"Well, we won't talk politics," said the mayor, smiling. "The King is grand; he is very able. I have a deep admiration for my own time, and for the institutions which we have given to ourselves. The King, you may be sure, knows very well what he is doing by the development of industries. He is struggling hand to hand against England; and we are doing him more harm during this fruitful peace than all the wars of the Empire would have done."
"What a deputy Minard would make!" cried Zelie, naively. "He practises speechifying at home. You'll help us to get him elected, won't you, Thuillier?"
"We won't talk politics now," replied Thuillier. "Come at five."
"Will that little Vinet be there?" asked Minard; "he comes, no doubt, for Celeste."
"Then he may go into mourning," replied Thuillier. "Brigitte won't hear of him."
Zelie and Minard exchanged a smile of satisfaction.
"To think that we must hob-nob with such common people, all for the sake of our son!" cried Zelie, when Thuillier was safely down the staircase, to which the mayor had accompanied him.
"Ha! he thinks to be deputy!" thought Thuillier, as he walked away. "These grocers! nothing satisfies them. Heavens! what would Napoleon say if he could see the government in the hands of such people! I'm a trained administrator, at any rate. What a competitor, to be sure! I wonder what la Peyrade will say?"
The ambitious ex-beau now went to invite the whole Laudigeois family for the evening, after which he went to the Collevilles', to make sure that Celeste should wear a becoming gown. He found Flavie rather pensive. She hesitated about coming, but Thuillier overcame her indecision.
"My old and ever young friend," he said, taking her round the waist, for she was alone in her little salon, "I won't have any secret from you. A great affair is in the wind for me. I can't tell you more than that, but I can ask you to be particularly charming to a certain young man—"
"Who is it?"
"He holds my future in his hands. Besides, he's a man of genius. I know what that is. He's got this sort of thing,"—and Thuillier made the gesture of a dentist pulling out a back tooth. "We must bind him to us, Flavie. But, above all, don't let him see his power. As for me, I shall just give and take with him."
"Do you want me to be coquettish?"
"Not too much so, my angel," replied Thuillier, with a foppish air.
And he departed, not observing the stupor which overcame Flavie.
"That young man is a power," she said to herself. "Well, we shall see!"
For these reasons she dressed her hair with marabouts, put on her prettiest gown of gray and pink, which allowed her fine shoulders to be seen beneath a pelerine of black lace, and took care to keep Celeste in a little silk frock made with a yoke and a large plaited collarette, telling her to dress her hair plainly, a la Berthe.
CHAPTER VIII. AD MAJOREM THEODOSIS GLORIAM
At half-past four o'clock Theodose was at his post. He had put on his vacant, half-servile manner and soft voice, and he drew Thuillier at once into the garden.
"My friend," he said, "I don't doubt your triumph, but I feel the necessity of again warning you to be absolutely silent. If you are questioned about anything, especially about Celeste, make evasive answers which will keep your questioners in suspense. You must have learned how to do that in a government office."
"I understand!" said Thuillier. "But what certainty have you?"
"You'll see what a fine dessert I have prepared for you. But please be modest. There come the Minards; let me pipe to them. Bring them out here, and then disappear yourself."
After the first salutations, la Peyrade was careful to keep close to the mayor, and presently at an opportune moment he drew him aside to say:—
"Monsieur le maire, a man of your political importance doesn't come to bore himself in a house of this kind without an object. I don't want to fathom your motives—which, indeed, I have no right to do—and my part in this world is certainly not to mingle with earthly powers; but please pardon my apparent presumption, and deign to listen to a piece of advice which I shall venture to give you. If I do you a service to-day you are in a position to return it to me to-morrow; therefore, in case I should be so fortunate as to do you a good turn, I am really only obeying the law of self-interest. Our friend Thuillier is in despair at being a nobody; he has taken it into his head that he wants to become a personage in this arrondissement—"
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed Minard.
"Oh! nothing very exalted; he wants to be elected to the municipal council. Now, I know that Phellion, seeing the influence such a service would have on his family interests, intends to propose your poor friend as candidate. Well, perhaps you might think it wise, in your own interests, to be beforehand with him. Thuillier's nomination could only be favorable for you—I mean agreeable; and he'll fill his place in the council very well; there are some there who are not as strong as he. Besides, owing to his place to your support, he will see with your eyes; he already looks to you as one of the lights of the town."
"My dear fellow, I thank you very much," replied Minard. "You are doing me a service I cannot sufficiently acknowledge, and which proves to me—"
"That I don't like those Phellions," said la Peyrade, taking advantage of a slight hesitation on the part of the mayor, who feared to express an idea in which the lawyer might see contempt. "I hate people who make capital out of their honesty and coin money from fine sentiments."
"You know them well," said Minard; "they are sycophants. That man's whole life for the last ten years is explained by this bit of red ribbon," added the mayor, pointing to his own buttonhole.
"Take care!" said the lawyer, "his son is in love with Celeste, and he's fairly in the heart of the family."
"Yes, but my son has twelve thousand a year in his own right."
"Oh!" said Theodose, with a start, "Mademoiselle Brigitte was saying the other day that she wanted at least as much as that in Celeste's suitor. Moreover, six months hence you'll probably hear that Thuillier has a property worth forty thousand francs a year."
"The devil! well, I thought as much. Yes, certainly, he shall be made a member of the municipal council."
"In any case, don't say anything about me to him," said the advocate of the poor, who now hastened away to speak to Madame Phellion. "Well, my fair lady," he said, when he reached her, "have you succeeded?"
"I waited till four o'clock, and then that worthy and excellent man would not let me finish what I had to say. He is much to busy to accept such an office, and he sent a letter which Monsieur Phellion has read, saying that he, Doctor Bianchon, thanked him for his good intentions, and assured him that his own candidate was Monsieur Thuillier. He said that he should use all his influence in his favor, and begged my husband to do the same."
"And what did your excellent husband say?"
"'I have done my duty,' he said. 'I have not been false to my conscience, and now I am all for Thuillier.'"
"Well, then, the thing is settled," said la Peyrade. "Ignore my visit, and take all the credit of the idea to yourselves."
Then he went to Madame Colleville, composing himself in the attitude and manner of the deepest respect.
"Madame," he said, "have the goodness to send out to me here that kindly papa Colleville. A surprise is to be given to Monsieur Thuillier, and I want Monsieur Colleville to be in the secret."
While la Peyrade played the part of man of the world with Colleville, and allowed himself various witty sarcasms when explaining to him Thuillier's candidacy, telling him he ought to support it, if only to exhibit his incapacity, Flavie was listening in the salon to the following conversation, which bewildered her for the moment and made her ears ring.
"I should like to know what Monsieur Colleville and Monsieur de la Peyrade can be saying to each other to make them laugh like that," said Madame Thuillier, foolishly, looking out of the window.
"A lot of improper things, as men always do when they talk together," replied Mademoiselle Thuillier, who often attacked men with the sort of instinct natural to old maids.
"No, they are incapable of that," said Phellion, gravely. "Monsieur de la Peyrade is one of the most virtuous young men I have ever met. People know what I think of Felix; well, I put the two on the same line; indeed, I wish my son had a little more of Monsieur de la Peyrade's beautiful piety."
"You are right; he is a man of great merit, who is sure to succeed," said Minard. "As for me, my suffrages—for I really ought not to say protection—are his."
"He pays more for oil than for bread," said Dutocq. "I know that."
"His mother, if he has the happiness to still possess her, must be proud of him," remarked Madame Thuillier, sententiously.
"He is a real treasure for us," said Thuillier. "If you only knew how modest he is! He doesn't do himself justice."
"I can answer for one thing," added Dutocq; "no young man ever maintained a nobler attitude in poverty; he triumphed over it; but he suffered—it is easy to see that."
"Poor young man!" cried Zelie. "Such things make my heart ache!"
"Any one could safely trust both secrets and fortune to him," said Thuillier; "and in these days that is the finest thing that can be said of a man."
"It is Colleville who is making him laugh," cried Dutocq.
Just then Colleville and la Peyrade returned from the garden the very best friends in the world.
"Messieurs," said Brigitte, "the soup and the King must never be kept waiting; give your hand to the ladies."
Five minutes after this little pleasantry (issuing from the lodge of her father the porter) Brigitte had the satisfaction of seeing her table surrounded by the principal personages of this drama; the rest, with the one exception of the odious Cerizet, arrived later.
The portrait of the former maker of canvas money-bags would be incomplete if we omitted to give a description of one of her best dinners. The physiognomy of the bourgeois cook of 1840 is, moreover, one of those details essentially necessary to a history of manners and customs, and clever housewives may find some lessons in it. A woman doesn't make empty bags for twenty years without looking out for the means to fill a few of them. Now Brigitte had one peculiar characteristic. She united the economy to which she owed her fortune with a full understanding of necessary expenses. Her relative prodigality, when it concerned her brother or Celeste, was the antipodes of avarice. In fact, she often bemoaned herself that she couldn't be miserly. At her last dinner she had related how, after struggling ten minute and enduring martyrdom, she had ended by giving ten francs to a poor workwoman whom she knew, positively, had been without food for two days.
"Nature," she said naively, "is stronger than reason."
The soup was a rather pale bouillon; for, even on an occasion like this, the cook had been enjoined to make a great deal of bouillon out of the beef supplied. Then, as the said beef was to feed the family on the next day and the day after that, the less juice it expended in the bouillon, the more substantial were the subsequent dinners. The beef, little cooked, was always taken away at the following speech from Brigitte, uttered as soon as Thuillier put his knife into it:—
"I think it is rather tough; send it away, Thuillier, nobody will eat it; we have other things."
The soup was, in fact, flanked by four viands mounted on old hot-water chafing-dishes, with the plating worn off. At this particular dinner (afterwards called that of the candidacy) the first course consisted of a pair of ducks with olives, opposite to which was a large pie with forcemeat balls, while a dish of eels "a la tartare" corresponded in like manner with a fricandeau on chicory. The second course had for its central dish a most dignified goose stuffed with chestnuts, a salad of vegetables garnished with rounds of beetroot opposite to custards in cups, while lower down a dish of turnips "au sucre" faced a timbale of macaroni. This gala dinner of the concierge type cost, at the utmost, twenty francs, and the remains of the feast provided the household for a couple of days; nevertheless, Brigitte would say:—
"Pest! when one has to have company how the money goes! It is fearful!"
The table was lighted by two hideous candlesticks of plated silver with four branches each, in which shone eight of those thrifty wax-candles that go by the name of Aurora. The linen was dazzling in whiteness, and the silver, with beaded edges, was the fruit, evidently, of some purchase made during the Revolution by Thuillier's father. Thus the fare and the service were in keeping with the house, the dining-room, and the Thuilliers themselves, who could never, under any circumstances, get themselves above this style of living. The Minards, Collevilles, and la Peyrade exchanged now and then a smile which betrayed their mutually satirical but repressed thoughts. La Peyrade, seated beside Flavie, whispered in her ear:—
"You must admit that they ought to be taught how to live. But those Minards are no better in their way. What cupidity! they've come here solely after Celeste. Your daughter will be lost to you if you let them have her. These parvenus have all the vices of the great lords of other days without their elegance. Minard's son, who has twelve thousand francs a year of his own, could very well find a wife elsewhere, instead of pushing his speculating rake in here. What fun it would be to play upon those people as one would on a bass-viol or a clarionet!"
While the dishes of the second course were being removed, Minard, afraid that Phellion would precede him, said to Thuillier with a grave air:—
"My dear Thuillier, in accepting your dinner, I did so for the purpose of making an important communication, which does you so much honor that all here present ought to be made participants in it."
Thuillier turned pale.
"Have you obtained the cross for me?" he cried, on receiving a glance from Theodose, and wishing to prove that he was not without craft.
"You will doubtless receive it ere long," replied the mayor. "But the matter now relates to something better than that. The cross is a favor due to the good opinion of a minister, whereas the present question concerns an election due to the consent of your fellow citizens. In a word, a sufficiently large number of electors in your arrondissement have cast their eyes upon you, and wish to honor you with their confidence by making you the representative of this arrondissement in the municipal council of Paris; which, as everybody knows, is the Council-general of the Seine."
"Bravo!" cried Dutocq.
"Monsieur le maire has forestalled me," he said in an agitated voice, "but it is so flattering for our friend to be the object of eagerness on the part of all good citizens, and to obtain the public vote of high and low, that I cannot complain of being obliged to come second only; therefore, all honor to the initiatory authority!" (Here he bowed respectfully to Minard.) "Yes, Monsieur Thuillier, many electors think of giving you their votes in that portion of the arrondissement where I keep my humble penates; and you have the special advantage of being suggested to their minds by a distinguished man." (Sensation.) "By a man in whose person we desired to honor one of the most virtuous inhabitants of the arrondissement, who for twenty years, I may say, was the father of it. I allude to the late Monsieur Popinot, counsellor, during his lifetime, to the Royal court, and our delegate in the municipal council of Paris. But his nephew, of whom I speak, Doctor Bianchon, one of our glories, has, in view of his absorbing duties, declined the responsibility with which we sought to invest him. While thanking us for our compliment he has—take note of this—indicated for our suffrages the candidate of Monsieur le maire as being, in his opinion, capable, owing to the position he formerly occupied, of exercising the magisterial functions of the aedileship."
And Phellion sat down amid approving murmurs.
"Thuillier, you can count on me, your old friend," said Colleville.
At this moment the guests were sincerely touched by the sight presented of old Mademoiselle Brigitte and Madame Thuillier. Brigitte, pale as though she were fainting, was letting the slow tears run, unheeded, down her cheeks, tears of deepest joy; while Madame Thuillier sat, as if struck by lightning, with her eyes fixed. Suddenly the old maid darted into the kitchen, crying out to Josephine the cook:—
"Come into the cellar my girl, we must get out the wine behind the wood!"
"My friends," said Thuillier, in a shaking voice, "this is the finest moment of my life, finer than even the day of my election, should I consent to allow myself to be presented to the suffrages of my fellow-citizens" ("You must! you must!"); "for I feel myself much worn down by thirty years of public service, and, as you may well believe, a man of honor has need to consult his strength and his capacities before he takes upon himself the functions of the aedileship."
"I expected nothing less of you, Monsieur Thuillier," cried Phellion. "Pardon me; this is the first time in my life that I have ever interrupted a superior; but there are circumstances—"
"Accept! accept!" cried Zelie. "Bless my soul! what we want are men like you to govern us."
"Resign yourself, my chief!" cried Dutocq, and, "Long live the future municipal councillor! but we haven't anything to drink—"
"Well, the thing is settled," said Minard; "you are to be our candidate."
"You think too much of me," replied Thuillier.
"Come, come!" cried Colleville. "A man who has done thirty years in the galleys of the ministry of finance is a treasure to the town."
"You are much too modest," said the younger Minard; "your capacity is well known to us; it remains a tradition at the ministry of finance."
"As you all insist—" began Thuillier.
"The King will be pleased with our choice; I can assure you of that," said Minard, pompously.
"Gentlemen," said la Peyrade, "will you permit a recent dweller in the faubourg Saint-Jacques to make one little remark, which is not without importance?"
The consciousness that everybody had of the sterling merits of the advocate of the poor produced the deepest silence.
"The influence of Monsieur le maire of an adjoining arrondissement, which is immense in ours where he has left such excellent memories; that of Monsieur Phellion, the oracle—yes, let the truth be spoken," he exclaimed, noticing a gesture made by Phellion—"the oracle of his battalion; the influence, no less powerful, which Monsieur Colleville owes to the frank heartiness of his manner, and to his urbanity; that of Monsieur Dutocq, the clerk of the justice court, which will not be less efficacious, I am sure; and the poor efforts which I can offer in my humble sphere of activity,—are pledges of success, but they are not success itself. To obtain a rapid triumph we should pledge ourselves, now and here, to keep the deepest secrecy on the manifestation of sentiments which has just taken place. Otherwise, we should excite, without knowing or willing it, envy and all the other secondary passions, which would create for us later various obstacles to overcome. The political meaning of the new social organization, its very basis, its token, and the guarantee for its continuance, are in a certain sharing of the governing power with the middle classes, classes who are the true strength of modern societies, the centre of morality, of all good sentiments and intelligent work. But we cannot conceal from ourselves that the principle of election, extended now to almost every function, has brought the interests of ambition, and the passion for being something, excuse the word, into social depths where they ought never to have penetrated. Some see good in this; others see evil; it is not my place to judge between them in presence of minds before whose eminence I bow. I content myself by simply suggesting this question in order to show the dangers which the banner of our friend must meet. See for yourselves! the decease of our late honorable representative in the municipal council dates back scarcely one week, and already the arrondissement is being canvassed by inferior ambitions. Such men put themselves forward to be seen at any price. The writ of convocation will, probably, not take effect for a month to come. Between now and then, imagine the intrigues! I entreat you not to expose our friend Thuillier to the blows of his competitors; let us not deliver him over to public discussion, that modern harpy which is but the trumpet of envy and calumny, the pretext seized by malevolence to belittle all that is great, soil all that is immaculate and dishonor whatever is sacred. Let us, rather, do as the Third Party is now doing in the Chamber,—keep silence and vote!"
"He speaks well," said Phellion to his neighbor Dutocq.
"And how strong the statement is!"
Envy had turned Minard and his son green and yellow.
"That is well said and very true," remarked Minard.
"Unanimously adopted!" cried Colleville. "Messieurs, we are men of honor; it suffices to understand each other on this point."
"Whoso desires the end accepts the means," said Phellion, emphatically.
At this moment, Mademoiselle Thuillier reappeared, followed by her two servants; the key of the cellar was hanging from her belt, and three bottles of champagne, three of hermitage, and one bottle of malaga were placed upon the table. She herself was carrying, with almost respectful care, a smaller bottle, like a fairy Carabosse, which she placed before her. In the midst of the hilarity caused by this abundance of excellent things—a fruit of gratitude, which the poor spinster in the delirium of her joy poured out with a profusion which put to shame the sparing hospitality of her usual fortnightly dinners—numerous dessert dishes made their appearance: mounds of almonds, raisins, figs, and nuts (popularly known as the "four beggars"), pyramids of oranges, confections, crystallized fruits, brought from the hidden depths of her cupboards, which would never have figured on the table-cloth had it not been for the "candidacy."
"Celeste, they will bring you a bottle of brandy which my father obtained in 1802; make an orange-salad!" cried Brigitte to her sister-in-law. "Monsieur Phellion, open the champagne; that bottle is for you three. Monsieur Dutocq, take this one. Monsieur Colleville, you know how to pop corks!"
The two maids distributed champagne glasses, also claret glasses, and wine glasses. Josephine also brought three more bottles of Bordeaux.
"The year of the comet!" cried Thuillier, laughing, "Messieurs, you have turned my sister's head."
"And this evening you shall have punch and cakes," she said. "I have sent to the chemists for some tea. Heavens! if I had only known the affair concerned an election," she cried, looking at her sister-in-law, "I'd have served the turkey."
A general laugh welcomed this speech.
"We have a goose!" said Minard junior.
"The carts are unloading!" cried Madame Thuillier, as "marrons glaces" and "meringues" were placed upon the table.
Mademoiselle Thuillier's face was blazing. She was really superb to behold. Never did sisterly love assume such a frenzied expression.
"To those who know her, it is really touching," remarked Madame Colleville.
The glasses were filled. The guests all looked at one another, evidently expecting a toast, whereupon la Peyrade said:—
"Messieurs, let us drink to something sublime."
Everybody looked curious.
"To Mademoiselle Brigitte!"
They all rose, clinked glasses, and cried with one voice, "Mademoiselle Brigitte!" so much enthusiasm did the exhibition of a true feeling excite.
"Messieurs," said Phellion, reading from a paper written in pencil, "To work and its splendors, in the person of our former comrade, now become one of the mayors of Paris,—to Monsieur Minard and his wife!"
After five minutes' general conversation Thuillier rose and said:—
"Messieurs, To the King and the royal family! I add nothing; the toast says all."
"To the election of my brother!" said Mademoiselle Thuillier a moment later.
"Now I'll make you laugh," whispered la Peyrade in Flavie's ear.
And he rose.
"To Woman!" he said; "that enchanting sex to whom we owe our happiness,—not to speak of our mothers, our sisters, and our wives!"
This toast excited general hilarity, and Colleville, already somewhat gay, exclaimed:—
"Rascal! you have stolen my speech!"
The mayor then rose; profound silence reigned.
"Messieurs, our institutions! from which come the strength and grandeur of dynastic France!"
The bottles disappeared amid a chorus of admiration as to the marvellous goodness and delicacy of their contents.
Celeste Colleville here said timidly:—
"Mamma, will you permit me to give a toast?"
The good girl had noticed the dull, bewildered look of her godmother, neglected and forgotten,—she, the mistress of that house, wearing almost the expression of a dog that is doubtful which master to obey, looking from the face of her terrible sister-in-law to that of Thuillier, consulting each countenance, and oblivious of herself; but joy on the face of that poor helot, accustomed to be nothing, to repress her ideas, her feelings, had the effect of a pale wintry sun behind a mist; it barely lighted her faded, flabby flesh. The gauze cap trimmed with dingy flowers, the hair ill-dressed, the gloomy brown gown, with no ornament but a thick gold chain—all, combined with the expression of her countenance, stimulated the affection of the young Celeste, who—alone in the world—knew the value of that woman condemned to silence but aware of all about her, suffering from all yet consoling herself in God and in the girl who now was watching her.
"Yes, let the dear child give us her little toast," said la Peyrade to Madame Colleville.
"Go on, my daughter," cried Colleville; "here's the hermitage still to be drunk—and it's hoary with age," he added.
"To my kind godmother!" said the girl, lowering her glass respectfully before Madame Thuillier, and holding it towards her.
The poor woman, startled, looked through a veil of tears first at her husband, and then at Brigitte; but her position in the family was so well known, and the homage paid by innocence to weakness had something so beautiful about it, that the emotion was general; the men all rose and bowed to Madame Thuillier.
"Ah! Celeste, I would I had a kingdom to lay at your feet," murmured Felix Phellion.
The worthy Phellion wiped away a tear. Dutocq himself was moved.
"Oh! the charming child!" cried Mademoiselle Thuillier, rising, and going round to kiss her sister-in-law.
"My turn now!" said Colleville, posing like an athlete. "Now listen: To friendship! Empty your glasses; refill your glasses. Good! To the fine arts,—the flower of social life! Empty your glasses; refill your glasses. To another such festival on the day after election!"
"What is that little bottle you have there?" said Dutocq to Mademoiselle Thuillier.
"That," she said, "is one of my three bottles of Madame Amphoux' liqueur; the second is for the day of Celeste's marriage; the third for the day on which her first child is baptized."
"My sister is losing her head," remarked Thuillier to Colleville.
The dinner ended with a toast, offered by Thuillier, but suggested to him by Theodose at the moment when the malaga sparkled in the little glasses like so many rubies.
"Colleville, messieurs, has drunk to friendship. I now drink, in this most generous wine, To my friends!"
An hurrah, full of heartiness, greeted that fine sentiment, but Dutocq remarked aside to Theodose:—
"It is a shame to pour such wine down the throats of such people."
"Ah! if we could only make such wine as that!" cried Zelie, making her glass ring by the way in which she sucked down the Spanish liquid. "What fortunes we could get!"
Zelie had now reached her highest point of incandescence, and was really alarming.
"Yes," replied Minard, "but ours is made."
"Don't you think, sister," said Brigitte to Madame Thuillier, "that we had better take coffee in the salon?"
Madame Thuillier obediently assumed the air of mistress of the house, and rose.
"Ah! you are a great wizard," said Flavie Colleville, accepting la Peyrade's arm to return to the salon.
"And yet I care only to bewitch you," he answered. "I think you more enchanting than ever this evening."
"Thuillier," she said, to evade the subject, "Thuillier made to think himself a political character! oh! oh!"
"But, my dear Flavie, half the absurdities of life are the result of such conspiracies; and men are not alone in these deceptions. In how many families one sees the husband, children, and friends persuading a silly mother that she is a woman of sense, or an old woman of fifty that she is young and beautiful. Hence, inconceivable contrarieties for those who go about the world with their eyes shut. One man owes his ill-savored conceit to the flattery of a mistress; another owes his versifying vanity to those who are paid to call him a great poet. Every family has its great man; and the result is, as we see it in the Chamber, general obscurity of the lights of France. Well, men of real mind are laughing to themselves about it, that's all. You are the mind and the beauty of this little circle of the petty bourgeoisie; it is this superiority which led me in the first instance to worship you. I have since longed to drag you out of it; for I love you sincerely—more in friendship than in love; though a great deal of love is gliding into it," he added, pressing her to his heart under cover of the recess of a window to which he had taken her.
"Madame Phellion will play the piano," cried Colleville. "We must all dance to-night—bottles and Brigitte's francs and all the little girls! I'll go and fetch my clarionet."
He gave his empty coffee-cup to his wife, smiling to see her so friendly with la Peyrade.
"What have you said and done to my husband?" asked Flavie, when Colleville had left them.
"Must I tell you all our secrets?"
"Ah! you don't love me," she replied, looking at him with the coquettish slyness of a woman who is not quite decided in her mind.
"Well, since you tell me yours," he said, letting himself go to the lively impulse of Provencal gaiety, always so charming and apparently so natural, "I will not conceal from you an anxiety in my heart."
He took her back to the same window and said, smiling:—
"Colleville, poor man, has seen in me the artist repressed by all these bourgeois; silent before them because I feel misjudged, misunderstood, and repelled by them. He has felt the heat of the sacred fire that consumes me. Yes I am," he continued, in a tone of conviction, "an artist in words after the manner of Berryer; I could make juries weep, by weeping myself, for I'm as nervous as a woman. Your husband, who detests the bourgeoisie, began to tease me about them. At first we laughed; then, in becoming serious, he found out that I was as strong as he. I told him of the plan concocted to make something of Thuillier, and I showed him all the good he could get himself out of a political puppet. 'If it were only,' I said to him, 'to make yourself Monsieur de Colleville, and to put your charming wife where I should like to see her, as the wife of a receiver-general, or deputy. To make yourself all that you and she ought to be, you have only to go and live a few years in the Upper or Lower Alps, in some hole of a town where everybody will like you, and your wife will seduce everybody; and this,' I added, 'you cannot fail to obtain, especially if you give your dear Celeste to some man who can influence the Chamber.' Good reasons, stated in jest, have the merit of penetrating deeper into some minds than if they were given soberly. So Colleville and I became the best friends in the world. Didn't you hear him say to me at table, 'Rascal! you have stolen my speech'? To-night we shall be theeing and thouing each other. I intend to have a choice little supper-party soon, where artists, tied to the proprieties at home, always compromise themselves. I'll invite him, and that will make us as solidly good friends as he is with Thuillier. There, my dear adorned one, is what a profound sentiment gives a man the courage to produce. Colleville must adopt me; so that I may visit your house by his invitation. But what couldn't you make me do? lick lepers, swallow live toads, seduce Brigitte—yes, if you say so, I'll impale my own heart on that great picket-rail to please you."
"You frightened me this morning," she said.
"But this evening you are reassured. Yes," he added, "no harm will ever happen to you through me."
"You are, I must acknowledge, a most extraordinary man."
"Why, no! the smallest as well as the greatest of my efforts are merely the reflections of the flame which you have kindled. I intend to be your son-in-law that we may never part. My wife, heavens! what could she be to me but a machine for child-bearing? whereas the divinity, the sublime being will be—you," he whispered in her ear.
"You are Satan!" she said, in a sort of terror.
"No, I am something of a poet, like all the men of my region. Come, be my Josephine! I'll go and see you to-morrow. I have the most ardent desire to see where you live and how you live, the furniture you use, the color of your stuffs, the arrangement of all things about you. I long to see the pearl in its shell."
He slipped away cleverly after these words, without waiting for an answer.
Flavie, to whom in all her life love had never taken the language of romance, sat still, but happy, her heart palpitating, and saying to herself that it was very difficult to escape such influence. For the first time Theodose had appeared in a pair of new trousers, with gray silk stockings and pumps, a waistcoat of black silk, and a cravat of black satin on the knot of which shone a plain gold pin selected with taste. He wore also a new coat in the last fashion, and yellow gloves, relieved by white shirt-cuffs; he was the only man who had manners, or deportment in that salon, which was now filling up for the evening.
Madame Pron, nee Barniol, arrived with two school-girls, aged seventeen, confided to her maternal care by families residing in Martinique. Monsieur Pron, professor of rhetoric in a college presided over by priests, belonged to the Phellion class; but, instead of expanding on the surface in phrases and demonstrations, and posing as an example, he was dry and sententious. Monsieur and Madame Pron, the flowers of the Phellion salon, received every Monday. Though a professor, the little man danced. He enjoyed great influence in the quarter enclosed by the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, the Luxembourg, and the rue de Sevres. Therefore, as soon as Phellion saw his friend, he took him by the arm into a corner to inform him of the Thuillier candidacy. After ten minutes' consultation they both went to find Thuillier, and the recess of a window, opposite to that where Flavie still sat absorbed in her reflections, no doubt, heard a "trio" worthy, in its way, of that of the Swiss in "Guillaume Tell."
"Do you see," said Theodose, returning to Flavie, "the pure and honest Phellion intriguing over there? Give a personal reason to a virtuous man and he'll paddle in the slimiest puddle; he is hooking that little Pron, and Pron is taking it all in, solely to get your little Celeste for Felix Phellion. Separate them, and in ten minutes they'll get together again, and that young Minard will be growling round them like an angry bulldog."
Felix, still under the strong emotion imparted to him by Celeste's generous action and the cry that came from the girl's heart, though no one but Madame Thuillier still thought of it, became inspired by one of those ingenuous artfulnesses which are the honest charlatanism of true love; but he was not to the manner born of it, and mathematics, moreover, made him somewhat absent-minded. He stationed himself near Madame Thuillier, imagining that Madame Thuillier would attract Celeste to her side. This astute calculation succeeded all the better because young Minard, who saw in Celeste nothing more than a "dot," had no such sudden inspiration, and was drinking his coffee and talking politics with Laudigeois, Monsieur Barniol, and Dutocq by order of his father, who was thinking and planning for the general election of the legislature in 1842.
"Who wouldn't love Celeste?" said Felix to Madame Thuillier.
"Little darling, no one in the world loves me as she does," replied the poor slave, with difficulty restraining her tears.
"Ah! madame, we both love you," said the candid professor, sincerely.
"What are you saying to each other?" asked Celeste, coming up.
"My child," said the pious woman, drawing her god-daughter down to her and kissing her on the forehead. "He said that you both loved me."
"Do not be angry with my presumption, mademoiselle. Let me do all I can to prove it," murmured Felix. "Ah! I cannot help it, I was made this way; injustice revolts me to the soul! Yes, the Saviour of men was right to promise the future to the meek heart, to the slain lamb! A man who did not love you, Celeste, must have adored you after that sublime impulse of yours at table. Ah, yes! innocence alone can console the martyr. You are a kind young girl; you will be one of those wives who make the glory and the happiness of a family. Happy be he whom you will choose!"
"Godmamma, with what eyes do you think Monsieur Felix sees me?"
"He appreciates you, my little angel; I shall pray to God for both of you."
"If you knew how happy I am that my father can do a service to Monsieur Thuillier, and how I wish I could be useful to your brother—"
"In short," said Celeste, laughing, "you love us all."
"Well, yes," replied Felix.
True love wraps itself in the mysteries of reserve, even in its expression; it proves itself by itself; it does not feel the necessity, as a false love does, of lighting a conflagration. By an observer (if such a being could have glided into the Thuillier salon) a book might have been made in comparing the two scenes of love-making, and in watching the enormous preparations of Theodose and the simplicity of Felix: one was nature, the other was society,—the true and the false embodied. Noticing her daughter glowing with happiness, exhaling her soul through the pores of her face, and beautiful with the beauty of a young girl gathering the first roses of an indirect declaration, Flavie had an impulse of jealousy in her heart. She came across to Celeste and said in her ear:—
"You are not behaving well, my daughter; everybody is observing you; you are compromising yourself by talking so long to Monsieur Felix without knowing whether we approve of it."
"But, mamma, my godmother is here."
"Ah! pardon me, dear friend," said Madame Colleville; "I did not notice you."
"You do as others do," said the poor nonentity.
That reply stung Madame Colleville, who regarded it as a barbed arrow. She cast a haughty glance at Felix and said to Celeste, "Sit there, my daughter," seating herself at the same time beside Madame Thuillier and pointing to a chair on the other side of her.
"I will work myself to death," said Felix to Madame Thuillier. "I'll be a member of the Academy of Sciences; I'll make some great discovery, and win her hand by force of fame."
"Ah!" thought the poor woman to herself, "I ought to have had a gentle, peaceful, learned man like that. I might have slowly developed in a life of quietness. It was not thy will, O God! but, I pray thee, unite and bless these children; they are made for one another."
And she sat there, pensive, listening to the racket made by her sister-in-law—a ten-horse power at work—who now, lending a hand to her two servants, cleared the table, taking everything out of the dining-room to accommodate the dancers, vociferating, like the captain of a frigate on his quarter-deck when taking his ship into action: "Have you plenty of raspberry syrup?" "Run out and buy some more orgeat!" "There's not enough glasses. Where's the 'eau rougie'? Take those six bottles of 'vin ordinaire' and make more. Mind that Coffinet, the porter, doesn't get any." "Caroline, my girl, you are to wait at the sideboard; you'll have tongue and ham to slice in case they dance till morning. But mind, no waste! Keep an eye on everything. Pass me the broom; put more oil in those lamps; don't make blunders. Arrange the remains of the dessert so as to make a show on the sideboard; ask my sister to come and help us. I'm sure I don't know what she's thinking about, that dawdle! Heavens, how slow she is! Here, take away these chairs, they'll want all the room they can get."
The salon was full of Barniols, Collevilles, Phellions, Laudigeois, and many others whom the announcement of a dance at the Thuilliers', spread about in the Luxembourg between two and four in the afternoon, the hour at which the bourgeoisie takes its walk, had drawn thither.
"Are you ready, Brigitte?" said Colleville, bolting into the dining-room; "it is nine o'clock, and they are packed as close as herrings in the salon. Cardot, his wife and son and daughter and future son-in-law have just come, accompanied by that young Vinet; the whole faubourg Saint Antoine is debouching. Can't we move the piano in here?"
Then he gave the signal, by tuning his clarionet, the joyous sounds of which were greeted with huzzas from the salon.
It is useless to describe a ball of this kind. The toilets, faces, and conversations were all in keeping with one fact which will surely suffice even the dullest imagination; they passed round, on tarnished and discolored trays, common tumblers filled with wine, "eau rougie," and "eau sucree." The trays on which were glasses of orgeat and glasses of syrup and water appeared only at long intervals. There were five card-tables and twenty-five players, and eighteen dancers of both sexes. At one o'clock in the morning, all present—Madame Thuillier, Mademoiselle Brigitte, Madame Phellion, even Phellion himself—were dragged into the vivacities of a country-dance, vulgarly called "La Boulangere," in which Dutocq figured with a veil over his head, after the manner of the Kabyl. The servants who were waiting to escort their masters home, and those of the household, were audience to this performance; and after the interminable dance had lasted one whole hour it was proposed to carry Brigitte in triumph when she gave the announcement that supper was served. This circumstance made her see the necessity of hiding a dozen bottles of old burgundy. In short, the company had amused themselves so well, the matrons as well as the young girls, that Thuillier found occasion to say:—
"Well, well, this morning we little thought we should have such a fete to-night."
"There's never more pleasure," said the notary Cardot, "than in just such improvised balls. Don't talk to me of parties where everybody stands on ceremony."
This opinion, we may remark, is a standing axiom among the bourgeoisie.
"Well, for my part," said Madame Minard, "I prefer the dignified old ways."
"We didn't mean that for you, madame; your salon is the chosen haunt of pleasure," said Dutocq.
When "La Boulangere" came to an end, Theodose pulled Dutocq from the sideboard where he was preparing to eat a slice of tongue, and said to him:—
"Let us go; we must be at Cerizet's very early in the morning; we ought both of us to think over that affair; it is not so easy to manage as Cerizet seems to imagine."
"Why not?" asked Dutocq, bringing his slice of tongue to eat in the salon.
"Don't you know the law?"
"I know enough of it to be aware of the dangers of the affair. If that notary wants the house and we filch it from him, there are means by which he can recover it; he can put himself into the skin of a registered creditor. By the present legal system relating to mortgages, when a house is sold at the request of creditors, if the price obtained for it at auction is not enough to pay all debts, the owners have the right to bid it in and hold it for a higher sum; now the notary, seeing himself caught, may back out of the sale in that way."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "it needs attention."
"Very good," replied Dutocq, "we'll go and see Cerizet."
These words, "go and see Cerizet," were overheard by Minard, who was following the two associates; but they offered no meaning to his mind. The two men were so outside of his own course and projects that he heard them without listening to them.
"This has been one of the finest days in our lives," said Brigitte to her brother, when she found herself alone with him in the deserted salon, at half-past two in the morning. "What a distinction! to be thus selected by your fellow-citizens!"
"Don't be mistaken about it, Brigitte; we owe it all, my child, to one man."
"To our friend, la Peyrade."
CHAPTER IX. THE BANKER OF THE POOR
It was not on the next day, Monday, but on the following day, Tuesday, that Dutocq and Theodose went to see Cerizet, the former having called la Peyrade's attention to the fact that Cerizet always absented himself on Sundays and Mondays, taking advantage of the total absence of clients on those days, which are devoted by the populace to debauch. The house toward which they directed their steps is one of the striking features in the faubourg Saint-Jacques, and it is quite as important to study it here as it was to study those of Phellion and Thuillier. It is not known (true, no commission has yet been appointed to examine this phenomenon), no one knows why certain quarters become degraded and vulgarized, morally as well as materially; why, for instance, the ancient residence of the court and the church, the Luxembourg and the Latin quarter, have become what they are to-day, in spite of the presence of the finest palaces in the world, in spite of the bold cupola of Sainte-Genevieve, that of Mansard on the Val-de-Grace, and the charms of the Jardin des Plantes. One asks one's self why the elegance of life has left that region; why the Vauquer houses, the Phellion and the Thuillier houses now swarm with tenants and boarders, on the site of so many noble and religious buildings, and why such mud and dirty trades and poverty should have fastened on a hilly piece of ground, instead of spreading out upon the flat land beyond the confines of the ancient city.
The angel whose beneficence once hovered above this quarter being dead, usury, on the lowest scale, rushed in and took his place. To the old judge, Popinot, succeeded Cerizet; and strange to say,—a fact which it is well to study,—the effect produced, socially speaking, was much the same. Popinot loaned money without interest, and was willing to lose; Cerizet lost nothing, and compelled the poor to work hard and stay virtuous. The poor adored Popinot, but they did not hate Cerizet. Here, in this region, revolves the lowest wheel of Parisian financiering. At the top, Nucingen & Co., the Kellers, du Tillet, and the Mongenods; a little lower down, the Palmas, Gigonnets, and Gobsecks; lower still, the Samonons, Chaboisseaus, and Barbets; and lastly (after the pawn-shops) comes this king of usury, who spreads his nets at the corners of the streets to entangle all miseries and miss none,—Cerizet, "money lender by the little week."
The frogged frock-coat will have prepared you for the den in which this convicted stock-broker carried on his present business.
The house was humid with saltpetre; the walls, sweating moisture, were enamelled all over with large slabs of mould. Standing at the corner of the rue des Postes and rue des Poules, it presented first a ground-floor, occupied partly by a shop for the sale of the commonest kind of wine, painted a coarse bright red, decorated with curtains of red calico, furnished with a leaden counter, and guarded by formidable iron bars. Above the gate of an odious alley hung a frightful lantern, on which were the words "Night lodgings here." The outer walls were covered with iron crossbars, showing, apparently, the insecurity of the building, which was owned by the wine-merchant, who also inhabited the entresol. The widow Poiret (nee Michonneau) kept furnished lodgings on the first, second, and third floors, consisting of single rooms for workmen and for the poorest class of students.
Cerizet occupied one room on the ground-floor and another in the entresol, to which he mounted by an interior staircase; this entresol looked out upon a horrible paved court, from which arose mephitic odors. Cerizet paid forty francs a month to the widow Poiret for his breakfast and dinner; he thus conciliated her by becoming her boarder; he also made himself acceptable to the wine-merchant by procuring him an immense sale of wine and liquors among his clients—profits realized before sunrise; the wine-shop beginning operations about three in the morning in summer, and five in winter.
The hour of the great Market, which so many of his clients, male and female, attended, was the determining cause of Cerizet's early hours. The Sieur Cadenet, the wine-merchant, in view of the custom which he owed to the usurer, had let him the two rooms for the low price of eighty francs a year, and had given him a lease for twelve years, which Cerizet alone had a right to break, without paying indemnity, at three months' notice. Cadenet always carried in a bottle of excellent wine for the dinner of this useful tenant; and when Cerizet was short of money he had only to say to his friend, "Cadenet, lend me a few hundred francs,"—loans which he faithfully repaid.
Cadenet, it was said, had proof of the widow Poiret having deposited in Cerizet's hands some two thousand francs for investment, which may explain the progress of the latter's affairs since the day when he first took up his abode in the quarter, supplied with a last note of a thousand francs and Dutocq's protection. Cadenet, prompted by a cupidity which success increased, had proposed, early in the year, to put twenty thousand francs into the hands of his friend Cerizet. But Cerizet had positively declined them, on the ground that he ran risks of a nature to become a possible cause of dispute with associates.
"I could only," he said to Cadenet, "take them at six per cent interest, and you can do better than that in your own business. We will go into partnership later, if you like, in some serious enterprise, some good opportunity which may require, say, fifty thousand francs. When you have got that sum to invest, let me know, and we'll talk about it."
Cerizet had only suggested the affair of the house to Theodose after making sure that among the three, Madame Poiret, Cadenet, and himself, it was impossible to raise the full sum of one hundred thousand francs.
The "lender by the little week" was thus in perfect safety in his den, where he could even, if necessity came, appeal to the law. On certain mornings there might be seen as many as sixty or eighty persons, men as often as women, either in the wine-shop, or the alley, or sitting on the staircase, for the distrustful Cerizet would only admit six persons at a time into his office. The first comers were first served, and each had to go by his number, which the wine-merchant, or his shop-boy, affixed to the hats of the man and the backs of the women. Sometimes the clients would sell to each other (as hackney-coachmen do on the cabstands), head numbers for tail numbers. On certain days, when the market business was pressing, a head number was often sold for a glass of brandy and a sou. The numbers, as they issued from Cerizet's office, called up the succeeding numbers; and if any disputes arose Cadenet put a stop to the fray at once my remarking:—
"If you get the police here you won't gain anything; he'll shut up shop."
HE was Cerizet's name. When, in the course of the day, some hapless woman, without an atom of food in her room, and seeing her children pale with hunger, would come to borrow ten or twenty sous, she would say to the wine-merchant anxiously:—
"Is he there?"
Cadenet, a short, stout man, dressed in blue, with outer sleeves of black stuff and a wine-merchant's apron, and always wearing a cap, seemed an angel to these mothers when he replied to them:—
"He told me that you were an honest woman and I might give you forty sous. You know what you must do about it—"
And, strange to say, he was blessed by these poor people, even as they had lately blessed Popinot.
But Cerizet was cursed on Sunday mornings when accounts were settled; and they cursed him even more on Saturdays, when it was necessary to work in order to repay the sum borrowed with interest. But, after all, he was Providence, he was God from Tuesday to Friday of every week.
The room which he made his office, formerly the kitchen of the next floor, was bare; the beams of the ceiling had been whitewashed, but still bore marks of smoke. The walls, along which he had put benches, and the stone floor, retained and gave out dampness. The fireplace, where the crane remained, was partly filled by an iron stove in which Cerizet burned sea-coal when the weather was severe. A platform about half a foot high and eight feet square extended from the edge of the fireplace; on it was fastened a common table and an armchair with a round cushion covered with green leather. Behind him, Cerizet had sheathed the walls with planks; also protecting himself with a little wooden screen, painted white, from the draught between the window and door; but this screen, made of two leaves, was so placed that the warmth from the stove reached him. The window had enormous inside shutters of cast-iron, held, when closed, by a bar. The door commanded respect by an armor of the same character.
At the farther end of this room, in a corner, was a spiral-staircase, coming, evidently, from some pulled-down shop, and bought in the rue Chapon by Cadenet, who had fitted it through the ceiling into the room in the entresol occupied by Cerizet. In order to prevent all communication with the upper floors, Cerizet had exacted that the door of that room which opened on the common landing should be walled up. The place had thus become a fortress. The bedroom above had a cheap carpet bought for twenty francs, an iron bedstead, a bureau, three chairs, and an iron safe, made by a good workman, which Cerizet had bought at a bargain. He shaved before a glass on the chimney-piece; he owned two pairs of cotton sheets and six cotton shirts; the rest of his visible wardrobe was of the same character. Cadenet had once seen Cerizet dressed like a dandy of the period; he must, therefore, have kept hidden, in some drawer of his bureau, a complete disguise with which he could go to the opera, see the world, and not be recognized, for, had it not been that Cadenet heard his voice, he would certainly have asked him who he was.
What pleased the clients of this man most was his joviality and his repartees; he talked their language. Cadenet, his two shop-men, and Cerizet, living in the midst of dreadful misery, behaved with the calmness of undertakers in presence of afflicted heirs, of old sergeants of the Guard among heaps of dead. They no more shuddered on hearing cries of hunger and despair than surgeons shudder at the cries of their patients in hospital; they said, as the soldiers and the dressers said, the perfunctory words, "Have patience! a little courage! What's the good of grieving? Suppose you kill yourself, what then? One gets accustomed to everything; be reasonable!"
Though Cerizet took the precaution to hide the money necessary for his morning operations in the hollow seat of the chair in which he sat, taking out no more than a hundred francs at a time, which he put in the pockets of his trousers, never dipping into the funds of the chair except between the entrance of two batches of clients (keeping his door locked and not opening it till all was safely stowed in his pockets), he had really nothing to fear from the various despairs which found their way from all sides to this rendezvous of misery. Certainly, there are many different ways of being honest and virtuous; and the "Monograph of Virtue" has no other basis than this social axiom.[*] A man is false to his conscience; he fails, apparently, in delicacy; he forfeits that bloom of honor which, though lost, does not, as yet, mean general disrepute; at last, however, he fails decidedly in honor; if he falls into the hands of the correctional police, he is not, as yet, guilty of crime before the court of assizes; but after he is branded with infamy by the verdict of a jury he may still be honored at the galleys for the species of honor and integrity practised by criminals among themselves, which consists in not betraying each other, in sharing booty loyally, and in running all dangers. Well, this last form of honor—which is perhaps a calculation, a necessity, the practice of which offers certain opportunities for grandeur to the guilty man and the possibility of a return to good—reigned absolutely between Cerizet and his clients. Never did Cerizet make an error, nor his poor people either; neither side ever denied what was due, either capital or interests. Many a time Cerizet, who was born among the people, corrected from one week to another some accidental error, to the benefit of a poor man who had never discovered it. He was called a Jew, but an honest one, and his word in that city of sorrows was sacred. A woman died, causing a loss to him of thirty francs:
[*] A book on which the author has been at work since 1833, the year in which it was first announced.—Author's note.
"See my profits! there they go!" he said to his assemblage, "and you howl upon me! You know I'll never trouble the brats; in fact, Cadenet has already taken them bread and heel-taps."
After that it was said of him in both faubourgs:—
"He is not a bad fellow!"
The "loan by the little week," as interpreted by Cerizet, is not, considering all things, so cruel a thing as the pawn-shop. Cerizet loaned ten francs Tuesday on condition of receiving twelve francs Sunday morning. In five weeks he doubled his capital; but he had to make many compromises. His kindness consisted in accepting, from time to time, eleven francs and fifty centimes; sometimes the whole interest was still owing. When he gave fifty francs for sixty to a fruit-stall man, or a hundred francs for one hundred and twenty to a seller of peat-fuel, he ran great risks.
On reaching the rue des Poules through the rue des Postes, Theodose and Dutocq saw a great assemblage of men and women, and by the light which the wine-merchant's little oil-lamps cast upon these groups, they were horrified at beholding that mass of red, seamed, haggard faces; solemn with suffering, withered, distorted, swollen with wine, pallid from liquor; some threatening, others resigned, some sarcastic or jeering, others besotted; all rising from the midst of those terrible rags, which no designer can surpass in his most extravagant caricatures.
"I shall be recognized," said Theodose, pulling Dutocq away; "we have done a foolish thing to come here at this hour and take him in the midst of his business."
"All the more that Claparon may be sleeping in his lair, the interior of which we know nothing about. Yes, there are dangers for you, but none for me; I shall be thought to have business with my copying-clerk, and I'll go and tell him to come and dine with us; this is court day, so we can't have him to breakfast. I'll tell him to meet us at the 'Chaumiere' in one of the garden dining-rooms."
"Bad; anybody could listen to us there without being seen," said la Peyrade. "I prefer the 'Petit Rocher de Cancale'; we can go into a private room and speak low."
"But suppose you are seen with Cerizet?"
"Well, then, let's go to the 'Cheval Rouge,' quai de la Tournelle."
"That's best; seven o'clock; nobody will be there then."
Dutocq advanced alone into the midst of that congress of beggars, and he heard his own name repeated from mouth to mouth, for he could hardly fail to encounter among them some jail-bird familiar with the judge's office, just as Theodose was certain to have met a client.
In these quarters the justice-of-peace is the supreme authority; all legal contests stop short at his office, especially since the law was passed giving to those judges sovereign power in all cases of litigation involving not over one hundred and forty francs. A way was made for the judge's clerk, who was not less feared than the judge himself. He saw women seated on the staircase; a horrible display of pallor and suffering of many kinds. Dutocq was almost asphyxiated when he opened the door of the room in which already sixty persons had left their odors.
"Your number? your number?" cried several voices.
"Hold your jaw!" cried a gruff voice from the street, "that's the pen of the judge."
Profound silence followed. Dutocq found his copying clerk clothed in a jacket of yellow leather like that of the gloves of the gendarmerie, beneath which he wore an ignoble waistcoat of knitted wool. The reader must imagine the man's diseased head issuing from this species of scabbard and covered with a miserable Madras handkerchief, which, leaving to view the forehead and neck, gave to that head, by the gleam of a tallow candle of twelve to the pound, its naturally hideous and threatening character.
"It can't be done that way, papa Lantimeche," Cerizet was saying to a tall old man, seeming to be about seventy years of age, who was standing before him with a red woollen cap in his hand, exhibiting a bald head, and a breast covered with white hairs visible through his miserable linen jacket. "Tell me exactly what you want to undertake. One hundred francs, even on condition of getting back one hundred and twenty, can't be let loose that way, like a dog in a church—"
The five other applicants, among whom were two women, both with infants, one knitting, the other suckling her child, burst out laughing.
When Cerizet saw Dutocq, he rose respectfully and went rather hastily to meet him, adding to his client:—
"Take time to reflect; for, don't you see? it makes me doubtful to have such a sum as that, one hundred francs! asked for by an old journeyman locksmith!"
"But I tell you it concerns an invention," cried the old workman.
"An invention and one hundred francs!" said Dutocq. "You don't know the laws; you must take out a patent, and that costs two thousand francs, and you want influence."
"All that is true," said Cerizet, who, however, reckoned a good deal on such chances. "Come to-morrow morning, papa Lantimeche, at six o'clock, and we'll talk it over; you can't talk inventions in public."
Cerizet then turned to Dutocq whose first words were:—
"If the thing turns out well, half profits!"
"Why did you get up at this time in the morning to come here and say that to me?" demanded the distrustful Cerizet, already displeased with the mention of "half profits." "You could have seen me as usual at the office."
And he looked askance at Dutocq; the latter, while telling him his errand and speaking of Claparon and the necessity of pushing forward in the Theodose affair, seemed confused.
"All the same you could have seen me this morning at the office," repeated Cerizet, conducting his visitor to the door.
"There's a man," thought he, as he returned to his seat, "who seems to me to have breathed on his lantern so that I may not see clear. Well, well, I'll give up that place of copying clerk. Ha! your turn, little mother!" he cried; "you invent children! That's amusing enough, though the trick is well known."
It is all the more useless to relate the conversation which took place between the three confederates at the "Cheval Rouge," because the arrangements there concluded were the basis of certain confidences made, as we shall see, by Theodose to Mademoiselle Thuillier; but it is necessary to remark that the cleverness displayed by la Peyrade seemed almost alarming to Cerizet and Dutocq. After this conference, the banker of the poor, finding himself in company with such powerful players, had it in mind to make sure of his own stake at the first chance. To win the game at any price over the heads of the ablest gamblers, by cheating if necessary, is the inspiration of a special sort of vanity peculiar to friends of the green cloth. Hence came the terrible blow which la Peyrade was about to receive.
He knew his two associates well; and therefore, in spite of the perpetual activity of his intellectual forces, in spite of the perpetual watchfulness his personality of ten faces required, nothing fatigued him as much as the part he had to play with his two accomplices. Dutocq was a great knave, and Cerizet had once been a comic actor; they were both experts in humbug. A motionless face like Talleyrand's would have made then break at once with the Provencal, who was now in their clutches; it was necessary, therefore, that he should make a show of ease and confidence and of playing above board—the very height of art in such affairs. To delude the pit is an every-day triumph, but to deceive Mademoiselle Mars, Frederic Lemaitre, Potier, Talma, Monrose, is the acme of art.
This conference at the "Cheval Rouge" had therefore the result of giving to la Peyrade, who was fully as sagacious as Cerizet, a secret fear, which, during the latter period of this daring game, so fired his blood and heated his brain that there came moments when he fell into the morbid condition of the gambler, who follows with his eye the roll of the ball on which he has staked his last penny. The senses then have a lucidity in their action and the mind takes a range, which human knowledge has no means of measuring.
CHAPTER X. HOW BRIGITTE WAS WON
The day after this conference at the "Cheval Rouge," la Peyrade went to dine with the Thuilliers, and on the commonplace pretext of a visit to pay, Thuillier carried off his wife, leaving Theodose alone with Brigitte. Neither Thuillier, nor his sister, nor Theodose, were the dupes of this comedy; but the old beau of the Empire considered the manoeuvre a piece of diplomacy.
"Young man, do not take advantage of my sister's innocence; respect it," said Thuillier solemnly, as he departed.
"Mademoiselle," said Theodose, drawing his chair closer to the sofa where Brigitte sat knitting, "have you thought of inducing the business men of the arrondissement to support Thuillier's interests?"
"How can I?" she asked.
"Why! you are in close relations with Barbet and Metivier."
"Ah! you are right! Faith! you are no blunderer!" she said after a pause.
"When we love our friends, we serve them," he replied, sententiously.
To capture Brigitte would be like carrying the redoubt of the Moskowa, the culminating strategic point. But it was necessary to possess that old maid as the devil was supposed in the middle ages to possess men, and in a way to make any awakening impossible for her. For the last three days la Peyrade had been measuring himself for the task; he had carefully reconnoitred the ground to see all difficulty. Flattery, that almost infallible means in able hands, would certainly miscarry with a woman who for years had known she had no beauty. But a man of strong will finds nothing impregnable; the Lamarques could never have failed to take Capri. Therefore, nothing must be omitted from the memorable scene which was now to take place; all things about it had their own importance,—inflections of the voice, pauses, glances, lowered eyes.
"But," rejoined Brigitte, "you have already proved to us your affection."
"Your brother has told you—?"
"No, he merely told me that you had something to tell me."
"Yes, mademoiselle, I have; for you are the man of the family. In reflecting on this matter, I find many dangers for myself, such as a man only risks for his nearest and dearest. It involves a fortune; thirty to forty thousand francs a year, and not the slightest speculation—a piece of landed property. The hope of helping Thuillier to win such a fortune enticed me from the first. 'It fascinates me,' I said to him—for, unless a man is an absolute fool, he can't help asking himself: 'Why should he care to do us all this good?' So I told him frankly that in working for his interests, I flattered myself I was working for my own, as I'll explain to you later. If he wishes to be deputy, two things are absolutely necessary: to comply with the law as to property, and to win for his name some sort of public celebrity. If I myself push my devotion to the point of helping him to write a book on public financiering—or anything else, no matter what—which would give him that celebrity, I ought also to think of the other matter, his property—it would be absurd to expect you to give him this house—"
"For my brother? Why, I'd put it in his name to-morrow," cried Brigitte. "You don't know me."
"I don't know you thoroughly," said la Peyrade, "but I do know things about you which now make me regret that I did not tell you the whole affair from its origin; I mean from the moment when I conceived the plan to which Thuillier will owe his nomination. He will be hunted down by envy and jealousy, and the task of upholding him will be a hard one; we must, however, get the better of his rivals and take the wind out of their sails."
"But this affair," said Brigitte, "what are the difficulties?"
"Mademoiselle, the difficulties lie within my own conscience. Assuredly, I could not serve you in this matter without first consulting my confessor. From a worldly point of view—oh! the affair is perfectly legal, and I am—you'll understand me?—a barrister inscribed on the panel, that is, member of a bar controlled by the strictest rules. I am therefore incapable of proposing an enterprise which might give occasion for blame. In the first place, I myself don't make a penny by it."
Brigitte was on thorns; her face was flaming; she broke her wool, mended it, broke it again, and did not know which way to look.
"One can't get," she said, "in these days, forty thousand francs a year from landed property unless it is worth one million eight hundred thousand."
"Well, I will undertake that you shall see a piece of property and estimate yourself its probable revenue, which I can make Thuillier the owner of for fifty thousand francs down."
"Oh! if you can make us obtain that!" cried Brigitte, worked up to the highest excitement by the spur of her natural cupidity. "Go on, my dear Monsieur Theodose, and—"
She stopped short.
"You will, perhaps, have done yourself a service."
"Ah! if Thuillier has told you my secret, I must leave this house."
Brigitte looked up.
"Did he tell you that I love Celeste?"
"No, on my word of honor!" cried Brigitte, "but I myself was just about to speak of her."
"And offer her to me? Oh! may God forgive us! I can only win her of herself, her parents, by a free choice—No, no, all I ask of you is your good-will, your protection. Promise me, as Thuillier has, in return for my services your influence, your friendship; tell me that you will treat me as a son. If you will do that, I will abide by your decision in this matter; I can trust it; I need not speak to my confessor. For the last two years, ever since I have seen much of this family, to whom I would fain give my powers and devote my utmost energy—for, I shall succeed! surely I shall!—I have observed that your integrity, your honor is that of the olden time, your judgment righteous and inflexible. Also, you have a knowledge of business; and these qualities combined are precious helps to a man. With a mother-in-law, as I may say, of your powers, I should find my home life relieved of a crowd of cares and details as to property, which hinder a man's advance in a political career if he is forced to attend to them. I admired you deeply on Sunday evening. Ah! you were fine! How you did manage matters! In ten minutes that dining-room was cleared! And, without going outside of your own apartment, you had everything at hand for the refreshments, for the supper! 'There,' I said to myself, as I watched you, 'is a true "maitresse-femme"—a masterly woman!'"
Brigitte's nostrils dilated; she breathed in the words of the young lawyer. He gave her a side-long glance to enjoy his triumph; he had touched the right chord in her breast.
At this moment he was standing, but he now resumed his seat beside her, and said:—
"Now here is our affair, dear aunt—for you will be a sort of aunt—"
"Hush! you naughty fellow!" said Brigitte, "and go on."
"I'll tell you the matter roughly—and remark, if you please, that I compromise myself in telling it to you; for these secrets are entrusted to me as a lawyer. Therefore understand that you and I are both committing a crime, so to speak, of leze-confidence! A notary of Paris was in partnership with an architect; they bought land and built upon it; at the present moment, property has come down with a rush; they find themselves embarrassed—but all that doesn't concern us. Among the houses built by this illegal partnership—for notaries, you know, are sworn to have nothing to do with enterprises—is a very good one which, not being finished, must be sold at a great sacrifice; so great that they now ask only one hundred thousand francs for it, although the cost of the land and the building was at least four hundred thousand. As the whole interior is still unfinished, the value of what is still to do is easily appraised; it will probably not be more than fifty thousand francs. Now, owing to its excellent position, this house, when finished, will certainly bring in a rental, over and above the taxes, of forty thousand francs a year. It is built of freestone, the corners and copings of cut granite; the facade is covered with handsome carvings, on which they spent more than twenty thousand francs; the windows are plate glass with a new style of fastening called 'cremona.'"
"Well, where is the difficulty?"
"Just here: the notary wants to reserve to himself this bit of the cake he is forced to surrender; he is, under the name of a friend, the creditor who requests the sale of the property by the assignee of the bankruptcy. The case has not been brought into court; for legal proceedings cost so much money. The sale is to be made by voluntary agreement. Now, this notary has applied to one of my clients to lend him his name for this purchase. My client, a poor devil, says to me: 'There's a fortune to made out of that house by fooling the notary.'"
"And they do that sort of thing in business!" said Brigitte, quickly.
"If that were the only difficulty," continued Theodose, "it would be, as a friend of mine said to his pupil, who was complaining of the length of time it took to produce masterpieces in painting: 'My dear young fellow, if it were not so, our valets would be painting pictures.' But, mademoiselle, if we now get the better of this notary, who certainly deserves it, for he has compromised a number of private fortunes, yet, as he is a very shrewd man (though a notary), it might perhaps be very difficult to do it a second time, and here's the rub: When a piece of landed property is bought at a forced sale, if those who have lent money on that property see that is likely to be sold so low as not to cover the sum loaned upon it, they have the right, until the expiration of a certain time, to bid it in; that is, to offer more and keep the property in their own hands. If this trickster can't be hoodwinked as to the sale being a bona fide one until the time when his right to buy it expires, some other scheme must be resorted to. Now, is this business strictly legal? Am I justified in doing it for the benefit of a family I seek to enter? That is the question I have been revolving in my mind for the last three days."
Brigitte, we must acknowledge, hesitated, and Theodose then brought forward his last card:—
"Take the night to think of it," he said, "to-morrow we will talk it over."
"My young friend," said Brigitte, looking at the lawyer with an almost loving air, "the first thing to be done is to see the house. Where is it?"
"Near the Madeleine. That will be the heart of Paris in ten years. All that property has been desirable since 1819; the banker Du Tillet's fortune was derived from property about there. The famous failure of Maitre Roquin, which carried terror to all Paris, and did such harm to the confidence given to the notariat, was also caused by it; they went into heavy speculations on that land too soon; they should have waited until now."
"I remember about that," said Brigitte.
"The house might be finished by the end of the year," continued Theodose, "and the rentals could begin next spring."
"Could we go there to-morrow?"
"Dear aunt, I am at your orders."
"Ah ca!" she cried, "don't call me that before people. As to this affair," she continued, "I can't have any opinion until I have seen the house."
"It has six storeys; nine windows on the front; a fine courtyard, four shops, and it stands on a corner. Ah! that notary knows what he is about in wishing to hold on to such pieces of property! But let political events interfere, and down go the Funds! If I were you, I should sell out all that you and Madame Thuillier have on the Grand Livre and buy this fine piece of real estate for Thuillier, and I'd recover the fortune of that poor, pious creature by savings from its proceeds. Can the Funds go higher than they are to-day? One hundred and twenty-two! it is fabulous; I should make haste to sell."
Brigitte licked her lips; she perceived the means of keeping her own property intact, and of enriching her brother by this use of Madame Thuillier's fortune.
"My brother is right," she said to Theodose; "you certainly are a rare man; you'll get on in the world."
"And he'll walk before me," responded Theodose with a naivete that touched the old maid.
"You will live in the family," she said.
"There may be obstacles to that," he remarked. "Madame Thuillier is very queer at times; she doesn't like me."
"Ha! I'll settle that," cried Brigitte. "Do you attend to that affair and carry it through if it is feasible, and leave your interests in my hands."
"Thuillier, member of the municipal council, owner of an estate with a rental of forty thousand francs a year, with the cross of the Legion of honor and the author of a political work, grave, serious, important, will be deputy at the forthcoming general election. But, between ourselves, little aunt, one couldn't devote one's self so utterly except for a father-in-law."
"You are right."
"Though I have no fortune I shall have doubled yours; and if this affair goes through discreetly, others will turn up."
"Until I have seen the house," said Mademoiselle Thuillier again, "I can decide on nothing."
"Well then, send for a carriage to-morrow and let us go there. I will get a ticket early in the morning to view the premises."
"To-morrow, then, about mid-day," responded Brigitte, holding out her hand to Theodose that he might shake it, but instead of that he laid upon it the most respectful and the most tender kiss that Brigitte had ever in her life received.
"Adieu, my child," she said, as he reached the door.
She rang the bell hurriedly and when the servant came:—
"Josephine," she cried, "go at once to Madame Colleville, and ask her to come over and speak to me."
Fifteen minutes later Flavie entered the salon, where Brigitte was walking up and down, in a state of extreme agitation.
"My dear," she cried on seeing Flavie, "you can do me a great service, which concerns our dear Celeste. You know Tullia, don't you?—a danseuse at the opera; my brother was always dinning her into my ears at one time."
"Yes, I know her; but she is no longer a danseuse; she is Madame la Comtesse du Bruel. Her husband is peer of France!"
"Does she still like you?"
"We never see each other now."
"Well, I know that Chaffaroux, the rich contractor, is her uncle," said Brigitte. "He is old and wealthy. Go and see your former friend, and get her to give you a line of introduction to him, saying he would do her an eminent favor if he would give a piece of friendly advice to the bearer of the note, and then you and I will take it to him to-morrow about one o'clock. But tell Tullia she must request her uncle to keep secret about it. Go, my dear. Celeste, our dear child, will be a millionaire! I can't say more; but she'll have, from me, a husband who will put her on a pinnacle."
"Do you want me to tell you the first letters of his name?"
"T. P.,—Theodose de la Peyrade. You are right. That's a man who may, if supported by a woman like you, become a minister."
"It is God himself who has placed him in our house!" cried the old maid.
At this moment Monsieur and Madame Thuillier returned home.
Five days later, in the month of April, the ordinance which convoked the electors to appoint a member of the municipal council on the 20th of the same month was inserted in the "Moniteur," and placarded about Paris. For several weeks the ministry, called that of March 1st, had been in power. Brigitte was in a charming humor. She had been convinced of the truth of all la Peyrade's assertions. The house, visited from garret to cellar by old Chaffaroux, was admitted by him to be an admirable construction; poor Grindot, the architect, who was interested with the notary and Claparon in the affair, thought the old man was employed in the interests of the contractor; the old fellow himself thought he was acting in the interests of his niece, and he gave it as his opinion that thirty thousand francs would finish the house. Thus, in the course of one week la Peyrade became Brigitte's god; and she proved to him by the most naively nefarious arguments that fortune should be seized when it offered itself.
"Well, if there is any sin in the business," she said to him in the middle of the garden, "you can confess it."
"The devil!" cried Thuillier, "a man owes himself to his relatives, and you are one of us now."
"Then I decide to do it," replied la Peyrade, in a voice of emotion; "but on conditions that I must now distinctly state. I will not, in marrying Celeste, be accused of greed and mercenary motives. If you lay remorse upon me, at least you must consent that I shall remain as I am for the present. Do not settle upon Celeste, my old Thuillier, the future possession of the property I am about to obtain for you—"
"You are right."
"Don't rob yourself; and let my dear little aunt here act in the same way in relation to the marriage contract. Put the remainder of the capital in Madame Thuillier's name, on the Grand Livre, and she can do what she likes with it. We shall all live together as one family, and I'll undertake to make my own fortune, now that I am free from anxiety about the future."
"That suits me," said Thuillier; "that's the talk of an honest man."
"Let me kiss you on the forehead, my son," said the old maid; "but, inasmuch as Celeste cannot be allowed to go without a 'dot,' we shall give her sixty thousand francs."
"For her dress," said la Peyrade.
"We are all three persons of honor," cried Thuillier. "It is now settled, isn't it? You are to manage the purchase of the house; we are to write together, you and I, my political work; and you'll bestir yourself to get me the decoration?"
"You will have that as soon as you are made a municipal councillor on the 1st of May. Only, my good friend, I must beg you, and you, too, dear aunt, to keep the most profound secrecy about me in this affair; and do not listen to the calumnies which all the men I am about to trick will spread about me. I shall become, you'll see, a vagabond, a swindler, a dangerous man, a Jesuit, an ambitious fortune-hunter. Can you hear those accusations against me with composure?"
"Fear nothing," replied Brigitte.
CHAPTER XI. THE REIGN OF THEODOSE
From that day forth Thuillier became a dear, good friend. "My dear, good friend," was the name given to him by Theodose, with voice inflections of varieties of tenderness which astonished Flavie. But "little aunt," a name that flattered Brigitte deeply, was only given in family secrecy, and occasionally before Flavie. The activity of Theodose and Dutocq, Cerizet, Barbet, Metivier, Minard, Phellion, Colleville, and others of the Thuillier circle was extreme. Great and small, they all put their hands to the work. Cadenet procured thirty votes in his section. On the 30th of April Thuillier was proclaimed member of the Council-general of the department of the Seine by an imposing majority; in fact, he only needed sixty more votes to make his election unanimous. May 1st Thuillier joined the municipal body and went to the Tuileries to congratulate the King on his fete-day, and returned home radiant. He had gone where Minard went!
Ten days later a yellow poster announced the sale of the house, after due publication; the price named being seventy-five thousand francs; the final purchase to take place about the last of July. On this point Cerizet and Claparon had an agreement by which Cerizet pledged the sum of fifteen thousand francs (in words only, be it understood) to Claparon in case the latter could deceive the notary and keep him quiet until the time expired during which he might withdraw the property by bidding it in. Mademoiselle Thuillier, notified by Theodose, agreed entirely to this secret clause, understanding perfectly the necessity of paying the culprits guilty of the treachery. The money was to pass through la Peyrade's hands. Claparon met his accomplice, the notary, on the Place de l'Observatoire by midnight. This young man, the successor of Leopold Hannequin, was one of those who run after fortune instead of following it leisurely. He now saw another future before him, and he managed his present affairs in order to be free to take hold of it. In this midnight interview, he offered Claparon ten thousand francs to secure himself in this dirty business,—a sum which was only to be paid on receipt, through Claparon, of a counter-deed from the nominal purchaser of the property. The notary was aware that that sum was all-important to Claparon to extricate him from present difficulties, and he felt secure of him.
"Who but you, in all Paris, would give me such a fee for such an affair?" Claparon said to him, with a false show of naivete. "You can sleep in peace; my ostensible purchaser is one of those men of honor who are too stupid to have ideas of your kind; he is a retired government employee; give him the money to make the purchase and he'll sign the counter-deed at once."
When the notary had made Claparon clearly understand that he could not get more than the ten thousand francs from him, Cerizet offered the latter twelve thousand down, and asked Theodose for fifteen thousand, intending to keep the balance for himself. All these scenes between the four men were seasoned with the finest speeches about feelings, integrity, and the honor that men owed to one another in doing business. While these submarine performances were going on, apparently in the interests of Thuillier, to whom Theodose related them with the deepest manifestations of disgust at being implicated therein, the pair were meditating the great political work which "my dear good friend" was to publish. Thus the new municipal councillor naturally acquired a conviction that he could never do or be anything without the help of this man of genius; whose mind so amazed him, and whose ability was now so important to him, that every day he became more and more convinced of the necessity of marrying him to Celeste, and of taking the young couple to live with him. In fact, after May the 1st, Theodose had already dined four times a week with "my dear, good friend."
This was the period when Theodose reigned without a dissenting voice in the bosom of that household, and all the friends of the family approved of him—for the following reason: The Phellions, hearing his praises sung by Brigitte and Thuillier, feared to displease the two powers and chorussed their words, even when such perpetual laudation seemed to them exaggerated. The same may be said of the Minards. Moreover la Peyrade's behavior, as "friend of the family" was perfect. He disarmed distrust by the manner in which he effaced himself; he was there like a new piece of furniture; and he contrived to make both the Phellions and Minards believe that Brigitte and Thuillier had weighed him, and found him too light in the scales to be anything more in the family than a young man whose services were useful to them.
"He may think," said Thuillier one day to Minard, "that my sister will put him in her will; he doesn't know her."
This speech, inspired by Theodose himself, calmed the uneasiness of Minard "pere."
"He is devoted to us," said Brigitte to Madame Phellion; "but he certainly owes us a great deal of gratitude. We have given him his lodging rent-free, and he dines with us almost every day."
This speech of the old maid, also instigated by Theodose, went from ear to ear among the families who frequented the Thuillier salon, and dissipated all fears. The young man called attention to the remarks of Thuillier and his sister with the servility of a parasite; when he played whist he justified the blunders of his dear, good friend, and he kept upon his countenance a smile, fixed and benign, like that of Madame Thuillier, ready to bestow upon all the bourgeois sillinesses of the brother and sister.
He obtained, what he wanted above all, the contempt of his true antagonists; and he used it as a cloak to hide his real power. For four consecutive months his face wore a torpid expression, like that of a snake as it gulps and digests its prey. But at times he would rush into the garden with Colleville or Flavie, to laugh and lay off his mask, and rest himself; or get fresh strength by giving way before his future mother-in-law to fits of nervous passion which either terrified or deeply touched her.
"Don't you pity me?" he cried to her the evening before the preparatory sale of the house, when Thuillier was to make the purchase at seventy-five thousand francs. "Think of a man like me, forced to creep like a cat, to choke down every pointed word, to swallow my own gall, and submit to your rebuffs!"
"My friend! my child!" Flavie replied, undecided in mind how to take him.
These words are a thermometer which will show the temperature at which this clever manipulator maintained his intrigue with Flavie. He kept her floating between her heart and her moral sense, between religious sentiments and this mysterious passion.
During this time Felix Phellion was giving, with a devotion and constancy worthy of all praise, regular lessons to young Colleville. He spent much of his time upon these lessons, feeling that he was thus working for his future family. To acknowledge this service, he was invited, by advice of Theodose to Flavie, to dine at the Collevilles' every Thursday, where la Peyrade always met him. Flavie was usually making either a purse or slippers or a cigar-case for the happy young man, who would say, deprecatingly:—
"I am only too well rewarded, madame, by the happiness I feel in being useful to you."
"We are not rich, monsieur," replied Colleville, "but, God bless me! we are not ungrateful."
Old Phellion would rub his hands as he listened to his son's account of these evenings, beholding his dear and noble Felix already wedded to Celeste.
But Celeste, the more she loved Felix, the more grave and serious she became with him; partly because her mother sharply lectured her, saying to her one evening:—
"Don't give any hope whatever to that young Phellion. Neither your father nor I can arrange your marriage. You have expectations to be consulted. It is much less important to please a professor without a penny than to make sure of the affection and good-will of Mademoiselle Brigitte and your godfather. If you don't want to kill your mother—yes, my dear, kill her—you must obey me in this affair blindly; and remember that what we want to secure, above all, is your good."
As the date of the final sale was set for the last of July, Theodose advised Brigitte by the end of June to arrange her affairs in time to be ready for the payment. Accordingly, she now sold out her own and her sister-in-law's property in the Funds. The catastrophe of the treaty of the four powers, an insult to France, is now an established historical fact; but it is necessary to remind the reader that from July to the last of August the French funds, alarmed by the prospect of war, a fear which Monsieur Thiers did much to promote, fell twenty francs, and the Three-per-cents went down to sixty. That was not all: this financial fiasco had a most unfortunate influence on the value of real estate in Paris; and all those who had such property then for sale suffered loss. These events made Theodose a prophet in the eyes of Brigitte and Thuillier, to whom the house was now about to be definitely sold for seventy-five thousand francs. The notary, involved in the political disaster, and whose practice was already sold, concealed himself for a time in the country; but he took with him the ten thousand francs for Claparon. Advised by Theodose, Thuillier made a contract with Grindot, who supposed he was really working for the notary in finishing the house; and as, during this period of financial depression, suspended work left many workmen with their arms folded, the architect was able to finish off the building in a splendid manner at a low cost. Theodose insisted that the agreement should be in writing.
This purchase increased Thuillier's importance ten-fold. As for the notary, he had temporarily lost his head in presence of political events which came upon him like a waterspout out of cloudless skies. Theodose, certain now of his supremacy, holding Thuillier fast by his past services and by the literary work in which they were both engaged, admired by Brigitte for his modesty and discretion,—for never had he made the slightest allusion to his own poverty or uttered one word about money,—Theodose began to assume an air that was rather less servile than it had been. Brigitte and Thuillier said to him one day:—
"Nothing can deprive you of our esteem; you are here in this house as if in your own home; the opinion of Minard and Phellion, which you seem to fear, has no more value for us than a stanza of Victor Hugo. Therefore, let them talk! Carry your head high!"
"But we shall still need them for Thuillier's election to the Chamber," said Theodose. "Follow my advice; you have found it good so far, haven't you? When the house is actually yours, you will have got it for almost nothing; for you can now buy into the Three-per-cents at sixty in Madame Thuillier's name, and thus replace nearly the whole of her fortune. Wait only for the expiration of the time allowed to the nominal creditor to buy it in, and have the fifteen thousand francs ready for our scoundrels."
Brigitte did not wait; she took her whole capital with the exception of a sum of one hundred and twenty thousand francs, and bought into the Three-per-cents in Madame Thuillier's name to the amount of twelve thousand francs a year, and in her own for ten thousand a year, resolving in her own mind to choose no other kind of investment in future. She saw her brother secure of forty thousand francs a year besides his pension, twelve thousand a year for Madame Thuillier and eighteen thousand a year for herself, besides the house they lived in, the rental of which she valued at eight thousand.
"We are worth quite as much as the Minards," she remarked.
"Don't chant victory before you win it," said Theodose. "The right of redemption doesn't expire for another week. I have attended to your affairs, but mine have gone terribly to pieces."
"My dear child, you have friends," cried Brigitte; "if you should happen to want five hundred francs or so, you will always find them here."
Theodose exchanged a smile with Thuillier, who hastened to carry him off, saying:—
"Excuse my poor sister; she sees the world through a small hole. But if you should want twenty-five thousand francs I'll lend them to you—out of my first rents," he added.
"Thuillier," exclaimed Theodose, "the rope is round my neck. Ever since I have been a barrister I have had notes of hand running. But say nothing about it," added Theodose, frightened himself at having let out the secret of his situation. "I'm in the claws of scoundrels, but I hope to crush them yet."
In telling this secret Theodose, though alarmed as he did so, had a two-fold purpose: first, to test Thuillier; and next, to avert the consequences of a fatal blow which might be dealt to him any day in a secret and sinister struggle he had long foreseen. Two words will explain his horrible position.