"Yes, love. Thank you for the things you said about me. You are so much nicer since Florine has come here."
"Come, don't spoil your entry, little one. Quick with you, look sharp, and say, 'Stop, wretched man!' nicely, for there are two thousand francs of takings."
Lucien was struck with amazement when the girl's whole face suddenly changed, and she shrieked, "Stop, wretched man!" a cry that froze the blood in your veins. She was no longer the same creature.
"So this is the stage," he said to Lousteau.
"It is like the bookseller's shop in the Wooden Galleries, or a literary paper," said Etienne Lousteau; "it is a kitchen, neither more nor less."
Nathan appeared at this moment.
"What brings you here?" inquired Lousteau.
"Why, I am doing the minor theatres for the Gazette until something better turns up."
"Oh! come to supper with us this evening; speak well of Florine, and I will do as much for you."
"Very much at your service," returned Nathan.
"You know; she is living in the Rue du Bondy now."
"Lousteau, dear boy, who is the handsome young man that you have brought with you?" asked the actress, now returned to the wings.
"A great poet, dear, that will have a famous name one of these days.—M. Nathan, I must introduce M. Lucien de Rubempre to you, as you are to meet again at supper."
"You have a good name, monsieur," said Nathan.
"Lucien, M. Raoul Nathan," continued Etienne.
"I read your book two days ago; and, upon my word, I cannot understand how you, who have written such a book, and such poetry, can be so humble to a journalist."
"Wait till your first book comes out," said Nathan, and a shrewd smile flitted over his face.
"I say! I say! here are Ultras and Liberals actually shaking hands!" cried Vernou, spying the trio.
"In the morning I hold the views of my paper," said Nathan, "in the evening I think as I please; all journalists see double at night."
Felicien Vernou turned to Lousteau.
"Finot is looking for you, Etienne; he came with me, and—here he is!"
"Ah, by the by, there is not a place in the house, is there?" asked Finot.
"You will always find a place in our hearts," said the actress, with the sweetest smile imaginable.
"I say, my little Florville, are you cured already of your fancy? They told me that a Russian prince had carried you off."
"Who carries off women in these days" said Florville (she who had cried, "Stop, wretched man!"). "We stayed at Saint-Mande for ten days, and my prince got off with paying the forfeit money to the management. The manager will go down on his knees to pray for some more Russian princes," Florville continued, laughing; "the forfeit money was so much clear gain."
"And as for you, child," said Finot, turning to a pretty girl in a peasant's costume, "where did you steal these diamond ear-drops? Have you hooked an Indian prince?"
"No, a blacking manufacturer, an Englishman, who has gone off already. It is not everybody who can find millionaire shopkeepers, tired of domestic life, whenever they like, as Florine does and Coralie. Aren't they just lucky?"
"Florville, you will make a bad entry," said Lousteau; "the blacking has gone to your head!"
"If you want a success," said Nathan, "instead of screaming, 'He is saved!' like a Fury, walk on quite quietly, go to the staircase, and say, 'He is saved,' in a chest voice, like Pasta's 'O patria,' in Tancreda.—There, go along!" and he pushed her towards the stage.
"It is too late," said Vernou, "the effect has hung fire."
"What did she do? the house is applauding like mad," asked Lousteau.
"Went down on her knees and showed her bosom; that is her great resource," said the blacking-maker's widow.
"The manager is giving up the stage box to us; you will find me there when you come," said Finot, as Lousteau walked off with Lucien.
At the back of the stage, through a labyrinth of scenery and corridors, the pair climbed several flights of stairs and reached a little room on a third floor, Nathan and Felicien Vernou following them.
"Good-day or good-night, gentlemen," said Florine. Then, turning to a short, stout man standing in a corner, "These gentlemen are the rulers of my destiny," she said, "my future is in their hands; but they will be under our table to-morrow morning, I hope, if M. Lousteau has forgotten nothing——"
"Forgotten! You are going to have Blondet of the Debats," said Etienne, "the genuine Blondet, the very Blondet—Blondet himself, in short."
"Oh! Lousteau, you dear boy! stop, I must give you a kiss," and she flung her arms about the journalist's neck. Matifat, the stout person in the corner, looked serious at this.
Florine was thin; her beauty, like a bud, gave promise of the flower to come; the girl of sixteen could only delight the eyes of artists who prefer the sketch to the picture. All the quick subtlety of her character was visible in the features of the charming actress, who at that time might have sat for Goethe's Mignon. Matifat, a wealthy druggist of the Rue des Lombards, had imagined that a little Boulevard actress would have no very expensive tastes, but in eleven months Florine had cost him sixty thousand francs. Nothing seemed more extraordinary to Lucien than the sight of an honest and worthy merchant standing like a statue of the god Terminus in the actress' narrow dressing-room, a tiny place some ten feet square, hung with a pretty wall-paper, and adorned with a full-length mirror, a sofa, and two chairs. There was a fireplace in the dressing-closet, a carpet on the floor, and cupboards all round the room. A dresser was putting the finishing touches to a Spanish costume; for Florine was to take the part of a countess in an imbroglio.
"That girl will be the handsomest actress in Paris in five years' time," said Nathan, turning to Felicien Vernou.
"By the by, darlings, you will take care of me to-morrow, won't you?" said Florine, turning to the three journalists. "I have engaged cabs for to-night, for I am going to send you home as tipsy as Shrove Tuesday. Matifat has sent in wines—oh! wines worthy of Louis XVIII., and engaged the Prussian ambassador's cook."
"We expect something enormous from the look of the gentleman," remarked Nathan.
"And he is quite aware that he is treating the most dangerous men in Paris," added Florine.
Matifat was looking uneasily at Lucien; he felt jealous of the young man's good looks.
"But here is some one that I do not know," Florine continued, confronting Lucien. "Which of you has imported the Apollo Belvedere from Florence? He is as charming as one of Girodet's figures."
"He is a poet, mademoiselle, from the provinces. I forgot to present him to you; you are so beautiful to-night that you put the Complete Guide to Etiquette out of a man's head——"
"Is he so rich that he can afford to write poetry?" asked Florine.
"Poor as Job," said Lucien.
"It is a great temptation for some of us," said the actress.
Just then the author of the play suddenly entered, and Lucien beheld M. du Bruel, a short, attenuated young man in an overcoat, a composite human blend of the jack-in-office, the owner of house-property, and the stockbroker.
"Florine, child," said this personage, "are you sure of your part, eh? No slips of memory, you know. And mind that scene in the second act, make the irony tell, bring out that subtle touch; say, 'I do not love you,' just as we agreed."
"Why do you take parts in which you have to say such things?" asked Matifat.
The druggist's remark was received with a general shout of laughter.
"What does it matter to you," said Florine, "so long as I don't say such things to you, great stupid?—Oh! his stupidity is the pleasure of my life," she continued, glancing at the journalist. "Upon my word, I would pay him so much for every blunder, if it would not be the ruin of me."
"Yes, but you will look at me when you say it, as you do when you are rehearsing, and it gives me a turn," remonstrated the druggist.
"Very well, then, I will look at my friend Lousteau here."
A bell rang outside in the passage.
"Go out, all of you!" cried Florine; "let me read my part over again and try to understand it."
Lucien and Lousteau were the last to go. Lousteau set a kiss on Florine's shoulder, and Lucien heard her say, "Not to-night. Impossible. That stupid old animal told his wife that he was going out into the country."
"Isn't she charming?" said Etienne, as they came away.
"But—but that Matifat, my dear fellow——"
"Oh! you know nothing of Parisian life, my boy. Some things cannot be helped. Suppose that you fell in love with a married woman, it comes to the same thing. It all depends on the way that you look at it."
Etienne and Lucien entered the stage-box, and found the manager there with Finot. Matifat was in the ground-floor box exactly opposite with a friend of his, a silk-mercer named Camusot (Coralie's protector), and a worthy little old soul, his father-in-law. All three of these city men were polishing their opera-glasses, and anxiously scanning the house; certain symptoms in the pit appeared to disturb them. The usual heterogeneous first-night elements filled the boxes—journalists and their mistresses, lorettes and their lovers, a sprinkling of the determined playgoers who never miss a first night if they can help it, and a very few people of fashion who care for this sort of sensation. The first box was occupied by the head of a department, to whom du Bruel, maker of vaudevilles, owed a snug little sinecure in the Treasury.
Lucien had gone from surprise to surprise since the dinner at Flicoteaux's. For two months Literature had meant a life of poverty and want; in Lousteau's room he had seen it at its cynical worst; in the Wooden Galleries he had met Literature abject and Literature insolent. The sharp contrasts of heights and depths; of compromise with conscience; of supreme power and want of principle; of treachery and pleasure; of mental elevation and bondage—all this made his head swim, he seemed to be watching some strange unheard-of drama.
Finot was talking with the manager. "Do you think du Bruel's piece will pay?" he asked.
"Du Bruel has tried to do something in Beaumarchais' style. Boulevard audiences don't care for that kind of thing; they like harrowing sensations; wit is not much appreciated here. Everything depends on Florine and Coralie to-night; they are bewitchingly pretty and graceful, wear very short skirts, and dance a Spanish dance, and possibly they may carry off the piece with the public. The whole affair is a gambling speculation. A few clever notices in the papers, and I may make a hundred thousand crowns, if the play takes."
"Oh! come, it will only be a moderate success, I can see," said Finot.
"Three of the theatres have got up a plot," continued the manager; "they will even hiss the piece, but I have made arrangements to defeat their kind intentions. I have squared the men in their pay; they will make a muddle of it. A couple of city men yonder have taken a hundred tickets apiece to secure a triumph for Florine and Coralie, and given them to acquaintances able and ready to act as chuckers out. The fellows, having been paid twice, will go quietly, and a scene of that sort always makes a good impression on the house."
"Two hundred tickets! What invaluable men!" exclaimed Finot.
"Yes. With two more actresses as handsomely kept as Florine and Coralie, I should make something out of the business."
For the past two hours the word money had been sounding in Lucien's ears as the solution of every difficulty. In the theatre as in the publishing trade, and in the publishing trade as in the newspaper-office—it was everywhere the same; there was not a word of art or of glory. The steady beat of the great pendulum, Money, seemed to fall like hammer-strokes on his heart and brain. And yet while the orchestra played the overture, while the pit was full of noisy tumult of applause and hisses, unconsciously he drew a comparison between this scene and others that came up in his mind. Visions arose before him of David and the printing-office, of the poetry that he came to know in that atmosphere of pure peace, when together they beheld the wonders of Art, the high successes of genius, and visions of glory borne on stainless wings. He thought of the evenings spent with d'Arthez and his friends, and tears glittered in his eyes.
"What is the matter with you?" asked Etienne Lousteau.
"I see poetry fallen into the mire."
"Ah! you have still some illusions left, my dear fellow."
"Is there nothing for it but to cringe and submit to thickheads like Matifat and Camusot, as actresses bow down to journalists, and we ourselves to the booksellers?"
"My boy, do you see that dull-brained fellow?" said Etienne, lowering his voice, and glancing at Finot. "He has neither genius nor cleverness, but he is covetous; he means to make a fortune at all costs, and he is a keen man of business. Didn't you see how he made forty per cent out of me at Dauriat's, and talked as if he were doing me a favor?—Well, he gets letters from not a few unknown men of genius who go down on their knees to him for a hundred francs."
The words recalled the pen-and-ink sketch that lay on the table in the editor's office and the words, "Finot, my hundred francs!" Lucien's inmost soul shrank from the man in disgust.
"I would sooner die," he said.
"Sooner live," retorted Etienne.
The curtain rose, and the stage-manager went off to the wings to give orders. Finot turned to Etienne.
"My dear fellow, Dauriat has passed his word; I am proprietor of one-third of his weekly paper. I have agreed to give thirty thousand francs in cash, on condition that I am to be editor and director. 'Tis a splendid thing. Blondet told me that the Government intends to take restrictive measures against the press; there will be no new papers allowed; in six months' time it will cost a million francs to start a new journal, so I struck a bargain though I have only ten thousand francs in hand. Listen to me. If you can sell one-half of my share, that is one-sixth of the paper, to Matifat for thirty thousand francs, you shall be editor of my little paper with a salary of two hundred and fifty francs per month. I want in any case to have the control of my old paper, and to keep my hold upon it; but nobody need know that, and your name will appear as editor. You will be paid at the rate of five francs per column; you need not pay contributors more than three francs, and you keep the difference. That means another four hundred and fifty francs per month. But, at the same time, I reserve the right to use the paper to attack or defend men or causes, as I please; and you may indulge your own likes and dislikes so long as you do not interfere with my schemes. Perhaps I may be a Ministerialist, perhaps Ultra, I do not know yet; but I mean to keep up my connections with the Liberal party (below the surface). I can speak out with you; you are a good fellow. I might, perhaps, give you the Chambers to do for another paper on which I work; I am afraid I can scarcely keep on with it now. So let Florine do this bit of jockeying; tell her to put the screw on her druggist. If I can't find the money within forty-eight hours, I must cry off my bargain. Dauriat sold another third to his printer and paper-dealer for thirty thousand francs; so he has his own third gratis, and ten thousand francs to the good, for he only gave fifty thousand for the whole affair. And in another year's time the magazine will be worth two hundred thousand francs, if the Court buys it up; if the Court has the good sense to suppress newspapers, as they say."
"You are lucky," said Lousteau.
"If you had gone through all that I have endured, you would not say that of me. I had my fill of misery in those days, you see, and there was no help for it. My father is a hatter; he still keeps a shop in the Rue du Coq. Nothing but millions of money or a social cataclysm can open out the way to my goal; and of the two alternatives, I don't know now that the revolution is not the easier. If I bore your friend's name, I should have a chance to get on. Hush, here comes the manager. Good-bye," and Finot rose to his feet, "I am going to the Opera. I shall very likely have a duel on my hands to-morrow, for I have put my initials to a terrific attack on a couple of dancers under the protection of two Generals. I am giving it them hot and strong at the Opera."
"Aha?" said the manager.
"Yes. They are stingy with me," returned Finot, "now cutting off a box, and now declining to take fifty subscriptions. I have sent in my ultimatum; I mean to have a hundred subscriptions out of them and a box four times a month. If they take my terms, I shall have eight hundred readers and a thousand paying subscribers, so we shall have twelve hundred with the New Year."
"You will end by ruining us," said the manager.
"You are not much hurt with your ten subscriptions. I had two good notices put into the Constitutionnel."
"Oh! I am not complaining of you," cried the manager.
"Good-bye till to-morrow evening, Lousteau," said Finot. "You can give me your answer at the Francais; there is a new piece on there; and as I shall not be able to write the notice, you can take my box. I will give you preference; you have worked yourself to death for me, and I am grateful. Felicien Vernou offered twenty thousand francs for a third share of my little paper, and to work without a salary for a twelvemonth; but I want to be absolute master. Good-bye."
"He is not named Finot" (finaud, slyboots) "for nothing," said Lucien.
"He is a gallows-bird that will get on in the world," said Etienne, careless whether the wily schemer overheard the remark or not, as he shut the door of the box.
"He!" said the manager. "He will be a millionaire; he will enjoy the respect of all who know him; he may perhaps have friends some day——"
"Good heavens! what a den!" said Lucien. "And are you going to drag that excellent creature into such a business?" he continued, looking at Florine, who gave them side glances from the stage.
"She will carry it through too. You do not know the devotion and the wiles of these beloved beings," said Lousteau.
"They redeem their failings and expiate all their sins by boundless love, when they love," said the manager. "A great love is all the grander in an actress by reason of its violent contrast with her surroundings."
"And he who finds it, finds a diamond worthy of the proudest crown lying in the mud," returned Lousteau.
"But Coralie is not attending to her part," remarked the manager. "Coralie is smitten with our friend here, all unsuspicious of his conquest, and Coralie will make a fiasco; she is missing her cues, this is the second time she had not heard the prompter. Pray, go into the corner, monsieur," he continued. "If Coralie is smitten with you, I will go and tell her that you have left the house."
"No! no!" cried Lousteau; "tell Coralie that this gentleman is coming to supper, and that she can do as she likes with him, and she will play like Mlle. Mars."
The manager went, and Lucien turned to Etienne. "What! do you mean to say that you will ask that druggist, through Mlle. Florine, to pay thirty thousand francs for one-half a share, when Finot gave no more for the whole of it? And ask without the slightest scruple?——"
Lousteau interrupted Lucien before he had time to finish his expostulation. "My dear boy, what country can you come from? The druggist is not a man; he is a strong box delivered into our hands by his fancy for an actress."
"How about your conscience?"
"Conscience, my dear fellow, is a stick which every one takes up to beat his neighbor and not for application to his own back. Come, now! who the devil are you angry with? In one day chance has worked a miracle for you, a miracle for which I have been waiting these two years, and you must needs amuse yourself by finding fault with the means? What! you appear to me to possess intelligence; you seem to be in a fair way to reach that freedom from prejudice which is a first necessity to intellectual adventurers in the world we live in; and are you wallowing in scruples worthy of a nun who accuses herself of eating an egg with concupiscence?... If Florine succeeds, I shall be editor of a newspaper with a fixed salary of two hundred and fifty francs per month; I shall take the important plays and leave the vaudevilles to Vernou, and you can take my place and do the Boulevard theatres, and so get a foot in the stirrup. You will make three francs per column and write a column a day—thirty columns a month means ninety francs; you will have some sixty francs worth of books to sell to Barbet; and lastly, you can demand ten tickets a month of each of your theatres—that is, forty tickets in all—and sell them for forty francs to a Barbet who deals in them (I will introduce you to the man), so you will have two hundred francs coming in every month. Then if you make yourself useful to Finot, you might get a hundred francs for an article in this new weekly review of his, in which case you would show uncommon talent, for all the articles are signed, and you cannot put in slip-shod work as you can on a small paper. In that case you would be making a hundred crowns a month. Now, my dear boy, there are men of ability, like that poor d'Arthez, who dines at Flicoteaux's every day, who may wait for ten years before they will make a hundred crowns; and you will be making four thousand francs a year by your pen, to say nothing of the books you will write for the trade, if you do work of that kind.
"Now, a sub-prefect's salary only amounts to a thousand crowns, and there he stops in his arrondissement, wearing away time like the rung of a chair. I say nothing of the pleasure of going to the theatre without paying for your seat, for that is a delight which quickly palls; but you can go behind the scenes in four theatres. Be hard and sarcastic for a month or two, and you will be simply overwhelmed with invitations from actresses, and their adorers will pay court to you; you will only dine at Flicoteaux's when you happen to have less than thirty sous in your pocket and no dinner engagement. At the Luxembourg, at five o'clock, you did not know which way to turn; now, you are on the eve of entering a privileged class, you will be one of the hundred persons who tell France what to think. In three days' time, if all goes well, you can, if you choose, make a man's life a curse to him by putting thirty jokes at his expense in print at the rate of three a day; you can, if you choose, draw a revenue of pleasure from the actresses at your theatres; you can wreck a good play and send all Paris running after a bad one. If Dauriat declines to pay you for your Marguerites, you can make him come to you, and meekly and humbly implore you to take two thousand francs for them. If you have the ability, and knock off two or three articles that threaten to spoil some of Dauriat's speculations, or to ruin a book on which he counts, you will see him come climbing up your stairs like a clematis, and always at the door of your dwelling. As for your novel, the booksellers who would show you more or less politely to the door at this moment will be standing outside your attic in a string, and the value of the manuscript, which old Doguereau valued at four hundred francs will rise to four thousand. These are the advantages of the journalist's profession. So let us do our best to keep all newcomers out of it. It needs an immense amount of brains to make your way, and a still greater amount of luck. And here are you quibbling over your good fortune! If we had not met to-day, you see, at Flicoteaux's, you might have danced attendance on the booksellers for another three years, or starved like d'Arthez in a garret. By the time that d'Arthez is as learned as Bayle and as great a writer of prose as Rousseau, we shall have made our fortunes, you and I, and we shall hold his in our hands—wealth and fame to give or to hold. Finot will be a deputy and proprietor of a great newspaper, and we shall be whatever we meant to be—peers of France, or prisoner for debt in Sainte-Pelagie."
"So Finot will sell his paper to the highest bidder among the Ministers, just as he sells favorable notices to Mme. Bastienne and runs down Mlle. Virginie, saying that Mme. Bastienne's bonnets are superior to the millinery which they praised at first!" said Lucien, recollecting that scene in the office.
"My dear fellow, you are a simpleton," Lousteau remarked drily. "Three years ago Finot was walking on the uppers of his boots, dining for eighteen sous at Tabar's, and knocking off a tradesman's prospectus (when he could get it) for ten francs. His clothes hung together by some miracle as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception. Now, Finot has a paper of his own, worth about a hundred thousand francs. What with subscribers who pay and take no copies, genuine subscriptions, and indirect taxes levied by his uncle, he is making twenty thousand francs a year. He dines most sumptuously every day; he has set up a cabriolet within the last month; and now, at last, behold him the editor of a weekly review with a sixth share, for which he will not pay a penny, a salary of five hundred francs per month, and another thousand francs for supplying matter which costs him nothing, and for which the firm pays. You yourself, to begin with, if Finot consents to pay you fifty francs per sheet, will be only too glad to let him have two or three articles for nothing. When you are in his position, you can judge Finot; a man can only be tried by his peers. And for you, is there not an immense future opening out before you, if you will blindly minister to his enmity, attack at Finot's bidding, and praise when he gives the word? Suppose that you yourself wish to be revenged upon somebody, you can break a foe or friend on the wheel. You have only to say to me, 'Lousteau, let us put an end to So-and-so,' and we will kill him by a phrase put in the paper morning by morning; and afterwards you can slay the slain with a solemn article in Finot's weekly. Indeed, if it is a matter of capital importance to you, Finot would allow you to bludgeon your man in a big paper with ten or twelve thousand subscribers, if you make yourself indispensable to Finot."
"Then are you sure that Florine can bring her druggist to make the bargain?" asked Lucien, dazzled by these prospects.
"Quite sure. Now comes the interval, I will go and tell her everything at once in a word or two; it will be settled to-night. If Florine once has her lesson by heart, she will have all my wit and her own besides."
"And there sits that honest tradesman, gaping with open-mouthed admiration at Florine, little suspecting that you are about to get thirty thousand francs out of him!——"
"More twaddle! Anybody might think that the man was going to be robbed!" cried Lousteau. "Why, my dear boy, if the minister buys the newspaper, the druggist may make twenty thousand francs in six months on an investment of thirty thousand. Matifat is not looking at the newspaper, but at Florine's prospects. As soon as it is known that Matifat and Camusot—(for they will go shares)—that Matifat and Camusot are proprietors of a review, the newspapers will be full of friendly notices of Florine and Coralie. Florine's name will be made; she will perhaps obtain an engagement in another theatre with a salary of twelve thousand francs. In fact, Matifat will save a thousand francs every month in dinners and presents to journalists. You know nothing of men, nor of the way things are managed."
"Poor man!" said Lucien, "he is looking forward to an evening's pleasure."
"And he will be sawn in two with arguments until Florine sees Finot's receipt for a sixth share of the paper. And to-morrow I shall be editor of Finot's paper, and making a thousand francs a month. The end of my troubles is in sight!" cried Florine's lover.
Lousteau went out, and Lucien sat like one bewildered, lost in the infinite of thought, soaring above this everyday world. In the Wooden Galleries he had seen the wires by which the trade in books is moved; he has seen something of the kitchen where great reputations are made; he had been behind the scenes; he had seen the seamy side of life, the consciences of men involved in the machinery of Paris, the mechanism of it all. As he watched Florine on the stage he almost envied Lousteau his good fortune; already, for a few moments he had forgotten Matifat in the background. He was not left alone for long, perhaps for not more than five minutes, but those minutes seemed an eternity.
Thoughts rose within him that set his soul on fire, as the spectacle on the stage had heated his senses. He looked at the women with their wanton eyes, all the brighter for the red paint on their cheeks, at the gleaming bare necks, the luxuriant forms outlined by the lascivious folds of the basquina, the very short skirts, that displayed as much as possible of limbs encased in scarlet stockings with green clocks to them—a disquieting vision for the pit.
A double process of corruption was working within him in parallel lines, like two channels that will spread sooner or later in flood time and make one. That corruption was eating into Lucien's soul, as he leaned back in his corner, staring vacantly at the curtain, one arm resting on the crimson velvet cushion, and his hand drooping over the edge. He felt the fascination of the life that was offered to him, of the gleams of light among its clouds; and this so much the more keenly because it shone out like a blaze of fireworks against the blank darkness of his own obscure, monotonous days of toil.
Suddenly his listless eyes became aware of a burning glance that reached him through a rent in the curtain, and roused him from his lethargy. Those were Coralie's eyes that glowed upon him. He lowered his head and looked across at Camusot, who just then entered the opposite box.
That amateur was a worthy silk-mercer of the Rue des Bourdonnais, stout and substantial, a judge in the commercial court, a father of four children, and the husband of a second wife. At the age of fifty-six, with a cap of gray hair on his head, he had the smug appearance of a man who has his eighty thousand francs of income; and having been forced to put up with a good deal that he did not like in the way of business, has fully made up his mind to enjoy the rest of his life, and not to quit this earth until he has had his share of cakes and ale. A brow the color of fresh butter and florid cheeks like a monk's jowl seemed scarcely big enough to contain his exuberant jubilation. Camusot had left his wife at home, and they were applauding Coralie to the skies. All the rich man's citizen vanity was summed up and gratified in Coralie; in Coralie's lodging he gave himself the airs of a great lord of a bygone day; now, at this moment, he felt that half of her success was his; the knowledge that he had paid for it confirmed him in this idea. Camusot's conduct was sanctioned by the presence of his father-in-law, a little old fogy with powdered hair and leering eyes, highly respected nevertheless.
Again Lucien felt disgust rising within him. He thought of the year when he loved Mme. de Bargeton with an exalted and disinterested love; and at that thought love, as a poet understands it, spread its white wings about him; countless memories drew a circle of distant blue horizon about the great man of Angouleme, and again he fell to dreaming.
Up went the curtain, and there stood Coralie and Florine upon the stage.
"He is thinking about as much of you as of the Grand Turk, my dear girl," Florine said in an aside while Coralie was finishing her speech.
Lucien could not help laughing. He looked at Coralie. She was one of the most charming and captivating actresses in Paris, rivaling Mme. Perrin and Mlle. Fleuriet, and destined likewise to share their fate. Coralie was a woman of a type that exerts at will a power of fascination over men. With an oval face of deep ivory tint, a mouth red as a pomegranate, and a chin subtly delicate in its contour as the edge of a porcelain cup, Coralie was a Jewess of the sublime type. The jet black eyes behind their curving lashes seemed to scorch her eyelids; you could guess how soft they might grow, or how sparks of the heat of the desert might flash from them in response to a summons from within. The circles of olive shadow about them were bounded by thick arching lines of eyebrow. Magnificent mental power, well-nigh amounting to genius, seemed to dwell in the swarthy forehead beneath the double curve of ebony hair that lay upon it like a crown, and gleamed in the light like a varnished surface; but like many another actress, Coralie had little wit in spite of her aptness at greenroom repartee, and scarcely any education in spite of her boudoir experience. Her brain was prompted by her senses, her kindness was the impulsive warm-heartedness of girls of her class. But who could trouble over Coralie's psychology when his eyes were dazzled by those smooth, round arms of hers, the spindle-shaped fingers, the fair white shoulders, and breast celebrated in the Song of Songs, the flexible curving lines of throat, the graciously moulded outlines beneath the scarlet silk stockings? And this beauty, worthy of an Eastern poet, was brought into relief by the conventional Spanish costume of the stage. Coralie was the delight of the pit; all eyes dwelt on the outlines moulded by the clinging folds of her bodice, and lingered over the Andalusian contour of the hips from which her skirt hung, fluttering wantonly with every movement. To Lucien, watching this creature, who played for him alone, caring no more for Camusot than a street-boy in the gallery cares for an apple-paring, there came a moment when he set desire above love, and enjoyment above desire, and the demon of Lust stirred strange thoughts in him.
"I know nothing of the love that wallows in luxury and wine and sensual pleasure," he said within himself. "I have lived more with ideas than with realities. You must pass through all experience if you mean to render all experience. This will be my first great supper, my first orgy in a new and strange world; why should I not know, for once, the delights which the great lords of the eighteenth century sought so eagerly of wantons of the Opera? Must one not first learn of courtesans and actresses the delights, the perfections, the transports, the resources, the subtleties of love, if only to translate them afterwards into the regions of a higher love than this? And what is all this, after all, but the poetry of the senses? Two months ago these women seemed to me to be goddesses guarded by dragons that no one dared approach; I was envying Lousteau just now, but here is another handsomer than Florine; why should I not profit by her fancy, when the greatest nobles buy a night with such women with their richest treasures? When ambassadors set foot in these depths, they fling aside all thought of yesterday or to-morrow. I should be a fool to be more squeamish than princes, especially as I love no one as yet."
Lucien had quite forgotten Camusot. To Lousteau he had expressed the utmost disgust for this most hateful of all partitions, and now he himself had sunk to the same level, and, carried away by the casuistry of his vehement desire, had given the reins to his fancy.
"Coralie is raving about you," said Lousteau as he came in. "Your countenance, worthy of the greatest Greek sculptors, has worked unutterable havoc behind the scenes. You are in luck my dear boy. Coralie is eighteen years old, and in a few days' time she may be making sixty thousand francs a year by her beauty. She is an honest girl still. Since her mother sold her three years ago for sixty thousand francs, she has tried to find happiness, and found nothing but annoyance. She took to the stage in a desperate mood; she has a horror of her first purchaser, de Marsay; and when she came out of the galleys, for the king of dandies soon dropped her, she picked up old Camusot. She does not care much about him, but he is like a father to her, and she endures him and his love. Several times already she has refused the handsomest proposals; she is faithful to Camusot, who lets her live in peace. So you are her first love. The first sight of you went to her heart like a pistol-shot, Florine has gone to her dressing-room to bring the girl to reason. She is crying over your cruelty; she has forgotten her part, the play will go to pieces, and good-day to the engagement at the Gymnase which Camusot had planned for her."
"Pooh!... Poor thing!" said Lucien. Every instinct of vanity was tickled by the words; he felt his heart swell high with self-conceit. "More adventures have befallen me in this one evening, my dear fellow, than in all the first eighteen years of my life." And Lucien related the history of his love affairs with Mme. de Bargeton, and of the cordial hatred he bore the Baron du Chatelet.
"Stay though! the newspaper wants a bete noire; we will take him up. The Baron is a buck of the Empire and a Ministerialist; he is the man for us; I have seen him many a time at the Opera. I can see your great lady as I sit here; she is often in the Marquise d'Espard's box. The Baron is paying court to your lady love, a cuttlefish bone that she is. Wait! Finot has just sent a special messenger round to say that they are short of copy at the office. Young Hector Merlin has left them in the lurch because they did not pay for white lines. Finot, in despair, is knocking off an article against the Opera. Well now, my dear fellow, you can do this play; listen to it and think it over, and I will go to the manager's office and think out three columns about your man and your disdainful fair one. They will be in no pleasant predicament to-morrow."
"So this is how a newspaper is written?" said Lucien.
"It is always like this," answered Lousteau. "These ten months that I have been a journalist, they have always run short of copy at eight o'clock in the evening."
Manuscript sent to the printer is spoken of as "copy," doubtless because the writers are supposed to send in a fair copy of their work; or possibly the word is ironically derived from the Latin word copia, for copy is invariably scarce.
"We always mean to have a few numbers ready in advance, a grand idea that will never be realized," continued Lousteau. "It is ten o'clock, you see, and not a line has been written. I shall ask Vernou and Nathan for a score of epigrams on deputies, or on 'Chancellor Cruzoe,' or on the Ministry, or on friends of ours if it needs must be. A man in this pass would slaughter his parent, just as a privateer will load his guns with silver pieces taken out of the booty sooner than perish. Write a brilliant article, and you will make brilliant progress in Finot's estimation; for Finot has a lively sense of benefits to come, and that sort of gratitude is better than any kind of pledge, pawntickets always excepted, for they invariably represent something solid."
"What kind of men can journalists be? Are you to sit down at a table and be witty to order?"
"Just exactly as a lamp begins to burn when you apply a match—so long as there is any oil in it."
Lousteau's hand was on the lock when du Bruel came in with the manager.
"Permit me, monsieur, to take a message to Coralie; allow me to tell her that you will go home with her after supper, or my play will be ruined. The wretched girl does not know what she is doing or saying; she will cry when she ought to laugh and laugh when she ought to cry. She has been hissed once already. You can still save the piece, and, after all, pleasure is not a misfortune."
"I am not accustomed to rivals, sir," Lucien answered.
"Pray don't tell her that!" cried the manager. "Coralie is just the girl to fling Camusot overboard and ruin herself in good earnest. The proprietor of the Golden Cocoon, worthy man, allows her two thousand francs a month, and pays for all her dresses and claqueurs."
"As your promise pledges me to nothing, save your play," said Lucien, with a sultan's airs.
"But don't look as if you meant to snub that charming creature," pleaded du Bruel.
"Dear me! am I to write the notice of your play and smile on your heroine as well?" exclaimed the poet.
The author vanished with a signal to Coralie, who began to act forthwith in a marvelous way. Vignol, who played the part of the alcalde, and revealed for the first time his genius as an actor of old men, came forward amid a storm of applause to make an announcement to the house.
"The piece which we have the honor of playing for you this evening, gentlemen, is the work of MM. Raoul and de Cursy."
"Why, Nathan is partly responsible," said Lousteau. "I don't wonder that he looked in."
"Coralie! Coralie!" shouted the enraptured house. "Florine, too!" roared a voice of thunder from the opposite box, and other voices took up the cry, "Florine and Coralie!"
The curtain rose, Vignol reappeared between the two actresses; Matifat and Camusot flung wreaths on the stage, and Coralie stooped for her flowers and held them out to Lucien.
For him those two hours spent in the theatre seemed to be a dream. The spell that held him had begun to work when he went behind the scenes; and, in spite of its horrors, the atmosphere of the place, its sensuality and dissolute morals had affected the poet's still untainted nature. A sort of malaria that infects the soul seems to lurk among those dark, filthy passages filled with machinery, and lit with smoky, greasy lamps. The solemnity and reality of life disappear, the most sacred things are matter for a jest, the most impossible things seem to be true. Lucien felt as if he had taken some narcotic, and Coralie had completed the work. He plunged into this joyous intoxication.
The lights in the great chandelier were extinguished; there was no one left in the house except the boxkeepers, busy taking away footstools and shutting doors, the noises echoing strangely through the empty theatre. The footlights, blown out as one candle, sent up a fetid reek of smoke. The curtain rose again, a lantern was lowered from the ceiling, and firemen and stage carpenters departed on their rounds. The fairy scenes of the stage, the rows of fair faces in the boxes, the dazzling lights, the magical illusion of new scenery and costume had all disappeared, and dismal darkness, emptiness, and cold reigned in their stead. It was hideous. Lucien sat on in bewilderment.
"Well! are you coming, my boy?" Lousteau's voice called from the stage. "Jump down."
Lucien sprang over. He scarcely recognized Florine and Coralie in their ordinary quilted paletots and cloaks, with their faces hidden by hats and thick black veils. Two butterflies returned to the chrysalis stage could not be more completely transformed.
"Will you honor me by giving me your arm?" Coralie asked tremulously.
"With pleasure," said Lucien. He could feel the beating of her heart throbbing against his like some snared bird as she nestled closely to his side, with something of the delight of a cat that rubs herself against her master with eager silken caresses.
"So we are supping together!" she said.
The party of four found two cabs waiting for them at the door in the Rue des Fosses-du-Temple. Coralie drew Lucien to one of the two, in which Camusot and his father-in-law old Cardot were seated already. She offered du Bruel a fifth place, and the manager drove off with Florine, Matifat, and Lousteau.
"These hackney cabs are abominable things," said Coralie.
"Why don't you have a carriage?" returned du Bruel.
"Why?" she asked pettishly. "I do not like to tell you before M. Cardot's face; for he trained his son-in-law, no doubt. Would you believe it, little and old as he is, M. Cardot only gives Florine five hundred francs a month, just about enough to pay for her rent and her grub and her clothes. The old Marquis de Rochegude offered me a brougham two months ago, and he has six hundred thousand francs a year, but I am an artist and not a common hussy."
"You shall have a carriage the day after to-morrow, miss," said Camusot benignly; "you never asked me for one."
"As if one asked for such a thing as that? What! you love a woman and let her paddle about in the mud at the risk of breaking her legs? Nobody but a knight of the yardstick likes to see a draggled skirt hem."
As she uttered the sharp words that cut Camusot to the quick, she groped for Lucien's knee, and pressed it against her own, and clasped her fingers upon his hand. She was silent. All her power to feel seemed to be concentrated upon the ineffable joy of a moment which brings compensation for the whole wretched past of a life such as these poor creatures lead, and develops within their souls a poetry of which other women, happily ignorant of these violent revulsions, know nothing.
"You played like Mlle. Mars herself towards the end," said du Bruel.
"Yes," said Camusot, "something put her out at the beginning; but from the middle of the second act to the very end, she was enough to drive you wild with admiration. Half of the success of your play was due to her."
"And half of her success is due to me," said du Bruel.
"This is all much ado about nothing," said Coralie in an unfamiliar voice. And, seizing an opportunity in the darkness, she carried Lucien's hand to her lips and kissed it and drenched it with tears. Lucien felt thrilled through and through by that touch, for in the humility of the courtesan's love there is a magnificence which might set an example to angels.
"Are you writing the dramatic criticism, monsieur?" said du Bruel, addressing Lucien; "you can write a charming paragraph about our dear Coralie."
"Oh! do us that little service!" pleaded Camusot, down on his knees, metaphorically speaking, before the critic. "You will always find me ready to do you a good turn at any time."
"Do leave him his independence," Coralie exclaimed angrily; "he will write what he pleases. Papa Camusot, buy carriages for me instead of praises."
"You shall have them on very easy terms," Lucien answered politely. "I have never written for newspapers before, so I am not accustomed to their ways, my maiden pen is at your disposal——"
"That is funny," said du Bruel.
"Here we are in the Rue de Bondy," said Cardot. Coralie's sally had quite crushed the little old man.
"If you are giving me the first fruits of your pen, the first love that has sprung up in my heart shall be yours," whispered Coralie in the brief instant that they remained alone together in the cab; then she went up to Florine's bedroom to change her dress for a toilette previously sent.
Lucien had no idea how lavishly a prosperous merchant will spend money upon an actress or a mistress when he means to enjoy a life of pleasure. Matifat was not nearly so rich a man as his friend Camusot, and he had done his part rather shabbily, yet the sight of the dining-room took Lucien by surprise. The walls were hung with green cloth with a border of gilded nails, the whole room was artistically decorated, lighted by handsome lamps, stands full of flowers stood in every direction. The drawing-room was resplendent with the furniture in fashion in those days—a Thomire chandelier, a carpet of Eastern design, and yellow silken hangings relieved by a brown border. The candlesticks, fire-irons, and clock were all in good taste; for Matifat had left everything to Grindot, a rising architect, who was building a house for him, and the young man had taken great pains with the rooms when he knew that Florine was to occupy them.
Matifat, a tradesman to the backbone, went about carefully, afraid to touch the new furniture; he seemed to have the totals of the bills always before his eyes, and to look upon the splendors about him as so much jewelry imprudently withdrawn from the case.
"And I shall be obliged to do as much for Florentine!" old Cardot's eyes seemed to say.
Lucien at once began to understand Lousteau's indifference to the state of his garret. Etienne was the real king of these festivals; Etienne enjoyed the use of all these fine things. He was standing just now on the hearthrug with his back to the fire, as if he were the master of the house, chatting with the manager, who was congratulating du Bruel.
"Copy, copy!" called Finot, coming into the room. "There is nothing in the box; the printers are setting up my article, and they will soon have finished."
"We will manage," said Etienne. "There is a fire burning in Florine's boudoir; there is a table there; and if M. Matifat will find us paper and ink, we will knock off the newspaper while Florine and Coralie are dressing."
Cardot, Camusot, and Matifat disappeared in search of quills, penknives, and everything necessary. Suddenly the door was flung open, and Tullia, one of the prettiest opera-dancers of the day, dashed into the room.
"They agree to take the hundred copies, dear boy!" she cried, addressing Finot; "they won't cost the management anything, for the chorus and the orchestra and the corps de ballet are to take them whether they like it or not; but your paper is so clever that nobody will grumble. And you are going to have your boxes. Here is the subscription for the first quarter," she continued, holding out a couple of banknotes; "so don't cut me up!"
"It is all over with me!" groaned Finot; "I must suppress my abominable diatribe, and I haven't another notion in my head."
"What a happy inspiration, divine Lais!" exclaimed Blondet, who had followed the lady upstairs and brought Nathan, Vernou and Claude Vignon with him. "Stop to supper, there is a dear, or I will crush thee, butterfly as thou art. There will be no professional jealousies, as you are a dancer; and as to beauty, you have all of you too much sense to show jealousy in public."
"Oh dear!" cried Finot, "Nathan, Blondet, du Bruel, help friends! I want five columns."
"I can make two of the play," said Lucien.
"I have enough for one," added Lousteau.
"Very well; Nathan, Vernou, and du Bruel will make the jokes at the end; and Blondet, good fellow, surely will vouchsafe a couple of short columns for the first sheet. I will run round to the printer. It is lucky that you brought your carriage, Tullia."
"Yes, but the Duke is waiting below in it, and he has a German Minister with him."
"Ask the Duke and the Minister to come up," said Nathan.
"A German? They are the ones to drink, and they listen too; he shall hear some astonishing things to send home to his Government," cried Blondet.
"Is there any sufficiently serious personage to go down to speak to him?" asked Finot. "Here, du Bruel, you are an official; bring up the Duc de Rhetore and the Minister, and give your arm to Tullia. Dear me! Tullia, how handsome you are to-night!"
"We shall be thirteen at table!" exclaimed Matifat, paling visibly.
"No, fourteen," said a voice in the doorway, and Florentine appeared. "I have come to look after 'milord Cardot,'" she added, speaking with a burlesque English accent.
"And besides," said Lousteau, "Claude Vignon came with Blondet."
"I brought him here to drink," returned Blondet, taking up an inkstand. "Look here, all of you, you must use all your wit before those fifty-six bottles of wine drive it out. And, of all things, stir up du Bruel; he is a vaudevillist, he is capable of making bad jokes if you get him to concert pitch."
And Lucien wrote his first newspaper article at the round table in Florine's boudoir, by the light of the pink candles lighted by Matifat; before such a remarkable audience he was eager to show what he could do.
First performance of the Alcalde in a Fix, an imbroglio in three acts.—First appearance of Mademoiselle Florine.—Mademoiselle Coralie.—Vignol.
People are coming and going, walking and talking, everybody is looking for something, nobody finds anything. General hubbub. The Alcalde has lost his daughter and found his cap, but the cap does not fit; it must belong to some thief. Where is the thief? People walk and talk, and come and go more than ever. Finally the Alcalde finds a man without his daughter, and his daughter without the man, which is satisfactory for the magistrate, but not for the audience. Quiet being resorted, the Alcalde tries to examine the man. Behold a venerable Alcalde, sitting in an Alcalde's great armchair, arranging the sleeves of his Alcalde's gown. Only in Spain do Alcaldes cling to their enormous sleeves and wear plaited lawn ruffles about the magisterial throat, a good half of an Alcalde's business on the stage in Paris. This particular Alcalde, wheezing and waddling about like an asthmatic old man, is Vignol, on whom Potier's mantle has fallen; a young actor who personates old age so admirably that the oldest men in the audience cannot help laughing. With that quavering voice of his, that bald forehead, and those spindle shanks trembling under the weight of a senile frame, he may look forward to a long career of decrepitude. There is something alarming about the young actor's old age; he is so very old; you feel nervous lest senility should be infectious. And what an admirable Alcalde he makes! What a delightful, uneasy smile! what pompous stupidity! what wooden dignity! what judicial hesitation! How well the man knows that black may be white, or white black! How eminently well he is fitted to be Minister to a constitutional monarch! The stranger answers every one of his inquiries by a question; Vignol retorts in such a fashion, that the person under examination elicits all the truth from the Alcalde. This piece of pure comedy, with a breath of Moliere throughout, puts the house in good humor. The people on the stage all seemed to understand what they were about, but I am quite unable to clear up the mystery, or to say wherein it lay; for the Alcalde's daughter was there, personified by a living, breathing Andalusian, a Spaniard with a Spaniard's eyes, a Spaniard's complexion, a Spaniard's gait and figure, a Spaniard from top to toe, with her poniard in her garter, love in her heart, and a cross on the ribbon about her neck. When the act was over, and somebody asked me how the piece was going, I answered, "She wears scarlet stockings with green clocks to them; she has a little foot, no larger than that, in her patent leather shoes, and the prettiest pair of ankles in Andalusia!" Oh! that Alcalde's daughter brings your heart into your mouth; she tantalizes you so horribly, that you long to spring upon the stage and offer her your thatched hovel and your heart, or thirty thousand livres per annum and your pen. The Andalusian is the loveliest actress in Paris. Coralie, for she must be called by her real name, can be a countess or a grisette, and in which part she would be more charming one cannot tell. She can be anything that she chooses; she is born to achieve all possibilities; can more be said of a boulevard actress?
With the second act, a Parisian Spaniard appeared upon the scene, with her features cut like a cameo and her dangerous eyes. "Where does she come from?" I asked in my turn, and was told that she came from the greenroom, and that she was Mademoiselle Florine; but, upon my word, I could not believe a syllable of it, such spirit was there in her gestures, such frenzy in her love. She is the rival of the Alcalde's daughter, and married to a grandee cut out to wear an Almaviva's cloak, with stuff sufficient in it for a hundred boulevard noblemen. Mlle. Florine wore neither scarlet stockings with green clocks, nor patent leather shoes, but she appeared in a mantilla, a veil which she put to admirable uses, like the great lady that she is! She showed to admiration that the tigress can be a cat. I began to understand, from the sparkling talk between the two, that some drama of jealousy was going on; and just as everything was put right, the Alcalde's stupidity embroiled everybody again. Torchbearers, rich men, footmen, Figaros, grandees, alcaldes, dames, and damsels—the whole company on the stage began to eddy about, and come and go, and look for one another. The plot thickened, again I left it to thicken; for Florine the jealous and the happy Coralie had entangled me once more in the folds of mantilla and basquina, and their little feet were twinkling in my eyes.
I managed, however, to reach the third act without any mishap. The commissary of police was not compelled to interfere, and I did nothing to scandalize the house, wherefore I begin to believe in the influence of that "public and religious morality," about which the Chamber of Deputies is so anxious, that any one might think there was no morality left in France. I even contrived to gather that a man was in love with two women who failed to return his affection, or else that two women were in love with a man who loved neither of them; the man did not love the Alcalde, or the Alcalde had no love for the man, who was nevertheless a gallant gentleman, and in love with somebody, with himself, perhaps, or with heaven, if the worst came to the worst, for he becomes a monk. And if you want to know any more, you can go to the Panorama-Dramatique. You are hereby given fair warning—you must go once to accustom yourself to those irresistible scarlet stockings with the green clocks, to little feet full of promises, to eyes with a ray of sunlight shining through them, to the subtle charm of a Parisienne disguised as an Andalusian girl, and of an Andalusian masquerading as a Parisienne. You must go a second time to enjoy the play, to shed tears over the love-distracted grandee, and die of laughing at the old Alcalde. The play is twice a success. The author, who writes it, it is said, in collaboration with one of the great poets of the day, was called before the curtain, and appeared with a love-distraught damsel on each arm, and fairly brought down the excited house. The two dancers seemed to have more wit in their legs than the author himself; but when once the fair rivals left the stage, the dialogue seemed witty at once, a triumphant proof of the excellence of the piece. The applause and calls for the author caused the architect some anxiety; but M. de Cursy, the author, being accustomed to volcanic eruptions of the reeling Vesuvius beneath the chandelier, felt no tremor. As for the actresses, they danced the famous bolero of Seville, which once found favor in the sight of a council of reverend fathers, and escaped ecclesiastical censure in spite of its wanton dangerous grace. The bolero in itself would be enough to attract old age while there is any lingering heat of youth in the veins, and out of charity I warn these persons to keep the lenses of their opera-glasses well polished.
While Lucien was writing a column which was to set a new fashion in journalism and reveal a fresh and original gift, Lousteau indited an article of the kind described as moeurs—a sketch of contemporary manners, entitled The Elderly Beau.
"The buck of the Empire," he wrote, "is invariably long, slender, and well preserved. He wears a corset and the Cross of the Legion of Honor. His name was originally Potelet, or something very like it; but to stand well with the Court, he conferred a du upon himself, and du Potelet he is until another revolution. A baron of the Empire, a man of two ends, as his name (Potelet, a post) implies, he is paying his court to the Faubourg Saint-Germain, after a youth gloriously and usefully spent as the agreeable trainbearer of a sister of the man whom decency forbids me to mention by name. Du Potelet has forgotten that he was once in waiting upon Her Imperial Highness; but he still sings the songs composed for the benefactress who took such a tender interest in his career," and so forth and so forth. It was a tissue of personalities, silly enough for the most part, such as they used to write in those days. Other papers, and notably the Figaro, have brought the art to a curious perfection since. Lousteau compared the Baron to a heron, and introduced Mme. de Bargeton, to whom he was paying his court, as a cuttlefish bone, a burlesque absurdity which amused readers who knew neither of the personages. A tale of the loves of the Heron, who tried in vain to swallow the Cuttlefish bone, which broke into three pieces when he dropped it, was irresistibly ludicrous. Everybody remembers the sensation which the pleasantry made in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; it was the first of a series of similar articles, and was one of the thousand and one causes which provoked the rigorous press legislation of Charles X.
An hour later, Blondet, Lousteau, and Lucien came back to the drawing-room, where the other guests were chatting. The Duke was there and the Minister, the four women, the three merchants, the manager, and Finot. A printer's devil, with a paper cap on his head, was waiting even then for copy.
"The men are just going off, if I have nothing to take them," he said.
"Stay a bit, here are ten francs, and tell them to wait," said Finot.
"If I give them the money, sir, they would take to tippleography, and good-night to the newspaper."
"That boy's common-sense is appalling to me," remarked Finot; and the Minister was in the middle of a prediction of a brilliant future for the urchin, when the three came in. Blondet read aloud an extremely clever article against the Romantics; Lousteau's paragraph drew laughter, and by the Duc de Rhetore's advice an indirect eulogium of Mme. d'Espard was slipped in, lest the whole Faubourg Saint-Germain should take offence.
"What have you written?" asked Finot, turning to Lucien.
And Lucien read, quaking for fear, but the room rang with applause when he finished; the actresses embraced the neophyte; and the two merchants, following suit, half choked the breath out of him. There were tears in du Bruel's eyes as he grasped his critic's hand, and the manager invited him to dinner.
"There are no children nowadays," said Blondet. "Since M. de Chateaubriand called Victor Hugo a 'sublime child,' I can only tell you quite simply that you have spirit and taste, and write like a gentleman."
"He is on the newspaper," said Finot, as he thanked Etienne, and gave him a shrewd glance.
"What jokes have you made?" inquired Lousteau, turning to Blondet and du Bruel.
"Here are du Bruel's," said Nathan.
*** "Now, that M. le Vicomte d'A—— is attracting so much attention, they will perhaps let me alone," M. le Vicomte Demosthenes was heard to say yesterday.
*** An Ultra, condemning M. Pasquier's speech, said his programme was only a continuation of Decaze's policy. "Yes," said a lady, "but he stands on a Monarchical basis, he has just the kind of leg for a Court suit."
"With such a beginning, I don't ask more of you," said Finot; "it will be all right.—Run round with this," he added, turning to the boy; "the paper is not exactly a genuine article, but it is our best number yet," and he turned to the group of writers. Already Lucien's colleagues were privately taking his measure.
"That fellow has brains," said Blondet.
"His article is well written," said Claude Vignon.
"Supper!" cried Matifat.
The Duke gave his arm to Florine, Coralie went across to Lucien, and Tullia went in to supper between Emile Blondet and the German Minister.
"I cannot understand why you are making an onslaught on Mme. de Bargeton and the Baron du Chatelet; they say that he is prefect-designate of the Charente, and will be Master of Requests some day."
"Mme. de Bargeton showed Lucien the door as if he had been an imposter," said Lousteau.
"Such a fine young fellow!" exclaimed the Minister.
Supper, served with new plate, Sevres porcelain, and white damask, was redolent of opulence. The dishes were from Chevet, the wines from a celebrated merchant on the Quai Saint-Bernard, a personal friend of Matifat's. For the first time Lucien beheld the luxury of Paris displayed; he went from surprise to surprise, but he kept his astonishment to himself, like a man who had spirit and taste and wrote like a gentleman, as Blondet had said.
As they crossed the drawing-room, Coralie bent to Florine, "Make Camusot so drunk that he will be compelled to stop here all night," she whispered.
"So you have hooked your journalist, have you?" returned Florine, using the idiom of women of her class.
"No, dear; I love him," said Coralie, with an adorable little shrug of the shoulders.
Those words rang in Lucien's ears, borne to them by the fifth deadly sin. Coralie was perfectly dressed. Every woman possesses some personal charm in perfection, and Coralie's toilette brought her characteristic beauty into prominence. Her dress, moreover, like Florine's, was of some exquisite stuff, unknown as yet to the public, a mousseline de soie, with which Camusot had been supplied a few days before the rest of the world; for, as owner of the Golden Cocoon, he was a kind of Providence in Paris to the Lyons silkweavers.
Love and toilet are like color and perfume for a woman, and Coralie in her happiness looked lovelier than ever. A looked-for delight which cannot elude the grasp possesses an immense charm for youth; perhaps in their eyes the secret of the attraction of a house of pleasure lies in the certainty of gratification; perhaps many a long fidelity is attributable to the same cause. Love for love's sake, first love indeed, had blent with one of the strange violent fancies which sometimes possess these poor creatures; and love and admiration of Lucien's great beauty taught Coralie to express the thoughts in her heart.
"I should love you if you were ill and ugly," she whispered as they sat down.
What a saying for a poet! Camusot utterly vanished, Lucien had forgotten his existence, he saw Coralie, and had eyes for nothing else. How should he draw back—this creature, all sensation, all enjoyment of life, tired of the monotony of existence in a country town, weary of poverty, harassed by enforced continence, impatient of the claustral life of the Rue de Cluny, of toiling without reward? The fascination of the under world of Paris was upon him; how should he rise and leave this brilliant gathering? Lucien stood with one foot in Coralie's chamber and the other in the quicksands of Journalism. After so much vain search, and climbing of so many stairs, after standing about and waiting in the Rue de Sentier, he had found Journalism a jolly boon companion, joyous over the wine. His wrongs had just been avenged. There were two for whom he had vainly striven to fill the cup of humiliation and pain which he had been made to drink to the dregs, and now to-morrow they should receive a stab in their very hearts. "Here is a real friend!" he thought, as he looked at Lousteau. It never crossed his mind that Lousteau already regarded him as a dangerous rival. He had made a blunder; he had done his very best when a colorless article would have served him admirably well. Blondet's remark to Finot that it would be better to come to terms with a man of that calibre, had counteracted Lousteau's gnawing jealousy. He reflected that it would be prudent to keep on good terms with Lucien, and, at the same time, to arrange with Finot to exploit this formidable newcomer—he must be kept in poverty. The decision was made in a moment, and the bargain made in a few whispered words.
"He has talent."
"He will want the more."
"A supper among French journalists always fills me with dread," said the German diplomatist, with serene urbanity; he looked as he spoke at Blondet, whom he had met at the Comtesse de Montcornet's. "It is laid upon you, gentlemen, to fulfil a prophecy of Blucher's."
"What prophecy?" asked Nathan.
"When Blucher and Sacken arrived on the heights of Montmartre in 1814 (pardon me, gentlemen, for recalling a day unfortunate for France), Sacken (a rough brute), remarked, 'Now we will set Paris alight!'—'Take very good care that you don't,' said Blucher. 'France will die of that, nothing else can kill her,' and he waved his hand over the glowing, seething city, that lay like a huge canker in the valley of the Seine.—There are no journalists in our country, thank Heaven!" continued the Minister after a pause. "I have not yet recovered from the fright that the little fellow gave me, a boy of ten, in a paper cap, with the sense of an old diplomatist. And to-night I feel as if I were supping with lions and panthers, who graciously sheathe their claws in my honor."
"It is clear," said Blondet, "that we are at liberty to inform Europe that a serpent dropped from your Excellency's lips this evening, and that the venomous creature failed to inoculate Mlle. Tullia, the prettiest dancer in Paris; and to follow up the story with a commentary on Eve, and the Scriptures, and the first and last transgression. But have no fear, you are our guest."
"It would be funny," said Finot.
"We would begin with a scientific treatise on all the serpents found in the human heart and human body, and so proceed to the corps diplomatique," said Lousteau.
"And we could exhibit one in spirits, in a bottle of brandied cherries," said Vernou.
"Till you yourself would end by believing in the story," added Vignon, looking at the diplomatist.
"Gentlemen," cried the Duc de Rhetore, "let sleeping claws lie."
"The influence and power of the press is only dawning," said Finot. "Journalism is in its infancy; it will grow. In ten years' time, everything will be brought into publicity. The light of thought will be turned on all subjects, and——"
"The blight of thought will be over it all," corrected Blondet.
"Here is an apothegm," cried Claude Vignon.
"Thought will make kings," said Lousteau.
"And undo monarchs," said the German.
"And therefore," said Blondet, "if the press did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it forthwith. But here we have it, and live by it."
"You will die of it," returned the German diplomatist. "Can you not see that if you enlighten the masses, and raise them in the political scale, you make it all the harder for the individual to rise above their level? Can you not see that if you sow the seeds of reasoning among the working-classes, you will reap revolt, and be the first to fall victims? What do they smash in Paris when a riot begins?"
"The street-lamps!" said Nathan; "but we are too modest to fear for ourselves, we only run the risk of cracks."
"As a nation, you have too much mental activity to allow any government to run its course without interference. But for that, you would make the conquest of Europe a second time, and win with the pen all that you failed to keep with the sword."
"Journalism is an evil," said Claude Vignon. "The evil may have its uses, but the present Government is resolved to put it down. There will be a battle over it. Who will give way? That is the question."
"The Government will give way," said Blondet. "I keep telling people that with all my might! Intellectual power is the great power in France; and the press has more wit than all men of intellect put together, and the hypocrisy of Tartufe besides."
"Blondet! Blondet! you are going too far!" called Finot. "Subscribers are present."
"You are the proprietor of one of those poison shops; you have reason to be afraid; but I can laugh at the whole business, even if I live by it."
"Blondet is right," said Claude Vignon. "Journalism, so far from being in the hands of a priesthood, came to be first a party weapon, and then a commercial speculation, carried on without conscience or scruple, like other commercial speculations. Every newspaper, as Blondet says, is a shop to which people come for opinions of the right shade. If there were a paper for hunchbacks, it would set forth plainly, morning and evening, in its columns, the beauty, the utility, and necessity of deformity. A newspaper is not supposed to enlighten its readers, but to supply them with congenial opinions. Give any newspaper time enough, and it will be base, hypocritical, shameless, and treacherous; the periodical press will be the death of ideas, systems, and individuals; nay, it will flourish upon their decay. It will take the credit of all creations of the brain; the harm that it does is done anonymously. We, for instance—I, Claude Vignon; you, Blondet; you, Lousteau; and you, Finot—we are all Platos, Aristides, and Catos, Plutarch's men, in short; we are all immaculate; we may wash our hands of all iniquity. Napoleon's sublime aphorism, suggested by his study of the Convention, 'No one individual is responsible for a crime committed collectively,' sums up the whole significance of a phenomenon, moral or immoral, whichever you please. However shamefully a newspaper may behave, the disgrace attaches to no one person."
"The authorities will resort to repressive legislation," interposed du Bruel. "A law is going to be passed, in fact."
"Pooh!" retorted Nathan. "What is the law in France against the spirit in which it is received, the most subtle of all solvents?"
"Ideas and opinions can only be counteracted by opinions and ideas," Vignon continued. "By sheer terror and despotism, and by no other means, can you extinguish the genius of the French nation; for the language lends itself admirably to allusion and ambiguity. Epigram breaks out the more for repressive legislation; it is like steam in an engine without a safety-valve.—The King, for example, does right; if a newspaper is against him, the Minister gets all the credit of the measure, and vice versa. A newspaper invents a scandalous libel—it has been misinformed. If the victim complains, the paper gets off with an apology for taking so great a freedom. If the case is taken into court, the editor complains that nobody asked him to rectify the mistake; but ask for redress, and he will laugh in your face and treat his offence as a mere trifle. The paper scoffs if the victim gains the day; and if heavy damages are awarded, the plaintiff is held up as an unpatriotic obscurantist and a menace to the liberties of the country. In the course of an article purporting to explain that Monsieur So-and-so is as honest a man as you will find in the kingdom, you are informed that he is not better than a common thief. The sins of the press? Pooh! mere trifles; the curtailers of its liberties are monsters; and give him time enough, the constant reader is persuaded to believe anything you please. Everything which does not suit the newspaper will be unpatriotic, and the press will be infallible. One religion will be played off against another, and the Charter against the King. The press will hold up the magistracy to scorn for meting out rigorous justice to the press, and applaud its action when it serves the cause of party hatred. The most sensational fictions will be invented to increase the circulation; Journalism will descend to mountebanks' tricks worthy of Bobeche; Journalism would serve up its father with the Attic salt of its own wit sooner than fail to interest or amuse the public; Journalism will outdo the actor who put his son's ashes into the urn to draw real tears from his eyes, or the mistress who sacrifices everything to her lover."
"Journalism is, in fact, the People in folio form," interrupted Blondet.
"The people with hypocrisy added and generosity lacking," said Vignon. "All real ability will be driven out from the ranks of Journalism, as Aristides was driven into exile by the Athenians. We shall see newspapers started in the first instance by men of honor, falling sooner or later into the hands of men of abilities even lower than the average, but endowed with the resistance of flexibility of india-rubber, qualities denied to noble genius; nay, perhaps the future newspaper proprietor will be the tradesman with capital sufficient to buy venal pens. We see such things already indeed, but in ten years' time every little youngster that has left school will take himself for a great man, slash his predecessors from the lofty height of a newspaper column, drag them down by the feet, and take their place.
"Napoleon did wisely when he muzzled the press. I would wager that the Opposition papers would batter down a government of their own setting up, just as they are battering the present government, if any demand was refused. The more they have, the more they will want in the way of concessions. The parvenu journalist will be succeeded by the starveling hack. There is no salve for this sore. It is a kind of corruption which grows more and more obtrusive and malignant; the wider it spreads, the more patiently it will be endured, until the day comes when newspapers shall so increase and multiply in the earth that confusion will be the result—a second Babel. We, all of us, such as we are, have reason to know that crowned kings are less ungrateful than kings of our profession; that the most sordid man of business is not so mercenary nor so keen in speculation; that our brains are consumed to furnish their daily supply of poisonous trash. And yet we, all of us, shall continue to write, like men who work in quicksilver mines, knowing that they are doomed to die of their trade.
"Look there," he continued, "at that young man sitting beside Coralie—what is his name? Lucien! He has a beautiful face; he is a poet; and what is more, he is witty—so much the better for him. Well, he will cross the threshold of one of those dens where a man's intellect is prostituted; he will put all his best and finest thought into his work; he will blunt his intellect and sully his soul; he will be guilty of anonymous meannesses which take the place of stratagem, pillage, and ratting to the enemy in the warfare of condottieri. And when, like hundreds more, he has squandered his genius in the service of others who find the capital and do no work, those dealers in poisons will leave him to starve if he is thirsty, and to die of thirst if he is starving."
"Thanks," said Finot.
"But, dear me," continued Claude Vignon, "I knew all this, yet here am I in the galleys, and the arrival of another convict gives me pleasure. We are cleverer, Blondet and I, than Messieurs This and That, who speculate in our abilities, yet nevertheless we are always exploited by them. We have a heart somewhere beneath the intellect; we have NOT the grim qualities of the man who makes others work for him. We are indolent, we like to look on at the game, we are meditative, and we are fastidious; they will sweat our brains and blame us for improvidence."
"I thought you would be more amusing than this!" said Florine.
"Florine is right," said Blondet; "let us leave the cure of public evils to those quacks the statesmen. As Charlet says, 'Quarrel with my own bread and butter? Never!'"
"Do you know what Vignon puts me in mind of?" said Lousteau. "Of one of those fat women in the Rue du Pelican telling a schoolboy, 'My boy, you are too young to come here.'"
A burst of laughter followed the sally, but it pleased Coralie. The merchants meanwhile ate and drank and listened.
"What a nation this is! You see so much good in it and so much evil," said the Minister, addressing the Duc de Rhetore.—"You are prodigals who cannot ruin yourselves, gentlemen."
And so, by the blessing of chance, Lucien, standing on the brink of the precipice over which he was destined to fall, heard warnings on all sides. D'Arthez had set him on the right road, had shown him the noble method of work, and aroused in him the spirit before which all obstacles disappear. Lousteau himself (partly from selfish motives) had tried to warn him away by describing Journalism and Literature in their practical aspects. Lucien had refused to believe that there could be so much hidden corruption; but now he had heard the journalists themselves crying woe for their hurt, he had seen them at their work, had watched them tearing their foster-mother's heart to read auguries of the future.
That evening he had seen things as they are. He beheld the very heart's core of corruption of that Paris which Blucher so aptly described; and so far from shuddering at the sight, he was intoxicated with enjoyment of the intellectually stimulating society in which he found himself.
These extraordinary men, clad in armor damascened by their vices, these intellects environed by cold and brilliant analysis, seemed so far greater in his eyes than the grave and earnest members of the brotherhood. And besides all this, he was reveling in his first taste of luxury; he had fallen under the spell. His capricious instincts awoke; for the first time in his life he drank exquisite wines, this was his first experience of cookery carried to the pitch of a fine art. A minister, a duke, and an opera-dancer had joined the party of journalists, and wondered at their sinister power. Lucien felt a horrible craving to reign over these kings, and he thought that he had power to win his kingdom. Finally, there was this Coralie, made happy by a few words of his. By the bright light of the wax-candles, through the steam of the dishes and the fumes of wine, she looked sublimely beautiful to his eyes, so fair had she grown with love. She was the loveliest, the most beautiful actress in Paris. The brotherhood, the heaven of noble thoughts, faded away before a temptation that appealed to every fibre of his nature. How could it have been otherwise? Lucien's author's vanity had just been gratified by the praises of those who know; by the appreciation of his future rivals; the success of his articles and his conquest of Coralie might have turned an older head than his.
During the discussion, moreover, every one at table had made a remarkably good supper, and such wines are not met with every day. Lousteau, sitting beside Camusot, furtively poured cherry-brandy several times into his neighbor's wineglass, and challenged him to drink. And Camusot drank, all unsuspicious, for he thought himself, in his own way, a match for a journalist. The jokes became more personal when dessert appeared and the wine began to circulate. The German Minister, a keen-witted man of the world, made a sign to the Duke and Tullia, and the three disappeared with the first symptoms of vociferous nonsense which precede the grotesque scenes of an orgy in its final stage. Coralie and Lucien had been behaving like children all the evening; as soon as the wine was uppermost in Camusot's head, they made good their escape down the staircase and sprang into a cab. Camusot subsided under the table; Matifat, looking round for him, thought that he had gone home with Coralie, left his guests to smoke, laugh, and argue, and followed Florine to her room. Daylight surprised the party, or more accurately, the first dawn of light discovered one man still able to speak, and Blondet, that intrepid champion, was proposing to the assembled sleepers a health to Aurora the rosy-fingered.
Lucien was unaccustomed to orgies of this kind. His head was very tolerably clear as he came down the staircase, but the fresh air was too much for him; he was horribly drunk. When they reached the handsome house in the Rue de Vendome, where the actress lived, Coralie and her waiting-woman were obliged to assist the poet to climb to the first floor. Lucien was ignominiously sick, and very nearly fainted on the staircase.