"Here is our handsome Lucien," said Finot, drawing des Lupeaulx in the direction of the poet, and shaking hands with feline amiability. "I cannot think of another example of such rapid success," continued Finot, looking from des Lupeaulx to Lucien. "There are two sorts of success in Paris: there is a fortune in solid cash, which any one can amass, and there is the intangible fortune of connections, position, or a footing in certain circles inaccessible for certain persons, however rich they may be. Now my friend here——"
"Our friend," interposed des Lupeaulx, smiling blandly.
"Our friend," repeated Finot, patting Lucien's hand, "has made a brilliant success from this point of view. Truth to tell, Lucien has more in him, more gift, more wit than the rest of us that envy him, and he is enchantingly handsome besides; his old friends cannot forgive him for his success—they call it luck."
"Luck of that sort never comes to fools or incapables," said des Lupeaulx. "Can you call Bonaparte's fortune luck, eh? There were a score of applicants for the command of the army in Italy, just as there are a hundred young men at this moment who would like to have an entrance to Mlle. des Touches' house; people are coupling her name with yours already in society, my dear boy," said des Lupeaulx, clapping Lucien on the shoulder. "Ah! you are in high favor. Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Mme. de Montcornet are wild about you. You are going to Mme. Firmiani's party to-night, are you not, and to the Duchesse de Grandlieu's rout to-morrow?"
"Yes," said Lucien.
"Allow me to introduce a young banker to you, a M. du Tillet; you ought to be acquainted, he has contrived to make a great fortune in a short time."
Lucien and du Tillet bowed, and entered into conversation, and the banker asked Lucien to dinner. Finot and des Lupeaulx, a well-matched pair, knew each other well enough to keep upon good terms; they turned away to continue their chat on one of the sofas in the greenroom, and left Lucien with du Tillet, Merlin, and Nathan.
"By the way, my friend," said Finot, "tell me how things stand. Is there really somebody behind Lucien? For he is the bete noire of my staff; and before allowing them to plot against him, I thought I should like to know whether, in your opinion, it would be better to baffle them and keep well with him."
The Master of Requests and Finot looked at each other very closely for a moment or two.
"My dear fellow," said des Lupeaulx, "how can you imagine that the Marquise d'Espard, or Chatelet, or Mme. de Bargeton—who has procured the Baron's nomination to the prefecture and the title of Count, so as to return in triumph to Angouleme—how can you suppose that any of them will forgive Lucien for his attacks on them? They dropped him down in the Royalist ranks to crush him out of existence. At this moment they are looking round for any excuse for not fulfilling the promises they made to that boy. Help them to some; you will do the greatest possible service to the two women, and some day or other they will remember it. I am in their secrets; I was surprised to find how much they hated the little fellow. This Lucien might have rid himself of his bitterest enemy (Mme. de Bargeton) by desisting from his attacks on terms which a woman loves to grant—do you take me? He is young and handsome, he should have drowned her hate in torrents of love, he would be Comte de Rubempre by this time; the Cuttlefish-bone would have obtained some sinecure for him, some post in the Royal Household. Lucien would have made a very pretty reader to Louis XVIII.; he might have been librarian somewhere or other, Master of Requests for a joke, Master of Revels, what you please. The young fool has missed his chance. Perhaps that is his unpardonable sin. Instead of imposing his conditions, he has accepted them. When Lucien was caught with the bait of the patent of nobility, the Baron Chatelet made a great step. Coralie has been the ruin of that boy. If he had not had the actress for his mistress, he would have turned again to the Cuttlefish-bone; and he would have had her too."
"Then we can knock him over?"
"How?" des Lupeaulx asked carelessly. He saw a way of gaining credit with the Marquise d'Espard for this service.
"He is under contract to write for Lousteau's paper, and we can the better hold him to his agreement because he has not a sou. If we tickle up the Keeper of the Seals with a facetious article, and prove that Lucien wrote it, he will consider that Lucien is unworthy of the King's favor. We have a plot on hand besides. Coralie will be ruined, and our distinguished provincial will lose his head when his mistress is hissed off the stage and left without an engagement. When once the patent is suspended, we will laugh at the victim's aristocratic pretensions, and allude to his mother the nurse and his father the apothecary. Lucien's courage is only skindeep, he will collapse; we will send him back to his provinces. Nathan made Florine sell me Matifat's sixth share of the review, I was able to buy; Dauriat and I are the only proprietors now; we might come to an understanding, you and I, and the review might be taken over for the benefit of the Court. I stipulated for the restitution of my sixth before I undertook to protect Nathan and Florine; they let me have it, and I must help them; but I wished to know first how Lucien stood——"
"You deserve your name," said des Lupeaulx. "I like a man of your sort——"
"Very well. Then can you arrange a definite engagement for Florine?" asked Finot.
"Yes, but rid us of Lucien, for Rastignac and de Marsay never wish to hear of him again."
"Sleep in peace," returned Finot. "Nathan and Merlin will always have articles ready for Gaillard, who will promise to take them; Lucien will never get a line into the paper. We will cut off his supplies. There is only Martainville's paper left him in which to defend himself and Coralie; what can a single paper do against so many?"
"I will let you know the weak points of the Ministry; but get Lucien to write that article and hand over the manuscript," said des Lupeaulx, who refrained carefully from informing Finot that Lucien's promised patent was nothing but a joke.
When des Lupeaulx had gone, Finot went to Lucien, and taking the good-natured tone which deceives so many victims, he explained that he could not possibly afford to lose his contributor, and at the same time he shrank from taking proceedings which might ruin him with his friends of the other side. Finot himself liked a man who was strong enough to change his opinions. They were pretty sure to come across one another, he and Lucien, and might be mutually helpful in a thousand little ways. Lucien, besides, needed a sure man in the Liberal party to attack the Ultras and men in office who might refuse to help him.
"Suppose that they play you false, what will you do?" Finot ended. "Suppose that some Minister fancies that he has you fast by the halter of your apostasy, and turns the cold shoulder on you? You will be glad to set on a few dogs to snap at his legs, will you not? Very well. But you have made a deadly enemy of Lousteau; he is thirsting for your blood. You and Felicien are not on speaking terms. I only remain to you. It is a rule of the craft to keep a good understanding with every man of real ability. In the world which you are about to enter you can do me services in return for mine with the press. But business first. Let me have purely literary articles; they will not compromise you, and we shall have executed our agreement."
Lucien saw nothing but good-fellowship and a shrewd eye to business in Finot's offer; Finot and des Lupeaulx had flattered him, and he was in a good humor. He actually thanked Finot!
Ambitious men, like all those who can only make their way by the help of others and of circumstances, are bound to lay their plans very carefully and to adhere very closely to the course of conduct on which they determine; it is a cruel moment in the lives of such aspirants when some unknown power brings the fabric of their fortunes to some severe test and everything gives way at once; threads are snapped or entangled, and misfortune appears on every side. Let a man lose his head in the confusion, it is all over with him; but if he can resist this first revolt of circumstances, if he can stand erect until the tempest passes over, or make a supreme effort and reach the serene sphere about the storm—then he is really strong. To every man, unless he is born rich, there comes sooner or later "his fatal week," as it must be called. For Napoleon, for instance, that week was the Retreat from Moscow. It had begun now for Lucien.
Social and literary success had come to him too easily; he had had such luck that he was bound to know reverses and to see men and circumstances turn against him.
The first blow was the heaviest and the most keenly felt, for it touched Lucien where he thought himself invulnerable—in his heart and his love. Coralie might not be clever, but hers was a noble nature, and she possessed the great actress' faculty of suddenly standing aloof from self. This strange phenomenon is subject, until it degenerates into a habit with long practice, to the caprices of character, and not seldom to an admirable delicacy of feeling in actresses who are still young. Coralie, to all appearance bold and wanton, as the part required, was in reality girlish and timid, and love had wrought in her a revulsion of her woman's heart against the comedian's mask. Art, the supreme art of feigning passion and feeling, had not yet triumphed over nature in her; she shrank before a great audience from the utterance that belongs to Love alone; and Coralie suffered besides from another true woman's weakness—she needed success, born stage queen though she was. She could not confront an audience with which she was out of sympathy; she was nervous when she appeared on the stage, a cold reception paralyzed her. Each new part gave her the terrible sensations of a first appearance. Applause produced a sort of intoxication which gave her encouragement without flattering her vanity; at a murmur of dissatisfaction or before a silent house, she flagged; but a great audience following attentively, admiringly, willing to be pleased, electrified Coralie. She felt at once in communication with the nobler qualities of all those listeners; she felt that she possessed the power of stirring their souls and carrying them with her. But if this action and reaction of the audience upon the actress reveals the nervous organization of genius, it shows no less clearly the poor child's sensitiveness and delicacy. Lucien had discovered the treasures of her nature; had learned in the past months that this woman who loved him was still so much of a girl. And Coralie was unskilled in the wiles of an actress—she could not fight her own battles nor protect herself against the machinations of jealousy behind the scenes. Florine was jealous of her, and Florine was as dangerous and depraved as Coralie was simple and generous. Roles must come to find Coralie; she was too proud to implore authors or to submit to dishonoring conditions; she would not give herself to the first journalist who persecuted her with his advances and threatened her with his pen. Genius is rare enough in the extraordinary art of the stage; but genius is only one condition of success among many, and is positively hurtful unless it is accompanied by a genius for intrigue in which Coralie was utterly lacking.
Lucien knew how much his friend would suffer on her first appearance at the Gymnase, and was anxious at all costs to obtain a success for her; but all the money remaining from the sale of the furniture and all Lucien's earnings had been sunk in costumes, in the furniture of a dressing-room, and the expenses of a first appearance.
A few days later, Lucien made up his mind to a humiliating step for love's sake. He took Fendant and Cavalier's bills, and went to the Golden Cocoon in the Rue des Bourdonnais. He would ask Camusot to discount them. The poet had not fallen so low that he could make this attempt quite coolly. There had been many a sharp struggle first, and the way to that decision had been paved with many dreadful thoughts. Nevertheless, he arrived at last in the dark, cheerless little private office that looked out upon a yard, and found Camusot seated gravely there; this was not Coralie's infatuated adorer, not the easy-natured, indolent, incredulous libertine whom he had known hitherto as Camusot, but a heavy father of a family, a merchant grown old in shrewd expedients of business and respectable virtues, wearing a magistrate's mask of judicial prudery; this Camusot was the cool, business-like head of the firm surrounded by clerks, green cardboard boxes, pigeonholes, invoices, and samples, and fortified by the presence of a wife and a plainly-dressed daughter. Lucien trembled from head to foot as he approached; for the worthy merchant, like the money-lenders, turned cool, indifferent eyes upon him.
"Here are two or three bills, monsieur," he said, standing beside the merchant, who did not rise from his desk. "If you will take them of me, you will oblige me extremely."
"You have taken something of me, monsieur," said Camusot; "I do not forget it."
On this, Lucien explained Coralie's predicament. He spoke in a low voice, bending to murmur his explanation, so that Camusot could hear the heavy throbbing of the humiliated poet's heart. It was no part of Camusot's plans that Coralie should suffer a check. He listened, smiling to himself over the signatures on the bills (for, as a judge at the Tribunal of Commerce, he knew how the booksellers stood), but in the end he gave Lucien four thousand five hundred francs for them, stipulating that he should add the formula "For value received in silks."
Lucien went straight to Braulard, and made arrangements for a good reception. Braulard promised to come to the dress-rehearsal, to determine on the points where his "Romans" should work their fleshy clappers to bring down the house in applause. Lucien gave the rest of the money to Coralie (he did not tell her how he had come by it), and allayed her anxieties and the fears of Berenice, who was sorely troubled over their daily expenses.
Martainville came several times to hear Coralie rehearse, and he knew more of the stage than most men of his time; several Royalist writers had promised favorable articles; Lucien had not a suspicion of the impending disaster.
A fatal event occurred on the evening before Coralie's debut. D'Arthez's book had appeared; and the editor of Merlin's paper, considering Lucien to be the best qualified man on the staff, gave him the book to review. He owed his unlucky reputation to those articles on Nathan's work. There were several men in the office at the time, for all the staff had been summoned; Martainville was explaining that the party warfare with the Liberals must be waged on certain lines. Nathan, Merlin, all the contributors, in fact, were talking of Leon Giraud's paper, and remarking that its influence was the more pernicious because the language was guarded, cool, moderate. People were beginning to speak of the circle in the Rue des Quatre-Vents as a second Convention. It had been decided that the Royalist papers were to wage a systematic war of extermination against these dangerous opponents, who, indeed, at a later day, were destined to sow the doctrines that drove the Bourbons into exile; but that was only after the most brilliant of Royalist writers had joined them for the sake of a mean revenge.
D'Arthez's absolutist opinions were not known; it was taken for granted that he shared the views of his clique, he fell under the same anathema, and he was to be the first victim. His book was to be honored with "a slashing article," to use the consecrated formula. Lucien refused to write the article. Great was the commotion among the leading Royalist writers thus met in conclave. Lucien was told plainly that a renegade could not do as he pleased; if it did not suit his views to take the side of the Monarchy and Religion, he could go back to the other camp. Merlin and Martainville took him aside and begged him, as his friends, to remember that he would simply hand Coralie over to the tender mercies of the Liberal papers, for she would find no champions on the Royalist and Ministerial side. Her acting was certain to provoke a hot battle, and the kind of discussion which every actress longs to arouse.
"You don't understand it in the least," said Martainville; "if she plays for three months amid a cross-fire of criticism, she will make thirty thousand francs when she goes on tour in the provinces at the end of the season; and here are you about to sacrifice Coralie and your own future, and to quarrel with your own bread and butter, all for a scruple that will always stand in your way, and ought to be got rid of at once."
Lucien was forced to choose between d'Arthez and Coralie. His mistress would be ruined unless he dealt his friend a death-blow in the Reveil and the great newspaper. Poor poet! He went home with death in his soul; and by the fireside he sat and read that finest production of modern literature. Tears fell fast over it as the pages turned. For a long while he hesitated, but at last he took up the pen and wrote a sarcastic article of the kind that he understood so well, taking the book as children might take some bright bird to strip it of its plumage and torture it. His sardonic jests were sure to tell. Again he turned to the book, and as he read it over a second time, his better self awoke. In the dead of night he hurried across Paris, and stood outside d'Arthez's house. He looked up at the windows and saw the faint pure gleam of light in the panes, as he had so often seen it, with a feeling of admiration for the noble steadfastness of that truly great nature. For some moments he stood irresolute on the curbstone; he had not courage to go further; but his good angel urged him on. He tapped at the door and opened, and found d'Arthez sitting reading in a fireless room.
"What has happened?" asked d'Arthez, for news of some dreadful kind was visible in Lucien's ghastly face.
"Your book is sublime, d'Arthez," said Lucien, with tears in his eyes, "and they have ordered me to write an attack upon it."
"Poor boy! the bread that they give you is hard indeed!" said d'Arthez
"I only ask for one favor, keep my visit a secret and leave me to my hell, to the occupations of the damned. Perhaps it is impossible to attain to success until the heart is seared and callous in every most sensitive spot."
"The same as ever!" cried d'Arthez.
"Do you think me a base poltroon? No, d'Arthez; no, I am a boy half crazed with love," and he told his story.
"Let us look at the article," said d'Arthez, touched by all that Lucien said of Coralie.
Lucien held out the manuscript; d'Arthez read, and could not help smiling.
"Oh, what a fatal waste of intellect!" he began. But at the sight of Lucien overcome with grief in the opposite armchair, he checked himself.
"Will you leave it with me to correct? I will let you have it again to-morrow," he went on. "Flippancy depreciates a work; serious and conscientious criticism is sometimes praise in itself. I know a way to make your article more honorable both for yourself and for me. Besides, I know my faults well enough."
"When you climb a hot, shadowless hillside, you sometimes find fruit to quench your torturing thirst; and I have found it here and now," said Lucien, as he sprang sobbing to d'Arthez's arms and kissed his friend on the forehead. "It seems to me that I am leaving my conscience in your keeping; some day I will come to you and ask for it again."
"I look upon a periodical repentance as great hypocrisy," d'Arthez said solemnly; "repentance becomes a sort of indemnity for wrongdoing. Repentance is virginity of the soul, which we must keep for God; a man who repents twice is a horrible sycophant. I am afraid that you regard repentance as absolution."
Lucien went slowly back to the Rue de la Lune, stricken dumb by those words.
Next morning d'Arthez sent back his article, recast throughout, and Lucien sent it in to the review; but from that day melancholy preyed upon him, and he could not always disguise his mood. That evening, when the theatre was full, he experienced for the first time the paroxysm of nervous terror caused by a debut; terror aggravated in his case by all the strength of his love. Vanity of every kind was involved. He looked over the rows of faces as a criminal eyes the judges and the jury on whom his life depends. A murmur would have set him quivering; any slight incident upon the stage, Coralie's exits and entrances, the slightest modulation of the tones of her voice, would perturb him beyond all reason.
The play in which Coralie made her first appearance at the Gymnase was a piece of the kind which sometimes falls flat at first, and afterwards has immense success. It fell flat that night. Coralie was not applauded when she came on, and the chilly reception reacted upon her. The only applause came from Camusot's box, and various persons posted in the balcony and galleries silenced Camusot with repeated cries of "Hush!" The galleries even silenced the claqueurs when they led off with exaggerated salvos. Martainville applauded bravely; Nathan, Merlin, and the treacherous Florine followed his example; but it was clear that the piece was a failure. A crowd gathered in Coralie's dressing-room and consoled her, till she had no courage left. She went home in despair, less for her own sake than for Lucien's.
"Braulard has betrayed us," Lucien said.
Coralie was heartstricken. The next day found her in a high fever, utterly unfit to play, face to face with the thought that she had been cut short in her career. Lucien hid the papers from her, and looked them over in the dining-room. The reviewers one and all attributed the failure of the piece to Coralie; she had overestimated her strength; she might be the delight of a boulevard audience, but she was out of her element at the Gymnase; she had been inspired by a laudable ambition, but she had not taken her powers into account; she had chosen a part to which she was quite unequal. Lucien read on through a pile of penny-a-lining, put together on the same system as his attack upon Nathan. Milo of Crotona, when he found his hands fast in the oak which he himself had cleft, was not more furious than Lucien. He grew haggard with rage. His friends gave Coralie the most treacherous advice, in the language of kindly counsel and friendly interest. She should play (according to these authorities) all kind of roles, which the treacherous writers of these unblushing feuilletons knew to be utterly unsuited to her genius. And these were the Royalist papers, led off by Nathan. As for the Liberal press, all the weapons which Lucien had used were now turned against him.
Coralie heard a sob, followed by another and another. She sprang out of bed to find Lucien, and saw the papers. Nothing would satisfy her but she must read them all; and when she had read them, she went back to bed, and lay there in silence.
Florine was in the plot; she had foreseen the outcome; she had studied Coralie's part, and was ready to take her place. The management, unwilling to give up the piece, was ready to take Florine in Coralie's stead. When the manager came, he found poor Coralie sobbing and exhausted on her bed; but when he began to say, in Lucien's presence, that Florine knew the part, and that the play must be given that evening, Coralie sprang up at once.
"I will play!" she cried, and sank fainting on the floor.
So Florine took the part, and made her reputation in it; for the piece succeeded, the newspapers all sang her praises, and from that time forth Florine was the great actress whom we all know. Florine's success exasperated Lucien to the highest degree.
"A wretched girl, whom you helped to earn her bread! If the Gymnase prefers to do so, let the management pay you to cancel your engagement. I shall be the Comte de Rubempre; I will make my fortune, and you shall be my wife."
"What nonsense!" said Coralie, looking at him with wan eyes.
"Nonsense!" repeated he. "Very well, wait a few days, and you shall live in a fine house, you shall have a carriage, and I will write a part for you!"
He took two thousand francs and hurried to Frascati's. For seven hours the unhappy victim of the Furies watched his varying luck, and outwardly seemed cool and self-contained. He experienced both extremes of fortune during that day and part of the night that followed; at one time he possessed as much as thirty thousand francs, and he came out at last without a sou. In the Rue de la Lune he found Finot waiting for him with a request for one of his short articles. Lucien so far forgot himself, that he complained.
"Oh, it is not all rosy," returned Finot. "You made your right-about-face in such a way that you were bound to lose the support of the Liberal press, and the Liberals are far stronger in print than all the Ministerialist and Royalist papers put together. A man should never leave one camp for another until he has made a comfortable berth for himself, by way of consolation for the losses that he must expect; and in any case, a prudent politician will see his friends first, and give them his reasons for going over, and take their opinions. You can still act together; they sympathize with you, and you agree to give mutual help. Nathan and Merlin did that before they went over. Hawks don't pike out hawks' eyes. You were as innocent as a lamb; you will be forced to show your teeth to your new party to make anything out of them. You have been necessarily sacrificed to Nathan. I cannot conceal from you that your article on d'Arthez has roused a terrific hubbub. Marat is a saint compared with you. You will be attacked, and your book will be a failure. How far have things gone with your romance?"
"These are the last proof sheets."
"All the anonymous articles against that young d'Arthez in the Ministerialist and Ultra papers are set down to you. The Reveil is poking fun at the set in the Rue des Quatre-Vents, and the hits are the more telling because they are funny. There is a whole serious political coterie at the back of Leon Giraud's paper; they will come into power too, sooner or later."
"I have not written a line in the Reveil this week past."
"Very well. Keep my short articles in mind. Write fifty of them straight off, and I will pay you for them in a lump; but they must be of the same color as the paper." And Finot, with seeming carelessness, gave Lucien an edifying anecdote of the Keeper of the Seals, a piece of current gossip, he said, for the subject of one of the papers.
Eager to retrieve his losses at play, Lucien shook off his dejection, summoned up his energy and youthful force, and wrote thirty articles of two columns each. These finished, he went to Dauriat's, partly because he felt sure of meeting Finot there, and he wished to give the articles to Finot in person; partly because he wished for an explanation of the non-appearance of the Marguerites. He found the bookseller's shop full of his enemies. All the talk immediately ceased as he entered. Put under the ban of journalism, his courage rose, and once more he said to himself, as he had said in the alley at the Luxembourg, "I will triumph."
Dauriat was neither amiable or inclined to patronize; he was sarcastic in tone, and determined not to bate an inch of his rights. The Marguerites should appear when it suited his purpose; he should wait until Lucien was in a position to secure the success of the book; it was his, he had bought it outright. When Lucien asserted that Dauriat was bound to publish the Marguerites by the very nature of the contract, and the relative positions of the parties to the agreement, Dauriat flatly contradicted him, said that no publisher could be compelled by law to publish at a loss, and that he himself was the best judge of the expediency of producing the book. There was, besides, a remedy open to Lucien, as any court of law would admit—the poet was quite welcome to take his verses to a Royalist publisher upon the repayment of the thousand crowns.
Lucien went away. Dauriat's moderate tone had exasperated him even more than his previous arrogance at their first interview. So the Marguerites would not appear until Lucien had found a host of formidable supporters, or grown formidable himself! He walked home slowly, so oppressed and out of heart that he felt ready for suicide. Coralie lay in bed, looking white and ill.
"She must have a part, or she will die," said Berenice, as Lucien dressed for a great evening party at Mlle. des Touches' house in the Rue du Mont Blanc. Des Lupeaulx and Vignon and Blondet were to be there, as well as Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton.
The party was given in honor of Conti, the great composer, owner likewise of one of the most famous voices off the stage, Cinti, Pasta, Garcia, Levasseur, and two or three celebrated amateurs in society not excepted. Lucien saw the Marquise, her cousin, and Mme. de Montcornet sitting together, and made one of the party. The unhappy young fellow to all appearances was light-hearted, happy, and content; he jested, he was the Lucien de Rubempre of his days of splendor, he would not seem to need help from any one. He dwelt on his services to the Royalist party, and cited the hue and cry raised after him by the Liberal press as a proof of his zeal.
"And you will be well rewarded, my friend," said Mme. de Bargeton, with a gracious smile. "Go to the Chancellerie the day after to-morrow with 'the Heron' and des Lupeaulx, and you will find your patent signed by His Majesty. The Keeper of the Seals will take it to-morrow to the Tuileries, but there is to be a meeting of the Council, and he will not come back till late. Still, if I hear the result to-morrow evening, I will let you know. Where are you living?"
"I will come to you," said Lucien, ashamed to confess that he was living in the Rue de la Lune.
"The Duc de Lenoncourt and the Duc de Navarreins have made mention of you to the King," added the Marquise; "they praised your absolute and entire devotion, and said that some distinction ought to avenge your treatment in the Liberal press. The name and title of Rubempre, to which you have a claim through your mother, would become illustrious through you, they said. The King gave his lordship instructions that evening to prepare a patent authorizing the Sieur Lucien Chardon to bear the arms and title of the Comtes de Rubempre, as grandson of the last Count by the mother's side. 'Let us favor the songsters' (chardonnerets) 'of Pindus,' said his Majesty, after reading your sonnet on the Lily, which my cousin luckily remembered to give the Duke.—'Especially when the King can work miracles, and change the song-bird into an eagle,' M. de Navarreins replied."
Lucien's expansion of feeling would have softened the heart of any woman less deeply wounded than Louise d'Espard de Negrepelisse; but her thirst for vengeance was only increased by Lucien's graciousness. Des Lupeaulx was right; Lucien was wanting in tact. It never crossed his mind that this history of the patent was one of the mystifications at which Mme. d'Espard was an adept. Emboldened with success and the flattering distinction shown to him by Mlle. des Touches, he stayed till two o'clock in the morning for a word in private with his hostess. Lucien had learned in Royalist newspaper offices that Mlle. des Touches was the author of a play in which La petite Fay, the marvel of the moment was about to appear. As the rooms emptied, he drew Mlle. des Touches to a sofa in the boudoir, and told the story of Coralie's misfortune and his own so touchingly, that Mlle. des Touches promised to give the heroine's part to his friend.
That promise put new life into Coralie. But the next day, as they breakfasted together, Lucien opened Lousteau's newspaper, and found that unlucky anecdote of the Keeper of the Seals and his wife. The story was full of the blackest malice lurking in the most caustic wit. Louis XVIII. was brought into the story in a masterly fashion, and held up to ridicule in such a way that prosecution was impossible. Here is the substance of a fiction for which the Liberal party attempted to win credence, though they only succeeded in adding one more to the tale of their ingenious calumnies.
The King's passion for pink-scented notes and a correspondence full of madrigals and sparkling wit was declared to be the last phase of the tender passion; love had reached the Doctrinaire stage; or had passed, in other words, from the concrete to the abstract. The illustrious lady, so cruelly ridiculed under the name of Octavie by Beranger, had conceived (so it was said) the gravest fears. The correspondence was languishing. The more Octavie displayed her wit, the cooler grew the royal lover. At last Octavie discovered the cause of her decline; her power was threatened by the novelty and piquancy of a correspondence between the august scribe and the wife of his Keeper of the Seals. That excellent woman was believed to be incapable of writing a note; she was simply and solely godmother to the efforts of audacious ambition. Who could be hidden behind her petticoats? Octavie decided, after making observations of her own, that the King was corresponding with his Minister.
She laid her plans. With the help of a faithful friend, she arranged that a stormy debate should detain the Minister at the Chamber; then she contrived to secure a tete-a-tete, and to convince outraged Majesty of the fraud. Louis XVIII. flew into a royal and truly Bourbon passion, but the tempest broke on Octavie's head. He would not believe her. Octavie offered immediate proof, begging the King to write a note which must be answered at once. The unlucky wife of the Keeper of the Seals sent to the Chamber for her husband; but precautions had been taken, and at that moment the Minister was on his legs addressing the Chamber. The lady racked her brains and replied to the note with such intellect as she could improvise.
"Your Chancellor will supply the rest," cried Octavie, laughing at the King's chagrin.
There was not a word of truth in the story; but it struck home to three persons—the Keeper of the Seals, his wife, and the King. It was said that des Lupeaulx had invented the tale, but Finot always kept his counsel. The article was caustic and clever, the Liberal papers and the Orleanists were delighted with it, and Lucien himself laughed, and thought of it merely as a very amusing canard.
He called next day for des Lupeaulx and the Baron du Chatelet. The Baron had just been to thank his lordship. The Sieur Chatelet, newly appointed Councillor Extraordinary, was now Comte du Chatelet, with a promise of the prefecture of the Charente so soon as the present prefect should have completed the term of office necessary to receive the maximum retiring pension. The Comte du Chatelet (for the du had been inserted in the patent) drove with Lucien to the Chancellerie, and treated his companion as an equal. But for Lucien's articles, he said, his patent would not have been granted so soon; Liberal persecution had been a stepping-stone to advancement. Des Lupeaulx was waiting for them in the Secretary-General's office. That functionary started with surprise when Lucien appeared and looked at des Lupeaulx.
"What!" he exclaimed, to Lucien's utter bewilderment. "Do you dare to come here, sir? Your patent was made out, but his lordship has torn it up. Here it is!" (the Secretary-General caught up the first torn sheet that came to hand). "The Minister wished to discover the author of yesterday's atrocious article, and here is the manuscript," added the speaker, holding out the sheets of Lucien's article. "You call yourself a Royalist, sir, and you are on the staff of that detestable paper which turns the Minister's hair gray, harasses the Centre, and is dragging the country headlong to ruin? You breakfast on the Corsair, the Miroir, the Constitutionnel, and the Courier; you dine on the Quotidienne and the Reveil, and then sup with Martainville, the worst enemy of the Government! Martainville urges the Government on to Absolutist measures; he is more likely to bring on another Revolution than if he had gone over to the extreme Left. You are a very clever journalist, but you will never make a politician. The Minister denounced you to the King, and the King was so angry that he scolded M. le Duc de Navarreins, his First Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Your enemies will be all the more formidable because they have hitherto been your friends. Conduct that one expects from an enemy is atrocious in a friend."
"Why, really, my dear fellow, are you a child?" said des Lupeaulx. "You have compromised me. Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Mme. de Montcornet, who were responsible for you, must be furious. The Duke is sure to have handed on his annoyance to the Marquise, and the Marquise will have scolded her cousin. Keep away from them and wait."
"Here comes his lordship—go!" said the Secretary-General.
Lucien went out into the Place Vendome; he was stunned by this bludgeon blow. He walked home along the Boulevards trying to think over his position. He saw himself a plaything in the hands of envy, treachery, and greed. What was he in this world of contending ambitions? A child sacrificing everything to the pursuit of pleasure and the gratification of vanity; a poet whose thoughts never went beyond the moment, a moth flitting from one bright gleaming object to another. He had no definite aim; he was the slave of circumstance—meaning well, doing ill. Conscience tortured him remorselessly. And to crown it all, he was penniless and exhausted with work and emotion. His articles could not compare with Merlin's or Nathan's work.
He walked at random, absorbed in these thoughts. As he passed some of the reading-rooms which were already lending books as well as newspapers, a placard caught his eyes. It was an advertisement of a book with a grotesque title, but beneath the announcement he saw his name in brilliant letters—"By Lucien Chardon de Rubempre." So his book had come out, and he had heard nothing of it! All the newspapers were silent. He stood motionless before the placard, his arms hanging at his sides. He did not notice a little knot of acquaintances—Rastignac and de Marsay and some other fashionable young men; nor did he see that Michel Chrestien and Leon Giraud were coming towards him.
"Are you M. Chardon?" It was Michel who spoke, and there was that in the sound of his voice that set Lucien's heartstrings vibrating.
"Do you not know me?" he asked, turning very pale.
Michel spat in his face.
"Take that as your wages for your article against d'Arthez. If everybody would do as I do on his own or his friend's behalf, the press would be as it ought to be—a self-respecting and respected priesthood."
Lucien staggered back and caught hold of Rastignac.
"Gentlemen," he said, addressing Rastignac and de Marsay, "you will not refuse to act as my seconds. But first, I wish to make matters even and apology impossible."
He struck Michel a sudden, unexpected blow in the face. The rest rushed in between the Republican and Royalist, to prevent a street brawl. Rastignac dragged Lucien off to the Rue Taitbout, only a few steps away from the Boulevard de Gand, where this scene took place. It was the hour of dinner, or a crowd would have assembled at once. De Marsay came to find Lucien, and the pair insisted that he should dine with them at the Cafe Anglais, where they drank and made merry.
"Are you a good swordsman?" inquired de Marsay.
"I have never had a foil in my hands."
"A good shot?"
"Never fired a pistol in my life."
"Then you have luck on your side. You are a formidable antagonist to stand up to; you may kill your man," said de Marsay.
Fortunately, Lucien found Coralie in bed and asleep.
She had played without rehearsal in a one-act play, and taken her revenge. She had met with genuine applause. Her enemies had not been prepared for this step on her part, and her success had determined the manager to give her the heroine's part in Camille Maupin's play. He had discovered the cause of her apparent failure, and was indignant with Florine and Nathan. Coralie should have the protection of the management.
At five o'clock that morning, Rastignac came for Lucien.
"The name of your street my dear fellow, is particularly appropriate for your lodgings; you are up in the sky," he said, by way of greeting. "Let us be first upon the ground on the road to Clignancourt; it is good form, and we ought to set them an example."
"Here is the programme," said de Marsay, as the cab rattled through the Faubourg Saint-Denis: "You stand up at twenty-five paces, coming nearer, till you are only fifteen apart. You have, each of you, five paces to take and three shots to fire—no more. Whatever happens, that must be the end of it. We load for your antagonist, and his seconds load for you. The weapons were chosen by the four seconds at a gunmaker's. We helped you to a chance, I will promise you; horse pistols are to be the weapons."
For Lucien, life had become a bad dream. He did not care whether he lived or died. The courage of suicide helped him in some sort to carry things off with a dash of bravado before the spectators. He stood in his place; he would not take a step, a piece of recklessness which the others took for deliberate calculation. They thought the poet an uncommonly cool hand. Michel Chrestien came as far as his limit; both fired twice and at the same time, for either party was considered to be equally insulted. Michel's first bullet grazed Lucien's chin; Lucien's passed ten feet above Chrestien's head. The second shot hit Lucien's coat collar, but the buckram lining fortunately saved its wearer. The third bullet struck him in the chest, and he dropped.
"Is he dead?" asked Michel Chrestien.
"No," said the surgeon, "he will pull through."
"So much the worse," answered Michel.
"Yes; so much the worse," said Lucien, as his tears fell fast.
By noon the unhappy boy lay in bed in his own room. With untold pains they had managed to remove him, but it had taken five hours to bring him to the Rue de la Lune. His condition was not dangerous, but precautions were necessary lest fever should set in and bring about troublesome complications. Coralie choked down her grief and anguish. She sat up with him at night through the anxious weeks of his illness, studying her parts by his bedside. Lucien was in danger for two long months; and often at the theatre Coralie acted her frivolous role with one thought in her heart, "Perhaps he is dying at this moment."
Lucien owed his life to the skill and devotion of a friend whom he had grievously hurt. Bianchon had come to tend him after hearing the story of the attack from d'Arthez, who told it in confidence, and excused the unhappy poet. Bianchon suspected that d'Arthez was generously trying to screen the renegade; but on questioning Lucien during a lucid interval in the dangerous nervous fever, he learned that his patient was only responsible for the one serious article in Hector Merlin's paper.
Before the first month was out, the firm of Fendant and Cavalier filed their schedule. Bianchon told Coralie that Lucien must on no account hear the news. The famous Archer of Charles IX., brought out with an absurd title, had been a complete failure. Fendant, being anxious to realize a little ready money before going into bankruptcy, had sold the whole edition (without Cavalier's knowledge) to dealers in printed paper. These, in their turn, had disposed of it at a cheap rate to hawkers, and Lucien's book at that moment was adorning the bookstalls along the Quays. The booksellers on the Quai des Augustins, who had previously taken a quantity of copies, now discovered that after this sudden reduction of the price they were like to lose heavily on their purchases; the four duodecimo volumes, for which they had paid four francs fifty centimes, were being given away for fifty sous. Great was the outcry in the trade; but the newspapers preserved a profound silence. Barbet had not foreseen this "clearance;" he had a belief in Lucien's abilities; for once he had broken his rule and taken two hundred copies. The prospect of a loss drove him frantic; the things he said of Lucien were fearful to hear. Then Barbet took a heroic resolution. He stocked his copies in a corner of his shop, with the obstinacy of greed, and left his competitors to sell their wares at a loss. Two years afterwards, when d'Arthez's fine preface, the merits of the book, and one or two articles by Leon Giraud had raised the value of the book, Barbet sold his copies, one by one, at ten francs each.
Lucien knew nothing of all this, but Berenice and Coralie could not refuse to allow Hector Merlin to see his dying comrade, and Hector Merlin made him drink, drop by drop, the whole of the bitter draught brewed by the failure of Fendant and Cavalier, made bankrupts by his first ill-fated book. Martainville, the one friend who stood by Lucien through thick and thin, had written a magnificent article on his work; but so great was the general exasperation against the editor of L'Aristarque, L'Oriflamme, and Le Drapeau Blanc, that his championship only injured Lucien. In vain did the athlete return the Liberal insults tenfold, not a newspaper took up the challenge in spite of all his attacks.
Coralie, Berenice, and Bianchon might shut the door on Lucien's so-called friends, who raised a great outcry, but it was impossible to keep out creditors and writs. After the failure of Fendant and Cavalier, their bills were taken into bankruptcy according to that provision of the Code of Commerce most inimical to the claims of third parties, who in this way lose the benefit of delay.
Lucien discovered that Camusot was proceeding against him with great energy. When Coralie heard the name, and for the first time learned the dreadful and humiliating step which her poet had taken for her sake, the angelic creature loved him ten times more than before, and would not approach Camusot. The bailiff bringing the warrant of arrest shrank back from the idea of dragging his prisoner out of bed, and went back to Camusot before applying to the President of the Tribunal of Commerce for an order to remove the debtor to a private hospital. Camusot hurried at once to the Rue de la Lune, and Coralie went down to him.
When she came up again she held the warrants, in which Lucien was described as a tradesman, in her hand. How had she obtained those papers from Camusot? What promise had she given? Coralie kept a sad, gloomy silence, but when she returned she looked as if all the life had gone out of her. She played in Camille Maupin's play, and contributed not a little to the success of that illustrious literary hermaphrodite; but the creation of this character was the last flicker of a bright, dying lamp. On the twentieth night, when Lucien had so far recovered that he had regained his appetite and could walk abroad, and talked of getting to work again, Coralie broke down; a secret trouble was weighing upon her. Berenice always believed that she had promised to go back to Camusot to save Lucien.
Another mortification followed. Coralie was obliged to see her part given to Florine. Nathan had threatened the Gymnase with war if the management refused to give the vacant place to Coralie's rival. Coralie had persisted till she could play no longer, knowing that Florine was waiting to step into her place. She had overtasked her strength. The Gymnase had advanced sums during Lucien's illness, she had no money to draw; Lucien, eager to work though he was, was not yet strong enough to write, and he helped besides to nurse Coralie and to relieve Berenice. From poverty they had come to utter distress; but in Bianchon they found a skilful and devoted doctor, who obtained credit for them of the druggist. The landlord of the house and the tradespeople knew by this time how matters stood. The furniture was attached. The tailor and dressmaker no longer stood in awe of the journalist, and proceeded to extremes; and at last no one, with the exception of the pork-butcher and the druggist, gave the two unlucky children credit. For a week or more all three of them—Lucien, Berenice, and the invalid—were obliged to live on the various ingenious preparations sold by the pork-butcher; the inflammatory diet was little suited to the sick girl, and Coralie grew worse. Sheer want compelled Lucien to ask Lousteau for a return of the loan of a thousand francs lost at play by the friend who had deserted him in his hour of need. Perhaps, amid all his troubles, this step cost him most cruel suffering.
Lousteau was not to be found in the Rue de la Harpe. Hunted down like a hare, he was lodging now with this friend, now with that. Lucien found him at last at Flicoteaux's; he was sitting at the very table at which Lucien had found him that evening when, for his misfortune, he forsook d'Arthez for journalism. Lousteau offered him dinner, and Lucien accepted the offer.
As they came out of Flicoteaux's with Claude Vignon (who happened to be dining there that day) and the great man in obscurity, who kept his wardrobe at Samanon's, the four among them could not produce enough specie to pay for a cup of coffee at the Cafe Voltaire. They lounged about the Luxembourg in the hope of meeting with a publisher; and, as it fell out, they met with one of the most famous printers of the day. Lousteau borrowed forty francs of him, and divided the money into four equal parts.
Misery had brought down Lucien's pride and extinguished sentiment; he shed tears as he told the story of his troubles, but each one of his comrades had a tale as cruel as his own; and when the three versions had been given, it seemed to the poet that he was the least unfortunate among the four. All of them craved a respite from remembrance and thoughts which made trouble doubly hard to bear.
Lousteau hurried to the Palais Royal to gamble with his remaining nine francs. The great man unknown to fame, though he had a divine mistress, must needs hie him to a low haunt of vice to wallow in perilous pleasure. Vignon betook himself to the Rocher de Cancale to drown memory and thought in a couple of bottles of Bordeaux; Lucien parted company with him on the threshold, declining to share that supper. When he shook hands with the one journalist who had not been hostile to him, it was with a cruel pang in his heart.
"What shall I do?" he asked aloud.
"One must do as one can," the great critic said. "Your book is good, but it excited jealousy, and your struggle will be hard and long. Genius is a cruel disease. Every writer carries a canker in his heart, a devouring monster, like the tapeworm in the stomach, which destroys all feeling as it arises in him. Which is the stronger? The man or the disease? One has need be a great man, truly, to keep the balance between genius and character. The talent grows, the heart withers. Unless a man is a giant, unless he has the thews of a Hercules, he must be content either to lose his gift or to live without a heart. You are slender and fragile, you will give way," he added, as he turned into the restaurant.
Lucien returned home, thinking over that terrible verdict. He beheld the life of literature by the light of the profound truths uttered by Vignon.
"Money! money!" a voice cried in his ears.
Then he drew three bills of a thousand francs each, due respectively in one, two, and three months, imitating the handwriting of his brother-in-law, David Sechard, with admirable skill. He endorsed the bills, and took them next morning to Metivier, the paper-dealer in the Rue Serpente, who made no difficulty about taking them. Lucien wrote a few lines to give his brother-in-law notice of this assault upon his cash-box, promising, as usual in such cases, to be ready to meet the bills as they fell due.
When all debts, his own and Coralie's, were paid, he put the three hundred francs which remained into Berenice's hands, bidding her to refuse him money if he asked her for it. He was afraid of a return of the gambler's frenzy. Lucien worked away gloomily in a sort of cold, speechless fury, putting forth all his powers into witty articles, written by the light of the lamp at Coralie's bedside. Whenever he looked up in search of ideas, his eyes fell on that beloved face, white as porcelain, fair with the beauty that belongs to the dying, and he saw a smile on her pale lips, and her eyes, grown bright with a more consuming pain than physical suffering, always turned on his face.
Lucien sent in his work, but he could not leave the house to worry editors, and his articles did not appear. When he at last made up his mind to go to the office, he met with a cool reception from Theodore Gaillard, who had advanced him money, and turned his literary diamonds to good account afterwards.
"Take care, my dear fellow, you are falling off," he said. "You must not let yourself down, your work wants inspiration!"
"That little Lucien has written himself out with his romance and his first articles," cried Felicien Vernou, Merlin, and the whole chorus of his enemies, whenever his name came up at Dauriat's or the Vaudeville. "The work he is sending us is pitiable."
"To have written oneself out" (in the slang of journalism), is a verdict very hard to live down. It passed everywhere from mouth to mouth, ruining Lucien, all unsuspicious as he was. And, indeed, his burdens were too heavy for his strength. In the midst of a heavy strain of work, he was sued for the bills which he had drawn in David Sechard's name. He had recourse to Camusot's experience, and Coralie's sometime adorer was generous enough to assist the man she loved. The intolerable situation lasted for two whole months; the days being diversified by stamped papers handed over to Desroches, a friend of Bixiou, Blondet, and des Lupeaulx.
Early in August, Bianchon told them that Coralie's condition was hopeless—she had only a few days to live. Those days were spent in tears by Berenice and Lucien; they could not hide their grief from the dying girl, and she was broken-hearted for Lucien's sake.
Some strange change was working in Coralie. She would have Lucien bring a priest; she must be reconciled to the Church and die in peace. Coralie died as a Christian; her repentance was sincere. Her agony and death took all energy and heart out of Lucien. He sank into a low chair at the foot of the bed, and never took his eyes off her till Death brought the end of her suffering. It was five o'clock in the morning. Some singing-bird lighting upon a flower-pot on the window-sill, twittered a few notes. Berenice, kneeling by the bedside, was covering a hand fast growing cold with kisses and tears. On the chimney-piece there lay eleven sous.
Lucien went out. Despair made him beg for money to lay Coralie in her grave. He had wild thoughts of flinging himself at the Marquise d'Espard's feet, of entreating the Comte du Chatelet, Mme. de Bargeton, Mlle. des Touches, nay, that terrible dandy of a de Marsay. All his pride had gone with his strength. He would have enlisted as a common soldier at that moment for money. He walked on with a slouching, feverish gait known to all the unhappy, reached Camille Maupin's house, entered, careless of his disordered dress, and sent in a message. He entreated Mlle. des Touches to see him for a moment.
"Mademoiselle only went to bed at three o'clock this morning," said the servant, "and no one would dare to disturb her until she rings."
"When does she ring?"
"Never before ten o'clock."
Then Lucien wrote one of those harrowing appeals in which the well-dressed beggar flings all pride and self-respect to the winds. One evening, not so very long ago, when Lousteau had told him of the abject begging letters which Finot received, Lucien had thought it impossible that any creature would sink so low; and now, carried away by his pen, he had gone further, it may be, than other unlucky wretches upon the same road. He did not suspect, in his fever and imbecility, that he had just written a masterpiece of pathos. On his way home along the Boulevards, he met Barbet.
"Barbet!" he begged, holding out his hand. "Five hundred francs!"
"No. Two hundred," returned the other.
"Ah! then you have a heart."
"Yes; but I am a man of business as well. I have lost a lot of money through you," he concluded, after giving the history of the failure of Fendant and Cavalier, "will you put me in the way of making some?"
"You are a poet. You ought to understand all kinds of poetry," continued the little publisher. "I want a few rollicking songs at this moment to put along with some more by different authors, or they will be down upon me over the copyright. I want to have a good collection to sell on the streets at ten sous. If you care to let me have ten good drinking-songs by to-morrow morning, or something spicy,—you know the sort of thing, eh!—I will pay you two hundred francs."
When Lucien returned home, he found Coralie stretched out straight and stiff on a pallet-bed; Berenice, with many tears, had wrapped her in a coarse linen sheet, and put lighted candles at the four corners of the bed. Coralie's face had taken that strange, delicate beauty of death which so vividly impresses the living with the idea of absolute calm; she looked like some white girl in a decline; it seemed as if those pale, crimson lips must open and murmur the name which had blended with the name of God in the last words that she uttered before she died.
Lucien told Berenice to order a funeral which should not cost more than two hundred francs, including the service at the shabby little church of the Bonne-Nouvelle. As soon as she had gone out, he sat down to a table, and beside the dead body of his love he composed ten rollicking songs to fit popular airs. The effort cost him untold anguish, but at last the brain began to work at the bidding of Necessity, as if suffering were not; and already Lucien had learned to put Claude Vignon's terrible maxims in practice, and to raise a barrier between heart and brain. What a night the poor boy spent over those drinking songs, writing by the light of the tall wax candles while the priest recited the prayers for the dead!
Morning broke before the last song was finished. Lucien tried it over to a street-song of the day, to the consternation of Berenice and the priest, who thought that he was mad:—
Lads, 'tis tedious waste of time To mingle song and reason; Folly calls for laughing rhyme, Sense is out of season. Let Apollo be forgot When Bacchus fills the drinking-cup; Any catch is good, I wot, If good fellows take it up. Let philosophers protest, Let us laugh, And quaff, And a fig for the rest!
As Hippocrates has said, Every jolly fellow, When a century has sped, Still is fit and mellow. No more following of a lass With the palsy in your legs? —While your hand can hold a glass, You can drain it to the dregs, With an undiminished zest. Let us laugh, And quaff, And a fig for the rest!
Whence we come we know full well. Whiter are we going? Ne'er a one of us can tell, 'Tis a thing past knowing. Faith! what does it signify, Take the good that Heaven sends; It is certain that we die, Certain that we live, my friends. Life is nothing but a jest. Let us laugh, And quaff, And a fig for the rest!
He was shouting the reckless refrain when d'Arthez and Bianchon arrived, to find him in a paroxysm of despair and exhaustion, utterly unable to make a fair copy of his verses. A torrent of tears followed; and when, amid his sobs, he had told his story, he saw the tears standing in his friends' eyes.
"This wipes out many sins," said d'Arthez.
"Happy are they who suffer for their sins in this world," the priest said solemnly.
At the sight of the fair, dead face smiling at Eternity, while Coralie's lover wrote tavern-catches to buy a grave for her, and Barbet paid for the coffin—of the four candles lighted about the dead body of her who had thrilled a great audience as she stood behind the footlights in her Spanish basquina and scarlet green-clocked stockings; while beyond in the doorway, stood the priest who had reconciled the dying actress with God, now about to return to the church to say a mass for the soul of her who had "loved much,"—all the grandeur and the sordid aspects of the scene, all that sorrow crushed under by Necessity, froze the blood of the great writer and the great doctor. They sat down; neither of them could utter a word.
Just at that moment a servant in livery announced Mlle. des Touches. That beautiful and noble woman understood everything at once. She stepped quickly across the room to Lucien, and slipped two thousand-franc notes into his hand as she grasped it.
"It is too late," he said, looking up at her with dull, hopeless eyes.
The three stayed with Lucien, trying to soothe his despair with comforting words; but every spring seemed to be broken. At noon all the brotherhood, with the exception of Michel Chrestien (who, however, had learned the truth as to Lucien's treachery), was assembled in the poor little church of the Bonne-Nouvelle; Mlle. de Touches was present, and Berenice and Coralie's dresser from the theatre, with a couple of supernumeraries and the disconsolate Camusot. All the men accompanied the actress to her last resting-place in Pere Lachaise. Camusot, shedding hot tears, had solemnly promised Lucien to buy the grave in perpetuity, and to put a headstone above it with the words:
AGED NINETEEN YEARS
Lucien stayed there, on the sloping ground that looks out over Paris, until the sun had set.
"Who will love me now?" he thought. "My truest friends despise me. Whatever I might have done, she who lies here would have thought me wholly noble and good. I have no one left to me now but my sister and mother and David. And what do they think of me at home?"
Poor distinguished provincial! He went back to the Rue de la Lune; but the sight of the rooms was so acutely painful, that he could not stay in them, and he took a cheap lodging elsewhere in the same street. Mlle. des Touches' two thousand francs and the sale of the furniture paid the debts.
Berenice had two hundred francs left, on which they lived for two months. Lucien was prostrate; he could neither write nor think; he gave way to morbid grief. Berenice took pity upon him.
"Suppose that you were to go back to your own country, how are you to get there?" she asked one day, by way of reply to an exclamation of Lucien's.
"But even so, you must live and sleep on the way. Even if you walk twelve leagues a day, you will want twenty francs at least."
"I will get them together," he said.
He took his clothes and his best linen, keeping nothing but strict necessaries, and went to Samanon, who offered fifty francs for his entire wardrobe. In vain he begged the money-lender to let him have enough to pay his fare by the coach; Samanon was inexorable. In a paroxysm of fury, Lucien rushed to Frascati's, staked the proceeds of the sale, and lost every farthing. Back once more in the wretched room in the Rue de la Lune, he asked Berenice for Coralie's shawl. The good girl looked at him, and knew in a moment what he meant to do. He had confessed to his loss at the gaming-table; and now he was going to hang himself.
"Are you mad, sir? Go out for a walk, and come back again at midnight. I will get the money for you; but keep to the Boulevards, do not go towards the Quais."
Lucien paced up and down the Boulevards. He was stupid with grief. He watched the passers-by and the stream of traffic, and felt that he was alone, and a very small atom in this seething whirlpool of Paris, churned by the strife of innumerable interests. His thoughts went back to the banks of his Charente; a craving for happiness and home awoke in him; and with the craving, came one of the sudden febrile bursts of energy which half-feminine natures like his mistake for strength. He would not give up until he had poured out his heart to David Sechard, and taken counsel of the three good angels still left to him on earth.
As he lounged along, he caught sight of Berenice—Berenice in her Sunday clothes, speaking to a stranger at the corner of the Rue de la Lune and the filthy Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, where she had taken her stand.
"What are you doing?" asked Lucien, dismayed by a sudden suspicion.
"Here are your twenty francs," said the girl, slipping four five-franc pieces into the poet's hand. "They may cost dear yet; but you can go," and she had fled before Lucien could see the way she went; for, in justice to him, it must be said that the money burned his hand, he wanted to return it, but he was forced to keep it as the final brand set upon him by life in Paris.
Note: A Distinguished Provincial at Paris is part two of a trilogy. Part one is entitled Two Poets and part three is Eve and David. In other addendum references parts one and three are usually combined under the title Lost Illusions.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Barbet A Man of Business The Seamy Side of History The Middle Classes
Beaudenord, Godefroid de The Ball at Sceaux The Firm of Nucingen
Berenice Lost Illusions
Bianchon, Horace Father Goriot The Atheist's Mass Cesar Birotteau The Commission in Lunacy Lost Illusions A Bachelor's Establishment The Secrets of a Princess The Government Clerks Pierrette A Study of Woman Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Honorine The Seamy Side of History The Magic Skin A Second Home A Prince of Bohemia Letters of Two Brides The Muse of the Department The Imaginary Mistress The Middle Classes Cousin Betty The Country Parson In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following: Another Study of Woman La Grande Breteche
Blondet, Emile Jealousies of a Country Town Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Modeste Mignon Another Study of Woman The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve The Firm of Nucingen The Peasantry
Blondet, Virginie Jealousies of a Country Town The Secrets of a Princess The Peasantry Another Study of Woman The Member for Arcis A Daughter of Eve
Braulard Cousin Betty Cousin Pons
Bridau, Joseph The Purse A Bachelor's Establishment A Start in Life Modeste Mignon Another Study of Woman Pierre Grassou Letters of Two Brides Cousin Betty The Member for Arcis
Bruel, Jean Francois du A Bachelor's Establishment The Government Clerks A Start in Life A Prince of Bohemia The Middle Classes A Daughter of Eve
Bruel, Claudine Chaffaroux, Madame du A Bachelor's Establishment A Prince of Bohemia Letters of Two Brides The Middle Classes
Cabirolle, Agathe-Florentine A Start in Life Lost Illusions A Bachelor's Establishment
Camusot A Bachelor's Establishment Cousin Pons The Muse of the Department Cesar Birotteau At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Canalis, Constant-Cyr-Melchior, Baron de Letters of Two Brides Modeste Mignon The Magic Skin Another Study of Woman A Start in Life Beatrix The Unconscious Humorists The Member for Arcis
Cardot, Jean-Jerome-Severin A Start in Life Lost Illusions
A Bachelor's Establishment At the Sign of the Cat and Racket Cesar Birotteau
Carigliano, Duchesse de At the Sign of the Cat and Racket The Peasantry The Member for Arcis
Cavalier The Seamy Side of History
Chaboisseau The Government Clerks A Man of Business
Chatelet, Sixte, Baron du Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Thirteen
Chatelet, Marie-Louise-Anais de Negrepelisse, Baronne du Lost Illusions The Government Clerks
Chrestien, Michel A Bachelor's Establishment The Secrets of a Princess
Collin, Jacques Father Goriot Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Member for Arcis
Coloquinte A Bachelor's Establishment
Coralie, Mademoiselle A Start in Life A Bachelor's Establishment
Dauriat Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Modeste Mignon
Desroches (son) A Bachelor's Establishment Colonel Chabert A Start in Life A Woman of Thirty The Commission in Lunacy The Government Clerks Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Firm of Nucingen A Man of Business The Middle Classes
Arthez, Daniel d' Letters of Two Brides The Member for Arcis The Secrets of a Princess
Espard, Jeanne-Clementine-Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, Marquise d' The Commission in Lunacy Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Letters of Two Brides Another Study of Woman The Gondreville Mystery The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve Beatrix
Finot, Andoche Cesar Birotteau A Bachelor's Establishment Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Government Clerks A Start in Life Gaudissart the Great The Firm of Nucingen
Foy, Maximilien-Sebastien Cesar Birotteau
Gaillard, Theodore Beatrix Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Unconscious Humorists
Gaillard, Madame Theodore Jealousies of a Country Town A Bachelor's Establishment Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Beatrix The Unconscious Humorists
Galathionne, Prince and Princess (both not in each story) The Secrets of a Princess The Middle Classes Father Goriot A Daughter of Eve Beatrix
Gentil Lost Illusions
Giraud, Leon A Bachelor's Establishment The Secrets of a Princess The Unconscious Humorists
Giroudeau A Start in Life A Bachelor's Establishment
Grindot Cesar Birotteau Lost Illusions A Start in Life Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Beatrix The Middle Classes Cousin Betty
Lambert, Louis Louis Lambert A Seaside Tragedy
Listomere, Marquis de The Lily of the Valley A Study of Woman
Listomere, Marquise de The Lily of the Valley Lost Illusions A Study of Woman A Daughter of Eve
Lousteau, Etienne A Bachelor's Establishment Scenes from a Courtesan's Life A Daughter of Eve Beatrix The Muse of the Department Cousin Betty A Prince of Bohemia A Man of Business The Middle Classes The Unconscious Humorists
Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des The Muse of the Department Eugenie Grandet A Bachelor's Establishment The Government Clerks Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Ursule Mirouet
Manerville, Paul Francois-Joseph, Comte de The Thirteen The Ball at Sceaux Lost Illusions A Marriage Settlement
Marsay, Henri de The Thirteen The Unconscious Humorists Another Study of Woman The Lily of the Valley Father Goriot Jealousies of a Country Town Ursule Mirouet A Marriage Settlement Lost Illusions Letters of Two Brides The Ball at Sceaux Modeste Mignon The Secrets of a Princess The Gondreville Mystery A Daughter of Eve
Matifat (wealthy druggist) Cesar Birotteau A Bachelor's Establishment Lost Illusions The Firm of Nucingen Cousin Pons
Meyraux Louis Lambert
Montcornet, Marechal, Comte de Domestic Peace Lost Illusions
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Peasantry A Man of Business Cousin Betty
Montriveau, General Marquis Armand de The Thirteen Father Goriot Lost Illusions Another Study of Woman Pierrette The Member for Arcis
Nathan, Raoul Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve Letters of Two Brides The Seamy Side of History The Muse of the Department A Prince of Bohemia A Man of Business The Unconscious Humorists
Nathan, Madame Raoul The Muse of the Department Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Government Clerks A Bachelor's Establishment Ursule Mirouet Eugenie Grandet The Imaginary Mistress A Prince of Bohemia
Negrepelisse, De The Commission in Lunacy Lost Illusions
Nucingen, Baron Frederic de The Firm of Nucingen Father Goriot Pierrette Cesar Birotteau Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Another Study of Woman The Secrets of a Princess A Man of Business Cousin Betty The Muse of the Department The Unconscious Humorists
Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de Father Goriot The Thirteen Eugenie Grandet Cesar Birotteau Melmoth Reconciled Lost Illusions The Commission in Lunacy Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Modeste Mignon The Firm of Nucingen Another Study of Woman A Daughter of Eve The Member for Arcis
Palma (banker) The Firm of Nucingen Cesar Birotteau Gobseck Lost Illusions The Ball at Sceaux
Pombreton, Marquis de Lost Illusions Jealousies of a Country Town
Rastignac, Eugene de Father Goriot Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Ball at Sceaux The Commission in Lunacy A Study of Woman Another Study of Woman The Magic Skin The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve The Gondreville Mystery The Firm of Nucingen Cousin Betty The Member for Arcis The Unconscious Humorists
Rhetore, Duc Alphonse de A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Letters of Two Brides Albert Savarus The Member for Arcis
Ridal, Fulgence A Bachelor's Establishment The Unconscious Humorists
Rubempre, Lucien-Chardon de Lost Illusions The Government Clerks Ursule Mirouet Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Samanon The Government Clerks A Man of Business Cousin Betty
Sechard, David Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Sechard, Madame David Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Tillet, Ferdinand du Cesar Birotteau The Firm of Nucingen The Middle Classes A Bachelor's Establishment Pierrette Melmoth Reconciled The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve The Member for Arcis Cousin Betty The Unconscious Humorists
Touches, Mademoiselle Felicite des Beatrix Lost Illusions A Bachelor's Establishment Another Study of Woman A Daughter of Eve Honorine Beatrix The Muse of the Department
Vandenesse, Comte Felix de The Lily of the Valley Lost Illusions Cesar Birotteau Letters of Two Brides A Start in Life The Marriage Settlement The Secrets of a Princess Another Study of Woman The Gondreville Mystery A Daughter of Eve
Vernou, Felicien A Bachelor's Establishment Lost Illusions Scenes from a Courtesan's Life A Daughter of Eve Cousin Betty
Vignon, Claude A Daughter of Eve Honorine Beatrix Cousin Betty The Unconscious Humorists