The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 5 out of 10
Now, I think, you understand the matter thoroughly; speak to him of a
fine girl, with one little drawback, but, on the other hand, a
comfortable fortune. Do not name her to him; and come here and let me
know how the proposal has been taken."
"Your confidence delights me as much as it honors me," replied
Cerizet, "and I will justify it the best I can."
"We must not expect too much," said du Portail. "Refusal will be the
first impulse of a man who has an affair on hand elsewhere; but we
need not consider ourselves beaten. I shall not easily give up a plan
which I know to be just, even if I push my zeal so far as to put la
Peyrade under lock and key in Clichy. I am resolved not to take no for
his answer to a proposal of which, in the end, he cannot fail to see
the propriety. Therefore, in any case, buy up those notes from
"At par?" asked Cerizet.
"Yes, at par, if you cannot do better; we are not going to haggle over
a few thousand francs; only, when this transaction is arranged,
Monsieur Dutocq must pledge us either his assistance, or, at the very
least, his neutrality. After what you have said of the other marriage,
it is unnecessary for me to warn you that there is not a moment to
lose in putting our irons into the fire."
"Two days hence I have an appointment with la Peyrade," said Cerizet.
"We have a little matter of business of our own to settle. Don't you
think it would be best to wait till then, when I can introduce the
proposal incidentally? In case of resistance, I think that arrangement
would best conduce to OUR dignity."
"So be it," said du Portail; "it isn't much of a delay. Remember,
monsieur, that if you succeed you have, in place of a man able to
bring you to a stern account for your IMPRUDENT ASSISTANCE to Madame
Cardinal, a greatly obliged person, who will be ready at all times to
serve you, and whose influence is greater than is generally supposed."
After these friendly words, the pair separated with a thoroughly good
understanding, and well satisfied with each other.
IN WHICH THE LAMB DEVOURS THE WOLF
The evening before the day already agreed upon, Theodose received from
Cerizet the following note:--
"To-morrow, lease or no lease, Rocher de Cancale, half-past six
As for Dutocq, Cerizet saw him every day, for he was still his copying
clerk; he therefore gave him his invitation by word of mouth; but the
attentive reader must remark a difference in the hour named: "Quarter-
past-six, Rocher de Cancale," said Cerizet. It was evident, therefore,
that he wanted that fifteen minutes with Dutocq before the arrival of
These minutes the usurer proposed to employ in jockeying Dutocq in the
purchase of the notes; he fancied that if the proposition to buy them
were suddenly put before him without the slightest preparation it
might be more readily received. By not leaving the seller time to
bethink himself, perhaps he might lead him to loosen his grasp, and
the notes once bought below par, he could consider at his leisure
whether to pocket the difference or curry favor with du Portail for
the discount he had obtained. Let us say, moreover, that apart from
self-interest, Cerizet would still have endeavored to scrape a little
profit out of his friend; 'twas an instinct and a need of his nature.
He had as great a horror for straight courses as the lovers of English
gardens show in the lines of their paths.
Dutocq, having still a portion of the cost of his practice to pay off,
was forced to live very sparingly, so that a dinner at the Rocher de
Cancale was something of an event in the economy of his straitened
existence. He arrived, therefore, with that punctuality which
testifies to an interest in the occasion, and precisely at a quarter
past six he entered the private room of the restaurant where Cerizet
"It is queer," he said; "here we are returned to precisely the
situation in which we began our business relationship with la Peyrade,
--except, to be sure, that this present place of meeting of the three
emperors is more comfortable; I prefer the Tilsit of the rue
Montgorgeuil to the Tilsit of the Cheval Rouge."
"Faith!" said Cerizet, "I don't know that the results justify the
change, for, to be frank, where are the profits to US in the scheme of
"But," said Dutocq, "it was a bargain with a long time limit. It can't
be said that la Peyrade has lost much time in getting installed--
forgive the pun--at the Thuilleries. The scamp has made his way pretty
fast, you must own that."
"Not so fast but what his marriage," said Cerizet, "is at the present
moment a very doubtful thing."
"Doubtful!" cried Dutocq; "why doubtful?"
"Well, I am commissioned to propose to him another wife, and I'm not
sure that any choice is left to him."
"What the devil are you about, my dear fellow, lending your hand in
this way to another marriage when you know we have a mortgage on the
"One isn't always master of circumstances, my friend; I saw at once
when the new affair was laid before me that the one we had settled on
must infallibly go by the board. Consequently, I've tried to work it
round in our interests, yours and mine."
"Ah ca! do you mean they are pulling caps for this Theodose? Who is
the new match? Has she money?"
"The 'dot' is pretty good; quite as much as Mademoiselle
"Then I wouldn't give a fig for it. La Peyrade has signed those notes
and he will pay them."
"Will he pay them? that's the question. You are not a business man,
neither is Theodose; it may come into his head to dispute the validity
of those notes. What security have we that if the facts about their
origin should come out, and the Thuillier marriage shouldn't come off,
the court of commerce mightn't annul them as 'obligations without
cause.' For my part, I should laugh at such a decision; I can stand
it; and, moreover, my precautions are taken; but you, as clerk to a
justice-of-peace, don't you see that such an affair would give the
chancellor a bone to pick with you?"
"But, my good fellow," said Dutocq, with the ill-humor of a man who
sees himself face to face with an argument he can't refute, "you seem
to have a mania for stirring up matters and meddling with--"
"I tell you again," said Cerizet, "this came to me; I didn't seek it;
but I saw at once that there was no use struggling against the
influence that is opposing us; so I chose the course of saving
ourselves by a sacrifice."
"A sacrifice! what sort of sacrifice?"
"Parbleu! I've sold my share of those notes, leaving those who bought
them to fight it out with Master barrister."
"Who is the purchaser?"
"Who do you suppose would step into my shoes unless it were the
persons who have an interest in this other marriage, and who want to
hold a power over Theodose, and control him by force if necessary."
"Then my share of the notes is equally important to them?"
"No doubt; but I couldn't speak for you until I had consulted you."
"What do they offer?"
"Hang it! my dear fellow, the same that I accepted. Knowing better
than you the danger of their competition I sold out to them on very
"Well, but what are they, those terms?"
"I gave up my shares for fifteen thousand francs."
"Come, come!" said Dutocq, shrugging his shoulders, "what you are
after is to recover a loss (if you made it) by a commission on my
share--and perhaps, after all, the whole thing is only a plot between
you and la Peyrade--"
"At any rate, my good friend, you don't mince your words; an infamous
thought comes into your head and you state it with charming frankness.
Luckily you shall presently hear me make the proposal to Theodose, and
you are clever enough to know by his manner if there has been any
connivance between us."
"So be it!" said Dutocq. "I withdraw the insinuation; but I must say
your employers are pirates; I call their proposal throttling people. I
have not, like you, something to fall back upon."
"Well, you poor fellow, this is how I reasoned: I said to myself, That
good Dutocq is terribly pressed for the last payment on his practice;
this will give him enough to pay it off at one stroke; events have
proved that there are great uncertainties about our Theodose-and-
Thuillier scheme; here's money down, live money, and therefore it
won't be so bad a bargain after all."
"It is a loss of two-fifths!"
"Come," said Cerizet, "you were talking just now of commissions. I see
a means of getting one for you if you'll engage to batter down this
Colleville marriage. If you will cry it down as you have lately cried
it up I shouldn't despair of getting you a round twenty thousand out
of the affair."
"Then you think that this new proposal will not be agreeable to la
Peyrade,--that he'll reject it? Is it some heiress on whom he has
already taken a mortgage?"
"All that I can tell you is that these people expect some difficulty
in bringing the matter to a conclusion."
"Well, I don't desire better than to follow your lead and do what is
disagreeable to la Peyrade; but five thousand francs--think of it!--it
is too much to lose."
At this moment the door opened, and a waiter ushered in the expected
"You can serve dinner," said Cerizet to the waiter; "we are all here."
It was plain that Theodose was beginning to take wing toward higher
social spheres; elegance was becoming a constant thought in his mind.
He appeared in a dress suit and varnished shoes, whereas his two
associates received him in frock-coats and muddy boots.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I think I am a little late, but that devil of a
Thuillier is the most intolerable of human beings about a pamphlet I
am concocting for him. I was unlucky enough to agree to correct the
proofs with him, and over every paragraph there's a fight. 'What I
can't understand,' he says, 'the public can't, either. I'm not a man
of letters, but I'm a practical man'; and that's the way we battle it,
page after page. I thought the sitting this afternoon would never
"How unreasonable you are, my dear fellow," said Dutocq; "when a man
wants to succeed he must have the courage to make sacrifices. Once
married, you can lift your head."
"Ah, yes!" said la Peyrade with a sigh, "I'll lift it; for since the
day you made me eat this bread of anguish I've become terribly sick of
"Cerizet," said Dutocq, "has a plan that will feed you more
Nothing more was said at the moment, for justice had to be done to the
excellent fare ordered by Cerizet in honor of his coming lease. As
usually happens at dinners where affairs are likely to be discussed,
each man, with his mind full of them, took pains not to approach those
topics, fearing to compromise his advantages by seeming eager; the
conversation, therefore, continued for a long time on general
subjects, and it was not until the dessert was served that Cerizet
brought himself to ask la Peyrade what had been settled about the
terms of his lease.
"Nothing, my friend," replied Theodose.
"What! nothing? I certainly allowed you time enough to decide the
"Well, as to that, something is decided. There will not be any
principal tenant at all; Mademoiselle Brigitte is going to let the
"That's a singular thing," said Cerizet, stiffly. "After your
agreement with me, I certainly did not expect such a result as this."
"How can I help it, my dear fellow? I agreed with you, barring
amendments on the other side; I wasn't able to give another turn to
the affair. In her natural character as a managing woman and a sample
of perpetual motion, Brigitte has reflected that she might as well
manage that house herself and put into her own pocket the profits you
proposed to make. I said all I could about the cares and annoyances
which she would certainly saddle upon herself. 'Oh! nonsense!' she
said; 'they'll stir my blood and do my health good!'"
"It is pitiable!" said Cerizet. "That poor old maid will never know
which end to take hold of; she doesn't imagine what it is to have an
empty house, and which must be filled with tenants from garret to
"I plied her with all those arguments," replied la Peyrade; "but I
couldn't move her resolution. Don't you see, my dear democrats, you
stirred up the revolution of '89; you thought to make a fine
speculation in dethroning the noble by the bourgeois, and the end of
it is you are shoved out yourselves. This looks like paradox; but
you've found out now that the peasant and clodhopper isn't malleable;
he can't be forced down and kept under like the noble. The
aristocracy, on behalf of its dignity, would not condescend to common
cares, and was therefore dependent on a crowd of plebeian servitors to
whom it had to trust for three-fourths of the actions of its own life.
That was the reign of stewards and bailiffs, wily fellows, into whose
hands the interests of the great families passed, and who fed and grew
fat on the parings of the great fortunes they managed. But now-a-days,
utilitarian theories, as they call them, have come to the fore,--'We
are never so well served as by ourselves,' 'There's no shame in
attending to one's own business,' and many other bourgeois maxims
which have suppressed the role of intermediaries. Why shouldn't
Mademoiselle Brigitte Thuillier manage her own house when dukes and
peers go in person to the Bourse, where such men sign their own leases
and read the deeds before they sign them, and go themselves to the
notary, whom, in former days, they considered a servant."
During this time Cerizet had time to recover from the blow he had just
received squarely in the face, and to think of the transition he had
to make from one set of interests to the other, of which he was now
"What you are declaiming there is all very clever," he said,
carelessly, "but the thing that proves to me our defeat is the fact
that you are not on the terms with Mademoiselle Thuillier you would
have us believe you are. She is slipping through your fingers; and I
don't think that marriage is anything like as certain as Dutocq and I
have been fancying it was."
"Well, no doubt," said la Peyrade, "there are still some touches to be
given to our sketch, but I believe it is well under way."
"And I think, on the contrary, that you have lost ground; and the
reason is simple: you have done those people an immense service; and
that's a thing never forgiven."
"Well, we shall see," said la Peyrade. "I have more than one hold upon
"No, you are mistaken. You thought you did a brilliant thing in
putting them on a pinnacle, but the fact is you emancipated them;
they'll keep you now at heel. The human heart, particularly the
bourgeois heart, is made that way. If I were in your place I shouldn't
feel so sure of being on solid ground, and if something else turned up
that offered me a good chance--"
"What! just because I couldn't get you the lease of that house do you
want to knock everything to pieces?"
"No," said Cerizet, "I am not looking at the matter in the light of my
own interests; I don't doubt that as a trustworthy friend you have
done every imaginable thing to promote them; but I think the manner in
which you have been shoved aside a very disturbing symptom. It even
decides me to tell you something I did not intend to speak of;
because, in my opinion, when persons start a course they ought to keep
on steadily, looking neither forward nor back, and not allowing
themselves to be diverted to other aspirations."
"Ah ca!" cried la Peyrade, "what does all this verbiage mean? Have you
anything to propose to me? What's the price of it?"
"My dear Theodose," said Cerizet, paying no attention to the
impertinence, "you yourself can judge of the value of discovering a
young girl, well brought-up, adorned with beauty and talents and a
'dot' equal to that of Celeste, which she has in her own right, PLUS
fifty thousand francs' worth of diamonds (as Mademoiselle Georges says
on her posters in the provinces), and, moreover,--a fact which ought
to strike the mind of an ambitious man,--a strong political influence,
which she can use for a husband."
"And this treasure you hold in your hand?" said la Peyrade, in a tone
"Better still, I am authorized to offer it to you; in fact, I might
say that I am charged to do so."
"My friend, you are poking fun at me; unless, indeed, this phoenix has
some hideous or prohibitory defect."
"Well, I'll admit," said Cerizet, "that there is a slight objection,
not on the score of family, for, to tell the truth, the young woman
"Ah!" said la Peyrade, "a natural child--Well, what next?"
"Next, she is not so very young,--something like twenty-nine or so;
but there's nothing easier than to turn an elderly girl into a young
widow if you have imagination."
"Is that all the venom in it?"
"Yes, all that is irreparable."
"What do you mean by that? Is it a case of rhinoplasty?"
Addressed to Cerizet the word had an aggressive air, which, in fact,
was noticeable since the beginning of the dinner in the whole manner
and conversation of the barrister. But it did not suit the purpose of
the negotiator to resent it.
"No," he replied, "our nose is as well made as our foot and our waist;
but we may, perhaps, have a slight touch of hysteria."
"Oh! very good," said la Peyrade; "and as from hysteria to insanity
there is but a step--"
"Well, yes," interrupted Cerizet, hastily, "sorrows have affected our
brain slightly; but the doctors are unanimous in their diagnosis; they
all say that after the birth of the first child not a trace will
remain of this little trouble."
"I am willing to admit that doctors are infallible," replied la
Peyrade; "but, in spite of your discouragement, you must allow me, my
friend, to persist in my suit to Mademoiselle Colleville. Perhaps it
is ridiculous to confess it, but the truth is I am gradually falling
in love with that little girl. It isn't that her beauty is
resplendent, or that the glitter of her 'dot' has dazzled me, but I
find in that child a great fund of sound sense joined to simplicity;
and, what to mind is of greater consequence, her sincere and solid
piety attracts me; I think a husband ought to be very happy with her."
"Yes," said Cerizet, who, having been on the stage, may very well have
known his Moliere, "this marriage will crown your wishes with all
good; it will be filled with sweetness and with pleasures."
The allusion to Tartuffe was keenly felt by la Peyrade, who took it up
and said, hotly:--
"The contact with innocence will disinfect me of the vile atmosphere
in which I have lived too long."
"And you will pay your notes of hand," added Cerizet, "which I advise
you to do with the least possible delay; for Dutocq here was saying to
me just now that he would like to see the color of your money."
"I? not at all," interposed Dutocq. "I think, on the contrary, that
our friend has a right to the delay."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "I agree with Cerizet. I hold that the less a
debt is due, and therefore the more insecure and open to contention it
is, the sooner one ought to free one's self by paying it."
"But, my dear la Peyrade," said Dutocq, "why take this bitter tone?"
Pulling from his pocket a portfolio, la Peyrade said:--
"Have you those notes with you, Dutocq?"
"Faith! no, my dear fellow," replied Dutocq, "I don't carry them about
with me; besides, they are in Cerizet's hands."
"Well," said the barrister, rising, "whenever you come to my house
I'll pay you on the nail, as Cerizet can tell you."
"What! are you going to leave us without your coffee?" said Cerizet,
amazed to the last degree.
"Yes; I have an arbitration case at eight o'clock. Besides, we have
said all we had to say. You haven't your lease, but you've got your
twenty five thousand francs in full, and those of Dutocq are ready for
him whenever he chooses to come to my office. I see nothing now to
prevent me from going where my private business calls me, and I
therefore very cordially bid you good-bye."
"Ah ca! Dutocq," cried Cerizet, as la Peyrade disappeared, "this means
"Prepared with the utmost care," added Dutocq. "Did you notice the air
with which he pulled out that pocket-book?"
"But where the devil," said the usurer, "could he have got the money?"
"Probably," replied Dutocq, sarcastically, "where he got that with
which he paid you in full for those notes you sold at a sacrifice."
"My dear Dutocq," said Cerizet, "I'll explain to you the circumstances
under which that insolent fellow freed himself, and you'll see if he
didn't rob me of fifteen thousand francs."
"Possibly, but you, my worthy clerk, were trying to get ten thousand
away from me."
"No, no; I was positively ordered to buy up your claim; and you ought
to remember that my offer had risen to twenty thousand when Theodose
"Well," said Dutocq, "when we leave here we'll go to your house, where
you will give me those notes; for, you'll understand that to-morrow
morning, at the earliest decent hour, I shall go to la Peyrade's
office; I don't mean to let his paying humor cool."
"And right you are; for I can tell you now that before long there'll
be a fine upset in his life."
"Then the thing is really serious--this tale of a crazy woman you want
him to marry? I must say that in his place, with these money-matters
evidently on the rise, I should have backed out of your proposals just
as he did. Ninas and Ophelias are all very well on the stage, but in a
"In a home, when they bring a 'dot,' we can be their guardian,"
replied Cerizet, sententiously. "In point of fact, we get a fortune
and not a wife."
"Well," said Dutocq, "that's one way to look at it."
"If you are willing," said Cerizet, "let us go and take our coffee
somewhere else. This dinner has turned out so foolishly that I want to
get out of this room, where there's no air." He rang for the waiter.
"Garcon!" he said, "the bill."
"Monsieur, it is paid."
"Paid! by whom?"
"By the gentleman who just went out."
"But this is outrageous," cried Cerizet. "I ordered the dinner, and
you allow some one else to pay for it!"
"It wasn't I, monsieur," said the waiter; "the gentleman went and paid
the 'dame du comptoir'; she must have thought it was arranged between
you. Besides, it is not so uncommon for gentlemen to have friendly
disputes about paying."
"That's enough," said Cerizet, dismissing the waiter.
"Won't these gentlemen take their coffee?--it is paid for," said the
man before he left the room.
"A good reason for not taking it," replied Cerizet, angrily. "It is
really inconceivable that in a house of this kind such an egregious
blunder should be committed. What do you think of such insolence?" he
added, when the waiter had left the room.
"Bah!" exclaimed Dutocq, taking his hat, "it is a schoolboy
proceeding; he wanted to show he had money; it is easy to see he never
had any before."
"No, no! that's not it," said Cerizet; "he meant to mark the rupture.
'I will not owe you even a dinner,' is what he says to me."
"But, after all," said Dutocq, "this banquet was given to celebrate
your enthronement as principal tenant of the grand house. Well, he has
failed to get you the lease, and I can understand that his conscience
was uneasy at letting you pay for a dinner which, like those notes of
mine, were an 'obligation without cause.'"
Cerizet made no reply to this malicious observation. They had reached
the counter where reigned the dame who had permitted the improper
payment, and, for the sake of his dignity, the usurer thought it
proper to make a fuss. After which the two men departed, and the
copying-clerk took his employer to a low coffee-house in the Passage
du Saumon. There Cerizet recovered his good-humor; he was like a fish
out of water suddenly returned to his native element; for he had
reached that state of degradation when he felt ill at ease in places
frequented by good society; and it was with a sort of sensuous
pleasure that he felt himself back in the vulgar place where they were
noisily playing pool for the benefit of a "former conqueror of the
In this establishment Cerizet enjoyed the fame of being a skilful
billiard-player, and he was now entreated to take part in a game
already begun. In technical language, he "bought his ball"; that is,
one of the players sold him his turn and his chances. Dutocq profited
by this arrangement to slip away, on pretence of inquiring for a sick
Presently, in his shirt-sleeves, with a pipe between his lips, Cerizet
made one of those masterly strokes which bring down the house with
frantic applause. As he waited a moment, looking about him
triumphantly, his eye lighted on a terrible kill-joy. Standing among
the spectators with his chin on his cane, du Portail was steadily
A tinge of red showed itself in Cerizet's cheeks. He hesitated to bow
or to recognize the old gentleman, a most unlikely person to meet in
such a place. Not knowing how to take the unpleasant encounter, he
went on playing; but his hand betrayed his uneasiness, and presently
an unlucky stroke threw him out of the game. While he was putting on
his coat in a tolerably ill-humor, du Portail passed, almost brushing
him, on his way to the door.
"Rue Montmartre, at the farther end of the Passage," said the old man,
in a low tone.
When they met, Cerizet had the bad taste to try to explain the
disreputable position in which he had just been detected.
"But," said du Portail, "in order to see you there, I had to be there
"True," returned Cerizet. "I was rather surprised to see a quiet
inhabitant of the Saint-Sulpice quarter in such a place."
"It merely proves to you," said the little old man, in a tone which
cut short all explanation, and all curiosity, "that I am in the habit
of going pretty nearly everywhere, and that my star leads me into the
path of those persons whom I wish to meet. I was thinking of you at
the very moment you came in. Well, what have you done?"
"Nothing good," replied Cerizet. "After playing me a devilish trick
which deprived me of a magnificent bit of business, our man rejected
your overture with scorn. There is no hope whatever in that claim of
Dutocq's; for la Peyrade is chock-full of money; he wanted to pay the
notes just now, and to-morrow morning he will certainly do so."
"Does he regard his marriage to this Demoiselle Colleville as a
"He not only considers it settled, but he is trying now to make people
believe it is a love-match. He rattled off a perfect tirade to
convince me that he is really in love."
"Very well," said du Portail, wishing, perhaps, to show that he could,
on occasion, use the slang of a low billiard-room, "'stop the charge'"
(meaning: Do nothing more); "I will undertake to bring monsieur to
reason. But come and see me to-morrow, and tell me all about the
family he intends to enter. You have failed in this affair; but don't
mind that; I shall have others for you."
So saying, he signed to the driver of an empty citadine, which was
passing, got into it, and, with a nod to Cerizet, told the man to
drive to the rue Honore-Chevalier.
As Cerizet walked down the rue Montmartre to regain the Estrapade
quarter, he puzzled his brains to divine who that little old man with
the curt speech, the imperious manner, and a tone that seemed to cast
upon all those with whom he spoke a boarding-grapnel, could be; a man,
too, who came from such a distance to spend his evening in a place
where, judging by his clothes alone, he had no business to be.
Cerizet had reached the Market without finding any solution to that
problem, when he was roughly shaken out of it by a heavy blow in the
back. Turning hastily, he found himself in presence of Madame
Cardinal, an encounter with whom, at a spot where she came every
morning to get fish to peddle, was certainly not surprising.
Since that evening in Toupillier's garret, the worthy woman, in spite
of the clemency so promptly shown to her, had judged it imprudent to
make other than very short apparitions in her own domicile, and for
the last two days she had been drowning among the liquor-dealers
(called "retailers of comfort") the pangs of her defeat. With flaming
face and thickened voice she now addressed her late accomplice:--
"Well, papa," she said, "what happened after I left you with that
little old fellow?"
"I made him understand in a very few words," replied the banker of the
poor, "that it was all a mistake as to me. In this affair, my dear
Madame Cardinal, you behaved with a really unpardonable heedlessness.
How came you to ask my assistance in obtaining your inheritance from
your uncle, when with proper inquiry you might have known there was a
natural daughter, in whose favor he had long declared he should make a
will? That little old man, who interrupted you in your foolish attempt
to anticipate your legacy, was no other than the guardian of the
daughter to whom everything is left."
"Ha! guardian, indeed! a fine thing, guardian!" cried the Cardinal.
"To talk of a woman of my age, just because I wanted to see if my
uncle owned anything at all, to talk to ME of the police! It's
hateful! it's DISGUSTING!"
"Come, come!" said Cerizet, "you needn't complain; you got off
"Well, and you, who broke the locks and said you were going to take
the diamonds, under color of marrying my daughter! Just as if she
would have you,--a legitimate daughter like her! 'Never, mother,' said
she; 'never will I give my heart to a man with such a nose.'"
"So you've found her, have you?" said Cerizet.
"Not until last night. She has left her blackguard of a player, and
she is now, I flatter myself, in a fine position, eating money; has
her citadine by the month, and is much respected by a barrister who
would marry her at once, but he has got to wait till his parents die,
for the father happens to be mayor, and the government wouldn't like
"11th arrondissement,--Minard, powerfully rich, used to do a business
"Ah! very good! very good! I know all about him. You say Olympe is
living with his son?"
"Well, not to say living together, for that would make talk, though he
only sees her with good motives. He lives at home with his father, but
he has bought their furniture, and has put it, and my daughter, too,
into a lodging in the Chausee d'Antin; stylish quarter, isn't it?"
"It seems to me pretty well arranged," said Cerizet; "and as Heaven,
it appears, didn't destine us for each other--"
"No, yes, well, that's how it was; and I think that girl is going to
give me great satisfaction; and there's something I want to consult
"What?" demanded Cerizet.
"Well, my daughter being in luck, I don't think I ought to continue to
cry fish in the streets; and now that my uncle has disinherited me, I
have, it seems to me, a right to an 'elementary allowance.'"
"You are dreaming, my poor woman; your daughter is a minor; it is you
who ought to be feeding her; the law doesn't require her to give you
"Then do you mean," said Madame Cardinal, "that those who have nothing
are to give to those who have much? A fine thing such a law as that!
It's as bad as guardians who, for nothing at all, talk about calling
the police. Yes! I'd like to see 'em calling the police to me! Let 'em
guillotine me! It won't prevent my saying that the rich are swindlers;
yes, swindlers! and the people ought to make another revolution to get
their rights; and THEN, my lad, you, and my daughter, and barrister
Minard, and that little old guardian, you'll all come down under it--"
Perceiving that his ex-mother-in-law was reaching stage of exaltation
that was not unalarming, Cerizet hastened to get away, her epithets
pursuing him for more than a hundred feet; but he comforted himself by
thinking that he would make her pay for them the next time she came to
his back to ask for a "convenience."
SET A SAINT TO CATCH A SAINT
As he approached his own abode, Cerizet, who was nothing so little as
courageous, felt an emotion of fear. He perceived a form ambushed near
the door, which, as he came nearer, detached itself as if to meet him.
Happily, it was only Dutocq. He came for his notes. Cerizet returned
them in some ill-humor, complaining of the distrust implied in a visit
at such an hour. Dutocq paid no attention to this sensitiveness, and
the next morning, very early, he presented himself at la Peyrade's.
La Peyrade paid, as he had promised, on the nail, and to a few
sentinel remarks uttered by Dutocq as soon as the money was in his
pocket, he answered with marked coldness. His whole external
appearance and behavior was that of a slave who has burst his chain
and has promised himself not to make a gospel use of his liberty.
As he conducted his visitor to the door, the latter came face to face
with a woman in servant's dress, who was just about to ring the bell.
This woman was, apparently, known to Dutocq, for he said to her:--
"Ha ha! little woman; so we feel the necessity of consulting a
barrister? You are right; at the family council very serious matters
were brought up against you."
"Thank God, I fear no one. I can walk with my head up," said the
person thus addressed.
"So much the better for you," replied the clerk of the justice-of-
peace; "but you will probably be summoned before the judge who
examines the affair. At any rate, you are in good hands here; and my
friend la Peyrade will advise you for the best."
"Monsieur is mistaken," said the woman; "it is not for what he thinks
that I have come to consult a lawyer."
"Well, be careful what you say and do, my dear woman, for I warn you
you are going to be finely picked to pieces. The relations are furious
against you, and you can't get the idea out of their heads that you
have got a great deal of money."
While speaking thus, Dutocq kept his eye on Theodose, who bore the
look uneasily, and requested his client to enter.
Here follows a scene which had taken place the previous afternoon
between this woman and la Peyrade.
La Peyrade, we may remember, was in the habit of going to early mass
at his parish church. For some little time he had felt himself the
object of a singular attention which he could not explain on the part
of the woman whom we have just seen entering his office, who daily
attended the church at, as Dorine says, his "special hour." Could it
be for love? That explanation was scarcely compatible with the
maturity and the saintly, beatific air of this person, who, beneath a
plain cap, called "a la Janseniste," by which fervent female souls of
that sect were recognized, affected, like a nun, to hide her hair. On
the other hand, the rest of her clothing was of a neatness that was
almost dainty, and the gold cross at her throat, suspended by a black
velvet ribbon, excluded the idea of humble and hesitating mendicity.
The morning of the day on which the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale
was to take place, la Peyrade, weary of a performance which had ended
by preoccupying his mind, went up to the woman and asked her
pointblank if she had any request to make of him.
"Monsieur," she answered, in a tone of solemnity, "is, I think, the
celebrated Monsieur de la Peyrade, the advocate of the poor?"
"I am la Peyrade; and I have had, it is true, an opportunity to render
services to the indigent persons of this quarter."
"Would it, then, be asking too much of monsieur's goodness that he
should suffer me to consult him?"
"This place," replied la Peyrade, "is not well chosen for such
consultation. What you have to say to me seems important, to judge by
the length of time you have been hesitating to speak to me. I live
near here, rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer, and if you will take the
trouble to come to my office--"
"It will not annoy monsieur?"
"Not in the least; my business is to hear clients."
"At what hour--lest I disturb monsieur--?"
"When you choose; I shall be at home all the morning."
"Then I will hear another mass, at which I can take the communion. I
did not dare to do so at this mass, for the thought of speaking to
monsieur so distracted my mind. I will be at monsieur's house by eight
o'clock, when I have ended my meditation, if that hour does not
"No; but there is no necessity for all this ceremony," replied la
Peyrade, with some impatience.
Perhaps a little professional jealousy inspired his ill-humor, for it
was evident that he had to do with an antagonist who was capable of
giving him points.
At the hour appointed, not a minute before nor a minute after, the
pious woman rang the bell, and the barrister having, not without some
difficulty, induced her to sit down, he requested her to state her
case. She was then seized with that delaying little cough with which
we obtain a respite when brought face to face with a difficult
subject. At last, however, she compelled herself to approach the
object of her visit.
"It is to ask monsieur," she said, "if he would be so very good as to
inform me whether it is true that a charitable gentleman, now
deceased, has bequeathed a fund to reward domestic servants who are
faithful to their masters."
"Yes," replied la Peyrade; "that is to say, Monsieur de Montyon
founded 'prizes for virtue,' which are frequently given to zealous and
exemplary domestic servants. But ordinary good conduct is not
sufficient; there must be some act or acts of great devotion, and
truly Christian self-abnegation."
"Religion enjoins humility upon us," replied the pious woman, "and
therefore I dare not praise myself; but inasmuch as for the last
twenty years I have lived in the service of an old man of the dullest
description, a savant, who has wasted his substance on inventions, so
that I myself have had to feed and clothe him, persons have thought
that I am not altogether undeserving of that prize."
"It is certainly under such conditions that the Academy selects its
candidates," said la Peyrade. "What is your master's name?"
"Pere Picot; he is never called otherwise in our quarter; sometimes he
goes out into the streets as if dressed for the carnival, and all the
little children crowd about him, calling out: 'How d'ye do, Pere
Picot! Good-morning, Pere Picot!' But that's how it is; he takes no
care of his dignity; he goes about full of his own ideas; and though I
kill myself trying to give him appetizing food, if you ask him what he
has had for his dinner he can't tell you. Yet he's a man full of
ability, and he has taught good pupils. Perhaps monsieur knows young
Phellion, a professor in the College of Saint-Louis; he was one of his
scholars, and he comes to see him very often."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "your master is a mathematician?"
"Yes, monsieur; mathematics have been his bane; they have flung him
into a set of ideas which don't seem to have any common-sense in them
ever since he has been employed at the Observatory, near here."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "you must bring testimony proving your long
devotion to this old man, and I will then draw up a memorial to the
Academy and take the necessary steps to present it."
"How good monsieur is!" said the pious woman, clasping her hands; "and
if he would also let me tell him of a little difficulty--"
"What is it?"
"They tell me, monsieur, that to get this prize persons must be really
"Not exactly; still, the Academy does endeavor to choose whose who are
in straitened circumstances, and who have made sacrifices too heavy
for their means."
"Sacrifices! I think I may indeed say I have made sacrifices, for the
little property I inherited from my parents has all been spent in
keeping the old man, and for fifteen years I have had no wages, which,
at three hundred francs a year and compound interest, amount now to a
pretty little sum; as monsieur, I am sure, will agree."
At the words "compound interest," which evidenced a certain amount of
financial culture, la Peyrade looked at this Antigone with increased
"In short," he said, "your difficulty is--"
"Monsieur will not think it strange," replied the saintly person, "that
a very rich uncle dying in England, who had never done anything for
his family in his lifetime, should have left me twenty-five thousand
"Certainly," said the barrister, "there's nothing in that but what is
perfectly natural and proper."
"But, monsieur, I have been told that the possession of this money
will prevent the judges from considering my claims to the prize."
"Possibly; because seeing you in possession of a little competence,
the sacrifices which you apparently intend to continue in favor of
your master will be less meritorious."
"I shall never abandon him, poor, dear man, in spite of his faults,
though I know that this poor little legacy which Heaven has given me
is in the greatest danger from him."
"How so?" asked la Peyrade, with some curiosity.
"Eh! monsieur, let him only get wind of that money, and he'd snap it
up at a mouthful; it would all go into his inventions of perpetual
motion and other machines of various kinds which have already ruined
him, and me, too."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "your desire is that this legacy should
remain completely unknown, not only to your master but to the judges
of the Academy?"
"How clever monsieur is, and how well he understands things!" she
"And also," continued the barrister, "you don't want to keep that
money openly in your possession?"
"For fear my master should find it out and get it away from me?
Exactly. Besides, as monsieur will understand, I shouldn't be sorry,
in order to supply the poor dear man with extra comforts, that the sum
should bear interest."
"And the highest possible interest," said the barrister.
"Oh! as for that, monsieur, five or six per cent."
"Very good; then it is not only about the memorial to the Academy for
the prize of virtue, but also about an investment of your legacy that
you have so long been desirous of consulting me?"
"Monsieur is so kind, so charitable, so encouraging!"
"The memorial, after I have made a few inquiries, will be easy enough;
but an investment, offering good security, the secret of which you
desire to keep, is much less readily obtained."
"Ah! if I dared to--" said the pious woman, humbly.
"What?" asked la Peyrade.
"Monsieur understands me?"
"I? not the least in the world."
"And yet I prayed earnestly just now that monsieur might be willing to
keep this money for me. I should feel such confidence if it were in
his hands; I know he would return it to me, and never speak of it."
La Peyrade gathered, at this instant, the fruit of his comedy of legal
devotion to the necessitous classes. The choir of porters chanting his
praises to the skies could alone have inspired this servant-woman with
the boundless confidence of which he found himself the object. His
thoughts reverted instantly to Dutocq and his notes, and he was not
far from thinking that this woman had been sent to him by Providence.
But the more he was inclined to profit by this chance to win his
independence, the more he felt the necessity of seeming to yield only
to her importunity; consequently his objections were many.
Moreover, he had no great belief in the character of his client, and
did not care, as the common saying is, to uncover Saint Peter to cover
Saint Paul; in other words, to substitute for a creditor who, after
all, was his accomplice, a woman who might at any time become exacting
and insist in repayment in some public manner that would injure his
reputation. He decided, therefore, to play the game with a high hand.
"My good woman," he said, "I am not in want of money, and I am not
rich enough to pay interest on twenty-five thousand francs for which I
have no use. All that I can do for you is to place that sum, in my
name, with the notary Dupuis. He is a religious man; you can see him
every Sunday in the warden's pew in our church. Notaries, you know,
never give receipts, therefore I could not give you one myself; I can
only promise to leave among my papers, in case of death, a memorandum
which will secure the restitution of the money into your hands. The
affair, you see, is one of blind confidence, and I am very unwilling
to make it. If I do so, it is only to oblige a person whose piety and
the charitable use she intends to make of the proceeds of her little
fortune entitle her to my good-will."
"If monsieur thinks that the matter cannot be otherwise arranged--"
"This appears to me the only possible way," said la Peyrade. "I shall
hope to get you six per cent interest, and you may rely that it will
be paid with the utmost regularity. But remember, six months, or even
a year, may elapse before the notary will be in a position to repay
this money, because notaries invest such trust funds chiefly in
mortgages which require a certain time to mature. Now, when you have
obtained the prize for virtue, which, according to all appearance, I
can readily do for you, there will be no reason to hide your little
property any longer,--a reason which I fully understand; but you will
not be able to withdraw it from the notary's hands immediately; and in
case of any difficulty arising, I should be forced to explain the
situation, the manner in which you have concealed your prosperity from
your master, to whom you have been supposed to be wholly devoted.
This, as you will see, would put you in the position of falsely
professing virtue, and would do great harm to your reputation for
"Oh! monsieur," said the saintly woman, "can it be that any one would
think me a person who did not speak the truth?"
"Bless you! my good creature, in business it is necessary to foresee
everything. Money embroils the best friends, and leads to actions they
never foresaw. Therefore reflect; you can come and see me again in a
few days. It is possible that between now and then you will find some
better investment; and I myself, who am doing at this moment a thing I
don't altogether like, may have found other difficulties which I do
not now expect."
This threat, adroitly thrown out as an afterthought, was intended to
immediately clinch the matter.
"I have reflected carefully," said the pious woman, "and I feel sure
that in the hands of so religious a man as monsieur I run no risks."
Taking from her bosom a little pocket-book, she pulled out twenty-five
bank notes. The rapid manner in which she counted them was a
revelation to la Peyrade. The woman was evidently accustomed to handle
money, and a singular idea darted through his mind.
"Can it be that she is making me a receiver of stolen property? No,"
he said aloud, "in order to draw up the memorial for the Academy, I
must, as I told you, make a few inquiries; and that will give me
occasion to call upon you. At what hour can I see you alone?"
"At four o'clock, when monsieur goes to take his walk in the
"And where do you live?"
"Rue du Val-de-Grace, No. 9."
"Very good; at four o'clock; and if, as I doubt not, the result of my
inquiry is favorable, I will take your money then. Otherwise, if there
are not good grounds for your application for the prize of virtue
there will be no reason why you should make a mystery of your legacy.
You could then invest it in some more normal manner than that I have
suggested to you."
"Oh! how cautious monsieur is!" she said, with evident disappointment,
having thought the affair settled. "This money, God be thanked! I have
not stolen, and monsieur can make what inquiries he likes about me in
"It is quite indispensable that I should do so," said la Peyrade,
dryly, for he did not at all like, under this mask of simplicity, the
quick intelligence that penetrated his thoughts. "Without being a
thief, a woman may very well not be a Sister of Charity; there's a
wide margin between the two extremes."
"As monsieur chooses," she replied; "he is doing me so great a service
that I ought to let him take all precautions."
Then, with a piously humble bow, she went away, taking her money with
"The devil!" thought la Peyrade; "that woman is stronger than I; she
swallows insults with gratitude and without the sign of a grimace! I
have never yet been able to master myself like that."
He began now to fear that he had been too timid, and to think that his
would-be creditor might change her mind before he could pay her the
visit he had promised. But the harm was done, and, although consumed
with anxiety lest he had lost a rare chance, he would have cut off a
leg sooner than yield to his impulse to go to her one minute before
the hour he had fixed. The information he obtained about her in the
quarter was rather contradictory. Some said his client was a saint;
otherwise declared her to be a sly creature; but, on the whole,
nothing was said against her morality that deterred la Peyrade from
taking the piece of luck she had offered him.
When he met her at four o'clock he found her in the same mind.
With the money in his pocket he went to dine with Cerizet and Dutocq
at the Rocher de Cancale; and it is to the various emotions he had
passed through during the day that we must attribute the sharp and
ill-considered manner in which he conducted his rupture with his two
associates. This behavior was neither that of his natural disposition
nor of his acquired temperament; but the money that was burning in his
pockets had slightly intoxicated him; its very touch had conveyed to
him an excitement and an impatience for emancipation of which he was
not wholly master. He flung Cerizet over in the matter of the lease
without so much as consulting Brigitte; and yet, he had not had the
full courage of his duplicity; for he had laid to the charge of the
old woman a refusal which was merely the act of his own will, prompted
by bitter recollections of his fruitless struggles with the man who
had so long oppressed him.
In short, during the whole day, la Peyrade had not shown himself the
able and infallible man that we have hitherto seen him. Once before,
when he carried the fifteen thousand francs entrusted to him by
Thuillier, he had been led by Cerizet into an insurrectionary
proceeding which necessitated the affair of Sauvaignou. Perhaps, on
the whole, it is more difficult to be strong under good than under
evil fortune. The Farnese Hercules, calm and in still repose,
expresses more energetically the plenitude of muscular power than a
violent and agitated Hercules represented in the over-excited energy
of his labors.
PHELLION, UNDER A NEW ASPECT
Between the first and second parts of this history an immense event
had taken place in the life of Phellion.
There is no one who has not heard of the misfortunes of the Odeon,
that fatal theatre which, for years, ruined all its directors. Right
or wrong, the quarter in which this dramatic impossibility stands is
convinced that its prosperity depends upon it; so that more than once
the mayor and other authorities of the arrondissement have, with a
courage that honors them, taken part in the most desperate efforts to
galvanize the corpse.
Now to meddle with theatrical matters is one of the eternally
perennial ambitions of the lesser bourgeoisie. Always, therefore, the
successive saviours of the Odeon feel themselves magnificently
rewarded if they are given ever so small a share in the administration
of that enterprise. It was at some crisis in its affairs that Minard,
in his capacity as mayor of the 11th arrondissement, had been called
to the chairmanship of the committee for reading plays, with the power
to join unto himself as assistants a certain number of the notables of
the Latin quarter,--the selection being left to him.
We shall soon know exactly how near was the realization of la
Peyrade's projects for the possession of Celeste's "dot"; let us
merely say now that these projects in approaching maturity had
inevitably become noised abroad; and as this condition of things
pointed, of course, to the exclusion of Minard junior and also of
Felix the professor, the prejudice hitherto manifested by Minard pere
against old Phellion was transformed into an unequivocal disposition
towards friendly cordiality; there is nothing that binds and soothes
like the feeling of a checkmate shared in common. Judged without the
evil eye of paternal rivalry, Phellion became to Minard a Roman of
incorruptible integrity and a man whose little treatises had been
adopted by the University,--in other words, a man of sound and tested
So that when it became the duty of the mayor to select the members of
the dramatic custom-house, of which he was now the head, he
immediately thought of Phellion. As for the great citizen, he felt, on
the day when a post was offered to him in that august tribunal, that a
crown of gold had been placed upon his brow.
It will be well understood that it was not lightly, nor without having
deeply meditated, that a man of Phellion's solemnity had accepted the
high and sacred mission which was offered to him. He said within
himself that he was called upon to exercise the functions of a
magistracy, a priestly office.
"To judge of men," he replied to Minard, who was much surprised at his
hesitation, "is an alarming task, but to judge of minds!--who can
believe himself equal to such a mission?"
Once more the family--that rock on which the firmest resolutions split
--had threatened to infringe on the domain of his conscience. The
thought of boxes and tickets of which the future member of the
committee could dispose in favor of his own kin had excited in the
household so eager a ferment that his freedom of decision seemed for a
moment in danger. But, happily, Brutus was able to decide himself in
the same direction along which a positive uprising of the whole
Phellionian tribe intended to push him. From the observations of
Barniol, his son-in-law, and also by his own personal inspiration, he
became persuaded that by his vote, always given to works of
irreproachable morality, and by his firm determination to bar the way
to all plays that mothers of families could not take their daughters
to witness, he was called upon to render the most signal services to
morals and public order. Phellion, to use his own expression, had
therefore become a member of the areopagus presided over by Minard,
and--still speaking as he spoke--he was issuing from the exercise of
his functions, which were both delicate and interesting, when the
conversation we are about to report took place. A knowledge of this
conversation is necessary to an understanding of the ulterior events
of this history, and it will also serve to put into relief the envious
insight which is one of the most marked traits of the bourgeois
The session of the committee had been extremely stormy. On the subject
of a tragedy entitled, "The Death of Hercules," the classic party and
the romantic party, whom the mayor had carefully balanced in the
composition of his committee, had nearly approached the point of
tearing each other's hair out. Twice Phellion had risen to speak, and
his hearers were astonished at the quantity of metaphors the speech of
a major of the National Guard could contain when his literary
convictions were imperilled. As the result of a vote, victory remained
with the opinions of which Phellion was the eloquent organ. It was
while descending the stairway of the theatre with Minard that he
"We have done a good work this day. 'The Death of Hercules' reminded
me of 'The Death of Hector,' by the late Luce de Lancival; the work we
have just accepted sparkles with sublime verses."
"Yes," said Minard, "the versification has taste; there are some
really fine lines in it, and I admit to you that I think this sort of
literature rather above the anagrams of Master Colleville."
"Oh!" replied Minard, "Colleville's anagrams are mere witticisms,
which have nothing in common with the sterner accents of Melpomene."
"And yet," said Minard, "I can assure you he attaches the greatest
importance to that rubbish, and apropos to his anagrams, as, indeed,
about many other things, he is not a little puffed up. Since their
emigration to the Madeleine quarter it seems to me that not only the
Sieur Colleville, but his wife and daughter, and the Thuilliers and
the whole coterie have assumed an air of importance which is rather
difficult to justify."
"No wonder!" said Phellion; "one must have a pretty strong head to
stand the fumes of opulence. Our friends have become so very rich by
the purchase of that property where they have gone to live that we
ought to forgive them for a little intoxication; and I must say the
dinner they gave us yesterday for a house-warming was really as well
arranged as it was succulent."
"I myself," said Minard, "have given a few remarkable dinners to which
men in high government positions have not disdained to come, yet I am
not puffed up with pride on that account; such as my friends have
always known me, that I have remained."
"You, Monsieur le maire, have long been habituated to the splendid
existence you have made for yourself by your high commercial talents;
our friends, on the contrary, so lately embarked on the smiling ship
of Fortune, have not yet found, as the vulgar saying is, their sea-
And then to cut short a conversation in which Phellion began to think
the mayor rather "caustic," he made as if he intended to take leave of
him. In order to reach their respective homes they did not always take
the same way.
"Are you going through the Luxembourg?" asked Minard, not allowing
Phellion to give him the slip.
"I shall cross it, but I have an appointment to meet Madame Phellion
and the little Barniols at the end of the grand alley."
"Then," said Minard, "I'll go with you and have the pleasure of making
my bow to Madame Phellion; and I shall get the fresh air at the same
time, for, in spite of hearing fine things, one's head gets tired at
the business we have just been about."
Minard had felt that Phellion gave rather reluctant assent to his
sharp remarks about the new establishment of the Thuilliers, and he
did not attempt to renew the subject; but when he had Madame Phellion
for a listener, he was very sure that his spite would find an echo.
"Well, fair lady," he began, "what did you think of yesterday's
"It was very fine," replied Madame Phellion; "as I tasted that soup 'a
la bisque' I knew that some caterer, like Chevet, had supplanted the
cook. But the whole affair was dull; it hadn't the gaiety of our old
meetings in the Latin quarter. And then, didn't it strike you, as it
did me, that Madame and Mademoiselle Thuillier no longer seemed
mistresses of their own house? I really felt as if I were the guest of
Madame--what IS her name? I never can remember it."
"Torna, Comtesse de Godollo," said Phellion, intervening. "The name is
euphonious enough to remember."
"Euphonious if you like, my dear; but to me it never seems a name at
"It is a Magyar, or to speak more commonly, a Hungarian name. Our own
name, if we wanted to discuss it, might be said to be a loan from the
"Very likely; at any rate we have the advantage of being known, not
only in our own quarter, but throughout the tuition world, where we
have earned an honorable position; while this Hungarian countess, who
makes, as they say, the good and the bad weather in the Thuilliers'
home, where does she come from, I'd like to know? How did such a fine
lady,--for she has good manners and a very distinguished air, no one
denies her that,--how came she to fall in love with Brigitte; who,
between ourselves, keeps a sickening odor of the porter's lodge about
her. For my part, I think this devoted friend is an intriguing
creature, who scents money, and is scheming for some future gain."
"Ah ca!" said Minard, "then you don't know the original cause of the
intimacy between Madame la Comtesse de Godollo and the Thuilliers?"
"She is a tenant in their house; she occupies the entresol beneath
"True, but there's something more than that in it. Zelie, my wife,
heard it from Josephine, who wanted, lately, to enter our service; the
matter came to nothing, for Francoise, our woman, who thought of
marrying, changed her mind. You must know, fair lady, that it was
solely Madame de Godollo who brought about the emigration of the
Thuilliers, whose upholsterer, as one might say, she is."
"What! their upholsterer?" cried Phellion,--"that distinguished woman,
of whom one may truly say, 'Incessu patuit dea'; which in French we
very inadequately render by the expression, 'bearing of a queen'?"
"Excuse me," said Minard. "I did not mean that Madame de Godollo is
actually in the furniture business; but, at the time when Mademoiselle
Thuillier decided, by la Peyrade's advice, to manage the new house
herself, that little fellow, who hasn't all the ascendancy over her
mind he thinks he has, couldn't persuade her to move the family into
the splendid apartment where they received us yesterday. Mademoiselle
Brigitte objected that she should have to change her habits, and that
her friends and relations wouldn't follow her to such a distant
"It is quite certain," interrupted Madame Phellion, "that to make up
one's mind to hire a carriage every Sunday, one wants a prospect of
greater pleasure than can be found in that salon. When one thinks
that, except on the day of the famous dance of the candidacy, they
never once opened the piano in the rue Saint-Dominique!"
"It would have been, I am sure, most agreeable to the company to have
a talent like yours put in requisition," remarked Minard; "but those
are not ideas that could ever come into the mind of that good
Brigitte. She'd have seen two more candles to light. Five-franc pieces
are her music. So, when la Peyrade and Thuillier insisted that she
should move into the apartment in the Place de la Madeleine, she
thought of nothing but the extra costs entailed by the removal. She
judged, rightly enough, that beneath those gilded ceilings her old
'penates' might have a singular effect."
"See how all things link together," remarked Phellion, "and how, from
the summits of society, luxury infiltrates itself, sooner or later,
through the lower classes, leading to the ruin of empires."
"You are broaching there, my dear commander," said Minard, "one of the
most knotty questions of political economy. Many good minds think, on
the contrary, that luxury is absolutely demanded in the interests of
commerce, which is certainly the life of States. In any case, this
view, which isn't yours, appears to have been that of Madame de
Godollo, for, they tell me, her apartment is very coquettishly
furnished; and to coax Mademoiselle Brigitte into the same path of
elegance she made a proposal to her as follows: 'A friend of mine,'
she said, 'a Russian princess for whom one of the first upholsterers
has just made splendid furniture, is suddenly recalled to Russia by
the czar, a gentleman with whom no one dares to trifle. The poor woman
is therefore obliged to turn everything she owns here into money as
fast as possible; and I feel sure she would sell this furniture for
ready money at a quarter of the price it cost her. All of it is nearly
new, and some things have never been used at all.'"
"So," cried Madame Phellion, "all that magnificence displayed before
our eyes last night was a magnificent economical bargain?"
"Just so," replied Minard; "and the thing that decided Mademoiselle
Brigitte to take that splendid chance was not so much the desire to
renew her shabby furniture as the idea of doing an excellent stroke of
business. In that old maid there's always something of Madame la
Ressource in Moliere's 'Miser.'"
"I think, Monsieur le maire, that you are mistaken," said Phellion.
"Madame la Ressource is a character in 'Turcaret,' a very immoral play
by the late Le Sage."
"Do you think so?" said Minard. "Well, very likely. But what is
certain is that, though the barrister ingratiated himself with
Brigitte in helping her to buy the house, it was by this clever
jockeying about the furniture that the foreign countess got upon the
footing with Brigitte that you now see. You may have remarked,
perhaps, that a struggle is going on between those two influences;
which we may designate as the house, and its furniture."
"Yes, certainly," said Madame Phellion, with a beaming expression that
bore witness to the interest she took in the conversation, "it did
seem to me that the great lady allowed herself to contradict the
barrister, and did it, too, with a certain sharpness."
"Very marked sharpness," resumed Minard, "and that intriguing fellow
perceives it. It strikes me that the lady's hostility makes him
uneasy. The Thuilliers he got cheaply; for, between ourselves you
know, there's not much in Thuillier himself; but he feels now that he
has met a tough adversary, and he is looking anxiously for a weak spot
on which to attack her."
"Well, that's justice," said Madame Phellion. "For some time past that
man, who used to make himself so small and humble, has been taking
airs of authority in the house which are quite intolerable; he behaves
openly as the son-in-law; and you know very well, in that affair of
Thuillier's election he jockeyed us all, and made us the stepping-
stone for his matrimonial ambition."
"Yes; but I can assure you," said Minard, "that at the present time
his influence is waning. In the first place, he won't find every day
for his dear, good friend, as he calls him, a fine property worth a
million to be bought for a bit of bread."
"Then they did get that house very cheap?" said Madame Phellion,
"They got it for nothing, as the result of a dirty intrigue which the
lawyer Desroches related to me the other day. If it ever became known
to the council of the bar, that little barrister would be badly
compromised. The next thing is the coming election to the Chamber.
Eating gives appetite, as they say, and our good Thuillier is hungry;
but he begins to perceive that Monsieur de la Peyrade, when it becomes
a question of getting him that mouthful, hasn't his former opportunity
to make dupes of us. That is why the family is turning more and more
to Madame de Godollo, who seems to have some very high acquaintances
in the political world. Besides all this, in fact, without dwelling on
the election business, which is still a distant matter, this Hungarian
countess is becoming, every day, more and more a necessity to
Brigitte; for it must be owned that without the help of the great
lady, the poor soul would look in the midst of her gilded salon like a
ragged gown in a bride's trousseau."
"Oh, Monsieur le maire, you are cruel," said Madame Phellion,
"No, but say," returned Minard, "with your hand on your conscience,
whether Brigitte, whether Madame Thuillier could preside in such a
salon? No, it is the Hungarian countess who does it all. She furnished
the rooms; she selected the male domestic, whose excellent training
and intelligence you must have observed; it was she who arranged the
menu of that dinner; in short, she is the providence of the parvenu
colony, which, without her intervention, would have made the whole
quarter laugh at it. And--now this is a very noticeable thing--instead
of being a parasite like la Peyrade, this Hungarian lady, who seems to
have a fortune of her own, proves to be not only disinterested, but
generous. The two gowns that you saw Brigitte and Madame Thuillier
wear last night were a present from her, and it was because she came
herself to superintend the toilet of our two 'amphitryonesses' that
you were so surprised last night not to find them rigged in their
usual dowdy fashion."
"But what can be the motive," asked Madame Phellion, "of this maternal
and devoted guardianship?"
"My dear wife," said Phellion, solemnly, "the motives of human actions
are not always, thank God! selfishness and the consideration of vile
interests. There are hearts in this world that find pleasure in doing
good for its own sake. This lady may have seen in our good friends a
set of people about to enter blindly into a sphere they knew nothing
about, and having encouraged their first steps by the purchase of this
furniture, she may, like a nurse attached to her nursling, find
pleasure in giving them the milk of her social knowledge and her
"He seems to keep aloof from our strictures, the dear husband!" cried
Minard; "but just see how he goes beyond them!"
"I!" said Phellion; "it is neither my intention nor my habit to do
"All the same it would be difficult to say more neatly that the
Thuilliers are geese, and that Madame de Godollo is bringing them up
"I do not accept for these friends of ours," said Phellion, "a
characterization so derogatory to their repute. I meant to say that
they were lacking, perhaps, in that form of experience, and that this
noble lady has placed at their service her knowledge of the world and
its usages. I protest against any interpretation of my language which
goes beyond my thought thus limited."
"Well, anyhow, you will agree, my dear commander, that in the idea of
giving Celeste to this la Peyrade, there is something more than want
of experience; there is, it must be said, blundering folly and
immorality; for really the goings on of that barrister with Madame
"Monsieur le maire," interrupted Phellion, with redoubled solemnity,
"Solon, the law-giver, decreed no punishment for parricide, declaring
it to be an impossible crime. I think the same thing may be said of
the offence to which you seem to make allusion. Madame Colleville
granting favors to Monsieur de la Peyrade, and all the while intending
to give him her daughter? No, monsieur, no! that passes imagination.
Questioned on this subject, like Marie Antoinette, by a human
tribunal, Madame Colleville would answer with the queen, 'I appeal to
"Nevertheless, my friend," said Madame Phellion, "allow me to remind
you that Madame Colleville is excessively light-minded, and has given,
as we al know, pretty good proofs of it."
"Enough, my dear," said Phellion. "The dinner hour summons us; I think
that, little by little, we have allowed this conversation to drift
toward the miry slough of backbiting."
"You are full of illusions, my dear commander," said Minard, taking
Phellion by the hand and shaking it; "but they are honorable
illusions, and I envy them. Madame, I have the honor--" added the
mayor, with a respectful bow to Madame Phellion.
And each party took its way.
THE PROVENCAL'S PRESENT POSITION
The information acquired by the mayor of the 11th arrondissement was
by no means incorrect. In the Thuillier salon, since the emigration to
the Madeleine quarter, might be seen daily, between the tart Brigitte
and the plaintive Madame Thuillier, the graceful and attractive figure
of a woman who conveyed to this salon an appearance of the most
unexpected elegance. It was quite true that through the good offices
of this lady, who had become her tenant in the new house, Brigitte had
made a speculation in furniture not less advantageous in its way, but
more avowable, than the very shady purchase of the house itself. For
six thousand francs in ready money she had obtained furniture lately
from workshops representing a value of at least thirty thousand.
It was still further true that in consequence of a service which went
deep into her heart, Brigitte was showing to the beautiful foreign
countess the respectful deference which the bourgeoisie, in spite of
its sulky jealousy, is much less indisposed to give to titles of
nobility and high positions in the social hierarchy than people think.
As this Hungarian countess was a woman of great tact and accomplished
training, in taking the direction which she had thought it wise to
assume over the affairs of her proteges, she had been careful to guard
her influence from all appearance of meddlesome and imperious
dictation. On the contrary, she flattered Brigitte's claim to be a
model housekeeper; in her own household expenses she affected to ask
the spinster's advice; so that by reserving to herself the department
of luxurious expenses, she had more the air of giving information than
of exercising supervision.
La Peyrade could not disguise from himself that a change was taking
place. His influence was evidently waning before that of this
stranger; but the antagonism of the countess was not confined to a
simple struggle for influence. She made no secret of being opposed to
his suit for Celeste; she gave her unequivocal approval to the love of
Felix Phellion, the professor. Minard, by whom this fact was not
unobserved, took very good care, in the midst of his other
information, not to mention it to those whom it most concerned.
La Peyrade was all the more anxious at being thus undermined by a
hostility the cause of which was inexplicable to him, because he knew
he had himself to blame for bringing this disquieting adversary into
the very heart of his citadel. His first mistake was in yielding to
the barren pleasure of disappointing Cerizet in the lease of the
house. If Brigitte by his advice and urging had not taken the
administration of the property into her own hands there was every
probability that she would never have made the acquaintance of Madame
de Godollo. Another imprudence had been to urge the Thuilliers to
leave their old home in the Latin quarter.
At this period, when his power and credit had reached their apogee,
Theodose considered his marriage a settled thing; and he now felt an
almost childish haste to spring into the sphere of elegance which
seemed henceforth to be his future. He had therefore furthered the
inducements of the countess, feeling that he thus sent the Thuilliers
before him to make his bed in the splendid apartment he intended to
share with them. By thus removing them from their old home he saw
another advantage,--that of withdrawing Celeste from daily intercourse
with a rival who seemed to him dangerous. Deprived of the advantage of
propinquity, Felix would be forced to make his visits farther apart;
and therefore there would be greater facilities to ruin him in the
girl's heart, where he was installed on condition of giving religious
satisfaction,--a requirement to which he showed himself refractory.
But in all these plans and schemes various drawbacks confronted him.
To enlarge the horizon of the Thuilliers was for la Peyrade to run the
chance of creating competition for the confidence and admiration of
which he had been till then the exclusive object. In the sort of
provincial life they had hitherto lived, Brigitte and his dear, good
friend placed him, for want of comparison, at a height from which the
juxtaposition of other superiorities and elegances must bring him
down. So, then, apart from the blows covertly dealt him by Madame de
Godollo, the idea of the transpontine emigration had proved to be, on
the whole, a bad one.
The Collevilles had followed their friends the Thuilliers, to the new
house near the Madeleine, where an entresol at the back had been
conceded to them at a price conformable to their budget. But
Colleville declared it lacked light and air, and being obliged to go
daily from the boulevard of the Madeleine to the faubourg Saint-
Jacques, where his office was, he fumed against the arrangement of
which he was the victim, and felt at times that la Peyrade was a
tyrant. Madame Colleville, on the other hand, had flung herself into
an alarming orgy of bonnets, mantles, and new gowns, requiring the
presentation of a mass of bills, which led not infrequently to scenes
in the household which were more or less stormy. As for Celeste, she
had undoubtedly fewer opportunities to see young Phellion, but she had
also fewer chances to rush into religious controversy; and absence,
which is dangerous to none but inferior attachments, made her think
more tenderly and less theologically of the man of her dreams.
But all these false calculations of Theodose were as nothing in the
balance with another cause for his diminishing influence which was now
to weigh heavily on his situation.
He had assured Thuillier that, after a short delay and the payment of
ten thousand francs, to which his dear, good friend submitted with
tolerable grace, the cross of the Legion of honor would arrive to
realize the secret desire of all his life. Two months had now passed
without a sign of that glorious rattle; and the former sub-director,
who would have felt such joy in parading his red ribbon on the
boulevard of the Madeleine, of which he was now one of the most
assiduous promenaders, had nothing to adorn his buttonhole but the
flowers of the earth, the privilege of everybody,--of which he was far
less proud than Beranger.
La Peyrade had, to be sure, mentioned an unforeseen and inexplicable
difficulty by which all the efforts of the Comtesse du Bruel had been
paralyzed; but Thuillier did not take comfort in the explanation; and
on certain days, when the disappointment became acute, he was very
near saying with Chicaneau in Les Plaideurs, "Return my money."
However, no outbreak happened, for la Peyrade held him in leash by the
famous pamphlet on "Taxation and the Sliding-Scale"; the conclusion of
which had been suspended during the excitement of the moving; for
during that agitating period Thuillier had been unable to give proper
care to the correction of proofs, about which, we may remember, he had
reserved the right of punctilious examination. La Peyrade had now
reached a point when he was forced to see that, in order to restore
his influence, which was daily evaporating, he must strike some grand
blow; and it was precisely this nagging and vexatious fancy about the
proofs that the barrister decided to take as the starting-point of a
scheme, both deep and adventurous, which came into his mind.
One day, when the pair were engaged on the sheets of the pamphlet, a
discussion arose upon the word "nepotism," which Thuillier wished to
eliminate from one of la Peyrade's sentences, declaring that never had
he met with it anywhere; it was pure neologism--which, to the literary
notions of the bourgeoisie, is equivalent to the idea of 1793 and the
Generally la Peyrade took the ridiculous remarks of his dear, good
friend pretty patiently; but on this occasion he made himself
exceedingly excited, and signified to Thuillier that he might
terminate himself a work to which he applied such luminous and
intelligent criticism; after which remark he departed and was not seen
again for several days.
At first Thuillier supposed this outbreak to be a mere passing effect
of ill-humor; but when la Peyrade's absence grew prolonged he felt the
necessity of taking some conciliatory step, and accordingly he went to
see the barrister, intending to make honorable amends and so put an
end to his sulkiness. Wishing, however, to give this advance an air
which allowed an honest issue to his own self-love, he entered la
Peyrade's room with an easy manner, and said, cheerfully:--
"Well, my dear fellow, it turns out that we were both right:
'nepotism' means the authority that the nephews of popes take in
public affairs. I have searched the dictionary and it gives no other
explanation; but, from what Phellion tells me, I find that in the
political vocabulary the meaning of the word has been extended to
cover the influence which corrupt ministers permit certain persons to
exercise illegally. I think, therefore, that we may retain the
expression, though it is certainly not taken in that sense by Napoleon
La Peyrade, who, in receiving his visitor, had affected to be
extremely busy in sorting his papers, contented himself by shrugging
his shoulders and saying nothing.
"Well," said Thuillier, "have you got the last proofs? We ought to be
"If you have sent nothing to the printing-office," replied la Peyrade,
"of course there are no proofs. I myself haven't touched the
"But, my dear Theodose," said Thuillier, "it isn't possible that for
such a trifle you are affronted. I don't pretend to be a writer, only
as my name is on the book I have, I think, the right to my opinion
about a word."
"But 'Mossie' Phellion," replied Theodose, "is a writer; and inasmuch
as you have consulted him, I don't see why you can't engage him to
finish the work in which, for my part, I have resolved not to
co-operate any longer."
"Heavens! what temper!" cried Thuillier; "here you are furious just
because I seemed to question a word and then consulted some one. You
know very well that I have read passages to Phellion, Colleville,
Minard, and Barniol as if the work were mine, in order to see the
effect it would produce upon the public; but that's no reason why I
should be willing to give my name to the things they are capable of
writing. Do you wish me to give you a proof of the confidence I have
in you? Madame la Comtesse de Godollo, to whom I read a few pages last
night, told me that the pamphlet was likely to get me into trouble
with the authorities; but I wouldn't allow what she said to have any
influence upon me."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "I think that the oracle of the family sees
the matter clearly; and I've no desire to bring your head to the
"All that is nonsense," said Thuillier. "Have you, or have you not, an
intention to leave me in the lurch?"
"Literary questions make more quarrels among friends than political
questions," replied Theodose. "I wish to put an end to these
discussions between us."
"But, my dear Theodose, never have I assumed to be a literary man. I
think I have sound common-sense, and I say out my ideas; you can't be
angry at that; and if you play me this trick, and refuse to
collaborate any longer, it is because you have some other grudge
against me that I know nothing about."
"I don't see why you call it a trick. There's nothing easier for you
than not to write a pamphlet; you'll simply be Jerome Thuillier, as
"And yet it was you yourself who declared that this publication would
help my election; besides, I repeat, I have read passages to all our
friends, I have announced the matter in the municipal council, and if
the work were not to appear I should be dishonored; people would be
sure to say the government had bought me up."
"You have only to say that you are the friend of Phellion, the
incorruptible; that will clear you. You might even give Celeste to his
booby of a son; that alliance would certainly protect you from all
"Theodose," said Thuillier, "there is something in your mind that you
don't tell me. It is not natural that for a simple quarrel about a
word you should wish to lose a friend like me."
"Well, yes, there is," replied la Peyrade, with the air of a man who
makes up his mind to speak out. "I don't like ingratitude."
"Nor I either; I don't like it," said Thuillier, hotly; "and if you
accuse me of so base an action, I summon you to explain yourself. We
must get out of these hints and innuendoes. What do you complain of?
What have you against a man whom only a few days ago you called your
"Nothing and everything," replied la Peyrade. "You and your sister are
much too clever to break openly with a man who, at the risk of his
reputation, has put a million in your hands. But I am not so simple
that I don't know how to detect changes. There are people about you
who have set themselves, in an underhand way, to destroy me; and
Brigitte has only one thought, and that is, how to find a decent way
of not keeping her promises. Men like me don't wait till their claims
are openly protested, and I certainly do not intend to impose myself
on any family; still, I was far, I acknowledge, from expecting such
"Come, come," said Thuillier, kindly, seeing in the barrister's eye
the glint of a tear of which he was completely the dupe, "I don't know
what Brigitte may have been doing to you, but one thing is very
certain: I have never ceased to be your most devoted friend."
"No," said la Peyrade, "since that mishap about the cross I am only
good, as the saying is, to throw to the dogs. How could I have
struggled against secret influences? Possibly it is that pamphlet,
about which you have talked a great deal too much, that has hindered
your appointment. The ministers are so stupid! They would rather wait
and have their hand forced by the fame of the publication than do the
thing with a good grace as the reward of your services. But these are
political mysteries which would never enter your sister's mind."
"The devil!" cried Thuillier. "I think I've got a pretty observing
eye, and yet I can't see the slightest change in Brigitte toward you."
"Oh, yes!" said la Peyrade, "your eyesight is so good that you have
never seen perpetually beside her that Madame de Godollo, whom she now
thinks she can't live without."
"Ha, ha!" said Thuillier, slyly, "so it is a little jealousy, is it,
in our mind?"
"Jealousy!" retorted la Peyrade. "I don't know if that's the right
word, but certainly your sister--whose mind is nothing above the
ordinary, and to whom I am surprised that a man of your intellectual
superiority allows a supremacy in your household which she uses and
"How can I help it, my dear fellow," interrupted Thuillier, sucking in
the compliment; "she is so absolutely devoted to me."
"I admit the weakness, but, I repeat, your sister doesn't fit into
your groove. Well, I say that when a man of the value which you are
good enough to recognize in me, does her the honor to consult her and
devote himself to her as I have done, it can hardly be agreeable to
him to find himself supplanted by a woman who comes from nobody knows
where--and all because of a few trumpery chairs and tables she has
helped her to buy!"
"With women, as you know very well," replied Thuillier, "household
affairs have the first place."
"And Brigitte, who wants a finger in everything, also assumes to carry
matters with a high hand in affairs of the heart. As you are so
extraordinarily clear-sighted you ought to have seen that in
Brigitte's mind nothing is less certain than my marriage with
Mademoiselle Colleville; and yet my love has been solemnly authorized
"Good gracious!" cried Thuillier, "I'd like to see any one attempt to
meddle with my arrangements!"
"Well, without speaking of Brigitte, I can tell you of another
person," said Theodose, "who is doing that very thing; and that person
is Mademoiselle Celeste herself. In spite of their quarrels about
religion, her mind is none the less full of that little Phellion."
"But why don't you tell Flavie to put a stop to it?"
"No one knows Flavie, my dear Thuillier, better than you. She is a
woman rather than a mother. I have found it necessary to do a little
bit of courting to her myself, and, you understand, while she is
willing for this marriage she doesn't desire it very much."
"Well," said Thuillier, "I'll undertake to speak to Celeste myself. It
shall never be said that a slip of a girl lays down the law to me."
"That's exactly what I don't want you to do," cried la Peyrade. "Don't
meddle in all this. Outside of your relations to your sister you have
an iron will, and I will never have it said that you exerted your
authority to put Celeste in my arms; on the contrary, I desire that
the child may have complete control over her own heart. The only thing
I request is that she shall decide positively between Felix Phellion
and myself; because I do not choose to remain any longer in this
doubtful position. It is true we agreed that the marriage should only
take place after you became a deputy; but I feel now that it is
impossible to allow the greatest event of my life to remain at the
mercy of doubtful circumstances. And, besides, such an arrangement,
though at first agreed upon, seems to me now to have a flavor of a
bargain which is unbecoming to both of us. I think I had better make
you a confidence, to which I am led by the unpleasant state of things
now between us. Dutocq may have told you, before you left the
apartment in the rue Saint-Dominique, that an heiress had been offered
to me whose immediate fortune is larger than that which Mademoiselle
Colleville will eventually inherit. I refused, because I have had the
folly to let my heart be won, and because an alliance with a family as
honorable as yours seemed to me more desirable; but, after all, it is
as well to let Brigitte know that if Celeste refuses me, I am not
absolutely turned out into the cold."
"I can easily believe that," said Thuillier; "but as for putting the
whole decision into the hands of that little girl, especially if she
has, as you tell me, a fancy for Felix--"
"I can't help it," said the barrister. "I must, at any price, get out
of this position; it is no longer tenable. You talk about your
pamphlet; I am not in a fit condition to finish it. You, who have been
a man of gallantry, you must know the dominion that women, fatal
creatures! exercise over our whole being."
"Bah!" said Thuillier, conceitedly, "they cared for me, but I did not
often care for them; I took them, and left them, you know."
"Yes, but I, with my Southern nature, love passionately; and Celeste
has other attractions besides fortune. Brought up in your household,
under your own eye, you have made her adorable. Only, I must say, you
have shown great weakness in letting that young fellow, who does not
suit her in any respect, get such hold upon her fancy."
"You are quite right; but the thing began in a childish friendship;
she and Felix played together. You came much later; and it is a proof
of the great esteem in which we hold you, that when you made your
offer we renounced our earlier projects."
"YOU did, yes," said la Peyrade, "and with some literary manias--
which, after all, are frequently full of sense and wit--you have a
heart of gold; with you friendship is a sure thing, and you know what
you mean. But Brigitte is another matter; you'll see, when you propose
to her to hasten the marriage, what a resistance she will make."
"I don't agree with you. I think that Brigitte has always wanted you
and still wants you for son-in-law--if I may so express myself. But
whether she does or not, I beg you to believe that in all important
matters I know how to have my will obeyed. Only, let us come now to a
distinct understanding of what you wish; then we can start with the
right foot foremost, and you'll see that all will go well."
"I wish," replied la Peyrade, "to put the last touches to your
pamphlet; for, above all things, I think of you."
"Certainly," said Thuillier, "we ought not to sink in port."
"Well, in consequence of the feeling that I am oppressed, stultified
by the prospect of a marriage still so doubtful, I am certain that not
a page of manuscript could be got out of me in any form, until the
question is settled."
"Very good," said Thuillier; "then how do you present that question?"
"Naturally, if Celeste's decision be against me, I should wish an
immediate solution. If I am condemned to make a marriage of
convenience I ought to lose no time in taking the opportunity I
mentioned to you."
"So be it; but what time do you intend to allow us?"
"I should think that in fifteen days a girl might be able to make up
"Undoubtedly," replied Thuillier; "but it is very repugnant to me to
let Celeste decide without appeal."
"For my part, I will take that risk; in any case, I shall be rid of
uncertainty; and that is really my first object. Between ourselves, I
am not risking as much as you think. It will take more than fifteen
days for a son of Phellion, in other words, obstinacy incarnate in
silliness, to have done with philosophical hesitations; and it is very
certain that Celeste will not accept him for a husband unless he gives
her some proofs of conversion."
"That's probable. But suppose Celeste tries to dawdle; suppose she
refuses to accept the alternative?"
"That's your affair," said the Provencal. "I don't know how you regard
the family in Paris; I only know that in my part of the country it is
an unheard-of thing that a girl should have such liberty. If you, your
sister (supposing she plays fair in the matter), and the father and
mother can't succeed in making a girl whom you dower agree to so
simple a thing as to make a perfectly free choice between two suitors,
then good-bye to you! You'll have to write upon your gate-post that
Celeste is queen and sovereign of the house."
"Well, we haven't got to that point yet," said Thuillier, with a
"As for you, my old fellow," resumed la Peyrade, "I must postpone our
business until after Celeste's decision. Be that in my favor or not, I
will then go to work, and in three days the pamphlet can be finished."
"Now," said Thuillier, "I know what you have had on your mind. I'll
talk about it with Brigitte."
"That's a sad conclusion," said la Peyrade; "but, unhappily, so it
"What do you mean by that?"
"I would rather, as you can easily imagine, hear you say of yourself
that the thing shall be done; but old habits can't be broken up."
"Ah ca! do you think I'm a man without any will, any initiative of my
"No! but I'd like to be hidden in a corner and hear how you will open
the subject with your sister."
"Parbleu! I shall open it frankly. I WILL, very firmly said, shall
meet every one of her objections."
"Ah, my poor fellow!" said la Peyrade, clapping him on the shoulder,
"from Chrysale down how often have we seen brave warriors lowering
their penants before the wills of women accustomed to master them!"
"We'll see about THAT," replied Thuillier, making a theatrical exit.
The eager desire to publish his pamphlet, and the clever doubt thrown
upon the strength of his will had made him furious,--an actual tiger;
and he went away resolved, in case of opposition, to reduce his
household, as the saying is, by fire and sword.
When he reached home Thuillier instantly laid the question before
Brigitte. She, with her crude good sense and egotism, pointed out to
him that by thus hastening the period formerly agreed upon for the
marriage, they committed the blunder of disarming themselves; they
could not be sure that when the election took place la Peyrade would
put the same zeal into preparing for it. It might be," said the old
maid, "just as it has been about the cross."
"There's this difference," said Thuillier; "the cross doesn't depend
directly upon la Peyrade, whereas the influence he exerts in the 12th
arrondissement he can employ as he will."
"And suppose he willed, after we have feathered his nest," said
Brigitte, "to work his influence for his own election? He is very
ambitious, you know."
This danger did not fail to strike the mind of the future legislator,
who thought, however, that he might feel some security in the honor
and morality of la Peyrade.
"A man's honor can't be very delicate," returned Brigitte, "when he
tries to get out of a bargain; and this fashion of dangling a bit of
sugar before us about getting your pamphlet finished, doesn't please
me at all. Can't you get Phellion to help you, and do without
Theodose? Or, I dare say, Madame de Godollo, who knows everybody in
politics, could find you a journalist--they say there are plenty of
them out at elbows; a couple of hundred francs would do the thing."
"But the secret would get into the papers," said Thuillier. "No, I
must absolutely have Theodose; he knows that, and he makes these
conditions. After all, we did promise him Celeste, and it is only
fulfilling the promise a year earlier--what am I saying?--a few
months, a few weeks, possibly; for the king may dissolve the Chamber
before any one expects it."
"But suppose Celeste won't have him?" objected Brigitte.
"Celeste! Celeste, indeed!" ejaculated Thuillier; "she MUST have
whomsoever we choose. We ought to have thought of that when we made
the engagement with la Peyrade; our word is passed now, you know.
Besides, if the child is allowed to choose between la Peyrade and
"So you really think," said the sceptical old maid, "that if Celeste
decides for Phellion you can still count on la Peyrade's devotion?"
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