While idly waiting for Cerizet, an idea took possession of the Cardinal's mind. She thought that in view of their comings and goings with the treasure, it would be well if the vigilance of the Perrache husband and wife could be dulled in some manner. Consequently, after carefully flinging the refuse poppy-heads into the privy, she called to the portress:—
"Madame Perrache, come up and taste his wine. Wouldn't you have thought to hear him talk he was ready to drink a cask of it? Well, a cupful satisfied him."
"Your health!" said the portress, touching glasses with the Cardinal, who was careful to have hers filled with the unboiled wine. Less accomplished as a gourmet than the old beggar, Madame Perrache perceived nothing in the insidious liquid (cold by the time she drank it) to make her suspect its narcotic character; on the contrary, she declared it was "velvet," and wished that her husband were there to have a share in the treat. After a rather long gossip, the two women separated. Then, with the cooked meat she had provided for herself, and the remains of the Roussillon, Madame Cardinal made a repast which she finished off with a siesta. Without mentioning the emotions of the day, the influence of one of the most heady wines of the country would have sufficed to explain the soundness of her sleep; when she woke darkness was coming on.
Her first care was to give a glance at her patient; his sleep was restless, and he was dreaming aloud.
"Diamonds," he said; "those diamonds? At my death, but not before."
"Gracious!" thought Madame Cardinal, "that was the one thing lacking,—diamonds! that he should have diamonds!"
Then, as Toupillier seemed to be in the grasp of a violent nightmare, she leaned over him so as not to lose a word of his speech, hoping to gather from it some important revelation. At this moment a slight rap given to the door, from which the careful nurse had removed the key, announced the arrival of Cerizet.
"Well?" he said, on entering.
"He has taken the drug. He's been sound asleep these two hours; just now, in dreaming, he was talking of diamonds."
"Well," said Cerizet, "it wouldn't be surprising if we found some. These paupers when they set out to be rich, like to pile up everything."
"Ah ca!" cried the Cardinal, suddenly, "what made you go and tell Mere Perrache that you were my man of business, and that you weren't a doctor? I thought we agreed this morning that you were coming as a doctor?"
Cerizet did not choose to admit that the usurpation of that title had seemed to him dangerous; he feared to discourage his accomplice.
"I saw that the woman was going to propose a consultation," he replied, "and I got out of it that way."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Madame Cardinal, "they say fine minds come together; that was my dodge, too. Calling you my man of business seemed to give that old pilferer a few ideas. Did they see you come in, those porters?"
"I thought, as I went by," replied Cerizet, "that the woman was asleep in her chair."
"And well she might be," said the Cardinal, significantly.
"What, really?" said Cerizet.
"Parbleu!" replied the fishwife; "what's enough for one is enough for two; the rest of the stuff went that way."
"As for the husband, he was there," said Cerizet; "for he gave me a gracious sign of recognition, which I could have done without."
"Wait till it is quite dark, and we'll play him a comedy that shall fool him finely."
Accordingly, ten minutes later, the fishwife, with a vim that delighted the usurer, organized for the innocent porter the comedy of a monsieur who would not, out of politeness, let her accompany him to the door; she herself with equal politeness insisting. Appearing to conduct the sham physician into the street gate she pretended that the wind had blown out of her lamp, and under pretext of relighting it she put out that of Perrache. All this racket, accompanied by exclamations and a bewildering loquacity, was so briskly carried out that the porter, if summoned before the police-court, would not have hesitated to swear that the doctor, whose arrival he had witnessed, left the house between nine and ten o'clock.
When the two accomplices were thus in tranquil possession of the field of operations Madame Cardinal hung up her rabbit's-hair shawl before the window to exclude all possible indiscretion on the part of a neighbor. In the Luxembourg quarter life quiets down early. By ten o'clock all the sounds in the house as well as those out of doors were stilled, and Cerizet declared that the moment had come to go to work; by beginning at once they were certain that the sleeper would remain under the influence of the drug; besides, if the booty were found at once, Madame Cardinal could, under pretence of a sudden attack on her patient, which required her to fetch a remedy from the apothecary, get the porter to open the street gate for her without suspicion. As all porters pull the gate-cord from their beds, Cerizet would be able to get away at the same time without notice.
Powerful in advice, Cerizet was a very incapable hand in action; and, without the robust assistance of Mere Cardinal he could never have lifted what might almost be called the corpse of the former drum-major. Completely insensible, Toupillier was now an inert mass, a dead-weight, which could, fortunately, be handled without much precaution, and the athletic Madame Cardinal, gathering strength from her cupidity, contrived, notwithstanding Cerizet's insufficient assistance, to effect the transfer of her uncle from one bed to the other.
On rummaging the bed from which the body was moved, nothing was found, and Madame Cardinal, pressed by Cerizet to explain why she had confidently asserted that her uncle "was lying on one hundred thousand francs in gold," was forced to admit that a talk with Madame Perrache, and her own fervid imagination were the sole grounds of her certainty. Cerizet was furious; having for one whole day dallied with the idea and hope of fortune, having, moreover, entered upon a dangerous and compromising course of action, only to find himself, at the supreme moment, face to face with—nothing! The disappointment was so bitter that if he had not been afraid of the muscular strength of his future mother-in-law, he would have rushed upon her with some frantic intention.
His anger, however, spent itself in words. Harshly abused, Madame Cardinal contented herself by remarking that all hope was not lost, and then, with a faith that ought to have moved mountains, she set to work to empty the straw from the mattress she had already vainly explored in all directions. But Cerizet would not allow that extreme measure; he remarked that after the autopsy of a straw mattress such detritus would remain upon the floor as must infallibly give rise to suspicion. But the Cardinal, who thought this caution ridiculous, was determined to, at least, take apart the flock bedstead. The passion of the search gave extraordinary vigilance to her senses, and as she raised the wooden side-frame she heard the fall of some tiny object on the floor. Seizing the light she began to search in the mound of filth of all kinds that was under the bed, and finally laid her hand on a bit of polished steel about half an inch long, the use of which was to her inexplicable.
"That's a key!" cried Cerizet, who was standing beside her with some indifference, but whose imagination now set off at a gallop.
"Ha! ha! you see I was right," cried the Cardinal. "But what can it open?" she added, on reflection; "nothing bigger than a doll's house."
"No," said Cerizet, "it is a modern invention, and very strong locks can be opened with that little instrument."
With a rapid glance he took in all the pieces of furniture in the room; went to the bureau and pulled out the drawers; looked in the stove, in the table; but nowhere did he find a lock to which the little key could be adapted.
Suddenly the Cardinal had a flash of illumination.
"See here!" she said. "I remarked that the old thief, as he lay on his bed, never took his eyes off the wall just opposite to him."
"A cupboard hidden in the wall!" cried Cerizet, seizing the light eagerly; "it is not impossible!"
Examining attentively the door of the alcove, which was opposite the bed's head, he could see nothing there but a vast accumulation of dust and spiders' webs. He next employed the sense of touch, and began to rap and sound the wall in all directions. At the spot to which Toupillier's constant gaze was directed he thought he perceived in a very narrow space a slight sonority, and he presently perceived that he was rapping on wood. He then rubbed the spot vigorously with his handkerchief, and beneath the thick layer of dust and dirt which he thus removed he found a piece of oak plank carefully inserted in the wall. On one side of this plank was a small round hole; it was that of the lock which the key fitted!
While Cerizet was turning the key, which worked with great difficulty, Madame Cardinal, holding the light, was pale and breathless; but, oh! cruel deception! the cupboard, at last unlocked and open, showed only an empty space, into which the light in her hand fell uselessly.
Allowing this bacchante to give vent to her despair by saluting her much-beloved uncle with the harshest epithets, Cerizet quietly inserted his arm into the cupboard, and after feeling it over at the back, he cried out, "An iron safe!" adding, impatiently, "Give me more light, Madame Cardinal."
Then, as the light did not penetrate to the depths of the cupboard, he snatched the candle from the bottle, where, in default of a candlestick, the Cardinal had stuck it, and, taking it in his hand, moved it carefully over all parts of the iron safe, the existence of which was now a certainty.
"There is no visible lock," he said. "There must be a secret opening."
"Isn't he sly, that old villain!" exclaimed Madame Cardinal, while Cerizet's bony fingers felt the side of the safe over minutely.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, after groping for ten minutes, "I have it!"
During this time Madame Cardinal's life seemed actually suspended.
Under the pressure which Cerizet now applied, the iron side rose quickly into the thickness of the wall above, and in the midst of a mass of gold thrown pell-mell into a large excavation that was now exposed to view, lay a case of red morocco, which, from its size and appearance, gave promise of magnificent booty.
"I take the diamonds for myself," said Cerizet, when he had opened the case and seen the splendid jewels it contained; "you won't know how to get rid of them. I'll leave you the gold for your share. As for the house and the money in the Funds, they are not worth the trouble it would be to get the old fellow to make a will."
"Not so fast, my little man!" replied the Cardinal, who thought this decision rather summary; "we will first count the money—"
"Hush!" exclaimed Cerizet, apparently listening to a sound.
"What is it?" asked the Cardinal.
"Don't you hear some one moving below?"
"No, I hear nothing."
Cerizet, making her a sign to be silent, listened attentively.
"I hear a step on the stairs," he said, a moment later.
Then he hastily replaced the morocco case, and made desperate but unavailing efforts to lower the panel.
"Yes!" cried Madame Cardinal, terrified; "some one is really coming." Then, fastening to a hope of safety, she added, "I dare say it is that insane girl; they say she walks at night."
At any rate, the insane girl (if it were she) had a key to the room, for a moment later, this key was inserted in the lock. With a rapid glance Madame Cardinal measured the distance to the door; should she have time to push the bolt? No; certain that it was then too late, so she blew out the candle to give herself at least some chances in the darkness.
Useless effort! the intruder who now appeared had brought a candle with him.
When Madame Cerizet saw that she had to do with a small, old man of puny appearance, she flung herself before him with flaming eyes, like a lioness from whom the hunter is seeking to take her cubs.
"Be calm, my good woman," said the little man, in a jeering tone; "the police are sent for; they will be here in a moment."
At the word "police" the Cardinal's legs gave way.
"But, monsieur," she said, "why the police? we are not robbers."
"No matter for that; if I were in your place I shouldn't wait for them," said the little old man; "they make unfortunate mistakes sometimes."
"Can I clear out?" asked the woman, incredulously.
"Yes, if you empty your pockets of anything which has, by accident, got into them."
"Oh! my good monsieur, I haven't a thing in my hands or my pockets; I wasn't here to harm any one,—only to nurse my poor dear uncle; you can search me."
"Come, be off with you! that will do," said the old man.
Madame Cardinal did not oblige him to repeat the order, and she rapidly disappeared down the staircase.
Cerizet made as though he would take the same road.
"You, monsieur, are quite another thing," said the little old man. "You and I must talk together; but if you are tractable, the affair between us can be settled amicably."
Whether it was that the narcotic had ceased to operate, or that the noise going on about Toupillier put an end to his sleep, he now opened his eyes and cast around him the glance of a man who endeavors to remember where he is; then, seeing his precious cupboard open, he found in the emotion that sight produced the strength to cry out two or three times, "Help! help! robbers!" in a voice that was loud enough to rouse the house.
"No, Toupillier," said the little old man; "you have not been robbed; I came here in time to prevent it; nothing has been taken."
"Why don't you arrest that villain?" shouted the old pauper, pointing to Cerizet.
"Monsieur is not a thief," replied the old man. "On the contrary, he came up with me to lend assistance." Then, turning to Cerizet, he added, in a low voice: "I think, my good friend, that we had better postpone the interview I desire to have with you until to-morrow. Come at ten o'clock to the adjoining house, and ask for Monsieur du Portail. After what has passed this evening, there will, I ought to warn you, be some danger to you in not accepting this conference. I shall find you elsewhere, infallibly; for I have the honor to know who you are; you are the man whom the Opposition journals were accustomed to call 'the courageous Cerizet.'"
In spite of the profound sarcasm of this remark, Cerizet, perceiving that he was not to be treated more rigorously than Madame Cardinal, felt so pleased with this conclusion that he promised, very readily, to keep the appointment, and then slipped away with all the haste he could.
CHAPTER XVI. DU PORTAIL
The next day Cerizet did not fail to appear at the rendezvous given to him. Examined, at first, through the wicket of the door, he was admitted, after giving his name, into the house, and was ushered immediately to the study of Monsieur du Portail, whom he found at his desk.
Without rising, and merely making a sign to his guest to take a chair, the little old man continued the letter he was then writing. After sealing it with wax, with a care and precision that denoted a nature extremely fastidious and particular, or else a man accustomed to discharge diplomatic functions, du Portail rang for Bruneau, his valet, and said, as he gave him the letter:—
"For the justice-of-peace of the arrondissement."
Then he carefully wiped the steel pen he had just used, restored to their places, symmetrically, all the displaced articles on his desk, and it was only when these little arrangements were completed that he turned to Cerizet, and said:—
"You know, of course, that we lost that poor Monsieur Toupillier last night?"
"No, really?" said Cerizet, putting on the most sympathetic air he could manage. "This is my first knowledge of it."
"But you probably expected it. When one gives a dying man an immense bowl of hot wine, which has also been narcotized,—for the Perrache woman slept all night in a sort of lethargy after drinking a small glass of it,—it is evident that the catastrophe has been hastened."
"I am ignorant, monsieur," said Cerizet, with dignity, "of what Madame Cardinal may have given to her uncle. I have no doubt committed a great piece of thoughtlessness in assisting this woman to obtain an inheritance to which she assured me she had legal rights; but as to attempting the life of that old pauper, I am quite incapable of such a thing; nothing of the kind ever entered my mind."
"You wrote me this letter, I think," said du Portail, abruptly, taking from beneath a bohemian glass bowl a paper which he offered to Cerizet.
"A letter?" replied Cerizet, with the hesitation of a man who doesn't know whether to lie or speak the truth.
"I am quite sure of what I say," continued du Portail. "I have a mania for autographs, and I possess one of yours, obtained at the period when the Opposition exalted you to the glorious rank of martyr. I have compared the two writings, and I find that you certainly wrote me, yesterday, the letter which you hold in your hand, informing me of the money embarrassments of young la Peyrade at the present moment."
"Well," said Cerizet, "knowing that you had given a home to Mademoiselle de la Peyrade, who is probably cousin of Theodose, I thought I recognized in you the mysterious protector from whom, on more than one occasion, my friend has received the most generous assistance. Now, as I have a sincere affection for that poor fellow, it was in his interests that I permitted myself—"
"You did quite right," interrupted du Portail. "I am delighted to have fallen in with a friend of la Peyrade. I ought not to conceal from you that it was this particular fact which protected you last night. But tell me, what is this about notes for twenty-five thousand francs? Is our friend so badly off in his affairs? Is he leading a dissipated life?"
"On the contrary," replied Cerizet, "he's a puritan. Given to the deepest piety, he did not choose to take, as a barrister, any other cases but those of the poor. He is now on the point of making a rich marriage."
"Ah! is he going to be married? and to whom?"
"To a Demoiselle Colleville, daughter of the secretary of the mayor of the 12th arrondissement. In herself, the girl has no fortune, but a certain Monsieur Thuillier, her godfather, member of the Council-general of the Seine, has promised her a suitable 'dot.'"
"Who has handled this affair?"
"La Peyrade has been devoted to the Thuillier family, into which he was introduced by Monsieur Dutocq, clerk of the justice-of-peace of their arrondissement."
"But you wrote me that these notes were signed in favor of Monsieur Dutocq. The affair is a bit of matrimonial brokerage, in short?"
"Well, something of that kind," replied Cerizet. "You know, monsieur, that in Paris such transactions are very common. Even the clergy won't disdain to have a finger in them."
"Is the marriage a settled thing?"
"Yes, and within the last few days especially."
"Well, my good sir, I rely on you to put an end to it. I have other views for Theodose,—another marriage to propose to him."
"Excuse me!" said Cerizet, "to break up this marriage would make it impossible for him to pay his notes; and I have the honor to call your attention to the fact that these particular bills of exchange are serious matters. Monsieur Dutocq is in the office of the justice-of-peace; in other words, he couldn't be easily defeated in such a matter."
"The debt to Monsieur Dutocq you shall buy off yourself," replied du Portail. "Make arrangements with him to that effect. Should Theodose prove reluctant to carry out my plans, those notes may become a useful weapon in our hands. You will take upon yourself to sue him for them, and you shall have no money responsibility in the matter. I will pay you the amount of the notes for Dutocq, and your costs in suing Theodose."
"You are square in business, monsieur," said Cerizet. "There's some pleasure in being your agent. Now, if you think the right moment has come, I should be glad if you would give me some better light on the mission you are doing me the honor to place in my hands."
"You spoke just now," replied du Portail, "of the cousin of Theodose, Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade. This young woman, who is not in her first youth, for she is nearly thirty, is the natural daughter of the celebrated Mademoiselle Beaumesnil of the Theatre Francais and Peyrade, the commissary-general of police under the Empire, and the uncle of our friend. Until his death, which occurred suddenly, leaving his daughter, whom he loved tenderly, without means of support, I was bound to that excellent man with the warmest friendship."
Glad to show that he had some knowledge of du Portail's interior life, Cerizet hastened to remark:—
"And you have secretly fulfilled the duties of that friendship, monsieur; for, in taking into your home that interesting orphan you assumed a difficult guardianship. Mademoiselle de la Peyrade's state of health requires, I am told, a care not only affectionate, but persevering."
"Yes," replied du Portail, "the poor girl, after the death of her father, was so cruelly tried that her mind has been somewhat affected; but a fortunate change has lately occurred in her condition, and only yesterday I called in consultation Doctor Bianchon and the two physicians-in-charge of Bicetre and the Salpetriere. These gentlemen unanimously declare that marriage and the birth of a first child would undoubtedly restore her to perfect health. You can readily understand that the remedy is too easy and agreeable not to be attempted."
"Then," said Cerizet, "it is to Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade, his cousin, that you wish to marry Theodose."
"You have said it," returned du Portail, "and you must not think that our young friend, if he accepts the marriage, will be called upon to show a gratuitous devotion. Lydie is very agreeable in person; she has talents, a charming disposition, and she can bring to bear, in her husband's interest, a strong influence in public life. She has, moreover, a pretty fortune, consisting of what her mother left her, and of my entire property, which, having no heirs myself, I intend to secure to her in the marriage contract. Besides all this, she has this very night acquired a not inconsiderable legacy."
"What!" exclaimed Cerizet, "do you mean that old Toupillier—"
"By a will in his own handwriting, which I have here, that old pauper constitutes her his sole legatee. You see, therefore, that I showed some kindness in not proceeding against you and Madame Cardinal for your little attempt last night; it was simply our property that you were trying to pillage."
"Heavens!" cried Cerizet, "I won't pretend to excuse Madame Cardinal's misconduct; and yet, as one of the legal heirs, dispossessed by a stranger, she had, it seems to me, some right to the indulgence which you certainly showed to her."
"In that you are mistaken," said du Portail; "the apparent liberality of the old beggar to Mademoiselle de la Peyrade happens to be only a restitution."
"A restitution!" exclaimed Cerizet, in a tone of curiosity.
"A restitution," repeated du Portail, "and nothing is easier than to prove it. Do you remember the robbery of some diamonds from one of our dramatic celebrities about ten years ago?"
"Yes," replied Cerizet. "I was manager of one of my newspapers at the time, and I used to write the 'Paris items.' But stay, I remember, the actress who lost them was Mademoiselle Beaumesnil."
"Precisely; the mother of Mademoiselle de la Peyrade."
"Consequently, this miserable old Toupillier—no, I remember that the thief was convicted; his name was Charles Crochard. It was said, under the rose, that he was the natural son of a great personage, the Comte de Granville, attorney-general under the Restoration." [See "A Double Life."]
"Well," said du Portail, "this is how it happened. The robbery was committed in a house in the rue de Tournon, occupied by Mademoiselle Beaumesnil. Charles Crochard, who was a handsome fellow, was said to have the run of it—"
"Yes, yes," cried Cerizet, "I remember Mademoiselle Beaumesnil's embarrassment when she gave her testimony—and also the total extinction of voice that attacked her when the judge asked her age."
"The robbery," continued du Portail, "was audaciously committed in the daytime; and no sooner did Charles Crochard get possession of the casket than he went to the church of Saint-Sulpice, where he had an appointment with an accomplice, who, being supplied with a passport, was to start immediately with the diamonds for foreign parts. It so chanced that on entering the church, instead of meeting the man he expected, who was a trifle late, Charles Crochard came face to face with a celebrated agent of the detective force, who was well known to him, inasmuch as the young rascal was not at his first scrimmage with the police. The absence of his accomplice, this encounter with the detective, and, lastly, a rapid movement made by the latter, by the merest chance, toward the door, induced the robber to fancy he was being watched. Losing his head under this idea, he wanted, at any cost, to put the casket out of his possession, knowing that if arrested, as he expected, at the door of the church, it would be a damning proof against him. Catching sight at that moment of Toupillier, who was then the giver of holy water, 'My man,' said he, making sure that no one overheard their colloquy, 'will you take care of this little package for me? It is a box of lace. I am going near by to a countess who is slow to pay her bill; and if I have the lace with me she'll want to see it, for it is a new style, and she'll ask me to leave it with her on credit, instead of paying the bill; therefore I don't want to take it. But,' he added, 'be sure not to touch the paper that wraps the box, for there's nothing harder than to do up a package in the same folds—'"
"The booby!" cried Cerizet, naively; "why, that very caution would make the man want to open it."
"You are an able casuist," said du Portail. "Well, an hour later, Charles Crochard, finding that nothing happened to him, returned to the church to obtain his deposit, but Toupillier was no longer there. You can imagine the anxiety with which Charles Crochard attended early mass the next day, and approached the giver of holy water, who was there, sure enough, attending to his functions. But night, they say, brings counsel; the worthy beggar audaciously declared that he had received no package, and did not know what his interlocutor meant."
"And there was no possibility of arguing with him, for that would be exposure," remarked Cerizet, who was not far from sympathizing in a trick so boldly played.
"No doubt," resumed du Portail; "the robbery was already noised about, and Toupillier, who was a very able fellow, had calculated that Charles Crochard would not dare to publicly accuse him, for that would reveal the theft. In fact, on his trial Charles Crochard never said a word of his mishap, and during the six years he spent at the galleys (he was condemned to ten, but four were remitted) he did not open his lips to a single soul about the treachery of which he had been a victim."
"That was pretty plucky," said Cerizet; the tale excited him, and he showed openly that he saw the matter as an artist and a connoisseur.
"In that interval," continued du Portail, "Madame Beaumesnil died, leaving her daughter a few fragments of a once great fortune, and the diamonds which the will expressly stated Lydie was to receive 'in case they were recovered.'"
"Ha! ha!" exclaimed Cerizet, "bad for Toupillier, because, having to do with a man of your calibre—"
"Charles Crochard's first object on being liberated was vengeance on Toupillier, and his first step was to denounce him to the police as receiver of the stolen property. Taken in hand by the law, Toupillier defended himself with such singular good-humor, being able to show that no proof whatever existed against him, that the examining judge let him off. He lost his place, however, as giver of holy water, obtaining, with great difficulty, permission to beg at the door of the church. For my part, I was certain of his guilt; and I managed to have the closest watch kept upon him; though I relied far more upon myself. Being a man of means and leisure, I stuck, as you may say, to the skin of my thief, and did, in order to unmask him, one of the cleverest things of my career. He was living at that time in the rue du Coeur-Volant. I succeeded in becoming the tenant of the room adjoining his; and one night, through a gimlet hole I had drilled in the partition, I saw my man take the case of diamonds from a very cleverly contrived hiding-place. He sat for an hour gazing at them and fondling them; he made them sparkle in the light, he pressed them passionately to his lips. The man actually loved those diamonds for themselves, and had never thought of turning them to money."
"I understand," said Cerizet,—"a mania like that of Cardillac, the jeweller, which has now been dramatized."
"That is just it," returned du Portail; "the poor wretch was in love with that casket; so that when, shortly after, I entered his room and told him I knew all, he proposed to me to leave him the life use of what he called the consolation of his old age, pledging himself to make Mademoiselle de la Peyrade his sole heir, revealing to me at the same time the existence of a hoard of gold (to which he was adding every day), and also the possession of a house and an investment in the Funds."
"If he made that proposal in good faith," said Cerizet, "it was a desirable one. The interest of the capital sunk in the diamonds was more than returned by that from the other property."
"You now see, my dear sir," said du Portail, "that I was not mistaken in trusting him. All my precautions were well taken; I exacted that he should occupy a room in the house I lived in, where I could keep a close eye upon him. I assisted him in making that hiding-place, the secret of which you discovered so cleverly; but what you did not find out was that in touching the spring that opened the iron safe you rang a bell in my apartment, which warned me of any attempt that was made to remove our treasure."
"Poor Madame Cardinal!" cried Cerizet, good-humoredly, "how far she was from suspecting it!"
"Now here's the situation," resumed du Portail. "On account of the interest I feel in the nephew of my old friend, and also, on account of the relationship, this marriage seems to me extremely desirable; in short, I unite Theodose to his cousin and her 'dot.' As it is possible that, considering the mental state of his future wife, Theodose may object to sharing my views, I have not thought it wise to make this proposal directly to himself. You have suddenly turned up upon my path; I know already that you are clever and wily, and that knowledge induces me to put this little matrimonial negotiation into your hands. Now, I think, you understand the matter thoroughly; speak to him of a fine girl, with one little drawback, but, on the other hand, a comfortable fortune. Do not name her to him; and come here and let me know how the proposal has been taken."
"Your confidence delights me as much as it honors me," replied Cerizet, "and I will justify it the best I can."
"We must not expect too much," said du Portail. "Refusal will be the first impulse of a man who has an affair on hand elsewhere; but we need not consider ourselves beaten. I shall not easily give up a plan which I know to be just, even if I push my zeal so far as to put la Peyrade under lock and key in Clichy. I am resolved not to take no for his answer to a proposal of which, in the end, he cannot fail to see the propriety. Therefore, in any case, buy up those notes from Monsieur Dutocq."
"At par?" asked Cerizet.
"Yes, at par, if you cannot do better; we are not going to haggle over a few thousand francs; only, when this transaction is arranged, Monsieur Dutocq must pledge us either his assistance, or, at the very least, his neutrality. After what you have said of the other marriage, it is unnecessary for me to warn you that there is not a moment to lose in putting our irons into the fire."
"Two days hence I have an appointment with la Peyrade," said Cerizet. "We have a little matter of business of our own to settle. Don't you think it would be best to wait till then, when I can introduce the proposal incidentally? In case of resistance, I think that arrangement would best conduce to OUR dignity."
"So be it," said du Portail; "it isn't much of a delay. Remember, monsieur, that if you succeed you have, in place of a man able to bring you to a stern account for your imprudent assistance to Madame Cardinal, a greatly obliged person, who will be ready at all times to serve you, and whose influence is greater than is generally supposed."
After these friendly words, the pair separated with a thoroughly good understanding, and well satisfied with each other.
CHAPTER XVII. IN WHICH THE LAMB DEVOURS THE WOLF
The evening before the day already agreed upon, Theodose received from Cerizet the following note:—
"To-morrow, lease or no lease, Rocher de Cancale, half-past six o'clock."
As for Dutocq, Cerizet saw him every day, for he was still his copying clerk; he therefore gave him his invitation by word of mouth; but the attentive reader must remark a difference in the hour named: "Quarter-past-six, Rocher de Cancale," said Cerizet. It was evident, therefore, that he wanted that fifteen minutes with Dutocq before the arrival of la Peyrade.
These minutes the usurer proposed to employ in jockeying Dutocq in the purchase of the notes; he fancied that if the proposition to buy them were suddenly put before him without the slightest preparation it might be more readily received. By not leaving the seller time to bethink himself, perhaps he might lead him to loosen his grasp, and the notes once bought below par, he could consider at his leisure whether to pocket the difference or curry favor with du Portail for the discount he had obtained. Let us say, moreover, that apart from self-interest, Cerizet would still have endeavored to scrape a little profit out of his friend; 'twas an instinct and a need of his nature. He had as great a horror for straight courses as the lovers of English gardens show in the lines of their paths.
Dutocq, having still a portion of the cost of his practice to pay off, was forced to live very sparingly, so that a dinner at the Rocher de Cancale was something of an event in the economy of his straitened existence. He arrived, therefore, with that punctuality which testifies to an interest in the occasion, and precisely at a quarter past six he entered the private room of the restaurant where Cerizet awaited him.
"It is queer," he said; "here we are returned to precisely the situation in which we began our business relationship with la Peyrade,—except, to be sure, that this present place of meeting of the three emperors is more comfortable; I prefer the Tilsit of the rue Montgorgeuil to the Tilsit of the Cheval Rouge."
"Faith!" said Cerizet, "I don't know that the results justify the change, for, to be frank, where are the profits to us in the scheme of our triumvirate?"
"But," said Dutocq, "it was a bargain with a long time limit. It can't be said that la Peyrade has lost much time in getting installed—forgive the pun—at the Thuilleries. The scamp has made his way pretty fast, you must own that."
"Not so fast but what his marriage," said Cerizet, "is at the present moment a very doubtful thing."
"Doubtful!" cried Dutocq; "why doubtful?"
"Well, I am commissioned to propose to him another wife, and I'm not sure that any choice is left to him."
"What the devil are you about, my dear fellow, lending your hand in this way to another marriage when you know we have a mortgage on the first?"
"One isn't always master of circumstances, my friend; I saw at once when the new affair was laid before me that the one we had settled on must infallibly go by the board. Consequently, I've tried to work it round in our interests, yours and mine."
"Ah ca! do you mean they are pulling caps for this Theodose? Who is the new match? Has she money?"
"The 'dot' is pretty good; quite as much as Mademoiselle Colleville's."
"Then I wouldn't give a fig for it. La Peyrade has signed those notes and he will pay them."
"Will he pay them? that's the question. You are not a business man, neither is Theodose; it may come into his head to dispute the validity of those notes. What security have we that if the facts about their origin should come out, and the Thuillier marriage shouldn't come off, the court of commerce mightn't annul them as 'obligations without cause.' For my part, I should laugh at such a decision; I can stand it; and, moreover, my precautions are taken; but you, as clerk to a justice-of-peace, don't you see that such an affair would give the chancellor a bone to pick with you?"
"But, my good fellow," said Dutocq, with the ill-humor of a man who sees himself face to face with an argument he can't refute, "you seem to have a mania for stirring up matters and meddling with—"
"I tell you again," said Cerizet, "this came to me; I didn't seek it; but I saw at once that there was no use struggling against the influence that is opposing us; so I chose the course of saving ourselves by a sacrifice."
"A sacrifice! what sort of sacrifice?"
"Parbleu! I've sold my share of those notes, leaving those who bought them to fight it out with Master barrister."
"Who is the purchaser?"
"Who do you suppose would step into my shoes unless it were the persons who have an interest in this other marriage, and who want to hold a power over Theodose, and control him by force if necessary."
"Then my share of the notes is equally important to them?"
"No doubt; but I couldn't speak for you until I had consulted you."
"What do they offer?"
"Hang it! my dear fellow, the same that I accepted. Knowing better than you the danger of their competition I sold out to them on very bad terms."
"Well, but what are they, those terms?"
"I gave up my shares for fifteen thousand francs."
"Come, come!" said Dutocq, shrugging his shoulders, "what you are after is to recover a loss (if you made it) by a commission on my share—and perhaps, after all, the whole thing is only a plot between you and la Peyrade—"
"At any rate, my good friend, you don't mince your words; an infamous thought comes into your head and you state it with charming frankness. Luckily you shall presently hear me make the proposal to Theodose, and you are clever enough to know by his manner if there has been any connivance between us."
"So be it!" said Dutocq. "I withdraw the insinuation; but I must say your employers are pirates; I call their proposal throttling people. I have not, like you, something to fall back upon."
"Well, you poor fellow, this is how I reasoned: I said to myself, That good Dutocq is terribly pressed for the last payment on his practice; this will give him enough to pay it off at one stroke; events have proved that there are great uncertainties about our Theodose-and-Thuillier scheme; here's money down, live money, and therefore it won't be so bad a bargain after all."
"It is a loss of two-fifths!"
"Come," said Cerizet, "you were talking just now of commissions. I see a means of getting one for you if you'll engage to batter down this Colleville marriage. If you will cry it down as you have lately cried it up I shouldn't despair of getting you a round twenty thousand out of the affair."
"Then you think that this new proposal will not be agreeable to la Peyrade,—that he'll reject it? Is it some heiress on whom he has already taken a mortgage?"
"All that I can tell you is that these people expect some difficulty in bringing the matter to a conclusion."
"Well, I don't desire better than to follow your lead and do what is disagreeable to la Peyrade; but five thousand francs—think of it!—it is too much to lose."
At this moment the door opened, and a waiter ushered in the expected guest.
"You can serve dinner," said Cerizet to the waiter; "we are all here."
It was plain that Theodose was beginning to take wing toward higher social spheres; elegance was becoming a constant thought in his mind. He appeared in a dress suit and varnished shoes, whereas his two associates received him in frock-coats and muddy boots.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I think I am a little late, but that devil of a Thuillier is the most intolerable of human beings about a pamphlet I am concocting for him. I was unlucky enough to agree to correct the proofs with him, and over every paragraph there's a fight. 'What I can't understand,' he says, 'the public can't, either. I'm not a man of letters, but I'm a practical man'; and that's the way we battle it, page after page. I thought the sitting this afternoon would never end."
"How unreasonable you are, my dear fellow," said Dutocq; "when a man wants to succeed he must have the courage to make sacrifices. Once married, you can lift your head."
"Ah, yes!" said la Peyrade with a sigh, "I'll lift it; for since the day you made me eat this bread of anguish I've become terribly sick of it."
"Cerizet," said Dutocq, "has a plan that will feed you more succulently."
Nothing more was said at the moment, for justice had to be done to the excellent fare ordered by Cerizet in honor of his coming lease. As usually happens at dinners where affairs are likely to be discussed, each man, with his mind full of them, took pains not to approach those topics, fearing to compromise his advantages by seeming eager; the conversation, therefore, continued for a long time on general subjects, and it was not until the dessert was served that Cerizet brought himself to ask la Peyrade what had been settled about the terms of his lease.
"Nothing, my friend," replied Theodose.
"What! nothing? I certainly allowed you time enough to decide the matter."
"Well, as to that, something is decided. There will not be any principal tenant at all; Mademoiselle Brigitte is going to let the house herself."
"That's a singular thing," said Cerizet, stiffly. "After your agreement with me, I certainly did not expect such a result as this."
"How can I help it, my dear fellow? I agreed with you, barring amendments on the other side; I wasn't able to give another turn to the affair. In her natural character as a managing woman and a sample of perpetual motion, Brigitte has reflected that she might as well manage that house herself and put into her own pocket the profits you proposed to make. I said all I could about the cares and annoyances which she would certainly saddle upon herself. 'Oh! nonsense!' she said; 'they'll stir my blood and do my health good!'"
"It is pitiable!" said Cerizet. "That poor old maid will never know which end to take hold of; she doesn't imagine what it is to have an empty house, and which must be filled with tenants from garret to cellar."
"I plied her with all those arguments," replied la Peyrade; "but I couldn't move her resolution. Don't you see, my dear democrats, you stirred up the revolution of '89; you thought to make a fine speculation in dethroning the noble by the bourgeois, and the end of it is you are shoved out yourselves. This looks like paradox; but you've found out now that the peasant and clodhopper isn't malleable; he can't be forced down and kept under like the noble. The aristocracy, on behalf of its dignity, would not condescend to common cares, and was therefore dependent on a crowd of plebeian servitors to whom it had to trust for three-fourths of the actions of its own life. That was the reign of stewards and bailiffs, wily fellows, into whose hands the interests of the great families passed, and who fed and grew fat on the parings of the great fortunes they managed. But now-a-days, utilitarian theories, as they call them, have come to the fore,—'We are never so well served as by ourselves,' 'There's no shame in attending to one's own business,' and many other bourgeois maxims which have suppressed the role of intermediaries. Why shouldn't Mademoiselle Brigitte Thuillier manage her own house when dukes and peers go in person to the Bourse, where such men sign their own leases and read the deeds before they sign them, and go themselves to the notary, whom, in former days, they considered a servant."
During this time Cerizet had time to recover from the blow he had just received squarely in the face, and to think of the transition he had to make from one set of interests to the other, of which he was now the agent.
"What you are declaiming there is all very clever," he said, carelessly, "but the thing that proves to me our defeat is the fact that you are not on the terms with Mademoiselle Thuillier you would have us believe you are. She is slipping through your fingers; and I don't think that marriage is anything like as certain as Dutocq and I have been fancying it was."
"Well, no doubt," said la Peyrade, "there are still some touches to be given to our sketch, but I believe it is well under way."
"And I think, on the contrary, that you have lost ground; and the reason is simple: you have done those people an immense service; and that's a thing never forgiven."
"Well, we shall see," said la Peyrade. "I have more than one hold upon them."
"No, you are mistaken. You thought you did a brilliant thing in putting them on a pinnacle, but the fact is you emancipated them; they'll keep you now at heel. The human heart, particularly the bourgeois heart, is made that way. If I were in your place I shouldn't feel so sure of being on solid ground, and if something else turned up that offered me a good chance—"
"What! just because I couldn't get you the lease of that house do you want to knock everything to pieces?"
"No," said Cerizet, "I am not looking at the matter in the light of my own interests; I don't doubt that as a trustworthy friend you have done every imaginable thing to promote them; but I think the manner in which you have been shoved aside a very disturbing symptom. It even decides me to tell you something I did not intend to speak of; because, in my opinion, when persons start a course they ought to keep on steadily, looking neither forward nor back, and not allowing themselves to be diverted to other aspirations."
"Ah ca!" cried la Peyrade, "what does all this verbiage mean? Have you anything to propose to me? What's the price of it?"
"My dear Theodose," said Cerizet, paying no attention to the impertinence, "you yourself can judge of the value of discovering a young girl, well brought-up, adorned with beauty and talents and a 'dot' equal to that of Celeste, which she has in her own right, plus fifty thousand francs' worth of diamonds (as Mademoiselle Georges says on her posters in the provinces), and, moreover,—a fact which ought to strike the mind of an ambitious man,—a strong political influence, which she can use for a husband."
"And this treasure you hold in your hand?" said la Peyrade, in a tone of incredulity.
"Better still, I am authorized to offer it to you; in fact, I might say that I am charged to do so."
"My friend, you are poking fun at me; unless, indeed, this phoenix has some hideous or prohibitory defect."
"Well, I'll admit," said Cerizet, "that there is a slight objection, not on the score of family, for, to tell the truth, the young woman has none—"
"Ah!" said la Peyrade, "a natural child—Well, what next?"
"Next, she is not so very young,—something like twenty-nine or so; but there's nothing easier than to turn an elderly girl into a young widow if you have imagination."
"Is that all the venom in it?"
"Yes, all that is irreparable."
"What do you mean by that? Is it a case of rhinoplasty?"
Addressed to Cerizet the word had an aggressive air, which, in fact, was noticeable since the beginning of the dinner in the whole manner and conversation of the barrister. But it did not suit the purpose of the negotiator to resent it.
"No," he replied, "our nose is as well made as our foot and our waist; but we may, perhaps, have a slight touch of hysteria."
"Oh! very good," said la Peyrade; "and as from hysteria to insanity there is but a step—"
"Well, yes," interrupted Cerizet, hastily, "sorrows have affected our brain slightly; but the doctors are unanimous in their diagnosis; they all say that after the birth of the first child not a trace will remain of this little trouble."
"I am willing to admit that doctors are infallible," replied la Peyrade; "but, in spite of your discouragement, you must allow me, my friend, to persist in my suit to Mademoiselle Colleville. Perhaps it is ridiculous to confess it, but the truth is I am gradually falling in love with that little girl. It isn't that her beauty is resplendent, or that the glitter of her 'dot' has dazzled me, but I find in that child a great fund of sound sense joined to simplicity; and, what to mind is of greater consequence, her sincere and solid piety attracts me; I think a husband ought to be very happy with her."
"Yes," said Cerizet, who, having been on the stage, may very well have known his Moliere, "this marriage will crown your wishes with all good; it will be filled with sweetness and with pleasures."
The allusion to Tartuffe was keenly felt by la Peyrade, who took it up and said, hotly:—
"The contact with innocence will disinfect me of the vile atmosphere in which I have lived too long."
"And you will pay your notes of hand," added Cerizet, "which I advise you to do with the least possible delay; for Dutocq here was saying to me just now that he would like to see the color of your money."
"I? not at all," interposed Dutocq. "I think, on the contrary, that our friend has a right to the delay."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "I agree with Cerizet. I hold that the less a debt is due, and therefore the more insecure and open to contention it is, the sooner one ought to free one's self by paying it."
"But, my dear la Peyrade," said Dutocq, "why take this bitter tone?"
Pulling from his pocket a portfolio, la Peyrade said:—
"Have you those notes with you, Dutocq?"
"Faith! no, my dear fellow," replied Dutocq, "I don't carry them about with me; besides, they are in Cerizet's hands."
"Well," said the barrister, rising, "whenever you come to my house I'll pay you on the nail, as Cerizet can tell you."
"What! are you going to leave us without your coffee?" said Cerizet, amazed to the last degree.
"Yes; I have an arbitration case at eight o'clock. Besides, we have said all we had to say. You haven't your lease, but you've got your twenty five thousand francs in full, and those of Dutocq are ready for him whenever he chooses to come to my office. I see nothing now to prevent me from going where my private business calls me, and I therefore very cordially bid you good-bye."
"Ah ca! Dutocq," cried Cerizet, as la Peyrade disappeared, "this means a rupture."
"Prepared with the utmost care," added Dutocq. "Did you notice the air with which he pulled out that pocket-book?"
"But where the devil," said the usurer, "could he have got the money?"
"Probably," replied Dutocq, sarcastically, "where he got that with which he paid you in full for those notes you sold at a sacrifice."
"My dear Dutocq," said Cerizet, "I'll explain to you the circumstances under which that insolent fellow freed himself, and you'll see if he didn't rob me of fifteen thousand francs."
"Possibly, but you, my worthy clerk, were trying to get ten thousand away from me."
"No, no; I was positively ordered to buy up your claim; and you ought to remember that my offer had risen to twenty thousand when Theodose came in."
"Well," said Dutocq, "when we leave here we'll go to your house, where you will give me those notes; for, you'll understand that to-morrow morning, at the earliest decent hour, I shall go to la Peyrade's office; I don't mean to let his paying humor cool."
"And right you are; for I can tell you now that before long there'll be a fine upset in his life."
"Then the thing is really serious—this tale of a crazy woman you want him to marry? I must say that in his place, with these money-matters evidently on the rise, I should have backed out of your proposals just as he did. Ninas and Ophelias are all very well on the stage, but in a home—"
"In a home, when they bring a 'dot,' we can be their guardian," replied Cerizet, sententiously. "In point of fact, we get a fortune and not a wife."
"Well," said Dutocq, "that's one way to look at it."
"If you are willing," said Cerizet, "let us go and take our coffee somewhere else. This dinner has turned out so foolishly that I want to get out of this room, where there's no air." He rang for the waiter. "Garcon!" he said, "the bill."
"Monsieur, it is paid."
"Paid! by whom?"
"By the gentleman who just went out."
"But this is outrageous," cried Cerizet. "I ordered the dinner, and you allow some one else to pay for it!"
"It wasn't I, monsieur," said the waiter; "the gentleman went and paid the 'dame du comptoir'; she must have thought it was arranged between you. Besides, it is not so uncommon for gentlemen to have friendly disputes about paying."
"That's enough," said Cerizet, dismissing the waiter.
"Won't these gentlemen take their coffee?—it is paid for," said the man before he left the room.
"A good reason for not taking it," replied Cerizet, angrily. "It is really inconceivable that in a house of this kind such an egregious blunder should be committed. What do you think of such insolence?" he added, when the waiter had left the room.
"Bah!" exclaimed Dutocq, taking his hat, "it is a schoolboy proceeding; he wanted to show he had money; it is easy to see he never had any before."
"No, no! that's not it," said Cerizet; "he meant to mark the rupture. 'I will not owe you even a dinner,' is what he says to me."
"But, after all," said Dutocq, "this banquet was given to celebrate your enthronement as principal tenant of the grand house. Well, he has failed to get you the lease, and I can understand that his conscience was uneasy at letting you pay for a dinner which, like those notes of mine, were an 'obligation without cause.'"
Cerizet made no reply to this malicious observation. They had reached the counter where reigned the dame who had permitted the improper payment, and, for the sake of his dignity, the usurer thought it proper to make a fuss. After which the two men departed, and the copying-clerk took his employer to a low coffee-house in the Passage du Saumon. There Cerizet recovered his good-humor; he was like a fish out of water suddenly returned to his native element; for he had reached that state of degradation when he felt ill at ease in places frequented by good society; and it was with a sort of sensuous pleasure that he felt himself back in the vulgar place where they were noisily playing pool for the benefit of a "former conqueror of the Bastille."
In this establishment Cerizet enjoyed the fame of being a skilful billiard-player, and he was now entreated to take part in a game already begun. In technical language, he "bought his ball"; that is, one of the players sold him his turn and his chances. Dutocq profited by this arrangement to slip away, on pretence of inquiring for a sick friend.
Presently, in his shirt-sleeves, with a pipe between his lips, Cerizet made one of those masterly strokes which bring down the house with frantic applause. As he waited a moment, looking about him triumphantly, his eye lighted on a terrible kill-joy. Standing among the spectators with his chin on his cane, du Portail was steadily watching him.
A tinge of red showed itself in Cerizet's cheeks. He hesitated to bow or to recognize the old gentleman, a most unlikely person to meet in such a place. Not knowing how to take the unpleasant encounter, he went on playing; but his hand betrayed his uneasiness, and presently an unlucky stroke threw him out of the game. While he was putting on his coat in a tolerably ill-humor, du Portail passed, almost brushing him, on his way to the door.
"Rue Montmartre, at the farther end of the Passage," said the old man, in a low tone.
When they met, Cerizet had the bad taste to try to explain the disreputable position in which he had just been detected.
"But," said du Portail, "in order to see you there, I had to be there myself."
"True," returned Cerizet. "I was rather surprised to see a quiet inhabitant of the Saint-Sulpice quarter in such a place."
"It merely proves to you," said the little old man, in a tone which cut short all explanation, and all curiosity, "that I am in the habit of going pretty nearly everywhere, and that my star leads me into the path of those persons whom I wish to meet. I was thinking of you at the very moment you came in. Well, what have you done?"
"Nothing good," replied Cerizet. "After playing me a devilish trick which deprived me of a magnificent bit of business, our man rejected your overture with scorn. There is no hope whatever in that claim of Dutocq's; for la Peyrade is chock-full of money; he wanted to pay the notes just now, and to-morrow morning he will certainly do so."
"Does he regard his marriage to this Demoiselle Colleville as a settled thing?"
"He not only considers it settled, but he is trying now to make people believe it is a love-match. He rattled off a perfect tirade to convince me that he is really in love."
"Very well," said du Portail, wishing, perhaps, to show that he could, on occasion, use the slang of a low billiard-room, "'stop the charge'" (meaning: Do nothing more); "I will undertake to bring monsieur to reason. But come and see me to-morrow, and tell me all about the family he intends to enter. You have failed in this affair; but don't mind that; I shall have others for you."
So saying, he signed to the driver of an empty citadine, which was passing, got into it, and, with a nod to Cerizet, told the man to drive to the rue Honore-Chevalier.
As Cerizet walked down the rue Montmartre to regain the Estrapade quarter, he puzzled his brains to divine who that little old man with the curt speech, the imperious manner, and a tone that seemed to cast upon all those with whom he spoke a boarding-grapnel, could be; a man, too, who came from such a distance to spend his evening in a place where, judging by his clothes alone, he had no business to be.
Cerizet had reached the Market without finding any solution to that problem, when he was roughly shaken out of it by a heavy blow in the back. Turning hastily, he found himself in presence of Madame Cardinal, an encounter with whom, at a spot where she came every morning to get fish to peddle, was certainly not surprising.
Since that evening in Toupillier's garret, the worthy woman, in spite of the clemency so promptly shown to her, had judged it imprudent to make other than very short apparitions in her own domicile, and for the last two days she had been drowning among the liquor-dealers (called "retailers of comfort") the pangs of her defeat. With flaming face and thickened voice she now addressed her late accomplice:—
"Well, papa," she said, "what happened after I left you with that little old fellow?"
"I made him understand in a very few words," replied the banker of the poor, "that it was all a mistake as to me. In this affair, my dear Madame Cardinal, you behaved with a really unpardonable heedlessness. How came you to ask my assistance in obtaining your inheritance from your uncle, when with proper inquiry you might have known there was a natural daughter, in whose favor he had long declared he should make a will? That little old man, who interrupted you in your foolish attempt to anticipate your legacy, was no other than the guardian of the daughter to whom everything is left."
"Ha! guardian, indeed! a fine thing, guardian!" cried the Cardinal. "To talk of a woman of my age, just because I wanted to see if my uncle owned anything at all, to talk to me of the police! It's hateful! it's disgusting!"
"Come, come!" said Cerizet, "you needn't complain; you got off cheaply."
"Well, and you, who broke the locks and said you were going to take the diamonds, under color of marrying my daughter! Just as if she would have you,—a legitimate daughter like her! 'Never, mother,' said she; 'never will I give my heart to a man with such a nose.'"
"So you've found her, have you?" said Cerizet.
"Not until last night. She has left her blackguard of a player, and she is now, I flatter myself, in a fine position, eating money; has her citadine by the month, and is much respected by a barrister who would marry her at once, but he has got to wait till his parents die, for the father happens to be mayor, and the government wouldn't like it."
"11th arrondissement,—Minard, powerfully rich, used to do a business in cocoa."
"Ah! very good! very good! I know all about him. You say Olympe is living with his son?"
"Well, not to say living together, for that would make talk, though he only sees her with good motives. He lives at home with his father, but he has bought their furniture, and has put it, and my daughter, too, into a lodging in the Chausee d'Antin; stylish quarter, isn't it?"
"It seems to me pretty well arranged," said Cerizet; "and as Heaven, it appears, didn't destine us for each other—"
"No, yes, well, that's how it was; and I think that girl is going to give me great satisfaction; and there's something I want to consult you about."
"What?" demanded Cerizet.
"Well, my daughter being in luck, I don't think I ought to continue to cry fish in the streets; and now that my uncle has disinherited me, I have, it seems to me, a right to an 'elementary allowance.'"
"You are dreaming, my poor woman; your daughter is a minor; it is you who ought to be feeding her; the law doesn't require her to give you aliment."
"Then do you mean," said Madame Cardinal, "that those who have nothing are to give to those who have much? A fine thing such a law as that! It's as bad as guardians who, for nothing at all, talk about calling the police. Yes! I'd like to see 'em calling the police to me! Let 'em guillotine me! It won't prevent my saying that the rich are swindlers; yes, swindlers! and the people ought to make another revolution to get their rights; and then, my lad, you, and my daughter, and barrister Minard, and that little old guardian, you'll all come down under it—"
Perceiving that his ex-mother-in-law was reaching stage of exaltation that was not unalarming, Cerizet hastened to get away, her epithets pursuing him for more than a hundred feet; but he comforted himself by thinking that he would make her pay for them the next time she came to his back to ask for a "convenience."
CHAPTER XVIII. SET A SAINT TO CATCH A SAINT
As he approached his own abode, Cerizet, who was nothing so little as courageous, felt an emotion of fear. He perceived a form ambushed near the door, which, as he came nearer, detached itself as if to meet him. Happily, it was only Dutocq. He came for his notes. Cerizet returned them in some ill-humor, complaining of the distrust implied in a visit at such an hour. Dutocq paid no attention to this sensitiveness, and the next morning, very early, he presented himself at la Peyrade's.
La Peyrade paid, as he had promised, on the nail, and to a few sentinel remarks uttered by Dutocq as soon as the money was in his pocket, he answered with marked coldness. His whole external appearance and behavior was that of a slave who has burst his chain and has promised himself not to make a gospel use of his liberty.
As he conducted his visitor to the door, the latter came face to face with a woman in servant's dress, who was just about to ring the bell. This woman was, apparently, known to Dutocq, for he said to her:—
"Ha ha! little woman; so we feel the necessity of consulting a barrister? You are right; at the family council very serious matters were brought up against you."
"Thank God, I fear no one. I can walk with my head up," said the person thus addressed.
"So much the better for you," replied the clerk of the justice-of-peace; "but you will probably be summoned before the judge who examines the affair. At any rate, you are in good hands here; and my friend la Peyrade will advise you for the best."
"Monsieur is mistaken," said the woman; "it is not for what he thinks that I have come to consult a lawyer."
"Well, be careful what you say and do, my dear woman, for I warn you you are going to be finely picked to pieces. The relations are furious against you, and you can't get the idea out of their heads that you have got a great deal of money."
While speaking thus, Dutocq kept his eye on Theodose, who bore the look uneasily, and requested his client to enter.
Here follows a scene which had taken place the previous afternoon between this woman and la Peyrade.
La Peyrade, we may remember, was in the habit of going to early mass at his parish church. For some little time he had felt himself the object of a singular attention which he could not explain on the part of the woman whom we have just seen entering his office, who daily attended the church at, as Dorine says, his "special hour." Could it be for love? That explanation was scarcely compatible with the maturity and the saintly, beatific air of this person, who, beneath a plain cap, called "a la Janseniste," by which fervent female souls of that sect were recognized, affected, like a nun, to hide her hair. On the other hand, the rest of her clothing was of a neatness that was almost dainty, and the gold cross at her throat, suspended by a black velvet ribbon, excluded the idea of humble and hesitating mendicity.
The morning of the day on which the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale was to take place, la Peyrade, weary of a performance which had ended by preoccupying his mind, went up to the woman and asked her pointblank if she had any request to make of him.
"Monsieur," she answered, in a tone of solemnity, "is, I think, the celebrated Monsieur de la Peyrade, the advocate of the poor?"
"I am la Peyrade; and I have had, it is true, an opportunity to render services to the indigent persons of this quarter."
"Would it, then, be asking too much of monsieur's goodness that he should suffer me to consult him?"
"This place," replied la Peyrade, "is not well chosen for such consultation. What you have to say to me seems important, to judge by the length of time you have been hesitating to speak to me. I live near here, rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer, and if you will take the trouble to come to my office—"
"It will not annoy monsieur?"
"Not in the least; my business is to hear clients."
"At what hour—lest I disturb monsieur—?"
"When you choose; I shall be at home all the morning."
"Then I will hear another mass, at which I can take the communion. I did not dare to do so at this mass, for the thought of speaking to monsieur so distracted my mind. I will be at monsieur's house by eight o'clock, when I have ended my meditation, if that hour does not inconvenience him."
"No; but there is no necessity for all this ceremony," replied la Peyrade, with some impatience.
Perhaps a little professional jealousy inspired his ill-humor, for it was evident that he had to do with an antagonist who was capable of giving him points.
At the hour appointed, not a minute before nor a minute after, the pious woman rang the bell, and the barrister having, not without some difficulty, induced her to sit down, he requested her to state her case. She was then seized with that delaying little cough with which we obtain a respite when brought face to face with a difficult subject. At last, however, she compelled herself to approach the object of her visit.
"It is to ask monsieur," she said, "if he would be so very good as to inform me whether it is true that a charitable gentleman, now deceased, has bequeathed a fund to reward domestic servants who are faithful to their masters."
"Yes," replied la Peyrade; "that is to say, Monsieur de Montyon founded 'prizes for virtue,' which are frequently given to zealous and exemplary domestic servants. But ordinary good conduct is not sufficient; there must be some act or acts of great devotion, and truly Christian self-abnegation."
"Religion enjoins humility upon us," replied the pious woman, "and therefore I dare not praise myself; but inasmuch as for the last twenty years I have lived in the service of an old man of the dullest description, a savant, who has wasted his substance on inventions, so that I myself have had to feed and clothe him, persons have thought that I am not altogether undeserving of that prize."
"It is certainly under such conditions that the Academy selects its candidates," said la Peyrade. "What is your master's name?"
"Pere Picot; he is never called otherwise in our quarter; sometimes he goes out into the streets as if dressed for the carnival, and all the little children crowd about him, calling out: 'How d'ye do, Pere Picot! Good-morning, Pere Picot!' But that's how it is; he takes no care of his dignity; he goes about full of his own ideas; and though I kill myself trying to give him appetizing food, if you ask him what he has had for his dinner he can't tell you. Yet he's a man full of ability, and he has taught good pupils. Perhaps monsieur knows young Phellion, a professor in the College of Saint-Louis; he was one of his scholars, and he comes to see him very often."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "your master is a mathematician?"
"Yes, monsieur; mathematics have been his bane; they have flung him into a set of ideas which don't seem to have any common-sense in them ever since he has been employed at the Observatory, near here."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "you must bring testimony proving your long devotion to this old man, and I will then draw up a memorial to the Academy and take the necessary steps to present it."
"How good monsieur is!" said the pious woman, clasping her hands; "and if he would also let me tell him of a little difficulty—"
"What is it?"
"They tell me, monsieur, that to get this prize persons must be really very poor."
"Not exactly; still, the Academy does endeavor to choose whose who are in straitened circumstances, and who have made sacrifices too heavy for their means."
"Sacrifices! I think I may indeed say I have made sacrifices, for the little property I inherited from my parents has all been spent in keeping the old man, and for fifteen years I have had no wages, which, at three hundred francs a year and compound interest, amount now to a pretty little sum; as monsieur, I am sure, will agree."
At the words "compound interest," which evidenced a certain amount of financial culture, la Peyrade looked at this Antigone with increased attention.
"In short," he said, "your difficulty is—"
"Monsieur will not think it strange," replied the saintly person, "that a very rich uncle dying in England, who had never done anything for his family in his lifetime, should have left me twenty-five thousand francs."
"Certainly," said the barrister, "there's nothing in that but what is perfectly natural and proper."
"But, monsieur, I have been told that the possession of this money will prevent the judges from considering my claims to the prize."
"Possibly; because seeing you in possession of a little competence, the sacrifices which you apparently intend to continue in favor of your master will be less meritorious."
"I shall never abandon him, poor, dear man, in spite of his faults, though I know that this poor little legacy which Heaven has given me is in the greatest danger from him."
"How so?" asked la Peyrade, with some curiosity.
"Eh! monsieur, let him only get wind of that money, and he'd snap it up at a mouthful; it would all go into his inventions of perpetual motion and other machines of various kinds which have already ruined him, and me, too."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "your desire is that this legacy should remain completely unknown, not only to your master but to the judges of the Academy?"
"How clever monsieur is, and how well he understands things!" she replied, smiling.
"And also," continued the barrister, "you don't want to keep that money openly in your possession?"
"For fear my master should find it out and get it away from me? Exactly. Besides, as monsieur will understand, I shouldn't be sorry, in order to supply the poor dear man with extra comforts, that the sum should bear interest."
"And the highest possible interest," said the barrister.
"Oh! as for that, monsieur, five or six per cent."
"Very good; then it is not only about the memorial to the Academy for the prize of virtue, but also about an investment of your legacy that you have so long been desirous of consulting me?"
"Monsieur is so kind, so charitable, so encouraging!"
"The memorial, after I have made a few inquiries, will be easy enough; but an investment, offering good security, the secret of which you desire to keep, is much less readily obtained."
"Ah! if I dared to—" said the pious woman, humbly.
"What?" asked la Peyrade.
"Monsieur understands me?"
"I? not the least in the world."
"And yet I prayed earnestly just now that monsieur might be willing to keep this money for me. I should feel such confidence if it were in his hands; I know he would return it to me, and never speak of it."
La Peyrade gathered, at this instant, the fruit of his comedy of legal devotion to the necessitous classes. The choir of porters chanting his praises to the skies could alone have inspired this servant-woman with the boundless confidence of which he found himself the object. His thoughts reverted instantly to Dutocq and his notes, and he was not far from thinking that this woman had been sent to him by Providence. But the more he was inclined to profit by this chance to win his independence, the more he felt the necessity of seeming to yield only to her importunity; consequently his objections were many.
Moreover, he had no great belief in the character of his client, and did not care, as the common saying is, to uncover Saint Peter to cover Saint Paul; in other words, to substitute for a creditor who, after all, was his accomplice, a woman who might at any time become exacting and insist in repayment in some public manner that would injure his reputation. He decided, therefore, to play the game with a high hand.
"My good woman," he said, "I am not in want of money, and I am not rich enough to pay interest on twenty-five thousand francs for which I have no use. All that I can do for you is to place that sum, in my name, with the notary Dupuis. He is a religious man; you can see him every Sunday in the warden's pew in our church. Notaries, you know, never give receipts, therefore I could not give you one myself; I can only promise to leave among my papers, in case of death, a memorandum which will secure the restitution of the money into your hands. The affair, you see, is one of blind confidence, and I am very unwilling to make it. If I do so, it is only to oblige a person whose piety and the charitable use she intends to make of the proceeds of her little fortune entitle her to my good-will."
"If monsieur thinks that the matter cannot be otherwise arranged—"
"This appears to me the only possible way," said la Peyrade. "I shall hope to get you six per cent interest, and you may rely that it will be paid with the utmost regularity. But remember, six months, or even a year, may elapse before the notary will be in a position to repay this money, because notaries invest such trust funds chiefly in mortgages which require a certain time to mature. Now, when you have obtained the prize for virtue, which, according to all appearance, I can readily do for you, there will be no reason to hide your little property any longer,—a reason which I fully understand; but you will not be able to withdraw it from the notary's hands immediately; and in case of any difficulty arising, I should be forced to explain the situation, the manner in which you have concealed your prosperity from your master, to whom you have been supposed to be wholly devoted. This, as you will see, would put you in the position of falsely professing virtue, and would do great harm to your reputation for piety."
"Oh! monsieur," said the saintly woman, "can it be that any one would think me a person who did not speak the truth?"
"Bless you! my good creature, in business it is necessary to foresee everything. Money embroils the best friends, and leads to actions they never foresaw. Therefore reflect; you can come and see me again in a few days. It is possible that between now and then you will find some better investment; and I myself, who am doing at this moment a thing I don't altogether like, may have found other difficulties which I do not now expect."
This threat, adroitly thrown out as an afterthought, was intended to immediately clinch the matter.
"I have reflected carefully," said the pious woman, "and I feel sure that in the hands of so religious a man as monsieur I run no risks."
Taking from her bosom a little pocket-book, she pulled out twenty-five bank notes. The rapid manner in which she counted them was a revelation to la Peyrade. The woman was evidently accustomed to handle money, and a singular idea darted through his mind.
"Can it be that she is making me a receiver of stolen property? No," he said aloud, "in order to draw up the memorial for the Academy, I must, as I told you, make a few inquiries; and that will give me occasion to call upon you. At what hour can I see you alone?"
"At four o'clock, when monsieur goes to take his walk in the Luxembourg."
"And where do you live?"
"Rue du Val-de-Grace, No. 9."
"Very good; at four o'clock; and if, as I doubt not, the result of my inquiry is favorable, I will take your money then. Otherwise, if there are not good grounds for your application for the prize of virtue there will be no reason why you should make a mystery of your legacy. You could then invest it in some more normal manner than that I have suggested to you."
"Oh! how cautious monsieur is!" she said, with evident disappointment, having thought the affair settled. "This money, God be thanked! I have not stolen, and monsieur can make what inquiries he likes about me in the quarter."
"It is quite indispensable that I should do so," said la Peyrade, dryly, for he did not at all like, under this mask of simplicity, the quick intelligence that penetrated his thoughts. "Without being a thief, a woman may very well not be a Sister of Charity; there's a wide margin between the two extremes."
"As monsieur chooses," she replied; "he is doing me so great a service that I ought to let him take all precautions."
Then, with a piously humble bow, she went away, taking her money with her.
"The devil!" thought la Peyrade; "that woman is stronger than I; she swallows insults with gratitude and without the sign of a grimace! I have never yet been able to master myself like that."
He began now to fear that he had been too timid, and to think that his would-be creditor might change her mind before he could pay her the visit he had promised. But the harm was done, and, although consumed with anxiety lest he had lost a rare chance, he would have cut off a leg sooner than yield to his impulse to go to her one minute before the hour he had fixed. The information he obtained about her in the quarter was rather contradictory. Some said his client was a saint; otherwise declared her to be a sly creature; but, on the whole, nothing was said against her morality that deterred la Peyrade from taking the piece of luck she had offered him.
When he met her at four o'clock he found her in the same mind.
With the money in his pocket he went to dine with Cerizet and Dutocq at the Rocher de Cancale; and it is to the various emotions he had passed through during the day that we must attribute the sharp and ill-considered manner in which he conducted his rupture with his two associates. This behavior was neither that of his natural disposition nor of his acquired temperament; but the money that was burning in his pockets had slightly intoxicated him; its very touch had conveyed to him an excitement and an impatience for emancipation of which he was not wholly master. He flung Cerizet over in the matter of the lease without so much as consulting Brigitte; and yet, he had not had the full courage of his duplicity; for he had laid to the charge of the old woman a refusal which was merely the act of his own will, prompted by bitter recollections of his fruitless struggles with the man who had so long oppressed him.
In short, during the whole day, la Peyrade had not shown himself the able and infallible man that we have hitherto seen him. Once before, when he carried the fifteen thousand francs entrusted to him by Thuillier, he had been led by Cerizet into an insurrectionary proceeding which necessitated the affair of Sauvaignou. Perhaps, on the whole, it is more difficult to be strong under good than under evil fortune. The Farnese Hercules, calm and in still repose, expresses more energetically the plenitude of muscular power than a violent and agitated Hercules represented in the over-excited energy of his labors.
PART II. THE PARVENUS
CHAPTER I. PHELLION, UNDER A NEW ASPECT
Between the first and second parts of this history an immense event had taken place in the life of Phellion.
There is no one who has not heard of the misfortunes of the Odeon, that fatal theatre which, for years, ruined all its directors. Right or wrong, the quarter in which this dramatic impossibility stands is convinced that its prosperity depends upon it; so that more than once the mayor and other authorities of the arrondissement have, with a courage that honors them, taken part in the most desperate efforts to galvanize the corpse.
Now to meddle with theatrical matters is one of the eternally perennial ambitions of the lesser bourgeoisie. Always, therefore, the successive saviours of the Odeon feel themselves magnificently rewarded if they are given ever so small a share in the administration of that enterprise. It was at some crisis in its affairs that Minard, in his capacity as mayor of the 11th arrondissement, had been called to the chairmanship of the committee for reading plays, with the power to join unto himself as assistants a certain number of the notables of the Latin quarter,—the selection being left to him.
We shall soon know exactly how near was the realization of la Peyrade's projects for the possession of Celeste's "dot"; let us merely say now that these projects in approaching maturity had inevitably become noised abroad; and as this condition of things pointed, of course, to the exclusion of Minard junior and also of Felix the professor, the prejudice hitherto manifested by Minard pere against old Phellion was transformed into an unequivocal disposition towards friendly cordiality; there is nothing that binds and soothes like the feeling of a checkmate shared in common. Judged without the evil eye of paternal rivalry, Phellion became to Minard a Roman of incorruptible integrity and a man whose little treatises had been adopted by the University,—in other words, a man of sound and tested intellect.
So that when it became the duty of the mayor to select the members of the dramatic custom-house, of which he was now the head, he immediately thought of Phellion. As for the great citizen, he felt, on the day when a post was offered to him in that august tribunal, that a crown of gold had been placed upon his brow.
It will be well understood that it was not lightly, nor without having deeply meditated, that a man of Phellion's solemnity had accepted the high and sacred mission which was offered to him. He said within himself that he was called upon to exercise the functions of a magistracy, a priestly office.
"To judge of men," he replied to Minard, who was much surprised at his hesitation, "is an alarming task, but to judge of minds!—who can believe himself equal to such a mission?"
Once more the family—that rock on which the firmest resolutions split—had threatened to infringe on the domain of his conscience. The thought of boxes and tickets of which the future member of the committee could dispose in favor of his own kin had excited in the household so eager a ferment that his freedom of decision seemed for a moment in danger. But, happily, Brutus was able to decide himself in the same direction along which a positive uprising of the whole Phellionian tribe intended to push him. From the observations of Barniol, his son-in-law, and also by his own personal inspiration, he became persuaded that by his vote, always given to works of irreproachable morality, and by his firm determination to bar the way to all plays that mothers of families could not take their daughters to witness, he was called upon to render the most signal services to morals and public order. Phellion, to use his own expression, had therefore become a member of the areopagus presided over by Minard, and—still speaking as he spoke—he was issuing from the exercise of his functions, which were both delicate and interesting, when the conversation we are about to report took place. A knowledge of this conversation is necessary to an understanding of the ulterior events of this history, and it will also serve to put into relief the envious insight which is one of the most marked traits of the bourgeois character.
The session of the committee had been extremely stormy. On the subject of a tragedy entitled, "The Death of Hercules," the classic party and the romantic party, whom the mayor had carefully balanced in the composition of his committee, had nearly approached the point of tearing each other's hair out. Twice Phellion had risen to speak, and his hearers were astonished at the quantity of metaphors the speech of a major of the National Guard could contain when his literary convictions were imperilled. As the result of a vote, victory remained with the opinions of which Phellion was the eloquent organ. It was while descending the stairway of the theatre with Minard that he remarked:—
"We have done a good work this day. 'The Death of Hercules' reminded me of 'The Death of Hector,' by the late Luce de Lancival; the work we have just accepted sparkles with sublime verses."
"Yes," said Minard, "the versification has taste; there are some really fine lines in it, and I admit to you that I think this sort of literature rather above the anagrams of Master Colleville."
"Oh!" replied Minard, "Colleville's anagrams are mere witticisms, which have nothing in common with the sterner accents of Melpomene."
"And yet," said Minard, "I can assure you he attaches the greatest importance to that rubbish, and apropos to his anagrams, as, indeed, about many other things, he is not a little puffed up. Since their emigration to the Madeleine quarter it seems to me that not only the Sieur Colleville, but his wife and daughter, and the Thuilliers and the whole coterie have assumed an air of importance which is rather difficult to justify."
"No wonder!" said Phellion; "one must have a pretty strong head to stand the fumes of opulence. Our friends have become so very rich by the purchase of that property where they have gone to live that we ought to forgive them for a little intoxication; and I must say the dinner they gave us yesterday for a house-warming was really as well arranged as it was succulent."
"I myself," said Minard, "have given a few remarkable dinners to which men in high government positions have not disdained to come, yet I am not puffed up with pride on that account; such as my friends have always known me, that I have remained."
"You, Monsieur le maire, have long been habituated to the splendid existence you have made for yourself by your high commercial talents; our friends, on the contrary, so lately embarked on the smiling ship of Fortune, have not yet found, as the vulgar saying is, their sea-legs."
And then to cut short a conversation in which Phellion began to think the mayor rather "caustic," he made as if he intended to take leave of him. In order to reach their respective homes they did not always take the same way.
"Are you going through the Luxembourg?" asked Minard, not allowing Phellion to give him the slip.
"I shall cross it, but I have an appointment to meet Madame Phellion and the little Barniols at the end of the grand alley."
"Then," said Minard, "I'll go with you and have the pleasure of making my bow to Madame Phellion; and I shall get the fresh air at the same time, for, in spite of hearing fine things, one's head gets tired at the business we have just been about."
Minard had felt that Phellion gave rather reluctant assent to his sharp remarks about the new establishment of the Thuilliers, and he did not attempt to renew the subject; but when he had Madame Phellion for a listener, he was very sure that his spite would find an echo.
"Well, fair lady," he began, "what did you think of yesterday's dinner?"
"It was very fine," replied Madame Phellion; "as I tasted that soup 'a la bisque' I knew that some caterer, like Chevet, had supplanted the cook. But the whole affair was dull; it hadn't the gaiety of our old meetings in the Latin quarter. And then, didn't it strike you, as it did me, that Madame and Mademoiselle Thuillier no longer seemed mistresses of their own house? I really felt as if I were the guest of Madame—what is her name? I never can remember it."
"Torna, Comtesse de Godollo," said Phellion, intervening. "The name is euphonious enough to remember."
"Euphonious if you like, my dear; but to me it never seems a name at all."
"It is a Magyar, or to speak more commonly, a Hungarian name. Our own name, if we wanted to discuss it, might be said to be a loan from the Greek language."
"Very likely; at any rate we have the advantage of being known, not only in our own quarter, but throughout the tuition world, where we have earned an honorable position; while this Hungarian countess, who makes, as they say, the good and the bad weather in the Thuilliers' home, where does she come from, I'd like to know? How did such a fine lady,—for she has good manners and a very distinguished air, no one denies her that,—how came she to fall in love with Brigitte; who, between ourselves, keeps a sickening odor of the porter's lodge about her. For my part, I think this devoted friend is an intriguing creature, who scents money, and is scheming for some future gain."
"Ah ca!" said Minard, "then you don't know the original cause of the intimacy between Madame la Comtesse de Godollo and the Thuilliers?"
"She is a tenant in their house; she occupies the entresol beneath their apartment."
"True, but there's something more than that in it. Zelie, my wife, heard it from Josephine, who wanted, lately, to enter our service; the matter came to nothing, for Francoise, our woman, who thought of marrying, changed her mind. You must know, fair lady, that it was solely Madame de Godollo who brought about the emigration of the Thuilliers, whose upholsterer, as one might say, she is."
"What! their upholsterer?" cried Phellion,—"that distinguished woman, of whom one may truly say, 'Incessu patuit dea'; which in French we very inadequately render by the expression, 'bearing of a queen'?"
"Excuse me," said Minard. "I did not mean that Madame de Godollo is actually in the furniture business; but, at the time when Mademoiselle Thuillier decided, by la Peyrade's advice, to manage the new house herself, that little fellow, who hasn't all the ascendancy over her mind he thinks he has, couldn't persuade her to move the family into the splendid apartment where they received us yesterday. Mademoiselle Brigitte objected that she should have to change her habits, and that her friends and relations wouldn't follow her to such a distant quarter—"
"It is quite certain," interrupted Madame Phellion, "that to make up one's mind to hire a carriage every Sunday, one wants a prospect of greater pleasure than can be found in that salon. When one thinks that, except on the day of the famous dance of the candidacy, they never once opened the piano in the rue Saint-Dominique!"
"It would have been, I am sure, most agreeable to the company to have a talent like yours put in requisition," remarked Minard; "but those are not ideas that could ever come into the mind of that good Brigitte. She'd have seen two more candles to light. Five-franc pieces are her music. So, when la Peyrade and Thuillier insisted that she should move into the apartment in the Place de la Madeleine, she thought of nothing but the extra costs entailed by the removal. She judged, rightly enough, that beneath those gilded ceilings her old 'penates' might have a singular effect."
"See how all things link together," remarked Phellion, "and how, from the summits of society, luxury infiltrates itself, sooner or later, through the lower classes, leading to the ruin of empires."
"You are broaching there, my dear commander," said Minard, "one of the most knotty questions of political economy. Many good minds think, on the contrary, that luxury is absolutely demanded in the interests of commerce, which is certainly the life of States. In any case, this view, which isn't yours, appears to have been that of Madame de Godollo, for, they tell me, her apartment is very coquettishly furnished; and to coax Mademoiselle Brigitte into the same path of elegance she made a proposal to her as follows: 'A friend of mine,' she said, 'a Russian princess for whom one of the first upholsterers has just made splendid furniture, is suddenly recalled to Russia by the czar, a gentleman with whom no one dares to trifle. The poor woman is therefore obliged to turn everything she owns here into money as fast as possible; and I feel sure she would sell this furniture for ready money at a quarter of the price it cost her. All of it is nearly new, and some things have never been used at all.'"