"Excuse me," said la Peyrade, "for interrupting you; but before allowing you to take the trouble to develop your poetical ideas, I ought to tell you that we have already made arrangements for our dramatic criticism."
"Ah! that's another thing," said Phellion; "an honest man must keep his word."
"Yes," said Thuillier, "we have our dramatic critic, little thinking that you would offer us your valuable assistance."
"Well," said Phellion, suddenly becoming crafty,—for there is something in the newspaper atmosphere, impossible to say what, which flies to the head, the bourgeois head especially,—"since you are good enough to consider my pen capable of doing you some service, perhaps a series of detached thoughts on different subjects, to which I should venture to give the name of 'Diversities,' might be of a nature to interest your readers."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, with a maliciousness that was quite lost upon Phellion, "thoughts, especially in the style of la Rochefoucauld or la Bruyere, might do. What do you think yourself, Thuillier?"
He reserved to himself the right to leave the responsibility of refusals, as far as he could, to the proprietor of the paper.
"But I imagine that thoughts, especially if detached, cannot be very consecutive," said Thuillier.
"Evidently not," replied Phellion; "detached thoughts imply the idea of a very great number of subjects on which the author lets his pen stray without the pretension of presenting a whole."
"You will of course sign them?" said la Peyrade.
"Oh, no!" replied Phellion, alarmed. "I could not put myself on exhibition in that way."
"Your modesty, which by the bye I understand and approve, settles the matter," said la Peyrade. "Thoughts are a subject altogether individual, which imperatively require to be personified by a name. You must be conscious of this yourself. 'Divers Thoughts by Monsieur Three-Stars' says nothing to the public."
Seeing that Phellion was about to make objections, Thuillier, who was in a hurry to begin his fight with la Peyrade, cut the matter short rather sharply.
"My dear Phellion," he said, "I beg your pardon for not being able to enjoy the pleasure of your conversation any longer, but we have to talk, la Peyrade and I, over a matter of much importance, and in newspaper offices this devilish time runs away so fast. If you are willing, we will postpone the question to another day. Madame Phellion is well, I trust?"
"Perfectly well," said the great citizen, rising, and not appearing to resent his dismissal. "When does your first number appear?" he added; "it is eagerly awaited in the arrondissement."
"To-morrow I think our confession of faith will make its appearance," replied Thuillier, accompanying him to the door. "You will receive a copy, my dear friend. We shall meet again soon, I hope. Come and see us, and bring that manuscript; la Peyrade's point of view may be a little arbitrary."
With this balm shed upon his wound, Phellion departed, and Thuillier rang the bell for the porter.
"Could you recognize the gentlemen who has just gone out the next time you see him?" asked Thuillier.
"Oh, yes, m'sieu, his round ball of a head is too funny to forget; besides, it is Monsieur Phellion; haven't I opened the door to him hundreds of times?"
"Well, whenever he comes again neither I nor Monsieur de la Peyrade will be here. Remember that's a positive rule. Now leave us."
"The devil!" cried la Peyrade, when the two partners were alone, "how you manage bores. But take care; among the number there may be electors. You did right to tell Phellion you would send him a copy of the paper; he has a certain importance in the quarter."
"Well," said Thuillier, "we can't allow our time to be taken up by all the dull-heads who come and offer their services. But now you and I have to talk, and talk very seriously. Be seated and listen."
"Do you know, my dear fellow," said la Peyrade, laughing, "that journalism is making you into something very solemn? 'Be seated, Cinna,'—Caesar Augustus couldn't have said it otherwise."
"Cinnas, unfortunately, are more plentiful than people think," replied Thuillier.
He was still under the goad of the promise he had made to Brigitte, and he meant to fulfil it with cutting sarcasm. The top continued the whirling motion imparted to it by the old maid's lash.
La Peyrade took a seat at the round table. As he was puzzled to know what was coming, he endeavored to seem unconcerned, and picking up the large scissors used for the loans which all papers make from the columns of their brethren of the press, he began to snip up a sheet of paper, on which, in Thuillier's handwriting, was an attempt at a leading article, never completed.
Though la Peyrade was seated and expectant, Thuillier did not begin immediately; he rose and went toward the door which stood ajar, with the intention of closing it. But suddenly it was flung wide open, and Coffinet appeared.
"Will monsieur," said Coffinet to la Peyrade, "receive two ladies? They are very well-dressed, and the young one ain't to be despised."
"Shall I let them in?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier.
"Yes, since they are here," growled Thuillier; "but get rid of them as soon as possible."
Coffinet's judgment on the toilet of the two visitors needs revision. A woman is well-dressed, not when she wears rich clothes, but when her clothes present a certain harmony of shapes and colors which form an appropriate and graceful envelope to her person. Now a bonnet with a flaring brim, surmounted by nodding plumes, an immense French cashmere shawl, worn with the awkward inexperience of a young bride, a plaid silk gown with enormous checks and a triple tier of flounces with far too many chains and trinkets (though to be just, the boots and gloves were irreproachable), constituted the apparel of the younger of these ladies. As for the other, who seemed to be in the tow of her dressy companion, she was short, squat, and high-colored, and wore a bonnet, shawl, and gown which a practised eye would at once have recognized as second hand. Mothers of actresses are always clothed by this very economical process. Their garments, condemned to the service of two generations, reverse the order of things, and go from descendants to ancestors.
Advancing two chairs, la Peyrade inquired, "To whom have I the honor of speaking?"
"Monsieur," said the younger visitor, "I am a dramatic artist, and as I am about to make my first appearance in this quarter, I allow myself to hope that a journal of this locality will favor me."
"At what theatre?" asked la Peyrade.
"The Folies, where I am engaged for the Dejazets."
"The Folies?" echoed la Peyrade, in a tone that demanded an explanation.
"Folies-Dramatiques," interposed the agreeable Madame Cardinal, whom the reader has doubtless recognized.
"When do you appear?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next week, monsieur,—a fairy piece in which I play five parts."
"You'll encourage her, monsieur, won't you?" said Madame Cardinal, in a coaxing voice; "she's so young, and I can certify she works day and night."
"Mother!" said Olympe, with authority, "the public will judge me; all I want is that monsieur will kindly promise to notice my debut."
"Very good, mademoiselle," said la Peyrade in a tone of dismissal, beginning to edge the pair to the door.
Olympe Cardinal went first, leaving her mother to hurry after her as best she could.
"At home to no one!" cried Thuillier to the office-boy as he closed the door and slipped the bolt. "Now," he said, addressing la Peyrade, "we will talk. My dear fellow," he went on, starting with irony, for he remembered to have heard that nothing was more confusing to an adversary, "I have heard something that will give you pleasure. I know now why MY pamphlet was seized."
So saying, he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"Parbleu!" said the latter in a natural tone of voice, "it was seized because they chose to seize it. They wanted to find, and they found, because they always find the things they want, what the king's adherents call 'subversive doctrine.'"
"No, you are wrong," said Thuillier; "the seizure was planned, concocted, and agreed upon before publication."
"Between whom?" asked la Peyrade.
"Between those who wanted to kill the pamphlet, and the wretches who were paid to betray it."
"Well, in any case, those who paid," said la Peyrade, "got mighty little for their money; for, persecuted though it was, I don't see that your pamphlet made much of a stir."
"Those who sold may have done better?" said Thuillier with redoubled irony.
"Those who sold," returned la Peyrade, "were the cleverer of the two."
"Ah, I know," said Thuillier, "that you think a great deal of cleverness; but allow me to tell you that the police, whose hand I see in all this, doesn't usually throw its money away."
And again he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"So," said the barrister, without winking, "you have discovered that the police had plotted in advance the smothering of your pamphlet?"
"Yes, my dear fellow; and what is more, I know the actual sum paid to the person who agreed to carry out this honorable plot."
"The person," said la Peyrade, thinking a moment,—"perhaps I know the person; but as for the money, I don't know a word about that."
"Well, I can tell you the amount. It was twenty-five—thousand—francs," said Thuillier, dwelling on each word; "that was the sum paid to Judas."
"Oh! excuse me, my dear fellow, but twenty-five thousand francs is a good deal of money. I don't deny that you have become an important man; but you are not such a bugbear to the government as to lead it to make such sacrifices. Twenty-five thousand francs is as much as would ever be given for the suppression of one of those annoying pamphlets about the Civil list. But our financial lucubrations didn't annoy in that way; and such a sum borrowed from the secret-service money for the mere pleasure of plaguing you, seems to me rather fabulous."
"Apparently," said Thuillier, acrimoniously, "this honest go-between had some interest in exaggerating my value. One thing is very sure; this monsieur had a debt of twenty-five thousand francs which harassed him much; and a short time before the seizure this same monsieur, who had no means of his own, paid off that debt; and unless you can tell me where else he got the money, the inference I think is not difficult to draw."
It was la Peyrade's turn to look fixedly at Thuillier.
"Monsieur Thuillier," he said, raising his voice, "let us get out of enigmas and generalities; will you do me the favor to name that person?"
"Well, no," replied Thuillier, striking his hand upon the table, "I shall not name him, because of the sentiments of esteem and affection which formerly united us; but you have understood me, Monsieur la Peyrade."
"I ought to have known," said the Provencal, in a voice changed by emotion, "that in bringing a serpent to this place I should soon be soiled by his venom. Poor fool! do you not see that you have made yourself the echo of Cerizet's calumny?"
"Cerizet has nothing to do with it; on the contrary, he has told me the highest good of you. How was it, not having a penny the night before,—and I had reason to know it,—that you were able to pay Dutocq the round sum of twenty-five thousand francs the next day?"
La Peyrade reflected for a moment.
"No," he said, "it was not Dutocq who told you that. He is not a man to wrestle with an enemy of my strength without a strong interest in it. It was Cerizet; he's the infamous calumniator, from whose hands I wrenched the lease of your house near the Madeleine,—Cerizet, whom in kindness, I went to seek on his dunghill that I might give him the chance of honorable employment; that is the wretch, to whom a benefit is only an encouragement to treachery. Tiens! if I were to tell you what that man is I should turn you sick with disgust; in the sphere of infamy he has discovered worlds."
This time Thuillier made an able reply.
"I don't know anything about Cerizet except through you," he said; "you introduced him to me as a manager, offering every guarantee; but, allowing him to be blacker than the devil, and supposing that this communication comes from him, I don't see, my friend, that all that makes YOU any the whiter."
"No doubt I was to blame," said la Peyrade, "for putting such a man into relations with you; but we wanted some one who understood journalism, and that value he really had for us. But who can ever sound the depths of souls like his? I thought him reformed. A manager, I said to myself, is only a machine; he can do no harm. I expected to find him a man of straw; well, I was mistaken, he will never be anything but a man of mud."
"All that is very fine," said Thuillier, "but those twenty-five thousand francs found so conveniently in your possession, where did you get them? That is the point you are forgetting to explain."
"But to reason about it," said la Peyrade; "a man of my character in the pay of the police and yet so poor that I could not pay the ten thousand francs your harpy of a sister demanded with an insolence which you yourself witnessed—"
"But," said Thuillier, "if the origin of this money is honest, as I sincerely desire it may be, what hinders you from telling me how you got it?"
"I cannot," said la Peyrade; "the history of that money is a secret entrusted to me professionally."
"Come, come, you told me yourself that the statutes of your order forbid all barristers from doing business of any kind."
"Let us suppose," said la Peyrade, "that I have done something not absolutely regular; it would be strange indeed after what I risked, as you know, for you, if you should have the face to reproach me with it."
"My poor friend, you are trying to shake off the hounds; but you can't make me lose the scent. You wish to keep your secret; then keep it. I am master of my own confidence and my own esteem; by paying you the forfeit stipulated in our deed I take the newspaper into my own hands."
"Do you mean that you dismiss me?" cried la Peyrade. "The money that you have put into the affair, all your chances of election, sacrificed to the calumnies of such a being as Cerizet!"
"In the first place," said Thuillier, "another editor-in-chief can be found; it is a true saying that no man is indispensable. As for election to the Chamber I would rather never receive it than owe it to the help of one who—"
"Go on," said la Peyrade, seeing that Thuillier hesitated, "or rather, no, be silent, for you will presently blush for your suspicions and ask my pardon humbly."
By this time la Peyrade saw that without a confession to which he must compel himself, the influence and the future he had just recovered would be cut from under his feet. Resuming his speech he said, solemnly:—
"You will remember, my friend, that you were pitiless, and, by subjecting me to a species of moral torture, you have forced me to reveal to you a secret that is not mine."
"Go on," said Thuillier, "I take the whole responsibility upon myself. Make me see the truth clearly in this darkness, and if I have done wrong I will be the first to say so."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "those twenty-five thousand francs are the savings of a servant-woman who came to me and asked me to take them and to pay her interest."
"A servant with twenty-five thousand francs of savings! Nonsense; she must serve in monstrously rich households."
"On the contrary, she is the one servant of an infirm old savant; and it was on account of the discrepancy which strikes your mind that she wanted to put her money in my hands as a sort of trustee."
"Bless me! my friend," said Thuillier, flippantly, "you said we were in want of a romance-feuilletonist; but really, after this, I sha'n't be uneasy. Here's imagination for you!"
"What?" said la Peyrade, angrily, "you don't believe me?"
"No, I do not believe you. Twenty-five thousand francs savings in the service of an old savant! that is about as believable as the officer of La Dame Blanche buying a chateau with his pay."
"But if I prove to you the truth of my words; if I let you put your finger upon it?"
"In that case, like Saint Thomas, I shall lower my flag before the evidence. Meanwhile you must permit me, my noble friend, to wait until you offer me that proof."
Thuillier felt really superb.
"I'd give a hundred francs," he said to himself, "if Brigitte could have been here and heard me impeach him."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "suppose that without leaving this office, and by means of a note which you shall read, I bring into your presence the person from whom I received the money; if she confirms what I say will you believe me?"
This proposal and the assurance with which it was made rather staggered Thuillier.
"I shall know what to do when the time comes," he replied, changing his tone. "But this must be done at once, now, here."
"I said, without leaving this office. I should think that was clear enough."
"And who will carry the note you write?" asked Thuillier, believing that by thus examining every detail he was giving proofs of amazing perspicacity.
"Carry the note! why, your own porter of course," replied la Peyrade; "you can send him yourself."
"Then write it," said Thuillier, determined to push him to the wall.
La Peyrade took a sheet of paper with the new heading and wrote as follows, reading the note aloud:—
Madame Lambert is requested to call at once, on urgent business, at the office of the "Echo de la Bievre," rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. The bearer of this note will conduct her. She is awaited impatiently by her devoted servant,
Theodose de la Peyrade.
"There, will that suit you?" said the barrister, passing the paper to Thuillier.
"Perfectly," replied Thuillier, taking the precaution to fold the letter himself and seal it. "Put the address," he added.
Then he rang the bell for the porter.
"You will carry this letter to its address," he said to the man, "and bring back with you the person named. But will she be there?" he asked, on reflection.
"It is more than probable," replied la Peyrade; "in any case, neither you nor I will leave this room until she comes. This matter must be cleared up."
"Then go!" said Thuillier to the porter, in a theatrical tone.
When they were alone, la Peyrade took up a newspaper and appeared to be absorbed in its perusal.
Thuillier, beginning to get uneasy as to the upshot of the affair, regretted that he had not done something the idea of which had come to him just too late.
"Yes, I ought," he said to himself, "to have torn up that letter, and not driven him to prove his words."
Wishing to do something that might look like retaining la Peyrade in the position of which he had threatened to deprive him, he remarked presently:—
"By the bye, I have just come from the printing-office; the new type has arrived, and I think we might make our first appearance to-morrow."
La Peyrade did not answer; but he got up and took his paper nearer to the window.
"He is sulky," thought Thuillier, "and if he is innocent, he may well be. But, after all, why did he ever bring a man like that Cerizet here?"
Then to hide his embarrassment and the preoccupation of his mind, he sat down before the editor's table, took a sheet of the head-lined paper and made himself write a letter.
Presently la Peyrade returned to the table and sitting down, took another sheet and with the feverish rapidity of a man stirred by some emotion he drove his pen over the paper.
From the corner of his eye, Thuillier tried hard to see what la Peyrade was writing, and noticing that his sentences were separated by numbers placed between brackets, he said:—
"Tiens! are you drawing up a parliamentary law?"
"Yes," replied la Peyrade, "the law of the vanquished."
Soon after this, the porter opened the door and introduced Madame Lambert, whom he had found at home, and who arrived looking rather frightened.
"You are Madame Lambert?" asked Thuillier, magisterially.
"Yes, monsieur," said the woman, in an anxious voice.
After requesting her to be seated and noticing that the porter was still there as if awaiting further orders he said to the man:—
"That will do; you may go; and don't let any one disturb us."
The gravity and the lordly tone assumed by Thuillier only increased Madame Lambert's uneasiness. She came expecting to see only la Peyrade, and she found herself received by an unknown man with a haughty manner, while the barrister, who had merely bowed to her, said not a word; moreover, the scene took place in a newspaper office, and it is a well-known fact that to pious persons especially all that relates to the press is infernal and diabolical.
"Well," said Thuillier to the barrister, "it seems to me that nothing hinders you from explaining to madame why you have sent for her."
In order to leave no loophole for suspicion in Thuillier's mind la Peyrade knew that he must put his question bluntly and without the slightest preparation; he therefore said to her "ex abrupto":—
"We wish to ask you, madame, if it is not true that about two and a half months ago you placed in my hands, subject to interest, the sum, in round numbers, of twenty-five thousand francs."
Though she felt the eyes of Thuillier and those of la Peyrade upon her, Madame Lambert, under the shock of this question fired at her point-blank, could not restrain a start.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed, "twenty-five thousand francs! and where should I get such a sum as that?"
La Peyrade gave no sign on his face of the vexation he might be supposed to feel. As for Thuillier, who now looked at him with sorrowful commiseration, he merely said:—
"You see, my friend!"
"So," resumed la Peyrade, "you are very certain that you did not place in my hands the sum of twenty-five thousand francs; you declare this, you affirm it?"
"Why, monsieur! did you ever hear of such a sum as that in the pocket of a poor woman like me? The little that I had, as everybody knows, has gone to eke out the housekeeping of that poor dear gentleman whose servant I have been for more than twenty years."
"This," said Thuillier, pompously, "seems to me categorical."
La Peyrade still did not show the slightest sign of annoyance; on the contrary, he seemed to be playing into Thuillier's hand.
"You hear, my dear Thuillier," he said, "and if necessary I shall call for your testimony, that madame here declares that she did not possess twenty-five thousand francs and could not therefore have placed them in my hands. Now, as the notary Dupuis, in whose hands I fancied I had placed them, left Paris this morning for Brussels carrying with him the money of all his clients, I have no account with madame, by her own showing, and the absconding of the notary—"
"Has the notary Dupuis absconded?" screamed Madame Lambert, driven by this dreadful news entirely out of her usual tones of dulcet sweetness and Christian resignation. "Ah, the villain! it was only this morning that he was taking the sacrament at Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas."
"To pray for a safe journey, probably," said la Peyrade.
"Monsieur talks lightly enough," continued Madame Lambert, "though that brigand has carried off my savings. But I gave them to monsieur, and monsieur is answerable to me for them; he is the only one I know in this transaction."
"Hey?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier, pointing to Madame Lambert, whose whole demeanor had something of the mother-wolf suddenly bereft of her cubs; "is that nature? tell me! Do you think now that madame and I are playing a comedy for your benefit?"
"I am thunderstruck at Cerizet's audacity," said Thuillier. "I am overwhelmed with my own stupidity; there is nothing for me to do but to submit myself entirely to your discretion."
"Madame," said la Peyrade, gaily, "excuse me for thus frightening you; the notary Dupuis is still a very saintly man, and quite incapable of doing an injury to his clients. As for monsieur here, it was necessary that I should prove to him that you had really placed that money in my hands; he is, however, another myself, and your secret, though known to him, is as safe as it is with me."
"Oh, very good, monsieur!" said Madame Lambert. "I suppose these gentlemen have no further need of me?"
"No, my dear madame, and I beg you to pardon me for the little terror I was compelled to occasion you."
Madame Lambert turned to leave the room with all the appearance of respectful humility, but when she reached the door, she retraced her steps, and coming close to la Peyrade said, in her smoothest tones:—
"When does monsieur expect to be able to refund me that money?"
"But I told you," said la Peyrade, stiffly, "that notaries never return on demand the money placed in their hands."
"Does monsieur think that if I went to see Monsieur Dupuis himself and asked him—"
"I think," said la Peyrade, interrupting her, "that you would do a most ridiculous thing. He received the money from me in my own name, as you requested, and he knows only me in the matter."
"Then monsieur will be so kind, will he not, as to get back that money for me as soon as possible? I am sure I would not wish to press monsieur, but in two or three months from now I may want it; I have heard of a little property it would suit me to buy."
"Very good, Madame Lambert," said la Peyrade, with well-concealed irritation, "it shall be done as you wish; and in less time, perhaps, than you have stated I shall hope to return your money to you."
"That won't inconvenience monsieur, I trust," said the woman; "he told me that at the first indiscretion I committed—"
"Yes, yes, that is all understood," said la Peyrade, interrupting her.
"Then I have the honor to be the very humble servant of these gentlemen," said Madame Lambert, now departing definitively.
"You see, my friend, the trouble you have got me into," said la Peyrade to Thuillier as soon as they were alone, "and to what I am exposed by my kindness in satisfying your diseased mind. That debt was dormant; it was in a chronic state; and you have waked it up and made it acute. The woman brought me the money and insisted on my keeping it, at a good rate of interest. I refused at first; then I agreed to place it in Dupuis's hands, explaining to her that it couldn't be withdrawn at once; but subsequently, when Dutocq pressed me, I decided, after all, to keep it myself."
"I am dreadfully sorry, dear friend, for my silly credulity. But don't be uneasy about the exactions of that woman; we will manage to arrange all that, even if I have to make you an advance upon Celeste's 'dot.'"
"My excellent friend," said la Peyrade, "it is absolutely necessary that we should talk over our private arrangements; to tell you the truth, I have no fancy for being hauled up every morning and questioned as to my conduct. Just now, while waiting for that woman, I drew up a little agreement, which you and I will discuss and sign, if you please, before the first number of the paper is issued."
"But," said Thuillier, "our deed of partnership seems to me to settle—"
"—that by a paltry forfeit of five thousand francs, as stated in Article 14," interrupted Theodose, "you can put me, when you choose, out of doors. No, I thank you! After my experience to-day, I want some better security than that."
At this moment Cerizet with a lively and all-conquering air, entered the room.
"My masters!" he exclaimed, "I've brought the money; and we can now sign the bond."
Then, remarking that his news was received with extreme coldness, he added:—
"Well? what is it?"
"It is this," replied Thuillier: "I refuse to be associated with double-face men and calumniators. We have no need of you or your money; and I request you not to honor these precincts any longer with your presence."
"Dear! dear! dear!" said Cerizet; "so papa Thuillier has let the wool be pulled over his eyes again!"
"Leave the room!" said Thuillier; "you have nothing more to do here."
"Hey, my boy!" said Cerizet, turning to la Peyrade, "so you've twisted the old bourgeois round your finger again? Well, well, no matter! I think you are making a mistake not to go and see du Portail, and I shall tell him—"
"Leave this house!" cried Thuillier, in a threatening tone.
"Please remember, my dear monsieur, that I never asked you to employ me; I was well enough off before you sent for me, and I shall be after. But I'll give you a piece of advice: don't pay the twenty-five thousand francs out of your own pocket, for that's hanging to your nose."
So saying, Cerizet put his thirty-three thousand francs in banknotes back into his wallet, took his hat from the table, carefully smoothed the nap with his forearm and departed.
Thuillier had been led by Cerizet into what proved to be a most disastrous campaign. Now become the humble servant of la Peyrade, he was forced to accept his conditions, which were as follows: five hundred francs a month for la Peyrade's services in general; his editorship of the paper to be paid at the rate of fifty francs a column,—which was simply enormous, considering the small size of the sheet; a binding pledge to continue the publication of the paper for six months, under pain of the forfeiture of fifteen thousand francs; an absolute omnipotence in the duties of editor-in-chief,—that is to say, the sovereign right of inserting, controlling, and rejecting all articles without being called to explain the reasons of his actions,—such were the stipulations of a treaty in duplicate made openly, "in good faith," between the contracting parties. But, in virtue of another and secret agreement, Thuillier gave security for the payment of the twenty-five thousand francs for which la Peyrade was accountable to Madame Lambert, binding the said Sieur de la Peyrade, in case the payment were required before his marriage with Celeste Colleville could take place, to acknowledge the receipt of said sum advanced upon the dowry.
Matters being thus arranged and accepted by the candidate, who saw no chance of election if he lost la Peyrade, Thuillier was seized with a happy thought. He went to the Cirque-Olympique, where he remembered to have seen in the ticket-office a former employee in his office at the ministry of Finance,—a man named Fleury; to whom he proposed the post of manager. Fleury, being an old soldier, a good shot, and a skilful fencer, would certainly make himself an object of respect in a newspaper office. The working-staff of the paper being thus reconstituted, with the exception of a few co-editors or reporters to be added later, but whom la Peyrade, thanks to the facility of his pen, was able for the present to do without, the first number of the new paper was launched upon the world.
Thuillier now recommenced the explorations about Paris which we saw him make on the publication of his pamphlet. Entering all reading-rooms and cafes, he asked for the "Echo de la Bievre," and when informed, alas, very frequently, that the paper was unknown in this or that establishment, "It is incredible!" he would exclaim, "that a house which respects itself does not take such a widely known paper."
On that, he departed disdainfully, not observing that in many places, where this ancient trick of commercial travellers was well understood, they were laughing behind his back.
The evening of the day when the inauguration number containing the "profession of faith" appeared, Brigitte's salon, although the day was not Sunday, was filled with visitors. Reconciled to la Peyrade, whom her brother had brought home to dinner, the old maid went so far as to tell him that, without flattery, she thought his leading article was a famous HIT. For that matter, all the guests as they arrived, reported that the public seemed enchanted with the first number of the new journal.
The public! everybody knows what that is. To every man who launches a bit of writing into the world, the public consists of five or six intimates who cannot, without offending the author, avoid knowing something more or less of his lucubrations.
"As for me!" cried Colleville, "I can truthfully declare that it is the first political article I ever read that didn't send me to sleep."
"It is certain," said Phellion, "that the leading article seems to me to be stamped with vigor joined to an atticism which we may seek in vain in the columns of the other public prints."
"Yes," said Dutocq, "the matter is very well presented; and besides, there's a turn of phrase, a clever diction, that doesn't belong to everybody. However, we must wait and see how it keeps on. I fancy that to-morrow the 'Echo de la Bievre' will be strongly attacked by the other papers."
"Parbleu!" cried Thuillier, "that's what we are hoping for; and if the government would only do us the favor to seize us—"
"No, thank you," said Fleury, whom Thuillier had also brought home to dinner, "I don't want to enter upon those functions at first."
"Seized!" said Dutocq, "oh, you won't be seized; but I think the ministerial journals will fire a broadside at you."
The next day Thuillier was at the office as early as eight o'clock, in order to be the first to receive that formidable salvo. After looking through every morning paper he was forced to admit that there was no more mention of the "Echo de la Bievre" than if it didn't exist. When la Peyrade arrived he found his unhappy friend in a state of consternation.
"Does that surprise you?" said the Provencal, tranquilly. "I let you enjoy yesterday your hopes of a hot engagement with the press; but I knew myself that in all probability there wouldn't be the slightest mention of us in to-day's papers. Against every paper which makes its debut with some distinction, there's always a two weeks', sometimes a two months' conspiracy of silence."
"Conspiracy of silence!" echoed Thuillier, with admiration.
He did not know what it meant, but the words had a grandeur and a something that appealed to his imagination. After la Peyrade had explained to him that by "conspiracy of silence" was meant the agreement of existing journals to make no mention of new-comers lest such notice should serve to advertise them, Thuillier's mind was hardly better satisfied than it had been by the pompous flow of the words. The bourgeois is born so; words are coins which he takes and passes without question. For a word, he will excite himself or calm down, insult or applaud. With a word, he can be brought to make a revolution and overturn a government of his own choice.
The paper, however, was only a means; the object was Thuillier's election. This was insinuated rather than stated in the first numbers. But one morning, in the columns of the "Echo," appeared a letter from several electors thanking their delegate to the municipal council for the firm and frankly liberal attitude in which he had taken on all questions of local interests. "This firmness," said the letter, "had brought down upon him the persecution of the government, which, towed at the heels of foreigners, had sacrificed Poland and sold itself to England. The arrondissement needed a man of such tried convictions to represent it in the Chamber,—a man holding high and firm the banner of dynastic opposition, a man who would be, by the mere signification of his name, a stern lesson given to the authorities."
Enforced by an able commentary from la Peyrade, this letter was signed by Barbet and Metivier and all Brigitte's tradesmen (whom, in view of the election she had continued to employ since her emigration); also by the family doctor and apothecary, and by Thuillier's builder, and Barniol, Phellion's son-in-law, who professed to hold rather "advanced" political opinions. As for Phellion himself, he thought the wording of the letter not altogether circumspect, and—always without fear as without reproach—however much he might expect that this refusal would injure his son in his dearest interests, he bravely refrained from signing it.
This trial kite had the happiest effect. The ten or a dozen names thus put forward were considered to express the will of the electors and were called "the voice of the quarter." Thus Thuillier's candidacy made from the start such rapid progress that Minard hesitated to put his own claims in opposition.
Delighted now with the course of events, Brigitte was the first to say that the time had come to attend to the marriage, and Thuillier was all the more ready to agree because, from day to day, he feared he might be called upon to pay the twenty-five thousand francs to Madame Lambert for which he had pledged himself. A thorough explanation now took place between la Peyrade and the old maid. She told him honestly of the fear she felt as to the maintenance of her sovereign authority when a son-in-law of his mind and character was established in the household.
"If we," she ended by saying, "are to oppose each other for the rest of our days, it would be much better, from the beginning, to make two households; we shouldn't be the less friends for that."
La Peyrade replied that nothing under the sun would induce him to consent to such a plan; on the contrary, he regarded as amongst his happiest prospects for the future the security he should feel about the wise management of the material affairs of the home in such hands as hers. He should have enough to do in the management of outside interests, and he could not comprehend, for his part, how she could suppose he had ever had the thought of interfering in matters that were absolutely out of his province. In short, he reassured her so completely that she urged him to take immediate steps for the publication of the banns and the signature of the marriage contract,—declaring that she reserved to herself all the preparations relating to Celeste, whose acceptance of this sudden conclusion she pledged herself to secure.
"My dear child," she said to Celeste the next morning, "I think you have given up all idea of being Felix Phellion's wife. In the first place, he is more of an atheist than ever, and, besides, you must have noticed yourself that his mind is quite shaky. You have seen at Madame Minard's that Madame Marmus, who married a savant, officer of the Legion of honor, and member of the Institute. There's not a more unhappy woman; her husband has taken her to live behind the Luxembourg, in the rue Duguay-Trouin, a street that is neither paved nor lighted. When he goes out, he doesn't know where he is going; he gets to the Champ de Mars when he wants to go to the Faubourg Poissoniere; he isn't even capable of giving his address to the driver of a street cab; and he is so absent-minded he couldn't tell if it were before dinner or after. You can imagine what sort of time a woman must have with a man whose nose is always at a telescope snuffing stars."
"But Felix," said Celeste, "is not as absent-minded as that."
"Of course not, because he is younger; but with years his absent-mindedness and his atheism will both increase. We have therefore decided that he is not the husband you want, and we all, your mother, father, Thuillier and myself, have determined that you shall take la Peyrade, a man of the world, who will make his way, and one who has done us great services in the past, and who will, moreover, make your godfather deputy. We are disposed to give you, in consideration of him, a much larger 'dot' than we should give to any other husband. So, my dear, it is settled; the banns are to be published immediately, and this day week we sign the contract. There's to be a great dinner for the family and intimates, and after that a reception, at which the contract will be signed and your trousseau and corbeille exhibited. As I take all that into my own hands I'll answer for it that everything shall be of the best kind; especially if you are not babyish, and give in pleasantly to our ideas."
"But, aunt Brigitte," began Celeste, timidly.
"There's no 'but,' in the matter," said the old maid, imperiously; "it is all arranged, and will be carried out, unless, mademoiselle, you pretend to have more wisdom than your elders."
"I will do as you choose, aunt," replied Celeste, feeling as if a thunder-cloud had burst upon her head, and knowing but too well that she had no power to struggle against the iron will which had just pronounced her doom.
She went at once to pour her sorrows into Madame Thuillier's soul; but when she heard her godmother advising patience and resignation the poor child felt that from that feeble quarter she could get no help for even the slightest effort of resistance, and that her sacrifice was virtually accomplished.
Precipitating herself with a sort of frenzy into the new element of activity thus introduced into her life, Brigitte took the field in the making of the trousseau and the purchase of the corbeille. Like many misers, who on great occasions come out of their habits and their nature, the old maid now thought nothing too good for her purpose; and she flung her money about so lavishly that until the day appointed for the signing of the contract, the jeweller, dressmaker, milliner, lingere, etc. (all chosen from the best establishments in Paris), seemed to occupy the house.
"It is like a procession," said Josephine, the cook, admiringly, to Francoise, the Minards' maid; "the bell never stops ringing from morning till night."
CHAPTER XII. A STAR
The dinner on the great occasion was ordered from Chabot and Potel, and not from Chevet, by which act Brigitte intended to prove her initiative and her emancipation from the late Madame de Godollo. The invited guests were as follows: three Collevilles, including the bride, la Peyrade the groom, Dutocq and Fleury, whom he had asked to be his witnesses, the extremely limited number of his relatives leaving him no choice, Minard and Rabourdin, chosen as witnesses for Celeste, Madame and Mademoiselle Minard and Minard junior, two of Thuillier's colleagues in the Council-general; the notary Dupuis, charged with the duty of drawing up the contract, and lastly, the Abbe Gondrin, director of the consciences of Madame Thuillier and Celeste, who was to give the nuptial blessing.
The latter was the former vicar of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, whose great refinement of manner and gift of preaching had induced the archbishop to remove him from the humble parish where his career had begun to the aristocratic church of the Madeleine. Since Madame Thuillier and Celeste had again become his parishioners, the young abbe visited them occasionally, and Thuillier, who had gone to him to explain, after his own fashion, the suitableness of the choice made for Celeste in the person of la Peyrade (taking pains as he did so to cast reflections on the religious opinions of Felix Phellion), had easily led him to contribute by his persuasive words to the resignation of the victim.
When the time came to sit down to table three guests were missing,—two Minards, father and son, and the notary Dupuis. The latter had written a note to Thuillier in the morning, excusing himself from the dinner, but saying that at nine o'clock precisely he would bring the contract and place himself at the orders of Mademoiselle Thuillier. As for Julien Minard, his mother excused him as being confined to his room with a sore-throat. The absence of Minard senior remained unexplained, but Madame Minard insisted that they should sit down to table without him; which was done, Brigitte ordering that the soup be kept hot for him, because in the bourgeois code of manners and customs a dinner without soup is no dinner at all.
The repast was far from gay, and though the fare was better, the vivacity and the warmth of the conversation was far, indeed, from that of the famous improvised banquet at the time of the election to the Council-general. The gaps occasioned by the absence of three guests may have been one reason; then Flavie was glum; she had had an interview with la Peyrade in the afternoon which ended in tears; Celeste, even if she had been content with the choice imposed on her, would scarcely, as a matter of propriety, have seemed joyful; in fact, she made no effort to brighten a sad face, and dared not look at her godmother, whose own countenance gave the impression, if we may so express it, of the long bleating of a sheep. The poor girl seeing this feared to exchange a look with her lest she might drive her to tears. Thuillier now felt himself, on all sides, of such importance that he was pompous and consequential; while Brigitte, uneasy out of her own world, where she could lord it over every one without competition, seemed constrained and embarrassed.
Colleville tried by a few jovialities to raise the temperature of the assemblage; but the coarse salt of his witticisms had an effect, in the atmosphere in which he produced them, of a loud laugh in a sick-chamber; and a mute intimation from his wife, Thuillier, and la Peyrade to behave himself put a stopper on his liveliness and turbulent expansion. It was somewhat remarkable that the gravest member of the party, aided by Rabourdin, was the person who finally warmed up the atmosphere. The Abbe Gondrin, a man of a most refined and cultivated mind, had, like every pure and well-ordered soul, a fund of gentle gaiety which he was well able to communicate, and liveliness was beginning to dawn upon the party when Minard entered the room.
After making his excuses on the ground of important duties, the mayor of the eleventh arrondissement, who was in the habit of taking the lead in the conversation wherever he went, said, having swallowed a few hasty mouthfuls:—
"Messieurs and mesdames, have you heard the great news?"
"No, what is it?" cried several voices at once.
"The Academy of Sciences received, to-day, at its afternoon session, the announcement of a vast discovery: the heavens possess a new star!"
"Tiens!" said Colleville; "that will help to replace the one that Beranger thought was lost when he grieved (to that air of 'Octavie') over Chateaubriand's departure: 'Chateaubriand, why fly thy land?'"
This quotation, which he sang, exasperated Flavie, and if the custom had been for wives to sit next to their husbands, the former clarionet of the Opera-Comique would not have escaped with a mere "Colleville!" imperiously calling him to order.
"The point which gives this great astronomical event a special interest on this occasion," continued Minard, "is that the author of the discovery is a denizen of the twelfth arrondissement, which many of you still inhabit, or have inhabited. But other points are striking in this great scientific fact. The Academy, on the reading of the communication which announced it, was so convinced of the existence of this star that a deputation was appointed to visit the domicile of the modern Galileo and compliment him in the name of the whole body. And yet this star is not visible to either the eye or the telescope! It is only by the power of calculation and induction that its existence and the place it occupies in the heavens have been proved in the most irrefutable manner: 'There must be there a hitherto unknown star; I cannot see it, but I am sure of it,'—that is what this man of science said to the Academy, whom he instantly convinced by his deductions. And do you know, messieurs, who is this Christopher Columbus of a new celestial world? An old man, two-thirds blind, who has scarcely eyes enough to walk in the street."
"Wonderful! Marvellous! Admirable!" came from all sides.
"What is the name of this learned man?" asked several voices.
"Monsieur Picot, or, if you prefer it, pere Picot, for that is how they call him in the rue du Val-de-Grace, where he lives. He is simply an old professor of mathematics, who has turned out several very fine pupils,—by the bye, Felix Phellion, whom we all know, studied under him, and it was he who read, on behalf of his blind old master, the communication to the Academy this afternoon."
Hearing that name, and remembering the promise Felix had made her to lift her to the skies, which, as he said it, she had fancied a sign of madness, Celeste looked at Madame Thuillier, whose face had taken a sudden glow of animation, and seemed to say to her, "Courage, my child! all is not lost."
"My dear Theodose," said Thuillier, "Felix is coming here to-night; you must take him aside and get him to give you a copy of that communication; it would be a fine stroke of fortune for the 'Echo' to be the first to publish it."
"Yes," said Minard, assuming the answer, "that would do good service to the public, for the affair is going to make a great noise. The committee, not finding Monsieur Picot at home, went straight to the Minister of Public Instruction; and the minister flew to the Tuileries and saw the King; and the 'Messager' came out this evening—strange to say, so early that I could read it in my carriage as I drove along—with an announcement that Monsieur Picot is named Chevalier of the Legion of honor, with a pension of eighteen hundred francs from the fund devoted to the encouragement of science and letters."
"Well," said Thuillier, "there's one cross at least well bestowed."
"But eighteen hundred francs for the pension seems to me rather paltry," said Dutocq.
"So it does," said Thuillier, "and all the more because that money comes from the tax-payers; and, when one sees the taxes, as we do, frittered away on court favorites—"
"Eighteen hundred francs a year," interrupted Minard, "is certainly something, especially for savants, a class of people who are accustomed to live on very little."
"I think I have heard," said la Peyrade, "that this very Monsieur Picot leads a strange life, and that his family, who at first wanted to shut him up as a lunatic, are now trying to have guardians appointed over him. They say he allows a servant-woman who keeps his house to rob him of all he has. Parbleu! Thuillier, you know her; it is that woman who came to the office the other day about some money in Dupuis's hands."
"Yes, yes, true," said Thuillier, significantly; "you are right, I do know her."
"It is queer," said Brigitte, seeing a chance to enforce the argument she had used to Celeste, "that all these learned men are good for nothing outside of their science; in their homes they have to be treated like children."
"That proves," said the Abbe Gondrin, "the great absorption which their studies give to their minds, and, at the same time, a simplicity of nature which is very touching."
"When they are not as obstinate as mules," said Brigitte, hastily. "For myself, monsieur l'abbe, I must say that if I had had any idea of marriage, a savant wouldn't have suited me at all. What do they do, these savants, anyhow? Useless things most of the time. You are all admiring one who has discovered a star; but as long as we are in this world what good is that to us? For all the use we make of stars it seems to me we have got enough of them as it is."
"Bravo, Brigitte!" said Colleville, getting loose again; "you are right, my girl, and I think, as you do, that the man who discovers a new dish deserves better of humanity."
"Colleville," said Flavie, "I must say that your style of behavior is in the worst taste."
"My dear lady," said the Abbe Gondrin, addressing Brigitte, "you might be right if we were formed of matter only; and if, bound to our body, there were not a soul with instincts and appetites that must be satisfied. Well, I think that this sense of the infinite which is within us, and which we all try to satisfy each in our own way, is marvellously well helped by the labors of astronomy, that reveal to us from time to time new worlds which the hand of the Creator has put into space. The infinite in you has taken another course; this passion for the comfort of those about you, this warm, devoted, ardent affection which you feel for your brother, are equally the manifestation of aspirations which have nothing material about them, and which, in seeking their end and object, never think of asking, 'What good does that do? what is the use of this?' Besides, I must assure you that the stars are not as useless as you seem to think. Without them how would navigators cross the sea? They would be puzzled to get you the vanilla with which you have flavored the delicious cream I am now eating. So, as Monsieur Colleville has perceived, there is more affinity than you think between a dish and a star; no one should be despised,—neither an astronomer nor a good housekeeper—"
The abbe was here interrupted by the noise of a lively altercation in the antechamber.
"I tell you that I will go in," said a loud voice.
"No, monsieur, you shall not go in," said another voice, that of the man-servant. "The company are at table, I tell you, and nobody has the right to force himself in."
Thuillier turned pale; ever since the seizure of his pamphlet, he fancied all sudden arrivals meant the coming of the police.
Among the various social rules imparted to Brigitte by Madame de Godollo, the one that most needed repeating was the injunction never, as mistress of the house, to rise from the table until she gave the signal for retiring. But present circumstances appeared to warrant the infraction of the rule.
"I'll go and see what it is," she said to Thuillier, whose anxiety she noticed at once. "What is the matter?" she said to the servant as soon as she reached the scene of action.
"Here's a gentleman who wants to come in, and says that no one is ever dining at eight o'clock at night."
"But who are you, monsieur?" said Brigitte, addressing an old man very oddly dressed, whose eyes were protected by a green shade.
"Madame, I am neither a beggar nor a vagabond," replied the old man, in stentorian tones; "my name is Picot, professor of mathematics."
"Rue du Val-de-Grace?" asked Brigitte.
"Yes, madame,—No. 9, next to the print-shop."
"Come in, monsieur, come in; we shall be only too happy to receive you," cried Thuillier, who, on hearing the name, had hurried out to meet the savant.
"Hein! you scamp," said the learned man, turning upon the man-servant, who had retired, seeing that the matter was being settled amicably, "I told you I should get in."
Pere Picot was a tall old man, with an angular, stern face, who, despite the corrective of a blond wig with heavy curls, and that of the pacific green shade we have already mentioned, expressed on his large features, upon which the fury of study had produced a surface of leaden pallor, a snappish and quarrelsome disposition. Of this he had already given proof before entering the dining-room, where every one now rose to receive him.
His costume consisted of a huge frock-coat, something between a paletot and a dressing-gown, between which an immense waistcoat of iron-gray cloth, fastened from the throat to the pit of the stomach with two rows of buttons, hussar fashion, formed a sort of buckler. The trousers, though October was nearing its close, were made of black lasting, and gave testimony to long service by the projection of a darn on the otherwise polished surface covering the knees, the polish being produced by the rubbing of the hands upon those parts. But, in broad daylight, the feature of the old savant's appearance which struck the eye most vividly was a pair of Patagonian feet, imprisoned in slippers of beaver cloth, the which, moulded upon the mountainous elevations of gigantic bunions, made the spectator think, involuntarily, of the back of a dromedary or an advanced case of elephantiasis.
Once installed in a chair which was hastily brought for him, and the company having returned to their places at table, the old man suddenly burst out in thundering tones, amid the silence created by curiosity:—
"Where is he,—that rogue, that scamp? Let him show himself; let him dare to speak to me!"
"Who is it that offends you, my dear monsieur?" said Thuillier, in conciliating accents, in which there was a slight tone of patronage.
"A scamp whom I couldn't find in his own home, and they told me he was here, in this house. I'm in the apartment, I think, of Monsieur Thuillier of the Council-general, place de la Madeleine, first story above the entresol?"
"Precisely," said Thuillier; "and allow me to add, monsieur, that you are surrounded with the respect and sympathy of all."
"And you will doubtless permit me to add," said Minard, "that the mayor of the arrondissement adjoining that which you inhabit congratulates himself on being here in presence of Monsieur Picot,—the Monsieur Picot, no doubt, who has just immortalized his name by the discovery of a star!"
"Yes, monsieur," replied the professor, elevating to a still higher pitch the stentorian diapason of his voice, "I am Picot (Nepomucene), but I have not discovered a star; I don't concern myself with any such fiddle-faddle; besides, my eyes are very weak; and that insolent young fellow I have come here to find is making me ridiculous with such talk. I don't see him here; he is hiding himself, I know; he dares not look me in the face."
"Who is this person who annoys you?" asked several voices at once.
"An unnatural pupil of mine," replied the old mathematician; "a scamp, but full of ideas; his name is Felix Phellion."
The name was received, as may well be imagined, with amazement. Finding the situation amusing, Colleville and la Peyrade went off into fits of laughter.
"You laugh, fools!" cried the irate old man, rising. "Yes, come and laugh within reach of my arm."
So saying, he brandished a thick stick with a white china handle, which he used to guide himself, thereby nearly knocking over a candelabrum on the dinner-table upon Madame Minard's head.
"You are mistaken, monsieur," cried Brigitte, springing forward and seizing his arm. "Monsieur Felix is not here. He will probably come later to a reception we are about to give; but at present he has not arrived."
"They don't begin early, your receptions," said the old man; "it is past eight o'clock. Well, as Monsieur Felix is coming later, you must allow me to wait for him. I believe you were eating your dinners; don't let me disturb you."
And he went back peaceably to his chair.
"As you permit it, monsieur," said Brigitte, "we will continue, or, I should say, finish dinner, for we are now at the dessert. May I offer you anything,—a glass of champagne and a biscuit?"
"I am very willing, madame," replied the intruder. "No one ever refuses champagne, and I am always ready to eat between my meals; but you dine very late."
A place was made for him at table between Colleville and Mademoiselle Minard, and the former made it his business to fill the glass of his new neighbor, before whom was placed a dish of small cakes.
"Monsieur," said la Peyrade in a cajoling tone, "you saw how surprised we were to hear you complain of Monsieur Felix Phellion,—so amiable, so inoffensive a young man. What has he done to you, that you should feel so angry with him?"
With his mouth full of cakes, which he was engulfing in quantities that made Brigitte uneasy, the professor made a sign that he would soon answer; then, having mistaken his glass and swallowed the contents of Colleville's, he replied:—
"You ask what that insolent young man had done to me? A rascally thing; and not the first, either. He knows that I cannot abide stars, having very good reason to hate them, as you shall hear: In 1807, being attached to the Bureau of Longitudes, I was part of the scientific expedition sent to Spain, under the direction of my friend and colleague, Jean-Baptiste Biot, to determine the arc of the terrestrial meridian from Barcelona to the Balearic isles. I was just in the act of observing a star (perhaps the very one my rascally pupil has discovered), when suddenly, war having broken out between France and Spain, the peasants, seeing me perched with a telescope on Monte Galazzo, took it into their heads that I was making signals to the enemy. A mob of savages broke my instruments, and talked of stringing me up. They were just going to do it, when the captain of a vessel took me prisoner and thrust me into the citadel of Belver, where I spent three years in the harshest captivity. Since them, as you may well believe, I loathe the whole celestial system; though I was, without knowing it, the first to observe the famous comet of 1811; but I should have taken care not to say a word about it if it had not been for Monsieur Flauguergues, who announced it. Like all my pupils, Phellion knows my aversion to stars, and he knew very well the worst trick he could play me would be to saddle one on my back; and that deputation that came to play the farce of congratulating me was mighty lucky not to find me at home, for if they had, I can assure those gentlemen of the Academy, they would have had a hot reception."
Everybody present thought the old mathematician's monomania quite delightful, except la Peyrade, who now, in perceiving Felix Phellion's part in the affair, regretted deeply having caused the explanation.
"And yet, Monsieur Picot," said Minard, "if Felix Phellion is only guilty of attributing his discovery to you, it seems to me that his indiscreet behavior has resulted in a certain compensation to you: the cross of the Legion of honor, a pension, and the glory attached to your name are not to be despised."
"The cross and the pension I take," said the old man, emptying his glass, which, to Brigitte's terror, he set down upon the table with a force that threatened to smash it. "The government has owed them to me these twenty years; not for the discovery of stars,—things that I have always despised,—but for my famous 'Treatise on Differential Logarithms' (Kepler thought proper to call them monologarithms), which is a sequel to the tables of Napier; also for my 'Postulatum' of Euclid, of which I was the first to discover the solution; but above all, for my 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,'—four volumes in quarto with plates; Paris, 1825. You see, therefore, monsieur, that to give me glory is bringing water to the Seine. I had so little need of Monsieur Felix Phellion to make me a position in the scientific world that I turned him out of my house long ago."
"Then it isn't the first star," said Colleville, flippantly, "that he dared to put upon you?"
"He did worse than that," roared the old man; "he ruined my reputation, he tarnished my name. My 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,' the printing of which cost me every penny I owned, though it ought to have been printed gratis at the Royal Printing-office, was calculated to make my fortune and render me immortal. Well, that miserable Felix prevented it. From time to time, pretending to bring messages from my editor, he would say, the young sycophant, 'Papa Picot, your book is selling finely; here's five hundred francs—two hundred francs—and once it was two thousand—which your publisher charged me to give you.' This thing went on for years, and my publisher, who had the baseness to enter into the plot, would say to me, when I went to the shop: 'Yes, yes, it doesn't do badly, it bubbles, that book; we shall soon be at the end of this edition.' I, who didn't suggest anything, I pocketed my money, and thought to myself: 'My book is liked, little by little its ideas are making their way; I may now expect, from day to day, that some great capitalist will come to me and propose to apply my system—'"
"—of 'Absorption of Liquids'?" asked Colleville, who had been steadily filling the old fellow's glass.
"No, monsieur, my 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,' 4 vols. in quarto with plates. But no! days, weeks went by and nobody came; so, thinking that my publisher did not put all the energy he should into the matter, I tried to sell the second edition to another man. It was that, monsieur, that enabled me to discover the whole plot, on which, as I said before, I turned that serpent out of my house. In six years only nine copies had been sold! Kept quiet in false security I had done nothing for the propagation of my book, which had been left to take care of itself; and thus it was that I, victim of black and wicked jealousy, was shamefully despoiled of the value of my labors."
"But," said Minard, making himself the mouthpiece of the thoughts of the company, "may we not see in that act a manner as ingenious as it was delicate to—"
"To give me alms! is that what you mean?" interrupted the old man, with a roar that made Mademoiselle Minard jump in her chair; "to humiliate me, dishonor me—me, his old professor! Am I in need of charity? Has Picot (Nepomucene), to whom his wife brought a dowry of one hundred thousand francs, ever stretched out his palm to any one? But in these days nothing is respected. Old fellows, as they call us, our religion and our good faith is taken advantage of so that these youths may say to the public: 'Old drivellers, don't you see now they are good for nothing? It needs us, the young generation, us, the moderns, us, Young France, to bring them up on a bottle.' Young greenhorn! let me see you try to feed me! Old drivellers know more in their little finger than you in your whole brain, and you'll never be worth us, paltry little intriguer that you are! However, I know my day of vengeance will come; that young Phellion can't help ending badly; what he did to-day, reading a statement to the Academy, under my name, was forgery, forgery! and the law will send him to the galleys for that."
"True," said Colleville, "forgery of a public star."
Brigitte, who quaked for her glasses, and whose nerves were exacerbated by the monstrous consumption of cakes and wine, now gave the signal to return to the salon. Besides, she had heard the door-bell ring several times, announcing the arrival of guests for the evening. The question then was how to transplant the professor, and Colleville politely offered him his arm.
"No, monsieur," he said, "you must allow me to stay where I am. I am not dressed for a party, and besides, a strong light hurts my eyes. Moreover, I don't choose to give myself as a spectacle; it will be best that my interview with Felix Phellion should take place between 'four-eyes,' as they say."
"Well, let him alone, then," said Brigitte to Colleville.
No one insisted,—the old man having, unconsciously, pretty nigh discrowned himself in the opinion of the company. But before leaving, the careful housewife removed everything that was at all fragile from his reach; then, by way of a slight attention, she said:—
"Shall I send you some coffee?"
"I'll take it, madame," responded pere Picot, "and some cognac with it."
"Oh! parbleu! he takes everything," said Brigitte to the male domestic, and she told the latter to keep an eye on the old madman.
When Brigitte returned to the salon she found that the Abbe Gondrin had become the centre of a great circle formed by nearly the whole company, and as she approached, she heard him say:—
"I thank Heaven for bestowing upon me such a pleasure. I have never felt an emotion like that aroused by the scene we have just witnessed; even the rather burlesque form of this confidence, which was certainly very artless, for it was quite involuntary, only adds to the honor of the surprising generosity it revealed. Placed as I am by my ministry in the way of knowing of many charities, and often either the witness or intermediary of good actions, I think I never in my life have met with a more touching or a more ingenious devotion. To keep the left hand ignorant of what the right hand does is a great step in Christianity; but to go so far as to rob one's self of one's own fame to benefit another under such conditions is the gospel applied in its highest precepts; it is being more than a Sister of Charity; it is doing the work of an apostle of beneficence. How I should like to know that noble young man, and shake him by the hand."
With her arm slipped through that of her godmother, Celeste was standing very near the priest, her ears intent upon his words, her arm pressing tighter and tighter that of Madame Thuillier, as the abbe analyzed the generous action of Felix Phellion, until at last she whispered under her breath:—
"You hear, godmother, you hear!"
To destroy the inevitable effect which this hearty praise would surely have on Celeste, Thuillier hastened to say:—
"Unfortunately, Monsieur l'abbe, the young man of whom you speak so warmly is not altogether unknown to you. I have had occasion to tell you about him, and to regret that it was not possible to follow out certain plans which we once entertained for him; I allude to the very compromising independence he affects in his religious opinions."
"Ah! is that the young man?" said the abbe; "you surprise me much; I must say such an idea would never have crossed my mind."
"You will see him presently, Monsieur l'abbe," said la Peyrade, joining in the conversation, "and if you question him on certain grounds you will have no difficulty in discovering the ravages that a love of science can commit in the most gifted souls."
"I am afraid I shall not see him," said the abbe, "as my black gown would be out of place in the midst of the more earthly gaiety that will soon fill this salon. But I know, Monsieur de la Peyrade, that you are a man of sincerely pious convictions, and as, without any doubt, you feel as much interest in the young man's welfare as I do myself, I shall say to you in parting: Do not be uneasy about him; sooner or later, such choice souls come back to us, and if the return of these prodigals should be long delayed I should not fear, on seeing them go to God, that His infinite mercy would fail them."
So saying, the abbe looked about to find his hat, and proceeded to slip quietly away.
Suddenly a fearful uproar was heard. Rushing into the dining-room, whence came a sound of furniture overturned and glasses breaking, Brigitte found Colleville occupied in adjusting his cravat and looking himself over to be sure that his coat, cruelly pulled awry, bore no signs of being actually torn.
"What is the matter?" cried Brigitte.
"It is that old idiot," replied Colleville, "who is in a fury. I came to take my coffee with him, just to keep him company, and he took a joke amiss, and collared me, and knocked over two chairs and a tray of glasses because Josephine didn't get out of his way in time."
"It is all because you've been teasing him," said Brigitte, crossly; "why couldn't you stay in the salon instead of coming here to play your jokes, as you call them? You think you are still in the orchestra of the Opera-Comique."
This sharp rebuke delivered, Brigitte, like the resolute woman that she was, saw that she absolutely must get rid of the ferocious old man who threatened her household with flames and blood. Accordingly, she approached pere Picot, who was tranquilly engaged in burning brandy in his saucer.
"Monsieur," she said, at the top of her lungs, as if she were speaking to a deaf person (evidently thinking that a blind one ought to be treated in the same manner), "I have come to tell you something that may annoy you. Monsieur and Madame Phellion have just arrived, and they inform me that their son, Monsieur Felix, is not coming. He has a cold and a sore-throat."
"Then he got it this afternoon reading that lecture," cried the professor, joyfully. "That's justice!—Madame, where do you get your brandy?"
"Why, at my grocer's," replied Brigitte, taken aback by the question.
"Well, madame, I ought to tell you that in a house where one can drink such excellent champagne, which reminds me of that we used to quaff at the table of Monsieur de Fontanes, grand-master of the University, it is shameful to keep such brandy. I tell you, with the frankness I put into everything, that it is good only to wash your horses' feet, and if I had not the resource of burning it—"
"He is the devil in person," thought Brigitte; "not a word of excuse about all that glass, but he must needs fall foul of my brandy too!—Monsieur," she resumed, in the same raised diapason, "as Monsieur Felix is not coming, don't you think your family will be uneasy at your absence?"
"Family? I haven't any, madame, owing to the fact that they want to make me out a lunatic. But I have a housekeeper, Madame Lambert, and I dare say she will be surprised not to see me home by this time. I think I had better go now; if I stay later, the scene might be more violent. But I must own that in this strange quarter I am not sure if I can find my way."
"Then take a carriage."
"Carriage here, carriage there, indeed! my spiteful relations wouldn't lose the chance of calling me a spendthrift."
"I have an important message to send into your quarter," said Brigitte, seeing she must resolve to make the sacrifice, "and I have just told my porter to take a cab and attend to it. If you would like to take advantage of that convenience—"
"I accept it, madame," said the old professor, rising; "and, if it comes to the worst, I hope you will testify before the judge that I was niggardly about a cab."
"Henri," said Brigitte to the man-servant, "take monsieur down to the porter and tell him to do the errand I told him about just now, and to take monsieur to his own door, and be very careful of him."
"Careful of him!" echoed the old man. "Do you take me for a trunk, madame, or a bit of cracked china?"
Seeing that she had got her man fairly to the door, Brigitte allowed herself to turn upon him.
"What I say, monsieur, is for your good. You must allow me to observe that you have not an agreeable nature."
"Careful of him! careful of him!" repeated the old man. "Don't you know, madame, that by the use of such words you may get people put into lunatic asylums? However, I will not reply rudely to the polite hospitality I have received,—all the more because, I think, I have put Monsieur Felix, who missed me intentionally, in his right place."
"Go, go, go, you old brute!" cried Brigitte, slamming the door behind him.
Before returning to the salon she was obliged to drink a whole glassful of water, the restraint she had been forced to put upon herself in order to get rid of this troublesome guest having, to use her own expression, "put her all about."
CHAPTER XIII. THE MAN WHO THINKS THE STAR TOO BRIGHT
The next morning Minard paid a visit to Phellion in his study. The great citizen and his son Felix were at that moment engaged in a conversation which seemed to have some unusual interest for them.
"My dear Felix," cried the mayor of the eleventh arrondissement, offering his hand warmly to the young professor, "it is you who bring me here this morning; I have come to offer you my congratulations."
"What has occurred?" asked Phellion. "Have the Thuilliers—"
"It has nothing to do with the Thuilliers," interrupted the mayor. "But," he added, looking hard at Felix, "can that sly fellow have concealed the thing even from you?"
"I do not think," said Phellion, "that ever, in his life, has my son concealed a thing from me."
"Then you know about the sublime astronomical discovery which he communicated to the Academy of Sciences yesterday?"
"Your kindness for me, Monsieur le maire," said Felix, hastily, "has led you astray; I was only the reader of the communication."
"Oh! let me alone!" said Minard; "reader, indeed! I know all about it."
"But see," said Felix, offering Minard the "Constitutionnel," "here's the paper; not only does it announce that Monsieur Picot is the maker of the discovery, but it mentions the rewards which, without losing a moment, the government has bestowed upon him."
"Felix is right," said Phellion; "that journal is to be trusted. On this occasion I think the government has acted very properly."
"But, my dear commander, I repeat to you that the truth of the affair has got wind, and your son is shown to be a most admirable fellow. To put his own discovery to the credit of his old professor so as to obtain for him the recognition and favor of the authorities—upon my word, in all antiquity I don't know a finer trait!"
"Felix!" said Phellion, beginning to show some emotion, "these immense labors to which you have devoted so much time of late, these continual visits to the Observatory—"
"But, father," interrupted Felix, "Monsieur Minard has been misinformed."
"Misinformed!" cried Minard, "when I know the whole affair from Monsieur Picot himself!"
At this argument, stated in a way to leave no possible doubt, the truth began to dawn upon Phellion.
"Felix, my son!" he said, rising to embrace him.
But he was obliged to sit down again; his legs refused to bear his weight; he turned pale; and that nature, ordinarily so impassible, seemed about to give way under the shock of this happiness.
"My God!" said Felix, terrified, "he is ill; ring the bell, I entreat you, Monsieur Minard."
And he ran to the old man, loosened his cravat and unfastened the collar of his shirt, striking him in the palms of his hands. But the sudden faintness was but momentary; almost immediately himself again, Phellion gathered his son to his heart, and holding him long in his embrace, he said, in a voice broken by the tears that came to put an end to this shock of joy:—
"Felix, my noble son! so great in heart, so great in mind!"
The bell had been rung by Minard with magisterial force, and with such an accent that the whole household was alarmed, and came running in.
"It is nothing, it is nothing," said Phellion to the servants, sending them away. But almost at the same moment, seeing his wife, who now entered the room, he resumed his habitual solemnity.
"Madame Phellion," he said, pointing to Felix, "how many years is it since you brought that young man into the world?"
Madame Phellion, bewildered by the question, hesitated a moment, and then said:—
"Twenty-five years next January."
"Have you not thought, until now, that God had amply granted your maternal desires by making this child of your womb an honest man, a pious son, and by gifting him for mathematics, that Science of sciences, with an aptitude sufficiently remarkable?"
"I have," said Madame Phellion, understanding less and less what her husband was coming to.
"Well," continued Phellion, "you owe to God an additional thanksgiving, for He has granted that you be the mother of a man of genius; his toil, which lately we rebuked, and which made us fear for the reason of our child, was the way—the rough and jagged way—by which men come to fame."
"Ah ca!" cried Madame Phellion, "can't you stop coming yourself to an explanation of what you mean, and get there?"
"Your son," said Minard, cautious this time in measuring the joy he was about to bestow, fearing another fainting-fit of happiness, "has just made a very important scientific discovery."
"Is it true?" said Madame Phellion, going up to Felix, and taking him by both hands as she looked at him lovingly.
"When I say important," continued Minard, "I am only sparing your maternal emotions; it is, in truth, a sublime, a dazzling discovery. He is only twenty-five years old, but his name, from henceforth, is immortal."
"And this is the man," said Madame Phellion, half beside herself, and kissing Felix with effusion, "to whom that la Peyrade is preferred!"
"No, not preferred, madame," said Minard, "for the Thuilliers are not the dupes of that adventurer. But he has made himself necessary to them. Thuillier fancies that without la Peyrade he could not be elected; the election is still doubtful, and they are sacrificing everything to it."
"But isn't it odious," cried Madame Phellion, "to consider such interests before the happiness of their child!"
"Ah!" said Minard, "but Celeste is not their child, only their adopted daughter."
"Brigitte's, if you like," said Madame Phellion; "but as for Thuillier—"
"My good wife," said Phellion, "no censoriousness. The good God has just sent us a great consolation; and, indeed, though certainly far advanced, this marriage, about which I regret to say Felix does not behave with all the philosophy I could desire, may still not take place."
Seeing that Felix shook his head with a look of incredulity, Minard hastened to say:—
"Yes, yes, the commander is quite right. Last night there was a hitch about signing the contract, and it was not signed. You were not there, by the bye, and your absence was much remarked upon."
"We were invited," said Phellion, "and up to the last moment we hesitated whether to go or not. But, as you will readily see, our position was a false one; besides, Felix—and I see now it must have been in consequence of his lecture at the Academy—was completely worn out with fatigue and emotion. To present ourselves without him would have seemed very singular; therefore we decided that it would be wisest and best to absent ourselves."
The presence of the man whom he had just declared immortal did not deter Minard, when the occasion was thus made for him, from plunging eagerly into one of the most precious joys of bourgeois existence, namely, the retailing of gossip.
"Just imagine!" he began; "last night at the Thuilliers' the most extraordinary things took place, one after another."
First he related the curious episode of pere Picot. Then he told of the hearty approbation given to Felix's conduct by the Abbe Gondrin, and the desire the young preacher had expressed to meet him.
"I'll go and see him," said Felix; "do you know where he lives?"
"Rue de la Madeleine, No. 8," replied Minard. "But the great event of the evening was the spectacle of that fine company assembled to listen to the marriage-contract, and waiting in expectation a whole hour for the notary, who—never came!"
"Then the contract is not signed?" said Felix, eagerly.
"Not even read, my friend. Suddenly some one came in and told Brigitte that the notary had started for Brussels."
"Ah! no doubt," said Phellion, naively; "some very important business."
"Most important," replied Minard; "a little bankruptcy of five hundred thousand francs which the gentleman leaves behind him."
"But who is this public officer," demanded Phellion, "so recreant, in this scandalous manner, to the sacred duties of his calling?"
"Parbleu! your neighbor in the rue Saint-Jacques, the notary Dupuis."
"What!" said Madame Phellion, "that pious man? Why, he is churchwarden of the parish!"
"Eh! madame, those are the very ones," said Minard, "to run off—there are many precedents for that."
"But," said Phellion, "such news cast suddenly among the company must have fallen like a thunderbolt."
"Especially," said Minard, "as it was brought in the most unexpected and singular manner."
"Tell us all about it," said Madame Phellion, with animation.
"Well, it seems," continued Minard, "that this canting swindler had charge of the savings of a number of servants, and that Monsieur de la Peyrade—because, you see, they are all of a clique, these pious people—was in the habit of recruiting clients for him in that walk of life—"
"I always said so!" interrupted Madame Phellion. "I knew that Provencal was no good at all."
"It seems," continued the mayor, "that he had placed in Dupuis's hands all the savings of an old housekeeper, pious herself, amounting to a pretty little sum. Faith! I think myself it was worth some trouble. How much do you suppose it was? Twenty-five thousand francs, if you please! This housekeeper, whose name is Madame Lambert—"
"Madame Lambert!" cried Felix; "why, that's Monsieur Picot's housekeeper; close cap, pale, thin face, speaks always with her eyes lowered, shows no hair?"
"That's she," said Minard,—"a regular hypocrite!"
"Twenty-five thousand francs of savings!" said Felix. "I don't wonder that poor pere Picot is always out of money."
"And that someone had to meddle with the sale of his book," said Minard, slyly. "However that may be, you can imagine that the woman was in a fine state of mind on hearing of the flight of the notary. Off she went to la Peyrade's lodgings; there she was told he was dining at the Thuilliers'; to the Thuilliers' she came, after running about the streets—for they didn't give her quite the right address—till ten o'clock; but she got there while the company were still sitting round waiting for the notary, and gaping at each other, no one knowing what to say and do, for neither Brigitte nor Thuillier have faculty enough to get out of such a scrape with credit; and we all missed the voice of Madame de Godollo and the talent of Madame Phellion."
"Oh! you are too polite, Monsieur le maire," said Madame Phellion, bridling.
"Well, as I said," continued Minard, "at ten o'clock Madame Lambert reached the antechamber of Monsieur the general-councillor, and there she asked, in great excitement, to see la Peyrade."
"That was natural," said Phellion; "he being the intermediary of the investment, this woman had a right to question him."
"You should just have seen that Tartuffe!" continued Minard. "He had no sooner gone out than he returned, bringing the news. As everybody was longing to get away, there followed a general helter-skelter. And then what does our man do? He goes back to Madame Lambert, who was crying that she was ruined! she was lost!—which might very well be true, but it might also be only a scene arranged between them in presence of the company, whom the woman's outcries detained in the antechamber. 'Don't be anxious, my good woman,' said la Peyrade; 'the investment was made at your request, consequently, I owe you nothing; BUT it is enough that the money passed through my hands to make my conscience tell me I am responsible. If the notary's assets are not enough to pay you I will do so.'"
"Yes," said Phellion, "that was my idea as you told it; the intermediary is or ought to be responsible. I should not have hesitated to do as Monsieur de la Peyrade did, and I do not think that after such conduct as that he ought to be taxed with Jesuitism."
"Yes, you would have done so," said Minard, "and so should I, but we shouldn't have done it with a brass band; we should have paid our money quietly, like gentlemen. But this electoral manager, how is he going to pay it? Out of the 'dot'?"
At this moment the little page entered the room and gave a letter to Felix Phellion. It came from pere Picot, and was written at his dictation by Madame Lambert, for which reason we will not reproduce the orthography. The writing of Madame Lambert was of those that can never be forgotten when once seen. Recognizing it instantly, Felix hastened to say:—
"A letter from the professor"; then, before breaking the seal, he added, "Will you permit me, Monsieur le maire."
"He'll rate you finely," said Minard, laughing. "I never saw anything so comical as his wrath last night."
Felix, as he read the letter, smiled to himself. When he had finished it, he passed it to his father, saying:—
"Read it aloud if you like."
Whereupon, with his solemn voice and manner, Phellion read as follows:—
My dear Felix,—I have just received your note; it came in the nick of time, for I was, as they say, in a fury with you. You tell me that you were guilty of that abuse of confidence (about which I intended to write you a piece of my mind) in order to give a knock-down blow to my relations by proving that a man capable of making such complicated calculations as your discovery required was not a man to put in a lunatic asylum or drag before a judiciary council. That argument pleases me, and it makes such a good answer to the infamous proceedings of my relations that I praise you for having had the idea. But you sold it to me, that argument, pretty dear when you put me in company with a star, for you know very well that propinquity wouldn't please me at all. It is not at my age, and after solving the great problem of perpetual motion, that a man could take up with such rubbish as that,—good only for boys and greenhorns like you; and that is what I have taken the liberty this morning to go and tell the minister of public instruction, by whom I must say I was received with the most perfect urbanity. I asked him to see whether, as he had made a mistake and sent them to the wrong address, he could not take back his cross and his pension,—though to be sure, as I told him, I deserved them for other things.
"The government," he replied, "is not in the habit of making mistakes; what it does is always properly done, and it never annuls an ordinance signed by the hand of his Majesty. Your great labors have deserved the two favors the King has granted you; it is a long-standing debt, which I am happy to pay off in his name."
"But Felix?" I said; "because after all for a young man it is not such a bad discovery."
"Monsieur Felix Phellion," replied the minister, "will receive in the course of the day his appointment to the rank of Chevalier of the Legion of honor; I will have it signed this morning by the king. Moreover, there is a vacant place at the Academy of Sciences, and if you are not a candidate for it—"
"I, in the Academy!" I interrupted, with the frankness of speech you know I always use; "I execrate academies; they are stiflers, extinguishers, assemblages of sloths, idlers, shops with big signs and nothing to sell inside—"
"Well, then," said the minister, smiling, "I think that at the next election Monsieur Felix Phellion will have every chance, and among those chances I count the influence of the government which is secured to him."
There, my poor boy, is all that I have been able to do to reward your good intentions and to prove to you that I am no longer angry. I think the relations are going to pull a long face. Come and talk about it to-day at four o'clock,—for I don't dine after bedtime, as I saw some people doing last night in a house where I had occasion to mention your talents in a manner that was very advantageous to you. Madame Lambert, who does better with a saucepan than with pen and ink, shall distinguish herself, though it is Friday, and she never lets me off a fast day. But she has promised us a fish dinner worthy of an archbishop, with a fine half-bottle of champagne (doubled if need be) to wash it down.