The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 8 out of 10
"Do you want to set up a paper?" asked Thuillier, in dread.
"I?" asked la Peyrade, "I want nothing at all; you are the one to be
asked if you want to be a deputy."
"Undoubtedly I do; because, when you urged me to become a municipal
councillor, you put the idea into my head. But reflect, my dear
Theodose, one hundred and eighty one thousand three hundred and twenty
francs to put out! Have I a fortune large enough to meet such a
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "you could very well support that expense, for
considering the end you want to obtain there is nothing exorbitant in
it. In England they make much greater sacrifices to get a seat in
Parliament; but in any case, I beg you to observe that the costs are
very high on that estimate, and some could be cut off altogether. For
instance, you would not want an administrator. You, yourself, an old
accountant, and I, an old journalist, can very well manage the affair
between us. Also rent, we needn't count that; you have your old
apartment in the rue Saint-Dominique which is not yet leased; that
will make a fine newspaper office."
"All that costs off two thousand four hundred francs a year," said
"Well, that's something; but your error consists in calculating on the
yearly cost. When do the elections take place?"
"In two months," said Thuillier.
"Very good; two months will cost you thirty thousand francs, even
supposing the paper had no subscribers."
"True," said Thuillier, "the expense is certainly less than I thought
at first. But does a newspaper really seem to you essential?"
"So essential that without that power in our hands, I won't have
anything to do with the election. You don't seem to see, my poor
fellow, that in going to live in the other quarter you have lost,
electorally speaking, an immense amount of ground. You are no longer
the man of the place, and your election could be balked by the cry of
what the English call 'absenteeism.' This makes your game very hard to
"I admit that," said Thuillier; "but there are so many things wanted
besides money,--a name for one thing, a manager, editorial staff, and
"A name, we have one made to hand; editors, they are you and I and a
few young fellows who grow on every bush in Paris. As for the manager,
I have a man in view."
"What name is it?" asked Thuillier.
"L'Echo de la Bievre."
"But there is already a paper of that name."
"Precisely, and that's why I give my approval to the affair. Do you
think I should be fool enough to advise you to start an entirely new
paper? 'Echo de la Bievre!' that title is a treasure to a man who
wants support for his candidacy in the 12th arrondissement. Say the
word only, and I put that treasure into your hands."
"How?" asked Thuillier, with curiosity.
"Parbleu! by buying it; it can be had for a song."
"There now, you see," said Thuillier in a discouraged tone; "you never
counted in the cost of purchase."
"How you dwell on nothings!" said la Peyrade, hunching his shoulders;
"we have other and more important difficulties to solve."
"Other difficulties?" echoed Thuillier.
"Parbleu!" exclaimed la Peyrade; "do you suppose that after all that
has taken place between us I should boldly harness myself to your
election without knowing exactly what benefit I am to get for it?"
"But," said Thuillier, rather astonished, "I thought that friendship
was a good exchange for such services."
"Yes; but when the exchange consists in one side giving all and the
other side nothing, friendship gets tired of that sort of sharing, and
asks for something a little better balanced."
"But, my dear Theodose, what have I to offer you that you have not
"I rejected it, because it was offered without heartiness, and
seasoned with Mademoiselle Brigitte's vinegar; every self-respecting
man would have acted as I did. Give and keep don't pass, as the old
legal saying is; but that is precisely what you persist in doing."
"I!--I think you took offence very unreasonably; but the engagement
might be renewed."
"So be it," replied la Peyrade; "but I will not put myself at the
mercy of either the success of the election or Mademoiselle Celeste's
caprices. I claim the right to something positive and certain. Give
and take; short accounts make good friends."
"I perfectly agree with you," said Thuillier, "and I have always
treated you with too much good faith to fear any of these precautions
you now want to take. But what guarantees do you want?"
"I want that the husband of Celeste should manage your election, and
not Theodose de la Peyrade."
"By hurrying things as much as possible, so Brigitte said, it would
still take fifteen days; and just think, with the elections only eight
weeks off, to lose two of them doing nothing!"
"Day after to-morrow," replied la Peyrade, "the banns can be published
for the first time at the mayor's office, in the intervals of
publication some things could be done, for though the publishing of
the banns is not a step from which there is no retreat, it is at least
a public pledge and a long step taken; after that we can get your
notary to draw the contract at once. Moreover, if you decide on buying
this newspaper, I shouldn't be afraid that you would go back on me,
for you don't want a useless horse in your stable, and without me I am
certain you can't manage him."
"But, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, going back to his objections,
"suppose that affair proves too onerous?"
"There's no need to say that you are the sole judge of the conditions
of the purchase. I don't wish any more than you do to buy a pig in a
poke. If to-morrow you authorize me, I won't say to buy, but to let
these people know that you may possibly make the purchase, I'll confer
with one of them on your behalf, and you may be certain that I'll
stand up for your interests as if they were my own."
"Very good, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, "go ahead!"
"And as soon as the paper is purchased we are to fix the day for
signing the contract?"
"Yes," replied Thuillier; "but will you bind yourself to use your
utmost influence on the election?"
"As if it were my own," replied la Peyrade, "which, by the bye, is not
altogether an hypothesis. I have already received suggestions about my
own candidacy, and if I were vindictive--"
"Certainly," said Thuillier, with humility, "you would make a better
deputy than I; "but you are not of the required age, I think."
"There's a better reason than that," said la Peyrade; "you are my
friend; I find you again what you once were, and I shall keep the
pledges I have given you. As for the election, I prefer that people
say of me, 'He makes deputies, but will be none himself.' Now I must
leave you and keep my appointment. To-morrow in my own rooms, come and
see me; I shall have something to announce."
Whoso has ever been a newspaper man will ever be one; that horoscope
is as sure and certain as that of drunkards. Whoever has tasted that
feverishly busy and relatively lazy and independent life; whoever has
exercised that sovereignty which criticises intellect, art, talent,
fame, virtue, absurdity, and even truth; whoever has occupied that
tribune erected by his own hands, fulfilled the functions of that
magistracy to which he is self-appointed,--in short, whosoever has
been, for however brief a span, that proxy of public opinion, looks
upon himself when remanded to private life as an exile, and the moment
a chance is offered to him puts out an eager hand to snatch back his
For this reason when Etienne Lousteau went to la Peyrade, a former
journalist, with an offer of the weapon entitled the "Echo de la
Bievre," all the latter's instincts as a newspaper man were aroused,
in spite of the very inferior quality of the blade. The paper had
failed; la Peyrade believed he could revive it. The subscribers, on
the vendor's own showing, were few and far between, but he would
exercise upon them a "compelle intrare" both powerful and
irresistible. In the circumstances under which the affair was
presented to him it might surely be considered provincial. Threatened
with the loss of his position at the bar, he was thus acquiring, as we
said before, a new position and that of a "detached fort"; compelled,
as he might be, to defend himself, he could from that vantage-ground
take the offensive and oblige his enemies to reckon with him.
On the Thuillier side, the newspaper would undoubtedly make him a
personage of considerable importance; he would have more power on the
election; and by involving their capital in an enterprise which,
without him, they would feel a gulf and a snare, he bound them to him
by self-interests so firmly that there was nothing to fear from their
caprice or ingratitude.
This horizon, rapidly taken in during Etienne Lousteau's visit, had
fairly dazzled the Provencal, and we have seen the peremptory manner
in which Thuillier was forced into accepting with some enthusiasm the
discovery of this philosopher's-stone.
The cost of the purchase was ridiculously insignificant. A bank-note
for five hundred francs, for which Etienne Lousteau never clearly
accounted to the share-holders, put Thuillier in possession of the
name, property, furniture, and good-will of the newspaper, which he
and la Peyrade at once busied themselves in reorganizing.
IN WHICH CERIZET PRACTISES THE HEALING ART AND
THE ART OF POISONING ON THE SAME DAY
While this regeneration was going on, Cerizet went one morning to see
du Portail, with whom la Peyrade was now more than ever determined to
hold no communication.
"Well," said the little old man to the poor man's banker, "what effect
did the news we gave to the president of the bar produce on our man?
Did the affair get wind at the Palais?"
"Phew!" said Cerizet, whose intercourse, no doubt pretty frequent,
with du Portail had put him on a footing of some familiarity with the
old man, "there's no question of that now. The eel has wriggled out of
our hands; neither softness nor violence has any effect upon that
devil of a man. He has quarrelled with the bar, and is in better odor
than ever with Thuillier. 'Necessity,' says Figaro, 'obliterates
distance.' Thuillier needs him to push his candidacy in the quartier
Saint-Jacques, so they kissed and made up."
"And no doubt," said du Portail, without much appearance of feeling,
"the marriage is fixed for an early day?"
"Yes," replied Cerizet, "but there's another piece of work on hand.
That crazy fellow has persuaded Thuillier to buy a newspaper, and
he'll make him sink forty thousand francs in it. Thuillier, once
involved, will want to get his money back, and in my opinion they are
bound together for the rest of their days."
"What paper is it?"
"Oh, a cabbage-leaf that calls itself the 'Echo de la Bievre'!" replied
Cerizet with great scorn; "a paper which an old hack of a journalist
on his last legs managed to set up in the Mouffetard quarter by the
help of a lot of tanners--that, you know, is the industry of the
quarter. From a political and literary point of view the affair is
nothing at all, but Thuillier has been made to think it a masterly
"Well, for local service to the election the instrument isn't so bad,"
remarked du Portail. "La Peyrade has talent, activity, and much
resource of mind; he may make something out of that 'Echo.' Under what
political banner will Thuillier present himself?"
"Thuillier," replied the beggars' banker, "is an oyster; he hasn't any
opinions. Until the publication of his pamphlet he was, like all those
bourgeois, a rabid conservative; but since the seizure he has gone
over to the Opposition. His first stage will probably be the Left-
centre; but if the election wind should blow from another quarter,
he'll go straight before it to the extreme left. Self-interest, for
those bourgeois, that's the measure of their convictions."
"Dear, dear!" said du Portail, "this new combination of la Peyrade's
may assume the importance of a political danger from the point of view
of my opinions, which are extremely conservative and governmental."
Then, after a moment's reflection, he added, "I think you did
newspaper work once upon a time; I remember 'the courageous Cerizet.'"
"Yes," replied the usurer, "I even managed one with la Peyrade,--an
evening paper; and a pretty piece of work we did, for which we were
"Well," said du Portail, "why don't you do it again,--journalism, I
mean,--with la Peyrade."
Cerizet looked at du Portail in amazement.
"Ah ca!" he cried, "are you the devil, monsieur? Can nothing ever be
hidden from you?"
"Yes," said du Portail, "I know a good many things. But what has been
settled between you and la Peyrade?"
"Well, remembering my experience in the business, and not knowing whom
else to get, he offered to make me manager of the paper."
"I did not know that," said du Portail, "but it was quite probable.
Did you accept?"
"Conditionally; I asked time for reflection. I wanted to know what you
thought of the offer."
"Parbleu! I think that out of an evil that can't be remedied we should
get, as the proverb says, wing or foot. I had rather see you inside
than outside of that enterprise."
"Very good; but in order to get into it there's a difficulty. La
Peyrade knows I have debts, and he won't help me with the thirty-
three-thousand francs' security which must be paid down in my name. I
haven't got them, and if I had, I wouldn't show them and expose myself
to the insults of creditors."
"You must have a good deal left of that twenty-five thousand francs la
Peyrade paid you not more than two months ago," remarked du Portail.
"Only two thousand two hundred francs and fifty centimes," replied
Cerizet. "I was adding it up last night; the rest has all gone to pay
off pressing debts."
"But if you have paid your debts you haven't any creditors."
"Yes, those I've paid, but those I haven't paid I still owe."
"Do you mean to tell me that your liabilities were more than twenty-
five thousand francs?" said du Portail, in a tone of incredulity.
"Does a man go into bankruptcy for less?" replied Cerizet, as though
he were enunciating a maxim.
"Well, I see I am expected to pay that sum myself," said du Portail,
crossly; "but the question is whether the utility of your presence in
this enterprise is worth to me the interest on one hundred and thirty-
three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three francs, thirty-three
"Hang it!" said Cerizet, "if I were once installed near Thuillier, I
shouldn't despair of soon putting him and la Peyrade at loggerheads.
In the management of a newspaper there are lots of inevitable
disagreements, and by always taking the side of the fool against the
clever man, I can increase the conceit of one and wound the conceit of
the other until life together becomes impossible. Besides, you spoke
just now of political danger; now the manager of a newspaper, as you
ought to know, when he has the intellect to be something better than a
man of straw, can quietly give his sheet a push in the direction
"There's a good deal of truth in that," said du Portail, "but defeat
to la Peyrade, that's what I am thinking about."
"Well," said Cerizet, "I think I have another nice little insidious
means of demolishing him with Thuillier."
"Say what it is, then!" exclaimed du Portail, impatiently; "you go
round and round the pot as if I were a man it would do you some good
to finesse with."
"You remember," said Cerizet, coming out with it, "that some time ago
Dutocq and I were much puzzled to know how la Peyrade was, all of a
sudden, able to make that payment of twenty-five thousand francs?"
"Ha!" said the old man quickly, "have you discovered the origin of
that very improbable sum in our friend's hands; and is that origin
"You shall judge," said Cerizet.
And he related in all its details the affair of Madame Lambert,--
adding, however, that on questioning the woman closely at the office
of the justice-of-peace, after the meeting with la Peyrade, he had
been unable to extract from her any confession, although by her whole
bearing she had amply confirmed the suspicions of Dutocq and himself.
"Madame Lambert, rue du Val-de-Grace, No. 9; at the house of Monsieur
Picot, professor of mathematics," said du Portail, as he made a note
of the information. "Very good," he added; "come back and see me
to-morrow, my dear Monsieur Cerizet."
"But please remark," said the usurer, "that I must give an answer to
la Peyrade in the course of to-day. He is in a great hurry to start
"Very well; you must accept, asking a delay of twenty-four hours to
obtain your security. If, after making certain inquiries I see it is
more to my interests not to meddle in the affair, you can get out of
it by merely breaking your word; you can't be sent to the court of
assizes for that."
Independently of a sort of inexplicable fascination which du Portail
exercised over his agent, he never lost an opportunity to remind him
of the very questionable point of departure of their intercourse.
The next day Cerizet returned.
"You guessed right," said du Portail. "That woman Lambert, being
obliged to conceal the existence of her booty, and wanting to draw
interest on her stolen property, must have taken it into her head to
consult la Peyrade; his devout exterior may have recommended him to
her. She probably gave him that money without taking a receipt. In
what kind of money was Dutocq paid?"
"In nineteen thousand-franc notes, and twelve of five-hundred francs."
"That's precisely it," said du Portail. "There can't be the slightest
doubt left. Now, what use do you expect to make of this information
bearing upon Thuillier."
"I expect to put it into his head that la Peyrade, to whom he is going
to give his goddaughter and heiress, is over head and ears in debt;
that he makes enormous secret loans; and that in order to get out of
his difficulties he means to gnaw the newspaper to the bone; and I
shall insinuate that the position of a man so much in debt must be
known to the public before long, and become a fatal blow to the
candidate whose right hand he is."
"That's not bad," said du Portail; "but there's another and even more
conclusive use to be made of the discovery."
"Tell me, master; I'm listening," said Cerizet.
"Thuillier has not yet been able, has he, to explain to himself the
reason of the seizure of the pamphlet?"
"Yes, he has," replied Cerizet. "La Peyrade was telling me only
yesterday, by way of explaining Thuillier's idiotic simplicity, that
he had believed a most ridiculous bit of humbug. The 'honest
bourgeois' is persuaded that the seizure was instigated by Monsieur
Olivier Vinet, substitute to the procureur-general. The young man
aspired for a moment to the hand of Mademoiselle Colleville, and the
worthy Thuillier has been made to imagine that the seizure of his
pamphlet was a revenge for the refusal."
"Good!" said du Portail; "to-morrow, as a preparation for the other
version of which you are to be the organ, Thuillier shall receive from
Monsieur Vinet a very sharp and decided denial of the abuse of power
he foolishly gave ear to."
"Will he?" said Cerizet, with curiosity.
"But another explanation must take its place," continued du Portail;
"you must assure Thuillier that he is the victim of police
machinations. That is all the police is good for, you know,--
"I know that very well; I've made that affirmation scores of times
when I was working for the republican newspapers and--"
"When you were 'the courageous Cerizet,'" interrupted du Portail.
"Well, the present machination, here it is. The government was much
displeased at seeing Thuillier elected without its influence to the
Council-general of the Seine; it was angry with an independent and
patriotic citizen who showed by his candidacy that he could do without
it; and it learned, moreover, that this excellent citizen was
preparing a pamphlet on the subject, always a delicate one, of the
finances, as to which this dangerous adversary had great experience.
So, what did this essentially corrupt government do? It suborned a man
in whom, as it learned, Thuillier placed confidence, and for a sum of
twenty-five thousand francs (a mere trifle to the police), this
treacherous friend agreed to insert into the pamphlet three or four
phrases which exposed it to seizure and caused its author to be
summoned before the court of assizes. Now the way to make the
explanation clinch the doubt in Thuillier's mind is to let him know
that the next day la Peyrade, who, as Thuillier knew, hadn't a sou,
paid Dutocq precisely that very sum of twenty-five thousand francs."
"The devil!" cried Cerizet, "it isn't a bad trick. Fellows of the
Thuillier species will believe anything against the police."
"We shall see, then," continued du Portail, "whether Thuillier will
want to keep such a collaborator beside him, and above all, whether he
will be so eager to give him his goddaughter."
"You are a strong man, monsieur," said Cerizet, again expressing his
approbation; "but I must own that I feel some scruples at the part
assigned me. La Peyrade came and offered me the management of the
paper, and, you see, I should be working to evict him."
"And that lease he knocked you out of in spite of his promises, have
you forgotten that?" asked the little old man. "Besides, are we not
aiming for his happiness, though the obstinate fellow persists in
thwarting our benevolent intentions?"
"It is true," said Cerizet, "that the result will absolve me. Yes,
I'll go resolutely along the ingenious path you've traced out for me.
But there's one thing more: I can't fling my revelation at Thuillier's
head at the very first; I must have time to prepare the way for it,
but that security will have to be paid in immediately."
"Listen to me, Monsieur Cerizet," said du Portail, in a tone of
authority; "if the marriage of la Peyrade to my ward takes place it is
my intention to reward your services, and the sum of thirty thousand
francs will be your perquisite. Now, thirty thousand from one side and
twenty-five thousand from the other makes precisely fifty-five
thousand francs that the matrimonial vicissitudes of your friend la
Peyrade will have put into your pocket. But, as country people do at
the shows of a fair, I shall not pay till I come out. If you take that
money out of your own hoard I shall feel no anxiety; you will know how
to keep it from the clutches of your creditors. If, on the contrary,
my money is at stake, you will have neither the same eagerness nor the
same intelligence in keeping it out of danger. Therefore arrange your
affairs so that you can pay down your own thirty-three thousand; in
case of success, that sum will bring you in pretty nearly a hundred
per cent. That's my last word, and I shall not listen to any
Cerizet had no time to make any, for at that moment the door of du
Portail's study opened abruptly, and a fair, slender woman, whose face
expressed angelic sweetness, entered the room eagerly. On her arm,
wrapped in handsome long clothes, lay what seemed to be the form of an
"There!" she said, "that naughty Katte insisted that the doctor was
not here. I knew perfectly well that I had seen him enter. Well,
doctor," she continued, addressing Cerizet, "I am not satisfied with
the condition of my little one, not satisfied at all; she is very
pallid, and has grown so thin. I think she must be teething."
Du Portail made Cerizet a sign to accept the role so abruptly thrust
"Yes, evidently," he said, "it is the teeth; children always turn pale
at that crisis; but there's nothing in that, my dear lady, that need
make you anxious."
"Do you really think so, doctor," said the poor crazed girl, whom our
readers have recognized as du Portail's ward, Lydie de la Peyrade;
"but see her dear little arms, how thin they are getting."
Then taking out the pins that fastened the swathings, she exhibited to
Cerizet a bundle of linen which to her poor distracted mind
represented a baby.
"Why, no, no," said Cerizet, "she is a trifle thin, it is true, but
the flesh is firm and her color excellent."
"Poor darling!" said Lydie, kissing her dream lovingly. "I do think
she is better since morning. What had I better give her, doctor? Broth
disgusts her, and she won't take soup."
"Well," said Cerizet, "try panada. Does she like sweet things?"
"Oh, yes!" cried the poor girl, her face brightening, "she adores
them. Would chocolate be good for her?"
"Certainly," replied Cerizet, "but without vanilla; vanilla is very
"Then I'll get what they call health-chocolate," said Lydie, with all
the intonations of a mother, listening to the doctor as to a god who
reassured her. "Uncle," she added, "please ring for Bruneau, and tell
him to go to Marquis at once and get some pounds of that chocolate."
"Bruneau has just gone out," said her guardian; "but there's no hurry,
he shall go in the course of the day."
"There, she is going to sleep," said Cerizet, anxious to put an end to
the scene, which, in spite of his hardened nature, he felt to be
"True," said the girl, replacing the bandages and rising; "I'll put
her to bed. Adieu, doctor; it is very kind of you to come sometimes
without being sent for. If you knew how anxious we poor mothers are,
and how, with a word or two, you can do us such good. Ah, there she is
"She is so sleepy," said Cerizet; "she'll be much better in her
"Yes, and I'll play her that sonata of Beethoven that dear papa was so
fond of; it is wonderful how calming it is. Adieu, doctor," she said
again, pausing on the threshold of the door. "Adieu, kind doctor!" And
she sent him a kiss.
Cerizet was quite overcome.
"You see," said du Portail, "that she is an angel,--never the least
ill-humor, never a sharp word; sad sometimes, but always caused by a
feeling of motherly solicitude. That is what first gave the doctors
the idea that if reality could take the place of her constant
hallucination she might recover her reason. Well, this is the girl
that fool of a Peyrade refuses, with the accompaniment of a
magnificent 'dot.' But he must come to it, or I'll forswear my name.
Listen," he added as the sound of a piano came to them; "hear! what
talent! Thousands of sane women can't compare with her; they are not
as reasonable as she is, except on the surface."
When Beethoven's sonata, played from the soul with a perfection of
shades and tones that filled her hardened hearer with admiration, had
ceased to sound, Cerizet said:--
"I agree with you, monsieur; la Peyrade refuses an angel, a treasure,
a pearl, and if I were in his place--But we shall bring him round to
your purpose. Now I shall serve you not only with zeal, but with
enthusiasm, I may say fanaticism."
As Cerizet was concluding this oath of fidelity at the door of the
study, he heard a woman's voice which was not that of Lydie.
"Is he in his study, the dear commander?" said that voice, with a
slightly foreign accent.
"Yes, madame, but please come into the salon. Monsieur is not alone; I
will tell him you are here."
This was the voice of Katte, the old Dutch maid.
"Stop, go this way," said du Portail quickly to Cerizet.
And he opened a hidden door which led through a dark corridor directly
to the staircase, whence Cerizet betook himself to the office of the
"Echo de la Bievre," where a heated discussion was going on.
The article by which the new editors of every newspaper lay before the
public their "profession of faith," as the technical saying is, always
produces a laborious and difficult parturition. In this particular
case it was necessary, if not openly to declare Thuillier's candidacy,
to at least make it felt and foreseen. The terms of the manifesto,
after la Peyrade had made a rough draft of it, were discussed at great
length. This discussion took place in Cerizet's presence, who, acting
on du Portail's advice, accepted the management, but postponed the
payment of the security till the next day, through the latitude
allowed in all administrations for the accomplishment of that
Cleverly egged on by this master-knave, who, from the start, made
himself Thuillier's flatterer, the discussion became stormy, and
presently bitter; but as, by the deed of partnership the deciding word
was left to la Peyrade in all matters concerning the editorship, he
finally closed it by sending the manifesto, precisely as he had
written it, to the printing office.
Thuillier was incensed at what he called an abuse of power, and
finding himself alone with Cerizet later in the day, he hastened to
pour his griefs and resentments into the bosom of his faithful
manager, thus affording the latter a ready-made and natural
opportunity to insinuate the calumnious revelation agreed upon with du
Portail. Leaving the knife in the wound, Cerizet went out to make
certain arrangements to obtain the money necessary for his bond.
Tortured by the terrible revelation, Thuillier could not keep it to
himself; he felt the need of confiding it, and of talking over the
course he would be compelled to take by this infernal discovery.
Sending for a carriage he drove home, and half an hour later he had
told the whole story to his Egeria.
Brigitte had from the first very vehemently declared against all the
determinations made by Thuillier during the last few days. For no
purpose whatever, not even for the sake of her brother's election,
would she agree to a renewal of the relation to la Peyrade. In the
first place, she had treated him badly, and that was a strong reason
for disliking him; then, in case that adventurer, as she now called
him, married Celeste, the fear of her authority being lessened gave
her a species of second-sight; she had ended by having an intuitive
sense of the dark profundities of the man's nature, and now declared
that under no circumstances and for no possible price would she make
one household with him.
"Ruin yourself if you choose," she said, "you are the master of that,
and you can do as you like; a fool and his money are soon parted."
When, therefore, she listened to her brother's confidences it was not
with reproaches, but, on the contrary, with a crow of triumph,
celebrating the probable return of her power, that she welcomed them.
"So much the better!" she cried; "it is well to know at last that the
man is a spy. I always thought so, the canting bigot! Turn him out of
doors without an explanation. WE don't want him to work that
newspaper. This Monsieur Cerizet seems, from what you tell me, the
right sort of man, and we can get another manager. Besides, when
Madame de Godollo went away she promised to write to me; and she can
easily put us in the way of finding some one. Poor, dear Celeste! what
a fate we were going to give her!"
"How you run on!" said Thuillier. "La Peyrade, my dear, is so far only
accused. He must be heard in his defence. And besides, there's a deed
that binds us."
"Ah, very good!" said Brigitte; "I see how it will be; you'll let that
man twist you round his finger again. A deed with a spy! As if there
could be deeds with such fellows."
"Come, come, be calm, my good Brigitte," returned Thuillier. "We
mustn't do anything hastily. Certainly, if la Peyrade cannot furnish a
justification, clear, categorical, and convincing, I shall decide to
break with him, and I'll prove to you that I am no milksop. But
Cerizet himself is not certain; these are mere inductions, and I only
came to consult you as to whether I ought, or ought not, to demand an
"Not a doubt about it," replied Brigitte. "You ought to demand an
explanation and go to the bottom of this thing; if you don't, I cast
you off as my brother."
"That suffices," said Thuillier, leaving the room with solemnity; "you
shall see that we will come to an understanding."
EXPLANATIONS AND WHAT CAME OF THEM
On his return to the office after his conference with Brigitte,
Thuillier found la Peyrade at his post as editor-in-chief, and in a
position of much embarrassment, caused by the high hand he had
reserved for himself as the sole selector of articles and
contributors. At this moment, Phellion, instigated by his family, and
deeply conscious of his position on the reading-committee of the
Odeon, had come to offer his services as dramatic critic.
"My dear monsieur," he said, continuing his remarks to la Peyrade,
after inquiring of Thuillier about his health, "I was a great student
of the theatre in my youth; the stage and its scenic effects continue
to have for me peculiar attractions; and the white hairs which crown
my brow to-day seem to me no obstacle to my allowing your interesting
publication to profit by the fruit of my studies and my experience. As
member of the reading-committee of the Odeon theatre, I am conversant
with the modern drama, and--if I may be quite sure of your discretion
--I will even confide to you that among my papers it would not be
impossible for me to find a certain tragedy entitled 'Sapor,' which in
my young days won me some fame when read in salons."
"Ah!" said la Peyrade, endeavoring to gild the refusal he should be
forced to give, "why not try to have it put upon the stage? We might
be able to help you in that direction."
"Certainly," said Thuillier, "the director of any theatre to whom we
"No," replied Phellion. "In the first place, as member of the reading-
committee of the Odeon, having to sit in judgment upon others, it
would not become me to descend into the arena myself. I am an old
athlete, whose business it is to judge of blows he can no longer give.
In this sense, criticism is altogether within my sphere, and all the
more because I have certain views on the proper method of composing
dramatic feuilletons which I think novel. The 'castigat ridendo mores'
ought to be, according to my humble lights, the great law, I may say
the only law of the stage. I should therefore show myself pitiless for
those works, bred of imagination, in which morality has no part, and
to which mothers of families--"
"Excuse me," said la Peyrade, "for interrupting you; but before
allowing you to take the trouble to develop your poetical ideas, I
ought to tell you that we have already made arrangements for our
"Ah! that's another thing," said Phellion; "an honest man must keep
"Yes," said Thuillier, "we have our dramatic critic, little thinking
that you would offer us your valuable assistance."
"Well," said Phellion, suddenly becoming crafty,--for there is
something in the newspaper atmosphere, impossible to say what, which
flies to the head, the bourgeois head especially,--"since you are good
enough to consider my pen capable of doing you some service, perhaps a
series of detached thoughts on different subjects, to which I should
venture to give the name of 'Diversities,' might be of a nature to
interest your readers."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, with a maliciousness that was quite lost upon
Phellion, "thoughts, especially in the style of la Rochefoucauld or la
Bruyere, might do. What do you think yourself, Thuillier?"
He reserved to himself the right to leave the responsibility of
refusals, as far as he could, to the proprietor of the paper.
"But I imagine that thoughts, especially if detached, cannot be very
consecutive," said Thuillier.
"Evidently not," replied Phellion; "detached thoughts imply the idea
of a very great number of subjects on which the author lets his pen
stray without the pretension of presenting a whole."
"You will of course sign them?" said la Peyrade.
"Oh, no!" replied Phellion, alarmed. "I could not put myself on
exhibition in that way."
"Your modesty, which by the bye I understand and approve, settles the
matter," said la Peyrade. "Thoughts are a subject altogether
individual, which imperatively require to be personified by a name.
You must be conscious of this yourself. 'Divers Thoughts by Monsieur
Three-Stars' says nothing to the public."
Seeing that Phellion was about to make objections, Thuillier, who was
in a hurry to begin his fight with la Peyrade, cut the matter short
"My dear Phellion," he said, "I beg your pardon for not being able to
enjoy the pleasure of your conversation any longer, but we have to
talk, la Peyrade and I, over a matter of much importance, and in
newspaper offices this devilish time runs away so fast. If you are
willing, we will postpone the question to another day. Madame Phellion
is well, I trust?"
"Perfectly well," said the great citizen, rising, and not appearing to
resent his dismissal. "When does your first number appear?" he added;
"it is eagerly awaited in the arrondissement."
"To-morrow I think our confession of faith will make its appearance,"
replied Thuillier, accompanying him to the door. "You will receive a
copy, my dear friend. We shall meet again soon, I hope. Come and see
us, and bring that manuscript; la Peyrade's point of view may be a
With this balm shed upon his wound, Phellion departed, and Thuillier
rang the bell for the porter.
"Could you recognize the gentlemen who has just gone out the next time
you see him?" asked Thuillier.
"Oh, yes, m'sieu, his round ball of a head is too funny to forget;
besides, it is Monsieur Phellion; haven't I opened the door to him
hundreds of times?"
"Well, whenever he comes again neither I nor Monsieur de la Peyrade
will be here. Remember that's a positive rule. Now leave us."
"The devil!" cried la Peyrade, when the two partners were alone, "how
you manage bores. But take care; among the number there may be
electors. You did right to tell Phellion you would send him a copy of
the paper; he has a certain importance in the quarter."
"Well," said Thuillier, "we can't allow our time to be taken up by all
the dull-heads who come and offer their services. But now you and I
have to talk, and talk very seriously. Be seated and listen."
"Do you know, my dear fellow," said la Peyrade, laughing, "that
journalism is making you into something very solemn? 'Be seated,
Cinna,'--Caesar Augustus couldn't have said it otherwise."
"Cinnas, unfortunately, are more plentiful than people think," replied
He was still under the goad of the promise he had made to Brigitte,
and he meant to fulfil it with cutting sarcasm. The top continued the
whirling motion imparted to it by the old maid's lash.
La Peyrade took a seat at the round table. As he was puzzled to know
what was coming, he endeavored to seem unconcerned, and picking up the
large scissors used for the loans which all papers make from the
columns of their brethren of the press, he began to snip up a sheet of
paper, on which, in Thuillier's handwriting, was an attempt at a
leading article, never completed.
Though la Peyrade was seated and expectant, Thuillier did not begin
immediately; he rose and went toward the door which stood ajar, with
the intention of closing it. But suddenly it was flung wide open, and
"Will monsieur," said Coffinet to la Peyrade, "receive two ladies?
They are very well-dressed, and the young one ain't to be despised."
"Shall I let them in?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier.
"Yes, since they are here," growled Thuillier; "but get rid of them as
soon as possible."
Coffinet's judgment on the toilet of the two visitors needs revision.
A woman is well-dressed, not when she wears rich clothes, but when her
clothes present a certain harmony of shapes and colors which form an
appropriate and graceful envelope to her person. Now a bonnet with a
flaring brim, surmounted by nodding plumes, an immense French cashmere
shawl, worn with the awkward inexperience of a young bride, a plaid
silk gown with enormous checks and a triple tier of flounces with far
too many chains and trinkets (though to be just, the boots and gloves
were irreproachable), constituted the apparel of the younger of these
ladies. As for the other, who seemed to be in the tow of her dressy
companion, she was short, squat, and high-colored, and wore a bonnet,
shawl, and gown which a practised eye would at once have recognized as
second hand. Mothers of actresses are always clothed by this very
economical process. Their garments, condemned to the service of two
generations, reverse the order of things, and go from descendants to
Advancing two chairs, la Peyrade inquired, "To whom have I the honor
"Monsieur," said the younger visitor, "I am a dramatic artist, and as
I am about to make my first appearance in this quarter, I allow myself
to hope that a journal of this locality will favor me."
"At what theatre?" asked la Peyrade.
"The Folies, where I am engaged for the Dejazets."
"The Folies?" echoed la Peyrade, in a tone that demanded an
"Folies-Dramatiques," interposed the agreeable Madame Cardinal, whom
the reader has doubtless recognized.
"When do you appear?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next week, monsieur,--a fairy piece in which I play five parts."
"You'll encourage her, monsieur, won't you?" said Madame Cardinal, in
a coaxing voice; "she's so young, and I can certify she works day and
"Mother!" said Olympe, with authority, "the public will judge me; all
I want is that monsieur will kindly promise to notice my debut."
"Very good, mademoiselle," said la Peyrade in a tone of dismissal,
beginning to edge the pair to the door.
Olympe Cardinal went first, leaving her mother to hurry after her as
best she could.
"At home to no one!" cried Thuillier to the office-boy as he closed
the door and slipped the bolt. "Now," he said, addressing la Peyrade,
"we will talk. My dear fellow," he went on, starting with irony, for
he remembered to have heard that nothing was more confusing to an
adversary, "I have heard something that will give you pleasure. I know
now why MY pamphlet was seized."
So saying, he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"Parbleu!" said the latter in a natural tone of voice, "it was seized
because they chose to seize it. They wanted to find, and they found,
because they always find the things they want, what the king's
adherents call 'subversive doctrine.'"
"No, you are wrong," said Thuillier; "the seizure was planned,
concocted, and agreed upon before publication."
"Between whom?" asked la Peyrade.
"Between those who wanted to kill the pamphlet, and the wretches who
were paid to betray it."
"Well, in any case, those who paid," said la Peyrade, "got mighty
little for their money; for, persecuted though it was, I don't see
that your pamphlet made much of a stir."
"Those who sold may have done better?" said Thuillier with redoubled
"Those who sold," returned la Peyrade, "were the cleverer of the two."
"Ah, I know," said Thuillier, "that you think a great deal of
cleverness; but allow me to tell you that the police, whose hand I see
in all this, doesn't usually throw its money away."
And again he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"So," said the barrister, without winking, "you have discovered that
the police had plotted in advance the smothering of your pamphlet?"
"Yes, my dear fellow; and what is more, I know the actual sum paid to
the person who agreed to carry out this honorable plot."
"The person," said la Peyrade, thinking a moment,--"perhaps I know the
person; but as for the money, I don't know a word about that."
"Well, I can tell you the amount. It was twenty-five--thousand--
francs," said Thuillier, dwelling on each word; "that was the sum paid
"Oh! excuse me, my dear fellow, but twenty-five thousand francs is a
good deal of money. I don't deny that you have become an important
man; but you are not such a bugbear to the government as to lead it to
make such sacrifices. Twenty-five thousand francs is as much as would
ever be given for the suppression of one of those annoying pamphlets
about the Civil list. But our financial lucubrations didn't annoy in
that way; and such a sum borrowed from the secret-service money for
the mere pleasure of plaguing you, seems to me rather fabulous."
"Apparently," said Thuillier, acrimoniously, "this honest go-between
had some interest in exaggerating my value. One thing is very sure;
this monsieur had a debt of twenty-five thousand francs which harassed
him much; and a short time before the seizure this same monsieur, who
had no means of his own, paid off that debt; and unless you can tell
me where else he got the money, the inference I think is not difficult
It was la Peyrade's turn to look fixedly at Thuillier.
"Monsieur Thuillier," he said, raising his voice, "let us get out of
enigmas and generalities; will you do me the favor to name that
"Well, no," replied Thuillier, striking his hand upon the table, "I
shall not name him, because of the sentiments of esteem and affection
which formerly united us; but you have understood me, Monsieur la
"I ought to have known," said the Provencal, in a voice changed by
emotion, "that in bringing a serpent to this place I should soon be
soiled by his venom. Poor fool! do you not see that you have made
yourself the echo of Cerizet's calumny?"
"Cerizet has nothing to do with it; on the contrary, he has told me
the highest good of you. How was it, not having a penny the night
before,--and I had reason to know it,--that you were able to pay
Dutocq the round sum of twenty-five thousand francs the next day?"
La Peyrade reflected for a moment.
"No," he said, "it was not Dutocq who told you that. He is not a man
to wrestle with an enemy of my strength without a strong interest in
it. It was Cerizet; he's the infamous calumniator, from whose hands I
wrenched the lease of your house near the Madeleine,--Cerizet, whom in
kindness, I went to seek on his dunghill that I might give him the
chance of honorable employment; that is the wretch, to whom a benefit
is only an encouragement to treachery. Tiens! if I were to tell you
what that man is I should turn you sick with disgust; in the sphere of
infamy he has discovered worlds."
This time Thuillier made an able reply.
"I don't know anything about Cerizet except through you," he said;
"you introduced him to me as a manager, offering every guarantee; but,
allowing him to be blacker than the devil, and supposing that this
communication comes from him, I don't see, my friend, that all that
makes YOU any the whiter."
"No doubt I was to blame," said la Peyrade, "for putting such a man
into relations with you; but we wanted some one who understood
journalism, and that value he really had for us. But who can ever
sound the depths of souls like his? I thought him reformed. A manager,
I said to myself, is only a machine; he can do no harm. I expected to
find him a man of straw; well, I was mistaken, he will never be
anything but a man of mud."
"All that is very fine," said Thuillier, "but those twenty-five
thousand francs found so conveniently in your possession, where did
you get them? That is the point you are forgetting to explain."
"But to reason about it," said la Peyrade; "a man of my character in
the pay of the police and yet so poor that I could not pay the ten
thousand francs your harpy of a sister demanded with an insolence
which you yourself witnessed--"
"But," said Thuillier, "if the origin of this money is honest, as I
sincerely desire it may be, what hinders you from telling me how you
"I cannot," said la Peyrade; "the history of that money is a secret
entrusted to me professionally."
"Come, come, you told me yourself that the statutes of your order
forbid all barristers from doing business of any kind."
"Let us suppose," said la Peyrade, "that I have done something not
absolutely regular; it would be strange indeed after what I risked, as
you know, for you, if you should have the face to reproach me with
"My poor friend, you are trying to shake off the hounds; but you can't
make me lose the scent. You wish to keep your secret; then keep it. I
am master of my own confidence and my own esteem; by paying you the
forfeit stipulated in our deed I take the newspaper into my own
"Do you mean that you dismiss me?" cried la Peyrade. "The money that
you have put into the affair, all your chances of election, sacrificed
to the calumnies of such a being as Cerizet!"
"In the first place," said Thuillier, "another editor-in-chief can be
found; it is a true saying that no man is indispensable. As for
election to the Chamber I would rather never receive it than owe it to
the help of one who--"
"Go on," said la Peyrade, seeing that Thuillier hesitated, "or rather,
no, be silent, for you will presently blush for your suspicions and
ask my pardon humbly."
By this time la Peyrade saw that without a confession to which he must
compel himself, the influence and the future he had just recovered
would be cut from under his feet. Resuming his speech he said,
"You will remember, my friend, that you were pitiless, and, by
subjecting me to a species of moral torture, you have forced me to
reveal to you a secret that is not mine."
"Go on," said Thuillier, "I take the whole responsibility upon myself.
Make me see the truth clearly in this darkness, and if I have done
wrong I will be the first to say so."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "those twenty-five thousand francs are the
savings of a servant-woman who came to me and asked me to take them
and to pay her interest."
"A servant with twenty-five thousand francs of savings! Nonsense; she
must serve in monstrously rich households."
"On the contrary, she is the one servant of an infirm old savant; and
it was on account of the discrepancy which strikes your mind that she
wanted to put her money in my hands as a sort of trustee."
"Bless me! my friend," said Thuillier, flippantly, "you said we were
in want of a romance-feuilletonist; but really, after this, I sha'n't
be uneasy. Here's imagination for you!"
"What?" said la Peyrade, angrily, "you don't believe me?"
"No, I do not believe you. Twenty-five thousand francs savings in the
service of an old savant! that is about as believable as the officer
of La Dame Blanche buying a chateau with his pay."
"But if I prove to you the truth of my words; if I let you put your
finger upon it?"
"In that case, like Saint Thomas, I shall lower my flag before the
evidence. Meanwhile you must permit me, my noble friend, to wait until
you offer me that proof."
Thuillier felt really superb.
"I'd give a hundred francs," he said to himself, "if Brigitte could
have been here and heard me impeach him."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "suppose that without leaving this office,
and by means of a note which you shall read, I bring into your
presence the person from whom I received the money; if she confirms
what I say will you believe me?"
This proposal and the assurance with which it was made rather
"I shall know what to do when the time comes," he replied, changing
his tone. "But this must be done at once, now, here."
"I said, without leaving this office. I should think that was clear
"And who will carry the note you write?" asked Thuillier, believing
that by thus examining every detail he was giving proofs of amazing
"Carry the note! why, your own porter of course," replied la Peyrade;
"you can send him yourself."
"Then write it," said Thuillier, determined to push him to the wall.
La Peyrade took a sheet of paper with the new heading and wrote as
follows, reading the note aloud:--
Madame Lambert is requested to call at once, on urgent business,
at the office of the "Echo de la Bievre," rue Saint-Dominique
d'Enfer. The bearer of this note will conduct her. She is awaited
impatiently by her devoted servant,
Theodose de la Peyrade.
"There, will that suit you?" said the barrister, passing the paper to
"Perfectly," replied Thuillier, taking the precaution to fold the
letter himself and seal it. "Put the address," he added.
Then he rang the bell for the porter.
"You will carry this letter to its address," he said to the man, "and
bring back with you the person named. But will she be there?" he
asked, on reflection.
"It is more than probable," replied la Peyrade; "in any case, neither
you nor I will leave this room until she comes. This matter must be
"Then go!" said Thuillier to the porter, in a theatrical tone.
When they were alone, la Peyrade took up a newspaper and appeared to
be absorbed in its perusal.
Thuillier, beginning to get uneasy as to the upshot of the affair,
regretted that he had not done something the idea of which had come to
him just too late.
"Yes, I ought," he said to himself, "to have torn up that letter, and
not driven him to prove his words."
Wishing to do something that might look like retaining la Peyrade in
the position of which he had threatened to deprive him, he remarked
"By the bye, I have just come from the printing-office; the new type
has arrived, and I think we might make our first appearance
La Peyrade did not answer; but he got up and took his paper nearer to
"He is sulky," thought Thuillier, "and if he is innocent, he may well
be. But, after all, why did he ever bring a man like that Cerizet
Then to hide his embarrassment and the preoccupation of his mind, he
sat down before the editor's table, took a sheet of the head-lined
paper and made himself write a letter.
Presently la Peyrade returned to the table and sitting down, took
another sheet and with the feverish rapidity of a man stirred by some
emotion he drove his pen over the paper.
From the corner of his eye, Thuillier tried hard to see what la
Peyrade was writing, and noticing that his sentences were separated by
numbers placed between brackets, he said:--
"Tiens! are you drawing up a parliamentary law?"
"Yes," replied la Peyrade, "the law of the vanquished."
Soon after this, the porter opened the door and introduced Madame
Lambert, whom he had found at home, and who arrived looking rather
"You are Madame Lambert?" asked Thuillier, magisterially.
"Yes, monsieur," said the woman, in an anxious voice.
After requesting her to be seated and noticing that the porter was
still there as if awaiting further orders he said to the man:--
"That will do; you may go; and don't let any one disturb us."
The gravity and the lordly tone assumed by Thuillier only increased
Madame Lambert's uneasiness. She came expecting to see only la
Peyrade, and she found herself received by an unknown man with a
haughty manner, while the barrister, who had merely bowed to her, said
not a word; moreover, the scene took place in a newspaper office, and
it is a well-known fact that to pious persons especially all that
relates to the press is infernal and diabolical.
"Well," said Thuillier to the barrister, "it seems to me that nothing
hinders you from explaining to madame why you have sent for her."
In order to leave no loophole for suspicion in Thuillier's mind la
Peyrade knew that he must put his question bluntly and without the
slightest preparation; he therefore said to her "ex abrupto":--
"We wish to ask you, madame, if it is not true that about two and a
half months ago you placed in my hands, subject to interest, the sum,
in round numbers, of twenty-five thousand francs."
Though she felt the eyes of Thuillier and those of la Peyrade upon
her, Madame Lambert, under the shock of this question fired at her
point-blank, could not restrain a start.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed, "twenty-five thousand francs! and where
should I get such a sum as that?"
La Peyrade gave no sign on his face of the vexation he might be
supposed to feel. As for Thuillier, who now looked at him with
sorrowful commiseration, he merely said:--
"You see, my friend!"
"So," resumed la Peyrade, "you are very certain that you did not place
in my hands the sum of twenty-five thousand francs; you declare this,
you affirm it?"
"Why, monsieur! did you ever hear of such a sum as that in the pocket
of a poor woman like me? The little that I had, as everybody knows,
has gone to eke out the housekeeping of that poor dear gentleman whose
servant I have been for more than twenty years."
"This," said Thuillier, pompously, "seems to me categorical."
La Peyrade still did not show the slightest sign of annoyance; on the
contrary, he seemed to be playing into Thuillier's hand.
"You hear, my dear Thuillier," he said, "and if necessary I shall call
for your testimony, that madame here declares that she did not possess
twenty-five thousand francs and could not therefore have placed them
in my hands. Now, as the notary Dupuis, in whose hands I fancied I had
placed them, left Paris this morning for Brussels carrying with him
the money of all his clients, I have no account with madame, by her
own showing, and the absconding of the notary--"
"Has the notary Dupuis absconded?" screamed Madame Lambert, driven by
this dreadful news entirely out of her usual tones of dulcet sweetness
and Christian resignation. "Ah, the villain! it was only this morning
that he was taking the sacrament at Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas."
"To pray for a safe journey, probably," said la Peyrade.
"Monsieur talks lightly enough," continued Madame Lambert, "though
that brigand has carried off my savings. But I gave them to monsieur,
and monsieur is answerable to me for them; he is the only one I know
in this transaction."
"Hey?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier, pointing to Madame Lambert, whose
whole demeanor had something of the mother-wolf suddenly bereft of her
cubs; "is that nature? tell me! Do you think now that madame and I are
playing a comedy for your benefit?"
"I am thunderstruck at Cerizet's audacity," said Thuillier. "I am
overwhelmed with my own stupidity; there is nothing for me to do but
to submit myself entirely to your discretion."
"Madame," said la Peyrade, gaily, "excuse me for thus frightening you;
the notary Dupuis is still a very saintly man, and quite incapable of
doing an injury to his clients. As for monsieur here, it was necessary
that I should prove to him that you had really placed that money in my
hands; he is, however, another myself, and your secret, though known
to him, is as safe as it is with me."
"Oh, very good, monsieur!" said Madame Lambert. "I suppose these
gentlemen have no further need of me?"
"No, my dear madame, and I beg you to pardon me for the little terror
I was compelled to occasion you."
Madame Lambert turned to leave the room with all the appearance of
respectful humility, but when she reached the door, she retraced her
steps, and coming close to la Peyrade said, in her smoothest tones:--
"When does monsieur expect to be able to refund me that money?"
"But I told you," said la Peyrade, stiffly, "that notaries never
return on demand the money placed in their hands."
"Does monsieur think that if I went to see Monsieur Dupuis himself and
"I think," said la Peyrade, interrupting her, "that you would do a
most ridiculous thing. He received the money from me in my own name,
as you requested, and he knows only me in the matter."
"Then monsieur will be so kind, will he not, as to get back that money
for me as soon as possible? I am sure I would not wish to press
monsieur, but in two or three months from now I may want it; I have
heard of a little property it would suit me to buy."
"Very good, Madame Lambert," said la Peyrade, with well-concealed
irritation, "it shall be done as you wish; and in less time, perhaps,
than you have stated I shall hope to return your money to you."
"That won't inconvenience monsieur, I trust," said the woman; "he told
me that at the first indiscretion I committed--"
"Yes, yes, that is all understood," said la Peyrade, interrupting her.
"Then I have the honor to be the very humble servant of these
gentlemen," said Madame Lambert, now departing definitively.
"You see, my friend, the trouble you have got me into," said la
Peyrade to Thuillier as soon as they were alone, "and to what I am
exposed by my kindness in satisfying your diseased mind. That debt was
dormant; it was in a chronic state; and you have waked it up and made
it acute. The woman brought me the money and insisted on my keeping
it, at a good rate of interest. I refused at first; then I agreed to
place it in Dupuis's hands, explaining to her that it couldn't be
withdrawn at once; but subsequently, when Dutocq pressed me, I
decided, after all, to keep it myself."
"I am dreadfully sorry, dear friend, for my silly credulity. But don't
be uneasy about the exactions of that woman; we will manage to arrange
all that, even if I have to make you an advance upon Celeste's 'dot.'"
"My excellent friend," said la Peyrade, "it is absolutely necessary
that we should talk over our private arrangements; to tell you the
truth, I have no fancy for being hauled up every morning and
questioned as to my conduct. Just now, while waiting for that woman, I
drew up a little agreement, which you and I will discuss and sign, if
you please, before the first number of the paper is issued."
"But," said Thuillier, "our deed of partnership seems to me to
"--that by a paltry forfeit of five thousand francs, as stated in
Article 14," interrupted Theodose, "you can put me, when you choose,
out of doors. No, I thank you! After my experience to-day, I want some
better security than that."
At this moment Cerizet with a lively and all-conquering air, entered
"My masters!" he exclaimed, "I've brought the money; and we can now
sign the bond."
Then, remarking that his news was received with extreme coldness, he
"Well? what is it?"
"It is this," replied Thuillier: "I refuse to be associated with
double-face men and calumniators. We have no need of you or your
money; and I request you not to honor these precincts any longer with
"Dear! dear! dear!" said Cerizet; "so papa Thuillier has let the wool
be pulled over his eyes again!"
"Leave the room!" said Thuillier; "you have nothing more to do here."
"Hey, my boy!" said Cerizet, turning to la Peyrade, "so you've twisted
the old bourgeois round your finger again? Well, well, no matter! I
think you are making a mistake not to go and see du Portail, and I
shall tell him--"
"Leave this house!" cried Thuillier, in a threatening tone.
"Please remember, my dear monsieur, that I never asked you to employ
me; I was well enough off before you sent for me, and I shall be
after. But I'll give you a piece of advice: don't pay the twenty-five
thousand francs out of your own pocket, for that's hanging to your
So saying, Cerizet put his thirty-three thousand francs in banknotes
back into his wallet, took his hat from the table, carefully smoothed
the nap with his forearm and departed.
Thuillier had been led by Cerizet into what proved to be a most
disastrous campaign. Now become the humble servant of la Peyrade, he
was forced to accept his conditions, which were as follows: five
hundred francs a month for la Peyrade's services in general; his
editorship of the paper to be paid at the rate of fifty francs a
column,--which was simply enormous, considering the small size of the
sheet; a binding pledge to continue the publication of the paper for
six months, under pain of the forfeiture of fifteen thousand francs;
an absolute omnipotence in the duties of editor-in-chief,--that is to
say, the sovereign right of inserting, controlling, and rejecting all
articles without being called to explain the reasons of his actions,--
such were the stipulations of a treaty in duplicate made openly, "in
good faith," between the contracting parties. BUT, in virtue of
another and secret agreement, Thuillier gave security for the payment
of the twenty-five thousand francs for which la Peyrade was
accountable to Madame Lambert, binding the said Sieur de la Peyrade,
in case the payment were required before his marriage with Celeste
Colleville could take place, to acknowledge the receipt of said sum
advanced upon the dowry.
Matters being thus arranged and accepted by the candidate, who saw no
chance of election if he lost la Peyrade, Thuillier was seized with a
happy thought. He went to the Cirque-Olympique, where he remembered to
have seen in the ticket-office a former employee in his office at the
ministry of Finance,--a man named Fleury; to whom he proposed the post
of manager. Fleury, being an old soldier, a good shot, and a skilful
fencer, would certainly make himself an object of respect in a
newspaper office. The working-staff of the paper being thus
reconstituted, with the exception of a few co-editors or reporters to
be added later, but whom la Peyrade, thanks to the facility of his
pen, was able for the present to do without, the first number of the
new paper was launched upon the world.
Thuillier now recommenced the explorations about Paris which we saw
him make on the publication of his pamphlet. Entering all reading-
rooms and cafes, he asked for the "Echo de la Bievre," and when
informed, alas, very frequently, that the paper was unknown in this or
that establishment, "It is incredible!" he would exclaim, "that a
house which respects itself does not take such a widely known paper."
On that, he departed disdainfully, not observing that in many places,
where this ancient trick of commercial travellers was well understood,
they were laughing behind his back.
The evening of the day when the inauguration number containing the
"profession of faith" appeared, Brigitte's salon, although the day was
not Sunday, was filled with visitors. Reconciled to la Peyrade, whom
her brother had brought home to dinner, the old maid went so far as to
tell him that, without flattery, she thought his leading article was a
famous HIT. For that matter, all the guests as they arrived, reported
that the public seemed enchanted with the first number of the new
The public! everybody knows what that is. To every man who launches a
bit of writing into the world, the public consists of five or six
intimates who cannot, without offending the author, avoid knowing
something more or less of his lucubrations.
"As for me!" cried Colleville, "I can truthfully declare that it is
the first political article I ever read that didn't send me to sleep."
"It is certain," said Phellion, "that the leading article seems to me
to be stamped with vigor joined to an atticism which we may seek in
vain in the columns of the other public prints."
"Yes," said Dutocq, "the matter is very well presented; and besides,
there's a turn of phrase, a clever diction, that doesn't belong to
everybody. However, we must wait and see how it keeps on. I fancy that
to-morrow the 'Echo de la Bievre' will be strongly attacked by the
"Parbleu!" cried Thuillier, "that's what we are hoping for; and if the
government would only do us the favor to seize us--"
"No, thank you," said Fleury, whom Thuillier had also brought home to
dinner, "I don't want to enter upon those functions at first."
"Seized!" said Dutocq, "oh, you won't be seized; but I think the
ministerial journals will fire a broadside at you."
The next day Thuillier was at the office as early as eight o'clock, in
order to be the first to receive that formidable salvo. After looking
through every morning paper he was forced to admit that there was no
more mention of the "Echo de la Bievre" than if it didn't exist. When
la Peyrade arrived he found his unhappy friend in a state of
"Does that surprise you?" said the Provencal, tranquilly. "I let you
enjoy yesterday your hopes of a hot engagement with the press; but I
knew myself that in all probability there wouldn't be the slightest
mention of us in to-day's papers. Against every paper which makes its
debut with some distinction, there's always a two weeks', sometimes a
two months' conspiracy of silence."
"Conspiracy of silence!" echoed Thuillier, with admiration.
He did not know what it meant, but the words had a grandeur and a
SOMETHING that appealed to his imagination. After la Peyrade had
explained to him that by "conspiracy of silence" was meant the
agreement of existing journals to make no mention of new-comers lest
such notice should serve to advertise them, Thuillier's mind was
hardly better satisfied than it had been by the pompous flow of the
words. The bourgeois is born so; words are coins which he takes and
passes without question. For a word, he will excite himself or calm
down, insult or applaud. With a word, he can be brought to make a
revolution and overturn a government of his own choice.
The paper, however, was only a means; the object was Thuillier's
election. This was insinuated rather than stated in the first numbers.
But one morning, in the columns of the "Echo," appeared a letter from
several electors thanking their delegate to the municipal council for
the firm and frankly liberal attitude in which he had taken on all
questions of local interests. "This firmness," said the letter, "had
brought down upon him the persecution of the government, which, towed
at the heels of foreigners, had sacrificed Poland and sold itself to
England. The arrondissement needed a man of such tried convictions to
represent it in the Chamber,--a man holding high and firm the banner
of dynastic opposition, a man who would be, by the mere signification
of his name, a stern lesson given to the authorities."
Enforced by an able commentary from la Peyrade, this letter was signed
by Barbet and Metivier and all Brigitte's tradesmen (whom, in view of
the election she had continued to employ since her emigration); also
by the family doctor and apothecary, and by Thuillier's builder, and
Barniol, Phellion's son-in-law, who professed to hold rather
"advanced" political opinions. As for Phellion himself, he thought the
wording of the letter not altogether circumspect, and--always without
fear as without reproach--however much he might expect that this
refusal would injure his son in his dearest interests, he bravely
refrained from signing it.
This trial kite had the happiest effect. The ten or a dozen names thus
put forward were considered to express the will of the electors and
were called "the voice of the quarter." Thus Thuillier's candidacy
made from the start such rapid progress that Minard hesitated to put
his own claims in opposition.
Delighted now with the course of events, Brigitte was the first to say
that the time had come to attend to the marriage, and Thuillier was
all the more ready to agree because, from day to day, he feared he
might be called upon to pay the twenty-five thousand francs to Madame
Lambert for which he had pledged himself. A thorough explanation now
took place between la Peyrade and the old maid. She told him honestly
of the fear she felt as to the maintenance of her sovereign authority
when a SON-IN-LAW of his mind and character was established in the
"If we," she ended by saying, "are to oppose each other for the rest
of our days, it would be much better, from the beginning, to make two
households; we shouldn't be the less friends for that."
La Peyrade replied that nothing under the sun would induce him to
consent to such a plan; on the contrary, he regarded as amongst his
happiest prospects for the future the security he should feel about
the wise management of the material affairs of the home in such hands
as hers. He should have enough to do in the management of outside
interests, and he could not comprehend, for his part, how she could
suppose he had ever had the thought of interfering in matters that
were absolutely out of his province. In short, he reassured her so
completely that she urged him to take immediate steps for the
publication of the banns and the signature of the marriage contract,--
declaring that she reserved to herself all the preparations relating
to Celeste, whose acceptance of this sudden conclusion she pledged
herself to secure.
"My dear child," she said to Celeste the next morning, "I think you
have given up all idea of being Felix Phellion's wife. In the first
place, he is more of an atheist than ever, and, besides, you must have
noticed yourself that his mind is quite shaky. You have seen at Madame
Minard's that Madame Marmus, who married a savant, officer of the
Legion of honor, and member of the Institute. There's not a more
unhappy woman; her husband has taken her to live behind the
Luxembourg, in the rue Duguay-Trouin, a street that is neither paved
nor lighted. When he goes out, he doesn't know where he is going; he
gets to the Champ de Mars when he wants to go to the Faubourg
Poissoniere; he isn't even capable of giving his address to the driver
of a street cab; and he is so absent-minded he couldn't tell if it
were before dinner or after. You can imagine what sort of time a woman
must have with a man whose nose is always at a telescope snuffing
"But Felix," said Celeste, "is not as absent-minded as that."
"Of course not, because he is younger; but with years his absent-
mindedness and his atheism will both increase. We have therefore
decided that he is not the husband you want, and we all, your mother,
father, Thuillier and myself, have determined that you shall take la
Peyrade, a man of the world, who will make his way, and one who has
done us great services in the past, and who will, moreover, make your
godfather deputy. We are disposed to give you, in consideration of
him, a much larger 'dot' than we should give to any other husband. So,
my dear, it is settled; the banns are to be published immediately, and
this day week we sign the contract. There's to be a great dinner for
the family and intimates, and after that a reception, at which the
contract will be signed and your trousseau and corbeille exhibited. As
I take all that into my own hands I'll answer for it that everything
shall be of the best kind; especially if you are not babyish, and give
in pleasantly to our ideas."
"But, aunt Brigitte," began Celeste, timidly.
"There's no 'but,' in the matter," said the old maid, imperiously; "it
is all arranged, and will be carried out, unless, mademoiselle, you
pretend to have more wisdom than your elders."
"I will do as you choose, aunt," replied Celeste, feeling as if a
thunder-cloud had burst upon her head, and knowing but too well that
she had no power to struggle against the iron will which had just
pronounced her doom.
She went at once to pour her sorrows into Madame Thuillier's soul; but
when she heard her godmother advising patience and resignation the
poor child felt that from that feeble quarter she could get no help
for even the slightest effort of resistance, and that her sacrifice
was virtually accomplished.
Precipitating herself with a sort of frenzy into the new element of
activity thus introduced into her life, Brigitte took the field in the
making of the trousseau and the purchase of the corbeille. Like many
misers, who on great occasions come out of their habits and their
nature, the old maid now thought nothing too good for her purpose; and
she flung her money about so lavishly that until the day appointed for
the signing of the contract, the jeweller, dressmaker, milliner,
lingere, etc. (all chosen from the best establishments in Paris),
seemed to occupy the house.
"It is like a procession," said Josephine, the cook, admiringly, to
Francoise, the Minards' maid; "the bell never stops ringing from
morning till night."
The dinner on the great occasion was ordered from Chabot and Potel,
and not from Chevet, by which act Brigitte intended to prove her
initiative and her emancipation from the late Madame de Godollo. The
invited guests were as follows: three Collevilles, including the
bride, la Peyrade the groom, Dutocq and Fleury, whom he had asked to
be his witnesses, the extremely limited number of his relatives
leaving him no choice, Minard and Rabourdin, chosen as witnesses for
Celeste, Madame and Mademoiselle Minard and Minard junior, two of
Thuillier's colleagues in the Council-general; the notary Dupuis,
charged with the duty of drawing up the contract, and lastly, the Abbe
Gondrin, director of the consciences of Madame Thuillier and Celeste,
who was to give the nuptial blessing.
The latter was the former vicar of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, whose
great refinement of manner and gift of preaching had induced the
archbishop to remove him from the humble parish where his career had
begun to the aristocratic church of the Madeleine. Since Madame
Thuillier and Celeste had again become his parishioners, the young
abbe visited them occasionally, and Thuillier, who had gone to him to
explain, after his own fashion, the suitableness of the choice made
for Celeste in the person of la Peyrade (taking pains as he did so to
cast reflections on the religious opinions of Felix Phellion), had
easily led him to contribute by his persuasive words to the
resignation of the victim.
When the time came to sit down to table three guests were missing,--
two Minards, father and son, and the notary Dupuis. The latter had
written a note to Thuillier in the morning, excusing himself from the
dinner, but saying that at nine o'clock precisely he would bring the
contract and place himself at the orders of Mademoiselle Thuillier. As
for Julien Minard, his mother excused him as being confined to his
room with a sore-throat. The absence of Minard senior remained
unexplained, but Madame Minard insisted that they should sit down to
table without him; which was done, Brigitte ordering that the soup be
kept hot for him, because in the bourgeois code of manners and customs
a dinner without soup is no dinner at all.
The repast was far from gay, and though the fare was better, the
vivacity and the warmth of the conversation was far, indeed, from that
of the famous improvised banquet at the time of the election to the
Council-general. The gaps occasioned by the absence of three guests
may have been one reason; then Flavie was glum; she had had an
interview with la Peyrade in the afternoon which ended in tears;
Celeste, even if she had been content with the choice imposed on her,
would scarcely, as a matter of propriety, have seemed joyful; in fact,
she made no effort to brighten a sad face, and dared not look at her
godmother, whose own countenance gave the impression, if we may so
express it, of the long bleating of a sheep. The poor girl seeing this
feared to exchange a look with her lest she might drive her to tears.
Thuillier now felt himself, on all sides, of such importance that he
was pompous and consequential; while Brigitte, uneasy out of her own
world, where she could lord it over every one without competition,
seemed constrained and embarrassed.
Colleville tried by a few jovialities to raise the temperature of the
assemblage; but the coarse salt of his witticisms had an effect, in
the atmosphere in which he produced them, of a loud laugh in a sick-
chamber; and a mute intimation from his wife, Thuillier, and la
Peyrade to BEHAVE HIMSELF put a stopper on his liveliness and
turbulent expansion. It was somewhat remarkable that the gravest
member of the party, aided by Rabourdin, was the person who finally
warmed up the atmosphere. The Abbe Gondrin, a man of a most refined
and cultivated mind, had, like every pure and well-ordered soul, a
fund of gentle gaiety which he was well able to communicate, and
liveliness was beginning to dawn upon the party when Minard entered
After making his excuses on the ground of important duties, the mayor
of the eleventh arrondissement, who was in the habit of taking the
lead in the conversation wherever he went, said, having swallowed a
few hasty mouthfuls:--
"Messieurs and mesdames, have you heard the great news?"
"No, what is it?" cried several voices at once.
"The Academy of Sciences received, to-day, at its afternoon session,
the announcement of a vast discovery: the heavens possess a new star!"
"Tiens!" said Colleville; "that will help to replace the one that
Beranger thought was lost when he grieved (to that air of 'Octavie')
over Chateaubriand's departure: 'Chateaubriand, why fly thy land?'"
This quotation, which he sang, exasperated Flavie, and if the custom
had been for wives to sit next to their husbands, the former clarionet
of the Opera-Comique would not have escaped with a mere "Colleville!"
imperiously calling him to order.
"The point which gives this great astronomical event a special
interest on this occasion," continued Minard, "is that the author of
the discovery is a denizen of the twelfth arrondissement, which many
of you still inhabit, or have inhabited. But other points are striking
in this great scientific fact. The Academy, on the reading of the
communication which announced it, was so convinced of the existence of
this star that a deputation was appointed to visit the domicile of the
modern Galileo and compliment him in the name of the whole body. And
yet this star is not visible to either the eye or the telescope! It is
only by the power of calculation and induction that its existence and
the place it occupies in the heavens have been proved in the most
irrefutable manner: 'There MUST be THERE a hitherto unknown star; I
cannot see it, but I am sure of it,'--that is what this man of science
said to the Academy, whom he instantly convinced by his deductions.
And do you know, messieurs, who is this Christopher Columbus of a new
celestial world? An old man, two-thirds blind, who has scarcely eyes
enough to walk in the street."
"Wonderful! Marvellous! Admirable!" came from all sides.
"What is the name of this learned man?" asked several voices.
"Monsieur Picot, or, if you prefer it, pere Picot, for that is how
they call him in the rue du Val-de-Grace, where he lives. He is simply
an old professor of mathematics, who has turned out several very fine
pupils,--by the bye, Felix Phellion, whom we all know, studied under
him, and it was he who read, on behalf of his blind old master, the
communication to the Academy this afternoon."
Hearing that name, and remembering the promise Felix had made her to
lift her to the skies, which, as he said it, she had fancied a sign of
madness, Celeste looked at Madame Thuillier, whose face had taken a
sudden glow of animation, and seemed to say to her, "Courage, my
child! all is not lost."
"My dear Theodose," said Thuillier, "Felix is coming here to-night;
you must take him aside and get him to give you a copy of that
communication; it would be a fine stroke of fortune for the 'Echo' to
be the first to publish it."
"Yes," said Minard, assuming the answer, "that would do good service
to the public, for the affair is going to make a great noise. The
committee, not finding Monsieur Picot at home, went straight to the
Minister of Public Instruction; and the minister flew to the Tuileries
and saw the King; and the 'Messager' came out this evening--strange to
say, so early that I could read it in my carriage as I drove along--
with an announcement that Monsieur Picot is named Chevalier of the
Legion of honor, with a pension of eighteen hundred francs from the
fund devoted to the encouragement of science and letters."
"Well," said Thuillier, "there's one cross at least well bestowed."
"But eighteen hundred francs for the pension seems to me rather
paltry," said Dutocq.
"So it does," said Thuillier, "and all the more because that money
comes from the tax-payers; and, when one sees the taxes, as we do,
frittered away on court favorites--"
"Eighteen hundred francs a year," interrupted Minard, "is certainly
something, especially for savants, a class of people who are
accustomed to live on very little."
"I think I have heard," said la Peyrade, "that this very Monsieur
Picot leads a strange life, and that his family, who at first wanted
to shut him up as a lunatic, are now trying to have guardians
appointed over him. They say he allows a servant-woman who keeps his
house to rob him of all he has. Parbleu! Thuillier, you know her; it
is that woman who came to the office the other day about some money in
"Yes, yes, true," said Thuillier, significantly; "you are right, I do
"It is queer," said Brigitte, seeing a chance to enforce the argument
she had used to Celeste, "that all these learned men are good for
nothing outside of their science; in their homes they have to be
treated like children."
"That proves," said the Abbe Gondrin, "the great absorption which
their studies give to their minds, and, at the same time, a simplicity
of nature which is very touching."
"When they are not as obstinate as mules," said Brigitte, hastily.
"For myself, monsieur l'abbe, I must say that if I had had any idea of
marriage, a savant wouldn't have suited me at all. What do they do,
these savants, anyhow? Useless things most of the time. You are all
admiring one who has discovered a star; but as long as we are in this
world what good is that to us? For all the use we make of stars it
seems to me we have got enough of them as it is."
"Bravo, Brigitte!" said Colleville, getting loose again; "you are
right, my girl, and I think, as you do, that the man who discovers a
new dish deserves better of humanity."
"Colleville," said Flavie, "I must say that your style of behavior is
in the worst taste."
"My dear lady," said the Abbe Gondrin, addressing Brigitte, "you might
be right if we were formed of matter only; and if, bound to our body,
there were not a soul with instincts and appetites that must be
satisfied. Well, I think that this sense of the infinite which is
within us, and which we all try to satisfy each in our own way, is
marvellously well helped by the labors of astronomy, that reveal to us
from time to time new worlds which the hand of the Creator has put
into space. The infinite in you has taken another course; this passion
for the comfort of those about you, this warm, devoted, ardent
affection which you feel for your brother, are equally the
manifestation of aspirations which have nothing material about them,
and which, in seeking their end and object, never think of asking,
'What good does that do? what is the use of this?' Besides, I must
assure you that the stars are not as useless as you seem to think.
Without them how would navigators cross the sea? They would be puzzled
to get you the vanilla with which you have flavored the delicious
cream I am now eating. So, as Monsieur Colleville has perceived, there
is more affinity than you think between a dish and a star; no one
should be despised,--neither an astronomer nor a good housekeeper--"
The abbe was here interrupted by the noise of a lively altercation in
"I tell you that I will go in," said a loud voice.
"No, monsieur, you shall not go in," said another voice, that of the
man-servant. "The company are at table, I tell you, and nobody has the
right to force himself in."
Thuillier turned pale; ever since the seizure of his pamphlet, he
fancied all sudden arrivals meant the coming of the police.
Among the various social rules imparted to Brigitte by Madame de
Godollo, the one that most needed repeating was the injunction never,
as mistress of the house, to rise from the table until she gave the
signal for retiring. But present circumstances appeared to warrant the
infraction of the rule.
"I'll go and see what it is," she said to Thuillier, whose anxiety she
noticed at once. "What IS the matter?" she said to the servant as soon
as she reached the scene of action.
"Here's a gentleman who wants to come in, and says that no one is ever
dining at eight o'clock at night."
"But who are you, monsieur?" said Brigitte, addressing an old man very
oddly dressed, whose eyes were protected by a green shade.
"Madame, I am neither a beggar nor a vagabond," replied the old man,
in stentorian tones; "my name is Picot, professor of mathematics."
"Rue du Val-de-Grace?" asked Brigitte.
"Yes, madame,--No. 9, next to the print-shop."
"Come in, monsieur, come in; we shall be only too happy to receive
you," cried Thuillier, who, on hearing the name, had hurried out to
meet the savant.
"Hein! you scamp," said the learned man, turning upon the man-servant,
who had retired, seeing that the matter was being settled amicably, "I
told you I should get in."
Pere Picot was a tall old man, with an angular, stern face, who,
despite the corrective of a blond wig with heavy curls, and that of
the pacific green shade we have already mentioned, expressed on his
large features, upon which the fury of study had produced a surface of
leaden pallor, a snappish and quarrelsome disposition. Of this he had
already given proof before entering the dining-room, where every one
now rose to receive him.
His costume consisted of a huge frock-coat, something between a
paletot and a dressing-gown, between which an immense waistcoat of
iron-gray cloth, fastened from the throat to the pit of the stomach
with two rows of buttons, hussar fashion, formed a sort of buckler.
The trousers, though October was nearing its close, were made of black
lasting, and gave testimony to long service by the projection of a
darn on the otherwise polished surface covering the knees, the polish
being produced by the rubbing of the hands upon those parts. But, in
broad daylight, the feature of the old savant's appearance which
struck the eye most vividly was a pair of Patagonian feet, imprisoned
in slippers of beaver cloth, the which, moulded upon the mountainous
elevations of gigantic bunions, made the spectator think,
involuntarily, of the back of a dromedary or an advanced case of
Once installed in a chair which was hastily brought for him, and the
company having returned to their places at table, the old man suddenly
burst out in thundering tones, amid the silence created by
"Where is he,--that rogue, that scamp? Let him show himself; let him
dare to speak to me!"
"Who is it that offends you, my dear monsieur?" said Thuillier, in
conciliating accents, in which there was a slight tone of patronage.
"A scamp whom I couldn't find in his own home, and they told me he was
here, in this house. I'm in the apartment, I think, of Monsieur
Thuillier of the Council-general, place de la Madeleine, first story
above the entresol?"
"Precisely," said Thuillier; "and allow me to add, monsieur, that you
are surrounded with the respect and sympathy of all."
"And you will doubtless permit me to add," said Minard, "that the
mayor of the arrondissement adjoining that which you inhabit
congratulates himself on being here in presence of Monsieur Picot,--
THE Monsieur Picot, no doubt, who has just immortalized his name by
the discovery of a star!"
"Yes, monsieur," replied the professor, elevating to a still higher
pitch the stentorian diapason of his voice, "I am Picot (Nepomucene),
but I have not discovered a star; I don't concern myself with any such
fiddle-faddle; besides, my eyes are very weak; and that insolent young
fellow I have come here to find is making me ridiculous with such
talk. I don't see him here; he is hiding himself, I know; he dares not
look me in the face."
"Who is this person who annoys you?" asked several voices at once.
"An unnatural pupil of mine," replied the old mathematician; "a scamp,
but full of ideas; his name is Felix Phellion."
The name was received, as may well be imagined, with amazement.
Finding the situation amusing, Colleville and la Peyrade went off into
fits of laughter.
"You laugh, fools!" cried the irate old man, rising. "Yes, come and
laugh within reach of my arm."
So saying, he brandished a thick stick with a white china handle,
which he used to guide himself, thereby nearly knocking over a
candelabrum on the dinner-table upon Madame Minard's head.
"You are mistaken, monsieur," cried Brigitte, springing forward and
seizing his arm. "Monsieur Felix is not here. He will probably come
later to a reception we are about to give; but at present he has not
"They don't begin early, your receptions," said the old man; "it is
past eight o'clock. Well, as Monsieur Felix is coming later, you must
allow me to wait for him. I believe you were eating your dinners;
don't let me disturb you."
And he went back peaceably to his chair.
"As you permit it, monsieur," said Brigitte, "we will continue, or, I
should say, finish dinner, for we are now at the dessert. May I offer
you anything,--a glass of champagne and a biscuit?"
"I am very willing, madame," replied the intruder. "No one ever
refuses champagne, and I am always ready to eat between my meals; but
you dine very late."
A place was made for him at table between Colleville and Mademoiselle
Minard, and the former made it his business to fill the glass of his
new neighbor, before whom was placed a dish of small cakes.
"Monsieur," said la Peyrade in a cajoling tone, "you saw how surprised
we were to hear you complain of Monsieur Felix Phellion,--so amiable,
so inoffensive a young man. What has he done to you, that you should
feel so angry with him?"
With his mouth full of cakes, which he was engulfing in quantities
that made Brigitte uneasy, the professor made a sign that he would
soon answer; then, having mistaken his glass and swallowed the
contents of Colleville's, he replied:--
"You ask what that insolent young man had done to me? A rascally
thing; and not the first, either. He knows that I cannot abide stars,
having very good reason to hate them, as you shall hear: In 1807,
being attached to the Bureau of Longitudes, I was part of the
scientific expedition sent to Spain, under the direction of my friend
and colleague, Jean-Baptiste Biot, to determine the arc of the
terrestrial meridian from Barcelona to the Balearic isles. I was just
in the act of observing a star (perhaps the very one my rascally pupil
has discovered), when suddenly, war having broken out between France
and Spain, the peasants, seeing me perched with a telescope on Monte
Galazzo, took it into their heads that I was making signals to the
enemy. A mob of savages broke my instruments, and talked of stringing
me up. They were just going to do it, when the captain of a vessel
took me prisoner and thrust me into the citadel of Belver, where I
spent three years in the harshest captivity. Since them, as you may
well believe, I loathe the whole celestial system; though I was,
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