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Bureaucracy by Honore de Balzac

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Produced by John Bickers, Bonnie Sala and Dagny




Translated By
Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To the Comtesse Seraphina San Severino, with the respectful
homage of sincere and deep admiration
De Balzac




In Paris, where men of thought and study bear a certain likeness to
one another, living as they do in a common centre, you must have met
with several resembling Monsieur Rabourdin, whose acquaintance we are
about to make at a moment when he is head of a bureau in one of our
most important ministries. At this period he was forty years old, with
gray hair of so pleasing a shade that women might at a pinch fall in
love with it for it softened a somewhat melancholy countenance, blue
eyes full of fire, a skin that was still fair, though rather ruddy and
touched here and there with strong red marks; a forehead and nose a la
Louis XV., a serious mouth, a tall figure, thin, or perhaps wasted,
like that of a man just recovering from illness, and finally, a
bearing that was midway between the indolence of a mere idler and the
thoughtfulness of a busy man. If this portrait serves to depict his
character, a sketch of this man's dress will bring it still further
into relief. Rabourdin wore habitually a blue surcoat, a white cravat,
a waistcoat crossed a la Robespierre, black trousers without straps,
gray silk stockings and low shoes. Well-shaved, and with his stomach
warmed by a cup of coffee, he left home at eight in the morning with
the regularity of clock-work, always passing along the same streets on
his way to the ministry: so neat was he, so formal, so starched that
he might have been taken for an Englishman on the road to his embassy.

From these general signs you will readily discern a family man,
harassed by vexations in his own household, worried by annoyances at
the ministry, yet philosopher enough to take life as he found it; an
honest man, loving his country and serving it, not concealing from
himself the obstacles in the way of those who seek to do right;
prudent, because he knew men; exquisitely courteous with women, of
whom he asked nothing,--a man full of acquirements, affable with his
inferiors, holding his equals at great distance, and dignified towards
his superiors. At the epoch of which we write, you would have noticed
in him the coldly resigned air of one who has buried the illusions of
his youth and renounced every secret ambition; you would have
recognized a discouraged, but not disgusted man, one who still clings
to his first projects,--more perhaps to employ his faculties than in
the hope of a doubtful success. He was not decorated with any order,
and always accused himself of weakness for having worn that of the
Fleur-de-lis in the early days of the Restoration.

The life of this man was marked by certain mysterious peculiarities.
He had never known his father; his mother, a woman to whom luxury was
everything, always elegantly dressed, always on pleasure bent, whose
beauty seemed to him miraculous and whom he very seldom saw, left him
little at her death; but she had given him that too common and
incomplete education which produces so much ambition and so little
ability. A few days before his mother's death, when he was just
sixteen, he left the Lycee Napoleon to enter as supernumerary a
government office, where an unknown protector had provided him with a
place. At twenty-two years of age Rabourdin became under-head-clerk;
at twenty-five, head-clerk, or, as it was termed, head of the bureau.
From that day the hand that assisted the young man to start in life
was never felt again in his career, except as to a single
circumstance; it led him, poor and friendless, to the house of a
Monsieur Leprince, formerly an auctioneer, a widower said to be
extremely rich, and father of an only daughter. Xavier Rabourdin fell
desperately in love with Mademoiselle Celestine Leprince, then
seventeen years of age, who had all the matrimonial claims of a dowry
of two hundred thousand francs. Carefully educated by an artistic
mother, who transmitted her own talents to her daughter, this young
lady was fitted to attract distinguished men. Tall, handsome, and
finely-formed, she was a good musician, drew and painted, spoke
several languages, and even knew something of science,--a dangerous
advantage, which requires a woman to avoid carefully all appearance of
pedantry. Blinded by mistaken tenderness, the mother gave the daughter
false ideas as to her probable future; to the maternal eyes a duke or
an ambassador, a marshal of France or a minister of State, could alone
give her Celestine her due place in society. The young lady had,
moreover, the manners, language, and habits of the great world. Her
dress was richer and more elegant than was suitable for an unmarried
girl; a husband could give her nothing more than she now had, except
happiness. Besides all such indulgences, the foolish spoiling of the
mother, who died a year after the girl's marriage, made a husband's
task all the more difficult. What coolness and composure of mind were
needed to rule such a woman! Commonplace suitors held back in fear.
Xavier Rabourdin, without parents and without fortune other than his
situation under government, was proposed to Celestine by her father.
She resisted for a long time; not that she had any personal objection
to her suitor, who was young, handsome, and much in love, but she
shrank from the plain name of Madame Rabourdin. Monsieur Leprince
assured his daughter that Xavier was of the stock that statesmen came
of. Celestine answered that a man named Rabourdin would never be
anything under the government of the Bourbons, etc. Forced back to his
intrenchments, the father made the serious mistake of telling his
daughter that her future husband was certain of becoming Rabourdin "de
something or other" before he reached the age of admission to the
Chamber. Xavier was soon to be appointed Master of petitions, and
general-secretary at his ministry. From these lower steps of the
ladder the young man would certainly rise to the higher ranks of the
administration, possessed of a fortune and a name bequeathed to him in
a certain will of which he, Monsieur Leprince, was cognizant. On this
the marriage took place.

Rabourdin and his wife believed in the mysterious protector to whom
the auctioneer alluded. Led away by such hopes and by the natural
extravagance of happy love, Monsieur and Madame Rabourdin spent nearly
one hundred thousand francs of their capital in the first five years
of married life. By the end of this time Celestine, alarmed at the
non-advancement of her husband, insisted on investing the remaining
hundred thousand francs of her dowry in landed property, which
returned only a slender income; but her future inheritance from her
father would amply repay all present privations with perfect comfort
and ease of life. When the worthy auctioneer saw his son-in-law
disappointed of the hopes they had placed on the nameless protector,
he tried, for the sake of his daughter, to repair the secret loss by
risking part of his fortune in a speculation which had favourable
chances of success. But the poor man became involved in one of the
liquidations of the house of Nucingen, and died of grief, leaving
nothing behind him but a dozen fine pictures which adorned his
daughter's salon, and a few old-fashioned pieces of furniture, which
she put in the garret.

Eight years of fruitless expectation made Madame Rabourdin at last
understand that the paternal protector of her husband must have died,
and that his will, if it ever existed, was lost or destroyed. Two
years before her father's death the place of chief of division, which
became vacant, was given, over her husband's head, to a certain
Monsieur de la Billardiere, related to a deputy of the Right who was
made minister in 1823. It was enough to drive Rabourdin out of the
service; but how could he give up his salary of eight thousand francs
and perquisites, when they constituted three fourths of his income and
his household was accustomed to spend them? Besides, if he had
patience for a few more years he would then be entitled to a pension.
What a fall was this for a woman whose high expectations at the
opening of her life were more or less warranted, and one who was
admitted on all sides to be a superior woman.

Madame Rabourdin had justified the expectations formed of Mademoiselle
Leprince; she possessed the elements of that apparent superiority
which pleases the world; her liberal education enabled her to speak to
every one in his or her own language; her talents were real; she
showed an independent and elevated mind; her conversation charmed as
much by its variety and ease as by the oddness and originality of her
ideas. Such qualities, useful and appropriate in a sovereign or an
ambassadress, were of little service to a household compelled to jog
in the common round. Those who have the gift of speaking well desire
an audience; they like to talk, even if they sometimes weary others.
To satisfy the requirements of her mind Madame Rabourdin took a weekly
reception-day and went a great deal into society to obtain the
consideration her self-love was accustomed to enjoy. Those who know
Parisian life will readily understand how a woman of her temperament
suffered, and was martyrized at heart by the scantiness of her
pecuniary means. No matter what foolish declarations people make about
money, they one and all, if they live in Paris, must grovel before
accounts, do homage to figures, and kiss the forked hoof of the golden
calf. What a problem was hers! twelve thousand francs a year to defray
the costs of a household consisting of father, mother, two children, a
chambermaid and cook, living on the second floor of a house in the rue
Duphot, in an apartment costing two thousand francs a year. Deduct the
dress and the carriage of Madame before you estimate the gross
expenses of the family, for dress precedes everything; then see what
remains for the education of the children (a girl of eight and a boy
of nine, whose maintenance must cost at least two thousand francs
besides) and you will find that Madame Rabourdin could barely afford
to give her husband thirty francs a month. That is the position of
half the husbands in Paris, under penalty of being thought monsters.

Thus it was that this woman who believed herself destined to shine in
the world was condemned to use her mind and her faculties in a sordid
struggle, fighting hand to hand with an account-book. Already,
terrible sacrifice of pride! she had dismissed her man-servant, not
long after the death of her father. Most women grow weary of this
daily struggle; they complain but they usually end by giving up to
fate and taking what comes to them; Celestine's ambition, far from
lessening, only increased through difficulties, and led her, when she
found she could not conquer them, to sweep them aside. To her mind
this complicated tangle of the affairs of life was a Gordian knot
impossible to untie and which genius ought to cut. Far from accepting
the pettiness of middle-class existence, she was angry at the delay
which kept the great things of life from her grasp,--blaming fate as
deceptive. Celestine sincerely believed herself a superior woman.
Perhaps she was right; perhaps she would have been great under great
circumstances; perhaps she was not in her right place. Let us remember
there are as many varieties of woman as there are of man, all of which
society fashions to meet its needs. Now in the social order, as in
Nature's order, there are more young shoots than there are trees, more
spawn than full-grown fish, and many great capacities (Athanase
Granson, for instance) which die withered for want of moisture, like
seeds on stony ground. There are, unquestionably, household women,
accomplished women, ornamental women, women who are exclusively wives,
or mothers, or sweethearts, women purely spiritual or purely material;
just as there are soldiers, artists, artisans, mathematicians, poets,
merchants, men who understand money, or agriculture, or government,
and nothing else. Besides all this, the eccentricity of events leads
to endless cross-purposes; many are called and few are chosen is the
law of earth as of heaven. Madame Rabourdin conceived herself fully
capable of directing a statesman, inspiring an artist, helping an
inventor and pushing his interests, or of devoting her powers to the
financial politics of a Nucingen, and playing a brilliant part in the
great world. Perhaps she was only endeavouring to excuse to her own
mind a hatred for the laundry lists and the duty of overlooking the
housekeeping bills, together with the petty economies and cares of a
small establishment. She was superior only in those things where it
gave her pleasure to be so. Feeling as keenly as she did the thorns of
a position which can only be likened to that of Saint-Laurence on his
grid-iron, is it any wonder that she sometimes cried out? So, in her
paroxysms of thwarted ambition, in the moments when her wounded vanity
gave her terrible shooting pains, Celestine turned upon Xavier
Rabourdin. Was it not her husband's duty to give her a suitable
position in the world? If she were a man she would have had the energy
to make a rapid fortune for the sake of rendering an adored wife
happy! She reproached him for being too honest a man. In the mouth of
some women this accusation is a charge of imbecility. She sketched out
for him certain brilliant plans in which she took no account of the
hindrances imposed by men and things; then, like all women under the
influence of vehement feeling, she became in thought as Machiavellian
as Gondreville, and more unprincipled than Maxime de Trailles. At such
times Celestine's mind took a wide range, and she imagined herself at
the summit of her ideas.

When these fine visions first began Rabourdin, who saw the practical
side, was cool. Celestine, much grieved, thought her husband
narrow-minded, timid, unsympathetic; and she acquired, insensibly, a
wholly false opinion of the companion of her life. In the first place,
she often extinguished him by the brilliancy of her arguments. Her ideas
came to her in flashes, and she sometimes stopped him short when he
began an explanation, because she did not choose to lose the slightest
sparkle of her own mind. From the earliest days of their marriage
Celestine, feeling herself beloved and admired by her husband, treated
him without ceremony; she put herself above conjugal laws and the
rules of private courtesy by expecting love to pardon all her little
wrong-doings; and, as she never in any way corrected herself, she was
always in the ascendant. In such a situation the man holds to the wife
very much the position of a child to a teacher when the latter cannot
or will not recognize that the mind he has ruled in childhood is
becoming mature. Like Madame de Stael, who exclaimed in a room full of
people, addressing, as we may say, a greater man than herself, "Do you
know you have really said something very profound!" Madame Rabourdin
said of her husband: "He certainly has a good deal of sense at times."
Her disparaging opinion of him gradually appeared in her behavior
through almost imperceptible motions. Her attitude and manners
expressed a want of respect. Without being aware of it she injured her
husband in the eyes of others; for in all countries society, before
making up its mind about a man, listens for what his wife thinks of
him, and obtains from her what the Genevese term "pre-advice."

When Rabourdin became aware of the mistakes which love had led him to
commit it was too late,--the groove had been cut; he suffered and was
silent. Like other men in whom sentiments and ideas are of equal
strength, whose souls are noble and their brains well balanced, he was
the defender of his wife before the tribunal of his own judgment; he
told himself that nature doomed her to a disappointed life through his
fault; HIS; she was like a thoroughbred English horse, a racer
harnessed to a cart full of stones; she it was who suffered; and he
blamed himself. His wife, by dint of constant repetition, had
inoculated him with her own belief in herself. Ideas are contagious in
a household; the ninth thermidor, like so many other portentous
events, was the result of female influence. Thus, goaded by
Celestine's ambition, Rabourdin had long considered the means of
satisfying it, though he hid his hopes, so as to spare her the
tortures of uncertainty. The man was firmly resolved to make his way
in the administration by bringing a strong light to bear upon it. He
intended to bring about one of those revolutions which send a man to
the head of either one party or another in society; but being
incapable of so doing in his own interests, he merely pondered useful
thoughts and dreamed of triumphs won for his country by noble means.
His ideas were both generous and ambitious; few officials have not
conceived the like; but among officials as among artists there are
more miscarriages than births; which is tantamount to Buffon's saying
that "Genius is patience."

Placed in a position where he could study French administration and
observe its mechanism, Rabourdin worked in the circle where his
thought revolved, which, we may remark parenthetically, is the secret
of much human accomplishment; and his labor culminated finally in the
invention of a new system for the Civil Service of government. Knowing
the people with whom he had to do, he maintained the machine as it
then worked, so it still works and will continue to work; for
everybody fears to remodel it, though no one, according to Rabourdin,
ought to be unwilling to simplify it. In his opinion, the problem to
be resolved lay in a better use of the same forces. His plan, in its
simplest form, was to revise taxation and lower it in a way that
should not diminish the revenues of the State, and to obtain, from a
budget equal to the budgets which now excite such rabid discussion,
results that should be two-fold greater than the present results. Long
practical experience had taught Rabourdin that perfection is brought
about in all things by changes in the direction of simplicity. To
economize is to simplify. To simplify means to suppress unnecessary
machinery; removals naturally follow. His system, therefore, depended
on the weeding out of officials and the establishment of a new order
of administrative offices. No doubt the hatred which all reformers
incur takes its rise here. Removals required by this perfecting
process, always ill-understood, threaten the well-being of those on
whom a change in their condition is thus forced. What rendered
Rabourdin really great was that he was able to restrain the enthusiasm
that possesses all reformers, and to patiently seek out a slow
evolving medium for all changes so as to avoid shocks, leaving time
and experience to prove the excellence of each reform. The grandeur of
the result anticipated might make us doubt its possibility if we lose
sight of this essential point in our rapid analysis of his system. It
is, therefore, not unimportant to show through his self-communings,
however incomplete they might be, the point of view from which he
looked at the administrative horizon. This tale, which is evolved from
the very heart of the Civil Service, may also serve to show some of
the evils of our present social customs.

Xavier Rabourdin, deeply impressed by the trials and poverty which he
witnessed in the lives of the government clerks, endeavored to
ascertain the cause of their growing deterioration. He found it in
those petty partial revolutions, the eddies, as it were, of the storm
of 1789, which the historians of great social movements neglect to
inquire into, although as a matter of fact it is they which have made
our manners and customs what they are now.

Formerly, under the monarchy, the bureaucratic armies did not exist.
The clerks, few in number, were under the orders of a prime minister
who communicated with the sovereign; thus they directly served the
king. The superiors of these zealous servants were simply called
head-clerks. In those branches of administration which the king did not
himself direct, such for instance as the "fermes" (the public domains
throughout the country on which a revenue was levied), the clerks were
to their superior what the clerks of a business-house are to their
employer; they learned a science which would one day advance them to
prosperity. Thus, all points of the circumference were fastened to the
centre and derived their life from it. The result was devotion and
confidence. Since 1789 the State, call it the Nation if you like, has
replaced the sovereign. Instead of looking directly to the chief
magistrate of this nation, the clerks have become, in spite of our
fine patriotic ideas, the subsidiaries of the government; their
superiors are blown about by the winds of a power called "the
administration," and do not know from day to day where they may be on
the morrow. As the routine of public business must go on, a certain
number of indispensable clerks are kept in their places, though they
hold these places on sufferance, anxious as they are to retain them.
Bureaucracy, a gigantic power set in motion by dwarfs, was generated
in this way. Though Napoleon, by subordinating all things and all men
to his will, retarded for a time the influence of bureaucracy (that
ponderous curtain hung between the service to be done and the man who
orders it), it was permanently organized under the constitutional
government, which was, inevitably, the friend of all mediocrities, the
lover of authentic documents and accounts, and as meddlesome as an old
tradeswoman. Delighted to see the various ministers constantly
struggling against the four hundred petty minds of the Elected of the
Chamber, with their ten or a dozen ambitious and dishonest leaders,
the Civil Service officials hastened to make themselves essential to
the warfare by adding their quota of assistance under the form of
written action; they created a power of inertia and named it "Report."
Let us explain the Report.

When the kings of France took to themselves ministers, which first
happened under Louis XV., they made them render reports on all
important questions, instead of holding, as formerly, grand councils
of state with the nobles. Under the constitutional government, the
ministers of the various departments were insensibly led by their
bureaus to imitate this practice of kings. Their time being taken up
in defending themselves before the two Chambers and the court, they
let themselves be guided by the leading-strings of the Report. Nothing
important was ever brought before the government that a minister did
not say, even when the case was urgent, "I have called for a report."
The Report thus became, both as to the matter concerned and for the
minister himself, the same as a report to the Chamber of Deputies on a
question of laws,--namely, a disquisition in which the reasons for and
against are stated with more or less partiality. No real result is
attained; the minister, like the Chamber, is fully as well prepared
before as after the report is rendered. A determination, in whatever
matter, is reached in an instant. Do what we will, the moment comes
when the decision must be made. The greater the array of reasons for
and against, the less sound will be the judgment. The finest things of
which France can boast have been accomplished without reports and
where decisions were prompt and spontaneous. The dominant law of a
statesman is to apply precise formula to all cases, after the manner
of judges and physicians.

Rabourdin, who said to himself: "A minister should have decision,
should know public affairs, and direct their course," saw "Report"
rampant throughout France, from the colonel to the marshal, from the
commissary of police to the king, from the prefects to the ministers
of state, from the Chamber to the courts. After 1818 everything was
discussed, compared, and weighed, either in speech or writing; public
business took a literary form. France went to ruin in spite of this
array of documents; dissertations stood in place of action; a million
of reports were written every year; bureaucracy was enthroned!
Records, statistics, documents, failing which France would have been
ruined, circumlocution, without which there could be no advance,
increased, multiplied, and grew majestic. From that day forth
bureaucracy used to its own profit the mistrust that stands between
receipts and expenditures; it degraded the administration for the
benefit of the administrators; in short, it spun those lilliputian
threads which have chained France to Parisian centralization,--as if
from 1500 to 1800 France had undertaken nothing for want of thirty
thousand government clerks! In fastening upon public offices, like a
mistletoe on a pear-tree, these officials indemnified themselves
amply, and in the following manner.

The ministers, compelled to obey the princes or the Chambers who
impose upon them the distribution of the public moneys, and forced to
retain the workers in office, proceeded to diminish salaries and
increase the number of those workers, thinking that if more persons
were employed by government the stronger the government would be. And
yet the contrary law is an axiom written on the universe; there is no
vigor except where there are few active principles. Events proved in
July, 1830, the error of the materialism of the Restoration. To plant
a government in the hearts of a nation it is necessary to bind
INTERESTS to it, not MEN. The government-clerks being led to detest
the administrations which lessened both their salaries and their
importance, treated them as a courtesan treats an aged lover, and gave
them mere work for money; a state of things which would have seemed as
intolerable to the administration as to the clerks, had the two
parties dared to feel each other's pulse, or had the higher salaries
not succeeded in stifling the voices of the lower. Thus wholly and
solely occupied in retaining his place, drawing his pay, and securing
his pension, the government official thought everything permissible
that conduced to these results. This state of things led to servility
on the part of the clerks and to endless intrigues within the various
departments, where the humbler clerks struggled vainly against
degenerate members of the aristocracy, who sought positions in the
government bureaus for their ruined sons.

Superior men could scarcely bring themselves to tread these tortuous
ways, to stoop, to cringe, and creep through the mire of these
cloacas, where the presence of a fine mind only alarmed the other
denizens. The ambitious man of genius grows old in obtaining his
triple crown; he does not follow in the steps of Sixtus the Fifth
merely to become head of a bureau. No one comes or stays in the
government offices but idlers, incapables, or fools. Thus the
mediocrity of French administration has slowly come about.
Bureaucracy, made up entirely of petty minds, stands as an obstacle to
the prosperity of the nation; delays for seven years, by its
machinery, the project of a canal which would have stimulated the
production of a province; is afraid of everything, prolongs
procrastination, and perpetuates the abuses which in turn perpetuate
and consolidate itself. Bureaucracy holds all things and the
administration itself in leading strings; it stifles men of talent who
are bold enough to be independent of it or to enlighten it on its own
follies. About the time of which we write the pension list had just
been issued, and on it Rabourdin saw the name of an underling in
office rated for a larger sum than the old colonels, maimed and
wounded for their country. In that fact lies the whole history of

Another evil, brought about by modern customs, which Rabourdin counted
among the causes of this secret demoralization, was the fact that
there is no real subordination in the administration in Paris;
complete equality reigns between the head of an important division and
the humblest copying-clerk; one is as powerful as the other in an
arena outside of which each lords it in his own way. Education,
equally distributed through the masses, brings the son of a porter
into a government office to decide the fate of some man of merit or
some landed proprietor whose door-bell his father may have answered.
The last comer is therefore on equal terms with the oldest veteran in
the service. A wealthy supernumerary splashes his superior as he
drives his tilbury to Longchamps and points with his whip to the poor
father of a family, remarking to the pretty woman at his side, "That's
my chief." The Liberals call this state of things Progress; Rabourdin
thought it Anarchy at the heart of power. He saw how it resulted in
restless intrigues, like those of a harem between eunuchs and women
and imbecile sultans, or the petty troubles of nuns full of underhand
vexations, or college tyrannies, or diplomatic manoeuvrings fit to
terrify an ambassador, all put in motion to obtain a fee or an
increase in salary; it was like the hopping of fleas harnessed to
pasteboard cars, the spitefulness of slaves, often visited on the
minister himself. With all this were the really useful men, the
workers, victims of such parasites; men sincerely devoted to their
country, who stood vigorously out from the background of the other
incapables, yet who were often forced to succumb through unworthy

All the higher offices were gained through parliamentary influence,
royalty had nothing to do now with them, and the subordinate clerks
became, after a time, merely the running-gear of the machine; the most
important considerations with them being to keep the wheels well
greased. This fatal conviction entering some of the best minds
smothered many statements conscientiously written on the secret evils
of the national government; lowered the courage of many hearts, and
corrupted sterling honesty, weary of injustice and won to indifference
by deteriorating annoyances. A clerk in the employ of the Rothchilds
corresponds with all England; another, in a government office, may
communicate with all the prefects; but where the one learns the way to
make his fortune, the other loses time and health and life to no
avail. An undermining evil lies here. Certainly a nation does not seem
threatened with immediate dissolution because an able clerk is sent
away and a middling sort of man replaces him. Unfortunately for the
welfare of nations individual men never seem essential to their
existence. But in the long run when the belittling process is fully
carried out nations will disappear. Every one who seeks instruction on
this point can look at Venice, Madrid, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Rome; all
places which were formerly resplendent with mighty powers and are now
destroyed by the infiltrating littleness which gradually attained the
highest eminence. When the day of struggle came, all was found rotten,
the State succumbed to a weak attack. To worship the fool who
succeeds, and not to grieve over the fall of an able man is the result
of our melancholy education, of our manners and customs which drive
men of intellect into disgust, and genius to despair.

What a difficult undertaking is the rehabilitation of the Civil
Service while the liberal cries aloud in his newspapers that the
salaries of clerks are a standing theft, calls the items of the budget
a cluster of leeches, and every year demands why the nation should be
saddled with a thousand millions of taxes. In Monsieur Rabourdin's
eyes the clerk in relation to the budget was very much what the
gambler is to the game; that which he wins he puts back again. All
remuneration implies something furnished. To pay a man a thousand
francs a year and demand his whole time was surely to organize theft
and poverty. A galley-slave costs nearly as much, and does less. But
to expect a man whom the State remunerated with twelve thousand francs
a year to devote himself to his country was a profitable contract for
both sides, fit to allure all capacities.

These reflections had led Rabourdin to desire the recasting of the
clerical official staff. To employ fewer man, to double or treble
salaries, and do away with pensions, to choose only young clerks (as
did Napoleon, Louis XIV., Richelieu, and Ximenes), but to keep them
long and train them for the higher offices and greatest honors, these
were the chief features of a reform which if carried out would be as
beneficial to the State as to the clerks themselves. It is difficult
to recount in detail, chapter by chapter, a plan which embraced the
whole budget and continued down through the minutest details of
administration in order to keep the whole synthetical; but perhaps a
slight sketch of the principal reforms will suffice for those who
understand such matters, as well as for those who are wholly ignorant
of the administrative system. Though the historian's position is
rather hazardous in reproducing a plan which may be thought the
politics of a chimney-corner, it is, nevertheless, necessary to sketch
it so as to explain the author of it by his own work. Were the recital
of his efforts to be omitted, the reader would not believe the
narrator's word if he merely declared the talent and the courage of
this official.

Rabourdin's plan divided the government into three ministries, or
departments. He thought that if the France of former days possessed
brains strong enough to comprehend in one system both foreign and
domestic affairs, the France of to-day was not likely to be without
its Mazarin, its Suger, its Sully, its de Choiseul, or its Colbert to
direct even vast administrative departments. Besides, constitutionally
speaking, three ministries will agree better than seven; and, in the
restricted number there is less chance for mistaken choice; moreover,
it might be that the kingdom would some day escape from those
perpetual ministerial oscillations which interfered with all plans of
foreign policy and prevented all ameliorations of home rule. In
Austria, where many diverse united nations present so many conflicting
interests to be conciliated and carried forward under one crown, two
statesmen alone bear the burden of public affairs and are not
overwhelmed by it. Was France less prolific of political capacities
than Germany? The rather silly game of what are called "constitutional
institutions" carried beyond bounds has ended, as everybody knows, in
requiring a great many offices to satisfy the multifarious ambition of
the middle classes. It seemed to Rabourdin, in the first place,
natural to unite the ministry of war with the ministry of the navy. To
his thinking the navy was one of the current expenses of the war
department, like the artillery, cavalry, infantry, and commissariat.
Surely it was an absurdity to give separate administrations to
admirals and marshals when both were employed to one end, namely, the
defense of the nation, the overthrow of an enemy, and the security of
the national possessions. The ministry of the interior ought in like
manner to combine the departments of commerce, police, and finances,
or it belied its own name. To the ministry of foreign affairs belonged
the administration of justice, the household of the king, and all that
concerned arts, sciences, and belles lettres. All patronage ought to
flow directly from the sovereign. Such ministries necessitated the
supremacy of a council. Each required the work of two hundred
officials, and no more, in its central administration offices, where
Rabourdin proposed that they should live, as in former days under the
monarchy. Taking the sum of twelve thousand francs a year for each
official as an average, he estimated seven millions as the cost of the
whole body of such officials, which actually stood at twenty in the

By thus reducing the ministers to three heads he suppressed
departments which had come to be useless, together with the enormous
costs of their maintenance in Paris. He proved that an arrondissement
could be managed by ten men; a prefecture by a dozen at the most;
which reduced the entire civil service force throughout France to five
thousand men, exclusive of the departments of war and justice. Under
this plan the clerks of the court were charged with the system of
loans, and the ministry of the interior with that of registration and
the management of domains. Thus Rabourdin united in one centre all
divisions that were allied in nature. The mortgage system,
inheritance, and registration did not pass outside of their own sphere
of action and only required three additional clerks in the justice
courts and three in the royal courts. The steady application of this
principle brought Rabourdin to reforms in the finance system. He
merged the collection of revenue into one channel, taxing consumption
in bulk instead of taxing property. According to his ideas,
consumption was the sole thing properly taxable in times of peace.
Land-taxes should always be held in reserve in case of war; for then
only could the State justly demand sacrifices from the soil, which was
in danger; but in times of peace it was a serious political fault to
burden it beyond a certain limit; otherwise it could never be depended
on in great emergencies. Thus a loan should be put on the market when
the country was tranquil, for at such times it could be placed at par,
instead of at fifty per cent loss as in bad times; in war times resort
should be had to a land-tax.

"The invasion of 1814 and 1815," Rabourdin would say to his friends,
"founded in France and practically explained an institution which
neither Law nor Napoleon had been able to establish,--I mean Credit."

Unfortunately, Xavier considered the true principles of this admirable
machine of civil service very little understood at the period when he
began his labor of reform in 1820. His scheme levied a toll on the
consumption by means of direct taxation and suppressed the whole
machinery of indirect taxation. The levying of the taxes was
simplified by a single classification of a great number of articles.
This did away with the more harassing customs at the gates of the
cities, and obtained the largest revenues from the remainder, by
lessening the enormous expense of collecting them. To lighten the
burden of taxation is not, in matters of finance, to diminish the
taxes, but to assess them better; if lightened, you increase the
volume of business by giving it freer play; the individual pays less
and the State receives more. This reform, which may seem immense,
rests on very simple machinery. Rabourdin regarded the tax on personal
property as the most trustworthy representative of general
consumption. Individual fortunes are usually revealed in France by
rentals, by the number of servants, horses, carriages, and luxuries,
the costs of which are all to the interest of the public treasury.
Houses and what they contain vary comparatively but little, and are
not liable to disappear. After pointing out the means of making a
tax-list on personal property which should be more impartial than the
existing list, Rabourdin assessed the sums to be brought into the
treasury by indirect taxation as so much per cent on each individual
share. A tax is a levy of money on things or persons under disguises
that are more or less specious. These disguises, excellent when the
object is to extort money, become ridiculous in the present day, when
the class on which the taxes weigh the heaviest knows why the State
imposes them and by what machinery they are given back. In fact the
budget is not a strong-box to hold what is put into it, but a
watering-pot; the more it takes in and the more it pours out the
better for the prosperity of the country. Therefore, supposing there
are six millions of tax-payers in easy circumstances (Rabourdin proved
their existence, including the rich) is it not better to make them pay
a duty on the consumption of wine, which would not be more offensive
than that on doors and windows and would return a hundred millions,
rather than harass them by taxing the thing itself. By this system of
taxation, each individual tax-payer pays less in reality, while the
State receives more, and consumers profit by a vast reduction in the
price of things which the State releases from its perpetual and
harassing interference. Rabourdin's scheme retained a tax on the
cultivation of vineyards, so as to protect that industry from the too
great abundance of its own products. Then, to reach the consumption of
the poorer tax-payers, the licences of retail dealers were taxed
according to the population of the neighborhoods in which they lived.

In this way, the State would receive without cost or vexatious
hindrances an enormous revenue under three forms; namely, a duty on
wine, on the cultivation of vineyards, and on licenses, where now an
irritating array of taxes existed as a burden on itself and its
officials. Taxation was thus imposed upon the rich without
overburdening the poor. To give another example. Suppose a share
assessed to each person of one or two francs for the consumption of
salt and you obtain ten or a dozen millions; the modern "gabelle"
disappears, the poor breathe freer, agriculture is relieved, the State
receives as much, and no tax-payer complains. All persons, whether
they belong to the industrial classes or to the capitalists, will see
at once the benefits of a tax so assessed when they discover how
commerce increases, and life is ameliorated in the country districts.
In short, the State will see from year to year the number of her
well-to-do tax-payers increasing. By doing away with the machinery of
indirect taxation, which is very costly (a State, as it were, within a
State), both the public finances and the individual tax-payer are
greatly benefited, not to speak of the saving in costs of collecting.

The whole subject is indeed less a question of finance than a question
of government. The State should possess nothing of its own, neither
forests, nor mines, nor public works. That it should be the owner of
domains was, in Rabourdin's opinion, an administrative contradiction.
The State cannot turn its possessions to profit and it deprives itself
of taxes; it thus loses two forms of production. As to the
manufactories of the government, they are just as unreasonable in the
sphere of industry. The State obtains products at a higher cost than
those of commerce, produces them more slowly, and loses its tax upon
the industry, the maintenance of which it, in turn, reduces. Can it be
thought a proper method of governing a country to manufacture instead
of promoting manufactures? to possess property instead of creating
more possessions and more diverse ones? In Rabourdin's system the
State exacted no money security; he allowed only mortgage securities;
and for this reason: Either the State holds the security in specie,
and that embarrasses business and the movement of money; or it invests
it at a higher rate than the State itself pays, and that is a
contemptible robbery; or else it loses on the transaction, and that is
folly; moreover, if it is obliged at any time to dispose of a mass of
these securities it gives rises in certain cases to terrible

The territorial tax did not entirely disappear in Rabourdin's plan,
--he kept a minute portion of it as a point of departure in case of war;
but the productions of the soil were freed, and industry, finding raw
material at a low price, could compete with foreign nations without
the deceptive help of customs. The rich carried on the administration
of the provinces without compensation except that of receiving a
peerage under certain conditions. Magistrates, learned bodies,
officers of the lower grades found their services honorably rewarded;
no man employed by the government failed to obtain great consideration
through the value and extent of his labors and the excellence of his
salary; every one was able to provide for his own future and France
was delivered from the cancer of pensions. As a result Rabourdin's
scheme exhibited only seven hundred millions of expenditures and
twelve hundred millions of receipts. A saving of five hundred millions
annually had far more virtue than the accumulation of a sinking fund
whose dangers were plainly to be seen. In that fund the State,
according to Rabourdin, became a stockholder, just as it persisted in
being a land-holder and a manufacturer. To bring about these reforms
without too roughly jarring the existing state of things or incurring
a Saint-Bartholomew of clerks, Rabourdin considered that an evolution
of twenty years would be required.

Such were the thoughts maturing in Rabourdin's mind ever since his
promised place had been given to Monsieur de la Billardiere, a man of
sheer incapacity. This plan, so vast apparently yet so simple in point
of fact, which did away with so many large staffs and so many little
offices all equally useless, required for its presentation to the
public mind close calculations, precise statistics, and self-evident
proof. Rabourdin had long studied the budget under its double-aspect
of ways and means and of expenditure. Many a night he had lain awake
unknown to his wife. But so far he had only dared to conceive the plan
and fit it prospectively to the administrative skeleton; all of which
counted for nothing,--he must gain the ear of a minister capable of
appreciating his ideas. Rabourdin's success depended on the tranquil
condition of political affairs, which up to this time were still
unsettled. He had not considered the government as permanently secure
until three hundred deputies at least had the courage to form a
compact majority systematically ministerial. An administration founded
on that basis had come into power since Rabourdin had finished his
elaborate plan. At this time the luxury of peace under the Bourbons
had eclipsed the warlike luxury of the days when France shone like a
vast encampment, prodigal and magnificent because it was victorious.
After the Spanish campaign, the administration seemed to enter upon an
era of tranquillity in which some good might be accomplished; and
three months before the opening of our story a new reign had begun
without any apparent opposition; for the liberalism of the Left had
welcomed Charles X. with as much enthusiasm as the Right. Even
clear-sighted and suspicious persons were misled. The moment seemed
propitious for Rabourdin. What could better conduce to the stability
of the government than to propose and carry through a reform whose
beneficial results were to be so vast?

Never had Rabourdin seemed so anxious and preoccupied as he now did
in the mornings as he walked from his house to the ministry, or at
half-past four in the afternoon, when he returned. Madame Rabourdin, on
her part, disconsolate over her wasted life, weary of secretly working
to obtain a few luxuries of dress, never appeared so bitterly
discontented as now; but, like any wife who is really attached to her
husband, she considered it unworthy of a superior woman to condescend
to the shameful devices by which the wives of some officials eke out
the insufficiency of their husband's salary. This feeling made her
refuse all intercourse with Madame Colleville, then very intimate with
Francois Keller, whose parties eclipsed those of the rue Duphot.
Nevertheless, she mistook the quietude of the political thinker and
the preoccupation of the intrepid worker for the apathetic torpor of
an official broken down by the dulness of routine, vanquished by that
most hateful of all miseries, the mediocrity that simply earns a
living; and she groaned at being married to a man without energy.

Thus it was that about this period in their lives she resolved to take
the making of her husband's fortune on herself; to thrust him at any
cost into a higher sphere, and to hide from him the secret springs of
her machinations. She carried into all her plans the independence of
ideas which characterized her, and was proud to think that she could
rise above other women by sharing none of their petty prejudices and
by keeping herself untrammelled by the restraints which society
imposes. In her anger she resolved to fight fools with their own
weapons, and to make herself a fool if need be. She saw things coming
to a crisis. The time was favorable. Monsieur de la Billardiere,
attacked by a dangerous illness, was likely to die in a few days. If
Rabourdin succeeded him, his talents (for Celestine did vouchsafe him
an administrative gift) would be so thoroughly appreciated that the
office of Master of petitions, formerly promised, would now be given
to him; she fancied she saw him the king's commissioner, presenting
bills to the Chambers and defending them; then indeed she could help
him; she would even be, if needful, his secretary; she would sit up
all night to do the work! All this to drive in the Bois in a pretty
carriage, to equal Madame Delphine de Nucingen, to raise her salon to
the level of Madame Colleville's, to be invited to the great
ministerial solemnities, to win listeners and make them talk of her as
"Madame Rabourdin DE something or other" (she had not yet determined
on the estate), just as they did of Madame Firmiani, Madame d'Espard,
Madame d'Aiglemont, Madame de Carigliano, and thus efface forever the
odious name of Rabourdin.

These secret schemes brought some changes into the household. Madame
Rabourdin began to walk with a firm step in the path of /debt/. She set
up a man-servant, and put him in livery of brown cloth with red pipins,
she renewed parts of her furniture, hung new papers on the walls,
adorned her salon with plants and flowers, always fresh, and crowded
it with knick-knacks that were then in vogue; then she, who had always
shown scruples as to her personal expenses, did not hesitate to put
her dress in keeping with the rank to which she aspired, the profits
of which were discounted in several of the shops where she equipped
herself for war. To make her "Wednesdays" fashionable she gave a
dinner on Fridays, the guests being expected to pay their return visit
and take a cup of tea on the following Wednesday. She chose her guests
cleverly among influential deputies or other persons of note who,
sooner or later, might advance her interests. In short, she gathered
an agreeable and befitting circle about her. People amused themselves
at her house; they said so at least, which is quite enough to attract
society in Paris. Rabourdin was so absorbed in completing his great
and serious work that he took no notice of the sudden reappearance of
luxury in the bosom of his family.

Thus the wife and the husband were besieging the same fortress,
working on parallel lines, but without each other's knowledge.



At the ministry to which Rabourdin belonged there flourished, as
general-secretary, a certain Monsieur Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx,
one of those men whom the tide of political events sends to the
surface for a few years, then engulfs on a stormy night, but whom we
find again on a distant shore, tossed up like the carcass of a wrecked
ship which still seems to have life in her. We ask ourselves if that
derelict could ever have held goodly merchandise or served a high
emprize, co-operated in some defence, held up the trappings of a
throne, or borne away the corpse of a monarchy. At this particular
time Clement des Lupeaulx (the "Lupeaulx" absorbed the "Chardin") had
reached his culminating period. In the most illustrious lives as in
the most obscure, in animals as in secretary-generals, there is a
zenith and there is a nadir, a period when the fur is magnificent, the
fortune dazzling. In the nomenclature which we derive from fabulists,
des Lupeaulx belonged to the species Bertrand, and was always in
search of Ratons. As he is one of the principal actors in this drama
he deserves a description, all the more precise because the revolution
of July has suppressed his office, eminently useful as it was, to a
constitutional ministry.

Moralists usually employ their weapons against obstructive
administrations. In their eyes, crime belongs to the assizes or the
police-courts; but the socially refined evils escape their ken; the
adroitness that triumphs under shield of the Code is above them or
beneath them; they have neither eye-glass nor telescope; they want
good stout horrors easily visible. With their eyes fixed on the
carnivora, they pay no attention to the reptiles; happily, they
abandon to the writers of comedy the shading and colorings of a
Chardin des Lupeaulx. Vain and egotistical, supple and proud,
libertine and gourmand, grasping from the pressure of debt, discreet
as a tomb out of which nought issues to contradict the epitaph
intended for the passer's eye, bold and fearless when soliciting,
good-natured and witty in all acceptations of the word, a timely
jester, full of tact, knowing how to compromise others by a glance or
a nudge, shrinking from no mudhole, but gracefully leaping it,
intrepid Voltairean, yet punctual at mass if a fashionable company
could be met in Saint Thomas Aquinas,--such a man as this
secretary-general resembled, in one way or another, all the
mediocrities who form the kernel of the political world. Knowing in
the science of human nature, he assumed the character of a listener,
and none was ever more attentive. Not to awaken suspicion he was
flattering ad nauseum, insinuating as a perfume, and cajoling as a

Des Lupeaulx was just forty years old. His youth had long been a
vexation to him, for he felt that the making of his career depended on
his becoming a deputy. How had he reached his present position? may be
asked. By very simple means. He began by taking charge of certain
delicate missions which can be given neither to a man who respects
himself nor to a man who does not respect himself, but are confided to
grave and enigmatic individuals who can be acknowledged or disavowed
at will. His business was that of being always compromised; but his
fortunes were pushed as much by defeat as by success. He well
understood that under the Restoration, a period of continual
compromises between men, between things, between accomplished facts
and other facts looking on the horizon, it was all-important for the
ruling powers to have a household drudge. Observe in a family some old
charwoman who can make beds, sweep the floors, carry away the dirty
linen, who knows where the silver is kept, how the creditors should be
pacified, what persons should be let in and who must be kept out of
the house, and such a creature, even if she has all the vices, and is
dirty, decrepit, and toothless, or puts into the lottery and steals
thirty sous a day for her stake, and you will find the masters like
her from habit, talk and consult in her hearing upon even critical
matters; she comes and goes, suggests resources, gets on the scent of
secrets, brings the rouge or the shawl at the right moment, lets
herself be scolded and pushed downstairs, and the next morning
reappears smiling with an excellent bouillon. No matter how high a
statesman may stand, he is certain to have some household drudge,
before whom he is weak, undecided, disputations with fate,
self-questioning, self-answering, and buckling for the fight. Such a
familiar is like the soft wood of savages, which, when rubbed against
the hard wood, strikes fire. Sometimes great geniuses illumine
themselves in this way. Napoleon lived with Berthier, Richelieu with
Pere Joseph; des Lupeaulx was the familiar of everybody. He continued
friends with fallen ministers and made himself their intermediary with
their successors, diffusing thus the perfume of the last flattery and
the first compliment. He well understood how to arrange all the little
matters which a statesman has no leisure to attend to. He saw
necessities as they arose; he obeyed well; he could gloss a base act
with a jest and get the whole value of it; and he chose for the
services he thus rendered those that the recipients were not likely to

Thus, when it was necessary to cross the ditch between the Empire and
the Restoration, at a time when every one was looking about for
planks, and the curs of the Empire were howling their devotion right
and left, des Lupeaulx borrowed large sums from the usurers and
crossed the frontier. Risking all to win all, he bought up Louis
XVIII.'s most pressing debts, and was the first to settle nearly three
million of them at twenty per cent--for he was lucky enough to be
backed by Gobseck in 1814 and 1815. It is true that Messrs. Gobseck,
Werdet, and Gigonnet swallowed the profits, but des Lupeaulx had
agreed that they should have them; he was not playing for a stake; he
challenged the bank, as it were, knowing very well that the king was
not a man to forget this debt of honor. Des Lupeaulx was not mistaken;
he was appointed Master of petitions, Knight of the order of Saint
Louis, and officer of the Legion of honor. Once on the ladder of
political success, his clever mind looked about for the means to
maintain his foothold; for in the fortified city into which he had
wormed himself, generals do not long keep useless mouths. So to his
general trade of household drudge and go-between he added that of
gratuitous consultation on the secret maladies of power.

After discovering in the so-called superior men of the Restoration
their utter inferiority in comparison with the events which had
brought them to the front, he overcame their political mediocrity by
putting into their mouths, at a crisis, the word of command for which
men of real talent were listening. It must not be thought that this
word was the outcome of his own mind. Were it so, des Lupeaulx would
have been a man of genius, whereas he was only a man of talent. He
went everywhere, collected opinions, sounded consciences, and caught
all the tones they gave out. He gathered knowledge like a true and
indefatigable political bee. This walking Bayle dictionary did not
act, however, like that famous lexicon; he did not report all opinions
without drawing his own conclusions; he had the talent of a fly which
drops plumb upon the best bit of meat in the middle of a kitchen. In
this way he came to be regarded as an indispensable helper to
statesmen. A belief in his capacity had taken such deep root in all
minds that the more ambitious public men felt it was necessary to
compromise des Lupeaulx in some way to prevent his rising higher; they
made up to him for his subordinate public position by their secret

Nevertheless, feeling that such men were dependent on him, this
gleaner of ideas exacted certain dues. He received a salary on the
staff of the National Guard, where he held a sinecure which was paid
for by the city of Paris; he was government commissioner to a secret
society; and filled a position of superintendence in the royal
household. His two official posts which appeared on the budget were
those of secretary-general to his ministry and Master of petitions.
What he now wanted was to be made commander of the Legion of honor,
gentleman of the bed-chamber, count, and deputy. To be elected deputy
it was necessary to pay taxes to the amount of a thousand francs; and
the miserable homestead of the des Lupeaulx was rated at only five
hundred. Where could he get money to build a mansion and surround it
with sufficient domain to throw dust in the eyes of a constituency?
Though he dined out every day, and was lodged for the last nine years
at the cost of the State, and driven about in the minister's equipage,
des Lupeaulx possessed absolutely nothing, at the time when our tale
opens, but thirty thousand francs of debt--undisputed property. A
marriage might float him and pump the waters of debt out of his bark;
but a good marriage depended on his advancement, and his advancement
required that he should be a deputy. Searching about him for the means
of breaking through this vicious circle, he could think of nothing
better than some immense service to render or some delicate intrigue
to carry through for persons in power. Alas! conspiracies were out of
date; the Bourbons were apparently on good terms with all parties;
and, unfortunately, for the last few years the government had been so
thoroughly held up to the light of day by the silly discussions of the
Left, whose aim seemed to be to make government of any kind impossible
in France, that no good strokes of business could be made. The last
were tried in Spain, and what an outcry that excited!

In addition to all this, des Lupeaulx complicated matters by believing
in the friendship of his minister, to whom he had the imprudence to
express the wish to sit on the ministerial benches. The minister
guessed at the real meaning of the desire, which simply was that des
Lupeaulx wanted to strengthen a precarious position, so that he might
throw off all dependence on his chief. The harrier turned against the
huntsman; the minister gave him cuts with the whip and caresses,
alternately, and set up rivals to him. But des Lupeaulx behaved like
an adroit courtier with all competitors; he laid traps into which they
fell, and then he did prompt justice upon them. The more he felt
himself in danger the more anxious he became for an irremovable
position; yet he was compelled to play low; one moment's indiscretion,
and he might lose everything. A pen-stroke might demolish his civilian
epaulets, his place at court, his sinecure, his two offices and their
advantages; in all, six salaries retained under fire of the law
against pluralists. Sometimes he threatened his minister as a mistress
threatens her lover; telling him he was about to marry a rich widow.
At such times the minister petted and cajoled des Lupeaulx. After one
of these reconciliations he received the formal promise of a place in
the Academy of Belles-lettres on the first vacancy. "It would pay," he
said, "the keep of a horse." His position, so far as it went, was a
good one, and Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx flourished in it like a
tree planted in good soil. He could satisfy his vices, his caprices,
his virtues and his defects.

The following were the toils of his life. He was obliged to choose,
among five or six daily invitations, the house where he could be sure
of the best dinner. Every morning he went to his minister's morning
reception to amuse that official and his wife, and to pet their
children. Then he worked an hour or two; that is to say, he lay back
in a comfortable chair and read the newspapers, dictated the meaning
of a letter, received visitors when the minister was not present,
explained the work in a general way, caught or shed a few drops of the
holy-water of the court, looked over the petitions with an eyeglass,
or wrote his name on the margin,--a signature which meant "I think it
absurd; do what you like about it." Every body knew that when des
Lupeaulx was interested in any person or in any thing he attended to
the matter personally. He allowed the head-clerks to converse
privately about affairs of delicacy, but he listened to their gossip.
From time to time he went to the Tuileries to get his cue. And he
always waited for the minister's return from the Chamber, if in
session, to hear from him what intrigue or manoeuvre he was to set
about. This official sybarite dressed, dined, and visited a dozen or
fifteen salons between eight at night and three in the morning. At the
opera he talked with journalists, for he stood high in their favor; a
perpetual exchange of little services went on between them; he poured
into their ears his misleading news and swallowed theirs; he prevented
them from attacking this or that minister on such or such a matter, on
the plea that it would cause real pain to their wives or their

"Say that his bill is worth nothing, and prove it if you can, but do
not say that Mariette danced badly. The devil! haven't we all played
our little plays; and which of us knows what will become of him in
times like these? You may be minister yourself to-morrow, you who are
spicing the cakes of the 'Constitutionel' to-day."

Sometimes, in return, he helped editors, or got rid of obstacles to
the performances of some play; gave gratuities and good dinners at the
right moment, or promised his services to bring some affair to a happy
conclusion. Moreover, he really liked literature and the arts; he
collected autographs, obtained splendid albums gratis, and possessed
sketches, engravings, and pictures. He did a great deal of good to
artists by simply not injuring them and by furthering their wishes on
certain occasions when their self-love wanted some rather costly
gratification. Consequently, he was much liked in the world of actors
and actresses, journalists and artists. For one thing, they had the
same vices and the same indolence as himself. Men who could all say
such witty things in their cups or in company with a danseuse, how
could they help being friends? If des Lupeaulx had not been a
general-secretary he would certainly have been a journalist. Thus, in
that fifteen years' struggle in which the harlequin sabre of epigram
opened a breach by which insurrection entered the citadel, des Lupeaulx
never received so much as a scratch.

As the young fry of clerks looked at this man playing bowls in the
gardens of the ministry with the minister's children, they cracked
their brains to guess the secret of his influence and the nature of
his services; while, on the other hand, the aristocrats in all the
various ministries looked upon him as a dangerous Mephistopheles,
courted him, and gave him back with usury the flatteries he bestowed
in the higher sphere. As difficult to decipher as a hieroglyphic
inscription to the clerks, the vocation of the secretary and his
usefulness were as plain as the rule of three to the self-interested.
This lesser Prince de Wagram of the administration, to whom the duty
of gathering opinions and ideas and making verbal reports thereon was
entrusted, knew all the secrets of parliamentary politics; dragged in
the lukewarm, fetched, carried, and buried propositions, said the Yes
and the No that the ministers dared not say for themselves. Compelled
to receive the first fire and the first blows of despair and wrath, he
laughed or bemoaned himself with the minister, as the case might be.
Mysterious link by which many interests were in some way connected
with the Tuileries, and safe as a confessor, he sometimes knew
everything and sometimes nothing; and, in addition to all these
functions came that of saying for the minister those things that a
minister cannot say for himself. In short, with his political
Hephaestion the minister might dare to be himself; to take off his wig
and his false teeth, lay aside his scruples, put on his slippers,
unbutton his conscience, and give way to his trickery. However, it was
not all a bed of roses for des Lupeaulx; he flattered and advised his
master, forced to flatter in order to advise, to advise while
flattering, and disguise the advice under the flattery. All
politicians who follow this trade have bilious faces; and their
constant habit of giving affirmative nods acquiescing in what is said
to them, or seeming to do so, gives a certain peculiar turn to their
heads. They agree indifferently with whatever is said before them.
Their talk is full of "buts," "notwithstandings," "for myself I
should," "were I in your place" (they often say "in your place"),
--phrases, however, which pave the way to opposition.

In person, Clement des Lupeaulx had the remains of a handsome man;
five feet six inches tall, tolerably stout, complexion flushed with
good living, powdered head, delicate spectacles, and a worn-out air;
the natural skin blond, as shown by the hand, puffy like that of an
old woman, rather too square, and with short nails--the hand of a
satrap. His foot was elegant. After five o'clock in the afternoon des
Lupeaulx was always to be seen in open-worked silk stockings, low
shoes, black trousers, cashmere waistcoat, cambric handkerchief
(without perfume), gold chain, blue coat of the shade called "king's
blue," with brass buttons and a string of orders. In the morning he
wore creaking boots and gray trousers, and the short close surtout
coat of the politician. His general appearance early in the day was
that of a sharp lawyer rather than that of a ministerial officer. Eyes
glazed by the constant use of spectacles made him plainer than he
really was, if by chance he took those appendages off. To real judges
of character, as well as to upright men who are at ease only with
honest natures, des Lupeaulx was intolerable. To them, his gracious
manners only draped his lies; his amiable protestations and hackneyed
courtesies, new to the foolish and ignorant, too plainly showed their
texture to an observing mind. Such minds considered him a rotten
plank, on which no foot should trust itself.

No sooner had the beautiful Madame Rabourdin decided to interfere in
her husband's administrative advancement than she fathomed Clement des
Lupeaulx's true character, and studied him thoughtfully to discover
whether in this thin strip of deal there were ligneous fibres strong
enough to let her lightly trip across it from the bureau to the
department, from a salary of eight thousand a year to twelve thousand.
The clever woman believed she could play her own game with this
political roue; and Monsieur des Lupeaulx was partly the cause of the
unusual expenditures which now began and were continued in the
Rabourdin household.

The rue Duphot, built up under the Empire, is remarkable for several
houses with handsome exteriors, the apartments of which are skilfully
laid out. That of the Rabourdins was particularly well arranged,--a
domestic advantage which has much to do with the nobleness of private
lives. A pretty and rather wide antechamber, lighted from the
courtyard, led to the grand salon, the windows of which looked on the
street. To the right of the salon were Rabourdin's study and bedroom,
and behind them the dining-room, which was entered from the
antechamber; to the left was Madame's bedroom and dressing-room, and
behind them her daughter's little bedroom. On reception days the door
of Rabourdin's study and that of his wife's bedroom were thrown open.
The rooms were thus spacious enough to contain a select company,
without the absurdity which attends many middle-class entertainments,
where unusual preparations are made at the expense of the daily
comfort, and consequently give the effect of exceptional effort. The
salon had lately been rehung in gold-colored silk with carmelite
touches. Madame's bedroom was draped in a fabric of true blue and
furnished in a rococo manner. Rabourdin's study had inherited the late
hangings of the salon, carefully cleaned, and was adorned by the fine
pictures once belonging to Monsieur Leprince. The daughter of the late
auctioneer had utilized in her dining-room certain exquisite Turkish
rugs which her father had bought at a bargain; panelling them on the
walls in ebony, the cost of which has since become exorbitant. Elegant
buffets made by Boulle, also purchased by the auctioneer, furnished
the sides of the room, at the end of which sparkled the brass
arabesques inlaid in tortoise-shell of the first tall clock that
reappeared in the nineteenth century to claim honor for the
masterpieces of the seventeenth. Flowers perfumed these rooms so full
of good taste and of exquisite things, where each detail was a work of
art well placed and well surrounded, and where Madame Rabourdin,
dressed with that natural simplicity which artists alone attain, gave
the impression of a woman accustomed to such elegancies, though she
never spoke of them, but allowed the charms of her mind to complete
the effect produced upon her guests by these delightful surroundings.
Thanks to her father, Celestine was able to make society talk of her
as soon as the rococo became fashionable.

Accustomed as des Lupeaulx was to false as well as real magnificence
in all their stages, he was, nevertheless, surprised at Madame
Rabourdin's home. The charm it exercised over this Parisian Asmodeus
can be explained by a comparison. A traveller wearied with the rich
aspects of Italy, Brazil, or India, returns to his own land and finds
on his way a delightful little lake, like the Lac d'Orta at the foot
of Monte Rosa, with an island resting on the calm waters, bewitchingly
simple; a scene of nature and yet adorned; solitary, but well
surrounded with choice plantations and foliage and statues of fine
effect. Beyond lies a vista of shores both wild and cultivated;
tumultuous grandeur towers above, but in itself all proportions are
human. The world that the traveller has lately viewed is here in
miniature, modest and pure; his soul, refreshed, bids him remain where
a charm of melody and poesy surrounds him with harmony and awakens
ideas within his mind. Such a scene represents both life and a

A few days earlier the beautiful Madame Firmiani, one of the charming
women of the faubourg Saint-Germain who visited and liked Madame
Rabourdin, had said to des Lupeaulx (invited expressly to hear this
remark), "Why do you not call on Madame ----?" with a motion towards
Celestine; "she gives delightful parties, and her dinners, above all,
are--better than mine."

Des Lupeaulx allowed himself to be drawn into an engagement by the
handsome Madame Rabourdin, who, for the first time, turned her eyes on
him as she spoke. He had, accordingly, gone to the rue Duphot, and
that tells the tale. Woman has but one trick, cries Figaro, but that's
infallible. After dining once at the house of this unimportant
official, des Lupeaulx made up his mind to dine there often. Thanks to
the perfectly proper and becoming advances of the beautiful woman,
whom her rival, Madame Colleville, called the Celimene of the rue
Duphot, he had dined there every Friday for the last month, and
returned of his own accord for a cup of tea on Wednesdays.

Within a few days Madame Rabourdin, having watched him narrowly and
knowingly, believed she had found on the secretarial plank a spot
where she might safely set her foot. She was no longer doubtful of
success. Her inward joy can be realized only in the families of
government officials where for three or four years prosperity has been
counted on through some appointment, long expected and long sought.
How many troubles are to be allayed! how many entreaties and pledges
given to the ministerial divinities! how many visits of self-interest
paid! At last, thanks to her boldness, Madame Rabourdin heard the hour
strike when she was to have twenty thousand francs a year instead of
eight thousand.

"And I shall have managed well," she said to herself. "I have had to
make a little outlay; but these are times when hidden merit is
overlooked, whereas if a man keeps himself well in sight before the
world, cultivates social relations and extends them, he succeeds.
After all, ministers and their friends interest themselves only in the
people they see; but Rabourdin knows nothing of the world! If I had
not cajoled those three deputies they might have wanted La
Billardiere's place themselves; whereas, now that I have invited them
here, they will be ashamed to do so and will become our supporters
instead of rivals. I have rather played the coquette, but--it is
delightful that the first nonsense with which one fools a man

The day on which a serious and unlooked-for struggle about this
appointment began, after a ministerial dinner which preceded one of
those receptions which ministers regard as public, des Lupeaulx was
standing beside the fireplace near the minister's wife. While taking
his coffee he once more included Madame Rabourdin among the seven or
eight really superior women in Paris. Several times already he had
staked Madame Rabourdin very much as Corporal Trim staked his cap.

"Don't say that too often, my dear friend, or you will injure her,"
said the minister's wife, half-laughing.

Women never like to hear the praise of other women; they keep silence
themselves to lessen its effect.

"Poor La Billardiere is dying," remarked his Excellency the minister;
"that place falls to Rabourdin, one of our most able men, and to whom
our predecessors did not behave well, though one of them actually owed
his position in the prefecture of police under the Empire to a certain
great personage who was interested in Rabourdin. But, my dear friend,
you are still young enough to be loved by a pretty woman for

"If La Billardiere's place is given to Rabourdin I may be believed
when I praise the superiority of his wife," replied des Lupeaulx,
piqued by the minister's sarcasm; "but if Madame la Comtesse would be
willing to judge for herself--"

"You want me to invite her to my next ball, don't you? Your clever
woman will meet a knot of other women who only come here to laugh at
us, and when they hear 'Madame Rabourdin' announced--"

"But Madame Firmiani is announced at the Foreign Office parties?"

"Ah, but she was born a Cadignan!" said the newly created count, with
a savage look at his general-secretary, for neither he nor his wife
were noble.

The persons present thought important matters were being talked over,
and the solicitors for favors and appointments kept at a little
distance. When des Lupeaulx left the room the countess said to her
husband, "I think des Lupeaulx is in love."

"For the first time in his life, then," he replied, shrugging his
shoulders, as much as to inform his wife that des Lupeaulx did not
concern himself with such nonsense.

Just then the minister saw a deputy of the Right Centre enter the
room, and he left his wife abruptly to cajole an undecided vote. But
the deputy, under the blow of a sudden and unexpected disaster, wanted
to make sure of a protector and he had come to announce privately that
in a few days he should be compelled to resign. Thus forewarned, the
minister would be able to open his batteries for the new election
before those of the opposition.

The minister, or to speak correctly, des Lupeaulx had invited to
dinner on this occasion one of those irremovable officials who, as we
have said, are to be found in every ministry; an individual much
embarrassed by his own person, who, in his desire to maintain a
dignified appearance, was standing erect and rigid on his two legs,
held well together like the Greek hermae. This functionary waited near
the fireplace to thank the secretary, whose abrupt and unexpected
departure from the room disconcerted him at the moment when he was
about to turn a compliment. This official was the cashier of the
ministry, the only clerk who did not tremble when the government
changed hands.

At the time of which we write, the Chamber did not meddle shabbily
with the budget, as it does in the deplorable days in which we now
live; it did not contemptibly reduce ministerial emoluments, nor save,
as they say in the kitchen, the candle-ends; on the contrary, it
granted to each minister taking charge of a public department an
indemnity, called an "outfit." It costs, alas, as much to enter on the
duties of a minister as to retire from them; indeed, the entrance
involves expenses of all kinds which it is quite impossible to
inventory. This indemnity amounted to the pretty little sum of
twenty-five thousand francs. When the appointment of a new minister
was gazetted in the "Moniteur," and the greater or lesser officials,
clustering round the stoves or before the fireplaces and shaking in
their shoes, asked themselves: "What will he do? will he increase the
number of clerks? will he dismiss two to make room for three?" the
cashier tranquilly took out twenty-five clean bank-bills and pinned
them together with a satisfied expression on his beadle face. The next
day he mounted the private staircase and had himself ushered into the
minister's presence by the lackeys, who considered the money and the
keeper of money, the contents and the container, the idea and the
form, as one and the same power. The cashier caught the ministerial
pair at the dawn of official delight, when the newly appointed
statesman is benign and affable. To the minister's inquiry as to what
brings him there, he replies with the bank-notes,--informing his
Excellency that he hastens to pay him the customary indemnity.
Moreover, he explains the matter to the minister's wife, who never
fails to draw freely upon the fund, and sometimes takes all, for the
"outfit" is looked upon as a household affair. The cashier then
proceeds to turn a compliment, and to slip in a few politic phrases:
"If his Excellency would deign to retain him; if, satisfied with his
purely mechanical services, he would," etc. As a man who brings
twenty-five thousand francs is always a worthy official, the cashier
is sure not to leave without his confirmation to the post from which
he has seen a succession of ministers come and go during a period of,
perhaps, twenty-five years. His next step is to place himself at the
orders of Madame; he brings the monthly thirteen thousand francs
whenever wanted; he advances or delays the payment as requested, and
thus manages to obtain, as they said in the monasteries, a voice in
the chapter.

Formerly book-keeper at the Treasury, when that establishment kept its
books by double entry, the Sieur Saillard was compensated for the loss
of that position by his appointment as cashier of a ministry. He was a
bulky, fat man, very strong in the matter of book-keeping, and very
weak in everything else; round as a round O, simple as how-do-you-do,
--a man who came to his office with measured steps, like those of an
elephant, and returned with the same measured tread to the place
Royale, where he lived on the ground-floor of an old mansion belonging
to him. He usually had a companion on the way in the person of
Monsieur Isidore Baudoyer, head of a bureau in Monsieur de la
Billardiere's division, consequently one of Rabourdin's colleagues.
Baudoyer was married to Elisabeth Saillard, the cashier's only
daughter, and had hired, very naturally, the apartments above those of
his father-in-law. No one at the ministry had the slightest doubt that
Saillard was a blockhead, but neither had any one ever found out how
far his stupidity could go; it was too compact to be examined; it did
not ring hollow; it absorbed everything and gave nothing out. Bixiou
(a clerk of whom more anon) caricatured the cashier by drawing a head
in a wig at the top of an egg, and two little legs at the other end,
with this inscription: "Born to pay out and take in without
blundering. A little less luck, and he might have been lackey to the
bank of France; a little more ambition, and he could have been
honorably discharged."

At the moment of which we are now writing, the minister was looking at
his cashier very much as we gaze at a window or a cornice, without
supposing that either can hear us, or fathom our secret thoughts.

"I am all the more anxious that we should settle everything with the
prefect in the quietest way, because des Lupeaulx has designs upon the
place for himself," said the minister, continuing his talk with the
deputy; "his paltry little estate is in your arrondissement; we won't
want him as deputy."

"He has neither years nor rentals enough to be eligible," said the

"That may be; but you know how it was decided for Casimir Perier as to
age; and as to worldly possessions, des Lupeaulx does possess
something,--not much, it is true, but the law does not take into
account increase, which he may very well obtain; commissions have wide
margins for the deputies of the Centre, you know, and we cannot openly
oppose the good-will that is shown to this dear friend."

"But where would he get the money?"

"How did Manuel manage to become the owner of a house in Paris?" cried
the minister.

The cashier listened and heard, but reluctantly and against his will.
These rapid remarks, murmured as they were, struck his ear by one of
those acoustic rebounds which are very little studied. As he heard
these political confidences, however, a keen alarm took possession of
his soul. He was one of those simple-minded beings, who are shocked at
listening to anything they are not intended to hear, or entering where
they are not invited, and seeming bold when they are really timid,
inquisitive where they are truly discreet. The cashier accordingly
began to glide along the carpet and edge himself away, so that the
minister saw him at a distance when he first took notice of him.
Saillard was a ministerial henchman absolutely incapable of
indiscretion; even if the minister had known that he had overheard a
secret he had only to whisper "motus" in his ear to be sure it was
perfectly safe. The cashier, however, took advantage of an influx of
office-seekers, to slip out and get into his hackney-coach (hired by
the hour for these costly entertainments), and to return to his home
in the place Royale.



While old Saillard was driving across Paris his son-in-law, Isidore
Baudoyer, and his daughter, Elisabeth, Baudoyer's wife, were playing a
virtuous game of boston with their confessor, the Abbe Gaudron, in
company with a few neighbors and a certain Martin Falleix, a
brass-founder in the fauborg Saint-Antoine, to whom Saillard had
loaned the necessary money to establish a business. This Falleix, a
respectable Auvergnat who had come to seek his fortune in Paris with his
smelting-pot on his back, had found immediate employment with the firm of
Brezac, collectors of metals and other relics from all chateaux in the
provinces. About twenty-seven years of age, and spoiled, like others,
by success, Martin Falleix had had the luck to become the active agent
of Monsieur Saillard, the sleeping-partner in the working out of a
discovery made by Falleix in smelting (patent of invention and gold
medal granted at the exposition of 1825). Madame Baudoyer, whose only
daughter was treading--to use an expression of old Saillard's--on the
tail of her twelve years, laid claim to Falleix, a thickset, swarthy,
active young fellow, of shrewd principles, whose education she was
superintending. The said education, according to her ideas, consisted
in teaching him to play boston, to hold his cards properly, and not to
let others see his game; to shave himself regularly before he came to
the house, and to wash his hands with good cleansing soap; not to
swear, to speak her kind of French, to wear boots instead of shoes,
cotton shirts instead of sacking, and to brush up his hair instead of
plastering it flat. During the preceding week Elisabeth had finally
succeeded in persuading Falleix to give up wearing a pair of enormous
flat earrings resembling hoops.

"You go too far, Madame Baudoyer," he said, seeing her satisfaction at
the final sacrifice; "you order me about too much. You make me clean
my teeth, which loosens them; presently you will want me to brush my
nails and curl my hair, which won't do at all in our business; we
don't like dandies."

Elisabeth Baudoyer, nee Saillard, is one of those persons who escape
portraiture through their utter commonness; yet who ought to be
sketched, because they are specimens of that second-rate Parisian
bourgeoisie which occupies a place above the well-to-do artisan and
below the upper middle classes,--a tribe whose virtues are well-nigh
vices, whose defects are never kindly, but whose habits and manners,
dull and insipid though they be, are not without a certain
originality. Something pinched and puny about Elisabeth Saillard was
painful to the eye. Her figure, scarcely over four feet in height, was
so thin that the waist measured less than twenty inches. Her small
features, which clustered close about the nose, gave her face a vague
resemblance to a weasel's snout. Though she was past thirty years old
she looked scarcely more than sixteen. Her eyes, of porcelain blue,
overweighted by heavy eyelids which fell nearly straight from the arch
of the eyebrows, had little light in them. Everything about her
appearance was commonplace: witness her flaxen hair, tending to
whiteness; her flat forehead, from which the light did not reflect;
and her dull complexion, with gray, almost leaden, tones. The lower
part of the face, more triangular than oval, ended irregularly the
otherwise irregular outline of her face. Her voice had a rather pretty
range of intonation, from sharp to sweet. Elisabeth was a perfect
specimen of the second-rate little bourgeoisie who lectures her
husband behind the curtains; obtains no credit for her virtues; is
ambitious without intelligent object, and solely through the
development of her domestic selfishness. Had she lived in the country
she would have bought up adjacent land; being, as she was, connected
with the administration, she was determined to push her way. If we
relate the life of her father and mother, we shall show the sort of
woman she was by a picture of her childhood and youth.

Monsieur Saillard married the daughter of an upholsterer keeping shop
under the arcades of the Market. Limited means compelled Monsieur and
Madame Saillard at their start in life to bear constant privation.
After thirty-three years of married life, and twenty-nine years of
toil in a government office, the property of "the Saillards"--their
circle of acquaintance called them so--consisted of sixty thousand
francs entrusted to Falleix, the house in the place Royale, bought for
forty thousand in 1804, and thirty-six thousand francs given in dowry
to their daughter Elisabeth. Out of this capital about fifty thousand
came to them by the will of the widow Bidault, Madame Saillard's
mother. Saillard's salary from the government had always been four
thousand five hundred francs a year, and no more; his situation was a
blind alley that led nowhere, and had tempted no one to supersede him.
Those ninety thousand francs, put together sou by sou, were the fruit
therefore of a sordid economy unintelligently employed. In fact, the
Saillards did not know how better to manage their savings than to
carry them, five thousand francs at a time, to their notary, Monsieur
Sorbier, Cardot's predecessor, and let him invest them at five per
cent in first mortgages, with the wife's rights reserved in case the
borrower was married! In 1804 Madame Saillard obtained a government
office for the sale of stamped papers, a circumstance which brought a
servant into the household for the first time. At the time of which we
write, the house, which was worth a hundred thousand francs, brought
in a rental of eight thousand. Falleix paid seven per cent for the
sixty thousand invested in the foundry, besides an equal division of
profits. The Saillards were therefore enjoying an income of not less
than seventeen thousand francs a year. The whole ambition of the good
man now centred on obtaining the cross of the Legion and his retiring

Elisabeth, the only child, had toiled steadily from infancy in a home
where the customs of life were rigid and the ideas simple. A new hat
for Saillard was a matter of deliberation; the time a coat could last
was estimated and discussed; umbrellas were carefully hung up by means
of a brass buckle. Since 1804 no repairs of any kind had been done to
the house. The Saillards kept the ground-floor in precisely the state
in which their predecessor left it. The gilding of the pier-glasses
was rubbed off; the paint on the cornices was hardly visible through
the layers of dust that time had collected. The fine large rooms still
retained certain sculptured marble mantel-pieces and ceilings, worthy
of Versailles, together with the old furniture of the widow Bidault.
The latter consisted of a curious mixture of walnut armchairs,
disjointed, and covered with tapestry; rosewood bureaus; round tables
on single pedestals, with brass railings and cracked marble tops; one
superb Boulle secretary, the value of which style had not yet been
recognized; in short, a chaos of bargains picked up by the worthy
widow,--pictures bought for the sake of the frames, china services of
a composite order; to wit, a magnificent Japanese dessert set, and all
the rest porcelains of various makes, unmatched silver plate, old
glass, fine damask, and a four-post bedstead, hung with curtains and
garnished with plumes.

Amid these curious relics, Madame Saillard always sat on a sofa of
modern mahogany, near a fireplace full of ashes and without fire, on
the mantel-shelf of which stood a clock, some antique bronzes,
candelabra with paper flowers but no candles, for the careful
housewife lighted the room with a tall tallow candle always guttering
down into the flat brass candlestick which held it. Madame Saillard's
face, despite its wrinkles, was expressive of obstinacy and severity,
narrowness of ideas, an uprightness that might be called quadrangular,
a religion without piety, straightforward, candid avarice, and the
peace of a quiet conscience. You may see in certain Flemish pictures
the wives of burgomasters cut out by nature on the same pattern and
wonderfully reproduced on canvas; but these dames wear fine robes of
velvet and precious stuffs, whereas Madame Saillard possessed no
robes, only that venerable garment called in Touraine and Picardy
"cottes," elsewhere petticoats, or skirts pleated behind and on each
side, with other skirts hanging over them. Her bust was inclosed in
what was called a "casaquin," another obsolete name for a short gown
or jacket. She continued to wear a cap with starched wings, and shoes
with high heels. Though she was now fifty-seven years old, and her
lifetime of vigorous household work ought now to be rewarded with
well-earned repose, she was incessantly employed in knitting her
husband's stockings and her own, and those of an uncle, just as her
countrywomen knit them, moving about the room, talking, pacing up and
down the garden, or looking round the kitchen to watch what was going

The Saillard's avarice, which was really imposed on them in the first
instance by dire necessity, was now a second nature. When the cashier
got back from the office, he laid aside his coat, and went to work in
the large garden, shut off from the courtyard by an iron railing, and
which the family reserved to itself. For years Elisabeth, the
daughter, went to market every morning with her mother, and the two
did all the work of the house. The mother cooked well, especially a
duck with turnips; but, according to Saillard, no one could equal
Elisabeth in hashing the remains of a leg of mutton with onions. "You
might eat your boots with those onions and not know it," he remarked.
As soon as Elisabeth knew how to hold a needle, her mother had her
mend the household linen and her father's coats. Always at work, like
a servant, she never went out alone. Though living close by the
boulevard du Temple, where Franconi, La Gaite, and l'Ambigu-Comique
were within a stone's throw, and, further on, the Porte-Saint-Martin,
Elisabeth had never seen a comedy. When she asked to "see what it was
like" (with the Abbe Gaudron's permission, be it understood), Monsieur
Baudoyer took her--for the glory of the thing, and to show her the
finest that was to be seen--to the Opera, where they were playing "The
Chinese Laborer." Elisabeth thought "the comedy" as wearisome as the
plague of flies, and never wished to see another. On Sundays, after
walking four times to and fro between the place Royale and
Saint-Paul's church (for her mother made her practise the precepts and
the duties of religion), her parents took her to the pavement in front
of the Cafe Ture, where they sat on chairs placed between a railing and
the wall. The Saillards always made haste to reach the place early so
as to choose the best seats, and found much entertainment in watching
the passers-by. In those days the Cafe Ture was the rendezvous of the
fashionable society of the Marais, the faubourg Saint-Antoine, and the
circumjacent regions.

Elisabeth never wore anything but cotton gowns in summer and merino in
the winter, which she made herself. Her mother gave her twenty francs
a month for her expenses, but her father, who was very fond of her,
mitigated this rigorous treatment with a few presents. She never read
what the Abbe Gaudron, vicar of Saint-Paul's and the family director,
called profane books. This discipline had borne fruit. Forced to
employ her feelings on some passion or other, Elisabeth became eager
after gain. Though she was not lacking in sense or perspicacity,
religious theories, and her complete ignorance of higher emotions had
encircled all her faculties with an iron hand; they were exercised
solely on the commonest things of life; spent in a few directions they
were able to concentrate themselves on a matter in hand. Repressed by
religious devotion, her natural intelligence exercised itself within
the limits marked out by cases of conscience, which form a mine of
subtleties among which self-interest selects its subterfuges. Like
those saintly personages in whom religion does not stifle ambition,
Elisabeth was capable of requiring others to do a blamable action that
she might reap the fruits; and she would have been, like them again,
implacable as to her dues and dissembling in her actions. Once
offended, she watched her adversaries with the perfidious patience of
a cat, and was capable of bringing about some cold and complete
vengeance, and then laying it to the account of God. Until her
marriage the Saillards lived without other society than that of the
Abbe Gaudron, a priest from Auvergne appointed vicar of Saint-Paul's
after the restoration of Catholic worship. Besides this ecclesiastic,
who was a friend of the late Madame Bidault, a paternal uncle of
Madame Saillard, an old paper-dealer retired from business ever since
the year II. of the Republic, and now sixty-nine years old, came to
see them on Sundays only, because on that day no government business
went on.

This little old man, with a livid face blazoned by the red nose of
a tippler and lighted by two gleaming vulture eyes, allowed his
gray hair to hang loose under a three-cornered hat, wore breeches
with straps that extended beyond the buckles, cotton stockings of
mottled thread knitted by his niece, whom he always called "the
little Saillard," stout shoes with silver buckles, and a surtout
coat of mixed colors. He looked very much like those
verger-beadle-bell-ringing-grave-digging-parish-clerks who are taken
to be caricatures until we see them performing their various functions.
On the present occasion he had come on foot to dine with the Saillards,
intending to return in the same way to the rue Greneta, where he lived
on the third floor of an old house. His business was that of
discounting commercial paper in the quartier Saint-Martin, where he was
known by the nickname of "Gigonnet," from the nervous convulsive
movement with which he lifted his legs in walking, like a cat. Monsieur
Bidault began this business in the year II. in partnership with a
dutchman named Werbrust, a friend of Gobseck.

Some time later Saillard made the acquaintance of Monsieur and Madame
Transon, wholesale dealers in pottery, with an establishment in the
rue de Lesdiguieres, who took an interest in Elisabeth and introduced
young Isadore Baudoyer to the family with the intention of marrying
her. Gigonnet approved of the match, for he had long employed a
certain Mitral, uncle of the young man, as clerk. Monsieur and
Madame Baudoyer, father and mother of Isidore, highly respected
leather-dressers in the rue Censier, had slowly made a moderate fortune
out of a small trade. After marrying their only son, on whom they settled
fifty thousand francs, they determined to live in the country, and had
lately removed to the neighborhood of Ile-d'Adam, where after a time
they were joined by Mitral. They frequently came to Paris, however,
where they kept a corner in the house in the rue Censier which they
gave to Isidore on his marriage. The elder Baudoyers had an income of
about three thousand francs left to live upon after establishing their

Mitral was a being with a sinister wig, a face the color of Seine
water, lighted by a pair of Spanish-tobacco-colored eyes, cold as a
well-rope, always smelling a rat, and close-mouthed about his
property. He probably made his fortune in his own hole and corner,
just as Werbrust and Gigonnet made theirs in the quartier

Though the Saillards' circle of acquaintance increased, neither their
ideas nor their manners and customs changed. The saint's-days of
father, mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild were carefully
observed, also the anniversaries of birth and marriage, Easter,
Christmas, New Year's day, and Epiphany. These festivals were preceded
by great domestic sweepings and a universal clearing up of the house,
which added an element of usefulness to the ceremonies. When the
festival day came, the presents were offered with much pomp and an
accompaniment of flowers,--silk stockings or a fur cap for old
Saillard; gold earrings and articles of plate for Elisabeth or her
husband, for whom, little by little, the parents were accumulating a
whole silver service; silk petticoats for Madame Saillard, who laid
the stuff by and never made it up. The recipient of these gifts was
placed in an armchair and asked by those present for a certain length
of time, "Guess what we have for you!" Then came a splendid dinner,
lasting at least five hours, to which were invited the Abbe Gaudron,
Falleix, Rabourdin, Monsieur Godard, under-head-clerk to Monsieur
Baudoyer, Monsieur Bataille, captain of the company of the National
Guard to which Saillard and his son-in-law belonged. Monsieur Cardot,
who was invariably asked, did as Rabourdin did, namely, accepted one
invitation out of six. The company sang at dessert, shook hands and
embraced with enthusiasm, wishing each other all manner of happiness;
the presents were exhibited and the opinion of the guests asked about
them. The day Saillard received his fur cap he wore it during the
dessert, to the satisfaction of all present. At night, mere ordinary
acquaintances were bidden, and dancing went on till very late,
formerly to the music of one violin, but for the last six years
Monsieur Godard, who was a great flute player, contributed the
piercing tones of a flageolet to the festivity. The cook, Madame
Baudoyer's nurse, and old Catherine, Madame Saillard's woman-servant,
together with the porter or his wife, stood looking on at the door of
the salon. The servants always received three francs on these
occasions to buy themselves wine or coffee.

This little circle looked upon Saillard and Baudoyer as transcendent
beings; they were government officers; they had risen by their own
merits; they worked, it was said, with the minister himself; they owed
their fortune to their talents; they were politicians. Baudoyer was
considered the more able of the two; his position as head of a bureau
presupposed labor that was more intricate and arduous than that of a
cashier. Moreover, Isidore, though the son of a leather-dresser, had
had the genius to study and to cast aside his father's business and
find a career in politics, which had led him to a post of eminence. In
short, silent and uncommunicative as he was, he was looked upon as a
deep thinker, and perhaps, said the admiring circle, he would some day
become deputy of the eighth arrondissement. As Gigonnet listened to
such remarks as these, he pressed his already pinched lips closer
together, and threw a glance at his great-niece, Elisabeth.

In person, Isidore was a tall, stout man of thirty-seven, who
perspired freely, and whose head looked as if he had water on the
brain. This enormous head, covered with chestnut hair cropped close,
was joined to the neck by rolls of flesh which overhung the collar of
his coat. He had the arms of Hercules, hands worthy of Domitian, a
stomach which sobriety held within the limits of the majestic, to use
a saying of Brillaet-Savarin. His face was a good deal like that of
the Emperor Alexander. The Tartar type was in the little eyes and the
flattened nose turned slightly up, in the frigid lips and the short
chin. The forehead was low and narrow. Though his temperament was
lymphatic, the devout Isidore was under the influence of a conjugal
passion which time did not lessen.

In spite, however, of his resemblance to the handsome Russian Emperor
and the terrible Domitian, Isidore Baudoyer was nothing more than a
political office-holder, of little ability as head of his department,
a cut-and-dried routine man, who concealed the fact that he was a
flabby cipher by so ponderous a personality that no scalpel could cut
deep enough to let the operator see into him. His severe studies, in
which he had shown the patience and sagacity of an ox, and his square
head, deceived his parents, who firmly believed him an extraordinary
man. Pedantic and hypercritical, meddlesome and fault-finding, he was
a terror to the clerks under him, whom he worried in their work,
enforcing the rules rigorously, and arriving himself with such
terrible punctuality that not one of them dared to be a moment late.
Baudoyer wore a blue coat with gilt buttons, a chamois waistcoat, gray
trousers and cravats of various colors. His feet were large and
ill-shod. From the chain of his watch depended an enormous bunch of
old trinkets, among which in 1824 he still wore "American beads,"
which were very much the fashion in the year VII.

In the bosom of this family, bound together by the force of religious
ties, by the inflexibility of its customs, by one solitary emotion,
that of avarice, a passion which was now as it were its compass,
Elisabeth was forced to commune with herself, instead of imparting her
ideas to those around her, for she felt herself without equals in mind
who could comprehend her. Though facts compelled her to judge her
husband, her religious duty led her to keep up as best she could a
favorable opinion of him; she showed him marked respect; honored him
as the father of her child, her husband, the temporal power, as the
vicar of Saint-Paul's told her. She would have thought it a mortal sin
to make a single gesture, or give a single glance, or say a single
word which would reveal to others her real opinion of the imbecile
Baudoyer. She even professed to obey passively all his wishes. But her
ears were receptive of many things; she thought them over, weighed and
compared them in the solitude of her mind, and judged so soberly of
men and events that at the time when our history begins she was the
hidden oracle of the two functionaries, her husband and father, who
had, unconsciously, come to do nothing whatever without consulting
her. Old Saillard would say, innocently, "Isn't she clever, that
Elisabeth of mine?" But Baudoyer, too great a fool not to be puffed up
by the false reputation the quartier Saint-Antoine bestowed upon him,
denied his wife's cleverness all the while that he was making use of

Elisabeth had long felt sure that her uncle Bidault, otherwise called
Gigonnet, was rich and handled vast sums of money. Enlightened by
self-interest, she had come to understand Monsieur des Lupeaulx far
better than the minister understood him. Finding herself married to a
fool, she never allowed herself to think that life might have gone
better with her, she only imagined the possibility of better things
without expecting or wishing to attain them. All her best affections
found their vocation in her love for her daughter, to whom she spared
the pains and privations she had borne in her own childhood; she
believed that in this affection she had her full share in the world of
feeling. Solely for her daughter's sake she had persuaded her father
to take the important step of going into partnership with Falleix.
Falleix had been brought to the Saillard's house by old Bidault, who
lent him money on his merchandise. Falleix thought his old countryman
extortionate, and complained to the Saillards that Gigonnet demanded
eighteen per cent from an Auvergnat. Madame Saillard ventured to
remonstrate with her uncle.

"It is just because he is an Auvergnat that I take only eighteen per
cent," said Gigonnet, when she spoke of him.

Falleix, who had made a discovery at the age of twenty-eight, and
communicated it to Saillard, seemed to carry his heart in his hand (an
expression of old Saillard's), and also seemed likely to make a great
fortune. Elisabeth determined to husband him for her daughter and
train him herself, having, as she calculated, seven years to do it in.
Martin Falleix felt and showed the deepest respect for Madame
Baudoyer, whose superior qualities he was able to recognize. If he
were fated to make millions he would always belong to her family,
where he had found a home. The little Baudoyer girl was already
trained to bring him his tea and to take his hat.

On the evening of which we write, Monsieur Saillard, returning from
the ministry, found a game of boston in full blast; Elisabeth was
advising Falleix how to play; Madame Saillard was knitting in the
chimney-corner and overlooking the cards of the vicar; Monsieur
Baudoyer, motionless as a mile-stone, was employing his mental
capacity in calculating how the cards were placed, and sat opposite to
Mitral, who had come up from Ile-d'Adam for the Christmas holidays. No
one moved as the cashier entered, and for some minutes he walked up
and down the room, his fat face contracted with unaccustomed thought.

"He is always so when he dines at the ministry," remarked Madame
Saillard; "happily, it is only twice a year, or he'd die of it.
Saillard was never made to be in the government-- Well, now, I do
hope, Saillard," she continued in a loud tone, "that you are not going
to keep on those silk breeches and that handsome coat. Go and take
them off; don't wear them at home, my man."

"Your father has something on his mind," said Baudoyer to his wife,
when the cashier was in his bedroom, undressing without any fire.

"Perhaps Monsieur de la Billardiere is dead," said Elisabeth, simply;
"and as he is anxious you should have the place, it worries him."

"Can I be useful in any way?" said the vicar of Saint-Paul's; "if so,
pray use my services. I have the honor to be known to Madame la
Dauphine. These are days when public offices should be given only to
faithful men, whose religious principles are not to be shaken."

"Dear me!" said Falleix, "do men of merit need protectors and
influence to get places in the government service? I am glad I am an
iron-master; my customers know where to find a good article--"

"Monsieur," interrupted Baudoyer, "the government is the government;
never attack it in this house."

"You speak like the 'Constitutionel,'" said the vicar.

"The 'Constitutionel' never says anything different from that,"
replied Baudoyer, who never read it.

The cashier believed his son-in-law to be as superior in talent to
Rabourdin as God was greater than Saint-Crepin, to use his own
expression; but the good man coveted this appointment in a
straightforward, honest way. Influenced by the feeling which leads all
officials to seek promotion,--a violent, unreflecting, almost brutal
passion,--he desired success, just as he desired the cross of the
Legion of honor, without doing anything against his conscience to
obtain it, and solely, as he believed, on the strength of his
son-in-law's merits. To his thinking, a man who had patiently spent
twenty-five years in a government office behind an iron railing had
sacrificed himself to his country and deserved the cross. But all that
he dreamed of doing to promote his son-in-law's appointment in La
Billardiere's place was to say a word to his Excellency's wife when he
took her the month's salary.

"Well, Saillard, you look as if you had lost all your friends! Do
speak; do, pray, tell us something," cried his wife when he came back
into the room.

Saillard, after making a little sign to his daughter, turned on his
heel to keep himself from talking politics before strangers. When
Monsieur Mitral and the vicar had departed, Saillard rolled back the
card-table and sat down in an armchair in the attitude he always
assumed when about to tell some office-gossip,--a series of movements
which answered the purpose of the three knocks given at the
Theatre-Francais. After binding his wife, daughter, and son-in-law to
the deepest secrecy,--for, however petty the gossip, their places, as
he thought, depended on their discretion,--he related the
incomprehensible enigma of the resignation of a deputy, the very
legitimate desire of the general-secretary to get elected to the
place, and the secret opposition of the minister to this wish of a man
who was one of his firmest supporters and most zealous workers. This,
of course, brought down an avalanche of suppositions, flooded with the
sapient arguments of the two officials, who sent back and forth to
each other a wearisome flood of nonsense. Elisabeth quietly asked
three questions:--

"If Monsieur des Lupeaulx is on our side, will Monsieur Baudoyer be
appointed in Monsieur de la Billardiere's place?"

"Heavens! I should think so," cried the cashier.

"My uncle Bidault and Monsieur Gobseck helped in him 1814," thought
she. "Is he in debt?" she asked, aloud.

"Yes," cried the cashier with a hissing and prolonged sound on the
last letter; "his salary was attached, but some of the higher powers
released it by a bill at sight."

"Where is the des Lupeaulx estate?"

"Why, don't you know? in the part of the country where your
grandfather and your great-uncle Bidault belong, in the arrondissement
of the deputy who wants to resign."

When her colossus of a husband had gone to bed, Elisabeth leaned over
him, and though he always treated her remarks as women's nonsense, she
said, "Perhaps you will really get Monsieur de la Billardiere's

"There you go with your imaginations!" said Baudoyer; "leave Monsieur
Gaudron to speak to the Dauphine and don't meddle with politics."

At eleven o'clock, when all were asleep in the place Royale, Monsieur
des Lupeaulx was leaving the Opera for the rue Duphot. This particular
Wednesday was one of Madame Rabourdin's most brilliant evenings. Many
of her customary guests came in from the theatres and swelled the
company already assembled, among whom were several celebrities, such
as: Canalis the poet, Schinner the painter, Dr. Bianchon, Lucien de
Rubempre, Octave de Camps, the Comte de Granville, the Vicomte de
Fontaine, du Bruel the vaudevillist, Andoche Finot the journalist,
Derville, one of the best heads in the law courts, the Comte du
Chatelet, deputy, du Tillet, banker, and several elegant young men,
such as Paul de Manerville and the Vicomte de Portenduere. Celestine
was pouring out tea when the general-secretary entered. Her dress that
evening was very becoming; she wore a black velvet robe without
ornament of any kind, a black gauze scarf, her hair smoothly bound
about her head and raised in a heavy braided mass, with long curls a
l'Anglaise falling on either side of her face. The charms which
particularly distinguished this woman were the Italian ease of her
artistic nature, her ready comprehension, and the grace with which she
welcomed and promoted the least appearance of a wish on the part of
others. Nature had given her an elegant, slender figure, which could
sway lightly at a word, black eyes of oriental shape, able, like those
of the Chinese women, to see out of their corners. She well knew how
to manage a soft, insinuating voice, which threw a tender charm into
every word, even such as she merely chanced to utter; her feet were
like those we see in portraits where the painter boldly lies and
flatters his sitter in the only way which does not compromise anatomy.
Her complexion, a little yellow by day, like that of most brunettes,
was dazzling at night under the wax candles, which brought out the
brilliancy of her black hair and eyes. Her slender and well-defined
outlines reminded an artist of the Venus of the Middle Ages rendered
by Jean Goujon, the illustrious sculptor of Diane de Poitiers.

Des Lupeaulx stopped in the doorway, and leaned against the woodwork.
This ferret of ideas did not deny himself the pleasure of spying upon
sentiment, and this woman interested him more than any of the others
to whom he had attached himself. Des Lupeaulx had reached an age when
men assert pretensions in regard to women. The first white hairs lead
to the latest passions, all the more violent because they are astride
of vanishing powers and dawning weakness. The age of forty is the age
of folly,--an age when man wants to be loved for himself; whereas at
twenty-five life is so full that he has no wants. At twenty-five he
overflows with vigor and wastes it with impunity, but at forty he
learns that to use it in that way is to abuse it. The thoughts that
came into des Lupeaulx's mind at this moment were melancholy ones. The
nerves of the old beau relaxed; the agreeable smile, which served as a
mask and made the character of his countenance, faded; the real man
appeared, and he was horrible. Rabourdin caught sight of him and
thought, "What has happened to him? can he be disgraced in any way?"
The general-secretary was, however, only thinking how the pretty
Madame Colleville, whose intentions were exactly those of Madame
Rabourdin, had summarily abandoned him when it suited her to do so.
Rabourdin caught the sham statesman's eyes fixed on his wife, and he
recorded the look in his memory. He was too keen an observer not to
understand des Lupeaulx to the bottom, and he deeply despised him;
but, as with most busy men, his feelings and sentiments seldom came to
the surface. Absorption in a beloved work is practically equivalent to
the cleverest dissimulation, and thus it was that the opinions and
ideas of Rabourdin were a sealed book to des Lupeaulx. The former was
sorry to see the man in his house, but he was never willing to oppose
his wife's wishes. At this particular moment, while he talked
confidentially with a supernumerary of his office who was destined,
later, to play an unconscious part in a political intrigue
resulting from the death of La Billardiere, he watched, though
half-abstractedly, his wife and des Lupeaulx.

Here we must explain, as much for foreigners as for our own
grandchildren, what a supernumerary in a government office in Paris

The supernumerary is to the administration what a choir-boy is to a
church, what the company's child is to the regiment, what the
figurante is to a theatre; something artless, naive, innocent, a being
blinded by illusions. Without illusions what would become of any of
us? They give strength to bear the res angusta domi of arts and the
beginnings of all science by inspiring us with faith. Illusion is
illimitable faith. Now the supernumerary has faith in the
administration; he never thinks it cold, cruel, and hard, as it really
is. There are two kinds of supernumeraries, or hangers-on,--one poor,
the other rich. The poor one is rich in hope and wants a place, the
rich one is poor in spirit and wants nothing. A wealthy family is not
so foolish as to put its able men into the administration. It confides
an unfledged scion to some head-clerk, or gives him in charge of a
directory who initiates him into what Bilboquet, that profound
philosopher, called the high comedy of government; he is spared all
the horrors of drudgery and is finally appointed to some important
office. The rich supernumerary never alarms the other clerks; they
know he does not endanger their interests, for he seeks only the
highest posts in the administration. About the period of which we
write many families were saying to themselves: "What can we do with
our sons?" The army no longer offered a chance for fortune. Special
careers, such as civil and military engineering, the navy, mining, and
the professorial chair were all fenced about by strict regulations or
to be obtained only by competition; whereas in the civil service the
revolving wheel which turned clerks into prefects, sub-prefects,
assessors, and collectors, like the figures in a magic lantern, was
subjected to no such rules and entailed no drudgery. Through this easy
gap emerged into life the rich supernumeraries who drove their
tilburys, dressed well, and wore moustachios, all of them as impudent
as parvenus. Journalists were apt to persecute the tribe, who were
cousins, nephews, brothers, or other relatives of some minister, some
deputy, or an influential peer. The humbler clerks regarded them as a
means of influence.

The poor supernumerary, on the other hand, who is the only real
worker, is almost always the son of some former clerk's widow, who
lives on a meagre pension and sacrifices herself to support her son
until he can get a place as copying-clerk, and then dies leaving
him no nearer the head of his department than writer of deeds,
order-clerks, or, possibly, under-head-clerk. Living always in some locality

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