The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 6 out of 10
"What else can I do? Those are his conditions. Besides, the fellow has
calculated the whole thing; he knows very well that Felix will never
bring himself in two weeks to please Celeste by going to confession,
and unless he does, that little monkey will never accept him for a
husband. La Peyrade's game is very clever."
"Too clever," said Brigitte. "Well, settle the matter as you choose; I
shall not meddle; all this manoeuvring is not to my taste."
Thuillier went to see Madame Colleville, and intimated to her that she
must inform Celeste of the designs upon her.
Celeste had never been officially authorized to indulge her sentiment
for Felix Phellion. Flavie, on the contrary, had once expressly
forbidden her to encourage the hopes of the young professor; but as,
on the part of Madame Thuillier, her godmother and her confidant, she
knew she was sustained in her inclination, she had let herself gently
follow it without thinking very seriously of the obstacles her choice
might encounter. When, therefore, she was ordered to choose at once
between Felix and la Peyrade, the simple-hearted girl was at first
only struck by the advantages of one half of the alternative, and she
fancied she did herself a great service by agreeing to an arrangement
which made her the mistress of her own choice and allowed her to
bestow it as her heart desired.
But la Peyrade was not mistaken in his calculation when he reckoned
that the religious intolerance of the young girl on one side, and the
philosophical inflexibility of Phellion's son on the other, would
create an invincible obstacle to their coming together.
GOOD BLOOD CANNOT LIE
The evening of the day on which Flavie had communicated to Celeste the
sovereign orders of Thuillier, the Phellions called to spend the
evening with Brigitte, and a very sharp engagement took place between
the two young people. Mademoiselle Colleville did not need to be told
by her mother that it would be extremely unbecoming if she allowed
Felix to know of the conditional approval that was granted to their
sentiments. Celeste had too much delicacy, and too much real religious
feeling to wish to obtain the conversion of the man she loved on any
other ground than that of his conviction. Their evening was therefore
passed in theological debate; but love is so strange a Proteus, and
takes so many and such various forms, that though it appeared on this
occasion in a black gown and a mob cap, it was not at all as
ungraceful and displeasing as might have been imagined. But Phellion
junior was in this encounter, the solemnity of which he little knew,
unlucky and blundering to the last degree. Not only did he concede
nothing, but he took a tone of airy and ironical discussion, and ended
by putting poor Celeste so beside herself that she finally declared an
open rupture and forbade him to appear in her presence again.
It was just the case for a lover more experienced than the young
savant to reappear the very next day, for young hearts are never so
near to understanding each other as when they have just declared the
necessity of eternal separation. But this law is not one of
logarithms, and Felix Phellion, being incapable of guessing it,
thought himself positively and finally banished; so much so, that
during the fifteen days granted to the poor girl to deliberate (as
says the Code in the matter of beneficiary bequests), although he was
expected day by day, and from minute to minute by Celeste, who gave no
more thought to la Peyrade than if he had nothing to do with the
question, the deplorably stupid youth did not have the most distant
idea of breaking his ban.
Luckily for this hopeless lover, a beneficent fairy was watching over
him, and the evening before the day on which the young girl was to
make her decision the following affair took place.
It was Sunday, the day on which the Thuilliers still kept up their
Madame Phellion, convinced that the housekeeping leakage, vulgarly
called "the basket dance," was the ruin of the best-regulated
households, was in the habit of going in person to her tradespeople.
From time immemorial in the Phellion establishment, Sunday was the day
of the "pot-au-feu," and the wife of the great citizen, in that
intentionally dowdy costume in which good housekeepers bundle
themselves when they go to market, was prosaically returning from a
visit to the butcher, followed by her cook and the basket, in which
lay a magnificent cut of the loin of beef. Twice had she rung her own
doorbell, and terrible was the storm gathering on the head of the
foot-boy, who by his slowness in opening the door was putting his
mistress in a situation less tolerable than that of Louis XIV., who
had only ALMOST waited. In her feverish impatience Madame Phellion had
just given the bell a third and ferocious reverberation, when, judge
of her confusion, a little coupe drew up with much clatter at the door
of her house, and a lady descended, whom she recognized, at this
untimely hour, as the elegant Comtesse Torna de Godollo!
Turning a purplish scarlet, the unfortunate bourgeoise lost her head,
and, floundering in excuses, she was about to complicate the position
by some signal piece of awkwardness, when, happily for her, Phellion,
attracted by the noise of the bell, and attired in a dressing-gown and
Greek cap, came out of his study to inquire what was the matter. After
a speech, the pompous charm of which did much to compensate for his
dishabille, the great citizen, with the serenity that never abandoned
him, offered his hand very gallantly to the lady, and having installed
her in the salon, said:--
"May I, without indiscretion, ask Madame la comtesse what has procured
for us the unhoped-for advantage of this visit?"
"I have come," said the lady, "to talk with Madame Phellion on a
matter which must deeply interest her. I have no other way of meeting
her without witnesses; and therefore, though I am hardly known to
Madame Phellion, I have taken the liberty to call upon her here."
"Madame, your visit is a great honor to this poor dwelling. But where
is Madame Phellion?" added the worthy man, impatiently, going towards
"No, I beg of you, don't disturb her," said the countess; "I have
heedlessly come at a moment when she is busy with household cares.
Brigitte has been my educator in such matters, and I know the respect
we ought to pay to good housekeepers. Besides, I have the pleasure of
your presence, which I scarcely expected."
Before Phellion could reply to these obliging words, Madame Phellion
appeared. A cap with ribbons had taken the place of the market bonnet,
and a large shawl covered the other insufficiencies of the morning
toilet. When his wife arrived, the great citizen made as though he
would discreetly retire.
"Monsieur Phellion," said the countess, "you are not one too many in
the conference I desire with madame; on the contrary, your excellent
judgment will be most useful in throwing light upon a matter as
interesting to you as to your wife. I allude to the marriage of your
"The marriage of my son!" cried Madame Phellion, with a look of
astonishment; "but I am not aware that anything of the kind is at
present in prospect."
"The marriage of Monsieur Felix with Mademoiselle Celeste is, I think,
one of your strongest desires--"
"But we have never," said Phellion, "taken any overt steps for that
"I know that only too well," replied the countess; "on the contrary,
every one in your family seems to study how to defeat my efforts in
that direction. However, one thing is clear in spite of the reserve,
and, you must allow me to say so, the clumsiness in which the affair
has been managed, and that is that the young people love each other,
and they will both be unhappy if they do not marry. Now, to prevent
this catastrophe is the object with which I have come here this
"We cannot, madame, be otherwise than deeply sensible of the interest
you are so good as to show in the happiness of our son," said
Phellion; "but, in truth, this interest--"
"Is something so inexplicable," interrupted the countess, "that you
feel a distrust of it?"
"Oh! madame!" said Phellion, bowing with an air of respectful dissent.
"But," continued the lady, "the explanation of my proceeding is very
simple. I have studied Celeste, and in that dear and artless child I
find a moral weight and value which would make me grieve to see her
"You are right, madame," said Madame Phellion. "Celeste is, indeed, an
angel of sweetness."
"As for monsieur Felix, I venture to interest myself because, in the
first place, he is the son of so virtuous a father--"
"Oh, madame! I entreat--" said Phellion, bowing again.
"--and he also attracts me by the awkwardness of true love, which
appears in all his actions and all his words. We mature women find an
inexpressible charm in seeing the tender passion under a form which
threatens us with no deceptions and no misunderstandings."
"My son is certainly not brilliant," said Madame Phellion, with a
faint tone of sharpness; "he is not a fashionable young man."
"But he has the qualities that are most essential," replied the
countess, "and a merit which ignores itself,--a thing of the utmost
consequence in all intellectual superiority--"
"Really, madame," said Phellion, "you force us to hear things that--"
"That are not beyond the truth," interrupted the countess. "Another
reason which leads me to take a deep interest in the happiness of
these young people is that I am not so desirous for that of Monsieur
Theodose de la Peyrade, who is false and grasping. On the ruin of
their hopes that man is counting to carry out his swindling purposes."
"It is quite certain," said Phellion, "that there are dark depths in
Monsieur de la Peyrade where light does not penetrate."
"And as I myself had the misfortune to marry a man of his description,
the thought of the wretchedness to which Celeste would be condemned by
so fatal a connection, impels me, in the hope of saving her, to the
charitable effort which now, I trust, has ceased to surprise you."
"Madame," said Phellion, "we do not need the conclusive explanations
by which you illumine your conduct; but as to the faults on our part,
which have thwarted your generous efforts, I must declare that in
order to avoid committing them in future, it seems to me not a little
desirable that you should plainly indicate them."
"How long is it," asked the countess, "since any of your family have
paid a visit to the Thuilliers'?"
"If my memory serves me," said Phellion, "I think we were all there
the Sunday after the dinner for the house-warming."
"Fifteen whole days of absence!" exclaimed the countess; "and you
think that nothing of importance could happen in fifteen days?"
"No, indeed! did not three glorious days in July, 1830, cast down a
perjured dynasty and found the noble order of things under which we
"You see it yourself!" said the countess. "Now, tell me, during that
evening, fifteen days ago, did nothing serious take place between your
son and Celeste?"
"Something did occur," replied Phellion,--"a very disagreeable
conversation on the subject of my son's religious opinions; it must be
owned that our good Celeste, who in all other respects has a charming
nature, is a trifle fanatic in the matter of piety."
"I agree to that," said the countess; "but she was brought up by the
mother whom you know; she was never shown the face of true piety; she
saw only the mimicry of it. Repentant Magdalens of the Madame
Colleville species always assume an air of wishing to retire to a
desert with their death's-head and crossed bones. They think they
can't get salvation at a cheaper rate. But after all, what did Celeste
ask of Monsieur Felix? Merely that he would read 'The Imitation of
"He has read it, madame," said Phellion, "and he thinks it a book
extremely well written; but his convictions--and that is a misfortune
--have not been affected by the perusal."
"And do you think he shows much cleverness in not assuring his
mistress of some little change in his inflexible convictions?"
"My son, madame, has never received from me the slightest lesson in
cleverness; loyalty, uprightness, those are the principles I have
endeavored to inculcate in him."
"It seems to me, monsieur, that there is no want of loyalty when, in
dealing with a troubled mind, we endeavor to avoid wounding it. But
let us agree that Monsieur Felix owed it to himself to be that iron
door against which poor Celeste's applications beat in vain; was that
a reason for keeping away from her and sulking in his tent for fifteen
whole days? Above all, ought he to have capped these sulks by a
proceeding which I can't forgive, and which--only just made known to
us--has struck the girl's heart with despair, and also with a feeling
of extreme irritation?"
"My son capable of any such act! it is quite impossible, madame!"
cried Phellion. "I know nothing of this proceeding; but I do not
hesitate to affirm that you have been ill-informed."
"And yet, nothing is more certain. Young Colleville, who came home
to-day for his half-holiday, has just told us that Monsieur Felix, who
had previously gone with the utmost punctuality to hear him recite has
ceased entirely to have anything to do with him. Unless your son is
ill, I do not hesitate to say that this neglect is the greatest of
blunders, in the situation in which he now stands with the sister he
ought not to have chosen this moment to put an end to these lessons."
The Phellions looked at each other as if consulting how to reply.
"My son," said Madame Phellion, "is not exactly ill; but since you
mention a fact which is, I acknowledge, very strange and quite out of
keeping with his nature and habits, I think it right to tell you that
from the day when Celeste seemed to signify that all was at an end
between them, a very extraordinary change has come over Felix, which
is causing Monsieur Phellion and myself the deepest anxiety."
"Yes, madame," said Phellion, "the young man is certainly not in his
"But what is the matter with him?" asked the countess, anxiously.
"The night of that scene with Celeste," replied Phellion, "after his
return home, he wept a flood of hot tears on his mother's bosom, and
gave us to understand that the happiness of his whole life was at an
"And yet," said Madame de Godollo, "nothing very serious happened; but
lovers always make the worst of things."
"No doubt," said Madame Phellion; "but since that night Felix has not
made the slightest allusion to his misfortune, and the next day he
went back to his work with a sort of frenzy. Does that seem natural to
"It is capable of explanation; work is said to be a great consoler."
"That is most true," said Phellion; "but in Felix's whole personality
there is something excited, and yet repressed, which is difficult to
describe. You speak to him, and he hardly seems to hear you; he sits
down to table and forgets to eat, or takes his food with an absent-
mindedness which the medical faculty consider most injurious to the
process of digestion; his duties, his regular occupations, we have to
remind him of--him, so extremely regular, so punctual! The other day,
when he was at the Observatory, where he now spends all his evenings,
only coming home in the small hours, I took it upon myself to enter
his room and examine his papers. I was terrified, madame, at finding a
paper covered with algebraic calculations which, by their vast extent
appeared to me to go beyond the limits of the human intellect."
"Perhaps," said the countess, "he is on the road to some great
"Or to madness," said Madame Phellion, in a low voice, and with a
"That is not probable," said Madame de Godollo; "with an organization
so calm and a mind so well balanced, he runs but little danger of that
misfortune. I know myself of another danger that threatens him
to-morrow, and unless we can take some steps this evening to avert it,
Celeste is positively lost to him."
"How so?" said the husband and wife together.
"Perhaps you are not aware," replied the countess, "that Thuillier and
his sister have made certain promises to Monsieur de la Peyrade about
"We suspected as much," replied Madame Phellion.
"The fulfilment of these pledges was postponed to a rather distant
period, and subordinated to certain conditions. Monsieur de la
Peyrade, after enabling them to buy the house near the Madeleine,
pledged himself not only to obtain the cross for Monsieur Thuillier,
but to write in his name a political pamphlet, and assist him in his
election to the Chamber of Deputies. It sounds like the romances of
chivalry, in which the hero, before obtaining the hand of the
princess, is compelled to exterminate a dragon."
"Madame is very witty," said Madame Phellion, looking at her husband,
who made her a sign not to interrupt.
"I have no time now," said the countess; "in fact it would be useless
to tell you the manoeuvres by which Monsieur de la Peyrade has
contrived to hasten the period of this marriage; but it concerns you
to know that, thanks to his duplicity, Celeste is being forced to
choose between him and Monsieur Felix; fifteen days were given her in
which to make her choice; the time expires to-morrow, and, thanks to
the unfortunate state of feeling into which your son's attitude has
thrown her, there is very serious danger of seeing her sacrifice to
her wounded feelings the better sentiments of her love and her
"But what can be done to prevent it?" asked Phellion.
"Fight, monsieur; come this evening in force to the Thuilliers';
induce Monsieur Felix to accompany you; lecture him until he promises
to be a little more flexible in his philosophical opinions. Paris,
said Henri IV., is surely worth a mass. But let him avoid all such
questions; he can certainly find in his heart the words and tones to
move a woman who loves him; it requires so little to satisfy her! I
shall be there myself, and I will help him to my utmost ability;
perhaps, under the inspiration of the moment, I may think of some way
to do effectually. One thing is very certain: we have to fight a great
battle to-night, and if we do not ALL do our duty valorously, la
Peyrade may win it."
"My son is not here, madame," said Phellion, "and I regret it, for
perhaps your generous devotion and urgent words would succeed in
shaking off his torpor; but, at any rate, I will lay before him the
gravity of the situation, and, beyond all doubt, he will accompany us
to-night to the Thuilliers'."
"It is needless to say," added the countess, rising, "that we must
carefully avoid the very slightest appearance of collusion; we must
not converse together; in fact, unless it can be done in some casual
way, it would be better not to speak."
"I beg you to rely, madame, upon my prudence," replied Phellion, "and
kindly accept the assurance--"
"Of your most distinguished sentiments," interrupted the countess,
"No, madame," replied Phellion, gravely, "I reserve that formula for
the conclusion of my letters; I beg you to accept the assurance of my
warmest and most unalterable gratitude."
"We will talk of that when we are out of danger," said Madame de
Godollo, moving towards the door; "and if Madame Phellion, the
tenderest and most virtuous of mothers, will grant me a little place
in her esteem, I shall count myself more than repaid for my trouble."
Madame Phellion plunged headlong into a responsive compliment; and the
countess, in her carriage, was at some distance from the house before
Phellion had ceased to offer her his most respectful salutations.
As the Latin-quarter element in Brigitte's salon became more rare and
less assiduous, a livelier Paris began to infiltrate it. Among his
colleagues in the municipal council and among the upper employees of
the prefecture of the Seine, the new councillor had made several very
important recruits. The mayor, and the deputy mayors of the
arrondissement, on whom, after his removal to the Madeleine quarter,
Thuillier had called, hastened to return the civility; and the same
thing happened with the superior officers of the first legion. The
house itself had produced a contingent; and several of the new tenants
contributed, by their presence, to change the aspect of the dominical
meetings. Among the number we must mention Rabourdin [see
"Bureaucracy"], the former head of Thuillier's office at the ministry
of finance. Having had the misfortune to lose his wife, whose salon,
at an earlier period, checkmated that of Madame Colleville, Rabourdin
occupied as a bachelor the third floor, above the apartment let to
Cardot, the notary. As the result of an odious slight to his just
claims, Rabourdin had voluntarily resigned his public functions. At
this time, when he again met Thuillier, he was director of one of
those numerous projected railways, the construction of which is always
delayed by either parliamentary rivalry or parliamentary indecision.
Let us say, in passing, that the meeting with this able administrator,
now become an important personage in the financial world, was an
occasion to the worthy and honest Phellion to display once more his
noble character. At the time of the resignation to which Rabourdin had
felt himself driven, Phellion alone, of all the clerks in the office,
had stood by him in his misfortunes. Being now in a position to bestow
a great number of places, Rabourdin, on meeting once more his faithful
subordinate, hastened to offer him a position both easy and lucrative.
"Mossieu," said Phellion, "your benevolence touches me and honors me,
but my frankness owes you an avowal, which I beg you not to take in
ill part: I do not believe in 'railways,' as the English call them."
"That's an opinion to which you have every right," said Rabourdin,
smiling; "but, meanwhile, until the contrary is proved, we pay the
employees in our office well, and I should be glad to have you with me
in that capacity. I know by experience that you are a man on whom I
"Mossieu," returned the great citizen, "I did my duty at that time,
and nothing more. As for the offer you have been so good as to make to
me, I cannot accept it; satisfied with my humble fortunes, I feel
neither the need nor the desire to re-enter an administrative career;
and, in common with the Latin poet, I may say, 'Claudite jam rivos,
pueri, sat prata biberunt.'"
Thus elevated in the character of its habitues, the salon Thuillier
still needed a new element of life. Thanks to the help of Madame de
Godollo, a born organizer, who successfully put to profit the former
connection of Colleville with the musical world, a few artists came to
make diversion from bouillotte and boston. Old-fashioned and
venerable, those two games were forced to beat a retreat before whist,
the only manner, said the Hungarian countess, in which respectable
people can kill time.
Like Louis XVI., who began by putting his own hand to reforms which
subsequently engulfed his throne, Brigitte had encouraged, at first,
this domestic revolution; the need of sustaining her position suitably
in the new quarter to which she had emigrated had made her docile to
all suggestions of comfort and elegance. But the day on which occurred
the scene we are about to witness, an apparently trivial detail had
revealed to her the danger of the declivity on which she stood. The
greater number of the new guests, recently imported by Thuillier, knew
nothing of his sister's supremacy in his home. On arrival, therefore,
they all asked Thuillier to present them to MADAME, and, naturally,
Thuillier could not say to them that his wife was a figure-head who
groaned under the iron hand of a Richelieu, to whom the whole
household bent the knee. It was therefore not until the first homage
rendered to the sovereign "de jure" was paid, that the new-comers were
led up to Brigitte, and by reason of the stiffness which displeasure
at this misplacement of power gave to her greeting they were scarcely
encouraged to pay her any further attentions. Quick to perceive this
species of overthrow, Queen Elizabeth said to herself, with that
profound instinct of domination which was her ruling passion:--
"If I don't take care I shall soon be nobody in this house."
Burrowing into that idea, she came to think that if the project of
making a common household with la Peyrade, then Celeste's husband,
were carried out, the situation which was beginning to alarm her would
become even worse. From that moment, and by sudden intuition, Felix
Phellion, that good young man, with his head too full of mathematics
ever to become a formidable rival to her sovereignty, seemed to her a
far better match than the enterprising lawyer, and she was the first,
on seeing the Phellion father and mother arrive without the son, to
express regret at his absence. Brigitte, however, was not the only one
to feel the injury that the luckless professor was doing to his
prospects in thus keeping away from her reception. Madame Thuillier,
with simple candor, and Celeste with feigned reserve, both made
manifest their displeasure. As for Madame de Godollo, who, in spite of
a very remarkable voice, usually required much pressing before she
would sing (the piano having been opened since her reign began), she
now went up to Madame Phellion and asked her to accompany her, and
between two verses of a song she said in her ear:--
"Why isn't your son here?"
"He is coming," said Madame Phellion. "His father talked to him very
decidedly; but to-night there happens to be a conjunction of I don't
know what planets; it is a great night at the Observatory, and he did
not feel willing to dispense with--"
"It is inconceivable that a man should be so foolish!" exclaimed
Madame de Godollo; "wasn't theology bad enough, that he must needs
bring in astronomy too?"
And her vexation gave to her voice so vibrating a tone that her song
ended in the midst of what the English call a thunder of applause. La
Peyrade, who feared her extremely, was not one of the last, when she
returned to her place, to approach her, and express his admiration;
but she received his compliments with a coldness so near to incivility
that their mutual hostility was greatly increased. La Peyrade turned
away to console himself with Madame Colleville, who had still too many
pretensions to beauty not to be the enemy of a woman made to intercept
"So you also, you think that woman sings well?" she said,
contemptuously, to Theodose.
"At any rate, I have been to tell her so," replied la Peyrade,
"because without her, in regard to Brigitte, there's no security. But
do just look at your Celeste; her eyes never leave that door, and
every time a tray is brought in, though it is an hour at least since
the last guest came, her face expresses disappointment."
We must remark, in passing, that since the reign of Madame de Godollo
trays were passed round on the Sunday reception days, and that without
scrimping; on the contrary, they were laden with ices, cakes, and
syrups, from Taurade's, then the best confectioner.
"Don't harass me!" cried Flavie. "I know very well what that foolish
girl has in her mind; and your marriage will take place only too
"But you know it is not for myself I make it," said la Peyrade; "it is
a necessity for the future of all of us. Come, come, there are tears
in your eyes! I shall leave you; you are not reasonable. The devil! as
that Prudhomme of a Phellion says, 'Whoso wants the end wants the
And he went toward the group composed of Celeste, Madame Thuillier,
Madame de Godollo, Colleville, and Phellion. Madame Colleville
followed him; and, under the influence of the feeling of jealousy she
had just shown, she became a savage mother.
"Celeste," she said, "why don't you sing? These gentlemen wish to hear
"Oh, mamma!" cried the girl, "how can I sing after Madame de Godollo,
with my poor thread of a voice? Besides, you know I have a cold."
"That is to say that, as usual, you make yourself pretentious and
disagreeable; people sing as they can sing; all voices have their own
"My dear," said Colleville, who, having just lost twenty francs at the
card-tables, found courage in his ill-humor to oppose his wife, "that
saying, 'People sing as they can sing' is a bourgeois maxim. People
sing with a voice, if they have one; but they don't sing after hearing
such a magnificent opera voice as that of Madame la comtesse. For my
part, I readily excuse Celeste for not warbling to us one of her
sentimental little ditties."
"Then it is well worth while," said Flavie, leaving the group, "to
spend so much money on expensive masters who are good for nothing."
"So," said Colleville, resuming the conversation which the invasion of
Flavie had interrupted, "Felix no longer inhabits this earth; he lives
among the stars?"
"My dear and former colleague," said Phellion, "I am, as you are,
annoyed with my son for neglecting, as he does, the oldest friends of
his family; and though the contemplation of those great luminous
bodies suspended in space by the hand of the Creator presents, in my
opinion, higher interest than it appears to have to your more eager
brain, I think that Felix, by not coming here to-night, as he promised
me he would, shows a want of propriety, about which, I can assure you
I shall speak my mind."
"Science," said la Peyrade, "is a fine thing, but it has,
unfortunately, the attribute of making bears and monomaniacs."
"Not to mention," said Celeste, "that it destroys all religious
"You are mistaken there, my dear child," said Madame de Godollo.
"Pascal, who was himself a great example of the falseness of your
point of view, says, if I am not mistaken, that a little science draws
us from religion, but a great deal draws us back to it."
"And yet, madame," said Celeste, "every one admits that Monsieur Felix
is really very learned; when he helped my brother with his studies
nothing could be, so Francois told me, clearer or more comprehensible
than his explanations; and you see, yourself, he is not the more
religious for that."
"I tell you, my dear child, that Monsieur Felix is not irreligious,
and with a little gentleness and patience nothing would be easier than
to bring him back."
"Bring back a savant to the duties of religion!" exclaimed la Peyrade.
"Really, madame, that seems to me very difficult. These gentlemen put
the object of their studies before everything else. Tell a
geometrician or a geologist, for example, that the Church demands,
imperatively, the sanctification of the Sabbath by the suspension of
all species of work, and they will shrug their shoulders, though God
Himself did not disdain to rest from His labors."
"So that in not coming here this evening," said Celeste, naively,
"Monsieur Felix commits not only a fault against good manners, but a
"But, my dearest," said Madame de Godollo, "do you think that our
meeting here this evening to sing ballads and eat ices and say evil of
our neighbor--which is the customary habit of salons--is more pleasing
to God than to see a man of science in his observatory busied in
studying the magnificent secrets of His creation?"
"There's a time for all things," said Celeste; "and, as Monsieur de la
Peyrade says, God Himself did not disdain to rest."
"But, my love," said Madame de Godollo, "God has time to do so; He is
"That," said la Peyrade, "is one of the wittiest impieties ever
uttered; those are the reasons that the world's people put forth. They
interpret and explain away the commands of God, even those that are
most explicit and imperative; they take them, leave them, or choose
among them; the free-thinker subjects them to his lordly revision, and
from free-thinking the distance is short to free actions."
During this harangue of the barrister Madame de Godollo had looked at
the clock; it then said half-past eleven. The salon began to empty.
Only one card-table was still going on, Minard, Thuillier, and two of
the new acquaintances being the players. Phellion had just quitted the
group with which he had so far been sitting, to join his wife, who was
talking with Brigitte in a corner; by the vehemence of his pantomimic
action it was easy to see that he was filled with some virtuous
indignation. Everything seemed to show that all hope of seeing the
arrival of the tardy lover was decidedly over.
"Monsieur," said the countess to la Peyrade, "do you consider the
gentlemen attached to Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas in the rue des Postes
"Undoubtedly," replied the barrister, "religion has no more loyal
"This morning," continued the countess, "I had the happiness to be
received by Pere Anselme. He is thought the model of all Christian
virtues, and yet the good father is a very learned mathematician."
"I have not said, madame, that the two qualities were absolutely
"But you did say that a true Christian could not attend to any species
of work on Sunday. If so, Pere Anselme must be an unbeliever; for when
I was admitted to his room I found him standing before a blackboard
with a bit of chalk in his hand, busy with a problem which was, no
doubt, knotty, for the board was three-parts covered with algebraic
signs; and I must add that he did not seem to care for the scandal
this ought to cause, for he had with him an individual whom I am not
allowed to name, a younger man of science, of great promise, who was
sharing his profane occupation."
Celeste and Madame Thuillier looked at each other, and both saw a
gleam of hope in the other's eyes.
"Why can't you tell us the name of that young man of science?" Madame
Thuillier ventured to say, for she never put any diplomacy into the
expression of her thoughts.
"Because he has not, like Pere Anselme, the saintliness which would
absolve him in the eyes of monsieur here for this flagrant violation
of the Sabbath. Besides," added Madame de Godollo, in a significant
manner, "he asked me not to mention that I had met him there."
"Then you know a good many scientific young men?" said Celeste,
interrogatively; "this one and Monsieur Felix--that makes two."
"My dear love," said the countess, "you are an inquisitive little
girl, and you will not make me say what I do not choose to say,
especially after a confidence that Pere Anselme made to me; for if I
did, your imagination would at once set off at a gallop."
The gallop had already started, and every word the countess said only
added to the anxious eagerness of the young girl.
"As for me," said la Peyrade, sarcastically, "I shouldn't be at all
surprised if Pere Anselme's young collaborator was that very Felix
Phellion. Voltaire always kept very close relations with the Jesuits
who brought him up; but he never talked religion with them."
"Well, my young savant does talk of it to his venerable brother in
science; he submits his doubts to him; in fact, that was the beginning
of their scientific intimacy."
"And does Pere Anselme," asked Celeste, "hope to convert him?"
"He is sure of it," replied the countess. "His young collaborator,
apart from a religious education which he certainly never had, has
been brought up to the highest principles; he knows, moreover, that
his conversion to religion would make the happiness of a charming girl
whom he loves, and who loves him. Now, my dear, you will not get
another word out of me, and you may think what you like."
"Oh! godmother!" whispered Celeste, yielding to the freshness of her
feelings, "suppose it were he!"
And the tears filled her eyes as she pressed Madame Thuillier's hand.
At this moment the servant threw open the door of the salon, and,
singular complication! announced Monsieur Felix Phellion.
The young professor entered the room, bathed in perspiration, his
cravat in disorder, and himself out of breath.
"A pretty hour," said Phellion, sternly, "to present yourself."
"Father," said Felix, moving to the side of the room where Madame
Thuillier and Celeste were seated, "I could not leave before the end
of the phenomenon; and then I couldn't find a carriage, and I have run
the whole way."
"Your ears ought to have burned as you came," said la Peyrade, "for
you have been for the last half-hour in the minds of these ladies, and
a great problem has been started about you."
Felix did not answer. He saw Brigitte entering the salon from the
dining-room where she had gone to tell the man-servant not to bring in
more trays, and he hurried to greet her.
After listening to a few reproaches for the rarity of his visits and
receiving forgiveness in a very cordial "Better late than never," he
turned towards his pole, and was much astonished to hear himself
addressed by Madame de Godollo as follows:--
"Monsieur," she said, "I hope you will pardon the indiscretion I have,
in the heat of conversation, committed about you. I have told these
ladies where I met you this morning."
"Met me?" said Felix; "if I had the honor to meet you, madame, I did
not see you."
An almost imperceptible smile flickered on la Peyrade's lips.
"You saw me well enough to ask me to keep silence as to where I had
met you; but, at any rate, I did not go beyond a simple statement; I
said you saw Pere Anselme sometimes, and had certain scientific
relations with him; also that you defended your religious doubts to
him as you do to Celeste."
"Pere Anselme!" said Felix, stupidly.
"Yes, Pere Anselme," said la Peyrade, "a great mathematician who does
not despair of converting you. Mademoiselle Celeste wept for joy."
Felix looked around him with a bewildered air. Madame de Godollo fixed
upon him a pair of eyes the language of which a poodle could have
"I wish," he said finally, "I could have given that joy to
Mademoiselle Celeste, but I think, madame, you are mistaken."
"Ah! monsieur, then I must be more precise," said the countess, "and
if your modesty still induces you to hide a step that can only honor
you, you can contradict me; I will bear the mortification of having
divulged a secret which, I acknowledge, you trusted implicitly to my
Madame Thuillier and Celeste were truly a whole drama to behold; never
were doubt and eager expectation more plainly depicted on the human
face. Measuring her words deliberately, Madame de Godollo thus
"I said to these ladies, because I know how deep an interest they take
in your salvation, and because you are accused of boldly defying the
commandments of God by working on Sundays, that I had met you this
morning at the house of Pere Anselme, a mathematician like yourself,
with whom you were busy in solving a problem; I said that your
scientific intercourse with that saintly and enlightened man had led
to other explanations between you; that you had submitted to him your
religious doubts, and he did not despair of removing them. In the
confirmation you can give of my words there is nothing, I am sure, to
wound your self-esteem. The matter was simply a surprise you intended
for Celeste, and I have had the stupidity to divulge it. But when she
hears you admit the truth of my words you will have given her such
happiness that I shall hope to be forgiven."
"Come, monsieur," said la Peyrade, "there's nothing absurd or
mortifying in having sought for light; you, so honorable and so truly
an enemy to falsehood, you cannot deny what madame affirms with such
"Well," said Felix, after a moment's hesitation, "will you,
Mademoiselle Celeste, allow me to say a few words to you in private,
Celeste rose, after receiving an approving sign from Madame Thuillier.
Felix took her hand and led her to the recess of the nearest window.
"Celeste," he said, "I entreat you: wait! See," he added, pointing to
the constellation of Ursa Minor, "beyond those visible stars a future
lies before us; I will place you there. As for Pere Anselme, I cannot
admit what has been said, for it is not true. It is an invented tale.
But be patient with me; you shall soon know all."
"He is mad!" said the young girl, in tones of despair, as she resumed
her place beside Madame Thuillier.
Felix confirmed this judgment by rushing frantically from the salon,
without perceiving the emotion in which his father and his mother
started after him. After this sudden departure, which stupefied
everybody, la Peyrade approached Madame de Godollo very respectfully,
and said to her:--
"You must admit, madame, that it is difficult to drag a man from the
water when he persists in being drowned."
"I had no idea until this moment of such utter simplicity," replied
the countess; "it is too silly. I pass over to the enemy; and with
that enemy I am ready and desirous to have, whenever he pleases, a
frank and honest explanation."
HUNGARY VERSUS PROVENCE
The next day Theodose felt himself possessed by two curiosities: How
would Celeste behave as to the option she had accepted? and this
Comtesse Torna de Godollo, what did she mean by what she had said; and
what did she want with him?
The first of these questions seemed, undoubtedly, to have the right of
way, and yet, by some secret instinct, la Peyrade felt more keenly
drawn toward the conclusion of the second problem. He decided,
therefore, to take his first step in that direction, fully
understanding that he could not too carefully arm himself for the
interview to which the countess had invited him.
The morning had been rainy, and this great calculator was, of course,
not ignorant how much a spot of mud, tarnishing the brilliancy of
varnished boots, could lower a man in the opinion of some. He
therefore sent his porter for a cabriolet, and about three o'clock in
the afternoon he drove from the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer toward the
elegant latitudes of the Madeleine. It may well be believed that
certain cares had been bestowed upon his toilet, which ought to
present a happy medium between the negligent ease of a morning costume
and the ceremonious character of an evening suit. Condemned by his
profession to a white cravat, which he rarely laid aside, and not
venturing to present himself in anything but a dress-coat, he felt
himself being drawn, of necessity, to one of the extremes he desired
to avoid. However by buttoning up his coat and wearing tan instead of
straw-colored gloves, he managed to UNSOLEMNIZE himself, and to avoid
that provincial air which a man in full dress walking the streets of
Paris while the sun is above the horizon never fails to convey.
The wary diplomatist was careful not to drive to the house where he
was going. He was unwilling to be seen from the countess' entresol
issuing from a hired cab, and from the first floor he feared to be
discovered stopping short on his way up at the lower floor,--a
proceeding which could not fail to give rise to countless conjectures.
He therefore ordered the driver to pull up at the corner of the rue
Royale, whence, along a pavement that was now nearly dry, he picked
his way on tiptoe to the house. It so chanced that he was not seen by
either the porter or his wife; the former being beadle of the church
of the Madeleine, was absent at a service, and the wife had just gone
up to show a vacant apartment to a lodger. Theodose was therefore able
to glide unobserved to the door of the sanctuary he desired to
penetrate. A soft touch of his hand to the silken bell-rope caused a
sound which echoed from the interior of the apartment. A few seconds
elapsed, and then another and more imperious bell of less volume
seemed to him a notification to the maid that her delay in opening the
door was displeasing to her mistress. A moment later, a waiting-woman,
of middle age, and too well trained to dress like a "soubrette" of
comedy, opened the door to him.
The lawyer gave his name, and the woman ushered him into a
dining-room, severely luxurious, where she asked him to wait. A moment
later, however, she returned, and admitted him into the most
coquettish and splendid salon it was possible to insert beneath the
low ceilings of an entresol. The divinity of the place was seated
before a writing-table covered with a Venetian cloth, in which gold
glittered in little spots among the dazzling colors of the tapestry.
"Will you allow me, monsieur, to finish a letter of some importance?"
The barrister bowed in sign of assent. The handsome Hungarian then
concluded a note on blue English paper, which she placed in an
envelope; after sealing it carefully, she rang the bell. The maid
appeared immediately and lighted a little spirit lamp; above the lamp
was suspended a sort of tiny crucible, in which was a drop of sealing-
wax; as soon as this had melted, the maid poured it on the envelope,
presenting to her mistress a seal with armorial bearings. This the
countess imprinted on the wax with her own beautiful hands, and then
"Take the letter at once to that address."
The woman made a movement to take the letter, but, either from haste
or inadvertence, the paper fell from her hand close to la Peyrade's
feet. He stooped hastily to pick it up, and read the direction
involuntarily. It bore the words, "His Excellency the Minister of
Foreign Affairs"; the significant words, "For him only," written
higher up, seemed to give this missive a character of intimacy.
"Pardon, monsieur," said the countess, receiving the paper, which he
had the good taste to return to her own hands in order to show his
eagerness to serve her. "Be so good, mademoiselle, as to carry that in
a way not to lose it," she added in a dry tone to the unlucky maid.
The countess then left her writing-table and took her seat on a sofa
covered with pearl-gray satin.
During these proceedings la Peyrade had the satisfaction of making an
inventory of all the choice things by which he was surrounded.
Paintings by good masters detached themselves from walls of even tone;
on a pier-table stood a very tall Japanese vase; before the windows
the jardinieres were filled with lilium rubrum, showing its handsome
reversely curling petals surmounted by white and red camellias and a
dwarf magnolia from China, with flowers of sulphur white with scarlet
edges. In a corner was a stand of arms, of curious shapes and rich
construction, explained, perhaps, by the lady's Hungarian nationality
--always that of the hussar. A few bronzes and statuettes of exquisite
selection, chairs rolling softly on Persian carpets, and a perfect
anarchy of stuffs of all kinds completed the arrangement of this
salon, which the lawyer had once before visited with Brigitte and
Thuillier before the countess moved into it. It was so transformed
that it seemed to him unrecognizable. With a little more knowledge of
the world la Peyrade would have been less surprised at the marvellous
care given by the countess to the decoration of the room. A woman's
salon is her kingdom, and her absolute domain; there, in the fullest
sense of the word, she reigns, she governs; there she offers battle,
and nearly always comes off victorious.
Coquettishly lying back in a corner of the sofa, her head carelessly
supported by an arm the form and whiteness of which could be seen
nearly to the elbow through the wide, open sleeve of a black velvet
dressing-gown, her Cinderella foot in its dainty slipper of Russia
leather resting on a cushion of orange satin, the handsome Hungarian
had the look of a portrait by Laurence or Winterhalter, plus the
naivete of the pose.
"Monsieur," she said, with the slightly foreign accent which lent an
added charm to her words, "I cannot help thinking it rather droll that
a man of your mind and rare penetration should have thought you had an
enemy in me."
"But, Madame la comtesse," replied la Peyrade, allowing her to read in
his eyes an astonishment mingled with distrust, "all the appearances,
you must admit, were of that nature. A suitor interposes to break off
a marriage which has been offered to me with every inducement; this
rival does me the service of showing himself so miraculously stupid
and awkward that I could easily have set him aside, when suddenly a
most unlooked-for and able auxiliary devotes herself to protecting him
on the very ground where he shows himself most vulnerable."
"You must admit," said the countess, laughing, "that the protege
showed himself a most intelligent man, and that he seconded my efforts
"His clumsiness could not have been, I think, very unexpected to you,"
replied la Peyrade; "therefore the protection you have deigned to give
him is the more cruel to me."
"What a misfortune it would be," said the countess, with charmingly
affected satire, "if your marriage with Mademoiselle Celeste were
prevented! Do you really care so much, monsieur, for that little
In that last word, especially the intonation with which it was
uttered, there was more than contempt, there was hatred. This
expression did not escape an observer of la Peyrade's strength, but
not being a man to advance very far on a single remark he merely
"Madame, the vulgar expression, to 'settle down,' explains this
situation, in which a man, after many struggles and being at an end of
his efforts and his illusions, makes a compromise with the future.
When this compromise takes the form of a young girl with, I admit,
more virtue than beauty, but one who brings to a husband the fortune
which is indispensable to the comfort of married life, what is there
so astonishing in the fact that his heart yields to gratitude and that
he welcomes the prospect of a placid happiness?"
"I have always thought," replied the countess, "that the power of a
man's intellect ought to be the measure of his ambition; and I
imagined that one so wise as to make himself, at first, the poor man's
lawyer, would have in his heart less humble and less pastoral
"Ah! madame," returned la Peyrade, "the iron hand of necessity compels
us to strange resignations. The question of daily bread is one of
those before which all things bend the knee. Apollo was forced to 'get
a living,' as the shepherd of Admetus."
"The sheepfold of Admetus," said Madame de Godollo, "was at least a
royal fold; I don't think Apollo would have resigned himself to be the
shepherd of a--bourgeois."
The hesitation that preceded that last word seemed to convey in place
of it a proper name; and la Peyrade understood that Madame de Godollo,
out of pure clemency, had suppressed that of Thuillier, had turned her
remark upon the species and not the individual.
"I agree, madame, that your distinction is a just one," he replied,
"but in this case Apollo has no choice."
"I don't like persons who charge too much," said the countess, "but
still less do I like those who sell their merchandise below the market
price; I always suspect such persons of trying to dupe me by some
clever and complicated trick. You know very well, monsieur, your own
value, and your hypocritical humility displeases me immensely. It
proves to me that my kindly overtures have not produced even a
beginning of confidence between us."
"I assure you, madame, that up to the present time life has never
justified the belief in any dazzling superiority in me."
"Well, really," said the Hungarian, "perhaps I ought to believe in the
humility of a man who is willing to accept the pitiable finale of his
life which I threw myself into the breach to prevent."
"Just as I, perhaps," said la Peyrade, with a touch of sarcasm, "ought
to believe in the reality of a kindness which, in order to save me,
has handled me so roughly."
The countess cast a reproachful look upon her visitor; her fingers
crumpled the ribbons of her gown; she lowered her eyes, and gave a
sigh, so nearly imperceptible, so slight, that it might have passed
for an accident in the most regular breathing.
"You are rancorous," she said, "and you judge people by one aspect
only. After all," she added, as if on reflection, "you are perhaps
right in reminding me that I have taken the longest way round by
meddling, rather ridiculously, in interests that do not concern me. Go
on, my dear monsieur, in the path of this glorious marriage which
offers you so many combined inducements; only, let me hope that you
may not repent a course with which I shall no longer interfere."
The Provencal had not been spoilt by an experience of "bonnes
fortunes." The poverty against which he had struggled so long never
leads to affairs of gallantry, and since he had thrown off its harsh
restraint, his mind being wholly given up to the anxious work of
creating his future, the things of the heart had entered but slightly
into his life; unless we must except the comedy he had played on
Flavie. We can therefore imagine the perplexity of this novice in the
matter of adventures when he saw himself placed between the danger of
losing what seemed to be a delightful opportunity, and the fear of
finding a serpent amid the beautiful flowers that were offered to his
grasp. Too marked a reserve, too lukewarm an eagerness, might wound
the self-love of that beautiful foreigner, and quench the spring from
which he seemed invited to draw. On the other hand, suppose that
appearance of interest were only a snare? Suppose this kindness (ill-
explained, as it seemed to him), of which he was so suddenly the
object, had no other purpose than to entice him into a step which
might be used to compromise him with the Thuilliers? What a blow to
his reputation for shrewdness, and what a role to play!--that of the
dog letting go the meat for the shadow!
We know that la Peyrade was trained in the school of Tartuffe, and the
frankness with which that great master declares to Elmire that without
receiving a few of the favors to which he aspired he could not trust
in her tender advances, seemed to the barrister a suitable method to
apply to the present case, adding, however, a trifle more softness to
"Madame la comtesse," he said, "you have turned me into a man who is
much to be pitied. I was cheerfully advancing to this marriage, and
you take all faith in it away from me. Suppose I break it off, what
use can I--with that great capacity you see in me--make of the liberty
I thus recover?"
"La Bruyere, if I am not mistaken, said that nothing freshens the
blood so much as to avoid committing a folly."
"That may be; but it is, you must admit, a negative benefit; and I am
of an age and in a position to desire more serious results. The
interest that you deign to show to me cannot, I think, stop short at
the idea of merely putting an end to my present prospects. I love
Mademoiselle Colleville with a love, it is true, which has nothing
imperative about it; but I certainly love her, her hand is promised to
me, and before renouncing it--"
"So," said the countess, hastily, "in a given case you would not be
averse to a rupture? And," she added, in a more decided tone, "there
would be some chance of making you see that in taking your first
opportunity you cut yourself off from a better future, in which a more
suitable marriage may present itself?"
"But, at least, madame, I must be enabled to foresee it definitely."
This persistence in demanding pledges seemed to irritate the countess.
"Faith," she said, "is only a virtue when it believes without seeing.
You doubt yourself, and that is another form of stupidity. I am not
happy, it seems, in my selection of those I desire to benefit."
"But, madame, it cannot be indiscreet to ask to know in some remote
way at least, what future your kind good-will has imagined for me."
"It is very indiscreet," replied the countess, coldly, "and it shows
plainly that you offer me only a conditional confidence. Let us say no
more. You are certainly far advanced with Mademoiselle Colleville; she
suits you, you say, in many ways; therefore marry her. I say again,
you will no longer find me in your way."
"But does Mademoiselle Colleville really suit me?" resumed la Peyrade;
"that is the very point on which you have lately raised my doubts. Do
you not think there is something cruel in casting me first in one
direction and then in the other without affording me any ground to go
"Ah!" said the countess, in a tone of impatience, "you want my opinion
on the premises! Well, monsieur, there is one very conclusive fact to
which I can bring proof: Celeste does not love you."
"So I have thought," said la Peyrade, humbly. "I felt that I was
making a marriage of mere convenience."
"And she cannot love you, because," continued Madame de Godollo, with
animation, "she cannot comprehend you. Her proper husband is that
blond little man, insipid as herself; from the union of those two
natures without life or heat will result in that lukewarm existence
which, in the opinion of the world where she was born and where she
has lived, is the ne plus ultra of conjugal felicity. Try to make that
little simpleton understand that when she had a chance to unite
herself with true talent she ought to have felt highly honored! But,
above all, try to make her miserable, odious family and surroundings
understand it! Enriched bourgeois, parvenus! there's the roof beneath
which you think to rest from your cruel labor and your many trials!
And do you believe that you will not be made to feel, twenty times a
day, that your share in the partnership is distressingly light in the
scale against their money? On one side, the Iliad, the Cid, Der
Freyschutz, and the frescos of the Vatican; on the other, three
hundred thousand francs in good, ringing coin! Tell me which side they
will trust and admire! The artist, the man of imagination who falls
into the bourgeois atmosphere--shall I tell you to what I compare him?
To Daniel cast into the lion's den, less the miracle of Holy Writ."
This invective against the bourgeoisie was uttered in a tone of heated
conviction which could scarcely fail to be communicated.
"Ah! madame," cried la Peyrade, "how eloquently you say things which
again and again have entered my troubled and anxious mind! But I have
felt myself lashed to that most cruel fate, the necessity of gaining a
"Necessity! position!" interrupted the countess, again raising the
temperature of her speech,--"words void of meaning! which have not
even sound to able men, though they drive back fools as though they
were formidable barriers. Necessity! does that exist for noble
natures, for those who know how to will? A Gascon minister uttered a
saying which ought to be engraved on the doors of all careers: 'All
things come to him who knows how to wait.' Are you ignorant that
marriage, to men of a high stamp, is either a chain which binds them
to the lowest vulgarities of existence, or a wing on which to rise to
the highest summits of the social world? The wife you need, monsieur,
--and she would not be long wanting to your career if you had not,
with such incredible haste, accepted the first 'dot' that was offered
you,--the wife you should have chosen is a woman capable of
understanding you, able to divine your intellect; one who could be to
you a fellow-worker, an intellectual confidant, and not a mere
embodiment of the 'pot-au-feu'; a woman capable of being now your
secretary, but soon the wife of a deputy, a minister, an ambassador;
one, in short, who could offer you her heart as a mainspring, her
salon for a stage, her connections for a ladder, and who, in return
for all she would give you of ardor and strength, asks only to shine
beside your throne in the rays of the glory she predicts for you!"
Intoxicated, as it were, with the flow of her own words, the countess
was really magnificent; her eyes sparkled, her nostrils dilated; the
prospect her vivid eloquence thus unrolled she seemed to see, and
touch with her quivering fingers. For a moment, la Peyrade was dazzled
by this sunrise which suddenly burst upon his life.
However, as he was a man most eminently prudent, who had made it his
rule of life never to lend except on sound and solvent security, he
was still impelled to weigh the situation.
"Madame la comtesse," he said, "you reproached me just now for
speaking like a bourgeois, and I, in return, am afraid that you are
talking like a goddess. I admire you, I listen to you, but I am not
convinced. Such devotions, such sublime abnegations may be met with in
heaven, but in this low world who can hope to be the object of them?"
"You are mistaken, monsieur," replied the countess, with solemnity;
"such devotions are rare, but they are neither impossible nor
incredible; only, it is necessary to have the heart to find them, and,
above all, the hand to take them when they are offered to you."
So saying, the countess rose majestically.
La Peyrade saw that he had ended by displeasing her, and he felt that
she dismissed him. He rose himself, bowed respectfully, and asked to
be received again.
"Monsieur," said Madame de Godollo, "we Hungarians, primitive people
and almost savages that we are, have a saying that when our door is
open both sides of it are opened wide; when we close it it is double-
locked and bolted."
That dignified and ambiguous speech was accompanied by a slight
inclination of the head. Bewildered, confounded by this behavior, to
him so new, which bore but little resemblance to that of Flavie,
Brigitte, and Madame Minard, la Peyrade left the house, asking himself
again and again whether he had played his game properly.
SHOWING HOW NEAR THE TARPEIAN ROCK IS TO THE CAPITOL
On leaving Madame de Godollo, la Peyrade felt the necessity of
gathering himself together. Beneath the conversation he had just
maintained with this strange woman, what could he see,--a trap, or a
rich and distinguished marriage offered to him. Under such a doubt as
this, to press Celeste for an immediate answer was neither clever nor
prudent; it was simply to bind himself, and close the door to the
changes, still very ill-defined, which seemed offered to him. The
result of the consultation which Theodose held with himself as he
walked along the boulevard was that he ought, for the moment, to think
only of gaining time. Consequently, instead of going to the
Thuilliers' to learn Celeste's decision, he went home, and wrote the
following little note to Thuillier:--
My dear Thuillier,--You will certainly not think it extraordinary
that I should not present myself at your house to-day,--partly
because I fear the sentence which will be pronounced upon me, and
partly because I do not wish to seem an impatient and unmannerly
creditor. A few days, more or less, will matter little under such
circumstances, and yet Mademoiselle Colleville may find them
desirable for the absolute freedom of her choice. I shall,
therefore, not go to see you until you write for me.
I am now more calm, and I have added a few more pages to our
manuscript; it will take but little time to hand in the whole to
Theodose de la Peyrade.
Two hours later a servant, dressed in what was evidently the first
step towards a livery, which the Thuilliers did not as yet venture to
risk, the "male domestic," whom Minard had mentioned to the Phellions,
arrived at la Peyrade's lodgings with the following note:--
Come to-night, without fail. We will talk over the whole affair
Your most affectionately devoted
"Good!" said la Peyrade; "evidently there is some hindrance on the
other side; I shall have time to turn myself round."
That evening, when the servant announced him in the Thuillier salon,
the Comtesse de Godollo, who was sitting with Brigitte, hastened to
rise and leave the room. As she passed la Peyrade she made him a very
ceremonious bow. There was nothing conclusive to be deduced from this
abrupt departure, which might signify anything, either much or
After talking of the weather and so forth for a time, as persons do
who have met to discuss a delicate subject about which they are not
sure of coming to an understanding, the matter was opened by Brigitte,
who had sent her brother to take a walk on the boulevard, telling him
to leave her to manage the affair.
"My dear boy," she said to Theodose, "it was very nice of you not to
come here to-day like a GRASP-ALL, to put your pistol at our throats,
for we were not, as it happened, quite ready to answer you. I think,"
she added, "that our little Celeste needs a trifle more time."
"Then," said la Peyrade, quickly, "she has not decided in favor of
Monsieur Felix Phellion?"
"Joker!" replied the old maid, "you know very well you settled that
business last night; but you also know, of course, that her own
inclinations incline her that way."
"Short of being blind, I must have seen that," replied la Peyrade.
"It is not an obstacle to my projects," continued Mademoiselle
Thuillier; "but it serves to explain why I ask for Celeste a little
more time; and also why I have wished all along to postpone the
marriage to a later date. I wanted to give you time to insinuate
yourself into the heart of my dear little girl--but you and Thuillier
upset my plans."
"Nothing, I think, has been done without your sanction," said la
Peyrade, "and if, during these fifteen days, I have not talked with
you on the subject, it was out of pure delicacy. Thuillier told me
that everything was agreed upon with you."
"On the contrary, Thuillier knows very well that I refused to mix
myself up on your new arrangements. If you had not made yourself so
scarce lately, I might have been the first to tell you that I did not
approve of them. However, I can truly say I did nothing to hinder
"But that was too little," said la Peyrade; "your active help was
"Possibly; but I, who know women better than you, being one of them,--
I felt very sure that if Celeste was told to choose between two
suitors she would consider that a permission to think at her ease of
the one she liked best. I myself had always left her in the vague as
to Felix, knowing as I did the proper moment to settle her mind about
"So," said la Peyrade, "you mean that she refuses me."
"It is much worse than that," returned Brigitte; "she accepts you, and
is willing to pledge her word; but it is so easy to see she regards
herself as a victim, that if I were in your place I should feel
neither flattered nor secure in such a position."
In any other condition of mind la Peyrade would probably have answered
that he accepted the sacrifice, and would make it his business to win
the heart which at first was reluctantly given; but delay now suited
him, and he replied to Brigitte with a question:--
"Then what do you advise? What course had I better take?"
"Finish Thuillier's pamphlet, in the first place, or he'll go crazy;
and leave me to work the other affair in your interests," replied
"But am I in friendly hands? For, to tell you the truth, little aunt,
I have not been able to conceal from myself that you have, for some
time past, changed very much to me."
"Changed to you! What change do you see in me, addled-pate that you
"Oh! nothing very tangible," said la Peyrade; "but ever since that
Countess Torna has had a footing in your house--"
"My poor boy, the countess has done me many services, and I am very
grateful to her; but is that any reason why I should be false to you,
who have done us still greater services?"
"But you must admit," said la Peyrade, craftily, "that she has told
you a great deal of harm of me."
"Naturally she has; these fine ladies are all that way; they expect
the whole world to adore them, and she sees that you are thinking only
of Celeste; but all she has said to me against you runs off my mind
like water from varnished cloth."
"So, then, little aunt, I may continue to count on you?" persisted la
"Yes; provided you are not tormenting, and will let me manage this
"Tell me how you are going to do it?" asked la Peyrade, with an air of
"In the first place, I shall signify to Felix that he is not to set
foot in this house again."
"Is that possible?" said the barrister; "I mean can it be done
"Very possible; I shall make Phellion himself tell him. He's a man who
is always astride of principles, and he'll be the first to see that if
his son will not do what is necessary to obtain Celeste's hand he
ought to deprive us of his presence."
"What next?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next, I shall signify to Celeste that she was left at liberty to
choose one husband or the other, and as she did not choose Felix she
must make up her mind to take you, a pious fellow, such as she wants.
You needn't be uneasy; I'll sing your praises, especially your
generosity in not profiting by the arrangement she agreed to make
to-day. But all that will take a week at least, and if Thuillier's
pamphlet isn't out before then, I don't know but what we shall have to
put him in a lunatic asylum."
"The pamphlet can be out in two days. But is it very certain, little
aunt, that we are playing above-board? Mountains, as they say, never
meet, but men do; and certainly, when the time comes to promote the
election, I can do Thuillier either good or bad service. Do you know,
the other day I was terribly frightened. I had a letter from him in my
pocket, in which he spoke of the pamphlet as being written by me. I
fancied for a moment that I had dropped it in the Luxembourg. If I
had, what a scandal it would have caused in the quarter."
"Who would dare to play tricks with such a wily one as you?" said
Brigitte, fully comprehending the comminatory nature of la Peyrade's
last words, interpolated into the conversation without rhyme or
reason. "But really," she added, "why should you complain of us? It is
you who are behindhand in your promises. That cross which was to have
been granted within a week, and that pamphlet, which ought to have
appeared a long time ago--"
"The pamphlet and the cross will both appear in good time; the one
will bring the other," said la Peyrade, rising. "Tell Thuillier to
come and see me to-morrow evening, and I think we can then correct the
last sheet. But, above all, don't listen to the spitefulness of Madame
de Godollo; I have an idea that in order to make herself completely
mistress of this house she wants to alienate all your old friends, and
also that she is casting her net for Thuillier."
"Well, in point of fact," said the old maid, whom the parting shot of
the infernal barrister had touched on the ever-sensitive point of her
authority, "I must look into that matter you speak of there; she is
rather coquettish, that little woman."
La Peyrade gained a second benefit out of that speech so adroitly
flung out; he saw by Brigitte's answer to it that the countess had not
mentioned to her the visit he had paid her during the day. This
reticence might have a serious meaning.
Four days later, the printer, the stitcher, the paper glazier having
fulfilled their offices, Thuillier had the inexpressible happiness of
beginning on the boulevards a promenade, which he continued through
the Passages, and even to the Palais-Royal, pausing before all the
book-shops where he saw, shining in black letters on a yellow poster,
the famous title:--
TAXATION AND THE SLIDING-SCALE
by J. Thuillier,
Member of the Council-General of the Seine.
Having reached the point of persuading himself that the care he had
bestowed upon the correction of proofs made the merit of the work his
own, his paternal heart, like that of Maitre Corbeau, could not
contain itself for joy. We ought to add that he held in very low
esteem those booksellers who did not announce the sale of the new
work, destined to become, as he believed, a European event. Without
actually deciding the manner in which he would punish their
indifference, he nevertheless made a list of these rebellious persons,
and wished them as much evil as if they had offered him a personal
The next day he spent a delightful morning in writing a certain number
of letters, sending the publication to friends, and putting into paper
covers some fifty copies, to which the sacramental phrase, "From the
author," imparted to his eyes an inestimable value.
But the third day of the sale brought a slight diminution of his
happiness. He had chosen for his editor a young man, doing business at
a breakneck pace, who had lately established himself in the Passage
des Panoramas, where he was paying a ruinous rent. He was the nephew
of Barbet the publisher, whom Brigitte had had as a tenant in the rue
Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. This Barbet junior was a youth who flinched
at nothing; and when he was presented to Thuillier by his uncle, he
pledged himself, provided he was not shackled in his advertising, to
sell off the first edition and print a second within a week.
Now, Thuillier had spent about fifteen hundred francs himself on costs
of publication, such, for instance, as copies sent in great profusion
to the newspapers; but at the close of the third day SEVEN copies only
had been sold, and three of those on credit. It might be believed that
in revealing to the horror-stricken Thuillier this paltry result the
young publisher would have lost at least something of his assurance.
On the contrary, this Guzman of the book-trade hastened to say:--
"I am delighted at what has happened. If we had sold a hundred copies
it would trouble me far more than the fifteen hundred now on our
hands; that's what I call hanging fire; whereas this insignificant
sale only proves that the edition will go off like a rocket."
"But when?" asked Thuillier, who thought this view paradoxical.
"Parbleu!" said Barbet, "when we get notices in the newspapers.
Newspaper notices are only useful to arouse attention. 'Dear me!' says
the public, 'there's a publication that must be interesting.' The
title is good,--'Taxation and the Sliding-Scale,'--but I find that the
more piquant a title is, the more buyers distrust it, they have been
taken in so often; they wait for the notices. On the other hand, for
books that are destined to have only a limited sale, a hundred ready-
made purchasers will come in at once, but after that, good-bye to
them; we don't place another copy."
"Then you don't think," said Thuillier, "that the sale is hopeless?"
"On the contrary, I think it is on the best track. When the 'Debats,'
the 'Constitutionnel,' the 'Siecle,' and the 'Presse' have reviewed
it, especially if the 'Debats' mauls it (they are ministerial, you
know), it won't be a week before the whole edition is snapped up."
"You say that easily enough," replied Thuillier; "but how are we to
get hold of those gentlemen of the press?"
"Ah! I'll take care of that," said Barbet. "I am on the best of terms
with the managing editors; they say the devil is in me, and that I
remind them of Ladvocat in his best days."
"But then, my dear fellow, you ought to have seen to this earlier."
"Ah! excuse me, papa Thuillier; there's only one way of seeing to the
journalists; but as you grumbled about the fifteen hundred francs for
the advertisements, I did not venture to propose to you another extra
"What expense?" asked Thuillier, anxiously.
"When you were nominated to the municipal council, where was the plan
mooted?" asked the publisher.
"Parbleu! in my own house," replied Thuillier.
"Yes, of course, in your own house, but at a dinner, followed by a
ball, and the ball itself crowned by a supper. Well, my dear master,
there are no two ways to do this business; Boileau says:--
"'All is done through the palate, and not through the mind;
And it is by our dinners we govern mankind.'"
"Then you think I ought to give a dinner to those journalists?"
"Yes; but not at your own house; for these journalists, you see, if
women are present, get stupid; they have to behave themselves. And,
besides, it isn't dinner they want, but a breakfast--that suits them
best. In the evening these gentlemen have to go to first
representations, and make up their papers, not to speak of their own
little private doings; whereas in the mornings they have nothing to
think about. As for me, it is always breakfasts that I give."
"But that costs money, breakfasts like that," said Thuillier;
"journalists are gourmands."
"Bah! twenty francs a head, without wine. Say you have ten of them;
three hundred francs will see you handsomely through the whole thing.
In fact, as a matter of economy, breakfasts are preferable; for a
dinner you wouldn't get off under five hundred francs."
"How you talk, young man!" said Thuillier.
"Oh, hang it! everybody knows it costs dear to get elected to the
Chamber; and all this favors your nomination."
"But how can I invite those gentlemen? Must I go and see them myself?"
"Certainly not; send them your pamphlet and appoint them to meet you
at Philippe's or Vefour's--they'll understand perfectly."
"Ten guests," said Thuillier, beginning to enter into the idea. "I did
not know there were so many leading journals."
"There are not," said the publisher; "but we must have the little dogs
as well, for they bark loudest. This breakfast is certain to make a
noise, and if you don't ask them they'll think you pick and choose,
and everyone excluded will be your enemy."
"Then you think it is enough merely to send the invitations?"
"Yes; I'll make the list, and you can write the notes and send them to
me. I'll see that they are delivered; some of them I shall take in
"If I were sure," said Thuillier, undecidedly, "that this expense
would have the desired effect--"
"IF I WERE SURE,--that's a queer thing to say," said Barbet. "My dear
master, this is money placed on mortgage; for it, I will guarantee the
sale of fifteen hundred copies,--say at forty sous apiece; allowing
the discounts, that makes three thousand francs. You see that your
costs and extra costs are covered, and more than covered."
"Well," said Thuillier, turning to go, "I'll talk to la Peyrade about
"As you please, my dear master; but decide soon, for nothing gets
mouldy so fast as a book; write hot, serve hot, and buy hot,--that's
the rule for authors, publishers, and public; all is bosh outside of
it, and no good to touch."
When la Peyrade was consulted, he did not think in his heart that the
remedy was heroic, but he had now come to feel the bitterest animosity
against Thuillier, so that he was well pleased to see this new tax
levied on his self-important inexperience and pompous silliness.
As for Thuillier, the mania for posing as a publicist and getting
himself talked about so possessed him that although he moaned over
this fresh bleeding of his purse, he had decided on the sacrifice
before he even spoke to la Peyrade. The reserved and conditional
approval of the latter was, therefore, more than enough to settle his
determination, and the same evening he returned to Barbet junior and
asked for the list of guests whom he ought to invite.
Barbet gaily produced his little catalogue. Instead of the ten guests
originally mentioned, there proved to be fifteen, not counting himself
or la Peyrade, whom Thuillier wanted to second him in this encounter
with a set of men among whom he himself felt he should be a little out
of place. Casting his eyes over the list, he exclaimed, vehemently:--
"Heavens! my dear fellow, here are names of papers nobody ever heard
of. Where's the 'Moralisateur,' the 'Lanterne de Diogene,' the
'Pelican,' the 'Echo de la Bievre'?"
"You'd better be careful how you scorn the 'Echo de la Bievre,'" said
Barbet; "why, that's the paper of the 12th arrondissement, from which
you expect to be elected; its patrons are those big tanners of the
"Well, let that go--but the 'Pelican'?"
"The 'Pelican'? that's a paper you'll find in every dentist's waiting-
room; dentists are the first PUFFISTS in the world! How many teeth do
you suppose are daily pulled in Paris?"
"Come, come, nonsense," said Thuillier, who proceeded to mark out
certain names, reducing the whole number present to fourteen.
"If one falls off we shall be thirteen," remarked Barbet.
"Pooh!" said Thuillier, the free-thinker, "do you suppose I give in to
The list being finally closed and settled at fourteen, Thuillier
seated himself at the publisher's desk and wrote the invitations,
naming, in view of the urgency of the purpose, the next day but one
for the meeting, Barbet having assured him that no journalist would
object to the shortness of the invitation. The meeting was appointed
at Vefour's, the restaurant par excellence of the bourgeoisie and all
Barbet arrived on the day named before Thuillier, who appeared in a
cravat which alone was enough to create a stir in the satirical circle
in which he was about to produce himself. The publisher, on his own
authority, had changed various articles on the bill of fare as
selected by his patron, more especially directing that the champagne,
ordered in true bourgeois fashion to be served with the dessert,
should be placed on the table at the beginning of breakfast, with
several dishes of shrimps, a necessity which had not occurred to the
Thuillier, who gave a lip-approval to these amendments, was followed
by la Peyrade; and then came a long delay in the arrival of the
guests. Breakfast was ordered at eleven o'clock; at a quarter to
twelve not a journalist had appeared. Barbet, who was never at a loss,
made the consoling remark that breakfasts at restaurants were like
funerals, where, as every one knew, eleven o'clock meant mid-day.
Sure enough, shortly before that hour, two gentlemen, with pointed
beards, exhaling a strong odor of tobacco, made their appearance.
Thuillier thanked them effusively for the "honor" they had done him;
after which came another long period of waiting, of which we shall not
relate the tortures. At one o'clock the assembled contingent comprised
five of the invited guests, Barbet and la Peyrade not included. It is
scarcely necessary to say that none of the self-respecting journalists
of the better papers had taken any notice of the absurd invitation.
Breakfast now had to be served to this reduced number. A few polite
phrases that reached Thuillier's ears about the "immense" interest of
his publication, failed to blind him to the bitterness of his
discomfiture; and without the gaiety of the publisher, who had taken
in hand the reins his patron, gloomy as Hippolytus on the road to
Mycenae, let fall, nothing could have surpassed the glum and glacial
coldness of the meeting.
After the oysters were removed, the champagne and chablis which had
washed them down had begun, nevertheless, to raise the thermometer,
when, rushing into the room where the banquet was taking place, a
young man in a cap conveyed to Thuillier a most unexpected and
"Master," said the new-comer to Barbet (he was a clerk in the
bookseller's shop), "we are done for! The police have made a raid upon
us; a commissary and two men have come to seize monsieur's pamphlet.
Here's a paper they have given me for you."
"Look at that," said Barbet, handing the document to la Peyrade, his
customary assurance beginning to forsake him.
"A summons to appear at once before the court of assizes," said la
Peyrade, after reading a few lines of the sheriff's scrawl.
Thuillier had turned as pale as death.
"Didn't you fulfil all the necessary formalities?" he said to Barbet,
in a choking voice.
"This is not a matter of formalities," said la Peyrade, "it is a
seizure for what is called press misdemeanor, exciting contempt and
hatred of the government; you probably have the same sort of
compliment awaiting you at home, my poor Thuillier."
"Then it is treachery!" cried Thuillier, losing his head completely.
"Hang it, my dear fellow! you know very well what you put in your
pamphlet; for my part, I don't see anything worth whipping a cat for."
"There's some misunderstanding," said Barbet, recovering courage; "it
will all be explained, and the result will be a fine cause of
complaint--won't it, messieurs?"
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried one of the journalists thus appealed to.
"Nonsense! you'll have time to write your article later," said another
of the brotherhood; "what has a bombshell to do with this 'filet
That, of course, was a parody on the famous speech of Charles XII.,
King of Sweden, when a shot interrupted him while dictating to a
"Messieurs," said Thuillier, rising, "I am sure you will excuse me for
leaving you. If, as Monsieur Barbet thinks, there is some
misunderstanding, it ought to be explained at once; I must therefore,
with your permission, go to the police court. La Peyrade," he added in
a significant tone, "you will not refuse, I presume, to accompany me.
And you, my dear publisher, you would do well to come too."
"No, faith!" said Barbet, "when I breakfast, I breakfast; if the
police have committed a blunder, so much the worse for them."
"But suppose the matter is serious?" cried Thuillier, in great
"Well, I should say, what is perfectly true, that I had never read a
line of your pamphlet. One thing is very annoying; those damned juries
hate beards, and I must cut off mine if I'm compelled to appear in
"Come, my dear amphitryon, sit down again," said the editor of the
"Echo de la Bievre," "we'll stand by you; I've already written an
article in my head which will stir up all the tanners in Paris; and,
let me tell you, that honorable corporation is a power."
"No, monsieur," replied Thuillier, "no; a man like me cannot rest an
hour under such an accusation as this. Continue your breakfast without
us; I hope soon to see you again. La Peyrade, are you coming?"
"He's charming, isn't he?" said Barbet, when Thuillier and his counsel
had left the room. "To ask me to leave a breakfast after the oysters,
and go and talk with the police! Come, messieurs, close up the ranks,"
he added, gaily.
"Tiens!" said one of the hungry journalists, who had cast his eyes
into the garden of the Palais-Royal, on which the dining-room of the
restaurant opened, "there's Barbanchu going by; suppose I call him
"Yes, certainly," said Barbet junior, "have him up."
"Barbanchu! Barbanchu!" called out the journalist.
Barbanchu, his hat being over his eyes, was some time in discovering
the cloud above him whence the voice proceeded.
"Here, up here!" called the voice, which seemed to Barbanchu celestial
when he saw himself hailed by a man with a glass of champagne in his
hand. Then, as he seemed to hesitate, the party above called out in
"Come up! come up! THERE'S FAT TO BE HAD!"
When Thuillier left the office of the public prosecutor he could no
longer have any illusions. The case against him was serious, and the
stern manner in which he had been received made him see that when the
trial came up he would be treated without mercy. Then, as always
happens among accomplices after the non-success of an affair they have
done in common, he turned upon la Peyrade in the sharpest manner: La
Peyrade had paid no attention to what he wrote; he had given full
swing to his stupid Saint-Simonian ideas; HE didn't care for the
consequences; it was not HE who would have to pay the fine and go to
prison! Then, when la Peyrade answered that the matter did not look to
him serious, and he expected to get a verdict of acquittal without
difficulty, Thuillier burst forth upon him, vehemently:--
"Parbleu! the thing is plain enough; monsieur sees nothing in it?
Well, I shall not put my honor and my fortune into the hands of a
little upstart like yourself; I shall take some great lawyer if the
case comes to trial. I've had enough of your collaboration by this
Under the injustice of these remarks la Peyrade felt his anger rising.
However, he saw himself disarmed, and not wishing to come to an open
rupture, he parted from Thuillier, saying that he forgave a man
excited by fear, and would go to see him later in the afternoon, when
he would probably be calmer; they could then decide on what steps they
had better take.
Accordingly, about four o'clock, the Provencal arrived at the house in
the Place de la Madeleine. Thuillier's irritation was quieted, but
frightful consternation had taken its place. If the executioner were
coming in half an hour to lead him to the scaffold he could not have
been more utterly unstrung and woe-begone. When la Peyrade entered
Madame Thuillier was trying to make him take an infusion of linden-
leaves. The poor woman had come out of her usual apathy, and proved
herself, beside the present Sabinus, another Eponina.
As for Brigitte, who presently appeared, bearing a foot-bath, she had
no mercy or restraint towards Theodose; her sharp and bitter
reproaches, which were out of all proportion to the fault, even
supposing him to have committed one would have driven a man of the
most placid temperament beside himself. La Peyrade felt that all was
lost to him in the Thuillier household, where they now seemed to seize
with joy the occasion to break their word to him and to give free rein
to revolting ingratitude. On an ironical allusion by Brigitte to the
manner in which he decorated his friends, la Peyrade rose and took
leave, without any effort being made to retain him.
After walking about the streets for awhile, la Peyrade, in the midst
of his indignation, turned to thoughts of Madame de Godollo, whose
image, to tell the truth, had been much in his mind since their former
'TWAS THUS THEY BADE ADIEU
Not only once when the countess met the barrister at the Thuilliers
had she left the room; but the same performance took place at each of
their encounters; and la Peyrade had convinced himself, without
knowing exactly why, that in each case, this affectation of avoiding
him, signified something that was not indifference. To have paid her
another visit immediately would certainly have been very unskilful;
but now a sufficient time had elapsed to prove him to be a man who was
master of himself. Accordingly, he returned upon his steps to the
Boulevard de la Madeleine, and without asking the porter if the
countess was at home, he passed the lodge as if returning to the
Thuilliers', and rang the bell of the entresol.
The maid who opened the door asked him, as before, to wait until she
notified her mistress; but, on this occasion, instead of showing him
into the dining-room, she ushered him into a little room arranged as a
He waited long, and knew not what to think of the delay. Still, he
reassured himself with the thought that if she meant to dismiss him he
would not have been asked to wait at all. Finally the maid reappeared,
but even then it was not to introduce him.
"Madame la comtesse," said the woman, "was engaged on a matter of
business, but she begged monsieur be so kind as to wait, and to amuse
himself with the books in the library, because she might be detained
longer than she expected."
The excuse, both in form and substance, was certainly not
discouraging, and la Peyrade looked about him to fulfil the behest to
amuse himself. Without opening any of the carved rosewood bookcases,
which enclosed a collection of the most elegantly bound volumes he had
ever laid his eyes upon, he saw on an oblong table with claw feet a
pell-mell of books sufficient for the amusement of a man whose
attention was keenly alive elsewhere.
But, as he opened one after another of the various volumes, he began
to fancy that a feast of Tantalus had been provided for him: one book
was English, another German, a third Russian; there was even one in
cabalistic letters that seemed Turkish. Was this a polyglottic joke
the countess had arranged for him?
One volume, however, claimed particular attention. The binding, unlike
those of the other books, was less rich than dainty. Lying by itself
at a corner of the table, it was open, with the back turned up, the
edges of the leaves resting on the green table-cloth in the shape of a
tent. La Peyrade took it up, being careful not to lose the page which
it seemed to have been some one's intention to mark. It proved to be a
volume of the illustrated edition of Monsieur Scribe's works. The
engraving which presented itself on the open page to la Peyrade's
eyes, was entitled "The Hatred of a Woman"; the principal personage of
which is a young widow, desperately pursuing a poor young man who
cannot help himself. There is hatred all round. Through her devilries
she almost makes him lose his reputation, and does make him miss a
rich marriage; but the end is that she gives him more than she took
away from him, and makes a husband of the man who was thought her
If chance had put this volume apart from the rest, and had left it
open at the precise page where la Peyrade found it marked, it must be
owned that, after what had passed between himself and the countess,
chance can sometimes seem clever and adroit. As he stood there,
thinking over the significance which this more or less accidental
combination might have, la Peyrade read through a number of scenes to
see whether in the details as well as the general whole they applied
to the present situation. While thus employed, the sound of an opening
door was heard, and he recognized the silvery and slightly drawling
voice of the countess, who was evidently accompanying some visitor to
"Then I may promise the ambassadress," said a man's voice, "that you
will honor her ball with your presence?"
"Yes, commander, if my headache, which is just beginning to get a
little better, is kind enough to go away."
"Au revoir, then, fairest lady," said the gentleman. After which the
doors were closed, and silence reigned once more.
The title of commander reassured la Peyrade somewhat, for it was not
the rank of a young dandy. He was nevertheless curious to know who
this personage was with whom the countess had been shut up so long.
Hearing no one approach the room he was in, he went to the window and
opened the curtain cautiously, prepared to let it drop back at the
slightest noise, and to make a quick right-about-face to avoid being
caught, "flagrante delicto," in curiosity. An elegant coupe, standing
at a little distance, was now driven up to the house, a footman in
showy livery hastened to open the door, and a little old man, with a
light and jaunty movement, though it was evident he was one of those
relics of the past who have not yet abandoned powder, stepped quickly
into the carriage, which was then driven rapidly away. La Peyrade had
time to observe on his breast a perfect string of decorations. This,
combined with the powdered hair, was certain evidence of a diplomatic
La Peyrade had picked up his book once more, when a bell from the
inner room sounded, quickly followed by the appearance of the maid,
who invited him to follow her. The Provencal took care NOT to replace
the volume where he found it, and an instant later he entered the
presence of the countess.
A pained expression was visible on the handsome face of the foreign
countess, who, however, lost nothing of her charm in the languor that
seemed to overcome her. On the sofa beside her was a manuscript
written on gilt-edged paper, in that large and opulent handwriting
which indicates an official communication from some ministerial office
or chancery. She held in her hand a crystal bottle with a gold
stopper, from which she frequently inhaled the contents, and a strong
odor of English vinegar pervaded the salon.
"I fear you are ill, madame," said la Peyrade, with interest.
"Oh! it is nothing," replied the countess; "only a headache, to which
I am very subject. But you, monsieur, what has become of you? I was
beginning to lose all hope of ever seeing you again. Have you come to
announce to me some great news? The period of your marriage with
Mademoiselle Colleville is probably so near that I think you can speak
This opening disconcerted la Peyrade.
"But, madame," he answered, in a tone that was almost tart, "you, it
seems to me, must know too well everything that goes on in the
Thuillier household not to be aware that the event you speak of is not
approaching, and, I may add, not probable."
"No, I assure you, I know nothing; I have strictly forbidden myself
from taking any further interest in an affair which I felt I had
meddled with very foolishly. Mademoiselle Brigitte and I talk of
everything except Celeste's marriage."
"And it is no doubt the desire to allow me perfect freedom in the
matter that induces you to take flight whenever I have the honor to
meet you in the Thuillier salon?"
"Yes," said the countess, "that ought to be the reason that makes me
leave the room; else, why should I be so distant?"
"Ah! madame, there are other reasons that might make a woman avoid a
man's presence. For instance, if he has displeased her; if the advice,
given to him with rare wisdom and kindness, was not received with
proper eagerness and gratitude."
"Oh, my dear monsieur," she replied, "I have no such ardor in
proselytizing that I am angry with those who are not docile to my
advice. I am, like others, very apt to make mistakes."
"On the contrary, madame, in the matter of my marriage your judgment
was perfectly correct."
"How so?" said the countess, eagerly. "Has the seizure of the
pamphlet, coming directly after the failure to obtain the cross, led
to a rupture?"
"No," said la Peyrade, "my influence in the Thuillier household rests
on a solid basis; the services I have rendered Mademoiselle Brigitte
and her brother outweigh these checks, which, after all, are not
"Do you really think so?" said the countess.
"Certainly," replied la Peyrade; "when the Comtesse du Bruel takes it
into her head to seriously obtain that bit of red ribbon, she can do
so, in spite of all obstacles that are put in her way."
The countess received this assertion with a smile, and shook her head.
"But, madame, only a day or two ago Madame du Bruel told Madame
Colleville that the unexpected opposition she had met with piqued her,
and that she meant to go in person to the minister."
"But you forget that since then this seizure has been made by the
police; it is not usual to decorate a man who is summoned before the
court of assizes. You seem not to notice that the seizure argues a
strong ill-will against Monsieur Thuillier, and, I may add, against
yourself, monsieur, for you are known to be the culprit. You have not,
I think, taken all this into account. The authorities appear to have
acted not wholly from legal causes."
La Peyrade looked at the countess.
"I must own," he said, after that rapid glance, "that I have tried in
vain to find any passage in that pamphlet which could be made a legal
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