It was twenty minutes before the worthy porter, remembering the "property" entrusted to his charge, decided to return to his post. It is easy to imagine the reproaches with which la Peyrade overwhelmed him. He excused himself by saying that he had gone to do a commission for Mademoiselle, and that he couldn't be at the door and where his masters chose to send him at the same time. At last, however, he gave the lawyer a letter bearing the Paris postmark.
With his heart rather than his eyes la Peyrade recognized the handwriting, and, turning over the missive, the arms and motto confirmed the hope that he had reached the end of the cruellest emotion he had ever in his life experienced. To read that letter before that odious porter seemed to him a profanation. With a refinement of feeling which all lovers will understand, he gave himself the pleasure of pausing before his happiness; he would not even unseal that blissful note until the moment when, with closed doors and no interruptions to distract him, he could enjoy at his ease the delicious sensation of which his heart had a foretaste.
Rushing up the staircase two steps at a time, the now joyous lover committed the childish absurdity of locking himself in; then, having settled himself at his ease before his desk, and having broken the seal with religious care, he was forced to press his hand on his heart, which seemed to burst from his bosom, before he could summon calmness to read the following letter:—
Dear Monsieur,—I disappear forever, because my play is played out. I thank you for having made it both attractive and easy. By setting against you the Thuilliers and Collevilles (who are fully informed of your sentiments towards them), and by relating in a manner most mortifying to their bourgeois self-love the true reason of your sudden and pitiless rupture with them, I am proud and happy to believe that I have done you a signal service. The girl does not love you, and you love nothing but the eyes of her "dot"; I have therefore saved you both from a species of hell. But, in exchange for the bride you have so curtly rejected, another charming girl is proposed to you; she is richer and more beautiful than Mademoiselle Colleville, and—to speak of myself —more at liberty than
Your unworthy servant,
Torna "Comtesse de Godollo."
P.S. For further information apply, without delay, to Monsieur du Portail, householder, rue Honore-Chevalier, near the rue de la Cassette, quartier Saint-Sulpice, by whom you are expected.
When he had read this letter the advocate of the poor took his head in his hands; he saw nothing, heard nothing, thought nothing; he was annihilated.
Several days were necessary to la Peyrade before he could even begin to recover from the crushing blow which had struck him down. The shock was terrible. Coming out of that golden dream which had shown him a perspective of the future in so smiling an aspect, he found himself fooled under conditions most cruel to his self-love, and to his pretensions to depth and cleverness; irrevocably parted from the Thuilliers; saddled with a hopeless debt of twenty-five thousand francs to Madame Lambert, together with another of ten thousand to Brigitte, which his dignity required him to pay with the least delay possible; and, worst of all,—to complete his humiliation and his sense of failure,—he felt that he was not cured of the passionate emotion he had felt for this woman, the author of his great disaster, and the instrument of his ruin.
Either this Delilah was a very great lady, sufficiently high in station to allow herself such compromising caprices,—but even so, she would scarcely have cared to play the role of a coquette in a vaudeville where he himself played the part of ninny,—or she was some noted adventuress who was in the pay of this du Portail and the agent of his singular matrimonial designs. Evil life or evil heart, these were the only two verdicts to be pronounced on this dangerous siren, and in either case, it would seem, she was not very deserving of the regrets of her victim; nevertheless, he was conscious of feeling them. We must put ourselves in the place of this son of Provence, this region of hot blood and ardent heads, who, for the first time in his life finding himself face to face with jewelled love in laces, believed he was to drink that passion from a wrought-gold cup. Just as our minds on waking keep the impression of a vivid dream and continue in love with what we know was but a shadow, la Peyrade had need of all his mental energy to drive away the memory of that treacherous countess. We might go further and say that he never ceased to long for her, though he was careful to drape with an honest pretext the intense desire that he had to find her. That desire he called curiosity, ardor for revenge; and here follow the ingenious deductions which he drew for himself:—
"Cerizet talked to me about a rich heiress; the countess, in her letter, intimates that the whole intrigue she wound about me was to lead to a rich marriage; rich marriages flung at a man's head are not so plentiful that two such chances should come to me within a few weeks; therefore the match offered by Cerizet and that proposed by the countess must be the crazy girl they are so frantic to make me marry; therefore Cerizet, being in the plot, must know the countess; therefore, through him I shall get upon her traces. In any case, I am sure of information about this extraordinary choice that has fallen upon me; evidently, these people, whoever they are, who can pull the wires of such puppets to reach their ends must be persons of considerable position; therefore, I'll go and see Cerizet."
And he went to see Cerizet.
Since the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale, the pair had not met. Once or twice la Peyrade had asked Dutocq at the Thuilliers' (where the latter seldom went now, on account of the distance to their new abode) what had become of his copying clerk.
"He never speaks of you," Dutocq had answered.
Hence it might be inferred that resentment, the "manet alta mente repostum" was still living in the breast of the vindictive usurer. La Peyrade, however, was not stopped by that consideration. After all, he was not going to ask for anything; he went under the pretext of renewing an affair in which Cerizet had taken part, and Cerizet never took part in anything unless he had a personal interest in it. The chances were, therefore, that he would be received with affectionate eagerness rather than unpleasant acerbity. Moreover, he decided to go and see the copying clerk at Dutocq's office; it would look, he thought, less like a visit than if he went to his den in the rue des Poules. It was nearly two o'clock when la Peyrade made his entrance into the precincts of the justice-of-peace of the 12th arrondissement. He crossed the first room, in which were a crowd of persons whom civil suits of one kind or another summoned before the magistrate. Without pausing in that waiting-room, la Peyrade pushed on to the office adjoining that of Dutocq. There he found Cerizet at a shabby desk of blackened wood, at which another clerk, then absent, occupied the opposite seat.
Seeing his visitor, Cerizet cast a savage look at him and said, without rising, or suspending the copy of the judgment he was then engrossing:—
"You here, Sieur la Peyrade? You have been doing fine things for your friend Thuillier!"
"How are you?" asked la Peyrade, in a tone both resolute and friendly.
"I?" replied Cerizet. "As you see, still rowing my galley; and, to follow out the nautical metaphor, allow me to ask what wind has blown you hither; is it, perchance, the wind of adversity?"
La Peyrade, without replying, took a chair beside his questioner, after which he said in a grave tone:—
"My dear fellow, we have something to say to each other."
"I suppose," said Cerizet, spitefully, "the Thuilliers have grown cold since the seizure of the pamphlet."
"The Thuilliers are ungrateful people; I have broken with them," replied la Peyrade.
"Rupture or dismissal," said Cerizet, "their door is shut against you; and from what Dutocq tells me, I judge that Brigitte is handling you without gloves. You see, my friend, what it is to try and manage affairs alone; complications come, and there's no one to smooth the angles. If you had got me that lease, I should have had a footing at the Thuilliers', Dutocq would not have abandoned you, and together we could have brought you gently into port."
"But suppose I don't want to re-enter that port?" said la Peyrade, with some sharpness. "I tell you I've had enough of those Thuilliers, and I broke with them myself; I warned them to get out of my sun; and if Dutocq told you anything else you may tell him from me that he lies. Is that clear enough? It seems to me I've made it plain."
"Well, exactly, my good fellow, if you are so savage against your Thuilliers you ought to have put me among them, and then you'd have seen me avenge you."
"There you are right," said la Peyrade; "I wish I could have set you at their legs—but as for that matter of the lease I tell you again, I was not master of it."
"Of course," said Cerizet, "it was your conscience which obliged you to tell Brigitte that the twelve thousand francs a year I expected to make out of it were better in her pocket than in mine."
"It seems that Dutocq continues the honorable profession of spy which he formerly practised at the ministry of finance," said la Peyrade, "and, like others who do that dirty business, he makes his reports more witty than truthful—"
"Take care!" said Cerizet; "you are talking of my patron in his own lair."
"Look here!" said la Peyrade. "I have come to talk to you on serious matters. Will you do me the favor to drop the Thuilliers and all their belongings, and give me your attention?"
"Say on, my friend," said Cerizet, laying down his pen, which had never ceased to run, up to this moment, "I am listening."
"You talked to me some time ago," said la Peyrade, "about marrying a girl who was rich, fully of age, and slightly hysterical, as you were pleased to put it euphemistically."
"Well done!" cried Cerizet. "I expected this; but you've been some time coming to it."
"In offering me this heiress, what did you have in your mind?" asked la Peyrade.
"Parbleu! to help you to a splendid stroke of business. You had only to stoop and take it. I was formally charged to propose it to you; and, as there wasn't any brokerage, I should have relied wholly on your generosity."
"But you are not the only person who was commissioned to make me that offer. A woman had the same order."
"A woman!" cried Cerizet in a perfectly natural tone of surprise. "Not that I know of."
"Yes, a foreigner, young and pretty, whom you must have met in the family of the bride, to whom she seems to be ardently devoted."
"Never," said Cerizet, "never has there been the slightest question of a woman in this negotiation. I have every reason to believe that I am exclusively charged with it."
"What!" said la Peyrade, fixing upon Cerizet a scrutinizing eye, "did you never hear of the Comtesse Torna de Godollo?"
"Never, in all my life; this is the first time I ever heard that name."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "it must really have been another match; for that woman, after many singular preliminaries, too long to explain to you, made me a formal offer of the hand of a young woman much richer than Mademoiselle Colleville—"
"And hysterical?" asked Cerizet.
"No, she did not embellish the proposal with that accessory; but there's another detail which may put you on the track of her. Madame de Godollo exhorted me, if I wished to push the matter, to go and see a certain Monsieur du Portail—"
"Rue Honore-Chevalier?" exclaimed Cerizet, quickly.
"Then it is the same marriage which is offered to you through two different mediums. It is strange I was not informed of this collaboration!"
"In short," said la Peyrade, "you not only didn't have wind of the countess's intervention, but you don't know her, and you can't give me any information about her—is that so?"
"At present I can't," replied Cerizet, "but I'll find out about her; for the whole proceeding is rather cavalier towards me; but this employment of two agents only shows you how desirable you are to the family."
At this moment the door of the room was opened cautiously, a woman's head appeared, and a voice, which was instantly recognized by la Peyrade, said, addressing the copying-clerk:—
"Ah! excuse me! I see monsieur is busy. Could I say a word to monsieur when he is alone?"
Cerizet, who had an eye as nimble as a hand, instantly noticed a certain fact. La Peyrade, who was so placed as to be plainly seen by the new-comer, no sooner heard that drawling, honeyed voice, than he turned his head in a manner to conceal his features. Instead therefore of being roughly sent away, as usually happened to petitioners who addressed the most surly of official clerks, the modest visitor heard herself greeted in a very surprising manner.
"Come in, come in, Madame Lambert," said Cerizet; "you won't be kept waiting long; come in."
The visitor advanced, and then came face to face with la Peyrade.
"Ah! monsieur!" cried his creditor, whom the reader has no doubt recognized, "how fortunate I am to meet monsieur! I have been several times to his office to ask if he had had time to attend to my little affair."
"I have had many engagements which have kept me away from my office lately; but I attended to that matter; everything has been done right, and is now in the hands of the secretary."
"Oh! how good monsieur is! I pray God to bless him," said the pious woman, clasping her hands.
"Bless me! do you have business with Madame Lambert?" said Cerizet; "you never told me that. Are you Pere Picot's counsel?"
"No, unfortunately," said Madame Lambert, "my master won't take any counsel; he is so self-willed, so obstinate! But, my good monsieur, what I came to ask is whether the family council is to meet."
"Of course," said Cerizet, "and not later than to-morrow."
"But monsieur, I hear those gentlemen of the Royal court said the family had no rights—"
"Yes, that's so," said the clerk; "the lower court and the Royal court have both, on the petition of the relatives, rejected their demand for a commission."
"I should hope so!" said the woman; "to think of making him out a lunatic! him so full of wisdom and learning!"
"But the relations don't mean to give up; they are going to try the matter again under a new form, and ask for the appointment of a judicial counsel. That's what the family council meets for to-morrow; and I think, this time, my dear Madame Lambert, your old Picot will find himself restrained. There are serious allegations, I can tell you. It was all very well to take the eggs, but to pluck the hen was another thing."
"Is it possible that monsieur can suppose—" began the devote, clasping her hands under her chin.
"I suppose nothing," said Cerizet; "I am not the judge of this affair. But the relations declare that you have pocketed considerable sums, and made investments about which they demand inquiry."
"Oh! heavens!" said the woman, casting up her eyes; "they can inquire; I am poor; I have not a deed, nor a note, nor a share; not the slightest security of any kind in my possession."
"I dare say not," said Cerizet, glancing at la Peyrade out of the corner of his eye; "but there are always friends to take care of such things. However, that is none of my business; every one must settle his own affairs in his own way. Now, then, say what you have to say, distinctly."
"I came, monsieur," she replied, "to implore you, monsieur, to implore Monsieur the judge's clerk, to speak in our favor to Monsieur the justice-of-peace. Monsieur the vicar of Saint-Jacques is also to speak to him. That poor Monsieur Picot!" she went on, weeping, "they'll kill him if they continue to worry him in this way."
"I sha'n't conceal from you," said Cerizet, "that the justice-of-peace is very ill-disposed to your cause. You must have seen that the other day, when he refused to receive you. As for Monsieur Dutocq and myself, our assistance won't help you much; and besides, my good woman, you are too close-mouthed."
"Monsieur asked me if I had laid by a few little savings; and I couldn't tell him that I had, be—because they have gone to keep the h—house of that poor Monsieur Pi—i—cot; and now they accuse me of r—robbing him!"
Madame Lambert sobbed.
"My opinion is," said Cerizet, "that you are making yourself out much poorer than you are; and if friend Peyrade here, who seems to be more in your confidence, hadn't his tongue tied by the rules of his profession—"
"I!" said la Peyrade, hastily, "I don't know anything of madame's affairs. She asked me to draw up a petition on a matter in which there was nothing judicial or financial."
"Ah! that's it, is it?" said Cerizet. "Madame had doubtless gone to see you about this petition the day Dutocq met her at your office, the morning after our dinner at the Rocher de Cancale—when you were such a Roman, you know."
Then, without seeming to attach any importance to the reminiscence, he added:—
"Well, my good Madame Lambert, I'll ask my patron to speak to the justice-of-peace, and, if I get a chance, I'll speak to him myself; but, I repeat it, he is very much prejudiced against you."
Madame Lambert retired with many curtseys and protestations of gratitude. When she was fairly gone la Peyrade remarked:—
"You don't seem to believe that that woman came to me about a petition; and yet nothing was ever truer. She is thought a saint in the street she lives in, and that old man they accuse her of robbing is actually kept alive by her devotion, so I'm told. Consequently, the neighbors have put it into the good woman's head to apply for the Montyon prize; and it was for the purpose of putting her claims in legal shape that she applied to me."
"Dear! dear! the Montyon prize!" cried Cerizet; "well, that's an idea! My good fellow, we ought to have cultivated it before,—I, especially, as banker of the poor, and you, their advocate. As for this client of yours, it is lucky for her Monsieur Picot's relatives are not members of the French academy; it is in the correctional police-court, sixth chamber, where they mean to give her the reward of virtue. However, to come back to what we were talking about. I tell you that after all your tergiversations you had better settle down peaceably; and I advise you, as your countess did, to go and see du Portail."
"Who and what is he?" asked la Peyrade.
"He is a little old man," replied Cerizet, "as shrewd as a weasel. He gives me the idea of having dealings with the devil. Go and see him! Sight, as they say, costs nothing."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "perhaps I will; but, first of all, I want you to find out for me about this Comtesse de Godollo."
"What do you care about her? She is nothing but a supernumerary, that countess."
"I have my reasons," said la Peyrade; "you can certainly get some information about her in three days; I'll come and see you then."
"My good fellow," said Cerizet, "you seem to me to be amusing yourself with things that don't pay; you haven't fallen in love with that go-between, have you?"
"Plague take him!" thought la Peyrade; "he spies everything; there's no hiding anything from him! No," he said, aloud, "I am not in love; on the contrary, I am very cautious. I must admit that this marriage with a crazy girl doesn't attract me, and before I go a step into it I want to know where I put my feet. These crooked proceedings are not reassuring, and as so many influences are being brought to bear, I choose to control one by another. Therefore don't play sly, but give me all the information you get into your pouch about Madame la Comtesse Torna de Godollo. I warn you I know enough to test the veracity of your report; and if I see you are trying to overreach me I'll break off short with your du Portail."
"Trying to overreach you, monseigneur!" replied Cerizet, in the tone and manner of Frederic Lemaitre. "Who would dare attempt it?"
As he pronounced those words in a slightly mocking tone, Dutocq appeared, accompanied by his little clerk.
"Bless me!" he exclaimed, seeing la Peyrade and Cerizet together; "here's the trinity reconstituted! but the object of the alliance, the 'casus foederis,' has floated off. What have you done to that good Brigitte, la Peyrade? She is after your blood."
"What about Thuillier?" asked la Peyrade.
Moliere was reversed; here was Tartuffe inquiring for Orgon.
"Thuillier began by not being very hostile to you; but it now seems that the seizure business has taken a good turn, and having less need of you he is getting drawn into his sister's waters; and if the tendency continues, I haven't a doubt that he'll soon come to think you deserving of hanging."
"Well, I'm out of it all," said la Peyrade, "and if anybody ever catches me in such a mess again!—Well, adieu, my friends," he added. "And you, Cerizet, as to what we were speaking about, activity, safety, and discretion!"
When la Peyrade reached the courtyard of the municipal building, he was accosted by Madame Lambert, who was lying in wait for him.
"Monsieur wouldn't believe, I am sure," she said, in a deprecating tone, "the villainous things that Monsieur Cerizet said about me; monsieur knows it was the little property I received from my uncle in England that I placed in his hands."
"Yes, yes," said la Peyrade, "but you must understand that with all these rumors set about by your master's relatives the prize of virtue is desperately endangered."
"If it is God's will that I am not to have it—"
"You ought also to understand how important it is for your interests to keep secret the other service which I did for you. At the first appearance of any indiscretion on your part that money, as I told you, will be peremptorily returned to you."
"Oh! monsieur may be easy about that."
"Very well; then good-bye to you, my dear," said la Peyrade, in a friendly tone.
As he turned to leave her, a nasal voice was heard from a window on the staircase.
"Madame Lambert!" cried Cerizet, who, suspecting the colloquy, had gone to the staircase window to make sure of it. "Madame Lambert! Monsieur Dutocq has returned; you may come up and see him, if you like."
Impossible for la Peyrade to prevent the conference, although he knew the secret of that twenty-five thousand francs ran the greatest danger.
"Certainly," he said to himself as he walked away, "I'm in a run of ill-luck; and I don't know where it will end."
In Brigitte's nature there was such an all-devouring instinct of domination, that it was without regret, and, we may even say, with a sort of secret joy that she saw the disappearance of Madame de Godollo. That woman, she felt, had a crushing superiority over her; and this, while it had given a higher order to the Thuillier establishment, made her ill at ease. When therefore the separation took place, which was done, let us here say, on good terms, and under fair and honorable pretexts, Mademoiselle Thuillier breathed more freely. She felt like those kings long swayed by imperious and necessary ministers, who celebrate within their hearts the day when death delivers them from a master whose services and rival influence they impatiently endured.
Thuillier was not far from having the same sentiment about la Peyrade. But Madame de Godollo was only the elegance, whereas la Peyrade was the utility of the house they had now simultaneously abandoned; and after the lapse of a few days, a terrible need of Theodose made itself felt in the literary and political existence of his dear, good friend. The municipal councillor found himself suddenly appointed to draft an important report. He was unable to decline the task, saddled as he was with the reputation, derived from his pamphlet, of being a man of letters and an able writer; therefore, in presence of the perilous honor conferred upon him by his colleagues of the general Council, he sat down terrified by his solitude and his insufficiency.
In vain did he lock himself into his study, gorge himself with black coffee, mend innumerable pens, and write a score of times at the head of his paper (which he was careful to cut of the exact dimensions as that used by la Peyrade) the solemn words: "Report to the Members of the Municipal Council of the City of Paris," followed, on a line by itself, by a magnificent Messieurs—nothing came of it! He was fain to issue furious from his study, complaining of the horrible household racket which "cut the thread of his ideas"; though really no greater noise than the closing of a door or the opening of a closet or the moving of a chair had made itself heard. All this, however, did not help the advancement of the work, which remained, as before—simply begun.
Most fortunately, it happened that Rabourdin, wanting to make some change in his apartment, came, as was proper, to submit his plan to the owner of the house. Thuillier granted cordially the request that was made to him, and then discoursed to his tenant about the report with which he was charged,—being desirous, he said, to obtain his ideas on the subject.
Rabourdin, to whom no administrative question was foreign, very readily threw upon the subject a number of very clear and lucid ideas. He was one of those men to whom the quality of the intellect to which they address themselves is more or less indifferent; a fool, or a man of talent who will listen to them, serves equally well to think aloud to, and they are, as a stimulant, about the same thing. After Rabourdin had said his say, he observed that Thuillier had not understood him; but he had listened to himself with pleasure, and he was, moreover, grateful for the attention, obtuse as it was, of his hearer, and also for the kindliness of the landlord in receiving his request.
"I must have among my papers," he said as he went away, "something on this subject; I will look it up and send it to you."
Accordingly, that same evening Thuillier received a voluminous manuscript; and he spent the entire night in delving into that precious repository of ideas, from which he extracted enough to make a really remarkable report, clumsily as the pillage was managed. When read before the council it obtained a very great success, and Thuillier returned home radiant and much elated by the congratulations he had received. From that moment—a moment that was marked in his life, for even to advanced old age he still talked of the "report he had had the honor of making to the Council-general of the Seine"—la Peyrade went down considerably in his estimation; he felt then that he could do very well without the barrister, and this thought of emancipation was strengthened by another happiness which came to him at almost the same time.
A parliamentary crisis was imminent,—a fact that caused the ministry to think about depriving its adversaries of a theme of opposition which always has great influence on public opinion. It resolved therefore to relax its rigor, which of late had been much increased against the press. Being included in this species of hypocritical amnesty, Thuillier received one morning a letter from the barrister whom he had chosen in place of la Peyrade. This letter announced that the Council of State had dismissed the complaint, and ordered the release of the pamphlet.
Then Dutocq's prediction was realized. That weight the less within his bosom, Thuillier took a swing toward insolence; he chorused Brigitte, and came at last to speak of la Peyrade as a sort of adventurer whom he had fed and clothed, a tricky fellow who had extracted much money from him, and had finally behaved with such ingratitude that he was thankful not to count him any longer among his friends. Orgon, in short, was in full revolt, and like Dorine, he was ready to cry out: "A beggar! who, when he came, had neither shoes nor coat worth a brass farthing."
Cerizet, to whom these indignities were reported by Dutocq, would gladly have served them up hot to la Peyrade; but the interview in which the copying clerk was to furnish information about Madame de Godollo did not take place at the time fixed. La Peyrade made his own discoveries in this wise:
Pursued by the thought of the beautiful Hungarian, and awaiting, or rather not awaiting the result of Cerizet's inquiry, he scoured Paris in every direction, and might have been seen, like the idlest of loungers, in the most frequented places, his heart telling him that sooner or later he must meet the object of his ardent search.
One evening—it was towards the middle of October—the autumn, as frequently happens in Paris, was magnificent, and along the boulevards, where the Provencal was airing his love and his melancholy, the out-door life and gaiety were as animated as in summer. On the boulevard des Italiens, formerly known as the boulevard de Gand, as he lounged past the long line of chairs before the Cafe de Paris, where, mingled with a few women of the Chaussee d'Antin accompanied by their husbands and children, may be seen toward evening a cordon of nocturnal beauties waiting only a gloved hand to gather them, la Peyrade's heart received a cruel shock. From afar, he thought he saw his adored countess.
She was alone, in a dazzling toilet scarcely authorized by the place and her isolation; before her, mounted on a chair, trembled a tiny lap-dog, which she stroked from time to time with her beautiful hands. After convincing himself that he was not mistaken, la Peyrade was about to dart upon that celestial vision, when he was forestalled by a dandy of the most triumphant type. Without throwing aside his cigar, without even touching his hat, this handsome young man began to converse with the barrister's ideal; but when she saw la Peyrade making towards her the siren must have felt afraid, for she rose quickly, and taking the arm of the man who was talking to her, she said aloud:—
"Is your carriage here, Emile? Mabille closes to-night, and I should like to go there."
The name of that disreputable place thus thrown in the face of the unhappy barrister, was a charity, for it saved him from a foolish action, that of addressing, on the arm of the man who had suddenly made himself her cavalier, the unworthy creature of whom he was thinking a few seconds earlier with so much tenderness.
"She is not worth insulting," he said to himself.
But, as lovers are beings who will not allow their foothold to be taken from them easily, the Provencal was neither convinced nor resigned as yet. Not far from the place which his countess had left, sat another woman, also alone; but this one was ripe with years, with feathers on her head, and beneath the folds of a cashmere shawl she concealed the plaintive remains of tarnished elegance and long past luxury. There was nothing imposing about this sight, nor did it command respect, but the contrary. La Peyrade went up to the woman without ceremony and addressed her.
"Madame," he said, "do you know that woman who has just gone away on the arm of a gentleman?"
"Certainly, monsieur; I know nearly all the women who come here."
"And her name is?—"
"Is she as impregnable as the fortress of that name?"
Our readers will doubtless remember that at the time of the insurrection in Hungary our ears were battered by the press and by novelists about the famous citadel of Komorn; and la Peyrade knew that by assuming a tone of indifference or flippancy he was more likely to succeed with his inquiries.
"Has monsieur any idea of making her acquaintance?"
"I don't know," replied la Peyrade, "but she is a woman who makes people think of her."
"And a very dangerous woman, monsieur," added his companion; "a fearful spendthrift, but with no inclination to return generously what is done for her. I can speak knowingly of that; when she first arrived here from Berlin, six months ago, she was very warmly recommended to me."
"Ah!" exclaimed la Peyrade.
"Yes, at that time I had in the environs of Ville d'Avray a very beautiful place, with park and coverts and a stream for fishing; but as I was alone I found it dull, and several of these ladies and gentlemen said to me, 'Madame Louchard, why don't you organize parties in the style of picnics?'"
"Madame Louchard!" repeated la Peyrade, "are you any relation to Monsieur Louchard of the commercial police?"
"His wife, monsieur, but legally separated from him. A horrid man who wants me to go back to him; but I, though I'm ready to forgive most things, I can't forgive a want of respect; just imagine that he dared to raise his hand against me!"
"Well," said la Peyrade, trying to bring her back to the matter in hand; "you organized those picnics, and Madame de Godo—I mean Madame Komorn—"
"Was one of my first lodgers. It was there she made acquaintance with an Italian, a handsome man, and rich, a political refugee, but one of the lofty kind. You understand it didn't suit my purposes to have intrigues going on in my house; still the man was so lovable, and so unhappy because he couldn't make Madame Komorn like him, that at last I took an interest in this particular love affair; which produced a pot of money for madame, for she managed to get immense sums out of that Italian. Well, would you believe that when—being just then in great need—I asked her to assist me with a trifling little sum, she refused me point-blank, and left my house, taking her lover with her, who, poor man, can't be thankful for the acquaintance now."
"Why not? What happened to him?" asked la Peyrade.
"It happened to him that this serpent knows every language in Europe; she is witty and clever to the tips of her fingers, but more manoeuvring than either; so, being, as it appears, in close relations to the police, she gave the government a lot of papers the Italian left about carelessly, on which they expelled him from France."
"Well, after his departure, Madame Komorn—"
"Since then, she has had a good many adventures and upset several fortunes, and I thought she had left Paris. For the last two months she was nowhere to be seen, but three days ago she reappeared, more brilliant than ever. My advice to monsieur is not to trust himself in that direction; and yet, monsieur looks to me a Southerner, and Southerners have passions; perhaps what I have told him will only serve to spur them up. However, being warned, there's not so much danger, and she is a most fascinating creature—oh! very fascinating. She used to love me very much, though we parted such ill-friends; and just now, seeing me here, she came over and asked my address, and said she should come and see me."
"Well, madame, I'll think about it," said la Peyrade, rising and bowing to her.
The bow was returned with extreme coldness; his abrupt departure did not show him to be a man of serious intentions.
It might be supposed from the lively manner in which la Peyrade made these inquiries that his cure though sudden was complete; but this surface of indifference and cool self-possession was only the stillness of the atmosphere that precedes a storm. On leaving Madame Louchard, la Peyrade flung himself into a street-cab and there gave way to a passion of tears like that Madame Colleville had witnessed on the day he believed that Cerizet had got the better of him in the sale of the house.
What was his position now? The investment of the Thuilliers, prepared with so much care, all useless; Flavie well avenged for the odious comedy he had played with her; his affairs in a worse state than they were when Cerizet and Dutocq had sent him, like a devouring wolf, into the sheepfold from which he had allowed the stupid sheep to drive him; his heart full of revengeful projects against the woman who had so easily got the better of what he thought his cleverness; and the memory, still vivid, of the seductions to which he had succumbed,—such were the thoughts and emotions of his sleepless night, sleepless except for moments shaken by agitated dreams.
The next day la Peyrade could think no more; he was a prey to fever, the violence of which became sufficiently alarming for the physician who attended him to take all precautions against the symptoms now appearing of brain fever: bleeding, cupping, leeches, and ice to his head; these were the agreeable finale to his dream of love. We must hasten to add, however, that this violent crisis in the physical led to a perfect cure of the mental being. The barrister came out of his illness with no other sentiment than cold contempt for the treacherous Hungarian, a sentiment which did not even rise to a desire for vengeance.
CHAPTER IX. GIVE AND TAKE
Once more afoot, and reckoning with his future, on which he had lost so much ground, la Peyrade asked himself if he had not better try to renew his relations with the Thuilliers, or whether he should be compelled to fall back on the rich crazy woman who had bullion where others have brains. But everything that reminded him of his disastrous campaign was repulsive to him; besides, what safety was there in dealing with this du Portail, a man who could use such instruments for his means of action?
Great commotions of the soul are like those storms which purify the atmosphere; they induce reflection, they counsel good and strong resolutions. La Peyrade, as the result of the cruel disappointment he had just endured, examined his own soul. He asked himself what sort of existence was this, of base and ignoble intrigue, which he had led for the past year? Was there for him no better, no nobler use to make of the faculties he felt within him? The bar was open to him as to others; that was a broad, straight path which could lead him to all the satisfaction of legitimate ambition. Like Figaro, who displayed more science and calculation in merely getting a living than statesmen had shown in governing Spain for a hundred years, he, la Peyrade, in order to install and maintain himself in the Thuillier household and marry the daughter of a clarionet and a smirched coquette, had spent more mind, more art, and—it should also be said, because in a corrupt society it is an element that must be reckoned—more dishonesty than was needed to advance him in some fine career.
"Enough of such connections as Dutocq and Cerizet," he said to himself; "enough of the nauseating atmosphere of the Minards and Phellions and Collevilles and Barniols and all the rest of them. I'll shake off this province 'intra muros,' a thousand times more absurd and petty than the true provinces; they at least, side by side with their pettiness, have habits and customs that are characteristic, a 'sui generis' dignity; they are frankly what they are, the antipodes of Parisian life; this other is but a parody of it. I will fling myself upon Paris."
In consequence of these reflections, la Peyrade went to see two or three barristers who had offered to introduce him at the Palais in secondary cases. He accepted those that presented themselves at once, and three weeks after his rupture with the Thuilliers he was no longer the "advocate of the poor," but a barrister pleading before the Royal court.
He had already pleaded several cases successfully when he received, one morning, a letter which greatly disturbed him. The president of the order of barristers requested him to come to his office at the Palais in the course of the day, as he had something of importance to say to him. La Peyrade instantly thought of the transaction relating to the purchase of the house on the boulevard de la Madeleine; it must have come, he thought, to the ears of the Council of Discipline; if so he was accountable to that tribunal and he knew its severity.
Now this du Portail, whom he had never yet been to see, in spite of his conditional promise to Cerizet, was likely to have heard the whole story of that transaction from Cerizet himself. Evidently all means were thought good by that man, judging by the use he had made of the Hungarian woman. In his savage determination to bring about the marriage with the crazy girl, had this virulent old man denounced him? On seeing him courageously and with some appearance of success entering a career in which he might find fame and independence, had his persecutor taken a step to make that career impossible? Certainly there was enough likelihood in this suggestion to make the barrister wait in cruel anxiety for the hour when he might learn the true nature of the alarming summons.
While breakfasting rather meagrely, his mind full of these painful conjectures, Madame Coffinet, who had the honor to take charge of his housekeeping, came up to ask if he would see Monsieur Etienne Lousteau. [See "The Great Man of the Provinces in Paris."]
Etienne Lousteau! la Peyrade had an idea that he had heard the name before.
"Show him into my office," he said to the portress.
A moment later he met his visitor, whose face did not seem utterly unknown to him.
"Monsieur," said this new-comer, "I had the honor of breakfasting with you not long ago at Vefour's; I was invited to that meeting, afterwards rather disturbed, by Monsieur Thuillier."
"Ah, very good!" said the barrister, offering a chair; "you are attached to the staff of a newspaper?"
"Editor-in-chief of the 'Echo de la Bievre,' and it is on the subject of that paper that I have now called to see you. You know what has happened?"
"No," said la Peyrade.
"Is it possible you are not aware that the ministry met with terrible defeat last night? But instead of resigning, as every one expected, they have dissolved the Chamber and appeal to the people."
"I knew nothing of all that," said la Peyrade. "I have not read the morning papers."
"So," continued Lousteau, "all parliamentary ambitions will take the field, and, if I am well informed, Monsieur Thuillier, already member of the Council-general, intends to present himself as candidate for election in the 12th arrondissement."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "that is likely to be his intention."
"Well, monsieur, I desire to place at his disposition an instrument the value of which I am confident you will not underestimate. The 'Echo de la Bievre,' a specialist paper, can have a decisive influence on the election in that quarter."
"And you would be disposed," asked la Peyrade, "to make that paper support Monsieur Thuillier's candidacy?"
"Better than that," replied Lousteau. "I have come to propose to Monsieur Thuillier that he purchase the paper itself. Once the proprietor of it he can use it as he pleases."
"But in the first place," said la Peyrade, "what is the present condition of the enterprise? In its character as a specialist journal—as you called it just now—it is a sheet I have seldom met with; in fact, it would be entirely unknown to me were it not for the remarkable article you were so good as to devote to Thuillier's defence at the time his pamphlet was seized."
Etienne Lousteau bowed his thanks, and then said:
"The position of the paper is excellent; we can give it to you on easy terms, for we were intending shortly to stop the publication."
"That is strange for a prosperous journal."
"On the contrary, it happens to be quite natural. The founders, who were all representatives of the great leather interest, started this paper for a special object. That object has been attained. The 'Echo de la Bievre' has therefore become an effect without a cause. In such a case, stockholders who don't like the tail end of matters, and are not eager after small profits, very naturally prefer to sell out."
"But," asked la Peyrade, "does the paper pay its costs?"
"That," replied Lousteau, "is a point we did not consider; we were not very anxious to have subscribers; the mainspring of the whole affair was direct and immediate action on the ministry of commerce to obtain a higher duty on the introduction of foreign leathers. You understand that outside of the tannery circle, this interest was not very exciting to the general reader."
"I should have thought, however," persisted la Peyrade, "that a newspaper, however circumscribed its action, would be a lever which depended for its force on the number of its subscribers."
"Not for journals which aim for a single definite thing," replied Lousteau, dogmatically. "In that case, subscribers are, on the contrary, an embarrassment, for you have to please and amuse them, and in so doing, the real object has to be neglected. A newspaper which has a definite and circumscribed object ought to be like the stroke of that pendulum which, striking steadily on one spot, fires at a given hour the cannon of the Palais-Royal."
"At any rate," said la Peyrade, "what price do you put upon a publication which has no subscribers, does not pay its expenses, and has until now been devoted to a purpose totally different from that you propose for it?"
"Before answering," returned Lousteau, "I shall ask you another question. Have you any intention of buying it?"
"That's according to circumstances," replied la Peyrade. "Of course I must see Thuillier; but I may here remark to you that he knows absolutely nothing about newspaper business. With his rather bourgeois ideas, the ownership of a newspaper will seem to him a ruinous speculation. Therefore, if, in addition to an idea that will scare him, you suggest an alarming price, it is useless for me to speak to him. I am certain he would never go into the affair."
"No," replied Lousteau. "I have told you we should be reasonable; these gentlemen have left the whole matter in my hands. Only, I beg to remark that we have had propositions from other parties, and in giving Monsieur Thuillier this option, we intended to pay him a particular courtesy. When can I have your answer?"
"To-morrow, I think; shall I have the honor of seeing you at your own house, or at the office of the journal?"
"No," said Lousteau, "to-morrow I will come here, at the same hour, if that is convenient to you."
"Perfectly," replied la Peyrade, bowing out his visitor, whom he was inclined to think more consequential than able.
By the manner in which the barrister had received the proposition to become an intermediary to Thuillier, the reader must have seen that a rapid revolution had taken place in his ideas. Even if he had not received that extremely disquieting letter from the president of the order of barristers, the new situation in which Thuillier would be placed if elected to the Chamber gave him enough to think about. Evidently his dear good friend would have to come back to him, and Thuillier's eagerness for election would deliver him over, bound hand and foot. Was it not the right moment to attempt to renew his marriage with Celeste? Far from being an obstacle to the good resolutions inspired by his amorous disappointment and his incipient brain fever, such a finale would ensure their continuance and success. Moreover, if he received, as he feared, one of those censures which would ruin his dawning prospects at the bar, it was with the Thuilliers, the accomplices and beneficiaries of the cause of his fall, that his instinct led him to claim an asylum.
With these thoughts stirring in his mind la Peyrade obeyed the summons and went to see the president of the order of barristers.
He was not mistaken; a very circumstantial statement of his whole proceeding in the matter of the house had been laid before his brethren of the bar; and the highest dignitary of the order, after stating that an anonymous denunciation ought always to be received with great distrust, told him that he was ready to receive and welcome an explanation. La Peyrade dared not entrench himself in absolute denial; the hand from which he believed the blow had come seemed to him too resolute and too able not to hold the proofs as well. But, while admitting the facts in general, he endeavored to give them an acceptable coloring. In this, he saw that he had failed, when the president said to him:—
"After the vacation which is now beginning I shall report to the Council of the order the charges made against you, and the statements by which you have defended yourself. The Council alone has the right to decide on a matter of such importance."
Thus dismissed, la Peyrade felt that his whole future at the bar was imperilled; but at least he had a respite, and in case of condemnation a new project on which to rest his head. Accordingly, he put on his gown, which he had never worn till now, and went to the fifth court-room, where he was employed upon a case.
As he left the court-room, carrying one of those bundles of legal papers held together by a strip of cotton which, being too voluminous to hold under the arm, are carried by the hand and the forearm pressed against the chest, la Peyrade began to pace about the Salle des Pas perdus with that harassed look of business which denotes a lawyer overwhelmed with work. Whether he had really excited himself in pleading, or whether he was pretending to be exhausted to prove that his gown was not a dignity for show, as it was with many of his legal brethren, but an armor buckled on for the fight, it is certain that, handkerchief in hand, he was mopping his forehead as he walked, when, in the distance, he spied Thuillier, who had evidently just caught sight of him, and was beginning on his side to manoeuvre.
La Peyrade was not surprised by the encounter. On leaving home he had told Madame Coffinet he was going to the Palais, and should be there till three o'clock, and she might send to him any persons who called on business. Not wishing to let Thuillier accost him too easily, he turned abruptly, as if some thought had changed his purpose, and went and seated himself on one of the benches which surround the walls of that great antechamber of Justice. There he undid his bundle, took out a paper, and buried himself in it with the air of a man who had not had time to examine in his study a case he was about to plead. It is not necessary to say that while doing this the Provencal was watching the manoeuvres of Thuillier out of the corner of his eye. Thuillier, believing that la Peyrade was really occupied in some serious business, hesitated to approach him.
However, after sundry backings and fillings the municipal councillor made up his mind, and sailing straight before the wind he headed for the spot he had been reconnoitring for the last ten minutes.
"Bless me, Theodose!" he cried as soon as he had got within hailing distance. "Do you come to the Palais now?"
"It seems to me," replied Theodose, "that barristers at the Palais are like Turks at Constantinople, where a friend of mine affirmed you could see a good many. It is YOU whom it is rather surprising to see here."
"Not at all," said Thuillier, carelessly. "I've come about that cursed pamphlet. Is there ever any end to your legal bothers? I was summoned here this morning, but I don't regret it, as it gives me the happy chance of meeting you."
"I, too," said la Peyrade, tying up his bundle. "I am very glad to see you, but I must leave you now; I have an appointment, and I suppose you want to do your business at once."
"I have done it," said Thuillier.
"Did you speak to Olivier Vinet, that mortal enemy of yours? he sits in that court," asked la Peyrade.
"No," said Thuillier, naming another official.
"Well, that's queer!" said the barrister; "that fellow must have the gift of ubiquity; he has been all the morning in the fifth court-room, and has just this minute given a judgment on a case I pleaded."
Thuillier colored, and got out of his hobble as best he could. "Oh, hang it!" he said; "those men in gowns are all alike, I don't know one from another."
La Peyrade shrugged his shoulders and said aloud, but as if to himself: "Always the same; crafty, crooked, never straightforward."
"Whom are you talking about?" asked Thuillier, rather nonplussed.
"Why, of you, my dear fellow, who take me for an imbecile, as if I and the whole world didn't know that your pamphlet business came to an end two weeks ago. Why, then, summon you to court?"
"Well, I was sent for," said Thuillier, with embarrassment; "something about registry fees,—it is all Greek to me, I can't comprehend their scrawls."
"And they chose," said la Peyrade, "precisely the very day when the Moniteur, announcing the dissolution of the Chamber, made you think about being a candidate for the 12th arrondissement."
"Why not?" asked Thuillier, "what has my candidacy to do with the fees I owe to the court?"
"I'll tell you," said la Peyrade, dryly. "The court is a thing essentially amiable and complaisant. 'Tiens!' it said to itself, 'here's this good Monsieur Thuillier going to be a candidate for the Chamber; how hampered he'll be by his attitude to his ex-friend Monsieur de la Peyrade, with whom he wishes now he hadn't quarrelled. I'll summon him for fees he doesn't owe; that will bring him to the Palais where la Peyrade comes daily; and in that way he can meet him by chance, and so avoid taking a step which would hurt his self-love."
"Well, there you are mistaken!" cried Thuillier, breaking the ice. "I used so little craft, as you call it, that I've just come from your house, there! and your portress told me where to find you."
"Well done!" said la Peyrade, "I like this frankness; I can get on with men who play above-board. Well, what do you want of me? Have you come to talk about your election? I have already begun to work for it."
"No, really?" said Thuillier, "how?"
"Here," replied la Peyrade, feeling under his gown for his pocket and bringing out a paper, "here's what I scribbled just now in the court-room while the lawyer on the other side rambled on like an expert."
"What is it about?" asked Thuillier.
"Read and you'll see."
The paper read as follows:—
Estimate for a newspaper, small size, at thirty francs a year.
Calculating the editions at 5,000 the costs are:—
Paper, 5 reams at 12 francs . . . . . . . . . . 1,860 francs. Composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,400 " Printing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450 " One administrator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250 " One clerk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " One editor (also cashier) . . . . . . . . . . . 200 " One despatcher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " Folders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 " One office boy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 " Office expenses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 " Rent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " License and postage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,500 " Reporting and stenographic news . . . . . . . . 1,800 " ————-
Total monthly, 15,110 " " yearly, 181,320 "
"Do you want to set up a paper?" asked Thuillier, in dread.
"I?" asked la Peyrade, "I want nothing at all; you are the one to be asked if you want to be a deputy."
"Undoubtedly I do; because, when you urged me to become a municipal councillor, you put the idea into my head. But reflect, my dear Theodose, one hundred and eighty one thousand three hundred and twenty francs to put out! Have I a fortune large enough to meet such a demand?"
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "you could very well support that expense, for considering the end you want to obtain there is nothing exorbitant in it. In England they make much greater sacrifices to get a seat in Parliament; but in any case, I beg you to observe that the costs are very high on that estimate, and some could be cut off altogether. For instance, you would not want an administrator. You, yourself, an old accountant, and I, an old journalist, can very well manage the affair between us. Also rent, we needn't count that; you have your old apartment in the rue Saint-Dominique which is not yet leased; that will make a fine newspaper office."
"All that costs off two thousand four hundred francs a year," said Thuillier.
"Well, that's something; but your error consists in calculating on the yearly cost. When do the elections take place?"
"In two months," said Thuillier.
"Very good; two months will cost you thirty thousand francs, even supposing the paper had no subscribers."
"True," said Thuillier, "the expense is certainly less than I thought at first. But does a newspaper really seem to you essential?"
"So essential that without that power in our hands, I won't have anything to do with the election. You don't seem to see, my poor fellow, that in going to live in the other quarter you have lost, electorally speaking, an immense amount of ground. You are no longer the man of the place, and your election could be balked by the cry of what the English call 'absenteeism.' This makes your game very hard to play."
"I admit that," said Thuillier; "but there are so many things wanted besides money,—a name for one thing, a manager, editorial staff, and so forth."
"A name, we have one made to hand; editors, they are you and I and a few young fellows who grow on every bush in Paris. As for the manager, I have a man in view."
"What name is it?" asked Thuillier.
"L'Echo de la Bievre."
"But there is already a paper of that name."
"Precisely, and that's why I give my approval to the affair. Do you think I should be fool enough to advise you to start an entirely new paper? 'Echo de la Bievre!' that title is a treasure to a man who wants support for his candidacy in the 12th arrondissement. Say the word only, and I put that treasure into your hands."
"How?" asked Thuillier, with curiosity.
"Parbleu! by buying it; it can be had for a song."
"There now, you see," said Thuillier in a discouraged tone; "you never counted in the cost of purchase."
"How you dwell on nothings!" said la Peyrade, hunching his shoulders; "we have other and more important difficulties to solve."
"Other difficulties?" echoed Thuillier.
"Parbleu!" exclaimed la Peyrade; "do you suppose that after all that has taken place between us I should boldly harness myself to your election without knowing exactly what benefit I am to get for it?"
"But," said Thuillier, rather astonished, "I thought that friendship was a good exchange for such services."
"Yes; but when the exchange consists in one side giving all and the other side nothing, friendship gets tired of that sort of sharing, and asks for something a little better balanced."
"But, my dear Theodose, what have I to offer you that you have not already rejected?"
"I rejected it, because it was offered without heartiness, and seasoned with Mademoiselle Brigitte's vinegar; every self-respecting man would have acted as I did. Give and keep don't pass, as the old legal saying is; but that is precisely what you persist in doing."
"I!—I think you took offence very unreasonably; but the engagement might be renewed."
"So be it," replied la Peyrade; "but I will not put myself at the mercy of either the success of the election or Mademoiselle Celeste's caprices. I claim the right to something positive and certain. Give and take; short accounts make good friends."
"I perfectly agree with you," said Thuillier, "and I have always treated you with too much good faith to fear any of these precautions you now want to take. But what guarantees do you want?"
"I want that the husband of Celeste should manage your election, and not Theodose de la Peyrade."
"By hurrying things as much as possible, so Brigitte said, it would still take fifteen days; and just think, with the elections only eight weeks off, to lose two of them doing nothing!"
"Day after to-morrow," replied la Peyrade, "the banns can be published for the first time at the mayor's office, in the intervals of publication some things could be done, for though the publishing of the banns is not a step from which there is no retreat, it is at least a public pledge and a long step taken; after that we can get your notary to draw the contract at once. Moreover, if you decide on buying this newspaper, I shouldn't be afraid that you would go back on me, for you don't want a useless horse in your stable, and without me I am certain you can't manage him."
"But, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, going back to his objections, "suppose that affair proves too onerous?"
"There's no need to say that you are the sole judge of the conditions of the purchase. I don't wish any more than you do to buy a pig in a poke. If to-morrow you authorize me, I won't say to buy, but to let these people know that you may possibly make the purchase, I'll confer with one of them on your behalf, and you may be certain that I'll stand up for your interests as if they were my own."
"Very good, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, "go ahead!"
"And as soon as the paper is purchased we are to fix the day for signing the contract?"
"Yes," replied Thuillier; "but will you bind yourself to use your utmost influence on the election?"
"As if it were my own," replied la Peyrade, "which, by the bye, is not altogether an hypothesis. I have already received suggestions about my own candidacy, and if I were vindictive—"
"Certainly," said Thuillier, with humility, "you would make a better deputy than I; but you are not of the required age, I think."
"There's a better reason than that," said la Peyrade; "you are my friend; I find you again what you once were, and I shall keep the pledges I have given you. As for the election, I prefer that people say of me, 'He makes deputies, but will be none himself.' Now I must leave you and keep my appointment. To-morrow in my own rooms, come and see me; I shall have something to announce."
Whoso has ever been a newspaper man will ever be one; that horoscope is as sure and certain as that of drunkards. Whoever has tasted that feverishly busy and relatively lazy and independent life; whoever has exercised that sovereignty which criticises intellect, art, talent, fame, virtue, absurdity, and even truth; whoever has occupied that tribune erected by his own hands, fulfilled the functions of that magistracy to which he is self-appointed,—in short, whosoever has been, for however brief a span, that proxy of public opinion, looks upon himself when remanded to private life as an exile, and the moment a chance is offered to him puts out an eager hand to snatch back his crown.
For this reason when Etienne Lousteau went to la Peyrade, a former journalist, with an offer of the weapon entitled the "Echo de la Bievre," all the latter's instincts as a newspaper man were aroused, in spite of the very inferior quality of the blade. The paper had failed; la Peyrade believed he could revive it. The subscribers, on the vendor's own showing, were few and far between, but he would exercise upon them a "compelle intrare" both powerful and irresistible. In the circumstances under which the affair was presented to him it might surely be considered provincial. Threatened with the loss of his position at the bar, he was thus acquiring, as we said before, a new position and that of a "detached fort"; compelled, as he might be, to defend himself, he could from that vantage-ground take the offensive and oblige his enemies to reckon with him.
On the Thuillier side, the newspaper would undoubtedly make him a personage of considerable importance; he would have more power on the election; and by involving their capital in an enterprise which, without him, they would feel a gulf and a snare, he bound them to him by self-interests so firmly that there was nothing to fear from their caprice or ingratitude.
This horizon, rapidly taken in during Etienne Lousteau's visit, had fairly dazzled the Provencal, and we have seen the peremptory manner in which Thuillier was forced into accepting with some enthusiasm the discovery of this philosopher's-stone.
The cost of the purchase was ridiculously insignificant. A bank-note for five hundred francs, for which Etienne Lousteau never clearly accounted to the share-holders, put Thuillier in possession of the name, property, furniture, and good-will of the newspaper, which he and la Peyrade at once busied themselves in reorganizing.
CHAPTER X. IN WHICH CERIZET PRACTISES THE HEALING ART AND
THE ART OF POISONING ON THE SAME DAY
While this regeneration was going on, Cerizet went one morning to see du Portail, with whom la Peyrade was now more than ever determined to hold no communication.
"Well," said the little old man to the poor man's banker, "what effect did the news we gave to the president of the bar produce on our man? Did the affair get wind at the Palais?"
"Phew!" said Cerizet, whose intercourse, no doubt pretty frequent, with du Portail had put him on a footing of some familiarity with the old man, "there's no question of that now. The eel has wriggled out of our hands; neither softness nor violence has any effect upon that devil of a man. He has quarrelled with the bar, and is in better odor than ever with Thuillier. 'Necessity,' says Figaro, 'obliterates distance.' Thuillier needs him to push his candidacy in the quartier Saint-Jacques, so they kissed and made up."
"And no doubt," said du Portail, without much appearance of feeling, "the marriage is fixed for an early day?"
"Yes," replied Cerizet, "but there's another piece of work on hand. That crazy fellow has persuaded Thuillier to buy a newspaper, and he'll make him sink forty thousand francs in it. Thuillier, once involved, will want to get his money back, and in my opinion they are bound together for the rest of their days."
"What paper is it?"
"Oh, a cabbage-leaf that calls itself the 'Echo de la Bievre'!" replied Cerizet with great scorn; "a paper which an old hack of a journalist on his last legs managed to set up in the Mouffetard quarter by the help of a lot of tanners—that, you know, is the industry of the quarter. From a political and literary point of view the affair is nothing at all, but Thuillier has been made to think it a masterly stroke."
"Well, for local service to the election the instrument isn't so bad," remarked du Portail. "La Peyrade has talent, activity, and much resource of mind; he may make something out of that 'Echo.' Under what political banner will Thuillier present himself?"
"Thuillier," replied the beggars' banker, "is an oyster; he hasn't any opinions. Until the publication of his pamphlet he was, like all those bourgeois, a rabid conservative; but since the seizure he has gone over to the Opposition. His first stage will probably be the Left-centre; but if the election wind should blow from another quarter, he'll go straight before it to the extreme left. Self-interest, for those bourgeois, that's the measure of their convictions."
"Dear, dear!" said du Portail, "this new combination of la Peyrade's may assume the importance of a political danger from the point of view of my opinions, which are extremely conservative and governmental." Then, after a moment's reflection, he added, "I think you did newspaper work once upon a time; I remember 'the courageous Cerizet.'"
"Yes," replied the usurer, "I even managed one with la Peyrade,—an evening paper; and a pretty piece of work we did, for which we were finely recompensed."
"Well," said du Portail, "why don't you do it again,—journalism, I mean,—with la Peyrade."
Cerizet looked at du Portail in amazement.
"Ah ca!" he cried, "are you the devil, monsieur? Can nothing ever be hidden from you?"
"Yes," said du Portail, "I know a good many things. But what has been settled between you and la Peyrade?"
"Well, remembering my experience in the business, and not knowing whom else to get, he offered to make me manager of the paper."
"I did not know that," said du Portail, "but it was quite probable. Did you accept?"
"Conditionally; I asked time for reflection. I wanted to know what you thought of the offer."
"Parbleu! I think that out of an evil that can't be remedied we should get, as the proverb says, wing or foot. I had rather see you inside than outside of that enterprise."
"Very good; but in order to get into it there's a difficulty. La Peyrade knows I have debts, and he won't help me with the thirty-three-thousand francs' security which must be paid down in my name. I haven't got them, and if I had, I wouldn't show them and expose myself to the insults of creditors."
"You must have a good deal left of that twenty-five thousand francs la Peyrade paid you not more than two months ago," remarked du Portail.
"Only two thousand two hundred francs and fifty centimes," replied Cerizet. "I was adding it up last night; the rest has all gone to pay off pressing debts."
"But if you have paid your debts you haven't any creditors."
"Yes, those I've paid, but those I haven't paid I still owe."
"Do you mean to tell me that your liabilities were more than twenty-five thousand francs?" said du Portail, in a tone of incredulity.
"Does a man go into bankruptcy for less?" replied Cerizet, as though he were enunciating a maxim.
"Well, I see I am expected to pay that sum myself," said du Portail, crossly; "but the question is whether the utility of your presence in this enterprise is worth to me the interest on one hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three francs, thirty-three centimes."
"Hang it!" said Cerizet, "if I were once installed near Thuillier, I shouldn't despair of soon putting him and la Peyrade at loggerheads. In the management of a newspaper there are lots of inevitable disagreements, and by always taking the side of the fool against the clever man, I can increase the conceit of one and wound the conceit of the other until life together becomes impossible. Besides, you spoke just now of political danger; now the manager of a newspaper, as you ought to know, when he has the intellect to be something better than a man of straw, can quietly give his sheet a push in the direction wanted.
"There's a good deal of truth in that," said du Portail, "but defeat to la Peyrade, that's what I am thinking about."
"Well," said Cerizet, "I think I have another nice little insidious means of demolishing him with Thuillier."
"Say what it is, then!" exclaimed du Portail, impatiently; "you go round and round the pot as if I were a man it would do you some good to finesse with."
"You remember," said Cerizet, coming out with it, "that some time ago Dutocq and I were much puzzled to know how la Peyrade was, all of a sudden, able to make that payment of twenty-five thousand francs?"
"Ha!" said the old man quickly, "have you discovered the origin of that very improbable sum in our friend's hands; and is that origin shady?"
"You shall judge," said Cerizet.
And he related in all its details the affair of Madame Lambert,—adding, however, that on questioning the woman closely at the office of the justice-of-peace, after the meeting with la Peyrade, he had been unable to extract from her any confession, although by her whole bearing she had amply confirmed the suspicions of Dutocq and himself.
"Madame Lambert, rue du Val-de-Grace, No. 9; at the house of Monsieur Picot, professor of mathematics," said du Portail, as he made a note of the information. "Very good," he added; "come back and see me to-morrow, my dear Monsieur Cerizet."
"But please remark," said the usurer, "that I must give an answer to la Peyrade in the course of to-day. He is in a great hurry to start the business."
"Very well; you must accept, asking a delay of twenty-four hours to obtain your security. If, after making certain inquiries I see it is more to my interests not to meddle in the affair, you can get out of it by merely breaking your word; you can't be sent to the court of assizes for that."
Independently of a sort of inexplicable fascination which du Portail exercised over his agent, he never lost an opportunity to remind him of the very questionable point of departure of their intercourse.
The next day Cerizet returned.
"You guessed right," said du Portail. "That woman Lambert, being obliged to conceal the existence of her booty, and wanting to draw interest on her stolen property, must have taken it into her head to consult la Peyrade; his devout exterior may have recommended him to her. She probably gave him that money without taking a receipt. In what kind of money was Dutocq paid?"
"In nineteen thousand-franc notes, and twelve of five-hundred francs."
"That's precisely it," said du Portail. "There can't be the slightest doubt left. Now, what use do you expect to make of this information bearing upon Thuillier."
"I expect to put it into his head that la Peyrade, to whom he is going to give his goddaughter and heiress, is over head and ears in debt; that he makes enormous secret loans; and that in order to get out of his difficulties he means to gnaw the newspaper to the bone; and I shall insinuate that the position of a man so much in debt must be known to the public before long, and become a fatal blow to the candidate whose right hand he is."
"That's not bad," said du Portail; "but there's another and even more conclusive use to be made of the discovery."
"Tell me, master; I'm listening," said Cerizet.
"Thuillier has not yet been able, has he, to explain to himself the reason of the seizure of the pamphlet?"
"Yes, he has," replied Cerizet. "La Peyrade was telling me only yesterday, by way of explaining Thuillier's idiotic simplicity, that he had believed a most ridiculous bit of humbug. The 'honest bourgeois' is persuaded that the seizure was instigated by Monsieur Olivier Vinet, substitute to the procureur-general. The young man aspired for a moment to the hand of Mademoiselle Colleville, and the worthy Thuillier has been made to imagine that the seizure of his pamphlet was a revenge for the refusal."
"Good!" said du Portail; "to-morrow, as a preparation for the other version of which you are to be the organ, Thuillier shall receive from Monsieur Vinet a very sharp and decided denial of the abuse of power he foolishly gave ear to."
"Will he?" said Cerizet, with curiosity.
"But another explanation must take its place," continued du Portail; "you must assure Thuillier that he is the victim of police machinations. That is all the police is good for, you know,—machinations."
"I know that very well; I've made that affirmation scores of times when I was working for the republican newspapers and—"
"When you were 'the courageous Cerizet,'" interrupted du Portail. "Well, the present machination, here it is. The government was much displeased at seeing Thuillier elected without its influence to the Council-general of the Seine; it was angry with an independent and patriotic citizen who showed by his candidacy that he could do without it; and it learned, moreover, that this excellent citizen was preparing a pamphlet on the subject, always a delicate one, of the finances, as to which this dangerous adversary had great experience. So, what did this essentially corrupt government do? It suborned a man in whom, as it learned, Thuillier placed confidence, and for a sum of twenty-five thousand francs (a mere trifle to the police), this treacherous friend agreed to insert into the pamphlet three or four phrases which exposed it to seizure and caused its author to be summoned before the court of assizes. Now the way to make the explanation clinch the doubt in Thuillier's mind is to let him know that the next day la Peyrade, who, as Thuillier knew, hadn't a sou, paid Dutocq precisely that very sum of twenty-five thousand francs."
"The devil!" cried Cerizet, "it isn't a bad trick. Fellows of the Thuillier species will believe anything against the police."
"We shall see, then," continued du Portail, "whether Thuillier will want to keep such a collaborator beside him, and above all, whether he will be so eager to give him his goddaughter."
"You are a strong man, monsieur," said Cerizet, again expressing his approbation; "but I must own that I feel some scruples at the part assigned me. La Peyrade came and offered me the management of the paper, and, you see, I should be working to evict him."
"And that lease he knocked you out of in spite of his promises, have you forgotten that?" asked the little old man. "Besides, are we not aiming for his happiness, though the obstinate fellow persists in thwarting our benevolent intentions?"
"It is true," said Cerizet, "that the result will absolve me. Yes, I'll go resolutely along the ingenious path you've traced out for me. But there's one thing more: I can't fling my revelation at Thuillier's head at the very first; I must have time to prepare the way for it, but that security will have to be paid in immediately."
"Listen to me, Monsieur Cerizet," said du Portail, in a tone of authority; "if the marriage of la Peyrade to my ward takes place it is my intention to reward your services, and the sum of thirty thousand francs will be your perquisite. Now, thirty thousand from one side and twenty-five thousand from the other makes precisely fifty-five thousand francs that the matrimonial vicissitudes of your friend la Peyrade will have put into your pocket. But, as country people do at the shows of a fair, I shall not pay till I come out. If you take that money out of your own hoard I shall feel no anxiety; you will know how to keep it from the clutches of your creditors. If, on the contrary, my money is at stake, you will have neither the same eagerness nor the same intelligence in keeping it out of danger. Therefore arrange your affairs so that you can pay down your own thirty-three thousand; in case of success, that sum will bring you in pretty nearly a hundred per cent. That's my last word, and I shall not listen to any objections."
Cerizet had no time to make any, for at that moment the door of du Portail's study opened abruptly, and a fair, slender woman, whose face expressed angelic sweetness, entered the room eagerly. On her arm, wrapped in handsome long clothes, lay what seemed to be the form of an infant.
"There!" she said, "that naughty Katte insisted that the doctor was not here. I knew perfectly well that I had seen him enter. Well, doctor," she continued, addressing Cerizet, "I am not satisfied with the condition of my little one, not satisfied at all; she is very pallid, and has grown so thin. I think she must be teething."
Du Portail made Cerizet a sign to accept the role so abruptly thrust upon him.
"Yes, evidently," he said, "it is the teeth; children always turn pale at that crisis; but there's nothing in that, my dear lady, that need make you anxious."
"Do you really think so, doctor," said the poor crazed girl, whom our readers have recognized as du Portail's ward, Lydie de la Peyrade; "but see her dear little arms, how thin they are getting."
Then taking out the pins that fastened the swathings, she exhibited to Cerizet a bundle of linen which to her poor distracted mind represented a baby.
"Why, no, no," said Cerizet, "she is a trifle thin, it is true, but the flesh is firm and her color excellent."
"Poor darling!" said Lydie, kissing her dream lovingly. "I do think she is better since morning. What had I better give her, doctor? Broth disgusts her, and she won't take soup."
"Well," said Cerizet, "try panada. Does she like sweet things?"
"Oh, yes!" cried the poor girl, her face brightening, "she adores them. Would chocolate be good for her?"
"Certainly," replied Cerizet, "but without vanilla; vanilla is very heating."
"Then I'll get what they call health-chocolate," said Lydie, with all the intonations of a mother, listening to the doctor as to a god who reassured her. "Uncle," she added, "please ring for Bruneau, and tell him to go to Marquis at once and get some pounds of that chocolate."
"Bruneau has just gone out," said her guardian; "but there's no hurry, he shall go in the course of the day."
"There, she is going to sleep," said Cerizet, anxious to put an end to the scene, which, in spite of his hardened nature, he felt to be painful.
"True," said the girl, replacing the bandages and rising; "I'll put her to bed. Adieu, doctor; it is very kind of you to come sometimes without being sent for. If you knew how anxious we poor mothers are, and how, with a word or two, you can do us such good. Ah, there she is crying!"
"She is so sleepy," said Cerizet; "she'll be much better in her cradle."
"Yes, and I'll play her that sonata of Beethoven that dear papa was so fond of; it is wonderful how calming it is. Adieu, doctor," she said again, pausing on the threshold of the door. "Adieu, kind doctor!" And she sent him a kiss.
Cerizet was quite overcome.
"You see," said du Portail, "that she is an angel,—never the least ill-humor, never a sharp word; sad sometimes, but always caused by a feeling of motherly solicitude. That is what first gave the doctors the idea that if reality could take the place of her constant hallucination she might recover her reason. Well, this is the girl that fool of a Peyrade refuses, with the accompaniment of a magnificent 'dot.' But he must come to it, or I'll forswear my name. Listen," he added as the sound of a piano came to them; "hear! what talent! Thousands of sane women can't compare with her; they are not as reasonable as she is, except on the surface."
When Beethoven's sonata, played from the soul with a perfection of shades and tones that filled her hardened hearer with admiration, had ceased to sound, Cerizet said:—
"I agree with you, monsieur; la Peyrade refuses an angel, a treasure, a pearl, and if I were in his place—But we shall bring him round to your purpose. Now I shall serve you not only with zeal, but with enthusiasm, I may say fanaticism."
As Cerizet was concluding this oath of fidelity at the door of the study, he heard a woman's voice which was not that of Lydie.
"Is he in his study, the dear commander?" said that voice, with a slightly foreign accent.
"Yes, madame, but please come into the salon. Monsieur is not alone; I will tell him you are here."
This was the voice of Katte, the old Dutch maid.
"Stop, go this way," said du Portail quickly to Cerizet.
And he opened a hidden door which led through a dark corridor directly to the staircase, whence Cerizet betook himself to the office of the "Echo de la Bievre," where a heated discussion was going on.
The article by which the new editors of every newspaper lay before the public their "profession of faith," as the technical saying is, always produces a laborious and difficult parturition. In this particular case it was necessary, if not openly to declare Thuillier's candidacy, to at least make it felt and foreseen. The terms of the manifesto, after la Peyrade had made a rough draft of it, were discussed at great length. This discussion took place in Cerizet's presence, who, acting on du Portail's advice, accepted the management, but postponed the payment of the security till the next day, through the latitude allowed in all administrations for the accomplishment of that formality.
Cleverly egged on by this master-knave, who, from the start, made himself Thuillier's flatterer, the discussion became stormy, and presently bitter; but as, by the deed of partnership the deciding word was left to la Peyrade in all matters concerning the editorship, he finally closed it by sending the manifesto, precisely as he had written it, to the printing office.
Thuillier was incensed at what he called an abuse of power, and finding himself alone with Cerizet later in the day, he hastened to pour his griefs and resentments into the bosom of his faithful manager, thus affording the latter a ready-made and natural opportunity to insinuate the calumnious revelation agreed upon with du Portail. Leaving the knife in the wound, Cerizet went out to make certain arrangements to obtain the money necessary for his bond.
Tortured by the terrible revelation, Thuillier could not keep it to himself; he felt the need of confiding it, and of talking over the course he would be compelled to take by this infernal discovery. Sending for a carriage he drove home, and half an hour later he had told the whole story to his Egeria.
Brigitte had from the first very vehemently declared against all the determinations made by Thuillier during the last few days. For no purpose whatever, not even for the sake of her brother's election, would she agree to a renewal of the relation to la Peyrade. In the first place, she had treated him badly, and that was a strong reason for disliking him; then, in case that adventurer, as she now called him, married Celeste, the fear of her authority being lessened gave her a species of second-sight; she had ended by having an intuitive sense of the dark profundities of the man's nature, and now declared that under no circumstances and for no possible price would she make one household with him.
"Ruin yourself if you choose," she said, "you are the master of that, and you can do as you like; a fool and his money are soon parted."
When, therefore, she listened to her brother's confidences it was not with reproaches, but, on the contrary, with a crow of triumph, celebrating the probable return of her power, that she welcomed them.
"So much the better!" she cried; "it is well to know at last that the man is a spy. I always thought so, the canting bigot! Turn him out of doors without an explanation. WE don't want him to work that newspaper. This Monsieur Cerizet seems, from what you tell me, the right sort of man, and we can get another manager. Besides, when Madame de Godollo went away she promised to write to me; and she can easily put us in the way of finding some one. Poor, dear Celeste! what a fate we were going to give her!"
"How you run on!" said Thuillier. "La Peyrade, my dear, is so far only accused. He must be heard in his defence. And besides, there's a deed that binds us."
"Ah, very good!" said Brigitte; "I see how it will be; you'll let that man twist you round his finger again. A deed with a spy! As if there could be deeds with such fellows."
"Come, come, be calm, my good Brigitte," returned Thuillier. "We mustn't do anything hastily. Certainly, if la Peyrade cannot furnish a justification, clear, categorical, and convincing, I shall decide to break with him, and I'll prove to you that I am no milksop. But Cerizet himself is not certain; these are mere inductions, and I only came to consult you as to whether I ought, or ought not, to demand an explanation outright."
"Not a doubt about it," replied Brigitte. "You ought to demand an explanation and go to the bottom of this thing; if you don't, I cast you off as my brother."
"That suffices," said Thuillier, leaving the room with solemnity; "you shall see that we will come to an understanding."
CHAPTER XI. EXPLANATIONS AND WHAT CAME OF THEM
On his return to the office after his conference with Brigitte, Thuillier found la Peyrade at his post as editor-in-chief, and in a position of much embarrassment, caused by the high hand he had reserved for himself as the sole selector of articles and contributors. At this moment, Phellion, instigated by his family, and deeply conscious of his position on the reading-committee of the Odeon, had come to offer his services as dramatic critic.
"My dear monsieur," he said, continuing his remarks to la Peyrade, after inquiring of Thuillier about his health, "I was a great student of the theatre in my youth; the stage and its scenic effects continue to have for me peculiar attractions; and the white hairs which crown my brow to-day seem to me no obstacle to my allowing your interesting publication to profit by the fruit of my studies and my experience. As member of the reading-committee of the Odeon theatre, I am conversant with the modern drama, and—if I may be quite sure of your discretion—I will even confide to you that among my papers it would not be impossible for me to find a certain tragedy entitled 'Sapor,' which in my young days won me some fame when read in salons."
"Ah!" said la Peyrade, endeavoring to gild the refusal he should be forced to give, "why not try to have it put upon the stage? We might be able to help you in that direction."
"Certainly," said Thuillier, "the director of any theatre to whom we should recommend—"
"No," replied Phellion. "In the first place, as member of the reading-committee of the Odeon, having to sit in judgment upon others, it would not become me to descend into the arena myself. I am an old athlete, whose business it is to judge of blows he can no longer give. In this sense, criticism is altogether within my sphere, and all the more because I have certain views on the proper method of composing dramatic feuilletons which I think novel. The 'castigat ridendo mores' ought to be, according to my humble lights, the great law, I may say the only law of the stage. I should therefore show myself pitiless for those works, bred of imagination, in which morality has no part, and to which mothers of families—"