"Quick, Berenice, some tea! Make some tea," cried Coralie.
"It is nothing; it is the air," Lucien got out, "and I have never taken so much before in my life."
"Poor boy! He is as innocent as a lamb," said Berenice, a stalwart Norman peasant woman as ugly as Coralie was pretty. Lucien, half unconscious, was laid at last in bed. Coralie, with Berenice's assistance, undressed the poet with all a mother's tender care.
"It is nothing," he murmured again and again. "It is the air. Thank you, mamma."
"How charmingly he says 'mamma,'" cried Coralie, putting a kiss on his hair.
"What happiness to love such an angel, mademoiselle! Where did you pick him up? I did not think a man could be as beautiful as you are," said Berenice, when Lucien lay in bed. He was very drowsy; he knew nothing and saw nothing; Coralie made him swallow several cups of tea, and left him to sleep.
"Did the porter see us? Was there anyone else about?" she asked.
"No; I was sitting up for you."
"Does Victoire know anything?"
"Rather not!" returned Berenice.
Ten hours later Lucien awoke to meet Coralie's eyes. She had watched by him as he slept; he knew it, poet that he was. It was almost noon, but she still wore the delicate dress, abominably stained, which she meant to lay up as a relic. Lucien understood all the self-sacrifice and delicacy of love, fain of its reward. He looked into Coralie's eyes. In a moment she had flung off her clothing and slipped like a serpent to Lucien's side.
At five o'clock in the afternoon Lucien was still sleeping, cradled in this voluptuous paradise. He had caught glimpses of Coralie's chamber, an exquisite creation of luxury, a world of rose-color and white. He had admired Florine's apartments, but this surpassed them in its dainty refinement.
Coralie had already risen; for if she was to play her part as the Andalusian, she must be at the theatre by seven o'clock. Yet she had returned to gaze at the unconscious poet, lulled to sleep in bliss; she could not drink too deeply of this love that rose to rapture, drawing close the bond between the heart and the senses, to steep both in ecstasy. For in that apotheosis of human passion, which of those that were twain on earth that they might know bliss to the full creates one soul to rise to love in heaven, lay Coralie's justification. Who, moreover, would not have found excuse in Lucien's more than human beauty? To the actress kneeling by the bedside, happy in love within her, it seemed that she had received love's consecration. Berenice broke in upon Coralie's rapture.
"Here comes Camusot!" cried the maid. "And he knows that you are here."
Lucien sprang up at once. Innate generosity suggested that he was doing Coralie an injury. Berenice drew aside a curtain, and he fled into a dainty dressing-room, whither Coralie and the maid brought his clothes with magical speed.
Camusot appeared, and only then did Coralie's eyes alight on Lucien's boots, warming in the fender. Berenice had privately varnished them, and put them before the fire to dry; and both mistress and maid alike forgot that tell-tale witness. Berenice left the room with a scared glance at Coralie. Coralie flung herself into the depths of a settee, and bade Camusot seat himself in the gondole, a round-backed chair that stood opposite. But Coralie's adorer, honest soul, dared not look his mistress in the face; he could not take his eyes off the pair of boots.
"Ought I to make a scene and leave Coralie?" he pondered. "Is it worth while to make a fuss about a trifle? There is a pair of boots wherever you go. These would be more in place in a shop window or taking a walk on the boulevard on somebody's feet; here, however, without a pair of feet in them, they tell a pretty plain tale. I am fifty years old, and that is the truth; I ought to be as blind as Cupid himself."
There was no excuse for this mean-spirited monologue. The boots were not the high-lows at present in vogue, which an unobservant man may be allowed to disregard up to a certain point. They were the unmistakable, uncompromising hessians then prescribed by fashion, a pair of extremely elegant betasseled boots, which shone in glistening contrast against tight-fitting trousers invariably of some light color, and reflected their surroundings like a mirror. The boots stared the honest silk-mercer out of countenance, and, it must be added, they pained his heart.
"What is it?" asked Coralie.
"Ring the bell," said Coralie, smiling to herself at Camusot's want of spirit.—"Berenice," she said, when the Norman handmaid appeared, "just bring me a button-hook, for I must put on these confounded boots again. Don't forget to bring them to my dressing-room to-night."
"What?... your boots?"... faltered out Camusot, breathing more freely.
"And whose should they be?" she demanded haughtily. "Were you beginning to believe?—great stupid! Oh! and he would believe it too," she went on, addressing Berenice.—"I have a man's part in What's-his-name's piece, and I have never worn a man's clothes in my life before. The bootmaker for the theatre brought me these things to try if I could walk in them, until a pair can be made to measure. He put them on, but they hurt me so much that I have taken them off, and after all I must wear them."
"Don't put them on again if they are uncomfortable," said Camusot. (The boots had made him feel so very uncomfortable himself.)
"Mademoiselle would do better to have a pair made of very thin morocco, sir, instead of torturing herself as she did just now; but the management is so stingy. She was crying, sir; if I was a man and loved a woman, I wouldn't let her shed a tear, I know. You ought to order a pair for her——"
"Yes, yes," said Camusot. "Are you just getting up, Coralie?"
"Just this moment; I only came in at six o'clock after looking for you everywhere. I was obliged to keep the cab for seven hours. So much for your care of me; you forget me for a wine-bottle. I ought to take care of myself now when I am to play every night so long as the Alcalde draws. I don't want to fall off after that young man's notice of me."
"That is a handsome boy," said Camusot.
"Do you think so? I don't admire men of that sort; they are too much like women; and they do not understand how to love like you stupid old business men. You are so bored with your own society."
"Is monsieur dining with madame?" inquired Berenice.
"No, my mouth is clammy."
"You were nicely screwed yesterday. Ah! Papa Camusot, I don't like men who drink, I tell you at once——"
"You will give that young man a present, I suppose?" interrupted Camusot.
"Oh! yes. I would rather do that than pay as Florine does. There, go away with you, good-for-nothing that one loves; or give me a carriage to save time in future."
"You shall go in your own carriage to-morrow to your manager's dinner at the Rocher de Cancale. The new piece will not be given next Sunday."
"Come, I am just going to dine," said Coralie, hurrying Camusot out of the room.
An hour later Berenice came to release Lucien. Berenice, Coralie's companion since her childhood, had a keen and subtle brain in her unwieldy frame.
"Stay here," she said. "Coralie is coming back alone; she even talked of getting rid of Camusot if he is in your way; but you are too much of an angel to ruin her, her heart's darling as you are. She wants to clear out of this, she says; to leave this paradise and go and live in your garret. Oh! there are those that are jealous and envious of you, and they have told her that you haven't a brass farthing, and live in the Latin Quarter; and I should go, too, you see, to do the house-work.—But I have just been comforting her, poor child! I have been telling her that you were too clever to do anything so silly. I was right, wasn't I, sir? Oh! you will see that you are her darling, her love, the god to whom she gives her soul; yonder old fool has nothing but the body.—If you only knew how nice she is when I hear her say her part over! My Coralie, my little pet, she is! She deserved that God in heaven should send her one of His angels. She was sick of the life.—She was so unhappy with her mother that used to beat her, and sold her. Yes, sir, sold her own child! If I had a daughter, I would wait on her hand and foot as I wait on Coralie; she is like my own child to me.—These are the first good times she has seen since I have been with her; the first time that she has been really applauded. You have written something, it seems, and they have got up a famous claque for the second performance. Braulard has been going through the play with her while you were asleep."
"Who? Braulard?" asked Lucien; it seemed to him that he had heard the name before.
"He is the head of the claqueurs, and she was arranging with him the places where she wished him to look after her. Florine might try to play her some shabby trick, and take all for herself, for all she calls herself her friend. There is such a talk about your article on the Boulevards.—Isn't it a bed fit for a prince," she said, smoothing the lace bed-spread.
She lighted the wax-candles, and to Lucien's bewildered fancy, the house seemed to be some palace in the Cabinet des Fees. Camusot had chosen the richest stuffs from the Golden Cocoon for the hangings and window-curtains. A carpet fit for a king's palace was spread upon the floor. The carving of the rosewood furniture caught and imprisoned the light that rippled over its surface. Priceless trifles gleamed from the white marble chimney-piece. The rug beside the bed was of swan's skins bordered with sable. A pair of little, black velvet slippers lined with purple silk told of happiness awaiting the poet of The Marguerites. A dainty lamp hung from the ceiling draped with silk. The room was full of flowering plants, delicate white heaths and scentless camellias, in stands marvelously wrought. Everything called up associations of innocence. How was it possible in these rooms to see the life that Coralie led in its true colors? Berenice noticed Lucien's bewildered expression.
"Isn't it nice?" she said coaxingly. "You would be more comfortable here, wouldn't you, than in a garret?—You won't let her do anything rash?" she continued, setting a costly stand before him, covered with dishes abstracted from her mistress' dinner-table, lest the cook should suspect that her mistress had a lover in the house.
Lucien made a good dinner. Berenice waiting on him, the dishes were of wrought silver, the painted porcelain plates had cost a louis d'or apiece. The luxury was producing exactly the same effect upon him that the sight of a girl walking the pavement, with her bare flaunting throat and neat ankles, produces upon a schoolboy.
"How lucky Camusot is!" cried he.
"Lucky?" repeated Berenice. "He would willingly give all that he is worth to be in your place; he would be glad to barter his gray hair for your golden head."
She gave Lucien the richest wine that Bordeaux keeps for the wealthiest English purchaser, and persuaded Lucien to go to bed to take a preliminary nap; and Lucien, in truth, was quite willing to sleep on the couch that he had been admiring. Berenice had read his wish, and felt glad for her mistress.
At half-past ten that night Lucien awoke to look into eyes brimming over with love. There stood Coralie in most luxurious night attire. Lucien had been sleeping; Lucien was intoxicated with love, and not with wine. Berenice left the room with the inquiry, "What time to-morrow morning?"
"At eleven o'clock. We will have breakfast in bed. I am not at home to anybody before two o'clock."
At two o'clock in the afternoon Coralie and her lover were sitting together. The poet to all appearance had come to pay a call. Lucien had been bathed and combed and dressed. Coralie had sent to Colliau's for a dozen fine shirts, a dozen cravats and a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs for him, as well as twelve pairs of gloves in a cedar-wood box. When a carriage stopped at the door, they both rushed to the window, and watched Camusot alight from a handsome coupe.
"I would not have believed that one could so hate a man and luxury——"
"I am too poor to allow you to ruin yourself for me," he replied. And thus Lucien passed under the Caudine Forks.
"Poor pet," said Coralie, holding him tightly to her, "do you love me so much?—I persuaded this gentleman to call on me this morning," she continued, indicating Lucien to Camusot, who entered the room. "I thought that we might take a drive in the Champs Elysees to try the carriage."
"Go without me," said Camusot in a melancholy voice; "I shall not dine with you. It is my wife's birthday, I had forgotten that."
"Poor Musot, how badly bored you will be!" she said, putting her arms about his neck.
She was wild with joy at the thought that she and Lucien would handsel this gift together; she would drive with him in the new carriage; and in her happiness, she seemed to love Camusot, she lavished caresses upon him.
"If only I could give you a carriage every day!" said the poor fellow.
"Now, sir, it is two o'clock," she said, turning to Lucien, who stood in distress and confusion, but she comforted him with an adorable gesture.
Down the stairs she went, several steps at a time, drawing Lucien after her; the elderly merchant following in their wake like a seal on land, and quite unable to catch them up.
Lucien enjoyed the most intoxicating of pleasures; happiness had increased Coralie's loveliness to the highest possible degree; she appeared before all eyes an exquisite vision in her dainty toilette. All Paris in the Champs Elysees beheld the lovers.
In an avenue of the Bois de Boulogne they met a caleche; Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton looked in surprise at Lucien, and met a scornful glance from the poet. He saw glimpses of a great future before him, and was about to make his power felt. He could fling them back in a glance some of the revengeful thoughts which had gnawed his heart ever since they planted them there. That moment was one of the sweetest in his life, and perhaps decided his fate. Once again the Furies seized on Lucien at the bidding of Pride. He would reappear in the world of Paris; he would take a signal revenge; all the social pettiness hitherto trodden under foot by the worker, the member of the brotherhood, sprang up again afresh in his soul.
Now he understood all that Lousteau's attack had meant. Lousteau had served his passions; while the brotherhood, that collective mentor, had seemed to mortify them in the interests of tiresome virtues and work which began to look useless and hopeless in Lucien's eyes. Work! What is it but death to an eager pleasure-loving nature? And how easy it is for the man of letters to slide into a far niente existence of self-indulgence, into the luxurious ways of actresses and women of easy virtues! Lucien felt an overmastering desire to continue the reckless life of the last two days.
The dinner at the Rocher de Cancale was exquisite. All Florine's supper guests were there except the Minister, the Duke, and the dancer; Camusot, too, was absent; but these gaps were filled by two famous actors and Hector Merlin and his mistress. This charming woman, who chose to be known as Mme. du Val-Noble, was the handsomest and most fashionable of the class of women now euphemistically styled lorettes.
Lucien had spent the forty-eight hours since the success of his article in paradise. He was feted and envied; he gained self-possession; his talk sparkled; he was the brilliant Lucien de Rubempre who shone for a few months in the world of letters and art. Finot, with his infallible instinct for discovering ability, scenting it afar as an ogre might scent human flesh, cajoled Lucien, and did his best to secure a recruit for the squadron under his command. And Coralie watched the manoeuvres of this purveyor of brains, saw that Lucien was nibbling at the bait, and tried to put him on his guard.
"Don't make any engagement, dear boy; wait. They want to exploit you; we will talk of it to-night."
"Pshaw!" said Lucien. "I am sure I am quite as sharp and shrewd as they can be."
Finot and Hector Merlin evidently had not fallen out over that affair of the white lines and spaces in the columns, for it was Finot who introduced Lucien to the journalist. Coralie and Mme. du Val-Noble were overwhelmingly amiable and polite to each other, and Mme. du Val-Noble asked Lucien and Coralie to dine with her.
Hector Merlin, short and thin, with lips always tightly compressed, was the most dangerous journalist present. Unbounded ambition and jealousy smouldered within him; he took pleasure in the pain of others, and fomented strife to turn it to his own account. His abilities were but slender, and he had little force of character, but the natural instinct which draws the upstart towards money and power served him as well as fixity of purpose. Lucien and Merlin at once took a dislike to one another, for reasons not far to seek. Merlin, unfortunately, proclaimed aloud the thoughts that Lucien kept to himself. By the time the dessert was put on the table, the most touching friendship appeared to prevail among the men, each one of whom in his heart thought himself a cleverer fellow than the rest; and Lucien as the newcomer was made much of by them all. They chatted frankly and unrestrainedly. Hector Merlin, alone, did not join in the laughter. Lucien asked the reason of his reserve.
"You are just entering the world of letters, I can see," he said. "You are a journalist with all your illusions left. You believe in friendship. Here we are friends or foes, as it happens; we strike down a friend with the weapon which by rights should only be turned against an enemy. You will find out, before very long, that fine sentiments will do nothing for you. If you are naturally kindly, learn to be ill-natured, to be consistently spiteful. If you have never heard this golden rule before, I give it you now in confidence, and it is no small secret. If you have a mind to be loved, never leave your mistress until you have made her shed a tear or two; and if you mean to make your way in literature, let other people continually feel your teeth; make no exception even of your friends; wound their susceptibilities, and everybody will fawn upon you."
Hector Merlin watched Lucien as he spoke, saw that his words went to the neophyte's heart like a stab, and Hector Merlin was glad. Play followed, Lucien lost all his money, and Coralie brought him away; and he forgot for a while, in the delights of love, the fierce excitement of the gambler, which was to gain so strong a hold upon him.
When he left Coralie in the morning and returned to the Latin Quarter, he took out his purse and found the money he had lost. At first he felt miserable over the discovery, and thought of going back at once to return a gift which humiliated him; but—he had already come as far as the Rue de la Harpe; he would not return now that he had almost reached the Hotel de Cluny. He pondered over Coralie's forethought as he went, till he saw in it a proof of the maternal love which is blended with passion in women of her stamp. For Coralie and her like, passion includes every human affection. Lucien went from thought to thought, and argued himself into accepting the gift. "I love her," he said; "we shall live together as husband and wife; I will never forsake her!"
What mortal, short of a Diogenes, could fail to understand Lucien's feelings as he climbed the dirty, fetid staircase to his lodging, turned the key that grated in the lock, and entered and looked round at the unswept brick floor, at the cheerless grate, at the ugly poverty and bareness of the room.
A package of manuscript was lying on the table. It was his novel; a note from Daniel d'Arthez lay beside it:—
"Our friends are almost satisfied with your work, dear poet," d'Arthez wrote. "You will be able to present it with more confidence now, they say, to friends and enemies. We saw your charming article on the Panorama-Dramatique; you are sure to excite as much jealousy in the profession as regret among your friends here. DANIEL."
"Regrets! What does he mean?" exclaimed Lucien. The polite tone of the note astonished him. Was he to be henceforth a stranger to the brotherhood? He had learned to set a higher value on the good opinion and the friendship of the circle in the Rue des Quatre-Vents since he had tasted of the delicious fruits offered to him by the Eve of the theatrical underworld. For some moments he stood in deep thought; he saw his present in the garret, and foresaw his future in Coralie's rooms. Honorable resolution struggled with temptation and swayed him now this way, now that. He sat down and began to look through his manuscript, to see in what condition his friends had returned it to him. What was his amazement, as he read chapter after chapter, to find his poverty transmuted into riches by the cunning of the pen, and the devotion of the unknown great men, his friends of the brotherhood. Dialogue, closely packed, nervous, pregnant, terse, and full of the spirit of the age, replaced his conversations, which seemed poor and pointless prattle in comparison. His characters, a little uncertain in the drawing, now stood out in vigorous contrast of color and relief; physiological observations, due no doubt to Horace Bianchon, supplied links of interpretations between human character and the curious phenomena of human life—subtle touches which made his men and women live. His wordy passages of description were condensed and vivid. The misshapen, ill-clad child of his brain had returned to him as a lovely maiden, with white robes and rosy-hued girdle and scarf—an entrancing creation. Night fell and took him by surprise, reading through rising tears, stricken to earth by such greatness of soul, feeling the worth of such a lesson, admiring the alterations, which taught him more of literature and art than all his four years' apprenticeship of study and reading and comparison. A master's correction of a line made upon the study always teaches more than all the theories and criticisms in the world.
"What friends are these! What hearts! How fortunate I am!" he cried, grasping his manuscript tightly.
With the quick impulsiveness of a poetic and mobile temperament, he rushed off to Daniel's lodging. As he climbed the stairs, and thought of these friends, who refused to leave the path of honor, he felt conscious that he was less worthy of them than before. A voice spoke within him, telling him that if d'Arthez had loved Coralie, he would have had her break with Camusot. And, besides this, he knew that the brotherhood held journalism in utter abhorrence, and that he himself was already, to some small extent, a journalist. All of them, except Meyraux, who had just gone out, were in d'Arthez's room when he entered it, and saw that all their faces were full of sorrow and despair.
"What is it?" he cried.
"We have just heard news of a dreadful catastrophe; the greatest thinker of the age, our most loved friend, who was like a light among us for two years——"
"Has fallen a victim to catalepsy. There is no hope for him," said Bianchon.
"He will die, his soul wandering in the skies, his body unconscious on earth," said Michel Chrestien solemnly.
"He will die as he lived," said d'Arthez.
"Love fell like a firebrand in the vast empire of his brain and burned him away," said Leon Giraud.
"Yes," said Joseph Bridau, "he has reached a height that we cannot so much as see."
"We are to be pitied, not Louis," said Fulgence Ridal.
"Perhaps he will recover," exclaimed Lucien.
"From what Meyraux has been telling us, recovery seems impossible," answered Bianchon. "Medicine has no power over the change that is working in his brain."
"Yet there are physical means," said d'Arthez.
"Yes," said Bianchon; "we might produce imbecility instead of catalepsy."
"Is there no way of offering another head to the spirit of evil? I would give mine to save him!" cried Michel Chrestien.
"And what would become of European federation?" asked d'Arthez.
"Ah! true," replied Michel Chrestien. "Our duty to Humanity comes first; to one man afterwards."
"I came here with a heart full of gratitude to you all," said Lucien. "You have changed my alloy into golden coin."
"Gratitude! For what do you take us?" asked Bianchon.
"We had the pleasure," added Fulgence.
"Well, so you are a journalist, are you?" asked Leon Giraud. "The fame of your first appearance has reached even the Latin Quarter."
"I am not a journalist yet," returned Lucien.
"Aha! So much the better," said Michel Chrestien.
"I told you so!" said d'Arthez. "Lucien knows the value of a clean conscience. When you can say to yourself as you lay your head on the pillow at night, 'I have not sat in judgment on another man's work; I have given pain to no one; I have not used the edge of my wit to deal a stab to some harmless soul; I have sacrificed no one's success to a jest; I have not even troubled the happiness of imbecility; I have not added to the burdens of genius; I have scorned the easy triumphs of epigram; in short, I have not acted against my convictions,' is not this a viaticum that gives one daily strength?"
"But one can say all this, surely, and yet work on a newspaper," said Lucien. "If I had absolutely no other way of earning a living, I should certainly come to this."
"Oh! oh! oh!" cried Fulgence, his voice rising a note each time; "we are capitulating, are we?"
"He will turn journalist," Leon Giraud said gravely. "Oh, Lucien, if you would only stay and work with us! We are about to bring out a periodical in which justice and truth shall never be violated; we will spread doctrines that, perhaps, will be of real service to mankind——"
"You will not have a single subscriber," Lucien broke in with Machiavellian wisdom.
"There will be five hundred of them," asserted Michel Chrestien, "but they will be worth five hundred thousand."
"You will need a lot of capital," continued Lucien.
"No, only devotion," said d'Arthez.
"Anybody might take him for a perfumer's assistant," burst out Michel Chrestien, looking at Lucien's head, and sniffing comically. "You were seen driving about in a very smart turnout with a pair of thoroughbreds, and a mistress for a prince, Coralie herself."
"Well, and is there any harm in it?"
"You would not say that if you thought that there was no harm in it," said Bianchon.
"I could have wished Lucien a Beatrice," said d'Arthez, "a noble woman, who would have been a help to him in life——"
"But, Daniel," asked Lucien, "love is love wherever you find it, is it not?"
"Ah!" said the republican member, "on that one point I am an aristocrat. I could not bring myself to love a woman who must rub shoulders with all sorts of people in the green-room; whom an actor kisses on stage; she must lower herself before the public, smile on every one, lift her skirts as she dances, and dress like a man, that all the world may see what none should see save I alone. Or if I loved such a woman, she should leave the stage, and my love should cleanse her from the stain of it."
"And if she would not leave the stage?"
"I should die of mortification, jealousy, and all sorts of pain. You cannot pluck love out of your heart as you draw a tooth."
Lucien's face grew dark and thoughtful.
"When they find out that I am tolerating Camusot, how they will despise me," he thought.
"Look here," said the fierce republican, with humorous fierceness, "you can be a great writer, but a little play-actor you shall never be," and he took up his hat and went out.
"He is hard, is Michel Chrestien," commented Lucien.
"Hard and salutary, like the dentist's pincers," said Bianchon. "Michel foresees your future; perhaps in the street, at this moment, he is thinking of you with tears in his eyes."
D'Arthez was kind, and talked comfortingly, and tried to cheer Lucien. The poet spent an hour with his friends, then he went, but his conscience treated him hardly, crying to him, "You will be a journalist—a journalist!" as the witch cried to Macbeth that he should be king hereafter!
Out in the street, he looked up at d'Arthez's windows, and saw a faint light shining in them, and his heart sank. A dim foreboding told him that he had bidden his friends good-bye for the last time.
As he turned out of the Place de la Sorbonne into the Rue de Cluny, he saw a carriage at the door of his lodging. Coralie had driven all the way from the Boulevard du Temple for the sake of a moment with her lover and a "good-night." Lucien found her sobbing in his garret. She would be as wretchedly poor as her poet, she wept, as she arranged his shirts and gloves and handkerchiefs in the crazy chest of drawers. Her distress was so real and so great, that Lucien, but even now chidden for his connection with an actress, saw Coralie as a saint ready to assume the hair-shirt of poverty. The adorable girl's excuse for her visit was an announcement that the firm of Camusot, Coralie, and Lucien meant to invite Matifat, Florine, and Lousteau (the second trio) to supper; had Lucien any invitations to issue to people who might be useful to him? Lucien said that he would take counsel of Lousteau.
A few moments were spent together, and Coralie hurried away. She spared Lucien the knowledge that Camusot was waiting for her below.
Next morning, at eight o'clock, Lucien went to Etienne Lousteau's room, found it empty, and hurried away to Florine. Lousteau and Florine, settled into possession of their new quarters like a married couple, received their friend in the pretty bedroom, and all three breakfasted sumptuously together.
"Why, I should advise you, my boy, to come with me to see Felicien Vernou," said Lousteau, when they sat at table, and Lucien had mentioned Coralie's projected supper; "ask him to be of the party, and keep well with him, if you can keep well with such a rascal. Felicien Vernou does a feuilleton for a political paper; he might perhaps introduce you, and you could blossom out into leaders in it at your ease. It is a Liberal paper, like ours; you will be a Liberal, that is the popular party; and besides, if you mean to go over to the Ministerialists, you would do better for yourself if they had reason to be afraid of you. Then there is Hector Merlin and his Mme. du Val-Noble; you meet great people at their house—dukes and dandies and millionaires; didn't they ask you and Coralie to dine with them?"
"Yes," replied Lucien; "you are going too, and so is Florine." Lucien and Etienne were now on familiar terms after Friday's debauch and the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale.
"Very well, Merlin is on the paper; we shall come across him pretty often; he is the chap to follow close on Finot's heels. You would do well to pay him attention; ask him and Mme. du Val-Noble to supper. He may be useful to you before long; for rancorous people are always in need of others, and he may do you a good turn if he can reckon on your pen."
"Your beginning has made enough sensation to smooth your way," said Florine; "take advantage of it at once, or you will soon be forgotten."
"The bargain, the great business, is concluded," Lousteau continued. "That Finot, without a spark of talent in him, is to be editor of Dauriat's weekly paper, with a salary of six hundred francs per month, and owner of a sixth share, for which he has not paid one penny. And I, my dear fellow, am now editor of our little paper. Everything went off as I expected; Florine managed superbly, she could give points to Tallyrand himself."
"We have a hold on men through their pleasures," said Florine, "while a diplomatist only works on their self-love. A diplomatist sees a man made up for the occasion; we know him in his moments of folly, so our power is greater."
"And when the thing was settled, Matifat made the first and last joke of his whole druggist's career," put in Lousteau. "He said, 'This affair is quite in my line; I am supplying drugs to the public.'"
"I suspect that Florine put him up to it," cried Lucien.
"And by these means, my little dear, your foot is in the stirrup," continued Lousteau.
"You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth," remarked Florine. "What lots of young fellows wait for years, wait till they are sick of waiting, for a chance to get an article into a paper! You will do like Emile Blondet. In six months' time you will be giving yourself high and mighty airs," she added, with a mocking smile, in the language of her class.
"Haven't I been in Paris for three years?" said Lousteau, "and only yesterday Finot began to pay me a fixed monthly salary of three hundred francs, and a hundred francs per sheet for his paper."
"Well; you are saying nothing!" exclaimed Florine, with her eyes turned on Lucien.
"We shall see," said Lucien.
"My dear boy, if you had been my brother, I could not have done more for you," retorted Lousteau, somewhat nettled, "but I won't answer for Finot. Scores of sharp fellows will besiege Finot for the next two days with offers to work for low pay. I have promised for you, but you can draw back if you like.—You little know how lucky you are," he added after a pause. "All those in our set combine to attack an enemy in various papers, and lend each other a helping hand all round."
"Let us go in the first place to Felicien Vernou," said Lucien. He was eager to conclude an alliance with such formidable birds of prey.
Lousteau sent for a cab, and the pair of friends drove to Vernou's house on the second floor up an alley in the Rue Mandar. To Lucien's great astonishment, the harsh, fastidious, and severe critic's surroundings were vulgar to the last degree. A marbled paper, cheap and shabby, with a meaningless pattern repeated at regular intervals, covered the walls, and a series of aqua tints in gilt frames decorated the apartment, where Vernou sat at table with a woman so plain that she could only be the legitimate mistress of the house, and two very small children perched on high chairs with a bar in front to prevent the infants from tumbling out. Felicien Vernou, in a cotton dressing-gown contrived out of the remains of one of his wife's dresses, was not over well pleased by this invasion.
"Have you breakfasted, Lousteau?" he asked, placing a chair for Lucien.
"We have just left Florine; we have been breakfasting with her."
Lucien could not take his eyes off Mme. Vernou. She looked like a stout, homely cook, with a tolerably fair complexion, but commonplace to the last degree. The lady wore a bandana tied over her night-cap, the strings of the latter article of dress being tied so tightly under the chin that her puffy cheeks stood out on either side. A shapeless, beltless garment, fastened by a single button at the throat, enveloped her from head to foot in such a fashion that a comparison to a milestone at once suggested itself. Her health left no room for hope; her cheeks were almost purple; her fingers looked like sausages. In a moment it dawned upon Lucien how it was that Vernou was always so ill at ease in society; here was the living explanation of his misanthropy. Sick of his marriage, unable to bring himself to abandon his wife and family, he had yet sufficient of the artistic temper to suffer continually from their presence; Vernou was an actor by nature bound never to pardon the success of another, condemned to chronic discontent because he was never content with himself. Lucien began to understand the sour look which seemed to add to the bleak expression of envy on Vernou's face; the acerbity of the epigrams with which his conversation was sown, the journalist's pungent phrases, keen and elaborately wrought as a stiletto, were at once explained.
"Let us go into my study," Vernou said, rising from the table; "you have come on business, no doubt."
"Yes and no," replied Etienne Lousteau. "It is a supper, old chap."
"I have brought a message from Coralie," said Lucien (Mme. Vernou looked up at once at the name), "to ask you to supper to-night at her house to meet the same company as before at Florine's, and a few more besides—Hector Merlin and Mme. du Val-Noble and some others. There will be play afterwards."
"But we are engaged to Mme. Mahoudeau this evening, dear," put in the wife.
"What does that matter?" returned Vernou.
"She will take offence if we don't go; and you are very glad of her when you have a bill to discount."
"This wife of mine, my dear boy, can never be made to understand that a supper engagement for twelve o'clock does not prevent you from going to an evening party that comes to an end at eleven. She is always with me while I work," he added.
"You have so much imagination!" said Lucien, and thereby made a mortal enemy of Vernou.
"Well," continued Lousteau, "you are coming; but that is not all. M. de Rubempre is about to be one of us, so you must push him in your paper. Give him out for a chap that will make a name for himself in literature, so that he can put in at least a couple of articles every month."
"Yes, if he means to be one of us, and will attack our enemies, as we will attack his, I will say a word for him at the Opera to-night," replied Vernou.
"Very well—good-bye till to-morrow, my boy," said Lousteau, shaking hands with every sign of cordiality. "When is your book coming out?"
"That depends on Dauriat; it is ready," said Vernou pater-familias.
"Are you satisfied?"
"Yes and no——"
"We will get up a success," said Lousteau, and he rose with a bow to his colleague's wife.
The abrupt departure was necessary indeed; for the two infants, engaged in a noisy quarrel, were fighting with their spoons, and flinging the pap in each other's faces.
"That, my boy, is a woman who all unconsciously will work great havoc in contemporary literature," said Etienne, when they came away. "Poor Vernou cannot forgive us for his wife. He ought to be relieved of her in the interests of the public; and a deluge of blood-thirsty reviews and stinging sarcasms against successful men of every sort would be averted. What is to become of a man with such a wife and that pair of abominable brats? Have you seen Rigaudin in Picard's La Maison en Loterie? You have? Well, like Rigaudin, Vernou will not fight himself, but he will set others fighting; he would give an eye to put out both eyes in the head of the best friend he has. You will see him using the bodies of the slain for a stepping-stone, rejoicing over every one's misfortunes, attacking princes, dukes, marquises, and nobles, because he himself is a commoner; reviling the work of unmarried men because he forsooth has a wife; and everlastingly preaching morality, the joys of domestic life, and the duties of the citizen. In short, this very moral critic will spare no one, not even infants of tender age. He lives in the Rue Mandar with a wife who might be the Mamamouchi of the Bourgeois gentilhomme and a couple of little Vernous as ugly as sin. He tries to sneer at the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where he will never set foot, and makes his duchesses talk like his wife. That is the sort of man to raise a howl at the Jesuits, insult the Court, and credit the Court party with the design of restoring feudal rights and the right of primogeniture—just the one to preach a crusade for Equality, he that thinks himself the equal of no one. If he were a bachelor, he would go into society; if he were in a fair way to be a Royalist poet with a pension and the Cross of the Legion of Honor, he would be an optimist, and journalism offers starting-points by the hundred. Journalism is the giant catapult set in motion by pigmy hatreds. Have you any wish to marry after this? Vernou has none of the milk of human kindness in him, it is all turned to gall; and he is emphatically the Journalist, a tiger with two hands that tears everything to pieces, as if his pen had the hydrophobia."
"It is a case of gunophobia," said Lucien. "Has he ability?"
"He is witty, he is a writer of articles. He incubates articles; he does that all his life and nothing else. The most dogged industry would fail to graft a book on his prose. Felicien is incapable of conceiving a work on a large scale, of broad effects, of fitting characters harmoniously in a plot which develops till it reaches a climax. He has ideas, but he has no knowledge of facts; his heroes are utopian creatures, philosophical or Liberal notions masquerading. He is at pains to write an original style, but his inflated periods would collapse at a pin-prick from a critic; and therefore he goes in terror of reviews, like every one else who can only keep his head above water with the bladders of newspaper puffs."
"What an article you are making out of him!"
"That particular kind, my boy, must be spoken, and never written."
"You are turning editor," said Lucien.
"Where shall I put you down?"
"Ah! we are infatuated," said Lousteau. "What a mistake! Do as I do with Florine, let Coralie be your housekeeper, and take your fling."
"You would send a saint to perdition," laughed Lucien.
"Well, there is no damning a devil," retorted Lousteau.
The flippant tone, the brilliant talk of this new friend, his views of life, his paradoxes, the axioms of Parisian Machiavelism,—all these things impressed Lucien unawares. Theoretically the poet knew that such thoughts were perilous; but he believed them practically useful.
Arrived in the Boulevard du Temple, the friends agreed to meet at the office between four and five o'clock. Hector Merlin would doubtless be there. Lousteau was right. The infatuation of desire was upon Lucien; for the courtesan who loves knows how to grapple her lover to her by every weakness in his nature, fashioning herself with incredible flexibility to his every wish, encouraging the soft, effeminate habits which strengthen her hold. Lucien was thirsting already for enjoyment; he was in love with the easy, luxurious, and expensive life which the actress led.
He found Coralie and Camusot intoxicated with joy. The Gymnase offered Coralie an engagement after Easter on terms for which she had never dared to hope.
"And this great success is owing to you," said Camusot.
"Yes, surely. The Alcalde would have fallen flat but for him," cried Coralie; "if there had been no article, I should have been in for another six years of the Boulevard theatres."
She danced up to Lucien and flung her arms round him, putting an indescribable silken softness and sweetness into her enthusiasm. Love had come to Coralie. And Camusot? his eyes fell. Looking down after the wont of mankind in moments of sharp pain, he saw the seam of Lucien's boots, a deep yellow thread used by the best bootmakers of that time, in strong contrast with the glistening leather. The color of that seam had tinged his thoughts during a previous conversation with himself, as he sought to explain the presence of a mysterious pair of hessians in Coralie's fender. He remembered now that he had seen the name of "Gay, Rue de la Michodiere," printed in black letters on the soft white kid lining.
"You have a handsome pair of boots, sir," he said.
"Like everything else about him," said Coralie.
"I should be very glad of your bootmaker's address."
"Oh, how like the Rue des Bourdonnais to ask for a tradesman's address," cried Coralie. "Do you intend to patronize a young man's bootmaker? A nice young man you would make! Do keep to your own top-boots; they are the kind for a steady-going man with a wife and family and a mistress."
"Indeed, if you would take off one of your boots, sir, I should be very much obliged," persisted Camusot.
"I could not get it on again without a button-hook," said Lucien, flushing up.
"Berenice will fetch you one; we can do with some here," jeered Camusot.
"Papa Camusot!" said Coralie, looking at him with cruel scorn, "have the courage of your pitiful baseness. Come, speak out! You think that this gentleman's boots are very like mine, do you not?—I forbid you to take off your boots," she added, turning to Lucien.—"Yes, M. Camusot. Yes, you saw some boots lying about in the fender here the other day, and that is the identical pair, and this gentleman was hiding in my dressing-room at the time, waiting for them; and he had passed the night here. That was what you were thinking, hein? Think so; I would rather you did. It is the simple truth. I am deceiving you. And if I am? I do it to please myself."
She sat down. There was no anger in her face, no embarrassment; she looked from Camusot to Lucien. The two men avoided each other's eyes.
"I will believe nothing that you do not wish me to believe," said Camusot. "Don't play with me, Coralie; I was wrong——"
"I am either a shameless baggage that has taken a sudden fancy; or a poor, unhappy girl who feels what love really is for the first time, the love that all women long for. And whichever way it is, you must leave me or take me as I am," she said, with a queenly gesture that crushed Camusot.
"Is it really true?" he asked, seeing from their faces that this was no jest, yet begging to be deceived.
"I love mademoiselle," Lucien faltered out.
At that word, Coralie sprang to her poet and held him tightly to her; then, with her arms still about him, she turned to the silk-mercer, as if to bid him see the beautiful picture made by two young lovers.
"Poor Musot, take all that you gave to me back again; I do not want to keep anything of yours; for I love this boy here madly, not for his intellect, but for his beauty. I would rather starve with him than have millions with you."
Camusot sank into a low chair, hid his face in his hands, and said not a word.
"Would you like us to go away?" she asked. There was a note of ferocity in her voice which no words can describe.
Cold chills ran down Lucien's spine; he beheld himself burdened with a woman, an actress, and a household.
"Stay here, Coralie; keep it all," the old tradesman said at last, in a faint, unsteady voice that came from his heart; "I don't want anything back. There is the worth of sixty thousand francs here in the furniture; but I could not bear to think of my Coralie in want. And yet, it will not be long before you come to want. However great this gentleman's talent may be, he can't afford to keep you. We old fellows must expect this sort of thing. Coralie, let me come and see you sometimes; I may be of use to you. And—I confess it; I cannot live without you."
The poor man's gentleness, stripped as he was of his happiness just as happiness had reached its height, touched Lucien deeply. Coralie was quite unsoftened by it.
"Come as often as you wish, poor Musot," she said; "I shall like you all the better when I don't pretend to love you."
Camusot seemed to be resigned to his fate so long as he was not driven out of the earthly paradise, in which his life could not have been all joy; he trusted to the chances of life in Paris and to the temptations that would beset Lucien's path; he would wait a while, and all that had been his should be his again. Sooner or later, thought the wily tradesman, this handsome young fellow would be unfaithful; he would keep a watch on him; and the better to do this and use his opportunity with Coralie, he would be their friend. The persistent passion that could consent to such humiliation terrified Lucien. Camusot's proposal of a dinner at Very's in the Palais Royal was accepted.
"What joy!" cried Coralie, as soon as Camusot had departed. "You will not go back now to your garret in the Latin Quarter; you will live here. We shall always be together. You can take a room in the Rue Charlot for the sake of appearances, and vogue le galere!"
She began to dance her Spanish dance, with an excited eagerness that revealed the strength of the passion in her heart.
"If I work hard I may make five hundred francs a month," Lucien said.
"And I shall make as much again at the theatre, without counting extras. Camusot will pay for my dresses as before. He is fond of me! We can live like Croesus on fifteen hundred francs a month."
"And the horses? and the coachman? and the footman?" inquired Berenice.
"I will get into debt," said Coralie. And she began to dance with Lucien.
"I must close with Finot after this," Lucien exclaimed.
"There!" said Coralie, "I will dress and take you to your office. I will wait outside in the boulevard for you with the carriage."
Lucien sat down on the sofa and made some very sober reflections as he watched Coralie at her toilet. It would have been wiser to leave Coralie free than to start all at once with such an establishment; but Coralie was there before his eyes, and Coralie was so lovely, so graceful, so bewitching, that the more picturesque aspects of bohemia were in evidence; and he flung down the gauntlet to fortune.
Berenice was ordered to superintend Lucien's removal and installation; and Coralie, triumphant, radiant, and happy, carried off her love, her poet, and must needs go all over Paris on the way to the Rue Saint-Fiacre. Lucien sprang lightly up the staircase, and entered the office with an air of being quite at home. Coloquinte was there with the stamped paper still on his head; and old Giroudeau told him again, hypocritically enough, that no one had yet come in.
"But the editor and contributors must meet somewhere or other to arrange about the journal," said Lucien.
"Very likely; but I have nothing to do with the writing of the paper," said the Emperor's captain, resuming his occupation of checking off wrappers with his eternal broum! broum!
Was it lucky or unlucky? Finot chanced to come in at that very moment to announce his sham abdication and to bid Giroudeau watch over his interests.
"No shilly-shally with this gentleman; he is on the staff," Finot added for his uncle's benefit, as he grasped Lucien by the hand.
"Oh! is he on the paper?" exclaimed Giroudeau, much surprised at this friendliness. "Well, sir, you came on without much difficulty."
"I want to make things snug for you here, lest Etienne should bamboozle you," continued Finot, looking knowingly at Lucien. "This gentleman will be paid three francs per column all round, including theatres."
"You have never taken any one on such terms before," said Giroudeau, opening his eyes.
"And he will take the four Boulevard theatres. See that nobody sneaks his boxes, and that he gets his share of tickets.—I should advise you, nevertheless, to have them sent to your address," he added, turning to Lucien.—"And he agrees to write besides ten miscellaneous articles of two columns each, for fifty francs per month, for one year. Does that suit you?"
"Yes," said Lucien. Circumstances had forced his hand.
"Draw up the agreement, uncle, and we will sign it when we come downstairs."
"Who is the gentleman?" inquired Giroudeau, rising and taking off his black silk skull-cap.
"M. Lucien de Rubempre, who wrote the article on The Alcalde."
"Young man, you have a gold mine there," said the old soldier, tapping Lucien on the forehead. "I am not literary myself, but I read that article of yours, and I liked it. That is the kind of thing! There's gaiety for you! 'That will bring us new subscribers,' says I to myself. And so it did. We sold fifty more numbers."
"Is my agreement with Lousteau made out in duplicate and ready to sign?" asked Finot, speaking aside.
"Then ante-date this gentleman's agreement by one day, so that Lousteau will be bound by the previous contract."
Finot took his new contributor's arm with a friendliness that charmed Lucien, and drew him out on the landing to say:—
"Your position is made for you. I will introduce you to my staff myself, and to-night Lousteau will go round with you to the theatres. You can make a hundred and fifty francs per month on this little paper of ours with Lousteau as its editor, so try to keep well with him. The rogue bears a grudge against me as it is, for tying his hands so far as you are concerned; but you have ability, and I don't choose that you shall be subjected to the whims of the editor. You might let me have a couple of sheets every month for my review, and I will pay you two hundred francs. This is between ourselves, don't mention it to anybody else; I should be laid open to the spite of every one whose vanity is mortified by your good fortune. Write four articles, fill your two sheets, sign two with your own name, and two with a pseudonym, so that you may not seem to be taking the bread out of anybody else's mouth. You owe your position to Blondet and Vignon; they think that you have a future before you. So keep out of scrapes, and, above all things, be on your guard against your friends. As for me, we shall always get on well together, you and I. Help me, and I will help you. You have forty francs' worth of boxes and tickets to sell, and sixty francs' worth of books to convert into cash. With that and your work on the paper, you will be making four hundred and fifty francs every month. If you use your wits, you will find ways of making another two hundred francs at least among the publishers; they will pay you for reviews and prospectuses. But you are mine, are you not? I can count upon you."
Lucien squeezed Finot's hand in transports of joy which no words can express.
"Don't let any one see that anything has passed between us," said Finot in his ear, and he flung open a door of a room in the roof at the end of a long passage on the fifth floor.
A table covered with a green cloth was drawn up to a blazing fire, and seated in various chairs and lounges Lucien discovered Lousteau, Felicien Vernou, Hector Merlin, and two others unknown to him, all laughing or smoking. A real inkstand, full of ink this time, stood on the table among a great litter of papers; while a collection of pens, the worse for wear, but still serviceable for journalists, told the new contributor very plainly that the mighty enterprise was carried on in this apartment.
"Gentlemen," said Finot, "the object of this gathering is the installation of our friend Lousteau in my place as editor of the newspaper which I am compelled to relinquish. But although my opinions will necessarily undergo a transformation when I accept the editorship of a review of which the politics are known to you, my convictions remain the same, and we shall be friends as before. I am quite at your service, and you likewise will be ready to do anything for me. Circumstances change; principles are fixed. Principles are the pivot on which the hands of the political barometer turn."
There was an instant shout of laughter.
"Who put that into your mouth?" asked Lousteau.
"Blondet!" said Finot.
"Windy, showery, stormy, settled fair," said Merlin; "we will all row in the same boat."
"In short," continued Finot, "not to muddle our wits with metaphors, any one who has an article or two for me will always find Finot.—This gentleman," turning to Lucien, "will be one of you.—I have arranged with him, Lousteau."
Every one congratulated Finot on his advance and new prospects.
"So there you are, mounted on our shoulders," said a contributor whom Lucien did not know. "You will be the Janus of Journal——"
"So long as he isn't the Janot," put in Vernou.
"Are you going to allow us to make attacks on our betes noires?"
"Any one you like."
"Ah, yes!" said Lousteau; "but the paper must keep on its lines. M. Chatelet is very wroth; we shall not let him off for a week yet."
"What has happened?" asked Lucien.
"He came here to ask for an explanation," said Vernou. "The Imperial buck found old Giroudeau at home; and old Giroudeau told him, with all the coolness in the world, that Philippe Bridau wrote the article. Philippe asked the Baron to mention the time and the weapons, and there it ended. We are engaged at this moment in offering excuses to the Baron in to-morrow's issue. Every phrase is a stab for him."
"Keep your teeth in him and he will come round to me," said Finot; "and it will look as if I were obliging him by appeasing you. He can say a word to the Ministry, and we can get something or other out of him—an assistant schoolmaster's place, or a tobacconist's license. It is a lucky thing for us that we flicked him on the raw. Does anybody here care to take a serious article on Nathan for my new paper?"
"Give it to Lucien," said Lousteau. "Hector and Vernou will write articles in their papers at the same time."
"Good-day, gentlemen; we shall meet each other face to face at Barbin's," said Finot, laughing.
Lucien received some congratulations on his admission to the mighty army of journalists, and Lousteau explained that they could be sure of him. "Lucien wants you all to sup in a body at the house of the fair Coralie."
"Coralie is going on at the Gymnase," said Lucien.
"Very well, gentlemen; it is understood that we push Coralie, eh? Put a few lines about her new engagement in your papers, and say something about her talent. Credit the management of the Gymnase with tack and discernment; will it do to say intelligence?"
"Yes, say intelligence," said Merlin; "Frederic has something of Scribe's."
"Oh! Well, then, the manager of the Gymnase is the most perspicacious and far-sighted of men of business," said Vernou.
"Look here! don't write your articles on Nathan until we have come to an understanding; you shall hear why," said Etienne Lousteau. "We ought to do something for our new comrade. Lucien here has two books to bring out—a volume of sonnets and a novel. The power of the paragraph should make him a great poet due in three months; and we will make use of his sonnets (Marguerites is the title) to run down odes, ballads, and reveries, and all the Romantic poetry."
"It would be a droll thing if the sonnets were no good after all," said Vernou.—"What do you yourself think of your sonnets, Lucien?"
"Yes, what do you think of them?" asked one of the two whom Lucien did not know.
"They are all right, gentlemen; I give you my word," said Lousteau.
"Very well, that will do for me," said Vernou; "I will heave your book at the poets of the sacristy; I am tired of them."
"If Dauriat declines to take the Marguerites this evening, we will attack him by pitching into Nathan."
"But what will Nathan say?" cried Lucien.
His five colleagues burst out laughing.
"Oh! he will be delighted," said Vernou. "You will see how we manage these things."
"So he is one of us?" said one of the two journalists.
"Yes, yes, Frederic; no tricks.—We are all working for you, Lucien, you see; you must stand by us when your turn comes. We are all friends of Nathan's, and we are attacking him. Now, let us divide Alexander's empire.—Frederic, will you take the Francais and the Odeon?"
"If these gentlemen are willing," returned the person addressed as Frederic. The others nodded assent, but Lucien saw a gleam of jealousy here and there.
"I am keeping the Opera, the Italiens, and the Opera-Comique," put in Vernou.
"And how about me? Am I to have no theatres at all?" asked the second stranger.
"Oh well, Hector can let you have the Varietes, and Lucien can spare you the Porte Saint-Martin.—Let him have the Porte Saint-Martin, Lucien, he is wild about Fanny Beaupre; and you can take the Cirque-Olympique in exchange. I shall have Bobino and the Funambules and Madame Saqui. Now, what have we for to-morrow?"
"Gentlemen, be brilliant for my first number. The Baron du Chatelet and his cuttlefish bone will not last for a week, and the writer of Le Solitaire is worn out."
"And 'Sosthenes-Demosthenes' is stale too," said Vernou; "everybody has taken it up."
"The fact is, we want a new set of ninepins," said Frederic.
"Suppose that we take the virtuous representatives of the Right?" suggested Lousteau. "We might say that M. de Bonald has sweaty feet."
"Let us begin a series of sketches of Ministerialist orators," suggested Hector Merlin.
"You do that, youngster; you know them; they are your own party," said Lousteau; "you could indulge any little private grudges of your own. Pitch into Beugnot and Syrieys de Mayrinhac and the rest. You might have the sketches ready in advance, and we shall have something to fall back upon."
"How if we invented one or two cases of refusal of burial with aggravating circumstances?" asked Hector.
"Do not follow in the tracks of the big Constitutional papers; they have pigeon-holes full of ecclesiastical canards," retorted Vernou.
"Canards?" repeated Lucien.
"That is our word for a scrap of fiction told for true, put in to enliven the column of morning news when it is flat. We owe the discovery to Benjamin Franklin, the inventor of the lightning conductor and the republic. That journalist completely deceived the Encyclopaedists by his transatlantic canards. Raynal gives two of them for facts in his Histoire philosophique des Indes."
"I did not know that," said Vernou. "What were the stories?"
"One was a tale about an Englishman and a negress who helped him to escape; he sold the woman for a slave after getting her with child himself to enhance her value. The other was the eloquent defence of a young woman brought before the authorities for bearing a child out of wedlock. Franklin owned to the fraud in Necker's house when he came to Paris, much to the confusion of French philosophism. Behold how the New World twice set a bad example to the Old!"
"In journalism," said Lousteau, "everything that is probable is true. That is an axiom."
"Criminal procedure is based on the same rule," said Vernou.
"Very well, we meet here at nine o'clock," and with that they rose, and the sitting broke up with the most affecting demonstrations of intimacy and good-will.
"What have you done to Finot, Lucien, that he should make a special arrangement with you? You are the only one that he has bound to himself," said Etienne Lousteau, as they came downstairs.
"I? Nothing. It was his own proposal," said Lucien.
"As a matter of fact, if you should make your own terms with him, I should be delighted; we should, both of us, be the better for it."
On the ground floor they found Finot. He stepped across to Lousteau and asked him into the so-called private office. Giroudeau immediately put a couple of stamped agreements before Lucien.
"Sign your agreement," he said, "and the new editor will think the whole thing was arranged yesterday."
Lucien, reading the document, overheard fragments of a tolerably warm dispute within as to the line of conduct and profits of the paper. Etienne Lousteau wanted his share of the blackmail levied by Giroudeau; and, in all probability, the matter was compromised, for the pair came out perfectly good friends.
"We will meet at Dauriat's, Lucien, in the Wooden Galleries at eight o'clock," said Etienne Lousteau.
A young man appeared, meanwhile, in search of employment, wearing the same nervous shy look with which Lucien himself had come to the office so short a while ago; and in his secret soul Lucien felt amused as he watched Giroudeau playing off the same tactics with which the old campaigner had previously foiled him. Self-interest opened his eyes to the necessity of the manoeuvres which raised well-nigh insurmountable barriers between beginners and the upper room where the elect were gathered together.
"Contributors don't get very much as it is," he said, addressing Giroudeau.
"If there were more of you, there would be so much less," retorted the captain. "So there!"
The old campaigner swung his loaded cane, and went down coughing as usual. Out in the street he was amazed to see a handsome carriage waiting on the boulevard for Lucien.
"You are the army nowadays," he said, "and we are the civilians."
"Upon my word," said Lucien, as he drove away with Coralie, "these young writers seem to me to be the best fellows alive. Here am I a journalist, sure of making six hundred francs a month if I work like a horse. But I shall find a publisher for my two books, and I will write others; for my friends will insure a success. And so, Coralie, 'vogue le galere!' as you say."
"You will make your way, dear boy; but you must not be as good-natured as you are good-looking; it would be the ruin of you. Be ill-natured, that is the proper thing."
Coralie and Lucien drove in the Bois de Boulogne, and again they met the Marquise d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton and the Baron du Chatelet. Mme. de Bargeton gave Lucien a languishing glance which might be taken as a greeting. Camusot had ordered the best possible dinner; and Coralie, feeling that she was rid of her adorer, was more charming to the poor silk-mercer than she had ever been in the fourteen months during which their connection lasted; he had never seen her so kindly, so enchantingly lovely.
"Come," he thought, "let us keep near her anyhow!"
In consequence, Camusot made secret overtures. He promised Coralie an income of six thousand livres; he would transfer the stock in the funds into her name (his wife knew nothing about the investment) if only she would consent to be his mistress still. He would shut his eyes to her lover.
"And betray such an angel?... Why, just look at him, you old fossil, and look at yourself!" and her eyes turned to her poet. Camusot had pressed Lucien to drink till the poet's head was rather cloudy.
There was no help for it; Camusot made up his mind to wait till sheer want should give him this woman a second time.
"Then I can only be your friend," he said, as he kissed her on the forehead.
Lucien went from Coralie and Camusot to the Wooden Galleries. What a change had been wrought in his mind by his initiation into Journalism! He mixed fearlessly now with the crowd which surged to and fro in the buildings; he even swaggered a little because he had a mistress; and he walked into Dauriat's shop in an offhand manner because he was a journalist.
He found himself among distinguished men; gave a hand to Blondet and Nathan and Finot, and to all the coterie with whom he had been fraternizing for a week. He was a personage, he thought, and he flattered himself that he surpassed his comrades. That little flick of the wine did him admirable service; he was witty, he showed that he could "howl with the wolves."
And yet, the tacit approval, the praises spoken and unspoken on which he had counted, were not forthcoming. He noticed the first stirrings of jealousy among a group, less curious, perhaps, than anxious to know the place which this newcomer might take, and the exact portion of the sum-total of profits which he would probably secure and swallow. Lucien only saw smiles on two faces—Finot, who regarded him as a mine to be exploited, and Lousteau, who considered that he had proprietary rights in the poet, looked glad to see him. Lousteau had begun already to assume the airs of an editor; he tapped sharply on the window-panes of Dauriat's private office.
"One moment, my friend," cried a voice within as the publisher's face appeared above the green curtains.
The moment lasted an hour, and finally Lucien and Etienne were admitted into the sanctum.
"Well, have you thought over our friend's proposal?" asked Etienne Lousteau, now an editor.
"To be sure," said Dauriat, lolling like a sultan in his chair. "I have read the volume. And I submitted it to a man of taste, a good judge; for I don't pretend to understand these things myself. I myself, my friend, buy reputations ready-made, as the Englishman bought his love affairs.—You are as great as a poet as you are handsome as a man, my boy," pronounced Dauriat. "Upon my word and honor (I don't tell you that as a publisher, mind), your sonnets are magnificent; no sign of effort about them, as is natural when a man writes with inspiration and verve. You know your craft, in fact, one of the good points of the new school. Your volume of Marguerites is a fine book, but there is no business in it, and it is not worth my while to meddle with anything but a very big affair. In conscience, I won't take your sonnets. It would be impossible to push them; there is not enough in the thing to pay the expenses of a big success. You will not keep to poetry besides; this book of yours will be your first and last attempt of the kind. You are young; you bring me the everlasting volume of early verse which every man of letters writes when he leaves school, he thinks a lot of it at the time, and laughs at it later on. Lousteau, your friend, has a poem put away somewhere among his old socks, I'll warrant. Haven't you a poem that you thought a good deal of once, Lousteau?" inquired Dauriat, with a knowing glance at the other.
"How should I be writing prose otherwise, eh?" asked Lousteau.
"There, you see! He has never said a word to me about it, for our friend understands business and the trade," continued Dauriat. "For me the question is not whether you are a great poet, I know that," he added, stroking down Lucien's pride; "you have a great deal, a very great deal of merit; if I were only just starting in business, I should make the mistake of publishing your book. But in the first place, my sleeping partners and those at the back of me are cutting off my supplies; I dropped twenty thousand francs over poetry last year, and that is enough for them; they will not hear of any more just now, and they are my masters. Nevertheless, that is not the question. I admit that you may be a great poet, but will you be a prolific writer? Will you hatch sonnets regularly? Will you run into ten volumes? Is there business in it? Of course not. You will be a delightful prose writer; you have too much sense to spoil your style with tagging rhymes together. You have a chance to make thirty thousand francs per annum by writing for the papers, and you will not exchange that chance for three thousand francs made with difficulty by your hemistiches and strophes and tomfoolery——"
"You know that he is on the paper, Dauriat?" put in Lousteau.
"Yes," Dauriat answered. "Yes, I saw his article, and in his own interests I decline the Marguerites. Yes, sir, in six months' time I shall have paid you more money for the articles that I shall ask you to write than for your poetry that will not sell."
"And fame?" said Lucien.
Dauriat and Lousteau laughed.
"Oh dear!" said Lousteau, "there be illusions left."
"Fame means ten years of sticking to work, and a hundred thousand francs lost or made in the publishing trade. If you find anybody mad enough to print your poetry for you, you will feel some respect for me in another twelvemonth, when you have had time to see the outcome of the transaction."
"Have you the manuscript here?" Lucien asked coldly.
"Here it is, my friend," said Dauriat. The publisher's manner towards Lucien had sweetened singularly.
Lucien took up the roll without looking at the string, so sure he felt that Dauriat had read his Marguerites. He went out with Lousteau, seemingly neither disconcerted nor dissatisfied. Dauriat went with them into the shop, talking of his newspaper and Lousteau's daily, while Lucien played with the manuscript of the Marguerites.
"Do you suppose that Dauriat has read your sonnets or sent them to any one else?" Etienne Lousteau snatched an opportunity to whisper.
"Yes," said Lucien.
"Look at the string." Lucien looked down at the blot of ink, and saw that the mark on the string still coincided; he turned white with rage.
"Which of the sonnets was it that you particularly liked?" he asked, turning to the publisher.
"They are all of them remarkable, my friend; but the sonnet on the Marguerite is delightful, the closing thought is fine, and exquisitely expressed. I felt sure from that sonnet that your prose work would command a success, and I spoke to Finot about you at once. Write articles for us, and we will pay you well for them. Fame is a very fine thing, you see, but don't forget the practical and solid, and take every chance that turns up. When you have made money, you can write poetry."
The poet dashed out of the shop to avoid an explosion. He was furious. Lousteau followed.
"Well, my boy, pray keep cool. Take men as they are—for means to an end. Do you wish for revenge?"
"At any price," muttered the poet.
"Here is a copy of Nathan's book. Dauriat has just given it to me. The second edition is coming out to-morrow; read the book again, and knock off an article demolishing it. Felicien Vernou cannot endure Nathan, for he thinks that Nathan's success will injure his own forthcoming book. It is a craze with these little minds to fancy that there is not room for two successes under the sun; so he will see that your article finds a place in the big paper for which he writes."
"But what is there to be said against the book; it is good work!" cried Lucien.
"Oh, I say! you must learn your trade," said Lousteau, laughing. "Given that the book was a masterpiece, under the stroke of your pen it must turn to dull trash, dangerous and unwholesome stuff."
"You turn all the good points into bad ones."
"I am incapable of such a juggler's feat."
"My dear boy, a journalist is a juggler; a man must make up his mind to the drawbacks of the calling. Look here! I am not a bad fellow; this is the way I should set to work myself. Attention! You might begin by praising the book, and amuse yourself a while by saying what you really think. 'Good,' says the reader, 'this critic is not jealous; he will be impartial, no doubt,' and from that point your public will think that your criticism is a piece of conscientious work. Then, when you have won your reader's confidence, you will regret that you must blame the tendency and influence of such work upon French literature. 'Does not France,' you will say, 'sway the whole intellectual world? French writers have kept Europe in the path of analysis and philosophical criticism from age to age by their powerful style and the original turn given by them to ideas.' Here, for the benefit of the philistine, insert a panegyric on Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Buffon. Hold forth upon the inexorable French language; show how it spreads a varnish, as it were, over thought. Let fall a few aphorisms, such as—'A great writer in France is invariably a great man; he writes in a language which compels him to think; it is otherwise in other countries'—and so on, and so on. Then, to prove your case, draw a comparison between Rabener, the German satirical moralist, and La Bruyere. Nothing gives a critic such an air as an apparent familiarity with foreign literature. Kant is Cousin's pedestal.
"Once on that ground you bring out a word which sums up the French men of genius of the eighteenth century for the benefit of simpletons—you call that literature the 'literature of ideas.' Armed with this expression, you fling all the mighty dead at the heads of the illustrious living. You explain that in the present day a new form of literature has sprung up; that dialogue (the easiest form of writing) is overdone, and description dispenses with any need for thinking on the part of the author or reader. You bring up the fiction of Voltaire, Diderot, Sterne, and Le Sage, so trenchant, so compact of the stuff of life; and turn from them to the modern novel, composed of scenery and word-pictures and metaphor and the dramatic situations, of which Scott is full. Invention may be displayed in such work, but there is no room for anything else. 'The romance after the manner of Scott is a mere passing fashion in literature,' you will say, and fulminate against the fatal way in which ideas are diluted and beaten thin; cry out against a style within the reach of any intellect, for any one can commence author at small expense in a way of literature, which you can nickname the 'literature of imagery.'
"Then you fall upon Nathan with your argument, and establish it beyound cavil that he is a mere imitator with an appearance of genius. The concise grand style of the eighteenth century is lacking; you show that the author substitutes events for sentiments. Action and stir is not life; he gives you pictures, but no ideas.
"Come out with such phrases, and people will take them up.—In spite of the merits of the work, it seems to you to be a dangerous, nay, a fatal precedent. It throws open the gates of the temple of Fame to the crowd; and in the distance you descry a legion of petty authors hastening to imitate this novel and easy style of writing.
"Here you launch out into resounding lamentations over the decadence and decline of taste, and slip in eulogies of Messieurs Etienne Jouy, Tissot, Gosse, Duval, Jay, Benjamin Constant, Aignan, Baour-Lormian, Villemain, and the whole Liberal-Bonapartist chorus who patronize Vernou's paper. Next you draw a picture of that glorious phalanx of writers repelling the invasion of the Romantics; these are the upholders of ideas and style as against metaphor and balderdash; the modern representatives of the school of Voltaire as opposed to the English and German schools, even as the seventeen heroic deputies of the Left fought the battle for the nation against the Ultras of the Right.
"And then, under cover of names respected by the immense majority of Frenchmen (who will always be against the Government), you can crush Nathan; for although his work is far above the average, it confirms the bourgeois taste for literature without ideas. And after that, you understand, it is no longer a question of Nathan and his book, but of France and the glory of France. It is the duty of all honest and courageous pens to make strenuous opposition to these foreign importations. And with that you flatter your readers. Shrewd French mother-wit is not easily caught napping. If publishers, by ways which you do not choose to specify, have stolen a success, the reading public very soon judges for itself, and corrects the mistakes made by some five hundred fools, who always rush to the fore.
"Say that the publisher who sold a first edition of the book is audacious indeed to issue a second, and express regret that so clever a man does not know the taste of the country better. There is the gist of it. Just a sprinkle of the salt of wit and a dash of vinegar to bring out the flavor, and Dauriat will be done to a turn. But mind that you end with seeming to pity Nathan for a mistake, and speak of him as of a man from whom contemporary literature may look for great things if he renounces these ways."
Lucien was amazed at this talk from Lousteau. As the journalist spoke, the scales fell from his eyes; he beheld new truths of which he had never before caught so much as a glimpse.
"But all this that you are saying is quite true and just," said he.
"If it were not, how could you make it tell against Nathan's book?" asked Lousteau. "That is the first manner of demolishing a book, my boy; it is the pickaxe style of criticism. But there are plenty of other ways. Your education will complete itself in time. When you are absolutely obliged to speak of a man whom you do not like, for proprietors and editors are sometimes under compulsion, you bring out a neutral special article. You put the title of the book at the head of it, and begin with general remarks, on the Greeks and the Romans if you like, and wind up with—'and this brings us to Mr. So-and-so's book, which will form the subject of a second article.' The second article never appears, and in this way you snuff out the book between two promises. But in this case you are writing down, not Nathan, but Dauriat; he needs the pickaxe style. If the book is really good, the pickaxe does no harm; but it goes to the core of it if it is bad. In the first case, no one but the publisher is any the worse; in the second, you do the public a service. Both methods, moreover, are equally serviceable in political criticism."
Etienne Lousteau's cruel lesson opened up possibilities for Lucien's imagination. He understood this craft to admiration.
"Let us go to the office," said Lousteau; "we shall find our friends there, and we will agree among ourselves to charge at Nathan; they will laugh, you will see."
Arrived in the Rue Saint-Fiacre, they went up to the room in the roof where the paper was made up, and Lucien was surprised and gratified no less to see the alacrity with which his comrades proceeded to demolish Nathan's book. Hector Merlin took up a piece of paper and wrote a few lines for his own newspaper.—
"A second edition of M. Nathan's book is announced. We had intended to keep silence with regard to that work, but its apparent success obliges us to publish an article, not so much upon the book itself as upon certain tendencies of the new school of literature."
At the head of the "Facetiae" in the morning's paper, Lousteau inserted the following note:—
"M. Dauriat is bringing out a second edition of M. Nathan's book. Evidently he does not know the legal maxim, Non bis in idem. All honor to rash courage."
Lousteau's words had been like a torch for burning; Lucien's hot desire to be revenged on Dauriat took the place of conscience and inspiration. For three days he never left Coralie's room; he sat at work by the fire, waited upon by Berenice; petted, in moments of weariness, by the silent and attentive Coralie; till, at the end of that time, he had made a fair copy of about three columns of criticism, and an astonishingly good piece of work.
It was nine o'clock in the evening when he ran round to the office, found his associates, and read over his work to an attentive audience. Felicien said not a syllable. He took up the manuscript, and made off with it pell-mell down the staircase.
"What has come to him?" cried Lucien.
"He has taken your article straight to the printer," said Hector Merlin. "'Tis a masterpiece; not a line to add, nor a word to take out."
"There was no need to do more than show you the way," said Lousteau.
"I should like to see Nathan's face when he reads this to-morrow," said another contributor, beaming with gentle satisfaction.
"It is as well to have you for a friend," remarked Hector Merlin.
"Then it will do?" Lucien asked quickly.
"Blondet and Vignon will feel bad," said Lousteau.
"Here is a short article which I have knocked together for you," began Lucien; "if it takes, I could write you a series."
"Read it over," said Lousteau, and Lucien read the first of the delightful short papers which made the fortune of the little newspaper; a series of sketches of Paris life, a portrait, a type, an ordinary event, or some of the oddities of the great city. This specimen—"The Man in the Street"—was written in a way that was fresh and original; the thoughts were struck out by the shock of the words, the sounding ring of the adverbs and adjectives caught the reader's ear. The paper was as different from the serious and profound article on Nathan as the Lettres persanes from the Esprit des lois.
"You are a born journalist," said Lousteau. "It shall go in to-morrow. Do as much of this sort of thing as you like."
"Ah, by the by," said Merlin, "Dauriat is furious about those two bombshells hurled into his magazine. I have just come from him. He was hurling imprecations, and in such a rage with Finot, who told him that he had sold his paper to you. As for me, I took him aside and just said a word in his ear. 'The Marguerites will cost you dear,' I told him. 'A man of talent comes to you, you turn the cold shoulder on him, and send him into the arms of the newspapers.'"
"Dauriat will be dumfounded by the article on Nathan," said Lousteau. "Do you see now what journalism is, Lucien? Your revenge is beginning to tell. The Baron Chatelet came here this morning for your address. There was a cutting article upon him in this morning's issue; he is a weakling, that buck of the Empire, and he has lost his head. Have you seen the paper? It is a funny article. Look, 'Funeral of the Heron, and the Cuttlefish-bone's lament.' Mme. de Bargeton is called the Cuttlefish-bone now, and no mistake, and Chatelet is known everywhere as Baron Heron."
Lucien took up the paper, and could not help laughing at Vernou's extremely clever skit.
"They will capitulate soon," said Hector Merlin.
Lucien merrily assisted at the manufacture of epigrams and jokes at the end of the paper; and the associates smoked and chatted over the day's adventures, over the foibles of some among their number, or some new bit of personal gossip. From their witty, malicious, bantering talk, Lucien gained a knowledge of the inner life of literature, and of the manners and customs of the craft.
"While they are setting up the paper, I will go round with you and introduce you to the managers of your theatres, and take you behind the scenes," said Lousteau. "And then we will go to the Panorama-Dramatique, and have a frolic in their dressing-rooms."
Arm-in-arm, they went from theatre to theatre. Lucien was introduced to this one and that, and enthroned as a dramatic critic. Managers complimented him, actresses flung him side glances; for every one of them knew that this was the critic who, by a single article, had gained an engagement at the Gymnase, with twelve thousand francs a year, for Coralie, and another for Florine at the Panorama-Dramatique with eight thousand francs. Lucien was a man of importance. The little ovations raised Lucien in his own eyes, and taught him to know his power. At eleven o'clock the pair arrived at the Panorama-Dramatique; Lucien with a careless air that worked wonders. Nathan was there. Nathan held out a hand, which Lucien squeezed.
"Ah! my masters, so you have a mind to floor me, have you?" said Nathan, looking from one to the other.
"Just you wait till to-morrow, my dear fellow, and you shall see how Lucien has taken you in hand. Upon my word, you will be pleased. A piece of serious criticism like that is sure to do a book good."
Lucien reddened with confusion.
"Is it severe?" inquired Nathan.
"It is serious," said Lousteau.
"Then there is no harm done," Nathan rejoined. "Hector Merlin in the greenroom of the Vaudeville was saying that I had been cut up."