"What is the name of that young man?" said Olivier Vinet to Thuillier.
"Theodose de la Peyrade; he is a barrister," replied Thuillier, in a whisper.
At that moment the women present, as well as the men, looked at the two young fellows, and Madame Minard remarked to Colleville:—
"He is rather good-looking, that stranger."
"I have made his anagram," replied Colleville, "and his name, Charles-Marie-Theodose de la Peyrade, prophecies: 'Eh! monsieur payera, de la dot, des oies et le char.' Therefore, my dear Mamma Minard, be sure you don't give him your daughter."
"They say that young man is better-looking than my son," said Madame Phellion to Madame Colleville. "What do you think about it?"
"Oh! in the matter of physical beauty a woman might hesitate before choosing," replied Madame Colleville.
At that moment it occurred to young Vinet as he looked round the salon, so full of the lesser bourgeoisie, that it might be a shrewd thing to magnify that particular class; and he thereupon enlarged upon the meaning of the young Provencal barrister, declaring that men so honored by the confidence of the government should imitate royalty and encourage a magnificence surpassing that of the former court. It was folly, he said, to lay by the emoluments of an office. Besides, could it be done, in Paris especially, where costs of living had trebled,—the apartment of a magistrate, for instance, costing three thousand francs a year?
"My father," he said in conclusion, "allows me three thousand francs a year, and that, with my salary, barely allows me to maintain my rank."
When the young substitute rode boldly into this bog-hole, the Provencal, who had slyly enticed him there, exchanged, without being observed, a wink with Dutocq, who was just then waiting for the place of a player at bouillotte.
"There is such a demand for offices," remarked the latter, "that they talk of creating two justices of the peace to each arrondissement in order to make a dozen new clerkships. As if they could interfere with our rights and our salaries, which already require an exhorbitant tax!"
"I have not yet had the pleasure of hearing you at the Palais," said Vinet to Monsieur de la Peyrade.
"I am advocate for the poor, and I plead only before the justice of peace," replied la Peyrade.
Mademoiselle Thuillier, as she listened to young Vinet's theory of the necessity of spending an income, assumed a distant air and manner, the significance of which was well understood by Dutocq and the young Provencal. Vinet left the house in company with Minard and Julien the advocate, so that the battle-field before the fire-place was abandoned to la Peyrade and Dutocq.
"The upper bourgeoisie," said Dutocq to Thuillier, "will behave, in future, exactly like the old aristocracy. The nobility wanted girls with money to manure their lands, and the parvenus of to-day want the same to feather their nests."
"That's exactly what Monsieur Thuillier was saying to me this morning," remarked la Peyrade, boldly.
"Vinet's father," said Dutocq, "married a Demoiselle de Chargeboeuf and has caught the opinions of the nobility; he wants a fortune at any price; his wife spends money regally."
"Oh!" said Thuillier, in whom the jealousy between the two classes of the bourgeoisie was fully roused, "take offices away from those fellows and they'd fall back where they came."
Mademoiselle was knitting with such precipitous haste that she seemed to be propelled by a steam-engine.
"Take my place, Monsieur Dutocq," said Madame Minard, rising. "My feet are cold," she added, going to the fire, where the golden ornaments of her turban made fireworks in the light of the Saint-Aurora wax-candles that were struggling vainly to light the vast salon.
"He is very small fry, that young substitute," said Madame Minard, glancing at Mademoiselle Thuillier.
"Small fry!" cried la Peyrade. "Ah, madame! how witty!"
"But madame has so long accustomed us to that sort of thing," said the handsome Thuillier.
Madame Colleville was examining la Peyrade and comparing him with young Phellion, who was just then talking to Celeste, neither of them paying any heed to what was going on around them. This is, certainly, the right moment to depict the singular personage who was destined to play a signal part in the Thuillier household, and who fully deserves the appellation of a great artist.
CHAPTER V. A PRINCIPAL PERSONAGE
There exists in Provence, especially about Avignon, a race of men with blond or chestnut hair, fair skin, and eyes that are almost tender, their pupils calm, feeble, or languishing, rather than keen, ardent, or profound, as they usually are in the eyes of Southerners. Let us remark, in passing, that among Corsicans, a race subject to fits of anger and dangerous irascibility, we often meet with fair skins and physical natures of the same apparent tranquillity. These pale men, rather stout, with somewhat dim and hazy eyes either green or blue, are the worst species of humanity in Provence; and Charles-Marie-Theodose de la Peyrade presents a fine type of that race, the constitution of which deserves careful examination on the part of medical science and philosophical physiology. There rises, at times, within such men, a species of bile,—a bitter gall, which flies to their head and makes them capable of ferocious actions, done, apparently, in cold blood. Being the result of an inward intoxication, this sort of dumb violence seems to be irreconcilable with their quasi-lymphatic outward man, and the tranquillity of their benignant glance.
Born in the neighborhood of Avignon, the young Provencal whose name we have just mentioned was of middle height, well-proportioned, and rather stout; the tone of his skin had no brilliancy; it was neither livid nor dead-white, nor colored, but gelatinous,—that word can alone give a true idea of the flabby, hueless envelope, beneath which were concealed nerves that were less vigorous than capable of enormous resistance at certain given moments. His eyes, of a pale cold blue, expressed in their ordinary condition a species of deceptive sadness, which must have had great charms for women. The forehead, finely cut, was not without dignity, and it harmonized well with the soft, light chestnut hair curling naturally, but slightly, at its tips. The nose, precisely like that of a hunting dog, flat and furrowed at the tip, inquisitive, intelligent, searching, always on the scent, instead of expressing good-humor, was ironical and mocking; but this particular aspect of his nature never showed itself openly; the young man must have ceased to watch himself, he must have flown into fury before the power came to him to flash out the sarcasm and the wit which embittered, tenfold, his infernal humor. The mouth, the curving lines and pomegranate-colored lips of which were very pleasing, seemed the admirable instrument of an organ that was almost sweet in its middle tones, where its owner usually kept it, but which, in its higher key, vibrated on the ear like the sound of a gong. This falsetto was the voice of his nerves and his anger. His face, kept expressionless by an inward command, was oval in form. His manners, in harmony with the sacerdotal calmness of the face, were reserved and conventional; but he had supple, pliant ways which, though they never descended to wheedling, were not lacking in seduction; although as soon as his back was turned their charm seemed inexplicable. Charm, when it takes its rise in the heart, leaves deep and lasting traces; that which is merely a product of art, or of eloquence, has only a passing power; it produces its immediate effect, and that is all. But how many philosophers are there in life who are able to distinguish the difference? Almost always the trick is played (to use a popular expression) before the ordinary run of men have perceived its methods.
Everything about this young man of twenty-seven was in harmony with his character; he obeyed his vocation by cultivating philanthropy,—the only expression which explains the philanthropist. Theodose loved the People, for he limited his love for humanity. Like the horticulturist who devotes himself to roses, or dahlias, or heart's-ease, or geraniums, and pays no attention to the plants his fancy has not selected, so this young La Rochefoucault-Liancourt gave himself to the workingmen, the proletariat and the paupers of the faubourgs Saint-Jacques and Saint-Marceau. The strong man, the man of genius at bay, the worthy poor of the bourgeois class, he cut them off from the bosom of his charity. The heart of all persons with a mania is like those boxes with compartments, in which sugarplums are kept in sorts: "suum cuique tribuere" is their motto; they measure to each duty its dose. There are some philanthropists who pity nothing but the man condemned to death. Vanity is certainly the basis of philanthropy; but in the case of this Provencal it was calculation, a predetermined course, a "liberal" and democratic hypocrisy, played with a perfection that no other actor will ever attain.
Theodose did not attack the rich; he contented himself with not understanding them; he endured them; every one, in his opinion, ought to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He had been, he said, a fervent disciple of Saint-Simon, but that mistake must be attributed to his youth: modern society could have no other basis than heredity. An ardent Catholic, like all men from the Comtat, he went to the earliest morning masses, and thus concealed his piety. Like other philanthropists, he practised a sordid economy, and gave to the poor his time, his legal advice, his eloquence, and such money as he extracted for them from the rich. His clothes, always of black cloth, were worn until the seams became white. Nature had done a great deal for Theodose in not giving him that fine manly Southern beauty which creates in others an imaginary expectation, to which it is more than difficult for a man to respond. As it was, he could be what suited him at the moment,—an agreeable man or a very ordinary one. Never, since his admission to the Thuilliers', had he ventured, till this evening, to raise his voice and speak as dogmatically as he had risked doing to Olivier Vinet; but perhaps Theodose de la Peyrade was not sorry to seize the opportunity to come out from the shade in which he had hitherto kept himself. Besides, it was necessary to get rid of the young substitute, just as the Minards had previously ruined the hopes of Monsieur Godeschal. Like all superior men (for he certainly had some superiority), Vinet had never lowered himself to the point where the threads of these bourgeois spider-webs became visible to him, and he had therefore plunged, like a fly, headforemost, into the almost invisible trap to which Theodose inveigled him.
To complete this portrait of the poor man's lawyer we must here relate the circumstances of his first arrival at the Thuilliers'.
Theodose came to lodge in Mademoiselle Thuillier's house toward the close of the year 1837. He had taken his degree about five years earlier, and had kept the proper number of terms to become a barrister. Circumstances, however, about which he said nothing, had interfered to prevent his being called to the bar; he was, therefore, still a licentiate. But soon after he was installed in the little apartment on the third floor, with the furniture rigorously required by all members of his noble profession,—for the guild of barristers admits no brother unless he has a suitable study, a legal library, and can thus, as it were, verify his claims,—Theodose de la Peyrade began to practise as a barrister before the Royal Court of Paris.
The whole of the year 1838 was employed in making this change in his condition, and he led a most regular life. He studied at home in the mornings till dinner-time, going sometimes to the Palais for important cases. Having become very intimate with Dutocq (so Dutocq said), he did certain services to the poor of the faubourg Saint-Jacques who were brought to his notice by that official. He pleaded their cases before the court, after bringing them to the notice of the attorneys, who, according to the statutes of their order, are obliged to take turns in doing business for the poor. As Theodose was careful to plead only safe cases, he won them all. Those persons whom he thus obliged expressed their gratitude and their admiration, in spite of the young lawyer's admonitions, among their own class, and to the porters of private houses, through whom many anecdotes rose to the ears of the proprietors. Delighted to have in their house a tenant so worthy and so charitable, the Thuilliers wished to attract him to their salon, and they questioned Dutocq about him. The mayor's clerk replied as the envious reply; while doing justice to the young man he dwelt on his remarkable avarice, which might, however, be the effect of poverty.
"I have had other information about him. He belongs to the Peyrades, an old family of the 'comtat' of Avignon; he came here toward the end of 1829, to inquire about an uncle whose fortune was said to be considerable; he discovered the address of the old man only three days before his death; and the furniture of the deceased merely sufficed to bury him and pay his debts. A friend of this useless uncle gave a couple of hundred louis to the poor fortune-hunter, advising him to finish his legal studies and enter the judiciary career. Those two hundred louis supported him for three years in Paris, where he lived like an anchorite. But being unable to discover his unknown friend and benefactor, the poor student was in abject distress in 1833. He worked then, like so many other licentiates, in politics and literature, by which he kept himself for a time above want—for he had nothing to expect from his family. His father, the youngest brother of the dead uncle, has eleven other children, who live on a small estate called Les Canquoelles. He finally obtained a place on a ministerial newspaper, the manager of which was the famous Cerizet, so celebrated for the persecutions he met with, under the Restoration, on account of his attachment to the liberals,—a man whom the new Left will never forgive for having made his paper ministerial. As the government of these days does very little to protect even its most devoted servants (witness the Gisquet affair), the republicans have ended by ruining Cerizet. I tell you this to explain how it is that Cerizet is now a copying clerk in my office. Well, in the days when he flourished as managing editor of a paper directed by the Perier ministry against the incendiary journals, the 'Tribune' and others, Cerizet, who is a worthy fellow after all, though he is too fond of women, pleasure, and good living, was very useful to Theodose, who edited the political department of the paper; and if it hadn't been for the death of Casimir Perier that young man would certainly have received an appointment as substitute judge in Paris. As it was, he dropped back in 1834-35, in spite of his talent; for his connection with a ministerial journal of course did him harm. 'If it had not been for my religious principles,' he said to me, 'I should have thrown myself into the Seine.' However, it seems that the friend of his uncle must have heard of his distress, for again he sent him a sum of money; enough to complete his terms for the bar; but, strange to say, he has never known the name or the address of this mysterious benefactor. After all, perhaps, under such circumstances, his economy is excusable, and he must have great strength of mind to refuse what the poor devils whose cases he wins by his devotion offer him. He is indignant at the way other lawyers speculate on the possibility or impossibility of poor creatures, unjustly sued, paying for the costs of their defence. Oh! he'll succeed in the end. I shouldn't be surprised to see that fellow in some very brilliant position; he has tenacity, honesty, and courage. He studies, he delves."
Notwithstanding the favor with which he was greeted, la Peyrade went discreetly to the Thuilliers'. When reproached for this reserve he went oftener, and ended by appearing every Sunday; he was invited to all dinner-parties, and became at last so familiar in the house that whenever he came to see Thuillier about four o'clock he was always requested to take "pot-luck" without ceremony. Mademoiselle Thuillier used to say:—
"Then we know that he will get a good dinner, poor fellow!"
A social phenomenon which has certainly been observed, but never, as yet, formulated, or, if you like it better, published, though it fully deserves to be recorded, is the return of habits, mind, and manners to primitive conditions in certain persons who, between youth and old age, have raised themselves above their first estate. Thus Thuillier had become, once more, morally speaking, the son of a concierge. He now made use of many of his father's jokes, and a little of the slime of early days was beginning to appear on the surface of his declining life. About five or six times a month, when the soup was rich and good he would deposit his spoon in his empty plate and say, as if the proposition were entirely novel:—
"That's better than a kick on the shin-bone!"
On hearing that witticism for the first time Theodose, to whom it was really new, laughed so heartily that the handsome Thuillier was tickled in his vanity as he had never been before. After that, Theodose greeted the same speech with a knowing little smile. This slight detail will explain how it was that on the morning of the day when Theodose had his passage at arms with Vinet he had said to Thuillier, as they were walking in the garden to see the effect of a frost:—
"You have much more wit than you give yourself credit for."
To which he received this answer:—
"In any other career, my dear Theodose, I should have made my way nobly; but the fall of the Emperor broke my neck."
"There is still time," said the young lawyer. "In the first place, what did that mountebank, Colleville, ever do to get the cross?"
There la Peyrade laid his finger on a sore wound which Thuillier hid from every eye so carefully that even his sister did not know of it; but the young man, interested in studying these bourgeois, had divined the secret envy that gnawed at the heart of the ex-official.
"If you, experienced as you are, will do the honor to follow my advice," added the philanthropist, "and, above all, not mention our compact to any one, I will undertake to have you decorated with the Legion of honor, to the applause of the whole quarter."
"Oh! if we succeed in that," cried Thuillier, "you don't know what I would do for you."
This explains why Thuillier carried his head high when Theodose had the audacity that evening to put opinions into his mouth.
In art—and perhaps Moliere had placed hypocrisy in the rank of art by classing Tartuffe forever among comedians—there exists a point of perfection to which genius alone attains; mere talent falls below it. There is so little difference between a work of genius and a work of talent, that only men of genius can appreciate the distance that separates Raffaelle from Correggio, Titian from Rubens. More than that; common minds are easily deceived on this point. The sign of genius is a certain appearance of facility. In fact, its work must appear, at first sight, ordinary, so natural is it, even on the highest subjects. Many peasant-women hold their children as the famous Madonna in the Dresden gallery holds hers. Well, the height of art in a man of la Peyrade's force was to oblige others to say of him later: "Everybody would have been taken in by him."
Now, in the salon Thuillier, he noted a dawning opposition; he perceived in Colleville the somewhat clear-sighted and criticising nature of an artist who has missed his vocation. The barrister felt himself displeasing to Colleville, who (as the result of circumstances not necessary to here report) considered himself justified in believing in the science of anagrams. None of this anagrams had ever failed. The clerks in the government office had laughed at him when, demanding an anagram on the name of the poor helpless Auguste-Jean-Francois Minard, he had produced, "J'amassai une si grande fortune"; and the event had justified him after the lapse of ten years! Theodose, on several occasions, had made advances to the jovial secretary of the mayor's office, and had felt himself rebuffed by a coldness which was not natural in so sociable a man. When the game of bouillotte came to an end, Colleville seized the moment to draw Thuillier into the recess of a window and say to him:—
"You are letting that lawyer get too much foothold in your house; he kept the ball in his own hands all the evening."
"Thank you, my friend; forewarned is forearmed," replied Thuillier, inwardly scoffing at Colleville.
Theodose, who was talking at the moment to Madame Colleville, had his eye on the two men, and, with the same prescience by which women know when and how they are spoken of, he perceived that Colleville was trying to injure him in the mind of the weak and silly Thuillier. "Madame," he said in Flavie's ear, "if any one here is capable of appreciating you it is certainly I. You seem to me a pearl dropped into the mire. You say you are forty-two, but a woman is no older than she looks, and many women of thirty would be thankful to have your figure and that noble countenance, where love has passed without ever filling the void in your heart. You have given yourself to God, I know, and I have too much religion myself to regret it, but I also know that you have done so because no human being has proved worthy of you. You have been loved, but you have never been adored—I have divined that. There is your husband, who has not known how to please you in a position in keeping with your deserts. He dislikes me, as if he thought I loved you; and he prevents me from telling you of a way that I think I have found to place you in the sphere for which you were destined. No, madame," he continued, rising, "the Abbe Gondrin will not preach this year through Lent at our humble Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas; the preacher will be Monsieur d'Estival, a compatriot of mine, and you will hear in him one of the most impressive speakers that I have ever known,—a priest whose outward appearance is not agreeable, but, oh! what a soul!"
"Then my desire will be gratified," said poor Madame Thuillier. "I have never yet been able to understand a famous preacher."
A smile flickered on the lips of Mademoiselle Thuillier and several others who heard the remark.
"They devote themselves too much to theological demonstration," said Theodose. "I have long thought so myself—but I never talk religion; if it had not been for Madame de Colleville, I—"
"Are there demonstrations in theology?" asked the professor of mathematics, naively, plunging headlong into the conversation.
"I think, monsieur," replied Theodose, looking straight at Felix Phellion, "that you cannot be serious in asking me such a question."
"Felix," said old Phellion, coming heavily to the rescue of his son, and catching a distressed look on the pale face of Madame Thuillier,—"Felix separates religion into two categories; he considers it from the human point of view and the divine point of view,—tradition and reason."
"That is heresy, monsieur," replied Theodose. "Religion is one; it requires, above all things, faith."
Old Phellion, nonplussed by that remark, nodded to his wife:—
"It is getting late, my dear," and he pointed to the clock.
"Oh, Monsieur Felix," said Celeste in a whisper to the candid mathematician, "Couldn't you be, like Pascal and Bossuet, learned and pious both?"
The Phellions, on departing, carried the Collevilles with them. Soon no one remained in the salon but Dutocq, Theodose, and the Thuilliers.
The flattery administered by Theodose to Flavie seems at the first sight coarsely commonplace, but we must here remark, in the interests of this history, that the barrister was keeping himself as close as possible to these vulgar minds; he was navigating their waters; he spoke their language. His painter was Pierre Grassou, and not Joseph Bridau; his book was "Paul and Virginia." The greatest living poet for him was Casimire de la Vigne; to his eyes the mission of art was, above all things, utility. Parmentier, the discoverer of the potato, was greater to him that thirty Raffaelles; the man in the blue cloak seemed to him a sister of charity. These were Thuillier's expressions, and Theodose remembered them all—on occasion.
"That young Felix Phellion," he now remarked, "is precisely the academical man of our day; the product of knowledge which sends God to the rear. Heavens, what are we coming to? Religion alone can save France; nothing but the fear of hell will preserve us from domestic robbery, which is going on at all hours in the bosom of families, and eating into the surest fortunes. All of you have a secret warfare in your homes."
After this shrewd tirade, which made a great impression upon Brigitte, he retired, followed by Dutocq, after wishing good evening to the three Thuilliers.
"That young man has great capacity," said Thuillier, sententiously.
"Yes, that he has," replied Brigitte, extinguishing the lamps.
"He has religion," said Madame Thuillier, as she left the room.
"Monsieur," Phellion was saying to Colleville as they came abreast of the Ecole de Mines, looking about him to see that no one was near, "it is usually my custom to submit my insight to that of others, but it is impossible for me not to think that that young lawyer plays the master at our friend Thuillier's."
"My own opinion," said Colleville, who was walking with Phellion behind his wife, Madame Phellion, and Celeste, "is that he's a Jesuit; and I don't like Jesuits; the best of them are no good. To my mind a Jesuit means knavery, and knavery for knavery's sake; they deceive for the pleasure of deceiving, and, as the saying is, to keep their hand in. That's my opinion, and I don't mince it."
"I understand you, monsieur," said Phellion, who was arm-in-arm with Colleville.
"No, Monsieur Phellion," remarked Flavie in a shrill voice, "you don't understand Colleville; but I know what he means, and I think he had better stop saying it. Such subjects are not to be talked of in the street, at eleven o'clock at night, and before a young lady."
"You are right, wife," said Colleville.
When they reached the rue des Deux-Eglises, which Phellion was to take, they all stopped to say good-night, and Felix Phellion, who was bring up the rear, said to Colleville:—
"Monsieur, your son Francois could enter the Ecole Polytechnique if he were well-coached; I propose to you to fit him to pass the examinations this year."
"That's an offer not to be refused! Thank you, my friend," said Colleville. "We'll see about it."
"Good!" said Phellion to his son, as they walked on.
"Not a bad stroke!" said the mother.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Felix.
"You are very cleverly paying court to Celeste's parents."
"May I never find the solution of my problem if I even thought of it!" cried the young professor. "I discovered, when talking with the little Collevilles, that Francois has a strong turn for mathematics, and I thought I ought to enlighten his father."
"Good, my son!" repeated Phellion. "I wouldn't have you otherwise. My prayers are granted! I have a son whose honor, probity, and private and civic virtues are all that I could wish."
Madame Colleville, as soon as Celeste had gone to bed, said to her husband:—
"Colleville, don't utter those blunt opinions about people without knowing something about them. When you talk of Jesuits I know you mean priests; and I wish you would do me the kindness to keep your opinions on religion to yourself when you are in company with your daughter. We may sacrifice our own souls, but not the souls of our children. You don't want Celeste to be a creature without religion? And remember, my dear, that we are at the mercy of others; we have four children to provide for; and how do you know that, some day or other, you may not need the services of this one or that one? Therefore don't make enemies. You haven't any now, for you are a good-natured fellow; and, thanks to that quality, which amounts in you to a charm, we have got along pretty well in life, so far."
"That's enough!" said Colleville, flinging his coat on a chair and pulling off his cravat. "I'm wrong, and you are right, my beautiful Flavie."
"And on the next occasion, my dear old sheep," said the sly creature, tapping her husband's cheek, "you must try to be polite to that young lawyer; he is a schemer and we had better have him on our side. He is playing comedy—well! play comedy with him; be his dupe apparently; if he proves to have talent, if he has a future before him, make a friend of him. Do you think I want to see you forever in the mayor's office?"
"Come, wife Colleville," said the former clarionet, tapping his knee to indicate the place he wished his wife to take. "Let us warm our toes and talk.—When I look at you I am more than ever convinced that the youth of women is in their figure."
"And in their heart."
"Well, both," assented Colleville; "waist slender, heart solid—"
"No, you old stupid, deep."
"What is good about you is that you have kept your fairness without growing fat. But the fact is, you have such tiny bones. Flavie, it is a fact that if I had life to live over again I shouldn't wish for any other wife than you."
"You know very well I have always preferred you to others. How unlucky that monseigneur is dead! Do you know what I covet for you?"
"Some office at the Hotel de Ville,—an office worth twelve thousand francs a year; cashier, or something of that kind; either there, or at Poissy, in the municipal department; or else as manufacturer of musical instruments—"
"Any one of them would suit me."
"Well, then! if that queer barrister has power, and he certainly has plenty of intrigue, let us manage him. I'll sound him; leave me to do the thing—and, above all, don't thwart his game at the Thuilliers'."
Theodose had laid a finger on a sore sport in Flavie Colleville's heart; and this requires an explanation, which may, perhaps, have the value of a synthetic glance at women's life.
At forty years of age a woman, above all, if she has tasted the poisoned apple of passion, undergoes a solemn shock; she sees two deaths before her: that of the body and that of the heart. Dividing women into two great categories which respond to the common ideas, and calling them either virtuous or guilty, it is allowable to say that after that fatal period they both suffer pangs of terrible intensity. If virtuous, and disappointed in the deepest hopes of their nature—whether they have had the courage to submit, whether they have buried their revolt in their hearts or at the foot of the altar—they never admit to themselves that all is over for them without horror. That thought has such strange and diabolical depths that in it lies the reason of some of those apostasies which have, at times, amazed the world and horrified it. If guilty, women of that age fall into one of several delirious conditions which often turn, alas! to madness, or end in suicide, or terminate in some with passion greater than the situation itself.
The following is the "dilemmatic" meaning of this crisis. Either they have known happiness, known it in a virtuous life, and are unable to breathe in any air but that surcharged with incense, or act in any but a balmy atmosphere of flattery and worship,—if so, how is it possible to renounce it?—or, by a phenomenon less rare than singular, they have found only wearying pleasures while seeking for the happiness that escaped them—sustained in that eager chase by the irritating satisfactions of vanity, clinging to the game like a gambler to his double or quits; for to them these last days of beauty are their last stake against despair.
"You have been loved, but never adored."
That speech of Theodose, accompanied by a look which read, not into her heart, but into her life, was the key-note to her enigma, and Flavie felt herself divined.
The lawyer had merely repeated ideas which literature has rendered trivial; but what matter where the whip comes from, or how it is made, if it touches the sensitive spot of a horse's hide? The emotion was in Flavie, not in the speech, just as the noise is not in the avalanche, though it produces it.
A young officer, two fops, a banker, a clumsy youth, and Colleville, were poor attempts at happiness. Once in her life Madame Colleville had dreamed of it, but never attained it. Death had hastened to put an end to the only passion in which she had found a charm. For the last two years she had listened to the voice of religion, which told her that neither the Church, nor its votaries, should talk of love or happiness, but of duty and resignation; that the only happiness lay in the satisfaction of fulfilling painful and costly duties, the rewards for which were not in this world. All the same, however, she was conscious of another clamoring voice; but, inasmuch as her religion was only a mask which it suited her to wear, and not a conversion, she did not lay it aside, thinking it a resource. Believing also that piety, false or true, was a becoming manner in which to meet her future, she continued in the Church, as though it were the cross-roads of a forest, where, seated on a bench, she read the sign-posts, and waited for some lucky chance; feeling all the while that night was coming on.
Thus it happened that her interest was keenly excited when Theodose put her secret condition of mind into words, seeming to promise her the realization of her castle in the air, already built and overthrown some six or eight times.
From the beginning of the winter she had noticed that Theodose was examining and studying her, though cautiously and secretly. More than once, she had put on her gray moire silk with its black lace, and her headdress of Mechlin with a few flowers, in order to appear to her best advantage; and men know very well when a toilet has been made to please them. The old beau of the Empire, that handsome Thuillier, overwhelmed her with compliments, assuring her she was queen of the salon, but la Peyrade said infinitely more to the purpose by a look.
Flavie had expected, Sunday after Sunday, a declaration, saying to herself at times:—
"He knows I am ruined and haven't a sou. Perhaps he is really pious."
Theodose did nothing rashly; like a wise musician, he had marked the place in his symphony where he intended to tap his drum. When he saw Colleville attempting to warn Thuillier against him, he fired his broadside, cleverly prepared during the three or four months in which he had been studying Flavie; he now succeeded with her as he had, earlier in the day, succeeded with Thuillier.
While getting into bed, Theodose said to himself:—
"The wife is on my side; the husband can't endure me; they are now quarrelling; and I shall get the better of it, for she does what she likes with that man."
The lawyer was mistaken in one thing: there was no dispute whatever, and Colleville was sleeping peacefully beside his dear little Flavie, while she was saying to herself:—
"Certainly Theodose must be a superior man."
Many men, like la Peyrade, derive their superiority from the audacity, or the difficulty, of an enterprise; the strength they display increases their muscular power, and they spend it freely. Then when success is won, or defeat is met, the public is astonished to find how small, exhausted, and puny those men really are. After casting into the minds of the two persons on whom Celeste's fate chiefly depended, an interest and curiosity that were almost feverish, Theodose pretended to be a very busy man; for five or six days he was out of the house from morning till night, in order not to meet Flavie until the time when her interest should increase to the point of overstepping conventionality, and also in order to force the handsome Thuillier to come and fetch him.
The following Sunday he felt certain he should find Madame Colleville at church; he was not mistaken, for they came out, each of them, at the same moment, and met at the corner of the rue des Deux-Eglises. Theodose offered his arm, which Flavie accepted, leaving her daughter to walk in front with her brother Anatole. This youngest child, then about twelve years old, being destined for the seminary, was now at the Barniol institute, where he obtained an elementary education; Barniol, the son-in-law of the Phellions, was naturally making the tuition fees light, with a view to the hoped-for alliance between Felix and Celeste.
"Have you done me the honor and favor of thinking over what I said to you so badly the other day?" asked the lawyer, in a caressing tone, pressing the lady's arm to his heart with a movement both soft and strong; for he seemed to wish to restrain himself and appear respectful, in spite of his evident eagerness. "Do not misunderstand my intentions," he continued, after receiving from Madame Colleville one of those looks which women trained to the management of passion know how to give,—a look that, by mere expression, can convey both severe rebuke and secret community of sentiment. "I love you as we love a noble nature struggling against misfortune; Christian charity enfolds both the strong and the weak; its treasure belongs to both. Refined, graceful, elegant as you are, made to be an ornament of the highest society, what man could see you without feeling an immense compassion in his heart—buried here among these odious bourgeois, who know nothing of you, not even the aristocratic value of a single one of your attitudes, or those enchanting inflections of your voice! Ah! if I were only rich! if I had power! your husband, who is certainly a good fellow, should be made receiver-general, and you yourself could get him elected deputy. But, alas! poor ambitious man, my first duty is to silence my ambition. Knowing myself at the bottom of the bag like the last number in a family lottery, I can only offer you my arm and not my heart. I hope all from a good marriage, and, believe me, I shall make my wife not only happy, but I shall make her one of the first in the land, receiving from her the means of success. It is so fine a day, will you not take a turn in the Luxembourg?" he added, as they reached the rue d'Enfer at the corner of Colleville's house, opposite to which was a passage leading to the gardens by the stairway of a little building, the last remains of the famous convent of the Chartreux.
The soft yielding of the arm within his own, indicated a tacit consent to this proposal, and as Flavie deserved the honor of a sort of enthusiasm, he drew her vehemently along, exclaiming:—
"Come! we may never have so good a moment—But see!" he added, "there is your husband at the window looking at us; let us walk slowly."
"You have nothing to fear from Monsieur Colleville," said Flavie, smiling; "he leaves me mistress of my own actions."
"Ah! here, indeed, is the woman I have dreamed of," cried the Provencal, with that ecstasy that inflames the soul only, and in tones that issue only from Southern lips. "Pardon me, madame," he said, recovering himself, and returning from an upper sphere to the exiled angel whom he looked at piously,—"pardon me, I abandon what I was saying; but how can a man help feeling for the sorrows he has known himself when he sees them the lot of a being to whom life should bring only joy and happiness? Your sufferings are mine; I am no more in my right place than you are in yours; the same misfortune has made us brother and sister. Ah! dear Flavie, the first day it was granted to me to see you—the last Sunday in September, 1838—you were very beautiful; I shall often recall you to memory in that pretty little gown of mousseline-de-laine of the color of some Scottish tartan! That day I said to myself: 'Why is that woman so often at the Thuilliers'; above all, why did she ever have intimate relations with Thuillier himself?—'"
"Monsieur!" said Flavie, alarmed at the singular course la Peyrade was giving to the conversation.
"Eh! I know all," he cried, accompanying the words with a shrug of his shoulders. "I explain it all to my own mind, and I do not respect you less. You now have to gather the fruits of your sin, and I will help you. Celeste will be very rich, and in that lies your own future. You can have only one son-in-law; chose him wisely. An ambitious man might become a minister, but you would humble your daughter and make her miserable; and if such a man lost his place and fortune he could never recover it. Yes, I love you," he continued. "I love you with an unlimited affection; you are far above the mass of petty considerations in which silly women entangle themselves. Let us understand each other."
Flavie was bewildered; she was, however, awake to the extreme frankness of such language, and she said to herself, "He is not a secret manoeuvrer, certainly." Moreover, she admitted to her own mind that no one had ever so deeply stirred and excited her as this young man.
"Monsieur," she said, "I do not know who could have put into your mind so great an error as to my life, nor by what right you—"
"Ah! pardon me, madame," interrupted the Provencal with a coolness that smacked of contempt. "I must have dreamed it. I said to myself, 'She is all that!' But I see I was judging from the outside. I know now why you are living and will always live on a fourth floor in the rue d'Enfer."
And he pointed his speech with an energetic gesture toward the Colleville windows, which could be seen through the passage from the alley of the Luxembourg, where they were walking alone, in that immense tract trodden by so many and various young ambitions.
"I have been frank, and I expected reciprocity," resumed Theodose. "I myself have had days without food, madame; I have managed to live, pursue my studies, obtain my degree, with two thousand francs for my sole dependence; and I entered Paris through the Barriere d'Italie, with five hundred francs in my pocket, firmly resolved, like one of my compatriots, to become, some day, one of the foremost men of our country. The man who has often picked his food from baskets of scraps where the restaurateurs put their refuse, which are emptied at six o'clock every morning—that man is not likely to recoil before any means,—avowable, of course. Well, do you think me the friend of the people?" he said, smiling. "One has to have a speaking-trumpet to reach the ear of Fame; she doesn't listen if you speak with your lips; and without fame of what use is talent? The poor man's advocate means to be some day the advocate of the rich. Is that plain speaking? Don't I open my inmost being to you? Then open your heart to me. Say to me, 'Let us be friends,' and the day will come when we shall both be happy."
"Good heavens! why did I ever come here? Why did I ever take your arm?" cried Flavie.
"Because it is in your destiny," he replied. "Ah! my dear, beloved Flavie," he added, again pressing her arm upon his heart, "did you expect to hear the vulgarities of love from me? We are brother and sister; that is all."
And he led her towards the passage to return to the rue d'Enfer.
Flavie felt a sort of terror in the depths of the contentment which all women find in violent emotions; and she took that terror for the sort of fear which a new passion always excites; but for all that, she felt she was fascinated, and she walked along in absolute silence.
"What are you thinking of?" asked Theodose, when they reached the middle of the passage.
"Of what you have just said to me," she answered.
"At our age," he said, "it is best to suppress preliminaries; we are not children; we both belong to a sphere in which we should understand each other. Remember this," he added, as they reached the rue d'Enfer.—"I am wholly yours."
So saying, he bowed low to her.
"The iron's in the fire now!" he thought to himself as he watched his giddy prey on her way home.
CHAPTER VI. A KEYNOTE
When Theodose reached home he found, waiting for him on the landing, a personage who is, as it were, the submarine current of this history; he will be found within it like some buried church on which has risen the facade of a palace. The sight of this man, who, after vainly ringing at la Peyrade's door, was now trying that of Dutocq, made the Provencal barrister tremble—but secretly, within himself, not betraying externally his inward emotion. This man was Cerizet, whom Dutocq had mentioned to Thuillier as his copying-clerk.
Cerizet was only thirty-eight years old, but he looked a man of fifty, so aged had he become from causes which age all men. His hairless head had a yellow skull, ill-covered by a rusty, discolored wig; the mask of his face, pale, flabby, and unnaturally rough, seemed the more horrible because the nose was eaten away, though not sufficiently to admit of its being replaced by a false one. From the spring of this nose at the forehead, down to the nostrils, it remained as nature had made it; but disease, after gnawing away the sides near the extremities, had left two holes of fantastic shape, which vitiated pronunciation and hampered speech. The eyes, originally handsome, but weakened by misery of all kinds and by sleepless nights, were red around the edges, and deeply sunken; the glance of those eyes, when the soul sent into them an expression of malignancy, would have frightened both judges and criminals, or any others whom nothing usually affrights.
The mouth, toothless except for a few black fangs, was threatening; the saliva made a foam within it, which did not, however, pass the pale thin lips. Cerizet, a short man, less spare than shrunken, endeavored to remedy the defects of his person by his clothes, and although his garments were not those of opulence, he kept them in a condition of neatness which may even have increased his forlorn appearance. Everything about him seemed dubious; his age, his nose, his glance inspired doubt. It was impossible to know if he were thirty-eight or sixty; if his faded blue trousers, which fitted him well, were of a coming or a past fashion. His boots, worn at the heels, but scrupulously blacked, resoled for the third time, and very choice, originally, may have trodden in their day a ministerial carpet. The frock coat, soaked by many a down-pour, with its brandebourgs, the frogs of which were indiscreet enough to show their skeletons, testified by its cut to departed elegance. The satin stock-cravat fortunately concealed the shirt, but the tongue of the buckle behind the neck had frayed the satin, which was re-satined, that is, re-polished, by a species of oil distilled from the wig. In the days of its youth the waistcoat was not, of course, without freshness, but it was one of those waistcoats, bought for four francs, which come from the hooks of the ready-made clothing dealer. All these things were carefully brushed, and so was the shiny and misshapen hat. They harmonized with each other, even to the black gloves which covered the hands of this subaltern Mephistopheles, whose whole anterior life may be summed up in a single phrase:—
He was an artist in evil, with whom, from the first, evil had succeeded; a man misled by these early successes to continue the plotting of infamous deeds within the lines of strict legality. Becoming the head of a printing-office by betraying his master [see "Lost Illusions"], he had afterwards been condemned to imprisonment as editor of a liberal newspaper. In the provinces, under the Restoration, he became the bete noire of the government, and was called "that unfortunate Cerizet" by some, as people spoke of "the unfortunate Chauvet" and "the heroic Mercier." He owed to this reputation of persecuted patriotism a place as sub-prefect in 1830. Six months later he was dismissed; but he insisted that he was judged without being heard; and he made so much talk about it that, under the ministry of Casimir Perier, he became the editor of an anti-republican newspaper in the pay of the government. He left that position to go into business, one phase of which was the most nefarious stock-company that ever fell into the hands of the correctional police. Cerizet proudly accepted the severe sentence he received; declaring it to be a revengeful plot on the part of the republicans, who, he said, would never forgive him for the hard blows he had dealt them in his journal. He spent the time of his imprisonment in a hospital. The government by this time were ashamed of a man whose almost infamous habits and shameful business transactions, carried on in company with a former banker, named Claparon, led him at last into well-deserved public contempt.
Cerizet, thus fallen, step by step, to the lowest rung of the social ladder, had recourse to pity in order to obtain the place of copying clerk in Dutocq's office. In the depths of his wretchedness the man still dreamed of revenge, and, as he had nothing to lose, he employed all means to that end. Dutocq and himself were bound together in depravity. Cerizet was to Dutocq what the hound is the huntsman. Knowing himself the necessities of poverty and wretchedness, he set up that business of gutter usury called, in popular parlance, "the loan by the little week." He began this at first by help of Dutocq, who shared the profits; but, at the present moment this man of many legal crimes, now the banker of fishwives, the money-lender of costermongers, was the gnawing rodent of the whole faubourg.
"Well," said Cerizet as Dutocq opened his door, "Theodose has just come in; let us go to his room."
The advocate of the poor was fain to allow the two men to pass before him.
All three crossed a little room, the tiled floor of which, covered with a coating of red encaustic, shone in the light; thence into a little salon with crimson curtains and mahogany furniture, covered with red Utrecht velvet; the wall opposite the window being occupied by book-shelves containing a legal library. The chimney-piece was covered with vulgar ornaments, a clock with four columns in mahogany, and candelabra under glass shades. The study, where the three men seated themselves before a soft-coal fire, was the study of a lawyer just beginning to practise. The furniture consisted of a desk, an armchair, little curtains of green silk at the windows, a green carpet, shelves for lawyer's boxes, and a couch, above which hung an ivory Christ on a velvet background. The bedroom, kitchen, and rest of the apartment looked out upon the courtyard.
"Well," said Cerizet, "how are things going? Are we getting on?"
"Yes," replied Theodose.
"You must admit," cried Dutocq, "that my idea was a famous one, in laying hold of that imbecile of a Thuillier?"
"Yes, but I'm not behindhand either," exclaimed Cerizet. "I have come now to show you a way to put the thumbscrews on the old maid and make her spin like a teetotum. We mustn't deceive ourselves; Mademoiselle Thuillier is the head and front of everything in this affair; if we get her on our side the town is won. Let us say little, but that little to the point, as becomes strong men with each other. Claparon, you know, is a fool; he'll be all his life what he always was,—a cat's-paw. Just now he is lending his name to a notary in Paris, who is concerned with a lot of contractors, and they are all—notary and masons—on the point of ruin. Claparon is going headlong into it. He never yet was bankrupt; but there's a first time for everything. He is hidden now in my hovel in the rue des Poules, where no one will ever find him. He is desperate, and he hasn't a penny. Now, among the five or six houses built by these contractors, which have to be sold, there's a jewel of a house, built of freestone, in the neighborhood of the Madeleine,—a frontage laced like a melon, with beautiful carvings,—but not being finished, it will have to be sold for what it will bring; certainly not more than a hundred thousand francs. By spending twenty-five thousand francs upon it it could be let, undoubtedly, for ten thousand. Make Mademoiselle Thuillier the proprietor of that house and you'll win her love; she'll believe that you can put such chances in her way every year. There are two ways of getting hold of vain people: flatter their vanity, or threaten them; and there are also two ways of managing misers: fill their purse, or else attack it. Now, this stroke of business, while it does good to Mademoiselle Thuillier, does good to us as well, and it would be a pity not to profit by the chance."
"But why does the notary let it slip through his fingers?" asked Dutocq.
"The notary, my dear fellow! Why, he's the very one who saves us. Forced to sell his practice, and utterly ruined besides, he reserved for himself this crumb of the cake. Believing in the honesty of that idiot Claparon, he has asked him to find a dummy purchaser. We'll let him suppose that Mademoiselle Thuillier is a worthy soul who allows Claparon to use her name; they'll both be fooled, Claparon and the notary too. I owe this little trick to my friend Claparon, who left me to bear the whole weight of the trouble about his stock-company, in which we were tricked by Conture, and I hope you may never be in that man's skin!" he added, infernal hatred flashing from his worn and withered eyes. "Now, I've said my say, gentlemen," he continued, sending out his voice through his nasal holes, and taking a dramatic attitude; for once, at a moment of extreme penury, he had gone upon the stage.
As he finished making his proposition some one rang at the outer door, and la Peyrade rose to go and open it. As soon as his back was turned, Cerizet said, hastily, to Dutocq:—
"Are you sure of him? I see a sort of air about him—And I'm a good judge of treachery."
"He is so completely in our power," said Dutocq, "that I don't trouble myself to watch; but, between ourselves, I didn't think him as strong as he proves to be. The fact is, we thought we were putting a barb between the legs of a man who didn't know how to ride, and the rogue is an old jockey!"
"Let him take care," growled Cerizet. "I can blow him down like a house of cards any day. As for you, papa Dutocq, you are able to see him at work all the time; watch him carefully. Besides, I'll feel his pulse by getting Claparon to propose to him to get rid of us; that will help us to judge him."
"Pretty good, that!" said Dutocq. "You are daring, anyhow."
"I've got my hand in, that's all," replied Cerizet.
These words were exchanged in a low voice during the time that it took Theodose to go to the outer door and return. Cerizet was looking at the books when the lawyer re-entered the room.
"It is Thuillier," said Theodose. "I thought he'd come; he is in the salon. He mustn't see Cerizet's frock-coat; those frogs would frighten him."
"Pooh! you receive the poor in your office, don't you? That's in your role. Do you want any money?" added Cerizet, pulling a hundred francs out of his trousers' pocket. "There it is; it won't look amiss."
And he laid the pile on the chimney-piece.
"And now," said Dutocq, "we had better get out through the bedroom."
"Well, good-bye," said Theodose, opening a hidden door which communicated from the study to the bedroom. "Come in, Monsieur Thuillier," he called out to the beau of the Empire.
When he saw him safely in the study he went to let out his two associates through the bedroom and kitchen into the courtyard.
"In six months," said Cerizet, "you'll have married Celeste and got your foot into the stirrup. You are lucky, you are, not to have sat, like me, in the prisoners' dock. I've been there twice: once in 1825, for 'subversive articles' which I never wrote, and the second time for receiving the profits of a joint-stock company which had slipped through my fingers! Come, let's warm this thing up! Sac-a-papier! Dutocq and I are sorely in need of that twenty-five thousand francs. Good courage, old fellow!" he added, holding out his hand to Theodose, and making the grasp a test of faithfulness.
The Provencal gave Cerizet his right hand, pressing the other's hand warmly:—
"My good fellow," he said, "be very sure that in whatever position I may find myself I shall never forget that from which you have drawn me by putting me in the saddle here. I'm simply your bait; but you are giving me the best part of the catch, and I should be more infamous than a galley-slave who turns policeman if I didn't play fair."
As soon as the door was closed, Cerizet peeped through the key-hole, trying to catch sight of la Peyrade's face. But the Provencal had turned back to meet Thuillier, and his distrustful associate could not detect the expression of his countenance.
That expression was neither disgust nor annoyance, it was simply joy, appearing on a face that now seemed freed. Theodose saw the means of success approaching him, and he flattered himself that the day would come when he might get rid of his ignoble associates, to whom he owed everything. Poverty has unfathomable depths, especially in Paris, slimy bottoms, from which, when a drowned man rises to the surface of the water, he brings with him filth and impurity clinging to his clothes, or to his person. Cerizet, the once opulent friend and protector of Theodose, was the muddy mire still clinging to the Provencal, and the former manager of the joint-stock company saw very plainly that his tool wanted to brush himself on entering a sphere where decent clothing was a necessity.
"Well, my dear Theodose," began Thuillier, "we have hoped to see you every day this week, and every evening we find our hopes deceived. As this is our Sunday for a dinner, my sister and my wife have sent me here to beg you to come to us."
"I have been so busy," said Theodose, "that I have not had two minutes to give to any one, not even to you, whom I count among my friends, and with whom I have wished to talk about—"
"What? have you really been thinking seriously over what you said to me?" cried Thuillier, interrupting him.
"If you had not come here now for a full understanding, I shouldn't respect you as I do," replied la Peyrade, smiling. "You have been a sub-director, and therefore you must have the remains of ambition—which is deucedly legitimate in your case! Come, now, between ourselves, when one sees a Minard, that gilded pot, displaying himself at the Tuileries, and complimenting the king, and a Popinot about to become a minister of State, and then look at you! a man trained to administrative work, a man with thirty years' experience, who has seen six governments, left to plant balsams in a little garden! Heavens and earth!—I am frank, my dear Thuillier, and I'll say, honestly, that I want to advance you, because you'll draw me after you. Well, here's my plan. We are soon to elect a member of the council-general from this arrondissement; and that member must be you. And," he added, dwelling on the word, "it will be you! After that, you will certainly be deputy from the arrondissement when the Chamber is re-elected, which must surely be before long. The votes that elect you to the municipal council will stand by you in the election for deputy, trust me for that."
"But how will you manage all this?" cried Thuillier, fascinated.
"You shall know in good time; but you must let me conduct this long and difficult affair; if you commit the slightest indiscretion as to what is said, or planned, or agreed between us, I shall have to drop the whole matter, and good-bye to you!"
"Oh! you can rely on the absolute dumbness of a former sub-director; I've had secrets to keep."
"That's all very well; but these are secrets to keep from your wife and sister, and from Monsieur and Madame Colleville."
"Not a muscle of my face shall reveal them," said Thuillier, assuming a stolid air.
"Very good," continued Theodose. "I shall test you. In order to make yourself eligible, you must pay taxes on a certain amount of property, and you are not paying them."
"I beg your pardon; I'm all right for the municipal council at any rate; I pay two francs ninety-six centimes."
"Yes, but the tax on property necessary for election to the chamber is five hundred francs, and there is no time to lose in acquiring that property, because you must prove possession for one year."
"The devil!" cried Thuillier; "between now and a year hence to be taxed five hundred francs on property which—"
"Between now and the end of July, at the latest, you must pay that tax. Well, I feel enough interest in you to tell you the secret of an affair by which you might make from thirty to forty thousand francs a year, by employing a capital of one hundred and fifty thousand at most. I know that in your family it is your sister who does your business; I am far from thinking that a mistake; she has, they tell me, excellent judgment; and you must let me begin by obtaining her good-will and friendship, and proposing this investment to her. And this is why: If Mademoiselle Thuillier is not induced to put faith in my plan, we shall certainly have difficulty with her. Besides, it won't do for YOU to propose to her that she should put the investment of her money in your name. The idea had better come from me. As to my means of getting you elected to the municipal council, they are these: Phellion controls one quarter of the arrondissement; he and Laudigeois have lived in it these thirty years, and they are listened to like oracles. I have a friend who controls another quarter; and the rector of Saint-Jacques, who is not without influence, thanks to his virtues, disposes of certain votes. Dutocq, in his close relation to the people, and also the justice of peace, will help me, above all, as I'm not acting for myself; and Colleville, as secretary of the mayor's office, can certainly manage to obtain another fourth of the votes."
"You are right!" cried Thuillier. "I'm elected!"
"Do you think so?" said la Peyrade, in a voice of the deepest sarcasm. "Very good! then go and ask your friend Colleville to help you, and see what he'll say. No triumph in election cases is ever brought about by the candidate himself, but by his friends. He should never ask anything himself for himself; he must be invited to accept, and appear to be without ambition."
"La Peyrade!" cried Thuillier, rising, and taking the hand of the young lawyer, "you are a very capable man."
"Not as capable as you, but I have my merits," said the Provencal, smiling.
"If we succeed how shall I ever repay you?" asked Thuillier, naively.
"Ah! that, indeed! I am afraid you will think me impertinent, but remember, there is a true feeling in my heart which offers some excuse for me; in fact, it has given me the spirit to undertake this affair. I love—and I take you for my confidant."
"But who is it?" said Thuillier.
"Your dear little Celeste," replied la Peyrade. "My love for her will be a pledge to you of my devotion. What would I not do for a father-in-law! This is pure selfishness; I shall be working for myself."
"Hush!" cried Thuillier.
"Eh, my friend!" said la Peyrade, catching Thuillier round the body; "if I hadn't Flavie on my side, and if I didn't know all should I venture to be talking to you thus? But please say nothing to Flavie about this; wait till she speaks to you. Listen to me; I'm of the metal that makes ministers; I do not seek to obtain Celeste until I deserve her. You shall not be asked to give her to me until the day when your election as a deputy of Paris is assured. In order to be deputy of Paris, we must get the better of Minard; and in order to crush Minard you must keep in your own hands all your means of influence; for that reason use Celeste as a hope; we'll play them off, these people, against each other and fool them all—Madame Colleville and you and I will be persons of importance one of these days. Don't think me mercenary. I want Celeste without a 'dot,' with nothing more than her future expectations. To live in your family with you, to keep my wife in your midst, that is my desire. You see now that I have no hidden thoughts. As for you, my dear friend, six months after your election to the municipal council, you will have the cross of the Legion of honor, and when you are deputy you will be made an officer of it. As for your speeches in the Chamber—well! we'll write them together. Perhaps it would be desirable for you to write a book,—a serious book on matters half moral and philanthropic, half political; such, for instance, as charitable institutions considered from the highest stand-point; or reforms in the pawning system, the abuses of which are really frightful. Let us fasten some slight distinction to your name; it will help you,—especially in the arrondissement. Now, I say again, trust me, believe in me; do not think of taking me into your family until you have the ribbon in your buttonhole on the morrow of the day when you take your seat in the Chamber. I'll do more than that, however; I'll put you in the way of making forty thousand francs a year."
"For any one of those three things you shall have our Celeste," said Thuillier.
"Ah! what a pearl she is!" exclaimed la Peyrade, raising his eyes to heaven. "I have the weakness to pray to God for her every day. She is charming; she is exactly like you—oh! nonsense; surely you needn't caution me! Dutocq told me all. Well, I'll be with you to-night. I must go to the Phellions' now, and begin to work our plan. You don't need me to caution you not to let it be known that you are thinking of me for Celeste; if you do, you'll cut off my arms and legs. Therefore, silence! even to Flavie. Wait till she speaks to you herself. Phellion shall to-night broach the matter of proposing you as candidate for the council."
"To-night?" said Thuillier.
"Yes, to-night," replied la Peyrade, "unless I don't find him at home now."
Thuillier departed, saying to himself:—
"That's a very superior man; we shall always understand each other. Faith! it might be hard to do better for Celeste. They will live with us, as in our own family, and that's a good deal! Yes, he's a fine fellow, a sound man."
To minds of Thuillier's calibre, a secondary consideration often assumes the importance of a principal reason. Theodose had behaved to him with charming bonhomie.
CHAPTER VII. THE WORTHY PHELLIONS
The house to which Theodose de la Peyrade now bent his steps had been the "hoc erat in votis" of Monsieur Phellion for twenty years; it was the house of the Phellions, just as much as Cerizet's frogged coat was the necessary complement of his personality.
This dwelling was stuck against the side of a large house, but only to the depth of one room (about twenty feet or so), and terminated at each end in a sort of pavilion with one window. Its chief charm was a garden, one hundred and eighty feet square, longer than the facade of the house by the width of a courtyard which opened on the street, and a little clump of lindens. Beyond the second pavilion, the courtyard had, between itself and the street, an iron railing, in the centre of which was a little gate opening in the middle.
This building, of rouge stone covered with stucco, and two storeys in height, had received a coat of yellow-wash; the blinds were painted green, and so were the shutters on the lower storey. The kitchen occupied the ground-floor of the pavilion on the courtyard, and the cook, a stout, strong girl, protected by two enormous dogs, performed the functions of portress. The facade, composed of five windows, and the two pavilions, which projected nine feet, were in the style Phellion. Above the door the master of the house had inserted a tablet of white marble, on which, in letters of gold, were read the words, "Aurea mediocritas." Above the sun-dial, affixed to one panel of the facade, he had also caused to be inscribed this sapient maxim: "Umbra mea vita, sic!"
The former window-sills had recently been superceded by sills of red Languedoc marble, found in a marble shop. At the bottom of the garden could be seen a colored statue, intended to lead casual observers to imagine that a nurse was carrying a child. The ground-floor of the house contained only the salon and the dining-room, separated from each other by the well of the staircase and the landing, which formed a sort of antechamber. At the end of the salon, in the other pavilion, was a little study occupied by Phellion.
On the first upper floor were the rooms of the father and mother and that of the young professor. Above were the chambers of the children and the servants; for Phellion, on consideration of his own age and that of his wife, had set up a male domestic, aged fifteen, his son having by that time entered upon his duties of tuition. To right, on entering the courtyard, were little offices where wood was stored, and where the former proprietor had lodged a porter. The Phellions were no doubt awaiting the marriage of their son to allow themselves that additional luxury.
This property, on which the Phellions had long had their eye, cost them eighteen thousand francs in 1831. The house was separated from the courtyard by a balustrade with a base of freestone and a coping of tiles; this little wall, which was breast-high, was lined with a hedge of Bengal roses, in the middle of which opened a wooden gate opposite and leading to the large gates on the street. Those who know the cul-de-sac of the Feuillantines, will understand that the Phellion house, standing at right angles to the street, had a southern exposure, and was protected on the north by the immense wall of the adjoining house, against which the smaller structure was built. The cupola of the Pantheon and that of the Val-de-Grace looked from there like two giants, and so diminished the sky space that, walking in the garden, one felt cramped and oppressed. No place could be more silent than this blind street.
Such was the retreat of the great unknown citizen who was now tasting the sweets of repose, after discharging his duty to the nation in the ministry of finance, from which he had retired as registration clerk after a service of thirty-six years. In 1832 he had led his battalion of the National Guard to the attack on Saint-Merri, but his neighbors had previously seen tears in his eyes at the thought of being obliged to fire on misguided Frenchmen. The affair was already decided by the time his legion crossed the pont Notre-Dame at a quick step, after debouching by the flower-market. This noble hesitation won him the respect of his whole quarter, but he lost the decoration of the Legion of honor; his colonel told him in a loud voice that, under arms, there was no such thing as deliberation,—a saying of Louis-Philippe to the National Guard of Metz. Nevertheless, the bourgeois virtues of Phellion, and the great respect in which he was held in his own quarter had kept him major of the battalion for eight years. He was now nearly sixty, and seeing the moment coming when he must lay off the sword and stock, he hoped that the king would deign to reward his services by granting him at last the Legion of honor.
Truth compels us to say, in spite of the stain this pettiness will put upon so fine a character, that Commander Phellion rose upon the tips of his toes at the receptions in the Tuileries, and did all that he could to put himself forward, even eyeing the citizen-king perpetually when he dined at his table. In short, he intrigued in a dumb sort of way; but had never yet obtained a look in return from the king of his choice. The worthy man had more than once thought, but was not yet decided, to beg Monsieur Minard to assist him in obtaining his secret desire.
Phellion, a man of passive obedience, was stoical in the matter of duty, and iron in all that touched his conscience. To complete this picture by a sketch of his person, we must add that at fifty-nine years of age Phellion had "thickened," to use a term of the bourgeois vocabulary. His face, of one monotonous tone and pitted with the small-pox, had grown to resemble a full moon; so that his lips, formerly large, now seemed of ordinary size. His eyes, much weakened, and protected by glasses, no longer showed the innocence of their light-blue orbs, which in former days had often excited a smile; his white hair now gave gravity to much that twelve years earlier had looked like silliness, and lent itself to ridicule. Time, which does such damage to faces with refined and delicate features, only improves those which, in their youth, have been course and massive. This was the case with Phellion. He occupied the leisure of his old age in making an abridgment of the History of France; for Phellion was the author of several works adopted by the University.
When la Peyrade presented himself, the family were all together. Madame Barniol was just telling her mother about one of her babies, which was slightly indisposed. They were dressed in their Sunday clothes, and were sitting before the fireplace of the wainscoted salon on chairs bought at a bargain; and they all felt an emotion when Genevieve, the cook and portress, announced the personage of whom they were just then speaking in connection with Celeste, whom, we must here state, Felix Phellion loved, to the extent of going to mass to behold her. The learned mathematician had made that effort in the morning, and the family were joking him about it in a pleasant way, hoping in their hearts that Celeste and her parents might understand the treasure that was thus offered to them.
"Alas! the Thuilliers seem to me infatuated with a very dangerous man," said Madame Phellion. "He took Madame Colleville by the arm this morning after church, and they went together to the Luxembourg."
"There is something about that lawyer," remarked Felix Phellion, "that strikes me as sinister. He might be found to have committed some crime and I shouldn't be surprised."
"That's going too far," said old Phellion. "He is cousin-germain to Tartuffe, that immortal figure cast in bronze by our honest Moliere; for Moliere, my children, had honesty and patriotism for the basis of his genius."
It was at that instant that Genevieve came in to say, "There's a Monsieur de la Peyrade out there, who wants to see monsieur."
"To see me!" exclaimed Phellion. "Ask him to come in," he added, with that solemnity in little things which gave him even now a touch of absurdity, though it always impressed his family, which accepted him as king.
Phellion, his two sons, and his wife and daughter, rose and received the circular bow made by the lawyer.
"To what do we owe the honor of your visit, monsieur?" asked Phellion, stiffly.
"To your importance in this arrondissement, my dear Monsieur Phellion, and to public interests," replied Theodose.
"Then let us go into my study," said Phellion.
"No, no, my friend," said the rigid Madame Phellion, a small woman, flat as a flounder, who retained upon her features the grim severity with which she taught music in boarding-schools for young ladies; "we will leave you."
An upright Erard piano, placed between the two windows and opposite to the fireplace, showed the constant occupation of a proficient.
"Am I so unfortunate as to put you to flight?" said Theodose, smiling in a kindly way at the mother and daughter. "You have a delightful retreat here," he continued. "You only lack a pretty daughter-in-law to pass the rest of your days in this 'aurea mediocritas,' the wish of the Latin poet, surrounded by family joys. Your antecedents, my dear Monsieur Phellion, ought surely to win you such rewards, for I am told that you are not only a patriot but a good citizen."
"Monsieur," said Phellion, embarrassed, "monsieur, I have only done my duty." At the word "daughter-in-law," uttered by Theodose, Madame Barniol, who resembled her mother as much as one drop of water is like another, looked at Madame Phellion and at Felix as if she would say, "Were we mistaken?"
The desire to talk this incident over carried all four personages into the garden, for, in March, 1840, the weather was spring-like, at least in Paris.
"Commander," said Theodose, as soon as he was alone with Phellion, who was always flattered by that title, "I have come to speak to you about the election—"
"Yes, true; we are about to nominate a municipal councillor," said Phellion, interrupting him.
"And it is apropos of that candidacy that I have come to disturb your Sunday joys; but perhaps in so doing we shall not go beyond the limits of the family circle."
It would be impossible for Phellion to be more Phellion than Theodose was Phellion at that moment.
"I shall not let you say another word," replied the commander, profiting by the pause made by Theodose, who watched for the effect of his speech. "My choice is made."
"We have had the same idea!" exclaimed Theodose; "men of the same character agree as well as men of the same mind."
"In this case I do not believe in that phenomenon," replied Phellion. "This arrondissement had for its representative in the municipal council the most virtuous of men, as he was the noblest of magistrates. I allude to the late Monsieur Popinot, the deceased judge of the Royal courts. When the question of replacing him came up, his nephew, the heir to his benevolence, did not reside in this quarter. He has since, however, purchased, and now occupies, the house where his uncle lived in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve; he is the physician of the Ecole Polytechnique and that of our hospitals; he does honor to this quarter; for these reasons, and to pay homage in the person of the nephew to the memory of the uncle, we have decided to nominate Doctor Horace Bianchon, member of the Academy of Sciences, as you are aware, and one of the most distinguished young men in the illustrious faculty of Paris. A man is not great in our eyes solely because he is celebrated; to my mind the late Councillor Popinot was almost another Saint Vincent de Paul."
"But a doctor is not an administrator," replied Theodose; "and, besides, I have come to ask your vote for a man to whom your dearest interests require that you should sacrifice a predilection, which, after all, is quite unimportant to the public welfare."
"Monsieur!" cried Phellion, rising and striking an attitude like that of Lafon in "Le Glorieux," "Do you despise me sufficiently to suppose that my personal interests could ever influence my political conscience? When a matter concerns the public welfare, I am a citizen—nothing more, and nothing less."
Theodose smiled to himself at the thought of the battle which was now to take place between the father and the citizen.
"Do not bind yourself to your present ideas, I entreat you," he said, "for this matter concerns the happiness of your dear Felix."
"What do you mean by those words?" asked Phellion, stopping short in the middle of the salon and posing, with his hand thrust through the bosom of his waistcoat from right to left, in the well-known attitude of Odilon Barrot.
"I have come in behalf of our mutual friend, the worthy and excellent Monsieur Thuillier, whose influence on the destiny of that beautiful Celeste Colleville must be well known to you. If, as I think, your son, whose merits are incontestable, and of whom both families may well be proud, if, I say, he is courting Celeste with a view to a marriage in which all expediencies may be combined, you cannot do more to promote that end than to obtain Thuillier's eternal gratitude by proposing your worthy friend to the suffrages of your fellow-citizens. As for me, though I have lately come into the quarter, I can, thanks to the influence I enjoy through certain legal benefits done to the poor, materially advance his interests. I might, perhaps, have put myself forward for this position; but serving the poor brings in but little money; and, besides, the modesty of my life is out of keeping with such distinctions. I have devoted myself, monsieur, to the service of the weak, like the late Councillor Popinot,—a sublime man, as you justly remarked. If I had not already chosen a career which is in some sort monastic, and precludes all idea of marriage and public office, my taste, my second vocation, would lead me to the service of God, to the Church. I do not trumpet what I do, like the philanthropists; I do not write about it; I simply act; I am pledged to Christian charity. The ambition of our friend Thuillier becoming known to me, I have wished to contribute to the happiness of two young people who seem to me made for each other, by suggesting to you the means of winning the rather cold heart of Monsieur Thuillier."
Phellion was bewildered by this tirade, admirably delivered; he was dazzled, attracted; but he remained Phellion; he walked up to the lawyer and held out his hand, which la Peyrade took.
"Monsieur," said the commander, with emotion, "I have misjudged you. What you have done me the honor to confide to me will die there," laying his hand on his heart. "You are one of the men of whom we have too few,—men who console us for many evils inherent in our social state. Righteousness is seen so seldom that our too feeble natures distrust appearances. You have in me a friend, if you will allow me the honor of assuming that title. But you must learn to know me, monsieur. I should lose my own esteem if I nominated Thuillier. No, my son shall never own his happiness to an evil action on his father's part. I shall not change my candidate because my son's interests demand it. That is civic virtue, monsieur."
La Peyrade pulled out his handkerchief and rubbed it in his eye so that it drew a tear, as he said, holding out his hand to Phellion, and turning aside his head:—
"Ah! monsieur, how sublime a struggle between public and private duty! Had I come here only to see this sight, my visit would not have been wasted. You cannot do otherwise! In your place, I should do the same. You are that noblest thing that God has made—a righteous man! a citizen of the Jean-Jacques type! With many such citizens, oh France! my country! what mightest thou become! It is I, monsieur, who solicit, humbly, the honor to be your friend."
"What can be happening?" said Madame Phellion, watching the scene through the window. "Do see your father and that horrid man embracing each other."
Phellion and la Peyrade now came out and joined the family in the garden.
"My dear Felix," said the old man, pointing to la Peyrade, who was bowing to Madame Phellion, "be very grateful to that admirable young man; he will prove most useful to you."
The lawyer walked for about five minutes with Madame Barniol and Madame Phellion beneath the leafless lindens, and gave them (in consequence of the embarrassing circumstances created by Phellion's political obstinacy) a piece of advice, the effects of which were to bear fruit that evening, while its first result was to make both ladies admire his talents, his frankness, and his inappreciable good qualities. When the lawyer departed the whole family conducted him to the street gate, and all eyes followed him until he had turned the corner of the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Jacques. Madame Phellion then took the arm of her husband to return to the salon, saying:—
"Hey! my friend! what does this mean? You, such a good father, how can you, from excessive delicacy, stand in the way of such a fine marriage for our Felix?"
"My dear," replied Phellion, "the great men of antiquity, Brutus and others, were never fathers when called upon to be citizens. The bourgeoisie has, even more than the aristocracy whose place it has been called upon to take, the obligations of the highest virtues. Monsieur de Saint-Hilaire did not think of his lost arm in presence of the dead Turenne. We must give proof of our worthiness; let us give it at every state of the social hierarchy. Shall I instruct my family in the highest civic principles only to ignore them myself at the moment for applying them? No, my dear; weep, if you must, to-day, but to-morrow you will respect me," he added, seeing tears in the eyes of his starched better half.
These noble words were said on the sill of the door, above which was written, "Aurea mediocritas."
"I ought to have put, 'et digna,'" added Phellion, pointing to the tablet, "but those two words would imply self-praise."
"Father," said Marie-Theodore Phellion, the future engineer of "ponts et chaussees," when the family were once more seated in the salon, "it seems to me that there is nothing dishonorable in changing one's determination about a choice which is of no real consequence to public welfare."
"No consequence, my son!" cried Phellion. "Between ourselves I will say, and Felix shares my opinion, Monsieur Thuillier is absolutely without capacity; he knows nothing. Monsieur Horace Bianchon is an able man; he will obtain a thousand things for our arrondissement, and Thuillier will obtain none! Remember this, my son; to change a good determination for a bad one from motives of self-interest is one of those infamous actions which escape the control of men but are punished by God. I am, or I think I am, void of all blame before my conscience, and I owe it to you, my children, to leave my memory unstained among you. Nothing, therefore, can make me change my determination."
"Oh, my good father!" cried the little Barniol woman, flinging herself on a cushion at Phellion's knees, "don't ride your high horse! There are many fools and idiots in the municipal council, and France gets along all the same. That old Thuillier will adopt the opinions of those about him. Do reflect that Celeste will probably have five hundred thousand francs."
"She might have millions," said Phellion, "and I might see them there at my feet before I would propose Thuillier, when I owe to the memory of the best of men to nominate, if possible, Horace Bianchon, his nephew. From the heaven above us Popinot is contemplating and applauding me!" cried Phellion, with exaltation. "It is by such considerations as you suggest that France is being lowered, and the bourgeoisie are bringing themselves into contempt."
"My father is right," said Felix, coming out of a deep reverie. "He deserves our respect and love; as he has throughout the whole course of his modest and honored life. I would not owe my happiness either to remorse in his noble soul, or to a low political bargain. I love Celeste as I love my own family; but, above all that, I place my father's honor, and since this question is a matter of conscience with him it must not be spoken of again."
Phellion, with his eyes full of tears, went up to his eldest son and took him in his arms, saying, "My son! my son!" in a choking voice.
"All that is nonsense," whispered Madame Phellion in Madame Barniol's ear. "Come and dress me; I shall make an end of this; I know your father; he has put his foot down now. To carry out the plan that pious young man, Theodose, suggested, I want your help; hold yourself ready to give it, my daughter."
At this moment, Genevieve came in and gave a letter to Monsieur Phellion.
"An invitation for dinner to-day, for Madame Phellion and Felix and myself, at the Thuilliers'," he said.
The magnificent and surprising idea of Thuillier's municipal advancement, put forth by the "advocate of the poor" was not less upsetting in the Thuillier household than it was in the Phellion salon. Jerome Thuillier, without actually confiding anything to his sister, for he made it a point of honor to obey his Mephistopheles, had rushed to her in great excitement to say:—
"My dearest girl" (he always touched her heart with those caressing words), "we shall have some big-wigs at dinner to-day. I'm going to ask the Minards; therefore take pains about your dinner. I have written to Monsieur and Madame Phellion; it is rather late; but there's no need of ceremony with them. As for the Minards, I must throw a little dust in their eyes; I have a particular need of them."
"Four Minards, three Phellions, four Collevilles, and ourselves; that makes thirteen—"
"La Peyrade, fourteen; and it is worth while to invite Dutocq; he may be useful to us. I'll go up and see him."
"What are you scheming?" cried his sister. "Fifteen to dinner! There's forty francs, at the very least, waltzing off."
"You won't regret them, my dearest. I want you to be particularly agreeable to our young friend, la Peyrade. There's a friend, indeed! you'll soon have proofs of that! If you love me, cosset him well."
So saying, he departed, leaving Brigitte bewildered.
"Proofs, indeed! yes, I'll look out for proofs," she said. "I'm not to be caught with fine words, not I! He is an amiable fellow; but before I take him into my heart I shall study him a little closer."
After inviting Dutocq, Thuillier, having bedizened himself, went to the hotel Minard, rue des Macons-Sorbonne, to capture the stout Zelie, and gloss over the shortness of the invitation.
Minard had purchased one of those large and sumptuous habitations which the old religious orders built about the Sorbonne, and as Thuillier mounted the broad stone steps with an iron balustrade, that proved how arts of the second class flourished under Louis XIII., he envied both the mansion and its occupant,—the mayor.
This vast building, standing between a courtyard and garden, is noticeable as a specimen of the style, both noble and elegant, of the reign of Louis XIII., coming singularly, as it did, between the bad taste of the expiring renaissance and the heavy grandeur of Louis XIV., at its dawn. This transition period is shown in many public buildings. The massive scroll-work of several facades—that of the Sorbonne, for instance,—and columns rectified according to the rules of Grecian art, were beginning to appear in this architecture.
A grocer, a lucky adulterator, now took the place of the former ecclesiastical governor of an institution called in former times L'Economat; an establishment connected with the general agency of the old French clergy, and founded by the long-sighted genius of Richelieu. Thuillier's name opened for him the doors of the salon, where sat enthroned in velvet and gold, amid the most magnificent "Chineseries," the poor woman who weighed with all her avoirdupois on the hearts and minds of princes and princesses at the "popular balls" of the palace.
"Isn't she a good subject for 'La Caricature'?" said a so-called lady of the bedchamber to a duchess, who could hardly help laughing at the aspect of Zelie, glittering with diamonds, red as a poppy, squeezed into a gold brocade, and rolling along like the casts of her former shop.
"Will you pardon me, fair lady," began Thuillier, twisting his body, and pausing in pose number two of his imperial repertory, "for having allowed this invitation to remain in my desk, thinking, all the while, that it was sent? It is for to-day, but perhaps I am too late?"
Zelie examined her husband's face as he approached them to receive Thuillier; then she said:—
"We intended to drive into the country and dine at some chance restaurant; but we'll give up that idea and all the more readily because, in my opinion, it is getting devilishly vulgar to drive out of Paris on Sundays."
"We will have a little dance to the piano for the young people, if enough come, as I hope they will. I have sent a line to Phellion, whose wife is intimate with Madame Pron, the successor—"
"Successoress," interrupted Madame Minard.
"No," said Thuillier, "it ought to be success'ress; just as we say may'ress, dropping the O, you know."
"Is it full dress?" asked Madame Minard.
"Heavens! no," replied Thuillier; "you would get me finely scolded by my sister. No, it is only a family party. Under the Empire, madame, we all devoted ourselves to dancing. At that great epoch of our national life they thought as much of a fine dancer as they did of a good soldier. Nowadays the country is so matter-of-fact."