The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 10
Colleville had left them.
"Must I tell you all our secrets?"
"Ah! you don't love me," she replied, looking at him with the
coquettish slyness of a woman who is not quite decided in her mind.
"Well, since you tell me yours," he said, letting himself go to the
lively impulse of Provencal gaiety, always so charming and apparently
so natural, "I will not conceal from you an anxiety in my heart."
He took her back to the same window and said, smiling:--
"Colleville, poor man, has seen in me the artist repressed by all
these bourgeois; silent before them because I feel misjudged,
misunderstood, and repelled by them. He has felt the heat of the
sacred fire that consumes me. Yes I am," he continued, in a tone of
conviction, "an artist in words after the manner of Berryer; I could
make juries weep, by weeping myself, for I'm as nervous as a woman.
Your husband, who detests the bourgeoisie, began to tease me about
them. At first we laughed; then, in becoming serious, he found out
that I was as strong as he. I told him of the plan concocted to make
SOMETHING of Thuillier, and I showed him all the good he could get
himself out of a political puppet. 'If it were only,' I said to him,
'to make yourself Monsieur DE Colleville, and to put your charming
wife where I should like to see her, as the wife of a receiver-
general, or deputy. To make yourself all that you and she ought to be,
you have only to go and live a few years in the Upper or Lower Alps,
in some hole of a town where everybody will like you, and your wife
will seduce everybody; and this,' I added, 'you cannot fail to obtain,
especially if you give your dear Celeste to some man who can influence
the Chamber.' Good reasons, stated in jest, have the merit of
penetrating deeper into some minds than if they were given soberly. So
Colleville and I became the best friends in the world. Didn't you hear
him say to me at table, 'Rascal! you have stolen my speech'? To-night
we shall be theeing and thouing each other. I intend to have a choice
little supper-party soon, where artists, tied to the proprieties at
home, always compromise themselves. I'll invite him, and that will
make us as solidly good friends as he is with Thuillier. There, my
dear adorned one, is what a profound sentiment gives a man the courage
to produce. Colleville must adopt me; so that I may visit your house
by his invitation. But what couldn't you make me do? lick lepers,
swallow live toads, seduce Brigitte--yes, if you say so, I'll impale
my own heart on that great picket-rail to please you."
"You frightened me this morning," she said.
"But this evening you are reassured. Yes," he added, "no harm will
ever happen to you through me."
"You are, I must acknowledge, a most extraordinary man."
"Why, no! the smallest as well as the greatest of my efforts are
merely the reflections of the flame which you have kindled. I intend
to be your son-in-law that we may never part. My wife, heavens! what
could she be to me but a machine for child-bearing? whereas the
divinity, the sublime being will be--you," he whispered in her ear.
"You are Satan!" she said, in a sort of terror.
"No, I am something of a poet, like all the men of my region. Come, be
my Josephine! I'll go and see you to-morrow. I have the most ardent
desire to see where you live and how you live, the furniture you use,
the color of your stuffs, the arrangement of all things about you. I
long to see the pearl in its shell."
He slipped away cleverly after these words, without waiting for an
Flavie, to whom in all her life love had never taken the language of
romance, sat still, but happy, her heart palpitating, and saying to
herself that it was very difficult to escape such influence. For the
first time Theodose had appeared in a pair of new trousers, with gray
silk stockings and pumps, a waistcoat of black silk, and a cravat of
black satin on the knot of which shone a plain gold pin selected with
taste. He wore also a new coat in the last fashion, and yellow gloves,
relieved by white shirt-cuffs; he was the only man who had manners, or
deportment in that salon, which was now filling up for the evening.
Madame Pron, nee Barniol, arrived with two school-girls, aged
seventeen, confided to her maternal care by families residing in
Martinique. Monsieur Pron, professor of rhetoric in a college presided
over by priests, belonged to the Phellion class; but, instead of
expanding on the surface in phrases and demonstrations, and posing as
an example, he was dry and sententious. Monsieur and Madame Pron, the
flowers of the Phellion salon, received every Monday. Though a
professor, the little man danced. He enjoyed great influence in the
quarter enclosed by the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, the Luxembourg,
and the rue de Sevres. Therefore, as soon as Phellion saw his friend,
he took him by the arm into a corner to inform him of the Thuillier
candidacy. After ten minutes' consultation they both went to find
Thuillier, and the recess of a window, opposite to that where Flavie
still sat absorbed in her reflections, no doubt, heard a "trio"
worthy, in its way, of that of the Swiss in "Guillaume Tell."
"Do you see," said Theodose, returning to Flavie, "the pure and honest
Phellion intriguing over there? Give a personal reason to a virtuous
man and he'll paddle in the slimiest puddle; he is hooking that little
Pron, and Pron is taking it all in, solely to get your little Celeste
for Felix Phellion. Separate them, and in ten minutes they'll get
together again, and that young Minard will be growling round them like
an angry bulldog."
Felix, still under the strong emotion imparted to him by Celeste's
generous action and the cry that came from the girl's heart, though no
one but Madame Thuillier still thought of it, became inspired by one
of those ingenuous artfulnesses which are the honest charlatanism of
true love; but he was not to the manner born of it, and mathematics,
moreover, made him somewhat absent-minded. He stationed himself near
Madame Thuillier, imagining that Madame Thuillier would attract
Celeste to her side. This astute calculation succeeded all the better
because young Minard, who saw in Celeste nothing more than a "dot,"
had no such sudden inspiration, and was drinking his coffee and
talking politics with Laudigeois, Monsieur Barniol, and Dutocq by
order of his father, who was thinking and planning for the general
election of the legislature in 1842.
"Who wouldn't love Celeste?" said Felix to Madame Thuillier.
"Little darling, no one in the world loves me as she does," replied
the poor slave, with difficulty restraining her tears.
"Ah! madame, we both love you," said the candid professor, sincerely.
"What are you saying to each other?" asked Celeste, coming up.
"My child," said the pious woman, drawing her god-daughter down to her
and kissing her on the forehead. "He said that you both loved me."
"Do not be angry with my presumption, mademoiselle. Let me do all I
can to prove it," murmured Felix. "Ah! I cannot help it, I was made
this way; injustice revolts me to the soul! Yes, the Saviour of men
was right to promise the future to the meek heart, to the slain lamb!
A man who did not love you, Celeste, must have adored you after that
sublime impulse of yours at table. Ah, yes! innocence alone can
console the martyr. You are a kind young girl; you will be one of
those wives who make the glory and the happiness of a family. Happy be
he whom you will choose!"
"Godmamma, with what eyes do you think Monsieur Felix sees me?"
"He appreciates you, my little angel; I shall pray to God for both of
"If you knew how happy I am that my father can do a service to
Monsieur Thuillier, and how I wish I could be useful to your
"In short," said Celeste, laughing, "you love us all."
"Well, yes," replied Felix.
True love wraps itself in the mysteries of reserve, even in its
expression; it proves itself by itself; it does not feel the
necessity, as a false love does, of lighting a conflagration. By an
observer (if such a being could have glided into the Thuillier salon)
a book might have been made in comparing the two scenes of love-
making, and in watching the enormous preparations of Theodose and the
simplicity of Felix: one was nature, the other was society,--the true
and the false embodied. Noticing her daughter glowing with happiness,
exhaling her soul through the pores of her face, and beautiful with
the beauty of a young girl gathering the first roses of an indirect
declaration, Flavie had an impulse of jealousy in her heart. She came
across to Celeste and said in her ear:--
"You are not behaving well, my daughter; everybody is observing you;
you are compromising yourself by talking so long to Monsieur Felix
without knowing whether we approve of it."
"But, mamma, my godmother is here."
"Ah! pardon me, dear friend," said Madame Colleville; "I did not
"You do as others do," said the poor nonentity.
That reply stung Madame Colleville, who regarded it as a barbed arrow.
She cast a haughty glance at Felix and said to Celeste, "Sit there, my
daughter," seating herself at the same time beside Madame Thuillier
and pointing to a chair on the other side of her.
"I will work myself to death," said Felix to Madame Thuillier. "I'll
be a member of the Academy of Sciences; I'll make some great
discovery, and win her hand by force of fame."
"Ah!" thought the poor woman to herself, "I ought to have had a
gentle, peaceful, learned man like that. I might have slowly developed
in a life of quietness. It was not thy will, O God! but, I pray thee,
unite and bless these children; they are made for one another."
And she sat there, pensive, listening to the racket made by her
sister-in-law--a ten-horse power at work--who now, lending a hand to
her two servants, cleared the table, taking everything out of the
dining-room to accommodate the dancers, vociferating, like the captain
of a frigate on his quarter-deck when taking his ship into action:
"Have you plenty of raspberry syrup?" "Run out and buy some more
orgeat!" "There's not enough glasses. Where's the 'eau rougie'? Take
those six bottles of 'vin ordinaire' and make more. Mind that
Coffinet, the porter, doesn't get any." "Caroline, my girl, you are to
wait at the sideboard; you'll have tongue and ham to slice in case
they dance till morning. But mind, no waste! Keep an eye on
everything. Pass me the broom; put more oil in those lamps; don't make
blunders. Arrange the remains of the dessert so as to make a show on
the sideboard; ask my sister to come and help us. I'm sure I don't
know what she's thinking about, that dawdle! Heavens, how slow she is!
Here, take away these chairs, they'll want all the room they can get."
The salon was full of Barniols, Collevilles, Phellions, Laudigeois,
and many others whom the announcement of a dance at the Thuilliers',
spread about in the Luxembourg between two and four in the afternoon,
the hour at which the bourgeoisie takes its walk, had drawn thither.
"Are you ready, Brigitte?" said Colleville, bolting into the dining-
room; "it is nine o'clock, and they are packed as close as herrings in
the salon. Cardot, his wife and son and daughter and future son-in-law
have just come, accompanied by that young Vinet; the whole faubourg
Saint Antoine is debouching. Can't we move the piano in here?"
Then he gave the signal, by tuning his clarionet, the joyous sounds of
which were greeted with huzzas from the salon.
It is useless to describe a ball of this kind. The toilets, faces, and
conversations were all in keeping with one fact which will surely
suffice even the dullest imagination; they passed round, on tarnished
and discolored trays, common tumblers filled with wine, "eau rougie,"
and "eau sucree." The trays on which were glasses of orgeat and
glasses of syrup and water appeared only at long intervals. There were
five card-tables and twenty-five players, and eighteen dancers of both
sexes. At one o'clock in the morning, all present--Madame Thuillier,
Mademoiselle Brigitte, Madame Phellion, even Phellion himself--were
dragged into the vivacities of a country-dance, vulgarly called "La
Boulangere," in which Dutocq figured with a veil over his head, after
the manner of the Kabyl. The servants who were waiting to escort their
masters home, and those of the household, were audience to this
performance; and after the interminable dance had lasted one whole
hour it was proposed to carry Brigitte in triumph when she gave the
announcement that supper was served. This circumstance made her see
the necessity of hiding a dozen bottles of old burgundy. In short, the
company had amused themselves so well, the matrons as well as the
young girls, that Thuillier found occasion to say:--
"Well, well, this morning we little thought we should have such a fete
"There's never more pleasure," said the notary Cardot, "than in just
such improvised balls. Don't talk to me of parties where everybody
stands on ceremony."
This opinion, we may remark, is a standing axiom among the
"Well, for my part," said Madame Minard, "I prefer the dignified old
"We didn't mean that for you, madame; your salon is the chosen haunt
of pleasure," said Dutocq.
When "La Boulangere" came to an end, Theodose pulled Dutocq from the
sideboard where he was preparing to eat a slice of tongue, and said to
"Let us go; we must be at Cerizet's very early in the morning; we
ought both of us to think over that affair; it is not so easy to
manage as Cerizet seems to imagine."
"Why not?" asked Dutocq, bringing his slice of tongue to eat in the
"Don't you know the law?"
"I know enough of it to be aware of the dangers of the affair. If that
notary wants the house and we filch it from him, there are means by
which he can recover it; he can put himself into the skin of a
registered creditor. By the present legal system relating to
mortgages, when a house is sold at the request of creditors, if the
price obtained for it at auction is not enough to pay all debts, the
owners have the right to bid it in and hold it for a higher sum; now
the notary, seeing himself caught, may back out of the sale in that
"Well," said la Peyrade, "it needs attention."
"Very good," replied Dutocq, "we'll go and see Cerizet."
These words, "go and see Cerizet," were overheard by Minard, who was
following the two associates; but they offered no meaning to his mind.
The two men were so outside of his own course and projects that he
heard them without listening to them.
"This has been one of the finest days in our lives," said Brigitte to
her brother, when she found herself alone with him in the deserted
salon, at half-past two in the morning. "What a distinction! to be
thus selected by your fellow-citizens!"
"Don't be mistaken about it, Brigitte; we owe it all, my child, to one
"To our friend, la Peyrade."
THE BANKER OF THE POOR
It was not on the next day, Monday, but on the following day, Tuesday,
that Dutocq and Theodose went to see Cerizet, the former having called
la Peyrade's attention to the fact that Cerizet always absented
himself on Sundays and Mondays, taking advantage of the total absence
of clients on those days, which are devoted by the populace to
debauch. The house toward which they directed their steps is one of
the striking features in the faubourg Saint-Jacques, and it is quite
as important to study it here as it was to study those of Phellion and
Thuillier. It is not known (true, no commission has yet been appointed
to examine this phenomenon), no one knows why certain quarters become
degraded and vulgarized, morally as well as materially; why, for
instance, the ancient residence of the court and the church, the
Luxembourg and the Latin quarter, have become what they are to-day, in
spite of the presence of the finest palaces in the world, in spite of
the bold cupola of Sainte-Genevieve, that of Mansard on the Val-de-
Grace, and the charms of the Jardin des Plantes. One asks one's self
why the elegance of life has left that region; why the Vauquer houses,
the Phellion and the Thuillier houses now swarm with tenants and
boarders, on the site of so many noble and religious buildings, and
why such mud and dirty trades and poverty should have fastened on a
hilly piece of ground, instead of spreading out upon the flat land
beyond the confines of the ancient city.
The angel whose beneficence once hovered above this quarter being
dead, usury, on the lowest scale, rushed in and took his place. To the
old judge, Popinot, succeeded Cerizet; and strange to say,--a fact
which it is well to study,--the effect produced, socially speaking,
was much the same. Popinot loaned money without interest, and was
willing to lose; Cerizet lost nothing, and compelled the poor to work
hard and stay virtuous. The poor adored Popinot, but they did not hate
Cerizet. Here, in this region, revolves the lowest wheel of Parisian
financiering. At the top, Nucingen & Co., the Kellers, du Tillet, and
the Mongenods; a little lower down, the Palmas, Gigonnets, and
Gobsecks; lower still, the Samonons, Chaboisseaus, and Barbets; and
lastly (after the pawn-shops) comes this king of usury, who spreads
his nets at the corners of the streets to entangle all miseries and
miss none,--Cerizet, "money lender by the little week."
The frogged frock-coat will have prepared you for the den in which
this convicted stock-broker carried on his present business.
The house was humid with saltpetre; the walls, sweating moisture, were
enamelled all over with large slabs of mould. Standing at the corner
of the rue des Postes and rue des Poules, it presented first a ground-
floor, occupied partly by a shop for the sale of the commonest kind of
wine, painted a coarse bright red, decorated with curtains of red
calico, furnished with a leaden counter, and guarded by formidable
iron bars. Above the gate of an odious alley hung a frightful lantern,
on which were the words "Night lodgings here." The outer walls were
covered with iron crossbars, showing, apparently, the insecurity of
the building, which was owned by the wine-merchant, who also inhabited
the entresol. The widow Poiret (nee Michonneau) kept furnished
lodgings on the first, second, and third floors, consisting of single
rooms for workmen and for the poorest class of students.
Cerizet occupied one room on the ground-floor and another in the
entresol, to which he mounted by an interior staircase; this entresol
looked out upon a horrible paved court, from which arose mephitic
odors. Cerizet paid forty francs a month to the widow Poiret for his
breakfast and dinner; he thus conciliated her by becoming her boarder;
he also made himself acceptable to the wine-merchant by procuring him
an immense sale of wine and liquors among his clients--profits
realized before sunrise; the wine-shop beginning operations about
three in the morning in summer, and five in winter.
The hour of the great Market, which so many of his clients, male and
female, attended, was the determining cause of Cerizet's early hours.
The Sieur Cadenet, the wine-merchant, in view of the custom which he
owed to the usurer, had let him the two rooms for the low price of
eighty francs a year, and had given him a lease for twelve years,
which Cerizet alone had a right to break, without paying indemnity, at
three months' notice. Cadenet always carried in a bottle of excellent
wine for the dinner of this useful tenant; and when Cerizet was short
of money he had only to say to his friend, "Cadenet, lend me a few
hundred francs,"--loans which he faithfully repaid.
Cadenet, it was said, had proof of the widow Poiret having deposited
in Cerizet's hands some two thousand francs for investment, which may
explain the progress of the latter's affairs since the day when he
first took up his abode in the quarter, supplied with a last note of a
thousand francs and Dutocq's protection. Cadenet, prompted by a
cupidity which success increased, had proposed, early in the year, to
put twenty thousand francs into the hands of his friend Cerizet. But
Cerizet had positively declined them, on the ground that he ran risks
of a nature to become a possible cause of dispute with associates.
"I could only," he said to Cadenet, "take them at six per cent
interest, and you can do better than that in your own business. We
will go into partnership later, if you like, in some serious
enterprise, some good opportunity which may require, say, fifty
thousand francs. When you have got that sum to invest, let me know,
and we'll talk about it."
Cerizet had only suggested the affair of the house to Theodose after
making sure that among the three, Madame Poiret, Cadenet, and himself,
it was impossible to raise the full sum of one hundred thousand
The "lender by the little week" was thus in perfect safety in his den,
where he could even, if necessity came, appeal to the law. On certain
mornings there might be seen as many as sixty or eighty persons, men
as often as women, either in the wine-shop, or the alley, or sitting
on the staircase, for the distrustful Cerizet would only admit six
persons at a time into his office. The first comers were first served,
and each had to go by his number, which the wine-merchant, or his
shop-boy, affixed to the hats of the man and the backs of the women.
Sometimes the clients would sell to each other (as hackney-coachmen do
on the cabstands), head numbers for tail numbers. On certain days,
when the market business was pressing, a head number was often sold
for a glass of brandy and a sou. The numbers, as they issued from
Cerizet's office, called up the succeeding numbers; and if any
disputes arose Cadenet put a stop to the fray at once my remarking:--
"If you get the police here you won't gain anything; HE'll shut up
HE was Cerizet's name. When, in the course of the day, some hapless
woman, without an atom of food in her room, and seeing her children
pale with hunger, would come to borrow ten or twenty sous, she would
say to the wine-merchant anxiously:--
"Is HE there?"
Cadenet, a short, stout man, dressed in blue, with outer sleeves of
black stuff and a wine-merchant's apron, and always wearing a cap,
seemed an angel to these mothers when he replied to them:--
"HE told me that you were an honest woman and I might give you forty
sous. You know what you must do about it--"
And, strange to say, HE was blessed by these poor people, even as they
had lately blessed Popinot.
But Cerizet was cursed on Sunday mornings when accounts were settled;
and they cursed him even more on Saturdays, when it was necessary to
work in order to repay the sum borrowed with interest. But, after all,
he was Providence, he was God from Tuesday to Friday of every week.
The room which he made his office, formerly the kitchen of the next
floor, was bare; the beams of the ceiling had been whitewashed, but
still bore marks of smoke. The walls, along which he had put benches,
and the stone floor, retained and gave out dampness. The fireplace,
where the crane remained, was partly filled by an iron stove in which
Cerizet burned sea-coal when the weather was severe. A platform about
half a foot high and eight feet square extended from the edge of the
fireplace; on it was fastened a common table and an armchair with a
round cushion covered with green leather. Behind him, Cerizet had
sheathed the walls with planks; also protecting himself with a little
wooden screen, painted white, from the draught between the window and
door; but this screen, made of two leaves, was so placed that the
warmth from the stove reached him. The window had enormous inside
shutters of cast-iron, held, when closed, by a bar. The door commanded
respect by an armor of the same character.
At the farther end of this room, in a corner, was a spiral-staircase,
coming, evidently, from some pulled-down shop, and bought in the rue
Chapon by Cadenet, who had fitted it through the ceiling into the room
in the entresol occupied by Cerizet. In order to prevent all
communication with the upper floors, Cerizet had exacted that the door
of that room which opened on the common landing should be walled up.
The place had thus become a fortress. The bedroom above had a cheap
carpet bought for twenty francs, an iron bedstead, a bureau, three
chairs, and an iron safe, made by a good workman, which Cerizet had
bought at a bargain. He shaved before a glass on the chimney-piece; he
owned two pairs of cotton sheets and six cotton shirts; the rest of
his visible wardrobe was of the same character. Cadenet had once seen
Cerizet dressed like a dandy of the period; he must, therefore, have
kept hidden, in some drawer of his bureau, a complete disguise with
which he could go to the opera, see the world, and not be recognized,
for, had it not been that Cadenet heard his voice, he would certainly
have asked him who he was.
What pleased the clients of this man most was his joviality and his
repartees; he talked their language. Cadenet, his two shop-men, and
Cerizet, living in the midst of dreadful misery, behaved with the
calmness of undertakers in presence of afflicted heirs, of old
sergeants of the Guard among heaps of dead. They no more shuddered on
hearing cries of hunger and despair than surgeons shudder at the cries
of their patients in hospital; they said, as the soldiers and the
dressers said, the perfunctory words, "Have patience! a little
courage! What's the good of grieving? Suppose you kill yourself, what
then? One gets accustomed to everything; be reasonable!"
Though Cerizet took the precaution to hide the money necessary for his
morning operations in the hollow seat of the chair in which he sat,
taking out no more than a hundred francs at a time, which he put in
the pockets of his trousers, never dipping into the funds of the chair
except between the entrance of two batches of clients (keeping his
door locked and not opening it till all was safely stowed in his
pockets), he had really nothing to fear from the various despairs
which found their way from all sides to this rendezvous of misery.
Certainly, there are many different ways of being honest and virtuous;
and the "Monograph of Virtue" has no other basis than this social
axiom.[*] A man is false to his conscience; he fails, apparently, in
delicacy; he forfeits that bloom of honor which, though lost, does
not, as yet, mean general disrepute; at last, however, he fails
decidedly in honor; if he falls into the hands of the correctional
police, he is not, as yet, guilty of crime before the court of
assizes; but after he is branded with infamy by the verdict of a jury
he may still be honored at the galleys for the species of honor and
integrity practised by criminals among themselves, which consists in
not betraying each other, in sharing booty loyally, and in running all
dangers. Well, this last form of honor--which is perhaps a
calculation, a necessity, the practice of which offers certain
opportunities for grandeur to the guilty man and the possibility of a
return to good--reigned absolutely between Cerizet and his clients.
Never did Cerizet make an error, nor his poor people either; neither
side ever denied what was due, either capital or interests. Many a
time Cerizet, who was born among the people, corrected from one week
to another some accidental error, to the benefit of a poor man who had
never discovered it. He was called a Jew, but an honest one, and his
word in that city of sorrows was sacred. A woman died, causing a loss
to him of thirty francs:
[*] A book on which the author has been at work since 1833, the year
in which it was first announced.--Author's note.
"See my profits! there they go!" he said to his assemblage, "and you
howl upon me! You know I'll never trouble the brats; in fact, Cadenet
has already taken them bread and heel-taps."
After that it was said of him in both faubourgs:--
"He is not a bad fellow!"
The "loan by the little week," as interpreted by Cerizet, is not,
considering all things, so cruel a thing as the pawn-shop. Cerizet
loaned ten francs Tuesday on condition of receiving twelve francs
Sunday morning. In five weeks he doubled his capital; but he had to
make many compromises. His kindness consisted in accepting, from time
to time, eleven francs and fifty centimes; sometimes the whole
interest was still owing. When he gave fifty francs for sixty to a
fruit-stall man, or a hundred francs for one hundred and twenty to a
seller of peat-fuel, he ran great risks.
On reaching the rue des Poules through the rue des Postes, Theodose
and Dutocq saw a great assemblage of men and women, and by the light
which the wine-merchant's little oil-lamps cast upon these groups,
they were horrified at beholding that mass of red, seamed, haggard
faces; solemn with suffering, withered, distorted, swollen with wine,
pallid from liquor; some threatening, others resigned, some sarcastic
or jeering, others besotted; all rising from the midst of those
terrible rags, which no designer can surpass in his most extravagant
"I shall be recognized," said Theodose, pulling Dutocq away; "we have
done a foolish thing to come here at this hour and take him in the
midst of his business."
"All the more that Claparon may be sleeping in his lair, the interior
of which we know nothing about. Yes, there are dangers for you, but
none for me; I shall be thought to have business with my copying-
clerk, and I'll go and tell him to come and dine with us; this is
court day, so we can't have him to breakfast. I'll tell him to meet us
at the 'Chaumiere' in one of the garden dining-rooms."
"Bad; anybody could listen to us there without being seen," said la
Peyrade. "I prefer the 'Petit Rocher de Cancale'; we can go into a
private room and speak low."
"But suppose you are seen with Cerizet?"
"Well, then, let's go to the 'Cheval Rouge,' quai de la Tournelle."
"That's best; seven o'clock; nobody will be there then."
Dutocq advanced alone into the midst of that congress of beggars, and
he heard his own name repeated from mouth to mouth, for he could
hardly fail to encounter among them some jail-bird familiar with the
judge's office, just as Theodose was certain to have met a client.
In these quarters the justice-of-peace is the supreme authority; all
legal contests stop short at his office, especially since the law was
passed giving to those judges sovereign power in all cases of
litigation involving not over one hundred and forty francs. A way was
made for the judge's clerk, who was not less feared than the judge
himself. He saw women seated on the staircase; a horrible display of
pallor and suffering of many kinds. Dutocq was almost asphyxiated when
he opened the door of the room in which already sixty persons had left
"Your number? your number?" cried several voices.
"Hold your jaw!" cried a gruff voice from the street, "that's the pen
of the judge."
Profound silence followed. Dutocq found his copying clerk clothed in a
jacket of yellow leather like that of the gloves of the gendarmerie,
beneath which he wore an ignoble waistcoat of knitted wool. The reader
must imagine the man's diseased head issuing from this species of
scabbard and covered with a miserable Madras handkerchief, which,
leaving to view the forehead and neck, gave to that head, by the gleam
of a tallow candle of twelve to the pound, its naturally hideous and
"It can't be done that way, papa Lantimeche," Cerizet was saying to a
tall old man, seeming to be about seventy years of age, who was
standing before him with a red woollen cap in his hand, exhibiting a
bald head, and a breast covered with white hairs visible through his
miserable linen jacket. "Tell me exactly what you want to undertake.
One hundred francs, even on condition of getting back one hundred and
twenty, can't be let loose that way, like a dog in a church--"
The five other applicants, among whom were two women, both with
infants, one knitting, the other suckling her child, burst out
When Cerizet saw Dutocq, he rose respectfully and went rather hastily
to meet him, adding to his client:--
"Take time to reflect; for, don't you see? it makes me doubtful to
have such a sum as that, one hundred francs! asked for by an old
"But I tell you it concerns an invention," cried the old workman.
"An invention and one hundred francs!" said Dutocq. "You don't know
the laws; you must take out a patent, and that costs two thousand
francs, and you want influence."
"All that is true," said Cerizet, who, however, reckoned a good deal
on such chances. "Come to-morrow morning, papa Lantimeche, at six
o'clock, and we'll talk it over; you can't talk inventions in public."
Cerizet then turned to Dutocq whose first words were:--
"If the thing turns out well, half profits!"
"Why did you get up at this time in the morning to come here and say
that to me?" demanded the distrustful Cerizet, already displeased with
the mention of "half profits." "You could have seen me as usual at the
And he looked askance at Dutocq; the latter, while telling him his
errand and speaking of Claparon and the necessity of pushing forward
in the Theodose affair, seemed confused.
"All the same you could have seen me this morning at the office,"
repeated Cerizet, conducting his visitor to the door.
"There's a man," thought he, as he returned to his seat, "who seems to
me to have breathed on his lantern so that I may not see clear. Well,
well, I'll give up that place of copying clerk. Ha! your turn, little
mother!" he cried; "you invent children! That's amusing enough, though
the trick is well known."
It is all the more useless to relate the conversation which took place
between the three confederates at the "Cheval Rouge," because the
arrangements there concluded were the basis of certain confidences
made, as we shall see, by Theodose to Mademoiselle Thuillier; but it
is necessary to remark that the cleverness displayed by la Peyrade
seemed almost alarming to Cerizet and Dutocq. After this conference,
the banker of the poor, finding himself in company with such powerful
players, had it in mind to make sure of his own stake at the first
chance. To win the game at any price over the heads of the ablest
gamblers, by cheating if necessary, is the inspiration of a special
sort of vanity peculiar to friends of the green cloth. Hence came the
terrible blow which la Peyrade was about to receive.
He knew his two associates well; and therefore, in spite of the
perpetual activity of his intellectual forces, in spite of the
perpetual watchfulness his personality of ten faces required, nothing
fatigued him as much as the part he had to play with his two
accomplices. Dutocq was a great knave, and Cerizet had once been a
comic actor; they were both experts in humbug. A motionless face like
Talleyrand's would have made then break at once with the Provencal,
who was now in their clutches; it was necessary, therefore, that he
should make a show of ease and confidence and of playing above board--
the very height of art in such affairs. To delude the pit is an every-
day triumph, but to deceive Mademoiselle Mars, Frederic Lemaitre,
Potier, Talma, Monrose, is the acme of art.
This conference at the "Cheval Rouge" had therefore the result of
giving to la Peyrade, who was fully as sagacious as Cerizet, a secret
fear, which, during the latter period of this daring game, so fired
his blood and heated his brain that there came moments when he fell
into the morbid condition of the gambler, who follows with his eye the
roll of the ball on which he has staked his last penny. The senses
then have a lucidity in their action and the mind takes a range, which
human knowledge has no means of measuring.
HOW BRIGITTE WAS WON
The day after this conference at the "Cheval Rouge," la Peyrade went
to dine with the Thuilliers, and on the commonplace pretext of a visit
to pay, Thuillier carried off his wife, leaving Theodose alone with
Brigitte. Neither Thuillier, nor his sister, nor Theodose, were the
dupes of this comedy; but the old beau of the Empire considered the
manoeuvre a piece of diplomacy.
"Young man, do not take advantage of my sister's innocence; respect
it," said Thuillier solemnly, as he departed.
"Mademoiselle," said Theodose, drawing his chair closer to the sofa
where Brigitte sat knitting, "have you thought of inducing the
business men of the arrondissement to support Thuillier's interests?"
"How can I?" she asked.
"Why! you are in close relations with Barbet and Metivier."
"Ah! you are right! Faith! you are no blunderer!" she said after a
"When we love our friends, we serve them," he replied, sententiously.
To capture Brigitte would be like carrying the redoubt of the Moskowa,
the culminating strategic point. But it was necessary to possess that
old maid as the devil was supposed in the middle ages to possess men,
and in a way to make any awakening impossible for her. For the last
three days la Peyrade had been measuring himself for the task; he had
carefully reconnoitred the ground to see all difficulty. Flattery,
that almost infallible means in able hands, would certainly miscarry
with a woman who for years had known she had no beauty. But a man of
strong will finds nothing impregnable; the Lamarques could never have
failed to take Capri. Therefore, nothing must be omitted from the
memorable scene which was now to take place; all things about it had
their own importance,--inflections of the voice, pauses, glances,
"But," rejoined Brigitte, "you have already proved to us your
"Your brother has told you--?"
"No, he merely told me that you had something to tell me."
"Yes, mademoiselle, I have; for you are the man of the family. In
reflecting on this matter, I find many dangers for myself, such as a
man only risks for his nearest and dearest. It involves a fortune;
thirty to forty thousand francs a year, and not the slightest
speculation--a piece of landed property. The hope of helping Thuillier
to win such a fortune enticed me from the first. 'It fascinates me,' I
said to him--for, unless a man is an absolute fool, he can't help
asking himself: 'Why should he care to do us all this good?' So I told
him frankly that in working for his interests, I flattered myself I
was working for my own, as I'll explain to you later. If he wishes to
be deputy, two things are absolutely necessary: to comply with the law
as to property, and to win for his name some sort of public celebrity.
If I myself push my devotion to the point of helping him to write a
book on public financiering--or anything else, no matter what--which
would give him that celebrity, I ought also to think of the other
matter, his property--it would be absurd to expect you to give him
"For my brother? Why, I'd put it in his name to-morrow," cried
Brigitte. "You don't know me."
"I don't know you thoroughly," said la Peyrade, "but I do know things
about you which now make me regret that I did not tell you the whole
affair from its origin; I mean from the moment when I conceived the
plan to which Thuillier will owe his nomination. He will be hunted
down by envy and jealousy, and the task of upholding him will be a
hard one; we must, however, get the better of his rivals and take the
wind out of their sails."
"But this affair," said Brigitte, "what are the difficulties?"
"Mademoiselle, the difficulties lie within my own conscience.
Assuredly, I could not serve you in this matter without first
consulting my confessor. From a worldly point of view--oh! the affair
is perfectly legal, and I am--you'll understand me?--a barrister
inscribed on the panel, that is, member of a bar controlled by the
strictest rules. I am therefore incapable of proposing an enterprise
which might give occasion for blame. In the first place, I myself
don't make a penny by it."
Brigitte was on thorns; her face was flaming; she broke her wool,
mended it, broke it again, and did not know which way to look.
"One can't get," she said, "in these days, forty thousand francs a
year from landed property unless it is worth one million eight hundred
"Well, I will undertake that you shall see a piece of property and
estimate yourself its probable revenue, which I can make Thuillier the
owner of for fifty thousand francs down."
"Oh! if you can make us obtain that!" cried Brigitte, worked up to the
highest excitement by the spur of her natural cupidity. "Go on, my
dear Monsieur Theodose, and--"
She stopped short.
"You will, perhaps, have done yourself a service."
"Ah! if Thuillier has told you my secret, I must leave this house."
Brigitte looked up.
"Did he tell you that I love Celeste?"
"No, on my word of honor!" cried Brigitte, "but I myself was just
about to speak of her."
"And offer her to me? Oh! may God forgive us! I can only win her of
herself, her parents, by a free choice--No, no, all I ask of you is
your good-will, your protection. Promise me, as Thuillier has, in
return for my services your influence, your friendship; tell me that
you will treat me as a son. If you will do that, I will abide by your
decision in this matter; I can trust it; I need not speak to my
confessor. For the last two years, ever since I have seen much of this
family, to whom I would fain give my powers and devote my utmost
energy--for, I shall succeed! surely I shall!--I have observed that
your integrity, your honor is that of the olden time, your judgment
righteous and inflexible. Also, you have a knowledge of business; and
these qualities combined are precious helps to a man. With a mother-
in-law, as I may say, of your powers, I should find my home life
relieved of a crowd of cares and details as to property, which hinder
a man's advance in a political career if he is forced to attend to
them. I admired you deeply on Sunday evening. Ah! you were fine! How
you did manage matters! In ten minutes that dining-room was cleared!
And, without going outside of your own apartment, you had everything
at hand for the refreshments, for the supper! 'There,' I said to
myself, as I watched you, 'is a true "maitresse-femme"--a masterly
Brigitte's nostrils dilated; she breathed in the words of the young
lawyer. He gave her a side-long glance to enjoy his triumph; he had
touched the right chord in her breast.
At this moment he was standing, but he now resumed his seat beside
her, and said:--
"Now here is our affair, dear aunt--for you will be a sort of aunt--"
"Hush! you naughty fellow!" said Brigitte, "and go on."
"I'll tell you the matter roughly--and remark, if you please, that I
compromise myself in telling it to you; for these secrets are
entrusted to me as a lawyer. Therefore understand that you and I are
both committing a crime, so to speak, of leze-confidence! A notary of
Paris was in partnership with an architect; they bought land and built
upon it; at the present moment, property has come down with a rush;
they find themselves embarrassed--but all that doesn't concern us.
Among the houses built by this illegal partnership--for notaries, you
know, are sworn to have nothing to do with enterprises--is a very good
one which, not being finished, must be sold at a great sacrifice; so
great that they now ask only one hundred thousand francs for it,
although the cost of the land and the building was at least four
hundred thousand. As the whole interior is still unfinished, the value
of what is still to do is easily appraised; it will probably not be
more than fifty thousand francs. Now, owing to its excellent position,
this house, when finished, will certainly bring in a rental, over and
above the taxes, of forty thousand francs a year. It is built of
freestone, the corners and copings of cut granite; the facade is
covered with handsome carvings, on which they spent more than twenty
thousand francs; the windows are plate glass with a new style of
fastening called 'cremona.'"
"Well, where is the difficulty?"
"Just here: the notary wants to reserve to himself this bit of the
cake he is forced to surrender; he is, under the name of a friend, the
creditor who requests the sale of the property by the assignee of the
bankruptcy. The case has not been brought into court; for legal
proceedings cost so much money. The sale is to be made by voluntary
agreement. Now, this notary has applied to one of my clients to lend
him his name for this purchase. My client, a poor devil, says to me:
'There's a fortune to made out of that house by fooling the notary.'"
"And they do that sort of thing in business!" said Brigitte, quickly.
"If that were the only difficulty," continued Theodose, "it would be,
as a friend of mine said to his pupil, who was complaining of the
length of time it took to produce masterpieces in painting: 'My dear
young fellow, if it were not so, our valets would be painting
pictures.' But, mademoiselle, if we now get the better of this notary,
who certainly deserves it, for he has compromised a number of private
fortunes, yet, as he is a very shrewd man (though a notary), it might
perhaps be very difficult to do it a second time, and here's the rub:
When a piece of landed property is bought at a forced sale, if those
who have lent money on that property see that is likely to be sold so
low as not to cover the sum loaned upon it, they have the right, until
the expiration of a certain time, to bid it in; that is, to offer more
and keep the property in their own hands. If this trickster can't be
hoodwinked as to the sale being a bona fide one until the time when
his right to buy it expires, some other scheme must be resorted to.
Now, is this business strictly legal? Am I justified in doing it for
the benefit of a family I seek to enter? That is the question I have
been revolving in my mind for the last three days."
Brigitte, we must acknowledge, hesitated, and Theodose then brought
forward his last card:--
"Take the night to think of it," he said, "to-morrow we will talk it
"My young friend," said Brigitte, looking at the lawyer with an almost
loving air, "the first thing to be done is to see the house. Where is
"Near the Madeleine. That will be the heart of Paris in ten years. All
that property has been desirable since 1819; the banker Du Tillet's
fortune was derived from property about there. The famous failure of
Maitre Roquin, which carried terror to all Paris, and did such harm to
the confidence given to the notariat, was also caused by it; they went
into heavy speculations on that land too soon; they should have waited
"I remember about that," said Brigitte.
"The house might be finished by the end of the year," continued
Theodose, "and the rentals could begin next spring."
"Could we go there to-morrow?"
"Dear aunt, I am at your orders."
"Ah ca!" she cried, "don't call me that before people. As to this
affair," she continued, "I can't have any opinion until I have seen
"It has six storeys; nine windows on the front; a fine courtyard, four
shops, and it stands on a corner. Ah! that notary knows what he is
about in wishing to hold on to such pieces of property! But let
political events interfere, and down go the Funds! If I were you, I
should sell out all that you and Madame Thuillier have on the Grand
Livre and buy this fine piece of real estate for Thuillier, and I'd
recover the fortune of that poor, pious creature by savings from its
proceeds. Can the Funds go higher than they are to-day? One hundred
and twenty-two! it is fabulous; I should make haste to sell."
Brigitte licked her lips; she perceived the means of keeping her own
property intact, and of enriching her brother by this use of Madame
"My brother is right," she said to Theodose; "you certainly are a rare
man; you'll get on in the world."
"And he'll walk before me," responded Theodose with a naivete that
touched the old maid.
"You will live in the family," she said.
"There may be obstacles to that," he remarked. "Madame Thuillier is
very queer at times; she doesn't like me."
"Ha! I'll settle that," cried Brigitte. "Do you attend to that affair
and carry it through if it is feasible, and leave your interests in my
"Thuillier, member of the municipal council, owner of an estate with a
rental of forty thousand francs a year, with the cross of the Legion
of honor and the author of a political work, grave, serious,
important, will be deputy at the forthcoming general election. But,
between ourselves, little aunt, one couldn't devote one's self so
utterly except for a father-in-law."
"You are right."
"Though I have no fortune I shall have doubled yours; and if this
affair goes through discreetly, others will turn up."
"Until I have seen the house," said Mademoiselle Thuillier again, "I
can decide on nothing."
"Well then, send for a carriage to-morrow and let us go there. I will
get a ticket early in the morning to view the premises."
"To-morrow, then, about mid-day," responded Brigitte, holding out her
hand to Theodose that he might shake it, but instead of that he laid
upon it the most respectful and the most tender kiss that Brigitte had
ever in her life received.
"Adieu, my child," she said, as he reached the door.
She rang the bell hurriedly and when the servant came:--
"Josephine," she cried, "go at once to Madame Colleville, and ask her
to come over and speak to me."
Fifteen minutes later Flavie entered the salon, where Brigitte was
walking up and down, in a state of extreme agitation.
"My dear," she cried on seeing Flavie, "you can do me a great service,
which concerns our dear Celeste. You know Tullia, don't you?--a
danseuse at the opera; my brother was always dinning her into my ears
at one time."
"Yes, I know her; but she is no longer a danseuse; she is Madame la
Comtesse du Bruel. Her husband is peer of France!"
"Does she still like you?"
"We never see each other now."
"Well, I know that Chaffaroux, the rich contractor, is her uncle,"
said Brigitte. "He is old and wealthy. Go and see your former friend,
and get her to give you a line of introduction to him, saying he would
do her an eminent favor if he would give a piece of friendly advice to
the bearer of the note, and then you and I will take it to him
to-morrow about one o'clock. But tell Tullia she must request her
uncle to keep secret about it. Go, my dear. Celeste, our dear child,
will be a millionaire! I can't say more; but she'll have, from me, a
husband who will put her on a pinnacle."
"Do you want me to tell you the first letters of his name?"
"T. P.,--Theodose de la Peyrade. You are right. That's a man who may,
if supported by a woman like you, become a minister."
"It is God himself who has placed him in our house!" cried the old
At this moment Monsieur and Madame Thuillier returned home.
Five days later, in the month of April, the ordinance which convoked
the electors to appoint a member of the municipal council on the 20th
of the same month was inserted in the "Moniteur," and placarded about
Paris. For several weeks the ministry, called that of March 1st, had
been in power. Brigitte was in a charming humor. She had been
convinced of the truth of all la Peyrade's assertions. The house,
visited from garret to cellar by old Chaffaroux, was admitted by him
to be an admirable construction; poor Grindot, the architect, who was
interested with the notary and Claparon in the affair, thought the old
man was employed in the interests of the contractor; the old fellow
himself thought he was acting in the interests of his niece, and he
gave it as his opinion that thirty thousand francs would finish the
house. Thus, in the course of one week la Peyrade became Brigitte's
god; and she proved to him by the most naively nefarious arguments
that fortune should be seized when it offered itself.
"Well, if there IS any sin in the business," she said to him in the
middle of the garden, "you can confess it."
"The devil!" cried Thuillier, "a man owes himself to his relatives,
and you are one of us now."
"Then I decide to do it," replied la Peyrade, in a voice of emotion;
"but on conditions that I must now distinctly state. I will not, in
marrying Celeste, be accused of greed and mercenary motives. If you
lay remorse upon me, at least you must consent that I shall remain as
I am for the present. Do not settle upon Celeste, my old Thuillier,
the future possession of the property I am about to obtain for you--"
"You are right."
"Don't rob yourself; and let my dear little aunt here act in the same
way in relation to the marriage contract. Put the remainder of the
capital in Madame Thuillier's name, on the Grand Livre, and she can do
what she likes with it. We shall all live together as one family, and
I'll undertake to make my own fortune, now that I am free from anxiety
about the future."
"That suits me," said Thuillier; "that's the talk of an honest man."
"Let me kiss you on the forehead, my son," said the old maid; "but,
inasmuch as Celeste cannot be allowed to go without a 'dot,' we shall
give her sixty thousand francs."
"For her dress," said la Peyrade.
"We are all three persons of honor," cried Thuillier. "It is now
settled, isn't it? You are to manage the purchase of the house; we are
to write together, you and I, my political work; and you'll bestir
yourself to get me the decoration?"
"You will have that as soon as you are made a municipal councillor on
the 1st of May. Only, my good friend, I must beg you, and you, too,
dear aunt, to keep the most profound secrecy about me in this affair;
and do not listen to the calumnies which all the men I am about to
trick will spread about me. I shall become, you'll see, a vagabond, a
swindler, a dangerous man, a Jesuit, an ambitious fortune-hunter. Can
you hear those accusations against me with composure?"
"Fear nothing," replied Brigitte.
THE REIGN OF THEODOSE
From that day forth Thuillier became a dear, good friend. "My dear,
good friend," was the name given to him by Theodose, with voice
inflections of varieties of tenderness which astonished Flavie. But
"little aunt," a name that flattered Brigitte deeply, was only given
in family secrecy, and occasionally before Flavie. The activity of
Theodose and Dutocq, Cerizet, Barbet, Metivier, Minard, Phellion,
Colleville, and others of the Thuillier circle was extreme. Great and
small, they all put their hands to the work. Cadenet procured thirty
votes in his section. On the 30th of April Thuillier was proclaimed
member of the Council-general of the department of the Seine by an
imposing majority; in fact, he only needed sixty more votes to make
his election unanimous. May 1st Thuillier joined the municipal body
and went to the Tuileries to congratulate the King on his fete-day,
and returned home radiant. He had gone where Minard went!
Ten days later a yellow poster announced the sale of the house, after
due publication; the price named being seventy-five thousand francs;
the final purchase to take place about the last of July. On this point
Cerizet and Claparon had an agreement by which Cerizet pledged the sum
of fifteen thousand francs (in words only, be it understood) to
Claparon in case the latter could deceive the notary and keep him
quiet until the time expired during which he might withdraw the
property by bidding it in. Mademoiselle Thuillier, notified by
Theodose, agreed entirely to this secret clause, understanding
perfectly the necessity of paying the culprits guilty of the
treachery. The money was to pass through la Peyrade's hands. Claparon
met his accomplice, the notary, on the Place de l'Observatoire by
midnight. This young man, the successor of Leopold Hannequin, was one
of those who run after fortune instead of following it leisurely. He
now saw another future before him, and he managed his present affairs
in order to be free to take hold of it. In this midnight interview, he
offered Claparon ten thousand francs to secure himself in this dirty
business,--a sum which was only to be paid on receipt, through
Claparon, of a counter-deed from the nominal purchaser of the
property. The notary was aware that that sum was all-important to
Claparon to extricate him from present difficulties, and he felt
secure of him.
"Who but you, in all Paris, would give me such a fee for such an
affair?" Claparon said to him, with a false show of naivete. "You can
sleep in peace; my ostensible purchaser is one of those men of honor
who are too stupid to have ideas of your kind; he is a retired
government employee; give him the money to make the purchase and he'll
sign the counter-deed at once."
When the notary had made Claparon clearly understand that he could not
get more than the ten thousand francs from him, Cerizet offered the
latter twelve thousand down, and asked Theodose for fifteen thousand,
intending to keep the balance for himself. All these scenes between
the four men were seasoned with the finest speeches about feelings,
integrity, and the honor that men owed to one another in doing
business. While these submarine performances were going on, apparently
in the interests of Thuillier, to whom Theodose related them with the
deepest manifestations of disgust at being implicated therein, the
pair were meditating the great political work which "my dear good
friend" was to publish. Thus the new municipal councillor naturally
acquired a conviction that he could never do or be anything without
the help of this man of genius; whose mind so amazed him, and whose
ability was now so important to him, that every day he became more and
more convinced of the necessity of marrying him to Celeste, and of
taking the young couple to live with him. In fact, after May the 1st,
Theodose had already dined four times a week with "my dear, good
This was the period when Theodose reigned without a dissenting voice
in the bosom of that household, and all the friends of the family
approved of him--for the following reason: The Phellions, hearing his
praises sung by Brigitte and Thuillier, feared to displease the two
powers and chorussed their words, even when such perpetual laudation
seemed to them exaggerated. The same may be said of the Minards.
Moreover la Peyrade's behavior, as "friend of the family" was perfect.
He disarmed distrust by the manner in which he effaced himself; he was
there like a new piece of furniture; and he contrived to make both the
Phellions and Minards believe that Brigitte and Thuillier had weighed
him, and found him too light in the scales to be anything more in the
family than a young man whose services were useful to them.
"He may think," said Thuillier one day to Minard, "that my sister will
put him in her will; he doesn't know her."
This speech, inspired by Theodose himself, calmed the uneasiness of
"He is devoted to us," said Brigitte to Madame Phellion; "but he
certainly owes us a great deal of gratitude. We have given him his
lodging rent-free, and he dines with us almost every day."
This speech of the old maid, also instigated by Theodose, went from
ear to ear among the families who frequented the Thuillier salon, and
dissipated all fears. The young man called attention to the remarks of
Thuillier and his sister with the servility of a parasite; when he
played whist he justified the blunders of his dear, good friend, and
he kept upon his countenance a smile, fixed and benign, like that of
Madame Thuillier, ready to bestow upon all the bourgeois sillinesses
of the brother and sister.
He obtained, what he wanted above all, the contempt of his true
antagonists; and he used it as a cloak to hide his real power. For
four consecutive months his face wore a torpid expression, like that
of a snake as it gulps and digests its prey. But at times he would
rush into the garden with Colleville or Flavie, to laugh and lay off
his mask, and rest himself; or get fresh strength by giving way before
his future mother-in-law to fits of nervous passion which either
terrified or deeply touched her.
"Don't you pity me?" he cried to her the evening before the
preparatory sale of the house, when Thuillier was to make the purchase
at seventy-five thousand francs. "Think of a man like me, forced to
creep like a cat, to choke down every pointed word, to swallow my own
gall, and submit to your rebuffs!"
"My friend! my child!" Flavie replied, undecided in mind how to take
These words are a thermometer which will show the temperature at which
this clever manipulator maintained his intrigue with Flavie. He kept
her floating between her heart and her moral sense, between religious
sentiments and this mysterious passion.
During this time Felix Phellion was giving, with a devotion and
constancy worthy of all praise, regular lessons to young Colleville.
He spent much of his time upon these lessons, feeling that he was thus
working for his future family. To acknowledge this service, he was
invited, by advice of Theodose to Flavie, to dine at the Collevilles'
every Thursday, where la Peyrade always met him. Flavie was usually
making either a purse or slippers or a cigar-case for the happy young
man, who would say, deprecatingly:--
"I am only too well rewarded, madame, by the happiness I feel in being
useful to you."
"We are not rich, monsieur," replied Colleville, "but, God bless me!
we are not ungrateful."
Old Phellion would rub his hands as he listened to his son's account
of these evenings, beholding his dear and noble Felix already wedded
But Celeste, the more she loved Felix, the more grave and serious she
became with him; partly because her mother sharply lectured her,
saying to her one evening:--
"Don't give any hope whatever to that young Phellion. Neither your
father nor I can arrange your marriage. You have expectations to be
consulted. It is much less important to please a professor without a
penny than to make sure of the affection and good-will of Mademoiselle
Brigitte and your godfather. If you don't want to kill your mother--
yes, my dear, kill her--you must obey me in this affair blindly; and
remember that what we want to secure, above all, is your good."
As the date of the final sale was set for the last of July, Theodose
advised Brigitte by the end of June to arrange her affairs in time to
be ready for the payment. Accordingly, she now sold out her own and
her sister-in-law's property in the Funds. The catastrophe of the
treaty of the four powers, an insult to France, is now an established
historical fact; but it is necessary to remind the reader that from
July to the last of August the French funds, alarmed by the prospect
of war, a fear which Monsieur Thiers did much to promote, fell twenty
francs, and the Three-per-cents went down to sixty. That was not all:
this financial fiasco had a most unfortunate influence on the value of
real estate in Paris; and all those who had such property then for
sale suffered loss. These events made Theodose a prophet in the eyes
of Brigitte and Thuillier, to whom the house was now about to be
definitely sold for seventy-five thousand francs. The notary, involved
in the political disaster, and whose practice was already sold,
concealed himself for a time in the country; but he took with him the
ten thousand francs for Claparon. Advised by Theodose, Thuillier made
a contract with Grindot, who supposed he was really working for the
notary in finishing the house; and as, during this period of financial
depression, suspended work left many workmen with their arms folded,
the architect was able to finish off the building in a splendid manner
at a low cost. Theodose insisted that the agreement should be in
This purchase increased Thuillier's importance ten-fold. As for the
notary, he had temporarily lost his head in presence of political
events which came upon him like a waterspout out of cloudless skies.
Theodose, certain now of his supremacy, holding Thuillier fast by his
past services and by the literary work in which they were both
engaged, admired by Brigitte for his modesty and discretion,--for
never had he made the slightest allusion to his own poverty or uttered
one word about money,--Theodose began to assume an air that was rather
less servile than it had been. Brigitte and Thuillier said to him one
"Nothing can deprive you of our esteem; you are here in this house as
if in your own home; the opinion of Minard and Phellion, which you
seem to fear, has no more value for us than a stanza of Victor Hugo.
Therefore, let them talk! Carry your head high!"
"But we shall still need them for Thuillier's election to the
Chamber," said Theodose. "Follow my advice; you have found it good so
far, haven't you? When the house is actually yours, you will have got
it for almost nothing; for you can now buy into the Three-per-cents at
sixty in Madame Thuillier's name, and thus replace nearly the whole of
her fortune. Wait only for the expiration of the time allowed to the
nominal creditor to buy it in, and have the fifteen thousand francs
ready for our scoundrels."
Brigitte did not wait; she took her whole capital with the exception
of a sum of one hundred and twenty thousand francs, and bought into
the Three-per-cents in Madame Thuillier's name to the amount of twelve
thousand francs a year, and in her own for ten thousand a year,
resolving in her own mind to choose no other kind of investment in
future. She saw her brother secure of forty thousand francs a year
besides his pension, twelve thousand a year for Madame Thuillier and
eighteen thousand a year for herself, besides the house they lived in,
the rental of which she valued at eight thousand.
"We are worth quite as much as the Minards," she remarked.
"Don't chant victory before you win it," said Theodose. "The right of
redemption doesn't expire for another week. I have attended to your
affairs, but mine have gone terribly to pieces."
"My dear child, you have friends," cried Brigitte; "if you should
happen to want five hundred francs or so, you will always find them
Theodose exchanged a smile with Thuillier, who hastened to carry him
"Excuse my poor sister; she sees the world through a small hole. But
if you should want twenty-five thousand francs I'll lend them to you--
out of my first rents," he added.
"Thuillier," exclaimed Theodose, "the rope is round my neck. Ever
since I have been a barrister I have had notes of hand running. But
say nothing about it," added Theodose, frightened himself at having
let out the secret of his situation. "I'm in the claws of scoundrels,
but I hope to crush them yet."
In telling this secret Theodose, though alarmed as he did so, had a
two-fold purpose: first, to test Thuillier; and next, to avert the
consequences of a fatal blow which might be dealt to him any day in a
secret and sinister struggle he had long foreseen. Two words will
explain his horrible position.
DEVILS AGAINST DEVILS
During the extreme poverty of la Peyrade's first years in Paris, none
but Cerizet had ever gone to see him in the wretched garret where, in
severely cold weather, he stayed in bed for want of clothes. Only one
shirt remained to him. For three days he lived on one loaf of bread,
cutting it into measured morsels, and asking himself, "What am I to
do?" At this moment it was that his former partner came to him, having
just left prison, pardoned. The projects which the two men then formed
before a fire of laths, one wrapped in his landlady's counterpane, the
other in his infamy, it is useless to relate. The next day Cerizet,
who had talked with Dutocq in the course of the morning, returned,
bringing trousers, waistcoat, coat, hat, and boots, bought in the
Temple, and he carried off Theodose to dine with himself and Dutocq.
The hungry Provencal ate at Pinson's, rue de l'Ancienne Comedie, half
of a dinner costing forty-seven francs. At dessert, after Theodose had
drunk freely, Cerizet said to him:--
"Will you sign me bills of exchange for fifty thousand francs in your
capacity as a barrister?"
"You couldn't get five thousand on them."
"That's not your affair, but ours; I mean monsieur's here, who is
giving us this dinner, and mine, in a matter where you risk nothing,
but in which you'll get your title as barrister, a fine practice, and
the hand in marriage of a girl about the age of an old dog, and rich
by twenty or thirty thousand francs a year. Neither Dutocq nor I can
marry her; but we'll equip you, give you the look of a decent man,
feed and lodge you, and set you up generally. Consequently, we want
security. I don't say that on my own account, for I know you, but for
monsieur here, whose proxy I am. We'll equip you as a pirate, hey! to
do the white-slave trade! If we can't capture that 'dot,' we'll try
other plans. Between ourselves, none of us need be particular what we
touch--that's plain enough. We'll give you careful instructions; for
the matter is certain to take time, and there'll probably be some
bother about it. Here, see, I have brought stamped paper."
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried Theodose.
"Ha! I like fellows of that kind!" exclaimed Dutocq.
"Sign: 'Theodose de la Peyrade,' and after your name put 'Barrister,
rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer,' under the words 'Accepted for ten
thousand.' We'll date the notes and sue you,--all secretly, of course,
but in order to have a hold upon you; the owners of a privateer ought
to have security when the brig and the captain are at sea."
The day after this interview the bailiff of the justice-of-peace did
Cerizet the service of suing la Peyrade secretly. He went to see the
barrister that evening, and the whole affair was done without any
publicity. The Court of commerce has a hundred such cases in the
course of one term. The strict regulations of the council of
barristers of the bar of Paris are well known. This body, and also the
council of attorneys, exercise severe discipline over their members. A
barrister liable to go to Clichy would be disbarred. Consequently,
Cerizet, under Dutocq's advice, had taken against their puppet
measures which were certain to secure to each of them twenty-five
thousand francs out of Celeste's "dot." In signing the notes, Theodose
saw but one thing,--his means of living secured; but as time had gone
on, and the horizon grew clearer, and he mounted, step by step, to a
better position on the social ladder, he began to dream of getting rid
of his associates. And now, on obtaining twenty-five thousand francs
from Thuillier, he hoped to treat on the basis of fifty per cent for
the return of his fatal notes by Cerizet.
Unfortunately, this sort of infamous speculation is not an exceptional
fact; it takes place in Paris under various forms too little disguised
for the historian of manners and morals to pass them over unnoticed in
a complete and accurate picture of society in the nineteenth century.
Dutocq, an arrant scoundrel, still owed fifteen thousand francs on his
practice, and lived in hopes of something turning up to keep his head,
as the saying is, above water until the close of 1840. Up to the
present time none of the three confederates had flinched or groaned.
Each felt his strength and knew his danger. Equals they were in
distrust, in watchfulness; equals, too, in apparent confidence; and
equally stolid in silence and look when mutual suspicions rose to the
surface of face or speech. For the last two months the position of
Theodose was acquiring the strength of a detached fort. But Cerizet
and Dutocq held it undermined by a mass of powder, with the match ever
lighted; but the wind might extinguish the match or the devil might
flood the mine.
The moment when wild beasts seize their food is always the most
critical, and that moment had now arrived for these three hungry
tigers. Cerizet would sometimes say to Theodose, with that
revolutionary glance which twice in this century sovereigns have had
"I have made you king, and here am I still nothing! for it is nothing
not to be all."
A reaction of envy was rushing its avalanche through Cerizet. Dutocq
was at the mercy of his copying clerk. Theodose would gladly have
burned his copartners could he have burned their papers in the same
conflagration. All three studied each other too carefully, in order to
conceal their own thoughts, not to be in turn divined. Theodose lived
a life of three hells as he thought of what lay below the cards, then
of his own game, and then of his future. His speech to Thuillier was a
cry of despair; he threw his lead into the waters of the old bourgeois
and found there nothing more than twenty-five thousand francs.
"And," he said to himself as he went to his own room, "possibly
nothing at all a month hence."
He new felt the deepest hatred to the Thuilliers. But Thuillier
himself he held by a harpoon stuck into the depths of the man's
vanity; namely, by the projected work, entitled "Taxation and the
Sinking Fund," for which he intended to rearrange the ideas of the
Saint-Simonian "Globe," giving them a systematic form, and coloring
them with his fervid Southern diction. Thuillier's bureaucratic
knowledge of the subject would be of use to him here. Theodose
therefore clung to this rope, resolving to do battle, on so poor a
base of operations, with the vanity of a fool, which, according to
individual character, is either granite or sand. On reflection,
Theodose was inclined to be content with the prospect.
On the evening before the right of redemption expired, Claparon and
Cerizet proceeded to manipulate the notary in the following manner.
Cerizet, to whom Claparon had revealed the password and the notary's
retreat, went out to this hiding-place to say to the latter:--
"One of my friends, Claparon, whom you know, has asked me to come and
see you; he will expect you to-morrow, in the evening, you know where.
He has the paper you expect from him, which he will exchange with you
for the ten thousand agreed upon; but I must be present, for five
thousand of that sum belong to me; and I warn you, my dear monsieur,
that the name in the counter-deed is in blank."
"I shall be there," replied the ex-notary.
The poor devil waited the whole night in agonies of mind that can well
be imagined, for safety or inevitable ruin were in the balance. At
sunrise he saw approaching him, instead of Claparon, a bailiff of the
Court of commerce, who produced a judgment against him in regular
form, and informed him that he must go with him to Clichy.
Cerizet had made an arrangement with one of the creditors of the
luckless notary, pledging himself to deliver up the debtor on payment
to himself of half the debt. Out of the ten thousand francs promised
to Claparon, the victim of this trap was obliged, in order to obtain
his liberty, to pay six thousand down, the amount of his debt.
On receiving his share of this extortion Cerizet said to himself:
"There's three thousand to make Cerizet clear out."
Cerizet then returned to the notary and said: "Claparon is a
scoundrel, monsieur; he has received fifteen thousand francs from the
proposed purchaser of your house, who will now, of course, become the
owner. Threaten to reveal his hiding-place to his creditors, and to
have him sued for fraudulent bankruptcy, and he'll give you half."
In his wrath the notary wrote a fulminating letter to Claparon.
Claparon, alarmed, feared an arrest, and Cerizet offered to get him a
"You have played me many a trick, Claparon," he said, "but listen to
me now, and you can judge of my kindness. I possess, as my whole
means, three thousand francs; I'll give them to you; start for
America, and make your fortune there, as I'm trying to make mine
That evening Claparon, carefully disguised by Cerizet, left for Havre
by the diligence. Cerizet remained master of the fifteen thousand
francs to be paid to Claparon, and he awaited Theodose with the
payment thereof tranquilly.
"The limit for bidding-in is passed," thought Theodose, as he went to
find Dutocq and ask him to bring Cerizet to his office. "Suppose I
were now to make an effort to get rid of my leech?"
"You can't settle this affair anywhere but at Cerizet's, because
Claparon must be present, and he is hiding there," said Dutocq.
Accordingly, Theodose went, between seven and eight o'clock, to the
den of the "banker of the poor," whom Dutocq had notified of his
coming. Cerizet received him in the horrible kitchen where miseries
and sorrows were chopped and cooked, as we have seen already. The pair
then walked up and down, precisely like two animals in a cage, while
mutually playing the following scene:--
"Have you brought the fifteen thousand francs?"
"No, but I have them at home."
"Why not have them in your pocket?" asked Cerizet, sharply.
"I'll tell you," replied Theodose, who, as he walked from the rue
Saint-Dominique to the Estrapade, had decided on his course of action.
The Provencal, writhing upon the gridiron on which his partners held
him, became suddenly possessed with a good idea, which flashed from
the body of the live coal under him. Peril has gleams of light. He
resolved to rely on the power of frankness, which affects all men,
even swindlers. Every one is grateful to an adversary who bares
himself to the waist in a duel.
"Well!" said Cerizet, "now the humbug begins."
The words seemed to come wholly through the hole in his nose with
"You have put me in a magnificent position, and I shall never forget
the service you have done me, my friend," began Theodose, with
"Oh, that's how you take it, is it?" said Cerizet.
"Listen to me; you don't understand my intentions."
"Yes, I do!" replied the lender by "the little week."
"No, you don't."
"You intend not to give up those fifteen thousand francs."
Theodose shrugged his shoulders and looked fixedly at Cerizet, who,
struck by the two motions, kept silence.
"Would you live in my position, knowing yourself within range of a
cannon loaded with grape-shot, without feeling a strong desire to get
out of it? Now listen to me carefully. You are doing a dangerous
business, and you would be glad enough to have some solid protection
in the very heart of the magistracy of Paris. If I can continue my
present course, I shall be substitute attorney-general, possibly
attorney-general, in three years. I offer you to-day the offices of a
devoted friendship, which will serve you hereafter most assuredly, if
only to replace you in a honorable position. Here are my conditions--"
"Conditions!" exclaimed Cerizet.
"In ten minutes I will bring you twenty-five thousand francs if you
return to me all the notes which you have against me."
"But Dutocq? and Claparon?" said Cerizet.
"Leave them in the lurch!" replied Theodose, with his lips at
"That's a pretty thing to say!" cried Cerizet. "And so you have
invented this little game of hocus-pocus because you hold in your
fingers fifteen thousand francs that don't belong to you!"
"But I've added ten thousand francs to them. Besides, you and I know
"If you are able to get ten thousand francs out of your bourgeois you
can surely get fifteen," said Cerizet. "For thirty thousand I'm your
man. Frankness for frankness, you know."
"You ask the impossible," replied Theodose. "At this very moment, if
you had to do with Claparon instead of with me, your fifteen thousand
would be lost, for Thuillier is to-day the owner of that house."
"I'll speak to Claparon," said Cerizet, pretending to go and consult
him, and mounting the stairs to the bedroom, from which Claparon had
only just departed on his road to Havre.
The two adversaries had been speaking, we should here remark, in a
manner not to be overheard; and every time that Theodose raised his
voice Cerizet would make a gesture, intimating that Claparon, from
above, might be listening. The five minutes during which Theodose
heard what seemed to be the murmuring of two voices were torture to
him, for he had staked his very life upon the issue. Cerizet at last
came down, with a smile upon his lips, his eyes sparkling with
infernal mischief, his whole frame quivering in his joy, a Lucifer of
"I know nothing, so it seems!" he cried, shaking his shoulders, "but
Claparon knows a great deal; he has worked with the big-wig bankers,
and when I told what you wanted he began to laugh, and said, 'I
thought as much!' You will have to bring me the twenty-five thousand
you offer me to-morrow morning, my lad; and as much more before you
can recover your notes."
"Why?" asked Theodose, feeling his spinal column liquidizing as if the
discharge of some inward electric fluid had melted it.
"The house is ours."
"Claparon has bit it in under the name of one of his creditors, a
little toad named Sauvaignou. Desroches, the lawyer, has taken the
case, and you'll get a notice to-morrow. This affair will oblige
Claparon, Dutocq, and me to raise funds. What would become of me
without Claparon! So I forgive him--yes, I forgave him, and though you
may not believe it, my dear friend, I actually kissed him! Change your
The last three words were horrible to hear, especially when
illustrated by the face of the speaker, who amused himself by playing
a scene from the "Legataire," all the while studying attentively the
"Oh, Cerizet!" cried Theodose; "I, who wished to do you so much good!"
"Don't you see, my dear fellow," returned Cerizet, "that between you
and me there ought to be THIS,--" and he struck his heart,--"of which
you have none. As soon as you thought you had a lever on us, you have
tried to knock us over. I saved you from the horrors of starvation and
vermin! You'll die like the idiot you are. We put you on the high-road
to fortune; we gave you a fine social skin and a position in which you
could grasp the future--and look what you do! NOW I know you! and from
this time forth, we shall go armed."
"Then it is war between us!" exclaimed Theodose.
"You fired first," returned Cerizet.
"If you pull me down, farewell to your hopes and plans; if you don't
pull me down, you have in me an enemy."
"That's just what I said yesterday to Dutocq; but, how can we help it?
We are forced to choose between two alternatives--we must go according
to circumstances. I'm a good-natured fellow myself," he added, after a
pause; "bring me your twenty-five thousand francs to-morrow morning
and Thuillier shall keep the house. We'll continue to help you at both
ends, but you'll have to pay up, my boy. After what has just happened
that's pretty kind, isn't it?"
And Cerizet patted Theodose on the shoulder, with a cynicism that
seemed to brand him more than the iron of the galleys.
"Well, give me till to-morrow at mid-day," replied the Provencal, "for
there'll be, as you said, some manipulation to do."
"I'll try to keep Claparon quiet; he's in such a hurry, that man!"
"To-morrow then," said Theodose, in the tone of a man who decides his
"Good-night, friend," said Cerizet, in his nasal tone, which degraded
the finest word in the language. "There's one who has got a mouthful
to suck!" thought Cerizet, as he watched Theodose going down the
street with the step of a dazed man.
When la Peyrade reached the rue des Postes he went with rapid strides
to Madame Colleville's house, exciting himself as he walked along, and
talking aloud. The fire of his roused passions and the sort of inward
conflagration of which many Parisians are conscious (for such
situations abound in Paris) brought him finally to a pitch of frenzy
and eloquence which found expression, as he turned into the rue des
Deux-Eglises, in the words:--
"I will kill him!"
"There's a fellow who is not content!" said a passing workman, and the
jesting words calmed the incandescent madness to which Theodose was a
As he left Cerizet's the idea came to him to go to Flavie and tell her
all. Southern natures are born thus--strong until certain passions
arise, and then collapsed. He entered Flavie's room; she was alone,
and when she saw Theodose she fancied her last hour had come.
"What is the matter?" she cried.
"I--I--" he said. "Do you love me, Flavie?"
"Oh! how can you doubt it?"
"Do you love me absolutely?--if I were criminal, even?"
"Has he murdered some one?" she thought, replying to his question by a
Theodose, thankful to seize even this branch of willow, drew a chair
beside Flavie's sofa, and there gave way to sobs that might have
touched the oldest judge, while torrents of tears began to flow from
Flavie rose and left the room to say to her maid: "I am not at home to
any one." Then she closed all doors and returned to Theodose, moved to
the utmost pitch of maternal solicitude. She found him stretched out,
his head thrown back, and weeping. He had taken out his handkerchief,
and when Flavie tried to move it from his face it was heavy with
"But what is the matter?" she asked; "what ails you?"
Nature, more impressive than art, served Theodose well; no longer was
he playing a part; he was himself; this nervous crisis and these tears
were the winding up of his preceding scenes of acted comedy.
"You are a child," she said, in a gentle voice, stroking his hair
"I have but you, you only, in all the world!" he replied, kissing her
hands with a sort of passion; "and if you are true to me, if you are
mine, as the body belongs to the soul and the soul to the body,
then--" he added, recovering himself with infinite grace, "THEN I can
He rose, and walked about the room.
"Yes, I will struggle; I will recover my strength, like Antaeus, from
a fall; I will strangle with my own hands the serpents that entwine
me, that kiss with serpent kisses, that slaver my cheeks, that suck my
blood, my honor! Oh, misery! oh, poverty! Oh, how great are they who
can stand erect and carry high their heads! I had better have let
myself die of hunger, there, on my wretched pallet, three and a half
years ago! A coffin is a softer bed to lie in than the life I lead! It
is eighteen months that I have FED ON BOURGEOIS! and now, at the
moment of attaining an honest, fortunate life, a magnificent future,
at the moment when I was about to sit down to the social banquet, the
executioner strikes me on the shoulder! Yes, the monster! he struck me
there, on my shoulder, and said to me: 'Pay thy dues to the devil, or
die!' And shall I not crush them? Shall I not force my arm down their
throats to their very entrails? Yes, yes, I will, I will! See, Flavie,
my eyes are dry now. Ha, ha! now I laugh; I feel my strength come back
to me; power is mine! Oh! say that you love me; say it again! At this
moment it sounds like the word 'Pardon' to the man condemned to
"You are terrible, my friend!" cried Flavie. "Oh! you are killing me."
She understood nothing of all this, but she fell upon the sofa,
exhausted by the spectacle. Theodose flung himself at her feet.
"Forgive me! forgive me!" he said.
"But what is the matter? what is it?" she asked again.
"They are trying to destroy me. Oh! promise to give me Celeste, and
you shall see what a glorious life I will make you share. If you
hesitate--very good; that is saying you will be wholly mine, and I
will have you!"
He made so rapid a movement that Flavie, terrified, rose and moved
"Oh! my saint!" he cried, "at thy feet I fall--a miracle! God is for
me, surely! A flash of light has come to me--an idea--suddenly! Oh,
thanks, my good angel, my grand Saint-Theodose! thou hast saved me!"
Flavie could not help admiring that chameleon being; one knee on the
floor, his hands crossed on his breast, and his eyes raised to heaven
in religious ecstasy, he recited a prayer; he was a fervent Catholic;
he reverently crossed himself. It was fine; like the vision of Saint-
"Adieu!" he said, with a melancholy look and a moving tone of voice.
"Oh!" cried Flavie, "leave me this handkerchief."
Theodose rushed away like one possessed, sprang into the street, and
darted towards the Thuilliers', but turned, saw Flavie at her window,
and made her a little sign of triumph.
"What a man!" she thought to herself.
"Dear, good friend," he said to Thuillier, in a calm and gentle,
almost caressing voice, "we have fallen into the hands of atrocious
scoundrels. But I mean to read them a lesson."
"What has happened?" asked Brigitte.
"They want twenty-five thousand francs, and, in order to get the
better of us, the notary, or his accomplices, have determined to bid
in the property. Thuillier, put five thousand francs in your pocket
and come with me; I will secure that house to you. I am making myself
implacable enemies!" he cried; "they are seeking to destroy me
morally. But all I ask is that you will disregard their infamous
calumnies and feel no change of heart to me. After all, what is it? If
I succeed, you will only have paid one hundred and twenty-five
thousand francs for the house instead of one hundred and twenty."
"Provided the same thing doesn't happen again," said Brigitte,
uneasily, her eyes dilating under the effect of a violent suspicion.
"Preferred creditors have alone the right to bid in property, and as,
in this case, there is but one, and he has used that right, we are
safe. The amount of his claim is really only two thousand francs, but
there are lawyers, attorneys, and so forth, to pay in such matters,
and we shall have to drop a note of a thousand francs to make the
"Go, Thuillier," said Brigitte, "get your hat and gloves, and take the
money--from you know where."
"As I paid those fifteen thousand francs without success, I don't wish
to have any more money pass through my hands. Thuillier must pay it
himself," said Theodose, when he found himself alone with Brigitte.
"You have, however, gained twenty thousand on the contract I enabled
you to make with Grindot, who thought he was serving the notary, and
you own a piece of property which in five years will be worth nearly a
million. It is what is called a 'boulevard corner.'"
Brigitte listened uneasily, precisely like a cat which hears a mouse
within the wall. She looked Theodose straight in the eye, and, in
spite of the truth of his remarks, doubts possessed her.
"What troubles you, little aunt?"
"Oh! I shall be in mortal terror until that property is securely
"You would be willing to give twenty thousand francs, wouldn't you,"
said Theodose, "to make sure that Thuillier was what we call, in law,
'owner not dispossessable' of that property? Well, then, remember that
I have saved you twice that amount."
"Where are we going?" asked Thuillier, returning.
"To Maitre Godeschal! We must employ him as our attorney."
"But we refused him for Celeste."
"Well, that's one reason for going to him," replied Theodose. "I have
taken his measure; he's a man of honor, and he'll think it a fine
thing to do you a service."
Godeschal, now Derville's successor, had formerly been, for more than
two years, head-clerk with Desroches. Theodose, to whom that
circumstance was known, seemed to hear the name flung into his ear in
the midst of his despair by an inward voice, and he foresaw a
possibility of wrenching from the hands of Claparon the weapon with
which Cerizet had threatened him. He must, however, in the first
instance, gain an entrance to Desroches, and get some light on the
actual situation of his enemies. Godeschal, by reason of the intimacy
still existing between the former clerk and his old master, could be
his go-between. When the attorneys of Paris have ties like those which
bound Godeschal and Desroches together, they live in true fraternity,
and the result is a facility in arranging any matters which are, as
one may say, arrangeable. They obtain from one another, on the ground
of reciprocity, all possible concessions by the application of the
proverb, "Pass me the rhubarb, and I'll pass you the senna," which is
put in practice in all professions, between ministers, soldiers,
judges, business men; wherever, in short, enmity has not raised
barriers too strong and high between the parties.
"I gain a pretty good fee out of this compromise," is a reason that
needs no expression in words: it is visible in the gesture, the tone,
the glance; and as attorneys and solicitors meet constantly on this
ground, the matter, whatever it is, is arranged. The counterpoise of
this fraternal system is found in what we may call professional
conscience. The public must believe the physician who says, giving
medical testimony, "This body contains arsenic"; nothing is supposed
to exceed the integrity of the legislator, the independence of the
cabinet minister. In like manner, the attorney of Paris says to his
brother lawyer, good-humoredly, "You can't obtain that; my client is
furious," and the other answers, "Very good; I must do without it."
Now, la Peyrade, a shrewd man, had worn his legal gown about the
Palais long enough to know how these judicial morals might be made to
serve his purpose.
"Sit in the carriage," he said to Thuillier, when they reached the rue
Vivienne, where Godeschal was now master of the practice he had
formerly served as clerk. "You needn't show yourself until he
undertakes the affair."
It was eleven o'clock at night; la Peyrade was not mistaken in
supposing that he should find a newly fledged master of a practice in
his office at that hour.
"To what do I owe this visit, monsieur?" said Godeschal, coming
forward to meet the barrister.
Foreigners, provincials, and persons in high society may not be aware
that barristers are to attorneys what generals are to marshals. There
exists a line of demarcation, strictly maintained, between the order
of barristers and the guild of attorneys and solicitors in Paris.
However venerable an attorney may be, however capable and strong in
his profession, he must go to the barrister. The attorney is the
administrator, who maps out the plan of the campaign, collects the
munitions of war, and puts the force in motion; the barrister gives
battle. It is not known why the law gives a man two men to defend him
any more than it is known why an author is forced to have both printer
and publisher. The rules of the bar forbid its members to do any act
belonging to the guild of attorneys. It is very rare that a barrister
puts his foot in an attorney's office; the two classes meet in the
law-courts. In society, there is no barrier between them, and some
barristers, those in la Peyrade's situation particularly, demean
themselves by calling occasionally on attorneys, though even these
cases are rare, and are usually excused by some special urgency.
"I have come on important business," replied la Peyrade; "it concerns,
especially, a question of delicacy which you and I ought to solve
together. Thuillier is below, in a carriage, and I have come up to see
you, not as a barrister, but as his friend. You are in a position to
do him an immense service; and I have told him that you have too noble
a soul (as a worthy successor of our great Derville must have) not to
put your utmost capacity at his orders. Here's the affair."
After explaining, wholly to his own advantage, the swindling trick
which must, he said, be met with caution and ability, the barrister
developed his plan of campaign.
"You ought, my dear maitre, to go this very evening to Desroches,
explain the whole plot and persuade him to send to-morrow for his
client, this Sauvaignou. We'll confess the fellow between us, and if
he wants a note for a thousand francs over and above the amount of his
claim, we'll let him have it; not counting the five hundred for you
and as much more for Desroches, provided Thuillier receives the
relinquishment of his claim by ten o'clock to-morrow morning. What
does this Sauvaignou want? Nothing but money. Well, a haggler like
that won't resist the attraction of an extra thousand francs,
especially if he is only the instrument of a cupidity behind him. It
is no matter to us how he fights it out with those who prompt him.
Now, then, do you think you can get the Thuillier family out of this?"
"I'll go and see Desroches at once," said Godeschal.
"Not before Thuillier gives you a power of attorney and five hundred
francs. The money should be on the table in a case like this."
After the interview with Thuillier was over, la Peyrade took Godeschal
in the carriage to the rue du Bethizy, where Desroches lived,
explaining that it was on their way back to the rue Saint-Dominique
d'Enfer. When they stopped at Desroches's door la Peyrade made an
appointment with Godeschal to meet him there the next morning at seven
La Peyrade's whole future and fortune lay in the outcome of this
conference. It is therefore not astonishing that he disregarded the
customs of the bar and went to Desroches's office, to study Sauvaignou
and take part in the struggle, in spite of the danger he ran in thus
placing himself visibly before the eyes of one of the most dreaded
attorneys in Paris.
As he entered the office and made his salutations, he took note of
Sauvaignou. The man was, as the name had already told him, from
Marseilles,--the foreman of a master-carpenter, entrusted with the
giving out of sub-contracts. The profits of this work consisted of
what he could make between the price he paid for the work and that
paid to him by the master-carpenter; this agreement being exclusive of
material, his contract being only for labor. The master-carpenter had
failed. Sauvaignou had thereupon appealed to the court of commerce for
recognition as creditor with a lien on the property. He was a stocky
little man, dressed in a gray linen blouse, with a cap on his head,
and was seated in an armchair. Three banknotes, of a thousand francs
each, lying visibly before him on Desroches's desk, informed la
Peyrade that the negotiation had already taken place, and that the
lawyers were worsted. Godeschal's eyes told the rest, and the glance
which Desroches cast at the "poor man's advocate" was like the blow of
a pick-axe into the earth of a grave. Stimulated by his danger, the
Provencal became magnificent. He coolly took up the bank-notes and
folded them, as if to put them in his pocket, saying to Desroches:--
"Thuillier has changed his mind."
"Very good; then we are all agreed," said the terrible attorney.
"Yes; your client must now hand over to us the fifty thousand francs
we have spent on finishing the house, according to the contract
between Thuillier and Grindot. I did not tell you that yesterday," he
added, turning to Godeschal.
"Do you hear that?" said Desroches to Sauvaignou. "That's a case I
shall not touch without proper guarantees."
"But, messieurs," said Sauvaignou, "I can't negotiate this matter
until I have seen the worthy man who paid me five hundred francs on
account for having signed him that bit of a proxy."
"Are you from Marseilles?" said la Peyrade, in patois.
"Oh! if he tackles him with patois the fellow is beaten," said
Godeschal to Desroches in a low tone.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the Marseillais.
"Well, you poor devil," continued Theodose, "don't you see that they
want to ruin you? Shall I tell you what you ought to do? Pocket these
three thousand francs, and when your worthy man comes after you, take
your rule and hit him a rap over the knuckles; tell him he's a rascal
who wants you to do his dirty work, and instead of that you revoke
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