The Provencal had not been spoilt by an experience of "bonnes fortunes." The poverty against which he had struggled so long never leads to affairs of gallantry, and since he had thrown off its harsh restraint, his mind being wholly given up to the anxious work of creating his future, the things of the heart had entered but slightly into his life; unless we must except the comedy he had played on Flavie. We can therefore imagine the perplexity of this novice in the matter of adventures when he saw himself placed between the danger of losing what seemed to be a delightful opportunity, and the fear of finding a serpent amid the beautiful flowers that were offered to his grasp. Too marked a reserve, too lukewarm an eagerness, might wound the self-love of that beautiful foreigner, and quench the spring from which he seemed invited to draw. On the other hand, suppose that appearance of interest were only a snare? Suppose this kindness (ill-explained, as it seemed to him), of which he was so suddenly the object, had no other purpose than to entice him into a step which might be used to compromise him with the Thuilliers? What a blow to his reputation for shrewdness, and what a role to play!—that of the dog letting go the meat for the shadow!
We know that la Peyrade was trained in the school of Tartuffe, and the frankness with which that great master declares to Elmire that without receiving a few of the favors to which he aspired he could not trust in her tender advances, seemed to the barrister a suitable method to apply to the present case, adding, however, a trifle more softness to the form.
"Madame la comtesse," he said, "you have turned me into a man who is much to be pitied. I was cheerfully advancing to this marriage, and you take all faith in it away from me. Suppose I break it off, what use can I—with that great capacity you see in me—make of the liberty I thus recover?"
"La Bruyere, if I am not mistaken, said that nothing freshens the blood so much as to avoid committing a folly."
"That may be; but it is, you must admit, a negative benefit; and I am of an age and in a position to desire more serious results. The interest that you deign to show to me cannot, I think, stop short at the idea of merely putting an end to my present prospects. I love Mademoiselle Colleville with a love, it is true, which has nothing imperative about it; but I certainly love her, her hand is promised to me, and before renouncing it—"
"So," said the countess, hastily, "in a given case you would not be averse to a rupture? And," she added, in a more decided tone, "there would be some chance of making you see that in taking your first opportunity you cut yourself off from a better future, in which a more suitable marriage may present itself?"
"But, at least, madame, I must be enabled to foresee it definitely."
This persistence in demanding pledges seemed to irritate the countess.
"Faith," she said, "is only a virtue when it believes without seeing. You doubt yourself, and that is another form of stupidity. I am not happy, it seems, in my selection of those I desire to benefit."
"But, madame, it cannot be indiscreet to ask to know in some remote way at least, what future your kind good-will has imagined for me."
"It is very indiscreet," replied the countess, coldly, "and it shows plainly that you offer me only a conditional confidence. Let us say no more. You are certainly far advanced with Mademoiselle Colleville; she suits you, you say, in many ways; therefore marry her. I say again, you will no longer find me in your way."
"But does Mademoiselle Colleville really suit me?" resumed la Peyrade; "that is the very point on which you have lately raised my doubts. Do you not think there is something cruel in casting me first in one direction and then in the other without affording me any ground to go upon?"
"Ah!" said the countess, in a tone of impatience, "you want my opinion on the premises! Well, monsieur, there is one very conclusive fact to which I can bring proof: Celeste does not love you."
"So I have thought," said la Peyrade, humbly. "I felt that I was making a marriage of mere convenience."
"And she cannot love you, because," continued Madame de Godollo, with animation, "she cannot comprehend you. Her proper husband is that blond little man, insipid as herself; from the union of those two natures without life or heat will result in that lukewarm existence which, in the opinion of the world where she was born and where she has lived, is the ne plus ultra of conjugal felicity. Try to make that little simpleton understand that when she had a chance to unite herself with true talent she ought to have felt highly honored! But, above all, try to make her miserable, odious family and surroundings understand it! Enriched bourgeois, parvenus! there's the roof beneath which you think to rest from your cruel labor and your many trials! And do you believe that you will not be made to feel, twenty times a day, that your share in the partnership is distressingly light in the scale against their money? On one side, the Iliad, the Cid, Der Freyschutz, and the frescos of the Vatican; on the other, three hundred thousand francs in good, ringing coin! Tell me which side they will trust and admire! The artist, the man of imagination who falls into the bourgeois atmosphere—shall I tell you to what I compare him? To Daniel cast into the lion's den, less the miracle of Holy Writ."
This invective against the bourgeoisie was uttered in a tone of heated conviction which could scarcely fail to be communicated.
"Ah! madame," cried la Peyrade, "how eloquently you say things which again and again have entered my troubled and anxious mind! But I have felt myself lashed to that most cruel fate, the necessity of gaining a position—"
"Necessity! position!" interrupted the countess, again raising the temperature of her speech,—"words void of meaning! which have not even sound to able men, though they drive back fools as though they were formidable barriers. Necessity! does that exist for noble natures, for those who know how to will? A Gascon minister uttered a saying which ought to be engraved on the doors of all careers: 'All things come to him who knows how to wait.' Are you ignorant that marriage, to men of a high stamp, is either a chain which binds them to the lowest vulgarities of existence, or a wing on which to rise to the highest summits of the social world? The wife you need, monsieur,—and she would not be long wanting to your career if you had not, with such incredible haste, accepted the first 'dot' that was offered you,—the wife you should have chosen is a woman capable of understanding you, able to divine your intellect; one who could be to you a fellow-worker, an intellectual confidant, and not a mere embodiment of the 'pot-au-feu'; a woman capable of being now your secretary, but soon the wife of a deputy, a minister, an ambassador; one, in short, who could offer you her heart as a mainspring, her salon for a stage, her connections for a ladder, and who, in return for all she would give you of ardor and strength, asks only to shine beside your throne in the rays of the glory she predicts for you!"
Intoxicated, as it were, with the flow of her own words, the countess was really magnificent; her eyes sparkled, her nostrils dilated; the prospect her vivid eloquence thus unrolled she seemed to see, and touch with her quivering fingers. For a moment, la Peyrade was dazzled by this sunrise which suddenly burst upon his life.
However, as he was a man most eminently prudent, who had made it his rule of life never to lend except on sound and solvent security, he was still impelled to weigh the situation.
"Madame la comtesse," he said, "you reproached me just now for speaking like a bourgeois, and I, in return, am afraid that you are talking like a goddess. I admire you, I listen to you, but I am not convinced. Such devotions, such sublime abnegations may be met with in heaven, but in this low world who can hope to be the object of them?"
"You are mistaken, monsieur," replied the countess, with solemnity; "such devotions are rare, but they are neither impossible nor incredible; only, it is necessary to have the heart to find them, and, above all, the hand to take them when they are offered to you."
So saying, the countess rose majestically.
La Peyrade saw that he had ended by displeasing her, and he felt that she dismissed him. He rose himself, bowed respectfully, and asked to be received again.
"Monsieur," said Madame de Godollo, "we Hungarians, primitive people and almost savages that we are, have a saying that when our door is open both sides of it are opened wide; when we close it it is double-locked and bolted."
That dignified and ambiguous speech was accompanied by a slight inclination of the head. Bewildered, confounded by this behavior, to him so new, which bore but little resemblance to that of Flavie, Brigitte, and Madame Minard, la Peyrade left the house, asking himself again and again whether he had played his game properly.
CHAPTER V. SHOWING HOW NEAR THE TARPEIAN ROCK IS TO THE CAPITOL
On leaving Madame de Godollo, la Peyrade felt the necessity of gathering himself together. Beneath the conversation he had just maintained with this strange woman, what could he see,—a trap, or a rich and distinguished marriage offered to him. Under such a doubt as this, to press Celeste for an immediate answer was neither clever nor prudent; it was simply to bind himself, and close the door to the changes, still very ill-defined, which seemed offered to him. The result of the consultation which Theodose held with himself as he walked along the boulevard was that he ought, for the moment, to think only of gaining time. Consequently, instead of going to the Thuilliers' to learn Celeste's decision, he went home, and wrote the following little note to Thuillier:—
My dear Thuillier,—You will certainly not think it extraordinary that I should not present myself at your house to-day,—partly because I fear the sentence which will be pronounced upon me, and partly because I do not wish to seem an impatient and unmannerly creditor. A few days, more or less, will matter little under such circumstances, and yet Mademoiselle Colleville may find them desirable for the absolute freedom of her choice. I shall, therefore, not go to see you until you write for me.
I am now more calm, and I have added a few more pages to our manuscript; it will take but little time to hand in the whole to the printer.
Theodose de la Peyrade.
Two hours later a servant, dressed in what was evidently the first step towards a livery, which the Thuilliers did not as yet venture to risk, the "male domestic," whom Minard had mentioned to the Phellions, arrived at la Peyrade's lodgings with the following note:—
Come to-night, without fail. We will talk over the whole affair with Brigitte.
Your most affectionately devoted Jerome Thuillier.
"Good!" said la Peyrade; "evidently there is some hindrance on the other side; I shall have time to turn myself round."
That evening, when the servant announced him in the Thuillier salon, the Comtesse de Godollo, who was sitting with Brigitte, hastened to rise and leave the room. As she passed la Peyrade she made him a very ceremonious bow. There was nothing conclusive to be deduced from this abrupt departure, which might signify anything, either much or nothing.
After talking of the weather and so forth for a time, as persons do who have met to discuss a delicate subject about which they are not sure of coming to an understanding, the matter was opened by Brigitte, who had sent her brother to take a walk on the boulevard, telling him to leave her to manage the affair.
"My dear boy," she said to Theodose, "it was very nice of you not to come here to-day like a grasp-all, to put your pistol at our throats, for we were not, as it happened, quite ready to answer you. I think," she added, "that our little Celeste needs a trifle more time."
"Then," said la Peyrade, quickly, "she has not decided in favor of Monsieur Felix Phellion?"
"Joker!" replied the old maid, "you know very well you settled that business last night; but you also know, of course, that her own inclinations incline her that way."
"Short of being blind, I must have seen that," replied la Peyrade.
"It is not an obstacle to my projects," continued Mademoiselle Thuillier; "but it serves to explain why I ask for Celeste a little more time; and also why I have wished all along to postpone the marriage to a later date. I wanted to give you time to insinuate yourself into the heart of my dear little girl—but you and Thuillier upset my plans."
"Nothing, I think, has been done without your sanction," said la Peyrade, "and if, during these fifteen days, I have not talked with you on the subject, it was out of pure delicacy. Thuillier told me that everything was agreed upon with you."
"On the contrary, Thuillier knows very well that I refused to mix myself up on your new arrangements. If you had not made yourself so scarce lately, I might have been the first to tell you that I did not approve of them. However, I can truly say I did nothing to hinder their success."
"But that was too little," said la Peyrade; "your active help was absolutely necessary."
"Possibly; but I, who know women better than you, being one of them,—I felt very sure that if Celeste was told to choose between two suitors she would consider that a permission to think at her ease of the one she liked best. I myself had always left her in the vague as to Felix, knowing as I did the proper moment to settle her mind about him."
"So," said la Peyrade, "you mean that she refuses me."
"It is much worse than that," returned Brigitte; "she accepts you, and is willing to pledge her word; but it is so easy to see she regards herself as a victim, that if I were in your place I should feel neither flattered nor secure in such a position."
In any other condition of mind la Peyrade would probably have answered that he accepted the sacrifice, and would make it his business to win the heart which at first was reluctantly given; but delay now suited him, and he replied to Brigitte with a question:—
"Then what do you advise? What course had I better take?"
"Finish Thuillier's pamphlet, in the first place, or he'll go crazy; and leave me to work the other affair in your interests," replied Brigitte.
"But am I in friendly hands? For, to tell you the truth, little aunt, I have not been able to conceal from myself that you have, for some time past, changed very much to me."
"Changed to you! What change do you see in me, addled-pate that you are?"
"Oh! nothing very tangible," said la Peyrade; "but ever since that Countess Torna has had a footing in your house—"
"My poor boy, the countess has done me many services, and I am very grateful to her; but is that any reason why I should be false to you, who have done us still greater services?"
"But you must admit," said la Peyrade, craftily, "that she has told you a great deal of harm of me."
"Naturally she has; these fine ladies are all that way; they expect the whole world to adore them, and she sees that you are thinking only of Celeste; but all she has said to me against you runs off my mind like water from varnished cloth."
"So, then, little aunt, I may continue to count on you?" persisted la Peyrade.
"Yes; provided you are not tormenting, and will let me manage this affair."
"Tell me how you are going to do it?" asked la Peyrade, with an air of great good-humor.
"In the first place, I shall signify to Felix that he is not to set foot in this house again."
"Is that possible?" said the barrister; "I mean can it be done civilly?"
"Very possible; I shall make Phellion himself tell him. He's a man who is always astride of principles, and he'll be the first to see that if his son will not do what is necessary to obtain Celeste's hand he ought to deprive us of his presence."
"What next?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next, I shall signify to Celeste that she was left at liberty to choose one husband or the other, and as she did not choose Felix she must make up her mind to take you, a pious fellow, such as she wants. You needn't be uneasy; I'll sing your praises, especially your generosity in not profiting by the arrangement she agreed to make to-day. But all that will take a week at least, and if Thuillier's pamphlet isn't out before then, I don't know but what we shall have to put him in a lunatic asylum."
"The pamphlet can be out in two days. But is it very certain, little aunt, that we are playing above-board? Mountains, as they say, never meet, but men do; and certainly, when the time comes to promote the election, I can do Thuillier either good or bad service. Do you know, the other day I was terribly frightened. I had a letter from him in my pocket, in which he spoke of the pamphlet as being written by me. I fancied for a moment that I had dropped it in the Luxembourg. If I had, what a scandal it would have caused in the quarter."
"Who would dare to play tricks with such a wily one as you?" said Brigitte, fully comprehending the comminatory nature of la Peyrade's last words, interpolated into the conversation without rhyme or reason. "But really," she added, "why should you complain of us? It is you who are behindhand in your promises. That cross which was to have been granted within a week, and that pamphlet, which ought to have appeared a long time ago—"
"The pamphlet and the cross will both appear in good time; the one will bring the other," said la Peyrade, rising. "Tell Thuillier to come and see me to-morrow evening, and I think we can then correct the last sheet. But, above all, don't listen to the spitefulness of Madame de Godollo; I have an idea that in order to make herself completely mistress of this house she wants to alienate all your old friends, and also that she is casting her net for Thuillier."
"Well, in point of fact," said the old maid, whom the parting shot of the infernal barrister had touched on the ever-sensitive point of her authority, "I must look into that matter you speak of there; she is rather coquettish, that little woman."
La Peyrade gained a second benefit out of that speech so adroitly flung out; he saw by Brigitte's answer to it that the countess had not mentioned to her the visit he had paid her during the day. This reticence might have a serious meaning.
Four days later, the printer, the stitcher, the paper glazier having fulfilled their offices, Thuillier had the inexpressible happiness of beginning on the boulevards a promenade, which he continued through the Passages, and even to the Palais-Royal, pausing before all the book-shops where he saw, shining in black letters on a yellow poster, the famous title:—
TAXATION AND THE SLIDING-SCALE by J. Thuillier, Member of the Council-General of the Seine.
Having reached the point of persuading himself that the care he had bestowed upon the correction of proofs made the merit of the work his own, his paternal heart, like that of Maitre Corbeau, could not contain itself for joy. We ought to add that he held in very low esteem those booksellers who did not announce the sale of the new work, destined to become, as he believed, a European event. Without actually deciding the manner in which he would punish their indifference, he nevertheless made a list of these rebellious persons, and wished them as much evil as if they had offered him a personal affront.
The next day he spent a delightful morning in writing a certain number of letters, sending the publication to friends, and putting into paper covers some fifty copies, to which the sacramental phrase, "From the author," imparted to his eyes an inestimable value.
But the third day of the sale brought a slight diminution of his happiness. He had chosen for his editor a young man, doing business at a breakneck pace, who had lately established himself in the Passage des Panoramas, where he was paying a ruinous rent. He was the nephew of Barbet the publisher, whom Brigitte had had as a tenant in the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. This Barbet junior was a youth who flinched at nothing; and when he was presented to Thuillier by his uncle, he pledged himself, provided he was not shackled in his advertising, to sell off the first edition and print a second within a week.
Now, Thuillier had spent about fifteen hundred francs himself on costs of publication, such, for instance, as copies sent in great profusion to the newspapers; but at the close of the third day seven copies only had been sold, and three of those on credit. It might be believed that in revealing to the horror-stricken Thuillier this paltry result the young publisher would have lost at least something of his assurance. On the contrary, this Guzman of the book-trade hastened to say:—
"I am delighted at what has happened. If we had sold a hundred copies it would trouble me far more than the fifteen hundred now on our hands; that's what I call hanging fire; whereas this insignificant sale only proves that the edition will go off like a rocket."
"But when?" asked Thuillier, who thought this view paradoxical.
"Parbleu!" said Barbet, "when we get notices in the newspapers. Newspaper notices are only useful to arouse attention. 'Dear me!' says the public, 'there's a publication that must be interesting.' The title is good,—'Taxation and the Sliding-Scale,'—but I find that the more piquant a title is, the more buyers distrust it, they have been taken in so often; they wait for the notices. On the other hand, for books that are destined to have only a limited sale, a hundred ready-made purchasers will come in at once, but after that, good-bye to them; we don't place another copy."
"Then you don't think," said Thuillier, "that the sale is hopeless?"
"On the contrary, I think it is on the best track. When the 'Debats,' the 'Constitutionnel,' the 'Siecle,' and the 'Presse' have reviewed it, especially if the 'Debats' mauls it (they are ministerial, you know), it won't be a week before the whole edition is snapped up."
"You say that easily enough," replied Thuillier; "but how are we to get hold of those gentlemen of the press?"
"Ah! I'll take care of that," said Barbet. "I am on the best of terms with the managing editors; they say the devil is in me, and that I remind them of Ladvocat in his best days."
"But then, my dear fellow, you ought to have seen to this earlier."
"Ah! excuse me, papa Thuillier; there's only one way of seeing to the journalists; but as you grumbled about the fifteen hundred francs for the advertisements, I did not venture to propose to you another extra expense."
"What expense?" asked Thuillier, anxiously.
"When you were nominated to the municipal council, where was the plan mooted?" asked the publisher.
"Parbleu! in my own house," replied Thuillier.
"Yes, of course, in your own house, but at a dinner, followed by a ball, and the ball itself crowned by a supper. Well, my dear master, there are no two ways to do this business; Boileau says:—
"'All is done through the palate, and not through the mind; And it is by our dinners we govern mankind.'"
"Then you think I ought to give a dinner to those journalists?"
"Yes; but not at your own house; for these journalists, you see, if women are present, get stupid; they have to behave themselves. And, besides, it isn't dinner they want, but a breakfast—that suits them best. In the evening these gentlemen have to go to first representations, and make up their papers, not to speak of their own little private doings; whereas in the mornings they have nothing to think about. As for me, it is always breakfasts that I give."
"But that costs money, breakfasts like that," said Thuillier; "journalists are gourmands."
"Bah! twenty francs a head, without wine. Say you have ten of them; three hundred francs will see you handsomely through the whole thing. In fact, as a matter of economy, breakfasts are preferable; for a dinner you wouldn't get off under five hundred francs."
"How you talk, young man!" said Thuillier.
"Oh, hang it! everybody knows it costs dear to get elected to the Chamber; and all this favors your nomination."
"But how can I invite those gentlemen? Must I go and see them myself?"
"Certainly not; send them your pamphlet and appoint them to meet you at Philippe's or Vefour's—they'll understand perfectly."
"Ten guests," said Thuillier, beginning to enter into the idea. "I did not know there were so many leading journals."
"There are not," said the publisher; "but we must have the little dogs as well, for they bark loudest. This breakfast is certain to make a noise, and if you don't ask them they'll think you pick and choose, and everyone excluded will be your enemy."
"Then you think it is enough merely to send the invitations?"
"Yes; I'll make the list, and you can write the notes and send them to me. I'll see that they are delivered; some of them I shall take in person."
"If I were sure," said Thuillier, undecidedly, "that this expense would have the desired effect—"
"If I were sure,—that's a queer thing to say," said Barbet. "My dear master, this is money placed on mortgage; for it, I will guarantee the sale of fifteen hundred copies,—say at forty sous apiece; allowing the discounts, that makes three thousand francs. You see that your costs and extra costs are covered, and more than covered."
"Well," said Thuillier, turning to go, "I'll talk to la Peyrade about it."
"As you please, my dear master; but decide soon, for nothing gets mouldy so fast as a book; write hot, serve hot, and buy hot,—that's the rule for authors, publishers, and public; all is bosh outside of it, and no good to touch."
When la Peyrade was consulted, he did not think in his heart that the remedy was heroic, but he had now come to feel the bitterest animosity against Thuillier, so that he was well pleased to see this new tax levied on his self-important inexperience and pompous silliness.
As for Thuillier, the mania for posing as a publicist and getting himself talked about so possessed him that although he moaned over this fresh bleeding of his purse, he had decided on the sacrifice before he even spoke to la Peyrade. The reserved and conditional approval of the latter was, therefore, more than enough to settle his determination, and the same evening he returned to Barbet junior and asked for the list of guests whom he ought to invite.
Barbet gaily produced his little catalogue. Instead of the ten guests originally mentioned, there proved to be fifteen, not counting himself or la Peyrade, whom Thuillier wanted to second him in this encounter with a set of men among whom he himself felt he should be a little out of place. Casting his eyes over the list, he exclaimed, vehemently:—
"Heavens! my dear fellow, here are names of papers nobody ever heard of. Where's the 'Moralisateur,' the 'Lanterne de Diogene,' the 'Pelican,' the 'Echo de la Bievre'?"
"You'd better be careful how you scorn the 'Echo de la Bievre,'" said Barbet; "why, that's the paper of the 12th arrondissement, from which you expect to be elected; its patrons are those big tanners of the Mouffetard quarter!"
"Well, let that go—but the 'Pelican'?"
"The 'Pelican'? that's a paper you'll find in every dentist's waiting-room; dentists are the first puffists in the world! How many teeth do you suppose are daily pulled in Paris?"
"Come, come, nonsense," said Thuillier, who proceeded to mark out certain names, reducing the whole number present to fourteen.
"If one falls off we shall be thirteen," remarked Barbet.
"Pooh!" said Thuillier, the free-thinker, "do you suppose I give in to that superstition?"
The list being finally closed and settled at fourteen, Thuillier seated himself at the publisher's desk and wrote the invitations, naming, in view of the urgency of the purpose, the next day but one for the meeting, Barbet having assured him that no journalist would object to the shortness of the invitation. The meeting was appointed at Vefour's, the restaurant par excellence of the bourgeoisie and all provincials.
Barbet arrived on the day named before Thuillier, who appeared in a cravat which alone was enough to create a stir in the satirical circle in which he was about to produce himself. The publisher, on his own authority, had changed various articles on the bill of fare as selected by his patron, more especially directing that the champagne, ordered in true bourgeois fashion to be served with the dessert, should be placed on the table at the beginning of breakfast, with several dishes of shrimps, a necessity which had not occurred to the amphitryon.
Thuillier, who gave a lip-approval to these amendments, was followed by la Peyrade; and then came a long delay in the arrival of the guests. Breakfast was ordered at eleven o'clock; at a quarter to twelve not a journalist had appeared. Barbet, who was never at a loss, made the consoling remark that breakfasts at restaurants were like funerals, where, as every one knew, eleven o'clock meant mid-day.
Sure enough, shortly before that hour, two gentlemen, with pointed beards, exhaling a strong odor of tobacco, made their appearance. Thuillier thanked them effusively for the "honor" they had done him; after which came another long period of waiting, of which we shall not relate the tortures. At one o'clock the assembled contingent comprised five of the invited guests, Barbet and la Peyrade not included. It is scarcely necessary to say that none of the self-respecting journalists of the better papers had taken any notice of the absurd invitation.
Breakfast now had to be served to this reduced number. A few polite phrases that reached Thuillier's ears about the "immense" interest of his publication, failed to blind him to the bitterness of his discomfiture; and without the gaiety of the publisher, who had taken in hand the reins his patron, gloomy as Hippolytus on the road to Mycenae, let fall, nothing could have surpassed the glum and glacial coldness of the meeting.
After the oysters were removed, the champagne and chablis which had washed them down had begun, nevertheless, to raise the thermometer, when, rushing into the room where the banquet was taking place, a young man in a cap conveyed to Thuillier a most unexpected and crushing blow.
"Master," said the new-comer to Barbet (he was a clerk in the bookseller's shop), "we are done for! The police have made a raid upon us; a commissary and two men have come to seize monsieur's pamphlet. Here's a paper they have given me for you."
"Look at that," said Barbet, handing the document to la Peyrade, his customary assurance beginning to forsake him.
"A summons to appear at once before the court of assizes," said la Peyrade, after reading a few lines of the sheriff's scrawl.
Thuillier had turned as pale as death.
"Didn't you fulfil all the necessary formalities?" he said to Barbet, in a choking voice.
"This is not a matter of formalities," said la Peyrade, "it is a seizure for what is called press misdemeanor, exciting contempt and hatred of the government; you probably have the same sort of compliment awaiting you at home, my poor Thuillier."
"Then it is treachery!" cried Thuillier, losing his head completely.
"Hang it, my dear fellow! you know very well what you put in your pamphlet; for my part, I don't see anything worth whipping a cat for."
"There's some misunderstanding," said Barbet, recovering courage; "it will all be explained, and the result will be a fine cause of complaint—won't it, messieurs?"
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried one of the journalists thus appealed to.
"Nonsense! you'll have time to write your article later," said another of the brotherhood; "what has a bombshell to do with this 'filet saute'?"
That, of course, was a parody on the famous speech of Charles XII., King of Sweden, when a shot interrupted him while dictating to a secretary.
"Messieurs," said Thuillier, rising, "I am sure you will excuse me for leaving you. If, as Monsieur Barbet thinks, there is some misunderstanding, it ought to be explained at once; I must therefore, with your permission, go to the police court. La Peyrade," he added in a significant tone, "you will not refuse, I presume, to accompany me. And you, my dear publisher, you would do well to come too."
"No, faith!" said Barbet, "when I breakfast, I breakfast; if the police have committed a blunder, so much the worse for them."
"But suppose the matter is serious?" cried Thuillier, in great agitation.
"Well, I should say, what is perfectly true, that I had never read a line of your pamphlet. One thing is very annoying; those damned juries hate beards, and I must cut off mine if I'm compelled to appear in court."
"Come, my dear amphitryon, sit down again," said the editor of the "Echo de la Bievre," "we'll stand by you; I've already written an article in my head which will stir up all the tanners in Paris; and, let me tell you, that honorable corporation is a power."
"No, monsieur," replied Thuillier, "no; a man like me cannot rest an hour under such an accusation as this. Continue your breakfast without us; I hope soon to see you again. La Peyrade, are you coming?"
"He's charming, isn't he?" said Barbet, when Thuillier and his counsel had left the room. "To ask me to leave a breakfast after the oysters, and go and talk with the police! Come, messieurs, close up the ranks," he added, gaily.
"Tiens!" said one of the hungry journalists, who had cast his eyes into the garden of the Palais-Royal, on which the dining-room of the restaurant opened, "there's Barbanchu going by; suppose I call him in?"
"Yes, certainly," said Barbet junior, "have him up."
"Barbanchu! Barbanchu!" called out the journalist.
Barbanchu, his hat being over his eyes, was some time in discovering the cloud above him whence the voice proceeded.
"Here, up here!" called the voice, which seemed to Barbanchu celestial when he saw himself hailed by a man with a glass of champagne in his hand. Then, as he seemed to hesitate, the party above called out in chorus:—
"Come up! come up! There's fat to be had!"
When Thuillier left the office of the public prosecutor he could no longer have any illusions. The case against him was serious, and the stern manner in which he had been received made him see that when the trial came up he would be treated without mercy. Then, as always happens among accomplices after the non-success of an affair they have done in common, he turned upon la Peyrade in the sharpest manner: La Peyrade had paid no attention to what he wrote; he had given full swing to his stupid Saint-Simonian ideas; he didn't care for the consequences; it was not he who would have to pay the fine and go to prison! Then, when la Peyrade answered that the matter did not look to him serious, and he expected to get a verdict of acquittal without difficulty, Thuillier burst forth upon him, vehemently:—
"Parbleu! the thing is plain enough; monsieur sees nothing in it? Well, I shall not put my honor and my fortune into the hands of a little upstart like yourself; I shall take some great lawyer if the case comes to trial. I've had enough of your collaboration by this time."
Under the injustice of these remarks la Peyrade felt his anger rising. However, he saw himself disarmed, and not wishing to come to an open rupture, he parted from Thuillier, saying that he forgave a man excited by fear, and would go to see him later in the afternoon, when he would probably be calmer; they could then decide on what steps they had better take.
Accordingly, about four o'clock, the Provencal arrived at the house in the Place de la Madeleine. Thuillier's irritation was quieted, but frightful consternation had taken its place. If the executioner were coming in half an hour to lead him to the scaffold he could not have been more utterly unstrung and woe-begone. When la Peyrade entered Madame Thuillier was trying to make him take an infusion of linden-leaves. The poor woman had come out of her usual apathy, and proved herself, beside the present Sabinus, another Eponina.
As for Brigitte, who presently appeared, bearing a foot-bath, she had no mercy or restraint towards Theodose; her sharp and bitter reproaches, which were out of all proportion to the fault, even supposing him to have committed one would have driven a man of the most placid temperament beside himself. La Peyrade felt that all was lost to him in the Thuillier household, where they now seemed to seize with joy the occasion to break their word to him and to give free rein to revolting ingratitude. On an ironical allusion by Brigitte to the manner in which he decorated his friends, la Peyrade rose and took leave, without any effort being made to retain him.
After walking about the streets for awhile, la Peyrade, in the midst of his indignation, turned to thoughts of Madame de Godollo, whose image, to tell the truth, had been much in his mind since their former interview.
CHAPTER VI. 'TWAS THUS THEY BADE ADIEU
Not only once when the countess met the barrister at the Thuilliers had she left the room; but the same performance took place at each of their encounters; and la Peyrade had convinced himself, without knowing exactly why, that in each case, this affectation of avoiding him, signified something that was not indifference. To have paid her another visit immediately would certainly have been very unskilful; but now a sufficient time had elapsed to prove him to be a man who was master of himself. Accordingly, he returned upon his steps to the Boulevard de la Madeleine, and without asking the porter if the countess was at home, he passed the lodge as if returning to the Thuilliers', and rang the bell of the entresol.
The maid who opened the door asked him, as before, to wait until she notified her mistress; but, on this occasion, instead of showing him into the dining-room, she ushered him into a little room arranged as a library.
He waited long, and knew not what to think of the delay. Still, he reassured himself with the thought that if she meant to dismiss him he would not have been asked to wait at all. Finally the maid reappeared, but even then it was not to introduce him.
"Madame la comtesse," said the woman, "was engaged on a matter of business, but she begged monsieur be so kind as to wait, and to amuse himself with the books in the library, because she might be detained longer than she expected."
The excuse, both in form and substance, was certainly not discouraging, and la Peyrade looked about him to fulfil the behest to amuse himself. Without opening any of the carved rosewood bookcases, which enclosed a collection of the most elegantly bound volumes he had ever laid his eyes upon, he saw on an oblong table with claw feet a pell-mell of books sufficient for the amusement of a man whose attention was keenly alive elsewhere.
But, as he opened one after another of the various volumes, he began to fancy that a feast of Tantalus had been provided for him: one book was English, another German, a third Russian; there was even one in cabalistic letters that seemed Turkish. Was this a polyglottic joke the countess had arranged for him?
One volume, however, claimed particular attention. The binding, unlike those of the other books, was less rich than dainty. Lying by itself at a corner of the table, it was open, with the back turned up, the edges of the leaves resting on the green table-cloth in the shape of a tent. La Peyrade took it up, being careful not to lose the page which it seemed to have been some one's intention to mark. It proved to be a volume of the illustrated edition of Monsieur Scribe's works. The engraving which presented itself on the open page to la Peyrade's eyes, was entitled "The Hatred of a Woman"; the principal personage of which is a young widow, desperately pursuing a poor young man who cannot help himself. There is hatred all round. Through her devilries she almost makes him lose his reputation, and does make him miss a rich marriage; but the end is that she gives him more than she took away from him, and makes a husband of the man who was thought her victim.
If chance had put this volume apart from the rest, and had left it open at the precise page where la Peyrade found it marked, it must be owned that, after what had passed between himself and the countess, chance can sometimes seem clever and adroit. As he stood there, thinking over the significance which this more or less accidental combination might have, la Peyrade read through a number of scenes to see whether in the details as well as the general whole they applied to the present situation. While thus employed, the sound of an opening door was heard, and he recognized the silvery and slightly drawling voice of the countess, who was evidently accompanying some visitor to the door.
"Then I may promise the ambassadress," said a man's voice, "that you will honor her ball with your presence?"
"Yes, commander, if my headache, which is just beginning to get a little better, is kind enough to go away."
"Au revoir, then, fairest lady," said the gentleman. After which the doors were closed, and silence reigned once more.
The title of commander reassured la Peyrade somewhat, for it was not the rank of a young dandy. He was nevertheless curious to know who this personage was with whom the countess had been shut up so long. Hearing no one approach the room he was in, he went to the window and opened the curtain cautiously, prepared to let it drop back at the slightest noise, and to make a quick right-about-face to avoid being caught, "flagrante delicto," in curiosity. An elegant coupe, standing at a little distance, was now driven up to the house, a footman in showy livery hastened to open the door, and a little old man, with a light and jaunty movement, though it was evident he was one of those relics of the past who have not yet abandoned powder, stepped quickly into the carriage, which was then driven rapidly away. La Peyrade had time to observe on his breast a perfect string of decorations. This, combined with the powdered hair, was certain evidence of a diplomatic individual.
La Peyrade had picked up his book once more, when a bell from the inner room sounded, quickly followed by the appearance of the maid, who invited him to follow her. The Provencal took care not to replace the volume where he found it, and an instant later he entered the presence of the countess.
A pained expression was visible on the handsome face of the foreign countess, who, however, lost nothing of her charm in the languor that seemed to overcome her. On the sofa beside her was a manuscript written on gilt-edged paper, in that large and opulent handwriting which indicates an official communication from some ministerial office or chancery. She held in her hand a crystal bottle with a gold stopper, from which she frequently inhaled the contents, and a strong odor of English vinegar pervaded the salon.
"I fear you are ill, madame," said la Peyrade, with interest.
"Oh! it is nothing," replied the countess; "only a headache, to which I am very subject. But you, monsieur, what has become of you? I was beginning to lose all hope of ever seeing you again. Have you come to announce to me some great news? The period of your marriage with Mademoiselle Colleville is probably so near that I think you can speak of it."
This opening disconcerted la Peyrade.
"But, madame," he answered, in a tone that was almost tart, "you, it seems to me, must know too well everything that goes on in the Thuillier household not to be aware that the event you speak of is not approaching, and, I may add, not probable."
"No, I assure you, I know nothing; I have strictly forbidden myself from taking any further interest in an affair which I felt I had meddled with very foolishly. Mademoiselle Brigitte and I talk of everything except Celeste's marriage."
"And it is no doubt the desire to allow me perfect freedom in the matter that induces you to take flight whenever I have the honor to meet you in the Thuillier salon?"
"Yes," said the countess, "that ought to be the reason that makes me leave the room; else, why should I be so distant?"
"Ah! madame, there are other reasons that might make a woman avoid a man's presence. For instance, if he has displeased her; if the advice, given to him with rare wisdom and kindness, was not received with proper eagerness and gratitude."
"Oh, my dear monsieur," she replied, "I have no such ardor in proselytizing that I am angry with those who are not docile to my advice. I am, like others, very apt to make mistakes."
"On the contrary, madame, in the matter of my marriage your judgment was perfectly correct."
"How so?" said the countess, eagerly. "Has the seizure of the pamphlet, coming directly after the failure to obtain the cross, led to a rupture?"
"No," said la Peyrade, "my influence in the Thuillier household rests on a solid basis; the services I have rendered Mademoiselle Brigitte and her brother outweigh these checks, which, after all, are not irreparable."
"Do you really think so?" said the countess.
"Certainly," replied la Peyrade; "when the Comtesse du Bruel takes it into her head to seriously obtain that bit of red ribbon, she can do so, in spite of all obstacles that are put in her way."
The countess received this assertion with a smile, and shook her head.
"But, madame, only a day or two ago Madame du Bruel told Madame Colleville that the unexpected opposition she had met with piqued her, and that she meant to go in person to the minister."
"But you forget that since then this seizure has been made by the police; it is not usual to decorate a man who is summoned before the court of assizes. You seem not to notice that the seizure argues a strong ill-will against Monsieur Thuillier, and, I may add, against yourself, monsieur, for you are known to be the culprit. You have not, I think, taken all this into account. The authorities appear to have acted not wholly from legal causes."
La Peyrade looked at the countess.
"I must own," he said, after that rapid glance, "that I have tried in vain to find any passage in that pamphlet which could be made a legal pretext for the seizure."
"In my opinion," said the countess, "the king's servants must have a vivid imagination to persuade themselves they were dealing with a seditious publication. But that only proves the strength of the underground power which is thwarting all your good intentions in favor of Monsieur Thuillier."
"Madame," said la Peyrade, "do you know our secret enemies?"
"Perhaps I do," replied the countess, with another smile.
"May I dare to utter a suspicion, madame?" said la Peyrade, with some agitation.
"Yes, say what you think," replied Madame de Godollo. "I shall not blame you if you guess right."
"Well, madame, our enemies, Thuillier's and mine, are—a woman."
"Supposing that is so," said the countess; "do you know how many lines Richelieu required from a man's hand in order to hang him?"
"Four," replied la Peyrade.
"You can imagine, then, that a pamphlet of two hundred pages might afford a—slightly intriguing woman sufficient ground for persecution."
"I see it all, madame, I understand it!" cried la Peyrade, with animation. "I believe that woman to be one of the elite of her sex, with as much mind and malice as Richelieu! Adorable magician! it is she who has set in motion the police and the gendarmes; but, more than that, it is she who withholds that cross the ministers were about to give."
"If that be so," said the countess, "why struggle against her?"
"Ah! I struggle no longer," said la Peyrade. Then, with an assumed air of contrition, he added, "You must, indeed, hate me, madame."
"Not quite as much as you may think," replied the countess; "but, after all, suppose that I do hate you?"
"Ah! madame," cried la Peyrade, ardently, "I should then be the happiest of unhappy men; for that hatred would seem to me sweeter and more precious than your indifference. But you do not hate me; why should you feel to me that most blessed feminine sentiment which Scribe has depicted with such delicacy and wit?"
Madame de Godollo did not answer immediately. She lowered her eyelids, and the deeper breathing of her bosom gave to her voice when she did speak a tremulous tone:—
"The hatred of a woman!" she said. "Is a man of your stoicism able to perceive it?"
"Ah! yes, madame," replied la Peyrade, "I do indeed perceive it, but not to revolt against it; on the contrary, I bless the harshness that deigns to hurt me. Now that I know my beautiful and avowed enemy, I shall not despair of touching her heart; for never again will I follow any road but the one that she points out to me, never will I march under any banner but hers. I shall wait—for her inspiration, to think; for her will, to will; for her commands, to act. In all things I will be her auxiliary,—more than that, her slave; and if she still repulses me with that dainty foot, that snowy hand, I will bear it resignedly, asking, in return for such obedience one only favor,—that of kissing the foot that spurns me, of bathing with tears the hand that threatens me."
During this long cry of the excited heart, which the joy of triumph wrung from a nature so nervous and impressionable as that of the Provencal, he had slidden from his chair, and now knelt with one knee on the ground beside the countess, in the conventional attitude of the stage, which is, however, much more common in real life than people suppose.
"Rise, monsieur," said the countess, "and be so good as to answer me." Then, giving him a questioning look from beneath her beautiful frowning brows, she continued: "Have you well-weighed the outcome of the words you have just uttered? Have you measured the full extent of your pledge, and its depth? With your hand on your heart and on your conscience, are you a man to fulfil those words? Or are you one of the falsely humble and perfidious men who throw themselves at our feet only to make us lose the balance of our will and our reason?"
"I!" exclaimed la Peyrade; "never can I react against the fascination you have wielded over me from the moment of our first interview! Ah! madame, the more I have resisted, the more I have struggled, the more you ought to trust in my sincerity and its tardy expression. What I have said, I think; that which I think aloud to-day I have thought in my soul since the hour when I first had the honor of admittance to you; and the many days I have passed in struggling against this allurement have ended in giving me a firm and deliberate will, which understands itself, and is not cast down by your severity."
"Severity?" said the countess; "possibly. But you ought to think of the kindness too. Question yourself carefully. We foreign women do not understand the careless ease with which a Frenchwoman enters upon a solemn engagement. To us, our yes is sacred; our word is a bond. We do and we will nothing by halves. The arms of my family bear a motto which seems significant under the present circumstances,—'All or Nothing'; that is saying much, and yet, perhaps, not enough."
"That is how I understand my pledge," replied la Peyrade; "and on leaving this room my first step will be to break with that ignoble past which for an instant I seemed to hold in the balance against the intoxicating future you do not forbid me to expect."
"No," said the countess, "do it calmly and advisedly; I do not like rash conduct; you will not please me by taking open steps. These Thuilliers are not really bad at heart; they humiliated you without knowing that they did so; their world is not yours. Is that their fault? Loosen the tie between you, but do not violently break it. And, above all, reflect. Your conversion to my beliefs is of recent date. What man is certain of what his heart will say to him to-morrow?"
"Madame," said la Peyrade, "I am that man. We men of Southern blood do not love as you say a Frenchwoman loves."
"But," said the countess, with a charming smile, "I thought it was hatred we were talking of."
"Ah, madame," cried the barrister, "explained and understood as it has been, that word is still a thing that hurts me. Tell me rather, not that you love me, but that the words you deigned to say to me at our first interview were indeed the expression of your thoughts."
"My friend," said the countess, dwelling on the word; "one of your moralists has said: 'There are persons who say, that is or that is not.' Do me the favor to count me among such persons."
So saying, she held out her hand to her suitor with a charming gesture of modesty and grace. La Peyrade, quite beside himself, darted upon that beautiful hand and devoured it with kisses.
"Enough, child!" said the countess, gently freeing her imprisoned fingers; "adieu now, soon to meet again! Adieu! My headache, I think, has disappeared."
La Peyrade picked up his hat, and seemed about to rush from the apartment; but at the door he turned and cast upon the handsome creature a look of tenderness. The countess made him, with her head, a graceful gesture of adieu; then, seeing that la Peyrade was inclined to return to her, she raised her forefinger as a warning to control himself and go.
La Peyrade turned and left the apartment.
CHAPTER VII. HOW TO SHUT THE DOOR IN PEOPLE'S FACES
On the staircase la Peyrade stopped to exhale, if we may so express it, the happiness of which his heart was full. The words of the countess, the ingenious preparation she had made to put him on the track of her sentiments, seemed to him the guarantee of her sincerity, and he left her full of faith.
Possessed by that intoxication of happy persons which shows itself in their gestures, their looks, their very gait, and sometimes in actions not authorized by their common-sense, after pausing a moment, as we have said, on the staircase, he ran up a few steps till he could see the door of the Thuilliers' apartment.
"At last!" he cried, "fame, fortune, happiness have come to me; but, above all, I can now give myself the joy of vengeance. After Dutocq and Cerizet, I will crush you, vile bourgeois brood!"
So saying, he shook his fist at the innocent door. Then he turned and ran out; the popular saying that the earth could not hold him, was true at that moment of his being.
The next day, for he could not restrain any longer the tempest that was swelling within him, la Peyrade went to see Thuillier in the bitterest and most hostile of moods. What was therefore his amazement when, before he had time to put himself on guard and stop the demonstration of union and oblivion, Thuillier flung himself into his arms.
"My friend," cried the municipal councillor, as he loosened his clasp, "my political fortune is made; this morning all the newspapers, without exception, have spoken of the seizure of my pamphlet; and you ought to see how the opposition sheets have mauled the government."
"Simple enough," said la Peyrade, not moved by this enthusiasm; "you are a topic for them, that's all. But this does not alter the situation; the prosecution will be only the more determined to have you condemned."
"Well, then," said Thuillier, proudly raising his head, "I will go to prison, like Beranger, like Lamennais, like Armand Carrel."
"My good fellow, persecution is charming at a distance; but when you hear the big bolts run upon you, you may be sure you won't like it as well."
"But," objected Thuillier, "prisoners condemned for political offences are always allowed to do their time in hospital if they like. Besides, I'm not yet convicted. You said yourself you expected to get me acquitted."
"Yes, but since then I have heard things which make that result very doubtful; the same hand that withheld your cross has seized your pamphlet; you are being murdered with premeditation."
"If you know who that dangerous enemy is," said Thuillier, "you can't refuse to point him out to me."
"I don't know him," replied la Peyrade; "I only suspect him. This is what you get by playing too shrewd a game."
"Playing a shrewd game!" said Thuillier, with the curiosity of a man who is perfectly aware that he has nothing of that kind on his conscience.
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "you made a sort of decoy of Celeste to attract young bloods to your salon. All the world has not the forbearance of Monsieur Godeschal, who forgave his rejection and generously managed that affair about the house."
"Explain yourself better," said Thuillier, "for I don't see what you mean."
"Nothing is easier to understand. Without counting me, how many suitors have you had for Mademoiselle Colleville? Godeschal, Minard junior, Phellion junior, Olivier Vinet, the substitute judge,—all men who have been sent about their business, as I am."
"Olivier Vinet, the substitute judge!" cried Thuillier, struck with a flash of light. "Of course; the blow must have come from him. His father, they say, has a long arm. But it can't be truly said that we sent him about his business,—to use your expression, which strikes me as indecorous,—for he never came to the house but once, and made no offer; neither did Minard junior or Phellion junior, for that matter. Godeschal is the only one who risked a direct proposal, and he was refused at once, before he dipped his beak in the water."
"It is always so!" said la Peyrade, still looking for a ground of quarrel. "Straightforward and outspoken persons are always those that sly men boast of fooling."
"Ah ca! what's all this?" said Thuillier; "what are you insinuating? Didn't you settle everything with Brigitte the other day? You take a pretty time to come and talk to me about your love-affairs, when the sword of justice is hanging over my head."
"Oh!" said la Peyrade, ironically; "so now you are going to make the most of your interesting position of accused person! I knew very well how it would be; I was certain that as soon as your pamphlet appeared the old cry of not getting what you expected out of me would come up."
"Parbleu! your pamphlet!" cried Thuillier. "I think you are a fine fellow to boast of that when, on the contrary, it has caused the most deplorable complications."
"Deplorable? how so? you have just said your political fortune was made."
"Well, truly, my dear Theodose," said Thuillier, with feeling, "I should never have thought that you would choose the hour of adversity to come and put your pistol at our throats and make me the object of your sneers and innuendoes."
"Well done!" said la Peyrade; "now it is the hour of adversity! A minute ago you were flinging yourself into my arms as a man to whom some signal piece of luck had happened. You ought really to choose decidedly between being a man who needs pity and a glorious victor."
"It is all very well to be witty," returned Thuillier; "but you can't controvert what I say. I am logical, if I am not brilliant. It is very natural that I should console myself by seeing that public opinion decides in my favor, and by reading in its organs the most honorable assurances of sympathy; but do you suppose I wouldn't rather that things had taken their natural course? Besides, when I see myself the object of unworthy vengeance on the part of persons as influential as the Vinets, how can I help measuring the extent of the dangers to which I am exposed?"
"Well," said la Peyrade, with pitiless persistency, "I see that you prefer to play the part of Jeremiah."
"Yes," said Thuillier, in a solemn tone. "Jeremiah laments over a friendship I did think true and devoted, but which I find has only sarcasms to give me when I looked for services."
"What services?" asked la Peyrade. "Did you not tell me positively, no later than yesterday, that you would not accept my help under any form whatever? I offered to plead your case, and you answered that you would take a better lawyer."
"Yes; in the first shock of surprise at such an unexpected blow, I did say that foolish thing; but, on reflection, who can explain as well as you can the intention of the words you wrote with your own pen? Yesterday I was almost out of my mind; but you, with your wounded self-love, which can't forgive a momentary impatience, you are very caustic and cruel."
"So," said la Peyrade, "you formally request me to defend you before the jury?"
"Yes, my dear fellow; and I don't know any other hands in which I could better place my case. I should have to pay a monstrous sum to some great legal luminary, and he wouldn't defend me as ably as you."
"Well, I refuse. Roles have changed, as you see, diametrically. Yesterday, I thought, as you do, that I was the man to defend you. To-day, I see that you had better take the legal luminary, because, with Vinet's antagonism against you the affair is taking such proportions that whoever defends it assumes a fearful responsibility."
"I understand," said Thuillier, sarcastically. "Monsieur has his eye on the magistracy, and he doesn't want to quarrel with a man who is already talked of for Keeper of the Seals. It is prudent, but I don't know that it is going to help on your marriage."
"You mean," said la Peyrade, seizing the ball in its bound, "that to get you out of the claws of that jury is a thirteenth labor of Hercules, imposed upon me to earn the hand of Mademoiselle Colleville? I expected that demands would multiply in proportion to the proofs of my devotion. But that is the very thing that has worn me out, and I have come here to-day to put an end to this slave labor by giving back to you your pledges. You may dispose of Celeste's hand; for my part, I am no longer a suitor for it."
The unexpectedness and squareness of this declaration left Thuillier without words or voice, all the more because at this moment entered Brigitte. The temper of the old maid had also greatly moderated since the previous evening, and her greeting was full of the most amicable familiarity.
"Ah! so here you are, you good old barrister," she said.
"Mademoiselle, your servant," he replied, gravely.
"Well," she continued, paying no attention to the stiffness of his manner, "the government has got itself into a pretty mess by seizing your pamphlet. You ought to see how the morning papers lash it! Here," she added, giving Thuillier a small sheet printed on sugar-paper, in coarse type, and almost illegible,—"here's another, you didn't read; the porter has just brought it up. It is a paper from our old quarter, 'L'Echo de la Bievre.' I don't know, gentlemen, if you'll be of my opinion, but I think nothing could be better written. It is droll, though, how inattentive these journalists are! most of them write your name without the H; I think you ought to complain of it."
Thuillier took the paper, and read the article inspired to the reviewer of the tanner's organ by stomach gratitude. Never in her life had Brigitte paid the slightest attention to a newspaper, except to know if it was the right size for the packages she wrapped up in it; but now, suddenly, converted to a worship of the press by the ardor of her sisterly love, she stood behind Thuillier and re-read, over his shoulder, the more striking passages of the page she thought so eloquent, pointing her finger to them.
"Yes," said Thuillier, folding up the paper, "that's warm, and very flattering to me. But here's another matter! Monsieur has come to tell me that he refuses to plead for me, and renounces all claim to Celeste's hand."
"That is to say," said Brigitte, "he renounces her if, after having pleaded, the marriage does not take place 'subito.' Well, poor fellow, I think that's a reasonable demand. When he has done that for us there ought to be no further delay; and whether Mademoiselle Celeste likes it or not, she must accept him, because, you know, there's an end to all things."
"Do you hear that, my good fellow?" said la Peyrade, seizing upon Brigitte's speech. "When I have pleaded, the marriage is to take place. Your sister is frankness itself; she, at least, doesn't practise diplomacy."
"Diplomacy!" echoed Brigitte. "I'd like to see myself creeping underground in matters. I say things as I think them. The workman has worked, and he ought to have his pay."
"Do be silent," cried Thuillier, stamping his foot; "you don't say a word that doesn't turn the knife in the wound."
"The knife in the wound?" said Brigitte, inquiringly. "Ah ca! are you two quarrelling?"
"I told you," said Thuillier, "that la Peyrade had returned our promises; and the reason he gives is that we are asking him another service for Celeste's hand. He thinks he has done us enough without it."
"He has done us some services, no doubt," said Brigitte; "but it seems to me that we have not been ungrateful to him. Besides, it was he who made the blunder, and I think it rather odd he should now wish to leave us in the lurch."
"Your reasoning, mademoiselle," said la Peyrade, "might have some appearance of justice if I were the only barrister in Paris; but as the streets are black with them, and as, only yesterday, Thuillier himself spoke of engaging some more important lawyer than myself, I have not the slightest scruple in refusing to defend him. Now, as to the marriage, in order that it may not be made the object of another brutal and forcible demand upon me, I here renounce it in the most formal manner, and nothing now prevents Mademoiselle Colleville from accepting Monsieur Felix Phellion and all his advantages."
"As you please, my dear monsieur," said Brigitte, "if that's your last word. We shall not be at a loss to find a husband for Celeste,—Felix Phellion or another. But you must permit me to tell you that the reason you give is not the true one. We can't go faster than the fiddles. If the marriage were settled to-day, there are the banns to publish; you have sense enough to know that Monsieur le maire can't marry you before the formalities are complied with, and before then Thuillier's case will have been tried."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "and if I lose the case it will be I who have sent him to prison,—just as yesterday it was I who brought about the seizure."
"As for that, it seems to me that if you had written nothing the police would have found nothing to bite."
"My dear Brigitte," said Thuillier, seeing la Peyrade shrug his shoulders, "your argument is vicious in the sense that the writing was not incriminating on any side. It is not la Peyrade's fault if persons of high station have organized a persecution against me. You remember that little substitute, Monsieur Olivier Vinet, whom Cardot brought to one of our receptions. It seems that he and his father are furious that we didn't want him for Celeste, and they've sworn my destruction."
"Well, why did we refuse him," said Brigitte, "if it wasn't for the fine eyes of monsieur here? For, after all, a substitute in Paris is a very suitable match."
"No doubt," said la Peyrade, nonchalantly. "Only, he did not happen to bring you a million."
"Ah!" cried Brigitte, firing up. "If you are going to talk any more about that house you helped us to buy, I shall tell you plainly that if you had had the money to trick the notary you never would have come after us. You needn't think I have been altogether your dupe. You spoke just now of a bargain, but you proposed that bargain yourself. 'Give me Celeste and I'll get you that house,'—that's what you said to us in so many words. Besides which, we had to pay large sums on which we never counted."
"Come, come, Brigitte," said Thuillier, "you are making a great deal out of nothing."
"Nothing! nothing!" exclaimed Brigitte. "Did we, or did we not, have to pay much more than we expected?"
"My dear Thuillier," said la Peyrade, "I think, with you, that the matter is now settled, and it can only be embittered by discussing it further. My course was decided on before I came here; all that I have now heard can only confirm it. I shall not be the husband of Celeste, but you and I can remain good friends."
He rose to leave the room.
"One moment, monsieur," said Brigitte, barring his way; "there is one matter which I do not consider settled; and now that we are no longer to have interests in common, I should not be sorry if you would be so good as to tell me what has become of a sum of ten thousand francs which Thuillier gave you to bribe those rascally government offices in order to get the cross we have never got."
"Brigitte!" cried Thuillier, in anguish, "you have a devil of a tongue! You ought to be silent about that; I told it to you in a moment of ill-temper, and you promised me faithfully never to open your lips about it to any one, no matter who."
"So I did; but," replied the implacable Brigitte, "we are parting. When people part they settle up; they pay their debts. Ten thousand francs! For my part, I thought the cross itself dear at that; but for a cross that has melted away, monsieur himself will allow the price is too high."
"Come, la Peyrade, my friend, don't listen to her," said Thuillier, going up to the barrister, who was pale with anger. "The affection she has for me blinds her; I know very well what government offices are, and I shouldn't be surprised if you had had to pay out money of your own."
"Monsieur," said la Peyrade, "I am, unfortunately, not in a position to return to you, instantly, that money, an accounting for which is so insolently demanded. Grant me a short delay; and have the goodness to accept my note, which I am ready to sign, if that will give you patience."
"To the devil with your note!" cried Thuillier; "you owe me nothing; on the contrary, it is we who owe you; for Cardot told me I ought to give you at least ten thousand francs for enabling us to buy this magnificent property."
"Cardot! Cardot!" said Brigitte; "he is very generous with other people's money. We were giving monsieur Celeste, and that's a good deal more than ten thousand francs."
La Peyrade was too great a comedian not to turn the humiliation he had just endured into a scene finale. With tears in his voice, which presently fell from his eyes, he turned to Brigitte.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "when I had the honor to be received by you I was poor; you long saw me suffering and ill at ease, knowing, alas! too well, the indignities that poverty must bear. From the day that I was able to give you a fortune which I never thought of for myself I have felt, it is true, more assurance; and your own kindness encouraged me to rise out of my timidity and depression. To-day, when I, by frank and loyal conduct, release you from anxiety,—for, if you chose to be honest, you would acknowledge that you have been thinking of another husband for Celeste,—we might still remain friends, even though I renounce a marriage which my delicacy forbids me to pursue. But you have not chosen to restrain yourself with the limits of social politeness, of which you have a model beside you in Madame de Godollo, who, I am persuaded, although she is not at all friendly to me, would never have approved of your odious behavior. Thank Heaven! I have in my heart some religious sentiment at least; the Gospel is not to me a mere dead-letter, and—understand me well, mademoiselle—I forgive you. It is not to Thuillier, who would refuse them, but to you that I shall, before long, pay the ten thousand francs which you insinuate I have applied to my own purposes. If, by the time they are returned to you, you feel regret for your unjust suspicions, and are unwilling to accept the money, I request that you will turn it over to the bureau of Benevolence to the poor—"
"To the bureau of Benevolence!" cried Brigitte, interrupting him. "No, I thank you! the idea of all that money being distributed among a crowd of do-nothings and devotes, who'll spend it in junketing! I've been poor too, my lad; I made bags for the money of others long before I had any money of my own; I have some now, and I take care of it. So, whenever you will, I am ready to receive that ten thousand francs and keep it. If you didn't know how to do what you undertook to do, and spent that money in trying to put salt on a sparrow's tail, so much the worse for you."
Seeing that he had missed his effect, and had made not the slightest impression on Brigitte's granite, la Peyrade cast a disdainful look upon her and left the room majestically. As he did so he noticed a movement made by Thuillier to follow him, and also the imperious gesture of Brigitte, always queen and mistress, which nailed her brother to his chair.
At the moment when la Peyrade was preparing to lay at the feet of the countess the liberty he had recovered in so brutal a manner, he received a perfumed note, which made his heart beat, for on the seal was that momentous "All or Nothing" which she had given him as the rule of the relation now to be inaugurated between them. The contents of the note were as follows:—
Dear Monsieur,—I have heard of the step you have taken; thank you! But I must now prepare to take my own. I cannot, as you may well think, continue to live in this house, and among these people who are so little of our own class and with whom we have nothing in common. To arrange this transaction, and to avoid explanations of the fact that the entresol welcomes the voluntary exile from the first-floor, I need to-day and to-morrow to myself. Do not therefore come to see me until the day after. By that time I shall have executed Brigitte, as they say at the Bourse, and have much to tell you.
Torna de Godollo.
That "Wholly thine" in Latin seemed charming to la Peyrade, who was not, however, astonished, for Latin is a second national language to the Hungarians. The two days' waiting to which he was thus condemned only fanned the flame of the ardent passion which possessed him, and on the third day when reached the house by the Madeleine his love had risen to a degree of incandescence of which only a few days earlier he would scarcely have supposed himself capable.
This time the porter's wife perceived him; but he was now quite indifferent as to whether or not the object of his visit should be known. The ice was broken, his happiness was soon to be official, and he was more disposed to cry it aloud in the streets than to make a mystery of it.
Running lightly up the stairs, he prepared to ring the bell, when, on putting out his hand to reach the silken bell-cord he perceived that the bell-cord had disappeared. La Peyrade's first thought was that one of those serious illnesses which make all noises intolerable to a patient would explain its absence; but with the thought came other observations that weakened it, and which, moreover, were not in themselves comforting.
From the vestibule to the countess's door a stair carpet, held at each step by a brass rod, made a soft ascent to the feet of visitors; this, too, had been removed. A screen-door covered with green velvet and studded with brass nails had hitherto protected the entrance to the apartment; of that no sign, except the injury to the wall done by the workmen in taking it away. For a moment the barrister thought, in his agitation, that he must have mistaken the floor, but, casting his eye over the baluster he saw that he had not passed the entresol. Madame de Godollo must, therefore, be in the act of moving away.
He then resigned himself to make known his presence at the great lady's door as he would have done at that of a grisette. He rapped with his knuckles, but a hollow sonority revealing the void, "intonuere cavernae," echoed beyond the door which he vainly appealed to with his fist. He also perceived from beneath that door a ray of vivid light, the sure sign of an uninhabited apartment where curtains and carpets and furniture no longer dim the light or deaden sound. Compelled to believe in a total removal, la Peyrade now supposed that in the rupture with Brigitte, mentioned as probable by Madame de Godollo, some brutal insolence of the old maid had necessitated this abrupt departure. But why had he not been told of it? And what an idea, to expose him to this ridiculous meeting with what the common people call, in their picturesque language, "the wooden face"!
Before leaving the door finally, and as if some doubt still remained in his mind, la Peyrade made a last and most thundering assault upon it.
"Who's knocking like that, as if they'd bring the house down?" said the porter, attracted by the noise to the foot of the staircase.
"Doesn't Madame de Godollo still live here?" asked la Peyrade.
"Of course she doesn't live here now; she has moved away. If monsieur had told me he was going to her apartment I would have spared him the trouble of battering down the door."
"I knew that she was going to leave the apartment," said la Peyrade, not wishing to seem ignorant of the project of departure, "but I had no idea she was going so soon."
"I suppose it was something sudden," said the porter, "for she went off early this morning with post-horses."
"Post-horses!" echoed la Peyrade, stupefied. "Then she has left Paris?"
"That's to be supposed," said the porter; "people don't usually take post-horses and a postilion to change from one quarter of Paris to another."
"And she did not tell you where she was going?"
"Ah! monsieur, what an idea! Do people account to us porters for what they do?"
"No, but her letters—those that come after her departure?"
"Her letters? I am ordered to deliver them to Monsieur le commandeur, the little old gentlemen who came to see her so often; monsieur must have met him."
"Yes, yes, certainly," said la Peyrade, keeping his presence of mind in the midst of the successive shocks which came upon him,—"the powered little man who was here every day."
"I couldn't say every day; but he came often. Well, I am told to give the countess's letters to him."
"And for other persons of her acquaintance," said la Peyrade, carelessly, "did she leave no message?"
"Very well," said la Peyrade, "good-morning." And he turned to go out.
"But I think," said the porter, "that Mademoiselle Thuillier knows more about it than I do. Won't monsieur go up? She is at home; and so is Monsieur Thuillier."
"No, never mind," said la Peyrade, "I only came to tell Madame de Godollo about a commission she asked me to execute; I haven't time to stop now."
"Well, as I told you, she left with post-horses this morning. Two hours earlier monsieur might still have found her; but now, with post-horses, she must by this time have gone a good distance."
La Peyrade departed, with a sense of despair in his heart. Added to the anxiety caused by this hasty departure, jealousy entered his soul, and in this agonizing moment of disappointment the most distressing explanations crowded on his mind.
Then, after further reflection, he said to himself:—
"These clever diplomatic women are often sent on secret missions which require the most absolute silence, and extreme rapidity of movement."
But here a sudden revulsion of thought overcame him:—
"Suppose she were one of those intriguing adventurers whom foreign governments employ as agents? Suppose the tale, more or less probable, of that Russian princess forced to sell her furniture to Brigitte were also that of this Hungarian countess? And yet," he continued, as his brain made a third evolution in this frightful anarchy of ideas and feelings, "her education, her manners, her language, all bespoke a woman of the best position. Besides, if she were only a bird of passage, why have given herself so much trouble to win me over?"
La Peyrade might have continued to plead thus for and against for a long time had he not been suddenly grasped round the shoulders by a strong arm and addressed in a well-known voice.
"Take care! my dear barrister; a frightful danger threatens you; you are running right into it."
La Peyrade, thus arrested, looked round and found himself in the arms of Phellion.
The scene took place in front of a house which was being pulled down at the corner of the rues Duphot and Saint-Honore. Posted on the pavement of the other side of the street, Phellion, whose taste for watching the process of building our readers may remember, had been witnessing for the last fifteen minutes the drama of a wall about to fall beneath the united efforts of a squadron of workmen. Watch in hand, the great citizen was estimating the length of the resistance which that mass of freestone would present to the destructive labor of which it was the object. Precisely at the crucial moment of the impending catastrophe la Peyrade, lost in the tumult of his thoughts, was entering, heedless of the shouts addressed to him on all sides, the radius within which the stones would fall. Seen by Phellion (who, it must be said, would have done the same for a total stranger) la Peyrade undoubtedly owed his life to him; for, at the moment when he was violently flung back by the vigorous grasp of the worthy citizen, the wall fell with the noise of a cannon-shot, and the stones rolled in clouds of dust almost to his very feet.
"Are you blind and deaf?" said the workman whose business it was to warn the passers, in a tone of amenity it is easy to imagine.
"Thank you, my dear friend," said la Peyrade, recalled to earth. "I should certainly have been crushed like an idiot if it hadn't been for you."
And he pressed Phellion's hand.
"My reward," replied the latter, "lies in the satisfaction of knowing that you are saved from an imminent peril. And I may say that that satisfaction is mingled, for me, with a certain pride; for I was not mistaken by a single second in the calculation which enabled me to foresee the exact moment when that formidable mass would be displaced from its centre of gravity. But what were you thinking of, my dear monsieur? Probably of the plea you are about to make in the Thuillier affair. The public prints have informed me of the danger of prosecution by the authorities which hangs above the head of our estimable friend. You have a noble cause to defend, monsieur. Habituated as I am, through my labors as a member of the reading committee of the Odeon, to judge of works of intellect, and with my hand upon my conscience, I declare that after reading the incriminated passages, I can find nothing in the tone of that pamphlet which justifies the severe measures of which it is the object. Between ourselves," added the great citizen, lowering his voice, "I think the government has shown itself petty."
"So I think," said la Peyrade, "but I am not employed for the defence. I have advised Thuillier to engage some noted lawyer."
"It may be good advice," said Phellion; "at any rate, it speaks well for your modesty. Poor man! I went to him at once when the blow fell, but I did not see him; I saw only Brigitte, who was having a discussion with Madame de Godollo. There is a woman with strong political views; it seems she predicted that the seizure would be made."
"Did you know that the countess had left Paris?" said la Peyrade, rushing at the chance of speaking on the subject of his present monomania.
"Ah! left Paris, has she?" said Phellion. "Well, monsieur, I must tell you that, although there was not much sympathy between us, I regard her departure as a misfortune. She will leave a serious void in the salon of our friends. I say this, because it is my belief, and I am not in the habit of disguising my convictions."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "she is certainly a very distinguished woman, with whom in spite of her prejudice against me, I think I should have come to an understanding. But this morning, without leaving any word as to where she was going, she started suddenly with post-horses."
"Post-horses!" said Phellion. "I don't know whether you will agree with me, monsieur, but I think that travelling by post is a most agreeable method of conveyance. Certainly Louis XI., to whom we owe the institution, had a fortunate inspiration in the matter; although, on the other hand, his sanguinary and despotic government was not, to my humble thinking, entirely devoid of reproach. Once only in my life have I used that method of locomotion, and I can truly say I found it far superior, in spite of its inferior relative rapidity, to the headlong course of what in England are called railways; where speed is attained only at the price of safety."
La Peyrade paid but little attention to Phellion's phraseology. "Where can she have gone?"—round that idea he dug and delved in every direction, an occupation that would have made him indifferent to a far more interesting topic. However, once started, like the locomotive he objected to, the great citizen went on:—
"I made that journey at the period of Madame Phellion's last confinement. She was in Perche, with her mother, when I learned that serious complications were feared from the milk-fever. Overcome with terror at the danger which threatened my wife, I went instantly to the post-office to obtain a seat in the mail-coach, but all were taken; I found they had been engaged for more than a week. Upon that, I came to a decision; I went to the rue Pigalle, and, for a very large sum in gold a post-chaise and three horses were placed at my disposal, when unfortunately the formality of a passport, with which I had neglected to supply myself, and without which, in virtue of the decrees of the consulate of 17 Nivose, year VII., the post agents were not permitted to deliver horses to travellers—"
The last few words were like a flash of light to la Peyrade, and without waiting for the end of the postal odyssey of the great citizen, he darted away in the direction of the rue Pigalle, before Phellion, in the middle of his sentence, perceived his departure.
Reaching the Royal postal establishment, la Peyrade was puzzled as to whom to address himself in order to obtain the information he wanted. He began by explaining to the porter that he had a letter to send to a lady of his acquaintance that morning by post, neglecting, very thoughtlessly, to send him her address, and that he thought he might discover it by means of the passport which she must have presented in order to obtain horses.
"Was it a lady accompanied by a maid whom I took up on the boulevard de la Madeleine?" asked a postilion sitting in the corner of the room where la Peyrade was making his preliminary inquiry.
"Exactly," said la Peyrade, going eagerly up to the providential being, and slipping a five-franc piece into his hand.
"Ah! well, she's a queer traveller!" said the man, "she told me to take her to the Bois de Boulogne, and there she made me drive round and round for an hour. After that, we came back to the Barriere de l'Etoile, where she gave me a good 'pourboire' and got into a hackney coach, telling me to take the travelling carriage back to the man who lets such carriages in the Cour des Coches, Faubourg Saint-Honore."
"Give me the name of that man?" said la Peyrade, eagerly.
"Simonin," replied the postilion.
Furnished with that information la Peyrade resumed his course, and fifteen minutes later he was questioning the livery-stable keeper; but that individual knew only that a lady residing on the Boulevard de la Madeleine had hired, without horses, a travelling-carriage for half a day; that he had sent out the said carriage at nine that morning, and it was brought back at twelve by a postilion of the Royal Post house.
"Never mind," thought la Peyrade, "I am certain now she has not left Paris, and is not avoiding me. Most probably, she wants to break utterly with the Thuilliers, and so has invented this journey. Fool that I am! no doubt there's a letter waiting for me at home, explaining the whole thing."
Worn out with emotion and fatigue, and in order to verify as quickly as possible this new supposition, la Peyrade flung himself into a street cab, and in less than a quarter of an hour, having promised the driver a good pourboire, he was deposited at the house in the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. There he was compelled to endure still longer the tortures of waiting. Since Brigitte's departure, the duty of the porter, Coffinet, had been very negligently performed, and when la Peyrade rushed to the lodge to inquire for his letter, which he thought he saw in the case that belonged to him, the porter and his wife were both absent and their door was locked. The wife was doing some household work in the building, and Coffinet himself, taking advantage of that circumstance, had allowed a friend to entice him into a neighboring wine-shop, where, between two glasses, he was supporting, against a republican who was talking disrespectfully against it, the cause of the owners of property.