CHAPTER XII. DEVILS AGAINST DEVILS
During the extreme poverty of la Peyrade's first years in Paris, none but Cerizet had ever gone to see him in the wretched garret where, in severely cold weather, he stayed in bed for want of clothes. Only one shirt remained to him. For three days he lived on one loaf of bread, cutting it into measured morsels, and asking himself, "What am I to do?" At this moment it was that his former partner came to him, having just left prison, pardoned. The projects which the two men then formed before a fire of laths, one wrapped in his landlady's counterpane, the other in his infamy, it is useless to relate. The next day Cerizet, who had talked with Dutocq in the course of the morning, returned, bringing trousers, waistcoat, coat, hat, and boots, bought in the Temple, and he carried off Theodose to dine with himself and Dutocq. The hungry Provencal ate at Pinson's, rue de l'Ancienne Comedie, half of a dinner costing forty-seven francs. At dessert, after Theodose had drunk freely, Cerizet said to him:—
"Will you sign me bills of exchange for fifty thousand francs in your capacity as a barrister?"
"You couldn't get five thousand on them."
"That's not your affair, but ours; I mean monsieur's here, who is giving us this dinner, and mine, in a matter where you risk nothing, but in which you'll get your title as barrister, a fine practice, and the hand in marriage of a girl about the age of an old dog, and rich by twenty or thirty thousand francs a year. Neither Dutocq nor I can marry her; but we'll equip you, give you the look of a decent man, feed and lodge you, and set you up generally. Consequently, we want security. I don't say that on my own account, for I know you, but for monsieur here, whose proxy I am. We'll equip you as a pirate, hey! to do the white-slave trade! If we can't capture that 'dot,' we'll try other plans. Between ourselves, none of us need be particular what we touch—that's plain enough. We'll give you careful instructions; for the matter is certain to take time, and there'll probably be some bother about it. Here, see, I have brought stamped paper."
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried Theodose.
"Ha! I like fellows of that kind!" exclaimed Dutocq.
"Sign: 'Theodose de la Peyrade,' and after your name put 'Barrister, rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer,' under the words 'Accepted for ten thousand.' We'll date the notes and sue you,—all secretly, of course, but in order to have a hold upon you; the owners of a privateer ought to have security when the brig and the captain are at sea."
The day after this interview the bailiff of the justice-of-peace did Cerizet the service of suing la Peyrade secretly. He went to see the barrister that evening, and the whole affair was done without any publicity. The Court of commerce has a hundred such cases in the course of one term. The strict regulations of the council of barristers of the bar of Paris are well known. This body, and also the council of attorneys, exercise severe discipline over their members. A barrister liable to go to Clichy would be disbarred. Consequently, Cerizet, under Dutocq's advice, had taken against their puppet measures which were certain to secure to each of them twenty-five thousand francs out of Celeste's "dot." In signing the notes, Theodose saw but one thing,—his means of living secured; but as time had gone on, and the horizon grew clearer, and he mounted, step by step, to a better position on the social ladder, he began to dream of getting rid of his associates. And now, on obtaining twenty-five thousand francs from Thuillier, he hoped to treat on the basis of fifty per cent for the return of his fatal notes by Cerizet.
Unfortunately, this sort of infamous speculation is not an exceptional fact; it takes place in Paris under various forms too little disguised for the historian of manners and morals to pass them over unnoticed in a complete and accurate picture of society in the nineteenth century. Dutocq, an arrant scoundrel, still owed fifteen thousand francs on his practice, and lived in hopes of something turning up to keep his head, as the saying is, above water until the close of 1840. Up to the present time none of the three confederates had flinched or groaned. Each felt his strength and knew his danger. Equals they were in distrust, in watchfulness; equals, too, in apparent confidence; and equally stolid in silence and look when mutual suspicions rose to the surface of face or speech. For the last two months the position of Theodose was acquiring the strength of a detached fort. But Cerizet and Dutocq held it undermined by a mass of powder, with the match ever lighted; but the wind might extinguish the match or the devil might flood the mine.
The moment when wild beasts seize their food is always the most critical, and that moment had now arrived for these three hungry tigers. Cerizet would sometimes say to Theodose, with that revolutionary glance which twice in this century sovereigns have had to meet:—
"I have made you king, and here am I still nothing! for it is nothing not to be all."
A reaction of envy was rushing its avalanche through Cerizet. Dutocq was at the mercy of his copying clerk. Theodose would gladly have burned his copartners could he have burned their papers in the same conflagration. All three studied each other too carefully, in order to conceal their own thoughts, not to be in turn divined. Theodose lived a life of three hells as he thought of what lay below the cards, then of his own game, and then of his future. His speech to Thuillier was a cry of despair; he threw his lead into the waters of the old bourgeois and found there nothing more than twenty-five thousand francs.
"And," he said to himself as he went to his own room, "possibly nothing at all a month hence."
He new felt the deepest hatred to the Thuilliers. But Thuillier himself he held by a harpoon stuck into the depths of the man's vanity; namely, by the projected work, entitled "Taxation and the Sinking Fund," for which he intended to rearrange the ideas of the Saint-Simonian "Globe," giving them a systematic form, and coloring them with his fervid Southern diction. Thuillier's bureaucratic knowledge of the subject would be of use to him here. Theodose therefore clung to this rope, resolving to do battle, on so poor a base of operations, with the vanity of a fool, which, according to individual character, is either granite or sand. On reflection, Theodose was inclined to be content with the prospect.
On the evening before the right of redemption expired, Claparon and Cerizet proceeded to manipulate the notary in the following manner. Cerizet, to whom Claparon had revealed the password and the notary's retreat, went out to this hiding-place to say to the latter:—
"One of my friends, Claparon, whom you know, has asked me to come and see you; he will expect you to-morrow, in the evening, you know where. He has the paper you expect from him, which he will exchange with you for the ten thousand agreed upon; but I must be present, for five thousand of that sum belong to me; and I warn you, my dear monsieur, that the name in the counter-deed is in blank."
"I shall be there," replied the ex-notary.
The poor devil waited the whole night in agonies of mind that can well be imagined, for safety or inevitable ruin were in the balance. At sunrise he saw approaching him, instead of Claparon, a bailiff of the Court of commerce, who produced a judgment against him in regular form, and informed him that he must go with him to Clichy.
Cerizet had made an arrangement with one of the creditors of the luckless notary, pledging himself to deliver up the debtor on payment to himself of half the debt. Out of the ten thousand francs promised to Claparon, the victim of this trap was obliged, in order to obtain his liberty, to pay six thousand down, the amount of his debt.
On receiving his share of this extortion Cerizet said to himself: "There's three thousand to make Cerizet clear out."
Cerizet then returned to the notary and said: "Claparon is a scoundrel, monsieur; he has received fifteen thousand francs from the proposed purchaser of your house, who will now, of course, become the owner. Threaten to reveal his hiding-place to his creditors, and to have him sued for fraudulent bankruptcy, and he'll give you half."
In his wrath the notary wrote a fulminating letter to Claparon. Claparon, alarmed, feared an arrest, and Cerizet offered to get him a passport.
"You have played me many a trick, Claparon," he said, "but listen to me now, and you can judge of my kindness. I possess, as my whole means, three thousand francs; I'll give them to you; start for America, and make your fortune there, as I'm trying to make mine here."
That evening Claparon, carefully disguised by Cerizet, left for Havre by the diligence. Cerizet remained master of the fifteen thousand francs to be paid to Claparon, and he awaited Theodose with the payment thereof tranquilly.
"The limit for bidding-in is passed," thought Theodose, as he went to find Dutocq and ask him to bring Cerizet to his office. "Suppose I were now to make an effort to get rid of my leech?"
"You can't settle this affair anywhere but at Cerizet's, because Claparon must be present, and he is hiding there," said Dutocq.
Accordingly, Theodose went, between seven and eight o'clock, to the den of the "banker of the poor," whom Dutocq had notified of his coming. Cerizet received him in the horrible kitchen where miseries and sorrows were chopped and cooked, as we have seen already. The pair then walked up and down, precisely like two animals in a cage, while mutually playing the following scene:—
"Have you brought the fifteen thousand francs?"
"No, but I have them at home."
"Why not have them in your pocket?" asked Cerizet, sharply.
"I'll tell you," replied Theodose, who, as he walked from the rue Saint-Dominique to the Estrapade, had decided on his course of action.
The Provencal, writhing upon the gridiron on which his partners held him, became suddenly possessed with a good idea, which flashed from the body of the live coal under him. Peril has gleams of light. He resolved to rely on the power of frankness, which affects all men, even swindlers. Every one is grateful to an adversary who bares himself to the waist in a duel.
"Well!" said Cerizet, "now the humbug begins."
The words seemed to come wholly through the hole in his nose with horrible intonations.
"You have put me in a magnificent position, and I shall never forget the service you have done me, my friend," began Theodose, with emotion.
"Oh, that's how you take it, is it?" said Cerizet.
"Listen to me; you don't understand my intentions."
"Yes, I do!" replied the lender by "the little week."
"No, you don't."
"You intend not to give up those fifteen thousand francs."
Theodose shrugged his shoulders and looked fixedly at Cerizet, who, struck by the two motions, kept silence.
"Would you live in my position, knowing yourself within range of a cannon loaded with grape-shot, without feeling a strong desire to get out of it? Now listen to me carefully. You are doing a dangerous business, and you would be glad enough to have some solid protection in the very heart of the magistracy of Paris. If I can continue my present course, I shall be substitute attorney-general, possibly attorney-general, in three years. I offer you to-day the offices of a devoted friendship, which will serve you hereafter most assuredly, if only to replace you in a honorable position. Here are my conditions—"
"Conditions!" exclaimed Cerizet.
"In ten minutes I will bring you twenty-five thousand francs if you return to me all the notes which you have against me."
"But Dutocq? and Claparon?" said Cerizet.
"Leave them in the lurch!" replied Theodose, with his lips at Cerizet's ear.
"That's a pretty thing to say!" cried Cerizet. "And so you have invented this little game of hocus-pocus because you hold in your fingers fifteen thousand francs that don't belong to you!"
"But I've added ten thousand francs to them. Besides, you and I know each other."
"If you are able to get ten thousand francs out of your bourgeois you can surely get fifteen," said Cerizet. "For thirty thousand I'm your man. Frankness for frankness, you know."
"You ask the impossible," replied Theodose. "At this very moment, if you had to do with Claparon instead of with me, your fifteen thousand would be lost, for Thuillier is to-day the owner of that house."
"I'll speak to Claparon," said Cerizet, pretending to go and consult him, and mounting the stairs to the bedroom, from which Claparon had only just departed on his road to Havre.
The two adversaries had been speaking, we should here remark, in a manner not to be overheard; and every time that Theodose raised his voice Cerizet would make a gesture, intimating that Claparon, from above, might be listening. The five minutes during which Theodose heard what seemed to be the murmuring of two voices were torture to him, for he had staked his very life upon the issue. Cerizet at last came down, with a smile upon his lips, his eyes sparkling with infernal mischief, his whole frame quivering in his joy, a Lucifer of gaiety!
"I know nothing, so it seems!" he cried, shaking his shoulders, "but Claparon knows a great deal; he has worked with the big-wig bankers, and when I told what you wanted he began to laugh, and said, 'I thought as much!' You will have to bring me the twenty-five thousand you offer me to-morrow morning, my lad; and as much more before you can recover your notes."
"Why?" asked Theodose, feeling his spinal column liquidizing as if the discharge of some inward electric fluid had melted it.
"The house is ours."
"Claparon has bit it in under the name of one of his creditors, a little toad named Sauvaignou. Desroches, the lawyer, has taken the case, and you'll get a notice to-morrow. This affair will oblige Claparon, Dutocq, and me to raise funds. What would become of me without Claparon! So I forgive him—yes, I forgave him, and though you may not believe it, my dear friend, I actually kissed him! Change your terms."
The last three words were horrible to hear, especially when illustrated by the face of the speaker, who amused himself by playing a scene from the "Legataire," all the while studying attentively the Provencal's character.
"Oh, Cerizet!" cried Theodose; "I, who wished to do you so much good!"
"Don't you see, my dear fellow," returned Cerizet, "that between you and me there ought to be this,—" and he struck his heart,—"of which you have none. As soon as you thought you had a lever on us, you have tried to knock us over. I saved you from the horrors of starvation and vermin! You'll die like the idiot you are. We put you on the high-road to fortune; we gave you a fine social skin and a position in which you could grasp the future—and look what you do! Now I know you! and from this time forth, we shall go armed."
"Then it is war between us!" exclaimed Theodose.
"You fired first," returned Cerizet.
"If you pull me down, farewell to your hopes and plans; if you don't pull me down, you have in me an enemy."
"That's just what I said yesterday to Dutocq; but, how can we help it? We are forced to choose between two alternatives—we must go according to circumstances. I'm a good-natured fellow myself," he added, after a pause; "bring me your twenty-five thousand francs to-morrow morning and Thuillier shall keep the house. We'll continue to help you at both ends, but you'll have to pay up, my boy. After what has just happened that's pretty kind, isn't it?"
And Cerizet patted Theodose on the shoulder, with a cynicism that seemed to brand him more than the iron of the galleys.
"Well, give me till to-morrow at mid-day," replied the Provencal, "for there'll be, as you said, some manipulation to do."
"I'll try to keep Claparon quiet; he's in such a hurry, that man!"
"To-morrow then," said Theodose, in the tone of a man who decides his course.
"Good-night, friend," said Cerizet, in his nasal tone, which degraded the finest word in the language. "There's one who has got a mouthful to suck!" thought Cerizet, as he watched Theodose going down the street with the step of a dazed man.
When la Peyrade reached the rue des Postes he went with rapid strides to Madame Colleville's house, exciting himself as he walked along, and talking aloud. The fire of his roused passions and the sort of inward conflagration of which many Parisians are conscious (for such situations abound in Paris) brought him finally to a pitch of frenzy and eloquence which found expression, as he turned into the rue des Deux-Eglises, in the words:—
"I will kill him!"
"There's a fellow who is not content!" said a passing workman, and the jesting words calmed the incandescent madness to which Theodose was a prey.
As he left Cerizet's the idea came to him to go to Flavie and tell her all. Southern natures are born thus—strong until certain passions arise, and then collapsed. He entered Flavie's room; she was alone, and when she saw Theodose she fancied her last hour had come.
"What is the matter?" she cried.
"I—I—" he said. "Do you love me, Flavie?"
"Oh! how can you doubt it?"
"Do you love me absolutely?—if I were criminal, even?"
"Has he murdered some one?" she thought, replying to his question by a nod.
Theodose, thankful to seize even this branch of willow, drew a chair beside Flavie's sofa, and there gave way to sobs that might have touched the oldest judge, while torrents of tears began to flow from his eyes.
Flavie rose and left the room to say to her maid: "I am not at home to any one." Then she closed all doors and returned to Theodose, moved to the utmost pitch of maternal solicitude. She found him stretched out, his head thrown back, and weeping. He had taken out his handkerchief, and when Flavie tried to move it from his face it was heavy with tears.
"But what is the matter?" she asked; "what ails you?"
Nature, more impressive than art, served Theodose well; no longer was he playing a part; he was himself; this nervous crisis and these tears were the winding up of his preceding scenes of acted comedy.
"You are a child," she said, in a gentle voice, stroking his hair softly.
"I have but you, you only, in all the world!" he replied, kissing her hands with a sort of passion; "and if you are true to me, if you are mine, as the body belongs to the soul and the soul to the body, then—" he added, recovering himself with infinite grace, "Then I can have courage."
He rose, and walked about the room.
"Yes, I will struggle; I will recover my strength, like Antaeus, from a fall; I will strangle with my own hands the serpents that entwine me, that kiss with serpent kisses, that slaver my cheeks, that suck my blood, my honor! Oh, misery! oh, poverty! Oh, how great are they who can stand erect and carry high their heads! I had better have let myself die of hunger, there, on my wretched pallet, three and a half years ago! A coffin is a softer bed to lie in than the life I lead! It is eighteen months that I have fed on bourgeois! and now, at the moment of attaining an honest, fortunate life, a magnificent future, at the moment when I was about to sit down to the social banquet, the executioner strikes me on the shoulder! Yes, the monster! he struck me there, on my shoulder, and said to me: 'Pay thy dues to the devil, or die!' And shall I not crush them? Shall I not force my arm down their throats to their very entrails? Yes, yes, I will, I will! See, Flavie, my eyes are dry now. Ha, ha! now I laugh; I feel my strength come back to me; power is mine! Oh! say that you love me; say it again! At this moment it sounds like the word 'Pardon' to the man condemned to death!"
"You are terrible, my friend!" cried Flavie. "Oh! you are killing me."
She understood nothing of all this, but she fell upon the sofa, exhausted by the spectacle. Theodose flung himself at her feet.
"Forgive me! forgive me!" he said.
"But what is the matter? what is it?" she asked again.
"They are trying to destroy me. Oh! promise to give me Celeste, and you shall see what a glorious life I will make you share. If you hesitate—very good; that is saying you will be wholly mine, and I will have you!"
He made so rapid a movement that Flavie, terrified, rose and moved away.
"Oh! my saint!" he cried, "at thy feet I fall—a miracle! God is for me, surely! A flash of light has come to me—an idea—suddenly! Oh, thanks, my good angel, my grand Saint-Theodose! thou hast saved me!"
Flavie could not help admiring that chameleon being; one knee on the floor, his hands crossed on his breast, and his eyes raised to heaven in religious ecstasy, he recited a prayer; he was a fervent Catholic; he reverently crossed himself. It was fine; like the vision of Saint-Jerome.
"Adieu!" he said, with a melancholy look and a moving tone of voice.
"Oh!" cried Flavie, "leave me this handkerchief."
Theodose rushed away like one possessed, sprang into the street, and darted towards the Thuilliers', but turned, saw Flavie at her window, and made her a little sign of triumph.
"What a man!" she thought to herself.
"Dear, good friend," he said to Thuillier, in a calm and gentle, almost caressing voice, "we have fallen into the hands of atrocious scoundrels. But I mean to read them a lesson."
"What has happened?" asked Brigitte.
"They want twenty-five thousand francs, and, in order to get the better of us, the notary, or his accomplices, have determined to bid in the property. Thuillier, put five thousand francs in your pocket and come with me; I will secure that house to you. I am making myself implacable enemies!" he cried; "they are seeking to destroy me morally. But all I ask is that you will disregard their infamous calumnies and feel no change of heart to me. After all, what is it? If I succeed, you will only have paid one hundred and twenty-five thousand francs for the house instead of one hundred and twenty."
"Provided the same thing doesn't happen again," said Brigitte, uneasily, her eyes dilating under the effect of a violent suspicion.
"Preferred creditors have alone the right to bid in property, and as, in this case, there is but one, and he has used that right, we are safe. The amount of his claim is really only two thousand francs, but there are lawyers, attorneys, and so forth, to pay in such matters, and we shall have to drop a note of a thousand francs to make the creditor happy."
"Go, Thuillier," said Brigitte, "get your hat and gloves, and take the money—from you know where."
"As I paid those fifteen thousand francs without success, I don't wish to have any more money pass through my hands. Thuillier must pay it himself," said Theodose, when he found himself alone with Brigitte. "You have, however, gained twenty thousand on the contract I enabled you to make with Grindot, who thought he was serving the notary, and you own a piece of property which in five years will be worth nearly a million. It is what is called a 'boulevard corner.'"
Brigitte listened uneasily, precisely like a cat which hears a mouse within the wall. She looked Theodose straight in the eye, and, in spite of the truth of his remarks, doubts possessed her.
"What troubles you, little aunt?"
"Oh! I shall be in mortal terror until that property is securely ours."
"You would be willing to give twenty thousand francs, wouldn't you," said Theodose, "to make sure that Thuillier was what we call, in law, 'owner not dispossessable' of that property? Well, then, remember that I have saved you twice that amount."
"Where are we going?" asked Thuillier, returning.
"To Maitre Godeschal! We must employ him as our attorney."
"But we refused him for Celeste."
"Well, that's one reason for going to him," replied Theodose. "I have taken his measure; he's a man of honor, and he'll think it a fine thing to do you a service."
Godeschal, now Derville's successor, had formerly been, for more than two years, head-clerk with Desroches. Theodose, to whom that circumstance was known, seemed to hear the name flung into his ear in the midst of his despair by an inward voice, and he foresaw a possibility of wrenching from the hands of Claparon the weapon with which Cerizet had threatened him. He must, however, in the first instance, gain an entrance to Desroches, and get some light on the actual situation of his enemies. Godeschal, by reason of the intimacy still existing between the former clerk and his old master, could be his go-between. When the attorneys of Paris have ties like those which bound Godeschal and Desroches together, they live in true fraternity, and the result is a facility in arranging any matters which are, as one may say, arrangeable. They obtain from one another, on the ground of reciprocity, all possible concessions by the application of the proverb, "Pass me the rhubarb, and I'll pass you the senna," which is put in practice in all professions, between ministers, soldiers, judges, business men; wherever, in short, enmity has not raised barriers too strong and high between the parties.
"I gain a pretty good fee out of this compromise," is a reason that needs no expression in words: it is visible in the gesture, the tone, the glance; and as attorneys and solicitors meet constantly on this ground, the matter, whatever it is, is arranged. The counterpoise of this fraternal system is found in what we may call professional conscience. The public must believe the physician who says, giving medical testimony, "This body contains arsenic"; nothing is supposed to exceed the integrity of the legislator, the independence of the cabinet minister. In like manner, the attorney of Paris says to his brother lawyer, good-humoredly, "You can't obtain that; my client is furious," and the other answers, "Very good; I must do without it."
Now, la Peyrade, a shrewd man, had worn his legal gown about the Palais long enough to know how these judicial morals might be made to serve his purpose.
"Sit in the carriage," he said to Thuillier, when they reached the rue Vivienne, where Godeschal was now master of the practice he had formerly served as clerk. "You needn't show yourself until he undertakes the affair."
It was eleven o'clock at night; la Peyrade was not mistaken in supposing that he should find a newly fledged master of a practice in his office at that hour.
"To what do I owe this visit, monsieur?" said Godeschal, coming forward to meet the barrister.
Foreigners, provincials, and persons in high society may not be aware that barristers are to attorneys what generals are to marshals. There exists a line of demarcation, strictly maintained, between the order of barristers and the guild of attorneys and solicitors in Paris. However venerable an attorney may be, however capable and strong in his profession, he must go to the barrister. The attorney is the administrator, who maps out the plan of the campaign, collects the munitions of war, and puts the force in motion; the barrister gives battle. It is not known why the law gives a man two men to defend him any more than it is known why an author is forced to have both printer and publisher. The rules of the bar forbid its members to do any act belonging to the guild of attorneys. It is very rare that a barrister puts his foot in an attorney's office; the two classes meet in the law-courts. In society, there is no barrier between them, and some barristers, those in la Peyrade's situation particularly, demean themselves by calling occasionally on attorneys, though even these cases are rare, and are usually excused by some special urgency.
"I have come on important business," replied la Peyrade; "it concerns, especially, a question of delicacy which you and I ought to solve together. Thuillier is below, in a carriage, and I have come up to see you, not as a barrister, but as his friend. You are in a position to do him an immense service; and I have told him that you have too noble a soul (as a worthy successor of our great Derville must have) not to put your utmost capacity at his orders. Here's the affair."
After explaining, wholly to his own advantage, the swindling trick which must, he said, be met with caution and ability, the barrister developed his plan of campaign.
"You ought, my dear maitre, to go this very evening to Desroches, explain the whole plot and persuade him to send to-morrow for his client, this Sauvaignou. We'll confess the fellow between us, and if he wants a note for a thousand francs over and above the amount of his claim, we'll let him have it; not counting the five hundred for you and as much more for Desroches, provided Thuillier receives the relinquishment of his claim by ten o'clock to-morrow morning. What does this Sauvaignou want? Nothing but money. Well, a haggler like that won't resist the attraction of an extra thousand francs, especially if he is only the instrument of a cupidity behind him. It is no matter to us how he fights it out with those who prompt him. Now, then, do you think you can get the Thuillier family out of this?"
"I'll go and see Desroches at once," said Godeschal.
"Not before Thuillier gives you a power of attorney and five hundred francs. The money should be on the table in a case like this."
After the interview with Thuillier was over, la Peyrade took Godeschal in the carriage to the rue du Bethizy, where Desroches lived, explaining that it was on their way back to the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. When they stopped at Desroches's door la Peyrade made an appointment with Godeschal to meet him there the next morning at seven o'clock.
La Peyrade's whole future and fortune lay in the outcome of this conference. It is therefore not astonishing that he disregarded the customs of the bar and went to Desroches's office, to study Sauvaignou and take part in the struggle, in spite of the danger he ran in thus placing himself visibly before the eyes of one of the most dreaded attorneys in Paris.
As he entered the office and made his salutations, he took note of Sauvaignou. The man was, as the name had already told him, from Marseilles,—the foreman of a master-carpenter, entrusted with the giving out of sub-contracts. The profits of this work consisted of what he could make between the price he paid for the work and that paid to him by the master-carpenter; this agreement being exclusive of material, his contract being only for labor. The master-carpenter had failed. Sauvaignou had thereupon appealed to the court of commerce for recognition as creditor with a lien on the property. He was a stocky little man, dressed in a gray linen blouse, with a cap on his head, and was seated in an armchair. Three banknotes, of a thousand francs each, lying visibly before him on Desroches's desk, informed la Peyrade that the negotiation had already taken place, and that the lawyers were worsted. Godeschal's eyes told the rest, and the glance which Desroches cast at the "poor man's advocate" was like the blow of a pick-axe into the earth of a grave. Stimulated by his danger, the Provencal became magnificent. He coolly took up the bank-notes and folded them, as if to put them in his pocket, saying to Desroches:—
"Thuillier has changed his mind."
"Very good; then we are all agreed," said the terrible attorney.
"Yes; your client must now hand over to us the fifty thousand francs we have spent on finishing the house, according to the contract between Thuillier and Grindot. I did not tell you that yesterday," he added, turning to Godeschal.
"Do you hear that?" said Desroches to Sauvaignou. "That's a case I shall not touch without proper guarantees."
"But, messieurs," said Sauvaignou, "I can't negotiate this matter until I have seen the worthy man who paid me five hundred francs on account for having signed him that bit of a proxy."
"Are you from Marseilles?" said la Peyrade, in patois.
"Oh! if he tackles him with patois the fellow is beaten," said Godeschal to Desroches in a low tone.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the Marseillais.
"Well, you poor devil," continued Theodose, "don't you see that they want to ruin you? Shall I tell you what you ought to do? Pocket these three thousand francs, and when your worthy man comes after you, take your rule and hit him a rap over the knuckles; tell him he's a rascal who wants you to do his dirty work, and instead of that you revoke your proxy and will pay him his five hundred francs in the week with three Thursdays. Then be off with you to Marseilles with these three thousand francs and your savings in your pocket. If anything happens to you there, let me know through these gentlemen, and I'll get you out of the scrape; for, don't you see? I'm not only a Provencal, but I'm also one of the leading lawyers in Paris, and the friend of the poor."
When the workman found a compatriot sanctioning in a tone of authority the reasons by which he could betray Cerizet, he capitulated, asking, however, for three thousand five hundred francs. That demand having been granted he remarked:—
"It is none too much for a rap over the knuckles; he might put me in prison for assault."
"Well, you needn't strike unless he insults you," replied la Peyrade, "and that's self-defence."
When Desroches had assured him that la Peyrade was really a barrister in good standing, Sauvaignou signed the relinquishment, which contained a receipt for the amount, principal and interest, of his claim, made in duplicate between himself and Thuillier, and witnessed by the two attorneys; so that the paper was a final settlement of the whole matter.
"We'll leave the remaining fifteen hundred between you," whispered la Peyrade to Desroches and Godeschal, "on condition that you give me the relinquishment, which I will have Thuillier accept and sign before his notary, Cardot. Poor man! he never closed his eyes all night!"
"Very well," replied Desroches. "You may congratulate yourself," he added, making Sauvaignou sign the paper, "that you've earned that money pretty easily."
"It is really mine, isn't it, monsieur?" said the Marseillais, already uneasy.
"Yes, and legally, too," replied Desroches, "only you must let your man know this morning that you have revoked your proxy under date of yesterday. Go out through my clerk's office, here, this way."
Desroches told his head-clerk what the man was to do, and he sent a pupil-clerk with him to see that a sheriff's officer carried the notice to Cerizet before ten o'clock.
"I thank you, Desroches," said la Peyrade, pressing the attorney's hand; "you think of everything; I shall never forget this service."
"Don't deposit the deed with Cardot till after twelve o'clock," returned Desroches.
"Hay! comrade," cried the barrister, in Provencal, following Sauvaignou into the next room, "take your Margot to walk about Belleville, and be sure you don't go home."
"I hear," said Sauvaignou. "I'm off to-morrow; adieu!"
"Adieu," returned la Peyrade, with a Provencal cry.
"There is something behind all this," said Desroches in an undertone to Godeschal, as la Peyrade followed Sauvaignou into the clerk's office.
"The Thuilliers get a splendid piece of property for next to nothing," replied Godeschal; "that's all."
"La Peyrade and Cerizet look to me like two divers who are fighting under water," replied Desroches. "What am I to say to Cerizet, who put the matter into my hands?" he added, as the barrister returned to them.
"Tell him that Sauvaignou forced your hand," replied la Peyrade.
"And you fear nothing?" said Desroches, in a sudden manner.
"I? oh no! I want to give Cerizet a lesson."
"To-morrow, I shall know the truth," said Desroches, in a low tone, to Godeschal; "no one chatters like a beaten man."
La Peyrade departed, carrying with him the deed of relinquishment. At eleven o'clock he was in the courtroom of the justice-of-peace, perfectly calm, and firm. When he saw Cerizet come in, pale with rage, his eyes full of venom, he said in his ear:—
"My dear friend, I'm a pretty good fellow myself, and I hold that twenty-five thousand francs in good bank-bills at your disposal, whenever you will return to me those notes of mine which you hold."
Cerizet looked at the advocate of the poor, without being able to say one word in reply; he was green; the bile had struck in.
CHAPTER XIII. THE PERVERSITY OF DOVES
"I am a non-dispossessable property-owner!" cried Thuillier, coming home after visiting his notary. "No human power can get that house away from me. Cardot says so."
The bourgeoisie think much more of what their notary tells them than of what their attorney says. The notary is nearer to them than any other ministerial officer. The Parisian bourgeois never pays a visit to his attorney without a sense of fear; whereas he mounts the stairs with ever-renewed pleasure to see his notary; he admires that official's virtue and his sound good sense.
"Cardot, who is looking for an apartment for one of his clients, wants to know about our second floor," continued Thuillier. "If I choose he'll introduce to me on Sunday a tenant who is ready to sign a lease for eighteen years at forty thousand francs and taxes! What do you say to that, Brigitte?"
"Better wait," she replied. "Ah! that dear Theodose, what a fright he gave me!"
"Hey! my dearest girl, I must tell you that when Cardot asked who put me in the way of this affair he said I owed him a present of at least ten thousand francs. The fact is, I owe it all to him."
"But he is the son of the house," responded Brigitte.
"Poor lad! I'll do him the justice to say that he asks for nothing."
"Well, dear, good friend," said la Peyrade, coming in about three o'clock, "here you are, richissime!"
"And through you, Theodose."
"And you, little aunt, have you come to life again? Ah! you were not half as frightened as I was. I put your interests before my own; I haven't breathed freely till this morning at eleven o'clock; and yet I am sure now of having two mortal enemies at my heels in the two men I have tricked for your sake. As I walked home, just now, I asked myself what could be your influence over me to make me commit such a crime, and whether the happiness of belonging to your family and becoming your son could ever efface the stain I have put upon my conscience."
"Bah! you can confess it," said Thuillier, the free-thinker.
"And now," said Theodose to Brigitte, "you can pay, in all security, the cost of the house,—eighty thousand francs, and thirty thousand to Grindot; in all, with what you have paid in costs, one hundred and twenty thousand; and this last twenty thousand added make one hundred and forty thousand. If you let the house outright to a single tenant ask him for the last year's rent in advance, and reserve for my wife and me the whole of the first floor above the entresol. Make those conditions and you'll still get your forty thousand francs a year. If you should want to leave this quarter so as to be nearer the Chamber, you can always take up your abode with us on that vast first floor, which has stables and coach-house belonging to it; in fact, everything that is needful for a splendid life. And now, Thuillier, I am going to get the cross of the Legion of honor for you."
Hearing this last promise, Brigitte cried out in her enthusiasm:—
"Faith! my dear boy, you've done our business so well that I'll leave you to manage that of letting the house."
"Don't abdicate, dear aunt," replied Theodose. "God keep me from ever taking a step without you! You are the good genius of this family; I think only of the day when Thuillier will take his seat in the Chamber. If you let the house you will come into possession of your forty thousand francs for the last year of the lease in two months from now; and that will not prevent Thuillier from drawing his quarterly ten thousand of the rental."
After casting this hope into the mind of the old maid, who was jubilant, Theodose drew Thuillier into the garden and said to him, without beating round the bush:—
"Dear, good friend, find means to get ten thousand francs from your sister, and be sure not to let her suspect that you pay them to me; tell her that sum is required in the government office to facilitate your appointment as chevalier of the Legion of honor; tell her, too, that you know the persons among whom that sum should be distributed."
"That's a good idea," said Thuillier; "besides, I'll pay it back to her when I get my rents."
"Have the money ready this evening, dear friend. Now I am going out on business about your cross; to-morrow we shall know something definitely about it."
"What a man you are!" cried Thuillier.
"The ministry of the 1st of March is going to fall, and we must get it out of them beforehand," said Theodose, shrewdly.
He now hurried to Madame Colleville, crying out as he entered her room:—
"I've conquered! We shall have a piece of landed property for Celeste worth a million, a life-interest in which will be given to her by her marriage-contract; but keep the secret, or your daughter will be hunted down by peers of France. Besides, this settlement will only be made in my favor. Now dress yourself, and let us go and call on Madame du Bruel; she can get the cross for Thuillier. While you are getting under arms I'll do a little courting to Celeste; you and I can talk as we drive along."
La Peyrade had seen, as he passed the door of the salon, Celeste and Felix Phellion in close conversation. Flavie had such confidence in her daughter that she did not fear to leave them together. Now that the great success of the morning was secured, Theodose felt the necessity of beginning his courtship of Celeste. It was high time, he thought, to bring about a quarrel between the lovers. He did not, therefore, hesitate to apply his ear to the door of the salon before entering it, in order to discover what letters of the alphabet of love they were spelling; he was even invited to commit this domestic treachery by sounds from within, which seemed to say that they were disputing. Love, according to one of our poets, is a privilege which two persons mutually take advantage of to cause each other, reciprocally, a great deal of sorrow about nothing at all.
When Celeste knew that Felix was elected by her heart to be the companion of her life, she felt a desire, not so much to study him as to unite herself closely with him by that communion of souls which is the basis of all affections, and leads, in youthful minds, to involuntary examination. The dispute to which Theodose was now to listen took its rise in a disagreement which had sprung up within the last few days between the mathematician and Celeste. The young girl's piety was real; she belonged to the flock of the truly faithful, and to her, Catholicism, tempered by that mysticism which attracts young souls, was an inward poem, a life within her life. From this point young girls are apt to develop into either extremely high-minded women or saints. But, during this beautiful period of their youth they have in their heart, in their ideas, a sort of absolutism: before their eyes is the image of perfection, and all must be celestial, angelic, or divine to satisfy them. Outside of their ideal, nothing of good can exist; all is stained and soiled. This idea causes the rejection of many a diamond with a flaw by girls who, as women, fall in love with paste.
Now, Celeste had seen in Felix, not irreligion, but indifference to matters of religion. Like most geometricians, chemists, mathematicians, and great naturalists, he had subjected religion to reason; he recognized a problem in it as insoluble as the squaring of the circle. Deist "in petto," he lived in the religion of most Frenchmen, not attaching more importance to it than he did to the new laws promulgated in July. It was necessary to have a God in heaven, just as they set up a bust of the king at the mayor's office. Felix Phellion, a worthy son of his father, had never drawn the slightest veil over his opinions or his conscience; he allowed Celeste to read into them with the candor and the inattention of a student of problems. The young girl, on her side, professed a horror for atheism, and her conscience assured her that a deist was cousin-germain to an atheist.
"Have you thought, Felix, of doing what you promised me?" asked Celeste, as soon as Madame Colleville had left them alone.
"No, my dear Celeste," replied Felix.
"Oh! to have broken his word!" she cried, softly.
"But to have kept it would have been a profanation," said Felix. "I love you so deeply, with a tenderness so little proof against your wishes, that I promised a thing contrary to my conscience. Conscience, Celeste, is our treasure, our strength, our mainstay. How can you ask me to go into a church and kneel at the feet of a priest, in whom I can see only a man? You would despise me if I obeyed you."
"And so, my dear Felix, you refuse to go to church," said Celeste, casting a tearful glance at the man she loved. "If I were your wife you would let me go alone? You do not love me as I love you! for, alas! I have a feeling in my heart for an atheist contrary to that which God commands."
"An atheist!" cried Felix. "Oh, no! Listen to me, Celeste. There is certainly a God; I believe in that; but I have higher ideas of Him than those of your priests; I do not wish to bring Him down to my level; I want to rise to Him. I listen to the voice He has put within me,—a voice which honest men call conscience, and I strive not to darken that divine ray as it comes to me. For instance, I will never harm others; I will do nothing against the commandments of universal morality, which was that of Confucius, Moses, Pythagoras, Socrates, as well as of Jesus Christ. I will stand in the presence of God; my actions shall be my prayers; I will never be false in word or deed; never will I do a base or shameful thing. Those are the precepts I have learned from my virtuous father, and which I desire to bequeath to my children. All the good that I can do I shall try to accomplish, even if I have to suffer for it. What can you ask more of a man than that?"
This profession of the Phellion faith caused Celeste to sadly shake her head.
"Read attentively," she replied, "'The Imitation of Jesus Christ.' Strive to convert yourself to the holy Catholic, apostolic, and Roman Church, and you will see how empty your words are. Hear me, Felix; marriage is not, the Church says, the affair of a day, the mere satisfaction of our own desires; it is made for eternity. What! shall we be united day and night, shall we form one flesh, one word, and yet have two languages, two faiths in our heart, and a cause of perpetual dissension? Would you condemn me to weep tears over the state of your soul,—tears that I must ever conceal from you? Could I address myself in peace to God when I see his arm stretched out in wrath against you? Must my children inherit the blood of a deist and his convictions? Oh! God, what misery for a wife! No, no, these ideas are intolerable. Felix! be of my faith, for I cannot share yours. Do not put a gulf between us. If you loved me, you would already have read 'The Imitation of Jesus Christ.'"
The Phellion class, sons of the "Constitutionnel," dislike the priestly mind. Felix had the imprudence to reply to this sort of prayer from the depths of an ardent heart:—
"You are repeating, Celeste, the lessons your confessor teaches you; nothing, believe me, is more fatal to happiness than the interference of priests in a home."
"Oh!" cried Celeste, wounded to the quick, for love alone inspired her, "you do not love! The voice of my heart is not in unison with yours! You have not understood me, because you have not listened to me; but I forgive you, for you know not what you say."
She wrapped herself in solemn silence, and Felix went to the window and drummed upon the panes,—music familiar to those who have indulged in poignant reflections. Felix was, in fact, presenting the following delicate and curious questions to the Phellion conscience.
"Celeste is a rich heiress, and, in yielding against the voice of natural religion, to her ideas, I should have in view the making of what is certainly an advantageous marriage,—an infamous act. I ought not, as father of a family, to allow the priesthood to have an influence in my home. If I yield to-day, I do a weak act, which will be followed by many others equally pernicious to the authority of a husband and father. All this is unworthy of a philosopher."
Then he returned to his beloved.
"Celeste, I entreat you on my knees," he said, "not to mingle that which the law, in its wisdom, has separated. We live in two worlds,—society and heaven. Each has its own way of salvation; but as to society, is it not obeying God to obey the laws? Christ said: 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' Caesar is the body politic. Dear, let us forget our little quarrel."
"Little quarrel!" cried the young enthusiast; "I want you to have my whole heart as I want to have the whole of yours; and you make it into two parts! Is not that an evil? You forget that marriage is a sacrament."
"Your priesthood have turned your head," exclaimed the mathematician, impatiently.
"Monsieur Phellion," said Celeste, interrupting him hastily, "enough of this!"
It was at this point of the quarrel that Theodose considered it judicious to enter the room. He found Celeste pale, and the young professor as anxious as a lover should be who has just irritated his mistress.
"I heard the word 'enough'; then something is too much?" he said, inquiringly, looking in turn from Celeste to Felix.
"We were talking religion," replied Felix, "and I was saying to mademoiselle how dangerous ecclesiastical influence is in the bosom of families."
"That was not the point, monsieur," said Celeste, sharply; "it was to know if husband and wife could be of one heart when the one is an atheist and the other Catholic."
"Can there be such a thing as atheists?" cried Theodose, with all the signs of extreme wonderment. "Could a true Catholic marry a Protestant? There is no safety possible for a married pair unless they have perfect conformity in the matter of religious opinions. I, who come from the Comtat, of a family which counts a pope among its ancestors—for our arms are: gules, a key argent, with supporters, a monk holding a church, and a pilgrim with a staff, or, and the motto, 'I open, I shut'—I am, of course, intensely dogmatic on such points. But in these days, thanks to our modern system of education, it does not seem to me strange that religion should be called into question. I myself would never marry a Protestant, had she millions, even if I loved her distractedly. Faith is a thing that cannot be tampered with. 'Una fides, unus Dominus,' that is my device in life."
"You hear that!" cried Celeste, triumphantly, looking at Felix Phellion.
"I am not openly devout," continued la Peyrade. "I go to mass at six every morning, that I may not be observed; I fast on Fridays; I am, in short, a son of the Church, and I would not undertake any serious enterprise without prayer, after the ancient fashion of our ancestors; but no one is able to notice my religion. A singular thing happened to our family during the Revolution of 1789, which attached us more closely than ever to our holy mother the Church. A poor young lady of the elder branch of the Peyrades, who owned the little estate of la Peyrade,—for we ourselves are Peyrades of Canquoelle, but the two branches inherit from one another,—well, this young lady married, six years before the Revolution, a barrister who, after the fashion of the times, was Voltairean, that is to say, an unbeliever, or, if you choose, a deist. He took up all the revolutionary ideas, and practised the charming rites that you know of in the worship of the goddess Reason. He came into our part of the country imbued with the ideas of the Convention, and fanatical about them. His wife was very handsome; he compelled her to play the part of Liberty; and the poor unfortunate creature went mad. She died insane! Well, as things are going now it looks as if we might have another 1793."
This history, invented on the spot, made such an impression on Celeste's fresh and youthful imagination that she rose, bowed to the young men and hastened to her chamber.
"Ah! monsieur, why did you tell her that?" cried Felix, struck to the heart by the cold look the young girl, affecting profound indifference, cast upon him. She fancied herself transformed into a goddess of Reason.
"Why not? What were you talking about?" asked Theodose.
"About my indifference to religion."
"The great sore of this century," replied Theodose, gravely.
"I am ready," said Madame Colleville, appearing in a toilet of much taste. "But what is the matter with my poor daughter? She is crying!"
"Crying? madame," exclaimed Felix; "please tell her that I will study 'The Imitation of Christ' at once."
Felix left the house with Theodose and Flavie, whose arm the barrister pressed to let her know he would explain in the carriage the apparent dementia of the young professor.
An hour later, Madame Colleville and Celeste, Colleville and Theodose were entering the Thuilliers' apartment to dine there. Theodose and Flavie took Thuillier into the garden, where the former said to him:—
"Dear, good friend! you will have the cross within a week. Our charming friend here will tell you about our visit to the Comtesse du Bruel."
And Theodose left Thuillier, having caught sight of Desroches in the act of being brought by Mademoiselle Thuillier into the garden; he went, driven by a terrible and glacial presentiment, to meet him.
"My good friend," said Desroches in his ear, "I have come to see if you can procure at once twenty-five thousand francs plus two thousand six hundred and eighty for costs."
"Are you acting for Cerizet?" asked the barrister.
"Cerizet has put all the papers into the hands of Louchard, and you know what you have to expect if arrested. Is Cerizet wrong in thinking you have twenty-five thousand francs in your desk? He says you offered them to him and he thinks it only natural not to leave them in your hands."
"Thank you for taking the step, my good friend," replied Theodose. "I have been expecting this attack."
"Between ourselves," replied Desroches, "you have made an utter fool of him, and he is furious. The scamp will stop at nothing to get his revenge upon you—for he'll lose everything if he forces you to fling your barrister's gown, as they say, to the nettles and go to prison."
"I?" said Theodose. "I'm going to pay him. But even so, there will still be five notes of mine in his hands, for five thousand francs each; what does he mean to do with them?"
"Oh! after the affair of this morning, I can't tell you; my client is a crafty, mangy cur, and he is sure to have his little plans."
"Look here, Desroches," said Theodose, taking the hard, unyielding attorney round the waist, "those papers are in your hands, are not they?"
"Will you pay them?"
"Yes, in three hours."
"Very good, then. Be at my office at nine o'clock; I'll receive the money and give you your notes; but, at half-past nine o'clock, they will be in the sheriff's hands."
"To-night, then, at nine o'clock," said Theodose.
"Nine o'clock," repeated Desroches, whose glance had taken in the whole family, then assembled in the garden.
Celeste, with red eyes, was talking to her godmother; Colleville and Brigitte, Flavie and Thuillier were on the steps of the broad portico leading to the entrance-hall. Desroches remarked to Theodose, who followed him to the door:—
"You can pay off those notes."
At a single glance the shrewd attorney had comprehended the whole scheme of the barrister.
CHAPTER XIV. ONE OF CERIZET'S FEMALE CLIENTS
The next morning, at daybreak, Theodose went to the office of the banker of the poor, to see the effect produced upon his enemy by the punctual payment of the night before, and to make another effort to get rid of his hornet.
He found Cerizet standing up, in conference with a woman, and he received an imperative sign to keep at a distance and not to interrupt the interview. The barrister was therefore reduced to conjectures as to the importance of this woman, an importance revealed by the eager look on the face of the lender "by the little week." Theodose had a presentiment, though a very vague one, that the upshot of this conference would have some influence on Cerizet's own arrangements, for he suddenly beheld on that crafty countenance the change produced by a dawning hope.
"But, my dear mamma Cardinal—"
"Yes, my good monsieur—"
"What is it you want—?"
"It must be decided—"
These beginnings, or these ends of sentences were the only gleams of light that the animated conversation, carried on in the lowest tones with lip to ear and ear to lip, conveyed to the motionless witness, whose attention was fixed on Madame Cardinal.
Madame Cardinal was one of Cerizet's earliest clients; she peddled fish. If Parisians know these creations peculiar to their soil, foreigners have no suspicion of their existence; and Mere Cardinal—technologically speaking, of course, deserved all the interest she excited in Theodose. So many women of her species may be met with in the streets that the passers-by give them no more attention than they give to the three thousand pictures of the Salon. But as she stood in Cerizet's office the Cardinal had all the value of an isolated masterpiece; she was a complete and perfect type of her species.
The woman was mounted on muddy sabots; but her feet, carefully wrapped in gaiters, were still further protected by stout and thick-ribbed stockings. Her cotton gown, adorned with a glounce of mud, bore the imprint of the strap which supported the fish-basket. Her principal garment was a shawl of what was called "rabbit's-hair cashmere," the two ends of which were knotted behind, above her bustle—for we must needs employ a fashionable word to express the effect produced by the transversal pressure of the basket upon her petticoats, which projected below it, in shape like a cabbage. A printed cotton neckerchief, of the coarsest description, gave to view a red neck, ribbed and lined like the surface of a pond where people have skated. Her head was covered in a yellow silk foulard, twined in a manner that was rather picturesque. Short and stout, and ruddy of skin, Mere Cardinal probably drank her little drop of brandy in the morning. She had once been handsome. The Halle had formerly reproached her, in the boldness of its figurative speech, for doing "a double day's-work in the twenty-four." Her voice, in order to reduce itself to the diapason of ordinary conversation, was obliged to stifle its sound as other voices do in a sick-room; but at such times it came thick and muffled, from a throat accustomed to send to the farthest recesses of the highest garret the names of the fish in their season. Her nose, a la Roxelane, her well-cut lips, her blue eyes, and all that formerly made up her beauty, was now buried in folds of vigorous flesh which told of the habits and occupations of an outdoor life. The stomach and bosom were distinguished for an amplitude worthy of Rubens.
"Do you want to make me lie in the straw?" she said to Cerizet. "What do I care for the Toupilliers? Ain't I a Toupillier myself? What do you want to do with them, those Toupilliers?"
This savage outburst was hastily repressed by Cerizet, who uttered a prolonged "Hush-sh!" such as all conspirators obey.
"Well, go and find out all you can about it, and come back to me," said Cerizet, pushing the woman toward the door, and whispering, as he did so, a few words in her ear.
"Well, my dear friend," said Theodose to Cerizet, "you have got your money?"
"Yes," returned Cerizet "we have measured our claws, they are the same length, the same strength, and the same sharpness. What next?"
"Am I to tell Dutocq that you received, last night, twenty-five thousand francs?"
"Oh! my dear friend, not a word, if you love me!" cried Cerizet.
"Listen," said Theodose. "I must know, once for all, what you want. I am positively determined not to remain twenty-four hours longer on the gridiron where you have got me. Cheat Dutocq if you will; I am utterly indifferent to that; but I intend that you and I shall come to an understanding. It is a fortune that I have paid you, twenty-five thousand francs, and you must have earned ten thousand more in your business; it is enough to make you an honest man. Cerizet, if you will leave me in peace, if you won't prevent my marriage with Mademoiselle Colleville, I shall certainly be king's attorney-general, or something of that kind in Paris. You can't do better than make sure of an influence in that sphere."
"Here are my conditions; and they won't allow of discussion; you can take them or leave them. You will obtain for me the lease of Thuillier's new house for eighteen years, and I'll hand you back one of your five notes cancelled, and you shall not find me any longer in your way. But you will have to settle with Dutocq for the remaining four notes. You got the better of me, and I know Dutocq hasn't the force to stand against you."
"I'll agree to that, provided you'll pay a rent of forty-eight thousand francs for the house, the last year in advance, and begin the lease in October."
"Yes; but I shall not give for the last year's rent more than forty-three thousand francs; your note will pay the remainder. I have seen the house, and examined it. It suits me very well."
"One last condition," said Theodose; "you'll help me against Dutocq?"
"No," said Cerizet, "you'll cook him brown yourself; he doesn't need any basting from me; he'll give out his gravy fast enough. But you ought to be reasonable. The poor fellow can't pay off the last fifteen thousand francs due on his practice, and you should reflect that fifteen thousand francs would certainly buy back your notes."
"Well; give me two weeks to get your lease—"
"No, not a day later than Monday next! Tuesday your notes will be in Louchard's hands; unless you pay them Monday, or Thuillier signs the lease."
"Well, Monday, so be it!" said Theodose; "are we friends?"
"We shall be Monday," responded Cerizet.
"Well, then, Monday you'll pay for my dinner," said Theodose, laughing.
"Yes, at the Rocher de Cancale, if I have the lease. Dutocq shall be there—we'll all be there—ah! it is long since I've had a good laugh."
Theodose and Cerizet shook hands, saying, reciprocally:—
"We'll meet soon."
Cerizet had not calmed down so suddenly without reasons. In the first place, as Desroches once said, "Bile does not facilitate business," and the usurer had too well seen the justice of that remark not to coolly resolve to get something out of his position, and to squeeze the jugular vein of the crafty Provencal until he strangled him.
"It is a fair revenge," Desroches said to him; "mind you extract its quintessence. You hold that fellow."
For ten years past Cerizet had seen men growing rich by practising the trade of principal tenant. The principal tenant is, in Paris, to the owners of houses what farmers are to country landlords. All Paris has seen one of its great tailors, building at his own cost, on the famous site of Frascati, one of the most sumptuous of houses, and paying, as principal tenant, fifty thousand francs a year for the ground rent of the house, which, at the end of nineteen years' lease, was to become the property of the owner of the land. In spite of the costs of construction, which were something like seven hundred thousand francs, the profits of those nineteen years proved, in the end, very large.
Cerizet, always on the watch for business, had examined the chances for gain offered by the situation of the house which Thuillier had stolen,—as he said to Desroches,—and he had seen the possibility of letting it for sixty thousand at the end of six years. There were four shops, two on each side, for it stood on a boulevard corner. Cerizet expected, therefore, to get clear ten thousand a year for a dozen years, allowing for eventualities and sundries attendant on renewal of leases. He therefore proposed to himself to sell his money-lending business to the widow Poiret and Cadenet for ten thousand francs; he already possessed thirty thousand; and the two together would enable him to pay the last year's rent in advance, which house-owners in Paris usually demand as a guarantee from a principal tenant on a long lease. Cerizet had spent a happy night; he fell asleep in a glorious dream; he saw himself in a fair way to do an honest business, and to become a bourgeois like Thuillier, like Minard, and so many others.
But he had a waking of which he did not dream. He found Fortune standing before him, and emptying her gilded horns of plenty at his feet in the person of Madame Cardinal. He had always had a liking for the woman, and had promised her for a year past the necessary sum to buy a donkey and a little cart, so that she could carry on her business on a large scale, and go from Paris to the suburbs. Madame Cardinal, widow of a porter in the corn-market, had an only daughter, whose beauty Cerizet had heard of from some of the mother's cronies. Olympe Cardinal was about thirteen years of age at the time, 1837, when Cerizet began his system of loans in the quarter; and with a view to an infamous libertinism, he had paid great attention to the mother, whom he rescued from utter misery, hoping to make Olympe his mistress. But suddenly, in 1838, the girl left her mother, and "made her life," to use an expression by which the lower classes in Paris describe the abuse of the most precious gifts of nature and youth.
To look for a girl in Paris is to look for a smelt in the Seine; nothing but chance can throw her into the net. The chance came. Mere Cardinal, who to entertain a neighbor had taken her to the Bobino theatre, recognized in the leading lady her own daughter, whom the first comedian had held under his control for three years. The mother, gratified at first at beholding her daughter in a fine gown of gold brocade, her hair dressed like that of a duchess, and wearing open-worked stockings, satin shoes, and receiving the plaudits of the audience, ended by screaming out from her seat in the gallery:—
"You shall soon hear of me, murderer of your own mother! I'll know whether miserable strolling-players have the right to come and debauch young girls of sixteen!"
She waited at the stage-door to capture her daughter, but the first comedian and the leading lady had no doubt jumped across the footlights and left the theatre with the audience, instead of issuing by the stage-door, where Madame Cardinal and her crony, Mere Mahoudeau, made an infernal rumpus, which two municipal guards were called upon to pacify. Those august personages, before whom the two women lowered the diapason of their voices, called the mother's attention to the fact that the girl was of legitimate theatrical age, and that instead of screaming at the door after the director, she could summon him before the justice-of-peace, or the police-court, whichever she pleased.
The next day Madame Cardinal intended to consult Cerizet, in view of the fact that he was a clerk in the office of the justice-of-peace; but, before reaching his lair in the rue des Poules, she was met by the porter of a house in which an uncle of hers, a certain Toupillier, was living, who told her that the old man hadn't probably two days to live, being then in the last extremity.
"Well, how do you expect me to help it?" replied the widow Cardinal.
"We count on you, my dear Madame Cardinal; we know you won't forget the good advice we'll give you. Here's the thing. Lately, your poor uncle, not being able to stir round, has trusted me to go and collect the rents of his house, rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, and the arrears of his dividends at the Treasury, which come to eighteen hundred francs."
By this time the widow Cardinal's eyes were becoming fixed instead of wandering.
"Yes, my dear," continued Perrache, a hump-backed little concierge; "and, seeing that you are the only person who ever thinks about him, and that you come and see him sometimes, and bring him fish, perhaps he may make a bequest in your favor. My wife, who has been nursing him for the last few days since he has been so ill, spoke to him of you, but he wouldn't have you told about his illness. But now, don't you see, it is high time you should show yourself there. It is pretty nigh two months since he has been able to attend to business."
"You may well think, you old thief," replied Madame Cardinal, hurrying at top speed toward the rue Honore-Chevalier, where her uncle lived in a wretched garret, "that the hair would grow on my hand before I could ever imagine that. What! my uncle Toupillier rich! the old pauper of the church of Saint-Sulpice!"
"Ah!" returned the porter, "but he fed well. He went to bed every night with his best friend, a big bottle of Roussillon. My wife has tasted it, though he told us it was common stuff. The wine-merchant in the rue des Canettes supplies it to him."
"Don't say a word about all this," said the widow, when she parted from the man who had given her the information. "I'll take care and remember you—if anything comes of it."
Toupillier, former drum-major in the French Guards, had been for the two years preceding 1789 in the service of the Church as beadle of Saint-Sulpice. The Revolution deprived him of that post, and he then dropped down into a state of abject misery. He was even obliged to take to the profession of model, for he enjoyed, as they say, a fine physique. When public worship was restored, he took up his beadle's staff once more; but in 1816 he was dismissed, as much on account of his immorality as for his political opinions. Nevertheless, he was allowed to stay about the door of the church and distribute the holy water. Later, an unfortunate affair, which we shall presently mention, made him lose even that position; but, still finding means to keep to the sanctuary, he obtained permission to be allowed as a pauper in the porch. At this period of life, being then seventy-two years of age, he made himself ninety-six, and began the profession of centenarian.
In all Paris it was impossible to find another such beard and head of hair as Toupillier's. As he walked he appeared bent double; he held a stick in his shaking hand,—a hand that was covered with lichen, like a granite rock, and with the other he held out the classic hat with a broad brim, filthy and battered, into which, however, there fell abundant alms. His legs were swathed in rags and bandages, and his feet shuffled along in miserable overshoes of woven mat-weed, inside of which he had fastened excellent cork soles. He washed his face with certain compounds, which gave it an appearance of forms of illness, and he played the senility of a centenarian to the life. He reckoned himself a hundred years old in 1830, at which time his actual age was eighty; he was the head of the paupers of Saint-Sulpice, the master of the place, and all those who came to beg under the arcades of the church, safe from the persecutions of the police and beneath the protection of the beadle and the giver of holy water, were forced to pay him a sort of tithe.
When a new heir, a bridegroom, or some godfather left the church, saying, "Here, this is for all of you; don't torment any of my party," Toupillier, appointed by the beadle to receive these alms, pocketed three-fourths, and distributed only the remaining quarter among his henchmen, whose tribute amounted to a sou a day. Money and wine were his last two passions; but he regulated the latter and gave himself up to the former, with neglecting his personal comfort. He drank at night only, after his dinner, and for twenty years he slept in the arms of drunkenness, his last mistress.
In the early morning he was at his post with all his faculties. From then until his dinner, which he took at Pere Lathuile's (made famous by Charlet), he gnawed crusts of bread by way of nourishment; and he gnawed them artistically, with an air of resignation which earned him abundant alms. The beadle and the giver of holy water, with whom he may have had some private understanding, would say of him:—
"He is one of the worthy poor of the church; he used to know the rector Languet, who built Saint-Sulpice; he was for twenty years beadle of the church before the Revolution, and he is now over a hundred years old."
This little biography, well known to all the pious attendants of the church, was, of course, the best of his advertisements, and no hat was so well lined as his. He bought his house in 1826, and began to invest his money in the Funds in 1830. From the value of the two investments he must have made something like six thousand francs a year, and probably turned them over by usury, after Cerizet's own fashion; for the sum he paid for the house was forty thousand francs, while his investment in 1830 was forty-eight thousand more. His niece, deceived by the old man as much as he deceived the functionaries and the pious souls of the church, believed him the most miserable of paupers, and when she had any fish that were spoiling she sometimes took them to the aged beggar.
Consequently, she now felt it her right to get what she could in return for her pity and her liberality to an uncle who was likely to have a crowd of collateral heirs; she herself being the third and last Toupillier daughter. She had four brothers, and her father, a porter with a hand-cart, had told her, in her childhood, of three aunts and four uncles, who all led an existence of the baser sort.
After inspecting the sick man, she went, at full speed, to consult Cerizet, telling him, in the first place, how she had found her daughter, and then the reasons and indications which made her think that her uncle Toupillier was hoarding a pile of gold in his mattress. Mere Cardinal did not feel herself strong enough to seize upon the property, legally or illegally, and she therefore came to confide in Cerizet and get his advice.
So, then, the banker of the poor, like other scavengers, had, at last, found diamonds in the slime in which he had paddled for the last four years, being always on the watch for some such chance,—a chance, they say, occasionally met with in the purlieus, which give birth to heiresses in sabots. This was the secret of his unexpected gentleness to la Peyrade, the man whose ruin he had vowed. It is easy to imagine the anxiety with which he awaited the return of Madame Cardinal, to whom this wily schemer of nefarious plots had given means to verify her suspicions as to the existence of the hoarded treasure, promising her complete success if she would trust him to obtain for her so rich a harvest. He was not the man to shrink from a crime, above all, when he saw that others could commit it, while he obtained the benefits.
"Well, monsieur," cried the fishwife, entering Cerizet's den with a face as much inflamed by cupidity as by the haste of her movements, "my uncle sleeps on more than a hundred thousand francs in gold, and I am certain that those Perraches, by dint of nursing him, have smelt the rat."
"Shared among forty heirs that won't be much to each," said Cerizet. "Listen to me, Mere Cardinal: I'll marry your daughter; give her your uncle's gold, and I'll guarantee to you a life-interest in the house and the dividends from the money in the Funds."
"We sha'n't run any risk?"
"Agreed, then," said the widow Cardinal, holding out her hand to her future son-in-law. "Six thousand francs a year; hey! what a fine life I'll have."
"With a son-in-law like me!" added Cerizet.
"I shall be a bourgeoisie of Paris!"
"Now," resumed Cerizet, after a pause, "I must study the ground. Don't leave your uncle alone a minute; tell the Perraches that you expect a doctor. I'll be the doctor, and when I get there you must seem not to know me."
"Aren't you sly, you old rogue," said Madame Cardinal, with a punch on Cerizet's stomach by way of farewell.
An hour later, Cerizet, dressed in black, disguised by a rusty wig and an artificially painted physiognomy, arrived at the house in the rue Honore-Chevalier in the regulation cabriolet. He asked the porter to tell him how to find the lodging of an old beggar named Toupillier.
"Is monsieur the doctor whom Madame Cardinal expects?" asked Perrache.
Cerizet had no doubt reflected on the gravity of the affair he was undertaking, for he avoided giving an answer to that question.
"Is this the way?" he said, turning at random to one side of the courtyard.
"No, monsieur," replied Perrache, who then took him to the back stairs of the house, which led up to the wretched attic occupied by the pauper.
Nothing remained for the inquisitive porter to do but to question the driver of the cabriolet; to which employment we will leave him, while we pursue our own inquiries elsewhere.
THE DIFFICULTIES THAT CROP UP IN THE EASIEST OF THEFTS
The house in which Toupillier lived is one of those which have lost half their depth, owing to the straightening of the line of the street, the rue Honore-Chevalier being one of the narrowest in the Saint-Sulpice quarter. The owner, forbidden by the law to repair it, or to add new storeys, was compelled to let the wretched building in the condition in which he bought it. It consisted of a first storey above the ground-floor, surmounted by garrets, with two small wings running back on either side. The courtyard thus formed ended in a garden planted with trees, which was always rented to the occupant of the first floor. This garden, separated by an iron railing from the courtyard, would have allowed a rich owner to sell the front buildings to the city, and to build a new house upon the courtyard; but the whole of the first floor was let on an eighteen years' lease to a mysterious personage, about whom neither the official policing of the concierge nor the curiosity of the other tenants could find anything to censure.
This tenant, now seventy years of age, had built, in 1829, an outer stairway, leading from the right wing of the first floor to the garden, so that he could get there without going through the courtyard. Half the ground-floor was occupied by a book-stitcher, who for the last ten years had used the stable and coach-house for workshops. A book-binder occupied the other half. The binder and the stitcher lived, each of them, in half the garret rooms over the front building on the street. The garrets above the rear wings were occupied, the one on the right by the mysterious tenant, the one on the left by Toupillier, who paid a hundred francs a year for it, and reached it by a dark staircase, lighted by small round windows. The porte-cochere was made in the circular form indispensable in a street so narrow that two carriages cannot pass in it.
Cerizet laid hold of the rope which served as a baluster, to climb the species of ladder leading to the room where the so-called beggar was dying,—a room in which the odious spectacle of pretended pauperism was being played. In Paris, everything that is done for a purpose is thoroughly done. Would-be paupers are as clever at mounting their disguise as shopkeepers in preparing their show-windows, or sham rich men in obtaining credit.
The floor had never been swept; the bricks had disappeared beneath layers of dirt, dust, dried mud, and any and every thing thrown down by Toupillier. A miserable stove of cast-iron, the pipe of which entered a crumbling chimney, was the most apparent piece of furniture in this hovel. In an alcove stood a bed, with tester and valence of green serge, which the moths had transformed into lace. The window, almost useless, had a heavy coating of grease upon its panes, which dispensed with the necessity of curtains. The whitewashed walls presented to the eye fuliginous tones, due to the wood and peat burned by the pauper in his stove. On the fireplace were a broken water-pitcher, two bottles, and a cracked plate. A worm-eaten chest of drawers contained his linen and decent clothes. The rest of the furniture consisted of a night-table of the commonest description, another table, worth about forty sous, and two kitchen chairs with the straw seats almost gone. The extremely picturesque costume of the centenarian pauper was hanging from a nail, and below it, on the floor, were the shapeless mat-weed coverings that served him for shoes, the whole forming, with his amorphous old hat and knotty stick, a sort of panoply of misery.
As he entered, Cerizet gave a rapid glance at the old man, whose head lay on a pillow brown with grease and without a pillow-case; his angular profile, like those which engravers of the last century were fond of making out of rocks in the landscapes they engraved, was strongly defined in black against the green serge hangings of the tester. Toupillier, a man nearly six feet tall, was looking fixedly at some object at the foot of his bed; he did not move on hearing the groaning of the heavy door, which, being armed with iron bolts and a strong lock, closed his domicile securely.
"Is he conscious?" said Cerizet, before whom Madame Cardinal started back, not having recognized him till he spoke.
"Pretty nearly," she replied.
"Come out on the staircase, so that he doesn't hear us," whispered Cerizet. "This is how we'll manage it," he continued, in the ear of his future mother-in-law. "He is weak, but he isn't so very low; we have fully a week before us. I'll send you a doctor who'll suit us,—you understand? and later in the evening I'll bring you six poppy-heads. In the state he's in, you see, a decoction of poppy-heads will send him into a sound sleep. I'll send you a cot-bed on pretence of your sleeping in the room with him. We'll move him from one bed to the other, and when we've found the money there won't be any difficulty in carrying it off. But we ought to know who the people are who live in this old barrack. If Perrache suspects, as you think, about the money, he might give an alarm, and so many tenants, so many spies, you know—"
"Oh! as for that," said Madame Cardinal, "I've found out already that Monsieur du Portail, the old man who occupies the first floor, has charge of an insane woman; I heard their Dutch servant-woman, Katte, calling her Lydie this morning. The only other servant is an old valet named Bruneau; he does everything, except cook."
"But the binder and the stitcher down below," returned Cerizet, "they begin work very early in the morning—Well, anyhow, we must study the matter," he added, in the tone of a man whose plans are not yet decided. "I'll go to the mayor's office of your arrondissement, and get Olympe's register of birth, and put up the banns. The marriage must take place a week from Saturday."
"How he goes it, the rascal!" cried the admiring Madame Cardinal, pushing her formidable son-in-law by the shoulder.
As he went downstairs Cerizet was surprised to see, through one of the small round windows, an old man, evidently du Portail, walking in the garden with a very important member of the government, Comte Martial de la Roche-Hugon. He stopped in the courtyard when he reached it, as if to examine the old house, built in the reign of Louis XIV., the yellow walls of which, though of freestone, were bent like the elderly beggar they contained. Then he looked at the workshops, and counted the workmen. The house was otherwise as silent as a cloister. Being observed himself, Cerizet departed, thinking over in his mind the various difficulties that might arise in extracting the sum hidden beneath the dying man.
"Carry off all that gold at night?" he said to himself; "why, those porters will be on the watch, and twenty persons might see us! It is hard work to carry even twenty-five thousand francs of gold on one's person."
Societies have two goals of perfection; the first is a state of civilization in which morality equally infused and pervasive does not admit even the idea of crime; the Jesuits reached that point, formerly presented by the primitive Church. The second is the state of another civilization in which the supervision of citizens over one another makes crime impossible. The end which modern society has placed before itself is the latter; namely, that in which a crime presents such difficulties that a man must abandon all reasoning in order to commit it. In fact, iniquities which the law cannot reach are not left actually unpunished, for social judgment is even more severe than that of courts. If a man like Minoret, the post-master at Nemours [see "Ursule Mirouet"] suppresses a will and no one witnesses the act, the crime is traced home to him by the watchfulness of virtue as surely as a robbery is followed up by the detective police. No wrong-doing passes actually unperceived; and wherever a lesion in rectitude takes place the scar remains. Things can be no more made to disappear than men; so carefully, in Paris especially, are articles and objects ticketed and numbered, houses watched, streets observed, places spied upon. To live at ease, crime must have a sanction like that of the Bourse; like that conceded by Cerizet's clients; who never complained of his usury, and, indeed, would have been troubled in mind if their flayer were not in his den of a Tuesday.
"Well, my dear monsieur," said Madame Perrache, the porter's wife, as he passed her lodge, "how do you find him, that friend of God, that poor man?"
"I am not the doctor," replied Cerizet, who now decidedly declined that role. "I am Madame Cardinal's business man. I have just advised her to have a cot-bed put up, so as to nurse her uncle night and day; though, perhaps, she will have to get a regular nurse."
"I can help her," said Madame Perrache. "I nurse women in childbed."
"Well, we'll see about it," said Cerizet; "I'll arrange all that. Who is the tenant on your first floor?"
"Monsieur du Portail. He has lodged here these thirty years. He is a man with a good income, monsieur; highly respectable, and elderly. You know people who invest in the Funds live on their incomes. He used to be in business. But it is more than eleven years now since he has been trying to restore the reason of a daughter of one of his friends, Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade. She has the best advice, I can tell you; the very first doctors in Paris; only this morning they had a consultation. But so far nothing has cured her; and they have to watch her pretty close; for sometimes she gets up and walks at night—"
"Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade!" exclaimed Cerizet; "are you sure of the name?"
"I've heard Madame Katte, her nurse, who also does the cooking, call her so a thousand times, monsieur; though, generally, neither Monsieur Bruneau, the valet, nor Madame Katte say much. It's like talking to the wall to try and get any information out of them. We have been porters here these twenty years and we've never found out anything about Monsieur du Portail yet. More than that, monsieur, he owns the little house alongside; you see the double door from here. Well, he can go out that way and receive his company too, and we know nothing about it. Our owner doesn't know anything more than we do; when people ring at that door, Monsieur Bruneau goes and opens it."
"Then you didn't see the gentleman who is talking with him in the garden go by this way?"
"Bless me! no, that I didn't!"
"Ah!" thought Cerizet as he got into the cabriolet, "she must be the daughter of that uncle of Theodose. I wonder if du Portail can be the secret benefactor who sent money from time to time to that rascal? Suppose I send an anonymous letter to the old fellow, warning him of the danger the barrister runs from those notes for twenty-five thousand francs?"
An hour later the cot-bed had arrived for Madame Cardinal, to whom the inquisitive portress offered her services to bring her something to eat.
"Do you want to see the rector?" Madame Cardinal inquired of her uncle.
She had noticed that the arrival of the bed seemed to draw him from his somnolence.
"I want wine!" replied the pauper.
"How do you feel now, Pere Toupillier?" asked Madame Perrache, in a coaxing voice.
"I tell you I want wine," repeated the old man, with an energetic insistence scarcely to be expected of his feebleness.
"We must first find out if it is good for you, uncle," said Madame Cardinal, soothingly. "Wait till the doctor comes."
"Doctor! I won't have a doctor!" cried Toupillier; "and you, what are you doing here? I don't want anybody."
"My good uncle, I came to know if you'd like something tasty. I've got some nice fresh soles—hey! a bit of fried sole, with a squeeze of lemon on it?"
"Your fish, indeed!" cried Toupillier; "all rotten! That last you brought me, more than six weeks ago, it is there in the cupboard; you can take it away with you."
"Heavens! how ungrateful sick men are!" whispered the widow Cardinal to Perrache.
Nevertheless, to exhibit solicitude, she arranged the pillow under the patient's head, saying:—
"There! uncle, don't you feel better like that?"
"Let me alone!" shouted Toupillier, angrily; "I want no one here; I want wine; leave me in peace."
"Don't get angry, little uncle; we'll fetch you some wine."
"Number six wine, rue des Canettes," cried the pauper.
"Yes, I know," replied Madame Cardinal; "but let me count out my coppers. I want to get something better for you than that kind of wine; for, don't you see, an uncle, he's a kind of father, and one shouldn't mind what one does for him."
So saying, she sat down, with her legs apart, on one of the dilapidated chairs, and poured into her apron the contents of her pockets, namely: a knife, her snuff-box, two pawn-tickets, some crusts of bread, and a handful of copper, from which she extracted a few silver bits.
This exhibition, intended to prove her generous and eager devotion, had no result. Toupillier seemed not to notice it. Exhausted by the feverish energy with which he had demanded his favorite remedy, he made an effort to change his position, and, with his back turned to his two nurses, he again muttered: "Wine! wine!" after which nothing more was heard of him but a stentorous breathing, that plainly showed the state of his lungs, which were beginning to congest.
"I suppose I must go and fetch his wine!" said the Cardinal, restoring to her pockets, with some ill-humor, the cargo she had just pulled out of them.
"If you don't want to go—" began Madame Perrache, always ready to offer her services.
The fishwife hesitated for a moment; then, reflecting that something might be got out of a conversation with the wine-merchant, and sure, moreover, that as long as Toupillier lay on his gold she could safely leave him alone with the portress, she said:—
"Thank you, Madame Perrache, but I'd better make acquaintance with his trades-folk."
Then, having spied behind the night-table a dirty bottle which might hold about two quarts,—
"Did he say the rue des Canelles?" she inquired of the portress.
"Corner of the rue Guisarde," replied Madame Perrache. "Monsieur Legrelu, a tall, fine man with big whiskers and no hair." Then, lowering her voice, she added: "His number-six wine, you know, is Roussillon, and the best, too. However, the wine-merchant knows; it is enough if you tell him you have come from his customer, the pauper of Saint-Sulpice."
"No need to tell me anything twice," said the Cardinal, opening the door and making, as they say, a false exit. "Ah ca!" she said, coming back; "what does he burn in his stove, supposing I want to heat some remedy for him?"
"Goodness!" said the portress, "he doesn't make much provision for winter, and here we are in the middle of summer!"
"And not a saucepan! not a pot, even! Gracious! what a way to live. I'll have to fetch him some provisions; I hope nobody will see the things I bring back; I'd be ashamed they should—"
"I'll lend you a hand-bag," said the portress, always ready and officious.
"No, I'll buy a basket," replied the fishwife, more anxious about what she expected to carry away than what she was about to bring home to the pauper. "There must be some Auvergnat in the neighborhood who sells wood," she added.
"Corner of the rue Ferou; you'll find one there. A fine establishment, with logs of wood painted in a kind of an arcade all round the shop—so like, you'd think they were going to speak to you."
Before going finally off, Madame Cardinal went through a piece of very deep hypocrisy. We have seen how she hesitated about leaving the portress alone with the sick man:—
"Madame Perrache," she said to her, "you won't leave him, the poor darling, will you, till I get back?"
It may have been noticed that Cerizet had not decided on any definite course of action in the new affair he was now undertaking. The part of doctor, which for a moment he thought of assuming, frightened him, and he gave himself out, as we have seen, to Madame Perrache as the business agent of his accomplice. Once alone, he began to see that his original idea complicated with a doctor, a nurse, and a notary, presented the most serious difficulties. A regular will drawn in favor of Madame Cardinal was not a thing to be improvised in a moment. It would take some time to acclimatize the idea in the surly and suspicious mind of the old pauper, and death, which was close at hand, might play them a trick at any moment, and balk the most careful preparations.
It was true that unless a will were made the income of eight thousand francs on the Grand Livre and the house in the rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth would go to the heirs-at-law, and Madame Cardinal would get only her share of the property; but the abandonment of this visible portion of the inheritance was the surest means of laying hands on the invisible part of it. Besides, if the latter were secured, what hindered their returning to the idea of a will?
Resolving, therefore, to confine the operation to the simplest terms at first, Cerizet summed them up in the manoeuvre of the poppy-heads, already mentioned, and he was making his way back to Toupillier's abode, armed with that single weapon of war, intending to give Madame Cardinal further instructions, when he met her, bearing on her arm the basket she had just bought; and in that basket was the sick man's panacea.
"Upon my word!" cried the usurer, "is this the way you keep your watch?"
"I had to go out and buy him wine," replied the Cardinal; "he is howling like a soul in hell that he wants to be at peace, and to be let alone, and get his wine! It is his one idea that Roussillon is good for his disease. Well, when he has drunk it, I dare say he will be quieter."
"You are right," said Cerizet, sententiously; "never contradict a sick man. But this wine, you know, ought to be improved; by infusing these" (and lifting one of the covers of the basket he slipped in the poppies) "you'll procure the poor man a good, long sleep,—five or six hours at least. This evening I'll come and see you, and nothing, I think, need prevent us from examining a little closer those matters of inheritance."
"I see," said Madame Cardinal, winking.
"To-night, then," said Cerizet, not wishing to prolong the conversation.
He had a strong sense of the difficulty and danger of the affair, and was very reluctant to be seen in the street conversing with his accomplice.
Returning to her uncle's garret, Madame Cardinal found him still in a state of semi-torpor; she relieved Madame Perrache, and bade her good-bye, going to the door to receive a supply of wood, all sawed, which she had ordered from the Auvergnat in the rue Ferou.
Into an earthen pot, which she had bought of the right size to fit upon the hole in the stoves of the poor where they put their soup-kettles, she now threw the poppies, pouring over them two-thirds of the wine she had brought back with her. Then she lighted a fire beneath the pot, intending to obtain the decoction agreed upon as quickly as possible. The crackling of the wood and the heat, which soon spread about the room, brought Toupillier out of his stupor. Seeing the stove lighted he called out:—
"Who is making a fire here? Do you want to burn the house down?"
"Why, uncle," said the Cardinal, "it is wood I bought with my own money, to warm your wine. The doctor doesn't want you to drink it cold."
"Where is it, that wine?" demanded Toupillier, calming down a little at the thought that the fire was not burning at his expense.
"It must come to a boil," said his nurse; "the doctor insisted upon that. Still, if you'll be good I'll give you half a glass of it cold, just to wet your whistle. I'll take that upon myself, but don't you tell the doctor."
"Doctor! I won't have a doctor; they are all scoundrels, invented to kill people," cried Toupillier, whom the idea of drink had revived. "Come, give me the wine!" he said, in the tone of a man whose patience had come to an end.
Convinced that though this compliance would do no harm it could do no good, Madame Cardinal poured out half a glass, and while she gave it with one hand to the sick man, with the other she raised him to a sitting posture that he might drink it.
With his fleshless, eager fingers Toupillier clutched the glass, emptied it at a gulp, and exclaimed:—
"Ah! that's a fine drop, that is! though you've watered it."
"You mustn't say that, uncle; I went and bought it myself of Pere Legrelu, and I've given it you quite pure. But you let me simmer the rest; the doctor said I might then give you all you wanted."
Toupillier resigned himself with a shrug of the shoulders. At the end of fifteen minutes, the infusion being in condition to serve, Madame Cardinal brought him, without further appeal, a full cup of it.
The avidity with which the old pauper drank it down prevented him from noticing at first that the wine was drugged; but as he swallowed the last drops he tasted the sickly and nauseating flavor, and flinging the cup on the bed he cried out that some one was trying to poison him.
"Poison! nonsense!" said the fishwife, pouring into her own mouth a few drops of that which remained in the bottle, declaring to the old man that if the wine did not seem to him the same as usual, it was because his mouth had a "bad taste to it."
Before the end of the dispute, which lasted some time, the narcotic began to take effect, and at the end of an hour the sick man was sound asleep.