in God and in the girl who now was watching her.
"Yes, let the dear child give us her little toast," said la Peyrade to
"Go on, my daughter," cried Colleville; "here's the hermitage still to
be drunk--and it's hoary with age," he added.
"To my kind godmother!" said the girl, lowering her glass respectfully
before Madame Thuillier, and holding it towards her.
The poor woman, startled, looked through a veil of tears first at her
husband, and then at Brigitte; but her position in the family was so
well known, and the homage paid by innocence to weakness had something
so beautiful about it, that the emotion was general; the men all rose
and bowed to Madame Thuillier.
"Ah! Celeste, I would I had a kingdom to lay at your feet," murmured
The worthy Phellion wiped away a tear. Dutocq himself was moved.
"Oh! the charming child!" cried Mademoiselle Thuillier, rising, and
going round to kiss her sister-in-law.
"My turn now!" said Colleville, posing like an athlete. "Now listen:
To friendship! Empty your glasses; refill your glasses. Good! To the
fine arts,--the flower of social life! Empty your glasses; refill your
glasses. To another such festival on the day after election!"
"What is that little bottle you have there?" said Dutocq to
"That," she said, "is one of my three bottles of Madame Amphoux'
liqueur; the second is for the day of Celeste's marriage; the third
for the day on which her first child is baptized."
"My sister is losing her head," remarked Thuillier to Colleville.
The dinner ended with a toast, offered by Thuillier, but suggested to
him by Theodose at the moment when the malaga sparkled in the little
glasses like so many rubies.
"Colleville, messieurs, has drunk to FRIENDSHIP. I now drink, in this
most generous wine, To my friends!"
An hurrah, full of heartiness, greeted that fine sentiment, but Dutocq
remarked aside to Theodose:--
"It is a shame to pour such wine down the throats of such people."
"Ah! if we could only make such wine as that!" cried Zelie, making her
glass ring by the way in which she sucked down the Spanish liquid.
"What fortunes we could get!"
Zelie had now reached her highest point of incandescence, and was
"Yes," replied Minard, "but ours is made."
"Don't you think, sister," said Brigitte to Madame Thuillier, "that we
had better take coffee in the salon?"
Madame Thuillier obediently assumed the air of mistress of the house,
"Ah! you are a great wizard," said Flavie Colleville, accepting la
Peyrade's arm to return to the salon.
"And yet I care only to bewitch you," he answered. "I think you more
enchanting than ever this evening."
"Thuillier," she said, to evade the subject, "Thuillier made to think
himself a political character! oh! oh!"
"But, my dear Flavie, half the absurdities of life are the result of
such conspiracies; and men are not alone in these deceptions. In how
many families one sees the husband, children, and friends persuading a
silly mother that she is a woman of sense, or an old woman of fifty
that she is young and beautiful. Hence, inconceivable contrarieties
for those who go about the world with their eyes shut. One man owes
his ill-savored conceit to the flattery of a mistress; another owes
his versifying vanity to those who are paid to call him a great poet.
Every family has its great man; and the result is, as we see it in the
Chamber, general obscurity of the lights of France. Well, men of real
mind are laughing to themselves about it, that's all. You are the mind
and the beauty of this little circle of the petty bourgeoisie; it is
this superiority which led me in the first instance to worship you. I
have since longed to drag you out of it; for I love you sincerely--
more in friendship than in love; though a great deal of love is
gliding into it," he added, pressing her to his heart under cover of
the recess of a window to which he had taken her.
"Madame Phellion will play the piano," cried Colleville. "We must all
dance to-night--bottles and Brigitte's francs and all the little
girls! I'll go and fetch my clarionet."
He gave his empty coffee-cup to his wife, smiling to see her so
friendly with la Peyrade.
"What have you said and done to my husband?" asked Flavie, when
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